The Death Undo: A Guilty General’s Wish
In my article series on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time I explained how this youth novel strikes a cord with the reader by offering them a fantasy in which an unfortunate event (leading to death, for example) can be undone, and the past be redone. I also mentioned how this resonates with the structure of video games because you usually have more than one life, and/or restart points from which to redo already past events. Which is probably why this novel keeps getting referenced by video game plots.
ITOI Shigesato’s Mother RPG, which was one of the games I covered in this series, contains the opposite scenario as well, confronting the player with a death they can’t undo. I’m talking about the flying men in Magicant.1 Magicant is the magic kingdom ruled by the Queen Mary and symbolizes the player’s subconscious. The Mother Encyclopedia players guide describes them as follows:
The house of the flying men
The dream of the flying men lives in your heart…
On the Northern outskirts of Magicant there is a single house all by itself. Here live five brothers, kind of like birds, kind of like humans. They’re the flying men. Back when you were still little, your mother used to whisper the story of the flying men into your ears from the side of your bed. You probably don’t remember this very sad story which your great grandmother created. You should go and visit them. Try talking to them. Because maybe you might remember the story.
The flying men join your party one at a time when you talk to them. But you can’t restore their HP so during your battles they will inevitably die at some point. You can go back to recruit more flying men until their family is extinct and you can even find their tombstones. Or you can quit meeting them, leave them alone and alive, at the same time leaving yourself alone with your guilt.
Of course there were inevitable deaths dictated by the video game plot before but in the case of the flying men the player is fully responsible for their death because he initiates their recruitment (though likely not aware of it beforehand) and they die during the interactive part of the game, the non-scripted one.
Strategy games like Fire Emblem or Tactics Ogre which followed Mother contain the possibility of non-reversible death during the interactive parts also, giving weight to the player’s choices and emphasizing the truth of death as part of war. But by restarting a chapter from the beginning it is possible to avoid all these deaths so Mother remains a rare example of a game going to lengths to force the player into feeling guilt over not being able to save their ‘soldiers’.
NOJIMA’s Glory of Heracles series also keeps using a game play device which has the lone hero be joined by a group of nine NPCs which he can’t restore their HPs of. Their deaths aren’t inevitable because once he delivers them to a certain point in the story the surviving members leave the party again, thanking the hero for his help. And if the hero was strong and lucky enough it is possible to complete these parts without anyone dying although it is more likely that some at least will die.
The player becoming guilty is one side of experiencing death by role playing, Glory of Heracles IV explores yet another side as well. The hero’s party meets a general feeling guilty over the deaths of the soldiers that have fallen under his command. The player can then choose to forgive him or to confirm his self accusations.
The reality of death and the wish to undo death. Coping with/forgiving what happened or escaping into a fantasy in which it didn’t happen. These themes resonate with the audience not just in video games but also other media like comics. One of the biggest hit comic series in Japan, Dragon Ball, has strong ties to the video game medium and also revolves around these themes, as the dragon balls from the title are most often used to revive the fallen.
Goku: Upa! Say your wish!!
Upa: Please… Make my dead father alive again…
Goku: Can you do that?
Shen Long: Of course. There is no wish I cannot grant.
Upa: My… my father’s grave…
All the prayers that were heard in DB
A list of all the wishes granted by Shen Long and Polunga during the original series, with the scenes of their appearances!!
1. Get a girl’s panties (a wish only made to stop the villain Pilaf from wishing for world domination)
2. Revive Upa’s father Bora, who was killed by Tao Baibai
3. Make the Great Devil King Piccolo younger.
4. Revive all the people killed by Piccolo.
5. Revive the fallen Goku.
6. Revive Piccolo.
7. Warp the revived Piccolo to his home planet Namek.
8. Revive everyone killed by Freezer and his goons.
9. Warp everyone but Freezer and Goku from Namek to Earth.
9th and 10th appearance
10. Transport Krilin’s soul to Earth.
11. Revive Krilin.
12. Revive Yamcha.
13. Revive Chaozu.
14. Revive Tenshinhan.
15. Transport the Namekians to a new planet.
16. Revive everyone killed by Cell.
17. Remove the bomb mechanism from the bodies of No. 17 and No. 18.
18. Revive everyone who died today, except for the bad people.
13th and 14th appearance
19. Restore the destroyed Earth to how it was before.
20. Revive everyone who died since Babidi came to Earth, except for the bad people.
21. Restore Goku’s stamina.
22. Make the general public forget about Boo.
12 out of 22 are wishes to revive the dead. 4 out of 22 are wishes to relocate people, often to get them to safety. 3 out of 22 wishes relate to enable former villains to become friends. One is to restore a destroyed planet, another one to help Goku win a battle and only one is a selfish wish, which still serves to prevent the villain winning. The heroes of the story (the readers’ avatars) don’t remain burdened with the deaths they caused, which is escapist/revisionist, but they do forgive and become friends with former enemies. Like the reincarnation of the last villain Boo:
Goku: You must be excited, Oob! You will meet some incredibly strong people!
Goku: I knew you’d be!!
Let’s become even stronger.
Goku: No, no. I want to hear you more excited, like “Oh yeah”.
Oob: Oh yeah!
These were the adventures of Goku and his friends since they became entangled with the Dragon Balls. What I could show you ends here. Surely there will be more trouble in the lives of our heroes. But they will overcome it like always… It’s okay, they have the Dragon Balls…!
Two decades after Dragon Ball started its run in Jump magazine, Death Note reverses its concept. Dragon balls brought people back to life, the death note causes their death. Two type of objects with opposite use, both becoming the title for their stories. But at least in the first version of Death Note, again death is reversible and the characters can “regain their innocence”.
Tarō Kagami, 13 years old
Tarō: A note book…
“Death”…? I know what “note” means but the word before it we haven’t learned yet. Deh-ah-ts? …? Darth? …?
It’s brand new, nothing written in it yet. Just as my diary got lost, I can use this one instead.
Tarō: Phew…Maybe I should write a journal entry to unwind.
Notebook: On the way to school I was suddenly mobbed by A-ta Suzuki and B-rō Tanaka
Tarō’s mother: Tarō, dinner’s ready.
?: What is it, A-ta?
?: Be… B-rō, are you alright?
The two boys die and the police shows up to investigate. They find connections to a similar case in the past.
Newspaper: Yamashita branch of Takara Bank closedDue to the series of strange deaths of bank employeesDeath spreads to residents in vicinity
(cut off text:) Relatedness… difficult investigation…
Yamanaka: Read it very carefully. Especially the cause of death.
Takagi: The branch chief and the vice chief died on the same night, roughly at the same time, both by heart attacks…
Yamanaka: What do you think? It is similar to our case, isn’t it? Multiple people in the same vicinity dying at the same time by heart attacks.
B-but shortly after even more people at the branch died…
And the last of these bank employees died by suicide…
They found out afterwards but many people who could be associated with the suicide victim were part of the series of strange deaths.
Takagi: What does that mean?
Yamanaka: Who knows. It all remains shrouded in mystery…
Further testing what the note can do, killing more people in the process, Tarō finally realizes what he has done and even meets the former owner of the note, the reaper Ryuuku. Tarō is plagued by nightmares because of his guilt.
Why did you have to kill us…
Ryuuku: It’s no wonder you would have a dream like that.
I mean you killed 5 people in just 2 days. You are human after all.
Tarō: I-I never intended for them to die…
Ryuuku: Is that so? Then how about using this? It’s a death eraser.
Tarō: Huh? What’s that?
Ryuuku: If you erase the names you wrote in the note, as long as their bodies haven’t been cremated or otherwise disposed, they will come back to life.
Tarō seizes the chance and revives the five people he accidentally killed. But they soon die again and Ryuuku reveals that the note Tarō found wasn’t the only one Ryuuku dropped in the human world. More people die and more attention is drawn to the case. It is even discussed on TV and all but one guest of the talk show is killed live on air.
Ryuuku: That’s what they get for being stupid enough to say that on TV.
voices on TV: What has happened here…?
Tarō: Only the suspense author is still alive, I wonder why.
Ryuuku: He must be using a pseudonym. You need the real name to kill someone.
TV: We’re sorry to interrupt in the middle of the program but we’re currently revising our schedule.
Tarō: But this confirmed it. Someone picked up the other note and wrote 7 names in it, afraid of the truth being discovered.
But that truth was me being mobbed…
Tarō remembers Miura-kun, who was also frequently mobbed by the boys who died and became a suspect of the police for this reason.
Tarō: However, the ending one up the police’s prime suspect was you…
So after the five victims came back to life, when the police appeared in the class room you thought you’d be suspected again…
Miura: It’s too late…
I have killed too many people already. I know, I’ll just write my own name.
Tarō: It’s not too late!
Use this eraser.
Tarō: If you erase the names with it they will all come back to life.
That’s how I revived the five people I killed.
Tarō: Let’s take this note to the police.
Tarō: We have to confess the truth, there’s no way around it.
?: Huh? You want to talk to Inspector Yamanaka and to Detective Takagi?
The note’s pages are empty again, as in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the death(s) undone.
I wrote about Death Note before in my article The Note: The Author’s Tool, the Author’s Weapon. There I identified the nature of the death note’s power as shaping events, as writing a scenario. The boy Tarō writing a diary about boys mobbing him and them dying, in reality this could be him blogging on the internet and him accidentally ending up causing social repercussions for them that would border on character assassination.2 Since what Tarō wrote is the truth it isn’t actually a case of character assassination, hence my saying it borders on it. But Light, his successor in the longer Death Note story which followed the one shot with Tarō, creates scenarios that unlike Tarō’s diary entry don’t reflect the truth.
People in post world war II societies might not experience real violent death, in war or other contexts, as commonly anymore as was the case before but they still have plenty of opportunity to become guilty. The wish to undo, to redo should resonate with all of them.
- Magicant is the magic kingdom ruled by the Queen Mary and symbolizes the player’s subconscious. [↩]
- Since what Tarō wrote is the truth it isn’t actually a case of character assassination, hence my saying it borders on it. But Light, his successor in the longer Death Note story which followed the one shot with Tarō, creates scenarios that unlike Tarō’s diary entry don’t reflect the truth. [↩]