My response got so long that I thought it best to post here rather than Tumblr, for better legibility. But click beyond and you’ll find a complete summary of Hijiri’s cutscenes, the Lady in Black’s extra backstory for him, and my comments! I never thought I’d get vibes of SMT4/A-level shenanigans from Nocturne, but some of the story additions from Maniacs are suspect...and I think I know exactly why.
First, here’s a complete (for our purposes) game script: http://www.gamefaqs.com/ps2/582958-shin-megami-tensei-nocturne/faqs/54926
And here is a summary of the scenes in which Hijiri appears and his actions within them. These should reflect everything that happens in the original, pre-Maniacs script (except once, where noted):
- Prologue, Yoyogi Park: Introduction to him as journalist; namedrops things like the Gaea cult, Scripture of Miroku, and the strange things happening at the hospital. Gives you issue of Ayakashi Monthly.
- Immediately after Conception, inside first Terminal room: Confirmation of Conception and that Hikawa used the Amala drums. As he’s too apprehensive about leaving the safety of the Terminal room, he asks you to be his informant on what’s happening in the Vortex World.
- After meeting Chiaki in Shibuya: An introduction to the warp feature of Terminals, the Terminals as “devices,” and the existence of the Amala Network. Persuades you to warp to Ginza.
- Amala Network 1: Helps you cross the Network into Ginza by manipulating the Terminal. (Possible edit to script to account for the first Labyrinth of Amala event when Hijiri says he “lost track of you for a while?” I honestly have no way of verifying this.) When you reach Ginza, he says he wants to track down Hikawa.
- At Assembly of Nihilo, after Mantra attack: Tells you about the Assembly’s purpose, collecting Magatsuhi, and where to find Hikawa. Seems to be gleaning information directly from the Amala Network.
- After Kabuki-cho, in Ginza: Now he’s definitely getting information from the Amala Network (he says “I heard...” twice. suspicious for a guy who never leaves the room), as he knows not only about Hikawa’s Nightmare System but also about the Manikins rebuilding Asakusa and tells you to go there to get to a Terminal outside the reach of the Nihilo.
- At Asakusa: Manages to reach the Terminal “after all” and is there when you arrive. What a dope. Tells you that the Manikins are made from local black mud and that he’s spying on Hikawa’s activities, using the Terminal and Amala Network like one would use a computer and the internet, true to his journalistic integrity.
- After meeting Sakahagi, Asakusa: Tells you about the Obelisk, the Nightmare System inside of it, and the “Maiden” said to be operating it. Commands you to go there and destroy the Nightmare System and restore the flow of Magatsuhi to normal.
- After Obelisk, Asakusa: Jubilant at your success. Gives you an infodump about how Reasons work and the use of Magatsuhi. Says he met Isamu inside the Amala Network and warps you to him.
- Amala Network 2: Says he will go after Isamu within the Amala Network.
- After events with Hikawa and Futomimi, Asakusa: Scuttlebutt about Mantra and Futomimi.
- After Yoyogi Park, Asakusa: Says he can’t find Isamu, hints that something (Chiaki) is happening in Ikebukuro.
- After Chiaki’s transformation event, Asakusa: Goes cuckoo. Says the Terminal gives him omniscience and shows you other major events happening currently in the Vortex. Intends on keeping the power of the Amala’s information to himself and says he is the only one worthy of a Reason and creating a new world. Senses Isamu’s presence, who sucks Hijiri into the Network.
- At Amala Temple: Isamu reveals the truth about Hijiri, that he was manipulating you and intended on sacrificing you to access all the Temple’s Magatsuhi. Hijiri accepts his fate and is sacrificed by Isamu.
And now for the Lady in Black’s “expanded universe” story about Hijiri:
Let me conclude by telling you about a human who has crossed your path...one who is drifting, being kept alive by fate. It is my master's wish that you listen before deciding upon a path to take.
The man I am referring to was known as Hijiri in your previous world. He died, but as fate would have it, he carried on in the Vortex World. Think back to when you first met him, to when the Conception occurred. Yes, he did lose his life like all the others. As he was heading to the hospital, where you already were, the Conception began...and his life ended. Did it not seem odd to you, that he was in the Vortex World unaffected, unchanged?
It was all because of the mortal sin which he committed... He was a being toyed with by fate, condemned to carry the burden of atonement forever. His punishment was to see with his own eyes all that happens in the world, to record the balance of events through all the ages. A task as endless as scooping water out of the sea with a cup... He was condemned to wander the infinite span of time.
Man can change the course of his next life, by his karma... But, that privilege was taken away from Hijiri. Though his body may perish, his soul will remain unsaved: he must continue on with his task. He lives a cursed eternal life, just like a demon.
'Watch, and record the history of the world... Witness the entirety of the endless war between order and chaos... That is your punishment for your unforgivable sin...' Do you understand now? By the will of Amala, he was given a life of torment...and emerged in the Vortex World, without realizing that he had died.Okay. There’s a LOT of stupid stuff here. But I’ll begin by mentioning that vanilla Nocturne credits Shogo Isogai and Nakaji Kimura as its scenario writers, while the Maniacs version credits for its additions Shogo Isogai, Shigeo Komori, and none other than Kazuyuki Yamai. Only Yamai’s name is important here. Let’s move on.
Soon after, your paths crossed again... That is probably because you have the potential to affect the course of the new world. So by accompanying you, he has unknowingly been fulfilling his destiny.
Tragically, he has no memory of his sin, his punishment, or even his death. He believes that he survived the Conception, and has acted accordingly. As for the result of his efforts... you already know the outcome. In the body of a Manikin, Hijiri challenged those vying for creation...and he lost his body once again.
He is now on a journey to a new land of suffering, but his will can never be freed, and his sin never redeemed...
|Nocturne's original writers and planners the Maniacs version's writers (Isogai is also credited later as planner)|
I would guess that Hijiri's background was chosen for expansion because he's probably the least fleshed-out among the other human characters. But that's just the thing--he's a supporting character. He exists to give you information, point you in the right direction, and act as a rival for Isamu, raising the stakes with his death. Though, since the knowledge of the Amala Network turns him into a grade-A megalomaniac, you don't exactly lament his demise; Hijiri is, again, just a Magatsuhi sponge for Isamu. He exists only to support you (and Isamu).
The first obvious contrast between Main Scenario Hijiri and Backstory Hijiri is that the backstory doesn’t expound at all on his in-game character and has zero bearing on the main plot. In other words, it is the epitome of “contrived” as it adds NOTHING of value to the narrative or his character. Let’s be honest, Hijiri is a total dickweed, and the backstory attempts to paint him as a sympathetic, “tragic” character. That’s completely silly when he is clearly shown to be a deceptive schemer! He is no more or less crazy than anyone else who made it to the Vortex World, and, like the others, is shown to change because of his experiences there, not some stupid event in the past he has no control over. Hijiri’s backstory as a journalist is much more meaningful to the plot than some invented eternal punishment.
|"Yeah, he tells me all about |
the plot that's definitely not there!"
It’s worth noting that Nocturne deliberately threw a lot of traditions under the bus, namely Law and Chaos, as Okada and Kaneko knew they were creative dead ends. Some Reasons have shades of those philosophies, with a twist. For example, Chiaki’s Yosuga is ostensibly Chaotic, yet Lawful angels are the demons that side with her. The point is that the Vortex World doesn’t operate by those exact principles! Something is "off." I understand though that the intentionally topsy-turvy nature of Nocturne isn't particularly easy to grasp for players on our side of the Pacific, because it was our first game in the series and those traditions it was abandoning hadn't yet been established here.
So, of course, when Nocturne didn't live up to sales expectations (so the stories go), the Maniacs content added in LAW and CHAOS by the bucketload. Hence, the Lady in Black says of Hijiri's fate: "'Watch, and record the history of the world... Witness the entirety of the endless war between order and chaos... That is your punishment for your unforgivable sin...'" So Hijiri was sent to the Vortex World to record another Law/Chaos war...even though neither have any bearing on what happens there. What does Law affect when the angels have become the representatives of Darwinism? Additionally, Hijiri also isn’t privy to the actual Law/Chaos conflict going on with Lucifer’s scheme in the Labyrinth.
But wait! There's more nonsense with Hijiri's role as a witness! So his punishment is to record what happens for eternity, right? But just a few sentences after the Lady in Black says that, she notes: "Tragically, he has no memory of his sin, his punishment, or even his death." In other words, Hijiri has no idea what he's doing. He cannot recall his purpose. You might even say that this completely undermines this entire backstory, but it (surprisingly) doesn't explain what happens to Hijiri's soul after death--does he experience a recap of events like you'd see at the beginning of a TV show, which he then feverishly scrawls on parchment before being reincarnated again? Either way, another problem with this idea is that Hijiri dies before he can witness the resolution of the Vortex World's conflicts! It's like he was sent off to sea before the airing of the season finale, adrift in a vessel with no satellite signal, let alone a VCR or TiVo (hey, this is 2003).
Moreover, the Lady in Black says Hijiri's actual form is that of a Manikin. This contradicts multiple things Hijiri says himself. He says of the Manikins' genesis, "Oh yeah, I found out something interesting about Asakusa. This is where the Manikins are created. They're made from the black mud that's scooped up from a river around here." However, Hijiri says of his Conception experience that "all of a sudden, I was blinded by a bright light and the next thing I knew, I was here in this room. I took a quick look around, and it looks like I'm in a hospital...Since you're here too, does that mean this is Shinjuku Medical Center?"
|The face of integrity and impartiality|
One last thing that would be remiss to go unmentioned. Though I’m anti-Hijiri-is-Aleph, I have to admit that during my Nocturne playthrough, the Lady in Black’s story definitely seemed to imply such a connection. I mean, who else could it be? Why mention a “mortal sin” without explaining what it is? And considering how the Maniacs content is eager to reference past games and offer the fanservice and traditions the original release intentionally denied, I honestly can’t dismiss it as a possibility. But does YHVH actually curse Aleph for defeating him? Check out his relevant dialogue from SMT2 for each route, expertly translated by Dijeh:
Pre-battle, after Satan's betrayal: Judge Satan! Thou sayest thou shalt judge me, thou created being! If that be so, ye shalt be stricken by my lightning and fall in Hell! Burn in the eternal flames of Hell! Ye demons! Ye humans who walk by the side of demons!
Post-battle: Being judged by my own creation means that ye have already let go of my hand. Think ye that ye shall be able to find your way without the help of my unseen hand? Remember well. Humans can live with nothing to trust or rely on. But humans are not strong. Every time humans shall seek my help, the Great Will of the Universe shalt bring me forth countless times...
Pre-battle: Praise my name! There is no one to rival my glory. Praise my name! Ye have finally showed to me. Accursed child of man, Aleph! Thou art a wicked human, a created being that cannot go against my law. Hiroko! Thou hast offered thy body to create an accursed human. Not only have ye both violated my laws, ye have even come to stand before me. The many sins ye have committed are worth certain death. Still, after that irredeemable death, after the continuous persecutions in Hell, your reincarnations shall be stricken by calamities and divine retribution until the very last!
Post-battle: Ye accursed humans! Ye have finally committed the ultimate sin. Now there is nothing left for ye who have destroyed me, the Creator, the father of all, nothing to trust, nothing to rely on. Ye have even killed the Demon King Lucifer. What shall ye do by yourselves? Remember well. Humans can live with nothing to trust or rely on. But humans are not strong. Every time humans shall seek my help, the Great Will of the Universe shalt bring me forth countless times...
Pre-battle: Humans, demons...in the end, they are all my creations. Your blades cannot even scratch me. If that be so, ye shall be stricken by my lightning and fall in Hell! Burn in the eternal flames of Hell! Ye demons! Ye humans who walk by the side of demons!
Post-battle: It is your victory. The Creator defeated by his own creations shall now vanish. I cannot bear to see the world that used to move under my law descend into chaos. Who shall be the leader of the new but chaotic world? Lucifer? Shall Aleph and Hiroko be worshipped as saviors? Remember well. Humans can live with nothing to trust or rely on. But humans are not strong. Every time humans shall seek my help, the Great Will of the Universe shalt bring me forth countless times...
The most tantalizing of YHVH's lines are those before the Neutral final battle. This is probably the entire basis for the Hijiri = Aleph hypothesis. However, this appears to be an empty threat unless YHVH actually kills Aleph which, due to our bias as players, we assume doesn't happen. On the other paths, he threatens Aleph and company to eternal torture in Hell...yet we never hear any crazy theories about those ramifications. The common threat all three paths share is that, after defeat, YHVH says the Great Will (through human desire) will revive him. This is probably the actual "punishment": Humans need to tread carefully and depend on each other rather than the supernatural, as the specter of Law/Neutral/Chaos looms ever large.
But refuting the Hijiri-Aleph connection is that Japanese commentary on the subject, as I’ve researched, tends to be light and what few mentions exist could be influenced by the English fanbase; I have a Japanese Nocturne: Maniacs fanbook that, as far as I can tell, makes no overt mention of the connection even though the journalist Hijiri is used as a framing device to introduce the content of each chapter. There’s also the fact that SMT4, a game even more eager than Nocturne’s bonus content to reference the past, offers no clear Aleph analogue/infinite water scooper. There was even a perfect opportunity in SMT4A’s Heroes DLC for the Demi-fiend to say to Aleph that he “seems familiar,” but that didn’t happen. And speaking of that DLC, Aleph mentions that he was killed by the Megiddo Ark, which only fires on Law--meaning they incorporated the Aleph that would be damned to eternal punishment in Hell rather than reincarnated torture. Clearly this connection has never been important to Atlus. Hijiri's past self could just as well describe an original character as much as Aleph.
|Just a dude and his oversized |
Buddhist prayer wheel
Anyway, this is all why I think the Lady in Black’s commentary about Hijiri is just backstory for backstory’s sake! It’s supposed to sound cool--and that’s it. No thought given to what else it impacts. You could substitute Hijiri for Futomimi or Sakahagi and it would affect nothing. Sloppy writing at the conceptual level! What else is there to say?
This sloppiness is also why Hijiri’s extra origin story reminds me of SMT4, because it seems every bit as contrived and overwrought as that game’s worst bits. And honestly, it’s the only one of the Lady in Black’s dialogues that’s even particularly egregious, but it all has to do with how little it has to do with the actual narrative. And given that Yamai is the only one of the Maniacs writers to also have a hand in SMT4, I’m seeing a connection. It’s sad to say, but I think Yamai, the guy in charge, might be the weak link in the Maniacs Team chain.