Hajime Is Based (from guest writer Lux)
The Hajime Pill
Why Am I Doing This? Have I Gone Mad?
This all started as a joke.
I love Hajime. Chase… …doesn’t.
I’d send hyperbolic messages about how Hajime is an untouchable God. He’d send me posts about how babies are stupid and say “this is Hajime’s brain level.”
Finally, one day, he made the joke that I need to write a five paragraph essay defending Hajime.
I tried. I had too much to say.
And so, like a malignant Junko AI, I’ve come to takeover Chase’s site to post my overly long manifesto, a 13,000 word long defense of Hajime. May it bring you despair.
And look, I won’t try to convince anyone to adore Hajime, as reaction to characters is subjective, but rather, I hope anyone reading this can understand why I personally adore the dweeb. I’ll also note that I wrote this before reading Chase’s essay, and mine turned out to play far more fast and loose with canon. I’m using fan created content, wild speculation and a lot of theorizing to make my arguments. My style has always been and always will be chaotic and subjective. Chase can vouch for this, as I spent most of Trigger Happy Havoc absolutely convinced they were all clones.
With expectations set, let’s get the truth bullet I have loaded in the chamber established so you at least understand the points I’m working with here.
There’s a wide variety of topics to cover with Hajime, but the main point I want to hone in on is how relatable his struggle is. He is fundamentally a relatable protagonist, and I find that to be paramount to my argument about him. Anyone who feels inadequate knows what it’s like to be Hajime, and I’ve talked about Hajime’s struggles in relation to people in my real life who felt the pressures of society weighing down on them, and who have said in turn what I described was exactly how they felt. However, broad assertions about Hajime’s emotional resonance might be best served for the finale of this long, long, long ass essay. Instead, I’ll begin with a simple but important question, is Hajime “functional” as a protagonist?
Protagonist versus Point of View Character
In order to prove Hajime functions well as the central figure of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, I first need to set the basic foundation proving that Hajime works both as a “protagonist” and as a “perspective holder” for the entire narrative. The main character of a story usually fulfills the roles of both the story’s protagonist and the point of view through which the story’s perspective gets filtered, but they do not technically require the same qualifications. I’ll spare you the high school Freshman analysis of the Greek origin of the word “protagonist” and provide a clear, to the point distinction based loosely on what K.M. Weiland describes as a “protagonist” in Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 3: The Thing Your Character Wants vs. The Thing Your Character Need and what a bunch of nerds in an essay called Social Network Analysis of Alice in Wonderland defined as a point of view character. Basically, a protagonist does the thing within the context of a situation, and a point of view character has opinions on the situation.
Sometimes, these two aren’t the same. I’ll steal the example used in the Alice in Wonderland essay those nerds wrote because what are they gonna’ do about it? In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway is the point of view character, but he’s more or less sitting in the back of the party drinking PBR thinking about how he’s not like other girls. The protagonist of The Great Gatsby is in the title. Gatsby does stuff in the novel. A lot of stuff. Presumably, in-universe, he has feelings about the world he lives within. I don’t get a sense Gatsby agrees with Tom’s rant about how “Civilization’s going to pieces”-
Anyway, I don’t get the sense that Gatsby agrees with Tom’s rant about how “Civilization’s going to pieces” but we rarely in the novel get scenes alone between Tom and Gatsby. Having needed to skim the novel to ensure accuracy for the sake of this essay, I was struck by the realization that I had a false memory of sorts about what happened at the beginning. I could have sworn that at one point in one of the earliest scenes, Gatsby becomes increasingly agitated while trying to maintain a cordial demeanor at a dinner while Tom spouts White Supremacist rhetoric. However, a quick re-read of the novel revealed that the scene I was thinking of took place with Nick, at a point of the narrative before Gatsby even gets a proper character introduction. Despite all that Gatsby does, wants and tries to achieve in the story, that story is filtered through the subjective lens of Nick. Nick as the point of view character is not just defined by his interactions, like the one described with Tom, but also by his observations about those interactions. The nerds who wrote about Alice describe two types of “social events” a character can be involved with, an “interaction” (INR), “in which both parties are aware of each other and of the social event” (Tom and Nick shared an awkward interaction at dinner) and observation (OBS), “in which only one party is aware of the other and on the interaction, e.g., thinking of or talking about someone” (Nick thinking “there was something pathetic in his concentration, as if complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more”). Any character can have an interaction, but only the point of view character has observations about it.
The first point is an easy sell to those in the know about the narrative progression of Danganronpa 2, and I assume if you’re reading this overstuffed fan-essay on why I personally adore Hajime so much I’m going to go ahead and assume you fit into that category. I’ll also assume most readers understand how a protagonist’s “arc” works, so I appreciate your patience as I give the rundown of a somewhat common concept of character creation as I need to lay some groundwork for the definitions I will be working with here. In simple terms, the arc of a protagonist typically involves a character having an initial “want” they believe will fulfill an emptiness in their soul, the want is antithetical to their deeper, subconscious “need,” and in the end a protagonist typically must choose the “need” over the “want” to develop as a character.
Of course, certain protagonists bend the rules, such as Zuckerberg achieving his “want” in the Social Network of creating the world’s most popular social media website, while failing to fulfill his “need” of true human connection, symbolized by constantly refreshing the page after sending an ex-girlfriend he dicked over a friend request in the last shots of the film. A more straightforward example that follows the typical format is Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender. He wants to achieve prestige within the fire nation’s militaristic standards, he needs to learn to become his own man as he comes of age in a world ravaged by the fire nation’s imperialism, and he chooses the need over the want by the end when joining forces with Aang and the gang by the story’s conclusion.
It’s fairly easy to see how Hajime follows the somewhat traditional structure for a character arc. He wants to be Izuru Kamukura, someone with boundless talent and thus acting as a “model” successful citizen within Japanese society. What he really needs, which the apathetic nihilistic Kamukura could never have, is to form a genuine bond with another human. In that sense, he’s a lot like the protagonist of The Social Network but without the failure to choose the need over the want. Hajime’s motivations remain consistent with this arc throughout the game. Sometimes, he makes poor decisions because of his insecurity about lacking talent, such as choosing to enter the Funhouse knowing it’s a trap because Monokuma baits him with the possibility of new information regarding his Hope’s Peak profile. He faces down a character foil in the form of everyone’s favorite psychotic twink Nagito (and oh buddy will we get to Nagito in more depth later down the line), someone who taunts Hajime at every turn for his lack of talent. And finally, we get a pep talk from Chiaki towards the end of the game where Chiaki all but shatters the fourth wall to tell Hajime to choose his need over his want, telling him he needs to “choose his own future” regardless of society’s broader expectations and stating “being talented isn’t the goal.”
Hajime chooses his own future, thanks Chiaki as the virtual world crumbles around him, and the game ends on an open-ended but, ironically enough, hopeful ending. As a protagonist, Hajime completes an arc with a message I find to be both simple and profound in its clarity. Avstinado in the video essay Why Danganronpa 3 Is So Painful describes the core thesis of Hajime’s arc in Danganronpa 2 being “that shouldering the weight of others and society’s expectations at large is untenable, and makes people miserable; the best thing that we can do is be ourselves and be good to those closest to us in the hope that we can find a better way to live.”
So, no one is really arguing that Hajime isn’t a good protagonist because of a lack of motivations, character trajectory or narrative progression. If that was everyone’s contention with the character, I could end the essay here, and probably do something more productive with my life than write thousands of words defending an anime boy from a game where a chef gets battered and deep-fried as an execution.
That’s not your contention with Hajime though, is it?
The problem many, many fans of the franchise express about Hajime as the focal point of a mainline Danganronpa game has little to do with whether or not Hajime functions properly in the well-oiled plot machine. The issue many take is that he’s a little too suited for a well-oiled machine, an exoskeleton of a character with a technical arc and function within the narrative without enough seasoning or personality of his own to make him interesting in his own right. When former high school cheerleaders tweet about how they once ghosted a guy on Tinder for too easily imagining him sitting alone at the lunch table, they’re thinking of Hajime. When voters with no political affiliation refuse to vote for a candidate not based on policy but because he seems like “just some guy,” they’re thinking of Hajime. And when haunted Chuck-E-Cheese mascots come knocking at Hajime’s door, you better believe they’ll mistake him for a cold, lifeless exoskeleton, and I know more than one furry with such microscopic adoration for this dork they’d gladly stuff him inside a fursuit and leave him for dead in the backrooms.
It may seem like I’m making Chase’s argument for him, and let it never be said I think Hajime stands out as colorful in a series as proud of its absurdity as Danganronpa. However, while I certainly agree that Hajime does not stand out in a game where Gundham Tanaka waxes poetic about his hamsters being demons from another dimension, or where a high school girl acts as the world’s greatest assassin for the Yakuza, I actually think that, compared to most protagonists across fiction, Hajime isn’t as bland as he might initially come across. Not only will I attempt to explain why I personally feel Hajime isn’t so bland in the broader scheme of fictional characters, but I’m going bigger: I’ll argue Hajime being “just some guy” within the context of Danganronpa 2 is good actually. Maybe even great.
“Just Some Dude” Syndrome and Why It Works Here
How Hajime and the rest of the cast work in-tandem
Many argue Hajime does not express an explicit interest in any one particular subject. I would argue he only stands out this way because Danganronpa has created such a literalization of character interest: this one is the super high school level gambler, that one is the super high school level swordswoman. By comparison, this makes Hajime appear dull, but other point-of-view characters display personality without having any particular “special interests.”
For example, take the film Coraline. The point-of-view character holds a perspective: she is curious, impatient, and bored of her drab circumstances. However, she does not hold a status-defining special interest. She expresses a vague knowledge of folk-lore in the form of understanding that mushroom circles act as “pixie rings,” but she is not a “super high school level” anything. Take even a character from a film with a less traditional structure, Daniel Plainview the oil tycoon from There Will Be Blood. He dominates the economy of a small town in early 20th century Southern California. However, some specialized interest in a particular type of oil drilling (in fact the inciting incident of the film happens by sheer accident), but rather he is defined by his perspective; his ambition, his proficiency at lying and above all else, his sheer bitterness towards the rest of humanity. This bitterness as a central perspective doesn’t just reveal the type of person he is, it’s paramount to the meaning and feel of the entire film.
Coraline Jones, Daniel Plainview and Hajime Hinata all share a spot as some of my favorite protagonists in fiction, and they shoulder the weight of the narratives built around them without needing any special area of expertise to define them. All three breathe life into their respective stories through their interactions with other characters, their striving towards clearly defined goals which make them highly motivated as characters, and by filtering the events through a perspective full of personality.
Hajime acts as the point of view within a third-person limited framework because he has “observation links pointing to other characters but [does] not receive observation links.” As the point of view of Danganronpa 2, Hajime shoulders the responsibility of offering the entire story a perspective. Afterall, we see the world of Jabberwock island through Hajime’s eyes first, before we see it through our own. Therefore, without an interesting perspective, the entire game would collapse. Why consume a narrative filtered through the limited viewpoint of a boring normie, afterall? Well, the normie point is inarguable, but for my money Hajime is far from boring. Hajime’s inner monologue provides color and insight right from the start. At the end of the first chapter, Hajime ponders the night sky alone late at night, and I find his soliloquy rather beautiful:
This reveals that right from the start, Hajime is a bit of a sensitive poet, and I think that’s a worthy perspective from which to perceive the events and people in the game. I especially love his description of Nagito’s madness, staring deep into his eyes (ha! Gaaaaay!) and saying “the darkness in his eyes shone brightly, as if layers upon layers of darkness were folding into each other… …As if hope and despair had been crudely mixed together.” What Hajime lacks in the talent and brash bombast of Class 77-B, he more than makes up for in insight, relatability, empathy, charm, intelligence and complexity. And no, don’t you dare bring up the “an octagon is a shape with eight sides, right?” to Truth Bullet away my point about intelligence. Hajime begging the question on such a simple matter was a direct result of the exact insecurities Nagito picked at like a scab the entire chapter up to the trial, and there’s a reason Chiaki, fulfilling the thankless role of the “only sane woman here” but figuratively and in a literal sense due to her status as a “teacher” program designed by the future program, always goes to Hajime first when a crime needs solving.
The rest of the cast does not stand out because Hajime acts as some blank slate for gamers to project themselves onto, but rather Hajime’s character in and of itself if the kind of person of person would create a game like Danganronpa, a quiet dreamer with the imagination to come up with an extraordinary cast but who often feels unable to communicate their rich inner world to those around them. Far from being some bland wafer cookie of a point-of-view character, Hajime infuses the story with a glut of flavor, it’s just not the flavor one expects from a Danganronpa character. I’ll put it like this: if the rest of the cast is “sweet,” then Hajime is “savory.” It’s a little hard not to think about food when discussing Danganronpa 2, almost as if there’s another story about a quiet dreamer surrounded by quirky characters they can barely comprehend that utilized consumption as one of the main motifs. It may seem early in my arguments to start indulging in tangents but trust me, this is a rabbit hole worth exploring.
THEOREM I .5
We’re all mad here
The intentional allusions to Alice in Wonderland, and the parallels between Alice’s and Hajime’s roles within their respective narratives
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Once upon a time, someone coming of age within a strict, traditionalist society bemoans their lack of agency within that societal structure. This person tries their best to internalize their role as subservient to an authority figure but can’t help their mind wandering off. Suddenly, a neurotic, fearful white rabbit appears to transport them to a strange land where the rules baffle them. They along their journey in this strange land meet several strange characters who often speak in nonsense and fail at effective communication. After a perceived mishap entirely out of their control, a foppish male authority figure forces them to defend themselves in a deadly trial. They overcome this authority figure using logic to point out clear contradictions. This proves fruitless, however, as the foppish male judge falls away and a new, towering feminine figure arrives to act as the ultimate authority. She does not listen to logic, her authority cannot be defied, and she proclaims that the future of the protagonist has already been determined. The protagonist cannot win through their logic anymore, realizing that no matter how logical their arguments might be, some authority figures do not listen to logic at all. They only win the trial through recognizing their own authority, holding to faith in their ability to determine their own future. The strange land of wonder, crumbling upon the realization from the protagonist that it never truly existed, glitches and swirls until the protagonist wakes up. The future for this protagonist is uncertain, but through claiming their own agency in the face of uncaring authority, and asserting that the future is theirs to decide, the story ends on an open but hopeful note, as our hero preparese to embrace the reality of growing up.
Danganronpa 2 : Goodbye Despair boasts an impressive number of allusions to Alice In Wonderland. Usami acts as a white rabbit who brings the main cast into a digital wonderland. The game features similar imagery to the novel, such as consistent references to “consumption” with the Strawberry and Grape Funhouse, a chunky Byakuya, Akane’s obsession with food, starvation as one of Monokuma’s motives, and Gundham’s monologue about cannibalism. Sonia looks similar to many famous depictions of Alice as well, with her blond hair, hair band and Victorian era inspired dress. The game even name-drops the title “Jabberwock,” a reference to an intentionally nonsensical poem featured in Wonderland’s sequel novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. These elements do not feature so prominently in Danganronpa 2 as mere Easter Eggs for players, but provide a fairly direct roadmap to how the protagonists function across both stories.
Hajime represents something of an analog for Alice. Both are intelligent dreamers who simultaneously understand the impending pressure of the real world breathing down their necks, while also wishing to escape from those pressures. Both lack the outward eccentricity of the cast around them, yet display far more social intelligence and are able to form genuine bonds with the members of their cast once they adjust their own thinking to match the pitch of the person they want to get through to. Let’s focus on the social intelligence aspect for the time being.
Something I adore about Danganronpa 2 is how genuine the interactions between Hajime and the rest of the cast come across in the Free Time events. Because of the nature of the Free Time events, how you “level up” your relationship with a character involves spending time with them, making correct guesses on questions they ask, and watching a scene of dialogue where the protagonist either asks questions in curiosity or gives a heart to heart to a character that helps them develop as a person. In Makoto’s freetime events in Trigger Happy Havoc, this sequence plays out due to the nature of the game structure, but while I do think Makoto is a sweet guy and I don’t dislike the character, the development never displayed the same level of social intelligence in my personal opinion. I’m not here to dunk on Super High School Level Golden Retriever Makoto Naegi, but I do believe a point of comparison might shed some light on my affinity for Hajime.
Chihiro from Trigger Happy Havoc and Akane from Goodbye Despair don’t share much in terms of characterization (aside from both being trans icons in my book), but both share an insecurity: fear of vulnerability. Makoto and Hajime, respectively, both help them through this insecurity, but I much prefer Hajime’s approach. In Chihiro’s final Free Time event, they ask “hey Makoto..? Do you have any kind of inferiority complex?” Makoto responds that because he has no magnificent super high school level talent, he often feels lesser than his fellow Hope’s Peak Academy students. However, when Chihiro asks how he deals with this, Makoto simply says he has no means of dealing with it and thus throws himself into whatever he can to distract himself. Chihiro then responds they will throw themselves into working out, and thanks Makoto for the advice. The game acts as though this represented character development for Chihiro, but anyone who reached the second trial knows this rings: Makoto’s advice accidentally caused Chihiro to throw themselves full speed ahead right into their insecurity, and it was seeking out Mondo as a work-out partner that lead to Chihiro’s demise. I don’t blame Makoto for Chihiro’s death, in fact Mondo murders Chihiro in Chapter Two whether the player completes a Free Time event or not, but the lack of actual characvter growth for Chihiro by the end of their final Free Time event, to me, shows the limitations of Makoto’s naive, golden retriever approach to communication.
Let’s compare this to Hajime and Akane’s interaction in Akane’s final Free Time event. Akane, when describing her background, proclaims “weak people die and there’s nothin’ you can do about it! No matter what happens, you can’t complain!” Hajime doesn’t tell Akane she should distract herself from her feeling of weakness (a feeling hilariously brought on by her mistaking a white sheet for a ghost). In fact, Hajime turns Akane’s insecurity entirely on its head. In a simple sentence that honestly gets to me emotionally every single time due to its effectiveness, Hajime asks “What’s… wrong with being weak…?”
Much like Makoto, Hajime ties Akane’s struggles back into his own. He goes on to say “It’s normal to be weak… Humans feel overwhelmed sometimes… and even cry… I know I do, so what’s wrong with that?” In this sense, Makoto and Hajime both took a page out of Dr. Brene Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability, sharing moments where they felt overwhelmed to show otherwise strong people that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes, and building a bond through a shared vulnerability. However, Makoto did not level with Chihiro in the same way. He didn’t display the same curiosity towards the inner workings of Chihiro’s mind as Hajime did for Akane, as Hajime went above and beyond to address her problem rather than encourage her to ignore it. In a sense, despite Hajime being more cynical than Makoto, Hajime actually proves himself to be the more curious of the two.
Now, due to the “railroad” nature of the game’s narrative, whether or not you complete Akane’s Free Time events has no bearing on the actual story. Akane still makes dumb decisions based around her learned defaulting to violence to solve problems late into the game, like when she almost strangles Nagito to death in Chapter 5 before Chiaki literally slaps some sense into her. Not that Nagito minds.
Neither Makoto nor Hajime could “solve” the fear of vulnerability Chihiro and Akane both share. However, I feel Hajime’s connections to his classmates are just far more genuine and believable. Hajime can get on someone’s level, even someone as strange as self proclaimed “supreme overlord of ice “ Gundham Tanaka. In Gundham’s first Free Time event, he says “pleasure and pain are irrelevant as long as you have a purpose, and take action for that sake.” the context in which he says this? He’s describing how he prepares and cleans pumpkin seeds for his hamsters. Oh, I’m sorry, his “four dark devas of destruction.” You’d be forgiven for not understanding half of what Gundham is ever saying (insert “Jesse, what the hell are you talking about?” meme image here), but Hajime, for all the accusations lobbed his way about being a boring normo, sure does seem to be able to. He responds saying “you’re right… that’s exactly right. Gundham is hard to understand sometimes, but I do understand the intent behind his words.” Now, I don’t know about you, but anyone who can get a foothold on what Gundham fucking Tanaka means at any given point in time is far from a bland character in my book.
Much like Alice, Hajime functions as a point of view through which the rest of the wacky cast gets perceived. If that perception lacked insight, we inherently would not get to know much about the characters around Hajime at all other than through our own inferences. If Hajime lacked the ability to ask questions that could peel back the layers of the characters around him, they couldn’t reveal those layers to us, the player. While some character reveals have little to do with Hajime’s prodding, such as Fuyuhiko and Peko’s trial 2 debate about whether she is a true person or just a tool that plays out uninterrupted by the rest of the class, Hajime is the crux of class 77-B, and they wouldn’t be as strong without him at the center to lean on as a solid foundation. Remember that paper written by the nerds I mentioned earlier about Alice’s role as the central figure in Alice in Wonderland? Well, with regard to Alice’s “centrality” as a character, the analysis remarks “it is clear that Alice is not the most central character in every chapter” and that she does not appear as a character talked or thought about in the OBS network. The analysis remarks:
Notice that Alice is completely absent in this network: no one thinks about or mentions her. This is to be expected, as Alice is our guide through Wonderland. No one mentions her because she is present in every scene, thus any dialog about her will become an interaction. Likewise, no one thinks of her because the reader is not presented with other character’s thoughts, only Alice’s.
If the White Rabbit in the original Alice in Wonderland represents Alice’s innate curiosity, and the White Rabbit in Danganronpa 2 acts as a symbol of hope and friendship, then Hajime’s core characteristic is his curiosity about the strange people around him despite his skeptical nature.
I mentioned earlier that Hajime strikes me as the type of quiet person with enough imagination to conjure a cast full of wacky characters rather than someone who is a wacky character himself. When it comes to the Alice In Wonderland comparisons, however, this may actually prove to be somewhat literal. While Hajime does remind me of Alice, particularly in both the character journeys they traverse and their functions in connecting the social networks of their respective casts, Hajime also reminds me of the author of Lewis Carroll. Carroll, despite writing about intentional nonsense, was an introverted, reserved man who was a mathematician before penning Wonderland. He also cared deeply about developing bonds with others, despite his own shortcomings in terms of communication and feelings of isolation.
As described in the youtube video essay Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll | In-Depth Summary & Analysis from the channel “Course Hero” :
Charles Dodgson, the real name of author Lewis Carroll, was a reserved man who suffered from a stammer since childhood. He was all too familiar with the pitfalls inherent in the types of social situations that Alice encounters in wonderland. And his parodies focus on the problems of breakdowns in social communication.
I think we’ve done enough exalting the social prowess of Hajime, however, because a great joy of the character, for me at least, comes from how much of a dweeb this guy is. And make no mistake, Hajime is a dweeb. He’s a “Pinkerton is my favorite Weezer album because River Cuomo finally embraces his inherently subjective outlook” level dweeb. He’d probably hang a framed perfect attendance certificate on his wall next to all the trophies he hasn’t won due to his lack of talent. Hajime may develop social intelligence slowly over time due to his inherent curiosity about other people’s experiences, but his stiff, logical demeanor and often limp, impotent attempts to join social groups makes him all but invisible to most people. I’d describe Hajime as being more “rational” than most of the people around him, but often has a difficult time understanding that most people don’t operate on rationality. Hajime only begins to form bonds with classmates other than Chiaki, who Chase describes as Danganronpa’s version of “Clippy,” when he does his best to adjust himself to their wavelength and speak in terms that could get through to them. He’s Jerry Seinfeld in a setting bursting with Kramers. And I fucking love that.
In this way, the Free Time events function as something of a mutually beneficial transaction; Hajime learns to open up to strange people, and in learning to get through to those people they learn from him. In the meantime, however, it’s just hilarious watching “just some guy” try to make sense of the exaggerated Anime characters around him. For example, when Kazuichi calls Akane “empty-headed” during trial 3, Akane fires back with her entire chest “Listen up! The emptier your head, the more dreams you can fit inside of them!”
We cut to Hajime, reduced to stunned silence at the stupidity on display.
This moment is honestly my favorite comedic beat in all of Danganronpa, and Hajime didn’t have to say a damn word.
Now, for some, the role of the “straight man” acts as a double-edged sword. While such a wacky cast might feel more palatable with the ultimate standard lego man figure at the helm, doesn’t that make Hajime, almost by necessity, the least interesting of the bunch? If his narrative function is to be a “nothing” character, doesn’t that leave us with, well, nothing? I’d argue he’s not a blank slate in terms of personality, even if he possesses no talent worthy of parading around like a Japanese high-schooler version of a Westminster. That trait is cynicism, which acts as both a source of rot as his internal core to be overcome, and a valuable tool for strengthening social bonds.
Can you like, chill for a sec?
Why Hajime’s methodical approach to the cases is a breath of fresh air
Hajime takes a step-by-step approach to each case, almost never going into a trial with a “false” culprit because he puts the details in front of theories. If someone like Dr. House uses deductive reasoning, then Hajime leans more towards inductive reasoning. Neither approach makes for a more interesting character in and of itself, but I love how Hajime’s careful nature underlies key themes in Danganronpa 2.
First, I must examine how Hajime’s cynical perspective infiltrates the narrative itself. Trigger Happy Havoc typically started trials with a “false” culprit. Trial 2 encouraged players to guess Toko to be a red herring to mask the doings of Byakuya, only to reveal Byakuya wanted this all along to test you. Trial 3 posits Yasuhiro as the killer, though to be fair I don’t think the game actually expects anyone to believe the case will be so simple. Trial 4, my favorite case in that game, gives us four false culprits, even giving Byakuya new sprite animations to imply guilt when in reality, his breakdown is one of pure ego. “How can you possibly know what I don’t know?” he says, barely sputtering out the words. A lot of players love that the trials mislead in Trigger Happy Havoc, and from a sheer mystery solving perspective I understand why.
By contrast, the trials in Goodbye Despair leave little room for theorizing at the onset. Only Trial 2 features a standard “twist” of false culprits; first the suspicion falls on Hiyoko, then Fuyuhiko before dropping a bombshell reveal of his connection to Peko. Every other case discourages theorizing before the case itself. In fact, Trial 4 of Goodbye despair spends its entire first hour detailing the mechanics of the “FunHouse” without a single mention of “who” could have utilized those mechanics at all.
Furthermore, once the jig is up in trial 5 that Nagito is not his own culprit (which is hilarious in its own right; the idea that Nagito is the most suspicious even in his own trial), the discussion does not turn to “who can we theorize would have done such a thing?” but once again falls back to the technical mechanics of who threw the grenades, how to determine which grenade had the poison, and how Nagito used his talent to smoke out the culprit. There’s no shouting matches of “well Kazuichi did it because Nagito scared him!” or “Sonia must be sparkling justice!” The emphasis on technical mechanics can make the second installment appear almost cold and distant. The game even lampshades the idea of a colorful hidden personality reveal like Genocide Jill from THH with Sparkling Justice being nothing more than a farce Peko utilized in cold, calculating fashion to get the class’ votes in quicker. Goodbye Despair seems almost uninterested in motive when given a surface level reading, but here’s the catch; I found this approach to be warm and humanizing, for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate until I really, really thought about what the game wanted to say about Hajime and his value.
The methodical nature of the trials in Goodbye Despair reflects the personality of Hajime as a point of view character. To fully explore this, I must make a somewhat bold claim: I genuinely believe Makoto would have fallen for Mikan’s pleas of helplessness.The third trial of Trigger Happy Havoc features yet another seemingly harmless character revealing herself to be a cold-blooded killer. However, Celese had failed to establish bonds with the other characters prior to her third trial. Mikan, on the other hand, made an art of gaining trust through learned helplessness.
This section will require an exploration of abuse and its impact, so I should clarify that what I am about to say applies to Mikan specifically and I am not making a broad statement about abuse victims in the real world. Mikan acted during her years at Hope’s Peak as a magnet for bullying. She attempted to twist her victimhood into a weapon she could use against others, and much of her dialogue implies an abusive relationship with Junko shaped her in this manner.
Unlike Celeste, who lashes out in direct verbal attacks when backed into a corner (“Enough of your idiotic blabber! Yasuhiro is a loser’s name! Do I look like a loser to you? Well, do I?”), Mikan resorts to inviting the entire class to a big old fashion pity party. She belittles herself, speaks in a pitch higher than what is natural to her, and quivers all in an effort to appear as someone incapable of murder. Makoto’s trusting nature, while often an asset as with getting the “right” ending of Trigger Happy Havoc’s fifth trial, might have left the Mikan trial with a much less happy conclusion. I can only speculate, as we will never really know how a different protagonist would have handled the trial’s in the second game, but I felt at ease with Hajime at the wheel.
Hajime values relationships built with others, and you would think this combined with his insecurities about being left behind would leave him a prime victim for an emotional manipulator like Mikan to sink her teeth into. One of the first scenes in Goodbye Despair does an excellent job of showing how Hajime’s cynical attitude hinders his ability to enjoy time with classmates. Most of the class jumps into the ocean to enjoy a beach day at Usami’s behest. Hajime falters, feeling both left behind and stunted by his own reservations. “Am I wrong?” he ponders to himself, “is there truly nothing to worry about?” Johnny Yong Bosch gives an admirable performance when Hajime finally gives up on his initial suspicions, saying in a voice more eager and even earnest than we typically hear him “hey guys, don’t forget about me!” Interesting choice of words there, “forget.” We will come back to that later. This scene brilliantly illustrates Hajime’s central paradox in terms of forming social bonds; to blindly trust the “group” is often necessary to relax and enjoy time with said group, yet trusting your own reservations can save you.
If Hajime was truly wrong, if there was nothing to worry about, then it wouldn’t be Danganronpa (though Island Mode posits an amusing, cheerful alternative to the killing game storyline). Of course, Monokuma appears to usurp Usami, and the murder party everyone paid to play commences. So, is the lesson of Goodbye Despair to trust no one, ride alone, and indulge in anti-social behavior? Not exactly. In fact, much like how Shuichi of V3 must internalize the lesson that the truth can only be reached through an occasional lie, Hajime learns how to turn his distrusting nature from a trait that isolates him, to a trait that makes him a leader.
Remember what I said earlier about the importance of clear, productive communication as a core theme in Alice in Wonderland? Well, without Hajime acting as the glue to the social fabric of Class 77-B, that communication would fall apart pretty quickly. And throughout the game, Hajime learns to communicate his distrust for strange, potentially dangerous situations in a way that allows him to rally the class, as opposed to his past of feeling isolated because of that distrust. -The social value of distrust acts as a core theme for the entire game, but I’d say Mikan’s trial gives us the most thorough example. As discussed earlier, Mikan mistakes conflict for “bullying,” and only Hajime can break through the smokescreen of pseudo-vulnerability she unleashes when backed into a corner. According to philosopher Sarah Schulman in her work “Conflict is Not Abuse,” a bully often attempts to preserve tenuous social bonds through an expectation of unquestioning loyalty. When suspicion turns on Mikan in trial 3, she rallies everyone to condemn Hajime through an exaggerated display of learned helplessness. “Do you really hate me that much Hajime?” she says through sniffles. Undeterred, Hajime, king that he is, pushes through, stating:
Schulman endorses Hajime’s theory of “trust versus distrust,” stating in Conflict is Not Abuse that “each moment is a consequence of the previous moment, so truths can be complex, and complexity is articulated by its details. Anyone who refuses to hear the details is making a deliberate decision not to understand.” While Trigger Happy Havoc utilized the mechanic of “building a manga” for closing arguments in a trial (literally re-creating the events “piece by piece”), Goodbye Despair truly displays why such an approach can be so crucial.
Now, allow me to pull back a little and express an appreciation for Makoto’s role in Trigger Happy Havoc. Makoto’s optimistic, borderline naive nature makes him the perfect foil to break down the Wall Kyoko constructed to avoid true connection. Trusting Kyoko in spite of the lack of evidence is the “right” decision for that game and the specific dynamic of the characters in it. To be clear, I like that dynamic, and I like that Makoto’s trusting nature helps Kyoko to learn to trust others.
That said, I find a cynical protagonist refreshing. To generalize for a moment, “cynical” protagonists and anti-heroes often display anti-social attitudes meant to be perceived as “bad-ass” (see every David Cage game). Again, this is subjective and generalizing; a wide media diet will expose a wide range of protagonist attitudes so I do not claim Hajime is revolutionary for being both cynical and uncool. However, I want to give credit for feeling refreshing, if not unheard of. Danganronpa 2’s protagonist shows the value of cynicism as a “pro-social” function.
Hajime is who the narrator of Notes from the Underground thinks he is, and I love that for him.
So, is Hajime’s cynicism some indication of a deeper understanding of human nature that the rest of the cast cannot even begin to comprehend? Well no, and I would not want it to be, because Danganronpa at its core tells a story of flawed, often broken teenagers crushed by the school system and the broader expectations of society. Hajime’s distrustful, careful nature comes not from wisdom, but rather from insecurity.With a main character suffering from such clearly defined and characterized insecurities, what causes Hajime to make his biggest mistakes? At around the halfway point of the narrative, where Hajime allows himself to get trapped in the funhouse despite knowing the potential perils of pursuing knowledge of his past life at all costs, was there perhaps a know-it-all twink whispering confirmations about his worst fears in his ear? Does Hajime have a foil? A gay love interest? Perhaps both?
You all know what’s coming. And my God, am I excited to talk about it.
“In love with the hope that’s inside of you,”
A.K.A. the gayest shit I’ve ever seen in my life
The brilliant dynamic between Hajime and Nagito
I’ve put him off long enough, but I’d wager the handful of readers (if that) who stuck around for this essay waited long enough too. Hell, I’ve waited long enough. Sticking him this far down the essay while putting so much painstaking effort into making sure all the support beams for my arguments can withstand my loftier claims has me as ravenous as Akane locked in the grape house. A metric fuck ton of my excitement for writing this essay came from knowing I’d get to indulge in a deep dive of one of the most fascinating characters in all of Danganronpa.
Let’s talk about Nagito fucking Komaeda.
Siri, play “A Dead End to the Ocean’s Aroma.“
Before beginning this section, I should add that it will appear more of an endorsement of Nagito as a character than Hajime. Their “dynamic” fascinates me in no small part because of the incredible charisma of Nagito as a foil to him. However, main characters aren’t just main characters because they are the most interesting, as they need to act as the firm trunk form which all other roots sprout from, connecting the entire cast. As “Avstinado” said in Why Danganronpa 3 Is So Painful,
“I’m of the belief that the best protagonists embody the ideas and
the thematic core of the work. Side characters often can be more interesting and at times even have more sticking power, but that’s because the weight of the main events are shouldered by the Herculian might of the story’s chosen few. They have to act as an axis that everything else revolves around. Other characters shouldn’t be able to exist as competently without them.”
Nagito could not exist in a game without Hajime as a protagonist, and it all comes down to their wants and needs.
In stories that follow a standard narrative structure, characters have both a conscious “want” they falsely believe will make them complete, and an unconscious “need” they are actually trying to fulfill. I find it interesting how Nagito and Hajime have almost the same unconscious “need.” They both “need” to provide a necessary function within a social group that will not abandon them. They share the same false “want” as well; a talent. Nagito, having internalized fully the mantra of Hope’s Peak that “talent inspires hope,” both adores himself and detests himself. He feels better than the talentless for having a solidified role within the academy (and says as much in often eugenics-adjacent rhetoric). However, he detests himself for having the “worst” talent, or so he believes. It’s my theory that the “true” reason Nagito detests himself has nothing to do with how spectacular his talent is or isn’t, but rather that simply having talent did not actually fulfill his need for connection.
He views his classmates not as people but as “symbols of hope” which he defines as an absolute good because he never even thought to question the propaganda of Hope’s Peak. By extension, he views himself as not a full person but a “stepping stone.” In my favorite line of his, he asks to be remembered as the “ultimate hope” with a “bronze statue.” A gold statue would imply self-aggrandizement, but to invoke the imagery of a “statue” is to view oneself within the context of a literal object worth admiring. He objectifies himself, but only as a monument to bronze mediocrity.
The reason Hajime is different from Nagito is that Hajime, while at first clinging to the same delusions that developing an incredible talent will fulfill his spiritual desires, finds all the fulfillment his soul screamed for without talent. Nagito doesn’t notice this, but his brain does. To explain what I mean, I need to dive into a theory often put forth as a playful fantasy for shippers of the characters but what I will say with full conviction; Nagito loves Hajime.
Nagito and Hajime’s romantic tension typically acts more as meme-fodder than anything else. When Nagito revealed his lunacy in the first half hour of the first trial, someone who I was playing the game with exclaimed “oh god! He’s gone full twink!” And I’ll admit there’s something hilarious about pairing the plain, cautious, orderly Hajime who would likely need a fainting couch if he ever received a B+ on a book report with a wildcard like Nagito who once put five bullets in a six chamber gun to make Russian Roulette a little more exciting. The game itself even makes jokes of this nature, having Nagito spout “I hate you Hajime” when he has the liar’s disease, and saying to Hajime “lick my feet” during the investigation in Trial 2.
Not everything in Goodbye Despair is meant to be taken seriously, which is part of the joy of playing the game.That said, funny as Nagito is as a character and how difficult it can be to take seriously the notion of him being in a relationship with anyone, I think Nagito’s love for Hajime, and I do mean romantic, homosexual love, is crucial to the themes of the game. To examine what I mean, and what this says about Hajime as a character, I will focus on one line in the last freetime event for Nagito. Nagito first begins to say “I love you,” but changes tracks, and re-arranges the grammatical structure of the sentence in an attempt to backtrack by saying “I am in love with the hope that is inside of you.”
Goodbye Despair, despite my admiration for the layers of depth contained within its narrative, resembles “genre fiction” more so than “literary fiction.” Nekomaru becomes a robot, “luck” acts as a superpower and the fate of the world rests on decisions teenagers make. However, a pearl of wisdom that really struck me came from user “Albedo” on the AbsoluteWriter forum when he stated “genre fiction and literary fiction are not binary classifications, but rather work in constant dialogue with each other.” Goodbye Despair utilizes this “dialogue” to brilliant effect in a rather brilliant way: through the literal “dialogue” Nagito speaks in when speaking to Hajime.
To borrow an excerpt from Robert McKee’s On Dialogue;
“On the nose writing eliminates subtext by erasing conscious, unsaid thoughts and desires, along with subconscious, unsayable longings and energies, and leaving only spoken words, delivered in blatant, explicit, hollow-sounding speeches.”
However, McKee does not assert that the approach of writing dialogue as sloppy and inarticulate of a character’s actual, deeper needs acts as a magic formula to insert into every type of story. In fact, with regards to dialogue in “genre” fiction, McKee has this to say:
“At some point during the fiction-writing process, every writer must answer that troublesome question: Exactly what kind of story am I telling? Two grand visions define the storyteller’s approach to reality: the mimetic and the symbolic. One of the key differences between nonrealism and realism is subtext. Nonrealism tends to diminish or eliminate it; realism can’t exist without it.”
So, does a work of “genre fiction” need to strip all subtext in order to function? Well, again, to come back to Albedo, the genres are not opposites but rather in constant dialogue. I would argue Trigger Happy Havoc sits firmly in the camp of the symbolic as a means of establishing the core themes of the series. While characters like Byakuya and Kyoko reveal hidden layers throughout the game, most of the dialogue reflects a somewhat literal nature. The conflict centers on hope versus despair, and Makoto wins the day by giving a speech about the power of hope one would hardly find an ounce of irony or subtext within. This is not a criticism of the first Danganronpa, as the game does a phenomenal job establishing the core themes in a way so straightforward that they act as constant pillars holding up the rest of the series.
Goodbye Despair acts as genre fiction as well, but I’d argue it skews closer to “literary” than the prior installment because of its questioning of hope as an absolute good, thus building on the simple yet clear and effective concepts presented in Trigger Happy Havoc. Now, here is where I find Nagito fascinating: he understands that he is in a work of genre fiction, but he doesn’t hear the dialogue that the genre is having with literary fiction. He believes he can win the day through inspiring speeches and hope alone, just like Makoto could.Nagito is so close to understanding the genre he’s in without fully grasping what’s missing in his soul. If Makoto is the gold statue of hope, Nagito is the bronze.
As a result, the dialogue in Goodbye Despair executes something I will go as far as describe as genius: it uses Nagito’s inability to speak in subtext to display subtext. I’ll state first that I don’t believe Hajime loves Nagito back. At no point do we get an indication this dynamic is anything more than one-sided. So why, then, does Nagito pine for normal type pokemon gym leader Hajime Hinata when Hajime shows no interest back? Well, far be it from me to try to define what makes anyone love anyone else when philosophers and poets the world over haven’t quite come up with a succinct definition, but I do have some thoughts.
Let’s start with the premise that Nagito loves Hajime, and that the “why” is somewhat irrelevant. What creates the “obsession,” then, is the paradoxical nature of this love. Hajime, in theory, should be nothing like Nagito’s “ideal” partner. They both start as Hope’s Peak “fans” and both desire to be talented and recognized, but Hajime drifts further and further from this idealizing of Hope’s Peak while Nagito never changes in that way. In fact, Nagito even learns that Hajime has no talent at all, making Hajime even less of a likely candidate for Nagito’s infatuation. And yet Hajime is what Nagito needs; despite his sheer lack of talent, Hajime succeeds throughout the narrative at building genuine connections with others, while Nagito only drifts further and further from the group’s unity. Hajime has accomplished fulfillment without needing talent, and Nagito cannot comprehend that he loves someone who isn’t talented, who is as “inferior” as he believes the talentless to be.
And so the obsession only grows deeper.
Nagito can’t view himself as an actual person because he is so married to the concept of being a “symbol of hope,” an abstract that can only perform a pale mimicry of how real flesh and blood humans interact. His strange speeches and platitudes about hope act as attempts to continue to convince himself that he is more of a symbol than a person. In reality, shouldering the weight of symbolic significance as a “symbol of hope” proves untenable. This self perception denies him the meaningful moments that make life even worth it to begin with. Nagito isn’t a symbol of hope. He’s just a kid. And hes’ a kid who feel in love with a handsome classmate. He was never meant to shoulder the weight of the entire future, and he couldn’t even if he truly wanted to.
And so, the closest he can possibly get to confessing real, human love towards Hajime is through a symbolic platitude. He begins to say “I love you, Hajime” in his final Free Time event (something a bit more “clear” in the sub than the dub), but changes tracks to say “I’m in love with the hope that’s inside of you.” Because even upon recognition of his love for another human being, a symbol can’t love, can they? Thus, his subtextual desire for actual emotional connection reveals itself through the very lack of subtext through which he speaks. He’s an excellent villain.
And he’s not even the only fantastic villain introduced in this game.
The Chad Hajime Versus the Virgin Izuru Kamukura
The importance of identity
I frequent a writer’s forum often, one by the name of AbsoluteWriter. Funny story, it’s actually how Chase and I met. An often created thread goes something along the lines of “what makes a great villain?” Usually the topic goes in a few directions; there will be discussion of what type of story one tells (going back to symbolic versus mimetic in broad strokes), the idea that every villain views themselves as the protagonist, what function they play in conjunction with the hero. Something often brought up as well is the funny little phenomenon that villains often steal the show. I may have sprinkled a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor throughout this essay, but I actually believe I’m somewhat uniquely qualified to talk about villains. I took an entire class on them in undergraduate, and I’d highly recommend that anyone check out the book “I Wear the Black Hat” by Chuck Klosterman for the finer details on perception of individuals as villains, but honestly, I’d say it comes down to something pretty simple. In my opinion, an effective villain follows a line of thinking that makes sense, but traverses down that line of thinking so far that they become cruel and irrational.
This does not apply to every single effective villain, but it’s one of my favorite methods of constructing one. Let’s take Jake LaMotta from Raging Bull for example. I watched that film as a teenager before I knew any academic feminist terminology like “toxic masculinity,” but certainly recognized the patterns of behavior LaMotta displayed. As someone assigned male at birth who now prefers to identify as nonbinary, I’m real aware of what it feels like to live under panopticon-style surveillance regarding how masculine I’m “supposed” to be. I’ve often thought, wouldn’t life just be easier if I threw myself full speed ahead at masculinity, threw out all my nail polish, settled down with a conservative cis woman and played golf on my weekends? Aren’t I making my life harder by putting obstacles in the way of my success with all my gender nonsense? Well, as the film Raging Bull shows, no matter what gender presentation you put forth towards the world, if you don’t have a solid foundation for belief in your own self, no amount of obsessive conformity will ever make you whole.
Raging Bull acts as something of a parasitic invasion horror film, where the seed of insecurity within a boxer about not being as masculine as the men his paranoid brain believes his wife to secretly pine after leads him barreling down a road to permanent self destruction. In one of the most devastating scenes I’ve ever watched in a film, he severs his final human connection, that being one with his brother who stuck by him throughout all of his rage and paranoid delusions, by accusing him of fucking his wife.
God, Joe Pesci is an incredible actor.
Anyway, the point is, a line of thinking considered “rational” can take a turn for the villainous if you charge full steam ahead towards its most logical and literal conclusions. There’s nothing more compelling to me than a “technically” correct villain who forgot to be a human. Bonus points if this “rationality” comes from an external source like societal expectations, because then you can make a societal critique while having fun all the while. In the case of Raging Bull, if society tells you to be the most alpha male in the room, isn’t that just what Jake LaMotta is doing? Isn’t he just taking the alpha male ethos to its most logical conclusion? These are the villains I adore; they start with an understandable building block for their line of thinking, and they twist it into something grotesque. As if hope and despair had been crudely mixed together.
So, what societal expectation does Izuru Kamukura represent? Well, the obvious answer is “success,” but to get a full grasp let’s dig a little into the ethos of Hope’s Peak Academy. Now, Junko is an enigma by design, but I always felt beneath her smokescreen of girlboss Dadaism lies a disdain for “hope” as a concept put forth by the academy. Junko sees the school as a farce, as the amount of work placed on the students breaks their spirits. There are students who study all night with an IV drip in and don’t eat or sleep just to be the “best.” Enter Hajime. Hajime is not the “best” at anything, but his extremely rich and extremely strict parents essentially pay his way in. Eventually, Hajime’s spirit breaks from the weight of expectations instilled in him, and he feels so inadequate that he allows scientists called “talent researchers” rewire his brain chemistry so that he is a hollow shell whose only purpose is to “obtain” talent. They name their experiment “Izuru.” “Izuru” (formally Hajime) initially consented to the neural surgeries because his parents made him feel worthless, but he realizes that a brain wired to only care about success is a brain that no joy can enter through. He decides to become his edgy werewolf alter complete with “I just got out of the shower” hair and glowing red eyes and, alongside Junko, becomes a domestic terrorist to boot. In this sense, Izuru’s mere existence almost justifies Junko’s entire outlook. Look what “hope” brings. It’s just so easy for me to imagine the delight Junko must have felt at the symbol of all of Hope’s Peaks efforts turning out as such an abomination.
I made the claim earlier that Hajime’s core characteristic is his curiosity about the strange people around him despite his skeptical nature. Well, Izuru’s core characteristic is the direct opposite: he is defined by his total boredom and uninterest in anyone around him unless they can serve the purpose of helping him acquire more “talent.” As he so plainly states to Nagito in Chapter Zero, “there is no reason we’ll ever meet again. After all… you are boring… Your talent, your thoughts, your entire existence is boring to me…”
From Izuru blossomed a beautiful, fascinating dark garden of fan content, despite barely making an appearance in the game he spawned from. I attribute this to two major factors. First is the character design. Just look at this sardonic bitch.
Imagine chattering about a topic you feel passionate about, only to be met with Super High School level bitch face. He’s the epitome of “don’t care, didn’t ask, plus L plus ratio.” He looks like a cat waiting for his prey to die right after slashing it open, and according to some of the darker implications from “The Tragedy,” that’s perhaps not so far from reality.
(Watch from 2:38:50 – 2:44:08 for some phenomenal fan-made content that shows what an early killing game headed by Izuru may have been like)
I appreciate the paradox inherent to his design as well. Despite Izuru acting as the embodiment of those bootlicking “how to be a success” articles with titles like Mark Cuban says the worst Career Advice is ‘Follow Your Passion,’ What Should You Do Instead?, he radiates the sin of sloth. He slouches, his mouth hangs open like some dumb animal, and his hair wisps around, sometimes obscuring his own face. He is so accomplished that he takes no care of his own appearance. He is the physical embodiment of identity rot, his body an abandoned temple he no longer bothers to maintain.
This talk of the death of identity brings me to my second theory on why fans have so much to work with off of Izuru despite him only appearing in the last leg of the game, that being how oppressive of a threat to Hajime’s identity he really is. The story structure of “protagonist gets what they want but not what they needed all along” doesn’t break any new ground, but a mangled literalization of that concept typically arrives in the form of a character foil. In Avatar the Last Airbender, Azula represents what Zuko mistakenly believes he needs to become, but ultimately they are not the same person. In comparison, Izuru doesn’t represent a threat to Hajime’s identity, he IS a threat to Hajime’s identity. Izuru could take over Hajime’s consciousness at any moment, and Junko even warns that if the game’s survivors initiate the shutdown sequence, there’s a chance Izuru will push Hajime back into the recesses of his own mind.
Even so, Hajime asserts his own identity, through everything thrown his way.
And it leads to my favorite “let’s fucking go” moment of any videogame ever.
Even with all this analysis, why do I, personally, care so much? Well…
Transing my gender
How the narrative encourages choosing your own future
Let’s talk about trans allegories.
I won’t get too into the academic weeds here. Afterall, this is something personal to me, so I don’t look at potentially trans-coded characters as one would a butterfly pinned to a table. I have too much affection for characters I “trans” for that. What, however, does it mean to “trans” a character, especially one like Hajime Hinata? Well, let’s start by saying I don’t think Kazutaka Kodaka intended Hajime as some intentional trans allegory. In fact, most of the “evidence” I will use to try to explain why I feel the way I do about Hajime can be truth-bulleted away by canonical facts about the Danganronpa timeline. I’m going to make a claim later down the line that Chiaki acts as a phantom for the identity that Hajime truly wants, but that’s a really easy claim to shut down. If you view the Danganronpa 3 anime as canon, for example, then Chiaki was at some point a real student. Even if she wasn’t, the Future Foundation constructed her AI for the entire class, not just Hajime.
Furthermore, I am not the kind of person who can only relate to characters if they reveal themselves as some flavor of queer. I like Steven Universe just fine, but I’ll pass on creating a world where every single bit of character lore in all forms of fiction relates to them subverting gender norms in some way shape or form. I don’t need all media to be about gay space rocks just because I’m a gay space rock myself. If I did, I’d be making the same mistake as Izuru, showing a lack of curiosity about people’s experiences that are not my own. So, is Hajime trans? No. Most of the “queering” of Danganronpa characters at large comes more from popularity of those games among queer fans and not canonical facts about them. There are of course exceptions. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls revealed Chihiro as non-binary in canon, and as I’ve mentioned earlier I do in fact think Kodaka intended Nagito to hold homosexual feelings towards Hajime. Still, usually it’s all speculation on the part of the queer people who are drawn to the series. So, when I make that argument that Hajime acts as a trans allegory, I don’t mean that this was the intention of the creator, or even a necessary reading of the character for you to get the most out of your experience playing the game. Rather, I am personally, and for personal reasons, interpreting the narrative that way because I chose to do a “trans reading” of the text.
There is no one way of doing a “trans reading” of a character. According to the editorial essay “Queer Readings/Reading the Queer” by Jenny Bjorklund, “it is still a dynamic concept with a critical potential.” Queer readings are more about projecting onto a character whose character arc involves subverting the hegemonic values of institutions that oppress people than it is finding clues that someone is trans like some kind of “transinvestigator.” That’s why a lot of queer people relate more to, say, “Gritty” the Philadelphia Flyers mascot than characters on shows in the Queer section of Netflix who say Twitter-screencap ready lines like “friendly reminder that bi people exist.” Representation is not about literal, spoken out loud representation of queer concepts. In that sense, the word “trans” in “trans reading” more closely means “trangressive” than “transgender.” If you’re trans, you’re more likely to relate to a rebel, an oddball, a person pushed to the margins. It’s about being able to empathize with a character so closely as it relates to a queer experience because they too have felt how you did.
And my GOD, have I often felt like Hajime.
So, here’s something potentially embarrassing; back when I was an “egg,” I often imagined a feminine “version” of myself. She had most of the same traits I had, but somehow more self confidence. I never quite understood why, if I just pictured myself with no other differences other than being feminine, they just seemed so much more poised, intelligent and capable.
I wonder why that was.
Hajime is hardly an epic gamer, but otherwise it’s hard not to notice the similarities between him and Chiaki. They both display a skeptical, rational outlook in contrast to the brazen openness of their classmates to new situations. They both have some trouble fitting in with the rest of the class but mean well. They gravitate towards each other from the outset, and in Chapter 4 Hajime anchors himself to Chiaki as a refuge of sanity. She stopped him from going into the final dead room of the funhouse, almost like his better half talking him out of it.
Now, for some, the similarities between the two come across as pandering. I’ve often heard the completely valid criticism that what made Makoto and Kyoko’s dynamic was that they both covered for each other’s blindspots. Kyoko acted as the brains, guiding Makoto to become better at putting his case logic forward, and Makoto made her open up emotionally through chipping away at the wall she put up piece by piece through earned trust. Despite what I’ve said about Trial 5 of Trigger Happy Havoc, it acts as a remarkable culmination of their dynamic up to that point, and the fact that I got the “bad end” on my first playthrough is not an issue with that game’s writing so much as it was sheer misunderstanding on my part.
In comparison, Hajime and Chiaki make a connection almost instantly, and that combined with the fact that she’s the Super High School level gamer in a videogame where the presumed target demographic for it could be reasonably assumed to be straight dudes who would fall for Chaiki, lead to some players raising an eyebrow. And look, If you want to interpret the inclusion of a cute gamer girl who immediately takes a liking to the unremarkable protagonist as an unsavory attempt to satiate the male fantasy, that’s valid. I’m not coming at this text from the perspective of someone interpreting Hajime and Chiaki being in love, so I’m not interested in asking the question of if he “deserves” her in a romantic sense anyway. It’s a question worth asking, but the answer requires nuance and attention that would honestly just distract from the point I’m trying to make in this essay.
Rather, I’m choosing to view their dynamic as such: Chiaki is what Hajime could be, and Chiaki acts not as some mother figure stand-in babying Hajime through the trials to make him feel special, but rather as the better part of him that existed all along. There’s a couple key points of evidence that support this from a “trans reading” perspective not in the literal sense (again, I don’t think Kodaka intended Chiaki to “represent” Hajime post-transition and my goal here is not a “transvestigation”), but in the abstract way transgressive art can really speak to queer people. First is an extremely specific use of diction in the Funhouse. As stated earlier, Nagito represents someone who uncritically absorbed all of the talking points Hope’s Peak put forth regarding the importance of talent acquisition above anything else, and the apex of that comes in Chapter 4 when the sarcastic twink learns Hajime has no talent.
As Nagito waxes poetic in his typical fashion about Hajime’s inherent inferiority, Chiaki simply says “there’s no need… for you to listen to this.” She doesn’t tell Nagito to shut up. She doesn’t try to “disprove” Nagito’s eugenics-adjacent arguments. She just tells Hajime to shut him out. It reminds me of once when someone over a Zoom call began rambling about how bi people don’t exist and how I was making my life more complicated than it needed to be with all my queer “nonsense” because “you can wear a red shirt or a blue shirt but the two don’t mix, you can’t have purple,” and I just muted him. I watched him ramble with cartoonish hand motions in silence, and I felt I had earned some of my agency back. And that’s the power of good representation. A Netflix special straining to earn representation points with stunted dialogue literally stating “bi people exist” can’t dream of achieving what natural dialogue can.
Attempting to “prove” your humanity to someone who already decided you need to earn it won’t convince them. You might as well bring evidence to the court of Wonderland’s Mad Queen. I now take the Chiaki approach of thinking “hey, I don’t have to listen to this.” Because I don’t.
To me, this wasn’t Hajime’s gamer girlfriend giving him superficial encouragement in the face of a bully. This, to me, reads as something far deeper. It reads as the best part of Hajime guiding him away from a dark, conformist line of thinking. Chiaki plays a similar role to the cat in Coraline who warned her of the dangers of the Other Mother. I don’t interpret the cat to be a literal friend of Coraline but rather a stand-in for Coraline’s suspicion and common sense. In fact, in the novel Coraline even remarks that the cat’s voice reminds her of herself. If Nagito spouts a twisted literalization of the Hope’s Peak ethos, Chiaki pulls Hajime towards a “trans” outlook, an outlook of “transgressing” against a status quo that seeks to rewire him into a grotesque sycophant to authority. A status quo whose idea of the perfect student ended up as Izuru Kamukura.
This brings me to the second major reason I interpret Chiaki as representing Hajime’s “true” identity. It’s the final trial. Despite following every logical rule to the debates up until this point, a gigantic Junko has seized power and functionally flipped the table, telling Hajime if he initiates the shutdown, he’ll revert to Izuru. It’s pointless. The pressure mounts as Future Foundation members who survived the first deadly school game shout at him to shut the game down. Hajime says “leave me alone!” and fades into the deepest burrows of his subconscious. He is trying to find who he is, trying to shut out every other voice swirling around in his head telling him what to choose, telling him what his future is, telling him who he is and who to be. He deprives himself of all external influences in one last desperate attempt to answer the question of his own identity as his brain threatens to collapse in on itself from the pressure.
And what does he find, staring back at him?
Sometimes I need a good cry. Crying feels cathartic, and relieves pressure similar to laughing. When I need that laugh, my go-to is to either hang out with my best friend, who will inevitably leave me cackling to the tune of a wisecrack about how “Philly sucks” before I hit him with the reverse uno card and tell him “New Jersey sucks harder.” When I need a good cry, I watch this:
Hajime defeats Junko through asserting only he can choose his future, and that it’s nobody else’s choice. I find it no coincidence either that Hajime and the spirit of Chiaki deliver the final “NO THAT’S WRONG!” together, because they’ve always been together. Because Chiaki has always been a part of Hajime, and she always will be even as Izuru threatens to wrestle back control.
In a figurative sense, I interpret the end as Hajime becoming Chiaki, if not literally. Hajime chooses to embrace the most authentic version of himself he can be. And it’s not a selfish choice either. Hajime chooses to be himself, but who that self is is someone who cares deeply about others. We’ve seen that through his curiosity, his empathy during the Free Time events, and through his overcoming of past despair in the final act of the game. It isn’t selfish to rebel against an unfair system, to be yourself and the best version of that self. That’s hardly profound on the surface, and it’s something I should know already.
That said, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder. Hajime reminds me of that. He gives me permission to be myself. And that’s really, really special to me.
I don’t expect everyone to relate to the “Hajime is trans” theory. Hell, I don’t even expect everyone to believe it. It’s my personal “trans-reading” of the story, and I have no actual proof that this is what Kodaka intended. What I do know Kodaka intended, however, was a transgressive story about overcoming the expectations of a status quo affirming institution. Kodaka frames Hajime’s transgressiveness as something to be celebrated, and whether you’re an overworked pre-med student who has been told you’re you need to work yourself to the bone to succeed, a high school drop out who feels inadequate due to their lack of accomplishments, or anyone who has been told you don’t have value, Hajime is there to shout “NO THAT’S WRONG!” in perfect unison with Chiaki. And the people who tell you otherwise? Well, you don’t have to listen to them.
What I’m really trying to say with all this is, Hajime based.
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