WOOMY(unism)! | Splatoon 2 and Battle Royale
WARNING: This post is hella old. I wrote it back in September 2017 and never got around to doing anything with it. In no way is this a formal essay, or a serious critique – just my mad musings at 2am from when I can’t sleep. I’m also going to be using ‘gory’ (or as gory as I can get) GIFs from Battle Royale (2001), so if that isn’t your thing consider yourself warned.
Cute characters. Aesthetic-fuelled environment. Interesting, unique and adventurous – if somewhat limited – game play. Well done Nintendo! Pat on the back for you! Too bad all I can think of is this:
Back in Autumn of 2017, while I was out doing my research on whether squid equates to kid at three or so in the morning, or whether I should squid or kid or sleep, I stumbled across this.
Naturally, when confronted with such an idea, it is instinctive of all English Literature students to find evidence to back them up, so that their madcap ideas aren’t laughed out of the door. But don’t worry, it was an hour later, I was still struggling to sleep, and my brain had decided that a novel I haven’t revisited in years was the answer.
In order to give you some context for why I chose the comparative text to Splatoon 2, cast your mind back to the hazy days of 2012. The world was ending, and countless female young adults were frothing at the mouth about The Hunger Games. I must admit, I was one of them, and I liked the books way back when. This was the period of my youth though where I considered YA Novels and any form of relatively entertaining pieces of fiction to be veritable sources of nutrition. I devoured books like I was starved of something back then. While I respect Suzanne Collins for getting out there and actually publishing her trilogy, it isn’t the most respectable Dystopia out there. Though in comparison to other titles… the former is definitely more accessible to younger readers.
Back in the day, I used to shove the preaching of the Church of Everdeen down anyone and everyone’s throats. One such conversation with an old Maths teacher, however, had me exploring what is essentially the bare bones basis of The Hunger Games, but about a decade earlier. The main message is simple within both Collin’s trilogy and the second text I’d like to talk about: you are encouraged to kill if you want to survive. Only the winner will escape. Be the only one left if you want to win. (And to live.)
Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, written way before Collin’s trilogy in 1999, is the original Hunger Games. Except instead of districts, it’s school children going on a trip. And, instead of the perverse General Snow, we get the titular, chalk and knife lobbing, cookie snaffling Kinpatsu Sakamochi.
I read through Battle Royale so slowly and carefully that it went against every natural instinct fifteen-year-old me possessed. I wanted to absorb every detail, and the use of Japanese names to early weeb-me was confusing. Many of them sounded familiar, and there were about thirty kids to keep track of in this novel, okay?
Anyway, long story short: we’re going to be following up my sleep deprived musings on Dystopias, Post-Apocalyptic societies, and Child Soldiers.
Let’s begin our comparison with a faint plot outline of each text. The general basis of Splatoon 2’s gameplay exists of Solo and Team modes. Both modes of play give the player, or team of Inklings an objective. Annihilate the opposition. Win.
Hero mode repackages this as a quest to save Callie. As ‘Hero 4’ under Marie’s jurisdiction, the player is trained with various methods to find and retrieve as many Zapfish as possible from the underlings of the nefarious DJ Octavio. The Octarian race is the main enemy of the Inklings (though this has come under scrutiny with the latest DLC’s release and consequential Splatfests), but what I’m more interested in here is the fact that ‘Turf Wars’ can just be considered practice for war.
Similar to the ‘Turf Wars’ that occur in Splatoon 2, Battle Royale’s own ‘turf war’ ends on a far bloodier note. Many of the children from the class band together, like the alliances that form within Collins’ Game Arena. Far less censored however, is the way in which these children take each other down:
The main objective of both texts remains: Be the last one standing.
Rather than the jubilant hopping and toothy grins you receive from your triumphant little Inkling character, the winner of a Battle Royale comes out twitchy, incredibly disturbed, and most probably excluded from ever entering such battles ever again.
(Sounding like the entirety of Catching Fire yet?)
Getting back on track here, those who participate in the Battle Royale are literally used as sport by higher ranking officials in the communist society the author has dreamed up.
“Do you know we have a betting pool on the Program, Shogo?” […]
“I wouldn’t be surprised. You guys are tasteless.”
(Takami, K., p.551)
The BR is considered a fun spectator sport, just like how the Turf Wars are used as an athletic gateway to more advanced and competitive elements of Splatoon 2. Except instead of this-
-we have an innocuous and fun sport to immerse ourselves in. Yay.
So, now that we’ve established what exactly happens in both Splatoon 2 and Battle Royale, let’s delve deeper into why picking off your enemies has seemed to become such a great sport in these societies. Firstly, let’s look at why there’s Communism present anyway, because honestly as a concept, I’m not its biggest fan.
With Splatoon 2, it’s clear to see that we are in a Post-Apocalyptic society where the earth and its population was wiped out by the sea so hard in fact that now the squid and octopi are fresh enough to walk and talk on land; and where entering the sewer system drops you down onto fantastical floating platforms. I presume that the conflict with the Octarian Race is due to some Darwinian pissing contest – where both races compete for territory and the right for their societies to thrive without opposition. Whether this is a communistic society, I couldn’t tell you; there’s just too little literature on how that world came into fruition. I suppose you could consider DJ Octavio to be a dictator, or even duo’s such as Callie and Marie, and Pearl and Marina, as they are the main sources of power and influence we see within the game. But meh, we’re mainly dealing with militant Post-Apocalyptic struggles here, not how their evil overlord has tentacles.
The same about Post-Apocalyptica can be said of Battle Royale. Some form of disaster has isolated and alienated countries from one another, and with today’s political climate, I can already see why. Even America was said to be living off its former glory, as expressed by Sakamochi,
A certain degree of control is always necessary. Otherwise we’ll decline into a third-rate country, like the American Empire, […] They’re living off their past glory, but it’ll only be a matter of time before they fall apart.
No mention of the UK though. We’re safe for now, Liz. Breathe easy.
In Koushun Takami’s vision of the world, what The Great Dictator says goes. Those who try to rebel are dealt with, just like Shuya’s parents; known rebels who died in an ‘accident’. This proposed communist society, which, as you read deeper, turns out to be more of a tyrannical regime than anything else, subsists on the fear and loyalty of its people.
Those who work in higher class occupations appear as though they are exempt from punishment, but like the false sympathies of The Great Dictator, this is just an act. As Sakamochi states, ‘You must know what equality means […] You are no different.’ (Takami, p.29)
However, Sakamochi later admits that he’s secured places for his own children in Private schools, and if that layer of protection fails, he’s brainwashed them into just doing what is asked of them. This is coming from the man that raped the head care worker of Shuya’s orphanage and can still be chipper about his third child coming along after admitting what he’d done. Urgh. Therefore, he’s not exactly a character with a steadfast moral compass, which, truthfully, seems to be how he’s survived in this society for so long.
Moving swiftly on, now that we’ve established that protecting one’s self and one’s society essentially means butchering it altogether, why have the regimes gone so wrong?
Marx and Engles, in The Communist Manifesto, propose that, ‘[c]ommunism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat’, which sounds kind of mouthy, yet essentially the proletariat (in this case, poor little Shuya and the Inklings), has the roughest time of all of the classes in a society that should ultimately want the best for said class. Instead of ‘liberation’, the class of middle school students selected in Battle Royale receive the call to arms, the objective to serve their country without question, and to do it all with a smile on their face all for the enjoyment of the higher ups.
So, under the weight of all that Communism, the Proletariats rise and cause ‘class antagonism’. This is what has happened in Battle Royale. An experiment gone wrong sparks rebellion, and in response to rebellion The Great Dictator proposed to keep on going with it- manipulating the result of violent opposition as an idealised method of control and conscription to Apocalyptic Japan’s Military forces:
No. 67 Program experiment is absolutely necessary for our nation. Of course, I grieve at the thought of thousands, tens of thousands, of youths losing their lives at the ripe age of fifteen. But if their lives serve to protect our people’s independence, can we not claim that the flesh and blood they shed shall merge with our beautiful soil passed down to us by our gods and live with us for eternity. […] as you are aware, our nation has no conscription system […] I would like you to consider the Program as a conscription system unique to this country. In order to protect our nation…
But the honour of being chosen for the Program and melding with the landscapes gifted by the gods does not have the desired effect:
“All right, all right. Please be quiet.” Sakamochi clapped his hands together several times to get their attention. The clamour suddenly subsided. “Let me explain the situation. The reason why you’re all here today –“
Then he said: “ –is to kill each other.” […] “Your class has been selected for this year’s ‘Program.’”
These children are aware of the horror that awaits them – hell, one of them has gone through it all before. They have known from an early age that something isn’t quite right in the world they live in, but as children often do they remain oblivious to the true issues in everyday life, until they’re mature enough to question everything of course. Shuya is no exception to this. He owns an electric guitar and is interested in prohibited music, even though it is clearly specified that “decadent” music is forbidden. He knows that there is something off kilter in a world where a child won’t be taken in after their parents’ death, even though they have living relatives. However, this is more likely interpreted by the child as a defection of them self, rather than the ultimate truth. It would place far too much pressure on his family members. Should he act out as a child, they would most likely come under scrutiny. While this sounds heartless, think back to how this is a dystopian outlook on Communism, and that self-preservation and denouncing those who rebel in this society is good, because it means you get to see the sun rise another day.
So, from a young age, these Middle School children are already aware of brutality that happens just before, and if, they move onto High School. It is clearly depicted in the media, saturated in munificence by The Great Dictator, but ultimately forgotten. Because to remember and to harbour resentment is to betray and rebel against the regime.
An image of “the winner,” a girl clad in a tattered sailor suit uniform, came on screen. Pressed between two Special Defense Force soldiers, she looked back at the camera, her face twitching. Under her long messy hair, some dark red substance stuck to her right temple. Shuya could still clearly recall how her twitching face occasionally formed what appeared to be, strangely enough, a smile.
I can’t help but draw parallels to Splatoon 2 here, because the Inklings also essentially have no idea what they’re in for – only that for them to get anywhere in life, they must be “fresh”, so Level 4 or above. Because I’m literally thick as a brick, I thought that meant Level 4 on Hero Mode, but no, Level 4 on Regular Battles. I went through the whole of Hero Mode in the end for nothing but the experience and the great music. Anyway, before your reach that point (spend about an hour and a half doing non-stop regular battles and you’ll get there eventually), all of the NPC’s refuse to work with you. You cannot purchase weapons, clothing, or food before that point. Therein your little Inkling character (and yourself, if you’re like me and get into all of a flap over things like this), has to work its little butt off to survive. You can’t even go and do some dodgy labour for Grizzco Industries until you reach that point, and the aforementioned is spoken about as a complete last resort no Inkling should stoop to.
From your perspective as the gamer, sat behind the screen in your cushy little room, this is only a matter of winning or losing a match- and you still gain experience from losing. But if this were not a censored child-friendly, and more political stance on the future (which coming from Nintendo is unlikely anyway) it’s a demonstration of how society (Communist or Capitalist, who knows?) will not support you until you’ve proven yourself. Whether this is through steadfast Patriotism, or by having the audacity to wave your status about like a flag, it is still the truth.
Referring back to this idea of ‘fresh’-ness, one could interpret this and the quick progression you go though in the first five levels of Regular Battles, as a method of enlistment and conditioning. Think about it. I’m no marine biologist, but surely this method of levelling up mimics development and growth somehow too; and that when you reach Level 4 you are considered mature enough to march off to war and retain some agency of your little squiddy limbs.* The design of the Inklings unsettles me when I think of how young they quite possibly are. If the biological and anatomical aspect of this interest you at all, why not check out this video by the The Game Theorists? They’ve put an awful lot of research into this, even into the more gruesome aspects.
Back to my point, as Shogo, the alleged ‘winner’ of two Programs, puts it; ‘A government is supposed to serve the needs of the people. We shouldn’t be slaves to our own system. If you think this makes sense, then you’re totally insane!’ (Takami, p.559)
But in Splatoon 2 servitude is disguised – it’s transformed into a fun game. There is a dependency in the game on those who are stronger than you. The team of four you play on is dependent on teamwork or the one S+ Rank E-liter Main holding their shit together. Inkopolis Square is dependent on the Great Zapfish, and on the news updates released in Off the Hook. There isn’t an obvious manacle there, but Inklings, and to an extent yourself, are chained to this routine – and here’s the clincher: you don’t notice it, not really. You get caught up in all the fun. You’ve become the powerless one for you’ve lost your autonomy. The entertainment of the Bourgeoisie is the misery of the Proletariat – except Inklings are shooting ink at each other, not hacking their foes into sashimi.
Back with Battle Royale, this theme of unconscious captivity continues. Shuya notes that they are being used for sport – ‘Steel collars! Steel collars as though we’re damn dogs!’ (Takami, p.20) – and further discussions transpiring between the class and Sakamochi denote just the same.
The collars have been placed onto the kids while they were knocked out, and not only do they track and explode under certain circumstances, but they record too. These children are being treated no better than caged beasts- and now they’ve got the unknown added pressure of their government testing their allegiance. This is the overarching power and influence of The Great Dictator exerting itself and showing just how easily and unremorsefully life can be wiped away when you push thirty-two people into survival mode, or into a seemingly harmless ‘turf war’.
This is just a cruel reminder of how much control Communistic societies within certain examples of literature have over their fear-induced, conditioned people. Remember that Battle Royale was first published in 1999, and the film in 2001. We’re close to the twentieth anniversary now, and Takami’s writings still play an integral part of how the world is shaping out. Perhaps this is Battle Royale’s message, and Splatoon 2’s– there are both good and bad elements of life, and in dystopian texts life is already tough. It could very well be that a dystopian future awaits us, so have we got to weather what both of these texts are offering? Perhaps not the evolutionary squid-kids running amuck, or the organised and endorsed slaughter of a country’s own population, but the fact that there’s so much tension in the world not even the helpless and innocent can escape the fight?
*It is referred to (somewhere) in the Splatoon art book, that Inklings over the age of fourteen are allowed into Inkopolis Square – and only at that age (and at Level 4) are they allowed to participate in Turf Wars. This is roughly the same age as the class of students in Battle Royale.
Isn’t it weird to think I got all of that from a forum post and three days of swearing at my Nintendo Switch?
If you’d like more weirdness thought up at 2am, why not drop me a comment? I’d like to know what you think.
All GIFs were sourced from Giphy.com
Battle Royale, dir. by Kinji Fukasaku (2001)
Marx, K, and Friedrich Engels Engles, The Communist Manifesto (1848) <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf>
Splatoon 2, Nintendo (2017)
SodiumTremens, ‘Inklings as a Militaristic and Oppressive Society: Is Inkopolis Just a Massive Training Camp?’, <https://www.reddit.com/r/splatoon/comments/6o242e/inklings_as_a_militaristic_and_oppressive_society/>[Accessed: 3 September 2017]
‘Squid Sisters Stories’, <https://splatoon.nintendo.com/squid-sisters-stories/> Nintendo, [Accessed: 1 September 2017]
Takami, K., Battle Royale, trans. by Yuji Oniki (Japan: Ota Shuppan, 1999/ San Francisco: VIZ Media, 2003)
The Game Theorists, ‘Game Theory: Are You a Kid or Squid? – Splatoon SOLVED!’<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7401A3k7OYc> [Accessed: 14 September 2017]