Deicide and Collectivism

[The script text referenced throughout is from the Chrono Trigger Retranslation Project via the Chrono Compendium, completed in script form on March 30, 2007. This fan translation, thanks to KWhazit, creates "a clearer portrayal of Chrono Trigger as intended by its Japanese creators," that forgoes, "Nintendo of America's censorship standards," and overrides the video game's inability to hold all of the original text when translated to English.] 
Deicide, “the act of killing a divine being or a symbolic substitute of such a being,”1 is a prominent theme reflected not only in Chrono Trigger, but also in Japan’s troubling past with Monotheism, and in particular, Christianity.

Ever since the arrival of Francis Xavier and the first Catholics in the 16th century, relations although neutral at first began to sour as Japanese leaders grew more suspicious and distrusting of the foreign religion. The first of the persecutions came in 1587, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Japan’s great unifier), began his campaign to conquer Kyūshū after subjecting most of Honshu and Shikoku.2 In a series of edicts issued by Hideyoshi, he proclaimed that “Japan is the land of the gods,” demanded that missionaries leave the country, called for all Christians to renounce their faith, and lastly, in one grand nationwide motion, Hideyoshi “drew a comparison between the Jesuits and the Hongan-ji 「本願寺」"priests"  a sect of militant Buddhists who had rebelled against Hideyoshi’s predecessor, Nobunaga.”2 Ten years later, the persecution and death of 26 martyrs in Nagasaki marked the first event in a long history of killings a moment that would later be remembered by Japanese Christians with symbolic significance.

In light of these claims, Hideyoshi and certain leaders after him, expressed a distrust of organized religion that directly conflicted with the pluralistic amalgamation of Shinto, Buddhist, and Confucian principles that make up Japanese cultural traditions. The concepts of duty, humility, and group achievement are ingrained and inform much of Japanese society; at a young age, Japanese children are taught that fostering community and friendship is the wellspring of happiness and lifetime fulfillment.3 It is this collective unity banding together against an evil divinity that drives choices in Japanese video game narrative and design.

Featured throughout Chrono Trigger, this underpinning of cultural deicide is apparent in various forms. The “god Lavos” (“god” was censored in the English script) embeds itself into the Earth, feeding on its life force and inhabitants. Meanwhile, Crono discovers this imminent evil through time travel and, along the way, finds new comrades, creating bonds of trust as the story progresses. By traveling to 12,000 B.C., Crono witnesses the Queen of the Kingdom of Zeal plotting to drain Lavos’ power in order to achieve eternal life:
フフフ…… ハハハ…… ついに、ラヴォス神がおめさめになる! キサマ達虫ケラなぞラヴォス神の前では赤子同然。 わらわは、ラヴォス神とともに永遠の生命を手にする事としよう!

Hu hu hu... Ha ha ha... At last, the god Lavos shall awaken! Before the god Lavos, the likes of you worms are no better than infants. I will take hold of eternal existence along with the god Lavos!

This narcissistic ambition to stand as an equal “among the gods is a natural choice for a villain [in Japanese Role-Playing games (JRPG’s)], especially when pitted against the collective actions of a group of protagonists,”3 (i.e. Crono and his friends), and is especially evocative of past Japanese actions against Western influences and Christianity. The “god” itself is monotheistic in nature, threatens the collective’s very existence, and has literally “fallen from grace.” Lavos is also synonymous with “the unknown,” and it is not until very late in the journey that the friends experience an epiphany regarding Lavo’s intentions:
ルッカ「わ、わかったわ。 こいつのねらいが…… 星に寄生して長い時間をかけてその星の生命体のすぐれた部分をよりすぐって、あつめる……。 その遺伝子を持った子供をあの死の山で生み、また別の星へ……

Lucca: I-I've figured it out. What it's after... It's a parasite on the planet, picking out and collecting the superior parts of the life forms on the planet over an extended time... It bears children with those genes there on Death Mountain, then on to other planets...

By taking a stand for communal harmony, Crono, Marle, Lucca, Frog, Robo, and Magus’ actions reflect the same insular nature and pluralistic principles deeply ingrained in Japanese society today, along with the history of Christian persecution and oppression witnessed in the Land of the Rising Sun:
老人「自分の時代の事なら お前さん達の中にも知っている者がおるじゃろう。 聞いてみるがいい……。 この星のあらゆる時代の人々いや、すべての生命の力をかりて戦うのじゃ……! でなければヤツは倒せん。 未来を変えるにはそれほどの大きなエネルギーが必要じゃ……。 この星の行くすえ…… 私はここで、ゆっくりと見物させてもらうよ……。

Old Man: I expect that there are those among you, as well, who know things concerning their own eras. You should try asking... Go into battle with the aid of all the people, no, of all the life from every era on our planet...! If you do not, you cannot beat IT. In order to change the future, you will need such a vast energy... Allow me to take my time here and observe... where our planet's future will lead...

In fact, one could deduce that the Nagasaki and Hiroshima nuclear bombings committed by Americans during World War II are just as representative of Western monotheism as the advance of Christianity on Japan’s shores. In a way, Lavos’ destruction of the world in Chrono Trigger is similar to these atrocities, in that the impact of the atomic bomb (when first tested in New Mexico) left a crater six feet deep and twelve hundred feet in diameter, leaving a mountain of smoke it’s wake.4 Although both atomic bombs fated for Japan were detonated in midair, the fact that such a crater could occur is evocative of Lavos as it emerges from the Earth’s core, leaving a grand crater in its midst. The subsequent terror that rains down upon the inhabitants in Crono’s world leaves the land barren with mutations are rampant in the ecosystem, and the air is so polluted that it blocks out the sunlight ultimately decreasing the temperature and creating an atomic winter (a hypothetical effect of atomic weapons). Due to these conditions, survivors in this world face starvation and sickness and are left without adequate supplies to mitigate the damage. Various mentions of a “Black Wind” foreshadow these terrible events:
少年「黒い風が泣いてる……。 あなた達のうち、誰か一人…… 死ぬよ、もうすぐ……。

Boy: The black wind is howling... One among you... will die, and soon...

This magical force symbolizes certain death and destruction very reminiscent of the “black rain” (a mixture of nuclear fallout particles and carbon residue) that befell Japan. This substance “reached ground level as sticky, dark, dangerously radioactive water,” staining skin, clothing, and buildings.5 Despite the fact that this connection between Lavos and the atomic bombs is speculative at best, the striking similarities of the fiction and nonfiction reveal to us the ways in which deicide has manifested itself throughout Japan’s history and culture, as well as how it has subsequently been articulated to American gaming communities in the form of games like Chrono Trigger.

Although the same premise of vanquishing Lavos is a mainstay in the North American Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) release, the censorship guidelines enforced by Nintendo of America forbade the explicit mentioning of deities and religious symbolism. As such, Lavos is never given the title of “god,” instead being described as “mighty” and “all-powerful.” Not only this, but any other line that exhibited religious underpinnings was also altered to remove such connotations (see SNES Religion). These discrepancies, however, do not undermine the fundamental notion of deicide articulated in Chrono Trigger. North American players still witness the sheer terror of Lavos and the fight that ensues against the “mighty” being and thankfully, they are not alone in their struggle.

Works Cited:

[1] "Deicide." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 July 2015.

[2] Lee, Michael. "The 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki: Christian Persecution in Japan." Enter Japan. Enter Japan, n.d. Web. 24 July 2015.

[3] "Deicide in Gaming: How Killing Gods Reflects Cultures." Web log post. The Nintendo Objective. The Nintendo Objective, 29 May 2015. Web. 28 July 2015.

[4] Koeller, David. "The US Drops Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki." ThenAgain. ThenAgain, n.d. Web. 28 July 2015.

[5] "Destructive Effects: Energy and Radioactivity." Atomic Bomb Museum. Atomic Bomb Museum, n.d. Web. 28 July 2015.

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