It's back to Shuya and friends for Chapter 31.
They've heard the gunshots. Shuya and Noriko are disturbed, so Shogo decides it's time to bring up the fact that his plan probably will involve killing people!
we have to survive till the very end. So I just want to make sure." Shogo looked over at Shuya. "Are you willing to be merciless against the enemy, Shuya?"
Shuya swallowed deeply. "You mean the government?"
I don't think that's what he means, Shuya.
"As well as your other classmates, if and when they attack us."
I think Shuya kind of guessed that, because he doesn't argue or even really act surprised. He says he will if he really has to. Shogo immediately asks BUT WHAT IF SHE IS A GIRL?! Ugh.
I mean, I can understand instinctive flinching when it comes down to it, but the characters seem to take it as a given that there's a huge distinction here. Anyway, Shuya repeats that if he has to he will, and this satisfies Shogo. Since Shogo seems pretty smart, I'm going to guess here that he knows Shuya will almost certainly totally freeze up and fail to shoot anyone if it comes down to it and that the point of this conversation is really so he doesn't have to explain himself when he blows that person's head off.
Then he added, "Someone else will finish you off if you get too hung up on every person you kill."
Instead of understanding this good advice, Shuya decides to demand just how terrible he was last game.
Shogo shrugged. "I killed. You want to hear the details? How many guys I killed? How many girls I killed until I won?"
Although this actually is a good question to ask. Shogo's earlier bit about how you only have to kill a few people yourself to win the whole thing suggests that's what he did, but if he actually went on a crazy killing spree or killed almost no one, it's good to know. After all, if he won by killing lots of people fast, he may not actually be that good at waiting things out. If he only killed one or two people and still won, in contrast, they can be relatively sure he knows how to keep out of everyone's way.
Shogo does add some details.
"I had no choice. Some of them lost their minds and then some were willingly killing as many as they could
Which sounds very much like this time, except that the two people so far we know of who are willingly playing are both crazy. There can't be so many Mitsukos that they're common in the games, and Kazuo is an outright impossibility.
He adds that his own friends mostly died early so he never teamed up with anyone, which does not actually disprove the possibility that he killed any of them, he's pretty vague.
Then he says he refused to give up and die because he wanted to get back at the people in charge.
Shuya thinks that they're the same, because he also hates the government and also lost a friend to the game.
Shogo explains that he studied up with the intention of striking back one day.
Shogo only grimaced. "I wonder." He shook his head. "It's not so easy bringing down a system that's already built up.
I think I mentioned that I was surprised by the idea they have a long run of dictators, because dictatorships by nature aren't particularly stable. This book is written after the collapse of the Soviet Union, something that proved Orwell right about it being a fundamentally unworkable idea.
We don't know much right now about how the government overall functions, but these games alone are a good sign that all's not well. Not only is there the impact of the deaths of forty-one kids, which will upset everyone who knows them, but also their teacher was killed and many of their parents were brutalized, which just means this impacts even more people as well as making it clear no one is safe from the repercussions of this even when you're no longer the right age to be the main target.
The deaths are common enough to leave people believing they can't fight the government, but also appear to have tipped the scale to feeling like they're doomed no matter what, so they object and fight back anyway. Sooner or later this is going to boil over into a full scale riot that the government can't safely contain, and since all that's keeping them in power now is the belief that no one can fight back, that'll be the end.
Basically, the fact it's built up shouldn't be too difficult when the inside's rotted out like this. It makes it all the easier to knock over.
"Can you tell me something?"
"What's the purpose of this game? How could this serve any useful purpose?"
"There is no purpose."
Noriko's shocked and finally gets to talk. She says that this is supposed to be for the sake of the military. Shogo says that it's insane, but then everything is.
"Then how could this go on for so long?"
"That's easy. Because there's no one speaking out against it. That's why it's still going on."
That's another common problem, it's easier to lie and say things are working than try to fix anything. This isn't actually a dictatorship issue. It's often tied to being non-democratic, because in a democracy telling your superior that people totally aren't starving just makes the starving people vote for your opponent, but it's really more an issue of corruption. You can have dictatorships that are more focused on keeping their grip on the country than lining everyone's pockets and punish this sort of deception severely, and as modern America shows, you can have democracies that aren't accountable to the people.
Anyway, Shogo decides to explain the particular politics of this situation.
My guess is that when this lovely game was first proposed some crazy military strategist probably came up with it there was no opposition. You don't want to stir things up by questioning the specialists. And it's terribly difficult to end something that's already been established. You interfere, and you're out of a job. No, worse yet, you might be sent to a forced labor camp for ideological deviation. Even if everyone were against it, no one could say it out loud. That's why nothing changes.
He says this is because of their underlying fascist problem, which is interesting because it seems the real problem is that things are being done according to ideology. It's like how Republicans think the solution is cutting taxes and if that didn't work it's because you didn't cut them enough. If it was just an issue of a dictator, then that guy wouldn't be under the pressures of the rest - if he said it was stupid, it stops. And if you suggested it was stupid, he would listen. Modern China has transitioned into a more fascist state, for example, and you can see how they still don't care too much about human rights or what people want, but they're capable of reacting to problems in about as timely a manner as a government can.
Now, if their dictator is crazy and loves his military strategists, or has just come to really enjoy the childmurder, then yeah, contradicting that isn't going to save you. But that's not quite the same thing as what he's suggesting here, which is a situation where everyone thinks they're the only one who has a problem with it.
It'd be interesting if there wasn't any dictator and the government was really ruled by some parliament-style setup where everyone has to just nod and agree with the group consensus or they're pounced on. Any time you make it so the people in charge are disconnected from the effects of their policies you run the risk of things getting really screwed up. It's kind of like evolution - you'll have inevitable mutations over time, and if you prevent natural selection (the removal of things that don't work, be they policy or people) then you end up with some twitching diseased lump of rot. But it'd be more suited for some sort of really black comedy. Kind of like a Paranoia game.
We continue our history lesson. Apparently South Korea was taken over by North Korea, so I guess the idea is that Japan being anti-America has changed the outcome of that war? But then it blames America for the takeover and says they should go invade to rescue South Korea and maybe this makes more sense if you're Japanese.
And then Shogo goes on to say that South Korea was the crazy dictatorship and it collapsed. I don't have any idea what's going on. At least now it's confirmed that the "Republic of Greater East Asia" they live in is Japan alone.
Um...maybe the idea is that because it's now America vs Japan, Russia's been removed from the picture so instead when Korea got split in half America got the top and Japan the bottom? And also how would it have been split because Japan had conquered both of them and my head hurts.
"That country was just like ours. An oppressive government and dictator, ideological propaganda, isolationism, and information control. And support for snitching. It failed though after forty years.
Yet ironically actual North Korea has kept trucking as a model of how to successfully hold onto power.
But anyway, let's just put this in the pile of stuff that makes no sense.
Shogo says that although both countries were totalitarian, Japan is more subtle about it and lets people have some freedom.
they can proclaim, 'Of course, every citizen has the right to freedom. However, freedom must be controlled for the sake of the public good.' The claim actually sounds legit, huh?"
Maybe to kids growing up under a dictator where that kind of talk is normal. I can't tell if this is cultural differences or some translation thing but to me that sounds incredibly sinister.
Then we find out the country's only been like this for seventy-five years. Hey! That's the same amount of time as in Hunger Games!
It would also mean the current government was formed around 1922. According to Wikipedia, 1912 to 1926 was called the Taisho period with a corresponding movement known as Taisho democracy, which gave way to the more militaristic Japan that we'd see during WW2. There was a lot of pressure for a more progressive government and there was the first commoner prime minster (not actually commoner-born but actually, who was assassinated in 1921.
So I guess something different happened around this time. Perhaps the assassination heralded a broader coup - given there's been no talk of an emperor, I'd guess they must have killed him as well. Or conversely, perhaps the idea here is that the prime minster survived the attempt and went on to put in place the whole dictatorship thing.
So maybe this is an alternate history where Shuya says that he heard something about how there really aren't 325 dictators, which yeah, did seem hard to believe. Shinji claimed they're actually only on Dictator #12, which is still an awful lot of dictators for a mere seventy-five years. That means they're only ruling on average about six years - they aren't even managing two presidential terms worth of dictatoring!
But then, perhaps that explains the way Shogo is talking about the place as run by committee. Maybe the dictator isn't actually where the power resides and he's just the top guy of the group in charge of the country, and he's regularly replaced whenever someone else gets to the top of the heap.
Shuya says adults don't mention it and maybe most of them don't know either.
(Shinji had claimed, "Apparently, it was a feudal society. People wore these psychedelic hair styles called chonmage, and there was a caste system. But to be blunt, it was better than what we have today")
...well, it didn't involve rounding kids up specifically to make them fight to the death, so I guess there's that.
Also, since current Japan hasn't managed to shake off its caste system fully, why would Evil Mirror Japan manage it?
"Well, even that might not be true," he raised his brow.
"What do you mean?"
Shogo smiled and said, "There is no Dictator. He doesn't exist. He's just made up. That's what I heard."
Ah! Now that fits pretty well with what Shogo says about everyone having to go along with past decisions. It's ruled by a mad committee!
Noriko can't believe it. She's seen his picture!
and on New Year's he makes an appearance in front of everyone at his palace..."
"Right." Shogo grinned. "But who is this 'everyone at the palace'?
Shogo's theory is it's actors all the way down. Does sound pretty fishy that this dictator isn't making appearances in front of people more often than that.
Shuya is stunned and feels sick. I guess even if you hate your government, it's still pretty unsettling to have things turn out to all be lies.
Shogo admits he doesn't actually know this for sure, it just seems likely. I agree, I'm going with that theory for now. And apparently he did not get it from hacking the internet because he's terrible with computers, so either he got in contact with some rebellious group that told him or the government didn't suppress enough physical books.
It seems likely, because that would allow the government to have no supreme authority. That way everyone at the center of the government would be equal. They would have equal freedom. Which means that their responsibilities are also equal. There would be no inequality. There'd be no objections.
What a very Japanese dystopic government!
He says that regardless, the country's successful. They're not so isolationist they don't trade, so they import material for manufacturing, which is apparently super high quality. They don't have good computers or spaceships, though. It says nothing about how they're doing on nukes either.
So I guess they're meant to have a decent standard of living after all and not be brushing against poverty the way it seems to me.
I find it really hard to believe the committee system he describes could manage that, though. That's why it struck me as more of a black comedy thing, you really can't have a competent government that's also insane.
Because things are going so well, no one wants to make waves. It can't be going that well. The real reason why secret police and all that are a bad idea is that they're an incredible resource drain. If they're constantly monitoring everyone, that's tying up resources. And murdering everyone who looks at them funny as well as thousands upon thousands of schoolkids is also a pretty big drain. I mean, do you have any idea of the resource investment in a single one of these kids?
Of course the students and their families might have been dealt a bad hand, but they're a small minority. Even the families eventually let it go. Sorrow passes with time."
See, it's funny he should be saying this the same chapter as the Korea thing, because that's actually a pretty good example of how people really don't like to let things go.
Also all of this really flies in the face of what we've seen so far. Their teacher was disturbed enough by what happened that they had to kill him. Their families were beaten by the police when they objected. Shogo's father also died, probably for saying something connected to this. And Sakura sure doesn't sound like she's gotten over the loss of her father either.
But Shuya's convinced
Shogo continues his explanation of politics.
"I think that the fundamental difference between the SKPR and this country is ethnic."
Shogo nodded. "Yeah. In other words, I think that this system is tailor-made to fit the people of this country. In other words, their subservience to superiors. Blind submission. Dependence on others and group mentality. Conservatism and passive acceptance. Once they're taught something's supposedly a noble cause by serving the public good, they can reassure themselves they've done something good, even if it means snitching. It's pathetic. There's no room for pride, and you can forget about being rational. They can't think for themselves.
Hm, maybe. But they don't exactly operate in lockstep, you know? And the country's changed a lot over time. I wonder if this is common rhetoric in Japan about what's wrong with their political system?
Anyway, Noriko gives a counterpoint.
This is the first time I've ever heard any of this. But if what you just said is really true, and if everybody were really informed, I don't think they would sit still. It's because no one knows about this that we've ended up in this situation. You say we've always been like this, but I refuse to believe that.
Actually it's funny you should mention the bit about people really knowing. I mean, as the Korea link references, Japan has done some pretty horrible things and then turned around to deny them. And it's not like their internet is locked down the way the Chinese one is, that information is easily available. And yet the average person is happy to ignore it.
I'd also say it's the wrong defense. Whether or not there actually is a dictator and whether or not the the government is older or younger isn't the point. You're not rising up because you're mad the supposed ruler is an actor. You're rising up because your government kills people all the time.
Saying it'd all be different if only people knew the truth is foolish and distracts from the main issue of if people are willing to rebel in response to abuses.
Shuya is amazed by Noriko, though, and thinks he suddenly sees what Yoshitoki saw in her.
No matter what, this was their country, the place where they were born and grew up (although he wasn't so sure how much more growing up was left for them). The U.S., a.k.a. the American Empire, might liberate this country some time in the future, but the fact was that this was their deal. They shouldn't, and in the end they couldn't, rely on others.
Well it worked out pretty well for you guys when we did!
Really, this chapter all seems like a politics lecture rather than real conversation. I can easily see them believing no one's coming to save them, but no one in this position should be thinking they prefer to take on their evil government alone.
So Shuya asks Shogo if he thinks they can change things and Shogo doesn't.
"At some point in time, when the situation is ripe, this country will change. I don't know whether it will happen in the form of a war or a revolution. And I have no idea when the time will come. For all I know it may never happen."
See I agree with the basic idea, but at the same time you're kind of part of that change. If everyone says it'll change when it changes, then nothing ever happens.
He says the problem is that the country is still well run, so they're better off just leaving it for somewhere with less childmurder. But.
Shuya assumes his But will be the same as Shuya's nationalistic bit about how they should change things because it's their country. Shogo says instead that he's doing it because revenge.
Well, at least he's being reasonable about his goals.
"This sounds hopeless."
"It is hopeless," Shogo replied.
I really don't see why it's hopeless.
You can control a country even if the majority hates you. But you do need a certain minimum, about one third, to do so. So far, we have seen one person who definitely likes the current setup, Sakamochi. The soldiers themselves may like this or they may see it as just following orders, and the soldiers picked for something like this are likely from the most loyal rather than a representative sample anyway. Beyond that, we have four people with dead family members because they opposed the government. We know now that Shinji's dad is important, so they're not even following the rule of insulating the higher-ups from the general abuses visited on the population. Plus there's all the people relocated by the games. People really don't like being marched at gunpoint from their houses, and I can't imagine having it happen so teenagers can murder each other in your kitchen would improve people's feelings.
And what are they really offering? They can't possibly be that prosperous if they're unable to stop insane initiatives like these childmurder games. The situation Shogo describes for creating them was hardly something that would only happen once. Bad ideas must be proposed all the time and then kept going because no one questions doctrine.
Now, sure, they're just three kids, that's certainly a barrier to success here. But I don't see why it's hopeless in general.
Well, not a particularly good chapter, although I appreciate the attempt to give more information on how things work. It was infodumpy and even through the translation sounded rather preachy. Save it for the afterword.