“Canst thou give unto thyself thy bad and thy good, and set up thy will as a law over thee? Canst thou be judge for thyself, and avenger of thy law?” – Thus Spake Zarathustra, Page 66 of Thomas Common Edition.
So, after many, many years . . . I’m finally knuckling down to play SMT1, and I couldn’t help but feel like my mood was ruined when I realized SMT2 effectively made SMT1 pointless and meaningless, because SMT1 Hero failed to accomplish anything significant and died a pointles – albeit tragic – death by the 4 Archangels causing the landslide. Everything he built turned to rubble with only a statue crying blood left. If Diamond Realms of IVA’s DLC is canon, then SMT2’s Law ending is more significant than others and nothing the SMT1 Hero did had any meaning. The Law side won and his attempts at balance completely failed. His life’s work corrupted, exploited, and thrown to waste.
Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but notice some striking parallels between SMT1 Hero’s tragicomedy of a life and the mystery past of Akira from SMTIV-IV Apocalypse duology. The parallels are quite noticeable and the SMT series itself, especially SMTIV, delves into parallel worlds with SMTIVA being yet another parallel world different from SMTIV. Given the fact it was directly stated that SMTIV-IVA was a re-telling of SMT1-2, it shouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that IV-IVA’s Akira is a What-if version of SMT1 Hero. For those who may find it odd and may not see the parallels between SMT1 Hero and what we know of Akira’s life:
- They survived a Great Cataclysm and Rebuilt a civilization for the purpose of a Middle Path that was then taken over by Archangels.
- The Four Archangels slaughtered him to usurp the world that he rebuilt.
- They were the brave young man who picked the Middle Path of Neutrality to keep society stable.
- They both have a statue made of them in their honor which gives an air of tragedy; SMT1 Hero’s Statue by crying blood and SMTIV’s statue by being destroyed by the Archangels.
- They both traveled to the Diamond Realms.
- They’re part of a doomed people and civilization (these are even stronger with the Akira parallels from the other Tokyos).
- Despite their accomplishments, they were just regular humans and couldn’t perform supernatural feats like the Messiah characters (Aleph and Flynn respectively).
Despite Flynn having Walter and Jonathan as obvious comparisons to SMT1s entourage of Law and Chaos Heroes, and his life in Kichijoji, it doesn’t seem deeper than that. It seems like the Aleph character and the SMT1 Hero character just switched the positions since Flynn and Aleph are both Messiahs, have narratives that emphasize their core importance and their choices, and achieve feats either on their own or with help (Hiroko and Isabeau respectively). On a more surface level, they even have similar external features. However, the narrative on their Messiah qualities continues to be emphasized, with IVA having this be a larger role in the story than arguably in IV.
If that isn’t enough, not only was SMTIV called a re-telling and IV itself brings up Akira in the beginning and latter-half extensively with the lore of Mikado and the alternate world versions of Akira, but characters reincarnate in both SMT1 and IV-IVA cyclically. Heroine from SMT1 and Akira himself in IVA. Flynn himself is reborn from his past self too, but his past self doesn’t have the parallels that SMT1 Hero’s tragic life and Akira’s tragic life do. Oddly enough, Akira’s may be a slightly more tragic version of SMT1 Hero’s life, since he never meets his sister upon getting up to the firmament in Mikado (check the notes, they reached the Firmament around the time that she should have been long dead) and he’s then forced to live under the constant threat of the Archangels killing him for the slightest provocation while trying desperately to keep to his own values of following the Middle Path that he told Fujiwara and Skins about. Contrast with SMT Hero not having a sister that gives him guilt throughout his life like Akira and successfully being able to spend some happy time with the Heroine and his pet Cereberus before everything eventually went downhill. Akira was alone, he seemed to try to connect with other Gods and demons to help put a stop to the Archangels and died before Mastema’s plan came to fruition.
Akira died without knowing Flynn helped Mastema seal them away, the beginning of SMTIV even makes a point that King Aquila’s Law is being violated with the Monastery – under Gabby / Gabriel – sending Samurai to collect artifacts, hunt down the Black Samurai who brought books and Black Sabbaths to their Kingdom, and later to rescue Michael, Uriel, and Raphael. King Aquila, while an amazing person, ended-up being a nobody dead man whose whole life’s work is defaced and destroyed. Picking the Law route, Chaos route, or the White route in SMTIV is the ultimate desecration and insult to everything Akira stood for because all his struggles and hardships become meaningless just like how players end-up feeling SMT1 Hero’s story, aspirations, and hardship (arguably slightly more emotionally guilt-ridden than SMT1 Hero’s) ultimately became a meaningless tragedy.
A peculiar part of SMTIVA that I never really commented on, partly due to fears that it could go into fan theory territory, was the fact that Nanashi’s opening scene is him re-experiencing Akira’s memories and later in the Anarchy route, we find out that it was Stephen who was force-feeding him these memories to manipulate him into picking Bonds. We experience Akira’s memories throughout the entire journey of SMTIVA, but Stephen never says when they began and only states they’ve stopped as of you picking Anarchy. Thus, it seems possible – although some may call this a fan theory – that Stephen was force-feeding him the memories throughout his entire life. In Bonds, Stephen manipulates Nanashi into believing it was “fate” when it was just Stephen scheming for the outcome that he wanted. Why did Stephen have such confidence that you would pick Bonds to the point that he was quite possibly force-feeding memories of Akira throughout Nanashi’s entire life? In fact, why is Stephen’s interest in Nanashi clearly far deeper than his help and interest in Flynn? Why did Stephen know that you would pick Neutral paths and ask you to protect the Goddess of Tokyo?
Why Nanashi at all? Just because he was Akira’s reincarnation? So what if he is? Why did the Axiom make two Messiahs and effectively “created” Nanashi without him being born like normal? Why does Stephen ask for your help in the Diamond Realms DLC and why does En no Ozuno ask for your help with Twisted Tokyo? Perhaps most shockingly, why is Nanashi such a karmic houdini in the Anarchy route? How can a mere 15-year old persevere and triumph over so many when SMT1 Hero failed in a doomed timeline and Aleph was cursed forever? What makes Nanashi such a super special boy? There were plenty of Nietzschean and Fool Arcana references that I myself wrote about, and while the themes were great in my opinion, it doesn’t quite explain why Nanashi? Why was YHVH made to be Nanashi’s personal enemy in the narrative?
As I play SMT1, a lot of it gives a much more complete feeling even without the thematic analysis regarding homage references and philosophy, and the fact SMTIV focuses heavily on Akira and the fallen humanity with Nanashi being part of the discriminated class in SMTIVA is no accident. As I play through SMT1, I’m beginning to realize the IV-IVA re-telling’s emphasis on Akira’s character is actually about SMT1 Hero getting a second shot as a reincarnation. Whereas SMT1 Neutral path ended with a line about reincarnating from the Heroine after the credits, the IV-IVA duology seems to legitimately explore the idea: What if SMT1 Hero reincarnated and he was given an equal playing field as a Messiah? For all intents and purposes, Akira from IV-IVA is an alternate version of the SMT1 Hero. You’ve felt his triumphs, tragedies, disappointments, failures, and the utter meaninglessness of his journey if you played SMT1 Neutral route for even a little and understand how it ends for him as SMT2’s world is built atop the ashes of what he wished for. You meet him at the end of SMTIV in alternative forms, you’re confused why he didn’t reincarnate (as I’m told SMT2 never showed SMT1 Hero’s reincarnation either), and finally you’re given a sequel game where he did reincarnate and he gained equal – albeit unrecognized – importance same as the Messiah character of Flynn / Aleph. Thus, SMTIVA indemnfies SMT1’s tragedy, by giving us a re-telling where a slight variation of SMT1 Hero is given a second chance and a fresh opportunity to provide his response to what he suffered.
All this to say, we as Nanashi, should probably have that same pain and meaningless suffering in mind; Nanashi’s journey even emphasizes it. Whereas Akira said he wanted to go for the Middle Path, we know as Nanashi that all of Akira’s efforts were defaced by the Archangels such as the Obelisk and Akira’s Statue, the Archangels essentially ruled over his previous life forcing him to live in the stone age, the removal of the two-tier Caste system of hierarchy, and we see a genocidal and isolationist Merkabah successfully ruling Mikado while wiping away all of Akira’s efforts. Stephen force-feeding us Akira’s memories only makes Akira look more pathetic, even if Nanashi feels compelled to take Akira’s gauntlet with him. But that isn’t all, if Stephen was force-feeding memories throughout Nanashi’s life, then we as Nanashi had the mind of an adult and moreover, as players we can easily estimate that Akira’s life is a parallel of SMT1 Hero’s life; so we have an emotional understanding of the triumph, tragedies, and meaninglessness of Akira’s struggles because they parallel our journey as the protagonist of SMT1. Thus, IVA’s is a What-if story that gives us the opportunity to respond to the changes that the Archangels, humans, other Gods, and even other Heroes have done in shaping the world. Furthermore, it neatly ties into why there are two Neutral Endings with Law and Chaos being early bad endings, since canonically, SMT1’s Neutral is the actual canon ending that leads into SMT2. I’ve even heard the supposed side games bridging SMT1-2 only further confirm Neutral as the canon ending of SMT1 and aren’t games that explore alternative endings of SMT1. Neutral being canon seems irritating, but it makes sense from an inner lore perspective when viewing Nanashi as indeed the reincarnation and second chance of SMT1 Hero.
We get two distinct outcomes as a consequence of this re-telling where the SMT1 Hero returns and can give his perspective and response to all of the world that repeatedly betrayed him. Unlike in SMT1 or the Akira What-if Parallel of SMT1 Hero, he has companions who are with him throughout it all. Nanashi’s life is flipped by experiencing more of a parallel to Aleph’s in this re-telling. A noticeable similarity is Beth and Asahi both die during the journey and both want nothing more than to protect the MC, whereas Toki seems to be a strange mix of Lilith of SMT1 and Daleth with her constantly being antagonistic and fighting you while simultaneously claiming to love you. Nevertheless, in the Bonds route, SMT1 Hero gains a happy assortment of friends who make the journey feel worthwhile and who profess to care for him unless he’s gone full Dagda route with his choices. Instead of the betrayal and meaningless suffering of SMT1 Hero / Akira’s life, he gets friendship and finds the struggles worth it for his own emotional coping. All goes as Stephen plans and Stephen feels happy knowing one version of his beloved friend, SMT1 Hero, lives a happy life while manipulating him into picking the world that Stephen always wanted. Of course, the other outcome is the Anarchy path and that is where Stephen’s schemes run afoul.
When recognizing the parallels of SMT1 Hero and Akira and bearing them in mind along with the fact that Stephen has been trying to brainwash Nanashi with those tragic memories in order for him to pick Bonds, Nanashi’s Anarchy Path takes a different tone. It answers the question: What would happen if SMT1 Hero was reincarnated as a Messiah and chose to take advantage of his new Messiah power on those who wronged him? What would he think about what the Archangels built, about how Tokyo shuns him as a villain, and what would he do about it all? We now have our answer. Nanashi lived two lives; he relived his agony as Akira / SMT1 Hero thanks to Stephen thoughtlessly force-feeding him memories and he observed the consequences of his past life’s efforts becoming effectively meaningless. In Bonds, he chooses self-complacency and sentimentality. In Anarchy, he becomes the Keeper and Avenger of his own Law upon all. Anarchy Nanashi is an answer to What-if SMT1 Hero had a chance at revenge for all the wrongs done to him.
The Archangels and Jonathan in their fused Merkabah form and the People of Mikado choose to vilify all his hard work and accomplishments by defacing his life history in the Obelisk, destroying his Statue, breaking the Samurai Code that his previous self enacted (likely under the thumb of the very Archangel who herself broke the rule) to forbid them from leaving to go down below, and erasing his hierarchy system in favor of an eternal “equality” under YHVH that then argues they’re a new species that is “greater than human” because of the demon gene within them? And this is all after mistreating his reincarnated form? Very well! He comes back as the Avenger and Keeper of his own Law and absolutely kills everyone for their arrogance and insolence against his Law. They wish to erase his legacy of accomplishments on the Obelisk? He will erase the very history of their Kingdom with no one left to remember it! They wish to deface his monument after breaking his Code? Instead of being a statue that cries in blood, he makes them pay for their insolence with their very blood. The People of Mikado die in screams shouting how they don’t understand when they kept such strong faith in the Law of their omnipotent God, YHVH? Nanashi vilifies, desecrates, and dethrones this so-called omnipotent God YHVH and becomes the true Omnipotent God to reverse all of the meaningless suffering and pointless journey of his past life. The tragedy of SMT1 Hero / Akira becomes an arc of redemption through Nanashi’s revenge by upholding his own Law and eternally being its Keeper.
Poor Stephen must have been so astonished trying to understand how his patsy and best buddy SMT1 Hero could embody such vengeance. Nanashi’s supposed allies refuse to accept his worldview when he finally has the power to avenge himself and his past life as AU SMT1 Hero? He kills them for their insolence and offers them comforting words before giving them a quick and painless death. He feels empty sentimentality for a gauntlet that is completely useless to him? He allows Dagda to crush it under his foot to leave the past behind and make everyone reap what they sowed. Fujiawa, Skins, and the strong groups of Tokyo fail to understand why he didn’t choose the “good” and “obvious” path, thus vilifying him after treating his new form as a pawn without ever recognizing his past history as their supposed friend? He kills them all for going against the New God, for their constant betrayal and use of him as their object to vilify or worship instead of respect, and makes a beeline for the one who ruined his lives as AU SMT1 Hero and as Nanashi. YHVH sent Archangels to absolutely destroy his life and make all his efforts meaningless and his life effectively pointless? Nanashi avenges himself by using a more complete angel to rip YHVH asunder and kill him forever so that all of YHVH’s efforts become effectively worthless, purposeless, meaningless, and Nanashi ascends to complete his revenge as the New Omnipotent God. What does it matter if he will have to struggle against other Messiahs? He’s been doing that for both of his lives and this is actually the Fifth time if you count-up how many times Genesis and Revelations were repeated in SMTIV’s Lore. Nanashi is well-prepared with Flynn and His Goddess and this time, the eternal struggle is forever meaningful. Instead of humanity repeating its mistakes for endless Law and Chaos wars, humanity becomes transhumanist with God-like powers and never has their imperfections ruin the world again. Instead of having everything in his life defaced and erased, any further suffering becomes meaningful for the new humanity and for the reincarnation AU SMT1 Hero, Nanashi. Thus, Nanashi’s revenge redeems his past life as the AU SMT1 Hero.
“Yea, even when it commandeth itself, then also must it
atone for its commanding. Of its own law must it become the judge and avenger and victim.” – Thus Spake Zarathustra, Page 110 of Thomas Common Edition.