Sunday, September 17, 2017

Devil May Cry--Simple Virtues and Sincere Optimism

Some time ago I left a comment on the Castalia House blog about my love for the ending of Devil May Cry 4. Today I'm going to expand on that with a point-by-point analysis of the final scenes of Devil May Cry 4, from climax to denouement, and explain what it has that you will not see in western media today. Obviously, there are INTENSE SPOILERS henceforth.

The climax of the game is a confrontation between the young rebellious hero, Nero, and a powerful magician named Sanctus. Sanctus is the Arch-priest of a cult-ish “church” worshiping Sparda, a demon who supposedly rebelled against Hell in ancient times, and constituted himself the guardian of the human race, defending them from other demonic powers. Nero had served this cult as a sort of Knight-Templar demon-hunter, until demonic power begins to manifest in him, resulting in his arm warping into a grotesque luminous claw. A mysterious, seemingly immortal man attacks the church and Nero is sent to hunt him down, whereupon he discovers that the church is experimenting with the very demonic magic that it claims to abhor, and the man who attacked them is Dante, none other than the son of a human woman and Sparda himself. Dante is a rakish demon-hunter-for hire bent on destroying the cult. The church imprisons Nero and his beloved, Kyrie, inside a magical super-weapon, but Dante frees the former and sets him on the path to rescue his betrothed. Facing Sanctus before Kyrie's magical prison, Nero defeats him in single combat. Sanctus, wielding the Sword of Sparda, begs it to turn the tide:

“The Power of Sparda...Why won't you give me strength!? Am I not worthy!?”

Nero replies: “Never could take those legends too literally. But I do know that Sparda had a heart. A heart that could love another person, a human. And that is what you lack.”

This is a double pronged retort—he mocks the priest's faith in his idol (Sparda) and at the same time implies that it is his lack of humanity that has lead to his downfall. It is “Evil Cannot Comprehend Good” manifested literally through supernatural means. Sparda could love, ergo, his power is not evil, and cannot be properly wielded by evil. Sanctus then falls back on evil's oldest bit of blackmail, putting his sword to Kyrie's throat as Nero advances on him. Nero crushes him against the wall and as he falls, impales him on his sword.

A gush of black blood pours from the priest's mouth, leaving his warped, demonic visage calm and at peace...and before the body can hit the ground Nero swings around in one smooth motion and catches the Kyrie tenderly in his arms as she topples free...

It's wonderful. I never get tired of this scene. The hero saving the girl! Not only that, but the girl ready to be saved, and valuing both the savior and salvation properly. Kyrie is the antitheses of a modern “strong female character.” She is meek, shy, soft-spoken, unassuming, entirely feminine. Naturally, she draws the ire of the gaming community somewhat for these traits. I will concede that she is a weakly-drawn character, but I wholly disagree with anyone who says that what we do see of her is bad.

Nero himself receives more reasonable criticisms for his angst. Yes--he follows the mold of “rebellious-youth-with-a-sensitive-side.” He weeps. He has moments of misery, yet there is something about even this that is charming. He is infinitely likable and sympathetic, and seeing him find himself and turn the tables thus in the final scenes is a satisfying evolution to his character.
He doesn't get there alone. Dante serves as his mentor, giving him some terse but pithy advice during the few scenes they share. When Nero carries (yes, a bridal carry! In his arms!) Kyrie out into the sunlight, Dante is there waiting for him. But when the magic super-weapon (called “The Savior”) powers up again, now housing the spirit of Sanctus that still clings to life, Dante steps back and lets Nero face it. Nero has proven himself, and it his fight to finish.

And we get a non-ironic reference to God, as Nero, about to put his own demonic heritage to the service of good, soliloquizes:

“You know God, I always hated that you made my hand like this...But now with it, I can destroy this thing. Who would've thought...”

When the evil spirit is defeated once and for all, Nero is prepared to give his borrowed sword back to Dante (it is implied in the game, and has supposedly been confirmed by the developers, that Nero is Dante's nephew, illegitimate heir to Sparda's other son, Vergil).

Nero holds out Vergil's sword but Dante turns it down. Nero protests, reminds Dante that the sword is important to him.

“That's the only kind of gift worth giving. I want to entrust it to you, and so I am. What you do from here is your call.” says Dante as he walks away.

This is a portrayal of mentorship that could only have come from the East in this day and age.

We end with Kyrie and Nero hand in hand—with her lovingly, acceptingly, holding his malformed member as they look out over the city. We know the purity of their love. It is not implied that there are even  betrothed yet, though it is obvious that they are in their hearts...yet nowhere is it implied that their relationship has, or will be, consummated before marriage. We just know them as characters well enough to attest to the innocence of their affection.

What about that. That, too, could only have come from the East today.

Devil May Cry has always been a flawed series, and the fourth entry is not even the highest point. The DMC games are not admired for their story. Plenty of people will tell you that. “Cheesy” seems to be the common consensus. A “more mature” story was one of the main marketing points for 2012's distasteful franchise reboot. I can't entirely disagree that the writing in DMC, or just about any CAPCOM developed game, does not reach greatness, (indeed I once toyed with the idea that CAPCOM did not hire writers in any capacity—possibly crowdsourcing ideas from their teams at large--so incompetent was the narrative in at least one of their projects). But despite its technical shortcomings, Devil May Cry and other Japanese media can touch my spirit in ways that I cannot define. I don't think this is an accident, or that is is an accident that so much western fiction, entertaining as it may be at best, seems mundane and lifeless by comparison, unable to fire any higher emotion.

But it is fiction like this that fires my heart and my soul and brings me joy; it is fiction like this that lets us know  there are still values out there, and it is fiction like this that shows us that these are the values we should be studying. This is the fiction we should be writing.

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