Disclaimer: I’ve done my best to hide it, but my intentions in writing this were explicitly to recommend this visual novel to anyone who might be interested. As such, I’ve refrained from mentioning any explicit spoilers. However, it would likely be pretty easy to piece together some major plot details from what I’ve said here. Chaos;Child is a wonderful visual novel and a great piece of paranoid/mystery fiction. I might sound pretty reverential here but I do not think Chaos;Child is perfect. In fact, it’s nowhere close. Even so, it manages to be excellent. Just remember that there is no Chaos;Child anime.
A series of strange serial murders have been cropping up in Shibuya, six years after a similar string of killings in 2009. This is the central premise of MAGES’ Chaos;Child. Of course, knowing what I do now, that description hardly even seems relevant to the conflict lying at the center of this story.
This might be audacious of me, and I will more than likely regret such an absolute statement, but Chaos;Child comes across as a near-perfect execution of the mystery story. Like most of its ilk, the story begins convinced of truth as an easily graspable, singular idea.
What is the truth behind these killings?
Who is the culprit? What are their goals?
What do they have to do with the bizarre incidents that took place in this city six years ago?
By the end, these questions fail to be relevant and fall to the wayside. Do not be mistaken—each of these questions are answered. It’s just that these mysteries are downright banal and small-minded compared to the larger, all-encompassing questions that the story manages to introduce in its second half. The narrative evolves from murder mystery to an interrogation of murder mysteries as a genre and the very idea of an objective reality—and, consequently, truth. The apparent disconnect between sensory perception and any kind of immutable objective reality will be familiar ground for anyone who has played 5pb’s 2009 visual novel Chaos;Head, but its treatment in Chaos;Child is informed by its closer adherence to the murder mystery genre.
Takuru Miyashiro, our protagonist, is a perfect vessel for the reader. Unlike the previous game’s protagonist, Takumi Nishijou, Takuru doggedly pursues the mystery and throws himself into a variety of sticky situations in pursuit of the truth. By contrast, I have to imagine readers were frustrated by the relatively passive Takumi, who wanted nothing more than to remain uninvolved in his story’s central mysteries even as that becomes more and more unlikely. In any case, Takuru is about as neurotic as Takumi. While not a borderline shut-in, Takuru is the product of years of abuse and neglect, a man who struggles with familial relations. With a blinding narcissism, he pursues the murders only to prove himself and justify his own existence to a seemingly apathetic world, rather than out of any real interest in the cases themselves. Driven by a near-pathological need for vindication and attention, he throws himself deeper into a mystery he can barely fathom, even as the noose tightens around his neck.
It is fitting that, even by the end, Takuru struggles to see the full picture. The events of Chaos;Child are necessarily connected to a supposedly concluded mystery at the heart of Chaos;Head; however, the truth of that mystery eludes Takuru throughout. Many players will begin Chaos;Child with knowledge of its predecessor and knowledge that Takuru cannot grasp, despite all his elitist posturing. In many ways, Takuru himself is the story’s single greatest achievement. I don’t think I’d be remiss in calling Chaos;Child a coming-of-age story disguised as a murder mystery. The small-minded truth that the player and Takuru pursue gives way to more universal, relevant concerns of a burgeoning adulthood and life in a world that seems impossible to makes head or tails of. After all, Takuru himself seems clueless as to the relevance of his actions in the larger fictional tapestry of the Science Adventure series and its maddening mishmash of conspiracies. The game’s premise and central thematic concerns are not too distant from what 2007’s Persona 4 was attempting to address. If I were petty enough to nurse a grudge against a video game for 13 years, I might call Chaos;Child an example of mastery where Persona 4 helplessly flounders. But I’m not, so I won’t.
The truth that Takuru Miyashiro seeks is initially a means to an end, something pursued to satiate his own vanity. Teetering on the brink of oblivion, the truth becomes an end in and of itself. There’s a distinct point in the story where it becomes clear that things cannot end well for Miyashiro. A happy ending isn’t necessarily logically impossible, but it would be deeply inappropriate. The best analogy I can think of is if Oedipus happily pranced out of his story, leaving a devastated family and kingdom in his wake. There’s a need to wrap all of the horror of the story up in something or someone. The only acceptable resolution is atonement and sacrifice. Chaos;Child depicts a similar journey towards awareness, maturation, and atonement. The game’s final act develops into an unrelenting torrent of anxiety as the story faces the audience and its own participants with the question lying at heart of this mystery:
Who is Takuru Miyashiro?
The answer to this question, and to all of its mysteries, is confounded by a setting that continually blurs the lines between a subjective, or sensual, reality and a so-called objective one. The natural enemy of truth isn’t a conspiracy or some sinister, hidden hand, but our own impressive capacity for story-telling. Reality itself is warped by memetics and collective delusions. The truth behind the murders and behind Takuru himself first necessitates a revised understanding of truth as a concept. The unravelling of this mystery is nearly a religious experience. What is won here is an absolute understanding. Our lives, as we try to understand them, are organized as convenient narratives. Our propensity for fiction allows for a sustained, lifelong delusion. It seems that truth is whatever will allow us to escape the stories we tell ourselves.