I was reading some bits and pieces of Shingakkou – Noli me Tangere – recently, and I wanted to throw down some of my more recent thoughts about the most polarizing route. And this time, hopefully it’ll be done in a slightly more coherent fashion than OMG BRICKS WERE SHAT!!!111. Spoilers abound, a touch TL;DR.
Father August proceeds to stroke the rabbit lying on his lap, which closes its eyes in a relaxed manner.
M: He seems used to you.
A: I wouldn’t say that. It’s more a case of obedience than anything. It comes down to me raising and giving it food.
I give Father August’s face a scrutinizing look.
M: At times, Father August, you can be rather, ah-
A: Nihilistic? I take it that’s the word you were looking for.
M: Yeah, something like that.
A: I can be unexpectedly cynical. But make sure to keep that a secret from everybody else.
M: A… secret?
A: Indeed. If you don’t keep it to yourself, the image of the bright Father August that everyone else holds would become distorted, wouldn’t it?
A: Actually, Michael. Why don’t you try helping me out for a while? That would be the easiest excuse to come up with.
M: I certainly wouldn’t mind it.
A: Heh, I’m pleased to hear it. I really did need some help. But unlike Mr. Moran, maybe I’ll overwork you.
I look up at Father August and give a wry smile.
M: Aren’t you the shrewd one. Are you sure this wasn’t your goal all along?
A: Ahaha, you realized?
While August is easily my favourite character in the 2011 PIL/SLASH title, it’d be difficult to say that I like him as a person. For August is essentially, someone who never managed to fully mature. This causes him not to become that silly guy in adulthood who likes to play pranks like tying people’s hair to their bedposts, but he’s downright childish in everything he does. And this isn’t only in the way he happily goes about around with the rest of the students playing football like an older brother they can rely on. He can’t handle criticism, or people going in any way against him. Whenever he feels Michael might start ebbing away from him, he quickly pulls him right back and lavishes the guy with attention. It’s all a game to him, and both his emotions and personality are a rubber band being snapped back and forth, with just as much intensity. Michael begins to fall for August, being the one person in the entire school who he feels can understand him, having gone through similar situations with him being unable to find the culprit who killed his family even now.
At the age he is when the events in Shingakkou take place, August thinks the exact same thing as Michael did at the start of the game when his family died. Michael states towards the end of his route that when people are given trials to go through and come out of them, they mature. And with the love of others, they’re able to further that maturation and become fully functioning wholes wandering down the road to self-actualization. It’s something we all go through. But August never managed to overcome those trials. He didn’t make this so very crucial, safe transition through to adulthood, and as a result is unable to handle humans – himself included. So he wallows in self-hatred, wrapping himself in delusions. Seeds of frustration and bitterness are sown, leading the ‘seeds of evil’ to take root. His sole comfort is throwing himself wholly into a promise made by a child an entire decade ago. As August keeps repeating, he does love Michael. But how could he possibly love him, truly, when he has yet to mature? To fully understand someone and care for them? As shown later, he fails spectacularly with even doing this. He can’t even see Michael as an actual person, instead placing him on a pedestal, his saviour/only means of salvation in the form of a good looking teenager. In that sense, he’s more in love with the concept of what he could bring instead of Michael as a person. His angelic mythological counterpart, brandishing justice on Lucifer with a sword of flames.
So, those ‘seeds of evil’, eh. He said he’s had them ever since he can remember. But August was a well liked guy, according to Father Lazarus. Maybe not the most attractive guy, but had a charm that would entrance those around him – especially when he began to play the violin. But if he was so well liked, why didn’t anyone notice what was happening to him? At least Lazarus tried to do something about it. As we found out in The Gift, August was once engaged yet his fiancée broke it off after being plagued by nightmares night after night, nightmares which curiously stopped after she had the whole affair annulled. So Lazarus invited him to teach at St. Johan’s, and his fiancée died soon after. It’s possible that the root of August’s fixation on killing people (or by proxy, them dying because of him) started with her and his inability to come to terms with it. Lazarus noticed there was something off with August, and had a bad feeling about him going to war, sure. But what about going a step further than that…? There are countless mental maladies which can be helped simply by talking to someone a little bit more – listening to them. August began to warp, but everyone else saw him as the guy with the violin. It’s amazing, really, that even during the time Shingakkou takes place (possibly forty, fifty years on from his school days) things stayed the same. August is seen as the chipper Father, the one who everyone can casually speak to with a nudge and a wink and call on if they need an extra member for their football game. But no one goes deeper than that. Taking those childlike feelings into account, it’s no wonder, really, that August finds people bothersome.
M; What you should be really clinging to isn’t me.
M; I’m not your Michael. What you should instead cling to is a church or hospital.
A; Is this all still not enough for you? My carrying out the Black Mass, and cursing god. Even though I didn’t do it directly, I’ve still killed people. There are so many who’ve lost their lives because of me.
When he participated in the war, those deeply rooted seeds began to fully sprout. Having let loose all that frustration, he began to take pleasure in killing people and using brutality towards them. August saw comrades who spoke lovingly of wives and kids at home get buried under rubble in front of him, ruthlessly slaughtered. Relying on god, a foreign soldier comes along and chides him for still having fate. The turning point comes with seeing the shattered cross after getting shot. In cases where someone’s mentality shifts, quite literally anything could be the trigger. A person obviously doesn’t go from well adjusted to a bit off overnight. As one would expect, after seeing the cross it was all a downward spiral from there. Even with rehabilitation, he was never the same and became distorted, even believing that he was a demon. He could never come to terms with the cruelty he gave people as such, deriving pleasure from seeing them get destroyed in front of him. So he tries to consciously cast aside god. He even willingly offers Abel up to the principal to readily abuse as he wishes in favour of him overlooking the Black Mass’ existence, his excuse being that Abel is his familiar and exists to carry out his bidding when in reality he’s just a confused, love stricken boy.
August is all bravado, putting on an arrogant front befitting of a demon. When Michael asks why didn’t he already kill himself long ago, the mask comes on and he scoffs, saying that it wouldn’t be at all fun- why should he take his own life in the first place? But Michael sees through that, instantly. So August breaks down, and we see glimpses of who he truly is. It’s in those rare moments where we see his humanity, in which he’s not doing something unpleasant or being exaggeratedly cheery. And this is only really seen towards the very end – where Michael sees August as the person he is beneath all that. It’s worth noting, that Michael never refers to August by his given name. It’s ‘Father August’ the whole way through, creating more of a distance between them on a subconscious level. We never once forget that although he’s (seemingly) the youngest Father, the brotherly figure who everyone looks up to, he’s still older than Michael. By quite a bit, and older still when we find out his past. It’s disturbing. They’re supposed to be lovers, yet, Michael never once calls him by his given name. With the way their relationship plays out, he never even has a chance to.
With a downcast look, Father August gently extends his hand to rest on my cheek.
A; After all, you’re the one whose well being I have in mind here. You understand, right?
A; Glad to hear it. You really are a good boy, Michael…
As his cold hands gently embrace me, I notice stains by my feet.
(Just when did this school become so filthy?)
That’s what sets his route apart from the others presented to us in Shingakkou. It’s stark in its severity, unrelenting with its viciousness. His is the fourth route that opens up, so the reader will already have gone through Neil, Leonid, and Cecil’s beforehand. And with each ending, August is revealed to be the culprit although it’s obvious from very early on, no matter how much P/S much try to push Leonid as a red herring. With August’s terribly destructive route, we learn what lies behind Lucifer’s mask. Deceit and cruelty, and that’s what makes it hard to read. Every single sweet word, every gesture of pity where you think they’re on even ground towards Michael is coldly calculated – a meticulous manipulation that’s hard to watch, and makes you feel like you’ve come across something you shouldn’t have. Yet he’s pure-heartedly willing to buy into it, because here we have someone who’s gone through so much, who has finally find someone who can understand the turbulent feelings tearing up his chest. Unlike the people who offer him sympathy and tell him they’ll be praying for his happiness, August disregards all that and tells Michael to live how he wants. He falls, hard.
It’s taxing to see Michael break down so violently. At first you see what might be the stirrings of love, but then it completely alters into something much more sinister before he has time to think of what his feelings might be. And it’s difficult to see a protagonist the reader has grown to care for go through something so brutal. What lies beyond that is hardcore abuse. Unlike other cheap BL titles where assault = love, Shingakkou coldly subverts that – as most titles should. Unlike many BL/eroge where the hero/heroine’s affection is ‘earned’ and a subsequent h-scene occurs, in this route they aren’t a goal through some flags obtained – they serve as a means to an end, an extension of the characters. Through his affair with August, Michael becomes completely warped. He grows thinner, and doesn’t feel worthy enough to be associated with people or even thinks he has a right to love. He begins to see things being tainted everywhere he goes, jumping when someone touches him. Although August’s route has more h-scenes than the rest, they’re written in an uncomfortable fashion, serving as a reminder that you should feel more anxious than anything else as this plays out in front of you. Although this is certainly a BL game, it doesn’t really feel fetishized. When Michael becomes unsettled and tells August not to touch him with his dirty hands, he’ll turn it around and say that he’s the dirty one. He’ll often do that, causing more cracks to form in Michael’s already fractured psyche.
The worst example of all this is when Michael gets sent to the reflection room after striking Abel on the cheek. As Michael goes to the lake where he and August so often met before, he’s berated by his ‘familiar’ saying disgraceful things about his family and shattering that final illusion – that August knowingly set up the scenario for him to be thrown into the lake. After being put into confinement, August arrives and this is where things go irreversibly sour. Before things take a turn for the perverse earlier on, Michael is reminded of his father’s hands whenever August pats his shoulder or something just as innocent. Who can blame him? August calls him out on having a father complex, and wanting to be violated by him. This culminates in August using his father’s voice while having his way with him, and it’s one of the more depressing scenes in the game’s entirety. It’s unsurprising that Michael’s mind completely breaks after this, becoming emotionally distraught. And this is where another facet of August’s so very detestable personality comes in – his selfishness.
A; I couldn’t control myself, so I had no choice but to tempt you. So that’s why you should no longer come into contact with me, else you won’t return to the path of righteousness and that’s where you’ll stay.
A; Oh, why are you laughing?
M; …What a crock of shit.
This guy has to be lying.
There’s no way I could believe such deceitful words coming from a prankster like him.
Within this person, there not even an ounce of love to be found for me. So honestly, I’m fine with being lied to.
But, you know…
(I would give anything for what he’s saying to be true.)
Michael possesses a tender mindset due to what happened with his family. He’ll kick down walls, and start howling. August will treat him ever so delicately one day, coldly turning his back on him while walking in the corridors as he sneers the next. How are we supposed to believe August loves him when he treats him like absolute shit? We can’t, really. When revelations about his affair with Abel are made known, it gets even worse. Despite being his ‘adorable lover’, when it happens not once does August feel the slightest bit of pity or remorse towards Michael. If anything, he finds it all so terribly amusing. He’s all about fun here. It’s the reason why he got involved with Abel, and the reason why he wanted to see what happened. He eventually gets bored of his long sought after toy, of his subservience and willingness to please. Michael wonders if he was deliberately messing with him before, and we know full well that he was.
Everything boils down to a mere whim of his. Even though he often remarks that humans are troublesome creatures, he spends an awful lot of time with them. When Michael gets called into the principal’s office after the incident with Dennis, August interrupts. In order to draw Michael away from learning anything more about the secret society or his father’s involvement, he makes an offer for Michael to become his assistant. After Michael goes through a brief yet nonetheless severe form of PTSD after what happened in the reflection room, August refuses to let him forget and makes him remember everything that happened between them. He couldn’t just leave him alone to calmly recuperate and pick up the pieces of his fragile psyche. If he truly did love Michael, he would have sent him off on his merry way. Begrudgingly, perhaps, but would still have had his best interests at heart. It’s clear that he doesn’t and this where he falls in his glib declarations.
The core of his route brings up the notion of forgiveness. Does Michael have it in his heart to excuse everything he’s done? Isn’t it unfair to egoistically place that burden on someone in the first place, no matter what age they are? August wouldn’t kill himself, so clings to Michael. Yet after Michael shows no recollection of their promise and falls in love with someone else, he goes about that anyway. He constantly does shitty things to Michael and becomes surprised when he refuses to listen to him. He demands his attention, no matter what kind it is. This results in the route’s climax where he asks Michael to become his travel companion when committing suicide. The reader can’t help but loathe him for that. He’s after ruining Michael so much, but it’s not enough – he has to have his life, too? I was livid when Michael consented to it. And when he does, August’s attitude totally changes from sour to chirpy. He’s a liar right to the end, Michael thinks. Whereas their meeting ten years earlier had Michael believe that August asked Michael to kill him (and indeed, it’s what August keeps referring to) – what he truly asks is for him to get rid of the demon inside of him. So, Michael will become a pastor when he grows up and find a way to forgive him for his sins.
M; …And, Father August said that. He called me a friend of his.
Although I did feel like it was one of his usual jokes, half of it was at least said in earnest.
After all, everyone has positive and negative aspects to them – there’s no one who’s completely perfect. The August Michael knows is someone who’s bright and lively, making silly comments in class and trying to help people, but at the same time he can be unbearably childish, far too cruel and a liar to boot. He goes through much of his route wondering if what August says to him is true, but there we have it. What he says is true, but at the same time it’s not. They’re the words coming from a psychologically unwell person, someone who’s become so warped that he thinks he’s the very devil himself, who thinks he’s an absolute failure of a human, who does acknowledge he won’t be able to love Michael the way he wants to be. Someone who should be as wise, forgiving and kind as his classmate from fifty, forty years ago who teaches alongside him.
M; I can’t bring myself to forgive you.
A; I knew you’d say that.
M; Even knowing that, are you sure that you still want me as your travel companion?
A; For these past ten years, you were my only means of salvation. How could I possibly have anyone else but you?
The route’s final scene takes place several years later – Michael wasn’t given enough poison to die (Lazarus muses that he’s unsure whether this was intentional or a miss on August’s behalf, leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions) and Lazarus lies to him about August’s death. As the man is on his deathbed, a vegetable – Michael offers him forgiveness. It’s one of Shingakkou’s more powerful moments – if not the most powerful alongside Gabby’s final scene. Instead of fantastical scenarios like earlier with Michael and August appearing as their mythical counterparts, it’s a more reasonable, somber affair. Not being religious myself I’ve only a working knowledge of the saga between the two mythical figures, but it echoes back to their confrontation as well as Michael’s ultimate role with delivering souls on judgement day. It offers catharsis, although the first time I read it I was irritated it ended the way it did and so, I felt very unsatisfied. Especially on taking the happier route ends of Cecil, Neil, and Leonid and Gabby’s bittersweet one into account. ‘Why couldn’t he have had something similar?’, I wondered. But now I’m thinking if he did have a similar ending… Would he have even deserved it? The following comic comes to mind;
It’s a pleasant idea. That everything could have been resolved if they weren’t both too stubborn to just admit their feelings and be honest with each other. But the reader knows that’s not the case, and even the FD The Gift which is touted as a ‘sweet love disc’ knows that. In it the reader is offered two scenarios – one featuring actual events with a wistful ‘maybe’ thrown in, and one that has a high probability of being fantasy. You know there’s something off with the latter’s scenario when August comes back as a ghost, trying to get into heaven by carrying out good deeds for people (even offering Michael to sign a contract with it, quoting the coobs). For most of August’s brief section, him and Michael are caricatures of themselves, a far cry from the well developed and memorable characters found in the parent game. Michael acts deliberately tsuntsun, August popping up out of nowhere with a wink speaking like a high school girl to annoy him as a beating courtesy of Michael ensues. It’s a little jarring to read something so slapstick directly after his route, but I can see why P/S went with it.
The former scenario features a brief but intensely touching scene with him in heaven, being just a dream of Michael’s… Maybe. He stands in front of his grave with Lazarus. The way it was presented (along with most of the fantastical events) reminded me of a less cynical version of Umineko, actually. You’re pushed into choosing whether the supernatural, utterly bizarre murders and magical characters are something to be taken as fact, or to expose them for their lies. As the story progresses the reader is essentially told that none of it matters, and the reader shouldn’t have even being trying to discern what was really happening in the first place. His scenario in The Gift was like that. Does the reader believe August can pull a mahou shoujo-like staff out of thin air? Or do they just take what happened at the grave as face value? Was the scene with him in heaven something that actually happened, or a peculiarly accurate dream of Michael’s? We’re never told. But, maybe that’s alright.
(I wonder what you could be thinking, Father August)
Ever since what happened, he hasn’t spoken to me. I can’t help but wonder was everything that happened a lie – me becoming his assistant after the incident with Mr. Moran, and being treated like a close friend. Even though it all happened only a little while ago, those days seem so far off now.
…If, I could, I wouldn’t even want to see his face.
But even if I say that, I have to see him during lessons. While worshiping both morning and evening. When being seated for our meals. I see his unpleasant appearance everywhere I look. As we go about our lives, it’s difficult to completely discard certain people.
Taking all that into account, there’s still one aspect I don’t understand about his character which never really was explained, and that was the bullet to his head. With such solid writing present in Shingakkou it’s odd that Kusaka would just skim over it like that. He took a bullet to the head, now he can’t age? To be honest, I think it was just a lazy way of making him look younger. He already experienced something akin to PTSD after the war- surely she didn’t have to push it more than that. But it does give support to the fact that it’s not all LOL DEMONIC MAGIC after all, even though it does push the suspension of our belief to the heavens. Then there’s the issue of his fiancée.
This definitely became a bit TL;DR (4k words of waffle, really). I do plan on rereading Gabby’s route soon enough, and if I feel it merits the TL;DR I’ll clumsily throw down my new thoughts on that too. I was briefly touching on August’s psyche and his relationship with Michael than anything else here, but Gabby’s route mostly revolves around Michael himself. I’m looking forward to refreshing my memory on some of the finer plot details, such as what actually happened on that fateful Christmas eve. Until the next time, then~.