jueves, 30 de marzo de 2017



Japanese fiction, whether anime or gaming (video, computer, and smartphone gaming), represents a
uniquely Eastern notion of strength through unity – one in which differing and
complimentary skills combine to allow characters to exercise greater strength than
they might without the support of their comrades. The argument, specifically, will
focus on how these games borrow more heavily from tales such as The
Hakkenden than from lonely Western heroes such as, let's say, Hercules or Hamlet.
Moreover, the argument will be made that these fiction tend to
subsume the character who acts as the audience avatar/surrogate, using narrative devices to
constantly draw attention to the other characters in the text.
The Hakkenden, not unlike Beowulf or the Odyssey, is an early epic exploring notions of
heroism, redemption, and paranormal creatures.
However, it is the heroes of The Hakkenden whose origins lie in the supernatural, not the villains
hakkenden translates roughly to “the legend of the eight sword/hound warriors,” a direct
reference to the origin of these spirits. A Japanese princess, Fuse, is offered as a
prize to the warrior who brings back the head of the Awa clan’s most hated
enemy. And, after some daring attempts, it is a great hound, her watchdog Eightspots, that finally succeeds –
and, thus, must be granted the right to marry her. She becomes supernaturally
pregnant and is killed by a former lover, who had attempted to defeat the
warlord but who had been defeated – and was thought dead. But, at her death,
eight crystal beads from her Buddhist rosary rise up into the air and are scattered
across Japan – each bearing a character signifying one of the virtues of
Confucianism: benevolence, brotherhood, filial piety, wisdom, duty, courtesy,
faith, and loyalty. Each of these crystal beads represents one of the children that
Fuse would have had, and who are later reincarnated as samurai who do not
recognize one another. The majority of the narrative in Hakkenden is concerned
with the meeting and recognition of these brothers and with their various exploits
against the ancient enemies of their clan. Finally, they are awarded Imperial titles
and castles for their service, and settle down to live peacefully in their ancestral
homeland. The symbols on the beads fade away, as do the hakkenden, over
time. Once they have passed away the idyllic period over which they ruled ends
abruptly, and the clans are once again at war in the Awa Province.

(The full title of the epic is Nanso Satomi Hakkenden, which translates as The Legend of the Eight Swords/Hounds of Awa and the Satomi Clan, lords of Awa)

Thinking of the titular warriors, who are supernatural
entities fighting against human corruption, it becomes a clear representation
of fundamental belief systems.
The Hakkenden embraces the Shinto tradition. Along with larger implications, this distinction is highlighted by
the juxtaposition of the Abrahamic belief in the supernatural as inherently evil and
demonic – aside from the LORD and His angels, there should be no
supernatural creatures – and the Shinto belief that there can be powerful spirits in
all things – kami – which are a form of gods.
Shinto embraces a notion of godhood that covers a large spectrum of ethical and moral viewpoints; there are
good kami, evil kami, indifferent kami, and even kami who mean no harm but
cause a great deal of trouble with their practical jokes (just like the gods of ancient Western polytheism or the Fair Folk of traditional Western rural lore). Many of these kami have
children who go on to become heroes and, according to the Japanese myths of
creation, all humans are descended from the same kami that gave birth to the
spirits of the world.
Another point of correlation between Western lore and The Hakkenden is in the
rise to and fall from power – the heroes of these tales eventually come to rule
lands of their own and finally fall from power for some reason. The eight warriors simply fade away – they age, have children, and finally die. As this happens, the symbols on their crystal beads
– which originally signified not only their individual characteristics but also their
duty to their clan – fade as well. Their purpose has been fulfilled, and they have
been granted a respite from strife for the rest of their lives, which extends to those
they rule. Thus, after their death, the natural state of strife between clans arises
again – implying that it was only the presence of the warriors which lead to
that idyllic period of peace. The tale becomes cyclical, as a new group of heroes
will be forced to arise and reclaim that peace for their generation, after which it
will again fade and the duty will fall to the next generation.

However interesting these distinctions are, the one most visibly highlighted
by fictions produced by Japanese studios is that of the group as leading character. Of the ensemble of companions, "nakama-tachi," a diverse ensemble leading cast of equal or nigh-equal weight.
The Hakkenden is the tale of eight brothers of spirit who work together to avenge
their clan. This falls well within the tradition of Japanese epic literature, as tales
such as The Peach Boy (Momotaro), Shui hu Zhuan (Suikoden/The Water Margin), and more contemporary daibóken (epic adventure) anime such as Saiyuki,
Rurouni Kenshin, and Flame of Recca (not to mention all sentai and magical girl warrior fictions) all emphasize the strength of the party over that of the individual. In these and other cases, a singular “hero/ine” is subsumed by the companions with whom s/he travels – all of whom contribute to
the success of the adventure in meaningful ways and all of whom become, at least
temporarily, dominant within the narrative arc.

The single most visible example of the relationship between JRPGs
and the heroic tradition of The Hakkenden is in Shin Megami Tensei: Digital
Devil Saga, in which each character is marked with a symbol meant to reflect the
powers and nature of the creature into which he or she can transform. These
marks are not deliberate, but appear spontaneously after the characters develop
“Atman”(Sanskrit for "soul!") – a sort of spiritual power which enables them to take on the aspects of
various creatures from world mythological traditions – primarily Hindu,
Buddhism, and Confucianism. In the game’s narrative, this is the releasing of their
primal urges and desires – which are built upon their descent from demons.
Prior to the development of Atman, the Embryon tribe is considered the
weakest of the tribes who subsist within the Junkyard, a bounded space defined
by highly developed bases and strategic gunfights over territorial dominance.
They are ruled over by the Karma Temple, which claims that the first tribe to
successfully dominate all others will be allowed to ascend to Nirvana – as
presented in the text, a sort of wishing world where every inhabitant is blissfully
happy and misfortune is unknown. The beginning of this system’s downfall is the
introduction of Sera, a hacker who had been imprisoned by Angel – the not-soangelic
force behind the Karma Temple – and who had broken free in order to
help the denizens of the Junkyard cope with the changes wrought by Angel’s
virus, which causes the devolution of humans to their demonic origins.
Digital Devil Saga’s party consists of six characters: Serph, the voiceless
leader of the Embryon and the player’s interface with the world of DDS, Heat, the
easily-angered demolitions expert, Gale, the strategist of the tribe, Cielo, the
dreadlock-wearing would-be islander, and Argilla, the sharpshooter and
conservative voice. Sera, who is potentially the most significant character in
relation to the narrative, is not playable – but her interactions with the other
characters, particularly Heat and Serph, are responsible for much of their
development. After they receive their Atman, each of the characters develops a
demonic form representative of one of the Aryan gods: Serph becomes Varna, the
god who created the Three Worlds and master of the seas and seasons, Heat
becomes Agni (Sanskrit for "fire"), god of the sun and the holy fire, Gale is Vayu (Sanskrit for "air"), god of the wind and air, Cielo becomes Dyaus (archaic name of Zeus), god of the heavens and storms, and father of several other gods, and Argilla becomes Prithivi (Sanskrit for "Earth"), goddess of earth and mother of the gods. Their appearances are monstrous, as are their actions in their demonic forms – the first
act of the Embryon after transformation is to slaughter and devour the majority of
the opposing Vanguard tribe.
(This makes also most character names Meaningful Names in the nomen est omen tradition: Heat relates to fire, Gale to strong winds [compare Dorothy Gale and the cyclone in The Wizard of Oz], Cielo is Spanish/Italian for "Sky," and Argilla is Italian for "Clay." Sera can relate to either the evening in Italian or seraphim, the highest-ranking Abrahamic angels, while Serph also relates to seraphim, making theirs the odd names out in an ensemble of Elemental Theme Naming).
In keeping with the tradition of the hero as the central character of a larger
group, Serph’s Varna is both quite powerful and quite vulnerable; despite having
the most latitude in development, Varna is still an ice demon, rendering him
particularly weak to enemies associated with fire and – for at least the first
portions of the game – limiting him to attacks based on water or ice. As there are
several elements in the world of DDS, Varna alone would be unable to defeat all
enemies; it is only by adding Agni’s fire, Prithivi’s earth, and the elements of wind
and thunder/lightning which are associated with Gale and Cielo’s avatars, respectively, that
Serph can hope to defeat the various enemies he faces. Beyond gameplay, it is
generally the other members of the Embryon who develop the plans necessary to
conquer the other tribes and ascend to Nirvana. Gale, particularly, is responsible
for most of the action which takes place proactively while Heat prompts many of
the Embryon’s responses to their enemies’ actions. The narrative, as well,
emphasizes early and heavily the importance of all members of the team, as the
player is confronted with Argilla’s moral dilemma concerning devouring her oncehuman
enemies or going mad and losing what shreds of humanity she has
DDS is not the journey of Serph or Sera, but the journey of the Embryon as
group as they struggle to overcome the shifting power dynamics of a world
thrown into chaos. Serph takes little part in the dialogue and action of cutscenes, and his passivity serves to
foreground the actions of the other characters. In the earliest action sequences of
the game – a cut scene depicting the moment of transformation – the Embryon
are waging a pitched battle against the Vanguard over a mysterious artifact which
has fallen to earth between their territories. As the scene opens, Argilla is
evaluating the enemy’s presence through her rifle’s scope and describing their
strength to Serph, who sits next to her. Finished, she passes the scope to him and
the player is shown the Vanguard warriors in partial cover across the battlefield.
Argilla informs Serph that the Vanguard leader, Harley, is present, and Serph
focuses the scope’s zoom on him. After some examination of the mysterious
object, Serph signals the other Embryon to move out. Argilla stop Serph as he
begins to move, however, warning him that “We can always find new recruits. A
leader is irreplaceable.” Serph continues, and is attacked by the Vanguard. After a
short action sequence, the mysterious object explodes and the fighters are all
transformed by their Atman.
This short passage is indicative of the way in which most cutscenes in DDS
work: the other Embryon have emotions, goals, and personalities, while Serph is a
solely active character. He never speaks – unless prompted on rare occasions to
do so by the player – and his part in narrative exposition is generally an active,
unemotional one. When the characters’ eyes begin to gain colour to show their
growing emotions, it is difficult to establish whether Serph’s grey-blue eyes have
actually changed from grey at all. He is most clearly set against Heat, who in the
first cutscene after the discovery of Sera explains that he wants to know more
about her and that he’s “sure [Serph does], too.” This creates an interesting
triangulation within the game’s narrative, as other characters tell the player what
Serph, the audience surrogate and avatar, wants and thinks. DDS subsumes that protagonist to near-extinction, reaching a point where the other characters are necessary simply
to establish a connection between the player and her avatar.
The larger implication of this transfer of agency to those who surround Serph is that their stories become more important in the absence of his own. This is intuitively obvious; the game features a strong
narrative element, and it would be incomprehensible without some
characterization and emotional development. Since, then, Serph does not offer
this, the player or spectator finds herself connecting more closely with Serph’s companions,
reinforcing the party as collective hero. DDS
invokes strength through unity of purpose and the combination of various skills –
each of which is attached to certain elements of personality which the individual
characters possess. In many ways, the characters of DDS represent their demonic
avatars far more than those avatars represent them: Heat’s rage and envy ignite
the fires of his spirit, Agni, while Argilla’s hatred of needless killing vocalizes the
will to foster life that her avatar is meant to represent. Gale, who develops the
strongest sense of honor and dignity of the Embryon once his emotions wake,
portrays the majesty of Vayu in his golden chariot. Cielo, who longs for peace
within his family, expresses the fatherly – or, in this case, brotherly – sentiments of
Dyaus. What, then, does Serph’s silence and inaction imply about Varna, creator
of the heavens?

This chapter will return to a discussion of DDS, because while the topic covered
here is clearly present in those games, it is most easily and fruitfully examined in
the larger series from which DDS springs, Shin Megami Tensei (A literal, word-for-world translation of this franchise title is “True Blessing Calamity,” which seems to imply that the
calamities which begin these games are truly blessing – or that, at least, blessings are born from them). Specifically, this chapter will address the postmodern world of simulation within DDS. This title differs
from the Final Fantasy RPGs primarily in its foregrounding of personal and social
ethics over the more common themes of fellowship and the protection of the
world. In DDS, both the characters and the other inhabitants of their world
become infected with a strange virus which causes them to mutate into various
monstrous creatures. This transformation – and the associated transition to a
mindless animal-like beast – is only controllable through the devouring of other humans turned
monsters. Thus, every battle fought becomes an act of cannibalism that is
necessary simply to survive.
To situate this chapter within the larger framework, this
chapter will seek to complicate the notion of “good (us) versus evil (the Others)”
by examining a game context in which the leading characters embody the Others
in the same way that their enemies do, and in which being victorious involves
actions which seriously problematize any notion of “good” which can be
associated with the characters. In a larger context, this chapter will also examine
the fundamentally postmodern nature of a game in which the world is – both
inside and outside the context of the narrative – artificially constructed. It is a
simulation of the fourth order, twice, to use Baudrillard’s methodology; the space
of the game does not exist in our world, and the player comes to learn that it
does not exist within the game’s world, either, but is a digital construction meant
to hold the souls of a group of repressed humans.
One of the primary concerns of DDS as a text is how to differentiate Self
and Other when one can embody both. The character most concerned with this
is Argilla, whose refusal to accept the inescapable fact that, possessing an Atman,
she must consume others in order to live and to maintain her humanity – which
she has only recently discovered – nearly causes her to lose control of herself and
enter – as is shown by many of the other, less focal characters in the game – a
state of subhuman rage in which her need to feed overpowers her self-control and
her moral principles. For the other characters in DDS, this is considered a given;
when the Embryon seek to forge an alliance with a rival tribe, Jinana – that tribe’s
leader – tells them that it will only be done if they can fight their way through her
tribe to her headquarters. Bluntly explaining her actions, she says, “My people are
hungry.” Mick the Slug, another tribe leader, describes how “sweet” his own men
were “on the way down” his throat. Nor are the Embryon exempt from this
callous cannibalism; when Jinana is eventually killed – after going mad – Heat
orders Argilla to devour her, which she refuses to do. Serph, like Heat, has no
difficulty in consuming his slain opponents; directly after his initial transformation,
he is shown in his Varna aspect rending a dead enemy with his teeth.
This, quite frankly, does not seem to be within the context of “good” or
“heroic” behavior; it is, in fact, exactly the crime committed by many dragon and monster slayers across cultures --the enemy has the excuse of having been human, to begin with. The Embryon and other citizens of the Junkyard, however, have no such escape from the ramifications of their actions. However, they do not seem to need one; only Argilla has any particular moral quandary about this development, and even
she overcomes it after Jinana’s death.
Heat, Serph, and the other Embryon have
no such excuse; for them, their enemies are merely food, and they eat a bit too
much to claim it was an accident.
Even before the transformation, the world of DDS is grounded firmly in
lawlessness – rival tribes battle for control of areas at the direction of the Karma
Temple, a central disembodied authority, for the sake of salvation. The group
which dominates all others will be allowed to ascend to “Nirvana,” a world
without war and suffering. Unfortunately, no tribe has succeeded in doing this
when the game begins, and it is during a desperate gunfight between two rival
gangs – one of which is made up of the characters who will become the focus of
the story – that the strange virus sets in. From this point on, it becomes the
player’s duty to guide this group, the Embryon, to dominance over the others and
to finally discover the truth about the authority which has governed the lives of
the characters for so long.
While not quite so obvious in its questions of simulation as games like Star
Ocean III: Till the End of Time and the .hack series, DDS still questions the
fundamental reality of any world in the way that it presents its own. The world
of DDS is an artificially constructed area meant to contain the
memories of the survivors of a terrible accident – who are, simultaneously, kept
from an awareness of this fact. The virus itself is the result of the interference of a
hacker, who seeks to find a way to control the power represented by this world.
Also, the hacker implies that the situation has recurred several times already, with
similar results (Before comparing this unfavorably to the Matrix trilogy, it is important to note that the development of this game began before the release of that film, and that this game exists within a context of similar stories, such as Plato's Parable of the Cave). The end result of this line of narrative is that the Embryon cease fighting for dominance of the Junkyard – the
constructed site within which their digital personas reside, which is also called
Purgatory by Angel, the hacker who releases the virus – and come to fight against
the existence of the Junkyard as a construct. The conflict ceases to be Self vs.
Other – if it ever was – and becomes Self vs. Reality; a postmodern attempt at
redefining existence by reconstructing the technology through which it is initially
The Junkyard and the Karma Temple both seem to represent a potential
end result of posthumanism – a techno-despotic future in which control of
technology equates to control of society. This is highlighted by Angel’s ability to
overcome and subsume the Karma Temple, and her subsequent ability to control
the discourse of salvation for the Junkyard. It is Angel who, using the Temple as
her mouthpiece, commands the now-demonic humans of the world she calls
Purgatory to consume one another in an effort to establish complete dominance
and thus to earn the right to enter Nirvana. However, lest it seem that Angel
should be seen as overtaking what was originally a valid system, several of the
characters within DDS point out that the new injunction does not vary
significantly from the previous commands of the Karma Temple. The language
has changed, the but the system remains the same: destroy or be destroyed, by the
authority of technology.
Technology is pervasive in DDS; stores, transportation, and even religion
are performed by network-based exchange, and the autocratic ruler of the
Junkyard is a “Dissemination Machine,” a gigantic computer decorated in the style
of ancient Vedic scrolls. To purchase new equipment, Serph needs to
insert his Tag Ring – a digital device containing identification and other data – into
the shopping terminal, at which point the Karma Temple informs the player how
much macca – the currency of the junkyard – she has earned in combat and by
selling bits of aberrant code to the Temple. When the player wishes to save,
another terminal – using the game’s language – is engaged using the same device,
and that option is displayed along with the option to buy new mantras – which
teach the characters skills and powers – and to recover any damage or transport
to other visited areas. The least technologically advanced aspect of the game is
combat, wherein most enemies use magic or physical attacks – sometimes
including ancient weapons – and the Embryon party, in their avatar forms, do the
same. In their human forms, the party is able to access and use firearms, but these
weapons are, compared to the other technology present – decidedly archaic,
being roughly equivalent to modern weapons. They require ammunition, which
must be purchased from the Karma Temple or looted from enemies (who do not
use firearms, which makes this construction a bit illogical), and include sniper rifles,
grenade launchers, handguns, and automatic rifles. This seems to indicate that the
balance of technological power is entirely on the side of the Karma Temple, which
chooses not to disseminate any information that might allow the tribes to
challenge it and its two laws: all must seek Nirvana, and all must pledge allegiance
to a tribe which defeats their own.
In DDS, then, technology is used as means for controlling and oppressing
the populace; it is, in fact, a means of hiding their very identities from them.
When the game begins, the characters are emotionless and interchangeable; their
mute grey eyes and flat patterns of speech along with their lack of concern for
themselves, their fellows, and the other inhabitants of the Junkyard all evoke the
automaton which Adorno feared would be the end result of mass culture. They
have no memories of a time before the Junkyard, and no way of comprehending
emotions or abstract concepts such as honor or mercy; instead, they understand
obedience, logic, and strategy. Like machines, their first response to a given
situation is to evaluate and develop a plan of action, and then to carry it out.
They have no friendships, only a hierarchy, and, as Argilla points out in the
opening sequence, they are essentially interchangeable.
The introduction of Sera marks the beginning of the failure of the
technocratic system. With the advent of emotion and the introduction of motive
and personality, the citizens of the Junkyard begin to question their lives and their
blind obedience to the Karma Temple. Eventually, as their memories return, they
realize the manipulation and coercion that were an essential part of the system
which kept them imprisoned and focused on one another rather than on the
system which governed them. In the end, Sera leads the Embryon to
attack the Karma Temple itself and to force their way into Angel’s presence in
order to demand the truth about Nirvana and about themselves. This is the final
heroism of DDS: to destroy an oppressive system of government which seeks to
turn one against another in order to hide its own manipulative control of
technology, identity, and all other knowledge – and, in many ways, humanity.
To return to Ryan’s formulation, DDS highlights many of the ways in which
Propp’s construction of narratives cannot account for J-RPGs. There is no central
hero, the final battle is not Self vs. Other, and the goal of the party is neither
domination nor, really, liberation – it is the utter destruction of a reality
established within the text. When DDS ends, the player or spectator is unsure what the next
step will be; it is the purpose of the sequel to examine what happens without the
Junkyard, when the Children of Purgatory are no longer caged by the Karma
Temple’s compulsive technologies. Which, of course, points towards the other
explicit critique within the text: that of posthumanism and cyberculture.
When Donna Haraway wrote in her “Cyborg Manifesto” that
"The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic
family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not
recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream
of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can
subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic
compulsion to name the Enemy. Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not
remember a cosmos. They are way of holism, but needy for connection
– they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without
the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that
they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal
capitalism, not to mention state socialism"
she could essentially be writing about the citizens of the Junkyard before their
transformation. At least, they are comparable until she enters the realm of
politics. The Embryon companions, prior to the reintroduction of emotions, do
not dream of families, do not remember any of their history or culture, are not
made of mud but rather of raw data, are not reverent, and represent a united
front. They are also mindless, and their only goal is the one inscribed on them by
the system which has constructed them and which can, in a certain way, be linked
to the “militarism and state capitalism” which Haraway mentions above – but
more closely resembles the way in which those constructs might adapt to the
introduction of Haraway’s cyborg. Most notably, however, they have not
escaped the “manic compulsion to name the Enemy” as Haraway hoped. Indeed,
it is their sole law to conquer their arbitrary enemies, and as cyborgs they pursue
that goal remorselessly – for cyborgs also know no pity and no mercy or
DDS, then, can be contextualized as a rebuff of the tradition of utopian,
idyllic visions of cyberculture as the potential liberator of humanity, both from
oppression and from the body. As digital demons, the Embryon have bodies
which are real enough for them – they require food and rest, and the implication
of the initial sequences seems to be that a lack of emotion – of reverence, family,
and other concepts of the sort – points towards a decline of society rather than a
development. Additionally, even when technology liberates us from our bodies
and the oppression they must suffer, it provides a forum for new types and levels
of oppression, as those who control and master a technology are able to
dominate those who do not. And, finally, DDS seems to argue that when
knowledge exists only as data and one entity or group controls that data, that
power is able to designate any enemy it desires and to command and program the
cyborg – whose weakness, in the end, is that her body is made of data, and data
can be manipulate both more easily and more completely than flesh.

As has been mentioned previously, one of the greatest distinctions within
the Japanese tradition in role-playing has been the relative focus
on the party.

Sonobe, Souan. “Hakkenden Hakruyu-Tei.” 6 April 2006.
Takashi, Anno, dir. Hakkenden. 1990.

A distinctive mark of the Quest is the extent to which, more than in any other kind of story, the hero/ine is not alone in their adventures. But more consistently than in any other type of story, in the Epic Quest we are also made aware of the presence and importance of the friends who accompany them.
In fact the relationship to the companions assumes one of four general forms, two of which form ensembles (instead of hero/ine and sidekick duos): and since these basic types of relationship are also found, more sporadically, through stories of all kinds, they must be noted.
Firstly, the companions may simply be a large number of undifferentiated appendages, few if any of whom we even know by name. Such are the twelve boatloads of men who set out from Troy with Odysseus, Aeneas's Trojans, Gerda's carriage escort, or the main body of the Jews who accompany Moses. (These are usually expendable "redshirts", dying left and right at the drop of a hat whenever the fellowship confronts monsters, natural traps, booby traps...).
Fourthly, in the most fully-differentiated form of the relationship between the Quest companions, the latter are each given distinct characteristics which complement each other, and add up to a 'whole'. In Watership Down, for instance, the leader of the rabbits is Hazel. But he relies heavily on the physical strength of Bigwig, the rational planning capacities of Blackberry, and the intuitive powers of Fiver; and without all their separate contributions combined, the Quest could not succeed. A strikingly similar balance can be seen in the group who set out on the Quest in King Solomon's Mines. Their leader and the story's is Allan Quatermain: his companions are the 'bull-like' Sir Henry Curtis, representing physical strength; the immaculate Captain Good, who represents rational calculation (it is he who saves them all by predicting a solar eclipse from his nautical almanac); while the intuitive principle is represented by their mysterious, regal Zulu companion, Umbopa, who seems to have more hidden knowledge of the goal they are heading for than he lets on, for reasons which eventually emerge. A third example of such a brains, brawn, heart, and leadership ensemble would be the leading quartet of The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy (leader), the Scarecrow (brains), the Tin Man (heart), and the Cowardly Lion (brawn). (It's this kind of group of companions with distinct characteristics which form nakama ensembles; they don't need to embody brains, brawn, heart, and leadership; in fact there may be fewer [as few as three] or more companions embodying different qualities).

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