C.W. Casually talking about suicide, manipulation, depression, murder.
Yoshiya Kiryu, or Joshua, stands out as an oddity in ‘The World Ends With You’. Almost everything about him is at odds with the universe he inhabits. His casual, grey clothing contrasting with a modern, colourful world of fashion that’s distinctly Nomura in design; His voluntary and illegal entry into the Reaper’s Game almost invalidating the fear and stress felt by the rest of the cast; His misanthropy and contention with being a sarcastic pessimist directly defying the narrative’s belief in becoming a better person; And most importantly of all, his crippling loneliness contrasting not only the sociable cast, but even himself and his own philosophies. It’s this juxtapository nature and his emotional and characteristic complexity that makes Joshua such an interesting character to deconstruct, and within that deconstruction is there not only greater depth in understanding Joshua, but also in understanding the character of Neku Sakuraba – the game’s protagonist, and reverse-foil to Joshua – and the game’s own themes and ideals.
This post assumes that you have played through all of TWEWY’s main storyline. However, any information from the Secret Reports and Another Day will be explained.
To start understanding Joshua, we must see him as we do initially; how he appears at face value in one’s first playthrough. Throughout Week 2, he is seen as a manipulative, condescending, sarcastic, and misanthropic liar who only plays the game for kicks, and enlists Neku as a forced bodyguard to help Joshua “jack” Shibuya’s underground.
However, this Joshua is also sympathetic, being ostracised through life due to a “second sight” which caused him to see something that was socially nonexistent, which led to loneliness, implied suicidal depression, and an eventual apathy to death – as, to him, death was literally a game which allowed him to exist among people he could finally relate to. He may be an arsehole who maybe killed Neku, who shows no concern for the players and reapers being erased around him, and who trivialises the suffering of others just by being a voluntary player, but of course he is. Actions and personality may not be justified by backstory, but they certainly can be explained and understood. Why would someone who was conditioned to see death as an improvement upon life care if his actions – or inaction – led others to death or erasure? The week also plays host to a deep friendship being formed between the two partners, as they discuss and share philosophical views and morals, though Neku begins to see his own personal change through Joshua stating things Neku once agreed with but had since reconsidered following his bond with Shiki. This combination of hate, respect, and kinship regarding Joshua ends dramatically with Neku learning that Joshua attempted to save Neku from his real killer, and witnessing Joshua’s valiant sacrifice to save Neku again – successfully, this time. Neku’s hate for Joshua turns into hate for himself and the hostility he showed Joshua, and even moreso hate for the game that had now taken every single friend he’d had – Shiki as a hostage, Joshua and Rhyme as victims, Beat as a turncoat, and his long lost friend who was assumedly erased following a car accident (though that would only ever be brought up during Another Day, it is safe to assume it happened in both timelines).
How ironic that this emotional development must be turned back towards Joshua as the third week ends.
In the dramatic climax of Neku and Beat’s takeover of the Shibuya Underground, a coup originally inspired by Joshua’s own ambitions, the unimaginable happens as Joshua appears and is amalgamed into Draco Cantus, and after Neku’s victory, paralysises everyone in the Shibuya River sans Neku and himself, reveals his title of Composer, and makes his identity as Neku’s killer certain, all in order to challenge Neku to a duel “for Shibuya”.
The final confrontation
This sudden wave of reveals, this unravelling of Joshua’s web of deceipt, strikes the player and Neku. A friendship built on lies and manipulation all having to be faced at once as Neku has to force himself aim a gun to the sociopath he’d considered a friend. But Neku fails to consider that friendship in past tense, and collapses his arms, as Joshua pulls the trigger. Upon Neku’s loss, Joshua looks down at him with his trademark cocky smile.
Yet, after this, Neku wakes up in Scramble Crossing, free from the game, with a pre-established friendship with Shiki, Beat, and Rhyme. Neku lost the duel, but Shibuya was spared.
This is where we must further analyse Joshua, critique his inconsistencies, and learn the truth behind this enigmatic personality.
The Duel, or, Why Neku?
An important place to start is that final duel. The first question would be “why duel?” Joshua is the Composer, after all. Even in his low-frequency human form, he’s far more powerful than Neku without being faced with restrictions in the form of rules and games (as evidence, he killed Taboo Minamimoto with his weakest attack, something a max-stats Neku with the best deck builds can’t do that quickly). With Kitaniji, he had the reasoning that he was making a bet with his immediate subordinate and advisor, someone whose opinion is important in the Composer’s decisions, but Neku is just a pawn that Joshua was more than willing to murder, and whose express purpose in the game was to destroy Shibuya on Joshua’s behalf. So, I ask again, why duel? A theory I’d read about in shibuyasmusic’s fanastic piece on Joshua (link here) is that it was not a duel on whether Shibuya lives or dies to begin with, like the player is meant to assume, but that it’s a duel for the title of Composer. But that opens yet more questions. Why, still, the decision to duel? Why the change of heart? And, arguably most importantly, why give Neku of all people a shot at Composer? But to answer all of these, we must first ask why he chose Neku as his proxy to begin with.
Thankfully, the Secret Reports answer this question. Upon the decision to play the game for Shibuya, Joshua swiftly consulted the Producer, who is confirmed within these same reports to be Hanekoma. The latter offered his murals as perfect spots to scout for potential proxies, as they were imbued with two important codes (detailed in the Week Joshua Day 5 secret report): One to attract those with strong Imaginations, and one to strengthen said Imagination.
This made his murals a perfect location to find worthy candidates. Neku was, supposedly, picked specifically due to his attitude. His proxy being “the worst person in Shibuya” would act both as a constant reminder to Joshua why Shibuya was corrupt and needed to be destroyed, and also a certification that his proxy could not change ways during the game – that they might stay the scum of the Earth, causing them to act completely selfishly to Shibuya’s detriment and prove that the city couldn’t be saved. It is also worth noting that Joshua himself shares most of the traits that made Neku such a perfectly awful candidate. More on that later.
Despite all of Joshua’s forethought, Neku changed. He’d opened his horizons, befriended people he’d once ignore and silently judge. He ceased fighting for himself after only one week, instead fighting for Shiki, revenge on Joshua’s hehalf, and eventually the very thing he was supposed to aid the destruction of: Shibuya. While this might have meant nothing in the logistics of Joshua’s plan, with Neku’s newfound goal to save Shibuya actually serving Joshua’s need to overthrow Kitaniji just the same as the original, intended goal of taking over Shibuya for selfish reasons, this change of heart meant the world in the mentality of Joshua’s plan to raze Shibuya. With the personification of Shibuya’s corruption ironically undergoing a total reversal of attitude, the prospect of Shibuya improving its state was now plausible. This revelation, coupled with Joshua’s own interactions with Neku, witnessing his growth and their own parallels, struck Joshua, leading him to spend most of Week Beat reconsidering his original plan. Once again, more on that later. For now, one of his most important aspects as a character: his rampant hypocrisy.
Joshua and Hypocrisy, Among Other Things
Joshua is a complete hypocrite with a literally almighty sense of superiority. Where he might be a close-minded person who cares only for his own values and completely seperates himself from others, he detests the same sentiments coming from his subjects. Where he has honest philosophical discussions with Neku about misanthropy and the absurdity of expanding your worldview, he specifically chose Neku as a terrible person because Neku held those views. As a stranger, Neku is scum; as a friend, he’s relatable. It’s this divine hypocrisy that led to Shibuya deteriorating under the ruling of a terrible person, and Joshua’s wish to destroy Shibuya without realising he caused the deterioration from the beginning. As the Composer, Joshua very literally holds the right to judge, and being the misanthrope he is this leads to a very heightened sense of superiority and a high set of standards that he himself cannot meet. How such a flawed person could be Composer under the angels’ rule is beyond me, but his personal failings led only to Shibuya’s downfall and a firm belief that he was right to judge the city for it. His apathy brought about by his assumed childhood – I should mention now that I believe Hanekoma’s “Second Sight” story to be true, just not as recently occuring as he might have the player assume – causes him to abandon hope quickly and opt to eviscerate his “mistakes”. Even in his low-frequency human form, this complex continues with him assuming the worst of all Players and Reapers, leaving several to die for little reason other than assuming they were scum, and displaying a readiness to murder Neku in an act he genuinely saw as just and reasonable. If his leaving people to die sounds familiar, it may be because that’s exactly how Neku acted in the early days of Week Shiki. I’d like to reiterate in further detail the parallels between these two characters and their service as foils.
Allow this to be a study of Neku’s arc, for a moment. It’s important to understand Joshua as a foil. Following the drastic changes Neku undergoes in Week Shiki, coupled with the sudden return of his memories and essentially identity, Week Joshua serves to let Neku look retrospectively on himself; he gets to see how he’s changed, and is given an opportunity to rethink himself and come to understand his personal philosophies better. His recollection of CAT, nostalgic tour of a city he despised just a day prior, and conversations with a partner essentially embodying his personality not one week earlier all serve as a mirror to Neku, allowing him to truly grow by comparing his old self to the person Shiki inspired in him. It’s very much a week of reflection, the calm before the storm that is Week Beat. (This is exaggerated by having Minamimoto not stress the player or Neku with any missions.) What this means for Joshua is that he is distinctly depicted as immature here. As Neku spends a week in a pseudo-meditative journey to enlightenment, Joshua constantly acts like a child, being a stubborn brat when Neku won’t help him “find” Shibuya River, sarcastically hitting on Neku *just* to taunt him, and, strangely enough, engaging in mature conversation about the Sisyphian task of getting along with people. While these conversations are by and large the most maturely he ever acts in this week, with even his sacrifice being held back by the trademark cocky smirk, he’s still explicitly childish in the narrative’s eyes. As Joshua talks about how people can never truly expose themselves to one another, and how he’s not even bothered by this as he talks of his introverted mind being a peaceful garden that needless bonding would only disturb, Neku’s silently reconsidering the fact he once agreed with this. “Is that really how it is?” These conversations are framed as Neku seeing the absurd pessimism in what he once believed; an evolution for Neku that derides upon Joshua. And Joshua comes to recognise this. Through the week, Neku’s maturity affects him. This is shown in a climactic “end” to Joshua’s arc, of sorts, as he abandons his selfish attitude and sacrifices himself to save Neku…
…Of course, he doesn’t actually, though while this will be reframed through the finale to be one final lie and a betrayal of Neku’s trust, within the greater narrative and this interpretation of Joshua, the sentiment is still there. He may have needed to save Neku to beat Megumi, and secretly didn’t sacrifice himself at all and only teleported to the universe of Another Day, (Another Day has a strange climax, it’s weird. And yes, it’s canon) but his growth was real. Even if his faux sacrifice is unrepresentative of anything anymore, the emotions it originally elicited still hold true. After staring his flaws in the face, and viewing someone he once saw justice in murdering grow into a compassionate person, Joshua spent his week recovering from the Level i Flare discussing with his alternative self whether he should truly destroy Shibuya. While most of what occured during his week in Another Day is unknowable and everything I say about it is purely theoretical, considering the nonsensical ending, it seems safe to assume they arrived at the decision that Shibuya would be spared. But he didn’t know if he was worthy. This is where the duel, and the three questions surrounding it, come back. Joshua changed his mind sometime during Week Beat, with his change being inspired by Neku’s own. He saw the potential of a Composer in the matured Neku, and believed Neku might be more worthy than himself, but he knew that he couldn’t just say “hey I’m not actually dead btw you’re God now,” so he made the best of a bad situation. He put Neku in a position where he could either deliver capital punishment to Joshua, which would deem Joshua not worthy of the position and give the title to Neku, or he could hesitate, as he did, which would prove that the worst people truly can change, and Joshua would continue his rule as Composer with a newfound sense of philanthropy and patience.
Some Kind of Ending
To fully complete this analysis, I should explain my beliefs on what Joshua was prior to his becoming Composer. I’ve already said I belive Hanekoma. Second Sight is a real occurance that occassional scanned pedestrians will display, and it genuinely makes sense that Joshua might have had it when he was human. I’ve already briefly described what I imagine it was like, though to further explain, I imagine he was horribly outcast. Few people knew the UG existed, so he would undoubtedly be shunned and even probably called insane for seeing something that didn’t exist for most people. I once said he would see death as literally a game, which he would. He’d see the Reapers, understand why they do what they do better than any Player, and he’d know that, in the UG, there’d be no second sight or ostracisation. I honestly believe he killed himself to be able to go to this wonderland of sorts. But his suicide isn’t too relevant, strange as that sounds. It’s more the reasons he would kill himself, which stayed true until his week with Neku. He’d be apathetic, wanting death as a complete improvement on life, and understanding death as a second existence; nothing to fear. His isolation would cause him to detest people, and the fact they could never understand him inspiring his belief that nobody can ever understand one another. Eventually, he’d become Composer. Eventually, his loneliness would return from his youth due to his limited contacts as Composer, and eventually all of his unaddressed flaws would run rampant. Until the two weeks that changed everything.
Or, at least, that’s what I think. This may have gotten a bit emo, considering that Joshua’s the kid who runs around, trolling and hitting on Neku in his favourite Lapin Angelique dress. But that’s the conclusive timeline and arc I came to when studying this fantastic character. Thank you for reading.