Grisaia: Yuuji – The Boy Who Was Broken

The Grisaia series may explore its five main heroines in considerable depth over its duration and various routes, but ultimately, the central character to the overall narrative is protagonist Kazami Yuuji.

Yuuji is one of the most distinctive, memorable and unusual visual novel protagonists in the entire medium. Through The Fruit of Grisaia’s exploration of him over the course of the five heroines’ routes, we learn a few details about him and his mysterious past. If you had come to the series completely blind, this would have the effect of gradually shifting your expectations: what might initially appear to be a relatively conventional high school-themed ren’ai (romance) visual novel slowly reveals itself to be much, much more complicated than you might expect.

And then you come to The Labyrinth of Grisaia, whose “Grand Route”, also known as The Cocoon of Caprice, finally gives us some concrete answers about who Yuuji is, why he is the way he is and the circumstances that brought him to Mihama Academy in the first place.

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The Fruit of Grisaia firmly establishes the central setting of Mihama Academy as an environment specifically set up to support young people who have, for one reason or another, fallen out of mainstream education due to traumatic or otherwise unusual events in their respective pasts. The exact circumstances of the five heroines’ pasts become apparent during their respective routes, as we’ve already explored.

Yuuji, meanwhile, remains something of a mystery right up until the end of this first installment, though across all of the five routes, we’re introduced to a number of plot threads from his past that are subsequently picked up and explored fully in The Cocoon of Caprice.

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Specifically, we learn that he is some sort of “agent” with an organisation known as “Ichigaya”, which appears to have some sort of connection to the CIA. We know his parents are both deceased due to an incident that he believes was his fault. We know he had an older sister that he holds in unusually high regard, who was an important part of heroine Amane’s past and who is now apparently deceased. We know that he attributes the most important parts of his upbringing to someone he habitually refers to as his “master”, subsequently revealed to be an older woman named Asako. And we know that he very much knows his way around a woman.

Perhaps most importantly, we know that until he encounters the five women of Mihama Academy, he is struggling to find meaning in his life, unsure of whether he has any true “value” to the world. Something has kept him stubbornly clinging on to life without losing hope completely, however; something has stopped him from giving up.

That’s a lot of baggage for a young man to be carrying around with him. So what on Earth happened?

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Yuuji’s childhood was, it’s fair to say, a total mess. If one had to blame this fact on one single factor, it would be his sister Kazami Kazuki — though it’s also worth noting that her impact on his childhood wasn’t directly her fault.

“At the age of 8, she had the IQ of a genius,” reads a report penned by Yuuji himself on his early years. “Given that the test was calibrated to her age, this wasn’t an impossible score by any means, but it was far, far above the average. “Her parents argued that Kazuki should skip grades to pursue more challenging lessons, but testimony suggests that Kazuki herself wanted to live as a ‘normal child’ to the degree possible. Kazami Kazuki could do anything she put her mind to better than most. Still, she was particularly gifted as an artist. It’s said that a painting she completed at the age of ten was appraised in the millions of yen.”

With an older sibling like that, it’s little surprise that the rather ordinary young Yuuji would have trouble meeting the lofty expectations his parents — and particularly his rather greedy father — would have of him. As a result, Yuuji became rather withdrawn, lacking confidence in his own abilities and deathly afraid of his father.

“When I failed, they’d say ‘And you call yourself Kazami’s brother?'” he explains. “And when, every once in a while, I succeeded, the compliments were always something like ‘Just what I’d expect from Kazami’s brother.’ I mean, I definitely wasn’t that talented, but I didn’t feel like I was depressingly incompetent, either. Guess you could say I was a pretty normal kid. Just not in the same league as my genius sister.”

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Kazuki was a complex young woman, even in her childhood. Mature and wise beyond her years, her “genius” manifested itself not only through her artistic talents, but also through her understanding of her place in the world — and of the effect that had on Yuuji. Recognising that she was monopolising the affections of the Kazami parents, she took it upon herself to take care of the young Yuuji, offering him advice and support even as he started to suffer greater and greater levels of emotional — and, at times, physical — abused from his father.

In particular, the young Kazuki encouraged Yuuji to try new things and not be afraid to fail at them. This was difficult for him to accept at first, since perceived “failure” was usually what invited his father’s wrath down upon him.

“It’s such a waste of your potential not to try new things just because you’re scared of losing,” said Kazuki to the young Yuuji. “Try out all sorts of things and make all sorts of mistakes. That’s what children  are supposed to do. What really matters is that you don’t give up. Learn to be stubborn, Yuuji, and one day it’ll be your greatest weapon. Even in the most difficult of situations, even when everyone around you starts to give up hope, you’ll be the one who says ‘not yet’ and stands back up. That’s the sort of man I want you to become.”

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Kazuki’s position as the “primary meal ticket” to the Kazami household — even after deliberately “handicapping herself in pursuit of normality”, as Yuuji puts it, meant that she ultimately gained pretty much total dominance over her family, whether or not she really wanted it. And the question of whether or not she did really want that sort of power is one that is somewhat up for debate, since she quickly learned to leverage her apparent ability to influence the actions of others.

“Even for our parents, Kazuki’s word was law,” explains Yuuji. “They treated her with a respect that wasn’t far from worship. But strong sunlight creates deep shadows, and it’s probably fair to say that I was a neglected child.” He goes on to cite an example when he was left home alone in the family household with only some stale bread to eat; having at least learned to be resourceful during his childhood of neglect, he discovered that soaking the old bread in water made it surprisingly soft and palatable.

Kazuki, meanwhile, was horrified to discover the level to which he had sunk. It is, however, telling that Yuuji’s first reaction to Kazuki’s horror was not that he was doing something unusual; rather, he was afraid that he wasn’t supposed to eat the bread in the first place. He was quickly put in his place by his sister, however — and from hereon we see the two develop a close relationship, with Kazuki very much proving herself to be a dominant force in Yuuji’s development, right down to attempting to mould him into, as she put in her earlier years, “the man she wants him to become”.

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This eventually crossed a line into incestuous sexual abuse, with Kazuki very much taking the lead as usual. Even years later, Yuuji is unwilling to speak particularly ill of his sister’s behaviour, however, and maintains that there were no cruel intentions behind it.

“I don’t know if ‘abuse’ is exactly… Well, hmm, I guess you could call it that…” he explains to his case officer JB with uncharacteristic hesitance. “I guess you could call it ‘harassment’, sure. But it didn’t really feel that way at the time. I didn’t even think we were doing anything particularly strange.”

The pair’s incestuous relationship stopped short of full intercourse, but they were otherwise extremely intimate with one another. Having never known anything else, Yuuji went along with it — perhaps due to the fact that his parents’ emotional abuse had left him craving the feeling of being genuinely loved.

“My sister loved me so much,” he explains. “It almost made me want to cry. I couldn’t do anything for her, so at the very least, I had to obey her. Kazuki definitely wasn’t a ‘normal’ big sister, but I’d figured that out a long time ago. It wasn’t anything worth getting surprised about now.”

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“Kazuki was Kazuki,” continues Yuuji. “Nothing more, nothing less. But if you really want something more conceptual, I guess I saw her as something akin to God. I was the only one who knew what my sister really was. And that was only because she’d discussed her real intentions so frankly with me ever since we were young. Even our parents weren’t aware they were dancing on Kazuki’s strings.”

With such a strong influence present in their lives, it’s perhaps understandable that the Kazami family unit, as fragile as it already was, would fall apart completely following the apparent death of “God” in the bus crash explored in Amane’s route of The Fruit of Grisaia. And although Yuuji’s life had been challenging up until this point, this would prove to be the turning point that would break him completely, ultimately moulding him into the unusual young man he is today.

As his father descended into alcoholism and, concurrently, his abuse of his surviving family members escalated considerably, Yuuji and his mother ran away on several occasions, though each time his father would ultimately track them down. His mother displayed remarkable stubbornness in the face of this adversity, however; that very quality that Kazuki had urged Yuuji to nurture in that conversation all those years ago.

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“I don’t think she was worried about my safety for its own sake,” muses Yuuji, remembering those dreadful days. “Now that Kazuki was gone, my mother had simply grown dependent on me. I was the only ally she had left. Telling herself ‘I’ll hang in there for your sake, dear’ was probably the only way Mom could see living as anything but a source of meaningless pain. The idea of protecting her only remaining child was a convenient means of bolstering her courage against the temptation to die.”

And she protected Yuuji right up until the very end. Even when her husband eventually caught up with the pair, she submitted herself to being raped by him — one last, desperate attempt by him to produce another “golden egg” like Kazuki — in order to allow Yuuji to escape.

Yuuji’s mind was at breaking point by this stage, however. During his flight from the scene, he started to feel more and more fury at the situation and his father in particular; the initial, passive thought of “I wish he’d just die” subsequently escalated into “I’ll kill him”.

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“Stand up. Fight back,” Yuuji recalls thinking at the time. “Nothing was ever going to change if we kept running away. Nothing was ever going to change unless I changed myself. No matter how bitter reality might be, I had to face it. I had to fight back. There was no other choice.”

Filled with raging, irrational emotions, Yuuji prepared to make the irreversible decision to murder his father, but he’s given momentary pause.

“Fierce anger pulsed through me until it felt like my head would burst,” he explains. “And cutting through it all, I thought I heard my sister’s voice. ‘Use your right hand for your chopsticks and your pencil. Use your left when you’re batting or throwing a ball.’ But which hand do I use for killing someone…?”

Yuuji quickly settled on his right hand, which is the birth of the belief he mentions in Makina’s route in The Fruit of Grisaia that his right arm houses a “demon”. He comes to associate killing with his right arm –and his loss of that limb in Makina’s good ending is, of course, deeply symbolic as a result.

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Fleeing the scene at his mother’s insistence after he’d done the deed, it’s not long before he was overcome with remorse at what he’d done — but he was too late to stop his mother from performing her final act to protect him: pinning the blame for the murder on herself, and killing herself to make the scene look like a murder-suicide.

“After convincing me to run away, she’d written a note stating ‘I murdered my husband,’ then took her own life,” Yuuji explains, though his own recollection of the incident is rather hazy and is consequently mostly based on it being explained to him after the fact. “[The doctor] showed me her final message. The characters were warped and mismatched in size; it was the writing of someone who’d lost their grip on reality. And at the very end of that note, she’d left me her usual apologies. ‘Why did it turn out like this? What did we do to deserve any of this? I’m sorry, Yuu-chan, I’m so sorry…’ Those were my weak-willed mother’s final words, written in the last moment before her fear of reality overwhelmed her fear of death.”

It’s not hard to see from this incident why Yuuji admonishes Yumiko in particular so frequently and emphatically when she apologises for things that really aren’t her fault. He interprets his mother’s constant apologies for his father’s behaviour as being “weak”, and he perceives that weakness — both from his mother and his young self — as being responsible for the way things eventually turned out. It is, as a result, perfectly natural that he doesn’t want anyone else to fall into this same trap of “weakness”, which is why he subsequently encourages Yumiko to say “thank you” instead whenever she feels the urge to apologise rising up inside herself.

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Yuuji’s “fall” truly began with the murder of his father, but he was pulled deep into the darkness as a result of his adoption by a former acquaintance of his father, one Kirihara. This man had taken an immediate interest in Yuuji long before even Kazuki’s death, so he immediately stepped forward to adopt the troubled youngster after the dust had settled from the murder and suicide of his parents.

“Every time that man named Kirihara came to our house, he would send strange glances in my direction,” remembers Yuuji. “Something about the way he looked at me was definitely different from the other adults I’d met so far. Even at the time, I vaguely sensed the desire in his eyes, and it made me uncomfortable. Somehow, it didn’t seem like the way an adult should look at a child.”

Kirihara’s motivations for taking an interest in Yuuji are never made completely explicit, but from his behaviour towards the young boy, we can infer that they weren’t entirely wholesome. Whether or not they crossed the line into outright paedophilia is a matter of interpretation, but it would be an understandable and plausible conclusion to draw.

“Kirihara loved dressing me up like a doll and sitting me on his lap,” Yuuji explains. “Lacking the will to object, I did exactly what he wanted. In those days, I was completely hollow. I couldn’t muster the energy to speak. Kirihara’s caresses didn’t even register as unpleasant. ‘Emptiness’ might be another word for absolute emotional overload. Even to myself, it was eerie how calm I felt.”

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Yuuji’s “emptiness” was eventually broken by one of Kirihara’s acquaintances attempting to sadistically and sexually abuse him — an incident that triggered memories of his abusive father and, subsequently, caused his desire to lash out in a murderous rage to resurface.

“I’d sealed it all away, made a conscious effort to forget,” says Yuuji, describing his inner turmoil at that point. “By deliberately emptying my mind, I’d found a kind of peace. But that man violently pulled everything back to the surface.”

Kirihara, having been established as a charismatic but undoubtedly loathsome character by this point, wasn’t angry at Yuuji for murdering his acquaintance. In fact, he praised him for it.

“There was real joy in his face,” recalls Yuuji. “It was the irrepressible glee of a man who’d discovered an unexpected use for a toy he’d thought purely ornamental.”

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There’s a big question here: had Kirihara really seen Yuuji as purely ornamental, or had he perceived some greater “purpose” in this young boy even during their first encounter at a relatively stable period in the youngster’s life? Yuuji seems to believe the former, but Kirihara was instrumental in establishing Kazuki as a force to be reckoned with in the art world, so it’s not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that he may have been attempting to manipulate the situation to his advantage for many years. Specifically, he may have been attempting to establish a sense of turmoil and resentment in Yuuji by pitting him against his family, using his sister’s “genius” as a catalyst.

Regardless of his original intentions, Kirihara — or “Heath Oslo” as he subsequently becomes known for the remainder of the narrative — ultimately recruited Yuuji into a training facility he established, where it became clear beyond any doubt that this mysterious man was a terrorist, and that he wanted Yuuji to follow in his footsteps. Yuuji ended up with somewhat conflicted feelings at this point: he recognised that he was starting to discover things that he was genuinely good at — marksmanship proved to be a particular talent — but he also understood that his position as “Heath Oslo’s pet” wasn’t going to make him particularly popular.

“In any group, those who’re singled out as ‘special’ will earn their share of envy, no matter what the circumstances,” says Yuuji, remembering his time at Oslo’s peculiar “school”. “I could understand the feeling. I’d felt the same way about the attention Kazuki earned within our family. I could do most things if I tried hard enough, and I always tried hard. But that only added to the antipathy the others felt for me. After all, it was a ‘school’ full of people who’d fallen out of society, misshapen puzzle pieces with no place in the world. In that place, the ‘successful’ always inspired jealousy and hatred.”

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Ultimately, Yuuji wasn’t quite able to let go of his humanity sufficiently to become a totally mindless killing machine. During his “graduation” test from Oslo’s school, when he was challenged to fight a duel to the death against Marin, a female classmate with whom he had enjoyed a close, friendly and supportive relationship, his memories of the past resurfaced and prevented him from taking that final step over the precipice.

“In that moment, I found myself looking straight into her face,” he recalls, describing the experience of being forced to inflict terrible physical harm on a girl he had liked, perhaps even loved. “Her battered, swollen, ghastly face, dark with bruises, red with blood. That face woke up something that had been lying latent inside me, and suddenly my body wasn’t moving like I wanted it to. That face. I’d seen that face before. It was the face of my mother, hanging from the ceiling. Someone had stabbed a rod of ice into the centre of my heart. I trembled uncontrollably at the sudden cold inside me. ‘What am I doing? Hitting a woman until she looks like this… how am I any different from him?'”

Yuuji continued to search for meaning in the terrible events of his life, even as he lay battered and broken having completely yielded to his drug-addled opponent in their final confrontation. He saw his relenting in his assault not as giving up, but of giving Marin the opportunity to escape the situation in which she had found herself — though he was also keenly aware that “graduating” from Oslo’s horrific school was absolutely not the way one should go about finding a normal life. As it transpired, Yuuji was absolutely correct; some two weeks after Marin graduated, she died on her first real “job”.

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As Yuuji is explaining these incidents to JB, his classmates at Mihama are simultaneously reading a reconstructed early draft of his report, and find themselves compelled to continue reading, even as it gets more and more harrowing. Michiru in particular finds it very difficult to understand why Yuuji didn’t just give up and kill himself; a callback to her route in The Fruit of Grisaia where she was both unable to end her own life and unable to save her friend from suicide, a defining event that helped make her into the person she is today — beneath the hard, tsundere outer shell, of course.

“Why didn’t Yuuji kill himself?” she asks, clearly suffering a great deal from what she has read. “I know! I know, I don’t have any right to say that, but I still want to know! I mean, if you die, that’s the end, right? You’re done! It’s all over! Isn’t that a heck of a lot easier? I mean, yeah, it’s scary! Dying is scary! But once you’re dead, it all goes away! All the good stuff, all the bad stuff! You’re back to nothing! If you’ve got the courage to die, at least it’s all over! Who cares about what happens after? Lots of people say they don’t wanna live! Most of them are too scared to die! But if you’re brave enough to live through all that pain, aren’t you brave enough to kill yourself? If you’re just gonna stagger miserably through life, aren’t you better off dead?”

“I think he needed someone who would acknowledge him,” suggests Yumiko, referring to Yuuji’s relationship with Oslo having “saved” him in some twisted manner. “Someone who would accept him and praise him, no matter how clumsily he struggled. Even if that person was evil to the core.”

“That’s an escape even worse than suicide,” says Michiru, letting slip her real feelings about those who simply leave their worldly worries behind — and also referring back to her route, in which Yuuji demonstrates clearly to her that no, one’s death is not just “the end” thanks to everything and everyone you leave behind.

“He was a child himself, you know,” continues Yumiko. “One of those shameless, thoughtless children you hate so much.”

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After her outburst, Michiru runs away, clearly unable to process the conversation any longer. The remainder of the group take the opportunity to ponder exactly why she claims to despite children so much — and, more to the point, exactly why she reacted so strongly to Yuuji’s story.

“What she hates is herself,” suggests Yumiko, referring back to Michiru’s traumatic past of being abused by her tutors.. “Or the child she used to be. She can’t stand remembering how powerless she was. She despised the carefree children that surrounded her, innocently enjoying their lives while she suffered, and seeing that bitter jealousy in herself only intensified her self-loathing. Looking at Kazami-kun’s past, she must have seen a mirror image of the person she was back then. It’s no wonder she’d be on edge.”

In other words, hearing Yuuji’s story makes Michiru afraid — and, more than likely, grateful — that she hadn’t ended up in such a horrific situation herself. As her route in The Fruit of Grisaia demonstrates, she nonetheless ended up with plenty of her own troubles to deal with after her medical issues. And there’s another consideration, too.

“Unlike Matsushima-san,” continues Yumiko, “Kazami-kun was able to move forward and take control of his life, and she couldn’t accept that he’d found such a different path from hers. Hence the outburst.”

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This “taking control of his life” isn’t an immediate process, however, and Michiru has even misunderstood the situation a little. We learn more about this stage of Yuuji’s life when he and JB continue their discussion — this time with JB playing a more active role, as this was the point at which she came into his life, along with the woman Yuuji would come to refer to as his “master”: Kusakabe Asako.

The young Yuuji was rescued from Oslo’s compound during a partially botched raid by a branch of the CIA, the Central Intelligence and Research Second Division, or CIRS for short. Asako played a leading role in this raid and brought Yuuji back from his imprisonment; he’d gradually been losing his grip on reality since graduating from Oslo’s terrible “school”, and would often be restrained in a dark basement to prevent him from doing harm to himself.

Asako, seeing something of herself in this battered and broken young man, arranged to take him in as a foster parent. JB was initially perturbed by this but, recalling her own childhood in an orphanage with Asako, she understood where her friend and colleague was coming from.

“Abandoned ‘dogs’ are abandoned for a variety of reasons,” she recalls. “In my case, and Asako’s, the reason involved our parents’ problems. That’s probably the single most typical situation. Some people can’t afford to raise their children. Some are inclined to violence and abuse. Some become parents before they’re really adults themselves. Situations like that naturally give rise to victims. Kazami Yuuji was just another perfectly ordinary case… another child whose life was disrupted by his family circumstances.”

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It’s not quite that simple, though, as JB continues: “That said, ‘ordinarily’ we expect that a child who suffered such hardships will be ‘saved’ once they’re over. But the man who took in Yuuji after the death of his family was, of all things, an international terrorist, The random cruelty of it was unspeakable. Not only had his parents failed him, his ‘foster father’ had trained him to bite anybody who touched him. A traumatised puppy, tottering down the path to ruin without a hint of doubt in his mind. That was Kazami Yuuji in a nutshell.”

Asako understood this when she made the decision to take responsibility to Yuuji. As a “victim” herself, she knew very well how the world worked, and expresses this up-front to Yuuji as she comes to take him home.

“Listen up, Yuuji,” she said to him. “At the end of the day, the world’s one big pile of shit. There’s no salvation anywhere, especially for maggots like you. No-one’s gonna lend you a hand. People who sidle up to you acting like they’re saints are the worst bastards of all. You know that much by now, right? I’m not gonna be ‘nice’ to you. I’m not interested in what you can do for the world, or why you were born, and I don’t give a shit why you’ve stayed alive so far, either. Seriously, who cares?”

Asako’s words may have sounded harsh, but they reflect a clear understanding of Yuuji and a respect for his situation. In many ways, her coarse words demonstrated the most “acceptance” Yuuji had ever felt in his life prior to that point, which would go a long way to explaining how he came to rely on Asako so much.

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Asako was not the greatest role model by conventional standards, but Yuuji’s circumstances were far from “conventional”, and she consequently proved herself to be exactly what he needed to start rebuilding his life and start the long process of understanding his place in the world. Part of this involved a fairly substantial amount of “tough love” on Asako’s part.

“You’ve got it all wrong, kid,” she said to him when he started expressing his constant fears that everyone who had ever gotten close to him had died. “They didn’t die because they got close to you. They died because you sat around doing nothing. You’re too old to get away with the helpless, blubbering baby number, all right? When someone helps you out, pay them back in kind. Problem is, you convinced yourself you’re not capable of that, and you don’t know how to try. That’s why things keep going south for you.”

The philosophy of “when someone helps you out, pay them back in kind” is one of Asako’s many life lessons that Yuuji takes to heart. Indeed, it’s advice that he ends up giving to several of his classmates at Mihama Academy — particularly Amane and Yumiko, both of whom are riddled with guilt and self-doubt about aspects of their pasts, and unable to move beyond this into feeling gratitude for the sacrifices that others made on their behalf.

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This is a lesson that took Yuuji some time to learn himself. Indeed, even after seemingly settling into his new life living with Asako in her remote forest cabin, one night he found himself compelled to flee from his new living arrangements after hearing Oslo’s voice in his subconscious. But the steps forward he had already taken by this point allowed him to re-evaluate the situation from a whole new perspective.

“This woman named ‘Kusakabe Asako’ just might be able to help me,” he recalls thinking at the time. “Even if the devil caught up to me, and my right hand tried to kill someone again… she might be able to stop me. Even if my hand tried to kill her, she might be able to survive. She didn’t seem like the type to die easily. Maybe she’d even be kind enough to kill me instead. There aren’t many saints out there; no-one’s really ‘on your side.’ I knew all that by now, but… maybe I could try trusting that woman anyway. Couldn’t hurt to give it one last shot, right?”

From here, Yuuji resolved to pay attention to Asako’s teachings, learning from them in an attempt to be more like her. Her first lesson for him was on the nature of “strength”.

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“When you use power correctly, it’s ‘strength’,” she explained to him. “When you use it incorrectly, it’s ‘violence’. And you’re the one who has to decide what’s ‘correct’ and what isn’t. You don’t have to do something just because you can. Not using your strength is another form of power. An iron will moves mountains, see? Real ‘strength’ isn’t anything like a knife in the hand of some stupid thug. It’s something a man uses when he has to be a man. Whether he’s protecting the weak, or standing up for his way of life, there comes a time in any man’s life when he needs to fight, no matter what the cost.”

Yuuji, up until this point, had looked back on incidents such as his murder of his father as gratuitous violence; terrible things that his right hand “made him do”, but here, Asako was explaining that sometimes, there are situations when using one’s power is the right thing to do; sometimes, there are situations when taking some sort of decisive action is the correct choice, even if the consequences may seem troublesome.

“No matter how badly you get knocked around,” she continued, “you haven’t lost the fight until you fold. Doesn’t matter how desperate things are. There’s always a chance, as long as you don’t give up.”

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It all comes back to stubbornness, as Kazuki once told him; it all comes down to refusing to give up, even when you’re knocked to the ground. Slowly but surely coming to understand this, Yuuji threw himself into his lessons with Asako with the ultimate intention of succeeding her in her role as “agent 9029” for CIRS — a desire which he initially kept to himself.

Complications arose as a result of the “safety pin” that Asako placed in Yuuji’s mind through hypnotic suggestion — an attempt to override the brainwashing that Oslo placed on him to turn him into a remorseless killing machine. Yuuji found himself unable to kill anything — even a wild bear that broke into the cabin and killed his pet dog. Frustrated and terrified by his own impotence, he begged Asako to let him become “strong” like her.

“You said I’m fine the way I am, but I don’t think I can take any more of this,” he said. “I want to be strong. I want to be like you, Asako. I’m not talking about physical power, or knowing how to fight… I want to become a genuinely ‘strong’ person… I think I owe that to her… No matter how I spend the rest of my life, I’m going to die with a lot of regrets. So in the meantime, I might as well try to do something worthwhile. I might not be good for much, but I want to find a way to be useful to someone. If I can manage that, I think I’ll be able to die with a smile on my face.”

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From here, the relationship between the pair changed somewhat. Rather than being one of “child” and “parent” as it had been up until this point — despite Yuuji already calling Asako “master” by now — it became one of experienced veteran and disciple. And Asako’s lessons were nothing if not thorough, running the gamut from marksmanship to sleeping with women. The latter lessons, unsurprisingly, proved to be a rather shocking development for JB, but Asako dismissed them as just another lesson in the art of stubbornness.

“A woman like me is definitely a bit too much for a virgin like that to handle,” she says, “but I wanted to teach him that nothing’s impossible if you really fuckin’ try, you know? I don’t want him to give up on anything before he even tries. It doesn’t matter if a woman’s totally out of your league, if you want to sleep with her, you can.”

Asako’s lessons in the art of carnal pleasures mirrored Yuuji’s relationship with Kazuki to an uncanny degree. “He’s definitely had some experience bein’ played with by women, y’know?” she explained when JB interrogated her after the fact. “And when a woman hurts you, another woman’s the best medicine, right?”

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Yuuji, meanwhile, sees the opportunity to sleep with Asako as a means of making up for his past indiscretions with Kazuki, particularly with regard to his self-consciousness about being a “quickshot” — something that Kazuki would tease him pretty mercilessly about. But the two of them soon came to a realisation that they had both come to mean a great deal to one another.

“It ain’t like I’d go around giving head to every guy I run into, you know?” Asako explained to herself, presumably attempting to justify her morally questionable actions. “I mean, yeah, at first I was just trying to mess with him a little. Figured I’d knock that cocky brat down a few pegs. The first time I gave him a blowjob, there wasn’t really any special meaning behind it, I think… But looking back on it now, I guess I’d already taken a bit of a shine to him. That’s the whole reason I wanted to see him quivering in pleasure with tears running down his cheeks. You know how little girls always pick on the kids they like? Yeah, turns out I’m the exact same way. And until I figured that out, I’d barely even realised how I felt about him. Guess I’m pretty damn immature myself.”

An important aspect of Yuuji’s sexuality is his somewhat sadistic tendencies, which are explored throughout the five main heroines’ paths in The Fruit of Grisaia and their subsequent After stories in The Labyrinth of Grisaia, particularly Amane’s. It’s never exactly made completely explicit where this side of his personality came from, but by implication we can assume it to be a side-effect of his early upbringing and his subsequent brainwashing by Oslo. Sexual sadism — which, it’s worth noting, Yuuji never allows to cross a line into anything that causes genuine harm to his partners — is a safe means for him to acknowledge the darkness that remains in his heart, and to channel that energy into something more positive.

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Asako, once again recognising something of herself in her young “student” as well as certain unspoken feelings that JB was harbouring towards her charge, subsequently urged Yuuji to take JB’s virginity. She encouraged the two of them into bed by getting JB drunk and then effectively ordering Yuuji to have sex with her. JB’s continued uneasiness with the situation meant that this encounter trod a fine line between consensual and non-consensual sex, but ultimately it resolved a lot of tension between the three of them, which is presumably what Asako’s intention was in the first place.

“Asako is my master, after all,” explained Yuuji to a nervous JB. “She’s always teaching me all sorts of things. A lot of what she says seems crazy at first, but she knows what she’s talking about. She’s never steered me wrong. So if she wants us to sleep with one another, I’m sure there’s a good reason to do it.”

Indeed, the effects of their sexual encounter aren’t immediately apparent, but if you compare the uptight, quick to anger JB of the early stages of Yuuji’s story with how she is depicted throughout The Fruit of Grisaia and in the present-day segments of The Cocoon of Caprice, it’s obvious that there was a significant impact. JB still has a somewhat fiery temper at times — and continual frustration with Yuuji’s backchat — but the relationship they develop as “equals”, even friends, is much less awkward than the way they were when they first met. And it’s this development that allows them to have a frank discussion about Yuuji’s future after JB catches him quietly taking on some of Asako’s “jobs” as her health starts to decline.

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Despite some initial misgivings, JB comes to recognise Yuuji’s determination to follow in his master’s footsteps, and agrees to let him get the “qualifications” he needs in order to become a fully-fledged field agent for CIRS. This begins with some gruelling Marine Corps training in America, during which time he meets fellow misfit soldiers Daniel Bone and Milliela Stanfield.

This unusual pair became some of the first, and at this point, only “friends” Yuuji has ever had in his whole life. We learned in Sachi’s route of The Fruit of Grisaia that in his previous existence prior to the death of his parents, Yuuji’s only real friend besides Kazuki — who doesn’t really count, for numerous reasons — was the young Sachi, so this is an important moment for him.

It’s not a smooth process for him to develop a relationship with them, however. His initial contact with Daniel comes on the bus on the way to the training camp, when Daniel attempts to assert his dominance with some casual racism; his first meeting with Millie, meanwhile, comes when this fiery young woman confronts him rather aggressively, annoyed that he has shown himself to be better than her at the one thing she thought she was good at: sharpshooting.

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Both Millie and Daniel are outcasts in their own right: Daniel due to his propensity for causing trouble — though it’s implied that many of his supposed past indiscretions are, in fact, fiction that he made up to make himself appear more interesting than he is — and Millie due to her self-professed stupidity. It also becomes clear that Millie’s naturally aggressive and extremely tsundere nature coupled with her obsessive attraction to Yuuji would ultimately turn out to be “training” for him to deal with the very similar Michiru much later in his life.

It’s entirely natural that such a troubled pair of individuals would find themselves drawn to Yuuji, himself an outcast due to his turbulent past. It’s also understandable that, subsequently, this company of misfits — with a couple of additions, including a field medic who has somewhat lost touch with reality, a little sister-obsessed otaku tech wizard and a gentle giant of a man with good intentions but woeful incompetence at pretty much everything — ended up continually assigned together.

“What exactly was the military expecting to accomplish with a ridiculous crew like this?” recalls Yuuji, thinking back on a tour of active duty he spent with these curious companions. “Perhaps that was the wrong question. What if they weren’t expecting anything at all? Maybe they just wanted to toss a bunch of worthless bums into the fire to spare themselves the expense of feeding us. In any case, throwing an under-supplied jumble of defective personnel into the middle of a messy conflict didn’t strike me as a particularly brilliant strategy.”

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It actually ended up working out surprisingly well, however; brought together by their shared sense of being cast aside by the rest of society for varying reasons, the platoon, who branded themselves “Bush Dog” based on their surprisingly effective strategy of running away without turning their backs to the enemy, became a close-knit unit, almost like a family. They supported one another when they had trouble, and pushed one another forward when they needed motivation. It was recognising this fact that allowed Yuuji to push through his past trauma and force himself to kill when he needed to — even as the suggestion, the “pin” Asako had put in his mind, tried its hardest to prevent him from doing so.

“I’m sick of it,” Yuuji recalls thinking at the time. “I’m sick of quivering with fear. Of sitting by, helpless. Of watching people I care about die. I’ve had enough of that for one life. There’s no point in living if all I can do is cower in fear. I’ll kill them all… Danny, Millie, Robbie, Eddie… they’re all my comrades, my friends… Anyone who wants to take them away is my enemy.”

Yuuji’s words to himself actually mirrored Oslo’s original brainwashing of him. Only at this point he had finally found a means of turning his former tormentor’s words back on him.

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“You mustn’t let anyone into your life,” Yuuji recalls Oslo saying to him. “Anyone you meet will inevitably hurt you. They see you as useless, as a nuisance, and so, they’ll try to kill you. No matter what they say, you mustn’t reply. These are the same people who murdered your family. In order to torment you, they kill those close to you. They’re very, very wicked people. Whenever you begin to hold something dear, they will come and take it from you. Your mere presence brings disaster to all around you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done nothing wrong. Your mere presence brings grief to those close to you. No-one needs you or wants you. You have nowhere to run, no-one to protect you.”

At this point, though, Yuuji finally had somewhere to run and someone to protect him. And he recognised this fact: putting his absolute trust in his comrades, he fought through the pain and anguish he felt when forced to kill, ultimately passing out from the exertion of it all. When he awoke an indeterminate amount of time later, his head resting on a concerned Millie’s lap, he finally recognised that things had changed for him significantly since those terrible early years.

“From what Milliela said, I’d apparently killed exactly nine enemies,” he remembers. “But I didn’t remember it that clearly. It almost felt like I’d just woken up after a long nightmare. Killing was something I did alone. Maybe that’s why it made me sick. It was different when my comrades were with me — following the same road, taking in the same sights. When I was with them, I could see things I was ordinarily blind to. I could even see myself, the way I really was, reflected in their eyes. As long as I could see their faces, know they’d survived, I could convince myself that I was doing the right thing.”

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Yuuji’s understanding that he finally had a “home” to come back to was at last brought into sharp focus upon his return from his tour of duty, when he found his master — and, by this point, love — waiting for him.

“When I reached the cabin, Asako was sitting on the stairs outside, drinking a beer,” recalls Yuuji. “Just like she always did… waiting for me. Nothing had changed. I hadn’t been able to change anything about myself. But even so, when I saw Asako’s face, and realised she hadn’t changed a bit, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t even know why. I was just so relieved. For some reason, the tears just wouldn’t stop.

“I’d thought it was impossible for someone like me to live a ‘normal’ life, no matter how I tried,” he continues. “The biggest problem, of course, was that I didn’t know what ‘a normal life’ even meant. But Asako was here for me. She’d waited to welcome me ‘home’. Her cooking was as shockingly terrible as ever, but somehow, it was the most delicious garbage I’d ever tasted. These trivial little things were probably what ‘normal’ was. I finally, finally understood that now… and in this moment, I realised for the first time that my life no longer seemed quite so meaningless.”

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Yuuji still hadn’t worked out exactly what he wanted from life at this point. For a time, he believed that all he wanted to defend was a single person — Asako — but her stubborn rejection of this proposition on the grounds that “a man should be able to figure out the path he’s going to follow for himself” caused him to continue questioning his place in the world.

Asako was everything to Yuuji, though; he perceived her as having “saved” him from his prior existence, despite her also having put him through hell, albeit at his own insistence. Although she rejected the idea of Yuuji living his life solely for her, she did, however, encourage him to keep pushing himself.

“When you’re winning, when everything’s going your way… those are the times when you need to bust your ass,” she explained to him. “That’s how you win the next one, too. Everything you see and hear and feel is a hint that can guide you to victory. Don’t look below you and relax. Look above you and struggle. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around, but feel free to make me your goal.”

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Ever eager to follow his master’s suggestions, Yuuji threw himself into this task with aplomb, specifically requesting a greater breadth of tasks to push himself, rather than the jobs “only he could do”. By taking himself out of his comfort zone, he learned to grow, adapt and even use his past experiences and acquaintances to his advantage. And he found himself continually pushed onwards by the fact that Asako always seemed to be one step ahead of him.

Until one fateful day, when the vein thrombosis caused by an old gunshot wound eventually caught up with her, slowly forming a blood clot in her brain and ultimately resulting in her death. She left the world with no regrets, however, even as a distraught Yuuji held her hand throughout her final moments.

“I’ve been talking down to you for a long time, but, fact is, I didn’t know the meaning of my own damn life,” she admitted to Yuuji on her deathbed. “And the way I lived, it could’ve ended at any time. Even so, right now, I think I’m finally starting to understand. I lived as a soldier, so I needed to go out like one. And a soldier doesn’t croak until they’ve done what they need to do. I killed a lot of ‘bad guys’ because I convinced myself I didn’t have a choice… I saved a lot of ‘good guys’ too. I did everything I could out there. And on top of it all, I managed to keep you alive, Yuuji. That’s good enough for one life, right?”

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Asako’s passing hit Yuuji hard. But he drew strength from some words she said to him many years previously, and resolved to use these as some sort of meaning for his life.

“If I died as well, would I end up in the same place as Asako?” he recalls thinking. “I’d go to the station where I’d waited for my mother and board a train in the beautiful sunset. Simple as that. I’d take the train to wherever Asako was. All the people I loved were probably there, waiting for my arrival. But I couldn’t go to them. Not yet. I didn’t have permission to die yet. Asako had left me something to do. Until I saved the lives of five people, I wasn’t allowed to die.”

Yuuji’s self-imposed “quest” came from Asako’s words to him before he left for his formal training, when she forbade him from dying until he had saved the lives of initially ten of his fellow citizens, subsequently lowered to five in order to be a bit more “fair” on the boy. “I don’t care if you can’t pull the trigger for your own sake,” she’d said to him. “But I want you to become a man who won’t hesitate when it’s someone else’s life on the line. Got that?”

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Yuuji wasn’t able to act on his “mission” immediately. Grief-stricken, he initially sought solace in the arms of JB, who was similarly distraught at the death of her lifelong friend, despite the fact the pair were frequently at loggerheads with one another. But shared grief is no basis for a solid relationship, so, recognising the emptiness inside the pair of them, Yuuji resolved to spend some time on a journey of personal discovery, following a discussion with Asako that he recalls.

He ended up motorcycling rather aimlessly around the Hokkaido region, ultimately returning with nothing concrete to show for his travels except a vague sense that he had enjoyed himself. He had also been strongly struck by the words of a passer-by during his journey, who had muttered a throwaway comment about “youth”, and so he reached a decision: he wanted to, at last “give that ‘youth’ thing a try… maybe spend some time in a normal school for once.”

Through a combination of JB’s influence — coupled with an earlier operation where he had saved a young Chizuru, who would ultimately become the principal of Mihama Academy — Yuuji eventually managed to realise this goal, which is where we join the story at the outset of The Fruit of Grisaia. And at this point, we can start to draw some conclusions, with particular regard to Yuuji’s attempt to fulfil his “obligations” to Asako. Specifically, we can interpret that it’s likely no coincidence that, upon Yuuji’s arrival at the strange, special school, there are exactly five young women, each of whom are in need to “saving” from the shadows of their pasts.

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In terms of the overall Grisaia timeline, The Cocoon of Caprice unfolds after the major “present day” events of the five heroines’ After stories. Although each of the routes are implied to be mutually exclusive from one another while they are taking place, it’s clear from the Mihama heroines’ words throughout Caprice that Yuuji has had a profound impact on each and every one of them regardless of whether he “picked” them; as we’ve previously explored, in no case did he act as an immediate solution to their problems, but rather as the catalyst for the process of acceptance and healing to begin.

In other words, one can argue one way or another that Yuuji has “saved the lives” of these five young women by the point we reach the present day in The Cocoon of Caprice. And if it transpires that he has — or at least believes he has — then that means he will have “permission to die” having fulfilled what he perceives to be his life’s purpose.

But things are not, of course, that simple. As The Cocoon of Caprice draws to a close, we’re left with a shocking cliffhanger: dispatched on an emergency mission, Yuuji discovers that Heath Oslo has returned, and is subsequently framed for an assault on the Consulate General of Kazakhstan, after which he vanishes off the face of the Earth having been drugged and removed from the scene as a mysterious, unnamed individual proposes “finding a use for his corpse”.

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“It’s a pity, a real pity… but I think it’s finally time for him to step off the stage for good,” says the mysterious voice. And we leave the Mihama heroines as they resolve to get to the bottom of what has really happened; this young man has played a part in “saving” them, after all, so now it’s time to see if they can do the same for him.

Whether or not they are successful, and the ultimate outcome of the incident, is explored in the upcoming The Eden of Grisaia, the final chapter in the overall story of Yuuji and these remarkable young women.

One thing is clear, though: Yuuji still has plenty of his own issues to resolve, even as he played such an important role in the Mihama girls’ healing process. And there are plenty of questions still left to answer: what really happened to Kazuki? Who is pulling the strings behind CIRS? Why has Oslo returned now? And what role do the young women of Mihama have to play in this unfolding drama, having become inextricably entwined in the tangled threads — or, indeed, the labyrinth, if you will — of Yuuji’s complicated past?

All that, as they say, is a story for another day…


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