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[personal profile] shibuyasmusic
Preface: Joshua is by far the most complex character in The World Ends With You, who goes through more drastic change in his character than any other character in the game, including Neku Sakuraba. However, there are many who have played the game all the way through and would disagree, favoring one of two characterizations of him.

The first and most common are the people who find Joshua to be a completely hatable character with an irritating personality and, in the end, nothing but a total asshole of a villain. These people tend to sympathize with Neku's perspective the most, the people who really step into Neku's character, which is fine, because that's the point. Joshua was made to seem like a total asshole, from Neku's eyes, but one has to keep in mind that Neku was not seeing the entire picture.

The second also very common characterization is the one that characterizes Joshua as being overly flamboyant, incredibly prissy, enjoying women's clothing, and always hitting on Neku to tease him. Most people who come to this conclusion likely paid most of their attention to the funny or suggestive things Joshua said throughout Week Joshua, and then played Another Day, where he does indeed act this way. These people tend to make the mistake of assuming that Another Day!Joshua is the same character as the main story-line's Joshua, mixed with wearing their shipping goggles a little too tight.

Both of these misinterpretations are entirely understandable, since the game isn't about Joshua's characterization, it's about Neku's; Joshua is merely his foil. I know several people who were guilty of one interpretation or the other, including myself who was very guilty of the second one for a while. This discussion is meant to both organize my own analyses and characterization as well as offer a detailed look into his character for anyone else who might not be able to see past the surface of his character.

Joshua on the surface: First, to get a good understanding of his character, you have a look at how he appears on the surface as you see him throughout the game before delving deeper. Here will be a simple listing of observations of his behavior, and how he comes off to the character Neku.

We first see Joshua running headfirst into Neku's second Game and forming a pact with him without any permission from Neku. The first impression he gives is one of arrogance and selfishness. Almost everything he says is laced with condescension and sarcasm, which gets old with Neku incredibly fast. Joshua hardly seems trustworthy, and what's more he holds absolutely no concern for Neku's goals or the lives of their fellow Players. He is entirely wrapped up with his own mission which, to Neku, appears to be a mission for power. At the same time, Joshua's cynical views on society reveal that he and Neku are actually extremely similar: they both can't stand people, and think they would be better off without them. (These conversations will be discussed further in the deep analysis section, as they are full of very subtle yet very telling writing and are a masterful example of how foils work.) Of course, hearing his own words coming from someone else's mouth, Neku seems to actually be changing his mind about society, and ends up disagreeing with Joshua on things he would've previously agreed on only one week prior. Joshua, however, doesn't appear to be changing his mind, and shows no outward remorse for dead Reapers or dead Players.

This seems to be all subverted when Joshua supposedly sacrifices himself at the end of Week Joshua to save Neku's life. This comes off as a huge shock to Neku (and consequently the player) and is meant to really stun him into rethinking his views on people, even people he dislikes, because nobody deserves to die. After all, if Joshua gave up his life to save him, he couldn't have been all heartless, and must have deemed Neku's wish to save Shiki more valuable than his own wish to gain power.

This all acts as major build-up for the end of the game, the climax, when Joshua suddenly appears again without any sort of explanation. The feelings in both Neku and the player are ones of mass confusion, subtle relief, and even some bitter anger as to how he could possibly be alive. This is all interrupted by the final boss fight of the game, prolonging any sort of happy reunion until the battle is over. Of course, this goes straight into the reveal of Joshua's true identity as Composer of Shibuya, the one who runs the Reapers' game and judges whether or not people deserve to live or die. Not only is this revealed, but it's also revealed that Joshua plans to destroy Shibuya and all of its people, viewing it as a dry husk of unused potential. Joshua then reveals that he wanted Neku to defeat his Conductor, as his Conductor was the only one standing in his way of achieving destruction of the city, and that Neku was his chosen proxy. At which point, of course, we find out how Neku dies:

When Neku first meets Joshua, before the game, Joshua is suddenly intruding upon Neku's life with the sole purpose of ending it. Which he does, successfully, so that Neku may play the Reapers' Game for him and beat his Conductor. His actions here are heartless and selfish, almost sociopathic in nature. His character is almost irredeemable once this is revealed. This is, of course, revealed during the climax of the game to bring Neku and the player to a startlingly high level of both rage and betrayal. Such an action makes Joshua almost inhuman, and the sheer amount of emotion running through the player as they watch the narrative unfold tends to be massive and uncontrollable. Neku himself can hardly believe that, for one week straight, he trusted Joshua and yet was being manipulated by him at every moment.

As if this couldn't get much worse, Joshua continues to play mind games with Neku after this reveal. He offers Neku a choice, claiming it to be one final test for Shibuya's fate. They're both supposed to take a gun each, stand across from each other, and fire after the count of ten. Whoever survives becomes the new Composer and decides what to do with Shibuya. The ruthlessness behind this duel plays out into an extremely dramatic cutscene, where Neku, after a few seconds of hesitation, brings up his gun to fire... and then lowers it, unable to bring himself to kill someone he considered a friend, despite everything that Joshua had done to him.

Joshua fires anyway. The last thing that Neku sees before falling unconscious is Joshua and Hanekoma standing across from him, smiling at him.

Then, something completely unexpected occurs for the ending of the game. Neku wakes up, back in the RG, and is able to continue living his new, second chance at life with all of the friends that he made over the course of the game. The game ends with a message from Neku to Joshua (whether this is a voicemail to his phone, a note he wrote him, or just an internal monologue he hopes for Joshua to hear is uncertain), explaining how everything Joshua did to him changed him for the better, that he didn't know why Shibuya was still around but he figured Joshua took care of things, and that while he couldn't forgive Joshua for what he did, he still trusted him.

The turbulent and confusing way the surface of Joshua's character is presented leaves a lot of questions as to the reasons for many of his actions. The game does not explain through its narrative why Joshua chose Neku as his proxy, why he had "sacrificed" himself at the end of Week Joshua (or how he survived), why Joshua deems himself worthy of judging others, and it does not explain, at all, why he chose to spare Shibuya. These questions, however, do have answers, but they require one to look more deeply into Joshua's character by reading the Secret Reports, getting the Secret Ending, analyzing implications from dialogue, and drawing conclusions from all of these factors.

Deeper Analysis: The most effective way to view Joshua's character and how he appears beneath his surface is to see how his character changes throughout the game first, explore his character before the game (before he became Composer, essentially), and theorize his behavior post-canon.

Joshua's attitude as we see him as Composer, offering to play a Game with his Conductor in order to decide the fate of Shibuya, is one of a tired person who very clearly views himself as mighty and worthy of the judgement of others. It's easy to picture that he doesn't view himself as entirely human, considering his transcendent status as something that's practically a lesser deity, and puts himself above Shibuya as its caretaker. In fact, it's undetermined how long Joshua stayed in the form of Composer before the events of the game, but implied that it's been an incredibly long time since Joshua has regularly mingled with others. Joshua's only 'human' contact outside of his Conductor, whom he views as more like an envoy or employee than as a friend, is the Producer Hanekoma. And despite Hanekoma's efforts to get Joshua to open up and spare Shibuya, and see that people are capable of changing and meeting their potential (not unlike how Neku misinterpreted CAT's messages) Joshua paid no mind to Hanekoma's desires. It's even suggested that he trusted Hanekoma to take his side in matters and that he believed everything Hanekoma was doing was to support him (when Hanekoma was, in actuality, plotting his downfall to save Shibuya.)

His status as inhuman and being all but completely closed off to society and the outside world is part of what lent Joshua the ability to disregard any moral consequence in killing Neku to bring him in as proxy for his game. Another thing to consider is that Joshua is one really gigantic hypocrite. While he closes himself off from other human beings and deems them impossible to understand, viewing himself and his intelligence superior to theirs, he absolutely despises that sort of behavior coming from others. The fact that he and Neku were so similar seems to play some kind of role in how he chose Neku, implying one of two things: either Joshua did not realize how similar he and Neku are in personality (coming to notice it later) and chose him based on the fact that he deemed Neku an embodiment of all that was wrong with Shibuya, or Joshua knew from the start how similar Neku was to him and believed Neku would uphold his values and beliefs during the Game, unable to change. Either way, it's confirmed that Joshua chose him based on his strong Imagination and turbulent Soul, and that he doubted that Neku would be able to change through the Reapers' Game.

At the start of Week Joshua, we have Joshua partner up with Neku, ironically, to help Neku rather than hurt him. This begins a series of identity-hiding lies that lead Neku to believe that Joshua is seeking to become Composer of Shibuya. First, let's deconstruct his lies and the reasoning behind them. All of his lies during this week are justified, as his identity or real motivations being revealed would put his life and mission in completely jeopardy, not to mention the fact that he is breaking his own rules for his and the Conductor's Game by entering the UG. Saying that he's a Player, of course, is what lets him hide from Neku and the Reapers, but claiming to want to find the Shibuya River hides his motives altogether and helps to shield his identity. In fact, when supposedly searching for the Shibuya River he was actually looking for spikes of his Conductor's energy, finding that the Red Skull Pins happened to be the source of the energy. When he gets Hanekoma to "fix" his tracker, Joshua is really just building upon the previous lie as a means to show Neku the location of the Shibuya River. It's stated in the Secret Reports that his three main goals for partnering with Neku were to: find out the Conductor's strategy, educate Neku on the deeper mechanics of the Reapers' Game (and the Shibuya River's location), and protect him from harm.

All of these facts sort of throw out the idea that Joshua is selfishly searching for power, but instead is someone who is incredibly clever and manipulative of others, and capable of putting together elaborate lies to protect himself and to protect his assets. Still selfish, but for reasons he quite literally deems morally superior. When he describes his reasons for wanting to destroy Shibuya being due to its 'corruption' and threat of 'poisoning the other grounds' (in other words, tainting the rest of the world) with its selfish behavior and unused potential, it's very clear that Joshua views himself as morally sound with his judgement. He's not out to destroy Shibuya because he's an evil and maniacal mastermind doing it for fun, nor is he insane with revenge or other such nonsense. He is doing it literally because he believes that Shibuya is a lost cause and because he thinks he is morally superior to the rest of society, therefore able to judge them.

(We find out later in the Secret Reports that the reason Shibuya was deteriorating was actually because of Joshua's warped mindset, and that once he decided to change himself, Shibuya changed along with him.)

Joshua's moral superiority is exemplified the most in his multiple conversations about society with Neku during Week Joshua. In fact, a lot of his words are very telling of his own personality and how he relates to Neku. Whether Joshua was testing his proxy to see him change or trying to get Neku to agree with him, Joshua is constantly instigating Neku with teasing words and difficult, almost philosophical questions. We see that not unlike Neku from before the start of the game, Joshua believes quite strongly that society is a nuisance, a messy noise of people who can't get along and refuse to understand each other. Not only will they not change, but he thinks they're wrapped up in their own little worlds and will not budge when asked to branch out. He views trends and entertainment as something Shibuya puts too much value in; that instead of trying to find something with real meaning, Shibuya's people will look to one big thing for a brief moment, then move on to another the next day. Not to mention the people who are forced to change themselves just to fit in to society, which Joshua especially disapproves of and finds rather disgusting.

This is all topped off by two outstanding comments that really define his character. Joshua finds that trying to understand people and their viewpoints is impossible and that random clashing only occurs when it happens, making things a big messy chaos of misunderstandings and violence. He then says that instead of dealing with people, he'd rather just get rid of them all. Serving as an obvious foil to Neku, Joshua represents everything that Neku felt before the start of the game and before he began to change. This is why, while Neku initially agrees with him, he ends up reconsidering his viewpoint and totally disagrees with such an idea. At which point, even to Joshua's own surprise, he begins reconsidering his own viewpoint on society. (This is where comments like "Only by allowing strangers in can we find new ways to be ourselves" comes from: he is taking into consideration-- though not necessarily quite accepting-- possible positives on clashing viewpoints.)

There's more commentary in Week Joshua that suggest other deep things about his character, things that suggest the reasons as to why Joshua was the way he was in the first place. This is where some extra side-comments in Week Joshua really come in to play. When pretending to be a dead Player like Neku, Joshua has to come up with somewhat of a cover story. The only thing is, he left so much vague and so very believable and true to his character that one can actually regard what he said as once being true. For instance, Hanekoma 'lying' that Joshua is really just a lonely kid who was ostracized for being able to see Reapers, Players, and Noise despite residing in the RG seems to ring with a lot of truth, considering it makes sense in regards to his character and would lend to a reason as to why Joshua's strength as Composer is so incredibly powerful. In fact, it's confirmed by certain thought bubbles of other people wandering Shibuya that "second sight", as Hanekoma dubbed it, is a rare but very possible thing, where people can sometimes witness Noise, Players, or Reapers. Being ostracized for being 'weird' or 'different' gives Joshua at least some background as to why he closes himself off. Another, very jarring comment actually gives heavy implication to the idea that Joshua might have committed suicide or otherwise gave up on being alive upon his initial entry into the UG, when Joshua says living every day in a world of people he couldn't stand to be around felt more like death than being in the UG did, and that he preferred to be in the UG. While this could be a carefully crafted lie, it again follows Joshua's character very closely as something he would do, and either way shows that Joshua holds a lot of disdain and trauma from being with society, to the point where he'd literally rather be dead.

The main idea taken away from these conversations is that Joshua is not only incredibly judgmental and sees himself as superior to society, likely due to past experience or trauma from being rejected by society, but also that in the end he very clearly does take into consideration the fact that even people like Neku can change and open up to others. This, in turn, begins to change him as well.

It's implied that throughout Week Beat, while Joshua is in the universe of Another Day, he is contemplating his decision to keep or destroy Shibuya. Being in a version of Shibuya that is comparatively more peaceful (as Joshua admits himself in Another Day) allows him to not only realize what potential Shibuya does hold but his reasoning that Shibuya is possibly capable of change and realizing that potential. The implications for these decisions are based on the fact that the likelihood of Joshua making his decision only minutes after he 'beats' Neku in their duel are next to impossible; no one, especially a complex character like Joshua, can turn around their character in the course of a few minutes. Not to mention interpreting that Joshua changed his mind about destroying the city only after the duel is a complete misinterpretation of what the duel was in the first place.

The duel between Joshua and Neku at the end of Week Beat was a test on Neku's behalf, to see if Shibuya really needed a new Composer or if Joshua himself (and therefore the city) was capable of change. Joshua had already made his decision to spare Shibuya before the duel had begun. (This is ESPECIALLY supported by the fact that before the duel, Joshua states that the winner gets to decide what to do with Shibuya, and that he'd "already made his decision", but he does not specifically say that he will destroy it. It's a clever lie hidden by the truth to force Neku to consider Shibuya's safety as one of the stakes of their Game.) If Neku had shot and killed Joshua, it can be assumed that Joshua deemed him a worthy successor to the position of Composer, and that the future of Shibuya and all of its potential to change was with him. But by not shooting Joshua, this proved that Neku had not only changed significantly, but considered Joshua a friend to him and someone he couldn't bring himself to shoot despite all of the hurt and betrayal thrust upon him. It proved to Joshua that he, as Composer, held potential to change, and therefore the potential to change Shibuya. Neku also represented to him the idea of true friendship and the idea that even clashing worlds, his and Joshua's, could still yield positives to the point where Neku would rather die than have to kill someone he once considered a friend, demonstrating the met potential of himself and the fact that Shibuya was capable of meeting its potential.

A few things highly suggest that this duel was a test that had already been decided on and established before the end of Week Beat. First and most obviously, when Neku is dying once again from the gun wound Joshua gave him, as his vision is fading he sees both Joshua and Hanekoma standing over him, looking proud. Immediately following him waking up again, he is suddenly in the middle of the Scramble Crossing, confused and frustrated but very clearly in the RG because he is surrounded by people who are looking down at him and wondering why he's on the ground. Another, more subtle thing is Another Day!Joshua's very fourth-wall leaning comment to Neku, right before they find Joshua in the Shibuya River, where AD!Joshua asks him what would happen if he ever challenged Neku to a duel to decide Shibuya's fate. The possibility exists that AD!Joshua's dialogue is a result of the writers being silly and making him break the fourth wall as a joke, but considering that Another Day (in all of its confusing entirety) is actually a part of canon, the likelihood exists that there was a reason that he said this. Considering that Another Day takes place parallel to Week Beat Day 7 (which is confirmed by the Secret Reports and the main story-line Joshua's own dialogue), the two Joshuas had to be, without a doubt, aware of each other throughout the entire week leading up to Another Day. Therefore, the possibility exists that the two Joshuas discussed the main story-line Joshua's plans for testing Neku, which would lead to the comment that AD!Joshua made to Neku.

The fact that the duel had therefore been a test and had been planned ahead of time shows that Joshua had changed his mind sometime during his stay in Another Day's universe, meaning that he had to have been heavily influenced by Neku's own changes, as a foil to his character.

What exactly does all of this sum up to? It more or less reveals that Joshua isn't actually the cruel and heartless bastard everyone seems to make him out to be, but in fact does go through a significant amount of change and is full of complexity, even if it isn't apparent on the surface of the story. This is why the Secret Ending for The World Ends With You is a perfect picture of how Joshua is at his most vulnerable after the whole ordeal, realizing the value of friendship and the importance of opening yourself up to society, and yet indecisive of whether or not he is capable of opening himself up (though he very clearly wants to.) I'm not saying that Joshua is an entirely sympathetic character- far from it. A lot of the things he does is very worthy of bastardizing. But to write him off as a villain with no depth to his character would be doing him great injustice, and would be too entirely dismissive to the insight and very creative writing and development put into every fiber of his being.

Joshua's Personality Post-Canon, a Conclusion: Unfortunately, his behavior post-canon can only be speculated due to the lack of clear and legitimate canon as to whether or not he decided to be friends with Neku and company or not. But very fortunately, we are given some idea as to how he would behave thanks to Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, where it can be assumed that Joshua is post-canon. Joshua here is a relatively good example of how his behavior would eventually develop. While still aloof, and putting up somewhat of a mask on the outside, Joshua clearly demonstrates that he cares very deeply for the people he now considers to be his friends, Neku especially. It stands to reason that given a positive atmosphere, Joshua would continue to develop a more open attitude, though this would still take time and effort from his end. However, if put into a situation where caring for others could get him hurt or traumatized in any way emotionally, whether if it was through betrayal or else through losing his friends, Joshua would be extremely prone to relapses in behavior. Even in a positive setting, it's a likelihood that Joshua would have moments where he second guesses himself and would still remain very wary of others until the chance allows itself for him to open up.

Joshua would by no means become a social character, but his attitude would begin to change in small ways to be more accepting of others, and of new friendships.


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