Influences & Inspirations
The interviews translated on this site list a number of inspirations for the visuals and themes of “Baroque”, but Yonemitsu listed several more in his 2020 livestream events. These influences, as well as undocumented sources of inspiration, will be detailed and discussed within this article. Contained within are spoilers for “The City of Lost Children”, “Heavenly Creatures”, “Summer Vacation 1999”, “The Kingdom” (aka “Riget”), and “Neon Genesis Evangelion”.
The most prominent film to be credited in the livestream event was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The City of Lost Children”. It is a film bursting with Baroque parallels, among which are conjoined twins, an amnesiac who is cloned several times over, stored memory essence (similar to Idea Sefirot), and a shot near the end involving an oil rig and naval mines (which is evocative of the Nerve Tower and Sense Spheres). Also mentioned was Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures”, a film based on the true story of the Parker-Hulme murder case. Although not stated, it could have easily inspired the Baroque Murders of “Baroquism Syndrome” as well. The film centers around two (extremely Baroque) girls who fall in love and create a delusional reality together. The film prominently features the song “Funiculi, Funicula” which inspired the name for the Lovers, “Niculi & Nicula”. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a link between the couple in the film and the visual design of this Grotesque as well. Shunji Iwai’s “Swallowtail Butterfly" was also brought up, but the film doesn’t appear to have been translated into English yet.
It has been discussed in various publications of the game, but “Summer Vacation 1999” deserves another mention here. Its considerable influence on “Baroque” is clear, involving a character saddled with guilt over another boy’s death - a boy who constantly appears to die and be reborn over and over again. The actress who provided the voice for one of the versions of this boy - Minami Takayama - was also cast by Yonemitsu to voice the protagonist of Baroque in promotional materials. This has resulted in the gender of Baroque’s protagonist being called into question on Japanese forums - something that could easily be more ambiguous than it first appears, considering the amount of LGBTQ media that inspired Baroque. This is made even more blatant by the original draft of Yonemitsu’s Baroque prequel, which outright states that Koriel #12 experiences gender dysphoria.
If you’re considering checking out (neo-Nazi) Lars von Trier’s “Kingdom” (due to it inspiring the scenes featuring the illusion of the protagonist’s brother), be aware that the opening recap of every episode contains graphic footage of domesticated rats being actually shot to death. Most people probably won’t care, but I wish I had been warned of that going in. The concept of an otherworldly building, the imagery of Box Thing’s grossly elongated hands, and the theme of a parent 'mercy killing' their deformed child may also have arisen from this series.
“Kingdom” marks the last of the Yonemitsu-confirmed inspirations, but one other source of major inspiration remains uncredited and unmentioned by the game’s staff. It is commonly believed in the Japanese fan community that “Baroque” owes its existence to the anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion" (with fans even creating parodies like this one). As one of the most prominent Japanese fansite puts it, “The influence of Evangelion runs wide and deep”. Both series revolve around shadowy, private organizations that identify themselves through the use of Cabalistic elements (SEELE and the Malkuth). Both organizations seek to bodily unite humanity with God. A member of both groups goes rogue for his own selfish reasons (Gendo Ikari and the Archangel), and emotionally manipulates his underlings into obeying him. Both are loved by women (Naoko/Ritsuko Akagi and the Guardian Angel) who he manipulates into cultivating artificial beings (Rei’s clones and the Littles) - an act they come to hate themselves for. These child-like beings (the Eva pilots and the Littles) are then sealed into liquid-filled tubes in which they will suffer greatly (as the child pilots feel the pain their Eva-Units experience). Gendo Ikari and the Archangel both proceed to weaponize these creations in conjunction with their artificial copies of divine beings (Lilith is used to create the Eva-Units while the Archangel creates Artificial Sense Spheres based on God’s organs). Gendo is able to manipulate Shinji into being his weapon through Shinji’s desire for a father, and the Archangel is able to manipulate Koriel #12 through his desire for a brother (as the Mind Reading Thing confirms, “Master seems to see something of his brother in the Archangel”). To ensure a steady supply of disposable soldiers, both Gendo and the Archangel utilize cloning. This causes Rei Ayanami and Koriel #12 to wrestle with their nature as multiple beings in similar ways, as well as the leftover memories from their previous lives.
The Second Impact is a global, explosive catastrophe which occurs when human DNA merges with Adam, just as the Great Heat Wave distorts the entire world when a human merges with God. Both disasters turn the sky red and wipe out a vast portion of the population. The details of this cataclysm are so identical that the population even believes the same cover story about the source of the disaster having come from space (as told by Neck Thing, “Some guys were panicking about [the Sense Spheres] having fallen from space”). In the aftermath, both SEELE and the Malkuth secretly hold a God within the depths of their organizations (NERV and The Nerve Tower), with both Gods being kept intentionally impaired for the benefit of humanity. The imagery of the impaled Angel at the bottom of NERV in “Evangelion” is also suggestive of the impaled Archangel in the depths of the Nerve Tower.
Some supporting characters, such as Sack Thing and Box Thing, could have been based on “Evangelion” as well. In a fit of grief, Asuka’s mother believes that her and Asuka “would be happier if [they] died together”, but Asuka screams that she doesn’t want to die (just as Sack Thing does). Asuka’s mother tries to hang herself but fails (the noose around Box Thing's neck shows he tried to do the same), instead living out her life in a fantasy state where she clings to a doll she believes to be her daughter. This is nearly identical to Box Thing, Sack Thing’s father, who tried to commit murder-suicide with his daughter (believing they would be happier that way) - only to fail and live on by deluding himself into believing that the box he holds contains his “dead” daughter (who is actually still alive).
Even the conclusions to these tales are very similar. Each of the protagonists come to accept the world and their place in it as they merge with their respective Gods. In both stories, this merge is possible due to the reduction of the protagonist to a liquid state (LCL and “pure water” obtained from Koriel #12’s clones). This is carried over into “Baroque” even down to the language used to describe the process of “wanting to become one” and “becoming one to fill the gap”. The stark, simplistic use of text-only sequences to depict jumbles of thought is also employed in both. Neither world gets “saved” in any conventional sense, the journey instead focusing primarily on the protagonist’s own psychological struggles.
How "Neon Genesis Evangelion" came to mirror so much of this game's plot structure is a bit of a mystery, considering that (as far as I know) Yonemitsu has never listed "Evangelion" as an inspiration. However, Yonemitsu was not the sole writer in charge of the plot's formation. This task was undertaken as a joint effort between him, Eisaku Kito (a self-professed fan of "strange science fiction"), and the staff at Inertia Pictures. In "Baroque World Guidance", Yonemitsu explains that the task of laying out the plot was so difficult that it caused the team to overshoot their generous deadline substantially. Although this could have all been a huge coincidence, it is entirely possible that Eisaku Kito or another Inertia Pictures staff member began suggesting unsourced elements from "Evangelion" as a way to accelerate their lagging progress and smooth over inconsistencies or conflicts within the creative process. This could explain a lot, especially redundancies between Yonemitsu’s credited influences and “Evangelion” (such as the Box Thing inspirations present in “Kingdom” or the clones of “Lost Children”). Having these similar motifs already on the table could have elicited “Evangelion” inspired suggestions from any of the involved parties.
While “Baroque” shares only a few points in common with the other inspirations mentioned in this article, it bothers me to see the game running so parallel to “Evangelion”. I truly hope it’s all a coincidence, as such an overwhelming reliance on one source would personally mar the violently imaginative experience that “Baroque” otherwise provides.