I thought mirroring a quote from Fight Club would be a fitting way to start this post, because I want to share an interpretation of No More Heroes that draws plenty of connections from the Chuck Palahniuk novel, and of course, its film adaptation. Compared to previous efforts by Grasshopper Manufacture, No More Heroes probably has the most linear and explainable plot yet. Everything else has been riddled with supernatural undertones, metaphors, and deliberate contradiction, making even the most die-hard Grasshopper enthusiasts unable to absolutely piece together the whole tale. The straight-forward, almost cinematic approach to No More Heroes is what makes it the studio's most accessible and mainstream title yet.
Still, at the time not even director Goichi Suda could have predicted the game's sales would warrant a sequel to be seen through, which is why I believe he almost went out of his way to demolish the plot of the first game in its final cutscenes. Silvia Christel even teases players about this in the final scene ("I know... Too bad there won't be a sequel!").
Some of the more important questions involve Henry, who in the game's "real" ending reveals to protagonist Travis Touchdown that he is in fact his brother, and for 10 years has also been married to the woman Travis has been making advances on. Funnily enough, there are a few moments in the game where Silvia, a "married woman," doesn't exactly deny Travis' efforts (the two share a kiss after the defeat of Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarrskii, after which her phone calls to Travis become much more concerning, culminating in one last call before Travis faces Dark Star where Silvia confesses she loves him). But back to Henry, if hypothetically we subtract his parts of the story from the game, what we're left with is a plot we can actually understand, kind of like how we felt before obtaining the Tsubaki Mk-III, pressing "View REAL Ending," and watching the coherence of the tale fall apart.
You might think this hypothetical suggestion is ridiculous because after all, Henry is a character too and pretending he isn't in the game is just silly, but what if there were a chance that he isn't as real as he's made out to be? Both myself and others, as I've seen on the GameFAQs Message Board, have considered a solution to the fishiness of Henry's appearances that draws parallels with Fight Club, particularly its main characters, the unnamed narrator and Tyler Durden. Like these two gentlemen, what if Travis Touchdown and Henry were in fact one and the same?
There are some aspects of the game that are keeping me from accepting this theory myself, both of which take place during Travis and Henry's first meeting. When Henry introduces himself, Travis repeats his name as if he may be familiar with it. Shortly afterward, the assassins attack each other but Silvia appears, blowing her whistle and stopping the fight. Travis argues with her for getting in the way of his fight with Henry, but Silvia looks around asking "who?", showing Henry has disappeared. This is what made me first consider the "Fight Club theory," since it would mean Henry didn't actually disappear so much as he wasn't physically there to begin with. The problem is that as Travis walks off and the scene ends, Silvia conspicuously looks around as if to look for the Henry Travis encountered, possibly wondering if it's her husband.
Now that's the argument in favor of Henry truly being a flesh and blood character, but the Fight Club theory would explain a plethora of the contradictions and questionable information the player picks up on towards the end of No More Heroes.
- It would bring the question of how Henry fell from the sky and killed Letz Shake, then vanished as Silvia blew her whistle, to an end (then again this could be one of the things not meant to be over-analyzed, it was epic anyhow). If Travis and Henry are the same person, then like in Fight Club Travis could have physically killed Letz Shake, but be mentally under the impression this was Henry's doing;
- Shinobu hints that her father was murdered by someone wielding a beam katana, as it isn't until Travis draws his own beam katana that she becomes convinced he is the culprit, or that she even brings her father into the conversation at all. An alternative belief is that Henry, another experienced beam katana user with a somewhat similar likeness to Travis, is the actual killer. This theory gets a little extra support from the fact that Shinobu claims her father was sliced in two, the same fate Henry exacts on Letz Shake later in the game. However if Travis and Henry are the same person, then it could be assumed that Shinobu is not mistaken, and that Travis, as the persona of Henry, actually did kill Shinobu's father;
- It would dispel the question of how Henry could have grown up apart from his family;
- It would make Silvia look like less of a slut for supposedly being married yet making out with Travis after Harvey Volodarrskii is slain, telling him she's fallen in love with him before he faces Dark Star, and most importantly, teasing him with the chance of a sexual encounter which spans nearly the entire game;
- It could possibly explain why the player must purchase the Tsubaki Mk-III beam katana to face Henry (the designs of the Tsubaki Mk-III and Henry's Cross Sword are extremely similar);
- It could mean the entire "real" ending of the game never physically happened:
- The reality of what is seen here could be explained as something of a dream sequence, where Travis finds himself attacked by Ermen Palmer. Henry appears to rescue Travis by killing Palmer, then he steps outside for the fight (I suggest this as a dream sequence because I can't see how in reality Ermen could have broke into Travis' bathroom and been killed by Travis as the Henry persona, because Travis was unarmed). A lot of players (myself included) wonder what the point of Henry suddenly seeking Travis out at his motel room is, and if there is any truth to this theory, then the point is simply that Travis resents the Henry persona, who he believes is real, for slaying Letz Shake and "taking his kill," so like dreams which have no explainable continuity, Henry simply shows up at Travis' motel room to give Travis the opportunity to settle the score and be at ease with himself;
- Henry doesn't really explain anything about himself (nor do his trading cards) except that "You're kidding right? I'm your twin brother." When Suda wrote Henry's lines about expecting Travis and the player to realize a twist of fate, he could have actually been referring to the player realizing how incoherent all of Henry's appearances have been, and that the player should have picked up on this Fight Clubesque revelation;
- As Travis and Henry leave the motel parking lot to run around in a clash, if you pay attention to the scenery they run by (that is, if you've really come to know Santa Destroy), you'll notice they seem to keep passing the motel. You could try and argue that they're running around the same block, but the scenery you see still doesn't convince me that this is absolutely the case, especially the scenery you see right before they break apart at the intersection next to the motel and Burger Suplex to lunge at each other, which brings me to my last point;
- Before the credit roll the scene freezes with Travis and Henry's beam katanas overlapping each other's throats. Travis and Henry being the same person could explain how they both appear in the next game after amicably taking each other out;
- Update: GameFAQs user kickingkillers has also brought up the fact that Henry only seems to appear whenever Travis is essentially alone. While during both encounters, the only other people in the area are the assassins Letz Shake and Ermen Palmer, respectively, above I offer alternative explanations for their appearances.
So to recap, Travis and Henry being one and the same completely debunks the ending of the game, which is essentially a good thing considering how confusing its many unfounded twists suddenly made an until-then-plausible plot. It leaves us with the impression that the UAA actually didn't exist in No More Heroes (Mrs. Christel says it doesn't, but Ermen implies it does; if Ermen was a figment of Travis' imagination, then we're only left with Mrs. Christel's word on the UAA's status). It may also explain why Travis and Jeane (Henry's purported siblings) as well as the Design Materials trading cards, which normally provide short but sweet blurbs about the game's characters, have nothing to share about Henry other than "Travis' rival." The strange thing is that this theory would render our beloved otaku delusional, but at the same time it would be put him right up with other Grasshopper characters such as Sumio Kodai and Harman Smith, who have also have alternative personas (Sumio Mondo and the Smith Syndicate, respectively). Henry is set to reappear in the upcoming sequel to No More Heroes, Desperate Struggle, so I'm sure by this time next year we'll have our answer. Desperate Struggle is scheduled for a January 2010 release through Ubisoft.
Most of the text from this interpretation was reworked fromon August 13, 2009.