Yesterday I finished an anime called Sword Art Online (and I do recommend it). During one of the final episodes, I recall something I predicted happening, followed by me saying softly to myself “this is why I love anime.” See, after a while you start to learn a few things about the flow of stories in anime, games, and movies. You learn things that are nearly irrevocably true…like “the good guy wins,” and “there will be plot twists.” That first one can become annoying at times, since it generally drives the tension out of whatever story it is. Good stories will have elements that make the final confrontation a little more than that. Either the world will have parameters in place that will prevent just a straight duel, or there will be more happening than just the one encounter. There are a plethora of strategies for taking the viewer’s mind off of this idea that the good guy will win, and that’s usually what makes for an exciting ending.
Yet you often see this theme about never giving up, and that generally drives the hero to victory, either through friends they’ve made or promises they need to keep. No matter what, they’ll always have the power within themselves to do whatever it is they need to.
Yesterday I had this thought. It took me a grand total of three days to watch the 25 episode Sword Art Online. It took me two days to watch 27 episode Gurren Lagann, and about a week to conquer the 52 episode Fullmetal Alchemist. That reminded me of the 100 hours I spent in June and July of last year conquering the Bionis and Mechonis in Xenoblade Chronicles. All the while, I felt like I was actually doing something. Perhaps I was allowing these stories to play out, and for the heroes of them to pass their tale on to another soul. In reality, however, these days were little different from any other. I was still sat in front of my computer, and even when I’d finished watching for the day, I remained in the same spot. In reality, it was just entertainment.
A lot of us want to be writers, designers, artists, and musicians, and we’re not the only ones. Yesterday I asked myself why that was. What makes us feel that telling stories like Kirito’s, Shulk’s, Simon’s, and Edward’s is so important? This question becomes especially distressing when you realize that “the indomitable will of the human spirit” is most definitely not an original theme. It is encouraging, yes, and a lesson that is indeed difficult to learn. Despite shouting out Simon’s ideals as my own, having watched Gurren Lagann several times by now, I still haven’t learned how to draw upon my fiery will to do whatever it is to which I set my mind. It’s not as easy to do in the world in which we live.
Also, I'm sorry to anyone who commented on my status a little earlier on for the lame, nonsexual, not-Billie's hair, not-One Direction, not-Amanda commands you title.
One of the great themes of the (rather disjointed) second arc of Sword Art Online is this balance between power in the real world, and power in the world of the game. While what Kirito happens to encounter isn’t something most of us will deal with, it allows that message, that we can do anything with the right application of hard work and determination, to ring true on a higher level than a series taking place in a completely different world than ours. Compared the worlds of our dreams and fantasies, we are relatively weak in our own world. Things are much more complicated, and our goals cannot be met simply by working our way up against some blatant opposition. This is the reality we take into every bit of literature that we decide to uncover. We always know that this is the real world, and the other world is fake. That’s why we don’t chop people up after playing Zelda for a while.
Maybe this just applies to me because my life tends to be rather unfulfilling, but yesterday I wondered what something like anime REALLY is. What is it about something like that that makes us NEED to know what happens next, even if we can already predict what’s going to occur somewhere down the line? Is it just that we want to be entertained? And for those of us who aspire to weave such tales of our own, is it just because we want to entertain? Why I find finishing stories so important is a question I have not yet answered. Perhaps it is because of that conundrum that I cannot finish anything of my own. Maybe I don’t know why I’m doing it.
As I’ve insinuated, it’s clear to me that fantastic stories do more than entertain. They inspire. In special cases all it takes is a chance encounter with the right story to turn a person’s life around. In other cases, it provides the impetus to create other tales, which is good…but what does it DO? Being an author or an artist is nowhere near as practical as being a doctor, a farmer, or even a psychologist. Yet, many people feel the need to do it. We like to think that it’s not because of the money and fame. I used to put a lot of stock in that explanation, but it doesn’t account for the fact that owners and officers of companies make more than we could dream of, and some artists do what they do for no compensation, some even lucky enough to have a direct message they wish to send with their work. It’s true that a lot of the aforementioned business owners are born into their keep nowadays, and that means a lot, leaving art as the go-to place for a rags-to-riches story.
I think that one thing I want to know is what stories USED to be. In the days before entertainment, why did they tell legends? Why would the exploits of a man be able to travel over long distances, persisting for long periods of time? We might argue that religion provided us with the first stories to be told (first persistent ones at least), and they were then used to guide the conduct of the people. Stories today still do this in small ways like I mentioned before, but now we have so many of them that we choose our own guidelines, which is good, but it dulls the effect. Still, I’d like to meet an old world bard and hear what he had to say, and what the purposes were of the stories he had to tell.
Are we self righteous for wanting to tell stories or for thinking that ours are important enough to validate them being what we make our living off of? I’m not saying that such a thing IS easy. It’s certainly no simple task to craft a long-form story that even works, let alone one that is excellent. I know that firsthand, since with MageBoy I often wonder if everything is even progressing properly. To construct a successful story means to properly develop characters, move at an appropriate pace, and give all the information the reader needs to understand the story and make conjectures about what’s going to happen, or be fooled when the proper time comes. There’s nothing easy about it, and yet it still seems like the easy way out for some reason. Something about that hard work seems less…worthy than fixing someone’s heart or even making something that will feed people.
Is something like a book truly the key to our imagination? Is our imagination truly the key to the greatest ideas that will change our world for the better? Is it imagination, rather than science and reason, that will answer questions and solve problems we did not believe we could answer? Could something like Sword Art Online inspire those things? Maybe I’m onto something. Maybe if we lived our lives more like anime, we’d be able to draw on that limitless determination and solve some of those problems.
I just imagined Obama giving a Kamina-like speech and suddenly I believe in the power of all this.
So to you I ask the question I cannot answer. Why is it that we place so much value on fiction? Why do we love fantastic stories so much? Is it really to simply escape reality for as long as we can? Is it to become inspired to tell other stories? Is it for the few people who can have their life changed by a chance encounter with fiction? Why do we read, watch, and play, and why do we write and create? Is there some reason for keeping fantasy as fantasy rather than trying to accomplish it in reality? Am I alone in wondering about all of this? This isn’t my liking for these things being shaken…that’s impossible giving that all of this stemmed from me thinking about how much I adore this kind of thing…this is more about me gaining a new level of understanding about why we, all of us, as people, place great value on our enjoyment of fiction.