Epic is a staple of fantasy literature, whether it is prose, comics, or film. But what is epic? An epic, in the context of fantasy literature, is a narrative of great import to the world of the text. The Lord of the Rings is about the quest of Frodo Baggins and his companions to destroy the One Ring and consequently save Middle Earth from Sauron’s tyranny. That is epic storytelling. But sometimes, a narrative isn’t clearly epic, at least not in the beginning. Indeed, it sometimes takes a while before the narrative begins to take on an epic scope. This is what I call a discovered epic.
The most obvious example of a discovered epic would be Naruto. Originally about a young boy’s dreams of acknowledgement, the series has morphed into a battle for the fate of humanity. And this has really only been true for the past four years of the series.
Another series that is in the process of becoming a discovered epic (from being originally heroic fantasy) is Fairy Tail. If one reads ahead, one will know that the final conflict of the series will be an epic showdown with the Black Wizard, Zeref. The results of that showdown will, no doubt, change the face of Earth Land.
Even some series that are already called epic might be a type of discovered epic. Take Harry Potter and A Song of Ice and Fire. Harry Potter doesn’t become epic until around the fifth book of a seven book series. And, so far, A Song of Ice and Fire seems to be a collection of historical fantasy novellas rather than an epic. But that, too, may change as the various narrative threads come together.
So, what makes a discovered epic? Serialization. In a narrative disjointed by serialization, there is a lot of room for “growing” the narrative. It is unlikely that there are solid plans for the narrative as a whole from the beginning.
Becoming epic, however, fundamentally changes the nature of the work. And not always for the better, I think.
Take Naruto, for example, The heart of the series is Naruto’s relationship with Sasuke. All of this epic prophesied messiah crap just gets in the way of the real story: trying to bring a prodigal friend/ brother home. That is why I argue that Sasuke is, in many ways, the actual main antagonist of the whole series. Until his most recent heel face turn that completely ruined the whole thing. (Okay, let me calm down before I go on another Naruto rant).
Another series that likely is damaged by moving into a more epic mode is Naturo’s sibling series Bleach. One epic story is enough. But two? I don’t know. . . But in all fairness to Bleach, I haven’t read the series in a long while.
So far, I’ve only looked at how becoming epic changes a long running shonen manga series. But I’m sure other long running forms have similarly been changed when the epic part of the narrative begins. But, to be honest, I really want to do more research on this. I really need to read more manga. And find good academic analysis of manga.
As a series grows larger, it is tempting to give the narrative an equally larger scope. It is only in reading that one will discover if this increase in size/ scope is a good or bad thing.
Heroes are unavoidable in what I read. From fantasy to comics and from science fiction to shonen manga, heroes are the protagonists of the vast majority of the literature. And that is not, in itself, a bad thing. The problem, I think, lies in how the hero is characterized and how he or she interacts with the fictional world of the text.
What bugs me the most about heroes is the notion that they cannot have negative emotions (or that those emotions cannot be a driving factor in their heroism). Take Uzumaki Naruto from Naruto (yes, I already did a Naruto post a few days ago, but I want to touch on some things here, too). I was reading the latest chapter and realized something: is Naruto’s answer to Obito (and Pain) actually no answer? Does Naruto really have an answer to Obito’s challenge? Not really. I think Naruto’s declarations of never giving up or that everything will be alright when he becomes hokage ultimately rings hollow. In fact, I think Naruto pointedly doesn’t answer the question because he has no answer!
And there, I believe, lies the inherent problem of Naruto as a hero. The psychological trauma he has suffered at the hands of his village, of Sasuke, of Sakura, etc. has never, to my satisfaction, been addressed. And until that oversight has been rectified, Naruto will always be missing something, at least for me.
In a way, this plays into my concerns about Harry Potter. Besides being self reliant and resilient, has the Dursleys’ abuse really affected him that much? While he may hate the Dursleys, Harry does not seem to be too psychologically damaged. Or at least not enough to warrant mention in the text. (Of course it could be argued that the text has a high tolerance for child abuse- Neville is certainly abused, questions could be raised about Mrs. Weasley, and how the hell is Snape still a teacher?)
So, to sum things up with Naruto and Harry, my issue with them, and heroes like them, is that they come from abusive backgrounds and don’t react to it in ways that are intellectually satisfying (at least for me). Yes, Naruto pranks and acts out to seek attention, to be acknowledged, but his underlying relationship to his community is glossed over. And while Harry may hate his “family,” it seems that being a hero negates the worse effects of abuse. (Which is almost certainly true of Naruto).
If I ever create an abused hero, I will strive to insure that I do my research. What are the effects of child abuse? How can a child develop in those situations. Why would the hero act in this or that way?
Asking and answering those questions (and others) will lead to interesting stories.
There are many other elements of being a modern hero that bug me. Like the notion that the hero must be selfless. Just no. I want to see heroes who have ambitions. I don’t want to see a hero do something heroic because it’s just what they do. What is in it for the hero? Fame, fortune, the boy/ girl, power, revenge, or self accomplishment? And why does the hero seek those ambitions?
Furthermore, I have a huge issue with the prevalence of idiot heroes. Now, I can see the advantage of having the hero handicapped in some way. That would increase the difficulty of whatever the hero must face. But why is it always strength over intelligence? (Or does it have more to do with providing a suitable intro pov for the audience not in the know?) That, however, doesn’t answer the question of why physical strength and power is valued over a cleverly executed plans.
In a way, I think certain children’s literatures have done a disservice to our conception of what being a hero is. Those genres, I think, foist a juvenile concept of heroism that never really goes away. This would, of course, explain the gross misunderstanding of antiheoroes.
Conan the Cimmerian is often described as an antihero, but I disagree. Conan’s actions are always heroic. So what if most of Conan’s actions are also intended to benefit him? Of course, when Harry Potter is described as an antihero, we all should know there is a problem (check out TV Tropes- I was shocked by the argument).
But maybe the problem lies with me and my taste. I mean, I do have a more villainous disposition. Perhaps that colors my interest in having more selfish and intelligent heroes.
Now, that’s what I want. But what about other readers? What’s the attraction of lacking ambition? Of strength over intelligence? What other kinds of heroes are there?
I think I have a love/ hate relationship with Naruto. On the one hand, it is an extremely entertaining series. But on the other hand, almost every arc frustrates the heck out of me. Though, to be honest, I haven’t had the chance to read the entire series, yet. I really should rectify that. Once I actually buy the volumes. I really don’t want to damage library books. Cause I know I’ll throw them at the wall at some point.
But before I rant, I must admit two things. One, I haven’t read the whole series. I’ve read the first volume and from Sai and Sasuke to the present. Two, I’m not Japanese. I’m not an expert or scholar of Japanese culture. I’m interested in Japan, yes, but my knowledge is barely a pinprick. So, I’m going to miss a bunch. There are cultural cues that are going to fly so far over my head that I’ll never see it, let alone understand what the hell I’m looking at.
This is a rant, however, so I’m going to unleash, regardless.
As I’ve said on multiple occasions, my biggest issue with Naruto is Uzumaki Naruto himself. I get it, he is the hero. He has to be the messiah, the shining beacon of hope and inspiration not only for his (fictional) world but for his readers in this (real) world as well.
But damn it all, it still bugs the shit out of me how Naruto responds to his treatment. I just hate how it’s handled. Take the fight with Pain where Naruto nearly gives into his hate and anger before he is conveniently stopped by his father, the Fourth Hokage. I’m left bitterly disappointed by that. Yes, Naruto punches the bastard, but all is made right again because Minato has “faith” in his son. Seriously?
Or how about the confrontation between Naruto and his dark side? So fucking disappointing! I mean, seriously, could Dark Naruto not have been less of a threat?
To be honest, I’m okay that Naruto is who he is as a character. But I’d prefer some more anger and resentment in him.
When I last wrote about Naruto, I focused on Uchiha Sasuke’s character. I still feel the same about him. I get why a lot of American fans hate him. But I do at points prefer him to Naruto.
Though I can’t say that with total conviction. You see, I think Kishimoto killed Itachi off too soon. Why? Well, that is Sasuke’s story. Sasuke’s life goal is to “kill a certain man.” And when he finally accomplishes it, what then? What’s Sasuke’s epilogue? Shifting the hate onto Konoha and (largely) absolving Itachi of his villainy might not have been the best decision. Especially given that all of the antagonist cred Sasuke has managed to rack up since Itachi Pursuit has been negated with Sasuke’s latest heel face turn (which bugs the shit out of me).
But what could Kishimoto have done instead? I don’t know. Having Sasuke try to restore the Uchiha Clan? Killing him off to give Naruto something rage about? I don’t know. Maybe having him go off the deep end was the best choice at the time, but in hindsight, not really.
And maybe that is where another problem I have with Naruto comes from. The plotting and world building has become too unstable. I don’t know how Kishimoto plots the series, though I suspect he writes by the seat of his pants.
I could point out all of the ways that Naruto’s initial background is hampered by recent revelations. As practical Konoha royalty (he’s the son of the Fourth Hokage, related to the Senju Clan, and is one of the last Uzumaki), why the hell is he so behind? Who raised him? Where were Jiraiya and Kakashi when he was growing up?
Yes, as the main protagonist, Naruto has to be the underdog. He has to be in a weaker position compared to his comrades and enemies (especially regarding his rivalry with the initially superior Sasuke). But why would Konoha neglect Naruto’s potential, given his background?
Part of the problem is that Naruto is a discovered prince when he really works better as an orphan with a similar background to Kabuto or the Ame Orphans. But being Konoha royalty buttresses the messianic resume.
Besides the whole thing with Naruto’s background, the timeline itself doesn’t make sense. How old was Itachi when he slaughtered the Uchiha? Was he really old enough to have a lover? Shouldn’t Anko be older than Yamato? Shouldn’t Juugo be older than Anko? Shouldn’t Naruto be older than his classmates? He did fail the exam twice. (I really actually don’t get the Ninja Academy to be honest).
And you know something, why are Naruto’s initial skills rejected in favor of him being a pure brawler? Don’t traps and tricks have a place in the ninja life? Plus, while I’m at it, why didn’t Kumo go after Neji? Or a live Hyuuga rather than a dead one? Okay, okay, now I’m just nitpicking.
You know what, though? This ranting, this nitpicking, is actually a good thing. Because I’m inspired. And that leads me to ask, how would I have done it. And that’s a joy.
PS, For those of you who read my Bond film list from yesterday, I forgot a film. Guess which one for a no prize! I’ll reveal the answer and its position in Saturday’s post. Unless someone answers first.
Sasuke Uchiha. Friend. Rival. Enemy. Antagonist. Cool. Emo. Occasionally the most popular character in Naruto. Sasuke is a difficult character to come to grips with. On one hand, he is very popular in Japan, but in America, he is widely disliked. He is, simply, controversial. He fascinates me. And I what to look at why he does so.
At times, Sasuke is the most compelling character in Naruto. Naruto Uzumaki is an interesting character. But I think Sasuke’s story, his tragic descent into darkness and revenge is truly considerably more interesting than Naruto’s rise from hated nobody to beloved hero.
Part of my issue with Naruto is that Naruto has never satisfactorily had a reckoning with Konoha over his ill treatment. That Naruto can so easily love the village that so despised him for so long is, ultimately for me, troubling. Meanwhile, Sasuke’s pursuit for vengeance is, ultimately, heartbreaking.
Part of my fondness for Sasuke is because he is, essentially, the protagonist of my favorite arc of Naruto. “The Itachi Pursuit” arc, is for me, the best arc I’ve read yet. And Sasuke is the protagonist. It is a fight between him and Itachi. And Naruto plays the role of minor antagonist! That is, to me, awesome. Even as Naruto is, obviously, the overall main protagonist of the entire series, he does not always act as the main protagonist for every arc. (Shikamaru serves as the main protagonist for “Hidan and Kakuzu” and Sasuke again serves as the main protagonist for “The Five Kage Summit”).
All that said, I think that Sasuke Uchiha would make an excellent manga series. I get why Naruto exists. Naruto Uzumaki is the more standard shonen protagonist. Sasuke best serves the role of “friendly” rival. But I think that a manga featuring a hero like Sasuke would be very interesting. Just think about it. . .
That gives me some ideas. Maybe later.
Anyway, I wish that I could do a deeper study of Sasuke Uchiha and Naruto as a whole. But I do not know what the critical literature looks like for manga and Naruto in particular. That, I think, is a shame.
Next up: “Hating What I Want to Love (Though I Wish I Didn’t)”, my epic, tortured, and (hopefully) crazy take on Glee and myself.
Okay, I’ve changed my mind. In a previous post, I mentioned toying with the idea of transcribing my handwritten notes to computer. I’m not going to do it.
Why? I tried it during the Baltimore/ Denver game Saturday. And I just could not keep up with it. I could do so much else instead of spending precious hours transcribing my nearly countless pages of ideas and notes. So no, I’m not going to transcribe. To all who eventually read my notes (for whatever reason), good luck. My handwriting is difficult to be kind.
But I don’t want to just discuss changing my mind.
I want to update the four posts I have planned for this week.
First off, I have “Autopsy of a Dead Project (With a Chance of Frankenstein)” which looks at my abandoned idea for an online OEL manga anthology and what I can do with some of the ideas that developed from that.
Secondly, I have “Library? On Cookbooks and Art Books” that explores the usefulness of checking out cookbooks and art books from the library for instructional purposes.
Third up, “Sasuke Uchiha” where I explore my feelings towards Naruto’s rival/ friend/ enemy.
Finally, “Hating What I Want to Love (Though I Wish I Didn’t)” which will be my epic and humorous attempt to wrangle my feelings, frustrations, etc. towards Glee. Ranting and invective are to be expected. As well as seriously questioning how “tolerant” Glee really is. Should be fun. And maybe I’ll finally be rid of this damn obsession!
Until then. . .
I don’t know what it is. There is just something about Glee that really pisses me off. It’s not the acting. It’s the writing. The more I think about it, the further I go, the more issues I find. Seriously. And all of that comes from watching a single episode.
But there is a bright lining to this. My problems with Glee serve as inspiration. If I ever do something realistic, I’ll be sure to remember to avoid the mistakes that just scream at me. Or in general. Like doing the research. Or making logical sense. Or not forcing characters to make plot dictated stupid decisions.
This kind of reminds me of my issues with Naruto. How the hell do the later chapters gel with what happens earlier in the series? Naruto is freaking village royalty (he is a distant member of the Senju clan and is a member of the Uzumaki clan). So why the hell is he really treated like familyless trash (besides the whole tailed beast thing)? I could go on.
Now, am I being fair? Maybe not. It would be interesting to see what the creators of Glee are going for and how far ahead they plan their narratives. And the same goes for Kishimoto. And Hiro Mashima for that matter (the whole Zeref thing is, honestly, a mess).
But, like I say, all of this drives me to want to engage with these narratives. What about Naruto (or Glee or Fairy Tail) pisses me off? How do I take that and make something new, something my own?
This is, then, an example of an Octavia Butler Moment. Or several examples, to be honest.
I’m not going to claim that my, perhaps, more outlined and planed narratives will be better. Hell, the Glee I would have envisioned would never, ever, see the light of day on network television! But then again, would I really want to do something similar to Glee. Not really. Plus I really don’t want to work in television. At least for now.
Off to brainstorming now. Expect a ranting post on zombies tomorrow.
Fantasy is awash in secondary worlds. The vast majority being inspired by European medieval history. Gradually, that is starting to change. We’re beginning to see more secondary world fantasy being set in worlds with inspirations stemming outside of medieval Europe. This is a good thing, in my opinion. But not what I want to talk about.
Rather, what I want to discuss is the efficacy and desirability to try to create a secondary world inspired by more recent history.
I guess the first issue at hand is whether or not I should count steampunk as being an example. Part of me wants to hew closer to the current moment rather than a hundred plus years ago. So that would knock out Bas-Lag. But do I have other examples I can reach for?
For one thing, would Earthland (Fairy Tail) and the World of Naruto (Naruto) count? The world depicted in Naruto is clearly feudal and draws heavily upon Japan’s history. But do the modernist elements (clothing, architecture, and trappings of modern life) move the world into a more contemporary setting? And what about Earthland? There is a strong steampunk vibe, but certain elements just look modern. So, should I count them or not?
Moving to American comics, could the Marvel and DC Universes count as secondary world creations? Yes, they are set on “Earth.” But the “Earth” shown is so radically different from our own consensus reality as to be made practically secondary.
What about fantasy literature itself? Are there examples of modern secondary worlds? Not to my knowledge.
But, remembering my post from yesterday, could not Harry Potter be an example along the lines of Marvel and DC? The series takes place on Earth, but does the Wizarding World count as a contemporary secondary world? What about other hidden magical world contemporary fantasies?
I guess it all depends on who is making the judgement calls.
All this speculation does lead me to an interesting question: why am I so interested in modern/ contemporary constructed worlds?
I think the easy answer is that I’m far more interested in recent history compared to medieval history. I’m honestly rather tired of the rehashes of ye olde England. I what something new, something more modern.
And that is what I want to write, honestly. I’m not overly interested in digging into medieval history for inspiration. I want to write what inspires me, and that is more modern history.
Why not just use today’s Earth as the setting? And then so radically alter it so that it practically is a secondary world a la the Marvel and DC Universes? That is a possibility. And a very tempting one. Indeed, I’m working on an idea set on a hyper magical Earth.
But, there is that other idea I have that is also set on Earth. You know, the one where I move a city from a secondary world to this one?
I think therein lies my problem. I’m really not comfortable rehashing similar settings.
Perhaps I’m jumping way ahead of myself here. Maybe I should just focus on an idea or two and deal with the rest as they come at me. It would relieve some stress. And let what ever worlds grow out of my imagination come about organically.
I’ve fallen out with Naruto. I’ve had it. Now, this series has been teetering on the precipice for some time now with me. But finally, the series as made a leap off that cliff and is currently plunging deep into the abyss. So, why am I dropping Naruto?
Because the Fourth Shinobi World War arc sucks. Has any named character from the Allied Shinobi Forces been killed yet? No. Now, the status of Yamato, Anko, and Samui are up in the air, but that is it. If this is a war, then there should be more death and losses on the hero’s side. The heroes should be loosing until the turning point. Not winning every damn battle.
My frustration with the series was crystalized when I read The Sinestro Corps War and Justice League: Cry for Justice. Compared to those two comics, Naruto falls far short. Hell in TSCW, it is made fairly apparent that Sinestro actually won. The whole purpose of the war is to force the Guardians into taking the actions they did. And the good guys have losses, maybe not major characters, but the body count is considerably higher than in Naruto so far.
Mind you, I’ve torn into Naruto several times over the course of this blog. The Invasion of Pain royally pissed me off because of the mishandling of Naruto’s reactions and the whole thing with Hinata, The Five Kage annoyed me because of super Sasuke, and how much potential was wasted with Dark Naruto? It’s a miracle that I kept up with this series as long as I did.
Hell, so far, there are only two arcs that I’ve actually liked (Hidan and Kakuzu and the Hunt for Itachi). And I utterly hate the first volume, so would I have even continued the series if I had started with volume 1? Honestly? No.
But now, even though the series is coming to its end, I’ve decided to give it up. I’m tired of it. The series has, honestly, been going downhill for years now. But, I’m not going to be continuing on from here on out.
Taking a step back from Naruto and exploring manga as a whole, I seriously think that I’m falling out of love with the whole genre. I couldn’t get into Blue Exorcist volume 4, Card Captor Sakura was decent, I didn’t care for X, I’ve dropped Bleach months ago, etc. The only series I really care about anymore is Fairy Tail.
So, I’m pretty much done with manga. I may come back to it later, though. But I wonder, is there something to the idea that some of these long series could benefit from creative team changes?
Sometimes, I think I should just ignore these stupid and repetitive critical arguments that erupt in fantasy every few months. It’s stupid because nothing is ever solved, no progress made. And repetitive because these arguments, in one form or another, reemerge every couple of months. And why I jump in? I’m bored.
Anyway, this recent fracas comes about thanks to renewed arguments over authenticity and history. Daniel Abraham authored a post last week that explored whether or not fantasy needs to be historically authentic. And yesterday, Theo over at Black Gate authored a rebuttal arguing for an increased level of authenticity, the “Primacy of History,” if you will.
My own take is skeptical of the need for historical authenticity. History is always contested. Every generation rewrites history for its own reasons. So, what is meant by authenticity? Is it inspiration that matches the writer’s, or a specific reader’s, definition of what “authentic history” is? Is it a work that has an authenticity, historic or not, of its own? What is it?
Abraham’s argument takes to task certain reader’s (and writer’s) defense of works that have questionable and objectionable issues for a modern audience. That an inspiration is misogynistic does not give the writer a pass to write misogyny. That people of color may not have been in certain areas does not excuse whitewashing.
The reason, I think, why we are having this repeated debate is because of the market. With the success of A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a demand for “realistic,” “historical,” etc. fantasy. Basically, there is a subset of readership who only read ASOIAF because of its similarities to historical fiction. And these readers exert pressure to produce and market more works like ASOIAF.
Now, I get that this form of fantasy is a reaction to Tolkien and his imitators who have (and still do) dominate the genre. “Historic authenticity” plays, I think, a rallying point and bulwark for the gritty school of fantasy.
But, I think that Theo may be right. That so often “historical authenticity” is a way for some fantasy writers to get away with not exercising their imaginations to their fullest extent does not surprise me. Why create one’s own world when you can easily appropriate a historical culture, change the names, mutate some aspects of culture, and go to town?
Like Paul Cornell and Abraham have stated, what is added to a work: the characters, their personalities, the culture, etc. is the choice of the author. Using historical “authenticity” is an excuse. And not a very good one.
Personally, I don’t care about “historical authenticity.” If a writer wants to base his or her world on the Wars of the Roses, that’s great. If they want to spice it up by weakening religion or having warrior women running around, that’s great. If that author wants to merge feudal and modern Japan, that’s great, too (although Naruto has already done that). I personally don’t see any problems with women in armor, knights riding motorcycles, expies of Babylon and Hattusa connected by a train. In fact, I think that would be cool.
All I’m saying is that as long as the work is internally consistent, authentic to itself, and is excellently written, I don’t have a problem.