I was talking, a few days back, with my friend Claire, and we hit on the idea of the Mysterious West, or, if you prefer, the West as seen through the eyes of Eastern Fantasy.
We were discussing the fascination the Japanese seem to have for European historical settings and melodrama – from the middle ages to the very early 20th century, references are quite frequent, in anime, manga, narrative.
Our chat started because of Takarazuka, really.
So, Claire said, why not explore this idea, this concept of the Mysterious West?
It’s a facinating subject – but it is also hard to pinpoint and define because we only get second-hand references: translations and fansubs of movies and adaptations of manga.
A few novels too.
But precious few.
And all of a sudden, as I write these lines, I have a flashback of Haruhi Suzumiya (case in point, a character I discovered in a translated novel)- and I’m reminded of the character’s indignation at the simple idea of a schoolmate moving to Canada.
Is there a more fantastic notion than someone moving to Canada? A place like that isn’t even real.
A few years back I discussed this Mysterious West idea with another friend – Japanese bestselling fantasy writer Hikawa Reiko.
It was strange, I thought, meeting a Japanese author, whose work (about one hundred novels, most of them certified bestsellers) had a strong “Western” vibe (in terms of settings) and included stories about King Arthur Pendragon.
But as Hikawa-san was quick to point out, European history held quite an exotic element for her readers – more or less the same kind of fascination we feel for japanese castles under the moon, or dueling samurai.
More generally, a certain view of Europe holds a lot of charm, for readers of adventure and imaginative fiction that belong to a non-Western culture.
Old empires, waltzing couples in strange costumes, twirling in marble halls, intrigue, mystery, strange customs.
Just think about the mysteries of alchemy, the strange monsters of folklore, the religions and superstitions so different from everyday Buddhism, or plain old Shinto, or done-to-death Taoism…
It’s us, through different eyes – what’s commonplace for us, it’ exotic for someone else.
And vice versa.
Isn’t this just great?
Imagine the possibilities!
Considering the success novels like James Clavell’s Shogun had in the west, is really not a great surprise discovering the Japanese love atmospheres that recall the Prisoner of Zenda or anything by Dumas, or Mallory.
So, I’ll try and pick a few titles and a few instances, and I’ll post about them – both as part of my ongoing project on Other People’s Pulp, and as a way to please and entertain my friend Claire.
But watch this space – more strange stories will come.