Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Change the world with music

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No, this is not a post about some 1970s disco extravaganza.
75168In a post about the late Robert F. Young a few days back I mentioned his influence on a Japanese anime called RahXephon.
I was first interested in the thing when it was described to me as Evangelion’s smarter brother.

Confessions of an Anime viewer: I was never able to get Neon Genesis Evangelion. I know it was a huge success and a smash hit and all that, but I tried it and I did not like it.
The fact that there were at the time self-styled otakus shouting ceaselessly about how the series was better than anything that had gone before and anything that would come afterwards sort of cooled my already not-very-hot enthusiasm.

But RahXephon came with that comment, the reference to Robert F. Young’s masterful short story The Dandelion Girl and the discovery that it was somehow related to Churchward’s work about the lost continent of Mu.

So I gave it a try, and while I still have some misgivings, I’ll admit I was positively impressed. I do not normally cover anime on this blog, but once in a while, during the Silly Season… why not?

Now, this is of course an animated TV series (produced in 2005) in which big robots hit each other very hard, causing no end of wreckage all over the world, but in Japan in particular, and most of all in Tokyo.
Which is not bad in itself – with all due respect to Japan and Tokyo.
But I’d rather skip the bit about the mecha squaring it off, and point out a few elements that made me like the show.

df8338c45c526b5dfed4a9d5fc412d45First of all, the plot is extremely convoluted, but it basically hinges on two factions trying to control a god-machine whose power should allow the one in control to actually reshape reality.
The members of a small research/defense group called TERRA are caught in between, together with most of humanity, and must do their best to find a way out.

James_churchwardThe rationale for the god-machine is taken bodily from James Churchward’s 1930s books about Mu: The Children of Mu (1931), The Lost Continent of Mu (1931), The Sacred Symbols of Mu (1933), Cosmic Forces of Mu (1934), Second Book of Cosmic Forces of Mu (1935).
The anime does not clobber the viewer with massive backstory, but drops a few names that anyone growing up with the Mysterious Archeology fads of the ‘70s will recognize and possibly place.

So, while the different factions vie for control and the aforementioned big mecha clobber it out with abandon, what is really amazing is the skill with which the authors were able to sketch a large cast of characters, and tell a story about people.
a3b8b2e129288b6dbe6740d2c7871480And if no one of the protagonists really breaks his or her ties with tradition, the humanity of the characters is such that I found out I actually cared for what was happening to these men and women. And the women, in particular, are extremely well drawn.
This, first and foremost, is what hooked me.
Now, I realized I was watching these 26 short twenty-minutes episodes as a writer, not as a viewer. I was looking at how the screenwriters were able to define the characters with a few brushstrokes, and it was extremely interesting.

The drama at the core of the main relationship between the male and female leads is built on the same principle of Young’s The Dandelion Girl, and this is an ingenious plot device, but really, the characterization was handled with enough class and taste that it felt if not convincing, certainly intriguing and involving.

Another interesting idea is the use of music as a weapon and as a meta-language through which reality can be manipulated.
While not the apex of originality, once again the idea was used in an original way in the anime, and it merged nicely with the other elements.

So yes, I liked it – about eight hours and a half of fun, intelligent entertainment, and a few things that will probably not improve my writing, but it would be nice should they do.

And because it is always good to provide some good reading matter, here you can find a few books and articles by Churchward (including his views about the true nature of the sun, that are a hoot to read), and here a pdf copy of Robert F. Young’s The Dandelion Girl.

The anime also uses an old song called Stranger in Paradise as a recurring theme.
And therefore, here’s the version by Martin Denny, master of exotica, from his classic Quiet Village.

Yes, you will find no cheesier post on this blog than this one.
And now we go back to our usual programming.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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