Archive for June 12th, 2008

Real Drive: The Importance of Tangibility

Before we begin, I’d like to take the time to say something extremely personal. I don’t know who you are, Dear Reader, but I would like to share one of my innermost secrets with you at this time. This secret is, this image is amazingly hot:

Words fail me. It’s like Production I.G. wanted to make Nyamo porn just for me.

If you’ve watched this episode, and have actually read a post of mine before, then this should come as absolutely no surprise to you at all. I was wondering what was up with the book in the epilogue/preview of last episode, and, well, now I know.

In all honesty, literary pornography aside, episode 6 was amazing. For one, the basic message of the episode–the contrast between being able to read a book in a few seconds with the asistance of a cyberbrain (as Nyamo’s friends do, when they even bother to engage in reading) versus that of actually reading a physical copy of a book over the course of a few hours, days, or weeks being the main theme. The message, of course, was quite clear: yes, digitization gives you the ability to read a book in a few seconds–but if you’ve read an entire book in a few seconds, can you really have been said to have read it? What is the difference between simply knowing how the plot of a story goes, and actually feeling the plot, so to speak?

I can think of an example in my own life, actually. A common example I use to illustrate my distaste for the majority of what I will call “respected literature” for want of a better term is this snippet: “I read War and Peace [Tolstoy] in a weekend and got nothing out of it. I read His Dark Materials [Philip Pullman] over the course of a month and a half and walked away emotionally moved.” And, yes, that is true, I read War and Peace in a weekend, if you can call the butchering I gave it “reading” (I certainly don’t, except in the most general sense), although even then it was still the only thing I did that entire weekend, because the book is 1400 pages long. I did, however, understand enough of it to appreciate this brilliant synopsis of the book, so I guess that’s something.

By contrast to this insult to quality literature (my tongue is very firmly in my cheek as I write those words in relation to War and Peace), His Dark Materials, which is a paltry 1200 pages of YA literature, absorbed me completely and left me an emotional wreck at the end, after being taken on a rollercoaster of emotions over the course of those 1200 pages.

And, now, the point of all that book talk: the contrast between “reading” a book via the cyberbrain in a few seconds, and Nyamo reading the novel Love Letter over an indeterminate period of time is exactly like my reading War and Peace versus reading His Dark Materials. Simple knowledge of the plotline isn’t enough to make one appreciate the story of a work; you may be able to tell me exactly who did what when, but if you didn’t comprehend it, does it really matter?  You know what happened, but you haven’t grasped its importance. Or, lacking importance, you’ve also missed out on something much greater: emotional impact. Just because you know, when you sit down and fire up Cowboy Bebop (assuming we’re living in a world where there are people who watch anime enough to follow this blog or, barring that, follow Real Drive who haven’t already seen Cowboy Bebop, whether they wanted to or not) that Spike dies in the end, does that simple act of knowledge really ruin you for the whole 26 episode series? You may know that he dies, but it’s likely that, even when you reach that moment, you can still find it powerful (assuming Spike’s death was actually powerful for some people, which I don’t think it was, but this is for the sake of argument so please pretend that it did) despite knowing that it was going to happen anyway.

Personally, I’ve never really had a problem with being spoiled for things–anime, books, movies, whatever. I think I developed an immunity to this when I’d constantly check the last few pages of a book to get a total chapter count/page count (so I could see how many more chapters/pages I had left to read) and would inevitabily have important plot revelations leap off the page and smack me in the face. The first few times this happened, it did kind of make me mad, but it kept happening and I just got used to it. The important thing in something isn’t what happens–it’s how it happens. You lose the element of surprise, it’s true–but you’re surprised when you hear the spoiler in the first place, so isn’t that enough? And knowing what happens in the end allows you to better see how the writers set things up for that exact moment, which, if you like that kind of thing, can be quite enjoyable.

If you are still reading this post, there is a possibility you may want to engage in the activity displayed by Nyamo in this here screenshot.

To disrupt this tangent that has little or nothing to do with the episode at hand, the other theme the episode touched upon was the power of physical objects to connect people, which is what I promised to talk about in the title of the post and then didn’t (I will make the argument that “tangibliity” in the title has two meanings–physical and emotional tangibility. There! Post title still relevant!), but this was also extremely important, perhaps even more important than the bit I ranted about above. The novel concept of the ending of the novel Love Letter, with its blank piece of paper to write your own love letter to the one you adore after reading the book (the proper, slow way, which is the only way to read it because the author’s family refuses to digitize it) struck me as quite innovative, and it makes me wonder if someone has actually done this in real life.

Love Letter itself stands as a testament to the power of literature and stories in general to move people emotionally. I’m pretty convinced, despite not knowing a thing about the book at all, that Love Letter is a fairly typical romantic drama book, although one in the general fiction “genre” and not the romance genre, complete with all the tropes one would expect from such a novel. Assuming that the plot is extremely cut-and-dried, what matters to the reader isn’t whether or not the story is plotted well, or that the characters are believable, or any number of things that book critics like to complain about–what matters to them is that they’re swept up in a book, however typical, that’s executed so well that they finish it and take advantage of the gimmick of the novel to write a love letter to their beloved. And that highlights another aspect of storytelling that needs to be brought up: it doesn’t matter how “original” or “creative” a premise is–because every premise for every story in the world can be boiled down to a sentence or two that makes it seem horribly cliched, trite, and generic–but how well the execution is for that premise. I find people falling into this trap all the time–“this premise is stupid and dumb so I’m not going to watch/read it,” and every time it happens it’s like “yes, it may be a ‘stupid and dumb’ premise, but that’s every premise ever.” It’s not the concept that should be labeled generic, it’s the execution. It’s the difference between Da Capo and true tears. It’s the difference between Special A and Itazura na Kiss. (note that these examples are from my perspective; your mileage may vary)

One final note, and then I promise I’ll shut up: it looks like Real Drive is getting set up to be an episodic character-development/short-story type series, as opposed to having a grand overarching plot structure. I quite like the way it’s being handled at the moment, and, while I wouldn’t mind a grand overarching plot, I don’t feel it’s necessary for this series, as it’s quite good at doing what it’s doing right now.


I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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a ridiculously long and only partially organized list of subjects


June 2008