(SPOILERS FOR KIMI USO & OYASUMI PUNPUN)
The role of chance in a story is also a reflection of the Teller’s state of mind. The amount of which can go both ways. A story that hinges entirely on fatal clear encounters, a process one after another, is a story written by a chessmaster of a writer, who measures feelings in particular amounts and doles them out to achieve a certain state of systematic power. The other is a person who aims to encompass the chaos of life itself. He wants his characters to dictate their own moves, to be painfully human, and to subvert his own expectations so he himself can be surprised at their audacity to go against the whims of the creator.
But such a straightforward categorization is the ground for theorists and not writers. Beauty comes mysterious to all types. Flaubert, the machinist, and Faulkner, the Southern Storm, can both dole out Beauty in snatches of either clarified or tempestuous primal prose. Dostoyevsky, the rough and tumble philosopher, can hold his ground just as easily against both of them. In the end every writer, no matter the style, rushes towards transcendence and posterity, and battles with himself to place himself on that pedestal where he can be called a true writer of genius.
Motivation also comes in strange ways. The early Greek writers, of tragic plays and epic poems, were mainly rhapsodists, playing hymns towards their Pantheons and their tricky mischievous gods. In such works chance was utterly devoured in exchange for the Tragic Fate dictated by the whims of capricious hosts. Oedipus is thus fated, from the very start, to his own downfall. Later Shakespeare would adapt the same vicious Divine tremor into many of his tragedies, the most providential being King Lear, where the ground of Nature tremors with the void that the King and his fool walks in.
In our current times, we have become emotional chessmasters. Providence is no longer a strictly Divine one, but one of sentiment and cliché. The storyteller pulls all tricks to get his audience into a sobbing wreck, even when they see the whole trajectory of the plot coming. This is probably a Romanticist tendency. We want to expound on the raw textures of the heart rather than the sublimely cool structurally cohesive Metaphysical dramas like tragic plays.
It’s quite ironic that melodramas are nowadays as providential as those old plays. The girl who is ill is fated to death. Cruel biology is the puppetmaster. Sick girls are expected to rage against the dying day, and to become almost fairylike in their endeavor to do so. Even Stefan Zweig was unable to escape this whirlwind when we wrote Beware of Pity. Henry James on the other hand dragged himself out of that pit with Wings of the Dove, by being rigorous in psychoanalysis as opposed to whimsical fancy. Miyazaki too could not escape that urge to eulogize over fragile souls wrapt in the demise of their physique.
For such a work chance is strictly out of the picture because every step has to be taken towards emotional catharsis, ending in a splendid Liebestod. Unlike Tristan and Isolde, music is only an intermediary between meticulously crafted ‘nostalgic experiences’ laden with sentiment and directly communicated internal agony. Any love story plays out with one of two conclusions, either he gets the girl or he doesn’t. Either she gets the guy or she doesn’t. Yet in between these two outcomes that are an infinite permutations, like Sun Tzu’s infinite battlefield of emptiness and full.
We wish to turn our hearts into light drifting summer storms, yet nothing is angrier than love and it’s relentless bleeding. The stupidities committed everyday due to love are endless. Crimes of passion and frivolous yelling are commonplace in this battlefield. Sometimes having a coupling is also the more venomous move than having a break away. Shards of glass are split between the ideal and the real. Generally though, if the move is venomous it is mainly because it also entails a break away with a ‘true love’. I have never really witnessed a show where two characters, without any other possibility, are roped into each other, and destroy each other whilst maintaining the ideal. Even White Album 2 had to play with 3.
On the other hand narratives that give chance a higher hand tend to fracture wildly from their original roots. We can take a look at the infinite permutations that arose from Oyasumi Punpun’s seductively simple opening. A penguin goes through school, normally. He talks with his friends about sex. He falls in love at first sight with a transfer student. He talks to God. He gets a telescope. He witnesses a moment of domestic violence. From there the world seems to expand towards all kinds of places, completely unconventional and completely brutal in its unfolding. Although fate rears its ugly head in the denouement, the clear stirrings and movements of the author’s hand are undermined by the lavish attention to detail and the threads which tug the end in every direction. Even when she dies, he lives, he moves on, which is a standard procedure for such a story, one cannot help but feel that this was no inevitability but rather brutally cruel probabilistic circumstance. And the road thereafter is far from known. The ending is surprising beyond words.
Whereas Kimi Uso is determined to play the end for all its worth. She dies, he lives, he moves on. In the meantime they throw out the multiple triangles, multiple family traumas, and multiple moments of emotional sentimental poetics for all its worth. Everything feels strictly calculated towards tearing at our hearts. In some ways, it’s a bit of a wonder how such meticulous clawing could be achieved, but on the other hand, it’s also an empty feeling that one gets at the end. Maybe you could call the feeling a waste?
By the end Chopin becomes slave to sentiment. In Tristan and Isolde the events are purely mythological. They hold no sentimental or narrative significance. The world is purely one of the Spirit of music and eternal longing. In Evangelion, Bach is dragged through the meat grinder of human decrepity. The cool cruel apathetic divinity looks down on the rough and tumble pell-mell hideous heap of Man. Either way, when music becomes slave to sentiment, and not to the higher draughts of feeling, it eventually caves in on itself, and feels emptier than it should be. But for the moment that it was a dream, what a wonderful dream!
Before one can delve into a dream, one must earn the right to it. Dreams aren’t born of simple substances, but, as Freud theorized, are embellished cruelties, embellished torments given a riddle form in the medium of the dream. To have a dream of nostalgia, of beauty, and of the simple stirrings of love, is to have in one’s heart a heavy longing caused by repressed torment, that can only be released by painting it over with such a pure vision of love that one is bound to ooooh and aaaawww at it. The sentimental punch at the end of Oyasumi Punpun is only earned by the grittiness of the former moments. Aku no Hana’s romantic trance is only given worth by the nihilistic destructions of the earlier, and even by the end we are left with the strange tang that in the end it was merely as it was, just a trance. Kimi Uso has the problem of being a trance all the way, without ever bowing down to the filthy peculiarities of chance, struggle and dirty grief. The grievances must be wholly sterilized into sad songbird warbles. Sickness is given the romantic Hollywood flair. (As a medic I was how the heck she could walk around after having a whole catheter stuck inside her, when they didn’t even show how he took it out without getting the help of a nurse. It takes some time to remove that sort of thing you know. It’s literally like a straw in your body.)
In a way Clannad was more revolutionary, strictly because it chose to deal with smaller troubles, of family and work and building a life. And it also took the crazy step in utterly destroying any suspension of belief in its finale, making the whole audience aware that it was a dream. We want a work to win our hearts, and sometimes we can accept if it does it cheaply, as long as it does it beautifully. One can think of basically everything Makoto Shinkai has ever done. Cruel chance is worse. Meticulous cruelty is even worse. Flaubert’s dull hell-scape in Madame Bovary is a slow shattering born out of seemingly insignificant particles. As are the slow tangoes of Chekhov. But we shouldn’t think that way. Beauty is beauty but Beauty is only validated by having cruelty to bring it to light. No easy cruelty is the way that the writer has to live by. By choosing to write he’s already dealing with a cruel subject. Art is born out of an instinct to assassinate the material world, and to raise the soul as pillar upon which all is to stand. The dirty unclean soul manifest in all our bodies. This radiant blemished beast.
In order to write, one cannot dance around in pure dreams. One must drag down cruelty into form. To simultaneously aim at killing the world, in all its entirety, by being one’s own Demiurge, while simultaneously telling the truth; to spin the lie that tells the truth. That’s the lie stronger than the lie told in April.