The White Devil eschews aimbots in favour of guts and friendship.
After finishing Nanoha A’s a few nights ago, I suppose I should put my thinking cap on again and examine my second dose of beamspam maho shojo goodness, attempting to produce something that bolts neatly onto the end of my previous remarks like an intellectual Dendrobium Orchis or the late application of glasses to a previously un-bespectacled girl. (Since this entry wanders a little, I felt ‘addenda’ was more appropriate than ‘addendum’.) Once again, I think I’ll write about Fate and once again I’ll use the excellent eleventh episode. (Spoilers follow the break.)
Before starting to, y’know, think, I’ll briefly remark that A’s was more of the same with ramped-up action, cooler weapons, more characters and finely-tuned drama. Although the final battle was rather underwhelming: everything important seemed to have been cleared up beforehand and our heroes’ opponent was an unthreatening, disembodied thing. Disembodied things can give you a good battle, but this one was merely nonsensical rather than Lovecraftian. It all felt a little by-the-numbers. I’m nit-picking, though.
In my previous MSLN entry, I suggested that fictional narratives are good at raising philosophical questions but bad at providing coherent answers. I pointed to the way that Nanoha plays with the idea of Fate as a cloned replacement for Alicia Testarossa as an exception, because Nanoha proposes a solution to the identity question it raised. Since (says Nanoha) identity doesn’t just reside in the individual, but also in the indivual’s relationships, Fate was an unsuccessful replacement because of Precia’s inability to accept her. Whether or not Nanoha’s proposed solution is correct I leave up to you, but it certainly works within the story (as well as ensuring that any blame lies with Precia rather than with Fate).
As the eleventh episode of A’s begins it hits us with the emotional Graf Eisen of the dream world that Fate finds herself in. This sequence is evidently designed to tug at the heartstrings – Fate realising what’s happening, Fate involuntarily recoiling from her mother’s touch, Fate breaking down in tears – and tug it does, but the dream as a temptation or trap is also something of a trope. (Recently, Gurren-Lagann. Less recently, Book II, Canto XII of The Faerie Queene.) Villains and antagonists frequently offer a hero ‘everything you’ve ever wanted’, but (if they have the means) sometimes they take the subtler route of actually giving a hero everything he or she has ever wanted, in the form of an illusion which is indistinguishable from the real thing.
Moe, and I’m someone who’s unimpressed by even
the saddest girl in the coldest snow.
Fate rejects this dream world, of course: she already knows it’s a dream. Ironically enough, while the idea of the dream as a trap for the hero is nothing new, this particular instance is a cunning reversal. In the eleventh episode of the original Nanoha, we learned how Precia Testarossa rejected Fate not because she was a bad replacement daughter, but because Precia knew that she was a replacement. In the eleventh episode of A’s, we see Fate enter a world where she’s the only thing that’s real and everything else is a superior substitute for reality: she has the mother she deserved rather than the mother she had, and she has the older sister/genetic twin that she never knew.
Just as Precia rejected Fate, so Fate rejects this dream world, not because it’s inferior but because is a dream world. Of course, Precia rejecting Fate meant turning Fate (who is a real person even if she couldn’t replace Alicia) into an objectified tool, while Fate rejecting her dream companions (who are illusions) means that they disappear in pretty sparkles. There’s thus no visual or moral equivalence, but it’s a clever parallel nonetheless.
In Nanoha A’s, the dream-temptation is handled well. Examining the dream-temptation more broadly, however, I fear it’s often used as a cheap point, a ‘message moment’ to point out the importance of Facing Up To Reality to you. This is a message I distrust when I hear it from fiction, especially fiction which isn’t overtly didactic (The Faerie Queene I can forgive, since it’s declared purpose is ‘to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline’). And heroes seem to be terribly good at resisting the temptation because they have more important things to do.
What happens when the temptation of illusion or manufactured happiness is offered to normal people seems to be the province of dystopian fiction. To take two examples, one from high culture and one from low culture, Brave New World gave us a a society in which manufactured pleasure is the accepted norm (and art is dead), while Syndicate gave us a world where people are offered the choice of illusion and willingly accept it. (You, as the player, were not tasked with fighting against or maintaining this state of affairs, but with ensuring that your own syndicate was best placed to profit.)
Is it ‘Goblin Market‘ time yet?
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down, in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars beamed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.
Poetry relevant: Goblin Market features blonde sisters and illusory temptation. And – like Nanoha – Rossetti’s surprisingly popular fodder for the Rule Thirty-Four brigade.