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The (In)animate Dog

Perfect BlueMIYABE Miyuki’s debut published novel, Perfect Blue, had an interesting twist. It was narrated by a dog. Sometimes novels are narrated by an all-knowing narrator, who is outside the story. They might comment or remain impartial but they aren’t part of the story or influence it. Then you have I-narrators, who tell their own story and of course they influence the events of the stories. They are also one of the actors, maybe the most important one.

Now having a dog narrate the story, of course he will be an actor. But his influence on the events will be very limited. In this regard he will be like the observing narrator who is outside the story. But he still is in it, right next to the protagonist. He is like their sidekick. But a sidekick who cannot talk.

In this sense, Glory of Heracles IV’s hero turned dog owes as much to MIYABE as he owes to TAKAHASHI. The dog is a perfect avatar for the mute hero. At the center of the story, yet leaving the talking to the supporting cast. Rhythm Thief R by Sega uses this same comparison to reflect games keeping players on a short leash. You’re supposed to be the hero but when you want to go places the designers didn’t intend you to go, suddenly the hero is not you anymore. He says, I don’t want to go there now. In Rhythm Thief R he says that to his dog Fondue and the player, who made them walk into that direction is reduced to being the sidekick dog when he most certainly identified himself with the hero up until then.

Rhythm Thief R

MIYABE took the notion of the narrator being part of the story but being limited in their influence on it one step further. In The Detective’s Purse,1 First in a series of connected short stories, which were later collected under the title The long, long murder (Nagai, nagai satsujin). By the way, The Detective’s Purse was actually the first piece by MIYABE I read, during a translation practice class in university. the narrator is the protagonist’s purse. An inanimate object, telling the story. Of course, a book is also an inanimate lifeless object yet it can tell a story. By writing on it, lifeless pages of paper become undead remnants of the author, retaining their thoughts, their spirit, and if they’re good writers, their essence even after their death.

Art is all about breathing life into objects. Those resulting art zombies might still be fresh or they might be very old, they might intimidate one with their outdated values and views, or they might inspire one with their insights. After the death of the author, their art is the only way to meet them.2 Of course we can’t really meet the author themselves but rather inventions of them, even an autobiography will hardly be 100% truthful. Also, what the author writes is based as much on what they observe as on themselves. Which means they grant immortality not only to themselves but also to the people they write about, and their whole age.

And art has become increasingly lifelike. Words can tell any story and drawings can show any scenery the artist might imagine. Film can animate the previously still visual art and thanks to computer generated special effects film now can also show almost any story the artist might imagine. Games can even create these fake worlds dynamically, putting the recipient into those worlds. MIYABE, although using the oldest form of story telling art, has a keen interest in games as well and has written several game related fantasy novels.

The problem with this evolution of art is the apparent devolution of the recipient. As the dog inside the art has become more and more animate, realistic and humanlike in their expressiveness, the dog outside the art is just turning pages, sitting on the couch watching other people’s life in soap operas and pushing buttons. They’re becoming stationary and immobile, watching the art move in their stead. And it isn’t even just leisure, work too is increasingly done sitting at desks. Not that anyone would want to go back to overly exhausting manual work either but we certainly reached an extreme on the opposite end of the spectrum that is just as detrimental to our health.

But there are examples to the contrary as well. Thanks to the internet the average level of writing might have taken a dive but thankfully, people don’t just read more but they also write more. Open world games put player choice over restricted narratives. Motion controls address the disconnect between what the player does and what the player character does and AR and VR will keep this trend alive.

There’s hope for a better balance of the two sides, that we can raise one without sacrificing the other.

 

Timetable

タイトル title creator # date publication
めぞん一刻 Maison Ikkoku Rumiko TAKAHASHI 1 11/01/1980 Big Comics Spirits Extra
時をかける少女 The Girl Who Leapt Through Time Nobuhiko ŌBAYASHI 07/16/1983 movie
炎トリッパー Fire Tripper Rumiko TAKAHASHI one shot 1983 Weekly Boys Sunday August Extra
犬で悪いか!! Excuse me for being a dog Rumiko TAKAHASHI one shot 1985 Weekly Boys Sunday 1985/47
めぞん一刻 Maison Ikkoku Rumiko TAKAHASHI 161 1987 Big Comics Spirits 1987/19
らんま1/2 Ranma ½ Rumiko TAKAHASHI 1 1987 Weekly Boys Sunday 1987/36
パーフェクト・ブルー Perfect Blue Miyuki MIYABE 02/01/1989 novel
刑事の財布 The Detective’s Wallet Miyuki MIYABE 1 1989 Bessatsu Shōsetsu Hōseki Winter Issue
ヘラクレスの栄光4 Glory of Heracles 4 Kazushige NOJIMA 10/21/1994 game
らんま1/2 Ranma ½ Rumiko TAKAHASHI 407 1996 Weekly Boys Sunday 1996/12
犬夜叉 Inu Yasha Rumiko TAKAHASHI 1 1996 Weekly Boys Sunday 1996/50
犬夜叉 Inu Yasha Rumiko TAKAHASHI 558 2008 Weekly Boys Sunday 2008/29
  1. First in a series of connected short stories, which were later collected under the title The long, long murder (Nagai, nagai satsujin). By the way, The Detective’s Purse was actually the first piece by MIYABE I read, during a translation practice class in university. []
  2. Of course we can’t really meet the author themselves but rather inventions of them, even an autobiography will hardly be 100% truthful. Also, what the author writes is based as much on what they observe as on themselves. Which means they grant immortality not only to themselves but also to the people they write about, and their whole age. []
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