Keeping up with the Jones-家: Katanagatari 1-2, Durarara!! 3-7

Let’s continue.

I’m aware there’s another episode of Durarara!! out, but I haven’t seen it yet; it may show up in my next bout of catchup posts, after my next post-schoolwork marathon. Or maybe that won’t be necessary — spring break is coming up, and it’s not as if I have any plans.

Katanagatari 1-2

From Twitter:

2.26.2010 5:08:20 Katanagatari 1: So, uh, what keeps them from just killing their opponents during those 5-minute speeches? Dramatically convenient bushido?

2.26.2010 5:09:20 Katanagatari 1 cont.: Stupid complaint, since it’s sort of played for humor, but I like plausibly brief fights to the death these days.

2.26.2010 5:39:41 One thing I’m coming to love about Nishio Ishin: really twisted romance.

2.26.2010 6:45:24 Katanagatari 2: Haven’t decided how I feel about the author surrogate thing, but I definitely like this enough to continue.

As it says. There’s enough for me to like about this — the art, the music, the humor and general delivery, the fact that Shichika is basically Sabin/Mash from Final Fantasy 6 — that I’ll be trying to keep up with it. But I do want to talk a little about the author surrogate issue.

I raise a brow at Katanagatari’s author surrogate with the understanding that, in my current fiction-writing project, I’ll need to introduce an author character some 35,000 words ahead of where I am. And I want very much to avoid turning him into an author surrogate, so it’s probably worth considering at this point what, exactly, constitutes such a thing.

Consider Stephen Dedalus — not the mopey one from Ulysses so much as the…somewhat less mopey one from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen is, quite literally, a surrogate of James Joyce; the Portrait is semi-autobiographical. And he gives voice to a good bit of metafiction, some of which is probably concurrent with Joyce’s opinions on fiction and the writing thereof. But what keeps Stephen from being an author surrogate of the sort I mean here is that he never really comments upon the texts in which he appears. As far as literary art goes, he holds drama in the highest regard, so he doesn’t talk about novels much at all. Togame, on the other hand, remorselessly kicks the fourth wall down — and it can be funny, I’ll grant, but it can also be distracting, and the line between the two is thin.

So, what I mean by “author surrogate” is a character who (being written by the author) speaks with an authorial voice on matters of the text at hand, and does so in a moderately explicit way. This is problematic for me for two reasons. Firstly, until I’ve finished reading a thing at least once, I generally don’t want to know what it means to the author, lest my reading be affected. I’d rather not have my hand held. And secondly, I consider it a little irresponsible on the part of an author to indulge those readers who would limit their readings (and those of others, when possible) based on the author’s opinions — but, as that basically amounts to a complaint that writers too often give the majority of readers what they seem to want, I’ll accept that I’m being somewhat unreasonable here.

Or perhaps what I’m complaining about is simply the inward-looking text. A text’s commentary on itself is text, isn’t it? But a text can look inward, I think, without “reading” itself — without telling its reader how things should be interpreted. One reason I generally don’t read high fantasy anymore is the tendency of some authors in that genre to make all the requisite moral judgments for the reader. Perhaps, then, I’m leveling a complaint at unambiguous texts specifically. Or texts unambiguous in a specific way.

Suffice to say that I think Katanagatari is doing okay so far, but that I have my concerns.

Durarara!! 3-7

What was the last episode I wrote about? I guess it was the second, regarding all that interstitial mapping business. Which has more or less carried on as expected, but I haven’t felt the need to write a post for each episode telling Durarara!! to keep up the good work.

The third episode was good. But, I have to admit, the fourth put me off for a while. It occurred to me that I didn’t want any backstory for Celty — I didn’t want her to have a definite name, even. Episode seven gives another supernatural entity human roots, but I’m alright with Shizuo being half-human. Celty, on the other hand, is the ur-faerie. She doesn’t do extraordinary things with mundane objects; she doesn’t throw vending machines, or move quickly and knife people — she rides a motorcycle that’s actually a spirit-horse, and she pulls a scythe out of her smoking neck-hole. Somehow I wanted her to remain wholly magical, and by that I mean I wanted her existence to be a matter of “just because.” She’s less impressive now that we know how she got to where she is, and what she means to do there. But maybe that’s the point, as she’s made more human with each episode, it seems. We may as well let her be human, or humanized. It’s not as though we have anyone to blame for magic and myth but ourselves.

Speaking of ur-faeries and half-humans and such, I’m noticing a hierarchy of mysterious characters emerging. Toward the bottom, or human, end, we have Kida, who knows more than he lets on, but doesn’t seem to be actively involved in the unusual; the Dollars are somewhat higher up, and Simon, Shizuo, and Izaya higher still; and at the top we have, perhaps needless to say, Celty, the dullahan herself. With each episode the strange elements of Ikebukuro look more like a proper mythology.

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  1. vucubcaquix

     /  1 March 2010

    Landon had a really interesting post regarding the mythological aspect of Durarara!! in which he likened it to a modern myth where myths are dead.

    Check it out!

    • Pontifus

       /  2 March 2010

      Thanks for the link; it is an interesting post, even if I’m not really buying it. Myth doesn’t die. In my opinion, what we’re seeing in Durarara!! isn’t the attempts of myth to survive in a world with no room for mythology, but myth altering in accordance with the changing human condition — as myth is wont to do, given that myth is a fundamentally human creation.

  2. Elineas

     /  2 March 2010

    Funny, I said similar things on Katanagatari in a comment on one of ghostlightning’s posts. The problem is that it’s too explicit. For some, that means they get bored by the exposition; for others, it leaves too little to the imagination. There are many approaches to being a meta-commentary on yourself, but as I quote from my other comment, “There has to be a better way to do this.”

    For Durarara!! I think part of the story is peeling back layer after layer of urban mythology. Each person has some truths to tell and some rumors, and with that Durarara!! develops a world that looks crazy from one perspective and mundane from the other. Perhaps the only problem you can really accuse Durarara!! of is that it’s peeling the layers too quickly. We need to at least be able to put Celty on a pedestal of awe before we can truly appreciate or be surprised by how normal her life really is.

    • Pontifus

       /  2 March 2010

      You’ve probably gotten to the core of my problem with Durarara!! (though it isn’t much of a problem, really; I’m still more or less buying what the show’s offering). It isn’t unusual that myth-figures would have human traits. It happens all the time among the more famous pantheons, those that people think of when they think of mythology, and of course heroes are technically human in whole or part. Probably what surprises me is how quickly Durarara!! has humanized its myths. Foreshortening the initial sense of wonder seems like a gamble to me. But, really, I have enough faith in the show at this point that I’m more intrigued than worried by the gamble.


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