And Then Emperor Palpatine Fell Into an Explanation

The other day I went to see the movie Fanboys, about a group of Star Wars fan one year before the release of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. I won’t say much about the movie itself except that I thought it was hilarious, but it reminded me that there’s a lot of Star Wars “lore” out there. I had borrowed a Star Wars character guide from a friend long ago, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, so I decided to hop online and take a look at the compiled information on the universe that is Star Wars. Upon reading I began to feel this sense of dread.

One of the very important lessons then Western Art took from Eastern Art was the concept of negative space, that leaving spaces blank can be just as effective a tool as filling in every detail. Essentially, it means less can be more. When applied to storytelling, it means that not every detail has to be explained and that in many cases the more explanation that arises the less effective the storytelling becomes. This is what I saw with the information on the  Star Wars Universe. I saw unnecessary explanation after unnecessary explanation, as if making sense of the world and filling in the gaps is far more important than maintaining the feel of the story and characters.

The idea of fans filling in the gaps is not something that’s necessarily bad. In fact many times I consider it to be a good thing as I feel it’s a very important foundation of fandom, whether it’s imagining stories in between major events, inventing new characters, or even fleshing out one-dimensional characters. One can argue that having these complex technical explanations is one type of fan’s way of exploring the universe of the story, but once it reaches a point where it becomes some kind of hybrid canon/fanon that influences or restructures the original story, I can’t help but feel that it is done at the detriment of core vital elements of a story. Obi-Wan and Yoda learned how to maintain their identity in the Force. Why does this need an explanation? Obi-Wan is a magical old man, and Yoda is an even more magical and even older man. There, that’s your explanation.

I think one of the many reasons why I like anime so much is that it seems to understand this idea of effectively using the gaps in storytelling. It’s not just about fueling imagination so that we the viewer may fill in the blanks, but using that sense of ambiguity to excite and drive us forward. Gurren-Lagann is an excellent example, because the characters utilize this vague, ill-defined power to achieve victory after victory. They are literally powered by a lack of common sense that keeps them from questioning if anything they’re doing is truly possible. “Do the impossible, see the invisible,” as the saying goes. One does not need to explain what doing the impossible entails or how it works other than that it was driven by the hero’s desire and the support of his friends.

A more apt comparison might be Star Wars and Gundam especially given the way they’ve influenced each other, but for all of the detailed explanations and added material that has been placed into the Gundam Universe, I feel that Gundam has handled it far better than Star Wars. What even its most hardcore fans ultimately enjoy appears to be more the story and the characters and the way great tales are told, rather than little details.

Wasn’t Star Wars once in its own in a way similar to Gurren-Lagann? There was the Force as a vaguely defined aspect of the universe with vaguely defined skill sets available to its users. What’s the difference between a normal man and a Jedi? That one is a Jedi and one is a man.

Cause, Effect, Necessity? Sci-Fi Fandom and Early Anime Fandom

Anime World Order recently posted an interview with what are the self-proclaimed “old farts” of anime, and they rightly deserve the title. Hearing them speak, and thinking back to an earlier comment by others in previous shows, such as Joey Snackpants and Neil Nadelman, I had to wonder just how much this has affected the flow of anime fandom in the United States. Though I personally have found some issue with those sci-fi fans who lament the status of anime today because it is not “sci-fi enough,” I cannot help but feel that their influence is hard to deny.

I am certainly not old enough to have experienced any of that early anime fandom, but in listening to those that had been around there is one message repeats constantly: to be an anime fan required obsession. This was before the internet was established, before google and youtube and digital fansubs and wikipedia, so to find any sort of information required the ability to search and research and to find collaborators so as to increase one’s chances of obtaining anime and anime-related paraphernalia. I imagine that either you had to be somewhat extroverted or at least have an obsession so strong it overcame your fear of other people to accomplish this task. And what better place to find those with powerful obsessions than in an already-established fanbase?

For that matter, who better to pursue this difficult-to-obtain treasure from the isles of Japan than those who already had spent time discussing and analyzing technology in their favorite shows, writing fanzines to pursue and exchange ideas? With this many people with the ability to obsess grouped together, and more importantly able to obsess over fictional works on television and comics, two forms of media long thought juvenile or at least unintellectual, it might be no wonder that American anime fandom in its infancy sprang forth from sci-fi fandom.

Of course anime fandom today is also largely the result of arguably bigger influences in the years after. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon came on TV early in the morning and introduced both boys and girls to a serial story where actions in a previous episode are not reset in the next. They targeted a much wider audience than older anime had ever hoped to, and rather than having their native origins obfuscated where introduced as something from Japan. Still, I believe even this part of anime fandom is influenced by those sci-fi fans of yesterday. Slash, derived from the pairing of “Kirk/Spock,” may have allowed its foreign cousin Yaoi to get accustomed to traveling on western soil. Sci-fi conventions may have given pointers to the anime fandom when it became large enough on how to congregate with like-minded (enough) individuals. In that sense, perhaps the actions of sci-fi fans in the 70s and 80s became a template for today’s anime fandom, who have shaped it to their own experiences and will some day become the old guard to influence others.