Category Archives: Immortal Life

Immortal Life – Gift or Curse?

To be immortal is to live forever and maybe that would be a good thing, except than you would have to live beyond the lives of those around you, including those you hold most dear.

Hello again and welcome to the continuation of my Immortal Life series. This time I’ll be writing about those who have to live with their immortality and who at one time or another fall to despondency over their own existence.

What is an unnaturally long life like? How do they perceive the world around them? And how do those living such long lives cope with their existence?

I’ve always had a fascination regarding what an immortal life might be like. What comes to mind is, that if you were immortal or had the capability to live beyond a normal lifespan, inevitably you would outlive those around you: your friends, your family, and everyone. If that weren’t enough, you would also be living through even more technological changes and advances than what a usual lifespan will go through. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like. I mean, I struggle sometimes to realize how much has already changed within my own short life, but to imagine someone living through different era’s of history… is another beast altogether.

Much like how there are people who can’t adapt to the changes of technology in their lifetimes, I wonder if an immortal would face similar challenges. Is the mind forever molded from the age it reached maturity, or can the mind continue to change grow perpetually accepting new age after new age?

But my thoughts are wandering a bit off track. What I want to focus on here are the problems that  immortals have with coping with their unnatural existence.

Trigun

I’ll be leaving Hohenheim alone for now since he’s been a recent subject, but I’ll come back to him a little later. Right now let’s see about the legendary outlaw, Vash the Stampede from Trigun. To start off he’s not immortal, but he does live far longer than a human does. Vash is in fact not human at all, but a being refered to as a ‘plant,’ being who are used as black boxes of technology. Despite his cheerful and silly bravado, Vash carries with him the history of the world which humanity has crash landed upon. Vash lived before this eventful crash and continues to live among the people who have managed to survive on this planet, but his fate is tied to another, his brother, who causes destruction and death in stark contrast to Vash’s hope for love and peace. The responsibilities Vash carries allow him to overcome the growing fears of and within himself.

How does this come about? As Vash comes to realizations concerning what kinds of powers he is capable of and how those powers can be used as a means to create terrible destruction, he grows afraid of that power inherent in himself, but as Vash struggles against his brother and continues to uphold the principles that he regards with high respect, Vash begins to accept that power within himself as being yet another part of him. Out of all characters of fiction, Vash is a very strong contender for the number one for me. He lives by principles of which I think anyone should strive to uphold in their own lives. The path he takes is not easy, but it is worth it because of that.

As I said, Vash, along with his power, carries with him a self imposed responsibility for the lives of the people on the planet.

Here are some thoughts from some characters during the manga:

Luida: “However many year pass, he sees so many people’s faces… as they live and die on this planet.”

Wolfwood: “Is this his attempt at absolution? Is that what this is?”

Luida: “That’s a foolish question. You’d know it just by looking at the scars on his body. If his scars were erased, thatwould be using his true immortality.”

Later…

Wolfwood:Amazing don’t you think?”

Luida: “Yes, indeed. He knows the name and face of everyone who lives here.”

Wolfwood: “What an idiot.”

Luida: “Seriously. To live a long life… or to die a difficult death… He does nothing but nice things. In the months and years he’s on this planet, he comes into contact with many people… On this planet, his friends die, his acquaintances are murdered, and some friends even point a gun in his direction… He continues to wander through his own hell.”

Wolfwood: (“…is he …smiling? Spinning ’round and ’round… teetering dizzily… all alone… rescuing so many… his scars and his troubles multiply.. A true gun-man… who only looks on the bright side of life? Right? Vash the Stampede?”)

Fullmetal Alchemist

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Well you saw it coming,  it’s Hohenheim’s turn, so let’s get to it!

Originally the slave to an alchemist of the king of Xerxes, Hohenheim’s destiny changes after being chosen to give blood in an alchemical experiments which in turn create ‘Homuculus.’ Later, through the design of Homunculus, both he and Hohenheim essentially become living philosopher’s stones, created from the 1,072,658 lives inhabiting the nation of Xerxes. From the moment which Hohenheim obtained this unwanted immortality, he is given power, sadness, and, what may have kept him going, responsibility.

Shortly after this horrific event, Hohenheim begins to seek out those who reside within himself, knowing what path he must take against ‘the Little One in the Flask, Homunculus.’ He both begs their forgiveness and hopes for their help. In time he has the chance to speak with all of 536,329 souls , who support him in this path.

Hohenheim is able to move on toward the future, but at times during his life he suffers against his existence. The most poignant visions of his suffering are the nightmarish images that paint himself as a monster.

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It is the nonhuman nature of his existence which drives at his sanity and self-loathing. What I mean is, Hohenheim remains the same in his appearance despite the number of years which go by, but those around him age and eventually die which make him feel inhuman. As Hohenheim compares himself in this way to others, the reality of his existence haunts him, yet he is able to find happiness and a purpose through both the love of others, and through the will of the souls he is attached to. Eventually during his journeys across the land, Hohenheim finds love in the village of Risembool and begins a family, a wish he once shared long ago while he still lived in Xerxes.

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It may be that the genuine affections of this struggling man were able to finally give him back his belief in his own humanity.

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Hohenheim: “I’ve witnessed many deaths since gaining this body. But I was able to suppress the sadness by telling myself that death is just a speck in the grand scheme of things. Whenever I’d witness something beautiful or wondrous, I’d accept this body, thinking it’d give me time to see them all… That’s how it’s always been for me. Until I met you and had kids, Trisha.”

“I never age, but I’m watching my kids age and grow like trees… I’m terrified all of a sudden. It reminds me that I truly am a monster.”

Trisha: “You know… someday, I’ll turn into a wrinkled old woman who looks like a monster. But no matter how I end up looking, I’ll always be happy to take a picture with the family where everyone is smiling. So please.. stay with your family. Don’t distance yourself from us and leave us alone. Don’t hurt yourself by saying you’re a monster.”

Hohenheim: (“I was planning to accept this body and continue living like this. But I’ve changed my mind. I want to age and die with Trisha and the kids.”)

Some Conclusions

The life of an immortal among mortals can be a life of loneliness and despair. Yet, among such a life there is the greater possibility of love and acceptance. Even someone as disconnected from the natural flow of humanity may find their place and purpose in life and it keeps them strong to face the isolation of immortality. Fight against the darkness in your heart and find the answer.

As Vash would say, “This world is made of LOVE and PEACE!”

Immortal Life – The God/Goddess Figure

When considering immortals or long lived beings, it shows that sometimes they carry with them other unnatural powers that together with their longevity, give an existence which forms the basis for their own mythology. To say it another way, the immortal may become the fabric for the tales and myths of the future because of the powers and influence they have used in past. Yet, the immortal lives on among those myths and tales. They have a unique perspective on the truth of those myths and they continue to influence the events of the world around them.

Sometimes the influence of their power leaves an impression where the individual is revered as a godly figure.

Fullmetal Alchemist

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Hohenheim from Fullmetal Alchemist is an example of this phenomena.

From the context of the story, the nation Xerxes, where Hohenheim becomes ‘immortal,’ resembles the Western civilization of Rome. It seems to be powerful, influential, and advanced beyond the other civilizations of the time. The fact that later alchemists and alkahests attribute Xerxes as the root of their development gives further credit to this idea.

After Hohenheim becomes the last survivor of his nation, he travels the land and lays the foundations for both alchemy and alkahestry. Since Xerxes was the fount of knowledge at the time, Hohenheim is likely the last person who knows how to use alchemy and because of this the teachings he spreads are influential in the development of the Eastern and Western civilizations.

Edward: “Xerxes, huh… I remember reading about it in the tale about the Sage of the East.

Fu: “Sage of the East?”

Edward: “Yeah, a fairy tale about the alchemist who introduced alchemy to our country. It’s a legend aobut the sole survivor of the Xerxes Kingdom, which was destroyed in one night, and how he arrived in Amestris, just recently founded at that time, and spread alchemy throughout the country.”

Fu: “In our country, there’s a legend stating he arrived from the west. Alkahestry as we know it today is a combination of the skills he brought us and Xing’s technology. […] We refer to him with respect, as the “Sage of the West.”

Spice and Wolf

Another character in anime, Holo, while not holding influence over the technological advancement of her world, did develop an influence common for her era, the harvest goddess.

holo

Although she is not necessarily immortal, Holo does have a much longer lifespan than the humans around her. Originally Holo comes from somewhere in the north called Yoitsu, and winds up in the village of Pasloe, where she acts as the Harvest goddess, ensuring the livelihood of the people with her powers over the crops. Eventually she becomes nothing more than part of a legend, myth, and ritual that continues on despite losing its full meaning. With the rise of technological advancement in farming, Holo is no longer relied on as she once was and she decides to leave Pasloe in search of her long ago home.

Onimonogatari

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As it might happen, immortal beings may also simply feed into their own mythology and history by their actions. The unearthly power of the vampire known as Kiss shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, or better known as Shinobu Oshino from the Monogatari series, at one time had people worshipping her as a goddess.

Living a solitary existence in Antarctica after nearly escaping from a strange entity, Shinobu makes an incredible leap off the continent and lands in a lake in Japan. The water from the lake becomes a rain that saves the surrounding area from a drought and the people who live there think that Shinobu is a goddess of the lake.

Conclusions

Although the longevity of these characters was not the factor which made them seen as gods or goddesses, it is the perspective that remains with them which is important to note. They have become a part of a fabled history of forgotten times. Their powers and influence were of such unbelievable make, that they live on as legends only and not as truths. It would definitely be weird to know as immortal that those ‘legendary’ events were real and that you were a part of them, yet have those same events glazed over as nothing but fable.

This manner of immortal life works fine if they were born into a time where informational technologies are far less prevalent than today, but for those of the modern era it would be more difficult to remain unknown. Modern born immortals could still become a part of urban mythology, but challenges to avoid surveillance and witnesses to the truth would be considerable.

It is interesting to think about how an immortal perceives their own history and how that effects them in the present.

Immortal Life – The Philosopher’s Stone

“The Philosopher’s Stone… The Heavenly Stone… The Great Elixir… The Red Tincture… The Fifth Element.”

Magnum Opus – The Great Work

Alchemists throughout history have sought after it–the Philosopher’s Stone, said to transmute metals into gold and grant eternal life to the one who wields its power. The Philosopher’s Stone maintains a level of popularity in fiction even today appearing in anime and many popular books such as the Harry Potter series. It’s hard not to be fascinated with such a powerful item that holds power over life and wealth. The quest to live forever continues to this day with discoveries of a so-called immortality gene, while the quest to create gold has actually been achieved. (Unfortunately to create gold requires a process far more expensive then the small amount created which involves particle accelarators and nuclear reactors)

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

philosophers stone

If you’re unfamiliar with the series and care nothing about spoilers than…

Fullmetal Alchemist is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are alchemists. When their mother tragically dies from a disease, they try to bring her back with power of alchemy. They fail and as a result Ed loses his left leg and Al loses his entire body. Ed is able to attach Al’s soul to a nearby piece of armor, sacrificing his right arm in exchange using knowledge he gained from meeting “the Truth.” Apparently one is able to see “the Truth” from attempting human alchemy. Afterwards, the brothers only seek to regain their bodies and are specifically interested in learning about the Philosopher’s Stone.

“…it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself” [Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 14: Mysterium Coniunctions]

What the brothers discover is that the Philosopher’s Stone is created from human lives. As they delve deeper into the secrets behind who made and researched the Philosopher’s Stone, Ed and Al uncover strange beings calling themselves Homunculi and also discover secret work and research conducted by the nation. Eventually we discover that a being referred to as “Father” by the Homunculi is behind a devilish plan to use the entire nation’s populace in an alchemic reaction as a means to essentially become a god.

In Fullmetal Alchemist, normally alchemy is performed through the use of transmutation circles drawn on a surface. There are also laws that dictate an equivalent trade between the original substance and new substance being created. With the power of a Philosopher’s Stone, an alchemist seemingly has the power to ignore the law of equivalent exchange (although later we find out that they are simply drawing out power from the stone). The Philosopher’s Stone is not a source of infinite power, but has is limited by the number of lives used to create it. When using the stone, an alchemist has no need for transmutation circles.

Baccano!

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If you haven’t watched Baccano! yet I will shake my head sadly in disapproval. With a cast of some of the most awesome, unique, and memorable characters, Baccano! belongs in my top ten anime list. For those have watched and enjoyed Durarara!!, they should seek out this series immediately and feel shame for not knowing the connection between these two series. Both are adaptations from the light novels written by the same author. Two Baccano! characters even make a cameo appearance in the first season of Durarara!!.  For now both series on on my top ten.

And STOP reading if you haven’t watched it yet. Many spoilers to come.

We meet many immortal characters who laugh in the face of death in Baccano!. In the first episode we watch as characters are shot by machine gun fire, yet after a brief moment are perfectly mended and well. It isn’t until well into the series that we discover the truth of this amazing serum, which the main antagonist craves so much, is actually the Elixir of Life, a form of the Philosopher’s Stone. Although they never refer to the Philosopher’s Stone, the Elixir of Life has for a long time been associated with the Stone.

In order to create the elixir, Maiza Avaro learns how to summon a demon from a man who had summoned a demon 300 years previously. Upon summoning the demon aboard the ship Advenna Avis, Maiza is taught how to make the elixier and is also given enough of the elixir for all his fellow alchemists to drink. Some rules are then given to the immortals from the demon.

Immortals have the ability to “eat” other immortals through their right hand by placing it on the other’s head. By doing so, one gains the knowledge and experiences of the one eaten. The person’s life who was eaten will have ended. Immortals also have the ability to share knowledge by placing their right hand on the other’s head. Immortals are also forbidden to use false names among other immortals.

Szilard Quates, another alchemist of the group, wants to share the knowledge of the elixir and though likely wants the knowledge for himself. Maiza however concludes that the no one else should be given immortality yet and wishes to seal the knowledge away. Most of the others decide that this is the best course of action for now, and that they can always come to a new decision later. Soon after his dissent, Szilard kills many of the immortals aboard the ship including Maiza’s brother, Gretto. Szilard had hoped to learn the formula for the elixir by eating Gretto, but only learns half of the formula that Maiza shared with him. Szilard later is only able to create an elixir which grants partial immortality to the one who drinks it. Szilard’s elixir grants the person immunity from bodily harm and presumably disease, but they are not immune to aging. Thus Szilard continues to seek the true formula.

Slayers

This series was the first I ever watched subtitled and will always have a place among the anime I look back on. In the first season of Slayers, the Philosopher’s Stone has little to do with alchemy and more to do with magical amplification. It is the ultimate catalyst for magical use. Rezo the Red Priest, obsessed with curing his own blindness, seeks the Philosopher’s Stone in order to summon the Demon Shabranigdo, convinced that only the Demon can cure his blindness. It is discovered later in Slayers Next, that Rezo had ample plans to defeat Shabranigdo upon curing his blindness.

Gosick

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Victorique:

“An alchemist is someone who studies the art of transforming one material into another. The most common goals are gold, immortality, and homuculi, or artificial life. They’re created by using a substance called the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“It’s said that powerful alchemists possessed the stone, and some hold that it was colored a deep red like a pomegranate.”

“However, alchemy and the like is all a bunch of claptrap. Those who talk about alchemists, believe in them, or make a fuss about them… are all idiots! Fools of the highest caliber!”

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*munches on a cookie*

Leviathan the Alchemist: “Winter, 1899… It is winter, and I, Leviathan, am about to greet the final year of this century. Long ago, I was a nameless traveler. During my journey, I procured a certain item. The Philosopher’s Stone. Its power gave me eternal time and a life forever adrift.”

The mysterious character Leviathan plays an interesting role in the total picture of the anime. The intrigue behind his identity, as well as the truth behind the gold which he produced, are the subjects of some my favorite episodes in Gosick.

In the end it’s up to Victorique to “take the fragments of chaos and reconstruct them,” to solve the mystery.

Conclusions

Generally in fiction the Philosopher’s Stone will have a red color when it is described and will also have the common properties associated with it throughout the ages. Despite the knowledge we’ve gained in the sciences, people will always crave the mysterious powers of the Philosopher’s Stone, which has been sought after by alchemists since perhaps antiquity. The Philosopher’s Stone has been found mentioned in writing as old as 300 AD. It almost seems but a matter of time that science will finally procure power of immortality. We have already created gold.