Escaping from reality – A look at Paranoia Agent

When life gets hard and the world seems to be crumbling around you, sometimes you want to give in a little. Maybe it’ll be easier not to fight back and run away instead. No. You must step over the crags and move past the debris through the adversity and pain, and you will find the path. It is difficult, but it is there and you must take it, because you can hold the world together in your stride.

Hello again and welcome, this time I’ll be taking a look at one of my favorite anime, Paranoia Agent. The director Satoshi Kon brings us a world terrifyingly familiar to us with a style that leaves deep scars on our psyche. Despite the realistic approach of how he depicts the world, there are times when the psychedelic and fantastic weave their way in, entrancing us all the while.

Paranoia Agent is a psychological thriller with deep messages about society as individuals and as a whole. The story starts off with a character designer, Tsukiko Sagi, being pressured to come up with the next big hit after having created a famous and widely popular  character called Maromi, a pink “kawaii” looking dog. On her way home from work she is attacked in the night by a boy on roller skates wielding a bat. The aftermath of this attack relieves her from the expectations that were being forced onto her. She is suspected of having fabricated her story of the boy by one of the investigators, but soon more incidents begin to occur.

We can feel this way in our own lives–the pressure to succeed or the pressures of society pushing against us, and then we too almost wish for something, anything to happen to put an end to our fears we place on ourselves. Whether it’s work, family, or religion, it doesn’t matter what causes these sensations within us, but there are times when our obligations become burdens that weigh us down. The stress of living to the expectations of others, or the fear of not knowing where your life is heading, or even the monotony of everyday life–it becomes our demon to face, but we must face it, challenge it, and conquer it in order to live free.

Continuing with Paranoia Agent, the story goes on with reports of a person that people are calling “Lil’ Slugger,” or “Shonen Bat(Bat Boy),” who is attacking people. At first these attacks seem to be random violence, but the victims all share something in common, and that is that each them had problems in their lives that they wanted to escape from. The line between reality and fantasy starts to blur as the situation escalates. What we eventually realize is that Shonen Bat has been transposed into the world through the people wanting to escape. They need Shonen Bat, because they can’t face there problems.

At the time I watched Paranoia Agent, I was reading a book I lent out from the library, Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture which talked about Takashi Murakami’s and other’s theories on post-war Japanese culture. The book analyzes anime, manga, and kawaii culture and tries to explain the reasons why such a culture has come to be. The book claims that it is a culture that has grown out of an atomically devastated Japan; through its dependence on the United States; and escaping reality through consumer culture. The book’s title, Little Boy, refers to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, one of the most traumatic and events in history. Within the book we have the idea that the modern Japanese culture has been born out of this post-war trauma.

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It seemed to be perfect at the time for me to be reading this and then happen upon Paranoia Agent, where I was immediately in the opening greeted by the image of the atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud. Eventually, when the truth of Shonen Bat is revealed, we see that he was just another expression born out of the same mold as Maromi. The ideas which breeds this kind of escapism allows people to shy away from reality by watching their favorite shows such as the Maromi anime and forget their troubles.

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People stop facing their problems and instead use these fantasy worlds to feel better about themselves. They fervently buy the merchandise and sink into the fantasy further while forgetting that it is a fantasy world that they are investing in. Maromi has become the representation of a false solution–a way to escape a from reality that is harsh or hard. It sounds all too familiar.

What we mustn’t forget is that the real world is waiting for us whether we like it or not.

 

Time Traveler’s Guide – Life is Strange

I’ve gone over time machines and magic that allow time travel to occur, but what I haven’t considered is that there are other cases of time travel as well. There are times when strange things happen in the universe that leave us in the grips of time and in Life Is Strange this is certainly the case.

One day Max Caulfield, while in photography class, has a vision, a most real and terrifying vision of an enormous tornado heading to wipe out the town. She comes to as if she were dreaming, but can’t get the images out of her mind or the sense of reality she felt. From what we see in her journal and her interactions with others, Max is a shy girl who isn’t confident in herself. When asked when she’ll turn in a photo for an upcoming contest, she just tries to avoid it. Wanting to hide away from the world around her, she escapes to the bathroom to be alone. At first she reproves herself, “I have a gift,” but then, “Fuck it,” she tears up the photo she was thinking of turning in. What happens next though will lead her down a road most strange.

While hiding in the back of the bathroom, Max witness two people come into the bathroom who get into a heated confrontation. One pulls a gun and someone ends up getting shot. At this moment Max cries out and reaches out toward them and in a few brief moments finds herself back in class at the moment she had woken from her dream. She discovers that she suddenly has the power to reverse time at will. With her new found powers, Max once again goes to the bathroom, but this time intervenes to save the person who was shot.

Time travel has a way of entering into the lives of people without warning. It is yet another caprice of the universe that seemingly chooses its victims at random. Groundhog Day is another example of this, where a person finds themselves caught reliving the same day while remembering everything that happens. These characters travel through time either by their own will or through something else’s. How they choose to use this power or this opportunity is up to them, but the choices they make may affect more than they could ever imagine.

Let’s Watch No. 6 (Episode 2)

Episode 2

Around four years have passed and I find that Shion has been relegated to a menial job managing parks for the city. He no longer lives in Chronos, where the more elite of society live, but now lives in Lost Town, a more middle class part of the city. We find out that this is all because of his involvement in aiding Nezumi in his escape.

While Shion is working, the park robots that he and his partner are monitoring discover something, a person. When Shion and his partner arrive on the scene they get a closer look:

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A strange festering black mark on the neck is the only clue to mysterious death of this individual. The scene cuts away to the opening and we assume that the case is handled as expected.

Later Shion meets with his friend Safu and afterwards it becomes clear that Shion is still not able to fully understand his own feelings toward the path given to him in life and his place in the world. He no longer aspires to the prestige of those chosen for the Special Course, but at the same time he wonders what he is trying to accomplish in life now. Safu sees that he no longer has any attachment to his former aspirations. Safu has continued on with the Special Course and has passed a selection test to study abroad in No. 5. She then asks if Shion is jealous.

Safu: “You’re jealous, aren’t you?”

Shion: “Sure am!”

Safu: “Liar. My specialty is brain function, behavior modification, and hormonal relations. If you were jealous of me, spending time with me like this should cause you anxiety. If you were feeling anxious, you would be excreting a type of corticosteroid from your adrenal glands… ”

Shion: “I get it, Safu […]”

Safu: “You weren’t feeling the least bit of anxiety; you aren’t jealous of me at all. If you were, you wouldn’t be able to smile like that. […] It must be because we are looking forward to different futures. Shion! Just what are you thinking? What is it that you wish to accomplish?”

Shion: “My wish…I wonder…”

Just as the night’s winding down, Safu comes right out and says it:

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Not quite as blunt as the picture, it’s still out of the blue and Safu, with her overly scientific disposition (which reminds me of Leonard’s mother in The Big Bang Theory), makes it even more awkward of a request than it already is. It makes me wonder if everyone has this disassociation toward love or if this is only specific to her.

Shion turns her down, but asks that after her two years of study abroad that she asks him again. Safu brightens up and is about to head off home when Shion and Safu are interrupted by a rat.

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The rat crawls up Shion and speaks! Shion immediately realizes that it is Nezumi controlling this robotic rat and runs after it as it scurries away. The rat however gets away and Shion returns home.

The next day, upon arriving at work, Shion talks to his work partner about the mysterious death the other day. Apparently the death has been reported as nothing but an accident, which Shion severely doubts. He asks his partner if the authorities are manipulating the news and his partner quickly scolds Shion for voicing such thoughts, reminding him that they are ‘loyal citizens.’ It seems that openly criticizing the government is a punishable offense and adds to my view of how this government operates.

Suddenly his partner becomes old and withered before Shion’s eyes. Once again a black mark has appeared on the victim’s neck, but this time something else happens.

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A wasp comes out from the blackened skin. Somehow this wasp must act like a parasite, feeding off of the host. When the wasp is ready to hatch it seems that is when the host dies. The Security Bureau members arrive on the scene and after reviewing Shion’s past, apprehend Shion, who was found unconscious at the site. Shion isn’t explained why he is being apprehended. While be transported, Shion realizes they aren’t going to the Security Bureau and asks what’s going on. A recording of what he said earlier to his partner concerning his suspicions of the authorities manipulating the news of the mysterious death is played back to him. Instead of the Security Bureau, they are taking him to the Correctional Facility under suspicion of discontent. I see that people under subconscious can basically be put under arrest without trial. Unable to do anything to struggle, Shion settles down resignedly.

The car they are riding in comes to a stop on a bridge, where a park robot block the path. When one of the guards goes to check it out, Nezumi launches his ambush and effectively subdues the entire team and steals the car. Shion and Nezumi don’t get far though, since the security members have a mean of remotely controlling the car. They abandon the car and escape by having the rat robot take Shion’s ID bracelet (being used to track him) and lead the chase away from them.

In the end, they must escape through what looks like a water filtration plant, whichtakes them outside of No. 6 where reality awaits.

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No. 6 reminds me of Jagura’s city in Wolf’s Rain, a first world city that is ignorant of the problems around it and life others face outside of its walls.

Let’s Watch – No. 6 (Episode 1)

Hello. This time I’m going to be doing something different for me, which is, I’m going to be posting my summary, thoughts, and experiences while watching an anime.

Characters

Shion – One of the main characters of No. 6, the anime starts with him celebrating his twelfth birthday. As a child with a very high IQ, through various exams and assessment tests, he has been chosen for a Special Course for the elite.

Nezumi – An escaped prisoner of the Correctional Facility, Nezumi finds his way to the Chronos district, where Shion lives.

Safu – She has been Shion’s friend for apparently a long time and his in the same class as him.

Impressions

I’m behind on what I’ve wanted to watch over the years, so I decided to give No. 6 a try. That’s not to say that I’m not watching other anime, but this will be what I’ll focus on right now. As far as how the future is depicted in No. 6–it gave me similar vibes to Psycho Pass, where people are accessed and placed into society accordingly. Unlike the society seen in Psycho Pass however, the government is much more authoritative almost on a disturbing level. Moving ahead a bit, upon arriving at work, Shion must recite an oath, “I swear my loyalty to an unchanging city.” To be a part of a citizenship that requires this kind of servitude is scary to say the least. An unchanging city? Should not a society change according to the technological advances and cultural shifts that define how people live? Change is an inevitability that must be accepted. People cannot bind themselves forever with such oaths as this and stay stagnant or unmoved, rather people must move forward with new ideas and learn to let go of foolish traditions.

Before I go on rant … here we go.

Episode 1

Things start off with Nezumi running through the sewers, being pursued and shot at. The scene cuts away to Shion, who is daydreaming in class, while Safu, his friend, his giving an advanced presentation on the brain and its functions. Shion, like the others in the class, are gifted children who have been selected and placed here to learn by their advanced assessment. The daydream occupying Shion has him imagining himself floating amid the vast space of sky as the wind of a coming storm sweeps him away.

After school, Shion and Safu head over to Safu’s grandmother’s house to celebrate Shion’s birthday. On the way, we get a glimpse of what the city is like, which is has a few technological nuances to what modern cities have now. We also learn that a typhoon will be heading through the city.

After the birthday celebration, it’s strange to see how Shion reacts when Safu kisses him on the cheek before he leaves, because he doesn’t seem to understand where such affection comes from at all. Even Safu’s explanation for why she kissed him is given scientifically, which makes it almost seem like imitation rather than expression. It makes me think that they really aren’t normal at all. As the wind and rain continue to pick up, the structure people are calling the Moondrop begins to ‘cry,’ which has something to do with the storm.

At home now, as if to confront the facade of what this society is, Shion shouts out at the storm unable to truly understand why he does it. He is being led down a predetermined path, controlled by a society who punishes anyone who does not conform to its views.

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This darker side to the apparently peaceful and prosperous city is represented by the appearance of Nezumi, an escaping prisoner of the so called Correctional Facility. From the first moments in episode one  I can clearly think that something is wrong with this society, as I watched Nezumi, who looks to be the same age as Shion, being hunted down by people with guns. A little excessive right? Although there are times when it is hard to tell how to treat youth when making judgments on morality, I can say that such a heavy punishment as death does not belong in any society I would wish to live in. Clearly there is something wrong here.

So, Nezumi breaks in Shion’s room and the two meet for the first time.

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Rather than becoming uneasy or afraid, Shion wants to help him and seeing the injury on Nezumi’s arm asks to help treat the wound. Even Shion is unable to come up with the reason why he decided to help Nezumi, but I think like his yelling, Shion is finding an outlet to disobey the system set out before him. The unnatural way in which his life has been bound acts contrary to his deep down subconscious and  Shion wants to rebel in some way without being fully aware of it. The situation calms down after Shion convinces his mother over a communication channel to be left alone for the night.

When Nezumi asks Shion if he knows how No. 6 came to be, Shion answers, “The Babylon Treaty. In the previous war, a race that lost the greater half of its inhabitable land outlawed all armaments, and created a city state to govern the remaining six areas. And No. 6 is one of those areas.” This explanation by Shion is given laugh by Nezumi, but nothing to show why. In the end I assume that this information was likely fed to Shion hiding the true origin story of these six areas denoted by number.

In the end Nezumi briefly stays there and leaves before Shion wakes up and the episode ends with someone from the Saftey Bureau showing up to the house .

Some additional thoughts

It’s interesting to see how No. 6 divides out its class and how people live in these classes by comparison. Shion, with his high IQ and high assessment, is allowed to live in Chronos, what seems to be the nicest and extravagant living quarters of the city. But as we’ll later see, this can all be taken away by a government that is in complete control of its citizens.

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A picture of Chronos

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 hafe 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.

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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.

Time Traveler’s Guide – What’s the point?

So you have the means to travel through time and space, but why do it? Why go through all of the risks involved such as time paradoxes and other potential problems that haven’t been answered yet? Once again I will refer to various anime to give the answers.

Steins;Gate and Dragon Ball Z

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One of the best reasons to take the plunge and travel through time is because this is your last and only option. In Steins;Gate, things get out of hand as the Future Gadget Laboratory is raided by SERN. Something terrible happens and Okabe is left with no choice but to try to use a newly created machine that will send him back in time so he might try to change what happened. As a rule of thumb, it seems that even if you are the first potential time traveler in history, and the world is facing an apocalyptic situation, than go ahead, because what could be worse than the apocalypse.

Dragon Ball Z also follows this idea. The future from which Trunks arrives from in the Cell Saga is already living under apocalyptic conditions. Two androids of incredible power ravage the world nearly unopposed, causing destruction and death in their wake. So Trunks goes back to past to warn everyone ahead of time. The strange thing is that Trunks isn’t able to change his own timeline, but is only able to help the timeline he arrives at in the past. As far as any other time travel fiction is concerned, Dragon Ball Z is an oddity from than norm.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Now, there are times when unbeknownst to you, time travel is a necessity. Why? Because someone going back in time is the reason things are the way they happen to be in the present. To go back in time to preserve the events leading to the present is a perfectly good reason for time travel (But a major headache if you think about it too long).

In The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, there is the character, Mikuru Asahina, who is a time traveler sent back from the future to keep an eye on events surrounding Haruhi. Occasionally, Kyon, the main character, also meets with an older Mikuru, who comes from further in the future. During the anime and movie, it is interesting to see that for Kyon, going back in time is almost a fated event. Kyon’s actions that effect the past are something that have already happened.

Kyon: “Hey Nagato, Asahina-san is really a time traveler right?”

Nagato: “Yes.”

Kyon: “If that’s the case, I feel a contradiction regarding the process of time travel. ”

Izumi: “Your point being…”

Kyon: “Before, Asahina-san said there was no continuity between past and future. But in the end, I wound up going back in time three years and gave Haruhi superfluous information… and there’s the possibily that this information caused Haruhi to come to North High to look for non-humans in the first place.”

“In other words, there is some connection between the past and future. Doesn’t this contradict what Asahina-san told me?”

Nagato: “As there is no set conclusion to the paradox theory, there is no way to prove that there is no paradox.”

Kyon: “You might consider that an adequate explanation…”

Nagato: “Soon you’ll understand.”

I understand, maybe, but if I think about it too long… my head hurts.

Because time travel is tiring work
Because time travel is tiring work

Sometimes going back in time is merely what was meant to happen. If Kyon didn’t go back into the past… well Haruhi may not have ever met Kyon in the first place. I won’t go into too many details as to everything that happens to avoid spoilers.

Conclusions

And there you have it, two really good reasons to travel back in time. It may be a little selfish to risk the destruction of the universe on a time paradox, but an apocalyptic event is something nearly anyone would want to avoid.

Also, without knowing it, traveling back in time and effecting something in the past may be something that needs to happen (in fact it already has happened–headache inducing).

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

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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!

baccano circle

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.

Time Traveler’s Guide – Reading Steiner

Welcome again to the continuation of The Time Traveler’s Guide. Today I will be discussing a particular problem that time travelers will face, and that is keeping their mental state intact despite changing the past. This problem also exists for those who are part of an effected world line. If you don’t know what a world line is check out my previous post. Essentially, if a world line is altered than everyone within that world line will become altered as well. A person may cease to exist, or their memories will change accordingly to fit the new world line.

Understand that world lines exist as part of the parallel universe theory where many divergent future exists. Say you live in world line ‘A’ and currently you exist in time and space at a point on this line. If you were able to move back to a previous point and alter a significant event or perhaps even an apparently insignificant event, the future beyond the previous point would no longer belong to world line ‘A,’ but would belong to a new world line because the path has branched off from ‘A’.

Spoiler alert

Steins;Gate and the Reading Steiner

Now I will introduce the concept made by Steins;Gate, the Reading Steiner. The main character Okabe Rintarou, an eccentric, named the ability, not me. The Reading Steiner  is the ability to retain one’s mental state including all the memories they have experienced so far after a world line shift. Okabe is the only person aware of the shifting line, while others are oblivious to the change. Everyone’s memories except Okabe have in a sense been deleted and replaced by the memories of the new world line. This is the Reading Steiner. Other characters begin to show signs of having memories from other world lines, but only after a significant provocation. The other characters could be said to have the Reading Steiner ability, but at such a degree that it is almost untraceable.

Many time travelers exist in fiction, who despite changing the past remain the same person. They too must have the Reading Steiner ability, or their own memories and experiences would be altered.


 

While these next anime series don’t necessarily have the Reading Steiner ability, they do share some similarities.

Katekyo Hitman Reborn!

In Hitman Reborn!, the character Byakuran has an ability very similar to the Reading Steiner. After he meets the same person in two different world lines, Byakuran awakens the ability to share the knowledge and experience of every Byakuran from parallel universes.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

In Madoka Magica, Homura travels back in time and essentially replaces the consciousness of herself in the past. Unlike conventional time travel, where meeting oneself is possible, Homura completely takes the place of herself in the past. Similar to Steins;Gate, Homura is unable to make significant changes along the world line to reach a different future through many of her attempts. Strangely enough, by making so many attempts Homura finally creates a path to a new future–not by a single action that changes the future, but through the entire process of going back in time over and over again.

Dragon Ball Z

This series uses another theory where despite changing the path of a world line, one is able to travel the original path back to the future. When Trunks goes back in time and changes the events of the past, he is still able to return the future from which he came. He has effectively changed the world lines path. Doing so in Steins;Gate would mean that Trunks path to the future would now move along a new path and lead to a different future, but he is able to return to the same future he traveled from.