Saturday, March 10, 2012

.hack//Sign: Just to see me fall

.hack recap: Tsukasa walked through a wall and appeared in a colorful idylicish place where a colorless sleeping girl floats above a bed.

(I recommend actually buying .hack//Sign since my words don't really do it justice.  One can get either the DVD this episode is on, or the full series as a set.)

.hack//Sign, Episode 2: Guardian, 14:53 – 15:28

Tsukasa is still in the place with the girl, he has an open mouthed smile on his face.

It feels strange...

There are two ways that make sense to me to interpret this. One is that something about the place feels strange, and he's commenting on that. This certainly feels like a defensible position to take since most of the time standing somewhere looking at a young child, who is white and offwhite with tiny sort of ripples of color moving throughout, levitating above a bed while she sleeps will not, in fact, leave you with an open mouthed smile on you face. It'll produce a more, “Huh? Why is she floating? Why is she colored so strangely?” and so forth.

The other is that he's not referring to the place but himself. He appears to be happy, and that's not a feeling he has much experience with. You'd expect that to feel strange to him.

DVL speaks and the moment Tsukasa hears her voice his smile is replaced by a moment of fear and then a milder look of uncertainty/discomfort/apprehension. This isn't because he's afraid of her specifically, so far she's been nothing but good to him. This is just how he reacts to hearing a voice not-his-own.

DVL: Tsukasa... can you hear me?
Tsukasa: Who is it?
DVL: I am on your side. As long as you walk with me, I shall protect you.

Again, as near as I can tell that sentence is entirely composed of lies, with the only possible exception being that I don't know exactly what it means to “walk with” a disembodied voice so that might be a loophole. Tsukasa doesn't know either.

Tsukasa: Walk together... What should I do?
DVL: Contact Mimiru.

And I plan to spend the entire rest of this post on those two words. Not the words themselves exactly, they're just an imperative verb and a proper noun as object and thus not very interesting, but rather the reason behind the words. When I rewatched the series in preparation for these posts that “Contact Mimiru,” caught me completely off guard. I had forgotten that it happened and forgotten why it happened.

I was struck by how incredibly counterproductive that is to all of Disembodied Voice Lady's plans. Tsukasa's relationship with Mimiru will be a serious thorn in DVL's incorporeal side. Mimiru is the last person she should want Tsukasa to be involved with.

Obviously a big part of that is that DVL cannot see the future. She does not know how this will all end and therefore does not know just how badly sending Tsukasa off to see Mimiru will work out for her in the long run. (And in point of fact it doesn't work right in the short run either, but in the midgame, especially the early midgame, she thinks things are going well.)

Another part of it is that she has very limited options. Tsukasa does not know anyone. All of his associations, none of them people he really knows, can be counted on one hand. In no particular order, they are:

Thumb: Mimiru
Pointer finger: Bear, whom he has only talked to once, and his contribution was basically to say that he didn't care.
Middle finger: The Crimson Knights, in particular the Silver Knight, who are out to get him. (Literally get him, as in capture.)
Ring finger: Macha, a noiseless floating anthropomorphic cat in a pointy hat who works for DVL
Little finger: DVL herself

If DVL wants to send Tsukasa to talk to someone, someone human at least, Mimiru is basically all she's got. Through the force of three conversations, one of them one sided, all of them ending badly, Mimiru has become the closest thing Tsukasa has to a friend.

But the larger question is why DVL would want to send Tsukasa to be with anyone. She doesn't want him to be healthy or happy. She is emphatically not on his side. Why do something that might work out well for him?

I did figure it out eventually, and had it confirmed several episodes later when DVL says it outright. Her phrasing is somewhat different, but it's because of a simple truth: You can't fall when you're already on the ground.

When you're low as you can go, you can't be knocked down. In a strange way you're safe. There's nothing worse that can happen to you. And so we see a rise before most falls.

Jack and Jill had to go up the hill in order to fall back down it. Carrie had to think people accepted and liked her before she could experience a collapse so catastrophic as to kill everyone in the building. Romeo and Juliet had to meet before the prospect of living without each other became unbearable.

Oedipus had to start a new life where he was loved and respected (not to mention king) before he could have everything torn away from him. Antigone and Ismene had to have siblings they cared about in order for the loss to damage them so. Haemon needed a fiance he loved, Creon needed a wife and son.

People need to have something or someone (or both) before they can fall. DVL wants this to be a tragedy. She has a story she wants to tell and that story involves the fall of Tsukasa, but right here right now Tsukasa isn't capable of falling because he's got nowhere to fall from. That means that DVL has to push Tsukasa toward positive experience even though what she wants for him is the opposite. She has to build him up because if she doesn't get him on his feet it will be impossible to knock him back down again.

She wants to lift him up for the same reason seagulls lift shellfish into the air, and it isn't so that the shellfish can enjoy the feeling of flying.

This theme, the idea that anything uplifiting carries with it the risk of crashing and burning, is something that I think pervades the entire series. We don't just see it from DVL who wants to build up Tuskasa in order to cause him pain, we see it from Tsukasa who wants to avoid positive experiences in order to avoid pain of a possible fall.

We've already seen that what he wants more than anything in the world is to be completely isolated. He just wants to be left alone. He doesn't want friends. He doesn't want love and affection. He doesn't even really want joy. He just wants to be safely cut off from people.

When we get to Episode 11, Party, we'll see Tsukasa at the most positive he's been so far. Smiling, happy, even playful, and then we'll see him recoil from that experience and try to convince himself that it never really happened in the first place. That it was all a lie, that instead of being accepted he was being used, that instead of spending time with friends he had been with manipulators, that instead of something good it had been something bad. Because if you go up you risk sudden catastrophic collapse, so it can seem a lot safer to stay down.

The theme is also in the music.

In the comments a few posts back mishearing the music was brought up. I've noticed that I haven't just misheard the lyrics of Obsession as something other than English, I've also misheard lyrics I knew to be English. I tend to make things somewhat more positive I think. (I've misheard “folly” as both body and glory, for example.)

One case of that, that is important to this topic, is the song “Open Your Heart” in which I misheard the lyrics, “Tears and Rejection,” as, “Peace and Redemption.” As you might imagine, that completely changes the meaning. Realizing that it was “Tears and Rejection,” turned what I had thought a fairly vacuous song into a piece of very good advice.

Open Your Heart is divided into two parts, the main song and the reprise which are the first and last tracks on the second volume of the soundtrack respectively.

The main song is:
Open your heart
to eternal dimension

Open your heart
for love and affection

Open your heart
your every emotion

Open you heart
for tears and rejection

The verses all repeat, then just the first and last, and the song ends on a repeated “Tears and Rejection” which is the most used phrase in the song short of “Open Your Heart”

The reprise doesn't include “love and affection” or “every emotion” it has the first and last verses of the main song and of those “Tears and Rejection” gets by far the most play. The song contains calls to grace, (both divine and earthly) but then Tears and Rejection reasserts itself.

Both calls to grace and “Tears and Rejection” are repeated several times, sometimes overlapping.

The song ends with one last, clear, “Open your heart to tears and rejection,” followed by a final call to grace.

“Open your heart to love and affection” isn't exactly the best advice ever. Some people almost certainly do need to hear it, especially those who believe they are undeserving of it, but most people don't really have a problem with the love and affection. Love and affection is pretty popular really. It's the tears and rejection that are problematic. Fear of the second can cause one to shun the first.

By calling on people to open up to tears and rejection it's offering practical, if hard to swallow, advice.

Tsukasa doesn't seem to have any particular dislike of people, or human contact, or friendship. He's just afraid, at times terrified. He's been hurt so much already that all he wants is to avoid more pain. He wants to stay away from people because he's afraid of the tears. If he never gets involved, then the tears need never come.

What he wants is to be completely safe by being completely isolated. What he needs is to be open to the possibility that things will work out badly so that he can also make it possible for things to work out well.

He needs to be open to tears and rejection because that's the only way he'll ever reach the love and affection.

Which puts us in a very strange place. DVL wants to hurt Tsukasa and to that end she's trying to push him in the direction of love and affection, because that's the only way she can get him to the tears and rejection on the other side. She wants to hurt him so she's trying to make him do that which will be good for him. Tsukasa wants to avoid the tears and rejection so he shuns love and affection. He doesn't want to get hurt so he's trying to avoid things that are good for him.

Tsukasa's greatest enemy is pushing him in the direction of health, while his own defenses are trying to keep him away.

Of course, it won't work out as intended for either of them. The meeting will be a disaster which goes bad before it has a chance to be good, even going so far as to shake Mimiru's belief she should be involved in any of this. But even though it doesn't work out like DVL planned, it's worth looking at what she was hoping for. Both because the same motivation will guide other actions on her part and because it does begin to lay the foundation for what she was attempting, which in turn will lay the foundation for Tsukasa and those who come to care about him to try to turn his story away from the tragedy it was intended to be.

I really like the song TRiG shared about changing one's story, and I think that .hack can be seen as an entire cast of characters flat out refusing to allow their story to be a tragedy no matter how hard the story might fight back. And it does fight hard. Brutality hard at times.

This conversation, this short bit of DVL telling Tsukasa what she wants of him, is our first real indication of what kind of story she wants this to be, though on an initial viewing it would be impossible to know that. This is supposed to be a tragedy, and this is supposed to be the part where Tsukasa gets built up in anticipation of his eventual fall.


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