July OWLS Tour – This One Is Going To Be A Challenge

Some of you may know that I’ve been trying to complete a full year of OWLs prompts using Natsume’s Book of Friends exclusively as a base for the essay. OWLS prompts tend to be fairly general so I thought this would be a breeze until I got a real test thrown my way.

 

I bring you July’s prompt :

  • 7th Monthly Deadline: July 7, 2019
  • 7th Monthly Topic: “Technology”
  • Topic Recommendation By MagicConan14

For this month’s topic, we will be discussing how technology impacts our relationships with others and how it improves our lives (such as in communication, education, and etc.) by exploring the technology used in various anime and pop culture worlds. 

Examples:

  • Digimon
  • Ghost in the Shell 
  • Tsukigakirei
  • Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Thank you very much, Aria. You keep me on my toes!

Natsume is a somewhat timeless setting. We don’t see much at all in the way of what we would consider modern technology. I don’t recall seeing any computers or gaming consoles in the series, but I think the kids do have smartphones. They just hardly use them which is by far the most outlandish thing in this series about a boy who can see Yokai. However, there really isn’t much I can point at that represents my idea of technology in this series.

A few of my wonderful OWLS compatriots suggested I take on the magic as a technology angle. And that is a very good angle. In the end, it serves the same plot purpose as technology does but it’s much more useful narratively speaking. Not to mention that the absence of easily recognizable technology in itself is important.

Let me try to explain this. No promises!

Technology in stories is basically magic that won’t drag you into the fantasy genre. Whether it’s existent technology or not. It allows your characters to do things that would normally be impossible for them. A cellphone is the same as a communication spell. The internet is a crystal ball allowing you to collect an almost infinite amount of information with little to no effort. Weaponry is interchangeable with offensive spells, and if you chose to diversify, you can have sleeping gas or tear gas to simulate enchantments.

There is very little actual magic that doesn’t have some type of technology equivalent. We have transporters (that have real-world potential) to instantly cover large distances. Truth potions and brainwashing drugs exist in the real world. The only common magic I could think of that’s not seen that often in other formats are love potions. But that’s only because we don’t want to admit a cocktail of readily available hormones/pheromones can do just that. It’s just so unromantic when you put it that way….

The nice thing about magic though, as far as a narrative is concerned, is that it doesn’t have to work. If you use real-world technology, you can’t really bend the rules too much. Sure, you can fudge the science a bit but ultimately, if you’re portraying something the audience is familiar with, it has to work more or less the way they are used to. Otherwise, you need to explain it or risk destroying the suspension of disbelief. And if it’s futuristic or inexistent technology, you still need to establish some general explanation for how it works, or else it might as well be magic….

Magic is much looser and therefore has a lot more narrative potential. It can fail without explanation to bring extra conflict and tension to your story. You can warp it to the needs of your plot and most of us have been conditioned to just accept that. I mean it’s magic, you can’t get too picky about it. It still needs rules or else everything falls apart but it’s more flexible.

And after all this, we get back to Natsume. Like I said, this post was a challenge. I needed to lay all that out for myself as much as for you guys.

There is a long-standing false dichotomy that exists between faith and science. I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive but at the same time, I recognize the trope. Yokai represents tradition, history, deep roots that wind their way back through the ages. For some reason, we associate technology with the future, shallow and ever-changing. Forget the fact that the need for invention is a defining trait of our species that has existed as long as our need for spirituality has… Still, that vision is in a lot of people’s brains and as such, technology would be an antithesis to Yokai.

This is why Natsume has an old fashion book on which names are written in ink, instead of a contact list of his phone. It would serve the exact same purpose, but man would it be weird…

Natsume.Yuujinchou.as totoro

I love Totoro reimaginings – by Dassen Iko

Natsume’s world exists in a very specific bubble. One that is a little isolated, a little out of step with the rest of the world. Technology is the great dream of humanity. It brings us together and binds us to one another. It makes the world smaller and fuller. It shines a light in all the dark places. It’s tough to make those two worlds coexist.

I love technology. I’m that guy that needs to buy the latest gadget even when I very clearly do not need it. I get a little lost in it in fact. The idea of losing electricity for an evening terrifies me. What could I possibly do with myself…once the batteries on my phone, laptop and tablet run out? I guess I could break out the DS.

But there’s a world out there beyond or around technology that’s brimming with magic and wonder. A world of analogue books, of beautiful forests and fields full of flowers, a world where Yokai exist just out of sight. I might miss that world while I’m busy staring at my phone and that would be a shame.

Ugh, guys, I don’t think I did it. I may have failed this month. I tried though. I get points for writing my name, right? 

It’s particularly sad as I’m kicking off the tour this month. Then again, I guess I’m happy I wasn’t following anyone. You know, how about we chalk this one up to experience and instead you check out this amazing blogger who will redeem me on this tour. Next up, we have the great Dylan with a video essay on Summer Wars coming out on Wednesday, followed by  none other than the Patron of our current tour, Aria herself, discussing a show I will be watching soon. It’s SSSS.Gridman. I didn’t mean to make that sound like a teaser. That post will be out on the 11th so mark your calendars!

Sidenote: Have you notice that the word “Magic” sounds very similar in a huge variety of languages. I just thought that was interesting.

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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16 Responses

  1. “Ugh, guys, I don’t think I did it. I may have failed this month. I tried though. I get points for writing my name, right?”

    Until you said that, do you know what I was thinking as a reader?

    I was thinking that by showing how magic was a substitute for technology in the context of Natsume, you took the topic in a new and interesting direction. I thought you nailed it.

    And even after reading your comment? I still think you nailed it.

    • Irina says:

      Thank you Crow! You’re encouragement is really very aporeciated. I did get some fascinating comments too so this turned out to be a success!

  2. sabakuink says:

    I think the other link between magic and technology is, while both are used to facilitate or enhance human abilities they rarely resolve human problems. Resolution usually requires some uniquely human and non-technological/non-magical property, such as love, compassion, faith, will, wisdom, trust, friendship, courage, etc. I believe this hierarchy holds true not only for good storytelling, but also for healthy, real-world relationships.

    Like modern technology, Natsume’s magical abilities allow him to communicate with hundreds of invisible beings who would otherwise be unreachable. Similarly to a YouTube or Instagram star, being able to connect with so many others can be both a blessing and a curse. For example, Natsume’s ability to see yōkai and his possession of a magical contract book initially prohibits him from achieving healthy relationships with anyone, human or yōkai. Remember how many times he got passed around until finding a home with the Fujiwaras? His heartbreak upon discovering the empathetic young woman he met at the park was in fact a yōkai? How exhausted he got trying to please his hundreds of followers, uh… yōkai solicitors?

    And of course there is the the irony of his grandmother Reiko’s magical contract book being titled “Book of Friends”. Although most yōkai respected and feared her, and a few even seemed to love her, I would not count any of them as really being in a two-way, give-and-take relationship. Despite her unparalleled magical powers, she remained an enigma among yōkai and humans, unable to connect deeply with anyone. One might even argue that her great power, like that of Major Motoko Kusanagi, posed a hindrance to friendship more than any help.

    It’s not his magical abilities that enable Natsume to slowly but surely acquire a true family and trustworthy friends, but rather his emotional and mental growth. It’s not the magic yukata that helps the swallow yōkai Tsubame meet her benefactor in a real body. Natsume’s empathy and will, along with some timely assistance from Madara, are what enable Tsubame’s wish to come true.

    I don’t regard technology as being any shallower or more changeable than the great flow of time. It’s all about perspective, I guess. Perhaps that’s because I am older and have eyewitnessed more of these changes firsthand. Haha, I remember having to physically return home to check for voice messages recorded on magnetic tape! Or for that matter, the pre-voicemail era using phones with spring-loaded dialing wheels and mechanical bells! Anachronistically for my generation, I am quite fond of computers and technology; however, my appetite for cutting-edge gadgets is clearly tempered from having grown up without cell phones, personal computers, and social media.

    For me at any rate, the best human stories showcase, well, us. Humans, with or without assistive technology, are the most magical beings of all. 😉

    • Irina says:

      Natsume and social networking. Isolation through digital veils. I love it! Those are some brilliant parallels!

  3. 7mononoke says:

    Great discussion of technology and magic! 🙂

  4. Dawnstorm says:

    That’s a really interesting post. Often, the borders between technology and science aren’t easy to figure out, and it’s an important topic for people who care whether a story is fantasy or SF. My favourite approach comes from Ted Chiang, an author of really good SF stories: if you can mass produce it it’s science, if it’s mostly down to individual ability it’s magic. (Interesting link I found: https://io9.gizmodo.com/science-versus-magic-is-there-a-difference-in-the-wor-5021701 – I’ll read later; Ted Chiang is somewhere near the middle.)

    Under that approach, most of what we see in Natsume is definitely magic. The Book of Friends is magic: a combination of bonds and names – nearly everything is personal here. I think the most techonlogy-like magic gets in Natsume is with the exorcists: They do make a lot of those sealing pots, for example. It’s also the attitude behind it: powerful spirits, to many exorcists, are mainly tools. They’re concerned with making life easier – on a matter of fact basis.

    Natsume has a very pastoral feel, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if the main antagonistic world view would be techno-exploitative. An interesting angle; not sure how much sense that makes. I’ve never really thought of this. Hm…

    • Irina says:

      I never thought of it either until the prompt made me. I like the idea of mass production. Magic is rustic ir artisanal technology!

  5. Scott says:

    *hug* I think you did fine with this prompt.

  6. Xernest says:

    I got easily disturbed by the Natsume Yuujinchou images. Every time I saw a pictures of the anime I click it. And your blog is such a safe haven for NatYuu fans. 🙂

    • Irina says:

      This makes me so happy to hear! Friends of Natsume are certainly friends of mine and very welcomed here!

  1. July 9, 2019

    […] Read More […]

  2. July 11, 2019

    […] on the parallels between technology and magic in Natsume. If you missed it, you can catch up on it here. Up next we’re moving over to Youtube to visit Dylan, who talks about the technology in […]

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