Sunday, May 1, 2011

Identity 7.5 - "When Flows of Magic Reverse"

There's just one act left.

More commentary below.

I'd been rather unsatisfied with the flow and theme of this installment as I'd written it. Some of that is a function of choosing a perspective. I know some other writers might not be troubled by it, but for me, the key to this act was picking a viewpoint for Akane's confession, and both choices had significant consequences. Coming from Akane, you feel her distress, her anguish, her honesty a lot more keenly. But with Ranma's viewpoint instead, we get a much better picture of his dilemma, of his mindset, of spiraling down to death or indifference either way. To me, that was the crux of the conflict, as important as the confession was.

To that end, I restructured the plot a bit. It was something I hesitated to do, as to make things more indirect softens their impact as a rule, but I felt there was no other good way to depict Ranma's battle inside himself and still get Akane's confession to play out in real time. Hence, instead of picking up with where Xiu stabbed Ranma, I went into Ranma's mind first. This scene, where Ranma imagines Akane cheating on him, isn't meant to impugn Akane so much as play off Ranma's fears. Ranma is less secure than we might think, and it's my opinion that overt signs of affection, of sexual attraction, from others are off-putting to him when he's unprepared for them, when he's overwhelmed by the response in himself. It's one thing to manipulate someone into falling for you; I think Ranma's personality is capable of that. It's another to be on the receiving end of their affections, and while Ranma might deny that, the premise of this scene was that he was, in one way of putting it, subconsciously aware. This is what Ranma fears: that he could be driven to such madness, just as others around him have been.

That Ranma uses the family katana is a reference to "The Bitter End," which as I've said before was my introduction to Ranma, however flawed it may have been for that purpose. The scene is fractured in a sense. It doesn't have logical flow of cause and effect, as a dream wouldn't. Akane sees Ranma impale her lover with a sword, and she hardly bats an eye. A reasonable person would be afraid. A reasonable person would be upset or angry. But she's indifferent. She's jaded. She's insensitive to him, and perhaps that can be read as being too wounded by his unwillingness to touch her, to show some vulnerability in himself. That wouldn't excuse her deeds, of course, but it would explain them. She's quite crazy in this scene, too.

When I conceived of this idea, I hadn't thought of it taking place in a high-rise. I think I considered Ranma following Akane to a home on a city street, like a brownstone in New York, but then I realized that I had no good conception of what housing was like in Japanese cities; at the very least, a high-rise was safer or less likely to be inaccurate.

It was off this scene that I strung the rest of the act together. I touched briefly on Xiu, cowardly as he was. Rather than join in the battle, he covers his tracks, destroying the rope-maker's hut. I felt this was a critical show of what Xiu's true nature is. He's not a loyal soldier of a cause. He's in it for himself, for toppling the captain, because he feels he can do better. He may believe the rhetoric about the injustice of holding down magic, but in a sense, that too may be self-delusion. It's what naturally pits him against the establishment, the reigning order.

I touched upon the Amazons and Sindoor, too. I admit, I may have glossed over too much of this battle, but I'm not one to get mired in blow-by-blow accounts and details if I can help it, if there's something greater to be served. Someone once said to talk about sex like you're making coffee and talk about making coffee like it's sex--the point I get from that being that a splurge of detail on a complex act can confuse, while conversely, a lack of detail on a simple act can render it meaningless. What do we take away from it? That Sindoor is much, much more powerful than any of her underlings? Perhaps. Let's just say Sindoor's full power is something we've yet to glimpse from her.

It's here that, at last, we get to Akane. Originally, Akane broke down over Ranma, shaking him inconsolably, before I cut to Ranma's mind-trip. The result was that Akane's reaction to Ranma's stabbing and her confession were combined into a single, continuous scene, and it gives the whole thing a feel of a continuous action. It does change the feel of the scene, but I can't say it's worse, and with the logical advantages, I felt justified in it. Again, Akane's words here are critically important, and had I the luxury of portraying this scene from Akane's perspective, she would've looked past Ranma to see the vision of "the pigtailed girl," silently cheering her on, even as she says that Ranma is the friend she always wanted, boy or girl. This, to me, is almost more important than the confession of love itself. But of course that's not the dramatic thing to do. All this is, of course, in purposeful mirroring of Ranma holding Akane's limp body at Jusendo, and indeed, I had to hold off Akane's confession until now, due to various restrictions, just to build to this moment.

And you might notice, subtly, the hoops I had to go through to pull an effect off: the only time Akane's referred to by name in this installment is at the very end. To me, this was an important symbolic thing--that with Ranma losing his way, he would forget her name and everything he enjoyed about her, and only the connection with him she's willing to make can rouse him. I struggled for a time, thinking I should revisit the scene where Ranma really thinks Akane's dead, where he and Ryoga and Mousse are in the Guide's home, and Ranma thinks he sees Akane walking away as they stand next to the canal back home, and she tells him she'll wait for him. But I'd thought I'd overused that image, apropos as it may be.

Ah well. What's done is done, after all. The final act of book one is next week.

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