Well, it’s been a while for Identity, hasn’t it. I’ve spent the last ten months or so writing different pieces—finishing “Before and After,” writing The Coin, and even starting The Coming of the First Ones. I think in that time I’ve learned a great deal. Indeed, one could say my goals for writing and for constructing stories have changed, but my passion for this story hasn’t gone anywhere. Indeed, I think this experience has given me the tools to make it better than ever.
The prologue goes into the rope-maker reaching Japan through Sorcerer magic, and this is the catalyst for where the Sorcerers will influence the plot. They don’t make themselves known yet, for I felt the most appropriate thing was a couple acts to get people reacquainted and reset.
There’s a lot to do in 8.1—establishing what’s happened with Kohl, for instance. Initially, I hadn’t intended to have Kohl’s alter ego be known, but as I thought more and more about it, it made little sense that someone wouldn’t try to figure out what he looked like in uncursed form. That Akane implores everyone to trust him ties into her long-running faith in people, which even when abused, is to me a part of who she is.
Ranma’s sleeplessness has to do with the vast number of people he’s killed, yes, but also with his innate fear of how Akane’s presence can drive him to something beyond what he sees as good and controlled. This is made explicit by the end of the act, but pay attention to the beginning—when the narration is about to describe the vision he saw before killing Henna, it cuts off. This, we know, was a vision of Akane, but even at that point, Ranma is unwilling to consider the notion, to think about it quite that closely.
Kohl’s method of trying to help Ranma center himself is the beginning of a closer look at the rules of Ki Sorcerer magic. Alas, this exposition is going to be innately flawed, since I didn’t have a good grasp of it at the beginning of the piece, and in trying to avoid a shōnen-esque shouting of attacks and stuff, I’ve left things pretty vague, honestly, focusing on elemental magic (fire, ice, lightning) quite a bit. In principle, I don’t think there are many intrinsic limits on Sorcerer magic. That Ranma has focused on ice attacks is, in part, something I find too fitting to try to change, but someone else may start learning magic, and what theme she takes (if she takes an elemental theme at all or instead prefers something higher than that) is something I’ve yet to decide.
A lot of this act is devoted to Ranma and Akane’s relationship at this point in time, and I’ve taken great care to give them a moment of genuine enjoyment and happiness. In general, I think my approach to writing is much more positive than when I began Identity, so I anticipate that there will be more focus on growth in the face of obstacles instead of how book one turned out—which, often times, involved persistence in the face of utter horros. But we shall see.
The thing here is Ranma’s determination to act on his feelings instead of bottling them, knowing he almost wasted an opportunity. As a rule, I tried to make the developing romance subtle and understated. These are two shy teenagers, at least in matters of the heart. I think what puts Ranma and Akane at ease the most is the opportunity to be themselves, to interact without external pressure. Yes, at times Ranma and Akane have, in the past, sparked conflict between them all on their own, but these are already different characters than from when Identity began. They are closer, and a bit more secure.
The martial arts exhibition was something I felt most appropriate for these two. A festival, were the timing right in the year, might be similarly good fodder for a date, but it’s hard to imagine something bringing these two together as well as some sort of martial arts.
That Ranma and Akane go to a Vietnamese soup shop derives from personal experience. My extended family owned such a shop for a time, several years ago. Akane asking Ranma not be intent to take down the Sorcerers just for her should echo her asking if that’s what he’s doing in the martial arts cheerleading arc, and it’s something that in a way just slipped out, but as I mulled it over, I realized I liked it quite a bit. It gives Ranma a path to realize what he’s been doing and why his sleep has been disturbed and to overcome it. This should be a permanent change in their dynamic. Though Ranma will still be aware of how his feelings are invested in her, he can try harder to keep those fears in check.
Finally, we know Shampoo’s been following Ranma for some time. That’s a dangling thread for later on. If you were paying close attention, you might’ve noticed that Ukyō is supposed to be waiting for Ranma and Akane at the library. That’s where we’ll begin act two.
As I wrote at the end of the act, the next installment will come in three weeks. I feel this is the pacing appropriate to how fast I’m churning each act out. Some of it is a function of how fast I write, how much time it takes to revise, the size of the acts, and diversifying interests. I’m starting to write two projects in parallel now, and I feel like overall I’m more productive, even if on any single project I’m less productive than I would be if I were only writing that one. I feel it keeps me fresher, though, so for now, that’s what I’ll do. Of course, if I manage to accumulate a significant surplus of finished material, I can also give it out faster, but we’ll have to see.