Thursday, May 10, 2012

Identity 8.3 - The Lady's Agent

Continuing in this new method of telling acts mostly from one character’s perspective, this installment follows Kohl. Of course, Kohl is an original creation on my part, as are all the Sorcerers, so I do feel a bit of trepidation in confining myself to his perspective for such a period of time, but if you’re willing to accept him as a window to this world, I think his insights can be very telling indeed.

Japanese society in general is supposed to be more reserved than Western cultures, particularly in terms of public displays of affection and general interactions between men and women, which tend to be more stratified. Still, compared to Kohl’s home, I thought it would come across as very, very alien. That’s a big theme of this installment—how very different the world is outside the village—and while Kohl is trying to stay true to what he knows, I think Kohl is a curious, thinking person. He may be stubborn when dealing with Ranma, but Kohl has always been questioning Sindoor, trying to understand what it is she wants from him instead of showing her blind obedience.

Having Kohl come in contact with the rebel Sorcerers proved to be one of the big practical challenges to work out. Though magic can have influences on the mind, most Sorcerers really don’t specialize in that. Tilaka is the only major exception presented so far, so it’s unlikely that Kohl could contact them telepathically, for instance. So I went with something flashy, something likely to get a lot of people’s attention.

So now we meet the rope-maker once again. One reader had thought Xiu killed the rope-maker at the end of chapter seven; that wasn’t what I intended to say, so I went back and clarified that passage. Still, one wonders why this rope-maker would go about in her cursed body, which is inherently weaker with magic, and surround herself with people who can do magic, who would be more powerful than her?

The scene with Ranma, Akane, and Kohl in the dojo was a tricky one; I’d ended up having Ranma and Akane leave off on a particularly high note from 8.1, and to have this regression, this step back, was something I knew I had to handle very carefully. I didn’t think seeing the argument unfold in all its gory detail would be too interesting—rather, the reactions are the big thing. Akane can see what’s happening with him, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to come to an agreement that satisfies them both. I hoped to not be too one-sided in that respect. Kohl points out that Akane should be afraid to jump into battle so eagerly, and I think it’s important that Akane recognize how justified Ranma’s fears are. As scrappy as she can be, she would have to come a long way for Ranma not to fear for her—probably further than she would otherwise just to be a safe match for a Sorcerer. Right now, she’s far too close to 1-on-1 parity with them, and when that means half of all outcomes leads to death, well, there’s a problem.

Ranma’s precautions against the Sorcerers are meant to be logical in action but spurred on by his fears—indeed, it almost rises to the level of paranoia. This is the same reason he doesn’t bring Kohl in on Ryōga’s presence in the Tendō home.

Slowly, Kohl is getting to understand the differences between men and women in this society and how they dress. Right now, he’s still entirely male in self-image, so Akane’s assumption that Kohl might be wanting to explore is a bit presumptuous. In general, though, Kohl and Akane have a good relationship, and it takes every bit of Kohl’s ability to manipulate and lie to really persuade her into doing what he needs.

One of the challenges of limited perspective is trying to get things across through the eyes of a character who can’t quite understand what he’s seeing. There’s a big focus on the belongings of the Hibiki family when Kohl enters the house, seeing the photos on the refrigerator, for instance. These are things Kohl can’t relate to, having grown up without a family, and that’s something that will be explored in more detail in chapter nine. All of the elder Hibiki’s belongings—the sourvenirs he’s sent back, his journals—will have their significance clarified later on, too. Right now, what’s important is that Kohl is still walking the path the Lady set for him, doing his duty because he believes in it, believes in his own sacrifice. Kohl’s loyalty always has been and always will be to the village, but what that means will soon come into question, as will how he seems himself.

I’ve always felt that for original characters, villains are the most easily accepted, but what is Kohl here? A villain protagonist? This is much harder to do, and I’ve felt that difficulty. Still, I hope you have enjoyed Kohl’s perspective on Ranma, Akane, and the growing threat. Getting into his head gives us an opportunity to see what Sindoor is plotting, though we—like Kohl—can’t fully understand it just yet.

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