Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thoughts (and Fan Fiction) on the Psychology of The Guilty

One of the more fascinating aspects of Japanese manga and light novels is the introspective objectiveness, the continual acknowledgement that how a character sees him or herself  is not entirely how that character is seen by others.

American literature will point out the disparity between one's view of oneself versus others' views of one: this revelation is common currency in romance novels and can be quite effective in furthering a plot; the ultimate goal in American romance is to bring the two views in sympathy or alignment with each other.

Japanese romance light novels and manga use the disparity with equal effectiveness; however, characters do not always resolve problems with complete alignment. To a large degree, they and the author assume (1) that the disparity is inevitable and (2) that the disparity will continue. Success is measured by the amount of understanding the characters achieve in a single moment. Reading Japanese romance is rather like reading Pride & Prejudice taken to a whole other level.

For a writer, light novels consequently offer many opportunities for readers and fan writers to "read between the lines"--there's so much of it there!

Below is an extra imagined interior monologue to The Guilty series by Katsura Izumi. The monologue is from the point of view of Hodaka, the secondary protagonist. Most of the novels are written from the point of view of the primary protagonist, Toya, and it is helpful to remember that Toya perceives Hodaka, not himself, as the elusive partner (more character analysis follows the interior monologue):
His lovers in the past never stayed overnight—not that there had been that many. Hodaka had never had the number of lovers conjectured by the scandal sheets.

The few who had crept into his life had been brief liaisons: valued for the moment, released in the next. Hodaka had never seen the need to sustain those fleeting connections. Mutual interest led to enjoyment led to inevitable separation. That was the norm.

Until now.

No lover had ever enthralled him like Toya. No lover fascinated him so much.

Hodaka wasn’t concerned by his fascination (another fleeting emotion). It was his need for Toya, for the type of relationship that Toya offered, that unnerved him.

His heart troubled, Hodaka slid out of bed. He pulled on a robe and quietly leaving the room, headed for the house’s library.

Toya had come to Hayama to fetch Hodaka’s latest manuscript for his employer, Sozan Publishing. Several weeks earlier, he had resigned as Hodaka’s editor, but his devotion to his job was stronger than his disappointment in Hodaka, so he had come to Hayama since Hodaka wouldn’t hand over his manuscript to anyone else.

Hodaka was not sure even now what he had done to push Toya to call off their relationship.  He knew that Toya desired him. Why else would Toya propose his own body in exchange for Hodaka’s manuscript? Especially while he was still engaged?

That engagement was now at an end. Hodaka was not surprised. He had met the woman briefly—a sweet-natured, candid person. Hodaka had already known by then that Toya required something hardier than sweetness. Toya was too complicated a man to be content with a normal, placid relationship.

Toya claimed that he wanted Hodaka’s heart. I’ve given it to you, Hodaka had tried to tell him, but Toya seemed to need something more, something so mysterious Hodaka could only agree to his demands and hope understanding would follow.

Waiting to learn more about his lover meant a long-term relationship, something Hodaka had never felt the need for before. Now, he felt its allure—due to Toya, no doubt, but Hodaka also sensed a growing dissatisfaction with his own past attachments. Were they truly not enough?

If he pursued a long-term relationship now, he would depend on Toya. Toya claimed to love Hodaka. He had said it again and again when he arrived in Hayama. And yet—

Toya was so much more contradictory than Hodaka. He was intelligent, ambivalent, self-effacing: a mass of circuitous thoughts.

The only way Hodaka could stay ahead of Toya was to demand what he, Hodaka, wanted and trust Toya would agree.

But would his demands be enough to keep Toya beside him? Suppose he decided that enjoyment with Hodaka was not enough to outweigh his misgivings? Suppose Hodaka handed over the manuscript, and Toya ended their association for good?

Hodaka’s latest novel was unlike anything he’d written before. It was a mystery, of course, with a strong psychological component. It was also a love story, something Hodaka had never felt impelled to write before. So many empty, unsure nights without Toya—Hodaka felt impelled to express the uncertainty of love as if he were a young man again, poised on the edge of confused attraction.

Suppose Toya read the manuscript and was alarmed by Hodaka’s new approach? Toya claimed to be a fan of Hodaka’s work, and Hodaka had to admit that Toya discussed his work with all the fervor and enthusiastic dissection of a true fan. Suppose, like many fans, he’d wanted Hodaka to write more of the same—not try something new?

Toya was a gifted and reliable editor—he could set aside his disappointment as a fan. But suppose Hodaka’s expanding emotions embarrassed him? Away from Hodaka’s arms, Toya could be fastidious and absolute in his self-sufficiency.
Part of the fascination of Toya and Hodaka's relationship is that it begins in betrayal--namely, Toya's betrayal of his fiancee. This false start adds an extra psychological burden to the relationship, which explains why, generally speaking, relationships between cheaters don't last.

Alongside all the normal doubts and fears is Toya's unhappiness with himself. He doesn't entirely trust the "him" who behaved so badly; he isn't a playboy by nature and had no idea he had such devious cruelty inside him.

Consequently, he is constantly trying to put on the brakes with Hodaka, to rein in their relationship, to establish lines between the personal and work--to not be the guy he was when he hurt his fiancee.

Hodaka, unfortunately, reads this behavior--Toya's retreat to "company manners"--as disinterest or, worse, as Toya moving on, "trading up." Hodaka is perceptive enough to recognize that Toya is not (usually) the playboy type: he doesn't go around picking up partners right and left. Yet Hodaka is also perceptive enough to recognize that Toya did walk away from a supposedly steady relationship despite being a normally dependable man. Who is Hodaka to say that Toya won't walk away from another relationship? After all, if one wants to know how people will behave in the future, the past is the best indicator.

There's a reason Volume 2 is called Original Sin. It isn't merely a clever title--it highlights the problems brought about when relationship ills originate in tainted first contact. Both characters carry the weight of their first mistake, yet both are sure that the other person has everything all figured out. Consequently, they both interpret the other person's behavior in terms of confident resolution (arrogance) rather than blustering uncertainty (fear)--which naturally leads to misunderstandings. And . . . problems ensue. 

All this psychology packed into a few slim volumes--light novels are remarkable fare.