Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Ways to Kill a God

The gof na'chalek lao gof na'triste lokkue' book Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut ends with the following paragraph.
If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.

For those of you who don't know the book, you should read it, it is a tragic commentary on everything from religion, to colonialism, to the fallacy of objective science. At this point the whole world has been radically altered by a substance called ice-nine, which when is touched to water changes its composition so that it can be solid ice even at room temperature. The protagonist is stuck on the island of San Lorenzo, surrounded by the once ocean, which is now a world of tornadoes. He has become a disciple of Bokononism, a religion from the same island whose its prophet Bokonon openly admits is all bola bola yan dinagi.

He meets a few remaining survivors on the island, but the majority of people have all died from the ice-nine. Some of them encouraged by Bokonon, a survivor himself, who when asked by an angry mob what all the chaos means, he informs people that God is most likely telling them that its time for them to go and so they should show him the courtesy as their maker and just die. They comply. At the end of the novel, the protagonist, who has been religiously reading the never completed set of Books of Bokonon, spots Bokonon and rushes up to him to ask him what he is doing. He is writing the last words of his series of books, and hands to the protagonist a paper with the above excerpt.

His final message, is that he has none, this world is made in such a way that there can be none. The things which men build cannot save them from their own stupidity, and therefore God who made men deserves no credit or happiness either. He doesn't deserve their respect or their love. He deserves to feel the stupidity of his creations, he deserves to feel the fool, and so Bokonon's metaphorical final act, would be to hulague Si Yu'us or stick his tongue out at God, and politely inform him that he did not win. That all God can claim is longevity, durability, and nothing more, and thus he will always recall the statue of man thumbing his nose, even should the statue made of ice-nine crack and turn to dust, it will always be there in the eternal memory of God. A small, but nonetheless bitter challenge to the best laid plans of Gods.

I only read three manga regularly nowadays, via fanslations or scanslations that I find on the internet. The first, as most know is Naruto, which is a youth ninja manga, whose main characters suck, but whose world is filled with awesome supporting characters (ko'lo'lo'na Si Kakashi). The other two are for much more mature audiences, due to their violence, Berserk by Kentaro Miura and Gantz by Hiroyu Oku. Both of these series have been around for a while, with Berserk first published in 1990 and Gantz in 2000.

My interest in both of these mangas stem from the impulse that Vonnegut ends his Cat's Cradle with, an interest in challenging the very order of the world, or in staining or ripping out the seat upon which God sits. The odds against which the main characters struggle in both manga are insurmountable, they are literally contesting and fighting against superhuman and sometimes divine forces, unstoppable and incomprehensible. Yet little by little, the writers and the characters make headway, they provide small little hints, clues, little nudges by which the impossible is shifted across the line towards the unlikely, but somehow possible.

In Berserk the main character Guts, hopes to find a way to kill a God. In the early volumes of Berserk, Guts followed a heroic character named Griffith, the white hawk, who led a band of mercenaries who eventually won a war that had lasted for more than a hundred years, and brought peace to Midland. Griffith carried a Behelit, which is a sort of icon of potential divinity, those who carry it can potential become Gods or beings of great power. After having been caughter having sex with the king's daughter (which was part of his larger plan of ruling the kingdom), he is imprisoned, tortured and crippled. Guts and the other mercenaries, known as The Band of the Hawk rescue Griffith, but after seeing Guts and another soldier, Casca, the only band's only female, in love with each other he becomes angry and jealous. Soon after, the sky becomes black and the entire Band becomes trapped by an army of demons. Griffith's Behelit begins to cry and he is informed that if he is willing to sacrifice the lives of all of those who love him, namely the Band of the Hawk, he will become Femto, a part of the Godhand. He agrees and the Band of the Hawk are all, save for Guts and Casca devoured by demons.

After this massacre of all his friends and the betrayal of Griffith whom he adored and respected as a friend, Guts vows to kill Griffith and all demons he can. The manga since then has all been about Guts surviving in the life where he has been branded as a demon sacrifice, and is constantly hounded by supernatural forces who have been promised his blood. The character of The Skull Knight, who is shrouded in mystery but is someone who regularly appears to save Guts and others from danger, is the figures who gives clues as to the whole picture of the universe and ways in which they might challenge Gods or wreck the evil design that Femto and the Godhand are weaving.

A few weeks ago, Berserk went on hiatus as a long arc ended and the world has drastically changed, with Griffith returning to human form and returning to earth to revive the Band of the Hawk. All on earth, inhuman and human are drawn to his light, as he promises order to the world. As one of the inhumans admits, to be close to Griffith is like being drawn close to the chest of God. With his arrival, the different worlds of magic and humanity are colliding together, and the mystical, the beastly, the demonic is quickly spilling over into the world of humans.

The next issue of Berserk won't be out until September, which is only a month of two more than Miura usually makes readers wait for new issues, so its not actually that bad. I'm looking forward to what sort of elaborate web he weaves in order to make it possible so that a the Gods can be challenged and that Guts can strike a blow for all of mankind who are the chaff which is grounded to bits in the war machine of the Gods on earth. Guts has attempted to strike down Griffith when he was a God before, and although he survived and earned the respect and admiration of the other members of the Godhand, he came nowhere close to even worrying them.

The other manga of this nature is Gantz. Gantz is a strange manga, which at first I admit seemed really odd and weird when I started reading it, but soon burrowed under the skin and into my skull and then colonized my brain with its strangeness. The story for those who don't know is priceless and so interesting.

In a room in Tokyo, there is a smooth black ball. When people die, that ball captures them as data and brings them into that room. There is tells them that their lives are over and what they do now is entirely up to the black ball. The ball, whose name is Gantz, gives them info on a demon, or an alien or a creature of some kind and tells them that they have to get rid of it, it then gives them armor and weapons and send them back into the world to kill it. Since most people Gantz takes have no idea what's going on, they naturally end up dying very quickly once they are sent out. Those who survive though return to the regular world and live their lives until Gantz calls upon them again.

For volumes, the action takes place like this. A group of people are sent out to kill a monster, not knowing who is sending them, why they are doing it, and never really understanding the rules either. So long as you are the slightest bit alive when a mission is completed, you will be returned to that room completely brand new. For each alien you kill, you receive a certain amount of points, and upon gaining a hundred points, you can choose to either 1. have your memories erased and returned to the world. 2. be given a bigger and badder weapon to fight with. 3. Remain ensnared by Gantz, but bring back to life someone whose data is stored in Gantz's memory.

As the series goes on, the enemies get harder and harder and even though for each mission, Gantz says there is one enemy to kill, each time there are in reality dozens or hundreds that have to be taken out. There is a plot behind all of the fighting, but the characters learn about it in only small doses. A factory is revealed where thousands of Gantz balls are being made. Tokyo is not the only place with Gantz balls, but there are to be found all over the world. An explanation is offered for the whole mess, but soon revealed to be a lie. In the final issues of the most recent arc it is revealed that if you say "catastrophe" near Gantz a timer is revealed which shows how much time is left until this "catastrophe" takes place.

The characters live and die with this uncertainty and ignorance as their backdrop, with almost no comprehension of why they are doing this, who is making them do it, who they are killing. God is mentioned repeatedly, but he is absent, a quiet or silent puppeteer, unwilling to reveal his secrets. Thus paradoxically, the presence is felt even more forcefully, almost violently. The characters, devoid of the illusions that make the lives of most humans liveable and comfortable, bear on their shoulders the weight of the world, the void that God is supposed to sit at, in its center, but who is always conveinently absent.

They live with the feeling of the invisible structure of the world, dig like a rusty knife into their back. Berift of any illusions as to their own sovereignty or control over things, they are forced to swallow the lessons on the true nature of God like it is some disgusting medicine.

During the battle in Osaka, when the Tokyo Gantz team and a team from Osaka must fight together to take down a monster, Nurarihyon, who himself is worth 100 points, Kato, one of the main characters, when he stands before the creature, about to be obliterated, like everyone else apparently, he takes a moment to ask why? Why are we doing this, do you know, we don't, we know what we are supposed to do, we are forced to do it, but no one tells us anything. Gantz won't tell us, perhaps you our enemy knows why we fight? Here's the dialogue from Chapter 276.

Kato: I want to ask you one question

Nurarihyon: Hu hu Hu Hu (breathing)

Kato: And I want you to answer. Why..are we here? Why do we have to kill you?

Nurarihyon: Hu Huuu Hu (breathing)

Nurarihyon: That's your question? You question it then?

Kato: Do you know? None of us want this. No one does.

Nurarihyon: Hu huuu hu (breathing) Do you believe in God?

Kato: Answering my question with another question?

Nurarihyon: Is God...like a person? What does he look like?

Kato: I...I don't know. I've never thought about it.

Nurarihyon:
You should consider this to be equivalent to an act of God. Hu huu hu (breathing) Trying to change things is futile.
Gantz is on hiatus until October, which is an insane long time to wait, since Oku ended the last chapter in such an insane way. Some alien presence has appeared on the earth and destroyed the United States, and the only hope for the world are the black suited people from Gantz. The catastrophe is about to begin. Or not really about to begin, but will begin in a few months. Lana, maolekna na bai hu nangga esta ki makpo i series, pues bei taitai todu. Ti ya-hu este na munanangga!

"You should consider this to be equivalent to an act of God. Trying to change things is futile." Such an idea could be a motto for both mangas, in that both struggle in a world and against forces for which they don't know most of the rules. Guts literally struggles against Gods, while the characters of Gantz fight against forces which might as well be Gods, or God in the form of some unknown figure who torments them and like Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Allanon from the Shannara books rolled into one, who frustratingly refuses to reveal anything until the very end. It is always interesting to see what a writer can come up with to find a way out of these impossible situations, and is there a way in which you can surprise people, give them something they didn't consider, or find a new way of looking at something.

To kill a God takes great care in any world, and so its no wonder that these mangas are on hiatus.

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