This is an OWLS post. What is OWLS?
OWLS stands for Otaku Writers for Liberty and Self Respect. We are a group of otaku bloggers who promote acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.
This month’s topic is “fantasy” and all that word implies. We may be in for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride here.
I always like to start with a definition. If I do not, how can you know what I’m talking about? All words have different subjective meanings. It doesn’t mean your definition is wrong. It is merely descriptive of what I am talking about, not prescriptive of what you ought to think.
Musical fantasy is a story expressed instrumentally, not lyrically. In case you were curious, here is a very pure, very literal musical fantasy, Peter and the Wolf. The conductor explains every passage. I grew up with this. Please click on it!
An American in Paris (1928) by Gershwin is less explicit in its story telling. The story is told entirely by the music and without the help of a narrator. It told the story of Gershwin’s time in Paris in the 1920s so well that they made a 1951 movie from it starring Gene Kelly.
This Baroque piece, the Four Seasons by Vivaldi, is also a fantasy telling the story of the changing of the seasons. I remember playing it in high school band. It appears in many movies but most famously in the Disney 1940 animated masterpiece, Fantasia.
Everyone knows what Ravel’s Bolero is a fantasy about. It even ends in a musical orgasm. In Allegro non Troppo, a spoof of Disney’s Fantasia, it was used as background for an unusual parody of Fantasia’s evolution sequence. I absolutely recommend that anyone who has not seen either of these animated movies drop everything to watch them now!
It has been said that most orchestral pieces of the post-classical period are in some way fantasies.
Fooled you, didn’t I? Now on to the main event!
Be careful. There may be spoilers ahead.
Fantasy is how we deal with the frustration of life. Through it, we get to experience vicariously things that never happened. We can be the hero we never were in real life. Wrongs are righted, the villains in our lives get their just deserts and we get the boy(s) or girl(s) of our dreams. They also allow us to experience and work out “negative” emotions in a safe environment. Anger, fear, sadness, even the deepest of grief can be our fantasy.
Some fantasies are made up in your head from original thoughts. Your dreams at night are fantasies trying to make a story of all the random inputs you’ve experienced over a lifetime. There are also some very dark fantasies that speak to the potential for madness within us. I’m going to focus on media as a springboard to fantasy to meet our unmet needs.
What are some of those unmet needs?
You could be fantasizing about getting home to your partner and having mind blowing sex. The fantasy buildup could make the reality all the more spectacular when it does happen.
Maybe having the fantasy could give you the motivation to make the reality more likely to come true.
Maybe you tried and things did not work out. Sexual activity with another requires simultaneous interest from your desired partner and that can be a fail far more often than not. (At least it was for me when I was single.) Masturbatory fantasy can be a consolation when what you want just isn’t available.
No shame or guilt here or sense that a “real” man/woman doesn’t do such things. It is perfectly ok to fly solo.
Maybe you aren’t interested in anyone else. That’s perfectly ok too! There is no reason everyone should have to have a romantic partner if they don’t happen to feel lust for someone. To be aromantic is just another variation in the diversity of the human experience. Just ask Yuu from Bloom into You.
Experiencing powerful emotional responses in a safe environment.
Scary fantasies are popular among people who like “safe” adrenaline. If you have not seen the music video for Michael Jackson/Vincent Price’s “Thriller”, you haven’t lived!
Exciting fantasies can stimulate our adrenals. When adrenaline gets released the environment surrounding the release influences how they are interpreted. If it is a positive situation the effect is a kind of euphoria. We all know adrenaline junkies for whom this is important.
A violent game or anime might be just what you need to vent your frustration over the unfairness of life. I’d much rather have you blowing away sprites in Fortnite than shooting up a local venue for real. There is some research indicating that the decline in overall violence we’ve experienced in the US over the last 30 years corresponds to the increase in our ability to take those violent urges out virtually. It provides a pressure relief valve.
There is even evidence that the increase of sexting and ease of obtaining porn on the internet has reduced teen pregnancy rates. Maybe it is all those sexually explicit visual novels? Low risk fantasy crowding out high risk behavior among young people. Real interaction can be dangerous.
Mysteries are fantasies that challenge the intellect. A lot of us love a good puzzle. If we manage to solve it before the big reveal, so much the better. A little ping of happy juice. It’s great to be Sherlock at no risk to yourself. Sherlock wouldn’t get any more clients if he blew his cases but there’s no reason I shouldn’t try.
Friendship, Romance and Love
Most of my life was a perennial shortage of this. Well-done works about friends – or lovers – coming together despite personality quirks filled gaps in my life when I had neither friends nor a lover. I got to belong and be loved vicariously.
Fantasy can carry us through periods when life seems not worth the effort. Dreaming about things that we need but can’t have provides the endorphins we need to carry on when real life fails us.
There are bittersweet fantasies we watch to provoke the tears and feelings we need to express grief at the heartless thing that reality is. To cry without being hurt for real. Crying releases endorphins which can help us feel better when the crying is done.
Why else would I have pushed myself through “Your Lie in April” if a good cry wasn’t somehow rewarding?
Liz and the Blue Bird is an interesting romantic fantasy. Two girls, obviously very much in love, yet they are in danger of drifting apart for lack of communication. Neither one knows how to express what they need nor do they realize the other has needs that are
not being met for failure to express them. That is the romantic fantasy.
Beneath the main plot is the parallel fantasy of the storybook, Liz and the Blue Bird. It is a concurrent telling of the same story with a different ending. Where the anime concludes in an upbeat fashion, the storybook does not. It is more of a bittersweet fantasy, the kind that might draw some tears if it were front and center. But, being in the background, it instead makes you more concerned for the future of the main characters.
But even beyond this, there is the musical piece, a fantasy that the main characters will play. Pretty cool multilevel writing.
A Space Filler
Fantasies fill hours of boredom with something far more interesting.
All of entertainment is a fantasy. Not just that genre which involves wizards and witches and dragons. It is a scaffolding upon which we erect the fulfillment of our unmet needs. It whisks us away from our mundane existence to somewhere far more interesting.
We experience that which another person presents and build from there. We participate in a fictional experience as a new character, as a substitute for a character or as a fly on the wall watching. Good fiction authors have a vivid fantasy life. It is a story the author tells and the art and craft of creation is how he shares that fantasy with the world as entertainment.
And so we spend hours watching anime or reading or RPGing or just daydreaming because it is simply more interesting than anything else in our life at the moment. It is up to you to ensure it doesn’t interfere with anything important. Like not flunking out of school, preventing starvation, and avoiding homelessness.
The Forbidden Zone
You control the script of your fantasy. You create the world, the rules, the characters, and the plot. You can change your sexual preference, your gender, or any other intimate detail you like. Fantasize about things you’ve never done and don’t have a clue what they’d be like in real life. They can be things that are completely unacceptable in the real world. Things you’d never admit to, let alone try.
We haven’t gotten to that level of thought crime… yet.
Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t make you Anastasia or Christian.
Honestly, I think my fantasies are comparatively boring. There’s a switch in me that rewrites the script on the fly if I venture somewhere that I wouldn’t go IRL. I don’t get to divorce my wife or have an affair. I don’t get to murder people or torture them. I don’t get to be an old guy having sex with young girls. (I rewrite the script so that everyone is age appropriate and in a different reality.)
Nothing wrong with a good old fashioned incest fantasy that doesn’t involve a real sibling. Itsuki Hashima is obsessed with it. And he’s also harmless.
In my daydream, I can be on an alternate timeline where the world works differently. I can change my gender and explore alternate sexual preferences. No guilt there. Never chase a fantasy you truly feel guilty about having. It is not worth the hangover.
Lolicon and shoutacon are off the board for me. It makes me think of real children and that puts an end to it. I can’t enjoy an anime that sexualizes young children. Once a daddy, always a daddy.
I could very easily get in to rewriting my own life when I was very young. It was not a happy place. Maybe I’m fantasizing about being 27 or 18 or even 10 with an entirely different life than I really had. There is a lot of physical infirmity and emotional baggage I carry that I’d love to shed. Who doesn’t wish they could be young again and in a world that was far more supportive?
It’s great to be in love.
I’m not really thinking of
Leaving the straight life behind.
I’m just playing a game in my mind.
Fantasy doesn’t have to be futile. It can be a stepping off point to a whole new life.
If it is something I actually would – and could – do IRL, say, walking naked across San Francisco, there is a shift from the abstract to the concrete, from fantastic to possible. These fantasies are constrained by what is possible and what is moral. Idle daydreams turn into hope and speculation. From there they move into investigation and if the investigation affirms the practicality of the fantasy it might just move into the planning stage. You are still fantasizing but it is a fantasy of anticipation, rather than one of what can never be.
There is a great example of this in anime. A Place Further than the Universe is about four girls who turn an idle dream into a realistic hope, then a plan and then a reality. They fantasize about what it will be like all along the way. Each of the girls has her reasons for wanting to go.
Mari realizes her life is in a rut and she must break out of it or her youth will have been wasted on the mundane.
Hinata also wanted to do something exciting with her life before taking entrance exams and getting locked into the college-career-marriage life track.
Shirase had the fantasy of going to Antartica to find her mother who went missing on an expedition.
Yuzuki has the most interesting dream. Initially, she didn’t even want to go. Her dream was having normal friendships, something being a child actor had deprived her of. Going on this trip was her attempt to fulfill that dream.
Some fantasies are too painful to pursue.
The fantasy of doing things I could have done once but didn’t? It never happens. I don’t
fantasize about hiking the full Pacific Crest Trail because there is pain there. Pain in knowing I didn’t do it when I was young and fit and able, telling myself I had plenty of time ahead. Instead the merely mundane affairs of life held my attention. And of course, I didn’t have all that time that I’d assumed.
Imagine Mari declining her Antarctic adventure and then fantasizing about it for the rest of her life. How incredibly sad! Better to move on to something else.
I spent the night
With dreams that make you weep
Have you never had a fantasy that filled desperate needs and yet led only to despair?
My fantasies tend more towards things that could not have happened in my personal world. Or towards things that really could happen in the future. That way regret for not having done them when I could doesn’t ruin the fun. Nor does the pain of comparing what I needed to thrive with what I had to live with. One ought not use fantasy as an excuse to live in the past or relitigate old wrongs. Living in the past just makes the present worse.
To be young again!
I can plug my idealized self at the optimum age into an anime. Some variation of shipwrecked on a lush tropical island with people who care and the world does not interfere is one favorite. This fantasy has been running since as far back as my reliable memory goes. It combines romance with being a nudie, the zero to hero, isolation from a harsh society and the survival tropes all into one escapist daydream.
Decades before I knew anime existed, I was fantasizing about Gilligan’s Island but leaving all the stupid adults behind. (Except maybe for Mary Ann.) Instead, it
would be the fifth grade girl, 3 seats over, who I didn’t dare talk to because I already knew the response. The island isolates us from the world, giving her a chance to like me without peer pressure group pressure to the contrary.
Yes. I actually thought in those terms when I was ten.
Or maybe Island of the Blue Dolphins. Instead of her going back to the island after her brother, it is she who gets left behind and I (the social pariah) go back after her. I protect her from the wild dogs since li’l bro isn’t there to be eaten. We learn to care deeply for each other. Rewrite the damned script how I want it.
That was just how my little mind worked. And if today 18 year old me happened to be washed up on an island with the ladies of Are You Lost?, so much the better.
It is the trip that makes a great fantasy, not the destination. The story and not the conclusion.
To be the Hero
Westworld. Where nothing can go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…. Any fictional movie is a fantasy. This one is about going to an island to fulfill a fantasy. Only the fantasy goes terribly wrong and the hero has to sort it out.
Most anime is pure fantasy. You open your mind’s eye to see things that do not exist and immerse yourself in events that never happened. There must be a willing suspension of disbelief or the story never happens. In anime, a director presents their fantasy as a structure for your own. You provide the furniture.
Shounen is teenage male fantasy writ large and then edited for a PG rating. You either become the character or you substitute yourself for the character. MHA is the former, the classic zero to hero fantasy embraced by zeroes like me. Highschool DXD is an anime of the latter type. Very few boys want to become a megapowerful oppai demon who avoids getting past second base. It is a fantasy of what they would do in his place.
Personally, I prefer my harem protagonists to be powerful characters who deserve the love of those who love him. Someone I would want to be.
A great example is Yuuji Kazami from the Grisaia franchise. (I’m talking anime here, not the game.) Sure, he is young but he is of the adult world, a trained soldier and world class assassin. He has all the power of a James Bond, all of Bond’s irresistibility to women and – as a special bonus – Bond’s moral compass.
He still has much emotional scarring, so despite this he is vulnerable. His harem comes to his support just as decisively during his time of need as he came to theirs. (This particular incest subplot didn’t bother me at all.) Best of all they all end up on a tropical island together.
Mysteries are fantasies that challenge the intellect. A lot of us love a good puzzle. If we manage to solve it before the big reveal, so much the better. A little ping of happy juice. It’s great to be Sherlock at no risk to yourself.
riding my palomino
Silver Star, there you are, Silver Star
bigger than life, I reckon
Silver Star, there you are, Silver Star
Silver Star, Silver Star
chasin’ the banderilleros
Silver Star, there you are, Silver Star
Ain’t livin’ but I’m alive.
Sure cut me down to size.
I’ll let it go by this time.
Next time around, I swear,
gonna get me somewhere – somewhere.
bigger than Valentino
Silver Star, there you are, Silver Star.
ecstasy on their faces
Silver Star, there you are, Silver Star.
Moral clarity is a fantasy these days…
That you can’t put down at night
The hero knew what he had to do
And he wasn’t afraid to fight
The villain goes to jail
While the hero goes free
I wish it were that simple for me
So is freedom.
Running off to live in the woods alone was another fantasy of the young boy that was once me. Reading books like The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, really fueled those fantasies. These weren’t fantasies of finding love thru heroism and propinquity. They were fantasies of total freedom, absent all the cruelty of a social existence. At times, being the last human on Earth sounded really good.
Parents and other support/authority figures impinge on the anime fantasy. Support in terms of food, medicine, clothing, and housing magically appears. The parents both work all day and you are left to your own devices. Maybe they both work out-of-country. Perhaps a literal orphan or a figurative orphan.
Dad has left and mom is a drunk or always sleeping at her boyfriends. Or you have a part time job that pays way more than it should. How about being a professional Shogi player in middle school? Maybe the government supports you or there is a stipend from absentee parents. Or you can provide for your own food and shelter from your survival skills. This trope is not quite universal in anime but is so common as to be the dominant mode.
Freedom is itself a powerful fantasy. And we all live in chains to some degree.
Fantasy can go dark. Very dark.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch. Heaven is on the left, Hell on the right, and the middle is a big orgy. Below we see some details from Hell. That’s where the folks in the middle will all go if they don’t repent. I consider it a pretty dark fantasy.
If what you dream would hurt real people or get you in major trouble with the law, perhaps “Don’t dream it. Be it.” can be really bad advice. “Don’t be it. Dream it.” is how we need to handle such dark fantasies. This harkens back to the “pressure release” function of fantasy.
It is possible to be so obsessed with fantasy that one fails to perform proper maintenance on real life.
This brings up another dark fantasy. This one is about an obsession with fantasy instead of real life that destroys the fantasizer.
Our protagonist is a guy who at one time lived a normal life with a normal girlfriend. However…
ME!ME!ME! is about fantasy gone terribly terribly out of control – hentai obsession and drug use. Despite the best efforts of a loving and attractive flesh and blood woman who tries to connect and keep him with her in real life, he falls to ruin. His obsession eventually turns on him and destroys him.
We never hear the names of the characters here but if you look up the video, the guy’s name is Syu, his girlfriend is Hana and the digital females he is enamored of are all versions of Meme.
Cute and adorable Meme becomes something darker
Hana tries to save him but he rejects her for a video fantasy and smoking dope. Drugs are a way to scramble the brain and make fantasies more intense. Or just turn it off altogether when the world hurts too much.
He does try to escape when he realizes his situation. In video game fashion we can see him in some kind of power suit trying to fight off the Meme characters. He just can’t do it and is overpowered. The drug augmented video game fantasy becomes more and more bizarre and damaging until he cannot escape and is devoured.
What if your fantasy is all you have?
There is a Buddhist line of thought that says, literally, life is but a dream. Lucid dreaming is realizing that you are aware you are in a dream even though you are asleep. This way you can direct it where you want, much like you direct a conscious daydream. Deeper understanding informs us that all of life is a dream. The ideal is to take control of your life-dream and direct it.
Every day, Rin wakes up all alone. Nobody is there. All she has is her room and a computer tablet. With her tablet she creates her own reality. It is a reality of pure imagination, worlds that cannot exist, beauty beyond expression, impossible topography,
adventures that never end. She says she doesn’t mind being alone…
It is like the Buddhist vision of how life could be for everyone who fully masters the technique A perfectly enlightened being who lives anywhere and any time in whatever reality their consciousness wants. Except…
Memories keep intruding. A little girl running outside with her backpack. A loving father. A birthday party. A day at the park. Complex blueprints for some kind of craft. A massive strange planet low in the sky. Tubes and wires and a teddy bear. She misses her daddy and waits for his return. Her memories give her strength to carry on.
But until then she has the most glorious fantasy life a human could ever hope for. It is just alone.
Since all of anime is a fantasy, there are very many anime I could talk about. I think I’ll end it here. Previously we had Matt in the Hat, with “Kingdom Hearts” and next we have Shay and her great Youtube video about the romantic shoujo fantasy. Tomorrow we’ll have Nyan (aka Bibilonyan) talking about the “Inuyasha: Blood of the Flame” books. See ya around!