Friday, February 22, 2019

Sora's Character Development

A little goes a long way when it comes to displaying who a character is and making them endearing to the audience.

It doesn’t take much for me to fall in love with a character if the writers make time for character development. There’s something about seeing a character being themselves that I just adore.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2008 Viacom
Some of my favorite characters are from stories that take the time—even if it’s just one line of dialogue—to display something about who that character is. Spiderman’s quips as he webslings bad guys. Captain Jack Sparrow’s nervous tics when things aren’t going quite according to his plans. Prince Zuko’s frustrated proclamation that his appearance is not, in fact, a costume and that “[t]he scar’s not on the wrong side!” The littlest things can bring characters to life.

So it comes as no surprise that it was the little things the protagonist of Kingdom Hearts, Sora, would do and say that made me fall in love with his character back in 2002. Now, I’m always a sucker for Paragon characters: the shining heroes with unshakeable courage and kindness. But Sora went the extra mile; he wasn’t just a charming goody-goody; he had a few quirks that made him that much more realistic and charming.

For one thing, Sora had a reputation for being a bit lazy and lackadaisical. At the beginning of the original Kingdom Hearts, Sora wakes from a remarkably lifelike dream and is startled by his friend Kairi, who teases him for being his typical “lazy” self. “I knew I’d find you snoozing down here,” Kairi giggles.1

Sora also had a competitive streak, frequently challenging his best friend, Riku, whether through impromptu races or battles with makeshift wooden swords. With every competition, Sora kept track of his wins and losses, celebrating each victory and despondently tallying any defeat. But he remained persistent, challenging Riku as many times as the player desired.

And it wasn’t just in athletic ability that Sora competed with Riku. In one scene, Riku teases Sora about his obvious feelings for Kairi, and it becomes pretty clear early on that Riku wouldn’t mind Kairi’s attention, either, though neither boy openly admits their desires.

Sora could also be a bit of a punk. From getting into frequent arguments with allies to calling a complete stranger an “old man” to flat-out telling Riku when he was making a “stupid” mistake, Sora wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows all the time.2

It was little things like this that made Sora feel like a person rather than a character in Kingdom Hearts, little quirks that made his admirable qualities shine all the brighter. His childlike wonder and thirst for adventure were tempered by his lackadaisical, carefree attitude. His cheerful, friendly demeanor coexisted with his competitive side, which caused him to butt heads with certain individuals.

Through the first game, Sora slowly transformed from a naive islander to a young man who has lost everything he cares about and still continues to fight. In many ways, the main entries of Kingdom Hearts continue that same narrative: Sora facing increasing challenges in order to protect others.

Those challenges increase exponentially in Kingdom Hearts II, where Sora comes face-to-face with the main villain force in the series: a group known as Organization XIII. The majority of Kingdom Hearts II involves Sora clashing with the Organization as they attempt to manipulate him into doing their bidding. This conflict necessitated far fewer character development moments for Sora compared to the somewhat looser plot of the original Kingdom Hearts.

But not all character development was gone: we do see a bit of Sora’s inner struggles in Kingdom Hearts II. Sora has no idea, but during the previous year (when he’d been in an induced coma), there were experiments performed on him that created a bond between him and a young man named Roxas. Though Roxas had to be destroyed to wake Sora from his coma, Roxas’s memories still live inside Sora’s subconscious. When Sora encounters Roxas’s old friends, he finds himself inexplicably bonding with them and their home. Things he’s never seen before feel familiar, and when he must say goodbye to it all and move on with his adventure, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion to the point of tears. “You know what?” Sora murmurs to his traveling companions, “I’m sad,”3 even though he doesn’t understand why. Roxas’s lingering, ghost-like memories and feelings continue to guide Sora long throughout the series.

We also see Sora dealing with doubt as the Organization blackmails him. Though Sora is loathe to give any aid to villains who don’t care about others, the Organization is holding Kairi prisoner. The Organization instructs Sora to continue fighting the Heartless, as it will further their plans. Though Sora has been fighting the Heartless for years, he now wonders if he’s doing the right thing in continuing such a quest. For every monster he destroys, he may protect people in the short-term, but he’s also advancing the villains’ plans in the long-term. Should he continue fighting as he has been? How can he justify that, knowing every monster he defeats is strengthening the Organization and endangering the worlds? This moral dilemma is an unexpected development for Sora’s character, but a welcome one. We see that the story, and Sora, are maturing.

Beyond this, however, Sora’s character development moments are few and far-between in Kingdom Hearts II, as he’s far too busy tangling with the Organization to truly stop and have a bonding moment with other characters in the series. And that made me concerned.

There was so much I loved about Sora in the original Kingdom Hearts. He had a heart of gold, but he was sassy and brazen but not stupid. He had spunk to his good nature. So when Kingdom Hearts II came out, I enjoyed seeing Sora struggle in ways he hadn’t in the first game, but I became concerned that it came at the cost of Sora becoming a “goody two-shoes” stereotype. In any games past the first, Sora became less and less of a well-rounded person and more like his archetype: a Paragon who sought to fight for others. Not that I mind Paragons! But it felt like Sora had lost a little piece of himself. We saw little of Sora’s competitive streak; we saw little to none of his sass and back-talking. No, Sora was much more polite in Kingdom Hearts II, in part because he had grown up a good deal. But in growing up, he’d lost some of the fire that had made him so endearing to me.

Which is why his portrayal in Kingdom Hearts III is an excellent combination of aspects I loved about Sora’s character development from Kingdom Hearts I and II: the sass and the self-doubt are on full display in this game. It’s an incredibly refreshing return to form and an excellent display of how much Sora—and the storytelling—has grown and changed over the course of the series.

Sora has gotten more character development moments throughout the first 27 hours of Kingdom Hearts III than I’ve seen in any Kingdom Hearts game to date. While Sora remains his characteristic cheerful, optimistic self, we’ve seen plenty of tiny moments where he proves once again he’s not a perfect Paragon.

The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for

Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts III

You have been warned.

At the beginning of Kingdom Hearts III, two recurring villains bump into Sora and his constant traveling companions, Donald Duck and Goofy. Sora teases the villains for their bungled attempts in the past, as he’s always been there to stop them at every turn. But one of the villains comments how much weaker Sora seems than the last time they fought.

While ordinarily the cheery Sora could just let such a comment wash off his back as he jumps in to fight, this time it clearly catches him off guard. It stings a little. He’s left a bit at a loss for words, and you can see from the look on his face that he certainly acknowledges the truth of that statement.

In the game prior to Kingdom Hearts III, Sora nearly became a puppet of the main villain of the series. Sora’s friends narrowly saved him, but not without cost: the incident left Sora drained of much of his strength, and much of Kingdom Hearts III focuses on Sora training and rediscovering his lost abilities.

Goofy and Donald both notice Sora feeling taken aback, even commenting on it and asking if he’s all right. Sora tries to brush the comment off, saying he can “take it.”4 But it’s clear that the encounter is still bothering him long afterward.

It’s a tiny seed of self-doubt we haven’t seen Sora deal with before—not on such a personal level—and it makes perfect sense taking place here. Never before had Sora come so close to losing. It’s clearly shaken him up.

Indeed, Kingdom Hearts III places Sora’s feelings on display far more often than other games so far.

For example, though we’ve seen some instances of Sora expressing gratitude for his friends and experiences, there’s a poignant little scene in Kingdom Hearts III in which Sora openly states how much this world-exploring adventure with Donald and Goofy has meant to him. Immediately, however, he becomes embarrassed and deflects from the admission, teasing Donald and running off laughing as Donald gives chase, furious. It’s like watching two brothers pick on each other knowing that both of them still care deeply for one another.

But it’s not just moments of humbling self-doubt or touching gratitude we see Sora experiencing in this game. Later on, we see Sora cranking his charming, childlike insistence on helping people up to ten. When Sora learns of an ally who has been trapped in the dangerous Realm of Darkness for the past eleven years, he immediately proclaims that they need to go rescue her, with no concern for his own wellbeing... even though he doesn’t know how to get there.

But that doesn’t matter to Sora. His immediate reaction is to pull out his phone to try to call Riku, who does know the way to the dangerous realm.

Goofy and Donald frantically reiterate what Sora already knows: that until Sora learns a special ability to protect himself from the harmful effects of the Realm of Darkness, he simply can’t go.

Sora is distraught at this, frustrated. But he perks up immediately when his phone goes off. Hopeful it’s Riku, Sora eagerly answers... only to sink into his chair in dismay when it’s another ally instead.

“Is... this a bad time?” the ally asks as he glances at Sora’s disappointed face.5

It’s one of my favorite scenes of Sora being his selfless, caring, adorable self I’ve seen in the franchise so far. But it’s not my favorite scene overall.

One of the most moving moments for Sora’s development and growth is when he looks on as a friend is stabbed.

There has only been one actual death in the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise so far, and Sora was not present to see it. This is the first time he’s come face-to-face with the possibility of one of his friends dying. To see the cheerful, innocent Sora looking on in fear, dismay, and fury... it’s almost as shocking and painful for us as it is for Sora.

Each moment of character development in the Kingdom Hearts series may be short, but they’re never small. And none have struck me quite like those from Kingdom Hearts III. Though I’ve loved Sora since the first game, Kingdom Hearts III renewed my love for his character and has possibly brought it to new heights.

I can’t wait to see what other character development moments Kingdom Hearts III has in store for Sora and the rest of the cast, as well.

  1. Kingdom Hearts, Directed by Tetsuya Nomura, Written by Jun Akiyama, Daisuke Watanabe, and Kazushige Nojima, March 28, 2002, Square.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Kingdom Hearts II, Directed by Tetsuya Nomura, Written by Kazushige Nojima, December 22, 2005, Square Enix.
  4. Kingdom Hearts III, Directed by Tetsuya Nomura and Tai Yasue, Written by Tetsuya Nomura and Masaru Oka, January 29, 2019, Square Enix.
  5. Ibid.
Kingdom Hearts and all related terms are the property of Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd.; Donald Duck, Goofy, and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, February 15, 2019

Episode Review: Mob Psycho 100 - "Ripped Apart ~Someone Is Watching~" (S2E1)

This post will contain spoilers for

Mob Psycho 100 Season 2, Episode 1

You have been warned.

I saw great things from the newest season of Mob Psycho 100.

Familiar Old Faces

Never hurts to start strong: everything I loved about the first season was back.

Funimation 2019

The beginning monologue, which introduces the world of espers, has returned. Viewing it again felt like catching up with an old friend. We also still have villain spirits that are just the right amount of silly and slightly intimidating to introduce the show’s humor and Mob’s overpowered psychic abilities.

Funimation 2019

Funimation 2019
Mob’s employer Reigen, who uses Mob to exorcise evil spirits, is still conning the easily-conned. And, we find as Mob arrives at the client’s rural property in this episode, Mob is still asking Reigen to stop calling him to work on short notice. (And that brings up a question: how far did Mob have to travel just to get to this client’s house? Does Mob have a bicycle? I don’t recall seeing one in the first season. Does he have to keep paying bus fare each time Reigen calls him for a job? How does he even afford that on Reigen’s paltry salary? Reigen was paying Mob the equivalent of $3/an hour last season!)

Which, speaking of, Reigen is still paying Mob paltry sums and still trying to make money on get-rich-quick schemes.

Funimation 2019

I’ll never get tired of their shenanigans.

Anything else I was looking forward to seeing that didn’t make it into this episode was at least hinted at through the new opening.

Opening Impressions

We see plenty of our main boys looking cool: Mob, Reigen, Mob’s younger brother Ritsu, and their fellow esper Teru are all prominently featured. I can’t wait to see more of all four of them, especially since I felt Teru didn’t get much time to shine as an ally last season.

We also see the big bad group Claw is still in play, including—if the visuals are to be believed—their most intimidating member, the psychotic Koyama, who I found to be the most interesting of the villains by far.

Koyama's pretty much terrifying. Funimation 2019

Sho Suzuki, Funimation 2019
Though with that said, I’m also eager to see more development for the leaders of Claw, the father-son duo of Toichiro and Sho Suzuki. I really hope the son, Sho, becomes a prominent antagonist for Mob to butt heads with, similar to how Teru was in season one.

Plot Progression that Matters

All the things I loved about the first season are present again, but better still, Mob Psycho 100 continued plot threads they didn’t get to wrap up fully in season one. The school reporter, Mezato, is meeting with the remainder of a cult Mob rescued from an evil spirit. The student council president, Kamuro, is apologizing publicly after he’d set up one of the students in an effort to get the student expelled. Kamuro himself, who was a total wreck in season one, is now all cleaned up and running for student council president again to redeem himself. It’s continuations like these that prove this show believes the first season mattered, which is a great way to start any new season in my book.

Exciting New Events

There’s also plenty of new developments the show already hinted at or introduced just in this first episode alone...

Funimation 2019

For instance, Mob’s already gained a new ability, and that’s something I’m super psyched to see. What other new abilities is Mob going to learn this season? How is he going to use or develop this one?

Funimation 2019
Mob’s family dynamic is also visibly more healthy this season. Whereas Ritsu revealed in season one how he’s been living in anxiety under Mob’s shadow and was jealous of Mob’s psychic abilities, they’ve had time to work things out, and Ritsu seems genuinely happy for and concerned about his older brother. Not to mention, Mob’s mother, who in season one was notoriously always giving Mob a hard time about his powers, does no nagging whatsoever in this episode. It’s great to see his whole family having a healthy moment together.

There even seems to be some hints at a love triangle—or love quadrangle?—that may develop this season. It’s funny to see Mob at the center of so many girls’ attentions, between school reporter Mezato scheming to turn him into a cult star to his childhood crush Tsubomi finally noticing him again for the first time since their childhood to a third girl from school, Emi, being inspired to write a story about him.

Funimation 2019

This Season’s Themes

I’m also really enjoying seeing the not-so-subtle hints about how Mob will grow this season. The opening proudly proclaims this season’s main theme: “Your life is your own.”1

Funimation 2019
Mob needing to chart his own course isn’t exactly a new theme for this show (we saw bits of it in the first season), but season one’s primary theme was about Mob experiencing his feelings and accepting them, rather than acknowledging his feelings are valid and chasing after what he wants. But in this season, what Mob wants is front and center. This is nowhere more evident than when Emi turns to Mob and asks: “[C]ould it be... that you don’t even have feelings?... Like, your own opinions.”2

Initially, her question seems to echo the evil spirit Dimple’s sentiment from season one. When Mob confronted Dimple, the spirit mocked Mob’s stoicism by arguing he must not have emotions at all. “The feelings of people resonate with one another, you know,” Dimple taunted, “But you’re unable to do that. You can’t... even be moved.”3

But this season takes the idea a step further. Emi inquires, “Could it be that you don’t even have feelings?” but then she clarifies it by adding, “Your own opinions... Did you only run for president because someone told you to?” This transforms the question “Do you not have feelings?” into “Are you really charting your own course, or are you letting other people tell you what to do without considering your own desires?”

It may be a painful question for Mob to hear, but it’s an important one. Mob has indeed been doing things because other people want him to, not because he wants to. Emi’s question spurs Mob to not only acknowledge and accept his emotions, but also to act on them.

Funimation 2019
When Mob overhears Emi’s so-called “friends” tearing up the novel she’d worked so hard to write, Mob comes to defend her... because it’s what he wants to do. “I don’t think this is trash...” he says as he kneels down to pick up the shredded novel piece by piece. “I’ll take it. I made the decision to consider my feelings more.” And, Mob finishes with tears brimming in his eyes, “And you need to pick up things you feel are important.”4 Though my memory of season one needs a refresher, I’m fairly certain this is the first time we have ever seen Mob cry, a key cornerstone in his emotional development.

What’s even more beautiful to me is that it’s not just Mob who’s going to grow emotionally this season. Emi becomes more emotionally honest because of Mob, too. Whereas before she was all about pretending—pretending to ask Mob out or pretending not to care about writing while with her so-called friends, Mob helped her open up. Mob’s actions encouraged Emi to be brave enough to show her book to someone for the first time. And when Emi’s so-called friends made fun of her book, Mob spurred her to cherish her work no matter what they said. Mob helped Emi become emotionally honest even though he struggles with it himself.

Funimation 2019
The scene where Mob and Emi pick up the pieces of her novel brings up another interesting theme. As they scramble to rescue the novel shards, a wind picks up the pieces and billows them away. Emi stares at one of the last remaining fragments: “No going back,”5 it says. It seems like this is going to be yet another show that points out how it’s important not to get stuck in the past, to let it go because there’s no going back. Imagine my surprise when, rather than settle for that answer, Mob uses his psychic powers to bring all the pieces back and put them together again. This show actually spurns the idea of “No going back,” no holding onto the past! I’m not certain I’ve ever seen a story touch on such a theme. But it makes sense for Mob Psycho 100: that past is something Emi worked hard to achieve; it meant something important, so it shouldn’t be cast aside. Mob rescues Emi’s past work, and that past work leads into the future: serving as inspiration for a new story Emi writes. This scene suggests that the past is the way forward.

Funimation 2019

With so many good things to look forward to—from deep themes, promising new content, and all the old familiar things I loved about season one—Mob Psycho season two is looking incredibly promising. It’s as pretty dang close to a 10/10 in my book as you can get. Though, as with anything, it’s not quite perfect.

My Few Complaints

Though I’m quite interested to see how things will go with Emi, I will admit that she did kind of come out of nowhere. I think her introduction would’ve felt more natural if her plot thread had tied to Mezato instead of being a completely separate plot line. Mezato’s goal was to increase Mob’s self-esteem so he could become the cult star, so when her plan to get him to run for student council president didn’t work out, the next logical step would be for her to try something else: something like bribing Emi to shower Mob with attention and praise to boost his confidence.

At any rate, Emi won me over fast, so it makes me sad she didn’t have much time to develop. I think I would’ve rather seen her arc play out over the course of three episodes rather than just the one.

I’m also slightly frustrated to see a potential love triangle emerging. I really don’t think Tsubomi deserves a second chance with Mob after the way she treated him when they were kids, so I hope Mob sees that too, even if he does initially fall for her again. I may not like Tsubomi, but considering how hard Mob fell for her (she did indirectly kickstart Mob’s attempts at self-improvement), she is indeed a plot thread that needs to be tied up. Knowing that, I can forgive the love triangle. Or quadrangle if Mezato really does like Mob as I assume.

Funimation 2019
My only other complaint—which is hardly a complaint at all—was that I was surprised we didn’t see the budding espers from the Awakening Lab in this episode. I was worried we wouldn’t see them at all this season, but my concern was allayed when I noticed them in the opening. I have a feeling they’ll come into play later this season, especially knowing the big bad group Claw is still out there.

The Conclusion

With only those minor complaints, it’s plain to see this season oozes with possibility. It’s sure got me excited, and I can’t wait to check out the rest of season two!

Notes and References:
  1. Mob Psycho 100 opening, Season 2, Directed by Yuji Oya, 2019, Funimation.
  2. Emi, Mob Psycho 100, “Ripped Apart ~Someone Is Watching~,” Season 2, Episode 1, Directed by Yuji Oya, January 7, 2019, Funimation.
  3. Dimple, Mob Psycho 100, “An Invite to a Meeting ~Simply Put, I Just Want to Be Popular,” Season 1, Episode 3, Directed by Katsuya Shigehara, Written by Hiroshi Seko, July 26, 2016, Funimation.
  4. Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, Mob Psycho 100, “Ripped Apart ~Someone Is Watching~,” Season 2, Episode 1, Directed by Yuji Oya, January 7, 2019, Funimation.
  5. Mob Psycho 100, “Ripped Apart ~Someone Is Watching~,” Season 2, Episode 1, Directed by Yuji Oya, January 7, 2019, Funimation.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from VRV.

Mob Psycho 100 and all related names and terms are the property of Funimation.

From Him, To Him

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Archetypal Characters of Kingdom Hearts

Photo by Sime Basioli on Unsplash

Kingdom Hearts is a powerfully atmospheric video game series: the iconic opening cutscenes prove this time and time again. Characters fall into an ocean that dissolves into air as they land on stained-glass windows that shatter underfoot. Utada Hikaru’s Japanese pop music accompanies these visuals, providing an otherworldly and yet somehow familiar and powerfully emotional sound. No other story has quite the same dream-like, philosophical atmosphere as Kingdom Hearts. Somehow this series manages to balance abstract concepts like the heart and soul with concrete ones like emotions and friendship.

This atmospheric focus works hand in hand with the many mythic aspects of Kingdom Hearts. In addition to its plot arcs of good versus evil, the characters are generally more archetypal rather than personable.

This is why I have often felt an equally loving yet vastly different connection to Kingdom Hearts’s characters than I did the characters of my favorite TV show, Avatar: The Last Airbender. While the cast of Avatar feels more like fully-fleshed out people, many of the Kingdom Hearts characters feel slightly less personable because they are archetypal. There is an element of myth surrounding each one, even the more grounded characters like the cheerful protagonist, Sora.

Whether we examine Kingdom Hearts’s characters through the lens of the eight archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey or Carl Jung’s twelve archetypal personalities, it quickly becomes clear just how archetypal the cast of Kingdom Hearts truly is. Sora is a textbook Campbellian Hero, an everyman and the lead character through whose eyes we view the story. He discovers there’s an entire universe to explore, but it’s totally different from the tiny island he calls home.1

Sora also fits in quite well with Jung’s Caregiver archetype: his deepest desire is to help and protect others, which enables him to make friends at every new world he visits. But this drive doesn’t come without a cost; as with Jung’s Caregiver archetype, Sora’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.2 His drive to protect others pushes him to have little to no concern for his own wellbeing, pressing him into dangerous situations that his friends must often rescue him from. He is naive and easily exploited by the manipulative and clever main villain.

You can practically run down either Campbell or Jung’s lists and immediately come up with characters that fit the archetypes. Campbell’s Mentor is Squall Leonhart in Kingdom Hearts 1, a wise warrior who instructs Sora how to use his new weapon, the keyblade, to fight in the outside world. Sora’s lifelong Allies are Donald Duck and Goofy, companions who trek with him through the entire adventure (or at least most of it). Sora’s friend and rival, Riku, rises as a Shadow to oppose Sora and show what terrible things Sora could do should he choose to give into his darker desires.3 As for Jungian archetypes, Riku exemplifies the bold Hero who fears being weak and fearful. Kairi, another friend of Sora’s, is a textbook Lover, committed to supporting Sora on his adventures any way she can. Ansem the Wise, an almost-legendary scholar, is the definition of a Sage, seeking the truths of the heart by using his vast intellect.4

Archetypal characters such as those of Kingdom Hearts are very different from the warm, personable, “realistic” characters in shows such as Avatar. But neither kind of character is inherently bad; rather, each one serves a different purpose and is better-suited for different kinds of stories. For instance, Kingdom Hearts needs its characters to be archetypal in order for the atmospheric and philosophical story to work. If the entire cast were down-to-earth, personable characters, they would constantly be at odds with the fictional universe itself, questioning how the world works rather than accepting its laws and guiding the viewer into the themes the story seeks to examine. But less personable characters would never work for a story like Avatar, which relies heavily on its charming cast to invest viewers in the plot.

Each kind of character has its pros and cons, and archetypal characters are no exception. There’s a reason why archetypes are so powerful in storytelling: they’re universally understood and relatable. With archetypal characters, this lends to an interesting benefit: they allow us to impose our various interpretations onto them. This allows us to highlight aspects of the characters that endear them to us more. Even if our interpretation doesn’t match someone else’s, the characters still feel universal (that is, we can agree on reasons why we love, say, Sora) because they have aspects everyone recognizes too: their archetypal qualities.

The archetypal characters of Kingdom Hearts allow players to superimpose their own interpretations onto the cast while keeping the characters “in character.” Sora is generally cheerful and always ready to make a new friend. And as long as people include those key aspects of his personality, they can generally make stories and art featuring him in a variety of situations that still feel like Sora.

This happens all the time with The Legend of Zelda’s protagonist, Link. The fanbase loves depicting Link with more personality than he displays in the games, because in the games (at least the ones we Zelda fans acknowledge), Link never actually speaks. He has little personality on his own (or what is there, you have to dig a bit deeper to find). Call him a blank slate character if you want, but Link is certainly an archetypal hero character and as such has some very noticeable key qualities (heroism, courage, persistence, thirst for adventure) but little else to tie him to one particular interpretation; he’s open to many interpretations concerning how he would act. For instance, many artists depict Link as a slightly goofy but strongly compassionate person. Some focus on Link’s protective qualities (especially Link from Breath of the Wild, in which he is canonically a guardian of the princess Zelda). Some highlight his rugged outdoorsmanship and combat skills tempered with a generally quiet nature. Some portray him as upbeat and playful. In fact, artist Ferisae [LINK: ] is one of many fans who attribute different personality traits and characteristics to each Link from every game to make them distinct people rather than the same minimalistic blank slate hero character. This wouldn’t be possible (or at least would feel like these fans are taking too many liberties with a character’s established personality) if the character weren’t an archetypal one.

Kingdom Hearts’s characters are similar. Though far from being blank slate characters like Link, most of Kingdom Hearts’s characters possess a few specific traits but have few moments of pure character development. This is, again, due to their archetypal nature. It requires them to not necessarily be as fleshed-out as characters would be in other series, because it must leave room for the mystique of the game’s atmosphere and for alternate interpretations.

The archetypal nature of Kingdom Hearts’s characters also explained why I felt more of a personal connection to a group of characters who were introduced much later to the series—Terra, Aqua, and Ven—versus the original three-character friend group (Sora, Riku, and Kairi): because we get to see more of Terra, Aqua, and Ven just being human rather than fighting through the games as the archetypal Paragon protagonist (Sora), Hero/Shadow (Riku), and Lover (Kairi).

While we see hints of Sora, Riku, and Kairi leading normal lives, most of this character development occurs at the beginning of the first game. After this point, the three are largely either off having adventures or floating through the events of the plot. Though we have a sense of who they are as individuals, we don’t really see them having as many personal interactions.

Terra, Aqua, and Ven—or the Wayfinder Trio, as the fanbase has taken to calling them—are different. Though they’re still hopping from world to world saving the day like Sora, the Wayfinder Trio also has many more moments where they’re thinking about each other or where they meet up and express their thoughts, goals, and concerns to one another. And because they’re a bit more grounded, I connected with this trio almost immediately; in some ways, even deeper than I’d connected with the characters I’d started this journey with. It was a bittersweet realization as I found myself treasuring these newcomers in ways I simply hadn’t treasured the main trio of Sora, Riku, and Kairi.

But then everything changed when I started to watch my brother play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Now, Kingdom Hearts 3 is by no means a perfect game. There are plenty of things they do right (far too many for me to list here); there are things they don’t do well. But one thing the game does excellently is develop the characters (especially Sora and Kairi) in ways they simply didn’t as much in previous games.

It was a pleasant shock to see one particular character I’d always thought of as more of a static archetype turning into a fascinating balance between archetype and living, breathing person. So much for simple archetypes!

But I’ll have to save that for another post two weeks from now.

Notes and References:
  1. Chris Winkle, “The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey,” Mythcreants (blog), February 7, 2014, accessed February 6, 2019.
  2. Carl Golden, “The 12 Common Archetypes,” SoulCraft (blog), 2015, accessed February 6, 2019.
  3. Chris Winkle, “Eight Character Archetypes.”
  4. Carl Golden, “The 12 Common Archetypes.”
Kingdom Hearts and all related names and terms are the property of Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd.; Donald Duck, Goofy, and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, February 1, 2019

Storytime: "Adventures" at My First Writer's Conference

I’m learning quickly that writer’s conferences are all about contrast. There’s going to be some really fun things and new opportunities that get me pumped about writing. There’s also going to be some difficult things that throw me out of my comfort zone. Some... adventures, you could say.

I had plenty of emotional “adventures” during my most recent writer’s conference at Realm Makers last year. But the first conference I went to really took the cake when it came to challenges. Oh, the conference itself was fun, and I learned a lot.

But boy was it a harrowing experience.

You know Murphy’s Law? This felt like an object lesson in Murphy’s Law. Because it seemed like whatever could have gone wrong on a nice weekend with great weather at a pretty campsite did, in fact, go wrong.

Going to my first writer’s conference was probably the furthest out of my comfort zone I’d ever been in my life up until that point (I am a very comfortable first-world individual). I hadn’t been away from my family for that many days in a row (besides college) in a good ten years or so: back when I’d gone to a summer camp with a friend and had vowed off summer camps ever since.

So I was understandably nervous when I went to this conference, which took place at a camp three- to four hours away from my home state. No commuting that thing; I’d have to stay in a cabin by myself for three straight days. I also couldn’t drive, so as soon as my parents dropped me off, I was basically marooned. If I wanted to go anywhere, I’d have to walk.

I knew no one here, and without internet, all I had for contact with the outside world was my cell phone, which I used to call a friend of mine each night for some semblance of company. Otherwise, I was devoid of every shred of my support base. I was on my own.

No going back, I thought to myself as I dropped my bags on the floor of the little single-person cabin I’d rented for the conference.

The challenges started out incredibly small, despite my crippling shyness and introversion being challenged every day. For instance, there was the slight problem of my cabin not having much insulation. The single-person cabin was adorable and cozily-furnished, but it got pretty cold in the evening. At night, I had to burrow under my thick blankets for warmth despite it being a very mild early autumn.

No big deal. I enjoyed bundling up.

No, the real problems began the second night, when my wisdom teeth decided to emerge like butterflies from their cocoons. Let me tell you, I have a newfound appreciation for teething toddlers. How children deal with that level of pain, I’ll never know. My medicine could only take the edge off, though even that was a welcome relief. I was popping pills like clockwork every six hours or else I was in excruciating pain as my teeth sliced their way through my gums. I’d awake in the middle of the night to my mouth wild with pain. Not fun.

You know what else wasn’t fun? Realizing I was out of a very necessary healthcare product and that this campsite had no canteen to purchase them.

This was in the age where smart phones were just becoming a thing, and my family certainly couldn’t afford them yet, so all I had was my very dumb, zero-internet flip phone. There was also no WiFi available in my cabin, so the most technology I had was pounding away at my laptop’s copy of Microsoft Word. Good for writing. Not so helpful for looking up directions to the nearest convenience store. If I wanted to find one, I’d have to hoof it and hope for the best... and hope I could find my way back.

And, again, knowing a grand total of zero people at the conference (and with only a fraction of them staying at the camp like I was), I had no choice but to venture out on my own.

I was terrified as I stepped out of my cabin, but my task was absolutely necessary. There was no getting around it; I had to make this trip, whether I wanted to or not.

My panic abated somewhat as I walked through the campsite though. It was nice weather, and the camp was really beautiful, especially at this time of year.

But as I walked past the sign that welcomed newcomers to camp and found myself heading through a neighborhood toward the street my parents had taken to get here, I started to get more and more nervous. It was late in the day by this point, since I’d just gotten done with my conference lectures for the evening. How long would it take for me to find a store? Was it going to get dark by the time I headed back? Would I even remember the way back?

Using what little survival skills I had, I made sure to continually glance over my shoulder to see how the way back would look when I returned. Once I got to the street, I noted which turns I’d made and began counting blocks.

I trudged on and on and on, and with each step I took further and further from camp, my anxiety deepened. I’d been walking for a while now, and this part of town didn’t look fantastic. It was broad daylight, but I was a young woman by myself who clearly didn’t know where she was going. Perfect target for someone who wanted to cause trouble. That didn’t help to assuage my nerves at all.

There was more distress when the sidewalk abruptly disappeared and I realized I’d need to cross the very busy street with no intersections for pedestrians in sight. By this point, I was far from camp, I was in pain from my tooth, I was tired, and I was terrified I was going to get run over.

This was not my kind of adventure at all.

I managed to get across the busy road and walked a few more blocks before finally, thankfully, I arrived at a gas station. There was quite a bit of embarrassment on my part as I trudged up to the counter with my very personal product; but by this point, I was too tired to truly care.

My quest was nearly complete. Now I just had to find my way back.

Just like when I’d initially set out, my anxiety had lessened significantly by the time I began my victorious march camp-bound. But the further I got, the more worry began to rear its ugly head. I began to second-guess myself: That business doesn’t look familiar. Did I go too far? Where do I need to turn, again? Will I recognize the area, or am I going to overshoot the mark and get myself miserably lost?

Fortunately, my memory pulled through: I did indeed recognize the road I needed to turn down to head back to camp. Seeing the goal line in sight filled me with a fresh burst of energy, and I made it back long before dark set in.

Still, I was quite grateful to be back in my snug little cabin as I watched the sunset bathe the camp in its twilit glow.

With my quest complete, I settled down, satisfied I had conquered my goal... and my fears.

Who would’ve thought popping down to the local gas station could feel so harrowing?

From Him, To Him