But how could you live and have no story to tell?
White Nights – Dostoyevsky
In many aspects I am a romantic. Not a romantic in the sense of being romantic with a girl, but more in appreciating love and happiness over all else. I hate and despise films and books who have tragic endings simply for the sake of Realism™. Yes, there is tragedy. Yes, there is suffering and pain and death. But to always take a view of love as something that will inevitably lose is not realistic. It is fatalistic and unrealistic.
These good stories where love and goodness wins – in spite of obstacles and not without them – have some transcendental significance which seems to defy all of reality, giving the sense that reality is not as real as it ought to be. That it is either a transient phase to something actual, or a paradise that has been lost.
There is a short story by my favourite author, Dostoyevsky, called “White Nights”. It is actually a type of tragedy, but it is about a man meeting a girl each day for a few weeks during the St. Petersburg white nights, and his complete love for her. It did turn out badly, for him, at the end. But still those nights emphasize the point of the title.
In the period of half a day I came across two such stories. The first is an anime. I’m not a lover of anime, so when a friend wanted me to watch Sword Art Online (SAO) I was rather skeptical. “Oh, another RPG style anime where the lead character dominates everyone in typical DragonballZ type of action”. That was the kind of thought in my head. But hey, procrastination leads you to do almost anything. And in truth the first few episodes were rather generic. It’s about some game designer trapping thousands of people into his virtual world, without the option of escaping: if you die in the game you die in real life.
At one point there was a scene where the lead character, Kirito, invited a girl, Asuna, who was “second in command of the most powerful guild” to simply take a day off. I then started to reflect on how anime tends to be rather shallow when it comes to romance. From the few romantic relationships I’ve seen, whether in Attack on Titan, DanMachi, and others, they all tend to be somewhat shallow. Love would be a motivation, as in DanMachi, where the adventurer Bell set out to impress a girl – again the typical reserved, but impressively overpowered female commander. And indeed it is a good anime. Or in Attack on Titan where there is an implied romantic relationship between Eren and Mikasa, with them going to some lengths to save each other, but still nothing much deeper. I began to think of Japanese anime as preferring this lighthearted “unsaid but true” kind of love.
But then SAO started to move away from the generic RPG “save the world” trope and began to be a whole lot more deeper. It slowly (and I appreciate it being done slowly) built up the relationship between Kirito and Asuna. Then since one impressively done scene where Asuna saved Kirito, and he kissed her, the anime took a strong romantic focus. They began to reflect on how only their relationship matters, with even escaping the game becoming a kind of side issue. Heck, they even got married! They really wanted to stay in this virtual world, together. But at the end they reflected on how they still prefer the real life, wanting to go on real dates and really get married. It really did make me think about whether I would also want to wake up to the real world, if this one is so much better. It reminds you of The Matrix where you can relate to Cypher preferring the virtual world over the real one. But I digress. My point is that everything revolved over their relationship, and twice their love for each other was the main reason for overcoming the game, even at the point of both of their “deaths”. At the end Kirito wakes up in a hospital, skinny and in ill health (they’ve been in de-facto comas for two years), struggling to walk down the hallway as he searched for Asuna.
Love overcame all odds. I love this kind of cliche stuff!
The second story is, according to some people, the best novel ever written: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
I was impressed from the start at the way Tolstoy described Russia, and especially the beginning where Levin met Kitty at a skating park, intending to propose to her. But things went shallow and I began to dislike the book. The focus on the adulterous affair between Anna and her lover, Vronsky, began to put me off, as did Levin’s turn to pessimism after being refused by Kitty as she preferred Vronsky over him… only for him to fall in love with Anna. I don’t want to read such things, such vile immoral stuff. If it is a stepping stone to something even greater, then yes. But for a few days I stopped reading it.
And then now, halfway through, Levin finally met Kitty again. And the way Tolstoy describes their meeting, and the way time went by so slowly for Levin as he waited to see her the next day as they wanted to announce their betrothal, it is all so pure and full of love. I love that.
I don’t know yet how the book will turn out. Perhaps everyone will be unhappy at the end. I don’t know. But I just love this.