AstCd2: Surely, Surely

There is a reassuringly human quality in each of us which, while requiring only a cursory examination to verify, is nonetheless fascinating to observe. To wit: we have a tendency — "preference" would not be an overstatement — to see things from the perspectives (or perhaps more accurately, in the contexts) with which we are most familiar. If we read of order being overthrown and the weak being preyed upon in the instant the rules of society are lifted, can there be any doubt that The Lord of the Flies is a story about the savageness of man's unadulterated nature? If we are presented with a deeply cynical, apparently unfeeling protagonist whose actions nonetheless contradict her words and thoughts, is it not only natural to conclude that Keritai Senaka is a story about the peculiar, sometimes awkward forms which affection can take?

And if, as in the case of Moonshine, we see an unusual heroine who struggles to find a place for herself in a critical, unaccommodating world, then surely — surely this must be a story about tolerance and the overcoming of prejudices.

And surely enough, it is.

Each of the interpretations discussed above is as correct as it is well-worn, each being a goat trail down which we have frequently wandered during a lifetime's exposure to fiction. It would be the rare reader whose could claim that his or her very first impressions were significantly different.

And yet, in each of these works (and of course, innumerable others) runs a myriad of more subtle undercurrents — themes which are sometimes obscured by the more easily recognised elements that seize our attention, but nonetheless remain present in the background, patiently awaiting the reader's attention.

There are a number of such themes in Moonshine, but the one example which the translator would like to draw attention to (if out of nothing but concern that the work be read in more than just the simple context above) is that of "transience".

Immediately, one can see this evidenced in the motifs used throughout the story — the cherry blossom tree, appearing in its various stages of bloom as well as in Mai's song; the changing of the seasons, complete with the sounds of the short-lived cicadas; the plot of the movie, in which war changes the lives of all involved, and even the cultivation and growth of the protagonist's hydroponic vegetables.

More significantly, however, the theme is also observable in — and serves to tie together — a great part of the plot itself which would, from alternative perspectives, seem perhaps unremarkable or even unnecessary. With this theme in mind, we can see that Mai has moved on from the story of her past, and is now faced with moving on again to achieve her dreams, bringing her time together with the protagonist to an inevitable end. In response, throughout the course of the story, the protagonist (whose health and fortunes have already been shown to be impermanent) must reconcile himself with the inevitability of change — gradually, at first, through his indirect questions as to the manner in which Mai sings and vague irritation at the limited duration of their date, and more fully as the story comes to a climax — before he is able to undergo his own physical and mental change.

This, at least to the translator's mind, is a far more satisfying reading of the story than the one which first came to mind.

What, then, have we really concluded here? "What you have said is fine," a thoughtful reader might now point out, "but it is trite merely to say that a story can have more than just the one obvious theme."

And surely enough, it is.

What we should all be doing instead, of course, is remembering it.

30 November 2008