Friday, April 27, 2012

The Power of Memories

Zion National Park in Utah, a gorgeous place.
Do you remember the first time you set foot in a Yosemite National Park? As you stepped out of the vehicle, your mouth is agape of nature’s beauty. Your head moved in wonder, as you looked at the sheer cliffs accented by gorgeous waterfalls, in the silence you hear a bird in the distance flying from a granite cliff to a pine tree, the sunlight hitting rocky walls to illuminate your spirit. Now, you are at peace with the world and nothing can go wrong. What I just did was conjure up a memory; if you went to Yosemite, my words would create a vivid image of your first experience. Memories are little vignettes we have of the past that we play over long after they happened. Some memories are joyous, brining smiles on our faces as we recount tales of the past. Other memories are sad, leaving us with a bitter tale that we hesitate to recount. Memories are powerful because they shape us and they are a strong motivator that pushes people long after the event has happened. Anime and manga use memories in interesting ways, and I will give some advice to create great memories of your own.

Good memories are something we treasure, and it is a strong motivator for people. In anime and manga, memories of the past strongly motivate characters in a variety of ways. In Kaleido Star, one of my favorite anime of all time, memories are a strong motivator for Sora Naegino and her rival Layla Hamilton. Sora decided to fly to America and join the circus because the great memories of being with her mom and dad in the circus before they died. Layla decided to join the circus because it was the only time Layla’s father could be with her and her mother. The two characters were driven by the memories they had as children to become circus stars. As Sora dealt with her trials and tribulations, she used that memory as a motivator to continue her dream. Another example is Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece, as a young man he dreamed of being a pirate. After accidentally swallowing some Devil Fruit, he is saved by a pirate who subsequently loses his arm. On that day, he swears to be the greatest pirate who has ever lived. The memory of the past is a strong motivator for the lead character to obtain their goals.

Bad memories are something that haunts us, and depending on our actions, it can be a strong motivator or a weight that will eternally hold us back. In the context of an anime, manga, or video game there is a thin line with how bad memories are dealt with that separates a hero and a villain. A classic example of this is Naruto, from the eponymous hero from the Naruto manga. Memories of his childhood are dark, with him being a lone wolf who was ignored. Instead of moping about it, he decided to use those memories of loneliness as a motivator to prove the naysayers wrong. Bad memories can also hold a person back or can be a motivator for nefarious goals and misdeeds. The classic example of that is Lelouch vi Britannia from Code Geass, who used his bad memories to foster hatred for his father and to pursue the goal of toppling his family’s empire. A major plot point in the development of an antagonist is the weight of a bad memory that continues to haunt and eat away the villain. As I mentioned before, the line between using bad memories as a way to creative positive change and negative change is very thin, and that is the thin line between a protagonist and an antagonist in many franchises.

Memories create our identity, and the absence of such memories is also a key plot point in many series. Typically, a character with a dark or traumatic past will have some sort of memory loss. It could be that they forcefully forget the memory as a coping mechanism. In other instances that they had a physical blow that caused memory loss. Memory loss is a central plot point in many video games like Tales of Graces, Xenogears, and Umineko no Naku Koro Ni. Typically, in those games, the revelation of the plot twist is a main turning point in the story that changes the dynamic of the storyline. For example, when the people find out the background of Fei in Xenogears, they interact with him differently since his origins are important to the world. Unfortunately, many people lose memory in advanced age with a disease called Alzheimer’s. This is not a plot used in many games, but it is an advance disease that is crippling because it robs someone of their precious memories. There is no cure, and there are studies currently that are trying to determine a relationship with this disease and genetic factors, exercise, intellectual stimulation, and other forms of preventative measures.

A common statement by many people I know is that they do not have many memories, or at least not many pleasant memories to look back at. This statement is unfortunately very false, since memories are generally created, not made. You cannot have a good memory of going to Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park if you have not made plans to go to those places. Simply put, until a person takes the initiative and actively goes to places to create memories, there will be no memories to create to look fondly back at and recall to others. Recounting how you sat at your computer, browsing on the internet does not make for a compelling narrative as it is exploring a bustling city and meeting eccentric locals or hiking grand trails, only to meet a family of deer. Until a person actively goes out to create memories, a fond memory will not be created.

Memories are created from experiencing something that has a strong personal impact. This memory can be a positive memory to motivate and sustain in harder times. When this memory is negative, the personality of the person determines whether the impact of the memory can be a positive or negative force for the world. The line between using a bad memory to motivate and to destroy is very thin. As a plot point, amnesia as a lack of memory is used to tell the story. The dark side to this is that there are millions who lose their treasured memories, as they get older. Memories are created, they are made by actively taking the initiative to go out and experience something new. Memories are powerful, they make us and they break us. It is up to us to use our memories and motivate us to do better in our lives.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

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