As Last Exile -Ginkyoku no Fam- winds up for its last chunk of episodes, climax and everything, I’ve noticed that Fam has gotten more and more on people‘s patience. That’s nothing I can blame them for, as the tension between her and the show can be often intense, so I won’t attempt a defense of her.
But, isn’t it fascinating? Fam is hardly the first character who is reckless or acts without thinking. Examples of these upbeat, stubborn, reckless, can’t-shut-up heroes litter the landscape of Japanese media. You could even say they’re everywhere in East Asian stories.
Why this obsession with simpletons? All they’re good for is being the mouthpiece of some tired cliche, right? Do we really need to hear another protagonist in another Japanese RPG talk about how the villains’ goals may be right, but his methods are wrong? Do we really need another lead in another shounen manga that yells and gets stronger because he never gave up and his POWER OF FRIENDSHIP made him stronger? I’m sure most of us have gotten tired of hearing Ash/Satoshi talk about how treating Pokemon as tools is wrong and you must be their friends.
Yet, it is these characters that continue to dominate. They’re very well loved. From the “lowest”, profit-oriented productions like Strike Witches to the East Asian, literary treasure Legend of the Condor Heroes, the protagonists insist on being unflappable idealists, people who do and say The Right Thing first and consider the consequences later. We love our gold-hearted morons.
Where Christendom is born with the Original Sin and the premise of forgiveness by a Greater Being, Confucian and Daoist Asia begins with the premise that people are inherently good. People at their core already know the moral course for an action without even being told, without needing guidance. Why, then, is evil done?
With intellect, a person can simply reason a justification for an immoral deed. It was neccessary; it was the best compromise; it will lead to a better tomorrow. Your being may be shake to its core with pangs of guilt telling you that you are doing wrong, but you persist nonetheless because your mind convinces you that you must. In the process of learning and becoming adults, people grow out of touch with their inner core of goodness and gain the tools to ignore it.
So in all concerns of ethics and morality, since man is inherently at a state that aligns with what is right (the Dao or The Way), the intuition–the heart–always takes precedence whenever it and the mind come into conflict.
Hence, the tale of the Hero who does not compromise, even against overwhelming odds, is iconic, in both fiction, mythos, and oral history. Unfailing virtue is said to gander support, and thus ultimately put power in the hands of those who persist in being so. It is how Camille is able to have all those girls headbutt Mr. Evil Jupiter with him. It is how a simpleton like Guo Jing can win over so many people, many much more intelligent, crafty, or even powerful, to become his allies. It is why King Wu was able to defeat the last Despot of Shang despite being outnumbered, simply because the people would not defend a tyrant against such a virtuous individual of clean conscience.
And the only kind of people reason cannot prevail on? The only ones the flawed, misguided villain who has admirable intentions cannot tempt with a wrongly attained ideal?
Children and morons.
Usually someone who’s both.
Tune in next time in Part 2, where I’ll give another, more Japan-specific reason why things are this way, embedded in history rather than philosophy. I hope some will stay for Part 3, even, where I’ll share some thoughts on why Fam doesn’t work for some people, even if they’re willing to accept the other genki characters.