Chekhov’s gun

I was reading the third episodical review of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai over at the glorio blog, when its author, Aquagaze, pointed out something straight out of a literary theory textbook. As my eyes flew about the article dripping with discontent, it kept pulling them and my attention to itself.

One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.

A term originally used by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov in his correspondence and discourse with other famous men of the era means that if you as an author, introduce an object onto the scene it should come to it being used.

Just days later I was reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite writers. Now nota bene, Haruki Murakami is not an average Japanese wordsmith. His works are very much influenced by European and North American culture – from literature he touches (among others) upon Kafka, Greek tragedies and of course, Chekhov and his gun. As far as I know he is recognized more outside of his island country than in Japan.

1Q84’s female lead, Masami Aomame, acquires a gun at some point in the novel. You must know what follows. Murakami introduces the concept of the literary device through a short dialogue between Aomame and another character, taking care to educate any readers, who might not be familiar with it, about Chekhov and his background. I still haven’t finished the book, but while so far the said gun hasn’t been fired, I’m sure I won’t be spared the moment in those pages I have yet to read.

The thought that spurred this short excercise was: Does anime obey this rule?

selain

In my opinion, the better pieces do obey Chekhov. Those that don’t are often spoken of as having thrown away their potential. Apart from these two groups there is one more and by far the most interesting (at least to me), which constitutes of open-ended works. A prime example would be Serial Experiments Lain, a 1998 series I wholeheartedly recommend to anybody willing to listen. Therefore, there will be no spoilers. Just a part of a blurb misappropriated from AniDB:

The first episode opens with the mysterious suicide of a high-school girl, Chisa Yomoda. Chisa was a classmate of Lain Iwakura, a quiet, 14-year-old high-school girl. One of the other girls in the class has been receiving e-mail messages from Chisa, and Lain discovers she also has mail from Chisa. In the mail she explains to Lain that she just abandoned her flesh. She assures Lain that she still is alive in the ‘wired’ world. After getting a new ‘navi’ and adding a ‘psyche’ circuit, Lain spends more and more time in the wired.

You may have guessed the ‘wired’ is something like the internet. How did the internet look in the nineties? It was the new thing spreading very slowly into the homes of normal people. (Don’t ask me, I was still using a Linux text-only browser in 2008.) Something new threatening the world as we know it portrayed using unique animation with blood glistening in the shadows…

There is no official explanation or interpretation of the series and who knows what it really means, but Lain entranced an impressive number of otaku. Not all open-ended series manage to float this boat (most sink like the Titanic),… The point I’m attempting to convey is that even if an anime doesn’t follow austere Chekhov’s rules, it can be awesome, but it does take a pretty good scriptwriter to pull it off.

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