Daily Archives: July 24, 2004

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Rurouni Kenshin Fanfic

I’ve written a new fanfic story set in the Rurouni Kenshin universe. The Sword in the Umbrella Stand takes place almost a century after the series, however, so it should stand alone. The only thing you need to know is that the reverse-blade sword in the series is literally that; the flat of the blade faces forward and the sharp is in back. This was intended to make it hard to use to kill people, as the protagonist Kenshin had sworn never to kill again. (I don’t know if it ever came up in the series that this included himself, btw, but there were certainly a few times during the manga when Kenshin could have committed seppuku but did not.)

I’ve been trying to read Rurouni Kenshin fanfic this week. It’s been a bit of a difficult haul. I know that the show tries to make the Meiji world accessible to moderns, and does a good job of it. But it also takes great care to be historically plausible, especially back in the background. Now, I think the political situation is treated respectfully by fanfic, in the main, mostly since it provides major plot and character points for the series. But unfortunately, the same care is not taken with the social situation, at least with the fanfic I’ve run across. I know it’s probably a bit late to point this out, as the series isn’t quite as white hot popular now. But everything Rurouni Kenshin tries to say about Meiji Japanese life without being blatant has pretty much been ignored by fanfic writers. (At least those writing in English.)

I know there’s not a lot of material out there for research, but there is some. So why haven’t I run across details of nineteenth century Japanese life? Why doesn’t Kaoru discuss how glad she is that her father never made her blacken her teeth by drinking water with iron filings, or that she never dresses her hair in a formal style because that yucky greasy camellia oil is such a PITA to get in and out? How about the plague of double “love suicides” among couples whose parents wouldn’t let them get married, often throwing themselves in front of trains? How about the simple fact that people wouldn’t be pressuring Kenshin to go on a date with Kaoru, because that was a twentieth century Western thing??? (Not that I’ve just been running across that very theme in every frickin’ frackin’ fanfic. Noooooo.)

I don’t have a problem with the series in this respect. In fact, by making Kaoru an orphan who is mistress of her own house and head of her father’s martial arts school, Megumi a doctor, Misao a ninja, and most of the male characters orphans on the lower fringes of respectable society, most of the problems with social mores magically go away. But not all of them. The characters’ hopes and dreams may be more progressive, rebellious, Westernized, or urbanized than others, but they should still be Meiji Japanese hopes and dreams. Fanfic ought to deal with this. Otherwise, the whole thing turns into just another high school shonen romance show. And it’s not. People like it because it’s different. So why write cookiecutter fanfic?

If fanfic writers want the characters to do something modern and Western, it may well be possible to justify it. People are people. But I want that justification made. I want writers who care enough about the characters to leave our world for theirs, so that I can do the same. Is that so much to ask?

One of the best books I’ve ever read about pre-WWII Japan was A
Daughter of the Samurai
by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. It’s the autobiography of a young woman who was raised in the old-fashioned ways (which included learning weapons for castle defense, so don’t be too depressed). If you look for books like Everyday Life in Traditional Japan and Japanese Culture, that’ll help, too. I’m sure there are many better books out there; I’m just mentioning a few I found quickly. Basically, the library is
your friend here.

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