Stakes: Not just for vampires

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, but I’m in the middle of this epic sewing project I committed to have finished by…next week. And of course I had months to do it and procrastinated, as is my wont. The upside is that the marathon sewing gives me time to indulge in video marathons to keep me company. The last few days I’ve been rewatching My-Hime.

Basically, Mai and her little brother, who seem to be on their own in the world (as is often case in such fictions), are given scholarships to attend a private boarding school, Fuka Academy. But even on the boat that will take them there, strange things start happening, and continue to happen once they arrive at the school. Mai soon discovers that it’s her destiny to fight as a Hime–some warrior princess deal. She has to accept her “child,” a superpowered living robot sort of thing, and agree to fight against the orphans–which are evil superpowered living robot things–threatening the school. The school and town seem to be somehow connected some evil dark immortal forces of stars (well, one particular star), there’s a sinister corporation and a secret sinister government organization stirring up trouble, as well as eleven other Hime–not all of whom are nice and want to use their powers for good.

So, there’s plenty going on, and I’m the first to admit that it’s not all easy to follow, especially when you’re casually viewing while doing other things. And one of the complaints I see most frequently leveled at My-Hime is an imbalance between the first and second halves of the series. It’s not unfounded.  The first half is very light and humorous, compared to the second, when things start to really take off and get much darker. Me, I figure it’s a payoff for sitting through all the gratuitous boob humor and panty shots.

What the series does rather spectacularly is stakes.

See, all the Hime end up agreeing to fight, for one reason or another. Often it’s because they’re put in a position where they have to accept the power of the child in order to protect someone. It’s explained to them by the nasty little demon boy who’s in charge of machinations and explaining things to them and to us, that in accepting that power and agreeing to fight the orphans, there’s a risk. If your child is defeated, you will lose the thing most precious to you. And Mai, with her school girl lack of maturity, says yeah yeah, if I’m defeated I lose my life. I get it. Let’s get on with it.

Understanding love and what it means is a big theme for the show. Mai tends to be pragmatic and not given to melodrama, or maybe she would have realized that her brother’s life is more precious to her than her own. That’s certainly evident to anyone watching.

So that’s what makes the series pretty awesome. Fight or risk having these creatures kill you and the people you care about. Fight and risk losing the person you care about most if you fail. And then have lots of characters and things going on and get to start guessing which ones are Hime and who it is they care about most.

There are times in the series when Mai tries to refuse to fight, believing that, as long as she stays out of it, her brother will be safe. It never occurs to her that he might become the beloved of another Hime.

All the different relationships, the varied entanglements and the different kinds of love, all threatened by a life-and-death game in which the rules keep changing. That’s what the series holds for me.

It’s amazing how clear things get when you try to explain them to someone else. My daughter, age seven, totally gets the notion of conflict. [ETA: given the lack of proper segue, I think I need to add that My-Hime is not for little kids.] She will tell you that you can’t have a story without a problem, no hero without a villain, etc. Suffice it to say that her understanding of drama is well beyond what mine was at that age.

She hates stakes. Stakes are what make her uncomfortable.

And I’m like, no, dude, you have to have stakes because there has to be a reason to fight. You have to be scared about what could be lost in order to be relieved when it’s won. You have to scare the pants off your hero so he’ll go and fight the scary beast because, if he’s got nothing to lose, maybe he’ll just do the sensible thing and run the other way. And then I went into some spew about how, yeah, Harry just tends to go do the right thing because he’s a hero, but putting Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets made it better. Harry couldn’t lose against the Basilisk because there was more at risk than just himself, there was Ginny, a member of the family who had taken him in, which was very well set up at the beginning. Her presence brought a now it’s personal aspect to the scene that raised the drama level. (Not to mention set up a classic damsel in distress event solved with sword-wielding which many of us are hard-wired to swoon at no matter what the age of the sword-wielder.)

Did I mention My-Hime has swords?

I’m not sure how much of that got through. There’s a point at which Mom is just babbling incoherently and is best ignored.

The conversation with my daughter reminded me how natural it can be to shy away from things that are scary. How sometimes we, as writers, don’t like to go too far in what we’ll put our characters through. How we might unconsciously smooth the way for them when we should be impeding it. Maybe because we feel too much of what they feel, and maybe it’s too stressful to give them an impossible decision, an unspeakable terror, or grieve with them through an inconsolable loss.

And yet, as a reader, that’s what I want. Because when the author brings me through to the other side of that, I’ll feel like I’ve lived through something. I’ve taken an emotional journey while I was living someone else’s life. And, in the best fictions, it’s about how that changed both of us.

:throat clearing:

My-Hime: Not for everyone. Grit your teeth through all the nonsense aimed at the pubescent boys in the audience and concentrate on what’s awesome about it. You can get it from Netflix. I recently bought it from Amazon. They have the boxed set, but the individual discs are less expensive. And I’m sure you can Google around and watch it somewhere for free.

For clips, I’ll leave you with this music video…

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