Halfway to Nowhere: On Enjoying the Narrative Journey

Like so many other readers, I am frustrated by interminable series that never end. I complain. Loudly. Publicly. In print (well, HTML). I do this because it’s the right thing to do. I may have a twinkling of a hope that some authors will wake up and conclude their series. But that hope is as long-lived as a firefly. Alas.

I do make an exception for works in which the destination is never the point, in which the goal is simply to enjoy the journey.

Take, for example, Hitoshi Ashinano’s classic manga series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō. Set in a world where a never-explained calamity raised sea levels and reshaped the world, a world where humanity is slowly dwindling away, YKK focuses on Alpha, an extremely humanoid android. Having inherited a teashop from her long-vanished owner, Alpha enjoys her extremely low-key life, occasionally venturing out to acquire supplies or explore the Japan of tomorrow. Humanity may be doomed, but nobody, human or android, seems to mind. Instead, they enjoy each day as it happens.

Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content is set in a post-singularity world, one where humans must find some way to coexist with robots and AIs. One might expect to see carbon copies of Sarah Connor fleeing the Terminator against a backdrop of ruins. Those expectations would be dashed. Humans, robots, and AIs seem to co-exist peaceably, enjoying reassuringly mundane lives. The drama lies in each character’s search for gainful employment, romance, and self-actualization.

Amano Kozue’s Aria pictures the efforts of a young woman to become an elite gondolier on a terraformed Mars. There’s not much overt drama in this manga, just someone honing her skills, making new friends, and enjoying her life on Aqua, as Mars is now called. The lack of crisis is more or less the point, as the protagonist’s mentor, Alicia Florence, explains:

“If you get stuck in the memories of those times, you won’t be able to appreciate all the fun that’s happening right now. So don’t be thinking ‘that time was fun’, because you should be thinking ‘that time was also fun’ … Being able to find the fun that’s happening right now, is the best way to enjoy the present.”

Thanks to a conversation begun by this Ryan Consell post, aptly titled “The Genre You Never Knew You Needed,” I now know there’s a name for this genre, at least in Japanese: Iyashikei, defined here as “a term used for anime and manga created with the specific purpose of having a healing or soothing effect on the audience.”

Recommendations for other works in this vein would be welcome…

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is surprisingly flammable.

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