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The Headless Galah

Notes on Epilogue

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A kind of generalised disgust with no clear object permeates my experience of TM these days. Probably nothing more than a particular instance of the overall malaise inspired in me by almost everything that bills itself as culture. But the particularities, in this case, by dint of some kind of sunk-costs calculation - wasted too much of my life on this fucking website, har har, haven't we all, all the hours lost to a glowing rectangle which promised all the validation you'd ever want as long as you knew how to play the game, hashtag relatable - sharpen the contours of that disgust. As has been lately in evidence. To be honest, I'm not even remotely apologetic for any of the opinions I hold, nor the manner in which I express them. They are in most cases, really, not so far removed from the mainstream - for instance even its 'players' will generally admit FGO is cancerous, if only to the extent that the apparatus has managed to recuperate its own excrescence as a kind of perverse charm point. But enough has been said elsewhere about all that, by me and by others. What I want to do here is talk about something I don't hate. If only to reply to the implicit thrust of the implicit question, "y u hef 2 b mad". I'm mad because I have yet to reach that state of spiritual perfection, or, call it what it is, elementary sense of perspective, which would allow me to simply not care about any of this. It's only because there are things that I like, that I hate the rest so autistically.

Kara no Kyoukai is not a perfect work. Never has been. Holding it up as an exemplar of 'good TM', as a relic of some bygone, antediluvian epoch in which things Notes, inc. produced were Good, to contextualise their now being Bad, would be a critical error. We should rather speak of the company's output as constituted by a disordered multiplicity of tendencies - in form and content - which have evolved over time as a result of the development of their own internal logic as well as the imposition of external stimuli. In certain ways the present situation is merely the fruit borne by seeds planted decades ago; it is only the observation of the fruit today that allows us to identify the fruit seeds for what they were, what they were not seen as at the time. I don't hesitate to say that Kara no Kyoukai is, among other things, tedious, confused, poorly-written, overwrought, tasteless, politically questionable, self-indulgent, pathologically melodramatic, artistically immature, and so on. At various points all these adjectives and more can come into play in doing justice to the content of the novels or the movies. Epilogue [終章] falls into the sights for a few of them. What immediately strikes one on consideration of Epilogue in the abstract is its sheer superfluity. Epilogue quite simply does not need to be there. It is not the capstone to MikiShiki's relationship arc: that is the final scene of 7. Remember 'never letting go of this hand'? In Epilogue there is no action that takes place with any tangible consequences. There is no greater knowledge, no explanatory ability with regard to the events prior which is meaningfully furthered by the exposition. There is no narrative work being done here that really contributes to anything that goes on in the main body of the story, and indeed the story is perfectly comprehensible without Epilogue's inclusion. If anything its absence might go so far as to improve the remainder. This is a quality it shares with Mirai Fukuin, which was overall an appalling waste of time. So what is it that - not 'makes Epilogue something more', but - can be drawn out from within Epilogue that is worth liking?

Epilogue is, for want of a better word, boring. I have no intention of summoning here the phantasm of authorial intent, the idea that it is boring on purpose and therefore excusable in being boring for that precise reason (no u don't get it i'm being retarded ON PURPOSE lol) because that is really no excuse at all. The appeal of Epilogue exists neither because nor in spite of it being boring; rather it is that which is accessed through and beyond boredom which is interesting. Epilogue is almost entirely composed of dialogue, dialogue which is itself almost entirely composed of monologue - a monologue into which a second character interjects occasionally as to prompt and question. It is meandering, repetitive, and largely concerned with the exposition of an abstruse personal metaphysics. It is also a powerfully familiar kind of speech, although for reasons that may not themselves be the most familiar. To understand this you have to, to a certain degree, dispel the illusion of 'character'.

In general we are accustomed to confronting works of fiction with the idea that we will find within them such things as 'characters', distinguishable and self-consistent, and capable of interacting amongst themselves as seems appropriate to their condition. Really this is, of course, not the case: insofar as there is a single author behind the work, what is going on is in fact a kind of ventriloquism. The author is speaking and at the same time manipulating a number of puppets to whom his voice can be in turn attributed. The fiction we choose to participate in by reading, or watching, or what-have-you, is precisely the fiction that this is not the case. Where the author's ventriloquism becomes obvious, when it seeps through the text that there is in reality only one voice at work here - this is traditionally considered a failure mode in writing. And I don't mean to indicate that this is what happens in Epilogue. Rather I wish to point out that the standpoint which holds a text to be a plane of consistency on which discrete 'characters' operate is only one way of looking at things, and that - seen under the aspect of the ventriloquist's puppet-show it is in terms of the real process of narrative production that underpins it - certain wide-scale structures start to become apparent. If you strip away the superficial details of character 'voices' - and there are plenty of these in Japanese, cadence and syntax ranging up to the complex meta-semantics of polite, plain, gendered and honorific language, speaking styles that are themselves a kind of potted biography - it becomes possible to discern certain enunciative stances of the author-ventriloquist which he switches between, on the fly, as needed. These stances are not "speaking AS character X", "speaking AS internal monologue" and so on - rather they are the basic functional components of the author's relation to the audience. They are kinds of discourse that are intended to operate on the audience in certain defined ways.

With regard to our mutual friend Eggplant Mushroom there is one in particular that is relevant here, which for the purposes of this discussion we'll call the Rationalising Stance. Another name I was considering was "Rinspeak" because in all three routes of FSN this stance surfaces inside Rin's 'voice' with a conspicuous regularity, but this name would give something of the wrong impression. The function of the Rationalising Stance (hereafter abbreviated RS, which you'll notice also abbreviates Rinspeak, big think) is quite straightforward, so straightforward in fact that most of you will probably be wondering why I have gone to such elaborate lengths to describe something that could just as easily be called 'infodumping'. The answer is, as always, because of the need to split hairs and make exceedingly subtle distinctions in order to appear smart on the internet. You are familiar with the RS even if you don't know it: no matter what sprites are on screen, the RS is the thing that is speaking when - for instance - the operation of the Holy Grail War is explained to you, what True Magic is and what distinguishes it from magecraft proper, what a Servant is, what a True Ancestor is, what ESP is, what the difference between 'flying' and 'floating' is, etc etc etc. The RS need not surface within an individual character voice, and in fact frequently operates as dialogue, one character asking the questions and another answering them, together sustaining the function. Now this is not, repeat not, to say that Nasu has a specific 'infodump voice' he lapses into which is preserved across IPs. He doesn't. What is preserved is the function that characterises the RS. And the RS is not strictly about giving the audience information, though certainly it often works by doing so. The function of the RS is to create and maintain consistency. It acts to preserve the fiction of the work as fully knowable and self-consistent world, a plane of consistency, by filling in or otherwise suturing any troubling gaps in its internal logic. If ever something inexplicable happens, you can bet the RS will surface before long to explain it - that is, to rationalise the occurrence through enfolding it in an explanatory structure which can be readily assimilated to what you (the audience) already know or understand. It's a common sentiment that Nasu is all about setting up elaborate systems of rules and then breaking them, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The RS is precisely that agent which sees to it that even the notional 'exceptions' to the rules are encompassed by the rules. Everything that happens in the 'verse can, under the auspices of the RS, find a place to be inscribed within the overarching order.

No matter whose voice you hear, the RS is the thing that is speaking for most of Epilogue. Touko is referenced a few times; she is the agent through which the RS most often works in the main body of the story, and her spectre is summoned up here for this reason. Epilogue can be understood as the RS working, over the course of about thirty minutes, to embrace an impossibility. Through all its circuitous metaphors and dubious dialectic it is trying to address the questions of what [ ] is and how it is that she exists. Had it been the intention to preserve [ ] as a determinate exception, absolute exteriority to the rules, it would have sufficed simply to fill in the running time of Epilogue with idle chatter, or perhaps pure silence, simply refusing to explain anything at all. But this is not the case; the RS goes into effect, drawn as if by some compulsion to fit this thing that is [ ] within the rules, within the rational structures we have become able to understand. She exists because of this, because the Ryougi family did that, because x, y, z. Epilogue is a valiant attempt by the RS to push back the border of the unknown, to extend yet further the dominion of the rules. And it works, basically. The goal is achieved. And if this were all Epilogue were there would still be reasons enough to enjoy it. The RS is by itself neither good nor bad, insofar as either label is appropriate. Arguably it has an important role as part of the implicit bargain that exists between the author and the audience under present conditions of cultural production; the audience comes in expecting something familiar, or at least something they can assimilate to what is familiar, and the RS is what allows the author to be 'kept honest', to prevent him from making shit up whenever he feels like. And so on. But it is precisely because this is not all that Epilogue is that I like it.

In Epilogue there is above all a kind of austerity. Two characters, an empty stage, limited movement, barely any props - just one, in fact, that being the umbrella. In not only these aspects but also in a general sense of the overall structure of Epilogue can be discerned a kinship with the tradition of Noh drama. The lengthy, drawn-out, almost languid proceedings which - all of a sudden, at the end, when Kokutou is momentarily distracted and Shiki vanishes beyond the edge of the frame, only the voice lingering as the camera perspective is launched high into the sky on a breath of wind - are subjected to a sudden catalysis, a breaking, which then rushes downhill toward the ending. Credits roll, we're done here. Weeb divinity Donald Richie writes:
Quote Originally Posted by Richie, D., "Notes on the Noh", The Hudson Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 1965. Emphasis added
...The opening of the Noh is on the level of our theatre, it is slower but it is naturalistic. We are in a mountain pass, or in a forest, or by a sea-shore. The second actor - as truly our representative as ever was the audience in Knight of the Burning Pestle - comes forward and speaks our language: I am called so-and-so; I come from such-and-such; I am here to tell you a story. Him we recognise; he is one of us. Then out comes a being who looks like one of us but is not. This we know from the mask, from the walk, from the unbelievable beauty of the landscape on his back. This is not one of us and the story of the play tells why. He walks, he talks, he tells his history, or a part of it. Questions are asked. They are partially answered, or they are evaded, or they are cunningly answered, with ambivalence, with double meaning. We circle warily around the truth. We guess but dare not ask.

Then the being disappears (the actor changes robes, into one even more magnificient), we and the second-actor both ponder...[...] And the being reappears. It no longer creeps upon the stage. It strides with little steps. It races with almost no movement at all. It looms and swings its arms though its kimono sleeves are still. We are confronted. It was a was an was the spirit of a mother searching for her was a soldier killed in his prime a hundred, a thousand years before. It is what it is and nothing more. Words fail us, and it - the supernatural - no longer speaks. The dance begins.
Noh, adopted at the end of the Nanbokuchou War as the art form par excellence of the Japanese military aristocracy - in contrast to the ebullience of Kabuki, which originated in the early Edo period among the so-called 'riverbed people', commoners and itinerant actors affiliated with the subcultures of performing arts surrounding Shinto shrines, and was later reluctantly appropriated into the state-authorised apparatus of cultural production - exhibits like the early modern samurai class itself the profound influence of Zen. Austere and brusque, eschewing ostentation for simplicity, esoterica for direct experience, form for void, the Zen borne aloft by the warrior class in their cultural ascendancy from the medieval period onwards drew out the profound contrast,
Quote Originally Posted by Tsubaki, A., "Zeami and the Transition of the Concept of Yugen: A Note on Japanese Aesthetics", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 30, No. 1, Fall 1971
...between the elegance and magnificence of the aristocrats in the Heian period and the straightforward, practical, healthy, and forceful quality of the warriors who are the representatives of the rural plebeian. In other words the beauty of abundance, which is aristocratic and urban, is counterbalanced by a quality of nothingness, which is warrior-like and rural...
Classical Noh drama from Zeami onwards understood this synthesised aesthetic in the concept of yuugen [幽玄], a term borrowed from waka poetics en route from Chinese philosophy which, in no small part due to the exceedingly refined interpretation it attained at the hands of the theorists of Noh, is quite possibly the single most untranslatable word in the Japanese language.
Quote Originally Posted by Izutsu, T. & T., The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan, 1981
Yuu, the first component of the word yuugen, usually connotes faintness or shadowy-ness, in the sense that it rather negates the selfsubsistent solidity of existence, or that it suggests insubstantiality, or more accurately the rarefied quality of physical concreteness in the dimension of empirical reality. Gen, the second component of the word, means dimness, darkness or blackness. It is the darkness caused by profoundity; so deep that our physical eyesight cannot possibly reach its depth, that is to say, the darkness in the region of unknowable profoundity.

As we sometimes experience, even the empirical world in which we live, observing things and events coming into and going out of existence, becomes transformed before our eyes into a field, intangible and mysterious, in which things and events assume a tinge of yuugen, losing the empirical solidity of self-subsistency, wafting as it were in the air, thus pointing to the presence of the primordial, non-articulated reality underlying them.
Quote Originally Posted by Kaula, D., "On Noh Drama", The Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 5, Sept 1960
The Zen artist is acutely responsive to both the beauty and the insubstantiality of natural forms. So also the imagery of the Noh plays reflects these two essential moods of Zen art: one is technically known as aware, the nostalgic sense of the dreamlike vanishing away of the familiar world; the other is called yuugen, the sense of the mysterious quiescence beneath all things. The world this imagery evokes is a muted, tranquil world in which nothing remains immutably fixed, a world of mist, rain, and wind, of snow and withering flowers. It is much too fragile and elusive a world to be rationally understood or deliberately controlled.
Epilogue is not Noh (Noh it is not, you might say) but I think it inherits something from Noh - a certain kind of yuugen which is assembled over the total course of the chapter, but which the final few shots put into effect. I am talking specifically about the film. We have listened to the lengthy discourse of the RS, doing what it does best - trying to put everything in its place, to generate the fiction of a wholly knowable and wholly consistent world. Where even the exceptions are no exception. It finishes with some parting comments: a kind of character sketch of Kokutou, an outright summary of things we learned in 6 and 7, if not earlier. They are familiar terms, a familiar determination of a character-puppet. Nante...kodoku. And the wind stops. The sound stops. There is a pause of a few seconds in which there is no sound at all. Nothing. And then a cut - to wind blowing over a bare snowy plain, fine particles carried aloft, soundtrack howling, camera being carried rapidly to the dark extremity of the visual field. And cut back - Kokutou facing away from the camera, looking at something we cannot see. No sound. Snow falling gently, as it has been the whole time. Cut back again to the wind, and cut forth to Kokutou once more. And again. And then the intrusion - the sound of wind appears in the frame with Kokutou, he turns to face it - and cut back to the plain, the camera angle sweeping up to reveal it as the same snowy hillside the characters have been standing on the whole time - just as it shudders past him, far off into the sky over Tokyo, tearing the umbrella from his hand and sending it careering off into the sky.
Quote Originally Posted by Saitou Mokichi (1882-1953)
infinitely far
beyond this heaven and earth
empty space comes to an end
a sound of the blowing wind
Final words from Shiki cast out over the sound of wind. Cut back again, to silence. There is nothing more to say. Kokutou sees that there is no-one with him on the hill. This superfluous scene, this self-indulgent excursion of the RS, terminates in absence suggestive of pure nothingness. It is a commentary by the RS on itself, culminating in the occult suggestion of a nothingness that is ineffable, which forever escapes inscription into a rational order. You watch Epilogue to learn that there is nothing to learn by watching Epilogue, and that anything you might have learned was meaningless. The illusion of text as a fully consistent and knowable world is just that. Issen tayuru toki raku raku rai rai.

powerlevel autism is a pathetic and impoverished form of understanding and it's time to stop.

Updated May 27th, 2018 at 08:11 AM by Dullahan



  1. Arashi_Leonhart's Avatar
    powerlevel stuff is stupid but it isn't going anywhere anytime soon so

    We live to turn the gaps between our different viewpoints into boundaries of emptiness.
  2. Spinach's Avatar
    just as it shudders past him, far off into the sky over Tokyo
    Aren't they still at Mifune

    And also do you have autism
  3. Dullahan's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Spinach
    Aren't they still at Mifune

    And also do you have autism
    Mifune is in Tokyo. Read Kokutou's driver's license when he holds it up to the camera in movie 5.

    Also the answer should be obvious
  4. Spinach's Avatar
    The former answered the latter
  5. mAc Chaos's Avatar
    this is something