The Deep Impact of Fictional Deaths

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

 

My family is kind of weird when it comes to death.

So far most of the deaths in my family have not come as a surprise. It grieves us, but we keep moving forward. We cry, but not much and not in public if we can help it. We don’t go in for dramatic displays of grief. We tend to not even discuss it. (In fact, aside from a few short conversations with my brothers, all of these statements come from my own observations and perspective, so I could be completely wrong about all of this.) But, on the surface at least, my family and I tend to be very pragmatic about the whole thing.

And yet I will break down into gut-wrenching sobs and go through all five stages of grief when a fictional character I love dies.

On the surface, this seems strange, even sociopathic. I don’t cry for my dead relatives but will bawl my eyes out for someone who never even existed? It seems backwards, almost wrong somehow, and has bothered me for quite a while. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening. But I think I may have solved the mystery.
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Permutations of the Soul

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“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

— Jedi Master Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

 

Souls permeate fantasy. You find them everywhere. In books like the Vlad Taltos series; in movies like Crimson Peak; in television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer; in video games like Jade Empire; in anime like Soul Eater; and manga like Fullmetal Alchemist. Even if souls are not the focus of the story, it is almost always assumed that souls exist. In some universes, all living things have souls, while in others only sentient races have them. In a few, only humanity is granted this unique ability to transcend oblivion.

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A Few Words on Character Deaths

PLEASE NOTE:  

This entry may contain spoilers!  Proceed at your own risk.

I recently watched the anime Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and loved it.  The story was interesting, the characters engaging, even the secondary characters (a trait the early Gundam shows are famous for), and a great mix of comedy and melodrama.  I followed the characters on their journey, through trials, tribulations, daring plans, narrow escapes, joys, sorrows, and maturation through 48 amazing episodes.  Then, the final episodes 49 and 50….everything fell apart.  Within those two episodes, half the cast was killed off and one was left alive, but rendered absolutely flippin’ insane.  And the story ends.  Just like that.  No time for me or the survivors to mourn, just stare at the rolling credits going, “What?!  That’s it?!”

I sent a text to my friend Fullmetal, who had lent me the series, that said:  “Well.  I just finished watching Zeta Gundam. The show was AWESOME…up until the last two episodes.  Those last two sucked.  An unresolved cop-out!”

His response:  “But everyone dies.”

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