Not too long ago I finished a show called Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which revolves mainly around the relationship between an overworked programmer and a dragon who can shapeshift into a human. This dragon works as a maid for that human in return for them saving her from a life-threatening injury. I say “relationship” because from the very beginning, this dragon professes her feelings for the other main character. Like any relationship, this has its own set of complications. But there’s an extra layer added to it when it’s revealed that the dragon, called Tohru, has an incredibly long lifespan when compared to her human crush (namely the ‘Miss Kobayashi’ from the title), and as a result will eventually outlive her. This fact is discussed between Tohru and another Dragon when it is mentioned that Tohru has no plans to return to the world where she originally came from. When the other Dragon mentions that Kobayashi will eventually die, Tohru states that she has come to accept that. She says “If I treasure the time I spend here, I would indeed feel an equal amount of sadness. But, I don’t think I will ever call that feeling of sadness “regret”.”
This is Mono no aware, or “the bittersweet transience of all things”. The word “aware” in this case means both “sensitivity” and “sadness”, and “mono” means “things”. It’s a Japanese phrase with Buddhist origins that claims that the beauty of nature comes from the fact that it won’t last forever. This sadness, however, is not to be viewed in a negative light. The melancholic appreciation for things that will not be around forever, like flowers, a nice evening spent with friends, or simply a loved one’s presence, is a natural feeling to have and reminds us that nothing in life will last forever, so it is imperative that we appreciate it while it is still there. This is what makes Mono no aware so powerful as a way of thinking. This is also how Tohru is able to come to terms with the fact that she won’t be able to spend the rest of her life with someone she loves, and how I managed to figure out why I couldn’t let go of a book that I no longer love.
I feel like Gamer Girl came to me at this time for a reason. While going through it, I would see certain phrases or references in the text and have flashbacks to when I first read them. I remember being so happy, so excited to see those references or to find a phrase that I could identify with at the time. It wasn’t until I was halfway through my third reading of the book that I realized exactly why I couldn’t throw it away: the problem I was having was about myself more than it was about Gamer Girl. The issue that I have is that I overvalue concepts over the execution of media. But what does that mean?
Let’s talk about concepts.
Similar to how all arguments and exercises in logic can be related back to either Deductive or Inductive reasoning, the success of most media can be attributed to two archetypes: Concept and Execution. Concept is generally the set of ideas that the work is based around, and Execution is the method the artist(s) take to express those ideas. The details and subsections of both archetypes are vast and contribute to millions of different reasons why a piece of art would sink or swim, so it’s difficult to go into specifics. However, my personal theory is that obvious flaws in media come from either a bad concept or bad execution.
Written as a formula, my general reaction to noticeably flawed literature is:
Bad concept + good execution= Pity for the potential of the creators (see: Ghostwriters)
Good concept + bad execution= Pity for the potential of the idea
Notice that I say “good” instead of “great”. This is because there are exceptions to my rule, which is often a result of a book having such an amazing concept or execution that it cancels out how mediocre its counterpart is. (Generally, any media where one of its parts is worse than ‘bad’ tends to be unsalvageable. As of posting this, the only pieces of media that prove this rule wrong fit snugly into the “so bad it’s good” genre.)
Now, this is where I would tear apart Gamer Girl some more by saying that its poor execution is not saved by a unique concept and that the concept itself becomes less interesting as time pushes us forward. Part of me still wants to do this. The parts of me that don’t want to do this are the ones that want to forget that Gamer Girl’s text exists and hold onto its concepts for the rest of time.
In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve held onto the idea of something more than its execution. It only takes one look at my bookshelves, comprised solely of great ideas left to rot on notecards and fleshed out only to the extent of a one subject notebook, to see how much I value ideas over execution. While I can count on one hand how many times I’ve stuck with a terrible piece of work despite it being terrible, at least half of those incidents occurred because I ran into a concept that my imagination refused to let go, and as those concepts were watered down I remained.
This would also explain why so many of my romantic endeavors have ended civil lawsuits, but I digress. The phrase Mono no aware is as important to this situation as the physical existence of the book. Meaning, there’s not much significance in an object or a string of words until they relate to one’s own experiences. Ideas in their rawest forms work because it’s the creators and audiences that give them that meaning. People cling to the stories they used to love, whether they wrote them or read them, because they are a part of their identity. To reject that story would be akin to letting go of a part of one’s self. And that isn’t easy.
But it needs to be done. I don’t like Gamer Girl now. I had loved it in the past, but I can no longer linger there without losing my present self. It reminds me too much of a girl who loved everything that Maddy loved, who understood her obsession with art and MMO’s and just wanted people to understand her. Nostalgia played a big factor in why I kept Gamer Girl around me, but it’s this very realization that makes me want to let it go.
I don’t want to forget about who I used to be. It’s easier to “start a new life”, to forget that the past ever happened and just hope that no one brings up That Dumb Thing You Did When You Were 12 than it is to acknowledge it and move on. All that will happen as a result of forgetting myself is I will make the same mistakes over and over again without understanding why. I believe that by confronting this novel, I’ve also confronted a version of myself that no longer exists. And if the act of confronting my past self makes me cringe, does that mean that “cringe” is a bad thing?
Listen, I was not a cool or cringe-less child. But neither were you. Most of us loved those ultra-relatable Mary Sue’s and wallowed in the maximum levels of angst that these characters had from minuscule issues because when we were younger, the pain we felt then was the worst we had ever experienced. Cringe, in a way, is more than a painful feeling. Cringe is a measure of how we have grown, an emotion similar to regret in that it shows us it’s okay to not like who we used to be, so as long as we always strive to improve. And if I can recognize that I am constantly becoming the person that I want to be, then I can also forgive-
No, you know what? Fuck this novel.