#CBR4 Maneuver #16 – Brave Story
Profile: Children’s Literature, Fantasy
Summary: From the Back Cover, “Young Wataru flees his messed-up life to navigate the magical world of Vision, a land filled with creatures both fierce and friendly. His ultimate destination is the Tower of Destiny where a goddess of fate awaits. Only when he has finished his journey and collected the five elusive gemstones will he possess the Demon’s Bane – the key that will grand him his most heartfelt wish… the wish to bring his family back together again!”
After Action Report:
One of the appealing aspects of Japanese culture is their thoughtful treatment of children’s issues; really, the issues of any age group. Japanese pop culture and fiction explore and confront the unpleasant realities of their society, from topics as widespread as divorce, to the unique Hikikomori phenomenon, to the potentially disastrous aging of the nation’s workforce. Brave Story addresses the first of these topics in the framework of a fantastic adventure. While the story and the setting may seem fanciful, for a novel aimed at 5th and 6th graders, the book is shockingly frank in its descriptions of a family torn apart by adultery and divorce. It also places the burden of adaptation and healing on the shoulders of the young protagonist, a stance that similar western tales shy away from.
Wataru, the protagonist is described as a fairly average middle school student with a bit of a stubborn streak and a lot of that awkwardness that is inherent to the age group. His home life is abruptly shattered when his father leaves Wataru and his mother to pursue an affair with an old girlfriend. In a fit of depression and what is probably a mild case of bipolar disorder, Wataru’s mother attempts to commit suicide by leaving the gas stove on overnight.
At the last moment, Wataru is swept away to Vision by one of his classmates, Mitsuru. After some RPG tropes and some exposition, it is revealed that Vision is a world created by the dreams of the real world, but the Goddess of Vision has the power to rewrite the fates of those in the real world. Those with the strong desire to change fate are allowed into Vision as Travelers, where they must seek the Goddess to make their wish.
The story evolves (or devolves) into a fairly standard Epic Quest™ but maintains a constant message of personal growth through self-acceptance and understanding. While Miyabe is asking children to take control of their own lives, she does so because she believes they are strong. Wataru’s journey isn’t one of finding strength in others, but of understanding one’s own strength. It is a worthwhile message, and one that is handled well enough to resonate with any age.
Brave Story is a solid piece of children’s literature and it stands head and shoulders above similar western tales, such as Harry Potter or even The Chronicles of Narnia because it doesn’t treat children, readers or characters, like idiots. It also doesn’t get bogged down in heavy good versus evil moralization, portraying Wataru as someone capable of both. Only by becoming conscious of his darker impulses is Wataru able to overcome them. Still, there are a few literary quibbles to be made. The ‘prologue’ runs nearly a quarter of the novel; about 200 pages. While some of the storytelling in this section is absolutely critical to the message and the plot, some of it is just fluff. It balloons an already lengthy story to mammoth dimensions. The climax and resolution take up comparatively little space, which makes the ending feel rushed and somewhat artificial. The reveal of the fourth gemstone is particularly bad, feeling both hurried and undeserved.
But these little flaws don’t really matter. Brave Story is valuable for its strong treatment of a complex subject. It is valuable for its belief that children are people, intelligent individuals with the ability to understand and deal with the problems that life presents them with. It is valuable because it can provoke even adults to introspection and cultivate newfound respect. Respect for a generation that is being increasingly used as a leverage point in national and international debates, without a thought given to their wishes or dreams. The world is theirs to shape we must show them that they are capable of being so much better.