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13 September 2009 @ 06:24 pm
VoH Essay: The World  
It's not a character essay yet, but I felt that I needed to get this one out of the way before I could start writing anything about characterization. 2,627 words. In other words, tl;dr.

The World of Violinist of Hameln

The world is something not often outright addressed over the course of the manga, and yet something that is obviously very important. Without a world, we have no story. It shapes the conflict, the history of the situation, and the way our characters grew up. What we do see of the world paints us a very dreary picture of what the average life in it must be like, but it is never actually addressed by the manga because of its lean toward comedy.

In short, VoH’s world is one hell of a depressing place.

Before we get to that, let’s jump headfirst into wild speculation. In the early volumes of the manga, narration tells us that Our Heroes are travelling through “Europe,” but the towns have names like Marcato and Staccato, and we later see the topography of the world when Raiel pulls out a map and we find that it looks absolutely nothing like Europe. Since we’re never given an alternate name for the place, we can assume that “Europe” is indeed the name of their world as a whole. But why is it called that when it’s obviously nothing like real-world Europe topographically?

For that matter, why do our Magic Musicians keep playing songs written by people from countries that don’t exist on the map? Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer, but where is Russia? How could Beethoven come from Germany when there is no Germany? Somehow people know about these places – at the very least, Hamel and Raiel and Oboe do. Hamel and Raiel need to in order to use their music properly, and Oboe is just generally wise and well-educated, so perhaps this knowledge is actually fairly specialized and not common knowledge at all.

If specialists know about these things but laymen don’t (which is pure speculation, as we’re given no indication one way or another as to whether the non-musicians are aware of these composers and their countries of origin), then it stands to reason that the average person just doesn’t need to know this information, which means that these countries really don’t exist by name any more.

Any more. They obviously existed in some context once upon a time. They had to, or where else would we get music that was written by people who lived there? The compositions exist, the people who wrote it must have existed, so the places and things they wrote it about must have existed as well. But then, why don’t they exist in Europe as it is now?

According to the manga, the Mazoku have existed for a very, very long time. We’re told in a few places that the Mazoku first appeared 1000 years ago (the dragon in chapter 118 mentions being sealed in the castle by Chestra that long ago). How did they first appear? What happened when they did? It’s my assumption that the first appearance of the Mazoku sparked a great cataclysm of some kind, reshaping the face of the world and completely tearing asunder any existing governments or territories. The world was left in pieces, both geographically and politically, and with the constant threat of the Mazoku now overhead, it wasn’t easy for humanity to gather those pieces back together.

So, all former countries (Switzerland, Germany, Russia, etc) were utterly destroyed, and mankind came together in villages and towns and eventually built themselves some great nations yet again, but by that point history had been mostly forgotten. Somehow, music became a thing of power, and composers became things of legend. When the world rebuilt itself, music became its prevailing theme. Dal Segno, Sforzando, Score, Slur – these became the new world powers, where previously we had France and Germany and England and Russia. In a way, you could say that the Legendary Composers and their countries of origin have become something like King Arthur and Camelot: they exist in story, but nobody can say where or whether they were ever really there.

That’s the (admittedly completely fanon) explanation behind why the world is the way it is, but we’re not done yet. When the Mazoku appeared, they immediately began a war on humanity which lasted quite some time. Oboe in chapter 120 tells us that the Mazoku were effectively ruling the world 500 years ago, and that “400 years hence” they were sealed in a box (by Olin, if you know your VoH). The box’s magic developed some cracks, though, and Mazoku started leaking back out into the world (including Bass and Oboe himself). We’re given an image of hunters chasing down Mazoku (the gunmen who shot Oboe out of the sky), so we know that the fight is continuing even while the majority of the Mazoku are sealed.

When Pandora opens the box at Chestra’s request, she releases the rest of the Mazoku that haven’t yet been able to make it out through the cracks, including Chestra’s body. The only one she seals again is Chestra, which means that the entirety of Mazoku-kind are let loose upon a world that’s grown used to the reduced threat. You can imagine what state that leaves the current world in.

When the party reaches Sforzando in chapter 22, Raiel is amazed by how many people there are and says that he’s never been anywhere truly prosperous before this. There are a few ways you could take that, but when you keep in mind the sorts of places we’ve seen up to this point, there’s really only one interpretation for it: if you’re not inside one of the large fortress-cities of the world, you’re effectively screwed. Our Heroes can’t make it through a single small town or village without encountering some kind of Mazoku attack, it seems.

More telling is the prevailing attitude of the citizenry. When Mazoku thugs descend upon a town, the citizens never step forward to oppose them. Those hunters we saw chasing Oboe seem to have become a thing of the past. When Pandora tries to stand up to the Mazoku in Anthem, the people of the town attack her and turn her over to Bass in the hopes that appeasing the Mazoku will get them to leave and let the town get by relatively unscathed. We see hints of this in other places, as well. Fife’s father exchanges his life for hers, but even with the rest of the town gathered there to watch, nobody else steps in to help. This sort of situation happens yet again in the unnamed town where Hamel and Co. encounter the Hell’s Army Corp, where they have a child stuck under a guillotine and his mother is pleading for an exchange while everyone else watches helplessly.

When Fife or Hamel or Raiel jump in to fight, none of the natives ever help. They just stand back and watch in awe as the willing heroes do the work. This leads us to assume that people essentially no longer put up any sort of fight against the Mazoku, not unless they’re in a place that has a reputation of being able to turn them away, like Sforzando, and even there people leave the job to the armies in place. Essentially, humans have become accustomed to the fact that they cannot beat the Mazoku and it isn’t even worth it to try anymore.

The world lives under the oppressive heel of Mazoku rule, and it only gets worse the farther North you go. There are still humans living on the Continent of Despair (Easter Bend), but they are so destitute and hopeless that you couldn’t even call it “living.” They’re essentially cattle for the Mazoku.

If you think of the human settlements in Easter Bend as cattle farms, then you can think of the southern towns and villages as free range. Mazoku go down there to hunt, when they want some sport. But since most people aren’t willing to fight back, they do things like threaten one person and see who steps forward to beg for mercy or plea for an exchange. People don’t fight back because they don’t want to anger the Mazoku attacking them. They don’t want to provoke a fight they know they can’t win. If the Mazoku get what they want, they’ll leave, and everyone will be relatively safe again until the next time they decide to appear. Losing a handful of people is a lot better than losing an entire town because somebody decided to make a stand they couldn’t back up, after all.

Unfortunately, for this attitude to be as prevalent as it is, it has to be proven once in a while. It’s likely that small towns are decimated on a frequent basis as a lesson for all the others, to keep people cowed in the presence of Mazoku.

So, in summary, we have a world ruled by monsters and a general populace that’s too afraid to fight them, to the point where they will actively discourage anybody courageous enough to try.

What is daily life like for these people?

The general technology level of the world (Slur and gags aside) seems to be akin to early-middle European Renaissance level. This means that most settlements survive on local agriculture. People also aren’t very likely to ever leave their villages, less so with the very real threat of running into Mazoku on the road.

In real Renaissance Europe, settlements would be built within a day’s walk of each other, but we don’t know if this is the case in VoH’s Europe. Hamel and Co. do spend several nights camping in the wilderness, but we can’t know whether that’s because there isn’t a town within a day’s travel of the last, or if it’s because they’re just taking a path that skirts it in order to save time. It’s entirely likely that people have been building settlements several days apart so that if the Mazoku raze one village, they’ll get bored by the time they reach the next one and leave it relatively intact. It’s also true that people would tend to congregate more in safe spots, like Sforzando, and the farther out you get from the city that can defend itself, the more dangerous your life. It’s likely that the farther you are from a defended position, the more sparse and scattered settlements are going to be.

Single parents (in the form of widows or widowers) must be amazingly common, considering how many cases we’ve seen. Viola, Fife, Clari, and Corr, all orphans, lost each parent in separate incidents. It makes sense, when we realize how in-control the Mazoku are. Kids are left with one parent, which (with depressing frequency) becomes no parents after an unfortunate second encounter. Orphans are a dime a dozen.

Look at Harp’s orphanage (volume 8 special chapter) and see how many kids she’s got there. There are at least 17 orphaned children living on her farm, and that’s just one small corner of the Music continent. How many children don’t have orphanages like Harp’s to go to? How many kids are just orphaned and left completely on their own? With how common they seem to be, and how selfishly focused the rest of the population is on survival, it’s not likely they get a whole lot of sympathy. Being an orphan isn’t very pleasant in the first place, but being an orphan in Europe is just brutal.

If you do manage to survive to adulthood, what do you have waiting for you there? Probably a loveless marriage with a tonne of children. Agricultural societies depend on manpower, and with the mortality rate (both childhood and in general) being so high, in order to keep the species going, people need to be having lots of kids.

In the real world, during times of war people will get married fast. You don’t know when your boyfriend is going to get drafted and sent off to fight, and you don’t know if he’s coming back, so the pressure to marry quick is very heavy. In VoH Europe, that’s the constant state of life. You don’t know when your loved ones are going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Courtships and engagements are probably very short, just like they would be during wartime.

It’s unlikely that people marry for love very often. You set up a marriage, you get your kids, ie your free labour to help out on the farm, and you survive until your spouse or your children or you get offed by Mazoku. That’s the way it works. As such, divorce being a practice (frequent or at all) seems unlikely. Can’t have progeny if you’re divorced, your life’s probably not going to be long enough for it to matter anyway, society will shun you (they sure would in real-world Renaissance Europe). It’s probably rare to hit 18 without being married, and most people have probably already started families by that age.

As any sociology class will teach you, the rise of agriculture (and subsequently the need for manpower to run it) is what relegated women to second-class citizens who are seen only as a means for creating more men. I don’t think this attitude is as extreme in VoH’s Europe as it was in our own, but it’s definitely still there. Women are supposed to stay at home while men go off and do the work. You can see this attitude from Raiel when he encounters Fife (chapter 13 special) and tells her that women should be gentle and well-behaved et cetera (until she socks him in the face and beats that attitude out of him). And you can see it from Hamel in the way he treats women as objects (though this is mostly a front). Sexism is rampant, unless you’re lucky enough to live in the matriarchy of Sforzando (which is likely only a matriarchy because the family’s healing powers are passed down mother to daughter).

Speaking of Sforzando, it’s holy, isn’t it? It has a church with an Archbishop and there are crosses everywhere. Even Flute bears a cross with a miniature Jesus crucified on it. But there’s no mention of what sort of religion they actually preach, and during the final battle, they summon a vague, unnamed “Goddess.” If we run on the theory that their world used to be ours once upon a time, then they used to have Christianity as a prevalent faith. It may be that this, too, has sort of descended into legend and had parts lost in translation. Maybe, because Sforzando’s matriarchy holds power in the world, the Christian religion was twisted around to worship a female Goddess with a son who died for humanity’s sins, or perhaps her son is not as important as he is in Christianity and the focus is more on the Goddess herself. Unfortunately we can never know, since nobody ever quite explains it despite the prevalence of cross symbolism all over the place, but we can assume that they run on some vaguely Christian principles, whatever the details are.

Is average joe villager religious? Good question. With a world as dark and hopeless as this one, people need something to keep them going. It’s a safe bet that you can find churches scattered around, places where the people of Europe dare to hope. After all, they say that the last thing to leave Pandora’s Box was Hope.

That’s our picture of Europe. This bleak, oppressive world where monsters are lurking around every corner and nobody really has the chance to live because they’re too busy surviving. This is the world Our Heroes grew up in, and, since people are shaped by the world around them, it’s something you should keep in mind if you’re ever going to analyze the characters of VoH.
Paula Elanor Pam: Kickasselanor_pam on November 1st, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC)
This... is awesome. The thought of the VoH world being a post-apocalyptic earth makes the setting a bajillion times more awesome than it already is.

At the "marrying early" part, I immediately remembered Hamel and Flute and their 9 children, of course XD It felt like more Watanabe comedy at the time (they created their own orchestra!), but if it's the usual peasant standard, then it makes perfect sense. (As a land owner and as... himself, it makes sense that Raiel would only have one kid, though.) Of course, it might be that theirs being a marriage of love the babies just kept popping out until Clari showed up with pills.

The Queen really does seem to have all the political power in Sfz - in Lute's flashback, everyone (Horn included) seemed to think Unnamed King was entirely replaceable and not worth worrying about, while Horn called all the shots. I'm not sure the healing magic passes down only to the daughters, though - Lute healed Flute in the final battle, then promptly shattered. Shattering being the way a demon dies when it burns out its magical reserves, and magic being a mazoku's lifeforce, and lifeforce being what feeds healing magic... maybe it's just uncommon in boys?

I wonder what your thoughts in the setting are now, taking the world presented by Shchelkunchik in question. I think the starting chapter, the gaiden chapter and Great's flashback show us the possible status quo before Pandora opened the box: scraggling mindless monsters roaming around the countryside, without purpose, attacking cities at random.
The Guindotheguindo on November 2nd, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Haha Flute may just be one of those "lucky" women who happens to be incredibly fertile. >___> And, yeah, Raiel is Raiel... 8|) Makes sense that the wealthy would have fewer children, too - which would explain why he was an only child at age five or so.

I was pretty sure they said at some point that the Sfz magic does pass from mother to daughter. Lute is a very capable magician but it seemed like he couldn't heal until after he became a Mazoku. I actually hadn't thought about that - I wonder if being a mazoku gave him access to that power, or having the Goddess summoned there did something for him, or some other special case scenario, since it's pretty obvious he didn't have it back when he was roaming around as a hero. It's possible healing magic is either much weaker in boys or something.

Hmm, I haven't read Schel with an eye on setting, yet. I'll re-read it anyway when I go to catch up so maybe I'll post an entry about it then =O I think that is likely, though - that the scattered monsters attacking without purpose is what existed before Pandora opened the box. That's why hunting them down was viable back then - they weren't organized and they weren't as strong.
Paula Elanor Pamelanor_pam on November 2nd, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
I think the "only for girls" part of the healing magic is something Watanabe established early on in the manga but kinda dropped or forgot about with time. Many other details went the same way - Chestra had angel wings! Oops, no he didn't! His hair is curly! No, it's straight! Oops, no, it's curly! Hamel's arms are beefy! Changed my mind, he's scrawny! - so I wouldn't be surprised this one detail would slip through as well.

The meta reason is boring, though, so, if we were to look for an in-universe reason for the discrepancy... Maybe the healing magic requires a gentle disposition, which is more commonly attributed to girls? And so the females in the family are somewhat under pressure to manifest this particular power, while the males aren't expected to (it would be ~*unmanly*~), thus they don't try to use it and never find out it's there...?

Maybe, the one time Lute used it was actually his first time, and he manifested those powers out of desire to ease Flute's pain (much like Flute manifested her powers out of desire to ease Sizer's pain). So, one of the pre-requisites to manifest this skill is empathy, which Lute always displayed.

What Flute did have when she healed Sizer, and Lute only had when he healed Flute, was... the inability to help in any other way. Despair, even. Lute was so powerful, he could destroy any enemy before it caused permanent damage. Anyone who died did so before he got to the scene. During the war, he was wholly focused on the enemy, except for when they kidnapped baby Flute - and she wasn't wounded, so he just teleported her back. That moment, after he was freed and she was bleeding all over the place, may have been the only moment in his life, before and after being taken over, in which he actually wished he could do anything to make things better - while being able to act on this wish.

If, like in RL royal families, Sfz's royal family only bothered to have enough kids to guarantee an heir and a spare, and any other children were incidental... considering at least 2 girls would be held back from the worst battles, while the boys (and any remaining girls) would be free to jump in the thick of it and do something meaningful, it's likely that at least one of those coddled girls would feel terribly helpless and useless in the face of all the bloodshed, enough to trigger the healing powers. And that would be enough to choose an heir (assuming only those who manifest the power can be queens, which we're never really told. It might just be the older one). If anyone else among the remaining children manifests the power, it might not be in anyone's best interests to broadcast the fact, whether to stave off any internal strife, or merely to spare their lifespans.

Just my two cents on Sfz's bloodline limit :D
The Guindo: VoH - Serioustheguindo on November 2nd, 2010 05:13 am (UTC)
Ooh, this is an explanation I really like. (Also yeah Watanabe is bad about keeping details straight - Corr is 13 but her parents died 15 years ago? OKAY.)

The skill is very closely linked to empathy, to the point that Flute can't do it if her emotions are out of whack and she gets a glimpse into the other person's mind when she does it, and that is definitely one of Lute's defining character traits. And I think you're right that at that particular moment in time, there was literally NOTHING ELSE he could have done to help, so it would make sense for his bloodline power to manifest then, if ever.

I do think, since the healing power is pretty much synonymous with Sfz's queen, they'd only let the girl who manifested it (or manifested it more powerfully) take the throne. Do you think perhaps the matriarchy in Sfz is a direct result of this very powerful ability manifesting in the women of the royal line? If you look at it like that and think that it has a chance of manifesting in the boys as well but doesn't because of their situation, it gives rise to an interesting idea: women have power in Sfz now because they didn't before.
Paula Elanor Pam: Beauty and Beastelanor_pam on November 2nd, 2010 11:19 am (UTC)
Maybe Cornet was SO POWERFUL at birth that his parents had no choice but to send her forward in time for the sake of the world. They weren't expecting to be dead by the appointed time, but at least Clari knew where and when to expect her arrival. :P

I do like the idea that they became powerful because the system made them powerless - it tastes of delicious irony - but there's another possible explanation: if those powers really were granted to them by the God/Goddess at the time of the Mazoku rule and the founding of Sforzando - if it were somehow granted in public, and directly to a woman, just think how powerful a moment it would be. A sobbing princess in a dreary battlefield, craddling her beloved/child/anyone and begging the God/dess for anything... and then an angel (Olin?) comes down from heaven to offer the gift of healing in exchange for her life - and she accepts! She'd basically be the new Messiah. If she were smart enough, she'd have used her status as a messianic divine prophetess to make her voice heard. And as someone with the powerful empathy required to manifest the power, she must have made some needed improvements for the kingdom as a whole, making her very popular and politically powerful among the masses, and setting the tone for the subsequent rulers. ("Mother Queen", anyone?)

This goes beyond speculation and into epileptic tree zone, of course XD but maybe we'll be told the story of the founders in Shchelkunchik. It must be related to the first manifestation of their healing power.