Kimberly's Ramblings #1: on "Vinnie's Luck" and "Yama's Path"
Greetings! I just wanted to share a few more thoughts with you about the stories that hopefully you have just read: "Vinnie's Luck" and "Yama's Path." If you haven't read them yet, please do so before going any further, as this Author's Note contains "spoilers" for both. (If you have read them, you're probably amazed that I've managed to come up with so many Author's Notes, both here and in the text of "Yama's Path", for just two stories. What can I say? Sometimes I like to ramble on about interesting things.)
Vinnie is, like it or not (and he doesn't), an important part of the Gargoyles universe. He is a representative of the Everyman, the poor schmuck who's just trying to get on with his life and earn an honest buck, and quite frankly could do without those winged critters that swoop out of the sky in the middle of the night and have a tendency to make things go "Crunch!" or "Boom!" All men and women have a tolerance threshold, a point up to which they'll put up with their life being messed with (not happily, but they'll put up with it), but beyond that point they will Fight Back with every weapon they can get their hands on, in an effort to restore or avenge their status quo. Some people, the more saintly among us, have very high thresholds; some have very low thresholds. Judging by Vinnie's misfortunes as related in the episode "Vendettas", he actually has a fairly high tolerance threshold. (Possibly higher than his IQ, but I can't say for certain.) Honestly think about it: if you lost first your 'wheels', then your license to drive, and then your job and source of income, due to these weird winged beasties that fly around roaring and making things go "Boom!", wouldn't you want a heaping helping of revenge? But Vinnie doesn't start on his vendetta until after he loses his job a second time on account of gargoyles….
Then we witness what makes him unique among the Everymen: his method of revenge. A lot of people I know would have, under such circumstances and not yet really believing that gargoyles counted as people, gone hunting for them with a high-powered rifle and steel-jacketed ammunition, if not a freakin' bazooka. (I gotta admit that I myself would likely have gone out armed with a rifle and heavy-duty tranquilizer darts, to bag me a gargoyle to show to the authorities: "See, I told you they exist! So I wasn't driving drunk, and can I at least have my driver's license back?") But what does Vinnie Gregarino go hunting with? A cream-pie shooter. I know it's a cartoon, but geez, guys! Honestly, I think the scriptwriters for "Vendettas" must have O.D.'d on a weekend-long Laurel & Hardy film festival just before writing the script for that show. But I did my best to come up with a more-or-less understandable reason for Vinnie to go Vaudeville on us…
I painted Vinnie as an "Ugly American" with some difficulty. I honestly rather like Japan, even if I'll never, ever fit in over there (compared to the average Japanese woman, I'm a cross between an Amazon and a Wagnerian opera star: way too tall, way too busty, and wayyy too loud and opinionated) and I haven't been to the country in over five years. The first draft of the story had Vinnie bowing, removing his shoes and wielding his chopsticks like a proper guest, just as so many of us in my squadron tried to be when we were deployed over there. But I finally and regretfully, after going over the transcripts for "Vendetta" and "The Journey" twice, concluded that Vinnie just wasn't that type. Nope, he'd be like some of the jocks in my squadron who kept their shoes on, burped in public and speared their chopsticks into their rice, not knowing the proper customs and not really caring, either, so long as the beer was potent enough. (And Japanese beer can get pretty potent, too; USDA laws don't apply in Tokyo.) So I let him bitch about some of the more obvious cultural differences between Japan and the U.S., and make stupid mistakes and gaffe's even after he'd been living in Japan for nearly a month. But I like to think that, if he stayed in the country long enough, he would adapt as well as any gaijin can to life in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Another of Vinnie's more admirable points is that, once he's gotten his licks in, he doesn't hold a grudge. This makes him as unlike the Canmores as a human can get; that family has grudge-holding down to a science. (Which brings up the question of what will happen to Vinnie, once the Quarrymen find out that the man they undoubtedly labeled as a Traitor to Humanity, after he stopped their leader from killing Goliath, is coming back to New York… with a gargoyle stowed in his luggage! Uh-oh…) No, Vinnie's not a smart guy… but he's actually a nice guy. In my book, that counts for more.
Honestly, I was a little surprised myself at how Yama, near-universally regarded by Gargoyles fans as Not Really a Nice Guy, turned out to be a nice guy too. The first time I saw the episode "Bushido", I had a pretty negative opinion of him, though I liked Sora and thought Kai was an excellent clan leader. And for the longest time, I thought Sora was Kai's mate! But then, somewhere--Station 8's "Ask Greg" pages, I think--I read that Sora was actually mated to Yama. My first thought, of course, was "Poor girl! Married to a lying bum! How can she get out of such a mismatch?" And further on the Station 8 website, Greg answered that same question from another fan, about whether Sora would stay with Yama or dump him, with a vague answer like "that remains to be seen." (Uh-huh. Everybody who's satisfied with that answer, raise your hands! …I don't see any hands…)
So I started writing an aftermath story for "Bushido." And a weird thing happened… Yama turned out to be a nice guy after all. But a frustrated soul, yearning for more than Ishimura could give him. If he'd been in another Disney cartoon, he'd have been singing along with Belle, "I want much more than this provincial life!" And he talked back to Kai because Kai let him talk back to him, indulging him where another leader would have slapped him down hard and fast, probably before he had a chance to get more than one word out of his mouth in front of guests. Obviously, Kai and Yama had a deep relationship between them… The two really should have had their names switched as hatchlings, in my opinion. Kai (one of the many words for "sea", in Japanese) is really the mountain, the solid and steady rock upon which the clan rests the leadership and all its traditions. Yama (the Japanese word for "mountain") is the sea, restless and shifting, seeking the far horizons. But they grew up together, one somehow complementing the other, and formed the sort of bond that can't easily be broken, even when one becomes leader to the clan. Anyone else out there read ElfQuest? To me, Yama and Kai are very much like Skywise and Cutter. That became clearer and clearer as more and more scenes were written, fleshing out more of their history. They aren't just rookery brothers; they're brothers in all but blood. They've laughed and cried and shouted and fought and made up and laughed some more together, and if it weren't for that bond between himself and Kai, Yama would have made a crate on the sly and shipped himself off to Tokyo decades ago. It was just too bad that Taro picked up on Yama's frustration, and knew just how to exploit it…
Since the "Ask Greg" webpages made it clear that Sora was Yama's mate, who was Kai's mate? Some folks have written that Kai is unmated, since "the leader must stand alone", referring to the idea that duty and the demands of leadership must always take precedence over the heart. That argument was used for Doc Savage, too, but in my humble opinion, that noble ideal was first proposed by some archaic bozo who'd never had any luck with women in the first place. An important leader, especially, must have a wife/husband/mate who is steadfast and loyal, someone he/she can relax with and trust with at least a few of his/her many worries and cares, or the leader is apt to burn out fast. For every head of state or corporate exec who ever held to that 'noble ideal', and every other one that ended up in some sort of widely-publicized marital scandal, there are fifty more who've sworn they couldn't have made it through all those years without the support of their spouses. And so, enter Sakaki, the Leetah to Kai's Cutter. And why didn't we see her in the episode "Bushido"? Because she was in the rookery with the hatchlings, as First Rookery Keeper… But even though she ends up spending a lot more time with the hatchlings than with her mate, she and Yama are Kai's family/support group, the foundation of his life; he'd be utterly shattered, lost and bereft without them.
But what about Sora? It was odd how the story was started because of her situation, but at first I couldn't quite get a grasp on her character. Greg Weisman also said plainly that she and Yama were of different rookery generations, a rarity among gargoyles; why had she chosen him instead of one of her rookery brothers? Because, despite her seemingly shy manner at first, Sora is actually a very strong-willed female who, when she knows what she wants, sets out to get it. And she's very intelligent, bright enough to get impatient with her slower siblings and to need extra credit work in school just to keep her from being bored out of her pretty horned skull. And Yama happened to be one of the clan's teachers (he had to be something other than a warrior by training, considering how poorly he fought against Angela and Taro; that had to be a lucky punch that took Goliath out. But he knew that short-circuiting Taro's electrically charged fans together would overload them…) When Yama gave Sora the extra attention she needed, providing lessons in more advanced math and science, it was the start of her schoolgirl crush on him. A crush that the clan elders would have frowned heavily upon, if Sakaki and Kai hadn't noticed it first, and taken steps that ended in Yama temporarily setting aside his teaching duties, without loss of honor for anyone. But Sora would not let him set her aside as well, as merely a "teacher's pet," and it probably took only one thorough kiss for Yama to realize that Sora was apparently serious about him, he was incredibly lonely, and maybe this could work out after all… Most times, a schoolgirl crush either fades away with time or is dashed upon the hard rocks of reality; I speak from painful experience. But every once in a great while, very very rarely, it becomes something much more; something that, to quote Shakespeare, "is an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken. It is the star to every wandering bark whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken…" And Sora, who would have followed Yama into the forest even after learning of his duplicity and betrayal, was Yama's star as he wandered in his exile. But a tree great enough to withstand tempests without being shaken may still be undermined by vermin gnawing at the roots…
One last little note: Judge Ooka, mentioned in "Yama's Path", is not only the Japanese equivalent of Sherlock Holmes; he was an actual person, and played a fairly important part in Japan's history. Folk tales of Ooka's cleverness and wisdom are told to Japanese children, and a few of them have reached the Western shores in a book that is currently, regretfully, out-of-print: Ooka the Wise: Tales of Old Japan. If you can find a copy of this book in your local library or used bookstore, read it; I can virtually guarantee you won't be disappointed! Probably the most famous anecdote, included in the book I just mentioned, is the one about a miser who wanted to be paid for the smell of his fish cooking; a student that was boarding with him would eat his plain rice at the same time the miser was making his dinner, and smelling the cooking fish as he ate would make the rice seem flavorful. Everyone thought the case would be tossed out of court, but Judge Ooka agreed to hear it. And astonishingly, he agreed that the miser should be paid! But only with the sound of the student's money. The student jingled the few coins he had in his hand, and the case was closed. But it's another story in that same volume that got me to thinking about the gargoyles of Ishimura. See, one day one of Judge Ooka's grandchildren got to boasting with his buddies (you know, the "My dad can beat up your dad" stuff), and he bragged that his grandfather could bring a stone statue to life… Find the book if you can, and enjoy a good read for any age!