Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Legendary Illogic

This keeps happening to me. I asked the DMSE&R for the latest research on the depths of Suvian illogic; instead, I received a mission report entitled 'Legendary Illogic'. One of these days, I will accidentally talk to someone competent, and I won't know what to do with myself.

Anyway. Since I'm here, I suppose I should look this thing over.

Mission: Legendary Illogic
Agents: Tera, Ari, Sergio Turbo, Nikki Cherryflower, Corolla
Continuua: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Harry Potter

This report was written by two teams of agents, and it shows. The early narration in particular jumps between them, with 'in the meantime's and 'Back in RC #97!'. Exclamation marks in the narrative  - not a good sign.

There are also formatting inconsistencies: one team single-space their paragraphs, the other double-space them. The latter is preferred in digital documents, particularly - as in this case - when the paragraphs are not indented.

I'm really trying not get hung up on the formatting, but the archivist in me - wait, that's all of me - is screaming. After the mission starts, the narrative tries to hybridise the two styles, resulting in single-spaced blocks of about five paragraphs, separated from each other by an empty line. It's as distracting as a misfiled document. The fact that the team from RC #1587 have immense difficulty remembering that the terminal punctuation in a spoken line with a following dialogue tag should be a comma, not a full stop, just makes it worse. "Like this," I'll clarify.

All right. I've gone away, made a cup of tea, let it brew a little too long, thrown it away, made a second, and drunk it. I'm finally ready to comment on the actual writing, not the peripherals.

(But, a parenthetical translation? Don't we charge for those?)

Five agents is a lot to keep track of. In the pre-mission sections, Tera and Ari are the easiest to distinguish - Tera speaks in italics, while Ari is... rather energetic. The next easiest to spot is probably Nikki - she betrays her newness nearly every time she talks. As for Sergio and Corolla... well, Sergio has definitely found his place in a teaching role. He speaks compound lines like this:

“Yeah. This is going to be difficult. I am definitely not looking forward to engaging Not-exclamation-mark-Nanoha in combat. Alright, are we all ready? The sooner we go, the sooner it will be over.”

That is a clear sign of someone who is either a natural teacher - or who's writing a report and forgot what everyone else said. I'm going with the former, and assuming the sometimes-strange feel of his words is a result of his not being a native speaker. 'She wouldn’t have been able to even exit it by herself' is a valid sentence, but 'she wouldn't even have been able...' is more natural-sounding.

Why am I explaining that? I think he's infected me.

It's interesting to watch the agents interact with each other. I assume that, like every other PPC agent ever recruited, these people bicker and argue amongst themselves on the course of their normal missions. However, in the company of strangers, they seem to prefer arguing with their temporary partners, not their permanent ones:

Ari hit herself in the head with her hardbound copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. “No--” thump “--she--” thwack “--did not--” smack “--have a lot of magical energy. In fact--” book-to-face “-- she could barely do any magic. She hadn’t recovered completely when she was 19. Ow...”

“Easy there.” Sergio advised, “Exorcising yourself isn’t going to help.”

(Yes, I had to add the empty line. Of course I did)

I like this. It's nice to see that agents from different departments can work together well - and it's also nice to see the subtle, almost understated camaraderie that grows up in a permanent team. The report has an undercurrent of 'I may argue with you, but not when these people are here' that I appreciate.

It's also well-written for someone unfamiliar with the canons. I don't know whether the agents actually talked to each other endlessly about the intricacies of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha - though it's certainly possible, since they don't know each other - but having them do so on the page means I can follow along despite never having heard of it.

Ari flicked her hand. The Book of Dawn appeared, and immediately flipped open to a pair of blank pages. 

“What’s that?” asked Nikki, watching with some trepidation as tiny motes of light came from around them and slowly touched the pages of the book. To her surprise, after a few moments, a few words began to fade into view on it.

“Oh, you’ll see!” said Corolla, while Ari made an expression probably intended to be a mysterious smile, but came out looking rather deranged.

The idea of agents keeping secrets from each other - in the case of the Book of Dawn, for little reason beyond whimsy - is strangely enthralling. It also makes for excellent storytelling: I wanted to know what was going on with the book as much as Nikki (still in her 'inexperienced' role, I see) did.

And then the world breaks. The moment where this happens is extremely well-written; I absolutely felt the horror the agents were going through. Which makes it all the worse when nothing comes of it. It's a massive, magical Chekhov's gun which never gets fired.

Unlike, I'm pleased to say, the Book of Dawn. The idea that the agents are making use of the rules of canon, and their own personal statuses, to up their power level, is entertaining at the least, and the actual transition is well written. In fact, the Ari-and-Corolla scene where they're chasing Alicia is probably my favourite part of the mission report. The agents work well together, and the fact that Alicia's eyes were the wrong colour because of contact lenses is highly amusing.

Ultimately, the main flaw in this mission report - viewed as a story, not as a reflection of actual events - is that the agents were simply too competent. Ari and Corolla defeated Death Eaters, Alicia, and Voldemort without breaking a sweat. The team neuralysed the whole school by convincing Dumbledore to call a meeting, and did so easily. The creature Winter was defeated by... well, luck. Even Ari and Corolla's promised exhaustion after de-Unisoning takes place after the mission, rather than threatening the course of it. There was no challenge, no point where it seemed everything would go wrong.

Don't misunderstand me - that's a definite positive for PPC agents; the Floating Hyacinth and the Lichen should be pleased with them. But as a narrative, as a story - it lacks conflict, and thus is not as interesting to read as it should be.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

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