Searching for the Full Moon: Magic and Fantasy in Shoujo

by eternal on May 29, 2010

Suspension of disbelief is a tricky phenomenon. It isn’t always easy to willfully suspend one’s disbelief, especially not at the whim of the writer. It’s for reasons like this that the use of fantasy elements in otherwise realistic stories can be jarring. What does it take for a work of non-fantasy fiction to use fantasy to its advantage, and where do you draw the line between acceptable plot twists and flat-out deus ex machine?

Full Moon o Sagashite is a perfect example of fantasy in manga done right. As opposed to getting in the way of the plot, the magic weaves itself into the story, working itself into the symbols and plot devices. It provides thematic structure to an otherwise simplistic tale, and it makes the presentation that much more – you guessed it – magical.

(Note: this post is on the manga version of the story, which is apparently different from anime adaptation. Read with caution.)

I will never, ever tire of Tanemura’s art.

Thematically, Full Moon tells a simple but heartwarming story. I suppose you could look at it in two ways. At face value, it’s a tragic love story with an uplifting conclusion. Eichi is effectively the anchor that holds Mitsuki prisoner in her childhood; her classic, Narcissu style tragic illness and her life in the orphanage cast her as a typical broken heroine who lives for only one purpose. It’s no surprise that the Eichi of her childhood was the single most important person to her. After all, what else did she have to live for? Eichi can be seen as both a big brother and a lover. I suppose only the most idealistic readers could see their relationship as purely romantic, but even I accept that buried beneath her love was a sense of respect and dependence that she would have for an older sibling. From this starting point, the rest of the story flows logically: Mitsuki pursues her last option left as a living person – becoming a pop star and living her life to the fullest – before joining her beloved in the safety of death.

From another perspective, Mitsuki’s journey is less about her conflicting love between Eichi and Takuto and more about herself. 12 year old Mitsuki has only one beacon of light – the boy who was her object of affection and her closest friend. However, 16 year old Full Moon is a (comparatively) mature  girl with her own life and her own happiness. Eichi and Takuto are the past and present – her decision between living on and pursuing her singing career is the same as her decision to search for Eichi in the safety of death or to challenge life and find a new happiness.

As you can see, the story is already dependent on an important fantasy-rooted plot device: Mitsuki’s ability to transform from 12 years old to 16 years old. It’s a clever way of allowing her to experience life from two angles, to see what she might still become. The issue of Shinigami and the souls of the dead also adds dramatic effect in that Eichi’s figurative presence in Mitsuki’s heart can be portrayed as literal. It’s hard to not cry when the truth of his presence is revealed in the end.

On a related note, I love the fact that Mitsuki begins the story by explaining that she sings in the hope of literally “reaching” Eichi with her songs, and that she will always be connected with him by the light of the full moon. It turns out that she technically wasn’t lying; it’s just that her words were meant to be taken figuratively. The full moon analogy is referenced often enough and extrapolated on to the point that it can hardly be taken as a hidden symbol, but it instinctively reminds me of the four-leafed clover from Honey and Clover. In this case, an important aspect of Mitsuki’s growth isn’t just finding the full moon, but learning to have faith in it even when it vanishes.

Moving on, the conflicts of the Shinigami are also explored in a more interesting manner thanks to the story’s fantasy elements. The Shinigami recollect their memories of their past lives in bits and pieces, allowing the reader to see what their personalities are like in the present before they can compare them to the past. Aside from the fact that it twists the order around to make things more interesting, it also allows for some clever plot twists, like when the reader eventually realizes how closely tied Takuto and Meroko are to Mitsuki’s family.

Speaking of which, the plot device of the Shinigami being “created” as a result of suicide ties nicely with Mitsuki’s unconscious desire to give up her own life, which is an important part of her growth from a dependent child to a confident young adult.

At any rate, if the plot of Full Moon relies to heavily on fantasy, the inevitable question is whether or not the use of fantasy “cheapens” the tragic elements. I can see where this train of thought comes from, but it works in this case simply because Full Moon is not a tragedy or a tear-jerker. It might jerk some tears, but the story contains a distinctly optimistic and uplifting theme about gaining the courage to live and finding happiness. For that reason, the intricacies of the plot, which could easily be called plot holes, feel irrelevant in the face of the theme that was established from the use of these fantasy elements.

After all, the story simply wouldn’t fit together without the use of magic. Mitsuki begins the series as a psychologically wounded 12 year old, hopelessly attached to the memory of the one person who cared for her. Throughout the course of the series, she’s forcibly removed from the safe confines of her memories and thrown out into the world, in which she faces the reality behind Eichi’s death and, ultimately, finds a happiness worth living for. In order for this concept to be enforced by the plot, allowances have to be made – Mitsuki needs to literally escape from the confines of her 12 year old self to understand all that life has to offer, and her illness has to disappear when she gains the confidence to live. She even managed to erase her name from a Shinigami’s death list, changing her fate by changing her heart – if that doesn’t say heart-warmingly dramatic symbolism, I don’t know what does.

Full Moon o Sagashite is a magical story, figuratively and literally. It takes all of the wonderful shoujo themes of facing tragedy with a courageous smile and weaves them dramatically into a story that reaches the heart. It’s incredible to think of how the fantasy elements help the series, and how much more memorable it is because of it. The magic underscores the straightforward, human theme of finding the will to live in a manner that can only be described as beautiful. Thanks to that, I am now one of the many whose heart was moved by a story that comes off as a children’s comic. Whether I like it or not, shoujo manga will always remind me of that rainy night under the full moon – the moon that always watches, even when it seems to have disappeared.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

V May 29, 2010 at 10:47 am

Thank you for the enjoyable and nostalgic post. As a side note, I personally found Mitsuki’s pervasive determination and optimism to be extremely appealing and productive; contrary to the typical emo-fest.


$tranger May 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Personally I also don’t think that putting fantasy in a story would generally ruin it. After all, inserting logically impossible elements like this is one of the trademarks and (at least for me) also one of the most appealing features of anime and manga.
That being said, I also agree that there are situations where a suddenly introduced fantasy twist will ruin the credibility of the story (even as a die-hard fan of it, the Clannad After Story anime still comes to mind). However, if the fantasy-part is neatly woven into the story from the very beginning I don’t have the slightest problem with it.

Btw: Thanks for pointing out that particular title – I always wanted to give it a try, but never really got around to read it :)
Right now might be a good time to pick it up, since I just finished Sharin no Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo and the Fandisk (which I both liked quite a bit, especially Houzuki’s Route) and don’t really have anything else on my radar at the moment .


FuyuMaiden May 29, 2010 at 11:25 pm

This has to be one of my favorite manga, probably only second to CardCaptor Sakura. It was my introduction to Arina Tanemura and probably had a lot to do with me becoming such an avid shoujo fangirl. Sadly, I read it so early that not much measures up, not even other Tanemura works. It’s sad when a manga-ka hits a noticeable peak, because you can’t help but feel disappointed in what would otherwise be a good story.

It really is a rare shoujo though, most of them are quite lacking, especially when they try to go for tragedy. And I want to thank you for describing it all so wonderfully. Fantasy here fascilitates the story, it doesn’t become the overriding element, whereas in something like Fushigi Yuugi, it eclipses all of the characters. Which is kind of awkward, because shoujo is always about characters and relationships over story. It’s why 90% have a “where they are now” epilogue (Another thing I think Full Moon does best).

Anyway thanks again for writing this lovely post. Mitsuki in particular is one of my favorite characters ever and seeing someone else treat her actions and thoughts as logical (it doesn’t seem like quite the right word, but it’s all my mind can think of right now) makes me happy. Perhaps because I’m around so many shoujo fans who expect super genki heroines, I come across a lot of people who dislike her in the manga.


ETERNAL May 31, 2010 at 11:19 pm

I can see why this would be a dangerous starting point in the medium. I think everyone “ruins” a genre or two by getting introduced to it by a series so close to the top. It’s even more dangerous if you experience it early on in your fandom because then the nostalgia factor kicks in.

Anyway, I’m glad you liked the post :)


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