The Hero’s journey is a story arch type that I use very often in my own writing. Not surprisingly, it is also my favorite stories to watch. Something that intrigues me is the fact that many story types, themes, and symbol seam to be found in every story I truly enjoy. This pattern goes much farther back then just anime. The Hero’s Journey or the Golden Fleece arch type is found in most all mythologies around the world. Famous tellings of this story include the Odyssey, the Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars and any story where the hero has to go on a journey to get/do something.
What makes this story arch so interesting, is the fact that it’s the same story being told in a different way each time. Everyone is familiar with it to some extent, but not everyone realized how distinct the formula is. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” This can even be applied to stories!
In the screen writing world, the world God is leading me down, it’s a know fact that no story in completely new. The trick to selling a good script is taking the same story and making it new. Don’t try and be original, it’s tedious and hard, and something I thought I would never ever say as a writer. Don’t go our of your way to be original, be creative. How can you as a writer stay two-steps ahead of the audience and still use the same formula?
Call to Adventure –
The Call to Adventure is the universe beaconing the young hero to take a journey for whatever reason. This call is much more then a request or a suggestion. At this point in the story, the hero is unaware that this call is his destiny and part of a prophecy that may be made known to the hero later, or only privy to the universe. This call acts on a supernatural level. In Star Wars, it was the force working all things for the greater good. In the Odyssey, it was Athena the goddess guiding Odysseus. It’s usually not until “Supernatural Aid” that the hero realized that his journey is in fact inspired by more then just mortal want. The end is usually some form of immortality.
The hero always starts as a very ordinary person. Bilbo and Frodo were hobbits, the last creatures of middle earth to ever go on an adventure. Luke Skywalker was a simple farmer. Ichigo was an ordinary high school person. All these heroes had greatness thrust upon them, but when looking back on their ordinary lives, we see small fragments of the supernatural already active in their lives. For Frodo, it was the ring of his uncle. For Luke, it was a connection to the force, which also caused the birth of his father. Ichigo has always been sensitive to ghosts that also played a big part in his mother’s death, the starting point of his character development.
Refusal of the Call –
The Refusal of the call is before the hero realizes that this path is his destiny. His refusal only results in events that force him to take on the path. The Hero tries to go against fate but untimely fails. Oedipus Rex refuses to realize that he is the cursed murder who he is looking for. Fate catches up with him to reveal that the prophecy of his killing his father and marrying his mother are indeed true. Luke Skywalker decides that he can’t follow Obi Wan to Alderaan because he has to stay behind with his aunt and uncle on their farm. It’s their death that gives him the momentum to take the destined path.
This refusal is in fact against one’s own interest. The hero demonstrates his ignorance by not seeing the greatness of the opportunity – showing how much the hero will grow along the way.
In InuYasha, Kagome refuses to believe her eyes when she falls down the well and accept her destiny as the reincarnation of Kikiyo. This is a great example of the refusal of the call in anime, however, I actually find it more common to find the “answer the call with both fists” type theme in anime. When the call is presented, the audience witnesses great feats of courage and strength. Because of this, it’s common I believe for the audience to feel a bit distant from the characters. This behavior is uncharacteristic in the real world, especially in the western world. The trade off here, is that it’s more entertaining to watch the character punch the call in the face, but watching a character struggle to answer the call makes him more relatable and believable. This is the perfect opportunity in a story to see a character weak, so he has room to grow.
Supernatural Aid –
The hero has accepted the call and allowed for equilibrium in the universe. Now, his path seams to be strait as he has pleased even mother nature. His actions here on out seam to follow a certain rhythm of society. The hero encounters his special help- a mentor, a teacher, or a conductor of souls to the afterlife. In Star Wars, this would be Obi Wan especially after he is killed and becomes simply a force ghost. In the Odyssey, it’s Athena. In Dante’s Inferno, it’s Virgil the poet who leads Dante himself through the circles of hell so he can reach heaven to be with his beloved Beatrice. For Christians, they say the equitant is the holy spirit. The holy spirit part of the trinity, omnipresent and actively living in the lives of Christ’s ambassadors. We’re our own hero’s in our life stories. We have the blessing of the holy spirit as a guide 24/7. In the old Testament, the holy spirit would only come upon certain people for a limited amount of time for a special project. Similarly to the Old Testament, the supernatural aid must always leave so the hero can accomplish his goal in his own strength. The Bible tells us that we don’t have to do that anymore. Our “supernatural” strength is always with us.
There are endless examples of supernatural aid in anime. It wouldn’t be fun without it! As Naruto has many mentors, his strongest and most influential one was the nine tailed fox. The fox gave him energy, “Chakra” as aid when he found himself in tight spots. In Hunter x Hunter, it’s the Nen that gives the users powers. In Star Wars, everyone knows that the force is “what binds us, penetrated us…” See how in these last three examples, the aid was in the form of some sort of literal force? Something we can’t see but we know is there either around us, or inside us. This is very similar to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit.
The Belly of the Whale –
The First thing I Think of is Johan. His story is one of the best examples of this concept. The belly, like the womb is a place for the hero to go through a re-birth. Jonah was punished for disobeying the Lord. He stayed in the belly for three days and nights praying and suffering. When the fish spit him out, he decided to do what God told him to do in the first place with a new attitude. God took that time to change and shape Johan into the messenger he needed him to be.
In Hunter X Hunter, the characters go through a transformation as they’re stuck in Trick Tower with 72 hours to get out. This event was even facilitated to teach teamwork. This maze of a prison was designed so that many decisions would have to be made, but they could only be acted on if everyone agreed on them. This was done with simple voting on a devise. When someone would press the choice of the minority, the group would freak out and demand the person’s reasoning behind it. This proves that the test was also designed to have conflict that stood in the character’s way of developing and finishing the maze.
As the 72 hours rolled on, Gon and his friends pushed through the trials, guilt, and pain. They took this time to not only develop as people, but as a team. After this trial, Gon was ready to be a Hunter. He and his friends just needed to be pushed down and tested so they could see how far they had to go before they were ready to be Hunters.
There are many more elements to the Hero’s Journey, but so little time. Finding so many similarities in so many different types of stories all over the world shows that we’re all connected in some way. There are lots of theories as to why that is, and what it exactly is that connects us. I believe that mythology and stories are a representation of human search for truth. The only truth that satisfies me, is the Lord’s truth.