One of the reasons I love anime so much is because it stays true to the best form of storytelling – the Hero’s Journey. While today I won’t be analyzing an actual anime…. (this will be an interesting debate) it is a powerful example of how this archetype can move a whole generation of children and their younger siblings.
I just finished avatar the last Airbender with my awesome friend known as Billy Goat at the summer camp we work at. Yeah… I hadn’t seen the whole thing before last week. But man, mind equals blown!
The Call to Adventure is the first part of the story telling formula that will make you the most money in the industry. For Aang the call was the moment he was told he was the Avatar. The call is supposed to be the most life changing moment in the hero’s life. For Naruto that moment was when he decided to become hokage. He basically called himself by deciding his own destiny. In Avatar and most myths that follow this formula that call is given by the universe or the wise elders of the tribe.
Refusal of the Call is when the hero throws a little fit because he is intimidated by the call. Aang didn’t want being the Avatar to change the way of life he had come to adore. When his life seamed to start flying out of control, he ran away with Appa and froze in the ice. Luke Skywalker refused the call to be a jedi as well! It’s pretty obvious that Naruto never refused his call, since he never goes back on his word, but he is a good example of when and how you can break the rules to the formula.
Supernatural Aid is the first time the hero is introduced to his potential by seeing supernatural powers in someone else, usually a mentor. For Aang, this would be the first time he crossed over to the spirit world and met Avatar Roku. In Death Note, the super natural aid would be the Death Note itself or even Ryuk the Shinigami. In anime I tend to see that the supernatural aid IS the supernatural aid for another character. For instance, Yato is the supernatural aid for Hiyori in Noragami.
Crossing the First Threshold is the first thing the hero overcomes on the road to beating the boss. Aang’s first step towards defeating the fire lord is battling his son Zuko in the second episode of book one. This part of the story keeps the fans invested in the show. In Naruto, the part that sold me on the show was the first story arc of Haku and Zabuza.
Belly of the Whale is when the hero gets a first dose of pushback. It’s important for the audience to see that the hero isn’t perfect. They need someone to identify with if they’re going to keep watching. The term “Belly of the Whale” actually comes from the Bible in the book of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet who was told to go minister in a land full of heathens, and instead of obeying God he ran away and was punished by sitting in the belly of a giant fish for three days. Aang had to come to terms with his sin of running away when he discovered that he was the last airbender. His battle with guilt and sorrow was so great he entered the Avatar state.
The Road of Trials is the majority of the story. This is basically the rest of the show for Aang until he invaded the Fire Nation.
Meeting with the Goddess/ Woman as the Temptress is an interesting part of the formula because it paints women in a positive light. One woman is painted as the redemptress but at the very next chapter a different woman is the temptress. The goddess is Yue who actually becomes a goddess. She gives Sokka his first glimpse at romance. The temptress is Azula. She tempts people to do her bidding and ever gets Zuko to join her side for almost a whole season.
Atonement with the Father. I’ve heard so much from my friends about their love of Zuko’s redemption. The moment when his uncle forgives him made me cry and yelp quite a bit. THIS is what we need to see in our entertainment.
In “real life” there is redemption offered to us if we are willing to take it. There is a God who longs to show you the same love and patience as Uncle Iroh. But it doesn’t stop there. The Hero’s Journey may be a good way to make money in the entertainment industry, but when it comes down to it, it tells the story of Jesus. The reason I am so obsessed with this formula is because it reminds me of who my real hero is – Christ.