I expanded my “Appendix N” page a bit today, adding a couple more Asian films and an entire section for animation. I may wind up regretting how I’ve organized this new section — but it works for now.
While working on the page I was reminded of a recurring motif in a few of the anime series I added to the section — high-minded “guardians” of earth (or the particular world in question). Whether they were guardians of the living — let’s say, Dragon Ball Z — or the dead, as in Bleach — they’re problematic.
Why? Well, it’s difficult to say exactly but it comes down to a matter of scope. I think The Avengers articulates this well (with regard to the Tesseract):
“It is a signal to the Realm that Earth is ready for a higher form of war!”
It’s a problem that appears in Homestuck with its own Guardians — in spite of so many things being explained in intricate detail, the Guardians go unexplained. They simply are. How they came to be might be given, but not why.
Often the reason for a Guardian’s existence is given as self-evident — there are big, bad things in the ‘verse, and the guardians are there to protect the world.
But who decided that the earth (or wherever) needed protecting?
Look at Bleach for example — the Shinigami protect mortals from the Hollows but it’s shown in the story that mortals can (and do!) develop spirit powers to defend themselves. If mortals can evolve/develop defenses, why are guardians needed?
It actually creates a glaring plot hole — how did mankind survive for such a long time without spirit powers to give the Shinigami society time to develop?
I’m not going to go into depth here, I don’t think it’s necessary to pick apart Bleach at this time — this is just a surface problem. In attempting to solve or explain problems like this one, additional background becomes necessary.
I wonder if the above problem led to the creation of the Quincy in Bleach.
Going back to the issue of “designated guardians” — the basic problem with a “cosmic police force” is one in which other cosmic agencies must exist. If you’re going to have protector gods play a role in your story then you basically need to introduce equal and opposite forces at work within your narrative.
I have a feeling that’s where a lot of “religions of evil” come from.
People with real-world religions struggle with how protector gods “allow bad things to happen to good people” all the time — so you’d better believe that people are going to struggle with a story featuring protector gods.
This is probably where your various “Prime Directives” come from.
But a Prime Directive is a hand-wave. It’s almost an after-thought. There are certainly consequences when cultures of vastly different technology levels come into contact but since when has that stopped anyone? Hero or villain?
Cultures are like liquids. They fill every corner and take the form of their container. When new ground is broken, they flow and equalize and whatever — hey, I’m not a fluid dynamics expert. You can look it up yourself.
The point is Prime Directives — or Alien Non-Interference Clauses — just don’t work. It’s debatable whether they’re even as ethical as they’re purported to be.
Having guardians be more technically advanced than the people they’re guarding is just a problem because those techniques can and will inevitably fall into the hands of the people being protected.
But what if you still want guardians in your story?
That’s where recruiting people from among the protected comes from — that’s where you get your Alien Spies. They live among the people but are not of the people. They have to be cunning and clever, using only the tools at hand.
That’s how you can run a proper Masquerade.
But even a good Masquerade will have people who suspect — people on either side of the curtain — and agents of opposing sides. Who is really “in the know,” and who is being used? Until you can remove or replace a Mask, you can’t be sure.