It’s possible that you’ve heard through the grapevine (and by grapevine, I mean the post directly below this one) that I went on a bit of a self-discovery road trip through California for about twelve days. It was a wonderful: I met new people, bonded with lifetime friends and got tazed by a cop in San Diego. It was quite the experience – I learned a lot hopping from town to town while meeting new people. There are a lot of lovely places out there, even if you don’t know where to look.
But a common discussion I often found myself having with locals, especially with many my age, was “what do you even see in a place like this.” Being the smooth gentleman I am, I often responded with a classy “nothing’s getting old, we’re just growing up,” but of course, I was an outsider looking in: a city like Los Angeles or a homely small town such as San Ardo will always stun me. Still, wherever we call home, the where is important. We might not notice what makes a home so special because we’ve become so comfortable with it, something I’m learning as I’m packing for my move. For many characters inhabiting the worlds of anime, home is like this too – inhabitants may not notice something strange but to us tourists, the worlds of fiction are wonderful and exciting. Although I can’t say that I could call any I’ve come across home just yet, here are a few that I would love to visit someday.
In 1575, an Italian painter named Paulo Veronese was commissioned by the city of Venice to paint the ceiling for the Sala del Collegio in Doge’s Palace, the great hall where the Venetian government met. Veronese depicted several virtues through elaborately painted panels, namely peace and justice, followed by meekness, fidelity, prosperity and moderation. And although Venice never quite lived up to these ideals in her time (much ado to elaborate revenge plots, slave trafficking and immoderate wastefulness), perhaps Veronese imagined a city along the lines of Neo-Venezia while painting. Technology has ridden of all the diseases in the past, wonderful food is ensured to all its inhabitants and the soothing singing voices of gondoliers ring out on occasion as well. Even the cats are great. While I’ve always loved the loud, vibrant energy of city life, it’s places like this which make me wonder if a peaceful, quiet life wouldn’t be so bad after all.
And the tour guides! No one could give a proper description of Neo-Venezia without once referring to the Undines, the masters themselves! Neo-Venezia is home to many secrets and over the course of the series, they slowly unveil them to us in the gentlest manner possible. Aria is the most wonderful tour of a city one could ever take.
Gankutsuou’s Paris 5053 A.D.
Now let’s take that above description of what the real 16th century Venice was like, shake it up with the laws and traditions of 17th century France, and then add a generous hit of acid three thousand years in the future. Gankutsuou’s futuristic vision of Paris and its surrounding environment is truly magnificent. The sheer spectacle of Albert’s and Franz’s visit to Luna is truly something behold: the glowing aura of the festival is only matched by the colorful art style that the series comes wrapped in. The almost sinful sultriness of city life as portrayed here is matched by few and Paris itself is home to only the most glorious of backstabbers. The city oozes sex and extravagance on the level of the Count himself, all while presenting the duels and horse-drawn carriages in an unapologetically gaudy package. Although this may not be a place for the faint of heart (the public beheadings and underlying corruption will certainly get some people’s skin to crawl), you’d be hard-pressed trying to find a world as sinfully alluring as this one. This world might be all about material, but that’s just fine with me.
Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto, Canada
This one’s cheating. Not only does this city exist in real life (and it’s damn cool, even then), but the story I’m taking it from is a Western comic book. But it’s my blog, so like, whatever. Close enough. Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto is, well, Toronto. You’ll find the same Goodwill store you see in the book and you’ll also see the same Honest Ed’s bargain store. Even Scott’s house exists in the real world.
But Scott’s Toronto isn’t just Toronto either. It’s lovingly crossed with the campiness of comic books and video games without investing too much in the reality of either. Vegans have psychic powers, exes explode into coins when you kick them in the teeth, and there’s an airborne university in Carolina chained down to a mountain range. But this isn’t just a city filled with cheap references to Double Dragon and indie rock bands either. Here, Toronto speaks to an entire generations who grew up and continue to do so in a world where videogame culture is the dominant iconography. The setting along with the story reminds us that our ideas about relationships and “growing up” can be (and oftentimes, are) essentialized by media, all while being clever, funny and grounded in reality at the same time. It’s a goofy world which runs off of video game logic, but it never feels estranged from reality either. Scott Pilgrim is a story about growing up in the age of the videogame, while being set in 16-bit version of Toronto. It doesn’t get better than that.
And there’s more
All the time as a kid we hear silly crap like “In a book, you can be (anyone/anywhere)!” and if you’re like me, you probably roll your eyes when you hear that. But nevertheless, it’s true. Fiction is a vacation, from the comfort of your own home. And though we might not be able to fully invest in the homes of other’s, not when the term is so wildly subjective, it’s important to make the trip. Whether these places exist in two dimensions or three, traveling between cities gives us perspective on what we consider “home,” and when we return, “home” (among other things) is suddenly more prismatic and complex. I guess that’s one of the things I learned on my twelve day road trip. So if you’ve got a good favorite setting, definitely throw it my way. I’ll be looking forward to the next holiday I take, 2-D or otherwise.