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[personal profile] labingi
I've been rereading Mirage 15, and there is much to love, but I'm going to zero in on Kagetora's thoughts about his own psyche, which capture so magnificently how the human mind works. (And with apologies, there will be some comparison to my own life by way of exemplifying the text's realism. Yes, God help me, my life is like Mirage of Blaze—sometimes.)

Spoilers up to volume 15…

Brief summary: So at this juncture in the narrative, Kagetora has magicked himself into believing that Kotarou is Naoe so that he won't have to face the reality of having seen Naoe die. Meanwhile, Naoe is back from the dead via spiritual projection into a guy named Kaizaki. This results in grievous confusion for Kagetora, who feels that "Naoe" doesn't love him anymore, while he finds himself falling for Kaizaki, who behaves the way Naoe used to.

Petronia once described this setup as "inherently lame," which it is, but it also lays the groundwork for psychological delving that captures beautifully the inherent lameness, among other things, of real life.

In 15.6, Kagetora is grappling with the very common problem of what it means to fall out of love with someone (and/or have someone fall out of love with you). For centuries, whatever problems they had in their relationship, Kagetora has been certain Naoe loves him. Now, he's pretty certain "Naoe" doesn't anymore, because Kotarou is cold and unNaoe-like. He interprets this as Naoe having lost interest in him because a) Naoe has realized that Kagetora is pitiful, not worshipful and b) he has, therefore, become pitying, bored, and probably fixated on some worthier object.

As a result of this, Kagetora has become increasingly disenchanted with "Naoe." The spark isn't there anymore. Instead, he has found himself passionately attaching to Kaizaki, who says and does all the "Naoe" things, from the sexual grappling to the promising him it will all be all right and covering him in warm coats, and so on. Ergo, Kagetora is…

a) angry at "Naoe" for dumping him;
b) angry at himself for not being worthy enough to keep "Naoe's" interest;
c) angry at himself for dumping Naoe in favor of Kaizaki.

In an earlier chapter, he calls "Naoe" a "traitor," but in ch. 6 he reflects, "What about his [Kagetora's] loyalty to Naoe? If that was the case [that he could love anyone with Naoe-ish traits] what was Naoe to him? What was loyalty to a person then?... How was that any different than 'betrayal,' the very thing he hated?"

This is a seriously real psychological question. (Warning: my life follows.) I've been dealing with a version of it in trying to figure out what my emotional stance should be toward my once very dear friend, who told me a couple of years ago she would never speak to me again—and followed up my attempt to reach out this April with a pretty open declaration of lifelong enmity. In a way, you see, I had a Naoe too (though not like that, I promise you), who has become a Kotarou. It doesn't seem like the same person. But it is, and a person I was once extremely loyal to, someone I was long convinced, through very hard times, I would love and esteem forever. And now I don't.

I don't love her anymore, and to be honest, I don't esteem her either. I betrayed my own vow of love and loyalty, and this is a sharply two-edged sword. On the one hand, she told me to sever all ties—socially, but I'm sure ideally emotionally too. On the same hand, I certainly suffer less for caring less. And if I can attach better to the Kaizakis in my life, well, that only makes sense.

On the other hand, to squelch one's love and loyalty for someone is an extremely heavy act. She did it to me, and it is one of the most painful things I have ever been subjected to—just as Kagetora is pained at the thought that "Naoe" has done it to him. And here's the thing: if we give up on people because they don't meet certain expectations, that decision may be appropriate and necessary in some cases, but it is also a very slippery slope. Kagetora is terrified across 400 years that Naoe will give up on him because he isn't perfect. And I have to say, it feels a lot like my friend gave up on me because I wasn't perfect either: yes, I did many things wrong. I also worked like hell to preserve the relationship, changed not only words but actions—consistently, forgave difficult things, walked on eggshells, did moral back flips, took responsibility, gave space, was honest, was polite… none of it was good enough. And that experience—as Alanis Morissette puts it, "We'll love you as long as you're perfect"—that experience is noxious. I don't want to visit it on anybody else—and neither does Kagetora.

So what do you do when you no longer love someone you were sure you would always love, someone you faithfully promised to love?

From one perspective, the answer is simple. To borrow an image from the musical, The Messenger (which, no doubt, borrows it from elsewhere in Buddhism), if you contain all your life in a bowl and stand outside it in the space of awareness, all these things are surmountable. The Buddhist answer, in a word, is non-attachment. You love someone—anyone, everyone—by having compassion for them, being there (or respectfully absent in my case) in the way that is best for them and not being hurt by it because you don't need them, your ego is not invested in them. Naoe and Kagetora both tend to equate this with "pitying" someone in a condescending way, but in its truer form, it isn't that.

But doing this predicated on not having huge psychological needs of your own. Now lest I sound too much like my life is 400-year exploration of hell, I'll note I'm comparatively lucky here. I have my needs, God knows, but I also have a lot more genuine grounding in a sense of self-worth and emotional self-sufficiency than I used to.

Kagetora radically lacks this grounding. (In fact, his self-doubt was one of my first points of identification with Mirage at a time in my life when I had much more self-doubt myself.)

In ch. 6 Kagetora (who, damn, really knows himself!) reflects, "If no one told him he was proper, he could not be at ease. He wanted evidence. Something that could attest to his way of life, proof that his thoughts were appropriate. Naoe had personally proven all of this [by wanting so intensely to be like/surpass Kagetora]…. Surface appearances and words alone gave [Kagetora] no confidence. However, Naoe's humiliation was real. It was not a ruse. Because of the stark nature of his humiliation, it could be trusted. In order to approve of himself, he needed this man." (translation by Quaint_Twilight)

He cannot detach because he needs.

In fact, he needs a whole lot: "The insatiable want in his soul had become a raging flame* that could never disappear. Thick, dense, profound, and intense. A craving which resembled a black hole."

This is almost a textbook description of what addiction is like, as in Kagetora is addicted to Naoe, which I guess is not news. But addiction is a process that substitutes some perceived need for some other need: in this case, Naoe (or Kaizaki) is the proxy for Kagetora's sense of self-worth, the absence of which is the center of gravity sucking everything else into it. Kagetora's sense of self-worth, of course, never properly formed because he spent too much of his youth being bartered around to different families and assaulted by people he trusted to gain a sense of inner security. Every time he began to feel secure, he was abandoned or turned on, as if to say he was not perfect enough. He never had a consistent enough parent figure—which is also why Naoe is partly parent figure.

Thus, we have encapsulated in 15.6, the core dynamics of Kagetora's character, and no wonder he's falling apart. His only way out—to believe in himself—is a path he does not have access to.

* Roll credits, as CinemaSins would say.

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