What do Fairy Musketeers, Princess Tutu and Durarara have in common? Well, if you’ve read the title, you might have a guess in mind and you’d be right. Aside, of course, from the more obvious answer of all three shows being produced in Japan.
So, for the sake of those unfamiliar to the term, what exactly is a motif? Well, a motif is a specific idea or feature that is found in many different kinds of stories. For example, the “evil stepmother” is a motif. You see this one in Cinderella, Snow White and many other fairy tales. In fact, motifs are used so frequently in folklore, there is a motif dictionary for them all and scholars are constantly researching them and adding more. But fairy tales aren’t the only ones that contain motifs. Many contemporary shows and books continue to recycle these elements of story and reuse them in various settings.
In a show like Fairy Musketeers, it’s pretty easy to guess at what motifs show up. Actually, it would be easier to figure out what motifs are not being used. The evil stepmother, three companions (the number three is very heavily used in folklore), magical helpers, quests, evil and good magic, etc. Even direct references to fairy tale characters are made with Red Riding Hood being the lead alongside Snow White and Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty). As for Princess Tutu, again, it’s a simple matter. You have a beast (duck, in this case) transforming into human form, a prince, a knight and a princess. Well, actually Princess Tutu is a story that enjoys twisting these motifs a bit, so instead of one princess, there are two. The prince is powerless, the knight can’t protect anyone and the villain doesn’t like being a villain and one princess doesn’t get a happy ending. Oh and the major villain at the end? It’s not who you think it is.
Even so, those shows are pretty easy motif factories. They are based on fairy tales, after all. But what about Durarara? That’s an odd one to add to the list, isn’t it? Not as much as you might think. Durarara is interesting for many reasons, but one major reason is for its unusual urban fairy tale blend. Thankfully the story doesn’t focus solely on this element, -or I fear it might not have done so well- but instead branches out its plot into heavy character development and a strong critique on the blending of technology, information and gangs in our world. The fantasy/mythical elements are more of a foil, drawing attention to how heavily technology has affected our societies. That being said, Durarara does indeed contain a few motifs of its own. It has a headless rider, a possessed sword, and a journey to retrieve something that was lost/taken. Although these elements are not the main focus, they do contribute to the overall story and make for an impressive urban fantasy setting (though the urban is more emphasized, in this case).
Of course, these are by far not the only examples of motifs showing up in anime. There are many more examples (Fruits Basket, anyone?). If you watch a lot of anime, chances are you run into motifs pretty frequently. So what kind of shows have you guys watched that might contain a motif or two? Were they any good?