January 15, 2006

Part 8 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 31

劉王 [りゅうおう] Royal Ryuu

Chapter 33

五穀 [ごこく] gokoku, the 5 grains: wheat, rice, beans, awa and kibi (two kinds of millet)

The birds and the bees are further explained in Chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon.

amanuensis n. a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another; secretary.
internuncio n. a papal ambassador; an intermediary.

I admire the audaciousness of the biology that Fuyumi Ono has created here, but it is not without its problems. Flowering plants (any plant that produces a seed, which is actually a fertilized ovule) rely on good old sex to reproduce, just not in the obvious and recognizable human way. However, it is possible (though rare at the multicellular level) for organisms to reproduce by means of parthenogenesis.

This does present obstacles on the human side, though. Evolution is an ongoing arms race, with organisms developing defenses in response to ongoing threats, and then passing those traits onto their children. One of the best examples of this is the Delta 32 mutation on the CCR5 gene, which is found predominantly among the descendants of the survivors of the Black Death. People who inherit two copies of the gene exhibit an enhanced immunity even to HIV.

Ono implies that some sort of evolution or hybridization is ongoing at the plant level. If viruses and bacteria, reproducing asexually, continue to evolve, but the rest of the animal kingdom remain one-off creations, with no specific genetic inheritance from their parents, they would soon be overwhelmed. The cheetah, due to a "bottleneck effect," evolved with almost no genetic variability in its current population, leaving the entire species one mutation away from extinction.

On the other hand, having every child born with a completely randomized genetic mix, communicable diseases would have a harder time taking hold, the same way a truly randomized security code is difficult to break. However, diseases cross species boundaries, so the intra-species randomization would have to press the limits of what we genetically define as a "species." Among mammals, it's a male and female producing fertile offspring, which doesn't apply here.

It also becomes difficult to explain sexual dimorphism without sexual reproduction. And while the acknowledgement of a purposeful creator in this case does render these arguments rather moot, recent studies argue that evolution continues apace, suggesting that if there is agency at the microcellular level, these forces should inevitably exert themselves at the macro level.

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
I guess until we can persuade Enki to steal a whole biology department from some university along with power generators and various supplies, and the scientists too, there's not much that can be done to answer some of these questions within the story...

It would also be interesting to consider the relationship between Earth and the 12 Kingdoms world. Did Tentei create the Earth too? Or did he simply find it in the wide universe and go "hmm, that's interesting, let's see what I can do".

Since the worlds are connected, there'd be regular "contamination" between them - though mostly from Earth, I'd guess. As well as pollen and similar coming across, various single-celled forms of life would too. If a flock of birds or a shoal of fish happened to cross, maybe we could even get breeding pairs.

I wonder if there's tiny Yaboku around for bacteria. Or maybe they appear from tiny fruit on normal ones...

Anyway, since Tentei can regulate various "natural" events, including plague/disease, maybe he can manage the world even at a microscopic level.

I guess overall it's one of those things that perhaps doesn't add to the story if discussed within the story. Similar to "what role does sex play in a world where children grow on trees?" - perhaps just to encourage long-term male/female bonding (marriage)?

PS Thanks for the translations. I read all of Shadow of the Moon last week. Nice. (and surprising how many things the anime version added...)
1/16/2006 9:11 AM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
In chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon, Youko wonders "exactly what kind of hanky-panky went on in the red-light district." I'm still hoping to run across the answer.
1/16/2006 10:14 AM

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
last week i went to a sushi place and they had a beer called "kirin beer" (it even had a picture of a kirin on it). is a kirin an actual japanese mith or was it made up by Ono?

oh, and another thing: did you ever notice that a map of the twelve kingdoms looks fairly like Ankor Wat temple in cambodia (a look from above, i mean)?
1/17/2006 2:53 PM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
Ono is clearly basing her geography in part on the Sacred Mountains of China. I hadn't considered the Angkor Wat angle before, but just as you can find shared threads woven throughout Indo-European cultures, I wouldn't be surprised if the common denominator of Buddhism were reflected here as well.
1/17/2006 4:46 PM

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
No cats on the yobuku? There is a giant mouse running around Ryuu...

I find the theory of Quantum mechanics interesting in terms of string theory and membranes. It says there are at least 11 dimensions - up, down, accross, time, and 7 more that could possibly be other worlds. There could even be more than 7. They would not have to follow our "rules of nature" because string theory is at the basic level chaotic. If Tentei the scientist found one of the other dimensions he could use bio-engineering to create anything he wanted... ("The Elegant Universe" by Michael Greene, book and DVD (netflix has it)).
1/20/2006 2:38 PM

# posted by Anonymous Retrooo
the five mountains of the yellow sea are probably based on the five sacred daoist mountains of china, but the geography of the twelve kingdoms seems to me based on the traditional cosmology of zhou era china (probably via han dynasty thought). the fact that there are twelve kingdoms reflects the twelve earthly branches and the zodiac animals, etc. the five seas at the center of the world correspond with the five colors and five directions and so on (including the sacred mountains of china). i would definitely not be surprised if this sort of thing had made its way to southeast asia via buddhism either.
1/21/2006 7:46 PM

# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
You know...I just wanted to say, that the less you try to digger into all this "tree-born" theory, the better it'll seem. You either accept it and flow with the story, or you''ll get to the moon-size holes in it. And what kind of "hanky-panky" goes on in the bedrooms (for some reason, i'm afraid you won't get the answer, but one can always hope) and the issue of marriages are just two of them, really. (plea-a-ase! mutual bonding?!then why exactly heterosexual?)
But this note did constitute for a great read, thank you.

P.S. (to another Anonymous)
What Rakushun ever did to you? BTW, some of the anime additions were more then welcomed in my ver-r-ry humble opinion.
1/22/2006 9:50 AM

# posted by Blogger Eugene
The sheer audaciousness of an idea goes a long way in compensating for its logical failings, and motivates readers to fill in the blanks themselves. The "warp factor" in Star Trek, for example, never amounted to much more than: "Shovel more coal into the boiler, Scotty!" It was such a prosaic idea that they never could do much with it. The "slipstream drive" in Andromeda, to compare, is more compelling scientifically and makes for more interesting stories.

One thing that has impressed me greatly about the Twelve Kingdoms is that Ono is doing with Confucian and Buddhist metaphysics what Christian fantasists like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have done: take the metaphor literally. A "change of dynasty decreed by Heaven when the incumbent emperor is found to be lacking in moral virtue" is an ancient Chinese political theory known (in Japanese) as ekisei kakumei (易姓革命). She has simply taken it literally.

Similarly, yin and yang are a fundamental concepts in Confucianism and Taoism that have insinuated themselves into most Asian religions (the same way pre-Christian philosophies such as dualism and stoicism insinuated themselves into Christianity). As female and male are expressions of yin and yang, you could then explain all sexually dimorphic differences as secondary sex characteristics. So there are no primary sex characteristics in this world.
1/22/2006 12:00 PM

# posted by Anonymous Damien
Given that they use *Chinese characters*, and the whole place feels Chineseish, I subscribe to the theory that Tentei made up the whole thing to copy China but play with it. Humans of the Kingdoms have sexes -- and sex, I doubt brothels involve trimming bonsai trees -- because they're based off of real humans, but don't reproduce that way because Tentei wanted to control reproduction.

Though having domestic animals come off riboku strikes me as weird. Consistent with all animals coming from trees (hey, no mice plagues unless the gods want some) but livestock not reproducing just feels wrong. At least crops can be planted from their own seed.

Parthenogenesis would be a problem but they don't use parthenogenesis; randomized recombination seems to be where it's at. But hell, if you want to drag science in here, what about hanjuu? Go straight past biology into physics with violation of conservation of mass...
12/13/2006 10:19 PM