Magical Mondays: Blurring the Lines between Magic & Science

HomuraSometimes in stories, the lines between magic and science are blurred—either by how magic or science works in that universe, or by leaving things ambiguous as to whether an object is magical or a creation of science. Science and magic are often shown as being at odds in fiction, but when the lines between the two are blurred, the results can be very interesting.

In the anime Saiyuki, magic and science are shown as existing together in the same world. In some ways magic and science split up the whole world in Saiyuki. Society is comprised of humans and demons; human fall under the category of science and demons fall under the category of magic. In this universe, any combination between magic and science together is looked down upon. People like Gojyo are ostracized for being half human and half demon, Hakkai is shunned for being a human who became a demon, and even Goku is viewed as an abomination for being born of a union between heaven and earth. The main plot centers around our heroes trying to stop the resurrection of of the demon Gyumaoh, who is being awoken using a combination of science and magic. The anime makes a point to show the hypocrisy not only of humans, but even the gods, who condemn these unions and they actively instigate prejudice. The gods seem especially hypocritical about this, as they are willing to use people who are “abominations” to do their dirty work. The prejudices presented in Saiyuki are largely analogous to real world prejudices; the demons and humans dislike each other of for a variety of reasons, but it largely breaks down to a fear of the other race by each party. The demons, furthermore, are looked down on by the gods, and in general the gods seem to condemn anything that is different or don’t fit their notions of how the world should be. It’s a great discussion of prejudices that come about because of religion.

saiyukiHowever, there are certain objects in this universe that directly contradict the idea that having a union between science and magic is bad. Hakkai’s pet dragon can turn into a Jeep that transports the gang. Sanzo, who is the highest level of Buddhist priest, also carries a gun with the ability to banish demons. So despite this notion that magic and science cannot coexist together, there are certain objects, animals, and people that prove that they can. Nothing bad ever comes from these things being combined; if anything, it simply strengthens their power.

I haven’t yet finished Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, but in this video game, we are introduced to a character who seems to blur the lines between magic and science. In the game, you play as Makoto Naegi, who, along with several other students, is sent to Hope’s Peak Academy. They quickly discover that someone has taken over the school and locked them all inside. The group is told that the only way they can get out is by killing someone. But, after the murder, there is a trial to prove who murdered the victim. If the murderer is discovered, then they are executed. However, if they are not discovered, then the whole class is executed and the murderer gets to graduate and leave the school. Overall, the whole game is more of a horror/detective story than one that incorporates magic or even much science, except that the main villain, Monokuma, is a psychotic teddy bear that runs the school, gives the students the rules to escape, and tries to incite them to murder. There is debate among the students over how Monokuma works as he seems too sophisticated to be a robot of some kind. The characters’ abilities leave the viewer wondering if Monokuma is magical or even demonic, since he seems to have powers and abilities that wouldn’t be possible through science alone. This creates a great feel for the already destabilizing horror game because you really aren’t sure what is going on. Is Monokuma a robot that could be destroyed or which is being controlled by someone else, or is he something else altogether? For those who have finished the game and already know—no spoilers, please!

MonokumaMagic and science are so often at odds in fiction, but on the rare occasion that authors blur the lines between the two, I think we have the chance for a truly interesting story. It’s much more interesting to see how these two forces would coexist and work together. With the case of Saiyuki there seems to be no real issue between combining magic and science, but rather just societal disapproval of it. For Danganronpa, having Monokuma be ambiguous about whether he is magical or a product of science adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the already creepy story. Thinking a little outside of the box is what has made these stories more interesting than they could have been, and it would be nice to see something similar happen more often in science fiction and fantasy writing.

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1 thought on “Magical Mondays: Blurring the Lines between Magic & Science

  1. That’s something I love about Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series. There’s wizards and magic, but the ancestors of the series seem to be as much science fiction as fantasy. These are wizards who use their magic to travel to other planets and speak to other species. It makes for one of the most original series I’ve read.

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