I’m a bit of a repeating record lately but there’s a lot to say about myth and magic. And sure, it’s fun to think about the classics but what about the here and now? Humanity didn’t stop making up stories when we stopped believing in the creatures in them. Even now, we spread around a lot of fun creatures and ideas, as well as plenty of unique ones. That’s something that In/Spectre seems to be tackling as their main arc this season: how an idea turns from creation, propagation, and then ultimately forms a fluid myth of its own that carries genuine power and weight.
Within the story of In/Spectre, Steel Lady Nanase is a ghost that was birthed not from the original dead idol that had tragically perished, but from a myth that her ghost had come back. Even her form isn’t that of the original woman, but of an artists’ representation of what an idol in her costume would look like carrying a heavy steel beam. Rather than a tragic incident birthing a dark creature, it was the thousands to millions of people that took that idea and fleshed out its mythos that caused a creature made from thought to come to life.
Because Steel Lady Nanase has so many people that believe in her, it gives her incredible strength compared to many other ghosts and yokai in the story that are just trying to get by. It’s the difference between perhaps a very minor deity and one of the Olympians from Greek mythology, only if the Olympian came from nowhere and started laying down the law. …So I guess, maybe it’s better to say those upstart kiddies, The Olympians, versus the Titans. You know, however you cut your fiction.
While the existence of these gods and spectres may be fictional, the idea of a modern myth is not far off at all. It’s very much an old meme now, but The Slenderman has become a literal textbook example of modern mythmaking. While it was created specifically to be spread around as the winner of a Something Awful competition, its lore and massive spread were completely authentic. What started as just some spooky photoshopped images with a bit of context, very quickly became a current-day boogeyman, whose traits, powers, and taste for forestry became semi-solidified and well-known. If there was something Slenderman, it definitely had some of these ideas and the fact that the creation was copyright-free caused people to freely express their own versions of the myth.
What we see from In/Spectre is this very idea. After a wiki was created for the ghost, and the accompanying artists’ interpretation posted front and center, the details were left to the curious visitors to compile into something menacing and horrifying. And from this base, spawned what appears to be the first major antagonist of the series.
In/Spectre isn’t necessarily unique with this idea. Modern-day Eclectic Pagan religions usually pick a set of deities and interpret them into more renovated ideas and places, at the expense of the original cultures. In fiction, American Gods is probably one of the most well-known series to use the idea of “creatures of thought”, as In/Spectre puts it, to explain how gods are formed and carried into other lands, with the differences and variations between old and new versions of the same gods due to the difference in cultures and people that “worship” them.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun from this season is a great example, as well. Along with the many scary things they come across, our eponymous character is a ghost made from school rumors and hearsay, which then correlates to some good business for him to profit from, supposedly, as he uses the hearsay to make his own “wish-making” business. Even Monogatari used it as the basis for their “oddities” and how those creatures are able to influence others.
However, it’s not fair to just say, “Isn’t it cool that we come up with this stuff?” I think what really shines through is the fact that these myths and legends then turn around and influence us. Yes, we created them, but with each new variation and idea, we invent fun new ways to enjoy the same folklore and so our interpretations change over time. These stories are not set in stone. Rather than a solid, ideas exist very much in a more liquid state, with only the more important details holding the thoughts together while everything else can flow and take the shape of whatever story we put them in.
An easy example of this kind of reinterpretation is when we turn those old stories on their head, such as with the Persephone and Hades myth. Rather than a kidnapping and rape of another god, we can reform the story in a healthier and much more interesting (and comedic way) with modern tellings, such as the webcomics Punderworld as well as Lore Olympus, who both keep the characters and basic ideas but refrain the relationships into much healthier ones. Though, this being Greek myth, it’s still hella full of drama.
Which, speaking of, myth making also applies to more than just fictional characters. It’s possible that King Arthur may have actually existed at one point but it’s almost impossible to separate the man from the myth, and as time goes on, we become farther and farther away from what the truth may have been. We see this in modern times as well, with the incredibly horrifying “fake news” campaigns in politics muddying what people perceive as the truth. Even when something happens that is definite proof of wrongdoing, people already have their own fictional version of who these people are that they believe and spread, believing the alternative is just a fake interpretation someone is trying to tell. The real world use of fiction can be used to damage as much as it can be used to entertain. And there are consequences for how we interpret stories.
This is exactly how our protagonists attempt to combat the powerful Steel Lady Nanase in In/Spectre. By reinterpreting the myth, and having this new interpretation become more popular, they hope to rob their antagonist of her power. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes a bit like The Little Dutch Boy attempting to stop leaks in the dam. A mad dash ensues to try and change a constantly changing story that’s unfortunately becoming more violent. The real Nanase may have died from the accident of a beam from a construction site, but the Steel Lady Nanase wields her murder weapon as her own. With each sighting and horrible accident, her story and lore changes, giving rise to new ideas or potentially new powers that our cast has to deal with. The fluidity of myth-making turns out to be their solution as well as their curse and everything hinges on the new reinterpretation.
It’s easy to see, then, that the concept of something born from the imaginations of many has a long established tradition and is constantly free to be reinterpreted. Just because we’re all connected and there is knowledge at our fingertips doesn’t mean we won’t stop dreaming of otherworldly or supernatural things outside our comprehension and reality. Like the ancient groups that first spread their ideas through oral tradition, to Renaissance idealists who reinterpreted those through ink and paint, to our current Internet webcomics and creepypastas, humanity will always continue the tradition of creating things for us to fear and be fascinated with. And, in a figurative sense, those creatures of thought are very real to us.