Episode #151: The Five Elements (Godai or 五大) and the Imperial Rangers
After my brother and I finished the D and D campaign we’d been playing for the past few months, I started thinking about other elements of Thirteenth Hour lore that I’d largely edited out (mostly in the interest of brevity). This episode is about the Imperial Rangers, the group of 8 special forces soldiers that are specially trained and tasked to find the answer to eternal life for King Darian IV, who nearly gets assassinated in the recent campaign. While we know the most about Logan, the main character of the book, the others are also important despite having only brief mentions since they serve as contrasts. I did have other scenes planned that I ended up cutting, so the original idea of having each Ranger with a special ability fitting with their unique personality and physical makeup was only hinted at, never really fully developed.
In this episode, we use a bit of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism as an analogy for the explaining the different alignments the Rangers had. I’m not sure that’s what I had in mind when I originally wrote the story (the idea of different elements was definitely there, since it’s referenced in games like Ironsword and shows like Voltron and Captain Planet – I was familiar with those when I wrote the initial draft of the story at age 19.) But the godai, literally “big five” from the Japanese esoteric tradition (referenced in texts like A Book of Five Rings) sums up what I was trying to convey more accurately.
Below you can see a quick sketch/watercolor showing the eight Rangers. Their names are color-coded to correspond to their elemental alignment. As you can see, there are five categories: earth, water, fire, wind, and void. There are plenty more details about this philosophy in the book Ninja: Spirit of the Shadow Warrior by Stephen K Hayes; however, here’s a quick rundown.
Earth personality qualities are stable, traditional, and rooted. Water is flowing, changeable, and reactive. Fire is energetic, driven, and explosive. Wind represents growth, freedom, and open-mindedness. Lastly, the void is any one of those four elements that best fits a particular situation and typically goes with creativity, imagination, and things in our experience that we understand intuitively but are difficult to explain – such as spirit, soul, and consciousness. There are more details in the episode about the individual qualities of each ranger and how he fits the elemental color coded in the picture, so I won’t repeat myself here. But the fifth element, often (somewhat problematically) translated as “the void” is the most abstract and amorphous, just like how in the book the fifth “corner of the world” was actually the dream world where the mysteries of life and death finally made sense. Logan is the only one of the eight to make it there and due to his particular makeup, is the one most aligned with the formless form that characterizes the void.
Ironically, as the youngest and physically smallest of the group, Logan ends up having trouble with much of the training and has to spend more time on basic skills than the other seven. As a result, he ends up never really having the time to pick up a specialty, though the flip side is that he actually becomes more well rounded at basic ranger skills than his teammates just due to repetition. I’d originally envisioned a ceremony scene where each ranger was presented with his weapon of choice based on his special talent (I guess the soldier equivalent of finding out one’s spirit animal), and Logan isn’t given anything, which disappoints him and gives his teammates yet another thing to tease him about. In the end, I ended up not including that scene (maybe it will become a short story one day), but the essence of it, that having a special sidearm was less important than utilizing one’s inborn gifts to their fullest potential, was hinted at in the book in a few conversations a confused Logan has with the wizard, Wally. For the other seven men, the weapon served as an extension of themselves, but for Logan, whose greatest assets were creativity, imagination, and persistence, none of those qualities really fit a weapon. In fact, one might say another career choice would have made more sense. Or, another interpretation might be that those qualities didn’t need a physical reminder. However, although those are all things an older Logan would have been able to appreciate, I always imagined that the eighteen year old Logan would have been somewhat jealous that his teammates got something special, and he ended up having to do the same old drills over and over 🙂
An Imperial Ranger “class portrait” showing each ranger with his special talent and weapon of specialization
Between Two Worlds, the synth EP follow up to Long Ago Not So Far Away is now out for streaming on Bandcamp.
The bonus track, called “Flight of the Cloudrider” has a 80s movie mashup music video (see if you can identify all the movies!) which is available on youtube. This app was largely created with the iphone app Auxy.
Stay tuned. Follow along on Spotify! There is also a growing extended Thirteenth Hourplaylist on Spotify with a growing number of retro 80s songs.
Check it out!
As always, thanks for listening!
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