• Matthew Kaufman

Nightvale, a Cuddly Cthulu, and Anime

"A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.”

From the moment you first turn on the pilot episode of the popular podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale”, it is evident that you are listening to something very different. The show wears its weirdness on its cuff. However simply being isn’t sufficient when it comes to accounting for the success of Night Vale. Rather, it’s how Night Vale plays with these concepts of weirdness in a way that makes it feel not just like it’s commonplace, but welcomed and homely.

Night Vale has countless deep ties to Lovecraft as well as many other great other horrors and oddities. It’s a show that inside of itself, decries the existence of the state called Michigan. As a work, it consistently bombards you with things that should horrify those listening. From grotesque gory scenes to abstract monsters that are reminiscent of Cthulu, Night Vale never has things going exactly like a normal town would.

What’s interesting is that therein lies the charm of Night Vale. It’s a show that, in the midst of abnormality, focuses on its normalization and friendliness of these odd elements. Rather than being horrified or terrified of the concept of angels that are described as looking like horrors, the listener feels as if they’re just welcome guests in the town as they’re just helping the old woman down the street change her light bulb. A simple good deed that anyone would do really.

The community calendar segment of the show best highlights this dichotomy. It’ll have one event that sounds absolutely horrifying and like the end of times. Then you find out that the event is a fundraiser to help raise money for the animal shelter and that the fundraiser is an annual event that is a rousing success the whole town enjoys. With that simple context, you go from being incredibly concerned about the event, to not overly thinking about it. After all, who doesn’t like adorable kittens that perpetually float in the men’s restroom of the community radio station.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is the implications of this kind of thought process. It makes you realize that many times, it’s not the event or details, but the perspective of the viewer that can be the most important. If you don’t believe me, let me shift to a completely different piece of work that shares this theme.

A while ago, I was watching the Japanese animated show, “Sora yori mo Tōi Basho” or “A Place Further than the Universe” for English speakers. It’s a very simple and wholesome little show about four high school age girls who, in a desire to make the most of their youth and not let their lives fly past them, go on a journey to Antarctica. Now before you go asking me how in the world this innocent little show could connect to making Lovecraft-ian horrors seem friendly, allow me to say again that it’s all about in perspective.

In the eighth episode of the girls’ adventure they are all traveling on a massive ship to the freezing south. They are quickly wracked by the cold weather, by sea sickness, and by the general issues contained within their journey down to see some penguins. At first, all the girls’ are absolutely miserable and it becomes the first time that the viewer worries if they’re actually going to make it out of this alright. But the mood quickly shifts. In the midst of things absolutely bottoming out and getting to their worse, they start laughing and having fun. This is because for all them, their perspective just shifted. It may be an absolutely horrible situation, but they’re suffering through it with new friends and it goes from terrible suffering, to a funny situation they ended up in with their friends.

In both pieces of work, perspective is incredibly important. While the person undergoing the perspective shift is the characters rather than the viewers themselves, the concept remains the same. In many situations in our life, the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is that of our perception. A dear friend of mine, Isaac Davies, once put things like this and it always stuck with me. “You are the most powerful person in your own life at any given moment, because you are always in control of how you perceive the world around you.” When one thinks about the power that our perception of things holds, it certainly does ring true that we are the most powerful person in our own lives. The power of perception can turn molehills into mountains and turn mountains into molehills. If our perception is just right, even the world ending calamity of Cthulu might seem friendly, especially if he’s bringing those wonderful chocolate chip cookies he made for the bake sale.

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