a guest post by weebee
Fanon is a rather odd entity. It’s often looked down on entirely, with those who think themselves the ‘best authors’ sneering at any use of it and claiming that you should never resort to such obviously flawed and factually incorrect items. Of course, it does have a purpose and one that, if it’s not noble, at least makes sense.
Some fanon, such as the name “Kimiko”, established for Soun Tendo’s wife in the Ranma 1/2 universe, is simply there because there is absolutely no canon data on the subject, but it’s handy to be able to refer to her by that shorthand and to always have a name to use if you need it.
Other fanon, like the explanation that a Sailor Senshi’s transformation naturally includes a disguise field, helps a person who needs explanations for normally unexplained phenomena, or helps bolster a story if it’s already stretching your suspension of disbelief and doesn’t want you thinking about the why. For example, if Usagi executes a perfectly coordinated wall run and Shingo doesn’t recognize her when she did it while holding him in her arms.
There is a third type of fanon, one that ascribes hitherto vaguely hinted (or not hinted at all) motivations to a character or amplifies (what TVTropes would call flanderizes) established traits such as the insistence on having Minako Aino flub a line every chapter, or having Akane Tendo chase everyone who accidentally sneezes in her direction with a mallet.
These last two types, while occasionally literarily useful, can be somewhat dangerous. For example, there is the habit of an author latching onto one of them as a device that they enjoy using in their work and, through that use, forgetting that it was an author-created device. For example, I often have to remind myself that, in the Anime and Manga, Ranmaverse characters very rarely show any ability to detect the life force of others, and that usually occurs when an aura is being clearly displayed, or a hostile action is being taken against them. It is important to keep track of these devices, as you can find yourself correcting another author on a point of fact that is, in fact, only one of your personal plot devices, or failing to enjoy a story because it violates it.
The strangest effect that modified devices or characters can have on a series is what, for the purposes of this example, I’m calling pervasive fanon, and since it is the thing that brought it to my attention, I will be using Sailor Pluto, and her relationship with the timeline and time gates for the example.
Taking only Sailor Moon, the Anime series as a basis, Sailor Pluto’s limitations and job are rather clearly spelled out. She is to guard the gates of time, ensure that she is standing at them and guarding them at all times (barring earth-shattering emergencies), and not to abuse her powers, most particularly the time stop, the penalty for which is death.
At some point (I have absolutely no idea when or who was responsible), a fanfiction author wished to write a story either revolving around Sailor Pluto, or the act of changing the past. To that end, this author thought that it would be neat if Pluto could open the gates without passing through them, to use them as a sort of temporal viewer rather than a time travel device, explaining that, in his fic, the gates had that function built in to better facilitate her guarding of the timeline.
This plot device was actually quite a good one. It allowed a whole new character interpretation for Pluto. No longer simply the grim guardian of time who stood vigil over one of the most dangerous forces in existence to keep it under control, this Pluto could actually shape events, could enforce her will on the timestream. This is fanfiction, after all, and the possibilities of that are endless, depending on how her character was played.
I’m guessing that the sheer number of possibilities from this plot device, the time gates as a monitoring device, resulted in a wave of fics that used the same premise for various effects and even fics that used it for side or background effects that would help a main story.
This is where things get interesting. The human mind tends to suffer from something called “Source Amnesia.” That is, we sometimes have trouble determining where we heard or learned a piece of information. In a case where we are reading and writing fanfiction about a series that we may not have all of the episodes of, or that we may only be catching once a week, this source amnesia tends to kick in pretty hard, and that’s why things like Pluto’s extra powers over the time gates tend to seep into our knowledge of the series. It’s obvious Pluto can do that, it’s obvious Youma and Dark Generals can absorb large amounts of life force with a single touch, it’s obvious that Sailor Jupiter is actually a dryad… wait, what?
All of these things seem obvious because we’ve seen them so often, as they become popular fanon devices, and we simply cannot go over the canon nearly that much. There are 200 episodes of Sailor Moon, each of them 22 minutes long, and the fifth season is only subbed. Let’s not even talk about the differences caused by the editing done during the dubbing process, and the trick some people (including me), do of assuming that X thing I could have sworn was canon must happen in the subbed version.
All of this seems kind of annoying, but not really that bad, right? Unless someone takes something as fanon that you find really annoying, it shouldn’t bother you. Well, that’s not exactly true. Getting back to Sailor Pluto and the Time Gates. Over the more than a decade that her abilities have been changing in fanon, the generally accepted version of her is capable of monitoring the timeline for change, sometimes remotely, and ensuring that the most likely outcome, right down to decimal point probability, remains crystal Tokyo. If you want to change something, add a major character that shakes things up, many authors will catch themselves wondering, “How would Sailor Pluto let this happen? It would cause X to happen wrong!” and then come up with a long, complex explanation as to how she could tweak things so everything worked out.
But let’s put things back into perspective, here. Recall her original list of abilities? She guards the gate of time, which is a corridor that lets you travel through time. Her only temporally dangerous ability is a timestop that will straight up kill her if she uses it. So you can go ahead and put your new character, scene, or reaction in, because canon Sailor Pluto has no inclination to stop you… unless you’re trying to blow up Usagi or something, anyways. And then she’ll do it by teleporting out of the gates when something or someone else informs her and hitting you upside the head with her staff, not going back to last Tuesday and re-arranging gum wrappers so you never have the idea.
In short, fanon is a useful thing for authors, it lets them do pretty much anything they want with a series and its characters, determined only by the writer’s ability and imagination. But when a stumbling block comes up from what you feel is a well established plot point, don’t be afraid to go back and check the source. If it’s fanon that’s blocking your way, you don’t need it.
Ed.: If you have any ideas as to where in the fandom the expansion of Sailor Pluto’s powers originated, please share them in the comments. Inquiring but overworked minds want to know.