Fanfiction – Divine Blood

I’ve been giving too much effusive praise recently, so let’s try something different.

Divine Blood by Thrythlind is an interesting case, because it does so many things wrong, yet I re-read it despite that. (This being my third time reading it when it’s over 400,000 words long.)

Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5, but the interesting part is the “why”.

The story is a study in starting out weak and getting strong, beginning with the kind of “skipped an essential story arc”feel that usually comes about because a bad author decided to arbitrarily change aspects of canon “because I like it better that way”.

The Cons

The prologue has Ranma Saotome raped, impregnated, and locked in female form by greek gods when the most Greek thing in Ranma ½ canon is Chinese amazons and the most “darkly consequential” thing in Ranma ½ canon is Saffron’s temporary death at the end of the final story arc. …and, after that, it time-skips to an adult, female Ranma and her three half-divine OC children. (ie. a half-OC and her three half-divine OC children.) That screams “bad Ranma ½ fanfic”.

Also, the kids have the “weeaboo Japanese” names “Deimosu”, “Naiki”, and “Eija”. Even assuming that it’s justified as “Their mother wouldn’t have known any better”, it’s too distracting. Thrythlind should have exercised his world-building prerogative to justify something that doesn’t act as a prose-level barrier to making the narrative immersive.

For a final issue, the feel of the story starts out slapdash. For example, details like magical aptitude on an application form carry an undercurrent of that “western 90s fanfic” feel to it, which comes about when the author doesn’t know how to extrapolate a desired element from any of the source series and, instead, constructs it out of whole-cloth. (Seen more strongly in stories like Generation Lost.)

Essentially, it implicitly promises a Ranma ½ component to the story, then starts out by rubbing the reader’s face in how much of what is Ranma ½ it can arbitrarily throw away or change just because the author wants it… and, as the scope of the story continues to grow, the original justification for using Ranma becomes shakier. (Post-canon Ranma is, at best, a big fish in a little pond, yet the justification hinges on Ranma being the best candidate in the world for a plan which requires that “she” not die.)

It does have a bit of a propensity for one-shot references and, once the epic story arc really gets going, a bit of a laissez-faire attitude toward multi-crossing in characters to flesh out the roster from other countries, but, if you’ve gotten that far, it only really “helps to give the story that fanfic flavour”.

The Pros

Now, if it were just those, the rating might wind up in the 2.5 to 3.5 range. So, what about the good bits?

Well, If you haven’t lost interest by the third or fourth chapter, it settles into a first story arc which feels like a reasonably engaging story about OCs in a crossover between Full Metal Panic and some of the more headcanon-ish 1990s Ranma fanfiction… leaning toward the former.

…and, once Oh My Goddess enters the story proper in chapter 7, the world-building really kicks off. In that very chapter, it brings a clever take on why demons act as they do that injects a surprising amount of depth and potential very quickly. From that point on, it starts to feel like a more even balance between Full Metal Panic, Oh My Goddess, and a wavering mix of Ranma ½ and OC elements.

The world-building in this story is a joy to read and my impression while re-reading it was that, whether or not Thrythlind was actively trying to world-build, my level of engagement correlated very strongly with how much a scene was revealing about his larger conception of the Oh My Goddess or Full Metal Panic settings and characters. (For example, the origins of Gods and Demons, the nature of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg, and what the Whispered signify for humanity.)

Also, once you’ve read enough to start to learn to accept that “the story is what it is, take it or leave it”, the Ranma ½ and OC elements start to get engaging too.

Overall, like most good epics, once it gets going, the story is a strong blend of in-close character development and large-scale world-building.

What Could Have Been Improved

So, far be it from me to just complain, let’s analyze how it could have been done better.

First, I remember Thrythlind having been working on a non-fanfic version of the narrative, so I want to address that… I have no interest in it. The story’s greatest strength, by far, is how it explores and merges the greater Oh My Goddess and Full Metal Panic elements, and making the story a standalone piece just turns it into a dime-a-dozen idea for a cosmology that I might have actually come up with and dismissed as uninteresting during my teen years.

The actual problems are threefold:

Slow Startup Of The Epic Elements

First, the story is slow to get started… but in a somewhat unusual way. The story isn’t boring… but it feels like a different genre until enough elements reveal themselves for you to start to recognize an epic feeling in it. A story which grows into a huge epic shouldn’t spend its first six chapters feeling like a twist on a canon Full Metal Panic story arc.

(In essence, it’s a failure of the “make a representative first impression” principle, but the author is skilled enough that, even a failed attempt still manages to achieve “good enough”.)

Perhaps ironically for a fanfic, the solution is that it’s not OC enough. Aside from kicking out the Musk characters for being distracting small fry who delay the development of the epic tone, there’s not really much that can be cut or shrunk without making the first arc feel rushed. It really does need a certain degree of patience to establish such a tone and for the Full Metal Panic cast to start to connect with the main characters, so the solution is to make spending that time more worthwhile… something that could have been solved by jettisoning the Ranma ½ connection entirely, so there’s valid reason to spend that much time getting to know the main characters.

If nothing else, a cast of purely OC main characters who have to hook reader interest more or less cold-turkey would ensure proper recognition is given to the need to make the OCs interesting.

Inconsistent Feel For The Villains

While it gets better near the end of their times as characters, the villains never really feel like they belong to the Oh My Goddess setting that they claim to be from. Scenes which involve them feel like they come from some unknown or original work that got crossed into the setting and their behaviour and presentation feel so divorced from what culture is shown or implied in Oh My Goddess canon that it feels like they’re scheming hermits who left to go live and plot in a cabin in some private pocket dimension.

(Compared to the OCs who do work, which feel like “native OCs” hailing from either Full Metal Panic or Oh My Goddess.)

Detrimental Aversion To Using OCs

This ties into the second problem: None of the Ranma ½ elements feel like they need to be Ranma ½ elements for the sake of the greater narrative, and, in some cases, they run against the grain of the story.

Sure, they’re entertaining to read about… but it feels like the story would have been better off if Thrythlind had taken the time to extend either the Full Metal Panic or Oh My Goddess settings with proper “native OCs”. (Something supported by how well-fitting OCs work when they are used, such as Lusca Kraken and Kodachi‘s pseudo-clones.)

The inclusion of Ranma seems to serve two purposes:

First, as a cheap attempt to avoid having to reconcile the presence of “organic/local-scale magic” (eg. feng shui, exorcists, human half-breeds, etc.) with the Oh My Goddess and Full Metal Panic settings, which present “bureaucratic/enterprise-scale magic” and a mild/near-future blend of psionics and super-tech, respectively.

Not only does this cast Ranma in a role that is quite removed from canon, it’s unnecessary. All of this can be justified just as readily by writing the local-scale magic as “the intersection of Oh My Goddess and Full Metal Panic overturned over a rock and the cast noticed the minor magics that scuttled out.”

Second, as a cheap attempt to justify the skill level of the main character and the relevance of her three OC kids… which also isn’t necessary.

For all the crazy magic going on around Ranma Saotome, it’s inherently a failed errand to use that plus a ~15 year time-skip to justify “her” having become just as much a mystic practitioner as a martial artist. That takes a story arc to justify, you can’t just gloss over it, and it’d probably cheapen the overall series to attempt it nonetheless.

Likewise, Thrythlind has demonstrated an ability to write engaging OCs, so I think the story would have been much better off if Thrythlind had acknowledged that these are OCs, regardless of what he names them, and then dedicated proper attention to developing them.

Solution Summary

So, here, in short, is what could be done to raise this to a  4.5 or even a 5.0 out of 5:

First,replace Ranma with an OC “hailing from the Full Metal Panic setting”, with the story being touched off when the gods from Oh My Goddess decide to “play old-school Greek Pantheon” with her. (She can still be a practitioner of minor magics and the like… just not with the reader preconceptions associated with Ranma ½.)

In my estimation, that would lead to the most effective tone for the story. (As-is, it sort of reads like two interesting stories operating as conjoined twins in the same universe, rather than one very interesting one and the Ranma ½ elements are a big part of this problem.)

Second, mitigate the sense that the story is slow to start by packing more exploration of the now-fully-OC main characters into that initial arc. (Which must necessarily be somewhat slow to handle the “OCs get to meet the canon Full Metal Panic cast” and “reveal hints of The Whispered being more than shown in canon” aspects in a way which feels satisfying, believable, and un-rushed.)

Third, use some of that OC development to explain how “local-scale” magic fits in “off-camera” in this hybrid Oh My Goddess – Full Metal Panic setting. (eg. Either “confidently ignore” or clarify the various implications of having human hybrids and other potentially weaponizable supernature in the Full Metal Panic setting. To avoid getting things side-tracked, I prefer to lean toward seeing it as “The Whispered are significant because they’re new, while the rest has been known to aspiring Mengele types for long enough that what we see today is a state of equilibrium sort of like the ‘average people ignore the strange and unknown’ from The Dresden Files.”)

Fourth, spend proper effort justifying and explaining how such archaic, villainous gods can believably “exist off-camera” in Oh My Goddess canon.

The Plot

Anyway, so what actually is the plot?

The gist of it is that Zeus, Poseidon, and Hecate hatch a plan to bring down the doublet system, overthrow the current leadership, kill off “half-breeds and traitors”, wipe out the human interlopers who infest “their” Earth, and return to the age of war against the demons (who see them in turn as interlopers on “their” Earth).

However, for a variety of reasons, Murphy’s Law takes effect… including that the Whispered are actually a sign that humanity is on the threshold of ascending to become much like the Gods and Demons and circumstances conspire to let some of them play Prometheus, just as the Gods did when the Demons emerged from their KT-event shelter and tried to reclaim Earth.

Now, obviously, this is a very abridged explanation, and omits so many engaging details but, if you don’t mind a spoiler, the doublet system falls, Yggdrasil and Nidhogg crash, and humanity at large is introduced to the true reality of things by a flood of god and demon refugees, soon followed by attacks from their respective insurgent factions.

Speaking of which, I also love the elegance of having the demons develop an animal-based supercomputer (Nidhogg), the Gods using a plant basis for their knock-off (Yggdrasil), and humans completing the Animal/Vegetable/Mineral trifecta with a crystal-based knock-off of the other two (Silmaril).

All in all, it’s an incomplete but good story… if you can overlook the flood of warts in the first few chapters, but it could have been so much better.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Fanfiction – Divine Blood by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This entry was posted in Fanfiction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment here you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution under the same terms as the associated post.

All comments are moderated. If your comment is generic enough to apply to any post, it will be assumed to be spam. Borderline comments will have their URL field erased before being approved.