SEEN BY ANOTHER SENTIENT Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox and Dreamscape

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Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox Dreamscape

Title: Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox (animation)
Cast: Son Ye-jin, Kong Hyeong-jin, and Ryoo Deok-hwan
Crew: Lee Seong-Gang (director); Kang Han-young and Oh Min-ho (producers)

CJ Entertainment, South Korea (2007), 85 minutes. Korean w/ English subtitles

Availability: Am / BN / Al / Pw
reviewed by Dronon
©2007 Dronon

   As the title might suggest, Yobi is a gumiho—the Korean equivalent of the kitsune creature of Japanese legend. At a mere 100 years old, she’s still quite young, and has only grown five tails. A screenful of introductory text sets up the story:

   A long time ago, foxes with 9 tails called the Goomiho lived in the deepest parts of the mountains. These animals had the ability to transfigure into other animals or human beings, and some of them actually became humans by taking the human’s soul. People became scared of these animals, and began hunting them down. The foxes returned back to the far realms of the mountains, never to be seen ever since. One day, aliens crash-land on Earth and find a little Goomiho abandoned in the mountains.

   Wait a minute—aliens? Yes, little brown fuzzy pear-shaped aliens. And a forest spirit that looks like a flying, translucent washtub. And a bear. And one or two stranger things. You might scratch your head at a couple of points, but thankfully the film doesn’t require an understanding of Korean mythology.
   The aliens, who have adopted Yobi, have rebuilt their damaged spaceship. When its test flight is a failure, one of the aliens walks off in an angry huff, and gets captured at a school camp for maladjusted children. Yobi disguises herself as a young girl and enrolls as a student to get him back.
   Unable to rescue him at first, Yobi finds the experience of human interaction exciting and fun. Although the aliens have been kind to her, she’s felt alone most of her life, and at the camp she makes her first true friend, a boy and fellow loner named Geum-ee.
   Problems arise when a gumiho-hunter arrives in the area, but Yobi is protected at several points by a mysterious living shadow. Still, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to maintain her secret identity - when she loses her concentration, her five tails have a tendency to pop out behind her.
   Yobi is told that she can become human if she steals another human’s soul, which is possible to do when a human falls in love. She scoffs at the idea at first—to her, humans are silly and stupid. Meanwhile, her friendship with Geum-ee gradually develops into caring deeply for his well-being.
   Without giving away too much about the final scenes, Geum-ee’s soul accidentally ends up in the afterlife where spirits wait to be reincarnated, and Yobi follows him in to bring him back. The end of the film is sad but hopeful. Geum-ee survives, and Yobi attains a measure of peace, but it’s unclear whether they will ever meet again.
   Overall, the quality of the animation is good. The backgrounds are rich and atmospheric, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s work. Computer graphics are also present—while fairly obvious, they’re used effectively without being distracting.
   In terms of pacing and story, the film is a little slow at first, but then it really gets going. By the end, when they enter the afterlife, it even starts to get a little surreal. If this gets a North American DVD release, the content is appropriate for all ages, although the somewhat sad ending may not be good for overly sensitive children. But ignoring the ending, there’s a good deal of humor throughout the whole thing.
   In terms of anthropomorphism, although Yobi spends most of the film as a human girl, she always retains her foxy personality, characteristics and mannerisms—such as walking on all fours when tracking someone’s scent (when no one is looking, of course). I definitely recommend this film to all furry animation fans, and double that if you’re also a fan of foxes or kitsune folklore.

Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox Dreamscape

Title: Dreamscape
Author: Paul Kidd
Publisher: (Raleigh, NC), Mar 2007
ISBN: 184753242X
Paperback, 292 pages, USD $22.50

Editor’s note: In addition to being available from, you can also buy Dreamscape directly from the publisher, Kitsune Press.

reviewed by Craig Hilton
©2007 Craig Hilton

   The scene: A figure on a grassy hill. That overlooks a silent city block. A bay in the distance. Book shop. Games shop. A driver tending to a resting tram.

   Logic. To all things, there was a unifying logic. […] So now she knew. She was not lost. She merely had to see, and know.

   And with these words, her dream-like existence—a suspended moment of tadpoles, little streams and ibises—leaps a quantum. The ten-year-old girl in a Japanese dress and a samurai sword with a butterfly hilt. Until now, there was nothing to her existence but the feeling of the fact of her being; but as of now, existence has a force and a direction. Now imposed by act of will, within the dreamy idyll of the present, is the truth in the importance of the sense she makes of things. A unity, a tender care, dissatisfied intelligence—and the little girl with long, white hair adopts the role of mother and protector to the embryo of which she is a part.
   You witness then as Dreamscape comes to life. This stunning new work by Australian author Paul Kidd is quite simply the most powerfully affecting novel I have read in years. Kidd’s narrative skill in unfolding an imaginative and fiercely gripping techno-fantasy is matched in equal measure by a mature passion.
   A generation on from cyberpunk, and well to the fore of the twenty-first century’s milieu of on-line gaming and alternate virtual worlds, Dreamscape is a thriller told entirely from the other side of the mainframe. Or appears to be—because you just don’t know. The rules are revealed and created as you go along, very much as you are constructing the small but growing universe, valley by valley and town by town.
   The little girl is on her own at first. In time, there are others. A black-scaled, female lizard warrior; a humanoid falcon; a sweet baby-girl unicorn; and a huge apparition of a goldfish floating above the landscape like a blimp or silent god.
   The falcon chooses to call her Steel, and she in turn graces him with the name Silk. She shows him the part of the world she herself has made (which could represent the author’s happiest young memories of rainforest waterfalls and South Melbourne back streets on a Saturday morning), and Silk likewise introduces Steel to the city he created from his mind, the fountains and alleys of a fantasy citadel on the sea, majestic and bedecked with purple banners, smelling of warm stone and cooking spice. Although this portion of the world mirrors the cultured grandeur of Silk’s imagination, Steel improves it with the touches of flowers, butterflies and dolphins. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
   We immerse ourselves, then, in a blossoming world of ever-increasing beauty, potential and complexity. Each of the five characters is a creator, and from their love for the world of their creation, they take on as well the mantle of its stewards. They are a council of five. Or perhaps a gestalt of one.
   And others still appear, appreciative visitors from some outside world. Anthropomorphic animals, fantasy elves and avatars of all descriptions. Figures faceless with coverings of wet tissue paper. The reflection of a hateful woman seen in cracked and blood-stained windows. And executives in suits, checking out their product.
   There’s the rub. At the same time that a female wolf is piloting a German U-boat out into the open sea to the blaring gramophone of It’s a Long Way To Tipperary, and the creators in their adult manifestations are turning on a blazing rock concert for the raging masses, the reader feels the prickle of a dreadful chill.
   This other-worldly paradise, lovingly fashioned from a little girl’s dreams, may be nothing more than some corporation’s virtual real estate. And in the land the suits come from, perhaps it does belong to them. Perhaps they own your body over there—all comatose and drooling on a slab. Maybe their world’s more real than your own, and they can shut you down or turn you off.
   But they don’t want to shut your heaven down. They want to merchandise it. They let people pay to come in and rape it.
   Will you fight? Yes. To the death? If such a thing exists in the afterlife.

   “This is our world—not yours. We welcomed you here—but we will have respect.”

   “Now, let me tell you how this works. I can teleport to wherever you are, whatever you are doing, any time I wish. You might be on the toilet… you might be eating pie. But I can be there. Quiet as a mouse.”

   William Gibson’s Neuromancer et al, cinema’s Matrix trilogy and many others have covered much of the ground on the theme of virtual life. Consider also Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series, or hark back to CS Lewis’ Narnia, for protagonists dumped in all-too-real dream worlds. How does Paul Kidd take this further? Well, it’s as much about what is not said as what is made known.
   Left to hammer together her own world and identity, Steel must also fashion a meaning for her life. Whether in another world she is alive or dead or just a complex algorithm—and this is tantalisingly unapparent—the only world she knows of is her own. The introduction of Outsiders binds her to the quest for her validity. And if this be the afterlife, and if she lives or ever lived in other worlds away, what must have been the quality of her character; what must have been the quality of her dreams.
   It takes a great deal of experience of life for an author, in a novel, without sounding contrived, to examine the meaning of life.
   When colonists in business suits arrive from far away to execute possession of their territory (a theme of course that resonates to us as much from history as from fiction), the creators must deduce, by first principles, what kind of place that land must be, and then whether to opt for a negotiated treaty or guerrilla resistance.
   What makes Dreamscape such a work of power is the way it dances on the frighteningly thin line between strength and utter vulnerability. When Steel, unparalleled swordswoman, able to teleport anywhere in the blink of an eye, is told that she and her world are only constructs controlled by a company, I myself felt the world kicked away just as gut-wrenchingly as she does. The emotion of that terrifying, midnight-knock-at-your-door scenario is a thing Kidd handles with fine, delicate pathos. And of course, this news remains an assertion, possibly true but difficult to test.
   Whereupon, the stakes escalate by levels. The threat and clash, the lie and bluff. The rallying of the self-belief, the preparation for war, and the planning of strategies and traps and wheels within wheels by the five creators—Steel, Silk, Squeee, Liz and the God-Fish—who hold debate on a desert peak like a council of history’s wiliest generals. They commit themselves to a match of attrition with an invader they are still in the process of sizing up. And what at first appears to be a struggle for their very existence, as in the best of ripping yarns, goes further, several steps further, than that.

   “High spirits do sometimes break out.”
   “Then they must accept that high spirits come with a great deal of pain attached.”

   Kidd’s subtext is paradox. The perfection that made Steel’s world a property worth seizing, fighting over and ultimately dying for was its divine fashioning from four ingredients: Imagination, passion, logic and morality. The little girl built a world and freely shared it with any respectful guest, the unquestioned corollary being her duty to protect it, to the tiniest, jewelled bug. Each challenge is thus met with restrained and duly proportioned force. Threat with threat. Harm with harm. Death with death. To be the world’s loving mother is to be its unflinching law bringer, and the universe of freedom sits beneath the rule of zero tolerance. Yet whilst the unity of power and duty is the key to her world’s stability, when the beautifully stable world is discovered ripe for harvesting, it is also the soul of its protection from the harvesters.
   The spiritual discipline of the sword, described by Kidd with intimate familiarity, is an excellent metaphor for this. Tuition, practice (“several lifetimes of practice”, in Steel’s words) and scrupulous care of the weapon demonstrate a protagonist not with innate super powers, but applying herself correctly to the task. The battles are graphically described as well. This is not a book for the squeamish—the violence hits as hard as the emotion. Nor is it a simplistic story, deceptive as the vigilante narrative may appear. Once again, the kinship of power and duty is at work, the message being whatever meaning she makes of her world, so we can make of our own.
    For though the ‘other’ world is not revealed, its nature still is fairly well inferred as one where people living barren lives will pay to enter someone else’s dream. Imagination, passion, logic and morality may be proposed as the key to paradise in the afterlife, but after all, these are also traits within the reach of every one of us, and, Dreamscape begs the inference, they hold more utter value here and now than we who trudge through life may be aware. Hell may well await us, should we fail to put the effort into knowing what the place is of our life upon the earth; Hell indeed is living without dreams.

   “Master Sun—are the other realms the same?”
   “Some are… truly terrible.” The Monk’s voice dropped, and he stared at the ground. “There are souls trapped forever in self-made prisons of utter madness. Greed given infinite rein—leading to never ending dissatisfaction. Anything that is wanted is instantly provided—and so it has no value at all.”
   “Dante’s hell.” Silk listened intently. “A mind trapped by its desires.”

   Kidd’s maintains the verbal style purely as straight narrative, however sensate the descriptions, and I believe this is deliberate. Steel exists only in the present. What you see is what you get. This works, if you know to accept the beginning’s languid pace until the impetus kicks in.
   A possible hurdle for some readers is the idiosyncratic nature of the features in the dream world. It obviously represents the particular interests of the author, because for many, wargaming, SF conventions, anthropomorphic sexy animals and mid-century seaplanes may need some accounting as a point of entry, before they can be drawn into a sense of passionate fondness for the attractions on offer. This is a technical issue, I suppose, more to do with audience marketing than story crafting, since Dreamscape is necessarily about the passions of one dreamer, alive in one world. (Other people fulfil their lives with passions for knitting or collecting beer cans. Their equally valid stories are yet to be told.) On the other hand, there are millions of people now living second lives in virtual realms on the Internet, who will accept Kidd’s paraphernalia with ease.
   A particular delight in Paul Kidd’s works is to experience his very great strength—a mischievous, Addams-esque sense of humour, shown as a macabre quaintness. Take the following passage, in which Squeee, a sweet little bipedal unicorn who would not be out of place in a My Little Pony collection, initiates the others to the world of her devising:

   Girl and bird stared, aghast. On a pile of skulls nearby, Squeee perched prettily, her eyes full of glee.
   “At night, the forest is full of screams!”
   Steel stared in amazement at the sinister realm of death.
   “You sick little bastard!”
   “It’s fun!” The unicorn puffed out her chest. “I made evil!”
   The white haired girl wagged a scolding finger at Squeee. “You’re a very naughty girl!”

   But Kidd can also turn on profundity, unfudged. Sections such as the following are sheer nourishment to read. Our characters are taking tea as guests in the Chinese realm of the Sword Master:

   The Master gently caressed the tea cup in his hand—a rough old earthenware cup with a wonderfully uneven glaze. “Perhaps I was not ready for totality with the tao. It is a failing. Perhaps I am too attached to physical things?”
   Squeee sat prettily, and spoke with perfect clarity. “Why do you denigrate the physical? The
tao is totality. To uphold one part of it as being more perfect than another is to praise one part of a circle above the others. As physical beings, physicality is our own union with the tao.” The little unicorn had somehow managed to find a cookie. She dunked it in her tea. “You dreamed until you were ready to emerge into your proper place.”
   Steel was deeply impressed. The Old Master faced the little unicorn and gave a sincere, respectful bow.
   “Squeee-san, you are wise.” He pressed his forehead to the floor. “I thank you for pointing out my error.”
    “You’re welcome!” The unicorn’s biscuit fell in half and the wet bit plopped into her tea. “Whoops!”

   Obviously, I won’t reveal the final direction of the plot, except to say it’s a ripper to the very end. You may even cry.
   Anyone picking up Dreamscape will find it a thoroughly good read, at the very least. In addition, though, for many a thoughtful person, it can be a rallying cry for passion, a validation to dreamers and arguably a spiritual compass for a secular new century.

Yobi, the Five-Tailed Fox Dreamscape

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