Hope and the Forest Spirit: A Juxtaposition of Hope’s Weight [OWLS April Blog Tour: Hope]

I’m quickly moving toward the end of my final Master’s semester. After that, I promise I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled literary-themed content! In the meantime, I’ve hopped my way into another OWLS blog tour. We’re taking a look at the theme of hope presented in our favorite anime and other pop culture. For my contribution, let’s take a look at the role of hope in Somali and the Forest Spirit (ソマリと森の神様Somari to Mori no Kamisama, which, on a side note, comes out as Somali and the Forest God, which I love). We’ll also cover juxtaposition in this post!

Welcome to April’s OWLS Blog Tour

Every month, I join the voices of the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-respect (OWLS) blogging project. The OWLS bloggers and vloggers use anime and other pop culture works to discuss a central theme promoting diversity, respect, self-acceptance, and equality. I feel proud to work with the OWLS team, so keep an eye out for future posts exploring important social issues. If you’re interested in these topics, be sure to check out the other OWLS posts coming out with this blog tour, or consider becoming an OWLS blogger or vlogger yourself!

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This month, the OWLS are taking a look at a lighter topic in pop culture as we explore the theme hope. Hope presents itself in hard times and happier ones alike. As we’ve seen on the tour so far, someone might hope to overcome a great evil during a long quest, hope to find relief from life stress in pop culture, or find hope in their own creativity. In the case of Somali and the Forest Spirit, hope acts as something both uplifting and burdensome.

Note on spoilers: I don’t feel that spoilers should ever be a dealbreaker for someone’s enjoyment of a narrative work, but I understand that some people feel that it is. There are some spoilers for Somali and the Forest Spirit in this post.

The Weight of Hope

The first theme of hope that I want to highlight in this anime is one in which hope is a heavy burden, as it is for the golem.

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For any who have not had the pleasure, Somali and the Forest Spirit is a charming anime that takes place in a world populated by imaginative and mythical beings. The story takes us on the journey of a golem (a long-lived former forest guardian), who seeks to reunite a human child named Somali with others of her species, which is a bit tricky. They must exercise caution along the way because the other denizens of their world will eat Somali if they find out what she is.

The golem, known only as Golem (and, to Somali, father), is mystified by his attachment and dedication to the small human. For reasons eventually revealed in the narrative (and left undisclosed here for being irrelevant to our theme today), the Golem discovered Somali lost and alone in his forest. Somali imprinted on him immediately, calling him father, a title that stuck from that moment on. Shortly after this incident, the narrative of the anime begins, following the golem as he takes Somali into the wider world beyond the forest with the intention of finding humans for Somali to live with.

Unfortunately, time is a bit of an issue. Golems have a finite, though exceptionally long, lifespan. They live exactly 1,000 years, and this one’s is just about up. He has just over a year before, as he says, his functionality ends, and he hopes that he makes it in time.

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Somali is a bundle of positive energy. She finds joy in just about anything, especially if it involves wandering off to explore. She also does whatever she can to make her informally adopted father happy (despite his claims that he does not experience emotion). To the golem, she quickly becomes everything, and he feels determined to return her to her people for her safety. Returning Somali is her only hope of survival. If they don’t make it before the golem’s 1,000 years are up and he can no longer protect her, Somali will probably be eaten.

Being Somali’s only hope for the future is a heavy burden that weighs on the golem. He keeps his looming end secret from Somali, possibly to spare her from fear and sadness, or to spare himself from admitting how dire the situation is. He only shares his burden with one other person, an oni named Shizuno, who’s positive attitude rivals Somali’s. Despite sharing the knowledge of this burden with Shizuno, the golem largely refuses to let him help.

Throughout the narrative, the golem’s hope for Somali’s future and fear that this hope-filled window will be too short drives the golem’s every decision. Some decisions cause him to push Somali away, which frightens and saddens her as a result, and opens up the potential for disastrous outcomes

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A Hopeful Juxtaposition

Somali’s light-hearted disposition and much lighter experience with hope offers an excellent juxtaposition to the golem’s  own. If you’re unfamiliar with juxtaposition, it occurs when two concepts are placed side by side, typically to contrast the two and show similarities and differences. Somali and the golem’s experience of hope are an excellent example of juxtaposition. One is dire and burdensome, while the other is uplifting.

For Somali, everything is an adventure, and everything is alright as long as she’s with her adopted dad. She knows that they’re searching for humans for her to live with, but in her mind, she’ll always be with the golem who found her in the forest. For her, her deepest hopes have already been fulfilled– she has an excellent father who takes her on adventures, and she gets to make friends along the way. Having this basic sense of stability filled, Somali has room to hope for more fun things, like being able to participate in a festival, or having the opportunity to eat delicious foods or sweets.

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Somali is somewhat aware that her time with the golem is limited, and could come to an end when they find other humans for her to live with. She hopes that their journey can go on for a long time, and that the golem will stay with her once they find humans. At first, she keeps this hope to herself and it weighs on her. Early on, the intensity of these hopes drive Somali into a dangerous situation where she tries to retrieve a wishing flower that could help her hopes come true. After her rescue by an unlikely hero, Somali shares her hopes and fears with the golem, who promises to stay with her.

Because she shared her hopes and fears with the golem, Somali finds support and her hope outweighs her fear, becoming an uplifting power rather than an oppressive one.

Hope can be a difficult burden or a powerful and comforting driving force, depending on how a person experiences it. If a person feels that the hopes of others rest on them, and that they might not be able to live up to these hopes, it can be a heavy burden. This may especially be the case if that person feels they can’t share the weight with anyone else as the golem feels. Sometimes, sharing the heavy weight of hope with someone else can transform it into that uplifting force that many of us think of when we hear the word hope, as happened in Somali’s case.

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Thanks for joining me for this month’s OWLS blog tour exploring hope in pop culture. Please be sure to check out some of the other blogs from this month’s blog tour! Earlier this week, Mel explored hope in The Promised Neverland. Later today, be sure to catch a post from Au Natural!

Do you have a favorite example of hope or juxtaposition in pop culture? Share in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact” page. And as always, if you have a literary device or grammar rule you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!

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