Hey Hi Howdy!
And welcome to week 6 of The Seventh Valkyrie read along and director’s commentary, accompanying the launch of A Slanted Reflection.
For this week, we’re looking at Chapter 15, Chapter 16, and Chapter 17.
As always read or listen to the chapters first ! I’ll be giving you the inside look behind the scenes of A Slanted Reflection, which comes with spoilers.
You can watch the video version of this blog above, or if you’re more of an audio listener you can check out our podcast. In both versions, I go into quite a bit more detail (and you get to hear my lovely voice!).
Chapter 15 — As the Evening Falls
Moments for Family
One of my favorite things that I got from anime is an appreciation of the low-key slice-of-life episode. Usually in action anime it comes in the form of an OVA (original video animation, sort of non-canon spinoffs), but there are a choice few where you get to calm down for a minute and let your characters be a little bit more relaxed and chat.
For some reason, I find those kinds of moments almost more compelling than action. It really fleshes them out, and I can’t help but feel like they’re comfortable and cozy.
And then the best ones make those moments feel like they’re just as compelling as the action scenes, and just as important.
Within the Seventh Valkyrie, scenes like this are really important to me, mostly cause if you think about the portion of your life that’s action and the portion that’s just being with people, you have much more time doing nothing. Even soldiers in the thick of war spend the vast majority of their time in the steady routines of life.
Plus, I think moments like this give us a time for a breather
Tensions Beginning to Rise
Still, for all that I love having chill, relaxed moments, you can definitely see the seeds of change here. For every tradition, habit, and bit of familiarity like the game of bonboard, BC’s utter failure at the game, the people sitting around the grill, you have signs that things have changed. Touching on the stuff mentioned above, I think you can truly see the effects of your story on the characters by how they act in quiet moments, and you have flashes of tension here. BC and Wayver’s tense conversation, and the secrets she hides from them. The nervousness of the town, and the sudden spike in house calls. Even the joking cry “to the end of the world!” speaks to an atmosphere surrounding the whole town.
Always on Call, and A Form of Normalcy
The last little detail from this part of the chapter is that the Velvet are always on call, which I took from my brief experience in the hospitality industry. There’s definitely a different breed of person that works hospitality, willingly working nights, weekends, etc. to keep things running. And just like a flood of customers coming into a restaurant on Sunday nights, you have to be there and ready no matter what.
Still, the fact that everyone lives and boards at the workplace definitely makes these things a little easier for them. We go into the intensity/specifics of their lives in even more detail a little later in the book.
The Wolf Beginning to Hunt
I like to think that even as Val has been keeping himself in top physical condition since the war, there’s still a lot of form he’s lost. And I mean, of course he would have. Staying in anything close to his peak wartime form would have been pretty irrational while living in peaceful exile in the woods.
But compared to where he was at the beginning of the book, when he went to prison, or when he first got to the barn, he’s definitely recovered a bit. And a recovered Val is a threat. The concerns about his healing, the fears about what’s to come… They all start to fade away, and he taps into that dangerous side of himself.
And His Pack Ready
We also have the interaction between Val and the hounds here, where they show their loyalty to him. For all that we’ve known Edda and Rowan to be loyal to Val, and willing to follow him through any fight, they’ve never quite known the struggle that Dark Star knew with Val.
But just like their father, they pledge to follow Val through whatever may come. Ever since I was young, I’ve had dogs in my life, and this boundless loyalty is something that I never could have made up by myself. Here’s to you Layla.
Goodbye to A Stranger, And the Mysticism of Those We Don’t Quite Know
And this chapter ends with the brief interaction between Val and Strena, a wordless exchange between a girl and a man who both love his dogs.
There’s a man who rides his bike in this town. I don’t know his name, I’ve never spoken to him, and I don’t know if I ever will. But once, when we were crossing paths, he smiled at me, and I smiled back. And now, whenever I see him, we both smile, and we nod. And there’s a powerful kinship in that.
We don’t always get to know people personally. But there is something mystic to the bond between us and those we don’t quite know.
And then in a silent moment over a few brushes and some cheese, Val nods to her goodbye, and sets back out into the cruel world that waits for him.
Chapter 16 — The Moon Dogs
As the Fear Subsides
We have an important moment of release for Cyrus (maybe physically as well as mentally) as he finally gives over to the forest and allows the wolf to guide him far beyond where he can go for himself.
One of the things I always try to keep in mind as I write is the idea of agency. How must our characters act vs how much must they react. It’s something I like to keep in mind, and especially balance out. Because when a character is simply being swept along by events around them, it’s hard to be engaged with them. They’re not inspiring. They’re not necessarily fun to watch.
But when our characters are taking action, when they’re moving surprisingly within the story, no matter what that movement is, that’s when they become compelling.
Cyrus in this particular chapter is an interesting case because he actually seems to gain agency by giving up. By refusing to run away anymore, he gains passage through this world that was hostile to him, and he even gets a little backbone. He’s bantering with the wolf, he’s joking a bit more again.
A fun little inversion that I thought was interesting. Doesn’t hold true always, but every once in a while I find that sometimes ‘giving up’ can actually open up agency in new ways.
Ever Deeper into the Forest
And as the wolf leads him deeper into the forest, we pass even further into this land of myth and magic. Out in the distance the mysterious light glows, filling the whole forest with an unseen color and glow, while animals flicker in the distance and grow stronger and stranger.
But now Cyrus walks alongside one of the dominant forces of this forest, and he’s allowed to wonder at it again, rather than shrinking in fear. Again, it reminds me a bit of watching Animal Planet all those years ago. There were these wondrous, terrifying creatures that were enthralling to watch from a distance. And yet, when I stared out into the woods in Maine, or as I sat waiting to waterski with my little rump hanging out across the lake, I would be filled with an electrifying fear.
Just goes to show how much perspective matters.
Thanks Miyazaki, for the Familiar and the Strange
And then we arrive at the home of the Moon Dogs, which draws a lot of inspiration from Miyazaki, especially the bathhouse in Spirited Away. There is something so fun about taking something we’re all used to seeing, a bar or hotel, and just twisting it on its head with something fantastical, like a people effortlessly intertwined with the wolves.
We step in, and we see a party that’s familiar, but at the same time foreign. The games are different, the food is different, the animals move throughout. The outfits are the same. And yet somehow it seems familiar.
Another piece that took a while to get right, but I really wanted this place to feel nuanced, complex, like any place this old would. It would be alive, it would have tons of little stories and histories and groups going about their lives.
Why You Should Listen
As a side note, this chapter until the end were sections that I was super happy about the way that the recording came out. Tons of interesting characters, and I think their personality really, really comes out in the VA. Especially, especially a character we meet in the last few chapters.
Slapstick Comedy, and the Pursuit of Silliness
And with that note, we end the chapter with a little bit of classic slapstick comedy. Cyrus is tossed into the middle of some ongoing negotiations, and the ensuing kerfuffle is a Jackie-Chan influenced combat comedy until everyone is left slumped, laughing, or giggling.
I never want to ever take this too seriously. Because one of the most powerful aspects of the human spirit is the ability to adapt, to find comedy, and to poke fun even when it feels as though you mayyyyyyybe shouldn’t.
Neil Gaiman had a great bit in his masterclass where he says that we get a little unsettled if people aren’t having at least a little bit of a good time, or making a little bit of fun, especially in normal life. Because that’s how people signal that things are okay, that they’re alright. And why should wolf people be any different?
Chapter 17 — Shadows on the Roofscape
The Technicalities of Stealth and Tracking
I actually drew from video games a bit in writing this section, and thinking about playing Sly Cooper, an old sneaky sneak game where you had to avoid people to get to the goal. As a random thought, the most fun I’ve ever had playing video games was in Halo: Reach, doing something called “The Hidden League of Gaming”. Some buddies of mine would get active camo (an ability that makes you invisible), and then all stack up in corners like on each others heads and such.
The thrill was in going invisible just as the other team could almost see you, and then laughing like absolute goons as they came by, saw a dark hallway, and passed on. Eventually they’d start to get mad and yell over the mics at us to show ourselves, and then one of them would pass and we’d absolutely dogpile them. We’re talking about four dudes jumping out fists swinging from feet away, and then we’d laugh like little girls as we ran away and found another spot.
The amount of games we won like 7-3 after 20 minutes was amazing.
Anyway, Val’s tracking and sneaking while also avoiding people was kinda like that here.
We also see a touch of Val’s ruthlessness with his considerations of exactly what he’s going to do with Rat. The casualness with which he considers all of his options, including an assassination at a church service, is intentional. He’s grown his skills in a battlefield where there were no rules, nothing off limits. Something to note.
Religion and Faith
Speaking of religion and faith, we start to see a little bit more of it here. The freelanders are a deeply spiritual people, though much in their own character they tend to eschew massively organized religions in favor of more personal relationships with nature, the wild, and their own spirituality.
Of course, Val never took much time to learn the finer specifics of each one, since there were so many, so we don’t get a wealth of knowledge from him here, but we may soon.
Another thing we see on this brief look through the Old City is something that BC, Pors, and Strena don’t quite emphasize as much because they’ve lived there so long — there are some serious class differences here. The people in the little shacks in the worse parts of town aren’t exactly thriving, and I drew a lot from the stairstreets and slums of Central and South America. Many people are somewhat content, and they exist happily, but there are challenges with poverty, class differences just like any society will have eventually.
We’ll dive deeper into these divides over the course of the series. Is it better to live free in comparative squalor, with a strong community but little material wealth? Or is it better to live more comfortably, but find less sense of union with those around you?
There’s not really a right answer to be honest, and there are dozens more to ask.
See You Next Week!
You can leave a comment here and I’ll make sure to answer it next week! In the meantime, make sure that you’ve listened to or read:
Chapter 18 — Those of the Wolves
Chapter 19 — Snarling Strays
Chapter 20 — Aerithim
By next week!
In the meantime, stay safe, and in the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.