LSQ: This story has such a beautiful depiction of magic in it, the sort that’s both fantastic and mundane. The scene at the end where all the jinli yu simply climb out of the water and resume their regular lives was poetic. What inspired you to write this story?
Ai: Thank you so much for your kind words! Lately, I’ve been taking a greater interest in the myths and legends, along with the folklore of my culture. But not only the stories of the past, I’ve taken an interest in more contemporary forms of very mythical tales and stories. I’m a big fan of Big Fish and Begonia and Spirited Away and drew inspiration from these two animations for this piece along with myths surrounding the symbolic significance of the jinli yu—koi fish. The ideas of shapeshifters and distant palaces have always lingered in my mind. And I thought I’d use these imaginings to express the struggles of the mundane.
LSQ: I really appreciate that the magic in this story is so subtle, which was also how it seemed to me to affect the lives of those who have it. What made you decide to make magic something that wasn’t enough, by itself, to let your characters swim up waterfalls?
Ai: I wanted the magic in the story’s world to appear not as something that offers great powers and strength like in other high fantasy stories but almost as a crutch or escape—a small thing to indulge in that came with consequences and could be as easily taken away as it was given. Although humans are born with, at times, extraordinary skills—or gained them through efforts—appearances, or personalities, society often takes advantage of this—just like how the Huangdi takes advantage of his people’s jinli magic as a means of control and for his own self agendas given the myths surrounding the good fortune you receive by having jinli yu. Just like in current society, it isn’t enough to rely solely on certain “skills” to get by in life—will, determination, understanding are things we all need to make meaning in this life. For us to overcome barriers both mental and physical, it begins not with magic but with our mundane selves. In the story, to swim up a waterfall, it’s important to understand what you are and what you are not, along with your duties and responsibilities, even under oppression. For the characters in this world, rebellion is not the key.
LSQ: Your ability to build a fascinating world in few words is impressive. This story feels wonderfully complete, but at the same time I’d love to know more. Have you considered revisiting this? Would you write more about the jinli yu, or perhaps about Huangdi?
Ai: I really love this world, and the story is but a fleeting gaze into it. I definitely have considered revisiting the world and perhaps writing a story that is set from the inside of the palace, featuring those who stand above the jinli yu, always looking down. Perhaps what they truly feel is envy for the common people’s magic where the wealthy only have their riches as their “magic” or power, to speak bluntly? Until then, I’ll allow the world to continue brewing in my mind, and hopefully it will come alive on published pages in the future.