In the land of Hyrule, there echoes a legend. A legend held dearly by the Royal Family that tells of a boy. A boy who, after battling evil and saving Hyrule, crept away from the land that had made him a legend. Done with the battles he once waged across time, he embarked on a journey. A secret and personal journey. A journey in search of a beloved and invaluable friend. A friend with whom he parted ways when he finally fulfilled his heroic destiny and took his place among legends.
From the outset of Majora’s Mask, if we look closely enough, we can see that love is in the air. Link is in the middle of a quest to find his lost friend, Navi, described as “beloved” to him. While he wanders the Lost Woods, he runs into the Skull Kid, who steals his horse and the precious Ocarina given to him by Zelda – both symbols of two of his other invaluable friendships. He of course gives chase, but when he tumbles through the portal into Termina, the Skull Kid takes the only thing he has left: his humanity.
Left with a stolen shell for a body, Link is forced to face his wretched state in his reflection in the water while the Skull Kid laughs at his misfortune and disappears. Though it seems that he has lost everything, he maintains his persistence, and through that persistence fate rewards him in a most unusual way.
Skull Kid, wait for me! I’m still here! Tael, you can’t leave without me!
As the Skull Kid disappears with his fairy friend Tael, Tatl is left behind. In a way, she finds herself in a similar situation to Link – the Skull Kid has separated her from that which she holds most dear. Though she reacts at first in anger, blaming Link for distracting her from her brother, she eventually lets up and attempts a hasty reconciliation, and agrees to help him track down the Skull Kid. It’s almost fitting that Link and Tatl should, from this point on, strive together to find, through love, what they have lost.
Do you know much about the moon? It’s just that, lately, I think the moon has been getting bigger. I couldn’t help but notice it. What do you think?
The moon’s been kinda spooky around here lately. Have you noticed it? I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks so.
Those who remain in town either don’t believe the rumors or have given up all hope. It pains my heart to see children still playing in the streets because they have no idea what’s going on…
Above Termina looms the angry moon, which every second seems to draw closer to the surface of the earth. No one knows why this is, what has roused its anger, and some refuse to believe that it is actually falling. One thing is clear, though: that moon is the cause of much confusion, fear, and pain. Public defenders wish to evacuate the townspeople before it is too late, while the workmen responsible for setting up the carnival festivities think that the soldiers are just spreading mindless panic.
Link appears in the midst of this chaos. As a Deku Scrub, a shadow of his former self, he is not allowed to leave town, so his information is limited to whatever tidbits he can gather from the citizens. It isn’t long before Link realizes that the Skull Kid seems to have a hand in all the troubles of the townspeople, starting with the Great Fairy and the Bombers’ gang. Through helping the Bombers, Link discovers a passage leading out of Clock Town to the Astral Observatory, where a great telescope gives him new sight:
I wonder how that troublemaker got on top of the clock tower? The only way up there is through the clock door, and that opens only on the eve of the carnival. What could that troublemaker be doing atop the clock tower? I just hope he’s not plotting another one of his no-good tricks…
Through the lens of the telescope, Link learns of the Skull Kid’s connection to the falling moon. The child is not only causing trouble within the town, he has summoned a power that if left unchecked will destroy all of Termina. As Link gazes at the moon, a mysterious teardrop-shaped gem plummets from its eye. There is a profound sadness and anger that drives the falling moon.
And, as we will see, it all ties back to love…
Each year, the season of harmony begins when the sun and moon are in alignment. Paying homage to the way that nature and time both tirelessly progress, the Carnival of Time is when the peoples of the four worlds celebrate that harmony and request fruitfulness for the year. For ages, people have worn masks resembling the giants who are the gods of the four worlds. Now, it has become a custom for each person to bring a handmade mask to the Carnival of Time.
It is said that if a couple united on the day of the festival and dedicated a mask as a sign of their union, it would bring luck. The centerpiece of the carnival is the clock tower, and on the eve of all the festivities, the doors to its roof are opened. From atop the clock tower roof, a ceremony to call the gods is held and an ancient song is sung. All of these festivities for the Carnival of Time are held so that the people may ask the gods for a rich harvest in the year to come.
Just as the moon has a cycle of phases, so does love.
The first is often referred to as the honeymoon phase. Honeymoons are characterized by celebration, by togetherness, and by excitement. They’re a time when both partners in the relationship feel on-top-of-the-world, and believe that nothing can bring them down from their emotional high or tarnish their view of the other.
This phase is not simply limited to the initial period of marital bliss – we can think of the honeymoon period as the pleasant first stage of any deep human connection. Things are still new and interesting, and conflict is minimal; the two parties may have grown close but still have a lot to learn about one another.
The Carnival of Time is a symbol of the honeymoon phase. It occurs at the new year, when the sun and the moon are close together in the heavens, when the people have plentiful cause to rejoice in nature and bask in the blessings of the gods. The story even has marriage at its center, as if to seal its significance.
The wedding ceremony is soon. It might be early, but I finished my wedding mask. I wonder if Anju has made hers? She tends to do things at the last minute, so probably not. There is a gathering of the fellows at the Milk Bar tonight. I plan to show off my wedding mask and talk about my sweetheart as best I can.
Before the appearance of the Skull Kid, Kafei and Anju were happily awaiting their wedding day. Their marriage masks bear images of the sun and moon, a clear parallel to the alignment of the heavens in the carnival story. They are ready to accept the blessings of the new year, the new season, their new life together.
The infamous amorous duo called Honey and Darling parallel this situation perfectly. They spend all day ‘dancing’ together, enjoying the thrill of their embraces and caresses. It is plain from their showy infatuation that they are very much enveloped in the honeymoon phase.
Skull Kid too goes through this phase in his own friendships. First, with the giants, who were his dear friends, and again with Tatl and Tael, whom he meets, accepts warmth from, and plays with at length. At some point, however, the tide begins to turn…
… And For Worse…
I wonder… Are we truly happy? …Darling?
The second phase of love is disillusionment. As a relationship develops, both parties’ flaws begin to surface more and more. The image of perfection that might have once been projected onto the relationship begins to fade, and reality sets in. In many ways the disillusionment period is the opposite of the honeymoon; instead of basking in light and glory, those involved begin to sink into darkness and doubt. This stage is marked by questioning, by distance, and by a longing for how things used to be. The quote above, from Honey and Darling, epitomizes this phase.
Sometime before Link arrives in Termina, Kafei goes missing. No one really knows the cause, but plenty of people make room to speculate:
Besides, think about Cremia. She needs strength from a partner and business support from Madame Aroma. If Kafei really has run off with Cremia, she’ll get both. Please don’t be sad. How happy could you possibly be… marrying a man who runs off when he’s about to be married? It would make your life unhappy …just like your mother’s.
It seems the most popular sentiment is that Kafei has decided to break off his engagement with Anju – that he has passed into disillusionment. Even Anju’s own mother falls prey to those doubts – she herself is disenchanted by Kafei’s disappearance.
For Anju’s part, she thinks nothing about Kafei’s own faults, but instead feels the blame lies with herself:
I’m…actually…afraid to meet him… and to hear the reason why he wanted to disappear… It might be because of… me…
And when Link finally meets Kafei, he too suffers from feelings of inadequacy:
I was turned into this by a strange imp wearing a mask… But I’m not hiding because I look this way. When I was turned into this, I went to see the Great Fairy in the shrine near the North Gate… But on the way, my precious mask – a wedding ceremony mask – was stolen from me by some prancing man with a grinning face!
Filled with the joy of being with his love and anticipation of his impending nuptials, Kafei happens upon the Skull Kid, who reduces him to the form of a mere child. Though he claims that his physical appearance has nothing to do with his self-imposed exile, it’s clear from his pursuit of the Great Fairy’s assistance that he wanted to cast off the Skull Kid’s curse before the wedding.
The stolen mask, however, is the symbol of his lapse in confidence. Just as Anju is afraid that Kafei vanished because of her, Kafei is afraid of what Anju will see behind the mask. Recovering the mask, however, cannot restore him to his original form, no more than wearing the Keaton Mask can change his identity.
We cannot hide behind masks forever. Eventually imperfections will rear their ugly heads. Majora’s Mask keenly demonstrates that this phase is not only about seeing flaws in others, but also involves revealing our own insecurities and weaknesses.
This tale is from long ago when all the people weren’t separated into four worlds like they are now. In those times all the people lived together, and the four giants lived among them. On the day of the festival that celebrates the harvest, the giants spoke to the people:
“We have chosen to guard the people while we sleep… 100 steps north, 100 steps south, 100 steps east, 100 steps west. If you have need, call us in a loud voice by declaring something such as ‘the mountain blizzard has trapped us’ or ‘the ocean is about to swallow us.’ Your cries shall carry to us.”
Now there was one who was shocked and saddened by all this: a little imp. The imp was a friend of the giants since before they had created the four worlds. “Why must you leave? Why do you not stay?” The childhood friend felt neglected, so he spread his anger across the four worlds. Repeatedly, he wronged all people.
Overwhelmed with misfortune, the people sang the song of prayer to the giants who lived in each of the four compass directions. The giants heard their cry and responded with a roar. “Oh, imp. Oh, imp. We are the protectors of the people. You have caused the people pain. Oh, imp, leave these four worlds! Otherwise, we shall tear you apart!”
The imp was frightened and saddened. He had lost his old friends. The imp returned to the heavens, and harmony was restored to the four worlds. And the people rejoiced and they worshiped the giants of the four worlds like gods.
The Skull Kid encounters his own disillusionment when the four giants leave to the four worlds. He believed they would never leave him, so when they entered their slumber he was wracked by grief. The friendship that he believed was perfect and eternal was not quite what he thought.
Like Kafei, the Skull Kid too tries to put on a new face – that of Majora’s Mask, and of the plummeting moon. In his frustration, he seeks attention like a spoiled child, by unleashing his anger on the people. But, as the story tells us, this is not the way to deal with misfortune. Instead, it advises that we look to the example of the people, who sing songs of prayer to the giants to deliver them from their sorrows.
The story is a reminder that not everything will turn out in a perfectly ideal way, but we must not give up faith and succumb to despair and darkness.
…Now and Forever
Just have faith…
This antidote to disillusionment leads us to the final phase of love: commitment. After successfully grappling with the trials of disillusionment, partners who reach the commitment stage realize that even though things may not always be full of sunshine and roses their relationship is worth sustaining. The commitment phase is about focusing not on imperfections but about those things that draw two people together in the first place, and reaching a state of infallible happiness that is not discouraged by obstacles.
Even though Honey and Darling questioned their relationship, they found that true happiness was there all along:
For a while, it was like a dream, Darling.
Oh, that’s why I told you… We’ve already won, Honey.
I’m happy, Darling.
Even though Kafei had his own doubts about whether he could face Anju again, he can rest assured that his appearance doesn’t change the memories he has shared with others:
Now Kafei… I’ve known him since he was real little… But when he showed up looking all young in that little brat body, I didn’t know what I was seeing!
All it took was one glance at that Keaton Mask he was carrying for me to realize that I was looking at my old friend. I gave him that mask a long time ago when he was just li’l Kafei. Didn’t know he kept it that well for so long…
To convey his intentions to Anju, Kafei entrusts Link with delivering the Pendant of Memories, a reminder of the promise that he and Anju made to each other. Upon receiving the pendant and recalling its significance, Anju understands:
I have decided to wait for him. I’ve made my promise…
I’m fine with this. I believe him.
It is faith in that promise, in the end, that allows them to overcome the difficulties in their relationship and finally join together in happiness:
What a familiar scent. Long, long ago…Yes. We were still young. We made a promise… Didn’t we? The masks of the sun and the moon… We were to exchange them on the day of the Carnival of Time…
Anju… I’m sorry I was late.
Let us exchange the promised masks.
We have exchanged our oaths and have become a couple. You are our witnesses. Please accept this mask.
Please take refuge. We are fine here.
We shall greet the morning…together.
Their masks of the sun and moon represent more than just the two celestial bodies’ momentary alignment in the heavens – they represent the eternal cycle of love. Even though the sun and moon may drift apart at intervals, through the passing of the seasons we can have confidence that they always remain, to some degree, in harmony.
You guys… You hadn’t forgotten about me? You still thought of me as a friend?
The Skull Kid, too, finds this same peace. After Link vanquishes the demon mask, and the angry moon dissipates into the ether, the giants reassure him that even though they had left for the four lands, they had not forgotten their friendship. Skull Kid begins to weep, happy to know that even though he was responsible for countless sorrows, he still has his friends at his side.
Kafei reunites with Anju, the Skull Kid with the giants, Tatl with her brother. Everybody seems to have a happy ending – save for Link. He still has not found Navi, and he still misses her. As if to reinforce this, the game leaves us with an image of the Deku Butler discovering his lost son in the caves beneath Clock Town. But he realizes that nothing is perfect, that there will be times when rifts – both physical and emotional – separate us from those we care about. In that sense, he has found what he is looking for – true happiness – and made peace with how things are despite that they are not how he would like them to be.
With this experience fresh in their minds, the Mask Salesman leaves the Skull Kid, together with Tatl, Tael, and Link, a valuable lesson about love and happiness, the central theme of Majora’s Mask:
Whenever there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow. However, that parting need not last forever… Whether a parting be forever or merely for a short time…
That is up to you.
Themes in Motion is a regular article series that plans to cover the major story themes of every game in the Zelda series. As you read, please consider your own reactions to the games’ stories and feel free to reply in the comment sections with any thoughts you may have that differ from or go beyond what is explained in the article. Entries typically will follow the games’ release order and debut every other Tuesday, but today’s entry is a special celebration of Majora’s Mask‘s 10th birthday. Themes in Motion will return to its normal schedule starting November 9.