Over the last two years, I’ve stopped watching as much anime and started reading more reincarnation-centric webtoons and manhwa. Every story follows the same formula, ticking several boxes that guarantee a wide readership: a satisfying revenge plot line, a forbidden romance, a morally ambiguous villain, an underdog to overpowered main character transformation—pick your party bag, add the additional themes of making a mistake, dying, and getting a do-over, and you have a winner. I think empathy naturally draws us toward reincarnation because it’s like the level-up of second chances, the ultimate answer to personal screwups. I suppose it’s a kind of faith and, in turn, a kind of hope.
I wanted to explore that hope and the complex ways it can manifest through love and nurturing, childhood and adulthood. The seed of my story came from a research paper that explored empathy in rats, originally published in Animal Cognition. On the first read, I found the paper fascinating. On subsequent reads, I found my fascination silly—that I’d need a study to prove the existence of empathy in living creatures other than humans.
I began the story with the research paper in mind—an experimental observation I wanted to share. The only other thing I needed was a vehicle for that observation, and so, I grabbed onto the tried-and-true reincarnation-centric story structure.
As with all my stories, I don’t really plan. I start with a line and a thought (or thoughts) that interest me, and the elements organically come together. What actions make sense for these characters? What would they say? As I write, I become the medium for these characters to become real and to find meaning in their lives just as we are perpetually doing in our own. “I Saved You in Every Life” started with interesting food for thought but eventually became what I consider a classic type of Lucy-fiction, centered on growing up, nourishment, nurturing (with hints of anime/manga story elements). The title itself is a play on reincarnation, since, in some ways, saving a life is a kind of reincarnation before reincarnation. The story is open ended in terms of plot, but it is, at least I hope, emotionally certain.
LUCY ZHANG writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Salt Hill, The Pinch, The Baltimore Review, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbooks Hollowed (Thirty West Publishing, 2022) and Absorption (Harbor Review, 2022). Find her on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.