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Literature / Touch (2017)

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A survival story.
James, our protagonist
Touch, by Rhythm, is a Web Serial Novel centered around James Toranaga, a young boy who, following an incident of sexual assault, develops the ability to fly.

The story follows James and a small group of those around him as they attempt to come to terms with the trials and tribulations of emotional recovery in a world where weirdness is hiding just behind the veil.

While technically an action story, the plot focuses heavily on themes of psychological harm and recovery, and the consensus of reviews received on the Web Fiction Guide seems to be that the true strength of the piece is in its realistic and compelling characters. That said, more recent chapters have been leaning a little more into the action side of things.

Trigger Warning: From chapter one, Touch deals with some pretty heavy themes, such as sexual assault and abuse, and a trigger warning is issued to any prospective readers. While it is generally regarded as handling the subjects responsibly, its degree of honesty means that it tends not to shy away from subjects that certain readers may find difficult.

For the 2015 novel by Claire North see Touch (2015)

This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Casper's father used to beat him and once shattered his arm.
  • Action Girl: Tasha, the main girl of the group, has super strength. Which she uses. A lot.
  • Affably Evil: Father might be a delusional wizard with a personal cabal of brainwashed slaves, but he's also a gentlemanly, kind, and largely good-humored individual.
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: Subverted. James is specifically being sent to someone who does have magic, but he doesn't realize this for a while.
  • Alternate Universe: It's heavily implied that this is where magical creatures and beings come from.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Goblins. Apparently even Casper isn't able to determine their genders. Eventually it's revealed that they don't have any.
    • In general, Caspar's power can tell him the gender of whomever he's sensing, but it's not foolproof; he thought Tasha was a boy the first time that he sensed her.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Tasha is described as being so covered in bruises and sunburns that it's hard to even tell what race she is.
  • Ambiguously Gay: James. He begins to wonder about this himself eventually.
    • James seems to have accepted himself as gay and admits that he has a crush on Charlie.
  • Bad Liar: James, to an almost comical degree.
  • Battle Couple: James' grandparents, Hideyoshi and Tsuru.
  • Big Applesauce: Near the entirety of the story thus far has taken place in and around Manhattan.
  • Bland-Name Product: In the generic mecha anime category, we have "Spacefighter X" and Word of God has it that the card game James and Casper play is called "Gather: the Magicking."
  • Blatant Lies: James currently takes home the prize with "I'm not flying. I'm practicing a magic trick."
  • Blow You Away: James' powers. He can control wind, fly, and later gains the ability to turn his whole body into air, giving him a significant upgrade.
  • Body Horror: The unfortunate result of trying to fend off a cosmic horror singlehanded. Heck, at least that guy survived.
  • Break the Cutie: Touch seems to thrive off of defying this trope, both James and Casper serving as examples. Horrible things happen, but they keep not breaking.
    • Poor Charlie gets his mind utterly broken by Sebastian and falls under the mind control of the Whale.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: The fight against the Eldritch Abomination led to one person performing a Suicide Mission, while the other is basically in a permanent medical coma due to injuries and insanity.
  • But Not Too Foreign: James and Bex are half Japanese, half white.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Casper finally tells his parents that he hates them before running away from home. Later he meets with his father at a bowling alley and delivers a disgusted tirade against his father.
    “I’m an empath. Every single time you hit me after I manifested, I could tell exactly how bad you felt. I knew how empty Mom felt when you hit her.” He laughed, high and angry. “That’s the only reason I stayed with you as long as I did. Because I couldn’t get my head around why you’d be doing it if you felt that way. Then, one night, I come home, and I hear you fighting, and I figure it out. And all I can say about it is fuck you.” He watched as his father buried his head in his hands. “Fuck everything about you.”
  • Character Development: This seems to be the main driving force of the story, with examples being too numerous to list. Virtually every character thus far shown has undergone at least some degree of ongoing character growth or progression.
  • Cooldown Hug: Subverted, as this isn't always the best thing to do to a traumatized child. In two occasions someone (Caspar, then Hideyoshi) tries this on James when he's not paying attention, and the sudden feeling of being trapped causes him to lash out on instinct.
  • Country Matters: Caleb does this while telling off his boss, Leanne, and destroying his Restraining Bolt.
  • Cuddle Bug: Bex. Because she's adorable.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Tasha momentarily during one of Caleb's Shirtless Scenes. In contrast, James is looking pointedly away.
  • Driven to Villainy: Lewis works for anybody because, when you have certain useful powers, dangerous people aren't really gonna let you turn down a job offer. He explains that when you have certain useful powers, dangerous people won't let you turn down job offers.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Defied. Every person who finds out about James' rape is justifiably horrified by it, and his family and friends go to lengths to ensure that he gets the treatment he needs as quickly and discreetly as possible.
  • Eldritch Abomination: One attacked Earth a few years back and was barely defeated.
  • Enhanced Punch: Tasha, for obvious super-strength related reasons. Also Hobgoblins, the elf and at least one high level mage.
  • The Fair Folk: Elves in this setting come from another dimension, pop into ours every few months and try to kidnap as many powerful-yet-untrained mages as they can in order to use them for Human Sacrifices.
  • Familiar: Caleb transforms one of the elves' hunting birds into a magic tattoo, which means that he can summon it and call on its powers for himself.
  • Fights Like a Normal: Given that Peter's main power isn't really combat-applicable, he's perfectly willing to break out the knuckle-dusters when needed.
  • Flashback Nightmare: James has one the night when he tries going back to his own room rather than sleeping with his parents. Technically it's this, rather than the rape itself, which triggers his Traumatic Superpower Awakening, as he wakes up floating above his bed.
  • Flight: James, and he loves it.
  • Foregone Conclusion: the flashback to Twenty-Three’s escape plan: we know it fails, because she’s still at the organization in the present day
  • Fragile Speedster: Caleb, with his Power Limiter. He’s good at dodging Tasha’s attacks, but not so good at taking them, once she finally manages to land a few.
  • Freak Out: James, whenever he takes a moment to remember just how much insane stuff he's done in the last few months.
  • Fright-Induced Bunkmate: At his first therapy session, James complains that he can't sleep without nightmares about his attack. Dr. Sharpe suggests that he might feel safer sleeping with his parents, which winds up working.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: Used by Father to a genuinely nauseating effect, as it basically amounts of Mind Control.
  • Glass Cannon: James can transform into a massive, powerful being made of air with some glowing blue orbs in the center. As he learns during a training exercise, hitting that area hurts so badly that he instantly reverts to normal and blacks out.
  • Godzilla Threshold: As of the Bex interlude, there exists at least one monster capable of forcing the entire planet to work together to defeat it.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: Father. Leader of what seems to be a very heavily brainwashed cult/crime syndicate. His power? Happiness aura.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Bex was apparently conceived from this, right after her father led the effort to stop an Eldritch Abomination. Its presented more poetically than most examples:
    He returns to his family, holds his son close, and reaffirms his love to his wife, happy simply to be alive. Nine months later, a girl is born.
  • Heinz Hybrid: Caleb and his fellow "assets" were created by capturing a bunch of different Half Human Hybrids and selectively breeding them to get kids with a lot of different powers.
  • Hidden Depths: Most of the characters, to some degree, but most notably Tasha. One minute, she's punching people for being stupid, the next she's having a heartwarming conversation with a kid about how he shouldn't let other people define him.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: James, after every instance thus far of him discovering a new aspect of his powers.
    • Later with Charlie, trying to figure out his teleportation powers while being stuck in a snowdrift in the Arctic.
  • Internal Reveal: James eventually reveals that he was raped to Tasha and Caspar, the latter of whom more or less knew due to his power. Caleb and Hideyoshi find out by accident, when Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing causes James to lose his patch.
    • After MANY CHAPTERS of the adult and kid characters hiding their magic from each other, James eventually shows his powers to Hideyoshi and his parents.
  • Knight Templar: Leanne's and later Sebastian's crew. They want to breed super-soldiers strong enough to destroy the elves, once and for all. The resulting soldiers are slaves with numbers for names that are held in check with magical brands that their overseers can use to drain their energy if they set one toe out of line. They're not above kidnapping innocent children and forcing them into service, either.
  • Le Parkour: Tasha, aided by her super strength, also Caleb
  • Mage in Manhattan: The story is literally about mages in Manhattan, but the elf attack in the third arc is where this trope comes into play.
  • The Masquerade: Over time, people started believing in science instead of magic, and governments have found it useful to keep the truth on the down-low.
  • Mind Rape: Done by the Whale to poor Charlie.
  • Mundane Utility: Hideyoshi uses his fire power to roast some steaks and potatoes.
  • My Sensors Indicate You Want to Tap That: Caspar notes that James is attracted to Charlie. This leads to a small fight between them, since James is having a hard time processing that fact himself.
  • No Biological Sex: Goblins. They reproduce from spores, having been created by elves from mushrooms, of all things.
  • Nuke 'em: The primary method of attack attempted against the above mentioned Godzilla beast. It doesn't work.
  • Omniglot: Peter. Intuitive linguistics is his baseline power.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Apparently, the goblins in this universe are very helpful, and are considered the human race's closest allies. They can pass as human, but look weirdly androgynous due to having No Biological Sex.
  • Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality: James' views about sex are understandably negative after being raped. In the first chapter he specifically says that he never wants to have sex again, and when Caspar notices him feeling infatuated he gets angry, saying that sexual thoughts are "gross."
    • In a meditation scene in arc 6, he reflects on why he's "scared of liking guys" and determines that it's because "butt stuff" will always hurt. When his inner self remarks that grownups like it, he says that he'll never ask anyone how it can feel good, to which his inner self agrees.
  • Parents as People: Peter and Sarah are Good Parents, but especially early on they're kind of out of their depth about how to help James through his recent trauma.
    • On the darker side of this trope, many otherwise decent parents seem to believe that it's okay to abuse your kids JUST ENOUGH to give them a Traumatic Superpower Awakening. Peter, who got this from his own parents, outright says that good intentions don't excuse child abuse.
  • Personality Powers: Personality is one of the factors that determines a person’s core spell.
    • James, who hates feeling confined, has the ability to fly.
    • Casper is very perceptive and has trust issues thanks to his Abusive Parents. He’s an Empath.
    • Hideyoshi notes that he was never very subtle, making fire the perfect match .
  • Playing with Fire: Hideyoshi's main power.
  • Please Get Off Me: James' standard response to unsolicited hugs.
  • Power Tattoo: Inverted, as Caleb's tattoo is actually a Power Limiter\Power Nullifier that his masters use to keep him in line. It could drain his magic to death if he tried to escape from them.
    • Played straight with familiars: magical beings that are bonded to an individual become a tattoo on that indivudal.
  • Precision F-Strike: While most of the characters cuss fairly frequently, James is rather shocked when Peter says "fuck" in relation to Abusive Parents like Caspar's, and then feels very adult when Peter permits him to say it himself. (James then chickens out of repeating it in front of his friends.)
    • In therapy, James is asked for four words that he would choose to describe his rapist. He selects "liar," "meanie," "pervert" and (quietly) "asshole," then apologizes for cussing.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Lewis has shown himself multiple times to be this, what with his efficient and inhumane acts of villainy, and his pleasant home life with a pair of teenage kids.
  • Rape and Revenge: Hideyoshi and Tsuru wind up torturing James' rapist to death.
  • Rape and Switch: Averted—while there are hints that James might be gay, his father says that he noticed them before the rape. The focus is instead on how the experience makes James figuring out his sexuality more complicated.
  • Rape as Backstory: James in a rare male example of the trope. Justified in that the story is largely about different ways of learning to deal with trauma. The experience eventually led to his Traumatic Superpower Awakening, and essentially functions as the opening line of the story.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Sometimes present, sometimes not. Tasha has them, to help her deal with the bodily strain of her super-strength. Casper, on the other hand, does not.
  • Servant Race: Caleb and his fellow "assets" were specifically bred to be monster-hunting slaves.
    • The goblins were created by elves for Human Resources, but when they didn't work out, they went on to start using humans instead.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: James gains the power to transform his whole body to air, which makes him a lot more powerful, but also leaves him naked when he reforms. He tries to avoid using this for a while, though he comes to love how strong it makes him.
    • James ends up going through the portal to the magical world in his air form, leaving him naked once he and Charlie escape from Sebastian. Afterwards, he seeks out Bors, defeats him, and demands his jacket
    • Also Played for Drama a bit: while he learns to quickly hide and dress in private, he forgets about the patch on his face, causing Caleb and then Hideyoshi to see his Mark of Purity.
  • Shirtless Scene: Caleb a few times, when he needs to show someone the brand on his back.
  • Space Elves: they’re elves, they’re extraterrestrial, and they view humans as cattle.
  • Subbing Versus Dubbing:
    “Y-yeah, that’d be good. Do you have any [anime] that aren’t in Japanese?”
    “I have some with subtitles.”
    “God,” Casper groaned as they began walking again. “Being friends with you is gonna suck.”
  • Summon Magic: Thus far, we have Tuva, whose power revolves around summoning shadowey figures composed of solidified nightmares, and the female elf, who summons her birds to great effect.
    • Tsuru has a number of plants and ghosts under her control.
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: Fauns, apparentlynote . Hideyoshi and Tsuru apparently locked Peter in a room with one in order to invoke his Traumatic Superpower Awakening.
  • The Empath: Casper, the story's Deuteragonist, is a powerful one. He is not happy about it.
  • The Force Is Strong with This One: The elves, as well as their hunting birds, can sense how powerful (or potentially powerful, if their abilities haven't manifested) people are. Caleb gains this power through his Familiar.
  • There Are No Therapists: Hard averted. The story literally opens on James going to a therapy session, and his therapist is a recurring character throughout the series.
  • Trash of the Titans: Tasha's apartment, oh so much. She even hides her stash of money in an old pizza box on the floor.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: In this setting, people need to have an extremely stressful situation for their powers to activate. James got this during a Flashback Nightmare of his rape, Caspar got this from his Abusive Parents, and Tasha says that she had one too, but has yet to reveal it.
    • Invoked by some parents, including Caspar's. Hideyoshi and Tsuru also did this to Peter, who subsequently developed an extreme distaste for this form of parenting.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: James has enough power to go against Father, and that's without any real training
    • Tasha lacks finesse and many of her moves revolve around punching things, but she might be one of, if not the most physically strong characters in the series.
  • Virginity Flag: The Mark of Purity appears on someone's face once they've had sex (willingly or not, to James' displeasure). There are skin patches and permanent surgeries to hide it, however.
  • The Worf Barrage: Tasha subverts this hard. After an entire fight spent being no-selled because she can't punch hard enough to hurt the guy, she decides she needs to Just. Punch. Harder.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Caleb is confused and a little worried when Twenty-Three uses his chosen name instead of calling him "Thirteen." Turns out that they've just been ordered to cross the Moral Event Horizon or be killed, and are being transferred out of the city either way.