Anime Review: Armed Girl’s Machiavellism

This is what you get when someone says, “Hey, you know what would be great? A samurai drama, but told as a high school harem comedy!” Gag me with a spoon!

While the premise of this anime struck me as a bit absurd from the get-go, I was still hoping for a bit more than we got. Also, it’s easy to see where they got the “armed girls” bit, but what the heck was “Machiavellism” doing anywhere in the title? I have no idea.

Armed Girl’s Machiavellism follows a young man, Nomura, as he enters a most unusual and unhealthy school, and directly challenges the status quo. Here, the girls aren’t just in charge, they dominate. They force every boy in the school to dress and wear makeup like a girl or face the withering and quite potentially lethal punishment of the school’s administrators, the Five Swords. Called such, creatively enough, because they wield swords. Real swords. In school. On a normal, regular, everyday basis. So, every time Nomura collides with one of the girls, he is facing death itself via sword strike. And this is considered “normal” here.

Small wonder why the guys at the school all submitted, rather than be sliced and diced.

However, Nomura is not the average high school delinquent. He, too, is trained in martial arts, indeed, in swordplay as well! But, twist, he is a swordless swordsman, using his glove hands to match the various swords and sword styles he encounters! And he is so strong and noble that every girl he fights falls for him in some way! Soooo exciting!

Yes, that was sarcasm.

I’m not sure if this was really meant to be serious, or if they deliberately made it so bad as a parody of all the harem high school comedies. Taking it at face value, though, it was difficult to take the over-the-top (melo)drama seriously even at the beginning, and it only got worse. Both the “humor” and the “drama” wore thin long before the season’s conclusion.

And it was so formulaic! We have the strong girl who has one insane quirk relating to her emotional vulnerability, we have the high-class refined girl, we have the short girl, we have the crazy girl, we have the youngest girl who is actually the strongest of them all, and we have the overwhelmingly psychotic girl who is the most deadly and dangerous of them all and is “so in love” with the male lead that she wants to kill him and everyone around him, and Nomura challenges and befriends each of them in turn. Really, it was so ridiculous!

Of course, you may be asking why I even bothered watching the anime if I disliked it so much. Well, as ridiculous as the beginning was, I was still a little curious and wondering if the murderous premise could be justified. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Basically, and there’s not much to say beyond the basics, the idea could have turned out very differently. They could have had something genuinely funny, something that touched on the fighting spirit of warriors, something that had gripping emotional drama and meaningful relationships. Instead, we got a mess of everything that fell far short, becoming dull and drab by the end.

Rating: 4 stars out of 10. Just barely on the wrong side of neutrality.

Grade: D-Minus.

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Hidden Figures

I saw the trailers for Hidden Figures. I enjoyed them. I figured I’d enjoy the movie, but it just wasn’t a priority for me to see it. And as a certain nameless someone close to me absolutely raved about it, I knew it was only a matter of time before I saw it anyway. Six months later, the movie is out on DVD, and now I’ve seen it.

It was good. It was all right. Nothing to complain about. I liked it well enough.

I’m not going to bother avoiding spoilers with this one, by the way.

The story mostly follows three black women, Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan. The year is 1961, and they work as computers at NASA in the middle of the space race, their services being extremely important to America’s effort in beating Russia. Katherine is especially gifted with numbers and math, and she is assigned to the very heart of things in the Space Task Group, and not only are her contributions vital, she proves herself to be a cut above the rest. Mary is an aspiring engineer, and the first black woman to become such. Dorothy is the unofficial supervisor of the team, and one who eventually gains official recognition as she refuses to let herself and her coworkers become obsolete with the introduction of the IBM, but rather finds a way to make them all vital in running said machine. All three have their own personal struggles, make their own sacrifices, and reap their own rewards, not the least of which are the love of their husbands, the trust of those rely on them, and the recognition of their peers.

All this at a time when America was still trying to bridge the racial divides which plagued the nation on many levels. There’s the segregated bathrooms and coffee pots, which Al Harrison, leader of the Space Task Group and NASA overall, abolishes when he becomes aware of how inconvenient they are to Katherine, and thus to NASA, and thus to America. There’s the rigged requirements Mary faces to become an engineer, involving gaining admittance to night classes at an all-white high school and putting a hole in the state’s educational barrier. There’s the prolonged refusal to grant Dorothy official supervisor status, until her coworker and supervisor not only grants it, but also changes how she addresses Dorothy to “Mrs. Vaughan,” her equal.

Bit by bit, the divide begins to close. On which note, I love the example set by John Glenn, the first American astronaut to circle the world in orbit. He treats Katherine and the others as simply people, not caring what color they are. He values their contribution, as the math he doesn’t understand is vital to his success and survival. He meets Katherine more than once, coming to trust her and her math completely, even with his life. And when he refers to her, not recalling her name at the moment, he says, “the girl, the smart one.” Not “the black one.” The smart one. Truly, an example to emulate, one which utterly ignores race and skin color.

Oh, and the courtship between Katherine and the man who becomes her husband, Jim Johnson, was quite respectable. As was the relationship between Mary and her husband, which, there was a little strife between them, but he loved and supported her completely.

Really, there’s a great deal to appreciate about this movie. It’s beautiful, it’s heartfelt, and it’s a pretty realistic depiction of historical events. Even more, it comes to us at a time where racial strife in my country has been reignited in an ugly way, and we can use more stories about healing the rift instead of widening it. Heck, I never knew that NASA employed black people back then, and to see their contributions made known on the big screen is quite gratifying.

All the same, there is something that the movie just kind of… lacks… for me. The certain-nameless-someone who insisted I see it thinks that must be superheroes and violence and such, but that’s not it. What it lacks is: tension.

Yes, in action movies, we have physical tension, but that’s not that the only flavor of such. There’s emotional tension, psychological tension, dramatic tension, and so on and so forth. Heck, even Apollo 13 had tension both physical and emotional, and we do know the ending of that story, just as we know John Glenn successfully made it to space and back. So, it wasn’t just that we know what happens.

What I guessed from the trailers, and which proved accurate, is that the narrative doesn’t feel compelling to me. There’s nothing really driving me to keep watching or demanding my continued attention.

Despite this, I still found myself smiling and laughing with the characters, and feeling for what they endured.

Hidden Figures really is a good movie, and welcome in my personal collection. It’s just not an epically great movie, is all.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #136: Virtue in Extremis

“Only in darkness are we revealed. Goodness is not goodness that seeks advantage. Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit, without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.”
– Nardole, quoting the diary of River Song, Doctor Who
Season 10, episode 6, “Extremis”

When I first heard this quote, I could see what they were saying, but it felt… incomplete.

Of course, it’s completely true, we can only claim virtue when we hold to it even in the worst and most desperate situation, at the end. If, in that final hour, we choose to abandon it, abandon the best parts of ourselves as well as everyone who needs us, that speaks volumes of what we lack. A commander in battle, for instance, is a truly pathetic creature indeed if he betrays his men and seeks only to save himself. Or someone who abandons a friend in dire circumstance.

In similar token, it is very easy for us to do the right thing when we can gain something from it, when we can be recognized for it, and when we can save ourselves through it. It becomes easier to justify doing something wrong when some or all of those are missing. If there’s nothing to gain, if we’re doomed anyway, and if no one sees, then who could ever judge us? The short answer to that is: ourselves. There is no escaping our own choices.

In the particular scenario of the episode this quote comes from, the Doctor finds himself in a situation where neither he nor anyone else in the world has any real hope. They are faced with a terrible enemy, and a terrible truth, that they cannot hope to defeat. However, there is one thing the Doctor might be able to do: warn the enemy’s next intended victims. And that is what he does. No one will ever know, there is nothing for him to gain, and he is lost to defeat already, but he still does what he can for others. It’s very impressive, a display of true nobility even in his final hour.

It’s true, we are revealed in the final hour as either virtuous of lacking virtue.

However… there are at least two things I would add to this.

The first is that, virtue is virtue in normal, everyday life as well.

It doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of our lives. Indeed, there are many instances where people turn around in times of crisis and do great, noble, brave things, but only out of regret of their pasts, or fear of ending their lives without one good deed to their credit. Virtue is a constant. It’s common. It’s ordinary. It’s unremarkable. It’s what we choose at any given moment on any given day.

It is much easier for a man to be a hero in the end if he has been a hero every day leading up to it. Every ordinary, everyday good deed is a stone laid in the foundation of who we are, giving our final decision ground on which to stand.

Virtue is only virtue in extremis, but virtue is also only virtue in the ordinary as well.

The second is that virtue can be reclaimed even when it has been lost.

How many stories of redemption are there? How many tales of forgiveness? Of honor restored? Of men and women who failed in a previous crisis, refusing to fail again?

I think this is simply because… we are human. We have faults and flaws and fears. We have the right to be afraid, and sometimes we make terrible mistakes. But while we may not be able to change the past, neither are we bound forever by it. We are not creatures forever locked into one state of being. We are more malleable than that. We can change. We can do better. We can have a second chance, rare as such may seem.

Virtue is only virtue in extremis, but virtue is also only virtue in the ordinary, and virtue lost can be regained by the sincere heart which chooses to do so.

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This Week on TV, June 24, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

We’ve just a couple more weeks left of my commentary, and then we’re going to have a few months without. Oh well, it’s been a pretty great season!

Doctor Who was pretty good this week. It wasn’t, like, stellar or anything, but it was good. I think it was the part where the warrior peoples are fighting against darkness forever that really tugged at my heartstrings, but that comes at the end, so…

Doctor Who

10.10 “The Eaters of Light”

Am I just forgetting, or have they really never done a story on Doctor Who that touched on the human fear of the dark?

This is at least the second story involving the Romans, and considering how influential they were on English history, it’s no great surprise we’d see them again on the show.

The story, like last episode, begins in the modern day and features something mysterious to investigate. This time, however, it’s not the Doctor who notices it and then goes looking. It’s just a normal little girl who frequents a hillside near her home, called, foreboding enough, the Devil’s Cairn. She wants to hear the music, a mysterious song that plays in the ground. She pays no attention to her brother’s insistence that they need to get back home, or to the crow cawing “Doc-tor” atop a stone with the Tardis engraved on it.

It occurred to me, as the brother told his sister about ghosts playing music to steal them away, that a number of our stories feature things like that: something strange, showing us something beautiful and mysterious, only to steal away our children and eat them. I suddenly saw a similarity between this and the modern-day stranger who shows kids a cute puppy and kidnaps them, like drawing fish with a lure. Perhaps that sort of thing, and a parent’s desire to warn their children away from danger, is where those stories first came from.

Either way, I digress.

So, back in the past, Nardole, Bill, and the Doctor arrive at the site looking for the remains of the mysterious Ninth Legion, a legion whose legend is in its disappearance. The Doctor insists that the legion was annihilated, that they were beaten. Bill disagrees. So they split up, the Doctor and Nardole to find the battlefield, and Bill to find the Legion she is certain is still alive.

Bill finds a Roman legionnaire all right, after being chased by a young warrior woman who was grieving her dead family and falling into a hole in the ground. That would be where she met her first Roman, a young man who kept his sword ready until he could be certain she wasn’t there to kill him. He tells her about a monster, the monster that destroyed the Ninth. Only a handful survived, because they deserted.

Bill and her new friend help each other out of the hole and make their way back to the rest of the survivors, only for this alien creature to attack. For calling himself a coward, the man does not hesitate to put himself between the monster and Bill, directing her to safety with his friends, and giving his life to give her a few precious seconds to run for it. She makes it, and the Romans shelter her with them. Which is especially fortunate as the creature manages to wound Bill, leaving its debilitating black goo on her. She’s out for two days under their protection.

Meanwhile, Nardole and the Doctor have their own part of the adventure.

A crow flaps down and says, “Dark,” to Nardole. Ominous, but the Doctor is not surprised, saying crows have always been able to talk, but humans stopped having conversations with them, so they’ve been in a huff ever since, only uttering that guttural cawing sound they make.

Then they find the body of a Roman legionnaire. The cause of death seems to be a profound lack of light, as if he was lacking it for decades, but it happened all at once. Then they find the entire Ninth Legion, every man the same as the first they found. They quickly realize something alien and dangerous is at work, so their first priority is to find Bill. Small detail: a number of the locals take them prisoner.

These are the Picts, the ancient tribe of the land. There aren’t any of them older than twenty, the elders all having been killed by the Romans or by the creature. When their leader, Kar, the woman who chased Bill earlier, gets back, she gives a speech about how terrible the Romans are, and lets slip a number of things about her status as the Gatekeeper of the Devil’s Cairn. The Doctor seems to be having some difficulty getting the locals on his side at the moment, so he throws Nardole’s popcorn in the fire and they make their escape in the panicked confusion which soon follows.

At the hill, the Picts catch up to Nardole, but the Doctor continues on. Inside, he finds a chamber, one with an entrance aligned with the rising sun (that would not work every single day the entire year round, but we’re overlooking that), and has a wall which opens when the sunlight hits it. Behind it, a blue light, and within that light, what looks like small fish swimming around something glowing bright, until one comes close, and it’s much bigger than a small fish!

The Picts call them the Eaters of Light, an accurate name. Exactly what they are, they are alien creatures from another dimension. There’s a crack in reality, and it’s kept shut, but it couldn’t be permanently sealed at the time, so the sunlight opens it for a few seconds and keeps the lock stable. Then, however, they have the issue of Eaters coming through, so the Gatekeeper stands in their path, fighting them back. And, as time moves more slowly withing the portal, a single Gatekeeper’s fight could safeguard the world for decades.

This time, however, the Gatekeeper had Romans outside and a monster she could unleash on them. She thought the Eater could destroy or decimate the Ninth, and the same in reverse. Only the Eater became very strong in the light, and feeding on its victims. It’s wounded, yes, but still formidable, and now it’s angry. So, it’s picking off the Romans and the Picts both, one by one. If it succeeds, there won’t be anyone left to guard the gate, and the Eaters will swarm through to devour all the stars of the universe, beginning with the sun.

If any of them are to survive, they must work together.

That is a similar statement to what Bill tells the Ninth, including their leader, Cornelius, the oldest one left at eighteen years old. Once they get past the discussion of sexual orientation – fact: the Romans knew very well about homosexuality – they talk about surviving. Bill has to tell the Ninth that they aren’t cowards, just afraid, justifiably so, but she has a friend who sort of specializes in saving worlds from imminent threats. And really, she can’t promise anyone’s survival, but she can promise that they won’t all die in a hole in the ground.

So they go, and though the Eater finds them, more of them make it up the ladder and into the Picts’ hut than don’t.

A tense, revelatory conversation later – Bill finally realizes that she can talk to anyone without any language barriers – and all three sides, the Romans, the Picts, and the Doctor, agree to work together. The Doctor has a plan.

First, they lure the Eater back to the gate by playing music. Very loudly. It uses sound to track them, so they tell it where they are. (I love when Nardole is talking to the crow, and it warns him, “Monster!”) They have stones which “poison” the light that the Eater feeds on. Using these, they’re able to contain the Eater until sunrise, driving it back through the gate.

Second, the tricky part: since the Doctor can’t close it completely, there needs to remain a guardian to fight the Eaters and safeguard the world. He realized this, and was prepared to volunteer himself. He may never really die, and with the dilation of time, he may well last until the very end, when the world eventually dies of old age.

Unfortunately for the Doctor’s plan, no one will let him do it. He has another gate to guard, as Bill and Nardole know, and he can’t take everything on himself all the time forever. Kar is the Gatekeeper, and this mess has been her fault. It’s time she fulfill her true destiny. And she won’t be alone, as Cornelius steps forward beside her, and the last remnant of the Ninth joins them. More Picts, including the ones who play their battle music, step forward. All while the Doctor is edged further and further away from the gate at spear-point.

And a boy tells Kar that he will etch her name into the stone and spread it across the sky, so she can live forever in the world’s memory.

So, side by side, people who were at war go forward to save the world. Romans and Picts, deserters and failures, barely out of childhood and growing up, they all step through the gate, boldly and bravely, off to battle, with a song to carry them along their way. They even smile.

And then something about too many people stepping through makes the ground unstable, so they all flee the structure’s collapse. The gate is buried in the depths of the Devil’s Cairn.

The boy makes good on his word, etching the tale into stone, but also teaching the crows Kar’s name, which they have been speaking ever since. They haven’t been in a huff, they’ve been remembering her.

The trio return to the Tardis to find Missy there. It seems, after saving them on Mars, Missy is allowed out of the Vault. She’s not allowed out of the Tardis, and she can’t operate the controls, but she still has a great deal more at her disposal now. Nardole and Bill are both furious, but the Doctor has made his decision.

And then there’s Missy asking him if the result of things, “all those little people trapped in a hill fighting forever,” is really all right with him and his bleeding heart. To which he says, “Well, they’re not ‘trapped,’ and they’re more than just ‘fighting,’ and there’s music.” The Doctor has a point when he tells her that, for all she knows and understands about the universe, she’s never heard the music. She’s never learned to hear it. She’s never seen the beauty, and the value, of these “little people.”

And speaking of the music, we are back at the start, with a little girl listening to a phantom song. A beautiful song. The song of warriors in battle. The song of an eternal fight against the darkness, to save the world. The little girl smiles.

And, as the Doctor has Missy listening to it, Missy finds herself crying.

Either her reformation really is progressing, and the two surviving Time Lord can be friends again, or she’s playing such a long, insane, deceitful game that it defies belief.

The Doctor will be needing to find that out someday soon.

(and I want the soundtrack that has this song on it)

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MCU Copycatting #11: Who Did Marvel Copycat?

This is one of those things that I only just realized, but is so obvious.

Count the cineverses, which I define as distinct properties existing within the same cinematic continuity.

1: The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
2: The DC Extended Universe.
3: Fox’s X-Men Universe.
4: Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (pending redevelopment and release).
5: The Arrowverse on the CW network.
6: The DC Animated Original Movies.
7: The Valiant universe (pending development and release, also by Sony and their partners).
8: The Dark Universe (assuming it survives the financial failure of The Mummy)
9: The MonsterVerse.

That’s quite a few, and with more to come, no doubt. One can’t help but be impressed with how Marvel’s original concept has taken flight to inspire so much work. Surely they, the creators of the first cineverse, will go down in history for their revolutionary thinking.

…except, one little detail: they didn’t come up with the idea.

Oh, they certainly are the first big name to deliberately craft an entire story specifically with the intention of creating a cineverse, and do so on the big screen. But there is one cineverse I can think of which predates even the MCU. As I have been posting about cineverses for a couple years now, and have a full ten posts behind me for it, I thought it only right to pay tribute to it. So, without further ado, I present:

The DC Animated Universe!

(cue dramatic intro music!)

The story begins, as it always does, with one idea. DC and Warner Bros allowed the brilliant minds of Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski to create a cartoon unlike any before it. Up to this point, the industry of televised animation, especially superheroes, and basically everything targeted for children, was going a bit stagnant. When Timm and Radomski produced Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, they breathed new life into all of that.

It was a quality show, one that pushed animation forward by leaps and bounds, and one that challenged the limitation that everything “child-friendly” also had to lack anything emotionally, intellectually, or psychologically substantive. Small wonder it became so popular, it was the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves of industry. The success spurred the development of several properties which the creators chose to set all in the same continuity, the same universe. Over the course of fourteen years, through televised shows and accompanying movies, the DC Animated Universe, or DCAU for short, became a cinematic universe in its own right, long before the phrase ever existed.

Among the properties they released, the DCAU features Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Static Shock, The Zeta Project, and, the crescendo of all that came before firmly tying them all together, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Over the course of these, the animation improved, the storytelling improved, the ideas dealt with became deeper and more diverse… basically, they began the saga by pushing the envelope, and they kept doing so right up to the very last conclusion.

Interestingly, DCAU’s run more than overlapped with the reinvigorating of the superhero genre on the big screen as well. Concluding in 2006, it observed the release of X-Men in 2000, Spider-Man in 2002, and Batman Begins in 2005. And it ends, still going strong, only two years before the release of Iron Man and the beginning of the MCU in 2008.

I submit that none of these, most especially the intentional creation of a cineverse, may have never occurred without the influence of the DCAU. It shaped and cultivated young minds which grew to become adult minds, preparing them not only for greater superhero cinema, but to accept and appreciate connections between a variety of distinct properties as well.

Thus, I dub the DCAU as patient zero, or Cineverse Zero, where the very idea of a shared cinematic universe gradually came into being with its ongoing development. It did not begin that way, but it became such.

“We were the very first.”

And so it seems DC and Warner did manage to do it first, and contribute something to the phenomenon, after all. 🙂

Kudos.

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Anime Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil

The English name might be a bit odd, but the Japanese title, “Yōjo Senki,” literally translates as “The Military Chronicles of a Little Girl,” or even more literally as “Little-Girl War-Record.” Even if you played with that to say, “The Little Girl’s War Chronicles,” it’s still a mouthful and still very odd.

So, Saga of Tanya the Evil it is.

The story begins with the titular Tanya von Degurechaff (I have no idea how to pronounce that), a girl who is only nine or ten years old yet already enlisted and leading a small military unit, in settings that clearly draw on World War I for inspiration, with an additional mixture of magic and technology thrown in.

In this alternate world, which has paper-thin references for which fictitious countries represent which real-world countries, we have the Empire, obviously the equivalent of Germany, currently threatened by nations on all sides, but possessing several advantages which combine to create a superior prowess in warfare. Not the least of these advantages is Tanya herself, a prodigy of destructive power and military expertise, absolutely ruthless, calculating, even unfeeling, terrifying to friend and foe alike. Well does she earn her title, “The Devil of the Rhine,” named so for the terror she unleashes on the front lines in that region.

Needless to say, Tanya is not your typical little girl. Indeed, she possesses insight which far exceeds that of most adults… as well she should, considering this is not her first life.

It turns out, quite early in the series, that Tanya is the reincarnation of a 21st century Japanese salaryman from our world. She remembers her previous life, every cutthroat action she took in the name of logic and reason and putting herself in a position above the inferior people all around her. She remembers all of it, right up to when a man, enraged at how apathetically his employment was terminated, pushed her previous incarnation in front of a train.

And then an entity calling itself God spoke to her.

“Whoa…”

She refers to it as Being X, and refuses to acknowledge it. Angry, spiteful, and perhaps possessing a sadistic sense of humor, Being X takes an unusual interest in this soul, setting the terms of challenge which Tanya is powerless to refuse. Now reincarnated in the middle of a most violent and dangerous time and place, if Tanya wishes to continue existing after she dies again, instead of being sent to Hell or simply winking out of existence or whatever, then she has to die not of violence, but of natural causes, preferably old age. Oh, and Being X is absolutely influencing the situation to mount the odds ever more against her.

In this extreme situation she finds herself in, Tanya quickly resorts to joining the military, her overall plan being to use the military to protect herself, while she sits in a safe rear-echelon position.

All of this is revealed within two episodes, so I’m not spoiling much. 😉

Let’s just say, thing do not go according to plan!

And I would *never* take fiendish glee and delight in the suffering of someone so evil!

On the one hand, Tanya is absolutely fighting an uphill battle against a supreme being of some sort. On the other hand, her amoral attitude makes it pretty hilarious, in a way, as her plans consistently backfire on her. Every single time she thinks she’s won, that she’s about to achieve her coveted rear-echelon safety, it turns around on her and she’s thrown into even greater danger than she was before. Her every victory turns against her, her very strength and power itself becoming an instrument of her undoing. It’s a lesson she is slow to learn.

Now, if that were all there was to this anime, it could get pretty stale after awhile. However, this is rectified with the introduction of a battalion under her command. Without noticing or realizing, Tanya’s position as their leader begins to change her, just a little. At the start, she simply does not care about other people, only puts up a facade of such when it’s useful. In time, however, she begins to behave differently towards her comrades, and even begins to see her foes in different light.

The story turned out to be surprisingly complex and realistic, and I felt invested in people on both sides of the war. It became a discussion of human nature, and how humans will undoubtedly react. Logic and reason are powerful forces when properly applied, and this gives Tanya and the Empire their greatest victories. However, they forget that humans are also creatures of passion, of illogical emotion, and this is their great weakness, one which invites their absolute destruction.

I really enjoyed this anime, much more than I thought I would. It was gripping and tense, occasionally tragically hilarious, the characters are great, the story is intricate, the themes are powerful, the animation is stellar, the world-building is interesting and relevant… really, Saga of Tanya the Evil is just very well done, and very unique.

Of course, with the note they leave off on, I am really wanting there to be a second season, to finish the story and show us who wins in the contest between Tanya and Being X.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: Solid A.

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Book Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis

I was completely (and pleasantly) surprised when I happened to be browsing around Amazon the other day and found that Richard Roberts had just recently released the latest installment in his ongoing Please Don’t Tell My Parents series: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis.

I read, reviewed, and very much enjoyed all three preceding novels in the series: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain, Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon, and Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen. No way could I pass up the latest of Penny’s adventures! Especially when the summary advertised everything previous was returning again, all the old chickens coming home to roost, which sounds a lot like what one does when ending a series. That feeling that was only enhanced by the blatant declaration that, this time, her parents would find out Penny’s secret, one way or the other.

My initial reaction was, “What? Already? But there’s so much more to tell! Nooooo!”

Yes, I like the series. 🙂

Fortunately, this is not the end of Penny’s story… it is a grand set-up for the ending!

The details about that go into a number of spoilers that I hope not to spoil. I will simply say, it sets up the final conflict perfectly. Also, Roberts assures us that, while Penny’s story may be reaching a conclusion, there are other characters in this world he has crafted, and they have stories of their own to tell.

With that out of the way, the first thing I’d like to say is how I appreciate how different each book in this series has been. I believe I mentioned before how Supervillain took these youths on an exploration of a world with heroes and villains, then Moon thrust them into a darker world that enhanced their maturity, then Henchmen was about the process of growing up. In the same vein, Nemesis is an introspection of the protagonist, examining who Penny is, what she’s done, and what she’s immediately trying to do.

This is Richard Roberts right now.

And, of course, the next, concluding novel will feature Penny facing her greatest enemy and her own inner demons, as well as the question of her power, addressing who she is with it, and who she is without it. It will certainly ask the question, is it her mad scientist superpower that makes her special, or her heart? That’s a five-part story, where each installment is distinct and unique and adds to what came before. No small accomplishment, that. But I’m getting ahead of things. 🙂

Most of what happens in this novel is, simply: life. Penny has a lot of things going on in her life. Her parents are trying to both train and protect her without pressuring or dominating her. Her dearest friends are moving forward with their respective passions, but still having fun together with her. New and old faces shows up and she has to deal with them, sometimes as friends, sometimes as enemies. She herself grows, learns that she can be her own person as well. All of this while she keeps making friends and helping people. And she ends up having some interesting conversations with herself, both literal and metaphorical.

In regards to that last, what Penny is trying to do in the middle of everything is confess the truth to her parents. She’s afraid of that, really, and can’t seem to just tell them. She also wants to retire her villain identity, at long last, and work to become a hero, or something else. That might involve giving up some fun, which no kid does very easily, and her friends, however supportive, aren’t the best influence in that direction, as they all love their time together, especially their villain time. So, she turns to the only person who can really help her: herself. And she constructs an elaborate scheme where she’ll be able to “officially” get out from under the villain title, while simultaneously backing herself into a corner where she’ll have to tell her parents the truth, and, to top it all off, she might even be able to minimize their fury!

All around, it looks like a good idea, and it seems to work flawlessly.

But, as Indiana Jones once said, when you’re one step away from the prize, that’s usually when the ground falls out from underneath you.

Just when all seems to be well, and Penny has surely won the day… there’s a twist ending. And a cliffhanger thrusting us towards the next novel.

For the life of me, I will not spoil it! 😉

But I will say, there are several contenders for who Penny’s nemesis is, but while the story involves them, it culminates in the creation and the unleashing of her most dangerous foe. It catches us by surprise, but it makes perfect sense, and her enemy couldn’t be any more personal. Just when it seems Penny has won, she loses everything.

And then, in her truly darkest hour yet, hope finds her, and gets her back on her feet, ready for the true confrontation.

In short, I really liked this book, and the three that came before it, and I look forward eagerly to the next! And then I look forward to where Roberts further takes this series! 🙂

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #135: A Father’s Job

“He saved you.”

“Yeah, and you know what he got for that? Me whining about how much he embarrassed me. Me telling him that I hated him. But then he stopped, he turned around, he looked at me, and he said, ‘Son, you don’t like me. That’s fine. It’s not my job to be liked.’”

“’It’s my job to raise you right.’”

– Castiel, Dean Winchester, & Sam Winchester, Supernatural
Season 10, Episode 9, “Things We Left Behind”

Somehow, I almost never manage to simply pay my dad a straight-up compliment, give him some undiluted gratitude, without also mentioning something about how we’ve disagreed and argued and have past issues and so on and so forth. It must be maddening for him, for almost every good thing I say about him to be sandwiched among less complimentary things.

I really do regret that.

So, in the spirit of maybe shaking that off a bit, and paying my dad a tribute like he’s actually owed, I thought I’d share this.

This is a scene where the conversation of our main protagonists has shifted towards the Winchesters’ father, John. The brothers and their father are rather famous for not really getting along. John made a number of mistakes in raising his sons to become monster hunters. There were so many times he simply wasn’t there for them, not the way a father should be. But, it wasn’t all bad. One thing he always did was protect them.

Dean is just telling a story where he disobeyed his father, sneaked out at night, and put himself into company that was likely less friendly than they appeared to be. Then comes his father, with the aura that terrifies all and commands due respect, practically grabbing his son by the scruff of his neck and dragging him out. Yeah, teenage Dean was absolutely defiant and snobby, hardly a just reward for his father at the moment.

Then his father turned to him and said these words, words his sons have remembered ever since.

It’s not a father’s job to be liked. It’s not even a father’s job to do everything right. It’s his job to raise you right, to teach you, train you, equip and protect you the best he can, the best he knows how, and then send you on your way.

Whatever my stupid, selfish, bratty qualms with my father have ever been, this must be said: he didn’t make it his job to be liked, he made it his job to raise me and my sisters right.

Thank you, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

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This Week on TV, June 17, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

And then there was one, the last, lone survivor on my lineup. It was… well, good, as in, not bad, but really felt a little lackluster. They can’t seem to make up their minds about whatever goes into the quality of these episodes this season. I’m actually kind of wanting the season to end already.

Doctor Who

10.08 “The Empress of Mars”

NASA. The very heart of America’s continuing exploration of space. The association that put the West into space, that put man on the moon, that pushes outwards, always outwards, to the stars, including our near neighbor, Mars. It is a very somber, powerful moment they are having right now, with the latest satellite scanning the planet’s surface, seeing straight through the ice, and transmitting images back to Mars. It is a momentous day, complete with a countdown.

…so, of course, the Doctor crashes the party, with Bill and Nardole in tow.

If the staff at NASA weren’t surprised and confused enough already by these three strange interlopers suddenly popping in, the first images from Mars contain the real bombshell of the day: a formation of rocks piled together to spell out, “God save the queen.”

No way the Doctor doesn’t investigate this!

So, the trio zoom off in the Tardis, which approximates when the stones were laid, so they can see what’s up. The venture out into caverns of red stone, and find a small fire burning. So, obviously, there’s oxygen, and off come the helmets. Just in time for Bill to fall through a hole, quickly followed by Nardole running for the Tardis for anything that could help, like rope or something, only for the Tardis to spontaneously leave as if of its own accord, whisking him back to the present, and leaving Bill and the Doctor stranded.

So, escape is quite literally not an option.

Bill meets a man in a primitive space suit.

The Doctor meets an ice warrior.

We’ve sort of seen an ice warrior once before. It was one of Clara’s first adventures, and they were on a submarine, and we didn’t see much of the intelligent lizard, but certainly saw how dangerous it was even without its armor.

This one has its armor.

The man Bill meets is a British soldier, a Captain of the Victorian age, which makes sense since they’ve gone back to the Victorian age. Victorian soldiers, on Mars, and entire company of them. It turns out, their colonel met the ice warrior, whom they dubbed Friday, in South Africa. He stumbled on Friday’s ship and woke him up from a long slumber. In exchange for helping Friday get home, they were given a futuristic laser cannon and were promised the riches of Mars.

Unfortunately, it’s all barren, useless rocks, and Friday has returned to find his home lifeless, his people gone.

The soldiers, of course, hail from a time when the Brits walked too proudly on the Earth (bonus points if you get that reference), and they’ve brought that pride to Mars with them. They blithely lay claim to an entire planet, even when it’s supposed to have people on it. And the one Martian…

…it just occurred to me: the ice warriors are upright lizards in large armor… meaning they’re little green men from mars…

…anyway, the one Martian they know, and whom they now believe to be utterly alone without his people, they do not hesitate to make him their servant. A proud and mighty ice warrior, reduced to taking men’s dishes away for them. Oh, not cool, that. Not cool.

Anyway, it looks like no one is going to get what they want out of Mars.

Until they find the tomb of the Empress.

Which is also her stasis chamber, as one soldier finds out the hard way, as she comes awake while he’s trying to loot the place. And we see that ice warrior weaponry apparently folds a person into tight knots. Not a pleasant way to go, and one can only hope that death is as swift as it looks.

So, this definitely qualifies as a most tense introduction between species.

Fortunately, while the Captain may have been far too eager to fight, and far too confident in their victory, the Colonel is more level-headed. He listens to the Doctor, and lets the Doctor do the talking.

The Doctor recognizes the Empress’ authority, and appeals to the need for survival. The ice warriors have slept for five thousand years, and in that time, the world above has become lifeless. If the ice warriors awaken, and he is wise to guess that there are more, the cannot survive long on Mars without help. For the sake of necessity, the Doctor pleads with her to cooperate.

But he’s up against the pride not only of the Brits, but also of the Empress of the Ice Warriors. That’s two peoples possessing great pride and strength, and one has given offense while the other is quick to take it.

The situation spirals ever more out of control as the two sides come to blows. The Captain, arrogant, upstart weasel that he is, takes command of the company by revealing to the soldiers that the Colonel once deserted and merely survived the ensuing hanging. With that, he takes the soldiers and locks up the Colonel, Bill, and the Doctor. And he keeps posturing about how inevitable their victory is, because there are only two ice warriors, and they’re trapped behind fallen rubble with only the one way out, which they have their guns, including their laser cannon, pointed at.

Except that the ice warriors are waking up, and they outnumber the Brits, and they can move underground to come up behind them. It quickly becomes a slaughter, one the Captain flees, hoping to escape back to Earth and leaving his men behind. He’s the real coward, not the Colonel.

Friday rescues the Doctor, Bill, and the Colonel, hoping to stop the slaughter and save his people by changing the Empress’ mind. Bill tries talking to her, distracting her long enough for the Doctor to get hold of the laser cannon, pointing it up, where one good shot could bring the ice down on them all. The Captain interrupts, thinking to take the Empress hostage so she can fly the ship back to Earth. But the Colonel block the path of his retreat and executes him, taking back his command.

It is an act which impresses the Empress, as does the Colonel’s willingness to die. Most of all, his final request: that she please not judge humanity based on the flaws of a few men, either the Captain’s cruelty or the Colonel’s past cowardice, to let his men go home, and to spare his world. In his final moments, the Colonel regains his sacred honor, and his courage, and the assurance that his death is in service to those he swore to protect.

…and then he is given more time.

The Empress holds his life, and refuses to kill him. Warriors should die in battle, and if he swears his loyalty to her, which he does, she will see he gets the opportunity.

So the crisis is ended, the soldiers go home, and the ice warriors call for help. They are answered by Alpha Centauri, who are happy to come and help them, though they recommend a land marker to help guide them in. This, the Doctor realizes, is the beginning of their golden age.

Which, considering how the Alpha Centauri ice warriors came to collect the commander we met way back with Clara, means that the future Doctor created the circumstances which saved the previous Doctor. …wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, am I right?

We know what the marker is: the pile of rocks at the beginning of the episode.

Everything turns out well, except… Nardole wasn’t able to get the Tardis working right. He needed help, went to Missy, who helped, but did so by being let out.

The Doctor says she has to got back into the Vault, and she doesn’t protest. She just asks if he’s all right.

…something very strange there. We’ve seen Missy be insane, but is this a new brand of it? Or is she becoming more sane instead? Or… I don’t know, she’s crazy and dangerous and going through something very tricky and unstable, so who knows what’s going through her head?

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MCU Copycatting #10: A New Contender

By my last count, we have at least half a dozen distinct cinematic universes out there. Marvel’s MCU, DC’s DCEU, Arrowverse, and the animated movie universe, Fox’s X-Men, Sony’s Spider-Man (which will no longer have Spider-Man in it) as well as their ongoing plans for a Valiant universe, and Universal’s Dark Universe, altogether make for seven cineverses. Two of them, both from Sony, have yet to be properly launched, but I’m still counting them for the moment. So, eight, right?

Seven of them center around comic book superheroes, and the eighth hails from a studio that doesn’t have any comic book superheroes to use.

There are other “cinematic universes” at various stages of development, but from what I can see, they don’t really count. Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, these are all just regular series, really, though Transformers seems to be gaining an unusual longevity. And the odd crossover between 21 Jump Street and Men in Black is just that: a crossover. Not a cineverse. Heck, even Star Wars is just expanding the backstories with Rogue One and the plans for Han Solo and Boba Fett.

Yet, even these pretenders are dominated by superhero adventures.

Thus, my surprise and delight at the introduction of new cineverse, one that really is a cineverse, and it’s not based on superheroes. It’s a bit more akin to the Dark Universe, based around classic, famous monsters, and humans’ experience with such.

From the partnership of Warner Bros, Legendary Pictures, and Toho, I present: the MonsterVerse!

Starring: Godzilla and King Kong!

It begins a few years ago, with the release of the newest Godzilla. After that success, of course, people immediately started talking about sequels. This opened the door for the studio to get rights to some of Godzilla’s classic foes, including Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, from his original Japanese owners, Toho. Thus, most obviously, the next movie up for release is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in 2019.

This year, however, audiences were pleasantly surprised to find that Kong: Skull Island is set in the same continuity (and entirely independent of the King Kong remake, thankfully). I imagine it probably takes place before the events of Godzilla, as the giant lizard is not yet famous, but they’re sort of assembling this cineverse as they go. After King of the Monsters, the aptly-titled Godzilla vs Kong comes a year later in 2020.

The last time these two titans shared the big screen was back in 1962. There was no such thing as real continuity among monster movies – or any movies, really – back then. Most additions to a franchise were just neat little things, not really connected to its predecessors or successors. The audience had not yet grown accustomed to ongoing series that had any cohesion. Heck, there were even two versions, one where the Japanese audience saw Godzilla win, and one where the American audience saw King Kong win.

Now Warner is doing much like Universal is: bringing back the classic monsters in a specific, connected cineverse. It’s no sure thing, though I hear audiences love Skull Island, but it’s an interesting idea. Unlike the monsters of the Dark Universe, the MonsterVerse monsters haven’t been duplicated by countless movies and studios, and they aren’t specifically famous for being the villains that mankind overcomes, and we can form a wordless connection with giant beasts – just ask anyone who has a pet – so there’s a solid emotional ground to build on.

However, while I can’t speak for Skull Island just yet, I did feel that Godzilla needed to be a little less about the people and a little more about the monsters, especially Godzilla himself. If they can manage that moving forward, then the sky’s the limit. If not, then they could be nice movies, but still B-level. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it could be so much more.

And then there’s the story. How are they going to bring all these monsters together, and how will they proceed in the future if they’re successful?

This image is not to scale, but even if it was, these kings would need a really big arena.

So, there’s no guarantees, but I am feeling pretty excited. If I’m honest, though, that has less to do with the MonsterVerse itself, and more to do with the shift in subject matter. This is the first cineverse we’re getting that does not feature superheroes from a studio that has superheroes galore to work with. What this tells me: the audience is growing accustomed to the format. We’re getting used to multiple properties being connected. Shifting from superheroes to monsters is just the start. Who knows what else, what other stories, could be told this way?

Action movies, spy thrillers, war movies, murder mysteries, heartfelt dramas, horror stories, romantic comedies, period pieces, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy adventures, each of these genres and more could house cineverses within them. Imagine seeing the ongoing adventures of normal action heroes who know each other. Imagine seeing couples interacting across several love stories, letting us see how previous couples are doing, or seeing supporting characters come into lead roles of their own. Imagine the epic of interconnected space sagas or fantasy adventures.

I still appreciate standalone movies and franchises, but the cineverse could well take our beloved stories to ever higher, more entertaining levels.

And it all begins with supermen and monsters. 🙂

Cool, isn’t it?

 

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