Sunday’s Wisdom #446: There’s Always Something

“There’s always an alien battlecruiser, or a Corellian death ray, or a galactic plague that’s about to wipe out life on this miserable little planet.”
– K, Men in Black

K says this to drive home his own point, that there is so much going on to threaten every person on Earth, all the time, that the only way people get on with their happy lives is by not knowing about it. There is something to that, ignorance being bliss, but I’d like to focus on something a little different.

There is always something bad going on in the world. There always has been. Some of it is small, and some of it is very big. Some of it is happening on the other side of the planet, and some of it is found on the streets right outside our door, and some of it is happening within our own homes and our own hearts. This world is a world of misery and pain of every kind, more than can possibly be counted and catalogued.

And yet the world continues on.

Life continues on.

We do need to have our eyes open, and we do need to stand against the many wrongs and agonies of this world, but it is frighteningly easy to lose ourselves in the darkness of despair, to be crushed by the weight we try to bear on our shoulders. It gets particularly bad when we realize that we can’t simply “fix” the world. We just can’t. The problems and hardships we face have always been there, and always will be. In the face of that, everything we do can seem so very futile and useless.

But that ignores, or forgets, something very important.

All of these terrible, vile, painful, evil things have always been with us… and we’re still here!

Everything that is crushing down on us now has always been crushing down on humanity, from the very beginning, and we’re still standing!

We might not always have been aware of it, and might not have always been fighting it, and yet it was always there. The darkness of a thousand faces, a thousand agonies, a thousand pains and miseries and losses and horrific, brutal, heartless evils. It’s always been there, and it has always been tearing at us in every way.

And yet we continue on.

Through starvation, deprivation, disease, fear, panic, pain, torture, disaster, desire, devilry, death, and Hell, we keep going.

The world is doomed, they say? Humanity is doomed? Everything is doomed?

Then why isn’t it all dead already?

The fact that we still exist, let alone how, in every objective analysis, we have actually improved ourselves and the world around us in many ways, despite the entirety of everything that tries to drag us down into oblivion… well, is that not reason enough for hope?

It may seem depressing at first glance, but when I think about it, I find it encouraging.

It’s also humbling, as it informs me that it is better to work on all of our problems with enduring patience, rather than with fiery zeal that demands instant results. Eternal problems are not going to get solved overnight, or perhaps ever, but they can be worked upon, if one takes the time for it.

Yes, there are things in this world which are broken, and have always been broken, and may always be broken. We’ve made it this far anyway. And not by somehow undoing the damage that has been done. Not by tumultuous revolutions which overturn everything. Just by each of us doing our own little part to help out in our little corner of the world. With every form of destruction raging all around us all the time, we just keep going.

We don’t have to stare unblinking into the abyss. We just have to shine a little light.

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | Leave a comment

Magi’s Magic Could Have Been More Magical

In a world of magic and kingdoms, one may find great labyrinths filled with untold perils, which promise fortune, glory, and the power of kings to those who conquer them. To choose these kings, to guide and teach them, is the role of the magi, those ancient figures of mystical wisdom and arcane power.  There are three of these wise men in the world, but the emergence of a fourth heralds a time of great calamity, where the fates of nations and peoples are determined, where the adherents of darkness call for the destruction of the world, and where the world will either fall into nothingness or step forward into greater light. It all comes down to the young magi Aladdin, and his friends.

Among the many, many anime titles out there, this one could be the poster child for promises which were made and not kept. It’s a fine enough show, but perhaps it simply tried to be too big and it backfired. Indeed, most every significant flaw I can think of has its roots in the show’s own strengths, which makes it, at the same time, both a fun, exciting ride and also a tremendous letdown.

Originally airing in 2012, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is officially over a decade old. Its second season, Magi: The Kingdom of Magic, followed the year after, soon followed by a shorter prequel series, Magi: Adventure of Sinbad. With fifty episodes for the two-season show and a dozen episodes for the prequel, both stories remain vastly incomplete. That would be the most serious unfulfilled promise in my book, as it is a pet peeve of mine to leave a story unfinished.

Said story follows Aladdin, one of the titular magi, as he sets out into the world in search of answers about himself. His journey is fraught with danger and horror, and as he learns many of the world’s secrets, a heavy burden falls onto his shoulders. There is a great, all-consuming evil at work in the world, and he has inherited a place standing in its path. Beside him are good friends from many walks of life across the world: Alibaba, a young prince who fights for those around him; Morgianna, a warrior woman of great physical strength, formerly a slave; Sinbad, King of the Seven Seas, leader of a great and powerful alliance, and one heck of a lady killer. There are many others, many warriors, magicians, and chosen champions who wield the power of the mighty djinn, all of them standing in the light against the nefarious organization which moves in the shadows and works for nothing less than the death of the world.

Obviously, with names like Aladdin, Alibabba, and Sinbad, the story draws much inspiration from the famed thousand and one tales of Scheherazade – there’s even another character with exactly that name. But it also draws on Hebrew history in references to King Solomon, apocryphal Christian theology in naming the many djinn after demons which they say Solomon tamed and commanded, and there are obvious nods to China, the natives of the north, the amazons of Grecian legend, the legions and gladiators of Rome, and more. It makes for a world that itself is interesting, such that it begs to be explored. Not to mention the challenges of the dungeons!

On the upside, this lends to the epic feel of the plot, but, really, they may have overdone that a bit. No, I amend that, they definitely overdid that. Hardly anything could happen around our heroes without plucking at the web of the entire world and drawing the eyes of the great and powerful. Which does make some sense, this being a tale about the fate of the world itself, and about diverse people coming together to stop its destruction, but even so, it actually felt overly dramatic. It’s like they went, “We’re going to show you how important this moment is by giving you a glimpse of characters who are important people as they notice it, even though we may have never introduced them to you before.” They did that several times.

There is plenty of action, intrigue, and magic, but what really sold the show, and undermined it at the same time, was the human connection made between the characters. That was its strongest selling point, really, especially the bond which forms between Aladdin, Alibaba, and Morgianna. This was the central trio, the ones we most loved seeing together… so, naturally, the plot kept making their ways part, again and again. They thrived best, shined most, and developed the most when they were together, but they were constantly sent each in their own direction for their own independent adventure. That wasn’t always a bad thing, but it leaves us wanting more of the characters who, despite being main characters, are often relegated to minor roles in the background.

There are plenty of shows who manage to juggle far larger casts more effectively, typically with the use of much longer runtimes, but it was like Magi couldn’t settle on any one of them except Aladdin for very long because it didn’t really know how to show character growth, outside a pivotal moment here or there. And thus we are left skipping about the world, following individuals or small groups of characters in turn, but leaving them before anything is settled, much like this entire anime does.

It’s a bit frustrating when it manages to make us care about a character, like, say, Morgianna, who is powerful and alluring, but also very lonely, and comes to love her companions so much that she will do anything for them… and then the show leaves her completely in the dirt for most of the second season, until the big finale where all the major and minor characters gather together, as well as a number of characters that we have never actually met before but which are very important.

The same thing happens to Alibaba, Sinbad, and all the rest of the cast as well. This is topped off with how the plot is almost always turning first on the actions of relatively new or minor characters before being given back to more familiar faces to resolve, right down to when the final battle in the anime is going poorly, but they deus ex machina all of the needed reinforcements into the fray.

I can keep going, listing many flaws which spring from what should be the show’s greatest strengths.

The magic system is epic, but incomprehensible and far too soft, every solution to a problem simply appearing out of nowhere.

The battles are fierce, but they feel so contrived as everything, even the biggest fight of all, boils down to “Hit the bad thing really hard.” Or, failing that, convert the bad thing through some sort of psychic link.

A new comrade to the main trio arrives, they have one or two adventures together, and then he falls away into darkness, which would be much more impactful if, again, they had spent more time together.

This tragedy is happening, and that tragedy is happening, and it’s all so tragically tragic.

The plot has far too many threads to follow and tie together.

It was understandable and not at all surprising for Morgianna to obviously develop feelings for Alibaba, and that made it nothing short of irritating when he and the little pervert Aladdin went and spent their nights in pillow houses instead of with her. Though, on the other hand, that made it quite hilarious when Alibaba continually got the most freakish looking ladies in the house!

Even the themes of peace and shared prosperity are overdone. Every side in a war has its nobility and its darker side, but the honor of some figures rings entirely false and hollow, given how they stand atop other people’s lives. Similarly, the justifications some people give for their actions are so shallow as to beggar belief. I can applaud the general theme of how what is wrong with every civilization is simply a lack of love for their fellow beings, and the only happy – not to mention sane – way of life is one which is full of love. But the repetition of it can get a bit monotonous, ya know?

In short, all of the magic that went into Magi could have been more magical. What could have been a masterpiece is, instead, just a lot of noise and pretty lights. It’s not boring, but it is still very unfulfilling.

Especially since, as I have mentioned, the story is unfinished!

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Minus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Original Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

I saw the movie when I was a kid, much to the later amusement of my mother as she would recount, so many times, how my candy went flying to the other side of the theater when I experienced my first ever jump scare, and also how I was suddenly much more affectionate with the toy horse my grandmother had given me, rather than the many dinosaur toys I had.

So, anyway, I saw the original movie. I eventually saw the sequel movie, though not the third one after that. I also saw the first movie in the resurrected IP, featuring Chris Pratt, though I haven’t seen the last two parts of that trilogy. But I had never read the original novel until now. It just never really came into my hand, ya know? Now, however, I have corrected this. As the franchise has grown within the spotlight, I have finally taken a look at its beginning. It was an illuminating experience.

At this point, one hardly needs to go over the world-famous premise of Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton, but, still, the synopsis on Amazon reads as follows:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .

That’s a little bit more like what happened with Jurassic World, specifically. Myself, I would summarize it a bit more like…

“In the wake of a series of strange animal attacks in Central America, paleontologist Alan Grant is whisked away to visit a remote island owned by a wealthy genetic corporation. There, alongside several other experts, he beholds how one man has used his wealth to accomplish the impossible: he has brought dinosaurs back to life, cloned from recovered DNA. It is wondrous and magnificent, and soon the entire world will be able to see them, amusement park style — for a price.

But then something goes wrong… and the would-be dream becomes a nightmare.

Welcome, to Jurassic Park.”


It was interesting to read this after watching half of the film franchise. I could see what had been altered for the movies, and the roots of several of the ideas they used. Most of all, I remain fascinated by how the book and the movie are able to address similar subjects in different ways.

The movie, obviously, had to be a lot more pointed and streamlined, altering for economy and trimming the fat anywhere possible, but if the novel and the film were meals, well, haven’t you ever heard of how delicious all that grease is? Mind you, that can cut both ways. The “prologue” of the book, as well as the descending aftermath of what is mostly the climax of the story, both extended for several chapters. Very brief chapters, mind you, but still several chapters. I soon found myself thinking that, as opposed to The Malcontents and The Black Company, there were actually far too many chapter breaks.

That said, by and large, I very much enjoyed how the characters were each given a chance to present their perspective on things in an intelligent manner. Understanding the issues could be very complicated, and there were a number of diagrams and screen shots shown which, while probably authentic, were a bit beyond my interest. Still, I found it refreshing and educational as Crichton did not hold back or dumb things down for his intended audience, even if it did feel a bit like sitting through a lecture at times, albeit a very engaging lecture. Heh, I have to wonder if the character of Ian Malcolm, especially, was meant as some sort of self-insert avatar for Crichton to speak frankly and explain his stances freely and rationally, where no one could come busting in with a bunch of inane, emotional, short-sighted babbling. But that would probably be doing Crichton a disservice to imagine that.

He is much crazier, stupider, and more arrogant in the book.

Where the movie has only a limited amount of time to emphasize that man should not meddle with life and death, lest he think himself a god right up until he gets eaten by his creation, the book is able to more fully explore this folly on several levels. Not only do these people play God, but there are many more warning signs which they ignore, there are many more mistakes which they make, and, most of all, the moment when they think everything is back under their control, that the brewing crisis is past, is exactly when it falls apart in bloody disaster, and they experience the brutal truth that they were never in control in the first place. Man controls far less than he wants to believe.

What struck me most is the contrast of this book with many of the newer novels that have been coming out. I know publishing is a business, and it does better by appealing to the largest possible market, which makes for a vast majority of material which is, at best, mediocre. Still, even in many of the better titles, one could say that modern literary theory, so to speak, is that one must speak simply, make characters relatable, give them arcs and journeys and such which transform them in some way, never let up on the action, and deal out the drama, drama, and more drama.

But works like Jurassic Park, as well as a number of the older classics I can think of – Lord of the RingsEnder’s GameStarship Troopers – are more intellectual. They’re smarter, more philosophical, take their time setting up the conflict, which they do not prolong unnecessarily. They feature characters which are whole, complete people as they overcome overwhelming obstacles and still remain themselves, with minimal drama. And to heck with making characters relatable, they make them lovable and inspirational instead. It’s the same sort of craft which sets apart some of the modern masters of storytelling as well, like Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, Howard Taylor, and Naomi Novik. Not that they abandon all aspects of the modern approach, but there’s something to be said for this alternate approach, I think.

The franchise began much smarter than it has become.

I enjoyed Jurassic Park a good deal more than I would have expected. It’s a kind of thriller which rises above cheap thrills, jump scares, and copious, graphic bloodshed, and it lifts the audience up instead of taking them into the abyss. That’s something which a number of other thriller authors, like Stephen King or Jeremy Robinson, seem to have never mastered. If this is consistent in his other works – which, The Eaters of the Dead and The Lost World would indicate that it is – then it sets Crichton’s novels apart in a way which I very much appreciate.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

Posted in Books, Tuesday Review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #445: Remember Them

“Our armed forces have turned the tide of world wars. Young men and women from our great country’s four corners have humbled history’s worst tyrants. We carve our thanks in stone. We stamp it into medals. We carefully tend to vast fields where the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom now lay. More than ever in our history, we cannot fail to pass these stories of courage to the next generation. We must capture their imaginations while paying tribute to all those willing to die for the preservation of our way of life.”
– from Stargate SG-1
Season 7, Episode 18, “Heroes: Pt. 2”

Some quotes just say everything themselves, and I can hardly ask for a more appropriate quote to share on Memorial Day weekend.

One thing I really appreciate about the Stargate franchise overall is its treatment of our armed forces, with respect. As such, and as a generally good story overall, there are many moments where the surviving characters pay tribute to those who have died. One of the most memorable and impactful, however, has to be when the series said goodbye to Dr. Janet Fraiser. She was there from the very beginning, and lasted almost through the entire seventh season, out of what eventually became ten seasons. That’s an impressive run, over two-thirds of the series, and she was saving lives the entire time, in addition to becoming an adoptive mother. The imprint she left behind was considerable.

That was the context for this quote, which is being spoken by some nameless narrator on a film which began as a documentary, but ended as a tribute to Dr. Fraiser, including a clip from her funeral, where her friend got up and honored her memory by listing the names of the people she saved.

Those who live and die in service to others are certainly worth honoring, in every way. By remembering what they fought for. By recalling those who are alive and free due to their heroism. By telling their story again and again so that the rising generation may never forget. By taking up the torch of their cause, that what they died for not be cheapened, diluted, or stolen. By protecting what they protected, and safeguarding liberty again. By coming together as one, working in unity to solve the many problems which are killing the society which they died trying to save. By speaking up with courage, living with integrity, and serving with love as they did.

By not only saying “thank you” to the souls of those who never came home, but by making certain that they will never have died in vain.

All of that, however, I will admit, is something for the future, something we can do every day. For this day, we can pause from all of that, and much else, to take one moment set apart from the rest of the year to simply say, with all the sincere gratitude of our hearts…

Thank you.

Thank you, soldiers, for paying the price for our freedom.

We remember you. We will always remember you.

Posted in Sunday's Wisdom, TV Shows | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Eminence in Shadow is Barking Mad!

He was once a Japanese high school student, but after dying and being reincarnated in a fantasy world, he is now Cid Kagenou, a young man who takes pains to seem like an ordinary background character while he is, in fact, the almighty Lord Shadow, leader of the secret organization, Shadow Garden, which has as its goal the undermining of the Cult of Diablos which rules the world from behind the scenes, sparking a shadow war which shakes the world, all at the direction of himself, the omniscient Eminence in Shadow!

But, small detail, he thinks it’s all pretend. When it really, really isn’t.

He has no idea that he is actually leading a genuine secret organization against another genuine secret organization. He’s just going along, having whatever fun strikes his fancy, and thinks that the people around him are playing along. Of course, there are some things which he realizes are real, but he incorporates these into his fantasy as well. If that seems like a stretch, well, important detail: Cid is off his rocker. Way, way, waaaay off his rocker.

I have described Cid in conversation as a cornucopia of madness. He displays sociopathy, psychopathy, and other forms of insanity, so much that, really, rather than try to make much sense of him, it’s easier to just roll with it. He is not remotely right in the head, and he’s powerful enough that the world around him is pretty much just along for the ride, even if most of them don’t know it. So, one might as well not think too much about it and just enjoy the roller coaster!

As is fairly typical these days of isekai anime with an overpowered protagonist, there are plenty of highly attractive women around Cid who are absolutely devoted to him. One could even argue that he has two harems, one for Cid Kagenou and one for Lord Shadow, and he is completely unaware of both of them. Despite how clueless he is, I have to admire not only how Cid stands as something other than a bland cardboard cutout – which far too many harem anime have as their male lead – but also the dynamics of this dual harem. The girls are some of the best and most complete female characters I have ever seen in anime, especially in harems, not least including how they remain strong and independent characters in their own right, without ever falling into the trope of fighting over him. They have other things to do, their own lives to live and battles to fight, and they do so, which gives them room to be some of the most interesting women in anime. (And in some of the most striking outfits in anime, as well!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is one harem where it’s a devil of a thing to try and pick out a singular favorite! I mean, most of them are just so great that it’s all but impossible to actually choose!

So the cast is fantastic, even if it feels more than a little skewed in the direction of female characters. Let’s face it, strong women are highly marketable, even when the female-to-male ratio becomes nothing short of absurd.

The plot basically follows Cid as he wanders into various crises, his followers around him, and completely annihilates the villains. With his intelligence, his allies, and his dumb luck to call upon, he undoes the intricate schemes of the Cult with all the subtlety of Alexander the Great meeting the Gordian Knot. Yet within this simple formula is room for each of the characters to have a chance to shine and exist as a person instead of as an archetype. You could name almost any of the characters, and I could tell you at least a little about them, including things I like and things I dislike. It’s not perfect, but the threads of the plot are managed with some skill, and it juggles most of the characters in some sort of balanced way. There are a number of other shows I could name which fail at that, even with much longer runtimes.

am somewhat hard pressed, I will admit, to put my finger on any sort of underlying theme as of yet. There is plenty of material, including action, intrigue, wit, and some very dark humor, but what it all means still eludes me. For now. It will probably have something to do with what kinds of characters which people think themselves and others to be, vs the reality of them, but we can take our time with that.

For the moment, it suffices me to say that The Eminence in Shadow is a fun and thrilling ride through a magnificent madhouse. It has a bit of a rough start with its first episode, and we first meet the girls of Shadow Garden just in time to say goodbye and skip into the future before we really get to know them and all the rest of the cast individually, and it gets more than a little ridiculous how Cid is able to keep deluding himself even in his madness, but once it finds its footing, it comes out swinging. It doubles down on its own edgy insanity even as it makes fun of it, and the result is glorious mayhem.

Oh, and I adore the little Kagejitsu shorts, with the chibi-fied versions of the Shadow Garden girls, which lets us get to know them that much better as they make us laugh.

I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but it’s far better than it might seem at first glance. It’s not quite “great,” I would say, but it is plenty good, plenty of fun, and vastly entertaining!

(of course, one does need to mention that this isn’t exactly child friendly, either, and I’d rate it at strong PG-13)

Rating: all in all, I’d say 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: a solid B-Plus.

Further commentary shall have to wait until a second season comes along to wrap things up, which I anticipate eagerly. 🙂

She might not be part of the harem, but I really liked Beatrix!

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #444: Become More

“You claim to be a scholar, but where are your discoveries?”
– Gavilar Kholin, The Rhythm of War
The Stormlight Archive
, by Brandon Sanderson

The exact circumstances surrounding this quote are a bit complex. Suffice to say that the man saying it is has made many discoveries, but has kept them secret as he imagines he can use them to elevate himself, and only himself. By contrast, the woman he is speaking to will go on to make many discoveries of her own, and share them widely to elevate the entire world around her. He is speaking truth, in the most hurtful way he can, but it is a truth limited by things as they happen to be at that moment.

A truth which is limited by the past can be changed by the present to become something else in the future.

Human babies are not born walking. They must first learn to move their limbs, roll over, crawl, stand, then walk, and then eventually run. Just because a baby hasn’t walked yet doesn’t mean they can’t eventually win a gold medal in the Olympics.

It is we, not our past, who dictate our future.

On the other hand, that only happens when we choose to do it. We only accomplish things when we actually set out to do them.

Whether it’s exploring the unknown, discovering the wondrous, defending the right, reforming a piece of society, raising our status, helping those in need, saving a life, building a home, learning what others know, creating the new, inventing the imagined, finding love, starting a family, raising a child, or anything else, we can only do it through our own efforts and choices. That means more than just passively absorbing what is around us and perhaps regurgitating it on command – which, having once dipped my toe into academia at large, I assure you, that’s most of what those “scholars” do, and congratulate themselves for being so capable at it – but daring to think and say and do things which do not come from others, only from ourselves.

It is good to learn from everything and everyone, but if we do nothing with it, then what “good” is it, really? It would be like having the most massive fortune in the world and letting it sit there, forever unused. Why bother having it, then, if we aren’t going to do anything with it? (though that goes into another discussion for another time…)

Basically, if we want to truly be the things that we aspire to, then we must get up, do the work, and choose to be more than we have been. We have that power.

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Outstanding Villains of One Piece

After watching One Piece Film: Red, and my subsequent binge of the One Piece movies and specials, I found myself dwelling on the villains of this modern epic.

Most of them are petty brutes and thugs with about as much depth as a teaspoon. Others boil down to being brutes and thugs as well, but have so much strength, charisma, and staying power that they’re practically living forces of nature. Some become reluctant allies for a time, while others are steadfast in their cruelty and their bloodthirst. Some are nefarious, and some are hilarious. Some are thoroughly evil, and some could be painted as would-be heroes, but fallen, twisted, corrupted shells of the virtues they espouse.

It’s fascinating to me how so many of these villains can shine in so many different ways, standing apart from even this immense crowd, and not only in One Piece, but in anime in general. Really, these are some amazing antagonists which Luffy and his comrades must face, though I suspect the piece de resistance has yet to be fully unveiled, in the form of Imu. I decided to give a shout out to some of these enemies who I personally find to be the most interesting, in various ways and for various reasons.

Be advised, I am obviously leaving Im off the table, as we do not yet know them, but I also haven’t seen the latest arc in Wano, so I am also shying away from the likes of Orochi and Kaido, though the internet has informed me some of their terrible cruelty. As for the rest, though the competition was fierce indeed, I narrowed the list it down to ten villains, which I now present more or less in chronological order of their appearance.


Not only is Buggy the Clown one of the first villains Luffy and his crew tangle with, he’s also the first recurring villain, really. He’s plenty nasty in his way, but he’s also so over the top, such a magnificent failure, and shows up so many times, like One Piece’s own Team Rocket, that it’s difficult to dislike him for too long. He’s just too much fun!

Particularly once he enters that alliance of convenience with Luffy to escape prison. Sure, he intended to stab Luffy in the back, but even that goes awry every time he’s about to try it. Nonetheless, he plays a pivotal role in leading a mass jailbreak from a prison that no one has ever escaped from.

Many of the escapees become his followers, and they practically worship him, while the world government believes him to be far more dangerous than he is, but also decides to make him a warlord. His skills for flashy improvisation are put to the test as he strives to stay alive in such a precarious position, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next, now that the warlords are officially dissolved and disavowed.


Also hailing from the beginning of the epic, Arlong is the first villain we meet who has hurt one of the Straw Hats personally, and so very deeply.

We learn, eventually, that Arlong has always had a deep and abiding hatred for humans, courtesy of how they’ve preyed on and enslaved his people and others. Driven by his hate, he tormented and killed many people, including when he took over Nami’s homeland and murdered her adopted mother right in front of her and her sister. Then, without a care for what she must have felt, he took Nami away from her home, inspired to make her an asset after seeing her raw talents in map-making. He, the monster who devastated her home and took her mother from her, raised her and expected her loyalty.

What really made it so Nami could bear all this was the promise he made, a promise that if she could acquire a given amount of money, then he would free her and not hurt her home any  more. She believed him and did all sorts of dirty deeds to get the money, but when the goal was in sight, when she was so close, he reneged. He betrayed her, had a corrupt navy officer steal her gold, and put her right back at the starting line. And laughed about it.

Over a thousand episodes after his defeat, with Arlong never once resurfacing in all that time, it remains one of the best and most powerful moments of the anime, one that set the tone for all the victories since, when Luffy beat Arlong into the ground.


One of the seven government-sanctioned warlords of the sea, Crocodile is really the first overarching villain of the story. From the moment the Straw Hats enter the Grand Line, he looms over the entirety of their journey towards Alabasta, long before they ever faced him directly.

In many ways, Crocodile represents the escalation of what the Straw Hats must face as they grow and develop throughout their long journey. He’s nastier, more cruel, cunning, and ambitious than any villain they’d faced before, and he lasted quite a bit longer as well.  He’s the head of a large organization instead of just one crew, and he aims to take over a country instead of just a village or an island. Worst of all, his plans are so clever and evil that he turns even the desire to protect one’s home and people against itself. It’s a savage piece of puppetry, pitting two sides against each other, both of them driven to become their worst and most bloodthirsty selves as they slaughtered their own countrymen. He lies and betrays and leads a nation towards its doom, and he takes great pleasure in the act.

Crocodile pushed Luffy, in particular, much worse than most ever have. Indeed, he and his cronies were the ones who left the Straw Hats collapsing in the street from exhaustion and injury, like no enemy ever had before, and very few have managed since. He hurt them and also Vivi who was close to them, required special insight to defeat with a specific weakness, brought them into contact with Robin who has become their steadfast crew member, and, to top it off, he has resurfaced a few times since his defeat, sometimes as a temporary ally, but always as someone they can’t turn their back on. He tried to kill Whitebeard, which solidified Luffy’s status as a friend of the Whitebeard pirates when he defended their leader, and returned again in the Stampede movie to try and steal the One Piece itself.

Truly, he is a standout villain.


If this nasty, vile embodiment of chaos is not either the final boss, or at least part of the final confrontation with Im, then I am going to be sorely disappointed.

Originally one of the Whitebeard pirates, Blackbeard proved to be a snake in the grass, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. He spent years perfecting his plans, scheming with nefarious, treacherous intent, and when the opportunity fell into his lap, he put his plans into motion. He betrayed those closest to him without hesitation, defeated Luffy’s brother, Ace, which resulted in his death as well as Whitebeard’s and the unleashing of war and upheaval upon the world, and that was just as he was still in his “early days,” still gathering up his own crew like Luffy was.

Indeed, Luffy and Blackbeard are technically of the same generation of pirates, but they could not be more different, and they are certainly bitter enemies. They both seek to be “King of the Pirates,” but in entirely different ways. They both surround themselves with an abnormally strong crew, but of entirely different character and loyalty. Luffy may tear down the corrupt and the cruel, but Blackbeard tears down everything and everyone to crush beneath his feet, while Luffy’s legacy is one where the people in his wake stand tall and free.

Luffy, I would say, is the figure which stands between the chaos of Blackbeard and the order of Im, and none of the three can tolerate the others’ influence.

Silver Foxy

He’s more of a frenemy than an enemy, which makes him both more lovable and more dangerous than one might expect.

Foxy and Luffy meet as their crew collide in a sportsmanlike competition. Of course Foxy and his crew cheat outrageously in all but name, but the Straw Hats hold their own anyway. In the end, the two crews part ways not as friends or enemies, but as rivals who have made each others’ lives that much more interesting. Foxy has come back a few times since, always with some underhanded, back-stabbing treachery even when he and Luffy have helped one another. They have allied when they needed to, and for just as long as they needed to, and they take turns one-upping each other as they go their separate ways.

Foxy is simply one of the more hilarious of Luffy’s foes, and yet surprisingly capable. He is able to literally slow things down with his Devil Fruit ability, and he uses it effectively. Even more, despite his underhanded methods, he is able to appeal to a man’s sense of pride and dignity as he challenges Luffy. That’s why they keep competing, and how they’re able to align against a common foe so easily.

Baron Omatsuri

Misery loves company, and no one epitomizes that more than Baron Omatsuri.

The Straw Hats are just looking for some fun and relaxation at what appears to be an island resort run by Omatsuri. They soon find that they are but the latest in a long line of crews who have been lured there by the promise of a good time, only to be fed to a monstrous plant, still alive and screaming. In exchange for this, the plant animates the corpses, or copies, of Omatsuri’s deceased crew. He was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and so he has spent a couple of decades making other captains suffer as he has, watching their crews die, while playing as if his is still alive, a bunch of puppets trapped in eternal revelry and delirium.

I would argue that Omatsuri is lesser than other villains only because of how limited his reach is – he can’t leave the island – and his darkness is second to none. He is the most base of them all, indiscriminate and all-consuming as he inflicts the agony he has suffered onto others for no better reason than to see them suffer as he has. When he and Luffy confront each other, Omatsuri dominates the fight like few ever have. Indeed, by the use of his power, cunning, and malice, he dominates against the entire Straw Hat crew as a whole, and their newest allies, for the whole of the movie, right up until the end.

He is sorrow and rage and unreasoning hatred, envy, and spite all rolled into one, come to life.

He gives me the chills like few villains anywhere ever have.

Admiral Akainu

I remember someone once said of Inspector Javert, of Les Miserables fame, that every police force has one like him: incorruptible, implacable, and merciless. That’s Akainu to a T.

Akainu could have been a hero, and some would argue that he is, as he leads the charge against all pirates in the name of justice. But he is proof of a virtue taken too far, as he not only fails to differentiate between the character of various pirates, he also cares far too little for the men under his command. He is so devoted to his ideals, that he thinks nothing of leaving injured Navy soldiers to die, so long as he can keep killing the enemy. Anyone who gets in his way, for any reason, even one as noble as stopping bloodshed and saving the lives of his own men, is just another enemy, to be killed on the spot. That much is proven when he nearly murders young Coby, perhaps the single most innocent soul in the whole world, and he would have done so if not for Shanks’ timely intervention.

He will stoop to any level, he has no love in his heart, he rose to become the supreme leader of the Navy, and Akainu is the man who has hurt Luffy worse than any other enemy, for it was by his hand that his brother, Ace, was killed.

That is one heck of an outstanding villain.

Vice-Admiral Komei

Vice-Admiral Komei is a brilliant tactician and strategist. That’s his power, being able to set things up, anticipate his opponents’ moves, and prepare for how they’ll play out. Give a man like that enough resources, and the world will be his oyster.

Not only does he fight most with his brains, rather than his brawn, but he is, in many ways, a genuine hero. He is, after all, fighting to bring outlaws to justice, and also to change the world for the better, to protect all the people whom pirates normally prey upon. He just happens to also be ruthless, merciless, and targeting the Straw Hats not because they’re supposedly evil, but because of their notoriety. He wants to set an example and send a challenge out into the world.

That is where one must call him a villain, because for all his genius and his noble intentions, he is ultimately destroying those who only want to be free from the tyranny of the World Government, and who have done a whole lot more good for the people than most of the Navy. To be a true hero, he would have to do as some others of the Navy officers have done, and differentiate between pirates who are evil and pirates who are simply unruly.

That is the particular discussion which makes him stand out most, to me.

Don Quixote Doflamingo

There are few characters I have ever encountered which I hate as much or more than this inhumane peacock.

Despite coming in as one of the later villains, really, Doflamingo also stands as something of a “first.” From here on, as things begin to wind up, the Straw Hats find themselves challenging beings of godlike power and god-sized egos. These are the real living forces of nature which they must overcome, despite how they boil down into the most petty brutes of the series. Doflamingo is the first of these that they fight against, and it is glorious as he is finally taken down.

Like Blackbeard and most of these later villains, he lurks in the background for some time before coming to center stage, but even then, his cruelty is very well established. He goes out of his way to make anything he does as maximally painful, agonizing, and traumatizing as is absolutely possible, grinning and laughing the entire time. He uses people and casts them aside without even the slightest remorse, as if they were no more than puppets. Fitting, considering his Devil Fruit ability lets him literally put strings on people, making them do all manner of awful things against their will. That is probably what offends me most deeply: he can literally take people’s freedom of choice away from them, and he gleefully uses it to cause pain.

All this, because he can’t stand the idea of any creature being his equal. Coming from a family of Celestial Dragons, he really buys into the notion that he is a god among lesser creatures. He cannot conceive of or allow anyone to stand as his equal, and how dare anyone try?


A crazy, beautiful girl, a childhood friend and beloved daughter, an innocent would-be and would-have-been hero. That’s Uta.

Uta thinks to save everyone in the world from every pain and hardship by taking their souls into a dream world, there to live together in eternal revelry. She does not realize and cannot accept the harm she is actually doing by stealing everyone from their lives. The many years she’s spent in isolation have both stunted her maturity and driven her mad with loneliness, so, not only does she think she’s helping, she also has a personal stake in her scheme. Confused, maddened, consumed by pain, unwilling and unable to listen until the very end, she drives herself towards her doom, and nearly takes the entire world with her. Even a combination of most of the world’s great powers is all but helpless to stop her song.

Uta stands out in so many ways. She is powerful in a unique way, where her beautiful songs are her weapon of choice. She’s trying to do something good, to help people, instead of trying to harm or rule them. She’s insane, rather than simply evil. It is heartbreaking, rather than exulting, to see the heroes overcoming her. And, of course, she and Luffy have loved and missed each other so much since the days when they were children.

There isn’t another villain quite like her in One Piece.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Anime-ted Living, Discussion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Malcontents, by Larry Correia

Going through my To Read pile often goes alphabetically according to the author. Thus, not long after reading Gun Runner, I read Larry Correia’s duology, The Malcontents, consisting of Into the Storm and Into the Wild. The first one might have been better titled Into the Inferno, given the fire-based nature of the enemy there, but that’s a minor detail. The less-minor details are just how gripping and thrilling are the adventures of this small band of soldiers, and, oh, how much I wish there were more books in this series! 🙂

The exact setup of the world in which the story is set is somewhat long and complicated, enough so that they actually begin the second novel with a quick overview of the most relevant parts, to set the context for what follows. Suffice to say that it is a fantasy world with magic, gods, and fantastic races alongside steampunk and magic-based technology. In this world, the kingdom of Cygnar is among the most advanced regions of civilization, and it applies this knowledge to the military which is vital for its survival, as it is beset by enemies on all sides, including zealots, madmen, tyrants, and savages. Heck, the current king only came to power in a coup which overturned one such tyrant who ruled Cygnar itself. And thus our story begins, well over a decade after the Lion’s Coup, as it is called, as Cygnar readies itself for war, a crucible in which even the most disgraced of knights may yet have a chance for redemption.

That is the main thrust of the first novel, following Sir Hugh Madigan, a lieutenant among Cygnar’s Storm Knights, as he is given to command the worst and most troublesome crew of miscreants which their military has in their ranks: the brutish thugs, the conniving scoundrels, the ones who cannot or, more likely, will not simply conform to military discipline without several hard knocks to the head. Oh, and one idealistic nice guy who suddenly finds himself learning much more about the world than he ever realized he did not know. Thus are the Malcontents, as they are called by their captain, whose manhood and worth as a soldier are utterly dwarfed by these, the men he sneers down his nose at.

As war erupts and Cygnar’s lightning-wielding knights clash with the fire-wielding fanatics on the other side, Madigan and his Malcontents grow as men even as they grow together as a unit. Prejudice and suspicion are set aside as each man gives all he has for his comrades. Personal lessons abound as ideals meet harsh reality, and more than one man faces the ghosts of his past. Madigan, especially, faces his inner demons as he and his soldiers stumble onto some unsettling discoveries, including the return of an enemy thought long deceased. Soon enough, the fate of all of Cygnar rests upon the selfless pursuit of their duty in a race against time and a fight against impossible odds.

Victory in such dire circumstances can only come at a high price.

The second novel resumes the tale sometime later, following some of the more notable survivors of the Malcontents’ explosive origins. Tasked with what should be a perfectly mundane duty, they find themselves in a fierce, bloody confrontation with a most blood-thirsty foe. Monsters which defy their understanding rise with a lust for murder from the untamed heart of the wild lands which are all but untouched by civilization, and so the conflict is between the vicious, brutal primitives for whom nature is their god and, on the other side, the relentless, unstoppable, inevitable tide of civilization’s eternal advance upon the natural world.

Into both of these titanic struggles step these men, the Malcontents, who are rough and strong and tend to prefer to hitting first and asking questions later. They begin as a motley collections of undesirables, and become steadfast soldiers who hold the line against all the monsters which are thrown at them. Driven by faith, duty, brotherhood, and other desires, the men of the Malcontents are formidable, clever, and as ruthless as they need to be. They don’t waste time with pretty words and bureaucratic nonsense, they get the job done. It is easy to appreciate such men, and the story stands apart from the crowd for following them instead of, say, moody teenagers and chosen ones and such.

The plots, I suppose, are fairly straightforward: the stage is set, the conflict begins, the conflict takes some twists and turns, the conflict ends in mighty confrontation, and things get wrapped up. It’s not complicated, but it is still exciting and thrilling. There’s something to be said for that, and I certainly enjoyed it immensely.

I very much enjoyed the characters, the world, the action, the humor, the themes, the writing style, all of it. I just wish there was more!

The one thing… the only thing I would change, outside adding more to the series is, quite simply… CHAPTER BREAKS! These were entire novels which were each divided into only three sections. Chapter breaks are a good thing, Mr. Correia, and there were so many excellent points where they could have been.

Outside that single detail, which I deduct slightly for, I still had a blast reading these two books! I highly recommend them! 🙂

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

Posted in Books, Tuesday Review | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I’ve Somehow Watched a Farmer Hero and It’s a Bunch of Quackery

The plus of this show: very wholesome and clean, no blood, gore, swearing, sex, or fan service foolishness.

The minus of this show: everything else. It was awful. The plot is lacking, the hero’s triumphs are always contrived with another deus ex machina, the premise is cliche, the action is dull, the characters are flat and one-dimensional to the point of being cringey, the harem is predictable and boring, the animation is standard and the CGI is atrocious, the music is forgettable, and everything about it really is very, very stupid. There isn’t even a good nickname for it, with its excessively long title.

I’ve Somehow Gotten Stronger When I Improved My Farm-Related Skills – which I shall hereafter refer to either as “this show” or Stronger Farmer – mercifully spares us the isekai trope, but it has the overpowered protagonist and the harem. Just how overpowered is he? It starts out by having him one-shot a flying dragon to smithereens by throwing a vegetable at it. Just a vegetable. Not something special, not enhanced with magic, just a vegetable, used to utterly destroy a dragon. I know pencils can be driven through concrete by the wind of a tornado, but one vegetable is not going to utterly destroy a flying tank, no matter how forcibly it is propelled.

As for why a vegetable, well, the protagonist, Al Wayne, is a farmer by trade, and he absolutely loves it. Which I would have less of a problem with if they showed how much time and work goes into farming, every single day without exception, but once they snag Al to work part-time as an adventurer, saving the kingdom from destruction, the farming thing is more like his otaku passion instead of his real work. He’s able to go off and do whatever for any length of time and when he comes back, everything is perfectly fine. That is vastly unrealistic, and kind of insulting, really.

I recall watching one episode of another anime I forget the title of, and it features a lead male hero who is conscripted to save the world when all he wants is to go to school. Every day, he sets out and almost gets there, before everyone else comes to snatch him away (because for some reason he is more pivotal than all the rest of them put together), dragging him kicking and screaming about how he wants to go to class. This show reminded of that one, with a lead who is all, “I just want to farm!” But just has to get dragged out of his way to save the world a few times. Oh, so terrible for him.

You know the thing about heroes? They’ve got to want it. On some level, in some way, to achieve some end, they’ve got to want it, and choose it for themselves, or else they just look a bit pathetic, albeit sometimes in humorous ways. Being so powerful, and yet being dragged into being a hero, doesn’t make the hero very relatable.

And yet, for being so overpowered, he comes up against more than one enemy that is even stronger because they are some ancient evil being and whatnot. What happens when he can’t win easily? A good ancient deity shows up, empowers him even more for the moment, and boom, the job is done.

Mysteries and intrigue are shoddy works in this show as well. What is the secret behind the evil dragon terrorizing the land? It’s possessing a girl (who Al saves and she joins his harem). What is the secret if this mysterious threat which nobody but the heroes have heard about? It’s a lie and an illusion, a trap, obviously. What is the secret behind the prince of a foreign country being able to drive back the demons who attack? He’s the one commanding them by holding a demon lord’s girlfriend hostage, and he intends to take over the world. What is the secret of a girl who brings Al to a village to combat a case of mass possession? She’s being blackmailed to bring him as a sacrifice to the demon doing the possessing. Duh. Oh, and who is the one threatening the entire world? Well, apparently Al woke up an evil god, who is using a girl supposedly brought back from the dead – but probably just an illusion – to wreak havoc.

Then there’s the harem, which forms around Al despite how he is so obtuse as he focuses on farming that he doesn’t realize these girls are pursuing and fighting over him. The local princess, the receptionist who has dragon powers after being possessed, the so-called “hero” girl warrior, they all meet him, have some basic interaction with him, are saved by him, and so go after him. Heck, even the random girl who was being blackmailed wants him after he saves her village, the distinction being that she makes her intentions clearly known and even kisses him on the cheek. And, of course, there’s the childhood friend who is now a villainess. She loved him as a child because – guess what! – he saved her. How original.

A particular shoutout to the cringe of Al’s parents. His mother, especially, is obsessed with him to the point of wanting to sleep in the same bed as him whenever he visits, and she really does not like the idea of some girl taking her baby boy away from her, despite the fact that he is fully grown and living on his own. Seriously, the woman is crazy. And since she is quite strong and the leader of some group of ninjas or something like that, she is impossible to entirely get away from.

As for Al’s father… well, he’s a regular guy who manages to survive his wife, except for how he is instantly jealous of any man who gets any attention from her at all, including his son. Yeah, it’s weird.

And as I sit here writing out this litany of flaws and failings, it occurs to me that, really, I can find similar flaws in many other anime which I have actually enjoyed. A contrived plot with a contrived harem with a super-strong protagonist and so on and so forth, all things I’ve seen before, in spades, right down to crazy, cringe-worthy parents. But the one thing above all, I would say, which makes Stronger Farmer so impossible to enjoy and like is… how incredibly dull it is. It reminds me of Arifureta, though this one is even less interesting, if that is possible, simply because somewhere in the execution of its ideas, it ends up being just… bland.

I have noticed that we can forgive our stories of a great many flaws, but being bland, failing to keep us interested, is the one we can’t overlook.

Rating: 2 stars out of 10.

Grade: absolute F-Minus.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #443: A Wonderful Mother

“A mother, a real mother, is the most wonderful person in the world. She’s the angel voice that bids you goodnight, kisses your cheek, whispers, ‘Sleep tight.'”
– Wendy Moira Angela Darling, Peter Pan

Wendy says this to the Lost Boys, especially her younger brothers, as she’s convincing them to leave Neverland with her, to go home. Neverland is practically a dreamworld to them, where they can just play forever and ever, and it didn’t take long after their arrival with Peter Pan for them to start forgetting their old lives back home, including their family. They’ve been romping around in eternal, unthinking, rambunctious childhood, but as Wendy mentions their mother, it touches something deep inside them. It’s a feeling, a memory, a love, a connection so profound and real that it wakes them up as if from a daze, rising from the haze of tomfoolery into a calm but firm yearning for her, for mother. Thus, they wipe away the markings of uninhibited youth, and start becoming something more, something grown up.

Out of all the things in the world, it is a mother’s love which inspires the Lost Boys to give up their forever playground and leave childhood behind, to take that first step in growing from wild, unruly hooligans into mature, capable adults.

The love of a mother, it takes all kinds of forms, and wears all manner of faces. She’ll be there for her children whenever she can. She’ll work long and hard to support them, and feed them the best meals she can, as if conjured up from nothing. She’ll fight on their behalf and tear the world apart if need be. She’ll give them comfort and safety even when she, too, is exhausted from the stress of life. She’ll nurture them with everything she has, and seeing to every detail of the household, thrusting order upon unrestrained chaos, teaching them, herding them, tucking them into bed, crying with them, laughing with them. And so very much more.

That’s a mother, with such love as can only be called undeniable, unfathomable, unyielding, and unstoppable.

Small wonder they are such pivotal figures in our existence.

Good mothers make children strong, just as surely as good fathers do.

I learned all of that from my own mother. I am very, very blessed to have her, and thankful for her.

She has always been there for me. She’s always been ready to defend me and fight on my behalf. She taught me to pay attention to what I feel, because it matters. She showed me that people can be good without being identical, and living the letter of the law is only as good as the spirit with which we live it. She enabled me to pursue my dreams and my passions. She has helped me and strengthened me in countless ways, from the earliest days of waking her up in the middle of the night, to rushing me to the hospital when I was in pain and mortal danger, to clothing me as a boy who wanted nothing to do with clothes shopping, to tucking me in at night, to holding me accountable when I made stupid mistakes, to helping me throughout college, and on and on and on.

Thank you, God, for giving me my mother, the most wonderful person in the world.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

I love you!

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | Leave a comment