Peace Talks & Battle Ground: The First Two-Part Story of the Dresden Files

There are certain moments in a story that are obviously the turning points, the hinges on which swing the doors that separate everything that has come before from everything that will come after. The two-part story of Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks and Battle Ground is one such obvious turning point for his ongoing series, The Dresden Files. So many earth-shattering events of pivotal and personal importance happened, and it was a gripping, thrilling, amazing ride.

Small wonder Butcher took so freaking long to publish!

Seriously, a large number of Dresden fans, like myself, have been waiting impatiently for years. It’s nothing compared to waiting on George R.R. Martin, but, still, we were kept waiting quite a bit longer than normal. Now, however, I have to say… it was worth the wait! 🙂

It bears mentioning, really quick, that if you haven’t read everything which precedes this two-part adventure, including the novels and the shorter stories and novellas, as found in Side Jobs and Brief Cases, you may find yourself missing a few things.

I will, of course, endeavor to skate around spoilers, because there are many of them, involving many significant things. And I once managed, in a moment of intemperate fanboy outburst, to spoil the end of Changes for my best friend, so I am rather hoping to avoid that from now on. That said, I am not always great at mentioning things in such a way that particularly intelligent, informed people would not be able to guess at anyway, so!

If ye hate spoilers, ye may want to turn around and come back later.

Peace Talks involves the intrigues in motion all around a summit of the supernatural nations, while Battle Ground chronicles the battle with an entity that crashes said summit. And when I say “battle,” I do not mean the sort of fight, or skirmish, or showdown that one has usually seen in these books. I mean outright bloody warfare, the first – and both sides mean it to be the last – exchange between entire armies that are filled with the mightiest powers we have yet seen in action. Every smaller skirmish in the battle would be a boss fight in the preceding books, let alone the actual slaughterhouse itself. All of this, while the curtain is slowly pulled back on the overall conflict of the series, on the identities of the true puppet masters and what they want, and why the protagonist is of such pivotal importance.

It is absolutely epic.

But that is just what the story involves. That’s what happens. And, while thrilling, that has never been what the Dresden Files has been about.

The story, as ever, is about the importance of family, and friends, and love, and doing what is right, right then and there, wherever you are, no matter how impossible it may seem and no matter the pain of what it costs.

As Harry Dresden narrates, as usual, we see him fight for what matters most to him. He fights to protect his family from anything, and thus he also fights to protect anyone else that he can. Also as usual, we see him face both the corrupt powers around him and the darkness within, but both in a much more profound way. In this story, he suffers losses unlike any he has yet endured, and it pushes him to the brink and beyond… which is where his friends come in to both support him, and to save him from his worst self. That is what friends do, fight side-by-side with you against all evil, and fight you when you begin to do wrong, to do evil, yourself.

These are the themes on which the plot ultimately turns in one direction or another.

In that vein, many important, poignant thoughts are verbalized in these two books, and some are simply shown in action, as secrets are revealed, realizations are felt, and the many nuanced limits of a number of supernatural powers are shown. One of my favorites is how a certain fairy queen apparently fails to comprehend anyone following another out of love and loyalty, instead of out of fear, obligation, or, at best, self-serving motives of one’s own. But more, I love the role that normal humans get to play, as the grain of rice that tips the scales, so to speak. And most of all, I love the discussion about the importance of a family choosing to be there for each other, in a variety of ways, and what happens when one fails to do so.

Overall, these two books, chronicling pivotal events, are also about Harry Dresden himself coming to find his own ground on which to stand again, with any who will join him. He’s taken the hits as they’ve come, and lately he’s been blown about, unable to find his own footing, but now he has finally, visibly, evolved, and he will come out all the stronger for it, I am certain.

In short, this was simply a fantastic story, filled with twists and turns most unexpected, powerful themes, great action, lovable characters, and so many moments of laughter and tears.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Suday’s Wisdom #323: So Much to Lose

“People from your world have so much to lose.”
– Carmine Falcone, Batman Begins

This comes from one of the most pivotal scenes of Bruce Wayne’s backstory, when he confronted the crime lord who murdered the man who murdered his parents. Being robbed of the chance to kill the man himself, and faced with the truth that Falcone is worse, Bruce tries to prove that not everyone fears the man, but instead he has more truth, cold and harsh, thrown in his face.

Bruce is dark and brooding, thinking that he knows how ugly life is because his parents were shot in front of him, but Falcone reminds him that there is so much worse out there. Bruce has never been desperate to survive, for instance, driven to steal because he was starving. As much as he pushes people away, he still has people in his life who care about him, and who he cares about. He’s safe, rich, well-fed, loved… all the things that are dreamed about by the people who don’t have them. He suffered one loss, albeit a most terrible one, as a child, but he still has so much.

Falcone makes the point that Bruce Wayne has all these things as a means to try and check him, to scare him, in effect. That doesn’t work so well, but he’s still right in what he says: Bruce has more than he realizes. What he does not realize is how unbreakable Bruce’s will is.

In light of what one has lost, one may forget what one still has, but having “so much to lose” is also having so much to live for, and fight for.

That is why it does us so much good to remember what we have. Even if we have suffered losses, and especially if we find ourselves too often dreaming of things that we don’t believe we’ll ever have, it is remembering what we have right now that inspires our determination to endure and overcome. It is what we are built for, to keep what is ours and expand it.

To remember what we have is to remember that we have purpose. Purpose gives us drive, drive gives us will, and will gives us strength.

Of course, evil people try to use what we have against us. “That is such a nice home you have built for your beautiful family with what you have earned from your honest job,” they say. “It would be a shame if you lost it all.” And that threat of loss can cripple us, and our character, with fear, anger, desperation, and sorrow. That’s what Falcone was going for when he reminded Bruce of what he had. And it backfired gloriously.

There is very little that is more dangerous, or more determined, than one who is willing to fight, and kill, and die for what is theirs.

Whether what we have, what we can lose, weighs us down or drives us forward is entirely a matter of our own choice.

Does protecting what we have mean meekly tolerating the constant threat to it, or does it mean doing something about it?

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The Many Methods of Summoning in Anime

There is one form of magic that has always puzzled me a bit.

I say that as… well, a fantasy-loving geek who has thought a lot about magic and how it works in any story I find it in. Elemental magics, tech-based magics, magical crafting, alchemy, necromancy, sacrifice-based magic… you name it, I think about it. I just love myself a good magic system, one that’s interesting, understandable in some way – be it a hard or a soft magic system or, usually, some mix of the two, the key part is for something of it to be understandable – and useful to the story. The best magic systems actually tell us something about the characters who use it and the story they’re in.

So, I’ve probably put a bit more thought into the various forms of magic than most normal people have.

And if there is one form of magic that can stump me, it is this: summoning magic.

This is because, for being a magical equivalent of, “Come help me, friend/ally/pet,” there is a surprising number of moving parts to it. And they’re hardly ever addressed.

First, there is the creature or entity which is being summoned. How intelligent is it? Is it sentient at all? How does the summoner direct them, get them to do whatever they’re supposed to? How does it know what to do and why does it obey? What is the nature of the bond between them?

And second, the part that always befuddles me: where do the summoned creatures get summoned FROM? Where are they when they aren’t summoned? What are they doing when they aren’t summoned? How well do they live when they aren’t summoned? HOW do they live, and in what circumstances, and how does the summoning actually take them from where they normally are to where they are summoned to? Do they have any warning when they’re being summoned? Details! Details! How does it actually work from the summoned creature’s perspective?

So, there’s the creature itself, and summoner’s relationship with it, there’s the warping of time and space to transport it, and there’s what the summoned creature’s life is really like.

And what always frustrated me most as a kid was how these intricate components were always treated like one form of magic, and a very simple one at that.

A Simple Card Trick

Petition · Make more YuGiOh anime, manga,video game only cards & legacy support · Change.orgFor some, it’s as simple as a card trick. And I mean that quite literally.

I mean, how much more “card trick” do you get than an anime entitled Cardcaptor Sakura, eh? That’s an anime that features a couple of kids subduing a number of mystical creatures and containing – a much more polite word than “entrapping” – their essence with magical cards. They then use these cards to access the abilities of the entities within, many of whom are shown to be perfectly intelligent.

More pointedly, summoning is usually used to call forth some champion or whatnot. Yu-Gi-Oh does that, again with cards, and uses more cards to empower their champions or cripple the enemy. Admittedly, for much of the show, they aren’t summoning real creatures at all, but, rather, the illusions of such, created either within one’s own mind or externally with the use of super-powerful computers. However, the game is shown to be based on the shadow games of an ancient civilization, which used genuine creatures and entities, and which magic remains many centuries later, rediscovered and used in a bid to conquer the world. One such summoned being even has a crush on her summoner, or so I’ve heard, at least. And yet the fates of these beings, and other humans, rests on the flip of a card.

Much like another show I watched as a kid, Mon-Colle Knights. This one featured these kids who went and met many monsters in another world, collecting cards which could be used to summon them, an ability we only see powerful archangels accomplish. Most often, these monsters considered the kids friends, and were summoned for simple tasks, or to fun games which were contests of strength. But nearly all of them were summoned to the climactic showdown… and a huge swathe of them met their end on that battlefield, fighting for their friends and their world. And somehow that was never really addressed to my satisfaction.

And speaking of friends, that is how a young summoner in Magic Knight Rayearth referred to the creatures he summoned. They were his friends. Who happened to just come whenever he called, automatically ready to do anything he needed them to do right then and there. In perfect accordance with his will.

That’s more in line with summoning as practiced in the Final Fantasy franchise. The character casts the spell and a monster of elemental power is suddenly there to help them out. One of the most dramatic instances of that has to be when Yuna in Final Fantasy X summons that flying monster to catch her when she jumps from a very high place to avoid marrying the creepy villain. It just appeared and did exactly what she wanted until she eventually dismissed it back to the nothingness it came from.

Hmm, you know what this is actually starting to sound like?

Simple Enslavement, Nothing to See Here

Pokemon is one of those anime which looks cute but, when you think about, is absolutely horrifying. This is a world where kids are tossed out at ten years old and expected to make their way in the world by defeating hordes of extremely dangerous, deadly animals with superpowers and then making them fight. Oh, they talk about friendship all the time, but the vast majority of pokemon spend all their time in a disembodied state, locked inside tiny little balls. They’re only let out to risk their lives, and they get traded like livestock all the time, despite how many of them clearly have some form of intelligence and emotion. Small wonder that one Charizard was more keen on eating Ash than obeying him!

Adding more to the “what the heck kind of shows were we shown as kids” we have another “pleasant slavery” scenario in Medabots. Once again, we have people of all ages, especially kids, walking around with watches that can teleport small robots to them. They then remove the small coins which power this from said watches, placing them in the robot body. Within that coin is the robot’s mind, and once they are put into a body, they are expected to obey their human, which, most do. And this, apparently, is their only alternative to those ancient days when they ruled the world. I mean, surely there’s some sort of happy medium in between “slaver” and “slave,” right?

Speaking of such heirarchy, there’s Magi, where people basically summon genie-like creatures, based on the demons of Hell as were apocryphally tamed by Solomon the Wise. These are intelligent entities who dwell or put their power within metal vessels, coming out only when a sacred wise man, a magi, calls them forth. But to anyone who overcomes the trials necessary, they will grant their elemental power, either with elemental magic, or fusing their summoner’s body with power, or outright permanently transforming them into something no longer entirely human. It’s an interesting relationship, where these beings are entirely subservient, and yet are the true wielders of power. It’s not much of a summoning system, really, but it’s not so bad an existence as the others.

On a similar note, in relation to summoning powers (intelligent or otherwise) which one either wears or fuses with, have you ever wondered where all of those shows with summoned armor and uniforms get them from? Everything from Power Rangers to Ronin Warriors to Sailor Moon involves such quick uniform changes, where the outfits come with powers. Where are all of those kept in the meantime? I rather like how Fairy Tail uses the idea, with Erza’s “requipping” of armor and weapons, which she keeps in her own residence. And at least none of these armors or  weapons are usually alive or intelligent.

Certainly, none of the above examples is nearly so horrifying as the hellish existence of a familiar in Hellsing Ultimate. Judging by Alucard’s behavior, it would not be uncommon for a genuine, high-class vampire to be able to “bring out their familiars.” This refers to how a vampire retains something of every individual from whom they drink, some part of their soul, within their own vampiric essence. Alucard has a lot of such people, including some powerful enemies which he devoured, the hosts of his own armies, and a really big dog monster. We only see his protege, Seras, do anything similar, and that’s when the soul of the man she loved, the only human from which she drank, enters the fight in a clinch moment to protect her and kill an enemy. So, basically, vampires like Alucard and Seras can keep the people or monsters they drink within them, in some way, and call them forth from the shadowy netherworld of their souls to do battle again. It’s not so bad in the case of the Seras’ love, but the ones inside Alucard have apparently all gone mad with bloodlust, so! No thank you!

Many of these, however, I will admit, involve a certain amount of stretching of the term “summoning.” And they all happen to non-human creatures. And yet, there is an overwhelming number of stories today where people are summoned between worlds to fulfill some specific purpose.

Oh, yes.

You know it.

We are going there!

You Have Been Isekaied

It’s a very simple sort of summoning, usually: a one-time spell, with a magic circle and an incantation, and done. One moment, you are wherever you are, and the next, you are in another world, there to do the will of those who summoned you and save the world by slaying the demon lord or whatever. Hm, as I think about it, it’s not too dissimilar to when humans try to summon angels or demons or gods or whatnot, though the latter tends to be meant as something short-term.

I will say, this is one form of summoning which only needs to address the one aspect, that of piercing space and time with magic, in order to work. What gets interesting, though, is the other aspect I talked about: that of the relationship between summoner and summoned. I mean, these are fully-functioning and intelligent human beings, after all, or other such entities. It’s one thing if they die and reincarnate, but to be summoned is to be ripped out of life before one’s life is actually over. So, what happens?

Well, according to a number of isekai, too many too count, one becomes an overpowered hero with a harem and who doesn’t think much about the world they just left. I mean, one can just draw straws for that combination of tropes.

Or, alternatively, one can have an immediately soured relationship with the world that drives them to fight to go home… also while becoming overpowered and getting a harem, like in The Rising of the Shield Hero or Arifureta.

Perhaps one finds true love and a harem, after a rocky introduction, such as The Familiar of Zero.

Or one simply goes off and does one’s own thing without a care in the world, like Kemono Michi.

Or maybe one does what one is asked to, but in one’s own way, such as Cautious Hero.

Or maybe one forms genuine bonds of friendship with everyone and just has a really good time, as in Dog Days, though that approach seems to be surprisingly rare.

Or maybe one is filled with raging hatred but compelled to obey, as a certain demon is when he is summoned by a human as a familiar, in Welcome to Demon School, Iruma.

Or maybe one’s summoners attempt to place a coercive bond on you, and it backfires, turning them into your slaves, as in How Not to Summon a Demon Lord.

Either way, the ability to bend time and space clearly isn’t always enough. The questions for summoning living creatures remain the same. How is it done? Where do they come from? Where are they kept? How do they live? How does one get them to do what one needs them to do?

Some Answers Are Provided

Summoning Technique | Narutopedia | FandomNaruto explains everything as some form of ninjutsu. In some way, they are able to form a contract, sealed in blood, between a human and some form of intelligent animal, like a toads, snakes, slugs, etc. Summoning them involves some sort of small blood sacrifice, like biting one’s thumb, while making certain gestures, thrusting one’s bleeding hand onto the ground, and magically inscribing some sort of small circle upon impact. And poof! Time and space are bent, and the creature is suddenly summoned, whether they were expecting it or not. It can be done with other things as well, like weapons or objects or some such, but all of these apparently have to be somewhere in the first place. Exactly where the intelligent animals are isn’t entirely answered whether it’s some region of the planet or some neighboring dimension or what.

I mentioned Fairy Tail and the use of summoning armor and weapons, but the real summoning magic is that of the Celestial Spirits, which are based on Western constellations. These entities apparently live in the spirit world and have their duties and live their lives there, but they also engage in contracts where they can be summoned by the use of a specific, magical key which opens their own, specific gate and permits them to pass between the two worlds. While in the mortal world, their existence is sustained by the magical energy of their master, whom they serve and protect. Many masters have abused this relationship. Though the spirits are quite capable of answering like with like in such cases, they are still bound to obey and take a certain pride in their absolute service. By contrast, though, there is at least one wizard shown who summons humans, renowned heroes of the past who mysteriously “disappeared” when he enslaved them, and this is automatically and immediately acknowledged as something perverse. But it’s no big deal for the spirits, it seems, in whose eyes human lifetimes are astoundingly short. And some set the ground rules early on, like Aquarius hilariously does. And small wonder she’s so sharp in dictating when she’s not to be summoned for two weeks, as time apparently passed more slowly in the spirit world, and she wants a few hours with her boyfriend. Heh.

To Love-Ru is much more of an ecchi comedy, with science fiction more than magic, but there is a form of summoning practiced here, too. See, a mad scientist princess created devices which can access pocket dimensions. She invented them for her sisters, who can communicate with plants and animals, and they use them to keep their many friends living happily in peace, in a garden and a menagerie. In exchange, they answer when their princess calls and help them out as they are directed to. It’s fairly simple and straightforward, answering most of the questions involved in a summoning system, and yet, it, too, feels a bit like a card trick or a pokeball. And for all that we hear that these sisters provide for what they summon, we never really see them do so, outside one or maybe two brief glimpses.

Departing entirely from anime for just a moment, I want to mention a book series, the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Correia. Here, science and magic are fairly well connected, as magic is a means of influencing the forces that science seeks to understand. The source of magic is some massive extraterrestrial entity, which has fled from world to world across the stars, trying to escape something that preys upon it. Each world it has come to, it has empowered the inhabitants thereof, hoping they might kill or otherwise stop that which hunts it. Each world has also ended horribly, eaten up along with everyone on them. But there have been souls who survived despite the destruction of their bodies, and have clung to the living source of magic like refugees, carried between worlds. These are the beings which are summoned, and given form by the summoner, compelled to do their will.

…so, even in the more fleshed out forms of summoning I’ve yet encountered, those which either answer or sidestep all the questions I have, the existence of whoever or whatever is summoned tends to be pretty horrific and dangerous in some way.

Which brings me, at last, to what inspired this post.

The Best Summoning System Yet

6 Anime Like By the Grace of the Gods [Recommendations]I never thought I would find such a perfect, satisfying answer to all of the above as I found in Kamitachi, or By the Grace of the Gods.

For a start, it acknowledges that, yes, there are those two essential, and different, components to the problem: the method of summoning and the bond between summoner and summoned. It doesn’t leap in and answer everything right away, mind you. It starts off just establishing that there is a way for magic users to bond with, direct, and summon other creatures. Over the course of the series (or, at least, over the course of the first season, which is all there is at the moment), it explains exactly how it works.

First and foremost, part of the bond has to do with one’s own affinity for particular types of creatures, or, possibly, the affinity that other types of creatures feel towards them. The lead character specializes in slimes, but there are affinities for birds, wolves, and even dragons. If one has the right affinity, then one may enact a magical contract, though that sometimes involves meeting particular conditions, like playing music for a certain kind of bird. The contract forms a link between tamer and creature, allowing them to communicate more freely with one another. Thus, the human can direct the beast, or share its sensations like what they see or hear or smell, that sort of thing.

It is worth noting that there are two forms of contract here: that of the tamer, which is voluntary, and that of the summoner, which is forced on the creature in question, and thus yields fewer uses than the genuine bond that tamers enjoy.

Once the contract is formed, there is the question of how the creature will survive, and how well it will be treated. For the slime specialist, he simply lives with his slimes. They’re all sorts of useful around the house and on his jobs, being small, versatile, and having very few needs. For the wolf specialist, her wolves live on a mountain and protect the medicinal plants on it from poachers. And the dragon specialist has his dragons live in a nearby range of mountains, preventing various monsters from breaking through and wreaking havoc on the local human settlements. So, the more powerful and dangerous creatures may be amazing, but they can also be a bit more problematic in terms of daily care and how to make use of them in everyday life.

The one thing that the show hasn’t outright shown is how the wolf or dragon specialist summons their creature. By that, I mean they haven’t shown the spell or what it looks like as the summoned creature steps from wherever it is to wherever they are. However, until they do that, one can make some reasonable guesses.

They’ve shown two forms of magic which manipulate space, the first being a pocket dimension to keep one’s things in. The slime-specialist is ecstatic when he learns such a spell that has air in this other space, so he can keep his slimes in it, to call out when he needs them. And the second magic is teleportation, either short-range in the surrounding environment or more long-range to very specific places.

Combine the bond between tamer and beast, which allows both sides to communicate and thus act in unity when a summoning is in order, with the spatial magic of teleport, and voila! It works! With no loose ends, either! There’s no hidden ugly side of taming, no horrible ramifications, no shirking of responsibilities. It’s simple, and practical, and actually quite heart-warming to behold.

I love it! 🙂

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Ravages of Honor, by Monalisa Foster

I have been blogging for just a little over six years now, including my book reviews. In that time, I have had contact with the authors only two or three times. It was a bit of a shock, if only because… well, I suppose I had never quite realized before just how small the world can be, that the author of something I reviewed might actually see my review. As vast as the internet is, it is a smaller place, so to speak, than I realized.

This time, however, I am somewhat expecting it to happen because I’ve already interacted with the author, one Monalisa Foster, albeit only on Facebook. So, for the first time, I find myself naturally contemplating what someone I sort-of-know and admire might think of my review of her work. I am Indiana Jones’ father, knowing that this probably happens to other reviewers all the time, but it is a strange, new, and somewhat tense experience for me.

But, even knowing that, I just had to pick up Ravages of Honor and try it out.

I’m glad I did.

…well, “glad” in the sense that I am impatiently awaiting the sequel to pick up the story from where it left off, but I think that qualifies. 😉

Self-described on Amazon as a “fun, sexy, dynastic space opera with riveting characters,” Foster’s Ravages of Honor tells the story of Syteria and Darien and the saga surrounding their love. Said saga involves the brutal histories of both of their peoples, the intrigues of paranoid, power-hungry tyrants, and, above all, the emergence of the individual even under the tremendous weight of all manner of pressures from society. There is certainly a primal level of attraction between them – which, in all honesty, seemed slightly overdone on Darien’s part, but it was still astoundingly refreshing to see a more masculine, proactive approach to sexual attraction, at last – but what really sold me on them was how much more attracted they became to each other as they got to know one other as kindred souls.

The plot surrounding these two sets the stage for what won’t simply be another coupling, but one on which the hinges of history may well turn, and which would make them and their love story a legend told for centuries afterward. To explain that… well…

Darien is a donai, descended from a breed of bio-engineered super soldiers which humanity created as a means to destroy their enemies, and thus preserve their own species. A great deal went wrong with that, especially when the creators tried to discard their creation after its purpose was served (they really didn’t think that through). Thus, the humans became subject to the donai, and the donai have not been particularly humane with their humans. However, the donai weren’t designed to breed as endlessly as humans can, so they’ve been in a state of decline for quite awhile, despite the power of their larger, stronger, faster bodies, their intelligence, their enhanced senses, and their aggressive, predatory instincts. They are in such a state, in fact, that finding a population with which the donai could easily breed with great success would be a substantial game-changer in the political intrigues of their galaxy-spanning empire. Especially when the first hint of said population happens, by twist of fate, to fall into the hands (and bed) of Darien, the heir of one of the donai‘s most prominent noble houses, one which treats humans far more humanely, and which their emperor already fears may soon challenge him.

Thus, why a power-hungry, paranoid, human-hating emperor sits up and takes notice of Syteria, in a way that he is rabidly eager to erase her and the people of her planet, a planet whose population could save the donai as a species (which would empower someone other than the emperor), from the universe.

As for Syteria herself, she is from a completely unknown planet called Kappa. Her people are regularly preyed upon by those of a neighboring planet, Rho. The Rhoans subscribe to themselves as the epitome of civilization, trusting no man (only women) with power, forbidding all carnal pleasure, and never partaking in violence themselves. No, they kidnap Kappan girls, training and mutilating them until they become the soldiers they send to kidnap more Kappan girls.

I will say this: Foster definitely knows how to craft villains who I will absolutely love to see utterly annihilated. Many storytellers have created monstrous villains, but not so many, I notice, go into such detail of what is really so terrible about them. This, I think, comes from her life experience. She understands what tyranny is, and what it means to be free.

So, we have a mysterious beauty who is whisked by fate – and, it turns out, by the emperor’s experiments with wormholes – away from her masters and towards the arms of a young, powerful noble. The ramifications of their unity are potent, far-reaching, numerous, and diverse. Said union does not come so easily as it might, as there are a number of personal and social issues to overcome, but the two of them are practically made for each other, each possessing courage, wits, and a strength of will and honor that is born from everything they have previously faced.

Some people like Edward and Bella, some like Dany and Khal Drogo, or Dany and Jon Snow, and some like the Joker and Harley Quinn (however bizarre and unsettling each of these couples is). Me? I have to say, I really like Syteria and Darien. They do not use or abuse each other. They strengthen, rather than diminish, each other. They are not equally strong in physical terms, but they have equally strong minds and spirits. They are a magnificent couple, one of the best, in my opinion, that I have yet come across. And for a couple whose legacy may alter the course of an empire that spans the stars, the potency of their mutual passion is only right.

Oh, and while the story revolves around them, it is not nearly limited to them. Darien is well-established with followers, friends, and enemies, and through Syteria’s eyes we learn a great deal about these people and their culture. They are advanced, with sciences and technologies that we can scarcely dream of (but which are fairly thoroughly explained), but with customs that hail back to primitive roots. They are aggressive and violent, but not savages. They adhere to strict codes of honor, and those who violate such codes are despicable beyond the bounds of words. Humble professionals of medicine can sometimes be not nearly so humble, especially when they’ve already achieved the impossible once before and are on the emperor’s radar for it. Those in power, one notices, tend to be either honorable or not, to an extreme. But, then, all of that tends to be true of all of us, doesn’t it?

Ravages of Honor does what all the really good stories do: discuss the nature of humanity through the characters’ eyes. Through the experiences of the cast, through their past and through their choices, we see humanity itself on display. Sadistic, bloodthirsty tyrants will always have some form of rhetoric to justify the atrocities they commit. Men are meant to stand tall and proud in their strengths, and women are meant to be their equals, which truly strong men will be attracted to, but they are not meant to be identical. No matter how far we advance, we have lessons to learn from the past, and from the struggle of man against nature. The individual is strong, and a society can only be as strong as all the individuals together can be. All of us matter, and playing god with lives, with the very nature of life and the nature of living beings, is sure to end badly, if only because we are not gods.

It is, in short, a very entertaining, thought-provoking book.

If I had any complaints about Ravage of Honor, it would be this: the story feels like it barely gets started before it’s done. I mean, the threat, the danger that the villains pose barely gets five minutes – albeit a terribly tragic five minutes – of fruition at the climax, and there is so much still to do afterward! There’s a despot to depose, an entire way of life transform, an experimental technology to master, more than one people to deliver from tyranny, retribution to take for horrific crimes… but the book ends pretty much in the same moment that the proverbial line is drawn in the sand.

…thus, my impatient wait for the next book! 😉

Pin on Animated filesIt does need to be said, in fair warning, this is not a book for children. It does not cut to black when Syteria and Darien get together, we shall say. That is something I am not always comfortable with, personally, but it struck an intricate balance with how explicit it was, and wasn’t.

All things considered, I found Ravages of Honor to be an enjoyable, intriguing read, with characters I could appreciate.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #322: Do Better

“We can do better. We must do better.”
– King T’Challa, Black Panther

Very much in the same spirit as last week’s quote, this is both a call and a pledge.

Coming at the end of the movie, T’Challa says this in light of what he has most recently learned.

He has learned that his predecessors, his ancestors, the kings who ruled his nation before him, may not have been entirely right in their actions. Indeed, it would seem that they were terribly mistaken. It must be said, in fairness, that they did the best they knew how, and their fears had some legitimacy to them. Yet they let their fear rule them and dictate the fates of many, including a great deal of suffering which they allowed to occur right in front them, and did nothing. There is certainly room for improvement there.

On the other hand, he just had a first-hand look at what happens when one goes too far in the other direction, becoming worse than apathetic, becoming cruel and heartless and consumed by hatred. The choice to do nothing may be timid and fearful, but it may also be considerably wiser than the choice to violently take control of all that one sees, to rip down everything that is and beat down entire populations for no better reason than one’s own anger. That was the choice T’Challa’s enemy made, and it turned him into a monster just like the people he hates, with nothing to separate him from them.

After all this, T’Challa sees that both paths are flawed, and he elects to take another path, a harder, better path, of neither hiding in safety while the world rots, nor of burning the world in rage. He chooses to open up, to share, and to work in partnership with those around him. It’s a risky plan, and probably a costly one, but it is better than either cowering or raging.

Personally, I have had enough of cowering, but I have also seen enough of raging. And I know the appeal of the latter, as well as the practicality of the former. I know that both are easy. I know both fear and anger. I know that both must be overcome, not embraced.

I know that our civilization, even our species, has a very long history of mistakes. I also know that one of the most common mistakes has been an overzealousness to correct those previous mistakes, and this leads to more mistakes.

I don’t believe we should, or need to, condemn all the previous generations. I think we just need to take what can be learned from them and do better.

And “doing better” doesn’t include simply tearing things down. We cannot expect to do anything better just by tearing down statues, buildings, governments, ideals, traditions, or anything else. That’s just another repetition of tragedies which humanity is all too familiar with.

Doing better means leaving not one or two but all of the lesser paths behind and finding a new way, a better way, a way that combines the strengths of all our options to compensate for the weaknesses. To be proactive without becoming a monster. To work together in love, not lash out in anger. To build on our history instead of ripping it down.

That is doing better.

We can, and we must, do better.

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My Star Wars Countdown

With the conclusion of what has been dubbed the Skywalker Saga, the Star Wars franchise has reached one of those moments, where it may continue indefinitely, yes, but it has also reached a conclusion (again). I figure now — right now, before Disney sets another cinematic ship out to sea — is the time to do a countdown ranking of my favorite Star Wars movies.

I have wanted to do this for quite awhile, and was only waiting for the ninth “episode,” The Rise of Skywalker to be released. Couldn’t well be jumping the gun and leaving that one out, could I? 😉

As always this is entirely dependent on myself, my views, my personal experience, etc. I don’t expect everyone to agree, and, it must be said, this is (generally) not about the quality of the movie, but of how much I, personally, favor it. The word is “favorite,” after all. 🙂

And, of course, I would love to know which ones are favored by you, my wonderful audience. 😉

Now,  without further ado, let’s get  to it!

11) Solo

I admit, I have not seen this one. And I have no desire to.  The premise might sound good on paper, and Emilia Clarke is one of the most visually appealing faces in cinema right now, but the trailers completely failed to hook me, and everything I have ever heard of it has been negative. So, I might get supremely bored and watch it someday, but I wouldn’t count on it.

10) The Phantom Menace

The one where George Lucas began to prove that letting him have an uncontested free rein is not such a good idea.

9) Attack of the Clones

The proof continues, but at least we got to see the Jedi in an outright battle.

8) Revenge of the Sith

The proof may have culminated here, but it was still a significant step up, if only for the tragedy of the Jedi’s fall, the melee between Anakin and Obi-Wan (with exception to when they just whirled their blades around for nothing but flair), and the confrontation between Yoda and Palpatine. The Jedi master almost won, and the seeds of the future were planted.

7)  The Force Awakens

The sequel trilogy are the ones I had the hardest time ranking.

This one kicked off the franchise’s second cinematic revival, after the era of the prequels. It felt very much like a fan fiction brought to life, both for and by the fans, and it wasn’t half bad. But they did kill off Han and such, so there’s that.

6) The Rise of Skywalker

It was all over the place, and hastily cobbled together, but still fun, and still with a good message.

5) The Last Jedi

Yes, it has severe flaws, but I rather enjoyed it, really. My favorite part was actually the theme of becoming great without the assistance of one’s bloodline, which Rise of Skywalker completely broke, again.

4) The Empire Strikes Back

Yes, this is probably the best, and best-made, movie of  the entire franchise. That does not make it my favorite. 😉

Mind you, part of that is just because… well, I grew up watching this, and I never much liked the fact that the bad guys win, repeatedly, in this one. It also wasn’t as thrilling or epic to me as either of the other two of the original trilogy. I have come to appreciate it more, over the years, but… well, old habits die hard, ya know?

3) Rogue One

I am just  going to say, as tragic as this one is, I still love it. I just do. You may consult my review for details. 😉

2) A New Hope

The one that started it all. It is, in many ways, the kind of classic that both advanced and preserved a golden age of storytelling. I have always loved it, every bit of it, and I always will.

Oh,  and Han shot first. Period. 😉

And that leaves only one possible choice for my very favorite Star Wars movie. …but first, one more inclusion:

Honorable Mention:
The Clone Wars

The animated microseries, compiled into a pair of (slightly disjointed) feature-length movies, may not really qualify as proper films, but I’ve still enjoyed them immensely, and I wish the live-action prequels could have had such exciting action. Seriously, Grievous was much more impressive as a cartoon.

And now, without further ado, my number one favorite:

1) Return of the Jedi

Of course. 😉

It is the grand finale, with all the continuing threads resolved, a battle on many fronts, cute allies, redemption… it’s great! 😀

How about you? How would you rank these movies in your personal countdown?

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Anime Review: By the Grace of the Gods

In Japanese, the title is: Kami-tachi ni Hirowareta Otoko. In English, it roughly translates to: By the Grace of the Gods. Though Google also shows one that says, The Man Picked Up By the Gods, we’ll go with that first one. Mostly, though, I think of it more under the name of Kamitachi.

Whatever name one calls it, by, though – much like Shakespeare’s rose that smells as sweet by any other name – Kamitachi is an happy-feeling anime.

It’s surprising how interesting it is, really. I mean, most of the stories that grip us tend to be driven by goals and obstacles, by heroic quests and nefarious villains, by epic conflict with high, personal stakes, that sort of thing. Kamitachi has pretty much none of that… no, wait, I amend that, it had none of that whatsoever. And yet I happily binged the entire first season all at once. It made me smile, with this warm, happy feeling in my heart.

The story centers on Ryoma, a young man in a fantasy world who is actually the reincarnation of a man from Japan. It used the isekai trope, and used the man’s knowledge of it to speed up the expository setup. He died more or less in his sleep, instead of by the stereotypical traffic accident, and he met with three gods from a neighboring world. They have an arrangement with the divine power of Earth, we shall say, where they can recruit deceased humans to come and be reborn into their world. With their rebirth, they open a flow of magic from Earth, where such is abundant and hardly ever used, to theirs, where it gets used a lot and dwindles every so often. So, the man wasn’t summoned or reincarnated in order to fight some monstrous demonic evil or anything like that, but he’s still providing a great service, and so he is highly blessed for it.

Now a young boy, Ryoma spends the first part of his new life alone in the forests, away from people, because he has a literal lifetime of unpleasant experiences with people. To be blunt, almost no one ever gave a crap about him, so he’s not so motivated to go be with more people who don’t care about him. He’s content to live quietly in the middle of nowhere, and it gives him time to do something he enjoys, namely, focus on his first project in this new world: taming and using slimes. There seems to be a trend towards giving slimes a bit of the spotlight, I notice, but this one focused on their more practical aspects. Indeed, practicality came into play in this anime to a degree which is a bit uncommon in most others.

By the time Ryoma has a fateful encounter with a nobleman (one who actually is worth calling noble) and his men, he’s spent three years living alone with his slimes, which now number in the low thousands. The skills he develops in his slimes and in himself (he is very creative, industrious, and determined) make him uniquely suited to lending these good people a hand, and they are most grateful. They soon return and persuade him to accompany them, to learn and do more with his talents, and thus begins his endeavors in the world at large. He learns more magic, more skills, tames and studies more creatures, and he uses his abilities as a tamer, an alchemist, and with other forms of magic to make his way, at first alongside this noble family, and then, gradually, independent of them. He takes on several tasks, all of which pay him quite well, including adventuring, trade, starting his own business, and keeping an eye on things in general, all while learning more and more.

In short, Kamitachi is about how Ryoma goes from being alone to being part of a community who loves him. He isn’t used to this, and tears up a couple of times when he realizes that these people truly, genuinely care about him, unlike most of the people he met on Earth. He is tremendously useful to them, of course, but he is also of great worth to them for who he is and how decent and selfless he is. He improves the world around him, including treating his employees most excellently, as well as making the world a cleaner, safer, and kinder place. Truly, his is a beloved soul truly worth being highly blessed by the gods.

Opposite Ryoma is a similarly-aged female lead, Elia. She is the young daughter of the noble he aided, and they become close friends in short order. Only friends, though, since they’re only eleven, nearing twelve, years old. (ADD moment: I love how clean and wholesome this show is) They learn together, teach other, and grow alongside each other. There is a clear possibility of things progressing in a more romantic direction as they grow older, but that can happen all in good time. For now, they are simply very dear to each other.

Now, there are some aspects of the story thus far which I would call missed opportunities. Though I enjoyed the show far more than I ever thought I would enjoy a story that was so lacking in tension, I can’t help but think that they could have safely sprinkled some in here and there.

For instance, there was a moment where Ryoma was tackling a task that was, in all honesty, quite hazardous to his health, yet he walked away untouched. It would have done no harm to the narrative if, say, the people outside, guarding the perimeter while he worked, to protect others from the unhygienic environment he and his slimes were cleaning up, were suddenly surrounded by his agitated slimes swarming outside, and then a sudden, frightening realization that something had happened to him, that the slimes were begging for help. They rush in, finding Ryoma collapsed in the ground, and swiftly get him safely to some local medical care. The nobles he’s been staying with are informed by a breathless messenger. And when Ryoma wakes, healed, he finds himself surrounded by people who are worried for him and glad he’s all right.

In one go, something like this would establish Ryoma’s developing mutual affection with the people around him, his importance to them, and how brave and useful he really was for doing what he did, and it humanizes the slimes in other peoples’ eyes, since they can clearly care and fear for their human, and they’re intelligent enough to go and get help. Oh, and it would have solidified the egregious nature of the local lord’s crimes, since his greed and apathy directly endangered one so young, so brave, so smart and capable, so innocent, and now so very beloved.

That said, that’s just how I would have done it, if I had made this story (which I didn’t). Even so, this is a very enjoyable, heart-warming story.

And if I may gush for one moment, one aspect I enjoyed very much was the discussion of taming and summoning creatures in this fantasy world. I’ll use another post to go into why that appealed so much to me, but for now, I just enjoyed how they actually thought it out beyond just, “I summon this monster!” and “I choose you, Pikachu!” For one thing, it makes a distinction between “taming” and “summoning,” where taming involved a voluntary, two-way contract, whilst summoning is forced on another creature, making them practically slaves to their keeper. For another, it touches on the nature of such a bond, that people can have differing affinities for differing creatures, which affect how many they can tame, and how strong each one is.

And for yet another, it addresses that most practical question which is almost never addressed by any story with summoning magic: where are they summoned from and what are they doing when they’re not summoned? Well, one man who tamed several dragons leaves them in the mountains they dwell in, where they act as a buffer between humans and the monsters beyond those mountains. Another summons wolf creatures, which are usually guarding a mountain that is filled with medicinal herbs. And as for Ryoma and his slimes? Well, they handle everyday hygienic tasks that are a royal pain to do in a fantasy world.

For that matter, I can’t recall another anime, or any other story, really, which focuses so much on the practical uses of magic in everyday life. Most of the time, magic is used for combat, defense, healing, hiding, that sort of thing. But here, magic is used, by those who are proficient with it, to clean clothes, clear blocked roads, repair damaged buildings, construct entirely new buildings, and so forth. It is honestly quite refreshing and thought-provoking to behold.

Oh, and the gods inform Ryoma that taming itself was begun by someone like him, a previous reincarnated soul from Earth. She was a sweet soul who advanced taming magic by leaps and bounds, and along the way she fell in love, got married, and now Elia is among her descendants. Such reincarnated individuals seem to have a lasting influence on the world, including another one who had been the usual OP magic type, and so ruthless that the gods were seriously worried they had made a mistake in bringing him to their world. Fortunately he was so timid with people that he never became a conqueror. Though, his sheer level of power is also present in Elia, who is his descendant as well. It turns out to be a small world after all!

Small… and full of love between good, honest people. (with fantastic character design for even fairly minor characters, alongside fantastic scenery, lovely music, the works, this is a very well-crafted anime.)

And on that note, I am just going to say:

Kamitachi, or By the Grace of the Gods, is a feel-good breath of fresh air. It has virtually no tension or conflict, but I still loved every minute of it. It is, quite simple, an enchanting, endearing story about humans in a peaceful time and place.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

P.S. Oh! I almost mention the lovely music, fantastic scenery, and beautiful design work for even fairly minor characters! Seriously, this was made by people who very well know their craft! 🙂

 

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Sunday’s Wisdom #321: Stay Separate from the Enemy

“You compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.”

“That’s why it’s so important: it separates us from them.”

– Ducard/Ra’s al’Ghul & Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

Most of the quotes I share, I must admit, have lessons which I can talk about in a bit more of an abstract sense. This one, by contrast, is hitting home with me on a more personal level right now. I share this quote with a deep feeling of remorse for my mistakes.

This exchange comes at a moment where Bruce Wayne, soon to become the Batman, has been tested by his mentor and has displayed excellent skill and cunning. Now, however, he must prove himself one final time, for the organization that he is joining has a long, bloody history which they want him to contribute to. So, the question is, can he take the life a man guilty of theft and murder? He answers no, that he is no executioner, and this is why: because he needs his compassion to separate himself from the villains he intends to fight.

I remember, years ago, citing a quote about becoming so determined to beat one’s enemy that one becomes the enemy oneself. I see now that it especially means becoming one’s worst self, doing the things the enemy does, until there is no longer any real distinction. It’s not only the contest between what seems more effective and what seems more honorable, but the struggle, deep in one’s soul, between doing that one brutal thing that one really wants to do… or maintaining the sanctity of one’s cause by maintaining one’s own integrity.

Bruce Wayne hits the difference between the two on the head with his support of the ideal of compassion. It is when we stop to love each other, after all, the we become monsters, doing cruel, destructive, inhuman things to each other. It is that lack of love, combined with the overwhelming will of mob mentality, which has fueled uncountable riots in my country for years. These are displays of brutality, of savagery, which have left incalculable property damage, destroyed livelihoods, burnt and looted stores, and the bodies of those who have been assaulted, raped, and murdered. And those to whom the political ideology of these rioters is useful have said and done nothing, uttered no condemnation whatsoever.

By contrast, a crowd of protestors, likely spearheaded by people who were not truly friendly to their cause, stormed the Capitol Building, where Congress was in sessions. A few broken windows, one person, a protestor, shot and killed, and everyone on that side of the aisle has turned on the protestors. To a man, they have condemned the violence and all those remotely connected to it, turning about face to permit what they were opposing mere moments earlier. In short: they held their own to some sort of standard and refused to compromise on it.

That standard is compassion, respect for authority, and a commitment to peaceful protest without any sort of violence.

And I must admit, I have been torn on the subject.

I like to think of myself as a man of honor and compassion, but, more humbly, I must admit that while I try… I sometimes fail. And I fear I failed for several days this week.

I, too, have a savage side, and a practical side that insists that there are worlds of differences between the protestors in my nation’s capital this week and the rioters that have run rampant in every other corner of my country for years on end. And yet… is it not still violence? Is it not still violence perpetrated by a mob in a frenzy? Is it not still, as one may reasonably suspect, the work of unfriendly puppeteers?

Is not that voice within me, which tells me that violence between the two sides is inevitable, the voice of fear, rather than the voice of courage? Is it not anger, rather than love? Is it not wild hatred, rather than disciplined, patience, and faith?

I weep at the realization that, somewhere along the way, I confused my desire for freedom with a desire to put a noose around those who would put chains on me.

Oh, how easy it really is, to become one’s worst self.

I must do better.

We must, I must, stay separate from the enemy.

If we do not hold ourselves somehow separate from the behavior of our enemies, on both an individual and a collective level, then do we not simply become our enemies? Or at least become the same as our enemies? If we do that, then what’s the point?

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The Most Important Question for an Isekai

“Get ready, soldiers. This is going to be a long one.”

“There is nothing more elusive than an obvious fact,” said Sherlock Holmes. And how true is it? So many times there are so many things, so many connections and ideas and truths, which are so obvious, and yet we miss them completely until we have one of those thundering moments of realization.

This is one of those times, for me, where I have suddenly realized something so very obvious that I really feel like I should have noticed it before, and so I may need to beg your pardon, oh wonderful audience of mine, as I do exactly what every human, be they child or adult, tends to do upon such a realization: share it, enthusiastically! 😉

Now, it’s no profound realization that we are presently being buried under countless isekai anime and manga, many of which leave a great deal to be desired. Seriously, Wikipedia has at least ninety-five separate pages under that one category, and I know what you’re thinking, “Only ninety-five?” Well, it’s not comprehensive, I thought of several others within moments. Besides the simple over-use of the isekai trope, the problems with all these anime and manga are many and diverse, including boring, overpowered protagonists, dull plots, an abundance of harems, and so on. But I have realized that many of these elements, and how successful any given title is in their use of them, can be interconnected through the answer to a single question.

And what is that question, you ask?

“Yes! We want to know! Why does our show suck?!”

Well, as a quick review for the informed and to inform the uninitiated, isekai is the term for when the protagonist of a story is summoned, reincarnated, or otherwise taken to an alternate world. This does not include anything like UFO abductions and whatnot. It’s more like Alice falling through the rabbit hole to Wonderland. And it has become a very common trope in anime and manga. Perhaps that means something, that we powerless people are dreaming of being taken to another world where we are almighty gods with hordes of beautiful women (or men) wanting to have sex with us… but I digress.

My point is that the most basic principle of storytelling is to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s what our lives are: they begin, they end, and they usually have a middle. No one ever goes through life and gets an entirely clean slate partway through. We are, by very nature, linear creatures, rooted in what has come before, and we constantly look to what comes after, living through each moment to get there.

So, at any point in any story, we must face the significance of both the past and the future even while we are in the present. There are countless stories which do this, and many of the best are so great because they do it so well.

Thus, the question, which reflects the quality of a narrative, and sheds light on who and what the protagonist is, and connects directly to how believable and relatable they are, whether or not they have grandiose power and harems and such… that question is, quite simply:

How much does the protagonist’s otherworldly origin matter?

How much did it really matter here, for instance?

How much does it actually matter for this character to be someone from our world?

In other words, how much does the trope the storyteller is using actually impact the story they are telling?

If they’re using it just because they think it’s popular, or it’s all they can think of, then small wonder the story sucks! And that’s no matter (or because of) the other fantasy-fulfillment tropes they throw into the mix. If the hero’s own past doesn’t matter to the part they play in the story, then how much can the story itself matter? Following that, how much can the story actually mean? And make no mistake, however easily we humans may be distracted, we are always searching for meaning.

Obviously, I’m not advancing this as some hard-and-fast rule. The world has very few absolutes to it, and storytelling has even fewer. I simply find it as a remarkably accurate rule of thumb, a lens with which we can gauge the quality of isekai stories.

A few examples:

First, some anime where the protagonists’ origins very much mattered.

Digimon
Seven kids are transported to another world where they meet some unusual friends who act as their protectors. Not only are these all fully-formed characters, but the story itself takes them back and forth between the real and digital worlds as the influence of dark forces are blurring the barriers between them, to the detriment of both. Their quest is to save both worlds.

Saga of Tanya the Evil
Tanya is the reincarnated soul of a cold-blooded corporate official. Not only does this give him, now her, tremendous insight into the workings of the world he is reborn as a girl, but her entire new life is a showdown, a challenge between her and a god-like entity. This has many direct impacts on the plot, partially because there really is someone plotting to use the entire world against Tanya. It also shows how Tanya is growing and changing, ever so slightly, to care about the people around her.

InuYasha
Kagome Higurashi is transported to the past via a magical well on her family’s lands. She figures out how to go back and forth between them, using modern tools like a bike, a backpack, and instant food in the feudal era. She fights demons in the past while going to school with her friends in the present. Though, there are also demons in the present that need to be dealt with. Eventually, though, she finds that she has to choose between the world of her family and friends and the world of her comrades and the man she loves. And that decision relies on everything she has experienced in both eras.

Dog Days
This is much more of a fun-oriented anime than an epic adventure. It begins with a boy who is called to help a kingdom win what basically boils down to an extended series of sports festivals. Soon enough, they manage to figure out how to move him and his friends back and forth, which just adds to the fun dynamics.

No Game, No Life
A brother-sister gaming duo is summoned to the world of a god of a games, after they manage to beat him at a game. Thus, he brings them to play his game, for a two-out-of-three rematch! And boy, do their skills and talents and temperaments influence everything they manage to do! The fact that there is no second season to finish this story is an absolute tragedy, I say!

Restaurant to Another World
A fairly tame example, where a Japanese restaurant is connected to a fantasy world, and it has some surprising effects on the people who manage to find it. Some form friendships, some have their very lives saved, some introduce parts of their favorite dishes to their own world, and all of them have their lives enriched. They only explained how this happened in the last episode, and it is, in a way, the most delicious tale of the lot.

By the Grace of the Gods
In contrast to most, there are no epic battles of high stakes in this anime. There’s not much tension at all, really. But the protagonist is very much defined by who he was before he was reincarnated, and this influences his interactions with others, his discipline and skills, and his zeal for treating others as human beings. He grows throughout the story (as much as I know of it, thus far, at least) because he still has his past intact. It matters. And it’s a joy to watch.

That’s the very much narrowed-down list of anime I could have cited, where the connection between worlds, the fact that the protagonist is moved (or moves) between them clearly matters. It has direct significance to the characters and the story, and they’re all well-told stories with enjoyable, well-developed characters and intriguing themes. And you’ll note that most of them don’t overpower their heroes or (with some exceptions) have any sort of harem.

Now for a few which use the isekai origin rather badly, ie, I don’t see how the lead character’s origin in our world even really matters.

There are so many of these to choose from out there, but, then again, quite a few of them completely fail my one-episode rule, so I am a bit more limited in my personal candidates for such here, but I’m sure you can fill in the gaps.

Overlord
The highest-quality example I can think of where this particular failure occurred. A man whose life didn’t have much meaning outside a game he played suddenly finds himself existing as the character he played in a real fantasy world. He is now an undead lich with immense power and many dedicated followers. He begins to learn about this new world and interact with it, and along the way he inadvertently begins to take over the world. It has its moments, but it loses a great deal to how the story is following the villains… and to how the lead character really didn’t need to be from our world to have any sort of similar story. It may have been useful in the manga for explaining a multitude of tiny details about a vast cast, but it was fairly useless in practical terms.

Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?
Ok, so the girl who wanted that felt she was outcast as a freak in her previous life, so she wanted to be completely normal, aka “average” in her next life. This inadvertently was translated as making her super-powerful, so she stands out quite a bit. The fact that she is apparently more concerned with this than even with the assassination of most of her family in this world speaks volumes as to how little the past is really having any sort of effect on this girl and who she is. It might be amusing at times, but it falls way short in terms of quality.

Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody
Did not get past the first episode or two. It was just so freaking cliché and boring! And why did the overpowered, harem-blessed hero have to come from our world, anyway? That had zero impact on the plot!

Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?
Same thing.

Master of Ragnarok, Blesser of the Einherjar
Same thing.

Isekai Cheat Magician
Same thing.

Arifureta
Same thing. The one that I could only stand to watch out of sheer morbid fascination with just how bad it was!

Notice a pattern here?

Now, there are a few that are more… middling examples, I would say, both in quality and in the significance of the isekai trope within it. These are particularly debatable, and, of course, this is only my own opinion.

These are the shows where the hero’s otherworldly origin mattered, but not that much.

The Rising of the Shield Hero
The hero comes from our world, and doesn’t know much about fantasy. This might be a benefit in the long run, but he’s pretty well isolated from the start and beaten down in many ways. He rises, though, to become quite useful and powerful. His tale offers some interesting points of discussion. As for this one, I can see how certain aspects of the story and the characters are influenced by his origin and that of the other heroes in the story. But, at the same time, it’s the past within this fantasy world which is influencing everything, not the hero’s own past.

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime
A more straightforward example, I think, as the slime in question has abilities that were influenced by his death in our world. He also encounters several other people who were summoned instead of reincarnated, and thus the trope is more directly at work within the plot. However, there seems to be fairly little in the way of how heavily influenced these otherworldly characters are by their past. They are largely shaped by the world they enter, as opposed to having much shape leftover from the world they leave. There are also certain qualms to be found with the quality of the story, though it, too, has its moments.

Gate
A painfully obvious example in how directly the connection between worlds influences the events happening in both. One day a gate between worlds opens up in Tokyo, and all Hell breaks loose. The government sends the military through the gate to respond in kind, and everything that happens is because of how the two cultures and militaries interact. However, this one, also, has debatable problems in its narrative, in how powerful the protagonists are, in the harem which shortly develops, and, really, in how much it really all matters. That last is because, while the story remains unfinished in the anime, there remain pretty clear indicators that the gate is soon to close, and so while people will find themselves forever in a different world, and the two worlds are certainly being transformed by these events, there’s not really that much reason for them to invest so much in each other.

How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
Now, this one has both the overpowered lead and the harem and the narrative that gives way to flashy lights and flashing of body parts. Where the otherworldly origin of the demon lord in question comes into play is, quite simply, in how he takes his cues for his behavior from all the time he spent gaming. He was quite dramatic and forceful in his speech (the usual “I am superior and you will be crushed beneath my might” sort of thing) and so he imitates that here, being unused to dealing with people but now having a role he can play when he does so. Oh, and it also explains how he can be such a powerful demon lords without actually having committed any atrocities as he gained his power, that sort of thing.

The Vision of Escaflowne
This is a classic. It is a very enjoyable anime, with mature themes. There are only a couple of problems with the narrative. One is how the heroes know what happened in the backstory with Atlantis, and the other is why the protagonist had to be from our world. I mean, it had a clear effect on her as she had a clear effect, for time, on the world around her. But her soothsaying abilities were what really gave her an important role in events, while her relationships gave her importance to those around her. Both of those could be accomplished without her being from Earth, and her decision to return felt a little lackluster, given how much she said she loved the world she came to. Why not just stay in Gaea? And why not just be from there to begin with?

Magic Knight Rayearth
Same thing, really.

Monster Rancher
Very similar, outside the presence of roller blades. Oh, and the protagonist didn’t even bother returning to our world.

The Familiar of Zero
Same thing, except the hero finds a way to bring his bride between the worlds as much as he likes.

So, we have several examples where the better isekai anime placed some pretty significance importance on how the hero comes from our ordinary world. We have several lesser-quality anime which basically just throw it into the mix and don’t do anything real with it. And we have some middling quality anime where the hero’s origin is of middling importance.

What does this all mean?

Well, we all know that this trope is firmly established now, and it’s not going away just yet. There are a number of isekai anime still incoming, based on various manga. Some of them look interesting, in a way. The one titled, So I’m a Spider, So What, seems to be partially going the route of That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime in that the protagonist is reincarnated into a fantasy world as some sort of monster that doesn’t usually get the spotlight but may be surprisingly powerful in some way. But, as always, the question is what kind of story, what kind of characters, and what kind of meaning will be found in this and other upcoming stories.

To which, I ask, how much does their otherworldly origin matter? If it really matters, then clearly more effort went into everything that matters, and so it’s likely to be that much more enjoyable.

It’s not absolute, but it’s an interesting trend, isn’t it?

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Hyrule Warriors: A Great Gift for Zelda Fans

It has been a very long time, it feels like, but I got back into gaming. I bought a Nintendo Switch and a number of games (a process my wallet absolutely wept its way through). Naturally, I must comment! 🙂 Of course, for most – not quite all – of what I’ll talk about, I am pretty late to the party. But, the metaphorical show must go on! I just hope that anything at all I say might have some sort of value.

The first game I wanted to buy and play was Hyrule Warriors.

The idea behind Hyrule Warriors is basically to take the usual premise of The Legend of Zelda – that a great evil threatens the land and wants to claim the Triforce, and Link and Zelda and their allies must stop it – and turn it into a massive fighting game, in which one can choose from a wide variety of characters, and face down villains, monsters, and entire armies. There is a story, mostly though not quite entirely told in the form of cinematics, but it’s mostly a “go here, do this, kill as many enemies as possible without dying” sort of game. Both the main story and the many bonus challenges draw heavily on all the most major, lasting, and popular games of the franchise to date, but there is some original content as well. And, to keep things interesting, the bonus challenges change the rules a bit from one map to the next, which simply fascinates my brain as I seek to overcome the respective obstacles in the most effective way possible.

In short, it’s a great deal of fun!

The typical Zelda game is a quest to find and conquer various dungeon levels across a coherent map, collecting items, solving puzzles, beating monsters, and rescuing allies. All this, until one comes face to face with the final boss, beating them and saving the princess, with a few side-quests and mini-games along the way. By contrast, Hyrule Warriors is a straight-up fight fest made for the fans who love these games and these characters and Zelda in general. One moves straight from one battle to the next, with the various missions and side-missions popping up as they will, and the player(s) will either succeed or fail based on how effectively they can play. It can make one feel like one is running around like a headless chicken, but that’s the general challenge of it all, to adapt one’s own approach to the demands of any given battle.

There is a story mode which obviously started off as one tale, with a beginning, middle, and end, but which was added on to in batches with later expansions and DLCs. It’s a fair story, not too shabby, not too great or involved, and it manages to draw together the previous games of Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and Wind Waker, with nods towards other games, which are more heavily drawn on in the bonus challenges, such as Majora’s Mask, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, Link’s Awakening, Link Between Worlds, and probably more that I’m forgetting at the moment. If the plot served to bring various beloved characters and classic locations together, then the original characters and locations served to set up and advance the plot. Which, I will add, they did pretty well with everything that is original to this game.

I particularly adore the enchantress, Lana! 😉

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About my only real disappointment with the plot, really, is how quickly and unexpectedly it ends, when I was all ready for the next batch of content obviously inspired by another Zelda game. I was in the groove, man, and it just ended! 😉

And one thing which is just a bit annoying: when these standard, dime-a-dozen monsters get buffed up such that they die slower and harder than freaking boss monsters! Sheesh!

A particular point in favor of the game is simply how many alternatives there are. There’s a cast of nearly thirty characters, all with similar fighting styles for the player but nuanced and different in ways which one can use and adapt with. Several of the playable characters have more than one option of weapon, with Link (of course) having the most diverse array, but every weapon has its own benefits and drawbacks in various situations (and some are just cool to watch). When going through one of the bonus maps, there are a number of routes one can take, and a number of specialized rules to keep in mind. One can raise fairies to cast helpful spells in battle (which is a knack I do not specialize in), acquire materials to create potions for added effects in each battle, or create “badges” that enhance specific attributes for each character. One can play through the story, at various levels of difficulty, or play through increasingly difficult challenge maps, or take various standalone challenges, the latter of which includes an option of playing none other than Ganon itself, and, apparently, another challenge where one is one of the infamous Cuccoos. Each enemy defeated is experience gained, and so the character one plays becomes stronger and stronger, which means one must balance the slaying of enemies with the accomplishing of the mission at hand.

In complete honesty, I dislike the grind I face of having to level up most of my characters in succession, but I love – absolutely love, with all the bloodthirsty passion of my Viking ancestry! – the absolute, wholesale, complete, and utter slaughtering of enemies, mwahahahah!

And it must be said, no matter how many times I go through the story or beat a bonus map after the slog of getting to the evil overlord, I have yet to tire of those concluding credit cinematics. There’s just something magical about them. They’re a proper Zelda-themed reward for a fan’s triumph over the many challenges in the game. 🙂

All in all, Hyrule Warriors is a fun game the promises to entertain me for quite awhile yet. I’m glad I got it.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus!

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