Sunday’s Wisdom #404: The Virtue of Wanting More

“You humans think greed is just for money and power, but everyone wants something they don’t have.”
– Greed, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode 46, “Looming Shadows”

When Greed says this, he is speaking to the titular character, the Fullmetal Alchemist himself, Edward Elric. Ed has learned to distrust the urge to want too much, as it has cost him and his brother quite heavily, but Greed argues that people want it all. Exactly what they want may differ, as some want money, some want women, some want status, some want to protect those closest to them, some want to save the world, and some want a peaceful life and a dozen fat children with the person they love. But everyone wants something. Everyone has desires. This is part of what makes people… people.

I had an experience recently which taught me something about sin. The classic sins of pride, envy, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, and wrath are all based on basic human urges, things we all know and experience. Hunger, admiration, the need for self-esteem, the desire for justice, the drive to breed and reproduce, the need for rest, and the hope for profit, among other things. To simply have these urges is not necessarily a bad thing. What goes wrong is when we let those desires control us, overwhelm us, turn us too selfish, and especially when we hurt others just so we can satisfy ourselves for a moment. But, on the other hand, things also go wrong when we strive too hard against these basic human desires.

It is possible to be too greedy or too generous, too prideful or too self-deprecating, too wrathful or too forgiving. In short, to be too desiring or too complacent.

To be too ascetic in our pursuit of virtue is no better than any other sin.

Balance! Balance is the key here, as it is so often!

To find joy in what we have is good, but it is not a bad thing to want more. And it is not a bad thing to want more, but we must also learn to take joy in what we already have.

To be grateful and generous with what we have does not mean we cannot dream of more, and work to make those dreams a reality. And to be wealthy and accomplished, always working in pursuit of profit, does not mean a man cannot be charitable and help others with his time and resources.

All the wonders mankind has built have been by people who dreamed and desired of more, wanted and worked for more, for things they did not have before.

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Dear Disney: An Open Letter

“Dear Mr. Rich… no, Dear Mr. VERY Rich, hahaha!”

Specifically, Dear Disney Executives,

You are idiots.

Why do I begin this letter in such a fashion?

A particular author, now of famous renown, began what became arguably the single most famous story of his entire career with these words: “Marley was dead.” And he emphasized this: “Old Marley was dead as a doornail.” And a third time, “There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

There is much which I intend to say here, but the ultimate point of it all is that you are idiots. That is the one thing above all that you must allow yourselves to understand, or nothing wonderful at all can arise from the criticism which I am about to level at you.

Oh, make no mistake, the point of all criticism, in my book, should be to help make something better than it is, something wonderful. That is one thing, among many, which you seem to have forgotten.

And considering all that you have forgotten, let’s start with the most basic of basics: why you should listen to me.

Do not misapprehend my meaning in any of this. I suffer no delusions that I could run your entire corporate empire better than you can. You are highly placed executives, after all, and I’ve hardly ever been more than a janitor. You have a great deal of learning and experience, and you have done many things right. You stand on the shoulders of giants and you have not been entirely dumb about it. However, you have also done a number of idiotic things, things which you apparently plan to keep doing, terrible mistakes which have cost, and are costing, and will continue to cost you – and your audience – greatly.

I say this not as some well-educated, well-connected, well-financed, or well-experienced business mogul, but as a basic human being.

I speak as a member of your audience. Nothing more, and nothing less.

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

And that is why you should listen to me. Not that you should take my word as holy writ, just that you should listen to me because I am speaking as one of many dissatisfied, disheartened, disillusioned customers whose patience is not without limit.

Believe me, I know I must be easy for you to dismiss, if you even spare enough time and attention to read my words in the first place. But just as “Anyone can cook,” meaning that excellent talent and skill for an art can come from anywhere, any background, any setting, so, too, can a handful of good, financially beneficial ideas come from a random customer, just a humble member of that audience which is the source of your entire fortune.

Yes, that fortune of yours, all those billions of dollars, which is made up entirely from what people like me give to you, and which is constantly in need of refreshing. It’s no great financial insight that you need us to keep paying you. You must realize this, and yet you fail to take it as far as you need to. It’s far easier to maintain and even expand your fortune if we, your customers, are not only willing but eager to give you our hard-earned money in exchange for what you give to us.

You need us to not only consent to give you our money in exchange for what we get from you, you need us to be giddy about it, excited for it, screaming “shut up and take my money” over it. You have  some understanding of this, which is why you try to excite us, so we make our decisions emotionally, but that trick can work only so many times before we stop trusting you. You need us to be repeat customers, after all.

You need us to be not just paying customers, but satisfied customers.

You need us to be happy about it.

That is where my criticism comes in: we are not happy with you! I am not, and I know many others are not. You would realize this yourself, and realize what you need to do, if you were not so disconnected from us.

Yes, “disconnected” is precisely what you are. You do not know your own audience anymore. You wonder why things go wrong? Why your films fail to make you the kind of profit you want, or sometimes just flat-out fail? It’s because you are so out of touch with us that you cannot satisfy us anymore. Not in the kind of numbers you want.

You wonder what insight I could possibly offer on this subject? Me, a humble little nobody? It’s true, were I working for you, I am certain my station would not be a high one. Perhaps I’d be the guy who comes to pick up your plates after you finish some exquisite luncheon, scraping the trash you leave on your plates into the garbage can. This, while you sit and manage your multimillion dollar ventures.

Oh, yes, you live in a very different world from us, amidst gilded offices in palatial towers so far above the rest of us, so wealthy – with the money we give you – and so privileged that you don’t even need to toss your own trash. You have little peons to do that for you. Not like us at all.

You are disconnected from us. Terribly so.

You have forgotten that we are your customers, not your walking pocketbooks.

“I’ve nearly doubled the profits of this bank.”
“Yes, by wringing it out of the customers’ pockets! Their trust in us built this bank! You’ve squandered every last bit of their good will!”

That much is proven easily enough with the fiasco of Premier Access on Disney Plus. That didn’t much work out according to your plans, did it?

And yes, even an idiot could see the general outline of those plans. You spend a lot of money making your movies, and the natural goal is to profit from that expenditure. It must be very annoying having to share billions of dollars in revenue with all the theaters, which was not made any better when the COVID shutdowns rolled through, but you couldn’t do anything about that, could you? Not until you got Disney Plus off the ground, that is.

Once you got your little streaming service up and running, all you’d have to do is release your movies yourselves, with sole control over access to such, and then you’d be laughing all the way to the bank again, and screw all those greedy, money-grubbing theaters who dared to profit from all their hard work, as if tearing tickets, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, and filling bags of popcorn were anything compared to the strenuous activity of signing checks, right?

…right?

… … …right?!

The live action Mulan was the first. There were, what, twenty-four million subscribers already at that point? Charge thirty-five dollars each, and surely that meant you’d make 875 million! Cue the smoking of Cuban victory cigars atop piles of greenbacks! Instead, it made 70 million. A loss of 130 million, since its budget was 200 million. Hm, oh, is that you coughing, Disney executives? Was the cigar somehow dissatisfactory?

…well, ok, but that was just the first time. That was just a fluke, nothing more!

But that “fluke” repeated itself again and again, to varying degrees.

I can just imagine the various reactions throughout the ranks and commanding structure of everyone who decided what to charge for Premier Access. Surprise, confusion, shock, panic, “What is going on? Wasn’t this supposed to work? It was supposed to WORK! WHY ISN’T IT?! WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?!”

The problem, dear Disney Executives, is that you charged too much for it! AND DELIVERED FAR TOO LITTLE BANG FOR THE BUCK!

“Squeeeeze every last drop out of those insolent, musical peasants!”

Paying that much just to see it at home? Paying three months’ worth (or more) of a subscription service that we are already paying for, just to see it (at home) three months sooner? Ridiculous!

What was it one of you said? Something about how a single charge of thirty-five dollars was cheaper for a parent than paying for tickets for each of their children? Yes, that may be true in some cases, but this just further demonstrates the disconnect between you and us. You were wrong about how much people would pay for Premier Access, and you were wrong about why they should pay such an exorbitant fee, and you were wrong about who your customers really are! You are even wrong about what, exactly, your audience enjoys about seeing your movies in theaters!

Newsflash: it’s not just because it’s a movie! It’s not just because it’s your movie! It’s not just two parents with six kids who go to see your movies, it’s singles and couples and groups of friends, and everyone else who can pay their own way. We go and we enjoy the movie together with friends and family and complete strangers! We go, we leave the house to do something special, on a huge screen with special seats and special treats from the concession stand. It’s a special occasion!

Does it cost more? Sometimes, under very specific circumstances, if, and only if, one person is paying for more people. But even then, we get more out of it. MUCH more than simply sitting on our couch at home – which people were stuck doing during the COVID shutdowns anyway, yearning to get out – and paying far too much for nothing more than watching a movie. A movie we can eventually watch, at least home, for no further charges than continuing our subscription. A movie which, if we were honest, could very well suck! And then we’re out cash with nothing to show for it. As opposed to at least having been able to enjoy the theater experience, and probably for a cheaper price!

The fact that NONE of this occurs to you, as you look down on us from your ivory towers?

I say again: disconnected.

So long  as you are so disconnected from us, your audience, your ability to satisfy us will diminish ever further and further, and your profits will wither, or at least not grow as they otherwise would. They will pale in comparison to what you could have made. Heck, they already have, haven’t they?

Picture this: instead of getting one or two percent of your Disney Plus subscribers to pay for Premier Access, you instead got ninety percent, or ninety-five, or more. Imagine if every movie you released would regularly be viewed with Premier Access by virtually your entire base of subscribers. If you could accomplish just that much, then you really could make hundreds of millions, even a billion or two, with every single movie you put out, and corner the market for your product, truly competing with all of the theaters. All of that before even collecting your share of the cash from the theaters.

An appealing image, no?

And all you would have had to do… was charge something in the single digits for it.

A difficult idea to swallow? Then you haven’t been paying attention. You need to limit yourself in how much you charge us, or we will end up limiting what we pay to you.

This applies to you in more ways than one.

Take your Mulan remake, for instance. If you had charged four dollars, instead of thirty-five, there would be two major differences from how things actually played out: 1) you likely would have made around 30 million dollars more, because all 24 million of your subscribers would have been much more inclined to pay for it, and 2) you would have begun the service you offered with an act that built up trust with your subscribers and encouraged more of your audience to subscribe quickly, which would have further filled your pockets with more cash. Would you still have taken a hit with Mulan’s release? Yes, probably so. But it would have been a short-term hit with a long-term benefit.

Now, I’m not saying it had to be five dollars or less. It could have been eight, and then you would have barely felt any hit, if at all. Getting more customers is as easy as charging each of them less.

Single digit. And stop with the whole ninety-nine cent thing! It’s annoying! Just charge a basic, even amount, a reasonable amount that lets your audience feel like they’re getting a truly good, satisfactory deal, and their reservations will cease to be relevant! Sure, each individual charge might have been a quarter as much as it was, but multiply that by an audience ten or twenty or fifty or a hundred times larger, and you could well run out room to put all the cash you would have gotten and would, right now, still be getting!

You could practically guarantee making a billion dollars or more off of every movie forever, before collecting additional profits from your rivals, the theaters!

A tad better than losing a hundred and thirty million, no?

If only you provided a bit more to your customers and charged a bit less for it.

That’s the old axiom about profit, isn’t it? Sell the better product for a lower price? That’s how you get and keep more customers who are more satisfied with their purchase.

Speaking of, your mistake with charging so much for Premier Access is only one flaw to be addressed and improved upon. You want to make more money? You want to do so quickly and easily? You want to your new streaming service to do it? Then you really do need to entirely overhaul your use of Disney Plus.

“It ain’t no trick to get rich quick!”

Lowering the price for Premier Access would certainly be a good first step in the right direction, but you need to take that further. I know I am not the only customer who has been annoyed when you’ve increased the subscription price. Surely, you must be aware of that! And surely you must realize that if you keep increasing it, not only will fewer customers sign up for it, but you will eventually start losing subscribers. Thus, on behalf, of your customers, I just want to say… CUT IT OUT!

Once again, I must emphasize that we are your customers, and that we are not your walking pocketbooks!

You would do well to find some more efficient method of operating, and lower the price back down to something where we are grumbling about it a bit less and smiling about it a bit more.

And yet, this may seem paradoxical, but when we watch your content, or at least when we enjoy it, there is inevitably a desire for related merchandise. It could be for the kids you recall us having, for Christmas and birthdays and other special occasions, or it could be for ourselves, just some neat little thing that appeals to us because we were so entertained. You already have your own chain of stores, both in the real world and online, but you have failed to use your own streaming service to properly advertise your own merchandise.

“Hey, kiddies and parents! You like baby Yoda? Here’s where you can get an oversized plushy of him!”

“Hey, you liked the Avengers? Here’s a hoodie with their logo on it!”

“Hey, here’s all sorts of books, toys, games, soundtracks, and so much more, related to this show or movie you just enjoyed, all just one click away!”

Not only would all your merchandise be easier to find, but easier to want, and thus easier for us to buy and for you to profit from.

The rumor mill says you’re considering adding ads to Disney Plus to increase your revenue anyway. Why not use it to just sell your own stuff?

Speaking of, on a related note, next suggestion: sell physical copies of your content. Don’t restrict us to only watching it online, let us own our own copies.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me on this!

And the more customers, too!

You may fear that selling DVDs and Blu-Rays and whatever might hurt your profits from Disney Plus. After all, if we can just buy it to watch on our own, then why would we keep paying a monthly fee to watch it online? And, on the other hand, if we have an online library we can access any time, why buy our own copies at all? But this overlooks several key factors:

1) We would have to be far richer than we are, to be able to afford everything you produce. Being able to purchase our favorites, however, encourages us to keep trying out everything new, which means we keep paying for the online service, and are happier about doing so. Give us more freedom to go, and we are more likely to stay, to try all the new things you make. As opposed to practically extorting us for content we don’t always enjoy, and making us grumble.

2) You keep selling physical copies of your newest features, right? The movies that are released in theaters? So, obvious question: as you make all of your latest movies available for streaming, have you seen any significant decline in home video purchases for those movies? You’re operating a under a false dichotomy. It’s not one or the other potential purchase playing against each other, it’s both of them working together… when things are reasonably priced, at least.

3) We’ve been going and paying to watch your movies and purchase our own copies for as long as we’ve had that option! That’s what we’ve been doing all along, this entire time! We see the movie in theaters, or the show on TV, and then we buy our own copy because we love it so much! Why on Earth would that change with a show that we see first on your streaming service?

4) To simplify this: we see, we want, we buy, and then we keep seeing. Do you want to know how many home video purchases can be traced directly or indirectly to seeing clips of a show or movie on YouTube? Do these purchases diminish YouTube’s audience in any way? No. But, then, what can one expect from a corporation such as yours, which destroys the free advertising it gets on a massive platform when their audience so happily and excitedly shares all of their favorite clips?

Again, you are disconnected from us. You have been consistently failing to think about things from our perspective. You aren’t giving us what we really want!

On which note, a final suggestion for improving Disney Plus: upload everythingAll of your content. Everything you have the rights to. Everything Disney has ever made and still owns, right from the beginning! Every last second of every last title!

“I WANT IT ALL! I WANT IT ALL! I WANT IT ALL! I WANT IT ALL!”

Now that must be an impressive library, well worth paying a small monthly fee for, no?

Now, you may need to slightly redesign your website a bit to make it easier to navigate through this wondrous library. You can include filters for when any given title was made, sorted by the decade. You can sort them by what they are: animated shorts, cartoons, TV shows, live action or animated movies, educational material, etc. Genres of musicals, westerns, action, adventure, science fiction, fantasy, drama, and more. You can add tags for people looking for specific directors or actors. And ratings, of course, to sort it all by G, PG, PG-13, or R.

But whatever you do, the point is: improve your product! Give us everything you got, and we’ll keep giving you money for it!

Half the reason many of us signed up for Disney Plus in the first place was in the hope of having unrestricted access to everything Disney has ever made. And we have been sadly disappointed to find such a relatively small sampling of your classics, your history, while every new flash in the pan gets shoved into our faces at every turn like it’s surely the best thing ever.

What’s worse, we can’t even trust that what is on Disney Plus will stay there! Not with you catering to every supposed offense taken by the “woke” mob. Censoring your material, putting up trigger warnings, even outright removing various titles, the beloved classics of our childhood! We pay you, and you lessen what we are paying for, while having us pay more, all because of your politics!

And now, at last, we are coming to the true crux of the matter. All of the things I have mentioned thus far – your failure to satisfy us, your greedy grubbing for our money, your disconnection from us, your failure to capitalize on all the opportunities presented by your streaming service – have been symptoms, easily seen on the surface but indicative of a much deeper, fouler rot which must soon be excised:

Your political agenda.

The agenda that you, Disney executives, work to advance, and that many of your employees are rabidly devoted to, and which many of us, your customers, are finally growing weary of.

“I tell this city how to think.
I tell this city how to vote.
*I* shape it’s future.”

I use the word, “finally,” very deliberately.

See, in your disconnection from us, you have forgotten that we are not stupid. We know about your agenda, and we have known of it for decades. Yet we have not only continued to purchase what you have produced, we have absolutely loved it, year after year, decade after decade. All for you to turn around, with our cash in hand, and scream to the world and to our children of how “intolerant” we supposedly are. Us, your steadfast, loving customers.

You wield cancel culture, a culture you had a direct hand in cultivating, against every figure who does not conform, who does not agree with and support your politics.

You are increasingly blatant in the injection of your agenda into your productions, even altering favorite characters from our favorite franchises, preaching and shoving it down our throats.

You outright advocate, fervently, for policies which deliberately target our children, to indoctrinate them with your destructive political drivel.

You eagerly kowtow to the censorship of foreign governments while disparaging the country of your origin, all unaware that, far from gaining a greater audience, you are driving cracks into the very foundation of your empire.

You encourage one set of political inclinations within your employees, at every level, while stifling and ostracizing those of other political beliefs within your own ranks.

You foolishly try to cater to a woke mob that will never be satisfied, and will turn on you, yourselves, again and again in due time. This, while alienating the conservatives who have steadfastly supported you no matter the disagreements they have had with you, and who would continue to do so… if only you did not push them – push us – away, harder and harder at every turn.

I’m going to be blunt here: you have a lot of ground to make up with us, and if you don’t start making it up, you will lose us, and lose our hard-earned money, forever.

You need to become more balanced. You need to make Disney absolutely apolitical, where everyone is free to work and to express themselves freely, without fear.

You need to promote conservative ideals and conservative employees and let conservative projects get off the ground without inserting your own politics into them.

For that matter, you need to stop shoving your own agenda in our faces at every turn, period.

You need to admit your wrongdoings, apologize, and pledge to do better.

You need to not give an inch to cancel culture, which means you also need to stop using it, and seek to make amends with those you have wronged with it.

You need to remember the virtues of the country and the financial system which birthed you, and stop catering to our enemies.

“Let’s all make sure we give everyone somewhere to stand!
Just the way God planned it!”

In short, you need to move away from the politics and focus on telling good stories that we, your audience, will love. As the Disney of old once did, you need to just tell us good, quality stories, well-crafted and well-told. Give us back the heroes and villains of old, the songs we couldn’t help but sing along with, and the magic of storytelling itself.

Just imagine it!

Imagine a Disney that is not bemused by or at odds with its own customers, but entirely beloved like Disney used to be! Delivering a vast and increasing library of every title in your history, no matter who might dislike some of them! All of it easy to navigate online, with direct links to home video copies and other related merchandise, and access to your latest features! With everything so reasonably priced that your customers can hardly wait to pay you!

Can there be any doubt that your profits would skyrocket? That your customer base would multiply and remain entirely satisfied? Have you any idea how much you would make from all of this together? Thirty billion? Forty billion? Even more? Every single year?

…you wouldn’t mind becoming the very richest people in the world, now, would you?

A century ago, Walt Disney started with nothing. He devoted himself to telling good stories, the kind that helped children believe in the magic of dreaming, and working to make those dreams come true. He built up a beautiful kingdom unlike anything the world had ever seen before.

But you? You have inherited a mighty empire, the very world itself in your hands. And all you seem to do with it is grab for more money, more power, even turning on your own audience. An audience you utterly fail to understand now.

Idiots!

Listen to the man!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #403: Worth the Risk

“Although there’s lots of bad things in the world, there’s lots of good, too, and those things make the risk worthwhile.”
– Eliaria Jamil, By the Grace of the Gods
Episode 2, “Departure, With the Slimes”

Eliaria is a young girl, eleven years old, the daughter of a noble family in a largely peaceful world. When she says these words, she’s speaking to Ryoma, a young boy who has lived alone in the woods for a long time. Her family is offering to take the boy with them, to help him, and he’s entertaining the offer, but he’s uneasy about it. He’s never gone anywhere before, after all, and he’s not had great experiences with other people. But Eliaria explains that she is undertaking her first real journey with her family as well, leaving her home with the aim of doing new things and growing as a person. It’s a scary experience, she realizes, and there are some bad, dangerous things she and those close to her are encountering, but she’s also seen good things, and that makes it worth it, in her mind.

She’s so young, but already brave and learning wisdom, and her words were precisely what Ryoma needed to hear.

There is always an element of fear to everything new. That which is new is unknown, and that which is unknown could be harmless or it could be dangerous. People go about their routines calmly because they know them, they know what to expect. Going to new places, doing new things, meeting new people, all of these are exciting because we don’t know what to expect. So it’s easy to get caught up in our envisioning of worst-case scenarios, and thus become afraid and withdraw from this new, unknown, possibly-perilous thing.

There is prudence in caution, but to withdraw from everything just because it is new would leave the growth of our minds, our hearts, and our souls forever stunted.

Also, if we strive too much to avoid anything “bad,” we will certainly miss out on many good things as well.

Everything comes with risk. To pick a rose, we must brave the thorns. Mind you, it is more prudent to do so while wearing gloves, but we can still get pricked a bit anyway. The only question is what risks are worth taking for what we can gain from them.

In the case of Eliaria and Ryoma, they do experience some danger, see some monsters, but they learn a great deal in the process. They deliberately challenge themselves, and as a result they see wonders and accomplish things they never had before. Best of all, they form connections with those around them, becoming part of a larger family in their community. Bountiful rewards indeed for the risks they take.

There is much good indeed to be found in the world. It is a tragedy to never know them, and an even worse one to be held back from them by fear.

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(The Fun) In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki

Most longtime anime fans have encountered or heard of that unofficial genre of titles which consist entirely of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things (CGDCT). This anime, in a nutshell, is a mix of that with Naruto. It’s Cute Ninja Girls Doing Cute Ninja Things.

The ninja girls – or kunoichi – of Akane Class live in a remote, isolated village where there are no men. It’s just three dozen or so adolescent girls, organized into a dozen teams named after the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, studying ninjutsu under their teacher, and they’ve been there as long as any of them can remember. None of them has ever even seen a man before, and their teacher warns them constantly that men are scary. But for one of these young kunoichi, named Tsubaki, she finds her interest in men growing in ways which she has no understanding of, and no idea how to handle. It makes her, the foremost student of her class, hilariously adorable in her unease, and she can’t let on to anyone as to why she’s been getting so flustered!

The show follows a fairly simple formula, from episode to episode. It’s a slice of life comedy with some light ninja girl action involved, so it doesn’t get very tense. It’s just lots of fun watching these girls as they figure out themselves and how they relate to each other. Yet it touches on some surprisingly interesting themes, mostly in regards to the dynamics of various team relationships. No two teams are exactly alike, and so how they interact with each other is actually quite fascinating to me, especially as they display different styles of leadership from one team to the next. They talk about many female-oriented topics as well, such as, one example, how they can look cute or attractive. And, of course, they talk about men, despite every warning from their teacher not to.

The girls largely have a dismissive opinion towards men, having never encountered one before and having only what they’ve heard (from their teacher and each other) to work with. There is a girl who transfers in, about halfway through the show, who is much more familiar with men, and she is basically the fount of forbidden knowledge – despite, being an adolescent, not really knowing much herself – most especially to Tsubaki.

Indeed, Tsubaki seems to have a way of accidentally getting just enough information about men as to demand her attention, but almost never enough to satisfy her. She hears the voice of and almost actually sees a man in the first episode. She gets a new friend that she can ply with questions, but can’t be too eager about it. Same friend happens to mention what it is to be attractive – easily desired by men – so everyone begins practicing it, but Tsubaki has difficulty doing it on purpose. Then she sees two sketches of what is supposed to be a man, but they’re completely wrong, so she still has no idea what a man looks like after all. Time and time again, she gets so close to really learning about men, and it falls through.

Heck, it’s even an accident when her teacher lets slip, in front of her, that she’s been lying about how scary men are. Which completely freaks Tsubaki out, and justifiably so! Such that her teacher has to physically restrain her in order to explain the truth of their situation.

Apparently, the boy and girl ninjas of the previous generation were rapidly pairing off and leaving behind the world, traditions, and skills of the ninja. The ninja was on the brink of dying off completely because too many of them were falling in love! So, driven to extreme measures, Tsubaki’s teacher took her students to raise and teach them far away from all men! Even though doing so, it is intimated, meant she had to give up the man she, herself, was in love with. She made that sacrifice to try and save the ninja’s way of life.

It’s quite a sacrifice to make, but the storyteller in me can’t help but see a few flaws in this plan!

Pay attention, class! I shall explain!

Firstly, as the idea is to train these girls to be ninjas, one assumes they are to be let out of their village at some point. So, though they will have no prior experience with or understanding of men, it’s a certainty that they will meet them. They’ll be like lambs surrounded by lions, not only unable to operate in the real world, ignorant of things that everyone else would take to be common sense, but especially ill-equipped to deal with things like sexual attraction or being pursued by men. Everything will be brand new exactly when their bodies are good to go and up for anything, and they will have not learned a thing about self-control.

In short: the plan sets itself up for a catastrophic level of failure. It may have delayed the problem for these three dozen girls, but it definitely won’t avoid it altogether, and when it hits, it will be like a tsunami. Either the girls will couple up and have babies of their own – also a process they have not been educated on – or they’ll never couple up and never reproduce, and the ninja tradition ends anyway.

Speaking of, next issue: if the problem was that ninja boys and ninja girls were falling in love, what, exactly, was preventing them from having ninja babies? I mean, that’s how traditions are carried on the first place, passing from parent to child. Where did all the ninjas come from if they weren’t born into it, and where did these girls come from if their parents weren’t ninjas? Was the problem really that too many of them were falling in love, as humans are supposed to, or was it that they just did not want to keep being ninjas for the rest of their lives, so they quit and settled down with the deliberate intention of not raising their kids to be ninjas? And considering that the new girl is a ninja in training, coming from another village with both men and women in it, was it really even that bad in the first place?

Yeah, so, the premise of the show has some obvious holes. Best not to think about that too much, apparently! That’s not what this anime is for thinking about. It’s for laughing uproariously at the various antics of the girls, with their zany ninja skills, and appreciating the lessons about people, people, people, in their wide spectrum of personalities.

And that’s actually pretty much it, really.

It’s a bunch of loosely-related short stories, brought to vibrant, fluidly-animated and well-voiced life (at least in the original Japanese, I have no idea about any English dub), with a pleasing soundtrack. And I have to give a shoutout to the people behind the show for making a unique ending credits sequence for each episode, personalized to fit each of the teams in turn. That was a nice touch!

If you want ninja fun, lots of laughter, some character insight, plenty of little cuties, and absolutely no guys, then you might enjoy In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #402: It’s What We Do With Our Gifts

“Gifts don’t make you better, just different. It’s how you use them that counts.”
– Beast Boy, Teen Titans
Season 1, Episode 4, “Forces of Nature”

When Beast Boy says this, he is relating a lesson that he has recently learned anew.

It’s been two decades since the first time I saw this episode on what was then a brand new series, but it has stayed with me all that time.

The episode begins with Beast Boy engaging in what he thinks will be just a bit of harmless fun, but something goes wrong, and it proves not entirely harmless after all. He tries to laugh it off, meaning to make the person he aggrieved smile and feel better about it but also trying to avoid the guilt he feels. Guilt isn’t pleasant, and humans automatically try to avoid unpleasant things. But he must face that guilt and take responsibility for it, or else he will never improve, never be forgiven by himself or others, and all that will be left is the pain of a greater hurt.

Opposite Beast Boy are the episode’s antagonists, Thunder and Lightning, who love loud noises and dancing lights and have endless fun with them. But when their fun begins seriously hurting people, they must be stopped, no matter how they might rage against the boundaries being imposed on them. A much greater villain takes advantage of this reckless spirit and fans the embers of their pride, telling them how gifted and special they are and how no one should be allowed to hinder them, until they are consumed by rage, not even noticing that their “fun” isn’t fun even for them anymore.

Beast Boy, learning about being more responsible himself, is able to get through to Thunder, showing him the error of his ways, and Thunder is able to get through to his brother Lightning. They put right what they did wrong and humbly apologize for it. They have learned that they need to restrain their fun, to abide by certain rules which avoid hurting anyone. They learn, like Beast Boy, that they need to be more careful, and think about their fun first. And they learn that they can use their gifts to do better than they have.

From beginning to end, this episode is entirely something which children and teenagers need to learn from, lest they become grow up and, with all the power of an adult, end up destroying themselves and others.

The truth is that everybody has gifts of some sort. Sometimes it’s a talent that they can turn into a skill. Sometimes it’s a stronger body or a keener mind. Sometimes it’s the legacy of a father’s success, their wealth and privilege. Sometimes it’s the blessing of being in a free, prosperous country, which has been purchased by the blood, sweat, and tears of countless people. Sometimes it’s the uncanny ability to get along with and manage other people easily. Whatever it is, everyone has something, and some have more than others. But these gifts don’t make us “special.” They don’t make us somehow better than others and above the rules and responsibilities that everyone else lives by.

Being stronger doesn’t mean we should be allowed to take whatever you want. Being more charming doesn’t mean we should be allowed to have any kind of fun you want without limit. Being rich or being free from obligation or being beautiful and popular don’t give us a blank check to get away with anything and everything, no matter who gets hurt.

These gifts especially don’t mean much, ultimately, if we don’t use them to help others.

There are actors, athletes, and other celebrities who have used their success, wealth, and status to do nothing but serve themselves, to the detriment of those around them and even themselves. And there are those who have used the same to help those around them, selflessly, with love.

Same gifts. Different choices. And that is what defines them, just as it defines us.

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Slimes, Slaves, and Sexy Maids: The New Wave of Tropes?

It’s no secret whatsoever: when something new and unusual gets any sort of success, it gets copycatted out the freaking wazoo.

Hollywood’s scramble to imitate the Marvel Cinematic Universe is but one outstanding example of that. There’s also all the teen/young adult vampire romances – thank you so much for that, Joss Whedon and Anne Rice – which has further spawned more supernatural romances in general. And there’s the endless litany of repeated plots which have become genres unto themselves, everything from rom-coms to zombie movies to westerns and so forth.

Everyone who has much experience with anime know that anime, too, has tropes which are everywhere and have been done to death. Harems, isekai, fan service (including pantry shots), magical girls, beach episodes, monster sitcoms, princesses with flaming swords, tsundere and yandere girls, clueless male protagonists, overpowered protagonists, the power of FRIENDSHIP… the list goes on and on. And, as with tropes in other media, the over-saturation of these tropes in anime can often be traced back to the success of one or two titles which first employed them and became successful.

We have harems everywhere today, to an annoying degree, because shows like Tenchi Muyo were popular back when I was a kid.

We have a hilarious over-abundance of isekai today because of all the classics which utilized utilized it.

We have entire armies of ludicrously overpowered protagonists because of Goku, I am certain.

She started it all!

The classic tsundere girl now struts across a vast swathe of anime titles, because of the explosive popularity of Rin Tohsaka, Asuka Langely, and others, some two decades ago.

And whoever first began the trope of inserting truckloads of explicit fan service and panty shots into anime which would otherwise have been appropriate for children, I wish I could find that soul and enslave it so I could strangle it over and over and over again for the rest of my life.

Each of these now-widespread tropes was once an original, unheard of idea, one which was well-received and lingered in the public consciousness, and someone eventually used them again. And again. And again. Again. Until they became trends, and tropes, and one day we found that they were simply part of our cultural zeitgeist, completely common and ordinary.

And now, having gotten a good look at some of the latest anime titles that have been produced, I am noticing a few recurring ideas, a few emerging trends that I did not notice before. I have to wonder if I am once again witnessing this phenomenon as it is happening in real time. Some titles that have been produced either back-to-back or simultaneously have me thinking that we are, right now, being hit with the next wave of emerging anime tropes. Or maybe these are just momentarily copycatting fads that will fail and fade away, but I have my doubts about that. Every previous idea that became a trope, after all, did so because it was repeated more than once, and that is what I am seeing here.

I no particular order, I present a few of the repeated ideas that seem to be gaining some ground.

Slave Girls

In The Rising of the Shield Hero, Raphtalia was instantly popular even as she was also instantly a figure of controversy over her status as the titular hero’s literal slave. There was an explanation offered, of course, and their relationship has always been portrayed in the warmest, most sympathetic light possible. She even took some pride in belonging to him, and was only recently, and involuntarily, liberated. And he still has one or two girls enslaved to him at present time.

In a similar vein, the entire premise of How Not To Summon a Demon Lord was that, by some chance mistake, the two girls who tried to enslave their summoned demon lord had it reversed on them, where they became his slaves instead. Of course the demon lord is not a bad man, or a bad master, but he is still their master to the end, and they’ve even added another slave or two to the group.

While neither of these two titles is necessarily pivotal on their own, their success has probably been one factor in nurturing the idea of a protagonist who has a literally enslaved harem. I know that’s part of what the protagonist in High School DxD wanted, and now, much like when Asterisk War and Chivalry of a Failed Knight debuted as nearly carbon copies of each other in the same season, the latest season of anime has a pair of isekai anime where the protagonist goes out of his way to buy slave girls and it’s perfectly normal.

I refer to Black Summoner and Slave Harem in the Labyrinth of the Other World. It’s certainly more pronounced in Slave Harem, at least for now, as the protagonist went to great pains specifically to purchase his first beastgirl slave (with obvious sexual intentions) and is clearly going to be purchasing more such slave girls as the series progresses. But Black Summoner introduced the elf girl that the summoner purchases with nary a qualm raised by anyone. It’s perfectly normal.

And that’s not even going into what I’ve heard about that atrocious, sadistic trash fire, Redo of Healer, wherein the hero’s harem is individually tortured, broken, and taken sexual advantage of, and the outright slave girl – yet another beastgirl – probably has the best lot of them if only because her master isn’t out to destroy her in petty revenge for past wrongs.

So what’s next? Are we one day going to find ourselves looking around to find that harems of slaves have become in anime as is the rather unsettling tropes of brother and sister complexes, as well as lolicons?

Slimes

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime did something that I cannot recall another anime doing before: it reincarnated its isekai protagonist as a nonhuman, specifically a slime. And while the non-human protagonist may catch on in due time, slimes specifically seem to have been on the rise since, albeit largely in secondary roles, instead of as the main lead character.

There was, of course, Suu, in Everyday Life With Monster Girls, but the slimes got a more recent boost in By the Grace of the Gods, where it was shown that they could be cute little familiars, and surprisingly useful, as long as one can use their imagination. And now, once again, we have two new anime in the same season that feature slimes as familiar companions to isekai protagonists.

Black Summoner gets a second mention in this post, because a slime was the protagonist’s first tamed creature which he can summon at will. It is, as per usual for slimes these days, cute, adaptable, and highly dangerous, especially after it evolves into a much larger, stronger, more ravenous form.

The second anime to feature slimes this season is My Isekai Life. The slimes here are a small horde of cute little friends who can actually converse with their human tamer, and even act as conduits for his power. They’re practically a bunch of living appendages, letting him see, hear, and act from a fair distance away.

With a rising number of prominent examples in how useful and cute a slime can be, I have a hunch that their popularity and prevalence are going to continue to rise for at least awhile. Heck, taming and summoning themselves also seem to be having a resurgence, in the way of fashions coming and going and coming again in cycles.

Sexy Maids

Ok, I think I need to get a little more specific with this one. Sexy maids in and of themselves are not exactly a new trope, not in most any medium, and certainly not in anime. I can think of several romcoms featuring romances with characters who are maids, as well as more than one harem that includes a maid, and a few where the harems are entirely made up of maids, all of them very pleasing to the eye.

What I refer to, specifically, is the setup of a sexy, mature maid being largely alone with her master, a younger boy, and the obvious sexual tension of the situation.

The Duke of Death and His Maid had that exact setup, with a small twist. In that instance, the young man in question was cursed in some way where any living thing he touched would die and wither within moments. Thus the strangeness of his maid absolutely flaunting her desire to seduce him, which was weird enough given the boy’s age but was made doubly so by the fatality of what would happen if they ever touched just one time, even for the briefest of moments. It was the ultimate form of dangerous teasing.

That was one year ago. A year later, we have The Maid I Hired Recently is Mysterious. Once again featuring a young man, just a boy, really, living all alone with beautiful, exotic, highly well-endowed maid. In this instance, the boy seems to have his attention riveted to the maid in question, but apparently classifies his attention as suspicion instead of attraction.

If you were to be trying to remember one of these anime, and could only recall that it featured a young lord living alone with his busty maid, either of these could be what someone else thinks of. It might be a fluke, but if a third such anime pops up, I’m calling it an emerging pattern, just like every pattern which eventually became a trope.

Skeletal Characters

When anything is possible, which anime makes it to be, it is no surprise to have a number of undead characters, including ghosts, zombies, and vampires. But there seems to be a certain uptick of late specifically in characters who are skeletons. Not that there haven’t always been plenty of such as minor characters. I could probably cite dozens of those. But as main or nearly-main characters? There haven’t been that many, I think. Then came one skeletal character who not only became a main character, but in a show whose longevity is the stuff of legend.

I refer, of course, to Brook, the warrior musician of One Piece. He is fun and funny, he is fierce, strong, and has a unique power set, and, most of all, he’s got soul! Of course the audience has loved him from the moment we first met him, heard him singing, learned his story, and learned of his quest to fulfill an old promise for the sake of his comrades. He’s an amazing character!

Since Brook’s introduction, the screen of anime has been graced with several skeletal characters of note. Why, just a few weeks ago, we were following the adventures of Arc in the anime Skeleton Knight in Another World. And now, in this season, we are following the continuing adventures of Ains Ooal Gown in Overlord. And yet another, not long ago, in Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san.

That’s another trio of skeletons, after Brook, whose stories and characters could not possibly be more different, I imagine, being told one right after the other. And they’re main characters, not minor ones. That, right there, is trend already well on its way to becoming a trope!

Dethroned Demon Lords
(stuck in humble circumstance in our world)

The hero defeats the demon lord and something or other happens and they have a reverse-isekai experience: they come to our world from theirs, and here they remain, stuck. And, having no experience here, they’re unable to get those great, high-paying jobs, leaving them working humble jobs at the bottom of the ladder, struggling to pay their bills. They go from being all-powerful to barely scraping by.

So, which anime am I talking about?

Is it The Devil is a Part-Timer, where Lord Satan and a few others get sucked from their world to Earth and are stuck, without their power, trying to make ends meet even though that involves working as a server in fast food?

Or is it The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated, where the queen of demons is deposed, thrown to Earth, rendered into a childlike form instead of her true voluptuous self, and has to work as a server in a bar in order to keep a roof over her head and barely enough food in her stomach, as she searches for fragments of a jewel that will restore her power?

Or maybe it’s… ok, I admit, I have a third one, but my brain is farting on the title. It follows a group of four girls, including the former demon queen and the three warriors who defeated her. They’ve all been flung to Earth, and reverted to childlike forms, and are learning to live in this world. One of them is even trying to become an idol, though she walks away from a golden opportunity for such in order to save her friends’ lives as they’re fighting a fire monster.

Were I to mention sports anime or anime about girls that become idols in Japan, anyone could point to a couple dozen titles. I might only have three of them here – albeit, one of which I still can’t remember or properly google the title for – but sports and idol anime both started with one, two, and three, and I have seen at least three anime that use exactly this, the same idea. It would not surprise me if others came along. Indeed, considering the hilarity of the premise, I would be more surprised if they didn’t! 🙂

Gaming Mechanics in Isekai

I know that the premise is “the game becomes real,” but there’s a point where it just gets ridiculous, ya know?

Ever since .hack//Sign’s spiritual successors, Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, both aired, it has been increasingly common for isekai adventures to just say, “They’re in the game,” and leave it at that. That is a trope that has already hit us. What has not been so universal has been for the protagonists of these same isekai stories to be using in-game mechanics, things like touchscreen menus, icons, skill points, friend lists, forming parties, skill points, leveling up, cool-down time, rolling text to read, and more. The fact that many of these anime did not make it so literal for their characters to be in a game is somewhat ironic, considering the premise, and considering how both SAO and Log Horizon did, in fact, use some of these mechanics themselves.

That said, just because it hasn’t been all of them doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of anime which do. To once again cite three titles that I’ve already mentioned: Black SummonerMy Isekai Life, and Slave Harem. All three of these use several of the game mechanics I’ve mentioned, including levels, skills, etc.

Slave Harem uses a game-like system for identifying each person, a system that any number of people can use to call up a person’s ID card, and which the protagonist was able to use in order to identify and tail several bandits back to their hideout, so he could collect bounties on several of them. He can also equip weapons at will, making them appear out of thin air, or change his job to access skills based on what he needs.

Black Summoner uses levels to determine a character’s strength, and decide whose skills can overpower someone else’s, as well as skill points to gain certain abilities as necessary.

My Isekai Life features menus from which the protagonist can select all sorts of spells to use, and even link them together to use in various ways.

This is on top of So I’m a Spider, So What, which uses rolling text, skill points, and leveling up to further the plot and the development of the character. Heck, there are even moderators, like in a real game.

And that’s just the beginning. I could probably find another dozen or so if I wanted to. So, out of all the examples here of trends which may be rising to become entrenched tropes, this one is probably the furthest along.

Have you noticed any others?

All these repeated ideas are things which I have just noticed happening right now, a pattern emerging from the last handful of years. But I don’t see everything, and I’m curious about this. Indeed, I am fascinated by the opportunity to watch something new as it takes shape and comes into being within our culture.

So, I absolutely must ask you, my wonderful audience, have you noticed any? Can you think of any more ideas that are being repeated, turning into trends and possibly into tropes? What else is in this rising wave, this unending flow, which seems to be gaining a greater presence within the stories we tell?

EDIT: I was going to mention, but completely forgot, otherworld pharmacies! This season’s had at least the third anime to feature such within a year! (sorry, just had to get that out of my system 😉 )

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The Executioner and Her Dark and Epic Way of Life

This feels like one of those times where the author said, “You know what? Let’s take these tropes and make them as twisted and disturbing as absolutely possible! Let’s go the extra mile to really freak people out!” And considering how freakish anime already gets – it’s infamous for such, and rightly so! – this says something! But, I suppose it makes sense, in a way. In a world where the classic childhood tropes of superheroes, magical girls, and color-themed warriors for good have all been twisted into dark, edgy, gritty, degraded, and twisted horror stories, a’la The BoysInvincibleMadoka Magica, and Power/Rangers, it’s really only a matter of time before almost everything gets the same sort of gruesome treatment. In this case, it’s the otherworldly isekai trope.

For those who don’t know, isekai refers to the type of story where people from our world are summoned to, reincarnated in, or otherwise fall down some sort of rabbit hole that takes them to another world, one of magic and fantasy. They have all sorts of adventures in this other world, sometimes playing a pivotal role in events, and sometimes returning home at the end of the story. Sometimes they’re a “chosen one” that must save the world, but lately the protagonists have tended to be overpowered warriors with harems. It’s largely turned into an escapist fantasy where everything is ultimately easy for the male lead.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life

…ok,  I must pause here and rant about that title, because it annoys me to no end! It does not roll off the tongue very well, and it’s not especially accurate, either, I think! I’m not saying the original Japanese title, Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road, which translates to “The Executioner Girl’s Virgin Road,” rolls off the tongue any easier, but I can at least see the meaning behind it! The plot takes the protagonist on a famous pilgrimage for the first time, so it’s literally a virgin road for her, and she is forced to experience a number of new things that she never has before. It’s poetic, and more accurate than the English title. They could have at least tried for something more like that, such as “The Executioner’s Odyssey,” or, failing that, they could have gone with something much shorter, like just, “The Executioner,” or, “Executioner Girl.” But no. They couldn’t do something as straightforward as that.

OK, rant over.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life takes the idea of Japanese school kids being summoned to another world – a trope which has, of late, absolutely saturated anime and manga in general – and turns it into something horrifying. Mind you, there’s always been something disquieting about a story where a teenager, or even an adult, is stolen away from the world and away from their life in it, and made to walk a dangerous path filled with blood, terror, and many unnerving, unsettling sights, not to mention all the death. However, this anime aims for something much more systematic, wherein the summoned children are both victims and villains, and the world they are summoned to is rife with lies and corruption. The summoned children are driven insane by their own power while the native people around them are ruthless and treacherous.

ADD Moment: I have to wonder, with so many children being drawn from modern-day Japan, and sprinkled all over this other world throughout hundreds and even thousands of years, what must the missing persons rates look like?

The story begins with a fake-out, one of those bait-and-switch introductions where it looks like it’s going to go one way, but then suddenly shifts direction, “PSYCHE!” It figuratively murders all the usual tropes with a the literal murder of the typical isekai protagonist. You know, the bland, self-insert guy who is summoned, but then has some useless magic power that turns out to actually be super powerful and dangerous, complete with a fateful meeting with a pure maiden who guides him along the way. This time, the pretty girl is a priestess who is tasked with finding and executing every single summoned child in the world. She tells clever lies, puts her targets at ease, gains their trust, and then, the moment they turn their back, the moment they’re vulnerable, she kills them. She has some feeling for them, as they did not ask to be brought to this world, and if she does her job right, then they are not yet guilty of any crimes. But she kills them anyway, without hesitation or remorse, in order to protect her world from them.

This is Mennou, an executioner-priestess, and she is the very best at her job. She is also known as a Flarette, for being the student of a renowned executioner named Flare. They and others have killed many Japanese children. The complication arises when the latest one of these, a girl named Akari, proves impossible to kill or otherwise dispose of by any conventional sort of means. Thus, while still pretending to be Akari’s friend and protector, Mennou has to travel the world in search of a way to kill her, with the assistance of an aide, a girl named Momo, who loves Mennou so much that it’s a bit creepy, and a sometime-alliance with a warrior princess, Ashuna.

What none of them realize, at first, is that they are, in fact, going through events that they have gone through countless times before. Akari’s power is over time itself, and a future version of herself has rewound the world many, many times, to try and save Mennou’s life, so that Mennou, and no one else, can kill her.

That is absolutely a bizarre, twisted, and somehow morbidly-riveting setup. And it barely touches the surface of what needs addressing in this world.

There is a church which rules the world, at the top of society, higher than the kings, as it was in Medieval Europe, prior to the Reformation. They take on themselves the duty to safeguard the world from the summoned children of Japan, citing the devastation that such have wrought on the world in the past, including four great Human Errors, cataclysms which these children unleashed that are still present and looming in their respective prisons. Even to this day, there are terrible massacres which are credited to these children, and the Church fights to prevent even worse from occurring ever again!

…or, at least, that’s the rhetoric of their propaganda, and it smells more of shit than any sewer in history.

We see, straight up, in the first episode, that the summoned kids have influenced the world quite a bit. Japanese culture, language, and modern technology have all saturated the world, and while that does speak to a certain level of dominance, it also speaks to the fact that these summoned children have clearly had more than merely a destructive effect. We also learn that at least one of the smaller disasters was caused not by a summoned child, but because the church was conducting an inhumane experiment on them. But the church rules the world, and gets to tell the story that everyone believes, so they blamed the poor, lost girl that they, themselves, victimized and murdered. So, how much else of what is wrong with the world have they falsely cast onto innocent shoulders? Finally, it is intimated in the conclusion of the first season that the four Human Errors were dealt with by – surprise, surprise – another summoned child, all mention of whom the church has systematically erased and buried.

Crazier than she looks.

Now, I will readily admit, there does seem to be a kernel of truth here and there. The propaganda states that the use of their powers erases the memories of summoned children and drives them insane. While the extent of that is unknown, it may, indeed, be true. The initial would-be protagonist used his powers once, and his mind seemed damaged, as he immediately began imagining how he could hurt the people he doesn’t like with it. Akari has apparently used her power tremendously, rewinding the world so many times, and her memory of Japan is simply gone now. And the Error called Pandaemonium is a girl with an unsettling array of abilities, who is absolutely, murderously crazy.

And then there’s how, whatever has happened in previous iterations of these events, they have always culminated in Mennou being killed by her own mentor, Flare. This is what sets Akari to turning back the time of the world, apparently so many times that the prisons which hold the Four Human Errors at bay are crumbling from the effects. Oh, and Flare is apparently aware of this, aware of all the repetitions, and is knowingly, willingly helping things along by willfully murdering her apprentice over and over and over again.

I don’t know yet if this story will prove to be ambitious or just too convoluted, coming from a mind which is deliberately twisting all the tropes around like this, but it has certainly only just begun, and I would be interested in seeing where it goes, in the end. Preferably fairly soon.

As in, for several reasons, I would rather this was a shorter anime.

It has plenty of flash, and a certain amount of intellectual substance, but I’m not really feeling all that invested in the characters themselves. Mennou has her eyes opened to the reality that the church is not inherently saintly, yet she still does not question the narrative she has been fed, at least not yet, which seems to be a personal pet peeve of mine. Akari’s mad desire to be killed only by Mennou, when it would seem that Mennou will eventually come to care for and die defending her, makes very little sense. Momo has an annoying and unnerving complex towards Mennou, such that she jealously calls Akari “Boobalicious” or something like that when she’s never really interacted with the girl. And Ashuna, whose trail somehow just magically keeps crossing theirs, is little more than a proud, scantily-clad brute with big breasts and a big, flaming – of course it’s flaming! – sword.

The main supporting characters

The content often leans towards the disturbing as well. I mean, one should have expected that when the first episode featured the brutal, graphic murder of a young boy, but they really try to push the envelope here. The character of Pandaemonium exemplifies this, first seeming like a random, crazy girl locked in an Iron Maiden, and then we see what she can really do. To be blunt, it is bloody and viscerally disturbing. Kudos to the author and animators for unsettling me so effectively, but it does turn me off a bit.

All in all, The Executioner and Her Way of Life – and my brain is still twinging with how awful that title is – seems more preoccupied with making things dark and epic, instead of simply telling a good story. It has its good points, but it could be better, and it certainly could be more wholesome.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #401: Pioneer Spirit

“The pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort, and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were determined to make the New World strong and free, an example to the world. Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. …and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils. Beyond that frontier are uncharted regions of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice. I’m asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age. Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space, and the inside of men’s minds? All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we shall do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try.”
– John F. Kennedy, as quoted in Justice League: New Frontier

These words come from a real speech which Kennedy gave at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. There’s a great deal more within these words, of course, these are clipped together from throughout the latter portion of his speech. It’s very good work, capturing the spirit of an age, and the people at its helm, within two minutes of talking. That spirit, the spirit of the pioneer, is one that looks into the distance, looks into the future, looks into all that which are unknown, and finds the wonder, the danger, the challenge, and the promise of it all, and rises to meet it with the whole of one’s mind, body, heart, and soul.

Like much of the past, the spirit of the pioneers seems to have been largely forgotten by the people of today, such that children, who ought to be the most inquisitive and adventuresome of all living souls, are deprived of even learning it in the first place. It is a sad thing, and were it not for the tale of my own religion, my own family, I might well have never learned of that spirit either.

The roots of my faith pass deeply through the travails of such pioneers, some of whose blood still runs in my veins. We have a personal celebration this week to remember those men and women who blazed the trail, laid the foundation, built so much, and suffered much hardship in so doing. I am awed and humbled by the recollection of them, passed down through my religion and my family for generations. I am both inspired by them, and shamed by how poorly I have met the challenges of my life. These were humble people who believed in something greater than themselves, and built towards that in an endless labor of faith with hearts full of love. In contrast, what have I done?

But that is the wrong question, isn’t it?

The entire point of the pioneering spirit, much like my faith, is not what we have already done. It’s what will we do with our future?

With what spirit will we meet the problems of the world? What efforts will we undertake, giving what of our resources and ourselves, and in what company? With what resolve will we face ourselves, and the truth of ourselves, venturing into our own minds to challenge our demons?

The answers to these questions cannot be known beforehand. They can only be found, and made, within the moment. That is what every story is ultimately about: stepping into something we do not know and figuring it out on the way. That is pioneering. That is living.

That is true and real life.

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A Cute and Hilarious Love After World Domination

I grew up watching Power Rangers. From Mighty Morphin to Time Force, with a bit of Wild Force there at the end, if I recall correctly. It has been a very long time since I paid the franchise much attention, but even if one cannot enjoy the same show as an adult that one did as a child, still, it will hold a place in my heart for all the childhood memories.

One of many things which I recall: it was almost always a staple of the franchise for there to be a sexy, female villain somewhere in the mix. And the franchise has, once or twice, toyed with the idea of redeeming her via a romantic entanglement with one of the heroes of the show.

Love After World Domination takes that idea, of a forbidden love between a power ranger and a princess of darkness, and turns it into one of the cuter and more hilarious romantic comedies I have ever seen.

The story follows Fudo, the “red ranger” member of Gelato Five which fights for world peace, and Desumi, the Reaper Princess of the evil organization called Gekko which seeks world domination. Desumi and Fudo have fought each other numerous times, each being a formidable warrior in their own right, and somewhere along the way… well, Fudo developed a huge crush on the sexy and scantily-clad warrior woman (one must appreciate his taste, at least!). After his mentor inadvertently encourages him to go for it, not knowing who Fudo was crushing on, Fudo confessed his feelings to her. It took her completely off guard, but he convinced her to give it a chance, and they began dating in secret.

Now, I’m going to get my criticism of this out of the way, first. Their lives are dominated by their jobs, and Fudo is a well-known public figure, so they can’t date openly. Thus, they “date” while on the job, while their respective teams and comrades are fighting each other in battle. Gekko attacks a place, Gelato Five defends, and the two lovebirds vanish somewhere no one is looking to “fight one on one.” Call me crazy, but it turns me off when I consider that the two of them are 1) not actually doing the jobs they’re getting paid to do, and, more importantly, 2) they’re being all lovey-dovey while their comrades are risking and enduring bodily harm for their respective causes. That, right there, is a huge betrayal of both of their teams. It doesn’t really sit right with me.

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(not that I can exactly blame Fudo for getting distracted!)

When I can avoid thinking about that, mostly because nobody on either side gets hurt very badly, then I can enjoy how cutesy and loving they are to each other, and the hilarity of them getting almost caught so many times. The instantaneous switch from a couple on a date, to their convincing impersonation of mortal combat, and then back to their bashful dating, was impossible to not smile at. The dumb luck they had in maintaining their reputations despite obvious indicators of illicit activities was hilarious as well. And when one or two people did find out, their choice to help them keep their secret was rather endearing.

That emotional connection allowed the show to develop the world and its characters to varying degrees. It was actually quite amusing to see the people behind both the rainbow-themed Gelato Five and the six “princesses” of Gekko with their monster bosses. Mind you, with only a dozen episodes to work with thus far and not much in the way of tension, most of the characters basically came and went through the spotlight that remained almost entirely on Fudo and Desumi. Still, I could probably tell you at least one interesting thing about each member of the cast, because they made it enjoyable to behold their love-centric adventures.

Ultimately, I would say that the point of the show is that people are people. Fudo is a hero, but he’s also a person, with strengths and flaws, and his devotion to Desumi is commendable even if it is treacherous. And Desumi, for all her freakish strength and the pressures of a family that is committed to Gekko, which is why she works for them in the first place, she is ultimately just a normal girl. They’re both remarkable in their own way, but they don’t really need to be in order to be true to themselves. Indeed, that normalcy of human connection is probably their single greatest strength.

And, it must be said, this show is loaded full of satire. It makes total fun of the entire setup of evil Gekko vs righteous Gelato Five. And yet, it does so in a most pleasing, enjoyable way. It actually made me recall something I wrote a few years ago, when I reviewed The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness.

“I have no objection to making fun of the tropes or turning them on their heads and whatnot, but doing it right means doing so tastefully, with a certain humor that balances self-deprecation with witty commentary, and often in a way that influences the plot into something unexpected and emotional. It’s the art of comedy, telling stories that point out the joyful paradoxes of life, and making people feel happy about it.”

Ness’s book did not do very well with that, but Love After World Domination did it exactly right, and it was great!

So, we have lovable characters who each get to shine a bit, a hilarious adventure of forbidden love, and a pleasing satire of an entire genre with all of its tropes, all wrapped into one.

Yeah, it’s not perfect, but I really liked this one!

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #400: We Are Human

“We know the truth. We know we’re not devils. We know we’re not gods. We’re human. We’re only human!”
– Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode 4, “An Alchemist’s Anguish”

When Ed says this, he is speaking with the voice of bitter experience. He has learned the mystical art of alchemy since he was very young, and he’s proven to be extremely gifted, skilled, powerful, and accomplished. But he’s made mistakes which have cost him greatly, trying to overturn death itself for his own selfish, childish desires, as if he were a god. He has been called a devil by some, and, at this moment, he has just witnessed the horror of the alchemy he studies being used by a depraved madman to do something unspeakable, an act that was veritably of the Devil. For all the knowledge and power he wields, Ed was completely helpless to save a little girl from a most horrific fate, just as he was unable to bring back his deceased mother. In the face of these, in the face of this pain, he was as powerless as any other human. Which, really, that’s all he is.

That comes back again towards the end of the story, when he faces the truth: he is just a human. That’s all he’s ever been. No more, no less. Just human.

For being such a basic truth, people seem to forget it easily, and quite often: we’re just human, all one and the same. Nothing makes us more or less than that.

There’s no chosen, superior race. There’s no inferior race, either, no backwater tribe of inherently evil savages. There’s no human who can rule the world like a god and make everything perfect. There’s no virtue in trying to become a devil, in doing things we know are evil, “for the greater good.” There’s no baseline of how high or low we can reach, no biological dictator of our behavior for good or ill. There’s no one who is “better,” and no one who is “worse.” No one is “special.” All of our heroes are flawed, all of our idols have committed sins, and even the lowest and most vile of us can show surprising glimmers of selfless heroism.

Not to say that there are not truly evil people, of course, or truly good folk. Merely that neither is so far removed from us as we are prone to think, and we will never be so far removed from everyone else either, no matter our accomplishments or our crimes. We can be as good or as bad, as great or as low, as we choose to be.

We are not devils, here to destroy. We are not gods, here to make everything right. We are just human, here to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

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