Sunday’s Wisdom #410: Simple Answers

“Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I’m going to get, ‘Yes?'”

“Yes.”

– The Editor & the Doctor, Doctor Who
Series 1, Episode 7, “The Long Game”

This episode features an all-too-real “satire” of the news media being used by humanity’s rulers to keep them under control. As the Editor says, a word or phrase repeated often enough can influence everything from economies to borders to votes. They think they’re making their own decisions based on what’s real, but they’ve been lied to, manipulated, and quietly enslaved without them ever realizing it. When confronted with that last, the Editor says that’s an interesting point, and we get this brief but pointed exchange.

I will be the first to advocate for reasonable, rational discussion. I believe that knowing truth is not the same as understanding it, and without understanding truth, our knowledge of it can crumble and decay. However, there comes a point where a clear and simple line must be drawn because discussion is pointless, especially when faced with someone who doesn’t care about the truth at all. Not only can you not change them, but it can become counter-productive, as the poison of broken, evil rationale is allowed into our minds. The quest for understanding gets turned back on itself in confusion.

To have an open mind is usually good. But a mind that is too open is easily manipulated, easily clouded and filled with half-truths, lies, and rationalizations, easily broken and twisted, before it ends up shut and impossible to persuade again with genuine reason.

One must be open to change, but also firm in retaining what truths one already knows. As per usual, it is a question of balance.

There are many questions which people ask hoping for a philosophical debate, and even more which they ask in the hopes of propagandizing their choices. Sometimes, though it runs counter to many of our urges and much of what we may have been taught, it is simply best to give the clear and simple answer, and end the discussion there.

In a world filled with madness and lies that have the barest sprinkling of truth and logic within them, sometimes it is best to hold true to the simple answers and not give an inch.

It is not easy to simply stand there and take the veritable storm of verbiage that gets thrown at us with such fury, but the truth is the truth, and it is not always complicated.

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My Anime Dungeons and Dragons Party

So, there’s this trend going round a couple Facebook groups I belong to. The idea is to assemble a dream crew as a Dungeons & Dragons party. Some people have used characters from books, some from movies, some even from real-life deceased celebrities. Wherever they draw from, they pick someone for each of the classes, which are, in alphabetical order: Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.

It was cute and all, but it wasn’t until I saw some rather impressive parties put together that I really began to feel the itch to make one of my own. Heck, I may make a small series of this, one for books, one for movies, one for superheroes, that sort of thing. But for now, I simply indulge myself in making a D&D party made up of characters from anime.

I did set myself a rule, to keep things interesting, to not use characters from My Anime Justice League or my Anivengers. Can’t just keep repeating myself, can I? 😉

And, of course, only one pick per franchise!

I had fun putting this together, and I hope you enjoy it! Indeed, I suppose I unofficially challenge all of you, my wonderful audience, to come up with your own parties, anime or otherwise, as you like! Let’s have some fun! 🙂

Artificer: Usopp
One Piece

The man might never have been a particularly good shipwright, despite his best efforts, but it must be said, he can take pretty much anything at hand and create a vast array of unusual, unpredictable, and powerful tools. Not only did he assemble his own bag of tricks, more than once, with whatever materials he came across, but he crafted almost every version of Nami’s weather-manipulating staff as well. Most impressive, I say! Who knows what mad tools he could come up with in D&D, eh?

Barbarian: Tora
Ushio and Tora

I mean how much more of an obvious barbarian can you get? He’s a savage, vicious, man-eating demon, though that last part does get sorted out in time. He’s powerful, full of rage, and not at all hesitant in resorting to brutal, lethal force. He’s a creature of appetites, of hunger for delicious food, and he finds that he loves a good burger. And though he is not exactly dumb, he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed either. Yet, he has an unorthodox code of honor, and gives respect, albeit grudgingly, to those who undoubtedly earn it.

Bard: Isuzu
Log Horizon

I don’t really know that many bards in anime, let alone those who can legitimately use magic through their music. But, even if I did, I would probably pick Isuzu anyway. She’s so happy and innocent, so pure in her love of music. She might not be a “player” the way many bards are – and she’s too young, I’d say, for that anyway – but she’s still a formidable and respectable young lady, and definitely calls the shots in her relationship with her boyfriend (that got established early on, he does what she says).

Cleric: Neese
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

I was tempted to go with Etoh of the same anime instead, but we see a bit more of Neese. We see her purity and innocence, and the strength of her faith in her goddess. It’s enough to heal the injured, protect her friends, drive away all sorts of evils, and even resist a dark goddess that had ostensibly already devoured her, body and soul. I would have no issues trusting her with my life.

Druid: Aura & Mare
Overlord

Ok, I may have gotten a little desperate with my selection here. There aren’t many singular characters who fit the bill for a Druid, so it came down to this pair of dark elf twins. Aura is a physical fighter and tamer of mystical beasts, while Mare wields the magic of nature, such as the earth or plant life. The two of them together fit the bill, and they are both strong as well as frighteningly ruthless.

Fighter: InuYasha
InuYasha

This brash, prideful half-demon is strong and fiercely loyal, though he tends to keep his feelings behind a gruff, rude exterior. He can fight with his claws and even with his blood, but he most often uses his demonic sword, with which he can deliver truly mighty blows that cut down entire armies of enemies or break mystical barriers. He’s straight-forward and honest, but clever and determined in a fight, and devastating in battle.

Monk: Sakura Haruno
Naruto Shippuden

It was a close competition between Sakura and her teacher, Tsunade. She’s clever and has a number of ninja tricks and ninja weapons up her sleeve, but most often fights with her fists, her feet, and her monstrous, earth-shattering strength. And she’s a healer, too, with a great deal of medical knowledge gleaned from years of diligent study and learning. Exactly the sort of monk I’d want in my party!

Paladin: Makoto Misumi
Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy

Most of my selections are what they are because that is what they chose and they are fine with it. This one is not. He’s actually something of a reversal for this category. Where most paladins are faithful and on good terms with their gods, this young man and his goddess pretty much hate each other and would happily be without one another. Nonetheless, he gains a great deal of power through a deal he has with her, and through the blessing of the moon god who was offended by her unfair treatment of him, and he uses it to devastating effect in the defense of his life and his people. So, divine power and authority used to help others? He fits the bill, at least!

Ranger: Ryoma Takebayashi
By the Grace of the Gods

He might be young, but it would be a mistake to underestimate him. He survived three years in the wilds, facing beasts and bandits alike, with only his slimes for company. He does well in civilization, but, as a tamer and user of other magics as well, he is almost uniquely capable in nature as well. He has the necessary physical skills with knives, bows, and arrows, he’s skilled with making potions and other forms of alchemy, and he can move quietly enough to surprise wary guards without even trying. And that’s before he adds magical birds to his menagerie of familiars, through which he can see and hear undetected. He’d be magnificent as a ranger.

Rogue: Akame
Akame ga Kill

With godlike speed does she strike from the shadows, beautiful and alluring, a force of death with a mystical blade the likes of which can kill with even one cut. She’s an assassin of nearly unrivaled peer, fighting from the darkness and bearing the sins of many that the innocent might live and play free in the light.

Sorcerer: Misaka Mikoto
A Certain Scientific Railgun

A sorcerer in D&D is defined as having their magic rooted in some inherent gift, some influence of mystical powers on their bloodline, as opposed to something that is learned by study. To that, I believe an electrokinetic esper fits the bill quite well. And she’s both strong and cunning in its use, sometimes shooting lightning, sometimes making a sword out of iron dust, sometimes using a coin as a rail gun, and more. She’s pretty creative and has worked hard to master her inborn power, which shows in how competent she is with it.

Warlock: Ling Yao
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I know there must be a good number of them, but for the life of me I could not think of many anime characters who make direct bargains for power, not with fae, devils, or eldritch horrors. However, Ling Yao makes a bargain to take a Philosopher’s Stone into his being and become host for the homonculus known as Greed. He does this to save his life and also to obtain exactly what he has been after: the means to immortality. He intends to use it to become the next emperor of his nation, and he becomes quite the one-man army with the combination of his skills and wits with Greed’s cunning, regeneration, and ultimate shield, which makes his skin all but impenetrable. And heck! It even ties into how little magic warlocks are infamous for! 😉

Wizard: Merlin
Seven Deadly Sins

If the amount of power a wizard has is tied to how much knowledge they obtain, then Merlin is easily one of the most powerful ever. As well she should be, having gained an incredibly long lifespan in which to study, learn, and experiment. She’s got all sorts of tricks which she can conjure practically out of thin air, and the insights she has gained with her research make her truly formidable. This magic woman is dangerous, and it goes much better when that danger is directed at one’s enemy instead of oneself.

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My Isekai Life as a God-Sent Savior of the World

In the first episode, Yuji was powerful, but there was a clear limit to just how much he could do. By the time we reached the twelfth episode, they pretty much just nixed that and made him a mortal god.

My Isekai Life follows Yuji after his death in Japan and his reincarnation as a young adult in a fantasy world. He’s a tamer with one large wolf and an apparently unlimited number of cute little slimes, with whom he travels the land, helping good people and striking down villains with his vastly overpowered magic. Evidently, any magical text which his slimes touch instantly adds its spells to his inventory, and he can channel this magic through his slimes, making him a one-man battalion of arch-wizards, such that he is able to easily defeat enemies the likes of which strike terror into every other mere mortal on the planet.

Literally everything he does is too easy. It’s amusing at times, as he casually exceeds what people expect him to be capable of, to a hilariously overwhelming degree, but it really destroys the tension that we are supposed to be feeling. Even when he’s facing something godlike, there’s no excitement, because there is no chance of failure. His power is too great, his wits are too keen, and nothing bad is allowed to happen to him or anyone he cares about. Everyone else, the bad people, completely get the shaft, often at Yuji’s own brutal, cunning, merciless hands, but this is definitely the anime to be in if you’re not evil.

There was at least a little excitement in the first episode, when the audience doesn’t yet know any of this. Heck, after one really big spell, Yuji falls over in exhaustion, his magic virtually depleted. When faced with the necessity of doing the same spell again, there is significant tension found in how Yuji will have to dip into his life force (his hit points) to get the job done and save everyone, and he does it, falling unconscious as a result.

But come the final episode of the first season, Yuji apparently has no such limits anymore. He’s fighting a godlike being, using that same huge spell dozens of times, and defending four other regions through his slimes, simultaneously, spending his magic like a madman, far into the negative, but there’s no cost to his life force this time. The answer to how to deal with this enemy comes literally from on high, and Yuji momentarily wields a divine level of power, easily and without any cost to himself. It’s the climax, and there’s no suspense any more. None.

Oh, and apparently he’s an emissary sent by the deity of this world to save it from a bunch of false, destructive saviors.

Then there’s how Yuji’s character is “developed” through this. He remains aloof and stoic, from start to finish, showing little emotion, and yet somehow caring enough to defend the entire world all at once. He’s doing everything with only his slimes and his wolf to help him, completely avoiding getting close to anyone, making any friends, and yet he watches over everyone he meets even after he’s long since departed. His big “development” is when he realizes he doesn’t have to do everything alone… though he still continues to do so anyway.

It’s a whole thing where they repeatedly show the towns he’s visited and the people he’s left a lasting impression on with his overwhelming power and casual attitude. With enraged monsters coming at all of them, it’s supposed to be this big, inspirational moment when the people in each of these towns step up and defend themselves and each other (gee, how revolutionary, people fighting on their own without him holding their hand). And on all their lips, “Yuji.” Like he’s their god. And he has his grand epiphany, “It’s good to work in a team sometimes.” Not that he ever actually does.

Joeschmo's Gears and Grounds: Tensei Kenja no Isekai Life - Episode 12 [END] - Dryad Yay!

“Wow what inspiring character development!”

The slimes were cute enough, being small, blue balls with various cute expressions on them. They were also very powerful, being bouncy pocket dimensions and numerous conduits of Yuji’s magic. Proud Wolf was amusing, too, being more of a cowardly wolf, but he was fun. Various minor characters were easy enough to like or dislike as we were supposed to. But with exception to a priest, with wisdom gained from his tragic backstory, hardly anyone stood out as important in any way besides Yuji.

The cult of enemies was fairly standard fair, too. Fanatic zealots eager to give their lives in order to “cleanse this tainted world” of all evil, ie, utterly destroying it and everyone in it. Spies, traitors, agents of destruction, assassins, human traffickers, and so on. The music and scenery and everything else was similarly mediocre, not really standing out in any way.

All this said, I suppose My Isekai Life isn’t really “terrible,” per se. It doesn’t do any of those cheap, meaningless tricks to try and rivet the audience with shallow fan service or flashy explosions or over-complicated plots. There’s something to be said for that. It’s not a “bad” show, really. It’s just not that good or great, either. It falls pretty flat after such a strong opening, but Yuji’s adventures are still amusing, if not really that exciting.

It’s a lukewarm show, rather than either hot or cold. It won’t do it for people looking for something more thrilling, but it’s fairly nice. It makes one laugh, and it’s one of the more wholesome anime I’ve seen, both in general and especially this season. That’s still worth something, and, no matter how I might criticize the job it does in telling its story, it must be said: I dropped several anime this season for getting too inappropriate or too boring, and this was not one of them. I would certainly follow a second season as well.

Rating: I give it 6 stars out of 10, on the positive side of neutral.

Rating: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #409: Scientific Belief in the Unseen

“That which can’t be seen simply hasn’t been studied yet. Therefore, the most unscientific thing a person can do is refuse to believe in things they can’t see.”
– Sougen, Bucchigire!/Shine On! Bakumatsu Bad Boys!
Season 1, Episode 11, “Rush! To the Kyoto Showdown”

The exact context for this quote is a discussion about souls. The villains of the story have been harvesting people’s souls and using them to power devastating weaponry, and one of the protagonists, of priestly inclination, states that these souls are weeping. Of course, he understands if his companion, something of a mad scientist, may not believe in something as unscientific as souls, but the man replies with the above comment, and I love it.

It happens all the time where people who purport to subscribe to science and evidence and proof say, in effect, that they do not and will not believe in things which they cannot see. This is used especially, though not exclusively, in reference to religious subjects, like gods and the existence of immortal souls. It makes a certain sort of sense, because is it not illogical to believe in things that cannot be seen and have never been proven? However, those who subscribe to this philosophy often ignore or deride those many accomplished scientists, both today and throughout history, who have very much believed in things they could not see, both religious and otherwise.

Take, for instance, neutrinos. I especially love the story of their discovery because the scientist who proved their existence had to theorize about them first. He was observing data in his studies, found some irregularities, and, in accordance with the scientific method, he posited a theory. It was widely ridiculed at the time, but he persisted, and eventually he found his proof. Neither he nor any of his peers at the time could see them, had no proof of them, and yet he believed when others did not.

The original theory of continental drift was likewise ridiculed and dismissed despite a great deal of circumstantial evidence. That is, until we gained the ability to see what was going on at the bottom of the oceans, and learned that the solid ground on which we stand is actually a collection of fragmented pieces drifting around atop a burning ocean.

Our understanding of diseases, of bacteria and viruses, is relatively new as well. Until we were able to see these microorganisms, our treatment of the diseases they cause was absolutely terrible. But then someone found a way to look, and proved their existence, and modern medicine was forever altered.

Radiation was discovered by accident, by a scientist who was conducting a completely unrelated experiment and found something very odd. They observed, theorized, and eventually proved their theory, and now we learn about it in grade school.

All of these things, like the electrons which make up light, were things we could not see, not for thousands of years, but the effects of which could be observed. It took leaps of faith, if you will, for scientists to believe in them, and some of them did not even live to see the fruition of their theories. But that is what science is: the pursuit of knowledge which upends our previous understanding of the universe. Even much of Isaac Newton’s work was overturned in due time, and how foolish would have been the scientist who refused to entertain that possibility?

One of my favorite moments from the old musical The King and I is when the children of the king of Siam are faced with how small their country is and how little they know of the world. They even disbelieve in snow because, being in Siam, they’ve never seen it. But their father, the king, is wiser than his children, and instructs them to believe their teacher. He is of a scientific mind, one capable of believing things without having yet seen them.

How many more things are there which we have not seen, but which may be? Gods? The soul? Aliens? I mean, if start talking about aliens from outer space, people will laugh and call you crazy. Why? Because they haven’t been seen… yet. 😉

But if the past is anything to judge by, it seems to be a foolish thing to disbelieve something just because it hasn’t yet been seen.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean one must believe everything. I merely mean to say that basing every belief only on what one sees is far less enabling than one realizes. Indeed, if we base every belief on what we see, we will be wrong – dead wrong – a startling amount of the time.

We must be able to believe without seeing, or we cannot call ourselves scientific.

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A quick note

To any subscribers of mine who receive my posts quickly, a quick note of explanation:

Yes, I am working on a post dedicated to a D&D party made up of anime characters.

It’s nowhere near ready, but I inadvertently pressed “Publish.” And then I promptly screamed, shut the tab to try and cut it off, checked and saw that it did indeed go up, and hastily trashed it.

My apologies for any confusion.

Have a nice day, my wonderful audience!

And please excuse me as I go and shelter my cherry-colored face in a pillow and die of embarrassment until tomorrow morning. 😉

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Sunday’s Wisdom #408: Love is No Weakness

“The soldiers of Japan are certainly strong, but I fear you’ve also just revealed a tremendous weakness… You’re hindered by a crippling love for your people.”

“This weakness of ours happens to be our national policy.”

– Emperor Molt Sol Augustus & Koji Sugawara, Gate
Season 1, Episode 14, “The Great Quake at the Imperial Capital”

This exchange between an emperor and a diplomat comes on the heels of violent proof of the love in question. Having discovered one of their citizens being held as a slave by none other than the crown prince, they immediately sprang into action, rescuing the slave, beating the prince’s face halfway in, and gunning down the prince’s guards when they tried to intervene. The emperor sees in this a potential vulnerability, one which he clearly does not possess himself, as he uses and discards the people he rules. However, what he does not comprehend is that a nation built for the good of its people will always be stronger than a nation built for the good its rulers.

Now, I can’t speak for the nation, soldiers, and people of Japan. I am not nearly familiar enough with their culture for that. But I can speak for what I have seen in my homeland of America.

Twenty-one years ago, a horrific act of terrorism was carried out against my people, all of them unarmed civilians. Police and firefighters ran into a collapsing inferno to try and save people. We came together as one people regardless of any differences, and our friends around the world joined us in mourning and in seeking to destroy those responsible. Our soldiers went to lands on the other side of the world, so far from home, and many of them lost their lives, and took a lot of the enemy with them. Why? Because they loved their country and their people.

Now, there is a great deal more which could be said, and has been said by others, regarding quite nearly every possible aspect of what came before, during, and after. None of that is relevant to my point, and I am still dedicated to keeping politics largely off of my blog. However, an anniversary such as this simply demands remembrance, lest we forget and fail to learn.

Let the lesson be taken to heart: to threaten what a soldier truly loves is to court death. Encourage that soldier to love his country and his people, and that love is anything but a weakness.

In love, there is humanity, and in humanity, there is a strength greater than cold, practical rationality can account for.

Those who sit in power may be able to toy with the puppet strings that can devastate nations and play games of chess with people’s lives, but without a genuine love for their people, their power will always be much more fragile than they would like.

While those who love each other and love their people will be able to do the impossible and endure the unbelievable.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #407: Working Together

“Guys, you’re all so talented and imaginative, but you can’t work together as a team. I’m just a construction worker, but when I had a plan and we were all working together, I mean, we could build a skyscraper! Now you are Master Builders. Just imagine what could happen if you did that! You could save the universe.”
– Emmett, The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a kids’ movie, yet it speaks to a very primal struggle within the human condition. On one side is Lord Business, representing man’s desire for order, security, and the peace of predictability, of knowing one’s place in life, what one needs to do, because one has the instructions for it. But go too far that way and one easily slides into tyranny, conformity, control, and stagnation. On the other side are the Master Builders, representing freedom, individuality, and creativity, but also chaos and confusion. There are pros and cons to both sides, and the struggle of humanity is to find a balance between the two.

When Emmett says this, specifically, he’s talking to the Master Builders, who are very talented and creative and manage to see all sorts of strange and unusual possibilities which would never occur to him. However, they’re losing their fight against a monolithic enemy because they can’t work together. They’re too independent, and too hung up on being their special selves. They need to learn to give a little ground, to conform a little, if only to each other. Only then can they combine their magnificent skills and overcome their enemy.

Emmett’s example is a very good one. Construction workers are not exactly famous for their nonconformity, are they? They take direction and follow instructions, each man putting forth a great deal of effort, day after day after day. And the results of their work are not instantaneous, but slowly, slowly, the work of their hands takes shape, resulting in a marvel of ingenuity, engineering, and modern technology, reaching from the ground that these workers come from, all the way up to touch the clouds.

Isn’t that remarkable?

Of all the wonders of our civilization, which were conceived by learned, genius scholars, how many would have been built without the humble workers who were simply doing their part, earning their way, and working together as a team?

Every magnificent, awe-inspiring edifice, every inch of the sewers which greatly enhance the hygiene of our cities, vast networks of electrical power, highways and railroads that cross nations and continents like spiderwebs, airplanes and airports, universities and research facilities, hospitals and homes… quite nearly everything that gets built is built by all of us, together, and look how wondrous it is!

And yet we take it all for granted every day, don’t we? Just like the people who did the building are taken for granted. We idolize the geniuses, the innovators, the masterminds, the weirdos who buck trends and walk to the beat of their own drum, often to the point that they don’t work well with others. Such people are important, of course, but not more important or more special than everyone else. Even the greatest of visionaries is worthless without the mundane worker to support them, just as the mundane worker needs a visionary leader to employ them.

Balance is essential to life. To find balance within oneself is a lifelong quest, and it doesn’t often reach a conclusion in this life. That’s why we need each other, with all of our skills, experiences, perspectives, and jobs, so that we can all balance each other out as a community.

If we can just manage that much, if we can just work together regardless of politics, religion, race, class, creed, or anything else… well, just imagine what we could achieve!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #406: Too Much Thinking

“What’s the point in overthinking things?”
– Winry Rockbell, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
OVA #2, “Simple People”

When Winry says this, it’s part of a conversation with her friend, Edward. Ed asked why she got her ears pierced, and she explains about when she met a woman with earrings, and she thought it looked nice. Ed replies that seems like a pretty simple reason, to which Winry replies with this quote. And it makes sense. She is, after all, a mechanic, with simple, grounded concerns, and needing to address intricate problems as simple and effectively as possible.

Interestingly, the woman she refers to once kept her hair short, until she met Winry and thought her long hair looked nice. A simple reason, but, as a sniper, most things are simple with her: she pulls the trigger and an enemy falls. Simple.

It may be a bit strange for me to talk about not overthinking things, considering I write a blog that hinges on how much thinking I do about things that most people don’t think that much about. But I honestly appreciate simple things. There’s a power in simplicity, and beauty as well. Almost everything convoluted is actually pretty simple, if you can get a decent perspective on it. And how much of a mess do we humans make of things by overthinking simple things?

Take, for example, when people experience attraction and affection. I invite you, my wonderful audience, to name one thing that we overthink and overcomplicate more. We try to guess what each other is thinking, feeling, or wanting, we second-guess ourselves constantly, we put on charades of our best selves as we see them, we engage in extremely elaborate forms of courtship… really, wouldn’t be so much nicer if we could just say, “I like you and I am interested in getting to know you better. Would you like to go on a date?” And then to receive a simple, sincere “Yes” or “No” and move on with life.

I remember those old tips someone came up with for Evil Overlords. One of my favorites is, when the hero arrives to kill them, have a granddaughter standing there so you can say, “Please explain to my granddaughter why you are going to kill me,” and when the hero engages in a long, overly-complicated explanation of morality far above her head, she pulls a rope to send the hero into a pit of crocodiles. Mind you, I recall that one so vividly mostly because my answer would be to simply kill the overlord and say, “No,” but also because I wouldn’t need an overly-complicated answer. Morality can oftentimes be quite simple when it comes to what we choose and why we choose it. Complications are almost always attempts to try and bend morality to us instead of the other way around.

And then there has been my own personal experience at work of late. Skating around details, suffice to say I have been largely unsatisfied with my current station in life, and angry with myself for failing to do better. I’ve been trying to count my blessings, to stay positive and grateful for what I have, but… well… my job leaves me a lot of time to think about how much it sucks, and once one starts with that, it’s easy to get caught in a loop of negative thinking and negative feelings. I think about it too much, and I get stuck in a bad place a lot of the time.

It is very, very possible to think too little about things, to be ruled by easily-swayed emotions in the heat of the moment, but it’s certainly possible to go the other way, too.

As with so many other things, we must balance ourselves. Fortunately, that’s why we have each other.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #405: The Strength of Mercy

“To my mind, it’s the certainty in myself that I posses which allows me to have that kind of mercy or compassion. There’s no wavering on that point. It’s fixed like the stars. The fact is, I’m never gonna be killed. So remember this: mercy and compassion are virtues that only the strong are privileged to possess… and I am strong.”
– Claire Stanfield, Baccano!
Episode 11, “Chane Laforet Remains Silent in the Face of Two Mysterious People”

As a killer of monstrous capability, Claire is very physically strong and possesses a strong, steadfast force of will as well. He can be brutal and ruthless, but possesses a strong sense of honor as well, indeed it is this which directs upon whom his brutality is unleashed. One such enemy of his is a sadistic, psychopathic killer who simply takes joy, or some perverse imitation of such, in killing, in wanton bloodshed and murder. In the mind of Claire’s enemy, killing people is the proof of his power, and such things as charity, compassion, kindness, mercy, and love are nothing but shackles, self-imposed limits which are worn by the weak as an excuse for their weakness. He doesn’t understand how Claire can be so strong and yet tie himself down with such useless principles, but Claire already has his own resolve on this, and it speaks much more truly to the core of humanity’s decency and villainy both.

It has been observed by wise people that cruelty stems from a weakness in the soul, in the pain of something lacking, something that seeks to tear people down. Those who do commit vile deeds against innocent people are doing so because they are ultimately weak, and they cannot envision themselves as strong in any other way. It’s a cop out, an attempt to equalize their world in the easiest way possible. Indeed, how many of humanity’s worst deeds have been precisely for this reason? Columbine, the Holocaust, the blood-stained tyranny of the French Revolution, countless instances of robbery, assault, murder, rape, and torture, all because people surrendered to the very worst parts of themselves, all of them trying to beat others down so they could see themselves as “equals.”

Claire suffers from no such weakness. He is certain of himself, certain of his power, and certain of his morals. He feels no urge to tear others down, but to shelter those he is responsible for, those who cannot protect themselves. It’s easy to get distracted by the strength of his body, he even does so himself when he talks about never being killed, but it is the strength of his spirit which empowers him to show mercy to those who most need it.

There are all sorts of people, with all sorts of strengths and all sorts of temperaments, who have shown mercy and compassion to those around them. Some of them work tirelessly as medics or counselors. Some serve the homeless and hungry with everything they can possibly spare. Some put their lives on the line to protect those in danger. Some work to rescue their fellow beings from dire straits of every kind, or to comfort those who have endured loss, or sometimes they just share a kind word and give a brief helping hand in a time of need.

Most of these people have been, in some way, weak. Sometimes in ways which they needed help to overcome, and sometimes in ways which simply could not be changed. Everyone is or has been weak in some way. But when they take their weakness and choose to help others, to build up instead of tear down, that is when they are strong.

Anyone, in any walk of life, can be strong like that, in showing kindness instead of cruelty. We don’t have to be superhuman to do it. I would say it’s the greatest power and the deepest strength there is, and sometimes the only one we have.

The weakest person in the world is still stronger than the most cruelest, if they can still be kind.

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Useless Male Leads in Anime

In the practice of my one-episode rule, I watched the first episode of a fairly recent anime called Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie. It didn’t appeal much to me, but I was fairly certain other people would enjoy it, so I figured I might hear a little about it here and there in due time. I was surprised, however, when the first thing I started hearing was a controversy among the fans surrounding the male lead and the question of his uselessness.

Apparently – and I could be wrong in this because my understanding of the story is secondhand – the titular Shikimori is “not just a cutie” in the context of her behavior, the attributes of her personality, and, especially, how she seems to take on roles which are traditionally more masculine instead of feminine. She is the strong, dangerous protector, not her boyfriend. This leaves said boyfriend, Yuu Izumi, taking on a role that is traditionally more feminine in nature: he’s the caring emotional support, always in need of his girlfriend to come and rescue him.

Now, I can’t speak on that with any great deal of knowledge, but it does track with what I saw in the first episode. I’m recalling one moment, especially, where the couple in question is walking along a sidewalk, and a car drives by, passing through a puddle, sending a little spray in their direction. Shikimori reacted very quickly and forcibly, almost in a panic, as she pulled Izumi to the side and shielded him from the spray with her body. Considering that this was just a little bit of water, not some gun-toting madman, that seemed like a rather extreme overreaction to me. And then we saw her expression, and I was instantly convinced that she wasn’t just protective, she was crazy! That was the look of a territorial predator, a crazy yandere who would as soon kill her love as keep him locked up if she ever got even a little jealous.

This look means, “start running!”

That would be where I decided to stop watching because, as morbidly riveting as that look might be, it honestly made me very nervous, and I’ve had enough of stories that glamorize crazy, controlling stalkers, thank you very much! And I’m honestly surprised by how no one seems to be commenting on this girl’s behavior at all, just her boyfriend.

But bringing this back to the question of Shikimori and Izumi, it does seem that the girl was being the protector, the one in control of and dominating the relationship. I mean, those stories with stalkers tend to have them be male stalkers of female victims. It’s unnerving because it takes the masculine drive to watch over and protect others and reverses it, turning it into something perverse and evil. And seeing the feminine drive towards enduring devotion similarly turned into its opposite is equally disconcerting. But either way, this casts Shikimori into the role of both predator and protector, which are typically associated with men, who went out to hunt and who fought off beasts and other men to safeguard their women and children.

Which, again, leaves Izumi in the feminine role of needing to be protected, and being more of a nurturing support for those around him, instead of a fierce, aggressive protector.

Now, when the roles are reversed, put back in accordance with tradition, there are still issues to face, but not many would say that the supportive, compassionate girl is useless. She’s merely displaying a softer kind of strength, one that is every bit as vital to the human condition as a man’s aggressive nature. But when it’s a boy in that role, with a girl looming over him, instead of the other way around? Well, then he’s “useless,” fit only to be mocked. Copiously. Often in extremely inappropriate ways.

Why is this? Why is it that a girl’s controlling, overprotective demeanor is completely ignored, while a boy gets dragged across the coals for not being his girlfriend’s protector?

The answer is simple: because that is what men are supposed to be. It’s what we’ve always been, since time immemorial. We cannot bear children, or give them milk, so our task has always been to protect and provide for our families. It doesn’t mean we always have to be violent about it – witness: the value of being rich instead of being violent – but we have an inherent need to be useful. That is the entire basis of our value, our self-esteem, and the stories we love most are the ones where the man gets the girl after proving himself useful in some physical, practical manner. Take away our usefulness, and what kind of men can we even claim to be? How can we possibly even begin to be worthy of that ultimate triumph of life, the love of a beautiful woman?

Thus, nothing irritates us in quite the same way as seeing a useless male get the girl.

There’s Yuu Izumi, of course, whose girlfriend does all the heavy lifting, but that’s just scratching the surface. Just stop and think for a moment, how many useless male main characters can you recall?

There’s Tuxedo Mask, from Sailor Moon. Dashing, handsome, mysterious, and always popping up in a time of need, he nevertheless does not actually do much of anything, does he? Except look so pretty that the girls are left swooning over him. Not quite always, but the vast majority of the time.

There’s Kazuya Kinoshita, from Rent a Girlfriend. He’s shallow, selfish, and leaves a bad, potentially harmful review just because the great experience he had was one he had to pay for, which was the entire idea from the start! And that’s just to start with. Exactly what the girls see in him, I’m sure I do not know.

There’s Shinji Ikari, from Neon Genesis Evangelion. He’s one of the most infamous whiny crybabies in all of anime. He periodically fails to control his mecha. He fails to protect the people around him several times. Oh, and he pleasures himself over the comatose body of the girl he supposedly likes. Major loss of points for that.

There’s Makoto Ito, from School Days. He’s a philandering, cheating lech who somehow sleeps with girls left and right, despite all of them knowing why they shouldn’t. He drives one of his girlfriends so nuts that she literally murders him, and then his original girlfriend, who he cheated on, murders his murderer and takes his head to cuddle with on a boat. Yeesh!

And, foremost on my mind right now, there is Shu Ogata, from Engage Kiss. Another one I haven’t seen past the first episode, but that first episode convinced me that, by any standard, even one that would happily give all of the aforementioned a great deal of slack, this man is truly useless! Yuu Izumi’s role as a male damsel in distress looks positively noble and rosy by comparison!

The first episode of Engage Kiss establishes the following:
Ogata has no job.
He quit his last job with no plans for the future.
He refuses to get a steady job with a steady income.
He’s living with one girl who works and pays the rent and pays for whatever he orders online, the combination of which leaves her broke, and cooks for him as well.
He’s seeing another girl who pays for the meals they have together and pays his cell phone bill.
The additional fees of the cell phone bill and the online order come as pleas in form of, “If I can just spend a little bit more of your money after everything you’ve already done for me…”
Girl Number One, with whom he sleeps at night, can smell Girl Number Two on him, implying physical intimacy, so he’s unfaithful to the both of them as well.
When Girl Number One asks him about the smell of Girl Number Two on him, he lies.
He swaggers around, confidently full of himself as he enters an online auction for who will respond to a local, developing, life-threatening crisis – because that makes so much sense, but I digress – and he wins the bid by a far greater margin than is remotely necessary, undercutting all of the professionals present while simultaneously forfeiting the chance to even properly profit from this endeavor.
He immediately outsources much of the labor to a company owned by the mother of Girl Number Two, a company he used to work at. And his plan is to complete the job with the use of Girl Number One and her powers. So he’s actually still doing the same work he was back then, just very, very badly, making little to nothing himself while relying on the girls he’s cheating around with to do the heavy lifting, by every definition of the phrase.
Girl Number One’s superpowers require getting kissed by Ogata to fuel her strength, and because he hasn’t worked for at least three months, she is significantly weakened by his neglect and his idleness.
When things go bad, and collateral damage threatens the surrounding populace and nearby people, he is concerned with how it would damage the tiny fee he’s charging, and needs Girl Number One to immediately step it up in order to prevent further damage.
Finally, the two girls seem to be completely devoted to him, and actively try to kill each other to keep the other from stealing him.

So he’s a jobless, aimless, leeching, cheating, lying, swaggering, self-centered, manipulative, ungrateful, unrepentant, loudmouthed, idiotic, stupid bum who is actively choosing to get himself carried through life by the girls around him.

I am hard-pressed to think of single male main character more useless than that!

Seriously, WHY fight over him?!

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