The Diamond Eye is a Treasure

This is one of those jewels, those diamonds you find in the sand and can’t help but be so excited that you talk about it with your friends. That’s how I heard of it, from a friend, and now I am passing the praise along. This is an amazing and exceptionally well-written book!

The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn, is a historical fiction based heavily on the real life of one Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Soviet lady sniper who fought in World War II. She is said to have put over three hundred invading Hitlerites into the ground, earning her the nickname Lady Death. She was so notable that she was selected for a goodwill mission to America, to build support for sending military aid to Europe as well as the Pacific, during which tour she surprisingly became BFFs with none other than the president’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Before the war, Lyudmila was an aspiring historian, largely a normal girl from a good family. When she was fifteen, she met a gentleman (not really) by the name of Alexei Pavlichenko, who promptly seduced and impregnated this girl and then abandoned her a month after their son was born. She raised her son and continued her studies with the help of her parents, and she earned her certifications in marksmanship as well. Then the Nazis invaded and, faced with what they would do to her family, to her son, she enlisted in the army in their defense. She fought alongside hundreds of thousands of comrades who made the Nazis pay steeply for every inch of ground, even while they, too, paid quite steeply for their efforts. She fought, she killed, she made friends and buried comrades, she witnessed all the horrors of war, she was badly injured several times, she fell in love with a handsome officer, she became famous for her dispatch of an accomplished enemy sniper and was used in propaganda to encourage her people, she won a number of American hearts as well during her visit and her tour of the country, she eventually passed on all of her skills to the next generation of a thousand sniper women as an instructor, and, finally, she survived the war and settled down with a new husband, raising her son and becoming the historian she always wanted to be.

That is a lot of quality storytelling fodder, right there!

There are, of course, some liberties taken by Quinn, which she is upfront about in the afterword. As is the way of storytellers adapting real-life accounts into novelized format, she altered for economy, added for color and flair, filling in the empty spaces and providing plausible answers and resolutions to many threads which the real historical accounts left dangling. This is not, and should not be treated as, any sort of official or truly accurate biography. It is a real woman’s story that has been made more palatable to consume as a novel. It cannot be entirely accurate, but the heart of it is true.

And it is a truly fascinating read!

For one thing, to see the war from the Soviet civilian and soldier’s perspective is not something I have experienced very much. Their mindset and way of life, what drove them to fight and die in such massive numbers, was something I had hardly ever considered. It made me see the people of the USSR in a new light, and, in complete honesty, it made me feel very sad for them. The realize how these men and women, much like the soldiers of my own homeland, selflessly gave everything they had to protect their families from Nazi atrocities, and to avenge those who could not be saved, was powerful. It demands a measure of respect, and it made me feel quite sad for them, knowing that everything that Hitler had his army do to them would ultimately pale in comparison to what Comrade Stalin did to his own people, the people these soldiers fought and died for, was heartbreaking.

I don’t usually dwell much on an author’s writing style, but Quinn displays an intriguing style that somehow feels both personal and professional. The story she weaves together with history is relayed to us, the audience, in a fashion where one can believe that a soldier is giving the account. That’s quite a trick to pull off, maintaining an emphasis on what would be the hard facts of an experience while simultaneously entrancing the reader with the poetry of the soul. Perhaps this soldier had to give this report a number of times, but now is able to share it over a fire with friends, as she marshals her memories for the memoirs she is compiling. It is very well done!

With this style, Quinn relates the tale of Lady Death with all of its attendant humanity. This is not one of those larger-than-life figures that comes out of myth, legend, and the frozen wilds of the north, but a real woman, a real person, with real struggles and ordeals, suffering real loss and experiencing real triumph. She’s shy at times and loud at other times, humble of herself and proud of her defense of her country, capable of smiling, laughing, and shooting three hundred enemies dead. She is both invincible and vulnerable. She’s a soldier in the Red Army and a woman under the Soviet Union, the gravity of which is shown to us rather than told. And where her detractors insist that a woman could not possibly stay sane while doing that much killing, it is presented in a perfectly sensible manner. She’s a mother, after all and I invite anyone to name anything in this world that is more naturally dangerous than a mother.

The only thing I found to be unrealistic – and there was plenty of realistic detail in this story – was when Lyudmila confronted a sniper in the USA, a would-be assassin of the second President Roosevelt. Not that the confrontation itself was implausible, and I loved her victory. It was the fact that, there having been so such incident in real-life history, Quinn had to have the characters decide to keep it quiet. Which makes no sense whatsoever. I mean, with Roosevelt wanting to get America into the European theater, and the Soviets wanting America to do so, and the lady sniper’s American tour already being a resounding success, I can think of nothing else that would so thoroughly guarantee America entering that fight with everything it had than for the American president to be almost assassinated but saved by a Soviet soldier who was already famous and popular. Had it actually happened, they would have wasted no time crowing about it from shore to shore. Roosevelt would have been raised even higher as a paragon, all of his detractors labeled as outright traitors overnight, and the Soviets would have been seen as brothers in arms in desperate need, with Russia’s now-favorite daughter adopted as America’s most dangerous sweetheart. In short, it would have been one of the grandest coups in human history, and there is no way they would not have capitalized on it.

With the exception of that singular detail, however, I found The Diamond Eye to be enthralling in every respect. Quinn obviously put a lot of work into this, and her work shines brilliantly. I find myself possessing a sudden, keen interest in reading all of her work. My TBR pile just got a number of additions to it! 🙂

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Grade: solid A-Plus!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #392: The Right to Be an Ass

“You can’t take away people’s right to be assholes.”
– Simon Phoenix, Demolition Man

Demolition Man is one of those sci-fi action films that examines the human condition and summarizes with beautiful simplicity the struggle between chaos and order, freedom and control, and the need for balance.

Simon Phoenix, as a mass-murdering psychopath who thrives on pain, suffering, disorder, and death, is one of two villains in the story. The other is a man who prizes order and perfection as he defines it, with himself at the top. The latter tried to use Phoenix as a pawn with which to wipe out his enemies and gain complete control of the world around him. He pays for that scheme with his life, just as he is basking in the opportunity to turn everyone who lives into idealized, perfectly behaved drones, and these are among the last words he hears.

Of course, coming from such a villain as Phoenix, there is a certain amount of ground that needs to be given. He, after all, absolutely glories in wanton destruction. He talks about not being controlled, but he also stands for having no self-control, and demonstrates the madness of such. Indeed, he exemplifies how some external controls, such as the police, are needed in order to safeguard others from those who will not control themselves in the slightest. The law is often a sword, but it is meant to be a shield, first and foremost.

However, once the need for protection has been met, anything further turns the law from a shield into an anvil, a chain, an iron collar.

Once the rights of a people are protected, their freedom depends on that being the very limit of what can be legally done to them. By anyone. For any reason.

One doesn’t need to look very far to find people being offended about… anything and everything, including how others talk, how they walk, how they dress, how they do their hair, what they have, what they believe, how they present themselves… the list is truly endless. And, in truth, some offenders really are rude, disrespectful, bigoted, etc. In short, they may be assholes. But that is something that we just have to live with.

It is incumbent on all of us to control ourselves, and it is also necessary to enforce certain controls upon others for the safety of those around them, but it is a long and slippery slope indeed to try and force others behave in any sort of idealized fashion. It simply doesn’t work, and, sooner or later, we will find a Phoenix rising to burn us for it.

We may demand that our rights be respected, but to demand anything further is to invite enslavement.

The asshole must be free to be an asshole, or else neither he nor us will truly be free to be anything else.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #391: Save the World Together

“If we work together, we can save this world!”
– Lana, Hyrule Warriors

In the game of Hyrule Warriors, this is really just a throwaway line. You know, the sort of things that they just have the characters randomly say that shows what sort of person they are and keeps things from getting dull as the player fights furiously to fulfill all the game’s objectives. And, true to form, this just shows how sweet and hopeful Lana is. Yet, there is something about this line which has been lingering with me of late.

If we work together, we can save this world.

I mean… it’s so simple, isn’t it? And yet, despite how trite and idealistic it might seem, is there anything more obviously true?

Each of us is only one person, and each one of us is practically alone, lost in the massive currents of the world, the flowing of billions of people in any given direction. The power to control that flow, and everyone in it, has been the dream of many a tyrant. It would be a most intoxicating drug, wouldn’t it? To pull a string here, and the faceless horde responds. To beat a drum there, and the rabble marches in lockstep. Alas for such ambitions, humans are willful creatures, even when we’ve been beaten down for generations. It’s simply impossible for one power to control us all. And thus the age-old tactic: divide and conquer.

We are divided by race, by religion, by class, by gender, by nationality, by ethnicity, by location, by circumstance, by city vs country, by ability, by interest, by ancestry, by family… every possible distinction is set within a box, and as we are boxed in, we are torn apart and set on each other. The amount of suffering this has inflicted and increased is entirely without limit.

It weighs on us, on our very souls, and we cry out for salvation. Please, we plead, someone come, someone save us all!

But the salvation we crave might well be more within our reach than most of us ever realized.

It’s within our own hands and the hands of our neighbor who is different from us. We see the world differently, and if we gave up on trying to be right, who knows how much we would learn? If we stopped staying within our boxes, and tore down the barriers the divide us, how much would we accomplish? If we stopped squabbling, stopped hating, and started loving instead, would not the world be saved, right then and there? Would war not end? Would the hungry not be fed? Would not every tyrant in the world be powerless against the combined flow of all humanity?

The greatest tragedy of human history may well be nothing more than our failure to work together, to love each other, no matter our differences, as we love ourselves.

On the other hand… this simple solution may also be our greatest hope.

To save the world, all we have to do is work together.

To love each other. To forgive each other. To accept that we are all the same, and we are all in this together.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #390: Undeniable Love

“No matter how brief a child’s life, the love of the parents is a power that should not be denied. And know this… it is immune to imperfection.”
– Karsa Orlong, House of Chains
Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

The exact context for this scene is a bit more macabre than one might consider appropriate for a Mother’s Day quote. Karsa Orlong is a truly savage brute with many cruel and terrible deeds to his name, and right now he is confronting one of the entities which falsely posed as gods to his people. This one, in particular, demanded the sacrifice of their children, that those babies with defects be given to her. True, they were going to die anyway, and she has kept their souls, empowered them with her magic, but nonetheless, this false goddess has partaken in the pain of parents bereft. That is something which even a vile, inhumane barbarian must make answer to.

It does not matter if their time was limited to days or hours or even seconds. All parents and children have a limited time together. Even the longest of lifetimes is just a number of seconds, often ending without warning.

It does not matter if they were flawed. Who in this world has never been flawed in some way? Do not flaws make diamonds that much more spectacular, that much more coveted than a flawless, artificial version?

Love does not consider such things, not for even a moment. Love is not reasonable or logical. Love does not weight costs and benefits, or look for reasons to disqualify. Love simply is. It exists. It lives beyond the limits of this world, beyond the power of time, beyond the power of death.

Ignore it at your peril.

All of this, all I know of love, I learned from those who love me. I have learned from my steadfast friends, from my amazing sisters, from my stalwart father, and my ferocious, unstoppable, grizzly-bear mother. In them, I have been blessed with a most wonderful treasure.

They taught me what love is, and showed it to me. Even though my family has long since broken apart, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have each others’ backs, that we will protect each other as best we can, no matter the storms that come upon us.

That is something I have been so thankful for, so many times.

As flawed as we are, we love each other. For all the time that we have, and beyond, I love them, and they love me.

Thank you, Mom, for loving me. I love you, too, and I am happy beyond words that you are my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #389: To Know is to See

“Knowledge only makes the eyes see what was there all along.”
– Cotillion, House of Chains
The Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

I recall a moment from my time at college. The discussion between students and teacher had turned towards the stereotypical image of the scientist who learns how the universe works and loses the child-like sense of wonder that first drove them to learn about it in the first place. We were asked, how real is that? I mean, obviously it happens, but is it truly so inevitable? Several voices were answering yes, that some of the wonder must surely fade from the eyes of the learned. I raised my hand, and my voice, in disagreement. A child might catch a falling snowflake on their mitten and see it shine and melt and be gone, and they move on to the next shiny thing, but a scientist? A scientist can catch a snowflake as well and, in looking on it, be struck dumb with wonder because he or she understands the ancient, cosmic forces of the universe which have been packed into and made manifest by this tiny, transient drop of frozen water.

The child may be innocent, but also ignorant, their attention lasting only an instant, while the learned scholar can still be thinking about this snowflake hours, days, weeks, or even years later.

When Cotillion says the above quote, the circumstances are a bit less wholesome than this memory of mine from school. Suffice to say that he is conversing with someone who wished to have remained an innocent little nobody, ignorant and ignored by the world. She curses the knowledge she now has, knowing the chains which lay already on her soul, but knowledge just shows what was always there, whether she knew it or not.

Those who have learned hard, unyielding truths, and who now bear the burden of that knowledge, may indeed wish that they never knew whatever it is that they know. However, knowing something does not bring it into existence, and not knowing does not prevent it from existing. The snowflake in my analogy exists either way, whether it’s a child or a scientist who notices it, or whether it’s noticed at all. The difference does not lie with the snowflake, but with the person who sees it.

Gravity did not come into being when it was discovered. Even now, there is much of it which is not understood even by the foremost minds in the world, but it still continues to function as it always has. It is our understanding of it that has grown.

That is how it is with every branch of knowledge. Each new discovery is exactly that: a discovery, a new illumination of what was always there to be seen.

And already, there is so much to know, so much to learn, of ourselves and each other. People of different lifestyles and backgrounds, of nations and cultures and sub-cultures, all go through life knowing and seeing so little of their fellow man. City folk understand tragically little of the country folk, little realizing everything that goes into the food they simply buy at the store. Meanwhile, country folk can have as simplistic a view of their city-dwelling kin as the city folk have of them. But there is more to learn there, more to be known and seen and understood.

How much more needs to be learned for there to be peace among us? For ancient enemies to see each other as humans instead of as faceless foes? For black and white alike to see that there is not such a difference after all between them? For the rabid zealot to realize that we are all alike, all fellow humans, that we can love each other as children of the same god?

To know a person is simply to see who they truly are. That is all.

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My Surprised Enjoyment of My Dress-Up Darling

Sometimes… every once in a great while, something comes along that simply… surprises you.

I am reminded of a lesson taught in Ratatouille, that a chef of excellent skill – and, by extension, an individual of masterful skill in any trade – can appear from anywhere, meaning they can come from any background, anywhere. In a similar fashion, it would seem that a delightful, enjoyable, high-quality story can take quite nearly any form, even one that is most unexpected, and most surprising.

And surprised I most certainly was by this anime!

I not only enjoyed My Dress-Up Darling, I freaking loved it!

To fully appreciate that, well… it’s 1) an ecchi-themed 2) romantic comedy that 3) heavily features cosplay, which should have been an easy three points against it, especially with all three of them together, because 1) I’ve been craving more, not less, wholesome entertainment, 2) there are exceptions, but I generally do not enjoy most rom-coms, and 3) the vehicle of it (cosplay) is something I have never had much interest in. Really, this could and/or should easily have been one of those instances where I watched the first episode, per my one-episode rule, and tossed it in the discard pile. Heck, the smart bet would have been that I wouldn’t even finish the first episode!

But within that first episode, they did everything exactly right.

It featured the proper establishment of the characters, including who they are, what they’re like, what they want, and what they struggle with. It showed us a meeting between two people who seem practically worlds apart from each other, but find that they share common ground in their unusual interests. It displays the early stages of a relationship, a genuine friendship that feels perfectly natural and doesn’t require any special gimmicks or hoops or anything to force the situation, where two people are building each other up instead of one or both of them tearing each other down (which, these days, is a resounding breath of fresh air!). And both of them have practical capabilities which contribute to the new experiences which they are embarking on together.

Was it surprising to me to be enjoying My Dress-Up Darling? Absolutely. But it was not at all surprising to enjoy a show that started off quite so well and so capably.

If this had been a military engagement, My Dress-Up Darling would have been Alexander the Great as he faced a Persian army much larger than his own, wherein he achieved absolute victory against odds that should have been impossible. Alexander did this by having his entire army charge straight at the enemy king, who fled and left his army to surrender. My Dress-Up Darling likewise focused on what was most important: telling a good story with lovable, relatable characters.

Speaking of, the story follows two Japanese high school students, Marin Kitagawa and Wakana Gojo, as they venture together into the world of cosplay.

These two are great!

It starts off with Gojo, who was taken in by his grandfather after his parents died and grew up in their family’s hina doll shop. Gojo completely loves these dolls and how beautiful they are, which leaves him a bit isolated from his peers because he does not know what they could possibly have in common. That comes after an incident when he was very young where the one friend he had, a young girl, verbally attacked him for loving dolls so much. To this day, he has never made another friend… until Marin comes crashing into his life, that is!

Marin and Gojo seem to be a study in opposites. He’s a plain-looking dude with little style of his own, zero friends, very quiet and shy and always getting stepped on and taken advantage of by his classmates. Marin, by absolute contrast, is stunningly gorgeous, fashionable, popular, surrounded by friends, very confident and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She’s all this, and humble to boot, not putting herself above others or above the same mundane tasks that everyone is expected to do. Seriously, she is amazing, and is officially the first girl ever to actually give Nami of One Piece a proper run for her money as my anime crush. 😉

By twist of fate, Marin learns that Gojo can sew quite a bit better than she can, a skill he learned in order to clothe the hina dolls his grandfather makes. She asks for his help in crafting her first cosplay outfit, and Gojo says yes because he recognizes a kindred spirit in her passion, which he admires. Thus, they become friends, working together, sharing and expanding their interests and experiences, talking freely about anything and everything, and so on. It’s written on the wall – or, rather, it’s written in bright, blinking neon across the entire sky – that they will become more than just friends, in due time, but in the meantime they’re simply two people who get along surprisingly well.

I just want to take a moment here, just pause, and talk about how their relationship stands out to me as exceptionally enjoyable to see. Many of the other couplings I’ve seen in anime have been nothing short of absurd, even offensive, or sometimes just inexplicable and unexplained. I could probably wax eloquent with an entire post here, but I shall forebear for the moment. Suffice to say that the simple selfless sincerity and respect they show to each other makes for an astonishingly pure and – dare I say it? – wholesome relationship between Gojo and Marin. Which is ironic, considering how saucy things get throughout this anime!

Which, of course, brings me to a sort-of complaint, regarding how I can’t exactly share this show with the kiddies. It is, as I said at the start, an ecchi show. Meaning they do not hesitate to show most of the female anatomy in very enticing and alluring ways. They show off Marin’s figure with very little left to the imagination, they insert plenty of innuendo, there are panty shots, and there’s the scene where Gojo sees a girl (not Marin) naked in his bathroom. Not to mention everything involved in the entire situation when Marin dresses up as a succubus. Yeah, that sort of thing kind of puts a damper on, for instance, going, “This, children, is an example of a wholesome relationship between two good people!” (Sigh!)

That said, I have seen instances in entertainment where the more sexual situations were actually dealt with fairly tastefully. My Dress-Up Darling certainly pushes some of the limits on that, but it seems to successfully walk a very fine line. Many other shows rather tastelessly just shove it all in our faces, for no point other than to see it, but this one doesn’t. Not even the bathroom scene, where Gojo sees everything, but the audience does not. Even better, though, is how it actually serves the story, as well as the development of the characters and their relationships. I mean, that almost never happens, not in anime or anywhere else! But they did it here, which left my jaw dropped to the floor.

What else is there to say about My Dress-Up Darling? Well, the animation is stunningly beautiful, fluid, and well-done, the English dub is every bit as fantastic as the original Japanese (I found only one hiccup with the translation), it’s hilarious and heart-warming even if it isn’t quite entirely wholesome, it tells a good, well-paced story about two teenagers bonding, becoming friends, and falling in love in Japan, and if there’s a second season – which, considering how popular it is, I very much imagine there will be – I will definitely watch the show to it’s conclusion!

All in all, it is a superbly well-done, enjoyable anime!

Rating: 9 stars out of 10!

Grade: A-Minus!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #388: The Peril of Success

“Success breeds contempt for those very qualities which purchased it.”
– Onrack T’emlava, House of Chains
Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

I usually go into lots of context with my quotes. This one, I am not even going to try. This one, we can just take at face value and discuss.

We all know the stereotype of the privileged individual of the upper class. It can be a daughter who has a complete meltdown when a nail gets chipped or something dirty and gross gets on her shoe. It can be the son of the company owner who sails through life on daddy’s coattails, pushing his work off onto other people while he makes advances on the more attractive women who work for his father. It can be some successful actor or author who becomes indignant at the prospect of having to do the same work as any rookie or novice, instead of getting whatever role or deal they want due to their connections and fame. It can take a hundred different faces, but it’s always the same: those who live at greater heights in society will often balk at what is normal for those below.

There is something understandable about this. I mean, what do we define success as, if not an improvement in our status and station such that we no longer need to worry about our previous worries? A man who has felt starvation’s keen edge will call it a massive success the moment he knows that he and his children will not starve, but instead go to bed with full bellies every day. We have an inherent drive to improve our situation, to advance towards Heaven and never let ourselves be pulled back down to the Hell we have escaped from. The problem is that with every step up the ladder, it gets easier to forget the ground on which we stand.

That spoiled rich girl who hates dirty, disgusting things? The fortune she takes for granted didn’t simply appear, it began the same way every other fortune ever began: built up from nothing by people whose hands were rough, callused, and dirty. Her ancestors worked hard because they had to in order to survive, but she, having no such concerns herself, just knows dirt to be filthy and work to be hard, so why would she not avoid both? Those things are for people who don’t live as high up the ladder as she does. They are the ones who are supposed to clean up all the gross messes, right?

That is sadly how it often goes, in one form or another. A man might work hard to achieve success, and then have a lazy son who does not value hard work or the people who do it. A man might come from nothing, and then gain so many riches that he looks down on the unsuccessful poor, the people he used to be identical to. A man may come from a good home with parents who were faithful to each other, but completely miss how much of his father’s strength came from such fidelity, so he sleeps around willy-nilly, and then wonders why his life is a mess.

Most people in first-world countries would be disgusted and horrified by blood, human or animal, because we don’t have to worry about it very much. We go get our meat from the store, already processed for us, so we don’t appreciate everything that went into making it available for us. We are so successful as a society that we don’t even think about what all the ranchers in the world have to do in their line of work, and when we hear about all the slaughterhouses, we pull back in revulsion. It’s how we’ve survived as a species and prospered as a civilization, with ranchers who deal with literal bullshit and blood, and farmers who kill themselves a little bit every day working the fields, and men working very dangerous jobs in foundries and on fishing boats, and garbage collectors and sewage workers dealing with all of our refuse and leavings, and janitors cleaning up the mess that everyone else doesn’t even think about… it goes on and on, but we don’t always appreciate such people or their concerns, do we?

At what point did our society start stepping on these people instead of treating them like people? What, because they’re dirty, they stink, they’re stuck working long, hard jobs that sometimes don’t pay great, making everything easy for everyone else? When did blood, sweat, tears, and dirt become a bad thing, instead of proof that these people work hard and get the job done? Ah, but such things are for people lower down the ladder, right? What do those who are higher up need to worry about? What concern need the residents of the heavens have for the people below?

Well, every empire that forgets to keep its foundations strong ends up falling into ruin.

Rare and wonderful, and absolutely essential, is the rich man who remembers how he got there.

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She’s in the Land of Leadale… so what?

A power outage cuts off the life support of a patient in a hospital. She dies while sleeping and wakes up in a fantasy world identical to the game she was still logged into at the time. Where she was once an invalid, she is now a beautiful high elf of unmatched power, in the world of a game made real.

…And that’s pretty much it.

In the Land of Leadale follows the high elf Cayna, who was a crippled human before her death in our world. She only really lived through her games, and with literally nothing else occupying her time, she clocked in a huge number of hours, becoming one of the strongest players in her favorite game. This leaves her as a literal figure of myth and legend suddenly awake and active again, but without anything really happening. She’s nice and helps people, so they like her, but she’s also extremely volatile, with unpredictable mood swings of an extremely violent nature. She easily handles everything that comes her way, and she doesn’t have any urgent business or quests or anything that demand her attention, so she’s basically just wandering around, having a good time.

I knew after the first episode that, whatever else could be found in this anime, “tension” would not be one of them. After my experience with By the Grace of the Gods, I learned that this isn’t entirely a bad thing. However, in that anime, there was still at least something driving the main character forward, and said character was fairly well-developed and consistent. By contrast, Cayna and Leadale fall quite a bit short.

Take, for instance, when Cayna learns that she seems to be the only player in the game. She falls into a bit of depression, very sad and alone. Shortly after, she has an experience where she realizes that now, in this world, killing someone really kills them. Then she stumbles onto another player who is killing what he thinks are NPCs with no regrets, and she’s willing to kill him without a second thought. No hesitation, no mercy, nothing. Not exactly consistent with either her earlier loneliness or her recent realization at how serious killing someone is now, is it?

There’s a lot of bits and pieces here which could be fashioned into a proper story, but they don’t bother.

Looks exciting, but isn’t!

Cayna has family in the form of children she fostered while the world was just a game, but she interacts with them only on occasion, there’s nothing wrong with them, and she tends to be her most volatile around them

She meets a royal prince and princess along the way, and they clearly admire her, but nothing really important happens with them.

There are a couple of potential romantic entanglements, both for Cayna herself and for her son as well – a princess likes him – but nothing at all happens with either of those.

There are players getting routinely trapped in this game-made-real world every few years, but, again, nothing is done to explore what’s causing it or why.

There are thirteen legendary dungeons around the world, crafted by Cayna and her friends, and Cayna sort of decides to find and revive each of them in turn, but there’s no real reason for that, and certainly no sense of urgency.

A mermaid got mysteriously transported and trapped in a village Cayna frequents? Eh, she just settles in, perfectly welcomed and perfectly happy within days.

But what absolutely has to take the cake is when Cayna finds an orphaned girl in a town overrun by the undead, and not only does she deal with it easily, but she adopts the girl, who is perfectly fine and happy with it, with not even a bit of trauma from being witness to the deaths of everyone in her town.

There’s “having very little tension in a story,” and then there’s “having practically no story at all.” Everything is easy, there are no stakes, and nothing matters. There is never any real sense of danger or peril, not physically, mentally, emotionally, or any other way. It’s all good and cozy and everything happens just because. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it rather fails to be an interesting thing for very long. This is not a show for bingeing, despite its brevity at only twelve episodes.

All that said, the show isn’t entirely without its charms. I mean, there’s a reason I watched each new episode, after all. It’s kind of sweet, really.

It has it’s funny moments, my personal favorite being in the first episode, when some robbers try to sneak and steal from Cayna as she sleeps, only to be met by one of her guardian beasts appearing out of nowhere. Their panicked flight is hilarious to behold!

It has some sweet and tender moments, too, my favorite being when Cayna reveals in secret to a little girl that she is actually a “witch” of notorious local fame. I liked seeing Cayna with that little girl quite a lot, actually. She was much more motherly to her, rather than being absolutely fearsome and terrifying as she tended to be towards her own children (and grandchildren). I mean, I know from experience that grizzly mothers are not to be messed with, but that’s supposed to be directed at those who would harm their children, not the children themselves, ya know? It was a touch disconcerting to see her fly off the handle on her grown children so much. It was much nicer seeing her with pretty much anyone other than her family, really. That’s where there were some good talks and happier adventures.

It made me smile, and sometimes made me laugh, and often made me wonder what was wrong with Cayna. It wasn’t great, not by any measure, but In the Land of Leadale was, well… it was ok. It was good.

Rating: 6 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #387: Give Love Freely

“Compassion is priceless in the truest sense of the word. It must be given freely. In abundance.”
– Itkovian Otanthalian, Memories of Ice
Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

I was going to share this quote last week, but it struck me that it’s just too perfect for Easter. Like Christmas, Easter is ultimately about the triumph of the light of love over all the darkness of the world.

Without going into some fairly long and complicated explanations, suffice to say that Itkovian is a very good, selfless man. This is why he’s been gifted by his god, I think, with a magical ability that lets him take burdens of misery and agony from off the shoulders of other people’s souls, both the living and the dead. He doesn’t just remove it though, he takes it onto himself, and processes it. It is a taxing ordeal, one which has previously pushed him to the brink, but now, at this moment, it is about to kill him. He knows this, and he is doing it anyway, to try and lighten the immense suffering now felt by an entire people, thousands of them, who have born a terrible burden for hundreds of thousands of years. It has left them all but emotionless, devoid of any joy or hope. Until Itkovian comes and gives his life to given them back a little bit of the humanity they lost.

Itkovian says these words when they ask him, “Why?” Why is he doing this for them, a people he has never known before? He answers that humans do not understand the value of love. They know it has value, but in so knowing they believe it must be held close and given only when it has been earned. That is wrong. Love is the greatest of treasures, yes, but there is no limit to how much love one can give to others. It does not run out. Indeed, the more it is given, the more of it there is, while hoarding actually diminishes it. So let it be given to all, even complete strangers, holding nothing back, and thus it shall be the greatest treasure humanity has ever known. That is what makes truly makes love so priceless.

How wise is that? Indeed, I find it to be nothing short of profound.

How many of the world’s problems continue because people don’t properly love each other?

I mean, a child, not yet burdened by the boundaries that adults set up, will love anyone and everyone equally, without pause and without measure. I will never forget a story I was told in elementary school, when we were beginning to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. A young, black boy played every day with his young, white friends, until the day that his friends’ mother met him at the door and turned him away because, “You’re colored, and we’re white.” That boy grew up to become a leader in the peaceful fight against Jim Crow, standing before of great crowd in the capital, with the eyes and ears of my nation on him, and spoke boldly of black and white children playing together with naught but love between them. That was his dream.

I’ve seen a video of a Palestinian man urging his child, barely more than a toddler, to harass armed Israeli guards, who did not harm the child in return, or the man who was teaching his child to hate and hurt Israel. This shows the truth behind the words of a modern Israeli Prime Minister, who said, simply, that when the Palestinian loves their child more than they hate Israel, that is the day they will have peace.

Out of all the terrible atrocities in our history, how many would never have happened if people had just loved each other more, regardless of any “differences” that could be found?

I posted last week about the cycle of hate. Hate really is, or has become, the root problem of much of our suffering. And I believe such hatred is not truly natural, not completely. As they say in South Pacific, children have to be “carefully, carefully taught” to hate others based on whatever arbitrary lines have been drawn by their parent and ancestors. They do not come by centuries-old grudges born of ancient family feuds without such hateful teaching.

What if, instead of children learning to hate as adults hate, adults learned to love again as children love, so freely, easily, without hesitation, and without distinction? How many walls would come down so fast? How many hatreds would end? How much more good would we be able to do together, no matter how much we might disagree? How much suffering might we alleviate from the ravages of illness, age, disability, and catastrophe? How much pain would future generations be spared from? Quite a bit, I think!

If we all just realized that we are all the same, and all in this together… no, even more basic, more elemental than that… if we all just loved each other as human beings, first and last, would this world not become practically a paradise?

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another even as I have loved you.”

The ultimate message of Easter is the encouragement to love each other, and bear each others’ burdens as He has born all of ours. That is the way forward. For all of us. Not one group or another. All of us.

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A Few Wholesome Anime. No, Really!

Hilarious.

Heart-warming.

Wholesome.

Three descriptors I love to hear about or apply to my entertainment. Thus, I am greatly saddened as I find that there seems to be a vast dearth of anime (and other stories) to which they can be safely applied.

I love anime. Really, I do. Or had you noticed? 😉

I love anime, and movies, and books, and stories in general. Good stories. Quality stories. Stories that teach and uplift and generally just leave us as slightly better than we were before.

Yet, as much as I love it all, I can’t help but be constantly frustrated by how so many our stories, anime and otherwise, have become something other than entirely wholesome.

It’s not uncommon or entirely inappropriate, I think, for an anime to include violence. But there are levels of bloodshed and gore, of horrific deaths and graphically-depicted torture, which are shocking to behold.

There is explicit nudity and uncensored sexual content. As much as I can appreciate the female form (and even the male form, in some cases), and as much as I can enjoy love stories and scenes of affection, there is a line somewhere that ought not to be crossed. It makes me especially uncomfortable when inappropriate behaviors like groping, sexual molestation, and rape are depicted so blatantly, not to mention frequently, and as if these were perfectly normal behaviors.

Even relatively tame anime, concerning love stories, comedy, and such, are rife with the prevalent tropes of panty shots, bathing and bathroom scenes, coarse, suggestive language, and other ways in which people, especially young girls, are highly sexualized. Even in anime which otherwise would seem to be geared more towards children, which is just disturbing to realize.

And then there’s how anime is rightly famous for its unnerving scenes, psychotic characters, disturbing topics, and mature themes.

Now, I want to be clear: I am not saying that all anime or other entertainment must be squeaky clean and devoid of anything which might offend someone. For one thing, it would be completely useless to attempt such. Haters gonna hate, and all that. For another, it is no one’s right to determine what sort of content does or does not get made or viewed, though one should always have the opportunity to be informed about whatever content one can find in any given product. Finally, if we were to make everything in anime all happy-go-lucky and whatnot – assuming we could – I believe humanity would be the poorer for it, if we stopped talking about difficult subjects.

But I have to admit… it is such a breath of fresh air when I get to see something that lacks all the filth of the world and is, quite plainly and simply, wholesome. When it tells a good, relevant story, free from all the blood, sex, and other “mature” content which is so common these days, I call that amazing and praiseworthy. Particularly when it’s not strictly a “kids” show.

In honor of that, I present, in no particular order, a few anime I’ve seen and enjoyed at least partially because of how wholesome they are.

Kids on the Slope

After a chance meeting on the roof of a school in Japan, a young man is introduced to Jazz music and comes to love it as he plays it with his new friend. This coming-of-age story follows these boys and their friends as they experience love, loss, hope, joy, laughter, tears, and tragedy. These are the experiences that turn them from youths into adults, living their best lives according to their own terms. And, as a bonus, the soundtrack is beautiful! 😉

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle

We all know the story of the hero challenging the lord of demons to rescue a kidnapped princess, but what is the princess doing while waiting to be rescued? Sleep, apparently. A lot. By any means necessary. At any cost. And it is hilarious to behold!

By the Grace of the Gods

It is now a well-worn trope in anime for people to be taken to a fantasy world, often by death and reincarnation. Most such stories feature the protagonist having to fight against and defeat the lord of evil and his minions, but not this one! No, this is just a man who died getting a chance to live a happy, peaceful life in another world. And his story is one of those that makes you feel like you’re glowing inside, all warm and happy!

A Dragon Goes House-Hunting

After making a terrible mistake, a young dragon gets kicked out into the world, and now he needs to find a place to live. He gets some unexpected help, but he certainly needs it, because all of things that dragons are famous for being – fierce, fearless, strong, powerful, deadly, dangerous, etc. – this dragon certainly is not! His hunt proves to be long, because every possible home comes with dangerous complications, but it is hilarious to watch, and heart-warming as he matures through the extended ordeal of searching for a dragon-friendly home in a fantasy world.

Barakamon

After an inexcusable outburst, a calligrapher is sent to live in a remote town on an island, theoretically to do his work in peace and quiet while he gets his act together. The “peace” part is debatable, but he definitely does not get much “quiet” after he meets a little girl, the village scamp. She and the other townsfolk enliven this man’s life in ways he did not expect, and not only does he come to mature a bit through his experiences, but he also finds a renewed love for his own art.

Fruits Basket

A young girl, recently bereft of her mother, is taken in by the mysterious, illustrious Sohma family. They are good people, generally, but, as the girl literally stumbles into discovering, they live under a curse that turns them into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac whenever they are hugged or held by a member of the opposite gender. The antics which follow are hilarious, but are carried on a powerful emotional undercurrent, as the weight of this curse is heart-breaking.

I cannot speak for the redone version that is much closer to the original manga, and is much more focused on romantic relationships. But I absolutely love the older anime! 🙂

Snow White with the Red Hair

A beautiful young woman with red hair flees her homeland for fear of the attentions of a prince, and runs right into a much more charming prince from a neighboring country. He defends her, she supports him, and they eventually fall in love, overcoming all the barriers of class distinction (and several would-be kidnappers) to do so.

Each of these titles made me smile and laugh as I watched them. Some of them made me cry as well, and made me think. But, most of all, each of them was a wonderful breath of fresh air to my soul. They’re meant for more than just kids, but they’re so clean and wholesome that I can’t help but thoroughly appreciate them on a fundamental level. We can tell good stories with important lessons without descending into every form of “mature” content in the world. It’s inspiring!

I only wish there were more!

On which note, my fellow anime fans, are there any other truly wholesome anime out there that you have enjoyed and would recommend? I would love to hear about them! 😀

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