Inu Yasha: A (Semi) Feudal Fairy Tale

I remember the first time I watched InuYasha.

It was back in my later teens (which I am often reminded is an increasingly long time ago). I actually caught its initial airing on Adult Swim, on Cartoon Network. It had a similar spirit to the anime I’d seen thus far, but a very different feel. This, alongside the likes of Trigun and Fullmetal Alchemist, helped me grow accustomed to the more mature content and themes which I have found in so many anime and other works ever since.

I don’t think it’s going too far to say that InuYasha was a major influence at a pivotal moment in my life, and so it has left a lasting impact on me as. Heh, I’ve certainly had a notable appreciation for half-demons and the like ever since! 🙂

The premise of the show is that Kagome, a modern-day reincarnation of an ancient priestess, is mystically transported back to Japan’s feudal era, where she meets the titular half-demon Inu Yasha. Mere allies of convenience at first, the two must work together, both with each other and with some unusual friends, to defeat nefarious demons, protect the innocent, and reassemble a magical jewel they accidentally broke. Their adventures and their relationship come to define the both of them in ways neither might have expected.

Of course, we, the audience, can read the writing on the wall. It’s a long-standing routine for the male and female leads to couple up, and even more so when they spend so much time fighting. By which, I mean screaming their heads off at each other. Exactly how that came to be one of the standard forms of romance, I have no idea, but whatever.

In complete fairness, I don’t recall their relationship really making that much sense, either. I mean, what was the point where their quarreling became more attraction than hostility, and more affection than attraction? I recall a scene where the characters were trapped in their most terrible nightmares, and where others had tragedies haunting them, Kagome’s worst nightmare was seeing Inu Yasha with someone else. I could believe that happening eventually, but this was relatively early in the series, so, how and when did she become so attached to him so quickly? I remember thinking that it was being done like that just because, with no real reason to it.

In that vein, there are a few things about the show which became predictable because it was so very repetitive. Main antagonist is at work behind the scenes, furthering some nefarious plot? Check. New powerful demons introduced via the destruction of some village, army, or other demons? Check. Demons are disdainful towards humans and half-demons, and then proclaim their shock at being defeated by such with their last breath, in the style of “HOW COULD A HUMAN AND A HALF-DEMON DEFEAT THE GREAT (insert demon saying their own name)?!” Check.

(and what the heck was with Kagome constantly wearing her school uniform back in the feaudal era?)

So, clearly it must be said, InuYasha will not be the most original anime you’ll ever watch, not even within its own continuity. But, it must also be said that it’s entertaining anyway! Repetitive, it may be, but somehow it never grows stale.

Most of all, there’s just something about the dynamic among the central cast, their friends, and, of course, the villain(s) which is just so riveting and enjoyable.

Inu Yasha is naturally defiant and rebellious, and needs a strong hand like Kagome’s in his life. Shippo is adorable, Miroku is hilarious, and Sango is beautiful and strong. All of them together bear their burdens with courage and good cheer. They look after each other, and they’re a rather formidable force on the battlefield. They also, most of them, have a very personal stake in their extended conflict with the main villain, Naraku, who is so diabolical and devious, he makes for an excellent antagonist.

That’s the main, central cast, but all of their friends, family, allies, enemies, frenemies (there are a few), are a delight to watch. It’s a large, colorful cast, believable and, well… human.

Otherwise, there are entertaining battles with diverse enemies, beautiful animation, backgrounds, and voice work by the cast, recurring themes of finding one’s place in an unfriendly world, including overcoming severe hurts that leave lasting scars, and the music is phenomenal! Seriously, I am still listening to that soundtrack a couple decades later. 🙂

All in all, I absolutely have to put InuYasha in the forward ranks of my favorites.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #218: My Word

“My word, sir, is the ultimate warranty.”
– Edward “Blackbeard” Teech, Blackbeard’s Ghost

I grew up watching this movie, and out of all the dialogue in it, this single sentence is the one that has most stayed with me through the years. It’s just a quick snippet, really, yet it has left a lasting impact.

Just before the climax, when Blackbeard’s living, mortal friend is about to storm off like a hero out of legend to invade the villain’s den and claim what is owed and most desperately needed, all on behalf of some sweet, elderly women in dire circumstance, Blackbeard offers to accompany him. Said mortal friend has, by this point, had enough of Blackbeard’s chaotic antics, so he makes it clear that he is calling the shots on this one, to which Blackbeard immediately replies, “Proud to serve under you.”

This takes the hero aback for a moment, in stunned disbelief. “You mean that?” he asks. To which Blackbeard replies with these words. And that’s enough for the hero. The two march off side-by-side to fight the villain and save the day!

It’s a scene of basic brotherly comradeship, and significant to the story in how Blackbeard, not known for taking orders, is willing to take them from this man, his friend. But that’s not all I take from it.

My word, sir, is the ultimate warranty.

How profound is that?

I want that to be said of me, after I’m gone.

You know, it used to be, in ages past, that even the most vile, despicable, cruel, cunning, brutal, bloodthirsty, awful, and murderous villains and tyrants in the land would keep their word. When a man, or a woman, swore an oath, they were expected, just as a matter of course, to honor it, no matter the circumstance. That is why broken oaths, such as betrayals, desertions, and infidelities, were so horrendous.

Integrity is the bedrock of human interaction, which is the basis of all civilization.

People used to understand that better than they do now, I think.

Now, it’s become commonplace, or even praised, to break one’s word. Sometimes in small, supposedly harmless ways, like, say, leaving work early, or cheating at cards, or rigging a game in your favor. Or taking credit for someone else’s work, which is a little bigger and more harmful. Or cheating a customer in the name of making more money. Or telling a little lie, fudging some numbers here and there. Or cheating on a test. Or on a significant other. Or making a promise you’ve no intention of keeping. Or breaking one without any intention of making it right.

It goes on and on, and it’s depressing to look at.

Yet, even now, integrity is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest virtues of humanity. That is because, without integrity, there can be no trust. If there is no trust, all the ties that bind us dissolve and shatter, taking all of civilization with it. All because if you can’t believe someone, then you can’t believe them.

Truth is singular, and uncompromising, and the truth is that we are either honest, or we are not.

Mind you, we can always change, either becoming liars or becoming honest men, but we cannot be both at the same time.

On which note, I am happy to say… there are truly honest people in the world. Not “special” people. Honest, everyday people, like you and I.

They can do it, so we can, too.

And that is how you save the world. 😉

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This Week on TV, Jan. 19, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

It is unfortunate, I’d say, that The Gifted doesn’t have a longer season. There is so much to go into with that show. It is also unfortunate that all things must end, as Gotham is soon to do. But, for the moment, we still had riveting, heart-breaking, compelling stories this week. Crap is truly hitting the fan, and we love it! 🙂

The Gifted

2.12 “hoMe”

Hey, an episode without Turner in it! Whoo!

The main thrust of this episode is the Underground rising as a whole to directly fight against the Inner Circle. First thing’s first: the leaders need to all be on the same page. That means a meeting, and quite a meeting it’ll be. Even severely diminished and with most of their surviving stations gone dark, the meagerest gathering still has people coming in from several corners of the USA. It’s not really much, but it’s a start, and it’s most certainly a pivotal moment.

As the highest leader of the Underground, Evangeline is calling the shots, and she is formidable. We haven’t really seen her step up in this way before, but she clearly knows what she’s about. She’s glad to hear that Lorna is back on their side, and while it clearly gives her great hope, she also takes steps to protect that hope. In particular, she emphasizes that everyone who knows must not let it slip. They cannot, under any circumstances, tell anyone. Not their comrades, not their friends, not their wayward family members, that last referring to Cait’s overwhelming desire to tell Andy and try to use it to convince him to come back, too. Cait’s objectivity there is really off. So, for the moment, the secret seems to be safe.

Evangeline also decides that, needing as many fighting bodies as they can get, they need to bring Erg (I’ve been misspelling his name, it seems) and the Morlocks into the fight. Evidently, this includes by any means necessary. She tells them that Erg won’t refuse because they have a history, she saved his life, but there’s more to it than that. Heh, isn’t it always the omitted details which are so important?

Erg is obviously not happy, brusque and less than friendly to the trio who come to pick him up for the meeting. I wouldn’t be in a particularly good mood either, in his place.

It turns out, Erg and Evangeline started the original Underground together. He moved people through the tunnels, thus the name, while she ran things on the surface. Then they were betrayed by a human associate, and the people they were helping were slaughtered. Erg wanted to help them, but Evangeline held him back, keeping him from dying, thus “saving his life.”

After, the two fell to bickering. Erg believed they couldn’t trust the humans anymore, and saw as their best hope in the idea of building a separate community. Evangeline disagreed, adamant on doing things as they had been. So they parted ways, and thus the Underground and the Morlocks were parted. One side carried on the fight, risking and losing lives all along the way, while the other slithered into the shadows under the ground to hide.

Erg’s single purpose, ever since then, has been to protect the people under his care. And now his old friend is dragging every one of those people into a fight they want no part of, by threatening to expose them if they don’t join it. Seriously, that is a messed up thing for Evangeline to do.

Marcos and John, momentarily unaware, are uncertain about Erg’s reluctance. I mean, it’s not like Evangeline’s holding a gun to his head. …except, she is. She’s pretty much holding a gun to every Morlock’s head and saying, “Fight with us or else.” That’s not going to build either loyalty or unity.

I would have liked to see the meeting between leaders, especially Erg and Evangeline, but, unfortunately, Reeva makes sure tragedy strikes first.

Cait and Lauren go to Cait’s brother for help, which, much like last time, does not go very well. He tries to look into what the Inner Circle is trying to do, and finds he’s kicked a hornet’s nest. He’s in cuffs and turned into an informant within minutes. He refuses to go along with it at the last second, though, and gives his sister a warning: the Inner Circle apparently has apparently compromised vast swathes of the entire government. They also, clearly, have strings attached to the Purifier leadership.

The enemy just keeps getting bigger. I mean, how do you properly fight a shadow group of criminals that has control of their supposed enemies?

The Underground learns that the hard way. Evangeline’s little summit clearly attracted someone’s attention. If anyone could threaten the Inner Circle, it would be a united front from the Underground. Reeva doesn’t allow that to happen and sends her new strike team to annihilate this little alliance in its infancy. Lorna barely figures it out beforehand, and then only because of one little slip on the part of their enemy. She warns Marcos, risking her life in the process, and they pick up the pace, but it’s too little, too late. By the time they get there, emergency services are dousing the fire and bagging bodies. No survivors.

It’s a devastating blow, hitting Lorna and the others hard. Evangeline helped them, and now she’s dead, as is the Underground’s national leadership. Anyone who might be left after this certainly won’t answer any calls from John’s group for a long time. They came to talk about fighting the Inner Circle, as he’s been shouting about for months, and everyone dies before they even get started. No, they’re probably going to steer very clear of what little is left of John’s crew.

And that group is ever shrinking, it seems. John wants to fight, of course. He’s a soldier, a man of action, and Erg’s refusal to fight irritates him. He thinks it’s cowardly to hide in the tunnels while the rest of them are bleeding in a war on the surface. But Erg calls out his hypocrisy as even the woman he claims to love has to hide herself in order to walk about in public. The world is not friendly to them, and Erg has a courage all his own as he shelters his people from that world.

I’m reminded of a scene from Rurouni Kenshin, one that displays a difference between evil men who seek conquest, cowardly men who seek only to stay alive a little longer, and brave, noble men who fight on the behalf of others. Of course the story supports that last group, and disdains the cowards, as it should, but there is more than one face of courage, and more than one kind of cowardice. Sometimes hiding and staying alive, no matter the filth one must crawl through, is the bravest thing one can do. Sometimes going into battle, knowing you have no chance to do anything but die, is every bit as cowardly as desertion. It takes more guts to live humbly than it does to die gloriously.

Clarice knows this from firsthand experience. One of the families she was placed with as a foster child had an abusive drunkard at its head. One night, he came home and was after her and her foster sister, Lily. She got them out, but Lily wanted to go back, to stand up to the bully of a man and put herself between him and the other kids. But Lily didn’t win. The man hit her so hard that she hit her head on a table and broke her neck. So much for standing up to the bully.

Now, I wonder, and hope, did the man face legal consequences for that? Did Lily’s noble sacrifice indeed protect the rest of their family? No idea. But either way, she’s dead. She got it into her head that she could stand up to her family’s tormentor, but she was young, idealistic, naïve… and stupid. She was weak and she had no plan. She didn’t think to go for help, she just charged in, and paid the ultimate price. It was for a good reason, of course, for the greatest reason of protecting her family. But that wasn’t enough to save anyone, and her death has haunted Clarice ever since.

Now she sees John, the man she loves, trying to fight, to protect others, charging in against an enemy that has them completely outclassed in every way. She knows he can’t turn away from the fight, and she won’t ask him to. But she loves him too much to watch him be destroyed, too. She simply couldn’t bear it. So, she leaves.

She leaves John because she loves him, joining Erg and the Morlocks.

And the Underground is down yet another member. The Inner Circle’s active enemies can practically be counted on one hand, now, and they’re not about to stop now.

While Lorna has already turned against the Inner Circle, Andy is struggling. Specifically, after a dream-visit from Lauren, where she attacks him, for a change, and dominates, he is left rattled.

The Frosts now see Lauren as both an opportunity they could exploit and a threat to one of their own, and so they set out to either recruit or murder her. They don’t tell Andy that last part, though, just that they can help him reach out to his sister in their shared dreams. What makes Andy hesitate is how it seems like they meant to manipulate and control her, which both he and Lorna adamantly oppose. (though, with that possibility brought up, it makes one wonder just how much of the dedication of the Inner Circle’s people is genuinely their own) When they assure Andy that they won’t control her, just help him reach out to her, and, even more, when they reveal that his father’s ability is killing him and they could help him, he relents, letting them use his dreams, which will undoubtedly lead into the next episode.

As for Lauren and her parents, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the music box is rigged somehow. In addition to Andreas’ note to his descendant about the ins and outs of Fenris, it clearly does something to the minds of their descendants. Andreas mentions domination, and not only has Lauren been displaying that (the landlord, Andy, shredding cop cars, etc.) but Reed remembers it as well. He listened to the tune once, and shortly thereafter he got into a fight, which he won. Something about the music box stimulates something in their brains, both activating their powers and driving them to dominate. It did so to Lauren, teaching her a devastating new technique in her dream, but now it makes Reed’s powers activate, and he’s barely able to inject himself, using up a portion of the serum which they have so precious little of.

And then there’s Cait. Not a Strucker by blood, but by choice, and that’s often even more dangerous. When Lauren chopped cop cars to pieces, she didn’t see a daughter straying down a dark path like her son has, she saw a strong, formidable woman, one which could challenge the Inner Circle and bring Andy back. It reminds me of the good intentions that pave the way to Hell. Clearly, then, intentions are not enough. Cait’s been all over the place this season, doing horrible things in the name of getting her son back. She is obsessed with beating the Inner Circle, much like the Inner Circle is now obsessed with destroying anyone in their way.

In summary, the Inner Circle is winning, handily, in every way, on every level. They have strings everywhere, and anyone who could effectively oppose them is either wiped out or divided into camps of “run and hide” or “fight and die.” On top of this, the darkness of a previous generation is falling upon the Struckers, putting them all at risk, especially Lauren, who is about to be the Frost’s psychic punching bag.

Gotham

5.03 “Penguin, Our Hero”

…well… that was a horrifying ending.

Bruce and Selina looked to be having the more intense time for most of the episode, but it was on Gordon’s end of things that the real punch to the gut was delivered, in the end.

Selina loves being up and about again, but she’s still haunted by what Jeremiah did to her. That is a trauma that does not go away, not even when the physical hurt has been miraculously repaired. She wanted to die, and he was the one who did that to her. So, now the cat has her legs back, she goes hunting for that rat.

Bruce has been trying, of course, for over three months now. But now that Haven is up and running, there are refugees flocking to it from all over the city, bringing a wealth of new information with them. It doesn’t take so long for them to find what they’re looking for. One of the more terrified refugees tells them of the dark zone, in polar opposition to Gordon’s green zone, where bands of insane people are roaming the streets, slaughtering everyone they meet in horrific ways, like how they carved “Kill” all over his friend’s body.

So, they have a lead. Bruce is reluctant, of course, and insists that if they do this, they do it the right way. They find him, call for reinforcements as necessary, and bring Jeremiah to stand trial for what he’s done to the city. Selina doesn’t actually say that she agrees, but goes along with it.

They enter the dark zone, formerly an upper class area of town, and find one man with his throat slit in a car, and another screaming for help as he runs down the street, only to be blown up with the bomb they strapped to him. A gang of maniacal killers descends on the duo. Selina takes the big guy, and Bruce takes all the rest.

They win, fairly handily, but Selina goes a bit crazy when she’s interrogating her downed opponent. Not sure he’s one of Jeremiah’s people, he seemed pretty hostile towards him, but he does kill people in crazy ways, so he’s obviously not innocent. That makes it tough to feel sorry for him as Selina scratches him up with her claws, but it’s Selina we worry about. She’s not in her right mind at that moment, and might even have scratched her beaten enemy to death if Bruce hadn’t intervened. Again, not so concerned about the crazy murderer, but it’s not good for the soul to be the one doing that.

What Bruce and Selina find is like some sort of recruiting ground. It’s like some twisted form of mass, with a masked woman, Harley Quinn, calling upon boys and girls, grown but young, to come to Jeremiah. To see him, to join him, they must demonstrate their faith, and so some of them stand up and walk up the stairs, into another room, while the rest leave. Selina talks her way into joining that group up the stairs, while Bruce sticks to the shadows, taking out a couple thugs and finding a lot of dead bodies.

The test, it seems, is to be part of a circle of shooters, all with one bullet in their gun, Russian roulette style. (a callback to the scene where Jerome became leader of the Maniax in Season 2) Selina managed to maintain her confident swagger right up until it came to having a gun pointed at her. Of course, whatever her issues may be, she’s not crazy and suicidal, so of course her confident facade cracks at that point. Good thing too. She keeps herself from being shot. The other boys and girls are sent on, while Harley stays to deal with Selina… whom she very well knows.

Bruce figures heavily into Jeremiah’s world, and so his cult knows all about him, and about Selina. Harley wasn’t really fooled for a moment.

The two fight, with Selina having the upper hand, but Harley manages to shoot her in the leg and escape. Bruce wants to stop and patch her up, but Selina is consumed with her revenge quest, so she cuffs him and limps after her prey.

We’ll see how that turns out next week, I suppose.

Over on Gordon’s side of things, crap hits the fan as Penguin’s entire kingdom deserts him, even his dog, with singular exception to his maid. See, when we talk about being a king without a kingdom, the point is to drive home the importance of the king actually caring for his kingdom. Penguin doesn’t do that, not a bit. He drives people like slaves, underfeeds them while he lives luxuriously, demands that they constantly sing his praises whilst he steps on them, and does horrible things to them whenever they upset him. It’s a nightmare to live under a ruler like that, pretty much just waiting to die.

So, they all leave, and go to Haven.

Penguin is enraged, but doesn’t have any firepower of his own right now, it having just deserted him. As such, he uses the Street Demons, who he captured after they attacked him in response to his supposedly attacking them and two other neighboring gangs. With three gangs behind him and all his bullets at their disposal, they storm into Haven, looking to enslave everyone there.

Now, were I one of the defectors from Penguin, I would have been very certain to bring as much ammunition as could be carried. Not only would it be good to contribute, but it would enable my new protectors in my defense. But none of them thought of this, so Gordon’s bunch has just a few bullets left. When they run out, they surrender.

Were I one of the cops or the Haven refugees, I probably would have done something to ready myself and my fellows for when the bullets ran out. They have plenty of numbers, after all, it’s just a matter of getting into close quarters so the enemy’s firepower is less of an advantage. But no, instead they just give up.

Penguin takes great delight in locking Gordon up, as he’s about to take back what he thinks belongs to him. But, again, Penguin is a king without a kingdom… and now he’s immediately surrounded by his enemies who, by definition, aren’t taking his orders. He tries to keep Penn, but the gangsters laugh and say they’ll take all his people, his territory, and his bullet factory, and kill Penn. Penn’s last words to Penguin are that everyone hates him, which… why does this surprise Penguin?

Satisfying moment: Penguin is locked up with Gordon right after gloating at him.

Fortunately, Gordon is actually liked by the people he protects, including the boy, Will, who asked him to save his friends. Having done so, Will returns the favor. He gets close by leading two gangsters to a stash of alcohol, and while they rummage for it, he slips something for Gordon to cut his bindings with into the cage. He and Penguin get out, and with Penguin’s supply of bullets on hand, they take out the gangsters.

And people immediately sing Penguin’s praises. See, Cobblepot? You actually protect people, and they like you.

The people of Haven are shaken, but Gordon rallies them. This was a bad day, a tough day, and he can’t promise it won’t happen again. But they survived, and as long as they survive, so does hope in Gotham.

He finishes up by handing Will his badge, unofficially deputizing him to look after Haven when he’s not there. It’s a sweet moment.

Then comes Barbara, fetched by Bullock but very late to the party, intent on Penguin’s death. Gordon steps in the way, but how things would have turned out, we’ll never know.

An explosion destroys Haven right at that moment. All of it. Everyone inside it. Men. Women. Children. Will. All dead. All burning.

And that is the end of the episode.

As I said, horrific.

This is the second time within three episodes that a mysterious party with access to things that explode has attacked. First it was the helicopter that was bringing food and medicine. Now it’s Haven, and everyone in it. Someone out there is attacking hope itself. Part of me wants to know who it is and why they’re doing it, but another part of me just wants them put into the ground.

It could be Jeremiah, but I wonder if even he would have access to a rocket launcher, not to mention detailed intel about an incoming helicopter. Possible, but uncertain.

I’d originally thought it might be Bane, but was that him was saw getting his butt handed to him last episode, or just an underling? Either way, they looked very strapped for resources as well.

So, if it’s not either of them, or any of the usual villains… then who is it? Who is attacking Gotham’s hope?

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Anime Review: Needless

Cheap setup of good vs evil? Check. Flashy superpowered fights? Check. Ridiculous, gaudy outfits? Check.

Needless may seem, at first blush, to be a by-the-numbers fighting anime primarily meant kids or teen boys, in the same vein as Dragonball Z. However, this is anime, as in, a Japanese cartoon, and so it deviates from that in ways which are far from appropriate for children. Not only does the violence get bloody and horrifying, but… well, it has the other kind of not-meant-for-children content in overwhelming abundance.

It feels like it should be (or should have been) a kids’ cartoon, but it really isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. For people of appropriate maturity, it can remain oddly pleasant, a fun romp through what is basically a fighting game like Mortal Combat come to animated life. Just be prepared for less brain fodder and more blood, panty shots, and nudity. And explosions. So many explosions.

The story of Needless is, basically, Tokyo suffered a horrible tragedy during World War 3, which somehow gave rise to people with superpowers. They seem to primarily dwell in the most desolate area in Japan (instead of in luxury in the city), so a pharmeceutical company mean’s to take over the area and use them to create so-called “gods” they can control or something like that. People don’t like being used this way, like fodder, so a number of them resist. Much of one resisting group is wiped out and their sole survivor, Cruz Schild, is rescued by a “priest” named Adam Blade, whose superpower is to copy other superpowers. Together with their friends and comrades they fight to survive and drive the villains away.

All in all, there weren’t many surprises in this show. Some, yes, but not many. Mysterious connection between the main hero and villain? No surprise. Sudden rescues from dire circumstances by new allies? No surprise. Villain is insane and has aims of total destruction and domination? No surprise. Seriously, I was more surprised when we learned that Eve was actually the same age as Blade (they don’t look like it) than I was with the “big reveal” that Cruz’s sister was actually an enemy spy. Saw that one coming a mile away.

The fights, even, aren’t all that epic. For having so many lethal superpowers, very few people actually die or even suffer properly serious injuries. And the combat is always interrupted before, during, and after by a lot of dramatic talking and expressions. It was pretty cool watching Cruz prove pivotal as the brains of the outfit, but they pretty much overdid even that. Yes, Needless, we know, it’s not what you got but how you use it, we get it already.

And then, as I said, there’s the sexual content, which is easily my least favorite part of the show. There is a disturbing image or two, though such lasts only a moment. Mostly, it’s how the girls are always in risqué outfits that are torn or removed in pieces, having their panties shown, even using their butts and crotch in combat of all things. Oh, and most them are obviously underage. One, especially. And Blade quite clearly loves little girls to the point that it’s used as a joke whenever he prepositions, makes advances, or even sees an adorable girl. It’s hilarious, but still a little creepy, ya know?

Not that sanity is generally to be expected here.

So, with a predictable, overly dramatic plot, less than stellar fights, and inappropriate content, is there anything good about Needless?

…actually, surprisingly… yes.

The entire show is basically a satire. It’s often dark, with unsettling moments, perhaps, but still, the humor value is the main selling point of the show. Between the colorful characters, with all their antics, and breaking the fourth wall, it’s a fun, hilarious show to watch. These are clearly not your typical heroes and typical villains!

As such, even if I dislike certain parts of the show, it’s hard to hold such against it. While part of my brain keeps trying to object, I still end up enjoying most of it.

Heh, maybe this is my guilty pleasure anime. 😉

Oh, I know! The texture of Needless is like if Deadpool were made to be PG-13 instead of R!

And I love the voice cast! It’s chock full of favorites of the industry!

So, I just spent most of what I just wrote ragging on the show, but that’s more of a caution, so you know what you’re getting into. If it floats your boat, go for it!

Needless is a socially-reckless satirical action children’s-style fighting anime for older teens and grownups who just want to sit back, eat popcorn, and let their brains melt for awhile in a sea of explosions, gore, and inappropriate panty shots and slightly-censored nudity, and laugh while it happens.

Rating: …don’t judge me, ok? 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #217: Forgiving Strength

“It doesn’t take strength to hate someone. It takes strength to forgive them.”
– Glow, The Gifted
Season 2, Episode 11, “meMento”

I knew this was a gem of a quote the moment I heard it, and it comes from such a minor character that I had to search around the internet to find out her name. It would seem that wisdom can come from anywhere. 😉

Glow is talking with Marcos, who, thanks to some recent experiences, is learning to bend a bit, to be more open-minded and humble. Probably the most trying part is his relationship with the woman he loves. They’ve split a bit and she’s honestly wronged him, but not out of spite. Now she comes crawling back, looking for help, and here he is, helping her. She just makes him feel… well, everything! Sad, angry… alive. Everything about her ignites an emotional mess in Marcos, and he’s very confused about it. That’s when Glow tells him that one only gets that mad at someone that matters, someone they love, and she follows that with the above quote.

Marcos, as it happens, is well-acquainted with hate, being on both ends of it. His father cast him out, and he never forgave his father even as he came back and saw the man taken care of when he was bedridden. While he takes that old wound and uses it as motivation to be better, to be a proper parent, he’s never really let go of it. It’s still a source of pain for him.

In a way, hate does “take” strength, not in requiring any to sustain itself, but in leeching it from your soul. Hate steals strength, like a stone chained to your leg.

Forgiveness, on the other hand… well, in order to let go of a burden, first you have to break what binds you to it. It’s not simply “letting go” of something, but actively severing its hold on you. That does require strength. But the reward is that much less of a burden to carry for the rest of your life.

Now, of course, it must be said that forgiving someone is not the same as giving them a blank check. It’s about healing from the past, not inviting more hurt in the future. Indeed, it’s actually very independent of the person being forgiven, and whether or not they change or are sorry. It’s not for them, it’s for the person doing the forgiving. This is how we heal ourselves, not others.

And yet, as we heal ourselves and let go of our hate, so might we heal the world around us as ancient feuds finally die off.

It takes very little strength to break the world. It takes tremendous strength to put it back together.

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This Week on TV, Jan. 12, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

I just realized that The Gifted is airing only thirteen episodes again. Dang it! I was hoping for something longer! 😛 Still, they and Gotham are both certainly pushing us towards grand finales with further intrigue, heartbreak, rising tension, and descending darkness. My kind of entertainment! 🙂

Gotham

5.02 “Trespassers”

A child came to the GCPD. A child.

He walked nine miles alone in the dark through an exceptionally dangerous city, all to beg for help.

In the face of that, all the danger in the world won’t stop Jim Gordon from helping. Either he will succeed in saving the other children, or he will die in the attempt. That is the way of the protector, the way of a Gordon. “While We Breathe, We Will Defend.”

So, Penguin’s bounty, a horde of gangs, an unknown enemy, and the government’s complete unwillingness to help isn’t enough to stop him. He even asks Barbara for a little help, which she flatly refuses at first, but comes around at an opportune moment in the hopes that they’ll freaking kill Penguin together. As we saw Penguin alive at Day 391 or whatever it was, I doubt that will work out like she wants.

For the moment, however, they have three sturdy vehicles and enough officers with enough bullets. They drive through unfriendly territory and arrive safely, though the vehicles look a bit like porcupines by the end of the trip.

When they get there, they find the show’s version of Bane, I think, complete with a mask, with smoke that makes them stronger, and an armed crew. Nothing that could shoot down a helicopter, though, so that screws my initial theory. Indeed, this Bane is driving a crew of kids to dig a tunnel to connect to the mainland. The oldest of the kids tries to tell him it won’t work, but he’s not listening. Too high on his fumes.

Hm, I am immediately wondering if this is another precursor character, like we had a scarecrow before Scarecrow, and a dark knight before the Dark Knight, and so on. This seems like a fairly pathetic Bane so far, but one of those kids, especially the oldest, could easily take up the mantle and improve on it. But for the moment, I suppose, this is the Bane we have.

Either way, Gordon, Bullock, and the cops get most of the kids onto their vehicles and get them out. There’s still the two of them, the oldest, and two girls, though. Unable to escape in a car, the flee on foot into an old, creepy hotel. They leave the kids in the lobby, unaware of the figure lurking nearby, and clear the hotel. Gordon goes up, and finds a child in a closet, chattering about a ghost that makes him call her Mother. I’m guessing Bane’s cronies killed the boy’s parents, like they killed the parents of all the kids they took, and then he found shelter with this woman. Bullock heads down and finds the belongings, including the teeth, of adults, their remains burning in the furnace, and the freaky lady with a razor attacks him.

Obviously, running for their lives is a good idea.

Unfortunately, the boy uses that to herd them into a room and locks them in. Strobe lights flash in such a way that strikes the nervous centers in the brain, willing them to fall unconscious. Weakened and in the dark, with little in the way of ammunition, it’s much easier for this Mother to try to kill them. They manage to survive and subdue and interrogate her, but she escapes anyway, through a secret passage.

Not wanting to push their luck, they head back to the lobby and flee back onto the street. And they immediately have Bane and a rival gang fighting over who gets to kill them.

That would be the opportune moment where Barbara shows up with a vehicle that has a bit of firepower attached. She saves them, an alliance is proposed, they get themselves and the kids back to safety.

Bonus: Fox conjured up an empty apartment building in their Green Zone to keep the kids in, and families flock to it immediately from all over the city. I mean, who wouldn’t? So, the day ends happily, for once. 🙂

Well, for the GCPD, at least.

Bruce has a much worse time of it.

Seeking “the witch,” he goes in search and finds Ivy. She’s been killing people and feeding them to the park, making new, strange things grow, making the plants move, etc. The locals naturally don’t like this, and they were actually pretty clever. They shoved her into a storage room, with no light or water or soil, and salt on the ground. She’s completely cut off from her plants and at their mercy. They’re just waiting for more of their people to show up so they can burn her, and they’d be perfectly right to do so, I’d say.

But Bruce needs to talk to her, so he convinces them to let him. She professes her innocence, of course, and promises a miraculous healing seed. Bruce takes a chance, and immediately regrets it as she murders her captors. Still, for Selina, he presses on, and manages to convince her. She gives him the seed, though she also warns him that the side-effects could be… dangerous.

For her part, Selina, who was willing to kill herself to escape her misery, is quick to risk her life for the same hope.

Before it really takes effect, she remembers the early days, when she helped and saved and watched over Ivy, and received the same in return. In spite of everything since, she still sees Ivy as that little girl, even now.

Then she falls into a convulsing fit, with fever and racing heartbeat. When she wakes, she, too, is transformed. She can walk, but her mind is different, and her eyes resemble those of a cat, though Bruce doesn’t see that part yet. All they know is that she’s up, back to normal, feeling even better than before.

Happiness and sorrow seem to be interchangeable in Gotham, or have you noticed?

Finally, Riddler wakes up thinking he’s finally triumphed over whoever or whatever it is that takes hold when he sleeps. He tied himself down, and cheers his triumph. Then he uses the bathroom and finds a Street Demon beaten and tied in his tub. The man tells Riddler that he wanted information, and he seemed to be in a daze while beating it out of him. He wanted to know where to find the demons, especially their leader. So they go, and find everyone dead, with a message on the wall, “Penguin was here.”

Whatever his other side is doing, it just set off a war between the demons and Penguin. As Penguin also has the Sirens out for his blood and the GCPD willing to shoot him on sight, I’m wondering how he manages to survive this. I suppose we’ll be finding out soon enough! 🙂

Things went fairly well in this episode, for the most part. Rescued kids, slaughtered gangsters, a safe place for the refugees. All good. But Ivy escaped death, murdered people, and both healed and cursed Selina, thanks to Bruce Wayne’s desperation. And more warfare is about to explode on the streets again.

The good guys have their work cut out for them!

The Gifted

2.11 “meMento”

It must be said, whatever highly questionable things Lorna has done, she has done them in accordance with her goals. Many say the ends justify the means, and getting one’s hands stained and dirty may be inevitable. In war, there are no true rules. But there are lines, and it is by these lines that people are able to do bad things while maintaining some goodness within themselves.

Perhaps that is a shallow distinction. It might even be laughable, like, “What, you start having moral issues now, after everything you’ve already done?” It may be the most difficult balance to find, that area between holding to one’s honor while also acting with intelligent flexibility. Game of Thrones is a classic, but certainly not the only, example of the struggle between idealism and realism. The line between good and evil, hero and villain, can be disturbingly blurry at times.

The one rule of the Underground is never to kill. Lorna has broken that rule, most especially when she tore a plane apart, murdering everyone on board. Yet she still know the value of human life. In that sense, she’s spent a bit, a fortune, to further her goals, but now she sees the Inner Circle preparing to make an expense of human life that is absolutely staggering to even contemplate.

Reeva certainly hasn’t been shy about making such expenditures herself. She took over in a violent, bloody coup, and she’s shed blood since. But she has also restrained herself, and her reaction to Rebecca’s spontaneous massacre at Creed financial might indicate that there are lines even for her. But, in her mind, if she believes it to be necessary, then she will not hesitate, not in the slightest.

So, when Lorna sees Reeva adding three new recruits, and recognizes them as a crew that took down an entire ship, with men, women, and children on it, entire families murdered, thousands of people dead… well, it puts her on edge. She confronts Reeva, who plainly says that she has a job for these three mass murderers. Lorna’s task is to rebuild the world from the ashes, while theirs is to burn it in the first place. As the first thing Reeva did was to assert her dominance over the three of them, she obviously is not entertaining debate on this issue.

With Andy psyched up instead of wary, Lorna has no one she can trust within the Inner Circle. Thus, she goes to Marcos and the Underground.

Marcos is out and about, trying to find someone in the Underground who’s willing to fight, or even someone who’s still there, at Cait’s insistence. That gets put on hold when his ex comes to him, looking for help. It’s an emotional explosion, and one that doesn’t have anything like rescuing John to put it on hold. As such, while Marcos will help, the air is thick with things that need clearing.

It’s an interesting detail, though, that Marcos only gets what he wants from Lorna after he gives the same to Clarice. Being in need of information, they go to the Morlocks, which gives them time to clear things up. Clarice shares how hurt she felt when Marcos went behind her back to talk to John, and she calls him out on her sermonizing, posturing, judgmental behavior, which makes him something of a hypocrite at times like now when he asks her to talk to Urg after judging her for it. With that made clear, a humbled Marcos apologizes, sincerely, and Clarice gracefully accepts. That’s one small rift mended.

While down there, Marcos sees a friend, the woman he helped escape from the asylum and helped find shelter with the Morlocks. There’s a certain spark and connection there, but, oddly, it’s Lorna that makes him feel… everything, from anger to grief to love and back. She offers some wise insight there, with how he feels for her because she matters to him. Also, it takes strength to forgive, rather than to hate.

There is legitimate hurt lying between Marcos and Lorna. She left him, turned to the Inner Circle instead of the Underground. She deprived him of the chance to be there when his daughter was born. She let him hold his daughter in order to help her, and then she took her away again, expelling him. Then she sent their daughter away entirely. If all of that pain weren’t enough, then she kisses him out of the blue and leaves again. That’s a lot to put one man through!

After things are cleared with Clarice, though, and in his own heart, Lorna actually apologizes. She admits that she’s treated him horribly, and she regrets it. And, really… that’s all Marcos was waiting for. He kisses her. And… ah, well, they reconcile. With their own private aurora borealis. And let’s just leave it at that, eh? 😉

I have to say, it’s very satisfying to see characters we care about coming back together.

While frayed relationships on the mutant side of things are mending, Turner is learning that everything he dreamed for is actually a nightmare.

The Purifier militia is up and running, and with six thousand escaped mutants, they have a lot of hunting to do, both for the escapees and for every other mutant scapegoat they can get their hands on. This includes following a tip that leads them to a homeless shelter for children, guns in hand.

Ted, the guy who brought Turner in and got badly clocked last episode, is on his feet again, and not happy at how he’s no longer actually leading the chapter he started and built up. He’s also questioning the wisdom of going mutant-hunting right after they got their butts handed to them. But he comes along anyway.

The “dangerous mutants” turn out to be escapees, but a pair of homeless teens, barely more than kids. Turner and Ted corner them, but Turner talks them down. After that, he interrogates one and leaves Ted alone with the other. Turner all but accuses the one he’s talking to, asking why he’s running away if he’s innocent. Uh, duh, Turner! They ran because a group of armed, murderous mutant haters came to kill them for no good reason!

Turner tries to talk the talk, then, saying he doesn’t have a problem with law-abiding mutants (despite all the ones he’s hunted, caged, tortured, murdered, turned over to scientists for experimentation, etc.). He actually believes what he’s saying for a moment, but then things go pear-shaped when he hears a gunshot. He runs into the next room to find Ted, gun in hand, having just shot the teen he was talking to. Evidence suggests he shot the kid in the chest in cold blood, but Ted says he was raising his hands, about to attack. Ted is rattled and saying he didn’t even want to be there, and if he goes to jail, he’ll be a cop in prison. Not a healthy prospect for him.

No idea what actually happened, but after this same teen already stood down once, I can’t imagine him threatening Ted unless he felt threatened first. Either way, Ted killed him, and Turner literally has blood on his hands. That blood won’t wash off now, not after he lies to protect Ted.

The two of them are hailed as heroes by the anti-mutant media, especially their patron, Benedict Ryan. Turner even gets a phone call from Paula, the woman he loves, who left him, whose divorce papers he just signed and sent off, praising him in the name of their daughter Grace. But Turner knows. He knows. He did the wrong thing. He invaded a homeless shelter and got an innocent kid killed. He is the monster of this story now. Seeing the truth of that is coming down heavy on his shoulders.

We’ll see if it lasts.

Finally, over in the Struckers’ corner, things are heating up.

Lauren is quickly becoming obsessed with her Fenris ancestors, studying them and listening to Andrea von Strucker’s music box anytime she isn’t training. Reed senses something amiss here, but he can’t quite grasp what it is. All he knows is that there’s something going very wrong here, and the tune on the music box doesn’t ease his mind, it being a song about a dark, evil force that steals children, and the parents who allow it by blinding themselves to it. That last refers to Cait, who is encouraging Lauren to get stronger so they can destroy the Inner Circle and rescue her brainwashed son. (good grief, Cait, it’s not brainwashing!)

The danger is even worse than they realize, however. Before he died, Andreas von Strucker knew the pain of his sister dying in his arms. Afterward, he gave up on the hope of ever living to see the world they dreamed of, but he made sure to leave something behind, that this world might come into being someday. He took his sister’s music box to a skilled craftsman, had him restore it and make a certain modification. Something about the tune and when it plays, it reaches into Lauren’s mind, even into her dreams, and it’s changing her.

She has a vivid dream about the moment when Andrea was shot and killed. She learns from the dream how to use her power as a weapon. It’s mostly been used defensively, though also to channel Andy’s blasts and to crush things. Now she learns to use it to make terrible blades with an extreme edge and strength, which she can hurl some distance away. It’s a dangerous, terrifying weapon, and as she lashes out in her sleep, she destroys much of her room and endangers her parents, not to mention anyone else around them, until the music is shut off and she wakes up.

The landlord gets calls about the noise and comes by to check things out. Then he calls the cops to check things out as well, and they don’t hold to proper protocol and legal procedure in doing so. Cait and Lauren use her new ability to bait them into going away and leaving them alone, but it’s a near thing. Reed isn’t at all happy that his wife is once again on a different page from him when it comes to their children. I wouldn’t be either, but at least they got out of the emergency.

But then, later, Lauren goes to the landlord, entering his home and breaking his things, threatening him. Whether that was needed or not, it crosses a line she’s never crossed before, and her manner while she’s doing it is very worrying.

Reed’s father tried to protect him and future generations from their family’s legacy. He failed, and that failure has put Reed in great danger, with a fatal prognosis Now it seems that Lauren’s great-grandfather is reaching out of the past, a shadow wrapping her in darkness, within her own mind and soul.

And somewhere in all of this, Clarice is becoming Blink among the Morlocks, and she is torn between them and her relationship with John. Urg reveals that he actually does care about the people above, and it is only his sworn duty to protect the Morlocks which makes him hesitate to help them. That is a great distinction between him and, say, Reeva. They’ve both suffered hurts and loss and are doing something about it, but one of them still remembers to care about people beyond their limited circle. He cares about Clarice as well, and offers her his protection if she joins the Morlocks.

But, on the other side of things, John is recovering, and reveals his feelings for her. He lost his best friend, and he lost a woman he loved. When he was being tortured by the Purifiers, and shot to within an inch of his life, he was thinking of her, of Clarice. He doesn’t want to lose another person he loves so dearly.

He loves her, and she loves him.

Finally, the episode ends with two curve balls.

The first was somewhat predictable. After all, villains tend to be connected to each other, and when you have two groups like the Inner Circle and the Purifiers, with money and power and a shared rhetoric of mutually-exclusive violence, there’s bound to be some overlap. That said, when Reeva and Benedict meet, seem to argue a bit, and exchange envelopes, it’s quite a slap in the face for Marcos and Lorna to see.

Two groups who ought to be at odds with each other are actually connected. The question is only one of how. Are they taking advantage of each other, pitting all the pawns against each other until someone comes out on top? Seems a bit hazardous to work with someone when you’re both trying to destroy each other, even if you’re playing each other. Is Benedict secretly a mutant, and a grand poser as well? Possible, but that exchange was not entirely friendly. Is Reeva leading mutants to their demise? That would be very hazardous to do whilst in the company of mind-readers, and she looked far too confident in herself. Does she have dirt on Benedict? Hm, that’s probably the most likely scenario, but then why bother with an exchange at all, and why meet repeatedly?

Whatever it is, someone is obviously getting played here.

The second curve ball is much more surprising. I mean, is something actually going to go right, here?

John gets a call from Evangeline. In short, she says she believes he was right: they need to fight. The Underground is almost entirely gone, but there are still some of them left, and she’s called a meeting of all the regional leaders. John and his group are invited.

Somehow, that sounds a little too good to be true, but they can’t exactly refuse to go.

So, recap:

Lorna and Marcos are reconciled and working together to figure out Reeva’s game plan, which looks more and more dire by the second, Clarice is torn between two worlds, Lauren is going dark under the influence of the phantom influence of her great-grandfather, while her parents are coming apart over their children, Turner has stained his soul in a way even he can’t avoid seeing, such that his dreams are turning to ash in his mouth, and thing are coming to a head again as both the Underground and the Inner Circle are gearing up for something big.

That about it?

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Anime Review: Gate

It has a much longer full title that roughly translates as, “Gate: And Thus the Japanese SDF Fought There.” For obvious reason, we just call it “Gate.” 😉

Picture this: a gate to another world, a fantasy world, suddenly opens up in a major city, and the first thing that happens is a bunch of Roman-ish guys attack everyone around them willy-nilly. Men, women, children, pregnant women, it makes no difference, they slaughter everyone in their path. Of course, they lose pretty quickly once people with guns (this Tokyo, not America, so of course none of the civilians have guns) arrive on the scene in sufficient numbers and with sufficient firepower. Afterwards, the government takes control of the area around the gate and sends a military expedition through.

Gate begins with this inciting incident, and it is the story of everything that happens after.

Modern soldiers vs goblins, dragons, legions, and more? That’s a pretty interesting idea! Modern science and fantasy magic alongside each other? Cool. A tale of clashing cultures and all the resulting political intrigue? Count me in!

I generally enjoyed Gate when it first aired. It comes out part isekai, part complex drama, part harem comedy, and part military action, among other parts. Generally fun, though it could have done with a little polishing here and there.

First item on the polishing checklist: tension. I mean, seriously, they handle the intrigue fairly well, but when it comes to combat, the protagonists are seriously overpowered just by virtue of having the might of a modern army behind them. It was exhilarating, at first, to see soldiers mowing down the enemy uncontested, but it gets boring after awhile, ya know? When the end result of a one-sided slaughter is so predictable, there is a certain loss of tension as a result, which makes the show feel far too long. Especially when they don’t even finish the story!

The second item that could have used polishing is the harem side of things. Actually, scratch that, we could just as well have done without it entirely.

Understand, I love the characters. I love the most prominent protagonist, a man named Itami, and I love each of the girls in the harem around him. I love Itami’s comrades, and friends, and while I don’t love his enemies, I do love to hate them. 😉 There is a small multitude of these characters, major and minor, perhaps too many to keep track of, but I enjoy most if not all of them. And that is why I do not enjoy the harem.

I can admire Itami, and I can see what all these girls would like about him. That is not my problem with this harem. Neither is my problem, really, with how easy, immediate, and overwhelming their feelings for him are, though that is also an annoyance. No, my problem is that we have these remarkable characters in a fascinating world in the middle of a riveting story… which does not need a harem storyline in it!

Seriously, they didn’t really do justice to any of the other couplings, of which, there are a few, so how does the harem claim so much of the spotlight? We have international intrigue on both sides of the gate, weighty matters of life and death and love and politics, so why do we have this bit of harem comedy slowing it all down? We have all these characters driving the story and waging war, and absolutely none of them are served or otherwise developed by adding a harem element, so why?

If you can’t tell, the harem was easily my least favorite part of the show.

On the upside, did I mention the characters, the themes, the intrigue, and the setup? 😉

Really, even when Gate is annoying me, it’s still entertaining me. There are a number of wonderful moments. My single favorite has to be when a demigoddess of war really lets loose a tongue-lashing on an idiotic politician trying to undercut her own country’s military. That was epic! 🙂

So, while it might get a little repetitive with the good guys winning so handily, and while one can easily fast forward through the harem bits without missing much, I still like this anime very much. The animation, the music, the plot, the characters, almost everything about it, I love. It’s easily among the front runners for my favorites, flaws notwithstanding.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #216: The Singular Truth

“Truth is singular.”
– Madame Vastra, Doctor Who
Season 7 Christmas Special, “The Snowmen”

I was looking for something a little more upbeat and hopeful to start off the new year, but this isn’t so bad either.

The exact circumstance around this quote is a bit intricate, involving Vastra giving Clara Oswald a test, partially on the Doctor’s behalf, wherein she is confined to one-word answers and questions. The first question out of her mouth is, “Why?” So Vastra explains with the above quote, and adds that lies require a lot of words. So, it weeds out deception, even self-deception, so that there is only truth.

But I find this quote to mean more than just that.

While everyone might have their own perspective on the truth, the truth itself is singular. It is one whole, complete thing, which does not alter itself to suit us. It may be distorted in our view, and one may even say something true and twist it into something false, yet the truth remains the truth nonetheless. Every lie, every half-truth, every twisting of it is a departure from it.

By the same token, however, every truth we grasp is part of the larger whole.

Whether it comes from science, religion, philosophy, archeology, literature, the arts, warfare, or the personal experiences of billions of humans as we live so many different lives, it is all the same. Each truth is a piece of the truth, pieces of truth are everywhere, and every piece we lay hold on can help us find the rest. It can be confusing at times, as two things which are true can appear to be at odds with each other, but that’s just because we haven’t yet found the truths that bridge them.

The pursuit of truth is the thirst for knowledge, and the pursuit of knowledge, in all its forms, is the quest for the singular truth.

…so, on with the quest! 😉

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This Week on TV, Jan. 5, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

…two? We had two shows from my lineup this week? Ah, it’s been so long! Wonderful!

(one of them is ending within ten episodes)

I am still happy! 🙂

The Gifted hit us hard yet again with the story that highlights the tragedy of old friends and loved ones who still love each other despite being on different sides. Meanwhile, Gotham returned for its concluding season with full force and plunged us into the madness that has engulfed the titular city.

Good times!

The Gifted

2.10 “eneMy of My eneMy”

You know, it took me a moment to figure out what was so jarring and upending about John’s unrelenting pursuit of the Inner Circle in the previous episode. See, where Marcos, Clarice, and the rest have all been strong, yet unstable in some way, like air, water, or fire, John has been solid and steady as bedrock. He is part of the very foundations of the old Underground, holding it up despite being hammered down so many times. Now, what is more disconcerting to see move: air, water, fire… or earth? When John moved, he was as implacable as an earthquake, and that is why it was so distressing for his friends and the audience to see, because the ground was moving.

When the ground moves, everything breaks. Including the ground.

Turner has got himself a huge catch when the Purifiers take John prisoner. Not only is John a leader in the Underground, but Turner’s been after him, specifically, for years. Stan and the other Purifiers naturally want to commence with the torture and possible killing of John, their brand of interrogation and punishment of John for being a mutant, but Turner holds them back. He intends to break John slowly, like a master artisan carving stone away piece by little piece, chipping away.

He starts by trying to build a bond of similarity, which is a load of hogwash, considering how he is a leader of a hate group that preys on people who are different. Oh, sure, they’ve both bled and lost for their country, but John has actually kept to the faith in spite of everything, while Turner has only let himself be more and more consumed by his crusade and the pain from which it springs. Somewhere in his head, Turner thinks of the mutants as some massive organization which has deliberately taken his daughter, wife, and job from him, completely forgetting that he lost two of those because of his own behavior. Not to mention how he actually does lead massive organizations in the act of deliberately taking everything from mutants, and humans too, his fellow beings. John, by contrast, still dedicates his life to protecting and preserving the lives and freedoms of others.

There are similarities between these two men, including their strength of will and ability to take command, but there are also some decisive differences.

Turner is more clever than his Purfier friends, torturing John via his super-sensitive hearing instead of just applying power tools to his flesh. Instead of simply shattering John with pain, in a way that he might still withstand even until death, Turner wears him down, slowly, like water dripping on a rock, eroding it little by little, constantly, without respite. And it’s already working, even within the brief span they’re able to apply it. John reveals the truth of the Inner Circle, and his former comrades leaving the Underground to join them, because of what he sees as his own failure to make them believe the X-Men’s old dream of coexistence, peace, and prosperity.

Turner doesn’t believe it, but he does entertain the possibility.

So, naturally, just as Turner might start to believe in the Inner Circle, and the Underground’s conflict with them, and the truth that they have common enemies (which would indicate that they can be allies because they’re all human after all)… well, fate aligns so that he can keep believing what he already believes.

Having the ground torn out from under then, Marcos, Clarice, and the Struckers are off-balance, flailig for support, and so they grab the only thing they can to steady themselves. They reach out to the Inner Circle for help.

It’s a simple deal, trading a captured Fade for information on John’s whereabouts. Lorna’s a little hesitant, courtesy of the displeasure which will surely follow from Reeva, but not only is it a good deal, and a chance to strike at the Purifiers, but Lorna isn’t so removed from the friend she once was to John and Marcos.

This episode’s flashback featured the three of them playing a game of pool at a bar, three years earlier. It was at this game that John revealed that they might as well reveal the secret, that they’re a couple, because he can hear their heartbeats around each other, and he can hear them whispering across the room like they did when he went to get the beers at the bar. Secret’s out anyway, so they might as well. It’s a cute, humorous moment among the trio, and John has know problem with their relationship. It is simply that the day will come when they’re in trouble and they need to trust each other absolutely. When that day comes, they will stand together.

Now the day has come that John needs help, and Lorna chooses to be there for him. Whatever their differences, they’re still friends, even if they’re also enemies at times, too.

Andy comes with, without pause, and even nudges Lorna into doing so. They come with a location, with armored jeeps and bulletproof jackets, and a little bit of hope. Lorna knows they can’t agree, and so they can’t entirely reunite, but Andy is hopeful for reconciliation, at least. Cait and Reed are both ecstatic to see their son, though Lauren is more reserved and standoffish. She knows something’s up, as she felt his emotions when he visited her dream the previous night. He’s sad and lonely and wants to reach out to his family, most of whom are welcoming.

The Struckers ride in one jeep, catching up and grinning like old times, while Clarice has to watch the smoldering tension between Lorna and Marcos in the other. They make like they hate each other, but that’s a cheap and distracting facade. They love each other even when they’re on opposing sides, and now that they’re rescuing a friend together, it’s only a matter of time before they reveal what’s underneath the facade.

Either way, they get to the Purifier compound, scout the area, and plan. They don’t have anti-mutant devices, but they do have a lot of guns and a minefield. Simple defenses require a simple plan: to quote Bulletproof Monk, “misdirection and speed.” Lorna and Marcos create a diversion by attacking one side of the compound while Clarice gets Andy and Lauren in on the other side, past the minefield, to enter, find John, get out, and roll over anyone still in the way.

It goes surprisingly smoothly. Marcos and Lorna are well-matched, and the two halves of Fenris are working together again like two halves of a whole. The Purifiers basically stand no chance, so they get in, grab John, who has just been savaged by an unhinged Turner’s shotgun-enabled rage, and get out. The worst thing that happens is when one Purifier takes a shot at them as they’re leaving, and Andy, in full view of his parents as they stand by the getaway vehicles, lets loose his anger.

Part of it may be his own conflicted feelings about Rebecca, which he almost told Lauren everything about, but he’s also a brother angry on behalf of his sister. And he’s lost almost all of what little restraint he once had, courtesy of his time with the Inner Circle. So, he basically twists the man’s limbs, one by one, inflicting as much pain on his enemy as he can, which is stupid if only for the time it wastes, not to mention the hatred behind it. Lauren is barely able to pull him back before he kills the man, and Andy does not like the looks his family gives him after their out.

Most disconcerting, to me, is how happy he was afterward. Much like how Rebecca smiled after murdering thirty-seven people. That darkness has indeed taken root in Andy now.

When his family looks at him, perhaps he sees that darkness for just a moment. Either way, he can’t handle it. He spouts off how the Inner Circle are the good guys and the humans are the bad guys and anyone who is an enemy needs to be wiped out. He’s deflecting, trying to justify himself when he knows he did something very wrong. He, like the Purifiers, is trying to oppose something bad, but without trying to be good. It’s a common, and devastating, mistake.

So, the Struckers end on a sour note after rescuing John. Cait and Lauren are pretty much set on destroying the Inner Circle now, as the only means they have to get Andy back. Somehow, I don’t think they’ve thought that one through. Andy is part of the Inner Circle, and boys generally do not respond well to having their clubs destroyed as a means of supposedly saving them.

Meanwhile, Lorna kisses Marcos (surprise: none) before going back to the Inner Circle, on opposite sides again.

In the end, Clarice is tending John’s injuries, which are pretty bad, Marcos and Lorna love each other but they’re enemies, Cait and Reed are using the medication they stole and do not have a limitless supply of, Andy and Lauren are both trying to get stronger, with Lauren also getting more aggressive to match her brother, and Turner, coming apart at the seams and disbelieving the existence of the Inner Circle, has a number of badly hurt Purifiers to fuel their war against mutants.

The battle lines, they are being drawn.

Though, one detail… six thousand mutant convicts? That’s it? Somehow, I expected quite a bit more than that. I mean, how many did they grab just a couple of episodes ago? And they’ve been at this for years! And there’s only six thousand of them? Sheesh, the humans are still outnumbering the mutants by tens or even hundreds of thousands to one! And Reeva thinks they have a chance with those odds? They are so screwed!

Gotham

5.01 “Year Zero”

The final season begins at day 391 (if I remember right) of No Man’s Land, well over a year after the bridges were destroyed. Gordon, Bullock, Penguin, and Riddler all do their own rituals to ready themselves, though Bullock leaves his drink untouched, before they gather to lead a ragtag group of defenders of a great wall into battle against an encroaching part of… soldiers?! With a tank?! What?!

Obviously, we have some ground to cover here!

Back at Day 89 (if I remember right), Gordon gives the audience some exposition while begging the government to send help. The city has been carved up by the villains and other gangs, each bit of ground going to whoever is strong enough to hold it. Penguin is in City Hall, dining fairly well in the safety of his citadel whilst the people laboring to make bullets in his factory are starving and dying. Barbara and the Sirens control an area around the club, allowing men to live only if they purchase time, and they’re the only ones who have enough food and booze. Scarecrow has his own territory, Freeze and Firefly are at war with each other, and so on. As for Gordon, he has a few dozen officers trying to protect and provide for a hundred and fifty refugees. And that’s just what they know about, there are probably a whole lot more people in need everywhere in the city.

They need help, but they’re not getting any. Which is odd. Which indicates that there is something actively working against them.

As Penguin has the bullets, he’s able to trade with others, even people who hate him. Barbara, for instance, who fully intends to help Tabitha kill him. But they need his bullets, so they’ll trade premium stake for it. Both warlords, Penguin and Barbara, are dealing with the hassle of ruling and making things work as they want when they hear something. Something unusual. Something significant.

A helicopter.

Gordon’s people are in desperate need of supplies, and that need gets even more dire after Scarecrow makes a raid on their supplies. He gasses a guard to get in. (take note: stand either far enough back or far enough up, but certainly far enough away, to not get gassed while on guard duty… and never be complacent when you’re in the middle of the end of the world) Once inside, his people steal food and medicine. In the former case, he clashes with Gordon directly, but neither can get a killing blow in before he escapes. In the latter case, his people meet Bruce, who has night-vision goggles. Good in the dark, but a terrible weakness when the lights come back on all at once. They get away clean with what they came for.

With maybe a week of supplies left, Bruce takes drastic action.

Admittedly, he’s not thinking only of the good of others. He’s thinking of Selina.

It turns out, she was not among the last ones out of the city that night the bridges blew. They didn’t make it out at all. All this time, she’s been in the clinic, cut off from the proper healthcare outside the city. She’s in pain, terrible pain, crippled, her condition deteriorating, and crying. We even find her wishing that she’d been flat-out killed, and trying to commit suicide.

Bruce bears terrible guilt over this, which Selina does not help because Jeremiah shot her in order to get to him. She’s not in her right mind, of course, but that does little to dull the agony.

With a portion of Selina’s medicine stolen, Bruce pulls strings and gets a supply helicopter into the city. It will probably only work the one time, the government won’t allow a repeat performance, but it’s something. The sound of those whirring chopper blades is a sound of hope for some, and opportunity for others.

They ought to have just landed on the GCPD roof, but they venture on to another landing zone… and get hit with an RPG out of nowhere.

I’m thinking that was due to the same mysterious party which has been preventing the federal government from helping them.

The pilot ought to be credited for a landing which spared the supplies from destruction, but even if he managed to survive that, I doubt he survived the gangs descending on the supplies like locusts. One gang gets it first, only for Penguin to come in and slaughter them, with Gordon hot on his heels, and Tabitha taking the chance to strike at Penguin the first moment he’s left his fortress in months. It’s bloody, just shy of pandemonium, with everyone taking losses.

Bruce came sneaking along to help, of course, and a good thing, because he intercepts some ammunition from a truck out back just as Gordon and his boys run out. Even so, lives are lost, including Tabitha.

That, I am just going to say, was rather poorly done. Tabitha is an incredible fighter, without any physical handicaps, so for Penguin to be able to just stab her like that? That’s pretty thin, I say.

Barbara is devastated. She vows, with no restraint of rationality left, to kill Penguin. She fails right then, but survives partially due to the timely intervention of Gordon, with fresh bullets. He gets close, using Penguin’s belief that he doesn’t have any bullets against him. Then he shoots Penguin in the leg, saving Barbara and taking the supplies.

It’s a sound victory for the good guys, but they’ve no time to rest on their laurels. They haven’t made any friends, and now a little boy comes to them, begging the police to save his brothers and sisters on the other side of the city. Everyone looks to Gordon, and it’s a sober moment. He says, simply, that they stayed for the promise they represent, that when people are in trouble, help will come. They, the GCPD, will come.

They’re cops, and they have work to do.

Additionally, I’m fairly certain that was this show’s version of Harley Quinn which sneaked into the GCPD and drew on Gordon’s map. The original No Man’s Land storyline had the Joker waiting awhile before making a move, and Jeremiah seems to be doing the same.

Gordon sees the map when he answers the radio. Some lady (was that Lee?) saying he has allies across the river, but refusing to identify them.

Bruce may be officially welcome among Gordon’s people now, as Gordon makes it clear that he’s earned it, so he doesn’t need to sneak around, but it’s Selina who’s most on his mind. After her suicide attempt, Bruce is at his lowest and most vulnerable. When a creepy nurse says the doctors can’t help her, that she needs “the witch,” he asks where he can find this witch.

That… is not going to go well.

This is a painful moment, but… well, it’s kind of part of the process. That may sound callous, but the pain that one feels at any given moment is not eternal. There’s an end to it, typically one besides the release of death. One has to let it run its course without trying to take a shortcut. Shortcuts can be very, very dangerous, especially in Gotham.

So, it’s basically the apocalypse in Gotham, everyone fighting to hold on to what they have or avenge what they’ve lost, and familiar faces, people we’ve known for years now, are falling in battle.

Oh, and Riddler keeps waking up in strange places. He assumes it’s his other identity, Ed, but has no idea what’s going.

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Ralph Wrecks the Internet, but Not the Movie

I was asked what movie I had enjoyed most in 2018. I thought for a moment, and the answer came clear. I hadn’t seen Aquaman yet; I had seen little besides the MCU movies, really, and those compete with each other so well that I had to disqualify the lot of them; that left only two candidates, both sequels: Mary Poppins Returns and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Guess which one I chose. 😉

(really, that title should be Ralph Wrecks the Internet, but whatever)

Wreck-It Ralph is officially my favorite animated Disney movie, ever, and now I’d say it’s my favorite series. The first movie is about a how Ralph comes to accept himself and improve his lot in life, including the beginning of his friendship with Vanellope, who has a similar journey of self-acceptance. It’s a beautiful thing, but there was one small detail: at the end of the movie, just a bit of Ralph’s sense of self-worth seemed to be tied to Vanellope. It’s not entirely a bad thing, but left alone it could grow and become something unhealthy, and, it turns out, it did exactly that.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is about both Ralph and Vanellope, how they grow as individuals and as friends to become more independent of each other. It’s a very human, organic story of a stage that all close relationships, including friendships, siblings, romantic couples, and especially parents and children have to pass through. Eventually, if it’s healthy, a certain amount of independence must emerge after a preceding stage of dependence or codependency has been built. This metamorphosis is scary, and often painful, but ultimately fulfilling and joyful.

That’s the sort of story this movie tells, and it’s driven in believable ways by relatable, lovable characters.

For an actual plot synopsis: after a kindly deed backfires terribly, putting Vanellope’s entire game at risk, Ralph is determined to fix things and takes to the newly-installed internet to get what they need. But complications arise as the duo learn to navigate this unfamiliar world. Soon the two friends find themselves pulled slowly but insistently in differing directions. As their friendship is strained, Ralph’s insecurities come to a boiling point and boil over, spilling into the virtual world around them.

Along the way, Ralph and Vanellope meet a colorful cast of helpful characters, including a racer woman named Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot and absolutely awesome), a spamming program, an advertiser, and, of course, we saw them in the trailers, the Disney princesses. Which, that was great. 🙂

So, we have lovable characters, an interesting story, compelling themes, legitimate tension… oh, and the humor is great! I laughed so much during this movie, it was so witty and intelligent!

Ironically, I don’t have much else to say outside the praise I’ve already given. It checks off all of the most important boxes and a number of others, full marks right across the board. The only criticism I might have is how I can’t seem to remember the soundtrack at all, but, then again, I’ve had music from both Mary Poppins movies running around my head for the last week, so, take that with a grain of salt. I can say that Ralph‘s soundtrack certainly made me feel whatever I was supposed to be feeling at any given moment, so, job done. 😉

Basically, Ralph Breaks the Internet is already one of my favorite movies. 🙂

Rating: 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus.

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