This Week on TV, May 18, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

And, with no ado whatsoever, the one-two punch of Marvel shows continues!

Cloak and Dagger

2.08 “Two Player”

After the heights, come the depths.

This episode was all about what we lose. In particular, what we are willing to sacrifice, the price we are willing to pay for love. Whether that’s love of a friend, a son, a romantic partner, or a love of justice, for the sake of those who are victims. The things we do for love. The things we give up, for love.

The price can be… staggering. And heart-breaking.

Most of the episode revolves around the effort to save Tyrone. They don’t really explain what is happening or why, but it’s clear he’s dying. Tandy managed to get him back to the church and called Evita for help. She answers immediately, grabbing a kit, of sorts, and running out of the shop even before she can find Chantelle’s body. Kind of horrible, but the way it works out, perhaps that’s a small mercy. Brigid shows up first after getting called to that hotel, where the girls who were victims are treated like criminals, and the brief rejoicing in how someone took the place down is smothered under the cynical realism of, “It’ll be open again within a month.”

So, we have three women working to save Ty, but Evita’s the closest to an expert they have. When Tandy lets slip about Papa Mystery/Legba, she draws his symbols all around Ty, performs a summoning, looking for help. And she gives Tandy some candy to give him, as he apparently has a sweet tooth. She knows all this because Chantelle raised her to it, and she knows Legba quite well, as his bride, of sorts. Not much seems to happen, but Tandy thinks they’re being invited into that other place, the shadow world. She and Brigid jump in, and there they find him, though he has a different face for each of them. No idea whose face that was for Tandy, but Brigid, like Mayhem, saw her old friend and love interest, Fuchs. It’s also much easier to pay with candy than with her dagger of light, it would seem.

Here, the paths diverge. Evita is still working on the problem back in the physical world, Tandy goes after Ty, and Brigid is directed on her own path, towards her other half.

Brigid meets Mayhem again outside the record shop. As Andre is inside it at the moment, Mayhem grabs her from behind and takes her away quietly. The two of them have a lot to talk about, including their target, their past, and how they’ll proceed forward. It’s an interesting character moment, but it comes down to Brigid’s choice. Mayhem has no intention of being contained now that she’s free, but Brigid isn’t trying to contain her. She just needs Mayhem to listen, ie, be open to holding back a bit on the complete annihilation of everyone and everything in her path. For now, however, Mayhem simply gets to be in control. The two become one again, for the sake of all those girls, and for justice.

Tandy, meanwhile, finds herself in an arcade that turns out to be the den of Baron Samedi, a vodun loa of death, with a party-going flavor to him. Ty is staying with him, playing a game, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world. Samedi makes a rather generous offer, if also a dangerous one: if Tandy plays alongside and can simply convince him to leave the game behind and go back to the land of the living, then Samedi will simply let the both of them go, no strings attached. Tandy agrees, and so the game begins.

The game is based on themselves. In fact, it references their comic book origins of being shot up with radioactive heroin by a villain, whom they eventually brought to justice with the help of Spider-Man. In here, however, it’s just a ridiculous game, albeit an insightful one. It starts out all 8-bit, but soon they find themselves literally in the game, playing through the levels.

Tandy wants to go after the first level, but Ty wants to keep playing. It’s a way to be free of all their worries in the real world: the fighting, the loss, the lack of progress, the consequences, all of it. Here, they play, they win, easy, and they even get to have a bit of fun, which, don’t they deserve it?

Tandy understands how tempting that would be. But Ty still has people waiting for him, and fighting for him. His mother, Evita, Tandy herself. What about them?

And then, when Andre comes in as the game’s boss (what was that about him being their greatest enemy?), Tandy can’t handle it anymore. She bails on the game, and takes the conversation out of the game and back to Samedi’s arcade. There, she tells him, she reveals that it was losing him that broke her, and he tells her how Andre got into his head, telling him Tandy had no need of him, really. She shows him that she does. She’d rather face a hundred battles with him rather than face one without him. Their lives are becoming entwined, such that they can’t imagine them without the other anymore. So, fine. She wants to go back, and take him with her, but if he chooses to stay, then she’ll stay with him, forever.

Ty may have been about to make the choice to go back at that point, but the choice gets made for him. That’s what happens when you don’t choose quickly enough.

Evita is consulting otherworldly powers, and she is heartbroken to discover that Chantelle is among them now. It’s her spirit that comes, and she’s not sad about dying. It’s her turn to dance with the ancestors, she says. But going forward, Evita has to embrace her own destiny now. She was touched, chosen by the loa, and though she doesn’t like it, or want it, the time has come to make her choice. To save Ty, the young man she loves, she has to leave him behind and marry a loa of life and death: Baron Samedi.

She makes a wax doll to stand in for Samedi, and uses a bouquet of dead flowers. She steps up to the alter of the dilapidated church, and begins to say her vows. The spirits show up, including her mother, dancing for the wedding, giving some joy to a moment that is far sadder than a wedding ever ought to be.

In the arcade, Samedi suddenly becomes excited… ok, more excited than before… as he discovers the trade has been made: a life for a life, the bouquet for the cloak. Evita is his now, so Ty and Tandy are sent back, to make a clean house for the missus.

The both of them and Brigid, with Mayhem driving, find themselves back in the church.

Mayhem is happy to be back, and happy to have the scent of her next target: Andre du Shane. First thing’s first, though, she addresses how quickly the hotel brothel will be open and running again by setting it on fire.

Evita is less happy, as she kept let Ty touch her now that she’s married Samedi to save him. They love each other, but they’re over now. Honestly, I was fearing her fate would be much worse, as she may be Ty’s first love, but we already knew she wouldn’t be his last. That said, it’s probably not the most enviable position to be in, to have Samedi for a husband. It’s a high price she’s paid to save Ty’s life.

Tandy returns home with flowers for her mother, only to find empty alcohol bottles and an empty pill bottle. She was doing so well, perfectly sober until recently, but now she’s fallen far off the wagon again. It’s a shattering moment for Tandy, and she breaks down crying. At least she has Ty there, wordlessly comforting her.

Elsewhere in the episode, Ty’s mother Adina finds the former-priest, Francis Delgado. He’s at a sober house (good to see he’s straightening out again!), but still blaming himself for failing to protect Ty. Which, as it happens, is what brings Adina to him. She has a file with everything the FBI would need to bring down crooked cops and politicians in the city. She can’t give it to the feds without telling them where she got it, so she’s hoping Delgado will turn it in as a priest, not legally obligated to answer any such questions.

Delgado is largely in despair, but he still rises to the occasion. Small detail: such things can only be protected in a legal sense by the confidentiality of a confession. So, he takes her confession… but it turns out to be so much worse.

Adina Johnson is guilty of cold-blooded murder.

Connors came, or was brought, to her looking to make things right. He told her everything she wanted to know, freely. She made crab cakes while they spoke, and took the information she wanted from him. Then she unstrapped him and sent him to the bathroom. He turned the light on only to find everything covered in plastic. I don’t know if it was her that pulled the trigger, or if that was Ty’s father, Otis. But he walked into the slaughter house, unknowing, trusting. He was looking to make things right, and they just got what they wanted from him before casting him aside like trash. He was guilty as sin, but that does not make it right for them to murder him in cold blood. Now they, too, are stained.

Delgado is shocked, appalled, even disgusted and outraged, especially in light of her earlier talk of hope and making a better world. She’s beyond caring about it. It’s her son who need all that. She just needs a priest.

Finally, we have Andre and Lia. She lures a guy looking for some easy/paid for company, and they steal his car. Andre drives, however, no matter his headaches, and no matter how Lia tries to talk him into letting her drive. But that’s them in a nutshell: she ain’t the one drivin’, ever. She’s just something else to be used, in his eyes. When his head hurts too bad for him to continue, he uses her like any addict would use their drug of choice. She doesn’t want to let him do that to her again, but he promises this will be the last time. Technically, he keeps that promise, but not in a good way.

The only true “last time” there is for any addict, any abuser, is when they physically can’t do anything more afterward.

Like using up a bottle of pills, leaving it empty, Andre feeds on Lia until there’s nothing left, and leaves her body on the side of the road. Oh, yes, it was the last time, but Lia probably imagined she’d still be alive at the end of it.

And Andre, without no more care for her than a discarded bottle, is just glad to have his “fix.” He cracks something about that symbol, something in the key to his quest for godhood. It looks to refer to a location, I think, and off he goes, looking for it.

So, where Tandy was willing to sacrifice for her friend, and Evita sacrificed for the man she loved, and Brigid sacrificed for the power to fight injustice, and even Adina sacrificed a bit of her soul for her sons (or at least for her feelings), Andre sacrificed Lia for nothing more than himself. That is one mad that definitely should not be permitted to become a god.

Agents of Shield

6.02 “Window of Opportunity”

On Earth, we have an alternate dimension’s Coulson and his team, with highly-advanced technology, going about their destructive business, while Shield strives to catch up to them and unravel their secrets. In space, we catch up with Fitz and Enoch.

It seems Enoch taught Fitz some alien language so they could get to the appropriate planet with Fitz posing as an alien to work his way there and Enoch hiding in the walls of a ship. They’re discovered, however, when Fitz doesn’t quite behave like one and his cover doesn’t hold up. The Controller, like the captain in charge of the ship, is ready to send them both out the airlock, but they’re useful, and they make an offer that can benefit him.

He takes them up on it, challenges them to do a bit of work quickly enough, and runs some numbers. It would be, in the short-term, at least, more profitable to have two hard-working slaves instead of three lagging employees. So, he’ll keep the two of them and throw his other workers out the airlock instead. Fitz, of course, isn’t about to accept that, not if he wants to ever look Simmons in the eye again. Enoch counsels him against it, but, still, he does it.

He ends up stepping into the airlock with the doomed workers, trying to convince their Controller not to kill them, but he doesn’t care. Fitz warns him not to do what he’s about to do, because he’ll regret it, but to no avail. Then, no surprise, the Controller learns the hard way that Fitz and Enoch tweaked the controls so trying to open the one airlock will, in fact, open another one, on the other side of the cargo hold. The Controller and his goons get sucked out into the vacuum of space, leaving Fitz, Enoch, and three grateful ship workers alive.

Unfortunately, that only saved them for the moment. If they proceed to their intended destination, they’ll all be executed as criminals. There is another planet, however, which they’ll be fine if they reach it, and they should have just enough fuel for it. So, off they go…

…just as the Zephyr enters the system, missing them by mere moments.

Back on Earth, the central agents are reeling with the appearance of another Coulson. This version evidently doesn’t know his own name, but his crew, being Pax, Snowflake, the big guy whose name I didn’t catch, and the now-deceased Tinker, call him Sarge. They rob a convenience store, talking about how this world uses paper money, still uses combustion weaponry, and pretty much has everything they could want. It even has clean air, which, such a shame it’s all gonna go to ash.

Which leaves me wondering what the heck their game is. What, do they just go from world to world, destroying them all? Why? And how?

They set up shop, ie, they park their invisible truck, and go looking to rob a jewelry store. They talk their way in, take out the guards, get into the vault, and lock it, while using their tech to make a door between it and their truck. They aren’t really interested in the diamonds, though they’ll take anything that has value wherever they are. They’re after something specific, crystals that can conduct electricity, like quartz or topaz or something like that. They find it, though it takes a moment to get on the same page as the woman whose story they’re robbing. Things are going their way, until Shield catches up.

Mack is leading the hunt efficiently. When May suggests he talk to Keller about Fox, he intimates that Keller has someone else to support him, indicating that he already knows about Keller and Yo-Yo. Somehow, that makes me even sadder than just the two of them running around behind his back, the fact that he already knows and isn’t doing anything about it. He’s just running Shield, that’s it. Everything else, including a spectacular “ship,” he just leaves by the wayside.

May and Yo-Yo are investigating some kind of truck yard when they get the call about the jewelry store. Obviously, they follow the trail to the vault, and it’s no problem to get into said vault, with due time, but there’s something very wrong here, they can tell. They take an infrared-enhanced look through the door and find there are more people than there should be and they have a way out already. But where is the other end of the portal?

May gets it, and, accustomed to her usual victories, she races off alone, back to the truck yard. She finds the invisible truck, and takes on all of this other Coulson’s crew, saving the shop keeper and holding her own. But when Coulson, who was testing a device with their newly-obtained crystals in it, enters the truck again, she’s too shocked. He’s a little off-put, too, by the sound of his name. It rings a bell, though he doesn’t know it. But only for a moment. She’s knocked through the dimensional door, into the vault, which they shut behind her, just as Shield gets through the vault’s door.

May just lost. And not because of the fighting, she handled that perfectly fine, but because she came face to face with another Coulson, someone so very like the man she loved, but a ruthless, cold-blooded killer. We see that he isn’t even that loyal to his crew, not taking kindly to Pax’s arguing, saying he sounds like Tinker, the one who “accidentally” died in the crossing between worlds, if that was even an accident. He’s interested in replacements.

So, this Coulson is driven by some agenda, for which he will protect his teammates, but only so long as their use outweighs their cost. He’s insightful, and calm, and focused, and ruthless. That’s a dangerous combination, that is. He lacks the original Coulson’s compassion, and that makes all the difference, but in some ways, he may be even more dangerous, and he’s certainly more readily deadly.

To make things even more foreboding, Henson finds a biological hard drive on Tinker’s body. It has footage, including a world apparently being destroyed, while Coulson calmly leads his team in evacuating, now that there time is up. That’s pretty convincing evidence that they destroyed it, and Coulson seems set that this new world will be destroyed, but the method remains unknown, so I’m still wondering about their exact intentions.

Just what is going on with this bunch of killers? What’s their game, really?

That’s a mystery that will have to wait to be revealed, and it’s clearly not going to go easy on the agents. May just blew it because she felt something at the wrong time, and who can blame her for that? She’ll need to either take a step back or not go off alone again. Mack is a capable Director, but he’s leaving everything else behind. And the new Coulson’s team is leaving destruction everywhere in their wake. Meanwhile, Fitz and Enoch are navigating the stars and various crises by the skin of their teeth in order to do something that they don’t need to do anymore, and barely miss being found by the very same people they’re trying to help.

So, crap has not hit the fan, but it rests within striking distance.

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5 Anime Clubs, Teams, or Other Organizations

Where last week focused on less-formal groups of friends, this week, we have a bit more “official” organization at work. As in, there is someone in charge, everyone is obligated, as well as expected, to do their part, and there is a specific purpose behind their unity. They don’t even need to be friends, because they are coworkers and official teammates. They literally work together.

That said, I did lean towards people who are friends. It’s just so much more pleasant when they get along, rather than sniping at each other all the time.

So, in no particular order (and I seem to be using that phrase a lot in this particular challenge), I present 5 clubs/teams/organizations from anime.

1) Log Horizon
Log Horizon

Starting things off, we have a group of friends and comrades who chose to make of themselves an official organization, which is a recurring theme in this list.

When the players of an MMORPG find themselves in the game they were playing, made real somehow, they are very surprised, to put it mildly. It’s a absolute crisis, and for all that they now find themselves nearly immortal, the world is still very dangerous, even for them. Amidst this chaos, it is onlyt natural for friends to find each other and band together, and maybe get a few more friends alongside them. That is exactly what happens, the beginning of a new guild.

Shiroe is just another player trapped in a strange new world. He is gifted in tactics and strategy, but he’s never been much for official guilds. Circumstances change him, however, and he finds that he must take action as things go wrong and his fellow adventurers are turned into victims. He cannot tackle all the problems in front of them alone. So he reaches out to his closest friends first, and slowly the circle widens.

Log Horizon is a guild of friends who share common purpose: they mean to improve the world they are in, safeguard their community, and hopefully find a way to go back home. They are fiercely loyal to one another, and they work very well together. They also refine one another a bit, smoothing out the rough edges and making each other stronger for it. In short, they are fantastic. 🙂

Though I could do without that little love triangle aspect. Oy vey!

2) Kogarasumaru
Air Gear

This group is some friends who come together voluntarily, but they’re also a group that goes from being one team to being another. Three out of five of the original members were part of the East Side Guns, if I recall correctly. They were a delinquent school gang that kept their territory and the people within it safe from the predations of other gangs, and that was basically their purpose. When the game changed a bit, and they became outmatched, they changed as well. They gained new tools, new skills, and new blood, thus becoming a new group, but with much the same purpose, called Kogarasumaru.

In the English dub, at least, the meaning of the name is explained as something like, “We are bound to the same fate,” thus representing their unity and strength. And that pretty much sums them up. They’re a pretty motley bunch of freaks, mixing speed, strength, cleverness, and crazy ferocity, but whatever foe or other obstacle they face, they face it together.

They are a most worthy team.

3) Night Raid
Akame ga Kill

In a world where all the land is ruled by one empire, and has been for centuries, it is inevitable that the rot of corruption would seep into the very heart of it. Injustice and madness reign with unforgiving fists, all the empire’s citizens are helpless, and even a widespread rebellion has little hope of victory. Yet, within the capital, the very seat of imperial power, there is a group of assassins striking down the mighty and the corrupt, paving the way for a rebellion’s ultimate victory. Their name is Night Raid.

The story of Akame ga Kill basically chronicles the battles, losses, and ultimate triumph of this group of assassins, ten of them in total, starting from the perspective on a newcomer. He is recruited during one of their missions, after impressing one of their senior members, and soon he finds that he has joined a very strange, if also very dangerous, family of sorts.

Night Raid is a collection of people who have seen or felt the injustice that is rampant in the empire. This is why they rebel, and though they are indeed a deadly group, they’re enemies are every bit as lethal. Most of Night Raid’s members die throughout the series, leaving their last survivor to carry the weight of all of them alone. But though they have such tragic ends, they are able to be happy together for a time, a little band of brothers and sisters bound by their resolve.

Perhaps that is why I love them. Because though they suffer and die, they also lived. They sacrifice, giving their all, even the memory of them, to save and liberate everyone else, people who will never know them. They had good times, as if they were a true family. And, in the end, they win.

4) Wagnaria Employees
Working

They are, straight-up, a group of coworkers in a small restaurant. They are also a rather unique and eccentric group, an assembly of people who all have issues. But the way they get along and work together is both hilarious and endearing in an odd sort of way.

Amidst the endless jokes on the show, it is the relationships between the employees which really make the show interesting. Most of them are platonic friendships, but there are a couple romantic couplings in the making. And with this many crazy people in the same room, life is never dull! 🙂

5) Ouran Academy Host Club
Ouran High School Host Club

…hey, there had to be at least one actual club here! 😉

On its surface, the Host Club of Ouran Academy may seem gaudy and useless, one of those things that only the super rich and privileged could even begin to waste their time and money on, let alone appreciate. It is, after all, a place where the most elite and handsome boys with too much time on their hands entertain young ladies who also have way too much time on their hands. What value could there really be in such a club?

As it happens, the true value is in what it does for its members. Though they generally come from such class and privilege as defies normal, rational comprehension, each of them has been suppressed in some way. Then along came the club’s founder and leader, Tamaki, to open the golden doors of their cages and let them be truly free as themselves. The club is their refuge, their safe haven.

No matter the bright and shiny facade, the very core of the club is one of truly caring for the happiness of others.

So, as ridiculous as it may seem at first glance, I can’t help but like it, just a bit. 😉

And that’s my five picks! 🙂

Knowing that there’s so many other clubs and teams and other organizations out there, what would your picks be?

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Anime Review: Outlaw Star

I’m starting to notice that, while I have, many times, been caught up in loving the newest good shows, when I really sit back and consider my favorites, most of the front-runners are older favorites from my teenage years. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Outlaw Star is a science fiction adventure set in the far future, after humanity has spread out through the stars. It tells the tale of Gene Starwind and his friends as they get caught up in a fantastic odyssey of pirates, conspiracies, and the search for an ancient treasure of immense value and power. There’s mystery, laughter, tears, some tragedy, a bit of revenge, a small love story, and a whole lot of the colorful cast fighting for their lives.

There’s a lot to be said for this anime.

The characters, as with most quality anime, are a lovable bunch. Whether it be Gene’s reckless toughness and rascal wit, Jim’s more well-grounded maturity despite his young age, Melfina’s sweet spirit and innocence, Aisha’s supreme strength and hyperactivity, or Suzuka’s calm, stoic demeanor, you have to love them. Their friends and allies, as well as their enemies, also all feel like proper characters with their own stories, though some of them appear only briefly. Thus, their triumphs and tragedies, their hopes and their failures, are something we are all interested in. And though they have skills which make them strong, it’s all well-balanced, nothing too extreme.

The story is a fairly tight, well-told, well-paced narrative, from start to finish, with everything since the beginning coming together to create the end. Not that there aren’t any breaks from the overarching plot, but they don’t leave it hanging, and they don’t rush it either.

The themes include the contest between freedom and power among the stars, and the colliding desires of those who fight for either. There are questions of the self, of one’s purpose in life, and what meaning one has in the grand scheme.

The texture of this universe envelopes the audience. The narrations before each episode serve to draw us in even as some relevant aspect of the show is explained. The technology is cool and super-advanced, yet also has a realistic sort of flavor to it. The powers at work in the stars, including governments, militaries, pirates, and outlaws, is riveting in its way, and sets the stage for the plot, including the grand finale.

The animation is fluid, the action is thrilling, the music is beautiful, the scenes are well-crafted, and the voice-work is amazing (mind you, I only really know the English dub, but I doubt the original Japanese is lacking in any way).

About the only complaint I have has to do with the content. This is not something meant for little Western children, and there is a reason it was censored when it first aired on Cartoon Network. When I finally got to see the original uncensored version, I had to admit that the even less child-friendly content added nothing of particular value to it, so the censoring didn’t really diminish it at all. The more graphic violence and death was a little unsettling, and thankfully rare. The display of Gene’s perverted tendencies, and of female nudity, was completely unnecessary, even useless, and also thankfully rare.

Outside that, I do wish they would have explained Gene’s most classic weapon, the caster, a bit earlier on, instead of waiting until right before the finale, and in an episode so risque that it was actually skipped on Cartoon Network, but whatever. Minor quibble.

With exception to these imperfections, I have rather loved the show ever since it first aired. Heh, I actually managed to catch the second half of it first before the reruns caught me up on what was going on, and it was perfectly all right either way. 🙂

Outlaw Star is a fun, thrilling adventure in space, as everyone tries to find the most powerful treasure in the universe, and it all comes down to one outlaw tipping the scales. All in all, very well done.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #234: Hope Defies the Lie

“I want to go home. I want to find my family!”

“We are your family! You have nothing without us!”

“You’re wrong. I have hope.”

– Del & Lia, Cloak and Dagger
Season 2, Episode 7, “Vikingtown Sound”

This is from what is currently the latest episode of the show, and it begins what is the latest addition to my favorite scenes. It’s a moment where the protagonists of the show, having been brought very low by their nefarious enemies, are able to rise again, springing into action like angels of justice and mercy, striking down evil in the defense of its victims. They kick butt and I love it!

But it hinges around this moment between minor characters, a girl and one of her captors.

Del is among a group of girls who have been taken from their lives, literally robbed of all hope, and kept as sexual slaves. Their physical necessities, meaning food, water, shelter, etc., are all provided, but… well, they are sexual slaves, sold for the use of any foul creep that can pay. They even suffer the indignity of maintaining their own slave pen, the rooms in which they are repeatedly violated. If they resist or try to escape, they’re drugged, beaten, locked up, killed, whatever gets the job done. So they bear it, and just go through the motions of lingering life.

But with only one or two keepers, that wouldn’t be enough to hold all of them, certainly not without driving them to do desperate things which would draw unwanted attention. So, what really holds Del and the others prisoner are the lies their keepers, including Lia, tell them. They tell them that they are unloved and worthless, that no one is looking for them. They tell them that they would have nothing if they even managed to get out. They tell them that their families, those that might care, would never take them back. They tell them that, however bad it might be for them where they are, they could never have hope for something better. When a group of girls bound for the brothel are rescued, they cover it up by telling Del and the others that these girls were killed for trying to escape.

Lies, lies, and more lies. That’s what truly imprisons them.

And all the lies are directed towards killing their hope, suffocating the last spark, ember, and light within their souls. It’s effective, because where hope breeds defiance, despair breeds submission. That is the way it has always been, from the lowest of abuses to the grandest of conquests: people surrender when they lose hope.

Hope is a fire which inspires action, resistance, a refusal to accept things as they are. Even if that hope is of nothing more than dying on one’s feet.

Despair is constantly whispering in our ear, “Give up, give up, there is nothing you can do, nothing to be gained, give up, give up, give up.”

Hope is the one thing that oppressors cannot allow their subjects to have.

Thus, the above quote, because a single light of truth has found Del. It’s not much, but enough to break the chains of lies around her. She realizes she is loved, that someone is looking for her, she does have somewhere else she can go, namely home, to her real family, and she does not need her captors!

The truth sets her free because it ignites hope, and with that hope comes her defiance.

Even if she truly has nothing else without what her captors allow her to have, she still has hope.

This single moment, where Del finds light in the darkness, is the beginning of the end of her slavery.

And it makes the butt-kicking which follows all the more satisfying.

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This Week on TV, May 11, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

Between the latest Cloak and Dagger and the premiere of the sixth season of Agents of Shield, this was a good week! The latter took forever to be available on Hulu, but a bit of patience never hurt anyone, ya know? 🙂

Cloak and Dagger gave us a long build-up to a fantastic moment, as tragedy ignited the spark of defiance.

Agents of Shield was business as usual, meaning a very good, gripping episode with the agents pushed to the limit and still standing strong. There was one small thing that left me disappointed, namely how previous seasons have echoed and built on the events of the movies of the MCU, but this one doesn’t seem to be resounding with the events of Infinity War, and it can’t echo from Endgame yet because of the time line of things. So, it seemed even more aloof from the movies than usual, but it was still riveting.

Cloak and Dagger

2.07 “Vikingtown Sound”

Me, at the end of this episode: “THAT WAS AWESOME!”

With how low the heroes have been brought, it was absolutely exhilarating to see them rise again!

But I’ll get to that in a moment. That’s the destination of this episode. Getting there is a journey.

Tandy wakes in the hotel, with Andre ready to greet her. He’s been playing his horn whilst awaiting for his latest victim/merchandise to rouse. And the day begins: Tandy’s orientation, of sorts.

The ropes of the place are, basically, the girls wake up on schedule, they clean the place up, and then, come night, they service the customers (who all deserve to burn, in my opinion). They are held in place by insubstantial bars of despair, reinforced by the lies Lia and Andre tell them, as well as Andre’s mental mojo, and guarded by… well, a really big thug. If they try to run, they’re either locked up or killed. If they cooperate, they are given all of their necessities. They’re told that they have nowhere else to go, because no one cares about them. Witness: no one is looking for them. It’s not a good place, but it’s all they’ve got, and they have no hope for anything better.

That’s why Tandy can’t just cut her way out at first: her own hope is gone as well. Without it, she can’t summon her daggers. Fortunately, she is accustomed to surviving, including fighting for her life, with everything she has, even when she has already been deprived of hope. So, her defiance isn’t entirely snuffed out just yet. But the other girls? They’re all captives in their minds and hearts first, and in the hotel second.

There is one girl, however. I think her name was “Del,” or at least that’s what I heard. Del is “higher up the ladder” than the the other girls, not that they’re allowed particularly much height to go. So, she’s assigned to be the one guiding Tandy through her orientation. But even when Del is trying to get Tandy to submit, even when she’s tattling on Tandy for trying to escape, even when she’s being forced to help drug Tandy, and do her makeup… she’s still not Lia or Andre. That gives Tandy one tiny, precious sliver of purchase, and that is all she needs.

It takes time, though, and this is a long and traumatic and humiliating day for Tandy. She’s supposed to clean Andre’s room, and she’s blocked in her escape attempt. She’s held firm, halfway suffocated, and drugged into paralysis. She’s dressed up like a doll instead of a person, while Lia chats away at her, uncaring. She’s dolled up in makeup. She’s left sitting helpless on a bed, waiting for her first customer, her first paying rapist, to come and violate her, and she can do nothing about it. There is no one coming to save her.

But then… it begins.

Del believes, because she has been told, that no one cares, no one is looking for her, and no one escapes. They’ve even been told that there was a group of girls incoming, but they tried to escape, and were all killed for it, every one. Small detail: that was the group of girls Tandy, Ty, and the two halves of Brigid rescues. It’s a lie, and one that Tandy manages to crack in Del’s mind. It ignites just the tiniest little spark, the smallest ember in the dark… just enough for the girl to begin to see.

It always begins with one tiny spark.

Del steals the brutish guard’s phone, using it to check a few things. Within moments, she is learning the truth. The real truth. Not only are the girls from the Bywater rescued and safe, but Del’s mother has been looking for her. Remember what Andre told Tandy? “Someone is looking: these folks right here.” Well, “these folks” include their families, their loved ones. Del’s mother has been putting up posters, even if those posters end up in the trash, and she’s been posting on chat rooms. The truth is that Lia and Andre are liars, and… what was that saying? The truth shall set you free?

Del is freed from the lies, and freed from despair. Those are always the tools of the captors, and even when Lia tries to tell her that her mother will never even take her back after she’s been so damaged, Del does not hear her. She has hope!

And that is when Tandy is able to summon her daggers again. That is when she can move.

…and that’s just Tandy’s side of this episode. Tyrone has his as well, as per usual.

Ty’s mother, Adina, is having a little difficulty. Cooking helps her think, so she starts making crab cakes, with Connors tied and bound and telling her everything she wants to know. Her decision will basically hinge on whether Connors’ usefulness to Ty outweighs his guilt for Billy. So he talks. She processes, and cooks, and has a brief fight with her husband when he comes by and sees what’s going on. In the end, she refrains from killing Connors only when he tells her where her son’s body is truly buried. That’s a sort of release for her, letting her properly bury her boy. So, he’s still alive.

That, however, is still peripheral to the immediate situation.

Ty responds to Brigid’s call about the grow house incident. Brigid is worried that Mayhem may have gotten out after all, but Ty notices the cut shovel, and they realize it was Tandy. When he calls, she doesn’t pick up (obviously), and he begins to be alerted that something is wrong. He follows her trail, looking into Lia, who he last saw running a con on, but runs into Andre instead, who is entirely uncooperative (also, obviously).

Perhaps, on some level, Ty senses something wrong about Andre, but when he got to shake Andre’s hand, maybe looking to see Andre’s fears, it backfired. It gave Andre a way into his head, and he used his ability.

Small aside: Papa Mystery told Tandy, when she was in the shadow world, that things come in pairs, two sides to every coin. Tandy and Ty are obviously two sides of one coin. Brigid is one person now made into two, and the timing of her deal is completely different, so I’d say her two parts are a coin as well. But Andre? With his ability to intrude, collect memories and feelings, and interfere with people’s mental and emotional state… who or what is his flip side?

Back on track: Andre tries one of his records, playing in Ty’s subconscious, but Ty resists it. It doesn’t quite work. So he tries another, a little different from the first, and this one, concerning how Tandy doesn’t really need him, manages to erode Ty’s defiance. He walks out, and, in that moment, gives up. Andre lingers for a bit, doing a little more research on Ty, and walks out of his shop, victorious… for the moment.

He doesn’t see the gaze watching him through the window.

Mayhem’s presence in the shadow place is somewhat serendipitous, it would seem. She knows something is up with the record shop now, and she knows it has an owner, who was doing something. She enters when he leaves, and changes things up. She goes through his collection, not to gently or precisely, but finds what she needs. She stops Andre’s record, disrupting the influence on Ty’s mind, and puts on something else, about the good in Tandy’s life.

At the same moment, Ty gets some company on public transit: a young class of ballerinas. Something about them, and the record Mayhem is playing, renews his hope and determination to find and help Tandy. When Tandy finds another record to play, with ambulance sirens in it, Ty finds himself passed by three ambulances in a row, and he gets a sudden feeling. Tandy was working Lia to get to her boyfriend as part of her search for all the missing girls who were taken by ambulances… and now she’s missing too. It’s not too far of a stretch to think that she got too close, and was also taken by an ambulance.

…but which one?

Andre is, at this moment, unaware of what’s going on. His attention is elsewhere. As he looked into Tyrone, he saw a strange symbol, reminiscent of the one on a door in his record shop. He also saw Evita’s mother, Chantelle Fusilier (yes, I looked it up on Wikipedia to be sure I got it right, as this is a rather pivotal moment), knows quite a bit about such symbols. So he goes to her, looking to find some answers.

Chantelle is a remarkable woman, wise and intuitive. She allows Andre into her home, does a reading, and tells him some unsettling things. She sees that the symbol he shows her is his own. Whatever happened to him, he is on the cusp of becoming not a mortal, anymore, but a loa, a god of sorts. There is a way for him to do this, to ascend… but she’s not keen on telling him. The reason is, the cards tell her nothing of his character, and she doesn’t buy his little act.

So he tries to take what he wants by force, going back to his record shop… and is doubly surprised. First, he finds his neat organization ruined, as someone, Mayhem, has been rummaging through it without no care for its condition. And second, Chantelle is there, too. She is aware and talented enough to join him in his private world.

She sees more than he does, in multiple ways.

She sees that the symbol, his symbol, is a lock, not a key. And she sees that he would not make a good god. That takes barely a glance at all the misery he inflicts and feeds upon. So much hurt, only for his own benefit, when he has barely a sliver of power in him, just enough to play god. What kind of god would he be if he weren’t merely playing, but the genuine article? Answer: she does not want the world to find out.

She won’t give him what he needs, and he can’t take it from her.

Chantelle also sees that someone has obviously been in the record shop while Andre was away, and that person is still there. Mayhem is keeping barely out of Andre’s sight, but Chantelle sees her, and says nothing. She tricks Andre into revealing the trick to what he’s doing while Mayhem can hear. And when things start to… end… she signals Mayhem to stay back and not reveal her presence.

Chantelle is largely a normal woman. She has wisdom, intuition, experience, and a bit of mystical skill, but she is very much normal, with little to no remarkable power to speak of, and no offensive abilities at all. Yet… she is an amazing hero. She knows she is in Andre’s power, and Andre will never let her go. But she does not think about herself. And she does not truly fear death. She knows that death is simply part of the journey, and it’s part of her journey right then and there. She can’t escape. She doesn’t try. She meets her end with the dignity and poise of a queen, with the wisdom of a sage, and with the unrelenting unselfishness of a mother.

Andre’s “mercy” includes letting her play her favorite memory, the moment her daughter was born and she heard little Evita cry out for the first time… while he stops her heart.

Chantelle Lusilier is absolutely a hero.

Andre leaves his shop, and leaves her behind…

…and unwittingly leaves Mayhem alone in his shop again. And this time, she doesn’t just meddle a little, she goes to work! She wreaks mayhem in full, playing hopeful songs and smashing everything else with enthusiastic fury. And it quickly pays off in the real world.

Ty’s realization about Tandy being taken drives him to his patron loa again. He spray paints the symbol this time, and is rewarded when he’s taken to the ambulance that took Tandy. He has the driver at his mercy in a moment, and that gives him a location, which he drives to as quickly as he can.

At the very moment that Mayhem wrecks the record shop, and Del defies Lia, and Tandy regains her hope, and her daggers, Ty crashes the ambulance into the hotel. The house of lies and slavery is attacked on all sides simultaneously. Tandy deals with her customer, then cuts straight through the wall to strike at Lia, saving Del, and then she cuts a swathe through the rest of the hotel. Ty fights the guard, and though he’s absolutely outsized, he’s clever with his ability and brings the man down hard, then doing the same throughout the hotel, including sending at least one man through a window. Light and dark, they plow straight through anything and anyone in their way.

(this would be the “AWESOME” moment 😉 )

They come face to face, and that, too, is awesome. Tandy was never left alone in this fight, and now, as she tells Ty, she is ok. They’re together again.

…and then Ty falls unconscious, the shadows boiling out of him and spreading all around. Something is happening to him, and the episode ends with Tandy holding him in her arms, helpless.

Very high moment, followed by very foreboding moment.

So, Tandy and Ty both rise and overcome and reunite, while Mayhem is able to strike at Andre’s power base itself, which will certainly help all those girls, I hope. Additionally, Adina is able to refrain from harming Connors. But something is wrong with Ty right now, and Connors did go for a blade earlier, and Andre is apparently on the brink of becoming a parasitic god of sorts. So, definitely not out of the woods yet!

Agents of Shield

6.01 “Missing Pieces”

It’s been a year since the events of last season, when Coulson officially handed the torch to the next generation. In that time, Shield has rebuilt tremendously after the blows it took in recent years, under Mack’s leadership. He’s no Coulson or Fury, which weighs on him, but one can’t try to be what others are. Mack is a good, capable general, and he has good, capable people working for him, but they have a long way to go.

To which end, they’re looking to recruit more brainy people, instead of just fighters, partially by starting a new Shield Academy. They really have started over, but they have a road map filled with good ideas and lessons learned from past mistakes. It will take time, but they’re moving forward, starting with recruiting a man, May’s former father-in-law, if I understood correctly, to help them with the science in the meantime, and head up the academy as it gets up and running in a few years.

Said new academy head, Henson, doesn’t want to come on, but for a second chance, and… well, the words, “deep space,” he signs on. 🙂

There are two particular endeavors underway. One is on Earth, and the other is in space. Mack as much more manpower to work with on Earth, but the space-based effort has laid claim to some of their most powerful, elite, and even loyal members.

In space, Daisy, now gaining an interstellar reputation as Quake, leads Simmons, Davis, and Piper in their continuing search for Fitz. Where it ought to have been easy, something about the changed timeline made Enoch’s hiding place unsafe. The ship he was keeping Fitz on was sliced in two in the middle of space. They found one half and it’s been a long search just to find the other half, and that much was based on the theory that the alien they interrogate had sold tainted fuel to Enoch and then sold them out. As it happens, he bought the wreck, and when the agents find it, they find the stasis pod… empty.

It’s a devastating blow. Simmons has been holding on to the hope of finding Fitz, and that search has gotten longer, more desperate, and more wearying than anyone thought it would. The Zephyr has gotten very banged up, they’re low on fuel and everything else, they don’t know how long their stolen Kree technology will let them keep jumping between planets, and all the other agents who originally signed on for the search gave up and left. All of that, and they have nothing to show for it except a dead end.

Piper and Davis seem to routinely disagree on everything, but they and Daisy all agree that it’s time to go home. The search is over, until Simmons happens on a clue that might lead them straight to Fitz, but, even then, Simmons is the only one willing to go right then. Everyone else agrees that they need to step back, go home, regroup, resupply, etc. But Simmons is, for once, too driven. Understandable, of course. She’s been stubborn and resilient even in most normal circumstances, and this is not normal. The version of Fitz that married her is dead, but this one is alive, and needing them to find him, and Simmons is beyond reason concerning the matter.

This is why we need our friends and family, to balance us out when we go crazy.

The argument is interrupted when a Confederate Destroyer arrives on the scene. It’s possible that Daisy is right and people need to fear Quake’s strength, but, then again, this also invites escalating counter-action in order to check her activities. Either way, there is a moment of tense waiting to see if they’ve been discovered, which they are, followed by furious activity in the form of running for their lives. They make another jump, and one that is supposed to take them back to Earth, but Simmons already input the coordinates for where she wants to go.

That is not cool of her. It’s a betrayal of the team, in point of fact, making a unilateral decision, which they already shot down in unison, behind their backs. They’ll make the best of it and look for Fitz while they’re there, but it was absolutely unacceptable behavior.

And that’s the space-bound side of things.

On Earth, there are strange goings on, including people appearing out of walls, with highly advanced weaponry. Shield has been tracking this unknown phenomenon and has teams on standby, but all they really get is one guy fused with concrete and another shooting down their quinjet. Two of the new guys theorize something to do with ley lines, and it seems to be accurate, but they’re still playing catch up.

Speaking of catch up, Yo-yo is apparently having an affair with one of the new guys. They’re very discreet, but people are still picking up on it, so they have to decide whether or not to tell Mack. Speaking of, again, it seems he closed himself off from her when he became the new Director, and thus her affair. Which is all very tragic and sucks and I really don’t like it because whyyyy? All the same, it’s done, and they really should come clean. Very soon.

At the moment, however, they’re concerned with a trio of people coming from some extra reality, and demolishing a museum to clear the path for others, including their leader, to cross without ending up like the unfortunate guy in the concrete.

These people are clearly very capable, and clever, and they have highly advanced equipment. They also seem to have some loyalty to each other, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Probably the most anticipated moment of the premiere came at the end, when another Coulson from another world comes through to theirs, and retrieves one of his people by shooting the agent holding her. It’s shock, pure shock, for the agents, especially May. She was with Coulson at his end, and they had precious little time together. She loved him, and now she’s faced with someone who is exactly like him, just with a different past shaping him.

Shield has to face down an alternative version of their previous leader.

Hm, perhaps it’s a good thing, after all, for Daisy and Simmons not to return just yet, with him as their enemy on Earth.

Episode ends with a glimpse of Fitz in an alien environment, working as a smith of some sort, with some alien stuff going on with him and his eyes. That should be fun.

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5 Anime Friend Groups

Friends are the family you choose, just as family should be the group of friends you are born with. Having just discussed families last week, it is only fitting that we look at friends again this week. This time, however, we’re not looking at pairs, but entire groups. And, unlike families in anime, there are a huge number of friend groups to choose from.

I did limit myself to friend groups that weren’t official organizations, as that is a topic for another day, though I allow them to be in some organized form and even referred to that way by others.

I also didn’t want them to be… unbalanced. These aren’t “the main hero and everyone else.” And they aren’t “adults and the kids with them,” or vice versa. These are friends, and they are equals.

So, in no particular order:

1) Class 3-E
Assassination Classroom

I just love the heck out of these kids! They’re great! 🙂

These kids are the outcasts and misfits, the ones who don’t conform or measure in some way. They got into a most prestigious school, and then they were mistreated by it, as the school environment is shaped entirely by a principal who is grossly misguided in his ideals. They’ve not had much kindness thrown their way, but that just means they’re tougher than they look, and quite capable.

They’re especially a force to be reckoned with when they work together, all of their strengths and weaknesses complementing each other, flowing together into a formidable power that can overcome quite nearly anything in their way. And what a unique education they get!

But as for being friends… well, that’s what I love most about them. They’re all so different, yet kindred spirits. They work together so fluidly, they build each other up and watch each others’ backs, and when they have disputes, they resolve them in a way which satisfies everyone. These kids, they are fellow students, but their shared experiences make them friends for life. 😀

2) Straw-Hat Pirates
One Piece

Probably the most  formally recognized group, as an organization, but also the least formal of them all! 😉

Taking their name from their captain, Monkey D. “Straw-Hat” Luffy, the Straw-Hat pirates are an adorable motley of free-spirited misfits united by their mutual loyalty and love for one another, as well as their defiant spirit. Luffy, Zoro, Usopp, Sanji, Nami, Chopper, Robin, Frankie, and Brook (as well as the more recent semi-addition of Jimbei, and their friends and allies) have been through a great deal together. They set out on the seas, each one for his or her own purpose, but they have come together in beautiful harmony. Not “peace.” Harmony.

I can’t help but love all the zany antics of this crew, both in times of tranquil peace and when they’re at war for their lives and freedom. They’re dedication to one another, it doesn’t just magically happen, it grows over time, and when it’s tested, they stand strong. These friends will face any enemy and endure any hardship, even die, for one another. I really love them. 🙂

3) Digidestined
Digimon

Tai, Matt, Sora, Izzy, Mimi, Joe, T.K., and Kari. A group of eight “chosen one” children and their digimon partners, facing the challenge of survival, fighting to protect their homes and loved ones, striving to strike down evil before it destroys them all.

These kids may have been thrown together by higher powers, but they overcome all the challenges thrown at them as friends. Matt, who bears the Crest of Friendship, says as much, that it was the feelings they all shared with him which gather close in his heart and make him strong. That is the bond of the Digidestined.

And it holds true beyond any dire scenarios involving the end of the world. The way they get on, there’s friction, of course, but they work through it. They enjoy their time together, they laugh and cry together, and they don’t lose the bond between them, no matter how much time passes. There’s just something inspiring about that, ya know? 🙂

4) Class A
My Hero Academia

I seem to be hitting kids and classmates rather hard, aren’t I? Oh well!

The bond between the twenty members of Class A is one that goes beyond just being classmates. These kids, from an early age, are deliberately aiming for the same goal: to be heroes. They’re signing up to learn how to help people. They aren’t just in the same class, they’re the rising generation of protectors. And they go through Hell together.

Most inspiring, perhaps, is how they argue and disagree, yet they never hesitate to protect each other. That is their guiding star, the one thing they always hold true to, no matter the circumstance. When they are (frequently) way, way, waaaay out of their depth, they get through it by working together, each one doing whatever they can, however great or small that may be. When they see that any one of them is struggling with something important, they forget their own glory and lay it all on the line for each other. They see the best in each other, and they inspire each other, much like my own friends inspire me. 🙂

5) The Place to Place gang
Place to Place

The only ones on this list that don’t have a formal name, heh.

The core group of Io, Tsumiki, Mayoi, Sakaki, and Hime, as well as the additional trio of Saki, Kana, and Kyoya, are quite an entertaining, colorful bunch. Nothing particularly remarkable happens to them, but these high school kids are all peas in a pod.

I think that’s what I like best about them. While all my other picks go through tremendous ordeals, these kids are kindred souls without all of that. They just get on well with each other, have fun together, work together, etc. It’s a simple, realistic friendship, and all the more endearing for it.

So, that’s my five picks! I may have overdone the school kid motif a bit, but there ya go! 😉

Now, tell us, are there any particular groups of friends in anime who tug at your heartstrings? Who would you pick? 🙂

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Anime Review: Digimon

There is one particular difficulty in reviewing Digimon: it’s not just one show. It is, in fact, about half a dozen shows. There are commonalities, but there are also some pretty distinct differences to be found between them.

What is generally true of a Digimon show is that it tells the tale of some kids and their adventures in the digital world and their conflicts with unfriendly digital monsters. Most of the time, with the exception of the fourth season, they’re paired with a digimon partner who taps into their energy, like their chi or whatever, and digivolves to grow stronger and overcome their enemies. Whatever they’re doing, one or both worlds are threatened with complete and utter destruction by a great evil, often ancient, and always overwhelming. They’ll fight, and fight, and fight, and get backed into the tightest corner imaginable, suffering grievous losses and losing friends, but just when things are finally at their worst, they’ll come back stronger than ever and win the day! Oh, and the digital world gets destroyed and reborn. A lot.

That’s the basic gist of it, at least.

Differences include types of digivolving and nuances between the various plots, but the true distinction is in the texture. The first show was a fun adventure that can appeal to all ages, though mostly younger ones. The second was a sequel, and it suffered from poor plot, poor dialogue, and an unending supply of bad jokes. The third was another adventure, even more gripping and personal than the first. The fourth pretty much gave up on anything that wasn’t campy. I haven’t seen the fifth, and know next to nothing about it. And the sixth, and latest, Digimon Tri, seems to have gone in the direction of being more dark and gritty and horrifying, and how’s that for “celebrating the fifteenth anniversary?”

Thus, the difficulty in reviewing the entire franchise as a whole: each new addition is a completely different beast from what has come before. As the latest show completely rewrites over the second season, I can’t help but think of it like, “Digimon warp-digivolve to… Digimon Tri!”

So, how can one encapsulate the entire franchise at once?

Digimon is an anime geared towards kids, sometimes enjoyable for adults as well when they’re in the mood. It’s about children who are, in some way, chosen to fight evil and save the world(s). Whatever their differences, they come together as friends in the face of adversity, and they grow considerably through their shared experiences. There is laughter, and there are tears. There are evil villains and noble heroes. Most of all, there is wonder and joy and friendship and hope to be found even in a dangerous foreign world. Some seasons are better, and others are worse, but Digimon is, at its core, a story about growing up, and it’s usually pretty fun. The characters are lovable, the monsters are cool, the music is sweet, the animation is appealing, and the fights tend to be fairly entertaining.

All in all, pretty good.

I personally prefer the first and third seasons.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

(with reviews for individual seasons having to wait until another time)

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Sunday’s Wisdom #233: A Matter of Motivation

“Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.”
– Darth Vader, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi

Vader says this right at the beginning of the movie, when the imperial crew building on the second Death Star is failing to meet the Emperor’s demanding schedule, which is more vital to the Empire than the workers know. Their commander assures Vader that they’re working as fast as they can, and he responds with this quote. We don’t see what he did, though I doubt it was anything good, but whatever it was, apparently it did the trick; they went from being behind schedule to being on schedule.

Now, the words may come to us from George Lucas via a terrifying dark lord that has a penchant for leaving bodies and newly-promoted subordinates in his wake, but it’s true, isn’t it?

Motivate someone properly, or, better yet, help them motivate themselves, and they can do all kinds of things they never thought they could before.

True story:

One businessman went to one of his company’s locations, a factory, because the workers there were not producing adequate quantities of their merchandise. It was baffling partially because the manager of the site was usually so capable, but he’d tried everything he could think of to urge them to do better, and nothing was working. What did this businessman do to help? He just ignited a little spark of competition between the day shift and the night shift, stepped back, and voila! The factory suddenly started producing magnificently, because the workers were motivated. Even better, they found that motivation within themselves. They wanted to do better.

For another example:

Recently, my nephew was adamantly insisting that he had “tried his hardest” at something, when in reality he gave up the moment it became difficult. He stubbornly declared that he could never do better. Then, the next time he was made to try again, he did much better. He had his mind on what he could get out of this situation, both an immediate reward and an improvement of his circumstances in the long term. So, instead of telling himself he couldn’t do it, and giving up the moment it got hard, he told himself, “I can do it, I can do it.” He pushed through. He worked hard, truly.

I gave him sincere and heart approbation for doing so much better than he did before. He put more effort in and achieved something of himself. He mentioned that his body still hurt from the physical part of the effort, and yes, it does hurt. That just means he accomplished something.

As I write this, I am truly proud of my nephew.

…and, as I may have helped to ignite and fan the spark of his own self-motivation a bit, I can’t help but think, “I am his uncle!” 😉

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This Week on TV, May 4, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

Gotham is forever over. And Agents of Shield is returning, but that’s next week. 🙂

For this week, Cloak and Dagger delivered a most heart-breaking story, where the villain actually gains a victory, and breaks a hero.

Cloak and Dagger

2.06 “B Sides”

I knew Andre was guilty as sin! I knew it!

But, apparently I failed to grasp the exact nature, and severity, of his evil and depravity.

Apparently, he gets these terrible headaches, and they got so bad that he tried to kill himself. Actually, he did kill himself. But it was at the exact moment of the rig explosion, so he woke up alive again, and now he drains people of hope, feeding on their despair, simply as his anti-headache fix. He uses people as his pain pills.

Oh, and he thinks he has some moral high ground because “ninety percent” of the people who come to him for help, he helps, and only feeds on that last ten percent. I mean, what a saintly, upstanding guy, right? He lets all of these walking happy meals go, and better off than they were before, healed of their psychological injuries, and only eats some of the people who entrust themselves to him, leaving them broken in despair with families and communities grieving for them.

Now that is one instance where Tandy’s usual unforgiving judgment is one I absolutely concur with. So much suffering and loss, so much despair, and so much of is entirely the doing of Andre du Shane. He is a predator, a deceiver and betrayer.

Unfortunately, he is particularly cunning as well. Even worse, he is insightful. He can read people and find their weaknesses, that one point where, if he applies appropriate pressure, he can not only beat them, but break them entirely. And he has Tandy in his grasp for this entire episode. The whole thing is just him using his power on her. She struggles mightily, and almost makes it up more than once, but Lia (apparently I misspelled her name before) keeps drugging her and Andre keeps working her, casting illusions within her own mind.

There’s this whole thing with records and music, and apparently that record shop of pain in the shadow world was his. At first, I thought it was someone else playing the records, deliberately trying to rouse her out of her drugged up state, but I had that backwards. That was Andre pushing her down, and Tandy was rising up again just because she’s strong like that.

The first album begins as her ideal world, filled with hope. In this version of what could have been, the rig still exploded and her car went into the water, but her father lived through it and Connors didn’t accidentally shoot Ty’s brother. Indeed, Ty himself dove into the water to save her, inspiring Connors as a mentor to this young hero. They woke up on the beach, and were found by their still-living loved ones. Her father got his act together, as did her mother, and the two families became eternal friends. Everybody was saved, in more ways than one. Tandy became a prima ballerina in New York, and Ty is joining the police force.

Then they go for a walk, just to get some ice. They get hassled by some sexist, racist rednecks, things go sideways, and they grasp each other, only to awaken their powers.

And cut to the next scenario.

Tandy is a rookie engineer for Roxxon, whose established father left his family and flew off to Silicon Vally, and Ty is a rig worker, who got the job through his brother. Tandy flies to a rig at risk, where Mina is in charge and doesn’t like anyone, especially anyone associated with Scarborough. But things are going wrong, something’s wrong with the heat and the pressure, and the alarms are sounding and they touch again…

Next.

Tandy is a conning pickpocket, and picks the pocket of Liam (her ex-boyfriend from the first season). She gets nearly caught, but Ty is stealing a car nearby, so she jumps in and threatens him into taking her with him. She’s all alone in this version, a thief and an addict, while Ty’s brother survived that night only to be busted for stealing the radio that Ty stole, and came out of prison an addict, who likely died from it.

But by now, Tandy is cracking through the illusion. There are indicators, like flashing lights, sirens, loss of balance as if rocking, seeing an ambulance door, seeing an ambulance in place of a cop car, an irrational fear of ambulance sirens… and seeing a shadowy figure in a suit and gloves, humming a tune.

This time, when they touch, it cuts to the record shop, where Tandy confronts Andre and shatters the record and player both. She wakes up, climbing out of the ambulance as Andre and Lia drive off, getting back to Ty, getting Brigid’s help to go after the bad guys, getting Mikayla out… and Ty gets shot to death. And they’re back in the record shop. It’s just another illusion. But this one, this one truly attacks Tandy’s hope with the illusory death of Ty, and the one self-fulfilling self-criticism she isn’t truly over: she thinks she destroys everything she touches.

Loss of her best and only friend, loss of her strength, loss of her self-worth… she hands Andre what he wants: her light.

On some level, it is a choice to give in to despair, to give up on hope. The most foul creatures in the world are those who deliberately nudge us towards that awful choice, and know how to do so effectively.

So, Andre wins, and Tandy, having given away her light, is left alone in the dark.

While she is wheeled into a motel called Hotel Viking (or Viking Hotel).

…not good.

Posted in This Week on TV | Tagged | 6 Comments

The Power(ing) of Isekai Protagonists

A humble, average person gets whisked away from our normal world and into a more fantastic one. Here, in this other world filled with strange and wondrous and dangerous things, the humble native of our world is no average person, but a chosen one gifted with great and terrible power, making them all but unstoppable! Oh, and there may or may not be many highly attractive members of the opposite sex intimately involved with the hero.

Sound familiar? It should. It gets used often enough!

What I have just described is the general use of the isekai, or “otherworld,” trope. Someone, somewhere, some time ago thought to transport the audience to a fantasy world metaphorically by doing so to the protagonist literally. Since then, it’s become so commonplace, with more of them produced every season, it seems, that even longtime, dedicated fans may think it a bit overused and worn out. It just doesn’t surprise us anymore.

And they always comment on how overpowered the protagonist is.

“Oh, look, another story where the hero is someone transported to that world from ours.”

“Oh, look, another almighty hero.”

“Oh, look, another fantasy world harem.”

“How original!

Yes, it certainly is overused. I, myself, have complained about it more than once, and fairly recently.

But as I let my mind wander a bit, I began to feel out this issue a bit, like reaching in the dark to understand the shape of something I couldn’t see. And I realized that while the criticism may be valid, we may be misunderstanding exactly what the problem is. It’s not as bad as we might think… and it’s also worse than we notice.

I know, that sounds a bit contradictory. Please, bear with me, as I endeavor to explain. 😉

To start with, examining the issue of overpowered isekai protagonists, and where we feel it to be such a failing, a few examples of…

The Overpowered:

Rimuru Tempest
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

What was the biggest flaw with this show? What kept it from being great? Everything was too easy. Even when Rimuru himself was not the overpowered one in the equation, which, he usually was, the solutions to his problems made themselves easily manifest at opportune times.

Rimuru himself had multitude of skills, the intellect and imagination to use them precisely as needed, enough magical power to dwarf that of most mortals, and outright immunity to certain kinds of damage.

He is a very powerful ball of slime. Even when compared with slimes and slime-like creatures in other stories.

Ains Ooal Gown
Overlord

As a villain, he’s perfect: an undead skeleton with a multitude of spells and massive magical power, the likes of which can only be rivaled, that we know of, by his strongest subordinates. At his word, tens of thousands die in and instant. Within his shadow, event the strongest of mortal warriors is perfectly helpless. No one can stand up to him with any hope of success, no one.

But he’s the protagonist, too. Protagonists and villains alike both need limits. And he is surrounded by subordinates who are likewise overpowered, as he is, making it all even worse. Until the day his followers break ranks, turning against each other and against him, failure will never be a possibility.

It’s even more frustrating when one realizes just how villainous they truly are.

The JSDF
Gate

Ok, it’s not just one person. And yes, they move freely between the worlds. I still count it, because when you pit a modern military, in its full might, against a little horde of goblins, or something like Roman legions, or even a dragon, the results are a foregone conclusion.

That was one of my chief complaints about the show: one side was routinely able to slaughter all the others. It was satisfying at times, but repetitive. They were able to create some tension on personal levels, but not on an overall level. We always knew which side would win the day.

There is a reason why our civilization eventually stopped training on swords and started training on guns, and high explosives, and machines.

Now, no one can contest just how overpowered these three forces of mass destruction are, and they certainly aren’t alone in that. They’re just too powerful for the good of the story. It is very difficult to stay interested in a story that just repeats the same scenes of one-sided slaughter. We know what’s going to happen, it offers nothing fresh to keep us riveted, so it gets boring.

However, it suddenly occurred to me that this proliferation of overpowered protagonists is fairly recent. Not all isekai heroes are monsters and demigods. Chosen ones, maybe, sometimes, but not so powerful. Here are a few heroes from older isekai stories who, if anything, must be called…

Low Powered:

Hitomi Kanzaki
The Vision of Escaflowne

Hitomi is a mostly normal girl in high school, complete with a best friend and a crush and a complete obliviousness to how her best friend also has a crush on her crush. She’s even on the track team. But there is one thing which sets her apart: she’s a soothsayer, or a seer.

By that, I mean she tells fortunes, usually with her tarot cards. When she gets transported to the mystical world of Gaea, however, her abilities are enhanced a bit, including more accurate fortunes, frequent visions, the ability to scry and find things with her grandmother’s pendant, and so forth. She sees the truth, the past, present and future. She can even alter fate, thought that is usually by accident.

That may seem like quite the ability, and it does prove useful at pivotal moments. However, it’s a small ability, and she’s never able to use it in combat herself, though she may render assistance to others with it. Time and again, she saves lives with it, but it doesn’t protect her very well or let her smite her enemies. Her unusual ability, on its own, is really very weak. So much so that she can only watch in horror as terrible things happen, and she gets left behind when the men go off to fight a war in earnest.

Come the end of show, Hitomi’s last role is simply to be rescued by someone who loves her, and who she loves in return. So, definitely not “overpowered,” eh?

Genki Sakura
Monster Rancher

Genki is a normal kid who literally got sucked into his game. He has no special powers whatsoever, though I understand there’s some sort of mystic bond between him and his friends that lets them because a phoenix, or something like that? I didn’t actually finish the show, to my regret. Circumstance barred me sometime late in the second season. But for what I saw, Genki had no abilities himself.

That is about as opposite of “overpowered” as you can get. Just a normal kid, albeit a fit and exuberant one who is always calling himself the Monster Champ. He is the beating heart of the team, the glue that binds them all together, but he has no powers. He can fight as well as any normal kid might imagine they do, but he has no powers. He was just drawn into a strange and wondrous world, and without his friends, he would been a goner.

The flip side of that is, he was basically just this loud-mouthed kid. He may have been a leader, but he was also just kind of there. He didn’t seem that important… no wait, I amend that… his origin didn’t seem that important. He didn’t need to be from our world for there to be a story, and it would have been perfectly easy to substitute a native of that world in his place.

The Digidestined
Digimon

Now, I know it’s not the normal sort of isekai story, but, come on. They are taken or voluntarily go to another world, and that’s only on their end. For the digimon who enter our world, they are the ones being taken to another world.

I also know the Digidestined are usually partnered up with powerful digimon, and once or twice they’ve been those digimon. More often than not, however, they aren’t the powerful one in this situation. So while the digimon do the fighting, the Digidestined kids basically just think or cheer or whatever. They have no abilities of their own, and they can be next to helpless without their digimon partners.

Yet, even if one considers the digimon to be some sort of extension of the Digidestined, they never start out as powerful. Furthermore, the stronger they get, the stronger their enemies become, and they are often outclassed.

Now, Digimon strikes a pretty good balance between the humans and the digimon in terms of importance. They are friends and comrades and this is their story, not the story of the world around them. Other shows did not fare so well in that regard.

So we have the latest crop of isekai stories being saturated with overpowered protagonists, yet the older stories went the opposite direction, and made their lead heroes weaker than most, just with something pivotal to add in certain situations. As a result, they weren’t always the center of the story, and even when they were, they weren’t automatically the most important people in the room. They witnessed as much as they influenced, sometimes even approaching insignificance in some way by the end of their own show.

That’s two ends of the spectrum, though, and either approach risks losing the audience. Better to walk a middle ground, something that includes the extraordinary powers which prove pivotal to the plot, but balanced, with understandable limitations. On which note, I present:

Medium(ish)  Powered:

Naofumi Iwatani
Rising of the Shield Hero

This one is still airing, and I can hear some objections already. Naofumi is powerful, they might say, and I must agree, but there is more to it than that.

First of all, Naofumi is the Shield Hero. His abilities are primarily defensive and supportive in nature. That’s the entire reason he needs his party, so he can bring something offensive to the fight and maybe stay alive.

Second, he does not start out with power, and even as he gains it, he is continually beaten down and outmatched by various opponents. These include the power which threatens the world, and the religious and political forces of the land, and the mystical might of more powerful beings, and even the other heroes. He never has an advantage, and he’s always fighting an uphill battle without even a sword.

Third… heck, his strongest available abilities right now are terribly taxing and costly to use in ways he doesn’t quite understand yet.

So, while he is strong, he is not overpowered.

Tanya von Degurechaff
Saga of Tanya the Evil

I imagine people might object even more to my including Tanya, but, hear me out. She may pack quite a punch, yes, and be highly intelligent. However:

1) She, too, is not always powerful.

2) Her power does not come from within her, but is sharply enhanced by her armory, so she can be deprived of it.

3) Even with at full power, she has been pushed to brink of death by her enemies before.

4) Her true adversary is an entity that could pass for God. Not a god. God. She’ll need every advantage she can get!

5) Even her triumphs work against her in the contest between her and this godlike entity.

Powerful? Yes. Overpowered? Nope.

Kagome Higurashi
InuYasha

Going back to a more classic anime here, about a high school girl who gets drawn back into feudal Japan.

Kagome is mostly a normal girl, like Hitomi. But unlike Hitomi, Kagome comes to pack quite a wallop as a powerful priestess. It’s a bit more loosely defined, and I’d qualify her at the lower end of the power spectrum here, but, even so. A bit like Genki, though, her origin in our world is all but irrelevant, really. But, more like all the other protagonists, the story still pivots on her decisions, and her developing relationships. Though, once again like Hitomi, she becomes something of a damsel to be rescued by the man she loves in the final conflict.

Thus, she’s sort of somewhere between low-powered and overpowered, meaning: medium-powered.

So, there is actually a full, wide range to be found. Some are overpowered, and it can get boring. Others are low powered, and they can often border on irrelevant. And still others strike a balance between the two, and demonstrate that a riveting story depends on quite a bit more than any mere gimmicks. Yet, even in the middle range, there seem to be a clear division: the older protagonists were less “powered,” and the newer ones, more so. Speaking in very general terms, of course.

Now here is where I finally reach…

The Realization:

It’s not just isekai protagonists, but protagonists in general who are like this.

Think about it. There are a ton of overpowered protagonists out there, in every genre, with or without any otherworldly adventures involved. Much like every other trope, it has crept in and seeped through the entire industry over time. It’s so abundant that we’ve started to mock and subvert the very idea of almighty heroes, as in Saitama of One Punch Man, Diablo of How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, and even The Devil is a Part-Timer. Heck, perfection itself is used as a comedic tool in Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!

Somewhere along the way, the majority of our stories began to revolve, more often than not, around the most powerful characters within them, or those who become the most powerful characters. Naruto, BleachOne Piece? My Hero Academia centers on the boy who becomes “the greatest hero,” succeeding the previous generation’s “greatest hero,” giving us two characters who are both overpowered and have severe limits.

How did this happen?

Well, it’s always been common to give our protagonists an edge, and we are fascinated by the label of “the best.” Put those together, and you get stronger and stronger characters. Kenshin Himura, Heero Yui, and Vash the Stampede are all absolutely “the best” within their respective stories. Yet, these three at least have limits and peers and worthy rivals. And, again, they’re all a bit older than the current crop.

Even overpowering our heroes is nothing new, a’la Hercules or Superman. For a time, as comics and cartoons emerged, our heroes began to be quite powerful, but we eventually moved away from that, towards more human protagonists (thank you, Stan Lee). That naturally made its way into manga and anime, and there was a time when such absurdly overpowered characters were much more rare.

So what happened? What changed?

My conclusion:

Son freaking Goku. That is what happened.

He beats up gods for fun.

We live in a culture where heroes are constantly compared to one another. Superman vs Batman. Iron Man vs Captain America. Darkseid vs Thanos… oh, wait, those two are different universes, aren’t they?

And therein lies the problem.

Pretty much any and every hero and villain in the whole of media is up for comparison with any other. With the spread of the internet connecting audiences all across the world, this commentary can come from anyone, anywhere, and reach anyone, anywhere. And all it takes is one person, seeing one hero praised for their skills, to say… “Goku could beat them. Easily.”

And it’s true! He probably could! The bar has been raised to ludicrous heights again, because one of the most influential and recognized figures in all of anime has gone, over the course of several decades, from picking up a car, to threatening all of creation several times over. It. Is. Nuts.

And when did this happen? It began in the days of Digimon, Escaflowne, and all the rest, and it still continues even now. Exactly the right timing to influence a generation, and keep doing so throughout the years, so they never forget the most powerful of all. Thus, the succeeding generations of animators and their audience find themselves measuring everyone against him, and the results? A flood of overpowered protagonists who are trying to compete with someone in an entirely different franchise.

Of course… it’s only a theory. 😉

Now, far be it from me to blame only Goku for this, as I’m sure it’s more complicated than just his example alone can explain. He’s not the only one, after all, and certainly not anymore. It certainly is not the fault of only his original creator. Like all things, it is the overwhelming intricacies of society and the multitude of ways we influence each other. There is no one we can simply take it out on.

Unfortunately, that means we can’t just turn off the tide of overpowered protagonists as easy as flipping a switch or turning a faucet. We can’t do much of anything about it, really.

Except, perhaps, voice our appreciation for the more reasonable protagonists, and support their stories more than the others… and wait for the tide to eventually turn, as it has before.

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