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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5 Anime Families

Have I ever mentioned how grateful I am for my family? Well, I am deeply thankful, indeed, for my family. Especially after this.

You know those moments, where you are searching for something so necessary, and yet so mundane, like, say, toilet paper, at a moment of need, and find yourself completely poleaxed by the apparent lack of it in the entire house? And if you managed to find any, it’s completely ruined and useless? That’s a bit like what I feel going into this post.

If I thought the relative lack of adults in anime was astounding, the lack of families has me absolutely shocked. The family is practically an endangered species in anime, most of them destroyed or simply absent in one way or another.

And of those few examples I can readily name, which clear the first hurdle of “existing,” an astonishing percent of them immediately fail at a second hurdle: they are dysfunctional to the point of ruin.

The Brittanian royal family from Code Geass, where parents and children are set in a lifelong battle to the death to determine who rules? The Charlotte family from One Piece, where the children are more a collection than a family, all living in constant fear of their horrific mother, used and abused? Any of the “illustrious” and “upstanding” families which are constantly demanding to the point of abuse and which cast out their own children for the terrible sin of not automatically wielding godlike power or some-such nonsense? (I am thinking of both Chivalry of a Failed Knight and Kaze no Stigma when I say that) Even the relatively tame example of the Sohma family from Fruits Basket makes me shudder at the thought of being part of it.

Seriously, few things have made my blood boil more than the appalling behavior so many of these families exhibit towards their own.

And then there’s hurdle number three: actually mattering to the subject of the anime, the story, in some way. I might be able to outnumber the number of “bad” families in anime if I made an exhaustive list of every time a family ever appears, but most of them are worse than merely bad: they’re irrelevant.

As such, nothing more on them.

So, it actually took a bit of effort to scour my library for five existing, good, and relevant families I could pick.

1) The Takanashi sisters: Hikari and Himari
Interviews With Monster Girls

*nomnomnom!* on the sister

I don’t recall if we ever meet their parents, but I do know that the sisters have both parents and they work so their daughters can live comfortably and such. As for the sisters themselves, Himari is the more calm and reasonable one, balancing out Hikari’s eccentric behavior. They’re twins, and they look out for each other, as siblings should. 🙂

The show is about these monster girls and how they deal with the world, in light of their unique conditions. Himari is an important part of how Hikari does that, looking after her, watching over her, and helping out with her idiosyncrasies. I see a bit of myself and my own family in that.

I think my favorite moment is when they explain how Hikari, as a vampire, needs to relieve the itching in her fangs every so often by lightly chewing on someone. And they cut to Himari reading a book when her sister comes along, asking, and she doesn’t even bother looking up from her book, just holds her arm out and has Hikari turn the pages as needed. Something about that scene just tickles me!

2) Jiyuu and Sai Nanohana
Jubei-Chan: The Ninja Girl

HE PICKED US?!

While I would love to have picked five whole families, I had to give up that idea right quick. And, in the process, I had to revise my idea of “whole” family.

The Nanohanas consist of a father and his daughter. Jiyuu’s mother, Sai’s wife, died awhile before the story begins. It is a loss which has shaped them and their relationship ever since.

Jiyuu is about the sweetest girl you’d ever meet, a hopeless Pollyanna character, compassionate, and she keeps the house from falling apart around them. Sai is a writer…

…I am suddenly reminded of a quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, to the effect of, “I am a writer, and therefore automatically a suspicious person.” But I digress. 😉

Sai is a  writer, a novelist of some sort, including ghost writing, I remember right. He’s not rolling in wealth, but he makes enough to get by. He’s a devoted, albeit eccentric, father, and the similarities between him and Jiyuu make the familial connection clear. When he learns that there are supernatural forces putting his daughter in danger, he does not hesitate, he jumps into the thick of things, with a clever idea that helps good triumph over evil.

My one complaint is how, the one time Jiyuu is absent, because she’s been gravely injured, he listens to exactly the wrong voice as it pours poison in his ear, and when he sees his daughter next, he doesn’t talk to her at all before slapping her. He does learn from this, but, still, really?

In general, though this father-daughter duo is just great to watch.

3) Kurosaki Family
Bleach

A happy memory.

Isshin, Ichigo, Yuzu, and Karin Kurosaki are another family that lacks a dearly-departed wife and mother.

Ichigo is the delinquent youth who gets into fights all the time and refuses to conform to the socierty around him. Obviously, the chief hero of the story. My favorite thing about him? His drive to protect others is rooted in his resolve to protect his sisters. Speaking of:

Yuzu is a sweet little girl who, after her mother’s death, assumed responsibility for all the household chores. That was just how she dealt with it, by giving to her family.

Karin is Yuzu’s twin, but starkly different. She can see or otherwise sense ghosts, she’s a tomboy, a tough guy kind of girl, and that is how she dealt with it, by being the strong shoulder for others to cry on.

Isshin is an eccentric (that is a recurring theme here) father who looks after his children and cheers them every day. He also has hidden depths and abilities.

Though the Kurosakis do not always feature prominently, they are undoubtedly devoted to each other as family, and they all have their roles to play.

4) Mikage Family
Silver Spoon

Fathers tend to be protective, ya know?

Aki Mikage is the obvious love interest for the show’s protagonist, and in a show that is about his growth and development, his experiences with her family are pivotal.

The Mikages aren’t a particularly remarkable family. They’re quite normal. The men and women work alongside each other, everyone doing their part. The women of the family are excited at the matrimonial prospects of Aki and her very good friend who happens to be a boy. (LOL) Aki’s father absolutely forbids it even before it begins, as most fathers would. The eldest member of the family, the partriarch, is wise from experience, considerate, and leads the family not only in dealing with the present issues they face, but also in looking to the future.

That’s my favorite moment with them as a family, actually. The family meeting, where Aki finally comes out and tells her family about her true love: horses.  And they listen. They make a decision, together, to find a way to keep the farm going and help Aki achieve her dreams, and find a way they do.

5) Izumi Family
Digimon

I feel like I’m really stretching, here. I’ve picked a pair of sisters, two families with no mother, and now a family that is just kind of… there. I mean, I love Izzy and his parents as much as the next person. But the families of the Digidestined don’t take a very active role in things, most of the time, do they?

That said, I really love Izzy’s parents. They have an unusual, highly intelligent boy, and they do their best by him, supporting him, nurturing his tremendous intellect and his character as best they can. They have a certain amount of trust in him as well, in fact, they trust him quite a lot when it counts. And I really, really love that they adopted him. 🙂

My favorite moment with them… hmmm, I think it would be whe Izzy tried telling jokes. They were just so adorably bad, and still his parents applauded! 😀

And that’s my picks, for five families from anime.

Who would you pick? By all means, comment below, and cheer my day with news of another good anime family! 😉

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Anime Review: One Piece

Where does one even begin with an anime like this? Two decades of seasons, well over a dozen movies, an assortment of specials… there is a lot to go over here! I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning.

There is a treasure. On what appears to be a largely-oceanic world, somewhere in the chaotic seas, there is a treasure. It was left behind by the greatest of all pirates, called the King of the Pirates. He was executed a generation ago, but he left behind the legend of his treasure, and challenged the entire world to find where he left it. With these dying words, he ignited anew a great age of piracy. The treasure, it’s called the One Piece, and whoever finds it, they say, will be the next King of the Pirates.

That, however, is just the beginning, and even if that lies at the very core, it still does scarce justice for such a magnificent, epic anime as this. It’s currently approaching nine hundred episodes, if I recall rightly, and still a ways to go! Obviously, any simple summary of that much material is going to be a bit lacking, so I beg forgiveness in advance for everything I will miss here.

The story follows a young man, by the name of Monkey D. Luffy, and his crew. Luffy is exceptionally strong and resilient, and he gained the super-power of having a body with rubber-like qualities, due to eating something called a Devil Fruit. He sets sail and intends to become the next King of the Pirates, though it has a slightly different meaning than it does in most people’s lexicon. He actually wouldn’t know the word “lexicon,” I imagine, as he is something of an overwhelming idiot in some rather hilarious ways. As he sails the seas, he puts together a most formidable crew, called the Straw Hat Pirates in token of Luffy’s beloved hat. Together, they venture across many a strange sea, witnessing wonders and oddities, passing through countless dangers, defeating many dangerous foes, saving countless lives time and again, and, slowly but surely, altering the course of the world around them.

It’s a truly epic story, of which there are not really so many these days, and it’s mostly quite well-told. It would utterly fail if the characters were not fantastic and easy to love. Whether they be Luffy’s crew (including my crush, Nami), or their friends, or their enemies, or their frenemies, or random people everywhere, these people are all people, and they are what the story is truly about. There are powerful themes of freedom, order, justice, and more, especially rising from the ashes of defeat and despair, but it would all fall flat without the people. It is they who carry the story forward, make the wit and humor work, and deliver the incredible emotional impact to the audience.

The story of our heroes, both their individual adventures and the overarching plot, is put together in an easy narrative to follow, yet one that is constantly branching out to show everything we need to know about what is happening. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and end, a series of complications, a rising action, a climax, a falling action, a resolution, again and again, and all of the characters get their time in the spotlight, their chance to develop and grow. That is a very difficult part of the craft to master, and it has been mastered here.

The world, with all of its oddities, is wide and diverse and every new land we visit is unique in some way. The various arcs all draw on myths, legends, fairy tales, and more, creating a rich and varied texture, so no two adventures are quite the same. The animation is beautiful, even from the beginning, and the show has been running long enough that it has visibly developed and improved with the times. I can’t recall the last time the soundtrack was updated, but it has remained beautiful, haunting, and exhilarating from the start.

I short, One Piece is absolutely great!

In my not-entirely-humble opinion. 😉

“Yo-hohohoooo! We are awesoooome!”

But, of course, I must admit, there are imperfections in every work. The sheer bulk of One Piece can easily put off someone who has never seen it before, and within that mighty expanse, there are flaws to be found. Thing is, the flaws are understandable, to a point, and they vary. It’s not the same flaws which are present from beginning to end.

In one arc, for instance, they pulled one of those extending time things, which Dragonball Z is the most infamous example of, and they did it simultaneously with flashing back to things that had happened within that very same arc. Exactly how that came about, I do not know. Perhaps they just needed to extend the runtime a little.

On a similar note, and definitely understandable, the latest couple of arcs have dragged on a bit, roughly twice as long as any of their predecessors. The studio making it don’t have many options, though. Not only are these arcs longer, as we move towards the final crescendo and conclusion of the series (in just a few more years), but they’re trying not to outpace the source material, the manga. It’s a simple fact that anime can be produced much faster than manga, and over the course of a couple decades, they’ve come right up, hot on the manga’s heels. So, they have very long opening sequences and extend scenes to the max in order to fill out as much time as possible. It’s annoying, but they don’t have many options.

And, of course, there’s the aspect of death in the story. Much of the time, it’s reasonable, like someone falling down the stairs and breaking their neck, and it tends to be permanent. However, the show has also displayed characters who were ostensibly killed coming back at the end of the arc and some even survive being at the heart of massive explosions. That kind of undercuts the usual weight of death, ya know?

Oh, and it must be said, that while most of it is appropriate for the whole family, there are more mature aspects of the story which may not be entirely suited for children, making it a bit difficult to nail down a perfect demographic for its audience.

So, it must be freely admitted that it’s not “perfect.”

But it is pretty darn close to a masterpiece.

Especially for an anime that has run so very long already. Other such stories meander and stretch and forget everything about themselves. But not One Piece. From start to finish, whenever that finish arrives, it has a clear direction to go, and it remains true to the spirit it has had from the very first episode.

It’s fun and funny, weird and zany, gripping and tense, exhilarating and inspiring. It makes us laugh, it makes us cry, it makes us think. It has lovable characters, important themes, and a compelling story. It is a beautifully crafted work of art. And it is easily a forerunner among my favorites. That is One Piece in a nutshell.

Rating: 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus.

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It’s a Beautiful Endgame

That was beautiful.

Usually, I say “awesome.” With italics and exclamation points. But this time, that falls short. Far, far short.

It was… beautiful.

…now, how else to properly describe it, without any spoilers?

Well, I suppose I should start with the most obvious thing:

Avengers: Endgame does not stand alone.

It is a massive comic book crossover on the big screen. It is the twenty-second movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is the second “half,” if you will, of Infinity War. The two of them are best enjoyed together, and together they are the true crescendo of everything that has come before. Where Infinity War entwines the stories of all the characters, Endgame goes even further, truly drawing on all of the previous movies. One might be able to follow what is happening, but it works a whole lot better after one has seen the rest of the movies already.

Deep end of the pool, here, people. Deep end.

Indeed, it is by relying on everything that has come before that Endgame is able to have such an immense emotional impact. The relationships between these characters, what they were, what they’ve been, and what they’ve become, has been built up over all this time, a saga over a decade in the making. Our love of these heroes has likewise been built up, and so we are invested in them. Thus, when we see them in their darkest, most painful and sorrowful moments, it is legitimate and lingering. When we see them rise, and we see them defy the most terrible evil this universe has yet given us to see, it is inspiring and powerful. When we see their sacrifice, and their triumph, and everything in between, it is… genuine.

I had no idea what to expect with this movie, and that is good, because nothing I might have expected went any way that I would have expected it to go.  It’s full of surprises, and laughter, and tender moments, and a lot of tears. There are so many magnificent scenes, with excellent cinematography and special effects, and music, all top-notch. Indeed, everything was masterfully done, and considering how difficult that clearly was in Age of Ultron, and how easy it seemed here, that speaks volumes as to the attention and skill of everyone involved, and the mutual support they were given. The interconnected threads of the story, the fights, the developing plot, all of it… it is practically transcendent.

I am adding my voice to many who praise this movie. I’ve heard it called something that we’ve never seen before, and may never see again. I’ve heard it praised as something which, we may know there are imperfections in it somewhere, but we just don’t care on an emotional level. I’ve heard it praised as the best movie ever and I must agree. I might not allow myself to get hung up o classifying it that way forever, but this may well be the best movie we have ever seen, a complete masterpiece, the seminal work of Marvel Studios and everyone who works there. Super kudos to each and every person who contributed to this.

And I am going to leave it at that, with very few  details and no discussion whatsoever about what actually happens. That may come at a later date. 😉

Whatever summary I might give of this movie, it all seems to fall a bit short in my mind. So instead, I’ll repeat myself, with an explanation.

I personally define “beauty” as something which uplifts us. And that is what this movie is to me.

Avengers: Endgame is a truly beautiful cinematic work of art.

Rating: 11 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus-Plus.

I am so owning this as soon as absolutely possible!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #232: Claim the Stars

“Their heads are heads of rock, their hearts set upon rock. Set your sights on something higher. Something more grand. Claim the stars.”
– Zeen “Chaser” Nightshade, Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

Most of the quotes I quote are ones I either agree or disagree with, categorically. This one is a little unique in the fact that I find myself doing both at the same time.

When Chaser, as he is known by most, says this, he is speaking to his little daughter, Spensa. They, and all of humanity that they know of, are effectively trapped on a barren rock by an alien armada. They’ve been trapped their for decades, systematically hunted to the brink of extinction. They’ve been thrown down from the stars and driven into the darkness of caves beneath the surface. But now, humanity is coming together with a hope of survival. And that is where most of their hopes end: survival.

Chaser has something more in mind than just survival, though. He intends for humanity to not just survive, but thrive again. Not just stop running and hiding, but claw their way out of the darkness of caves and claim, or reclaim, the stars. From darkness to light, from despair to hope. That is what he has in mind for his people, and his daughter.

He passes that desire on to his daughter before his death, and it turns her into one of the most defiant souls in human history. Humanity is beaten so far down that they’re underground, and she occupies the single lowest point on their social totem pole. But where everyone else accepts where they are relegated to be for the good of their entire species, she does not. She rises. She rises, and rises, and refuses to stop rising. She climbs out of the darkness and reaches to claim the stars, no matter what she must overcome to do so.

That is more than a little inspiring, and I certainly can’t disagree with her motivation. But, at the same time, there is another side to it. I mean, this defiant girl would never have a prayer of claiming the stars without the society around her. As Chaser says, they have heads of rock, and their hearts are set on rock, on things like survival and nothing more. But rock is stable and strong, and it is the starting point of every journey to the stars.

No one ever jumped into the sky without first standing on something solid.

There is great inspiration to be found in the sky, but there is no shame in living on the ground like everyone else. Aiming high is well and good, and vital, but we get there one step at a time.

I suppose my disagreement with Chaser has to do with how we all want to do grand things in the sky, and we often forget the virtues and necessity of realism and humility. So many people forget that happiness can be found right where we stand, with a good job, and good food, and family, and friends, rather than in aiming to rule the world with all the new, shiny toys, fancy food, beautiful women, etc. It’s something I myself had to learn, and, in honesty, I have failed at enough things in life that if I couldn’t find happiness where I am, I’d go nuts. I will let no one besmirch the virtues of a humble life.

At the same time, however, there’s nothing wrong with aiming to improve. Neither is there anything wrong with having dreams and fighting for them, with all of one’s heart and soul. Even more, perhaps there is more than one way to “claim the stars.” We can reach for them within our own heart, striving to do something better, to be better in some way than we were before. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be.

Someone wise once talked about letting our light shine, which unconsciously gives others permission to do the same.

Our civilization was changed profoundly, and for the better, when we reached for the moon. And when we made a car, a light bulb, a steam engine. And when colonists dared to imagine they were the equals of a king.

It is always the people who reach for the sky who end up pulling people upwards with them.

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This Week on TV, Apr. 27, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

It’s done. Gotham is over.

It’s been a part of this blog for exactly as long as this blog as has been. It’s a bit strange to think that it, like so many other shows I’ve followed, is done. Just… done.

But, done it is, and while I had some criticisms for the finale, and the show overall, it was, in its way… magical. And now we say goodbye.

As for Cloak and Dagger, Tyrone had an emotional gauntlet to run, and Tandy tried to do something good, but it has gone oh so very wrong for her now.

But now that this is done… I am off to see Avengers: Endgame! Ooooh, I am excited! You may expect my review, as free of spoilers as possible, to be up very soon! 😀

Gotham

5.12 “The Beginning…”

You know that thing where these origin-story shows go on for a bit, and then, in concluding the season finale, they jump forward a number of years so you can see how everyone’s doing, and what everyone has become? There’s a reason they only spend a few minutes on that. So, when I heard that the entire episode was leaping ten years forward, I groaned, because that was, like, the worst idea ever, ya know?

I may have been a little mistaken.

Now, I do rather hate how the two young leads of the show, portraying Bruce and Selina, are not seen at all in this episode. Their characters have grown up completely now, but they’re the ones whose future the show was about. It stung, not seeing them at all.

And, make no mistake, they did not aim too high for the series finale. All the same, it wasn’t so bad as I thought it would be. The show is about how Bruce Wayne became Batman, and so the final episode features Batman’s premiere adventure.

It begins with Bruce in a remote town, promising to return to Gotham when he is needed.

Ten years later…

The city is rebuilt, Wayne Tower is rebuilt, and Bruce is returning to Gotham, though he remains continuously busy.

Barbara has become a redhead, and queen of the city, but legitimately this time, with lots of real estate and a soon-to-be finished building that’s even taller than Wayne Tower. So,she did indeed become strong without being a deranged criminal.

Gordon is resigning as commissioner. He had hoped that the city which relied on him so heavily would outgrow him, but it hasn’t. So he means to step down, make room for other to step up, for the good of the city. He’s been living peacefully with Lee, and raising young Barbara Lee with Barbara, handing her back and forth as they might. And he’s been a good commissioner.

On what is ostensibly his last day, the day that Bruce returns and Penguin is released from Blackgate, Riddler is sprung from Arkham. Bullock investigates one of the guards, who shoots himself after making Bullock talk to someone on the phone. Bullock, horrified and terrified, says he shot the man, telling Gordon to let it go. Gordon isn’t about to let it go, and the GCPD follows behind him.

Gordon has his first encounter with a mysterious bat-like figure while investigating a gang. He and Harper arrive to find everyone dead, and the bat tells them not to touch the bodies. As said bodies were rigged with C-4, this saves their lives. Someone is obviously tying up loose ends.

Riddler, meanwhile, wakes up with a box and a note, indicating that Penguin is behind his release and assisting him in making a comeback. But Penguin, grabbing Gordon and taking him to the docks to kill him for locking him up even after they fought side by side, knows nothing of any of this. He is, however, ready to help Riddler when things go south. After Gordon gets away, that is.

At the big event of the evening, the one which Riddler is crashing, Alfred sees Selina. Selina has become quite successful, and quite a cat burglar. She knows Bruce is spying on her, however, and wants him to stop. He left for ten years, and she’s very upset, and quite rightfully so, I’d say. But Alfred doesn’t think her presence is so simply as wanting Bruce to stay away.

Selina notices Riddler (who is hardly inconspicuous) and drags Barbara with her to investigate. Barbara distracts, Selina clobbers. Gordon arrives to evacuate the building, and they figure out that Riddler and Penguin are just patsies for another mastermind. They also realize there’s another bomb, and it’s so big that it’ll bring down the tower, damaging the entire neighborhood and killing a lot of people. Between Gordon, Lee, and Fox, however, they manage to disarm it and save the day.

But the clock tower which held the bomb’s timer is the old one, the one that Jeremiah blew up. Gordon figures it out instantly, and confronts Bullock, whose guard is one of Jeremiah’s, and wearing a wire. The man is not only alive, but he’s been a drooling idiot in Arkham for ten years… except, he’s not a drooling idiot. Insane, yes. Idiot, no.

With his cover blown, the man who will be known as the Joker breaks free again with Echo’s assistance. They stop by Barbara’s club, and though Echo is killed, Barbara, who was only there for her gun, is badly injured, and little Barbara Lee is taken. Gordon goes after them, back to Ace Chemicals. There, he barely saves his daughter, and with the assistance of Batman.

Penguin and Riddler were about to go on a tear together, but they, too, were stopped by the Batman and tied up. They break out of custody, bent on taking the city back… but then they see him leaping rooftops, and think it won’t hurt to wait until tomorrow.

Selina has a conversation with Bruce, the shadow behind her. She tells him that she didn’t want him to protect her… she wanted him. She loved him, and still loves him. But for Bruce, he did what he did because it was the only way. He doesn’t know what happens now, the way forward for them. But he’s back, and he’ll never leave again. So, she should return the diamond she stole earlier.

…ha! No way!

And thus the long ballet in the shadows between these two begins again, in earnest. 🙂

The episode ends with Gordon, Bullock, and the ever-faithful Alfred (who is assisting Bruce alongside Fox), turning on the famous spotlight, marking the occasion of ten years of peace. Gordon isn’t retiring just yet. And the light illuminates a figure high above, a dark knight, a protector… a friend.

Batman.

…ok, that wasn’t the worst ending ever. It, and this entire show, might not have been what I would have imagined, but it wasn’t half bad.

Cloak and Dagger

2.05 “Alignment Chart”

One day, Tandy and Ty are going to work together for five minutes without nearly taking each others’ heads off, and it will be glorious. But today is not that day!

Connors is out instead of Mayhem, and both of the teenagers in this equation are mad about this. Though, for all that Connors is older, has no powers, and just barely got a ten second head start, they meltdown over how he’s gone and could be anywhere and now they need to search to find him. But Ty sends Tandy home to her mother, who has been panicking at her disappearance, until he has a lead.

Ty goes to Brigid, but without her more aggressive part, she’s next to useless in this matter. She can’t shoot straight, she’s afraid, she’s… docile. Like a whipped pup at the approach of its master.

They really do need to figure out how to put her back together, so they have someone with useful aggression tempered by rational thinking. I have an idea there, involving sending her into the dark place to get Mayhem back and rejoin, that sort of thing, but that will have to wait.

Ty prays to his patron loa, looking to find Connors, and he teleports straight to him. But Connors has been busy, and he’s been waiting. He’s right where he was when he shot Ty’s brother, and he does something most unexpected: he surrenders himself. He offers all the evidence needed to condemn himself and clear Ty’s name, including his own confession. He even cuffs himself.

Why? Because all those months alone in the darkness have had a profound impact on him. He has been made to see himself, the things he’s done, the misery he’s spread. That is Hell itself, to be left alone with one’s sins, stripped of any excuse. He certainly deserves his misery, but there is something that happens when one is stripped bare like that and brought low: change.

People are not static objects. We change, whether we want to or not. None of us is who we were before, and we must take care in choosing who we become.

The unadulterated truth is painful to anyone on the wrong side of it, and that immense pressure can change a man. Evil men can repent, though whether they will ever find forgiveness is between them and a power far higher than myself.

Shocking, to say the least, and Ty is understandably skeptical. I mean, to have everything he wants handed to him by his worst enemy, who has suddenly turned a new leaf? Now that is just too good to be true, which is usually pretty dangerous on this show. Even more, what is Ty to do with all that anger, where is to put that righteous anger he’s carried around all these years, once the bogeyman of his youth just fades away?

Even so, he takes Connors to his father, who has been living with the Red Hawks and making a new cloak. Ty is in way over his head here and needs help and guidance, and who better to run to than his father?

Connors’ repentance seems entirely genuine, and not only does he come offering himself on a platter, but he tells them how they need even more. See, he only got off the hook because of his uncle, and his uncle is a very powerful man, amongst a very old and powerful social circle called the Promenade Society. They’re the elite, and the puppeteers of local society. And Connors’ uncle has all of them under his thumb because he has dirt on every single one of them. It’s all on one file, which he calls the Monopoly File, as it’s his Get Out of Jail Free card.

To truly exonerate Ty and condemn Connors, they need to remove his uncle’s interference, which they can do with the Monopoly File. Personally, I’d use it to take down all of them all at once, but eye on the ball here. Ty’s goal is to see justice done, so he follows Connors’ instructions, with the understanding that if it doesn’t work out, then Ty and his father and the Red Hawks will at least have the justice of ending Connors’ life.

Step One: slip into a resort house and snag the key from a bathrobe pocket while its wearer isn’t wearing it, in the steam room.

Step Two: ask Brigid to evacuate a building with a bomb threat and turn off the cameras so he can slip into a private wine collection, find a fake bottle, and get the file.

It goes pretty smoothly, right up to that last bit. The bottle is empty. The file was moved sometime since Connors last knew of it.

Ty is enraged, and quite nearly kills Connors for his betrayal, but then he sees what Connors fears the most. He’s in the dark, trying to cuff himself, but the cuffs keep falling apart. He fears not being able to turn himself in.

Ty is surprised, and his wrath is cooled in the face of Connors’ yearning to face judgment and justice. He wants to be judged. So Ty takes him to the only person left whom he knows can judge him properly: his mother, Adina.

Episode ends on that note. But that’s only Ty’s side of the story.

Tandy has a little argument with her mother. It starts out well enough, they’re on the same level, but then she mention how she went to a bar with a coworker and drank a little. Tandy doesn’t like that, knowing what happens when her mother and booze are mixed together. Then comes the part where she met a handsome doctor who bought them another round. That really doesn’t go over well with Tandy, and she accuses her mother of having stayed with her abusive father because he kept them comfortable. Her mother defends herself, accepting responsibility but explaining that it was a bit more complicated than that. Tandy doesn’t buy it, believing in the simplicity of, “He hits you, you leave.”

It’s one of those things that is simple and complicated and simple again. What Tandy doesn’t realize is that while the principle is simple, people are more complex. There are a multitude of psychological factors and practical considerations, and all of these intertwine to hold one’s fear and dependency in place. It is as simple as just leaving, but arriving at that decision, with enough resolve to act on it, and hold to it, is not a simple process. Just as getting into a bad situation itself is not so simple as stepping into it. It doesn’t just happen overnight, but gradually. So, coming the point where you can step out of it is also a gradual process.

There is no shame in simply being in such a situation, but the longer it goes on, the easier it is to feel that one should be ashamed. And that’s what Tandy’s harsh, clear judgment does: it inspires little more than shame for something that is already long over and done.

Tandy’s carries light within her, and light is great and powerful, but it can also be overly harsh and unforgiving. She needs to work on gentling it a bit.

While Ty is looking for Connors, Tandy gets back to looking for the missing girls. Without Mayhem, she has to follow her own trail. She goes to Andre, who reports, to her, that some of the rescued girls are talking about a girl like an angel and a boy like a shadow saving them. I’m guessing he suspects Tandy’s the angel girl, but, moving on.

Tandy wants to talk to the girls, see if she can get some answer, but Andre heads that off. Then, when she wants to talk to someone else who might know something, he just looks at Leah. Tandy runs a quick little con on her, involving an unwitting Ty who gets mad when he realizes what’s happening, so she can get some info, leading her to a grow house (where they grow plants to make illegal drugs), and she kicks some butt, but walks away with nothing for her trouble.

And then thing really get bad.

You know that feeling, somewhere in your gut, that warns you when something is amiss? That something is just wrong? And then the pieces start falling into place, and you begin to realize the horrible truth, but there’s nothing you can do about it? That was what I felt when I saw Tandy with Leah.

She said that it tore her up, seeing one of her girls shot up with heroin. The usual explanation for that, because Leah cares, is automatic. It’s expected. It’s assumed. But that just means she could skate by without actually explaining anything. So, she was upset, but we didn’t really know why. That was the first thing that struck me. And it struck me exactly when Andre directed Tandy towards her. It just suddenly occurred me: who is better positioned to prey on the helpless, and do so in such a precise, selective manner, than those whom they trust to help them?

Then there was just how well Tandy’s little con, with Tyrone playing an unwitting part, went with her. It somehow just pushed the right buttons automatically, and Tandy got what she needed, easy as that? No, no, something was up. Something was off. It was literally too easy. The story Leah told her rang somewhat true, but it was like watching one of Tandy’s own cons in motion.

And, what, this guy who grew plants for illegal drugs would know everything about how those drugs were used? Nah, that’s not how it works. Things are compartmentalized even, and perhaps most especially, in the criminal underworld.

So, Tandy went, kicked butt, though she came away a little winded and weary and maced in the eyes for it. But it was when she came out that the trap was truly sprung. At no other time is one more vulnerable than right after a victory. Leah just shows up, and Tandy, having already let her get close, is caught off guard. She’s tased, drugged, and strapped into the back of an ambulance.

They got her.

How much you wanna bet that Andre is Leah’s real boyfriend, and the two of them work this scheme together? I mean, Leah was ready to redirect Tandy into a trap after Andre directed Tandy to her, having himself frustrated Tandy’s hope of questioning the rescued girls. What a remarkable coincidence it would be for him to be innocent. More likely, he’s guilty as sin.

The episode is framed by Tandy telling a story. It’s like something out of a wedding reception, and the story is about a farmer who saves a viper and dies for it. The point being that the farmer is a hero, doing what’s right and helping even when it can hurt him. That’s what Tyrone is like in her eyes: a hero who helps even at risk of himself. He’s her best friend.

It turns out, this is part of a hallucination because of the drugs. Her ideal world, it seems, is to have her and Ty’s entire families whole and happy, including his brother and her father, as he, an officer of the law, gets married to Evita, and she gives a speech in his honor.

So, Connors is trying to repent but is failing because his uncle’s file is missing, Brigid is trying to do good but also next to helpless, Ty has the monster of his childhood voluntarily at his mercy and goes to his parents in turn for help, while Tandy just shouted at her mother and got herself caught by the wolf in sheep’s clothing, who probably isn’t alone, and now she’s being shipped off into a living nightmare.

Not good. Really not good.

Posted in This Week on TV | Tagged , | 3 Comments

5 Anime Friend”Ships”

I had an unexpectedly easy time with this one. I suppose where adults, kids, non-humans, and couples are all subjects that warrant debate and exhaustive selection, there’s nothing especially complex about simple friendships.

Friendship is simply a matter of who you trust and usually get along with in some way. It’s pure and simple, uncomplicated by things like attraction. Brothers-in-arms, soldiers fighting side-by-side, people who respect and challenge each other, and watch each others’ backs, these are friendships built upon commonalities, and especially on trust. One can either trust a man, or not, and the hardships men endure together, the good times and bad, these forge a bond of fellowship which endures for eternity.

Friendship is sacred, and it is honest, and it is obvious, without subtleties or confusing gray areas. People may search for romance forever, and it will always be complicated, but friendship is easy to recognize.

And, well, friendship is the connection between kindred souls who, through whatever circumstance, have found one another.

As someone once put it, friendship is born the moment two people meet and go, “You too? I thought I was the only one!” 😀

So, in no particular order, I present five of my favorite anime friendships. 🙂

1) Vash & Wolfwood
Trigun

Vash the Stampede is a man almost without true equal. He is smart, funny, incredibly strong, and his determination is immense. His brother might match his capabilities, but he’s a sociopathic mass-murderer intent on wiping out all of humanity, so, not particularly good family material. If there is one man to match Vash, it’s his best friend and comrade.

Nicholas D. Wolfwood is a priest who packs a good deal of firepower. He has the skills and the humor to match Vash, but also the heart and will. He brings a perspective which Vash lacks, rooted in the harsh realities of survival. This causes them to clash on occasion, but there is no doubt that they would stand by one another’s side until the stars went cold, every one of them.

The two of them together are an excellent, nigh-unstoppable team. When Vash is knocked down, Wolfwood comes to get him back on his feet. Even after Wolfwood dies, his legacy lives on, protecting Vash and enabling his victory. For their unflagging comaraderie, they are among my favorite examples of friendship.

2) Ushio & Tora
Ushio and Tora

Where Vash and Wolfwood connect instantly and become best friends quickly, the same cannot be said for these two.

The chemistry between these two is obvious at first glance, but it takes some time for a bond to form between them. After all, Ushio is a young human boy who naturally cares for people, no matter his tough guy exterior, while Tora is a ravening monster very keen on eating people (at least until he discovers hamburgers). Both of them walk with pride, the sort which they will not sacrifice, and their respect for each other is built gradually. But the two are kindred souls, and an exceptional partnership on the battlefield.

It is the connection between them which inspires and rallies all of their friends and allies together against their common foe. As such, friendship between them might be unusual, but it had to feel genuine, and it does. They maintain an adversarial edge to their relationship all the way to the finish, but there is no question that they are absolutely friends.

3) Spike & Jet
Cowboy Bebop

We never see how Spike Lee and Jet Black meet and form their bounty hunting partnership, but we certainly see the bond between them.

The two of them are both strong tough guys, which, I know, that seems to be a recurring theme of my picks, which is a bit ironic, I suppose, considering how much I’m not a tough guy, but I am digressing. Returning to the point, they’re both tough, but in different, complementary ways.

Spike is more what one usually thinks of as tough: cool, in a hot-headed sort of way, quick-witted, headstrong, a bit reckless, never hesitating to pick a fight and never slow in ending it either.

Jet is more stoic, cool-headed and calm, but with an iron will that makes his strong body all the more formidable. He takes a step back and sees the bigger picture more often than not, more down to Earth, steady as a rock in supporting the people around him.

The two of them, of course, work well together, watching each others’ backs and keeping an eye on each others’ blind spots. They fight and argue, sometimes badly, but they forgive and move on. When one burns too hot, the other cools them down, and vice versa. So long as they are able, they will always have each others’ six.

4) Kaisar & Favaro
Rage of Bahamut

These two have a longer history than the others I’ve picked thus far, and they’re practically a study in opposites.

I am, in fact, quoting my own review of the show when I say this, because I am lazy and I managed to nail it the first time around. 😉

Where Kaisar is preoccupied with nobility and chivalry, Favaro revels in being a rascal. Where Kaisar takes the weight the world on his shoulders, Favaro loves to scamper away from all form of responsibility. Where Kaisar is self-restrained and dignified, Favaro is willfully reckless in every way. And on it goes, the two men could not be more different, as Kaisar is the son of a former nobleman and Favaro is the son of a bandit chief. Yet, they are kindred spirits, bold and strong and courageous. Both have suffered similar losses as well, and both can show compassion in surprising ways.

What really sold their friendship to me, at least, was what happens when we learn the truth of their shared past. They were childhood friends, the sons of men of honor, and both of their fathers were betrayed and murdered by the same demon. Kaisar blamed Favaro for it, and Favaro accepted the blame if only so Kaisar would have something to live for. When Favaro learns the truth of the matter, he goes even further, taking more of the blame onto himself. When Kaisar learns it, he regrets his actions, but then, most cruelly, Favaro actually becomes possessed by evil, and Kaisar finds that he must fight his old friend one more time, this time knowing all that his friend has done for him. It’s a tragic, heart-rending moment…

…and, as it turns out, a bit faked, because the two of them, who are always on differing wavelengths, are able to work together with minimal communication when it counts!

Seriously, these two are both fascinating and entertaining to watch! 🙂

5) Mustang & Hughes
Fullmetal Alchemist franchise

Much like when I chose Maes as one of my picks for an adult in anime, I could probably just leave it be already, and ‘nuff said.

As with all of my picks, these two have their differences, they work well together, they complement each other, they trust and are loyal to each other, they have years of history together… really, the list just goes on.

Anyone familiar with this story knows that Maes Hughes and Roy Mustang go way back, and when Mustang decided to become the Fuhrer and improve their country, Hughes naturally offered his support, without hesitation or reservation. They have fought and bled together, plotted together, risked their lives for each other. They have the bond of brotherhood between their souls. And when Hughes, tragically, is murdered (and anime fans everywhere cried), Mustang takes up the quest for justice as naturally as taking his next breath.

There are few moments more satisfying than seeing Mustang succeed in his quest, and few moments more touching than seeing him turn away from his own darkness for the sake of his friend’s memory.

Someone once said, “The blood of the covenant flows thicker than the water of the womb.” Meaning that men who bleed together for a shared cause have a bond that can surpass even that of biological family. I like to think that my five picks each represent this idea, in their own way.

And that’s my five picks for friendships!

How about you? What would your picks be?

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Anime Review: Dog Days

This is an anime that used to be in my top contenders for a favorite anime. Sadly, it’s not quite there anymore, but it has not fallen that far in the rankings. It’s largely fun, and funny, and generally just a good time. 🙂

The title, Dog Days, is rather clever, really. It takes place during the dog days of summer, ie, when it’s hot and kids are off from school, and it features a cast saturated with people with animal-like attributes, mostly ears and tails, like cats, and squirrels, and foxes, and, yes, dogs.

The premise of the story takes the isekai trope, that of a human from our world being summoned or otherwise transported to a fantasy world as a heroic champion against the forces of evil, and has some fun with it. While a hero is summoned by a pretty little princess in her nation’s time of need… it’s a rather superficial “need.” To elaborate:

The continent of Flonyard is part of a world that is largely at peace. So peaceful is it, in fact, that “wars” have become more like extended sports festivals. So, when one nation is getting the advantage of another, the princess of the losing country summons a hero from our world, but not so much a fighter as a particularly gifted and enthusiastic athlete. From there, it’s a pretty nonstop ride of fun times, sweet moments… and fan service. Because while the vanquished soldiers may mostly puff into adorable balls of fuzz, the pretty girls on the battlefield get their clothes destroyed instead.

Oh, but wait! It turns out that the aggression the hero was summoned to combat was actually part of a desperate, elaborate ploy on the part of the aggressor, who actually loves the princess whose country she invades, in order to save said princess from a terrible prophecy! Because simply talking to her and explaining the situation was simply inconceivable.

Yeah, it’s barrels of fun, but the plot holes, they are many, heh. The extended ruse, for one thing, and the fan service, but there are more holes than you can shake a stick at. The first season has a rising threat that the world, being so peaceful, is completely unprepared for, but it gets dealt with quickly enough, leaving the real issue one of how to get the summoned hero back home. It would seem the princess summoned him out of his life in order to win a sports event without properly considering getting him back to his own world. But, they figure it out, and then it’s never an issue again in the successive seasons.

In that vein, the show can feel, after three full seasons, like it takes the job of setting up serious situations a bit too seriously. It overdoes the setup of the punchline, you could say, and then it just magics away all the problems.

So, if tension and suspense, and particularly thorough world-building, are what you’re after, Dog Days probably won’t be a good fit. Fan service and light harem elements abound, but what really sells Dog Days to me is just when the characters are all having a good time. Really, those sporting events they call battles are great fun to watch! Best sport ever! I wish it were real! 🙂

The cast, mostly pretty girls, was just so sweet and charming! The hero, and eventually heroes, were fun and easy to relate to, and every bit as adorable as their somewhat-furrier costars. Some of the cast were strong, others were clever, some sang, and they were all lovable in one fashion or another. It was definitely the characters, more than the plot, which kept me coming back for more. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with a show that’s mostly playing a fun, engaging, intelligent sport!

In that sense, I suppose one could say the more serious aspects of the show were the ones I enjoyed the least. Here we are, just having a good time kidding around, and suddenly here comes some legitimate danger, but then the danger proves to be a little less bad than we first thought. I know we need some sort of stakes to make the conflict seem important, but it actually worked fairly well when they didn’t have that anyway, ya know?

In short, Dog Days is a good time, fun and funny, a greatly entertaining way to spend a few hours here and there. It’s not great, but it is good. 🙂

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid B.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #231: Maintenance is Required

“‘Needs no maintenance’ is a lie.’”
– Petey, Schlock Mercenary
Book 19: A Function of Firepower – Part IV, by Howard Taylor
(Apr. 17, 2019)

What Petey, the nigh-godlike AI, is referring to is a system in a space station. He likes things that have moving parts and require maintenance, rather than things which ostensibly don’t, because when things need maintenance regularly, there is a vested interest in keeping them maintained. If not, then people get complacent, they forget all about how the system works, just assuming that it always will, and when something breaks, when entropy eventually “exposes the lie,” nobody remembers how to fix it, resulting in the absolute failure of the system. In space, that means everybody dies.

An outcome preferably avoided, no?

Somehow, that line, and its entropy-based implications, simply resonated deep in my heart, reverberating through my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how it applies to… everything.

Machines? Yes, of course.

Equipment? Certainly.

Buildings? Absolutely. There are entire industries based on this.

Roads? Yes. Unless you want them all to crack and crumble and be little more than collections of rocks and potholes.

Cities? Um, yes.

Countries? Oh, very much so.

Armies? Absolutely. If you want it to remain effective, that is, in doing its job.

Governments? Heck, yeah! I point you to every abuse of power, abuse of the law, abuse of human rights, abuse of people, and every great nation that fell from the stagnation of its rulers. On which note:

Civilization? Yes. Every civilization will crumble to dust when it is not properly maintained.

Relationships? Yes. How much suffering has resulted from neglected relationships between couples, families, friends, coworkers, colleagues, leaders and followers, and more? All of them need maintenance.

Religion? Definitely. Times change, circumstances change, the challenges to our souls change, even when they stay the same.

Philosophy, science, education? Yes.

Our bodies? Obviously, yes.

Everything needs maintenance in order to continue… being.

The spirit of maintenance is the spirit of attention, focus, and love, and it requires discipline. Without these things, applied regularly, even constantly, everything stops. There is no more progression, no development, and so everything stagnates, rots, and decays until it simply breaks and is no more. It’s gone, as if it never was.

Maintenance is, and must always be, required.

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This Week on TV, Apr. 20, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

Endings are tricky, and Gotham seems to be going the way of the anticlimactic “just because” route. And they didn’t even touch on Man-Bat! Wat a waste of a tease in last season’s finale!

But Cloak and Dagger picked up the slack, even if it’s still a bit disorienting every time they go with overlapping Ty and Tandy’s scenes, back and forth, back and forth.

Gotham

5.11 “They Did What?”

The morning after the bombing run, the army has orders to invade, destroy the city, and kill everyone. One officer says, “No.” Bane assumes command and kills him. And the rest of the soldiers, instead of shooting the man who just killed one of their own, meekly fall in line. Just because.

Refugees are pouring into the GCPD from all corners, with the army not far behind. They set up a blockade and Gordon gets every able-bodied refugee into the basement… instead of armed and on the wall and holding the army off. Is it just be, or should that one be a no-brainer?

As Gordon wants to run off to the Sirens, looking for his baby, her mother, and his wife, Selina goes instead, so Gordon can hold down the fort. She finds Lee just coming to, and beholding the utter destruction of the Narrows, so she goes to the precinct to help with the injured, by telling the people giving medical care what to do.

Penguin and Riddler are on the verge of leaving, but Penguin turns back. He still feels for the city, even if he was about to leave it in ruin. But leaving is one thing… leaving and watching it get burnt to the ground, then rebuilt by people who have no connection to it, that is not quite the same. So, he turns and goes back, leaving his dog in Riddler’s hands, because this is him listening to his heart.

Bruce has some toys from Fox, little things that might buy a little time, and one needs every advantage in war. One such: a radar-cloaking device that apparently excites certain animals. Gee, I wonder which animal that would be.

Gordon and Penguin have a moment where Penguin waxes eloquent, convincing Gordon to bring him into the fight with him, and then Riddler shows up to join as well, as the sub takes two people to function anyway. Cue dramatic walk of central cast people through the precinct and to the blockade. They completely ignore the opening scene of the season, but I suppose a lot of things have gone by the wayside already. It felt a bit like we’d gone back to the quality of those very first few episodes, which I did not entirely like.

A few dozen ragtag cops against several hundred trained and armed soldiers, and the cops don’t actually want to hurt the soldiers. They focus their fire on Bane and his cronies. And they’re overwhelmed within moments, including Penguin losing an eye to a grenade. But they still manage an orderly retreat well ahead of the encroaching army. Just because.

Bruce has an idea to buy them a little time, involving taking the core of Jeremiah’s generator and using it as a bomb to bring down the Wayne Enterprises and a few others to block the army’s path. It goes splendidly, and even has a moment where Bruce talks about what this means as a sacrifice for him. Then they turn the bomb on and Bruce says, “We run!” So they run, get out, and the building comes down. Time is bought (though the army gets to the GCPD practically in the same moment that they do).

Bane shows up, intent on death. Bruce and Selina hold their own for a bit, but Bane gets a grip on her neck. But he talks for a moment, giving her a chance to stick him with his own knife, and Bruce uses the radar-cloaking and bat-agitating device, attaching it to Bane. Bats swarm him, and he is defeated, though he just has a few scratches in the next scene and is still leading the charge.

Gordon goes to city hall to take his daughter back. He and Barbara manage to deal with Nyssa’s goons easily enough, but she’s too formidable a fighter. But, with such a clear gap in skill, Gordon gets crafty, cuffing himself to her at their wrists, hindering her, and letting Barbara get in a strike with the knife that she used to kill Ra’s. But Nyssa gets away anyway, and uses the info Barbara gave her to find the sub and leave, with Penguin’s fortune and his dog.

Gordon and what’s left of his men make one last stand in front of the GCPD, to buy time for refugees to escape through tunnels below, which, they probably should have started that earlier. Gordon sends Lee to lead them, and she gets them going and turns around to stand with Gordon, entrusting the refugees to Barbara, who leads them back out to also stand with Gordon, like they probably should have in the first place. Now faced with so many innocent and ragged men, women, and children, including a baby, and with only Bane himself and one of his men still surviving, the army listens to Gordon and turns their guns on Bane, like they should have done in the first place.

Seriously.

So. Much. Just because.

Alfred was down for the fight, and he has a limp and a cane by the end, which explains why he doesn’t go into the field anymore once Bruce becomes Batman.

Barbara named her daughter Barbara Lee Gordon, so her name itself would tell her who she can trust in Gotham.

Gordon got to hold his daughter for the first time and he is named commissioner.

Penguin and Riddler are angry. They just lost everything they had, they get no credit for fighting for Gotham, and they are cast out. Riddler didn’t even feel anything for the people he was fighting beside. So they’ll start again. They’ll make Gotham theirs, and make its people tremble at their names. They could work together… but they won’t. They embrace, with knives ready to kill each other, but they don’t. They part ways, and that is that.

Bruce and Selina have a moment after the battle, where Bruce blames himself, and is haunted by Nyssa’s escape. Selina assures him she’ll always be there for him, which reminds him of his parents, and leans against him.

Afterward, Bruce leaves the city. He tells Alfred goodbye at the airport, the butler staying behind to rebuild what was ruined, and wrote Selina a letter. A letter. He’s supposed to be all grown up now, but sometimes I want to shake some sense into that boy! If he is so set on leaving, fine, but at least tell Selina about it in person! But no, he has to say it in a letter. Just because. Oy vey!

Gotham‘s final climax was a huge letdown, I have to say. They did excellently for four seasons, constantly better and better, with greater and greater heights of tension. But this one? They fumbled.

Well, I suppose there’s still the conclusion to look forward to. The series finale, which will apparently finally usher in the Gotham city we all know and love, wherein its dark knight takes flight.

Cloak and Dagger

2.04 “Rabbit Hold”

Sometimes hope is the light found in the darkness, and sometimes hope is the light that enters the darkness.

In the wake of last episode’s ending, we have… fallout. Fallout, fallout, and more fallout. The entire episode is trying to deal with it.

Tandy and Ty warp back to the church, and Tandy is sure they need to get Mayhem back out of wherever she went to, as they need her help to find the other missing girls. Ty doesn’t know if they can, and he certainly can’t seem to do anything about it himself, so Tandy will go in… after tapping into the fear that seems to stimulate the portal’s activation.

Now, this leads into a fascinating glimpse at Ty’s character. He knows Connors is in there somewhere, so he knows his only hope of getting his life back is also locked away in the darkness. He’s sat on that hope for months now, doing nothing about it, because getting what he wants means releasing his most capable enemy, the bogeyman of his childhood. If Connors gets out and goes after Ty’s parents or Evita, and Ty fails to protect them… well, that thought terrifies him. Truly terrifies him.

That’s the thing about love: it means being more afraid for others than for oneself. That’s what people like Connors simply do not get, and it is the lack of love for others in their hearts which makes them so despicable.

The terror of risking harm to his family triggers the shadow portal and Tandy goes in.

She finds herself in a great darkness, her shining dagger the only light to be seen. She stumbles onto a pile of pennies, then the gas station that Mayhem saw before. There, she meets someone. He looks to her like Ty when he was a young kid, but it’s not him, and he freely admits it. “He” is this entity with many names, including St. Peter and Papa Legbi. They seem to settle on calling him Papa Mystery. He guides her into the maze ahead, so she can help Mayhem escape. There’s a viewing stand to look through, which requires Tandy to give up her shining dagger, and it pops out a coin with a dagger on one side and a cloak on the other. She figures out it must mean Ty doesn’t have his powers either. Which, is very bad timing.

See, out in the physical world, the gears are still turning. Brigid is doing what she can to wrap up the case involving the Uptown boys and their victims. Which, pause for a moment here, but the cops are hardly doing a stellar job of it. That, however, is partially because of the rules they play by. In a sentence:

Prostitution is still a crime.

Meaning that these girls who are kidnapped, stolen out of their own lives, pulled into terror and despair, pumped full of drugs and pumped by anyone who can pay for it… are arrested for what was done to them. In short, the victims are treated like criminals. That is just wrong, on so many levels.

For one, it’s an impotent threat and a worthless bargain when the cops arrest a woman for prostitution and offer to drop the charges if she flips on her captors, who will kill her if she does.

For another, there is neither justice nor mercy in it.

And for yet another… it’s impractical, counter-productive, and just plain stupid.

I have no appreciation whatsoever for the practice of prostitution. I believe it is a vile, abhorrent, evil thing and it must be done away with, for the good of all and the improvement of our society. And I believe that morality must play a role in legality, or it will all be worthless rot anyway. However, the law, as it currently stands, makes criminals out of victims, making things all the worse for them, and I cannot say that it saves anyone in the process.

It is one of the most bitter ironies of life that morality in legalized form often leads to little more than suffering. To force one man’s morality on another leads to damnation for all.

Thus, while I hate it, truly, with a deep and abiding disgust for the practice and the sorrow for those caught within it, I must contemplate if things could be better if the law were altered. The point of the law, after all, is to protect the innocent, ensure their rights, and bring justice upon the heads of the guilty. If the law is proving to do more harm than good, then it needs to be changed.

If prostitution were legal, and regulated, then the balance of power would shift. If a girl were stolen from her life, drugged up, beaten, raped, or otherwise mistreated, then she could at least go to the police without being thrown into jail herself. If the law protected these women better, then their handlers would have to treat them better, and they would have to employ girls voluntarily. If their customers could get what they want from one provider without fear of the law, then they would be discouraged from going to less savory corners for the same. And any girl trapped within would have a safe way out.

It would sicken me to condone it, in any way, on any level, and I doubt the girls would suddenly have a wonderful life in their occupation… but if it helps those girls in any way, especially in saving their lives and letting them leave, safely, whenever they like… then how could I say no?

But I have digressed long enough. Back to the story!

While these gangsters are at the police station, they notice a wanted poster with Ty’s face on it. They get his name, pass it via a phone call to their colleagues elsewhere, who use it to get access to his home address… where his mother is. Brigid notices this and calls him, warns him.

Ty’s mother, Adina, is working on something big at the moment. She has files open all over the place. She wants to bring her son, Ty, home, but he’s wanted, and I think I can follow what she’s doing. To bring him home, he needs to be exonerated. Without Connors himself, she’s focusing on that night he killed her son. His uncle fixed that mess for him, so who’s his uncle, and how bad of a man is he? If she can bring down the uncle, she brings down Connors’ version of events that night, which shifts suspicion for an officer’s murder from her son and towards the people responsible, which exonerates him and lets him come home. Something like that, I imagine.

Unfortunately, that means she has to guard what she’s doing, the information she’s gathered, so she has to put the vital bits back into a safe, taking precious time, before they run. But when Ty tries to teleport them out, he can’t do it. It’s that exact moment when Tandy has forfeited her dagger, so Ty loses his cloak as well. He’s left powerless in a dire situation. Fortunately, his mother is equal to the task.

Adina leads the flight out of their house, triggering the alarm to call the cops, and stealing a car. It would seem, much like her husband, Adina has a past which her son knows nothing about. Parents are full of surprises that way. 😉

The pair flee, talk, and have mother-son dynamics of her wanting to protect him and him wanting her to see that he’s not a kid anymore, all at once. They take cover in an old church, rumored to be haunted by three-century-old vampire nuns, and they have a quiet moment to talk for the first time in months.

The vampire-nun story, it would seem, comes from the early days of New Orleans. The French king selected and sent a number of women to the area to help the men breed. The women didn’t know that the were being sent into sexual slavery, really, but the crossing was so harsh on them that their keepers began to feel for them. They were smuggled into the city under cover of night, and then, coincidentally, a number of caskets, which they were sent with, were delivered to the church. So, if I followed that story right, the men who were supposed to sell them decided to rescue them instead, with what they had on hand to work with.

Adina asks where he heard that story and learns about Evita, which makes her smile. She doesn’t like Tandy, the little thief who stole her badge, but she likes what she hears about Evita.

Their respite is interrupted, however, by one of the gangsters from the previous evening. This is the young man whose life Ty saved, by leaping in front of the bullets coming to kill him. The gangster holds them at gunpoint, but he has enough character left to be grateful, and he doesn’t shoot them, though he was torn about it. Ty manages to take the gun, and the gangster actually helps protect them from his gang. He tells his boy when they show up that cops are on the way, and Ty makes that true by calling them himself. Brigid gets a minute to come in and get Adina out, but the cops are ready to murder Ty on the spot.

…and, once again, the timing on Tandy’s part is crucial.

In the darkness, Tandy finds herself at a mall. She and Mayhem find each other easily enough, but finding the way out is trickier. There’s a hall of mirrors between them and the exit, and Mayhem doesn’t cast a reflection. Tandy does. In fact, she has several, and has to choose who she is, or something like that. Thus why Mayhem, only part of a person, doesn’t have one: she has no other sides of herself to come to terms with.

They find where Connors has been squatting, but he’s not there at the moment. Evidently, he is obsessed with Ty, hanging effigies of him all around his space.

They also find a record store with all of the missing girls cataloged, and Tandy’s own painful memories on record. She listens to then, and it tears her apart: when her father didn’t want to look after her because he was working, when she listened to music while they were fighting, when she stepped out a door while they were fighting… her pain is sharp, and she hasn’t really dealt with it.

Mayhem, now, while Tandy is busy, she goes to deal with the one she’s wanted to kill all this time: Connors. She gets him, starts hanging him, but Tandy interrupts. She uses her dagger, which breaks the rules, so the darkness swallows them up and casts them out.

That would be the moment when Ty was waiting, in dread, to be found by the police. He teleports away, to the church, and doesn’t land alone. No sign of Mayhem, if she was pulled out with them or not, but Tandy and Connors are both out, and Connors immediately makes his escape.

So, they’ve no idea yet if they managed to succeed, but they certainly managed to let their enemy out, and they nearly lost everything in the act. Oh, and now Connors knows where to find Ty.

Things are not looking good for our heroes!

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