How Exceptional We Are! – The Eximius Blogger Award

You know that feeling? The one where you’re just feeling a bit weighed down with how unremarkable you are… And then, lo! Someone does something nice and sweet as tagging you with an award like this! That is a fantastic feeling, and I thank the Crow for letting me feel it! 😀

What is this Eximius Blogger Award? Well, quoting previous nominating bloggers in this tag:

“The Eximius Blogger Award is an award which symbolizes the exceptionality of every blogger. Eximius is the Latin word for exceptional, and this award is created to honour the exceptionality or uniqueness of every blogger out there. This award is for all those bloggers who put an insane amount of effort and thought into all of their posts and come up with exceptional content! This award is all about you!”

Rules

  1. Use the official logo/graphic of the award and display it on your blog post.
  2. List the rules
  3. Tag the original creator: Riddhi at Whispering Stories and the person who nominated you (which was T. Crow from Crow’s World of Anime)!
  4. Mention the most exceptional thing about you and your blog (One about you and one about your blog).
  5. Mention one thing you find exceptional about the blogger who nominated you (To show love for the blogging community!)
  6. Answer the three questions posed by the person who nominated you.
  7. Share your favourite blog post that you’ve written.
  8. Tag 7 people! (Because 7 is such a magical number!)

What is exceptional about me?

Why that would be… ME! Of course! 😉

Like the Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, there is only one me and I love it! 😀

Whatever my issues may be, whatever difficulties I endure as a result, I still love to be me. To be unique. To have a different view from others, with which we can challenge all of our standing preconceptions, and learn to become just a little bit better than we were before. Together.

To be “normal,” by comparison, just strikes me as… dull. And even worse: stagnant. I could never live without the freedom to be everything that is me. Sit down and shut up? NEVER! 🙂

What is exceptional about my blog?

Well, there’s how broad my topics are – I still preen a little at having once heard my blog described as “truly diverse” – but, ultimately, I think the most distinguishing feature of this, my humble blog, is Sunday’s Wisdom.

I love to write, so very much, and I love to talk about stories, but, in the end, I feel that it would not be worth my efforts if I did not do something – just something, no matter how small and humble – to spread a little bit of light into the darkness of the world. That’s what Sunday’s Wisdom is really all about: taking lessons from our stories and exploring them, briefly, to say something good that other people may need to hear, which I may need help to remember myself at times.

There are, of course, a number of other inspirational bloggers out there, but, to my knowledge, no one else does it quite like me. I am unique! 😉

And I have rarely felt so gratified as when my weekly little nutshells of inspiration have been answered with gratitude, because someone out there did truly need to hear it. It is a wonderful, humbling feeling to know that I, in my small way, have done at least some good for someone out there. 🙂

Something exceptional about T. Crow?

Heh, I have to admit, I very much appreciate his weekly roundups of anime-related posts! It’s just so neat seeing a little something of our community all knit together. I’ve found some very interesting posts and blogs because he does this! 🙂

My favorite post?

Well, I have a lot to choose from, many of them quite fun, but, I have to say, easily my most favorite is Why I Still Love Anime. It was not only fun, but I actually got a chance to articulate the why of something I love, something which my family doesn’t really get. (despite my best efforts!)

Questions

Why is your favorite anime genre?

…was that supposed to mean “what it is” or “why is it your favorite?” Eh, I’ll just answer both at once! 😉

I tend to like a lot of things, genres included. I have very eclectic tastes, in that way. If I were to pick a favorite genre of anime, though, it would probably be action and adventure! I am a man who loves watching a good fight! Battles and explosions, that’s me! It could have mecha or magic, I don’t care, I just like a good tussle! Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! And bring popcorn! 😛

If you had to add a new regular feature to your blog, what would it be?

My own work.

I’ve talked about all sorts of stories that other people have made. I also want to make my own. I can easily envision writing and posting poetry. And if I ever complete a story to publish, I would absolutely try to stoke interest in it by posting the first few chapters! 🙂

I’ve actually been tinkering a bit with this already, both the poetry and the novel-writing, but in the rush and tumble of Real Life, I just haven’t managed to actually do it.

My last question has two parts, and they’re integral to each other, so I don’t feel guilty for apparently cheating!

    1. What question would you most like me (or anyone else) to ask you about anime?
    2. How would you answer that question?

Why does anime matter?

I would say it matters because every story we tell matters.

It can be fables, myths, books, cartoons, TV shows, miniseries, movies, entire cinematic universes, video games, tabletop RPGs, songs, poems, stories from history, from scripture, from sports, from our own lives… anything that is a story we tell has meaning. They reflect us, and teach us, and shape us. They examine the whole of humanity, its nature and history, its hopes and triumphs and failures, and bring sustenance to our very souls.

That is why anime matters, because of the stories it tells, and because it is part of our collective story.

I tag/nominate the following exceptional bloggers:

Irina of I Drink and Watch Anime
Lynn, the Otaku Author
Scott with his Mechanical Anime Reviews
Never Argue With a Fish
The Spooky Redhead
Matt in the Hat
Anime Hanabi (one I’ve only recently come into contact with, and look forward to hearing from! 🙂 )

My Three Questions:

1. If you could pick one technology (or magic) that is currently fictitious and make it real, what would it be?

2. In all the stories you’ve read or watched, what is the most exceptional heroic moment you can recall right now? Like, what’s your favorite moment that defines someone as a hero?

3. From three different genres, pick your favorite story. They can all be the same type of medium (animated, TV show, movie, game, book, etc.) or they can be different types, but they must be of distinctly different genres.

Have fun! 😀

Posted in Blogging Awards, Challenge Accepted | 3 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #385: Many Hands Are Needed

“Two people in a room can get more done than a hundred.”

“Unless you need to move a piano.”

– Prince T’Challa and King T’Chaka, Captain America: Civil War

When T’Challa says this, he is speaking to Natasha Romanof, the Black Widow. They’re both people of action and practicality, and they dislike the intricate, complicated politicking that seems to just get in the way and slow things down, more often then not, especially when things are in dire need of getting done. Too many people makes for too many interests and competing agendas, weighing down any conversation, gumming up the political works, while two people alone, with their own drive and brilliance, can get down to business, to actually create and implement a practical plan much more quickly.

But, as his father, T’Chaka, cautions, some tasks are simply too big and heavy for two people alone to do easily. More people may make for a more unwieldy force to direct, but once everyone is on board and coordinating properly, well, many hands makes for much lighter work. And if one needs more hands to move a piano, well, how many are needed to move the entire world?

A balance must be struck between having few enough people involved to be efficient, and having enough people involved to be effective at all.

And that doesn’t even begin to go into the perils of putting too much power into too few hands. Sure, things may not get done as quickly when the power is spread out, but put enough power into the wrong pair of hands, and the one thing you can trust happening really fast is for things to get really bad.

But to set that aside and speak primarily about improving the world, that doesn’t happen without many, many hands involved. Thus, even with all the wrong going on these days, I have hope.

The crisis of the current war is dire, such that it may be impossible to overstate, but there have also been countless hands doing whatever little thing they could to help those in need.

The rampage of disease is a travesty always lurking in the background of our international political drama, but armies of volunteers in a number of charitable organizations are even now providing vaccines and other medical treatments for those who cannot find help anywhere else.

I shudder to think of the devastation that is to come if the foretold shortages of food should manifest themselves, but I also feel hopeful that those who are in need may yet find kindness from their neighbors, and lives will be saved.

There are organizations which are digging wells and building schools in Africa, providing wheelchairs for impoverished cripples, bringing much-needed relief aid to those caught in natural disasters, building homes for the homeless, sheltering orphaned children, rescuing lost and abandoned pets, seeing to the care of our beloved elderly, giving therapy to heal the wounds of mind and spirit to the abused and neglected, and so much more. Police officers, firemen, soldiers, and paramedics stand ready to save lives every day, in ranks upon uncounted ranks of unsung heroes.

All of these people work to do good in this world. As do comedians who make us laugh, musicians who make us dance, and storytellers who make us think. Teachers, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, janitors… we all do our part to make the world a little better than it was before.

All of that requires many, many hands, belonging to crowds of people that are often competing with each other.

Politicians, for all their well-earned, unsavory reputations, stand between the crowd behind them and the crowd in front of them, a placing which can easily see them crushed to a pulp, no matter their station and privilege. Small wonder so many of them are inclined to move things a bit more slowly. Combine that with the virtues of representing all of us, without which there is only tyranny, and voila: a slow-moving, gummed-up mess that is still the preferable alternative.

Because two pairs of hands alone might move the world faster, but not more carefully.

Two people can break the world easily enough, but it takes all of us together to repair it.

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | Leave a comment

The “Real” in White Collar

What is “real?”

It’s such a simple question. It has such obvious answers. Yet when those answers can be disputed, conflict ensues.

Is that a real dollar bill or a counterfeit? Is this a real work of art or an imitation? Is that the real celebrity or politician or authority figure? Is your claim real, or a lie? Are you the real you, the person who owns this identity? Is this identity the real you, or is it something you’re pretending to be?

Is this real? Is this genuine? Is this true?

It was just before Valentine’s Day when I talked about a quote from White Collar, a show about the partnership between an FBI agent and his criminal informant, a world-renowned thief. The quote I shared was about the difference between loving the idea you have of someone versus loving who they actually are, and it got me thinking about the interplay White Collar displays between the ideas of what is real and genuine, and what is false, fraudulent, and forged. I’d like to explore that just a little bit and share my thoughts.

First and foremost, White Collar, by its very nature, delves into our distinction between forgeries and genuine works of art. The cops and criminals are constantly colliding over this. The entire conflict between criminals and lawmen is because society says, “This is worth a large amount of money because it’s real.” That’s why thieves try to thieve it in the first place, and why officers must respond. It can be paintings, sculptures, jewels, relics and artifacts, or most anything else.

By extension, since the world places such a value on the what is genuine, there is naturally money to be made in forgeries. All those artistic works and old relics, as well as passports, birth certificates, and everything else involved in “proving” one’s identity… heck, money itself. How many safeguards are put into the design of our cash, to combat counterfeiting?

It seems that, no matter how dishonest people can be – and there are countless examples of that both in the show and in real life – there remains an automatic demand for honesty. It’s like an unspoken accord between all humans, that we shall value what is real over what is not. Many of our laws have been built on this, as has the justice system around said laws. Heck, even basic street scams have rules, and the scam artists in question use their targets’ expectation of honesty against them. Oh, and woe to those politicians who are finally caught, without the protection of their corrupt colleagues, violating their oaths of office.

And yet, for all this demand for truth, there’s never been a lie told that wasn’t told by a human being. Why? Because somewhere along the way, those finer things in life, those “genuine” things (unless it’s actually a forgery) become too important. Thieves, murderers, and corrupt officials step on people’s lives all the time to get those worldly things they want, those things the society says are worth something because they are (theoretically) real. So we agree on the value of truth within things, yet we overlook the value of truth within people.

White Collar follows the struggle between “real” and “false” in an episodic format, usually. But the real story of the show is about the struggle between real and false within people. This is particularly exemplified in the two male leads of Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey.

Peter is a rock-solid man of truth and law. There is not much “flash” to him, but rather a simple, enduring sincerity. He loves one woman, a remarkable woman, and he is ever faithful to her. He is utterly unflagging in his convictions even at great personal cost. He is, in short, a very real person.

Neal, by contrast, is a thief and a forger, an active agent of what is not truly real. He is fleeting as smoke, easy to touch but impossible to truly feel or hold. He lies even when he tells the truth. Even he doesn’t truly know who he really is for much of the show. That is why he is so often in a quiet pain, because he lacks any true foundation within himself, and he is constantly trying to fill the void within him.

It bears noting here that many activities undertaken against criminals will involve going undercover. This by necessity involves telling lies. Yet, when Peter lies, there is always an element of truth to it, the lie is merely a veneer. For Neal, there may be elements of truth in his lies, but it is the deception which dominates. Even if most of what he says and does is real, in a given circumstance, he is still false and hollow.

Which leads into the single most basic and pivotal point: the value we place on what is real is because that is what our relationships are built on. If that bond is built on something false, the relationship crumbles and fails and ends, often bitterly.

The value of real money, real art, real identities, and real people is about valuing the most real treasure of all: true love. Emphasis on “true.”

That love can be between friends or family, but the most important relationship we ever build is romantic. That is the one that really dictates our future. And here, again, Peter and Neal provide perfect contrasts.

Peter loves his wife, and only her, and they endure together, because their relationship is entirely built on what is true. They have difficulties, but they work through them together. They have problems, but they solve them together. Whatever life throws at them – and life is not gentle in so doing – they are unstoppable, together. That is the power of trust, and truth.

Neal, on the other hand, can’t stop lying. He has never managed to find something entirely true within himself. It is unavoidable for him to bring that into every relationship he ever has, most especially those of a romantic nature, where a man is automatically laid most bare. His friendships nearly end multiple times, and every romance or potential romance he ever has – and there are many women, all exceptionally beautiful – very much ends, several of them tragically. Truth always catches up to him, no matter how he tries to evade it. And in every relationship, it’s not enough for it to be “partially” true or “mostly” real. The whole thing needs to be the absolute genuine article from the very start, or it will not endure. Ever.

Love cannot rest soundly on a forgery, but it stands strong on what is true.

Thus does Peter Burke, bastion of integrity, lead a happy if also difficult life, with loyal friends and colleagues and a beautiful wife in a faithful marriage.

While Neal Caffrey, who can never be one hundred percent true no matter how hard he tries, ultimately lives in lonely misery. He cannot entirely trust anyone, and no one can entirely trust him. That is what repeatedly crushes the easy, comfortable, luxurious life he wants, alongside his soul, until he simply leaves his life behind, along with everyone in it.

Why? Because when he’s asked by a woman he wooed under false pretenses if any of it was real, he cannot answer, “Yes, it was real.” He can only answer, so sadly, “A lot of it was.”

“A lot of it.” But not all of it. Which leaves even the real parts spoiled, befouled, poisoned, and forever lost.

The one thing of value above all: truth. Whole, absolute, and undiluted. True money, true art, true people, true friendships, true promises, true love, true happiness.

There is no neutral ground. Not in the end sum, at least. It’s all or nothing, yes or no, to ask the question, “Is this real?”

That’s the lesson, above all, which I take from White Collar.

Posted in Discussion, Miscellaneous, TV Shows | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #384: We Are Not Better

“Hubris means deadly pride, Percy. Thinking you can do things better than anyone else… even the gods.”
– Annabeth Chase, Sea of Monsters
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
, by Rick Riordan

As much as I have and will absolutely continue to rag on Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, I will admit, as with many stories that are clearly meant for kids, there are some wonderful, nutshell-sized summations of important lessons to learn. Case in point: the lesson of pride, and how deadly it is.

When Annabeth says this, she is talking about what she has learned to be her own fatal flaw, in the tradition of all the Greek heroes having one, but also the flaw of the primary antagonist of the series, Luke. She elaborates on how the Greek gods, and the Western Civilization which has thrived under their influence, have done a lot of good in the world, including many of the very best things that humanity has ever done in its entire history. But even knowing that, sometimes it’s easy to see only the bad, the flaws, mistakes, and sins. It’s easy to think as Luke thinks, that if they could just tear it all down and start from scratch, then they could build up something better, something perfect. According to our definition of “perfect,” of course.

And therein lies the danger, in thinking that somehow we could do better than anyone else alive, better than everyone who has lived and died, if only everything in the way – which includes everything – could be removed, erased, deleted, undone, torn down. Clear the way, clear the ground, like a forest fire, no matter who or what burns for it. To do that is to act as if we were gods, the ones whose business it is to judge and to meddle, to tear down and build up by our own will alone. And, of course, being incapable of making mistakes. As if anyone could ever reshape the entire world and not make a mistake somewhere.

In that sense, I find that we are surrounded by hordes of would-be gods. We are drowning in them, being buried and suffocated by them.

These are the fools who understand little of history, even less of human nature, who are ignorant but think themselves wiser and smarter than everyone who has come before. They see nothing but wrongs in the world around them, and that most admirable desire to improve things is corrupted in blind, destructive zealotry. They seek to solve problems by tearing it all down instead of building something up. Their righteousness, as they see it, is found in plunging headlong into the fray of a fight to overturn everything they know and put in its place a utopia, the likes of which they don’t realize can never be built by mortal hands alone. And all who dare to stand in the way, who dare to try and caution them against impulsive destruction, who don’t get in line with them and march in perfect lockstep… well, they’ll just have to march straight over the entire lot of us, won’t they?

When I say that, I am aware that I, too, have my issues. I have deadly pride, but I think even worse for me is my deadly wrath. Something deep within me wants to make an answer for the suffering of countless people because of the power struggles of the powerful. I very much want to break, shatter, and burn those evil, wicked men who have visited terror on their fellow man. I wish, deep in my heart, that I had the power to repay them all in kind. But even deeper in my soul, I fear what would result. I fear the monster I, myself, would become, the innocents I would hurt in my own self-righteous rampage, and the greater harm that I would do.

I have learned and lately dwelt on this particular truth: I am no better than anyone else. I may not have any reprehensible crimes to my credit, but I have been a fool before. I have been caught up in my baser instincts and overwhelming, savage wrath of the people around me, the mentality of the mob. I have been charmed by gilded tongues that dripped venom into my veins, and caught up in the capricious moods of the crowd. I have been jealous and short-sighted, prideful and self-centered. I am guilty of many sins, and good things that I have tried to do have gone wrong. I may not be worse than any other man, but neither am I any better.

I am the equal of any man, neither above nor below, not worse and not better.

I can’t do better than everyone else. I can only do my best.

We can only do our best, and we need each other to help us account for the mistakes we will make.

That’s how my nation was founded, by imperfect men who found a balance together, and made something better than it was before, and, even more, capable of improving itself, to address the flaws they knew would be found. And they did it with words and ideas, building something up instead of tearing it all down.

Now that is an example worth emulating.

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #383: The Power of Choice

“Power just makes a person more of themselves, right?”
– Major Lemar “Battlestar” Hoskins, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Season 1, Episode 4, “The Whole World is Watching”

When Lemar says this, he’s talking to his best friend and comrade, John Walker. Walker is questioning if he should take the super serum he secretly acquired, which would make him a super soldier like Captain America, whose mantle the US government gave him. He hesitates, but not for long, partially encouraged by Lemar’s trust in him. He very shortly shows the entire world that he is not a saint. He has tried to appear to be one, and perhaps even tried to be one, but he falls far short in reality.

There is some truth to what Lemar say, but not entirely. It is true that power will often change a person, but that change isn’t so simple as simply making them somehow more of what they are. It may unveil who they are at their core, as inhibitions fall away like a veil and the fires of pride and ambition stir up all of their desires and appetites, all at once. But within that maelstrom of the world, things are stripped away as well, sometimes even the very things which they once built their entire identity on, their deepest values and strongest supports.

It is not uncommon for one newly filled with a power the likes of which they have never known to make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need those old sources of strength. That can sometimes be a bit like thinking one doesn’t need the ground anymore just because one has learned to fly. But since when has the foolishness of something prevented someone from doing it?

Point being: there is not really a limit to how much a person can change.

Power can turn a person into a version of themselves that scarcely resembles who they were before. So can adversity, loss, pain, and suffering. Each of these can twist and warp a person – any person – practically without limit. Fortunately, these changes don’t always have to be bad. People can become more humble as well as more prideful, more loving as well as more hateful, or more firm in their resolve as well as having their resolve break.

And these are not the only things that can change a person. Love can change a person. Compassion, charity, and kindness can change people. Forgiveness. Trust. Hope. All things that can be experienced can change someone. Indeed, by very definition, experience changes us. It changes us from children into adults, from one version of ourselves into another. That is what our experiences do. It is impossible to stay entirely the same forever. It is merely a question of who or what we transform into.

That is the power of our choice.

Something terrible happens to us? We choose to either become bitter, or dedicate our lives to helping others who also suffer.

We are given a merciful gift exactly when we most need it? We can choose to spit on it for the sake of our pride, or to accept it with gratitude and pay it forward.

We find ourselves suddenly more powerful than we have ever been before? We choose whether we become our worst, most selfish selves, or maintain our decency and humility as we do good works.

Experience is the fire which alters us, but choice is the hand which shapes us.

Choice is our power, and what ultimately defines who we are.

Posted in Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I Read the Percy Jackson Series

My teenage nephew is one of those people who can’t stop talking about whatever is crossing his mind at the moment. As he’s read Percy Jackson and the Olympians umpteen times, as well as the two sequel series, he’s mentioned quite a lot about it. I was not particularly intrigued or impressed by his renditions of certain scenes, but there comes a point where one just figures, “What the hell.” At least I could now follow some of the jabbering conversations he has with his younger siblings, who also read and loved the series.

If nothing else, this experience has now made me appreciate the value of the words, “target audience.” I mean, I know there are a number of books that are generally intended for younger audiences, but I still, to this day, enjoy Harry PotterThe Prydain Chronicles, and the Redwall series, so I’ve never really prioritized that, ya know? It has always been my opinion that a quality story, well-written, well-crafted, and well-told, can appeal to and entertain anyone, at any age, and it is only consideration for aspects which children and young adults might not be ready for which determined whether it was appropriate for them. But apparently, I stand corrected, there are some stories that just don’t do it so well for adults as they do for kids. Why? Because it’s just so stupid!

Seriously, that’s how cartoons became not just “child-friendly” but “for kids” in the Western world. Before Disney’s Renaissance, their animated movies had catered to kids to much that they became stale and stupid, a pain for mature, experienced adults to watch. Heck, even the kids weren’t enjoying them as much anymore!

Now, I acknowledge, Percy’s story follows him from the age of 12 until he turns 16, so I can understand if the boy fails to learn much. But even so, one can only watch the same boy, and his much more experienced friends, fall into obvious traps again and again and again, all unsuspecting and unwary despite how many times they’ve almost died already, only so many times before it becomes obvious that they’re only falling into these traps for the sake of adding more plot and more pages to the book. It’s a bit wearying to see them remain so stupid.

Not to mention how, for the first half of the series, every time anyone supposedly dies, they turn up again in a pivotal moment, perfectly all right. It kind of took the tension away, so much so that when, at almost exactly the halfway point, one character actually does die, I did not believe it. Literally. I. Did. Not. Believe. It. Because no one else had ever actually died before! They didn’t show it, just intimated that something had happened, which was exactly identical to every other supposed “death” throughout the preceding half of the series. So I kept waiting for the dead person to show up again, only they didn’t, and then not only was it finally confirmed as the first fatality of the series, but then we saw another character die at the end of the same book.

“Fate: it’s all ‘just because!'”

And suddenly the series had shifted gears. It went from, “Nobody actually dies,” to “Everyone is being served up to the Grim Reaper on a silver platter… unless they have plot armor, ie, the main characters.” I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the Game of Thrones approach, but perhaps something a little more in the middle, where the heroes who die in battle may not be main characters, but we’ve at least gotten to know them a little?

But then, everything is told directly from Percy’s first-person viewpoint, so there are some inherent limitations. Such as how anytime Riordan wants to visit the villains’ side of things, Percy always has a dream about what they’re saying and doing at that exact moment. Which gives him a level of luck that is of absolutely divine proportions. Forget commanding the seas and making mountains erupt, I want to be able to listen in on every significant conversation my enemies are ever having! Heh, I remember a scene from Ghost Hunt where a monk tries to make that happen, encouraging a young psychic girl to nap on the job the moment he realizes she’s gaining vital information anytime she does so! Somehow Percy and company never manage to think of the same, and, wait, if the lesser gods, including the God of Dreams, is against them, then how do they have such significant dreams all the time? Ah, well, best not think about it too much!

Indeed, best not to think about most of this story too much, which is kind of counter-productive to the entire point of telling stories in the first place!

Example: how are there so many demigods in the first place?

I mean, the gods have apparently kept themselves very well entertained with mortals, given that they have enough half-mortal kids to literally make an army out of. Actually, they make up two armies, on both sides of this conflict between gods and titans. Annabeth Chase, Percy’s best friend, most stalwart comrade, and obvious love interest, is a daughter of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and sworn not to get with men, and yet she has several children. Annabeth explains that she apparently just came into being from Athena’s thoughts and affections for a brilliant, passionate aviator. I imagine that holds true for some others, especially other children of Athena, but certainly not for all of the demigods! Seriously, the entire plot revolves around the many, many, many offspring that these gods have. Hera is the only one to apparently have no children whatsoever, being a goddess of marriage, while Artemis seems to adopt the daughters of other gods as her immortal Hunters, but in both cases, why could they not do the same as Athena?

The movies were bad, and had less to work with than I realized!

Either way though, it turns out that everything happens pretty much because the gods suck at keeping it in their pants. Which is just so child-friendly, to parade that in front of kids, riiiiight?!

I once heard Larry Correia read a short story that is attached to his Monster Hunters series, and this girl in the next seat was taking notes to keep track of her thoughts. I recall her writing something like how the fantastic element is kind of just slapped onto the real world with not much sense to it. While I disagreed, that thought has still always stayed with me, and I find it made manifest here in Riordan’s work. Everything drawn from Greek mythology is just slapped onto the real world like a sticker. Monsters set up shop all over the place, killing scores of people with no one noticing. Mythological sites simply exist somehow on top of the real world. The gods and heroes and monsters do their thing, and nobody notices because that would be bad for the plot.

Gee, I wonder how Riordan handled adding Norse and Egyptian mythologies to this world in later series. Couldn’t possibly have just slapped those over the world like bumper stickers, eh?

In short, there’s not really any world-building, and that is pretty much the state of the plot and the characters as well. And the themes? The deeper meaning? The weighty matters of good and evil and humanity made manifest for discussion and learning, as Percy and his friends interact with heroes and monsters, with gods and titans, with figures literally out of myth and legend?

These five novels basically boil down to: the gods suck, most heroes suck, and their only redeeming virtue is that they’re better than the titans and monsters that literally prey on people. It’s so bad that when Percy finally saves the day, and is given a boon from the gods for his efforts and accomplishments, he basically refuses the chance to ascend to godhood and just asks the gods to straighten up and suck slightly less than they have thus far.

You know the one redeeming quality of this series? The one that I hear my niece and nephews going on about? The humor. The witty turns of phrase as everything is relayed to us in first-person. That was the secret sauce that made everything go down easy, or at least easy enough that I was able to finish this series. Every single time my nephew has mentioned Percy Jackson, it’s been a rendition of some funny line. And I will grant that Riordan does certainly have a certain skill in that arena, though my nephew has far less skill when it comes to relaying them.

And it still launched her career as eye candy.

Outside that, however, I find that I can hardly stand the series. Plot twists and surprises? Saw them coming miles away. Pivotal decision to make at the climax? Had me face-palming, “That’s it?!” Great battles of swords and wits? Not really impressed, we didn’t get that much of it, and when we did, Percy was nearly immortal at the time. Tension and suspense? …um, no. Really. No.

I’m sure – quite sure, in fact! – that I would probably have enjoyed this when I was a kid. Like I enjoyed Power Rangers. As an adult though, it really… really… falls flat.

Rating: 4 stars out of 10.

Grade: D-Minus.

Posted in Books, Tuesday Review | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #382: Family Bonds

“You can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it. It doesn’t matter if they hate you, or embarrass you.”
– Hermes, Sea of Monsters
Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan

It’s been said that nobody fights like family. That gets messy in any circumstance, but especially when noble ranks are involved, let alone when family includes gods. So, Hermes can well know what he is talking about here, as he sends a young Percy Jackson to go and try to help his wayward son, Luke. Luke has serious issues with the gods, especially his father, so much so that he has basically become one of the foremost leaders of an anti-god army of humans, demigods, lesser gods, monsters, and even titans. Yeah, he’s pretty far gone, but still, there are few who know and love him who just don’t give up on him.

Myself, I have long since had to come to terms with how broken my family has been, and yet I have also counted myself blessed that we have been nothing near so bad as some other families I have seen. We’ve been divided by our disputes, but not a one of us would ever mean to hurt another one of us. Indeed, past arguments notwithstanding, we still all feel very protective of each other. If push came to shove, we’d have one another’s backs, and help however we could, the best that we could.

That is miles better than so many others. I’ve seen families who have betrayed, abandoned, abused, and hurt each other in a multitude of ways. Yet many of them still somehow cling together, limping on through Hell or high water. Heck, I once had a number of friends who I considered as family to me, and now I find that I have but one of them left as a true friend. But I still have my family. They may not have always been able to help me, but they have never abandoned me.

We still fight, of course, as we disagree about various things. Even so, I would do anything I could to help them, and I know they would do the same.

Family. When done right, it is a glorious, wonderful thing, and even when done wrong, it can still endure almost anything, even itself.

It is the most basic building block of civilization, the foundation of every life from childhood on.

Family finds you when you are lost, even when you’re the one who managed to willfully get yourself that way.

Family remembers everything, and forgives anything.

Family is who knows all the worst parts of you, and loves you anyway. (that’s from another quote I’ll have to use sometime)

Family irritates us to no end, and loves us without limit.

I love my family, and I am so very thankful for them!

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Critical First Legend of Critical Role

You know that feeling, where you want something to be good so much that you’re actually a little afraid of it not living up to your hopes?

This is not helped when one recalls that there are amateurs who have produced classic masterpieces, and there are time-honored professionals who have produced great, big piles of crap.

Example: Disney produced many magical classics in their earliest years, but then the quality somehow dwindled overall until the time of their Renaissance, and then they produced even better films, and then politics and corporate greed got their way again, and now it’s anyone’s guess if their next movie will be good, great, or just plain terrible. And yet, they continue to be a worldwide phenomenon and a mainstay in the business of Hollywood, to the delight of their fans when they produce something good, and widespread disappointment when they fail. Of course, Disney is so bloated that they can endure all manner of failures and still keep going like some unholy Energizer Bunny. Other, much smaller, production crews have no such leeway. A single mistake early on can kill something which otherwise could have become mighty and made truly beautiful works, as great as any Disney movie.

That was roughly my train of thought as I was going into The Legend of Vox Machina.

I am a big fan of Critical Role and the voice actors who produce it. Or had you noticed? They’re a great way to spend well over a thousand hours of time, I’d say! Indeed, I enjoy it so much that I was frankly a bit nervous going into this, their first animated production, which is based on their adventurous campaigns in Dungeons and Dragons. I was so hopeful, but cautious because I feared disappointment, and feared the blow that would be felt by the people behind it in the wake of any such failure. I already knew – because they made a point to tell us on YouTube – that they and many of their fans and associates around the world, many of whom possess a great deal of talent, skill, and experience, had been pouring their heart and souls into this show, this cumulative labor of their collective love. But I well know that this is not a guarantee of quality storytelling. Heck, not even a massively successful kickstarter is really a guarantee of financial success.

So there I was, basically just pleading silently for the show that so many people worked so hard on for so long to live up to that, to be good, enjoyable, fun, and meaningful. And to be certain that my bias would not cloud my perspective, I watched it with a friend who knew nothing about the show except the trailer that I shared with him, to test his interest.

By design, we watched the entire first season in one evening…

…and we had a blast! It was so much fun! 😀

“VICTORY!”

Now, I’m going to make certain, before I really start gushing, that one thing is made absolutely clear: THIS IS NOT MEANT FOR CHILDREN! AT ALL! Yes, it’s animated, but you remember how Deadpool and Logan were definitively not child-friendly? Keep that in mind! “Animated” is not remotely the same as “child-friendly!” Got it? Yes? OK. Good. Moving on.

Let’s start at the beginning: episode one. I have my one-episode rule for a reason, after all. While Critical Role fans might be more prone to like any depiction of the mercenaries known as Vox Machina, the first trick of any story is to enthrall that part of the audience which knows nothing whatsoever of what they’re getting into. The hook is always key.

They did quite well with it, I say! The main characters were introduced properly, as was the inciting conflict. We got a feel for how they act and think, how they’re deadly and powerful, but also a complete, bumbling mess. We saw them dealing with problems, insecurities, and failures in a realistic fashion. Best of all, in my mind, we saw that there is more to them than meets the eye, as they interact with various people, and see that, whatever their imperfections, they actually care about others, and this, ultimately, is what drives them to try again after an initial defeat. It’s not idealism, power, status, or gold which motivates them – though they certainly appreciate gold, of course! – but a basic level of kindness and decency. They are rough – very rough! – around the edges, and they have significant issues, but they’re good people.

It’s easy to like them, warts and all. That is what both hooks and keeps the interest of any audience. That’s how Critical Role became so popular in the first place, much like Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man! 🙂

“You totally love us!”

I can hardly do a better job than they themselves did, but, still: there’s Grog, a large barbarian with little in the way of brains, but has a raging strength that is exceeded only by his big, lovable, sincere heart; Keyleth, a young Druid elf girl, out in the world on a journey to become the next leader of her people, if she can overcome her fears and anxiety and survive; Pike Trickfoot, a gnome and a cleric, trying so hard to be good and help her friends, indeed, trying perhaps so hard that she loses herself for a time in uncertainty; the half-elf twins Vax and Vex, rogue and ranger, very easy on the eyes, with wits and words that are even sharper than their daggers and arrows (and they have an adorable pet bear); and Percy (short for a much longer name), human artificer and former aristocrat, inventor of guns, dignified and refined and barely keeping it together due to the absolute traumas of his past. Oh, and Scanlan, gnome bard with a toilet’s sense of decorum, a gutter’s sense of humor, a rabbit’s eagerness for… *ahem!* (I mentioned this is not for children, right?) …and somehow, in a way I will never understand, charming.

And this is the crew that will save the world. Eventually. Because while they “f*** s*** up” all the time, they still specialize in f****** specifically the villain’s s*** up, at least.

“It’s what we do.”

As for the plot, I admit that was a particular concern of mine. I mean, the task of condensing several hundred hours of role-playing, to streamline it into a coherent, well-placed plot that still does justice to the characters and their personal struggles, is a massive undertaking, requiring a daunting amount of effort. Obviously, this first twelve-episode season doesn’t go all the way to the end, but it does begin the titular legend with the first major arc of the first campaign. This delves especially into the personal demons – figurative and literal – of Percy, as he confronts the nefarious Briarwoods and their minions, who took over his homeland, tormented his people, and murdered his entire family.

I have no idea of the particulars of what was cut, as I’ve not yet watched the first campaign myself, but I understand that long-standing fans were not widely disappointed. They altered for economy, adapted a number of details with the flexibility they had, but basically kept the most vital points, and the funnest, most character-relevant sequences. I particularly enjoy how they presented scenes which had probably been dominated by low rolls and natural one’s – Vox Machina’s greatest nemesis has ever been a locked door – which made sure the heroes were well limited, not overpowered, and added both tension and humor to many a situation. Hey, things do go wrong in real life, and for once they go wrong in a fantasy, too!

All of this made for some amazingly epic fights, with high stakes, personal arcs, and resounding themes which resonate with the audience. I mean, who among us has not lost faith at some point, and had to find it again? Who has not come up against limits that they just could not overcome? Who of us, having had everyone we most loved taken from us, would fail to become at least a little bit of a monster when the chance for vengeance came?

I don’t know what part I loved more: when they brought down the villains, or when they saved one of their own from a very personal darkness. It is something I have often wished I could do, to help those I love like that.

“We are awesome!”

There is an abundance of stories where a band of misfits somehow comes together as a family in the face of ultimate evil. Yet, somehow this one feels more true, in a way I’m not sure I can define. Perhaps it’s because things keep going wrong, and the misfits keep ragging on each other in every circumstance, be it at home or on the battlefield. There’s no magical switch or training montage that turns them from ragged outcasts in a well-oiled crew. Vox Machina does not do well-oiled. They roll with the punches and make it up as they go. Sometimes that doesn’t work out so well, and sometimes it is absolute, mad genius!

Speaking of, though I have not watched the first campaign, I have read the book, The World of Critical Role. The author mentions a number of details about the cast and their respective characters which, while I was watching, I could actually see playing out. I saw Travis Willingham’s tendency to dive instigate and dive into situations manifested in Grog when the jolly giant dives into a pool of acid to save his friends or throws methodical attacks out the window when fighting a stronger enemy. I saw Sam Riegel’s improvisation and willingness to leave dignity in the dust, embodied in Scanlan’s insane, and wildly inappropriate, antics of distraction. I saw Laura Bailey’s class and skill, Liam O’Brian’s casual intensity, Marsha Ray’s personal struggles with confidence, Ashley Johnson’s dichotomous quiet ferocity where she is a happy ball of sunshine that her enemies should be terrified of, Taliesin Jaffe’s labyrinthine mind and force of will, and Matthew Mercer’s endless ingenuity and adaptability, all on display within their respective characters.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Though many of the other significant characters were left playing regrettably smaller roles for this season, their several voice actors were perfectly cast, and it’s a truly star-studded roster! Oh, I love that particular aspect of production! 😀

“We are fewer than we seem, but we are great!”

On the note of production, this may sound like a bit much to say, but I sincerely mean it when I say that this is one of the single best animated shows I have ever seen. The fluidity of motion is almost lifelike, the magic is wondrous, and the cinematography suits every mood, ranging from horror to humor to tragic to magical to joyful. There is a dimension to the characters, the creatures, and the environment which is very easy on the eyes. Titmouse Studios (right?) did an absolutely phenomenal job, animating everything from dragons to undead in ways that… well, they felt quite nearly real! They should be commended! They should be awarded! They should have lots and lots more business come their way!

Of course, they had plenty of great material to work with, the sets and character designs being produced by some of the foremost talent in the world. As was the music. Oh, the music! I could listen to this soundtrack for hours! It is truly a work of passion and art! Sam Riegel’s contributions as Scanlan are largely humorous, and a bit annoying, but, even so! The themes and the moods and the epic, emotional weight are all enhanced nigh unto the brink of dramatic perfection! Oh, I love it!

In short, all of this – the story, plot, themes, animation, design, music, casting, voice acting, all of it – can be properly summed up in one phrase: worth the wait!

Seriously, I was not the only one waiting impatiently for the debut of The Legend of Vox Machina. But for quality like this, it was worth it! I am looking forward to the show’s second season, and quietly hoping for a third or even a fourth! Yes, they only have so much material to adapt, but still! And then, oh, I really hope the adventures of the Mighty Nein, from their second campaign, are also thus animated! I can already see three or four seasons’ worth of material, easy. Of course, that does also come with some due trepidation because, unlike the first campaign, I am actually quite familiar with the second, so I’d absolutely notice the inevitable changes more. But if they did as good with it? I’d offer no complaints! 🙂

Ah, I wish I could actually buy this show on DVD and own it! Oh, how I wish it were so! But, alas, Amazon is keen enough to make it available on Prime, but I have no idea if it will ever be available for home purchase! Such sadness and uncertainty! 😉

The Tal’Dorei Council is not pleased with the lack of home purchasing options!

It is exciting! It is hilarious! It is gripping and thrilling and amazing! And it is not at all meant for kids! That is about my only gripe against the show. There is graphic violence and adult language, yes, but it would be Scanlan’s antics, and that moment where the camera lingers on a naked woman, full frontal, which made me most uncomfortable. Definitely not meant for kids. And, of course, I can’t help but bemoan how, really, moments like that don’t actually add anything worthwhile to either the story or the characters or anything else. Small disappointment, but it shall not be said that I recommended anything without duly warning my audience of something that they might prefer to avoid.

Outside that particular, crucial detail, I definitely enjoyed The Legend of Vox Machina quite a bit! If you want an exciting time, have no children in the room, and don’t mind an inappropriate moment or two, then this is probably a good bet!

Rating: 9 stars out of 10, thus far.

Grade: A-Minus!

“Sweet!”

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #381: Don’t Endure Evil

“Whatever evil you let ride becomes commonplace, eventually. Problem is, it’s easier to get used to it than carve it out.”
– Fiddler, Deadhouse Gates
Malazan Book of the Fallen
, by Steven Erikson

This quote comes out of a snippet of conversation most especially regarding evil, terror, and corruption. People tend to think of one potential tyranny as worse than another, but Fiddler, a soldier and a sapper, understands that every hall of power, no matter how foreign or familiar, will be where the worst elements of a people will gather to thrive and spread their cancerous influence. The moment it gets a foothold, if it is not gotten out, then it will inevitably become commonplace and sicken the entire structure of a society, to the detriment of all.

Fiddler was speaking very specifically, but his words can be applied almost universally. Everything from a bullying child to familial abuse to every form of infidelity and every kind of harm that one can do, it all flourishes because, at some point, it was allowed to persist, and spread, and become common.

In regards to corruption in the government, well, it is true, no people or government is perfect. However, imperfections notwithstanding, there is, on some level, a choice in what is allowed and accepted. There are probably numerous reasons for any such choice, but whatever those reasons may be, it cannot be denied that even the most complicated and convoluted reasoning can be boiled down to a simple decision. In this case, corruption was allowed to creep in and stay and entrench itself, and now many people are suffering in despair because it seems all but impossible to reclaim government from the swamp in which it has sunk.

It is far easier to just leave it sunken and rotted, rather than go through the hassle of restoring justice to the courts. Much like it is easier to simply lay down and die from a brain tumor instead of operating to remove it.

There was once a croup of criminals who lorded over New York City. There was once a gangster in Chicago who was impossible to bring down. There was once a ring of greedy murderers in the area of Santa Fe. There was a band of outlaw cowboys, over a hundred strong, which dominated their corner of the wild west. All of them were brought down, each in their turn.

A tyrannical British government was thrown off by the thirteen colonies they stepped on. The Holocaust of Hitler was brought to an end. The Soviet Union fell apart.

Slavery was once commonplace in America, and now it isn’t. Jim Crow was overthrown despite a century of entrenchment. Women were once forbidden to vote.

All of the above were terribly costly and painful to remove, but it was done, each time, by men and women who simply chose to do what was more difficult and dangerous. They chose not to allow evil to ride unchallenged. It was painful. But it was worth it.

We live in a world where evil seems to have free rein over the land and seas and even the skies. I doubt I truly need to go into detail, but entire encyclopedias could be filled to bursting with lists of ongoing depravities, truly horrific in number, scale, and diversity, which would leave most anyone all but crushed and despondent. And, it must be said, not a one of us can possibly do everything, not even with an entire world of help. It would be so much easier to do nothing, to just let things happen, to keep one’s head down and look after oneself and one’s own. After all, we’d get used to it easily enough.

But that’s no way to live, is it? Just hiding and waiting our turn for the guillotine?

Here’s the thing: we don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to solve every problem right now.

We don’t have to remove every evil immediately, and it would be a fool’s errand to try. But we can start by picking just one problem to start with, and doing our own part for it. The world has been changed many times simply by people choosing this problem or that problem to solve together.

Engineers constructed sewers which remove filth and disease from much of our cities. Did they do it alone? No. They had a lot of help. And things are still not perfect, but they are better than they were before.

So it is with everything else, especially every evil.

Rampant addictions to drugs, alcohol, and pornography? Countless souls operate treatment and rehabilitation centers as well as offer counseling.

Thousands of souls fleeing war as refugees? International organizations are cooperating to provide shelter, safety, and necessities.

Corrupt liars run the government and hurt hundreds of millions of people with their evil? Armies of citizens can march in peaceful protest, or vote for better candidates, or take up the mantle themselves by running for office. The restoration of justice may be far simpler than many realize. Government can be freed from the swamp if we just put in the work for it.

All evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But, conversely, the eradication of evil requires only that each person stand up and say, “No. No more.”

Posted in Books, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Wisdom #380: Choosing to Stand

“It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the traveling and seeing aliens and spaceships. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you, too. That you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand! You say no! You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away!”
– Rose Tyler, Doctor Who
Season 1, Episode 13, “The Parting of the Ways”

I think this was the moment I first started to really love Doctor Who. Sure, it was cool and adventuresome, funny and thrilling and sad, but this… this was the moment where it began to have more meaning in my eyes.

Rose Tyler is basically a normal girl who has been living a normal life, seeing no great wonders but also safe from any horrors and free from any great burdens on her shoulders. Then she met the Doctor and traveled time and space. She saw amazing things, did amazing things, but most of all, she learned to live a better life, without her head in the sand. Now, in a moment where the Doctor himself is trying to keep her from danger, all she wants is to go back to his side, to help him, to do what is right even though it could kill her.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with living a normal, peaceful life. That is the ultimate dream, really. And for most people, that’s the most that we can do. All we can manage is to get through each day. We know there’s trouble somewhere, elsewhere, but we don’t know what we can possibly do about it. So we just… go through life, day by day, not looking for trouble, not wanting trouble. Until the day that trouble comes to us.

That is the day we learn whether we will stand up against it, or run and hide and try to keep going about our daily, peaceful lives as if nothing is wrong.

I also want to say that there are many ways in which we can stand up against everything wrong in the world. Not all of them involve using a gun. Some people stand against all the pain and suffering of the world by becoming doctors, or fighting with words and laws as lawyers, or building homes for the homeless, or feeding people who are starving, or making clothes for the poor. Some people build and maintain machines which enable others in performing momentous tasks. Some maintain systems of information and communication, allowing others to coordinate their efforts. Some tell stories to make children laugh even in dire circumstances. Some simply give everything they have, without reservation, be it food and drink, shelter, working space, money, whatever.

It doesn’t matter exactly how one helps. Those who are determined will find a way, and every way is needed.

Some of my favorite examples of people giving their all to help:

Back in World War 2, the people who worked in a particular shipyard came together to do something monumental: they built a new ship, in its entirety, within one day. A single 24-hour period. It was not something they could do often, not least because of how much raw material they would need, but they did it.

My best friend once led an effort to gather up several thousand books to send to our soldiers in the Middle East (Afghanistan, I think, but it might have been Iraq). He got thank you notes, because when the soldiers weren’t fighting, the worst enemy to stave off was boredom. He helped alleviate that.

The current conflict in Ukraine has been all over the news and social media. It has been inspiring to see people stepping up to help in whatever way. A beer company bottling molotov cocktails, a priest performing a wedding for a couple who is entering the fight side-by-side, Egypt giving Ukrainian tourists extended leave to stay without charge, Poland offering refugees a path to escape with their beloved pets, Elon Musk responding to a call from the Ukrainian government to cover their internet access, and countless citizens taking up arms in defense of their country.

Compared to all of that, of course I feel like anything I could do would be meager, not only for Ukraine but for the entire world. But I am looking for a way I might help, if only by sharing as much hope and encouragement as I can.

I am not better than anyone else. I have my problems and worries and bills to pay, and it often seems like I can barely get through each day as it happens. And I don’t have any genius ideas of what to do. I am as in need of guidance and leadership as anyone else. But if there is anything I can do, I want to do it.

I choose to stand.

Posted in Sunday's Wisdom, TV Shows | Tagged , | Leave a comment