Sunday’s Wisdom #433: The People on Both Sides

“Even though we’ve divided ourselves into enemies and allies, both sides have good people. Reasonable people.”
– Aina Sahalin & Shiro Amata, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 8th MS Team
Episode 8, “Duty and Ideals”

Aina and Shiro are from opposite sides of a bitter war. But at this point in the story, they’ve come together twice to save themselves and each other. This has been noticed now, and they are being interrogated by the people they answer to. Though they are in different places, and in slightly different circumstances, they are saying the same thing, beginning with this quote and culminating in a hope for peace.

For as long as there has been war, there has been a need to dehumanize the enemy. It has not always been much of a stretch, given how inhumane people can be. Conquering hordes have been rightly infamous for burning homes and sanctuaries, stealing gold, food, and other goods, tormenting their fallen, helpless victims, and most especially for the violation of women and girls. And that’s skirting around even more monstrous acts of cruelty and barbarity which would make even the forces of Hell shrink back in shock. With such awful truth made bare throughout history, it is small wonder how easy it is to see an enemy as a monster, and how needful it has been, as well, for how else can ordinary men slaughter them as they need to?

And yet, history also makes manifest that “the enemy” is every bit as human as oneself. Warriors of every age have shown each other a measure of honor even as they have fought to the death. Mercy has been granted, unlikely friendships and alliances have been forged, and some of the most dangerous, blood-soaked armies in the world have held themselves to certain codes of conduct. And the greatest, most stalwart soldiers of today have as their backbone a code of integrity which enables them to be brutal when needed, and then to swallow it all and move on to live in peace.

Even in the Hell of war, it seems, people have tried to be better than their base nature would make of them.

The enemy may be monsters, but not all monsters are evil. Dangerous, yes, but not evil.

This truth is what holds back some of mankind’s most savage impulses. Indeed, it is often when people forget this, forget that their foes aren’t evil, that they descend themselves to commit the very same depraved acts of cruelty, barbarity, and evil which they see their enemy as being guilty of. After all, if the enemy is all evil, then surely it is no evil thing to destroy them, right? To do to them as they have done to others, and worse? That’s supposed to be a good thing when the enemy is evil, isn’t it?

Ah, but it is not.

Not only because two wrongs do not make a right, and not only because one cannot commit atrocities without staining oneself, with no regard for one’s justifications, but also because, quite simply…

Both sides have good people.

And, yes, they have evil people, too. But it is the goodness that we have a harder time remembering, and greater need to remember on occasion.

Whatever the conflict, both sides are just… sides. Nothing more than sides, with strengths and flaws, pros and cons, good people and bad people.

We’re all just people, in the end.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Real-World Evolution of Gundam Technology

Mecha March is… well, a thing that someone came up with, where we bloggers dwell for a bit on mecha in anime, manga, movies, etc. I’ve never really done it before, and my showing this year will probably be a bit paltry compared to others, but, either way, I found myself bingeing several installments in the Gundam franchise in fairly quick succession, preparing myself to review them this month. As one might expect, I began to pick out all sorts of similarities and differences in the stories, the themes, and the texture of them in relation to one another.

This, combined with watching the latest series, The Witch From Mercury, made me notice how much the technology within the franchise has changed over the years.

It’s hardly surprising, of course. Heck, it is quite obvious that the tech presented within the various Gundam installments has evolved, and it is equally obvious why.

The Gundam franchise as a whole premiered back in 1979, over four decades ago, and there has hardly been a year since that they haven’t been adding to it. The technological wonders of the real world have advanced tremendously in that time, and so it is perfectly sensible to expect that the “super-advanced” technology of science fiction would advance as well. It’s happened with Star TrekDoctor Who, and the entire genre in general. Our knowledge of what is possible inevitably changes the things which we dare to imagine, either as things which may become possible or which we know can never be but are fun to imagine anyway.

Even knowing this, I can hardly help but find it fascinating! Thus, I indulge myself in a little examination of the tech within each of the series that I have seen, and how things have changed as the real world has advanced.

With that in mind, these are listed in chronological order of their original release date, with exception made for the very first one on the list. I make said exception because it takes place within the same continuity – more or less – as the very first, original Gundam series. I haven’t seen more than a few random minutes of that one, but I can only imagine the tech level is more or less consistent, barring a few tweaks. I may be mistaken, but it still certainly has the lowest level of high tech in the franchise.

8th MS Team

Gundam Evolution:
The original idea of a gundam was that it was a particularly advanced and powerful mobile suit in a world where mobile suits are commonly mass-produced by militaries. Thus, it’s not as if gundams here had any special tricks, they were simply stronger, sturdier, and more resilient than other models, and they were piloted by everyday soldiers.

General Tech Level: Very basic and realistic.
Powerful lasers require constant cooling to preserve the weapon and maintain a constant, steady beam
Teams include specialists dedicated to listening in on various frequencies almost like sonar and radar
Particles are often spread to dampen the enemy’s tools of reconnaissance
The intensity of a beam sword can be altered for precision work
Suits can be easily broken if hit in the right place, and are difficult to repair
Suits come with anti-personnel devices, to protect the pilot from ordinary foot soldiers in the event of the suit being so disabled

It has become standard fare now, but back then, it was still new to have robotic suits at all
The use of shields and large guns almost like mobile artillery
Beams swords (also standard fare now)
The enemy’s secret weapon, which can fly, annihilate armies and bases, or shoot precise beams

G Gundam

Gundam Evolution:
Instead of being mass-produced for soldiers, gundams became very diverse and personalized to represent their pilot and their home nation. They were piloted based on the physical movements of the pilot, their “Gundam Fighter,” instead of with buttons, sticks, and switches. To my knowledge, this idea has been touched on but never repeated. Obviously, the fighters were all dedicated warriors with martial art skill of one fantastic variety or another.

General Tech Level: Highly fantastic. Technology is magic.
The colonies are basically just floating islands with shields around them
The Shuffle Alliance is practically mystical
Warriors communicate more clearly through combat instead of words
The Dark Gundam is a living, organic, metal monstrosity of madness

Gundams that can suddenly be powered up in some way
Gundams that can transform, albeit a bit more fantastically than in later iterations
The use of small, mobile “bits” which could be controlled like drones to increase one’s firepower. This was before we had drones in the real world. They even refer to a plane that’s used like a drone as, “a pilotless plane.” A bit like automobiles were once called horseless carriages.
Dummy mobile suits, also without pilots, also predating any such thing in the real world

Gundam Wing

Gundam Evolution:
This is where gundams began to be specialized, instead of just diverse, and have specific names. Some could fly in the atmosphere, and others could not. Some wielded huge amounts of firepower, and others got much more up close and personal. Some were better at stealth, and others… really weren’t. And they were all piloted by young men who had been brought up to it and specially trained in various ways, instead of normal soldiers.

General Tech Level: Semi-realistic.
No more lasers that needs coolant, though super-weapons need time to charge and can strain the structure surrounding them
Specialized mobile suits tailored for land, sea, air, or space
The colonies were circular structures that spun around a central spindle, creating artificial gravity at the rim, which was the ground people stood on
Fighting in space is not like fighting in the atmosphere, though that was given only minimal attention

Gundams can transform again, but more as a shifting between modes than a complete shape-shifting, a’la Transformers
Evolution of the “dummy” idea, as advances in programming paved the way for drone-like “mobile dolls,” though such could not properly tell the difference between friend and foe
Energy shielding tech applied to individual mobile suits, instead of entire colonies, with floating devices slightly reminiscent of the “bits”
A computing system so advanced it bordered on precognitive artificial intelligence, and could easily drive a pilot insane with visions

Gundam Seed

Gundam Evolution:
At the start of the series, the trend of specialization continued within the gundams and in all mobile suits in general, each nation fielding their own models that were custom-made for various environments, and many of which could transform. Oddly, though they became ever more diverse to look at, specialization seemed to eventually go by the wayside in favor of overwhelming power – such as the Freedom – or quirky little tricks that amounted to very little – such as the Impulse. The pilots are of particular note here. A normal person could pilot a gundam, but it becomes a true super weapon in the hands of those who have been either genetically modified before birth or physically enhanced afterward with inhumane procedures

General Tech Level: Highly advanced, nearly fantastic, with token realisms in the background
Gene therapy and the practice of physical and mental modifications to normal humans, including the erasure of specific memories
Jammers which can nullify nuclear technology, and also anti-jammers which allow nuclear engines in specific devices
Colonies that look like hourglasses
Various weapons of mass destruction which can be explained with science but are still very much, and very fortunately, fantasy

Haro! Haro! This is where the Haro robots, now almost as much a staple of the franchise as a masked antagonist, made their first debut, though they were more like cute little pets than anything else.
Cloaking tech that makes one gundam invisible, instead of just hard to see
Physical shielding that repels energy attacks back at aggressors
Multi-targeting systems that enable a pilot to precisely aim for numerous targets simultaneously, far more than any human would be able to properly track
Floating “bits” that act as additional blasters, paired with said targeting system

SD Gundam Force

Gundam Evolution:
The gundams are robots. Just robots. Human-sized. They and their foes, the Dark Axis, hail from various dimensions, one with high technology, one with magic, one with samurai fantasy martial arts, that sort of thing. One is powered by a soul drive, which strengthens them due to a connection formed with a young kid.

General Tech Level: Fantastical high tech
Most machines are alive
A wide array of fantasy tech, including how outright magic and science can interact just because it’s cool

Artificial intelligence
Robotic self-healing with nano-skin armor
Diverse worlds make for diverse robots, including ones that eat and breed like organic creatures
The “bits” return more blatantly as floating drone-like laser guns all around the enemy commander
Oh, there is a small use of the G Gundam idea, for one small samurai who comes to possess a gigantic robot like an exoskeleton, with a bit of magic putting him in a space where his movements are mirrored by the giant’s

Gundam 00

Gundam Evolution:
The gundams remain diverse and specialized, but a bit less distinct from each other. By that, I mean that one specializes in really big blasts, one snipes from afar, one can strafe and bombard the enemy, and one mostly uses swords. However, in terms of firepower and whether or not they can fight at close or long range, they are relatively identical: they all have lots of powerful guns. Anyone can pilot them, though the better pilots are either military aces, child soldiers with lots of practice, psychic super soldiers, artificial humans, or just plain specialists like snipers.

General Tech Level: Advanced, with a fantastic take on realistic technologies
Three orbital elevators support a massive solar array that provides all the energy in the civilized world
Regeneration chambers are often used to heal wounds
Several laser-based weapons of mass destruction, and a huge ship meant for interstellar journeys has an invisibility cloak

Several Haro robots act as assistants to their humans as data hubs, maintenance workers, and the like
Solar reactors of endless, though not limitless, energy and mobility
Solar particles excite psychic activity to create fields of shared telepathic consciousness
A quantum computer that predicts the future
The “bits” return as shields and additional laser weapons for one Gundam, whilst their enemies often have “fangs” which fly fast and agile to barrage them from multiple directions

Gundam Build Fighters

I haven’t really watched this show, but there is one major innovation I want to mention, being the first time I’ve seen it in the franchise, but not the last, and especially because of how real-world technology is fast developing it:


Various gundams from across the franchise are able to fight each other in all sorts of environments within table-sized devices, all by the power of holograms. Star Trek may have always had holograms, but the Gundam franchise did not.

Iron-Blooded Orphans

Gundam Evolution:
Gundams are an older technology, the relics of a war some time past, and only six dozen of them were ever made. Other suits don’t seem to have advanced very far beyond them, but the gundams still seem more violent in a primal way, rather than anything sleek and shiny. The gundam’s best advantage is the piloting system, in which a man-machine interface system enables the pilot – in this case, a young, uneducated orphan and child soldier – to operate the machine on a level above that of those who lack it, which gives them an edge against enemies who are better trained, better equipped, and more numerous. It comes at a hefty price, though, as the system taxes the body until it ceases to function.

General Tech Level: Advanced, but in a vicious, brutal way
Melee weapons have a larger, heavier theme to them, less elegant and more savage
No beam weaponry of any kind, with one exception…
…because mobile suits have a kind of armor which severely dampens the effectiveness of beam weaponry, so they got more creative with all that physical melee weaponry
Thrusters provide speed and agility, but not flight within the atmosphere
Actual heat shields so mobile suits can enter through the atmosphere
Other series have mentioned terraformation as a concept, but this is the first that I know of which actually has another planet, Mars, terraformed and growing crops
The reactors which power ships and mobile suits can also create artificial gravity

An nanomachine interface between human and machine can be implanted along the spine in children whose bodies are still developing, giving greater awareness of the mobile suit and its surrounding environment, making for finer control and human-like movement
This interface seriously strains the body, especially in pushing a Gundam to its limits, severely damaging and even killing the pilots
Retinal projection in addition to surrounding screens in the cockpit
Is this the first Gundam series the to have robotic war machines that can operate entirely independent of humans? The Dark Gundam operated on its own but still required a pilot, while the mobile dolls needed human programming and direction, but the Mobile Armor was entirely independent once it was operational.

The Witch From Mercury

This is the one that’s still in progress, and there is, I think, a lot still to be explored and revealed before the grand finale. So, speaking a bit more generally instead of specifically:

The gundams in particular, and mobile suits in general, have changed dramatically over the years. They began as simply a more powerful weapon which could be mass produced, and they have become widely diverse and specialized. A bit like how our military technology has evolved in real life, going from, “That’s a tank” or “That’s a plane” to “That’s (insert specific make and model name and rattle off unique capabilities and quirks).”

Pilots used to be garden variety soldiers, but they’ve become more and more like super heroes for the most part, somehow special in their training, upbringing, modification, or even their creation. While the main heroine here seems to be not only unremarkable but even lacking in almost every “special” sense, she happened to bond with the gundam at the moment of its first “awakening,” making her much more potent in battle than one would expect of such timid girl.

Certainly, a gundam is very special in this story. They’re piloted with buttons and switches, but also seem to incorporate a technology originally intended for medical purposes, to help humans survive the hazards of space. The GUND format, as it is called, wirelessly connects their nervous system and consciousness to the machine around them, an alteration of the idea behind Iron-Blooded Orphans, including how lethal it can be when limits are pushed. This lets them move the gundam like it was their own flesh, a potential repeat and evolution of the G Gundam idea some thirty years after the original.

There is clearly some kind of childlike artificial intelligence within the gundam, perhaps some sort of collection of them, which the pilot feels are like family to her, and which aid her in combat. Judging by the reaction of another pilot, this may be especially unique, even among gundams. Speaking of which, there is indication that the memory-erasing technology from Seed has made a return, though in exactly what capacity, and for what purpose, has not been revealed yet.

The “bits” are back in spades, being not just a weapon, but the gundam’s primary weapon, which can act like a horde of mobile blasters to barrage enemies, or assemble into a hand-held blaster, or a shield. Other suits use similar bits to create obstacles or emit a field that shuts down an enemy’s mobile suit. The bits might still be fantastical tech, but it is much more realistic than it used to be.

Add in the application of holograms for training exercises, the use of crowdfunding to start businesses, and how everyone uses smartphones for everything, including as keys to their mobile suits, and this anime is clearly drawing on the technology of today more than most others in the franchise. Of course, there are also lasers and shields and space travel in play, as well as several terraformed planets and facilities sometimes built into local asteroids. Heh, considering that the story takes place a few centuries in the future, I have to wonder if the use of smartphones, specifically, is the most or the least realistic tech in this show.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Anime-ted Living, Discussion | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 8th MS Team: Gundam’s Romeo and Juliet

Some shows will remain great forever, and some eventually need to be given a little leeway due to the times in which they were made, or how one particular aspect was mishandled slightly. This is one of the latter, I think.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 8th MS Team is meant to be the story of a forbidden love between officers on opposite sides of a great war, and how their love is the hinge on which turns the fate of many.

From what I gather, it’s something of a side-story to the very first, the original, Gundam series, taking place within the time frame of the war between the Earth Federation and the Duchy of Zeon, but is entirely self-contained within that continuity. The events here could have had a tremendous impact on the main storyline if things had gone differently. As is, I have to admire the story that was crafted, and how every loose end was tied off in ways that made sense. The one thing, really, that seemed truly forced was, well, the love story, and just how radically it influenced both of the lead characters.

For all the love stories that exist in the entire Gundam franchise, and for all that we can easily ship the many couples which result, it does still have to be said: most of the couples are simply just made to happen, because they need to happen for the story to happen. The same holds very much true for the central romance here, between Shiro Amada and Aina Sahalin.

It does make for an interesting story, I will admit. Colliding together as enemies, forced to momentarily set aside their differences and work together to survive, a handsome man and a beautiful woman, both of them strong and capable, are left with a lingering affection that transcends the lines on the battlefield. When they meet for a second time, however, is when things take a turn towards the dramatic instead of the realistic. Once again, they are enemies who have to work together to survive, and both of them are much more willing to do so after the first time. Here, they fall fast and hard, and it dramatically changes their entire outlook of the war around them, seeing the wastefulness of it, for the good people dying on both sides. They love each other, and so hate to see even their enemies die, as if they were the first ones in history to realize the humanity of their enemy.

As overly dramatic as this is, it is matched by the quickly growing insanity and inhumanity on both sides of the battlefield, most especially in Aina’s own brother, Ginias. He’s a mad scientist leading the development of a new weapon, one which would allow his side to strike straight at the heart of their enemies, to utterly wipe them out in a single blow. As the clock ticks and the pressure mounts, Ginias grows ever more unstable in his delusions of grandeur, until he is drugging his workers, assassinating his superiors, murdering his own team, enacting massive slaughter with the push of a button, and ultimately turning on his own sister. He rejects love as a weakness of brain chemistry, and sees no human life as having value except as it furthers his own ends.

In between these two extremes, of loving even one’s enemies and loving no one at all, are most of the rest of the cast.

There are the rebellious guerrillas, who are steadfast friends and loyal, as exemplified in their princess of sorts, Kiki Rosita. But their passions are often unwise and unrestrained, such as in Kiki’s unrequited feelings for Shiro, whose heart is already taken. Even worse is when their anger runs amok at the wrong moment, seeking revenge for a minor wrong that quickly cascades into the tragedy of mutual slaughter.

There is the general attitude of loyal camaraderie among Zeon soldiers. They may be cunning and ruthless in battle, but they regularly put their lives on the line for each other. All the more heart-breaking when an ace pilot chooses to die fulfilling his mission, rather than kill the enemy soldier which Aina, who is as a daughter to him, loves with all her heart. And all the more infuriating when such loyal soldiers are betrayed and murdered in cold blood.

And, of course, there are the members of the 8th MS team itself. Led by Shiro, they consist of a lovesick newbie who is always writing to his sweetie far away, a widowed veteran who demands the very best from herself and those around her, another veteran who seems cursed to lose all of his comrades, and an aspiring musician who fights just so he can survive and make music that the entire world will hear. Honestly, I loved the interactions between these people and the bonds they formed as they dealt with their respective issues in the midst of war. They really became good friends as they walked through the crucible together, nearly dying several times.

Speaking of, I have to appreciate the combination of sci-fi wonder with realistic details of warfare and mechanics. They never shout about it, but they show it all the time, like when they need to keep coolant flowing in a sniper’s beam-rifle. That’s one of many details that make the entire show feel more grounded, real, and significant. As opposed to, say, certain other iterations in the Gundam franchise which largely leave such realism behind, and so have to go the extra mile in other ways to feel as significant as this series, which is a fraction of the length of its peers.

Mind you, that realism cuts both ways. Not only does Shiro and Aina’s shared revelation that the enemy is not all villainous seem all the more contrived and forced when contrasted with such grounded details, but… well… did they really have to show Kiki and Aina nude like that?! I know it’s only for a moment, and each of them was bathing in their respective scenes, but full-frontal nudity is full-frontal nudity. That’s a pretty severe point against the show, especially considering how young Kiki obviously is.

The forbidden couple stares soulfully at… something…

With that in mind, I would have to say that 8th MS Team falls a little short of everything it aspires to, but that may simply be because of how brief it is. It mishandles the love story which is integral to its theme, but given what they had to work with, I can’t say they did the worst job ever. I enjoyed the depiction of war and of both sides of said war, and I very much appreciate the message of it, the argument that we must love even our enemies to some extent. It’s not a kids’ show, or a great show, but it’s still a good show.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #432: Fear is Fear

“Each person bears a fear which is special to him. One man fears a close space and another man fears drowning; each laughs at the other and calls him stupid. Thus fear is only a preference, to be counted the same as the preference for one woman or another, or mutton for pig, or cabbage for onion. We say, fear is fear.”
– Herger, Eaters of the Dead
By Michael Crichton

Herger says this to the story’s narrator, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, as Ahmad finds himself facing a particular fear of his own, one which I personally share: heights. For the mission they are undertaking, they need to scale down a substantial cliff, and Ahmad shares his fear that he will die, to which his comrades give support and comfort. Their leader says that he will only die if he lets go of the rope, which only a fool would do, and Ahmad is no fool. Herger adds on to this with these words, and they do Ahmad much good, such that he is able to face his fear – albeit praising his god the entire way down – and from then on he is able to face other ways of potentially dying, such as drowning, hypothermia, and battling savage primitives, with remarkably little fear of it.

I find myself thinking much about this quote, as it strikes a certain chord in me. The truth of it is that everyone is afraid of something. That’s just part of the human experience. Close spaces, darkness, loud noises, water, fire, heights, snakes, spiders, dogs, other people, the list is endless.

There is never any shortage of things to fear, though we do not always understand each others’ fears.

Once while I was living with my mother’s aunt, I had to take our dogs, very small and fluffy and adorable, outside for awhile, whilst she was visited by a pair of ladies, one of whom had an overwhelming fear of dogs. That seemed very sad to me, that one would look on a loving, lap-sized ball of fluff, and be unable to not be afraid. I could not dismiss her fear, of course, no matter how unreasonable I found it, because I, too, have been unreasonably clutched by fear, merely of a different type.

I remember, at a job I once worked, there was a particular room which had a wall that could open out and become like a balcony, overlooking an auditorium below. We had to close that wall as part of our tasks at the time, which required two people, one on either side of the wall, inserting keys and holding them in the proper position at the same time, for however long it took to wall to slide shut. I volunteered to take the outer side of the wall, we completed the task, and then I just had to walk along the narrow space, which had a railing, to reach the door that would let be back to the other side, to rejoin my coworkers.

While I was walking that modest distance, I found myself quite suddenly and involuntarily afraid. My heart was beating faster, my head was spinning, my breathing was becoming fevered, and my good sense was leaving me, giving way to a horrible panic. It was as if I were possessed by visions of falling – which was impossible, given the railing – and getting seriously hurt. That the floor would suddenly open beneath me, or tilt over and send me spilling over the rail, or any number of highly unlikely things ran over my brain like a tsunami. I might well have fallen to my knees and remained there, sobbing, such was my fear, and it was only my drive to remove myself from this circumstance which I had so unwittingly put myself in which propelled me to keep going until I achieved the door through which was deliverance from my present terror.

There was no logic to it at all, as is so often the case with fear, but still, I was seized by it. Even now, merely recalling this memory well enough to speak on it threatens my vision to grow blurry with tears.

But I do not fear fire so much, despite how agonizing it is for our flesh to burn. Neither do I fear drowning, despite how much we need the air to survive. And I do not fear dogs at all, despite knowing quite well that it hurts to get bitten or scratched. But there are those who do fear such, and for them I can have only the greatest sympathy. It does not say anything of their character, just as my fear of heights says nothing about mine. It’s simply what each of us fears, that’s all.

Exactly what it is we fear is irrelevant. Fear is fear.

Similarly, courage is courage, no matter what it is we are facing. And faith is faith, as we face our fears, and overcome them. And the friends who support us through such are a treasure beyond accounting.

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

Anime Review: Bibliophile Princess

As a love story, it’s… well, it’s ok. As a quasi-historical drama, it leaves much to be desired. As a simple, calm, sedate little story, it shines.

Bibliophile Princess is named for its lead character, Elianna Bernstein, a lovely, young noblewoman who inherited her family’s deep love of books, with all the knowledge they contain. She is betrothed to Christopher, the crown prince of Sauslind, which is something like Austria sometime shortly after the Renaissance. Christopher, for his part, fell for Eli while they were still children, courtesy of her quiet but fiery spirit, her wealth of knowledge, and her deep, kind compassion. It took a bit of work to get her to fall for him in return, but he made significant headway when he offered her access to the entire royal library. (Heh, he definitely knew what bait to use!)

There are, of course, a number of forces which strive to pry them apart, to see Eli cast aside and usurp her position in proximity to the throne, but these figures get a bit more than they bargained for when messing with these two lovebirds. Not only are Christopher and his parents quite shrewd, as is her own family, but Eli’s hard work, dedication, and the surprising love she has for her people earn her loyal friends and protectors at every turn. She might not be politically savvy, but she is young and has time to learn how to navigate the hazards of court life. Indeed, her biggest weakness is only how much she doubts herself. She is, after all, merely a lover of books, and hardly realizes just how much good she does for those around her.

Which makes it understandable but slightly annoying when her first reflex is to give in to her doubts and give up on what she truly wants. She is very prone to reading various small signs as proof that she’s being cast aside, and she doesn’t fight for what she wants even as her heart breaks. Heck, she can’t even hold her resolve against a little girl, at least not when she’s alone, let alone when she’s facing a swarm of gossiping, opportunistic vultures. What really frustrated me was when she could have simply talked to Christopher and cleared up a confusion that was stirring up all of her self-doubts, and instead she fled from him. One would think that she could have trusted him, at least, even if she was doubting herself.

And yet, every misunderstanding, and every plot against her, and every threat to her person was solved quickly and simply. It comes, it’s quickly built up, and it is dispelled with a wave of the hand. Even when things turn briefly violent, as assassins come for Eli’s life, they are quickly repelled with ease, without one injury taken by her protectors and not one drop of blood shown on the screen. There was more time and significance given to explaining the various intrigues at work than there was to the actual dangers involved. Physical violence was treated as something beneath one’s notice.

On which note, I was also a little annoyed by how everything to do with the military was portrayed in a negative light. The military itself was never really shown, but every mention of it was in relation to some noble’s plot because Eli’s influence was one of peace and love and this automatically undermined both the military and the nobles whose fortunes were connected to it. Yes, war is a terrible thing, but diminishing the army does not solve the problem. In the real world, that sort of thing would basically be like Eli and Christopher begging to be invaded, conquered, and executed.

And I find that I really do like this central couple. They were cute together, especially Eli in all of her dresses, and the story of their love was very nice and wholesome. They didn’t get to do very much kissing – this being anime, where things tend to be either entirely chaste or entirely not, with very little range between the two, and this one went very much for the former – which was something of a shame, because they were really, really good together. So, naturally, everything to do with royal life tries to keep them occupied and apart from each other, haha.

Hmmm, there’s not really that much else to say about Bibliophile Princess. It’s a fairly calm, quiet story, where excitement comes and goes with little fanfare, though there is quite a lot of fanfare surrounding moments of intrigue which are quickly resolved. One could say it simply tells its story, shows us who these royals are as people, and that’s it. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It’s all right. I enjoyed it, and I imagine others can enjoy it, though it won’t be among my favorites.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #431: Belief is Contagious

“I have discovered that if all those around you believe some particular thing, you will soon be tempted to share in that belief.”
– Ahmad ibn Fadlan, Eaters of the Dead
By Michael Crichton

Ahmad makes this observation as, according to the story, he finds himself among people with very different beliefs from his own, and a number of superstitions as well. He finds himself embarrassed by a moment wherein he behaved according to one such fancy of theirs, and readily admits that he got caught up in the beliefs of those around him. It was ridiculous, but there ya go. In fairness, it’s easier to buy into any fairy tale when one is facing the bogeyman, and, at the time, Ahmad was standing with these same people against exactly that, the monsters from their scary stories. But even in the most mundane of circumstance, it holds true: simply by the pressure of overwhelming numerical superiority, it is difficult to disagree with everyone around us.

Monkey see, monkey do, monkey believe.

Belief is contagious.

I’ve seen countless examples of this in action. A magician fooled several people into acting like monkeys from an old experiment, and there was only one who was skeptical, but he wasn’t able to figure out the trick because everyone else was pulling him along. Then there was a psychological experiment that put one unknowing woman among a knowing crowd who did something ridiculous, silently pressuring her to do the same alongside them, and later, even when there was no crowd, she found herself doing the same and spreading it to everyone else who came into her company, none of which knew what the heck they were doing. And let us never forget the infinite number of times where the crowd has flowed in exactly the wrong direction because that’s just how it was, and those who dared to buck against the trend were torn to pieces for it.

Just earlier, I came across an account of something which is happening right now, where a Vtuber – ie, a person who is just getting up to entertain folks on Twitch and YouTube for a living – has been vilified, bullied to the point of tears, and threatened with death by people who proclaim themselves “tolerant.” Why? Because she played the latest Harry Potter game, which has a threadbare connection anymore to JK Rowling, who these people believe that Rowling oppresses trans-people. Why do they believe it? Because the crowd they are in happens to believe it. It’s been told to them so many times, and for this they crucify someone who has done them no wrong.

That is the sad state of the world right now, a sadness that is only enhanced by the absurdity of it all.

Crowds are pitted against crowds, squashing individuals between and among them, and the individuals who make up these crowds are swallowed up in the beliefs of those around them, which they carry on no matter how sane or foolish they may be.

Belief is such an easy thing, isn’t it? Even for the most jaded and stubborn of us, it can be all but impossible to not believe something when that belief is all around us.

We are like the child who is told they are worthless over and over and over again by a parent, or a teacher, or a crowd, eventually coming to believe it themselves, not because it’s true – it isn’t – but because that is the world which has been presented to them, a’la The Truman Show.

To believe something is easy.

To have it be our own belief, gained from our own experience, our own search of questions and answers, and our own will, that is hard. And absolutely essential both for ourselves and for the future of mankind.

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

Romance of the Raven Consort

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It has taken me some time to realize that I am actually a sucker for a good love story. It is merely that many of the “love stories” we tell aren’t actually good love stories. Thus, as this anime has just finished its first season, I find myself very much looking forward to a second and appreciating it as a good and proper romance.

Raven of the Inner Palace tells the story of Gaojun, the young, new emperor of China (or a land very like China), and Shouxue, the titular Raven Consort. All of the emperor’s consorts have titles, such as raven, swallow, magpie, and such, but the Raven Consort is unique among them. As the introduction to every episodes states…

…and yes, such repetitive introductions are now a pet peeve of mine after this, Skeleton KnightSeven Deadly Sins, and a host of other guilty anime, but I digress…

The introduction reads thusly: “Deep in the inner palace, there lives a consort known as the Raven Consort. She holds a special position. Despite her title of consort, she does not perform nighttime duties. Though she lives in the inner palace, she has no contact with the emperor. {That is changed to “she does not bow to the emperor”} It is said she can use mysterious arts.”

So already, the Raven is set apart in some way, powerful and surrounded by mystery, a potential danger which adds to her allure. But unlike the veil of most mysteries which, once pierced, leave their subject dull as dross, Shouxue becomes all the more riveting as each of her secrets is unveiled. And then, as she faces questions about herself which even she does not know the answers to, she has Gaojun by her side, in those moments when she is truly vulnerable, supporting and protecting her.

Right from the start, they are equals, which is no small thing when one of them is the emperor. They help each other, rely on each other, challenge each other, and they become friends. It is one of the most realistic and healthiest romantic relationships I have seen, not to mention very wholesome and profoundly endearing. These two easily shoot forward among the ranks of my top most favorite couples both within and without anime.

Theirs is shaping up to be a most beautiful love story.

That would have fallen entirely flat if either of them had been lacking in some particular way, something that made me dislike them. However, while there is room for each of them to grow – and they do – I can honestly say that these are honest, decent people who I would very much like and admire in real life.

Gaojun impressed me especially as an upstanding man. I don’t know exactly how well he rules as emperor, as that is not the focus of the show, but his character certainly makes him worthy of it. He is calm and collected, firm but restrained instead of being overly aggressive, and even though he could technically do anything he wanted to as emperor, he clearly holds his passions in check. That is demonstrated early on when, at the moment of his ascension, exactly when the power would go to most any man’s head, he refrains from simply murdering outright the woman who he is pretty certain murdered his beloved mother. Instead, he arrests her, and his first request to the mysterious Raven Consort leads him to the evidence he needs, and the murderess is executed in accordance with the law, not at his own whim. From there, he consistently steps up to help those around him, to hold the guilty accountable and protect the innocent, and he holds himself responsible and accountable to others.

I categorically oppose the rule of kings and emperors, but as one of Gaojun’s subjects, I could at least breathe a little easier and sleep a little better for a time.

As for Shouxue, she is a young girl, sixteen years old, who bears a tremendous burden upon her shoulders, and yet she maintains a measure of feisty, dignified pride. In the wake of a previous emperor’s decree that her family be slaughtered, wherein her own mother died in a desperate bid to save her, Shouxue was chosen by an unearthly creature, a goddess of sorts, to be the next Raven Consort. It might have been merely the mad whim of a terrifying entity, but the gears of fate were set in motion. Taken into the Inner Palace, taught by her predecessor, and inheriting the role and power which has been passed from one generation to the next for centuries, Shouxue’s life has been one of loss and loneliness. It is only when Gaojun comes knocking at her door that she begins on a different path, one of love and friendship with the people who come to surround and care for her as she comes to care for them.

They complete each other as equals.

Speaking of which, the supporting cast is every bit as well-crafted as the two leads. Shouxue goes from being utterly alone to having real friends, including one of the other imperial consorts, some of the eunuchs who act as guards and servants, and especially a lady in waiting or two. One certainly can’t help but adore Jiu-Jiu, the more prominent of her new ladies, as such a precious young lady and a good friend, a walking ray of sunshine and practically the beating heart of the show.

But things are not all sunshine and bliss in this story. Oh no, most definitely not. Not only does Shouxue routinely find herself helping restless souls to find peace and cross over to paradise – which, by necessity, involves delving through various tragedies of life and death – but it turns out the Raven has an enemy most dangerous and foul. The Owl, as he is called, wields magical arts just as she does, but where she helps poor, lost souls, the Owl seems to be much more malevolent and cruel to the living. And what does the Owl seek above all else? To kill the Raven, his sister goddess. Yes, the Owl is a being like unto the creature which chose Shouxue and condemned her to a life as lonely as that of every Raven Consort come before.

And so the question becomes not only what will become of the love between Raven and Emperor, but what will happen to their very souls as these celestial entities try to tear them apart.

I am not only waiting for a second season, I am practically on the edge of my seat in anticipation!

That is no small thing for what turns out to be a love story to accomplish with me. 😉

It casts a spell on me!

Raven of the Inner Palace tells a well-paced story, a quality romance that has absolutely hooked me, with lovable characters, an appreciable coupling, and powerful themes of destiny, desire, and the happiness of mortals in the face of the divine. All this and it is so beautifully animated, with an excellent soundtrack. This is one of the better anime, all around, in every way. I eagerly await the conclusion in a second season. 🙂

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #430: Love is All In

“Who cares about the reason why? You should risk it all for that special woman. And that is the destiny of a man.”
– Old Fisherman, Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Episode 46, “Return of the Dark Gundam”

As with most couplings in the Gundam franchise, the eventual but inevitable pairing of the male and female leads in G Gundam basically happens just because the story needs it to. But I do still enjoy how the entire, world-shaking conflict boils down to the man having to man up and commit to the woman he loves. The climax of that, of course, is when he finally tells her his true feelings in no uncertain terms, but that would not have happened if he had not first gotten over his hesitations and chosen to pursue her in the first place, no matter what he must overcome. That seems like an obvious choice, but, up to that point, he had not known what to do, and even thought that he’d already lost her forever. Having already given up, he needed a particular nudge from his friends to get moving and try again, properly this time. That’s when a wise old man told him these words, and they ring entirely true.

No one in this world is meant to be alone and unloved. We are meant to be part of the ongoing work of creation, to multiply and replenish the Earth in joy and love. That is a major part of our destiny, and it requires everything we can give for it.

It may be the hardest and most terrifying thing that we ever do, to put everything that is ours – our hearts, our lives, our possessions, everything – on the line and tell someone, “I love you.” But anything less is lacking.

I remember another quote from a kids show, one that showed brief depictions of various classic stories. A man spoke to a woman about how his friend liked her, and she took some offense that his friend did not speak to her directly. “If I am not worth the wooing,” she said, “how can I be worth the winning?” That has stayed with me ever since, as a reminder that a man or woman can talk about how much they care, but if they don’t follow through with their actions, then how much are their words and feelings really worth?

The three words, “I love you,” are among the most powerful of human expressions, but the question is, how much? Do we love someone enough to risk our hearts for them, to expose ourselves to the possibility of rejection? Do we love them enough to treat their needs as our own? Do we love them enough to check our temper and stifle our worst impulses, to listen to them and work through any disagreement? Do we love them enough to make a commitment, and hold to it, to never entertain the possibility of betraying them under any circumstances? Do we love them enough to be our very best selves, and enable them in the same?

Do we love them enough to do what it takes? Whatever that may be.

I share this, of course, in the light of one impending Valentine’s Day. Though I myself have not made much romantic progress in my life, I can’t help but at least offer what limited guidance and encouragement I have to offer. I do hope to be able to make the leap myself sometime, to find in myself a man worthy of a good woman, but until then I simply offer this singular bit of advice for those who remain uncertain in the affairs of their heart:

Figure out what you want and commit to it with everything you have.

If you love someone, you must hold nothing back. …one must be balanced, of course, in one’s approach, but it is the destiny of every one of us to put everything we have on the line for each other, for love.

All in.

On that note, good luck, and have a happy Valentine’s Day!

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

When Oh When Will Ayumu Finally Make His Move At Long Last?

I notice a profound similarity between anime and American movies which points to a profound difference in how we approach romance.

The similarity: chickflicks and romantic anime tend to save the confessions of love and proper, committed coupling up for the the very end of their runtime.

The difference: Americans make their interest known fairly casually, go on a few dates, couple up, go through stuff together, maybe come apart for awhile before coming back together, and so on, and this gets reflected (to a ridiculous degree) in our movies; if Japanese people are at all like their entertainment, than a mere confession of feelings and asking for a date is practically a marriage proposal.

This distinction leaves things romantically tense for the entire run of an anime, but it also sometimes makes even fairly strong and bold Japanese men look a bit like wimpy, weak-hearted pansies by American definitions.

All of which is meant to explain why I wanted to grab the titular Ayumu by the neck and shake him while screaming, “JUST TELL HER HOW YOU FEEL ALREADY INSTEAD OF MAKING IT SO COMPLICATED AND NIGH-IMPOSSIBLE!”

So, obviously, they managed to get me invested in this a little. 😉

When Will Ayumu Make His Move follows the (sloooowly) budding relationship between the two lead characters, with a pair of secondary characters also developing into a couple, and the supportive antics of a few other characters.

Ayumu Tanaka was a skilled member of the kendo club in junior high, but when he entered high school, he fell for a girl, Urushi Yaotome, the first moment he saw her. She was recruiting for her shogi club at the time, hoping to get enough members to make it an official club instead of being stuck on her lonesome, so he immediately signed up and made a vow to himself: he would defeat her in shogi and then confess his feelings for her. Small detail: he was a complete amateur and she was not. Thus, years begin to pass by as he strives to attain his goal.

Years, people. Years. He has only two to work with before she graduates, and he’s well into the second one before he manages to beat her even once, with strenuous training and a handicap. And that’s still not good enough for him, because he wants to beat her when she doesn’t have a handicap. Thus my previously-mentioned urge.

In this sense, Ayumu might be somewhat similar to Urushi’s father. Apparently, the man’s pride was wounded once and he’s basically been sulking for ten years since. Thus, he and Ayumu are clearly both a combination of stupidly stubborn, prideful, and self-controlled to an inhuman degree. They never let their respective poker faces slip, not for the slightest instant, ever.

Which is, frankly, stupid. Hilarious, mind you, but stupid. Grown men need to get over slight bruises to their egos, and young men should be bold enough to not give themselves a nigh-impossible goal to achieve before saying, “I like you, want to date?”

Meanwhile, Urushi herself comes to realize that Ayumu has a crush on her, and, come the last episode of the first season, after much blushing, teasing, tender feeling, and eventually noticing how much she thinks of him always being with her, she also realizes that she likes him, too. Thus, if there ends up being a second season, I imagine it will follow her efforts to try to get Ayumu to confess, and her endless frustration as he never slips up, not unless he ever manages to defeat her in shogi.

And just to add to the insanity, there’s Rin Kagawa. She’s a year younger than Ayumu, and clearly has an unrequited crush on him. She may have even come up with Ayumu’s own plan before Ayumu did, ie, to defeat her crush – in kendo, in her case – before confessing her feelings. Thus, she also stands as a shining example of why that is a freaking bad idea, to base one’s approach to romance on the achievement of defeating one’s crush in a contest at which they are far, far better. It doesn’t prove one’s worth, it prolongs the torture and risks losing it all for no point and purpose.

I do have to give huge props to Rin, though, for how she behaves once she knows about Ayumu’s feelings for Urushi, and his goal to defeat her before confessing. Though her feelings are also in complete turmoil, she elects to help Ayumu, to teach him and help him become stronger more quickly, even urging him to be more proactive and flexible in his goal, so he will confess, and she can move on. The season ends with her witnessing Ayumu’s victory, but only with a handicap, the significance of which she is unaware of. She immediately leaves the room, thinking that she is giving them space to confess and couple up. It is a mature, compassionate decision, but if there is a second season, it will begin with her learning that no such thing occurred, and I can only imagine her frustration then, as her unrequited love keeps dragging out something he supposedly feels so strongly about.

The season also ends with the other couple – Takeru and Sakurako, who I just love because they’re great – having an unexpected moment, one in which these two teens who like each other find themselves suddenly with their faces scant inches apart, looking into each others’ eyes, and the girl leaning in. Honestly, I’m more interested in seeing whether anything came of that than I am in seeing Ayumu’s continuing stupidity and the mounting frustration of both of the girls who like him.

As for Ayumu himself, if I want to see anything from him, I want it to be a realization that he can’t stubbornly cling to his most idiotic goal of defeating the girl he likes before he tells her he likes her, and that to do so is, in fact, to toy with her feelings for him and risk truly losing her, and, thus, a straightforward decision to simply come out and freaking tell her already! Make your bloody move, Ayumu, and let it be done!

So, it definitely leaves something to be desired, but, honestly, if they didn’t make the characters likable and endearing in some way, I wouldn’t care at all, so points for that.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B.

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

Sunday’s Wisdom #429: Be Bold

“You don’t have time to be timid. You must be bold! Daring!”
– Lumière, Beauty and the Beast

This seems like an appropriate quote to share as Valentine’s Day looms over us, coming up next week, eh?

Lumière says this to his master, the Beast, as the latter is being groomed and readied for a special dinner and a dance – in short, a date – with the beautiful young lady he has come to care for. The Beast is feeling a bit nervous, not sure he can do this, no doubt feeling the sorts of things that every man feels, in addition to, you know, the added stresses of having been turned into an inhuman creature who now has to try and court a woman. There are all sorts of “nervous” which are perfectly legitimate to feel under such circumstances, but Lumière is there to support him. He’s right, of course, and not only because the Beast is operating under the ticking clock of a curse, but also because, well, that’s how it is for anyone, isn’t it?

To reveal our hearts to other people, most especially in a confession of love, take guts. That is how it often is for the things that matter most, that they require everything of us, not least the use of our courage and our resolve.

But what is the option? If we are not brave enough or bold enough, then of course our lives will be dominated by our cowardice, every moment passing us by until we are eventually all out of moments. Death comes at any time and eternity awaits, and now is the time to build a love that outlasts both. For such a rich harvest as this, we must sow and toil and give our blood, sweat, and tears, and we must dare to make our feelings known and understood.

I will add, as I always try to, that there is a certain balance to strike here. There is a difference between being bold and being overbearing. We must pursue what we truly want most in life, but even in this we must restrain ourselves, lest we turn into crazy stalkers. We must harness our passions and focus our desires, not be ruled or consumed by them. There is no genuine love which disrespects the free will of those we love. They’re people, not possessions.

I would also add another note, specifically for the people who are on the receiving end, those who find themselves fronted with someone who seems bold and daring. I would emphasize that these virtues truly exist only in sincerity. The people who are forward to the point of recklessness, who talk so smoothly and whisper sweet nothings which boil over with seductive charm, these wear a facade of daring that they often do not truly possess. They may have gall aplenty, but if they are not risking something of themselves, then is it really courage? Is it really boldness and daring? I do not think so. And if they are not truly brave with their hearts, then you may fully expect them to leave yours to face all the worst storms of your life alone.

In short, we must be brave, and we must seek those who are brave.

Good luck! 😉

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