Sunday’s Wisdom 440: What We Think Matters

“What matters is not what others think about you, but what you think about others.”
– Meliodas, The Seven Deadly Sins
Season 5, Episode 23, “An Everlasting Kingdom”

This quote comes near the end of the story, where Meliodas, after many, many, many fierce battles, is protecting the rise of a new power and a new generation. He heard this quote himself earlier, but the truth of it is one he’s always lived by. He’s been hated and cast out, feared and scorned by the very people he was fighting to protect, and great powers have been trying to force him into roles he did not want for his entire life. His answer has basically been to just shrug it all off and live as he wants, pursue the dreams that he wants, protect who he wants, and love who he loves no matter the forces that try to tear them apart. Others may laugh or be disdainful or whatever else, but he refuses to let it stop him from caring about others and being happy.

There is a certain profound wisdom in that, I think, and one which we are in dire need of today.

I vaguely remember hearing something about how a person or a small group of people can remain intelligent, but the greater the number of people packed into a room – literal or metaphorical – the lower the level of overall intelligence gets. It rings true enough, as the more people you put together, the more we seem to respond to everything with our lowest, basest instincts, with gossip and rage and judgement and our most emotional, irrational reactions. We’ve been doing that for as long we have interacted with each other, and the downside of the internet and other communication technologies is that a vast swathe of humanity has been shoved together randomly, putting us all up in each others’ faces without any of society’s normal filters to inhibit us.

Thus arises the overwhelming and endless tide of people’s opinions about every last detail about every last thing that we say, do, think, believe, want, wish, and dream. It’s enough to crush most any soul.

But what matters isn’t how this faceless horde sees us. It’s not what they think of us. It’s not even, ultimately, what they do to us, whether they are cruel or kind. That is all beyond our control, and so there is no value in carrying that immense and worthless weight with us.

What matters is what we can control: our words, our actions.

It’s how we treat others, and how we see others – either as monsters or angels or pawns or tools or as people – which really matters.

Which I suppose is just another way of saying, whatever people are saying about you, don’t let it get you down. Just keep living, keep caring, and keep on trucking along. 😉

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It’s All About Thinking

I had a recent experience wherein I introduced a recent acquaintance from church to this humble blog of mine. I may be quite comfortable with who I am and unashamed of what I write, so long as it is honest, but, still, we are all flawed humans, and I was almost nervous as to what this gentleman would think. I don’t know how much of it he read, but it was apparently enough that he could call it, “very impressive,” and further assert that I am a good writer and “have given a lot of thought to the books and movies [I] have reviewed.”

Obviously, I was glowing with some satisfaction at the compliment. 🙂

But as I was glowing, it occurred to me that, really, almost everything we do is about how much thought we put into it. The things we enjoy, the things we prioritize, what we value and choose… it’s all about thinking.

There is, of course, my humble blog here, and if I could create stories at the same pace I can comment on them, I could well have written texts which match The Lord of the RingsHarry PotterThe Wheel of TimeThe Stormlight Archive, and A Song of Ice and Fire put together. (Particularly if I had enough success that I could devote myself to it full-time)

For me, this blog is what I do to keep from going insane. I think, I write, I pour my heart and soul into this at every opportune time. It’s what I do. I delve into the library of stories we tell, and I bring out the lessons that they teach us. I sift through unending chaff to find the jewels that are worth sharing, and also to detect what is not worth our time at all. I swim the sea of words, plumb the depths and reach for the heights, and I share all of it because, well, to do otherwise would be to dull my mind, muzzle my spirit, and drown in daily life.


This is my passion. This is what I think about.

Other people, with different interests, may dismiss it as simple, superfluous, infantile, and other sorts of dismissive descriptors. I would contest that only holds true until you think about it.

Even more, I would say that those people with their differing interests are not so different from myself: the things which they are most interested in are the things which they think about. Or, to put it another way, it is the fact that we can think about something which rivets our attention to it in the first place.

Take, for instance, what is probably be the most outstanding contrast I can think of: sports. Most especially, football.

I like stories, and my sister likes football. To each their own. I don’t find it interesting myself, but I think I can now begin to understand the why, or at least the how, of other people’s interest.

The short version: it’s something they can talk about, meaning it’s something they can think about.

If that seems a bit ironic, given how athletes and fans and even high school jocks are typically stereotyped as somewhat lacking in the mental department, well, I am reminded of a comedic sketch done by Trevor Noah, where he pokes a bit of fun at Americans’ general, rabid interest in the sport. He imitates the frenzied rattling of stats which are the badge of honor among sports fans, with all sorts of numbers and incomprehensible lingo, culminating with, “What’s happening with the economy? Nobody knows.”

Yes, there is a great deal of physical excitement with physical sports, the spectacle of humans pitting their flesh against one another in a contest which nobody can know the end result of until it is actually over. But the fervor would be greatly diminished without  the commentary, the analysis, the stats, the fantasy leagues, the ranking… basically, all the thinking that goes into it. That is what ignites the fire of excitement long before the game begins, and keeps the flame burning long after the game is done.

To think about something – anything, really – is to enliven one’s mind and one’s soul. The exact subject matter might be of debatable value, but even that is something which encourages thinking.

For another sharp contrast to both my own interest and sports, here’s what is probably the most dominant and infamous example of a passion which a huge swathe humanity’s population has never understood:

I’d prefer this to clothes shopping.


Where I don’t really have any interest in sports, I absolutely shudder in the face of fashion. I can tell if something looks good to my eye, and that is the limit of my interest. It is quite beyond me to understand our society’s zealotry for clothes and accessories and makeup and everything else. It baffles and terrifies me as it seems to bridge the gap between emotional whims, a precise, informed intelligence which makes sports fans and economists alike look dull-witted, and a ruthless calculus that makes the military and even the most cunning politicians look tame and cuddly.

If there is one thing I hope never to do, it is to go shopping for clothes with someone fashionable. I had enough of that with my mother in my childhood, and I hope to never repeat the experience. It’s one of those things where I happily subscribe to the male stereotype: if it fits and looks good, grab three sets, and done. The function of our clothing is fulfilled.

But even then, even then… I must admit that the clothes I pick out had to come from somewhere, and were selected by someone who put a great deal of thought into it.

Glenn Close humbling Anne Hathaway over looking good. There’s a sight I never thought I’d see.

I remember – almost good enough to quote – a scene in The Devil Wears Prada. As a young woman, recently hired as an assistant to a fashion mogul, observes the selection of clothing to create an outfit, she snickers involuntarily, because she can’t tell the difference between two belts, which makes the agonizing decision look quite silly. But her boss hears her, and proceeds to lecture her.

The gist of what this fashion queen says to her new employee is to point out that what she, herself, is wearing is thanks to someone picking it out of a pile for her to eventually pick off a store rack. Her sweater, for instance, is made from a specific material, dyed a specific color, and woven in a specific way, all of which together caught the attention of the people who knew they could sell it to someone with her specific taste in clothing.

There is a maddening multitude of intricacies involved in fashion, and I have neither the hope nor the interest in mastering them.  But for those who do, that is their life. That is what they do, so it is what they think about, and it is because they think about it that they do it.

And so it goes, again and again.

Construction workers think about building what architects think about designing with materials that manufacturers think about producing.

Fishermen need to know every aspect of their trade to survive, and ranchers must know everything about every aspect of caring for their livestock.

Farmers have a vested interest in growing as much good food as possible, and selling it for the best price possible. So they think about how to go about it, and for all their humble circumstances, they think about very advanced and complicated subjects like stem cells, genetic modification of crops, and the decisions made in the highest offices of the land which impact their ability to feed themselves and the world around them.

Florists arrange flowers with all sorts of nuances of meaning and visual aesthetic. Priests are concerned with issues of faith. Happy marriages are marked by how much the spouses think about each other. Parents are concerned for their children. Teachers must judge how to handle their students as well as the parents of each child. Even sewage workers need to know what they are doing, lest entire cities end up deep in their own leavings.

Everything we do, everything we prioritize, everything we enjoy, is all about how much we think about it.

That’s how and why we’re able to do what we do as well as we do it.

That’s the secret.

It’s all about thinking.

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Remembering Tenchi Muyo!

I remember getting a bit confused the first time I watched the Tenchi Muyo franchise. Cartoon Network started with showing the original OVA series, which did not always fit within a half-hour time slot. Then it moved on to Tenchi Universe, and I found that these were two separate shows, with two separate stories, but involving the same characters. After that came Tenchi in Tokyo, which told another separate story with the same characters. I didn’t finish that one, but I’ve seen two of the movies and heard about further additions to the OVA, as well as further additions to the franchise, including a spin-off following one of Tenchi’s relatives in War on Geminar.

All in all, this is one off the least coherent franchises out there, but still very fun and funny, with comedy, action, sci-fi, and harem hijinks as could only be demonstrated by one of the forerunners of the trope, before it became so vastly overused. One just needs to remember that each title is its own show and does its own thing.

For something like this, obviously the characters are going be of utmost importance. That’s part of why I stopped part-way through Tokyo, because the characters and what they were going through felt much more bland to me than they had in the previous two shows I’d seen. In those, however, I absolutely loved them.

There was the space pirate Ryoko, fierce and feisty and wearing her heart on her sleeve even when she tried to keep it sheltered. There was the mad scientist, Washu, gleefully insane and impossible to entirely quell. There were the two officers of the space police, the bumbling, slothful Mihoshi and her stressed-out, straight arrow of a partner, Kiyone. Crown Princess Ayeka of Jurai was an annoying little queen B of a woman, always so prim and proper and selfish, while her little sister Sasami was absolutely adorable!

With all of these women in the spotlight, Tenchi showed that he was clearly not a typical alpha male or anything like that, but he was still a real character, not like most of the bland self-inserts which have led so many harem anime since. He wasn’t flamboyant, more humble and enduring, but caring and possessing a quieter form of resolve. He tended to get caught up into the plot, rather than making it happen, but when he made a choice, he stuck to it, gentle but unyielding. Like the time he had to go and rescue Ayeka, and Ryoko tried to convince him to leave with her instead, to go somewhere safe. He liked the idea, and was honest about it, but chose to do what he felt was right instead, conveyed with a simple shake of his head. Against that simple determination, Ryoko didn’t just let him go, she put her body and her life on the line to help him.

I also liked all the strange and alien technologies the show used, which might be another reason why Tokyo lost me, as such took a back seat. It varied between the shows, but they were such neat little ideas that I couldn’t help but enjoy them. The one ship being able to fire from all sorts of angles all at once by using portals, the protective lighthawk wings, the defensive laser stations, the computer screens and keyboards that can appear in the air before you (how convenient that would be!), and so on and so forth. Oh, and the little bunnies who meowed like cats, loved carrots, and could turn into spaceships! Talk about a cute mascot for the franchise!

Of course it wasn’t always thrilling or anything like that. Some of the punch lines were a bit overdone, like, say, when Tenchi was challenged to a duel by a prince and the prince got washed away by a wave that resulted from a meteor fall, which everyone but the prince saw coming. But there were still plenty of zany adventures, everything from alternate realities to proof that all superweapons – and anything in Washu’s hands would become a superweapon, even haunted houses and cotton candy machines – need an off switch.

I feel the urge to go back, to rewatch this series again, and to see if I can fill out what I’ve already seen with the rest of the franchise that I have not. I think I’ll put that on my list of things to look into after I straighten out a few other projects of mine.

Basically, the Tenchi Muyo franchise is a classic for a reason, because it was one of the first anime in the wave which paved the way for all the rest to follow into the West, because it was one of the earliest harems, because it was fun and hilarious, with lovable, colorful characters who weren’t just archetypes, and a bit of action and, of course, science fiction. It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Mind you, I also recall, quite vividly, the moment when I realized that the version aired by Cartoon Network was actually a bit censored, so there’s that particular consideration to keep in mind. Ah, it seems the world is determined to make things which I cannot share with the kiddies! C’est la vie!

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #439: It’s OK to Be Human

“It’s fine to not be the invincible hero sometimes.”
– Mr. Lin Jie, I’m Really Not the Demon God’s Lackey

The exact circumstances surrounding this quote are a little complicated. For simplicity, I shall just say that he is speaking to a weathered veteran hero who has carried a terrible weight on his shoulders for a long time. He has done so without complaint, or any thought of himself at all, driven by his kindness, his deep desire to be strong for those around him. What he has never realized is that he might save those around him, but sometimes he, too, needs to be saved. It’s OK for him to be weak and normal on occasion, like everyone else. He’s not a god, after all.

Even the greatest of us need help sometimes. We need rest and safety and everything else that other people need. That’s why the communities which heroes protect exist in the first place, for mutual protection and benefit, including when the hero, who is just another man, needs it.

Many of us, I think, are going through life with the weight of the world on our shoulders. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, striving to be strong, independent, and serve those around us, but it wears on us sooner or later. The more we strive to carry everything alone, the more we are crushed beneath it all. We need each other, and we need to remember that we are just like each other.

I mean, if we try to be stronger than anyone else with our burdens, even while we try to help others in bearing theirs, well… isn’t that just another way of trying to be better than anyone else? Isn’t it the same as trying to be better than everyone else who breaks down and cries and is needy and whiny and selfish and needs to be saved on occasion?

It’s not a bad thing to need to be saved. To be weak. To need help. To need support and a shoulder to cry on. To need someone there who is just there for us, never tearing us down. It’s like needing food, water, and rest to maintain, or regain, our strength and vitality.

That’s just part of what it means to be human. There’s no shame in that.

It’s OK to just be a normal human who needs help.

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The Accidental Demon Lord

Demon lords.

These are figures of such widespread use in the fantasy genre, and within fiction in general, that one hardly needs to elaborate on them. Their fame stands alongside heroes, wizards, warriors, gods, devils, dragons, fairies, and all the rest. They’ve traditionally been the final villain of the story, the last boss, the overarching threat behind all the rest, the ultimate puppeteer of humanity’s destruction, the big, bad, evil guy. Of course, recent trends have been casting them a more favorable light, often in some comical fashion, but, still, they remain the demon lord.

The details on the demon lord’s background can vary, just as with any other character. In particular, their power can spring from any number of sources. They might be powerful by nature, from the very beginning, or maybe they inherited their power from a predecessor. Perhaps they have become powerful through their own efforts, working for and earning it. There are many who, like other heroes and villains, gain their power by some twist of fate, some encounter with an otherworldly being, going from an ordinary underdog to being overpowered as they access some ancient or futuristic power.

In all of these cases, however, being powerful, and using their power, is, on some level, deliberate. They go out and do things which change the world, and they know very well how powerful they really are. They are the demon lord.

But what about someone for whom their almighty power is… accidental?

What if it’s so accidental that even they themselves do not know of it?

I recently stumbled onto a manga online entitled, I’m Really Not the Demon God’s Lackey. There’s a good deal of action, intrigue, and cosmic conflict, but the most central figure of the story is one Mr. Lin Jie, a humble keeper and seller of books. He’s a bibliophile, the very definition of such, and fancies himself as something of a soul-healing life coach, as well as a fairly capable salesman. He uses many manipulative tricks of conversation to assist his customers and secure his income from them. These tricks include speaking vaguely, guiding the direction of the conversation, offering support and encouragement, that sort of thing. He’s good at his job, but the normal conversations that he has with normal people to give them normal books to solve their normal problems… is not nearly so normal as he thinks it is!

Mr. Lin is from our world, but he managed to stumble onto a genuine ritual in which he was able to gain access to all the books in the world, in exchange for leaving our world and going to the land of Nokin in another. From the very start, his customers have been among the most powerful individuals in this world, and not only does his manner of speaking vaguely make it seem like he knows far more about their situation than any random mortal should, but the guidance he gives them is exactly what they most need to resolve a crisis at hand, though he’s actually talking about something else entirely. Most especially, the books he hands out aren’t what he sees them as: they’re spell books and grimoires filled with all sorts of forbidden and powerful knowledge the likes of which could drive someone mad, but which he happens to consistently give to exactly the right person at exactly the right moment.

Thus, his customers believe him to be more than he is – or, at least, more than he realizes he is – as some omniscient and all-powerful puppeteer of fate, to whom they give their undying loyalty. Elves, werewolves, knights, black mages, and more come to revere him practically as a deity, kind but possessing terrifying power. He redeems souls, turns the world on its head, and everyone who dares to challenge him or his people soon meets their final destiny. He is, by most every measure, a demon lord.

And he doesn’t know it.

Mr. Lin is an accidental demon lord.

True, common sense, courteous, and yet threatening.

I have to praise the author for how they are able to conjure up so many situations in which circumstances just keep aligning so perfectly that all of these intelligent people never catch on. Not Mr. Lin, not his customers, not anyone. Or, at least, not yet. It is absolutely hilarious to behold, really, and speaks to a very important truth about our tendency to make erroneous assumptions and to make idols out of ordinary people.

Be careful what you worship.

But it occurred to me as I was reading, I have actually seen this before. Not necessarily exactly like this, nor for such a prolonged period of time in the plot, and certainly not so masterfully, but I have seen the general idea of an “accidental demon lord.” Heck, I’ve seen it several times in anime alone, just in the last few months. That’s why I was able to come up with the phrase so quickly and easily.

It’s not a new thing for stories, including anime, to approach the questions of people and power. What do they do with power? What do they do when they quite suddenly have a great deal of power? How do the people around them react? What happens when they did not intend to have such power, or even fail realize that they have it? Most especially, what happens when other people think that this individual has more power than they really do?

In most cases, however, the possession and use of that power is, once again, deliberate in some way.

Death Note follows a young man who gains one otherworldly ability and immediately tries to become a god, reshaping the world in his own image. Kamichu and Kamisama Kiss are more light-hearted in their approach, but both feature girls who suddenly find that they are goddesses, having received the mantle of such due to some trickery by the previous gods. The lead of Demon King Daimao is forced to become a demon lord no matter his own will, but he certainly takes control of the situation he’s been driven into.

And there are more overpowered heroes and villains than you can shake a stick at.

A young boy hilariously thinks that he is weak when he is actually quite strong in Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town. An immortal witch finds herself nearly godlike in power, stronger than even the legitimate demon lord, in I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level. Both of these leads are, quite accidentally, far more powerful than the people around them, but where the latter realizes her strength, and uses it on occasion, the young boy is just too dumb and short-sighted to ever figure out that, yes, he is, in fact, a one-man army.

Which goes into the question of how one can not only become a demon lord-like figure by accident, but also remain that way without noticing. Most stories give up on keeping their central character oblivious, and instead opt for everyone else being so instead. Perhaps it’s just easier to portray the masses as unwitting, rather than the individual, or maybe it’s an effective means of getting an unfortunate individual swept up in the currents of other people’s expectations, forcing them to improvise constantly.

The titular Notorious Herbivorous Dragon is widely believed to wield tremendous power because he’s lived for five thousand years. The rumors steadily insist that he is old and strong and the very right hand of the demon lord himself. In truth, he got to be so old by hiding away from everything that can hurt him. So, when the local villagers offer a young girl to him as a sacrifice in exchange for his protection, he has to get a bit creative as his every insistence falls on deaf ears. In order to resolve the situation and resume his normal life, he has to play along a little with what people say about him.

This backfires gloriously when the girl who was offered to him turns out to be freakishly powerful. She accredits her awakened strength to him and drags him along on her quest to save the people and kill the demon king. In order to protect her, and protect everyone around her from any madness-induced rampages, he has to keep playing along with what she believes. On the bright side, she manages some impressive mental gymnastics, entirely on her own, in order to keep whatever she sees in accord with her preconceptions.

Still, the dragon finds himself suddenly and accidentally in charge of a very powerful being who reveres him almost like a god, all because his initial scheme backfired.

In a similar way, the titular Tanya of The Saga of Tanya the Evil has her overall schemes backfire on her all the time. She always intended to get herself assigned to a nice, safe position in her military’s headquarters, far away from the front, but instead she keeps getting assigned the most dangerous missions of all. When she gets seriously hurt, they give her a medal and a new assignment testing dangerous equipment. When she cultivates contacts in logistics, her mental acuity shines so much that she is given a special mission. When she tries to slow things down so she can keep herself out of battle for as long as possible, they speed up. And when she tries to be as terrifying and intimidating as possible, in order to convince her recruits to quit, she succeeds in scaring them witless, but they take it the other way and obey even her most extreme commands, lest they suffer something worse than simply being killed.

All she wanted was to be safe, just long enough to die of old age, and instead she has to fight a world war practically single-handed. She didn’t want command, she didn’t ask for it, but she got it.

Tanya and the dragon, however, at least have something deliberate to their actions, even if the people around them vastly misunderstand. I can think of at least three more recent instances where the “accidental demon lord” in question was only accidental for a little while before embracing their role, and with the understanding of those around them.

There’s Rimuru Tempest, from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. He didn’t mean to become the leader of an entire nation of monsters, nor to lead an international alliance, and certainly not to become a literal demon lord. He started simply by protecting a small, ravaged clan of goblins. He took in a few wolves who had been enemies, invited some dwarves to join them, and things started snowballing when he gave a place to the last refugees of an oni tribe, aided some besieged lizardmen, conquered the orcs, and began treating with dryads, beastmen, and other demon lords. Effectively, he led the coalescing of a new nation, a new civilization even, from various disparate parts. And then he was surprised when his new people chose him as their leader. He accepted, though, and soon went from being an accidental leader of various monsters to a deliberate one.

Makoto Misumi had a similar journey, albeit much more swiftly, in Tsukimichi: Moonlit Fantasy. Being transported to a fantasy world, and blessed by a god with great power, he soon found himself befriending orcs, dwarves, lizardmen, and more, including a lich, a dragon, and a gigantic spider. He is so powerful that he can go toe to toe with some of the mightiest figures walking this world, and even overwhelm armies like a one-man natural cataclysm. Like Rimuru, he took part in the creation of a small nation made up of various monster races, and they look to him as their leader. Also like Rimuru, he was reluctant and surprised, but accepted the role as they wanted him to.

And then there is the sorcerer lich, Ains Ooal Gown, in Overlord. He’s probably the most deliberate of these three. He rules the denizens off the Great Tomb of Nazarick, and he never once hesitated to do so. He and his companions built the place and created all those who dwell there, and he was the leader of them all even then. It was perfectly natural for him to continue in that role even when the game he was playing turned into something real, and he took this responsibility seriously. What he did not expect was for his followers to revere him so much that his every word would be taken as gospel truth. An offhand comment becomes their driving purpose, and as they set off to conquer the world, Ains ends up being the last one to know about it. Still, he very much accepted this and has rolled with it since, willingly engaging in many monstrous acts, such that he is quite definitely a true villain now, albeit one with occasional flashes of sentiment.

One may notice a recurring theme here involving isekai. Ains, Makoto, Rimuru, Tanya, and countless others are all transported across worlds in one fashion or another. This, too, makes a certain amount of sense, because how better to explain how one can accidentally become such a prominent leading figure in these societies, than for them to be complete strangers to the world? They don’t understand all of the ramifications of their actions because they are operating with great power and influence before they truly understand how this new world works.

That’s what happens with Mr. Lin, who misunderstands almost every situation to a degree which is nothing short of spectacular (and hilarious). Of course, in his case, that is the bare minimum of what he is not understanding about his current situation.

Mr. Lin’s ignorant, but incredibly fortunate, behavior can be compared and contrasted to Mitsuha Yamano, of the recent anime, Saving 80,000 Gold for My Retirement in Another World.

Mitsuha is another isekai protagonist, but, unlike most, she can move between worlds with ease. She uses this to set up a shop selling modern conveniences to the people of a fantasy world, who are at first very confused by everything she offers. These things are wonders to them, practically magic, and she’s just doling them out to anyone who can pay. She also starts making connections with local adventurers, various noble families, and even the king. She uses these connections, as well as her own resources, to both help those who come to her in need, and utterly destroy those cross her, all with a great deal of skill.

It would not surprise me too much if people start looking to Mitsuha as a queen or even a goddess, albeit one who seems to prefer a quiet existence. One could say she’s almost an accidental leader, even more so than most of the others.

Like Mr. Lin, she runs a shop and uses modern knowledge to help others, and she leaves her enemies devastated in her wake. Unlike Mr. Lin, she does not try to lay low, and she is aware of the status of the people she forms relationships with. She knows she has people’s love, loyalty, friendship, and respect, as she studies and learns quickly about the world around her. Though she is still heedless, rather than unaware, of some of the ripples she is causing. Unlike Mr. Lin, who sits in the eye of a storm which is upending the world around him, completely unwitting.

Looking over all of these characters, a pattern begins to form which defines what makes for an accidental demon lord.

  1. They are often an isekai transplant.
  2. They have some sort of great advantage over others – raw power, knowledge, political connections, etc.
  3. They assist those in need – even Ains did that at first – and are repaid with undying loyalty.
  4. Their enemies tend to be utterly defeated, either by them or by circumstance which makes it look like they did it.
  5. The armies they can command may vary, but are typically diverse, mighty, and terrifying to behold.
  6. They are, for varying amounts of time, completely unwitting about the effects they are having on the world, and how others see them, which typically involves more extreme emotions like devotion on the one hand or terror on the other.

With these criteria in mind, I present a most perfect pair of accidental demon lords from the most recent anime seasons.

Hiraku Machio is the star of Farming Life in Another World. He died in our world and was given a new body in a fantasy world, where he wants to be a farmer. He’s also given what he dubs “the almighty farming tool,” as it appears in his hand any time he needs it, it becomes any sort of tool he needs, and it does some incredible things like make whatever crops he envisions spring up from the ground without needing any seeds for it. With this, he grows whatever he wants, cuts down trees with one chop, and builds himself a home in the middle of the woods.

As Hiraku goes about this, he befriends some of the demonic creatures nearby, including wolves, a giant spider, and some extremely large bees. His home expands and becomes a village with the arrival of people from the outside, including vampires, angels, elves, oni, beastmen, lizardmen, and more. (another example of ruling over the coalescing and birth of a new, diverse community) When a dragon invades his home, threatening his people, Hiraku steps up with a resolve to protect them, and his almighty farming tool becomes a magic spear of such devastating power that he single-handedly destroys the dragon within two hits. This draws attention from the outside world and, soon after the village’s official founding, in which Hiraku is unanimously elected as mayor, demons and less hostile dragons are visiting for purposes of trade and maintaining friendly relations.

Very friendly relations.

It cannot be overstated how much officials from the surrounding territories want to maintain absolutely friendly relations.

As one often does when antagonism would invite swift and certain destruction.

See, Hiraku is surrounded by incredible, formidable people. The vampires, angels, and dragons especially have infamous reputations, but even without them, their neighbors generally don’t want to mess with the elves, demon wolves, and demon spiders, and that’s before even taking everyone else into account. Oh, and that’s besides Hiraku himself, who can conjure a spear with which he can slaughter even the most formidable of dragons without breaking a sweat. It is explained to the audience that his “almighty farming tool” is actually the replica of a mystical spear which would normally drain its user’s life force, but Hiraku’s new body has extremely high vitality and rapid recovery. Thus, he can cut down trees which should be impossible to cut down, build a cozy home in a forest that’s called the Forest of Death, magically grow any crops he wants, and annihilate the occasional uppity dragon.

Put Hiraku at the head of all of these fearsome figures, and it’s small wonder the local government is so hilariously terrified. And he has no idea.

He crosses off all of the criteria, with flying colors, to be a demon lord entirely by accident.

Finally, what may well be the most popular example: Cid Kagenou, aka Lord Shadow, from Eminence in Shadow.

He is a particularly strange case, somehow both a deliberate and an accidental demon lord at the same time; deliberate in that he chooses to be one, and accidental in that he really doesn’t know that he’s doing so.

They spend most of the first episode showing who Cid was in our world, before he died and was reborn in a fantasy one. He was always very clever, ruthless, and lived in his own little world. The reach of his influence was limited in our world, but once he was reincarnated with a godlike amount of magic, he became practically a force of nature unto himself. He is obsessed with living out his personal fantasies, including the use of two alter-egos, one of which is nothing more than a background character, and the other of which secretly moves the entire world from the shadows. Thus, he maintains a dull public image while creating a secret organization, Shadow Garden, comprised of young women of various fantasy races. He rescues these girls from a terrible fate and they aid him in battling their oppressors, the Cult of Diablos, to liberate the world from their clutches and to stop the resurrection of the demon itself.

And he did all of this by accident.

More specifically, he did it all within the grip of a delusion that it’s all pretend. He’s aware of real things and real events, and incorporates those into his delusion, but he’s basically an incredibly lucky madman of epic proportions.

Cid helped people, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes without knowing what he was doing. The first time he saved a girl from possession, and the grotesque mutation which results from such, he was just experimenting. He’d found a blob of living flesh that he could anything at all to, and stumbled onto the secret of undoing what had been done to her by complete accident. He spun a story that he made up on the spot, never suspecting it to be true, but it was. She took it all as true, verified it with her own research, and built Shadow Garden up from nothing. They took the knowledge which Cid shared from his life on Earth and used it in a variety of ways to build a multi-faceted empire in the shadows, with which they have waged war on the Cult. Said war shakes their entire civilization as surely as any calamity.

To the women of Shadow Garden, Cid is practically a god, though he knows nothing of it. He also knows nothing of all the other women who fall for him, excusing everything with further delusions. He does whatever he wants, and the world is dragged along in his wake, as he shows off his immense and terrifying power, but his madness is such that he still thinks it’s all fun and games, even when he utterly destroys his enemies in brutal, merciless, horrible ways.

So, he’s not quite as accidental a demon lord as Mr. Lin, but still!

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I’m Really Not the Demon God’s Lackey (or is he?)

I recently came across a video on YouTube which briefly detailed the events of the first two chapters of a manga. It amused and intrigued me, and so I poked around the internet a bit to find an online – but probably unofficial – copy of it, translated into English. There were, when I read it, just over seventy chapters available, but they were so brief and entertaining that I read it all within a few days, and I am closely following the release of future chapters in eager anticipation. There are a few technical issues here and there – some long panels are clearly meant to be horizontal, not vertical, and sometimes the translated dialogue is iffy – but I would not at all mind finding a proper copy, and I really would not mind seeing it translated into an anime.

In short, I was instantly hooked by I’m Really Not the Demon God’s Lackey, and it has satisfied me so well that all I want is more.

The story centers on one Mr. Lin Jie, a native of Earth who actually managed to isekai himself on purpose. A young man who loves books to no end, he made a deal with an otherworldly entity so he could obtain all of them, all the books in the entire world. As part of the deal, he left our world and went to another one, wherein he set up shop in the great, techno-magical city of Nokin, allowing his customers to browse, borrow, or buy any book they want, which, as he is able to refresh his shelves and access every book on Earth, makes for the largest of all libraries within a humble little book shop. At the same time, as he engages his customers in conversation, he fancies himself as something of a life coach and soul-healer. And it is true, every customer who enters his shop leaves in greater spirits than they had before.

There’s just one thing: he, his shop, and his books are all much more than he realizes. Every conversation he has is conducted in such a way that the conversation he thinks he’s having is very different for the other party, and yet he manages to say exactly the thing that they most need to hear. And when he hands someone a book, it is a very different book than the one he is seeing. He is handing out books of potent mystical knowledge, such that the world around him is sent into upheaval, all without ever realizing what he is doing.

To his customers, he is not just a friendly bookseller, he must surely be some being far greater than they, omnipotent and omniscient!

I may never be able to stop laughing about how this humble bookseller manages to become what basically amounts to an accidental demon lord. Without ever knowing about it, he turns society on its head, gaining the friendship, the loyalty, and the undying, religious devotion of werewolves, elves, black mages, knights, and more. With fear and respect is he referred to in the great halls of power as this entity of unknowable knowledge and supreme power, when all he’s trying to do is sell books.

I love it!

There’s a certain visceral appeal for me, personally, as one who believes in the power of words, of books, to transform our society and enrich our souls. Seeing that made manifest in magical format, as various characters obtain grimoires of forbidden secrets and maddening knowledge, and seeing it work through them, to give them a new lease on life, well, it makes my day!

And when it leaves the bookshop, the story shows us the powerful effects which Mr. Lin and his otherworldly patron are having. It doesn’t waste time spoon-feeding explanations to us, it shows us what is going on, with just the right amount of explanation provided for us to know what we are looking at. A multitude of threads flow throughout an interesting, intricate world, and the audience is able to easily comprehend what is happening via the perspectives of a cast that is wide, varied, and lovable. A multitude of factions either align or collide in epic struggles of cosmic significance, making for thrilling action, subtle intrigue, and awesome displays of power. Bonds of comradeship are forged, old wounds and scars heal, hard lessons are learned after overconfident mistakes are made, and tears are shed in the wake of tragedy.

All this springing from how various important characters are reborn in the shelter of a humble book shop.

Oh, and there are a number of fantastic potential couples in the making, which I hope we get to see! 🙂 There are a quite a few strong, alluring women in this story, alongside formidable, masculine men. 😉

So, I enjoy the characters and the plot immensely, the world-building seems to be both intricate and fleshed out, the visuals are generally fantastic, there are powerful themes at work… I am reminded of the self-description of The Princess Bride, involving, fighting, chases, escapes, giants, torture, revenge, true love, miracles, and such. 🙂

(of course I may be a tad more obsessed with the lovely ladies than the manly men…)

Fair warning, this is another one of those stories which is not intended for little children. It hasn’t gotten too bad, as of yet – for relative definition of “too bad” – but there is blood and gore, disturbing and grotesque sights to see, and perhaps a little more sex appeal than is strictly necessary, but I find that it dances on a fine line where none of these is pushed too hard. They’re present, but, for the most part, they add to the story, rather than distract from it.

All in all, I am immensely looking forward to how this story progresses, where it goes, and how it eventually ends. It is my understanding that the manga is based on a text, some sort of online serialized story, which the English translation I have been reading seems to be about a quarter of the way through. However, this may be simply the result of a similar translation, but the text format actually struck me as fairly shabby. It’s probably a lot better in its original language, but I am happy enough to await the translated manga.

Rating: thus far, I give it 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Spy x Family x Where is the Plot?

Spy x Family is one of the better and more popular anime produced in 2022. It’s funny, heart-warming, and tells the tale of a most unusual family and their most unusual secrets. That said, it has its share of issues, most of them involving the handling of its own ideas, and how infrequently it comes back to the ground of its premise as it flits off into skies filled with childlike hilarity. It has an excellent beginning, and mostly remains entertaining, but goes in a very different direction than is initially promised, as if it became distracted by some threads and failed to pursue others.

A tightly coherent narrative, this is not.

A fun and funny little adventure, this is.

Leading the show is the Forger family. There is Loid Forger, aka Twilight, the greatest spy his nation has, undertaking an unusual mission in an enemy nation which requires him to have a wife and child. The “wife” in question is the quiet, soft-spoken Yor Briar, aka Mistress Thorn, an assassin of formidable power in her profession and an awkward disposition in social settings. The adopted child is Anya, a walking incarnation of the word “adorable,” who was once held in a secret lab where she obtained the ability to read minds. Heck, even Anya’s dog, Bond, coming from a similar circumstance as Anya, can see the future. And just to top things off, Yor’s brother, Yuri Briar, is secretly a high-ranking member of the Secret Police, and therefore Loid’s worst enemy.

Anya and Bond know all the secrets. The adults know almost none of them besides their own.

The spy and the assassin setup rings a bit like Mr. and Mrs. Smith at first glance, a husband and wife serving opposite sides, but that doesn’t last very long. The two of them are surprisingly perfect for each other, but what I anticipated to be at least partially a story of their romance as they both went about their secret lives… well, that fell by the wayside fast. Yor’s work as an assassin influences her perspective and explains her deadly strength, but her secret life was highlighted only in the episode that introduced her, and then the rest of the season passed without it really coming up again. Even more pointedly, the love story between her and Loid also went very bland despite living together in a relationship of convenience, and required the introduction of a femme fatale colleague of Loid’s in order to inject it with life again, near the first season’s finale.

So, the romance is pretty much a no go, much to my disappointment.

Despite how it might look at first.

Comedy, on the other hand, is very much, “go.”

It can be very weird and over-the-top comedy, as especially demonstrated by the entire dodgeball sequence, the underground tennis tournament, and by Yuri’s raging sister complex which will undoubtedly strike newcomers to anime as both confusing and cringe-worthy. Anime veterans like myself simply roll our eyes and roll with it, and especially enjoy the rest of the humor – which is abundant, hysterical, and pokes fun at itself as well – alongside the thrills.

Said thrills – with Yor’s assassin work relegated to the background and she herself nearly suffering the same – center on Loid’s work as a spy, as the efforts of his organization are bent towards averting the renewal of a recent war between Eastern and Western countries. The anime draws heavily on the time of the World Wars and the Cold War for inspiring the setting, the stakes, and the overall story. Loid’s central mission involves striving to get close to a particular public official who is very difficult to get close to, and the only opening to be found involves the prestigious private school his sons attend, and thus the need to have a child of his own in the same school. Other missions come up, however, smaller but still of vital importance, which keep him occupied even while his work with Anya at her school can only proceed very slowly. There are national treasures to retrieve, information to obtain surreptitiously, and violent threats to people and to a fragile peace which must be negated by stealth, guile, and force.

This is one family you do not mess with!

But the main selling point of the series is definitely the humor, and it is sold by quite the colorful cast.

There’s the Forgers, of course, who are fantastic together and take turns leading various individual storylines. Loid’s storyline brings in the spies and secret agents of his organization under the leadership of their handler, a most respectable and formidable woman, as well as a comedic information broker who gets roped into Loid’s escapades, and that femme fatale I mentioned earlier who is in love with Loid to the point of obsession but does not realize just how little chance she has with him. Yor’s thread brings in her brother but also her coworkers at her day job, at least one of which gets conscripted to help Yor learn to cook, lest she inadvertently kill her new family. And Anya, she has her teacher at school as well as her fellow students, particularly a very rich girl who becomes her best friend – and is hilariously obsessed with romance and crushing on Loid – and a boy, the son of Loid’s true target, with whom she has a very rocky beginning – it doesn’t get much worse than punching him in the face, on day one, after he bullies her – but who is definitely falling hard for her long before hormones ever become a thing. (Ah, very young love!)

These characters are easy to love. The connections they form are really quite heart-warming as well, as strangers become friends and even family, and their adventures make the audience smile and laugh as they all struggle towards a peaceful future.

In short: there’s a great deal about this show, really, to recommend it. Laughter, love, action, intrigue, thrills. It’s a good show. I just happen to feel that it might have been improved if the plot went in a more specific direction, instead of beating around every bush it could possibly find. And if the romance between Loid and Yor had lived up to the promise the show made with its beginning. (And if they hadn’t interrupted the first season with a three-month break)

All in all, I do enjoy Spy x Family. I don’t think it’ll be among my favorites or anything like that, but it’s not bad.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #438: Suffering Value

“What is victory, then, if one hasn’t suffered?”
– Master Asia, Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Episode 45, “Farewell, Master: Master Asia’s Last Breath”

This is one of those times where I want to leave behind completely what the character means to say, and the circumstances in which he says it. For today, at least, I want to talk about what they mean to me, personally.

I’m not exactly keen on suffering in any way unless one absolutely must for whatever reason. I know very well the temptation of taking the easier route, and I can say from experience that it always bites us in the butt sooner or later. I also know the frustration of putting a great deal of time, effort, sweat, and pain into some endeavor that is ultimately pointless and without reward. Neither of these approaches are things to aspire to. Nor is a third approach, which aspires to a fantasy that is most seductive and destructive: that of trying to live as if in a dream of prolonged pleasure, as if any happiness, joy, or satisfaction could truly be found in being eternally drunk, so to speak.

I recall another quote which I do not know the source of, only that it was written by Robert Heinlein, which speaks of the folly of giving everyone in a race the prize for first place. It’s a hollow, empty, even degrading gesture, unearned and without any real accomplishment for the recipient to take pride in, and it diminishes the value of the prize itself. It is a far happier thing to receive the prize which one earns.

It stretches further and further than this one example, of course.

A person who is fed without earning it takes the food for granted, for instance, while one who works hard for it has the satisfaction of humble gratitude for the food. One who can get their food at the store, in a similar vein, takes for granted that food will always be there, and may even carry some disparaging views toward the farmers who produce said food. Yet the farmer knows what goes into producing their food and is grateful for every well-earned bite.

People who inherit wealth, or gain it by gambling, may not value it properly, but those who earn and build their fortune within their own lives may still recall what a magnificent blessing their fortune is. Provided they aren’t too busy comparing themselves to people who have more than they do, that is.

As humans, we keep wanting to be freed from our problems, delivered from our hardships and sorrows and all manner of situations which break us, over and over. But there is value in these things. There is value in what we suffer and what we lose, and especially in what we choose to do when we feel trapped in our lives. We may want to be taken out of our difficulties, but what we really need is to get through them. That is what gives value to the prize we earn, on a personal level.

The greatest victories are those which are earned, bought and paid for with the currency of one’s pain.

Who’s going to value any given thing more, the person who pours their blood, sweat, tears, heart, and soul into it, or the person who can just magically wave their hands and *poof* there it is?

Who values their strength and athleticism more, the ones who halfway kill themselves in training, or the ones who take steroids?

Who values their grades more, the cheater or the one who studied?

Who values victory more, those who sit back and watch, or those who bring it about with their own hands?

Who values the state of a country more, the man who runs it or the soldier who bled for it?

And so it goes.

Pain, of various kinds, is the currency of value.

Thus, I wish everyone a Happy Easter, as I strive to remember my own value in the eyes of One who suffered everything for me.

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The Moral Question of Narvik

Once again, my Norwegian mother got me to watch a Norwegian film on Netflix. This one, if I understand correctly, is a historical film, telling a very real story in connection with the Battles of Narvik during World War II, with fairly little dramatic license taken. If nothing else, that is a fairly impressive feat of self-restraint, considering how my family still tells stories of the Norwegian resistance as a matter of national and cultural pride, and Narvik was known as Hitler’s first defeat in the entire war. The urge to sensationalize would certainly be strong, but they did not do so.

What they did instead was present an account of the situation and an overview of these events. It is a stark, straightforward style which does not exaggerate. This bare-bones approach highlights a moral question which I personally find to be so riveting that I find myself compelled to focus most on this, rather than speak much about the excellent acting, the cinematography, and everything else which we usually talk about in reviews.

Narvik centers on a single family, the Tofte family, consisting of a young soldier named Gunnar, his wife Ingrid, their very young son Ole, and Gunnar’s father, Aslak. When the Germans take over their small town, wanting to monopolize the high-quality iron coming out of Narvik’s mines, the family is inevitably, despite their best efforts, separated from each other. Months pass before they can be reunited, and by then, within so short a time, the bitter complications of war take a severe toll on the Tofte family in many ways.

Ingrid’s ordeals are given much of the spotlight. She works in a hotel but, being able to speak at least three languages fluently, she is also called upon to act as a translator. Thus, she is involved with the parties on every side of this conflict: German, English, and her own Norwegian countrymen. She ends up having to navigate through this entire mess while striving to protect her family, which leads her to making a terrible choice which her people quickly come to hate and spurn her over.

This seems to be the true thrust of the film, and thus is also where the film actually makes me, personally, rather uncomfortable. Somehow it feels almost like the entire movie has been specifically tailored to justify Ingrid’s actions, and the betrayal she commits, to the condemnation of those around her. From her perspective, the horror of war did not truly touch her home when the Germans invaded, not even when Norway’s troops in Narvik went AWOL and resisted on their own. No, the flame of war only began to burn the town when the English struck back, and Ingrid was helping them.

The English ambassador and his aide begged her for help and she gave it, enlisting a friend and risking her life and her family to hide them. Then, even more, she gained and betrayed the trust of the Germans at the ambassador’s behest, providing information which they assured her was crucial to the English coming ashore and liberating the town, and they promised it would be very soon. But that promise was not fulfilled, and before she even got home that night, the English forces bombarded her home, albeit inadvertently, killing Aslak and wounding Ole such that his injury became infected and threatened to kill him.

After weeks of waiting for the English to keep their promise, to materialize and save her home and family, with her son’s life on the line, she made a deal with the Germans: she sold them the ambassador and his aide in exchange for a doctor to save Ole.

It was a terrible thing, to betray the men who had trusted her with their lives, and her neighbors certainly judged her harshly both for this and for her association with the Germans in general. But the movie paints it only in terms as one must sympathize with Ingrid. She had risked her life for the English, trusted in their promises, and seen her family deeply hurt in exchange, all for nothing. She had a son to save, and he was all that was left to her now, as her husband’s fate remained unknown to her. She risked much just revealing that she knew where the English were, and was only driven to it by extreme circumstance. And then, of course, there’s how disloyal their allies turned out to be before long, as the same countries which intervened on Norway’s behalf, who sent their soldiers to bleed and die and kill alongside them, ended up pulling out without even telling Norway about it, leaving them to face Germany’s swift wrath alone. Against all of this, with her own trust in the English having been betrayed first, how could anyone blame Ingrid for doing what she did?

Right alongside this is shown what Gunnar went through. As a soldier, he believed in giving everything for his country and his people, and it must be said, he did not shrink from the price. He took part in sabotaging a bridge which was essential to Germany’s plans, an incident which could have easily ended with his family being killed by his own hand. He was taken prisoner and endured all sorts of physical trauma and deprivation. He heard about his father’s death from gossip, found an opportunity to break free and strike back again, and he sneaked and shot Germans in the back even after realizing they were just like him, young men with sweethearts of their own back home. He did things which may have caused him to not sleep so well at night, but is the audience ever to judge him, a man fighting to get back to his family? No.

Ingrid is the only one so judged by those around her.

And then there’s the leader of the Norwegian troops. He was the first to lead his men in defiance of German occupation, and he made tough calls quickly and effectively. One of the best and most inspiring scenes in the movie is when he and his soldiers reunite with Gunnar Tofte, who has just learned of his father’s demise and has no knowledge of his wife and son. As Gunnar is at his lowest and most desperate, his superior officer helps him to his feet, and speaks to his men of what they are truly fighting for: each other.

But then, not long after, he rallies these same men, preventing things from turning into a rout and a defeat, by firing his gun, grabbing one of them, and threatening to shoot the next man who runs away. When they finally reach Narvik and Gunnar learns what his wife has done, German retaliation has already killed one of his comrades, and the same officer speaks again, standing over this soldier’s freshly roasted corpse, about fighting for each other and the need for those who will sacrifice everything. But now it rings hollow and vain from one who would shoot his own men and use the death of another as an opportunity to pontificate.

The call to sacrifice anything and everything is easy to issue when it’s someone else doing the sacrificing, yes? What right would anyone have to demand that a mother sacrifice her son for the sake of faithless “allies,” and ostracize her when she does not? If the soldiers are indeed fighting for each other, so hard that they do questionable things, why can a mother not do something questionable as she fights for her son?

Narvik seems persistent in its insistence that Ingrid’s actions were fully justified. Maybe she was, in truth, but the story feels so one-sided that I can’t help but rebel against it. She wasn’t weighing the love of her son against the good of her nation, not really. She gave of herself, believed promises which were made to her, lost much, and was on the brink of losing what was singularly most precious to her, so she chose to turn on the people she’d helped. She protected her own at a severe cost paid by others. There’s no escaping how dirty that is, and her son was consigned to know as an adult that his life came at the cost of two men who trusted his mother with theirs. Who knows how he ended up taking that?

I do believe that her people, the neighbors who ostracized her, could and should have been kinder in their judgment of Ingrid Tofte. I can’t say that I would have done any differently in her place, especially not while watching my child slowly dying before my eyes, and I can say that I agree with Gunnar’s decision, which he had to wrestle with, to stand by his wife’s side.

At the same time, I wish that they could have shown something more balanced, enough to admit that Ingrid did do something wrong, or at least something not entirely right. That may come from how I personally find it more respectable to carry one’s shame honestly, rather than try to avoid shame altogether with excuses and rationalizations, which the movie provides plenty of on Ingrid’s behalf.

Who was right? Who was wrong?

We forget that often, especially in war, people are often both right and wrong simultaneously.

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Arcane is a Masterful Work

I was determined, for quite some time, to wait and write this review until at least after season two had aired. Well over a year and change later, my patience has finally run out. That’s the downside with some of these shows: those that have to keep producing season after season after season every single year often stagnate in quality – I’m looking at you, Arrow – while those that can follow a looser broadcasting schedule can take so much time to craft that they tend to leave us wanting and waiting for far too long.

Arcane is inspired by the popular online video game, League of Legends. In the game, teams of players can play against each other as various characters with a wide range of abilities, each one with their own background, from a variety of nations and cultures. With well over one hundred of these champions to choose from, and more being developed all the time, there is an ever-expanding abundance of lore which can be explored here. Much of this lore has been touched on in dozens of animated shorts, but never really fleshed out in cinematic format. Thus, the very premise of Arcane, to tell stories which feature many of these popular champions, is immense right from the get go, not least for how many characters there are to choose from, how to make the fights entertaining, how the drama between the fights must matter, and how all of it would necessarily need to be crafted in such a way that even those who do not play the game could enjoy the show.

Facing such a monumental task, the first season of Arcane not only succeeds, it is quite nearly a masterpiece.

I say, “nearly,” because, alas, it does include some content which is more explicit than it needs to be. It walks a finer line than most, perhaps, but there’s no denying that the nude and/or sexual material, no matter how occasional it is, is ultimately a pointless, needless indulgence, especially considering how much time and effort had to go into animating such. Some things should not and do not need to be lingered on for us to know what’s going on. I find myself tired and frustrated by such content, and longing for something more clean and wholesome.

Outside this, I find every aspect of Arcane to be nothing short of masterful.

Truly masterful.

The plot is intricate without being convoluted, where every thread entwines with every other thread without turning into a Gordian Knot, and all of it is driven by very human characters. The audience can understand them, but they’re not simple cutouts. They elicit a certain form of caring for them, with their desires, strengths, flaws, travails, losses, sorrows, and rage, which feels entirely natural and reflexive. Who can’t care about these people as they strive to fulfill their respective dreams and ambitions in the midst of a complicated situation in which every choice they make could be the spark that sets off the powder keg?

Bringing these characters and their world to life was no small task, but this may be where Arcane truly shines most brilliantly. The animation style is artwork in motion, like a comic brought to vivid, fluid life. Details don’t just add to how visually appealing the CGI is, they truly make it that much more lifelike and realistic. Every corner of every frame is beautiful, exquisite, and riveting. The set designs, the character designs, the lighting, the coloring, the shading, the cinematography, all of it is magnificent. And in this world walk heroes, villains, and ordinary folk, the lines between such being easy to confuse, whose every movement speaks to who they are, and who are finally made into truly living beings within our imagination, the sort who leap off the page – or screen, in this case – and into our hearts through some of the most commanding voice performances in cinematic history.

One can choose almost any line of any moment of any episode, and it will demonstrate just how capable the authors of this show really are. They crafted a script of such quality that most others seem like rough wooden cutouts in comparison to the finest statues of the Renaissance. Even better, they cast and directed voice actors whose work makes even some of the finest voice work in both live action and animated works look like finger painting in the shadow of the Sistine Chapel. That is the quality of this writing and this voice work, not just a cut above most others, but far, far, far greater than even most masters of the craft ever achieve, the pinnacle which sets a new bar for the industry as a whole.

That might be an overly poetic description, as I am wont to do, but I certainly do not exaggerate.

The best performances of them all.

And, oh, the music! It may not have one of those single refrains which are easy to hum, a’la the works of John Williams or Hans Zimmer, but it’s every bit as emotive, evocative, and powerful as the work of any master composer. As well it should be, for characters, stories, and themes such as this.

Those themes include elements discovery with all of its dangers and opportunities, the competing forces of loyalty and corruption in every hall of power, the questions of conflict and prejudice as the peoples of two cities seem to be deadlocked in eternal confrontation, and even issues of insanity, of madness, as the rational and the irrational collide in contest of redemption that seems doomed to destruction.

The big question, of course, it what comes next. Indeed, what can come next, in a world so vast and sweeping, when this, one of the most epic stories yet told, has taken place within such a small space, a single corner of this world, in a single city, albeit one that has been riven in half? So many characters to choose from, and with such work as Arcane has already demonstrated, fans are certain to clamor for more and more and ever more, and yet this tale has been weaved so expertly with only a handful of them so far, culminating in one of the most artistic and sadistic cliffhangers of them all. What happens next? Where does the story go next? Who will still be playing a part, and what new, familiar faces will show up? How can future seasons match, let alone exceed, the first?

In short: Arcane is a good, intriguing story, masterfully-crafted, exceptionally well-told, and almost flawless.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A-Plus.

We await eagerly for more!

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