Sunday’s Wisdom #239: A Father’s Simple Devotion

“You are the love of my life. Everything I have, and everything I am, is yours. Forever.”
– Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother
Season 9, Episode 23-24, “Last Forever”

I consider it one of life’s great, humorous ironies that I found such a perfect quote for Father’s Day from 1) a character that is such a notorious womanizer, and 2) in a show that seems to have very little of such touching material, but I don’t really know because 3) I haven’t actually seen it. Thank you, YouTube.

From what I know, Barney spends the majority of the show as an unrepentant, and hilarious, womanizer. He’s had a serious relationship or two, but failed at both of them. Still, he tried to do better, be better, have a happier life in that way, so perhaps he was just finally ready when the call of fatherhood came to him. Certainly, he didn’t seem ready beforehand, but when he holds his daughter in his arms for the first time, moments after her birth… well, that sort of thing changes a man. Mind you, it only does so if he’s ready for it.

One thing about Barney seems to be how he devotes himself utterly to whatever he sets his mind to. I can only speak from clips on YouTube, but he absolutely put the whole of his energy into things like getting revenge or scoring with sexy women, and though his marriage fell apart, he was perfectly faithful to his wife, which, for such a shameless former player, speaks to his resolve to leave that life behind. So, when he becomes a father, he does so with his entire being, leaving that raucous lifestyle behind him forevermore.

These words, which he says to his daughter the first time he holds her, are the sound of him pivoting his life like a great door on the hinge of his love for her. It is the grand summary of what it means to be a father, truly.

In a word: love. A father is utterly devoted to his children, for devotion is love in action.

To be a father is to love absolutely, and to offer everything one has, large or small, in its entirety.

That includes time, effort, patience, discipline, endless caring, and so much more. It is to give and give and keep on giving.

That is not the same as giving one’s child everything they want. It is to give them what they need, for as long as one is able. That even includes withholding things when one must. Spoiling is less an act of love and more an act of convenience.

And it should here be noted… nobody is perfect, and so nobody is a perfect parent either. But a father promises everything he is in addition to everything he has. He does his best, withholding nothing of himself, even and most especially when he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, which tends to be quite often.

Perfection cannot be achieved, and it is not required to be a good father. One simply needs to be willing, and put that willingness into action as best he can, reserving nothing for himself so long as his children stand in need of it.

That is fatherhood.

I am thankful for a father who has never stopped being a father. That is tragically more than many can say.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

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This Week on TV, June 15, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

The one thing that sucks about having something to watch in the summer: it’s the only thing I have to watch in the summer. All the other seasons of anything else I might watch are all completed by now. Heck, I’m not even sure have anything left of my weekly lineup come this fall. But oh well. There’s always Netflix! (at least, for now)

Agents of Shield

6.05 “The Other Thing”

This is one of those times, I think, when two threads that seem to be so very far apart are turning out to be far more intertwined.

At the Lighthouse, Mack and Yo-Yo are having their drama, which they endure stoically because they aren’t connecting emotionally. Yo-Yo actually forms more of a rapport with Benson, the scientist guy, over how they’ve both made choices, the right choice, but it’s so painful that it feels like the wrong one. Mind you, in Benson’s case, I’d argue that taking his significant other off life support within days, instead of months, is a little different than plunging a special knife into Keller’s chest in order to kill the thing possessing him and turning him into a bomb.

Speaking of, apparently those blue knives actually do kill them, just not instantaneously. The knife paralyzes it, and eventually it expires, provided said knife is not removed, say, in the course of an autopsy. Once it finally dies and stays dead, it reverts to a sort of crystalline structure, like the one it was turning Keller’s body into, something that Benson has never seen… but Shield has: the three obelisks.

One controlled space, and was used to exile Hive to Maveth, and then used by Hydra to feed Hive, until they were able to use it to bring Hive back to Earth. The second controlled time, and was used to send the agents into the future, to learn of the impending danger to their world, and then was duplicated and used to send them back to the present, inadvertently bringing Deke along. The third was unknown, and it was destroyed alongside the other two, which destruction ripped a hole in the fabric of the universe, bringing people’s fears into the Lighthouse, and sealing that hole required a bit of gravitonium and the genius of Leopold Fitz.

Somehow, these three obelisks, of immense power, which were unearthed, stored, and used, are connected to this new threat.

Moving over to May’s corner, she is a “prisoner”of Sarge and Snowflake, and they want to recruit her. She and Sarge are a bit at odds, as he has Coulson’s face, and he wants to know about this Coulson. In his view, Coulson must have been something else, while in May’s view, Sarge is the “something else.” There are freakish similarities between what Sarge is saying and what Coulson already said, on the beach in Tahiti before he finally drifted off. But whatever the truth of this particular mystery, there is an end-of-the-world scenario in progress here, so it’s going to wait for a bit.

Sarge’s approach to recruiting seems simple enough: give May an inarguable introduction to the threat, and then provide answers to her questions.

The first part is easy. Snowflake just kidnaps one of their targets, and they leave May alone with him, after shooting him in the head. So he’s supposedly dead, but he gets up and tries to kill her, tries to possess her. Failing that, it does the same thing its fellow did with Keller’s body, powering up to explode. May uses the blue knife as instructed at that point. And that is her introduction to the threat at hand.

Sarge calls them the Shrike. They invade worlds, killing people and taking their bodies, tapping into energy. First it’s biological energy but, as Benson says, there is planetary energy as well, in the form of the ley lines. If they can take the energy within an average human body and turn it into an explosive that could take out the lighthouse, odds are that tapping into an entire planet’s energy would destroy said planet, which Sarge confirms in his talk with May. He’s been to countless worlds throughout the stars, and he’s been fighting the Shrike for a hundred years. He’s met with a lot of failure, seen a lot of worlds die, but he keeps going, and he certainly believes he has a way to end it all: kill the invading Shrike, and when their creator appears, “burn it all to Hell.”

Something tells me that might not work out for the Earth either.

Sarge is thinking May is coming around to his way of thinking, but she’s a lot stronger than that. Strong enough to get the drop on Snowflake easily, and then beat Sarge unconscious. She takes them and their truck straight to Shield.

Meanwhile in space, Daisy, Simmons, Piper, Davis, and Enoch are captured by a fleet of Confederate ships. But they’re not the Confederacy. Enoch realizes this when he recognizes that the Remmorath would just cut their ship in two, like they did a year ago. (answers one question, at least) He believes he knows who it is, and he is right: it’s the Chronicoms, led by a female-looking model called Atara (I think).

Atara wants something simple: to save their people. But it turns out to be very complicated.

They had heard whispers for some time about worlds being destroyed by something they did not know, but they were still helpless when it came to theirs. Spatial distortions were soon followed by the absolute destruction of their people and their planet. Something tells me that was the Shrike at work. The Confederacy came to pick the bones clean, but the Chronicoms resisted and took their ships, a small fleet. They are certainly formidable, which makes it all the more disquieting that their population has been reduced to the crew of this small fleet, and that is all that is left of them.

This brings us to their reason for hunting Fitz and Enoch: time travel. They know that it is real, that it was involved in the events which saved Earth from destruction. Now they want to use it to go back in time and save their own world. Seems reasonable, if also difficult, but they have no sense of care for what is not immediately useful to them. That becomes evident when Enoch convinces Atara that Fitz can help them, but they need Simmons to make that approach viable, and Atara responds by agreeing to use Fitz-Simmons… and kill the rest.

Needless to say, things do not end on a happy note on that score. It’s Simmons who steps up and offers to cooperate in exchange for the lives of her friends. Daisy doesn’t intend to allow it, but Simmons convinces her. She thanks her, and Davis, and Piper, for following her, and getting her to Fitz. Whatever happens, they’ll be together. So, now it is time for the three of them to go home, and Fitz-Simmons will see about rejoining them whenever they can.

Fitz is absolutely furious at a regretful Enoch when he hears about this, as what he ultimately wants is for Simmons to be safe and his friend just ensure the opposite, but he’s rendered unconscious anyway.

It’s a happy reunion when the Zephyr lands in the Lighthouse, but there’s a pall cast on it in the absence of Fitz-Simmons and the message from May informing them that she got Sarge. Considering how close Daisy and Coulson were, this is not going to be easy for her. It was kind of a good thing, in a way, for her to be in space while things played out on Earth. Now, she is going from losing two friends in space to seeing a familiar face as an enemy. Yeah, this is not her best day ever.

So we have Sarge, whatever he is, and whatever his connection to Coulson is, fighting the Shrike and trying to kill their creator, because they kill entire worlds, probably including the Chronicom’s, and the Shrike are connecter to the three mysterious obelisks, one of which enabled time travel, which the Chronicoms want Fitz-Simmons to make possible for them. Complicated, much? And obviously very dangerous. Thank goodness they have Shield to take on all the weird crap, which now includes multiple alien parties and the Earth poised, again, to join a long list of destroyed planets. Just another day for the agents.

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Larry Correia, Master of Storytelling

It has been years since I last added to my Masters of Storytelling collection. Sometimes you just gotta feel inspired, and I am feeling inspired now.

Larry Correia has published a number of novels, and shorter stories, and several series. I am most familiar with his Monster HuntersGrimnoir Chronicles, and Saga of the Forgotten Warrior. One is an urban fantasy, the next is a historical fiction of urban fantasy, and the third is a sci-fi fantasy. And he has more than this in his repertoire, so, he has some diverse content to choose from. With the exception of Dead Six, which seemed well done but just wasn’t my thing, I have highly enjoyed his work.

Correia writes with a style that shifts slightly between the various genres, but is always intriguing and entertaining. His attention to detail is poetic, balancing everything we need to know to be immersed in the environment and understand what the characters are going through. Said characters are interesting, and easy to appreciate as people. There are overarching themes and plots and intrigues which keep us riveted, and the worlds he creates feel alive and real. Indeed, there is a personality to his stories that makes them easy to love.

Said stories are riveting and interesting. There is plenty of action, realistically done (with adequate suspension of disbelief), and we actually care about the people involved. The heroes and villains both tend to be well-rounded and well developed, as are the relationships among all the characters. That makes the conflict, and its significance in the larger plot, all the more important to us, his readers. Speaking of, there usually is a larger conflict, some overarching conspiracy that can reach into the greatest halls of power, or even touch on a contest between cosmic entities, but it plays out in the everyday lives of normal people.

Well, I say “normal” people, and that is one thing I want to mention. We often think  of “normal” and “special” and “extraordinary” people, but in Correia’s work, the normal and the fantastic are not so different. The “chosen one” doesn’t have to be somehow “more” than a regular guy (or girl) just trying to protect what is dear to him (or her). And fantastic things don’t have to be inhuman.

Some of my favorite humorous examples of this from his Monster Hunters series: trailer park elves, noble orcs, an internet troll that is a literal troll, a geeky cyclops, and a dragon that threatens to sue instead of to eat. 🙂

Correia also never hesitates to address significant issues. Some particular recurring themes seem to be the worth of human life and freedom and family, of the hazards of segregating and classifying people like objects, the perils of forgetting history, and the danger of governments which are too powerful to be held responsible for their actions by the people they rule.

I can also say that I’ve never felt either bored or rushed while reading one of his stories. His sense of pacing is exquisite. There’s always something important happening to move the plot forward, but it’s never overdone, and we are never left hanging.

Besides all this, Correia is obviously a hard worker. I am thinking to tweak my definition of a Master to include criteria involving how long they leave their fans waiting for their next book, and the conclusion of whatever series they’ve been following. Larry Correia succeeds at that, publishing fairly frequently, and regularly, much like Brandon Sanderson and Howard Taylor, who are famous for such (and their happy rapport with their eager fans), and unlike the likes of George R.R. Martin, Jim Butcher, and Patrick Rothfuss, who are rather infamous for their failure to do so (and their unkind responses to their own eager fans).

Heh, and I take a personal delight in seeing traces, here and there, of the religion which I share with Correia, Sanderson, and Taylor. 🙂 Not in any preaching, moralizing way, mind you. Just… traces, which only someone who knows our religion is really going to appreciate. 😉

On a related note, in terms of content, Correia’s work, while meant for mature audiences, is very clean. It may acknowledge certain sordid details, but it does not dwell on them. Sexual scenes all happen off-screen, so to speak. Violence and bloodshed, there may be plenty of, but more in a realistic, relevant way, rather than in a gratuitous, nauseating manner. The language is generally clean as well, and the heroes actually act like upstanding people, instead of like egotistical jerks (usually).

About the only thing I have to skip over, really, is when he goes into lengthy details about the guns in Monster Hunters. I mean, I appreciate guns, I don’t dislike them, but, honestly, I’ve never been able to keep track in my head of which gun is which. My brain fails at cataloguing guns, cars, sports teams, etc. Stories, now, those, my brain will recall and organize and such! 🙂

Yeah, I’m not much a macho man, am I? 😉

In closing, I find Larry Correia’s work to be riveting, compelling, entertaining, and meaningful. He crafts good stories with lovable characters in worlds the feel real when you read about them. He works hard, and it shows, both in the quality and quantity of his work.

He is, in my book, a Master.

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5 Action/Adventure Anime

Blood pumping, fists flying, leaps taken, crazy stunts performed, explosions rocking!

Admit it: action is fun! 😉

We are humans, and humans have a drive to survive. ‘Tis only natural that we imitate various dangerous crises in our entertainment! We are all excited by conflict to some degree, as it speaks to our survival instincts, and we are inspired by the daring and courage and skill that our heroes display in facing down danger. It gets the adrenaline pumping!

It’s also simple and clear, in a way.

Stakes of life and death are so easy to understand, because they have an immediate, universal impact. There are no unspoken social norms to adhere to and no convoluted complications. One either survives, or not. That’s it. Compared to the delicate intricacies of human relationships, as every man from Harry Potter to Ned Stark knows, action is straightforward and honest. As such, stripped of any rules except those we impose on ourselves, a man’s character is unveiled in its entirety, in either his nobility, brutality, loyalty, or cowardice.

Small wonder we love it so much!

And our love for action naturally leads into a love of adventure.

For as long as there have been humans, we have left our home, our shelter, our cave, and we have gone out into the world to obtain something, typically food, before returning home in triumph. We are compelled to go out our front door, do something with our lives, and improve ourselves through it. When what we need to do is more than just secure our next meal, we have to go farther, and stay away longer. The longer we stay away, the more we change, for better or worse. Eventually, however, the road always leads us back home, with whatever we have obtained.

Adventure, in a nutshell.

It would seem, as we shift away from discussing the characters, their relationships, and the voices behind them, we are now discussing the stories which surround them, namely the genres. I’m very glad Action was the first one, as it is so distinct and obvious. Now, the next few categories, being Harem, Comedy, Drama, and Slice of Life, may be proving a bit more difficult, simply because they tend to bleed into one another so often. But we’ll get to those soon enough.

For now, let us bask in the fiery glow of conflict and ruin and triumph, of journeys taken and lessons learned, as found in five five action-packed adventures! 🙂

1) Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Two brothers embark on a long journey, full of perils and trials and friends and enemies, which eventually brings them face to face with an ancient evil at the heart of a most foul and deadly conspiracy.

The action is smooth and fun to watch, plain and simple. The way they incorporate alchemy into combat is entertaining and, within the realm of alchemy being real, believable. It’s a tool, as diverse and powerful as you can imagine it, built on scientific knowledge. When they manage to do more remarkable things, it’s because they have the exact means to do so, and they use it effectively. Very few people are stupid in this show, and the action is fueled by their own resolve, and their wits. Not to mention, it has some of my favorite action-oriented moments, including the best turnaround ever. In a word: “AMMONIAAAA!!” 😉

It’s a fantastic adventure as well, not only taking the protagonists to every corner of their country and sometimes beyond, but meeting all sorts of people, encountering wonders and dangers, and continually learning new things. In the end, it all comes down to what people fight for, and that, too, offers a multitude of answers. And what happens after the fighting is done? Living on.

I love that!

2) Katanagatari

A great warrior follows a cunning woman on her quest to collect twelve powerful weapons made centuries ago, fighting each of their keepers in turn, little knowing the repercussions which will inevitably follow.

The fights are well done and highly exciting, each one more so than the last. But even more, it gradually subverts the mechanism of fighting within our stories, asking questions of morality and the value of human life. At first, it is so nonchalant and cavalier that it’s comedic, but soon enough, the tragedy of any life lost becomes apparent, giving rise to more difficult, complicated themes than a simple contest of good vs evil.

All this while the main duo of Shichika and Togame travel around a wondrous landscape, visiting places in various states of decay or decline, yet leaving behind a spark of renewal in one or two places. Shichika grows tremendously through this journey, becoming a much more developed, thoughtful, and well-rounded character. And that is what adventure is for: growth and improvement.

3) Cowboy Bebop

In the far future, a pair of bounty hunters travels the solar system, just trying to make ends meet as they encounter a multitude of insane, dangerous enemies.

The fighting, and the action in general, is very well done and largely realistic. That gives a greater weight and tension to the climactic fights, and it also makes the more everyday fights more gripping and thrilling. Anyone can pose a threat, and when one man takes on a veritable army, his victory is anything but assured.

Unlike my other picks, though, this is ultimately a tragedy. The protagonists are self-destructive, and they lose most everything they hold dear, including each other. The final triumph comes not in a hero walking away from a fight alive, and not even in how he vanquished his enemy, but in dying in peace. It’s the ultimate journey through the hardships of life, and the ultimate return through death. It is the ultimate adventure: to live, and die.

4) My Hero Academia

A young man’s journey to becoming the greatest hero of his generation, inheriting mantle of his teacher.

Out of all of my picks, this one probably has the most intelligent fights. Some are very short, and few are very long. Why? Because the various superpowers are used effectively, instead of just dramatically. The simple determination of the characters is actually relevant as it motivates their extraordinary accomplishments, but it’s not a superpower unto itself, anymore than mere strength decides a fight. It’s the use of one’s wits, one’s ability to analyze and adapt, paired with one’s endurance, which decides the day. It is exceptionally well done.

At the same time, the main character, Deku, both learns and demonstrates what it means to be a hero. That is the heart and soul of the story: what it means to be heroic, or villainous. The idea of heroism itself is subverted and questioned, as is people’s understanding of and fascination with it, as well as what can be most appropriately called, “hero worship.” There  are lessons, and losses, and triumphs, and tragedies. That is how one grows.

5) Trigun

An outlaw with a huge bounty on his head brings justice and mercy to a savage, barren wasteland of a planet, surviving with just his wits and his gun, and a friend or two, all while a most nefarious evil from his own past closes in, seeking nothing less than the annihilation of all of humanity.

Just how many crazy people with crazy weaponry can there be on one sand-covered planet where civilization is scarcely one step removed from the wild, blasted sands around it? Nevertheless, they are met by an even crazier man with an even crazier gun, who happens to be benevolent. So within context, and with a bit of leeway for the hero’s extreme precision, the fights are actually quite realistic, if also displayed with a bit of dramatic flair. In the contest of survival, the hero believes that everyone should win, and that is what he fights for.

And that is also the heart of his adventures. Everything he believes is contested by both friends and enemies alike, as he moves from place to place in an endless wandering. In the end, he himself has to question the ideals he has always espoused, and the result is neither letting go of them, nor clinging too closely. It is an experience wherein he finally, at long last, grows up, and finds his own center, instead of using someone else’s. Thus does his adventure have meaning.

really enjoyed these five action-packed adventures. 🙂

So, what would you pick? What are some of your favorite action anime? What are some of your favorite adventures?

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

Anime Review: Samurai 7

Have I mentioned how much I want to see Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai? Well, I do. I really want to see it. All I’ve heard about it is amazing, and I’ve seen two, maybe three, of Kurosawa’s other films, so I know his work is legendary for a reason, and that film is hailed as his single greatest work. I’ve encountered so many stories which have been influenced by it, not least of which are the Magnificent Seven westerns, but never the original. Oh, how much I want to see that movie!

That urge is not at all dampened by Samurai 7, an anime reimagining of the classic.

The basic story is more or less the same, I think: poor farmers hire seven great warriors to defend them from the local bandits who have been preying on them, taking their food, their women, and anything else they want. The situation proves to be a bit more complex and intricate, though, and the conflict snowballs into what can only be justly called a war. The depths of each warrior’s soul, along with some others, is plumbed and revealed as the plot advances and the characters are developed. Several of the warriors die, but the war is won, and, in the end, as life goes on, it is the farmers, rather than the warriors, who are truly victorious.

That is the core of most of the seven-warrior stories I’ve encountered. Everything surrounding it, however, can be changed in surprising ways. The exact nature of each warrior, for instance, and how they come to join the effort of protecting the farmers. The quality of their skills, their weaponry, can also change. The bandits can be altered as well, as can the entire setting, the world around it. All of this can be changed, while remaining true to the spirit of the story.

What’s that old saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? Maybe that’s why, and how, we can tell this story so many times, in so many ways. That is the draw of making something science fiction, or fantasy, or anything else: it’s still about us, and our lives.

“He’s a blogger, and a philosopher!”

In this particular instance, we have the remote Kanna Village, sitting on a great, forested shaft of stone surrounded by canyons. Here, the villagers live their humble, hard-working lives with almost nothing but the land itself to their name. They are continually harassed and robbed by huge, robotic bandits, called the Nobuseri, who take their precious rice, and sometimes take the most beautiful women as well. Resistance elsewhere has always been met with a swift and devastating response, as the bandits have huge guns and swords and strong bodies made of metal.

Having had enough, but in despair of what to do, the villagers decide to hire samurai, with only their humble rice to offer in exchange. And so they send their water priestess, blessed with the power to dowse for water and divine truths, to find such men as will come and might succeed in saving them.

This brings us to the seven samurai themselves: an old veteran who has never won a war, and lost tremendously in the Great War a number of years earlier; a former-samurai turned entertainer, quick to make people smile but a bit addicted to the thrill of danger and shedding his own blood; a drifter who has more in common with engineers than other samurai, but has a deep appreciation for the blessings of life, and a deep shame for a past misdeed; an old comrade of the first samurai, a skilled and capable vice-leader, friendly and capable with people, who has a happy life waiting for him if his loyalty to his friends doesn’t get him killed first; a young, hotheaded amateur who aspires to become a great samurai, and grows tremendously, and learns many difficult lessons along the way; a cold-blooded loner, the best fighter of them all, enigmatic and dangerous; a very, very loud-mouthed fool, very large and strong and frank and lacking every capability of subtlety, but honest and pure in surprising ways, and he used to be a farmer before he became a machine samurai.

“We are samurai. We are badass. We are dramatic.”

Yes, about that last: apparently this world has floating fortresses, robots, and it’s possible for a man to become a machine. This is the origin of the Nobuseri, as they were once flesh-and-blood samurai themselves. It’s not really explained how the transition works.

In fact, that’s something of a point against the show: transitions suddenly happen and there is little in the way of explanation about it. There’s a coupling in the works from the beginning, between the water priestess and a samurai, but suddenly it changes to be another samurai she is fascinated with. There’s a minor villain early on who concerns himself with little more than adding to his harem, but suddenly he’s not only a capable, cunning villain, but the ruler of all the land and the final, overarching villain of the show. The hothead samurai grows progressively as the show goes on, but suddenly he’s a full-fledged samurai warrior, wielding techniques we’ve never seen him learn anything about. That sort of thing.

The lack of explanations, of sense, is particularly pronounced when one considers how long and drawn out the show is. They take their time recruiting the samurai, and even when they have seven, they don’t acknowledge all seven as part of the seven until just before the fight with the Nobuseri bandits. Then they fight the bandits, and deal damage, and trick them, and bring down their floating fortress. And then they have a few bandits survive… no, wait, make that a notable force of bandits surviving the fortress exploding around them, and the fight drags on. And then they go into rescuing the kidnapped girls and the convoluted setup of the final confrontation.

Basically, there’s a bit of a pacing issue.

And where the show ends with the victory of the farmers, it kind of did so with the absolute destruction of the reigning powers that be. This may have been necessary, but what the heck happened to the rest of the empire afterward? We never see it, the show ends there.

Seriously, who would not go to war for her?

Yet, for all these flaws, I find that I love most of the characters. With exception to the pissant who becomes emperor, I enjoy their many experiences immensely. Even the loudmouth, which would usually annoy me to no end, is sweet and endearing in his way, so honest and wearing his heart on his sleeves. The drifter’s calm attitude and cheerful disposition make him another of my favorites. The honor and compassion of the samurai leader, the sweet candor of the little girl priestess, the silent resolve of the loner, they’re all endearing in some way. And I found that I could never look at the water priestess without noticing how beautiful she is, and the strength of her spirit. Heck, even the Nobuseri bandits had something redemptive to them, and I couldn’t help but feel for them, given their eventual fate.

The story may be so very slow, but it is also compelling and intricate. What is more appealing to the masses than a story about the masses, the poor people who have been pushed to the brink and beyond, actually doing something about it? What is more riveting than a story where the weak and submissive become strong and defiant? That their growth is guided by noble warriors is the same as us, being taught by the story. Then to reach further, higher, to have the warriors grasp at the root and crown of the corruption which festers in the land, and rip it out, in the defense of humble, everyday folk, is inspiring.

It’s a samurai story, an epic about survival, honor, and freedom, and that is not such a bad thing.

All that said, having mentioned both my compliments and my complaints, there is a lot about the show that is fairly standard. The design, artwork, animation, combat, world-building, English dubbing, soundtrack, all nice enough, though not outstanding. It’s not always exciting, but not always boring either. Heck, even the names of the characters (have you noticed I haven’t used any in this entire review?) are kind of “meh.” They don’t stand out that much, even from each other. Which is odd, to like several of them so much while still confusing their names. But oh well.

Samurai 7 is a good anime. Not great, as it might have been with a bit of streamlining and refinement, but good. It tells an interesting story featuring lovable characters, and it took on quite a task, re-imagining one of the most classic movies of all time.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

…now if I can just get my hands on that movie…

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged | 1 Comment

Dark Phoenix

Robert Jordan began and ended almost all of his iconic Wheel of Time novels with the words, “It wasn’t the beginning. But it was a beginning.” In a similar vein, one could say of Fox’s latest X-Men movie, like unto Logan before it, and possibly New Mutants after it (if they ever release that one), “It wasn’t the ending. But it was an ending.” That holds especially true in regards to the transition of the entire franchise between studios. The movie itself comments on that, to the effect of, “This isn’t the end, but a new beginning.”

Dark Phoenix is… well, it’s alright.

Logan was a much better capstone, and, really, a better movie. Dark Phoenix was certainly an improvement over First ClassLast Stand, and the other Wolverine movies. It was also a step down from X2, more in the caliber of Days of Future Past or Apocalypse, yet somehow a bit more lackluster than either, no matter the CGI involved. For all that it delved deeply into the characters of Jean Grey and her mentor, Professor X, and had some good action sequences, it suffers from an overall by-the-numbers texture.

The story is, basically, Jean gets exposed to this almighty cosmic force that increases her power exponentially but shatters her self-control. She uncovers some truths that were kept from her, and her loss of control has devastating consequences. Some mutants want to kill her, others want to save her, some brand new aliens (who were probably meant to be Skrulls, a classic X-Men enemy) enter the fray intent on controlling the power within Jean, to devastating purpose, and the humans generally want to beat everyone else and end up getting in the way. Eventually, Jean gains control and evolves into the Phoenix. And… that’s it.

Now, it does tell a very emotional tale, no doubt about that. There are significant, important things which happen, things that can’t just be swept under the rug. And the actors generally portray their characters, their emotions and their choices, very well. Sophie Turner is especially great in the lead role. James McAvoy also does well as Professor X, but, really, Professor X was also very annoying and egotistical this time around, until he finally ate the humble pie he was being served. Each of the supporting cast did phenomenally as well, as the line between friend and enemy blurred in very human ways.

“Our acting was definitely *not* the problem with this movie, and I dare you to say otherwise to this face.”

The fights, also, were exceptionally well done. Indeed, these might be the best, most intelligent, and best-choreographed fights I’ve yet seen in the franchise. It was unusual, for instance, and fantastic, to see Professor X actually involved in the fighting in his way. That is a rare thing, and a good step for his development in this movie. The lineup on opposing sides were well-matched and they fought well, instead of, say, pitting a handful against a hundred and calling it good.

Oh, and the effects were amazing.

Yet, for what might have been a thrilling action drama, it fell short. It centered on the most important people, and those were the only ones who were really important. The humans, especially the soldiers? Red shirts, quickly disposed of. (and how did that one that Nightcrawler tried to save get hurt? I didn’t see how that happened) The new mutants of Magneto’s brotherhood? Same thing. (just when we were starting to like them, and, of course, they went from enemy to friend in a heartbeat) The aliens? Ditto. Which would leave the mutants standing alone in the middle of a bunch of ruin, and somehow things just go back to normal?

It had bad things happen just because. It had good things happen just because. It had Professor X make a calamitous error just because. It had things going well, despite the events of Apocalypse just because. It had an instantaneous turn-around after one single incident just because, and then things worked out just because.

…just because…

Inciting incident, things seem good, they go bad, they go really bad, complications are introduced right on cue, the protagonist rebels against authority and is seduced by an enemy in disguise, then she pretty much just snaps out of it and becomes a godlike being all at once, and all the main characters live, except one heroic sacrifice earlier on, while everyone else involved dies. And it all feels very by the numbers. Nothing really remarkable.

Did I like it? Yeah. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It was good. Just not really great, which we know this franchise is fully capable of.

Ah, well, at least now it’s going into the hands of Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige. It’ll be a few years, and there’s no telling how they’ll do it, but we’re all looking forward to the entrance of mutants into the MCU! 🙂

As for Dark Phoenix: it tried to do something great, and it did some good things with characters and action, but the plot and themes and such were all just normal. Even the music was like the movie around it: good, but predictable.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #238: Tools

“Whether you use it to draw something beautiful, or use it poke someone’s eye out, it’s still just a pen.”
– Charles Xavier, Dark Phoenix

I think this might actually be my favorite moment of seeing Professor X as an actual teacher. He’s speaking to a little girl, named Jean Grey, who has just done something very bad, by accident, with her mutant powers. He means to encourage her in using her gifts in a better way, learning to control them. The first step in that is to help her understand that her gifts, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad. They’re like a pen he gives her: free to be used for whatever she likes. It’s a tool.

It’s not what one can do with a tool, but what one chooses to do with it, that is either good or bad. And yes, one does have a choice.

That holds true regardless of the tool in question.

Superhuman abilities, for instance, are regularly seen as something used in combat, to hurt people and take lives. Yet they could be used just as easily in education, research, construction, communication, manufacturing, medicine, entertainment, the arts, even agriculture. Or maybe they wouldn’t need to be used at all, if the person who has them just wants to live a nice, quiet life.

A pen can be used to write anything, from the coarsest depths to the most enlightened heights of human dialogue. It can preserve knowledge, alter the course of civilizations, communicate vital knowledge, and give eternal life to stories that become classics. Or it can be used to do… less enlightened things, we shall say. And that’s just with writing. It can be used to draw anything as well. Or poke someone’s eye out. 😉

The internet is a magnificent means of communication, and that makes it powerful. There are parties who want to control it, to censor everything and let the masses access only what the elite want them to access. So, it could be used as a means of control, but it can also be used to enhance our freedom, sharing all manner of thoughts, ideas, and feelings across great distances. I remember when phones were just phones, plugged into a wall and stuck there forever, but now I can email, chat, and have video conversations with my family (among other things) easily, on a regular basis. But however we use it, for good or bad, including however much time we spend on it, the internet is just a tool.

Implements for cooking and cleaning are important, and generally used for their intended purpose, but they can be used to kill people as well. And tools of violence can be used to invade, rob, and hurt good folk, but they can also, and should, be used to defend one’s home, life, and loved ones.

A tool is a tool. Nothing more.

How they’re used, that is our choice.

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A Transformers Fan-Theory: The Scheme of the Matrix

As part of helping to raise my nephew, I recently had the chance to re-watch the Transformers-based cartoon Beast Wars and its sequel, Beast Machines. Somewhere between the running commentary about how bad the CGI looked to his young eyes, as well as pretty much everything else which crossed his young mind, I began to notice a few things in the details.

The premise of the Beast Wars saga is that it takes place within the same timeline as the original Transformers cartoon of the 1980’s, though the exact chronology gets a bit wonky with the element of time travel at work. Basically, the descendants of the original show’s Autobots and Decepticons are at odds with each other once again, only instead of transforming between robot and vehicle forms, now they have robot modes and beast modes. The noble, peaceful Maximals are led by Optimus Primal, who is descended from Optimus Prime, and the villainous, violent Predacons are led by Megatron, who deliberately takes his name from the original. The stakes of their war continually escalate towards cosmic heights, and many fall in battle on both sides, and in the crossfire, and yet there are intimations, especially in Beast Machines, that it is all by the will of a greater power: the Matrix.

And the Matrix, it would seem, is a schemer of divine proportions.

What is the Matrix?

No, this one is not a virtual reality prison for humanity as robots use them as batteries.

The exact question of what the Matrix is a little complex. There have been enough iterations of the Transformers story that it has been featured as a number of different things, including, in at least one, a massive source of power. Within the canon of Beast Wars, however, it could best be described as the god of the entire Transformer race.

The Transformers themselves are robots, as is widely known. But they aren’t just programmed automatons. They are true, sentient beings, with souls. For them, these souls are their sparks: a shining ball of energy held within their metal bodies. When a spark is born, a Transformer is born, and when it dies, that is their death. And all of these sparks, all of them, come from the Matrix.

The Matrix is the All-Spark, the source of all the souls of the entire Transformer race. Each spark is a piece of itself, divided from itself, sent out as an individual being when they are born. When they die, the spark returns to the Matrix, joining with the greater whole once again, adding all of its experiences into the collective. All the individuals become one once again.

Optimus Primal elaborates, at a pivotal moment, about the relationship between the Transformers and the Matrix:

“We are all but fragments of the Matrix, which releases each of us in order to struggle, and grow, and evolve, so when we return to it, it may grow and evolve. Thus do we serve the Matrix, not just by battling, but also my acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and experiencing love.”

So, it is the beginning, and the end, the creator, the source, the destination, the afterlife, and even the purpose of a Transformer’s entire life. Sounds pretty godlike to me.

And yet… if the Matrix is the source of all the sparks, and it takes in all the sparks after they die, learning and evolving and developing further, there are a few disquieting intimations in that.

First, the Matrix is still evolving. It’s still changing, with every new spark that is added into it. Thus, it can grow stronger and wiser, and greater, and it wants to.

Second, the Matrix is the source of all the sparks, which means it is the source of every Transformer’s soul, in their entirety, from Optimus to Megatron. Each and every one begins with what the Matrix makes them to be, and some of them even have specialized missions to perform on its behalf.

Third, it possesses all of the experience of previous Transformers. It is all of them, put together. It is every hero, and every villain, that the Transformers have ever had among them.

Meaning, it is capable of everything they have already done, and more, because, in a way, it has already done it, both by having all of their memories, and by birthing the next generation of them. So, if the changing Matrix wants to change itself in a specific way, to get stronger in a specific way, is there any limit to what it would do in pursuit of that goal?

What Does the Matrix Want, and Why?

“I serve the will of the Matrix… so what is it’s will?”

The plot of Beast Machines hinges on the answer to that question.

What it wants Optimus to do is, obviously, reformat the entire planet of Cyberton into something that is a combination of technological and organic. Techno-organic, it’s called.

But why would it want that?

Well, there are clear indications in the show that Cybertron was not always a robotic planet. This is a revelation which shocks the Transformers, but the proof is clear. Deep, deep beneath the planet’s surface, there are ruins from previous civilizations, but, even deeper, there are skeletons of various animals. There are seeds, too.

Here, in the depths, there is a massive computer, an archive and a conduit to the will of the Matrix, called the Oracle, which apparently foretold the coming of the first Transformers to Cybertron. Add that to the dead animal bodies, and it would seem that Cybertron was, in fact, taken over by the distant ancestors of the modern Transformers. They may or may not have simply wiped out all the organic life that was present before their arrival.

Machines, after all, are much stronger than flesh and blood.

So, perhaps organic life was dismissed as weak and useless by the early Transformers, which would indicate that the Matrix believed this as well.

But then, something extraordinary happened: organic life, in the form of puny little humans, played a pivotal role in the outcome of the Great War between Autobots and Decepticons, and even the defeat of the mighty, ravenous Unicron.

This would indicate that organic life had a strength to it, which had been overlooked thus far, no?

That thought, that knowledge, would migrate back to the Matrix in due time, with the eventual (and sometimes immediate) deaths of those who fought in the Great War, and the Matrix would come to see a value in organic beings. It would see them as strong, and it would want to add that strength to its own.

But how?

The only way to do this would be to reformat the entire planet, and all of its children, into something techno-organic.

How Did the Matrix Do It?

Obviously, it would have to work through its children. Most especially, it needed an obedient servant in the form of Optimus. But it also needed Megatron.

Cheetor says, straight up, in the series finale, that Megatron played his part in the grand design, and that Optimus fulfilled his mission. But it was only when Optimus realized that the both of them together, were the seeds of the future, the key to reformatting the planet and its people as the Matrix desired, that what he had to do became clear. Yet, there’s something more subtle, and nefarious, at work throughout the rest of the show.

What, exactly, was Megatron’s part in the grand design?

Ostensibly, the Beast Wars were fought to obtain organic material for Cybertron to be reformatted with. Yet that organic material was already present on Cyberton, and it was also obtained by at least one other crew on another planet. So, what was the Matrix really after?

Remember, all sparks come from the Matrix, so everything that they are begins with the Matrix, and eventually returns to the Matrix.

This includes Megatron, his scheming, and his desire to ascend.

Indeed, Megatron has always wanted to rise higher than all the rest. He wanted to lead the Predacons in overthrowing the Maximals. He wanted to alter the course of the past, like a god. He wanted to steal alien technology and rule the universe. He wanted to rid himself of his organic beast mode, becoming purely a machine. He wanted to become the only guiding intelligence over all of Cybertron. Finally, he wanted to become a pseudo-Matrix, a false god, by consuming the sparks, devouring the very souls, of his entire race.

And all of this served the scheme of the Matrix, its grand design to also ascend as the entity within a techno-organic civilization.

Why was all of this necessary? Why was Megatron, with all his schemes, his madness, and his delusions of grandeur, necessary?

Because not all Transformers would have welcomed this change, even opposed it.

As a prime example, we have none other than Rhinox.

He was one of the very best and brightest of the Transformers, easily among the kindest and wisest of the Maximals. It was small wonder that he became Optimus’ closest confidante and second in command. He was amazing.

But when he was faced with the sight of techno-organic bodies, he rejected the idea completely. He rejected nature completely. He subscribed to Megatron’s way of thinking, that their beast modes, and all organic material, needed to be purged from Cybertron entirely. That is a rather chilling decision for one of the best Transformers to make!

The last we see of Rhinox, he has died and rejoined the Matrix, and regrets what he has done, but that is a perspective that no living Transformer could share.

If Optimus, or anyone else, suddenly started telling millions upon millions of Transformers that needed to change in such a drastic way, because it was “the will of the Matrix,” can you imagine the reaction? The chaos, the fighting, the hatred? It would be massive, the entire population plunged into war once again, until either one side or the other stood triumphant atop the corpses of its enemies.

How else to avoid this calamity, other than to deny most of the living Transformers the chance to choose for or against it at all?

How to accomplish this, other than to have one Transformer possess the wherewithal to subdue the entire planet, with unmatched knowledge, scheming, and will? Megatron was a rebel unwittingly serving his creator.

By the time its over, the Transformers are all in their new techno-organic bodies, and who of them would complain, after the horrible, traumatic agony of having been ripped from their bodies entirely and devoured by the darkness of Megatron’s ambition?

Planet reformatted: check.

Transformers reformatted, every last one: check.

Absence of bloody warfare: check.

Not in any sort of painless way, but, still, check.

“We are the pawns of the Matrix.”

In Summary:

The Matrix creates all the souls of the Transformers, and it absorbs all of their experiences, as a means to develop itself, to become more than it was before.

It once dismissed the value of organic beings, but learned better, and wanted to add their power to its own.

This required reformatting Cybertron and all of the Transformers, which, many of them would refuse and resist.

Megatron was created to subdue all of them, paving the way for Optimus to achieve its goal.

For this, Megatron needed to gain knowledge and experience, which the Beast Wars were vital to. They were also vital to give Optimus the strength and wisdom to match Megatron.

And the Matrix is definitely a godlike schemer.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Discussion, My Fan Theories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

5 Anime Voice Actresses

Much like last week, I must admit that while I have admired capable voice acting for quite some time, I generally know very little about individual voice actresses. So, once again, I am drawing heavily on other people’s work on Youtube to provide material.

And, again, as I want to keep political diatribe off my blog, I am not picking anyone currently involved in anything like unto such, no matter how much I’ve enjoyed their work.

Finally… unlike voice actors, there were so many voice actresses I wanted to pick, I finally just pretty much hit “random” in my brain! So, with no further ado, I present my picks for five voice actresses from anime! 🙂

1) Laura Bailey

Easy on the eyes and on the ears, Laura Bailey’s voice can be found all over anime and gaming both, including Jaina in the Warcraft series and, in anime, Maka Albarn, Tohru Honda, Lust the Lascivious, and dozens of others. She can range anywhere from adorably sweet to deep and sultry, and I love every bit of it! 🙂

2) Brina Palencia

I have no idea if this scene actually makes any sense, as I’ve yet to see Rolling Girls, but Brina Palencia can obviously sing in a not-annoying way, and how many Western voice actors can we really say that about, eh? 😉

She is Holo the Wise Wolf and Juvia Lockser, and Ciel Phantomhive and… wait, she’s Chopper?! Wow, I totally did not recognize her voice as Tony Tony Chopper! Very well done! 🙂

And, yes, I noticed that she, too, is easy on the eyes. 😉

3) Cherami Leigh

A video from the lady herself, from 2017, I think. 😉

She’s Lucy Heartfilia, Yuuki Asuna, Patty Thompson, Lizzy Midford from Black Butler, and, a personal favorite, she’s Mai Taniyama in Ghost Hunt.

Yes, she’s pretty too, but I swear I’m not picking only pretty ones, it’s just that women are beautiful! 😉

4) Luci Christian

…she voices my crush, Nami, which is obviously my favorite role she plays, and it’s nowhere in this video… (sad face!)

She’s also Honey-senpai, and Kaname Chidori, and none other than Medusa Gorgon! Cool! (not-sad face!) 🙂

5) Brittany Karbowski

I have heard this sweet, enticing voice all over the place, and she is always so spellbinding and lively! I swear, I could listen to her reading the phone book! But I think my favorite role with her is actually as a more minor character in Spice and Wolf, a bar maiden who flirts shamelessly with Lawrence, and clearly likes him, but it’s still all in good fun and she doesn’t push it. She manages to convey all of that with such a scintillating voice, I just love it! 🙂

So, that’s my five picks. And, once again, there were so many to choose from! Who would you have picked? 😀

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Leave a comment

Here Comes the Sun! …Again!

It has been… good grief, almost four years since my last encounter with the Sunshine Blogger Award. It is mind-boggling to even realize that I’ve actually been doing this blog for that long. (I say in the midst of my fifth year, LOL) I was never really one to do repeat performances, but, I’d say four years is a sufficient gap of time between them. 😉

My thanks to 7Mononoke of Anime Rants for the tag! For those who don’t know, it is a charming, intriguing, insightful blog they have, mostly, as the name suggests, concerning anime, and I highly recommend it! 🙂

Rules, Rules, Rules!

1) Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog so others can visit them.
2) Answer eleven questions asked by the nominator.
3) Nominate eleven bloggers of your choosing and provide ask them eleven questions of your own.
4) Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.
5) List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post or on your blog site.

Now, I am going to admit, straight up, that I’m going to break rules 3 and 4. Apologies, I’m just a bit short on time to work with, ya know?

Questions

1) What is your favorite color and is there any particular reason why?

Red. Because I’m a redhead. 😉

2) Do you have a favorite kind of wild plant, tree, or flower?

Not really. I mean, I like Christmas trees, but that has less to do with the tree than what’s under it, ya know?

3) Have you taken a Myers-Briggs test before, and if so what type are you?

Nope. But based on a rather intriguing post on the subject… 😉 …I think I could be an INTP, or an INFJ, or and INFP, or an ISTJ, or ISFJ, ISTP, or even a bit of ISFP or INTJ… basically, if it starts with an “I,” then it’s in the running. I literally have no idea what I would actually come out as besides that, because I see bits and pieces and different sides of myself in all of them.

4) What is one of your fondest or most memorable childhood memories?

The rosy glow of the lights on the Christmas tree right around the corner, as my sisters and I crept up the stairs towards our presents.

5) What is a scent that you like? It could be a food-related scent, anything floral, or something like the smell of cut grass, pencils, or books.

Fresh pizza! 😀

6) What is your current favorite anime or your current favorite book?

Easier to answer, “What is your current favorite child?” 😛 Heh, in all seriousness, I would have to say… One Piece.

7) Do you like adventure outdoors, like occasional camping or light hiking?

Yes and no. I grew up in Alaska, and went camping in the snow more times than I care to recall. I also hiked to the top of a local mountain more than once. So, I don’t really hate it, but I do prefer staying indoors, away from the weather and especially out of the sun, which burns me far too easily. I much prefer fantastical adventures in stories and such.

8) Do you have a psych or a developmental disorder, and has it affected your life? (No need to reveal what it is unless you’re comfortable.)

I am a high-functioning autistic. How it has affected my life is a bit difficult to quantify, as I was fully grown and practically done with college by the time we figured it out. But I think being autistic may have limited my social graces more than anything else, as I have little to none of such.

9) What kind of insect or arachnid scares you or annoys you the most?

The one that dares to show itself to me. Death will soon follow!

10) What is your favorite OST from an an anime or other TV series?

Fairy Tail. 🙂

11) What are you most grateful for? You can mention several if needed.

I have so much. Family, friends, food, fun, dogs, work, necessities, luxuries, technologies, stories… every day I have on Earth is filled with things for which I am grateful. 🙂

And this brought a smile to my face! Thanks again, 7Mononoke! 🙂

Posted in Blogging Awards, Challenge Accepted | Tagged | 10 Comments