Sunday’s Wisdom #400: We Are Human

“We know the truth. We know we’re not devils. We know we’re not gods. We’re human. We’re only human!”
– Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Episode 4, “An Alchemist’s Anguish”

When Ed says this, he is speaking with the voice of bitter experience. He has learned the mystical art of alchemy since he was very young, and he’s proven to be extremely gifted, skilled, powerful, and accomplished. But he’s made mistakes which have cost him greatly, trying to overturn death itself for his own selfish, childish desires, as if he were a god. He has been called a devil by some, and, at this moment, he has just witnessed the horror of the alchemy he studies being used by a depraved madman to do something unspeakable, an act that was veritably of the Devil. For all the knowledge and power he wields, Ed was completely helpless to save a little girl from a most horrific fate, just as he was unable to bring back his deceased mother. In the face of these, in the face of this pain, he was as powerless as any other human. Which, really, that’s all he is.

That comes back again towards the end of the story, when he faces the truth: he is just a human. That’s all he’s ever been. No more, no less. Just human.

For being such a basic truth, people seem to forget it easily, and quite often: we’re just human, all one and the same. Nothing makes us more or less than that.

There’s no chosen, superior race. There’s no inferior race, either, no backwater tribe of inherently evil savages. There’s no human who can rule the world like a god and make everything perfect. There’s no virtue in trying to become a devil, in doing things we know are evil, “for the greater good.” There’s no baseline of how high or low we can reach, no biological dictator of our behavior for good or ill. There’s no one who is “better,” and no one who is “worse.” No one is “special.” All of our heroes are flawed, all of our idols have committed sins, and even the lowest and most vile of us can show surprising glimmers of selfless heroism.

Not to say that there are not truly evil people, of course, or truly good folk. Merely that neither is so far removed from us as we are prone to think, and we will never be so far removed from everyone else either, no matter our accomplishments or our crimes. We can be as good or as bad, as great or as low, as we choose to be.

We are not devils, here to destroy. We are not gods, here to make everything right. We are just human, here to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

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Some Non-Combative Magic Systems in Anime

War is the natural state of Man.

That was observed by Thomas Hobbes, and he was referring to how the absence of government leaves every man in the world fighting a war against every other man in the world. Conflict obviously did not cease with the formation of governments, but it certainly allowed local groups of people to coexist as good neighbors, if only because the government ostensibly offered a measure of protection against human predators, under the threat of justice on behalf of their human prey.

Any way you look at it, violent conflict is inherently part of human nature, and we have a very long, bloody, tragic history with it. Myths, legends, fairy tales, plays, poems, songs, books, movies, comics, games… all of these are riddled with the truth made evident in history: we are a violent race born of a violent world.

Perhaps that is why almost everything we think of eventually gets turned towards the purpose of violent survival, ie, war and combat. Most of our weapons began as something else, mostly as farmers’ tools. Indeed, in dire circumstance, quite nearly anything can be used as an improvised weapon. Even in our wildest fantasies, where anything becomes possible, we tend to create systems of magic that are built towards the purpose of combat.

I actually skimmed over the vast library of anime which I have watched, or have left on a pile to hopefully watch later, and I found myself surprised by how almost every single instance of magic I found was geared specifically towards fighting. The ninjutsu of Naruto, the magic of Fairy Tail, the soul-swords of Bleach, even the protagonist’s clairvoyance in EscaFlowne was almost always bent towards violence, and the list just goes on and on and on, including magic, mecha, mad science, superpowers, and more.

I recalled a moment from one such anime where the protagonist says, quite simply, that the magic which everyone in the world reveres was only useful to kill people with. That certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Beginning, middle, and end, we seem to be fascinated with magic that can be used for war.

But though the overwhelming of majority of magic in anime, and other media, seems to be dominated by violence, there are some exceptions. There are just a few magic systems I have found in anime which, I would say, are not centered on combat. True, they can sometimes be useful in any given desperate situation, including when violence is at hand, but that’s not all they can be useful for, and may not be what they are truly meant for and used for in their worlds.

For some reason, I just find that inspiring to a surprising degree, and so I wish to honor them.

In no particular order, I present a few non-combative magic systems from anime, which are either 1) not oriented towards violence, 2) utilized in some pronounced, distinctive way besides combat, or 3) far too easy to adapt to situations besides open warfare. Or some combination of such.

And I would love it if you, my wonderful audience, could add to this list! 😉

Fullmetal Alchemist

Starting off with the one that I imagine would be most hotly contested, given how this is an action anime, and almost every alchemist we see ends up using their alchemy in combat. However, the story makes it clear that war is not what alchemy is about. It’s about manipulating and working within the flow of the world, where the world and oneself are irrevocably connected. In practice, it’s understanding the chemical makeup of a material, deconstructing it, and reconstructing it into something new. That lends itself to every manner of endeavor, many of them peaceful.

We see bioalchemy used for medicinal purposes, to mend injuries, purge poisons from the body, and heal damaged tissue.

We see agricultural alchemy used in the nourishing of plants, making them grow exponentially and thrive.

We see artistic and constructive alchemy – such as has been passed down the Armstrong line for generations! – used partially in combat, but also to build and renovate entire buildings.

Some of the earliest examples of alchemy we see is used to repair a broken radio and rebuild a destroyed inn.

Alchemy is a magic system based on science itself, and science is used, first and foremost, to create new things and to build society itself. Yes, it is easily turned to destruction, but that is not all that science is, and it’s not all that alchemy is either.

By the Grace of the Gods

This is absolutely my favorite example of people using magic for anything other than warfare. Indeed, magic is used in battle for only one or two episodes. The rest of the time, it’s used for all sorts of everyday purposes. It was quite refreshing and even inspiring to see such magics as taming, alchemy (not the same as FMA), elemental crafting, and spatial magic all used to improve things in everyday life. Some of the more notable examples include the following:

When the characters find their road blocked by a landslide, they realize they need to clear it as quickly as possible, lest bandits come upon them. The protagonist hastens this process considerably with magic to properly shape the earth that blocks the road, and then uses his slime familiars to quickly lay down that same shaped earth to fashion a new, stronger road. All of this, within minutes.

One of the first jobs which the protagonist contracts is to clean up a literal dump that has spilled into a neighboring house. He has his slimes eat all the garbage, and then, much like with the road, he crafts the necessary materials out of what’s available and rebuilds the broken wall. And then, after that, he tackles a much greater task in cleaning out some bathhouses that were completely neglected and need to be cleaned in order to be safe to use again. It turns out to be more dangerous than expected, the air saturated with vapors that have become poisonous, but the slimes eat up all the refuse, cleaning up the entire place, and then the protagonist combines water and lightning spells to sterilize each building in turn.

The protagonist makes enough money to start a laundry business using his slimes. He buys a piece of property, uses his slimes to demolish the ruined house that was there, then crafts a concrete foundation, crafts more materials to use, has his slimes adhere all the stones together – he’s getting very good at construction by this point, I imagine – and so on. Then, for his business, he has his slimes eat all the dirt and grime off people’s dirty clothes, which emerge clean and dry. Another slime, built of heavier material, elongates into a roller to smooth the clothes out. It’s done fairly quickly and simply, all while the customers wait in comfort, given refreshment by yet more slimes carrying trays of drinks.

Additionally, the protagonist uses his various skills to to create rain coats and gear for wet environments, to refine and condense traces of iron from the dirt of an abandoned mine, heal injuries old and new with alchemical medicine and magical healing slimes, molds stone into artistic figurines, and more. They even use their magic to play. Just… play. It makes practicing with their magic more enjoyable, but what more innocent expression of magic could there be than for children just using it to play, to have fun in peace without anyone getting hurt?

Magi

I admit, I am kind of reaching a bit with this one. Magic does seem to be mostly oriented towards war and conquest here. But I could not help but think of this after one primary example of its use on a national scale.

The characters travel around much of the world on their respective journeys, and they see all sorts of nations and tribes at work. There is one that is ruled by magicians who built a school in order to teach each rising generation their craft. These students learn everything their teachers have to teach them, and they apply what they learn to help their nation advance. The result, given the passage of enough time, is a nation where magic has been used to build up a fairly advanced infrastructure.

We’re talking transportation, with people flying on brooms and carpets everywhere.

We’re talking about a magical equivalent to modern-day plumbing, with currents flowing through the air to every building and every farmer’s field.

We’re talking a serious boost to food production as well, with magic used to hasten the cultivation of crops, to feed a great many people.

So, while magic is primarily used in conflict, and every magician is taught how to use it in battle, it has also obviously been used to build up an entire civilization from scratch. There is a significant cost to it, but it can be done.

No Game, No Life

There’s plenty of magic in the world this anime takes place in, and originally it was all very much used for absolute, cataclysmic warfare. However, with the fall of all the old gods except one, a new and unique system of magic was enforced upon the world. The surviving god was the god of games, and he abhorred the violence that he had witnessed. He created a new system of resolving conflicts. Now, instead of open warfare and apocalyptic mysticism, people would challenge each other in games governed by an iron-clad set of rules, the Ten Pledges.

The system of the Pledges is thus intended to supplant the violence of war with peace. It takes what used to be contests of strength and replaces them with contests entirely of wit and will. And while the many peoples of the world do use it to further their own ends at a cost to the loser, the god who instituted them did so for the very specific purpose of uniting all of them as one.

It makes all the sense in the world, given the division and destruction he saw, for him to want to end such discord forever. He made a game of it, but had to bring in the protagonists from beyond his world because no one else understood what he was doing. The Pledges are basically his challenge to the entire world, an invitation to play his game, intended to bring all of them together as a singular opponent to himself, to determine the fate and future of their world and everyone in it.

The Pledges are a magic system created to end war through the unification of diverse peoples.

I just find that to be an amazing concept!

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

I must admit here that I have not seen much of this anime, so I could be entirely wrong to include its magic in this particular list. However, from what I’ve seen and heard of it, there isn’t really much in the way of violence. Even if I am mistaken about that, I still believe this should be on this list, because, from what I saw, the magic in this anime was less about violence and more an expression of the soul who wields it.

I remember the first time they showed us magic, right after the magus bought his bride. With a gesture, he broke the collar off of her neck, and with a tap of his cane he whisked her to his home. It manifested as plant life – nettles, or something like that – sprouting into life in a circle around them, writhing and climbing upwards to enclose them. And, poof! They appeared on his doorstep.

I also recall when the bride in question finally comes into her own magic. She needs to travel a distance at speed, and when her power is  unleashed, she takes the form of a great, fiery bird, like a phoenix. She soared up into the skies, burning bright like a star, before winging her way swiftly across the heavens to descend upon her magus in beautiful, burning glory.

Of course, I’m not unaware that magic in this world is also used to curse people, and thus also needs to be used to help them. There are very real dangers presented both by the practitioners of dark magic and by all manner of mystical creatures, and so magic must be used to defend and heal people. That said, this magic system strikes me as being much like that of FMA, useful in emergencies to protect or attack, but not at all restricted to such.

Flying Witch

Speaking of non-violent magical shows! This anime would absolutely take first prize in that contest, I am sure! Not a bit of violence to be found anywhere!

Mind you, the magic isn’t nearly as constantly used in this anime as in others, but that’s beside the point. The point being that the magic of Flying Witch could quite simply be described as a bit additional wonder sprinkled into the normal world.

Floating around on a broom just for the heck of it. Mandrakes used as all-purpose medicine. Harbingers that simply come to say hello to the new witch in town, and gives flowers to the little girl he accidentally scares. Calling crows just for practice (ok, that was used to do recon in past ages). Teleporting to visit a family member easily while also journeying around the world. Accidentally turning someone into a demihuman with one witchy concoction, and then trying to reverse that with another witchy concoction. Conversing freely with familiars on a casual stroll around town. A prank spell where one cries or laughs at anything and everything for an hour or so. A charming, bespelled cafe with a ghost working as a waitress, temporarily made visible in all her cuteness by a charm. Bringers of night and foxes that are perfectly nice and friendly. A potion that inadvertently turns the world black and white for a little while. Fortune telling to help people navigate their troubles. Animated origami cranes to call people from their rooms to the living room. A mystical newspaper delivery man with news from the other world. A flying whale with ruins on its back, and a concoction used to see through its illusory disguise as a cloud. And fish that swim in the ground.

(yes, I just went through the whole anime quickly and wrote down every magical thing)

A lot of wonder, and not a bit of violence. I might, as a guy, be rather interested in action and violence, but I can still appreciate a more wholesome and peaceful take on magic.

How about you? What examples can you think of of magic in anime, books, or anything else that isn’t entirely geared towards war? Sound off in the comments below, please! 😀

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The Skeleton Knight is Living His Real Fantasy in Another World

In the first instant of the opening scene, a man rips the front of a girl’s dress off as she screams in terror.

Advisory warning comes up: “This show contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Me: “No, really? A little slow on the draw there!”

Then the hero appears to slaughter the bad guys with ease.

And that was my introduction to Skeleton Knight in Another World.

It is (yet another) isekai fantasy adventure, where the game has become real and the protagonist has become his character, a very overpowered hero, so he goes around doing good, helping people, and beating bad guys. And yet, for having such familiar tropes, there are a few tweaks to the formula we’ve come to be far too familiar with, which makes it feel fresh, unique, and amusing!

The first tweak is that Arc, the lead protagonist, suffers from a curse that turned him into a skeleton. He can still wear clothing and armor as if he had flesh, and he needs to eat and drink to stay alive, so he’s not undead. He’s just… well… a skeleton in a suit of armor. Thus the “Skeleton Knight” part of the title. He’s still himself, a real person that just happens to lack flesh and blood at the moment, and he turns out to be quite a fun character!

Where we get far too many of the usual bland self-insert type of heroes, Arc stands apart from the crowd. Far apart. He is loud and unreserved in his enjoyment of life, but not obnoxious. He steps in to help those in need, simply because he cares about them, but he won’t hesitate to profit from it – largely by pillaging the villains’ vaults – and he doesn’t just charge in with reckless spirit. Like when he rescued the young lady in the first episode, he did not let the bandits get very far in what they were doing, but he took a moment to think through his course of action. He’s powerful, but learns about his limits the easy way instead of by magnificent failure, because he takes the time to think. And yet, for all his thinking, he does not realize the impact he’s really having on the world around him. He means to pursue a quiet, inconspicuous life, but he is so powerful that when he steps in to help, he kind of alters the course of history without even trying to. Oh, and though he does not scream in fury, he answers the wrongs that he sees with absolute retribution.

Chiyome, in civilian guise.

Speaking of righting wrongs, this is what brings his path to intersect with those who become his comrades and friends. Ariane is a strikingly beautiful and sexy dark elf lady – or, at least, they call her a dark elf, though her skin is pale as anyone’s – and a strong warrior of sword and magic. Chiyome is a ninja beastgirl, also formidable but more stealthy, alongside her strong, silent beastman companion, Goemon. And little Ponta is a tiny spirit fox with several tails and a very keen ability to judge a man’s character. Together, this group of friends and allies fights to protect their respective peoples from human wrongs, to rescue from slavery those who have been taken.

Which does bring me to my first complaint about this anime. I realize it’s a trope for a reason, but it’s a very worn out trope, and it was repeated without limit here: they always established who the bad guys were by having them threaten, hurt, and violate women. Off the top of my head, I can recall at least… one, two, three, four, five… six different instances of it, within twelve episodes. Call me crazy, but that’s way overusing it! It got tiresome, even mundane.

A slightly less powerful complaint: every episode began with Arc narrating, “It’s me, Arc.” Come episode twelve, I answered, “Yes, Arc, we got that the first eleven times you said it.”

Outside those complaints, my only real issue is that I can’t possibly share this anime with the kids. The advisory about the content referred not only to the several instances of sexual assault, but also less rape-oriented sexual content, as well as the bloodshed and the horror of what humans do to each other and to non-humans.

Mind you, that last makes for one of the more touching moments of the show, when they find a number of bodies left to rot in a dungeon alongside their surviving, enslaved people. After rescuing the survivors, and destroying the fortress in which such evil took place, Arc, Ariane, and the others stop to give them a funeral. They set the bodies to burn, and the spirits of the dead rise up from the flames, to dance their way into the heavens. It’s probably my favorite moment of the anime.

So there’s content that is not child friendly, but it can prove quite touching, as well as thrilling and humorous. Arc’s friendship with Goemon is particularly masculine, this is how men bond. Arc’s occasional, gleeful greed when he steals fortunes from bad guys shows that he is very human despite being a selfless hero. Chiyome is cute as a button and fierce in a way I could not help but appreciate, but I’m thinking Ariane is definitely the one catching feelings for Arc. And I loved how even though Arc is super-powerful, he has obvious limits when it comes to precision, subtlety, and adaptability, but he is aware of those limits and seeks to address them… such as when he met Ariane’s mother and she instructed him in swordplay in a manner that looked quite reminiscent of getting his butt thoroughly and absolutely kicked, with ease.

Basically, Skeleton Knight in Another World is a fun little adventure with a lovable hero or two or three. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I am looking forward to what will hopefully be a second season in the near future. 🙂

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #399: Honor and Freedom

“A prey that has provided such an intense and noble hunt has earned its right to run free.”
– The Imakandi Hunters, Samurai Jack
Season 2, Episode 9, “Jack vs the Five Hunters”

The hunters say this at the end of the episode, after they have caught their most challenging prey: the samurai called Jack. They were summoned to hunt him by the evil Aku, to whom Jack is a constant thorn in his side and the only true threat to his person he knows of. Having seen Jack captured, he comes to take him, and end him. But the hunters of the Imakandi live for the thrill of the hunt, and they love the challenge of worthy prey. To their mind, the hunt which Jack gave them proved his worth in their eyes, and proved that he is worthy of keeping his life and his freedom, and they could not keep their honor if they took it from him. So they deny Aku, and leave that evil creature screaming in frustration as they spirit his enemy out of his grasp just in the nick of time.

It strikes me how honor and freedom go hand in hand so often, especially as we often think of honor as something which binds and limits us. But gravity limits us as well, yet it enables us to move instead of just float aimlessly. The experience of it makes us stronger, while its lack makes us weaker. And learning how it works has enabled us to fly, even to soar amongst the stars. That which limits us also enables us.

Even more, I believe that all of us inherently have the right to be free, but it does not come free. Obtaining, enjoying, and keeping our freedom often involves doing things which earn it. There’s a tremendous irony there, that we must earn by our actions what is naturally ours by right, or else we won’t have it at all. And yet, the he right to freedom is what makes it worth paying for, and that is why there is honor to be found in the earning of it. Which, in turn, demands that the soldiers and patriots who do the earning be honorable people, to not sully their sacred cause.

Thus do honor and freedom support one another.

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The Easy Imbalance of Too Much Virtual Living

This is one of those posts that is born from a bit of an epiphany which, in turn, is born from some honest self-reflection and self-recrimination. I have seen something which needs to be addressed, a growing imbalance in the world that we need to talk about, and I see that I am part of it. Thus, I confess my part and hope to add to a discussion, that we all might do a little bit better, live our lives a little bit more productively. I begin with myself, or, at least, I try to.

When I get off work in the afternoon, I go home, take care of my dogs, see to my nephew, get dinner at some point, and usually spend my evenings online, until I go to sleep. That’s a number of hours every day, not counting weekends or whenever I get online while on break at work. You won’t find me agreeing with anyone that talks about how we spend too much time online. No, not too much time. But it seems to me that I and others are spending a little too much living online. As in, too much time, money, attention, and passion devoted to a virtual reality instead of actual reality, such that is not balanced with real-world living.

I came to this conclusion when I suddenly realized that most of my evenings were being spent on YouTube, and most of that was being spent watching reactions. Meaning, instead of doing things myself, I was watching other people react to trailers, movies, TV shows, anime and cartoons, music videos, playing games, and more.

Now, I want to quickly emphasize that there is nothing wrong with reactions! Not in and of themselves, at least! Indeed, I would say there is nothing wrong with most things in general, on their own. And there is nothing wrong with being online. Nothing wrong with the internet itself.

It is merely a question of moderation, of balance, and I fear that the world is becoming more and more unbalanced, and that I am doing the same, in regards to our virtual reality.

Who wouldn’t be drawn in by a pretty face?

I can’t recall the first reaction I ever saw, but, as with everything that becomes far too consuming, it started with just one. It was this attractive, young girl watching something I enjoyed, and I enjoyed her reaction to it. She smiled, she laughed, she cried, she squealed, she commented. I liked it.

It’s probably no psychological surprise that it made me feel good to see a a pretty girl smiling and laughing as she watched something I already knew and liked. There’s an inherent validation in that, in someone agreeing with our view, in enjoying what we enjoy. That’s what friendships are all about, enjoying the same things together, and it’s all the more impactful, most likely, when they’re a highly-desirable member of the opposite sex. Someone more familiar with brain chemistry would probably be able to explain something about endorphins and dopamine or whatever. For myself, it’s enough to realize that this is simply part of human nature and a human need which was being met, but not in real life.

I recently heard another young lady on YouTube answering a question from a fan about if they could hope for a date with them. Her answer was to talk about “parasocial relationships.” These are the relationships that fans have with the object of their fandom, like celebrities, stars, and fictitious characters, that sort of thing. We see them, in their best, most idealized forms, on the screen in front of us, and we love what we see. But who they are in the spotlight is not all of who they are. They’re real people, not dolls, not limited to what is shown to a camera. One does not generally date one’s idols because there is a distance which needs to be maintained, or the illusion crumbles.

A parasocial relationship, then, is one that is defined by not being real. Not truly. But, it can feel like it is, and it does so without the risks of being ruined by real-world interaction. And that is how we come to devote far too much of our passion to it, and to put far too much stock in the behavior and perspective of someone who we don’t really know, and who does not know us either.

Her answer was, no, she would not date a fan, because that would be reality, not virtual reality.

It can look appealing, but it’s not real.

In brutal self-examination, I notice that my virtual life bloated significantly in close proximity to a significant decline in my real-world social interactions. Not to say that the two are inseparable, but, well, if I’ve nothing to do real life, then what else is there for me to do but be online? If I have, well, very few friends in real life with which to share the things I like, then of course I would be drawn to the virtual simulation of such. Thus did my YouTube subscriptions to channels that showed reactions increase from one, two, and then three… to over two dozen.

I have a problem. I seriously, seriously have a problem. I mean, I would recommend each of the reactors I follow for a good, enjoyable, vicarious experience in place of actual socialization, but I really must admit that I really do have a problem somewhere in all of this.

And I’m not sure what is more unsettling: to know that I have this problem, or to know how mild this problem is for me in comparison to others.

To explain that, well, remember, for many of these reactors – and there is a veritable army of them across the wide world of the internet – this is a significant source of income. For others, it is flat-out their job. They have subscribers on YouTube, patrons on Patreon, followers on various other social media and crowdfunding sites, and some of the girls – I know because they mention it at the beginning of every video – are also on OnlyFans. (Did I mention how “pretty girl” seems to be an important factor?)

Reactors spend a lot of hours viewing, experiencing, editing, and uploading content, unless they have an editor to take care of most of that. Many of them stream online, letting their audience watch them play a video game for hours on end, and people come and watch them. They have full, uncut reactions to entire movies and shows on Patreon. They comment in dedicated chat rooms, too, a community of voyeurs watching other people having fun, and donating to them.

And there are enough people spending enough hours and enough money on this to keep all of these reactors afloat.

Twitch’s most successful streamer.

One doesn’t even need to be reacting to things to get followers and an income. As the tale of Amouranth demonstrates, as she became a multimillionaire with her Twitch streams, girls and others are able to stream themselves doing pretty much anything, and enough people come to watch and chat with them that they make a living off it. Twitch, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, the list goes on! They just put themselves out there, and people gobble it up.

So when I say this is relatively mild for me, I mean that I do not go and spend hours and hours on end every day watching people react to one thing or play games or whatnot. I do not pay them for the privilege, either. I just catch highlight reels, so to speak, on YouTube. I know that’s not much of a distinction. I just mean that where I know I have some issues to deal with, I can also see clearly that others have put a shocking amount of time and money into experiencing this virtual reality instead of doing (fill-in-the-blank) in real life. It has their attention. It has their passion. It has their lives. At least as much as it has mine.

And now virtual reality has been pushing back into the arena of real life. Young women – and men, too, but mostly girls, for the audience appeal – have been producing all sorts of content streamed online, including reactions, gaming, painting, talking with each other and with their followers, musical performances, and more… but not as themselves.

They do this – the same things, and more, as these other reactors and social media streamers – with a completely virtual persona, sometimes even including lore in the crafting of their character, complete with an avatar brought to animated life in real time.

They’re called VTubers, short for Virtual YouTubers, and they’re all the rage online right now.

Someone produced a program that could create a virtual avatar for a real person, one that makes expressions in real time and gives an illusion of three-dimensional depth. It’s not quite lifelike, of course, but dang if it isn’t quite the artistic imitation! The popularity of Vtubing, much like reactions and socia media streaming, absolutely exploded in the last few years. I’m sure that was only enhanced by the entire fracas of COVID and government lockdowns – hey, as I said, where else can we go when we’re not going anywhere? – but either way, it has been astonishing.

The international cast of Hololive.

There is an entire community, a sub-culture, of VTubers online, just as there is among musicians and artists and tradesmen of any kind. There is a community among their fans, too, much like everyone who avidly follows sports. But unquestionably the epitome of it all, right now, has to be a group known as Hololive Productions.

It’s an international organization that brings together several girls from across the entire world to work both together and independently as VTubers. They do their own thing on their own channels, they collaborate often, they have events entirely dedicated to them, and they form friendships, all under the veil of their respective avatars. They sing, dance, chat, produce albums, or anything else they like, and even have concerts! Most of the girls are multilingual to some degree, and there are branches in Japan, South Korea, North America, Indonesia, and their used to be one in China. One of their most popular groups draws from Australia, Germany, Canada, and everywhere in between.

It is… staggering… to think of that! An international business based solely on having real people parade around behind virtual avatars! Organizing those concerts and events, creating and selling related merchandise, sponsoring all of their activities, and that is how they make their living.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found them to be adorable, engaging, and hilarious – which is why I am subscribed to nearly a dozen of them – but, still, I find myself stunned by everything that has gone into this.

A particular note about their concerts: the technology has apparently progressed to the point of 3D holograms. Not necessarily of anything especially realistic, for the most part, but enough for artistic three-dimensional representations of fictitious characters. Hololive used it to bring the avatars of these girls onto the stage to perform for their fans, and they’re not the only ones. It’s also been used by Riot Games to show characters from League of Legends on-stage, singing and dancing alongside the real vocalists in the opening ceremonies of tournaments. Consider that for a moment. Not only are entirely fictitious people and the avatars of girls being brought to the stage instead of the girls themselves, but entire halls and stadiums of people are there to cheer it on.

That is a huge number of people investing a great deal of their living in something which ultimately isn’t real, even as what isn’t real is brought one step closer into the real world. Is that not a powerful blurring of the line between the real and the virtual?

We’ve been making fake things look real for a long time, haven’t we?

How much of what happens online, in a space that isn’t anywhere within the real world, influences reality?

Want to buy something? Amazon.

What to research something? Wikipedia.

Want to find something? Google.

Want to watch something? Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and a million other streaming sites.

Want to sent someone a note? Texting and email.

Want to do all the social interactions without actually doing them? Facebook.

Want to have some fun? Video games, of every kind.

Want a more immersive, realistic gaming experience? Virtual reality games, complete with headsets.

Want to keep up on sports? ESPN.

Want to be part of a sport? Fantasy leagues.

Want to find someone to date? Online dating sites.

Can’t get a date but have an itch to scratch? …ok, not touching that one!

The list goes on. And on. And on.

He was right about one thing.

How can we call ourselves or our lives balanced when we do this much living online, enjoying and paying for a virtual simulation of life instead of the real thing? How long can we do it before something gives?

I recently read about a man in Japan who married a girl that doesn’t exist. She’s a fictional character, completely made up, not even the avatar of a VTuber. The internet allowed him to come into contact with a company that provides interactive programs for various such characters, catering to people who want to bring their favorite fictitious people into their real lives. The company has ended service for the specific character that this man is “married” to, but he still considers himself married and intends to be faithful to her, and hopes that, somehow, someway, someday, he might see her again. Especially if robotics and AI should happen to develop enough to recreate her.

There’s a term for it now: fictosexual, to be attracted to entirely fictitious characters.

I can see a certain appeal, especially in terms of what little I know of Japanese culture. Not only is this, in someone’s mind, a “perfect” person, but one that will forever be so. This girl that never existed will never be corrupted by the real world. She will always be pure, including sexually. She will never say mean things, never say no, never tell hard truths, never be unfaithful, never break up with those who set their hearts on her. It is the ultimate virtual simulation of an important relationship, with none of the pitfalls of real life and real women.

There is… so much about that which is disturbing to contemplate.

To stay on track and keep to my point, I mention only one: whatever his life and his circumstances, this man who married a character has clearly spent far too much living – too much time, money, attention, and passion – in a virtual reality, and he is paying a price for the assertion of the virtual into his reality. If he stays true to his intention, he will never marry a real woman, never have children, and he may never know the joy of having his own family.

…which is not so dissimilar to myself, a lifelong bachelor nearing four decades of time on this Earth, with very few friends or other connections in real life anymore, who also spends far too much of my life enjoying simulated experiences in instead of the real thing.

What was it Dumbledore said? It does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live.

My life is not balanced.

I need to change that. I’m going to try to change it.

“Don’t be fooled by the internet. It’s cool to get on the computer, but don’t let the computer get on you. It’s cool to use the computer. Don’t let the computer use you. Y’all saw the Matrix. There’s a war going on. The battlefield is in the mind, and the prize is the soul.”

– Prince, musician

Posted in Discussion, Random Realizations | 4 Comments

“I’m Quitting Heroing!” Quits Being Interesting

This is one of those anime that started off strong and successfully hooked me in the first episode – heck, the way it had me laughing, it hooked me in the first five minutes – but then just kind of… failed to keep me invested, ya know?

I’m Quitting Heroing is a shorter anime, only twelve episodes, and it begins just after the stereotypical final battle between the hero and the ruler of demons. The demon army is in shambles, but the hero, Leo, is so strong that he terrifies the humans he has protected. They exile him, so he goes and joins the demons. The demon queen, Echidna, refuses at first, because she hates how badly she lost to him. Hilarity and poignant thoughts follow as her generals hire the hero behind her back and make use of his services to repair their forces without her finding out, at least not until they can indisputably argue for how useful he is.

The first half or so of the show is actually quite amusing and endearing, as Leo gets to know each of the generals, and Echidna herself, helping each of them with their assigned tasks as best he can. He makes fun of the sorceress Shutina even while he manages to lighten her workload; he tries to teach the beast-girl Lily how to work better with others, and ends up learning that his methods were far too convoluted; he educates Edwald the dragon warrior in the amateurish mistake of assuming that everyone can do what you can do if they just work hard at it; he teaches the Melnes the assassin how to connect with people, and is one of the first that Melnes connects with; and he has dinner with Echidna, learning of her hopes and dreams and kindness in the process.

I particularly liked that part, showing how these demon generals were like real people, and not bad people, and the things they have to think about in order to run an entire army.

Leo also learns about each of them and opens up enough to tell them who he truly is. He is a bioweapon, meaning a living creature that was created by human scientists back during the Age of Machines, some three thousand years ago – which turns out to be our modern day – for the purpose of protecting humanity from the encroaching evil of the demons. He is the last of his kind, the other eleven bioweapons having all died in battle, and he has grown very strong… and very unstable.

The show, which was mostly lighthearted and fanciful, suddenly goes into a sudden climax with the sudden revelation that Leo the Hero is being driven insane by his ancient programming, that he is aware of what is happening to his mind, and that he needs to be killed before he, himself, destroys humanity and demonkind alike. That is why he wanted to join the demon army, to see if Echidna was worthy of the priceless treasure he must leave behind, and to get her and her generals to kill him.

“This plot is really a mess! Goes everywhere, way too fast!”

So, it starts out fun and goofy, then drags out a bit with the hero’s prolonged backstory and self-reflections, and then, with no warning whatsoever, it’s a dire, potentially apocalyptic, emergency with severely high personal stakes.

Now, nothing against that in and of itself, but it was a bit off-putting, and… well… to be honest we hadn’t spent nearly enough time with these characters or gotten to know and love them nearly so well in order for me to feel invested in the outcome of this surprise showdown.

Which got drawn out. It began in one episode, occurred in the next which ended in the use of a desperate final move, and then the episode after that took the entire episode for that one attack to actually happen while we waited through yet more reflections from both Leo and Echidna, and finally, at long last, they ended the showdown with a cheap cop-out to avoid the tragedy that they just spent three episodes building up to.

Is it terrible of me to have felt a little bit cheated by that?

First we’re goofy, then we’re suddenly tragic, then the problem just goes away. It was like feeling the storytelling version of whiplash.

So it started out pretty good, but then went all over the place, with very little structure to it. It slammed us with a tragic climax that ought to have rent our hearts, but did a poor job of it, and then let us down at the end just to get an ambiguous happily ever after without any price paid for it.

It’s not all bad, but it’s certainly not so great, either!

Rating: I give I’m Quitting Heroing 6 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Minus.

…I did enjoy the character designs, though.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #398: Spirit of Freedom

“Greed? Deception? Abuse of power? That’s no plan. …See, according to Cocteau’s plan, I’m the enemy, ’cause I like to think. I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, ‘Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecue ribs with a side order of gravy fries?’ I want high cholesterol! I want to eat bacon and butter and buckets of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinatti in the non-smoking section! I want to run through the streets naked with green jello all over my body reading Playpoy magazine! Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay pal? I’ve seen the future, you know what it is? It’s a forty-seven-year-old virgin sittin’ around in his space pajamas drinking a banana-broccoli shake and I’m an Oscar Mayer wiener! You live up top, you live Cocteau’s way: what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. Your other choice: come down here, maybe starve to death.”
– Edgar Friendly, Demoliton Man

It was only a few weeks ago I used another quote from this movie to comment on the perils of trying to govern others too much, to dictate everything about their behavior to realize some ideal that can only exist in our heads. But this week, in the spirit of my country’s celebration of our Independence Day, I thought I’d comment more directly on the spirit of freedom itself.

The basic setup of Demolition Man is that one man’s efforts and technology brought peace and prosperity to the world, but only for those who behave as he wants them to. Every last thing that could be called “bad for you” was soon labeled as “bad,” including proper meat with cholesterol, bad language, gasoline, chocolate, and more. People are forbidden to have kids without a license, and even sex itself has become taboo. It’s a nanny state, all for the benefit of its ruler.

And then there’s the people in the sewers, led by Edgar Friendly. These are the people who, despite having little food, little education, and little of anything at all, they just can’t take living under such absolutely tyranny. So they scavenge and steal to survive, and they have the only real burger left in the world, albeit one made with rat meat instead of beef.

Most everyone who has ever fought for freedom could attest to how uncomfortable it gets. When one defies the powers that be, it can be as if the entire world is the enemy. Enemy commanders, enemy soldiers, spies and traitors, neighbors and friends and perfect strangers who sell you out, cancel you, feed you to the wolves and the gallows, there’s no end to the people who turn against those who stand up. The pains and hazards are unending, including open warfare, starvation, disease, injury, and the brutality of the elements. The soil of American liberty has been watered with the sweat, the tears, and the blood of patriots from the very beginning, even before our forefathers broke free from the Great Britain. They gave their all and suffered every kind of deprivation because they wanted freedom.

They wanted the freedom to think whatever they might, read whatever they liked, and speak their minds frankly. They wanted the freedom to prosper as best they could by their own sweat, without some distant crown coming and taking everything from them on a whim. They wanted the freedom to improve themselves, their circumstances, and the world itself, by their labor. They wanted the freedom to eat better, more delicious food. They wanted the freedom to not take any crap from anybody, not a soldier, not a governor, not even a king! They wanted the freedom to not have their wealth pillaged, their industry smothered, and their spirits stifled by anyone or anything on this Earth.

They risked everything for it. They suffered and endured much for it. Many died for it, and those who were left had to bury their comrades. From the common soldier to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, from the most ordinary citizen to the President, all sorts of people from all walks of life have had to step up and bleed for the normal, mundane, everyday things that others want to take away from them.

Such is the spirit of freedom – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the maintenance of which requires unending vigilance, generation after generation, to break the chains that are forged even from their first link.

Happy Independence Day!

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Eren Jaeger: The Anatomy of a Devil’s Birth

I will start this with a SPOILER ALERT! If you want to be surprised by anything in this story, then you do not want to read this! Fair warning! 😉

I have a confession to make: though I was avid in my viewership of the first two seasons of Shingeki no Kyojin, or Attack on Titan, and I still love it, I stopped watching early in the third season. Reason being that it was just getting to be too much for me. Too much death, too many complications, too much intrigue in a plot that was getting far too convoluted.

That said, I’ve still stayed fairly abreast of things. I am generally aware of the overarching conflict with the Marleyans, with the tragic origins of the titans and their spine-eating ways, and with the world-shattering revelation of Eren’s incredible power to influence the past. Most pointedly, for this post, I am aware of his endgame, his ultimate goal: the absolute annihilation of his homeland’s enemies, consisting of the brutal extinction of all life beyond their island’s shores, every man, woman, and child, right down to the last, with no exceptions made anywhere for any reason. It is the terror of the Rumbling.

To accomplish this, Eren enacted a scheme of his own, a plan which gave him absolute command over an army of colossal giants that dwarf even most of the other titans. When he finally gained that power, he announced his intentions loud and clear for all of his people, his comrades, to hear. The reaction was almost universally one of horror and opposition, culminating in the uniting of those who have been both friends and enemies, to each other and to Eren himself, to stop him.

It’s easy to see why they were all so horrified. Who today would be happy if they were told that the only way to be safe is if almost everyone in the world was killed off? Who could even stay sane at the thought of going about your happy little life atop the corpses of nearly seven billion people? Soldiers and even zealots who understand the importance of killing an enemy before they kill you would reflexively shrink away from such total, absolute genocide.

It’s part of how we define being a decent human being, to not accept anything so horrific as that. Not even when it’s exactly what the rest of the world – which, Marley is, compared to the Eldians – have been trying to do to you and your people. We aren’t supposed to return evil for evil. We are supposed to be better than our enemies, not become the same and worse.

And that’s just on the side of Eren’s people. His Marleyan enemies have long since had reason to fear him. He’s gone out of his way to strike terror into their hearts before, and now he can really dish out the devastation! When terrified enemy soldiers saw his massive form looming over his army of giants, it was, for them, very much like looking at the Devil made manifest, come to claim the souls of those whose sins have forfeited them the protection of God.

Eren has become the Devil of his world.

I once heard someone say that heroes act, but villains react. I’m still trying to puzzle out the sense of that, but I think part of what it means is that heroes choose to act in the face of evil, while villains are made out of lower, petty, reflexive reactions to the unfairness of the world. A hero sees someone in trouble, sees injustice in the world, and acts to help, to make things better. A villain experiences injustices, sometimes real and sometimes imagined, and reacts at the basest of levels, to return hurt for hurt, death for death, evil for evil. “I’ll show them! I’ll show them all!”

And yet, almost everyone is the hero of their own story. So how does a story like Eren’s go so wrong? How does the initial hero of the story become its worst and final villain? How is such a devil born from the heart of a good boy?

I was actually pretty shocked when I realized how simple the equation is, and how obvious.  It’s all there for us to see, and I have to applaud the author of this work for creating something so true and simple within such layers of subtlety, parading it in front of our faces without most of us noticing it.

Mind you, this may be something of an oversimplification, and this is entirely my own perspective on it, but it only took the combination of two or three major elements, which are shown throughout the story, for Eren to become a monster.

Beginning: Eren is the Hero

He was so innocent.

Eren grew up in a place of safety and peace within the walls. He was surrounded by people who were complacent, but idolized the scouts who ventured beyond the walls to fight the man-eating giants, called titans. His was a soul that yearned for freedom, such freedom as to see all the wonders of every corner of the world. And he hated bullies. He refused to tolerate them, always fighting them, even though he almost always lost the fight unless his friend Mikasa was there.

His refusal to tolerate bullies and his desire for freedom made him brave when others were cowards, bold when others were timid, and ruthless in the face of evil. That last was shown when Mikasa’s parents were murdered by a trio of human-trafficking bandits. He happened to find the men who, right then, were going to have their way with Mikasa, just a little girl. He defended her, using his wits and a knife to kill two grown men when he was just a little kid. Even more, he inspired her to stand up and fight for herself, killing the third evil man just when he was about to kill Eren.

So, by any definition, Eren was a brave, forward-thinking – hah, the irony of that now – hero, bold and loyal and a clumsy sort of leader, the kind that blazes trails and happens to be followed by others along the way. He was beloved by his friends and family, and possessed an unconquerable spirit from a young age.

In short, he was a good boy.

Then the enemy came.

First: The Enemy Are Monsters

Everyone within the walls knew about the titans outside the walls, but for everyone except the scouts and their families, it was a safe, distant sort of knowledge. They simply could not, and would never, breach the walls, so most people were largely unconcerned about them. They had problems, but they weren’t in a war for their very survival, so far as they knew. The walls kept them safe and separate from the monsters.

Then the Colossal Titan and the Armored Titan made their debut. They shattered the outer and inner gates alike, and titans immediately flooded in, eating everyone they could get their hands on.

Eren’s mother was among the devoured dead. His home was destroyed with her still inside it. She could not escape and she could not be rescued. Eren was pulled away from her, carried on the back of a man who was a friend. He saw everything, as the titan came, picked her up out of the rubble, and lifted her towards its mouth as she screamed and cried and beat her fists against its hand in futile resistance. The giant snapped her neck as casually as a man would break the neck of a bird or a rabbit. And it swallowed her whole.

Eren saw everything. It was seared into his mind, his heart, and his soul.

The horror of the uncountable dead that day was only enhanced by those who could be counted later: the refugees who fled from the outer region of the walls into the the interior, behind another wall. With so much territory lost, the kingdom just couldn’t grow the food to feed so many mouths anymore. So over half a million people who came looking for protection were sent out to die at the hands of titans, with some bogus political posturing that couldn’t have screamed any louder, “We’re sending them to die, but we’re all going to pretend otherwise… aren’t we?”

So the enemy was a horde of man-eating monsters, the complete inhumanity of which drove humans to do inhumane things just to survive, just a little bit longer.

But for the entire series which has followed that inciting tragedy, the titans have been ever more humanized.

We saw a titan that killed other titans. We saw Eren become a titan for a time. We saw that other people can become titans at will, and these people served an enemy that existed beyond all the titans. We saw that all the titans in the world used to be human, that what they have become is something that was done to them by this greater enemy, one far more vile than titans ever were, called Marley.

At the start, humans were the victims of titans. It has now been made clear that titans are, in fact, the victims of humans. Human hatred. Human intolerance. Human greed.

The first titan.

Right from the beginning, the titans were forced to obey the will of a human king, who shoved onto his own descendants the burden of monstrosity. The first who had the power to be a titan was a woman, now called the Founder, and the king used her without limit even while thinking nothing at all of her. Neither did he hesitate, when she died, to enslave her very soul, to have their three daughters eat their own mother’s spine. This was the origin of those compulsions which have tormented them and their victims ever since: going into war, and eating people. All for the sake of power and conquest.

It worked, for a time, but not for long. The king’s vision of invincible, gigantic warriors, the Eldians, was fulfilled, but he underestimated the response of the rest of humanity, who eventually coalesced under the banner of Marley.

However, the Marleyans are not “good” just because their enemy was once terrifying. They didn’t just defeat the Eldians. They shoved the Eldians under their heels and took control of the titans’ power. Those who were not driven out of Marleyan society, to hide behind the walls of Paradis, were forced into the slums, and they’ve been preyed on for sport ever since. They’ve been tortured and murdered for fun, their youth exploited by a greedy, grasping military, and their people turned into the titans which infest Paradis. And still the Marleyans seek nothing less than a complete and absolute Eldian genocide.

This, despite every reasonably mitigating factor: the passage of thousands of years, the innocence and submission of those Eldians who are alive under Marley’s heel, the pacifism of the coward king who took his people to hide behind the walls, the ignorance of those within the walls, and more. The Marleyans are cruel for their own amusement, tell themselves lies as propaganda, and will never give peace a chance. They are an entire people that actively seeks genocide, murders innocent little girls while wearing a kindly smile, and sleeps well at night.

They are directly responsible, in every possible way, for the death of Eren’s mother, which they wouldn’t care about anyway because she was Eldian.

The enemy are indeed all monsters, and it’s only made worse for how they’re still human.

Marleyans: the real monsters.

Second: Cast Your Humanity Aside

“Those who aren’t willing to sacrifice everything will never be able to change anything.”

That is a comment made by Armin, if I recall correctly. Poetic then, that he is the first one to balk at Eren’s use of the Rumbling against civilians as well as military targets, but I digress.

The general meaning is that, in order to achieve an objective, you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes you must even sacrifice your own humanity.

Accomplishing a mission involves soldiers sacrificing their lives, and their commander knowingly leading them towards death. Even more, the endless, apocalyptic war they’ve been fighting demands that humans get sneaky, hit below the belt, so to speak, and do things that others would quail at doing.

There’s no time for being nice, civilized, and orderly when the end of the world is at stake.

To evacuate a town, Mikasa has to strike down the self-important ego of a greedy merchant.

To stop the bandits who murdered Mikasa’s parents and were going to use her as they saw fit, Eren and Mikasa had to kill them without hesitation, pity, or mercy.

Commander Erwin. The Devil’s teacher.

To capture an enemy, Commander Erwin and his subordinates have to sneak, lie, set traps, use their comrades as pawns and let them die, put their own bodies on the line, stand against the military police, and even bring trouble straight into the heart of their society, leaving dozens of dead civilians in their wake, all for very little obvious gain.

To keep everyone fed, the government had to send hundreds of thousands of their own people to die horribly.

To gain the power to strike down an overwhelming and relentless enemy, Eren had to become responsible for more than one travesty, including the deaths of children.

Is it any surprise he did so, with lessons such as these drilled into him? How many times did he see his leaders and friends sully their hands, not in the slightest bit refraining from low-down, dirty tricks which earned them the hatred of everyone bound by the status quo? It’s the only way anything ever got done. That’s the only reason they ever made any forward progress in the war. It’s how they discovered the truth of Marley after their people had been made to forget.

Yet, for espousing this ideal so much, the story often shows the peril of it. When humans let go of their humanity, after all, that’s when they become monsters, lacking that most basic element of humanity: compassion.

That merchant Mikasa threatened? He prioritized what was important for his own benefit over the lives of his people. It’s not so dissimilar to Commander Erwin prioritizing his own agenda over the lives of soldiers and civilians alike. Much like the local monarchy destroying anyone it wants to, for its own interests.

To forfeit one’s humanity is to forfeit basic compassion for others and even for ourselves. That’s how people are able to betray and abandon each other when the titans come calling. That’s how an entire swathe of a population could be sent to die, just to relieve the burden of a strained food supply. That’s how tyrants violently suppressed dissent and murdered anyone who happened to be the slightest bit inconvenient to them, ignoring how their entire kingdom was already a sinking ship. And that is is how Marleyans committed atrocities against innocent Eldians for centuries.

That is how Eren was able to do every despicable thing that was necessary to further his goal. Which brings me to the final point.

Third: Eren’s Unyielding Resolve

He said it, and he meant it.

Eren has had  two particular desires which have dominated his character: to be free, and to wipe out the titans.

Initially, both of these were presented in a one-sided light, but, by this point, Attack on Titan ought to be famous for twisting that around.

Freedom was Eren’s first desire, before atrocity fell upon his family. That’s why he idolized the scouts so much. He and Armin read of things in books, wonders of the world they couldn’t comprehend at the time. The endless blue waves of the sea. Regions entirely covered in ice, where lights danced in the sky. Brutal lands of burning sands. They read about these, and wanted to know them, to see them, to experience and touch them!

Eren never liked being confined in the walls. He never liked how people were able to just go about their everyday lives without ever leaving, without moving around, going out there and seeing the world. And he never liked when one person chained another, not even in something as simple and mundane as neighborhood bullying. People weren’t meant to live beneath others, stuck in walls they could never leave. Freedom was his North Star.

How many times has the story talked about such freedom while showing the terrible cost of it? The brutal reality of humanity’s subjugation, and especially Eldian subjugation, has been on flagrant, bloody display for years now. When Eren rises from a stupor to carry a boulder, he is accepting a huge burden that threatens to crush him. All around him, the scouts are screaming and dying in his defense as he tries to bar the gates and stem the slaughter. He is driven by a need to be free, as everyone has the right to be, and it is for this that people are dying. It is an incredibly powerful, moving scene.

The reward for such is shown much later, when Eren and the scouts finally make it to the sea. And they just stand there, absorbing the wonder that was there all along, but which they have only now been able to obtain, at great cost. After all the horror and loss, they have at last inched closer to freedom.

Right to the end, it remains one of Eren’s most defining aspects. That is how he gains the power to kill all of his enemies, the power of the Founder, in the first place: by offering freedom to a soul crushed eternally under a limitless burden which was unjustly shoved onto her thousands of years ago.

Freedom unleashed the Rumbling.

How often does the Devil promise freedom and deliver destruction?

Her humanity was finally acknowledged by ONE person.

So, even with Eren’s best and most noble motivation, there are two sides, and there is no escaping that horror. However, Eren’s all-consuming wrath is much, much worse.

Of course we applauded, as we were meant to, when Eren pledged to kill the titans, to wipe them entirely from the world. He was both mocked and admired for it, but he always held true to it. And why not? They killed his mother, and so many other people, and were a terrifying threat to everyone who remained. How could a desire to kill them all be anything but good, anything but beneficial to humanity?

However, what Eren was pledging to destroy wasn’t simply a bunch of giants. He wanted to destroy everything that killed his mother. When he learned the truth of things, that the titans are victims, that it was Marley all along, a nation full of monstrous humans, his resolve did not die. All that happened was a mere shifting of targets, from one that could eventually be cut down, one by one, to one that was just way too big to do anything less than crush them all, the entire lot of them, in massive numbers.

Others sought peace. Some sought to hide safe behind walls and armies, and kept trying to hide no matter how many times they failed. Others sought to serve, giving their lives for Marley while not even having the resolve to stand up for their own oppressed people. Even when the Rumbling got underway, there were people who tried to say that they could just limit the destruction to Marley’s military, ignoring the vast mass of humanity behind them who, having already been indoctrinated to hate Eldians, would undoubtedly find some way to strike back as soon as possible.

But, really, all of them do so simply because they quail at the thought of such a massive slaughter. For all that they’ve talked about sacrificing anything and everything, the only one to actually possess the resolve to do so is Eren Jaeger. Because he, alone, is still driven by the insane need to “wipe them all out, every last one of them.” That is how he is strong, and how he is weak.

His comrades are unable to carry out the Rumbling, or tolerate the totality of it, because their resolve is weak.

Eren himself is able to enact the Rumbling because he is weak, his mind and heart broken.

Deep down, in his heart of hearts, Eren is simply a boy who was driven mad by the sight of his mother’s awful murder.

Seared into his mind, his heart, his very soul.

The Rumbling truly began, the first spark given to its ignition, the moment he was made to see her die.

The Equation:

Enemies which are truly monstrous
+
The need to sacrifice anything to defeat them
+
The resolve to get it done
=
Total Genocide

To pursue the annihilation of another people is to invite it onto your own. Or, in other words… karma’s a bitch, Marley!

Thus was born, quite simply, the Marleyans’ personal Devil, Eren Jaeger, the Attack Titan. “Shingeki no Kyojin.”

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The Pure, Beautiful Delight of “Ya Boy Kongming!”

The first season of this anime just ended, and I. WANT. MORE. 🙂

The premise is one of those that, at first glance, it ought to have simply put me off, ya know? I mean, how ridiculous of a concept is it? A famous Chinese general of centuries past is, at the moment of his death, transported into modern-day Japan, whereupon he becomes the manager – or, rather, the “tactician” – of a promising young musician, using his many devious tactics to support her in her dreams of success as she competes with various other musicians for the favor of their audience. It’s a ridiculous, I say! Absolutely RIDICULOUS!

and yet!

I found myself enjoying, appreciating, and even loving it!

…you would think, by now, that I would have become accustomed to being surprised by titles which, at first glance, one would think I wouldn’t like, but which prove themselves to be charming, enchanting, and even endearing. Spice and WolfSnow White with the Red HairAh My GoddessSilver SpoonMy Dress-Up Darling, and now Ya Boy Kongming! All of them, anime that I would not have expected to love so much, but I most certainly do! Oh, well. If nothing else, I can egotistically proclaim my own obvious wisdom in always giving anything at least one fair chance, per my one-episode rule. Mwahahah. 😉

Ya Boy Kongming starts by following its titular protagonist, Kongming, but the spotlight does not stay on him. He arrives in and adjusts to the modern era, becomes enchanted by the heartfelt singing of a girl named Eiko, and pledges his services to help her dreams come true. Those dreams are to make it big in the music business, that her voice might help to save someone, the same as she was saved by another musician at a low point in her life. Kongming’s devious schemes and tactics are adapted surprisingly well to the business of musical performances, yet he is but a humble guide. It’s Eiko who is truly the driving force of this anime. She puts in the work, and shines brilliantly as she bares her heart and soul on the stage. Hers is a liberating, uplifting, wholesome influence, and this first season of the show could easily be called her origin story: the who, the where, the how, and the why of her entrance into professional show biz, and the chronicling of her early triumphs.

Eiko’s triumphs do include singing before large crowds of people who enjoy her work, but a good amount of time is spent on her efforts to improve herself and her craft. She’s not alone in this, as Kongming recruits a partner of sorts for her in the form of a rapper, a young man who goes by Kabetaijin. Both of these promising artists are nurtured by Kongming’s influence, and they both dig deep to develop themselves, and to rise to the challenges presented to them. But most of all, and best of all, is when their work touches the hearts of those around them. That is the point of it all, of all this music that they make, not just to make money and stand in the spotlight for awhile, but to help those souls that are lost be found again.

This may sound presumptuous of me, but that, right there, is my idea of what is beautiful. Beauty, as I see it, is a force which uplifts the soul itself, and I find it here, in this anime. This is a big part of why I am craving for more.

Speaking of more physical kinds of beauty, I have to say, this anime is exceptionally well-crafted. The visual design and personal style of each of the characters speaks to who they, are. The animation is top notch, fluid and appealing without trying too hard, and without any obvious reliance on cheap tricks like CGI. It’s tricky making animated characters look appealing when they’re dancing, to make them look alive instead of robotic, but the style of Kongming pulls it off nicely, and that is no small thing. One could even say that every movement is part of expression of who they are and the journeys each of them is taking, such as when Kongming draws the rapper Kabetaijin up onto the stage, it’s clearly a powerful moment for the younger man. Every visual aspect of this show is, quite simply, excellent.

And the music! Oh, the music! I don’t know if there’s any English dub out yet, but whether there is or isn’t or ever will be, my most singular hope is, quite simply: do not ruin the soundtrack!

Yes, it might get a little tiresome when they have Eiko sing the same song so many times, but, even so, this is still a fantastic soundtrack, made all the more potent for how it does what stories are supposed to do, most of all: show us the characters in their defining moments, and show us how they grow. The characters are what truly drive the show. The visuals and audio design are the vehicle. And what a vehicle it is!

His tactics plus her music equals a great time.

Speaking of, I have to wonder at the exact knowledge base of the people behind this anime. One moment, they’re referring to Kongming’s previous military strategies, and the next, they’re talking about the nuances of live musical performances. There is actually a great deal of thought, planning, and effort that goes into every aspect of stagecraft and the entertainment industry, so it actually feels natural for a renowned general to excel at such. There are ins and outs of music as an artistic form of expression, as a trade and craft, and as a financial business venture which are discussed and displayed with an intriguing amount of insight. And that, too, serves the story and the characters as it delves into the theme of every entertainer’s struggle to succeed, to become more than they were before, without losing themselves in the process.

I particularly like how the antagonist of the story is basically a dark version of Kongming, one who runs his music stars like a tyrannical general. Under him, he commands a trio of talented girls whose dreams for success swallowed them up into a darkness which they need help to climb out of. And that is the importance of Eiko’s work, her journey, and how her success is found in polishing, rather than changing, herself so she shines all the brighter.

About the only thing I might have changed, besides adding another dozen or so episodes, is having some scene where Eiko and Kabetaijin are performing for the audience together. I really like the two  of them, and they could definitely make any crowd go wild. But, well, I suppose I’ll just have to hope they do that in the second season I am hoping for! 😉

“Come! Join us for a second season!”

In summary: we have an anime with lovable, interesting characters, powerful themes, wonderful music, awesome animation, a demonstrated knowledge both of Kongming’s military strategies and the modern music business, and a well-considered plot, all coming together to create something uplifting, something beautiful.

Yeah, I really like this show.

And I really want more! 🙂

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: a solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #397: Food vs Gold

“Food’s worth more than gold.”
– Bronn, Game of Thrones
Season 2, Episode 8, “The Prince of Winterfell”

Bronn says this as he explaining to his superiors why he and his men rounded up all the known thieves of the city. He knows that a city under siege is a city that gets hungry, and he wanted to prevent the city’s thieves from stealing all the food for themselves, and for the fortunes that others would pay them for it – diamonds in exchange for potatoes – while the poor starved and ate each other. That’s the contextual meaning of this, but it touches something much more profound.

The value of food and water is found in the life it sustains. The value of a house is found in the shelter and comfort it provides. The value of plumbing is found in the water it delivers. The value of a sewage system is found in cleanliness, hygiene, and the prevention of various terrible illnesses. Indeed, the value of almost everything is found in what it can do for a person.

The value of money is found in how much of everything else it can be exchanged for.

People covet it so much, but what they grasp for so hard is only worth anything when they let go of it. Money alone, on its own, is perfectly and completely worthless.

I’ll always remember a scene from One Piece, where two people are trapped on a small island with no food. They have a pile of gold and jewels, but all that is utterly worthless in the face of their starvation.

A man with money and nothing else will soon starve, while a man with food and nothing else may survive and even get fat. And who will other hungry people do business with first? Which of them has the truly greater wealth?

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