Sunday’s Wisdom #241: A Free People

“One people should not be ruled by another.”
– Field Marshall Tamas, Promise of Blood
The Powder Mage Trilogy, by Brian McClellan

We Americans love our 4th of July Independence Day celebrations. We go a bit nuts with fireworks, fireworks, and more fireworks. But, it is a very sad thing, I think many of us have forgotten, and are continuing to forget, what it really means: a time to celebrate, and remember, our freedom. Ultimately, that freedom comes down to this simple principle.

I have completely forgotten the exact circumstances surrounding this quote, but it’s the man saying it which truly fascinates me. Tamas was always a man of principle and honor, though he came to cultivate a stoic, ruthless exterior to cloak such with. That is not the same as being entirely innocent, as he also has a great deal of blood on his hands. Yet, he has also gone to great lengths to try and protect the innocent and uphold order in a time of great upheaval. Said upheaval also came about by his will, yet it was much preferable to the alternative.

Tamas’ nation was sick, for a very long time, with corruption, greed, entitlement, and worse. Foreign powers meddled for the sake of their own interests, and sometimes for nothing more than their own petty amusement. Tamas lost loved ones, plural, to these machinations, and when what he could do on his own was not enough to stop that, he devoted himself entirely to saving his people, from the encroaching chains of enslavement. He was big enough to see that what happened to him was just a symptom of a much larger, more nefarious disease, and he was determined to cut out the cancer. The salvation of his nation was his revenge against the foreigners who murdered members of his family.

I dimly recall Tamas saying these words when he seems to be at the mercy of an enemy, a low point. This principle is the bedrock of truth which he builds upon. Flawed though he and his efforts may be, this truth supports him and drives him on to success.

It is the same truth that my nation was first built upon: that a people should be free to govern themselves without outside interference.

I hold that to be true across the board.

China should not rule America, and America should not rule China.

Europeans should not rule Africans, and Africans should not rule Europeans,

Christians should not rule Hindus, Hindus should not rule Muslims, and Muslims should not rule Christians.

Farmers should not rule cities and cities should not rule farmers.

We glorify empires, quite often, but what is an empire, if not a collection of peoples ruled by another people? Even when the differences between the capital and the colonies seem small, they are not the same. And no people should be made to bow to the whims of another people.

No one should have to answer to those who think themselves “better” and don’t even have their subjects’ best interests at heart.

Everyone should be free to live as they like, so long as they do not prohibit others of the same.

That is the first truth within the foundation, and spirit, of the United States of America.

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This Week on TV, June 29, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

Plot, plot, and more plot! This week’s Agents of Shield focused on advancing the plot, and moving dangling threads closer together.

Agents of Shield

6.07 “Toldja”

Well, this did not go the way I was first expecting!

Based on the preview, I was thinking that something was going to go near-cataclysmic really fast and Sarge was going to try to demand to be in charge, something like that, at which point I imagine Mack could have extorted Sarge, promised him that either he helps them, or this time he perishes with the planet he’s on and thus ends his fight against the shrike. Boy, I was way off!

Starting off back in space, Fitz, Simmons, and Enoch, successfully escape from the Chronicoms only to end up back on Kitson (from the frying pan to the fire). Before Enoch can modify the transportation disc, some drunk alien bum comes by, picks it up, and accidentally transports himself, leaving the three of them stranded. They make a very wise decision to try and not attract attention and leave the casino as soon as the exit is unguarded. Unfortunately, it was not so unguarded after all. They’re taken to Mr. Kitson himself.

All I’m going to say about Kitson is that it’s no wonder his little world is such a wretched hive of scum, villainy, and despair, considering how his grandfather began it, and how succeeding generations have carried on, enjoying how they’re the biggest fish in this tiny mud pool at the bottom of an abyss.

Kitson sends Enoch to the brothels and makes Fitz-Simmons two-thirds of a guillotine game of Russian roulette. Strapped down with a third offender, who tried to make off with a woman from the brothel, they have to hold the chains that hold the blades above their necks. First one who loses their grip dies, and it doesn’t look good for the Terrans.

But, fate intervenes!

A woman, whose name I didn’t quite catch because they had to make it sound alien, has a use for Fitz-Simmons. She puts a knife to Kitson’s back, and skillfully persuades him to take a payday for releasing the two of them, by use of a remote control with which he can decide the outcome of the game (House always wins because House is the only one allowed to cheat), rather than take that blade into his spine. And it’s done. Third contestant dies, Fitz-Simmons are freed. Their savior buys Enoch’s contract as well, for them.

Her goal is simple: she’s going to Earth to retrieve an artifact that was stolen from her. But she recently lost her ship and her crew, so she needs to replace both, thus, she saved Fitz-Simmons. And they, as it happens, know where to find a ship: their old friends who stole it from Fitz and Enoch and then were rather forcefully interrogated by Simmons and Daisy. That goes well, with minimal fuss involved.

And then Enoch turns and leaves. He only stops when Fitz calls after him, because goodbyes suck. The Earth is saved from the events of last season, and Fitz-Simmons are reunited and on their way straight back to Earth at last. Now he has a new mission: to find a home for what is left of his people. He leaves behind a device they can use to call him, in case of emergency. And they say goodbye, and he leaves.

He really grows on you, ya know?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the agents have their hands full balancing Sarge, whose very appearance is disconcerting, and the shrike.

The problem is that Sarge has a century of experience at this, probably going through this exact scenario a dozen times over. With the exception of having a lookalike precede him, there’s nothing new for him in this situation. He’s done it all before, and he know what he’s doing. I mean, other than the fact that every planet he’s been on has been utterly destroyed by the shrike, which speaks to some sort of failing in his long game, he absolutely knows what to do in the short term. And he has very much demonstrated how he prioritizes results over compassion, while Shield exists to get results because of compassion.

Sarge and Mack play against each other in this episode, maneuvering, but Sarge doesn’t need to do much. He’s ahead of the game, and predicts that he’ll be in charge before the day is out. He also tells Mack that the shrike’s creator would, to them, be like a god, and not some simple pretender at such.

Jakko, if I’m spelling that right, has a moment in this episode. He talks to Yo-Yo, tells him about his family: eight brothers, and he was the runt of them. They were a family of bakers, living humble lives filled with hard work and good smells. But they’re all dead now, killed by the shrike. That’s why he’s with Sarge, and why he won’t take any help from Shield to ease his breathing. As it turns out, though, his breathing is so labored because he’s readying himself to breath fire, like a dragon. Just a little surprising, that, and it’s only through Daisy’s presence that they stop him so easily. (Snowflake seemed just a little surprised by that)

Speaking of Daisy, she and Mack really do work well together. He’s a good general, focused and determined, and she’s a strong right hand. I wonder if that might eventually change, as Daisy is still growing, but for now, they’re good together. She is what he needs.

She’s also what Deke wants. He comes in trying to impress her by being the wealthy head of a tech company and wanting to hear all about her exciting space adventures. That goes into the little bombshell of one Fitz dying and another being trapped in space with Simmons, which rightfully tears Deke up inside to hear. But Mack is able to use it, to calm and focus him on something they need: Sarge’s tracking system. Deke is able to crack that, and it gives them two shrike, both of which Shield captures easily, intending to kill them and save the hosts.

Sarge predicted all of that. Not necessarily down to the last detail, but something to that effect.

The agents apparently did not learn from Keller’s death, or May’s experience with the one she had to kill. They see a human being, alive, up and walking around, that just happens to have a shrike in their chest. What they’re really dealing with is an animated corpse that is being used like a puppet by what’s inside it. They want to save the people but, in this instance, Sarge is right: they’re already dead. Mind you, this not make him at all right with how easily he and his crew kill people, but he’s right about that one thing, at least.

And here’s the critical mistake, which I almost screamed at the screen: “No! Don’t put them together!

The instant the two “captured” shrike are together in the containment module, they go crazy, shrieking and joining together in a mass of growing crystals. One agent goes down trying to sedate them. Sarge is brought in to help, and at the critical moment he offers to tell them what they need to do, but only if they give him his crew and his truck back. Mack agrees, angrily, emotionally, and Sarge tells them that the shrike can’t survive the cold. That leads to opening the bay door at a very high altitude, freezing the crystals, which fall apart and tumble out.

And just like that… Sarge has established a superior position. He is calm and rational and determined where Mack was emotional and had to relent to Sarge’s demands. Even more, Sarge can tell them what to do in a crisis, while Mack didn’t know what to do. He even has the same face as Coulson, a face they all looked to for leadership, for years.

Sarge played it perfectly, because he’s played this game so many times before.

So, Fitz-Simmons are on their way back to Earth, where Sarge and the shrike are waiting for them, and how much do you want to bet the lady who helped them is also going to be part of this? Sarge has basically taken over in all but name, and he did it by doing almost nothing, which is a whole other level of formidable. The shrike’s creator lurks somewhere in the wings, soon to come to Earth, which will be a whole other level of bad and dangerous for the world. As if Earth hasn’t been through enough already, now it’s the staging ground for a contest between devils.

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5 Comedy/Gag Anime

Who doesn’t love a good laugh?

Laughter is medicine for the soul, they say, and I heartily agree! 🙂

But it’s not just medicine. It’s nourishment. It is vital for our lives, our condition as human beings, to be able to laugh. That day when we can no longer laugh, when laughter has died within us, so has our soul also begun to die. Similarly, when laughter is poisoned with cruelty, that, too, is a dying within the soul, as what is good and gentle is turned into a weapon. And laughter can carry lessons and truths into our hearts when other means would fail.

I am neither the first, nor the last, to appreciate the power of humor. Sages and storytellers alike know the power of a laugh.

In the words of Roger Rabbit, “A laugh is a very powerful thing. Sometimes, it’s the only weapon we have.”

“A laugh is ten times more powerful than a scream,” they said in Monsters Inc.

A wise man named Mark Twain once said, “Irreverence is the champion of liberty, if not its only defender.”

Great men have devoted their lives to making us laugh, making us smile. Robin Williams, Stan Lee, and others all wrestled with the significance of their work, but they learned that brightening someone’s day is a most worthy cause.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. No need to get too long-winded here! 😉

Obviously, laughter really is important, often more so than we realize. So of course we are going to tell jokes all the time! Indeed, comedies are one of the chief pillars of our entertainment! Whatever we’re watching, we want to be able to laugh! No, we need to laugh! And those shows which are purely comedy, making us laugh for a few hours? Those are often among our favorites! And why not, eh? 🙂

Anime has plenty of comedies to choose from. About the only restrictions I had were in trying to avoid, dramas, slice of life, and harems, focusing instead on the gags, jokes, and pure humor, and even then, I had so many options to choose from! I practically just drew them out of the metaphorical hat that is the chaos of my brain. 😉

In no particular order, I present a handful of anime that make us laugh, my picks for five comedy/gag anime! Enjoy! 🙂

Like, seriously, if you haven’t seen these, and want to laugh for awhile, then go, and enjoy them! 😉

1) Gabriel DropOut

I’ve said before, it’s basically one long comedy routine, from beginning to end,  and I laughed the entire time. 🙂

Two angel girls who are anything but angelic, two devil girls who are anything but devilish (no matter how hard one of them tries to pose as such), and a whole lotta laughter. This show, in a nutshell.

2) Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto!

Style! Whatever Sakamoto does, he does it with style! And the results are stylishly hilarious! And endearing, as his influence proves to be uplifting in a most unexpected way. With style!

3) Place to Place

The slightly-exaggerated slice of life adventures of a group of high school friends. There is next to no plot, but there is plenty of laughter to go around. And it has the best snowball fight in animated history. 😉

4) Hetalia

Centering around the Axis and Allies of World War II, nations are personified as individuals. There is much hilarity to be found both in the jokes which result from poking fun at all the nations, and in the many gags as these characters are plopped into various situations, and even in the history lessons. Not bad, not bad at all.

5) Teasing Master Takagi-san

A girl continually pranks the boy she has a crush on, and not only is she a master, but her victim, like most teenage boys, is all posturing and posing. He is completely outmatched, and yet he never stops trying, which just makes her job that much easier and more fun. I think my favorite moment is in the first episode, though, with the eraser! 🙂

And that’s my five picks, very simply put.

How about you? What are some of your favorite go-to anime when you need a good laugh?

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Anime Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The single biggest strike against this anime, in my opinion, is how doesn’t quite stand entirely on its own. It was made quite awhile after its predecessor, and, though it is truer to the source material, it seems to assume that people have watched said predecessor already. Not necessarily in any single big way, but a scattered handful of smaller ones, where a moment, some background characters, or some previous event is most appreciated in the light of having watched the one, and then the other. That might have been generally true at time of publication, but as the years go on, that will be less and less true.

Outside that little detail, however, we can still enjoy this show for itself, and only itself. It is similar to the first show which was inspired by the manga, but it remains a very different beast.

(and if that is the biggest strike against it, then it’s doing pretty good!)

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood tells the story of the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, and of all the people around them (small distinction from the original FMA, as that show focused almost entirely on the brothers, and only the brothers). The two of them were born in a country a bit like Germany around the time of the World Wars, and they are particularly skilled at alchemy. They are so skilled that they thought they could overturn life and death (they were exceptionally young and stupid at the time), a choice which wrought terrible consequences upon the both of them. Setting out now to undo their mistake without repeating it, the Elrics will journey all around the country, meeting a colorful cast of characters, battling a multitude of dangerous enemies, including monsters, learning more and more every step of the way, and walking straight into the heart of a deadly conspiracy authored by an ancient, nefarious evil. The struggle will be for much more than their own lives long before the end.

It’s an epic story, with a tight, focused narrative, from start to finish. The early episodes might be a little off-putting, perhaps even depressing, and a number of pivotal moments are there and gone in a flash, with little time to prepare for them and little ado about them until later. Generally, though, the plot follows a number of threads and skillfully weaves them together as a whole. There’s plenty of action, lots of adventure, triumphs and tragedies and losses and complications. It’s a story of many people coming together, contributing in different ways, to overcome evil and safeguard the population of an entire country and then some.

In a word, it’s about humanity.

It has several subtle, running themes about man and God, both science and religion having their place to benefit society, and both having significant dangers attached to them. It asks questions about the worth of human life in our eyes, as well as the sins which plague us, and the determination with which we overcome such. It speaks of truth, and finding it, for truth is simple and intricate and powerful all at once. Those who defy truth do not come to good ends, but those who accept it, in full, can achieve amazing things. And, a bit less subtly, it rings with the truth that no human is “special” and automatically set above any other human.

That’s quite some worthy material, I say! 🙂

Everything technical about the show is beautifully done, be it the design, the animation, the fighting, the comedy, the characters, the casting, the soundtrack, the scenery, the world-building, the alchemy… it’s all very exceptionally well done. There’s a reason the show is far, far, far in the forward ranks of all my favorites. 🙂

There are so many great moments in the show! There are particularly good fights and badass moments, of course. There’s also lots of laughter and tears. There’s an obvious, but not overdone, love story, culminating in one of the cutest mutual confessions ever, and one of my most favorite ships ever, in the form of Ed and Winry. I love how it tied up all the loose ends, as well, letting people have their happy endings (unlike the original FMA). This world became more beautiful, rather than more horrifying, the more time you spent in it. 🙂

Basically… it’s easy to see how this show is so widely loved, as it has something to appeal to most people across the board, and it simply tells a very good story in a very good way. 🙂

Rating: I  give Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood full marks, 10 stars out of 10!

Grade: A-Plus!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #240: A Defense of Luxury

“Everyone’s life is full of suffering, but going hungry won’t make it better. Bodies don’t last long on a diet of virtue alone.”
– Yukina, Samurai 7
Episode 7, “The Friend”

When Yukina says this, she is speaking to a young woman named Kirara. Yukina is a primary hostess of a business that caters especially to luxurious comforts, while Kirara is a humble priestess from a humble farming village. As a guest, Kirara is provided a dinner of much higher quality than she is accustomed to. Thinking about her fellow villagers, and the dire straits they are all in at the moment, she is hesitant about actually consuming this fine cuisine set before her, uncertain that it’s appropriate for her to have it. She feels guilty, being given so much good, delicious food, while others are on the brink of starving.

That’s often the way of it, isn’t it? Those who are accustomed to luxury often take their blessings for granted, but those who are new to it may not know how to even accept it. Those who are especially kind and dutiful, as Kirara is, may even feel guilty about it. If they haven’t earned it, after all, how can it be all right for them to have it, even if it’s an honest gift from a friend?

When Yukina shares these words with Kirara, she’s not trying to dissuade her fried from being charitable and giving. She’s merely pointing out that depriving herself of the first truly decent meal she’s ever had will do nothing to improve the situation.

If a man were to lose his family to a terrible tragedy, would he somehow be healed of that pain if another person chose not to have a family of their own? Would his lost loved ones be joyfully restored to him if someone else chose not to be happy? No, of course not. That is not how it works.

Joining a painful situation, or staying in one, does not lessen the suffering of others.

Neither will refusing to eat a good meal, when it’s put in front of you by the kindness of others, accomplish anything more than your own hunger. It’s okay to enjoy it.

For that matter, it is often when people seek to improve their own situation, to make themselves more prosperous and comfortable, that they naturally enable that prosperity to enter the lives of those around them.

The automobile, for instance, was invented as a more comfortable and sanitary mode of travel than horseback, and society was transformed by it. The people who produced them were well-paid, and improved their circumstances as well, which spread more prosperity around them. Such it is with other luxuries, like fine foods and drinks. Someone had to produce them first, and the fairest, most free system would reward them appropriately for it, allowing them to improve their circumstances as well.

If we were all to deny ourselves the good things in life, we would be crippling the economy of those who make them, and taking something precious from society as a whole. How would that help anyone who is already starving?

Of course, it is an easy and frequent thing to do, to go too far in the other direction, the way of hoarding and gluttony and outright thievery. Those evils, however, do not take away from the virtue of gratefully, and humbly, enjoying what is fine and delicious. Feeding ourselves with good food is how we give ourselves greater strength to do greater good in the world.

We must take good care of ourselves now in order to be helpful later.

It is no bad thing to enjoy life a little, and we certainly should not be made to feel guilty when we do so.

It is just a question of balance, as per usual. 🙂

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This Week on TV, June 22, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

This week’s Agents of Shield was a very psychological episode, built entirely around Fitz-Simmons. It was sad and scary and happy and all around a very fun ride through their minds and their past towards their future. 🙂

Agents of Shield

6.06 “Inescapable”

That was excellent! 🙂

It was all about Fitz-Simmons in this episode. Where they come from, what makes them tick, the good, the bad, the ugly, the scary, the powerful. They are magnificent and unstoppable together. …they might need some therapy, though, and this was a very therapeutic episode.

The two of them wake up in a plain, white room together, one where everything they think of is possible and every memory is shareable. Atara appears to explain things to them and tell them that they can’t escape. Any attempt to do so will result in madness. So, the way out is, quite simply, to figure out time travel, so Atara and the Chronicoms can go back in time and save their world.

The ramifications of this are huge. I mean, the power to change all the bad things that happened? To meddle with the past and mold entire timelines anytime you think this one isn’t fair? To save or condemn… everything? That’s pretty godlike, but mortals aren’t gods. Mortals are invariably wrong about something, and when you can shape all of time, that is a very bad time to be wrong.

And, as it happens, the entire time traveling ordeal is very painful for Simmons to discuss or even think about. Which is kind of a good thing, in the big picture, but a bit dangerous and awkward for the two of them right now.

Things start out well enough. They sit, enjoy treats together, and Fitz tells her all about the last year, while she adds in what they’ve been doing while on Fitz’s trail. They’ve been to some of the same places, as Simmons gradually closed the gap between them. But soon, the topic turns to time travel, and Simmons reacts defensively, refusing to cooperate. We talk about how we react like children but Fitz just a teensy bit surprised when Simmons suddenly is a little girl, throwing a tantrum and running away, through a magical hole to her childhood bedroom.

In reality, the two of them are hooked up to a machine that puts their minds together in some sort of virtual space. Enoch opposes this, as it is very risky, and the danger mounts, and if they die, Atara and the Chronicoms will have gained nothing for their troubles. Yes, the human mind is powerful, but it’s also very delicate and filled with unstable emotions, so he implores Atara to stop this. But Atara, Malachi, and the rest will not listen. As far as they’re concerned, this is the most efficient way to get what they want, so Enoch can either stand with them on this, or be dismantled.

As Fitz realizes that they’re in a prison of their own minds, he tries to get Simmons back to her usual self. As a little girl, she’s hiding in her bed, “observing… from a distance,” in that place where she always went to work out her problems, as her mind went up to the stars and all her troubles were locked away in a music box. She wants to be read a story right now, and it looks sweet and childish, but the cover is actually that of the Darkhold.

Fitz takes one look at that cover, drops it, and pulls her out of bed and back into their white room, wherein he talks as if he would conjure up Aida to help him, and she snaps back to her adult self. That’s when Fitz is able to draw out why she’s so afraid to talk about all of this time travel stuff, because of what it means. It means telling Fitz the truth. All of it.

He proposed as soon as he had his hands in hers, but now he finds out that his future self has already proposed to her, already married her, and already died breaking a time loop of their world ending. He sees his own body in her memories. He sees their rings. And he sees Coulson, soon to die. One of the last things he told her, in effect, was to go and find the Fitz who was still in cryo at the time, the slightly-past version of their Fitz, who has now gone off in a very different direction. Mack had his reservations about that, but he was also the first one to help retrofit the Zephyr to jump all over space looking for him.

All of this is a lot to take in. It’s a lot to process. Small wonder Simmons didn’t want to approach the subject. But it’s done now, and they have to move forward. Starting with supporting Fitz as he starts working the problem too hard. She hears a sound, in their heads, one that she doesn’t like, and goes to find him.

She finds him in his room at Shield Academy, on a pivotal night of their relationship. It’s the first time she came to his room, and they talked, bouncing ideas, and this was the night Fitz went from terrified to comfortable in her presence, and the one where Simmons put him in the friend zone. She also remembers seeing that he was a bit manic, and thinking that brilliance can be just a tick away from madness. She is uncomfortably familiar with Fitz’s madness, and now she knows it’s coming back. As Fitz is working a problem about time travel, he can’t help but think of the Hell that she’s been through, and the pain of not being there for her, and if an entire race is feeling that… then maybe they should take control of time, and undo anything they want.

And therein lies the danger. When flawed mortals aspire to the powers of divinity, it does not end well. Many things have begun with noble intentions, but in the space of a blink they become corrupted. And what is Fitz’s corruption? Leopold, of Hydra, coming with the sound of booted feet on the march. Fitz’s darkness, the shape of a psychotic break she’s already seen him suffer once. He’s there, in Fitz’s mind… and so are the two of them, in their minds.

They run, fleeing the evil mad scientist who commands an army. They run where Simmons always runs: back to her childhood room. She was always safe here, but they soon find that Fitz’s inner darkness isn’t the only one they have to worry about. Simmons’ music box is bouncing and rattling like something possessed, and when it falls and opens, her darkness comes out too. It’s her, but so disheveled, and filthy, and mad that she’s unrecognizable. She comes for them, shrieking, and they hide in the closet before they’re suddenly separated, facing each other’s evil.

Leopold takes Simmons and binds her into the memory machine, intent on taking the memories he needs and hollowing out the rest of her. Simmons’ evil whatever-she-is hangs him upside down and dissects him with a bone-knife, including removing the heart he said was hers. The two of them are hurting each other, but they rally together. They’re not alone. They still have each other. And they have friends. Mack shoots the monster holding Fitz and gets him down, sending him running. Daisy overwhelms Leopold and the Hydra soldiers, getting Simmons out and sending her running. They run into a containment chamber from opposite sides, locking it shut. They’re in there, together, safe and screaming at each other while their shadow selves circle around outside.

The truth is that they’ve hurt each other. Quite a bit. They’ve endured incredible amounts of pain, both together and individually. It begins with that moment when Coulson recruited them, but it centers around themselves. The people we care for are a source of pain, because they are important. To care is to open oneself up to that pain, and it hurts, a lot, but it’s so much better than feeling nothing at all. They hate having to be saved, but they’ll never stop saving each other. They love each other, absolutely. They shout out years’ worth of pain and trauma, but they’re ultimately shouting that they love each other. So, when they’re breathing normally again, they resolve to face whatever is out there together.

…of course, their shadow selves aren’t really a concern once that happens. They’re too busy making out. Which would have to be one of the most surreal things these two have ever experienced together.

Heh, I remember this one time where my friends and I were talking about our dark sides, and evil alternate-dimension versions of ourselves. Somehow it came up that my evil self and one of my friend’s evil self would absolutely hook up, and it would be one of the most unhealthy relationships ever in the history of unhealthy relationships. It would be a disaster… but it would also be pretty fun in the meantime! LOL. So, I can actually grasp the interest with what evil Fitz and evil Simmons would do with each other, but that sort of thing generally stays in the realm of imagination, never actually seen, ya know? Heh, small wonder Fitz-Simmons could only stare in morbid fascination at the kinky stuff their dark sides to together.

They really are made for each other. Both sides of them.

At the end of it all, and it’s apparently only been a few minutes, Atara appears to try and get them to focus on what they need to do. Thing is, Fitz has decided that he’s not going to help them. They’re all right being locked up forever, together.

Atara is just telling them they won’t be when Enoch comes through. He disables all the other Chronicoms with a signal, releasing Fitz-Simmons and transporting the three of them off. Oh, and Simmons is just starting to tell Fitz about Deke when they vanish. Episode ends.

Well, there that ending scene where Daisy has updated Mack on the situation. Knowing Fitz is alive is overwhelming, but he’s glad. And Fitz-Simmons are together, so they’ll be fine. They may have even broken out already. And now it’s Mack’s turn to update her. Short version: whatever destroyed the Chronicom homeworld seems to have made its way to Earth.

And then the episode is over.

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5 Harem Anime

If there is one thing which I think anime fans can both enjoy and agree is beyond overused, it’s harems.

Seriously, what is it with us?

On the one hand, there’s some automatic enjoyment of the drama and the competition. Perhaps it’s because so much of our time, and effort, and lives revolves around trying to find, attract, and win the heart of the best members of the opposite sex, we just can’t help but stare in fascination at those who apparently manage to not only do all of that, but do it multiple times, simultaneously.

On the other hand… good grief! If any single trope has over saturated the market, it’s harems! Everywhere you look, there’s another story featuring a guy or girl who is surrounded by idealized members of the opposite sex, all set on getting with the main protagonist. And it knows few, if any, of the usual genre boundaries. There are fantasies, comedies, dramas, adventures, slice of life, science fiction stories, high school stories, and on and on. And to think, they actually were a rarity, once upon a time!

(I would not actually mind if they became a rarity again)

So, the challenge of picking five harem anime had less to do with the quantity than it did with the quality. Some harems are more interesting than others, and some are… ah, far more blatant, we shall say.

Just to be clear, we are defining harem, or reverse-harem, anime as those which have a central protagonist with at least three love interests, or potential love interests, of the opposite gender constantly in close proximity and very much interested in them.

Now, in no particular order, as per usual, I present my picks for five harem anime!

1) Tenchi Muyo

Starting things off, we have the original harem anime! …or, rather, the first one that I ever saw! 😉

There’s a bit of arguing that has to go into this pick, as, technically, most of the anime features more of a love triangle at work than a full-blown harem. Nevertheless, Tenchi is surrounded by beautiful women, and more than two take an interest in him. Ryoko and Ayeka may easily be the leads, but Mihoshi certain has a crush on him, too, and there’s a certain connection between him and Khione, and even Washu expresses some interest, and there’s even more than just them.

I pick Tenchi Muyo partially because it was one of the first anime I ever saw to even approach the harem trope, and because I imagine it, and others like El-Hazard, influenced the audience and the market enough to make way for the multitude of harem-themed anime which have followed. Then, of course, there’s just how much fun Tenchi’s little harem is! 🙂

2) Ouran High School Host Club

No list of harem anime would be truly complete without a reverse-harem, where the girl is the one surrounded by the guys. 😉

This show is also an example of a more low-key harem, really. Where Haruhi is certainly surrounded by attractive boys, several of whom are interested in her, the story does not fall into the trap of having them all rabidly pursue her. That’s something that a number of harems get wrong: they overdo the harem’s obsession with the object of their affection. This reverse-harem, however, barely pursues Haruhi at all. Thus, when it ends without resolving the harem situation, it’s not nearly so disappointing.

More simply, this show uses the harem trope without making everything about the harem. The story is about the characters breaking with conformity, being their true selves, and having ridiculous fun times together. The reverse-harem is something of a side-note, almost entirely irrelevant in all practical terms, but still understandable. As the boys get to know Haruhi better, it’s only natural for some of them really like her that way. 🙂

3) Campione

Man kills beasts, gets woman.
Man kills threatening men, gets woman.
Man kills gods… gets lots of women! 😛

While the setup for the harem is completely fantastical, there’s something realistic about the structure of the harem itself, namely, the ongoing competition within it.

It’s a natural thing for the members of a harem to compete with each other, either in trying to gain or not gain the eye of the harem’s center. As in any other arena, there is always the question of who is Number One. As large or small as harems may be, there are usually one or two particular leads, the strongest candidates, so to speak. Whether or not that is the case, there do tend to be favorites among the fans. So, when you have a harem, you often have to decide who is at the top of it.

Erica stands as the queen bee of this particular harem. She holds sway over two of the other girls, and she’s the one who began the harem in the first place. She was the first to declare herself for the boy, and she was the one to really bring in the next two girls, asserting her dominion over them in the process. But the fourth girl, and other arguable additions, don’t hold to that. They do what they do, whether or not she likes it. So she is the leader, but not really, and so other girls have a chance to shine.

4) To Love-Ru

I hesitated with this, but… well, it must be said: this is the best harem in anime. 😉

Though this anime features one of the larger harems, and tremendous amounts of fan service, none of the girls fall into the simple “types” which so dominate other harems. Even more, each one is a fully fleshed-out and developed character in her own right, and they all have their own relationship with Rito. It may completely mystify the audience, exactly why they’re all so fascinated with him, but, then again, almost every other boy his age is a pervert, so I suppose options are limited. Any port in a storm, as they say, but I digress.

Another aspect which separates this from most harems is how some of the characters actively work to make the harem, as a whole, a long-term thing. Most harem anime end with little to no resolution of the harem situation, and a few others end with the ending of the harem. There are a few which look to make the harem a more permanent thing, something which the characters actively choose to have and remain a part of for the rest of their lives, but there aren’t that many I can recall. Even more, the long-term feasibility of this harem relies on the girls themselves (and the guy) as characters, rather than as a bunch of girls who just want the same boy.

All things considered, this one could actually work out.

5) Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls

…oh, what the heck, it’s my favorite example of just how crazy this harem thing has gotten! I mean, how much more insane can you get than this? (rhetorical question, I really don’t want to actually know) 😉

The main harem has a snake-girl, a bird-girl, a horse-girl, a fish-girl, a spider-girl, a slime-girl, and a reaper-girl, not to mention the adjacent harem that has a dead-girl, a cyclops-girl, an ogre-girl, a shadow-girl, and a normal woman, in addition to the guest stars of a dragon-girl, a devil-girl, a tree-girl, and a dog-girl, in addition to a number of others in the manga. Basically, they take as many monsters as they can, covering as many bases as they can, and turn all of them (with the exception of the pig-like orcs) into girls. In retrospect, I am actually kind of surprised that they haven’t had a cat-girl anywhere in the story as of yet, or at least none that I can readily recall.

Point being: when you’ve reached the point at which you have taken all the monsters that used to scare kids into bed at night and turned them all into sexy girls, and all in a harem, then you have officially crossed the threshold of crazy.

And that’s just the underlying principle of the thing! The girls are crazy too! Be they insanely obsessive and jealous, or overly devoted, or ditzy beyond belief, or any other of the multitude of flavors of crazy on display here, bottom line: they’re crazy! It truly is a marvel (not entirely unintentional) that the unfortunate protagonist is not dead yet, or, rather, that he hasn’t stayed that way for very long.

So, we have an early harem, a reverse-harem, a competitive harem, a “best” harem, and an absolutely crazy harem. And that’s my five picks! 🙂

How about you, those of you who know harem anime? Which ones would you pick?

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Anime Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

This one has a little history to consider.

Not only is it a classic, it’s a classic that demanded to be remade into another classic, similar to each other, but very distinct. See, they based the first anime on the manga, but soon passed it and proceeded in a wildly different direction. Thus, not entirely unlike Digimon, we have separate series which share the same name, environment, and characters. Now, where I did a very basic summary of the entire Digimon franchise in one short post, I will be doing two for this one franchise, because, unlike Digimon, there are only two series to review. 😉

Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric. Born in a country reminiscent of, say, Germany, around the time of the World Wars, the young Elric brothers are hard-working geniuses when it comes to alchemy, this world’s magical system. But they made a terrible, terrible mistake once, and so they set out into the world looking to undo it. Thus begins their journey, wherein they have many adventures, help people, fight monsters, and inadvertently walk into the very heart of a nefarious, deadly conspiracy.

It’s a blending of science fiction and fantasy with adventure, action, comedy, and a bit of horror. Alchemy provides the fantasy, the automail provides the sci-fi (seriously, how do these people have such advanced cybernetics?), the Elrics’ journey is the adventure, the fights and other crises they navigate makes for quality action, their various hilarious antics are the comedy, and as for horror, well, there are a number of horrific things which happen, such that it’s easy to see why they put this on Adult Swim at first. It is meant for a slightly more mature audience, at least at the teenaged level.

Easily the best part of this show, as with many others, is the characters. There’s enough of them that I can’t go into all of them individually, but they’re just a lovable bunch of humans! Their personalities are diverse enough that they balance each other out, and the moments they all share together are heart-warming and endearing, not to mention how they make us laugh. The way they face down danger together, with competence and unity, is enjoyable, and speaks to the spirit they share as comrades. Meanwhile, the villains and antiheroes all feel unique and human as well, most of them acting out of the horrible pain they have been forced to endure.

The story could do with a little refinement, perhaps, but, then again, they were pretty much making it up as they went, and that shows. They still managed to cobble together something fairly intricate and riveting. Though the pacing might have been better, it was entertaining even when they needed to fill out some time, and it was exciting when they were delving into the meat of the plot.

Sometimes worth paying.
Sometimes not.

There are various themes throughout the show, which add to the weight it carries with the audience. There are questions of God and the natural world, and how fair or unfair things are. There are quests for justice and revenge, and the fight to save lives from an evil which is centuries old. There is a discussion of what is a justifiable response to acts of cruelty and evil, and how much bad one can do while hoping for some redemption. And there is the question of what price is worth paying for what we want, because there will be a price, always.

There’s also the struggle we mortals have with death, and loss, and whether or not we will accept it. That got a bit annoying for me, actually. The Elrics made their huge mistake because they refused to accept the death of their mother. Then they go all over looking for ways to get back what they lost in that mistake. That was fine, but then they kept refusing to accept what they lost. By the last episode, it got to the point where I was actually screaming, “Just accept that death is a universal, permanent thing and deal with it already!”

If anything, the theme of loss and sacrifice might be overdone. It annoys the heck out of me that so much is given and so little is gained, in the end. Especially at the end of the movie, which is the actual conclusion of the series.

Outside that, there’s also how so much of the background cast ends up dead. We don’t always see it, indeed it became a common thing for characters to die in ways and at times that we did not see. Then again, maybe that was just to cut down on the tragic bloodshed, because the deaths that we do see are definitely both tragic and bloody.

And if they don’t end up dead, they end up nearly insignificant. Even when they do something important, they’re still just playing second fiddle to the Elrics. This is definitely their story, and everyone else is just waltzing through it at various intervals.

So, I have some qualms with the outcome of the show, but not really with the show itself, if that makes any sense. It has action and adventure aplenty, and it examines serious questions seriously. It does not shy away from horror, but it does treat it with a certain kind of tact. It pushes things, but it never overdoes it.

The animation, artwork, and design are all beautiful and appealing. The music is nothing short of fantastic (this is another soundtrack I have been listening to ever since). The world around the story is rich and vibrant and alive. The moments of humor really are funny, and the tragedies are immortal, such as one of the most famous character deaths in all of anime.

In short, Fullmetal Alchemist is a fantastic anime. There’s a reason it’s such a classic. 🙂

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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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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