Anime Review: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Futuristic dystopian philosophical military cyberpunk crime drama and social commentary? Is that the most accurate, and succinct, description of this anime? Quite a mouthful, if it is.

Ghost in the Shell, as an overall franchise, and especially the Stand Alone Complex iteration, follows the adventures of Public Security Section 9, a hybrid investigative organization that combines the approach and the resources of the police and the military, in a futuristic Japan wherein almost the entire population have become cyborgs. They handle a variety of cases, dealing with everything from petty thievery and kidnapping to international terrorism and political corruption at the highest levels of their government. Some investigations are over and done with almost as soon as they begin, and others span far longer, with tremendous ramifications.

Taking the lead, we have Makoto Kusanagi, called the Major, a woman of singular capability. She is Section 9’s team leader in the field, under the bureaucratic auspices of Chief Aramaki. She has very capable help in her elite team: Batou, a former marine and formidable warrior; Togusa, a skilled detective; Ishikawa, on information and cyber-warfare; Saito, an amazing sniper; Pazu and Boma, filling out the ranks and adding their respective skills and perspectives to the mix. These are professionals, highly capable, adaptable, precise, and cunning. There are some additions here and there, but this is the most central cast. Oh, and there are the ever-lovable spider-like tanks called Tachikomas! 🙂

The story is something between episodic and overarching. And there’s a variety to be found among the episodes. Some are packed with action and gunfire, others with intrigue, still others with exposition and info-dumping, and some that just discuss things. There’s one episode that consists entirely of the conversation held within a virtual chat room that the Major just happens to be attending as part of her investigation. The plots to be found within such a range of episodes can range from fairly simple and straightforward to amazingly intricate and complex. It’s obvious that a great deal of time, effort, and intelligence went into this show even when it was in the planning stages.

That last actually makes it a little disappointing, even confusing, when some plot point is left hanging here and there. In the first season finale, for instance, right at the triumphant resolution, they included a scene which has every appearance of a lingering villain successfully assassinating a minor character just before he was to take the witness stand… and that’s the last we hear of it, no explanation or repercussions explored. For something so well-crafted and rich to fumble like that is a bit strange.

This woman has a thing for falling.

Speaking of the crafting, however, that is nothing short of exceptional. The animation is smooth in every instance, no matter what is or isn’t happening. The world feels alive, even if it’s gone all cybernetic and technological. The scenes that take place in cyberspace are distinct from the real world and still feel alive in in their own way. The characters are intelligent and clever without ever seeming inhuman, which, again, is all the more impressive for most of them being cyborgs. The voice acting is all top notch, while the music is staggeringly beautiful and perfect for the show.

The themes this story explores are also fascinating. With the advance of technology come natural questions about humanity, what it means, how that might change, and the ramifications of potentially merging humanity with technology. For one thing, if people become like the computer they use, then they can be manipulated like them. They can be hacked, manipulated like puppets. They can have their lives and identities literally stolen. They could accomplish remarkable things, feats of strength, precision, and intelligence, but they could easily lose what makes them truly human as well. The very title of the franchise speaks to how the spirit, a ghost, is housed within the shell of an artificial body. That sort of idea automatically comes with important questions that do not have easy answers, as something previously fundamental and natural as flesh and blood is replaced.

It makes for quite a bit of discussion fodder. Unfortunately, such discussions can be a little overwhelming, even outright boring, when the people on the screen are having them. It’s not constant, but it’s also not unusual.

The end result of having so much intelligence poured into this show is that it somewhat defies the simplest descriptions, as evidenced with my attempt at such earlier. Intelligence, after all, can take many forms, and it permeates every level of how things actually work. It’s not simply one thing, but many. Cyberpunk, and futuristic, for the cyborgs and advanced technology. Military, for the missions the cast undertakes and the fireworks they bring to the party. Crime drama, for the cases they investigate and the justice they serve. Philosophical, for the discussions on important subject matter. And dystopian, for the harsh realities of this future-world, one where humanity has both risen and fallen as it has become one with computers.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has two seasons and a movie to its credit, and all of it is vastly entertaining and intriguing, in a wide variety of ways. It’s not always exciting, but it is strangely compelling. The characters are admirable, the plot is intricate, the themes are significant, and every technical aspect is exemplary. It portrays a world with little in the way of flesh and blood, yet it delves deeply into the soul with powerful emotions as much as rational reasoning.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #245: Weakness and Strength

“Is being weak really that bad?”
– Sojiro Seta, Rurouni Kenshin
Episode 56, “A Duel With an Extreme Moment”

It seems like such a simple question, doesn’t it?

These words aren’t even spoken aloud. They’re part of an inner discussion, something Sojiro is saying as he remembers a most terrible and traumatic night in the rain. His own family tried to murder him when he was little, after years of using and abusing him. He defended himself, and killed all of them instead, something he might never have been able to do if not for something his new mentor (one of the primary villains of the story) taught him: survival is a matter of strength. As in nature, where only the fittest survive, so in battle do the strong live and the weak die. That became the foundation of Sojiro’s outlook on life, his entire psychology built on that, and that alone. It’s part of what made him such a formidable killer.

But, as he asks himself, when that idea is challenged, is being weak really that bad?

It seems like it should be a straight-up answer: no. No, it’s not “bad” to be weak.

Everybody, even the strongest of us, is weak in some way. No one is strong in every way, and no one is strong all the time. That’s part of why we need each other, with bonds of loyalty to cover each others’ weaknesses with complementing strengths. And it’s why we need humility, to remember that we are all equals in the end.

Yet, if being weak isn’t bad, then why do we shun and despise it? Why do we universally seek strength? Why do we want it, crave it, fight for it, and follow those whom we see as strong? The answer is, because sometimes we need it.

When someone comes to take what is ours, to hurt us and those around us, then we need to have the power to fight them off. When natural disasters strike, we need physical strength to scramble for our lives and dig people out of the rubble. When we have any momentous, overwhelming task to perform, our wits and wills may drive us forward, but our bodies need to be strong enough to go the distance, or we will fall short.

If we don’t have physical strength… then we’re helpless.

And then, of course, there are other kinds of strength that aren’t physical, and aren’t aggressive. Creativity, patience, discipline, those are strengths. The resilience to endure hardship and keep living, the determination to never give up hope, the resolve to do what is necessary as well as the wisdom to temper that resolve with limits that maintain our humanity, and the drive to persist and endure despite physical exhaustion (as every healer demonstrates), those are all forms of strength, not one of them relying on the condition of the body. Most of all, the capacity to keep caring, no matter the pain and loss we endure, is a formidable strength all on its own.

So, being weak isn’t bad, but neither is it desirable, yet it’s unavoidable.

And being strong isn’t good, in and of itself, yet we need it, in all its forms.

Somehow, we must accept that we are weak, and that there is nothing wrong with that, while also striving for strength. We mustn’t become indolent in our weakness, using it as an excuse to remain that way, yet we mustn’t rely on strength as a measure of our value as people.

So, I suppose the answer to the question is… “it depends.”

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This Week on TV, July 27, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

With its two-hour finale coming next week, Agents of Shield delivered more intrigue, more emotion, more rising action. The tide is turning in the agents’ favor at last, but, as per usual, it’s going to come down to the wire, and it’s quite a ride to get there!

Agents of Shield

6.11 “From the Ashes”

The phoenix is probably one of the most famous of mythological creatures. An immortal firebird soaring in the heavens, descending to the Earth only once every hundred years. Some versions say it lays an egg, but others don’t mention that. All versions, however, say it burns itself up entirely, leaving only ashes behind. Then, from within those ashes, there is a spark, sometimes from a hatched egg, as the phoenix rises anew. Thus the phrase, “From the ashes.” So it descends from the sky, burns itself up, dies, and finally gives birth to… itself.

Sarge has lived for a hundred years. He has descended to Earth. His conversation with Izel has left him burning up from the inside, metaphorically-speaking. Now he gets broken down to ash, and what emerges will be… himself.

Who and what that is a matter of discussion, but talk is cheap, as they say. The proof of who Sarge is lies within his actions. To date, those actions have been cold-blooded, duplicitous, and self-serving. Now that the surface of him is crumbling, we know that there are two sides of him, sides which were merged together before but are now coming apart and warring with one another. On one side, the Pachakutiq entity which took Coulson’s form, and on the other, the bits of Coulson himself which Sarge inherited from that form.

It’s like an echo trying to overcome the roar of a lion, which shakes the ground beneath one’s feet, only the echo, so faint at first, is getting stronger. Every time Sarge “dies,” his past grows sharper and clearer, shaking the very foundation of him, and making the echoes reverberate louder and louder. It’s a torturous experience, and the fates of many may hinge on its outcome.

As Sarge’s identity crisis unfolds, Shield handles the crisis threatening the world (and more) as effectively as they can. There’s a lot to do, so the tasks are divided between them. Mack and Yo-Yo try to slow Izel down and notify the other agents of their whereabouts, Piper leads the effort to try and track them, completely ignoring her injury, Fitz-Simmons and Deke are working on a way to counter Izel’s ability to possess them, and Daisy heads things up, while she and May trade off trying to work Sarge.

Things do not go well on Mack and Yo-Yo’s end. Yo-Yo wakes up, free from Izel, to find her metal hands spattered with Mack’s blood. Mack tells her Izel needs to take the Di’Allas to a specific temple she doesn’t know the location of, and Yo-Yo lets slip that Benson would be the only one who might know. Unfortunately, Izel was possessing him, and putting up a fair facade. She calls in Benson, who mentions three possible locations before Yo-Yo is able to signal him that something is wrong. Izel kills the agent who was with Benson, locks Mack and Yo-Yo up, and… well, she displays the one thing that is most dangerous in a sadistic interrogator: creativity.

Benson isn’t afraid of dying, and he’s courageous in the face of being tortured. But Izel has the Di’Allas, which can conjure up anything conceivable, especially one’s worst nightmares. For Benson, that’s the nightmare of losing Thomas, whom he he loved, again. Izel waits just a minute or two for Benson’s emotions to come to a boil of grief, pain, and regret, and then kills him. And promises to do so over and over. I’m not sure anyone could withstand something like that, so one can’t exactly hold it against Benson when he breaks.

Yo-Yo and Mack are able to talk for a bit about their feelings, being locked up, but when Benson gives Izel what she wants, they know they need to make a move. Knowing Izel can’t proceed with her plan without the Di’Allas, they steal the gravitonium sphere, enraging her, but that was just a ruse. The best diversions are ones which cannot be ignored, and Mack uses this one to jettison the containment pod with Benson in it, getting him to safety, where he can contact the Lighthouse and point them in Izel’s direction.

Back in Sarge’s corner, May and Daisy have differing approaches. May wants to try to bring out what’s left of Coulson, but Daisy is certain that’s a fool’s errand. I can see her point, and I probably would have sided with her. The shadows, the echoes of Coulson’s past, those are part of Sarge, but Sarge is, originally, an entirely different entity, not at all Coulson. She wants to see the other side, the core of the entity that took his form, one that Izel both wants to recruit back to her side, and one which she obviously fears. So, she breaks his neck, much to the surprise of the other agents watching through the security camera.

Sarge comes back, once again with clearer memories… and, once again, stronger. The former makes him remembering when he was first formed, with Izel’s song ringing through every bone in his body. The latter lets him overcome Daisy and shove the door straight off the wall. He then proceeds to tear his way through the underbelly of the Lighthouse, both doors and crates alike.

What Sarge said about Izel’s song, however, got Deke thinking. They’re fairly certain that Sarge’s sword can kill Izel, but the bit about the song is the clue for how it does it, and how they can counter her abilities. The blue knives, which kill the shrieking Shrike which Izel sings into being, ring like tuning forks when struck. Harmonic frequencies, that is the key. That’s how the knives work, but disrupting the Shrike’s frequency, and how the sword, which is an upscaled version of the knives, can kill Izel. It follows, then, that they just need a device which projects a frequency that counters Izel’s and voila! Possession power, neutralized.

Deke spent most of the episode trying to be part of the Fitz-Simmons team, not really contributing anything, but he put the pieces of evidence together and came up with what they need. It’s a cool moment for his character.

Daisy, meanwhile, displays her extremes. She tends to be either all-in or she runs away, like she ran away after becoming Inhuman, after losing Lincoln, and after losing Coulson. Now she confronts that loss, head-on, and she’s the only one accepting that Sarge is not Coulson, even taking the sword to kill him with it. If it works on him, after all, and he and Izel are the same, then it should work on Izel, too. And it has to be her, because she’s the only one truly willing to go through with it.

…that is, until Sarge demonstrates the one thing that he never has before, the one thing that truly separated him from Coulson: a willingness to sacrifice himself.

He wasn’t trying to break out. He was trying to find the sword. And he was looking for it so he could kill himself with it.

He has accepted that he and Izel are the same sort of creature, and, just like Daisy, realizes that if the sword can kill him, then it can kill her, too. He’s never shrunk from doing what he believes is necessary, but it’s always been someone else he’s sacrificed, never himself. He’s willing to die, even wants to die, rather than hurt the people Coulson knew, in order to give them a chance at killing Izel. That is something Sarge, as we’ve known him, would never do. But Coulson would.

It’s ironic. Daisy’s determination that Sarge was not, at all, Coulson turned out to be the very thing that brought that bit of Coulson to the surface, overpowering the Pachakutiq part of him that does not truly care about other people. This round of the war goes to the echo of humanity.

So, Shield has a weapon to kill Izel with, they have a device in the works that can keep her from possessing them, they have a bit of Coulson given back to them in their hour of need, and they have coordinates provided by Benson.

Izel, however, has the power of the Di’Allas, and she has Mack and Yo-Yo, and she’s at the temple in question. All she needs, now, is to restore the Di’Allas to their physical form. It has to do with the harmonic frequency thing, the entire temple is built for it, every stone in its place. For her to use the Di’Allas properly, they need to be put back into their previous stone-like form. Mack and Yo-Yo can’t do that, but, unfortunately, their fears conjure up the one person who could: Flint.

Crap.

Oh, and somewhere out in space, Malachi leads a small coup to take over leadership of the Chronicoms, killing Atara and setting in motion a plan to restore Chronica 2 only after they conquer a planet and turn it into Chronica 3. How much do you want to bet they set their sights on conquering Earth?

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5 Anime Uniforms

I am probably among the least fashionable people you will ever meet. As long as something doesn’t look ugly to the eye, I really don’t care what it does look like.

Still, even I have to admit… some outfits are just cool. Not only can they display the characters personalities and state of mind in a visible way, but there is a certain strength to be found in a presentable, uniform appearance which becomes a style unto itself. I faintly recall a moment from a TV show where the narrating main character talks about this. It was something to the effect of: it presents a united front, and makes it seem that messing with you is the same as messing with a much larger organization, one that is coordinated, efficient, and has deep pockets. No one wants to challenge an entire army.

Thus, while this is not exactly my forte, I can appreciate why people talk about them. Anime is rather famous for the uniforms, and other outfits, to be found within it. It’s just a question of how to pick them.

About the only restrictions I placed on myself were 1) sticking with military-ish uniforms, as these speak to the purpose of uniforms more strongly, and 2) nothing horrendous to look at, ya know?

So, in no particular order, my five picks for uniforms in anime!

1) Amestris Military Uniforms
Fullmetal Alchemist

Crisp, bright blue uniforms, distinct, severe, and authoritarian, stylish to look at, yet functional as something worn by soldiers, especially soldiers who have everything from the desert sun to the freezing winter to worry about.

2) Shinigami Uniforms
Bleach

A simple, intimidating design, all black, with white sashes, combining fashion and utility for the reapers of souls. And that’s before even adding the white overcoats of the captains, which is also simple, yet has a profound impact.

3) Black Knight Uniforms
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Black again. It’s a very functional, stylish choice if you want to intimidate, and I don’t mind that it shuns the flamboyant colors of more gaudy outfits. There’s some history behind black knights as well, as fallen knights without their former resources had to improvise a way to care for their armor by rubbing coal on it, if I recall correctly, thus blackening it. A black knight, then, was an outsider, even a criminal, which is what the Black Knights of Code Geass are.

4) Navy Marine Uniforms
One Piece

Can you tell that I like the simpler, more utilitarian outfits? A simple white shirt, with or without sleeves, having a collar, an ascot (I think is what those things around the neck are called), and black pants. Simple, functional, useful to wear for men who are engaged in physical labor all day, yet still distinguished, easy to recognize, and it even speaks to the navy’s attitude that things are either black or white, no in-between.

5) Shinsengumi/Police Uniforms
Rurouni Kenshin

It was this or the police uniform, and I couldn’t find pictures of the latter. 🙂 It’s simple, again, yet also distinguished. It’s just a coat, blue, with one embellishment: the white triangle pattern at the edge. And the headbands. This is the uniform of those who protected the order in Japan for centuries, risking and losing their lives on a regular basis.

And that’s it. My five picks! 🙂

Any outfits/uniforms you’d pick?

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Updating My Avengers Classification System

(Let’s try this again!) 😉

Just before the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially kicked off with Captain America: Civil War, I created a tentative Avengers classification system. Since then, we’ve had a number of new developments, and a great deal has been added to the MCU. In this time of transition between the end of Phase Three and whatever comes next, I figured now was a good time for updating said system. For the most part, it has held up well, but there is always room for improvement, ya know? 🙂

First, a quick recap:

Class A
The All-Out Assault Attackers

God. Of. Thunder.

The ones with enough brute, physical power to take theoretically “superior” forces head-on in a brawl and win, handily, often by virtue of overwhelming strength. In other words, these are the one-man armies, their greatest distinction being their ability to go straight through pretty much anything in their way.

Examples:

Thor, a prime example
Hulk, firmly Class A
Captain Marvel, an extreme example, practically soaring into her own class by virtue of her overwhelming power alone (but more on that in a moment)
Iron Man, begins as this, but I think he evolves out of it (more on that in a moment, too)
War Machine, may be Iron Man’s sidekick, but he packs enough firepower to be Class A
Black Panther
Spider-Man
Captain America, albeit at the lower end, much like…
The Winter Soldier, possibly, but more skilled at operating covertly

Speaking of which:

Class B
The Bold and Brave Backup

Forever the best of her Class.

These may have special abilities, be highly trained, or have ridiculous skills and technological tricks, but they’re far less suited to fighting entire armies head-on. They are more geared towards sneaky, wily attacks greatly dependent on skill and adaptability. Relying more on their wits, these are the people who have the Attackers’ backs in a fight.

Examples:

Black Widow, still the most classic example of Class B
Cap and Bucky might fit better here, arguably
Tony Stark, without his suits
Hawkeye
The Falcon
Star-Lord
Gamora
Drax
Rocket Raccoon, especially
Ant-Man, may have a certain sledgehammer trump card in how he goes all giant-size, but he’s primarily a tech-based trickster.
The Wasp
Mantis, possibly, but but at the very lowest level of such. Her special skill might be potent under the right circumstances, but she really has little to no feasible role in a real fight, let alone the penultimate battle of Endgame.
Heimdall, an excellent example of someone with a special skill, who uses is covertly and effectively, and has the heroes’ backs, even when he was dying. He will be missed! 😦

Class C
The Capable Commanders

Fear the man whom Avengers have obeyed.

These are the people who may or may not hold their own in an Avengers-level fight, but their true value lies in the ability to lead, strategize, scheme, and hold the line. Most Avengers, when you get down to it, tear things apart, especially enemies. But Commanders keep things together, including massive organizations like Shield, which, especially in recent years, has been especially difficult.

Examples:

Nick Fury
Phil Coulson
Maria Hill
Odin, King of Asgard, might be included, but considering how his mistakes led to his kingdom going to crap, I’m not so sure about this
The Ancient One, same thing as Odin
Yondu, same thing again
Valkyrie, could be easily counted in this class, though, as she gets up and leads her people after they’re destroyed several times in a row, both in battle and in peace.

Class D
The Daring Defenders

Bringing justice to the streets.

These are the people who may have powers, but at the low end of such, relying on their wits to get by, and are much more suited to dealing with crimes on the streets than invasions from the skies.

Examples:

Daredevil
Iron Fist
Jessica Jones
Luke Cage
The Punisher
Hellcat
Colleen Wing
Cloak and Dagger, may have dealt with a supernatural crisis that threatened an entire city, but it was still relatively small, and their skills are very much geared towards fighting crime.
Mayhem, a frenemy of Cloak and Dagger
The Runaways, though I haven’t seen much of their show, I am familiar enough with their comic-book iterations to confidently include them here as well.

Class E
The Everyday Avenger

Normal and extraordinary, side by side!

These are the most numerous of Earth’s protectors, the normal people who can’t fight entire armies, or save the heroes, or command legions. These are the legions, and the volunteers, the rank and file.

Examples:

Pepper Potts
Happy Hogan
The Howling Commandos
Many agents of Shield
The armies of Wakanda
The Ravagers
Foggy Nelson
Karen Paige
Claire Temple

So, that’s where things have more or less stayed the same. But, there is one particular thread that was left dangling back then, which I address now with the inclusion of a new class of Avenger:

Class S
The Super Special Supers

Hell hath no fury like hers.

These are the Avengers who have a great deal of raw power, like Class A, but use it in a variety of cunning ways, like Class B. They have bags of tricks, applicable to almost any situation, with a good deal of power behind them.

Examples:

Doctor Strange is probably the single best example here. While most of the other sorcerers and mystics have tricks aplenty, most of them would end up in Class B, lacking the sheer power of the Sorcerer Supreme, and having much smaller bags of tricks on hand.

The Scarlet Witch is a natural inclusion, too. Her psychic abilities, energy manipulation, and telekinesis are applied in numerous, clever ways, yet her sheer power is incredible. She is able to stand toe to toe with almost any enemy, even Thanos himself, and that has everything to do with both her power and clever adaptability.

In a similar way, Captain Marvel might be considered Class S, as she’s demonstrated both power and cunning, but she seems more like a cosmic-level sledgehammer than a scalpel, so I would say she’s somewhere bridging Class A and Class S.

Vision similarly defies a simple classification. He has plenty of raw power, yet only a few skills. He is clever, though, and difficult to even strike when he can phase like that. He’s a bit like Captain Marvel in that way, I suppose.

Groot could be a shoe-in for Class S, in his way. He’s been small and weak since the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but he’s still surprisingly strong and adaptable. Full-grown, he had enough tricks up his sleeve for Class B, but also the brute force of Class A. That says Class S, if anything does.

Finally, there’s Iron Man. Or, rather, Iron Man as he becomes in the end. He starts out absolutely in Class A, but he evolves over the course of the Infinity Saga. His experiences in and out of his suits (without them, he is Class B, easily) have a clear influence on him and the abilities he develops with his technology. By the end, he has an amazing arsenal, bound only by his imagination. That is a key feature of this class: specialized adaptability.

Your thoughts?

What do you all think? Additions? Alterations? Am I nuts? 😉 Where would the villains fit into this sort of system?

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Sunday’s Wisdom #244: Complacency Teaches Nothing

“People don’t learn much when everything is peachy and life presents no challenges.”
– Jon Hudson, from Project Hyperion, by Jeremy Robinson

If there is anyone who can talk about life being difficult, it’s Jon Hudson. Not to make it sound like no one has had it worse, of course, but Hudson’s life has not been easy. It’s just been difficult in different ways.

His father beat his mother all but senseless at Christmastime when he was just a boy. He worked in a government agency that was practically a joke, shown no respect, and even when his job became relevant, he had to deal with a lot of idiots getting in his way. Said relevancy came at the advent of giant monsters rampaging around the world, slaughtering entire cities, and that’s just the prelude to an extraterrestrial invasion of truly cosmic proportions. His career becomes entirely about dealing with madmen and monsters in the hopes of saving all of humanity and stopping an ongoing interstellar holocaust.

Yet, for all the suffering, Hudson has actually gained quite a bit. He has learned lessons and gained the greatest treasures of all: his family. The woman he loves, and marries, had an abusive first husband, but she came the other side of that determined to be strong, and never be dominated by a lesser man again. The daughter he adopts has a truly unique and tragic life story as well, one that has left her with countless nightmares. The people around him move forward with their lives, growing stronger and more loving, through each ordeal that is thrown their way.

And Hudson, who was once alone, learns about being a husband, father, friend, and protector of humanity… both the species and the principle.

All of that would not happen without the pain that he and those around him have faced.

Pain, suffering, all the difficulties of life, even the outright horrors… they’re never easy to go through, or even witness. But I believe, truly, that we learn more from tribulation than we do from complacency.

The man who has an easy life may study all he wants, but learns very little, and forgets it all rather easily, because he has no real need for it. History and storytelling both provide ample examples of people who have money and learning and spend all their time thinking about things they don’t actually know anything about and coming to wildly mistaken conclusions that ignore the facts of everyday life.

The man who has a difficult life learns much more, through experience and necessity, and never forgets it. There’s a reason we came to respect “street smarts” as a reflection of more practical, down-to-Earth knowledge, and an understanding of how the world actually works, gained through living a hard life.

As for what we learn, that will depend on the person, I think.

Some of us learn about the importance of kindness, of charity, of love and family and freedom.

Others learn how easy it is to close oneself off to human feeling, to be cruel and cowardly and self-serving.

I’ve said before that pain is a teacher. The question is what kind of student we are.

It may be a high price, with uncertain results, but if everything were easy, we would never really learn anything at all, would we?

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This Week on TV, July 20, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

This week’s Agents of Shield was definitely not at all lackluster! Wow!

Agents of Shield

6.10 “Leap”

That was intense!

It would seem that I was a little bit off in my assessment last week. Davis was not simply possessed by a shrike. He was possessed by Izel herself. That’s a thing she can do, apparently, move freely in and out of people. This explains how she always managed to escape when someone cornered her: she just went into someone when no one else could see, like she did when Davis and Jakko lost sight of each other while coming at her from two sides. Which makes Jakko’s sacrifice, in vain, all the more tragic.

It also makes it a bit disturbing, how Piper was taking funny selfies with a passed-out Davis who was actually Izel, patiently waiting for an opportunity and pretending to sleep to avoid any social interactions that might arouse suspicion. As the party wound down, May went off to get some rest, and Izel followed, jumping into May and sending Davis to get some rest in his quarters. Then she shot Sarge, and let them lock her up. It was easy enough to get out, the moment she had a guard alone, leaving May as confused as everyone else.

The agents all handle this rather well, I’d say. They stick with procedure, keep their heads, use caution, think it through, and they trust what they already know. Mack has May, with Izel inside her, locked in holding, and proceeds to investigate on the security cameras. Daisy, Yo-Yo, and Piper talk and agree that even if May were to fly off the handle like that, she would never use a gun to kill Sarge, so they keep digging. When May is confused, she and Yo-Yo walk through what she remembers, which leads them to Davis, which gets them on to Izel’s body-jumping.

By that point, however, Izel has already jumped into Piper and retrieved a Shrike crystal, and when Deke gets nosy (after being insecure about his developing relationship with Fitz), she jumps into him. She tries to get into a particular room, but Deke doesn’t have clearance and the guard can’t get her inside either. She needs the Director’s authorization, but, not knowing who that is, she needs to figure it out, and with them catching on to her, it turns into a mutual psychological game of cat and mouse.

They figure out that Izel doesn’t get the memories of her current host, because she doesn’t know how to act like them. So, person by person, one by one, they’ll have to check every person in the base, see if they know things about themselves that Izel couldn’t possibly guess, starting with the inner circle around the Director. Mack clears Yo-Yo and Daisy first, clearing himself, May, and Davis as well, and then he locks them in an adjacent room. Izel can’t move through solid matter, so they’re safe from her in there, which keeps all of them a little safer from her if she got hold of their powers. Piper shows up in time to point the finger at Deke, who returns the favor, but they could have avoided that little bit by talking secrets. Deke might not think he has any, but… well, he could have just mentioned designing the girl he rescues in his game to look like Daisy, and I would have loved to see how that worked out for him.

It turns out, however, that Izel already jumped from Deke to Fitz, and now, by quiet observation, she knows Mack is the one in charge. She tries to “persuade” cooperation by means of demonstrating what she can make anyone she possesses do anything, be it hurting others, or hurting themselves. Hopping from one agent to another, she uses Piper’s own hand and gun to shoot her free hand, letting it bleed, then stepping into another body without a care in the world, and then she keeps moving. She steps into Davis, and makes his body step up onto a the railing overhead, and pitch forward headfirst, killing him. Just like that.

Davis and Piper always argued, but they were best friends. Davis protected Daisy and Simmons when they went into the Framework, he survived the wrath of Aida, and he fought all manner of Shield’s enemies. He was a good friend and a good agent, and became a good pilot. He stole an alien pen because he thought it was cool that aliens still write things down like that. He was a husband and father.

And Izel killed him, just like that.

The thing about making a show that has a central cast surrounded by a lot of red shirts, it can be very difficult to get the audience to keep investing in characters that can come and go practically in the same breath. It can also be tiring if we see the central cast get changed up too frequently, yet also boring if we can’t really believe that they’re in danger of actually getting axed. There is a gray area between the two, where background characters, red shirts, become more familiar to us for a longer period of time… and then get axed.

Davis is one of those. His death carries weight for everyone but Izel.

Izel finally gets into Mack and gets into the room she wants into, leaving Mack cuffed and knocked out outside the door. Within it, she finds a familiar gravitonium sphere.

Elsewhere, Sarge wakes up. He’s not actually dead. Bullets don’t really kill him. He comes back. While he’s out, he sees shadows, the faintest traces of memories, of people who were important to him, but he has nothing else to know about them. When he wakes, he wants to get after Izel, but Simmons is not about to release him. He is dangerous, and not a good person, and they already have one enemy to deal with, they don’t need a second. He still slips out of his bonds, knocks her out, grabs a gun, and goes after Izel, catching up to her in front of the sphere, and that is where all the answers are revealed.

Izel can’t be killed by bullets any more than Sarge can. He has pursued her across the stars and destroyed entire worlds, but she tells him that he was actually longing for her, deep within. Hunting her, with such skill and passion, was simply a holdover from his mortal vessel, which is just a copy of that of another man: Phil Coulson.

When the three monoliths, which they call the Di’Allas, were brought together and destroyed, they created a gateway to a dimension of fear and darkness, but it was more than that. They gave physical form to things without regard for time and space. When Coulson was directly exposed to that, a being on the other side copied his form and inhabited it, but in another time and place, coming into the physical world on another planet, long ago. He did this in order to join another of his kind and further the plans they had made together.

That is the truth of them: Sarge and Izel are of race that has no physical form, but longs for one.

She went through first, made a body for herself, and began laying the groundwork, inspired by him. He followed, eventually, but got very confused upon his arrival. The form of Phil Coulson, taken from a moment when he was willing to give his life for his surrogate family, left an imprint so powerful that Sarge’s true memories were deeply suppressed, and the echo of memories of people he never knew drove him forward. All the damage he has done in his hunt of Izel has been because his mind has been malfunctioning while interlaced with a lingering touch of Coulson’s.

In reality, Sarge’s true name is Pachakutiq. The word that his subordinate was saying even in the throes of death, merged with a wall. That was a very smart subordinate, one that asked questions. Perhaps he was suspecting something of Sarge’s true origin, stumbled upon his name.

Interestingly, the word in Quechua, the Inca language, seems to have some meaning of time and space, like “return of time,” “change of time,” and “great change or disturbance in the social or political order.” (thank you, Wikipedia!) If I understand what Izel said correctly, that’s what Sarge and she are doing, creating a great change in their society by bringing their non-corporeal people into a world of time and physical space. That’s what the Shrike are for, to create billions of host bodies, waiting for their people to inhabit them, all across the stars. Sarge has been mucking things up, but Izel has succeeded anyway. All that’s left is to open the way, for which she needs the power of the Di’Allas, which is held in the gravitonium sphere.

Sarge is left in shock, raving to himself even as his form is coming undone. Izel strolls out, taking Yo-Yo’s body and using it to get free, with Mack in tow, on the Zephyr. Mack is not letting Izel hurt Yo-Yo, so he’s trusting his team to handle the situation on their end.

Basically, Izel pretty much got everything she wanted out of this, and she’s just barely getting started. She won this round, hands down.

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5 Anime Movies

When I think of “anime,” I generally think of the television shows, which tell several hours, or several years, of story in increments of twenty minutes or so. But Japanese animation is not limited to the small screen any more than Western animation is. Indeed, the pros and cons hold true on both sides of the Pacific Ocean: shows can take their time and flesh things out and explore every last detail more fully, while movies are more streamlined, and uninterrupted by commercials or episode breaks.

So, in a medium which, by rights, is absolutely on par with any other, what are some good anime movies worth recommending?

Well, first restriction: I refused to fill all five slots with Ghibli movies. I mean, seriously, we all know how great Hayao Miyazaki’s work is, so there’s no need to drown everyone else out, ya know? 😉

Second restriction: as wonderful as they are, I refuse to pick any movies that are either “the anime in movie format,” or “this is how the anime really ends,” or anything else which is inherently attached to a show. I consider those to be part of the anime TV shows, and so they should be enjoyed alongside the anime itself, rather than as an independent movie. I am picking movies that stand alone as movies.

And, of course, these are movies that I actually like and would recommend to my friends. 😉

In no particular order:

1) Wolf Children

A young woman in college falls for a tall, dark, handsome man who happens to be a wolfman. By which, I mean a creature that can freely shift between being a man and being a wolf. They get married and have two children, before his tragic, untimely  death. She is left to raise two children, children the world will never truly understand or accept if they ever learn the truth of them, on her own.

It’s a realistic depiction of a slightly-fantastical situation. It’s about a woman who is very out of her depth doing her best and raising two amazing children. It’s endearing, and heart-breaking, it makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It’s about the absolute love a mother has for her children, even as those children grow up.

It’s a masterpiece, I say. 😉

2) The Princess and the Pilot

In the midst of a great war, a princess is set to be married to a prince, thus solidifying an alliance between two nations at a critical moment. But, deprived of the resources to securely transport her with an entire royal entourage, the choice is made to entrust her person and passage to their very best pilot, flying alone through hostile territory. As it happens, though, said pilot is of mixed blood, a bestado, for which he is constantly sneered at and looked down on. Nevertheless, he will perform his duty to the utmost, no matter the personal hazards. The experience these two share may be the hinge on which swings the fate of nations and peoples.

It’s part love story, part war epic, part historical drama (albeit of a fictional history), part social commentary, and part tragedy. You can’t help but love both of the lead characters. Even when you’re screaming at them not to make a tremendous mistake, you still want them to somehow succeed, to find love and be happy. It has an ending that most Western audiences might not expect, wherein loss and triumph are intermingled.

I loved this movie. 🙂

3) Patema Inverted

A girl living a hard life with very little, and a boy living an easy, but very suppressed, life. They meet, and there is one particularly distinguishing factor: gravity. Up and down are inverted, as one people walk on the ceiling while the other walks on the floor. There are people who do not like having their perspective challenged so literally, as it defies the fabrication they’ve use to control society. These two new friends will have to put it all on the line to save each other.

The premise is a bit unique, though also a bit on the nose in its point: differing perspectives do not make people less human, and it does not make peace impossible. It was actually a bit absurd, the lengths to which the villain was willing to go just because his “up” was someone else’s “down.” But, that said, this is still an enjoyable drama about overcoming differences and making peace.

4) Sword of the Stranger

A stranger without a name, carrying a sword he’s tied shut, comes across a boy and his dog. The boy is hunted by both local authorities and foreign warriors, for he seems to be the key in an elaborate ritual which promises the gift of immortality. Very low on funding, and ridden with regrets, the stranger agrees to be hired by the boy, to protect him, an effort that drives him to his limits and makes him confront his past.

This is an excellent movie, easily among my favorites. The action, intrigue, drama… honestly, it felt nothing short of Shakespearean, a’la Japan. 🙂

5) Princess Mononoke

A young prince defends his village from an attacking demon, and is cursed as a result. He is foretold to die from it, but, nonetheless, he is sent away, to find where the demon came from and meet his fate on his own terms. He meets many people, sees many wondrous and terrible things, and stands as a bridge of peace, with eyes unclouded by hate. And he meets a fierce woman whom he falls in love with: Princess Mononoke.

Come on, you know I had to mention Ghibli somewhere in this list! And what better than my personal favorite? 😉

And that’s my five picks! What do you think? Any particular anime movies you would like to recommend? 🙂

Posted in 30-Day Anime Pick 5 Challenge, Anime and Cartoons, Challenge Accepted | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Well, That Was a Little Embarrassing

You know when you’re working on a post, and you have it only partially done… in fact, one could argue it was barely begun, and you accidentally hit “post” instead of “save draft?” Yeah.

Please just disregard that last post about Updating My Avengers Classification System. It’s not finished yet. Still in progress. I intend to post it again when it is finished, but, for now, just ignore. And ignore how beet-red my face is, too, please. 😉

Thank you very much!

 

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Anime Review: Record of Lodoss War

I have fond memories of this anime. Not only was it one of the first that I watched as a kid, but the first time I watched it was during my first overnight not-sleeping sleepover. By which, I mean that we teenage boys decided to try and stay up all night, and some of us even succeeded(ish). That would be when I learned to never do that unless you actually have to. Heh, I was so out of it when my parents picked me up, and I was dead to the world for most of the day! Ha, good times! 🙂

That said, one may recall what I said when I reviewed Rurouni Kenshin, about kids’ shows eventually being seen from the perspective of an adult. They are always dear to us, but it’s just not the same anymore, ya know?

In the case of the Lodoss-based franchise, there is some mitigating virtue in how it, like Fullmetal Alchemist, is not just one series, but two. And, yes, they are different from each other, including what sort of audience they are geared towards. But this time, I’m going review the both of them simultaneously, with just one post, but more in depth than I did with Digimon.

Record of Lodoss War is an aptly-named medieval fantasy anime. Set on the fictional island-continent of Lodoss, it tells the stories of a series of wars there, through the eyes of the young knights and their companions who make their way into the heart of the extended fray. There’s swords and sorcery, elves and dwarves, dragons and goblins, kings and wizards, battle and war. The ultimate conflict is not between nations, though the dark island of Marmo features as the primary source of antagonists as they invade the rest of Lodoss. No, the final battle is between good and evil, light and darkness, life and death, as a dark wizard attempts to resurrect a fallen goddess of destruction, in a mad scheme to turn the world into a kingdom of the dead, with himself as its ruler.

So, it’s a fairly standard fantasy story, really. But there’s nothing wrong with that, now, is there? 😉

There are two versions of this show: Record of Lodoss War and Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight.

The first Record of Lodoss War begins partway through the story it tells, introducing the adventuring party, and then it rewinds to when they all met and when the war they’re embroiled in began. It wraps up the most major plot points of the first war and then it moves forward a bit, showing us how the dark wizard is maneuvering and the heroes’ struggle to thwart his evil plan. It’s a combination of basic and epic, quite well done, though not exactly meant for young children, with all the bloodshed, and skipping over a number of time-consuming details here and there.

Chronicles of the Heroic Knight begins with most of the same adventuring party, but soon expands with new cast members, and, soon enough, an entirely new adventuring party, from the rising generation. It actually picks up the story of Record about halfway through, and then tells the second half in an entirely different way, and it’s twice the length. Thus, while Record feels a good deal more “epic,” Chronicles tells its story in a much more fleshed-out way, leaving no threads dangling. It more thoroughly encompasses how this extended conflict, across fifteen years or so, affects the whole of Lodoss and everyone on it. It’s also clearly crafted to appeal to the younger audience more, though there is some language.

Both shows feature casts of lovable characters, hero and villain alike. They begin with Parn, a young warrior/knight, and his friends defending their village, soon drawn into a contest over the dominion of Lodoss, and this is just part of the war to determine the fate of Lodoss. Chronicles adds the party of knight-in-training Spark, but whether it’s Parn or Spark, both are noble warriors surrounded by loyal friends. They also have love interests which are obvious enough, though Neese’s mutual affection for Spark takes more time to become evident than Deedlit’s love for Parn. They have wise friends, strong teachers, elves and clerics watching their backs, and they are friends with noble kings. All of them fight for the good of Lodoss, to protect and liberate its people from terror and tyranny.

The antagonists are equally as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, for while the heroes grow up, the villains are already grown. The difference between Record and Chronicles is how pronounced the more redeeming qualities within Ashram, Pirotess, and others are. In Chronicles, they are not always so different from the heroes, more like “heroes who happen to be on the other side,” and they can be both redeemed and saved. In Record, however, they are definitely villains, wrapped in darkness, with very little light in their souls. Their stories are tragedies, for in walking in the dark, they fall into destruction, swallowed up in madness.

It’s up for debate whether the redemption or the destruction of the villain makes for a better, more appealing, more compelling story. 🙂

The music and the animation for both shows is beautiful. The styles are very different, but they suit their respective shows perfectly. One is an epic fantasy adventure, and the other is an adventurous fantasy. Very similar, almost the same, but not nearly identical. The styles reflect that in a way which I am not entirely capable of describing. I suppose Chronicles is more bright and cartoony, and censored, while Record is more stark and classical in its approach. Either way works, though, and I always enjoyed the both of them.

Speaking of the differing approaches though, as I’ve mentioned, Chronicles is meant more for kids, outside a bit of language. I don’t think there’s any actual bloodshed, for the most part, and even the action sequences are heavily edited to avoid the gritty reality of violence. Record has no such limitations, not only in the blood and violence, but in the weight of what is lost in war. Probably my favorite contrast in that is how they handle the demon sword Soul-Crusher: in Chronicles, it’s just a slightly-mystical sword, but in Record, it can be used to annihilate small armies all at once.

There’s not really any other kind of “mature” content to be found in either show, though Record does momentarily show a woman, attacked by goblins while bathing herself, fleeing naked, as one would be in such circumstance. And even then, it covers her up quickly enough. So, I would rate Chronicles as PG, and rate Record as a solid PG-13.

In either case, the story of Lodoss is a very entertaining fantasy, one that happens to be told twice, in two distinct ways. I highly recommend both shows for fans of the genre, though with an understanding of who each series is meant for. 😉

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

Posted in Anime and Cartoons, Tuesday Review | Tagged , | 4 Comments