Hidden Gems of Anime: Gokudo

Though I consider this show obscure, I was amused to see that Kaichou wa Maid-sama alluded to this show in that episode where all the characters are in costume on some kind of adventure.  (After much urging, my sister convinced me to watch this show, which isn’t bad for a shoujo.)  The events which they claim might transpire after opening a magic box is exactly what happens to Gokudo during one underwater adventure.  Having said that, I still think that only a small portion of Japanese, and an even smaller portion of American fans marked this allusion.  Which I recommend people should remedy, because Gokudo stands as one of the most unique fantasy anime ever made.

To start, our hero, who loves introducing himself as Gokudo Yucott Kikansky-sama, prides himself on being an absolute rogue: he’s shameless, crude, selfish, and completely cynical.  It’s possible that you’ve seen such a character before, but rarely is the execution so well performed.  The series opens with an old witch staring Gokudo in the eye and saying, “You’re life is in danger.”  After some initial shock, Gokudo agrees to here the old woman’s story over dinner, for which she pays the bill.  Afterwards, he steals her wallet anyway and escapes through unleashing a most dreadful fart.  (There are a few such moments where this comes in handy, but don’t worry.  The low-brow humor is not overdone.)

Unfortunately for Gokudo, his very actions precipitate the very adventure which “Granny” wished him to undertake.  Upon returning home, he finds that the old woman’s purse only contains a rock, out of which a genie named Djinn appears (very creative name, right?).  Djinn promises to grant Gokudo three wishes only to have his offer greeted with skepticism.  After convincing Gokudo that he really can grant wishes, Gokudo wishes for his three favorite things: money, women, and power. Instead of granting his request, Djinn forces Gokudo to sit through a long lecture lasting several days about of what true happiness consists, in which Djinn downs several bottles of saké without Gokudo being allowed a drop.

To Gokudo’s good fortune, his landlord interrupts this lecture with the news that his daughter’s been abducted.  Gokudo, even though he owes back rent to this very landlord, accepts a hefty payment in order to save his daughter.  Then, he and Djinn start on this adventure; yet, once they’re out of town, Gokudo admits that he has no intention of rescuing the young lady.  But, they meet a black knight on the road, launching a series of events forcing Gokudo to undertake the landlord’s job.

The above should give you a good understanding of this show’s feel.  In addition to Djinn, Gokudo picks up several new friends during his adventures.  He is either led on by greed or compelled by dire consequences to his person to undertake various quests.  The conflict between the magic kingdom and the gods provides some good plot structure; however, the comedy is this series’ major strong point.  Usually, we find ourselves laughing at Gokudo’s willingness to leave or even place his friends in terrible predicaments, the misfortunes Gokudo’s own selfishness brings upon him, and his friends exasperation with his conduct–even though they don’t seem willing to leave his side.  Also, the story arcs tend to be rather unique.  And even though certain characters are a little stock, Gokudo’s conduct brings out some interesting sides to them.  So, I hope that you’ll find time to watch this show.

New Tastings

On the 21st we celebrated my mother’s birthday by visiting P. F. Chang’s, a great Chinese restaurant.  It provided an excellent opportunity to try a couple of beverages which I had not yet had the pleasure of imbibing.  So, here are a few things you might want to try yourself.

I opened the meal with Magic Hat #9, which is produced by a famed Colorado craft brewer which I have avoided until now for some reason.  Initially, my lack of surety concerning what style the #9 stood for almost made me pass up this beer.  Then, I figured that, if the sommelier here has any intelligence, this beer should fall into one of these styles: Belgian Tripel, Dubbel, or Witbier, IPA, or American Pale Ale.  These beers, especially Belgian Abbey ales, pair marvelously with Asian cuisine.  If you don’t believe me, pay a trip to the Mekong restaurant in Richmond.  Their beer list is huge–the size of their selection of Belgian ales is particularly astounding.  This makes for a great dining experience.  On the advice of a friend of mine who had the pleasure of staying in Belgium, we selected the St. Feuillein’s Tripel.  I shall leave off this digression by saying that no other Tripel has bested it before of since.

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Anime Spring Season 2012: Only Two Worthy Shows? Review of Jormungand

While scrolling through the list of anime coming out this season, it struck me that only two shows appeared worthwhile: Jormungand and the second season of Fate/Zero.  I noticed that the quality of anime has been falling since 2007, but there’s never been a season in which the number of shows which elicited some interest from me was limited to two.  (Certain other shows aroused some interest, but not for the right reasons.)  Of course, you’re welcome to point out any shows you find interesting.  Being proved wrong about this season would please me to no end.  Having seen the first two episodes, here are my thoughts about Jormungand.

This show feels similar to Black Lagoon, but Jormungand includes more comedy, less foul language, a dearth of interesting characters, and will in nowise measure up to that classic unless a wonderful transformation occurs in episode three.  Having said that, the show’s still very entertaining.  The plot concerns the adventures of an arms dealer and her henchmen.  This arms dealer, Koko Hekmatyar, recruited a child soldier named Jonah as her newest bodyguard.  Jonah has a hatred for weapons and weapons dealers, yet he relies on them at the same time.  He joined Koko in order to find the arms dealer who was responsible for his family’s death.

Having said that, Jonah and all the other characters appear to be nonentities compared to the vivacious Koko.  From her personality, which is fierce, calculating, and excitable by turns, to her Chinese warrioresque eyebrows she completely steals the show.  The way her eyebrows detract from her femininity is only negated by the talent of her voice actress, Shizuka Ito, and the many tantrums in which this character indulges.  One wonders whether the other characters will come alive when compared to her.  Indeed, only the lesbian, Valmet, has a registerable personality among her henchmen.  We forget that Jonah’s supposed to be the hero or even of any importance until he starts on of his little narrative digressions.  I must say, a bit character who appears in two scenes during the second episode in which he refers to Koko as a “lucky girl” has as much or more personality than her bodyguards.

Yet, this show has some great action sequences.  Combined with the uniqueness of Koko, this is enough to make me want to watch more.  Now, we need to see if the animators are capable of giving the other characters depth or if a main story will develop, which I expect to be chock full of conflict and some spectacular action.  Otherwise, your time would be much better spent watching Black Lagoon, unless the cursing would deter you.  Oh!  One more similarity between the two shows: Koko is rather reminiscent of Balalaika, except that the former is less sinister.

The Joy of Writing with Fountain Pens

While digging through my desk, an old fountain pen caught my eye: a black and gold Waterman, which became defective about four years ago.  Which is a great shame, since this pen has about the perfect width for my hand and smoothly glides along the page, while at the same time making that delightful scratching noise concomitant with this kind of pen.  As a matter of fact, this very pen inscribed the first draft of the post before your eyes.  Its defectiveness lies in its inability to hol an ink cartridge without leaking, but one need not worry about that when using it in conjunction with an ink bottle.  Which reminds me of the first rule about keeping a fountain pen: do not leave ink in them and neglect them for long periods of time.  This invariably causes them to start leaking.  (You’d think I would have picked up on this sooner, but three of my fountain pens have been reduced to this state for the very same reason.  One I had to throw away.)

Many people consider fountain pen users (and anyone else who spends more than pocket change for a pen) as rather foolish.  Why spend between $50 to $800 or more dollars for a pen when a Bic will get the job done?  Anyone who prefers a very cheap pen must not write often; so, they have no idea how tiring and prosaic a Bic can become in even a short time.  But, those who favor a rollerball pen have a much stronger argument for not purchasing a fountain pen.  After all, a rollerball writes quite smoothly–I myself used to love them.  But, unless the pen is of expensive make, it’s grip is usually rather thin and has a tendency to rip through the paper in moments of emotion.  (Don’t become too perturbed, dear readers!  A writer of fiction ought to have an emotional personality–even if he keeps it under wraps most of the time!  Nevertheless, that remark likely injected an interesting image in some of your heads.)  The glide of a fountain pen is much more controlled, the grip more comfortable, and the broad tip of your pen will not pierce the page even in moments of moral outrage.  Plus, one much prefers the bold lines of a fountain pen to the ultra-thin scribbles of a rollerball.

Over my life, seven pens have found themselves under my care.  Two thoroughly broke (one due to cheap manufacture, the other due to breaking that rule I told you about), two leak, and three still work just fine.  Among my collection, you will also find a glass dip pen, which might sound cool; however, their novelty wears off once one realizes they need to be sharpened after some time.  (They say that Shelby Foote wrote with a glass dip pen.  I wonder how many times he needed to sharpen it over the course of completing one volume of his Civil War masterpiece!)  A good friend of mine gave the last of my acquisitions as a gift while I was in junior year of college.  He built the pen and fashioned its wooden body himself.  It still works splendidly.  The two that leak, the Waterman and a Levenger True Writer, still work well when used with ink bottles.  The latter was my first and lasted a good many years before breaking.  As a matter of fact, it’s a great first fountain pen to have.  Then, I have a Waterman Ici et La and a pen which resulted from a collaboration with Rotring and Levenger.

With that, I’ve just about run out of steam on this topic.  For those of you with journals, this is a great tool to have.

New Short Story in the Works

Dear readers, a new short story might be available for your literary leisure in the next two or three weeks.  I’m amused by how much of the details seem to be arranging themselves of their own volition.  It seems to be an odd combination of my recent life experiences and a few works which are influencing me most right now.  (No, you’ll never learn of my sources.  A good thief never gets caught!)  Unlike my other two tales, it will take place in Germany during modern times.  I’m presently debating whether to set it during the 30’s or present times.  Those of you who’ve been to Germany will likely be appalled by my disregard for doing any research.  But, I think of this as a warm up story–as if the author were a bear coming out of hibernation.  A bear in this state is so hungry that it will not fuss over what its first meal is.   Likewise, getting the details right is of no concern.  My major concern is to add another amusing tale to the short list you see on the left of this page.

What genre will the tale fall under?  Fantasy, of course!  Wish me luck!

St. Magnus of Orkney’s Feast Day

With only an hour left till midnight, this message is coming a little late.  But, it would be a shame to allow St. Magnus’s, my dear friend’s, feast day to pass by without remarking on it at all.  You can read my fictionalized account of his martyrdom in the Articles and Short Stories section.  His natalis was on April 16th circa 1115.  I celebrated his feast day by attending Mass and reciting Second Vespers in his honor–if I was less negligent, it would have been the entire cycle of hours.  It is always a good thing to celebrate the heroes of the Faith.

Here’s a link with a few pictures of the Cathedral dedicated to him in Kirkwall: http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/Orkney%20Pages/st-magnus-cathedral.html

And here’s one with a few pictures of the church dedicated to him on Egilsay, where he died: http://wildplacepictures.com/egilsay.htm

Hidden Gems of Anime: Innocent Venus

Dear readers, the thought that many brilliant anime get passed over by the majority of viewers motivates me to write this series of posts.  Of course, anime fans are not at fault: there’s only so much time people can spend watching TV.  Why seek after little known shows, which usually fail due to mediocrity, in the hope of finding a unique show, i.e. a show which failed not because of mediocrity but rather because its idiosyncrasies prevented it from having a mass appeal?  Well, only an otaku would actually seek out such a show, but that doesn’t mean it won’t suit your tastes.  And that’s where I come into the picture.  I have a list of shows and OVA’s which would make a pleasing break from your regimen of Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto–most are only 12 episodes or less.  Now to begin with our first hidden gem: Innocent Venus.

Some of you may be familiar with this show, but the fact that Anime Planet does not have one single review of the show (http://www.anime-planet.com/anime/innocent-venus) makes me feel that it is rather unlikely.  This show would fall into the genres of post-apocalyptic and mecha.  At the beginning, we find two friends who are guarding one girl from hordes of military foes who desire to capture her.  If you have any familiarity with anime, you know that women, particularly young girls, often possess some mystical power which everyone wishes to get their hands on.  This case is no different.  (No!  You can’t know now: there’ll be no spoilers in this review, I promise.)  These two friends, Joe and Jin, were formerly members of an elite military group.  Now, they wish to link up with a resistance group.

Someone remarked that the setting is very similar to Code Geass.  And after refreshing myself with the back story, I couldn’t agree more.  The major difference would have to be that the setting in Code Geass resulted from a change in history, while environmental catastrophes, which killed 5 billion people and froze much of the northern hemisphere, caused changes in power to produce the turbulent political climate of Innocent Venus.  In this one, other countries also tried to take over Japan, but Japan successfully defended itself.  Also, we still have two classes of citizens: the rich who live in major cities, and the poor who are kept out (similar to Solty Rei and Galaxy Express 999).  Does that take away from the greatness of Code Geass?  I don’t think so: everyone borrows from someone else.  What we consider original is only an idea which has not been used for a long time.

This series boasts characters which are unique and likeable.  Joe, as the strong silent type, is one of my favorites.  It has mech fights which are equal to the best of more famous shows.  The other fights aren’t too shabby either: the fight between the soldiers and our protagonists in the first episode effectively hooked me.  The tone is very serious, but it intersperses enough light-heartness and comedy to avoid depressing the viewer.

Exploring the Brews of the Victory Brewing Company

Before I start extolling the virtues of the Victory Brewing Co., based in Downingtown, PA, let me say that your opinions have been heard, dear readers.  According to the history of the site’s traffic, fine beverages and anime are the two most popular topics.  So, while I will publish articles on my other hobbies, expect to see a slew of articles on these topics.  Without further ado, here’s your next favorite craft brewer.

So far, my palate’s had the pleasure of experiencing six of their brews.  By far, their Baltic Porter, aptly named Baltic Thunder, is my favorite.  Drinking this is like drinking a rich chocolate cake, but the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm one so much that one cannot drink it alone.  The next time I walked into the store, restraining myself from buying a case of this required not a little willpower.  Their Russian Imperial Stout, Storm King Stout, is another of their dark beers for which they are rightly esteemed.  This one is packed with espresso and dark chocolate flavor with a hint of vanilla; but, at the same time, its dryness would make it a nice complement to your first barbeque this year or some nice London broil, filet mignon, or meatloaf.

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Review of The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude

The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude is a compilation written by St. Gertrude and certain nuns in her abbey about her mystical experiences.  Most of them concern conversations with Jesus Christ, who greatly loved this soul.  (God loves all of us with an infinite love, but few possess enough purity to have conversations with Our Lord in this life!)  St. Gertrude (1256-1302) entered the Benedictine Abbey of Rodersdorf at the age of five years old!  That’s one way to ensure that one avoids the dangers of the world!  Her mystical experiences began when she turned twenty-six and continued until the end of her life.

What sets this set of revelations apart from other revelations given to mystics?  I have read some of The Showings of St. Julian of Norwich, St. Faustina’s Diary (which will be the subject of a later review), and excerpts from St. Bridget (or Birgitta) of Sweden’s revelations.  The difference has to lie in that Our Lord Jesus Christ appears most tender and compassionate in these revelations to St. Gertrude.  Indeed, the subheading for this book reads: “A Classic from the Middle Ages Revealing the Love and Mercy of Jesus toward Souls.”  Passages at the end of the work, even show Our Lord pressing it to His Sacred Heart so that it might be penetrated with His Divine Sweetness and that it profit whoever reads it devoutly.  In terms of bringing consolation to the reader, only the Bible supersedes this work.

Of course, some doubt might be expressed by some about the veracity of these revelations, but two things argue in their favor: 1) the perfect humility of both St. Gertrude and the other writers who compiled this work and 2) the fact that nothing in it conflicts with the teaching of the Church.  If these revelations were written for their own aggrandizement, their pride would be evident therein.  Instead, Christ often has to instruct them because they lack understanding, and they often acknowledge their own unworthiness.  Naturally, if these revelations resulted from the authors’ cleverness in crafting stories, we would find instances where they contradict the teaching of the Church.  Pride always leads to error.  For example, a woman in California claims that St. Joseph is the incarnation of the Holy Ghost and that she is the greatest thing to walk the earth since Jesus Christ.  How sad that she has a following!

One of the greatest lessons we learn from St. Gertrude is the height of our pride and the great need we have of humbling herself.  She does not express this directly for us.  Rather, when we read about one whom Jesus speaks to intimately and about whom Jesus tells others that–after the Blessed Sacrament–His favorite place to dwell on earth is in her heart declare that she is not worthy of these graces and that she is nothing but dust and ashes, how vile must we be!  Ah!  One can never be properly humble in this life!  Also, over what we would consider little acts of negligence or times when we must necessarily give in to human weakness, she heartily repents of and begs Christ’s pardon and grace so that she might not fall thus in the future.  How ashamed of ourselves should we be when we console ourselves on certain occasions by saying, “Well, it was only a venial sin.”  If we shall have to give an account for our negligence and every idle word, how deeply we should grieve over all sins–no matter how small!

This collection of revelations excels as a treasury of spiritual practices.  For example, Jesus Christ advises St. Gertrude for one week of Lent to pray the Our Father thirty-three times in honor of each year of His life and to offer the merits of His most holy life for the salvation of men and His glory.  It also provides a great devotional practice of saluting St. Mary by saying: “Hail, White Lily of the Blessed Trinity and Vermillion Rose of Heaven!”  (The lily symbolizes her immaculate soul which sin never tainted, and the rose symbolizes that she is the Queen of the Martyrs.)  St. Mary has promised to those who frequently greet her thus that they will see how she, the greatest intercessor among the saints, conquers through the Omnipotence of the Father, Wisdom of the Son, and Love of the Holy Spirit, which she approaches more closely than any other created being.  This post would never end if I listed all the devotional practices contained herein.

Another important aspect of the work is how it reveals how intimately concerned the Church in Heaven is with the one on earth and how important are our prayers and good works for the souls in purgatory.  It reveals how the saints aid those on earth, particularly by obtaining graces for the Church Militant through communions taken in honor of them on their feast days.  It also relates how certain saints are honored by God after death by their ability to gain particular graces for those who invoke them, such as St. James the Great being able to obtain conversions for those who visit his tomb.  God granted him this grace because of his zeal for souls and the fact that he died before seeing the conversion of people whom he instructed in the faith and for whom he prayed.  St. Gertrude devoted herself to praying for the souls in Purgatory and offering Masses for them.  So much so, that Christ would show her various souls to pray for, and they would be greatly helped by them.  So, if you ever wondered what the “communion of saints” looks like, this is an excellent work.

Are there any reasons why someone would decline to read this work?  Yes.  I will list a few of them here.  The vocabulary and grammar tend to be at a high level, and certain passages require taking some time to understand.  I lent this work to one person, who returned it to me for those reasons.  Also, having a smattering of Latin, particularly the kind of Latin you would run into at a Latin Mass, is helpful in reading this, because several short Latin phrases go untranslated.  Naturally, Protestants will not care for passages about purgatory or the saints, which might indeed make them suspicious about the content of the rest of the work.  But as long as one’s Protestantism is not too rigid (rigid as in believing the widespread practice of  true Christianity ended sometime before 325 A.D. and began again in the 16th century), a Protestant can still obtain benefit from these revelations.

Yet, the accounts showing the tenderness and greatness of God’s love stand as the foremost reason to read this work.  I might as well end this review with how Our Lord blessed the work: “I have placed this book thus upon My Heart, that every word therein may be penetrated with Divine sweetness, even as honey penetrates bread.  Therefore, whoever reads this book devoutly will receive great profit for his salvation.”

The Forgotten Pleasures of Fine Beer

I’ve gotten a request to review some beverages I’ve had recently.  Might as well start with the one I just finished: Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout.  It has a wonderful roasted coffee flavor which is enhanced by the brewer’s licorice.  I also noticed some vanilla and a slight dark chocolate flavor.  I’d especially recommend it with some grilled steak or similarly cooked beef.  This is the second Bell’s I’ve had, and they really live up to their reputation.

For the next few reviews, I’d like to note that I’ve been saving these beers for after Lent, so any discrepancy between how other people have reviewed them and mine may be attributed to that–especially if I give a sour review.

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Gunslinger Girl

This post concerns an action manga/anime written by Yuu Aida named Gunslinger Girl, which centers on young female cyborgs employed by the Italian government in anti-terrorism activities.  The manga has been published since 2002, spanning 92 chapters (i.e. in its 15th volume), and an anime adaptation aired in 2003 with a sequel and OVA being produced in 2008.  The pacing is rather slow because of its focus on the daily lives of the cyborgs, but do not let that turn you away!  This anime has so much depth that an entire article was included in a work titled Anime and Philosophy: Wide Eyed Wonder comparing its ideas about how the development of cyborgs will benefit mankind vs. the ideas on the same subject found in Ghost in the Shell.  How few modern shows are worthy to be compared with that classic!  Yet, I would say that its pacing works much better in print than animated.  Also, the manga includes more story arcs than the anime and includes more details despite the anime following the manga very closely.

The cyborgs in our story were either unwanted children or seriously harmed either physically or mentally before being taken in by “the Social Welfare Agency.”  At the agency, they’re brainwashed, given new, stronger bodies, and trained to take out domestic terrorists–usually a separatist group based in northern Italy known as the Padania.  (Here, I must mention that I am slightly sympathetic toward the Padania: their methods are entirely wrong, but they have the burden of funding Italy’s welfare government.  So, they naturally would want to form their own nation, but the government does not want to let that happen!)  Despite their super strong bodies, these girls are emotionally scarred and fanatically attached to their handlers.  They even get worried about being considered useless if they don’t kill “enough” people over the course of a month!  Which is where the comparison with Ghost in the Shell comes in: while Ghost in the Shell envisions people becoming freer, living longer, overcoming the limits set by their gender, Gunslinger Girl has cyborgs who are still quite feminine–though unable to live according to their nature, doomed to live a short life because of the effects of their conditioning, and forever enslaved to the Agency.  Indeed, the latter scenario is more believable, and the setting is the present-day rather than some distant utopia.

The other strong point is its bevy of sympathetic and interesting characters: Triela, Claes, Rico, Jean, Jose, and Hillshire all stand out as unique.  Even the villains are well done, Pinocchio and the bombers Franca and Franco are compelling and sympathetic.  The author really seems to understand human nature so that the characters become more like real people than characters.  (Think Ernest Hemingway vs. Geoffrey Chaucer)  Another part of the great characterization is the fact that so much time is spent getting to know the characters: their daily life, hobbies, opinions, distant past, motivations, etc.  This is unfortunately done at the expense of the story’s pacing.  But, I did find the anime quite enjoyable: they did not leave me hanging for too long between action sequences.  And, as I said, one can always pick up the manga as well, where the interest in all these details doesn’t hamper the plot.

I mentioned action scenes.  Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat between Pinocchio and Triela or gunfights between the Agency and the Padania, this series does not disappoint either in print or animated.  In particular, the second anime season, Il Teatrino, has some of the best fights and the most spectacular finale.  So, if you have a little patience and are tired of the same stock characters, pick up a copy of Gunslinger Girl–but, if you have very little patience, make sure that it’s the manga you pick up!

Natsume Soseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams

Just started reading Natsume Soseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams.  He’s not very popular in the West but the Japanese consider him the Father of Contemporary Japanese literature.  He was the second student to graduate with a degree in English from the Tokyo Imperial University.  For a while, he felt that English and Japanese literature possessed very similar ideas; but, the more he studied English, the less confident he became in this theory until he dropped it altogether.  One can certainly feel the influence of English literature on his work.  His style of writing tends to be less cryptic and much more interested in plot or amusing the reader than the confusion created by the forces of the subconscious, intellect, and emotion.  Botchan and I am a Cat were very pleasing reads, and the former seems to hold a similar status in Japan as Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird has in the states: everyone’s read it when they were in high school.  Like Chaucer, Soseki excels at commenting on the flaws of human nature with humor and without becoming bitter.  So, I highly recommend these works to you.

Yet, Ten Nights of Dreams is much more Japanese than the two works that I’ve read.  Soseki deftly creates a surreal atmosphere which reminds me more of Jun’ichirou Tanizaki’s short stories.  Now, I’m going to give a bunch of “spoilers,” but the genius of the story lies in the atmosphere Soseki creates rather than plot.  (The First Night is only about three and a half pages long.)  I highly recommend reading it in Japanese rather than English, but the translation by Takumi Kashima and Loretta R. Lorenz seems to be highly rated on Amazon.com.

The dream on the first night deals with the narrator sitting by the bedside of a woman he loves as she is dying.  The way Soseki focuses on the woman’s face, describing every detail of it, and things like the narrator seeing his image reflected in the woman’s eyes lends the scene an eldritch feel.  (An awesome adjective which combines the ideas of wierd, spooky, and eerie in one.  Everyone should know it!)  Then, the narrator’s inner anguish is well revealed in the attention he pays her and how he goes back and forth in wondering whether she’s truly going to die.  Then, just before she dies, she gives him a strange series of instructions on how to bury her and to wait one hundred years for her to return.  I won’t give away how it ends.  No author to my knowledge has succeeded so well in portraying a dream-like atmosphere.

The Biggest Problems with Anime Today

Here’s another short post for you, dear readers.  I’ve realized the temptation at this time of year is for me to write post after post on religion, but I did promise more variety than that, didn’t I?  So, here’s a post on where anime has gone wrong.

First and foremost, seductively designed female characters and erotic situations feature a prominent role in too many shows.  A drawing can only be so alluring; so, why try to draw in audiences with this when one could perfect their craft in characterization, plot twists, novel settings, and beautiful or unique animation?  While male audiences are easily ensared by this, one can’t help think that it depresses the animators that this is the limit of their talent, and even the fans who enjoy this will eventually relegate such shows into oblivion.

Then, excessive fan service even finds itself in shows which succeed on the merit of character and plot.  A show named Freezing exemplifies this best.  Freezing‘s an awesome show.  Its plot has the audience riveted, the characters are extraordinarily likeable, the fights and animation are superb, and the viewer has to force himself not to watch the entire 12-episode show in a sitting.  But it has one major drawback: it has the fan service of Battle Vixens.  Reviews of this show seem to fall in two camps: those who can tolerate all the fan service love the show, and those who can’t hate it.  If only the creator had decided to imitate the modesty of the characters of shows like Rurouni Kenshin or Trigun.  If he had done that instead of climbing on the ecchi bandwagon, this show could easily have rose to be an international success.  Instead it will remain in the realms of obscurity.  Even your humble writer has decided he will never watch the show again–too much temptation.

Then, we have one setting that’s incredibly overused: the high school.  I know that high school students are among the biggest consumers of anime, and shows which allow them to identify with a character who’s around the same age do well; however, this cliche setting has begun to irritate me.  Where’s the creativity?  You can use high school age characters in just about any story you like.  So, why not write about fantastical worlds, take us to different epochs of history, or into the unexplored realms of science fiction?  Why do I have to hear another conversation about whether to join this club or that club?  The anime industry needs to either do away with the high school setting or minimize its presence.  At least, those backgrounds of school buildings and classrooms must be beginning to wear out after being used in one thousand shows.  Why not give them a rest?

But the above paragraph highlights another problem, which is not easy to perceive: writers are all drawing from modern anime.  What’s the problem with that, you ask?  Walk into the fantasy section of your local bookstore, and you’ll see the problem.  Drawing only from modern sources–of which 80% tend toward mediocrity, 15% toward decency, and only 5% at most toward greatness–produces mediocre stories lacking in originality.  Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings made it’s way to become one of the top five best selling books of all time particularly because Tolkein drew from original medieval works.  He drew from the works which withstood the test of time rather than the forgettable novels being written in his day.  Works like this are more fruitful for inciting the imagination, and, in a world where people are only familiar with what came out five years ago, provide writers with the right material to stand out in the market.

For example, the most unique manga being written right now is Vinland Saga, in which just about all our characters are Vikings.  Can you name me another manga which includes Vikings?  I don’t think so.  Then, the writer also tries to illustrate the period as accurately as possible, shows the conflict between the Pagan Vikings and Christian Europeans which existed at that point, educates the reader about the historical personages, tries to get into the mindset of the people at this time, and at the same time keeps the manga style and flavor in the story.  (I can’t really describe this amorphous trait.  But, you would recognize it if you read it.)  The most interesting thing about that conflict between Christians and Pagans if that Japan had a similar conflict during the Sengoku period, so it even comments on Japan’s history in a way.  Who wouldn’t prefer to have a story like this over something like 11 Eyes?

I’d have to say those are the greatest problems with Japanese anime today: too much emphasis on titillating the audience, too many high school shows, and too many people drawing from the same sources.

Nearing the End of Lenten Penance

This year, I decided to give up alcoholic drinks as penance for Lent.  While I wouldn’t say that I went through withdrawal (I pair alcoholic beverages with dinner about four nights a week, and abstain the other three), this pleasure was greatly missed.  Exactly how beer tastes has vanished from my memory.  How spirits taste appears rather vague.  Amusingly, wine, even though I presently enjoy much less of this kingly beverage, is still very clear to me.

While helping my father out in choosing the wines for this Easter celebration, reading the flavor descriptions allowed me to form very accurate ideas of how the wines would taste.  I suppose the reason lies in that I started out with wine (or, to be more precise, with water, and then tea–but wine was the first alcoholic drink I took the time to study).  Also, my family, being of heavily Hispanic and Mediterranean origin, always preferred wine to other beverages.  It is true that my father’s a Scotch fan as well, but he seems to enjoy collecting more than drinking.  So, you might say that my memories of wine stretch back much farther.

Expect an accurate report from me on the best bottles tomorrow.  I’ve also been saving some bottles of Hitachino Nest, a Japanese craft beer brewer.  I was astounded to find them in a well-stocked store in Richmond.  They were selling them for $4 a bottle!  But, I snatched up four of them.  And I had thought that I should never see these beers without taking a trip to Japan!  The Hitachino Nest XH (a Belgian Strong Ale), though not the greatest example of the style, had a wonderfully rich flavor and was very smooth to boot.  So, I’m very much looking forward to these.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Here we are toward the end of Lent.  Easter’s only two days away.  But I want to remind people that a great feast follows on the next Sunday: the Feast of Divine Mercy.  I found this article very interesting: http://www.divinemercysunday.com/theology_of_divine_mercy_sunday.htm.  It seems that this had been an important feast day of the early Church, which found itself neglected until Christ gave certain revelations to St. Faustina.  So, all you Catholics be sure to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist on that weekend in order to obtain complete forgiveness of sins and the punishments due them.

Concerning the Two Short Stories

I posted the two short stories of mine which I feel actually have some merit.  The one on St. Magnus placed third in a contest.  The Fishmonger’s Daughter has yet to be published anywhere, but a friend of mine told me that it was the best work I’ve yet written.  Be that as it may, I don’t know what to do with it.  It’s too long for most literary publications, and too short to be a novel.  I think that you have to be an established author before anyone takes one of your novella’s seriously.

For The Fishmonger’s Daughter, I would like to point out that it’s an alternate history.  I did things to try to emphasize that in the work, like using the Roman dating system of Ab Urbe Condita, which measures time from the founding of Rome in 753 B.C.


Hello world!

Seems a little too early to write a post, but here goes!  For anyone who’s stumbled upon this blog in this most incomplete state, they should know that this is going to be a rather egocentric blog.  It will concern those pastimes and subjects I most enjoy: anime, fine drinks, history, literature, classical antiquity, and religion.  Now you can see the reason behind this blog’s name.  If civilization suddenly reverted to the dark ages, anime would be the only pleasure of which I would most certainly be deprived.  (Of course, obtaining books to indulge in certain of those hobbies and finding fine drinks would be made more difficult through the disruption of trade, loss of modern publishing technology, and the diminution of the academic community, but let’s not quibble!)

I hope no one is put off by the fact that this blog will contain posts on religion, Catholicism usually. People of all faiths find me easy to get along with.  I try to avoid the extremes of being overbearing and nonchalance when it comes to religion.  It’s an incredibly important matter, but one should avoid driving people of other religions away.

If the other topics or my personality irritate you, then don’t read this blog, unless you want the pleasure of either complaining about or mocking me.  These two modes of speech are practically universal pastimes among the human race, and often afford great pleasure–especially if politicians are involved.

Dear readers, I hope that you enjoy this blog.