Quick Takes for Old Anime

It’s been a little while, my dear readers.  It looks like the regular anime season is past the mid-point, so I should write something up about what I’m up to.  If you recall, most of my current watch list consists of old anime on my backlog.  I did make an exception for Cells At Work, which was recommended by MIB of MIB’s Instant Headache–an excellent recommendation.

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Most of you are familiar with the idea and the format of Quick Takes, so I’m just going to jump right in.


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Vampire Princess Miyu TV (1997-98) comes pretty close to being a masterpiece at ★★★★ 1/2.  The closest anime to compare with this show has to be Hell Girl.  Both share a female protagonist bound by fate whose closest companions are otherworldly beings–called Shinma in Vampire Princess Miyu.  (The English translation simply used the Japanese word.  “God-demon” is the most literal translation and the most confusing one.  Often, one will see creatures like this just called demons despite the Japanese equivalent for what is usually meant by the word demon is akuma.  Subbers should just borrow the term longaevi from the Latin, as this is the most accurate term for a host of beings in Japanese mythology.)  While Ai Enma is summoned to send usually wicked people to hell, Miyu works by keeping her territory clear of stray Shinma.  She’s often willing to ignore the presence of stray Shinma as long as they behave, but she’ll send them into the demon realm within a fiery inferno should they choose to prey on humans.

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Spice and Wolf’s Author Supporting Medieval Studies

I found this pretty interesting.  Isuna Hasekura has contributed to a new Medieval European Studies journal published during autumn of last year.  The acknowledgements read: “We gratefully acknowledge a generous donation from Mr. Isuna Hasekura and Mr. Nobuo Matsuki which made the launching of Spicilegium possible.”  Cytrus, a dear reader and fellow blogger, once sent me a reading list of what Hasekura studied in order to write Spice and Wolf, but I had no idea that his passion for the Middle Ages was great enough for him to sponsor a historical journal!  Spicilegium is run by the Japan Society for Medieval European Studies, and I hope to read their first issue soon.  As of now, it only contains three articles, but I hope that the journal will grow in the future.

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On another note, I hope to be publishing blogs more regularly in the near future, so look forward to that!

Knighthood in the Modern Age

My first question received under the “Ask Medieval” feature came from Gaharet and concerns how knighthood can be carried into the modern age.  To paraphrase, what are the essential features of knighthood and how might one be a modern knight?  The first quality of a knight is to be able to fight.  All other qualities of a knight surround the central fact of the knight being a warrior.  A knight may hesitate to strike a blow, but will not hit weakly when his hand is forced.  To that end in modern times, knowledge of how to shoot and martial arts are eminently desirable.  Next there comes keeping fit and healthy for action.  Thirdly, a knowledge of Historical European Martial Arts, though archaic, help in staying fit and better imagining what combat was like from a medieval knight’s perspective.

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The central virtue of the knight is courage.  The word courage derives from the French word for heart.  The knight must take care to keep his heart pure lest the taint of sin lead him to use force wantonly.  To which end, the virtues of faith, charity, chastity, honesty, magnanimity, obedience, loyalty, and good cheer are necessary.  To perfect his character still more, the knight ought to take on the mantle of meekness, not vaunting his own achievements but giving the glory to God.  The knight par excellence is a Christian gentleman.

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A Brief Criticism of Drifters and Defense of St. Joan of Arc

Drifters stood at the top of my list among the present season’s anime, and I wrote as much in the chat of an entertaining conversation hosted by LitaKino.  Then, one of my best commentators, David A, pointed out that St. Joan of Arc was portrayed as a crazied pyromaniac in the show and as one of the villains.  This counts as the most wholly inaccurate and unflattering representations of a saint I have heard of since Wolf Hall, a show which portrays St. Thomas More as a corrupt fanatic.  I cannot get behind a show which calumniates a saint.  At least Joan of Arc’s portrayal in Shingeki no Bahamuteven though it presents a Joan of Arc who falls from grace for a time–still presents a character bearing her name as noble, courageous, and just.

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Calumniating the memory of the saints and great men counts as one of the blackest crimes a writer can commit.  Not only does the calumniator blacken someone’s reputation, but he damages the heritage of new generations.  Each generation has a right to have heroes to look up to and emulate.  One can claim that Drifters‘ portrayal is mere fiction, but most people get their information about the past from media, especially because schools don’t properly educate the youth on the subject of history.  Many people do believe that St. Joan of Arc was insane and delusional.

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Reasons to Remember Gettysburg

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1st to July 3rd of 1863, and yours truly tries to make a point of reminding people of this battle each year.  In part, I wish that more people learned about the outstanding characters of the people who fought then.  Also, the heroism displayed in the steadfast defense of General John Buford (July 1st), the battle for Little Round Top (July 2nd), and Pickett’s Charge (July 3rd) are worthy of remembrance.  Lastly, despite being limited to muzzleloaders, percussion revolvers, canons, bayonets, and sabers, Gettysburg stands as the fourth deadliest battle in American history (WWI’s Battle of Meuse-Argonne, WWII’s Battle of the Bulge, and WWII’s Battle of Okinawa rank above it in that order), and people ought to learn the causes behind that awful period of civil strife and make sure that history does not repeat itself.

Unfortunately, several parallels to the antebellum years which ignited the Civil War do presently exist.  (As do parallels to the Decline of the Roman Empire and the last days of Tsarist Russia–but, that is for another article.)  Here are the parallels: 1) the constant debate over an extremely divisive moral issue: slavery then and abortion now; 2) various states (New Hampshire, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas) have experienced an influx of citizens from states with the intention or unintended result of slanting a state’s politics, as 19th century America saw in Kansas and Texas; 3) the existence of secessionist movements; 4) unrest caused by the federal government either passing laws against the interests of certain states or trying to impose a uniform culture; and 5) the excessive demonization of the opposing side and the difficulty of rational argument as a result.

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Review of The New Concise History of the Crusades

A while back, I had the pleasure of reading Thomas F. Madden’s The New Concise History of the Crusades.  This introductory yet detailed work covers all the major Crusades to the Levant, certain minor ones–including the Children’s Crusade, and the important Crusades within Europe: the Reconquista, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Northern or Baltic Crusades.  (The last might be especially interesting to fans of the Spice and Wolf light novels, since Hasekura’s fantasy world is reminiscent of Northern Europe during that time.)  The most important thing to note about many popular recent histories of the Crusades is that they often come from an unfriendly perspective: Marxist, of the Enlightenment, or pro-Islam.  (Runciman’s famous history, for example, falls into the pro-Islam category.)  This is to say that many historians of modern times have used the historical data with the purpose of discrediting the notion of a just holy war, tarnishing Christendom, or imputing false motives to the Crusaders and the Church.  Madden’s history diverges from those sorts by taking the Crusaders’ and the Church’s words and deeds for what they are rather than as a cover for greed.

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However, Madden does highlight the greed and lust for power of certain participants, especially the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.  (Frederick II may be credited for many good things, but he both delayed egregiously the fulfillment of his oath to crusade and then used his time in the Levant for personal enrichment.)  Madden also notes how the Fifth Crusade might have become the greatest success since the first one had it not been for the papal legate’s greed: the Caliph of Egypt, due to internal strife and initial setbacks against the Crusaders, had offered Jerusalem and its environs on a silver platter.  Yet, the papal legate, a cardinal, wanted more.  It is true that others also argued against the initial treaty and subsequent offers because they did not fully secure the Kingdom of Jerusalem against invasion; yet, as the position of the army became more untenable prior to the final catastrophe, this cardinal’s desire for more territory was primarily responsible for the Fifth Crusade’s failure.

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Brief Reviews of Two Catholic Books

Here comes that promised review of The King’s Good Servant but God’s First by James Monti in addition to St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s The Glories of Mary, which I happened to obtain free from the traditional Catholic organization, America Needs Fatima.  On occasion, their e-mails and newsletters kindly offer free books, religious medals, and even blessed rosaries in the hopes of strengthening the Catholic faith in America.  (Since I have not been able to donate for a while, I owe this force for good some advertising for all the free stuff they’ve sent me and will send me.)  At any rate, Monti’s biography of St. Thomas More sticks closely to historical facts and the Christian polemics raging at that time.  On the other hand, de Liguori’s work focuses on the passages of patristics, medieval saints, later writers, and miraculous stories associated with St. Mary in order to stir up one’s devotion.  As such, I can recommend the former to any studious individual (I myself could barely put the book down), while The Glories of Mary has devout Catholics as its target.

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The goal of increasing devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary holds such value that one who propagates her devotion is certainly saved.  Also, all the saints attest to the necessity of being devoted to the Mother of God.  So, The Glories of Mary is quite a necessary book, though it did not stir my devotion as much as The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude.  The best part of St. Alphonsus’s book lies in the many examples of St. Mary saving sinners from final damnation–even those sinners whose devotion to St. Mary was very slight or even those who just managed to call on her just prior to death.  One is reminded of the devil in Dante’s Purgatorio complaining about the many sinners St. Mary snatches from his hands.

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Links to Anime Season Reviews and the Battle of Gettysburg

At this point, I’d usually review the anime I’ve watched from this season and rate them from one to five stars.  This sort of season review might still come about on Medieval Otaku, but I already have reviews up for every show except Seraph of the End.  You’ll find these reviews scattered over three posts on Beneath the Tangles: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.  In the first part, Kaze gives Seraph of the End the same rating I’d give it.  The second part features an amusing picture of Hestia with a caption added by yours truly.  I found the picture particularly endearing because of it’s resemblance to the “Kilroy was here” image used by the Allies to mark their progress in WWII.

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Let me remind my dear readers, as I did last year, that we celebrate the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1st – July 3rd.  Lord Drako Arakis created a beautifully drawn and tragic music video to commemorate last year’s anniversary, and I hope that he has one planned for this year.  (His latest video is a ribald song not at all in the spirit of the battle, but click here if that doesn’t bother you and you want a good laugh.)  At any rate, July 2nd saw one of the most thrilling fights of the war on Little Round Top.  This was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine’s most famous victory, which he wrote about in the article “Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg.”  I highly recommend the article for how well Chamberlain immerses one in the action on that fateful day.  Also, Chamberlain stands as the greatest hero to serve in the ranks of the Army of the Potomac and is worth learning about the Battle of Little Round Top for that reason alone.

This picture commemorates the famous bayonet charge lead by Col. Joshua Chamberlain.  At the center, Chamberlain captures a Confederate at saber point whose revolver either misfired or was out of ammo when he tried to shoot Chamberlain.  Chamberlain simply said to him:

This picture commemorates the famous bayonet charge lead by Col. Joshua Chamberlain. At the center, Chamberlain captures a Confederate at saber point whose revolver either misfired or was out of ammo when he tried to shoot Chamberlain. Chamberlain simply said to him: “You are my prisoner.”

Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!  

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At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.

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On Swords and Plate Armor in Madan no Ou to Vanadis

So far, Madan no Ou to Vanadis stands as my favorite show this season with Shingeki no Bahamut a close second.  It has extremely likable characters and, despite the fantasy elements, the battles feel rather realistic.  In particular, the suits of armor for certain characters seem very well designed, and I love how spears and lances are the soldiers’ primary weapons–as was the case in history.  But, this show still makes the same mistake one sees in most stories featuring knights in plate armor: their secondary weapon is the sword.

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By the time plate came into popular use, the sword became more a symbol of knightly status.  For example, only a knight could be armed with a sword in a city.  But, unlike the rogues one might run into while travelling on the road or walking about a city, one is likely to meet an armored foe in battle.  If the foe is covered in plate armor, a sword might be the last weapon you want to hold, especially if you’re on horseback.  You see, swords can’t cut through plate armor!  The only way a sword can defeat someone with plate armor is by piercing a chink in the armor.  That kind of precision is difficult when on foot and about impossible when riding on horseback.

The person on the right has some awesome plate armor, while the guy on the left could use a hauberk.

The person on the right has some awesome plate armor, while the guy on the left could use a hauberk.

And so, mounted knights, after their lance, would move to a mace, an axe, or a war hammer as their secondary weapon.  These weapons can crush plate armor and obviate the need to aim at chinks between the plates.  The French at the Battle of Benevento almost lost because their German foes wore plate armor, which their swords could not penetrate.  Soon someone discovered the opening at the armpits and the cry when up for the French knights to aim for that spot.  And thus, the French knights, who possessed superior numbers, won the day.  But, how much easier would it have been for these knights if they had carried axes and maces with them in addition to their swords?

Engaging an armored opponent like that isn't going to do anything.

Engaging an armored opponent like that isn’t going to do anything.

Pommeling an armored opponent is often better than using the blade.

Pommeling an armored opponent is often better than using the blade. This technique was known as the “Murder Stroke.”

I would love to see an anime where the weapons fitted the armor technology.  If the author wants to create a world where swords were effective against the armor of the day, the characters must be armored in chainmail.  I’d love to watch an anime set in the Viking age or a world with similar technology, like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.  During that time, warriors esteemed swords as a most prized weapon, and a stout blow could shear all but the best double linked mail.  But, I suppose chain mail is harder to draw?  Might that be the reason it is seen in so few anime?

Young Canute

Yes, that coat of mail is too long, but the choice was made to highlight Canute’s effeminate demeanor–effeminate compared to the Vikings surrounding him at any rate.

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Armor does not get much cooler than that.

In any case, I shall continue hoping for more realism in fantasy and medieval anime.  Hopefully, some studio will pick up Vinland Saga, which must be animated in a realistic manner if they hope to convey the flavor of the comic.

“It’s Time to Enjoy Yourselves”: Taking a City by Assault Before Modern Times

The flashback to Najenda and Esdeath’s past in episode nine of Akame ga Kiru reminded me of a book I read recently titled Furies: War in Europe 1450 – 1700 by Lauro Martines.  The sack of the rebel town juxtaposed the two in my mind.  In sinister fashion, Esdeath orders the soldiers to do whatever they like to the rebel civilians.  Najenda is so horrified by the brutality of the rape, murder, and pillage that she quits the Imperial Army.  (Though, as an officer and a general, she should certainly have had some ability to mitigate the crimes suffered by the rebel civilians, which is the weakest part of the flashback.)  Esdeath has no pity for the weak and believes that the soldiers have a right to do as they please with the inhabitants.

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Curiously, by historical standards, Najenda has the most unusual reaction to the sack.  The standard features of a sack consist in rape, murder, pillage, arson, torture, and other vile crimes.  (Bernard Cornwell writes a great description of a sack in the beginning of his novel 1356, but I confess to being put off by the violence.)  Many people paint the Crusaders in dark colors because of the Sack of Jerusalem, which led to a massacre of the defenders and civilians.  But, that’s what happens when a city is taken by assault.  Muslims did exactly the same thing in the Sack of Constantinople in 1453, yet no one declaims against the villainy of the Turks.  And Renaissance soldiers committed very violent sacks also.  Sacking a city invites the worse parts of human nature run rampant.  The only bloodless sack I can think of is the Vandals’ Sack of Rome in 455.  However, in this case, an agreement had been drawn up between Genseric and St. Leo the Great (my confirmation patron saint) to spare the lives of the inhabitants.  Though, if an enemy army bursts into a city by force, anything goes.

Assaulting a Town

Generals and the officers of the Renaissance, the era to which the world of Akame ga Kiru most closely corresponds, were certainly complicit in giving their men permission to sack a city.  Sometimes sacks would last as long as two to four days before the officers would reign in their men.  During that time, thousands of civilians would be murdered.  The officers would restrain their men from the most violent crimes if they were present, but they themselves pillaged and took nobles as hostages to be ransomed later at high cost.  Many officers recorded in their diaries and memoirs that they were shocked by the brutality committed against poor civilians, but, unlike Najenda, they never thought of quitting the army just because of that.

Disillusionment

Why were the rank and file so brutal?  In Renaissance armies, condemned men often had their sentences commuted to military service in a time of war, and these were no doubt the worst perpetrators.  However, the violence was general enough that one cannot only blame convicted criminals.  For a moment, imagine being a soldier in a besieging army.  For weeks or months, those infernal defenders had been shooting arrows or lead into one’s friends, pouring boiling oil over one’s head, slinging insults from the walls, and doing whatever else they could to make life unpleasant.  Prior to a successful assault, many messages calling for the city to surrender would have been refused.  During a siege, a soldier’s life was filled with squalor, disease, and other privations–including a maddening feeling of hunger every day.

Fallen in Battle

At last, the day comes when one breaks into the city!  Now, defenders throw themselves at one’s mercy!  Is a soldier going to be inclined to offer them quarter?  Balderdash!  They had perhaps three months to surrender peacefully if they had wished!  Revenge is the order of the day.  One kills until one can lift the sword no more, finds some plunder to sift through, or a good meal to consume.  That’s an awful reality, but reality all the same.

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Still, Esdeath takes things too far when she delights in the cruelty of the sack.  And without a long siege, I doubt that her soldiers could have been whipped up into the same frenzy I described above unless part of her men numbered among the Imperial Army that had been defeated in the prior expedition.  Those might indeed have been feeling murderous towards the inhabitants!  Yet, it is an officer’s duty to try to alleviate the misery suffered by the civilians, but Esdeath thinks that the strong have the right to do as they please to the weak.  Historical sacks show that many of the common soldiers possessed the same attitude, though officers would not give their men rights beyond the right of taking booty.  At the same time, the officers accepted that they could not prevent their men from committing grave offenses against the populace while they were not present.  No one would have thought of it as a good reason to resign from the service like Najenda, but I suspect that she was more disgusted with Esdeath than anything else.

The manga, as usual, conveys the moods and characters much better.

The manga, as usual, conveys the moods and characters much better.

Cool Sword Channels on YouTube

As you know from my handle and previous posts–especially this one, I’m fascinated by medieval swordplay.  I’ve discovered several great channels on YouTube by enthusiasts of Historical European Martial Arts and figured that I should share the best of them here.  Some of my dear readers are no doubt curious what the difference is between real Medieval swordplay and what Hollywood portrays.  Medieval swordsmanship had been been lost until people in the latter half of the twentieth century began to try to reconstruct medieval swordsmanship from old manuals and the ergonomics of the weapons and armor.  There is a particular degree of ignorance in the study of the long sword and other weapons–as Skallagrim admits here; but one of the virtues of this community of enthusiasts is that they correct each others’ misconceptions.  You may watch this video where Skallagrim points out some errors in a prior video.  The other nice thing about that video is that he links to other channels which he considers valuable resources.

Naturally, I place Skallagrim at the top of the list.  He easily runs one of the most entertaining channels.  Though he calls himself a beginner, his videos make it obvious that he’s studied swordsmanship for a long time.  I disagree with him on religious issues–as you saw here; but his videos on swords, fencing, guns, gun rights, and various rambles make for informative viewing.  Many medieval sword sparring videos on YouTube make it seem like the opponents are trying to ding each other with the weapon rather than cut each other down.  Skallagrim’s videos show good technique based on the historical manuals and practice, which reveals that Europeans of the Middle Ages did more than just bang at each other with their weapons.

Next, I would place Matt Easton on the channel scholagladitoria.  He’s practically an encyclopedia on warfare and swordplay from medieval times to the 19th century.  His memory for original source material on his topics is rather amazing.  Also his demonstrations of sword techniques are quite good.  I found myself rather impressed by his skill with the broadsword.

About as entertaining as Skallagrim is Lindybeige.  His specialty seems to run from ancient to medieval weapons (good man 🙂 ); yet, as a history buff, he’s fluent in most areas of European history through the 19th century as far as I can tell.  As with Skallagrim, I disagree with him on religious and philosophical topics.  (He’s a determinist, for example; but, freely admits that the knowledge that he does not have free will does nothing to change the way he interacts with society.)  Other than that, his videos are very entertaining and informative.  His rants can be particularly fun and cover every topic under the sun.

Lastly, I just discovered ThegnThrand, who’s a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  This rather long video reveals that his knowledge of the history and use of medieval and ancient weapons is astounding.  Also astounding are the demonstrations with sharp weapons involving a partner.  They do seem to have great awareness in regard to what their doing, but I myself would not trust anyone less than a master, e.g. Nidar Singh, to demonstrate a technique with a sharp blade on me.

There you have it.  I hope that you enjoy some of these videos on medieval swordplay.  I’ll get back to writing about anime pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

Drinking in Early 19th Century America

I have a couple of comments on my recent article On Vanity about the per capita drinking rate of early nineteenth century America.  According to their calculations, people would only be drinking three ounces of pure alcohol per diem if the per capita rate of drinking were 18 gallons of pure alcohol.  And if everyone from the age of fifteen onwards only drank only three ounces of alcohol per diem, it strikes one as crazy that any sort of Temperance movement would start.

But yes, many temperance ladies were crazy anyway.

But yes, many temperance ladies were crazy anyway.

So, I decided to examine how 18 gallons of pure alcohol would translate across the spectrum of beer, wine, and hard liquor (most probably rye whiskey, rum, or gin at that time) in terms of bottles and cases.  Now, look closely at my math and see whether I’m correct in my calculations.  My specialty is Classical languages after all, not mathematics.  But if I am right, early Americans must really have been having a good time!

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Music for the 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

It had been my intentions to come out of the hiatus I announced today, though I could not forbear from writing again on the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  My dear readers might be surprised that I keep the memory of the Battle of Gettysburg every year.  (It helps that the battle took place during the three days before Independence Day.)  Two things make me never fail to remember the battle: 1) the feats of heroism displayed from July 1 – July 3, 1863 are some of the greatest in the history of war–as befitting the turning point and bloodiest battle of the war (51,000 casualties in total) and 2) one of my ancestors died from a wound received on the third day of this battle.  I like to think that he died in Pickett’s Charge, but my father neglected to ask the circumstances from the person who told him.

Pickett's Charge

At this point, you may be curious how I intend to connect anime to the American Civil War.  There is a YouTube user who sets various pieces of old ballads and songs to original anime backgrounds.  And Lord Drako Arakis just happens to have a few for this occasion.  Some of the songs he plays can be quite bawdy or profane, and a few might not like his admonition that people who do not enjoy his songs can go into the eternal flames.  (I just find it humorous, which I think he was going for.)  But, I’ll save those for a less solemn occasion.  Here’s a song dedicated to the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, followed by another remembering Vicksberg and Gettysburg.  There is also a song with the opening music from the movie Gettysburg, but it uses steam punk pictures for its art.  Enjoy and remember Gettysburg!

 

 

 

A Friendly Post

Well, dear readers, I have recently discovered the difficulty of writing while having a full time job.  Some nights I come home almost too tired to eat my dinner before going to sleep.  This weekend, I had vowed to write several great articles for the blog.  Instead, I found myself sadly indisposed.  I spent most of the weekend reading A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower by Kenneth Henshall and Battles of the Samurai by Stephen Turnbull.  I am rather glad that I read both of these around the same time.  The former is indeed a great history, but the focus on the big picture and the incidents of excessive cruelty by the Japanese during various epochs might lead one to believe that the Japanese are the most savage and soulless people to have ever lived!  Turnbull’s work, on the other hand, focuses more on the examples of heroism and personal qualities of the samurai involved, which makes Henshall’s assertion that the image of a gallant and loyal samurai to have been an invention of the Meiji and Pre-war Japan rather untenable.  Sure, the daimyo were rather self-interested, but the samurai serving them were more interested in honor than power.

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Anyway, you shall read about that in a later article.  I also dropped The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley from my reading list after 95 pages of anti-Christian and anti-Medieval rhetoric surrounding a very long story about marital problems and prophecy.  (Yes, this book’s philosophy thoroughly vexed me and did not provide a fun story.  I can endure the former, but not without the latter also being present.)  Instead, I shall concentrate on Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight and Gene Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist in order to satisfy my love of fantasy.  Both have very high pedigrees and have been very intriguing thus far.

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But, this is an anime and religion blog, right?  So, let me talk a little about my use of leisure on that front.  I’m reading some manga which are worth reviewing and at some point I ought to be able to write the articles which I have promised last month.  I am especially keen on writing about Noir and the series related to it.  In Coppelion, Naruse’s lack of prudence and overindulgence to people who want to kill her and her friends is beginning to bug me.  So, you might see an article soon on this and the Catholic Church’s teaching on how there exists an order of obligation in our relationships with people.

I've lost count of how many times Naruse should have been killed.

I’ve lost count of how many times Naruse should have been killed.

Anyway, here’s to a happy Advent season for you all!

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Ookami no Kuchi: How to Infuriate your Readers in 2 Chapters or Less

While browsing through my manga app, I ran across a manga titled Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund.  At first, I was delighted to find that it was a manga based in 14th century Switzerland and that the artwork was quite brilliant.  However, it was disconcerting that it began with an execution of a Swiss freedom fighter; yet, stories that begin darkly often feature stronger struggles and make a happy ending more compelling.  So, I decided to read the first and then the second chapter.

Emperor Charlemagne Holding Sword

The first chapter was pretty grim.  A knight tried to smuggle the executed freedom fighter’s daughter across the border, because the tyrannical lord wished to execute his entire family.  Goaded by a claim I found on Baka Updates saying: “The author pulls no punches to show us just how brutal and inhuman the Middle Ages really were,” I must point out certain flaws in the manga on this point.  First off, it would be incredible for a medieval king to wish to wipe out a family’s womenfolk.  Most would not even make a serious attempt to kill all the men as long as they no longer posed a threat.  Exile and imprisonment were much preferred means of punishment until around the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the masses of people executed on both sides for heresy seems to have dulled people’s qualms about capital punishment.

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Anyway, the daughter disguises herself but she and the knight end up being discovered by the noble running a checkpoint known as Wolfsmund (Wolf’s maw).  The knight is killed by crossbowmen and the lady  executed on a chopping block.  Medievals never executed women unless they were found guilty of witchcraft.  The attitude of a 19th century American on the topic of hanging a woman differed not in the least with the attitude of a medieval man on the subject.  But, in this manga’s favor, I must note that the style of fighting employed by the knights, which uses the hilt and pommel as well as the blade, is very accurate–even if finishing one’s opponent off, which the lady’s knight was compelled to do, was not.

Knight and Lady

Anyway, having been depressed by these events, I pressed on to the next chapter, wherein it is revealed that the freedom fighters are making great progress in ousting the tyrant ruling over them.  A pair of lovers is separated because the woman, a very capable fighter herself, is given a mission to pass beyond Wolfsmund to transport back money from a Florentine bank.  Need I say that a woman traveling alone is unheard of in the Middle Ages?  Especially in the disguise of an old woman?  That’s a very easy way to arose suspicion!  Better would have been to disguise herself along with a compatriot as nuns.  As it turns out, the poor girl is discovered by a trick the nobleman plays on her and thrown into the dungeon.

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From which, she herself manages to escape, only to be cornered atop a wall and killed by a thrown sword.  Now, the broadsword, unlike the katana, was never intended to be thrown.  The weight is balanced too close at the hilt.  The first throw does hit the girl hilt first, which is the most likely way it would land; while the second pierces her back–a blow only possible through incredible good luck.  Then, her corpse is displayed on a wheel–I did not turn the next page to see exactly how they displayed her corpse, but it must not have been pleasant.  At any rate, though male enemies’ corpses were sometimes displayed and mutilated during the Middle Ages; I doubt that a woman’s corpse ever suffered the same fate.  Despite popular opinion, medievals were not barbarians, and I suspect such an action would have brought the censure of the Church.

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At this point, I got the picture that the manga would consist of failed attempts upon the gate and the cruelty inflicted on the trespassers by the nobleman in charge of it.  No enduring protagonist had emerged yet, with the exception of the female owner of an inn (women owning inns was probably not uncommon at the time), who seems unable to help the good guys.  And so, I put down this novel which concerned itself more with exploring human suffering than telling a good story.

Review of Steel Boat, Iron Hearts

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, hasn’t it, dear readers?  Well, I have a couple of articles for posting today: one on history and the other on manga.  I decided to start with my review of a work of history: Steel Boat, Iron Hearts by Hans Gobeler.  I have always been fascinated with memoirs of submariners.  Mostly, I read works about U. S. submarines in WWII and carried my fantasies about them so far that at one point I even wished to have a career serving on Navy attack submarines.  I even learned the game of cribbage after reading about how figures like Captain Dick O’Kane and Captain Mush Morton were into the game.  They played it so much that Dick O’Kane even managed to draw the perfect 29-point cribbage hand one game (5-5-5-J with the starter being a 5 of the same suit as the jack) and had all the participants sign the cards, which he framed.

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Anyway, most of submariners’ memoirs are written by officers.  Steel Boat, Iron Hearts (as well as my favorite memoir: U. S. S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific with J. M. Eckberg) separates itself from other memoirs in that it was written by the enlisted man put in charge of the diving manifold station, which made him privy to all the action which the U-boat saw.  Gobeler stands as a very interesting figure for his patriotism and honesty.  The person he collaborated with in writing the book, John Vanzo, told him to take certain parts out in order to make him seem more favorable to the readers; but Gobeler refused.  He wished this to be as accurate a portrayal of his service as possible, warts and all.

Young Hans Gobeler

Mr. Vanzo’s worries were unfounded: Hans Gobeler comes across as a very patriotic German rather than as a rabid Nazi.  If I were in any kind of service, I would like to have such a principled, courageous, and fun-loving person in my unit.  I retain this impression of him despite Gobeler doing things like joining the Hitler youth program, blaming the British for starting the war, and tenaciously believing that the Germans would win the war even as late as when his crew was captured by a Navy task force on June 4, 1944.  He wanted to be in the submarine force because this was the most prestigious outfit in the German Navy, and he had even tried to enlist in the war as early as fifteen.  His father had served in WWI on the Russian front, and his experiences there made him very anti-Communist, which resulted in him being blacklisted by Communist run unions in Germany until the Nazis came to power and ended this.  (I find it odd that so many people in Europe thought they had to choose between Fascism and Communism, which are nearly the same, instead of some third alternative.  I suspect a very famous chess champion, Alexander Alekhine, became a Fascist for the same reason.)  Prior to U-boat training, he had fallen in love with English literature and took courses in this language and would read William Shakespeare and Robert Stevenson while on patrol.  Also, he took a black Bible with him on patrol and strongly wished to honor “family, country, and God” by his service.

During his time aboard U-505, he served under three captains.  The first and the last were outstanding, while the crew likely wished to kill the second captain more than sink Allied shipping.  The first of these captains was Captain Lowe, who was half Dutch and unsuccessfully attempted to instill a taste for tea into his coffee loving crew.  (The crew knew so little about tea, that the chief cook made Lowe a batch as if making coffee.  I can sense some of your grimacing at the thought of this black brew of pure tannic acid.)  He was very laid back, and brought the most success to U-505 until he had the misfortune of sinking a schooner with a Colombian diplomat, which caused Colombia to declare war on Germany.  (They don’t teach you that in history class.)  Lowe showed remarkable humanity toward the survivors of the ships he sank and offered as much aid as he could to them before sailing away to find other targets.

survivors

After this, they had another captain transferred to their ship by the name of Zschech, who brought a cohort of rather domineering officers with him, including an executive officer with whom the crew suspected Zschech was romantically involved.  (Whether same sex or not, this cannot be a confidence booster.)  These officers, especially the captain, treated the crew and even the officers who had served under Lowe disdainfully and cruelly.  Reading the account of mandatory army drills, unwarranted hazing, and just plain nastiness makes it a wonder the crew did not mutiny.  Unfortunately, they had very little success during Zschesh’s captainship: I recall only one ship going under, but there may have been one more.  During Zeschesh’s first patrol, the U-505 had the terrible luck of having a depth charge dropped directly onto their ship while running on the surface.  Incidentally, the blast from this depth charge destroyed the plane which dropped it on them due to it diving too too closely upon them.  (Memories of Aces over Europe are coming to mind.)  Despite Captain Zeschesh calling for them to abandon ship, the engineering officer basically told the captain that he could abandon ship if he wished, but that he would stay on the repair her.  And repair her they did: U-505 was the most damaged U-boat to return to port during the war.

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This was followed by long periods in port, exasperated by the saboteurs always managing to force U-505 to return.  But, reading about Gobeler’s times in port stands as another thrilling part to this work.  His times at drinking parties, the crew revenging themselves on sycophantic petty officers, arresting a saboteur, and other things interested me almost as much as his time at sea, which is fortunate.  The saboteurs gave this vessel their undivided attention, which brought the officers’ and crew’s morale to great lows.  The captain is particular was hard hit by all the times he needed to return to port during test dives.

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The stress suffered by Captain Zschech resulted in his replacement with another captain, Harald Lange, who had experience in the merchant marine and had begun his career as an enlisted man.  Like Captain Lowe, he had a laid-back, confident style which won the approval of the crew.   Unfortunately, his career aboard U-505 was very short.  He was captain when the U-505 was captured on June 4, 1944–the first enemy vessel the U. S. Navy captured on the high seas since the War of 1812.  This was the result of the engineering officer in charge not doing his duty in setting the charges for scuttling the boat during the evacuation.  But, this turned out happily for us: you can still see this U-boat in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  I also need to see the man-eaters of Tsavo, which are on display in the Field Museum of Chicago.

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The Awesome Charlemagne and A Short Hiatus

Well, dear readers, I must now prepare to go on vacation.  We leave at 4 AM first to visit my brother’s in Richmond.  The next day we travel to Sanibel and Captiva, Florida with the intention of staying there until July 1st or until we begin to feel sorry for leaving our cats.  The change of routine will do me well; however, this will cause a short period of inactivity here.  Nevertheless, I shall attempt to read some interesting works and to scribble some essays in my down time which will find their way to this blog after July 1st.  Yes, I’m an incorrigible bookworm, but this mode of being has some benefits.

The greatest bookworm of them all, Yomiko Readman!

For example, when Pliny the Younger’s guardian, Pliny the Elder, enthusiastically suggested that they go and see the eruption of Mount Vesuvius up close, Pliny the Younger replied that he would prefer to read a certain book.  Pliny the Elder no doubt chided his namesake concerning his lack of a spirit of adventure and scientific inquiry, but this turned out to be Pliny the Elder’s last scientific foray.

But now to begin my review of the Penguin edition of The Two Lives of Charlemagne by Einhard and Notker the Stammerer.  The latter’s life of Charlemagne is a string of anecdotes mocking worldly churchmen and poking fun at foolish nobles.  It provides a very personal character sketch of the ruler: one gets a picture of a hot tempered, wise, commonsense, and powerful monarch–both physically and regally–with a good sense of humor, which only makes me happier to account him as one of my ancestors.  (I must confess, dear readers, that probably half of you are as nearly related, so I shouldn’t feel too proud of this; but, it’s still nice knowing that one is somehow related to an emperor.)

Here are some examples of the anecdotes to which Notker treats the reader: Charlemagne gives a merchant free rein in order to trick a bishop known for buying silly trinkets and baubles.  The merchant, declaring to the bishop that he possesses a rare oriental creature, convinces him to buy a painted mouse for “a full measure of silver” (something over fifty pounds of silver, I suppose).  This same bishop later receives an edict from Charlemagne to the effect that he must preach a sermon on a certain feast day or else forfeit his see.  While the bishop realizes that he severely lacks rhetorical skill, he does not wish to relinquish his see.  So, he stands behind the pulpit as if to sermonize, then notices a certain person who, in order to conceal the redness of his scalp, has his head covered in church.  The bishop demands that the man be brought to him in bold tones.  Then, once the man is in arms’ reach, he snatches off the covering and solemnly declares to the congregation: “Lo and behold, you people!  This fool is red headed!”  Forthwith, he continues the mass.  When some of Charlemagne’s representatives reported this to him, the monarch is said to have been pleased by the bishop making some kind of effort to obey his edict.

This one stands as my favorite: the Greeks have a custom that the king is disgraced whenever a fellow diner looks through a pile of meat for a better cut.  One can only take whatever is on top.  While visiting this country, a clever knight of Charlemagne’s does so, and several Greeks demand that he be put to death for “disgracing” the king.  Charlemagne says he must do as they say, but he tells the knight that he may ask for one final boon.  The knight requests that all who have seen him do this have their eyes put out.  Charlemagne agrees to this strange request and is closely followed by the queen in declaring that he did not see him do this, swearing by God.  The end result is that all the Greeks and Franks at the table swear by God and the saints that they had not seen the knight do this, who is spared from capital punishment for lack of a witness.

Einhard, unlike Notker, actually lived during Charlemagne’s time as a close confidant of the emperor, admired for his learning and character.  His work is much more historical than Notker’s, and especially useful since he was present at all the events he chronicled.  He gives more details concerning Charlemagne’s wars and even provides us with a physical portrait of the emperor.  Though, it describes the emperor’s character in a matter of fact way, it is still almost as engrossing as Notker’s anecdotes.  So, this is a very good edition for those of you who both want the historical background of this man’s times and a more personal sketch of his character.

May you all also enjoy pleasant vacations and good books this summer!