Anime Winter 2017 Mid-Season Review

After dropping KonoSuba, I realized that I was only keeping up with four shows this season.  Usually, I manage seven or eight.  Revisiting an earlier post made me remember that I had not yet tried out Little Witch Academia TV or Onihei.  Having watched the first episode of both series, those two are now on my watch list, and I hope to review them later.  I can already say that the animation of these two does not impress me that much, especially Onihei‘s reliance on CGI for figures in the background.  At the moment, I can say little more than that.

Why did I drop KonoSuba?  I’ve always felt on the fence with this show, though I enjoyed the first season well enough (7/10).  The comedy requires me to be in a peculiar certain mood, and the fanservice proves distracting.  The more these two drawbacks bothered me, the less inclined I was to enjoy KonoSuba‘s humor.  So, I washed my hands of it.  All the same, may those of you who enjoy the show enjoy it still more!

I’ll miss Megumin for sure.

On to the mid-season reviews.

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Pride and Virtue Mix Like Oil and Water

Watching Chain Chronicle has proven quite fun so far. This classic fantasy provides the viewer with a bevy of strong heroes, implacable foes, beautiful warrior maidens, and a Luke Skywalker-ish hero for its viewers to engage in “egocentric castle building,” as C. S. Lewis termed it in An Experiment in Criticism. This is a fantasy fully in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s fun, but nothing within the story thus far has struck me as uncommon.

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Bruckhardt’s fall from grace counts as the most interesting event of the story thus far. From the first, my ears heard “Blackheart” when the seiyuu pronounced the knight’s name, and episode three revealed his transformation to a Blackheart indeed. The twin scourges of pride and melancholy oppressed him on account of the preferment Yuri gave to Aram. This allowed him to fall easy prey to the evil influence of the Black King’s demon. There is no faster way to hell than pride: the way Lucifer fell and the chief fault of Adam. Even the early Church Fathers wrote that pride alone suffices to send one to hell, even as humility provides the surest means to salvation among the virtues.

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Rating the Anime of Fall 2016, Part 2

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(Here is the second part of my fall 2016 review.  Enjoy!)

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3) Izetta: the Last Witch – ★★★★

This show successfully combines elements from Strike Witches and Maria the Virgin Witch.  It provided us with two of the best heroines from this season.  (Only Kyouka of Bungo Stray Dogs struck me as a better heroine because of her greater moral struggle.)  The action was top notch, and all the WWII vehicles very realistic.  Aside from the magic, only a few moments in the show struck me as unrealistic: things like soldiers being able to provide Izetta with shorts while on campaign and Germanian guards being armed with Lugers rather than Mausers or MP 40s.  In other words, the show seldom rocked me from my suspension of disbelief.

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Dragging Myself to 400 Anime: Tales from Earthsea and Venus Wars

You notice that I’ve decided to modify this series’ name because of the slow progress your humble blogger has made.  At present, I’ve seen six anime in sixteen days.  Life has the unfortunate ability of messing with one’s desires–be they as simple as writing a series of posts.  In any case, I have included two reviews into a single post, and I am happy to say that both films were well worth watching.

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Tales from Earthsea (2006)

Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro had the honor of directing this fantasy adventure.  Many elements feel exactly like your usual Studio Ghibli film, except that the film is both darker and more down to earth than a film directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  One gets this sense despite the medieval setting, the use of magic, and dragons.  I almost imagine this father and son pair of directors like the central figures of Raphael’s School of Athens: like Plato, Hayao points to the heavens, but Goro, like Aristotle, keeps his arm level, as if saying that we should create more realistic tales.  This attitude was somewhat refreshing in a Studio Ghibli film. Goro has some way to go in perfecting this style, but now I want to see his Up from a Poppy Hill and Sanzoku no Musume. Continue reading

Notes to Old Anime

Bon soir, mes chers lecteurs!  Since these posts tend to run a bit long, my introduction shall be brief–or rather, not an introduction at all.  It’s come to my attention that I have watched 381 anime as of this moment.  So, a Ten Movie Countdown to 400 is imminent–just like I had a Ten Movie Countdown to 300 back in February 2014.  This should be fun, and–like the last time–I intend my dear readers to have a say in which films I should watch.  If you have any suggestions for me, please peruse my Anime-Planet Profile, and comment below or send me an e-mail at medievalotaku@gmail.com.

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  1. The Rose of Versailles ★★★★1/2

After Captain Harlock, this stands as the best anime classic I’ve watched recently.  Viewing this show felt like reading The Three Musketeers or another Alexandre Dumas novel, except with more tragedy.  The sad occurrences in a Dumas novel tend to be offset by the universal hope in salvation, but not so much in The Rose of Versailles.  Actually, it does exist in The Rose of Versailles, but mostly for the pure of heart rather than all except the decidedly reprobate, i.e. Milady de Winter.

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Day Six of 10 Days to 300: My Neighbor Totoro

Watching this film makes me see why it is such a beloved movie!  The feeling one gets from watching it is akin to reading a good myth or a George MacDonald novel.  If you have yet to read George MacDonald, be sure to place his Phantasies and Lilith on your reading list.  Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and here.

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The feeling which I’ve alluded to above is the feeling of touching the sublime or the fantastic.  In My Neighbor Totoro, we follow the wanderings of of two girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move to the country with their father.  People accept the world of fantasy as a matter of course, and the best human attitudes to its existence are playfulness and enjoyment.  For example, Mei’s response to finding totoro, a giant creature which combines the traits of a bunny and a bear, is nothing less than giggling delight.  Similar scenes and reactions to the fantastic make this a very heartwarming film.

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At the same time, the film does note that Japanese folklore can be pretty dark as well.  This darkness is especially well conveyed when Mei becomes lost in her desire to visit her sick mother.  The searchers find a small shoe in a body of water and try to uncover her body therein.  How much does one want to bet that, if Mei should have been found dead, the villagers would have claimed that a kappa got her?

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Then again, the movie displays superb animation and a wonderful family atmosphere.  You can see how tightly knit the family is from the way the children interact with their father, particularly during their bath together when they laugh and scream away their fear of the the storm raging outside.  I mentioned that Satsuki and Mei’s mother was ill earlier.  Other than play with Totoro, the children desire their mother’s return more than anything else.  This lends just enough tension to atmosphere of the film.  And so, I gave it a full five stars.  You might think that a bit generous, but My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film.

Day 4 & 5 of 10 Days to 300: Wolf Children and Whisper of the Heart

Well, I’ve been delinquent, haven’t I?  I find myself behind three posts due to a lack of inspiration for anything besides fiction.  Conveniently, Wolf Children and Whisper of the Heart contain similar themes.  And so, I shall briefly write about them in the same post.

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Curiously, Wolf Children is a werewolf movie, but it’s does not fall in the horror genre.  As a matter of fact, I should prefer to call the Wolfman an ookami no youkai.  This story reminds me of a Japanese fairy tail about a kitsune no youkai (fox spirit, fairy, demon, whatever translation pleases you) who is saved by a certain peasant, marries him, and bears him several children by way of gratitude before returning to the wild during the man’s old age.  Unfortunately, the demise of Ookami happens immediately after they have their second child.  Ookami is most unceremoniously done away with, leaving Hana the care of their two children.

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Before I talk about how beautifully animated the movie is and how much we cheer for the main characters, I just want to get a few things off my chest: 1) If one likes someone enough to have them bear their children, they should marry.  You know, to prevent any social stigma from falling on their beloved in case one should die or something.  2) Once we have established that Hana fully accepts Ookami for who and what he is, having Ookami embrace Hana while in wolf form before they make love destroys any gravity the writer intended to convey in the said scene.  3) Despite being a single mother, Hana’s virtues, especially her cheerfulness, work ethic, kindness, and youth, ought to have gained her as many suitors as Penelope.  The film doesn’t speak about this, though Hana obviously becomes very popular with her neighbors in the countryside.  Admittedly, the film might have become less focused if they had included this matter, but it would have added more realism to the film unless Japanese men hold single mothers in utter disdain.  4) Snow is cold.  One doesn’t roll around in snow while barefoot and in pajamas.

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Besides those things, Wolf Children is a spectacular movie about self-sacrifice and finding your place in the world.  I loved its portrayal of rural Japan in particular.  There was both a spirit of self-reliance and community blossoming there, and the backgrounds were downright gorgeous.  Hana leads an incredibly hard life, and we cheer for her as she raises children who need to be watched around the clock.  Ame’s struggle to accept himself as more wolf than human was very compelling.  An excellent film!

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On the other hand, the only matter which I might complain about with Whisper in the Heart lies in its plot not being very imaginative: a high school girl struggles to find her dream and falls in love on the way.  However, the artful way they crafted the story and characters within this ordinary scenario–such that the viewer is not bored for one moment–deserves great praise.  The antique shop, Shizuku’s imagination, and the wandering cat, Moon, do succeed in adding that level of fantasy which we are used to seeing in Studio Ghibli films.  One might say that they displayed remarkable restraint in giving us a story set in a very ordinary world, where one needs to examine it closely in order to perceive the magic within it and its people.

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Indeed, the level of reality in the film is so impressive that one might find themselves in certain of the characters or even their own family in Shizuku’s.  I especially enjoyed the way the film handled the conflict between Shizuku and her family over Shizuku’s dream, which conflicts with the ordinary path taken by Japanese children.  One needs to watch this remarkable film!

ABC Awards Nomination!

abc-awardWell, I find myself quite humbled and honored by Naru’s nomination of me for the ABC Award.  Please check out her blog, which is written with such humor and good style that you might find yourself sucked in for an hour or two.  And thanks to all my dear readers who keep me motivated to write!

Since some of you might have read my Liebster Award post and my Medieval Interrogation. I promise to try to make this, my 200th post, contain new information about me.  Some of which is a bit silly, but hopefully humorous.  Without further ado, let me paste the rules:

1. Download the award logo and add it to your acceptance post.
2. Nominate a few fellow bloggers and share the award.
3. Since the award is ABC, take each letter of the alphabet and use it to tell something about yourself.

Here goes:

A: Arcueid Brunestud.  My ideal woman.  I’m fairly certain an Arcueid doesn’t exist in real life, but one can dream–and no, it has nothing to do with her being a vampire. >.<

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B: Baltimore.  This city holds a place in my heart for two reasons: 1) the first ancestor of mine to come to America settled in this city in 1775 and 2) this city holds the seminary where I went and where my classmates still are.

C: Cats.  I love cats.  Since I moved out of my parents’ house, I haven’t gotten a chance to own one; but, I love visiting to see these two characters:

Dexter

Dexter

Cindy

Cindy

D: Despondent.  The virtue which I most want is none other than cheerfulness.  But, as a writer, it is no wonder that I should have to carry the cross of the blues.  However, for now, I’m doing pretty good at saying “Jigoku e ochiro!” to depression.

E: Escaflowne.  The techniques displayed in the mecha fights in Escaflowne seem to come right out of medieval fencing manuals.  As a lover of swords and medieval combat, these fights always carry me into the sublime.

F: Fathers of the Church.  Catholic spiritual writers don’t write like they used to.  The early Church Fathers have the most interesting vision of religion followed by the mystics of the Middle Ages.

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G: Games.  I love Chess, Go, and Shogi above all; but, board games of all sorts delight me–as long as they’re not ridiculously complicated.

H: Historian.  I love history, as is likely apparent from my similes and references.  There is nothing like warfare in particular to show forth the best qualities of people, and the people who are remembered most fondly in history are also those people who are most original.  So, I find the study of history a continual delight.

I: Imprimis.  This is the name of the newsletter of my Alma Mater: Hillsdale College.  Going here was perhaps the best experience in my life.  All my best friends studied here with me.  You might also call the college a cathedral to Western Heritage.  It’s hard to believe that it will have been five years since I’ve graduated come this May!  How time flies!

J: Jimmy Stewart.  He happens to be my favorite actor.  It is rare to find such modesty in Hollywood!

This image is from Winchester '73.  I might also mention that I love old movies and Westerns.

This image is from Winchester ’73. I might also mention that I love old movies and Westerns.

K: Kind.  I am a very kind person, though my timidity often prevents me from opening up to others.  Just imagine Robert E. Lee or George Washington.

L: Liberty.  One of the dearest concepts to the human heart.  By writing, I hope to fire people for the desire of true liberty: liberty under the law and under God.  Additionally, I want to squash the notion that liberty equals license and freedom from pain.  True liberty involves struggle each and every day.

M: Mustache.  During college, I discovered that a handlebar mustache rather suited me.  Now, a much simpler one adorns my face but I still consider going back to the handlebar.  My real hope is one day to grow a fine looking beard.

Jeb Stuart: Owner of the most perfect beard ever to grace a man's face.

Jeb Stuart: Owner of the most perfect beard ever to grace a man’s face.

N: New Jersey.  The state of my birth, from which I have just succeeded from escaping again.  May I remain here in Virginia!

O: Oblomov.  The eponymous hero of this work by Ivan Goncharov does nothing but sleep and eat all day and refuses to visit other people.  As such, he dies in miserable obscurity even though he had the chance to escape isolation.  Nothing worked so well in convincing me to break out of my shell; though, its literary merits are indeed questionable.

P: Plaid.  Though I may not have a drop of Irish or Scottish blood in my veins, I love plaid.  From pajamas to flannel shirts, I try to stock my wardrobe with as much of it as possible.

Q: Quizzical.  This word refers to my personality.  I eschew being easily defined.  At best, this mysterious quality makes me interesting.  At worst, people label me an odd fish.  Someone’s best attempt at definition was to say that I “was a creature who subsists on tea.”

By typing in "creature who subsists on tea" on google search, I found a great way to play a prank on someone.

By typing in “creature who subsists on tea” on google search, I found a great way to play a prank on someone.

R: Reflective.  I am a retiring and meditative sort of person.

S: Seafood.  I prefer fish over meat.  This makes it very easy to be Catholic during Lent, but I sometimes wonder whether I should avoid fish too on Friday in order to make it more penitential.

T: Tolkien.  Dumas might be my favorite author, but within my genre of choice, Tolkien is the writer whom I most wish to emulate.  Terry Brooks is my second favorite writer in the Fantasy genre.  Despite certain accusations against Brooks, he is one of the least derivative modern fantasy authors–until he returns to Shannara in the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara.  Yet, in those books, he is mostly culpable for copying too much from his prior works rather than the works of others.

U: Utawarerumono.  Best harem anime ever made.  One might validly place Tenchi Muyo in this place, but I’d disagree.  It doesn’t have Towa or Karura.

Look up awesome in the dictionary, and you'll see a picture of Karura.

Look up awesome in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Karura.

V: Venus.  My favorite planet.  (Can you tell that I’m running out of ideas?)  How can one not love a planet whose temperature reaches 462ºC and can melt our strongest probes in half an hour?

W: Wizards.  From Allanon to Gandalf to Walker Boh, wizards tend to be my favorite characters in fantasy novels.  I suppose because they are so learned–something which I hope to be.

X: Xenophile.  Looking through the two pages of X words under the dictionary, I only found one which related to me.  A xenophile is one who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.  All my dear readers know that, but might I also add that I find foreign women attractive?

Y: Yukon.  One day, I want to visit the frozen vasts of Alaska, though I would settle for the Yukon territory.  You might say that Jules Verne and Jack London fired my imagination enough as a kid to want to see the frigid north.  I also want to take down a moose: I hear they taste like fillet mignon.  And, if I can see wolves in the wild, that would be icing on the cake.  (I won’t shoot the wolves!  Don’t worry!)

Wolves are too cute looking to shoot. :)

Wolves are too cute looking to shoot. 🙂

Z: Zinfandel.  My favorite table wine for three reasons: 1) It’s very American, 2) few other wines are as jammy and full, and 3) even the best ones are inexpensive comparatively.  Want a great Cabernet Sauvignon?  Spend $200.  Want an awesome, top class Zinfandel?  Spend $45.  Of course, the $9 – $15 dollar range in Zinfandel is better than the same range in any other grape.

Well, I hope that you enjoyed that!  Now, for me to nominate some people:

Dusty Thanes

Beneath the Tangles

Rayout

Feidor S. LaView

Black Strawberry

Cacao, Put Down the Shovel!

Caraniel’s Ramblings

Anime Commentary on the March

Pacificparatrooper

MIB’s Instant Headache

Freezing Zero: Carrying Gender Reversal Too Far?

If any of you remember my post from that series of chain posts in the summer of last year, you’ll remember that I gave Freezing as an example of how ecchi can turn people away or cause them to dislike a solid show under question five.  (At least, I consider Freezing a solid show.  For an accurate review from someone who disagrees, click here.)  I consider myself an avid fan of both the show and the manga.  This is despite the fact that I often find myself skipping pages: for all my fears that I might be missing out on character development, it is possible to see too much of the character!  The characters are unusually likable and complex.  The grim and lethal fighting constantly make me fear lest any of my favorites are lost–even though surprisingly few of the main characters are killed in action.

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One thing which lends particular interest to the series is gender reversal.  Young men are limited to a support role and are less bellicose and concerned about honor than their female counterparts–which, if one remembers the Spartan mother’s pithy command: “This or on this,” might indeed reflect reality in certain societies.  Their female counterparts, Pandoras, serve as warriors against an alien invader and have an iron-bound sense of honor and esprit de corps.  Until now, I held this arrangement to be unique and tragic, but reading Freezing Zero, a spin-off of the main comic, has shocked me with its boot camp chapters.  Here I was, thinking that gym classes, martial arts training, tournaments, and instructional courses sufficed to transform a young woman into a Nova-killing machine.  But, a boot camp of U. S. Marine-level hardship exists for this purpose.  The instructor even strikes her trainees and physically torments them!

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As one who believes that even male trainees ought not to be struck, these chapters proved too cruel for me to read.  After all, the discipline of extra duty, punitive exercises, public shame, peer pressure, and reprimands suffices to punish infractions in the greatest military in the world.  Seeing women beaten–maybe even especially if by another woman–generates a feeling of horror and perversity.  Women are supposed to symbolize gentleness, beauty, civility, and compassion after all.  On the other hand, if this were a male instructor dealing blows upon men, I would find his conduct tyrannical; but, the feelings of horror and perversity would be absent.

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I suppose that this lies in the nature of men to strive after physical courage and hence endure blows, while the nature of women aligns itself with enforcing the norms of decency.  Indeed, the very idea of women being beaten impresses itself on the mind as the violation of the sacred.  One can understand men as fighting barbarity from without, women as fighting it from within, and thus both preserving civilization as a whole.  Some would say that I’m a sexist reactionary holding defunct mores from the past.  I say that exponents of feminism (Or perhaps I should say extreme feminism?  After all, what kind of man thinks that women ought to be relegated to a second class position in society?) sacrifice the nature of both masculinity and femininity to their idol of equality, which constantly sees female repression by their male counterparts.  Reading certain opinions makes one wonder if they think that God made a mistake in creating two sexes.

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The preceding remarks point out that men and women are complimentary not congruent.  There are certain roles which one side is more capable of doing than the other, and only an arrogant ideologue or bigot would despise the other for its incapacity.

Anyway, I shall still read and watch Freezing, because the characters are so lovable and the action so thrilling.  The scenario indulges in fantasy, but if it were necessary to save the human race by using young women as battlefield infantry, the scenario would need to be dire indeed.  One cannot but imagine that it should change the entire face of humanity and even lead to the abolition of mankind as we know it.

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Conan the Barbarian, Light Reading, and the Wholesomeness of Myth

You know, dear readers, meditating on my past few articles has caused me to realize just how ponderously they were written.  How long back was my last attempt at humor?  (I promise to read and comment on five posts of whoever is able to find that out.)  In order to attain the proper mood, I have stuck a pipe in my mouth and positioned myself under an automatic light which periodically requires me to walk eight paces forward in order to reactivate.  The hope being that the uniqueness of my position causes humor to infect my pen.

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

By 1redgirl1 of deviant art

(Now to take a short break to retrieve a forgotten and essential pipe cleaner.  Alright, having been delivered of the sensation of sucking the bottom of an empty glass with a straw, let the subject matter commence!)

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Anyway, reading Conan the Cimmerian brought home to me how ponderous my present reading list is.  Take a gander at these works: Cicero’s De Inventione, a book on the War of 1812, the British officer Frederick Mackenzie’s diary of the Revolutionary War, Anton Chekhov’s major plays (you know how those went from this article), E. D. Hirsch’s work on why America’s schools are failing, and An Honest President by H. Paul Jeffers.  Only the last, a biography on Grover Cleveland, may be considered light in any degree.

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Oh, this is a political cartoon of Grover Cleveland. Not a picture of Conan the Barbarian.

A certain repressed part of my mind seemed to click as I read through the adventures of Conan the Barbarian.  Who would not be stirred by reading tales of him rescuing a maiden from Neanderthals, chasing a women clothed in sheer gossamer upon snowy vasts, being captured by a voluptuous pirate queen, and being madly embraced by her after a mating dance?  Pardon me.  This list of adventures might give the impression that any stirring in me was of a localized and prosaic kind.  Let me rather point out him adventuring for treasure, slaying eldritch monsters, prowess in battle, journeying through fantastic lands, and narrowly escaping treachery.

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I had once opined that language seemed more geared to narrative than academic purposes.  I might even say that the full richness of language expresses itself more fully in myth than in even the best tales of 19th century realists.  Myth affects the psyche on the level of beauty more than goodness and truth; though, a good myth will obviously also contain the latter ideas.  In the Conan stories, one is particularly struck by the detailed depictions of the countryside, the uniqueness of the scenarios, the atavistic mindsets of the characters, and the curious utility or opulence of the apparel.  Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian, employs a particularly rich vocabulary to convey all of this.  Forcing even a highly literary man like me to look up at least one word per page.  (That’s not bragging if it’s true, right?)

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So, burdening one’s mind with only works of academic rigor or factual events cannot but have a negative effect.  The mind needs to indulge in the beautiful and fantastic.  As Dostoyevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world.”   It also saves the mind from stultification.  (That’s a real word, right?  Yes!  My dictionary confirms it and that my usage is perfect.)

Well, my pipe is done, and it’s time to step back into my nice, air conditioned house.  Good night to you all!

Attack on Titan and Claymore according to Max Scheler Pt. 1

I have a professor who doesn’t mind when I mix anime and philosophy.  I wrote this prior post on Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal for his class.  This particular post relies on a Schelerian reading of Attack on Titan and Claymore.  Max Scheler’s ideas about the importance of how levels of sympathy build upon one another will be discussed below in two posts.  Enjoy!

The Five Levels of Sympathy and Drama

Max Scheler adamantly insists that levels of sympathy build upon one another and that the higher cannot exist without the lower. Similarly, the best drama relies on the viewers truly loving the main characters and being engaged in all their experiences. Therefore, many dramas contain a modern setting, which allows for easy identification: the characters live in the same environment and have the same experiences we do. On the other hand, when an author wishes to place a drama in a different time, he must pay particular attention to the realm of identification so that the audience can be more easily brought up to the higher realms of sympathy and desire to feel and experience what the characters do. To show this, I propose to juxtapose two animated series: Claymore and Attack on Titan. The first succeeds in creating an atmosphere for the audience to identify with the characters, while the later fails.

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First off, we ought to note that both Claymore and Attack on Titan are fantasies. Most of the time, fantasies are stories of adventure meant to transport our minds from our humdrum existence and provide a bit of fun. Very rarely will one come across a fantasy which describes a serious plot and even more rarely will one come across a tragic plot. Attack on Titan decided to do the later and also in the monster slaying genre— very rare choice for drama. Indeed, the only other serious monster-slaying show which comes to mind is Claymore, but I would not place it at the level of a tragedy—no matter how grim the story becomes.

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Max Scheler writes in his chapter describing the dependency of the levels of sympathy upon one another: “It seems to me that identification underlies vicarious feeling in the (timeless) order of functional dependence…”1 Therefore, one must identify with characters before one can begin to imagine what the characters must feel like, i.e. the vicarious state of sympathy. But, fantasy itself places many hindrances on the audience identifying with the characters, especially the nearer the setting approximates the medieval world: the technology is well beneath what we are used to, the political system differs, death more frequent, the scope of medieval people’s worlds is much smaller, their lives much harsher, religion more ubiquitous, etc. Many times, anachronism is employed to try to make the characters more modern. For example, the characters in The Lord of the Rings smoke pipes, and a knight offers his pupil a cigarette in the short story The Fifty-First Dragon. But, primarily, identification between moderns and medievals must occur on universal human experiences: family, romance, friendship, parties, and the whole host of events which humans experience in every age. The protagonist ought to have a love interest, good friends, some family troubles, and personal foibles. If the author cannot establish good identification between the audience and the characters, he had better realize that he ought eschew drama in order to write a story which relies on the audience reaching the vicarious level of sympathy, such as a fun, entertaining monster slaying show. The audience can then escape into fun daydreams about slaying dragons and ogres without being troubled by a serious storyline.

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And so, when we are introduced to characters at the beginning of a story, we seek out the ones with whom we naturally identify. From here, we generally grow in liking or disliking them according to what they further divulge about themselves through word and deed. Max Scheler writes this about the subject: “If a man is to achieve his full realization of his ideal capacities, his various emotional powers must all be cultivated…There can be no full development of the higher, though necessarily rarer, emotional powers in man, where the lower but more common ones have not been fully cultivated.”2 In the same way that one cannot achieve the higher states in oneself without utilizing the lower, one cannot love another person without having moved from identification, vicarious feeling, fellow-feeling, and benevolence toward them.

Attack on Titan Eren eyes

Interestingly, suffering may become a barrier to truly loving someone if the other emotional states have not been cultivated prior to suffering. For example, one felt sorry for the people of Japan when they were hit by the earthquake and tsunami, which motivated many people to donate money to them as an act of benevolence. But, how many people would wish to become further involved in helping these people? For that to occur, there must be an active love already established between oneself and the Japanese people. The saying about one laughing with the world and weeping alone applies here. Many wish to share in one’s good qualities and good company, but few wish to share in the sufferings one undergoes. The only people who wish to share in these pains are those who have known one for a long time and do all they can to deliver one out of one’s sufferings. This lies in the fact that the previous and more personal levels of sympathy have all been established prior to this point.

1Scheler, Max. The Nature of Sympathy. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2009: 98.

2pp. 103-104

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The next part will delve into how these two shows succeeded or failed in bringing the viewer to the highest level of sympathy: love.  Part II will be posted on Tuesday.

Attack on Titan or Titan Smorgasburg?

Attack on Titan has produced many articles and no doubt much expenditure of midnight oil on the blogosphere.  Certain reviews claimed that it has a slow start, but overall positive things have been said about this rather unique show with a high production value–if the animation is anything by which to judge.  During a period of boredom one day, I decided to give this show a shot, especially since the monster-slaying genre is so dear to my heart.

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At any rate, I remember delighting in the great visuals and animation provided by this show.  The frequent use of still images was interesting to see and contained beautiful detail.  While I found the characters to be rather mundane, the setting and plot made up that defect; though I confess that Mikasa was an interesting childhood friend character.  I quickly came to the conclusion that this show was a cross between Claymore and Chrome Shelled Regios, both of which I enjoyed–the former greatly and the latter to a small degree.

claymore_1_640The second episode allowed us to see a scene of carnage as countless victims fall to the titans’ vicious attack, including the protagonist’s own mother.  I became embroiled in the protagonist’s anger toward the titans and his desire to rid the world of these monsters.  So, it was with great expectancy that I endured the boot camp episodes.  (I say endured because its impossible to enjoy a boot camp filled with stock characters.)  How I waited to see the main character’s revenge!  However, my perseverance ended with episode five.  Rather than a rousing counterattack by our heroes, we find that they themselves are getting slaughtered as a repeat of the second episode ensues.  Even the hero gets swallowed and loses an arm!  This resulted in my desire to see the humans mount a counteroffensive fizzle out.  A writer can only torture the audience so much.

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Another thing which irritated me was the ridiculous method they devised to slay the titans.  Going after them on wires as if they are in a Kung Fu movie!  Seriously?  An easier solution with their technology would have been to form masses of pike men supported by people wielding powerful two handed weapons: pole axes, claymores, true two handed swords, halberds, battle-axes, etc.  The pikemen should form bristling, coruscating forests of 30 foot pikes in order to halt the titans’ movements and give the other men cover to cut down the titans’ Achilles tendons so that the titans fall to the ground where they may be more easily dispatched.  Also, the roads of these towns should be booby-trapped so that whenever something with the weight of a titan steps on it, they fall into a pit of sharpened steel rods so that they can be finished off.  They should also be willing to set the towns on fire whenever the titans invade in order to stall their movements.  (They can’t be impervious to fire, can they?)  As you can tell, I’ve given too much thought about this, but it comes of being a medievalist.

1336937170375Imagen7aBut, it was mostly the utter hopelessness of these five episodes which made me decide to drop the show.  All the hero’s hopes and oaths turned out to be mere bluster.  It seems as if the humanity of this world is about to be wiped out, and the show failed to make me care deeply enough about their fate.  But, if it does get more hopeful after episode five, please let me know.  I’m not a masochistic reader!

A famous monster slayer, St. George!

A famous monster slayer, St. George!

Long Awaited Manga Reviews

Remember how I promised  that other half of manga reviews a very long time ago?  Here they are!  My promise of that time and the one made just a few hours ago doubly bound me to write these reviews, and I hope that they shall be to your pleasure.  If not, may you enjoy your displeasure.

Picture of good ol' Revy.

Picture of good ol’ Revy.

The titles which I propose to review are Genshiken, Kurenai, Sengoku Youko, and Hanako to Guuwa no Tera.  The last one is a horror manga which I highly enjoyed.  Horror stands as one of my least favorite genres nowadays.  In the past, I used to get a kick out of watching Hammer Films’ Dracula films and werewolf movies of all sorts.  It was fun commenting on how the movie makers would mess with the lore attached to these creatures.  I loved the Gothic style of the vampire genre, and the fright of a big bad wolf coming at one with your only hope being a well placed silver bullet.  Now, horror movies are overly gory, and I find myself less intrigued by them.

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Hanako to Guuwa no Tera by Sakae Esuno attracted me from the start because they melded horror with the private eye genre.  Our hero runs  an agency dedicated to ridding the world of harmful “allegories.”  These allegories are based in Japanese folklore or the fads of popular culture.  The interesting thing about the monsters here are that they derive from people’s unbalanced states of mind.  The detective, Daisuke Asou, has collected a couple of allegories in his line of work, some of which give him power.  One, named Hanako, acts as his information gatherer.  Our story begins when Kanae Hiranuma seeks Asou’s help in ridding an allegory which has been haunting her: the axe man under the bed. For this reason, she has not been able to sleep in days and is petrified to stay in her own room.  Doesn’t it sound childish?  This haunting begins a long, happy relationship for the two of them.

Don't worry.  It's available in English.

Don’t worry. It’s available in English.

This story really shines in the way the author delineates relationship between the characters.  This draws one into all the struggles which they endure against allegories, and the wide variety of opponents keeps the reader turning pages.  This manga has ended in 2010, and consists of just nineteen chapters.  The manga also really shines in creating a likable couple.  Too many series have rather annoying couples, which make one wish that the author had not bothered with a love interest.  But, Kanae is quite capable, and there is the right amount of tension between the two to make for an interesting dynamic.  I recommend this better than average manga to you horror fans out there.

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Now to review the most problematic manga for me: Genshiken.  As many of you know, this manga focuses on the otaku lifestyle of the club members of a club known as Genshiken, which means Society for the Study of Modern Visual Porn–I mean, Culture.  My biggest problem with this manga must lie in that I am not otaku enough to relate to any of the characters.  As a matter of fact, Saki is my favorite character, and she only joined Genshiken so that she could hang out with her lover, Kousaka.  I can’t help but feel sorry for her in that Saki must endure the porn and ero-game loving ways of her partner.  Now, this makes for great comedy, but a guy has absolutely no excuse for using pornography if he has a lover.  After all, is not having the thing better than a mere vicarious experience?  Anyway, Saki herself brought up this complaint.  She has the patience of a saint when it comes to dealing with the idiosyncrasies of her boyfriend.  (Not that  I approve of sex before marriage, but such relationships at least offer the chance of leading to marriage, while pornography is engaging in an empty activity.)

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At any rate, a college freshman named Sasahara is brought into the group and enmeshed into their otaku lifestyle of ero-games, anime, conventions, porn, and video games.  The story often succeeds in being hilarious; but there are too many problems of identification for me, and their preoccupation with porn irritates me.  So, I won’t be getting the second omnibus volume.

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Even bald men deserve to be loved.

Kurenai is a real joy for me to read.  The fights are very well done, and the humor driven off of the harem situation is most amusing.  Women can’t seem to help falling for the strong, modest, reliable Shinkuro.  But, the author presents us with some very likable characters, even if some characters are rather stock–heck, all of them might be stock characters to tell you the truth; but, that only speaks to how well the humor and plot are executed.  This show also uses a favorite trope of mine: a young man is in charge of taking care of girl much younger than himself.  (Perhaps the reason for my predilection lies in that I have a sister 10 years younger than myself, so identification is easy.)

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Shinkuro works as a dispute mediator–more like a dispute finisher considering most disputes are ended with his fists–for a capable, mysterious woman named Benika.  At the start of the manga, we already know that he’s been taking care of Murasaki, a young girl from a powerful, incestuous family.  You see, she’s been destined to marry his older half-brother.  She warms up to Shinkuro because of his gentle and strong nature.  However, her family comes after her, and Shinkuro must display all his martial skill to finally free Murasaki from this fate.  Then, the action turns toward a criminal syndicate, which decides to make Shinkuro himself a target.

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Besides the fights, this manga excels in delineating the relationships between the characters, i.e. Shinkuro and his ever expanding harem.  The manga manages to balance the romance and slice of life chapters very well with the action packed ones, which means that the reader is never bored.  Everything works to keep the reader turning pages, and I look forward to each new chapter of this ongoing manga.

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Lastly, I was fortunate to find the manga Sengoku Youko.  This is another ongoing manga, but it’s set in fuedal Japan as a historical fantasy.  This manga is a very character driven work, the fights and the plots are rather simplistic.  The characterization goes a long way to make up for these flaws though.  I must comment that the setting feels much like Inuyasha: youkai and samurai are juxtaposed to each other during the Sengoku Era.  Also, traveling is a major part the action, and the side characters all display prejudices of some kind or another, human-hating youkai or youkai-hating men.

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Our heroes, Jinka, Tama, and Shinsuke, meet while the first two were on a bandit hunt.  Tama unsuccessfully tries to convince the bandits that they are leading an immoral life.  At which point, Jinka, a hanyou, is forced to beat them all down.  Jinka has a strong prejudice toward human beings, while Tama, a fox youkai, believes humans and youkai must be judged on an individual basis.  Their adventures lead to them picking up one more party member and discovering an insidious plot by Tama’s mom and her human lover.  This is a great manga for light reading, especially if you liked Inuyasha.

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I hope that you enjoyed these reviews.  Pressing work will deter me from blogging for at least a week.

Fantasy, Vikings, and Gunslinging: Manga Reviews!

Here’s some reviews of the manga I’ve been reading recently.  The first part will contain three manga and the second part, which will be written this weekend, three more.  All of them may be recommended without exception–unless you can’t endure fanservice.  Then, I won’t recommend Zero-In to you.

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The manga Superior and its second part Superior Cross were delightful to read.  This series had great fights and the plot some nice twists.  Yet, the most appealing things about this fantasy are how the mangaka, Ichtys, works in a Christian worldview, how likable and dynamic the characters are, and the often gut-wrenching situations in which the characters find themselves.

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Of particular interest is the Demon Queen, Sheila.  She starts off as a rather bloodthirsty, callous, ruthless character with a sense of humor.  After running into Hero, who has a strong sense of justice and made a vow not to kill anyone with the sole exception of the Demon Queen (He’s like Kenshin Himura, but less cool), Sheila falls in love with him, managing to keep her identity in the dark.  This allows her to tag along with Hero and his company.

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This series is rife with Christian symbolism and theology.  They quote Scripture on a few occasions.  That neither humans nor monsters are ontologically good or evil indicates that all rational creatures possess free will.  At the same time, several characters confess to having a wounded nature (very Catholic there)–particularly Sheila in the very powerful ending to this series.  One scene basically shouts the concept of doffing the old man and putting on the new.  If Christian manga are of interest to you, you can’t let this one go without reading it.

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Vinland Saga is a favorite of mine.  (The image in the header gives that away.)  Unfortunately, they release chapters at a snail’s pace.  The drawing style feels more like Prince Valiant than manga, even though there are certain characters who definitely have a manga-ish appearance.  All the weapons, armor, and backgrounds are beautifully done.  (Maybe that’s why it takes so long for the mangaka to write chapters.)  The characters range from being lovable to despicable.  Overall, the story is quite compelling, even though certain parts can be too drawn out, especially around chapter 80.  Until around chapter 54, the manga is a true page turner, and the pace slows down a bit afterward.

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The first section of the comic deals with the antagonism between Askeladd and our hero, Thorfinn.  Askeladd leads a company of Vikings on raids, Thorfinn included, and is the one responsible for the death of Thorfinn’s father.  In exchange for good conduct on the battlefield, Thorfinn is allowed to duel Askeladd and try to avenge his father.  The comics take a very interesting plunge into history when this company is assigned to guard Prince Canute, the man who would become king of Denmark and Britain, during a war with Britain.  Askeladd and Thorfinn must protect their charge against all enemies, hostes et inimici.  (Forgive my indulgence in Latin.  Hostes = enemy of one’s country.  Inimici = personal enemies.)

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This series stands out among manga for a variety of reasons.  It shows a very interesting conflict between Christians and Pagans–reminiscent of Tokugawa period Japan.  Some of its views of Christianity are inaccurate (a corpse is not the highest symbol of Christian charity!), but it shows this religion in a favorable light, especially when compared to Viking paganism.  I also enjoy how historically accurate and unusual the characters all are for manga–as a matter of fact, some characters relate much more to figures found in sagas than those in Japanese manga.  Though, I am disappointed with what the mangaka did to King Canute’s character–even though it makes the story more compelling.  (Canute was a good guy from everything I’ve read.)

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You have no idea how hard it is to find decent pictures of this manga–and by decent, I don’t mean well done!

Here’s a fanservicey, action-packed shounen for you: Zero-In.  Again, we have a series with very likable characters and the cool and absorbing action draws in the reader.  It feels a little like Gunsmith Cats: an almost perfectly entertaining series if you can ignore the scenes of nudity, especially a few which go further than that.  Zero-In concerns a privately owned Japanese police company called Minkei.  Our two main characters are the experienced and powerful Mikuru and her love interest, Kou.  (I cannot see Kou as much of a lead, but this series falls in the harem genre.)  The plots tend to be episodic, and many interesting characters are met along the way.  Overall, this manga excels in providing the reader with great fun–if only they would translate the chapters faster!  (I’m very close to reading it raw, which I find a bit time consuming these days.)

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General Endorsement of Humanity has Declined

I did promise a review of this show, didn’t I?  The only problem is that I feel quite unable to do justice to this rather amusing show which covers a diverse grouping of topics.  You see, my viewing of this show was rather sporadic with weeks passing in between certain episodes.  Then, the episodic nature of the show prevents me from latching on to a thread which I might delineate in the show.  As a matter of fact, the only two reasons to continue reading what I’m about to write are that 1) it’s short and 2) you will be directed to proper reviews of this show.

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The most omnipresent theme running through the show appears to be Watashi’s (watashi is the polite form for “I” in Japanese) cynicism, skepticism, and perfect contempt for any projects or ideas which moderns themselves devise or draw from the past.  This makes her a very droll character, whom bloggers across cyberspace have extolled.  She even takes on the topic of yaoi and manga in general through commenting on Y’s (a former school friend) efforts to spread the genre’s influence in the modern era.

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I thought that Marlin-sama had an article on the episode which commented on this show’s portrayal of religion, but I can’t find it.  Another great article on this show was Avvesione’s discussion of the effect of light on the animation.  Then, there were a couple on Beneath the Tangles which were also quite enjoyable: Lessons from the Decline of Humans and Possibility of a New Race.

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In the end, all I can say that this show was a lot of fun; although, GoodbyeNavi has a profoundly different opinion.  The strongest points for this show are the main character, her cynical commentary on just about everything, references to outside works like Gulliver’s Travels, and the humor and zaniness of certain scenes.  If you want more than that, you might be disappointed.  Though, I wouldn’t mind watching this fun little show again.

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Impressions of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Fairy Tail, and Samurai Deeper Kyo

So, here are just some initial impression of a few manga.  I would be able to go deeper into Samurai Deeper Kyo, having read around 26 volumes of it, were it not for the fact that I read this manga on and off.  Whenever the volume of work increases or I get distracted by other series, this often gets pushed to the side.  I’m not precisely sure why, it’s an extraordinarily well done.  Perhaps my scruples about fanservice get in the way, which I’m happy to report has been greatly toned down at the point I’ve presently reached.  How well all the other elements work in the manga indicates that it doesn’t really need it, which the mangaka, Akimine Kamijyo, seems to have realized by now.

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First, let’s take Fairy Tail.  Most people consider this one of the best manga currently out, but I find it too lighthearted.  (I know, this is coming from a guy who enjoyed Slayers, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves.)  The problem is probably in my mood rather than in the work itself.  Otherwise, the characters are very enjoyable–even if on the goofy side and not terribly complex.  It kind of felt like reading One Piece, even though I found the characters in Fairy Tail more enjoyable.  In any case, I’ve decided not to pursue this manga further.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (a.k.a. Tasogare Otome x Amunejia) has a rather interesting style of art, and one can tell that the mangaka desires to investigate the depths of the human psyche.  Both of these things work in its favor; however, the characters don’t interest me too much.  The boy with the capacity to see ghosts is rather bland.  The ghost whom he sees, a high school aged young girl, shows the quality of being deeply pained but outwardly bubbly, a kind of character type which I’m usually drawn to.  But, she’s not interesting enough to make me desire to read more.  For an alternate opinion concerning the anime version, please see Marlin-sama’s excellent article.

Some of you may have seen the animated version of Samurai Deeper Kyo, which is rather mediocre.  Conversely, the manga does not have annoying monsters called Kenyou and excels the anime in practically every level–except for the level of fanservice.  By its deficiency, the anime is better in this regard.

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The most striking feature of this manga is the terrible pride most of the characters possess.  The all desire to be the strongest and look down upon any weakness.  At the same time, many of them conceal a soft side which reveals itself when they show compassion to certain people–opponents even in some cases.  Kyo seems to be the most hard-bitten of them all, but even he has a profound respect for others’ pride and a great fondness for Yuya, the bounty hunter who initially tries to bring him in.  Then, one tosses in the original plot and spectacular, cerebral, and gut-wrenching duels in order to make this a true classic.

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Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.

Finally! The Adventures of Captain Hatteras Reviewed

How long has it been since I promised to review this work?  Well, it’s better to be late than never, and I find myself motivated by my move to college tomorrow.  Who knows how long it may take to set up the internet service or how much time I’ll have to write these little articles?  So, I’ll try to post one more article up today after this one, and may that, my dear readers, tide you over until the next one.

The Adventures of Captain Hatteras has been relegated to obscurity among Jules Verne’s works.  After reading this page-turner again, I find myself at a loss as to why this novel has been ignored by so many.  According to the introduction, Verne had a great love for northern climes, which comes out in the exquisite detail and liveliness with which Verne describes the towering mountains of ice and the snowy vasts of the Arctic.  In addition to the beautiful setting, the characters suffer through a never ending torrent of conflicts, which prevents the reader from becoming bored.  Rather, if the reader does begin to tire from the tale, it is through having his empathetic soul infected with the exhaustion constantly plaguing our heroes.  Verne also keeps the reader in his chair by filling the story with mysteries and the ever present doubt that our heroes will ever succeed in their venture of reaching the North Pole.

The first of these mysteries lies in the Captain’s refusal to reveal himself.  No one doubts that the captain is also funding the voyage, but he allows Richard Shandon, his second in command, to be in charge of building the ship and assembling the crew.  Yet, Richard does not know either the captain or the destination towards which the captain intends to sail!  In focusing on a few gossiping sailors, they confirm for us the arctic destination of this vessel, the Forward,  and describe how the design would help in navigating those waters–such as the reinforced steel bow, the fact that it runs on both sail and coal, the extraneous wooden deck and other structures which may be cannibalized in a pinch, and that it can carry enough food for five or six years.  The choice of crewmen is also precisely gears to those men of sanguine humor who could more easily weather cold climes.  Meanwhile, Shandon received instructions for a mysterious dog to remain on the ship, which the crewmen take to referring to as the captain.

The most interesting members of this crew consist in the ship’s doctor, Dr. Clawbonny, and the bosun, Johnson.  The former is a simple doctor with a thirst for all forms of knowledge, and the latter is a middle aged mariner with a wealth of experience including polar expeditions.  The two become fast friends.  Dr. Clawbonny’s wisdom and cheerfulness make him the life of the crew, especially in bad situations.  Verne seems to delight in having likeable polymaths in his works, and Dr. Clawbonny makes an excellent mouthpiece for imparting many pieces of scientific knowledge and information pertaining to other expeditions–though, most of the crewmen are conversant with the latter.  Johnson makes for an interesting character due to his aforementioned experience, his loyalty to the captain, and hardihood.

Kind of how I envision Johnson, except that Johnson’s a bit thinner.

Captain Hatteras refuses to reveal himself until the crew is about to mutiny against Richard Shandon, who had brought the expedition all the way through Lancaster Strait and passed the Devil’s Thumb before this.  Somehow the captain had managed to direct the entire expedition by letter thus far, and Shandon was beginning to fancy himself the captain.  The abruptness of the Captain’s appearance, the force of his authority, and the dog recognizing Hatteras as his master bring the crew back to order.  He also adds an enticing bonus for each line of latitude closer to the pole.  Captain Hatteras may be described as very nationalistic–a flaw which Jules Verne exploits to create more conflict when they discover an American expedition, very resolute, rather silent, and usually impassive.  But his stony countenance conceals strong emotions within that reveal themselves through the extremes of violent fits of anger (he almost buries an ax in someone’s brain at one point) and even tears on a few occasions.  All this makes for a multifaceted character who must stand as one of Verne’s most memorable.

Verne very aptly employs conflict among the crew, danger from the elements, mystery, and suspense to keep the reader’s full attention.  One finds it difficult to put the work down.  Very few pages have the characters not facing some kind of danger or suffering in some manner.  During this second reading of the work, I was struck by how good of a movie it would make.  Though, this work has not been adapted into a movie since Georges Méliès’s Conquest of the Pole, which was filmed in 1912.  As a piece of trivia, that’s the same Georges Méliès featured in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  As you can see from the picture below, it must have been a truly amazing spectacle, which modern audiences and people of good taste would not be able to stand.  If someone doesn’t do a modern adaptation soon, I’ll write that screenplay–but I don’t mind someone beating me to it.

This movie must have caused Jules Verne to roll in his grave.

 

The other reason this book would make for a great movie is how beautiful and fantastic Verne renders the Arctic.  (Though, not as fantastic as what you just saw.  There were no man-eating frost giants in the novel!  Just man-eating polar bears.)  Verne really outdoes himself in describing the flora, fauna, landscape, and other characteristics; yet, he spreads these facts so evenly throughout the work and makes them so varied that not only does he not bore the reader, but the reader is eager to know more.  The most amusing thing he writes about is how the refraction of the light in this area constantly messes with the sailors.  One sailor shoots and kills a polar bear, only to discover upon closer inspection that the animal was an arctic fox!  Dr. Clawbonny, in stepping over what he thinks is a small hole one foot wide, finds himself falling into a large ditch over ten feet wide!

Well, I hope that you enjoyed my little review of The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, and it will find itself on your shelves, kindle, or iPhone sometime in the future.  (Project Gutenberg is a wonderful thing!)

 

 

 

 

Holo Rocks!

Ah, dear readers, I have a confession to make, which you’ve very likely guessed.  Anyway, my hope to write several rough drafts over vacation came to nothing.  Guilt for being far too idle is weighing on me, but I did accomplish some reading.  Expect reviews of Jules Verne’s Adventures of Captain Hatteras and Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic soon.  For now, please be content with my little endorsement for Spice and Wolf.  I say endorsement rather than review because I tend to be the kind of reviewer C. S. Lewis referred to as a cheerleader.  (Or was it G. K. Chesterton?  By all means correct me if I’m wrong.)  Basically, the reasons one should read something or those respects in which a work excelled interest me more than those in which it did not, and I do not wish to waste time excoriating anything–unless someone makes a request, anyway.  That doesn’t mean I’ll completely pass over its negative aspects; otherwise, the review would be rather meaningless, and certain of my dear readers would feel that I convinced them to waste their time.  But, you’re probably used to this proclivity of mine by now.

Anyway, most people know Spice and Wolf from watching the anime based on this series of light novels by Isuna Hasekura.  This series draws most people in by its unique plot, setting, and the ever amusing Holo, the Wisewolf of Yoitsu.  Checking up on her ranking on Anime Planet, it seems that she’s only 82nd, which I find quite surprising.  In the world of anime, which finds itself flooded with stock characters, she stands as truly unique–prompting the title of this post!  Holo used to be worshiped by the people of the village of Pasloe as the Goddess of the Harvest until being replaced by the farmers’ preference to rely on recent agricultural technology.  In this state of neglect, she meets a merchant named Craft Lawrence as she lies naked among his cargo of furs.  (Don’t worry.  Holo is often naked before and after transforming into a giant wolf and does not have human standards of modesty, but any eroticism here hardly goes beyond innuendo, which itself is few and far between: Lawrence possesses impeccable chastity.)  After convincing Lawrence of her identity, they make a deal for Lawrence to bring Holo to her fatherland–I mean, homeland!–Yoitsu (Germany in Japanese is Doitsu.  Hasekura did not employ too much creativity in this name!) in exchange for her helping him with his business and Holo paying off any debts incurred by her overindulgence in good food, beer, wine, brandy, etc. and the clothing he has to buy for her, though Holo never has more than two outfits at a time.

However, Lawrence gets somewhat more than he bargained for in his companion.  Lawrence, always being alone on the road, had also been suffering from loneliness.  Holo completely alleviates this feeling and is often very astute when it comes to business negotiations, giving Lawrence unexpected windfalls.  The price for all this is constantly being teased by Holo and often having to placate her wrath for all sins of omission or commission against Holo’s delicate sensibilities.  The enjoyable banter, conversation, and all sorts of verbal traps stand as one of the most enjoyable features of the work.  Hasekura does have to take care lest he overdo the precious nature of some of the dialogue, though, lest it become repetitive, and Lawrence needs to come out the victor once in a while for a change of pace.  I have read up to volume four; though Lawrence achieved much glory for fabricating the method for the good guys to win in this volume, he completely lost all his verbal jousts with Holo.

The setting approximates the High Middle Ages, except that paganism is more widespread and the Church is not precisely Christian or Catholic, except that volume four mentions a “Holy Mother” without giving any explanation for why such a figure exists in the monotheistic religion most prominent in the southern part of these lands.  This church is described as being rather worldly, but the criticisms of this Church and monotheism in general are not overwhelming bitter.  The ecclesiastical structure of this religion is closely based on the Catholic Church, but very seldom is the theology detailed.  The fact that Holo is a former goddess means that Lawrence and Holo need to be wary of Church authority and keep Holo’s identity a secret.  This causes several problems for Lawrence and Holo in the first two volumes, but this pair’s cleverness and Holo’s trump card, the ability to morph into a giant wolf, brings them victory.

So, very many people find this series, either the anime or the light novels, unique and entertaining.  The only drawback will be for those who like hard-hitting action.  Our protagonists only resort to this as a last resort, so this series is not for those looking for good fights.  The battles can bring the audience to the edge of their seats, but are mostly mental and include intricate details about currency, contracts, merchant protocol, and Church politics.  Yet, losing any of these battles can result in imprisonment, death, or loss of livelihood for our duo of travelers.  So, please give this series a try: if you enjoy the voice talents of Ami Koshimizu or Brina Palencia and others in the cast and want to view those scenes with action rather than read them, watch the anime.  (Ami Koshimizu has a more mischievous, cute take on Holo’s character, while Brina Palencia’s is more seductive and mature.  Both did an excellent job.)  But if you want to know all the intricacies of the scheming, laws, culture, and characters’ thought processes as well as learn about the stories not covered in the anime’s meager two seasons, the light novels are for you.  Or, one can peruse both.  Enjoy!

Swords, Sorcery, and Spears: A Little Review of Seirei no Moribito

Here’s an anime which I want to recommend to old and young.  This show contains many elements which most anime fans and even their parents may appreciate.  (For those anime fans living with their parents, these kinds of shows are good to know.  Who knows what sort of ideas may run through your dear father and mother’s heads if you’re never willing to share what you watch?)  The characters tend to be older than the teenage heroes filling most anime, which allows older audiences to identify with them better.  Our heroine, Balsa, is a twenty-seven year old wandering bodyguard who wishes to expiate the deaths of eight men by saving eight others without killing anyone in the process.  True, the idea of a hero refusing to kill has been done before in many series, like Trigun, Rurouni Kenshin, Grenadier, Black Cat, and Trinity Blood; however, this trope usually makes a show more interesting–with the exception of Trinity Blood, where Abel’s aversion to killing comes out of nowhere.  (I remember thinking to myself: “Didn’t you just crush some vampire’s heart a few episodes ago?”  And yes, the resolution not to kill even renders Grenadier more interesting, but don’t expect me to recommend it to you!)  Balsa becomes involved with the Crown Prince of the New Yogo Empire, Prince Chagum, when she saves him from drowning in a spectacular rescue.  Chagum’s mother, one of the emperor’s consorts, brings her into the palace under the pretext of thanking Balsa by proving a sumptuous dinner and luxurious accommodations.  Which reminds me of my favorite quote from the series: “If you have money, life ends up being the same no matter where you go.  However, if you don’t have money, you learn to live your life according to where you are.”

In the middle of the night, Balsa is summoned before Chagum’s mother.  (In this political system, it feels a stretch to call her an empress.)  His mother begs Balsa to take Chagum away with her and to guard him from assassins.  You see, dear readers, Prince Chagum is an embarrassment to the state due to him carrying about a water spirit inside of him; so, his own father, the emperor, is sending assassins after him who are trying to make his death look like an accident in order to prevent the dynasty from losing face and possibly causing civil unrest.  Balsa thinks that she has no choice but to accept; however, she consoles herself with the fact that this mission will atone for her eighth life.  After burning down the prince’s quarters to delay pursuit, she exits the palace with Prince Chagum in what will be a long bodyguard assignment.

Seirei no Moribito‘s plot ranges from slow, character building episodes involving the maturing of Prince Chagum and gathering information about Chagum’s spirit to moments of extreme danger and action as Chagum’s pursuers clash with Balsa.  So, while the heroine’s spear does remain sheathed much of the time, the viewer never lapses into boredom: either we are kept at the edge of our seats by imminent danger and spear-play or we enjoy the interaction of the characters, who are incredibly likeable.  Perhaps because Moribito derives from a series of light novels, the world of this series is remarkably detailed and enjoyable to learn about: the culture, myths, imperial customs, and the interaction between the spirit world (Nayug) with the ordinary world add interest without bogging down the viewer in too many details.

Further, the series has a distinct intellectual appeal due to the maturity of the characters and its use of parallelism.  The characters all seem very real, as if some of the people we know were somehow transported into a fantasy setting.  However, they have to work in a world where honor and strict social morays influences everything they do.  At the same time, Moribito resists the temptation to over-psychoanalyze.  Concerning parallelism, character’s roles and their actions are constantly being juxtaposed by the plot: we compare Balsa to Chagum’s mother, Balsa to the man who raised her, Balsa’s father to Chagum’s mother, Chagum to the young Balsa, etc.  This serves to render the plot and the characters that much deeper.

This show also features some great animation.  The backgrounds portraying forests, mountains, and the world of Nayug can be particularly breathtaking.  Character animation stands above average, while the use of CGI is limited to large troop movements and other large bodies of people, which stands out as the weakest part of the animation.  Fortunately, the animators do not employ CGI enough to detract from the overall effect of the splendid animation.

Overall, the only anime fan to whom this series would not appeal is the kind who thrives on action.  The action sequences, though awesome, are fewer than one would find in a standard action/adventure anime.  If you cannot stand seeing characters’ weapons sheathed, by all means watch Jubei-chan II.  (This little mentioned show has some of the best sword fights ever animated, while at the same time having some of the blandest characters, most failed attempts at comedy, and weakest plot of any series.  But, the fights are worth the agony of sitting through the other stuff.)  So, take the time to enjoy this show, and, if possible, ask your parents to watch it with you–you just might convince them that anime’s not completely weird.