Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, May 29, 2017

Anime Review: The Twelve Kingdoms (I Am Going to Spoil EVERYTHING)

Okay. How to do this.

The Twelve Kingdoms or Juuni Kokuki is an anime television series based on a series of Japanese light novels by Ono Fuyumi that aired in Japan between spring of 2002 and fall of 2003. While licensed and released in English on DVD to my knowledge it never actually aired on United States television.

Which is a shame. It is the poster child of my ire that anime fans tend to ignore anything was made before 2007 that didn't air on Cartoon Network. For a really really long time, this was my favorite anime series.

To put things in perspective I only have 2 completed series of Anime shows in my DVD collection and the other one is Cowboy Bebop and I honestly think that The Twelve Kingdoms holds it's own against that classic.

Also how government should ideally be run is more or less the entire point the show and for reasons, I'm in the mood for that.  If an anime produced before the Trump administration could be an indictment of the Trump administration this is it.

Fortunately, the show has clearly delineated arcs separated by recap episodes.
  1. Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow
  2. Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth
  3. A Great Distance in the Wind, The Sky at Dawn
  4. Sea God of the East, Vast Sea of the West
Since I saw this on DVD I kind of hated the recap episodes but they really do break up the story into understandable chunks so I'm going to be using them.
The Mandate of Heaven is Enforced

Okay, when I first got into the series it came with a glossary. They throw around a lot of fantasy words and lore but boiled down to its basics in this fantasy world the mandate of heaven is the zeroth law. There are twelve countries each gets a divinely appointed absolute monarch. When the heavens are pleased with them good stuff happens. When the heavens are displeased with them bad stuff happens which may or may not include their death and dispossession depending on just how badly they screw the pooch.

That's what you need to know. That's how all of this works.

The series spends a lot of time explaining that and they need to. But once it's established interesting stuff can happen.

So while in theory each of the monarchs is supposed to be benevolent (hint: they aren't all benevolent) they each have their own personalities, priorities, hangups, and ticks. Which is to say even the functional kingdoms and rulers are fairly diverse.

As such each of the rulers also has complex administrative bureaucracies designed to carry out their will.

Plot Contrivance and Religion
There are a lot of plot contrivances in who meets who and who winds up where. I don't mind that but I can understand why it might make others wary.

That being said, A major theme of the show, is divine providence so deus ex machina as divine intervention makes sense to me. I'm going to spend a lot of time talking about "the gods" and while they exist and are personified they rarely intervene directly to the point where I think there's only one on screen cameo of thier head honcho.(I was mistaken that is only yet another person on a divinely appointed mission, albiet a rather important one.)

They prefer to set things in motion and wait for the players on the stage to act within the parameters they set according to their own intrinsic identities.

If the gods created the land, and the people that inhabit it including those that make up the government then everything that occurs, occurs because of their will.

And dear lord, I hate that in most cases but here it works.

Foreshadowing and Hiding Information
So one of the most annoying things fiction can do is hide information that does not functionally change the story. 

This one doesn't do that.

Rewatching it I am amazed at how much information this story, that I remind you relies on plot twists and reveals, gives the audience.  It never misses an opportunity to worldbuild even when worldbuilding might ruin a later surprise.

The show has a pattern of creating a weird interesting visual spectacle and then waiting for a few episodes for someone to explain what actually was going on, and when finally they do you go "oh, that makes sense."

For instance, the ending of the first arc is spoiled in the very first episode. If you pay attention you can figure out EXACTLY what's going on well before the characters do. And it's not exactly like they are stupid.

How does that work?

Context. The story may give the audience narrative information but doesn't provide framing for why that information is important until it wants to.

There is a "blink and you'll miss it" play early in series that more or less explains an important character's entire backstory, but doesn't tell you that that character was around for that story nor that it kind of scared them for life until much much later.

Shadow of the Moon, Sea of the Shadow
I've been kind of trying to dodge the plot because the point of the whole arc is a reveal but doing that is getting hard. Especially if I want to talk about character dynamics and character development, so I kind of have to.

So What's Going On Here

So in one of our Twelve Kingdoms, Kei, the queen fell in love with her advisor, Keiki. His deal is really complicated.

Really quickly, divine beasts, called Kirin,  that can shapeshift into human form are responsible for interpreting the will of the heavens and imparting that information to those in power. There are a lot of rules regarding Kirin that I don't want to get into but needless to say that wasn't going to happen EVER,

And she couldn't deal. She started killing off all the women of her court to eliminate the competition. Because the mandate of heaven is enforced in this world, that was baaaaaaad.

Remember we're living in a world of fisher kings and when they go nuts the world itself feels it.

But she really did love her advisor and started to fear that the mandate would kill him if she didn't do something. So she committed suicide before that could happen.

The advisor blamed himself for choosing the first queen and dragged his feet on doing it again. And in the meantime, a lot of really bad stuff has been happening in the background. He was tasked with interpreting the will of the heavens and finding a new queen to replace the old and he choose... an ordinary high school student.

Balanced Parallelism
As trite as that last part sounds it's actually well done. The show has masterful parallelism. For instance our main character, Yoko starts the series as wishy-washy class president preparing resign from the position rather than deal with all the responsibility and pressure being in charge brings, and that extends into when she's basically told she's queen of her own country.

 Keiki's story of guilt and regret complements her story.

Almost every major character acts as a foil to another character in some critical way.

Really, the whole thing is really a character analysis of Yoko and every other major character could be said to represent some aspect of her personality or backstory brought to the fore. In some cases literally.

Arguably what prompts her character development is that she learns from everybody else's mistakes and even her own.

Trapped in Another World

Now would probably be a good time to acknowledge the long tradition of trapped in another world stories. This is one of those or rather a deconstruction of one. As the name implies these are stories follow a young girlbut not always, finds herself in a strange and fantastical world that makes very little sense to but must journey across the land of some way home.

If you have seen the Wizard of Oz you know the basic gist how these things go.

And the point of this arc is how absolutely terrifying being in such a place would be by bringing up things like the isolation that unfamiliarity of law and language can bring.

Yeah, this is one of those. 

Trapped in another world stories are a staple of children's literature and very often are thought of as lighthearted.

This is not a nice little music filled jaunt down a merry little lane with yellow brick pavers.

The show balances world building with character development.

The Patriarchy
So there is also a strong theme in the story of self-ownership, the idea that people must take control of their lives and their being (in a series about accepting fate, eh), that's more pronounced in the third arc, which I will get to in a moment,  but in the first our heroine starts the story as a nervous wreck beholden the whims forces outside of her control. And the story is clear WHY she's a nervous wreck, beholden to the whims of forces outside of her control. Her overbearing parents. And the show is clear a lot of that has to do with gender and how she is expected to conform to those roles and expectations. For instance, in a flashback, she is rebuked because her family considers a woman wearing pants shameful. When she rebuts that she can't compete with boys athletically at a school track meet while wearing a skirt she is told shouldn't even want to compete with men.

That's about as on the nose as you can make that metaphor.

And stuff like that is peppered throughout the story, particularly how often femininity is equated to weakness and naivety. A lot of Yoko's story in both the first and third arc is about disabusing her of that notion.

A reoccurring motif is that the character, "looks masculine" its one of the few times the series tells and doesn't show because of production limitations animation is shy on character model detail (there are lots of times in the story where a character's physical appearance is important but doesn't show well in the character models.), but it comes up often enough that it is important.

I don't know exactly what the author was trying to say but it's clear she was trying to say something, perhaps in regards to how her adversaries treat her depending on how "feminine" she's being at any given moment in the story.

Oh. It's an Immigration Allegory

So Yoko and two of her fri... classmates are dumped into a brave new world, without food or money. Because of the mechanics of the world, she can speak the local language but her friends aren't so lucky and they get split up pretty early. Which ends really badly for one them.

A good chunk of the first arc really is about how rough immigrants and refugees have it when the system fails them.

Our bad guy, an evil king does just about every horrible thing he does -and just to be clear he is a rat bastard who gets what's coming to him- because he hates immigrants with a fiery passion. He actively sabotages neighboring countries in an attempt to make his look better because they are run by people who immigrated to them and his worldview can't handle it.

On the other hand, the most benevolent ruler of the show (that we see) is the most benevolent ruler of the show (that we see) because he and his top advisor are functionally immigrants to their adopted homeland and as a result don't revile newcomers as much as everybody else.

After about ten episodes of abject misery, multiple characters, in this trapped in another world story cross the border and are almost instantly directed to an immigration/refugee office featuring bilingual civil servants who can actually tell them (and by extension the audience) what the hell is going on.

Sea of the Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth
I'm mostly going to ignore "Sea of the Wind, Shore or the Labyrinth" because It's mostly unfinished. Most television anime are adaptations of serialized fiction, mostly but not always and not in this case comics, so they often run up against the problem of overtaking their source material in terms of narrative advancement.  There are a couple different ways to deal with this.

  1. Accept it and do something completely different.
  2. Wait and stall, via filler arcs or hiatuses until the source material catches up. 
Something weird happened with The Twelve Kingdoms though. While the books build up this arc, the anime doesn't. At least to a point. It's clear there is a story to tell but compared to Yoko's story, which feels complete this unfinished arc is very truncated and easily segregated.

Both light novels and the anime adaptation kind of trail off. But the anime doesn't focus on it as much. It feels like they wanted to plant the seed if the author ever came back to this plot so they could do, but also didn't want to over-commit to it in case she left in hanging, which she did.

So I just like to pretend this arc doesn't exist.

That being said I don't want to be too harsh on the author because, even though it leaves this series in the lurch,  that time was being spent writing Shiki and Shiki is goddamned awesome.

As it is the anime is mostly concerned with Yoko's story and I don't really see anything wrong with that, but the books which are much more concerned about the state of the world rather than this one character.

A Great Distance in the Wind, The Sky at Dawn


More so than the first arc characters other than Yoko are mildly important. In the first arc, they mostly served to externalize her inner conflicts and contradictions so that we wouldn't get what I call Dune disease.

And while they still act as foils they have their own complete arcs and are plot relevant. I'm not going to break down each one individually there are a million wikis for that, but they all carry a central theme. They refuse to take ownership of their own lives and personal conditions, largely because they accept social hierarchies.

And each arc is about getting them to a point where they do take control of thier lives, even if it means their death.

While tangential to the plot there is a nice little bookend, that I think drives the point home.

Our story picks up some time after Yoko has taken the throne and everybody is wondering what her first law will be because it's extremely symbolic setting the tone for the rest of her reign. She elects to put off the decision until after the events of this arc.

And her first proclamation, which reflects everything she has learned from her adventures and capstones really the entire series is... that nobody is required to prostrate themselves before anybody else anymore.

She dislikes the both culture of abject subservience that it has created amongst her subjects and the culture of abject entitlement that it has created amongst her court

Let's Talk "Mandates"

So the plot runs on divine monarchies, but it's also very smart. The European and Asian concepts of the divine right are similar but slightly different. A monarch can lose the mandate of heaven by acting like a total tool and inciting popular revolt.

That allows for the concept of not a mandate of the heavens but of the people. And while I'm not going to focus on it, it happens. An oppressive dictator (who murdered a fifth of the population) gets beheaded and the heavens are more or less cool with it.  The guy who did the dead angsts over the fear of divine retribution for regicide, and it doesn't come. The opposite happens, people beg him to take the old king's place on the throne. He views that type of usurpation of divine authority as an unforgivable sin but eventually relents as time passes. This side plot sows seeds for something akin to democracy in an Ancient China analog and it is amazing.

It's a side story tangential to our plot but it's an interesting moment where the show lampshades its contradictions between taking responsibility for one's life and acceptance of one's fate as divne providence and as well as thier intrinsic identity as the same.

Really the entire arc is like that, trying to reconcile notions of divine providence with modern ideas of free-will and self-determination.  Admittedly it doesn't always succeed but it's a noble attempt especially considering how badly that can go.

Still features an evil atheist though.

Rage Against The Heavens
So one the reasons why our villains does what he does is, a crisis of faith. He doesn't believe in divine providence and decides to prove the matter by doing EVERY DAMN EVIL THING HE CAN THINK OF and daring the gods to strike him down.

He's actually kind of grateful that his divinely appointed monarch decides to take it upon herself to dispense justice unto him for his crimes.

It restores his faith in the cosmic order.

The Law

So central to the arc is how do we form a just government and by extension what should be the priority of law and the punishments for breaking it.

  • Rehabilitation of Evil
  • Deterrence of Evil
  • Reparation To Victims of Wrong Doing
  • Societal Stability and the Maintenance of Public Order
  • Provision for Emergency Services
  • Provision of Education and Services that Allow for Social Mobility
  • The Self Preservation of the Government and It's Ability to Act
  • The Protection of the Vulnerable From Those Who Would Exploit Them
What is the purpose of law and how exactly does it facilitate justice. There are many different characters who have different ideas regarding this and once you scrape away all the plot stuff this is the central conflict of the arc. What makes a law or government just?

An Outsider is In Charge of Government And Reality Ensues
Anyway, while Yoko is divinely appointed to the throne she still knows jack all about, administration, geography. culture, law, politics, history, and pretty much anything having to do with this brave new world and EVERYBODY KNOWS IT, including Yoko herself.

This causes her to make stupid decisions, overcompensate for her recklessness and lean on her very very VERY corrupt court to keep her government from falling apart.

Ha ha hah ha ha

Eventually, realizing that her erratic behavior is untenable Yoko decides to take some time off to get her head straight and her advisor, Keiki, who is the only person in the palace contactually obligated by the cosmos not to be an evil dick, recommends she stay with an old friend of his.

Okay while definitely of the archetype, Enho is actually a pretty laid back guy and uses the time to teach her the barebone basics of how her kingdom actually works. He's a hippy.

In an unrelated to cover up their wrongdoing, low-level officials kidnap the guy and we're are off to the races.

Let's Rewind

I've been trying to dumb down a really complicated plot that hides what the hell is going on for most of the show but it all of a sudden matters.

So remember how I said the previous arc's villain, the King of Kou was trying to sabotage the kingdom of Kei.  Well, he did this by setting up a puppet Empress and since this is a world where the greatest factor in producing a functional society is whether or not a divinely appointed and righteous monarch sits on the throne that was bad news.

But this is the aftermath of that story. See, Yoko's court is worried about reprisals for anybody who followed the puppet queen, WHICH ALMOST ALL OF THEM DID.

Make no bones about it most of these guys knew what they were doing. She was cosmically barred from taking the throne by the rules of the universe. They just didn't care. In addition to the wrath of the very displeased gods, which manifests itself as plague, earthquakes, floods, famine, and goddamned demons roaming the land they also caused a bloody civil war as everyone else had to take sides.

Once the dust settles on the first arc they start wanting to cover their own asses for that move. And they start doing more and despicable things to that end which culminates in I kid you not the murder of children.

Anyway, Enho, the guy they eventually kidnap was a loyal personal friend to just about the only military general who didn't immediately relinquish his army to the false queen and remained loyal to Yoko and her throne even before he knew who she was.

That's character motivation. Why the bad guys do all the evil stuff they do.
Ha ha ha ha.

Again the story is mostly about Yoko slowly becoming less naive and getting wise to all of this which takes her a while but is immensly satisfying when it happens.

Everybody's Coming to the Party

For the sake of brevity (which hasn't really worked), I've been trying to avoid talking about any character who isn't Yoko unless I absolutely had to. But the reason why I really love this show is roughly a 10 episode stretch right before the end of the series, which is much faster paced than everything else and gives almost every main character a satisfying moment of badassery and they just keep coming concentrated into distilled awesomeness.

Most of their arcs can be summed up as life sucks and is unfair but there is nothing you can do about it at least not without appealing to some higher authority and hoping for the best.

One of the many complaints about this series is how much the characters wallow in self-pity.  But that's kind of point of the show, which views self-pity as useless at best and disgusting at worse and spends pretty much 35 episodes beating that point into the characters, until they get pissed off enough to do shit.

And they do get pissed.

Alright, the coverups require the bad guys to capitulate to the demands lesser officials who believe it or not are even MORE corrupt than those at the palace.

This results in
  1. The reckless murder of a blind child in broad daylight by a public official.
  2. The kidnapping of Enho, who while not a public official is probably the most respected dude in the immediate vicinity by the general public. 
  3. The murder of a young woman, and the near mortal wounding of a child both of whom who were staying with Enho under his protection.
Now, people were already kind of pissed off at the government for the general state of their shitty lives but that business creates IMMEDIATE fervor for justice to be done and if the government ain't willing to hold itself accountable for THE MURDER OF CHILDREN well then.

Oddly enough, while the rebellion is really really well organized, and has been planning this a while they didn't want to launch the attack just yet, but kind of feel obligated to rescue Enho, who runs the local school house and is functionally thier really chill soc prof.

A reoccurring theme in the series is that education is the foundation for a functional society. Almost every character who isn't a royal or doesn't start the show on the brink of insanity is a student, and the solution to almost every major problem including this little rebellion is kick started by them.

These guys are not exactly for overthrowing the monarchy. That's how you piss off the gods and nobody wants to piss off the gods. And in all fairness, they're sympathetic to Yoko who's only been on the job by this point maybe 7 months if that. They, for the most part,  don't blame her for the state of the screwed up the government which was pretty broken before she even got there.

They mostly us just want to cause a big enough stink that she has to respond and perhaps even intervene on their behalf by holding her corrupt officials accountable for their actions, which along with the flagrant abuse of the law and suppression of dissent also includes massive and gratuitous graft at the expense of a destitute public, that's basically being held hostage to the laws which are supposed to protect them.

What they don't know is that Yoko wants to rescue Enho just as much as they do and views them as her best chance to do that before the bad guys decide to screw it and just murder him for the hell of it. She sends a letter ordering her court to stop this nonsense but they disregard it, and she gets the message loud and clear.

If she wants to fix things she's going to have to do it herself.

Remember when I said there were other characters. Well, EVERYBODY is pissed at this shit and multiple characters decide enough. So we end up with three smaller rebellions that eventually coordinate into a single larger one causing a more and more escalated response by Yoko's corrupt court, culminating in a multi-episode siege and it is awesome.

While yes there is limited animation, which is less fluid than modern audiences might be used to it's extremely well edited and paced. While there is some spectacle what makes it so engaging it that the audience always knows where everyone is, why they're there and what they're doing.

Moreover, it's set more for drama than action as the culmination of the 15 episode arc. While yes you get swordfights what it really excels in is satisfying character moments.

Which is to say there is a lot of standing around and talking. I find it engaging but if you're expecting Attack on Titan you'll be disappointed.

Sea God of the East, Vast Sea of the West
There is one more arc but it has nothing to do with Yoko and is mostly concerned with the backstory of supporting characters. It's good but this thing has dragged on long enough.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

That's A Paladin

So after Legend of the Sword, film YouTube and film Twitter are basically saying, King Arthur movies are dead.

To which I say, LIKE HELL THEY ARE!

Look for the past 10 years or so the largest fantasy property in the collective consciousness has basically been a brutal deconstruction of fantasy tropes, namely the ones that King Arthur codified.

And I love Game of Thrones, I love George R.R. Martin.

But I think it's about time we had a straight version of all that stuff. And that means that instead of trying to explain away or ignore all the goofy stuff in the Arthurian legend you would need to have to lean into it with absolute earnestness and sincerity.

Lean into the fact, we are talking about a guy who was ordained by Almighty God to lead a chaotic, unstable Britain into a golden age of moral righteousness and has a couple holy artifacts lying around to prove the fact.

And yes I know saying it outloud sounds batshit insane, but that's King Arthur. I love the Fate series

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I Am Not A Monarchist... But

So I'm trying to write a review of The Twelve Kingdoms but I kind of feel I need to write a bit of a disclaimer.

I am not a monarchist but the concept of divine right is very important to understanding that story and for that matter huge swaths of literature and history,

The Twelve Kingdoms takes place in a fantasy world where the primary thing that differentiates it from just being a simple historical drama set in ancient China is that the mandate of heaven is enforced. The gods have more or less set up the constitutional rules of government as well who runs it and EVERYBODY in the setting knows that not pissing them off is rule 0 for a functional society.

Before serious talk of plot or character takes place that kind of has to be understood.

And to a modern audience especially a western one that might seem kind of... stupid. We've spent what? 300 years preaching how absolute monarchy kind of sucks.

And it does. I am not arguing we bring back the monarchy.  God no.

But that the concept of divine right, that God directly chooses who's in charge, whether we like it or not is baked right into the even western culture.

And let's face it that idea is not going away. There are a lot of people who believe that if God takes a direct role in the affairs of earth, he also takes a direct role in the affairs of government.

But I digress. That is a rabbit hole I do not want to go down. 

The point that I want to actually make is that if you want to understand Shakespeare, King Arthur, Robin Hood or even the Bible itself  you kind of have to wrap your brain around the idea that at one point in time people really did believe that God chose who was on the throne and trying to supplant or usurp their authority was a direct affront against God.

And since a lot of those stories are baked right into the culture so is divine right to a point. I mean no person is seriously going to argue for the monarchy at least not in America.  But we have plenty of stories even modern stories that argue for the monarchy.

And it kind of pricks at me that we don't acknowledge that that's kind of going on even if we disagree with it.

Especially since that stuff kind of builds up over time without people realizing it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Banquet of Kings

The Twelve Kingdoms more or less set my idea of how leaders should behave and for reasons I want to revisit it  (and it's one of the few anime titles I have a complete DVD set of) but before I got to it I kind of got sidetracked by the Banquet of Kings which is one of the best, most thought-provoking scenes in television anime I've ever seen. So let me get that out of my system and then I'll get to The Twelve Kingdoms.

The premise of the Fate series is that it's basically a battle royal with various mythological figures. There is a lot of backstory and character stuff about who's doing what and why but that's what you need to know. We're living in a world where Cú Chulainn and King Arthur go at it.

In Fate/Zero three of those figures are kings, Arthur, Alexander, and Gilgamesh and they all kind of hate each other. In an interesting turn rather than doing the obvious they decide quietly sit down and discuss their differences over wine and see if they can get each other to yield the macguffin without bloodshed.

And dear god is that one interesting conversation.

Gilgamesh's point is interesting if a bit convoluted and hard to understand. He's an arrogant demigod and arguably the oldest legend upon whom all others are based.

For him, kingship is not a mantle. To be king is definitionally to be him and to be him is definitionally to be king. Everybody else is a usurper. It's hard to wrap your head around but he's basically arguing divine right. The gods made him king and so he is king. It is that simple. There are no other considerations or qualifiers. He is king.

This is Gilgamesh.

And he comes off as an asshole because of it. But that's kind of the point Gilgamesh is kind of a dick and that he refuses to acknowledge both Arthur and Alexander kind of rubs them the wrong way but his self-interest is an anathema to Arthur especially.

This is an Arthur who exists after the battle of Camlann. It gets worse in the sequel series but she ( oh yeah this version of King Author is a woman) ain't happy about how her life ended. Eventually it gets so bad that she contemplates a complete do-over where she never removed Excalibur from the stone, but for now, she just wants the moment of her greatest failure to be undone and for her people to have remained in the safety and prosperity of Camelot.

To her that's what kingship is, serving the people whom have entrusted thier faith with her.  And she fundamentally can't stand Gilg-I-do-whats-I-wants-mesh.

Alexander, on the other hand, views her position as kind of pathetic. For Alexander it's the other way around. What makes a king a king is that he has people who serve him that are willing to put their faith in him. His view is that that only happens when a person is self-motivated, when their goals and desires are intrinsic to who they are.

He is troubled that Arthur has allowed herself to become an empty vessel for her people's hopes and dreams and wants to shake her out of it.

Despite Arthur being the flagbearer of the franchise, the series ultimately sides with Alexander who is a nice compromise between the other two.

Let's Save the World By Being Super Special Awesome At Video Games

Alright. So every time I feel the urge to poke fun at the myopia of anime fans I also feel the urge to reflexively point out I am one. Which is to say that despite myself I love the last few seasons of "a guy trapped in another world kicks ass by basically being the best ever... at playing a video game" shows.

Sword Art Online, Log Horizon, Overlord, Re:Zero, No Game No Life. I love that shit. But I'm also willing to admit that most of that stuff isn't challenging. That's not necessarily a bad thing. A movie or tv show or a book, comic or whatever can exist for no other reason than to cater to fantasies of its audience AND be engaging. Hell, if they really wanted to they could make it that and densely intellectually challenging. (Stick a pin in that.)  They found a nerve and damn it they aren't letting go anytime soon.

All the same, I worry that the medium is pandering a bit too much to its audience. So here is a list of stuff with similar premises that I think don't pander as much.
Summer Wars

As I hinted the "save the world by being super special awesome at video games" genre isn't exactly new. Hell, that shit has been around since Missile Command.

Yes I'm talking about War Games.

Okay. So if you're about my age and going nuts over the media of your childhood you've probably gone googoo for Digimon or if you're short on time Digimon: The Movie.

I liked it as a kid but I'll admit Digimon: The Movie is not good. But that's not the movie's fault. It was Robotech spliced out of three unrelated Digimon short films so what do you expect?  But the middle segment, Our War Game really is a pitch-perfect homage to War Games with a Digimon skin.

Two of the Digi-destined have to face off against a virus digimon that is inadvertently setting off a nuclear war.

The director decided, why not go back and try it again.

And it's kind of amazing. Seriously Summer Wars holds up with some of the greatest, most heartwarming stuff in the medium.

The movie uses the basic premise of Wargames to showcase character dynamics in a crisis amongst a large family and coming from a large extended family myself a lot of it felt real and honest to me.


Yeah, in all honesty, I really just wanted to just do a deep dive on this and this post would probably be that but I'm in the middle of an "involuntary media sabbatical", I'm broke and had to cancel my streaming services so I'm just going to have to talk out my ass.

.Hack//Sign is the Anti-Sword Art Online. Same basic premise but it's about how being trapped in a video game would suuuuuuuuuuuck.  Also, it manages to do that Frozen/Chronicle thing where for a long time you don't know if this kid is going to go Avatar Korra or Carrie White.

Which is more or less the point. In this world, he's given the power of a god and the show is about watching what that power does to him. Hint: It's not good.

See in Sword Art Online our Marty Stu main character often makes a big stink about how he's a loner and doesn't really get along with other people. Horseshit he ain't. Seriously, the show bends over backward to make nearly every female character his plausible love interest, including, I kid you not, his cousin.

Nope. .Hack//Sign on the other is actually about someone who is not so good at dealing with people and a whole lot of the story is centered around that, to the point where the key to solving nearly every other big problem in the show is breaking through his insecurities and getting him to make with the talking.

And I like that. I mean putting a bunch of miserable jerks in a situation where they all have to get past their shit and work together has been done but I still like how this show did it.

Seriously you could tell the basic story in like 3 episodes if Tsukasa believed in the power of friendship from the start.


Yeah, they basically did that. .Hack//Quantum is basically a faster paced less character-driven version of .Hack//Sign with better animation. I like the writing of .Hack//Sign better because it delves more into why the characters are the way they are and why it takes so damn long for them do the obvious thing and just talk to each other but .Hack//Quantum has better production values and is better at describing the weird sci-fi conspiracy stuff that was going on in the background in .Hack//Sign.

Also at least in spirit, it is one of the better compressed adaptations of a television show I've seen. They go all in on the basic premise of that story in a much smaller timeframe and it's worth watching just to figure out how they did it.

Sure they don't have all the same character names but you could easily go down a checklist on who's got who's personality and who serves what purpose in the story. Things are different but they nailed the spirit of the story.

12 Kingdoms
What might make the difference for me with trapped in another world stories, may be the main character and their reaction to being trapped. In Log Horizon everybody is more or less cool with the situation. It lets the show move on in some interesting directions, for instance, it gave the characters a reason to hold what's basically a constitutional convention in a medieval setting. Still though it's a little weird that none of them are freaked out. Didn't they have families? Lives? Hopes? Dreams?

On the surface, the 12 Kingdoms has what I'm sure must sound like the most escapist plot ever. A mythological creature basically tells an ordinary high school student they are the long lost absolute monarch of their own country in another world.  And reality ensues.

In its day the show got a lot of grief for how wishy-washy and unlikeable the main character is. But in light of certain people not considering how much work and responsibility leadership positions can be as well and how high the stakes are before jumping in feet first I think that complaint needs some reappraisal.

The show also serves as a crash course to wrap your head around the mandate of heaven. For westerners who have for centuries been fighting the idea of divine right to the point where I don't know if we can understand it anymore, this show does a pretty good job at explaining the mandate and why it's so important to understanding Chinese history

The main character starts the series really really REALLY not wanting to be in charge but gets the mandate of heaven beaten into her and turns out not to be half bad at the job once she gets her head out her ass.

Seriously by the end of it Yoko becomes a badass and is kind of my model for how to be a boss that don't take no guff.

She takes part in a rebellion against herself because in addition to being laughably corrupt her court manipulates her while refusing to listen to her orders.  Dear god do I love that arc.  She joins the rebel alliance to kick HER OWN ASS. And it is awesome. Probably the best animated medieval style siege I've ever seen on a TV budget. It's long, it's grueling. It's the Alamo with arrows. It's Blackwater before Blackwater. And while that arc wasn't meant to be the end of the series it's satisfying. Most of the main characters get a complete arc even a few I had forgotten about.
End of Spoilers

She basically does the King Solomon prayer for wisdom thing and that's what she winds up with, and dear god, do I love it.

Escaflowne and Fushigi Yûgi

One of the criticisms I think the fandom is least likely to want to hear is that the modern anime landscape isn't welcoming to women. But it's fair. For the past 20 years or so the television market at least in marketing has been primarily focused on Shonen anime targeted to guys, And to me it kind of feels like it's getting worse, though that's just my opinion. At least in the well-marketed items, there doesn't seem to be the diversity there used to be.

And look I love that stuff. But I'm also willing to admit that my experience is that anime fandom tends to be overly dismissive of women and media targeted towards women. Now that's not just a problem with anime but it's there.

Here are two good trapped in a fantasy world stories I feel never got their due because instead of being mostly masculine coded escapist fantasies they're coded feminine. Fushigi Yugi, in particular, is very much aimed at young girls.

If you're kind of annoyed that modern anime sword and sorcery panders to the fantasies of teenaged boys too much this stuff might be worth a look.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

So Now I Have to Do a Commercial For Crunchy...Yaaaaaaaaaay (I Hate My Goddamned Life.)

So in what was probably pitched as a puff piece about Boomerang, Cartoon Network's block for vintage cartoons coming back as a streaming service, the tail-end of a New York Times article gets in some digs at anime and one of it's premier streaming services.

And I think that's kind of unfair and I'll talk about in a bit but I've been around the block. Let's face it over the past few years geek fandom has lost perspective and I can totally see how a lot of grief might not be so much directed at the medium but some of the most juvenile and entitled fans.  

And it's not okay. Look I love anime, I love video games. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I probably always will but damn it over the last few years I have to more and more divorce my love of that stuff from my hatred of the worst aspects of fandom.

And yes more and more that means standing up and saying I love all of that stuff but those guys do not represent me. I do not like them. I do not want to be one of them.

Like I said I think the New York Times article was unfair but it's unfair in the same way that thousands of other articles have been unfair to action films, science fiction, rap music, rock music, jazz music, horror, comics, children's media, and any other genre or medium that's been ever been dismissed in its time and found later to have been a central part of the cultural zeitgeist worth looking back on including our subject today animation.

And while I find it annoying it's also equally unfair to lay ALL of that baggage onto one guy's feet. Do I think blanket dismissals of genre fiction is a problem?


It keeps said fiction from being analyzed critically and keeps people who might otherwise be inclined to enjoy it or even create it from considering the possibilities that those media and genre might offer. I don't want to link to an unauthorized version but if Lindsay Ellis ever puts it up on her channel watch her review of The Host in which she talks about how the science-fiction ghetto hurts women who might be able to use that genre to say meaningful stuff. She might as well have also been talking about people of color.

That said, come on people let's have some perspective? He's a film snob. Annoying sure but not "We must troll him into submission!" annoying. Jesus. Save that bile for when the Republicans do stuff that causes people to die.

Crunchyroll is doing just fine. It doesn't need anybody to defend it. I will because since I'm broke right now I had to cancel my subscription and it's mildly bugging me that I'm missing some of this season's latest stuff and since I also canceled most of my other streaming services not having the TV I want is one of many constant nails in my brain.

But seriously is that someone on the internet doesn't like anime really that big a deal or even unexpected. I mean let's face it even beside the is it art or not media is supposed to be... fun isn't exactly the right word, joyous isn't either but positive would be it I guess. Media is supposed to be positive, a good thing at the very least.

I mean would the animators and voice actors, be cool with basically stalking a guy to defend them? Probably not. Most of them probably just wanted to bring some joy into this world and right now boy do we need it. So knock it off.

Moreover, he's right, hypocritical but right.

See most of the article is devoted to the idea that the old Tex Avery and Chuck Jones stuff, which Boomerang would probably be broadcasting should get more love. They're incredibly influential towards modern cinema but for a lot of reasons get overlooked in terms of preservation, distribution, and academic study.

And I absolutely agree with that point.

Those cartoons are right up there with Buster Keaton, The Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, on creating the fundamentals of cinematic and visual comedy.

But one of the reasons why was because especially in the post-WWII era those cartoons were relegated as unimportant kid stuff and didn't get dusted off really until a new generation of animators and comedians came into their own and cited them as influences.

And I don't want to see it happen to other stuff that I like.

Again I'm not going to lay all of that at ONE guy's feet. He admits Akira's influence on action movies. And it's pretty clear he's seen and appreciates Fist of the North Star even if he's not a fan of it.

I'm also not going to pretend like EVERYTHING in my bucket is a solid gold masterpiece. Hell, not everything has to be a solid gold masterpiece to be engaging,  but you'd be surprised at how many classic movies were influenced by goofy little b-schlock stuff somebody liked in some way and decided to take further.

We don't know what's going wind up being important until long after the fact.

Which is to say that while yes there is a lot of anime that's deliberately trying to be ambitious, I'll willingly admit that most of it's not, but the same could be said for all media. As much as the bookkeepers would like to they can't tell what will wind up being a multigenerational hit or not until long after the fact and so I'm in favor of putting as much stuff out there and giving as many people and ideas opportunities as resources will allow.

And as far as television based anime goes in that regard Crunchyroll has been a god damned gold mine. One of my more innocuous gripes about anime fandom is that unless it aired in a few specific places people tend to forget about classic shows.

While not a perfect solution to that problem Crunchyroll has an exceptionally large and diverse collection which includes several classic series including Fist of the North Star which was one of the first major series to break out in North America long before the anime boom and was direct by-product of the Road Warrior who's sequel the critics were (rightly) losing their god damned minds over a few years ago.

If you really want to do a deep dive on the post-apocalypse fiction and the ideas it can convey which a lot of people are inclined to do in the wake of Fury Road being all about female objectification, Fist of the North Star is not a bad place to look when trying to figure out, "Hmm how the hell did that happen?"

Oh, and it pretty much set the template for how to do martial arts in anime. So you have it to thank for every shonen or shonenish fight scene ever. To put it another way if it's animated, came out after about 1992 and it involves a martial arts extravaganza it owes something to Fist of the North Star.

In short it is in some ways to anime fans the equiv... similar to the Tex Avery stuff that doesn't get its respect despite how influential it is to the medium.

But that's extremely close to the over-enthusiastic fanboy crying I said I didn't want to do.


Getting a hold of international television over here has always been difficult as on paper there isn't a large enough market to support ...say dramas from Korea.  Crunchyroll has dramas from Korea.  They are delivering something that's hard to find and dear god I love them for it.

Myopia of modern an... yada yada yada they have some real gems of the medium. Including the show that probably saved my life while I was substitute teaching, both the anime version and of the live action versions (get the '98 version up PLEASE.)

Baby Boomers have To Sir With Love, I have Onizuka talking a bullied nerd out of killing himself with four words. SCHOOL SHOULD BE FUN!

What was I saying? Right, oh yeah. Film snobs have Criterion to preserve old films that have gone out of print. Anime nerds have Crunchyroll. That about sums it up.

Monday, May 15, 2017

In Defense of the Soap Opera

Soap operas are more or less responsible for how we tell serialized stories and don't you forget it. Austin McConnel released a video pretty much lampooning soap operas. But the truth is most of the stuff he says could be applied to all commercialized storytelling. You'd be surprised at how much fiction was created because a broke writer in a room wanted to get paid. Seriously almost every negative thing he says about soap operas could be said about comics, manga, anime, pulp novels, radio serials, and yes prime time television.

Now I'm not going to pretend I love soap operas. I never really got into them but I appreciate them.

For a long time, soap operas were one of the only places you could find serialized fictional television. Which is kind of a big deal right now?

Now soap operas aren't the only place to find serialized stories hell part of the reason The Walking Dead has gone on so long has to do with the medium it was transplanted from. And comics themselves were greatly influenced by radio serials and the pulp novels that inspired them. Also while I've cited a lot of science fiction shows they owe more than a little to theatrical serials in the same genre.

But I digress. I've said it before one of the major differences in what has been called the golden age of television, is that writers are more comfortable telling serialized rather than episodic stories. They are more comfortable assuming that the audience has watched and will more than just this one episode.

And for the "classics" that's rare. Most of the vintage TV I watch was structured to be self-contained. In the United States up until roughly the 90s just about the only places that weren't scared to death, they would confuse their audience with continuity were soap operas.

Moreover, television production is complicated. Production issues ALWAYS interfere with story. How many episodes can the studio guarantee? How much money is budgeted for each of those episodes? How complicated would the set and costume design be? How long can you keep the actors before they start wanting to do other projects? How many scenes do you need each actor to shoot? Hell, what if in the middle of it all a showrunner leaves and you just have to wing it.

A serialized story makes all of those issues more complex. Everything has to run like clockwork.

Soap operas may have their issues but they were also one of the first genres to actively try to regularly work around all of those issues on television, which McConnel acknowledges.

Furthermore they weren't afraid to do camp.

I am not an expert on melodrama. But I will acknowledge that as a form it has a long tradition in almost every medium and overtime has more or less come to permeate EVERYTHING at least a little.

Let me tell you about some of the stuff Jack Kirby was putting out.

And hey look as fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and shonen anime I could use some reciprocity. Just because you don't understand the tropes of a genre doesn't mean the genre itself sucks. And let's face it any hot blooded anime/comic where the hero gives a long winded speech about justice or the power of friendship or whatever is basically indulging in melodrama. Just melodrama coded for guys.

My major problem of McConnel's video is that he's judging soap operas as an outsider. He doesn't see the narrative point in them. But when looking at media you have to judge things based on what they are narratively trying to do and whether or not they succeed or fail on those terms (I'm telling you it's better than you think.) And I would argue that if they were trying to create melodramatic over the top stories where their audience could stay invested for years or even decades on end they must have done something right.

And as for whether the genre is dying, he's looking in the wrong place. First off like I said, in the United States the basic form of the soap opera style serialized storytelling has migrated to primetime and streaming bingable stuff but if you're looking for thriving traditional soaps, try Univision and Telemondo.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

If I Were A Rich Man: Playing With The Money: Recap

So I'm super broke right now and what pisses me off more than anything is that I do have a framework that I like to use to organize money that is more or less useless because I don't have money. I can't help but remember a joke I read somewhere that about how selling people a complicated piggy bank doesn't solve their problems.

Well I have a complicated piggy bank that's not solving my problems.  But when my system works it works. So back in 2014ish I was super unhappy and I asked myself why does my life suck. I was making more money than usual but things in my life didn't seem to be getting better.  I determined that while I was making more money I didn't feel comfortable spending it and that was causing me to forgo simple changes in my life that would make things easier and more efficient.

I wanted a way that I could isolate money that I had to spend on living expenses and financial obligations from money I could use on other things.

The most obvious solution to this problem was the envelope system.

The envelope system is great if you mostly use cash but I don't, for a lot of reasons.

  • Businesses strongly their employees and contractors to use direct deposit.
  • Banks leave verifiable records making it easier to track expenses.
  • E-commerce accounts also keep receipts also making it easier to track expenses rather than if you paid for things by cash.
  • Physical mediums of exchange are slow. If money is in a bank it's easier to move it where I need it.
  • There is less lag time between when I acquire or spend money and when I have verifiable proof and data that I've acquired or spent money. 
  • When I like to think about complicated problems for some reason I find being at a computer helps and it's harder to do that when you have to thumb through paper bills.
  • Using debit and credit cards often offer certain protections.
  • There is generally no point in mugging me. Please take my wallet. 

So I decided to try to create a digital envelope system by opening up multiple bank accounts for specific purposes.

The main ones were

  • Income: An account to receive money from direct deposit and also link any digital services that I may need to withdraw money from such as Amazon Payments, or Paypal
  • Revolving Pot: If I ever transfer money from the income account I don't like that money going into that account twice.  Instead, any money that I over budget goes into a revolving pot. This means looking at the income account I have an easier time actually reducing my income. 
  • Necessary Expenses: This is money that I have to spend or at least budget for or else bad stuff happens. Things like basic living expenses and bills.
  • Improvements: Things that aren't strictly necessary but open up possibility space, or make me more efficient. Basically, stuff that makes my life better.
  • Luxuries: This is money I don't have to spend but choose to spend.

Eventually,  there were some sub-categories in those that were large or important enough to make me decide to split things up and give them their own categories. 
  • Debt Payments from Necessary Expenses: They are such a large part of the money I HAVE to spend that it made sense to give them their own category.
  • Reoccurring Luxuries  From Luxuries: These were services with recurring billing that while not strictly necessary I had mentally committed to using each month. Things like newspaper services, Netflix etc. 
  • Family Stuff from Luxuries: I've gotten into too many fights over not giving somebody a gift or a card that it just helps if I consider that money already gone.
  • Blog Seed From Improvements: I did the same thing for my blog but I still needed a place to store seed money while it was still in personal rather than business accounts. 
  • Travel from Luxuries: I don't travel much but when I do I want to keep all the expenses contained.
  • General Savings

The original plan also entailed trying to have dedicated savings accounts for other long-term purposes but I never really got enough money to implement that. In theory, once I got comfortable with the budgeted money I would open up another checking account to make that purpose practical.

  • General Emergency
  • Education
  • Investing: Business ventures, Real Estate Purchasing, Stock Purchasing etc
  • Moving
  • Taxes
  • Rainy Day Cushion: Nothing more than a security blanket.
  • Retirement
  • Long-term Travel: The only place out of the country I've ever been has been Canada and even then only as a child.  
  • Long-term Improvements: Home maintenance, electronic replacement etc..
  • Summer: I was substitute teaching at the time and I wanted a savings account so I wouldn't be broke over the summer.
  • Long Term Family Projects: Family Events, Loans
  • Career Services: Traveling for interviews and industry events, gaining certifications etc.

When I'm stressed out I don't sleep. I was pretty stressed out in 2014.

I dealt with this by trying to make a list of everything I wanted. On a practical level, this meant writing down everything I could see myself spending money on.

The combination of that and the categorizing made me acutely aware of when I spent money on stupid stuff. I understood what I was spending money on and why (I hate biological imperatives. They make me stupid.) I was spending money on it.

At first, I tracked expenses with a table I made in Evernote but Evernote tables don't really have a good way to do formulas and I was getting tired of finding errors so I eventually I started using an excel spreadsheet each month.

After a while, I finally pinched in for Quicken which made the categorizing even easier and allowed for pie graphs to allow me to better visualize my financial behavior over time and alter it.

Quicken had other benefits. (Note: I am using the 2015 version)

  • Because of how I organized it I could categorize credit card and debt based transactions which I couldn't before.
  • I could also keep track of interest on credit cards and other financial fees allowing me to see just how much money I'm paying because I don't have money.
  • It allowed for subcategories which are useful in better understanding how I spend money and even understanding which physical locations I spend money at. (I now have concrete data on which restaurants I like most based on how much I spent at them over the past year.)
  • It made keeping track of not only how much I spent on recurring payments but exactly when they needed to be paid easier. 
  • It helped me keep track of money that wasn't part of the original bank accounts. (Now I can keep track of cash purchases so I don't have to try so hard to avoid cash.
  • It allows me to digitally attach receipts and documents to transactions so I don't have to just rely on my memory.
  • I can revisit and search transactions from times in the past.
  • I can study and compare spending behaviors between months or even years. 
  • I can isolate specific accounts and make sure I'm using them the way I want.
  • I can keep track of my student loans.
  • I can import data into TurboTax.

And all of this would be well and good if the problem I had wasn't a lack of revenue. I don't spend that much money but still, it's money I don't have.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Case For Bears

I'm frustrated that I'm broke. The "adult" part of my brain is frustrated because I've created a decent framework/engine for how to fix my complicated kind of messed up life and right now I have no "fuel" to utilize it. But honestly, though I shouldn't be,  I'm equally frustrated that I'm pining to do all the stuff I used to enjoy in high school and college but just can't right now. Dear lord, I have got to stop watching letsplays. They will only serve to make me miserable. 

I might as well use it.

I'm jonesing to get back into Magic the Gathering.

But I'm well aware that even as I was starting to slow down with it the game was changing. There were rules changes that even then I had barely wrapped my head around.

I realize even if I had the money, which I don't the truth is I would need to basically relearn the game. And I wish to god Wizards of the Coast had kept Grizzly Bears.

In the olden days in the long long ago the purpose of the base set was to maintain a certain amount of continuity within the game and Wizards has somewhat abandoned that ideology. And to a point, I understand why.

  • While it's great for players to basically be able to use the same cards forever's in the company's interest for players to buy new cards.
  • The earlier sets were notoriously unbalanced, and the wow factor of losing to the black lotus combo on the first turn in Legacy is entertaining exactly once.
  • Planeswalkers being relatively new complicate gameplay and a lot of the basic cards were tweaked to adjust for them. 
But still, I think they overdid it. When I was first learning, cards that would ALWAYS show up and that everybody ALWAYS knew was an invaluable teaching tool. And the perfect example of that are da bears. This little 2 cent piece of cardboard for years formed the backbone of the game.

First off I learned from a starter tutorial program they packaged with starter packs in 7th edition. While technically you can play The Sims forever, you can't play the Sims forever. The tutorial would slowly go over the parts of a card and the used the KISS rule for the cards they chose to teach me this. They choose boring uncomplicated basic cards.

Grizzly Bears along with, Giant Spider, Rhox, and Blaze taught me the barebone basics of the game. But they even helped at the intermediate level. One of the hardest skills in Magic the Gathering deck building is knowing how to evaluate cards, being able to look at two cards, recognize they perform similar functions in a deck and choose the more practical option. These simple bareboned (god damn it) cards serve as a baseline to compare everything else.

How do you know if a buff is good, how does it compare to Giant Growth? How do you know if a land tutor is good? How does it compare to Rampant Growth? How do you know mana acceleration is good? How does it compare to Birds of Paradise? How do you know if a spot creature destruction spell is good. How does it compare to Terror? How do you know if a mass creature destruction spell is good? How does it compare to Wrath of God? How do you know if a counterspell is good? How does it compare to Counterspell?

Now, most of these including the Grizzlies either stuck around or has a modern equivalent, but that's not my point. Most cards are available on the secondary market. No, my point is that having a continuous stable of benchmark cards informed the language surrounding the game so players could communicate ideas that went beyond the basic rules of the game.  In general, I get the feeling more and more that Wizards of the Coast wants and needs with each set, including the basic ones, to give players a reason to buy new packs, but in my opinion that you didn't have to made the game healthier. 

Who am I kidding? I want to get into Amonkhet.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Did Putin Win?

I'm starting to hate cable news. I prefer to get my news via The Gray Lady and her contemporaries but occasionally I can't help but hear the chatter and MSNBC is pandering to an audience that hates The Donald so much that they don't care exactly WHAT he does but that it is him doing it. And I get it. I really do, but Donald Trump is not going to be impeached over his ties with Russia. That is nonsense and considering everything else going on WE DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR NONSENSE.

That said I will admit that narrative is important. So instead of using it to make cheap digs about a President, I don't like here is why I view it as important.

First off a legitimate fear people have regarding president Trump is that when push comes to shove he will not act in the interest of the American people. That doesn't mean he was bribed, or that he colluded or anything like that. But when he has to make a choice between doing what's right for himself and what's right for everybody else. He'll choose himself (or what gets him the easiest praise). Which is bad.

And one big giant example of that is the Russia stuff. We know we have different national interests than Russia, even beyond old timey cold war stuff, but Trump has business interests in the country.

Is Donald Trump willing to undermine those interests for the sake of the office?

I don't know but it's a more reasonable question. From where I was sitting during the election Trump proved himself to be a narcissistic egotist only running to get high off of the adulation of the masses, rather than to actually you know do stuff.

He didn't think he would have to and doesn't want to sacrifice anything for the office.

And it's reasonable to worry about that especially when the day comes he really has to.

And that's important and all, but you know what REALLY keeps me up at night. Vladimir Putin is trying to undermine the very concept of liberal western democracy across the world so he can claim to his people with a straight face that his brand authoritarianism works just as well if not better.  Most of the other stuff to me at least are hypotheticals about trying to predict what Donald Trump will do in any situation but we KNOW what Putin's been doing. And if he succeeds it's bad news man.

Democracy even in it's most ambiguous forms works because people have faith in it. We believe it, with its collaborative decision making and checks on singular absolute power to be better than the alternative. When we don't have faith in the basic idea of Democracy bad things happen. The moment we start believing that people are not capable of acting on and expressing their interests to form a functional government we have lost our freedom, that which allows us to claim our lives as our lives and no one else's

And hell, Donald Trump's brand of "nothing except what I say matters" authoritarianism worries me more than any specific policy he exposes.  Sure I think his policies are stupid and cause real harm but I have faith in the long arm of the universe on that count if we can hold on to something deeper. But that something deeper is in real danger. Does Donald Trump represent a moment when the American people lost faith in democracy, lost faith in our ability to make collaborative decisions for the sake of all?

Did Putin win?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Make God an Old One Already

So one of the social media feeds I check out the most is Lindsay Ellis' who along with the rest of my short list of movie folks has managed to rise above the internet's tendency to either slavishly praise movies they already like and ruthlessly eviscerate to the point of eternal damnation films they don't to actually provide incite into both the movies and the cultural moments they encapsulated.

A few days ago she went on a Twitter rant about Prince of Egypt, a movie I like. I disagree but it did make me put together a thought that had been brewing in my head for a decent while so I want to put words to it before I lose it.

Namely her biggest beef is that the movie in an attempt to give Moses pathos allows him to despair that god has sent him as the genocidal messenger to Pharaoh and doesn't use that as an opportunity to question or even consider the nature of a being who could consider the mass slaughtering of children just. 

The primary reason why I'm reflexively irreligious isn't because people use God as an excuse to do things I find morally repugnant, or because I find it hard to gel modern science with the more fantastical elements of the good book, or even that I find Jesus too pacifistic, but because "the powers that be" oversold the pitch on God as a sustaining protector and the older I get the more disappointed I am in the concept of an all knowing, all powerful being of absolute good who is satisfied with... this.

In all honestly I would rather the universe be chaotic blind chance than be faced with the ennui that given absolute power, absolute knowledge and limitless possibility that comes with that this, all of this is the best THE boss could come up with.

But maybe just maybe my disdain is rooted in how God has been presented to me.

The foremost aspect of God described to me in my youth is that "God is good". And look I'm not looking to rewrite the book, smarter folks than I have tried,  but maybe God is more than that. And specifically in pop culture having to always write God as good can limit the and constrain that which is supposed to be be unconstrained. Good, evil those are subjective abstract concepts dictated by man.

What if God were more than that.

Huge chunks of the Bible are devoted to making one point. God, specifically old testament God is not human. He is incomprehensibly alien. We mere mortals can not nor were we intended to understand him.

And I think to myself why hasn't anybody taken this to it's logical conclusion already.

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