One Punch parody

Twitter friend @omgthatguyayfkm recently brought to my attention an anime called One Punch Man. It looked a bit silly, but Toonami was running a marathon of the first 7 episodes, and the trailer piqued my interest.

Well I started watching it, and I’m sold.

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I’ve never been a #serious anime fan; I remember watching Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon now and then as a kid. I like some of the Ghibli films and every once in a while someone will make me watch something that sticks, like Record of the Lodoss War (an anime based upon a D&D campaign).

Aside from often just being kind of weird, anime has a lot of tropes that grate – the coquettish, large-breasted teenage girls exclaiming “oni-san;” the whole “senpai notice me” thing; fear, pain, surprise, or conflicted feelings expressed by constipated whimpering; etc.

One anime that I used to watch was Keroro Gunsou, because I enjoyed how it made fun of itself and other, similar shows. Self-conscious anime can be a great thing.

One Punch Man falls into that same category – it makes fun of the genre. I’m only three episodes in, and so far the formula seems to be pretty static, yet brilliant.

We generally start off a story arc with something gravid and brooding; a city is being ravaged by a monster, usually. Or we’ll get a look at a mad villain’s backstory. Popular tropes are trotted out to be roasted, complete with gleefully over-the-top names and situations.

I’ve been watching the subtitled version so far, and unfortunately little jokes are sometimes lost. For example there’s a professor named “Kuseno.” In Japanese, this is kind of a pun. “Professor Kuseno” would mean something like “Shitty Professor.”

Still, even without those little gems, this show shines. Characters that would be “boss fights” or progressively stronger in other “fighting” anime shows are destroyed with single punches by our overpowered protagonist. Sometimes they don’t even get a word in.

This is especially effective when they’re fleshed out. We may get a giant-sized bad guy who was mutated by his mad scientist brother – the culmination of his quest for physical perfection. The two then set out to rule the world. Only to be squashed by the hero in an almost anticlimactic fashion. Sometimes the show hypes the baddie up so much that we wonder if One Punch Man may finally have met his match. But nope. Not so far, anyway.

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The villains take themselves so seriously that it’s particularly delicious to see them destroyed so embarrassingly easily.

Bits of light dialogue and humorous pokes abound. This is often the result of One Punch Man’s boredom and the incredulity of allies and enemies at his revealed strength.

There are also all kinds of little jabs at the genre. For example, so far the cities are never properly named – it’s always City B or City D or some such, taking a swipe at how many shows will just devastate metropoli willy-nilly. Cities are good settings for epic showdowns, so it doesn’t really matter what they’re called or how many there are, does it?

Right now the show seems to be airing periodically on Cartoon Network. I haven’t seen it on Crunchy Roll or any *legitimate* subscription video service, though you can find less scrupulous sources online pretty easily.

Update: My friend is telling me it’s available on Hulu, so there ya go!

If you enjoy self-parodying anime or used to watch Dragon Ball or the like, you may want to check this one out. I’m loving it so far.

-Bushi

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The four most important troubleshooting steps

I know I’ve mentioned the IT Crowd once or twice here. If you’re into British comedy and/or you work in IT, you may want to check it out on Netflix. If not, I guess you can bugger off, wot.

So I’ve been working in the industry for about a year now, and I’ve learned much. I’ve found, though, that the cliches are true. We have relatively good users at my organization, but my palm and face have yet remained acquainted. While we do run into some head-scratchers, there are calls that can be addressed by one of the following:

1. Turn it off and on again. Yup, this is a big one. When in doubt, ask the user to restart their machine and tell them you’ll be over shortly. Often they’ll call or email you back to say the restart seems to have fixed the problem (or you’ll swing by and everything is now working fine).

2.  Make sure it’s plugged in. I have yet to encounter a monitor that’s gone bad. Usually a connector has come lose or gotten unplugged somehow. Sometimes you’ll even get a power cord that’s been accidentally unplugged (mistaken for another device?) or jostled by the cleaning lady.

3. Is it turned on? This can happen with printers or other devices that may be set to sleep without anyone’s knowledge. I hadn’t run into this “dilemma” with a PC until this week, but it does happen. User complained of her monitor not working, saying “No signal.” I figured it was a loose or unplugged monitor cable, but when I got to her office it turns out her computer wasn’t turned on!

4. Be gracious and humble. We like to grouse about user error (PEBCAK and all that), but this is why we’re paid the big bucks. Well, some of us. I work with a lot of folk who are more educated and in many cases probably much more intelligent (or at least more wizened) than I am. Not all of them are “computer people” or know a lot about tech, just as I don’t really know much about medicine or family law. A lot of the time when you run into one of the issues listed above, the user will be embarrassed, and there’s no need to rub it in. Either smile and tell them it was no problem and happens all the time, or nod sagely and wonder aloud if the cleaner may have accidentally knocked out the cord. And be thankful that it was an issue easily remedied!

 

-Bushi

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Stranger things than patriots and demon princes

What can men do against such reckless entertainment? Like everyone else on the internet, evidently, I have started to watch Stranger Things. This one I’m doing with the girlfriend, though, so we’re generally getting through one or two episodes per weekend. Is there a pace setting lower than “steady?”

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Thus far the show has received near-universal acclaim, save from a few philistines in my timeline. Sorry Alex, I’m on the bandwagon!

I believe I’ve read some complaints about the characters or story not being engaging enough from the get-go, but I just didn’t see it. I mean I wasn’t in love with all of the characters by the end of the first episode, but it kept me interested enough to want to watch the next one. I’m a few in now and for me the pros are still out-weighing the cons. Is it the best show I’ve ever seen? Nah. But it’s not bad. The (albeit thin) inclusion of D&D and sweet 80’s-style retro new wave synth tickle my nerdy Millennial pickle. Also I’m normally not a Winona Ryder fan, but I think she’s great in her role here.

Meanwhile I’ve been watching AMC’s Turn, as well.

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It’s a neat little historical drama, based on a real spy ring operating during the American Revolution for General Washington. So far I think the acting is pretty solid and the writers do a good job showing the ugliness of war the torn loyalties and factions even within the ranks of the two opposing sides. At first I thought “I do love a good historical account of the British being assholes.” But I was soon shown assholes and good guys on both sides.

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This weekend I also had a bit of luck at the thrift stores. My girlfriend and I checked out a few places in Delaware and I came away with 3 Vance books and a Zelazny for 25 cents each, plus a very nice hard-bound copy of King Solomon’s Mines for a dollar. The Zelazny book looks like I may have to wait for a particular mood to strike me before attempting it. Of the three Vance novels, one I already own (but this one was in great condition and has an alternate cover, so for 25 cents why not?). The second is book #3 of the Planet of Adventure series. And third is Star King, the first of the Demon Prince series. So now I have a chief denizen for the bedside table.

Incidentally, King Solomon’s Mines is one of those books that I’d really not have had any interest in until recently. While it’s not mentioned specifically, it is the first of H R Haggard’s Allan Quartermain books, several of which are counted in the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library, and Haggard is listed as a general entry on the Moldvay Basic list. Considering that Haggard makes 3 of the 5 major indices of the Grand List and that it’s supposedly the first story of the Lost World subgenre, it seemed like a no-brainer to pick it up for tuppence.

I’m also continually striving to fit in some Heroes of the Storm and Witcher 3, but sometimes something’s gotta give. Only so much leisure time in a week.

How about you all, dear readers? Getting into anything particularly interesting these days?

-Bushi

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The redemption of Anakin Skywalker

I’ve just finished watching the Clone Wars on Netflix, and I wanted to wrap up with a few thoughts.

General Thoughts

My opinion of the show was largely positive. I thought the highs were high, and there was some quality writing going on. That said, the Clone Wars suffers the same identity crisis that so negatively impacted the prequels (especially Phantom Menace). Like many cartoons and infamously a great deal of anime, the Clone Wars possesses its share of “fluff” episodes. This is compounded by the fact that while the show touches upon some very mature and heavy concepts and themes, we still get occasional episodes featuring Jar Jar Binks or C-3PO and R2-D2.

Some episodes seem geared entirely to younger children, while some are clearly intended for teen and adult fans. Jar Jar episodes invariably include “physical comedy” scenes of the sort where he stumbles and trips and repeatedly steps on proverbial laser-rakes and somehow winds up defeating a platoon of battledroids. While I actually found Jar Jar less grating in this cartoon, these hijinks called to mind the prequel films, and that was not my desired viewing experience.

Neither was I a fan of the multi-episode story arcs focusing on astromech droid commando squads or jedi younglings encountering the seemingly only band of space pirates in the universe.

What I did enjoy were the Jedi and clone-centric stories. I also thought Ventress and the Nightsisters were interesting characters. As I’ve mentioned before, the clones are really fleshed out and shown to be more than mere foot soldiers. Big lost opportunity for the films there.

Personally I found Anakin and Ahsoka to be the best parts of the show. Not only was Anakin’s character actually likable (contrast with the movies), but with the animation in mind, one can better trace his path to the dark side. With the creation of the Ahsoka character and the development of her relationship with Anakin, the writers really added a lot of depth to the Dark Vader story.

From here on out I have to issue a **Major Spoiler Warning.** Read on at your own risk.

 

 

 

Ahsoka’s Role in Anakin’s Fall

Perhaps the heading should be “The Jedi Council’s Role in Anakin’s Fall,” as that would be more fair to Ahsoka.

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At the opening of the show, Anakin is introduced to Ahsoka Tano, his new padawan. He stiffly protests that he does not want to be a teacher, but his excuses are rejected. After fighting alongside Ahsoka and witnessing her determination, courage, and hardheadedness, he assents to becoming her master.

From there, their relationship grows strong. As is common, they develop a special bond as master and pupil. Probably even more so than normal, as they both frequently flout rules and orders to do what they think is right, often to save each other or other friendlies. The only other Jedi that Anakin develops this close of a relationship with is Obi-wan, and considering the protectiveness he exhibits for Ahsoka, I would argue that he becomes even closer with her. Not quite a father-daughter relationship; perhaps close to big brother – little sister.

While Obi-wan and Anakin do share a bond and care very much for one another, Anakin sees much of himself in his pupil. They are both stubborn and brave and sometimes have to be reigned in. Unlike some of the other Jedi (I’ll touch on this later), they both also seem to value highly the lives of their soldiers and treat them with a notable degree of respect and care.

Now, I would note that as the seasons progress, we do observe Anakin flirting with the dark side. He uses Force choke on occasion, and there are times when his anger boils to the surface and he manhandles prisoners or defeated enemies. This is evident when he thinks Obi-wan to have been assassinated, and when he jealously beats the crap out of Clovis for making moves on Padme.

One of the most impactful events leading up to his fall is Ahsoka’s setup and expulsion from the Jedi Order. Aside from his love for Padme and desire to save her from death, his loyalty to Ahsoka is perhaps paramount to understanding Anakin’s motivations.

When Ahsoka is framed for the bombing of the Jedi temple, Obi-wan wants to stand by her, but finds himself outvoted on the Council. It is with regret that he stands by as she is cast out of the Order. Anakin, on the other hand, is furious. He simply cannot believe that Ahsoka is guilty of such a crime, and he cannot stand idly by and watch her wrongfully condemned.

It is at this point that we really see his anger directed toward the Jedi Council, and his disillusionment with its blindness and impotence. When he attempts to intercede and is denied the ability to meet with her as she is imprisoned, we see the shadow growing.

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Eventually, after Anakin has cleared her name and proved her innocence, Ahsoka is invited back to the Order, but she refuses to return. She cannot forgive the Council who so quickly doubted her and declined to fight for her. Anakin is clearly hurt and feels that she is leaving him. His pupil tells him that she is grateful, but this is not about him.

It’s at this point that we really see how Anakin feels about the Jedi Order. He had previously voiced his opinion (specifically regarding his conversations with and about Tarkin) that the Jedi often made bad judgements and would not do what was needed to end the war. He tells Ahsoka that he understands her wanting to leave, and we see that he is not content with the current state of affairs.

I haven’t watched Star Wars Rebels, but I have read a bit further on what canonically became of the Ahsoka character, for this is the last we see of her in the Clone Wars. It appears that she later resurfaces to fight against the Empire and foster young Jedi of the nascent Rebellion. In the Season 2 finale of the show, she makes an appearance to confront Darth Vader. She declares that this time she won’t leave him. One of them will not walk away.

She fails at breaking through to Anakin; only Luke is able to eventually bring Vader back to the light. But she comes close. Closer than Obi-wan was able. For a flickering moment, Anakin recognizes Ahsoka, his pupil; his friend. But ultimately they are enemies, and as she says, all she can hope to accomplish is vengeance for her master.

The Gray Jedi

Regarding the Jedi, the Clone Wars provided me with two major takeaways.

1. Other sources, like the video games and other parts of the EU had introduced the concept of “Gray Jedi” who were either not truly Jedi in that they tried to achieve a balance between the light and dark sides of the force, or else Jedi who did not always abide by the Code or follow the will of the Council. Qui-Gon Jinn is often cited as an example of the latter. Many commenters have pointed out that Ahsoka also fits this mold, and I think Anakin most likely also would have fallen under this archetype had he remained a Jedi. Although the cartoon never busts out the term itself, I think it do think it reinforces the existence of such a “class.”

There are more nuanced factions of Force-users than just the Jedi and the Sith, as was perhaps more clearly illustrated by the inclusion of the Nightsisters and the Ones.

2. While the light and dark sides are usually portrayed as good and evil, respectively, they too are more nuanced. I felt like the games and EU also did a good job expanding upon this. If you look at the Jedi and Sith codes, which I naturally have because I’m a humongous geek, you’ll note that the immediate and primary difference is the view of emotion.

The Jedi see emotion as something to be suppressed and controlled. There is no emotion, there is peace. Now the Jedi are clearly not Vulcans or droids; they do experience emotion.

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May the force be with you.

This is viewed as undesirable, however. We are told that Jedi are forbidden to love. And yet would Yoda or Obi-wan teach that joy is a dangerous feeling to be restrained? In theory.

The Sith, on the other hand, operate on emotion. Peace is a lie, there is only passion. The Sith embrace passion and use their feelings to channel the Force. In practice, the dark side of the Force is associated with negative emotions – fear, anger, hate. And yet the Jedi swear off the good ones, as well.

All this leads me to think the light and dark side of the Force, at their roots, are not as well-defined as I once believed.

Also the Jedi Are Dicks

In one of the later episodes, one of the clones executes a Jedi when his brain chip malfunctions and Order 66 is prematurely activated in his mind. He’s taken to the clone lab on Kamino for examination, and Jedi General Shaak Ti “advocates” for him. It struck me throughout that though she didn’t want the clone trooper put down, she didn’t seem overly concerned for him. When the Kamioan doctor asserts that the clones are Kaminoan property, the Jedi counters that the clones are Republic property. Huh. She also has no problem with wiping Fives’ memory and having him transferred to custodial duty.

General Krell, a Jedi who eventually turned to the dark side and betrayed the Republic before being captured and executed, was a leader of some renown. The clones comment in one episode that he is famous for his Pyrrhic victories. He wins, but he loses huge numbers of troops. This is common knowledge, but the Jedi don’t seem to care about his lack of regard for human (clone) life. Just another day being a Jedi?

Not even Anakin, who gets a whole episode devoted to his hatred of slavery, ever seems to stop and think about the clones. They may be programmed to act as willing soldiers, but they’re still slaves. Desertion is a crime, and little thought is given to what will become of them after the war. They’re just the Republic’s version of battledroids, and even though many of the Jedi seem to treat them well, the Order never seems to question the morality of what it’s doing.

I believe this is explained in some fashion by peripheral sources – that the Jedi Temple was built upon a Sith Temple. The dark side slowly weakens and blinds the Jedi over the course of a thousand years. Whether or not this was an intentional explanation, it is certainly believable. Although they have their moments and they’re clearly preferable to the sadistic, power-hungry Sith, the Jedi are often foolish and blind. When there is risk involved, many times they will choose to abandon their own rather than fight; this occurs several times that we see on the battlefield, as well as the whole situation with Ahsoka.

Slavery may not be rampant on Republic worlds, but it is still a blight upon the galaxy, and the Jedi do seemingly little to stamp it out. Not only this, but they engage in their own brand of slavery and justify it as the only way to win the war.

I will say that I think the show ended on a good note. After his pilgrimage to learn the secrets of becoming a Force ghost, Yoda seems to realize, at least to some degree, how blind he and the Council have been. He essentially tells Mace Windu and Obi-wan that they won’t win the Clone Wars, that they’ve already lost. But that they do have one path left that may give them a longer-term victory.

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This was foreshadowed in Yoda’s vision, when he had to sacrifice himself to save Anakin. And when he was told that there is another Skywalker.

 

-Bushi

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Vikings really are dicks

I haven’t yet watched the History Channel Vikings show, but I have been making my way through the Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok.

As you might imagine, the stories are romanticized and mysticized. I’ve been a little surprised, though, at how much of the legendary Viking king’s (and his family’s) dickishness has been preserved. I suppose considering the attributes valued by the old Nords, I shouldn’t have been.

Some examples:

– When Ragnar’s men encountered the peasant girl Kraka, who was to become the king’s second wife, they told the king about her and he instructed them to fetch her, and they did so. When she came to his ship, she refused to come aboard to meet him unless he would promise the safety of her and her companion (a dog). He did so, but when he attempted to pet the dog, it bit his hand. Despite his promise, he allowed his men to beat and strangle the animal.

– Ragnar was good friends with the king of Sweden, and every year one of the monarchs would visit the other and they would feast. One year, Ragnar was visiting Sweden and his men pointed out to him how beautiful the other king’s daughter was, and advised that he ask for her hand in marriage. Despite being married already, Ragnar decided to do so, and they became betrothed. He kept this a secret from Kraka, and planned to divorce her when the time came.

– Kraka found out about Ragnar’s plan to remarry, and revealed that she was in truth not a peasant girl, but the daughter of a famous king who had been betrayed by a country couple who had then raised the girl as their own. Because of this noble blood, she was able to convince Ragnar not to divorce her. As a result, the next year the Viking king blew off his annual feast with the Swedish ruler. The later rightly interpreted this as an insult to him and his daughter, and their friendship was broken off. Once they learned of this, Ragnar’s sons decided that Sweden was now fair game for raiding.

– The raid against Sweden did not go well. The Vikings were vastly outnumbered and one of Ragnar’s sons by his first wife was killed in battle. Impressed with his valor, the Swedish king stopped the fighting and offered the slain prince’s brother an olive branch – the hand of his daughter and a return to peace. Ragnar’s son spat at the offer, and swearing that his family would avenge him, threw himself onto a bed of spears.

– Kraka, later learning of the deaths of her own son (in a separate battle) and of her two step-sons, declared that it was well that her own boy had died fighting with honor. She shed a tear, however, for the two sons of Ragnar’s first wife, bemoaning the deaths of the unparalleled warriors and swearing vengeance. It is said to be the only occasion she ever cried.

I’m sure as I progress through the Viking tales I’ll encounter more examples of this kind of behavior. We already know what they did to King Edmund!

-Bushi

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“Let’s Rename Everything!” or “Everything is racist!”

The other day I saw a blurb about how Georgetown is renaming some building on its campus that were named for former presidents of the school. Not super notable in and of itself, but it follows part of a trend that’s been going on for years now.

Apparently the two men were involved in the sale of Jesuit-owned (oi) slaves to help pay of university debt. Now I’m not defending slavery here, nor am I saying the two presidents were good guys. Maybe they were, or maybe they were colossal jagoffs.

But what seems to be lacking here is a consideration of historical context. You’d think the arbiters of such a prominent center for higher education would have heard of such a thing. But these days colleges are moving further and further left, and politics and political correctness trump most else. If you’re unfamiliar with what Mizzou sparked, do a quick Google search. I really think the university system in the US is imploding right now.

At any rate, there are plenty of historical figures whom we venerate or consider to have been great men and women, who did things that may be considered unacceptable or even terrible by today’s standards. The thing is, they didn’t live by today’s standards and we shouldn’t judge them as if they did. I would also venture to say that we as a society can honor the accomplishments of individuals without endorsing every aspect of their lives.

Many of the saints that we as Christians and Catholics celebrate did terrible things. Peter denied Christ. Paul was a hunter of Jews. Augustine was a spectacular hedonist. But they also all turned to God and lived great spiritual lives.

Many of our founding fathers owned slaves. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we hear calls to rename our national capital and countless streets, schools, and other public buildings. And we’d better include anything dedicated to George Washington Carver. He may have been a slave himself, but that doesn’t excuse him for being named after a shameless slave owner!

Last Man Standing did an episode on this two or three years ago. If you’re a Tim Allen fan who enjoyed Home Improvement, I highly recommend this, by the way. It’s also the only show I can recall watching that dips its toes into political waters and seems to slightly favor conservative values. The episode I’m thinking of dealt with some parents calling for the renaming of their children’s school. It had originally been named after William Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame), but then it had come to light that Lewis had been a slave owner. I believe in the end, Tim Allen’s character convinced his liberal son-in-law (one of the parents protesting the school’s name) that the great accomplishments of one’s life shouldn’t be washed away by the mistake(s) one may have made.

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Where is Tim Allen to educate the public when we need him?

-Bushi

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My Legend of Korra rant

Over at Reaxxion, Joshua Wise has been writing up a storm about the Legend of Korra. First he penned an article about why “men love” the Last Airbender sequel. Then he took to the comments to vigorously defend his arguments. When it became clear that he was drowning in a sea of critics, he took up the megaphone once again to address the chief complaints about his original piece and explain why his detractors are wrong.

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First of all, Joshua is welcome to his opinions, and I think they are defensible ones. I’ve argued many times with my friend Magnataur about the merits and shortcomings of the Legend of Korra. The short version is that I think it falls way short of its predecessor and has few redeeming features. But I won’t get too deep into my laundry list of complaints about the show. Many of them are, probably, just preferences. For example I strongly preferred the medievalish setting of TLA and was put off by the practically overnight jump into TLK’s industrial age.

Before we dive in, I’d like to disclose that I didn’t finish watching Korra to the very end, so that may erode my credibility a little, though I did watch most of the series. I got a few episodes into the last season, found out about the last episode, and quit watching in disgust. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back and watch the handful that I missed, but I’m not tempted at the moment.

Oh, and of course the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.

Now, let’s have a look at what Joshua liked about the show. Here are his main bullets along with my thoughts:

1. Male characters are treated with respect 

Debatable. It’s true that the characters in Korra do grow and develop. Tenzin’s arch was notable to me. But many of the male characters (or perhaps all the characters?) just came across as rather two-dimensional from what I saw. Bolin was a goof who did get more serious with age and experience but still struck me (and some of Reaxxion’s commenters) as a watered-down Sokka-type. Mako was just painful to watch. He threw away a relationship with the beautiful, kind, rich Asami to pursue Korra. And then he gave up on that because, um…feelings? Oh the angst! Going back to Tenzin, he had his moments. But the overall message I got was that he was a stuffy, conservative monk who was only able to reach his full potential once he loosened up and became more open-minded. Tolerance and progressivism!

2. The action was never disappointing

There was a lot of action, I’ll give it that. Whether this was always to its credit is another story. From early on in the show, there’s a lot going on. We’ve got metal benders on the police force, firebenders shooting lightning in the factories, and the flash of pro-bending. The way the writers escalated the action reminds of Dragon Ball Z, in a way. There’s a famous meme that involves Vegita exclaiming that Goku’s power level is over 9000. By the close of the series, however, enemies usually have power levels somewhere around 100 gazillion. In Korra, the bending and the fights just ramp up and up until you have villains that can take on all of the protagonists almost singlehandedly. Personally I’ll take clever, coherent plot over mindless action anyday.

3. More relationships, less romance

Again, perhaps chalk this one up to preference. I know that “romance” persay isn’t manly, but I’d argue that neither is the abundance of relationships just for the sake of having relationships. So we have Mako and Bolin screwing up their courtships left and right, and then Korra and Asami ultimately deciding that they like girls. Score? For my money, give me an Aang-Katara arch or one of Sokka’s pursuits. They were perhaps a bit more sappy and had their own share of teenage angst, but they also had depth that felt lacking in Korra. I might not go so far as to say Korra’s take is more advocative of the contemporary hook-up culture, but its characters seem like they could use a little more romance and perhaps less relationships.

4. Korra crossed lines that Airbender didn’t

Preference once more? It’s true that Korra got darker than TLA in general. There was some straight up killing. But again, this didn’t feel like it really added much. It was shock value. Killing off characters can be a very powerful storytelling tool, but when you’re offing a random minor character who no one cares about or a villain who’s outlived his story arch, the effect is going to be diminished. I found the struggles of Zuko and Aang much more stirring.

Then we have Joshua’s rebuttal piece, addressing his critics:

1. You are wrong about Korra

Joshua begins by addressing one of the chief complaints of the anti-Korra crowd.

“Yes, Korra begins the series as an entitled cunt, but many of you fail to notice this is never considered to be a good thing? In fact, much of the time her behavior reinforces her personality as naive and destructive.”

He then elaborates that these negative characteristics give her room to grow as a character. And this is true; she learns from Tenzin and others and her powers grow as a result. This is a point well taken. However, I’d like to raise two objections to this defense of Korra. First, while she grows as a character, she remains both abrasive and cocksure. Her tendency to brood doesn’t help. I get that she’s both a teenage girl and that world’s equivalent to Superman (she bears a heavy burden), but generally it’s a good idea to at least build a likable protagonist. While she does have her fans, she’s a lot more polarizing than she should have been. 

Second, Korra follows the Wonder Woman archetype. That’s perfectly fine for some people – Wonder Woman is a popular enough superhero. But I’d like to draw from a post written recently by JC Wright on why he likes Supergirl:

“For the record, this is the reason why I think that Wonder Woman is a poorer character than Supergirl, even though they are both simply female versions of Superman. Wonder Woman is competing with men at what men do best. The Amazon is more macho than a masked Mexican wrestler, at least in the recent versions of the character. Supergirl is stronger than any man but is not competing against men for the man-prize. She is still feminine, with all the mystery and paradox and allure that word implies.”

Korra is an Amazon. It’s true that bending is a great equalizer (hey, is Avatar pro-gun?), but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to characterize Korra as feminine. She competes with men on their level and is ready to kick their asses.  And in the end she decides she doesn’t need men at all! It’s true that this female masculinity isn’t unique to Korra. Avatar Kyoshi struck me as a similar figure – strong-willed and unflinching at the prospect of a good fight. At least Kyoshi wore some makeup though, eh?

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Ultimately I’d say that creating a strong, feminine heroine is perhaps challenging but certainly doable. Look at Katara from TLA – she may not have been the Avatar, but she was simultaneously both soft and tough. She learned to become a strong water bending fighter and even mastered the terrible art of blood bending, but she was also a healer and a nurturer. She worried over and cared for both Aang and Sokka, and eventually wound up becoming a wife and mother. Not in the cards for Korra. 

2. You are wrong about Mako and Bolin

 Joshua makes another sensible point here:

“Mako is not Zuko, and Bolin is not Sokka. Yes, they share similar molds and hold similar roles. First off all, saying Zuko is Mako is an insult to Zuko, who was the best character in the show. I’m not saying Mako is a bad character, but where Zuko started compared to where he finished is astronomical compared to Mako.”

He then goes on to say that Bolin is more modeled after Toph than Sokka because of his jock-ness, and winds up being a lava bender because he’s a Fire Nation / Earth Nation hafu. That was a cool development, I’ll agree, but it wasn’t game changing. 

Bolin was better written than Mako, granted. But they were still weak characters that felt like rehashes/mash-ups of TLA’s Team Avatar.

3. You are wrong about bending

This is the section where Joshua points out that bending is the great equalizer in the world of Avatar. 

“Some of you take issue with the idea that in Korra, the women are as strong as the men. I don’t see you hating on Toph, Katara, Azula, Suki, Ty Lee, or Mai.”

I would just say that he’s right that the idea of strong women is not new to Korra. As he points out, there were plenty of strong female characters in TLA. But again, most if not all of these characters display a degree of femininity. In most cases their physical strength or the strength of their bending are not their primary attributes. Toph may be gruff and unkempt, but in an unguarded moment she lets Katara give her a makeover and beams when she is told how pretty she looks. That was a rich and heartwarming moment! I’ve already extolled Katara’s feminine virtues, but will reiterate that they go beyond bending; she has a softness to her. Azula, Suki, Ty Lee, and even Mai – they all display feminine traits. I’m not arguing that Korra never does, but her character usually feels like a man in the body of a teenage girl; that’s the way she has been written and balanced. She is supposed to be strong, so she is made to be borderline butch, arrogant, brash, and loud.

Once again I’d like to point to JC Wright, who has written a series of excellent pieces on the execution of the strong female character. Men and women have different strengths, and the best female characters are those who possess those particular strengths. The Amazon is a great example of a politically correct female character – one that refuses to recognize that men and women are different.

4. You are wrong about the villains

Here Joshua asserts that every Korra villain is a SJW. Thus the SJW agenda is the true antagonist and ultimate loser. The representations that he illustrates for each villain are definitely interesting and hadn’t occurred to me – Amon as an allegory for white guilt, Unalaq as a radical, destructive equalist (I like the way he puts it “Unalaq wanted to free Vaatu because the only way for everything to be fair is for nothing to exist.“), Zaheer as a naturalist, and Kuvira as a control-maniac. 

I can’t speak to whether or not any of that was intentional (I kind of doubt it), but I like his thought process. For me, the main problem with the villains was that each one was an extremist beyond reason, with increasingly more power, a ‘la my Dragon Ball Z complaint. The fight below made me yell at the screen.

Setting aside the fact that years (presumably) in prison have not dulled the skills or reactions of any of Zaheer’s posse, you’d think Unalaq’s kids (who have demonstrated they’re a match for Korra and her friends), Korra’s father the chief, and Lord Zuko and his fucking dragon could put up a good fight. But nope, swatted aside. 

The villains in Korra are interesting to different degrees, but once you realize they’re just different variations of crazy, they become less so. There was potential for more development – between Zaheer and his cyclops woman girlfriend, for example, but these venues go relatively unexplored.

In the end, I think most fans agree that TLA was the superior series; the argument is often framed as “Was Korra a good show?” Of course there are those who preferred Korra. But all of this is largely opinion. Although I disagree with a majority of Joshua’s points, it’s an interesting conversation to have.

-Bushi

bushi

A Tempest of Thrones

A few years ago, the Axis of Awesome released their “Rage of Thrones.” I got a hearty chuckle out of it upon first viewing and quickly forgot about it, but lately it’s been popping to mind kind of frequently.

[Explicit language warning]

The phenomenon of “book to screen” is nothing new, but it feels like in recent years it’s being increasingly rewarded by moviegoers. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent – popular literary series that have been serialized by Hollywood into easily digestible, regularly released titles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all; many of the aforementioned  films were quite entertaining and well-produced.

gotSo far as the smaller screen goes, the buzzword has been “Game of Thrones.” I have to say it took me by surprise. What would 10 or 15 years ago have fallen unquestionably smack dab into super nerd territory has become a mainstream staple. Before it came to TV, can you imagine telling your “normal” friends (or heaven forbid, a girl) about this fantasy series, with its spate of characters, nonstop political intrigue, subtle hints of magic, and, er, incest? Chances are their reaction wouldn’t have been “Sounds cool – sign me up!”

And yet this is where we are. Well, good on George R. R.

Personally, I’ve only watched the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I did like the books better. Though I enjoyed the show, I found myself not quite satisfied with things like casting decisions or ways the original story was edited. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the gratuitous nudity and sex (in an HBO show? Surprise!). The books aren’t exactly rated G, but I felt like Martin didn’t devote an especially excessive amount of words to the sex scenes; nor did they strike me as especially salacious.

Most of the fans I’ve talked to haven’t read the books, including my sister and a number of friends. I get it – not everyone has the time, and these aren’t exactly compact novellas. And not everyone is a reader, as unfortunate as that is. Still, I hope the show will inspire more people to eventually pick up the books.

Myself, I haven’t felt compelled to do any rereading of late, and who knows when the next installment will be out. Perhaps another half-decade, George? I have found Telltale’s latest effort to be quite fun, however.

forrester

In case you’re unfamiliar with their previous titles, Telltale games are kind of the spiritual successors to the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’m always a little hard-pressed to describe them, because saying they’re dialogue and choice-driven (though they are) tends to do them a disservice. I haven’t tasted all the flavors; I played through the first Walking Dead game and have gone through all the Game of Thrones episodes (installment-modeled pieces of the first game) thus far, and both have played similarly.

Neither game as been “fun” in the same way that it is to mow down hordes of zombies or lay low enemy footmen in similarly themed titles. Playing Telltale’s GoT is fun akin to watching it on HBO. Except imagine you could direct Sansa Stark whether or not to trust Tyrion Lannister. Likewise in Walking Dead, suppose you could tell Rick to accept a stranger into the group, or to execute him before a new threat develops. These are the types of choices you make in Telltale games.

Sure, there is some “gameplay.” Periodically you’ll have to click an enemy’s head to brain them before they can do the same to you, or quickly tap some keys to dodge incoming projectiles. You’ll die, but the game is forgiving and lets you try again without sending you very far back. These moments add to the games’ already considerable sense of tension and make for some nice pacing of the stories.

But the real draw is how good Telltale is at, er, telling tales. Well, would you look at that. The plot and voice acting are top-notch, and even the art style, which may seem a little odd at first, will grow on you.

In the Game of Thrones flavor, you’re tasked with guiding the actions of the Forresters – honorable bannermen to the Starks who have fallen upon difficult times (Red Wedding mean anything to you?) and must make many hard and fateful decisions. Will they be able to save their House? Tough to say so far, but the story is certainly compelling and suspenseful, and there is a certain thrill from interacting with the likes of Tyrion and Cersei now and then. And oh that terrible Ramsay Snow. What a bastard.

-Bushi

bushi