Creative Writing · Literature

It’s Good, But I Just Can’t Love It – – The Struggle Is Real

Here we go again.

So again, I have to ask: have you ever bought a book or purchased a movie or settled in to watch a TV show, relishing in the promise that its opening pages or moments, that what you are about to experience is a sumptuous meal of entertainment?

Only to be later disappointed.

You don’t regret that you experienced what you did, mind, but the fact that you were left underwhelmed by something you didn’t think would underwhelm you is enough to leave a bad taste in your brain.

I kinda had this issue with The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was here.

Magonia by Margaret Dahvana Headley was indeed promising when I picked it up, but for all of its creativity in its concepts, its setting, its mythology of a race of beautiful bird-people who live in a country in the sky called Magonia, at the same time it was actually very disappointingly barebones. Not only that, but the concluding sequel Aerie, felt really rushed at the end. Like it worked, and I’m not saying it didn’t make me feel things–I’m not even saying I didn’t like it, because I did–but…to be honest, it almost felt like it’s like a dessert that you’re trying, and at first it tastes really great, but then later it doesn’t quite satisfy your sweet tooth like you thought it would.

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Which is a shame considering the first book got a praiseful blurb from Neil Gaiman. And anything Gaiman praises is always worth my time.

But…I felt like it could have been so much more. And the ending, while poetic, didn’t really tie up enough loose ends for it to be a conclusion. In my opinion, anyway.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, meanwhile, was so lush and rich and vibrant. It took its time, and with fantasy and sci-fi you kinda have to. Fantasy and sci-fi, in my experience, really don’t lend themselves to minimalist writing. Even like say, in the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin,  those books aren’t particularly verbose and packed with purple prose, but I still feel the story has enough meat and flavor thanks to LeGuin’s skills as a wordsmith.

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At least, for my personal taste, a minimalist style is a detriment to those genres when crafting stories for them. To be sure, in a fantasy or sci-fi short story, keeping things to a minimum is a must-do as a means to prevent overwriting, as in any writing, otherwise the short story’s no longer short. But despite the conciseness that’s demanded more of short stories and novellas than novels, there’s still a way to paint a rich picture with details dropped in succession like colored marbles into a glass bowl out of the writer’s hand without feeling like something’s…missing, or rather, not quite fully formed enough to appreciate it in the narrative.

Magonia and Aerie are both supposed to be novels (short novels, but novels). And while Aerie, as a sequel, in addition, did its job in part by expanding the world, that too was very minimalistly done in my opinion, and I’m kinda disappointed.

Not to knock Magonia or its sequel or anything, as I said I did like them. I enjoyed reading both books, but let’s just say that Daughter of Smoke and Bone gave me the best surprise 6+hour airport layover I’ve ever had (and keep in mind that at the time I was also desperately sucking on lozenges for a god-awful sore throat I later treated with Dayquil once I made it home to hibernate).

Magonia meanwhile, for its very engaging and moving romantic subplot, that same romantic subplot too took a turn that had me gnashing my teeth in frustration throughout a majority of the story in Aerie.

*SPOILERS AND RANTING INCOMING*

Like, I get that Jason made a poor judgment call in an effort to protect our heroine, Aza Ray, one that resulted in rather disastrous consequences, and Aza Ray had every right to be pissed at him, but seriously, girl? Just because of this ONE thing, you think that this whole time that boy was only ever pretending to love you? After all the crap you two had been through?

Dude, don’t be an idiot.

That’s always been a pet peeve of mine in storytelling: someone does something really bad with the best of intentions, and then something bad happens because of that (at times even something they hadn’t imagined would even happen in the first place) and the other person is like “YOU ARE SATAN!!!” It’s like whoever’s writing the story gets that the person would be mad (and they should be) but they take it to a ridiculously simple extreme. (*sigh* Sorry, I try really hard not to infer authorial intent if I can help it.)

Here’s where I’ve seen it done better IMHO: in the movie Alita: Battle Angel (a very awesome movie I might add), something similar goes down, and when our heroine Alita finds out what her bae did, yeah she’s mad, but she’s also conflicted, no less about the fact that cyborgs are actively trying to kill her bae. And she makes it clear that while she’s angry with him, she hardly wants to see him die either.

Cuz that’s what love is supposed to be: complicated. You can be mad at someone you love, but also not completely hate their guts the minute they screw up (even if that’s what you scream at them, and one could argue that you hate them more because they’re someone you love). There are layers to this of course, everyone deals with these things differently, the love you felt for a person who did you wrong can get buried underneath all that anger to the point that you forget you felt that way but…not in the span of a minute.

Like, at first, Aza’s pissed, so mad that she cuts off her communique with Jason immediately. But then shortly thereafter you have Jason languishing in a mental institution for a beat, and all the time Aza, after she’s had a minute to think on her own, doesn’t even consider that he made an honest mistake. Like yeah, he totally wanted all these terrible things to happen to you. You’ve known him since you were five, surely you know him better than that!!!

I really truly get what was supposed to come across here, but the way it was done it just frustrated me. I wanted to be left with hope that the two of them would reconcile. I realize the idea was supposed to leave the reader feeling as devastated as Aza did, as Jason did for what happened, but…I shouldn’t have to flip to the back of the book to make sure they do actually reconcile. I should have this sense that despite this hurtle, our lovers are both strong enough to overcome it and have faith in each other. 

That’s it, it was her lack of faith in him that had my teeth on edge. I mean, this guy saved her last book, but then this happens in the sequel and she immediately drops that the minute he screws up? This from a guy who so far as I could tell, had never once screwed up before? It just…felt…. It just didn’t make sense to me for her to do that. Again, this is all really just me if I’m being honest.

Ugh, maybe I just get prickly because my own romantic sensibilities are so, well, sensitive.

And I could go on and on about this in another blog post, so I’ll leave things off here for now.

*RANT OVER*

Now, I have no problem with the concept of also using minimalism to get an idea across and then let the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps. And to be sure, Dahvana Headley gives some beautiful descriptions, especially of the Magonians themselves.

In Aerie though, I found the descriptions of new characters like Aza’s father lacking. I know the Magonians were described in the first book, and beautifully so. And enough that even with what wasn’t described in any amount of detail, the image of the Magonian characters could reasonably be completed by my own imagination. But Aza’s father is being introduced as a new character, and…when he entered the story, I felt like I was given nothing but literally the color gray. I’m aware of the bizarre physicality in general of Magonians, but knowing that and then just being given the color gray as a descriptor caused me to see him in my mind as a vague gray shape. Was he likened to an eagle or something? Maybe there was a detail I glazed over. At least Wedda was likened to an owl to give an idea of what her face looked like, and Jik was likened to a more colorfully exotic bird. With Aza’s father though, I felt like I was given almost nothing. Which is a shame because I had expected this to be a plotpoint in Aerie, and my father-daughter heart had been looking forward to getting to that.

Heyward’s death almost feels like, looking back, just a means to take her out of the story. It’s beautifully crafted as death scenes go, but….

Okay, so, to begin with, her true identity was that of the human baby that Aza had been swapped with. It’s established that Aza is not related by blood to the family she thought was her parents and her little sister Eli, and when we find out who Heyward is, there’s so much that you could do with that. You could have her meet the family she had lost, you could explore more of how she and Aza are bound by the fact that they were switched as infants–and it seemed like they were going that way when Heyward joins team Aza in the sequel and helps her escape the clutches of this secret government agency focused solely on exposing the sky nation of Magonia. But after like one chapter where Aza’s still brooding about Jason, and Heyward’s difficulty breathing the Magonian air, they’re attacked and Heyward’s killed protecting Aza. Like, nice gesture and all, but there was so much more they could have shared as well as done with Heyward’s character. They have like, one conversation about who Heyward is, and the idea of her parents and little sister distantly aware of a daughter that they didn’t know for the longest time they had lost, but that’s it. After that, boom, Heyward’s dead. I had this sense when I was first introduced to her in the first book that her character would go to these aforementioned places, even just one of them, and there’s reference to an image of Aza’s mother–Heyward’s mother–looking up at the sky, tragically destined to never meet her biological firstborn as Aza reflects after Heyward dies.

I just felt like there was an opportunity wasted there.

And then….

There’s a race of fantastic treelike dwellers of the ground, a sort of opposite of the Magonians in the sky. While Magonians live in the sky, these beasts based on tings like mandrakes and salamanders (maybe?), live in the ground near the heat of molten magma. And we see these creatures once, when Jason and Aza’s sister Eli get captured by them, and they escape, and that’s it. Never revisited again.

In the first book the reader’s introduced to Aza and Jason’s teacher Mr. Grimm (he he he) and it’s hinted that he’s aware of the secret world that’s about to be revealed to the rest of the main characters, but that isn’t confirmed until Aerie. It turns out he’s the same as what Heyward was, a human who’d been raised in Magonia. Immediately after that he helps Jason escape the mental hospital…and gets killed (Okay those treelike creatures turn up one more time just do just that, kill Mr. Grimm, but other than that, never seen or mentioned again). And again, disappointed. It felt like build-up with a weak payoff.

There’s the city of Meganwetar, the capital of Magonia, and even though that’s where the final battle takes place, the most description we get is basically that it’s a giant cloud that looks like a bouquet of spirally buildings in a historic metropolis. The final battle itself is pretty epic and all, with thunder in the sky, the kind that calls for some symphonic metal, but even that feels a bit small because the actual ins and outs of the city it’s taking place at aren’t given much description. Like, even if we’d at least been to a smaller Magonian city similar to Meganwetar, that would have sufficed, because at least it would have established an idea of what these places are.

Like what are Meganwetar’s citizens like? How does living in a Magonian city compare to living in a Magonian ship? Cuz yeah, like I said, this is the first Magonian city that appears in the whole duology.

And yeah, that rushed college-essay ending. It’s beautifully written and all, again, and the final battle was fitting in terms of what happened, but…what about Jason’s moms? The last time we saw them, they were under the impression that their son had gone insane and had him committed. Never see them again, never see them reunite with Jason and deal with the aftermath of his escape to help Aza. And again, the impact of Mr. Grimm’s true identity and death is hardly touched on, if at all.

The minimalism was even evident in the characters. There were strong emotional beats to be sure, but apart from Aza and Jason, I really didn’t feel like I got to know anyone else, never mind that they’re not the main duo. Backstories are outlined, but it still felt barebones, just explained and explored a little, but not as richly as I’d have liked. I just couldn’t connect with them.

Here, let me bring up another book, The Girl at Midnight, the first in a trilogy by Melissa Grey. One could argue its basic concept is the same, a human girl finds herself among a race of bird-human looking people, called the Avicen. But they’re her found family, not a family she’s thrust into and has to build new relationships with. That comes in the form of her getting caught up in the centuries-long conflict between the Avicen, and another race called the Drakharin, who’re instead dragon-human looking people.

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We explore the world through the odyssey our heroine, Echo, is put on, and sure there’s a final battle there that’s a bit thrown together. And there’s even a character that’s killed of quick, but her connection to the characters is more defined, and defined as one of a rival, which is a lot more interesting: an Avicen named Ruby, who fights with Echo’s tentative boyfriend Rowan (in that first love, not-sure-what-to-expect-from-being-in-love way) in the Avicen military, also is in love with Rowan. An considering that Echo is a human and not entirely welcomed by all Avicen, she’s understandably jealous.

But then in a fight later on, when Ruby is chasing Echo down as she’s been semi-labeled as a traitor, or at least a fugitive for sure, and Echo kills Ruby, but in that way of one inexperienced with killing–it was in the heat of the moment, she was fearing for both Rowan and the Drakharin she’s formed an alliance with, Caius.

She had decided to run back and help them when Caius had told her to run on ahead (wanting to protect her from the bloodiness of battle, ironically, in hindsight), and seeing Caius at Ruby’s mercy, Echo killed her without really thinking about it, running her through the back with a sword as if she forgot that doing that usually kills people. She’s shocked after, and it’s complex: she had a deep hatred for Ruby, and probably, if it had been reversed, Ruby would’ve killed her without a drop of remorse. But even so, Echo feels guilt and regret and grief over having killed her, especially given how it’s made clear that this also complicates her relationship with her still-boyfriend-at-the-time Rowan. What does it mean to have this rivalry with someone and then you accidentally kill them, the fact that you never hated them enough to kill them hitting you like a sledgehammer? And the guy you were fighting over, who loves you, sees you do it?

Even though Ruby, like Heyward, was brief in her presence in the story, I felt her death was more impactful in the way it was executed when I was reading it.

Meanwhile, the other characters in the Magonia duology, sort of just…floated around in the background, some of them allowed to step forward occasionally to the front and have a short dialogue with either Aza or Jason.

And Aza’s parents and little sister Eli.

Aza, being Magonian and not knowing it all her life until this point, spent most of her life as she knew it struggling with breathing in the human world, and everyone of course just thought she had some weird rare lung disorder or disease. Just as Heyward had difficulty breathing Magonian air, Aza had trouble breathing air down on the ground (though this does give us the opportunity to find out that there’re odd unhuman things about Aza’s anatomy, which is hinted at being more akin to that of a bird, i.e. a breastbone that’s found to be strangely arranged inside her, more like a bird’s than a human’s), so of course she gets the “sick girl” treatment. It’s a constant concern that the next time she has a respiratory attack, that’ll be the one that kills her. Naturally, her family takes particular care of her, her mother working tirelessly to find a cure for what she thinks is a disease slowly killing her child, her father often the one rushing her to the ER, her sister Eli being the loyal little sister type.

And with Eli being stronger physically because of Aza’s condition, to me she comes off as the one who’d do the punching if anyone tried to mess with Aza, like she has to be strong for both of them, which I did think was sweet. There are little things like an “I’m sorry list” that her father, Eli, and Jason try to give Aza when they think Aza’s dying at the begining of Magonia, and other nice moments, but not only did I not feel like I got to know them all that well, they felt way too perfect. It can be hard being a sibling to a terminally ill child. Often the sicker sibling by default gets more care and attention because they need that, and there are things the healthy sibling just has to tough out, and while they still love their sick sibling, we all get weak and let things like envy and frustration get the better of us (and apparently make us think the guy who’s loved us his whole life was apparently pretending, ugh!).

Eli doesn’t seem to have any personal issues like this though. Sure she’s an adolescent, so her being something like envious of how much of their lives revolve around Aza and her perceived illness probably isn’t as likely, or at least not as childishly expressed, but it doesn’t seem like she has anything of her own that she has to overcome in regards to how she relates to her sister. There’s the “I’m sorry” list I mentioned earlier, which in some ways addresses this, that there were times in the past where Eli might’ve been fed up with being the sister of a sick girl in some shape or form, but as far as the story happening presently is concerned, the family’s a little too perfect for me, in a way that makes the things that are being apologized for on that list feel not as convincing that these characters would have felt these things at all at one time or another.

I’m not saying they needed to be wildly dysfunctional or anything, that would’ve been too much too, but they just didn’t feel…flawed enough for me.

Meanwhile…

You’ve got Daughter of Smoke and Bone, set within a creative and beautifully described fantasy premise that exceeded my expectations for YA romance. I mean, again, Aza and Jason were adorable all things considered, but Echo and Caius from Girl at Midnight were even more than that, like up there with Allie and Zeke from the Blood of Eden books by Julie Kagawa, or Mariko and Okami from Flame In the Mist by Renee Adieh.

But Karou and Akiva. OMG the feels.

I guess what I’m trying to say–in a very long way–is that the experience I’d had reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone is what I wish I’d had reading the Magonia duology too, and I just needed to vent my disappointment for that. Maybe it was the snag in the romance that had me go on that rant earlier. Maybe I’m just trying to understand why there are books out there that are good, either by conventional or objective standards, great even, and you can enjoy them too, but just not as much as you thought you would, and it tears you up inside because you don’t know how to feel one way or the other.

From the way I’ve torn into it, you’d probably think I hated it, and again, I did not hate it. I enjoyed it. But I enjoyed it, for what it was. That’s the thing. I can’t just say I enjoyed it, I can’t just I loved it: I have to add that little asterisk.

Ah well. If you loved and adored Magonia, I could totally see why you did. And would agree with you on most things about it. When I first started it, I blew through half the book in a like an evening, it was indeed a breath of fresh air, and I do think that bookshelves are better for having these two books included on them. I would rather live in a world where these books existed and I had read them, than in a world where they didn’t and I hadn’t.

But I just can’t say I loved them.

And I’m just stuck on that.

Now, if you want to tell me something like “Captain Marvel is the worst movie ever”, we may need to have words.

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Creative Writing · Life Struggles

Vivisect Your Feelings, and Know Thyself

Given that I am a casual fan of Victoriana, regency, and other such period dramas, finding a gem of a Victorian post WWI alternate universe anime that’s as beautifully animated as Violet Evergarden is a delightful treat. One of the things that got me back into the medium of anime after so long cut off from it between my childhood spent watching Sailor Moon and Pokemon and revisiting Sailor Moon and letting things snowball from there a little over ten years later,

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the emotions that it has thus far stirred in me.

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When I was little and Disney was my only basis in entertainment not only for animation but also for romance, seeing something like Sailor Moon, watered down as the original western cut of the show was, was delightfully refreshing, never mind how much my parents rolled their eyes at the simple lip-flaps and lots and lots of still shots of a person shouting in mid-action (as I would learn later more than likely to save on budget than a style choice).

And then my parents died seven months apart from each other the year I turned 13, and I went to live with relatives in New England. Given that I was getting my two little cousins as little brothers along the way for this, I had to not only grow accustomed to no longer having possession of a good chunk of the television real estate, but it would have been very difficult to try and watch something like anime in a house with a four-year-old and a newborn. Well okay, the anime I would have wanted to watch, for certainly the older of my little cousins/brothers inevitably got into things like Yu-Gi-Oh and the like, and then there was Ghibli stuff like Spirited Away but other than that so. Yeah, that was about it–and with strict bedtimes etc., no more sneaking into the living room at night to watch something like Cowboy Bebop on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim like I used to.

When I left for college and was on my own, more or less, I toyed with the idea of getting back into anime, but given I was now privy to the plethora of shows in the medium and really not having a good idea on where to start apart from Moon and Bebop, I mainly avoided it apart from passing instances of one of my roommates and my eventual B.F.F.F. and sister-from-another-mister flicking on Inuyasha.

Then one day, on my own, in the very first apartment in which I lived completely by myself, I just decided to revisit Sailor Moon clips and then while tooling around on YouTube came across an AMV for a little anime called The Betrayal Knows My Name in English and decided to just, hey, why not watch it?

And before I even moved on to something like Code Geass, which was a title I’d actually kept my eye for a few years at that point, I experienced a new way to feel feelings.

That’s the best way I can describe it.

Not that anything I had ever seen before had ever not made me feel anything, far from it. But here I got cliches only really found in anime, and ones that I have dearly taken to heart since then, including things like the “crygasm”/”scream to the heavens” chestnut (not that you don’t find that in Western media, hi Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road), as well as how anime handles romance (for better and for worse ha ha). Again not that you can’t find these elsewhere, but combing these with elements of voice acting and the particular details and nuances that can be conveyed in animation creates something very unique.

Something I suppose like in the case of comparing the original Beauty and the Beast animated film to the live-action remake. Taking the scene where the Beast throws Belle out for trespassing in the west wing, one of the benefits of the animated version is the ability to convey emotional details through facial expressions with arguably better control over how the scene is lit, versus the shadowy wide shot in the live-action version. (Let it be noted though that the live-action’s flaws have done nothing to diminish my love for Emma Watson.)

And yes, yes, Fate/Zero, which I have discussed at length on this blog and have plans to discuss again in future at even greater length (it is my #1 anime for a reason), is a huge cornerstone of this “feels awakening”, but I’m not here to talk about that show. I’m here to talk about another anime that hit me in places that not only hurt, but forced me to confront buried feelings of grief and remorse and legit cry (like tears pooling in the eyes and slowly trickling down my cheeks in my gut-punch bewilderment, the whole nine yards) not felt since Fate/Zero, if not more so.

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With Violet Evergarden, an anime taking place in an alternate universe that appears to be influenced by a mesh of Victorian Europe and World War I Europe, emotion was definitely the greater focus of the narrative as a whole. It was all about a girl raised to do nothing but act as a special ops killer, but with the war having ended more or less at the start of the show, she’s left not knowing what to do with her life now she’s on her own. Not knowing what else to do since all she’s known is fighting and not one to sit idly by, and also wanting to understand human emotions better, considering her “upbringing” left her…emotionally stunted, to put it lightly, she becomes what’s called an “auto-memories doll”–a professional letter writer, which makes sense in a world where much of the population is actually illiterate, to say nothing of it being difficult it can be for many people to put feelings into words.

One day, one of her assignments brings her to a house in the countryside. A mother and her young daughter live there, and it’s clear from pretty much the beginning that the mother is terminally ill. While she and Violet are working together to write a bunch of letters (the recipient is kept from the viewer as they experience the episode from the point of view of the daughter), the daughter becomes increasingly distressed. With her mother always shut off working with Violet, she can’t spend more time with her mother. She knows that her mother’s sicker than she lets on, but more than that, she feels misplaced guilt over her mother’s illness, part of her thinking that her mother’s so sick because she isn’t as good a girl as she could be.

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Think the waterworks for me started when the daughter breaks down over this with Violet, and Violet, still an “emotionless doll” trying to understand emotions, hugs the girl and comforts her, showing how much her own character has grown in her own right.

Then its revealed that the mother was actually writing 50 years’ worth of letters to each be delivered on every one of the daughter’s future birthdays, expressing to her her hopes for her child’s happiness, saying things like, “Have you fallen in love yet?”, etc. since she won’t be there to see these things for herself. This is followed by a montage of the years passing as the daughter receives these letters while growing up, until it comes full circle and we see she ends up having a daughter of her own and has found her own happiness.

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Violet breaks down with her fellow auto-memories dolls when she returns from the assignment, overwhelmed by the sadness of the circumstance to her coworkers, again demonstrating the growth of her own character–at the beginning of the show she wouldn’t have reacted this way. Indeed, this is not just a show about emotions, but dovetailing off of that, empathy.

An earlier episode about an alcoholic playwright grieving the death of his little daughter hurt my heart to be sure–I mean anything having to do with a father-daughter relationship hits a sweet spot for me (the only exception being father-daughter relationships that suck for one reason or another). And with this father being an alcoholic (even if it is much more a grieving mechanism than a psychological affliction), I was subjected to flashbacks of my own father, disheveled and suffering from an alcohol addiction that was never clear to me, but then addiction is a complicated and tangled thing.

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Point is, I’ve had a father who, while grieving my mother’s death, couldn’t get his act together and always seemed like he was seconds from falling apart, just like the father character in that episode. Coupled with the fact that my father had the brain of a playwright, but unfortunately not the ambition. No ambition for anything really.

Ashamed as I am to admit it though, I had my own issues, and to put it lightly did my share of hurting my dad as I struggled with my own grief and anger over Mom dying.

Now what you write isn’t going to reach everyone on a specific level. Not everyone lost their parents at the age of 13, not everyone has someone close to them who’s an alcoholic, and certainly not everyone has experienced firsthand the horrors of war.

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However, there is a universality to basic emotions (usually). What made me cry at that episode was remembering my mother before she died, and that she would never be able to see me grow up, and the fact that the mother here had had Violet write birthday letters to her daughter for the next 50 years reached that part of me that wished that my parents could see me grow up (except for perhaps those moments in my life of which I’m less than proud). It reaches that part of me that I think we all experience when we lose anyone close to us, not just parents; that part that holds onto the hope that that person or those people is or are somehow still watching out for you, at the very least in times of trouble if not all the time. (;一_一)

Facing my feelings in what feels like an emotional vivisection helped me to better understand more of who I am as a person, what feelings I was still clinging to. Granted, I’ll always be learning about who I am for the rest of my life I imagine, but I’d say I have a handle on myself, and it anchors me to myself in a way that makes it effective to tap into that power of evoking emotion in writing. I think that’s an important thing for a writer in general, otherwise there’s nothing but fumbling in the dark with the words. After all, as Violet Evergarden also makes clear, emotions can be difficult for which to find the right words.

The concept of conveying emotion through writing by translating something from your experience that made you feel the same, or touching on something universal isn’t anything new. After, it was Hemingway who said quite a lot on how simplicity best serves writing in terms of getting across your point. I’m all for rich worldbuilding, but when it comes to feelings, those should be as straightforward as possible.

Moreover, it’s a benefit to the writer to just…be so genuine with their emotions while writing. It can be a cathartic experience, one where regrets can be purged, or cleansing old wounds that were otherwise left to fester. Or even just to get rid of some excess happiness. Writing isn’t just for the angsty you know: sometimes you can be so full of positive emotion that it can be overwhelming. Like when I’m in a romantic mood and desperately need to pen a sweeping tale of love triumphant before I tear my hair out.

Going in, I knew I was going to like Violet Evergarden: the beautiful animation alone was a major selling point. But I was unprepared for the level of emotional gouging I was going to get out of it. That said, I find myself pleased that something like that could tap into those feelings. I will admit that I am actually, at times, scared of my own feelings, and through things like writing, reading, or other engaging media, I learn to maintain that connection, as well as find new ways to express said feelings.

I guess you could call it emotional research, and that’s definitely a writing tool worth honing.
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Creative Writing

(Sincere) Sympathy for the Devil

You know, what better way to start out the year than to talk about how it is in fact possible to sympathize with the people who piss us off.

Okay, maybe not quite that, but people who are annoying and out and out villains seem intertwined at the moment considering the current climate has this sense of a shadow hanging over the entire world. And seeing as how because of this every day I wake up and when I turn on the news there’s guaranteed something to set my teeth on edge.

So I’d like to think that there is in fact a way to feel more for the banes of our existence.

Garnering this kind of sympathy for an antagonist is nothing new. The best villains, for instance, have this effect. I’d say the crowning king of that in 2018 was Thanos in Infinity War as far as film goes. Though I have a feeling that in Endgame, the Avengers aren’t going to defeat him with kindness, not really.

Though if you do go that route, a caveat as far avoiding a plot point that comes off something like that ridiculous Neverending Story: 2 “Zaida, I wish for you to have a heart” BS. I’m talking about schmaltz so well earned it doesn’t feel like schmaltz, or pandering for that matter.

So how could you make your villain sympatheticz and even sneak in a little, “I forgive you”, without making it seem like a contrived episode of a children’s cartoon?

Well, there are indeed plenty of good examples, but the one that sticks in my mind and in my most recent memory is Joseph/Cartaphilus from the anime adaptation of The Ancient Magus’ Bride.

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First of all, as with the best hero/ine-villain/ess pairs, our villain Joe/Carty (sorry I gotta shorthand it here), and our heroine, Chise Hatori, share something in common. In general, whatever thing that the hero/ine and villain/ess share can be anything from a personality trait to a similar upbringing or past experience(s) to having a similar viewpoint on something.

Or something else, or all of the above, or everything and or anything in between.

How similar or dissimilar is the prerogative of the author, but there does have to be something significant that separates them despite those similarities. That’s what makes one the hero/ine and the other the villain/ess (obviously).

In the case of The Ancient Magus’ Bride, despite the atrocities Joe/Carty commits, our heroine Chise recognizes that they’re both people wrapped up in their own personal pain to the detriment (however extreme or mild) of those around them. However, while Joe/Carty has no qualms about wrecking peoples lives consciously or unconsciously (because, what’s anyone else’s suffering compared to his anyway?), Chise, while she does her own share of reckless things with good intentions without thinking how it will affect those around her, or herself for that matter, she also does what she can to try and change that when people point this out to her.

That said, it’s also her recklessly throwing herself into things from a place of good intentions that’s part of how she manages to defeat Joe/Carty in the end, with empathy, and giving him the one thing he’s truly wanted–which is essentially just to be able to genuinely rest–by casting a sleep spell woven with a lullaby her mother sang to her when she was little.

On paper that probably comes off as corny, but the quality of the writing and the buildup from her backstory pulls it off. Chise’s history with her own mother, which–I won’t give anything away–is both disturbing and bittersweet to say the least, so it feels like something honest rather than something like forced symbolism.

That and on an instinctual level, the idea of singing someone to sweet sleep to put them out of their misery as a means to stop them from doing terrible things is actually pretty endearing. Perhaps not for everyone, but considering it’s derived from the archetype of maternal affection, there’s an inherent universality in and of itself.

After seeing everything Joe/Carty has done too, we also get a glimpse of how he came to be the way he is, and to say it’s torturous is putting it lightly. Not only that, but one of his many anguished cries is actually a legitimate question, I find.

“Why is it so hard to live a good life?!”

That hit me personally, and at the same time, I’d imagine it’s relatable to a lot of others. It’s all well and good to aspire to live a good life, and that’s what most people strive for on a simple level, I think, but for something so simple, it can be hard when so much of the world works against you. I genuinely think that that’s a pretty profound basis for desperation.

Unless you are living out the life you’ve always dreamed of, there’s always the life we wish to live but can’t for whatever reason, at least not at present. Even those living their dream life, 9 times out of 10 had to come from a place of struggle and or perseverance.

It’s easy how that, on top of centuries of physical torture brought on by what was considered good intentions, could twist anyone into a psychopath.

It doesn’t condone the terrible things he’s done, not in the least, but it’s understandable given where he’s coming from. Again, the difference is while many of us imagine ourselves going to that extreme in our struggle against our own demons, it’s villain/ess(e)s who actually do go that far. It’s that jump from supposing to acting that’s the difference, but because the supposing comes from the same place as the acting, it’s relatable.

And doing something like Chise did, killing Joe/Carty with kindness, lulling him into a gentle sleep that he’ll likely never want to wake up from since for him it’s been like he’s been awake for centuries and centuries without being allowed to slumber even once, with no one understanding him, or even trying to, not only highlights more of her capacity for good and compassion, but encapsulates the “sympathy for the devil” trope they were going for without making it tropey. And I won’t lie, when Carty finally got that nap, I felt immensely relieved for the guy. Especially when you see how harmless he his in sleep, more interested in sleep than in doing anything else by that point.

There’s a reason that relatable villains are some of the best. Or at least, here’s my take on it: the more of ourselves we see in some of these people, the more complicated our feelings towards notions of good and evil become. That’s an invaluable thing to keep in mind, as in real life, the notions of good and evil are no less complicated, if not more so.

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Creative Writing · Fun · Life Struggles

Resolutions 2019

Wait…we’re already on 2019?

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Shhhoot.

Okay.

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Resolution Number One. Write more blog posts. You only wrote TWO in 2018!

Two, take up yoga. Well, anything to keep yourself active despite your crippling asthma.

Three, get your manuscript finished.

Seriously, though it’s been a year. Sometimes trying, other times delightful. But I really hope that in 2019, things’ll be better all around. I mean, that’s what everyone hopes for when the New Year comes around, right?

But in this case, there’s a greater sense of urgency.

Me personally, I’m going into 2019 with not only the normal anxieties of adulting, but the weight of a world spinning out of control in many respects. Not all, and not all in the way some would have you believe, but nonetheless. I mean, as if the melting of the polar ice caps reaching critical weren’t enough.

Happily though, I also actually start out this year with something to flaunt, that being that little badge over on the sidebar that serves as proof of my having received an honorable mention in the fourth quarter run of the Writers of the Future Contest in 2018. This was something I didn’t get to do last time this happened to me a few years ago, and having something like this has bolstered my confidence as a writer in general.

So I go into this year not only with trepidation, but dare I say…hope?

Either way, I’ve got no more than 24 unfinished blog post drafts in my queue, and I can’t wait to finally getting around to sharing them, if only to feel that satisfaction that comes with hitting the publish button.

Just pray that 2019 doesn’t burn me out completely. Or any of us.

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(Gifs from the very beautiful Shelter by Porter Robinson and Madeon in collaboration with A-1 Pictures)

Creative Writing · Fun · Literature

“Hooked On A Feeling” – What Effect the Phenomenon of the MCU Has Had On Me, and Why I Reflect On It Now With Bittersweetness

Hey looks I’m publishing my 100th post! (Finally.)

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So cool. Nuff said. 

The first concrete memory I have of going to see a movie based on a comic book is the first X-Men. And needless to say, it had its moments of freaking me out. Nevertheless, this viewing stuck with me, and I have actually enjoyed it on subsequent rewatches (though I still refuse to watch the part where Senator Kelly melts, much in the same way that for the longest time I refused to watch the climax of the first Harry Potter movie with Voldemort’s face on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head). And even though the original X-Men is the only one I’ve seen (and the ending of Last Stand), I was excited for and incredibly moved by the film Logan that came out so many years later.

I was a little older when the first of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies came out, but I enjoyed getting my first taste of the traditional superhero origin story done in film (that I can remember clearly anyway–I might’ve seen ads in the 90s for that Steel movie starring Shaq, and I do remember ads for that blargh Spawn movie with John Leguizamo as The Violator but I never saw either of those movies). Of course I would learn much later that “the origin story” was the foundation of all superhero comics and stories, though in hindsight a necessarily obvious one (in most cases, anyway). Nevertheless, while I could enjoy the occasional comic book movie (without having actually read the comics, or read much about them), it never reached the level of fandom that things like Powerpuff GirlsHarry Potter, and anime and manga ever did.

Even when the Nolan Batman films were coming out, I was reluctant to sit down and watch, never mind that Christian Bale–who voiced the dashingly dark Howl in Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle–played Bruce Wayne. Even the fact that Sirius Black (that is, Gary Oldman) was in it couldn’t sway me! Then one day I just decided to watch The Dark Knight and I was like:

O..O

You know, like pretty much everyone else.

Regardless, when the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) became a thing, I wasn’t immediately on board. Then again, I don’t think they started to pick up real momentum until it became clear that the studios were totally going there, that that Nick Fury clip at the end of Iron Man wasn’t just another drop for a sequel that would never be, as had happened so many times in movies like these before. They were doing this. This was going to be a thing.

The way was paved for The Avengers, with Marvel Studios carefully building up to it with the solo films that came before it, and that all gradually pulled the characters toward each other from the beginning, with Black Widow in Iron Man and Hawkeye in Thor. And even without the benefit of having seen these films myself, the excitement that only a crossover event can bring being brought to the big screen was infectious.

So, at long last, I decided to check this thing out for myself. And thanks to how these films are written, you can virtually pick and choose which films you watch without missing a whole lot even in the gigantic crossovers. That said, over time, I’ve developed some very strong feels about the films chose to watch (which is most of them, honestly), and have some considerations to check out ones that I haven’t already, now that Infinity War is out, and Marvel will continue to march onward from there.

Straight up, I’m the sort of person who takes a look at a bloated action flick like say the Michael Bay Transformers films, and I already feel my IQ dropping. That said, I’m well aware that even the worst of comic book movies have something more to offer than that (except maybe any Fantastic Four film after the Corman version). But yeah, as far as superhero and superheroine movies go, the idea of a guy in a metal suit kicking ass and taking names in the desert (going off the promo clips and trailers) wasn’t my first choice.

Then I got a better idea of what Robert Downey Jr. brought to the role of Tony Stark seeing him in the other films, and it was really his performance that warmed me to checking this out. That and his rep as being the unofficial “MCU godfather”. Plus I took some time to let the premise marinate, and thought it’d be interesting to see a quippy billionaire playboy go through a little gritty humility by getting imprisoned in a cave by a desert warlord and having to literally fight his way out of the situation with nothing more than how awesome he is at math, assembly, and mechanics–out of scrap metal and junk no less. The long and short it, he was that rare breed of incredibly smart, but also incredibly sexed up and minted, and I admit, I’m into that.

 

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“Where’s my epic choir?”
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Awesome.

The scene that sticks out most to me is after Stark finds out about the warlords who held him prisoner at the beginning of the movie are bombing a small village (that just happens to be where the man who died helping him escape lived before he got captured) using Stark Industry weapons, and without making any grandiose Christopher Nolan speeches, he just perfects the firing power for his suit, and then rockets out there and takes care of the problem–in a badass way of course. No need to spell anything out, you can tell it pisses him off, and so he does something about it. (Nothing against you Nolan, I like long speeches about the nature of humanity and heroism as much as the next philosophy major, but there’s a time and place.)

And given how Stark’s character’s developed from that first movie to what happens in Infinity War, it’s pretty cool just to see where all of this started.

As far as the rest of the Iron Man movies go, I skipped 2, but I gave a look in spite of other people’s complaints (particularly in terms of the character of The Mandarin). While I can see where people are coming from in terms of complaining about that, I nonetheless found the film entertaining, not to mention emotionally engaging. Part of the hook in the premise was that Stark was starting to suffer symptoms of PTSD after what he went through during the Battle of New York and going briefly through that wormhole to save the city from getting nuked, and I dunno what that says about me, but I love films that explore trauma and grief (probably because I can relate in a capacity).

Well, there’s that and having a thing for guys who need hugs because they’re licking emotional wounds. Like, the whole Tony x Pepper thing got an “Aw,” out of me, and for me, that’s a deal closer.

Then there’s the whole fascination that I’ve developed for those scenes when Iron Man puts on the Iron Man suit. Something about the way that all that metal clanks together. Yeah, that does it for me way more than anything in a Transformers movie ever would.

Hm.

Anyway…

…it was good to see Stark handling his personal demons and how that lays a kind of foundation for things like Civil War and Spiderman: Homecoming.

Then we’ve got Thor.

It’s about a character drawn from Norse Mythology.

Given my love for mythologies of all sorts, that was enough said for me. That and Chris Hemsworth is both schmexy and adorable. And well, Tom Hiddleston being easy on the eyes doesn’t hurt either (plus it made Crimson Peak that much more enjoyable). And I admit those attractions with no shame whatsoever.

Now, like with Iron Man 2, I skipped Thor: The Dark World. I may come back to it for all that Thor x Loki and Loki doing another one of his death fake-outs because he’s such a drama king, ha ha, but for now I’m steering clear. Ragnarok however had me sold from the first trailer, using “Immigrant Song”, the definitive Viking rock song. And that was a blast. I think everyone was just waiting for Thor to finally “get the Led out”.

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Can’t you just hear that, “Ah-ah-aaaaaaaaaaaah-ah!”?

 Then we got Captain America.

I wasn’t too sure about that one. But then you’ve got Nazis (sort of, they put the focus more on Hydra working within and more or less secretly insurrecting within the Nazis, which I think was smart, honestly) and the heroism of WII era America, which given the time period, I’m quite proud of–especially Steve Rogers’ line about not liking bullies. I mean, can you get a more honest basis for heroism?

And then you’ve got this whole Steve Rogers x Bucky Barnes thing that gained momentum in Winter Soldier getting built up (I’m a sucker for a good bromance, not to mention Bucky’s another good-looking guy in need of a hug) and then, well, Civil War, where we’ve got Stark x Rogers feels colliding, so, I fell for all that too.

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“Wait–did he just? Oh crap.”

Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron? Cross-over event? Ones that dip into what are more often than not things that actual comic book fans actually discuss on a literary level? (Like how the whole “picking up Thor’s hammer” thing works and who could actually do it apart from Thor himself.) Sold.

Ant-Man? Father-daughter relationship theme? Sold.

Spiderman: Homecoming? Spiderman finally getting pulled into the MCU, and in a coming-of-age sort of storyline, with Iron Man as a mentor? Sold.

Dr. Strange? Benedict Cumberbatch in the MCU, plus trippy visuals,and magic circles? Sold.

Black Panther? Epic afrofuturism, awesome musical score, with a hint of tragedy that’s downright Shakespearean? Sold.

And then we come to Guardians of the Galaxy, both Vol. 1 and 2. And, given my list above, obviously there are things about all those movies that pulled me in. But here, I have to give special attention, and I’ll explain why.

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Tonight, on an all-new episode of “Prison Break”….

Not only does this movie put a sort of emphasis on themes of family bonds and the like, which like with the father-daughter stuff in Ant-Man, etcetera, is enough to get me onboard, it has something else going for it in particular that gives me this special warm feeling that my parents (who both passed when I was very young), would’ve enjoyed in particular just based on the soundtrack, if for no other reason (well, and who doesn’t love an alcoholic racoon who hangs out with a tree that can kick your ass?).

I can already imagine dad getting hooked by that first intro of Peter Quill a.k.a. Starlord, jamming to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone on his retro 80s, cassette-tape playing Walkman. And then of course there’s “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede, which I knew for a fact he was a fan of. I mean, I’ll never know 100% for sure, but I can guess, given that when I was younger and putting on movies like A Knight’s Tale, for example, opening with Queen’s “We Will Rock You” seemed to work as much as a hook.

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Yeah, it’s easy to think you’re the coolest thing alive when your jam’s playing.
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Oh, he’s pulling a Thor Ragnarok….

And using “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac for a climactic battle song in Vol. 2? My parents’d be all over that (that and about Peter’s two rage triggers being his father killing his mother and squishing his Walkman). I also have little doubt that playing Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” at the end would’ve drawn a tear or two.

And then of course there are the old school tape deck and cassette tapes (ha, what are those?! – true story, I still have the entire cassette tape set of my own voice recorded performance of the entirety of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–not sure why that’s the only book I did my own recording of, considering Azkaban is my favorite…maybe it had to do with that one Lupin x Tonks canon moment….).

Much like Peter’s mother, my parents passed on their musical tastes to me rather successfully, even with all that 90s talk about “kidz rule” and “parents just don’t understand” (right, Lil Bow Wow?). To be sure, it’s the reason I hesitated at first, but especially now, when I’m older, I love a lot of the stuff they loved more than ever (and all that J-pop they’d probably roll their eyes at).

Plus, the music in Guardians has become so much a part of their identity in particular that it gave them that epic entrance in Infinity War with “Rubberband Man” by The Spinners. It’s just so cool.

Then there’s the whole theme of family thing.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have been as effective without some of the build up to such feels in the first film. Nevertheless, it didn’t take much for this one to hook me in for a watch, once I was given to understand that much of the film took time examining the familial relationships amongst the cast–most, if not all of them, particularly damaging relationships once cast in a more serious light, beyond all the comedic antics.

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So pretty….
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SO PRETTY…. (Man, if Skittles were a movie….)

Now, I have never sat and watched a single Fast and Furious movie, but apart from that, I’m a huge sucker for anything that pushes the value of familial bonds, and I can go for anything really (except for Fast and Furious, because cars, sorry), long as it’s good. It can be blood relative families, or it can be a bunch of misfits who’re more-than-friends-they’re-family families (which is why anime like Fullmetal Alchemist/Fullmetal Alchemist: BrotherhoodFairy Tail, the Fate animeFruits BasketBlue Exorcist, etc. hold rather special places in my heart). So this was all hot fudge on a hot fudge sundae for me.

It’s unfortunate enough that I had to deal with the fact that I would never get to watch these films with my parents, who would’ve more than likely been not into just Guardians, but the rest of the MCU (with a few possible exceptions). But that was just the cake of sadness. The icing of that cake was the strong themes of family in Vol. 2. Along with the fact that we have a parental death (well foster parent, but the sentiment’s there) at the end that gets me choked up just thinking about it.

That said, it’s impressed upon me the importance of addressing the bonds shared between characters in anything I write. And I think, after everything, after all the imagination, the freedom to create worlds and put creative ideas and concepts into a narrative context on the page, it’s the character building and interactions that I love best.

I mean, I’m not unique in that as a writer, but the concept of nurturing family and other personal bonds has had a huge influence on my storytelling. It’s definitely where I put my foundation down for any novel that I plan out and write. When I’m musing on what I want to write about, that’s where I always start, it’s never so much, “I want to write a story about a world where blah blah blah,” or “where people have this such and such ability etc.”–it’s always, “I want to write a story about a father and daughter who blah blah blah,” or “where a mother and son etc.” or “where this girl and this boy fall in love and one of them’s a this and the other’s a that”, and then the world tends to follow.

And again, pretty sure I’m not unique in that regard as a writer, but just the same, I take pride in it for some reason. Or at the very least, it gives me a chance for myself to explore situations that I’ll never get to have with my own parents, or with guys apparently (come and find me, Mr. Right and sweep me off my feet!–ha, ha, jk I can get down from own tower, thank you).

But yeah, in the meantime, stuff like Guardians, and the other MCU movies I’ve enjoyed, also scratch that itch for me.

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You know what they say: the family that slays together….

And then of course we come to the juggernaut within the juggernaut that is Avengers: Infinity War, which is either Avengers 3, or Avengers 3: Part 1, however you wanna look at it. And that hit me on several new levels, something I’ll cover in a separate post. Way too much to get into on this one.

Overall, I’m as glad that despite the backdrop of chaos and vitriol and dumpster fires that the world seems to be in many corners, that there is such a thing as the MCU, as I am that there was a Harry Potter, or a Hunger Games, or a Pushing Daisies, or a Lord of the Rings and then a Hobbit, or anime and manga (especially the ones that are happy sugar fun popsicles that chase my blues away–or hard and fast gunslingers full of badass sexy chain-smoking anime men, and everything in between), or even a Twilight. And while I know that it’s impossible for this whole thing to last forever, just like everything that came before it, also just like those things, it’s definitely something I’ll come back to when I need some laughs, some tears, and some warm fuzzies occasionally fueled by some awesome action that feeds my inner bloodlust. (Mmm.)

Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good place to end it.

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NOT IN THE FACE!

 

 

 

Creative Writing · Fun

Miscellaneous Miscellany

What better way to kick off 2018, than to just dive into a bunch of random stuff that I’ve been into lately and what’s recently been making me tick? Especially since the real world seems ready to go down in flames every other day.

(It’s already April? Aw jeez. Well, better late than never.)

Yes, I have my new year’s resolutions, I suppose, but that’s basically getting my manuscript off the ground and out the door. And maybe making more money. So…enough about that. Time to dig into a bunch of stuff that’s just…been clicking with me lately.

1) The Ending Fight in Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

A billion posts back, I brought up Code Geass quite a bit. Or at the very least, I’d sprinkle memes based on the show throughout my older material. But to give some context for the uninitiated, the world of Code Geass is set in an alternate universe where most the world is ruled by something called the Britannian Empire (which is apparently actually America, I mean…their capital is where our United States is so…yeah), and one of the countries this empire has taken over is Japan, renamed Area 11 as one of their territories. Subsequently, the Japanese people are no longer recognized as Japanese, but as “Elevens”–at least by anyone who goes along with the Britannian conquerors. I suppose kind of the same way some people call Burma Myanmar, and other people still call it Burma.

The series proper title is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, focusing on the quest of exiled-to-Japan, Britannian imperial prince Lelouch vi Britannia to find the one who murdered his mother and create a peaceful world for his crippled little sister, Nunally, by crushing the empire that abandoned him. The “Geass” enters the story in the first episode as a supernatural power gifted to him by a mysterious woman named C.C., and in him it manifests as the ability to force a command on anyone he makes eye contact with. Which is a formidable power for a young man who happens to have a brilliant strategic mind, as demonstrated in the way he plays chess in the first episode.

Obviously, this leads to a lot of epic action, tragic drama, and all the thrills and chills that come with wars and rebellions as told in stories.

Akito the Exiled, meanwhile, is a side story that takes place (chronologically speaking) in the gap between seasons one and two of Lelouch of the Rebellion. Moreover, instead of taking place in Japan, it takes place over in the E.U. (which incidentally stands for “Europia United”, and not “European Union”, go figure) and follows Akito Hyuga, an E.U.-born Japanese youth fighting for the E.U. in their resistance against Britannia.

Concerning Akito, he’s a mech pilot on a special ops unit called W-0, or Wyvern Squad, whose primary function is to deploy solely Japanese pilots on what are, more often than not, suicide missions. Because even in the E.U., Japanese exiles are treated like second-class (WTF, E.U.?), and are therefore “disposable”.

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But Akito has a secret power that gives him an edge in battle. Yes, it’s Geass, but rather than him wielding its power, he’s under the influence of a Geass, a command that was given to him when he was a very small child by none other than his older brother, Shin, who’d tried to use his very own Geass power to kill him. And as is wont with stories like these, these two brothers find each other again during the course of this most recent clash between the E.U. and Britannia. And their blood feud comes to a head at the climax of the final episode, which brings us to the ending fight sequence.

Not so much for the mech bits, though those are impressive. I’m talking more about the part where the mechs get wrecked so bad that they can’t be used to fight anymore, and Akito and Shin resort to hand-to-hand sword-fighting. I guess if I had to put into words what I like so much about it, it’d have to be it’s just very effective that when the swords come out, the music cuts out and there’s just the clash of swords for a few beats, followed by a supernatural interlude featuring music, and then the music cuts out again and there’s just like 30-ish seconds of Shin tearing mercilessly in Akito and Akito begging him to stop because for heaven’s sake, Shin, he’s your little brother!!!

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And being the show that it is, and what franchise it’s part of, it all resolves in beautiful melodrama. And yeah, I dunno. I just remember the first time I saw it, I was like, “Yes, I want to create fights like that in my story, fights that start out huge, end small, devolve into brutality, but at the same time come out beautiful.” This ending fight sequence did all these things for me, and I was immensely satisfied.

Also, shout-out to the character of Akito’s commander/eventual lover, Leila Malcal, who is in fact a Geass-user as well, but manages to be the only one in this whole universe who, because of her selfless and purely kind personality (like not just “had good intentions but ends up doing bad things to achieve nobler goals”, but is SERIOUSLY GOOD), her Geass manifests into the only one that’s purely good, probably instead of being a weapon, it’s more of a shield so she can be the one to save her beloved Akito’s life. Which leads me to giving a shout-out to the Akito x Leila pairing, lol.

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“Ha, ha! My bluebird of happiness beats your evil red eye of death!”

2) Code Geass Re-watch Value

As for the original Code Geass, its rewatch value is still very solid, speaking as someone who’s rewatched it at least 3 times. I still stand by this, Fullmetal Alchemist (original and Brotherhood), and Fate/Zero all as my personal top 3 anime. I would be so ecstatic if I were to manage to write characters as epic and awesome as these. That’s part of what I’m aiming for anyway.

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Unfortunately, someone had the bright idea to try and resurrect this juggernaut with a third season, called, rather appropriately, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection. 

*le sigh*

Will it be as good as the original series? Well, we’ll see.

For now though, I’m happy enough with what we already have and the way it concluded so nicely and epicly, and every time I rewatch it, it gets me geared up for creating equally epic characters of my own in the same way the stories of Middle-Earth inspire me with their poetry.

3) Enjoying Titanic, and Enjoying the Fact That It’s STILL Awesome

Okay I had the Leo crush back when I was like 10 and didn’t even really understand what it meant to have a crush like that. Like, to me, he was just a more adult Disney prince I guess. That and obviously everyone I knew found the sweaty handprint on the rear window of that car (you know the one) hilarious. Because we all thought we knew what was going on in there and well…we did, but in that way that kids just learning about sex do, and for some reason find it hilarious (though let’s face it, we still do sometimes).

All that aside, seeing the film now as an adult and understanding the importance and nuances of onscreen chemistry, like I did with Han and Leia in Star Wars, I find the experience of watching Rose and Jack’s love story all the more, implausible as it may be.

And I’m just enjoying that immensely.

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In this jaded world, there are still a lot of things media-wise that still light my fire, in books, movies, animemanga, more recently graphic novels, and basically everything most nerds gobble and slurp up like a hot fudge sundae with marshmallows and extra hot fudge.  But when I find a good romance, like a good romance, like the kind where you’re saying, “Was it good for you? Cuz it was good for me,” while smoking a proverbial cigarette, and at the same time watching as you melt into a puddle of feels all over the floor, those are still gems that can take an expert eye to mine for.

Or maybe my standards are just too high.

Anyway, there’s a reason that when I find couples that make feel those feels like that rainbow unicorn in space, I hang onto them, and keep coming back to them, smiling every time, like I were keeping their photo in my back pocket of my favorite jeans or in a heart-shaped locket, so I can look back at them whenever I want to.

(And yes, they probably BOTH would’ve fit on that floating door, but not WELL. Probably.)

4) The Next Book In the Blood of Eden Trilogy

So I’m on book 2 here, and so far, I’m sitting here wishing this had been the teen vamp sensation instead of Twilight. I mean, I get why Twilight would probably still win that, but still. This has a badass vampire girl who has agency, wields a katana, and still finds herself in love with a human, and is even willing to give it a try. Plus the world has gone to hell, so it makes more sense for danger to be lurking around every corner. Moreover, the guy is no male Bella Swan analog. In fact, he’s got a heart of gold that makes me wanna cry.

But, sad to say, think the vamp ship has sailed way out. Regardless, I’m still enjoying this read, and pray, pray, pray for Allison and Zeke to end up together (even though this book is so grimdark that fairy tale endings seem far-fetched if we wanna be realistic–no spoilers please!)

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Yes, you still get the “fighting the monster within” conflict that runs rampant in most modern vampire lit, but at the very least, Allie actually can be pretty monstrous. So at least her insecurity about whether she can keep it in check is called for. She’s not just moaning in a corner going, “Oh god, stay away, I love the smell of your blood too much!”

5) Reliving the Feels of Sailor Moon, With Extra Uncut On the Side

Man do I feel lucky to finally get this. I mean, as I kid I was perfectly happy with what I had already, not knowing how butcher-shopped the original North American release of Sailor Moon was. But even back then, I seemed to sense that there was something a little more here going on than anything I’d find in a Disney movie.

Sailor Moon was my first anime, and sticks in my brain to this day as one of the first shows I can remember feeling without exactly thinking it that I had never seen anything like it before. I was old enough to have something to compare it too, but had yet to learn what I would get many years later.

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Now with the episodes available here, uncut and redubbed by Viz Media, which I honestly don’t mind in some ways–I mean, the original dub is fun to watch for kicks and giggles, but I’m glad we get an English revamp for the uncut release that covers all the adulty things that were neutered from the original release–no less because that means we finally get the last season, which was never brought over here because of the whole gender-swapping element.

No more hunting for scattered English sub clips on YouTube and underground streaming sites! And now that the redub of Season 4’s release is on the horizon, I know exactly where a portion of my birthday money is going. ;D

6) “Shelter”, a Love-Letter to Anime

 

Just watch it. If you don’t feel something, you either have no heart, or are completely turned off by the concept of parental/fatherly affection and/or father-daughter/parent-child relationships portrayed with genuine warm-fuzzies. Or you have a thing against the anime style on principle (though I totally get it if it’s JUST not your cup of tea).

Or if touchy-feely stuff isn’t your thing either.

Because this has FEELS.

7) The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Especially with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther having come out, and The Avengers: Infinity Wars on the horizon.

I actually have way more thoughts on this then will fit into a little section here in this post (unless you want this to bloat and think it’s already dangerously on the edge of that) so I’ll save this for a whole post on its own.

That said, let me at least say that I’m not just enjoying how cool these movies are, and how cool their concept is, but how much I’m connecting with them on a lot of personal levels (hence the lengthiness of what I have to say here).

So pumped.

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8) Annihilation OMG

Now, I’m gonna say this up front. I love weird. Weird is awesome. Weird is part of why I love anime and the way it embraces weird. Weird is why I love stories about people who are socially maladjusted in some way, because that’s me! Weird is why I can love James Cameron’s Avatar for its visuals (even if it is a bit bloated otherwise). Plus Sigourney Weaver is just awesome.

But then there comes a point where weird crosses over into horrifying, when it opens up the innards of the things we’d rather look away from like so much body horror a la John Carpenter’s The Thing. Which is precisely the reason I haven’t watched it.

And yet there is a part of my brain that’s pleasurably stimulated by what that film does. I feel the same way about David Cronenberg, and not just in the case of his movies, but also his novel, Consumed, which is supposed to be all kinds of gruesome. There is an itch inside me that’s eager to scratched, but my very basic fear of well…being scared gets in the way.

That’s where this movie comes in.

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I’ve heard buzz about this one scene in Annihilation involving a bear, that is allegedly crazy terrifying. You get bits of it in the trailer and I think there’s a clip of it (if not in full then in part) on YouTube floating about, but just from that, I can tell that the scene is indeed intense. But imagining myself watching it involves me screaming so loud I explode. Or something like that.

At the same time though, I keep reading reviews and discussions with keen interest. And I checked out one of the tracks in the OST, the one that features that awesomely haunting sound bite that I can’t even describe, but you’d know it of you heard it. And yeah, I’m hearing it now, in my head, as I write this. It’s the kind of music that creepily follows you, and I’m very drawn to it. If the track is anything to go by, it sounds like the climax heads down a rabbit hole of trippiness on par with that of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I am totally down for that.

So, we’ll see how much I’m willing to finally break another barrier in my comfort zone. For now though, I’m simply high on the idea of it. So much so that I picked up a copy of Ex Machina from Best Buy for $5. Lol.

9) Breaking Out of My “Reading Slump” with Magonia

Here’s the thing with being that person that claims to read five or six books at a time (which I do), there are times where it does get to be overwhelming (quite as much as it does trying to work on five or six different fanfictions, but there you are). My reading interest shifts very much with my mood, and since my mood can shift quite a lot, I tend to switch around between a few different books to satisfy wherever my current mood rests.

If I wanna feel smarter, I pick up one of the many non-fiction books I’ve picked up just to read for the pure pleasure of learning something new despite the fact that I’m no longer a student (hey, I’m a student of Life, we’ll put it that way, lol). If I wanna just feel, I’ll find something where the premise either has a lot of feels charge to it, or had one emotional hook that grabbed me as if the book caught my heart by a fishing line and is reeling me in and that alone was enough for me to answer the impulse to buy it. If I’m in a fantasy mood, I find something fantastic: sci-fi, something sci-fi. Etc.

But there are times where that just doesn’t work, and I can find myself in the mood for any of the books on my docket because there are just so many. At the moment I made the mistake of having both Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Julie Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge both on my current docket, and they are both very thick books. Both were in the range of being about between 500 and 800 pages in length.

So I needed a quick read. Moreover, something I was really looking forward to reading for a while but wanted to save it in the same way they say you should savor wine or chocolate. Then I was like, “Hell, I’ll just crack this open now and read it, I wanna just give that to myself right now.”

I’ve breezed through about half of it now.

It is short read, YA, you know, my preferred niche, more or less, though I’ll read just about anything (if that wasn’t obvious) as long as it’s interesting.

But it’s a DREAMY read.

The cynical part of my brain is all like, “Man, this narrative voice is unique and fun and all, but it’s bordering on hipster,” which I have no problem with hipsterness on its own–it’s just when it gets high on itself that I start to roll my eyes.

That said, it is enjoyable to read nonetheless. Definitely comes from a mind that LOVES words and the way they rattle in the head (like myself when I get REALLY wordy), knows her mythology (which is a plus) and creates a very unique world (so far) that parallels our own.

The story itself is nothing new, the youth who discovers her heritage and parentage is not what she thought it was, a la Superman, and must now learn to adjust to this new place that the world has for her, but that doesn’t matter. There’s magic in the words, and I really needed something that had some glitter and iridescence to it, as well as some good feely feels, which so far it’s delivering on that enjoyably enough.

It’s a book called Magonia, by Maria Dahvana Headley, and I highly recommend. Probably yet another one of those books like the Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy that’ll slip under the radar in favor of other books like An Ember in the Ashes–which is fine as a book, don’t get me wrong, but the way they were promoting it they were banking on it being up there with the likes of Harry Potter, and for me, I wasn’t wholly impressed. I wasn’t unimpressed either, but I wouldn’t put it on par with Harry Potter. But that’s just me–if you loved it, more power to you, and I commend the author’s work on it immensely, because she definitely gave it a lot of good thought, and it definitely came from an intelligent observance of the real world.

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Magonia though, I’m much keener on so far. Moreover, it’s the kind of book I should be reading given my own YA manuscript is in the same vein as far as the, “teenager finds out she’s not what she thought she was” aspect. So you know, it’s a market research thing too.

But FUN market research.

So yeah, I really hope this means that with Avengers: Infinity War, and Fairy Tail 2018 coming this fall, I’ve got some things to look forward to this year that’s just as great as what I’ve started with.

Creative Writing

The Allure of the City As a Supernatural Setting

In my reading experience, the sub-genre of urban fantasy feels like a very fluid thing to me, sometimes difficult to distinguish from the sub-genres of magical realism and of paranormal, save for paranormal being its own mixture of romantic and speculative fiction. And speaking of speculative fiction, that’s another genre that gets muddied with that which we call urban fantasy.

At its core, urban fantasy is basically when a story takes place in a world where the modern world we know intersects with fantastical elements. Honestly not sure that that modern setting has to necessarily even be urban (i.e., take place in a city), but that aside, I’ve come to appreciate a story that does take a city and fabricate a world of fantasy that lives and thrives beneath it, unbeknownst to those who live in the mundane above.

My first encounter with a story like this was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which took the city of London and reconstructed it as a city in which a very supernatural world is buried within its heart. The story revolves in part around our protagonist Richard Mayhew, a perfectly normal bloke from Scotland who lands a job smack-dab in the hubbub of London, only to find himself broken away from his normal life and getting wrapped up in the true nature of the metropolis’s underground. The other part of it involves a society built from London’s Underground, called the “Underside”, a kind of medieval, feudalistic world that’s more brutal, but also more exciting than what’s on the topside, interweaving beings like mythic boars reminiscent of the minotaur, even angels (touching on that tiny niche of literature that likes to use angels and demons and other beings celestial and malevolent as story devices). I definitely shelve this book next to all other books that have had a huge impact on me and the way I look at the world and think about how to imagine it in my own head.

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Apart from Gaiman’s way with words and how he can take anything normal and turn it into something magical, along with his obvious personal interest in drawing from classic and ancient mythologies, just the idea of a city harboring not only a world of its own, but a world of its own that transcends normality intrigues me in the fact that when you look at how intricate a city can be, it almost feels like its possible, and its cool to think about.

To paraphrase, I think Owen Wilson’s character in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris put it best, that every little street and alleyway in a city has its own story, there’s a poetry to it. True, he was talking about Paris specifically in that context, but I think that applies to all cities. And as it happens, that film too dabs into what I’d more call magical realism than anything like urban fantasy, but even so, it’s a story that takes place in the modern world that intersects with a fantastical element, that element being that every night at midnight, something happens that causes Wilson’s character to slide through time from the present day to the 1930s, during one of Paris’ heydays of literary genius from writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and artists like Picasso.

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Which I think is what I find so fascinating about the concept of turning urban settings into playgrounds for the fantastical, interwoven with what we know of as reality. Thoughts like this occurred to me while I was finally getting around to watching the sequel season to the animeDurarara!Durarara! x2, which features multiple story lines and characters living in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, interwoven with elements of the supernatural, creating urban legends out of things like dullahans, guys with superhuman strength, and cursed sentient swords alongside gang brawls and entanglements with the yakuza. Apart ftom this sequel season taking things in a much darker turn, it’s cool to see the expansion of the Narita-verse, so to speak.

It makes for some really cool stories, and I just wanted to take a moment and share my love for it. For those who find their everyday world mundane, it’s nice to imagine that just at the edge of what they can see, there’s a fantastic world stirring and writhing and pulsing, and even funner to imagine getting caught up in it.

Creative Writing · Literature

A Little More Love: Why I Love Romance, Why I’m Not Ashamed, and How Anime and Manga Made Me Appreciate It More 

First off, hand clap for possibly my longest blog post title to date. Second, after all my ranting and raving about how screwed up the world is, I thought it was about time I go back to form in some capacity and wax lyrical about all the things I love about writing and storytelling. (Addendum: that and now I’m not as annoyed as I was before that I lost 90% of this post before putting it on the back burner before coming back to it, not that I’m bitter or anything.)

And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to cover romance specifically, but then again, I’m glad it did, because I have a lot more to discuss than I would have closer to this blog’s inception. Because to face facts, love and romance are at the core of what I love best in a story. Give me a story with romance and I’ll give it a shot (usually) even if it’s gotten horrible reception. (Okay well that only really happened with Twilight and since then I’ve learned to be pickier, and moreover, not to let it bother me that I indulged in the first place, particularly in the instance of people gagging at the mention of romance because of Twilight‘s influence (see post here).)

Let me start out by saying that I am also praising this sort of thing at a time when some might take a look at a romance and go “Blargh!” possibly because of the oversaturation of those pesky YA “love triangles”. But like anything, if you can make it work, there’s nothing wrong with including this and other romance tropes (more on this later) in your narrative.

Also, as another addendum to my recent post on Twilight concerning Bella’s lack of agency in the plot, among other things, to be fair, we’re talking about a human being versus a world of superkiller vampires. Of course she’d be pretty useless. Which is where I have to give props to Stephanie Meyer for writing her little “AU fic” with the story of the first Twilight book written with genders of the two romantic leads swapped, just to show that Bella would’ve been just as weak and helpless if she’d been a boy rather than a girl, giving us Beau (*eye roll*) and Edith (meh) instead.

That said, Edward in the original didn’t help matters by procrastinating turning her into a vampire because “angst” and love triangle BS. Didn’t help that the both of them were such wet blankets. Don’t get me wrong, I love angst in a romantic relationship, but it can’t be all there is. Moreover, it can’t be all there is and be unfounded, as in the case of Bella and Edward.

Kay? Got it? Good. Moving on.

Because I would argue that romances, when done insightfully, demonstrate an emotional intelligence.

Why do I love it so personally? Well, aside from the elements I already mentioned above? Ha, ha. No, I’m not gonna say anything like “I believe in the power of love!” or anything corny like that. Well, not exactly.

Let me put it this way:

When I watch the progression of two people growing closer together and forming a bond between them that’s reaffirmed with acts and declarations of affection, it gives me the warm-fuzzies. Plain and simple. It’s part of that larger pattern in storytelling that serves to remind me that there are good people in this world, and good people worth fighting for (or something like that).

Or, barring a progression in the case of a couple that’s already done the meet-cute thing before the reader cracks open the book, or the viewer pops in the movie, as long as the relationship demonstrates that there’s an intimate and affectionate connection between the two lovers, I’m on board the ship, so to speak.

Why do you think shipping is so much fun for fans of stuff? It’s exciting!

Fans of Harry Potter got to spend seven books getting to know all sorts of characters, watch them grow up together and stumble their way through their teenage hormones to find that there’s something really special in finding that special someone.

We got all kinds of love stories, from the almost Lizzy-Darcy dynamic of Ron and Hermione, the rather slow burn of Harry and Ginny (only when you look back in hindsight, really it’s just that it took Harry forever to wake the hell up lol), the unrequited tragic love of Severus and Lily, the delightful surprise of Lupin and Tonks (my fave ship in that series by the way, mostly because since book three Lupin was built up as this scruffy werewolf sad flute who needed a hug BADLY).

You could even argue that there were hints that Dumbledore had something going on with Grindelwald, and I mean in that way that someone is enamored of someone else but it never really becomes a relationship, it just kind of evolves into this soul connection of sorts, further complicated by the fact that Grindelwald turned evil. 😦

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I’ve mentioned in one or two previous posts that the Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy has some hidden gems as far as romantic subplots are concerned, and there’s a sweetness to what Katniss and Peeta had in The Hunger Games that I fear other dystopian YA novels haven’t quite been able to capture (sorry Triss and Four). Though the love triangle of Lena, Alex, and Julian in the Delirium trilogy had its moments, mostly because it at least had a reason to be a triangle in the narrative. (Spoiler: we think that Alex has been axed off at the end of book one, then just when Lena’s finding love again with Julian, we find out at the end of book two that Alex is ALIVE! Dun-dun-DUN!)

Side note, I’m not gonna act like I wasn’t disappointed that Lauren Oliver didn’t exactly resolve this conundrum even by the end of book three, but on the other hand, I like that Lena’s best friend Hana wasn’t just a throwaway best friend character and her and Lena’s friendship was actually part of the crux of the plot. That and, me and my love for side-character romances found myself smitten by what was going on in the background between Raven and Tack, such that I bought a copy of Delirium Stories, which featured a Raven story, just to get more of them (because unfortunately, unlike Alex, I don’t think Raven is going to magically come back from the dead–oh yeah, sorry, spoiler alert, she dies).

Heck, I thought I’d never find a contemporary YA author I could jive to–my escapist tendencies don’t exactly gravitate towards contemporary in general–but then I found Rainbow Rowell. And in conclusion, Eleanor and Park are adorable, and don’t even get me started on Cath and Levi–Cath is like my fanfiction soul-sister for crying out loud, I don’t care that she already has a twin!

Point is, YA isn’t all full of bland, pale, pretentious lip-biters. But that still doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a carbon copy factory of YA books coming out like cars off an assembly line. And that there aren’t certain things I’d like to write for myself with my own YA novel that breaks all that I’m constantly seeing, right down to the hipster male lead! (You know who you are.)

But that’s for another post (maybe).

Because here’s where the anime and manga bit comes in.

(Bit of fun here: some of these pics have links to songs sprinkled throughout that I think appropriately give a good idea of the relationship of the couple featured, so click for feels!)

Like I mentioned in my post on revenge (here), few years ago, my dormant otaku was reawakened when I started rewatching episodes of Sailor Moon. Reflecting on the whole romantic storyline between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba  (or Serena and Darien, if you’re feeling really nostalgic), and how part of their romantic connection is the fact that they’re reincarnations of two people who were deeply in love in a past life. This continues to intrigue me, and it’s something which played a role in me finally cracking and grabbing a copy of the Daughter of Smoke Bone trilogy.

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Then I realized I wanted more. The anime bug had bitten me, and I had succumbed to its addicting effects. Because watching Sailor Moon again made me remember not only my love for animation and how much those giant eyes and emotional highs that are hallmarks of anime draw me in, but also the few episodes of Cowboy Bebop I had seen as a kid on Adult Swim–one of which was the last two episodes, left a lasting impact on me, their story and images staying with me decades on.

Yes, I am talking about the tragedy that is Spike and Julia.

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“The person that you’d take a bullet for is behind the trigger.” –Fall Out Boy

That was my first taste of a really adult anime romantic relationship, and even though at the time I was probably too young in many ways to understand all of the nuances of what I was watching, I do remember that I felt sad seeing Julia get gunned down. And despite my not having not yet seen the previous episodes in the series connected to this subplot, I got everything I needed to know in order to feel that sadness compressed into those two episodes (and here’s where I tip my hat to the efficient and effective (affective?) writing of the show.

And that, incidentally, was my first experiences with two other things: Spike Spiegel was probably my first anime crush (before I even heard of things like husbando and waifu), and that was also my first love triangle–that being Spike, Julia, and Vicious. And honestly, you wouldn’t even really think about it being a love triangle until you really thought about it (oh yeah, there are three of them, and two of them love the same person). But that was a triangle done well (more on this later too).

Anyway, getting the chance to actually watch all the episodes and see what kind of person Spike Spiegel is when Julia isn’t involved in the plot, made those last two episodes hit me even harder when I got to rewatch them again in context. I attribute that to the fact despite such a painful past, a lot of the time he was more this reckless, roguish wisecracker. We get glimpses here and there in those three prior episodes in the series that make the merest hints at what Spike’s like when it comes to Julia, and how Julia talks about him in the time she’s been absent from his life. So there’s enough that we can make an inference about the depth of their relationship, and it hits all the harder when after finally getting back together, Julia ends up dead not two seconds later. This simple tragedy contrasts with the more humorous aspects of Spike’s character, another dynamic in romance that I find I enjoy to an immense degree.

And the words “I love you” weren’t uttered once. But the idea was strongly conveyed by the actions of the characters.

Something that always makes me laugh and roll my eyes at this friend of mine who became my anime-watching buddy is when she throws her hands up in the air and yell at the TV or computer screen about how little physicality there tends to be between couples in anime, even those who were actually established as such. I mean, in Clannad, one of my favorite romance animes of all time, the two main leads get married and have a kid, and we don’t even seen them kiss once on screen (some would argue that if we did see them do it, it would technically make it a hentai, but looking at shows like Golden Time or Parasyte: the Maxim, I’d beg to differ, but I digress). However, this turned out not to bother me quite as much as it did my gal-pal.

I tried to think why.

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“You loved me back to life.” — Sia

When I discovered the show Fate/Zero, and all that it entailed in terms of its place in the Fate franchise, the way I looked at love was changed significantly in this case by the character of Kiritsugu Emiya and the complicated relationship he had with his wife, Irisviel von Einzbern. I will NOT go into those details, as that would take another entire post completely, and I’ve probably made mention of aspects of their relationship before. But even I haven’t, feel free to check out their backstory at your leisure. To put it as simply as humanly possible though, there isn’t a moment in the anime where they do much in the way of expressing conventional affection towards each other, save for a couple of scenes, but in those scenes, along with references to their backstory (how they met, seeing Kiritsugu playing with their daughter early on in the show) sprinkled throughout, we get to understand the nuances of their relationship and the intimacy between them gets across to us. At least for me it did, anyway.

It doesn’t hurt that their relationship gets some well-earned angst, but the show doesn’t fawn over it like some others tend to.

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“You taught me honor. You did it for me.” — Sia

This dynamic of such eloquent subtlety and implied beauty absolutely fascinated me, and to this day the two of them remain my number one anime couple. They just had this Arwen and Aragorn vibe about them, if that helps put it into perspective (though Arwen and Aragorn had a rather happier ending, to say the least).

And like with Spike and Julia, Kiritsugu never once says “I love you,” but his actions, if reserved, give us what we need (like the fact that he addresses Irisviel by the pet name “Iri”, and the fact that this address is unique to him alone implies he calls her this out of affection). No kisses,  no declarations, just what we see and what Irisviel says about what he’s done for her in the past (or what we see in the artwork for Fate/Zero’ s second ed).

And this is all indicative in part of Japanese views on love. I’ve read that in a Japanese cultural context, love would seem to be considered a divine feeling (like divine as in godly), and that because of this sacred reverence of love, the words that in English would translate as “I love you”, are rarely used, because they aren’t meant to be thrown about so casually. Not to say that we Westerners never mean it when we say it (well, unless we don’t, ugh), more that we have different ways and means of expressing those words when it comes up. For the most part, it comes from the same impulse. We’re all human, after all.

So in Japan, since it’s so important to use the words “I love you” (and within that there are different versions of saying it based on intensity, just like there are several ways to say “I’m sorry” depending on the severity of one’s transgression) with the greatest of care, it’s used sparingly. So where is the emphasis on the language of affection? Well, in action. Not that that also doesn’t come up in Western culture, but from what I understand, showing affection through action appears to take precedence in Japanese culture (again, from what I’ve read). Specifically in acts of service.

And honestly, I really love this idea (and I mean that ha, ha).

For storytelling mechanics in things like anime and manga, it seems to have greater weight as far as the development of a relationship between a couple. I just find that aspect adorable. That and the fact that the art of animation seems to heighten the sense of everything when it comes to storytelling through action in this way (part of why I enjoy animation so much, no less hold great admiration for it as an art form, considering how much work and artistry has to go behind giving animated action any verisimilitude to real life).

And, to be fair, even anime that aren’t anywhere near a hentai or ecchi, or even just a fanservice show, don’t always completely shy away from things like kisses and other forms of physical affection. In Steins; Gate, for example, the main character Okabe Rintarou falls in love with a fellow scientific colleague-turned-friend Makise Kurisu.

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“No one compares to you. I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side…. But there’s no you, except in my dreams tonight.” –Lana Del Rey

They actually share a kiss once they acknowledge their feelings for each other, even though the show is very much lacking in fanservice, save for those…you know…obligatory shower scenes. (They, by the way, also have a nice slow burn romance that’s built very much on their intelligent minds bouncing off of each other as they work on cracking the puzzle of time travel, and culminates in the two of them risking the dangers of leaping through time to save one another, which is another huge plus for me.)

Speaking of actions….

I have this memory that tugs at me every now and then of one of the courses I took in college for my English Lit major studying theatrical literature. I was a Theatre minor (formerly a English-Theatre double-major), so I think I’d thought it’d be beneficial to me to take a course that studied written plays from a English lit perspective instead of a theatrical one (a perspective I’d already studied in another course I’d taken).

One of the plays we covered was this old Japanese play (Have to look it up I can’t even remember the name of it, darn, and I conveniently misplaced my old textbook.) that we studied and the crux of the plot involved the romantic trope of the double-suicide, something derived, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong), from the samurai practice of seppuku. I personally was intrigued by the concept of the romantic double-suicide, not just for its having been made most notable (I would argue) by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

My prof on the other hand admitted that she didn’t see what was so romantic about the whole double-suicide thing, which made me mentally frown–you know, that way that you do right before you troll someone on the internet for trolling something you really like. I didn’t say anything though, there was no point or reason to argue, it would’ve childish. And she was entitled to her opinion. I could even see where she was coming from.

Didn’t mean I didn’t have thoughts like, “Bah! Methinks you lack romantic sensitivity.” My guess is that it’s flaw could be arguably be that it might be glorifying the act of suicide (as some things do–lookin’ at you again Twilight). But with what I know about what I’ve watched and read about the Japanese love of tragedy in storytelling etc, I think it’s about the melodrama, and the concept of both lovers killing themselves because of how tightly their hearts are bound…that as a couple they’re bound in all actions, including death. Probably. Something beyond that whole, “I can’t live without you’ thing.” Again, if we’re looking at love as being viewed as a divine feeling (something my romantic heart happens to agree with).

Think I came to this conclusion after remembering reading a Japanese short story years previously that also involved the device of the double-suicide, in which a husband and wife kill themselves after the husband is forced to watch his wife get raped. In both this and the play, there’s another plot-point where one of the lovers’ honor gets compromised (in the short story, it’s the wife getting raped, in the play it’s…um, think the guy gets publicly shamed by some jerkwad, but I forget, honestly), and well, in those situations, the act of suicide would be called for. Right up there with committing suicide in the event that you’re backed into a corner–it was more honorable to die by your own hand than by that of the enemy (and in often in the case of women, more honorable to die than to get raped and then killed by the enemy). And seeing as how one lover in both pairings was dishonored and feels the need to reclaim that honor through committing suicide, their partner does the same, as their loving each other means again, they’re linked in all things, including death.

He, he, good times.

But I’m being serious here, and quite honestly, I respect that level of moral conviction. Which is probably another reason I can add to the growing list of reasons I watch anime and (occasionally) read manga. Because yep, you guessed it, this device is totally used in those media too, and appears to have been built up as a significant means of canonizing a couples’ ship in a story.

For this, I point back to another anime couple, one I mentioned in my revenge post, that of Gray Fullbuster and Juvia Lockser from Fairy Tail. Now to be fair, they haven’t gotten to this point in their relationship that I’m bringing up here in the anime, just in the manga, but it has now been confirmed that the final arcs of the manga are getting animated starting in 2018 (and I can’t even count the amount of squees I’ve given over this fact).

To give a quick rundown of what I didn’t already mention previously in that revenge post, Gray and Juvia met as enemies, being members of enemy guilds in one of the earliest story arcs. But then Juvia comes down with a case of “insta-love” (though in this case I can forgive it because A) this is written for comedic effect on the part of the mangaka, Hiro Mashima, and B) they actually make it rather adorable, which is a feat in and of itself since anywhere else it’d be borderline creepy. And in falling for Gray, Juvia finds she really doesn’t want to fight him. And Gray really doesn’t want to fight her in the end, honestly.

Eventually, Juvia ends up joining the Fairy Tail guild as a result of her encounter with Gray, not just because she fell hard for him, but because he somehow managed to take away her curse of always being followed around by rainfall. It’s because of him that she gets to see the clear blue sunny sky for the first time in her life.

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“When the sun shines, we’ll shine together.” — Rihanna

Initially, Gray makes it a point to fend off Juvia’s lavish proclamations of love, because A) he’s a tsunkuudere (a hybrid of tsundere (hard on the outside, soft on the inside)and kuudere (too cool to show I really feel)–wait, maybe that should be kuutsuundere), B) his past history with people close to him has mostly involved death, loss, and sacrifice, and, despite his growing feelings for her, the last thing he wants is for her to end up like all the other people he’s loved who’ve died, and C) it is a bit much overall. (I’m talking lots and LOTS of glomping.)

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“I won’t freeze you out, like I have been.” — Sia
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“If I freeze, you are the flame. You melt my heart, I’m washed in your rain.” — Skillet

That said, the development of this relationship has its own brand of sweetness, as we see that Juvia actually takes her feelings seriously to the point that it’s touching rather than crazy, and, in his own way, Gray warms to her and eventually reciprocates her feelings in the only way he can. Being a man of action, and at the same time not so hot with words (lol, because he’s an ice wizard), he expresses how he really feels through actions as opposed to words, even in those times when he was trying to keep her at a distance for the reasons mentioned above. (There’s that act of service thing again.)

Eventually we get all the way to the final arc of the manga, and by this time, Gray’s at a point where he’s actually come to open up to Juvia in a way he’s never done with anyone else. And several chapters back, the two of them had had a private conversation where he’d promised her that after this last fight’s been settled, he’s going to give her an answer (in other words, confess to her that he loves her and wants to spend the rest of his life with her and have beautiful babies with her waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!).

Then we get a scene before the final assault on the ultimate boss, dark wizard Zeref, where the two of them are confronted by an opponent who forces them to fight each other to the death. Juvia, of course, as we would come to expect of her, eventually makes the choice to kill herself, because she’d rather do that than either kill the man she loves or leave him with the guilt and responsibility of him killing her.

Only for us to see that Gray actually has done the exact the same thing and also fatally stabbed himself. OMG!

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“I don’t need this life. I just need somebody to die for.” –Hurts
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“…I have nothing left, I can’t face the dark without you.” — Breaking Benjamin

If that weren’t bad enough, Juvia just so happened to have taught herself blood transfusion magic in the event of a worst case scenario, so she uses that to save Gray from dying of blood loss, but then that leaves her to die on her own instead. And well, let’s just say the feels levels that comprise Gray’s reaction when he realizes what she’s done for him hits him like a screaming runaway train.

Gah! Man pain! That dreaded trope that has melted the hearts of many a fangirl. (Which makes wonder if all fangirls aren’t secretly slightly sadisitc, and makes me reexamine my own level of fangirling.)

Happily, as was explained in my revenge post, Juvia gets discovered by Wendy, who can use healing magic, and is magically healed, since she was of course just barely holding on, Gray only thought she’d died cuz she wouldn’t open her eyes. (Why does no one check for pulse?) Which leads to Juvia finding Gray and bringing him down from his revenge-splosion. It’s all full of wonderful, wonderful feels.

Speaking of wonderful, the new Wonder Woman managed to use the them of “love conquers all” to actually great effect. Not sure if it’s just the jaded climate everyone’s in right now or what, but somehow something like that manage to ring the right note with people, myself included. That and they made Diana and Steve frickin’ adorable together, which made me include them alongside Peter and Gwen from The Amazing Spider-Man on my list of awesome comic book couples (and in both cases, Steven and Gwen can both join the Hero’s-Bae-Who-Ends-Up-Dead Club).

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“To be human is to love.” — Sia

And wouldn’t you know it, even the Wachowskis can get a good romance out of a story. Like Corky and Violet in Bound. Too bad that film’s so underrated compared to their other stuff like The MatrixJupiter Ascending, and Cloud Atlas. Especially since that film features a really well-written same-sex couple with some damn good chemistry.

But I think I’ll save that for another post.

So I’ll leave off here for now. I might come back to this subject in other contexts, but for now I’ve gotten out everything I’ve wanted to cover as far as what I love about romance in stories. Like in Wonder Woman, it might be corny and cliche, but you work with it right, make it genuine, you can create something really magic between two characters when you have them fall in love.

 

Creative Writing · Literature

Don’t Let the Specter of Bella Swan Keep You from Writing a Romantic Heroine Who Actively Has Romance On Her Mind (Or Something Like That)

So, before I get to that sweet, sweet romance post that I was working on before it got ruined and I opted for a post on revenge instead, I want to address something that otherwise would have been a tangent in said romance post. And to be honest, I’d rather get this out of the way first, because this one’s something of a thorn in my foot.

If I haven’t mentioned already, I’ll mention it now: yes, I have all four Twilight books, and I have all five of the film adaptations, in my possession. And I actually do re-watch those movies, bad acting and all.

At best, I can defend the franchise by passing it off as the brain equivalent of junk food. Moreover, I can’t fault Stephanie Meyer for having the good fortune to tap into something that apparently a good size of the reading market was thirsting for (no pun intended, lol). Honestly, that seems to be one of the biggest factors in becoming a literary success, that you’re just lucky enough to build off of something that the masses didn’t realize they wanted until you gave it to them.

My guess is that at the time Twilight was coming out, there were a lot of readers (most of them straight female, but not all) who were tired of logic and just wanted a man-angel who struggled with a “dark past” to sweep them up in their arms and let them know that they were going to take care of everything, and hold back their animalistic urges to suck blood just for them.

Ha, ha, sorry guys, but anime beat you to it.

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Plus, mechanically speaking, Meyer’s not a bad writer. Whether you like the stories she tells or the subject matter she brings up, she’s got a grasp of taking the English language and fashioning a book out of it. (Whether there’s anything about the style that “sparkles” (he, he), I’ll leave up to your personal taste (ahem–but between you and me, I thought the films sparkled more ha ha).)

But yeah, on a practical level, she knew how to write this quadrilogy so as to make it worthy of binge-reading.

I’ll also admit that when I first read Twilight, I was A) rather forgiving of Bella Swan’s character as far as her idiocy goes, because I remember being a naive teenager, so I cut her a little slack, and B) I was already swept up in the romantic tropes offered by vampire romances, care of all of the Christine Feehan Carpathian novels I’d been shamelessly devouring thanks to my bestie introducing me to them (man, you want something trite and formulaic made worthy of binge-reading!), so my mindset was ripe for being taken in by this most recent literary sensation being, at the time, hailed as “the next Harry Potter” (uncomfortable coughing).

And despite all the backlash Twilight has suffered over time, I can still get hooked by the vampire romance premise (something that led me to revisit underrated gems like The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause, and pick up other underrated gems like Nocturne by Syrie James, both of which should be appreciated for the fact that (SPOILER) the sexy vampire and the human woman who falls for him DON’T end up together, which is really the only other realistic outcome apart from turning the woman into a vampire too (a.k.a. the “Twilight route”).).

But I’m not naive enough to forget that vampires are still monsters that suck human blood either. Lucky for me, there are an abundance of vampire anime (apart from the above-memed Vampire Knight) that can be both romantic and legit hardcore (the way vampires are supposed to be) so I can have my cake and eat it too (thank you Hellsing and Shiki).

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Getting back to the actual story of Twilight though, here’s where anti-Twilighters really like to cut their teeth on the thing. Not only is Bella Swan an idiot, but she’s a tool too, rendered embarrassingly useless without her freaking vampire boyfriend.

It’s pretty insta-love when she and the cold and mysterious Edward Cullen meet, and from there she’s got a pretty one-track mind as far as wanting to spend the rest of her life with him, even after finding out he’s a blood-sucking vampire. And the moment he tries to cut ties with her (to “protect” her) of course, she’s like a puppet with her strings cut, barely able to function and pining for the guy to the point of pissing off her friends (and rightly so, actually).

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Gah! Okay, who put those wings there so Edward would look like a friggin’ angel? Jeez, subtle guys.

And the only thing that gets her somewhat functioning again is her friend Jacob, who predictably turns out to be a “werewolf” (except not really because Stephanie Meyer likes to do stuff like that). Which gives us the theme of trying compare the plot of New Moon to Romeo and Juliet, and Eclipse with Wuthering Heights (I imagine William Shakespeare and Emily Bronte both shivered in their respective graves).

So she’s beyond passive as a character. Pretty much the only active thing she manages to do is to get herself into mortal danger so one of her pretty boys can save her. She makes the very life-changing decision of wanting to shed her humanity in favor of becoming a vampire just to be with her vampire boyfriend (dude, you’re giving up, like, chocolate for crying out loud!), without a second thought, and deflects pretty much every good reason that other people give her (consciously or unconsciously) not to go through with it (or at least give it a bit more thought). She turns the emo up to eighty-leven when one of her boys isn’t around, and while this is some fair emotional turmoil, she acts like she was in some kind of mortal pain before she met Edward, and then he changed everything.

(Oh, and lets not forget what a gigantic tease she is to Jacob.)

Even when she finally becomes a vampire, she still lacks the edge she should have. Very disappointing, for all of us who were excited to see her finally get turned.

There have been better spins on the story of teenage-girl-falls-in-with-the-vampire-crowd plot.

Try The Blood of Eden trilogy by Julie Kagawa for instance. The girl gets turned right from the get-go in the first book, The Immortal Rules, because it was either that or die, and the vampire turning her had no inner conflict about either decision she decided to make. Plus later on in the book, she later finds herself traveling with this band of very Christian humans who definitely cling to the concept of “all vampires must be staked”. And our vampire girl in question, Alison, kicks ass. She gets a katana, and she learns how to use it.

Heck, the Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger have a gay vampire (I mean, what do you expect from something steampunk?), and he’s way more macho than Edward Cullen is.

But here’s where we all get the short end of the stick in the fallout from all of this reactionary negativity to Bella’s character (which actually made Kristin Stewart’s stilted acting in the role understandable–seriously, watch her in the movie Zathura, she’s actually interesting to watch in that movie).

Now it feels like there’s all this pressure to write female characters not only as strong, but one of the requirements for being strong is that they “don’t need no man”. At least at first anyway, they’re allowed to still fall in love, but they gotta be tsundere (tough on the outside but soft on the inside) or kuudere (cold) almost about it, either just at first or most of the time. And even then, there are other restrictions to that, like if the guy they like gets torn out of the picture for a bit, she can’t like, wallow in how bad she feels, she has to take it with her teeth ground. Writing her with any kind of dependence on her love interest seems to make her weaker.

At least, from where I sit. I could be wrong. I’m just making this observation because of the Hunger Games phenomenon and its many, many carbon-copies that followed in the fallout of Twilight, when many realized what a tool Bella was and started thinking: “You know, I don’t know if I like the idea of a woman who can’t take any initiative in her life. I want a girl who has agency in her story! Give me a poverty-hardened teen girl with the archery skills of Legolas please!”

(Then again, The Hunger Games was conveniently quite well-written, all things considered. The whole reason I read them was not for the hype, but because I’d gone to this writing con in San Diego and I heard about this one track about evoking emotion in writing, and Hunger Games had been used as a good example of that. And I would say, good example.)

And yeah, she does get caught in a love triangle, but first and foremost, her character is all about trying to survive on her own, because she’s learned through hardship that she can’t expect to depend on anyone else (leastways, not without becoming a “slave to the system”). True, at the beginning of Mockingjay, she’s screaming Peeta’s name every five seconds, but by this point, she’s suffered enough trauma and she and Peeta have been through enough shit that her freaking out about his being captured by the Capitol is warranted.

So, I guess it’s not that she can’t let herself “go soft” for love, but come on, if she loves the guy, and losing him like that makes her feel like crying, let her cry for crying out loud! Let her get rid of all those toxins in her body through the expression of sadness! (That’s a scientific fact, by the by, that crying relieves the body of toxins.)

It’s like there can’t be any middle ground, a girl isn’t allowed to be lovestruck anymore. No, I’m not talking about insta-love, I’m talking about lovestruck, where you just look at an attractive person and go, “Whew! He/She’s hawwwwwwwwwt!”, and then actively decide to flirt because hey, you’re human and you got needs.

The theme of doing things for the sake of love, I think, has been warped here because of all this Twilight mess. And that shouldn’t be. The idea of doing something for the sake of love should be a source of inspiration, and when done well, it can even be done without coming off as corny! Just look at Harry Potter: those books took something that in any other hands could have become some kind of My Little Pony knock-off, but Rowling treated it with the kind of gravity and seriousness that it deserved in the context of her narrative, and made the concept of “love conquers all” a very epic and believable and inspiring thing. (Claps.)

So I’m here to tell you that you should not feel ashamed to write a female character who’s just a little clingy, or just a little flirty. Hell, look at it this way, Bella was a terrible mix of all-clingy and no-flirty, which really worked against her, along with everything else. As long as your female character is charming, can hold her own when she needs to, and doesn’t have a one-track mind about her boyfriend or love-interest (unless it’s for comedic effect, like in my exception to this rule, Gray x Juvia from Fairy Tail) let her love as much as her heart wants to.

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She can still be strong.

Actually, I’d argue that if you can make a female character brimming with love and still have her kick ass, either literally or metaphorically, so much the better! I’d look forward to reading that.

And quit letting Bella Swan’s shadow hang over you every time you put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. Romance is not for the weak. Good romance isn’t, anyway.

Creative Writing · Literature

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge

You know what? I was gonna actually have my next post be about why I love romance in storytelling so much, but something jacked-up happened, and basically a ton of edits and things I’d added had been undone for SOME reason. It just…reverted back to an older version of the post and now I can’t recover all the changes I made.

And I’d made a LOT of changes. Like, 90% of the article was those changes.

If there is one thing that pisses me off to the point of wanting scream (apart from idiots who somehow end up in charge), it’s when something like this happens and I have to rewrite from scratch. Mostly because usually what I’ve already written felt pretty magical, and now I have to try and recapture that magic with the understanding that I probably won’t get everything back to how I had it before. That said, there is comfort in the idea that I can write it even better on the rewrite. But still, all that work, plus uploading the images, the formatting, the tags (yeah, I’d put in a bunch of tags and now they’re all gone). It’s just a pain.

Though I’ve also tried to take heart after hearing about another author’s story of how he lost an entire novel when his hard drive went kaput, and how he learned not to feel bad about it. Something about what we write as being impermanent, I think…. Point is, he learned how not to let it eat him up inside (even if that novel was meant to be his livelihood).

Regardless, my own feelings of frustration needed to be cooled off by some other means. So, I decided to put that post on the back burner and work on this one instead as my next post. What better way to purge angry thoughts than to write about that thing that makes angry people feel better (sometimes)?

Yes. It’s time for some sweet, sweet revenge. Tee, hee, hee.

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More specifically, examining why it’s a trope that comes up ALL THE TIME, and whether or not it’s a trope we’ll ever really get tired of.

And I suppose, if there’s going to be a discussion of revenge, the best place to start would be the “original revenge” story, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

I remember reading it the summer in between my sophomore and junior years at college. Think it was like, a thousand chapters long with like a million pages…well not really, but yeah, it’s a REALLY thick book. The only other book I’ve read that was that long was Les Miserables, which took me a month (and a half actually, maybe) to read back when I was in high school. And that was by managing to squeeze in the max amount of chapters that I could per day around everything else. You know, like homework and junk.

Obviously, I don’t remember every teen-weeny detail, or at least…I thought I didn’t. Couldn’t possibly. But I was surprised at how much much of that story had actually stuck with me when I watched the anime adaptation of it.

Yes, such a thing exists. There is an anime adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, or, Gankutsuou, if you prefer, (he, he). There’s also an anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but that’s for another post. Maybe.

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And even though the anime takes a few liberties and plucks the story out of the nineteenth century and sticks it in this cyberpunk, sci-fi alternate futuristic timeline, it’s actual a more faithful adaptation than the Hollywood film–probably because in spite of those changes, being a twenty-five episode series, there was more time to flesh out and explore the billions of plot points and intricate specifics to protagonist Edmond Dantes’s revenge scheme from the book that a two-hour movie just couldn’t, in which case I’m willing to somewhat forgive the film’s very Hollywood ending–plus in that scenario, things turned out better for poor Mercedes. (Except then I remember that the character of Haydee was cut out entirely too, and then I’m back to square one in hating on the thing. I mean come on, the Wishbone (remember that show? I sure do) adaptation managed to get the story across faithfully in a half-hour episode on PBS! (Though Haydee was still quite out of the picture, at least from what I remember.))

Seeing the anime adaptation though, I remember watching it and (along with feasting my eyes on the very unique and bizarre, almost wallpaper-esque art style) going, “Oh yeah, that did happen in the novel, I totally remember reading that!” And I’m being completely serious here. I totally remember the kerfuffle with Danglars and his daughter, and the romantic subplot of Maximilen and Valentine. Now they did make some changes, like they took out the lesbian runaway part of Danglars’ daughter’s character and made her actually share a mutual affection with Albert Morcerf, and not sure if Franz in the book actually had an alluded-to thing for Albert in the book, but he definitely has one for him in the anime. And well, it couldn’t escape some other anime tropes besides, like putting a lot more emphasis on Albert’s relationship with the Count (like almost in bad-touch territory, but not quite so it still kinda works). And yeah…they even managed to squeeze mechs in there. Sort of.

Even so, it was pretty damn faithful to the source material in terms of the overall narrative, except for the ending. In the anime, the Count dies (which is a shame) but in the novel he lives and realizes that he can have a future and learn to love again with Haydee (so sweet, I love it). Honestly though, either of these work. Both serve to illustrate what a demon a thirst for revenge can be, but before our revenge-seeker can come to that conclusion, we do enjoy that surge of adrenaline that comes with racing toward’s vengeance’s finish line.

In fact, we all hope that most protagonists who seek revenge decide not to go through with it in some way, or at least get away with it with their moral compass unscathed. Why? Because the best revenge-seeking protagonists are the ones who started out as innocents. This is even in the case of when we don’t learn that the revenge-seeker in question was an innocent until later on in the story. (Except for Inigo Montoya, cuz he’s just ten flavors of awesome.)

At the same time though, we like how revenge drives a character. Because we know that if we were in their shoes, we’d see the allure of taking revenge ourselves. It’s that eye-for-an-eye philosophy, its’ that, “You hurt me, so I’m gonna hurt you just as bad or more so you know that what you did to me was wrong.” Like it’s the only way that the person the revenge-seeker seeks revenge against will understand the revenge-seeker’s pain (speakin’ a which, the angst that seeking revenge is in and of itself an allure, especially for the fangirls, lol). In short, we seem to feel it will equalize the scales. An idea of achieving balance comes into play in this instance, like, “You kill my kid, then I get to kill yours. Now we’re even.”

Really though, it all comes down to what the consequences are if the revenge-seeker is successful in taking their revenge. Does it turn them into a monster as bad or worse than the monster who wronged them? If so, then yeah, the whole, “You should learn to forgive instead,” plot point works. But, if they’re the kind of character who can take their revenge and still retain their integrity as a character, then revenge doesn’t need to be painted in so dark a light. Referring back to Inigo Montoya one more time, we see that he did not lose sight of who he was deep down as a character, he got his revenge, and then moved on. (That, and he got one of the best revenge lines EVAR.)

“I want my father back, you son-of-a-bitch.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the preceding:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

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Which gave John Wick (a pretty good revenge story too, actually) something of its own to meme itself with.

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Bottom line, if your revenge-seeker turns into a villain, revenge wasn’t the best medicine. If he/she stays a good guy despite getting their vengeance, then break out the party favors (and figure out what the heck you’re gonna do with your life now).

Unless of course you’ve got a Titus and Andronicus situation, in which case, HIDE EVERYONE YOU CARE ABOUT!!! Otherwise they’ll get cooked into a pie (you think I’m kidding, but I’m serious).

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Now while the ideal outcome is that the revenge-seeker finds a way to be the “better person” and doesn’t let their thirst for vengeance consume him or her, it’s admittedly pretty badass in its own way to see the revenge-seeker just hang over the precipice into the abyss of turning full-on wicked. This character development journey is a treat in and of itself, like we get a taste of what a cool baddie our hero/heroine would be, but still get to see them come out the hero/heroine.

As an aside, I suppose in one way, it’s a good thing I didn’t get to my romance post yet, because that means I can give some background on one of the couples I was going to cover in this post, which might keep the romance post from dragging having to explain so much plot all at once. Because part of that background also ties into the theme of revenge as well as romance.

That said, I turn to Fairy Tail as one such bit of media that uses this to great effect, at least in my opinion (SPOILERS by the way to anyone who only watches the anime, this plot point has only happened in the manga, though considering the sensation of the manga on the Internet, that Pandora’s box has probably already been unleashed anyway).

In a HUGE story jam-packed with characters who all seem destined to get paired with their special someone, there’s one couple that I’ll bring up here, and it happens to be my fave in the franchise. It’s the relationship between Gray Fullbuster, an ice-make wizard, and later on ice demon slayer as well, and Juvia Lockser, a water mage.

Near the climax of the manga, during the final battle to defeat the forces of the dark wizard Zeref, Gray and Juvia end up caught in a fight where Juvia dies saving Gray–or Gray thinks she does anyway (she gets deus-ex-machinaed back to life later).

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As luck would have it though, this isn’t the first person to do that kind of thing for Gray, he’s had people close to him die before–his parents, and later the teacher who taught him ice-make magic (and to add salt to the wound, he feels it’s personally his fault his teacher died because she died saving him from a mistake he made). So, losing Juvia like this basically pushes him over the edge.

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Killing the villain who drove Juvia to her “death” in the first place is pointless though, as Gray comes to terms with this after he pounds the ever-loving bejeezus out of the guy, when he says:

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That’s actually a nice example of a revenge-seeker who realizes on his own the futility of making the rat bastard who killed his waifu pay for what he did. That and really deep down he’s wrestling with his own guilt at not being able to save her. And then there’s the fact that his ice demon slayer magic is starting to nom-nom on his soul from the inside out. He’s not exactly in a rational mindset, which is why it’s easy for him to go after Natsu next when it’s revealed to him that Natsu is the demon E.N.D., whose continued existence is (somehow) the reason for all of the losses Gray has suffered up until this point.

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So now we’re back to square one, at least until big sister Erza comes in and cools the two feuding brotherly BFFs off, and then Gray sees that Juvia is alive almost immediately after. Crisis of hero-morphing-into-villain-because-vengeance averted. Phew! Yay love.

Now touching on one of the earliest anime I watched when I started to watch anime seriously was Code Geass, the premise of which involved the main character exiled Prince Lelouch seeking revenge for the murder of his mother, one of the many wives of his father the Emperor of Britannia. Yep, gimme revenge mixed in with an exiled prince and I’m on board to give it a try. Happily, the show had so much more to offer in the way of story and characters, so I actually cared about what was happening when the revenge angst kicked in there as well. Sure the guy had an air inborn aristocratic arrogance about him, but one of the first things that endeared him to me was actually the way he interacted with his little sister, who was crippled and blinded as a result of the traumatic events involved in his mother’s murder.

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We definitely see Lelouch cross a LOT of lines (along with some glorious moments of manic laughter) morally speaking, but we kinda manage to forget where he faltered when he basically (SPOILERS) ends up bringing about world peace. So, we get a case of the revenge-seeker intentionally becoming a villain as a means to execute revenge. And it brings about FREAKING WORLD PEACE. (WTF?)

But here’s another thought: can a revenge-seeking character choose not to execute revenge but also not forgive the person who wronged them?

In the case of Avatar: the Last Airbender, the writers of that show did something really unique with the scenario of Katara finally getting the chance to avenge the death of her mother. After confronting the Fire Nation soldier who killed her mother, and seeing what a pathetic wretch he’s become, willing to throw his own mother under the bus to save his own life, Katara comes to the conclusion that killing him would solve nothing. But she also doesn’t forgive him either. And she still remains true to herself as one of the most morally centered characters on that show. Now that’s some strong characterization.

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We even see her exploit to taboo of blood-bending for crying out loud, and her character still gets away with it. Badass.

So this plot device–the quest for revenge–is something that can either hook a reader or sink a story. If it hooks you in and it’s written well, then it can be some of the juiciest parts of the story. It sinks the story when it comes off tired and keeps you from being invested.

How does that last part happen?

Well, I’d say it’s when the characters are written so horribly and or flatly that I could care less. Like with any other facet of a story, just hanging the revenge out like a carrot isn’t gonna be enough. I have to give a damn. Sometimes this can work, if you manage to get the generic beginning right: you get the bit with the hero or heroine is with his or her happy family or people he or she is close to, and then you bring the injustice hammer down on them, and then when the ashes clear and the hero or heroine realizes they’ve lost everything, they can vow revenge. Sometimes you’re right there with ’em, and sometimes you’re yawning, “Oh my God, I totally did not see this coming.” So, see every bad movie ever made that tried to fit in a revenge plot. That usually explains a lot.

I know the bad revenge plots when I see them. Give me two seconds of a movie trailer that has a revenge plot, and I’ll tell you whether or not it’s gonna be worth my time.

Like taking John Wick again, on the surface it looks like a pretty standard action-revenge flick, but actually they make it kind of work. John’s wife dies because cancer, not because sniper bullet or some junk, and what triggers him is actually some douche who kills his puppy (a puppy his wife gave him before she died so he wouldn’t be lonely without her). There’s just something so SAD about that that I totes right there with him and pissed off as HELL. Congratulations, you somehow combined two pandering agents–dead wife and cute puppy–and made it rage-worthy. You go kill that douche, John Wick.

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Compare to this every other Gerard-Butler-lead-character-action-revenge flick that I’ve seen trailers for and hopefully you get what I mean.

That and there’s the “using revenge to justify being a jerkwad” ploy, because in that case, if a character gets to be so terrible that we can’t stand them, not even using revenge as an  excuse can redeem them. That or there’s the “too convoluted revenge execution” (with the exception of Count of Monte Cristo, because all that planning and prep actually leads to some stuff that’s pretty kickass as far as revenge goes), where the way a revenge-seeker gets revenge is so confusing that we’re just like, “Huh?”

Seeking revenge is not boring. It will NEVER be boring. We LOVE it. We love to see wicked people get their just desserts. We love seeing the one seeking revenge triumph over their personal demons on their quest for vengeance (or just triumph in general). But we have to care about what drives that revenge-seeker in the first place. Otherwise then yeah, I guess then questing for revenge would be boring.

We like to see wrongs made right, we love to the line between what is and isn’t justice blurred beyond recognition, we love the redemption that can come as a result of seeking revenge or answering for what someone’s done to deserve having vengeance rained down upon them. But, most importantly, I think, given the examples listed above, we just love seeing how much it can change a person, for good or for ill.

If you’re stuck on making a character a little more interesting, I say try giving them a revenge backstory to stir things up and see where that takes you. I’ve done that with a couple of my characters, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The most important thing though is that vengeance can’t be the ONLY interesting thing about them. Otherwise, they’re still not interesting, and your reader could really care less.