Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiction Friday: Faultless, Part 1

Still running that Patreon! The Near-Apocalypse of '09 is still more than three months away, but Patreon backers can start reading it today!

I'm taking a break from Felda's story for a while, because I find I keep thinking about Ghost's instead. So I'm taking a crack at writing it. This is set quite a ways to the north of Toftor, in a culture with rather different structures and issues.

Trigger Warning: Child abuse and neglect, internalized racism, body image issues

Caer Wyndle, Pryderys
Twelve years, four months, and seven days until the end.

It wasn't Ghost's fault. Not really.

Sure, she was the immediate cause, but she had no idea what she was doing, and more importantly no way of knowing what she was doing. There had simply never been a chance for her to learn what she needed to know--if there had been, she likely would have learned it gladly.

That's what she was doing in the library, after all; learning. She spent a great deal of time there, there being little else to do. She got yelled at if her parents or Parry caught her doing servant work, and of course she couldn't go outside because someone might see how ugly she was.

Every once in a while Mother would send her maid, Kina--though mother always called her Kiah for some reason--to fetch Ghost. Kina would drag her to the baths to be washed and scrubbed and shoved into a frilly blouse and short pants, and then she would be presented to Mother. That was the only time Ghost was called Emlyn, which was her name in the big red book of family trees on the shelf by the mantle in the library: Emlyn Glenys Dyvis, daughter of Gwenfer Dylan and Caradoc Dyvis (nee Gruffyd). Mother was the only person who called her that, when she called her at all.

Every time started the same: Mother would grunt, say, "You seem in good health, Emlyn," and Ghost would agree. Then Mother would sigh and say, "Really, we must get you a governess or a tutor one of these days. It isn't right, a Dyvis child growing up wild."

Then Mother would brush her hair, or play a game with her, or teach her something, until eventually Ghost did something wrong and the screaming started. She stopped being Emlyn once mother started screaming; she was just that child, as in "Take that child out of my sight!" It was hard to tell what would be wrong, but there was always something.

Once, a few years ago, Mother taught Ghost her letters, and the sounds they made. After that Ghost would practice in the library, sounding out the words one by one. As time went on she got better at it, and learned more words. No one particularly cared if she sat for hours in the library--not like the kitchen, where sooner or later she'd be in someone's way, or the halls and rooms where Mother and Father lived and entertained guests, where Ghost wasn't permitted except when Mother sent for her.

No, in the library she was left in peace, except if Father or Mother or a guest wanted to use it. Then she had to disappear before they entered, so they wouldn't see her. She was very good at leaving a room just before someone else entered, which was why everyone called her Ghost. Well, at least, all the servants called her Ghost, and she herself did too, so that made Ghost her real name, whatever the family record-book might say.

So her education consisted of whatever books she pulled randomly from the library shelves, which meant a great deal of history, mostly in the form of "and then General so-and-so led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy," books of advice on business, and literature, mostly in the form of "and then General So-and-So led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy, as well as the hand of Princess Whatsername."

There was very little in there about magic, and none at all about the proper order in which things ought to be attempted when learning magic. And she was eleven, that age when such gifts begin to manifest. Not that her gift was that great--middling, really. But it was a Fire rune she looked at in the book, tracing her fingers over it while she read the instructions about focusing on it, letting herself flow into it. And the library was full of wooden shelves stacked with paper books. And they did put the fire out without too much damage. Eventually.

Honestly, she probably could have just faded away, stayed out of sight until the whole thing was forgotten, if not for the fact that she panicked as the first flickers of flame danced across the book, and ran screaming from the library straight into Mother, Father, and the Thain of Caer Wyndle.

On the other hand, six months in a dark cellar did give her both time and motivation to practice the fire rune. She had it quite under control by the time they let her back out.

Eleven years, nine months, and thirteen days until the end

Ghost sat under a table in the kitchen, nibbling at a twirlbread that had been dropped on the floor and trod on. Normally she wouldn't eat food that had had feet in it, since Alamea always made sure that every meal she prepared for Mother and Father had more leftovers than all the servants together could eat, but she very much liked twirlbread, with its cinnamon-sweetness and chopped nuts. Unfortunately she couldn't have the fun of unwinding it into a long thin strip of fluffy baked dough, because it had gotten all smashed, but it was still quite tasty after she scraped off the footprint.

Speaking of her, Alamea walked into the kitchen at just that moment, trailed by the new scullery lad. Ghost didn't know his name yet, since he'd started while she was in the cellar. Ghost quite liked Alamea; she was kind as long as you stayed out of her way and obeyed her iron-fisted rule of the kitchen, and she had a big, round, lilting voice that was somehow exactly right for a woman barely taller than Ghost and seven times wider, with a broad face and thick black calluses on her big, strong hands. The scullery lad was a bit taller and a lot thinner, but his face was close enough that he might be her cousin--and probably was, for all Ghost knew.

Alamea strode over to the bubbling pot of soup, and her apprentice, a shy and anxious girl named Luana, only a few years older than Ghost herself, stepped back. Alamea lifted a ladle and tasted the soup, while Luana clutched her slender hands together and watched in worried silence. "Hrm," said Alamea, and Luana visibly relaxed. That meant, Ghost knew, that the cook had no complaints about Luana's work.

Alamea turned to the counter, inspecting the vegetables and spices Ghost had watched Luana chopping and grinding for the last hour. "Hrm," she said again, and laid a saucepan on the stove next to the soup. Soon she was tossing and flipping vegetables, adding them and the spices to the pan in some arcane order Ghost couldn't figure out.

"Hi, Mele," Luana whispered to the scullery lad. Aha! So that was his name!

"Hi," he said.

"How is, uh, everything?" Luana asked. When he shrugged, she continued on, "Um, if there's anything that you need help with, or want to know... I mean, since I know you're new--I mean, of course you know that you're new, but--"

"Oh, just go fuck already," Alamea interrupted. "After work. Luana, I need you to start cleaning the fish. Mele, run to the pantry and get me more flour and two onions."

Luana blushed like two inkblots spreading across her cheeks, but Ghost caught the hint of a smile on the older girl's face as she turned to her work. Ghost watched in fascination; this was a part of life she'd only seen glimpses of before.

A couple of minutes later Mele returned and laid down the supplies Alamea had requested. "There actually is something I've been wondering," he murmured to Luana. "Who's that little girl I sometimes see? The one with the filthy face and the torn smock? Is she the maid's daughter or something?"

"Little girl?" asked Luana. "Oh, you mean Ghost! No, no, she's their daughter."

"Them?" he asked. "You mean--she's a nob? But then why do they let her just... wander like that? It's not right!"

Ghost perked up, suddenly interested. Wasn't it?

"You've answered your own question, boy," said Alamea. "You said she looked like a servant's girl. Oh, she's got the same lovely dark skin and eyes as her mother, all the Dyvis women do, but she looks more than half Keo, doesn't she?"

Ghost stifled a sigh, since that was likely to get her noticed and probably walloped for eavesdropping. That was always what it came down to, her ugliness. Fat and short and toadlike, flat nose in a broad face, and a tangle of curls that grew denser and bigger rather than longer--not like Mother's hair that hung down shining and dark and straight, tall, slender, long-limbed, beautiful Mother, or the tall, slender, long-limbed, straight-haired, beautiful ladies that sometimes visited her.

"Hard to believe she's their child," Mele agreed.

"Exactly," said Luana, voice dropping to an excited whisper. "Rumor is, His Lordship thinks she's not. He thinks Her Ladyship had a Keo lover and forgot to take her draft."

"Rumor," said Alamea, disgusted.

"Well, that's what Kina told me!" Luana protested.

"Yes, and she told me Her Ladyship thinks the child's a throwback, that the Gruffyds aren't quite as pure Tarnic as their family tree says," Alamea countered. "She repeats everything she hears, that girl." Alamea passed the vegetables in their pan to Luana and took the cleaned, boned fish from her.

"Well, if either one is true, why do they stay together?" asked Mele.

"Here, make yourself useful, boy, and peel this garlic." Alamea cracked a couple of eggs in a bowl and whipped them swiftly, then poured out the flour onto the counter. Soon she was at work coating the fish in first egg, then flour. "Because the Gruffyds might be rich and Tarnic, but they're as common as we are," she said. "And Lady Gwenfer might be a lady, but this manor was half in ruins and all her old father had left before young Mr. Gruffyd, as he was then, proposed. They may hate each other, and they do, almost as much as they hate her, poor little thing! But they need each other, Ghost or no."

Ghost clutched her scabby knees to her chest, hardly daring to breathe for fear they might catch her. She'd never heard anything like this before. Mother and Father hated each other? Hated her? She rolled the word around in her head. Yes. Yes, that was the right word. They hated her. And, she was vaguely surprised to notice, she hated them.

The next day she snuck out of the house for the first time.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Suggestion Box Post

So, my traffic's been steadily declining since I ended The Very Soil. This month looks likely to come in slightly lower than what I had in late 2013, which is not a great thing if I'm, say, hoping to be able to switch my day job to part time within the next five years.

So... what would you like to see me do? Or, since you're already here, what do you think I could do that would get you to tell other people, "Hey, you should check out this blog?"/post links to it elsewhere/share it on Tumblr/whatever?

Throwing the suggestion box wide open here, though obviously I am not willing to change the core mission of the blog--I'm not about to start posting porn or pandering to the right wing or whatever.

Anyway, suggestions?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sailor Moon Crystal Episode 10 Liveblog

Just a reminder: Starting with episode 11, in three weeks, SMC liveblogs will be posted on Saturdays, along with whatever other show we're watching at that time. At that point, Wednesdays will become Video Vednesdays, starting with episode-by-episode vlogs of The Legend of Korra season 4. See them now at my Patreon!

01[15:02] <Froborr> Now then.
[15:02] <@Sylocat> I still say that logo looks like Speedy Gonzales
[15:02] <Arrlaari> Probably by teleporting, you guys
01[15:02] <Froborr> Are they actually going to animate the gravity difference?
[15:02] <@Sylocat> Ah yes, when we left off, they were about to launch a rescue mission for Tuxedo Fedora by going to the moon
01[15:02] <Froborr> That'd be pretty sweet.
[15:02] <Arrlaari> that's a thing y'all can do
[15:03] <FoME> That's a waning crescent.
[15:03] <@Sylocat> I was about to say, "At least she's going for herself, and not for the jerk," but then of course she thinks about him
01[15:03] <Froborr> I can never remember which way the shadow goes on the moon.
[15:03] <FoME> Right to left.
01[15:04] <Froborr> Good to know.
[15:04] <Arrlaari> Wouldn't it be like "West to east" or vice-versa?
01[15:04] <Froborr> Nope.
01[15:05] <Froborr> Huh, no ad at end of credits.
01[15:05] <Froborr> Wait.
01[15:05] <Froborr> Usagi has a father!?
[15:05] <@Sylocat> That's weird
01[15:05] <Froborr> I assumed her mome just reproduced parthenogenically, like most anime parents!
[15:05] <FoME> Yeah, we saw him in the episode where Tuxedo Mask kissed Usagi while she was asleep.
[15:06] <@Sylocat> Ah yes, we were distracted by Tuxedo Mask's jerkitude
01[15:06] <Froborr> I missed it, what did she say that freaked out her parents?
[15:06] <@Sylocat> I missed it too
[15:06] <Arrlaari> He asked if the crystal was from a boyfriend and she replied "something like that"
01[15:06] <Froborr> Wait, they waited like two weeks!?
[15:06] <@Sylocat> That's... a weird thing to freak parents out
01[15:07] <Froborr> Well, she's a bit on the yougn side for it, isn't she?
[15:07] <Arrlaari> In the original anime her dad freaked out a whole lot more
[15:07] <@Sylocat> Ah, he wasn't expecting her to say yes
[15:07] <@Sylocat> Ooh, nice teleport ring
[15:07] <@Sylocat> Standing in a fountain, nice aesthetic
[15:07] <FoME> And so Luna banishes them to the Moon.
01[15:08] <Froborr> Yep.
01[15:08] <Froborr> Somebody HAS to have made that mashup by now, right?
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Huh. You'd think.
01[15:08] <Froborr> Hmm.
[15:08] <FoME> I've seen plenty of fanart with the two of them.
[15:08] <Arrlaari> "There's no sound here" she says with her voice
01[15:08] <Froborr> Did they go to the Sea of Serenity in the original manga, or was that a reference to the English dub?
[15:08] <Arrlaari> ad
[15:09] <FoME> There's the ad.
[15:09] <@Sylocat> So, "Silver Millennium" is the name of the place?
[15:09] <Arrlaari> "Princess Serenity" is the original name
[15:09] <FoME> Apparently. I always figured it was reference to the time period.
[15:09] <Arrlaari> So it's probably a reference to that
01[15:09] <Froborr> Ah.
[15:10] <FoME> I'm back.
01[15:10] <Froborr> Arrlaari, back?
[15:10] <Arrlaari> I'm back
[15:10] <FoME> "Moon Castle." Wow. Really?
[15:11] <@Sylocat> Wait, a King Arthur reference?
[15:11] <@Sylocat> Really?
[15:11] <FoME> Except everyone except the queen has to pull it out, apparently.
[15:11] <@Sylocat> Oh, they get it out without her?
01[15:11] <Froborr> Best Sword in the Stone riff ever remains Shadow Hearts: From the New World.
[15:12] <@Sylocat> Wow... this is freaky
01[15:12] <Froborr> Wow, her mom was short.
[15:12] <FoME> One of the Silver Millennium VIs survived the Reapers.
01[15:12] <Froborr> Kitty Cans!
01[15:13] <Froborr> Also: I guess this is the final nail in my "the moon people were hideous blob monsters" theory.
01[15:13] <Froborr> Ah well.
[15:13] <FoME> Alas. I like that theory.
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Great, her forbidden love for Endouchemion made sure she could save the world in her next life
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Whoa, it's the bad guy from The Fifth Element
01[15:14] <Froborr> Huh. Are they implying they weren't native to the Moon, but *sent* there from elsewhere? Interesting.
01[15:14] <Froborr> Certainly makes more sense.
[15:14] <@Sylocat> "Keep his sanity?"
[15:15] <@Sylocat> So, do they rebuild the Moon Palace at any point in the manga?
[15:15] <FoME> The parts that weren't already turned to stone, anyway.
01[15:15] <Froborr> Please don't answer that question.
[15:15] <Arrlaari> Asking for spoilers, can't giv e'em
[15:15] <@Sylocat> Ooh, it's like Hyrule in Wind Waker
[15:15] <@Sylocat> (ah yeah, I forgot not to ask for spoilers... sorry)
[15:15] <FoME> "Help me Usa-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
[15:16] <@Sylocat> Great... "girls crying saves the world," again
[15:16] <@Sylocat> I suppose it's better than "girls crying endangers the world,"
[15:16] <@Sylocat> Again, this sounds like music from Makoto Shinkai movies
[15:17] <FoME> A couple thousand years in low power mode chewed through the batteries.
01[15:17] <Froborr> LIGHT IS NOT A SOUND
[15:17] <FoME> Ad.
[15:17] <Arrlaari> ad
01[15:17] <Froborr> Also: you can't hear ANY sounds on the moon, because there is NO AIR
01[15:18] <Froborr> *implodes*
[15:18] <@Sylocat> Well, presumably they breathe with magic
[15:18] <FoME> Barring magic dialogue powers.
01[15:18] <Froborr> No, I had no problem with them talking in the previous scene, there's a bazillion explanations.
[15:18] <FoME> Back.
01[15:18] <Froborr> My problem is with the silly line after.
[15:19] <Arrlaari> ad over
[15:19] <@Sylocat> Why didn't they put the ad between the two commercial-break tags?
[15:19] <Arrlaari> And there's a transition clearly meant for ads
[15:19] <Arrlaari> shortly after the ad
[15:19] <FoME> Oh, Crunchyroll...
01[15:20] <Froborr> I am pretty sure Crunchyroll's ad placement is automated by a system that isn't very smart.
01[15:20] <Froborr> Especially since two people can get different ads for the same episode, as we've seen before.
[15:20] <@Sylocat> "Queen Metalia?" That's the villain name?
[15:20] <FoME> Yup.
[15:20] <FoME> We have an evil queen working for another evil queen.
[15:21] <@Sylocat> I wrote a bad fanfic fifteen years ago with a villain name like that
[15:21] <Arrlaari> Ah, they have been hinting at this a while. They never covered it in the older anime
[15:21] <@Sylocat> Wait, these four were good guys in their last lives?
01[15:21] <Froborr> Oho, plot twist, the generals served Tuxedo Fedora.
[15:21] <@Sylocat> Huh. The old anime didn't have that
[15:21] <Arrlaari> It's one of the most frequently mentioned changes
01[15:22] <Froborr> Odd choice storywise, having them remember only to immediately be mind-controlled.
[15:23] <@Sylocat> Wait, they're locating the bad guys' hideout with plate tectonics?
[15:23] <FoME> And the waste heat from their hideout.
[15:23] <@Sylocat> Ooh, it's like a much better version of "State of Fear"
[15:23] <@Sylocat> Ooh, a tennis boss fight!
[15:24] <@Sylocat> Dang, they only reflected one projectile
[15:24] <@Sylocat> Sailor V remembers them?
[15:24] <@Sylocat> Oh jeez, don't tell me they were coupled together
[15:24] <FoME> Oh, for crying out loud.
[15:24] <@Sylocat> For the love of...
01[15:25] <Froborr> Oh FFS
[15:25] <FoME> Love apparently trumps survival instincts.
[15:25] <@Sylocat> I no longer find their being brainwashed good guys to be an interesting plot twist
[15:25] <@Sylocat> Wait, Bella Swan snaps them out of it?
[15:25] <@Sylocat> Hey, here's an idea: Each scout goes after one of the guys who WASN'T her boyfriend
01[15:26] <Froborr> Man, that is a POTEN status-cure spell she has.
[15:26] <Arrlaari> ad
[15:26] <FoME> Ad.
[15:26] <Arrlaari> That is easily the worst ad placement I've seen on crunchyroll
[15:26] <FoME> Usagi apparently has the Elements of Harmony lodged in her wand.
01[15:27] <Froborr> Well, I mean, the elements of harmony are PRETTY OBVIOUSLY based on exactly the kind of magical girl team Sailor Moon epitomizes.
[15:27] <Arrlaari> ad over
[15:27] <FoME> Ad done.
[15:27] <@Sylocat> Yeah, except the Elements are actually AIDED with the powers of love and self-respect, rather than hindered by them
01[15:28] <Froborr> I'm still annoyed that it lined up as neatly as Sailor Moon + 4 Senshi hook up with Endymion + 4 Generals.
01[15:29] <Froborr> Ah, and of course now we get the Evil Brainwashed Boyfriend maneuver.
01[15:29] <Froborr> Ehhh.
[15:29] <FoME> Mamoru is kind of the archetypical Evil Brainwashed Boyfriend
01[15:29] <Froborr> The last couple of episodes have been... not great.
[15:30] <Arrlaari> At least they found time for a fight after exposition today
[15:30] <@Sylocat> I dare to hope that the brainwashed boyfriend arc will have a better moral than, "Your love will snap him out of it."
[15:30] <@Sylocat> (don't confirm or deny that)
[15:30] <FoME> This whole setup was based on an idea Naoko Takeuchi had after she could employ it in the original manga.
01[15:30] <Froborr> I suspect that is exactly what will happen, alas. I guess it's slightly better than "a sharp knock on the head cures all brainwashing."
[15:31] <@Sylocat> Yeah... I mean, the four generals counterparting the scouts COULD HAVE been a reasonably interesting idea, but then it led to them nearly getting killed over it
[15:32] <@Sylocat> (I mean, even if it had been played well, there would still have been loads of better ways to go about finding them boyfriends, but still)
[15:33] <Arrlaari> Due to the overall pace, brainwashed Mamoru was hanging around for quite a few episodes in the older show. The way it played was pretty funny but I'l refrain from describing it for now.
01[15:33] <Froborr> I'm annoyed because it goes against my Usagi/Everything With a Pulse ship.
[15:33] <@Sylocat> Yeah... I wanted a lesbian orgy, for many reasons a couple of which were actually wholesome
[15:33] <Arrlaari> Even the cats, Froborr?
[15:33] <FoME> That ship's supported much more in the original anime.
[15:34] <Arrlaari> Yeah, by this point three of the four generals were dead and Zoicite had been in love in Kunzite (the dub made Zoicite a girl, which was not much of a stretch because he had been played as a hyper femme stereotype)
[15:35] <FoME> Oh, the dub. "Darien? Who is that? I am Prince Darien!"
01[15:35] <Froborr> ...
01[15:35] <Froborr> I can't decide if that line is terrible or brilliant. Likely both.
[15:35] <@Sylocat> IIRC, Zoisite and Kunzite were also a couple in the Japanese version... it was one of the original Yaoi things
[15:35] <Arrlaari> Or the Legend of Brad
[15:36] <FoME> The Legend of Brad: Princess Twilight
[15:37] <@Sylocat> Oh, THAT Brad
[15:37] <@Sylocat> I was wondering who you meant
01[15:37] <Froborr> ???
[15:37] <Arrlaari> It'll be far too long until we can really talk about Brad in Froborr's presence
01[15:38] <Froborr> So confused.
[15:38] <@Sylocat> "Brad" was the nickname the fans gave Flash Sentry before we knew his name
01[15:38] <Froborr> Oh.
[15:38] <Arrlaari> It concerns characters introduced in the third season of the old show
[15:38] <Arrlaari> Sylocat we are talking about a different Brad than that
[15:38] <@Sylocat> Oh... sorry
[15:39] <Arrlaari> I actually don't know about Flash Sentry
[15:39] <@Sylocat> When you said "Princess Twilight," I thought... yeah
[15:39] <FoME> No, that's the one I had in mind.
[15:39] <FoME> Forgot about any Brads in a Sailor Moon context.
[15:39] <Arrlaari> The idea of Brad only occurs in the english dub
[15:39] <Arrlaari> That's all I can say
[15:40] <FoME> Oh. OH! Right. That. Yeah, can't say anything more there.
01[15:40] <Froborr> o...k...
[15:40] <@Sylocat> That was confusing
[15:41] <FoME> Yeah, that was mostly because of my free association. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Break the World's Shell! Panel Notes

Here, have some notes from my panel on the apocalypse genre in anime. And yes, this did partially come out of research I was doing for Near-Apocalypse of '09.

Also, this was COMPLETELY unplanned... but this is my 666th published post on this blog. Cute.

What is the Apocalypse genre?
  • Apocalypse comes from Greek word meaning "pulling back of a veil, revelation, especially divine." But because the most famous apocalypse is the Book of Revelation, in English the older and more common meaning of the word is "great catastrophe, end of the world."
  • In religious studies and study of ancient literature, "apocalypse literature" refers to this kind of divine revelation or vision. However, in modern works the term refers to the end-of-the-world narratives that evolved from those stories, so we'll be using a different definition.
  • For purposes of this panel, a story in which a catastrophe, which might be natural, human, alien, or divine in origin, destroys the prevailing social structure on a setting-wide scale. Said setting could be as small as a single school or multiple universes; what matters is that the entire world of the story is endangered.
  • Distinct from POST-apocalypse in that, in post-apocalyptic works, the social structure has already been destroyed or is destroyed at the beginning, and we focus on remnants struggling to survive or build civilization anew. Example: Fist of the North Star.
  • Also distinct from Disaster genre, which contains a similar cataclysm but shows how the prevailing order SURVIVES. Example: Paranoia Agent, in which the apocalyptic events at the series climax resolve without significantly altering the social order--the same structures and lifestyles go on.
  • Of course a story can have elements of more than one. Gurren Lagann, for example, is post-apocalyptic for its first half, a disaster in the next quarter (the endangered social structure in question is the new human/Beastman cooperative civilization), and an apocalypse in the final quarter (the endangered social structure is anti-Spiral hegemony).
Origins of the Genre
  • Oldest known catastrophe tale: Utnapishtim. (Epic of Gilgamesh, ~2100-1200 BCE). The gods decided humanity was too noisy and should be destroyed with a flood. Utnapishtim was warned, built an ark, preserved all life.
  • Atlantis (Plato's Critias, 360 BCE, an incomplete dialogue about two contrasted ancient cities, Atlantis and Athens. Athens is organized according to the design Plato laid out in his Republic, Atlantis a more traditional Hellenistic city-state. Both were originally righteous, but Atlantis became corrupt and conquered much of Europe and North Africa but was defeated by an alliance led by Athens. Later the gods punished Atlantis for its corruption by sinking it into the sea with an earthquake. Notable for Good vs. Evil and moral dimension, fact that it's part of a political, utopian argument.)
  • Book of Daniel (the Bible, ~165 BCE). At time of writing, Jews were oppressed under rule of the Seleucids, a Hellenistic power centered in Syria. Tells the story of Daniel, a cultural hero who lived centuries prior when Jews were oppressed by Babylon. He makes many prophecies about a coming great battle when God will destroy wickedness and cleanse the Earth. Appeal for an oppressed people obvious, especially given the infamous image of a "statue with feet of clay," said in the text to represent a succession of empires that have risen and fallen. Soon after, Persians conquer Babylon and free the Jews. The intent is clear: Just as Babylon fell, so too will the Seleucids. The current order will be destroyed, violently, and a better one will rise. Dozens of books with a similar concept--a divine revelation, usually involving massive destruction, that describes the fall of some past or future order and replacement with a better world, mostly by Jews at first but then also popular among early Christians. Peak outputs coincide with Seleucid rule (~200-100 BCE) and aftermath of failed Jewish rebellion against Rome in 70 CE. Which brings us to...
  • Revelation (the Bible, ~90 CE). At time of writing, Christians are a multitude of distinct sects with very different beliefs. Two of the major conflicts are whether you have to be Jewish in order to be Christian, and whether and how much to participate in the Roman state religion. While there was not, despite legend, significant oppression of Christians in general in this time period, those who refused to participate in Roman civic society and state religion were punished, because it was legally mandatory. Based on the text, John appears likely to have been a Jewish Christian who opposed engaging in Roman society. As in Daniel, "Babylon" appears as a stand in for the hegemonic state of the writer's time--the Seleucids for Daniel, the Romans for John. In the end, the wrath of God will destroy the oppressive state that the heroic faithful resisted, and a "new heaven and new Earth" will rise.
Apocalypse as Revolution
  • What we see evolving is the notion of an apocalyptic catastrophe as a political event, the overthrow of a corrupt and hated system.
  • By end of first century, this is cemented in Western culture as an expression of anger and hope, predicting (usually heavily shrouded in metaphor and code) the destruction of the present, corrupt, oppressive world so that a new and better world can be built.
Nineteenth/Twentieth Century
  • War of the Worlds (HG Wells, 1897): Martians invade the Earth, piloting giant mecha across Britain as they smash the largest, most powerful empire in human history with ease. However, the Martians have underdeveloped immune systems compared to us, and all get sick and die. While this may appear to be a simple Catastrophe in that civilization as Wells knew it appears to be restored in the end, the power structure of Britain is destroyed by the end of part one, and until they get sick the Martians rule Britain and hunt humans with impunity. Note also Wells' statement in chapter 1 that what the Martians do to Britain is no different than what the imperialist European powers did to the peoples they conquered, specifically noting the genocide of the peoples of Tasmania. He was also a socialist, staunch opponent of racism, and opponent of both eugenics and Social Darwinism, popular ideas in his time--if he were on Tumblr today he'd get angry anonymous asks calling him a social justice warrior every day. So what we have here is in many ways still an apocalypse, still the angry, "see how you like it" destruction of an oppressive state in a great catastrophe.
  • Demian (Hermann Hesse, : Story of Emil, a boy torn between social demands to be "good" and his own "bad" desires, drawn to charismatic older boy Demian (if there's not yaoi of this, there should be), who teaches him that it's impossible for an individual to be their own best selves because of all the rules and constraints society lays down--people shouldn't do whatever they feel like, but they should be free to be the best version of themselves. The only way for this to be possible is for some great cataclysm to upend society and shatter all the old ways and rules--and so comes World War I.
  • Demian is important because it ties a civilization-wide apocalypse with personal revolution, with the choice to upend the power structures in one's own life and build a better self. Also in being a case where the apocalypse is welcomed and worked toward and regarded thoroughly as a good thing, a rebirth rather than a death.
  • What does this have to do with anime? Egg speech, Utena. The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas.
Akira (1988)
  • All about power, particularly anxious power.
  • Begin with demonstrations of how broken this society is, and its problems are ours: every available surface covered with ads, police brutality against protestors, terrorist bombings, biker gang warfare
  • Everyone is trying to express their power over someone because they are afraid of having power wielded over them. The colonel is afraid of losing his job. Tetsuo is afraid of being dependent on Kaneda's protection. The Clowns try to rape Kaori because they're afraid of Kaneda's gang. Terrorists bomb because they're afraid of the power the state wields, cops shoot protestors because they're afraid of the state being destabilized.
  • People WANT apocalypse, the leader of Kei's organization wants to tear civilization down to be free, the Akira cultists want to destroy civilization because they feel betrayed by modernity and progress, the Colonel wants to destroy the corrupt hedonistic city because he misses the hopefulness and camaraderie of rebuilding.
NGE (1995-6)
  • Definitely an example of the apocalypse as personal revolution.
  • Destruction of the world ultimately serves as a backdrop, happening offstage in the final two episodes while we focus on how this enables Shinji to overcome the fears that rule his life and step toward becoming his own best self.
  • Specifically, it is about learning to recognize the neo-Stoic or cognitive-behavioral concept that our attitudes and thoughts determine our emotional responses, and by choosing to change his habitual thinking patterns, he can see the best in the world rather than the worst.
  • Congratulations! Like Demian, the apocalypse is ultimately a metaphor for the cataclysmic transformation of a single soul. Shinji's entire world is eucatastrophically transformed because the way he looks at it is fundamentally changed.
RGU (1997)
  • Interesting because the apocalypse is talked about constantly, but is it actually shown?
  • Yes. The final duel is depicted as a crisis that grips the entire school--which is the entire universe of Utena--to the point that for the first time in the series, the entire student council gathers at once. And it does destroy the prevailing power structure of the school--Anthy is the means by which Akio dominates Ohtori, and her departure destroys his ability to do that.
  • It is a personal transformation for many characters, primarily Anthy and Utena--Utena learns to be less judgmental, more empathetic, and to replace her toxic savior complex with helping; Anthy learns to trust, that she is lovable, and that she can walk away from dependency on her abuser and still survive.
  • There is an element of social revolution too, however, as much of the power structure they seek to overthrow echoes the patriarchal and heterosexist structures of our own society, and there are subtle implications in the final scenes that Utena has radically reshaped life in Ohtori.
  • Also about rebelling against narrative structures that constrain our lives, in this case the Princess/Witch or Madonna/Whore complex that says a girl must either be a weak, ineffectual, passive figure who exists solely to nurture and support males, or a corrupt and corrupting figure that manipulates and destroys men. Anthy is both and Utena is neither, and together they ultimately transcend this divide and demonstrate that they are people, at which point they graduate out of the story, leaving it in ruins behind them.

Saikano (2002)
  • Teens Shuji and Chise start dating and experience the trials and tribulations of first love, complicated by the fact that a massive world war is in the process of wiping out humanity just offscreen and Chise, partway through the first episode, is converted by the military, without her consent or knowledge, into an unstoppable living weapons system.
  • Shuji and Chise are both depicted as rape victims. Chise is traumatized by the government violation of her body and as a result is plagued by intense guilt even though she has little to no control over what she does in her "weapon state," disassociates to the point of frequent blackouts and occasional manifestations of the "weapon" side of her as an alternate personality, and revulsion at her own body. Shuji was sexually abused in middle school by his track coach, and is emotionally withdrawn, easily upset by anything "weird" or out of the ordinary, heavily implied to have sexual disfunction or at least a strong fear of sex, and disassociates more subtly, becoming easily distracted whenever the situation becomes emotionally intense. Both suffer from serious self-esteem issues, a pronounced tendency to self-blame, and a belief that they inevitably hurt anyone close to them. All of these traits in both characters are common symptoms in survivors of sexual abuse.
  • Throughout, the war serves as a metaphor for their relationship issues stemming from their sexual abuse. The military constantly taking Chise away so that she can serve in their war, for example, play the role of an abusive or controlling father who refuses to let his daughter see her bofriend in a more traditional teen romance. Their guilt and anxiety frequently take external form in the war; for example, when Shuji's abuser returns and manipulates him into cheating, the war intensifies and Chise is called away to the front. When Chise cheats with Tetsu, an earthquake strikes their town.
  • The apocalypse ensues when Chise and Shuji finally break through their anxieties and issues to make love. The entire world is destroyed, but the two of them are able to live on together in happiness. A clear case, in other words, of the apocalypse serving as the destruction of an oppressive reality; as in NGE, it is a purely psychological reality comprised of anxiety and trauma, and destroyed in order to build a new reality within which happiness and love are possible.
Madoka Magica (2011)
  • Begins with the apocalyptic destruction of the city by Walpurgisnacht, ends with destruction of the universe and replacement with a new, slightly less awful one
  • Very much a social revolution rather than personal growth--Madoka does grow as a person, but ultimately sacrifices herself to reform the world.
  • The social structure she upsets is another version of Princess/Witch--in this case, the realization that being the perfect little princess is impossible, and no matter what a woman does, she will eventually become the Witch.
  • Madoka destroys the concept of the Witch, but by becoming pure essence of Magical Girl herself, making this a flawed and incomplete revolution--hence Rebellion, but that hasn't had wide release yet.
  • Epic of Gilgamesh, Unknown
  • Critias, Plato
  • Daniel, Unknown
  • Revelation, John (probably not that John, or that one either)
  • War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
  • Demian, Hermann Hesse
  • Akira (1988 film)
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-6)
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997)
  • Saikano (2002)
  • Madoka Magica (2011)
  • John Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature
  • L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity
  • Glenn Yeffeth, ed, War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives on the H.G. Wells Classic
  • Martin Kitchen, Europe Between the Wars
  • Susan Napier, "Akira: Revenge of the Abjected" in Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle
  • Gillian Butler, Melanie Fennel, and Ann Hackmann, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety Disorders
  • Kate Millet, Sexual Politics
  • Jed A. Blue, The Very Soil: An Unauthorized Critical Study of Puella Magi Madoka Magica (coming 2015)

Monday, November 17, 2014

MLP News, Plus a Poll

So, apparently there's now an official broad date for MLP Season 5: Spring 2015. That means there is almost definitely time to liveblog an entire 26-episode season of something after Kill la Kill and before MLP resumes. The question therefore becomes, what shall we watch?

Some ground rules: maximum of 30x30 (that is, no more than 30 episodes and no more than 30 minutes per episode.) I'd also prefer to watch something animated over something live action, though that's not completely set in stone. I also prefer something I've not seen or not seen all of, though again, not set in stone.

Some options suggested in chat the other day:
  • Ouran High School Host Club
  • Psycho-Pass Season 1
  • Escaflowne
Feel free to comment with your vote, or to add something else into the running!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Become instant best friends... uncheck (Maud Pie)

My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 is now on sale, see the Books page in the sidebar!

My Little Po-Mo blog posts are drawing ever closer to their end. But don't despair! The Near-Apocalypse of '09 will pick up immediately after. Patreon backers can see it right away! 

Keep the Rainbow, she's here for the Rocks.
It's March 15, 2014. The top song is "Happy." It is by Pharrel Williams and not rock music. The top movie is Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I only go to movies about rocks. There is news. Sbarro's goes bankrupt. They make pizza. The best pizza ovens are made of rocks. Rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza. Rockets are not tiny rocks. I will never make that mistake again. Tasmania and South Australia have state elections. Mt. Augustine is the largest rock in the world, but it's in Western Australia. Some people say Uluru is the largest rock but they are wrong.

This episode is "Maud Pie." It was written by Noelle Benvenuti. She has no other credits in television or film. It introduces Maud Pie. She is Pinkie's sister. She always speaks in a comedic monotone. She is quite terse. She takes things literally. She is difficult for the other ponies to get along with. 

She is the most amazing thing I've ever seen (let me put it this way: I forgot this episode had Tank in it) and there's no way I could keep that up for an entire essay, nor am I so cruel--or so enamored of Maud Pie--that I would inflict it on you even if I could. 

Maud is a fascinating character, one who catapulted quickly to immense popularity after this episode, despite this being her only major speaking role to date. The reason is simple: she is hilarious, quite simply the funniest thing on the show to date. 

Analyzing humor is both notoriously difficult and somewhat dangerous: rather like mystical experience or a game of Mau, to over-explain the rules is to kill them. But the most striking thing about Maud is that there really is only one joke to her: she is extremely deadpan while saying and doing very odd things. This episode, effectively, is a series of escalating gags in which Maud does something strange while showing no apparent emotion. The excessive flatness of her affect serves to emphasize the strangeness of her behavior by contrast, and this dissonance creates the humor. 

It is interesting to compare her to another character who has extended the same joke across several entire seasons of another show, Parks and Recreation's April Ludgate. As played by Aubrey Plaza, who is an absolute master of this kind of humor, Ludgate is a cynical, angry loner who uses her deadpan comments about death, suffering, and her hatred of all humanity as a defense mechanism against engaging emotionally with the people around her. Her relationship with the goofy, childlike, playful Andy (Chris Pratt) is the key to the other side of her, the genuine emotion hidden under the snarky shell, but she still generally maintains the same way of communicating. The primary difference once Andy is in the picture is that she participates willingly in his ridiculous games, because that's how she shows that she loves him. 

The similarities to Maud are quite noticeable, with the major difference that Maud isn't a cynic (which is to say, a disappointed romantic defending against further disappointments), so she has a very different set of odd statements for her particular form of the joke. In her case, the oddity contrasted with her deadpan delivery is twofold: a passionate interest in rocks, and a unique aesthetic that values directness and simplicity--thus, wearing a dish towel as a scarf because he likes the pattern of stains on it, smashing apples instead of peeling them, or--best of all--her poetry, which consists entirely of brief declarative sentences about rocks. This distinction makes sense; after all, Equestria is a far less cynical place than Parks and Recreation's Pawnee, Indiana.

Nonetheless, it is understandable why the Mane Six (Pinkie Pie excepted, of course) don't like her: one of the few traits shared by all of them is emotional availability. All of them are quite expressive of their feelings and generally willing to talk them over with others. Maud's comedic lack of affect and tendency toward terse statements that shut down conversation are both anathema to the relational styles of the other ponies. Compound that with the way her mode of enjoyment of shared activities clashes with theirs (most obviously, that she easily beats Rainbow Dash in their competition yet does not care about winning), and a clear personality clash is afoot.

Unfortunately, that is where this episode commits its one major stumble. As I have alluded to before, I believe quite strongly that Friendship Is Magic needs to counteract the notion that friendship is therefore mandatory, because that is both a very prevalent and highly toxic notion, particularly among young girls. I want an episode that ends with a character writing, "Today I learned that sometimes two ponies will never get along, and that doesn't mean that either one of them is bad. They just don't go together, like chocolate ice cream on a pizza. It's okay to be friends with someone that doesn't get along with your other friends, as long as you make time for each of them. And it's okay to not be friends with someone the rest of your friends like." This episode comes as close as any has yet to expressing this concept, but fumbles the landing: instead of concluding that it's okay for Pinkie's Ponyville friends to not get along with Maud, so Pinkie can spend her time with Maud and then go back to her other friends, they instead abruptly decide the exact opposite, that their shared caring for Pinkie Pie ought to be enough common ground for them. In other words, after an entire episode of setup for the lesson that Friendship Is Not Transitive, they declared by fiat that no, actually, it is transitive.

Still, it is a stumble, and one more to do with my wishes for the show than an actual flaw in the episode. Maud remains an extremely entertaining character, and the episode is still a great deal of fun. Sometimes, that's enough.

Next week: Dream on.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kill la Kill episode 23 and Sailor Moon Crystal episode 10 liveblog chat thingies!

When Kill la Kill ends in a few episodes, I'm going to start posting Legend of Korra Season 4 vlogs. Patreon backers at $5 or higher can see them as I record them instead--the first two are done already and I'll be adding one a week! Backers at $2 or higher (including those at $5!) get to see Near-Apocalypse articles early too!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching Kill la Kill and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST today. Sailor Moon Crystal will be at 2:30 EST.

Chatlog below the cut!