Thursday, July 31, 2014

One year of having my own domain

Yes, it's now been very nearly a year since I purchased my own domain!

What's that, you say? You've never seen that domain? That's because there's no content on it! Because figuring out how to put content on it is confusing and hard!

Here is what I want:
  • I want this blog to have its own domain. I want to keep all the content, and preferably have more comment moderation options than I do now.
  • I want a blog-like interface, preferably Wordpress. By that, I mean that the tool I use to update the site and manage comments is exactly like a blog that doesn't have it's own domain.
  • I want to never, ever, ever, have to touch any other tools, even for a second. If I need to set some parameters once, then hit a button to send the blog live, and forever after it works like a regular blog? That's unacceptable. It has to be exactly like running a blog that doesn't have its own domain.
  • I am okay with having to tell a person what my domain name is and then they do all the settings for me and then I can run it like a blog.
Who can I throw money at to make this happen, and how much money can I expect to need to throw?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Utena Dump: Episodes 16-20

Onward with Utena thoughts! This next block of episodes contains some of my favorites in the entire series, and also one of my least favorite.

Episode 16

Not much to say on this one. Nanami's got a fever, and the only cure is less cowbell.

The Duel song (as far a I'm concerned, this counts as a duel) is "Donna Donna," a Yiddish music hall song from the 1940s, though in the US the English cover by Joan Baez is better known. It is about a calf who is carted off to die just because he's a calf. He complains about how unfair this is, when birds get to fly free, and is told it's his fault for not being born a bird. Given Utena's exploration of gender roles and sexuality, there's a lot of resonance here. (Given it's time and place of origin, the song is usually interpreted as being about the Holocaust, however.)

Anthy spends the whole episode knitting a red scarf. Just as green is the color of friendship and choice, red is the color of manipulation and control. She's weaving this whole episode, her ongoing revenge against Nanami. My first time watching, even not having the color symbolism, I was sure she totally ordered the cowbell on purpose. (Not just for the party and the dress, either. Anthy did nothing but protect her brother, and was hunted as a witch. Nanami "protects" her brother while treating everyone around her like crap, and is still treated as a princess.)

Red is also the color of self. These little escapades of tormenting Nanami are as much a part of Nanami regaining her independence as her relationship with Utena is.

Episode 17

Oh, it's a Juri episode. That's okay, I wasn't using my heart anyway.

Poor Shiori. No, really. She's one of the most hated characters in the fandom, and I can understand why, but I really feel for her.

Think about it: she literally cannot conceive of any reason Juri might have been nice to her as a child except pity. Her self-worth must have been really low to start with, and unfortunately it's easy to imagine potential reasons why. Then Juri starts protecting her, and it makes her feel even weaker and more pathetic. (Hi there, Anthy parallel, I see you. Note the similar hair colors. I promise I will eventually explain what purple means in this show, it's just that I have to wait for a fairly late episode to do so without spoilers.) She resents Juri, her only friend, for making her feel this way, and in her desperation to find a way to feel like she has some power, she starts dating the guy she thinks Juri has a crush on.

She mentions feeling disgusted by the things she did with him. That might just refer to the betrayal of Juri, but I feel it's more. The way she reacts to discovering Juri's attraction to her suggests she's really uncomfortable with idea of someone being sexually or romantically attached to her. It's possible this is homophobia at work, but I don't think it is. The episode points quite a few times to the question of why Shiori broke up with her boyfriend, but avoids answering it. Personally I think that it's related to her distress in her elevator and her being disgusted by things she did with him: something involving sex went wrong in their relationship.

I don't necessarily mean there was any kind of assault or abuse involved. (Though let's face it, are there ANY non-abusive relationships in this show?) It's quite possible that she just wasn't as ready for whatever it was as she thought. Maybe he wanted her to do things she didn't, and they broke up over that.

Regardless, Shiori thinks she has power over Juri at last when she discovers the locket... But she's still incredibly upset underneath, because now her belief that Juri wasn't helping her out of friendship is, in Shiori's mind, confirmed: she now believes it was out of lust. She feels utterly worthless, and her only remaining option is to revolutionize the world.

All this great character development really makes for some short duels, doesn't it?

Thought on the Shadow Play: it's obviously about Juri and her struggle dealing with her romantic feelings and her fears regarding the closet. Utena's response is heartlessly innocent: just change.

Episode 18

Meh. This is my least favorite episode of the Black Rose arc. The formula is established now, and this sticks to it closely, so there's no plot surprises. And as a character piece... again, meh. It's just nowhere near as interesting as the last two. Tsuwabuki is an entitled little Nice Guy (tm) who knows that being "nice" is a bare minimum, not some kind of achievement that earns you the attention of others--but still believes he's entitled to them, and gets all butthurt because Nanami has a life of her own that doesn't revolve around him. Waa waa waa.

Lest we forget, this is the guy who repeatedly endangered Nanami's life so he could act out his White Knight fantasies, and from his perspective it "earned" him a place at Nanami's side. He's very precocious at being an entitled misogynist; he's probably hanging out on MRA fora or buyin PUA books already, too.

He gets two swords because Nanami used a two-sword style in her duel. There's a fan theory that it represents dependency--that one sword is their own heart and the other sword the person they're using as a basis for constructing their own identity. So for Nanami it represents Touga, and for Tsuwabuki it represents Nanami.

There is one shot I really like in this episode. In the elevator, Tsuwabuki has a photo of Nanami with half his face on the edge. For all his entitled possessiveness, the reality is that he's on the edge of her life, partially cut off. That's not the shot I mean--the shot I like is the last we see of Nanami in the episode, her face cut off the same way. She's now being partially cut out of Tsuwabuki's life as he chooses to spend time with a girl his own age, and she's okay with it, commenting casually on the weather.

Culture note: "Indirect kissing" is a thing I've seen in a few anime. Basically, the idea is that sharing food with someone is an intimate act. But it's frequently used in a pretty gross way, with one character using it to pretend to an intimacy that doesn't exist. It seems to have faded out since the 90s? Or maybe I'm just not watching those sorts of anime anymore.

Episode 19

A lot of people [on the Mark Watches thread] have already commented on the question of whether Tatsuya is really "too good" to be a Black Rose duelist. [These comments were mostly variants on (correctly) pointing out that trying to date Utena because he wants to be close to Wakaba is cruel, cowardly, and deceptive.]

My own take is that this has to do with the Egg Speech from the first arc, which was a reference to (almost a quote from) the novel Demian. One of that book's major themes is the conflict between being "good"--which explicitly means conforming to the conventional rules of the society around you--and being true to yourself. The only way to achieve true adulthood, according to the book, is to break free of those conventions. This does not mean being amoral (Demian himself specifically mentions rape as something a person who is really true to themselves would never want to do), but rather answering to the dictates of one's own conscience. To achieve this, one must break free of the systems that sustain conventional morality--break the world's shell, revolutionize the world, etc.

I think that's what Mikage means. All of the other Black Rose duelists are opposed to the normal social rules of love and friendship and desire freedom from them. Kanae wants to get married without joining her husband's family. Kozue wants her brother all to herself. Shiori sees friendship as a contest to be won. Tsuwabuki wants a girl who's much too old for him. And by contrast, Tatsuya just wants a "normal" relationship with the most "normal" possible girl, Wakaba.

So when Mikage says he's too good for the Black Rose, it's not praise. It's a derisive dismissal, saying that Tatsuya is too conventional in his desires to want to revolutionize the world.

Episode 20


So yeah, if you haven't already gathered as much, brown is the color of normality, the masses, the non-special people. It is a plain and drab color. Wakaba's path, her destiny, is an ordinary, unremarkable life.

Depressing? Perhaps. But as another magical girl show would say a decade later, "Happiness to those who accept their fate. Glory to those who defy it." There are distinct advantages to being ordinary and unremarkable. The spotlight isn't always a good place to stand.

But it doesn't feel that way to Wakaba. Just for a moment, she tasted what it's like to be a protagonist instead of the secondary character most of us are, and she has no way of knowing whether she will ever get to taste it again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An extremely basic point about American TV surprisingly many people don't seem to get

Now, just to be clear, I am talking about standard commercial television. That means American television that is for-profit and ad-supported--basically everything except premium channels like HBO and not-for-profit channels like PBS and C-SPAN.

And also to be clear, I am not taking a position whether this is right or wrong or good or bad. I am simply pointing out that this is how things currently work, and in fact how they have worked since the beginning of American broadcasting.

Now, this is a really basic and important point, because it is pretty much impossible to understand some decisions networks make without knowing this. Ready?

You are not the customer. You are the product.

The network may get a very tiny amount of money from their share of your cable bill, but the overwhelming majority of their money comes from advertisers. But advertisers don't buy ads from networks, they buy them from ad agencies. What they're paying the network for is your attention.

The business of a network is not to make (or, more likely, commission) and transmit shows. That's a stage in the process. The actual business of the network is to sell your attention to advertisers.

So, once again: you are not the customer. You are the product.

The show is not the product. The show is bait.

And that's why Korra got moved to Friday nights and then pulled off the air.

Monday, July 28, 2014

So I've been reading Madoka spinoff manga...

I'm not going to go into much detail because they are going to be book-exclusive chapters on them, but here's some quick mini-reviews:
  • Different Story is really pretty good. It's not as good as the series or Rebellion, but then few things are. It's a nice exploration of the two magical girls that probably got the least development in the series, and does a strong job of maintaining the general tone and depth of character that defines the series.
  • Oriko Magica is all right. It's not the best, but it's not too long and has some nifty bits. It stumbles a bit on characterizing the new girls, but keeps up the tone well, and Kyouko focus is always welcome.
  • Kazumi Magica is unmitigated crap. It goes on seemingly forever, has far too many characters, most of whom are so ill-defined as to blend together, utterly lacks any kind of thematic cohesion, and looks like bad fan-art. It's clearly a product of a kitchen-sink mentality, with characters and concepts crammed in without any regard for how they interact or whether there is anything interesting to do with them. Also, it's got Male Gaze all the way up its ass, frequently literally..

Sunday, July 27, 2014

So, you may have noticed the lack of a pony post today...

Sorry about that. Between procrastination (because it's "Daring Don't," who WOULDN'T procrastinate on that one?), low energy, and a bunch of shit hitting the fan, I just haven't been able to do it.

At this point, I'm not even going to try to put it up during the week. Let's just call a Mulligan on this one, and the "Daring Don't" article will go up next Sunday.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy

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 the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Still no Fiction Friday because books

Am I the only one who prefers the Earth Civil War arc of Babylon 5 to the Shadow War arc?

And Londo's story to either?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Favorite Novels

Since a while back I shared my favorite anime, and I just reorganized my bookshelves, I figured I would share my five favorite novels. Well, favorite this week, anyway; the number of novels I love is probably an order of magnitude higher than the number of anime I've seen, and so the category of "favorite" is ever-shifting. I am deliberately leaving out short story collections, novellas, short story collections disguised as novels by use of a framing device, and graphic novels; I may do other lists which allow those at some future date, but for now I'm sticking to clear-cut examples of prose novels. Also this is in no particular order; it's hard enough to narrow the list to seven, let alone rank them.
  • Foucalt's Pendulum, Umberto Eco: Everything you would expect a conspiracy thriller written by a Nobel Prize-winning author/world-renowned semiotician to be. Dense, convoluted, twisty, a glorious celebration of the twin facts that conspiracy theories are fundamentally silly and the mystical is fundamentally a conspiracy theory.
  • Desolation Road, Ian MacDonald: A bizarre, largely episodic history of a small town in the Martian desert, peopled by outcasts and oddities. By turns silly and profound, and sometimes both at once. But mostly it's just deeply, deeply weird.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis: Time-travel comedy of manners farce. In which two separate comedies of manners, one in the late 21st century and the other in the late 19th, collide gloriously. Nothing deep here, just a very funny and fun book.
  • Night Watch, Terry Pratchett: It was a very hard choice between this and Hogfather, the climax of which helped solidify a lot of my own worldview, but I think ultimately this is the better book. It's a fascinating inversion of Les Miserables, and without the interminable boring asides that prevent that book from being on this list. Like Les Miserables, it is ultimately an exploration of what it means to be good in a fundamentally corrupt world; this has better jokes and a less ridiculously uber-competent hero, though.
  • My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok: If you've read one Potok book, you've read all of them. This is that one. The story of an artist torn between the calling of his craft and the strict rules of his insular religious community, between his own integrity and what his upbringing and everyone around him tells him is "right."
  • VALIS, Philip K. Dick: A bizarre, hallucinatory journey, another conspiracy thriller (odd that there are two on this list; I don't usually care for the genre) caught in a complete psychotic breakdown, a narrative collapse par excellence that, ultimately, can only be resolved by the reader's own choices and interpretation. This is either an absolute masterpiece or a complete train wreck, and after three readings over ten years I'm leaning towards saying it's both.
  • Magister Ludi (a.k.a. The Glass Bead Game), Herman Hesse: I cannot even begin to describe this book. It is a living book, a growing thing that keeps changing every time you go back to read it, that writhes and shifts even in your hands. A slippery thing. It's about a guy that's really good at this very complicated board game. It's about academia. It's about life in a prison that isn't really there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thoughts While Watching Sailor Moon Crystal: Episode Two

Aw, episode one was ad-free for whatever reason. This has ads.

Second year of middle school in Japan, that's roughly 13-14, yes? Same grade as Utena.

Um... an IQ of 300 is impossible. Like, literally impossible.

Um. Wow. Ami is uncomfortably hot in this art style. *reminds self she's 14*

What. the. fuck. Oh, commercial. The way the characters jumped out of the compact, I was a little confused for a moment.

When Beryl refers to "our great ruler," does she mean herself or..? (Don't answer that.)

Maybe the Dark Kingdom just isn't very creative with titles, since they have four kings overseen by a queen. Maybe every single rank of nobility is called either "King," or "Queen."

Seeing a small cat refer to "The Evil" is giving me Sluggy Freelance flashbacks.

Wait, is Sailor Moon not the princess? I'm confused.

I... what? Where is Luna?

Haha, the nerd girl is a Virgo. And by "ha ha" I mean "fuck you."

Crystal Seminar is a villain plot, I'm guessing.

Aw, Ami took her glasses off. She looked way better with them, as most people do.

Oh my god, does Usagi have a thing for Ami? I could get behind this.

Usagi: Horrible cheater at video games. Also, Ami's lucky she picked that game and not the one next to it, if she'd beaten the high score on that one she'd be recruited to pilot a starfighter against evil aliens.

Here at the Crystal Seminar, we like to prepare young people for their inevitable future of sitting quietly in cubicles, typing away at computers and having their life essence drained to feed a dark power.

Okay, so who is the dark-haired girl hanging with Usagi and Naru? Is she a plant?

Japanese print ads are so busy by Western design standards. Newspapers, too.

No seriously, who wears a tux just walking around the street?

I... what? How did Usagi activate the brainwashing without brainwashing?

Wait, the video game just had a power-up for Usagi in it? I'd complain that this is video game logic, but... video game.

Does Ami's pen have powers too?

I like to think Usagi just THREW Luna at evil teacher-lady.

I really do feel like this transformation sequence is a huge improvement on the old one, but at the same time, I don't want to see all of it every episode. I hope we eventually get a shortened version or it changes up or something.

Ugh, super-whining again. Seriously, WTF show.

Damn, only the second episode and already Sailor Moon's getting her ass kicked. But I guess that's necessary so the new scout can save the day.

Once again, I'd like to point out that Luna gives her recruits EVEN LESS information about what's going on and what they're getting into than Kyubey does.

Oh, interesting, Usagi is Justice and Ami is Intelligence.

Bah, stop upstaging everyone, Tuxedo Jackass. You're even worse than Angel.

Moon Tiara brutal murder count: 2/2.

Ami and Usagi want each other SO BAD you guys. They're all blushes and smiles and handholding, I flat-out refuse to not ship them.

This ad for Crunchyroll Devices is reminding me of the thing they keep showing at movie theaters from MPAA about how movies deserve to be watched on the big screen, not the little. It's an anti-piracy ad, but it makes me laugh because it works just as well as anti-paying for movie rentals, DVD purchases, and streaming services.

Ah, image of our next recruit. I have a feeling she is going to be one of the characters most different from the Abridged Series version.

This was rather spectacularly better than the first episode, but I'm not going to actually LIKE this show until they get rid of at least one of super-whining or Tuxedo Fedora swooping in to save the day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I just realized a major upside to the end of My Little Po-Mo

Namely, I can skip Rainbow Rocks if I want to, without feeling the least bit guilty about it.

This isn't to say that I necessarily will skip it, just that I can feel free to wait and see what other people think of it. If the divide of people who did and didn't like it is more or less the same as for Equestria Girls, then I skip it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Images I really wanted to use for yesterday's post and couldn't

Usually, I'm fine working within my self-imposed rules. One of those rules, which I've never had any problem with before, is that I include a screencap from the episode with a funny (or "funny," depending on how much you share my sense of humor) caption.

But yesterday's post left me really, really wishing I let myself use images other than screencaps to illustrate an episode, because then I could have used one of these two:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

You turned into a vampire pony! (Castle Mane-ia)

Was anyone even a little surprised that she can just
spontaneously play the organ all of a sudden?
It's November 30, 2013. The top song is Lorde's "Royals," which I can't precisely say I enjoy, but at least it's interesting, the lyrics being readable as a rejection of the fantasy of class mobility used to trick the poor into voting against their own interests. The top movie is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which like the previous film in the series takes a book which had a strong premise and characters but workmanlike execution, and adds top-notch actors and cinematography to significantly surpass the book.

In the news, it's a relatively slow week. There are a few significant follow-ups to news stories from the 2012, however: four employees of Steubenville City Schools, including the Superintendent, are indicted with criminal charges for their mishandling of the Steubenville rape case; a report on the Sandy Hook School Shooting is released that finds no clear motive, though it does reject shooter Adam Lanza's mental health issues as a causative factor, and CBS suspends reporter Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan after Logan admits portions of her report on the Benghazi attacks were false. In news that will gain significance in the future, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the Hobby Lobby case, which will eventually lead to their most spectacularly wrong-headed decision since Citizens United. And in news that was never and will never be significant, but is kind of cute, the American Thanksgiving celebration occurs during Hannukah for the first time in over a century and the last time in 70,000 years, which is to say most likely the last time ever.

In ponies, we have "Castle Mane-ia" by Josh Haber, which rather like "Royals" is more interesting than entertaining. The episode is more complexly structured than anything the show has done previously, even more so than "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," which had multiple short stories embedded within a framing device. Each of those short stories were components of a narrative, which they told nonlinearly, but they were also each able to stand alone. Here, however, we have three intertwining stories, none of which can really lay claim to being a framing device, and more importantly all of which interact in such a way that none functions as an entirely independent story.

Consider, for example, the scene in the "Hall of Hooves" where Rainbow Dash feels someone's leg around her in the Rainbow Dash/Applejack story, while Rarity panics because she touched something "alive" in the Rarity/Fluttershy story. The characters in the two stories share a physical space and interact with one another, yet never realize the others are there. Similarly, when Angel is separated from Fluttershy, he ends up with Twilight and Spike, twining their story together with Fluttershy and Rarity's. This is fundamentally unlike the common element of the Sonic Rainboom in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," because here the only common element between stories is the castle itself. The interactions between them are more than sharing a common origin; rather, the three stories start out driven by different motivations--exploration, competition, and restoration--interact multiple times throughout the episode, and then ultimately converge on a shared ending and the reveal of Pinkie Pie as the unwitting cause of much of their troubles.

This relationship between "Castle Mane-ia" and "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" reflects the relationship of their respective seasons. Friendship Is Magic's first season did have a sort of emergent storyline in the form of the Grand Galloping Gala, but it was almost entirely in the background until the finale. By contrast, "Castle Mane-ia" immediately picks up where "Princess Twilight Sparkle" left off, with the question of how to open the strange box that sprouted from the Tree of Harmony. This will form an arc across the entire season, with each character getting a focus episode that involves defining their Element of Harmony and encouraging it in others, leading to the acquisition of a series of objects that become the keys to the box in the season finale. The result is a more unified season than any prior; interestingly, it is also slightly heavier on action-adventure elements over slice-of-life, closer to the ratio which Faust has indicated she would have preferred for the first season. In many ways, Season Four can thus be seen as the idealized form of the series intended by its creator--perhaps that kabbalistic read of the season premier wasn't so far-fetched after all.

Other than its beginning, "Castle Mane-ia" has two strong ties to the season arc. The first is the discovery of the Journal of the Two Sisters, which leads Twilight to propose that the Mane Six keep their own journal, which takes the place of letters to Celestia now that Twilight has graduated from her tutelage. The other is the reveal at the end of the episode that there were two shadowy cloaked figures lurking in the castle, Pinkie and an unidentified, but implied to be sinister, other.

This is where the dual pun in the title comes in. "Mane-ia" is, of course, a pun on "mania," consistent with Friendship Is Magic's fondness for horse puns. The title thus refers to panicked ponies letting their imaginations run wild in the castle. It is also, however, a pun on Castlevania, a series of video games in which the hero explores the titular malicious, ruined, haunted castle with, usually, the goal of reaching and killing Dracula. The setting of the castle, with its hidden passages, creepy statues, and ubiquitous and inexplicably lit candles and torches evokes the Hammer Horror-esque aesthetic of the games, though it lacks the undead creatures that normally stalk the halls of Castlevania.

Or does it? Dracula, in the Castlevania games, is reimagined as an ever-returning force of cosmic evil, as much a Satan-figure as he is a vampire, and frequently able to transform into an enormous monster when he is finally confronted. And, of course, as a vampire he derives his power by feeding on others, though once defeated he is reduced to a shadowy presence. The title thus evokes the notion of a shadowy being who predates the series, drains energy from others, and turns into a monster--in hindsight, it's a dead giveaway of things to come.

But that is a thread to be returned to at the end of the series. In the meantime, we have only an ominous shadow in the background; the foreground will be taken up by more familiar light and fun for quite a while yet.

Next week: At least for very small values of "fun." Every season's got to have at least one, right?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy

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 the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.
Afterwards, I'll update this post with the chatlog.

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, July 18, 2014

I have a feeling this'll be one of the more controversial posts...

No Fiction Friday this week. Probably none next week. Book-related stuff is heating up.

So, before I start, let me be very clear: I am, generally and overall, a Star Trek fan. Further--and perhaps unusually, given some of the stances I've taken on other works of which I'm a fan--most of my views on Star Trek more or less coincide with the general consensus of the fandom or, in cases where there is no consensus, at least within the Overton window. For example, I like TOS, TNG, and DS9; I think VOY and ENT are crap and the Abrams reboot movies are Star Trek in name only. I think Picard is the best captain, DS9 the best series overall, TOS the strongest on humor and interplay between the characters.

But I have one opinion that I've only slowly become aware of, which assuredly places me on the lunatic fringe of Trek fans: the more I think about it, the more I realize I really dislike Spock.

First off, I'm just going to come out swinging at Vulcan culture in general: the whole "emotions are bad and need to be controlled" thing is a crock of shit. Why? Because that feeling that emotions are bad is itself an emotional response. The backstory for the Vulcans establishes that they established a philosophy of strict "logic"* because they disliked how violent their culture was and preferred a more peaceful one. Those are both emotional reactions too. There is no logical basis to prefer any situation over any other, because to have a preference is to be emotional. As such, it is impossible to make a decision without including some degree of emotional consideration.

Which, of course, the Vulcans do. Now, I'm not going to assume they have the same emotions as humans. In humans, a distaste for violence is generally some combination of fear of being hurt, emotional empathy for others getting hurt, and aesthetics. In Vulcans, it may very well be a combination of scvetznarg and b'foth. But the simple fact that they do prefer to avoid violence, that they try to minimize it, proves that they have preferences and are acting on them, which is to say that they are emotional beings.**

Yet Spock insists he is motivated by pure logic, in contrast to inferior human emotionality. Bullshit. Logic is not, on its own, a decision-making mechanism. Logic is a system for deriving justified conclusions from already-established premises, nothing more or less. Logic cannot tell you which of two courses of action is better unless the premises already contain some definition of "better"--a concept which is, in itself, inherently derived from emotion. We can tell some of what Spock considers "better": he wants to survive, and for others to survive, but in a pinch he values the survival of the Enterprise crew, and Kirk and Bones in particular, above the survival of all others. There is no logical reason to prefer living over dying unless you establish in the premises that some aspect of living is desirable or some aspect of dying is not. Spock is loyal; he has friends; he has a moral code. None of these are things which can exist without the inherently emotional preference of some state of being over some other state of being. Vulcans are not dedicated to logic; they are dedicated to rationality, which is to say to using a combination of evidence and logic to choose the best course of action, where "best" is defined as "likeliest to achieve my [emotionally] preferred outcomes."

Which wouldn't be so bad--it's not inherently bad writing to have a character who is self-contradictory or hypocritical--if not for the fact that Spock is frequently held up as an object of admiration. (Admittedly, more by fans than the show, which correctly depicts Spock as smug, self-satisfied, and almost always wrong about anything other than matters of pure fact.) Unfortunately, Spocks are quite common in real life, especially online where obscuring one's kneejerk emotional responses is easier. I cannot tell you how many discussions I have been in about ethics, politics, or aesthetics--all fields which are fundamentally about identifying and pursuing preferences, and therefore necessarily contain a strong element of emotion--where someone tries to pretend that a façade of apathy (or even the genuine thing) somehow makes their opinions more valid than the opinions of people who passionately care about the issue at hand.

Remember, a purely rational being is necessarily an amoral being. They might fake having a moral code in order to achieve their preferred outcomes, for example if they have to deal with gatekeepers who aren't amoral, but ultimately there is no principle that a fully rational being won't betray if it's the best way to achieve their preferred outcomes. A moral being will necessarily sometimes choose to forego a preferred outcome if it requires immoral behavior to achieve.

So basically, Spock is a hypocritical racist who espouses an amoral philosophy while holding himself up as superior, and reflects neatly one of the more obnoxious forms of GIFT. Which may even be partially inspired by him--I have definitely met people who reference childhood viewing of Star Trek as formative in their pursuit of and insistence on their own superior rationality.

To be honest, he's pretty much an asshole.***

*We'll get to why that's in scare quotes in a minute.
**But, you protest, plants and amoebae are able to exhibit behaviors without having emotions! Why can't Vulcans? Because unlike plants and amoebae, Vulcans are conscious. They are able to observe their own thought processes leading up to their behaviors (which we know, because a major part of their culture--and ours, for that matter--is deliberately monitoring and seeking to alter those processes). That's what emotion is--an awareness (in humans, possibly subconscious) of one's own motivations for behavior. And yes, this also means that Data had emotions from the start. He is, for starters, envious of humans.
***Until Wrath of Khan, when he all of a sudden embraces his emotional side and becomes awesome just in time to die. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" is not only an emotional statement, it's an irrational one. It would be one thing if he expressed it as preferring the rest of the crew survive more than his own survival, but the way he phrases it places something ahead of his own preferred outcomes, which for a purely rational being are the only things that better. What it actually is, is a moral judgment, and therefore fundamentally irrational. Positive character growth!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Character Genders in New Smash Bros

A quick breakdown of character genders in the upcoming Smash Bros.,* which has been doing a really good job of being unusually inclusive of women for a video game.
  • Male: 24
  • Female: 10
  • Neither/Unknown: 3
So just to be clear on the situation we're talking about, the fighting game doing unusually well at including women has them as just over 1/4 of the characters.

*Counting characters of unknown gender (e.g., Pokémon) as neither, characters where you can choose the gender as both, and alternate versions of characters that the game treats as separate characters (e.g. Link and Toon Link, Samus and Zero Suit Samus) as two separate characters. Also it's kind of the whole point of Sheik that he has a masculine gender presentation (with some ambiguity as to whether the transformation alters him physiologically or cosmetically, but either way, it's masculine presentation), so I'm counting him as male.

ETA: Corrected a math error. 10/37 is a bit over 1/4, not a bit over 1/3.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Utena Dump: Episodes 11-15

More of my comments from Mark Watches Utena! Today's batch carries us through the end of the Student Council arc and into the beginning of the Black Rose, which is my favorite part of the series.

Episode 11

Well, that was fun. Touga here completes his evolution from creep in the woods to master manipulator, and the last several episodes become clear as Touga’s lengthy scheme to win his duel with Utena, from manipulating her into believing he’s her prince to manipulating Nanami into giving him a front-row seat to watch how Utena fights someone using a style based on his own. He also wants to see if he can, through manipulation, create a scenario where he wins against the previously guaranteed-victory of the Power of Dios. Probably because he thinks if he can beat that, he can beat Akio in the duel named Revolution. (It's really only on this watch that I've begun thinking about Touga's goals and long-term plan. I think he's playing the Kefka game--let Akio lead, open the path to power, then shove him aside and claim it. Of course Akio knows this, and Touga knows he knows, and so on ad infinitum, which makes it a game not of deception but of timing and control.)

This manipulation is key to Touga’s power and status; he believes in basically nothing, and is a master at identifying, using, and subtly altering the beliefs of others. That is one of red’s two aspects in this show: belief, faith, and convictions. Touga’s hair represents, at least in part, his skill at manipulating such things—for example, making a flock of schoolgirls all think he’s interested enough in them to date him, even though they all know about each other. For Utena, by contrast, it represents how her ideals drive (and occasionally blind) her.

One other thing: the Shadow Girls play, about an endless cycle of a story that will continue until either some outside force ends it or someone involved screws it up, is pretty obviously about the now-formulaic duels, and the fact that, under the influence of outside force Touga, Utena is about to screw it up. It's also a reference to the duels in general, with Utena now as the outside force that influences Anthy into "screwing it up."

Episode 12

So, this episode is all about Utena regaining her identity, her sense of self, which is the other half of what red means. That might seem an odd combination--what does "self" have to do with "belief"--but they make sense in the context of this episode. Utena, defeated, has lost her way, and puts on her school uniform, choosing to play the role of the "normal" girl. I've made a big deal before about how costume changes in the show represent the characters taking on roles, and that's clearly what's happening here; for people like Wakaba, for whom the standard-issue school uniform is their usual outfit, it represents who they are--it's "normal for them." But for Utena, suddenly wearing it is taking on a role that's alien to her her, "not normal for Utena."

The half-seen crowd of cheering girls, our Greek chorus now that the Shadow Play Girls have flown off, are as enthusiastic about Utena in a girl's uniform as they were for her old uniform. Or possibly it's a different crowd of cheering girls. Either way, they represent a world celebrating that Utena is now "normal," conforming to the standards of others. This episode thus places the self ("normal for Utena") into tension with the beliefs of others ("normal for everyone else").

Which, of course, is what Touga's been talking about for ten episodes now: "If it cannot break out of its shell, the chick will die without ever being born. We are the chick. The world is our egg." We cannot be truly ourselves within the constraints and rules laid down by society. "If we don't crack the world's shell, we will die without ever truly being born." It is only by pushing back against those constraints that we can fully become ourselves. We must defy the norms of society and others' beliefs about who we should be in order to become who we believe we should be, our own best selves. "Smash the world's shell. FOR THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!" To be truly oneself, therefore, is to rebel. The power to be oneself is the power to revolutionize the world.

The world presses in on each of us, pushing us to conform; when we are true to ourselves, we push back. The inevitable consequence is that either we surrender, stop pushing, and remain contained within the world's demands, or we force the world to accept us as we are, smashing through into the sunlight and, in at least a small way, revolutionizing it. German-romantic ethical philosophy as a universalized application of queer narrative. I love it.

And this is where Touga fails, because he is doing it backwards. Touga endlessly plays roles, never showing his true face, manipulating the beliefs of others instead of following his own beliefs, all in his quest to acquire the power to revolutionize the world, presumably so that he can then be free to be himself. (Which I rather suspect to him means "Do whatever I want," which isn't really the same thing at all.)

But note Utena's rose. This episode is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that rose color represents one's desires, because this is the first fight where Utena isn't motivated by wanting to be the prince, but rather by wanting to reclaim herself--and her rose takes on a red tint. Utena doesn't want the power to revolutionize the world; she wants to be who she is and act according to her ideals, and as a result is much closer to that power of revolution than Touga is.

But this isn't just about Utena finding her lost self. Anthy is awakening too, as we see when she imagines Utena sitting across from her. Anthy misses Utena. Which means Anthy is actively wanting something in opposition to her fiance's wishes--a huge step forward for her.

Then, in the arena, we see Anthy evolving rapidly over the course of the duel. First she is completely submissive to Touga, kneeling at his feet to "abandon her body" in a scene which, given how he's holding the sword and how she kisses it, is rather uncomfortably blowjob-esque. It is her power which Touga wields against Utena, shredding the uniform of her false self. He slices through her sword just as Saionji sliced though her bamboo sword in the first episode, yet Utena fights on in the face of unexpected power that she cannot hope to defeat. This is what prompts Anthy to remember "that time," when she first met Utena--and once again, it is memories of the prince that save Utena. But not Utena's memories--it is Anthy seeing the prince in Utena that causes her to revoke her power from the sword, giving Utena the opening she needs to win.

This is where things get complicated. I mentioned putting on a new outfit can symbolize the character taking on a role. What, then, does it mean that in the dueling arena, Anthy puts on an outfit the color of the Self and Ideals. Is it saying that she takes on the role of the Rose Bride out of some ideal? That she is playing a part, but that part somehow is (or has become) her real self?

Whatever, the point is that Utena got a giant metal penis sword from the openly (to the audience, anyway) gay member of the Student Council and used it to overcome Touga's blowjob-enhanced sword in order to claim Anthy as her bride. This ship is under full sail.

Episode 13

Clip shows are a common practice in the longer-running anime, and episode 13 or 14, being the closest episodes to the middle of a 26-episode run, are the most common episodes to have a clip show. Occasionally, a show will do something clever in the clip show, like using it to recontextualize past scenes in light of future information, juxtapose things the audience might not have connected otherwise, or using a framing device that advances the plot or drops clues. This has largely become the norm for clip shows in anime, but in the mid and late 90s was only just starting to catch on, so Utena is a bit ahead of the curve here.

The duel names are, you may note, the same as my revised interpretations of the colors. In the past, I had noticed that the names were strongly associated with colors, but still rejected them as the actual meaning of the colors because I couldn't make red fit. Then I realized that I had missed two important things; one, Touga's "egg" speech links the two aspects of red by way of Demian, and two, each color carries not only it's own meanings, but meanings in opposition to its opposite color. So red is not manipulation and power in its own right, but in opposition to friendship and choice. This has the handy advantage of explaining both why Utena is closer to the prince than Touga and why her hair is so much lighter: she has partially embraced her color's opposite. The fusion of two opposing additive colors (as when dealing with colored light, for example a TV screen) is white.

Episode 14

Quick Japanese culture note on last names: Somebody more versed in Japanese culture than I can probably explain this better, but I’ll take a crack at it. You probably noticed Anthy and her brother, Akio, have different last names. This is most likely because of a fairly feudal practice still done to this day in Japanese corporations, whereby sometimes the owner of the company will adopt a favored employee and/or arrange a marriage between the employee and the owner’s daughter, thus making the employee their heir. Said employee will then usually take the name of the company’s owner. This practice reflects a difference between Western culture, where family names were until recently strictly patrilineal (that is, upon marriage a woman joins her husband’s family and therefore adopts his last name), and Japanese culture, where the situation was slightly more complex, and could be either a wife joining a husband’s family or a husband joining his wife’s family, depending mostly on which family was wealthier and more powerful. (The practice is, of course, equally heteronormative in both traditions.)

TL;DR: Akio has changed his name to Ohtori to represent that he is the heir to the Ohtori Academy.

Note 2: This was actually written more or less stream-of-consciousness while watching the episode, hence being more disjointed than usual.

Given what we learn later, one has to wonder whether the real Chairman Ohtori even exists, however. Unless previous cycles of the Rose Bride duels happened somewhere other than the school, and the Mikage cycle was the first? Hmm, actually, that makes a lot of sense...

Mikage is apparently some kind of supergenius who writes papers for professors? And rather than accept bribes or payment, he’s more interested in building a network of people who owe him favors. Building the Science Mafia, basically. Creepy.

Do the Circle of the Black Rose and the Circle of the Black Thorn hang out?

Also, “Seminar” implies some kind of self-directed educational society.

And it looks like we have our plot! Mikage and Mamiya need to have someone duel Utena and win Anthy so that they can sacrifice her, with the goal of making Mamiya the Rose Bride.

Apparently in addition to whatever educational purpose it serves, the seminar provides counseling services to students? In a creepy confessional/elevator. Fun. Plus the elevator appears to be actually powered by the occupant’s emotions. "Going deeper" causes them to go literally deeper underground until they reach the basement/morgue... which as what appears to be the lowest place on campus, serves as a dark mirror to Akio’s apartment in the Cock Tower. (Speaking of which—if he’s interested in stargazing, why does he have a giant projector? Why not a similarly big/expensive telescope instead? Foreshadowing...) Anyway, as Kanae talks, the butterfly becomes a crysalis becomes a caterpillar. Like the occupant, it's regressing...

So the hundred dead boys were ALL duelists. That implies A LOT of duels before the current student council. And now that they’re dead, Mikage is having them... sort of possess? Kanae. Or something.

Kanae, on the other hand, claims that the black rose has released her true self. Interesting, given that black roses normally represent death. I’m... not actually going to go further than that in regards to the color symbolism this episode, it’s too spoilery.
Also, the stair-climbing music changed! There are some much deeper voices joining in. Those'd be the hundred dead boys added to the choir of the damned, I imagine.

Hey, remember back when you thought Nanami and Touga had an uncomfortable sibling relationship? About that...

Episode 15

Somebody last time [ed.: i.e., in the comments on Mark Watches Utena Episode 14] was talking about the Black Rose as emblematic of the Jungian Shadow archetype, so let's talk about that for a bit.

Jung's theory of archetypes was based on his idea that folklore and religious narrative were based on a sort of instinctive understanding of human psychology, and so there were certain recurring character types that represented aspects of the human psyche and stages of the developmental process. These are the archetypes.

As a theory, either for psychological or literary analysis purposes, it's basically buncomb, but it has some practical applications, both in therapy and as a writing tool.

And we've actually had a bit of it floating around in the series already, in the form of the Prince, a classic storybook character who also seems to represent the kind of person Utena is trying to become. The Prince is not actually one of Jung's archetypes, but seems to basically correspond to the Hero, with maybe a bit of the animus (but that seems too heteronormative a concept for this series) mixed in.

The Shadow is one of the most important archetypes in Jung's system, and probably the one with the most literary influence. The Shadow is the dark, suppressed self--not precisely one's "dark side" in the sense of being necessarily evil, but rather all the things which you wish weren't true about you and try to suppress and deny. Impulses and desires you don't want to admit you have, capacities that frighten you, strengths and weakness that do not fit with your usual self-image, that kind of thing.

As I discussed in regards to FMA:B, where there are Shadow archetypes ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE, the thing about the Shadow is that it is a representation of your own internal conflict, and thus fighting it only makes it stronger. The only way to defeat your Shadow is to embrace and accept it, make it a part of yourself.

It seems very, very likely that the Black Rose here represents the Shadow, and that the purpose of the confessional is to get the potential duelist to confront and admit the inner darkness they're hiding from, so that it can be unleashed against Utena and Anthy. For Kanae, that was her anger, hatred, and suspicion toward Anthy. For Kozue, it's her possessiveness of her brother and jealousy of Anthy.

So let's talk about Kozue. One great thing about that elevator is that it is an effective form of what I've dubbed in my books and blogging "character ablation," where you strip away the layers of a character's personality, from shallowest to deepest, until you're left with the core of who they are. It's one of the fastest ways to develop a character, so within just a couple of episodes we understand what motivates Kozue about as well as Juri, Miki, Nanami, or Saionji and better than Touga. The Shadow Girl Play, about not wanting something until it's suggested you can't have it, and then immediately trying to take it, confirms it: she wants Miki's attention. It must have been very gratifying to be the center of her brother's world, and so she deliberately makes him worry about her by dating boys he disapproves of and so on, in order to keep his attention. But now his attention is drifting to Anthy, and Kozue feels lost. At the same time, she can't admit that she wants him watching her (which is why she doesn't seek positive attention from him by, for example, playing the piano), and instead on a conscious level she watches him. (Including threatening his maybe-a-pedophile piano teacher? But I don't think Miki is actually being abused yet, just targeted. I can't explain why, maybe it's just because Anthy is enough sexually abused characters for one story arc.)

The milkshake is a significant image here. As someone else [on Mark Watches] explained several episodes ago, flavors have connotations regarding maturity in Japan; certain flavors are regarded as more mature than others. Sweet things in particular are seen as being less adult/more childish (and also more feminine, yay sexism). So rejecting the milkshake may be Kozue's way of saying she's too old for such things--and, by extension, too old to need Miki hovering around protecting her (especially since he's the same age as her). Rejecting the milkshake, protecting him, and having lots of boyfriends are all ways for her to assert her adulthood--but she's 13, and it's pretty common at that age to want to assert adulthood and independence while at the same time wanting to hold on to childhood and safety.

Note, however, that there are two milkshake cups, one with a blue handle that Miki drinks and one with a sort of purplish handle, presumably the one he made for Kozue. And it's MIKI'S cup which is on all the desks; perhaps it is Miki growing up and away from her that Kozue fears most, and Anthy drinking all his milkshakes is representative of Kozue blaming her for stealing Miki's innocence or sweetness by being the object of his attraction. (Yes, blaming Anthy for Miki being attracted to her. That's... pretty par for the course, really. Nanami and her cronies kept blaming Anthy for boys liking her throughout the student council arc. It's pretty sick, but sadly common.) Not to mention darker, more psychosexual interpretations of Anthy stealing Miki's sticky white fluid from Kozue--o hai there, end of the episode.

Interesting parallel: Utena couldn't win the duel with Miki until Anthy cheered for her. In this duel, she again needs Anthy's help--looks like Utena combines the sparkly Rose Bride power Touga showed her with the Power of Dios. So she is now wielding the power of Rose Bride and Dios simultaneously, no wonder the duel ended really fast at that point.

[In response to comments about the duels being a bit lackluster:] We have, I think, been spoiled by [prior Mark Watches projects] Cowboy Bebop and FMA:B, both of which have spectacularly good fight scenes in which characters have clearly defined capabilities and you can actually follow their tactical decisions, attacks, and counterattacks. Utena is much closer to the norm for anime fight scenes (and, to be honest, filmed swordfights in general), which is to say a minute or two of random flynning followed by SuperMoveThatWinsTheFight.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How I Make One-Shots

My annual Running of the BESM One-Shot at Anime USA is currently in jeopardy, as the head of Traditional Games has left and, in the resulting vacuum, no one knows what's going on. On the other hand, there are early glimmers of the possibility that I might be able to do a variant at MAGFest instead. We'll see.

In the meantime, some musings on how and why I give my one-shots a fairly unusual structure. 

Typically, a one-shot is a one-time thing you run to fill time or introduce players to a game. Generally speaking, since character creation can be quite complex and time-consuming in most tabletop RPGs, the GM will create and provide a balanced, varied selection of characters for the players to pick from. After that, the campaign is designed (as any preplanned campaign generally will be) as a sort of flow chart. At every node, the players have to overcome some sort of obstacle, then make a choice which leads to the next node/obstacle, and ultimately all paths converge on a final challenge and the ending. 

The most common way to do this is to make the campaign geographically driven, as with a dungeon or labyrinth. (Indeed, this is so ingrained in tabletop gaming culture as to be practically instinctive.) Each room is a node and contains an event such as an NPC or enemy encounter, treasure or useful items, puzzle, or some combination. The room's exits represent choices of paths, and lead to the next node; what paths are available may be partially determined by the players' degree of success or choices in dealing with the current or past nodes. 

It is a structure that works and works well, which is why it has become ubiquitous, but it has its drawbacks. It can be constraining for the player, since their choices of where to go next are tightly constrained and few other meaningful opportunities for choice exist. It emphasizes the tactical elements of the game, since most of the remaining meaningful choices will be "who should use which power/ability/skill on what"? And it is straightforwardly solvable; there are a small number of paths to the end, all of which represent fundamentally the same narrative. 

That last is usually not a problem, since a GM typically runs a given one-shot once. But at AUSA, I was being asked to staff a dedicated BESM table and run my one-shot up to EIGHT times in a single weekend.

So I decided to take a different tack in order to avoid boredom. First, I picked a set of seven varied characters based on trying to get as wide a variety as possible--well-known anime characters from the 90s through present, mostly, with the occasional Western cartoon character thrown in. Next I went with a MUCH more open environment than a typical one-shot dungeon, namely a village (though if I get to do it this year, I plan to set it at the con itself--still way more open than a dungeon). This frees the players to go almost anywhere from the start, increasing their feeling of freedom and the variety from session to session--but how to have a plot if players can go anywhere?

Here I take a cue from The Ur-Quan Masters. I still tie events to locations as in a typical dungeon-style one-shot, but rather than the event automatically occurring, there are conditions necessary to trigger it. There is nothing hugely novel here; such conditions are fairly common, usually based on such factors as defeating a particular enemy or solving a puzzle. However, also I take advantage of the fact that I am using prebuilt characters who--being from extant anime and cartoons--have their own established worlds, supporting casts, and rivals or villains. I add conditions for which characters are present, so that their rivals and villains only exist if a player chose that character. What's more, since each of these villains have differing personalities, motivations, and goals, their actions and schemes will therefore also differ, as will the consequences of those schemes.

For example, in the first game I ran, there was an NPC named Satoko (from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni). If a player chose to play Guts (from Berserk), Berserk-style demons would show up--and Satoko is exactly the kind of person they would try to recruit and transform. So the first time I ran the game, she was tainted with evil. She was also a desperately unhappy and trapped-feeling young girl, so in the second session, when a player chose Homura, she was being pursued as a potential magical girl by Kyubey, and therefore also had a miasma of evil associated with her. But the third session, neither of them was present--shocking a player when he tried to use a Detect Evil ability in full confidence that he would get the same result as the first two playthroughs.

The second year, I did more with interactions between villains. For example, I decided to run with the interpretation of Revolutionary Girl Utena in which Akio is literally Lucifer. In one session I had both Michael from The Dresden Files and Utena, sending the Michael player into near-panic when he saw Nicodemus (Michael's nemesis, a powerful and high-ranking fallen angel) kneel to Akio and refer to him as "my lord."

But the basic principle remains the same, of designing one-shots as a flowchart. I simply found it more fun to radiate out from a central point rather than necessarily converge on a single point. And yes, that's a lot of work to put into a one-shot, since it is impossible to see every event in one playthrough--but since I repeat multiple times in a weekend, there's a good chance that every or nearly every event I came up with eventually gets played.

Plus the players really enjoyed the novelty of having the game change depending on their characters. Both years I had repeat players within the same weekend--which according to the head of Traditional Games, has never happened before.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Observations on my newly organized bookshelf

I took advantage of the recent need to pack and then unpack all my books to actually organize them for the first time ever. Fiction is now organized by author's last name, non-fiction by subject. Some observations:
  • I appear to have a bias toward authors whose names begin with "A" or "B." Fully 24% of my fiction shelf-space is taken up by those two letters. To be fair, those two letters include Adams, Asimov, Atwood, Baxter, Beagle, Bear, Benford, Borges, and Brin, among others. 
  • Frederik Pohl and Chaim Potok are next to each other, The Annals of the Heechee directly colliding with The Chosen. The fanfic potential is dazzling.
  • H.P. Lovecraft and Lois Lowry are quite possibly the weirdest ship I have ever contemplated.
  • Letters for which I have no authors: Q, U, V, X. I am open for recommendations.
  • The alphabetically last author in my collection is Roger Zelazny.
  • Probably the nerdiest shelf: The Riverside Milton, Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, two different, illustrated Star Trek guidebooks, The Elements of Harmony, A Tolkien Bestiary, and The History of Middle-Earth. In that order.
  • I own a lot of RPG sourcebooks I've never used. Even more I've only used once, though of that latter group Slayers d20 at least was COMPLETELY worth it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Did you say she was a tree? (Princess Twilight Sparkle)

Veni, veni, venias (Gloriosa)
Ne me mori facias (Generosa)
There is a room in my dreams. Or there was, once; I haven't dreamed of it in nearly fifteen years.

The room is perfectly cubical, about fifty feet on a side. The walls and floor and ceiling are transparent, and through them I can see that the room floats in a vast black void. The only thing in the room, the only source of light, is a shining crystal tree rising proudly from the center of the floor, its uppermost branches touching the ceiling. Blue lightning sparks from the branches, flows down the trunk, trickles along the roots to vanish into the floor.

In the center of each wall is an arch. Through each arch is a room just like this one--no, it is this room. If I stand at the edge of the archway, so the trunk of the tree does not block my view, I can see myself from behind.

The room, in the dream, is the entire world. The tree is me.

It is not a particularly difficult dream to interpret. (My dreams tend to be obnoxiously and disappointingly blatant in their metaphors.) The tree is the axis mundi, the World Tree, the Tree of Light and of Life. Its color, its shape, the lightning: it is a neuron, too.

The dream ended when I started researching kabbalah. This may not be a coincidence.


Let us enter the Kingdom. This is supposed to be about ponies, so it might as well be Equestria as any other kingdom. This is where the Tree is rooted, where the Light, the rainbow, the Bridge of Heaven touches the earth. The tree appears to grow up from the ground and emit the light, but in truth it is the other way around; the World emanates from the Tree as the Tree emanates from the Light.

This is the realm of the material, where Harmony loses purity, becomes unbalanced. Beneath the world, as the Light is above, there is the Darkness, the Silence, the Absence of Light; the world acts as a filter, catching the light. Beneath the world is the Tree of Darkness, the qlippothic reflection of the Light; not the opposite of light but its distortion, the unbalanced elements.

Once, you see, the Tree was whole and harmonious, but then chaos entered the world. The vessels were taken from the Tree. The Light scattered, the vessels were divided, the spark hidden. The opposite of Harmony is Silence; the unbalancing is Discord.

Now the tendrils of the Tree of Darkness, of Death, of Discord are everywhere in this world, seeking ever to steal the magic, the Light, the world. The sources of the Light are occulted away--like an eclipse, but not quite the same. Not Moon obscuring Sun (that comes later as it came before), but Sun and Moon trapped in the same chaotic space.

But as below, so above. We have performed alchemy with this series before, just to ascend to this point. Now we do it again.


Consider the Tree itself, that smooth crystalline trunk, the Foundation of the world and of the branches above both. This is the point where the Light enters the World. What Harmony is to be found in this broken world enters it here. Sun and Moon, passion and intellect, power and symbol, are brought together and held here. This is the final part of the tree itself, the last emanation to come directly from the source.

If the vessels are not brought back together, if the Light wanes, if the Kingdom falls--when the Kingdom falls--this is where the darkness will strike. This is where its creeping tendrils wrap and squeeze and poison.

The Kingdom has already fallen. The princesses are nowhere to be found, two stolen, one too distant to be of help, one sent away. How can we save the Tree and restore the Kingdom?

Maybe the answer is higher up, further back, closer to the source. Chug the elixir. Climb the tree.


A rayed sun. A shining moon. Two sisters. We encounter Majesty first, the one who separates herself, the one who sits in judgment. The intellect, the one who deals in symbols, where intentions take shape into comprehensible symbols. The shaper of form, morpheus, Dream. Yet also that which submits, the lesser one, the one who was defeated.

Victory, the one who defeated the other, the eternal, the long-suffering. Passion and emotion, the empathic one, yet also patient. She is kindness presaged by harshness, the guiding hand you barely realize is leading you by the nose.

Jealous, one rose against her sister, and was banished for a thousand years.

For a thousand years, the other mourned alone while others celebrated the loss of her sister.

They are the feet, the hooves, on whose backs the others stand, the upper trunk from which the branches rise.

Once they were in balance, united, harmonious, but then strife came, chaos, Discord. The Nightmare Moon, the battle of sisters, one vengeful, the other determined, a surprising burst of violence that nonetheless does not feel out of place. The vessels were brought together, but one person cannot truly unite them alone; all they could do was fight and imprison and banish. The Healing of the World was not achieved.

There are no answers here. Drink. Climb.


A star. The Adornment, jewels and necklaces and headgear, the spirit, the balance. The one that unites the higher branches, the bringing together of the vessels, the tzaddik. The Anointed One who wears the Crown (but more on that later). Perhaps she died and returned, perhaps she is a Goddess; maybe that was someone else. Accounts vary.

But she brought them together, the bearers of the vessels. They were shattered into countless shards, but she and her companions reunited them. She reignited the spark. She healed that which was broken, once, ending the Nightmare Moon and restoring the Dream. If anyone can heal the Tree, heal the World, restore the Kingdom, it is she.

As it turns out, anyone can.

But she cannot do it alone. She must have something to unite. Quaff and ascend.


Another level. Two more shining symbols, vessels of light.

Strength, that which rejects what is false. Here's where we have to admit how tenuous this all is; the tree in the show is missing yesod, forcing us to imagine it in the trunk itself; hod and netzach are stacked instead of side-by-side; and now, worst of all, gevurah and chesed are outright swapped! The apple and the butterfly are in each other's positions, if this reading is to work at all. It's too bad; an apple would be perfect here. After all, in the false version of this story, the simplified, lie-to-children one that everyone knows, it's an apple that leads to the tree being taken away. Or some unspecified fruit, anyway; it might as well be an apple, even if some prefer a pomegranate or even an etrog. It definitely wasn't a butterfly.

But strength and honesty alone are too harsh, too unforgiving, too practical. Driving Twilight away, even though it hurt her, was the obvious, practical, logical, correct thing to do. It was also wrong.

Kindness is needed on the opposite side of the tree, for balance. Grace, compassion, the unconditional love that might be a bit gentler than is wise, since it loves even Discord. Look at the new opening credits--Kindness let Discord into the Tree itself! (Well, a tree, anyway, and every tree is in some sense the Tree.)

"There is nothing beyond the text," as has been said. Outside the room is the void, which means everything must be inside the room, whether we can see it or not. Everything that is not visible within the text is invisible within the text, waiting only for us to find it. Every tree is in some sense the Tree, and therefore this tree is the Tree, swapped cutie marks or no.

The answer begins to form; climbing the Tree is itself the path to healing the Tree. Bringing the vessels back together is the restoration of the Kingdom and the Healing of the World. We must surrender them, return them to where they came from.

It remains only to witness them all, higher in the Tree of Light, deeper in the Cup of Life.


Intuition and Creativity, placed exactly where they needed to be. The gap crossed, our momentary crisis of doubt transcended. The reading works like a guided tour. "If you look to your left you will see the intuitive, revealed wisdom that descends out of the unknown, the inexplicable twitching tail that lets you dodge a thorny, aggressive branch of the Black Tree. Those of you on the right side of the trunk can look over at the creative energy, the generous gift of previously nonexistent potentials."

Discord must have known that Celestia and Luna were working against him. He knew of the Tree of Harmony, created his qlippothic seeds to sap its strength, imprison the princesses, and free him even if they defeated him--and he likely also knew that the only way to free them and restore the Tree would be to surrender the only weapon that could harm him. He didn't plan on Harmony being stronger than he thought. He didn't plan on making friends.

Once again: Discord is not the opposite of Harmony, merely Harmony gone off balance. If there is one thing modern music has taught us, it is that Harmony can safely hold Discord within it.

It is not necessarily a bad thing that the opening has him in that tree.

He is here with us. Harmony and Discord, opposites united, just as the two sides of the tree--Intuition, Strength, Majesty on the left, Creativity, Kindness, Harmony on the right--are united through Adornment, Foundation, and the Kingdom down its center. And one more, higher up. The ascent is the very alchemy we seek. Drink the Tree. Climb the elixir.


The Crown of the Tree. The lightning bolt, the divine spark, the exploding rainbow light that created all of these six upper symbols. The Source of destiny, the start of the episode, teaching us how to fly, how to ascend.

The vessels are returned. The tree is healed. The bonds of friendship, of loyalty, hold Discord in check. But now what?

The problem with master narratives: there are always more stories to tell. Enlightenment is a process, not a destination. Just as passing through the arches brought us back to this room, at the top of the tree we find the world again. The Kingdom is the World, and we stand once more at the base of the Tree.

But it would be wrong to say we have accomplished nothing. This is the same Tree, and yet it is new.


Knowledge leads always to new questions. That is the joy of enlightenment, the knowledge that there is always a step farther to go.

A single flower sprouts, a widening Gate, a locked box that contains the promise of opening. There is no answer here, yet; the interior of the box is an unknown Abyss.

Yet the Tree is us, has always been us. This is Knowledge sought by turning inward, which means on some level we already know it.

The original spark that gave these tzaddikim their destinies was a rainbow.

Discord is not the opposite of Harmony.

Inside the Darkness there was Light all along.

Yes; we know what is in that box. But that's not really the point.

No matter how many times we climb the Tree, there is always more Tree. No matter how many times Twilight drinks the elixir, there is always still some left in the bottle.

The point of a journey with no end is the journey.

When we are ready to open the box, to learn what we know? The Tree will be here.

Until then? We spiral ever upwards, ending somewhere that is back where we started, yet also new. It is the Summer Sun Celebration, and Twilight Sparkle has the important task of...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy

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 the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.

I will probably not be able to attend since I'm going to a D.C. Bronies meetup. If I don't make it, please go ahead and have it without me, and copypasta the results in the comments. Whenever I do get around to watching it, I'll update this post with livebloggery.

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Just FYI, in my head he speaks with the voice of Ricardo Montalban

"Um... hello," said Felda, cautiously.

"This morning, I am walking," the cat-headed man said conversationally, "and seeing something interesting. Do you know what it is I am seeing?"

"Um... no?" said Felda.

"No," he said. "And why should you?" He dropped lithely to the ground beside her, then bowed. "I am forgetting to introduce myself. I am called Twill."

"Ah," said Felda. She took a step back and laid a hand on Brom's flank. The man didn't seem dangerous, but...

He looked up at her--he was very slightly shorter than she. "I see I am confusing you. I know; it is the first thing everyone always asks: 'Like the fabric?' The answer is yes. My parent hears the word long-ago and thinks it is sounding, errmm..." He searched for words. "Romantic. Exotic? From the faraway west."

"Is that really the first thing everyone asks?" asked Felda.

"No," he admitted. "Sometimes, I am saying it before they can ask, so instead they are asking something else."

"Why are you a cat?" Felda blurted.

"Yes, that is what they are asking."

"Sorry," said Felda.

"No-no," Twill answered, shaking his head. "Men having the heads of cats is not common. It is natural to be curious."

"Oh, okay," said Felda. "So... why do you have the head of a cat?"

He smiled, showing sharp-looking fangs, and said nothing.

"Um," said Felda. "So. Yes. Uh, I think I had best be on my way. Gotta keep moving, you know?"

She backed away from him slowly. Despite how small and slim he was, that sword and the whipcord muscles of his arms were more than enough to worry her, even before fangs came into the equation.

"Please, at least wait until I am telling you what it is I am seeing, no?" he protested.

Felda paused. She was out of reach of his sword, and the dirt underfoot was fairly loose. She felt into the threads--yes, she would be able to throw a cloud of it in his face the moment he reached for his sword. "What did you see?"

"I am seeing a strange rock in the middle of a field. A person and a bull is coming out, and it collapses. It is strange to me. Who is this person? Why are they with a bull that does not act like a bull? What sort of bull neither eats nor drinks? And why does the person have the face of one who is trying not to be sad and afraid? And I am thinking I am knowing the answers to these questions."

Felda took a long step back, Brom moving with her. She had never attacked someone with magic before, but it was starting to look like she had no choice.

Twill stepped forward, his white-gloved hands in front of him, palms spread and facing her. "I am not being an enemy, child," he said. "You and your dragonchild are belonging to you. Who you run from, why, these do not matter to me. What sort of person am I being, if I am seeing a child running and not helping?"

Felda paused. "Who are you, really?" she asked.

"I am telling you the truth," he answered. "My parent is naming me Twill. Many years ago I am deciding to walk to other side of world. In a year, two, I am finishing, and then maybe going back or doing something new."

"Why?" asked Felda. "Who are you running from?"

"The same reason everyone is doing everything. It is seeming like a good idea at the time." He looked contemplative for a moment. "I am thinking, but I do not think I am running from anyone today. Most who are chasing me do not like walking as far as I am walking."

Felda looked him over again. No pack, no belt pouches, no pockets--maybe money hidden in his boots? But most likely, no money and no supplies, so how did he eat?

"What do you do?" she asked. "Other than walking?"

"If I see someone and am wishing to help, I am helping. Mostly I am finding those with power, and teaching them what power is for."

What it's for? Felda mouthed the phrase silently. Does he mean... is there some purpose my teachers never taught? "Can--" she paused. "I'm not saying I trust you or that you can come closer. I'm just asking, can you teach me?"

It was Twill's turn to pause. "No one is ever asking for lesson before." He considered, then brightened. "Yes, I think I can!"

Almost faster than she could see, and definitely far faster than she could react, his bright, needle-thin sword was in his hand. That same swift smooth motion somehow became a lunge, and then his sword was in her chest.

It hurt.

Then it was dark.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Get Equipped With Magic (Mega Pony), Part 1

Below is the first part of a collaboration by FreezingInferno and myself on the fan game Mega Pony, a crossover between My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Mega Man. Both of us wrote both parts equally.

There is a curious phenomenon whereby crossovers between My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and other works end up being essentially a pony “skin” laid over top of the other work. Perhaps it is because Friendship Is Magic is, for a work popular in the sort of geek circles that produce crossovers, unusually character-driven and light on plot twists and worldbuilding; regardless, the effect is particularly pronounced for source works that have a strong recurring structure of their own. So, for instance, Turnabout Storm is essentially a Phoenix Wright game with a bunch of pony-shaped characters, some of them from the show, and most fic and audio incarnations of Doctor Whooves rapidly become standard-issue Doctor Who plots emboited within Equestria. At first glance, Mega Pony may seem little different--a pony skin slapped on a typical Mega Man structure--but play a while, and something altogether different emerges, a curious alchemy as two mutually alien works collide and produce what can only be called Chaos.

Not to say that the Mega Man elements don’t work, of course. This piece of entertainment has its creator, and they know their way around a Mega Man game. Much analysis has been made of the brilliance of Mega Man stage design, and for the most part this here game gets it. There are cute little gimmicks in each stage that you’re introduced to in a stress-free environment before they’re later thrown at you in conjunction with platform peril and enemy assaults. Simple, basic stuff like that. Mega Pony is, as stated, a mysterious alchemical force of pure chaos… but at its heart, half of it is a love letter to Mega Man 2. You have no sliding, and no charge shot initially. Even the music has shades of classic Mega Man 2 tunes, easily recognized by any Mega Man fan worth their salt… but then there’s the yang to dear Mega’s yin, the Equestrian Essence that makes up the pony references. Of which there are several.

Those classic Mega Man 2 tunes are almost all expertly blended with songs from the show, most notably Discord Stage 1, which combines Wily Stage 1 (one of the most well-known and well-regarded tracks on the NES) with “This Day Aria,” the closest thing Friendship Is Magic has to a villain song. Similarly, the personalities of the Mane Six are readily apparent in their boss incarnations: Twilight teleports and shoots magic from her horn; Fluttershy keeps her distance and stays near the ground while relying on her animal friends for help, while Rainbow Dash flies much higher and charges straight in to attack. Even the classic Mega Man game of boss-weapon rock, paper, scissors is rooted in the characters’ personalities: mundane, down-to-earth Applejack is weak to Twilight’s magic; fussy Rarity weak to Applejack’s farming technique; tomboyish Rainbow Dash weak to the gems Rarity finds; constantly bouncy Pinkie Pie weak to Rainbow Dash, the only character that can keep up with her; and crowd-averse Fluttershy weak to Pinkie Pie’s partying.

Even more Mega Man essence abounds: six bosses to choose from! This is obviously chosen because of the six main protagonists of the source material, but it unintentionally calls back to the very roots of Mega Man; the original game had only six bad robots to beat, after all. Yes. Bad robots. This leads to the main driving force behind Mega Pony: corruption. In the Mega Man games, you are a robot fighting for everlasting peace and you do this by blasting away at bad robots themed after something built by the madman Dr. Wily. Here? A trickster god known as Discord has made things go bad. As Mega Pony you journey through the levels and blast away at the main characters of the show. There’s something terribly wrong and yet somehow fascinating about blasting Twilight Sparkle in the face with a Mega Buster. It is nothing less than an assault on the very thing the player (presumably) loves; they are forced to attack their heroines in order to proceed and rid the world of the corruption that pure Chaos has set upon it. That corruption doesn’t go away after all six have been bested. Far from it. If anything, things get worse from here.

As the game progresses, elements of that corruption spread. Most of the enemies encountered are either classic Mega Man foes such as the Metools or Sniper Joes (the latter admittedly ponified--Sniper Joenies?) or minor antagonists from the show such as Timber Wolves, Diamond Dogs, and Fruit Bats. But partway through Rarity’s stage, there is a miniboss encounter with a variation on the Guts Dozer from Mega Man 2: Sweetie Bot. Not only is this Discord’s corruption spreading from the Mane Six to their younger compatriots, but an intrusion into the established premise of the game. It is not merely a crossover between My Little Pony and Mega Man now; fanworks are fair game as well--and Sweetie Bot’s source, Friendship Is Witchcraft, is itself a corruption of My Little Pony, distorting it into much darker places for humor. Indeed, with only three exceptions, every boss in the game is a corruption of a “good” character from the show: the only villains to get boss roles are Discord himself, the dragon from “Dragonshy,” and a Windigo, the last notable as it is a creature which has only ever been depicted as existing in the ancient past.

The ancient past. Fitting, considering that for the most part the Mega Man represented here is circa 1988 and Mega Man 2. Sure, we have certain moments that are taken from the much later Mega Man 9 (the shop system between levels, for instance, or Rarity having a gem-based shield weapon not at all unlike MM9’s Jewel Satellite)... but Mega Man 9 is in itself a callback to the ancient past, a flagrant rejection of the future in favor of the alchemic past of a little grey box. Which makes the subtle intrusions of the future all the more unsettling. One might first notice it when facing off against Twilight Sparkle, if they do not have her weakness. Her attacks involve firing magic at you from several odd angles, but then one particular attack has her charge up the magic. The sound effect you hear as she does this is blatantly the Mega Buster’s charge-up noise. From Mega Man 4, a game released in 1991. Chaos has no care for linear time, and this isn’t even the most severe intrusion of Mega Man’s future in this supposed past.

To be continued later this evening at The Nintendo Project, Resumed!

ETA: Have a direct link to the continuation, if you prefer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reactions While Watching Sailor Moon Crystal, Episode 1

I've decided, since there are going to be new episodes of Sailor Moon Crystal every other week, to start posting my reactions while watching it the following Wednesdays. Utena commentary will therefore be every other week until I finish.

So, here’s my complete knowledge of Sailor Moon:
  • It’s really, really long.
  • I have watched the first season of the Abridged Series, so I have a general idea of the premise and plot for that arc. Ish.
  • There’s a short-haired blonde and a green-haired scout who are a lesbian couple. They were going to get a movie, but it got canned. Some of the ideas for it were recycled into Revolutionary Girl Utena, which I am on the record as calling the best anime series ever.
  • It’s a seminal magical girl series for combining the standard chosen-by-the-other-world-to-wield-the-power-of-love stuff with sentai elements to create a team of girls that fight more directly and actively than was the previous norm.
  • A LOT of people who worked on it ended up working on anime near the top of my favorites list.
Observations while watching:

The opening credits are interesting. The girls are fairly sexualized and described in stereotypically feminine terms, but also outright state in the song that they can fight for themselves and don’t need male protection. In other words, their gender and sexuality both are being tied directly into their power in a way that is the norm for male characters, but extremely rare for women. Also, wow is the art and animation on this seriously excellent. If only the song were up to previous standards—the show set a REALLY high bar for itself on that front in the 90s.

Ominous Usagi’s mom comment is ominous.

So… where DID Luna get those bandages? Why does she want them off?

Usagi gets bad grades because… she’s hungry? In seriousness, her clumsiness is a little too standard-issue Twilight/moe BS for my tastes, but hunger/appetite/gluttony makes a great flaw for a hero—see Ron Weasley, any hobbit, Ed Elric, and the queen of them all, Lina Inverse.

Wait, so Usagi’s mom knows about Sailor V, wants Usagi to learn from Sailor V… and has never mentioned it to Usagi? “Gee, I hope my daughter learns about this thing I consider important. Maybe I should tell her about it? Nah, let’s rely on cultural osmosis. Mom of the Year Award, here I come!”

Dundundun, Tuxedo Sunglasses is also looking for the Silver Moon Crystal! So… do he and Usagi know each other and he has Pseudo-Big Brother Figure Teasing Rights, or is he just an asshole who randomly insults girls on the street about their choice of hairstyle? Because I’m not really comfortable with what I know about their relationship-to-come if it’s the latter.

Usagi and Motoki, on the other hand, that’s really cute. I like how completely open she is. “Yep. I have sexual/romantic desires, I like this guy.” It’s neither romanticized or problematized by the text; she’s being a normal teenage girl.

Yep. Best mom ever. That’s totally a proportional response. What would should do if Usagi were caught shoplifting or joyriding or skinny-dipping or something? Hire assassins?

…why is there a tiny male Usagi?


No seriously, outside of the scouts, Tuxedo Mask, her mom, and the two classmates, I had NO idea there were any other characters. How tiny is her brother’s part that he’s never mentioned in anything ever?

Okay, from whatsername’s point of view, seeing your mom hunched over some weird red glowing thing, and then she looks at you with a grin full of pointy teeth? Pretty nightmarish image, yeah.

…is Luna implying that local kids have MAGIC BANDAIDS that suppress her powers?

Shingo is secretly the main villain, isn’t he? Leader of the super-powered cat-tormenting demon-children of the city?

Um… how did Luna produce that charm? Or hand it over? Where was she carrying it?

I like the new transformation sequence. The focus is much more on the costume than on nekkid!Usagi.

Wait. Waitwaitwaitwaitwait. Her hair-thingies have a FUNCTION? And blink? That’s HILARIOUS!

Either this is a change or I forgot, but the fact that she has to actually fight real people under the monster’s control is pretty heavy for a teen.

…are you fucking kidding me? One of her powers is LITERALLY being super-whiny? I call shenanigans!

Usagi has no idea that’s not really Naru’s mom. For all she knows, she has the power to turn people to stone and then crumble them. She’s taking that discovery pretty well in stride.

Oh no! Who could the mysterious Tuxedo Mask be? Could he be the tuxedo-clad jerk who's his height and build and has his haircut? Maybe it's that girl with the blue hair!

Maybe it's USAGI HERSELF. (Spoooooooooooky twist!)

Ending credits are pretty boring, especially by comparison to the opening.

Overall… eh, this is okay, but a pretty by-the-numbers opening episode. Very pretty, though. I’ll give it the three episode test, but so far this isn’t grabbing me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Purple and Blue Fireworks!

So, I see a lot of fireworks. The Washington Nationals' home stadium is visible from my balcony, and they have fireworks after home games, plus on and around July 4 locals set off illegal-without-a-license fireworks in the stadium parking lot by unwritten agreement with the police.* There's also the SWDC Spring Festival, with its fireworks show off a barge in the Potomac; I can see both the rehearsal and the show from my balcony, in the opposite direction to the stadium. And of course there's July 4.

I mean, I'm not an expert by any means, it's not like I'm seeing shows every weekend, and I generally don't see shows outside this area. But still, I see significantly more fireworks than most people's 1-2 times a year.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is I've noticed an interesting trend over the last couple of years: a steady increase in the number of royal blue** fireworks I see, from few to none up until 2011 or so, to them being quite common now. (I think they're more common than green or bright blue at this point.) And then over the last year, I've been noticing a surge in the number of bright purple fireworks.

Is this a local thing? Just a shift in fads? Or is there some underlying reason? Have the metallic salts used to make those shades dropped in price recently, or has somebody come up with a new technique for making them?

I tried googling for answers and came up with nothing. I must say, I quite like them, though! But still, the finale over the stadium last week, ending a show dominated by cold colors with a warm explosion of yellows and oranges, was quite nice as a change of pace.

*The police know that people are going to drive out to Pennsylvania or West Virginia and buy fireworks (both states have laws restricting setting off fireworks and restricting the sale of fireworks to residents of the state, but no laws restricting the sale of fireworks to visitors from out of state). They also know that it is vastly safer if those fireworks are set off in the biggest stretch of concrete in the city, the stadium parking lot, then in crowded neighborhoods with lots of flammable materials around. So they quietly refrain from enforcing fireworks laws after hours in that parking lot.

**I think they're royal blue, anyway. My color vision is slightly wonky. They look sort of dark purple to me, and everyone else calls them blue. Usually that means royal blue, just as if something looks black to me and everyone else calls it blue it's navy blue. I have yet to figure out if the shades of brown that look black to me have a name.