Sunday, November 30, 2014

How in tarnation are we supposed to tell which is the real (Leap of Faith)

To be fair, I'd react the same way to being given something
by someone whose name is literally "Shill." I mean, come on.
It's March 29, 2014. The top song still Pharrell Williams with "Happy" and the top movie is Noah. In the news, an ongoing Ebola outbreak in Guinea spreads to Liberia, Ukrainian forces begin withdrawing from Crimea, effectively ceding it to Russia, and the first same-sex marriages take place in the UK.

In ponies, Josh Harber returns for his third outing (both this season and overall), "Leap of Faith." Despite the title, this episode is largely about the importance of skepticism and extending the principle of honesty not just to interactions with others, but to oneself.

Applejack is struggling with two distinct problems in this episode. The first is what it means to be honest. Naively, we might say that being honest is a matter of saying and believing true things to the best of one's ability, but that simply passes the buck on to the next question, of what it actually means to be truthful. Which is, in turn, a vast philosophical question way outside the scope of a twelve hundred-word essay about an episode of My Little Pony, so we will simply outline a few ways in which it is a problem and then move to how Applejack deals with it.

Consider these two statements: "Value is in the eye of the beholder; one person's trash may be another's treasure," and "Platinum is worth about $1,200 per troy ounce." Both are true (as of this writing in the case of the latter), yet they appear to contradict one another. However, that is because they are being artificially placed next to each other; generally these statements would never appear together because they apply in different contexts. A person who states a specific dollar value for an ounce of platinum is almost certainly speaking in terms of the commodities market, while a person making the former statement is most likely speaking philosophically, probably in the realms of aesthetics, ethics, or politics. To try to argue against either statement by proposing the other is likely to result only in confusion, since each statement is inapplicable to the other's context.

But there we are dealing with fuzzy, human-made concepts like value. Surely the hard sciences can provide some hard truths? Not so much, unfortunately. Consider gravity. For an engineering project, say the construction of a bridge, gravity is a constant acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second. But if you're trying to put a spacecraft into orbit, then the acceleration due to gravity varies based on one's distance from the Earth according to Newton's laws--and for astronomers taking advantage of gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies, it instead functions according to Einstein's theory of general relativity. Now, one can argue that these are just successive refinements--applying the theory of general relativity does give one a figure for the surface gravity of the Earth very near to 9.8 meters per second per second. But that's not what engineers actually do; they just use the 9.8 figure, because it's more useful to them--it is a better model, so we could argue that it's true in that context.

Or not. We could equally well argue that the statement about value being in the eye of the beholder is clearly false, and the value of platinum is determined by the market. Or we could argue that the market is trying to impose consensus on something that is inherently a matter of individual judgment. Or...

The point is, the question is difficult, so being honest is difficult. And that's exactly the situation Applejack finds herself in: it is true that Granny Smith is more athletic and healthier as a result of drinking the tonic. And it's also true that Flim and Flam are selling a "tonic" that contains neither medicine nor magic, and employing the unscrupulous and duplicitous tactic of paying a shill to give false testimonials on their behalf to up their sales. There is, in other words, a case to be made that the tonic helps Granny Smith, and a case to be made that Flim and Flam are liars.

It's debatable whether Applejack has a responsibility to tell Granny that the tonic isn't helping her, when it is--it's just that the process by which it's helping her, namely the combination of the placebo effect and a confidence boost, could be easily replicated in ways that don't require paying money to con artists. However, it is definitely dishonest of her to help Flim and Flam continue to lie about their tonic's healing powers--and it is a lie, as demonstrated by the number of ponies who appear in their audience multiple times.

This puts Applejack in a rare situation for her, which is quite welcome in terms of making her character more interesting: an actual dilemma. She is torn between not wanting to hurt Granny Smith, and her drive to be honest and not support liars, which leaves her no choice but to deceive herself into believing that no harm will come of Flim and Flam's lies. This is where the episode becomes, in many ways, a response to Season One's "Feeling Pinkie Keen." There, Twilight refused to believe in a phenomenon that was actually (unlike real-world claims of psychic powers) demonstrable and measurable, and her closed-mindedness resulted in her coming to harm. Here, Granny Smith's belief is instead what nearly brings her to serious harm, because she chose to believe (the titular "leap of faith") in a falsehood.

Applejack's mistake was in treating Flim and Flam's "miracle cure" like an article of faith, which is to say a statement with no material consequences. What I mean by this is that the material universe is actually the same place whether Granny Smith has confidence in herself or not--her capacity to swim was there all along, and she actualized it by believing she could do it. However, there is a big difference between a universe where Flim and Flam's tonic can actually reverse the effects of aging, illness, and injury and one where it cannot--in the former, leaping facefirst from a great height into a pie tin of water might not end in disaster, while in the latter it definitely will. And Applejack knows for a fact that she lives in the latter universe, because she's seen Flim and Flam making their tonic and met Silver Shill.

Ultimately, of course, Applejack decides to be honest, which here appears to mean acknowledging and respecting the universe in which one actually lives, as reasonable a definition as any, and in the process she teaches Silver Shill a lesson and receives the penultimate key. This is the least spiritual episode in the key arc, but that makes sense for Gevurah, the sephirah of Strength; it is the capacity for judgment and the imposition of limitation, the separating out of that which is false, and so its episode is devoted to skepticism and tracing the limits of the spiritual, which is that it must not be dishonest. It is fine to believe, for instance, in a drink that boosts confidence, but only so long as one is aware that confidence comes from the belief, not the drink. A drink that grants superpowers, by contrast, is right out. Which is to say, the role of the spiritual is here established to be in shaping our perceptions and attitudes, but only material action can shape the material. It is not enough to think, to feel, to wish; we must also do, and our doing must be shaped by honest appraisal of the material effects of our actions.

Next week: Which is not to say that our perceptions don't matter or are entirely of our own choice, either...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Escaflowne Liveblog Chat Thingy: Episode 1

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 Vision of Escaflowne and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Xenosaga Fic: Chapter 3, Part Two

Continuing from where we left off a couple weeks ago...

In the absolute emptiness of intergalactic space a green AMWS drifted impossibly. It was tall and narrow and insectile, with an angular head much like a mantis' and long, jointed limbs. Spikes curved cruelly from its knees, elbows, and shoulders, and a pair of long blades extended from its wrists and along the backs of its hands. There was nothing to suggest that it was remarkable--except for its location, hundreds of thousands of light-years from the nearest IS Gate.

Even the Dammerung, Scientia's vast flagship and capital, which could create temporary Gates of its own, would have taken years to reach this distant spot. Any other ship would have had to have set out when stone tools and fire represented the cutting edge of australopithecine science.

And yet, here it was. The entire cluster lay beneath its feet, two great whorls of multi-colored light surrounded by a scattering of smaller balls and knots of stars. The Virgo Cluster gleamed over its shoulder, a tiny gathering of yellow and blue lights, impossibly distant. And beyond that...

Beyond that, spread out in every direction, was the universe. Great filaments of red and yellow, like rivers of jewels, curved and arced across the sky, marking the borders of vast bubbles of void. It was at once vibrant and serene, cold and beautiful, wonderful and terrifying.

Aser was the only human being to have ever seen it. Oh, astronomers had reconstructed it millennia ago, painstakingly mapping distant objects detectable only in radio through the thick dust and gas that surrounded every star, but Aser had seen it. He knew what no other human knew, would never know. He knew where God lived.

He gazed out in silence, at the infinite majesty of the universe, and pitied the poor fools who believed God cared about them. They ruled a cluster of a dozen galaxies, a paltry few billion stars, and believed themselves masters of the Universe. Aser knew better. One day, he would go out there, to the place no one else could ever reach, and touch the face of God.

He, and he alone, could do it. Those idiots, Calvin and the Primus, believed they led a cadre of Chosen, but Aser knew the truth. He was the only one could reach God, the only one truly Chosen.
He just had one piece of business to attend to first.

Aser, came a familiar voice drifting into his mind.

"Dasra," he said. "What does our fearless leader wish of me today? Shall I bring him rare fruits, perhaps, from the gardens of Magella Minora? Or perhaps something sweeter? A young virgin from the flesh-markets of Orleans 3, mayhap?" He giggled. "Ah, how silly of me to forget. Our fearless leader does not partake of the pleasures of the flesh. He --" Aser could hardly finish the sentence from laughing. "He believes they'd take him farther from God!"

Aser, you know you shouldn't speak of Calvin like that. In her own AMWS, countless quintillions of kilometers away, she sighed. Touching Aser's mind was never pleasant at the best of times, but when he was out in the deeps, it could be downright disturbing. Once, she had made the mistake of going deeper into his thoughts than the level of intentional words.

She had seen many terrible things in the minds of the Chosen. She had no illusions on that front. She had seen herself and her sister, performing lewd acts in van der Kaum's imagination. She knew how Mia felt every time she used her power. She knew what secret Calvin hid so deeply even he did not know it.

None of that had prepared her for Aser's mind. In Aser she found a whirlwind of crystal fragments, countless broken pieces of thoughts and memories caught up in an endless torrent of feeling, never quiet, never still. In Aser there were depths of joy and heights of despair beyond anything she had ever felt or imagined. There was nothing there she could follow or understand, just terrible, black, howling wind and the occasional flash of a half-formed idea or one tiny piece of a perception.

What little she did see was, however, enough. She knew who Aser was, better perhaps than he did. She knew what he thought of himself, and what he thought of others. She had sworn then two things: first, that she would never again go deeper into his mind than she absolutely had to, and second, that she would never allow him to be alone with herself or her sister.

He just asked me to show you something I picked up. He doesn't have any orders. Dasra fed Aser her memories of the attack on their freighter off Bethel, and the intervention of the Isolde.

"It is him?" said Aser. "You know his name?"

The only survivor is now her captain. It is him. His name is Seth Mikra.
"YES!" crowed Aser, and Dasra flinched at the burning-hot acid of his emotion pouring through every crack in her defenses. "Finally, finally! Oh, yes, I'm coming for you, old friend. I'll burn you, cut you, crush you..." He laughed.

He must not be killed. You know that, Aser."Oh, no, no, no. I won't kill him. Of course I won't." Aser paused. "Can I maybe kill him a little?"


"Mia would have laughed." He pouted, but could only maintain it a moment before he began laughing again. "I'm going now."

Please, Aser, don't kill him. We need him. I'll be watching.
Aser's laughter faded to wonderment as he felt Dasra withdraw. He truly was closer to God out here. How else to explain that the one task he had left before he could fulfill his destiny was simply handed to him as soon as he began thinking about it?

"My slate will be wiped clean," he hissed, filling with rage at the memory of what that man had done to him. "Seth Mikra will pay, if I have to tear apart the entire cluster and all the Chosen to get to him." He looked out one last time at the universe. "I'll be back, God."

And then empty space was empty once more.


Nadeshiko put the lab report away with a sigh and looked down at her patient, a small and sallow man, balding and bearded. "Patient Ortir Kormas, age... approximately thirty-five," she said for the recorders. "Found unconscious behind the single men's barracks. Bloodwork indicates extreme hypoglycemia typical of late-stage Horviss-Greln disease." She sighed. "Intravenous feeding has proven inadequate to counter symptoms. Supplies of Isoprate are low, so I will commence treatment with Korana--"


Nadeshiko looked up to see her boss, Dr. Viri, standing at the entrance to the medium-risk ward. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Viri's pale, pudgy face was flushed, and his eyes, overlarge and the best of times, were bulging. "Koranafil! Do you want to kill him?"

"I-- oh shit."

"Propanofil, Dr. Kodesh. Propanofil is the treatment of second choice for H-G. Koranafil is for renal failure."

Nadeshiko hung her head. "I know that, doctor. You know I know that!"

"Yes, I do." His flush was gone now; his face was stony as he walked over to the medication cooler and withdrew a bottle of Propanofil. "Normally. When did you last sleep, Nadeshiko?"

"I woke up half an hour ago," she countered. "Are you trying to accuse me of something?"

"That depends. How long did you sleep?"

She looked away. "Three hours."

"That's what I thought. You need to sleep! Better no doctor at all than one who can't keep her drugs straight."

Nadeshiko winced. "Mizrahi--"

"Aren't gods. You may need less sleep, but you still need sleep."

"And I'm getting enough!" she insisted. "Now get out of my way and let me treat my patient."

"No." Viri attached the Propanofil to a nozzle on the patient's IV, and watched a moment to make sure it was dripping properly into the stream. "There are two possibilities here, doctor. Either you're entirely incompetent, which we both know isn't true, or you're slipping because of tiredness. Which do you prefer?"

"I made a mistake," she said. "People make mistakes. Don't tell me you're not tired, too."

"I am," he said. "But I know I'll save more lives on a good night's sleep than I could by working myself into exhaustion. You seem to be having a hard time learning that."

"Fine," she said. "I'll try to sleep more. Now I have to check up on patients."

Viri shook his head. "No, Nadeshiko. You're taking the week off, starting now. The supplies should be here today, so I won't really need you for a few days. You can go back to town with the deliveryman, sleep in your own bed for a couple of nights, come back fresh when we start running low on nanomachines."

"You can't make me do that."

Viri sighed. "Yes, I can. Go to the gate and see if the deliveryman's here yet. If I hear of you touching a patient, you're fired."

For the second time that morning, Nadeshiko fought to deactivate her tear ducts. It was getting harder. Exhaustion pulled at every cell in her body, despite all her best efforts to fight it down. She wanted to scream at Viri, to tear him apart. Didn't he understand that people were dying? What if somebody she could have saved died while she was gone?

"Fine," she said, and slumped. "I'll go. I'll be back Saturday."

"Good," he said. "Get some sleep, and some exercise, and eat something fresh."

"Yeah," she said. She left the building, little more than a shack, and walked out into the harsh mid-morning sunlight. Finally alone, she shrieked her frustration at the sky.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. She came to Bethel full of hope and pride. She'd seen herself, Scientia-trained, amazing the other doctors with her ability to heal these poor patients. She would save lives, heal the sick, and by the time her two-year stint was up, the refugee camp would be empty, everybody healed and home.

What a little idiot she'd been.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Poll results are in! The new show for liveblog chat thingies is... the bottom of this post. First, the results.

With a massive FIVE voters, we have:
  • Penguindrum: 1
  • Psycho-Pass: 2
  • Escaflowne: 2
So I'm tossing in my vote as the tie-breaker. Tough call, since I've heard good things about Psycho-Pass, but Escaflowne is a classic.

So, I'll see you all this Saturday at 2 p.m. for the first episode of Vision of Escaflowne!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 5

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) "supposed to" go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS' "original" treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Season 5 opens with the return of G'Kar with evidence of Londo's alliance with the Shadows and their meddling in the Centauri-Narn conflict. The Minbari military caste stage a coup and take over, resuming the war with Earth. The Centauri lay claim to the neutral sector that includes B5, which Earth contests, leading Londo to break off diplomatic relations. Shortly thereafter a massive Vorlon ship carrying most of their civilian population is destroyed by the Shadows, although Earth is framed. Londo helps in the attack, though without the knowledge that it will result in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

The series ends (yes, ends) with the Minbari attacking and destroying Babylon 5. Sinclair, Delenn, and their baby escape on a shuttle and flee into hiding, with every remaining power in the galaxy considering them enemies: the Minbari because of Delenn's ties to the deposed Grey Council and the Warrior Caste's belief that the prophecy is one of destruction, Vorlons because they believe Sinclair helped Earth destroy their ship, Shadows and Londo because they believe Sinclair and Delenn suspect who really did it, and Earth because they've been fed false intel that Sinclair betrayed them.

Speculation: Given how much happens in this season, and how little happens in Season 4, it seems likely that some of this would have been moved earlier. Any of a Centauri attack on Babylon 5 as part of them seizing the sector, the fall of the Grey Council, or the destruction of the Vorlons would have made good season finale material (though the last might be too soon for the war to end in this version of the story).

Given his human-Minbari hybrid wife and the renewal of Earth-Minbari hostilities, it seems likely that Earthgov's false intel makes Sinclair out to have betrayed them to the Minbari. Likely sources for the intel are the Minbari, Centauri, and Shadows, all of which have good reason to want to isolate Sinclair and Delenn and thereby cut them off from Earth support.

It's up for grabs whether the warrior caste are being manipulated by the Shadows in this version of the story. They almost certainly weren't in the actual series, but by this point the treatment and the show have nothing in common except Delenn's pregnancy.

And yes, this colossal downer really is how the series ends in the treatment. But it's not how the treatment ends--that still has another page and a half, almost a quarter of its length, to go. We'll cover that in the next and final installment of this series.

Concluded next week!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When is violence an appropriate response?

I don't know.

I honestly don't.

I do know this. I know that when I was 17 and got stopped going 94 miles an hour, I reached for my coat in the passenger seat because my license was in it, and the cop who stopped me pulled his gun. It was frightening enough, but in hindsight I realize, if I were black he'd have shot me in the head until the gun ran out of bullets, because that is what cops do to black people.

And I know that if you are constantly subject to violence and the fear of violence, if the courts encourage violence against you by punishing it less often and less severely, if the people whose job is supposedly to protect you instead treat you as a threat, then it is not my place to tell you that you can't use violence in response.

And I know this, too: in communities around America, the police act like an occupying army, carry the equipment of an occupying army, speak and think like an occupying army, which makes them, guess what, an occupying army.

And this as well: if you put on the uniform of an occupying army and walk out onto the battlefield, it doesn't matter if your soul is as pure and sinless as the driven snow, you are a legitimate target.

"Some people," says the voice of wisdom in a well-acted but otherwise terrible and reactionary film, "just want to watch the world burn." Given what this world does to them, I can't blame them.

It may be that violence will just give them the excuse to clamp down harder. Or it may be that violence is the only hope of tearing down a system designed to prevent any kind of meaningful change. It's not my place to make that decision--only to lend my voice in support of the people who do have that right.

And one other thing I know: I know that when you have the power--a weapon in your hand, armor on your chest, an entire power structure designed to protect you from accountability--then violence is definitely not appropriate.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Let's try this poll thing again...

So it turns out trying to hold a poll that's also open to suggestions is a terrible idea.

Also, I now have way more suggestions than voters.

So, I've gone through all the suggestions, picked the three I'm most interested in, and now I'll throw them open for voting ONLY, suggestions are closed.

Remember, anything that doesn't win, including things that didn't make it this far, is fair game for a couple months from now when we add the next show.

Anyway, the options are:
  • Psycho-Pass (Season 1 only, same writer as Madoka)
  • Legend of Escaflowne (classic 90s mecha-fantasy series)
  • Mawaru Penguindrum (same director as Utena)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hush now! Quiet now!/Lay your sleepy head! (For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls)

The young Sweetie Belle wallows in whatever
it is ponies are supposed to wallow in.
It's March 22, 2014. The top song is still Pharrell Williams with "Happy," and the top movie is young-adult dystopia Divergent. I saw the number two movie, Muppets Most Wanted, instead, and found it a pale shadow of its excellent immediate predecessor, appropriately enough. In the news, Russia formally annexes Crimea, while the U.S., Europe, and Japan respond with sanctions against Russia; the U.S. expels all Syrian diplomats and closes the Syrian Embassy in the U.S.; and the BICEP2 experiment finds evidence of cosmic inflation.

In ponies, "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls" by Dave Polsky airs, largely retracing ground already covered by "Somepony to Watch Over Me," but with the other prominent pair of sisters. There are some differences--Sweetie Belle feels overshadowed, rather than controlled, by Rarity, lashes out at her sister rather than trying to prove herself, and therefore the resulting race across Equestria is Sweetie Belle and her friends rushing to undo the damage Sweetie Belle has done, rather than Applejack rushing to save Apple Bloom. But overall it is the same story: little sister feels smothered, acts out, chaos ensues, sisters reconcile.

So rather than retread territory just covered two weeks ago ourselves, let's focus instead on the fascinating ways in which this episode draws parallels between characters and events. Most obvious here is the one blatantly stated in the episode: Luna sees Sweetie Belle's feelings of being overshadowed, and acting out in response, as a parallel to her own jealousy and transformation into Nightmare Moon a thousand years ago. This is a particularly interesting statement to make, as it is the first time the show has reversed its usual approach to mythology. Generally, the mythological functions within the show as a way to depict the personal on a vast, even cosmic, scale: sibling rivalry becomes a cosmic war between moon and sun, Fluttershy's fears become a dragon, Twilight's completion of her education becomes the apotheosis and ascension of a new princess. This, however, is the first time the show has really made the cosmic personal; the ancient war of moon and sun becomes a point within Sweetie Belle's life, descending through her dreams in order to help her work through her personal issue.

This transformation of the personal to the cosmic and back is one of the unique functions of fiction, because in reality the cosmic is entirely impersonal. The moon and sun maintain their motions no matter what we mere mortals do, and have no message to impart to us--any secrets we think we see written in them are messages from ourselves. As, of course, are dreams as well, which makes the next set of parallels interesting: the degree to which the episode is full of performances.

The two most obvious performances in the episode are Sweetie Belle's play and Sapphire Shores' show. But most interesting is the third performance: Sweetie Belle's dream, which, it is implied, was deliberately constructed by Luna, and can therefore be regarded as a performance put on by her. But if it is a performance, and the majority was not real, what of the two memories of Sweetie Belle's fifth birthday? The first, from Sweetie Belle's perspective, is accepted by her as her own memory, so we can regard it as such, but what of the second, which shows that Rarity wasn't trying to steal the spotlight, but rather help her sister?

There are a few possibilities. The first is that it is a genuine image of the past as it occurred; given that the season premiere established that alicorn magic can empower a potion to see the past, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Luna can create dreams of the past. A second option is, given Rarity is also asleep, that Luna is bridging the two sisters' minds, and letting Sweetie Belle see Rarity's perspective. This is led some credence by the appearance of dolphins earlier in the dream--Sapphire Shores will later mention that they are a common fixture in her own dream. The third possibility is that Luna is just making up a likely scenario about the birthday in order to help Sweetie Belle accept that her sister acted out of love in the more recent incident involving the play--not a lie, exactly, but a comforting story that for all Luna knows is actually what happened.

Regardless of exactly where the scene came from, Luna deploys it skillfully, and along with her timely assistance to Sweetie Belle during the chase sequence later in the episode, successfully engineers a reconciliation between the sisters. That intervention then creates a chain reaction of characters happily supporting one another without credit: Luna suggests the dolphin stitch to Sweetie Belle, who passes it to Rarity without crediting Luna. Rarity then gives the headdress to Sapphire Shores without crediting Sweetie Belle, and Sapphire Shores performs without, presumably, crediting Rarity--certainly it seems unlikely that a major pop star would interrupt her performance to thank her costume designer, any more than she would the technicians who operate the lighting or set up the speakers, at least by name.

But the key thing here is that all of these characters seem content to not be credited. Luna in particular smiles and nods to Sweetie Belle, seeming to encourage her to take credit and not mention Luna's help. It is Rarity who provides the key here: why is she excited to have her costumes worn by Sapphire Shores? Because ponies in Canterlot and then across Equestria will see them. Most will only see them as one small part of a pop performance, but those who are most interested in fashion and costumes might inquire further and learn Rarity's name; even if they do not, they will recognize and acknowledge the quality of the costumes. In other words, she is content to do good work because it is good work, secure in the knowledge that those few who do notice it will recognize it as good work. This fits very well with Rarity's characterization; like Rainbow Dash, she seeks praise and acknowledgment of her skills, but where Rainbow Dash prefers the roar of the crowds, Rarity wants the accolades of the elite. In this case, "elite" means "those elite enough to recognize her work."

In turn, this gives us a powerful insight into how Luna now deals with being overshadowed by her sister. (Remember, Luna and Rarity share an actress--it is unsurprising they share other traits as well.) Luna, we see, is happy to have helped, happy that one pony, Sweetie Belle, knows and appreciates what she did. It doesn't matter to her whether or not Rarity, let alone Sapphire Shores or the general masses, know that she helped two sisters reconcile; what's important to her is that she did. She is no longer jealous of her more famous, more widely praised sister, because she has realized that the work she does isn't the kind that makes you famous, just as Sweetie Belle has realized that Rarity's costumes overshadowed her play because it wasn't very good. Luna has learned to appreciate the rewards her work does provide, instead of pining for the rewards another receives--that popularity is not the only measure of worth.

Next week: Although there's a fine line between telling people a story to help them, and peddling placebos as miracle cures...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

FINAL 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 Kill la Kill and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST Sunday. Yes, that is a day later than usual, sorry!

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiction Friday: Faultless, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hi," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Rumor," said Alamea, disgusted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Suggestion Box Post

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

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

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

Anyway, suggestions?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sailor Moon Crystal Episode 10 Liveblog

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Break the World's Shell! Panel Notes

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

MLP News, Plus a Poll

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: Dream on.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

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

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

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

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

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

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The creation myth of the Wannet Shapers

My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 is on sale. Check out the Books page for info!

Don't forget, Patreon backers can see The Near-Apocalypse of '09 and my Korra vlogs as I make them--everyone else has to wait until February and December, respectively!

A sacred story for one of the religions in the Dragons of Industry world. No idea if this will ever come up in the story itself--the only character I have so far who's likely to know it is Twill, and they're unlikely to tell it for reasons of their own.

Once there was All. All was everywhere and everything and the only thing, because All was all, and All was alone because there was nowhere and nothing else to be.

All had eyes and nothing to see, and a mouth and no one to speak to. All had a heart but nothing to think about, hands and nothing to Shape.

So All began to Shape themselves. They plucked out their eyes first, and made the Sun and the Moon and light to see by. Then they plucked out their lips and their tongue, and made the sky and the wind and the breath to speak with. They Shaped their bones into mountains and their blood into rivers, wove their hair into forests and stretched their skin as fields. The flesh All's hands pulled apart and Shaped and molded into the twelve thousand and twelve animals of sky and sea and soil.

At last All had made everything, and there was nothing left of All but hands. Now there were things to see but All had no more eyes, and things to feel, but All had no more heart, and things to talk about, but All had no more voice. All that was left of All were two great hands hanging over the world, stretching from end to end of the sky.

So All brought their hands together, and the two hands Shaped each other, pinching off pieces like clay, shaping them into little tiny Alls with eyes and voices and hearts and hands of their own. They could see the world and each other, speak to each other, think and Shape and dance and a thousand other things.

We are the Hands of All, the Shapers of the World and of each other. We are each All and each tiny.

Do not forget.

Do not fail to tell the mirror-story. There are many roads, but there is only one beginning and one end.*

*Note: It is traditional for Wannet stories to end with "Do not forget. Do not fail to tell the mirror-story." This and one other story are the only traditional tales which add the next sentence.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Book of Life, super-brief review

Visually stunning, extremely cliché story, serious case of Strong Female Character Syndrome (though she gets a *tiny* bit of autonomy at the end), doesn't trust its audience, frame story/narration is annoying and adds nothing.

If forced to give it a letter grade, probably a C. It is a watchable way to pass some time, but no better than that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 4

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) "supposed to" go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS' "original" treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Delenn gets pregnant with Sinclair's child. Garibaldi quits his job as Chief of Security as a result of his drinking, and begins operating as a mercenary out of B5. There is no mention of a Psycorps connection, Lise, Edgars Industries, or Zack Allen.

The Shadows would first be shown onscreen at this point, and the description of them, while vague, is consistent with how they appear in the series. They would initially present themselves as fighting to free the other races from the Vorlons, but in truth they desire to rule.

Speculation: Between the lack of a rebellion against Earth and the general slower pace of the treatment as opposed to the series, very little seems to happen this season. Perhaps G'Kar and the Narn resistance would have gotten focus episodes, or some variant on the Centauri Cartagia/rise of Londo plot might have occurred. Another possibility, given events in the treatment's version of Season 5, is that the Minbari Civil War might have started, but not been resolved, during this season.

At this point it should be clear that the series as aired had gone completely off the original rails in Seasons 3 and 4. The Shadow War was resolved in early Season 4 in the series, yet is still a proxy war at the END of Season 4 in the treatment. Babylon 5 is still part of the Earth Alliance, Garibaldi never leaves the station, the entire Mars plot and associated cast is nowhere to be found, and Clark is still in charge with no resistance from Sinclair and company, despite manipulating his way into power via assassination just as in the series.

The Shadows as rebels against Vorlon manipulation is an interesting concept. It leaves open the question of whether the Shadows are one of the younger races manipulated by the Vorlons who have advanced far enough to turn against them, another race of equivalent age and power who just never bothered to get involved before, or, perhaps most interestingly, renegade Vorlons. This would cast an interesting light on the "angelic" presentation of the Vorlons, making the Shadows "fallen angels." It also seems likely that something similar to the "meeting" scene from "Z'ha'dum" would have happened in this version of the show, where someone would explain to Sinclair the Shadows' rationale for their actions. Perhaps Catherine/Caroline would have had that duty. Regardless, it seems that both the treatment and show versions give the Shadows a reasonable-sounding rationale, but belie that rationale through the destructive and manipulative behavior the Shadows have exhibited to this point. In the original plan, it seems likely that there would be a good deal of dramatic irony regarding this point, as the implication in the treatment is that the audience knows how the Shadows are manipulating Londo more or less from the start, but the human characters don't find out until the season 4/season 5 bridge.

Continued in two weeks...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Well this should be a popular opinion...

Fuck Veterans Day.

Don't get me wrong. It's not unreasonable at all to have a day of remembrance and mourning for the people who have sacrificed their lives and safety in order to protect their homes. It's just that we already have a day for that, Memorial Day.

Also, the last time the U.S. military actually did any of that was World War II. Every other military conflict of the last 150 years or so, and quite a few of the ones before that, were pure imperialist assertions of power. Even World War II was mostly an assertion that the islands of the Pacific were our imperial protectorates, not Japan's; that the alliance of empires on the other side were rather a lot more horrific than the alliance of empires on our side is mostly a happy coincidence. (Well, happy for the Allies, not so much for the people who lived in those empires. Or for Japanese-Americans. Or... well, you get the point.)

And, I mean, being a soldier is one of the few ways in which a working class or lower middle class American can get a decently paying job or an education. We should be at least as sympathetic toward them as we are toward the young people pushed into gangs by similar social pressures. Admittedly, gangs have done a lot less harm in the world than the U.S. military, but you wouldn't know it from the media, which tend to villify the former and laud the latter. It's really not their fault.

No, the problem is that Veterans Day isn't about mourning sacrifices or solemnly pondering necessary evils, it's about a jingoistic celebration of authoritarian, imperialist might. It's about speeches where our leaders try to one-up one another in their over-the-top declarations of how utterly fantabulous it is that a significant percentage of our society and economy is dedicated to the pursuit of slaughter and destruction in foreign lands. It's about the lie that spreading chaos and death makes us safer, that "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here," as if there would be a "them" if we weren't fighting there.

So yeah. Fuck it. Have a Peace Day instead. Or move Election Day to November 11 so we can all have that off. Better yet, make it the second Monday in November or something, because holidays that don't create three-day weekends are stupid.

But that won't happen any time soon, because the U.S. is a highly aggressive imperial power, and we now exist in a state of perpetual war that our leaders have no interest in ending. But that doesn't mean we have to celebrate it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

I AM a big pony! (Somepony to Watch Over Me)

Yeah, over a day late. I suck. A few quick items:
  • I got a nice bit of mainstream recognition: I was quoted and My Little Po-Mo referenced in last week's New York Magazine
  • My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 is on sale, see the Books page.
  • I'm nearing the end of My Little Po-Mo, which means I'm nearing the beginning of The Near-Apocalypse of '09. In fact, I'm already writing it, and backers of the Patreon can read it as I write it instead of waiting until February when it officially launches.
The third danger of the Fire Swamps is the
Chimera of Fairly Typical Size, Actually.
It's March 8, 2014. The top song is Pharell Williams' "Happy," which basically is what it promises, but goes on too long and suffers from the usual excess of chorus. The top movie is 300: Rise of An Empire, which I have no desire to experience enough of to form an opinion. In the news, Gravity and Frozen collect a number of well-deserved Academy Awards between them, the murder trial of Oscar Pretorius begins in South Africa, and conflict between Russia and Ukraine in Crimea continues even as Russia continues trying to pretend it's not them.

On TV, newcomer Scott Sonneborn pens "Somepony to Watch Over Me," an Apple Bloom episode that mostly continues exploring the same themes as the previous week's "It Ain't Easy Being Breezy." Both stories involve a character who neither needs nor wants care (Apple Bloom here, Seabreeze last episode) having it thrust onto them by a larger, more physically and socially powerful caretaker (Applejack/Fluttershy). However, where last episode divided itself between Fluttershy and Seabreeze's points of view, this episode is strictly from Apple Bloom's. Applejack's position, while not entirely unsympathetic, is depicted as being both wrong and rather absurd, to the point of worrying that Apple Bloom doesn't know she has to open drawers in order to use their contents.

Like last episode, this is a critique of saving rather than helping. However, unlike last episode, by focusing on Apple Bloom the critique becomes less what it says about the savior, and more about what it does to the victim. Normally, when I talk about saving vs. helping I talk about the would-be savior, because they are the active party, the one who needs to be persuaded to do differently. But that does rather miss the point, which is that saving is often harmful and always disrespectful.

That's key to this episode. From Applejack's perspective, she loves her sister, cares about her, and wants to protect her. But from Apple Bloom's perspective, Applejack isn't saying, "I love you," she's saying "I don't trust you." Applejack is, in effect, repeatedly telling Apple Bloom that she isn't good enough to take care of herself, which in turn leads to Apple Bloom going to great (and rather dangerous) lengths to prove that she can actually take care of some things on her own.

In some ways, being excessively cared for can be nearly as damaging as being insufficiently cared for. In particular, it can be very damaging to one's self-worth; we need meaningful achievement in order to feel good about ourselves, but no achievement can be meaningful without the possibility of failure. If we only ever do easy things where success is guaranteed, then any adversity can seem overwhelming. Fortunately for Apple Bloom, she has often been allowed to attempt things on her own, in particular in her adventures with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and so she is able to face down adversity in the swamps.

Interestingly, the chimera has similar issues to Apple Bloom, given its comment on having a sister always looking over its shoulder (literally, in this case). This is fairly standard "the villain is a twisted reflection of the hero" stuff, which in a sense the season has been doing all along, given its play with qlippothic shadows, but the use of a chimera for Apple Bloom's reflection is particularly interesting. As a three-headed monster, it is a reflection not just of Apple Bloom but of the Cutie Mark Crusaders as a group, three frequently bickering individuals who nonetheless form a united whole and usually act together.

The chimera is also a third instance of the episode poking gentle fun at the show's conventions. The first is the "hats and bows closet," a quick visual gag that references the common practice throughout television animation of giving characters very prominent and unchanging costume elements that they rarely or never change, thus making them more visually distinct despite the comparatively low level of detail relative to live action. The interrupted song is a slightly longer gag, poking fun at the show's ambivalence about whether musical numbers are diegetic (as, for instance, "Giggle at the Ghosties" in the series premier clearly is), extradiegetic (as most musical numbers in musicals are, and for example "Winter Wrap-Up" and "Smile" must be), or something in between or other.

The chimera pokes at a third gag, the relative harmlessness of most of the monsters. Certainly there have been monsters that posed an immediate physical threat to the heroes, such as the hydra or the Changelings, but dragons, for example, are more bullies than all-devouring forces of destruction. The chimera, given its desire to eat Apple Bloom's pies, seems at first to be another such defanged monster--but then it announces it intends to eat her as well, as a side dish.

These gags appear initially to be just that--standalone gags that don't really amount to much. The episode largely conforms to the Cutie Mark Crusader formula, with the Crusader getting in over her head, getting bailed out or set straight by the adults, and ultimately not learning any particular lesson. Which is where the fourth and best of the episode's gags comes in, because this time Apple Bloom didn't need to learn a lesson. She was in the right all along, and it's Applejack who learns her lesson--which means we finally have an episode in which Applejack needs to grow and learn, in which she actually develops as a person and as a character, and it's not even an Applejack episode!

Unfortunately, those four little gags are pretty much all this episode has to offer. True, it offers a fresh perspective on the importance of not trying to impose assistance on people who don't want it, but we just had an episode about that. Ultimately an episode about stepping back and letting the Cutie Mark Crusaders grow up must ring false, because if they grow up they cease to be the Cutie Mark Crusaders; the show cannot allow them to grow up because it would eliminate their function as characters, which is being roughly the same age and social status as the target audience. This is about as good a job as can be done with that brief; fortunately, in just a few episodes Sonneborn will get a chance to try something much more interesting and novel.

Next week: Monochrome Rocks!