Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Been reading Vaka Rangi...

Josh Marsfelder, like me, was inspired by Phil Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum to do something vaguely similar with a show he loved. He started about six months after me and has been doing something much more Eruditorum-esque with Star Trek. I'm actually only on early season 2 of TOS, his third month of blogging, but I can already tell he's way better at this than I am.

Anyway, if you like Star Trek and read this blog, you are virtually certain to get a lot out of Vaka Rangi. Go read!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

I've had just about enough (Three's A Crowd)

Trigger Warning: Discussion of abuse tactics, gaslighting, isolating of victims

And then Twilight gets to set a literal boundary.
At least, it's closer to the color of her magic than Cadance's.
It's January 25, 2014. The top song is still Pitbull and Ke$ha with "Timber," and the top movie is still Ride Along. In the news, protests against the Ukrainian government (which have been going on since November) erupt into riots, which will help fuel the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 and subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea later in the year; a polar vortex strikes the U.S. East Coast, creating dangerously cold conditions across a significant swath of the country, and scientists at the European Space Agency detect water vapor on the dwarf planet (formerly classified as an asteroid) Ceres.

On television, we have "Three's a Crowd" by Megan McCarthy and Ed Valentine, which much like "Castle Mane-ia" before it is what might be called a stealth arc episode. On initial viewing in sequence, it has little to do with the season's arc, but in hindsight it sets up two important elements in the story: Fluttershy's task to monitor the migration of the Breezies, which will lead directly to acquiring her key, and Twilight Sparkle's evident dislike of Discord but apparent unwillingness to outright reject him as a friend, which sets up her segment of the quest for the keys in the season finale.

The bulk of the episode is spent on that latter point, and so once again the show misses an opportunity to assert that friendship is not transitive--that Discord's friendship with Fluttershy does not give him any claim on Fluttershy's friends. Instead, the episode appears for much of its length to be treading into Friendship Is Mandatory territory, with Twilight Sparkle appearing to accept Discord's claim that they are friends even though she has never been shown to say that Discord is her friend or to be friendly toward him.

I have discussed before why the notion that everyone can and should be friends with everyone else is toxic, and will not rehash that argument here; instead, I will note it is particularly disturbing when Discord is involved, because as in "Keep Calm and Flutter On" he is openly abusive toward his "friend." His abusive behavior begins almost from the start of the episode, when he first brazenly lies by claiming that Applejack and Rarity agreed to nurse him, then manipulates them into reluctantly agreeing after all. This is a variant of the abusive technique known as "gaslighting," in which  the abuser persuades the victim of something they know isn't true, undermining the victim's confidence in their own judgment and increasing their dependence on the abuser.

This action also puts them in a position to be infected by the (nonexistent, but that's unlikely to stop a being of Discord's power) blue flu, which together with the departures of Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy earlier in the episode render Twilight almost completely isolated, allowing Discord to pursue what he implies through denial at the end of the episode is his main project, isolating Twilight from her friends, particularly Cadance. There is no evidence of any particular scheme past that, so his likely motivation is simply jealousy and possessiveness--again, common traits of abusers.

He then spends the bulk of the episode forcing Twilight and Cadance to serve him with the goal of preventing them from enjoying their time together. He makes a series of absurd demands with the justification that they are small requests necessitated by his illness--again, trying to undermine his target's sense of reality in order to substitute his own framing--culminating in the canard about the giant worm-guarded flower.

In the end, Discord claims this was all a test of Twilight's friendship, which is again a typical abuser thing to do. He reframes his malicious and cruel behavior as an achievement on Twilight's part, a way in which she can redeem herself for being a poor friend (when, of course, she is not his friend at all). He even tries to claim that he expected Twilight to enjoy being tested because she likes tests. This is both an attempt to excuse himself from blame for the events of the episode, and an attempt to establish dominance by positioning himself as someone who has the right to test Twilight the way, say, her mentor Celestia does.

So Discord is again thoroughly vile, and again the series refuses to acknowledge that Twilight has the option to choose not to be his friend in response. But nonetheless it is able to somewhat redeem itself by doing exactly what "Keep Calm and Flutter On" didn't: hold Discord accountable for his actions. Twilight is rightly furious when she learns Discord was faking being sick, and tells him so. More importantly, his efforts not only fail, but backfire: Cadance has a great time fighting the worm with Twilight, and then Discord becomes actually sick as a consequence. As Rarity says at the episode's end, he got what he deserved. Fluttershy is of course much kinder to him, but it is not enitrely clear that Fluttershy has a concept of "deserves."

Although the episode does not quite go far enough, it does at least ultimately acknowledge Twilight's right to set boundaries by having her tell off Discord and leave him to the care of someone who might actually want to help him. It further highlights this as a positive action by punishing Discord with real illness, acknowledging that he deserves it, and rewarding Twilight by having her day with Cadance go well after all.

This episode also serves to clarify Discord's behavior in "Princess Twilight Sparkle," placing both episodes in the context of "Keep Calm and Flutter On." Specifically, in both episodes Discord is still just as malicious as he has been since his introduction, but proceeds more subtly than in "The Return of Harmony." In both episodes he provides a cover story that makes his cruelty deniable, positioning himself as a trickster mentor rather than the trickster villain he actually is. In "Princess Twilight Sparkle" his cover story is that he is nudging Twilight toward understanding that she needs to work to maintain the same relationship with her friends as she had before her ascension; here it's that he is insecure and needs to prove Twilight cares about him. In both cases, however, his goal is simply to sow chaos in Twilight's life, most likely as revenge for the events of "The Return of Harmony."

It's becoming very clear that Discord needs a friendship lesson of his own, and of course Twilight providing him one--modeling for him how to be a good friend, making him (at least partially and temporarily) recognize how utterly self-centered and terrible of a friend he is--will be the crux of the season finale. It's unfortunate that, in setting this up, the show created the impression that Twilight is in any way obligated to teach him to become a better friend; it is dangerously close to the "I can fix him!" attitude that can so easily increase one's vulnerability to toxic and abusive people.

Next week: Some singer the target audience has never heard of. Heck, most of the bronies were born after his heyday. No, this one's clearly for the parents.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

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

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST today.

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Autobiographical Story About Time Travel and Fairies

I put up the first part of this story quite a long time ago. I have made minor edits to that, and written the rest of the story, so this post is the full text.

I put aside the soldering iron and sat back to survey my work. It wasn't the neatest job I'd ever seen, but then, I'd never been much of a modder. Oh, just like everyone else I'd modded a PlayStation to play import games, but that was almost twenty years ago now, and I hadn't exactly done the neatest job back then, either.

The point was, it was finished and would probably work. If, of course, the website I'd ordered the mod chip from wasn't a hoax. I'd been burned before with seemingly legitimate websites that turned out to be much shadier than they looked, most recently picking up an HDMI to VGA adapter which turned out to be (a) illegal and (b) almost completely non-functional.

I was pretty certain the mod chip I'd just installed in my new camera wasn't illegal, because the tech was too new to be banned yet. I worried anyway, though I could no longer tell how much of that was due to legitimate concern and how much due to the inevitable jitters engendered by three days of high caffeine and low sleep.

Regardless, I put the back of the camera back on and screwed it into place. It was time. I turned the camera on. For a moment my heart froze in my throat, where it had decided to take up new residence, as the camera's screen stayed black a little longer than I expected, but then it booted up normally. I selected the little icon of the clock in a crosshairs and carefully picked my date and location. Then I pointed the camera and took a deep breath.

"Are you really sure you want to do that?" asked a high-pitched voice like the tinkling of tiny bells.

I looked up and around. A soft pink ball of light was hovering outside my window, where the sound had come from. As I stared, it tapped against the window pane with a gentle tink.

I blinked a few times. It was still there. Tink!

I walked slowly over to the window and bent down to examine the pink thing more closely. As near as I could tell, it was just a fuzzy pink ball of light. Tink! Tink!

"Will you let me in?" the ball demanded. "It's cold out here, and I think it's starting to snow!"

For lack of any better ideas, I opened the window and the thing darted inside. It darted about the room a few times, then zipped up into the air in the middle of the room. I got the sense it was trying to orient itself.

Then: "Aha!" went the bells, and it floated over to my desk, where it settled down next to the camera. The light began to fade, to reveal a slender woman about five inches tall, with mauve skin, a triangular face, and a large (for her size) shock of pink hair. A pair of antennae protruded from high on her forehead, and four iridescent dragonfly-like wings from her back. She could not be anything but a fairy.

"Great, I'm hallucinating from lack of sleep," I said.

"Quite possibly," she answered, "but that's not why I'm here. The Hallucination Fairy is a completely different division. I'm the Continuity Fairy."

"...the what?" I might as well play along. It's not like you can make hallucinations go away by ignoring them.

"The Continuity Fairy. Well, a Continuity Fairy, anyway." She pulled a tiny little index card out of--well, out of nowhere I could see, actually--and read from it. "We have detected a probability nexus resulting in retrotemporal distortion originating from this location in approximately twenty minutes, most likely resulting from abuse of a ThioTime (tm) brand future-sensitive camera. As the Continuity Fairy, it is my responsibility to ensure that such distortions do not occur." She smiled brightly and put the card away wherever it had come from. "So: don't do it, okay?"

"Um," I answered.

"Something the matter?" she asked.

"If you're the Continuity Fairy, how come you needed to read that off a card? Haven't you been doing this for millennia or something?"

She pouted. "If you must know, I'm on interoffice loan. I'm normally a Parking Fairy."

"A what?"

"You know, I cause open spaces in crowded lots, that sort of thing."

I pondered this a moment. "You must not be very good at your job."

She put her fists on her hips and leaned forward. "It's not my fault!" she tried to yell, though it came out as more of a squeak. "We've always been understaffed, and now with you, you... you mortals running around inventing Time Cameras and Time Tunnels and Time Machines,  half of us have had to move over to assisting the Continuity Fairy! Poor thing is so overworked her antennae are drooping!"

I held up my hands to ward her off. "Sorry, sorry!" I sat back in my chair and studied her a moment.

"Well?" she asked.

"Well what?"

"Well, will you promise not to go back in time and muck up all our paperwork?"

I sighed. "Sorry," I said. "I have to."

"But why?" she pouted.

I sighed and looked at my workbench, meaning of course my living room, i.e. only, table, and at the camera sitting on it. "Things to fix."

She groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Of course," she said. "Look, try to understand this from our perspective, okay? These Time Cameras already have us overworked, what with you lot suddenly starting to photograph the past, forcing us to fix glitches you never would have noticed before. No, that's not enough, you have to start figuring out how to break the safeties and photograph the future, too! Yeah, to you it's just lottery numbers and TV spoilers, but to us it's total continuity violation, glitches everywhere, you have no idea how hard it is to fix!" Her wings vibrated angrily. "But the worst, the absolute worst, are you people turning them into time machines and gallivanting into the past to--wait, how did you even know how to do this? I thought we got that site shut down!"

I shrugged. "Wayback Machine. Didn't keep the diagrams, but it took maybe five minutes to find them on Pirate Bay."

"Dammit," said the fairy. "Look, what are you even trying to fix? It can't be that bad."

"My father died when I was thirteen," I said, flatly factual. Perhaps I should have been dramatic, angry or sad or bitter, but it's hard to get that worked up about something that's been true for two thirds of your life.

"Oh," she said. "Some kind of accident, or violence, and you think you can--"

"Cancer," I said.

"Cancer," she said back. "You're going to go back in time and cure cancer? Are you even a doctor?"

I shrugged. "No. But it was lung cancer. He was a smoker. I figure if I go back far enough, convince him to quit--"

The fairy sighed and folded her wings. Her antennae drooped a bit. "You never tried as a kid?"

"Well, yeah, but--"

"So you think some random stranger he doesn't recognize will do better? You think there's any chance he'll believe you if you claim to be his son?" She spoke softly, but there was an edge to the words. Her folded wings weren't vibrating, but the air around her seemed to be.

"I have to try!" I snapped.

The fairy made a sweeping gesture with her arm, as if to gather in my apartment, its tiny spaces, the mess, the shelves packed to overflowing with books, the tiny inflatable mattress on the floor. "Why? Because you blame his death for this?" Her voice rose. Despite its high pitch, there was no longer anything cute or small about it. "Because you think if you go back and make him not dead, you won't be alone? Won't be stuck? Won't live in a dump? You think you're the first person who thinks they know where there lives went wrong?"

"No!" I shouted back. My anger was the opposite of hers. As always, when I got angry, my voice got squeaky and my eyes stung. Anger made me feel as it always did, small, and vulnerable, and tired, and that just made me angrier. "Because he was my dad, and I loved him, and he was terrible! Because he was the gentlest, kindest, most loving man in the world on his meds but he never loved us enough to stay on them! Because I was terrified of him when he was off, and just as scared when he was on because he might go off! Because we were living in poverty and filth when he died and his insurance money was the only reason we got out!"

The fairy looked up at me curiously, her head tilted to the side, one antenna raised. "I don't understand," she said, soft again.

I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, trying to steady myself. "Dad did more for me by dying than he ever did alive. I could never have gone to college, I'd never have my career, if he had lived." I couldn't hold it, the squeak and volume rose again, a physical pressure in my throat and behind my eyes. "What kind of son is better off without his dad? All this crap," I waved my own hand around the room, "is the best of all possible worlds, and that's wrong." I forcibly plopped back down in my chair at the workbench and reached for the camera.

"Wait!" she cried, flying over to me and hovering in my face, wings beating invisibly fast, like a hummingbird. "Listen! Don't you think this is what he wanted? For you to have a better life if something happened to him? Does having a good father make you a bad son?"

I shook my head. "You don't get it," I said. "He wasn't a good father. He was a well-meaning father who sucked at it for reasons outside his control, and knowing that is what makes me a bad son. I have to put things right."

"Please," she said. "Think about this. If he were here, would he want this? If you're doing this for him, think about him! And then, if you can honestly say to me that this is the right thing to do by him, the right way to honor him, then..." She sighed and settled down on the table. "Then I won't stop you. You can go ahead and change history and my sisters and I will just have to deal with the cleanup." She stepped aside and gestured to the camera. "So, can you? Can you truthfully say this is what he'd want?"

I picked up the camera and thought about my dad.

At least, that's what I'd like to say. But that'd be a lie.

The truth is, I picked up my camera and thought about thinking about my dad. I thought about missing my dad, and hating him, and being scared of him. I thought about the person I was and the person I became and the long, ugly road in between. I thought about what I owed him. I thought about how much worse my life would be if he were still around, and how much I loved him, and how much I hated thinking this way.

I thought about the things that live in us, wear our skins and smile with our faces, speak with our voices and think with our thoughts.

But I don't think I ever, in that long moment that stretched out between me and the camera and the small purple insectomammaloid, actually thought about my dad.

But I put down the camera. "I can't," I said.

The next day I visited dad's grave for the time since. He wasn't any less there than anywhere else, but the symbolism felt right.

I have had this story, its concept, its beginning and ending, in my head for the better part of a decade. In that time, I have written its beginning many times. This is the first time I have made it to the end.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Support for, concerns about #HeForShe

Edit: So as universalperson points out in the comments, Hugo Schwyzer is seriously awful an referring to him as a feminist ally is pretty inaccurate. On the other hand, I still stand by saying that he's the strongest one Good Man Project had--he talked the talk while acting horribly in private, as opposed to actively attacking feminism and feminists. 

So, you may have heard about a speech Emma Watson gave at the UN recently, in which she went out of her way to emphasize the ways in which patriarchy hurts men and invite men into the feminist movement. Part of the purpose of the speech was to announce the launch of a new UN campaign, #HeForShe, encouraging men to pledge to speak out against instances of sexism and misogyny in their communities.

And this is, net, probably a good thing, which is why I have signed the pledge. Plus, you know, I was doing it already, and, as I said on Twitter, if Emma Watson and Lauren Faust are telling you to do something, it is probably worth at least checking out.

But at the same time, I'm a little cautious. I remember when the Good Man Project sounded like a great idea, a way to help repair the very real damage patriarchy and kyriarchy do to men and, in the process, help gain men as allies against the kyriarchy.

It didn't work out that way. The year after its founding, the Good Man Project posted a series of anti-feminist articles by one of its founders, leading to the resignation of the strongest feminist ally among its regular contributors and resulting in its present state, a site where an article about the pain of being in "the friend zone" can share front page space with an article about using the pain of losing a friend to make one a better CEO, parenting and dating tips, but not a trace of politics, not a mention of, say, the behavior of men in creating #GamerGate or the moral obligation to not touch stolen nude pictures of celebrities or, I don't know, the launch of #HeForShe? The entire site is predicated on the notion that it is possible to be a "good man" in isolation, that men's issues can be separated from gender issues--that, in short, one can become a better man without thinking about women. And that's when it's not just being the watered-down diet version of the Men's Rights movement.

Because that's the thing: Yes, the patriarchy hurts men too. Hegemonic masculinity pressures men to avoid cultivating emotional intelligence, makes it difficult for them to form close friendships or seek help when in need. Male rape victims suffer the consequences of rape culture just as women do. Because the kyriarchy constructs masculinity as being about power, and particularly power over women, trans men are falsely seen as "starting as women" and barred from accessing that power or asserting masculinity; gay men are seen as unmasculine and threatening; men who do not particularly relish displays of power are seen as unmasculine and dispensable. Men are poisoned with false narratives and expectations about relationships, their place in the world, the source of their identity, and the nature of gender.

But all of this is collateral damage.

Supporting feminism because kyriarchy hurts men is like getting upset over a terrorist bombing because the resulting traffic jam made you late for work. Yes, that's a negative effect, but focusing on it is self-centered and narcissistic.

Women are the targets of misogyny and sexism. They are the ones who face it day in and out, who see all of it, not just the bits that happen to men. They are the ones who can see the enemy, who know the enemy, who have no choice about being in this fight, because they are the ones being directly attacked.

We men are necessarily on the sidelines. So we can help. We can support. We can take action, discuss theory, even, if invited to do so, offer advice. But it must be women that lead, because a feminism that forefronts men's concerns makes as much sense as a movement for racial equality that focuses on making whites feel better or a labor movement that emphasizes keeping managers happy; it's inherently self-defeating.

If you want to see what a movement looks like that primarily focuses on the ways in which patriarchy hurts men, look no further than the Red Pill on Reddit, if you can stomach it. Men feel as if they've been robbed of something they're entitled to, powerless, lost, purposeless, isolated because they've been taught by the patriarchy that their role is to exercise power, that certain emotions are "unmanly," that women are their property and birthright. They feel powerless because they expect power, lost, purposeless, and isolated because they are emotionally stunted and unable to form healthy relationships, and robbed because they've been lied to about what they're entitled to.

These are all problems that feminism can solve, because they're all collateral damage of the war on women: all stem from a system of gender relations that defines "man" as "wielder of power over women." But focusing on these problems puts the emphasis on the feelings of powerlessness and loss, pushing toward a "solution" of seeking to give men still more power over women. The result is to make the feeling being robbed worse, to stoke anger and resentment and hate. The result is MRAs and PUAs and, ultimately, rapes and mass shootings.

The focus, instead, needs to be on the underlying causes. Where feminism focuses on helping men, it needs to be about tough love--about helping men shed their entitlement, their expectations of power. Where feminism focuses on recruiting men, it should be about encouraging self-policing, about teaching men to teach men to be less entitled and to reduce unrealistic expectations of power. Then and only then can men work on healing the damage of patriarchy, after they've worked helping take it down.

And most importantly of all, men need to learn to help, not save. This is a theme I've hammered again and again in my analyses this past year, because it's important. There's a reason there's a degree of controversy over whether men should even call themselves feminists, whether it might not be better to refer to themselves as feminist allies, and it's because of the savior problem. Far too many men walk into feminist spaces because they want to Save the Women, imposing their own ideas--necessarily based on incomplete information, because no man experiences the entire reality of sexism as experienced by women--of what needs to be done, all in service of their own ego and self-image as a Good Person who will Rescue Those Poor People. It is a profoundly self-centered approach that infantilizes and dehumanizes the people one is seeking to save.

No, the proper role of men in a feminist movement is as helpers--our job is to say "What do you need?" and then either provide what's asked for or get out of the way. Not because of any fundamental difference between men and women, but because that is the moral way and only really workable way to get involved in another person's problems: to offer one's resources and then allow the person in need to decide how to use them.

And helping isn't easy. Trying to help is harder than trying to save. It means surrendering power and control, opening oneself up to rejection, and putting one's own feelings and wants and ideas about what's helpful second to the expressed needs of another person. Which is why, ultimately, I worry about #HeForShe in the long term. Getting involved in someone else's equality movement to benefit oneself seems like very much the wrong reasons. A man who supports feminism to help himself, or to feel better, or to get praised, is pretty much guaranteed to be doing it wrong--and an entire international movement of people doing it wrong could do real damage.

So yes, I signed the #HeForShe pledge. And yes, I do encourage other men to do it as well. But I also encourage you to focus on the ForShe part. This isn't HeForHe, isn't about our egos and our needs. To return to my rather strained earlier metaphor, this isn't about stopping traffic jams, it's about stopping bombings. If the traffic jam is what it takes to get you involved, so be it--but the traffic jams cannot be priority one. They cannot be a priority at all; you're just going to have to trust that the side effects will naturally fade as we tackle the core problem.

I don't normally do this, but I feel this is an important conversation that needs to happen as part of #HeForShe, so: Please consider reblogging, sharing, and linking to this post.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sailor Moon Episode 6 Liveblog Chatlog

[15:01] <Arrlaari> Last time on Sailor Moon: we got a new toy. Usagi Get Equipped with: Moon Wand
01[15:01] <Froborr> lol
01[15:02] <Froborr> Credits over, ad.
[15:02] <Arrlaari> Indeed
[15:02] <Arrlaari> I'm getting the short crunchyroll devices ad
[15:02] <Arrlaari> 2x12 seconds, and it's done
[15:02] <Arrlaari> Yours?
01[15:02] <Froborr> Not me.
01[15:03] <Froborr> back
[15:03] <Arrlaari> I guess Crunchyroll divides the US into regions for ad sales
01[15:03] <Froborr> Oh no, please don't be a Tuxedo Fedora focus ep.
01[15:03] <Froborr> WTF "Who are you?"
01[15:03] <Froborr> Didn't he show up at her HOUSE last episode?
[15:04] <Arrlaari> He doesn't know who the figure in that dream we just saw is
01[15:04] <Froborr> "Who are you, girl I'm stocking and making out with when she's unconscious?"
01[15:04] <Froborr> Oh.
01[15:05] <Froborr> Okay, he totally posed for that picture.
01[15:05] <Froborr> That's not a news photo, that's his headshot he uses to apply for roles in local TV productions.
01[15:06] <Froborr> Are they watching TV on a crystal ball?
01[15:06] <Froborr> Like, they're using the ball to remote-view a TV that's showing the news?
01[15:06] <Froborr> That's AMAZING.
01[15:08] <Froborr> That's pretty legit power for a magical girl show.
[15:08] <Arrlaari> I like how the planet whose destruction gets imagined is Jupiter. That's what you get for asking questions!
01[15:08] <Froborr> LOL, point.
01[15:08] <Froborr> I'm always amused by these super-advanced alien civilizations that have nothing between "slightly worse than most handguns" and "planet-killer."
01[15:09] <Froborr> Silly Scouts, don't you know ALL cats are from the moon?
[15:09] <Arrlaari> Ad soon
01[15:09] <Froborr> Likewise.
01[15:09] <Froborr> Ad.
[15:10] <Arrlaari> Same as before?
01[15:10] <Froborr> No, now it's for a new Batman show.
01[15:11] <Froborr> back
[15:11] <Arrlaari> I gotta say, seeing that same crunchy ad twice every break gets old
01[15:11] <Froborr> Yeah, I hate that.
01[15:11] <Froborr> How does everyone suddenly know what the Legendary Silver Crystal is?
01[15:11] <Froborr> ...oh, mind control, that's how.
[15:11] <Arrlaari> Tuxedo Mask told them
01[15:12] <Froborr> Oh, so that's where that room is.
[15:13] <Arrlaari> I tell you what, they didn't have this swanky secret base in the old cartoon
[15:13] <Arrlaari> Hm, "taskete" translated as "save" is a poor choice here
01[15:14] <Froborr> Yeah, "help" would have been a lot less obnoxious.
[15:14] <Arrlaari> It's often used in that sense but in this case it's clearly used for "help" which is being very generous
01[15:15] <Froborr> Aw, Mars and Jupiter's transformation have been de-badassified.
01[15:15] <Froborr> Wait, why is Usagi losing energy?
[15:16] <Arrlaari> I dunno any more than you tbh
01[15:17] <Froborr> Damn skippy you don't have special abilities, you non-teleporting loser.
[15:18] <Arrlaari> I dunno what Usagi is talking about she is not at all in the same no-powers boat as Mamoru
01[15:18] <Froborr> Yeah, she has the Tiara of Death and the awful crying thingy.
01[15:19] <Froborr> I was not expecting a confrontation with Queen Beryl this early!
01[15:21] <Froborr> Is this the first time seeing her full sequence since ep 1?
[15:21] <Arrlaari> I think they've made time for it at least once since then
[15:21] <Arrlaari> Not sure
01[15:23] <Froborr> That's an interesting effect for a move with "Healing" in the name.
01[15:23] <Froborr> Okay, this latter part is more like it.
01[15:23] <Froborr> BUT WHY WAS HER ENERGY EBBING?
01[15:24] <Froborr> Oh hey, she figured it out a lot earlier than I expected.
01[15:24] <Froborr> So that's good!
01[15:25] <Froborr> Ad but I think we no longer care.
01[15:25] <Froborr> So, thoughts?
[15:25] <Arrlaari> Zoicite identified himself as Beryl's European commander
01[15:25] <Froborr> Yeah, that was kind of interesting.
[15:25] <Arrlaari> That's something I heard about being a thing in the Manga, it didn't come up in the old show
01[15:26] <Froborr> Ah.
01[15:26] <Froborr> I feel like last week's episode was a LOT better.
01[15:26] <Froborr> But this was all right.
[15:26] <Arrlaari> So it wasn't fully on screen, but Mamoru totally kissed Usagi after she fainted.
01[15:26] <Froborr> Are you serious?
01[15:26] <Froborr> I missed that.
01[15:27] <Froborr> So now it's officially a thing, he's a necrophiliac.
01[15:27] <Froborr> (IIRC, despite the name, it includes fetishizing unconscious people.)
[15:27] <Arrlaari> 21:15
[15:27] <Arrlaari> As he moves in for the kiss, his watch falls off
01[15:27] <Froborr> Already closed the window, I'll take your word for it.
01[15:28] <Froborr> Dude is SERIOUSLY GROSS
01[15:28] <Froborr> Okay.
01[15:28] <Froborr> Well, I'm going to watch the last episode of Saikano.
[15:28] <Arrlaari> Other than presuming consent because Memories of their Past Lives & Destiny etc., he's mostly about telling Usagi that She's Awesome and She  Can Do It
01[15:29] <Froborr> Yeah, but the presumed consent thing is kind of spectacularly awful.
[15:29] <Arrlaari> It's worth remembering that Usagi is more or less admitted to be the author's self insert, and Mamoru is her personal fantasy boyfriend
01[15:30] <Froborr> That doesn't make it less creepy IMO?
[15:30] <Arrlaari> It says something unfortunate about the way romantic tropes in fiction shape everyone's expectations
01[15:30] <Froborr> Yeah, it really does.
01[15:31] <Froborr> Tuxedo Fedora is like living concentrate of Everything Fucked Up About Fairy Tale Romance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some facts about my upcoming Apocalypse panel

Finished my Apocalypse panel last night, and I am inordinately pleased with it. So either I'll flub it horribly or no one will show up.

But until the inevitable catastrophe (heh) kicks in, here's some facts about it:
  • Running length: ~48 minutes on my test run, which is ideal for a 1-hour slot.
  • Number of video clips: 2 (low for me, but I have a LOT of talking to do)
  • Number of slides: 16, included title slide and bibliography
  • Genres of pre-anime works discussed: heroic epic, philosophical dialogue, sacred legend, sacred prophecy, alien invasion, bildungsroman
  • Genres of anime discussed: cyberpunk, super robot psychodrama, surrealist fairy tale, teen romance, magical girl
  • Uses of the word qlippothic: 0, alas
  • Bibliography entries that, at first glance, make no sense: 1
Also I just bought a refurbished video camera, assuming it arrives in time and works I will be able to record my panels.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Still on a Podcast: Lucifer vol. 5 with Uncle Yo

Yes, I am once again a guest on Uncle Yo's "We Are the Geek" to discuss Mike Carey's Lucifer. Specifically volume 5, which I enjoyed as we once again get to see the politics of Hell.

Also, yes, I'm aware I haven't updated Saturday's liveblog post, it's for much the same reason Sunday's post was so late. I'll take care of it tonight.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What am I gonna do? I'll never win the competition now! (Rainbow Falls)

Sorry this is so late, everyone. Last I remember I was sitting at my computer working on this at about 9:30 PM last night, then suddenly I'm in bed and it's late morning. It is entirely possible I have been overworking and undersleeping this week.

I have no idea who you're talking about.
It's January 18, 2014. The top song is "Timber" by Pitbull featuring Ke$ha, a heavily produced and highly repetitive song about sex and parties so generic it approaches being the Platonic ideal of mass-produced songs.designed to be played very loudly in crowded rooms where no one's listening, and the top movie is Ride Along. In the news, Egyptians vote on a new constitution; the execution of Denis McGuire takes 25 minutes, prompting renewed debate about the death penalty in the U.S.; the Golden Globes are awarded and Oscar nominees announced.

In ponies, Corey Powell pens "Rainbow Falls," which has the interesting distinction of being, to date, the only episode to be in two separate arcs, involving as it does both the Equestria Games and the quest for the keys. These are two very different kinds of arcs. The Equestria Games arc strongly resembles the first season's "accidental" Grand Galloping Gala arc, where a single episode about preparing for the event spawned further references and eventually the event itself. Similarly, there was no reason to believe Season Three's "Games Ponies Play" was part of an arc or that the Equestria Games would be mentioned again until Season Four's "Flight to the Finish," and there is no particular defined structure to the arc, other than the presumption that, like the Gala, the last episode of the arc will be the Games themselves. There is no way to tell, however, whether any given episode that mentions the Games is the second-to-last or twelfth-to-last in the arc.

By contrast, the quest for the keys has a clear structure. We knew from the season premiere that this would be an arc, since it ends with a focus on the question of what might be in the crystal and how it might be opened. There are six keys for the crystal container, six Elements of Harmony, and the Mane Six; Rarity has already received a souvenir for teaching another pony the essence of Generosity, which souvenir received end-of-episode focus and mysterious music as it shimmered with rainbow light; rainbows have been strongly affiliated with the Elements of Harmony. Already after "Rarity Takes Manehattan" fans were speculating that each of the Mane Six would have a focus episode in which they faced a crisis of their Element and earned some sort of souvenir, thus making the needed keys.

The challenge for the writers, then, is how to follow such a clear structure without falling into the formulaic, and here in the second "key" episode Powell succeeds admirably. The approach of merging the two storylines for one episode is, no pun intended, the key to this success. In "Rarity Takes Manehattan" the test of generosity was the episode's only plot, and therefore its resolution the end of the episode. Here in "Rainbow Falls" we have two plots, the A plot in which Rainbow Dash struggles between her loyalty to the Ponyville team and her desire to be on the likely winning team from Cloudsdale, and the B plot in which the Ponyville team competes for a chance to be in the Equestria Games. Thus, even though the A plot follows the same structure as "Rarity Takes Manehatten" of "pony tempted away from their element, realizes this is wrong, reaffirms loyalty to their element and in the process teaches someone else its value," the episode as a whole is able to add on an extended denoument in which the Ponyville team, including Rainbow Dash, competes to qualify for the Games and barely squeaks in. It's a small thing, but enough to help prevent this from feeling like "Rarity Takes Manehattan 2: Rainbow's Revenge."

Oddly, this is also one of the few episodes so far this season not to feature some sort of external intrusion into Equestria or the show. Instead we have something of the opposite, a "greatest hits" tour of Rainbow Dash's past focus adventures, including the temptation to abandon her friends to join an elite team ("Friendship Is Magic, Part 2"), a lack of confidence in advance of a big competition ("Sonic Rainboom"), pushing someone to praise her after she rescued them ("The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well"), faking an injury ("Read It and Weep"), and a shot where Rainbow Dash announces she's made a choice, cut to someone assuming they've been chosen, then Rainbow announces she went with someone else ("May the Best Pet Win"). And Spitfire directly references being impressed by Rainbow's performance at the Academy ("Wonderbolts Academy").

However, this inward turn makes a degree of sense. The symbols on the Tree of Harmony in "Princess Twilight Sparkle" associated the Element of Loyalty and Rainbow Dash with the sephirah of keter, the Crown, the highest on the tree. Keter is the highest level of spiritual attainment, perhaps fitting for the high-flying Rainbow Dash, and the spark of inspiration from which all the other sephiroth descend. Rainbow Dash fits well in that position, both diegetically, as she created the sonic rainboom that gave all of the Mane Six their cutie marks, and extradiegetically, as what appears to be a possible early precursor to Rainbow Dash appears in Lauren Faust's juvenilia. In turn, as the highest of the sephiroth kether is the farthest from malkhut, the Kingdom, which is where the incursion began in "Princess Twilight Sparkle." Rainbow Dash, after all, almost never touches the ground.

The lack of outside incursion, however, does not mean we are therefore safe from the qlippoth. They are, instead, here before us. The qlippah associated with kether in the Hermetic tradition is Tauriel, the clash of opposing forces. All things are one in kether; just because it is the farthest from malkhut does not mean it and malkhut are opposed; failure to recognize this unity and balance leads to taking sides, eschewing completeness out of a desire for victory.

Rainbow Dash is, as befits the Element of Loyalty, somewhat prone to taking sides. So committed is she to all things "air," for example, that she almost never touches the ground. Likewise, Rainbow Dash fixates on the competition instead of the contest, on winning rather than working together with her friends, and as such looses sight of her Element. She insists on seeing the qualifying trials as a competition for a limited resource, qualifying slots in the Equestria Games, and misses the larger view, in which it is a part of an event meant to entertain and showcase athleticism, in which the competitors are not enemies but rather allies encouraging one another to attain new heights. Once she remembers that it's not about beating other competitors, but being with her team and helping them be as good as they can be, she also realizes where she belongs. She walks to the playing field to announce her decision--walks, not flies, because know she understands that even the ground is not her enemy.

Another lesson both learned and taught. Another key gained. Already we begin to gain an image of what might be in that box, based on what is needed to open it: something that teaches, something that unifies. We're a third of the way there.

Next week: But first, shenanigans.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Kill la Kill and Sailor Moon 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 http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST today.

Following the Kill la Kill liveblog we will take a short break, and then watch Sailor Moon Crystal at 3:00 p.m. EST.

Chatlog below the cut!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fiction Friday: Xenosaga Fanfic, end of Chapter One

Last time, in Der Wanderer und Sein Schatten:
"I don't want to blow up any more than you -- oops." Seth hastily stood and pocketed his tools as the clamps opened. 
"What oops?" Wehj's voice was panicky. "No oops. This is a no-oops zone!"
"It's okay," said Seth. "I accidentally triggered a backup self-destruct."

And now, the conclusion (of chapter 1)...

"This is okay?" demanded Vix.

"Oh, we've got about ten minutes before it blows. Guess it was put in so that people would turn off the other self-destruct, then try to pull the box without noticing this one, and the ship would explode while they were trying to carry it out." Seth grinned. "Plenty of time to run up to the bridge and turn the thing off."

"We're gonna die," moaned Wehj.

"Probably," said Seth, "but not in the next ten minutes, if I can help it. You stay here and watch our AMWS and the box. If we don't call you in eight minutes, head for the Isolde. Vix, come on. I'll need you to cover me. There's still at least a couple of pirates running around the ship."

"Gotcha, boss," she answered, drawing an automatic pistol from her flight suit.

Seth unslung his own blaster rifle from his back and checked its power pack. "Let's go!"

He and Vix leapfrogged up the hall, Vix covering him while he opened each bulkhead, then Seth covering her as she ran for what cover she could find in the next hall. They covered the three hundred meters to the bridge in about five minutes, encountering no one until they arrived at the final, armored door.

Seth worked quickly to open it, and was soon rewarded for his efforts by the hiss of the door opening. A moment later, a spray of bullets sent him diving behind the doorframe.

"Guess we found those couple of guys, huh?" Vix popped out from her own position on the other side of the doorframe, squeezed off a few wild shots just to keep the pirates honest, then ducked back behind cover.

"Shit!" said Seth. "They must have realized how hard removing the box was going to be, so they're going to take the whole ship!" He unslung his blaster and returned fire.

Bullets flew in both directions, and Seth's blaster spat death, but both sides were too well-covered to hit the other. Then Vix rolled in a grenade, and the guns inside fell silent.

"Cover the entrance while I turn off the self-destruct," Seth said, and rolled in through the door, just in case one of the pirates was still alive. None were, however, so he got quickly to work while Vix watched the entrance from just inside the bridge.

After a few minutes, however, she was clearly getting nervous. "Um, cap'n, shouldn't we get moving?"

"Huh?" asked Seth. "Oh, the explosion! Right. Call Wehj, tell him we'll be there in a minute."

"But, the self-destruct!"

"Oh, I took care of that ages ago."

"You... then what are you doing?"

"Done!" Seth announced. "Now let's move! Quickly!"

They ran quickly down the hall to the aft cargo bay and boarded their AMWS. The other two helped Seth get upright, and then he activated his engines and hovered while they hoisted the box.

"Okay, we've got about thirty seconds!" he said.

"Thirty seconds until what, captain?" asked Wehj.

"Until – crap!" Seth barely dodged out of the way in time as two metal ribbons shot past him. The Swordsman hovered in the entrance, its armor scratched and pitted but otherwise none the worse for the explosions Seth had subjected it to.

"Oh hell, a Swordsman?" said Vix. "Who the hell are these pirates?"

"That's what I want to know!" shouted Seth. "Open fire, and don't let those ribbons hit you. Keep moving!" He launched himself backwards, then off sideways and up, firing on the Swordsman all the while.

"That's easy for you to say!" said Vix. "Your AMWS doesn't steer like a cow!" She dove behind a crate for cover, then joined in with her own partacs.

"Yahhh!" screamed Wehj as the ribbons sliced the crate he was using for shreds. "Captain, do something!" He fled behind the box they were trying to move.

"Vix, get behind there with him! Keep the armored crate between you and the Swordsman! If that box is as valuable as we think, he won't slice through it."

Seth began backing toward the box, firing all the while. Vix was closer, and the Swordsman couldn't really hit her without exposing himself to both Seth's and Wehj's shots. It had no choice but to go after Seth. It retracted the ribbons to do so -- and Seth chased them straight up to the Swordsman.

"Don't fire," he whispered, hardly aware he was doing it. "Don't fire, don't fire, don't fire."

His luck held; the Swordsman's pilot, startled by Seth's charge, hesitated, giving Seth time to unload a salvo directly into its cockpit. He launched backwards as he did so, giving the other two a clear shot to lean around the sides of their box and open fire.

The cockpit of the Swordsman burst suddenly in flame, and it collapsed to the floor.

"Yes!" shouted Seth, punching the air with his AMWS' fist. "Let's move, fast!"

The ship lurched, and Wehj yelped.

"Quickly!" said Seth. "We have to go, now!"

"Is the pirate ship attacking again?" Wehj asked.

"No," said Vix, "that was the drive! That was what you did -- you hacked the navigation controls!"

"Nah, the pirates did most of the work. I just programmed it." The ship shuddered several times in rapid succession. "That would be the pirates attacking. They know they can't get out of the way in time, so they're trying to drive the ship off course. Let's move!"

A moment later, Seth's AMWS emerged from the transport. His crew's two heavy lifters were just behind him, carrying the mysterious cargo. The pirate ship and the transport were both moving, deceptively ponderous as their dance came to an end. The pirates' engines flared to move them out of the way, ribbons of red and blue light connected the two ships, and flurries of missiles danced, but it was not enough to save the pirates. They managed the killing blow, and explosions began to ripple through the transport, but it was already moving at too high a relative speed. Even as it died, it slammed into their hull just behind the midpoint.

Seth turned to watch as explosions burst through both ships. There was a brilliant flare from the transport, then a second, and both ships were gone.

"Woo!" called Vix. "That'll be a story to tell. The three of us against a pocket cruiser, and we won!"

"Sounds like somebody has some words to eat, huh?" Seth grinned as he signaled the Isolde to pick them up.

"Hey, I still think it was a crazy, stupid thing to try. I'm just glad it worked. I'd hate to have to kill you after we were both already dead. Too confusing."

Seth laughed. "All right, guys, let's pack 'er in. I want to fix up my AMWS and then find out what's in that box."


Half a galaxy away, a young woman opened slightly protuberant, dark eyes to look at the controls of her gray and gold AMWS. The mech was tall and slender and somehow feminine in its construction, which in one sense belied the short, bulky young woman at its controls, but in another sense expressed perfectly her air of abstract grace.

"Our attempt to acquire the Original has failed," she said.

A face appeared on her screen. It was likewise young, but severe and drawn, with sharp, pale features and narrow, ice-blue eyes. The hair was cut too short for its color to be readily apparent, but it might have been white or very light blonde. "They defeated our attack, Dasra? I thought Nasatya predicted they would not."

"No," Dasra answered. "My sister's perfect record remains intact, Calvin. There was... interference." She transmitted a summary of the attack to him.

"Is that..?"

"I believe it is, yes."

"They have the Original?"

"Almost certainly," answered Dasra.

"Can you watch them?"

A hint of strain appeared around Dasra's eyes. "It is... difficult to follow those not of the Chosen, but I can continue to do so for some time yet before I require rest."

Calvin permitted himself a tight smile. It did nothing to make his face less forbidding. "Find Aser. Show him what you've shown me, and tell him where to find them. He will do the rest. I will inform our master. He will wish to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for this opportunity. This is a miraculous event, Dasra. Truly, we are the Chosen of God to accomplish his work."

Dasra refrained from pointing out that a better class of miracle would not have required the death of an entire ship's crew. Calvin did not take kindly to such thoughts. "As you say," she said. "May your feet find the hidden road."

"And yours," Calvin responded, then cut the connection.

Dasra closed her eyes and relaxed. As her awareness expanded to encompass all the universe, she gave thanks for her gift. The coincidences Calvin marveled at might or might not be God's work, but she had no doubts where her own ability came from. She might doubt Calvin, might doubt their methods, but there could be no doubt about the rightness of their cause.

End Chapter One.

I plan to post something else, a bit of original fiction, next week. Chapter Two will resume the following week.

In addition, here's something hopefully fun: I have never written a plot outline for this story. I made a soundtrack instead. It serves the same function as a plot outline would, anyway--reminding me of future events, keeping me on track with characters and themes, and so on. All are taken from video game soundtracks, mostly the games you'd think, but not entirely. Anyway, I plan to post the relevant bits of soundtrack at the end of each chapter.

This chapter has four associated tracks, all from Yuki Kajiura's work on Xenosaga Episode II, which is odd because that's my least favorite soundtrack in the series:

Seth's Theme

Seth and Izzy (Code Inspection)

Scavengers vs. Pirates (Space Battle 1)

The Chosen Ones (Ominous Cryptic Observers Observe Ominously and Issue Cryptic Omens 1)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A revelation regarding Peter Capaldi's Doctor, plus books

Last night, I was attempting to explain to a friend why I love the Twelfth Doctor so much when, let's be fair, he's a colossal jerk who is utterly dismissive of everyone around him and just plain mean to Clara. And I was arguing that he's the cantankerous old man who slowly warms up, the wizardly grandpa or uncle sort, insert various other clichés regarding the First Doctor.

Except then I realized I wasn't talking about the First Doctor at all, because I honestly don't know the First Doctor very well--I've seen maybe four or five episodes, not even whole stories, unless you count "An Unearthly Child" as a standalone. No, the reason I irrationally love the Twelfth Doctor so much is because of a completely different character.

Because who is the Twelfth Doctor? He's a grumpy, callous, cold, Scottish man in a nice suit who has a long history of using his unparalleled resources to go on amazing adventures. He's Scrooge McDuck pre-nephews. My ENTIRE CHILDHOOD has programmed me to love him!

Anyway, some thoughts on books.

My Little Po-Mo 2 is chugging away. The content is 100% finalized and formatted for print, I'm just waiting on the final cover design to send it to the publisher. The cover designer says she should have it for this weekend. After that it's 2-3 weeks to get and check the proof. While I'm waiting on the proof copy, I'm going to do the formatting for the e-book version, so I can launch both the same day.

The Very Soil has been kind of my odd project out the last few weeks, but my plan is to knock out most of the content and reading for my new AUSA panels this weekend, and get back on track with The Very Soil in the coming week. Goal is to send it to the editor before AUSA. Still hoping for a Cyber Monday release, but that's foolishly optimistic.

Considering fleshing out and reorganizing my Utena and FMA comments, adding some cites, maybe tossing in some of the Madoka articles that aren't part of The Very Soil and calling it an essay collection on anime. Would there be any interest in that if I did it? I'd probably have to Kickstart it, is why I ask.

ETA: And by "AtLA" I mean "FMA." Oops...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Utena Dump: Episodes 36-39

And so at last we come to the end of me dumping thoughts about Utena. I'm a bit sad. For things I literally just dashed together as comments on someone else's blog, I feel like there was some good stuff here. Also any time spent thinking about Utena is time well spent.

Next week is another Sailor Moon liveblog. Week after that, a new feature that'll run on alternate Wednesdays through, if I've done my math right, most of the rest of the year. (I probably haven't; calendar math is hard.)

Episode 36:

There is a fairly slim chance that the "doorway of night" is a Tolkien reference. Specifically, the Door of Night is the gate between Arda, the universe of material existence that includes Middle-Earth, and the void. It was created at the end of the First Age to seal Morgoth, the first and most powerful Dark Lord [ed: and blatantly modeled on the popular Christian conception of Lucifer, so there's your connection to Akio], into the void. So if it's opening...

More likely, however, it's just a cool- and ominous-sounding phrase that evokes darkness and the day's end.

Actual thoughts on this episode mostly involve Touga and Saionji's friendship, and what I think is going on in the sidecar scene. Like a lot of conversations in this show, it's heavy on fugue, which is sort of halfway between code and subtext. It's like a code that is perfectly understandable to the people using it and opaque to everyone else, not because they've agreed on some symbolic schema beforehand, but because the people using it know each other well enough to understand what the other person means.

So for starters, this is CLEARLY Touga doing his "Akio Jr" schtick, and Saionji wanting none of it. From there we get Saoinni saying he doesn't like Touga's manipulation of him. Touga's response is care and concern for Saionji, his way of saying "I actually don't like hurting you and I'm sorry I'm a dick."

And from that point on, Saionji is snarkmaster, no longer chasing after the incatchably pedestal-occupying Touga ribbing and advising his friend. And Touga accepts this with good grace. They're equals...

...which means they have the closest bond of any pair Anthy and Utena have ever faced, and are therefore the most dangerous foe. The false Rose Brides have previously always been associated with the cars, and here for the first time both cars and duelist attack Utena. Touga and Saionji are working together, and therefore almost as dangerous as Utena and Anthy.

Which brings us to the ending. As others have pointed out, Anthy knew Utena was not really in bed and likely to wake up. It's very probable she planned, or at least hoped, for Utena to see her. One final effort to drive her off?

Episode 37:

So. Very. Much. is happening in this episode.

[Last episode] I talked about fugue. Today is the best example in the series, the poison scene. But sometimes fugue and implication aren't enough, which is why we get one of the most important moments in the show... But more on both scenes below.

Mostly, this episode is a reflection of Episode 12, “For Friendship, Perhaps.” In that episode, Utena’s confidence was shaken by her defeat at Touga’s hands, and she temporarily abandoned her quest to become a prince and became more “girly.”

Here, Utena is not trouble by a [personal] loss, but rather by a feeling that she has lost her nobility and worthiness. She feels betrayed by Anthy and Akio, confused, dirtied by the echo between what she’s done with Akio and what she saw Anthy doing, and she feels she can no longer be the Prince. On her date with Akio she wears a red sweater like the one Anthy made in the cowbell episode; as always, costume changes suggest a character is filling a new role, and in that episode the sweater represented Anthy weaving the bizarre situation. Here Utena is playing the part of Anthy’s victim, wrapped in her spells and manipulations, seeking rescue by the Prince from the Witch.

But Akio isn’t interested in the stars. He isn’t interested in romance or playing the role anymore; there is no salvation for Utena with him, only another trap. Utena even begins to recognize this--Akio's comments about how girlish she looks are couched as complements, but really they’re statements of contempt. Sure, she can become his Princess in the castle, but in so doing she is just another Rose Bride, forced to play nice or else be labeled as Witch, blamed for everything that goes wrong in everyone’s lives, and stabbed by the swords of humanity’s misogynistic hatred.

Nonetheless, even Akio knows the choice belongs to Utena. She can still choose to reject the roles created for her by others, if she can withstand humanity’s judgment. But does she even want to? She sought to become a Prince, joined the duels to save Anthy. Now--just as in Episode 12--she questions whether Anthy is even worth saving. Both times it was because Anthy “cheated” with the person Utena was starting to think might be her Prince. But this time Anthy is still around for Utena to vent her frustrations, and she shreds the letter inviting her to the final duel. Akio is on the verge of victory; he feared the relationship between Utena and Anthy, and it is on the verge of falling apart.

But then comes the glorious, glorious badminton game, where Utena sees that her friends--and Juri, Miki, even Nanami are now clearly her friends, though Nanami remains one of those people who expresses their concern by yelling at its object—support her. Maybe she has to choose between surrendering to Princesshood or becoming a Witch in the eyes of the world, between the trauma of breaking the world’s shell and dying without ever truly having lived as herself--but she doesn’t have to do it alone. There are people who support her. Who know who she is and see that she isn’t the Princess and value her anyway.

It is here that Utena realizes what a terrible friend she’s being to Anthy. The Shadow Play is all about the trap Anthy is in, where the only way for B-ko to find her place in the world is to play the “whore” part of the Madonna/whore complex; the casting couch is a horrible thing, but our social structures force B-ko to use it (and the media-scandal route to fame, which is a sort of media equivalent) if she is to get the role she sees as the only path to her dreams. However, just because this is the way our society is constructed does not excuse C-ko’s judge character from moral culpability for his choice to benefit from it, any more than Akio’s claims that “the World” is the source of Anthy’s pain excuses him from his choice to aggravate it.

Utena soon realizes she’s done something similar to Anthy, judging her for her “choice” to sleep with Akio when there is every reason to believe she’s being coerced. And all it took was some friends showing they support Utena for Utena to realize she has the strength to break out of society’s Princess/Witch trap; maybe she can do the same for Anthy, and the fugue/poison scene is her attempt to do just that, to find out what Anthy would do if she weren’t trapped and support her in that goal. Unfortunately, in light of episode 38 it’s clear that Utena and Anthy were reading that scene differently; what I posted above is deliberately the read of a person who (like Utena) doesn’t know what’s to come (paraphrased):

Anthy: Are you familiar with cantarella? Also, do you like the cookies? I made them myself. (I’m dangerous, poisonous. I’ve hurt you and will continue to hurt you.)
Utena: I poisoned your tea. (I hurt you too.)
Anthy: It’s delicious. (I know, and I still value your friendship.)
Utena: So are the cookies. (Likewise.)

But Anthy knows what’s coming, so to her the conversation is very different:

Anthy: Are you familiar with cantarella? Also, do you like the cookies? I made them myself. (I am going to betray you and hurt you very badly. It might even kill you.)
Utena: I poisoned your tea. (I hurt you too.)
Anthy: It’s delicious. (You aren’t a threat to me.)
Utena: So are the cookies. (I’m too naïve to recognize how dangerous you are.)

(Cantarella is a great choice of poison, too, given its association with the Borgias. Lucrezia Borgia is the most famous of the family, supposedly for killing a whole bunch of people. Historians agree that she almost certainly didn’t, and everything written about her is basically centuries of people piling lurid, made-up detail on lurid, made-up detail, until what actually happened is utterly obscured in favor of a depiction of a most likely ordinary woman as a terrifying monster. Sound familiar?)
Utena’s ensuing promise, revealing she forgives Anthy utterly--that Anthy’s last and most desperate attempt to drive Utena away before she is destroyed by the powerful energy field of fucked-upped-ness that surrounds Akio and Anthy has failed--forces Anthy to an even more desperate move, a suicide attempt. I’ve seen some fans questioning whether Anthy can even die--aren't she and Akio heavily implied to be eternal?--but that’s mistaking this for what Gayatri Spivak dismisses as “gossip about imaginary people,” the form of reading/watching in which fiction is treated as a window into a consistent and coherent other world, as opposed to a deliberately constructed artifice in which all elements are entirely invented and entirely under the control of the author(s). Anthy wants to die so she tries to die; it doesn’t actually matter whether at some other point in the story she survived being impaled with hundreds of swords. Or, to put it another way, in real life there are “layers” of reality, sets of experiences which vary in how real they are, with material reality the most real, followed by the consensus reality of social constructs and perception, and then the unreal, such as fiction and dreams. Most fiction mimics this structure, but there is no actual requirement that it must, since of course all layers in a work of fiction are part of the unreal layer in real life. Utena is an example of a series that doesn’t bother; the events we see unfolding around the characters when they are awake and active are no more or less real-within-the-show than a Shadow Girl play or a dream sequence.

Or if you prefer, maybe the Rose Bride is eternal but exists on the layer of story, while Anthy is mortal on the material layer--in other worlds, she’s only immortal and eternal when she’s playing the role of the Rose Bride.

Regardless, this suicide attempt, on which more when I talk about episode 38, serves to patch things up for Utena and Anthy. Utena now realizes her real role; she is not the Princess or the Witch, and maybe not even the Prince. She’s the Fool, one of the great literary archetypes—she belongs in a class of characters that includes such luminaries as Twoflower, Sam Gamgee, and (he grudgingly admits, still hating the characters) Isaac and Miri. [Note for non-Watchers: I picked these three particular characters because all three works, The Colour of Magic, The Lord of the Rings, and Baccano!, had been covered by Mark Watches at the time I originally made these comments, and thus could be presumed familiar for the audience.]  She’s the one who has no idea what’s going on and therefore can cut through the biases and assumptions of others. The one who, in her obliviousness of what is and isn’t possible, can accomplish the impossible. The one who, precisely because the normal sources of wisdom are denied to her, possesses intuitive knowledge unavailable to the wise. The one who possesses the power of an adult and the naivete of a child, and therefore can bring about new beginnings.

She is the One Who Brings the World Revolution.

And, Anthy at her side, she is heading for the arena.

The Duel Named Revolution has begun.

Episode 38:

So, one thing people occasionally ask is whether and how much Akio was manipulating Touga. The answer is Yes and Lots. But I think, given the amount of panic he shows when he first says it, that Akio is honest about wanting someone to beat Utena in the Car Saga duels. He clearly wants to take the heart sword of the One Who Brings the Revolution of the World, but he's also clearly worried about Utena and Anthy's closeness--Anthy is also necessary to his endgame. So plan A was to work with Touga to get someone to beat Utena and become the OWBRW. But Akio is a master manipulator; he knows better than to assume Plan A will work. So Plan B is to get close enough to Utena to drive a wedge between her and Anthy and make her surrender the sword herself, becoming a pseudo-Rose Bride. Plan C is to take the sword by force in a duel. And Plan D? Anthy backstab.

So he reveals himself as the Prince, and nearly persuades Utena to become his princess. But as he feared, she is too close to Anthy, unwilling to leave her behind and ascend to eternal bliss with Akio. The key moment is Utena's flashback to the aftermath of last episode's suicide, the overt version of what was merely implied in the cantarella scene: Anthy has been manipulating and using Utena both in an attempt to alleviate her own pain and at her brother's behest. But Utena doesn't blame her; Utena at last realizes her own greatest flaw, her "cruel innocence" and savior complex.

As I mentioned before, a key theme of this series is that the concept of the savior, the "prince" in the show's own parlance, is inherently flawed. Saving others is about providing the help you want to give to the problems you perceive them as having--it is entirely about yourself. Helping others, by contrast, is about reaching out to them and letting them decide what you can do for them. It renders you vulnerable, but is the truly altruistic option. For the first time, Utena realizes that in trying to save Anthy she has been treating her as an object, talking over her, perpetuating a system that victimizes her, failing utterly to try to learn Anthy's point of view.

Utena recognizes this at FOURTEEN. Some people spend their entire lives without understanding the difference. This is a pretty huge achievement on Utena's part.
So Akio falls back another technique, a classic tactic of the abuser: gaslighting. That is, he attempts to convince Utena of things she knows aren't true, so that she will lose confidence in her own perceptions and attitudes and rely more on his. His opening move is to reveal that the castle in the sky is (as Saionji said it was in the first episode!) an illusion created by his planetarium, the dueling arena itself simply his bedroom. Everything that Utena experienced there, he claims, was his creation. (This is nonsense, of course. Even if the imagery was his, the dueling arena has never been about the images; it's about the emotional realities of the clashing characters, and that is their own creation, even if Akio has been exploiting it.)

He tries to undermine her moral sense, too, pretending that a 14-year-old girl being seduced into an adulterous relationship by an older, more experienced man is just as bad as an adult who rapes and abuses his underage sister. Unfortunately, Utena doesn't have the words in the heat of the moment to articulate why it's different--again, this is classic gaslighting. Finally he tries to convince her that her goal is false; Anthy does not want to be rescued and there is no such thing as a prince.

But Utena stands firm, and forces the duel.

I adore this scene with the Student Council that follows, the first time all five of them have ever been in the same scene together. The egg speech has always been another core theme of the series. As I explained before, it is a Hesse reference, and describes the necessity of either breaking the world's shell, the social structures that both maintain society and oppress individuals, or living out your whole life and dying without achieving your fullest potential. It is the arc of most characters in the show: In the beginning is the fairy tale of childhood, where you are safe and protected and powerless like the princess. Then comes adolescence, where you begin to assert the power that all human beings naturally possess, albeit in varying measure--physical power, social power, moral judgment, sexuality--and become aware that the world is not a safe and comforting place, but corrupt and full of darkness and dangers, as well as confining, arbitrary social norms that deny you full self-expression "for your own good." That is as far as Akio can reach--but the other characters, most notably Utena but the entire student council as well--is on the verge of reaching beyond that, to adulthood, where you recognize that much of what holds you back is your own shortcomings and start working to overcome them; that much of the rest of what holds you back is arbitrary judgment by people you don't actually have to listen to, so you stop listening to them; and that what remains can be defied and fought.

The Duel Named Revolution is fought against the world, yes, and all the judgmental and manipulative bastards who want to prevent you from being who you are, too, but it's equally fought against oneself. (That's a clue to whose duel this really is, by the way. Utena's internal conflict here is nothing compared to Anthy's.)

But mostly I love this scene because the five of them have finally come around to supporting Utena wholeheartedly. She represents them all against Akio--and they all have some pretty darn legitimate grievance against him!

Their five colors plus the Prince come together as one: Utena's pink.

At last the duel proper begins, as Akio talks about his unstated "ideals" which are so lofty that Utena cannot comprehend them, and which justify his actions. The planetarium immediately belies his words, displaying Black Rose Saga-style desks with nothing on them. The Black Rose duelists all had a signature object that signified what it was they were seeking after; Akio has nothing. He believes in nothing, and his ideals are as much an illusion as everything else.

And Utena reveals that Akio has failed; she will not abandon her own ideals. Here the prince has ceased to be Dios, the savior, the empty myth that becomes Akio; now the prince is the ideal self, the Utena-who-is-a-better-Utena. Dios shatters, the castle crumbles; Utena has taken the concept of the prince away from Akio and made it her own.

Anthy wakes, and sees that Akio no longer has the power to face Utena. With no other options left, Akio throws Anthy at her. And for just a moment, it is almost enough... Anthy hesitates.

But in the end she does what her brother wants. The world revolution is too new, too frightening; better the eternal familiar agony than the danger of hoping and being disappointed.

Anthy stabs Utena, her dress spreading out around them like a pool of blood.

The Duel Named Revolution...

Episode 39:

Akio’s greatest weapon is the internalized misogyny of others, as Anthy demonstrates when she explains her reason for stabbing Utena: girls can’t be princes.

Akio’s second-greatest weapon is blaming others for his own treachery, as he does when he tells Utena he warned her.

Juri’s story is interesting; it is again a story of the prince, and showing yet another flaw in the ideal: you might fail and be forgotten. Fooooooooooooooooreshadoooooooooowiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

But there is another source of foreshadowing here: Anthy hesitates to give Akio the sword. She cares about Utena, regrets stabbing her—and Akio deftly makes it all about him. Subtly he blames Anthy even while forgiving her (arrogating to himself the right to forgive her!): She knows he blames her for him no longer being the prince, so when he says this might be different if he were still the prince, it’s a subtle way of blaming her while appearing to blame himself. Their oddly ritualistic exchange about knowing and loving is similarly abusive; Akio is saying that someone who truly knows Anthy and still loves her is rare. It’s the classic “no one could ever love you but me” trick; like gaslighting, its goal is to undermine the other person’s confidence and increase their dependence on their abuser. (The Raven pulled precisely the same trick on Rue in Princess Tutu.)

Anthy’s dress stands empty. The Rose Bride was as much an illusion as the arena. The true Anthy is, has always been, impaled on a million swords of human hatred, imprisoned in the realm of the rose gate. This is the true function of the Rose Bride: to be Eve. To be the woman blamed, to take the swords of humanity’s hatred in the place of the prince, the savior, the true villain who wants humanity to suffer so he can play at rescuing them.
The Rose Gate is, of course, the same as the gate to enter the arena way back in the first episode. It’s as yonic as ever, and Akio approaches it by attacking it with a phallic symbol. He is wielding the sword of Utena’s heart destructively, and it puts her in agony.

Meanwhile, the “true” prince appears, and he’s not all that different from Akio, looking down on Utena, seeing her as weak and childish and in need of protection. Akio isn’t the corruption of Dios; they are Abraxas, one being with two faces. The “good” and “evil” faces are both masks over a single underlying reality, a being that sees itself as superior. Akio, Ruka, Touga, Wakaba’s Onion Prince; all are the same twisted approach to life expressed in different ways.

And Utena is having none of it. She stands. Even as her heart(-sword) breaks, she stands. She shoves the prince, the ruler of the world, out of the way, and as she does we see a brief glimpse of Wakaba. Wakaba, Utena’s friend for whom she started this all. Wakaba, loyal, loving Wakaba who faced and overcame her desire to be special in the Black Rose Saga; Wakaba, who doesn’t need to save others, just to be with them. At the same time, Akio speaks of his quest to win the power to revolutionize the world, because power is all he knows and all he understands. He wants to stand alone, to wield the power alone, and looks down on those who depend on others.

Which is his mistake. He insists on being the one with the power, on refusing to become vulnerable. Utena doesn’t. She admits that she loves Anthy, that she needs Anthy, that she cannot ever be truly happy without Anthy. Utena’s tear falls and becomes the drop of water that opens the gate. (Yes, once again and as always, the key to making the flower open is getting it wet.) But less crudely, the swords stop, as they must. They represented that the world hates Anthy, that it refuses to accept a woman who chooses not to be a princess. But the world doesn’t hate Anthy; misogynistic assholes like Akio do. Utena loves her.

Utena opens the coffin, her coffin, which is Anthy’s coffin. The eternally pierced Anthy was an illusion too; the real Anthy is the cowering, frightened girl, hiding in a terrible dark place because she fears the world outside is even worse. But Utena holds out a hand and lets Anthy decide whether to take it; no longer saving, but helping, letting Anthy make the choice. And as the heartbreaking strains of the series overture swell, Anthy does it. She takes Utena’s hand, willingly tries to take her hand. The arena, Akio’s corrupt system for controlling and manipulating others, Anthy most of all, falls apart as Anthy rejects it, choosing real love over the abuse she has known.

And then she falls.

Because the danger of helping instead of saving is that it means surrendering control. The other person might fall, leaving you with hand outstretched. Even worse, the world loves a savior, but often hates a helper. By helping someone the world has targeted you become a target yourself. Utena is not a princess, not a prince; in the eyes of the world, she must therefore be a witch.

Yet the series is not over. The shadow play girls step in to discuss the future--yet, oddly, there is no shadow, the familiar buildings emerging instead into light. Utena has been forgotten, and yet, much as with Mikage’s erasure before, some of the changes she helped create remain. Miki is teaching Tsuwabuki to use the stopwatch; Miki is moving on and needs someone to take his place. Saionji has abandoned dueling and wants to move ahead with his studies; he and Touga interact as friends and equals once more. Nanami has a tea dispenser similar to the one Wakaba had when she was living with Saionji; it’s ambiguous, but I think it’s an implication that Nanami and Saionji are dating--and their interactions and growth in the last arc suggest to me that they might possibly be good for each other. Or spectacularly terrible; either way, it implies both of them have moved on from their respective obsessions. Juri is still captain of the fencing team, but Shiori is now on the team with her; their relationship, too, has moved into new territory. Even the barbershop trio have transferred their interest from Nanami to her former minions, who appear to now be an independent gang of their own. Most interestingly, Wakaba seems to be shifting into an Utena-like role... (Who is that pouncing on her, anyway? A-ko? Keiko? [Another Mark Watches commenter suggested it is the girl from the first episode who told Wakaba her "boyfriend" Utena had gone on without her. This appears to be correct, and is intriguing.])

The only one who hasn’t moved on is Akio. He has moved backwards, intending to start the cycle of duels over again from the start with a new batch of duelists. He can’t move on, because he can’t let go of his power and control. As much as he uses his power to manipulate others, in the end he is enslaved to it more than anyone else, a pathetic figure gnawing away at the bottom of a pit that he’s persuaded everyone is a giant phallic tower. But he may have no choice but to change now, because the unthinkable has happened: Anthy rejects him and walks away.

And then we come to the closing credits, as my favorite track in the entire show, the triumphant "Rose and Release," plays. (And for the second time in the episode, the first being "Overture," I cry. Even on what must be my 20th viewing by now.) Anthy walks out of her prison, as she always had the power to do and yet never could before. She is free; she can grow up.

Of course she is doing it to find and save her love. Clad in Utena's pink, she takes on Utena's role as quester, protector, bringer of revolution, fool.

And what is it she walks out into? What are the images behind the credits? A gate. Trees, suggesting a forest. A long road winding into the distance. The common element is that all of these are liminal spaces, places you cross on the journey, not destinations in themselves. And indeed, we see Anthy walking ceaselessly and without hesitation through them. She does not stop until she is past all of them.

And listen to that song again. "Rose and Release" is very obviously the opening credits music, but with the lyrics replaced by vocalizing. They are ostentatious by their absence, so let us consider them.
Heroically, with bravery
I'll go on with my life,
just a long, long time.
But if the two of us should get split up
by whatever means,
let go of me,
Take my revolution.

"If we are separated, one of us will have to change the world."

In the sunny garden, we held each other's hands,
drew close together and soothed each other with the words,
"Neither of us will ever fall in love again."
Into this photograph of us
smiling cheek to cheek,
I took a bit of loneliness,
and crammed it inside.

This is clearly Anthy talking about the keepsake photo she took with Utena, which appears again at the end.

Even in my dreams, even through my tears,
even though I'm being hurt,
reality is approaching now, frantically.
What I want now is to find out
just where I belong,
and my self-worth, up through today.

Again, very clearly something Anthy would say, and not Utena. This and the preceding section establish this is Anthy's song.

Heroically, I'll throw away
my clothes 'til I'm nude,
like the roses dancing all around me, whirling free.
But if the two of us should get split up
by whatever means,
I swear to you, I will change the world.

"Wait for me Utena! Even if it means destroying my brother's system, I will find you!"
Song and imagery taken together make it clear: Yes. Anthy finds Utena. They are together in the end, hand in hand. Someday, together, they shine. (Note that the title of the episode replaces the normal "to be continued" card. This is the end of the show, and the end of the show is Anthy and Utena, shining, hand in hand.)

Utena failed to save Anthy and failed to be the Prince. That's because, as I've said before, the ideal of the savior is fundamentally self-contradictory and flawed. But, perhaps without realizing it, Utena helped Anthy, gave her the tools she needed to finally walk out of Ohtori Academy and the cycle of abuse she'd been trapped in for what seems like centuries. Utena is the vehicle by which Anthy escapes Ohtori, but it's Anthy in the driver's seat.

Which brings me to one final image and question: every duel in the series ends with the clanging of bells as the winner is revealed. But when the swords destroy the arena, there are no bells.

Not, that is, until the end of the episode, when Anthy tells of Akio and walks out. Then they ring riotously as Anthy sets off. In other words, the duel didn't end with Utena's defeat, it ended with Anthy's liberation.

The Duel Named Revolution is over.

Anthy won.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Upcoming Convention Appearance: Anime USA

I'll be giving several panels at Anime USA (October 3-5 in Washington, DC):
  • Analyzing Anime 101: Probably my most popular panel, definitely the one I've given most. Basically a compressed overview of basic analytic techniques with examples from anime.
  • Postmodern Anime: Brief discussion of postmodern techniques and concepts, then a bunch of anime examples.
  • BESM: Introduction to the anime tabletop RPG--where to find it, basics of play, recommendations of approaches, and then having the audience collectively build a character.
  • Break the World's Shell: Anime Apocalypses as Social and Personal Revolution: Title basically says it all. Briefly tracing the apocalyptic genre from its origins in the ancient Near East (Utnapishtim, Atlantis, Revelation), through Hesse and 50's science fiction, and then plunging into specific anime for the majority of the panel (including Akira, Saikano, PMMM, Evangelion of course, Utena, and others). Central thesis is apocalypse as metaphor for massive change on a cultural or personal scale (or both).
Don't know times/days yet, but all those panels have been confirmed. BESM and the apocalypse panel are both entirely new, Postmodern Anime I've done once before and Analyzing Anime 101 I've done probably a dozen times.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

And tell that big dumb scary face to take a hike and leave you alone and if he thinks he can scare you then he's got another thing coming and the very idea of such a thing just makes you wanna... (Pinkie ApplePie)

Oh wow, I'm really sorry about this one. I fucked up and queued it for the wrong day, and because I was staying with family overnight and all day I didn't notice that it didn't go up. I'm putting it up now, then once my service successfully picks it up and posts it to the various social media, I'll backdate it to where it's supposed to go.

That, or Pinkie's been wifing in the club.
It's January 11, 2014. The top song is still "The Monster," and the top movie is something called Lone Survivor, which I've never heard of despite it spending the next five weeks in the top five. In the news, Australia beats England at cricket to reclaim The Ashes, as far as I know the only major international sports trophy to originate as a joke; Janet Yellen is confirmed as Chair of the Federal Reserve by the U.S. Senate, becoming the first woman to hold the position; and Spain invites the Sephardim, a large Jewish ethnic group exiled in 1492, and who now comprise the majority of Jews in North Africa and Western Asia, to return.

On TV, we have "Pinkie Apple Pie," a very strong first effort by new writer Natasha Levinger that sends Pinkie Pie along with the Apple family on a road trip to discover if Pinkie is actually a distant Apple cousin. The episode weaves two strands together, Pinkie's eagerness to be a part of the Apple family, and the Apples' own struggle to keep up a good image of their family.

Then Slender Man shows up.

It's an obvious move, really. The show's been throwing sly references to pop culture over the target demographic's heads for nearly its entire run, and has also incorporated at least two characters invented entirely by Internet fandom, Derpy Hooves and Dr. Whooves. It's also been spending much of this season feature alien intrusions into Equestria and the pony's lives, from the physical to the conceptual.

Slender Man, meanwhile, is public domain character created entirely by his own Internet fandom. Originating in a Something Awful thread about photoshopping old photographs to add ghosts, he is an impossibly tall, tentacled, faceless figure in a black suit, standing in the background of a photograph of children happily playing on a playground, his position and the composition such that he isn't immediately apparent on first glance.

He quickly became memetic, and as image posts, CreepyPastas, and eventually blogs and YouTube serials about him proliferated, a consensus of a few core concepts accreted around him. He is silent, and rarely actually seen to move, but can apparently move tremendously quickly or teleport when not being observed. He causes video and audio distortions in cameras when he's nearby, most often visual tearing or loud droning static. He seems to focus on particular people, being seen by or near them, and the people he focuses on tend to develop coughs, delusions, hallucinations, obsessions, and paranoia. Supposedly his preferred targets are children, but nearly every story has him stalking young adults in their early 20s. He tends to be found in liminal spaces such as forests, porches, windows, doorsteps, and hallways. He has no known weaknesses, has never been harmed, and was created by a Something Awful thread about photoshopping old photographs to add ghosts. Slender Man, you see, is a fictional being within his own stories. The more stories are told about him, the stronger he becomes.

He is among the most alien intrusions imaginable,  short of going completely Lovecraftian, and both a physical presence and a concept. This is the perfect season for him to cameo in.

Like most creatures of horror, Slender Man can be read as expressing a particular set of anxieties. He has the appearance of a faceless, anonymous being clad in the ultimate symbol of adult responsibility and tedium, the office worker's suit. He destroys children, which is to say childhood. He is encountered in spaces that exist on the edge between two adjoining realms--the forest that lies between civilized regions, the hallway between rooms, the door and porch and window between the safe, contained Inside and the vast, unknown Outside. 

Slender Man is adulthood itself, and so of course he is stalking Pinkie Pie, who is probably the most childlike and childish of the Mane Six. Alone of them, Pinkie neither lives alone nor is the head of a household; she frequently appears to not understand serious situations such as Discord's disruptions in "Return of Harmony"; and appears motivated almost entirely by pleasure-seeking.

Or is she? Because in this episode we see something new in Pinkie Pie. In discussion of past episodes, I've noted that Pinkie Pie has a severely stunted remembering self, and as such generally neither plans for the future nor dwells on the past. But here, right from the start of the episode, she is already intently interested in a particular aspect of her past, her ancestry.

The reason becomes clear when we consider what, precisely, piques her interest, and what it is she doesn't want to remember. Pinkie Pie was miserable as a member of the Pie family, as shown in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles." (This statement is complicated, but not negated, by "Maud Pie," as I will discuss further when we get to that episode.)  She loves them (as, again, shown most clearly in "Maud Pie,") and does not want to stop being a Pie, but if she can acquire an additional family with whom she fits in better, that is a major gain for her. Joining the Apples, in other words, is Pinkie's first real attempt to fix the misery of her childhood rather than hide from it, and as such is inherently an attempt to regain her remembering self.

To that end, the efforts of the Apple family to seem "perfect," and the high importance Applejack places on making the Apple family welcoming for her, are intriguing. Applejack is, in a sense, the anti-Pinkie Pie, in the sense that, while her case is less severe, she also suffers from the stunting of one of her selves. Most obviously in "Apple Family Reunion," where she focuses so much effort on making the event memorable (the goal of the remembering self) that she forgets to make it enjoyable (the goal of the experiencing self), Applejack has a tendency to be too willing to sacrifice the present for the sake of the future, to focus so much on goals that she ignores her experience of the present. That she is so eager to invite Pinkie Pie into the close-knit Apple clan is primarily because of their friendship, but it is also suggestive of Applejack trying to invite some of Pinkie's immediacy and fun into her life.

If so, then it follows that Pinkie is trying to accomplish much the same, deliberately seeking out an opportunity to build good memories as opposed to simply enjoy the present. Her constant snapping of photographs throughout the episode, and construction of a scrapbook at the end, strongly imply that her purpose in this journey is to remember it after, and her speech to the Apples--that she feels they are a strong family because they can get angry at one another--shows a much greater understanding of relationships than Pinkie has demonstrated in the past. Ultimately, her argument is that the Apples are a good family because even though being together isn't perfect every single second, in the long run, they cherish one another. That is a very remembering-self type of argument.

Slender Man is, thus, not an alien presence at all. The specter of adulthood is present in the scene where Pinkie Pie makes her speech to Applejack, not because he is an invader from a realm of horror far outside the conceptual spaces of the show, but because the specter of adulthood is present in the scene. One important part of growing up for most people is leaving one's family (generally not entirely, but at least partially) and finding a new family in the form of (traditionally) a romantic partner and children, or (frequently) close, lifelong friends. (Often both, of course, and sadly sometimes neither.) Pinkie has found a family in the Apples, possibly not a family by birth, but definitely a family by choice. This is probably the most adult thing she's ever done.

Slender Man vanishes as quickly as he appears, never to be seen stalking Pinkie again. He doesn't need to; the specter of adulthood has been met, and matched, and accepted, and thereby defeated and absorbed. There is, perhaps, a lesson here for all the other qlippothic invaders we've faced this season. Fighting them went rather poorly in "Princess Twilight Sparkle." It might be better--and more in keeping with the spirit of the show--to invite them in. It worked for Rarity last episode, and Pinkie now--who will it work for next?