Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Not much to say today, except I hope you had a good year and that 2016 will be even better for you.

For me it was a pretty slow year. I only had the chance to officially release one short story despite actually having written nearly four novels this year. I still need the money and time to seek out a good editor, but at the very least I was productive.

I hope next year I can go at least a little bit further, but for now I'm grateful for what I've had and what little I've accomplished. Trust me when I say there have been years when I put out nothing at all and did even less. Thanks to God's graces I'm still here and trying much harder.

So, adios to 2015. See you in 2016.

Who know what lies ahead?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Season 2 of Daredevil is on the way!

And I couldn't be happier! (Check out the last thirty seconds for a teaser)

As I have posted about before, I was a big fan of season 1 and am more than eager to see where they take a second season. You see, Daredevil was not only a boon for superhero shows, but for drama and action shows as well. What did it do well, you might ask? What did it do that most modern drama shows absolutely fail at? Well, that's a good question.

The biggest positive about Daredevil above everything else is that the main character, Matt Murdock, while not a saint, is a legitimate man with morals, and a hero. You might think this would be a strange thing to praise the show for, but let me ask you a question. How many action or drama shows have you watched in the last couple of years not based on a comic book where the protagonist, the man you're supposed to root for and want to follow, when was the last time he was either a moral man or a good man? When was he not either an amoral antihero who doesn't care about anything (no using the "he really has a heart of gold!" cheat, either) or a completely ineffective geek that is overshadowed by everyone else in the cast and is basically comic relief the rest of the time?

Of all the shows I've seen, only Person of Interest comes to mind. That's about it.

I mean, Matt Murdock has a pretty rough past, but he persevered through it all to become a man that wants to do good. And he honest to goodness tries. He doesn't succumb to despair, he doesn't become a clown that nobody takes seriously, he becomes a hero that wants to do the right thing.

On the opposite side is Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. This is one of the best portrayals of villainy I've seen in a long time. They manage this by making Fisk personable and completely understandable at the same time thereby leaving the viewer with wanting to follow him. What the difference is? They never once excuse anything he does as anything less than wrong and evil. He is not a gooey grey mass of boring "no one is really evil" garbage most villains (again, outside of comic book material) are these days. Fisk is a well layered character with emotions, motivations, and a drive to succeed, but you never root for him to succeed. Because he is knowingly evil and a bad guy.

The other major positive is how it is shot. Daredevil succeeds at "gritty" better than most grim-dark wannabe edgy shows do because it hearkens back to a time when Hollywood knew how to do it right. The fight scenes are crisp and clear--you can actually see everything going on in them. The camera never shakes once. Scenes linger, actors act and add ticks to their characters, and the angles and direction show you everything you need to understand a scene. It actually reminds me most of old 80s action movies like Lethal Weapon, The Killer, or Die Hard, where the "grit" comes in the style of film used to shoot the story and not in dark filters or dreary CGI to fill in the rest.

For instance, there is this soon to be legendary fight from the second episode (don't worry, it isn't very bloody):

One shot. Crystal clear. Highly dramatic. It also thematically bookends the episode about the relationship between Matt and his father by showing that he really is his father's son, and the hope for the next generation.

In short, modern shows could learn a lot from Daredevil, and season 2 looks to improve and an already excellent foundation.

I have also heard that this season will feature both more action and a faster pace, which I'm more than happy to hear. I don't want a repeat of season 1, but to see the series expand and grow with its characters. The addition of both Elektra and the Punisher to the cast should certainly add quite a bit to the formula as they will both test Matt and he will test them as the season goes on. After that, who knows? But Daredevil could go on for years like this and I wouldn't be against it.

Although I didn't like Jessica Jones nearly as much as some others (couldn't stand the characters) and I am eager to see future Marvel series, it looks like my heart will be locked on Daredevil for the time being. As far as I'm concerned, this is how you not only do comic book shows, but action and dram as well. I only hope it catches on.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, counting down the hours until season 2 is put up on Netflix. That should be a long wait, but the best things in life are usually worth that wait. Let's hope Daredevil's second season can top the stellar first season, because it has a lot to live up to.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I hope you're having a great day as it is one of the best of the year. Christmas this year has been strange since we don't have a lot this year, but a lot more people seem more pleasant and happy than usual. Christmas is always odd that way.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas and I will see you next week!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Let's Go Hero Training!

Since the last time I've posted about My Hero Academia, several things have happened. The first was that the sales of the first volume did extremely well to the point that it's a bit ridiculous for a manga series without an anime to do so well. The second thing that happened was that it got an anime announcement recently aiming it for a Spring premiere in April.

Keep in mind that the manga has only been running serialized in Shonen Jump in Japan for only a little over a year. This is how much faith everyone has in this series to be huge.

I was surprised, too. Here's the trailer:

Not only is it being done by Studio Bones (the studio behind Blood Blockade Battlefront), but it's also being written by Yousuke Kuroda, writer of the Trigun anime. To say that I'm not as excited for this as anyone else would be an understatement. This is what I have been hoping for since the series first began, Not only that, but by a staff I would have never thought possible.

But enough of that, let's get to volume 2 of the manga instead. That's why we're all here.

As I contended at the end of my review of the first volume, My Hero Academia is a breath of fresh air in the manga world for being not only hopeful but rather action packed without having to rely on gore or over the top fetishisizing on the violence.

In the second volume, Izuku Midoriya, our hero, now starts his first semester at the prestigious U.A. High School officially and has his first few tests and assignments as a hero in training. These include a two on two villain battle to stop a bomb from leveling the city and an exercise in rescue training to save lives. Of course much else happens, but it requires a lot of spoilers to go through and I don't want to ruin it. Suffice to say, in volume 2 we meet a group of villains that are actually quite terrifying to behold and out main characters become more fleshed out.

While volume 1 established the characters (mainly those of Midoriya, All Might, and Bakugo), volume 2 shows us the other members of Midoriya's class and how they have just as much potential to be heroes as he does. Midoriya's rivalry with Bakugo officially starts in their very first battle against each other, requiring a lot more cooperation with their team members in order to win. Oh yeah, and the heroes get their costumes.

It also must be said that the pacing in volume 2 is very brisk. A lot of modern manga (and by extension, anime) has a tendency to navel gaze a bit too much and take forever to get to the end. Bleach, for example, can go months on just a single fight (at one chapter a week) which can absolutely kill the momentum. My Hero Academia doesn't suffer from this. Fights between heroes and villains are quick, strategies are key, and dramatic battles are given exactly the gravitas they need without feeling long at all. And I can confirm the series continues in this vein after this volume. Kohei Horikoshi's feel for pacing is probably second only to Akira Toriyama (author of Dragon Ball) in how sharp it is.

On the other hand, I have to mention the negatives here. The first volume didn't really have any due to just being set up, but the second only has a couple. The first is the character of Mineta who is as cowardly as he is perverted. He is constantly told off for his actions, but he is still quite annoying to deal with compared to other characters. The second is Bakugo from the first volume. Bakugo takes a while to really learn anything in this series compared to just about anyone else and he can seem annoying to those who don't like hot-headed characters. But I'm going to go into a bit of spoilers in the next paragraph, so skip it if you don't want it.


Bakugo is frequently hated in fan circles because he is hot-headed, arrogant, stubborn, and a jerk. Which he is. The thing that is never pointed out about him is that he isn't stupid. You know this when they mention his test scores and when you see how smartly he fights. He's actually on par with Midoriya. The problem is that Bakugo wears nothing on his sleeve. Nothing at all. If you want to see him develop, you have to pay closer attention to the way he says things. He was arrogant until he came to UA High School and slowly lost it over time. It isn't blatant because he never outright says it, but it's there. Also, his superiority complex over Midoriya is another thing that very slowly changes until a very recent chapter when the two get past their differences and work together for a common goal. Bakugo is a hero despite his faults, just like the others. His problems are more internal and how he deals with them externally is part of his character's appeal. It's no coincidence that his quirk is to cause explosions.


Anyway, in this volume, Bakugo gets pretty obnoxious as the cover would have you believe. As I said, at this point he's a bit more annoying than heroic, but he slowly gets better as the series goes on.

Despite those small faults, volume 2 is actually an improvement on the first and a great introduction to the wider world of My Hero Academia. If you liked volume 1, there's no real chance you won't like this one even more.

But I've rambled. My Hero Academia is a great manga, and on its way to being a classic of the genre. If you like superheroes, shonen manga, or action adventure stories, this series was made just for you. It's a real gem.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Words of Encouragement for Writers

From Science Fiction author, John C. Wright:

"The Devil invented lies to turn the power of speech into a weapon of falsehood. And God invented the parable, the poem, the epic, the song, and the sonnet in order to turn the power of lies into fables, myths, types and shadows, to turn fiction into a weapon of truth.
I know more people who were converted by Aslan than by Aquinas. What does that tell you about the power of fiction?"

Food for thought. Have a Merry fourth week of Advent!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Outside the Future

I've made no bones about the fact that I am a fan of Urge Overkill, specifically everything after their underrated Stull EP, which is why I tend to post so many lyrics of theirs. It might be because despite being a rock n roll band that parodied excess before succumbing to it, one of the things they got really good at with parts of Stull that continued for the rest of their career is how strong heir lyrics became.

Unfortunately, none of their albums include the lyrics in them (probably to help maintain the illusion) but the lyrics when paid attention to are often quite good.

For instance, listen to this song called "Tequila Sundae" (which is a pretty jokey title up until you read the lyrics) without looking at the lyrics below.

Now try it with the lyrics and compare how they contrast with the music:

Tequila Sundae
Music and Lyrics by Urge Overkill

Got no time for stimulation
Daylight runs and runs for hours
Heavy cold sweat under the black sun shower
Under the silicon valley sun

Flattery will get you nowhere
Oh my God, I didn't wanna hurt no one
In a false sleep, in need of stimulation
I wish the z-ball was the sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (I believe her)
A tequila sun

Now that I need her (Tequila sun)
She's off in the sun
With someone
With someone

Melt away!

Put yourself outside the future
Silicon sun rising above the ground

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

Now that I need her (Tequila sun)
She's off in the sun
With someone
With someone

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (I believe her)
I believe that woman

Now that I need you (Tequila sun)

Don't melt away!

Got no need for stimulation
Let the cheeba be the sun.

Not quite as simple as it first came across, no? On the surface it sounds like another rock song about glorifying self-destruction and excess, but instead becomes a lament on losing what is really important and replacing it with material things.

The usage of "Silicon Sun" and the replacement of the real sun with drink and drugs contrasts the artificial sun of the singer's desire with whoever "she is" that is off in the real sun. To me, that is the most interesting part of the song. She's off in the sun? She's in a better place? Is she dead? Did she find someone new? I guess it doesn't make a difference in the subject's mind since it's all the same to him. Now he's got nothing and fills it with substances that won't fill anything at all as the last line implies.

But to me, it's the title that is really clever. Tequila Sunrise is a well known drink, but he never once says it in the song. Tequila Sundae instead implies a desert, a treat, one that can melt away like the lyrics say. But in the song, what he wants to melt away are his memories of "her" and by the end he realizes what he lost and changes his mind. However, as the final lines imply, that's simply to late. He's filled the deep hole in himself with junk instead.

Contrasting the drink with the real sun is a great comparison for both the song, and a deeper level to the straightforward lyrics.

But what I like the most is how deceptively simple the lyrics are. They are essentially about a man drinking himself to forget, which is a popular topic in music, just as the similarly named "Tequila Sunrise" by the Eagles is. But what it is about is a bit more than that. Urge Overkill had always parodied the rock n roll lifestyle of sex, drugs, and alcohol, before, but this is the first song that doesn't feel like that at all. The song treats addition like the pit it is, but with a small inkling of hope that there is more than the artificial sun the singer lives his life by. It aims a bit higher than similar songs of its style.

It also helps that it has a kicking riff that goes great with the dark tinge of the lyrics. Sonically, the band has rarely ever sounded tighter than on this track, which goes well with the desperate state of the subject of the lyrics.

At some point instead of just being about carefree fun and optimism like Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, rock music became entrenched in love of excess, lust, fatalism, and nihilism, until it became the grey mush of forgetful nothing it is nowadays. Bands like Urge Overkill wisely took the things rock bands made important and shone a light on how stupid, how dangerous, (and eventually) how evil, they actually are. Fun is fun, but the line is there for a reason, and patting yourself on the back for stumbling over it and off a cliff is not cool or rebellious, it's suicidal.

Or maybe it's just me. Either way, I'm glad songs, and bands, like this exist. Keeps me away from modern radio and away from all the pop songs celebrating self-destruction. I'm under no illusion that suicide is is preferable to life, and as someone who has stared the devil in the face and has no desire to ever see it again.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Nice Haul

With some extra change in my pocket I made my way to the used book store for the first time in months and found myself with a ton of books I've always wanted to read but have either never found on a shelf or simply haven't had the money for when found.

Here's what I got my hands on:

"Eaters of the Dead" by Michael Crichton
"On Basilisk Station" by David Weber
"The Honor of the Queen" by David Weber
"Three Hearts & Three Lions" by Poul Anderson
"Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum
"Double Star" by Robert Heinlein
"Pacific Vortex!" by Clive Cussler
"Night Probe!" by Clive Cussler
"The Naked Sun" by Isaac Asimov
"The Foundation Trilogy" by Isaac Asimov

There were more I wanted to look into, but I had to stop somewhere. I'm assuming someone recently got rid of their collections of books, which is quite good for chumps like me who prefer to read physical copies.

It should take me a while to get through them, being a slow reader, but that's fine with me. All these have been near the top of my list to read for a long time now and I'm eager to get into them. I have already dived into Double Star. It is exactly what I hoped it was.

Have a good week, and don't forget to read something good while you're at it! I just don't expect you'll be reading anything as good as some of these any time soon.

Monday, November 30, 2015

And that's November!

Boy, this has been an odd one. First I get roped into NaNoWriMo (I should have hit my goal of 75,000 words by tonight of early tomorrow), then there is some personal brouhaha, and that's not even going into world events. Not the most easily digestible month in memory.

But at least I finally got started on a project I wanted to and I put out a short story as unedited and raw as it is. Getting something done is better than saying you're going to get something done. Oh, and Advent started, which was something that certainly lifted my spirits. So, despite a lot of weirdness, at least it evened out in a way.

I also played a pen and paper RPG called Fiasco for the first time with a friend this weekend. We were just trying it out, but it was a lot of fun. I certainly hope to play it again. I'm not a fan of the Coen Brothers' style of storytelling, but the core structure of the game is really fun. That's the part I want to play around more with.

All in all, time to bid farewell to November after such a strange run. Here's hoping for the rest of Advent and December to pick it up!

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to bid farewell to this year. Hopefully December can carry out the rest of the year with some holiday cheer and joy. I think we could all use more of both.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Delivered Promise!

Remember when I said I would have a surprise out this month? Well, here it is. I wrote a short story called "Someone is Aiming at You" about a superhero with a very odd power. Unlike my novella, this was written pretty fast, which of course means it isn't professionally edited, but I'm very pleased with how the story turned out.

It's been a long month with some tragedies, some bad events in my life, and a lot of writing for NaNoWriMo (I'm near the end, I think! I'm over 65,000 words, so I hope so!) but it's finally nearing the end.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story. It was rather fun to write.

You can read it here:

Someone is Aiming at You

Saturday, November 21, 2015


I just don't have much to say this week, it's been a pretty lousy one. Especially since my last post.

I hope I have more to say next week, and hopefully the world will still be there when I do. Until then, I hope and pray you have a good one.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Moment of Pause for the Veterans

This post is for them.

By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Self-Publishing Beatitudes

When reading random articles on the internet, one of my favorites was by author Brian Niemeier on his Self-Publishing Beatitudes. I highly suggest reading it if you have any ambition of being a writer or are just curious about self-publishing.

Of course, I didn't really follow any of this advice when I published my first novella but that was mostly me just flailing around with what little knowledge I had. While I still don't have much knowledge, what little I've learned since then has mirrored his article nearly completely. Check out his other articles if you have the time, too. They're all really well written.

To sum it up, writing takes time and effort. You're probably going to have to give something up to do it, something you enjoy doing in order to improve and grow as a writer. Whether it's a hobby you like doing in your spare time, napping, or maybe even working extra hours, something has to give. There are only so many hours in the day. You can't be a better writer if you don't dedicate any time to writing.

You need to read as well as write to not only keep being inspired but to improve your own writing through the example of others. For instance, being a rather ignorant kid, I've never read Louis L'Amour before. I don't write westerns, but I have since read one novel and a short story collection and what he wrote really inspired me to sharpen my writing and work on several character-writing weaknesses I'm prone to doing. Keep reading, especially good books, it's only going to help you.

You need to know your strengths and weaknesses and realize you can't do everything. I'm not a very technical person, for instance. I probably won't end up writing Science Fiction. This isn't because I can't learn processes and theories and incorporate them into my work, but that I probably never will. I can only write what interests me as a storyteller, and as much as I like to read the genre, as a writer it is not something that interests me. I have more of a Fantasy bent, which means that is the genre I should be paying the most attention to in order to sharpen my strengths. It doesn't mean I won't ever write something in my weaker genre area, but if I'm busy trying to improve my weaknesses all the time, my strengths will suffer. Something has to go on the back-burner, and it should not be the aspects of writing I'm better at.

Anyway, there's more here. Give it a read, it's quite fascinating.

In other news, my NaNoWriMo project is going pretty well. I've written 10,000 words so far and am quite enjoying the project. If you're wondering why I wrote so much it is because this story is going to be longer than my other ones and I need to write more to compensate for the time limit. Don't worry, I find this fun.

Even if I don't hit the limit in time, I will have written a giant chunk of it which is good enough for me. Hopefully I can get it written down by the end of the year and then go into heavy editing and polishing mode like I did last year.

So that's my update! Have a great week and I'll see you next time!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Happy Halloween and an Update!

I know this post is up a day early, but that's because I wanted to tie that into this week's post and the upcoming month.

As everyone (well, online) knows, November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you're wondering if I'm doing it, the answer is yes. I have a story I want to get on ASAP, and this is the perfect opportunity to get into it.

I actually did it last year and the project ended up pushing me to write two additional novels after it of which are still in the editing can. Sooner or later I hope to find an editor for them, though that has so far proven to be rather difficult. Inspired by old juveniles, anime, old school adventure stories, and everything in my childhood, it's not a style of book too many editors would be interested in looking over without dismissing outright.

But I'm getting off topic.

As for this year, I will be writing the fourth book in the series which will probably be much longer than the other three (which center at between 70,000 and 80,000 words) and the end of the arc I'm currently writing. I wanted to save it for this year since I started this last year and I wanted to close out the year since starting it with a big bang.

This of course means I shouldn't have many posts up in November, but that probably isn't true. Look out for a surprise on the way that is a long time coming from me.

And Happy Halloween! Watch some old Christopher Lee movies, gorge on some candy, and have a lot of fun!

I'll see you in November!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What I'm Watching: Blood Blockade Battlefront

It stands to reason that I'm a fan of manga artist, Yasuhiro Nightow. His Trigun manga is excellent, and his second series, Blood Blockade Battlefront, is a lot of fun as well. But where his material always shines the brightest is in the anime medium.

The Trigun anime is my all time favorite TV show, featuring high class action as well as moral and spiritual world that is surprisingly deep and powerful. The writer, Yousuke Kuroda (Gungrave, Honey & Clover, Gundam Build Fighters), and the director, Satoshi Nishimura (Hajime no Ippo, Trigun: Badland Rumble, Ushio & Tora), and their staff took Nightow's original manga, pumped up the themes and drama, and delivered the best adaption of a manga into the anime medium there ever was.

But other than the original Gungrave anime that Nightow created (and Kuroda co-wrote) which is the flipside of Trigun and quite an underrated series, and the Trigun movie (Trigun: Badlands Rumble) that Nishimura directed and co-wrote with Nightow, Nightow hasn't had much presence in the anime world despite his popularity both here and in Japan.

This changed during the spring anime season when Rei Matsumoto (Kyousogiga, Pretty Cure franchise) took the reins for an adaption of Nightow's breezy manga series of fun adventures. It ran for 12 episodes instead of the 26 his past series have run, but what Matsumoto did was absolutely stuff every episode with themes deeply tied to Nightow's own and enhancing them in the process. The anime may only be 12 episodes, but it has an extra recap episode which is quite hilarious, and the final episode is twice the length of a normal episode, and in the process of the story, she created an original storyline not in the original manga but manages to tie in deeply with Nightow's original adventures as well as themes he's been exploring since he started Trigun.

So what's it about?

Blood Blockade Battlefront is about a boy named Leonardo Watch and his adventures in the mystical city of Hellsalem's Lot (Jerusalem's Lot in the original), formerly New York City. You see, one day a portal to the "Beyond" formed over New York, swallowing it whole and attracting a melting pot of aliens, spirits, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. Oh yeah, and demons. In the city is a secret organization called "Libra" lead by a man named Klaus V. Reinhurz who keep the innocent safe from the darkness that waits to consume them all. One day the barrier that keeps Hellsalem safe from the outside world will fall, but it is up to Libra to keep it safe until then. BBB is about Leonardo's adventures after joining Libra and how he uses it to atone for his past.

On top of this story are the abilities that Libra members posses to fight the darkness in their city. Leonardo's eyes are actually All-Seeing Eyes which can see anything hidden to the normal man or monster including the real names of those that prefer to be nameless and the hidden secrets of those that those that wish to remain secret. It goes without saying that his power is very useful. But the other interesting ability is that of Klaus V. Reinhurz, the leader of Libra, and several other members. As the title of the series suggests, they can manipulate their blood in different ways to fight their enemies as a direct parallel to the inspiring words of Klaus who frequently goes on about battling for the light and never losing focus from it.

The anime has an original plot that weaves Nightow's original episodic adventures together centering on the brother and sister pair of Black (William MacBeth) and White (Mary MacBeth) who have a strange past related to the mess that almost destroyed the world from Hellsalem several years ago. And yes, their real names are parallels to exactly who you think they are, Mary's name becoming very relevant by series end as well as the villain's relationship with her. What Matsumoto does here to contrast Nightow's constant usage of red (Vash the Stampede's coat in Trigun, Klaus in general for BBB) for heroes marked by blood and villains with despairing blue (Legato Bluesummers in Trigun, and the villain in BBB) is add in the concept of black and white morality and how they can intertwine with each other and influence the very world around them which they will continue to do until the end of time.

It's a surprising weight added to an otherwise well-written adventure show about good against evil, and it's a highly welcome one. Blood Blockade Battlefront is one of the best new anime in many years and should be sought out by anyone with even a passing interest in the medium. You won't be disappointed.

I'm not really much of a reviewer because I kind of want people to experience the subject in question instead of just taking my word for it, but I know Blood Blockade Battlefront can be overwhelming for those who have never really understood anime. The best way to view it would be the dub on Funimation's website or wait for the eventual DVD/Blu-Ray release, but if you can manage a lot of subtitle descriptions as well as the dialogue at the same time, you should be fine. Believe me, the series is worth it.

Right now you can catch the subtitled anime for free on Funimation's website here or pay a subscription to watch the English dub at the same location. I don't know when a home release will be available, but you can bet that I'll be first in line when it does.

As long as you continue to step toward the light, nothing can ever truly defeat you.

You can watch the opening to the series here and the ending theme here.

Oh boy

Sorry for the lateness, I've been having issues with Google all week. I haven't been able to access the blog or even my G-Mail account in a while. How anyone can put their trust in Google when they're so frustrating to deal with is beyond me.

Anyway, I'm sorry. It's going to be a bit long to my next real post, unfortunately.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What I'm Working On

Currently I'm working on a series of short stories based on a superhero I created. It's a bit of an anthology of adventures that all tie together and lead to a (hopefully) explosive conclusion. I've never really written anything close to this before which is rather exciting to write.

The hero is called The Seeker, and he has a knack for finding people he's looking for. It's a very simple idea, but it ended up being very difficult to write out. Still, I'm very much enjoying writing it out. The first story ended up explaining a lot without telling too much, and I'm very proud of it even this early into writing and editing. This is an idea that came to me when writing another story altogether.

On the other hand, I'm still working on the last project of a series of novels inspired by about everything I love as a kid. I started that during NaNoWriMo last year and since then I have written three novels in the series. I still have heavy duty editing to go through, both personal and (again, hopefully) professional if I can ever get the money together and find someone to edit who will understand the genre of story I'm telling.

Finding a good editor is hard. While You Were Dancing, for instance, may by really straightforward a read now, but finding an editor who understood it wasn't a nihilistic dirge of hopelessness wasn't all that easy. I kept getting suggestions that were completely wrong for the story because it is a quirky idea. I finally got some editing from an editor that understood, but it took some time. Unfortunately, I just don't know enough people to trust as beta readers or editors, which means it will take some time to get my stuff published. It's a shame, but it is what it is.

Anyway, that's my current status update. I hope anyone who reads this blog finds it informative.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thoughts on "Good and Evil" in Stories

I've been thinking about this a lot. By that I mean what it is that I like so much about stories. This wasn't spurred by anything all that new in my life, except some comments I had read on other blogs and my last trip to a book store. Both were a fair bit depressing.

Whatever you like is what you like, so I can't argue about taste. But I can't personally stomach stories where nothing happens except the protagonist living a horribly mundane life where every group in the world is evil and everyone should look out for themselves by following the same empty set of beliefs that change nothing about what the core problem is. All modern "literature" is much the same as this except sometimes its a specific political party that will save everyone. Good luck with that.

The bookstore I last walked around in had almost no one there at peak hours. The people I saw were either buying non-fiction, modern thrillers, or classic books. The shelf after shelf of modern nihilism were still as full as the last time I was there and will probably be there until the store eventually closes. That problem probably won't ever change. If you want to know why a lot of people don't read anymore, I would say that because that formula that has been fairly unchanged since Holden Caufield wasted everyone's time with half-baked philosophy and no plot has been emptied for all its worth.

No one wants to read that stuff anymore, if they ever did in the first place.

But what sells? What are the people who haven't been chased out of reading by bad Shakespeare scholarship and soul-draining book assignments in High School reading classes? Surely, they have to be buying something despite the imminent collapse of the publishing industry and bookstore chains.

Right, I already said it.

Non-fiction, modern thrillers, and classics.

Non-fiction is easy. People want truth. Non-fiction is supposed to be nothing but truths. It isn't always, of course, but that's what it is supposed to be. But simply that they're being purchased it means, despite how much falsehood might be in the book, they are at least willing to search. You won't find a lot of that in modern literature.

Modern thrillers and their absurd popularity is the most obvious of the three. Read a Bourne novel, or a Dean Koontz. What are they about? A good guy fighting bad guys. It isn't baffling why these sell. It is baffling as to why "literary" types look down on stories with actual worth to them. People buy what they want.

The last one might be controversial, depending on your definition, but "Classics" is a lot more straightforward than college-lit types will have you believe. People do not buy Ulysses no matter how much they are told it is great. They buy The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, The Odyssey, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, The Stand, Dune, and Lord of the Rings. What do all eight of those have in common that Ulysses doesn't have? A story people want to read. A story of grand ideas, with people who strive to meet goals despite incredible odds and eventually achieve them even if not in ways they expected. They are classics despite the long time in which they first came out and first entertained people so long ago. People still want to read them. They have the same appeal of the first two categories of stories I mentioned before of truth, good and evil, and the aim for something greater.

The popularity of superhero movies says much the same. While comic sales die every year as they are continually coated in stories of moral relativism, bland edginess, and the inability to shake the influence of a subversive work over thirty years old that his been milked dry, comic book movies continue to do really well. Stories of heroes facing incredible odds and conquering them sell more than pessimistic stories whining about how there are no heroes and anyone who thinks differently from the writer is an idiot.

Gasp and surprise.

My post last week about Ushio & Tora menttioned much the same thing about the anime and manga industry. This isn't just a North American trend. It's a modern one that has long worn out its welcome.

Now, if that's what you enjoy, then more power to you. The problem is that the majority of people do not enjoy it, yet that is what continues to be what is mainly offered to them. Shelf after shelf of nihilism and nobody buying any of it.

I hope my stories, should I ever find an editor for them, would manage to entertain and uplift a little while telling a good story along the way. I bathed myself in nihilistic works for so long as a teenager and young adult that I can hardly stomach them at all any more. If anything, I hope more stories of life begin to come forward and wash the taste out of our hollow, and getting emptier by the day, culture. I'm a more than a bit tired of it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I'm Watching: Ushio & Tora

I have been a fan of anime since I saw the edited version of the original Dragon Ball (not Z, that was a whole other series) back on YTV as a kid. I wasn't familiar with much out of Japan at the time, but something in the way Dragon Ball could be a comedy, action, adventure, and cartoon, all at the same time enthralled me. I have always loved stories about good against evil, but I'd never seen one done like this.

Then I soon enough found my way into series much like it, and realized Japan had been thriving on this for a long time. My interest grew and eventually I found more classics like Yu Yu Hakusho, Cowboy Bebop, and Trigun, among many, many others. I became a fan soon enough.

Cut to me as an adult many years later and I was feeling a bit jaded about it all.

Anime no longer began to appeal to me. It was now covered in nihilism and despair or slice of life series about nothing at all where nothing happens. No longer was it about good against evil, struggles against unstoppable foes, or likeable protagonists. Now it was about glorifying fetishes and empty-headed philosophy inspired by the never-quite-finished Neon Genesis Evangelion while being just as lazy about it. Anime was no longer made for people like me.

Then I heard that not only was a manga series being adapted to an anime, a common practice in Japan, but it was one made from 1990 to 1996, some of the best years for the action genre in anime and manga. It was also a series I'd never read before. A series that is still rather popular now in Japan nearly twenty years after ending. On top of that, it was being directed by the man behind my all time favorite anime, Trigun. The series was called Ushio & Tora, and it would run for 39 episodes, only adapting the main storyline from the manga.

So naturally, I had to give this a chance. And, boy, am I glad I did. The series is currently still running, but I can easily say, it was worth the quarter of a century wait for this.

Ushio & Tora is the story about a high-spirited kid named Ushio who is always eager to jump into the fray and help someone out, and a Youkai (a race of monster in Japan folklore sometimes translated as "Demon") named Tora who is a bit daft. The story begins as Ushio is cleaning out the basement at his family's Shinto shrine and finds a creature pinned to the wall by a spear. This spear is called the Beast Spear, and is a legendary weapon known for slaying evil all over the world over 500 years ago. Tora got into a fight with the previous wielder of the spear and was sealed away in the process.

Now, because Ushio had uncovered the hidden basement where Tora was hidden, evil monsters have been attracted to his hometown by the monster's powerful energy, and the two of them must band together to protect people from this new found threat.

But as Ushio and Tora begin to bond despite being polar opposites, we learn that there might be more to the world after all. You see, there are far worse terrors waiting in the world, and an evil just out of sight looking to devour every Youkai it can and to leave Humans in pure despair at the same time. And it will stop at nothing to achieve its goal.

That's right, Ushio & Tora is a world-shaking battle of good against evil.

But it's also a really good one. You see, Ushio is a good kid for a middle school student, always playing with kids, hanging out with the guys, and treating elders (that aren't his father . . . you'll see) with respect. But he's also a kid who makes mistakes and has to learn from them. Tora is the same, instead being far older and experienced, is enthralled with the modern inventions man has made in his absence. It is here that you can see that Tora is not the vicious killing machine he portrays himself as, but is actually a big kid just looking for a home to hang his hat . . . if he had one.

The Beast Spear gives Ushio incredible strength, enough to slay monsters, but also keeps Tora at bay as his prisoner. It also sharpens his instincts and grows his hair incredibly long. It's a lot for one middle school kid to deal with. But as the two of them are forced into rough situations together, Ushio begins to toughen up and Tor begins to understand more about the world he once hated so much.

The character dynamic is as solid as the buddy comedy is as the opposites play well off each other. There's also Ushio's dad who is a goofball with a strong sense of justice, Asako, Ushio's almost-girlfriend, who is as hard-headed as he is, and Mayuko, an eccentric girl who is responsible for Tora's hamburger addiction (long story), as well as a formed cast out of those Ushio and Tora end up helping along the way. It is an excellent example of how important family, friends, and community, are to our lives and how they are well worth protecting. Even with your life.

This show is the reason I became an anime fan in the first place.

And while manga has been pretty good these days (My Hero Academia, World Trigger, One-Punch Man, and Vinland Saga, just to name a few) there hasn't been much anime to rekindle that spark that anime had back in its glory days from the '80s through the '90s, even if there have been some good series since they haven't been much like Ushio & Tora.

Sure, there is violence and some nudity (always covered up, but its still implied nudity) but it is never over the top or in your face about it. It's more focused on the conflict between good and evil and how the good guys will finally come out on top.

I'm not sure if anyone's really watching Ushio & Tora, so I don't know if it will set off a trend to return to the classic style anime became known for around the world or if it will fall back into its bad old habits that is leading it into fetish obscurity, but if you are a fan of when anime was truly something to behold: a powerful expression of battles of ideals and souls, then you need to watch this show.

Anime is still a force to be to be reckoned with. No matter how obscured it may get, the light still shines through the darkness.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Lyric Time for a Busy Week

It's been pretty hectic this week, so here's a small post. Hopefully next week I can make a bigger one. For now, here are some inspirational lyrics that never fail to get to me. I've had these lyrics in my head buzzing away recently.

Sunny Days
Performed by: Jars of Clay
Written by: Stephen Daniel Mason, Charlie Lowell, Dan Haseltine, and Matt Odmark

Sunny days keepin' the clouds away
I think we're coming to a clearing and a brighter day
So far away, still I think they say, the wait will make their heart
Grow stronger or fonder, I can't quite remember anyway

So if you're waitin' for love, well it's a promise I'll keep
If you don't mind believing that it changes everything
Time will never matter

Winter, spring is what love can truly bring
Ice turns to water, water flows to everything
You can lose your mind, maybe then your heart will find
I hope you won't give up what's movin' you inside, no

So if you're waitin' for love, well it's a promise I'll keep
If you don't mind believing that it changes everything
Time will never matter

So if you're waitin' for love, well it's a promise I'll keep
Even if you don't mind believing that it changes everything
Time will never matter

If the car won't start, when you turn the key
When the music comes on, all your cold
Cold heart can do is skip a beat

It's a promise I'll keep, when you're waitin' for love
If you don't mind believing that it changes everything
Time will never matter

So if you're waitin' for love, well, it's a promise I'll keep
Even if you don't mind believing that it changes everything
Time will never matter

Your time will never matter

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Back Home!

There was a lot of traveling this week, but I'm finally back! Unfortunately this means there is not any real time for a post this week.

Anyway, it's good to be back and I only hope I'll be able to write something next week.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Heroes: A Look Back [Season 1, Final Part]

Finishing up the first season of Heroes left me with mixed emotions. Certainly it was nice to see everyone involved in the finale, it certainly did not come together all too well. There were some good characters and reveals, but there were also things left unused and undone and the stinger at the end of the season was not anything I wanted to see from this show.

Claire did not have her memory erased, but everyone else in her life was essentially written out of the show (including her newly revealed mother) because the writers decided to make her father a character that just so happens to be a main character. This is a disappointment, but it does give her some development as she learns about her family. At the same time, her father ends up being one of the more interesting characters on the show when he stops inadvertently turning his wife's brain to mush.

Hiro's plot-line got momentarily derailed by family squabbles, but eventually lead to one of the best episodes in the season which is basically this show's version of Days of Future Past. His friend, Ando, also becomes much more or a hero in his own right despite not having any powers of his own. His story is almost ruined when, at the end, he fulfills his destiny and teleports to, uh . . . Ugh, I don't even wanna take about it. Let's just say that I would have preferred if the show kept its original idea of keeping each story limited to the season it was in. Hiro's story was complete, what happened was just superfluous.

Matt Parkman's story finally becomes worth paying attention to when he is approached by two characters (one of which is jarringly never seen or mentioned again) and is brought directly into the main story. He finally manages to be a real cop and put his power to good use. No more relationship drama or everyone calling him a jerk (for no reason, most of the time), just finally dealing with the main plot.

The low point of this season, however, has been the whole Nikki/Jessica storyline. It was an eternal cycle of Jessica being horrible and killing people, D.L. threatening to take their son away, and Nikki crying about it. Over and over. Their story ends with a confusing death of a villain that doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about how it was achieved, but leads to Peter getting a power that helps him tremendously in the final battle.

Speaking of, Peter's storyline was probably the best storyline in the season. It was the one I wish the rest of the show was more like. From the Invisible Man, to the Exploding Man, he is given a lot to do and a lot to parse through, leading to a final battle with a man who has similar powers to him, but is in a very different place.

All in all, it was a pretty good season with some warts to it. I can sort of see why it was seen as a "LOST-killer" when it started since people were getting sick of LOST spinning its wheels at the time, but it certainly wasn't amazing the whole way through. And from what I hear about how it degrades later, I doubt it will ever retroactively reach that level when looking back.

I'm leaving the province for the next few days, so my friend and I will not be able to watch any more Heroes for a while, but I don't think I'll be too eager to see more. Superheroes on TV (and in film) have come a long way since Heroes, but there is a lot of good here to admire. As it is, I'm glad I watched the first season.

I can't say much for the latter seasons, but season one of Heroes is solid television. If you're a fan of superheroes, you could do much worse than sit through this season of the show. At the very least, it should get you prepared for the new mini-series starting this Fall. I can only hope it manages to top season one and washes out the bad taste a lot of people have for this show. It certainly would be nice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Heroes: A Look Back [Season 1, Part 2]

I was able to watch a few more episodes of Heroes, bring me about two thirds of the way through the first season of the series. My overall impression is that the series is currently not as strong as it was in the first part of the season with the Save the Cheerleader, Save the World story-line and that the new How to Stop an Exploding Man is suffering from some pacing issues.

For one, we haven't seen the exploding man for more than a minute or two so far. For another, there's only been one new character worth talking about and one character death that was fairly stupid, But the biggest problem is that not much has actually happened compared to the first half.

Peter Petrelli is learning about control of his powers from, literally, the Invisible Man, and . . . actually that's the only story that's really advanced.

His brother is still a jerk, Nikki's story-line is circling the drain, Mohinder has had about 5 minutes of screen-time, Hiro's quest has been derailed by unneeded family squabbles, Sylar is still killing people, Claire and her friends and family had their memory wiped bringing them back to point one again though at least she found her birth mother. And no that I think about it, why didn't Claire's father order the Haitian to wipe Sylar's mind so he would forget his daughter? He certainly has no problem destroying his son's mind with his employee's power, why not an actual, you know, threat? But I digress.

This is the problem a lot of series that have a 20+ episode season have. In about the third quarter of the show, everyone stays in a holding pattern until the end because they have to save their big reveals until the final few episodes. This means a lot of stalling.

Unfortunately there isn't much for me to talk about this time except that the usage of the Invisible Man has been on of the series best decisions so far. It adds a sort of world-weary figure and guide to Peter who had otherwise been flailing around without any direction and explaining his power as something truly interesting. Where this leads I can't be too sure, but for now this has been the best development of the show in recent episodes.

Claire's mother story-line impact would have been better if her father hadn't literally reset everything to zero and have her not remember anything that happened to save her from Sylar at the halfway point of the season. I'm curious to learn more about her and her relationship to her daughter, but for now we instead involve Nathan Petrelli in another story he doesn't need to be a part of. I obviously don't find the family anywhere near as interesting as the writers do, but I'll just have to deal with this revelation and hope it actually leads to something and makes Nathan actually do anything other than be smarmy for awhile.

I guess I'll just have to see what happens next before I can say more. I do hope the season finale lives up to what they are building up to and this holding pattern is broken soon.

Monday, August 17, 2015

To Be a Real Hero

Recently I read through one of the more popular recent series in Japan's Shonen Jump magazine (essentially a magazine with comics aimed at boys) thanks to a friend lending me the first volume of the story. And let me tell you, even if Japan has been lacking in recent years in the anime department, My Hero Academia is a distillation of everything that appeals to me in not only manga but in stories as a whole.

My Hero Academia stars hopeless wannabe hero fanboy, Izuku Midoriya, who lives in a world where superpowers are so common, they comprise 80% of the world's population. There powers are called "Quirks" since almost everyone has a different one. All, that is, except our main character. You see, Quirks develop in early childhood and never at any other point which means he is destined to be normal since those without Quirks cannot be superheroes (so far, there doesn't appear to be a Batman like hero in the story to prove this wrong, so for now I'll go with it) and Izuku is a bit of a wuss as it is.

Though he's a big superhero fan to the point that he actively studies them and knows almost everything about them, he is bullied by a former childhood friend of his who has an incredible Quirk (he can uses his sweat to cause explosions) and sees Izuku, or Deku as he calls him, as merely a worthless pebble in his path. Nobody else thinks much of him, either, his own mother blaming herself for him not having a Quirk (which is not actually her fault, but she is fairly neurotic), but nobody telling him the one thing he wanted to hear.

Though everyone writes him off, one day everything changes. The "#1 Hero in the World", All Might, is in town battling a slippery villain that keeps getting away. A creature made of liquid, he tries to take control of Izuku's body before he is saved by All Might. The two meeting is what changes the course of Izuku's life and lets him learn that he can be a hero, after all.

What I enjoy most about this manga is that though he is a normal kid who has a penchant for being pushed around, he has a sense of justice of wanting to do the right thing. When all the heroes with superpowers are too scared to intervene for either vainglorious, petty, or legitimate, reasons, it is powerless Izuku Midoriya who runs out into the battlefield to save someone's life despite having no chance of succeeding. All Might is inspired by what has occurred and offers him a chance to be a hero for real. All he has to do is have All Might's power passed on to him.

This is is only the first volume, meaning it mainly centers on Izuku getting his powers by earning them and taking an exam to enter the most prestigious hero school in the world, but even here you grow to like the characters. Izuku is not only smart, but he's very admirable, constantly facing impossible odds with all he has despite being scared out of his mind. All Might is a hero who is experienced and knows the trials of being a hero and doing the right thing, he educates Izuku on how it is not about being "cool" or popular, but about being good-- and that is the hardest thing in the world to do.

It's pretty funny, as well. There are a lot of weird powers and comedic bits based on Izuku's natural cravenness and All Might's image as a "super cool hero who saves people with a smile", not to mention well-timed comedic pratfalls as well. What absolutely floors me is the lack of raunchy humor or over the top gore which had become more common in recent manga. To be sure there are jokes about girls being from a different world and some violent scenes where blood is drawn and bone or two is broken but it isn't graphic at all but well in the natural world of the story. As far as it goes is a woman heroine called Mt. Lady who can increase her size to be a giant and people commenting on how beautiful she is. That's pretty much it. It's less explicit than a Silver Age comic book.

I have been reading recent chapters in the North American version of Shonen Jump, which releases new chapters at the same time they are released in Japan, and I can say without reservation that it keeps up its pace or heroes trying to be good and stopping the villains who merely want to destroy. I have to hand it to Kohei Horikoshi for creating a series for everyone that has such universal appeal. This is not something that comes around every day.

All in all, I heartily recommend My Hero Academia to anyone who enjoys a good action adventure story. Though it's still rather new, it is probably the best popular manga currently running. It is certainly the one with the most heart and a real breath of fresh air compared to certain other trashy series out there.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Heroes: A Look Back [Season 1, Part 1]

This might be strange to anyone reads this blog, but I never watched the mega-hit TV show Heroes when it originally aired. At the time I was so burnt out and tired of television that even hearing about a "LOST-killer" didn't really satiate my interest. So I never watched beyond the premiere episode.

To take you back to 2006, you'd have to remember that I like my shows more bright and hopeful-- sitcoms were dying due to aping Friends endlessly and dramas were all about grim and gritty. Neither of those has changed much, not to mention the reality show glut remains and single camera sitcoms are still basically all the same show of neurotic characters giving interviews for some inexplicable reason for easy punchlines, but there has been more of variety out there than there was in 2006 when Heroes premiered.

Since the superhero boom has been such a success for those of us who missed stories about people trying to be heroic and not moping around in pointless despair, I decided to go back to the show that first tried to make a drama about them. Now, I know a little bit about the show and how it slid far downhill, but I still wanted to give it a chance. Since it is having a revival mini-series this year, I thought that now would be the perfect chance to do so.

With a friend of mine, we watched the first half of season 1, which I had never seen before and which he had not seen since it first aired.

Early impressions? Pretty good, actually.

The characters all have good starting points and motivations. Claire Bennett is a cheerleader that is indestructible, Peter Petrelli and his brother, Nathan, have a combative relationship despite discovering they have unique powers that could change it. Hiro Nakamura believes he can save the world and be somebody special. Matt Parkman is able to read people's minds. Niki Sanders is a mystery even to herself. Mohinder Suresh is determined to find these people and learn more about his deceased father. Then there's the mysterious Mr. Bennett and the Haitian searching for those with powers for some strange reason and the villainous Sylar, who enjoys killing and taking powers for his own. All of this happens in the first half of the season, and there is quite a lot of build up in it that makes it easy to see why it was a hit.

The special effects are nothing much to write home about, being as the budget wasn't that great for the time. Some of the show can get way too graphic with the violence regardless, and some of the plotlines can get a bit soap opera at times. It's also hard to empathize or really wrap your head around some characters at this point like Niki Sanders who is more confusing than anything or Matt Parkman whose life is really unnecessarily overbearing for a normal police officer.

Where Heroes succeeds at this point is in the mystery, We don't know where any of this is going, or where the power came from, or what it's all for, and that makes it an interesting watch. The pacing, reveals, and character turns are all so carefully plotted that you just know someone had this planned out far in advance. There's a lot of good craft at play here.

Still, this is only the first half of the first season. There are still more seasons to go and still half a season left in this one. It could turn at any moment.

But at this point I can safely say I understand the hype and success it had. Now to see if the rest of it's reputation is just as well deserved.

More next time!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Waking up, growing up, and moving on

Sometimes when I'm thinking about things that have happened, the way things could have been and the way they are I wonder how I ended up just how I got here.

I'm passing the fourth anniversary of the day I finally saw the real world beyond what my eyes told me and I still think about this. What if I had moved away a long time ago? What if I had stayed where I was instead of where I am? What if I never woke up up? It's something that happens to me every now and then, and I'm not sure if it'll ever really go away.

Of course, it's a silly thing to wonder about. If any of those things didn't happen, I would be a different person. I know this for sure. Everything that happened in my life lead me to where I am now. What happened, how I reacted, and what naturally followed. The other possibilities? They aren't me. They never happened. They will never happen. Who I am now is purely from an act of Grace and how I chose to react and not a drawing of straws.

But, doubts always assail even in goofy things like this. It's just part of being human. Sometimes my curiosity overpowers what I already know.

What it helps me be is grateful. Grateful that I'm alive. Grateful that I was able to see what I had become and what I could be. Grateful that I was given the opportunity to be something better than I was.

It's something I might always be thinking about-- the what if, but it is not something I will regret.

I've moved on, and now I have to keep myself from falling again. We're all made of glass, but we can always glue ourselves back together with the right help. And that's a comfort for a screw-up like me.

Nite and Grey
Preformed by: Urge Overkill
Written by: Nash Kato, Eddie "King" Roeser, and Blackie Onassis

Would you lie? Would you lie to me?
Down in Memphis
And New Orleans?

Would you lie? Would you lie to me?
'Cause I don't need it anymore
'Cause I got freed

Nite and grey
Night as day
This is the last time
This is the last time

Nite and grey

Never been, never bend a knee
I saw Jesus on the road
And I got freed

Never going down, going down to Hell
'Cause I don't need it anymore
I'm already here

Nite and grey
Night as day
This is the last time
This is the last time

Nite and grey

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Inside Out Review

It's been a while since Pixar has truly come out of the gate swinging. The last classic I can remember is Toy Story 3.

Since that sequel capped off a trilogy of excellent films about childhood and growing up, the studio has mostly been resting on its laurels. Yes, Monster's University was a fun movie with a good message, but it wasn't a classic, and was all but ignored by everybody. Brave was a disappointment, and the less said about the Cars franchise and all it's spin-offs the better.

Inside Out is the first film from director Pete Docter since Up came out to rattle the animation world with it's whimsical adventuring spirit and surprising depth. The best part is that it hardly feels like any time at all since his last masterpiece was unleashed on us.

This is a movie about emotions. Do they really control us, or are they just another part of who we are? In the process the film also tackles adolescence, growing up, alienation, loneliness, parents, friendship, and family. What we get is a movie that hits with the same hammer of depth Up did, only from a different angle.

The story stars preteen Riley as she moves to a new city with her parents and must relearn to adjust in a world she thought she once understood. In the tale we see the point of view from her emotions who are just as confused as she is. In the process both Riley and the emotions get in over their heads and must reexamine what it is to really be happy.

While just about every Pixar original is a classic (or at least excellent), this one ranks up there with them at their best just as Up, WALL*E, and the Toy Story trilogy do. I utterly and unequivocally recommend this film to anyone and everyone, but there are some points I want to make first.

I've seen more than a few comments question if this film denies Free Will. Let me put those worries to rest. It does not.

In the film, Riley's emotions are born from her and how she reacts to situations. The emotions put forth ideas, but it is up to Riley to ultimately decide to take them. Several moments in the film a specific emotion is drawn to do things by Riley's own actions and decisions but never fully understands why that is-- this becomes the catalyst to the main plot-line of learning about the world and how hard it can be to find your place. At the same time it is about the search for true Joy. Not just the emotion (though she is a crucial character), but the key of persevering through suffering and achieving that which we treasure above all.

Of course, I'm trying very hard not to spoil this movie for anyone who has not seen it and might stumble upon this review. That said, this is one of the best films Pixar has ever made. Definitely go see it.

On the other hand, the short before the movie entitled Lava is not one of Pixar's best. It's serviceable, but a bit too reliant on a lame pun and saccharine lyrics to stand up to the best shorts.

Still, the movie is next to flawless. Pixar might be the best maker of movies (animated or not) around today. Here's hoping they can put away the sequel obsession (after The Incredibles 2, of course!) and keep making movies of this caliber. We all win in a situation like that.

Inside Out is the best film of the year so far, and should be seen by anyone looking for a good time at the movies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Muppets - New Trailer

This is the first peek at the pilot for the new "Muppets" TV show. Now, I am a fan of the Muppets in general, but I'm not quite sold on this show. Mostly because I'm so sick and tired of the single camera sitcom format (which Gonzo handily skewers here) and I don't like the more PG-13 language in the dialogue (The Muppets have always had jokes for older audiences, but they were never this blatant), but otherwise it is a funny and clever promo.

Unfortunately, it looks like it might be airing the same time as "The Flash" this season which means I'll probably end up missing it. Strange that for the first time in like a decade I'm watching more television shows than ever, handful they made be, and they still all center their airings on two days of the week.

Oh well. Here's hoping it's good!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Best Pixar movies

I recently came back from seeing Inside Out (review coming eventually) and felt like re-evaluating what I would consider the top Pixar films. I've been a fan of this studio since watching the original Toy Story in theater with my grandmother and cousins back when it came out and have been impressed with the way they continue to improve with each new movie idea (their originals, in other words) and have turned me into one of their biggest fans. Pixar is one of the best.

Now, it isn't all roses. I really dislike the Cars movies, and am pretty forcefully against the sequel onslaught they'll be delivering on us (Incredibles 2? YES. Toy Story 4 and Finding Dory? NO.) very soon. But when they are allowed to be themselves and make a truly original movie, they always seem to put out something incredible. Something always worth seeing. Even when they stumble like with Brave, it still has enough wrinkles to prove interesting enough to sit through.

All in all, it is a film canon worth watching for anyone who enjoys stories. Kids or not, this is quality film-making worthy of all audiences.

Without further pause, my list:


1. Up

Probably my favorite movie of all time. Up has everything I enjoy in a good story.

Much has been said about the first ten minutes of the film, but not so much about the rest. What makes Up work so well is that it's about adventure in every aspect. The movie starts with the lives of Carl and Ellie, two young children, eager for the mysterious and wondrous world ahead of them as they grow from silly kids into responsible adults. The rest of the movie is about facing mortality and the end of the road, as well as learning that, despite life being one big adventure, there are important things you will miss if you don't pay attention. The adventure Carl goes on with Wilderness Explorer Russel, is both the journey of fatherhood he never got to take, and the journey of wild adventures he dreamed about having as a kid. Really, this movie is about young Carl at the beginning of the movie and elderly Carl at the end meeting again and remembering how to live. Carl remembers what it means to be alive again. It's one of my favorite films of all time for a reason and it's not just the dogs with funny voices.

Oh, yeah, there are talking dogs, a flying house, a mysterious bird, a villain that shows the emptiness of the life Carl wanted to have and never got to, and an ending that brings everything forward again. I don't think there are many legitimately better films than Up.

2. Inside Out

The most recent film, as of this writing, but it will easily rank with the best at the end of the day. I can say this since all top five entries here have never budged from being my favorite Pixar films since their releases and I have no doubt Pete Docter (Director of Up, Inside Out, and Monsters, Inc.) has much more in this film I didn't notice on my first viewing. Both his other films had the same qualities that only improve the film on further viewings.

This is a film about growing up, about what makes us tick, about childhood, and about the future. It is wrapped in typical Pixar goodness like top notch character design and direction, dead-on dialogue and observational humor, and an emotional core that speaks on a universal level. It has everything Pixar at its best has always had. Over twenty years later from their first movie and they've still got it better than ever.

Unfortunately, it's too new for me to really dig into both to spoil and for what I missed, but I know that it will become a favorite in the future because it already is.


In a similar case to Up, it's the first part of the movie that gets most of the discussion but not what happens later. You see, it's both about the hero's journey for the title character and for a reflection on the world that allowed him to exist in the first place. WALL*E is the remnant of the world humanity left behind, including their hopes and dreams and potential, and it is only he that can restore the soul that they long abandoned for comfort and pleasure. It's also a love story that is as adorable as it is potent.

WALL*E is a movie that has everything great about Pixar with little of any faults. This movie had a ton of care put into it and it shows in every frame that Andrew Stanton directed.

Thankfully, this movie is well regarded and should hopefully go down as one of the all-time greats. It has earned the title.

4. The Incredibles

A superhero movie from before the superhero boom, The Incredibles is a clever look at both the importance of family, and the desperate search for purpose in a broken world. Mr. Incredible might be one of the best protagonists Pixar ever devised with both the inner struggle with justice and a sense of meaning, and his outer struggle with a world that doesn't want him, despite needing him and others like him.

This, of course, being directed by Brad Bird (the man behind The Iron Giant, and Ratatouille) means there is a lot here under the hood that begs watching. Noticing Syndrome's plan of destroying any sort of exceptional-ism with mediocrity and the struggles of superheroes to remain relevant in a world that doesn't want them, you begin to see a lot of subtle cues and nods in both the dialogue and the animation tics.

Though we are currently hip-deep in the (highly welcome) superhero boom, The Incredibles is still one of the best of its kind. Despite what I said before, I highly anticipate a sequel to this film, because it is well suited to it (unlike Finding Nemo, or Toy Story 3, which need no sequels) and Brad Bird is a master at characterization.

5. Toy Story 3

This is the capstone to the franchise that started Pixar and gave us the current best movie studio in the world. Toy Story 3 is the final chapter in a surprisingly great trilogy of films that follow a very iconic set of characters as they come to terms with their purpose. This movie is mostly centered on Woody the cowboy, not as a flawed protagonist as the first two movies, but as the hero he was always striving to be just as Buzz Lightyear, the spaceman, had already come into his own by the second film. Woody and his friends are survivors simply hoping for rest after a rough bunch of years and the story that follows is both uproariously funny and profoundly touching in very unpredictable ways.

What helps it work so well is putting it in context with the rest of Pixar's work. The kids who first saw the groundbreaking original Toy Story back in 1995 are now adults who have left the childhood room of Andy behind for the grown up world. This movie reflects exactly that transition those original fans have had to go through when growing up and leaving things behind them. The theme of growing up and moving on is in this movie from something as simple as losing an important toy (and character) in a garage sale to something as ultimately important and crucial as death and salvation. For a movie about toys that is as funny as this, it might seem out of place, but not if you follow from what the first two movies set up.

Pixar capped off an excellent trilogy with this film and I sincerely hope the next Toy Story film is a spin off of some kind because we do not need a sequel to this. The ending here is as perfect as can be, and finishes off one of the best movie trilogies of all time.

6. Toy Story 2

I suppose I could repeat myself here, but why bother? Toy Story 2 does everything the first movie does, but does it better. More characters, deeper characterizations, and the first inkling of theme of fake immortality with real life and mortality that is delved into in the third movie. I don't think there isn't an adult in the world that doesn't get a bit of misty eyes during the scene where Jessie describes where she came from. And comparing it with what happens in the third movie really brings it out further.

It is hard to believe that this was only their third movie, but it was a sequel well worth being told. It also made Buzz Lightyear into more than just a counterpoint to Woody, but also made him a hero in his own right at the same time. Toy Story 2 was the first sign the Pixar was not a one trick pony.

7. Toy Story

And finally, we have the film that started it all. The animation might not seem as impressive nowadays compared to where computer animation is now, but the film itself certainly does. A buddy movie about a mismatched pair of toys, (one from the future and one from the past) the film deftly dives into the importance of imagination, being a kid, and remembering who you are as opposed to believing your own hype. For a first film, it's still a knock-out.

Pixar would go on to bigger and better things, like what I listed above, but this is still the benchmark that everything they do will be judged by. They are one of the best, and this movie will always remind people as to why.

8. Monsters, Inc.

The last movie I would consider a masterpiece, is their fourth movie and third original film idea, being Monsters, Inc.. Now, the reason I would say that is because this movie succeeds as probably one of the best examples of a buddy comedy I can think of, while staying highly original, and having a surprisingly emotional core. It isn't as out there or deep as the aforementioned movies, including Pete Docter's other films, but it is a movie where craft puts it over the top.

I wouldn't call it Pixar's best overall, but it deserves to be ranked near the top on the pure effort and quality the film shines with and how simply enjoyable it is to watch. This is the movie that made Pixar into a studio worth paying attention to as their first non-Toy Story movie to shine with a quality few others do.

Great Movies

9. Ratatouille

I know there are many people who would roast me alive for this, but while I've always liked this movie and have adored most of Brad Bird's other work, Ratatouille has never been a favorite. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the characters, the direction, and the themes, but they never registered with me nearly as well as anything above it on the list.

This is a good movie to pop in and enjoy, but it's never seen as much play as anything else above it or Mr. Bird's other animated work in my house. That said, I do understand the appeal. It just doesn't hit me very hard.

10. Finding Nemo

So while I realize this is one of Pixar's biggest successes (and I like it a lot!) it has never been a favorite. In my opinion, both the buddy comedy and emotional appeal of Monsters, Inc. were done better in that movie, the themes were not as gripping as the Toy Story movies, and the string of films they made after this one were just so far above it that it's hard to rank this high at the end of the day.

It's a movie I can easily watch when it comes on TV, but it's not one I go out of my way for. And don't get me started on the fact that it's getting an entirely unneeded sequel. Ugh.

11. Monsters University

This movie gets ragged on a lot for being an unnecessary sequel (even though it's a prequel), and while I agree it doesn't match the original film, it does offer a lot. The themes are quite strong, especially in this age of You Can Do Anything and participation trophies, about how there really are things you can't do but that's okay. Maybe your calling is just somewhere else. In this age of mindless self-esteem it was no wonder why this film got unfairly dumped on.

But it is no masterpiece. It's simply a fun college party movie for families that also manage to pack in some great themes and an ending that dovetails really well with the original movie. Of all their unnecessary sequels, this is the one the shouldn't get half the guff it gets.

Good Movies

12. Brave

This movie was pushed so hard when it came out that it's almost a tragedy that it isn't that great. Of course, it had many production problems, but the central issues are hard to ignore. The first is the plot being so totally cliched to the point that this feels more like a Disney film than a Pixar one. It's hard at times to remember that this was actually made by Pixar. The second is that the main character is really hard to like. She's very bratty and self-centered (of course, teenage girls can often be that way) but doesn't leave a lot of room for wanting to root for her because of it.

What works is that the main theme (that maybe your totally overbearing parents actually know what they're doing! Wow, who woulda thunk it?) is strong on a level Disney rarely is, especially nowadays, the animation can be pretty gorgeous and awe-inspiring at times with its use of fantastical and Scottish locales, and the comedy is typically funny Pixar that never misses a beat.

It's simply a good movie. Unfortunately, this is Pixar, and they're frequently much better than good.

13. A Bug’s Life

This is the most forgotten Pixar film for a reason. It has the pieces other Pixar films have of a great moral and story, but none of them are very fleshed out. What you get is an above average animated movie with no real identity. But given that it's only Pixar's second movie, that can be very understandable.

Unfortunately, it's just good. It doesn't even have the interesting themes or direction of Brave to pick up some slack. It just doesn't stack up to any of Pixar's other originals. But it isn't a bad film, at the very least.


14. Cars

It's Doc Hollywood with cars. So just go watch Doc Hollywood instead. Or better yet, watch just about any other Pixar movie. This movie has been made plenty of times before.

15. Cars 2

It's a spy movie spoof with cars. These Cars movies are so far below what Pixar is capable of that I cannot imagine why they are so successful at the end of the day. The fact that it will be a trilogy soon is just amazing as if it is anywhere near the level of the Toy Story trilogy. These films have nothing going for them that other Pixar movies (even the plain good ones) don't already do a hundred times better.

Other than the Cars movies (seriously, enough already) the worst I've found Pixar's films are decent. I'm hoping The Good Dinosaur coming out this holiday season is another home-run for the studio, but I am definitely NOT looking forward to Finding Dory. I liked Finding Nemo well enough, but there is nothing about it that called for a sequel whatsoever. Same with Toy Story 4. That series was capped off perfectly with Toy Story 3, there's nothing else to see here that they couldn't do in more of the (very good) shorts they're already doing. At least the Monsters, Inc. prequel added some new wrinkles to the dynamic and centered on Mike like the original centered on Sully and The Incredibles 2 will likely be typical Brad Bird goodness and continuing with the themes from the original. These films add to the originals. Finding Dory is like Toy Story 4-- something that really has no need to be made, but for some reason is. I honestly don't understand Pixar's sequel fascination. It's simply not needed.

As a whole though, I'd say Pixar is probably my favorite movie studio. They only climb higher with every new original, and if they could just stop with all the sequels (except another Incredibles film, I'm really okay with that) they would be even better off. They've certainly surpassed Disney, in my mind.

This post goes out to Pixar! To infinity, and beyond!