Thursday, April 8, 2021

Out of Credits

So many sequels

We go on a lot about Cultural Ground Zero here at Wasteland & Sky, and that is for a very good reason. You know it's real, even if you don't mention it out loud. There isn't an individual alive today who isn't perplexed at the absolute stagnation in art and entertainment or as to how nasty basic discourse has gotten. Those who grew up in the '70s, '80s and '90s, could wake up to a new idea every morning and meet strangers they had something in common with, but by the '00s all of that seemed to stop. Hence why we are trapped in a nostalgia vacuum for older decades that will end when the Millennials finally cease charge of the culture. We are at the end of nostalgia.

Old IPs are now milking farms for endless rehashes and distribution of new morals opposite the original intent. Companies never seemed to fail anymore, and newer ones never get a foothold to grow to the size they could pre-Cultural Ground Zero. Billion dollar marketing campaigns advertise the same properties which fill every ad space, telling you remember those old things differently than they actually were. 

Both the '00s and the '10s are two of the most creatively stagnant decades, and it says a lot that there has never been a nostalgia movement for them when the current wave for the '80s and '90s has never really stopped since the latter decade ended. Be all accounts we should have had '00s decade back in the '10s . . . but that never happened. It never will.

Back in the early '00s, the one industry that appeared to escape this limbo of endless corporate regurgitation was the video game industry, which is the last industry to achieve natural success without inflated advertising budgets or dumped money from outside sources to hide its glaring weaknesses and failures. While everything else appeared to flatline and die, only gaming soldiered onward. It's a bizarre case, but one eventually becoming clearer as it suffers from what everything else now does. Somehow it got a stay of execution by 10 years, unlike everything else. So, what happened?

I shouldn't have to emphasize on the history of the medium. It's all fairly standard for anyone younger than a Baby Boomer. The 1970s shaped and formed the basics of what a video game was. The 1980s' high energy was the creative flowering of the industry, leading to its massive worldwide growth. The 1990s perfected those old ideas with PC and console both hitting their zenith by the middle of the decade. By this point, video games had been in their high golden age for near a decade. The remainder of the 1990s was spent moving into 3D and transposing all they learned into this new space. Eventually this path lead to where we are now.

But the strangest part of all this that happened was that video games had survived Cultural Ground Zero and retained their popularity and quality when everything else had tanked. And again, it's the only industry to do this. Every other one shrank in the '00s to their current dead state.

No industry had a better 1998 than video games did

It speaks of a strange turn of events when 1998 lead to the death of so many industries, but is still frequently looked on as one of the best years in gaming. In fact, game sales increased following the massive popularity and launch of the PS2 at the start of the '00s. It then climbed, rising further every year, until 2007 . . . about exactly a decade after Cultural Ground Zero killed everything else dead. Then they began their decline. And the same things that killed those other industries are the same ones choking at video games right now.

The previous video game generation was the first to show absolutely no creative growth at all. No new genres or ideas. No new IPs that offered any sort of new gameplay opportunities. Unless, of course, you're Nintendo, but they can't and don't emphasize pwetty gwaphics, so they don't count. Nintendo, in many ways is the last flickering sparks of the golden age of the industry, so seeing how out of joint they are with what is currently going on is eye-opening. If you want to know why they are called down for "rehashing" while series like Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Uncharted, Halo, Far Cry, or Gears of War, continue on with 0 innovation for near two decades and still get glowing praise, the answer is quite simple. The charge is weapon they can use to get rid of what they don't like while keeping what they do.

One objective look back at the Nintendo Wii, without the game journalist baggage will show you an innovate system that actually tried new things, had plenty of niche and creative ideas, and has a library that has aged far better than Sony's and Microsoft's efforts from the time. Those two companies are making the same games with the same controls on the same basic system. Nintendo's last three systems were wildly different from each other, attempting to actually create new gameplay experiences. Which is, what I might add, what every single video game system did before the PS2.

Yet you've been trained by the industry to prefer the approach that led to the current bankrupt state of the industry. If you're still mad at the Wii for "waggle" or "lack of HD" then you really are missing the point. It sold for a reason, and it wasn't because "normies" are dumb. Hard to justify that charge when you willingly bought the PS4. Keep mashing that X button during the cutscene, hiding behind chest-high walls, and aiming down your iron sights like you've been doing for near 20 years. That's truly fresh gameplay.

But that's beside the point. All of this false conflict is part of the problem, and it's been with us for over a decade now.

What happened? What allowed video games to continue rising but then also submit to the same flaws as every other industry did almost exactly a decade later? Was it witchcraft, sheer chance, or hard work? Very much not.

Like those other industries that are currently crashing, they got too big and aren't allowed to fail anymore. This leaves them in a perpetual creatively bankrupt state, unable to die or rise again. They got this way by letting their success get to their head, mostly from the limited success of the AAA big budget video game.

Once the writing was on the wall that video games were pulling in more money than the dying Hollywood system, that was the chance for the same investors, suits, and hacks, to jump on board and steer the industry in the "correct" direction. It's yet another poseur situation. Unfortunately, the video game industry was too naïve with an inferiority complex (which they still have, just look at any time Cliffy B or David Jaffe salivate over the most recent flash in the pan interchangeable movie game) and swallowed the lie that they had to be C-grade movies in order to survive.

Hence, the creatively bankrupt state the industry is in now. It's a result of all of the above.

As writer and musician David V. Stewart says:

"Then 2007 happened, and as far as the bigger publishers are concerned, games reached their peak and no more change or risk was required or even advisable. Gameplay seemed to stop changing almost entirely after 2007, and the extent to which it did change is usually in the negative, involving the watering-down of mechanics and general reduction of difficulty.

"Of course, there were plenty of amazing games prior to 2007, and plenty after, but when it comes to innovation, all the big players seem to have lost it, and it’s indies that keep the flame of gaming alive. But in 2007 there were still great games made by AAA publishers – games that had great gameplay and amazing production and presentation."

And these large corps had the exact foothold they needed to get in the industry with HD. This is the root of the issue. If the history books don't say that HD development is what killed the old video game industry, then someone was either lying or not paying attention.

You see, HD development remains extremely costly to this day, requiring far more resources and funds than they did before. It requires teams of hundreds to create games that once only needed anything from one to a couple dozen. This bloated budgets and made every project a sink or swim endeavor. This is before you get into the absurd costs for advertising and middle management which cling to every game like uncooked gristle. You're looking at several million to make games that used to be made by small teams for a sliver of the budget. This is the elephant in the room no one wants to address. Games now cost far too much to make. Period.

It now costs several times the amount of money to make games that were not even as in-depth as the games that came out a generation earlier. This is an unavoidable truth that no one wants to talk about. You were already doomed to lesser experiences from the get-go, and it's all because of the pwetty gwaphics crowd that game journalists fostered.

And yes, you can blame this crowd for swallowing it whole. You can still find articles admonishing a smaller company like Nintendo for not jumping into HD and potentially killing their company for tech that wasn't even standard at the time ths system was in production. Because it wasn't. The Wii is still hated, despite offering games that actually played different and new than ones that came before, offered shelter to niche publishers and developers who couldn't afford the new landscape, continued legacy IP while also created new ones, and still made heavy bank while doing it, pulling in far more profit than Microsoft or Sony did during the very same generation. If anything, it was the Wii that carried on what new consoles were supposed to do besides just offering pwettier gwaphics.

And yet the Wii is still looked down on as lesser while the HD twins are seen as the "true" gaming systems. All while everything the latter did is what is currently killing the industry with the same rehashed systems and software for well over a decade now. Somehow C-grade movie games became known as "core" experiences while 2D platformers and adventure games became known as "casual" during this period. This was the smartest that game journalists had ever been, successfully carrying water for an industry change that the industry didn't need.

Professional journalism for "core" gamers

How no one foresaw any of this leading to where we are now remains a mystery. The writing was on the wall way back then.

The elephant in the room, however, is that there is a body count created by the HD cult. This is another factor that aided in reshaping the entire medium. While we like to say how great the HD era was from a creative standpoint, the fact of the matter is that it was the truly creative that were destroyed during this exact time period.

To this date, the first HD generation (2005-2013) has killed the most developers and publishers in the history of the entire gaming industry. Yes, including the original crash. 

As a result of the move to gigantic budgets and sneering at the poor plebs who couldn't afford it, the middle market was obliterated. All that was left by the end of the '00s were the billion dollar top dogs making their movies and the cutesy no budget indie games making puzzle platformers. all of this happened in a single console generation, and no one has batted an eye over it. Any "creativity" you remember from this era was the last gasp of the sacrificial lambs to get the industry in the exact state it is in right now.

3D Realms - 2009
7 Studios (Activision) - 2011
Backbone Vancouver
BigBig (Sony) - 2012
Bizarre Creations (Activision) - 2010/2011
Black Rock (Disney) - 2011
Blitz Games - 2013
Blue Fang Games - 2011
Blue Tongue (THQ) - 2011
BottleRocket - 2009
Brash Entertainment - 2008
Budcat (Activision) - 2010
Castaway Entertainment - 2008
Cavia - 2010
Cheyenne Mountain - 2010
Cing - 2010
Clover Studios (Capcom) - 2007
Codemasters Guildford - 2011
Cohort Studios - 2011
Concrete Games - 2008
Deep Silver Vienna - 2010
DICE Canada - 2006
EA Chicago - 2007
EA Bright Light - 2011/2012
EA Japan - 2007
Eidos Manchester - 2009
Eidos Hungary - 2010
Ensemble Studios (Microsoft) - 2008
Factor 5 - 2009
FASA (Microsoft) - 2007
Fizz Factor - 2009
Flagship Studios - 2008
Flight Plan - 2010
Free Radical Design - 2009
Frozen North Productions - 2010
FuzzyEyes - 2009
Gamelab - 2009
Game Republic - 2011
GRIN - 2009
Helixe (THQ) - 2008
Hudson Soft - 2012
Humannature Studio (Nexon Vancouver) - 2009
Ignition London - 2010
Ignition Florida - 2010
Incognito Entertainment (Sony) - 2009
Indie Built (Take-Two) - 2006
Iron Lore - 2008
Juice Games (THQ) - 2011
Kaos Studios (THQ) - 2011
Killaware - 2011
Killspace Entertainment - 2011
KMM Brisbane - 2011
Krome Studios (operating on a skeleton crew) - 2010
Kuju Manila - 2009
Kuju Chemistry - 2009
Kush Games - 2008
Locomotive Games (THQ) - 2010
Luxoflux - 2010
Mass Media (THQ) - 2008
Monte Cristo - 2010
Monumental Games - 2012
Midway Austin - 2009
Midway Newcastle - 2009
MTV Games - 2011
Multiverse - 2012
Nautilus / Sacnoth - 2009
NetDevil - 2011
Ninja Studio - 2009
Outerlight - 2010
PAM Development (Take-Two) - 2008
Pandemic Australia (EA) - 2009
Pandemic LA (EA) - 2009
Paradigm Entertainment - 2008
Pi Studios - 2011
Pivotal Games (Take-Two) - 2008
Propaganda Games (Disney) - 2011
Pseudo Interactive - 2008
Rainbow Studios (THQ) - 2011
Realtime Worlds - 2010
Rebellion Derby - 2010
Red Octane - 2010
Rockstar Vancouver - 2012
Rockstar Vienna - 2007
Sandblast Games (THQ) - 2008
SEGA San Francisco - 2010
Shaba Games (Activision) - 2009
SOE Denver - 2011
SOE Seattle - 2011
SOE Tuscon - 2011
Sony Liverpool - 2012
Stormfront Studios - 2008
Straylight Studios - 2009
Team Bondi - 2011
The Code Monkeys - 2011
Titan Studios - 2009
THQ Studio Australia - 2009
THQ Digital Warrington - 2009
Transmission Games - 2009
Universomo (THQ) - 2009
Venom Games (Take Two) - 2008
Vicarious Visions California - 2007
Visceral Australia (EA) - 2011
Wolfpack Studios - 2006
Yuke's Company Of America - 2010
Zipper Interactive - 2012
Zoe Mode London - 2009

This doesn't count the studios bought up only to be used as resource fodder for fat AAA series like Call of Duty. Developers like Radical Entertainment and Raven Software, for all intents and purposes, don't exist anymore. Only their name does. They might as well be called Dev Team A and B.

And if you're counting, that is over 100 studios in a single generation. That isn't even all of them. Some of these companies had been around for decades, and it only took a single flop to kill them outright, when that wouldn't have happened in the golden age of the industry. That nobody noticed how dangerous a precedent this entire climate set is why we are in the situation we are in now.

Again, keep in mind that this was only over the course of ONE generation. Whereas a studio could survive a few bombs back in the day, with the new AAA obsession with graphics and bad cinema that these studios could not afford, and the now-bloated costed for making games, studios simply couldn't compete anymore. This is the real legacy of HD gaming. And as a result of this "core gaming" obsession, many non-AAA studios were outright murdered.

You'll even find a lot of coping in the above comments blaming used games, bad developers, or even piracy, oblivious to the fact that there has never been a slaughter of studios at this magnitude in the history of the industry. for some reason, core gamers really wanted their movie games and would do anything to get them. Unlike those pleb "casuals" who enjoyed genres that had been around since the industry started. They weren't serious gamers because they didn't care about graphics!

Do you see yet how backwards and inverted the industry got during this period?

At the same time, internet connectivity was now standard in every console, even the Wii. What this allowed were two things to grow. Patches had now come to consoles and with the overstuffed size of HD games, were usually necessary to fix all sorts of bugs and glitches unable to be caught in testing. The other thing that became standard was the appearance of digital games. Now they could see you horse armor and digital licenses to their product! By the end of the generation, these two things would define how things would be going forward.

As Mr. Stewart continues:

"2007 was within the first year of the 7th generation of gaming consoles, which includes the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii. Even though these released earlier (and hence why I mention some launch titles above), most of the “big games” of that generation landed in 2007 or took off in 2007. The graphical fidelity leap was immense, more than any that followed, and just as large as between each of the 4th through 6th generation of consoles (SNES, ps1, ps2. These new “next gen” consoles released as physical media consoles, but were transformed over their lifetimes into (mostly) digital consoles.

"That’s a big shift. Games companies of course want to emphasize the digital game now, mostly because it directly attacks the used games market. You can’t resell or trade away a digital game. This generation saw the ubiquitous “Day 1 DLC” and day 1 patches of games, but most of these trends hadn’t caught on in 2007. For the most part, games shipped finished, just like on the PS2."

So now you have bloated, broken, unwieldy games designed by corporate mandate to follow a specific mudgenre formula to appeal to the widest demographic of people possible. This oblivious to the fact that gaming was already a successful industry before this wannabe Hollywood system was invented. The things that built the industry, the ideas, the fun, the stability, the variety, and the creativity, were now a distant second in priority.

At the same as this melting down of traditional genres, you no longer owned your games. Now you were buying licenses to play these glorified movies until your console broke. this worked great, because console makers, at a certain point, would no longer fix your system for you. AAA 1, Gamers 0. No more used market, and no more legacy titles.

The corporate drone mentality that gaming had fought off so well in the '80s and '90s had finally consumed the industry to thunderous applause. It had been saved from the casuals!

And it worked.

Until it didn't anymore.

As writer and editor Brian Niemeier writes:

"Throughout the late 90s and early aughts, the movie and video game industries were pretty much neck and neck in terms of revenue. That intra-entertainment industry competition stopped being a horse race in 2007, when gaming pulled decisively ahead - doubling Hollywood's take that year.

"Don't think for a second that video games' passing of this benchmark escaped the suits in the corner offices. Attaining twice the moneymaking power of Hollywood marked vidya's graduation from a niche hobby to a serious business. They money men had found a new golden goose, and they stepped in to make sure it kept laying the exact same eggs forever.

"And like David observed, it all happened in 2007.

"What we're seeing the results of now is big game studios throwing pretty much every hit game franchise into the corporate IP death cycle milking phase. All major game IPs from Call of Duty to WoW are endlessly riding a loop from the milking to death to reboot phases."

In case you were wondering why gaming rehashes old properties and ideas as much as Hollywood rehashes '80s and '90s nostalgia, it is for the same exact reason. They are incapable of creating anything new out of the mudgenre hole they have dug themselves into.

Hence you will be seeing "subversions" of properties as recent as Mass Effect, Gears of War, or Uncharted, for the same reason you see unwanted reboots of the Powerpuff Girls, Ghostbusters, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They can't do anything else. This is the creative pit they have dug themselves into, and they expect you to give them money for doing nothing but flipping the same broken table over and over. This is the legacy of the HD generation of gaming.

Though you can pin the blame on events that happened much earlier that lead to this state. Nothing truly happens in a vacuum.

Looking back, seeing megacorps like Sony and Microsoft horn in on console gaming was probably the writing on the wall for the way things were. No company could compete, especially with these powerhouse companies that were willing to go into the red to carve out a large piece of the pie (which Microsoft has suffered for most of the run of its Xbox brand) that smaller companies simply couldn't do or compete with. Remember the phony "Hardcore Vs Casual" gaming that was foisted upon you during the HD gen? I referenced it above for a reason. There was no coincidence as to why this conflict popped up when it did. One was pushed by billion dollar corps to get you in the exact state you are in right now. And guess which side the game journos were on?

All of a sudden those who wanted  "new" things and desired companies to "innovate" were fine with rehashes and shallow movie-like experiences. Because it was the "correct" kind of rehash. And would you know it, the giant corps wanted it to.

Isn't that just a kick in the teeth?

Here are passages from an old look at the 2009 game New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This was a game the press really wanted to fail and were completely flummoxed when it ended up outselling every Call of Duty game that generation. This simply couldn't stand, not when Innovation™ was happening! A platformer from a 20 year genre is not good enough, not when we have FPS games that are shallower and offer less than similar games from 20 years ago. This is how absurd this console generation really was.

These quotes aren't the writer's full opinions, but if you noticed, all of them had to start their segments with the same negatives right off the bat.

A 2009 game housing outdated mechanics was just unacceptable!

Only one of these "rehashes" is okay with journos.

I eagerly look forward to the same sort of look when the next Uncharted game comes out. After all, 15+ years of an unchanging formula is not good enough. Surely we will get articles exactly like this when we get an exact repeat of the last crappy console generation!

But we won't. Because the way the industry is now is exactly the way they've always wanted it to be. This is why you never hear about cries of "innovation" from game journos anymore. They don't want it and they never wanted it. They just wanted the old ways to disappear and to have their industry treated like the big boys--a "real" industry like Hollywood or OldPub.

And they almost got their wish.

By the time Sega was shoved out of the console industry in 2001, the landscape had already shifted tremendously. Arcades were dying and as a result so was classic gaming, 2D was outright demonized, and here come these big corps offering hats of money to development studios to create exclusives for their systems with abnormally high failure rates. Game journos saw stars in their eyes--they were on the forefront of a revolution! This was as far back as the late '90s. You can find this mentality in a lot of gaming magazines and early internet sites.

Corporatization was already there. You just didn't notice it because you were distracted by the 3D graphics arms race and hating people who enjoyed new types of controllers and old genres. The distraction worked.

By the time everyone noticed what had happened, hundreds of companies were closed, dozens more merged to form undead monstrosities, and mudgenre product was being shoveled out at quick pace to fill store shelves. And for some reason we still hunger for even pwettier gwaphics and more expensive games despite this path proving to be a dead end from everything that is currently going on. At some point, this warped ideal of "progress" all it ever became about.

And that's why the entire industry is already on the decline, even if you don't see it.

None of the industry insiders that were screaming for innovation, actually wanted innovation. If they did they wouldn't be defending the current dying state of the industry to their dying breaths while writing articles informing everyone who will listen that their audience is dead. Meanwhile, they will continue to make excuses for the sad state of things, even as their industry is on the wane. You would do good to stop carrying water for them.

It would be difficult to maintain optimism if there weren't new middle market and independent studios coming up in the wake of this disaster of an industry. I've already mentioned New Blood Interactive in previous posts as a company deliberately going back to the roots of first person action adventure games and starting there. Games such as Dusk, Amid Evil, Fallen Aces, Faith, and Gloomwood, are all far more interesting and fresh looking than anything AAA is putting out.

There there are studios such as Top Hat Studios, who somehow almost always manage to gather controversy for simply publishing interesting looking games that still push a button or two. Nonetheless, they are providing new experiences AAA will not.

Then there are the smaller studios such as Prime Cut Games putting out games like Zealot, featuring a priest wandering forth to slay pagan demoniacs from the land. It's an action RPG of the sort that hasn't been standard in a long time. You can find just about anything from the smaller studios if you look deep enough.

By the same token, you can find lists of upcoming platformers, adventure games, RPGs, shootersaction adventure, horror, roguelites, and even building management sims. There is plenty of creativity left in the industry. It's just not in the mainstream AAA industry. You actually have to find it for yourself.

And that's probably the future, at least for now. Just as NewPub is overtaking OldPub and Hollywood is collapsing under its own rotund girth, so to will AAA cosign itself to the dustbin of failed 20th century industries that failed to uphold its charge of delivering the patron their goods.

Eventually, everything gets set right again. What that means for the future of these industries isn't clear, but at least we can see that terrible present isn't permanent.

Things change. Next time they will change for the better.

Nominated for SuperversiveSF's 2020 Book List! Seven interconnected stories that form a whole. Check out this magic-infused noir of action adventure today!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Signal Boost ~ 9Volt Comics #3!

Find it Here!

The indefatigable ArtAnon, illustrator of Brian Niemeier's Combat Frame XSeed mecha, as well as Bradford C. Walker's Star Knight Saga, not to mention my very own Duel On Dalpha (which you can still get for free on the sidebar!) is part of yet another top notch comic book project!

This one is another anthology of talented comic artists stretching their wings into classic pulp stylings with an emphasis on wonder. Given the recent explosion of independent comics, you're going to want to check this one out. It's as weird as you could hope.

The description:

"Science Fiction and Fantasy! What could possible be a better combination? Here are NINE STORIES of spacefaring, futuristic cosmic magical mystery featuring action, adventure, and awesomeness. Featuring ArtAnon Studios, Dale A, Jim Stanislawski, Daniel McGuiness, Robin Taylor, Evan Hill, Jake Tvister, and Peter Seckler"

It's another packed edition of 9Volt. You can find it here!

In related news, Combat Frame XSeed's successful crowdfunding campaign is the most backed in the series thus far. It has been extended to give readers an opportunity to reach a new stretch goal to hit funding for the card game as well as 3D printed models! This is quite a big goal for a NewPub project, so be sure to back it today!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Losing Touch

Imagine living in a pod with nothing to look at but your bed, a screen, and a small supply of processed government approved meals to munch on. We appear to be unknowingly charging into this future with a smile on our faces. Within the decade there won't be much we will value outside of ephemeral bits of data on the internet. It helps when we have less reason than ever to actually leave our homes, and we are getting less reasons by the day.

During the 2010s, there was a growing trend in entertainment no one wanted to address. In fact, this trend really went back as far as the invention of file sharing services over a decade earlier. The devaluing of physical media, and art, as nebulous property licenses that only corporations had the right to grant limited access to became to be accepted by most consumers. Art was no longer meant to connect, it was meant to make corporations richer, though it was sold as "freedom" and swallowed wholesale by certain techheads. You can still find such takes online to this day about how locking things away in a nebulous cloud with expiring licenses is somehow a preferable future. Just look at the lack of reaction to Microsoft charging yearly fees for programs you only had to buy once years ago. Consumers don't question it, they just fork over the money. The internet doesn't really ever forget, though it does seem to not think things through.

Between 1999 and 2001, the invention of Napster changed the relationship patrons had with art, perhaps permanently. It did this by offering an ease of availability and a free cost that no one could have possibly foreseen being a reality mere years earlier. It was a Pandora's Box that to this day has never been shut, and never really can be again. not as long as the internet exists. The mindset shift it changed in people was simply too radical, especially considering that there was a time that over 80 million people used the service.

Before Napster, we more or less took our art and entertainment for granted. Go to the local store, pay a fair price, and get the desired product in return that you could use forever, or at least until it broke. The rules were clear, and easy. Whether you bought a ticket to a movie theater to watch it once or rented a copy at the store, it was always straightforward. You knew what you owned, and what you didn't. That was all overturned in 1999.

Once the art was devalued to mere nebulous files on the internet that old perception changed. You could now get high quality bootleg versions of whatever entertainment you wanted--for free! As download speeds got faster and hard drives got bigger, so did the possibilities grow. Physical sales of media dropped year after year, eventually ending up with music more or less stranded on digital download services with no other option for purchase. Unless you were quirky enough to get a vinyl release, finding CDs had gone out of style with the death of rock music. And this is before getting to the downgrade that is streaming.

Everything changed in a small handful of years, but nobody realized how much it had until much later. Some of us still don't see it, and won't until they wake up without access to a digital library that had been turned off by the license holder. We've walked into a situation that many think is a dream but is actually a nightmare scenario.

You don't actually own anything anymore. Most won't even notice or care until they get their rude awakening. We will keep paying corporations to make things more convenient, and yet far inferior, to what came before.

Even now, a year after a certain event caused public interaction to drop sharply, the trend has not reversed. It has in fact hastened the transition that was already occurring. Digital is the new norm and will be for a long time. We just desire convenience above all else.

  • For the first six months of 2020, total consumer spending on digital formats (including EST, VOD and SVOD subscription streaming) was strong, rising 37 percent from the same period in 2019 while subscription streaming alone also climbed 37 percent.
  • Consumer demand for theatrical releases continued to grow robustly across digital formats, as numerous wide release movies came early to the home. Spending on theatrical EST rose 48 percent in the second quarter and 26 percent in the first half. Spending on theatrical VOD, meanwhile was up 73 percent for the second quarter and 55 percent for the first half.
  • Theatrical catalog titles showed particularly strong growth, with EST and VOD spending on these titles growing 66 percent in the second quarter.
  • The TV category also experienced robust growth, with spending rising 120 percent on VOD and 72 percent on EST in the second quarter.
  • Internet-delivered VOD grew 76 percent in the second quarter and 56 percent in the first half as service options continue to proliferate and are embraced by consumers.

Digital is wiping out Physical

It was only a matter of time before every other medium followed suit after music. From the very basic system of purchasing a product to receive said product, we slowly began to move towards purchasing data with a far more limited use that can be turned off at the whim of the provider. You could burn it to CDs, but burned CDs never lasted all that long, and the mainstream audience never took to burning as well as they did the convenience of free storage in the "cloud" of their PC. The public prefers convenience over quality, which is why so many jumped on Napster and ditched CDs over night. Cost is really only part of it.

Of course, if the end goal of existence is convenience, then this is a great turn of events! You can get everything you ever wanted at the push of a button and then forget about it right afterwards. No need for storage, preservation, or ruminating on what you've just experienced. Once it's over it's out of your head and you can move onto the next product the good corporation has lined up for you. Consuming made easy!

And besides, isn't that plastic wrapping, cardboard, clamshell, casing, whatever, bad for the environment? Why, you're doing good while doing less. Isn't that a win for you and the world? You see, you are actually making a change by doing nothing. At least, this is how it's sold. It isn't actually true, but it makes for good justification.

The thought process isn't thought out, though. Once we've eliminated the rental shop, the flea market, and box store, and all resulting public interaction, everything will be perfect. One step away from not ever having to leave your house. Won't things be great then?

But, as always, it's not that simple.

Shelves that once contained those books, movies, and TV series, still exist. They just now house much different, and worse, trinkets upon them. You need something to fill the vacant shelves, right? What better than even cheaper plastic product?

This is a real video on youtube

But shelves empty of entertainment don't preclude tidy or even healthy homes. It's turning out to be the opposite. How you view art also reflects how you view life. Treating entertainment as disposable will lead to a disposable view on everything else. Considering where we are as a culture in the west? That's probably not such a good idea. And yet the train continues barreling in that direction, unchecked. Convenience always comes first.

Streaming is the logical conclusion as to where an all-digital entertainment climate leads. How can we get instant gratification at the push of a button? Easy. We can design a way to transmit the product into the customer's home and give them a way to return it to us as quickly as possible. We can have full control over the entire process! What's more, we could convince them that these new ways are an improvement over the way things once were.

Did it work? Well, how many people do you know think new things are automatically better than old things? Why would this be any different to them?

Of course, streaming can't work for everything, especially with how bad the internet is in the majority of the world. That doesn't mean they'll be giving up on it anytime soon. The end goal is to have full control over all your purchasing decisions to the point that you won't be able to buy anything. You will only ever be able to own a temporary license that can be revoked at any time. Though at least you can have cheap, disposable plastic baubles that remind you vaguely of the product you were allowed to consume. That's progress for you.

But even without streaming, digital is the future. At least, where the top men are concerned. Aside from OldPub's lumber ties leading to their aversion to the digital market, every other industry is gearing up to push you away from physical copies. They are working against the customer's best interests and have convinced the customer the opposite is true.

One of the more recent examples is that of Sony deciding to shut down their digital store for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and the PlayStation Vita. Not only did they tell customers on short notice (it is closing in July) but apparently none of the developers working on Vita games even knew this was happening. They learned this when the public did. For console makers who want to make console exclusive games in this climate, you're looking at a preservation nightmare. I have no idea how you could justify dumping money into the Sony brand any longer.

Think about it this way: if these above systems didn't have physical copies or a used market, the closure of their online stores essentially mean your several hundred dollar investment in their product is now worthless. That doesn't take into account that there are many games only available on said store that will be instantly wiped out and lost once the store vanishes. There was absolutely no thought put into preservation or backwards compatibility, and that's the issue here.

As an example, one of my favorite games on the PlayStation Store is Hard Corps. Uprising by Konami and Arc System Works for the PlayStation 3. It isn't on PC, it was never released on a Nintendo system, and Konami never saw fit to put it in any compilation. The only place it is going to be available after July is on the Xbox. So if Microsoft closes their store? Then the game gets deleted for good. No one has preserved it.

Games like this are now hanging by a thread.

Without a physical copy, the game is in danger of being erased. It's not the first time Konami did this, either. When the Wii store closed a few years back, Konami's Rebirth games remained download exclusives. Unless you have it downloaded to your Wii to this day, you can never play the game again. And it's going to happen again.

This is the reality of a digital future.

This isn't the case with old games. The original Contra, of which series Hard Corps. Uprising is a part of, had its first console release in 1987 and was out of print for twenty years before being included as an extra in Contra 4 for the Nintendo DS. And yet it never went forgotten. It remained a popular game in flea markets, game stores, and thanks to the ROM and emulator explosion of the late '90s, it was able to retain relevance and popularity. All thanks to the secondhand market. 

What kept Contra alive was the fact that it was, at its heart, a great game that people wanted. This despite the fact that Konami had done literally nothing with the game with two decades. Gamers are the ones who made it an enduring classic, not the owners.

So what about Hard Corps. Uprising's case? What happens if the Xbox store closes in the next few years? Sure it will be still tied to the hardware of those who bought it, but not forever. Console hardware is nowhere near as durable as it once was, and eventually the companies will no longer offer repairs. The Nintendo DS is one of the highest selling systems ever made and yet Nintendo, for instance, does not offer repairs for it. These companies are not good at preservation. Without a secondhand market, a game like Hard Corps. Uprising dies because of corporate negligence. This is the future we're looking at.

And given how bad Konami is about releasing their old games (as a previous post noted, Violent Storm hasn't been re-released in nearly 30 years, saved only by ROMs and the existence of MAME emulation) it will also not be getting a new release, being left to obscurity. Even if it does, it will only be as yet another digital file, destined to be left unsupported with the passage of time. All because of the digital only idiocy we support.

Hopefully none of you PC gamers are sitting over their nodding your heads and smirking at this predicament, not when you almost certainly have a Steam library you can lose access to with the flick of a switch and there is nothing you can do about it. You're not safe. The problem is a lot bigger than just one video game company.

Malls were only the first casualty

With the death of the television system and collapse of movie theaters, visual entertainment has changed a good deal over the decades. What else is left? Why, it's the internet. Now the water cooler subjects to talk about are all day one streaming exclusives that won't get a physical release for years, if ever. It's all flash in the pan, without any thought to the future.

Even when the past subject for most such talks were weekend openings for blockbuster movies or first run episodes of network television, it was still a one time thing that viewers had to watch at a designated time and place. There was still some effort to seek it out and watch it. Now with online streaming and entire dumped series, binge watching and consuming is encouraged as soon as possible. As long as you see it and talk about it before anyone else, who cares if it gets removed at a future date? You've already got everything out of it you're ever going to get.

The less you have to do to work for your entertainment, finding it, looking it up, and going out of your way to get it, the more likely you are to give it proper focus beyond the base level. Streaming and digital distribution encourages the exact opposite of this. It instead wants you to consume and move on to the next thing to consume, preferably what the streaming company has for you next. There is no focus on creating lasting art or entertainment. It's just mindless gluttony and nothing more. When it's gone, no one will notice because there is new content to consume. Always look to the future! Progress! Forget the past.

Although, oddly enough, that trend appears to be reversing. At least a little. Because of the lower runs of physical editions, those who wish to own their entertainment now have to work a bit harder for it. And they actually are.

For instance, twenty years ago one could walk into a DVD store in the mall and find just about every movie that had just been released to home video. The cost wasn't even that much due to high runs and wide distribution whether obscure or mainstream. Nowadays, however, the reality is flipped. Aside from newer big studio movies, if you wish to find a film you really want to own you now have to dig online to find it. Sometimes it is only brought in print by a boutique label, for example, giving it a limited run for a higher cost. And some people will still go out of their way for it. Mostly because many understand that this might be the last time they will ever be able to own it.

And they're not wrong.

Though such people are a minority (and some are undoubtedly hoarders and the resulting scalpers) it does mean that there is an audience that will go the full nine yards when it comes to acquiring what they want. It means there are those unsatisfied with the dying state of western media and willing to do what they can to not lose what they've had for their entire lives. There is a market, as neglected as it might be, that doesn't plan on going anywhere.

Boutique labels can sometimes outdo the original release

We can't ignore the elephant in the room that the overall trend is towards pure disposability, and but at least there is a sign that a market for the opposite does exist. As the reality of streaming and digital becomes more and more apparent, expect that small market to grow.

And it isn't all hopeless. As the above link mentioned:

  • Consumers interest in DVDs reignited, slowing the disc format’s decline. After years of double-digit declines, spending on DVDs was off just 6 percent YOY in Q2. Wallet-conscious consumers embraced product with price points below $10 and theatrical catalog under $6 especially was in high demand, posting a 3 percent YOY growth in the second quarter.

So there are those that most certainly realized what was coming down the pike, most likely after understanding just how limited their options were about to become. An all digital is not a world anyone should want to live in.

As we dive further and further into digital license hell, keep in mind that not everyone is okay with this state of affair. As long as people understand the worth of what they own, physical copies will always exist. Though trends might come and go, some things never change.

Art aims for the eternal, not the temporal. Though the attempt at entertainment might not last the ages, the intent remains unchanged in that it must try to connect. Art matters, it's not just a whimsy or throwaway, no matter how shallow or tossed of it may feel or was made to be. It needs to always be treated as if it matters. Because everything does.

Once we internalize that, the rest will work itself out. It's just going to take some time for us to understand how. We were given the sensation of touch for a reason. It's because we need to be able to feel. Don't ever forget that.

Some of us even put additional work into our physical editions. Such as this book of seven interconnected stories in a world of magic, noir, and heroes. Check it out today!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Superversive's Best Books of 2020!

With the more pleasant  weather of spring now hitting us, it is now time to focus on warmer thoughts. For one: now that the mess that is 2020 is now well in the rear-view mirror, what are the books you most enjoyed from it? In fact, what are some of the books others might not even know about? Certainly there are quite a few, as much was published last year in the NewPub world even during darker times.

SuperversiveSF is putting together a list of some of the best titles of 2020 to share with readers. However, it is also reader selected, which means you can vote for anything, as well. As examples, my books Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures and The Pulp Mindset both released last year, so both would be eligible. Multiple folks voting for the same book is encouraged so as to allow them higher visibility on the list for more people to learn about them. In other words, go crazy. We want as many nominations as we can get!

Be sure to add what you can, the bigger the list is better to show just how much NewPub has grown over the last few years. And it's only growing further this year.

As for myself, though it is March I still have plans to release in the ballpark of 3-4 novels this year. I wish I could share more than that, but it's not up to me to divulge some of it. I can tell you that two of them are 100% complete, one is nearly there with just some editing work to be done, and the last is currently 50% written. So yes, I'm still on track for this year!

On top of this, I have some other shorter stories on the way, including one interesting piece I am planning to post here on the blog. If all goes according to plan, I will have almost doubled my output this year over my output for every year since I've started publishing. There is a lot on the way, in other words. God willing, it will be a big year!

Aside from myself I speak with other writers who are constantly digging in and pushing their own writings. It won't just be me, but many writers who will be using 2021 to deliver some truly great material to you.

It's been a long three months so far, but the year is only 1/4 done. Get ready for what's coming because it's going to blow you away!

In other news, Cirsova's project has recently passed the stretch goal to supply FREE DIGITAL COPIES for everyone, including for the public domain. If you have not contributed, please do so. The next stretch goal will enable those behind this project to do the same to many more obscure and out of print works. This is a very good thing! Help us to ensure that happens!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Art & Craft of Writing!

Find it Here!

For those that have been paying attention since I wrote the Pulp Mindset, you certainly remember that I have told you that despite reading plenty of books about writing there wasn't one I could really recommend you. The reason is simply that most of them are written from a perspective of an author who has forgotten what it was like to be a writer putting pen to paper for the first time. They would give out advice that always felt a bit detached from reality. From this angle, I explained that most writing books aren't worth the time, and I still more or less stand by those words. There are very few writers that can successfully explain how to be one.

So it might shock you today that I am reversing course on those words a little. That is because this is an exception to that rule. I am actually going to recommend a book on the craft of writing for fledgling writers. The reason for this is quite simple: the author of the book in question is the person who helped me the most when I was learning to write. She was the first one who explained tips and tricks in ways I could understand and apply them to my stories and make them the best I could. Because of her I finally broke the last barriers into becoming a writer. 

In other words, she is the real deal.

L. Jagi Lamplighter was the very first editor I ever had that gave me tips to drastically improve my writing and understand how to get my prose in order. If there is anyone I would fully recommend a book on writing by, it would be her. And today, she has written that very book. There was simply no way I wouldn't promote it to my readers.

The description:

Up your writing game!
Practical, hands-on fiction writing fundamentals. Delve into the secrets of writing fiction, presented in clear language to make them easily-graspable and useable.

Lamplighter brings her years of writing and editing experience to this new approach to understanding storytelling and how its many parts work together to weave a well-crafted and entertaining tale. Insights into theme, character, description, plot, portraying emotions, avoiding infodumps, dealing with tropes, and more.

New hope for writers in despair.

“The course is a treasure trove of practical, positive advice you can use immediately to improve your WIP or solidify your ideas for a new project.” Marina Fontaine, author of Chasing Freedom.

“I took L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright’s “Guinea Pig” writing class in November of 2018 and it definitely upped my game. Since “graduating” her course, I’ve sold over 30 short stories and 2 novellas (as of February 2021). Thanks, Jagi.” —James Pyles, author of multiple published short stories.

“I especially liked how you simply laid out ideas about story and characters, which instantly made me go, ‘Oh, yeah! I’ve seen that before!’... I felt that these were techniques that would have taken me ages to work out on my own, and seeing them simply stated has seriously helped me as a writer.”—Billy Charlton, teen student.

I can cosign the usefulness of her advice in full.

You can find the book in question here.

I know very well how tough it can be being a writer starting out, and I know there are few resources that can really get you the help you need. But trust me when I tell you that this is one you are definitely going to want to have. Surviving in NewPub will be tough without a guide, and this is the sort of invaluable resource many of you have been asking for. Now it is here. Writers take note!

Pick up The Art & Craft of Writing: Secrets for Taking Your Writing to the Next Level today! It's exactly what you've been looking for.

For a book to give you right writing headspace, get yourself a Pulp Mindset! A #1 bestseller in five categories!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

. . . And Between the Wasteland & Sky

Wolfwood: "Well I'll be. I'm actually surprised that you can smile like that."
Vash: "Huh? What do you mean?"
Wolfwood: "You had me kinda worried. I noticed you always smile and seem really friendly, but the way you smiled was so empty it hurt to watch you. You're hurting like crazy on the inside, yet you grin and bear it."

It's been a very long time since I talked about the subject this blog was named after. I've always thought Trigun deserved more recognition than it has but never felt the need to really go into detail about it. To be quite honest, I didn't feel like there was much of a point of bringing it back up until I remind myself just how much it influenced what I do now. So that will be the subject for today. I think I owe it a bit more proper focus than I have given it in the past.

For those unaware, the title of this blog Wasteland & Sky comes from an episode title of the anime Trigun. The full moniker is . . . And Between the Wasteland & Sky and it's the title of the eighth episode. The reason I chose it is a bit hard to explain aside from the fact that it neatly sums up the whole series and is a phrase that stuck with me since I first saw Trigun back in the '90s. Choosing it as the title seemed to fit perfectly with what I cover here.

What struck me specifically is what the main character, Vash, says during the preview for this episode. Every episode has, instead of a typical episode preview describing what happens next week, Vash usually describing something tangentially related to the events of the story. But this one was a slight bit different. It marks a turning point in the series and gives the game away as to what the whole shebang actually about.

"People who sin say this: that they had to, to survive. People who sin say this: "It's too late now to stop." The shadow called sin dogs them steadily from behind, silently without a word. Remorse and agony are repeated only to end up at despair in the end, but the sinners just don't know that if they'd only turn around there's a light there, a light which keeps shining on them ever so lonely. A light that will never fade."

I wasn't in a very good place when I first saw Trigun back in the '90s but it is a series that helped me work a lot of things out when I least expected it to. That isn't very common with me when it comes to art. So, if anything, I felt I owed it something in return. Hopefully a blog title by a weird action writer will suffice. And if I by chance sell you on watching it, then I consider this entire project worth the effort.

For those unaware, Trigun was originally a manga series by Yasuhiro Nightow that ran from 1995-2007 across two different magazines. It began as shonen, an action series for boys, for its first couple of years before it was revived after the magazine went under as a seinen, an action series for adults, for the last chunk of its run. It had a bit of a troubled production history behind the scenes, but the manga was a huge seller nonetheless.

Nightow began his career as most do with one-shots, most of which you cannot easily find online and have never been printed in English. He has a bit of an odd view of the world in contrast to most mangaka in that he never utilizes mindless violence just to set mood--every life is viewed as precious and everyone is worth saving. Its a theme that carries over to every work he has done. This might come across is a sort of simple humanism, and maybe it began that way, but it certainly changed as he went on. It definitely changed with Trigun.

After publishing a one-shot for the popular SNK fighting game Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown in the west) he was able to quit his job selling apartments and began a career in the manga industry that has lasted to this day.

"When I look at you, I’m reminded of everything I hate about myself. You know, it hurts." ~ Nicholas D. Wolfwood

When he began research for his first series, he wandered into learning about Christianity, specifically Catholicism, and it changed his thought process tremendously. This ended up being the backbone of Trigun, and everything he's done since.

At this point it's a bit controversial, since the internet keeps scrubbing old information, and that the Japanese don't like talking about their personal beliefs in public, so I can't outright say Nightow is a Catholic, but I can say it definitely affected the way he approached storytelling from here on out. Nothing he has ever done has gone against it, retaining that moral core he started with way back in the 1990s. I'm not going to speculate except to say that there is a reason his works have such a strong western appeal.

Before we go any further, let us first talk about what Trigun is actually about. I'm going to start with the anime because that is the version that is best at summing up the back story and adding additional stakes to the proceedings. It also retains a bit more wonder and is what I believe the superior version of the story, though both are worth experiencing.

Be warned there will be some vague spoilers, but that is really unavoidable in this case. I would recommend simply watching the series if such a thing bothers you. I can't imagine being into anime and not having seen it, to be quite honest.

In the distant future, humanity has left Earth behind for the stars. In the anime we are never told what precisely happened to cause it except that we wasted what we were given. All we have left is hope for a better future than the past we left behind. On the way towards a new home world there is a disaster and the ships are forced to land on a desert planet in the middle of nowhere. From these ruins, the remnants of humanity attempt to survive their seemingly doomed fate.

Hundreds of years later, humanity is now a lawless group living like outlaws in the west. Violence comes quick and hard. A bounty is set on a man named Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon, an outlaw known for destroying everything he comes across and has 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head. The series starts as we join two insurance girls as they follow the rumors and attempt to catch up with him to prevent further damage from happening. But the man they meet up with is anything but what the rumors suggest.

Who is Vash the Stampede and why is the world the way it is? These mysteries form the backbone of what happens next.

For the first half of the series, we follow Vash around as he gets into crazed situation after crazed situation, somehow managing to appeal to the good in even the most monstrous man and somehow bringing that to the forefront. He is a gunslinger, but does not even fire his gun until episode 5. He acts like a goofball who lucks himself out of bad situations. Is this the legendary outlaw? Whoever this man is he doesn't seem to be what he presents himself as.

And he isn't.

During the episodic adventures of the first half of the series, Vash stumbles across a preacher in the desert. This man, named Nicholas D. Wolfwood, states to be wandering the land attempting to spread the Good News, but simply has no luck and always ends up in situations like this. He and Vash get along surprisingly well, having a lot in common, and more than the audience thinks. Though that is explored in more detail later.

"Luck and persistence won't work forever." ~ Nicholas D. Wolfwood

The hard turn around the middle of the series throws a lot of people off who were hoping for or expecting a lighthearted action adventure series. However, this turn was always hinted at earlier in the story. When we begin to learn what Vash is and who his enemies are, the series moves from being highly enjoyable into being a classic. This relationship between Wolfwood and Vash ends up being pivotal to the entire story.

Now there will be real spoiler talk. Avoid if you don't want to know what happens in Trigun, but again, definitely watch it for yourself regardless.

As the series goes on, the tone changes, but it only really changes to reveal what was already there to begin with. The anime writer and director were just very clever about subtly hinting at everything to come.

The first episode alone hints at a number of things that will come into play later, even if the events themselves don't seem to matter too much. The point is that this is who Vash is and this is his life, to be hated and persecuted by those who misunderstand his cause. It isn't a shaggy dog story, not everyone spits on him, but that who he is matters a lot more than we are first told. It ties in very well with the overall themes of the series.

This is an old video by the defunct JesuOtaku which went into the production process behind Trigun and talking about the first episode, but the series covering it was never finished. Only a chunk of the first half was explored. It's very interesting if you desire to know more about the anime. You can see the first edition here:

Let us talk about one thing that the first episode sets up.

One aspect of Trigun to note is how the dual suns on this alien world are used. It's very subtle and hard to miss at the same time, but it becomes more obvious as the story goes on that they are meant to represent eyes. Whose eyes? Well, that becomes more obvious as the series progresses. But the hints are there in the very first episode.

It's also hinted at in the episode quote above.

Let me emphasize:

"Remorse and agony are repeated only to end up at despair in the end, but the sinners just don't know that if they'd only turn around there's a light there, a light which keeps shining on them ever so lonely. A light that will never fade."

The writer and director all but spelled it out.

The first time the dual suns are shown is looking down on Vash as he encounters danger, right after his first reveal, and the second major framing on them as at the end of the episode as he walks away from town and the townspeople joke of a "Miracle without God" and laugh before the camera pans up to the eyes silently watching what has just happened. This is the first hint as to why they are used the way they are.

Every point after this the suns are used to look down on characters during pivotal emotional and plot-related turns (including being particularly blurry as if crying when someone is made to execute another character) as if silently watching but actually with them as they act.

This sets up the theme of the story early, being heavily weighted around Christianity and sacrificial love, a God that always remains with you. You might not even notice this touch on a first watch, I sure didn't as a teenager, but it will still affect you while you watch in ways you won't even understand. When you see what the series is actually doing you won't be able to do anything but have a higher opinion of the entire project. The thing is, it's so good at doing this sort of thing subtly that it puts most "Christian" art to shame.

This expands to the backstory, which explains how the humanity that doggedly pursued progress despite ignoring the sins they left behind ended up here. Their past mistakes is what caused their downfall and near extinction at the edge of the universe.

It ends up being two characters, Vash and Knives, that change them forever. And they aren't even human.

Humanity escaped to the boundless recesses of space, away from the world they were given. Lost among the stars they came upon two strange babies on their way through endless space. It is hinted that they are plants--beings that live in the energy reactors and supply life to humans on their voyage. But this pair aren't quite plants, in fact they are somehow a lot like humans. They learn, adapt, grow, and even love. What they really are is never really explained, and it is for the better. As they get older, the two brothers, Vash and Knives, start to see the human world they were born into quite differently. And neither one of them are necessarily wrong about it, just incomplete.

Raised primarily by a young woman named Rem, the two youths are given a glimpse into her hopeful vision of the future, a world where humanity can live in peace. Rem lost everyone she cared about back on Earth, including her fiancé, leaving her with nothing but this journey towards the future to stake her life on. She explains to the pair how humanity has failed time and time again, but that they learn a little bit more each time. Eventually, they will reach their own Eden. It's an inevitability.

Vash buys into this right away, since he has a more hopeful view of humans after meeting the ones he has on the ships. Knives, however, sees a truth that the others are skimming over a bit and it ends up sticking with him. It is significant that these holes in Rem's ideals is what allows Knives to come to the opposite conclusion. Because his conclusion, while ultimately wrong, cannot be argued with by her one-sided ideals. And because they can't give him an answer, one that explains humanity's penchant for sinning (though he doesn't use that word, he doesn't have the vocabulary), it ends up destroying them all. This is a significant point, one we will always deal with even here on Earth. It's not one we can shed by escaping to the stars.

Humanity destroys, they leech, the pervert, and they hate. For every step forward, there is always a step back that quite often undoes any good we do. What guarantee do these people have that they are any different than the ones that ruined Earth? That they won't spread their poison to other worlds and do even worse than they did there? How are humans worthy of being allowed to exist? Earth being destroyed was a sign, wasn't it? A sign that humans deserve destruction.

Knives asks this, not maliciously, but as a naïve child who wants to know the truth. But Rem can't really answer it except to say that she has hope things will change. For a kid who wants answers, this sounds like an excuse, and it eats away at Knives, especially as he sees the vices the other crew members engage in, which are the same as the ones back on Earth. These people are lying, he decides, they are no different at all.

As time goes on, Knives slips into madness with these thoughts, unable to accept that these evil creatures be allowed to pollute other worlds. He sabotages crew members and, eventually, the ships themselves. They can't allowed to pollute the universe further: they must die. He is the one that forces humanity to land on this barren rock, though he was hoping for them to die in the wreckage instead. Thanks to Rem's self-sacrifice, Vash, Knives, and the rest of humanity is saved, though barely. But it comes at a great cost.

While humans struggle to survive on this dead world, Vash and Knives continue to argue, their conflict reaching a fever pitch. One night Vash stands above his sleeping brother, ready to crush his head with a large stone, but can't do it. He doesn't understand how he can protect all life when he considers it so valuable. how can he justify killing at all? Wasn't this world supposed to be different? Knives takes advantage of this weakness, and the two's relationship explodes in violence with Vash shooting someone for the first time--his own brother.

Their conflict only grows fiercer as the years go on. Eventually, it begins to take down entire towns and settlements, though from the shadows. Humanity is hanging on by the barest threads. How can Vash protect them if he can't control the monster inside of him?

"I was dreaming, Rem. Everything was so horribly dry there on that planet, even people's hearts. As I watched the people who lived there from far away, I kept wondering why they went on living, how they kept on living. Rem, listen to me, Rem. I did a bad thing. I did a bad thing. Tell me? What should I do?"

For hundreds of years afterwards, as humanity rebuilds, Vash wanders the land helping people from behind the scenes, doing what good he can without any thanks or recognition. His body covered in scars and his memories filled with those who have died, he carries on alone. His red coat symbolizes the dream of Rem he carries and hopes to fulfill--it is the color of her favorite flower. No matter what happens, he will someday defeat Knives. Despite this endless battle, he is a little happy. It is enough for him to see others prosper, even as he suffers his own battles alone.

Knives, almost fatally injured from his last encounter with his brother, heals his body like a plant would, removing his scars and keeping his rage buried in the pits of his stained soul. He spends most of his years hiding in the dark and licking his wounds. Nothing changes for him. He still wears the exact same outfit he did when they first landed on this rock, strongly asserting that he has not changed at all, and never will. Using his rage and vicious intellect, he recruits soldiers to his cause: Humans who have given up on humanity and have accepted their punishment of oblivion. It isn't as if he had to try very hard to convince them when you see the wasteland the remnants of humanity lives in. They will be the ones to wipe out our existence, but not until they first destroy Vash the Stampede.

One such character that epitomizes the ultimate form of Knives' beliefs is a man named Legato Bluesummers, a pure nihilist who sees no value in any existence, including his own. thanks to all the mutations and cybernetics that occurred due to landing on this world, he has powers of his own. Legato has the ability to control bodies to his own whim, able to show human beings what they really are when faced with their impending mortality. Of everyone in the series, Legato  has the highest body count next to Knives. His confrontation with Vash is possibly the most important one in the entire series, especially as the ultimate ideal of Knives' ambition.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Wolfwood. Wolfwood is Legato's polar opposite and the full fruition of Vash's ideals. But not as we see them while they are alive. Both Legato and Wolfwood only reach their ultimate form as they die, giving both Vash and Knives the final push they need for their final stand off. It is only in death that we become the ultimate form of what we strive to be, and so it is here.

"Why don't you go ahead? I would welcome this to be my time. After all, there's no reason for such an egocentric, incomplete life like mine to be allowed to continue anyway. Give me the gift of nothingness. Give me death." ~ Legato Bluesummers

You see, while the series can be said to ultimately be about Vash and Knives and their conflict, it is actually about the competing and complete views of Wolfwood and Legato that they achieved on death. Legato achieved the nihilist wish of oblivion in his attempts to drag others to hell, and Wolfwood achieved atonement and forgiveness in his attempts to save others. One was lead to Hell, the other to Heaven.

It is also significant that the two never actually interact with each other through the story. It is only through Vash and Knives that their influences are shown.

Wolfwood and Legato both lived through the same misery on this planet at the edge of the wasteland, but they each took different paths through life. Legato gave up on everything, accepting that his role was to inflict the misery human beings deal out back on them as a just reward. Wolfwood struggled with meaning in life and death before finding the cross to hold him up through the endless tribulations that comprised his existence.

An aspect of Wolfwood not usually discussed is his role as a supposed priest. The thing to note is that he isn't one, it's his cover. But it also isn't a total lie. He is a follower of Christ, using this faith as his only light through the darkness of the desert around him. He has killed because he had to, never because he wanted to, but his proficiency with weapons and violence has always eaten at him. What if Vash was right? What if there was another way? What if he was the one who was wrong? That he is recruited to be a member of Knives' forces is notable because the enemy has misjudged and misunderstood him. They wanted him to be a priest for Knives' oncoming apocalypse, but he couldn't go through with it because of who he actually is inside. He could never harm innocents, not after being reminded by the very man he was meant to kill that all life is precious.

Much is said about Wolfwood's death scene, and it is definitely one of the most powerful scenes in anime, full stop. Where Legato's death is a victory for the character in one sense, it is ultimately a defeat for him in another. Wolfwood's death comes from a defeat, but it is ultimately a victory for him. As he leans on the cross in an abandoned church, he makes a confession--something he could never do before, spilling everything out for God to hear including things he had nearly forgotten about. He laments everything he has done wrong in his life and what he could have done better, making the scene far more emotional and impactful than you would expect for a space western adventure story. It is at this point he realizes there is always a chance at redemption, a second chance. Despite the absolute misery he has been through and his struggles to do the right thing, he still clings fast to the knowledge that this world is worth saving. We all have value.

"Has everything I've ever done in my life been a mistake?" is still a line that gets me today when I re-watch the series. It is a question neither Legato or Knives could ever utter. Despite his regrets, Wolfwood dies peacefully under the cross, embracing the Living God who forgave him of all his sins.

"Would I be wrong to ask for your forgiveness? I did not want to die this way."

Both Wolfwood's and Legato's deaths destroy Vash. Someone who clung to Rem's ideal that life was precious and everyone could be saved, that the future was always open, was proven wrong. Legato devalued himself to the level of trash and made Vash take him out like he was nothing, turning the gunslinger into a sinner. Wolfwood was his greatest friend, the missing half of his personality, and he couldn't save him from death either. For someone who has the ability to avoid killing as easily as Vash does, someone who is supposed to protect humans with his superhuman skills, to be forced into such a helpless state of sin obliterates his soul.

It is only from understanding the true nature of forgiveness and hope, the reality of sin, and the words of Wolfwood, that he is able to recover from his spiritual death spiral. His naïve humanism wasn't enough to save anyone, least of all himself, sending him into this pit of despair. Legato was right, there will always be those who choose evil willingly. So what is the point of hoping for an Eden that will never come? But it is through his experiences, and those around him, that bring Vash toa new understanding. What he needed was more than Rem's gullible hopes and words: he needed to be complete. Inheriting Wolfwood's cross, Vash was now fully realized and could take on his brother, ending this conflict for good.

Vash would fulfil his promise to Rem. He would take care of Knives.

Much has been said about the final episode of Trigun, so I'll keep it brief. When Vash and Knives meet for the last standoff, they are now the fully realized versions of themselves. Vash has his optimism and hope, but he also has the cross to hold him up, and a drive to do what needs to be done. He must stop Knives from harming anyone ever again. Knives is also complete, fully empty, haggard-looking, and still wearing the same garb as he did hundreds of years ago as if nothing had changed. They are now the perfect ideal form of both Legato and Wolfwood, and the final confrontation is set to prove just who was ultimately right in their view of humanity.

However, the final decision Vash makes at the end of the series is still controversial for a lot of people. Many think the ultimate message is that he didn't learn anything or that doing nothing is morally right. After all, how could he spare Knives after all he has done? But those reasons are not why Vash chose not to kill Knives.

To understand his decision, you have to understand two major things. The first is that Vash used something he never had before to defeat Knives--the cross. He used it to obliterate Knives' ideals for good--you can see it on his face after he has been shot to near death. The second are his final lines in the series. It is his speech to Rem where he thanks her for everything she did to get him here. But he also tells her that he has to move on, and throws his coat, the one he wore to carry her spirit, away. He is not acting under Rem's guidance when he chose to spare Knives, but under his own new understanding of the value of life.

Vash isn't the same person he was at the beginning of the series and the reason he chose to spare his brother is because he now comprehends redemption and forgiveness, forcibly putting his brother's evil to pasture and leaving him utterly annihlated spiritually. Now he has the chance to save his soul, something he couldn't do for Legato, and takes up this cross for himself. It is Vash's first new step in the new world he will create for himself, and the rest of humanity.

"Repeated tragedies, repeated pain, the wishes of man are so strong and yet so frail and weak. To live, to stay alive, who would have known survival was this hard...this painful? I must choose. I must make the choice, in the moment that intertwines life and death. Can I choose to remain a human?"

The series ends with a water well being discovered in the nearby town for a reason. The world is not over, and Armageddon has passed. Now they can build a future, better than the one Rem imagined possible.

Suffice to say, Japan really didn't know how to take this ending. You see, the manga for Trigun hadn't yet ended when the anime aired. The manga had been put on hiatus and had been brought back in a new magazine by the time the anime had been greenlit. This meant that Nightow, the head writer of the anime, and the series director, all more or less had to create a new ending for themselves. What happens in the manga isn't quite the same, though it is good in its own way. It's just not as powerful as the anime, which isn't a fault. Few things are that powerful.

As a consequence, the manga's story goes off in a bit of a different direction, being more in depth in back story and introducing a whole swath of characters that never showed up in the anime. Manga readers were taken aback. The more subdued and grounded, and explicitly Christian, ending of the anime also bewildered Japanese audiences. As a result, while the manga was a huge hit, the anime never grew beyond a cult favorite in its home country. It was only when it went overseas that it became a phenomenon, and achieved its fame.

We've already discussed what was going on with anime at the time. There was a shift happening away from action and adventure towards insular otaku bait. An outright bonkers and foreign concept like Trigun was completely out of their wheelhouse, even with a studio like Madhouse behind it. Nonetheless, time has been kind to it and Trigun is recognized as a classic today all over the world. Its popularity was enough overseas that it even received a movie. They really don't make them like this anymore, if they ever even did beforehand.

For another analysis of what makes Trigun tick, check out this one by SuperversiveSF:

Stepping away from spoilers, I also wanted to mention a few other things about those who made it. Let us first start with the dub cast for the series. 

Trigun is one of those few series actually is the better experience as a dub. Some of the character voices might be a bit wacky for one-off characters, but the casting for Vash, Wolfwood, Meryl, Millie, Legato, and Knives, are far above the Japanese version. Nightow saying the canonical language being spoken in the series being English also probably helps to get what he wants across, too. Nonetheless, there is a reason Johnny Yong Bosch hit the big time here after his first voice-acting role as Vash. He is pitch perfect.

Another party to note is the soundtrack. Composed by Tsuneo Imahori, the music consists of a mixture of hard rock, acoustic ballads, western twang, rockabilly, blues, and even both traditional western and Japanese stylings. You can hear an example of it below. Imahori is my favorite anime composer for a very good reason, and the Trigun soundtrack remains one of the best. Special mention should be made of the electric guitar riff and feedback on every episode title, signifying a distant arrival on some intangible force or revelation sneaking up on you. It is excellent stuff.

But much of the credit has to go to three individuals who really pushed the series forward. Without them, Trigun would not be close to what it is now.

The first is the aforementioned Yasuhiro Nightow for writing the original story, concept, and characters. Trigun put him on the map, and let him to create two more series with just as explicitly Christian themes after this. The first is Gungrave, a story meant to be the opposite of Trigun in showing a descent into sin and despair from a rejection of the Good. The second is Blood Blockade Battlefront, a story about the supernatural crashing into the natural and what can be done to balance the chaos towards peace. Both of these were also hits, proving his talents are quite real.

Next up is the director, Satoshi Nishimura. Nishimura is a lover of action and was quite the fan of the Trigun manga when brought on to direct it as his first series. He butted heads quite fiercely with the head writer, who wanted restraint and asked Nishimura told hold off on Vash shooting his gun for five episodes. It's because of this restraint that allowed Nishimura to really fly off the handle when the action was able to be let loose. It's his direction which balanced both Nightow's intent with the head writer's vision that gives the series the striking image it has today.

Nishimura would go on to direct other anime favorites with Hajime no Ippo and Ushio & Tora as well as involved staff in a lot more projects, including many others you certainly know quite well. I'd list them, but he's been everywhere and done everything. Looking at the amount of things he's worked on, you can tell he knows how to handle action and was the perfect choice for director.

Last, but not least, is the head writer, Yousuke Kuroda. He is a prolific anime screenwriter whose name should be far more well known than it is. It is because of his leadership abilities and focus on story above all else that lead Trigun, a story that didn't yet have an ending, to receive a complete anime adaption that managed to surpass the source material and break out big overseas. He didn't write "anime", he wrote stories for anime, and that's quite a big difference. Though he and Nishimura apparently had a volatile relationship over this struggle of their extremes between action and themes, it ended up helping the series and allowed both their talents to be used to the best of their abilities. They are both well aware of how important Trigun is to a lot of people. 

For examples of Kuroda's work you might know, he has worked on the following anime series as head writer: Gungrave, Excel Saga, Drifters, Hellsing Ultimate, Honey & Clover, Infinite Ryvius, s-CRY-ed, Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Gundam Build Fighters, and My Hero Academia. He was also one of the writers on Tenchi Muyo and Tenchi Universe, as well as the manga. Suffice to say, if you know anime, you know his work.

It is no coincidence that these three talented individuals not only created the Trigun anime, but also many other great things before and after it. You would have to be talented to make this series. Trigun is anime at its peak.

So, in conclusion, that is why this blog exists at all. If you detest anime or hate it, you might not understand any of what was just written. But it is what it is. Without Trigun this blog probably would not exist, and neither would I as a writer. It's a series that deserves more attention than it has gotten, especially from the weeb crowd who cling to far more subversive material from that time period instead.

If you've never seen Trigun, go see it. If you haven't seen Trigun in years, go see it again. If you have no interest in anime . . . well, that's a shame. you are missing out on a fantastic action adventure tale about faith, redemption, and sacrificial love. Consider this the strongest recommendation I will ever make on this blog. Go watch Trigun. There is nothing else like it.

I can't say it'll affect you like it did me, but that's just art. You never know which ones will click the most for some people. But it does highlight a lot of what I intend to do on this blog.

We also stand in the border between the wasteland and the sky, fighting our way through. Sometimes all we need to do is pay attention, to look over shoulders, and we might find that light shining down upon us. Who really knows what might be waiting for us ahead?

That's what makes it so interesting. No matter how many times you stumble you can always get back up. No matter how low you fall you can always see the light shining from behind you. And that is a world worth fighting for.

Stories of light on the edge of despair