Death Note is Kind of Trash

I wasn’t really into anime when I was growing up. I watched localized successes like Sailor MoonPokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and checked out an issue of Shonen Jump once, but in general I was turned off of anime and manga by obsessive weebs. However, in the last few years I’ve been trying to get more cultured and have been checking out some of the big names in anime. One of these big names that I was sure I would like is Death Note. I mean, the whole premise it’s right up my alley: a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it? A cat and mouse game between the holder of the book and the detective hunting him down? A creepy demon monster following the protagonist around? Sign me the hell up. Hell, I was so certain that I was going to enjoy Death Note that I picked up the Blu-Ray set so I could enjoy it all at my leisure. I don’t tend to buy Blu-Rays blindly, but when I do it tends to work out splendidly for me (see: John Wick, The Raid, The Conjuring, etc). It has probably been two years since then and over the course of a few days I finally decided to sit down and watch Death Note in its entirety.

…and it kind of sucks. Like, I kind of want to just give away my Blu-Ray copy now, I disliked it that much.

It’s actually was surprising for me. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Death Note, some people going so far as to say that it’s one of the absolute best animes, so figured it would be a slam-dunk for me. Don’t get me wrong – the first 10ish episodes are quite enthralling as Light learns how to use the Death Note, L tries to discover Kira’s identity, and Light tries (poorly) to cover his tracks. However, it quickly starts to go down hill with only occasional moments of excitement. Hell, my disappointment was so surprising to me that I had to look up other reactions to the series to see if I was totally alone in my assessment. From what I’ve seen, most fans of Death Note will admit that the series drops in quality around episode 25 (some even agreed with me, that around episodes 10-15, the series’ quality definitely begins to decline). Considering that Death Note is a 37 episode-long anime, even if you think it’s good overall it seems like the popular opinion is that ~1/3 of the series is not great. And, if you agree with me that the series drops off quickly, it’s closer to 2/3 of the episodes being pretty shitty. Again, considering this has a good reputation, I feel like I need to explain exactly why I disliked it so much. And, in case it isn’t obvious, spoilers incoming.

First of all, let’s talk about those first 10 episodes that I did like and why they worked well. The premise of Death Note is fascinating – Light Yagami finds a notebook which will kill anyone whose name is written in it. The rules of the Death Note are also quite intricate and restrictive, crafting plenty of tension throughout the narrative (particularly the detail that the user can sell half of their remaining lifetime in order to see their prospective targets’ real names). This set-up naturally causes the viewer to think about what they would do if they had the Death Note and how they would use it. It also helps to make Light interesting because he has a very particular way that he intends to use the note to make a statement as “Kira”, the self-proclaimed god of justice, while also coming up with clever precautions to avoid ever being caught with the book. However, when the detective L enters the picture, the ease with which he is able to quickly narrow down the scope of the investigation is fascinating, largely because of the way it is written. L’s deductions in this early part of the series are based on clear evidence, and it’s easy to see how L could come to the conclusions he does – he’s just noticing details that other people would easily overlook. Furthermore, his hunches and evidence are often confirmed because of mistakes that Light makes. This makes for a thrilling cat-and-mouse game in the early episodes, as L tries to narrow down his list of Kira suspects, while Light desperately tries to cover his tracks and tie up any loose ends.

This tension begins to break around the time when L decides to confirm his suspicions and confront Light in-person. While at first this is interesting, and in order to keep the plot going it was kind of inevitable, the narrative really starts to slow down and become far less interesting at this point. It turns out that Light and L just aren’t very interesting characters in their own right. Their opposed philosophies are interesting to see clash, but when they have to interact with one another we see that there isn’t a lot to either of them. Even worse, their interactions are painfully repetitive – we see the same kind of scenes of L putting Light into a loaded situation, and then having Light debate about how best to respond without putting suspicion on himself, over and over and over. These moments also solidify that Light isn’t nearly as smart as the show wants us to believe. Sure, he’s clever, but waaaay too clever for his own good. Instead of trying to counter L head-on and remain as aloof as possible, if he’d just consistently act naturally and stop trying to thwart the surveillance on him, he wouldn’t be drawing suspicion on himself. Hell, the fact that he has FBI agents killed after they spy on him was just an idiotic move – it makes it obvious that Kira was indeed one of the people being watched, narrowing down the suspect list significantly. They suspected that Kira had access to police records, but why not deflect that suspicion, rather than confirm it? For that matter, why doesn’t Light engineer scenarios to deflect suspicion onto other people? All that Light ever does is thwart L enough that he can’t definitively say that Light is Kira, which just makes him look even more suspicious when it happens over and over again.

The slowing of the tension is bad enough but it’s around this same time when Death Note really starts to go down hill with the introduction of Misa Amane. In theory, the introduction of Misa could have been brilliant – most importantly, she has a second Death Note, which opens up the potential scale of the narrative immensely. Furthermore, she’s a Kira copycat who wants to meet Light, the shinigami Rem is in love with her, and she’s made the shinigami eyes deal so she can see peoples’ real names. Unfortunately, the writers of Death Note haaaaate her and her introduction has very little actual bearing on moving the plot forward. Misa is portrayed as being a complete idiot who is a constant burden and liability for Light. She’s completely devoted to Light, insisting that they should be a couple and does whatever he tells her to, despite the obvious fact that he doesn’t care about her at all. She’s also a professional model, which seems to have been done for little more reason than to make her seem more desirable for Light, to justify how she can be dumb and successful and to have the characters fawn over her. The thing is, the show tells us that Misa is an idiot, but I didn’t always believe that she was. She actually manages to outmanoeuvre Light and the police on occasion, in part because they underestimate her, which made me wonder if we are meant to think that she was actually far more clever than people give her credit for… but no, these moments are few and far between, and whenever they do happen, they are almost immediately followed-up by something that shows that they really do think she’s a complete moron.

I will give the show some credit, Death Note mostly shirks away from the ridiculous levels of fan service which are so common in anime. However, it’s not like you can’t have fan service and well-written female characters at the same time, and in Death Note the female characters are written horrendously. There’s the aforementioned Misa, who is literally treated as an expendable pawn by Light. She spends the entire series unwaveringly devoted to Light, never realizing that he’s manipulating her, even when he cheats on her (instead, she gets jealous and takes out her frustrations on the other woman). It would be one thing if the narrative made it obvious that the way Light treats Misa is awful, kind of like how it clearly disproves of his use of the Death Note. However, it never makes any sort of commentary on their abusive relationship, and the fact that the narrative constantly reinforces that Misa is just a dumb person only good for manipulation is troubling, especially when it also reinforces that Light is brilliant despite the boneheaded mistakes he walks into.

Other than Misa, there are a handful of female characters with any sort of importance to the narrative. First of all is Sayu, Light’s sister. She appears very briefly as a young girl during the first few episodes, but when she suddenly appears grown up later in the series it seems like she might be getting a more prominent role going forward. How exciting! …except, no, you didn’t think that the writers would give a female character an important role, would you? No, they just wanted to remind us she exists and make her intriguing so that way they could have the mafia kidnap her, have her be traumatized to insanity and then be left broken as she disappears from the story for the rest of the series! Holy shit! The other prominent female character is the “other woman” that I mentioned earlier, Kiyomi Takada. She appears early on in the series as a love interest for Light and he actually seems to be legitimately interested in her too, unlike Misa. Later in the series, she returns and becomes Light’s new love interest and closest follower. However, she’s jealous of Light’s relationship with Misa, which causes her to confront Misa and argue about who most deserves Light’s affections (considering that this is probably the only scene in the series involving two female characters talking to one another, that’s a hard Bechdel fail). However, it turns out that Light has been playing Takada hard, because he uses his close relationship with her to get her to kill his enemies and then commit suicide in order to deflect suspicion off himself! That’s… brutal, holy crap. The narrative definitely does not condone this, but the fact that this is just another female character manipulated, abused and then written out is not a great sign. It’s a pattern which, even more than the goth aesthetics and morbid subject matter, makes Death Note feel like it was written by and for teenage edge lords, because it’s the only role which women are able to fit into apparently.

Now, to be fair, there are two female characters in Death Note that I would be remiss to neglect mentioning. One is Rem, a shinigami who loves Misa and who tries to protect her from Light’s Machiavellian scheming. She’s actually pretty interesting, but disappears for a large chunk of the story and is ultimately manipulated into committing murder-suicide by Light in order to protect Misa. Perhaps my favourite character in the whole series though is Naomi Misora, a former FBI agent whose fiance is killed by Kira. Misora is so interesting because she’s just a regular person who makes the obvious deduction that Light’s attempts to cover his tracks are suspicious, causing her to realize that he is likely Kira. I’d argue that the single best episode in the whole series revolves around Light chatting with Misora and desperately trying to figure out her real name so that he can kill her before she reports her knowledge to L. It’s such an intense episode and Misora’s character is just so well-written that when she is finally tricked into committing suicide, it’s heartbreaking. Again, this is yet another female character manipulated and violently written out of the narrative. It would probably be palatable if Misora and Rem were the only female characters treated this way, or if there were other female characters with some importance to the plot who got to play a role in the story, but as it is it’s pretty easy to accuse Death Note of being misogynist (or, at the very least, having poor representation for women).

While the female characters get treated the worst, pretty much every character is wasted in Death Note. When L dies, he gets replaced with Near, who is like a carbon copy L but with even less personality and screen time, and who seems to just know things because it’s more convenient for the writers than showing how he deduced it. He’s also harried by Mello, an angry teenager who wants to prove himself a better detective than Near… which he does by basically becoming a poorly-fleshed-out gangster. Then there’s Mikami, who gets a terrifyingly evil and fascinating introduction which suggests that he could become even more of a dangerous fanatic than Light himself, but the narrative completely loses interest in exploring his character almost immediately. Most crucially, I didn’t even find Light or L particularly compelling. Like I said earlier, their philosophies are far more interesting than the characters’ actual personalities, which never really change substantially unless the writers force them to. Hell, I was calling bullshit when Light loses his memories of the Death Note and suddenly is fighting to stop Kira – he simply lost his memory of the book, are you telling me that he no longer agrees with his own philosophies and thinks that Kira is doing good? That was a bit of narrative convenience which did not make sense and was clearly just done to force Light and L to work together (again, revealing how little personality the pair have together for several episodes).

On a similar vein, there is so much wasted narrative potential in Death Note. It would have been so easy to deflect the perception of misogyny in the series with some more clever writing. For example, take Misa Amane: the narrative really runs out of things for Misa to do about 20 episodes in, meaning that she spends about half of the series doing absolutely nothing, because they wouldn’t just let her character grow or change any. Would it have been so bad for her to realize that Light was manipulating her and then throw his plans into disarray? It would have been way more engaging than having Light go head-to-head with Near, which just comes across as a boring retread of his relationship with L. Or what about Misa’s shinigami eyes? She ends up taking the deal twice, quartering her total lifespan. You’d think that this would have some sort of big narrative consequence, like suddenly dying at an inopportune moment when Light really needs her… but, nope, she makes the deal and it literally never comes up again. Hell, the elaborate uses of the Death Note aren’t really explored all that much. Early on we get some clever ways to use the Death Note, such as when Light tricks Raye Penber into killing himself and the FBI agents, or when he kills criminals every hour for 24 hours to send a message to L. However, the series very quickly moves away from exploring the Death Note, shunting it to the background in favour of trying to deduce Kira’s identity while we’re told killings are continuing. Perhaps the most clever idea here is that Light plants fake rules in the Death Note to confuse investigators and throw them off his scent, but this also just means that the Death Note itself goes missing for several episodes while the body count rises uneventfully. Even later on when Light takes on an even more extreme disciple, Teru Mikami, he is only concerned with writing as many names as possible, rather than dealing out sadistic punishments for them.

Hell, even ignoring all the wasted narrative potential, the narrative we get itself is just underwhelming. After those first ten episodes, here are maybe three or four interesting plot points, stretched thin between a gulf of uninteresting filler plot. These moments are: the way that Light resumes his role as Kira after wiping his memory of the Death Note, L’s death, the death of Light’s father, and Light’s brutal betrayal of Kiyomi Takada. Again, that’s four interesting moments spread out over the course of the last 27 episodes of the series, which is just way too much filler in-between. Hell, I didn’t even care for the ending all that much either. By the ending, Light’s convoluted plans have just gotten ridiculous, so it might have been fitting for him to be brought down by something deceptively simple, or to assume he had control of the situation and implicate himself. I mean, he practically announces that he’s Kira to the police when he believes that Mikami is on the other side of the door, so if the police had intercepted Mikami prior to this moment and even replaced him with an imposter, Light would have screwed himself over due to his arrogance. Instead, Light is foiled because it turns out that his new rival, Near, is even more of a convoluted thinker. While it is kind of nice to see Light visibly devolve into a whining brat at the end, the way that they brought it about was just lazy, in my opinion. By ending it this way the writers just confirm that they really do believe that Light is as smart as he thinks he is, but Near’s just smarter, so he’s the only one who could actually bring down Kira. Considering that Naomi Misora nearly had him dead-to-rights only a few episodes in, this clearly should not have been the conclusion we’re meant to draw from the narrative.

This also brings me to a weird aspect of the story. Light declares early in the series that he’s going to use the Death Note to bring justice to the world and establish himself as its new god. It’s a dark goal, but you could see it for a chaotic good character. However, he then quickly uses it to kill people who oppose him, including a criminal who he thought was L and the FBI agents who are observing him, revealing that he is an egotistical hypocrite who believes he’s solely qualified to decide what is just. As a result, you’d think that L and the police would then be the moral foil to this idea, pitting the law against Kira’s sense of justice. However, maybe I just don’t know Japanese law, but L uses some extremely shady, extra-judicial means to try to prove his case. First, he puts several cameras and microphones all through the Yagami house, including the bedrooms (this also results in spying on Light’s mother and little sister). Later he arrests Misa, blindfolds her and then isolates her so that she can’t have access to anyone (including a lawyer) for more than a month, effectively torturing her in order to get a confession. He does the same with Light, although at least in Light’s case he volunteered to be put through this torture first, so… that makes it okay, I guess? (Hell, the fact that he’s so desperate to prove his innocence that he’s willing to be put through torture is a pretty big red flag that Light has something to hide.) Oh, and then when they have absolutely nothing to go on, L bluffs that he’s going to execute Light and Misa, then allows Light’s father to kidnap them both and then threaten to commit murder-suicide in a last desperate bid to get a confession! HOLY SHIT!!! Yeah… so, again, I don’t know Japanese law, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of that is straight-up illegal, which goes against the whole concept of a moral and ethical high ground that the police have in this universe. Instead, it just turns into Kira’s justice versus L’s nebulous justice, with the police stuck working with the one who claims to be on their side.

So, as you can see, I really did not like Death Note. It’s a great premise which is squandered on poor execution, and I don’t understand how people can be so forgiving of it. I mean, just take a look at Code Geass: it’s clearly inspired by Death Note, taking a similar premise, structure and tone, but it follows-through on the narrative potential far better. This is primarily because the writing and characters are so much stronger… so I guess what I’m saying is that you should watch Code Geass instead because Death Note is kind of trash.

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Game of Thrones, Miguel Sapochnik and the Devolution of Battle Strategy

Last week Game of Thrones fans were finally treated to the battle which the series had been building towards since the very first episode, the biggest battle put to film, the most important battle in Westerosi history: “The Long Night”… and it was, um, something. The battle itself is undeniably a visual spectacle, with incredibly tense moments as our heroes get put in danger and an overwhelmingly bleak tone as all of their efforts to stop the horde of the dead are met with failure after failure. However, if you give the episode any sort of critical thought, the whole facade begins to quickly crumble, assuming that you could even see what was happening (for my part, I watched it on a 10″ tablet with max brightness and could see well enough, but can still acknowledge that the lighting was too dark and lacked necessary contrast to be able to tell what’s going on). The way that this battle was directed and written just makes absolutely no sense from the characters’ perspectives and was obviously designed solely to elicit the reactions that the showrunners wanted at any particular moment. This kind of writing wouldn’t be an issue if it was done well, in such a way that you won’t notice and can justify it easily. “The Long Night” is not that kind of episode, unfortunately, and it really got me thinking about how Game of Thrones‘ battle sequences have nosedived since Season 6.

There are a couple elements which are key to the drop in quality of the writing and direction of Game of Thrones‘ battle sequences. First, and most obviously, the show caught up to and overtook the books in Season 5, meaning that showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have been having to make up the rest of the story themselves ever since. Secondly, the directing duties on the show’s big battles have been passed on from Neil Marshall, who helmed “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”, to Miguel Sapochnik, who helmed “Hardhome”, “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Long Night” (among other, smaller episodes).

With this in mind, I want to take a look back at Sapochnik’s battles, analyze the writing, the strategies of the characters and then compare them to Marshall’s battles. Oh, and I really shouldn’t have to specify this, but in case you’ve gotten this far without realizing, this article is going to contain SPOILERS!

Hardhome
I’m actually going to start this article off on a positive note by opening with “Hardhome”, the episode which put Sapochnik’s name on the map and probably earned him the job of directing all of the big battles on Game of Thrones going forward. Season 5 of Game of Thrones was a dreary slog, with such highlights as Dany being ineffectual in Meereen, Sansa’s storyline of “who’s going to try to rape her this season!!!” coming to a satisfying conclusion with her getting brutally raped by Ramsay Snow*, and the Dornish subplot that everyone loves! Then, out of nowhere, comes “Hardhome”, which was so good that it’s straight-up my favourite episode of the show. The surprise factor was probably the biggest thing about it – traditionally, Game of Thrones saved its big moments for the ninth episode of the season, and this was only the eighth episode. Plus, the episode was already going on its way for about 30 minutes before it cuts to Jon, Tormund and Edd all taking a trip to Hardhome to try to rescue the tens of thousands of wildlings camped there.

Sapochnik and the writers then spend the 10 minutes before the battle very wisely. For one thing, they introduce us to some great new characters. Most notable is Karsi, a fierce wildling woman who makes a massive impact considering she only has a few scenes in the episode. We also meet a Thenn called Loboda who, despite being a meathead, is a pretty fun character and effective for what they’re going for. Sapochnik also using establishing shots to subtly show off where the action will be taking place – a confined area just off the beach with a cliff to the side, a wall closing off the rest of Hardhome and a hut where Jon and company debate with the wildlings. I also like that, in this set-up, Jon Snow is set-up as a leader who really knows what must be done – the army of the dead are coming and the enmity between the Night’s Watch and wildlings has to be set aside or they will all die. Jon’s taking a great personal risk coming to Hardhome, not only because the wildlings could just kill him, but also because he’s disenfranchising the Night’s Watch back home. After 10 minutes of debate, Jon manages to convince 5000 of the wildlings to come with him, because he knows that the army of the dead is the more important issue than the squabbling of the Nights Watch and the free folk. However, there are still tens of thousands of wildlings who don’t trust him and who refuse to leave. It’s a strained situation, but it seems like everything it working out about as well as can be expected.

…and then there’s a thunder in the distance and things suddenly go to shit. No one was expecting a battle, not the wildlings or the Night’s Watch, so the fact that everyone is caught off guard and overwhelmed is very much justified. Jon and the other fighters are scrambling to mount any sort of defence, keeping them from breaking through the ramshackle walls while the Night’s Watch evacuates the 5000 wildlings by boat. The battle sequence is visceral and chaotic, but thanks to the establishing shots we got earlier and a very cool long-take in the middle of the battle, it’s easy to tell where everything is happening during the fighting. Then there’s just tons of cool moments, from the horror tone of the wight attacks, to Wun Wun tearing through wights with his bare hands. Then there are two of my favourite moments in the whole series: the fight between Jon and a White Walker (which ends with the Walker looking legitimately surprised) and Jon and the Night King staring each other down as the overwhelming threat of the dead finally becomes clear.

Tactically, the battle makes a lot of sense. The defenders were caught off-guard and have to scramble to mount any sort of defence. Jon’s objectives during the battle also make sense – buy time for the wildlings to retreat to the boats and secure the dragonglass since it’s the only weapon they know of that can defeat White Walkers. The White Walkers’ battleplan seems to make sense as well – their only real objective is to kill as many wildlings as possible in order to bolster their ranks, and considering that they have gotten probably 50,000-80,000 wildlings by the end of the massacre, they’ve clearly achieved their goal. In addition, the White Walkers keep themselves on cliffs high above the battle where they can observe and be safe from any danger and, when the defenders put up more resistance than expected, they send an army of wights off the cliff to outflank and overwhelm the remaining living.

All-in-all, Hardhome’s a great battle. Compared to Neil Marshall’s battle sequences, it has a lot more visual flair. However, it balances spectacle with good writing, making for a battle sequence that is thrilling to watch without having to turn your brain off. Some of this comes down to the fact that it breaks the series’ usual conventions where, instead of having some last-minute outside force come and save the heroes from certain death, instead the whole battle is a desperate and unexpected retreat, meaning that tactical acumen gets a bit of a free pass (spoiler alert: even then, the characters still make better judgments than they do in Sapochnik’s next two battles). Hardhome is especially impressive when you remember that it came during the first truly dreary season of the show as well, providing the one stand-out episode of season 5.

Battle of the Bastards
Then we come to Sapochnik’s sophomore battle sequence, “Battle of the Bastards”. Considering how good “Hardhome” was, I was expecting the best battle in the entire series up to this point. However, even the first time I saw this episode and people were raving about how it was the best episode of television ever, something rang truly hollow and disappointing about it. It quickly became evident than, unlike the previous battles on Game of Thrones, “Battle of the Bastards” prioritizes spectacle over sensible character actions, victory is won through sheer luck and contrivance rather than strategy and heroism, and the show’s attempts to make us think that characters could die at any time are cast aside completely. The writing also takes a nosedive, setting plot beats that the showrunners think will be particularly effective, but failing to string them together in a way that is satisfying or makes sense. Season 6 was, overall, an improvement on season 5, but “Battle of the Bastards” was the moment where it became obvious that this show had completely changed (a fact that many others would not recognize until the idiocy of season 7, but the seeds of episodes such as “Beyond the Wall” were very much planted here).

Season 6 builds up the coming conflict between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton, having Jon try (with little success) to gather bannermen to take back Winterfell for the Starks. Irritatingly, he ignores good counsel from Sansa for basically no good reason other than to create conflict between the two of them. “Know your enemy” is just a sound tactical foundation and surely Jon is not stupid enough to believe he would learn nothing from Sansa. It’s literally just there to create conflict, but it’s unearned and it makes the series’ hero suddenly seem like a total idiot. I really want to reiterate this, because people seem to have forgotten such a simple fact: Jon was not stupid before Season 6, nor was he a bad commander – hell, in Neil Marshall’s second battle for Game of Thrones, “The Watchers on the Wall”, Jon’s intelligence gathering, heroic escape from the wildlings and assumption of command are instrumental to the Night Watch’s victory against overwhelming odds. He is also the only character smart enough to realize the bigger picture, that the politics of Westeros are unimportant and are only going to cause the army of the dead to kill everyone when winter comes. Jon Snow is only stupid when the writers need him to be – in this case, to make Sansa look smarter, rather than, oh I don’t know, making Sansa actually do something smart.

Anyway, so Jon at least justifies why they’re staging the attack now, despite being badly outnumbered: with winter rapidly approaching and their supplies dwindling, their window of opportunity is shrinking and they don’t expect to get any more reinforcements soon. So, while the odds aren’t great, this is their one best shot, which is a fair enough explanation (see, show writers, it’s that simple!). He does seem to have some sort of strategy to draw out Ramsay’s forces and limit their advantages, but we don’t really see much of it, nor does it really matter in the end regardless.

The next morning, the battlelines are drawn and they’re set up fairly well, initially – Sapochnik shows off the wide-open battlefield and the sizes of the forces. He also uses a traditional film trick here which shows up in similar battle sequences, where each side in the battle is oriented to face one side of the camera (Jon’s forces facing right, Ramsay’s facing left, as seen in the image above). This is a technique used in battle sequences such as The Two Towers to help keep the viewer aware of what side they’re seeing at any given moment and to keep the action understandable, no matter how chaotic it gets.

However, things start to break when Ramsay brings out Rickon Stark and forces him to run across the battlefield to escape his arrows. Look… I get that Rickon’s in a panic, he’s going to try to run as fast as he can and he’s not going to think to dodge the arrows coming at him. And I get that Jon is going to try to save his brother… but holy shit, no one tries to yell at him to stop? They all just stand there, mouths agape, no one tries to help? It gets even worse though: Rickon gets shot to death and then instead of going back to his forces, Jon fucking charges at Ramsay single-handedly. Inexplicably, he survives multiple volleys of arrows landing all around him and a cavalry charge completely alone. This is just unforgivably stupid. It makes Jon look like a goddamn idiot who single-handedly screwed up the entire plan and who gets tons of his own men killed because of it. Like I said – I can understand him getting emotional about saving his brother and screwing up the plan because of that. If that was the only dumb part about this episode, it would irritate me, but it would be something I could overlook… but no, we’re just getting started…

The big, spectacular moment of the battle comes when the cavalry from both sides meet and Jon is caught in between them in a brutal, visceral and admittedly insanely well-crafted long-take that shows off the insane chaos of the battle. It’s clearly ridiculous that Jon Snow makes it out of all of this completely unscathed due to pure luck (and impregnable plot armour), but that’s so obvious that I’m not going to nitpick about it too much. Then we have Ramsay firing arrows at his own troops on the off-chance he hits one of Jon’s men, a move which shows off the character’s ruthlessness, but also should have caused his men to rebel against him. It’s not like the Bolton men are staunchly loyal to Ramsay, and even if they are, are they really going to be fine with killing their own friends and allies for no good reason?

In my opinion, the point where this battle truly goes off the rails and becomes stupid is when a mountain of bodies just appears out of nowhere and causes Jon and all of his forces to become encircled. Sure, Sapochnik tries to set up that there are mounds of bodies starting to pile up during the fighting but… why? Are people just scrambling to be king of the hill on writhing and screaming terrain? And how the hell are you going to justify that these enormous piles of bodies just so happen to form a crescent shape which corners Jon’s entire army when a unit of Bolton men with shields suddenly and miraculously encircles them without contest? It’s just so stupid and the writers’ intention is transparent – we need Jon and his men to look like they’re all going to die! Just make it happen, dammit!

By this point, the battle has well and truly become a clusterfuck. After several minutes of fighting, the wildlings just show up and get surrounded by a shield wall that came out of nowhere. We don’t even ever find out if Davos and his men were caught up in this – at one point we see them rushing into the battle, but were they caught inside the shield wall? Who knows! If not, why didn’t they try to help break Jon’s men out? Who knows! Also, the “sides” camera trick has been well-and-truly abandoned by the time the shield wall shows up and it becomes hard to tell which side of the battle anyone is even on now. Hell, we don’t know which direction this mountain of bodies is in for several minutes.

But then, the tide turns in the manner basically everyone knew was going to happen – Littlefinger shows up with the knights of the Vale and saves the day. Despite being obvious to anyone who had been watching the show, this “twist” was just plain stupid writing, in my opinion, mainly because Sansa withheld the information of their arrival from Jon for no other reason than to build dramatic tension. Seriously, Sophie Turner confirmed as much herself.

Emotionally the payoff relies on Sansa withholding critical information purely to get a smirk when her plan (???) pays off and it’s like the writers started from that moment and wrote backwards to get there.https://t.co/RzyFhcrtGC
— Dan Olson (@FoldableHuman) May 3, 2019

Again, this is just the writers making Jon look like an idiot purely to make Sansa look smart, without bothering to make her do something that was actually intelligent. Instead, we get a scene that makes her look like she’s making a very petty power play that results in the deaths of hundreds of people for little more reason than to stoke her ego. She really couldn’t let Jon know that there were reinforcements coming that would change their entire battle plan?

Through all of this, Ramsay has actually been a pretty smart battle commander (firing on his own men aside). He figured out Jon’s weak point and lured him into a trap, then encircled his forces and nearly killed them all. However, when the knights of the Vale show up, he knows that he’s beaten and makes the smart call to retreat into Winterfell. Jon had said as much earlier, if Ramsay was smart he would have just holed up in Winterfell to begin with, but he wanted to toy with Jon and made the critical error. Still, based on Jon’s existing forces, he would have won the battle if not for help from an unexpected quarter and a whole lot of pure luck on Jon’s side. It’s pretty bad when you write your villain as being the only one using any sort of tactics, the one who deserves to win the battle, and yet they still lose regardless. Personally, I think it would have been way more interesting to have Ramsay’s bannermen turn on him. This was set-up earlier in the episode when Ramsay refuses to duel Jon and Jon says that he wouldn’t stick his neck out for his men, and when Ramsay orders his men to fire at his own troops. It also would have called back to a really cool sequence from A Dance With Dragons where Stark-loyal bannermen are turning on Ramsay within the walls of Winterfell. Hell, we can even have Sansa be the one coordinating with them if we want to have her do something truly clever without having to knock someone else down a peg to make her look good. All-in-all, “The Battle of the Bastards” is such a wasted opportunity and is emblematic of the way that Game of Thrones‘ writing quality has nosedived. It only really cares about spectacle and “big moments” and sloppily moves between these with poor justification for it. The fact that it turns the heroes into morons for plot convenience is just the icing on the cake.

The Long Night
Miguel Sapochnik’s latest battle came just last week with the much-anticipated “The Long Night”, one of the longest and most epic battles ever put to film. However, the reaction has been much more negative than I was expecting, being the second-lowest scoring Game of Thrones episode on Rotten Tomatoes and inspiring numerous critical thought-pieces on everything from the poor lighting to the nonsensical battle plans… oh wait, that’s what this is, isn’t it? Seriously though, all of the critiques of Jon and Dany’s battle plans are totally valid, because they really, really suck. I’ll give some credit where it’s due – unlike “Battle of the Bastards”, I actually like this episode. It is truly epic, visually stunning and there is some major tension throughout about who will die and whether any of our heroes will make it out by the end. However, all of this is undermined by the fact that I just can’t ignore how unjustifiably bad the army of the living’s defensive strategy is. If you can, then sure, you’ll probably love this episode whole-heartedly. I just can’t get past it though because, once again, it’s very clearly done to artificially maximize the drama while making our heroes look completely incompetent.

First of all, the entire plan is flawed from the beginning. Sure, they know that they need to kill the Night King in order to defeat the entire enemy force in one blow, that’s a solid objective. Hinging the entire plan on luring him to Bran is… questionable. For all they know, the Night King might not even show up, or he might just send a horde of undead to kill Bran indirectly. Still, I won’t nitpick this too much either, because in the grand scheme of things it’s not that important to the episode’s issues. What rackles me is that they don’t seem to have any sort of idea about the enemy that they’re going to be fighting. Are you trying to convince me that Jon, Dany and whoever else came up with this defensive “strategy” didn’t gather all the people with experience fighting wights and White Walkers, or read history books about fighting them before coming up with their defensive strategy? They have Tyrion on location, a man who led the defence of King’s Landing and won through clever tactics, are you telling me that they’re not going to leverage his talents and figure out the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, or the vulnerabilities they might exploit? I actually thought that the whole “bad things are going to happen in the crypt” foreshadowing was going to be a misdirect because… c’mon guys, Jon isn’t about to forget the time he saw the Night King resurrect tens of thousands of people right in front of him. Are you seriously telling me that no one, no one thought that maybe the crypts would become a problem if the bodies inside weren’t burned or removed? Apparently not, because the writers wanted that dramatic moment, therefore everyone has to be stupid… and that’s just the dumb shit in the planning phase.

As for the battle itself, Jon and Dany line up their forces… outside the walls… in front of a spiked trench with a single choke point to retreat to… with catapults set up outside of Winterfell and basically no one manning the walls. Bloody hell… As if that wasn’t dumb enough, the Dothraki are then sent to charge into the darkness with the goal of… uhh… winning the battle single-handedly? Dothraki are shock-and-awe light cavalry, they’re obviously going to be ineffective against a literal wall of dead who give no thought to their own self-preservation. This becomes even funnier when you realize that Melisandre showed up unexpectedly and lit all their weapons on fire moments before their charge, meaning that the original plan was apparently to charge in the dark with no way of seeing what was going on and with weapons that would be ineffective against their foe! Predictably, they nearly all get wiped out in moments during an admittedly really eerie shot as the rest of the army of the living sees their fire lights burning out one by one. The scene continues the series’ questionable portrayal of non-white races in how casually it dispatches the Dothraki, but hey the writers got their big, epic spectacle so I bet they’re happy about killing off a race of people uneventfully.

Then when the dead come for the rest of Jon and Dany’s forces, they are predictably overwhelmed and need to fall back into Winterfell. This shows off exactly why being outside of the walls of the castle in the first place was stupid – they’re vastly outnumbered and can barely see their foe, why not leverage their advantages and fight from a position of strength? That’s before you take the trench into account, which is designed in such a way that the defenders are forced through one narrow choke point to retreat. Not only does this mean that the defenders could gore themselves if they are pushed back, but it also necessitates the Unsullied to be nearly wiped out in order to allow as many troops as possible to escape. Again, would they not have been better served holding a narrow choke point where they could maximize damage instead of being overwhelmed and wiped out? Apparently not, because the writers needed a dramatic last stand for them!

Anyway, the dragons then engage in the battle and, predictably, give the defenders a small reprieve with the major damage they can inflict on the dead (although it is a drop in the bucket compared to the size of their entire force). The dragons could have been the key to the defence, but the Night King actually makes a pretty smart move by summoning a blizzard to severely limit their visibility and neutralize their effectiveness. I’ll also give Jon and Dany some credit here – they couldn’t really foresee this happening and so I can’t blame them for not having a plan to counter it. However, relying on Drogon to light the trench was probably not the best idea, but luckily Melisandre manages to set it ablaze and buy the defenders another short reprieve. And what do they do during this reprieve? Fuck all, basically. Apparently no one was manning the walls until the wights start throwing themselves at the flaming trench to create bridges of corpses across it. This one doesn’t even make sense to me… like, why? Did the writers think it was more dramatic to have no one on the walls, as if we’d think the battle was over and won? Why are they not just there shooting at the dead regardless? Even then, when the dead start swarming up the sides of the walls, there are absolutely no defences to stop them – no rocks, no burning oil, nothing. This is especially egregious when you go back to Neil Marshall’s previous battles, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Walls”, which have the defenders explicitly dropping rocks and explosives down on the attackers to keep them from getting up, because that’s just smart.

At this point, the battle starts turning into a clusterfuck of chaos. For one thing, the geography of Winterfell is very unclear. I don’t know if Sapochnik thought that we were well aware of the layout of Winterfell after several seasons here, but… fuck man, I could barely keep track of the characters when I started watching this show, like hell I know the actual layout of Winterfell. At one point, we have a dragon smashing through a courtyard, while cutting back and forth to Sam, Brienne and Jaime who are all surrounded by wights and fighting in… another courtyard, I guess? The proximity of these two areas is not clear at all.

Furthermore, the editing does not help matters any. Characters will be surrounded and overwhelmed when we last see them, disappear for what seems like ages, and then when they reappear, somehow they’re still fighting? At the rate that we see the wights flooding into Winterfell, the whole castle should be swamped with dead very quickly, but there’s still plenty of time for Arya to get into a stealth sequence inside of the keep that lasts several very quiet minutes. And, as much as I love him, how the hell does Davos survive this battle? At one point we see him on the wall by Arya, who is getting swarmed by wights and only escapes because she’s rolling high on her acrobatics and stealth checks. Then, he disappears until the very end of the battle when he pops out and basically says “hey, I’m alive still and was still on the wall the whole time!” This swarming also makes the whole plan with Bran even more questionable, as Theon and the Ironborn should have been quickly overwhelmed trying to defend Bran from the horde of undead that bear down on them.

After getting knocked off his dragon, the Night King nearly seals the deal by resurrecting all the dead from the battle, surrounding Jon before he can deal a killing blow, overwhelming the already-overwhelmed defenders and unleashing chaos in the crypts. It’s clearly another effective move by the Night King, and Jon only makes it out when Dany arrives on Drogon and burns a path for him. Then, because the writers need Daenerys off of her dragon for a dramatic finale, they cause her and Drogon to stand around like utter idiots on the ground so that dozens of wights can swarm the dragon, knocking her off and forcing Jorah Mormont to come to her rescue. This is another moment that’s just so obviously contrived to get the characters into a position that the writers want them in, since it makes Dany look like a total moron for forgetting that there’s still an army of the undead right behind her. Bloody hell, Game of Thrones

And then we get to the ending. There’s another tense sequence as we see all the characters getting overwhelmed and Jon struggles to try to get into the Godswood to rescue Bran, a zombie dragon blocking his path and preventing him from doing so (it sure would have been nice to know if the Godswood was just on the otherwise of that dragon though, that would have make the scene even more tense). The Night King, all of the White Walkers and hundreds of wights pile into the Godswood, kill Theon and the Ironborn and then the Night King moves to kill Bran personally. In contrast to everything else he’s done so far, this was just dumb on the Night King’s part to expose himself and proves to be the critical error… however, the manner in which it happens is just baffling. Literally out of nowhere, Arya apparently runs through the horde of the undead without any of the wights or White Walkers noticing and then jumps at the Night King to stab him! He catches her, but she does a fancy trick with her Valyrian steel dagger and stabs him to death, killing him and instantly killing all of the White Walkers and wights in one blow… Wow, the dues ex machina weakness of the White Walkers was bad enough, but since that was established in season 7, I won’t belabour it here. Really though, there is no justifiable reason for how Arya could get through that crowd unnoticed and attack the Night King. I’ve seen people saying that she was hiding in the tree above, but if you watch the episode again, that’s clearly not the case. They don’t show us how she does it, we just see the wind past a White Walker’s head, heavily implying that she literally just ran and went for it and, once again, bails our heroes out through sheer dumb luck. It’s a really disappointing end for a threat that the show has been hyping up since literally the first minute of the first episode, and when the show has been hammering home to us that the politicking and squabbling has never actually mattered compared to the threat posed by the dead. Once again, the defenders’ plan was so bad that I was actually hoping that the showrunners would have the balls to just let the dead win and spend the last three episodes with Cersei struggling to stay alive against the Night King.

As for Arya being the one who got the killing blow… well, I think it was a really badass moment, but the more I think about it, the more unsatisfying it is to me. For one thing, it makes the whole Jon vs Night King set-up that the show has been pushing since season 5 kind of pointless. Sure, there was some minor set-up for Arya to do it – she performed her knife trick on Brienne in season 7 and Melisandre mentions a prophecy that Arya will close “blue eyes” (a prophecy that was retconned afterwards to fit this episode, by the way). However, this is basically nothing compared to the seasons of prophecy about Azor Ahai, the legendary warrior who will defeat the darkness and who, based on the criteria for the prophecy, really could only be Jon Snow or Daenerys. I guess the show just decided to drop the whole prophecy it had been building towards for several seasons? It’s not like Game of Thrones is a series where prophecy doesn’t come true either, especially not prophecies from R’hllor the Lord of Light. Sure, Melisandre may get the details wrong, such as when she believed that Stannis was Azor Ahai reborn, but a whole prophecy is never wrong like that. Personally, I think that they just should have gone with the obvious choice and have Jon kill the Night King. It has been his struggle for several seasons now and it’s only obvious because it has been set-up to happen. It just feels like a more satisfying payoff to me than having Arya kill him, considering that there have been basically no stakes built up between the two. It would be like having Jon kill Cersei in the big finale – he barely even knows her, why make him be the one to do it? Honestly, I would have much preferred Arya to get the killing blow on Cersei rather than the Night King. That would have been much more satisfying and deserved, but considering that they had her kill the Night King, I doubt that we’re going to see that happen now.

As you can see, “The Long Night” is a tactical mess which continues to show off the series’ emphasis on spectacle over sense that it had gained since season 6. Going back to Neil Marshall’s battles, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”, it’s striking to see the difference. Sure, Marshall doesn’t inject quite as much visual flair into his battles as Sapochnik, but they do a much better job of conveying the action to the viewer in a coherent manner, both battles are won by the heroes for outsmarting the opposing side rather than by dumb luck, and they still manage to work in an impressive amount of spectacle and character moments. There’s still one Miguel Sapochnik battle to come on Game of Thrones, but considering what we’ve gotten these past two seasons, I’m not holding out much hope that it will be any better than what’s come before.

*I’m being sarcastic of course, but I know someone will take this seriously so I need to specify that. The first 5 seasons of Game of Thrones completely wasted Sansa to an infuriating degree.

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Pokemon Sword & Shield: 10 Speculations Based on the Trailer

Welcome back! As promised, I have a number of speculations based on the announcement trailer for Pokemon Sword and Shield. With that in mind, if you didn’t read my hype piece or watch the reveal trailer, I would definitely recommend doing so before going forward. Got that? Okay, let’s put on our tinfoil hats and dive in!

(Update: I have also made a video companion to this article with some of the more interesting theories. You can check it out below!)

10) Runes and Nazca Lines

Let’s get the obvious speculation out of the way now, because this is clearly the most tantalizing detail that Game Freak has put into the trailer. In the town with the Grass-type gym, you can see a number of rocks with runes on them, a Stonehenge-like rock structure and a huge mural carved into the countryside which looks similar to real-life Nazca Lines. So what does this all mean? Well the runes remind me of the Unown from Gen 2, but I doubt that they’re a direct link with a Pokemon like they were back then. More likely to me is that the runes are simply describing the events of the Nazca Lines that we see. The environmental art here seems to depict a giant dragon-like creature breathing fire or lightning. There really isn’t a lot to go off of about what this Pokemon may be like, other than it’s large, bipedal and spiky. The art also depicts people and cattle around this Pokemon’s feet, but whether they are worshipping the creature or being killed by it is ambiguous (the fact that there is a person lying upside down to the far left of the mural has me thinking that it’s likely that this ancient Pokemon was attacking people though).

(Edit: Fiore1300 from Discord has let me know that the Nazca lines as I called them here are called “Hill Figures” in Britain. That doesn’t change the implications or the theory too much, but it’s worth updating, thanks Fiore1300!)

It’s worth taking into account the popular legends of Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines when analyzing the runes, Stonehenge-like structures and Nazca Lines in this trailer. In particular, these structures are commonly associated with aliens contacting ancient humanity in pseudo-science circles. This isn’t an unprecedented idea for Pokemon either, as ever since the very first generation there have been several Pokemon which are confirmed to be aliens and others which come from other dimensions. So what could this mean for the game? Well, if this is related to the game’s mascot legendary, then perhaps they will be summoned from space by the villains for the game’s final confrontation, similar to Deoxys in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire or the emergence of Necrozma in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. This seems most likely to me – details like this have pointed towards legendary Pokemon in basically every generation, so the idea that this won’t actually lead somewhere is incredibly unlikely.

9) The Themes of the Mascot Legendaries

Pokemon games always release with paired games, but I think pretty much everyone was caught off-guard by how unconventional Sword and Shield were. However, if history is anything to go by, then the titles of these games are going to be a hint at what we can expect out of the games. Since Gen 5, the titles of the games have always tied directly into the mascot legendaries and their themes in some manner – Black and White referred to the dragons Zekrom and Reshiram and their opposed ideals, X and Y were reflected in the names and designs of Xerneas and Yveltal, and Sun and Moon reflected the designs and aesthetic for Solgaleo and Lunala. Therefore, it stands to reason that Sword and Shield is going to describe something about the design and possibly themes of the mascot legendaries for this game. The most obvious speculation is that the Sword legendary will be hyper-offensive, whereas the Shield legendary will be incredibly bulky, which would be quite interesting to see. I think it’s also likely that they will both reflect knighthood in some manner, since they are often associated with swords and shields (obviously).

The shared wolf’s head in the title design also makes me curious about whether it’s meant to be a hint about the legendaries’ designs, especially considering how out of place the head is on that shield. Personally I’m thinking it’s unlikely that we’d get a hint that obvious, but it is possible that this could signify that the mascot legendaries are a branching evolution like Lunala and Solgaleo were in Gen 7. Also, if the wolf’s head is a hint about the mascot legendaries, then it is inconsistent with the dragon-like beast in the Nazca Lines, meaning that that might be another legendary Pokemon in the game. Perhaps the mascot legendaries fought back against the dragon-like Pokemon and kept it at bay? That would be consistent with the idea of knighthood which is inherent in their themes.

8) Could Beauty Contests Be Making a Return?

Okay, I’ll admit that this is easily the most crackpot theory I’ve got here, but I find it incredibly intriguing. So, as we know, professionally-made trailers are always put together very deliberately. Therefore, I find it interesting how brazenly Game Freak put the above advertisement on display in the trailer. At first I just assumed that it was a bit of background decoration to make the world look more interesting, and it’s definitely possible that that is all that this is meant to signify. However, if it was put in there as a hint, I decided to check out what each of the berries in the poster was for. I see a Cheri, Pecha, Wepear, Lum, Aspear and Chople berries for sure in that image, but there are also a couple curious details. For one thing, that pointy, red berry appears to be a Nomel berry, but those are usually coloured yellow, not red. Perhaps this is a new berry which is going to be added in the game? There is also a yellow, leafy berry which appears in the background of the image which appears to be a Pinap berry, which is also interesting because this berry has been mainly used recently in the Let’s Go games and Pokemon Go in order to make Pokemon drop more candies and level up or evolve your Pokemon faster. However, Pinap berries were originally introduced to be used in the creation of Pokeblocks/Poffins, which were essential for the Pokemon Contests minigame in Gen 3 and 4. Also contributing to this is that the Wepear and Nomel berries which appear in the poster were also used exclusively for Pokeblocks and Poffins. The product that they’re advertising also appears to be some sort of Pokeblock treat, which makes me wonder if perhaps this is a signifier that Pokemon Contests are going to be making their return in Pokemon Sword and Shield. Again, I could be looking into this waaaay too deeply, but I really have to wonder why Game Freak would put such a conspicuously Contest-related poster into this trailer if not to hint at something.

7) Could the Galar Region Be Near Kalos?

This bit of speculation is based on a few details within the trailer and the Galar and Kalos regions’ real-life inspirations. First of all, the Galar region definitely seems to be based on the United Kingdom – this is evidenced by the geography of the map, the architecture (particularly the Big Ben-like clock tower in the steampunk-esque city and the Stonehenge-like objects in the town with the Grass-type gym) and the Scottish-looking clothing of the female character. Gen 6’s Kalos region, in contrast, was very clearly based on France, so if these regions follow their real-life counterparts then they should be very geographically close to one another, more so than any of the other regions in the Pokemon world. This is also evidenced by the fact that the weather vane we see, one of the first images in the trailer, is very clearly topped with a Fletchling, Gen 6’s signature bird Pokemon. Kalos also had a royal aesthetic to much of its traditions which meshes well with the ideas of knights in Sword and Shield, and possibly even suggests some cultural exchange. Now, whether this is true or not, there’s no telling whether this is just an environmental and lore detail, or if Game Freak might actually work it into the game. Just imagine how many people would freak out if you could travel to Kalos in the post-game. That is definitely wishful thinking on my part, but Game Freak are at least hinting that the two regions could be close to one another and the last time that happened we got to explore them both, so…

6) Scorbunny

Let’s move onto the starters for Gen 8. We’ve really got a great lineup in this generation, starting with the very cool-looking Scorbunny. This Pokemon is described as “always running and bursting with energy”, suggesting a fast, possibly physical attacking Fire Pokemon. When you also take into account the soccer imagery in the trailer, this makes me wonder if perhaps Scorbunny’s name has a double-meaning – perhaps the “scor” is referring to a soccer “goal” in addition to the fire “scorch”? The tape across its nose also suggest that there could be a soccer or sports theme to this Pokemon, which makes me wonder what typing its evolutions could have. Fire/Fighting seems obvious, but considering that we already have 3 Fire/Fighting starters, including two which are already quite speedy, I hope it’s evolutions are something more unique.

5) Sobble… the Veteran Player’s Pick?

The somewhat-derpy Sobble has attracted a lot of attention since the reveal trailer dropped. From its chameleon-based design, its timid nature and strong sense of self-preservation, it appears to be a very unique and characterful starter, the likes of which I haven’t really seen before. This makes me wonder how this personality is going to be translated in-game. Traditionally, all starter Pokemon have the Torrent, Overgrow or Blaze abilities by default, depending on their type. These abilities power up their Water, Grass or Fire moves, respectively, when their health is low. This doesn’t seem like the sort of ability which makes sense for a cowardly Pokemon like Sobble, which makes me wonder if Gen 8 might break from convention and give its starter Pokemon unique abilities from the start. Personally, this would be incredibly intriguing if true, as well as a very welcome change.

This line of thinking opens up a few options. For one thing, Game Freak may also decide to give Sobble a unique attack to reflect its timid nature, such as a defensive move like King’s Shield. In the trailer, we see it go completely invisible and then run away in order to hide. There’s also a weird detail in the trailer when Grookey is hitting the rock with a stick and we can see Sobble’s footprints stay for a second before splashing away… again, this could be a crackpot theory, but when we see Sobble running away, could that have been a decoy while the real Sobble was actually hiding, invisible, right beside Grookey until the coast was clear? How would that even translate in game? It’s a really intriguing idea at the very least. I really hope Game Freak does something very unique and unconventional with Sobble and its playstyle, because it has a ton of potential to be an unforgettable starter.

Adding to the idea that Sobble might end up being a “finesse” option for experienced players is that the first gym in the game appears to be a Grass-type gym. Obviously, Grass is super-effective against Water types, so right off the bat the game is suggesting that if you want to start the game in “hard” mode, pick Sobble. This wouldn’t be the first time that difficulty in Pokemon games was based on your starter Pokemon – Gen 1 was notoriously easier if you took Bulbasaur as your starter, since it could breeze through the first two gyms and most of the early-game Pokemon, as opposed to Charmander, which struggled against the first two gyms and many early-game Pokemon. Then there’s my burning love/hate relationship with Chikorita – taking that Pokemon as your starter turns Gen 2 into a cruel torture experiment. All that said, if Sobble is intended to be the “hard” option for players, then would it not stand to reason that it would get an unconventional, finesse playstyle? I would certainly hope so.

Aww who am I kidding, I still love you Chikorita…

4) Grookey

Grookey is easily my favourite of the new starter trio, he’s so adorable that I have been spamming Twitter with #TeamGrookey since the reveal trailer. Of the three starters, he probably has the least information available to speculate off of – he’s described as “mischievous and curious” and at one point we see him hitting a rock with a stick… and that’s about it. Perhaps he will evolve into a Grass/Dark type to suit that mischievous angle? Perhaps its evolutions will use sticks or some other polearm to attack? It’s really anyone’s guess at this point. That said, we do already have a similar chimp starter from Gen 4, Chimchar. I’m curious how Grookey and its evolutionary line are going to differentiate themselves from Chimchar’s line, since Infernape is such an iconic Pokemon. That said, if we basically just get a Grass/Fighting version of Infernape, I’ll still be totally down. It could also be interesting since we’ve already had a bulky Grass/Fighting starter in Chesnaught, so it could fulfil a speedier niche (although then it also has to compete with Virizion, to be fair).

3) Less Gen 1 Fanservice?

This one might end up being wishful thinking, but in the trailer we see thirteen Pokemon, plus the three starters at the end. It is perhaps notable that only one of these Pokemon is from Gen 1, Pikachu, and that’s mainly because it’s the series’ mascot. The other twelve Pokemon on display come from the other generations:

Gen 2 – Hoothoot, Tyranitar
Gen 3 – Flygon, Wailmer
Gen 4 – Munchlax, Lucario (using a Z-move!)
Gen 5 – Minccino, Zweilous, Braviary
Gen 6 – Meowstic
Gen 7 – Wishiwashi, Grubbin

Considering that Gen 1 tends to have the most well-known and iconic Pokemon, it seems to me that this distribution of Pokemon appearances was a very deliberate choice by Game Freak. Think about it – Pokemon games have been pouring on the fanservice for Gen 1 for years, especially since Gen 6 and Gen 7 with the high number of Mega Evolutions and Alola variants, respectively. When you consider that Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee just came out as well, it makes sense that Game Freak would not only dial back on the Gen 1 over-saturation, but would also try to draw in fans of Let’s Go and Pokemon Go into discovering other Pokemon that they may not have been aware of. At the very least, if Sword and Shield can put a bit more balance into the generational representation, that would be very much appreciated for series veterans and newcomers alike who may be growing weary of having to catch yet another Rattata.

2) There’s Got to Be an Aegislash Regional Variant… Right?

Okay, this one is pure speculation on my part, but it seems pretty easy to implement and likely in my opinion. When considering the themes and designs that the names Sword and Shield might suggest for the mascot legendaries of the Galar region, the most obvious issue that comes to mind is that we already have a sword and shield Pokemon – Aegislash (which is one of the strongest Pokemon in the game currently). As a result, I’d think it should be fairly safe to say that the mascot legendaries aren’t going to be a literal sword and shield, but shouldn’t Aegislash get some sort of special treatment in a game which basically embodies its name? This certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented, as Sun and Moon had regional variants of previous Pokemon appearing with new typings, moves and abilities. For Aegislash, this could be something as simple as an altered design on their shield and sword to make them fit into the Galar region’s cultures better.

All of this said, the biggest issue to this theory is that Sun and Moon also did absolutely nothing about the fact that there already were sun and moon Pokemon, Lunatone and Solrock, and then did nothing about it. Could they not have given them a unique Z-move or something at least? Hopefully Game Freak doesn’t miss a prime opportunity again, because some sort of special attention for Aegislash seems like a no-brainer to me.

1) Meltan and Melmetal Distribution Method is Probably Going to be Bullshit

This is another bit of speculation which isn’t really based off of any hard evidence, but it’s something I’ve been dreading since Meltan was announced. Basically, Meltan was announced on September 25, 2018, probably more than a year before Sword and Shield will release. This new Pokemon and its evolution, Melmetal (seen above) were exclusive to Pokemon Go and Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. It also very recently became possible to acquire shiny variants of these Pokemon in Let’s Go for a limited time. They are also considered Mythical Pokemon, meaning that they are generally not able to be acquired in-game through normal means, often requiring some sort of event to become available. This is what worries me about how these Pokemon are going to be integrated into Sword and Shield. You see, I have a living Pokedex and live by the old mantra of “Gotta catch ’em all”. In the last couple of generations, new mythical Pokemon have been handed out in-game via codes for a limited time. However, I have a sinking feeling that Meltan and Melmetal will only be able to be acquired if you transfer them from Let’s Go to Pokemon Sword and Shield. Game Freak has gone on record saying that they want to let players transfer Pokemon from Let’s Go to Sword and Shield, which lends credence to this idea. It also wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened as well – in Gen 4 you could get Manaphy by beating the spin-off game Pokemon Ranger and then transferring an egg a Gen 4 game. This was the only way to get Manaphy until Gen 6, 10 years later, when all mythical Pokemon up until that point where given away throughout 2017 via code. It is now 2019 and if you missed out on the mythicals released in 2016 or 2017, it could still be years before we get another chance at them. If this is the case, then if I don’t get Let’s Go in order to get Meltan and Melmetal, then my only chance to get them will be via trade or waiting for ~5 years for them to be given away again… sigh, such are the trials of being a Pokemaniac.

What do you guys think? Do you have any theories of your own that I missed? Do you think that I’m completely off-base with my ideas? Feel free to let me know in the comments below, I’d love to discuss it with you!

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Pokemon Sword & Shield: 5 Confirmed Features that Have Me Hyped

The tonal whiplash is real: I just got off of a pretty dire warning about isolationism and white supremacy, and then we’re straight into a hype piece about the next generation of Pokemon. That’s just how we roll here at IC2S. I’m hoping to have more Pokemon content starting this year, with videos on Youtube and Twitch streaming by the time Pokemon Sword and Shield release. If you haven’t seen the reveal trailer, you can do so below:

Suffice to say, I’m hyped for these games. After going through the trailer a few times now, I’ve noticed five details which have gotten me hyped that I want to point out. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some of my speculations as well.

5) More Detailed Animations and Graphics

This is a bit of a given considering the move to the Nintendo Switch, but Pokemon Sword and Shield look gorgeous, easily the biggest leap in visual quality this series has seen since at least the 3rd generation, if not the biggest leap ever. It’s one thing to see a screenshot and marvel at the detailed environments (more on those later), but it’s another to actually see them in motion. The Pokemon themselves are also very vibrant and, thankfully, retain their cartoony look. I was maybe just a liiiittle worried that they might go the Detective Pikachu route and make them start looking more “realistic”. The animations have also been improved as well, and we see a moment in the trailer where the player character walks down a set of stairs… such a mundane-sounding thing, but in motion it’s actually quite remarkable. Seriously, if you still haven’t watched the trailer, do it!

4) The Galar Region Looks Quite Diverse

Each Pokemon region always comes with its own distinct flavour, although some stand out a bit more than others. The Galar region is shaping up to have its own distinct flavour and plenty of diversity to its environments. In total, we see a grassy farming town which is presumably where our character begins their journey, an awesome-looking Zelda or Dark Souls-like misty forest, an urban environment which almost looks steampunk in terms of its aesthetic, a snowy mountain village which also appears to have an icy beachfront (what the hell…?), a stadium, an awesome-looking mine shaft and a laboratory. That’s not all either, there is a map shown during the Nintendo Direct which shows that there even more environments that we haven’t seen yet and strongly suggests that Galar is based on the United Kingdom. My only concern here is that the Galar region appears to be quite linear, so unless I am wrong the options for player exploration are going to be considerably limited during the main storyline. We’ll have to see as the release date gets closer, but for now that’s something to keep an eye on.


3) Random Battles Are Confirmed… and DexNav as Well?

After the release of Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee and the significant changes to the core formula in those games, there were hesitations amongst fans about whether elements from those games would carry over into Gen 8. In particular, there was a lot of debate about whether Pokemon would appear in the overworld or if they would be encountered in random battles as they have been traditionally. Personally, I would have loved for Pokemon to appear in the overworld, but considering that Let’s Go also didn’t even have traditional battles against wild Pokemon, it’s a trade-off that I’m willing to accept. Battling has always been what I love most in Pokemon, so having it confirmed as a core part of the experience was enough to ease any lingering worries I might have had for these games.

Also interesting to me is that, in the trailer, the random battle occurs while the player character is tip-toeing through the grass. Unless this is purely an aesthetic animation, this suggests that the DexNav from Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is returning, or perhaps some other form of sneaking mechanic (maybe tip-toeing reduces your odds of encountering wild Pokemon). This will definitely be a feature to keep an eye on in future announcements, but don’t be surprised if a sneaking mechanic is officially revealed sometime soon.

2) Gym Battles Return!

It took a moment for this to really sink in, but holy crap, gym battles are back in Gen 8! I touched on it very lightly in my Gen 7 Love/Hate post, but the traditional gym battles had been replaced in Pokemon Sun and Moon with “island challenges” – contests which varied from island to island which would involve collecting items, battling wild Pokemon, solving puzzles and then eventually battling a boss-like totem Pokemon. They were interesting, but I never found them as fun or challenging as gyms were. So the fact that we appear to have a Grass-type gym confirmed in the trailer, it’s safe to say that gyms are back in some capacity. The Grass gym also appears to be the first gym that we will have to face, meaning that the Fire starter is going to be the starter of choice for players wanting an easier early game.

1) Sports…?


The trailer ends on a very curious note, with the player character stepping out onto what is presumably a soccer field, especially considering that they are dressed in a soccer uniform. What exactly is this going to entail? Could this perhaps just be something tied into the story? After all, we don’t even see the player character bringing Pokemon in with them. However, we do see Pokemon battling in a stadium elsewhere in the trailer, so it seems more likely to me that this has something to do with battling. Is this the new “gimmick” mini-game, similar to contests from previous generations? Is it a new battle style, like the battle royales in Sun and Moon? Will it be more like the sports stadiums in Gen 5, which were basically just daily trainer battles? Or will Game Freak totally surprise us and make a full-fledged mini-game akin to the awesome Monkey Soccer from Ape Escape 2? If I can play soccer with basically any Pokemon, stats incorporated and all, I’d probably shit myself from excitement. You know what you have to do Game Freak: my underwear won’t thank you, but my heart will.

That’s it for now. Tune in tomorrow (fingers crossed) and I’ll go through my speculation for what we might see in Pokemon Sword and Shield!

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The “Other” Cinematic Universes

When it comes to cinematic universes, we all know the story: Marvel’s only getting better as they go, DC has struggled to get any sort of consistent quality going, etc. However, with as much attention as these franchises get, it’s easy to forget that they’re not the only ones making their mark on the cinematic universe trend. There are actually quite a few current cinematic universes out there now, some several films deep, that have continued to grow without the attention and scrutiny that Marvel and DC seem to inspire. There are also many more on the way (keep an eye out for Hasbro, they seem to be pushing the hardest), but even after 10 years of Marvel dominance, most have failed to actually get underway. With that in mind, let’s look at the less-appreciated landscape of cinematic universes.

Note: I’m only going to be looking at franchises which are still ongoing. To determine if it constitutes a cinematic universe, I’m only looking at major releases (for all I know, The Asylum has a Mega Shark cinematic universe, but I’m sure as hell not going to go digging for turds like that). I’m also looking for franchises which aren’t just following a normal, linear progression from film to film. Spin-offs don’t necessarily constitute a cinematic universe either, although if there are multiple spin-off films in a franchise then it could apply. Oh, and goofy cameos and tongue-in-cheek jokes don’t count either (so no, Transformers and Friday the 13th aren’t in the same universe). Ultimately, it’s all down to my discretion. Got it? Great, let’s buckle in.

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars (image source): Again, this is down to my discretion, but I don’t feel like Star Wars is quite at “cinematic universe” level yet, at least in the way that that label gets applied anyway. For the most part, Star Wars in the cinematic landscape consists of films which follow on from one another (whether as prequels or sequels). Even the spin-offs we’ve had in Rogue One and Solo were just prequels to the events of the main stories and given less prominence, so I’m struggling to really count these on the same level as, say, your average Marvel or DC solo film in their respective universes. Now, with the groundwork laid by The Last Jedi and Disney’s desire to milk this franchise forever (…those are mutually exclusive ideas, I swear), we might actually be getting to a point in the next couple of years when Star Wars is an interconnected universe of various divergent characters and storylines, but until then I have a hard time viewing it as more than a very epic saga.

Alien vs Predator (…vs Blade Runner???) – I’m only not counting this one because there has been basically no official word on whether these franchises still are, or ever were, truly linked in the first place. Basically every Alien and Predator film since has ignored the continuity established by the AVP movies, although they have never completely separated. To make matters even more confusing, the Alien prequels went and made it official that Blade Runner takes place in this universe as well. Considering that all of these separate franchises take place nearly 100 years apart from one another, it makes the continuity pliable, but it would be awesome if we could give AVP another shot at greatness.

The Tarantinoverse(s) – Yes, these films all technically take place in the same universe (click the image on the side to see the entire, complicated breakdown as to how), whether as actual events (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, etc) or as films within that universe (Kill Bill, From Dusk Till Dawn, Death Proof, etc). There are also a number of characters who are related (most notably, Vic Vega aka Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs and Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction). Here’s the thing though: none of these connections really matter. I mean, is Vincent affected in Pulp Fiction by Vic’s death? No, it’s just an easter egg for fans, and that’s what everything in the Tarantinoverse is – there’s no actual crossover or overarching plot (especially when you can just say “eh, it’s a movie in that universe!”), so I’m not counting it. Like I said, my discretion.

And so, let’s move onto the actual cinematic universes, shall we?

5) The Dark Universe – Is there any surprise that this is the worst of the current crop of cinematic universes? I mean, let’s look at the situation: Universal had the first successful cinematic universe back when they were releasing their classic monster films. For almost 20 years now they have been trying to recapture that success with failure after failure. The Mummy laid a decent groundwork for this, but then Van Helsing failed and scuppered that idea. Then they tried once again to set up this universe with The Wolfman, but it was a commercial and critical failure (although I love it personally and feel like its reception will improve over time).

After so many false starts, suddenly Marvel’s cinematic universe model began getting successful and Universal decided that they wanted a piece of that pie. As a result, Dracula: Untold was produced with the explicit intention of aping Marvel’s formula to finally get the Universal monsters on screen again. The resulting film was just plain dull – the source material didn’t fit a PG-13 summer action tentpole treatment and the resulting universe it was selling (PG-13 grimdark anti-heroes facing some nebulous ancient evil) was unappealing, so once again Universal was left in a lurch with a stillborn franchise.

With yet another failure under their belts, Universal almost immediately jettisoned Dracula: Untold from memory and then got to work on what was arguably the most seriously committed effort to reboot their monsters properties: The Dark Universe. Universal clearly went all-in this time, snatching up some major star power with Russell Crowe as Dr. Jeckell and Mr. Hyde, Javier Bardem as Frankenstien’s Monster, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Tom Cruise as (ultimately) this universe’s version of The Mummy. Since The Mummy was the only reboot Universal had any success with, perhaps it is natural that they’d try to launch their universe with it, along with the consistent quality that comes along with Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, despite the huge marketing push and the big talk about how this was going to be Universal’s big shared universe, The Mummy proved to be a rare Tom Cruise misfire which single-handedly put the future of the entire franchise into question. Things have been quiet on The Dark Universe front, with many assuming it is dead since its two main producers have departed the project, but there have been some occasional rumblings to suggest we haven’t seen the last of it.

I feel like the issues with The Dark Universe were twofold. First of all, I don’t think that aping Marvel’s formula and attempting to reboot the Universal monsters as quasi-superheroes is ever going to work, nor is attempting to shoehorn all of these movies into the PG-13 summer action blockbuster template a good idea. I understand that a smaller, more traditional horror series would not make as much money if The Dark Universe had met its ambitions, but at least it would not be competing with the juggernauts, would be carving its own niche in the cinematic landscape and would be a considerably safer investment. Dracula: Untold had already failed in part because of this. It doesn’t matter how much money and star-power you throw at a project, if the concept is rotten at its core, then it is going to have a very hard time gaining traction.

Secondly, I feel like The Dark Universe was hamstrung from the start by its two main producers, Alex Kurtzman (also director of The Mummy) and Chris Morgan. Both are blockbuster scriptwriters and producers, with Kurtzman being known for the modern Star Trek films, the first two Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens and the Now You See Me franchise, and Chris Morgan being known for the Fast & Furious franchise, Wanted and 47 Ronin. They’re both involved in big, successful action franchises, but none of those franchises are really known for their great scripts. To make matters even worse, Guillermo del Toro was originally asked to helm The Dark Universe, which could have been incredible if Universal would allow him to lean into these characters’ horror origins. There is some hope for The Dark Universe still: it’s being rumoured that renowned horror-producer Jason Blum is being given the reins of the franchise. However, as it stands currently, The Dark Universe is little more than a cautionary tale in franchise building.

4) The Monsterverse – This is the universe that inspired this list, because while Legendary hasn’t been subtle about the fact that they want to bring Godzilla and King Kong together once again, they haven’t been hammering audiences with their world-building (unlike, say, The Mummy or Batman vs Superman). In fact, you could easily be forgiven for not realizing that Kong: Skull Island was a part of the same universe as Godzilla, outside of the subtle references to Monarch and the post-credits scene. I feel like this will probably be emphasized more by the end of the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but at least it’s refreshing that Legendary isn’t counting their chickens before they’ve hatched.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Monsterverse is that, like the Universal monsters, it’s building on a foundation that originated the shared universe concept in film in the first place. The Toho Godzilla films had their own colourful cast of monsters that would feature in each others’ films and the original Godzilla vs King Kong was one of the earliest and most notable major franchise crossover films (also, while I may not prefer the direction of this incarnation of Kong, I can’t deny that it’s a part of the character’s roots). Unlike the Universal Monsters, Legendary is succeeding by keeping the Monsterverse true to the roots which made them successful in the first place. Also, Legendary has been killing it in terms of direction and cinematography thus far – Kong: Skull Island is downright beautiful at times and Godzilla has some of my favourite direction of all time (seriously).

The Monsterverse has also had some pretty decent quality thus far, with both entries being quite fun, if disposable, entertainment. Granted, giant monsters are much easier to fit into a dumb action blockbuster mould, and neither Godzilla or Kong: Skull Island had much ambition to be anything other than that. Considering that they’re giant monster movies, they don’t really need to do much more, but some more interesting human characters would go a long way. Godzilla: King of the Monsters could theoretically improve this one aspect, but we’ll see. If Legendary can keep the quality up, the Monsterverse could easily move up a slot in this list.

3) Cloverfield Universe – This universe could have easily topped the list if not for the release of the absolutely putrid The Coverfield Paradox, which has soured the franchise’s name overnight and turned it into a punchline. That said, the quality of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane can’t be denied, and the chance for more cool genre films with genuine surprise to them is too much of an allure to pass up after one misfire (even one as disastrous as Paradox).

Cloverfield was a very intriguing Hollywood experiment, forgoing a huge budget and star power in favour of an ingenious and mysterious alternate reality game (ARG) marketing campaign. I got caught up in the Cloverfield hype leading up to its release and had a lot of fun with the ARG, looking for clues and speculating on what the monster was going to be. Cloverfield was also one of the earliest modern found footage films and, I would argue, one of the best utilizations of the concept. Oh, and lest we forget, Cloverfield was also the film which brought us Matt Reeves (far and away one of the most ambitious and consistently good blockbuster directors in Hollywood). The film left plenty of unanswered questions and for years there were rumblings of a sequel, but nothing materialized (even though it looked like Super 8 was going to fulfil that promise).

Then, suddenly, franchise producer J.J. Abrams had an idea to use the Cloverfield name to promote smaller, quality genre films and loosely tie them together. The first film they tried this on was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which was originally a stand-alone film that underwent reshoots to make it fit into the concept of a “Cloverfield movie”. The film was announced quietly and with minimal marketing, relying on word of mouth, a couple teasers and a release date 3 months away to build hype. There was some talk about whether this strategy would work, but work it did – 10 Cloverfield Lane was another success for the franchise, in part because the film was so damn good that the cynical nature of its creation didn’t really matter. It didn’t really connect to the previous film in the franchise, but it didn’t need to: if Cloverfield was a signifier for a type of quality genre film that you could expect, then bring on more Cloverfield we all said.

Of course, it’s important to understand that this is the sort of goodwill which was paramount to the firestorm of hype that exploded upon announcement that the third Cloverfield film had secretly dropped on Netflix during the Super Bowl… and the resulting disappointment when it turned out that that film was utter shit. Like I said, when your shared universe is only loosely connected between films, Cloverfield becomes a mark of quality. Releasing a bad film taints that reputation. Worse, releasing an awful film throws all confidence in that franchise into the wind. Who knows, another Cloverfield film could be good, but it might take years of good films to get the bad taste of Paradox out of our mouths.

2) The Conjuring – The Conjuring universe is remarkable for a few reasons. One, it’s based primarily on the stories of one real-life family (although the veracity of those stories is suspect, naturally). Two, these are all full-on R-rated horror films, whose considerable success should put Universal’s attempts to reboot their monsters to shame. Three, this franchise’s shared universe it at a point where it’s becoming comparable to the MCU. Seriously, The Conjuring is the beating heart of this franchise, but Annabelle is almost on par in terms of box office success, and The Nun has just released with the franchise’s biggest opening yet, purely off the success of the character in The Conjuring 2.

In terms of quality, the films are generally solid. The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are both classic horror films in the vein of The Exorcist (I personally preferred The Conjuring 2), which do a good job of making the supernatural seem plausible and which are buoyed tremendously by solid direction from James Wan and the performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The spin-offs have been more of a mixed bag, with Annabelle: Creation being generally considered quite good, while Annabelle and The Nun have been met with a negative reception. That said, as spin-offs in an explicitly niche shared universe, they seem to still have an audience who are interested in them. With smaller budgets and this built-in audience, The Conjuring universe manages to find success by marketing to its own niche, rather than going for the mass audience and viewing $800 million as a failure, such as Justice League. If more studios would realize this and try to find other genre niches, we might have more successful shared universes out there.

1) X-Men – And finally we have the other, other superhero shared universe, the long-running X-Men universe. In fact, thanks to the Disney-20th Century Fox acquisition, this universe is almost certainly reaching its death-knell with upcoming release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, after 19 years of ups and downs.

Back before the MCU took the world by storm, X-Men was the superhero franchise of most consistent quality (next to Spider-man, anyway), and for a long time it was just that – a franchise, not a shared universe. But then the Wolverine spin-offs happened, which turned into a trilogy of its own with Origins, The Wolverine and Logan. And then Deadpool and Deadpool 2 were released, and suddenly X-Men had become the full-on cinematic universe it was so well-suited to become. Hell, you could even argue that the franchise’s main timeline fits in the shared universe idea, with two different eras of X-Men interacting in Days of Future Past (the best X-Men movie, in my opinion).

X-Men has had some major lows (The Last Stand and Origins), but it has also had considerable heights (X2DoFP, Logan, Deadpool) which have allowed it to succeed for so long, and it was always good to have a serious competitor to the MCU. Lest we forget that this shared universe has also gifted us with one of the best superhero castings of all time in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, not to mention the Ryan Renold’s Deadpool or Michael Fassbender’s Magneto. I don’t have high hopes for Dark Phoenix, but I can only hope that it does this franchise justice and allows it to go out on a high note.

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Oh Look, Another Manufactured Dead or Alive Controversy

When last we checked in with the Dead or Alive franchise, anti-SJW types were stirring up a controversy about how Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wasn’t being released outside of Japan and this was all feminists’ faults (despite no one actually giving a shit about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the fact that this was 100% Tecmo-Koei’s decision, and that PlayAsia was clearly co-opting their outrage in order to make money). Fast-forward almost 3 years and now there’s a new controversy brewing about Dead or Alive 6. Sigh, what now? Are those special snowflake, easily #triggered SJWs complaining about the series’ trademark objectification of women and gratuitous jiggle physics?

Oh wait. No, it’s the anti-SJWs who are complaining again. And this time, it might be even more stupid situation than the last non-troversy was.

So, what could get people so riled up about Dead or Alive 6? Well, it all boils down to one simple statement that game director Yohei Shimbori made when the game was announced: female sexualization was going to be toned down and breast physics would be more realistic. Predictably, fanboys are threatening to boycott the game now just based on this statement alone. For example, One Angry Gamer is livid about the sheer mention of toning down and that the game is using a different engine than DOA5 and Xtreme 3Meanwhile over on Sankaku Complex, a Japanese hentai and porn news site (link is NSFW, obviously), there has been plenty of butthurt whining that SJWs have “ruined” the game before we’ve even gotten a chance to really see it in full. Perhaps even more predictably, some players are claiming that they’re going to buy Soulcalibur VI instead because it is leaning harder than ever into the fan service (for what it’s worth, I was planning on buying SC6 because I really enjoy the the gameplay of that series, until I saw how embarrassing the fan service was this time around). The reaction to this one little change really shows you how much value these “fans” put into the actual mechanics of their favourite fighting games.

Some of the funnier/stupid comments on Sankaku Complex.

Beyond that though, there’s more to why this is such a clear non-troversy. For example, read the following statement made by Yosuke Hayashi:

“We’ve always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress. […] We’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it. We want to show something that’s more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up. That’s what we wanted to tell our fans.”

That sounds like the sort of thing which would really rile up the anti-SJW types… except that this was said 6 years ago about Dead or Alive 5, and in terms of the sheer volume of swimsuits and new fetish-bait characters, that game ended up being the most sexualized game in the franchise (outside of the Xtreme spin-offs). Compared to this, everything said about Dead or Alive 6 has been pretty tame thus far.

This isn’t even taking into account the deluge of DLC which is sure to find its way into DOA6. DOA5 and (to a slightly lesser extent) DOAX3 both made bank off of their sexy costume packs, which would cost players literally over $1000 to purchase everything. Since DLC game into vogue last generation, fighting games have basically turned into costume factories and I can’t possibly see DOA6 passing this opportunity up. However, does this mean that all of the sexy costumes have been shunted off behind a paywall as some players are saying? Shimbori even made a point of changing series lead Kasumi’s sexy robes in favour of a more functional body suit, so are we no longer getting bikinis as default costumes? Well… it’s too early to say for certain, but somehow I doubt it. For one thing, take a look at Kasumi’s DOA6 costume and tell me that that isn’t sexy in its own right, even without having to show off skin. But not only that, the reveal trailer itself made it pretty clear that the game isn’t going to neuter the sexiness. Just look at Helena:

Camera pan to cleavage shot? Check. Panties visible? Check. Outfit that makes more sense for stripping rather than fighting? Check. Now, this is obviously just one character, but we haven’t seen what the more overtly-sexualized characters, such as Tina and Christie, are going to look like, nor have we seen whether the two most popular fetish-bait characters, Honoka and Marie Rose, will make the cut. In any case though, I do feel like the outrage that anti-SJW types have worked themselves into is premature right now at best, or downright ridiculous at worst. I’ve dragged Sankaku Complex into this article because, quite frankly, their coverage and pearl-clutching in this non-troversy has been hilarious. When Hitomi and Lei Fang were teased in fully-clothed silhouettes, they decried that “the developers [are] clearly sticking to their socjus agenda of preserving the purity of fictional video game girls”, which is particularly funny because they’re clearly wearing costumes of theirs from DOA5 and because the franchise has always had this weird sense of hands-off purity and innocent to (most of) its characters, emphasizing a voyeuristic take on sexuality rather than an active owning of it (which, honestly, is the main issue with DOA’s take on sexiness in the past).

Beautiful.

As for the breast physics, the One Angry Gamer article about claims that they aren’t even present in the current build of the game, but from what Shimbori has said, “we are trying to achieve some natural movement, so when you move, things move naturally. That’s our intention.”… so, the boob physics are going to be like the physics present in Xtreme 3 then? Yes, it does sound like they’re cutting out the exaggerated physics options which most games in the series have had… but oh well. That’s really all I can say about that, I’ve never understood the appeal of laughably exaggerated jiggle physics, especially when the game is going to aim for more natural movement similar to DOAX3.

The toning down of the sexier aspects of the franchise also coincides with a design shift towards esports and more brutal fighting. DOA has always prided itself on being the best-looking fighter on the market, which you can really see when you put it up next to Soulcalibur VI for example. Past games would dirty-up the fighters, but only to a certain point – for example, DOA5 made a big point about introducing dynamic sweat and dirt systems as the fight progressed which coincided with an art style shift, from more of an exaggerated anime aesthetic to one that looks much more natural. However, DOA6 is now building upon that more realistic aesthetic, introducing cuts and bruising which looks, quite frankly, painful. It has been stated that “the shift to more realistic graphics […] is thanks to the new engine. Characters visibly take damage during fights, with bruised faces and blood making combat feel more visceral in the process. Shimbori also said that they are thinking about adding in an option to disable those details for players less interested in violence.”

This right here feels like a fulcrum in this issue that is being overlooked by the more reactionary fans of the series. Let’s say that they kept this battle damage in and continued to play up the sexiness. Suddenly, we’d have a game which overtly sexualizes assault against women… hell, even with the toning down that they’re doing, I’m not entirely certain that it’ll be enough to make this not feel uncomfortable. Speaking as someone who enjoys this series, I’m actually questioning whether the move away from always having their fighters look “beautiful” is going to be worth it (especially if they start adding in the sexier outfits later on), but I’m willing to wait and see for now.

Other than the pervy, voyeuristic aspects that the Xtreme games really push, I don’t have a problem with the sexiness in the DOA franchise. It’s mostly harmless and the series has been tucked into its own corner for quite some time where it doesn’t really influence the industry much. However, that right there is something that Tecmo-Koei is clearly trying to escape – you can see how the excessive fan service since at least the release of Xtreme Beach Volleyball has made the series more and more niche with each entry. Clearly, something had to give if they wanted to try to broaden their audience. We’ll see if they manage to pull it off and come up with something worth supporting on its own mechanical merits.

Oh, and in the meantime, we get to laugh at people claiming that Dead or Alive now sexualizes the men more than the women (because men fighting without shirts is the exact same as women fighting without shirts of course).

95% of the comments section is people whining about SJWs to a chorus of upvotes, and then these guys pop in, say the objective truth and get downvoted, naturally.

Never change internet, never change.

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Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008’s Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi – for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney’s annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise’s long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It’s hard to say that that doesn’t dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise’s popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception – Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don’t participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can’t find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I’m not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).

I’ve been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I’m seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn’t get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?
I feel like the answer to this has to be Youtube, right? I mean, where else is this common narrative that there’s a single architect who is destroying Star Wars from the inside going to be originating from? Just look at the most popular results that show up when you search her name on Youtube:

It’s either news, or overwhelmingly negative. Kathleen Kennedy is pushing a PC/SJW agenda. Kathleen Kennedy needs to go. Kathleen Kennedy is destroying Star Wars. On and on and on. I checked the Star Wars Reddit, which also tends to be a bastion for negative sentiments like this that could brew up, but it seemed pretty quiet on the Kennedy front and was actually less fractured than I was expecting on the whole. Obviously, I can’t prove that Youtube is the big influencer when it comes to the brewing anti-Kathleen Kennedy sentiment, but it seems incredibly likely. There are other sources as well of course, such as clickbait news sites (including this one which calls for Kennedy’s firing and says that Star Wars is in trouble because of a 71% tomatometer for Solo*, and claims that every Star Wars film Disney has made has gotten progressively worse, which is demonstrably false if you look at the audience scores, especially when compared to the prequel trilogy). That still leaves a question unanswered though – why does Kathleen Kennedy get all the flack while Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, among other producers of discontented high-profile franchises, get off scott-free? Hell, if you really think that the Star Wars franchise is getting worse with each film, why not rage against Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Force Awakens and Solo: A Star Wars Story? Well, let me lay out my theory…

One of the big complaints about Kennedy and The Last Jedi is that they have been forcing politics into Star Wars, an assertion which is, in my opinion, frankly absurd. I mean, how is The Last Jedi any more political than any other Star Wars film? Decrying rich people, keeping the spark of revolution alive… these are certainly political statements, but they’re hardly pointed at any specific modern context, nor is are they more pronounced than what has come before in Star Wars. I mean, if Revenge of the Sith had come out in 2018, these alt-right types would have had an aneurysm.

Similarly, probably the most common complaint against Kathleen Kennedy is that she forces “politics” into Star Wars, and by that the complainants mean that she pushes for diversity in gender, race and sexuality in the franchise. That’s right, people are getting all riled up about “social justice warriors” again and it is, quite frankly, sickening. We’re well past the point where being staunchly anti-political correctness is an acceptable stance, ever since that mindset gave birth to the alt-right. Hell, it has gotten to a point where anti-PC types are arguably even more annoying than the actual SJW types that they rail against, having falling into this mirror image of the very thing that they oppose so vehemently. So yes, I believe that we’re seeing a micro version of the larger social zeitgeist playing out within the Star Wars fandom, with diversity being opposed by those who are calling for a return to the “purity” of what Star Wars should be. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate complaints about the direction of Star Wars outside of a racist/sexist/homophobic angle – there clearly are, but I feel like the more unsavory side of the fandom is co-opting that discontent to draw people to their viewpoint.

Hell, this shouldn’t really be considered news: at the time of The Force Awakens, there were people whining about there being a black lead in the film. When they then found out that a woman was the new hero of the franchise, the whining happened again. Similarly, people complained about how Rogue One was being led by a woman again (oh noes!) and that many of the leads weren’t white. This anti-diversity bent has been rumbling within the fandom for years now, the only difference is that now these people aren’t just being laughed off and shouted down. Now, they seem to be building in steam, which can only really be explained to me as a combination of the resurgence of extremism in society, and the growing sense of discontent within the Star Wars fandom in general. Now we’re looking at boycotts for Solo: A Star Wars Story, not because of anything in the film itself, but because alt-right types want to reclaim Star Wars for themselves:

“‘Disney continues to shove down their SJW feminazi agenda down our retinas.’
You mean creating characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, meant to empower women is a bad thing? Women holding an equal place within the Star Wars universe is bad? I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.
Gabriel even claims that he’s not sexist.
Um, yes you are. News flash: if you use the term ‘feminazi’ you’re a sexist.”

Now I’m waiting to see what happens when the alt-right gets wind that Lando Calrissian is pansexual.

I don’t think George Lucas intentionally made Star Wars a predominantly-white franchise intentionally, it was just the reality of the business at the time and he didn’t think to change that up. Kennedy is clearly more aware of this and has the ability to push forth for more equality and so I’d say that it’s good that she tries to. Now, she could certainly go too far one way or another, but for now at least the diversity doesn’t feel like tokenism, nor are we looking at a “white genocide” by any means (I mean, just look at Solo, which seems poised to become its own white-male-led franchise here under Kathleen Kennedy’s rule).

For my own part in all this, I feel like Disney can’t mine the legacy of Star Wars forever. When I first heard that Disney was purchasing the franchise, I was hoping that they would be moving beyond the original trilogy and going forwards or backwards in time. Star Wars is a phenomenon and anchoring yourself to existing success only limits the creative expression you can have sooner or later. At some point, they have to push forward and make it their own thing if they want the series to last (and according to their claims, they plan on making them for the next hundred years at least), a reality which is going to alienate some long-time fans. I feel like The Last Jedi did this successfully, especially after the far-too-safe The Force Awakens. I read an article recently where a Star Wars fan basically agreed, saying that the film would have been fine if only Luke didn’t die at the end: “The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that Luke died because Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Rian Johnson wanted to make way for the new characters. They didn’t want them to be overshadowed. This isn’t what Mark Hamill signed up for. It’s ridiculous. Rey is a fantastic character, but Luke Skywalker defines Star Wars. It won’t be the same without him.” But that’s my point – a time would be coming regardless when Star Wars would be without Luke Skywalker. In a decade’s time, the Skywalker saga might even just be a starting point in the Star Wars franchise. Really, the sooner we cut that tie to the past, the easier it will be to expand Star Wars on to future generations, including those who may not have had heroes to identify with before, and to keep the saga from being stifled. As my home-boy Kylo Ren said, it’s time to let the past die.

*Because apparently angry Star Wars fans put their faith in the tomatometer all of a sudden, and despite obviously not understanding that the tomatometer is an aggregate of how many critics gave it a 6/10 or higher, not an actual score for the film… wait, is the writer of that article equating a 71% tomatometer with a 7/10 for a video game? Because film critics aren’t as awful as video game reviewers and a 7/10 is actually a good score… bloody hell.
**POST-SCRIPT: I feel like Solo is failing in part due to people who were burned by The Last Jedi not showing up, but probably more in the general disinterest in a Han Solo movie, the negative buzz that has been dogging this film, and probably most importantly, the diluting of the Star Wars brand and “event movie” status.

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Waiting for Superman

I have been thinking about Superman a lot in the past few months. He’s such a ubiquitous character, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this article that I realized just how present he has been throughout my whole life. In spite of this, I’ve never really considered myself a huge fan, or even read his comic adventures (outside of Superman: Red Son). For the longest time, I agreed with the old adage in Batman versus Superman debates – Batman is a more compelling character, because he can actually be related to. However, a decade removed from The Dark Knight, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Superman has the capacity to be an infinitely more interesting character than Batman – the key word here being “capacity”. There are numerous instances of awful writing throughout Superman’s long history, but within that long history there are also some fantastic stories worth checking out.

Take a guess which category this issue falls into.

Superman’s ubiquity has also helped inspire a number of other stories in all sorts of mediums, which I feel help paint a far more interesting portrait of the character. For example, I have heard people claim that The Iron Giant is one of the best Superman stories ever written, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The Giant’s arrival on Earth isn’t dissimilar to Superman, and the character is often invoked by Hogarth as the sort of moral pillar which everyone should aspire to be. The moment when (SPOILER ALERT) the giant chooses to sacrifice himself at the end of the film reflects back perfectly on the sort of character who Superman is, a fact which is explicitly noted within the film itself when the Giant thinks of the words Hogarth said to him: “You are who you choose to be,” to which he simply says “Superman”.

Superman has also inspired a number of songs, whether they are actually about his character (“Superman” by Five For Fighting), or whether they’re invoking him as a symbol (“Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down). I quite like Five For Fighting’s musical take on the character, which suggests that having all the power in the world doesn’t make life any easier – in fact, it just saddles with you with even more responsibility. Lately, I have been listening to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and one of the definite highlights on that album is “Waitin’ for Superman”, which uses the character as a symbol for the burdens of life and how we don’t have a Superman here to help shoulder all our troubles. However, as sorrowful as it may be, it is also quietly optimistic, insisting that we be strong and all try to hold on as long as we can. The song was written about Wayne Coyne’s own struggles in life at the time when his father was dying of cancer. He felt like the burdens of life were heavy, but realized that they would get even worse when his father succumbed and wished that there was someone there would could carry these emotions.

I found a couple quotes about the song which I feel help to illustrate the power that Superman has, and how his absence is felt in our own lives. Killian Good says that “the song’s central symbol is the absence of a real world Superman there to shoulder the burdens of daily life and right wrongs beyond human control. The piece is all at once sorrowful and optimistic. On one hand, the narrator admits there is no visible safety net to guard against man’s fall, yet suggests simultaneously that we all, those waiting for Superman, might find strength and resilience in one another’s arms, that salvation may live in love and understanding.”

Meanwhile, Michael Goldberg at MTV wrote that “when I listen to ‘Waiting for a Superman,’ two stories unfold. The first is about love. And about two people struggling to understand each other and come together and hang together through the good times and the bad times. The second is about death. About being there for a father or mother as life ebbs away.”

Of course, no discussion of Superman and music is complete without mentioning John Williams’ theme song from the 1978 Superman: The Movie. I will occasionally throw this song on just to motivate myself. It’s the perfect musical distillation of who Superman is – it’s powerful, elating and makes you feel like you can do absolutely anything. There’s a reason that this track has become so iconic, to the point where it is still being used in Superman media today. Personally, I feel like the 1978 film is the closest a live-action film has gotten to capturing that perfect essence of what makes Superman such a powerful character, with much of that praise going to Christopher Reeve of course. I enjoy Superman II quite a bit, but it isn’t really on the same level in that regard. However, no other Superman film has really captured that spirit. Superman Returns tried to ape the tone of the classics, but it wasn’t well-received for it. Worse, I feel like the DCEU incarnation of Superman has just gone in the wrong direction entirely. Man of Steel was criminally boring and wasted the strong potential it had to create a different, interesting and more grounded sort of Superman. It pays lip service to establishing Superman’s moral compass, but the films haven’t done much with the character to make us care about him. Hell, making his first antagonist Zod was even worse because then off the bat we’re getting another story about someone just as strong as him and watching them punch each other. This is a trap that poor Superman adaptations always fall into.

So what would I do if I was going to write my own Superman story? First of all, I’d look to perhaps the most famous page in any Superman comic, this sequence from All-Star Superman (click image to enlarge):

I feel like these 5 panels are a perfect expression of where the true power of Superman lies. Saving a life, even by just being there and knowing our hurts, that’s the sort of thing that no other superhero can do. That is the power of Superman as a character. That is what good writing achieves for this character. Like, seriously, reading this page makes me tear up every time. David Fairbanks compares that to what a pulpier take on the character would have attempted: “Superman didn’t catch Regan’s body as it plummeted toward the ground; Regan was saved by Superman simply standing there on the ledge. […] A stranger who cares. It’s that kind of outreach that can be vital to saving lives. And you don’t need to be a superhero to do it, either.” We never get to see this kind of Superman in film – instead, he’s either catching them as they fall or punching someone just as strong as him. This may be exciting, but it’s easy and hardly inspiring.

In my opinion, Superman works best when he isn’t being treated like “just another superhero”. For any other superhero, it’s perfectly fine and reasonable to have the hero using their powers to face off against an equally-powered supervillain. However, because Superman is supposed to be the pinnacle of good, a hero with no limitations, attempting to treat him in the same manner is ineffective at best. Superman II is a fun beat-’em-up, but it’s only as good as it is because of the personal crises that Superman goes through, wishing that he was human. Superman III and IV are awful simply because they revolve around plots to kill Superman which are obviously not going to be able to kill Superman.

The current crop of DCEU Superman films have had much more fundamental issues at their core. Much has been written about how Zack Snyder’s Superman seems to have been coloured by a Randian worldview, altering the character’s moral compass and innate goodness in a negative manner. While I don’t feel like this was necessarily an intentional decision by Snyder to turn Superman into a more selfish character, I do feel like his own personal feelings ended up affecting how this “more mature”, “more grounded” version of the character ended up being portrayed. Snyder and Warner Bros. tried to ape the success of The Dark Knight and force Superman into the same box as more traditional superheroes, and the results were lackluster. And it’s really too bad, I mean just look at the original teaser trailer for Man of Steel:

This was the Superman film I was originally sold on. There’s no sign of a villain, but that teaser is so compelling. That is the kind of Superman film I wanted, one which establishes Superman’s moral compass, his grounded upbringing, his worth to the rest of humanity. Instead, Man of Steel paid lip service to this before jumping into “empty-headed, violent spectacle for teenagers who think that darkness in a superhero story is evidence of serious artistic merit” within 30 minutes of its runtime. Had it stuck with the initial impression left by this teaser, perhaps we would finally have the Superman film to rival the 1978 original (or, hell, even Superman II).

It’s also worth noting how Clark Kent is treated throughout the DCEU films… or, should I say, effectively cast aside. Clark Kent is officially dead as of Batman vs Superman (aka, the 2nd film in this franchise), but he was never really all that important throughout this incarnation of the character anyway. Superman himself gets all the focus and Clark is very much sidelined. Hell, all the characters important to Clark know his true identity anyway, so he’s not even important within the stories that these films are trying to tell – really, it’s no wonder he was jettisoned this way. But losing Clark also loses out on some of the heart which a Superman story can tell and, in my opinion, potentially weakens the character’s depth.

I like to think of Bill’s monologue about Superman in Kill Bill Vol. 2 to get a fascinating glimpse of how Clark can be interpreted. It’s not exactly a definitive, or necessarily even “correct” take on Clark Kent, but it certainly makes you re-evaluate the character in an interesting manner. Bill reiterates the idea I’ve been emphasizing here that Superman is a special kind of superhero who shouldn’t be treated the same way as a more traditional one, such as Spider-Man or Batman:

“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red ‘S’, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

Neglecting the Clark Kent side of Superman is like ignoring his human side entirely. Clark helps keep Superman morally-grounded, but also provides him with a sort of mental escape from the life he leads. Superman II in particular succeeds as far as it does because it puts so much emphasis on Clark Kent – Superman often wishes that he could have a normal life, that he could just be Clark Kent. He loves Lois Lane and wants to be able to be with her, to act on his desires. Beyond that, the responsibilities of the world are just too much to bear at times, but he’s the only one who can carry that weight, so he will do what is right to make that burden easier for others.

And that’s exactly the sort of core I’d work with if I was tasked to write a Superman story.

There are a few directions you could go with a different and interesting Superman story. If you want an origin, maybe go with what Man of Steel‘s marketing suggested and make it about establishing his ironclad moral compass. However, I’m less interested in seeing Superman facing off against a supervillain than I am considering the idea of him grappling with the responsibility of being Superman.

Many Superman films pay lip service to the character being a Christ-metaphor, but this should be leaned into more explicitly in my opinion. Superman can be Jesus without having to die for us – just look at that All-Star Superman panel earlier. Superman saves Regan by loving her and being there for her when she needed someone, much like the role Jesus plays in many peoples’ lives. Superman doesn’t have to be constantly swooping in and dazzling people with his displays of power, although when he does this should be inspiring people to be better. Superman should grapple with his inability to be there to save everyone. If he’s out as Clark Kent and people are hurting somewhere in the meantime, he should feel the pressure from this. When should Superman intervene? Does Superman ever need a break? What sort of mental toll will that take on him? We need to see why he needs Clark Kent, why this human fantasy of his keeps him grounded, and actually make us feel like there’s something between he and Lois Lane.

That’s before we even get into big-picture moral issues. I mean, forget about dramatic trifles such as whether to kill an alien supervillain – what about the implications of Superman interfering with world politics and inequality? Just look at what intervention in Iraq did, disrupting the existing power structures created ISIS (to put it simply). Would Superman force the world to be better? Would he just stand by and let people be downtrodden? Or would he pick people up one at a time? How would world governments respond to him? This sort of thing is totally glossed over in all Superman films so far, but it should be addressed, even if we just have Jor-El teaching Superman that direct intervention only causes more issues and that people will only respond if they’re guided indirectly so that they accept positive change naturally. Regardless, the temptation to act is going to weigh on him.

Basically, if we have another take on Superman, I hope they don’t treat him like any other superhero, running around and punching bad guys. He has way more potential to stand out, because when he’s treated the same, he just seems like a bland Mary Sue. Superman has his limitations, even without resorting to an artificial weakness or by powering up his problems. There are problems that even Superman cannot deal with, but he will try to face them regardless, because he is the only one who can try to bear that weight.

He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything, it’s just too heavy for Superman to lift.

(Post-script: My friend Matt wrote a response to this post, check it out!)

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Quick Fix: Be Inspired, You Sheep!

I saw Ready Player One at the movies last night (it was a fun time), but there was one poster in the lobby which really captured my attention:

If you have read my previous posts about the Christian media industry, then you’ll probably guess what caught my eye on this. That big, red declaration at the top lays bare the entire reason this, and any other big Christian movie for that matter, gets made: you, as a Christian, are part of an easy-to-manipulate market demographic who will bring in a strong return on a small investment. It’s no coincidence that the new God is Not Dead film* came out this weekend as well – Christians often make a big stink about how evil Hollywood is, but studios will still throw them a bone because they are a built-in audience that will run on word-of-mouth marketing and, most importantly, they have money at their disposal. It just sickens me how blatantly they’re commodifying faith and how we as a community have turned this into a whole commercial enterprise.

Like, look at those statements. First, gather your church – even a modest church could net you 50+ people, but with mega churches you could have hundreds of people roped into seeing Paul: Apostle of Christ. Again, word-of-mouth marketing. You, as a Christian, are amazing to a studio because they spend way less to make these films and they’re pretty much guaranteed to return a modest profit because of how we pressure each other into seeing these sorts of movies that suck up to Christians living in a bubble.

Second, gather your friends and family – this part sickens me the most. To me, this essentially is saying “Hey, you want to evangelize to your family but don’t know how? Boy, do I have the perfect product for you…” I mean, hell, it’s one thing if you let that sort of thing happen organically, but the fact that you’re trying to sell your film on that notion rubs me the wrong way. Of course, this can also be interpreted as “gather your Christian friends and family and go see this”, but either way this is just another word-of-mouth attempt to get butts in seats.

Finally, come be inspired together… bloody hell, that is so condescending, and yet, probably accurate for the sort of person who would see this film. It’s like the template requires that every Christian movie has to be “inspiring” in one way or another. The Kendrick brothers, for example, have built a career on this concept. Even silly comedies, like Road to Redemption, have to renew your faith and try to proselytize to your unsaved friends who definitely aren’t cringing the entire way through this film you forced them to sit through. It is what it is, I guess, but some variety would certainly go a long way, especially considering that most Christian media isn’t really made for the people outside that bubble anyway. Perhaps that’s why God is Not Dead is not telling you to bring your unsaved friends and family, while Paul: Apostle of Christ is… which actually is making me start to re-evaluate exactly which notion is more disgusting. Ugh. Here’s “S.M.C.” (aka Sunday Mass Consumption) by Project 86 to play us out…

*…I seriously considered putting quotation marks around the word “film” here.

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Some Thoughts on the New Tomb Raider Film

It’s no secret that I quite enjoy the two most recent Tomb Raider games and the upcoming third game is probably one of the few video games I’m actually looking forward to this year. Despite this goodwill, I had very low hopes for the new Tomb Raider movie, especially after the first trailer was released. However, my girlfriend and I wanted to catch a movie last weekend and ended up seeing Tomb Raider on a whim. I came away more impressed than I was expecting to (at the very least, it is far better than the Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider films), but it makes one huge, fundamental blunder near the mid-point which really screws over the rest of the film. Hell, just thinking about it, Tomb Raider could have been great – dare I say, easily the best video game movie of all time*. This isn’t a review (off-the-cuff, I’d probably give it a 6/10), but more of a lament of what Tomb Raider could have been.

First off, I feel like I should acknowledge that, as expected, Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander does a superb job as Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie was the perfect casting decision for that era of Tomb Raider, but I definitely appreciate this more grounded take on the heroine, and Vikander nails it. She has the physicality and confidence to sell the role, while also knowing when she should be vulnerable as Lara gets swept in over her head (for example, throughout the entire scene involving the plane hanging over a waterfall, the look of terror on Vikander’s face just sells the danger and makes it feel far more real than you would expect). The film also does a good job of making us care for Lara, giving us around 40 very solid minutes of set-up to establish her character, motivations and resourcefulness, while also giving us a pretty badass bicycle chase too.

Honestly, the first hour of Tomb Raider is very solid. In this time, we also get introduced to another compelling character, Lu Ren, whose past seems to be entwined with Lara’s own. There’s a tangible chemistry between the two – not necessarily romantic, but they really light up the screen together, sort of like Lara and Jonah’s partnership in the video games. The villain, Mathias Vogel, could have been very bland, but since he’s played by the underrated Walton Goggins, he is imbued with a sense of desperation and sympathy where you can identify with him. He is definitely a bad guy, but he just wants to see his family again and will do whatever it takes do accomplish that. He makes for a decent foil for Lara and is certainly a serviceable enough villain.

After the first hour, it’s pretty clear that Tomb Raider has all the pieces in place to succeed. Lara’s on the island being chased by bad guys, Lu Ren has been shot and captured, that awesome waterfall-to-plane-to-parachute sequence happens, and then Lara is forced to kill her first human being. She feels awful about it and breaks down… and then sees a hooded figure in the woods watching, she chases them down and the movie never gets its footing back. (Let me reiterate here once again: SPOILER ALERT!!!) In a massive deviation from Lara’s backstory and history in all other portrayals of the character, it turns out that Lord Richard Croft is alive on the island and has been trying to prevent the villains from succeeding since he disappeared.

This is such a blunder for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, it diminishes Lara’s own role in the story in favour of a character who should be, for all practical purposes, a plot point. In most portrayals of Lord Croft, he exists only to provide Lara with a motivation (inspiring her to seek adventure, an emotional investment in her current treasure hunt, an existential emptiness from losing her father in a foundational period of her life, etc). The Tomb Raider film initially follows this pattern, establishing Richard Croft’s strong bond with Lara and he proves to be the crux of her desire to set out on a quest to discover what happened to him. His journal notes drive much of the early plot, but Richard himself is more of a plot point than an actual character – hell, the only reason we care about him at all is because Lara (who we already like quite a bit) cares so much about him. However, when he shows up in earnest, he begins to dominate the plot despite still being just a boring side-character. He doesn’t change at all, doesn’t do much to drive the plot other than an obligatory heroic sacrifice at the end, and basically just takes up screen time from the actual heroine. Michael Phillips’ review hits the nail on the head in this regard: “The Lara Croft reboot Tomb Raider isn’t half bad for an hour. Then there’s another hour. That hour is quite bad. It’s no fun watching your action heroine get shoved, punched and kicked to the sidelines of her own movie, while the menfolk take over and take turns overacting before expiring”.

To make things worse, the twist also ruins other elements of the film which had been working well up until that point. As I said before, the twist comes immediately after Lara’s first kill, which is supposed to be a major emotional trauma for her character. However, by having her encounter Richard within seconds of that this, the gravity of the situation is undercut. As far as the film’s concerned, she gets over it immediately. In fact, it’s bad enough that I wonder if perhaps Richard’s role was expanded in rewrites, its inclusion is that jarring. It also doesn’t help that as soon as Richard shows up, Lu Ren is sidelined for the rest of the movie, doing little more than helping some of the captives on the island to escape. Furthermore, the film has hammered home that Richard should be a dead a number of times before this twist. Richard states that he is likely dead in his recording to Lara, and even Mathias says that he straight-up killed Richard. When it turns out that Richard is still alive, we’re given absolutely no explanation as to how Mathias could have possibly mistaken this. They don’t even have hints of his survival beforehand either, he just shows up out of nowhere, so it’s not like they even attempted any clever foreshadowing to ease us into the idea. Again, it feels like something shoehorned in awkwardly during rewrites.

Furthermore, we can just look at the video game to see how Tomb Raider could have been better. The film actually makes quite a few deviations from the source material which are net positives (particularly the first act set-up in London), and others which are unfortunate but I can understand (condensing the colourful cast of side-characters down into just Lu Ren and Richard). However, I feel like the film made a pretty big mistake by changing the central crux of Lara’s first big adventure: in the film, this is driven by finding Richard Croft, but in the games this revolves around rescuing Lara’s best friend Samantha Nishimura. These are both pretty archetypal adventure movie motivations, but I feel like giving Richard Croft so much prominence was the weaker route to take. For one thing, making your female-led action heroine’s motivation boil down to “daddy issues” is very cliche and boring. Elena Nicolaou puts it well: “with another Tomb Raider movie about Lara Croft and her father, the gulf between the starkly independent video game Lara, and the daddy-pleasing movie Lara, widens again.” Think about how this story places Lara Croft – she is picking up after her father’s work and any agency she has within the plot are just directed at that and at her obsession with her father. The film certainly isn’t misogynist or anti-feminist (hell, it even passes the Bechdel test, if you’re the sort of person who cares about that), but it does undercut itself by making Richard such a prominent figure in a film which is supposed to be all about Lara.

Contrast this with the plot of the game, which (in broad strokes) revolves around rescuing Sam. Lara sets out on this adventure of her own desire and fights to rescue Sam because she cares so much about her. This story puts Lara at the center of everything, where she should be. Furthermore, having a female action hero rescuing her female friend is far less-trodden ground than daddy issues is, and presents far more fertile ground for interesting characterization (if the film followed the game’s plot, Sam actually would get a chance to be more than just a living McGuffin, she gets scenes where she works to escape alongside Lara). You could argue that the removal of supernatural elements from the plot makes the inclusion of Sam unfeasible, but c’mon, you could rewrite it pretty easily – Trinity clearly believes in supernatural powers, so it’s not a stretch to believe that they could mistakenly believe Sam could be the key to unlocking Himiko’s power.

Tomb Raider could have been great. As it is, it’s just decent, and most of its issues can be linked back to Richard Croft’s survival. Here’s hoping that a sequel can correct the issues on display here, but if nothing else, at least the recently announced Shadow of the Tomb Raider should continue to carry on the series’ legacy into the future.

*Instead, that honour continues to be filled by DOA: Dead or Alive. That sounds like a joke, especially considering my love-hate relationship with the games, but seriously, the DOA movie is a legitimately fun film that does pretty much everything with a wink and grin. I’ve been planning on doing a review of it for a long time and one of these days I will need to actually do so, because it’s really that good.

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Will Metal Gear “Survive” Without Kojima?

I’ll be honest, I’ve been lazy about updating the blog lately. I’ve got about a half dozen posts half-written, but nothing managed to push through and materialize… until now. What could have possibly pushed me out of my lethargy? Trump? Some theoretical voting structure? Theology?
Nope, Konami and Metal Gear of course.

To open the year 2016, I wrote up a series of lengthy posts reviewing each of the main series games in the Metal Gear franchise. I spent a solid month and a half doing my “research” for those articles, so you know that this franchise means quite a lot to me. However, with series creator Hideo Kojima leaving Konami and the series on rocky terms, I’ve basically come to terms with the idea that the series is effectively dead. As exciting as another Kojima Metal Gear could be, I’m totally fine with 25 years of absolutely rock solid games which are amongst the absolute best in the industry. I’m willing to let the series go, for there to be a concrete end.

Naturally, Konami doesn’t see it that way and are ready to milk the franchise until it’s a decayed husk. We’ve already seen the Fox Engine used to “remake” the series’ best game, Snake Eater, into a freaking Pachinko machine, and now Konami has revealed their first original console entry: Metal Gear Survive… and it’s not doing much to get me back on board.

First of all, the premise sounds like it was thought up by someone who didn’t understand Metal Gear, just thought it was weird, and then ratcheted that weirdness up significantly. The basic idea is that you’re a soldier of Militaire Sans Frontieres who, when Mother Base is destroyed in Ground Zeroes, gets sucked into a freaking portal and now has to fight crystal zombies to get home in 4-player survival co-op. What the feth…?

Well first of all, it has to be said that this is a ballsy as hell move, because I’m pretty sure no one wanted Metal Gear Solid: Operation Raccoon City. As much as some people want to dismiss the portals and zombies in this game as being “typical Metal Gear“, I can’t really get on board that. Sure, there were portals in The Phantom Pain, but they were always a silly gameplay mechanic which was clearly intended to be more of a bit of player convenience rather than something which is meant to be canon, in-game technology. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff in Metal Gear, so it can be hard to parse exactly what is real or not, but the portals never struck me for even a second as a thing which is real in its world. Plus, these elements were always on the edges of the game, not the central conceit of the game. Sure, we had to fight “zombie-like” enemies during a handful of boss battles in The Phantom Pain, but I can’t imagine a whole game with them. Again, it feels like someone saw these weird elements in other games in the series and thought that they were central to the experience, rather than in-jokes on the fringes.

I can’t help but feel like Konami is just chasing trends with the entire concept of the game. Open world 4 player co-op is clearly a “desired feature” these days, with games like Ghost Recon: Wildlands really pushing that as “the future” (although Wildlands actually looks like it will be very fun). Furthermore, zombie enemies and survival elements are the game’s other 2 big features, which are 2 of the most oversaturated buzzwords in all of gaming these days. What about this game is supposed to be selling it to me? Aside from the bonkers premise, this game just looks generic and boring, with its only potential selling point being the Metal Gear name.

Making the game even less interesting for someone like me, is there going to be any sort of story to this? And even if there is, is it going to transcend the usual, generic video game zombie survival tropes? Metal Gear is renowned for their rich (and usually insane) stories. Even The Phantom Pain, which was arguably the weakest narrative in the main series, had some pretty fascinating themes at its core – enough so that I somehow managed to spend more time dissecting it than I did for any other game in the franchise. Based on what we see here (4 nameless nobodies killing zombies), I have a hard time picturing anything other than the most shallow story. It’s not exactly the incredible Ground Zeroes reveal trailer, now is it?

I’m not pissed off about this game – like I said in the intro, the Metal Gear franchise is dead as far as I’m concerned, and with the very clear split between pre- and post-Kojima exit, this game is hardly going to ruin its legacy. It doesn’t even look terrible, but there’s absolutely nothing about this trailer that gets me excited in the slightest. Konami is just doing a poor job of trying to win us back after the shit they dragged their fans through. If they want to win us back, this wasn’t the way to do it. Do you know how they could get us back in good graces? Well first of all, finish Chapter 51 of The Phantom Pain and then release it as free DLC. It was already partially completed, so that is not going to be a ton of work, actually finishing the game will boost its legacy and earn you some major goodwill. Then, to ratchet up the workload a bit, take that Snake Eater pachinko machine and actually announce that you’re remaking the game in the Fox Engine for consoles. This gives you a template to work off of and, if you can pull it off, prove that you can make a solid Metal Gear game without Kojima’s oversight. After that, maybe do an original set-story. Hell, Survive might even work at that point if you’ve earned enough goodwill to do your own thing. After that, if you’ve proven that Metal Gear is in good hands, then you could probably get away with Metal Gear Solid 6 and beyond.

That’s really the crux of the issue with Survive though – we straight up do not trust Konami to deliver a worthy experience. The game looks generic already, but I can’t trust that Konami won’t screw it up fundamentally either. You can certainly continue Metal Gear without Kojima, but Konami is going to have to earn our goodwill through blood, sweat and many, many tears.

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Conjuring Your Perception

So recently I have been rocking out to “Termination” by Book of Black Earth on a pretty regular basis. I think my favourite part of the song though is the last minute or so, which closes with a rather intriguing sample from an interview panel featuring a Christian and a Satanist. As you would probably expect from this sort of setup, the Christian interviewee gets trounced in the debate:

Christian Dude: “To suggest that you can create your own reality, my goodness, that’s what they did in Tiananmen Square. That’s what they did in Germany in 1933. […] These are examples of people who created their own reality.”
Satanist Dude: “Everyone creates their own reality, the thing is, you speak for a consensus of reality that is acceptable. We speak for one which, at this point in history, is not acceptable.”
Christian Dude: “Oh, so it’s a question of who manipulates the media, who has the most money to put their reality forth? But would you pardon me for saying that I find the world where your ability to conjure your own reality that you perceive as being a very frightening world for people like me. Because you see, I am guided by some codified rules that tell me what is right and wrong. In your world, I’m not so sure I’d feel very safe.”
Satanist Dude: “Well that’s your problem. […] In the Satanic world of the future, Christian churches will be allowed to continue, because they pose no threats to us. We don’t need Christianity, Christianity needs us.”*

The Christian interviewee’s obliviousness to the fact that everyone is conjuring their own reality to at least some degree is just the first of many events that have occurred to me recently which have gotten me thinking about perception and reality. As the old saying goes, “seeing is believing”, but it seems pretty clear that our perception is not necessarily truth. Maybe this is a pretty obvious statement when you really think about it, but it seems like many people just aren’t confronted face-first with this idea, even though it plays a major role in much of human conflict (both on the large and small scale).

For example, one of my brothers didn’t realize he was partially colour-blind until about a year ago when somebody asked him to grab them a flower with a specific shade of blue. When he wasn’t able to locate these flowers, the person realized that my brother is actually unable to see this shade of blue, and that it actually appears purple to him. As far as he knew, the flowers were always purple and really, within his perception of the world, they still are – he’s just aware that other people see it differently now. “The Dress” was a similar case of this on a larger scale, with a large portion of the “controversy” it created coming down to people realizing en masse that not everyone sees the world the same way that you do (and then trying to force that viewpoint on everyone else, naturally).

Hell, even animals perceive the world differently than we do, with some being capable of seeing in different spectra – a yellow flower may be lit up with neon signals for insects, or your brand new car has some sort of unseen signal which tells all the pigeons in the area to defecate on it constantly (okay, maybe I’m joking about that last one). Bloodhounds’ sense of smell is so acute that they can essentially smell into the past at lengths of time stretching as far back as 300 hours.** We need to take into account that the world we see is just a small part which humans are only capable of picking up on.

Left: what you see. Right: what a bee would see.

One of the scientific methods that can measure differences in perception is through the “clock test”, which is used to determine the severity of neuro-degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease. You might be familiar with the idea if you watched the first season of Hannibal. Basically, the test requires the subject to draw a clock – simple, right? Well the results can be pretty surprising as patients with neurodegenerative diseases draw their clocks lopsided, squeezed into half of the face or even just as a series of unintelligible squiggles. As far as they know, they’re just drawing a normal clock, but to the rest of us their drawing appears far different than how they perceive it. Such imbalances can be chemical as well as physical. A similar idea went into that viral website of the man who took dozens of different drugs and drew a self-portrait for each one. This little experiment, while not exactly scientific, showed how chemical changes in the brain can wildly affect how a person sees the world.

In addition to my taste in black death metal, another occurrence which has gotten me thinking about perception is that I have recently finished reading John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. The book was significantly more out-there than I was expecting – I was just looking for first-hand accounts of the Mothman legend, what I got was lots of theorizing about extra-dimensional entities and accounts of people who were contacted by aliens. It was incredibly strange and unbelievable, with a large percentage of my reading time being dedicated to trying to figure out what the hell was up with John Keel. There’s really only a few ways you can attempt to rationalize the claims in The Mothman Prophecies: call Keel a compulsive liar (which I don’t really think is the case) and just dismiss it all outright, take his claims at face value (mischievous extra-dimensional beings are totally real I guess), or try to figure out what sort of skewed perception he has which is putting him at such great odds with rational society. This is harder to parse than you’d expect, since he has a very level-headed, analytical personality and is careful to note that he almost always has some sort of witnesses to his first-hand experiences. It’s almost convincing… until you step back for a second and remember that all his claims of extraterrestrial contact and shifty conspiracies are completely unsubstantiated in our modern world, and especially with the modern proliferation of cellular technology. Did he have schizophrenia or some sort of mental illness? Were his contactees suffering mass hysteria? Was every Ufologist on PCP in the 70s? I honestly have no idea, but the conviction with which Keel lays his unbelievable case forward is one of the more extreme examples I’ve experienced of how irreconcilable perception can be between two people.

This disconnect between perception and reality has repercussions on religion as well. Christianity (along with many other religions) likes to claim a monopoly on the singular truth of the world – in fact, “The Truth” is a bit of a dog-whistle term within Christian culture. However, if even a mentally-sound person isn’t able to perceive the world quite the same as anyone else (not to mention the countless individuals with physical impairments), just how concrete can we consider The Truth to be? In regards to sin and punishment, Christianity likes to assume that everyone is on an equal footing, but the “reality” of the world shows that this is clearly not the case. What about the woman who insured with my company who suffered a traumatic brain injury which drove her to commit suicide? Is she responsible for the actions of a clearly damaged brain? Or what about the man in my grandmother’s retirement home who fell off a roof and hit his head, eliminating the man’s entire personality and mental acuity in the process? When you are essentially transformed into an invalid, can you even be held accountable anymore? I’ll be honest, these sorts of questions trouble me quite a bit, and if we’re going to insist that we have a just God, it pushes me closer and closer to a universalist perspective.

Naturally, this wouldn’t be an IC2S post without some sort of ideological commentary, and as you can expect, it plays a part in perception as well. Ideology acts as a sort of cognitive filter, whereas a person’s physical limitations (mental illness, colour blindness, etc) represent a more fundamental structural base. As I have discussed on a number of occasions on the blog, ideology becomes a framework through which we understand the world. This is how we get unintelligible people like Matt Walsh or people who believe Lego Wheelchairs are a slippery slope into publicly accepting wolfkin. And yes, this is how someone like me ends up writing a ton of blog posts about feminism and social justice.

So we’ve established that everyone only sees an objective perception of the world and not “the truth” – what do we do with this knowledge? Well ultimately that’s for you to decide, but I have a few recommendations. Be aware that other people may feel differently from you and treat them with due respect. Be open to other peoples’ ideas. You don’t necessarily have to accept their views, but don’t dismiss them outright. This is the basis of tolerance and an enriched life. Also, be aware that if someone is peddling a monopoly on “the truth”, they’re probably full of shit.

Oh, but be sure to read I Choose to Stand religiously, because I’m always right.

Only throwing this in here because I know I’m going to have to explain that was a joke eventually…

*Obviously this last statement is pretty much bullshit. Satanism is a counter-cultural movement, but if it suddenly became the dominant religion then it would begin consolidating power just like every other popular movement in history.
**In doing some of the research on Bloodhounds, I came across this stinker from the always-entertaining Answers in Genesis. In it, they state that the Bloodhound’s nose is so amazing that it could only have been created by God. However, this is ignoring the fact that an evolutionist would not claim that the Bloodhound came about by accident – if we accept that dogs are descended from domesticated wolves, then the Bloodhound would have been designed through successive breeding. Is it that difficult to picture the best trackers amongst the wolf-dogs being bred together to produce an uber-tracker? Of course, this is AIG and they aren’t exactly known for their amazing debating skills.

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Quick Fix: Meme-o Kylo Ren

This probably shouldn’t be a super controversial statement, but I rather like Kylo Ren. In my mind, he’s the Star Wars equivalent of John Maguire – a very confused kid who gets caught up with the wrong people because he never had any proper guidance and then, before he can really realize it, he’s in a terrorist organization. This is a rather fascinating, timely and even untraditionally tragic characterization to give to a villain, one with plenty of amazing opportunity to either make him double-down on the villainy and become something truly monstrous or (and I’m hoping that this is what happens in Episode 8) have him begin to mature and realize that “holy shit, what am I doing with my life?” and attempt to make amends.

Naturally, with that sort of setup, the whole conversation about Kylo Ren has devolved into “emo”, angsty, whiner kid. This wasn’t the case immediately after release, but as soon as Emo Kylo Ren occurred, suddenly it was his defining character trait and people began harping on it. I’m gonna be honest, I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times now and I don’t really get where this is coming from. He only ever angsts once in the whole film, and that’s when he gets confronted by his father (who he doesn’t particularly like). Oh, and he breaks stuff twice, but is that really enough for people to label him as “whiny”? If nothing else, he is considerably less whiny than Anakin was in the prequels, and infinitely less insufferable and more understandable even when he is angsting.

There’s got to be some sort of word for this, where the public conversation ends up colouring the perception of a character. It’s sort of like a cognitive version of Flanderization; Memefication might be the most accurate term for it at the moment. We saw the same sort of thing happen last year with Jurassic World, an incredibly flawed movie which people couldn’t legitimately criticize without wasting all their time on Claire’s heels. I didn’t notice or give a shit about the heels while watching the film, they’re really inconsequential and hardly that unusual in these sorts of silly action movies. However, that’s what the conversation gravitated towards, so by God we’re going to beat this meme into the ground.

This seems to be something that’s only getting more prevalent due to the Internet allowing petty little complaints or skewed perceptions to echo throughout popular culture. That’s not to say that it didn’t exist before that though – arguably the absolute best example is Batman & Robin, since every time it gets brought up someone will go “oh yeah, that one is terrible, I mean they put nipples on Batman!”, as if that alone is some sort of signifier for why the movie was awful (that’s putting aside the actual problems of poor/overly-hammy performances, crass self-commercialization, bonkers directing, etc which make Batnipples look cute in comparison). Obviously this is not something super important in and of itself, but it is something worth paying attention to as you can perceptibly see how the conversation about a piece of media changes as the memes solidify.

…and to end on a completely unrelated topic, check out my badass Kylo Ren cosplay!

Ladies.
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#OscarsSoWhite: Why We Need to Learn to Pick Our Battles

If you’ve read even a couple of my posts on this blog, then you’re probably aware that I’m a staunchly left-leaning “SJW”-type person. However, with that in mind, I am absolutely sick of the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy which has been dominating the news cycle for the last week. Initially I was fine with it – it is certainly odd that we haven’t had a non-white acting nominee in 2 straight years now, which is a situation which is certainly ripe for discussion. However, my problem is that the prevailing discussion soon turned towards the Academy itself being racist by not choosing any black actors, which is really straining things as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, Mark Gollom posted this very good article on CBC which covers all of the things I have been pointing out since this story first broke. In light of this, I think it’s finally time for me to throw in my hat as well on this story.

First of all, it has to be said that the real “objective” importance of the Oscars is ridiculously overstated. It is certainly the most visible stage for film appraisal, but not winning or getting nominated is only really important for the financial incentives and exposure it provides. The “best” movies or actors in a given year is an incredibly subjective question, and I’m certain that the average moviegoer’s list would look absolutely nothing like what the Academy comes up with most years. The fact that Mad Max: Fury Road made the shortlist this year is nothing short of a minor miracle, as it doesn’t fit the “Oscar-bait” mold which most nominees must adhere to in order to stand a chance.

Furthermore, many deserving actors get snubbed every year and it always causes some kind of backlash. Will Smith and Michael B Jordan didn’t really have a lot of buzz going their way, especially in comparison to the actors who did make the extremely-limited slate. Furthermore, Idris Elba was never going to get nominated, and that is down to film-making politics – Beasts of No Nation is breaking the “established rules” of film distribution, so like TRON‘s visual effects snub, it was never going to be recognized by the Academy. Compared to last year, these aren’t shocking at all, unlike the lack of major recognition for Selma, which left me absolutely flabbergasted, especially considering that it had some of the most positive buzz going into the awards (not to mention that most of the Oscar-bait from that year totally floundered).

#OscarsSoWhite activists need to start looking at the bigger picture if they want to solve this issue. They can start by directing their criticisms at Hollywood’s movie studios, which is where I would argue this whole Oscars racism issue stems from. Think about it – we have a severe lack of non-white actors because Hollywood studios think that there will be financial repercussions if they cast a minority in any major roles. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy, it’s just an attitude which has created some major inequality throughout the entire industry. At this point, it’s so obvious that it is basically a no-brainer. From not casting black actors in lead roles because “foreign people are racist and it’ll affect our bottom-line”, to the disgustingly frequent practice of white-washing characters because studios refuse to finance a movie without a bankable cast. Furthermore, it is believed that Selma was overlooked, not because of Academy racism and favouritism, but because of a lack of promotion:

Selma’s studio, Paramount, had mailed free DVD screeners to Oscar voters — but not to guild voters. Which raises the possibility that, with Selma having opened so late in the season, maybe not enough voters have seen it yet.”

This is just another look behind the curtain at the subjective nature of the Oscars. How the heck did Paramount not think that Selma was a legitimate Best Picture contender?

The final big issue here is that Will Smith and Michael B Jordan’s “snubbed” performances are in the Best Actor category, which is widely regarded as being one of the most competitive categories in the entire awards ceremony. Due to traditional wisdom in Hollywood favouring male leads, there are basically always going to be tons of Best Actor candidates. Furthermore, with Hollywood preferring white male leads in general, we end up with less bankable non-white actors, meaning that it’s significantly harder for an actor to get to the status of being competitive enough to actually stand a chance of getting a Best Actor nomination. In general, this sort of systemic favouritism of white males not only screws minorities throughout their entire careers, but it also is a prime factor for why women have a harder time making it in Hollywood as well.

In general, I think that #OscarsSoWhite is on the right track – there is certainly some very obvious cases of systemic racism within the film industry. However, by directing their efforts at the Academy, activists are missing out on the real root of the problem. We need to see studios and agents more willing to take risks on non-white actors, more diverse screenplays and casting, and more of a concerted effort to actually tell the stories of other people. Furthermore, we as the public need to continue to support films which do try to take these sorts of risks – Hollywood might finally be starting to understand, but it is going to take a very long time before a strong stable of talent is fostered instead of getting passed over.

Unfortunately, due to the current public discourse, all people are going to remember of this incident was that black people were playing the “race card” again to try to get ahead, even though there were legitimate issues to discuss. This is why I’m always telling us SJW-types to “pick your battles” intelligently, because the causes that we choose to fight for are arguably just as important as the actual messages in terms of public perception. If we want more people to sympathize with our causes, then they need to realize that what we’re saying is correct, rather than give them some dumbed-down talking point that any troglodite can disprove.

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