How to end 2016

Book cover of Penguin Classics edition of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

I am reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Technically I haven’t actually started reading it yet and have only finished reading the preface by Michel Foucault. Mostly I’m reading it because a lot of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas were explored thematically in the Ghost in the Shell anime and I’d wanted to read it before actually watching the movies and shows. I think the book itself has been on my Amazon wishlist for eight years now.

It seems to be about using the schizophrenic’s break with (capitalist) society as a roadmap to how to live outside of capitalism and its inherently fascist tendencies. It’s kind of hard to read a theory book once one is no longer in academia as I’m no longer in the headspace to easily parse a translation of a densely written neo-Marxist monograph. That, and there are just too many options for amusement available to me.

Speaking of which, I’m also reading another – and more accessible – translated work known as The Devil is a Part-Timer series. It’s a bunch of Japanese light novels about the Devil being kicked out of his kingdom and escaping to modern Japan, where to make ends meet he has to work part-time at McDonald’s. It’s frequently hilarious.

I keep these books at home, though, and when I’m commuting I pull out my Kobo and read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: Shadows of Self, which is set 300 years after the end of his Mistborn fantasy series. While the original trilogy was essentially a decently fresh take on a fantasy trope, being about a world where the destined hero failed and the land is ruled by the evil emperor, this series is kind of a fantasy Western about supernaturally powered lawmen and criminals playing their games in a mix of the Wild West and Victorian London.

I like it okay. Sanderson’s writing has definitely improved since his first book, Elantris, though it’s still not going to end up studied in creative writing classes. But the book is entertaining enough.

Previously on Robotech

I’m watching Robotech for the first time ever. I’ve only seen two episodes so far but I kind of like it. It goes down easy when I need something uncomplicated to watch in between getting home from work and going to the gym.

I probably would have enjoyed watching it on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Oh well, I had The Tick and X-Men to tide me over. Speaking of which:

The 5 minute story

Anime poster of 3 Japanese teenagers in a school library

I finally understand the appeal of those short anime skits that you see on Crunchyroll. My understanding is that in Japan they’re quick palate cleansers wedged in between longer shows being broadcast on TV, but I could never understand why someone would seek them out on a streaming service when longer and more narratively satisfying series are just a click away.

However, they’re perfect for when you need a quick distraction, like when you’re in the subway and don’t have a consistent signal. I’ve been watching Miss Bernard Said in this way and it’s been pleasant enough. It helps that the show is about a high school book club where they mostly talk about science fiction and other genre books that I’ve already read.

I suppose that’s the other part of the format’s appeal to me: watching it requires no great intellectual effort on my part. I just turn on, tune in, and drift away. It’s nice to watch something unchallenging every now and then.

What hath God wrought?

You know, I could tell what I’ve been up to lately, but I think I’d rather just tell you about the greatest thing in the history of the universe, which is this Twitter account:

@fanfiction_txt - Real quotes from fanfiction/reviews. None edited, aside from length. [Account admin posts in brackets]

Just look at the material it highlights. This thing is gold. Gold!

  • Captain N: The Game Master Kevin and Lana are informed that Charles Manson has escaped from prison
  • Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts accidentally travels from their world to Afghanistan
  • Twilight acciedentlly cast’s a perminate spell that turns her in to a lb&sc railway class e2 tank engine
  • “Sometimes, I wonder where my life is headed, and all I see is this black hole of nothing.” Tails pauses, his shoulders shaking as he sobs.
  • Larry the Cable Guy was right. Communism is the only justice left in this dark age! Communism is the only way to save my country
  • Crazy Frog confuses everyone when he decides to join both the Bloods and the Crips.
  • Dane Cook and Disturbed frontman David Draiman find out they want each other…sex happens..duh
  • “Hi dad!”
    “Hi son! How was your day?”
    “Well, it’s pretty interesting. You’ve heard of Sonic the Hedgehog racing in NASCAR, right?”
    “Yeah
  • It’s up to the Powerpuff Girls to stop Obama
  • Donald Trump begins to panic after trapping a wasp under a cup

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I’ve been working on the anime podcast project I mentioned before.

Hungry like the wolf

So I’m playing Tales From the Borderlands. I’m already on the third episode. This is in contrast to season 2 of The Walking Dead, which I still haven’t finished, and The Wolf Among Us, which took me most of a year to get through.

I think it’s because Tales From the Borderlands is actually fun. It’s not depressing like The Walking Dead (tap X to avoid catching dysentery) or gruesomely violent like The Wolf Among Us.

I’m not kidding about Wolf Among Us – a lot of the Quicktime fight scenes felt shoehorned in, while the crunching sounds of bones snapping and the copious blood leaking out of various gaping wounds was offputting. And I say this as a connoisseur of graphic violence (I have enjoyed works from Messrs. Miller, Tarantino, and Chiba).

It’s probably the air of seedy fictional hyperreality that pervades the game. Fiction always asks that we not pay attention to how artificial their worlds are, but Wolf Among Us was so grubby and bleak that I kept noticing how my narrative path was always railroaded onto the most noirishly depressing options.

But yeah, Tales From the Borderlands – while also containing violence – is too cartoonish for me to be bothered when someone gets shot through the head. And, you know, it’s fun to play. I’ll probably finish it by the end of this week, which is a record for me as far as Telltale Games properties go.

Giant Robots and Why We Love Them

Originally posted by me on PodCastle in the Sky

A quick glance at the lineup of a typical anime season will reveal a large number of shows featuring giant robots. In the recent winter season alone we can count among giant robot anime the series Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded OrphansSchwarzesmarken, Macross Delta, and probably a bunch more I’ve overlooked. Point is, giant robot anime are like cockroaches and herpes – they keep coming back.

But what’s so great about giant robots? Yeah, I know, to ask the question is to answer it. Giant robots kick ass. I mean, have you seen Robot Jox?

Or Pacific Rim too, I guess.

Fine, but why giant robots? Why not, say, giant tanks, like in Heavy Object?

I think it ultimately comes down to power fantasies. A giant robot perfectly embodies the juvenile dream of invincible domination that a tank cannot. Realistically speaking, a tank is a better weapon. It’s smaller, so it’s harder to hit; it’s cheaper, since manufacturing tank treads is easier than a bipedal walking machine; and it’s safer, since it’s easier to knock over something on two legs than a machine that rides low to the ground. Tanks are pound for pound the deadlier weapon, yet they don’t feel that way.

Consider that riding in a tank is akin to being jammed into a broom closet. Who feels invincible when the walls are pressing in everywhere?

Michael Peña driving a tank in Fury

Even were they roomier, though, tanks are fundamentally more like a heavily-armoured house on wheels. It’s a place to hunker down and hide in. One feels safe by virtue of being enclosed.

Melinda of Heavy Object holed up in the perfect otaku bunker

Look at the image from Heavy Object above of a tank driver in her native environment. It looks like a shut-in’s dream room – no windows or doors and ample monitors to watch TV and surf the Internet. The outside world might as well be just another program on the computer screen. It’s a perfect metal womb to hide in.

Feeling safe, though,  is not the same as feeling powerful. By contrast, a mecha is more truly worn than ridden. It’s human shaped and therefore more of an extension of one’s self – like the perfect battle armour or a second skin, or a new metal body that replaces vulnerable flesh.

It’s also important to remember that the heroes in giant robot anime are all teenagers, even the ones who aren’t. The modern iteration of the giant robot subgenre tends toward the melodramatic and the angst-ridden (as opposed to the gleefully consumerist giant robot shows of the 70’s and 80’s). There’s usually a sense of persecution and oppression being unjustly visited on the protagonists, whether it’s the outcast mercenary troop of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans or the underdog defenders in Argevollen.

But who are the villains who bedevil our heroes so? The enemies are often generic imperialists who fight for poorly-articulated and nonsensical political objectives. They aren’t fighting for anything specific because ultimately their goals aren’t important to the narrative. They’re just there to be roadblocks, to harass and  obstruct the hero and provide them something to punch.

The enemies of giant robot anime are so generic as to be universal. Look at the nickname bestowed upon the protagonist of Valvrave: The Boy Who Fought the World. This says it all. The enemy of the giant robot anime is no one specific, but rather everyone. Parents, teachers, bullies, rivals, friends, classmates, adults – which is to say, the generic “they” that persecutes the suffering hero of the show – are all the bad guys. They’re who he’s fighting against.

The giant robot pilot is like the Incredible Hulk – he wields incredible power but is misunderstood by the world. In the end, Hulk, like a surly and emo teenager, just wants to be left alone.

And here we come to the ultimate answer. The giant robot anime is the perfect teenage fantasy, for it’s a metaphor for the teenage condition: an innocent hero is possessed of unwanted new abilities which cause him to be unfairly beset on all sides by powers desperate to control or crush him.

This is the secret of why giant robot anime is so eternally alluring. Even adults who have their shit together will still occasionally feel like the world is picking on them for no good reason, and wouldn’t it be great if you had a magic wand that could make everything disappear? That could stop the world from pissing on you for just one damn second?

Why do we love giant robots? Because we all wish we had one of our own.