Tag Archives: fantasy

This Ain’t the Left Hand of Darkness

You know, I like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It’s about a bunch of amnesiac Japanese youths dropped into a fantasy world and forced to kill monsters to survive. Yeah, it’s like the hundredth variation on the “trapped in an RPG world” subgenre, except this one isn’t a power fantasy about the uber-l33t players replacing their pathetic offline lives with an awesome new virtual existence. No, this one actually examines what it would be like to have to kill another living being for the first time or lose a close companion or any one of a number of video game experiences that would be traumatic in real life. In other words, it treats the RPG world experience like a war movie.

I like the show, but it ain’t perfect. I’d say the worst thing about this anime is that every week I forget Ranta is an awful human being and every week he reminds me of that very fact. I’ve never liked fanservice – if I want porn I can get porn, anime studios – but I’d take a gratuitous shot of Yume’s naked asscrack every week (and holy shit was that ever gratuitous) over yet another tired line about how Ranta’s female teammates only have worth if he finds them sexually attractive. He could at least vary up his misogyny and insult women for having a different waist to hip ratio than men or having slightly higher pain thresholds or whatever. You know, really open up new horizons of animated sexism.

This is probably the thousandth time I’ve heard the joke that goes “you have small breasts, therefore you are worthless” on various anime series. Even if I thought that joke was funny, I certainly wouldn’t think so after hearing it repeated in one form or another since the 90’s – which is probably the last time someone laughed at that joke, by the way. You know, because it was already old and the person hearing it couldn’t believe someone was still using that joke.

I complain because I actually do like Grimgar. This Ranta thing is like a mouse turd in a bag of chocolate chips. I realize that the light novel author has mental health issues and might not be aware how jokes work (for instance, that they should be funny), but that doesn’t make this part of the show suck less.

A People’s History of Middle-Earth

I finished reading The Last Ringbearer. It’s a story completely unapproved of by the Tolkien estate which tells the story of the end and aftermath of the Lord of the Rings trilogy from the viewpoint of the orcs. It’s pretty much only available through non-standard channels in English, though I understand it’s sold openly as a published book in its original Russian.

I quite liked the opening when it was a revisionist retelling from the perspective of the losing side, leavened by long digressions into the history of Mordor and the ecology of the land, but in the middle it turned into a standard fantasy quest, which I wasn’t into. It’s clearly deliberate parallelism to the One Ring mission. After that it turned into a Cold War spy novel before ending kind of ploinkingly with almost the same climax as the original trilogy.

Reading the book was an interesting experience. I’m not sure it’s something I can recommend, particularly since I don’t know who I could even recommend it to – the story keeps switching genres and I don’t know if a typical fantasy reader would appreciate this literary legerdemain. That, and a Tolkien fan would probably be really ticked off at how the story of Lord of the Rings has been cruelly hacked apart and sewn back together as a cynical propaganda piece by the victorious West.

The book ends with an essay from the author defending his fanfiction – I do not use this term pejoratively, but it really is the best term for this work – and criticizing the fantasy genre’s demand for Manichean struggles between good and evil. This leads me to believe that he may not be widely read in the modern fantasy genre. There are numerous English fantasy works that put a gritty spin on fantasy, the most famous probably being A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones in its TV incarnation). Those works may not be as widely known in Russia, but it seems such an obvious idea to put a cynical spin on fantasy that I’m sure there are Russian writers who are doing the same thing already.

Anyway, that’s that. I read The Last Ringbearer. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t like it. I just thought it was kind of okay.

I have walked 500 miles

Above a port city of soaring spires hangs a female rogue on a rope spanning the blue sky and aims a throwing knife offscreen while in the background a woman on a balcony looks out at the sea.
This scene never took place in the game.

I think I’m more than halfway through Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal. I’ve been playing the Baldur’s Gate series off and on ever since I loaded up the first game probably eight or nine years ago. I used the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy mod to have BG1 run through the BG2 engine, so essentially I’ve been playing a single run of a computer role-playing game for most of a decade. With the end fast approaching I wanted to take a look back at the highlights of my run. Call it a greatest hits compilation. Continue reading I have walked 500 miles

Four ways to forgiveness

There’s no two ways about this: Spirit Circle is a damn good manga. Unfortunately, it’s rather hard to discover this for yourself, as all the synopses I’ve read make it sound incoherent or unremarkable. Take this one, for example:

Fuuta Okeya is a normal 14-year-old boy, except for the fact that he has the ability to see ghosts. A cute girl transfers into his class one day, but acts particularly aggressive towards him. This girl called Kouko Ishigami is followed around by a ghost called East. Fuuta tries to get along with her but ends up failing after she sees the birthmark he usually keeps covered. She then declares him as her enemy, his birthmark as a cursed brand and claims they have a long history, while talking about reincarnation. Who is this girl and how are they connected?

“Oh, it’s another high school story,” you might think. “Is it like Bleach? I’m guessing from the art it’s a comedy-romance and the reincarnation angle is the only unique thing about it. Oh well, high school comedy-romances are a dime a dozen.”

A girl and a boy fighting in the present day, as two young people in the pre-Hispanic Americas, as an old witch and a young knight, and as a ninja and a feudal Japanese swordsman

Hell no. I would never have tried this manga out if I hadn’t known it was written by the same person as the one behind Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but I’m glad I did. I think I have enough samples of his writing now to say without hesitation that Satoshi Mizukami knows how to write a moving story.

Basically, Spirit Circle is about the dispute between a boy and a girl that stretches backward and forward to the past and the future and back again, through different reincarnations and universes. In the present day, the boy searches through his past lives to find the reason for the girl’s animosity, while in each life the two fight and try to find a way to stop fighting.

Don’t get me wrong, this manga is definitely funny. There actually is comedy and romance in this series. But each reincarnation of the two rivals lives rich and full lives with their share of tragedy and suffering and peace and joy. Some heavy shit goes down, and not in just the past lives of the two.

The series is available on Crunchyroll’s online manga service. I do have to mention that I read it on my tablet and the app has the annoying tendency to occasionally show me a page that I’d already read. If that happens to you, I recommend exiting the manga and entering it again; that should make the proper page show up.

I’ve found Crunchyroll’s online manga offerings to be rather sparse in number and in quality. One might call it hit-or-miss but in my case I’ve found more misses than hits. This manga, though, is definitely one of the good ones. It’s also being simultaneously published, which means that it’s still not finished. However, from the way the story is going I think it’s almost done. If it sticks the landing then it’s going into my list of favourite series.

The gray world

Princess Ran in her Nike sneakers cutting her way through the vines to her sleeping prince

I’m currently reading Ran and the Gray World, which is a manga about a girl growing up in a family of sorcerers. It’s a whimsical and beautiful magical realist story, like one of the more child-oriented Hayao Miyazaki films. The manga contains scenes of childlike exuberance on the one hand, and scenes of terror and crushing sorrow on the other, but the tone never feels dissonant. Describing more of the plot would make the story sound nonsensical – like I said, it’s magical realist – but it does hold together with its own internal logic.

I think the series does a good job of showing how kids can handle more than adults tend to give them credit for. The art is wonderful, so the manga is enjoyable just on the visual level, but I do like how well it shows the eternal resiliency of children. I can see why it’s big in Japan.