12 Days Away From Anime #12: A Movie With Friends

I know this is my 12 days away from anime, but sometimes anime is the only word you can use. As this year came to a close, I sat with some friends and saw a movie unlike any other.

photography of small blue and brown bird

A movie many a podcast had tried to define. A movie about moving on in the shadow of college, perfect for closing out the year in which I left college.

In a lot of ways though, the subject matter wasn’t the important part. It was about being together with people I cared about, and seeing something that mattered.

So I sign out for Christmas, remembering the day I watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

 

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12 Days Away From Anime #11: “Low Point” is All For One’s High Point

All For One is the most creative web series I have seen*. It is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ d’Artagnan Romances as the video chat of a sorority pledge named Dorothy live streaming her life to a group of friends she calls The Inseparables. Transforming the original’s elite military corps into a notoriously progressive sorority (Mu Sigma Theta – MST), a story about the difficulty of monarchy becomes one about the fragile, blinding nature of bonds, and the myriad ways that young people, particularly young women, are unsafe in the modern world.

*Yes, EverymanHybrid ended this year, but that doesn’t have seasons or episodes. And I don’t even know if I would count Marble Hornets, which does have those things, in that, because I’m talking about a specific type of scripted series and not an ARG.

At any time, the show has three narratives going on. There is the narrative onscreen, there are the stories of Dorothy’s chatroom friends and their evolving relationships with each other, and there is even an evolving cosmically dystopian narrative inside of the show’s YouTube video descriptions.

In a season about darkness overtaking the main cast, “Low Point” is the beginning of the dawn. A character comes clean about her mental issues through the aid of the constant audience, who cannot unsee what she has presented them with.

I think if violation of privacy was the theme of the first season, the second season is about the danger of secrets. Here, technology is not the instrument of harm, but the mechanism by which constructive truths are revealed.

“Low Point” is a series of confessions and revelations between two friends. It is the beginning of patching things up through conversation, and it is, like so many wonderful things the internet has to offer, a triumph.

The line that always gets me is:

Poison? You are not poison. You are the opposite of poison! You’re sugar, you’re cinnamon, you are like whipped cream. You just, you make everything better.

Everyone needs to hear that, especially during the times they believe it least.

12 Days Away From Anime #10: “It Makes a Sound” Breaks My Heart

We have found the music. It had been lost, as so many things are lost.

For a couple of episodes, these words didn’t seem to mean anything. The first two episodes of “It Makes a Sound” feel empty – who is Wim Faros? What does his music sound like? Where is he now? Why does this matter?

The answers to these questions are lost, as so many things are lost, and they lie with its narrator Deirdre Gardner. Deirdre’s story is sad. Not sad in that she’s downtrodden or horrifically traumatized, but sad because of its specificity and the way it reflects on the sadness in the progression of time.

Deirdre lives in her hometown against her will because she is taking care of her mother. Her mother is losing her memories and regularly physically attacks Deirdre because she does not know who she is. The only positive memory Deirdre has of her home was her friend’s middle school graduation party, where a lonely tween guitarist she remembers as Wim Faros played an impromptu concert of original songs. Having found a recording from that day, she wishes to recapture that moment, the transcendent beauty that can only be captured through being a fourteen year old hearing sad poetry.

From there, the podcast becomes about triggering the elderly Mrs. Gardner’s memories of that concert and piecing together not just the lyrics of his songs, but who Wim Faros was. It’s a simultaneous reflection on the fears of age, the melancholy of a time long irrecoverable, and the sad awkwardness of youth. I’d give it a recommend – maybe just start with episode 3, since the series is all about missing context anyhow.

So today I celebrate the day I started to find that out. The reason the narrative was so empty was because it was coming from a sad desperate character who just wanted someone else to care. It was a move that did not seem to work in the show’s favor, but I hope the best for their next work.

12 Days Away From Anime #9: A New Age of Steven Universe

Steven Universe has always enthralled me for its ability to create a scene. Where its humor falls short and its pacing leaves too many questions burning, the show’s best moments are among some of my favorites in media. When Steven Universe it at its peak, it’s with immaculate sound design, empathetic thought-provoking characterization, and brilliant dialogue.

Another reason why I give the show as much credit that I do is that it seems everything a show can do well, it has done once. A lot of its comedic episodes are tiring, but episodes like “Log Date 7 15 2” and “Hit the Diamond” are absolute perfection. It doesn’t have the best fight scenes, or art design and animation, unless you are specifically talking about the episodes “Super Watermelon Island” and “Mindful Education”. It’s those shining moments and the stringing from each to the next that causes the show and its story to resonate so strongly in my heart. No series has yet consistently made me feel the awe that Steven Universe does occasionally.

If there’s one thing that seemed consistent about Steven Universe, it was its ability to make me cry. Be it a simple, manipulative, early self-contained episode, or a plot-centric emotionally heavy episode, the tear ducts were that show’s home – it was made to live there and thrive. These last two seasons, on the other hand, were short on the tears. After “Mindful Education”, its most emotionally taxing episode yet, the season 4 well ran dry. “Storm in the Room” gets to me in retrospect, but that’s mostly it.

I thought that the lack of sad setpieces, successors to Pearl’s scream on the mountain, Amethyst’s existential quandary, and the story of Centipeedle, was the show’s problem, but season 5 has proven me wrong.

It’s fine enough that Steven Universe became good again. The first half of season 5 was plenty good, but that didn’t make it the same caliber of show that my favorite moments had been in; it was Steven Universe finishing the season with an onslought of its best episodes that floors me.

Eight episodes in a row of bombshells, drama, and great moments centered around the series’ grand reveal, and not a single tear shed. There were sad parts, happy parts, and intense parts, but I wasn’t crying. I was excited. I was overwhelmed. I was hungry for more.

Learning the confirmed complexities of Pearl’s origins, meeting the Diamonds as people, and getting Bismuth back were moments of pure hype. Where Garnet’s first fusion onscreen is a moment of crying from joy, and her first ever fusion is a process of discovery and fear, her most recent fusion was a triumph. All of the world and character building the show built up is now front and center. So perhaps we will no longer chart the emotional hills and valleys of this cast, but see what carved them out, and what they will carve out in turn. The story is moving! The end is in sight! I hope every tear will be worth the while.

Steven Universe will air two more episodes this year after this post goes up, but cheers to the eight we have gotten so far, and a new era.

12 Days Away From Anime #8: Adventure Time Will Happen

Hoo boy. Adventure Time has always been a sporadic one for me. While I was in on the wackiness and loveliness of its Nickelodeon pilot, I never gave myself the time to watch the show as it started up. Every now and again I would watch a few episodes out of order and then go on to other things.

This year, the show ended, so I gave myself another list of episodes to check out leading up to the finale. This included the Islands arc, which I loved on multiple levels (including a certain clip from Billy on the Street – “let’s go lesbians, let’s go!”), and the story of Fern (Finn’s arm/sword storyline has always fascinated me).

Then I watched the finale, and I was pretty much done. There were still plenty of episodes I hadn’t seen, and plenty that I could still rewatch, but I was done.

Except I’m not really done. The show is still there for me to go back to, and discover, and rediscover. As the finale so eloquently puts it:

Will happen, happening, happened.

Will happen, happening, happened, and

Will happen, again and again,

‘Cause you and I will always be back then.

Until next time, Adventure. You still air in my heart.

12 Days Away From Anime #7: Valencia’s Exploson

That’s right, another Crazy Ex-Girlfriend post. If I’m not careful, I might end up doing three of these. This year for me could be summarized with this show. I binged the first two seasons of the show at the beginning of the year, binged the third season in the middle, and watched the final season as it aired in the Fall. It ends in 2019, but 2018 was my year with it.

And if there’s a day to talk about, it was the day I watched “Josh is Irrelevant”. I was transfixed watching Rebecca, scared and helpless in her hospital bed, having done the only thing she could to make the pain inside her stop. Meanwhile, Valencia keeps her social media upbeat, building a whitewashed clean brand around the messy process that her friend is going through. The entire episode is dense, fun, and emotionally taxing, but I just want to talk about Valencia here.

Valencia sings a song about poop. Well, it’s a song about her starting a movement through social media. A movement that builds up, ready to explode.

Like an explosion of built up emotion.

It’s a crude joke that Valencia’s hashtag activism is a bunch of crap. When this is pointed out, she replies “I rarely poop, it’s been a month”. That’s where the emotional component comes in: she keeps the unpleasant truths about herself inside, until they explode, as rarely as she can help it.

It’s a funny game of double meaning association; while initially it uses poop as a way to devalue the farcical internet campaign, it also sets it up as a metaphor for the legitimate emotional turmoil that she eventually reveals; it’s hilarious and entertaining in both readings.

So there came the tears at the end of the episode, where Valencia is unable to be patient or wry about the uncertainty of Rebecca’s future. She’s not using her social media power for personal gain, she’s distracting herself from her worries. Her movement isn’t the explosion, it’s the build up. Her pride in spreading hope is as desperate as her attempts not to move her bowels.

I am so sad and so scared, and I have to poop so, so bad.

It’s the ultimate moment of vulnerability for a character who tried to keep those moments as few as possible.

From there on, Rebecca opens up about her feelings, apologizes to her friends for the things she said earlier in the season, and everyone seems to have learned something. That was the day Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was doomed to become a favorite.

12 Days Away From Anime #6: The Stolen Century

I wish getting into The Adventure Zone was easy. I let it play while I played through Dark Souls, Kingdom Hearts, and Bloodborne. I didn’t keep the best track of everything, but I enjoyed the McElroy family’s company, and with each arc I was more intrigued and excited to learn more. Then the Stolen Century happened.

The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. That means that three of the hosts are experiencing the story in real time, while the fourth host is revealing it to them. Traditionally, however, each of the other hosts should know everything that one of the characters knows. And they do know everything their characters know; it’s only revealed in this arc that they do not know everything about their characters.

In the ultimate test of player-DM trust, Griffin reveals that the party has a long backstory together that had been erased from their minds. At this point, the arc is already being daring: it is an improvised, play-acted prequel. Not just a bonus story, but a prequel with immense consequences for how the story will end.

Where the arc tops this is in what that backstory is. The protagonists, with four colleagues, lived in a different world every year for a hundred years. Every year the world would be destroyed, and every year, they had to complete a special task to let their bodies reset and move on to the next world. This meant that they could die early in the year and be restored to life the next year, so long as party members remained to save them.

The existential uncanny feeling of learning what someone would do if they were unable to die is always welcome, but even more fascinating was how the characters lived. Two people fall in love, a shy historian becomes a hardened leader, and a kind cleric makes the ultimate sacrifice again and again and again.

“The Stolen Century” was a masterpiece. It was the payoff to the series’ great mysteries, and it delivered. It was a self-contained story of friendship, fear, and immortality on a cosmic scale. And, as many have pointed out, it was a magnificent show of this real life family’s bond.

Lup and Barry’s song will stay with me. Merle and John’s meetings will stay with me. Lucretia will stay with me.

If you’re on the fence on whether to start listening to The Adventure Zone, know that if any of the story ideas I’ve named sound interesting, then it is worth it. Find a nice game to play to pass the time while you listen, or put it on during car rides. Then, if and when it clicks, enjoy. Maybe listen to some of My Brother My Brother and Me first, to get used to their banter and invested in them as people; I didn’t though, and I loved it just fine.

12 Days Away From Anime #5: I Broke the Bank For Naruto

Like many 12 year olds my age, Naruto was my world once. Not just the anime, which this post can’t be about, or the manga, which I finished in 2014, but also the video games. It was an action series, and the best Naruto games were those that adapted its enthralling world and powers into player-controlled factors.

My favorite was Naruto Ultimate Ninja 3. In addition to being a faithful, fun fighting game, it had a story mode that allowed you to jump around the leaf village and climb its walls like the ninja you were. When I hear of Spiderman‘s brilliant movement mechanics, my only reference point from my casual gaming childhood (and adulthood) is scaling the walls of that tiny, tiny city.

So one day I clicked on a video ranking the Naruto video games. The top ranked result was the Ultimate Ninja Storm games, Ultimate Ninja’s spiritual successor. The winner was the entire series, which was available as a single pack for the PS4.

On a whim, I went online to purchase that exact item, listed over a hundred dollars. That’s what I got for thinking four games at once would come at the cost of one. I didn’t pay a hundred dollars, but I had to pay a lot to get that PS4 pack.

It was a decision that felt ridiculous but also obvious. I had a PS4 and wanted some more games, and this was the exact type of game that I grew up on. The Legacy box turned out to be a very fancy metallic case containing three discs – firstly a Boruto OVA, secondly a disc for Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Trilogy, the multiplatform remastered collection for the first three games, and Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 – Road to Boruto.

So far I’ve played 2 and 3. 1 doesn’t interest me so much, I’ve played the hell out of Part 1 already on other consoles, so the next one I get to will be 4.

They’re a pretty big hit. The actual experience of playing them doesn’t quite measure up to the experience of buying them, but they’ve been exactly what I wanted. 4-tails Naruto is a wild power fantasy, 9-tails Naruto is a badass, I can play as late-appearing characters Tobi, Pain, or Kakuzu to my heart’s content, post-time skip Sasuke is available and extremely edgy, and Mifune is the dark horse winner as far as gameplay goes. I have Naruto games now, and Storm 4 looks to be the biggest hit of them all. Overpowered characters like Hagoromo Otsutsuki and end-series Naruto and Sasuke await me. If only I can finish this Bloodborne replay first…

12 Days Away From Anime #4: Twin Peaks. Just, Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks: The Return is the kind of show that people heap praise on while it airs, but forget about while it ends. No article during its airtime could go without saying it was revolutionizing what was possible in TV, but its award performance was middling to weak, and its legacy seems nonexistent. Where the old Twin Peaks was a big hit that proved its experimentation was worthwhile through being popular and loved, The Return is every bit as different and standout in its time, but nowhere near as addictive or powerful.

Now, having binged the entire first two seasons of Twin Peaks last year, and catching up with the new season this year, I can say it’s still one of my top 10 favorite shows, and possibly the best season of anything I have ever seen.

It’s an absolute power fantasy for its creators, dense with ideas, self indulgences, and fun moments. At the same time it’s a completion of the old Twin Peaks story, opaque behind layers of analysis. Due to that, I can enjoy it on both an aesthetic, outside analytical level, and an immersed plot-based one.

I watched Twin Peaks so I could watch this season, for all the strange things I heard about it, and neither disappointed. Since the new season was my goal in all of this though, it is my favorite (though the standout moments in season 2 compete well). If there is a fourth season, I could see it living in this season’s shadow. Very well; so many people can’t accept this Twin Peaks as theirs, and a fourth season may offer me their same experience.

For now, I’ll just list a bunch of the cool stuff The Return has to offer:

  • Special effects so unrealistic that they evoke the horror of what it would mean to see them in real life.
  • A rendition of Special Agent Dale Cooper that is both disappointing and the most powerful we have ever had.
  • An entire cast of people as fascinating as classic Twin Peaks‘ Cooper.
  • A man in the rain cussing out Gene Kelly.
  • “The Nine Inch Nails” with a definite article.
  • Two mobsters freaking out over a cherry pie.
  • A Steven Universe reference!
  • Old ladies using unearthly powers they can never begin to understand in order to make stacks of cash.
  • A Polish accountant.
  • Love, loss, and empathy, scattered all throughout.

12 Days Away From Anime #3: Amateur Web Series and Why You Should Watch The Blair Goddess Project

At their best, web series are an outlet for getting out as many fantastic ideas as possible. A health and fitness channel can become an entertainment platform for a paranormal entity, a crossdressing demigirl can discover her identity and turn an entire football team gay in the process, and an edgy parody of educational television can turn into a morally ambiguous character story about the nature of growing up.

Vlog series are perhaps the best fit for YouTube, as the world outside the video screen becomes a part of the set, and their tone relies on a series of assumptions that one has to hold in order to watch them. Among LGBT+ web series, literature adaptations are of particular interest to me, and I think the reason they tend to work is that they have to synthesize themes common to LGBT+ web series and media with the themes of their source material. Examples would be Carmilla‘s absolute defiance of its source material, and how that leads to a story arc that is both completely absent and independent from the original novel, yet needed that novel in order to exist, and Away From It All‘s addition of asexuality into the dynamics of unrequited love that its source material (Far From the Madding Crowd) revolved around.

This is where The Blair Goddess Project appears as an anomoly. It is a wholly original series, told in a format more reminiscent of Parks and Recreation than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and has very little, if any, reliance on its characters identities. Neither of its three protagonists are straight, but that fact is not centered through romantic entanglements or comings out. While its central themes of food and friendship are borderline stereotypical to its protagonist’s asexuality and aromantism, this is never pointed out. Blair even rejects human labels for sexuality and identity – she is a goddess. The show achieves a complex, entertaining, and heartwarming story not through combining two distinct premise-inherent goals of adaption and identity, but by the sheer ambition of its creator, Nicole Mericle.

It is awesome that BGP can exist as a web-series. Its enormous cast and their performances are both reflective of the limits to a college student’s resources, and what it looks like when somebody refuses to stop before those exact limits. It’s consistently inventive and funny in a way that can’t be done using somebody else’s script.

It is said that you know someone is good at something if they make it look easy. This show takes a middle ground where I know how hard it is, but I’m able to get sucked into its world regardless. I appreciate its struggle, effort, and accomplishment akin to how I feel about the 26th episode of Evangelion.

When I first finished The Blair Goddess Project, I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a strong narrative on par with a typical Disney movie, accomplished by students with far fewer resources. Over the year, I kept going back to the series. I rewatched it three times, liking it more each time. It’s not just that the typical “Eugene/Hercules/Ralph has a very simple goal, makes a human connection on the way to getting it, and has to atone for his selfishness” was pulled off in a sequence of four minute YouTube videos, but that the writer’s wit, insight into life, and legitimate love of friendship are unlike anything else.

I struggle to think of a friendship more compelling than Blair and Alex’s. I wish I could find worlds that feel as large and compelling as BGP‘s Earth does in under three hours. I go into every piece of media wanting to feel what “Human Contributions” makes me feel and the best moment of every comedy is when they pull off a dense, energetic moment like the scene transition in “Sprinkles”.

If you like web series, amateur low budget web series are a fun, low commitment way to get transported into another world. For my money so far, The Blair Goddess Project is one of, if not the best.