Lessons of a Pork Bowl Mar04

Lessons of a Pork Bowl...

I love my father to pieces, but sometimes I wonder how we get along at all. We’re fundamentally very different people. Growing up, I would spend most of my free time reading novels or watching TV, while my dad enjoyed maintaining the car and doing lawn work. When he would ask me to help change oil for our old Ford, I would politely reply, “No thanks,” and return to my books. Getting sweaty and dirty working on a contraption I knew nothing about seemed like misery to me. It was wholly out of my comfort zone. I was a lot like Yugo Hachiken, the bookish protagonist of Silver Spoon who is in his first year attending an agricultural-focused high school. Hachiken is completely out of his element at the institution, where he dirties his hands working with livestock, crops, and farming equipment from dusk ‘til dawn. Almost everything at the school is a challenge for Hachiken, who previously responded to trials by keeping stress bottled up inside or by running away. He can do neither at Ooezo Agricultural High School—not if he wants to succeed. And though it’s rough going, Hachiken discovers something I wish I had known when I was his age–by getting out of your bubble, you’ll grow into a person you never knew you could be. It wasn’t until years later that I realized all this running away had molded me into someone I didn’t want to be. This theme is illustrated very early in the series. Shortly after his arrival at Ooezo, Hachiken begins to care for a runt piglet he encounters during a practicum. Learning that it supposedly won’t grow large enough to sell as high quality meat, he decides to prove everyone wrong and raise it himself, waking...

A Living Patchwork Mar02

A Living Patchwork

Sutures cross his torso like train tracks. A particularly nasty scar splits his face between his vibrant red eyes. “They are living proof that I am a patchwork,” Hazama Kuroo says, tracing a gash in his shoulder. It’s an effective opening for Young Black Jack. I’m instantly plagued with questions, but given no answers until later in the show. At age eight, Hazama was caught in a bombing blast, but saved by a miraculously skilled doctor who Frankensteins him back together. Inspired by his saviour, Hazama (who later goes by the undercover name, Black Jack) pursues a career as a surgeon, eventually rejecting medical school in favour of becoming an unlicensed doctor. That’s because, in his experience, the law often does more harm than good when it comes to saving lives. Think Batman, but with more scalpels (and a stylish red bowtie). Hazama’s early life is spent crawling on all fours like an animal, learning how to walk again. It’s spent without his mother, who was mortally wounded in the blast, and without his father, who abandoned them both on their death beds. But it’s through this painful time of rehabilitation that Hazama’s origin story shapes him into the legendary “Surgeon with the Hands of God.” Like a temporary stitch, mortal “doctors” can only hold me together for so long. I love a good origin story, but I’m not sure I’d want to live through one by anime standards. I might end up making a deal that literally costs me an arm and a leg, getting injected with monstrous powers, or solely surviving the fiery aftermath of a Holy War. But it’s the thought of being blown to pieces, Hazama-style, that makes my skin crawl most. I can’t imagine what it took to piece...

Humanity’s Kindest Soldier Feb24

Humanity’s Kindest Soldier...

“Let me ask you something: as a Levi fan, why do you think the ‘courtroom scene’ is so significant to his character?” I was decked out in full Levi cosplay (Wings of Freedom and all), and I was totally unprepared for this question. Maybe the fact that the person asking was Lauren Landa, the voice actor for Annie Leonhardt, didn’t help my composure. In a trial for lead character Eren Yeager’s life, Levi intervenes at the last moment, brutally kicking the bound protagonist until he’s a bleeding, gurgling mess. It’s a stunt—one meant to save Eren from the custody of the Military Police—but I still cringe every time I see this scene. In pondering a response to the question, directed at me during OMNI Expo’s 2015 voice actor meet and greet, a million answers raced through my mind. The scene definitely showcased Levi’s intelligence; it hinted at the brutality that characterized his thug days; it made viewers wonder if he was a decent human being. But none of these generic answers described what his actions in that moment meant to me and what they meant to Levi. The Love of a Captain Despite his ability to drop 15-meter titans like flies—a quality that makes him untouchable by lawman and layman alike—Levi strikes me as neither a reckless rebel nor a cold-hearted sociopath. However, his ability to grasp people’s inner feelings and empathize with them makes him willing to play the “bad guy” as the need arises. No doubt a part of that willingness stems from his lifelong hostility to the government, but also I believe Levi is one of the few characters capable of showing true, selfless love for others. Sometimes that love appears masked by viciousness, dislodging molars and morals alike in the...

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki Feb12

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki...

Drama king. Yep, that’s me. My wife nods her head every time I apply that name to myself. I don’t try to be, it just comes naturally. Usually it involves “feeling something very strongly,” which compels me to either awkward dancing or a watering of my beard. Both of which are key to healthy hair, by the way. However, in the last hours of Sword Art Online’s second season, my occasional and modest tearing up had turned into some unstoppable torrent. The first hint of trouble to come starts when Asuna makes a new friend named Yuuki and joins her group of adventurers in Alfheim Online (ALO), a team that calls themselves The Sleeping Knights. After a stunning victory against all odds, the group announces they are disbanding, and Asuna is shocked. The news makes her recognize what she has thus far only felt: Yuuki and The Sleeping Knights have become so dear to her. Yuuki and the others give only a silent goodbye, offering no reasons for their permanent departure. Asuna, who has come to love them, can’t stand the tears she causes when she pleads for reasons why. Their sadness is incomprehensible to her. “I was born to die, so what was my reason for existing in the world?” Yuuki suspects, and rightly so, that Asuna won’t be satisfied without answers, and will search high and low for her in the real world. Maybe, just maybe, the impossible would happen and Asuna would find her. It’s all Yuuki wants and it is exactly what she is trying to stop. She doesn’t want Asuna to know why she must leave; Yuuki doesn’t want to cause Asuna pain. But Asuna’s stubbornness brings her to Yuuki’s doorstep at the hospital. It’s a surprise, though many...

Lifting the Curse Feb05

Lifting the Curse

A youth living as a princess among wolves. Giant boars possessed by demons. An elk-like spirit who gives life and takes it away. A monk who fights and curses as well as any warrior. “Distinctive” describes Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece depicting humans at war with nature. But perhaps lost in the spectacle of gods and demons is a challenge that I find speaks directly to me. The film’s protagonist seeks to live a life free of bitterness and scorn, and that’s something I can relate to because I daily struggle to do the same. Ashitaka, the prince of a small tribe, has been cursed by a vengeful boar god who is driven mad by an iron pellet buried deep in his body. Ashitaka’s journey to find a cure for the fatal curse leads him to Irontown, an island settlement erected by Lady Eboshi, a shrewd and fearless businesswoman. She asks the prince why he’s there, to which he responds, “to see with eyes unclouded by hate.” As it is with Ashitaka, grace is the power to cast out hate, the power to absolve the curse. But his eyes are clouded by hate. Ashitaka’s eyes burn with loathing toward Eboshi as she proudly explains how her warriors chased off the bordering mountain’s boar gods through fire and gunpowder, all in the name of making her town the richest property in the world. They are the ones who shot the boar god, and thus are responsible for Ashitaka’s predicament. After his cursed arm begins to move on its own, attempting to assassinate the woman, he says of it, “If it would lift the curse, I would let it tear you apart, but even that wouldn’t end the killing, would it?” And Ashitaka isn’t the only...

Kenshin, Truth, and Love Jan22

Kenshin, Truth, and Love...

The subject of live action films, a long running television series, and multiple video releases, Himura Kenshin is one of anime’s most recognizable and enduring characters. The wandering samurai we know from the Rurouni Kenshin anime series is a kind pacifist, though we also know that he was once the brutal battousai (manslayer). Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (known as Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal in North America) is a two-part release that pulls no punches in revealing his history; while beautifully animated and instilled at once with both cold and romantic tones, it’s also a very bloody work, a vast departure from the more light-hearted series, which makes it all the more striking. Himura Kenshin, a great swordsman with high ideals, is at the center of all the violence in Trust and Betrayal, usually inflicting it upon others. It’s a surprising path for a young man who grew up single-mindedly set on saving others by the strength of his sword. But in his eagerness to aid the common person during the revolution which would eventually lead to Japan’s Meiji Era, Kenshin easily falls for the pretext set forth by Katsura, the leader of a faction opposing the shogunate. Katsura takes the swordsman’s immeasurable abilities and uses him even though he knows that doing so will destroy Kenshin’s humanity. in truth, they found something solid to stand upon, something strong and just, something worth fighting for. To keep Kenshin in line so that he may continue to carry out assassinations, Katsura asks Tomoe, a woman Kenshin has affections for, to act as a calming “sheath” for the young swordsman. Tomoe, however, has a secret as well: her fiance was assassinated by Kenshin, and she is acting as a spy to deliver him to his death. What she didn’t...

Aborting Naruto Jan15

Aborting Naruto

Shave away its year-long filler arcs and Naruto is an anime about seeing value in every life. The namesake protagonist makes it his seemingly unattainable mission to achieve world peace, not by preaching his message from a lofty throne and waiting for others to adopt it, but by personally touching one life at a time. From psychopathic Gaara to traitorous Obito, no life is ever so lost that it becomes worthless; one-by-one Naruto redeems them all, transforming them into allies for his cause. Since he holds such a pious goal, I’d think it would be easy for Naruto to become superficial in his methods of outreach, but instead, each encounter is treated with personal freshness. I think that’s because Naruto doesn’t see the conversion of individual lives as a means to an end, but rather as the ultimate end. Unlike Light Yagami of Death Note fame, who tries to force the populace into an ideal world it can’t possible conform to, Naruto is the wiser for realizing that true change can only come to the world by first changing its people. More importantly, Naruto knows that it only takes one person to change the life of another. It’s a phenomenon he’s witnessed first-hand, when a single teacher, Iruka, chose to reach out to him—the classroom failure, the troublemaker, the rebel, the outcast—and recognized him as a human being. Having gone through the anger and depression of social loneliness, Naruto is equipped to minister to others who have suffered his fate and offer them genuine hope. Most difficult of all, I must choose to see those people who most incite my fear and anger as “human.” Going deeper into Naruto’s backstory reveals that his birth posed great risk to both his parents and his village. Before...

Meek, Weak, or Chic Dec07

Meek, Weak, or Chic

Meekness may be the most misunderstood virtue of the 21st century. Maybe that’s because it rhymes with “weakness,” or because the phrase “meek and mild” has become synonymous with timidity. Perhaps it’s because, in an age of self-gratification, meekness is no longer seen as a necessity. Whatever the case, nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion. Take Vash the Stampede, tragic Western hero of the anime Trigun, for instance. He carries the name of a wanted criminal worth 60 billion double-dollars, but characters and viewers alike have a hard time believing it. Lovable, friendly Vash—a criminal? Maybe a criminal for stuffing too many doughnuts in his face, but certainly not a criminal of the law. On the contrary, Vash refuses to pull the trigger if it means ending a life, and whenever his bullets do accidentally find their mark, he ensures that those wounds are bandaged. Until episode five, Meryl—an insurance agent sent to evaluate claims against Vash’s notoriety—refuses to believe that the flirtatious goofball in the red trench is the Vash. It’s not until the town is threatened by an unstoppable foe that Vash’s dorky grin disappears and he whips his gun out, firing five non-lethal rounds in a breath-taking, slow-mo, mid-air dive. By the scene’s end, Meryl has no doubt about his true identity. It’s not the mockery of the enemy that drives Vash into full-throttle, or even the concern that his skilled reputation will be tarnished if he doesn’t retaliate. Rather, Vash has yoked himself to the plow of an ideal—that he is a saviour of human life. Only when those lives are threatened does the playful doughnut-hog vanish beneath the persona of an avenging angel. Meekness makes Vash a visionary—one so focused on the greater ideal he serves that others’...

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness Dec04

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness...

“To love righteousness is to make it grow, not to avenge it.” This is a quote by George MacDonald that I read recently, but instead of reminding me of the poet’s further thoughts, it makes me think of a TV show I’ve been watching: Hunter x Hunter. One of the subplots in Hunter x Hunter detours to capture the story of a minor character named Koala. Koala is a Chimera Ant, a species that takes on the likeness of other beings depending on what creatures the Ant Queen has devoured before giving birth (hence why he looks like a koala wearing a suit). Hitherto he was used only to illustrate the barbaric nature of certain Chimera Ants who mutated into random grotesque human likenesses. When we first meet him, Koala is a stone-cold killer. He’s essentially the James Bond of the Chimera Ant world. The job of most Chimera Ants is to harvest (kidnap) humans for the Queen’s food. Most of them are ruthless and enjoy seeing their victims scream in terror and attempt to flee. Not Koala, though. He would emerge out of the shadows, killing in an instant, the expression on his face somewhere between contempt and pity. Kite offers not only her forgiveness, but a way for Koala to forgive himself. Koala shows up near the beginning of the Chimera Ants’ rise of power and we don’t see him again till the end of their story. The Ant Queen and King have fallen. The mutated Ant colony is essentially destroyed. Koala is among the few remaining Ants who survived. Many of the surviving Chimera Ants are no longer purely Ants. They have regained memories of their former lives, their human lives before they were consumed by the Queen. Koala is in this state and it has apparently changed him. He’s looking as sharp...

Right now, we’re alive here Nov13

Right now, we’re alive here...

“Do you not understand? Every day we spend here is one day we’ve lost in the real world.” These are words spoken in Sword Art Online by Asuna. She is talking to Kirito, her eyes are narrowed, her hands are on her hips. Kirito is laying on his back in the quiet and calm of a green meadow. The look on his face is as serene as the digital sky above him. He knows she is right. All the players in the game are trapped inside this virtual reality. There is no logging out. There is no respawning. And dying inside Sword Art Online means you die in real life. The only chance for the thousands of players trapped inside this digital reality is to beat the game. That is what Asuna is focusing on. She has worked for months inside the game, training herself to be stronger, leading her clan deeper into the game, inching forward to the ending that promises freedom.Asuna learned from Kirito that escaping wasn’t the only important thing in Sword Art Online. Kirito himself has also worked hard to become strong but he has remained a solo player. If anyone knows the precipice these trapped players are walking, it’s him. He knows the importance of the work they are doing. Yet Asuna’s stormy outbreak doesn’t even cause him to raise an eyelid. This is one of the first encounters between Asuna and Kirito in the anime. I am immediately drawn into the scene and the meaning behind it. Here is a war of feelings I never realized I had felt myself until I saw them on display here. I have experienced both the urgency of Asuna and the peace of Kirito in my life. This moment in Sword Art...

Grave of the Fireflies and burying selfishness Nov04

Grave of the Fireflies and burying selfishness...

A teenage boy, dying from disease and starvation, sits leaning against a pillar in a subway station. Some express disdain towards the teen; others ignore him; one lady leaves a small bit of food next to him. This is the opening scene for Grave of the Fireflies, Studio Ghibi’s animated classic about the closing days of World War II. By nightfall, the boy, Seita, is dead. His spirit, however, is alive—and in the midst of glowing fireflies, he reunites with the spirit of a young girl (whom we soon discover is his sister Setsuko), and the two take us on a journey to the past, narrating what led them to their deaths. Grave of the Fireflies is difficult to watch—a cursory look through the Tumblr tag for the movie brings forth a common response: tears, and lots of them. After the children are left without their mother, as she suffered from severe burns due to the U.S. firebombing of their hometown of Kobe, Seita becomes a surrogate parent and leads his sister to a distant aunt’s house. There, the siblings are forced to take refuge. Their aunt cautiously takes them in, but as rationing becomes tighter, her callousness turns into outright scorn at having to share food with the children. Will we be satisfied within the comfortable confines of our lives and demonstrate that, in the end, we simply don’t care? Seita ultimately makes an ill-fated decision to take Setsuko and leave his aunt’s home, moving to an abandoned shelter. Though the two are happy at first to have their own dwelling, and even acquire goods and equipment that they purchase from a farmer, it isn’t long before malnutrition and disease set in. When Seita takes the declining Setsuko to see an unconcerned doctor,...

Not just another number Sep16

Not just another number...

When Chihiro Ogino finds herself trapped in a magical world, she has her name taken from her. The plot of Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 animated film Spirited Away begins when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs by eating forbidden food from an uninhabited buffet. Chihiro learns that the place they stumbled across after taking a wrong turn is, in fact, a spiritual realm; a place of retreat where weary spirits can relax. She begs Yubaba, the cruel owner of a bathhouse, to give her a job so she can survive in this spirit world, and Yubaba eventually hires Chihiro in exchange for ownership of the girl’s name. Yubaba renames her Sen. Later, Chihiro learns that Yubaba takes people’s names in order to trap them in this spirit world; if she ever forgets what her original name was, she will be permanently unable to return to her home world. Despite losing her name, she doesn’t lose herself. I wondered where Yubaba got the name “Sen” from, and once I noted the kanji characters that make up both names, I realized exactly what Yubaba was trying to take away from her. “Chihiro” is written as two kanji characters: the first is pronounced “chi” (which means “one thousand”), and the second is “hiro” (which means “questions”). But kanji characters almost never have just one single pronunciation or meaning attributed to them; in this case, the character used for “chi” can also be read as “sen,” the basic number for one thousand. The name “Chihiro” does not necessarily express a finite quantity, but could be interpreted as an endless or uncountable number. Her full given name therefore could be roughly translated to “endless questions.” To me, the translation behind this name paints a mental picture of a girl who...

Light’s favourite word Jul13

Light’s favourite word

At first glance, Light Yagami doesn’t seem like a murderer. He’s a thoughtful honour-roll student concerned with straight A’s, family, friends— Oh, and the rapidly rising crime rate in the world. Understandably, then, when a Shinigami (death god) drops its killer notebook on the earth, Light picks up the tool of mass murder and begins doing away with the world’s worst criminals. All it takes is a name and a face, and with one inky scribble in the fabled Death Note, Light can kill anyone—even more quickly than he kills his own conscience. Like most would-be-heroes-turned-villains, Light believes he’s creating a utopia where “honest and hard-working” people will be safe beneath his reign as god. But in doing so, Light fails to account for his own human nature and strikes his death blow with a single word: “I.” “I will become the God of this new world.” “I will begin my reign from the summit of victory.” “l will change the world!” This single pronoun is full of arrogance and happens to be one of Light’s favourite words. Listening to Light’s self-righteous ramblings, it’s easy to consider another villain whose obsession with the word “I” led to his demise. In his quest to become a god, Light had forgotten God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah writes about the fall of Lucifer—an archangel cast out of heaven for similar “I” statements: “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.” “I will be like the most High.” It’s no coincidence that Lucifer’s downfall originated in pride. Self-obsession is at the root of every sinful act, whether lying to cover one’s guilt or murdering to satisfy one’s vengeance. Like Lucifer, Light’s initial desire for power leads to a barrage of moral crimes—lies, betrayal, thievery, manipulation, and plenty of murder. By the time Light’s self-confident pride leads to his own demise, the would-be god has walked over the corpses of thousands of victims—from purse snatchers and serial killers, to his own father and only friend. In retrospect, it’s easy to judge Light—to call him overly-ambitious, selfish, and psychotic—but his pride is the one trait that dogs us all. Perhaps we don’t seek to be literal gods of humanity, but every one of us has held to a certain amount of self-worship—I know I have, especially during times when I’ve believed my ideals to be superior and tried to force others to adhere to them. When Light picks up the Death Note for the first time, he suddenly sees a way for the unattainable dream of his ideal world to become a reality. Whatever good intentions he originally possesses are quickly corrupted, however, when pride takes control. In an iconic scene, Light outlines his plan to Ryuk—the Shinigami who dropped his Death Note on earth: “I’ll make this world inhabited only by people I decide are good.” The devilish Ryuk answers with surprising insightfulness, “Do that and the only one left will be you.” It’s easy to take short-cuts, even toward good things like justice, godliness, and peace. If I had discovered the Death Note, I, too, may have believed that forcibly removing evil people from the world was the only way to save it. However, I hope I would realize that I can’t conform people to a perfect world without first fitting them into a perfect mold. Otherwise I would be forcing them into a painful and uncomfortable place, breaking and twisting whatever doesn’t fit naturally. Nobody would be able to live up to my expectations and, in the end, I would be the only one remaining. Light, in all his straight-A mastermindedness, is unable to realize this simple truth because his pride blinds him to it. From his perspective, he’s the only one able to save a world that has lost its way; furthermore, it’s his duty to nobly...

Overcoming envy Jun18

Overcoming envy

It’s not often that I turn on the news to watch an uplifting story. It’s usually about death, or pain, or hunger, or taxes, or, you know, sports… Unfortunately, the world is just an overwhelmingly negative place. As humans, our greed and blindness to consequence leads to war, poverty, and the slow death of our planet. Even in our personal lives, people are always talking about how things were better “back in the day.” Countless explanations for the cause of such a decline could be brought up, but the way I see it, they all boil down to one answer: sin. Evil exists because we are capable of it and we, more often than not, take advantage of that. Far on the other end of the spectrum of my television-watching experience lies Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a brilliantly-written and gorgeously-presented anime series that seamlessly blends the themes of physical science and the supernatural. Envy is a terrifying and seemingly unbeatable foe.I am often reminded of this series when I think about examples of sin, because the seven deadly sins are personified as physical characters in the show’s universe. These antagonistic beings each possess characteristics and powers associated with their respective vice. Among the most terrifying of these beings is Envy, whose ability to shapeshift allows him to effortlessly infiltrate any group and place the blame for his actions on whomever he chooses. He has a deep love for human violence, and at one point even started a massive war by disguising himself as a soldier and shooting a foreign child for the sake of nothing more than his own enjoyment. And if that isn’t scary enough, his inherent form is a huge dragon-like beast (though trust me, it’s much creepier than a dragon). Due to...

Life in full colour May13

Life in full colour

There’s a reason why Voldemort can’t touch Harry. There’s a reason why the Elric brothers stick together no matter what on their quest for the philosopher’s stone. There’s a reason why Frodo manages to get the ring to Mordor. Love is powerful. And that’s why I’m afraid of it. Loving someone opens yourself up to a world of hurt, like Kousei experiences when he loses his mother. It’s hard to watch him struggle over falling in love with Kaori, because I have a sneaking suspicion of what’s going to happen to her. I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started watching Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso); I just knew it was about performing music, something I could relate to. “Just seeing the same sky as you makes familiar scenery look different.”I was immediately caught up in the story of Kousei Arima, a boy who is famous for his piano playing by the age of eleven, but his mother’s death results in a mental breakdown during a performance. Two years later, he hasn’t touched the piano since. Until he meets a girl who changes his perspective on everything, of course. Kaori Miyazono is a free-spirited violinist who loves to perform her own interpretation of the score, much to the chagrin of the judges and delight of the audience. She becomes friends with Kousei and persuades him to start playing the piano again. Even though playing the piano again takes Kousei through traumatic memories, Kousei is encouraged by Kaori’s vibrancy and agrees to be her accompanist. He begins to see colour in a world that used to be monotone. It’s not until Kaori collapses during their first performance that I realize where this story is going. “A lump of steel, like a shooting star. Just seeing the same sky as you makes familiar scenery look different. I swing between hope and despair at your slightest gesture, and my heart starts to play a melody. What kind of feeling is this again? What do they call this kind of feeling? I think it’s probably… called love. I’m sure this is what they call love.” —Kousei Arima He lets himself fall in love with her, just as he lets himself fall in love with music again. He even tries not following the score like the “human metronome” he used to be, but searching for freedom from the past by mimicking Kaori’s style of playing. Love is powerful. And that’s why I’m afraid of it. There is a scene I found beautiful in the second-last episode where Kousei is visiting Kaori in the hospital and tells her he is again giving up music, claiming that it is taking everyone he cares about away from him, that he’s afraid of being alone. But she tells him that he has her, that she is going to struggle to live so she can spend more time with him, and he should struggle to. “We risk our lives to struggle, because we’re musicians, remember?” —Kaori Miyazono She breaks down and tells him not to leave her, because she is also scared of being alone and wants more time with him. As if that isn’t heart wrenching enough, Kousei, encouraged by Kaori’s words, does go to his big performance, and it is during this same time that she is having risky surgery. Love is powerful and brings powerful emotions along with it. There’s no avoiding joy and there’s no avoiding hurt when it’s involved. I wonder if I was Kousei, would I have been brave enough to step out of my lifeless world when love had scarred me so? I think I would have, and I think I have already done so in the past, but that doesn’t make it any less scary or any easier moving forward. I can’t be the only one that feels that way. I like to think...

A heart made fullmetal Apr22

A heart made fullmetal...

Burning down your house might seem like a crazy thing to do, but for Edward and Alphonse Elric, it symbolizes their determination to never turn back and to start over. They had made a horrible mistake and they resolve to never do it again, and never let others follow the terrifying path they went down. As young boys with the gift of alchemy, a grieving Ed and Al try to resurrect their mother using their powers, and they fail miserably. Not only does their attempt create a monstrous shell of nothing like their mother, but it completely obliterates Al’s body and destroys Ed’s left leg. They had made an enormous mistake and they had to pay a terrible price, but Ed refuses to lose his little brother: “There’s no such thing as a painless lesson.” “No, dammit. You won’t take him too. Give him back! He’s my brother! Take my leg. Take my arm! Take my heart, ANYTHING, YOU CAN HAVE IT! Just give him back! He’s my little brother, he’s all I have left!” Ed sacrifices his right arm to bring his brother’s soul back and attaches it to a nearby suit of armour using alchemy. The two are then left to face the consequences of their actions with the realization of why resurrection is taboo to alchemists. Humans are not meant to have that kind of power. What I find amazing about Ed and Al’s story is their acceptance of their own sin and their willingness to suffer, not as self-inflicted punishment for what they did, but simply as an acceptance of the consequences. They choose not to ignore or forget the lesson they learned, but fight against others who are trying to abuse alchemy in a similar way. They also suffer a hell of a lot for each other along...

Death, Life, and Dragon Ball Z Apr15

Death, Life, and Dragon Ball Z

Whether you’re an anime fan or not, chances are you’ve heard about Dragon Ball Z. Originally broadcast in Japan from 1989 to 1996 before being syndicated in the West just a few years later, the series picked up where its predecessor Dragon Ball (1986) left off, and in doing so left the world with some of the most iconic and compelling anime characters of all time. Except that they’re not. Okay, iconic maybe. You can’t really argue that DBZ hasn’t made a name for itself as its characters are still some of the most recognizable faces in anime, along with Astro Boy, Sailor Moon and Hello Kitty. But compelling? I beg to differ. Here’s the context: The original Dragon Ball series was (at least at first) about the journey of two youngsters, martial arts prodigy Goku and scientific whiz kid Bulma, as they sought the seven mystical “dragon balls” from around the world. The dragon balls, when gathered together, would grant one wish to the collector before dispersing in all directions, unable to be used again for one year. But as Dragon Ball progressed, the show became less and less about the search for the mystical orbs from which the series drew its name, focusing instead on the martial arts matchups between Goku and whatever villain happened to be terrorizing the planet that week. By the time Dragon Ball Z rolled around, even some of the original cast of characters had been shoved to the sidelines while the bros with the big biceps flexed for the enthralled audiences to admire. The characters would argue about who was stronger before eventually settling it with a punch-up. Which, as everyone knows, is absolutely the way to solve every problem ever. The show became a spectacle, a never-ending series of fisticuffs.Aren’t we supposed to acknowledge our own helplessness and wait for God to swoop in and smack the world senseless? As the show went on, a pattern developed: The Z Fighters (our heroes) would train for a determined period of time, only to come up far short of whatever baddie they crossed paths with. The villain would wipe out nearly the whole gallery of good guys, barely lifting a finger. Then Goku, who was usually late for some reason or another, would show up, struggle, but eventually find a way to win the day, often with an unforeseen trump card or help from an unexpected source. Good prevails, though the cost was almost always heavy. But then, a very special thing would happen, over and over and over, until it happened so often it was no longer special: our dead heroes would get wished back to life with the dragon balls. Remember those things? REMEMBER?!?!?! Rather than being the driving plot point for the series, the dragon balls had become the deus ex machina for bringing back any and every character who met his noble and untimely end in battle. “Oh right! We have those things! Well that solves our problem perfectly.” [Obvious paraphrase] Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Dragon Balls can only bring someone back to life once. Got me there. Unless you forgot about that other set of dragon balls on another planet that can bring people back to life as many times as they’re needed to drag this broken-down-mule of a show to its next melodramatic rest stop. Honestly, in a universe with telepaths, spacecraft, teleportation and two sets of basically all-powerful wish-fulfillment machines, how is anything a problem for these guys? From reading this, you might get the impression that I don’t really like DBZ, but that’s not totally true. Sure, there are parts of it I don’t like, but for the most part I actually think it’s a lot of fun, in the same way that professional wrestling can be a lot of fun without being realistically compelling. And that’s just...

Abandoning our humanity Mar25

Abandoning our humanity

Attack on Titan is a brutal story that centers on one theme: survival. The only humans (that we know of) live in a city protected by gigantic walls, which prevent the Titans—giant, humanoid creatures that consider humans their chew toys—from entering. You might foresee the problems that could arise when Titans break through the first wall that surrounds the city, Maria, and flood the outer ring inside, causing thousands of refugees to retreat back behind Wall Rose (or be Titan dinner). I, however, was too caught up in the terror of the people and watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son to think about what would happen later. After the citizens who escaped have made it to safety, after everyone, including me, has breathed a sigh of relief, the shoe drops. Hunger sets in as a food shortage becomes apparent. The space in the inner walls cannot support all the refugees who had flooded in from the outer ring, which is now overrun with Titans. Is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be? What does the government to do in response to this crisis? Something horrendous. But something that I might do in the same situation, because I can’t see an alternative. They send about 250,000 of the refugees (20% of the populace)—farmers, blacksmiths, architects, gardeners, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers—on a “mission” to reclaim Wall Maria. It’s a suicide mission, a glorified reason for getting rid of the extra mouths to feed. Armin’s grandfather is one of the people enlisted to go, and we see him saying goodbye to Armin with a grim but determined expression. He knows exactly where he is going: to his death. Technically, he chooses to go, but is it really a choice? Is there really another option? Sure enough, every single one of the refugees is crushed and eaten by the Titans, and this is one of the many reasons the main character of the show, Eren, vows revenge on the creatures and, along with Armin, joins the army to fight against them. I was too caught up watching a mother get chewed up before the eyes of her traumatized son. The needs of the many, as it were. RIP Leonard Nemoy. Armin, generally the voice of wisdom in the show, says at one point, “You can’t change anything unless you can discard part of yourself too. To surpass monsters, you must be willing to abandon your humanity.” Is abandoning your humanity worth mere survival? Are you abandoning the very thing you are fighting for by doing so? Or is it worth becoming a monster so your children don’t have to be? Everyone has a choice, but it is those decisions that seem to have no right answer that I dread facing. Would I have the courage (or folly) to make the same decision and walk off on a mission that if actually succeeded, would mean abandoning my own humanity to accomplish it? It is hard to say one way or the other until Titans decide to invade Canada, but I do know I would be terrified of the ethical decision before me. Whether it be Adama or Obama, these tough decisions are not new. At first sight, in Attack on Titan the needs of the many mantra can be interpreted as sacrificing your life for the lives of all the others who are left behind. That’s noble. That’s honourable. But the scary thought is pondering a future where it might be necessary for someone to sacrifice their humanity to preserve the humanity of others. That choice is...