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 Power in Link’s Silence...

In a bout of nostalgia, I re-opened the manga adaptation of my favourite video game of all time, half expecting to hear the anticipative “hidden item” fanfare as I did so. As a child, I specifically remember the hero of Ocarina of Time capturing my interest. Link was both admirable and player-impressionable, which allowed me to meld bits of myself into his narrative. His journey captivated me; I was taken on a daring quest through time into fantastical lands inhabited by exotic creatures. Mostly, though, I remember being enthralled by Link’s silence. Theses have been written on the role of silence within video game narratives, though Link’s silence in particular is an issue returned to time and again by theorists. The most technical of the bunch insist that Link’s silence is a tool used by the game developers to allow the player to “impress” themselves upon him, thus offering immersion within the game and identification with the green-clad hero. From a purely developmental standpoint, that may be true. But as a wide-eyed ten-year old venturing into the land of Hyrule for the first time, I wasn’t altogether focused on the game’s mechanics. I connected with Link’s silence because I admired it. Here was a character who never spoke a word (outside of his combative foreign language), yet ten-year-old me was convinced he was the most noble, humble, and brave individual I’d ever connected with through a gaming controller. That’s partially because his selfless and heroic actions made words meaningless, but I also admired him because of his humility—his willingness to carry the weight of Hyrule on his back, his temperance not to lash back at others who mocked him, and his determination to make good on others’ vested faith in him. I like to...

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...

A Colossal Lie

Standing tall on the titanic body of my fallen foe, I should feel like a hero, but the victory seems hollow. There’s no majestic fanfare to accompany my achievement, just a slow, melodious dirge; it reminds me that a beautiful creature has just breathed its last. “The price you pay may be heavy indeed,” a mysterious, disembodied voice had warned me, before I set out on my quest. “It doesn’t matter,” I had answered. Suddenly, those three words seem less noble than I had originally perceived, and are flavoured by cold, hard desperation. Before I can truly process the barrage of conflicting emotions, I’m swarmed by black tendrils emanating from the colossus carcass. I fall to my knees, collapsing, unconscious, onto the giant’s body. In this moment, long before I ever slay my second, fifth, tenth, sixteenth colossus, I realize the truth: I’m slowly killing myself. Much like a Shakespearean tragedy, Shadow of the Colossus is a game about the darkness of human nature—how hopelessness leads to desperation, and desperation to self-destruction. And it all begins the way most doomed quests do: with a lie. Wander, the game’s protagonist, is bound by hopelessness—not a “there’s nothing I can do” sort of hopelessness, but something even worse: the “I have no choice” kind. Not content with allowing an innocent maiden to die, Wander chooses to go against nature and tries to restore her soul. Killing 16 colossi is the only way to achieve that goal, he’s told, so that’s what he does. In his vulnerability, he is desperate enough to play the fool and believe this colossal lie. No excuse can erase the smallest twinge of guilt I feel each time a colossus cries out in pain and bites the dust. When I play Shadow...

Don’t Forget DL-6

Two silhouettes stand in a boat  floating on a foggy lake. One of them pulls a gun on the other. “Merry Christmas,” he says, and squeezes the trigger. Appropriately enough, the final case in Capcom’s original Ace Attorney video game opens the same way it ends—with a bang. Almost fifteen years after the game’s release, the famed “DL-6 incident” still holds up as an undisputed fan favourite (and in my memory) amidst the franchise’s four dozen cases. “Don’t forget DL-6,” I am told in-game, the cryptic message laden with vengeance. And I don’t. By the time I have guided Phoenix Wright, titular character and rookie defense attorney, through three prior cases, I’ve become overly familiar with courtroom rival, Miles Edgeworth—a merciless, condescending prosecutor whose willingness to falsify evidence and witnesses alike has granted him a perfect winning streak and fitting nickname, “demon.” Ironically, when Edgeworth is found alone on the foggy lake, holding the smoking barrel of a revolver and accused of murder, Phoenix hears about the incident on TV and jumps to Edgeworth’s defense as his attorney, though I hardly know why. Perhaps it’s because the defamed prosecutor is the first of Phoenix’s clients to have a death wish; he doesn’t want to be saved from judgement any more than I want to forgive him for the untold innocents he’s sent to guilty verdicts. When Edgeworth calls himself a lost cause and refuses to speak to Phoenix about the incident, I am curious, certainly, though not particularly empathetic. That notion—that a memory is powerful enough to hold an entire day captive for the rest of our lives—is horrifying. Yet, something about Edgeworth’s plight pulls me in by the heartstrings. Over the course of the story, I witness his death glare crack under pressure. I see him start to doubt his convictions. By the time he’s literally cowering in the face of childhood trauma, reliving the long-ago December day of his father’s murder, I finally realize that Edgeworth is, in fact, human. In tackling Edgeworth’s case, Phoenix directly opens another that’s almost fifteen years-old and at the statute of limitation’s door—an unsolved case wherein Edgeworth’s own father was murdered. That’s when the truth hits me: I’m fighting for more than a “not guilty” verdict or even the mere truth—I’m fighting for that little glimmer of humanity and redemption that I know exists somewhere deep down in Edgeworth. In that sense, DL-6 is as much about character development as it is about solving the case. Unsurprisingly, Phoenix holds high stakes here. His childhood friendship with Edgeworth is revealed to be the motivation behind his entire defense career—a way to cross paths with and discover the dark truths about the estranged boy who once defended him from a false accusation in the classroom… and then disappeared without warning, returning several years later, unrecognizable, as a condemner of the accused. These interwoven histories startle me, the player, because they disrupt my identity within the game. Up until this point, I have been in Phoenix’s head, dictating his thoughts, making his decisions. With the advent of the final case, though, Phoenix betrays that identity by establishing that he has a separate consciousness from the player, expressing information I should omnisciently know about him (but don’t), even making decisions against my better judgement. But rather than alienate me, this creates a new dynamic where I become Phoenix’s intimate confidant, aiding his decisions and sweating alongside him, channeled by him without ever actually becoming him. It brings me closer to the rookie attorney’s soul and serves to make the mystery of DL-6 a narrative thrill-ride. I feel Phoenix’s desperation as he fights against the impending, three-day limitation placed on the case. Because he’s suddenly more like an old friend who needs my assistance, I want to prove him right—about the truth, about the details of the case, about the fact that Edgeworth can still be saved from...

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’...

Sorry, Sora

I’ll admit it: I didn’t like Riku at first. He chooses to follow the path of darkness so easily, without even a glance at the potential consequences. Perhaps I was most frustrated because I knew Riku didn’t need the darkness to become stronger. He already possessed the strength, the instinct, the looks, and the drive; he was physically tougher than Sora—Kingdom Hearts’ spiky-haired hero—and born with more natural talent than anyone else on Destiny Islands. We even learn that Riku was meant to be the Keyblade’s “chosen one” before Sora fell into the role. Yet, Riku chooses the proverbial “dark side,” throwing away his best friend, parents, homeland… even his reputation. And for what? To save Kairi, to become stronger, to protect those things that matter to him; that’s his self-proclaimed motivation, at least. But as I watched Riku desperately battle for even more other-worldly strength, turning his Keyblade against Sora time and again, and ultimately giving himself to the darkness, I realized that it’s not power that motivates him. It’s fear—something that no amount of natural talent or physical strength can overcome, because fears of inadequacy and loss can’t be physically combated. Like his fictional archetypes Anakin and Obito, Riku doesn’t see power as the motivator, but as the solution to his fear. Is it better to be born in the light, or to find the light by fighting against our own inner darkness? Unlike many of his heel-turned brethren, however, Riku escapes official villainizing with the realization that the power of a light-filled heart—something he once considered a “weak little thing”—can trump the power of darkness. It’s not until he’s physically possessed by Ansem—a wielder of darkness—that Riku comes to the conclusion that darkness can destroy his body, but it can’t destroy...

How to adult like a child Nov02

How to adult like a child

From a young age, Brendan knows three things about the world: (1) the world is brutal, (2) Vikings are dangerous, and (3) building a wall around the Abbey of Kells—and staying inside it—is the only way to protect himself from numbers one and two. At least, that’s what his uncle, Abbot Cellach, would have him believe. In the Academy Award nominated film The Secret of Kells, Brendan is forced to grow up faster than his age can keep up with. His uncle is a steely-eyed giant of a man whose obsession with wall-building takes his focus off other important things—like overseeing the creation of the Book of Kells, a tome that’s destined to convey hope and history to future generations. Whilst Cellach toils at the construction site or doodles blueprints all over the walls and floor of his bedchamber, survivors of Viking attacks on nearby villages gradually trickle into Kells Abbey; this only reinforces Cellach’s beliefs that the outside world is a place occupied by worshippers of the pagan god, Crom Cruac. However, Brendan starts to question his uncle’s beliefs once he begins an apprenticeship under a famed Illuminator (holy artist) in order to complete the legendary Book of Kells. During a trek into the forbidden outside world on a quest for ink ingredients, Brendan meets Aisling—a shape-shifting fairy who personifies much of Brendon’s childish innocence and fear. It’s Aisling who introduces Brendan to the wonders of nature—inspiring his work as an Illuminator—and who holds him back in terror when Brendan ventures too close to the den of Crom Cruac. “There’s no such thing as Crom Cruac,” Brendan assures her, echoing his uncle’s words. Crom is a fable—pagan, imaginary nonsense to scare children, and despite his youthful age and prepubescent voice, Brendan clearly doesn’t consider himself one of those. Growing up “costs” us something—our security, our innocence, or our ignorance. But our child-like faith doesn’t have to be part of the price. Secretly, Brendan’s terrified that Crom Cruac exists—to the point where it haunts his dreams at night—but, due to the adult-like sense of skepticism instilled in him by his uncle, he denies that fear.  He is forced to grow up too fast, and in doing so, misses something valuable in being a child. As soon as we’re old enough to become self-aware, it seems we’re set on “growing up.” And why wouldn’t we be?  Hearing the oft-repeated “wait until you’re older” implies that our age is a restriction. We eagerly await the birthdays when we’ll be thirteen, fifteen, eighteen, twenty one, old enough to be considered a legal adult. That word, “adult,” is toted around like a medal given to those who, oftentimes, merely meet the qualification of age. But maybe being “grown up” means something more—like overcoming the insecurities of being “childish.” Children are fearless. They ask questions, they absorb and reflect the world around them with spellbinding candor, they have the self-confidence and curiosity to try new things. It’s when most of these children reach adulthood that the distrust of the world gets to them. They suddenly hold their questions in for fear of appearing incompetent. They keep their thoughts to themselves for fear of saying the wrong thing. They approach new experiences with caution because the world has taught them to fear what they do not understand. These children (who, science tells us, are born with only two natural fears— falling and loud noises), suddenly encounter a host of worries upon reaching adulthood. In the real world, it seems, to be “grown up” means learning to fear. Under the influence of his uncle, Brendan is taught to bury his deep-seated fear of Crom Cruac. That doesn’t change the fact that Crom is, in fact, real—as real as Brendan’s self-doubts about his ability to complete the Book of Kells. He believes he’s not worthy or skilled enough. He’ll ruin it. It’s ironic that the boy who prides himself...

Guilt and Geostigma

Cloud Strife has had it rough. And he’s not making anything easier for himself. In addition to the deaths of his closest companions, Cloud has witnessed the burning of his hometown, undergone unethical medical experimentation, and suffered from various psychological conditions—including a nasty bout of dissociative identity disorder. By the time we’ve caught up with the unsmiling, spikey-headed hero in Final Fantasy: Advent Children, all that emotional instability has begun to take its deadly toll… and the fact that he’s contracted a cancerous, PTSD-inducing disease called Geostigma isn’t helping either. Spawned from strands of his arch-nemesis Sephiroth’s DNA, the disease literally thrives on Cloud’s guilty conscience, taking every opportunity to remind him that it’s his fault his love interest, Aerith, was brutally killed. Cloud isn’t afraid to die—in fact, he’s exiled himself to a penitent, living death while the disease eats away at his skin. In fact, he’s terrified to live with the weight of his guilt. He isolates himself, attempting to cut all social ties so that no additional failures can taint his conscience, but in doing so he builds emotional barriers that, through misunderstanding, threaten to disconnect the network of friends he considers to be his family. A long sleeve keeps Cloud’s infected arm hidden from prying eyes, metaphorically symbolizing his unwillingness to make himself vulnerable by telling others of his condition. That doesn’t stop his childhood sweetheart, Tifa, from finding out the truth, though, which leads to a heated confrontation:The grace that had ever been available to him is finally able to manifest itself because he’s made himself vulnerable to it. “So you’re just gonna give up and die. Is that it?” she accuses. “There is no cure,” he answers. Cloud is clearly talking about more than his disease here—he’s also talking about his...

Mechon, titan, black and white Oct05

Mechon, titan, black and white...

Sometimes it’s easier to determine what isn’t a human rather than what is. What constitutes a human being? Is it our physiology? Our spiritual nature? Perhaps our unique ability to reason and use critical thinking, or our tendency to form intricate relationships? In the world of Attack on Titan, humanity survives on the cusp of extinction, barricaded behind fifty-meter-high walls—the only thing separating them from the carnivorous titans roaming outside. Within this post-apocalyptic microcosm, the lines between man and monster become blurred, with the greedy and needy turning to crime and causing as much havoc as the titans themselves. Even so, it’s an unspoken law that while a human may be “friend,” a titan will always be “foe,” and with most of the living having lost a comrade between a titan’s teeth, that notion isn’t too difficult to enforce. Things get tricky, however, with the discovery of Titan Shifters—humans with the ability to morph titan bodies around themselves at will. And if that doesn’t throw an ethical dilemma into the encroaching uneasiness, then the discovery that most—if not all—titans were once human beings certainly does. It’s simple and painless to forget that the objects of your hatred breathe the same air that you do. Captain Levi—whose human hit-list once surpassed his number of titan kills—actually lowers his face in guilt at the realization that “all the flesh I’ve risked everything to slice is actually human flesh.” For Levi and the other titan-slaying soldiers, the battle for humanity suddenly becomes a twisted tug-of-war between saving the lost souls trapped within the titans’ bodies and killing the rampaging titans in order to preserve themselves. But in killing these humans-turned-monsters, do they risk destroying the very thing they aim to save? With titans bearing the familiar faces...

When Sonic lost his speed...

Remember when Sonic wasn’t a sword-wielding, werewolf-hybrid trapped in the midst of a human-meets-hedgehog love triangle? I do. But before I shake a cane at all post-2D Sonic games, let me make one thing clear: I’ve found some form of enjoyment in almost every Sonic title—even those hard-to-love critical failures. But as a fan who has followed SEGA’s speedy mascot since her kindergarten days, it pains me to see him moving so slowly at the ripe age of 24—a time when most franchises should be planning for their victorious silver jubilee. What happened? At what point did Sonic lose his way? In his transition to the 3D realm, Sonic was thrust into plot-driven narratives garnished with RPG elements and populated by characters who brought new mechanics—fishing, treasure hunting, gunning, and the like—to Sonic’s previously simple world. But in my opinion, what’s led to series’ downfall is not its plotting or even its new gameplay styles, but rather its neglect of what made Sonic great to begin with—his speed. Speed has long been Sonic’s selling point. It’s what marketed him in 1991 and made him a worthy rival of Nintendo’s Mario. No other game had the supersonic velocity that came with this sneaker-wearing hedgehog. In reality, it’s “fitting in” that causes us to disappear, making us lonely in a crowd of “clones.” Most every Sonic game incorporates speed, but only the truly successful installments handle it with the attention it deserves. A majority of post-2000 Sonic games diminish the power of Sonic’s speed by implementing out-of-character mechanics like gun/sword fighting and melee combat. Even in those games that feature “speed zones,” the supersonic antics are often diminished by crippling camera angles, broken controls, glitches, or just downright uninspired tracks. Worse still, some games lower Sonic’s...

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...