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...

Snuffed Out – Fire Emblem: Awakening and Death...

Death sucks—but chances are you’ll get over it, in the world of video gaming at least. There’s been plenty a first-year college paper written about how death has no meaning in video games because blah blah extra lives, blah blah respawn points… which of course, are totally appropriate and necessary to creating a game that people will play for more than 90 seconds. So you might say that death in games is necessarily meaningless—with a few notable exceptions. One example is that of the Fire Emblem series—a strategy-RPG franchise from Nintendo, long confined to the shores of Japan but one that has experienced a surprisingly warm reception in recent years, thanks to its expert storytelling, a large ensemble cast of fleshed-out characters, and its unique permanent death mechanic (provided you’re playing in “Classic” mode). In Fire Emblem, there are no nameless allies, only friends. For those unfamiliar with the series, almost every game involves a different cast of characters in a medieval setting, wherein the player controls the whole entourage on a tactical grid-based battlefield. Party members (all with names and often full backstories, even among the supporting cast) hold varying movement and attack abilities as part of their respective job classes, which, in some games can be changed and customized for the purpose of optimizing special abilities. While certainly not the only series to go for greater gravitas in the death department, Fire Emblem perhaps stands alone in how seamlessly it merges its strategy mechanics with the reality of permanent death. Losing a character in battle means that that character is dead for keeps. No Phoenix Downs, no 1-ups, and no wishing them back with the Dragon Balls; make the wrong moves on the grid and your buddy gets a one-way ticket to the casket factory—which makes carefully planning your strategy a necessity if you’re the kind of person (like me) who couldn’t bear to leave a pal behind. Though permanent death is a fixture throughout the Fire Emblem series, it is perhaps best realized in the franchise’s 2013 release, Fire Emblem: Awakening, thanks to the excellent storytelling featured in the game’s “support” conversations between battles. In Awakening, allied party members can form various support relationships based on their proximity to one another on the battlefield. When two characters join up to take down an opponent, their bonds grow stronger, allowing for a greater on-field chemistry for unlocking combos when teaming up against enemies. But additionally, building support relationships opens up side conversations, wherein the player is given story elements to accompany the increased support level. It’s even possible for two characters to form an “S-Support” relationship, which unites them as companions in marriage, and is in turn played out with a short scene involving a proposal, acceptance, etc. Certain relationships even provide the possibility of children, something that matchmakers and hopeless romantics have latched onto with great adoration. Make the wrong moves on the grid and your buddy gets a one-way ticket to the casket factory. Whereas other games might gloss over the death of a playable character or simply give the gamer another chance to collect their fallen comrades at battle’s end, Awakening plays by a different set of rules. Through its focus on character development and commitment to the permanence of death, Awakening challenges the player to hold even their lowliest foot soldiers in close regard. It encourages you see the death of a party member in the same way as if a real person’s life were cut short all too suddenly. Because if Kellam, or Sully, or Vaike, or Stahl, or Miriel, or Olivia, or any other member of your crew fall in battle… that’s it. You never get to hear the rest of their stories. Their support conversations disappear from the narrative going forward. They might never have a chance to get married or to have a family of their own. Or, if...