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...

Fearing the Evos Jan20

Fearing the Evos

The most believable lies have an element of truth to them.  In the TV series Heroes Reborn, when Erica Kravid told everyone that there was going to be an event that would wipe out almost all life on earth and that she had a plan to save them, she wasn’t lying. There was going to be a cataclysmic event, it was going to wipe out humanity, and she did have a plan to save humanity. She didn’t divulge that her plan didn’t include everyone—or even most people. She only intended to save a few, hand-selected people. In carrying out her evil plan, she was playing both sides—getting evos to do horrible things and then making laws and creating publicity that fed into the fear of the normals. She used their fear of what was stronger than themselves—what they couldn’t control.  It’s true that people with superpowers would have the ability to cause serious harm if they chose to. It’s also true that some of them would not be good people. How could anyone know which were good and which were bad? How could we trust that a good superhero wouldn’t turn evil? Sorting out the truth can be hard when fear is involved. Erica told the world that, no matter what chances were given to evos to be integrated and accepted, they were murderous fiends who could not be trusted. She was careful to make her story credible by bidding some evos to carry out crimes against humanity. She also capitalized on the insecurity of the evos when faced with the fear of the general public.  Their own fear of destruction, death and persecution made it easy for many of the characters to believe any lie that they felt would bring them safety and security. In order...

The Rorschach Test: Watchmen, Truth, and Lies Jan18

The Rorschach Test: Watchmen, Truth, and Lies...

I first got into comics when I was in junior high. It was a good time for comics, the simpler days before Marvel’s Ultimate complicated the continuity of the Marvel Universe, before upstart companies like Image and Valiant further challenged what it meant to be a superhero. The additions to my collection were based primarily on my interest in individual superheroes rather than the quality of the narratives. I was an undiscerning reader: I read The Amazing Spiderman, The Uncanny X-men and a few other Marvel titles because I liked those characters. I bought various Batman titles because Batman’s cool and Superman titles because… well, I don’t know why I bought Superman titles. I have never understood why anyone liked Superman. And then someone told me about Alan Moore and I picked up Watchmen.  I wasn’t prepared for what I read. It was so many different genres all wrapped into one: mystery, revisionist superhero narrative, political treatise, alternate history. Watchmen was my first exposure to a comic raising deep moral, ethical, and philosophical questions, often questions without clear answers. And it remains one of the few comic I return to again and again because of how Moore treats those questions. When all the conspiracies within Watchmen have been uncovered, when Ozymandias’s plot to create world peace in an alternate 1985 has been revealed, truth and deception remain powerful thematic elements. Once the truth that Ozymandias has framed Dr. Manhattan for nuclear attack on New York in order to unite the United States and the USSR is revealed, the heroes must wrestle with the information they possess in the light of the new-found peace that could stabilize the world. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see the dangers of Rorschach’s black and white perspective....

I Must Not Tell Lies Jan11

I Must Not Tell Lies

The first time I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I found Harry’s constant anger, especially at Ron and Hermione, annoying. I wanted to tell him to chill out: didn’t he understand that there were bigger things going on? At the time, I didn’t recognize his trauma for what it was. Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor, hosts of the most delightful podcast Witch, Please, have a fantastic discussion about this in “Episode 9: The Cleansing Fire.” Their answer to Harry’s anger is that he is suffering from PTSD, and it totally makes sense. Harry has just gone through the traumatic experience of watching Voldemort come back to life and kill Cedric, and is then made to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle, who barely acknowledge his existence. To make matters worse, he doesn’t receive any news from his friends, who are under orders from Dumbledore not to share anything lest their owls are intercepted. Add to this the mysterious Dementor attack and the subsequent hearing to prove his innocence so he will not be expelled from Hogwarts, and it quickly becomes clear that Harry’s anger is justifiable. Just when we think things are going to get better for him—he’ll be back at Hogwarts and all he’ll have to worry about is Quidditch and OWLs—he discovers that, all summer, the Daily Prophet has been printing lies about him, under order of the Ministry for Magic, in an effort to discredit his story about Voldemort’s return. Do not dismiss the powerless when they come to you with hurt. There’s a term for this: gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which victims of trauma are made to doubt their own stories through others (often the perpetrator of the abuse) twisting...

Breathing a Lie through Silver Jan08

Breathing a Lie through Silver...

A philosophic argument is one of the best things that can happen to a friendship. Verbose disagreement with a healthy dose of name calling between jolly friends as they enjoy a choice drink: this is an ideal evening, in my opinion. It is in such a setting, at any rate, that I imagine the conflict between Lewis and Tolkien, a debate in which their philosophic understanding of myth stood at polar opposites. It was September of 1931 at Magdalen College in Oxford when Lewis told Tolkien that myth and fairy story were “breathing a lie through silver.” Tolkien strongly disagreed. He believed his “kind and confused friend” committed a grave error in saying this. Tolkien would later capture the essence of this error in his essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien felt strongly that myth creation, whatever it was, was something more than a lie, even poetically laced with silver. A lie is generally a negative thing. Tolkien maintained that the power to create myth and story was not negative but something positive, and even more. It was not only a human right, but a divine right. In the essay, he argued that humanity creates because our image mirrors the creator. A whole world is created with doors to new vistas that tell me about the world I live in. This perspective of myth making was important to Tolkien as it brought a legitimacy to creating myths in a time when fairies and their tales was left primarily to children. Tolkien’s idea was both important and relevant to the criticisms of that day, and it still applies in this century. I would even apply his principle in broader strokes. When I enter a land of someone else’s creation—whether it’s a book, a movie, a video game—I have a chance at...

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...