The Question at the Heart of Every Good Story – Code Geass, Others

Code Geass animeEvery good story, nay, every story, has a question at its heart. A question that the story revolves around, a question the story not only seeks to answer, but presents itself as an answer to. Every story, except some ;)

Understanding this question can often shape the way you look at a story. Things that you did not understand their “Why?”, the reason they occured, and that had seemed meaningless, are suddenly seen in a new light. You construct the story and give it a theme, of answering the question, of resisting the question, and so on.

Most interesting is the analogy of coloured glasses, or a point of view. Many people see a different story being told, a different theme. And in many cases, there are many “legitimate” answers, and switching from one question to another can help you consider the story from different directions.

An anime I absolutely love is Code Geass. Many people have found Code Geass, and especially its second season to be lacking, in some way. I try to get them to look at this “question” that the series poses as its theme in order to help them see the series as I see it, and hopefully appreciate it as I do. The question Code Geass poses is this, “At what cost victory?”

The first season is quite light-hearted, in a way. We see what Lelouch is willing to do, who he is willing to quash, what he will do in order to secure victory, and the world he is looking to establish. The second series is where the question which the protagonist thought he answered decisively in the first season returns, and the protagonist is told that his answer is unsatisfactory, his resolve untested, and that he must demonstrate further conviction.

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Mecha Anime or Anime With Mecha? China Mieville to the Rescue!

ZGMF-X10A Freedom Gundam

This blog post will discuss, or at least raise the question, of what exactly is a Mecha Anime, and raise the argument that most anime where mecha appear are in fact not Mecha Anime.

China Miéville, for those who don’t know him is a British sci-fi/fantasy author whom I am quite fond of, and who is to put it succinctly, an “Urban Author”.  China Mieville wrote King Rat, which also deals with London, and the city’s feel, and environs. China Mieville writes in a word called Bas-Lag, the first book deals with the city of New Crobuzon, and the politics of the city, its ethnic (of races) make-up, etc.
His book from 2009 (which I am dearly waiting to acquire) is titled The City & The City, and I assume you can see how cities stand at its core.

The point I am trying to make is, that while in most stories we have cities, in most of them these cities are a backdrop to the action, and don’t figure heavily into the narrative. They are not major characters in the story, and far too often are not even truly supporting characters.
Not so in Mieville’s books, where the city is often as important a character as any of the protagonists and antagonists who make up the story, and while it often doesn’t show itself in any concentrated manner, it appears in small ways interweaved with anything that occurs.

So, this is the point from which I wish to discuss mecha in anime. Just like in many books and series, the city is just a backdrop, or even glossed over completely, in many anime series, including ones that bill themselves as “mecha anime”, the mecha are not a core part of the story, and even if they supposedly are, it’s not often in the “right” way.

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Harry Potter and Sex, Idealized Settings and Hidden Messages

Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter and ...

Foreward: This entry was written by myself back at April 2007. The last book was not yet written. I thought it’s interesting, so I am going to share it (with minor cleaning up); especially seeing what I covered in my 100th post, regarding slash-fic. Anyway, onward we go.

There is no sex in Harry Potter.
As far as we know, all the non-parent characters are virgins. We know Harry is a virgin, Ron is a virgin unless he got some action during his summer vacations, which is unlikely, living at home and far away from civilization and other humans.
Hermione is the most likely one to have had sex, seeing she spends her summer vacations amongst humanity, and we know very little of what she does during that time.

We know the characters’ parents, and parental characters had sex, but we only know of it because they have children.
This is a rather prudish way of handling things.

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The Brothers Lionheart – Favourite Childhood Book

Lionheart brothers

Sometimes you come across something that is perfect. A moment frozen in time that you can return to time and time again. Books can be good at that. Such a perfect book for me when I was a child, that I still read every several years, is The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren who is best known for writing Pippi Longstocking.

I first read this book in the third grade. A story about life and death, a story about living under occupation, of fighting for freedom where freedom should be assured for you, for life after death, about death after death. It is a story about sacrifice, of growing up, of love, of loving your older brother, of being loved by your older brother. It is a story about being weak. It is a story about mythology.

What is the plot about? Karl adores his big brother Jonatan, and they die, then they get to live in this land beyond death, but treachery and an evil tyrant loom over the peaceful valleys. And things progress from there.

 When I tell you that the book is perfect, and that I really love it, I mean it. Look on its Amazon page, out of 53 reviews, 50 give it a five stars. That’s almost unprecedented. We have two copies of this book in our household, as I was unwilling to give the book to my younger siblings to read. This book, it is just mine.

This book does not cut corners. The protagonist is a ten-year-old boy. I read it as a nine-year-old boy, the first time. And yet, as you can see, those are some really heady issues that the book does not shirk from. You get to face these issues squarely as Karl, the protagonist, does. This book speaks to children without making light their capability to understand these topics. As such, it’s also a book that you’d be perfectly happy to read as an adult, because it’s a book that speaks in the language it does, not trying to speak to children or over their heads.

I don’t have much to say of this book, because I have SO much to say of the book. I could write thousands and thousands of words about the book, but it’d be best if you’d read it. I could write thousands upon thousands of words regarding the book, but I’d rather do it in a discussion with you guys, and not here from my position as a blogger.

I have said often before that one of the main criteria I use to judge books is its emotional impact. I can use that criteria to judge this book. Both using that criteria, and not using that criteria, this book is just about perfect.

This book gets a 10/10 score, and only because I can’t give it 11.

So what are your favourite childhood books, and why? And do you think you’ll still enjoy them today?

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Yaoi/Slash is Porn; But Does it Have Males?

Zephyrus and Hyacinth; Attic red-figure cup fr...

So, here’s the deal. Slash is a form of fan-fiction written that for the most part covers (male) homosexual relationships between two characters, from the same fantasy world, or even crossing boundaries (pun). Yaoi is anime/manga focused on homoeroticism.
So far, so good?

These are porn, and the characters written within them often fail to portray people of the gender they seemingly portray, not unlike lesbian pornorgraphy (pornography with two (or more!) women, mostly aimed at men, as distinct from pornography aimed at the lesbian community).

Now, I’m going to leave aside the discussion of whether Porn is or isn’t bad, but if we’re honest, fiction written in order to get people sexually aroused and which people use in order to get sexually aroused? I don’t really see any term to use to describe it aside from pornography.

My other claim which is a bit more controversial (that is less to say, it’s more of an opinion), is that there’s a “gender-swap” going on. The men in yaoi/slash, while they are males (biological distinction), are not men (social distinction). What they are, is women, or to put it in a crass but catchy manner – they are chicks with dicks.

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Discworld and Deus ex Machinas

Cover by Paul Kidby.

Discworld and Deus Ex Machinas; Foreshadowed DEM are still DEM.

So I’ve been reading, well more like re-reading, some of my old Discworld novels recently (ny Terry Pratchett), and something hit me as I reached the book that stopped the manner in which I’ve read them, the onslaught, the flood. The book was Making Money, the second Moist von Lipwig book.
The fact that I’ve read that book reasonably recently probably also had a part in it, as my memory of it was still pretty fresh. But the issue that came up in this book is one that had come up in other Discworld books as well, in a manner at least, but it is in another iteration what makes up for Discworld’s “charm”. The issue is that of Deus Ex Machinas, so to speak.

Discworld books often have iterations and re-iterations of things. We have a specific issue crop up time and time again in a book, and that is part of what makes it “Funny”. Scare-quote funny in parts, genuinely funny in others. Anyway, it is the repetition that gives things power, as we either get the same idea across time and time again in the same manner, or with subtle changes.
The idea that comes up, or the sentence, in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, for instance was “He  could to take down a dog,” which is usually applies to rats, so it’s quite some feat. At a certain point in the book we’re told that X was strong enough to take down a dog, but Y was strong/mad enough to take down a wolf. And let me tell you, after we read the same sentence time and time again, in the context that this was posted, it made me all teary-eyed. It hit hard, the way that it was changed.

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Scott Pilgrim – The Awesome Zeitgeist.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim against the world. A comic book released in the form of books, 5 released and 6 total planned, by Bryan Lee O’Malley.  Well, there’s a movie now so I’m sure more people will hear of it, and hopefully the creator will also earn more money. It’s not like independent comic writers (comic sold through Oni Press, which houses a lot of independent and manga publications) are known for the piles of money they swim in.

Anyway, it may very well be that Scott Pilgrim is a reflection of the generation that I am a member of, the “Y Generation”, or in the case is, which Scott Pilgrim makes quite convincing, the “Yeah! Generation.” You see, Scott Pilgrim feels to me like an invention that hails in spirit from Seattle, though it’s actually Canada, but let us assume that it is Seattle’s spirit for the moment, the city that had brought us Grunge, the city that had brought has Starbucks. In other words, it’s a hipster city. I have hipster friends who live in Seattle or in its environs and whom I can think of as “Seattleans” in my mind – even though I’ve never actually been to Seattle myself.

So Scott Pilgrim against the world. The plot as there may be is that Scott falls in love with this girl called Ramona (note, it’s been two-three years since I’ve read any Scott Pilgrim). But there’s a problem, Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriends, all seven of them. What follows is a mocking super-hero-esque series of fights where the hipster, broke, slacker Scott Pilgrim is someone we (IIRC)  find out to have never lost a fight, and who is “too cool for school”.

Note: It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read Scott Pilgrim, so on one hand consider it a review of my memory of the comic, and on the other, I use it as a stepping stone to speak of a wider issue. Thank you.

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