Heroine’s journey: The Twelve Kingdoms, episodes 1-13

12K Street scene
The world of the Twelve Kingdoms is a treat for viewers.

A girl becomes a hero.

 

That is the premise and appeal of episodes 1-13 of The Twelve Kingdoms, the anime adaptation of a series of fantasy novels by Japanese author Fuyumi Ono (1). The show runs to 45 episodes altogether, spread across four story arcs – each based on a different book and focusing on different characters. It was one of my favourites as a teenager, and after rewatching episodes 1-13 (which constitute the first and, from memory, one of the better story arcs, corresponding to book #1, Sea of Shadow), I was impressed all over again.

 

But that didn’t happen straight away. I’ll be honest; the first couple of episodes were a real slog. You see, this particular story arc follows Youko, a modern-day girl flung into the strange world of the Twelve Kingdoms; and while her initial terror is understandable (and believable!), her cringing passivity made me want to yell. Nor was her supporting cast any more likeable. But things don’t stay that way: over those thirteen episodes, Youko overcomes her demons, learns courage and maturity, and discovers the wonderful, imaginative world around her.

 

As such, while there is a little action, this is not a show about action. There is affection, but this is not a show about romance. This is not a fluffy or frivolous or ‘light entertainment’ show; it is an emotionally intense one about internal conflict and character growth. That first story arc exemplifies the show: the Youko of episode 1 is not the same Youko of episode 13, and her transformation – sometimes trying, ultimately heartwarming – would not be so remarkable if she were not so pathetic to begin with. The end result is a set of episodes that, while initially painful, are rewarding and mature – and that make a promising start for my rewatch.

 

(1) Sadly, I understand it is an incomplete adaptation; the anime never adapted the last book in the series, and I do not believe the author ever wrapped up the series itself.

Does a good game make a good anime? Persona 4: The Animation – eps 1 to 9

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Persona 3 & 4

Persona 4 Anime - Our HeroesI’m nine episodes into Persona 4: The Animation, the anime adaptation of the excellent PS2/Vita RPG; as I would like to eventually finish the game (I am “only” 30 hours in), I have paused at this point in the anime to avoid spoiling myself. The anime is a lot of fun, worth the money I spent on it… and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that it is a guilty pleasure.

 

The anime does a number of things right. For one, it has very strong source material, with a great premise: Persona 4 follows several teenage friends who, in the course of investigating murders in their sleepy country town, end up fighting their own literal and metaphorical demons. P4’s characters are goofy (perhaps a bit more so in the anime), amusing (I’ve laughed so hard, the other passengers on my commute probably think I’m bonkers), and yet human and relatable. The anime’s fight scenes are spectacular – the titular Personas have never looked better – and its production values are excellent; the anime’s art is vibrant and attractive, and I routinely grin when it uses music from the game’s soundtrack. So what’s the problem?

Continue reading “Does a good game make a good anime? Persona 4: The Animation – eps 1 to 9”

MOTOKOOOO: Ghost in the Shell: Arise trailer

There is now a trailer for the new Ghost in the Shell prequel, Ghost in the Shell: Arise! Here it is:

 

 

Notably, protagonist Motoko Kusanagi has a new design as well as a new voice actress — Maaya Sakamoto, in lieu of the iconic Atsuko Tanaka. Arise will comprise four fifty-minute instalments, the first of which is due out in Japan in June. Sadly, Arise does not seem to be part of the Stand Alone Complex continuity. (It’s been almost nine months, and I still need to write that SAC retrospective!)

Further details around the Web, including at Siliconera and Anime News Network.  Hat tip to sfsignal for alerting me to the trailer.

Anime’s reclusive cousin: what happened to light novels?

Japan is best known in western geekdom for her video games, anime, and manga, but from time to time, we see the novels (often illustrated YA “light novels”) that inspired some of these works. These usually come out in the West under the auspices of manga publishers: transhuman space opera Crest of the Stars, coming-of-age fantasy The Twelve Kingdoms, and high-fantasy spoof Slayers were released by the now-defunct Tokyopop, while economic fantasy Spice and Wolf (my review here) is published by Hachette’s manga/graphic novels imprint, Yen Press. (One exception is Moribito, published by Scholastic.) Yet in the West, these are nowhere near so well known as their adaptations – it’s reasonably common for science fiction, fantasy, and video game geeks to watch anime; rather rarer for them to read the source novels. Why?

 

I can think of several potential explanations:

 

Poor quality? At first glance, this is an unlikely culprit – the respective anime adaptations of Crest, Twelve Kingdoms, and Moribito are all excellent, at least as good as any live-action Western competition. If there’s a problem, it must be peculiar to the books – such as prose. The only one I’ve read, Spice, suffers from a weak localisation, and one Amazon review suggests that so does  Crest, but without further data I couldn’t say if the problem is more widespread. Still, a possibility.

 

Lack of Kindle availability? Ebooks have been a boon for mid-tier fiction, yet none of the books I mentioned above is available for Kindle! (At least in the case of Spice, its few illustrations are no excuse; they’re mostly black-and-white, which the Kindle screen can handle.)  I don’t think this is individually decisive, and certainly there are light novels that buck the trend by appearing on Kindle, but it surely can’t help.

 

Poor market positioning? I have not seen these books marketed at all beyond the manga crowd, despite their potential appeal to science fiction and fantasy buffs! The closest they’ve come has been the Spice novels, which use photorealistic dust jackets to conceal manga-style covers. This seems the most likely suspect to me – if sf/fantasy communities aren’t even discussing these books, even to say “they’re bad!”, that suggests the problem is awareness.

 

For whatever reason(s) it occurs, this phenomenon is too bad – not only do some of these works deserve to be better known, but I’d like to see the fruits of creative cross-pollination. And if any readers are familiar with these markets, I’d love to hear your insights. Either the problem is not so easy as I’ve made it sound – or else there is an opportunity here, waiting for somebody to grab it…

Anime review: Last Exile

“It’s the dawn of the Golden Age of Aviation on planet Prester, and retro-futuristic sky vehicles known as vanships dominate the horizon. Claus Valca – a flyboy born with the right stuff – and his fiery navigator Lavie are fearless racers obsessed with becoming the first sky couriers to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship. But when the high-flying duo encounters a mysterious girl named Alvis, they are thrust into the middle of an endless battle between Anatoray and Disith – two countries systematically destroying each other according to the code of chivalric warfare. Lives will be lost and legacies determined as Claus and Lavie attempt to bring peace to their world by solving the riddle of its chaotic core.”  – official DVD blurb

 

After eight years, I recently re-watched Last Exile – one of the first anime I saw, back when it originally ran in 2003. Since then, I’ve watched a lot more anime before drifting away from the medium; steampunk has become the “hot” subgenre of speculative fiction; and the show itself has a brand-new sequel. How does the original hold up?

 

From the start, Last Exile’s greatest strength is on full display: its world. Antigravity battleships soar through the skies, courier pilots scoop up message tubes marked to indicate the danger of the mission, men march to their deaths in pointless ritual combat. Dukes fill their fountains with the purest water, while those same couriers scrimp and save for water of the “third grade”. It’s a world very different to ours, a world where Han Solo would feel right at home but with the space opera traded out for steam/dieselpunk. And it’s a world both imaginative and richly brought to life.

 

Unfortunately, a cool premise and imaginative worldbuilding can only take you so far. The greatest flaw of Last Exile is that the further along you get, the less sense its plot makes. And it doesn’t help that the show is light on exposition, which is fine for worldbuilding but a real problem when it comes to plot. What was the point of that elaborate scheme? Where was X during all of that? How did those guys warp from point A to point B? Why is a certain character so stupid? Most damagingly, and repeated several times: what just happened, and why? This isn’t so much of an issue in the show’s first half, but it weighs heavily on its later half, enough to cripple my suspension of disbelief by the time the curtain fell. That said, the writers can plot satisfying individual episodes – these tend to be the ones that highlight an aspect of daily life in the skies. (As such, Last Exile would probably have worked better as an episodic show with the odd plot episode, a la Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.)

 

The characters aren’t especially deep, but they’re passable. Hero Claus is a generic milquetoast, but heroine Lavie has enough personality for both of them. Along the way, they encounter a familiar cast of characters: friendly rivals, a not-so-friendly stiffneck and her sweeter sidekick, a Captain Nemo/Harlock wannabe, a salt-of-the-earth mechanic crew, and more. Few of them are worth writing home about, but they all receive their fair share of endearing moments – and the supporting characters also get some of the show’s crowning heroic moments.

 

In the end, Last Exile could have been so much more, were it not for characters who are merely fair-to-middling and an overarching plot that’s downright weak. But with its fascinating world and its individually cool moments, the show is still well worth a look for a speculative fiction fan.

 

You can buy Last Exile from Amazon here (or, if you’re in the US, just watch it on Hulu).

 

I hope you enjoyed this post! To quickly find this post, and my other reviews, click the “reviews” tab at the top of this page.

Spoiled by Greatness

When we want to praise a well-made device, a skilful cook, a more convenient way of doing things, anything, we commonly say, “It’s spoiled me.” Usually this is just a figure of speech. But as with many other clichés, there is a literal truth at the heart of this: sometimes, we really do find something so good that it takes away our ability to enjoy inferior alternatives. And I think this is the case with two of my preferred forms of entertainment, games and books.

 

My most recent gaming example is Total War: Shogun 2 (my verdict here); in mechanical terms, the best strategy game I’ve played in years. Shogun 2 didn’t just fix much of the Total War series’ traditional bugginess. It also fixed two endemic problems with the strategy game genre: the boring late game, and pointless diplomacy. Now, when I think about other games in the genre, I have a much more critical eye for those two issues (especially the former) after seeing them done correctly. One studio that might suffer as a result is Paradox Interactive. I’ve loved Paradox’s historical simulations for years and I have plenty of cool stories to tell about them (see, for example, my Byzantine adventures in Europa Universalis III), but they are not particularly fun after the early- to mid-game. So Paradox’s upcoming Crusader Kings 2 and especially Sengoku will have to surpass a bar that Shogun 2 set pretty high, and Paradox will have to work that much harder to convince me to buy them.

 

Something similar may have happened to me in books, although here it may simply have been that my taste improved as I grew up. When I discovered fantasy fiction in my early teens, I loved Raymond Feist’s tales of orphans-turned-sorcerers and swashbuckling young heroes. Then, over the years, I read George R R Martin, and Glen Cook, both of whom specialised in taking apart the traditional fantasy novel. Martin needs no introduction; Cook’s Black Company series depicts a traditional fantasy world, with centuries-old wizards capable of destroying armies in the blink of an eye – but from the perspective of the underdog, the common foot soldier. Now I can’t even remember the last time I glanced at my Feist collection. My tastes in space opera tell a similar story. I used to happily read military science fiction novels that were little more than glorified after-action reports. Then when I was 17, I discovered Lois McMaster Bujold’s space opera novels – character- rather than explosion-driven, hilarious, moving, brilliant* – and I didn’t look back.

 

You can even see my own writing reflect the above trends in my literary tastes, albeit, it seems, with a lag. The first decent story I wrote, back around 2005 or 2006, was a heroic fantasy Tale of High Adventure, set in a world awash in magic and starring a hero who’s stronger, more cunning, and more superpowered than his foes. By late 2008/early 2009, when I wrote the first draft of The First Sacrifice, things had come down to earth. Artorius of Cairbrunn, the main character of The First Sacrifice, might be tough, clever, and a spirit to boot, but he’s decidedly short on superpowers. (To stretch an analogy, Artorius is the Daniel Craig to my earlier imagined Conneries and Moores.)

 

I’m not so sure whether I’ve experienced the same phenomenon, of discovering the good and being unable to return to the mediocre, in other media. Anime went in the opposite direction –  I discovered most of my favourite anime within the first few years after I started watching the medium. While I am unable to enjoy the majority of anime, I think this is more because common anime tropes annoy me than because I’ve been “spoiled” by watching the cream early on. And I don’t really watch enough movies or TV, nor am I sufficiently analytical when I do, to be spoiled for lesser works.

 

Is this phenomenon a blessing or a curse? Often it feels like the latter, when I just can’t find anything that interests me. On the other hand, bypassing the uninspired is what allows us to have time for the truly good. And if being spoiled is the price that must be paid to encounter greatness, well, I think it’s one well worth paying.

 

* You can legally read most of Bujold’s space opera series, the Miles Vorkosigan saga, for free here. Highly recommended if you like space opera at all.

Peter’s Rule of the Ridiculous

Black Lagoon is an anime series following the adventures of a crew of modern-day gangsters/guns for hire/pirates, and one very out-of-place Japanese salaryman, as they  battle mob bosses, mercenaries and maniacs. Meanwhile, God Hand is a PS2 brawler about a guy who protects the supernatural power of  the titular limb from hordes of mohawked punks, whip-wielding women, and demons who range from corpulent to alluring to plain monstrous. Other than violence, what on earth could these have in common?

 

The answer is, they are both powered by the same core concept, what I call Peter’s Rule of the Ridiculous: if you’re going to tell a story that is ludicrous, over-the-top or plain silly, not only must you be aware of that, you’d better make very sure that the audience knows you’re aware of that.

 

Note that the Rule of the Ridiculous is not the same as “so bad it’s good”, although it is related to that long and honourable dramatic tradition, hamming it up. “So bad it’s good” is unintentional on the creators’ part, whereas self-awareness is the whole point of the Rule of the Ridiculous. Meanwhile, hamming it up is what happens when the actors, not the writers/directors/creators, are the ones who embrace the ridiculousness.

 

How does the rule apply to Black Lagoon and God Hand? Both take genres that, by definition, stretch believability – action films for Black Lagoon; video games in general, beat ‘em ups more specifically for God Hand – and drag them through the realm of self-parody. Action movies presented us with zombie pirates, whip-wielding Nazi-fighting archaeologists, and martini-quaffing, laser-defying, hit men; games often rely on endowing us with similar Macho McToughguy powers. Black Lagoon’s characters are even more overpowered, but it doesn’t stop there. Its heroes yell, “We’re being chased by an unstoppable killer robot from the future!” and in one episode, go up against an army of supervillains toting not just pistols, not just rifles,  not just swords, but every way to die known to man: flamethrower, chainsaw, minigun, even a kukri-on-a-rope. God Hand, meanwhile, will never have you looking at fight scenes the same way again after the first time you kick a demon in the groin, knock him flat, stomp on his head, and then launch his buddies into the sky, accompanied by an in-game laugh track.

 

In contrast, I can think of a couple of franchises that would have been improved had they run with the Rule of the Ridiculous:

 

  • Exhibit #1 is Warhammer 40,000, where IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE, THERE IS ONLY WAR. And that war includes ten-foot tall superhuman space marines, barely-literate space orcs orks, space elves, space dark elves, 50-metre (150-foot) tall mecha piloted by machine-worshippers, demon-summoning cultists, rifts that can swallow up whole space fleets, and somehow managing to survive in all this, human grunts and tankmen led by sword-waving commissars.

 

  • Exhibit #2 is the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise, which – in the entries I’ve seen – tends to follow a formula. Whiny teenaged heroes miraculously stumble into command of superweapons! Teenaged heroes repeatedly fight off hordes of enemies! Teenaged heroes barely take a scratch even when fighting veteran soldiers!

 

Are these universes inherently more unbelievable than those of Black Lagoon or God Hand? No. The problem is, they’re presented in so po-faced a fashion that my mind balks at accepting them. And from there, it’s only a short step to dwelling on their flaws. But in God Hand, and in Black Lagoon once it warms up to the Rule, suspension of disbelief never has the chance to become an issue – I’m too busy laughing, exclaiming, “Holy–!” or otherwise being dragged along for the ride.

 

And that’s the beauty of the Rule of the Ridiculous. It takes unpromising or hackneyed raw material, and transforms it into sheer glee, almost like a Philosopher’s Stone for storytellers. It makes Black Lagoon and God Hand memorable rather than generic. It lets creators achieve the cult classic status associated with “so bad it’s good” while skipping the “bad” part. And it can be as simple as exaggerating genre conventions instead of simply playing them straight. Of course, all this is easier said than done. But when the rewards are so great, and the risks (remember, we start with uninspiring source material) so marginal, well, wouldn’t failure to embrace the ham just be a recipe for… ridicule?

Anime review from my archives: Fate/stay night

FATE/STAY NIGHT


Long ago, three sorcerers created a plot coupon, which they dubbed the Holy Grail. It is powerful enough to grant any wish — but to claim it, one must compete against six other sorcerers, each contestant, or “Master”, summoning a mythological hero (“Servant”) to be his or her champion.  Now, in one Japanese city, the fifth such bout is about to begin, and a young man, Emiya Shirou is about to be caught up…

 

Frustration is not seeing an unredeemably bad book, or anime, or game. No, to be truly maddening, it must display some kind of potential, or promise that it could have been something great, and then throw it away. Fate/stay night exemplifies this. It has an extremely cool premise. It has a handful of excellent characters, most notably the prickly, haughty, and brilliant sorceress Rin Tohsaka and her Servant, the sarcastic Archer. It has decent music, and the most striking visual effect I have ever seen in anime (a wasteland littered with thousands of swords, gigantic gears turning in the background).

 

Unfortunately, the good characters, including all those with any depth, are soon either marginalised or outright killed off. Instead, the focus is on an infuriating main character, who goes beyond “generic milquetoast young male hero” to “idiot who prattles about being the ‘protector of justice’, and insists on rushing into every fight, even though this puts his friends in even greater danger, as they now have to work around him.” Even though he becomes slightly less annoying in the second half of the series, he would still have been enough to sink the whole show by himself. Unfortunately, he’s not the only thing wrong. His two starting female companions are just as bad: one is a servile doormat who waits on him hand and foot, the other is an annoying, shrill shrew. They, too, are eventually marginalised, but this is too little, too late.

 

It’s not just the characters that are deficient. The plotting is similarly atrocious. After the show introduces the premise to us, it settles into a routine that others have compared to Dragonball: “villain-of-the-month appears; seemingly invincible VOTM calls out the name of a visually spectacular special attack, and beats back protagonists; as all hope seems lost, protagonists counter with an even flashier deus ex machina, and defeat VOTM; protagaonists ‘relax’ in a bad romantic comedy episode, at the end of which the next VOTM appears; repeat.” Minor characters walk in and out with little rhyme or reason, beyond giving effect to the VOTM plotting, and aren’t really developed even where they are interesting enough to merit it; one turns out, with no foreshadowing, to be the ultimate villain, out to destroy the world for the sheer hell of it!

 

Even the action scenes stop becoming “cheesily entertaining” and just become stupid after a while, courtesy of the show’s reliance on deus ex machinae, shouted attack names, and overused stock footage of characters shouting and swinging their swords, followed by bright lights. You know it’s bad when you cheer and laugh every time the villain lands a blow on the hero! Finally, the Protagonist Powers manage to sabotage one of the series’ redeeming moments, by cheapening to worthlessness the sacrifice that one character makes.

 

All in all, Fate/stay night stands as an ignominious example of how not to treat a good premise: had, say, Roger Zelazny done it, this could have been a masterpiece. Instead, it is the worst series I have ever watched to completion, a poor-to-mediocre show made watchable only by the occasional brilliant moment, idea, or glimpse of a good character — and one can get those by simply reading spoilers on Wikipedia or fansites.

 

You can buy Fate/stay night on Amazon here (though I’m not sure why you’d want to).

 

I hope you enjoyed this post! To quickly find this post, and my other reviews, click the “reviews” tab at the top of this page.

One sign that our geeky hobbies have gone mainstream

How do we know when a favourite, but hitherto niche, hobby has gone mainstream? I’m sure there are many indicators. The most obvious is, have its sales skyrocketed? There are others: has it featured on a talk show? Are our co-workers discussing it?

 

But lately, I’ve noticed one more: How widely is it being advertised? In particular, is it being advertised in public places?

 

Using this litmus test, gaming has definitely gone mainstream. In the last few months, I’ve seen the bearded special operator from Medal of Honor, the scowling cowboy of Red Dead Redemption, and “Super Mario 25th Anniversary – Part of the Family Since 1985” all staring down at me from the sides of buses. A couple of years ago, I remember seeing LittleBigPlanet posters at the train station, in which an adorable-looking Sackboy proclaimed, “On my planet, the stock market isn’t so scary.”  And I could be mistaken here – this was years and years ago – but I seem to recall seeing CivAnon brochures at university, in which case even turn-based strategy can be mainstream..

 

Speculative fiction movies and TV are also mainstream by this definition. Most recently, I’ve seen posters at the train station advertising vampire TV shows, but pretty much any speculative-fiction blockbuster would count.

 

On the other hand, speculative fiction NOVELS are most definitely not mainstream. Neither is anime (well, in Australia, at any rate). No real surprises in either case…

“The golden age of science fiction is when you’re 12”: when do you have the most fun with a hobby?

There is a saying, attributed to one Peter Graham, that “the golden age of science fiction is when you’re 12”.

 

Now, assuming “12” is a metaphor for “when you first discover it”, I can understand the argument. I discovered most of my favourite anime in the first couple of years after I came to the hobby: Cowboy Bebop, Crest of the Stars, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, etc. I suspect this is due to my relatively narrow tastes in anime – in other words, it didn’t take me long to come close to exhausting the pool of anime that are to my liking.

 

But it’s not true when it comes to the games I’ve played. Oh, I whiled away endless hours playing games when I was a kid. And I was willing to spend more hours on any one game than I am now: the two that first spring to mind are Civilization II, which I played and modded ad infinitum, and the original X-Com, which I never bothered to finish because I was having so much fun stomping around on Earth, but there are undoubtedly many, many others. From an “amount of free time” perspective, any time you don’t have to hold down a job will be your golden age.

 

Yet many of my favourite games, or the games I would consider ‘the greatest’ or in some way the best, or those that had the biggest impact on me, are ones that I only played in the last 3-4 years: Fallout 3, Star Control 2/The Ur-Quan Masters, Okami, etc. And I think coming to them with a grown-up’s eyes is a major reason why. For now I have had the benefit of years and years of reading books and playing games and absorbing stories. And now, I can better recognise originality. I can now dissect games well enough to see how they bring together individual building blocks, analyse them in terms of theme and character arc and worldbuilding. In other words, I can appreciate games on more layers than I could when I was younger.

 

Perhaps, then, the golden age of science fiction, or gaming, or anime, or movies or TV or any hobby, is when you’re sufficiently well-versed to understand why you like it.

Cowboy Bebop: How to flesh out characters in a single sublime moment

Characterisation is vital to a good story. And storytellers can enlighten us about characters and their relationships over hundreds of pages, in elaborate flashbacks, in grand, dramatic revelations.

 

But sometimes, a single eloquent moment can tell us as much as all the above.

 

My case in point here is the third episode of Cowboy Bebop, “Honky Tonk Women”. When we first see our two heroes in this episode, the freebooting bounty hunters Spike and Jet, they’re making their way into an orbiting casino:

 

Jet: “They’ll kick us out if you win too much.”

Spike: “Thanks, Mom, but if you didn’t want me to win, you shouldn’t have brought me here.”

 

Of course, trouble eventually starts. And when Jet sees that Spike is in the midst of the ensuing brawl, he lets out the groan of a frustrated parent: “Oh, Spiiike…”, followed soon enough by, “I told you not to win too much!”

 

And from those few lines, we can deduce so much about the characters and their relationship. We can infer Spike is hot-tempered, prone to getting the two of them into trouble. We can infer Jet is the responsible one. And, best of all, we can infer that the two of them know each other well enough for Jet to automatically assume that the trouble was Spike’s fault for not listening to his advice. It’s these touches that make Bebop, all these years later, still the best anime I’ve ever seen.

Hurrah for a Porco Rosso sequel

I was recently quite thrilled when I stumbled across the news, apparently dating from August, that Hayao Miyazaki is working on a sequel to Porco Rosso. The sequel is entitled Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie and is apparently set during the Spanish Civil War.

 

Now, I am not a big Miyazaki fan, although Princess Mononoke made a huge impression on me when I watched it. However, I liked the original Porco Rosso, partly for its pulpy dieselpunk setting and partly because of the cheerful absurdity of a talking pig flying a plane. So I will definitely look into the sequel. But I do wonder how it will address the ending of the original…

Crest of the Stars / Banner of the Stars: A space opera of the (trans)human heart

Crest of the Stars and its sequels (Banner of the Stars I – III) are some of my favourite anime of all time. Based on a series of novels (Seikai no Monshou and Seikai no Senki, by Hiroyuki Morioka), they succeed on so many levels. They tell a tale of conflict within the heart, against a backdrop that combines an epic clash of empires with an imaginative exploration of what humanity’s descendants may look like.

Continue reading “Crest of the Stars / Banner of the Stars: A space opera of the (trans)human heart”

Tytania, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and a focus on factions

Lately, I’ve resumed watching Tytania, a space opera anime about the conflict between the four dukes of the Tytania clan on the one hand, and happy-go-lucky, Irresponsible Captain Tylor-esque rebel Fan Hyulick on the other. The two sides are parallel protagonists rather than protagonist/antagonist; each gets its own point of view and plenty of screentime. Tytania’s distant forebear, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, follows a similar structure: on one hand, ambitious young Imperial nobleman Reinhard von Lohengramm; on the other, Yang Wen-li, champion of democracy and arch-slacker extraordinaire.

But…

Normally, I love what a talented storyteller can do with multiple points of view. But in the case of both Tytania and LOGH, I wish they’d stuck to only showing us the respective Imperial side in each anime. In the case of LOGH, this is pretty simple: I find the Imperial characters, and their story arcs, far more interesting than their foes. In the case of Tytania, though, that’s only part of it.

Tytania, you see, features a lot of in-fighting between nominal allies. For the four dukes, defeating the rebel is as much about winning glory as it is about neutralising a threat. So they backstab and sabotage one another, in between more prosaic squabbles about whose idiot brother punched whom first. That is a subject matter I’d like to see much more of, in anime, games (I would love to try the board game Republic of Rome sometime), and other media. I can always find plenty of stories about rebels and evil empires; stories about competition within the imperial elite are a rarer beast. And that is why I wish Tytania had focused more on the latter and less on the former.