Another Apology

Internet, I have failed you. I meant to be good this time and update on my appointed days, and I could not. I realized, perhaps a month or two ago, why I could not. I have nothing to say about movies. I think I might have things to say about documentaries but I have to be in a very specific mood. But that’s because a lot of how documentaries work is based on how they communicate a message to the viewer and make the viewer feel. But I can’t talk about silent film outside of “hey guys, check this thing out.” And that’s not really anything. I have no real way to access how to look at these things without putting a huge amount of effort into learning how to think and talk about film. Beyond that, I’m just not passionate about them.

Know what I am passionate about? Fandom. I’m fascinated by and enthused about the way people interact with media. I love it. And so I’m starting anew. I’m going to write about fandom. I might someday write about fan theories or fandom drama, but other people have done quite a bit with those and I don’t want to just be a knock off of Fandom Wank. Therefore, I am starting with ship wars. So, everyone, welcome to me arbitrating well-known ship wars. And join me later this week as I dissect one of the great ship wars of my youth: Harry/Hermione vs Ron/Hermione.

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Empathy on the Next Level

I’ve done little else besides work and stress about research plans. When I do these things, I binge podcasts. One of my favorite ones I’ve listened to in the past months has been the Heaven’s Gate podcast, produced by Stitcher. The Heaven’s Gate cult was a group that believed that their leaders were the two witnesses from the biblical book of Revelation. These two, according to their teachings, were extraterrestrial life forms sent to gather followers who were ready to ascend to the “next level,” which only opened every two thousand years. While there are still a few followers, the group came to a conclusion for many in 1997, when 39 cult members (including their leader) committed suicide in a house near San Diego.

Facts about Heaven’s Gate are interesting enough on their own, but what really makes this podcast great is the host, Glynn Washington. While not having a previous relationship with Heaven’s Gate, Washington grew up in another apocalyptic cult. This gives him a heavy dose of sympathy and empathy for the followers of Heaven’s Gate that I thing would be difficult for most of us to really get at. His message isn’t “this is what this crazy cult did,” but “these were people, generally intelligent and reasonable people, and this could happen to you.” And I think this is a very important message. Most of us, or maybe just me, go around thinking that we could never be taken in by a cult or anything of that nature and other the people that do. But all it really takes is trusting the wrong person and eventually finding yourself in too deep.

In many ways, this podcast does what Leah Remini’s show on Scientology is also trying to do. The podcast, however, has it easier in many respects. Remini has a very personal relationship with Scientology, which still very much exists and does get new members. Washington and Stitcher are doing something of a retrospective on a group that was never big to begin with and has only decreased in size. It’s easier to humanize the leaders and members of Heaven’s Gate, since they aren’t actively recruiting to something that’s harmful. They also need to be humanized more. We might mock, but we can name famous people who are Scientologists and, while we may casually throw around the word “cult” in connection with the group, Heaven’s Gate destroyed itself. Its members are gone and they went by their own choosing in order to follow a UFO they thought was behind the Hale-Bopp comet*. That, at least in my mind, is a step up from what Scientologists actually do.

If you’re into narrative, non-fiction podcasts (and if you aren’t squeamish about discussions of suicide), definitely give Stitcher’s Heaven’s Gate a listen. It’s well worth your while.

 

*Anyone remember what a disappoint Hale-Bopp was? I get it. It’s a comet and the platonic ideal of a comet is cool, but they’re real boring to look at. Especially when you’re six and all your teachers have been like “OMG Hale-Bopp, it’s a once in a lifetime thing!” and you get all excited and you’re on your deck and there’s like a smear in the sky and your parents are like “yup, that’s it” and all your expectations are crushed.

Harvest Moon: A New Obsession

Oh hey there, internet. It’s been a while. This is Uta (not Basil). Last time I talked to you, I made a really real super promise to actually post. And to this day, I have half-finished articles on “Making a Murderer” and “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” just waiting for me to finish them. They were going to be great October reading. But alas, studying for Ph.D. exams was not conducive to being able to express my thoughts about anything else. But I’ve had the past month to recover, so I’m back.

But not back enough to have lucid thoughts about things. So I’ve traded posting days with Basil, at least this week, so that I could ramble on about what I’ve been doing since Christmas: playing “Harvest Moon: A New Beginning” for Nintendo 3DS.

This game came out a while back. I actually avoided it, because I was told it wasn’t a particularly good game. And I have to say, the first week or so of in-game time are pretty boring. For those of you who don’t know, the Harvest Moon games are stylized farm life simulators. You play as a person (a boy when you aren’t allowed to choose gender, but some additions let you choose to be a girl) who has just inherited their family’s farm. You usually have some mission that will improve and/or save the village you’ve just moved to. To accomplish this, you plant and harvest crops, raise animals, collect things in the woods, and work with the harvest goddess and her sprite underlings. In this iteration, you move into a village just as one of the residents is moving out (with his family, if I remember correctly), leaving just you and three other residents in town. You’re left talking to an old man, an old woman, and a younger, middle-ish age woman over and over again. And collecting things. I did so much collecting. Sold so many bugs. You also get to start growing crops early on, but it’s still a pretty slow start.

Eventually, though, Neil moves in. This adorable little jerkwad is the livestock salesman. You can buy cows and chickens from him as soon as he moves in. He’s actually one of the eligible bachelors for those playing as a girl. I kinda have a thing for him. He’s a douche. But he’s just there, moping in a corner, getting upset when you go to his place to talk to him, taking it as a personal insult if you accidentally give him something he dislikes, lighting up and smiling like a child when you give him something he likes (moondrop flowers, guys. The secret is moondrop flowers). A young lady-smith also moves in during spring. She’s pretty cool. Soon after, another woman and her son move in. This is where everything gets more interesting. She’s an architect and asks you to help build a house for her based on blueprints she’s drawn up. After you do this, she recognizes your skill as a builder and begins selling blueprints to you. The old man in town, who seems to be somewhat in charge, comes up with the idea that you can help revitalize the town. After this point, not only does this guy keep coming up with festivals for you to participate in, but he also assigns you certain town restoration tasks. These include doing some more cosmetic things, like putting bushes around town, and more central tasks, like putting in other houses/businesses, which attract people to the town.

And this, my friends, is where I got obsessed. It’s so gratifying to check the things off the list for this make-believe town. You gotta go and collect things and work your farm so you can get/buy materials to make new shops and meet new characters. And then you have to enter competitions for your crops and animals. Then you have to make sure you have eight adult animals on your farm so that Neil starts selling alpacas. ALPACAS, GUYS. It’s great. It’s also a game that is easy to just keep playing. There aren’t really natural stopping points for gameplay. It’s so easy to just keep going, “just one more day…okay, just one more…”

All things considered, though, it’s still not a fantastic game. The controls aren’t particularly intuitive, especially when compared to my earlier, and very similar, obsession with “Rune Factory 4.” You can’t pick something up and carry it. Your character automatically puts it in the bag and you have to open that menu and tell your character to hold it. There is a fast-access button for the tools, but items like fodder and chicken feed aren’t considered tools in this version.

It’s still really fun, though. I might go play for a bit now. Farewell, internet.

Sorry, internet bros

As you may have noticed, my posting game has been anything but on point recently. I wish I had a nice excuse, but I’ve done nothing this month. But it was a good time doing nothing for the first time in maybe years. Anyway, I was gonna finally get around to my “Making a Murderer” post today, but it’s just not coming together in time. I will have it done by the 10th. In the meantime, enjoy this silent film version of Star Wars.

Mecha Marathon – Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Several years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam, Char Anzable is the leader of Neo-Zeon and still wants to drop a colony on the Earth. His long-time rival and fellow Newtype Amuro Ray is out to stop Char. Between them is Quess Prayana, a rebellious Newtype teenager in need of a mentor. She finds one in Char who convinces her to fight against her Earth-born family, a move that only ends in tragedy.

Chars Counterattack 2

screenshot via trailer

This film (movie? OVA?) has some good things going for it. It passes the Bechdel test in the first fifteen minutes. There are small moments of characters having difficulty navigating microgravity. The narrative doesn’t stretch itself to get everyone of importance on the same battlefield. Unfortunately, none of these are enough to redeem it.

Dear God, this director did not believe in establishing shots. Establishing shots, for lack of a better term, establish the scene. Oftentimes in anime, it’s the shot of the school building before cutting to the students’ antics. In a GUNDAM show, it’s usually a shot of the space ship before cutting to the drama on the bridge. For Char’s Counterattack, the narrative jumps from Earth to space to spaceship to mecha battle without first establishing these things that it took all my concentration just to keep up, which only added to my general confusion. I debated on pausing the film after every scene just so I can write down what the hell just happened and see if there was a connection. Then I decided that any enjoyment I would have gotten from this would have decreased by putting in that extra work. Besides, I kinda wanted to finish up as quickly as possible.

Char’s Counterattack is not accessible to newbies. Newtypes, maybe, since they can probably sense what’s happening, complete with the little noise effect. People new to the Gundam franchise, though? Absolutely not. The narrative relies on the audience already knowing the characters and their backstory–no one gets an explanation on what they did to get to where they are or anything.

I have problems with the character Quess, since her mentorship is entirely based on whoever she happens to love in that moment. She first encounters Amuro, who rejects her advances. Char, however, is more willing to indulge despite not reciprocating her feelings. First of all, girl, not every dude you encounter is romancing material. Why you gotta fall in love so easily? Female characters are always, always, always there for  the romance; even when they’re not, there is always a romance around a female character. I hoped Quess would step aside from that trope, but Quess did not agree. Minus points for feminism.

Quess’s constant romancing also sets up both Amuro and Char to be bad guys. Amuro rejects her advances, which is a good thing! You’re not supposed to romance your mentor, you’re supposed to treat them like a teacher. So Amuro does a good thing but is punished by the narrative for it because Quess then finds solace in Zeon where she fights against her family and wants to send the Earth into nuclear winter (more on that later). Meanwhile, Char indulges her romancing by having her sit on his lap and saying sweet nothings to her. But Char is clearly taking advantage of her, making him the skeevy one of all the characters. Everything about that was uncomfortable.

Finally, can I just say that I do not understand Zeon’s obsession with sending a colony on Earth? Why does everyone want to destroy the Earth? Are the Sides self-sufficient that they can grow everything they could possibly need? Do they make their own textiles for clothing? Are there factory Sides devoted to processing metal and plastic and glass? Wouldn’t having a habitable Earth help with the production of these resources? Odd questions, but still relevant.

Chars Counterattack 4

screenshot via trailer

As you can probably surmise, I did not enjoy Char’s Counterattack. It was too fast-paced for a clear understanding of the narrative and it relied on the viewer’s already having a history with the characters therein. I recommend it to die-hard GUNDAM fans, but no one else.

Do Men Dream of Electric Women?: “My Sex Robot”

Because I am fast becoming a connoisseur of what some might call trashy tv, I recently watched what I’m going to call a documentary on Netflix entitled “My Sex Robot.” As one might expect, this relatively short movie explores the world of sex robots. Most of the robots that are discussed in this movie, both those that are in development and are hoped for, are meant to be robotic women. This makes it a bit difficult to be nonjudgmental of the individuals in the documentary, especially when one is a woman herself. I don’t think this reaction is specifically gendered, however, as my boyfriend, who was at my place when I declared that this is what would be on the tv while I was making dinner, also felt that the program was set up to let you judge the guys who are into sex robots. The documentary itself somewhat wanders between different people who are somehow involved in the sex robot subculture, either as hopeful consumers or as developers. Since the actual facts of the development of sex robots are fairly mundane, I will focus here mainly on my reactions to the documentary.

At least as far as is presented in the documentary, there are two main schools of sex robotics. The one that seems more prevalent is the one that focuses on creating a robot that can simulate not only a sexual partner, but an emotional one as well. I feel like this group is the stereotypical one that everyone thinks of when they think of guys who want sexbots. It’s also the group that’s the more uncomfortable for me and, I think, many people. In this group, you have men who say they want sexbots because “they can never break your heart” and that they’ll be an always-submissive partner. These wants are difficult for me to sympathize with, since at least some of them seem to be saying “I want a woman with no wants or needs outside of pleasing me.” I get that having a partner that basically doesn’t exist outside of their relationship with you isn’t a fantasy limited to sexbot enthusiasts, or to men, but making it a robot feels like taking it too far. Also, it elicits some of the same reaction I have to animatronic pets. Whenever I see animatronic pets on a tv show, I go to a place of sadness, and maybe even pity, because it isn’t real. I understand that these are probably great for some people, especially the elderly and very young who might not be equipped to take care of a real animal, but it just feels hollow. I might feel put-out that my cat isn’t particularly affectionate or cuddly, but I love him and I like that he has freewill. Ultimately, wanting someone without freewill is utterly foreign to me, and the fact that these almost always are made to look like females compounds my discomfort.

This route, however, is the most interesting on multiple fronts. It is scientifically interesting, or has the potential to be, as the desire for an emotional partner from a robot may lead to interesting applications of AI. Having a robot respond in a way that doesn’t feel, well, robotic will be an interesting challenge. This group of guys, as much as I may side-eye them, is also fascinating. While some want an artificially intelligent sex robot as a replacement for a female partner, others are in relationships or married. These men seemed to want a sexbot in addition to their partners, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. For at least one, sleeping with a robot seemed to be a fetish on the order of wanting to roleplay a specific scenario. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. I feel like someone should do a more in-depth ethnographic study of this subculture.

The other main group of people working on sex robots is one I understand better. This group, at least those on the supply-side of this group, see the issue of sexbots as an engineering problem. The one developer that they focused on in this group was into robotics and then decided that he could make a lot of money if he could make a nice sex robot (and, yes, I realize I’m saying the person I get in this doc is the one who isn’t actually part of the subculture, but it is what it is). This guy’s main focus was making a robot that could move in a realistic manner, especially when it came to hip movements. He also developed both a male and female model, which soothes my discomfort with the sex/gender issues with the notion of sexbots. This group, I more or less get. I mean, I’m not going to go out and procure a sexbot, but these are basically really elaborate versions of other items that mimic certain parts of human anatomy.

In the end, the sex robot subculture is something to which I will always be an outside observer. I find the men interested in having sexbots in addition to wives and girlfriends to be quite interesting, and I would definitely learn more about them if given the chance. The ones who want sexbots to replace women will always make me a little judgy. And those who want to make elaborate toys, I can basically understand. I don’t know if I’d exactly recommend this documentary. It won’t really change your mind about anything. It is, however, a pretty short watch and entertaining background noise while you’re doing chores.

Mecha Marathon [Surplus] – Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Why hello. Sorry I’ve been AWOL. I’ve been busy with life things–moving, new jobs, moving again, family drama. You know the drill. Things are calmer now, calm enough to watch an old favorite of mine. It’s not an official part of the Mecha Marathon, but have a write up about it anyway. 

One year after the Bloody Valentine tragedy, where a nuclear missile destroyed a civilian colony, a covert ZAFT special forces team infiltrates a colony of the neutral nation of Orb and steals four of the five top secret weapons called Gundams. The fifth is piloted by Kira Yamato, a student-cum-soldier who escapes on the United Earth Alliance’s warship Archangel with his friends and a small pod of civilians. Understaffed, under-supplied, and unprepared, Archangel must somehow get to UEA headquarters on Earth before they are destroyed by the ZAFT team pursuing them. But Kira is reluctant to fight, especially when his best friend Athrun Zala is one of his pursuers.

SEED Believe 2

screenshot via third opening; I added this image to my Mecha Aesthetic board on Pinterest

Gundam SEED starts off really good. The drama is simple and engaging with a focus on a struggling, top secret warship with a reluctant pilot. There is even something I can only call racism which, despite what you may think, adds an extra layer of intrigue. ZAFT is entirely populated by Coordinators, genetically-modified humans who are capable of much more than unmodified Naturals. There’s jealousy on both sides–Naturals feel inferior and Coordinators crave equality. Kira Yamato is a Coordinator working for “the enemy,” and this conundrum underlines his reluctance to fight with the Archangel despite growing up in a neutral colony.

It does not escape me that Gundam SEED is basically the original Mobile Suit Gundam with a couple extras. The warships Archangel and White Base have similar missions with similar characters: Captain Ramius is the new Lieutenant Bright, Kira Yamato is the new Amuro Ray, and Commander Rau Le Cruset is the new Char Anzable. Despite this, Gundam SEED stands on its own; viewers need not know or understand previous Gundam properties to enjoy SEED.

What’s there to like? On a personal level, I am down with the main leadership of the Archangel, which consists of Captain Ramius, Lieutenant Badgiruel, and Commander Mu La Flaga. I interpret each a representing a part of the body: Ramius is the heart (idealism), Badgiruel is the brain (rationalism), and La Flaga the arms (realism). The heart rules the ship and ultimately makes the final decision, but she is greatly influenced by the brain and supported by the arms. At least at the beginning. When Archangel finally arrives in Alaska, Badgiruel is transferred to another posting, leaving Ramius and La Flaga on the ship to feel the betrayal of the United Earth Alliance on their own. (La Flaga was also transferred, but he returned right before shit goes down.)

SEED Believe 3

screenshot via third opening; I really want to meet the parent that looks at a baby and decides to name them Mu.

I give the show some points for feminism too. Ramius and Badgiruel ensure the Bechdel Test is passed almost every episode until they’re separated. There is an equal split in genders of the main four characters (Kira and Athrun with Cagalli and Lacus). Erika Simmons is the head engineer for Morgenroete, an engineering company in Orb that built the Gundams. The three pilots for the Gundam Astray models are all female. And every named female character that crosses the screen is a badass in her own right. My heart goes out to Lacus, the pink-haired, childish songstress of ZAFT who does crazy things like order a military commander to stop an opportunistic pursuit of the enemy vessel and eventually leads an entire fraction of soldiers to commit treason.

There is still a little work to be done. Cagalli and Lacus are both of the main four but they barely speak to each other the entire show, even when they’re working together in the final episodes. Miriallia is the only woman in the combined posses of Kira and Athrun. Though ZAFT shows some female representation in their leadership, there is no female presence on the leadership of the United Earth Alliance. Yeah, they’re supposed to be the most evil of the evil organizations, but showing a little equal opportunity oppression goes a long way.

The animation and music is amazing. More than ten years after its initial release, the first ending theme song, Anna ni Issho Datta no ni by See-Saw, still plucks the heartstrings with equal parts nostalgia and energy. Then again, See-Saw’s main composer is anime legend Yuki Kajiura, so of course the music is amazing. Kajjiura did not contribute to the overall score of Gundam SEED, but her hand is seen in the insert songs at least two op/ed songs. The character designs are dynamic. Coordinators may have a brighter color palette (i.e. Lacus Clyne’s pink hair and purple dresses) but the Naturals of the Archangel are still distinguishable in appearance despite the same grey uniform. Throw this together with fluid animation and you have a very pretty show. Pretty in appearance and pretty in sound (until Kira starts to cry, which is awkward enough to hear, but his animated sobs don’t match with his screams and it’s jarring).

 

SEED Believe 6

screenshot via third opening; those boys are Lacus’s bitches. The narrative may not phrase it that way, but it’s the true.

SEED is prone to melodrama, and there are some specific events that prove how off-the-rails it can get. The final battle between Kira and Athrun is the turning point of their friendship and the show. After that, there is a lot more melodrama in the show. Events like Miriallia’s assault on Dearka in the Archangel’s infirmary become commonplace. Kira, despite nearly dying on Earth, wakes up in space under the care of Lacus (who just so happens to be friends with the dude who found Kira). Yet some of this melodrama makes the show fun to watch. The episode where Athrun and Cagari are stranded on an island is a fun time. And I do have a soft spot for the burgeoning romance between Miriallia and Dearka, which is borne of empathy and sorrow.

As a side note, my main ship is AthrunxLacus, because I am super super into aristocratic pairings like that. Also, they were really sweet together. AthrunxCagalli is sweet once you live through their respective arcs, but I need a bit more convincing. Lacus, meanwhile, can choose anyone she damn well chooses and it will always be the right choice.

SEED Believe 7

screenshot via third opening; oh yeah, this show has giant robots too

If you’re looking for a serious mecha show a la Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket or Aldnoah.Zero, you have it in the opening arcs when the Star-Crossed Bros arc is the main chorus. Gundam SEED likes to place characters where they shouldn’t be for drama, especially after the halfway point. I recommend Gundam SEED to casual mecha fans and people who easily emote over beautiful people.