Pokemon as a language acquisition metaphor

Masculine, feminine, verb, noun, adjective...

Masculine, feminine, verb, noun, adjective…

You see – Pokemon is a JRPG where your combat party consists entirely of cute imaginary animals that you need to hunt down and capture. Along the way you fight several pokemon gym leaders who award you badges that grant certain privileges. Finally, you have to defeat a group of people called the elite four in order to be recognized as the reigning Pokemon Champion (and along the way you usually foil the schemes of a laughably inept criminal organization).

It occurs to me that you can use this format as a metaphor for learning a language. The Pokemon themselves are your vocabulary. Like words, Pokemon have a life separate from that of the trainer, with their own behavior in the wild. But with some effort they can be brought under your command. Both Pokemon and words are studied by Pokemon profs and linguistic profs respectively, but just about everyone makes use of them. The pokedex, which catalogs and describes Pokemon, is obviously a lexicon.

Pokemon are classified into different types, and a substantial amount of combat strategy falls back upon understanding their affinities and weaknesses. Similarly, in learning a language you need to get a grasp of how to use the different kinds of words correctly in order to put them together into a meaningful sentence.

Your Pokemon will grow and evolve as you practice with them; similarly your use of words will become more nuanced the more familiar you are with them.

Gym badges are your grammatical paradigms – your declensions, conjugations, etc. Gaining one will make some unruly Pokemon obey you and allow you to access or do things you couldn’t do before. The badges allow you to advance in status and power in the world of Pokemon – just as mastering the grammar piece by piece is the essential backbone to becoming linguistically competent.

I dunno. It’s just a thought I had.

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Thoughts: Jupiter Ascending

Mila Kunis, our space princess

Mila Kunis, our space princess

– After watching the Matrix Reloaded, I wrote off the Wachowskis as one trick ponies and never bothered to watch the conclusion to their trilogy or the movies they made afterward. What caused me to break that trend for Jupiter Ascending was a) it was a space opera, and b) the reaction it got: while most critics loathed it, the film seemed to get a more positive (or at least more polarized) reaction from more geeky moviegoers.

– Like the Matrix, Jupiter Ascending makes use of the revelation that the world mankind inhabits is actually under the control of more powerful beings – in this case, other human beings 100,000 years ago seeded Earth with human life for their own profit and gain. But unlike the Matrix, there isn’t any sub-Cartesian philosophizing or hackneyed prophecy that we have to put up with. Instead, Mila Kunis’ character is important to the plot because she happens to have the same genetic code as a deceased space princess, which in this world legally makes her entitled to said princess’ inheritance. Which includes ownership of Earth. Yes, this movie is about high stakes real estate.

– The plot is a mess which moves in weird spirals as opposed to a straight line. Characters who seem important suddenly disappear. “Mila Kunis gets rescued by Channing Tatum at the last possible moment,” gets lazily reused a lot. But for all that, I really, really liked Jupiter Ascending, because the Wachowskis approach it with a wacky, go-for-broke style which is far more entertaining than most of what is put out by Marvel. Incidentally, Tatum here is a wolf man who gets angel wings by the end of the movie.

– While you could argue that Guardians of the Galaxy is a tighter film, Jupiter Ascending is the better space opera. The Wachowski’s, unlike most filmmakers, actually understand the genre, and are willing to play its tropes with a straight face. I’d even go so far as to suggest that they, rather than Abrams, should be doing Star Wars VII.*

– Terry Gilliam makes a cameo in a sequence that pays homage to Terry Gilliam. That got me comparing the Wachowski’s to him. It may be the case that they, like Gilliam, trade in making baroque, elaborately bizarre movies that get misunderstood by critics and audiences. I’d need to dip more into their oeuvre to confirm.

– It’s also a more humanistic movie than a lot that’s out there. Sure, you could argue that its message about the evils of exploiting human life for profit gets a little heavy handed at times, but I found it refreshing.

*My prediction for that movie: enjoyable and workmanlike, but ultimately forgettable.

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The universal and the particular

Aminatta Forma has an article in the Guardian complaining about the tendency to divy literature up among national/racial lines:

I used to be a journalist and I know the limitations of the short form. Journalism does not on the whole embrace the idea of complexity. So when newspapers started to describe me as an “African writer” I was not greatly surprised. Literature is about nuance and understanding the intricacies of life. Journalism prefers simplicity, even at the price of reductionism. The idea of a person with two parents, two nationalities and two cultures is apparently just too much for the readers of newspapers to absorb. Though I was irritated at the way my British heritage was airbrushed out of the picture, I tried not to let it bother me too much.

The academic world surprised me more. I read law at university, so I came with unformed opinions about how the teaching of literature might be structured. Some years ago I was invited to speak at Oxford University, and I was perhaps naively surprised to find my book taught by the African studies department and nobody from the department of English literature in attendance at my talk. Everyone in the audience was an Africanist. That was when I first heard the words “the English canon”. Now, the English canon, like the British constitution, is tricky to discuss because it doesn’t actually exist: it is unwritten, yet at the same time everybody seems to know what it is, everybody in the world of English literature that is.

[…]

Forty years ago the great Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o argued against the idea of national canons. There should, he said, be a single department with a single word on the door and that word should be LITERATURE. A perfectly excellent idea, it seems to me, which naturally never came to pass. Instead, the study of literature became fragmented by the politics of university departments. Categories were added: American literature, post-colonial literature, comparative literature, women’s literature. The creative output of the world’s writers was hived off, territory was staked out and defended. In university departments no doubt this stuff mattered, because it came with opportunities for funding, career advancement and empire building. (In fact, it has been interesting to observe in recent times something of a reversal of fortunes, as English departments in British universities have their funding cut, while in the US a diverse student body has begun to insist on a range of subjects to reflect their interests. We will have to wait and see what long-term impact these changes will have.)

All this classifying, it seems to me, is the very antithesis of literature. The way of literature is to seek universality. Writers try to reach beyond those things that divide us: culture, class, gender, race. Given the chance, we would resist classification. I have never met a writer who wishes to be described as a female writer, gay writer, black writer, Asian writer or African writer. We hyphenated writers complain about the privilege accorded to the white male writer, he who dominates the western canon and is the only one called simply “writer”.

She goes on to discuss authors who write stories set in a different cultural/racial milieu than their own (which includes Forma herself) and how this idea is discouraged on the grounds of authenticity: you can only authentically write from your own experiences, and so, say, an attempt by me to write a novel set in Japan, or with a Japanese protagonist, would inevitably be a failure at some level.

“Write what you know,” is as terrible a piece of advice as it is ubiquitous, and I wonder if the cult of authenticity is one of the forces keeping genre fiction ghettoized. A casual acquaintance with literature is enough to indicate that a good author has the ability to produce convincing facsimiles of experiences they don’t “know” firsthand.

But the turn towards particular experiences has a long history behind it, and it’s not entirely a bad one. I’m reading Walter J. Ong’s Hopkins, the Self, and God for a paper. Ong makes the somewhat anodyne observation that pre-18th century literature tends to lack the exactness of description that we expect today; instead we find authors mining from a stock of “universal” descriptors, analogies, metaphors, etc. that they can assume their reader will understand. It is with the emergence of the novel and Romantic poetry that you have an increased willingness to move beyond this use of imagery to a more direct style of reporting.

While this shift has produced some of the best poetry and prose in the world, Ong notes that contemporary culture is a little too overtaken by the particular to the detriment of anything universal linking our experiences, and I think that academia’s current desire to culturally carve up literature can be seen as a symptom of that.

Anyway, what makes Ong’s analysis really interesting is that he claims this shift is fundamentally the result of technology: in particular, the development of communications tech. Most people simply did not have access to good information about distant events and locales, and so if they were described, it could only be in terms of the familiar. But an increased access gave writers a better opportunity to attempt to describe things as realistically as possible.

If we extrapolate that argument to our internet age (Ong’s book was published in the mid 80s), where the information that was a steady stream in the 19th century is now a deluge, two points seem to follow: on the one hand, the glut of information has the paradoxical tendency to encase us in our own postmodern solipsism, because the ability to discern what is salient and to order things into an accessible narrative. On the other hand, the accelerated ability to communicate makes it seem even less necessary for the cult of authenticity to survive. The mass of raw material to work from has never been this expansive; our literature should in theory be able to have the best of both worlds – and as usual I think good genre fiction is where you see this most displayed (though, of course, a rejoinder to this would be to say that most of us North Americans have grown up alienated from any traditional institutions that enable people to think of their lives in terms of narrative and so the opportunity is squandered by us, but that is a separate argument).

Wow. This post got bigger than I was anticipating. I’m just throwing things to the wall here…

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Boring top five list – gaming edition

(I know I promised more Wolfe, but some of this material has been sitting around for a while, and most of my analytical energy is being exhausted at the academic level. Bear with me!)

Seeing as how my top ten movie list was unexpectedly popular, and seeing as how my ability to regularly crank out posts may soon be compromised, I’ve decided to do a followup post – this time with more pew pew pew.

Bangai-O_Spirits_Coverart

5. Bangai-O Spirits (Nintendo DS, 2006)
Genre: Shmup

The Bangai-O franchise is a sort of homage to giant robot anime. I mean, I’ve yet to encounter a show featuring robots that are powered by fruit, but I’m sure that it must exist.

Beyond that, Spirits is a strange game. For one thing, the linear, structured game you’d expect is actually found in the brief tutorial stages, where a crazy old scientist guy tries to teach a boy and a girl how to pilot the game’s giant robot. The rest of the package is a massive amount of bonus stages that can be played in any order and have no real story behind them whatsoever.

The goal in any given stage is just to destroy a certain number of designated targets. Targets can be anything: enemies, buildings, energy orbs. The enemies can also be anything: giant robots, giant ants, baseball players, etc. The stages will also have just about every theme imaginable: for instance, the theme of having all the walls and floors made up of extremely dangerous explosives.

Yes, you can indeed wield gigantic baseball bats

Yes, you can indeed wield gigantic baseball bats

It is often the case in games that when too many things are happening on the screen at once, you will experience slowdown as the processor chokes on all the info. Bangai-O Spirits raises slowdown to an artform. The amount of firepower that is often on display frequently brings things to a halt, giving you time to appreciate the Jackson Pollock-esque mess you’ve created.

You may not, at the end of it all, really understand why you won, or even what the heck was going on in the first place, but you’ll know it was a fun ride.

super_metroid_cover4. Super Metroid (Super Nintendo, 1994)
Genre: Metroidvania

When your game has become part of a genre title, you know you’ve done something good. A metroidvania game is, in short, a game which combines the 2-dimensional mechanics of a platformer with the expansive world of an RPG. In this case, a bunch of Space Pirates have taken the Metroid – a dangerous bioweapon – and you need to go to their home planet to recover it. Never mind that all these villains were obliterated in the first game; continuity is for chumps.

Sometimes those statues give you helpful items. Sometimes they're actually alive

Sometimes those statues give you helpful items. Sometimes they’re actually alive

Anyway, the game has atmosphere up the wazoo (as the expression goes). Planet Zebes really does feel like a hostile, alien environment – even that room with the sakura petals. And that metroid thing thinks you’re its mommy, so there’s this weird maternal vibe underneath it all.

If this is starting to sound a bit like the Alien franchise, allow me to also point out that Super Metroid also features not one, but two explosive countdown sequences. What’s not to like?

And, honestly, there are worse things to rip off than Alien.

Oh, right.

Oh, right.

Alien_resurrection_ver3Perhaps I spoke too soon.

prometheus_810Oh please, make it stop!

*ahem*

shadowofthecolossus

3. Shadow of the Colossus (Sony Playstation 2, 2005)
Genre: ????

Yes, I know I referred to this as the, “best game ever,” a few months ago, but I’m given over to superlatives like that.  Click the link for more developed thoughts.

chrono trigger

2. Chrono Trigger (Super Nintendo, 1995)
Genre: JRPG

If there is one recognizably deleterious effect that Chrono Trigger has had on my life, it’s that I’ll always immediately associate the name Dalton with Queen Zeal’s conniving assistant. Sorry, Mr. McGuinty.

Chrono Trigger, which was originally released by Squaresoft for the Super Nintendo nineteen years ago(!) remains one of the most beloved video games of all time – and rightly so. For in the midst of cynical, nihilistic fare like the GTA franchise, pretentious, boring crap like 90% of the RPG genre, and pointless, grim Call of Dutys, Chrono Trigger stands as a sort of beacon. A beacon proclaiming two important things: that video games should stand for fun, and that buried within all those video game cliches is a story that is actually worth telling.

Anyhow, background. To quote Wikipedia,

Chrono Trigger ’​s development team included three designers that Square dubbed the “Dream Team”: Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Square’s Final Fantasy series; Yuji Horii, a freelance designer and creator of Enix‘s popular Dragon Quest series; and Akira Toriyama, a freelance manga artist famed for his work with Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball. Kazuhiko Aoki produced the game,[6] Masato Kato wrote most of the plot, while composer Yasunori Mitsuda scored most of the game before falling ill and deferring the remaining tracks to Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu.”

So it was one of those rare moments where someone’s fantasy lineup of creators actually came together and made something. And the game itself is self aware of the fact – containing a secret room where you can, to fanfare, meet the “Dream Team” yourself. They at least clearly believed enough in their creation to think that you’d find something like that cute rather than smug.

What, then, did the “Dream Team” make that they were so proud of? A first glance shows that it comfortably, perhaps almost complacently, follows the grooves laid down by the Final Fantasy games: you control a party of characters who explore a fantasy world, getting into combat situations where you order your characters around by selecting commands from menus. Your characters grow in power and learn new abilities, you collect money that you can use to buy weapons, armor and other sundry items, etc.

This style of gameplay itself emerged from a desire to emulate the experience of Dungeons and Dragons, with the CPU taking the place of the dungeon master. So in a curious way it shares more in common with those computerized poker and blackjack games than it does with Mario. You exchanged the presence of other people for all the pyrotechnics and flashiness that you couldn’t have in a tabletop game. This has created a problem which has perpetually plagued the JRPG genre: a disproportionate amount of the game’s value falls upon noninteractive elements like elaborate storytelling and (especially) the graphics. So they have a tendency to become more and more like interactive movies than games as the tech becomes increasingly sophisticated.

Chrono Trigger’s big success is to attempt to streamline this sort of cumbersome, pseudo-DnD gameplay style into something that is extremely fun in its own right; and to integrate it into everything else in such a tight manner so as to create an experience that is neither an interactive movie nor a mere aping of tabletop games. A good example of what I mean by this is the boss fight with Magus partway through the game.

Chrono-Trigger-Screenshots-2

The guy at the top

The plot has been building up to this point for some time. Magus has the usual pre-battle spiel with the other characters. He then turns his back to them, and the battle music begins playing in a low, ominous note. Then three things happen at once: the music breaks out into excitement; Magus suddenly turns around to attack the party; and the player’s input menu opens up. The interactive fight feels like the dramatic continuation of the non-interactive dialogue rather than an interruption in the drama for the sake of giving the player something to do.

The effect is something that you can’t achieve in a DnD game: the sensation of participating in an epic adventure in real time. All the menu selecting you do is boiled down to a minimum to keep a sense of flow that few games before or since have mastered. And it knows how to put its flashiness and excess to good use. It knows that you’d like to do crazy stuff like use a flamethrower to light Chrono’s sword on fire, and other such ridiculousness.

The story is pretty razzle dazzle too. Sure, it starts out with your standard save the princess plot. And, sure, it features at least two Evil Chancellors. But the princess in this case needs to be saved from being time paradoxed out of existence (ala Back to the Future). And that’s just the first hour or so. After that, you’re framed for kidnapping said princess and need to clear your name. But then it also turns out that a giant eldritch abomination called Lavos is going to destroy the world in 999 years, and that your only hope to prevent that from happening is to use time travel to alter the course of history for the good. Along with said princess, you team up with your inventor friend Lucca, a frog knight called Frog, a robot called, um, Robo, and a cavewoman called Cave Ayla.

Ok, so things don’t stray too far from Saturday Morning Cartoon fare, but it’s charming stuff, nonetheless.

Rockman_2_FC_A

1. Mega Man 2 (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1988)
Genre: Platformer

There is a moment in the first Wily Fortress level of this game where Mega Man is required to do some platforming above your standard bottomless abyss. And then out of nowhere a giant robotic dragon swoops in out of nowhere and chases him. This is a sucker punch on the part of the developers; unless you have spiderman’s reflexes, you will be caught off guard and instantly killed on your first time through. But it is a magnificent rug-pull that is so artfully done that your annoyance is completely obliterated by the sheer wonder of it.

And that moment kinda encapsulates a lot of what I love about this game. Mega Man 2 delights in throwing players into situations that are harrowing and ludicrous, like spending an entire level dodging death lasers, or making precise jumps while robot crabs rain down on you. But while it sets the bar high, it is surprisingly forgiving if you mess up, allowing you to get back in the game with minimal penalties.

GIANT ROBOT DRAGON

GIANT ROBOT DRAGON

Like Chrono Trigger, MM2 also has a bit of an interesting origin story: although the first game was a modest success, Capcom wasn’t too keen on producing a sequel. But the dev team, and in particular Mega Man co-creator Keiji Inafune, was pretty pumped about the idea. So they reached an agreement whereby Mega Man 2 was greenlighted under the condition that it could only be worked on during the team’s own free time. So that surprise robot dragon sucker punch wasn’t just put there because someone needed a paycheck – it was there because someone was really passionate about making a game with a surprise robot dragon.

MM2 is a sublimely ridiculous game. Mega Man is a candy coloured Astro Boy expy who, in superhero fashion, wears his underwear on the outside. His enemies are killer robots with cutesy anime designs. Their creator, Dr. Wily, resides in a skull shaped fort. But it is – at least for the first 95% percent of it, a really earnest game, as evinced in its more or less perfect intro sequence:

The other 5% has to do with the final level, which is in a sense an elaborate practical joke. While the penultimate level sets itself up to be the final showdown, Dr. Wily manages to escape, and Mega Man is thrown into a tunnel deep underground for the true final stage. Everything here is eerily silent except for the sound of dangerous acid dripping from the ceiling (of course). At the end of the tunnel is Dr. Wily, who reveals himself to be an alien and fights Mega Man one last time. It would seem to be a ridiculous, M. Night Shyamalan worthy twist. Except that, when the finishing blow is dealt to the alien Wily, it is revealed that he was just a holographic projection being manipulated by the real Dr. Wily, who immediately surrenders when he realizes that the ruse is up.

It’s a humorous fakeout (and how many games are willing to use their climax for that kind of gag?), but its also weirdly metafictional. The final boss isn’t real, but then the rest of the game is, well, just that: a game, an elaborate technological ruse, a piece of escapist fantasy. You didn’t actually do any of that stuff.

And you thought that games with robot crabs couldn’t be deep.

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Items read/seen etc.

(Expect a Wolfe update soon. This is just to keep things alive)

The walls are closing in as the semester, but reading week is giving me a moment of respite.

In terms of bedside reading, I spent most of January reading Dashiel Hammett’s hardboiled detective novel, Red Harvest. A mysterious fellow only referred to as the Continental Op arrives in the town of Personville to find it under the control of a bunch of crime lords. He attempts to bring them down by playing the various sides against each other – showing in the process that he’s not much better than they are. It’s bleak, cynical fare, but it kept me with it until the end, which is a first for an American crime story. Perhaps I may finally be making inroads into the likes of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy.

More recently, I’ve begun Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, which may perhaps have the most misleading title in the history of classic English lit. It conveys a bit of a similar feel to the Historical books of the Old Testament with its terse and episodic style – and also some of the difficulties; at times I wish I had a chart I could refer to that would remind me exactly who did what every now and then. I love the 15th century prose: you don’t see too many “passing glad”s or “wroth”s these days.

That inspired me to rewatch Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, a movie which I remember fondly from my childhood. Alas, the reality does not live up to the memories. The story is ostensibly young Arthur’s coming of age tale, but any semblance of plot or character is lacking. Arthur pulling becoming king at the end doesn’t feel like any sort of real climax; it’s just another thing that happens to the kid. The characters are one-note and most of the dialogue is given over to lame jokes. Merlin comes across as an irascible snob who selfishly imposes himself into Arthur’s life, and the rest of the cast don’t fare much better. The most sympathetic character is Merlin’s cranky owl, Archimedes, who likes to sass Merlin and Arthur.

This version of the Arthur legend uses T.H White’s Once and Future King cycle as its source material. Having not read White, and being aware that the cycle is seen as something of a minor masterpiece, I’m going to give the man the benefit of the doubt in assuming his books are better than this mediocrity.

On a whole happier note of nostalgia, I traded in some games that were collecting dust (goodbye, Shadowgate!) for a copy of Pokemon SoulSilver. It’s a DS remake of Pokemon Silver, a second generation game which dates from 1999-2000ish, and was the last Pokemon game I owned. Like most kids in the late 90s, I had a case of Pokemon fever. Although the franchise is still going strong, it’s weird to reflect upon just how big it was then. You played the game and used that gameboy link cable to fight your classmates during lunchtime; you collected the trading cards; you watched the tv show; you saw the movies, etc. Facebook didn’t exist back then, you see, so instead of collecting friends we had to settle for collecting imaginary monsters and making them fight each other.

And now, in 2015, Cardcaptor Pokemon Trainer Sakura leaves home to fill out her Pokedex and become the new champion…

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Linguistic update

Aleppo_Codex_Joshua_1_1

By this point, I’ve been formally studying Hebrew for longer than I have Latin and Greek. That’s not saying much – both of those only lasted for a semester due to practical issues, requiring me to attempt to keep the flame on my own. Both of them have degraded due to disuse, and I’ll definitely have to do something about the Greek if I want to pursue my interest in Biblical Scholarship.

Patrick Leigh Fermor remarked that the mysterious aura certain foreign scripts can have is largely due to their incomprehensibility; once you learn to decipher them, they become mundane. But he said that the two exceptions to this rule were Hebrew and Arabic.

I suspect that the associations a script brings with it will differ from person to person.

For me, there is an air of surrealism in being able to read some of the Old Testament in its original language. I’ve grown up being used to the Bible as a translated book, so finally peering beyond the translations to the Hebrew has the character of an unveiling.

Except that I am still ‘translating’ the text through the various cultural, psychological etc. glasses that I’m wearing. And some of the translations we have greatly predate the earliest complete Hebrew manuscripts we have access to. The Council of Trent was wise in warning that divorcing the Bible from its ecclesial context would not necessarily produce an authentic or objective reading. Philology will only get you so far.

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A Nordic post

whats opera

Very Nordic

Giuseppe Verdi vs Richard Wagner. It’s one of those weird fault lines, like the Beatles vs the Rolling Stones, or Dragon Quest vs Final Fantasy where you can only really like one side, because these cultural artifacts somehow correspond to psycho-aesthetic archetypes that we all are subconsciously categorized by. Or something like that.

Yours truly is a Wagnerite. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Verdi – Falstaff is a fine opera. It’s just that he’s never had the sort of sway that Wagner has had over me ever since I bought a recording of Das Rheingold as a teenager. Sure, there were times when I tried to disown this side of me, but like my interest in cartoons and video games, it has continually managed to resurface.

Wagner, like prog rock, seems to be a skeleton in the closet, or at least a guilty pleasure for many people. Musically, the charges are similar: both are accused of producing pretentious, bloated and bombastic spectacles. But in Wagner’s case, you also have to deal with his notorious antisemitism (not to mention his popularity amongst some of the Nazi regime0. And both Friedrich Nietzsche and critics of a more Judeo-Christian have found in his operas an example of post-Christian nihilism and decadence.

Well, you can find post-Christian nihilism in the Stones and Beatles as well, but they’ve never produced anything like Tristan und Isolde.

Thanks to a thoughtful Christmas present, I was able to attend a performance of Die Walkure this weekend. I’m not good as an opera critic, but I had a good time. The lady playing Brunhilde owned the evening, as far as I’m concerned.

For those not in the know, Die Walkure constitutes the second part of Wagner’s epic tetralogy, The Ring of the Nibelung. The story tells a generational tragedy that draws heavily on Norse mythology, heavily refracted through Wagner’s modern romanticism.

Meanwhile, by way of Dreher, I am informed that some Icelanders are bringing back Norse mythology in a different fashion:

Icelanders will soon be able to publicly worship at a shrine to Thor, Odin and Frigg with construction starting this month on the island’s first major temple to the Norse gods since the Viking age.

Worship of the gods in Scandinavia gave way to Christianity around 1,000 years ago but a modern version of Norse paganism has been gaining popularity in Iceland.

“I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” said Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods.

“We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

Like Dreher, I tend to see this stuff as at best an (admittedly silly) step up from atheistic materialism. And, as he says, the “poetic metaphors” schtick will render it pretty ineffectual. Indeed it evinces a complete misunderstanding of the nature of these myths. I think Gene Wolfe nailed it in his essay, “Kipling’s Influence”:

….In allegory, we say, “What if a giant were despair?” Then we have the giant wrestle our hero, and so on. It has always seemed an obvious idea to me and a rather stupid one, since a giant is much more interesting than despair. Furthermore this obvious and rather stupid idea blinds many of those same people to the true nature of classical myth. They discover, for example, that Eros “is” eroticism, and when they have congratulated one another on that brilliant discovery for twenty years and more, they also discover that Eros doesn’t always behave as they “know” he should (in being Aphrodite’s son instead of her father, for example) and solemnly inform us that the mythmakers of the classical age lacked their own insight.

But what Kipling (and the ancients) really said was much more interesting: “What if love were a woman?”

Part of what makes Wagner’s Ring work so well is how he takes a novelist’s interest in the psychological lives of his gods, making them into individuals (and so paving the way for more pomo mythical fare like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics). Wotan is Wotan – a far cry from the Odin once actually worshiped, but certainly not an allegory either.

Still, when you get right down to it, Wagnerian opera is also kind of silly. And expensive, too.

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Neon Genesis Pony: Equestria Girls 2.5: Rainbow Robots

I never thought it would come to this

I never thought it would come to this

I’m a busy man these days.

Thus, to tide you over until the next update of substance, I have decided to start scraping the barrel.

Here is a rather silly idea I jotted down a couple of days before New Years and quickly forgot about.

You’re welcome.

IN THE YEAR 2015……

“Due to the current state of emergency, all phone lines are temporarily out of service,” the recording cheerfully intoned. Shinji hung up the phone, exasperated.

It was a beautiful day in Tokyo-3. Only a few clouds dotted the blue sky, and the heat of the sun was complemented by a refreshing breeze. It would be perfect, except that the city was completely deserted, and nothing worked. The train he had taken into town was long departed, he couldn’t get a signal on his cell phone, and the city transit appeared to be suspended.

Shinji was supposed to be meeting Misato Katsuragi, a woman who worked for his father. He produced the photo of herself she had mailed to him last week. She looked like a twentysomething with purplish hair tied back in a ponytail. Her clothes consisted of a white sleeveless top and ridiculously short cutoff jeans. She was leaning forward to accentuate her cleavage and even had drawn an arrow pointing towards it. What sort of woman was this, Shinji thought, who was trying to impress a teenage boy like that? Didn’t she have any self respect?

He noticed something in the corner of his eye. Looking up, he saw a girl standing down the street with a small dog. Relieved at having found another living soul in the city, Shinji almost bounded towards her.

She was a very odd looking girl. Her skin had a purple tint to it, and her hair was also very violet, with pink highlights. She was wearing a light blue blouse with a pink bow and a purple miniskirt where a large pink star had been embroidered (Shinji was noticing a certain theme). The dog, which looked like no breed he had ever seen, also had purple fur, with a green tuft of hair protruding from its head.

“Hey,” Shinji said when he approached the girl. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you could give me a hand?”

“Oh, sure!” the girl said, blushing a little.

“Great!” Shinji said, “You see, I just got into town, and I’m supposed to be meeting someone here. But no one’s around, and the phones don’t work either. So I was wondering if you knew what was going on.”

“Well,” the girl began, exchanging a glance with her dog, “I hate to say it but…I just got here too! So I have no idea what’s going on! It isn’t normal for this place to be so empty?”

“No,” Shinji said, feeling even more confused.

The girl started to say something, but was cut off by a loud crash, followed by a violent tremor that knocked the two of them off their feet. The dog let out an almost human-sounding yelp.

“What in Celestia’s name was that?” the girl said.

Something peeked above the skyscrapers in the distance. It looked a bit like the face of one of those drinking birds you would buy in a gift shop. As it moved, it came more into view, revealing that the face was affixed to a gigantic, hunched, humanoid form. It was dark green with a massive torso and thin, almost spidery limbs. In the middle of its chest was a large red orb. Shinji, the girl and the dog stared at it, transfixed with horror.

Just as suddenly as the monster had appeared, jets and helicopters swarmed in around it, unloading their rather explosive payloads into its face. The monster snatched a jet with its left arm. A beam of light shot out from its hand, incinerating the jet and several other units nearby.

Another one tried to flank it, but it quickly swung its leg up, knocking the jet out of the air – and in front of the three onlookers. The collision jolted them a few inches into the air.

But before they had a chance to recover from the shock, the monster jumped, and its foot came down and crushed the remains of the aircraft. I’m gonna get killed, Shinji thought, bracing himself for what now seemed to be inevitable.

But before he had a chance to come to grips with that, a car quickly backed beside him, and one of its doors flung open. There, with sunglasses covering her face, was the woman in the photo. “Sorry I’m late!” Misato said, “Get in the car!”

Shinji climbed into the front while the girl and her dog scrambled into the back. Before they had a chance to get properly seated, Misato spun the car around and sped off.

“Whew! That was close!” Misato said, as if she had only survived a particularly sharp turn.

“I think I pulled a muscle,” Shinji whined.

“Well, tough luck, kid,” Misato said. She glanced in the rear view mirror. “You’ve gotta be Shinji, but who’s the girl?”

“My name’s Twilight Sparkle,” the girl said.

“Twilight Sparkle?” Misato said, “That’s a weird name. You from America?”

“No, but I’ve visited a couple of times.”

“…anyway, I’m Misato Katsuragi, but you guys can call me Misato, all right?”

“And I’m Spike!” said a voice which sounded a bit like a young boy. Twilight gasped.

“Wh, where’d that come from?” Misato asked.

“Me! I’m Spike!” It was the dog.

“Spike!” Twilight said. “Shut up! You’re not supposed to talk here!”

“Oh come on, Twilight!” Spike said, “There’s already a giant monster rampaging around. I think these people can handle a talking dog.”

“Actually,” Misato said, “my brain cannot process what just happened in this car right now. But I’ve got bigger fish to fry at the moment, so I’ll put the mental breakdown on hold until later.”

“Hey,” Shinji said, “just what is that thing anyway?”

“We’ll cover that later,” Misato said flatly. “For the time being, let’s just drive to safety.”

The four of them drove on in silence for five minutes until the car reached a highway. Misato pulled over onto the emergency lane, produced a pair of binoculars,and uncomfortably leaned over him, peering out his window. “At least they’re leading it out of town,” she mumbled.

_sachiel

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Brought to you by the guys with too much time on their hands

“I used the controller inputs as a sort of binary code to rewrite the video game as my robot played it,” sounds like a line you would hear in some dumb hacker movie. But that is evidently what someone has done with Super Mario World, according to Ars Technica:

The most remarkable moment of the weeklong marathon, though, came when a robotic player took “total control” of an unmodified Super Mario World cartridge, reprogramming it on the fly to run simple versions of Pong and Snake simply by sending a precise set of inputs through the standard controller ports on the system.

[…]

It’s at 1:39 in the video where things really start going pear-shaped, as the fabric of the game’s reality comes apart at the seams for a few seconds before inexplicably transitioning to Mario-themed versions of Pong and Snake. Understanding what’s going on here requires some deep knowledge of the Super NES’ internal sprite and memory management, which is explained in detail here and here.

Suffice it to say that the first minute-and-a-half or so of this TAS is merely an effort to spawn a specific set of sprites into the game’s Object Attribute Memory (OAM) buffer in a specific order. The TAS runner then uses a stun glitch to spawn an unused sprite into the game, which in turn causes the system to treat the sprites in that OAM buffer as raw executable code. In this case, that code has been arranged to jump to the memory location for controller data, in essence letting the user insert whatever executable program he or she wants into memory by converting the binary data for precisely ordered button presses into assembly code (interestingly, this data is entered more quickly by simulating the inputs of eight controllers plugged in through simulated multitaps on each controller port).

Got that?

This, in a way, is clear proof that movie scenarios like The Terminator or The Matrix will never come to pass; the people who are capable of developing computer programs that could pose an existential threat to humanity are clearly frittering away their talent on vintage gaming.

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FiM Chronicles X – Friendship is Magic Part 2 (S01E02)

Lo I the man, whose Muse whylome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shephards weeds,
Am now enforst a farre vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds:
And sing of Knighs and Ladies gentle deeds,
Whose praises hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

Thus begins Edmund Spenser’s epic Elizabethan poem, the Faerie Queene. In it, we have six books with protagonists who represent six virtues engaging in symbolical quests in faerieland. Spenser was originally going to have another six books dedicated to political virtues, but never got around to them – which is fine, because the poem as it stands is already one of the most imposing pillars of English lit.

Stephen Sondheim, unfortunately, was unavailable to score this episode.

Stephen Sondheim, unfortunately, was unavailable to score this episode.

What has this to do with My Little Pony? Well, in this episode we find our heroes setting off into the Everfree forest to collect the six elements of harmony (five of which correspond to the virtues of honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity and loyalty; the sixth is unknown) so that they can defeat Nightmare Moon. Along the way they engage in six encounters directly representing those virtues.

First Encounter: Everyone takes a tumble, Twilight winds up dangling off of a cliff, and needs to trust Applejack’s words in order to be saved. Already we’re off to a bad start – in order for a virtue to be proven, it needs to be tested. But there would be no reason for Applejack to be tempted to lie here unless she for some reason wanted Twilight dead. So for the sake of consistency we’ll run with the headcannon that Twilight inadvertently violated some sort of Apple family taboo, or discovered some ghastly secret; thus her death is the only way to ensure the family’s honor is protected.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

 

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Second Encounter: The gang runs into a manticore. It cannot be defeated by force, but is pacified by Fluttershy’s kindness. You see, the manticore’s only angry because it has a barb stuck in one of its paws. The situation is a bit like one of those point-and-click adventure moments where you’re supposed to make wild guesses until you happen to blindly stumble upon the correct solution.

Third Encounter: Scary looking trees? Pinkie Pie saves the day by giving the show’s first (somewhat underwhelming) musical number about laughing off scary things. Redeemed somewhat by Twilight and Rarity’s exasperated commentary.

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Fourth Encounter:
Steven Magnet has half of his mustache lopped off, and his uncontrollable sobbing is making the river uncrossable. Rarity solves the problem by lopping off part of her tail and transplanting it to his face. And you thought the only use of horse hair was for violin bows.

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Fifth Encounter: Rainbow Dash runs into the Shadowbolts, the dark and edgy expies of the Wonderbolts, who try to convince her to ditch her friends in favor of them. Dash, being familiar with the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, knows that that way madness lies. So she decides to remain loyal to her friends.

Sixth Encounter: Our heroes arrive at the old, abandonned castle of the Princesses and find five of the elements. Nightmare Moon promptly shows up, separates Twilight from the rest of her friends, and smashes the elements. After a despair moment, Twilight realizes that her newfound friends actually embody the five elements. When they are reunited, the elements of harmony are re-forged as necklaces, with Twilight receiving the sixth element – magic – as a crown. Then they rainbow-blast Nighmare with the magic of friendship (see what they did there?)

Eh. I'm a cat person. I'm used to glowy eyes.

Eh. I’m a cat person. I’m used to glowy eyes.

Princess Celestia shows up and explains that she Planned This All Along, which reinforces the batman gambit theory I discussed in the previous installment. Then, she tearfully reunites with Princess Luna, who has been restored to normal form.

Back in town there’s a big celebration, and Celestia commissions Twilight to spend time in Ponyville researching the magic of friendship.

Honestly (har har), this episode is….so so. The whole two parter is just ok. It serves its purpose of setting up the show decently enough, and that’s about it. What is most interesting about it are the creatures the heroes run into: the Manticore, Steven Magnet, et al. When the animators branch out from just doing ponies, the results are usually pretty cool.

Now: a real ex-English major recapper would have written this recap in Spenserian stanzas. But alas, I am not at that level. Yet.

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