A Writer Watching – Titans, Episode 1

Yesterday, I decided to watch a comic book movie to try and wind down, escape the news.

By the end, I was so incredibly angry that I hopped on here and wrote a monster post about that movie–how I couldn’t help seeing it in a really, really bad light.

It was one of those cases too where you just need something vitriolic out of your system, so I wrote the entire post in one, trance-like sitting, hit “Save draft,” and then thought, “I can’t post this.”

Not because it was so hateful–I have no shame in the fact that I fucking hated Venom and I’m never going to apologize for that (also, yeah, it was Venom)–but because it was very reactionary; I might still post it, but I need some time to think it over–maybe share it with some friends to see if my extremely hot take has legs, or if I was just seeing a huge issue that wasn’t really there.

That done, I decided to wind down . . . by watching a comic book TV show.

And, literally 13 seconds in, I realized, “I need to do a Writer Watching for this.”

So, here we are. As always, I’m super late to the party, but, look, I’m still quarantining and working-from-home, so I’ve delved into the “bad movies / shows I felt I should watch” part of my backlog.

So, if you’ll humor me, let’s dive into the tonally backwards, massively irresponsible mess that is the first episode of Titans.

  • (0:13) Holy shit. The very first shot is of abandoned circus tents. A girl is walking in, looking at the blinking lights, music playing in the background, and . . . are we getting the Joker immediately? Seriously, if this show couldn’t go 5 minutes without shoving that fucking clown down our throats again, this is going to be a real short Writer Watching.

    [Kept watching and it turns out this was a Dick Grayson origin scene, but wow, isn’t it weird how my brain is just trained to expect the Joker whenever I watch anything DC?]
  • (2:13) The marquee in the background, which says “The Flying Graysons,” started to blink. “Flying” went dark, and, omfg . . . I seriously thought it was going to light back up as “The Dying Graysons” and I almost lost my fucking shit.

    Please, 2020, give me this one gift. The one executive who was like, “Oooooh, that would be super edgy!” Just please, give me that sweet, sweet, boardroom-certified melodramatic grit!
  • (4:15) Also, as a huge fan of the Teen Titans cartoon from back in the day, y’all fucked up with this intro. Seriously, how did Puffy AmiYumi knock it out of the park so hard that motherfuckers don’t even try?
  • (4:46) Oh. Oh, we’re actually following Robin immediately. Okay. Yeah.

    Disappointing.

    Cause, alright, I’m about to drop my truth on you guys.

    DC has four crutches that they absolutely rely on for almost every movie and show they make.

    1. The Psuedo-Batman Crutch, by which the protagonist of a show emulates Batman so closely that they cease to be themselves and become Batman instead (i.e. Arrow, in which Oliver Queen was even fucking trained by Ra’s al Ghul).

    2. The Bat Family Crutch, by which a movie or show centers around Bat Family characters or is otherwise tied directly to Batman (i.e. Gotham, Pennyworth, Batwoman, Titans).

    3. The Joker Crutch, in which a movie or show A) focuses entirely on the Joker, B) heavily shoe-horns in the Joker, even if he has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot, or C) focuses on characters directly related to the Joker, thus including a ton of scenes about the Joker and/or cameos by the Joker (i.e. Joker, Suicide Squad, anything else with Harley Quinn in it).

    4. The Marvel Crutch, by which a DC movie or show attempts to emulate Marvel (i.e. Wonder Woman [which is set during a World War, has Diana using a round shield–which she’s never been known to do before–and even gives her her own Howling Commandos], Aquaman [in which a prince of a mythical realm has to fight his brother for control of that realm], and Legends of Tomorrow [in which a gang of misfits goes on fun adventures in an exciting frontier, like the Guardians . . . and the Atom is a very embarrassing rip off of Iron Man. Also, Arthur Darvill–who played a significant, named role on Doctor Who–is playing a straight, no-fucks-given rip off of the Doctor, which isn’t related at all, but will always blow my mind]).

    Getting back on track, this show is already leaning real hard on that Bat Family crutch and I was hoping it wouldn’t.
  • (6:04) Sound the alarms! We’ve got a “Joker” here! Six minutes in and already the name drop!

    I don’t remember if this show has its own Joker, but I’m going to assume it does and he just got lost among the 4 other Jokers we got in 2019.
  • (7:02) We get our first clear shot of Raven here, and . . . I mean, no shade whatsoever on this actress, but seeing her, with the purple hair and everything, is just a reminder that I never, ever wanted this show. On the long, long list of things I never wanted a grim dark, realistic reboot for, Teen Titans wasn’t even on the list because I could never even fathom it being an option.

    It is just depressing that this is real, but a revival for the original CN show isn’t.
  • (8:20) I know this is a TV series with an ensemble cast, so they need to move quickly. I really shouldn’t rag on them for that.

    But holy shit, this first scene with Raven goes from “Hey, mom,” to “The demon inside me almost killed you, mom” in one minute and eighteen seconds.

    I mean . . . maybe slow down a little? Cause if you had her say, “It’s because you’re afraid of me,” and her mom just knelt, took her hands, started praying, and you ended the scene there, I would’ve been so intrigued.

    Instead, someone came in with a 2×4 with “THERE’S A DEMON INSIDE HER OR SOMETHING!” written on it and hit me in the back of the head with it. Eight times in a row.

    Them: “ARE YOU GETTING IT!?”

    Me: . . . <unconscious>

    Them: “THERE’S A DEMON INSI–
  • (9:46) That said, I would gladly watch an entire Raven TV show and, based on the last few minutes, I really wish that’s what this show was.

    [A few minutes later, at 11:20] Yeah, if this entire show (or episode at least) was devoted to Raven, her plot could slow down and we wouldn’t have to experience it at this insane, break-neck pace.

    Like, if nothing else, this moment is a great example of bad plot balancing. Or bad prioritizing of plot threads. Robin’s pseudo-Batman stuff? What-the fuck-ever. I’ve seen it a million times. Go watch any Batman show or movie, or go watch Arrow. But this superhero who has dark powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control? Wa-a-a-a-ay more interesting in my opinion.
  • (12:48) We’re in a tropey-as-fuck drug exchange scene. Gang A gave Gang B a duffle bag full of plush dolls and, obviously, the drugs or whatever are in the dolls.

    But, fuck, I would give everything if the one guy in Gang B cuts open the doll, looks at the stuffing inside, and is like, “Synthetic stuffing.” And the other guy is like, “Grade A. Only the best.”

    Gang B: “And they’re all cute animals.”

    Gang A: “As requested.”

    Gang B: “Deuce, give this man his money.”

    And e-e-e-e-end scene!
  • (13:21) After Robin drops down and demands everyone drops the drugs and guns, one of the thugs starts looking around like, “Where’s Batman?” and, on behalf of the entire audience, yeah, same, dude.

    Cause even I, a longtime Robin fan, think this Robin sucks.

    He just looks terrible. They had an opportunity to give him some sick new outfit, maybe some mash-up between his old Robin suit and the Nightwing outfit, to make it clear he’s already going in that direction. But, nope, they gave him the half-cape, full-bangs treatment that Tim usually gets.

    He’s wearing kid-Robin’s look and thus looks like kid-Robin.

    Just the worst choice for him.
  • (13:40) And here’s why I could never write Batman. Cause, however many years into his campaign, criminals are still, to this fucking day, falling for this smoke pellet bullshit.

    If I wrote Batman, criminals everywhere would operate with gas masks and infrared at the ready. Because, even outside of Gotham, Batman’s techniques would be recycled by amateur vigilantes so often that fucking no one would fall for Batman Gadget #1 anymore.

    Them not learning is the equivalent of real life criminals never thinking to wear bullet proof vests. It just does not make sense.
  • (13:55) Ah, yes. That new-age Batman thing where he and other Bat Family members use guns all the time and just murder people.

    Them bats gotta grit, I guess.

    [After watching to 14:02] Okay. Robin is . . . actually murdering these guys, and like . . . <looks around> Is this shit for real? Like, actual Batman, as I know and love him, would hunt this Robin down. I know in new movies he doesn’t give a shit, but my Batman–TAS and JLU Batman–would not stand for this shit at all.

    And just . . . Why this? Why is this the turn all of this Batman shit is taking?

    Why are we leaning into murdering these criminals the heroes know nothing about?

    At this point, you have to ask, “How were Silver Age characters more progressive about the treatment of criminals than modern heroes are?”
  • (14:03) I actually just laughed aloud, because they try to do that thing where someone rakes a bad guy’s face against something sharp or dangerous, like broken glass or the road from a moving car. Only, here, it’s boney-ass Robin raking a guy’s face against . . . the alley wall? And, like, apparently half of his face comes off on that wall? Bitch, was his face cake? Is that the plot twist of the show?

    Batman drops down and is all, “Yes, Robin, the criminals are all cake!”

    And Robin is like, “Wha–What!?”

    And the Cake Boss or whoever the fuck pops out of the trunk like, “Crime is cake, Robin! All crime is cake!”

    And Twitter is like, “omfg i cant whats real”
  • (14:26) Also, I thought this show was going to rip off Daredevil with Robin’s fights, but, instead, we just have the same over-choreographed fights we’ve seen in everything else.

    I guess that’s not fair–there’s no winning for DC in that scenario–but, I mean . . . I could’ve won. If they’d ripped off Daredevil, I would’ve laughed really hard at least.
  • (14:36) Robin catches the child abuser he came out here for, and–after killing, like, 5 guys in this alley–he cuts this guy’s face and says, “If you ever touch your kid again, I’ll find you.”

    Like, “Hey, uh . . . Robin? That one guy who you stabbed in the throat with part of a gun? He was just someone’s cousin who didn’t even know he was going to a drug deal tonight. That guy was terrified before you even got here, and you murdered his ass in cold blood. But this actual child abuser who you know is evil . . . gets to go free?”

    Just what the fuck even are these priorities?
  • (15:07) The infamous “Fuck Batman” from all the marketing could not have been delivered at a stranger place. It’s supposed to be a reply to the one guy who was like, “Where’s Batman!?” but that was, what, five minutes ago? Just didn’t stick the landing here.
  • (15:33) Okay, I wasn’t going to say anything, but holy shit, Robin’s apartment looks exactly like Daredevil’s. What the fuck even? They show a longshot of the living room, and the only difference is there’s no neon sign outside–just dirty, mute white windows, which actually draws a perfect comparison between Netflix Daredevil and this Robin now that I think about it.
  • (16:00) I know they’re going for “gritty badass hero” here, but it re-e-e-e-eally just comes off as “young serial killer” using his vigilante work as a vehicle to commit his murders . . . And, actually, ya know what? I’d watch the shit out of that show.
  • Sidebar: Okay. Gonna dial it back here because I’m commenting on things every 30 seconds, and I can’t spend five hours doing this today.
  • (21:43) Okay. Okay. So excited, because Starfire’s intro is, like, the closest we’ve come to really rad cinematography and I’m pumped.
  • (29:49) Okay, eight minutes later, it’s cool that she is clearly socially and physically powerful.

    But I’m disappointed that she has an amnesia plot.

    And that amnesia plot is also gritty.

    I don’t know why I expected anything different though.

    Whatever. Getting into the craft of it, we’re already working with one mysterious past with Raven, so the fact that we have another is annoying. Especially because Starfire is someone I just want to have clarity on immediately–mostly because I’ve never had to wait on her premise before, in anything I’ve ever watched. Starfire has always just been an alien from another planet and that was always fine. I’m not sure why we need this gritty, origin-like preamble for a character I always expect to be a source of comic-booky levity with no origin whatsoever.

    But, even ignoring all of that as my preference (which it absolutely is), I think it just does a disservice to the dynamic of the of the characters to have character A in a mysterious past plot, character B in a detective work plot, and character C . . . doing detective work to figure out their mysterious past.

    Starfire looks dope, acts dope, but the plot they gave her is weirdly samey.
  • (33:36) Robin describes Batman as a “stop-at-nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a worse description of Batman in my entire life. Not because that isn’t what Hollywood has made him into, but because that isn’t all Batman is supposed to be. The idea that Robin described him like that means the Titans Batman has to be the worst piece of shit on Earth. Basically a rich boxer who goes out to beat the shit out of people every night. No thank you.
  • (35:52) Okay, I’m officially sick of this damsel-Raven bullshit. Like, I get we’re doing an origin story here, but this girl just needs to be more aggro. And, sure, creator’s choice, but if she, at least, tried to fight back when someone tried to force her into a car against her will, it would feel more like I was actually watching Raven. I mean, isn’t this supposed to be a gritty TV show for angsty teens? Why the fuck isn’t Raven like, “Hey! Get your fucking hands off me!” or something? Why can Robin kill people but Raven can’t “cuss”?

    Whatever. In the end, this is a case of source material balancing: do you make her completely different from all the source material? Totally similar to the way she was in one piece of source material? I would argue that, because the cartoon was pivotal in making the Teen Titans popular, it would’ve done them a service to make her a little more like that interpretation of the character.

    Cause this interpretation just feels like a helpless kid and it sucks.
  • (40:13) Starfire giggles at the dude she just burned alive and . . . cool. Great. So, the team of fun, teen heroes I loved so much are all total sociopaths in a hyper gritty world.

    Fucking . . . lame.

    They took all of the sullen bitterness out of Raven, doled it out to everyone else, and then turned the contrast up to ultra-max, so she’s the innocent, helpless one and all the other characters are edgy, gritastic murderers.

    And it just fucking sucks.

    I could write an entire post about this alone, and maybe I will.

    Because I don’t understand how you could so thoroughly and absurdly kill an entire team’s dynamic.

    It would be like if they redid Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone was a large bruiser with daggers while Drax was made into the pilot of Quill’s ship.

    Just fucking why?
  • (44:16) If there’s one thing I wanted to see, it’s this shot right here: Raven, with the full black eyes, kicking ass. I just wish this could’ve happened way more often. Slower plot, but maybe with one more instance of her actually fighting people off instead of crying for help.

    Also, I don’t want to sit through another 8 episodes of damsel-Raven learning to control her powers.
  • (48:34) Oh nah.

    Nah. They did my Beast Boy dirty.

    He looks . . . terrible.

    And his weird, gross, slow, bone-breaky transformation means he’s going to be locked in as the one animal per fight?

    I– . . . I’m sorry. I’m out. I’ve seen a way better version of this character already and I refuse to downgrade.

In fact, I’ve seen better versions of all of these characters.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching and maybe do more of these posts, but the answer is a firm, resounding “no.”

Instead, I’m going to go find out where I can watch Teen Titans and wash away the grim dark.

~~~

Thanks for stopping by. I don’t do A Writer Watching too often, because they take way longer to write than it seems. However, I did one on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and another on the first two episodes of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the follow-up for which became my first Edited in Post.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to Like. If you agree with any of it, or if you want to argue why I should finish watching Titans, feel free to Comment down below (and also, absolutely drop spoilers if you want, cause I’m pro-o-o-obably not watching more of this, even if you tell me I should–no shade, just being real). If you want to be notified when I post again, you can Follow me via the button on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile.

But, no matter what you do, please stay safe, and take care.

I Hate Proxy Racist Characters

I tried watching Cobra Kai.

The premise, as I assumed it, was interesting. I thought we’d be catching up with the villain from the original Karate Kid, which is true–we do. But I assumed we’d find out that villain wasn’t actually a villain, an idea that the prologue (cut almost entirely from the original film) sets up. We see the villain kid being notoriously ordered to “Sweep the leg,” and we see his reaction: even he’s shocked that his douchebag sensei would tell him to take advantage of someone’s broken leg in a fight. The rest of the scene plays like normal, and then we cut to present day . . .

. . . Where we find our protagonist has the typical “Hollywood” version of a sad life. We watch him get up, go outside, encounter a young Latino kid . . .

. . . and to this kid, our protagonist immediately says, “Oh great. More immigrants.”

I hit Back like I was calling an elevator (*clickclickclickclickclick*). I remember saying, “Nope. I’m good.”

Cause, yeah, believe it or not . . .

I FUCKING HATE

RACIST CHARACTERS!

In 2020, it feels weird to even have to write this, but it also feels essential.

Which makes me sad.

I’m aware that Cobra Kai (which I keep misspelling as “Kobra Kai” for some weird reason), was first released in 2018. But, maybe because it’s so recent, I feel like that line–the decision that made me immediately drop it back into the abyss of Netflix content from which it came–deserves to be looked at.

Because, like edgy shithead comedians from the 2000’s–the long-extinct champions of “I’m gonna say it!” humor that empowers all racists and sexists–the Proxy Racist character is a problem I want to catch immediately.

So let’s define it.

The Proxy Racist

This is the fiction writer-equivalent of the shitty, edgelord, “I’ gonna say it!” joke: a grossly racist character who says horrible, racist shit while the writer in control of that character (and everything they say and do) smacks the dust off their hands. “I’m gonna write it,” they might have literally said to themselves, and now they stand akimbo, proud of themselves for establishing a gritty tone while alienating a large portion of the audience.

“I really want my audience to hate this guy,” they say, and then–as if there’s no other way to achieve that–they pen a character who talks about how much they hate Dwarves and want to kill them all.

“I want my audience to look forward to this asshole getting what’s coming to him!” the writer says, and then chooses to write the racist shit the character says, from a perspective that can only be called “privileged.”

To make it clear, the Proxy Racist is just a vehicle for a writer to be racist, not because they are, vehemently and vocally, in their day-to-day, but because, when faced with the choice of changing their writing or offending a bunch of people, they chose to offend a bunch of people. The writer of the shitty racist character ultimately doesn’t care how upsetting that racist character’s words and actions are to a minority. In the most brutal irony, they only think about the emotional reaction those words will get out of an audience of “readers,” “watchers,” and “gamers” who are safe from those words, because the white writer just assumes those faceless readers, watchers, and gamers are all white.

The weird paradox of it is, if we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume they did consider how the racism would emotionally impact a minority, their decision to keep the racism in makes it undeniable that they ultimately just shrugged. “It’s more powerful this way!” I can hear them excitedly telling themselves, safe in their writing nook, comfortably displaced from all the people their choice is going to offend.

Or, obviously worse, the writer of the Proxy Racist is just angrily selecting words and scenes because of their right (or, more accurately, privilege) to write those things. An avenue to vent their racist thoughts to the public; to say what they really want to.

Now, I was about to write, “Let’s move onto some examples to make this problem extra clear,” but, really . . . I just wanna vent.

I’m Tired of Racist Proxies Ruining Shows for Me

Remember when the one racist episode of Community was removed because it had blackface?

I had a passionate exchange with some friends about it.

Them: “But the joke, as I took it, was that [the one character–I refuse to watch it] is just really excited to play D&D, so he dresses up in full cosplay. But he’s also just really socially inept, so he doesn’t realize how weird it is that he dressed up as a Drow.”

Me: “Does anyone call it out as racist?”

Them: “The one character calls it a hate crime.”

Me: “So the actual punchline is that it’s racist. Because the joke you’re talking about could absolutely exist without the racist part. He could’ve showed up dressed as a Dwarf with the long, braided beard and it still would’ve hit that same punchline.”

Them: “Okay . . . Okay, yeah, you have a point. Touché.”

But Racist Proxies Also Ruin Games

For an example that isn’t directly related to comedy or TV, you can look at Divinity: Original Sin 2, a Fantasy example, and thus an example I had to bring up.

If you thought that example from earlier–with a character talking about how he wants to kill all Dwarves–was a weird thing for me to make up, surprise! I didn’t make it up!

At the last part I made it to–a small fishing town–there was one enemy NPC on the docks who talked explicitly about how he wanted to gruesomely murder all Dwarves.

But, really, it’s not just relegated to that one Fantasy cop (surprise, surprise) in Divinity 2; it is a fantastic game, but, unfortunately, it also has an unreal amount of racist proxies in it. Seriously, the majority of enemy NPC’s are bigots with zero qualms about saying how much they hate whatever group.

Of course, I have to say, right off the bat, that I don’t think the entire dev team is racist; characters in a Fantasy realm saying racist shit about a made-up, Fantasy race is a far cry from characters in a Fantasy realm hurling real life slurs at each other.

But Divinity 2 is a dialogue option-heavy RPG, meaning you can totally choose not to kill a lot of the racists you encounter. In fact, you can even decide to help them during any morally open-ended quests they’re involved in!

And . . . win one for the nazis playing the game, I guess?

I get the intention behind having those characters in the game. I get the fact that, in this setting, racism and bigotry are a big problem, and such settings are legitimate and potentially helpful tools for speaking about real world racism.

But I also feel like if one of the writers on your team pens a character who freely talks about committing genocide, in gruesome detail, . . . maybe you need to have a talk with that writer.

“Bob . . . I mean, he’s literally just an NPC.”

“Not even the main villain, dude.”

“You do not have to make this deep a cut for a passing quest NPC.”

“There’s another way, Bob.”

And that’s really what I want to end on here. The idea that . . .

There’s Another Way

For a long time, my mantra has been “If you want to combat a bigoted trope, don’t just put a woke spin on it. Totally undermine it instead. Don’t do it at all–do the opposite.”

I’ve also said, time and time again, that we just do not live in a world that needs more minorities as a side characters–we need more minorities as protagonists.

Both of those mantras always come to mind when I think of how to fix a Proxy Racist.

Do we need fiction that talks about racism? Yes, totally, the same way we need more minorities as side characters. Sure.

Would it be better if we just fought racism in fiction by writing a story with a minority as the protagonist? Yes. Abso-fucking-lutely.

The absolute anti-thesis of that, which isn’t helping anyone? A story with a white protagonist who fights a racist white villain.

Or a story with a racist white protagonist, even if they eventually learn better.

Again, don’t put a spin on it. Undermine it completely.

The reforming racist is absolutely a character arc worth telling, and I think that, in the near future, it’s going to be important to write that story.

But, until then, if you’re writing a show where your white protagonist is a racist who has a change of heart and starts teaching a young Latino kid martial arts . . . maybe just make the entire goddamn show from that kid’s perspective.

Or, at the very goddamn least, when you get to that part in your manuscript where your character is going to say something genuinely racist–that point when your nostrils are flared and, “I’m gonna write it!” is on the tip of your tongue–just fucking don’t.

~~~

Well, it turned out I was angry this weekend! What a surprise! Thanks, Twitter!

No, seriously, I was going to write something fun, but then I tried out Cobra Kai on Thursday and it was just a wrap after that.

Thanks for stopping by, and if you want to be notified when I post again, you can follow House of Error on the left side of your screen (or via the hamburger menu on the upper right on mobile).

Next week, I’m going to post something fun–I swear. I won’t look at Twitter or the news at all and it’ll be great.

Until then, take care and stay safe!

Edited in Post – The Rest of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

It’s been over two years since I did the first “Writer Watching” for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. While rereading it, I had a bunch of nervous laugh moments whenever I’d said shit like, “I’ll talk about that next time!”

Yeah, I have no idea what “that” was.

What I do know is that it was always weird for me that I just never came back to finish the series.

In one part, it was because it just felt weird–I was voicing really reactionary opinions on the first and second episodes of a TV show; it felt like I should finish the season and then comment.

But, on the other hand . . . it just felt like watching it while nitpicking was making me like the show less. Like, significantly less.

And, finally, it felt like the feminist angle of the show actually required more patience than a 30-something man, writing on his blog, could give it. Basically, I reached Seahawk, initially hated how he was handled, and decided to back away instead of writing a whole thing about how much I didn’t like him.

Well, I’m still in lockdown. It’s 2020 now, and, seeing as all of my time is spent in the one room, working or watching things on Netflix, I figured it was the perfect time to actually return to the series and finish what I started.

Instead of being absolutely insane and commenting on specific things, however, I’m going to try something new.

As I’ve said on this site before, I am a really intense self-editor; I will mercilessly edit and rewrite my own work, which is a double-edged sword because A) there’s always going to be room for improvement and, B) the new additions I make will always have grammatical errors of their own (it’s a thing).

A vent for that reflex (or maybe a result of it), is that I love imagining edits for existing works that I think can improve with a few tweaks (or, in the case of Episodes VII – IX, a ton of tweaks).

So, considering that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power triggered that reflex, I figured, “Why not write a whole post about it?” A post that I’m making the first in a new series: Edited in Post.

To be clear, my goal here isn’t to “improve” on the story as a whole; I am not conceited enough to think my edit of She-Ra would be better. All that I can say objectively is that A) it would be different from the end product we got and B) it would be how I would’ve edited the end product if I was in the writer’s room. Ultimately, this is just an editing exercise and a way for me to consider my identity as a writer.

All of that said, let’s start by establishing a really healthy baseline with . . .

What I Liked

1. Adora

Of all the things I didn’t think I would like in this show, Adora herself was probably number one. In my original post, I talked about how much I disliked the White Savior vibe I was getting from the pilot two-parter. I was super glad to see that problem didn’t persist because the show spends a lot of time with Glimmer, Bow, and other non-white characters.

Beyond that, however, I still didn’t think I’d like the no frills protagonist of any Fantasy show that much; I have become hard-wired to expect the typical batch of issues a protagonist has (like trying to understand their powers, trying to figure out a mystery left for them by an ancient race, etc.). For sure, Adora has that same batch.But . . . she still manages to be incredibly likable on her own. She’s funny, a terrible actress, cocky in a dorky way that’s super fun to watch, and–more interesting than anything, else in my opinion–she’s su-u-u-uper prone to making mistakes (which is probably the freshest breath of fresh air). Like, I often consider protagonist fatigue; whether they’re men or not, the lamest thing in the world is the no frills protagonist who just does everything right. Adora is not that character.

And, because it needs to be acknowledged, she is not that character in massive part due to Aimee Carrero’s performance.

There were . . . so many moments where I laughed out loud just because Carrero’s delivery was so good.

“I’m a triple may-zhor, and I also teach, unless that’s not a thing students do. Is it hot in here?”

“Ah ha ha ha ha. Is that a good laugh or a bad laugh? Ha ha ha . . . Well, the longer it goes on, the more I think it’s a bad laugh.”

Really early on in my watch, I started getting super excited for Adora dialogue in fun situations.

2. Scorpia

The greatest failure of my life is that Scorpia isn’t real and she isn’t my best friend.

I’m not kidding; I’m actually sad that I can’t be woken up by Scorpia every morning, rushing into my room to ask if I’ve breathed in the new day yet (which I would absolutely hate coming from anyone else).

I think that in the great array of strong female protagonists, ranging from Super Sexualized to Tough and Angry, Scorpia is something completely different. She’s this extremely hug-able, determined, compassionate woman who’s also always the strongest non-She-Ra person in the room, and she has the freedom to be all of those things because her character is not her charging into a room, tackling the nearest man and flexing like, “I am Scorpia! I am strongest in the world!” Like . . . she’s just a character and her being a buff giant just adds to that character. I just love it. I’m here for Scorpia. I stan her and I want to see way more characters like her.

3. Basically the Rest of the Cast (and their Fun Drama)

I really enjoyed the majority of the Princesses and other characters (some more than others naturally; it is a cartoon show after all).

Mermista was the real standout for me, and she’s the one who made me realize why I liked the cast so much; they all had some low stakes drama with each other on occasion, and every instance of that was extremely fun and fresh to me (i.e. Mermista deciding that she was Sea-Ra, just straight up jacking Adora’s alter-ego for her character in the D&D episode). I really lived for those moments–those brief, beautiful nuggets of petty that really gave the characters life.

Those dynamics, and the show’s ability to showcase that drama, were great.

Okay. There’s a lot more I liked, but I have to start trying to shorten these posts. Suffice it to say I liked the show a bunch, but to get into the edit, here’s . . .

What I Didn’t Like / What I Would Change

1. The Not-So-Fun Drama

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the show wasn’t able to handle more complicated friendship drama later on. I felt Season 5’s Adora/Glimmer beef was a little exhausting–especially after it seemed to be solved by the end of an episode . . . but was still there in the next episode. I’m definitely not saying I didn’t want to see those characters fight; I just got incredibly tired of watching them voice the same issues, over and over, without working on them, which even the show points out is strange.

2. The Pacing on Catra’s Arc (and thus, for a while, Catra)

It must be reverse day, because of all the things I thought I’d love for the entirety of the series, Catra was number one.

When I first watched the show, I absolutely loved her. I enjoyed her attitude, her design, how her situation was understandable, so you wind up feeling for her.

But then the show shoots way past the point where she’s understandable . . . and the plot just keeps supporting her, for way too long.

It isn’t until Season 4, Episode 10 where she actually starts losing, and, as a person who’s experienced the full spectrum of gaslighters, it feels like it took way too long for her to be redeemable. Like, she opens a portal that almost destroys all of reality because she’s a jealous brat, and it is pretty impossible to forgive that.

It doesn’t help that the plot support came in ways that seemed over-the-top and devalued other characters.

Scorpia and Seahawk share an episode where they vent about the treatment they’re getting from their special someones. Seahawk leaves that episode triumphantly proclaiming that, fuck it, he doesn’t care about what Mermista thinks of him. Scorpia left that episode . . . determined to devote herself to Catra’s bullshit no matter what?

Hordak also, weirdly, winds up bowing to Catra because she rips out a gem powering his new exoskeleton . . . but then gives it back to him? So, like, he’s in charge, but really she’s in charge? The thing is, I wouldn’t have even minded her just straight up becoming the leader of the Horde, but it was done in this weird way where she still gets to be angry about being subservient . . . while also calling the shots? Why didn’t she just kill Hordak? Why didn’t the show just shift her into Queen Catra mode and give her a dope new outfit?

In the end, I just got tired of it. She stopped being relatable, the drama between her and Adora stopped moving, and her drama with almost every other character stopped feeling logical.

3. The Rest of the Pacing Too, Actually / Why Did They Save the Good Part?

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to Netflix Originals from Dreamworks.They usually have pacing issues. And weird half-seasons. I get it.But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem that needs fixing.

Particularly because . . . the last season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is fucking awesome.

If you’re not aware, the last season is actually the season that most resembles the intense, desperate-rebellion energy of the original show. The stakes are insanely high and it absolutely rocks.

The fact that it’s only the last fifth of the show will always feel like a weird mistake to me. Especially because the middle seasons just spun wheels on a lore-based plot twist that just didn’t feel unique (basically a perfect example of the “mystery left for protagonist by an ancient race” plot line that’s already deep into trope town).

The Edit in Post

Okay. So, how would I have reorganized all of this?

  • Delete a lot of the plot mystery: I liked Mara and thought some of the lore episodes with her were amazing. But I would completely cut the Heart of Etheria plot line. By the end, it got super convoluted, and the plot twist that the Princess’s energy was meant to power a weapon that would destroy the planet was weirdly antithetical to the message of the entire show. Other details, like the planet being in another dimension, are such weird, late-game additions that it just felt like the writers were hitting points on a checklist of “Things We Have to Do Because the Original Show Did Them.”
  • Move up Horde Prime–and thus the stakes–by, like, 2 seasons.
  • Move up Catra being exiled from the Horde and make it permanent.
  • And I mean move her exile up to Season 2 so Catra and Scorpia take over the Crimson Wastes. Catra builds her gang by stealing Horde tech, or maybe finding a new character to enlist. This results in a new faction that fights both the Princesses and the Horde. Would actually be way cooler to see Catra build a stronger army than the Horde, come back, and beat Hordak.
  • Move up Double Trouble’s intro. Absolutely introduce her in Season 2, in the Crimson Wastes, and have her work for Catra. Give the audience a slower, better burn on the mystery of who she is among them and let her work more subtly on putting a wedge in the gang. It would be . . . such good drama.
  • Give us a full season at least of Entrapta and Hordak. Just bolster the idea that Entrapta would actually, logically decide to stay with the Horde because she and Hordak are the most adorable friends ever.
  • Pad out everything with new episodes of good filler that explore character relationships and drama (i.e. gimme that Bow and Glimmer flashback solo adventure!).

So, to be clear, my changes would’ve looked like this:

Season 1: Introduce main characters and setting. Establish stakes early early with Entrapta getting captured way sooner. Use remaining episodes to establish Entrapta / Hordak friendship via B plots. End season with Catra beating the gang, who narrowly escape, and then she takes over for Shadow Weaver.

Season 2: Establish early in the season that Catra is tired of Hordak. She miscalculates a first attempt to manipulate him (or maybe trying to fight him), gets banished to the Crimson Waste. Catra, Scorpia create a new faction via B plot, gaining power with Double Trouble’s help. Plot A remains the cast fighting the Horde, but maybe also getting infiltrated by Catra’s faction? Establish that there’s some super powerful Old One’s weapon (basically, the Heart of Etheria minus a bunch of lore episodes), and the season ends with all three factions fighting for it. Hordak is defeated by Catra, but he hints heavily at Horde Prime’s arrival.

Season 3: Catra as Queen of the Horde, fighting She-Ra for the season with Shadow Weaver drama and question of how to get the weapon to work. Full season of peak Catra / Adora drama via “Catra, why the fuck are you fighting us when Horde Prime is on his way!? Goddamn!” but worded differently. Also peak Entrapta drama as she joins Catra to “keep working on tech,” but is really trying to figure out how to free Hordak. Peak season for the drama. I imagine that right as Entrapta is freeing Hordak, Horde Prime shows up and handily defeats everybody. Hordak goes to Prime, his mind gets erased, and Horde Prime captures both Glimmer and Catra.

Season 4: Basically the same as the Season 5 we got, only with Catra ingratiating herself to Prime at the beginning. I’d love to write her being frustrated at having to be subservient to Hordak again. But, more than anything, I’d love to write the argument where Glimmer tells her, “If you had just helped us fight him, none of this would’ve happened.”

Again, this outcome would’ve been different (not necessarily better), but I can say that I absolutely would’ve loved to write it and watch it.

~~~

It was weird to write this out (this is usually just an exercise I perform in my head for a week after watching something), but I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider Following the House of Error; the field to do so is to the left side of your screen on desktop, or in the drop down menu (i.e. the hamburger icon) on the top right on mobile.

Next week is going to be a post about my writing process–the ways in which it’s similar to and differs from Brandon Sanderson’s. Until then, stay safe, everyone!

By July, Everything Changed

I attended a vigil on June 5th.

It was for Breonna Taylor, on her birthday. In the constantly evolving insanity that is this year, I can’t post those pictures because the vigil turned into a march and all of my pictures show protesters’ faces. For all the time I was there, it was peaceful, but the last time I checked, totally peaceful protesters were still getting apprehended by unidentified “law enforcement,” because that’s what America is now.

America is police beating the innocent, shooting out eyes with rubber bullets.

America is Breonna Taylor’s killers still walking free.

And, real talk: if the fact that I attended protests offends you, you can fuck off now.

It was a strange feeling, being in those crowds, sending up those chants. It felt like the most meaningful thing I had ever done. At the time, it felt like maybe the world would change.

But then it didn’t. The optimist in me has to believe it will, but 2020 really trains you not to believe in anything.

In July, my job reopened. I want to say, “I believed they would provide us with appropriate Coronavirus protection,” but that isn’t true; I knew they would give us the bare minimum protection, which is exactly what they did. Imagine working a customer service job at an institution that panders directly to the worst Karens imaginable, only to have that institution place social distancing markers those Karens will stand on directly in front of your booth, not even 4 feet from you. Picture this while your job tells you, “If someone shows up without a mask, they can buy one.” “From who?” “From you.”

I went on strike. Tried to leverage it into getting better COVID-19 protocols. My resignation was accepted instead.

The weird thing is . . . it’s not nearly as upsetting as it should be.

Because the far more upsetting thing is the thought of still being there. I get emails from coworkers saying the mandatory masks rule isn’t being enforced anymore, and I feel like the lucky one.

I probably shouldn’t, but by July, everything changed.

Before then, I’d been so concerned with being fun. Being likable at work. Being ready with a joke at all times. I had genuinely cared about the opinions of people who never mattered, and I put my goals on hold for institutions that paid me pennies compared to their earnings. I spent hours and hours selling tickets, shelving books, standing behind cash registers, saying shit like, “Did you find everything you need?”

“Have you considered a membership?”

“I’m sorry to hear that, m’am. Would you like me to call a manager for you?”

Always coming home too tired to do anything . . .

. . . and then having one of those organizations just smile at me and say, “Well, we gotta reopen! You gotta get back out there! Cause we need to balance the budget for next year!”

No.

Just fucking no.

No and also why? Why did I waste so much time at those jobs?

I’ve had insanely marketable skills for over a decade, but I just stalled at “maintain entry level day job while struggling to write.”

That changed in July, when I refused to walk into a shit job and potentially kill myself for the rich assholes who run it.

When I realized that none of the things I was worried about before actually mattered. My coworkers’ attitudes, where I would be posted, how I could improve my membership numbers, how I could potentially land a promotion. None of that shit mattered more than my health, my happiness, and my dreams.

It is strange to say, but since leaving that job, I’ve been busier than I’ve ever been in my entire goddamn life, but, at the same time, every single day has gone by like lightning (it’s already 5:40pm and how do I stop this fucking clock–please tell me).

Here are the projects that I’m now working on, full time, on a given day:

1. Outlining a rewrite for Memory. This is not the usual thing where I say, “Ha! I’m planning it,” meaning I’m thinking about it at work, then coming home too tired and stressed out to actually start it. No, I’m two chapters from being done with the outline. It has been a struggle, but I pulled a got of motivation from a series of lectures by Brandon Sanderson that were third-eye opening (and if you’ve ever struggled with the process, here’s a link to the first video in the series on his YouTube channel).

2. Putting together digital products that I was inspired to make last year, when I designed a logo for a friend. I don’t want to say what the products are, but they combine my love of books, my graphic design chops from my Infinite Ammo days, and the weird, pattern-based art I used to do when I was younger. I will be talking about this more later in the month, but not until it’s ready.

3. Volunteering at a library, paginating the books they scanned and sent to the Biodiversity Heritage Lab. It feeds my bureaucratic side and I love it.

4. Working on my board game, the healing system for which I’ve just hammered down, meaning stats are finally set. Had to overhaul item drops, but I’m glad I didn’t overhaul them first, because it would have been totally pointless to overhaul that system without having stats totally figured out (because of course stats are going to drastically influence drops [which is to say, the game is 65% complete]).

5. Writing short stories, which is now nestled safely on the back burner. Why? Because I’m a novelist and always have been. Short stories are great and I learned a lot putting them together, but I wish I could take back some of the time I devoted to them. This is an extremely new outlook (even just last week, I was still considering spending a ton of time rewriting an older short story); real talk: I spent a few hours looking through a database of places to submit and realized . . . the pay is just so low. Probably not for other genres, but for Sci-Fi / Fantasy, we’re talking $20 for months or years of work. I just can’t do that anymore.

6. Writing posts on here, which I’m going to do weekly now, if only because planning a new direction for this blog and writing posts according to that plan will be a fun departure from the crazier deadlines / projects I’m working on (more on that soon).

7. Looking for other jobs and learning Spanish (it’s just way past time).

Obviously, the most pressing of those is creating my digital products. The goal is to make sustainable profit with them, and I know that’s a few months away, so I’m prioritizing it pretty hard, learning as much as I can about my process and creating the best storefront I can manage.

If I didn’t have to worry about money, however, writing would be first place for sure. The rewrite of Memory feels like the first real book I’ve ever written. I always knew about plot threads, but I never had a good process to keep track of them until I watched those Brandon Sanderson videos. He, thankfully, has a very similar approach to me in the types of stories he tells, so, after hearing him explain his process, I was able to fix my own. Real talk: I don’t think Memory is good enough to get published, but I’m using it as practice anyway, honing my process before moving on to The Hand and the Tempest, which is definitely my favorite project at this point. I spent two months worldbuilding for it earlier in the year and I’m just . . . in love with that world.

All of this is to say my life today is significantly different than it was in May, and it feels strange. I don’t know how things will turn out.

But I do know . . . that I can finally imagine a future for myself.

For the first time, I can imagine having my own place, what job I’ll be working while I’m there. I can picture actually getting published, like the tone of my life was tweaked ju-u-u-ust enough and now that conclusion fits.

I might still die. There’s still no vaccine for COVID-19, and the last time I got tested for it, I wasn’t infected but also didn’t have antibodies.

This “business” I’m putting together might also fall through. 

But it’s nice to have this moment.

It’s nice to believe when the whole world is telling me I shouldn’t.

Damsel in Disguise: The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake & The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

Disclaimer: No, I’m not going to talk about current events. Maybe I’ll reference them, but if you’re anything like me, all you want right now is a distraction, so let’s get right to it.

I do not consider myself a righteous man. In brutal honesty, I am a straight man who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and thus, I was a sexist bigot well into my 20’s. An idiot who made bad jokes until events in his life taught him to do better. As a result, I exist in a strange, semi-objective limbo. I am a straight man who often hates straight men, but I am also a feminist who occasionally hates feminists. I do not like or make jokes about women being stupid, but I also hate the extremely common “dumb husband” commercials. It’s a strange, contentious limbo I live in, but I like it because it allows me to be fair. More fair, I feel, than bigots or extreme feminists ever want me to be.

My point is . . . when I see something that I think is problematic, I usually give it time before speaking up about it, because I want to be sure I’m being fair first. I don’t want to start flame wars, and I don’t want to sound like a pandering jackass.

So, please, understand that it’s after serious consideration that I say . . .

Rogue One . . .

and the recent remake of Resident Evil 3 . . .

. . . both of which are framed as empowering for women . . .

. . . are actually pretty misogynistic.

“What the fuck even are you talking about?” you might have just asked, to which I say, “Hear me out.”

This post is split into two parts. If you’re already pissed about one of your favorite things being criticized, you can scroll down to the heading for said thing now.

For everyone else . . .

An Introduction

In the 90’s, the Tough Princess was a thing. Princess Vespa, from Space Balls, stands out as an example, but I remember seeing strong princesses everywhere, picking up weapons, refusing help. For sure, they were a step in a better direction . . . but they also needed saving just like normal princesses; if you could play as Princess Peach in one Mario game, it did not mean you wouldn’t be saving her in the next Mario game. Ultimately, it was just a half-measure–the kind I’ve grown to hate (because, as I’ve always said, the way to change a stereotype is not to put a twist on it, but to avoid using the stereotype at all).

In this way, what I’m calling the Strong Female Damsel has been around for a long time. A female character who presents as strong and independent but ultimately needs a ton of saving by men, the Strong Female Damsel is a common trope and an obviously lacking, half-hearted attempt at being progressive.

Less obvious, however, is the the Damsel’s prevalence in modern, feminist genre films and games; in an age where there’s a much more pronounced attempt to cater to and empower female audiences, it always blows my mind when I see the ideals of those audiences either undermined (with the Damsel) or flat out violated (with the Object, which I’ll define a bit later).

For now, let’s start with the Damsel:

The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

This is something that has bothered me since the first time I watched Rogue One, but it’s also something I haven’t written about because, again, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being contentious for no reason.

But now, having rewatched it, let me present the actual stats:

  • (07:18) Starting off almost immediately here; after Jyn watches her mother get murdered, she goes and hides in a hole. She stays there until she’s found and saved by Saw Gerrera.
  • (13:00) Jyn Erso, in prison, is rescued by a group of all-male Rebellion troopers. She fights them, which is cool, but still loses–because the best character in the entire movie, K-2SO, catches her.
  • (31:58) During the firefight on Jedha, Jyn saves a child, which is dope. She then stands in place while a tank rolls up so Cassian can first shout for her to “Get out of there!” and then shoot the gunner who might see and target her.
  • (32:09) A rebel on a walkway above the tank then pulls out a grenade, which he’s going to throw down into the area where Jyn is hiding, probably hurting her, but Cassian shoots him before he can throw it. The moment is complete with a little “I got your back” nod from Cassian.
  • (33:09) This doesn’t count as her being saved, but here, Jyn beats the shit out of some stormtroopers and it’s cool, but, weirdly, we still get the “Whoa–that girl is fighting all of them and I actually don’t need to help???” reaction from Cassian.
    I’ll try to keep these sidebars to a minimum, but the framing of that moment was a little strange.
  • (33:40) Arguable one here: K-2SO catches a grenade that could kill all three characters in this scene, but effortlessly tosses it behind himself, saving everyone and killing a bunch of stormtroopers at the same time.
  • (34:40) Jyn and Cassian are apprehended by stormtroopers, but are saved by Chirrut Îmwe.
  • (48:20) This one is so weird.
    Saw Gerrera’s rebel base is crumbing, but Jyn is in some kind of . . . trauma trance? Like, she’s so distraught by what her father said that she literally just drops to her knees and sits there . . . until Cassian comes in and literally grabs her, telling her “We gotta go. I know where your father is,” at which point she snaps out of it? It’s just a very strange moment for a protagonist. When the hologram cut, why did Jyn not turn around to Saw, and ask, “Where was this recorded? I have to find him!”?
    And . . . I mean, would she have stood there, doing nothing, until the building collapsed on her?
  • (49:36) I have to count this one because, once again, Jyn is being literally saved by men.
    To escape the fallout from the Death Star, everyone jumps into a ship piloted by K-2SO and . . . Cassian! It’s almost like this movie is about him, not Jyn.
    And, to be clear, I am not arguing for self-insert levels of competency here; I think it would’ve been stupid if Jyn saved everyone, always got herself out of danger, and shoved people aside so she could fly the ship. All I’m saying is, in the past 50 minutes, she has beaten up two groups of people and been saved by men 8 times.
    Absolutely nothing would’ve been wrong with her getting out in front, hopping onto the controls first, or shouting to K-2SO to get them in the air. As is, she just hops on, helps pull someone in, and looks out the window.
  • (1:09:04) On Eadu, there’s the group of scenes that made me realize Jyn was a damsel in the first place. The time stamp is for the exact moment, but I have to preface it so you feel how I felt the first time I watched this.
    Okay. To kick us off, Jyn does find her father.
    But she does not save him.
    She doesn’t even engage the stormtroopers around him, even though he’s in pretty clear danger, on his knees, with an Imperial General standing over him. Instead, X-Wings show up, kill the stormtroopers, and knock everyone to the ground. Jyn only manages to shout, “Father!” before all of this happens, because her ability to create drama is more important than her ability to have agency over the plot, I guess.
    Okay. That said, at 1:09:04, Jyn is kneeling over her father, who just died, and that moment is completely cut short by stormtroopers running up behind her. Again, like on Jedha, Jyn is too emotionally distraught to care about anything–she doesn’t even realize they’re there–and only survives . . . because Cassian fucking Andor saves her, complete with a scene where he has to pull her off of her father and the other male side characters have to fight off the stormtroopers chasing them, including the ex-Imperial pilot.
    And this after a close up shot at 1:05:59 of Cassian Andor saying, “Jyn! No!” when he realizes she’s in danger.
  • (1:18:33) Okay. Just another sidebar.
    Jyn gives her “rebellions are built on hope” speech, and I was totally ready to concede that she influenced the plot in a huge way by convincing the rebels to attack Scarif . . . because I totally forgot that, no, actually, she doesn’t. She does plant a seed here that eventually gets the rebels to show up and help.
    But that is only because the protagonists go to Scarif anyway, which only becomes possible . . . because Cassian fucking Andor rounds up a bunch of troops willing to volunteer themselves. And I’m sure an argument could be made that Cassian only rounded up those troops because of her speech, but Cassian’s character arc was already in effect since Eadu, when he decided not to kill Jyn’s dad. I’d argue he would’ve gone to Scarif even if the council scene was just rebel leaders arguing that it was too dangerous.
  • (1:24:49) The Imperial shuttle the characters are flying into Scarif is about to get shot out of the air, killing everyone, bu-u-u-u-u-ut luckily, the ex-Imperial pilot and K-2SO–both male–manage to fool flight control. Phew!
    Also, Jyn looks at a crystal in this scene. It’s probably meant to send over serious Force-vibes (what with “kyber crystals” being a talking point in this movie), but if the idea here is that the Force influenced flight control, through her or because of her, then that’s a pre-e-e-e-etty lame attempt at giving her agency.
    Again, I’m not saying she should have every skill and save every day; it would’ve been stupid if she and she alone jumped on comms, shoving aside all the male characters (i.e. every single other person on the ship). However, it is 100% within reason to expect her to have some way to hack a new code, or some reference for gaining the current code after the years she spent fighting her way through the galaxy as a space-orphan. She could’ve taken out a custom cipher she bought somewhere and told K-2SO and the pilot the current code. Maybe they both could’ve doubted her but punched it in anyway cause they decided to believe, and when it works, they all would’ve done something together. And we would’ve gotten some Jyn Erso characterization from her lone wolf years. Aside from “she fights good sometimes.”
  • (1:47:11) Worst scene of the movie: K-2SO sacrifices himself to keep Jyn and Cassian safe. This happens while Cassian retrieves the data file for the Death Star and Jyn watches.
  • (1:50:06) Another sidebar: We have a moment where it seems like Jyn and Jyn alone is going to do something amazing. She jumps out onto the data tower to retrieve the Death Star plans, but no, forget it; Cassian jumps onto it with her. Cause of course he does.
  • (1:51:08) I feel like I’m losing my mind. I honestly don’t remember it being this bad. Here, there’s a scene where the Imperials get into the data vault, open a door, and Jyn’s right there where they can easily shoot her. Cassian shouts, “Jyn!” shoots at them, and stops them from killing her while she literally dangles off of the tower for suspense.
    Cassian proceeds to kill all the Stormtroopers, by the way, and Jyn watches.
  • (1:59:10) Here, finally, the moment that got a loud, “Are you fucking serious?” from me in the theater.
    Jyn Erso is finally confronting Krennic, the man who killed her mother and forced her father into slavery. The man who ruined her life.
    A man who has a blaster aimed right at her . . . which means that when fucking Cassian goddamn Andor shoots him in the back, he not only absolutely robs her of catharsis, he saves Jyn again while doing it.
    I mean, for fuck’s sake.
    Cassian even stops her from making sure Krennic is dead. Like, “Honey, I know you’ve got your entire life’s worth of comeuppance and everything, but, like, my leg is hurt?”

By my count, that is 12 times Jyn Erso’s life was saved over the course of the film. Out of those 12 times, she was saved by men 12 times. One could absolutely go through and count how many times she saved herself or others and compare. Nothing’s stopping you. But it would not change the fact that a protagonist being helped out of life-threatening danger twelve times instead of helping themselves is way too many times.

Now, of course, I am not saying that a strong female protagonist can’t be saved by a man–obviously, that’s not the case, and having female-driven stories where the men aren’t helpful at all is also something I hate.

The point I am trying to make: the strong female protagonist who constantly needs to be saved by her cast of male-only side characters . . . is not a strong female protagonist.

She is, quite literally, a Strong Female Damsel. A female protagonist who looks strong, walks strong, but is repeatedly presented in peril so that men can save her.

I’m not sure how this kind of character happens, but I have to assume it wasn’t intentional. Maybe the result of a writer’s room determined not to make Jyn a Mary Sue? Different saves from different characters in different drafts that got snowballed into the final product? I’m not sure, but the thing that’s oddly, depressingly clear: if they wanted to make her less threatening to men . . .

. . . it worked.

Have you ever wondered why none of the men who hated Rey also hated Jyn Erso? Why they loved Rogue One . . . but also never walk around wearing Jyn Erso, “I Rebel” t-shirts?

It’s because none of them actually respect her. They love the movie–the script that constantly made her need help from Cassian (who’s getting his own Disney + show, cause of course he is)–but they do not love her.

My recommendation about all of this: if you’re writing a story that you want to be progressive, with a strong female lead, please make sure that she isn’t just a damsel in disguise.

That said, okay, we’re on to something worse:

The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake

This one is going to be a lot quicker, because I don’t have to replay the entire game.

But, first, a definition: the Strong Female Object is a female protagonist who is presented as strong, decisive, and capable, but who is clandestinely fetishized in spite of that. Almost like the artists behind the character knew that she needed to be strong . . . but just couldn’t help sexualizing her because she was so hot. It doesn’t matter that it completely undermines the strength they felt obligated to give her–there just needed to be a scene where she got deepthroated by tentacles.

Resident Evil 3: Remake is the entire reason I made this classification, because it is absolutely obnoxious in that game and, having loved Jill since the very first RE in 1996, I hated it.

Really quickly, we’re going to run down some events that happen in the game, with links if I have them:

  • The game opens up with a nightmare sequence where Jill, in pajamas for no reason whatsoever (she wakes up afterward in her normal clothes), starts turning into a zombie. In the nightmare, she’s in her bathroom, where there’s a loaded gun on the sink. She picks it up, wincing as she puts it to her head and pulls the trigger.
    What a great start for a strong female protagonist.
    I already hated it.
  • In her apartment, you can find a note from Brad, talking about how Jill has been suspended by the chief of police. The note was slipped to a pizza deliver guy, so in the postscript, Brad says, “Enjoy the extra large Mega Meat Supreme! It’s on me and the guys.”
    *sigh*
    Yes. Of course. The “extra large Mega Meat” from Brad and “the guys.” Because “extra large” is totally a normal size for a pizza pie to be.
  • When you first meet up with Carlos Oliviera, he is unrealistically, relentlessly  flirtatious in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It’s posed as gross, which would make it fine . . .
    . . . if Carlos hadn’t been as gross in the original game. Not sure why they broke this dynamic when it was already fixed, but okay.
  • Here’s a link to a group of male let’s players laughing at an absolutely bizarre poster you find on a door (which happens in the first 20 seconds of this video).
    One of those let’s players, Alex Faciane, calls it “egregious,” and yep.
    Now, hey, maybe this is a reference to the enormous boxes you find in safe rooms in-game. Considering how things are going so far though, I highly doubt it.
  • And here is the moment that made me want to write about this game in the first place.
    Everything that came before this was a little weird but passable.
    Not this though.
    I’ve linked to a video of the Game Grumps getting to the moment because one of them, Arin, outright says, “This is for the fetishists,” because, yeah, it is that bad (although if you want to skip ahead, the actual moment happens at 32:06 [and if you’d rather not watch it, just skip right over this link]): https://youtu.be/VEqmgvWCdvQ?t=1848.
    In case you did skip, tentacle stuff happens. And, while it’s not super gratuitous in the cutscene that introduces the tentacle monsters to you, it is really bad when they catch you in-game. You lose control and the camera focuses on the action for wa-a-a-a-ay too long.
    I tried to return the game at this point, because, already, it was clear that shit wasn’t right. Initially, I was excited that Jill didn’t have her impractical, miniskirt and tube top outfit from the original, but the tentacle monsters made it clear that, somehow, the remake was actually less respectful to her.
  • And that lack of respect is made clearer as the game progresses, and you “get to play” Carlos for long sections of it, a thing literally no one asked for. As if the game couldn’t continue being just Jill’s story, it’s now Carlos and Jill’s, with over an hour cut out for Carlos-time. And, to be clear, that’s beefcake, remake Carlos who is a super jacked commando, totally different from Carlos in the original: a young guy who Jill literally slaps in the face at one point to make him come to his senses.
  • To top it off, (spoilers) Jill gets infected with the T-Virus at one point. And guess who brings her to a hospital and runs around it for an hour looking for a cure?
    No, not Cassian Andor. Carlos. Carlos literally saves Jill when she’s in distress.
    Cause of course he does.
  • The moment that made me second-angriest: we “get to” see a nightmare Jill is having, where Carlos is infected and she has to shoot him . . . but she just can’t bring herself to do it. Because, even though he was a relentless fucking horndog at first . . . Jill now cares for him so much that she can’t kill him, even if doing so means saving her own life.
    Typical tsundere bullshit.

That dream sequence perfectly sums up what’s going on here. The “extra large Mega Meat Supreme” from “the guys,” the ad for an “Enormous Box,” the tentacle monsters, and Carlos being initially gross but ultimately so important to Jill that she’d rather die than hurt him–it all feeds into Jill being a sexual object for male gazers, chuckling to each other behind her back.

A tsundere for Carlos to win over.

Only, not just a tsundere. A protagonist that needed to be strong, made by men who are probably wondering what color panties she’s wearing. A hot, smart, capable woman . . . who’s just so hot that, I mean . . .

“. . . what do her pajamas look like?”

“What kind of dude is she into?”

“Big dudes like Chris?”

“Nemesis hasn’t killed her, so, like, he’s gotta have a crush on her, right?”

“Do you think she’ll bang Carlos?”

All of these questions coming with the one, absolutely intended hook: “Do you think Carlos will win her over?”

None of these questions were there in the original. None of them needed to be in the remake.

But, unfortunately, the people in charge made Jill Valentine look stronger . . . while forcing her into the role of the hot object, lusted over, grossly hit on, and ultimately liking it.

I can’t suggest that someone writing a Strong Female Object takes them out of their story, because that suggestion would fall on completely deaf ears–writing the Object is intentional. However, I have to acknowledge that there are people who love stories with Strong Female Objects (like Heavy Metal) and take influence from them.

So, with that in mind, I’ll say this: In the same way ethnic characters in media need to be protagonists (not side-characters or villains), the Strong Female Protagonist needs to be a protagonist, not a perpetual damsel, and not the sexualized object of a determined male gaze.

~~~

This turned into a novella of 3,500+ words, and if you sat through the whole thing, thank you so much.

I’m just not a frequent uploader, but I felt pretty strongly about this one (especially because it’s May the 4th and I just stumbled on one of the RE3 videos I linked [with Arin from the Game Grumps saying the one moment was for the fetishists]).

I do have other posts that I’ve found on here, some of which I’ve soured on (arguments that I don’t feel strongly about anymore), but others of which hold up. I’m in the process of editing them, and I’ll be posting them in the coming weeks.

Until then, please stay safe. And, as always, write well.

There’s a Video Game Controller Out There, on That Roof

Disclaimer: I don’t want to write about what’s going on right now, because it’s all anyone is talking about. As an American, I find it so difficult to watch the news that I can only take it in 5-minute bursts at the end and beginning of the day. So, if you were hoping for my perspective on the pandemic, I’m sorry, but I just don’t want to write about it.

What I do want to write about though . . .

LS-Controller on the Roof

. . . is the Playstation 4 controller on that roof just across the way.

I saw it when I sat down at my window, intending to keep hammering at the timeline for my WIP.

But progress on the timeline was so slow that I kept glancing up at the shape of it. A black dot that, in different light, had been a plastic bag from a bodega, sun-stuck to roof tiles. But now . . .

“Is that a controller?”

I squinted, but still wasn’t sure.

I got my camera, but the zoom wasn’t good enough.

The magnification was, however.

LS-Controller on the Roof Zoom-In

“Son of a bitch,” I said aloud.

Why is it out there?

Who throws a controller, even a broken one, onto a roof?

Actually though . . . it doesn’t look broken. Is it even scuffed?

Did it land right-side-up like that?

Did someone just . . . climb up there and lay it down?

It wouldn’t be impossible. There have been weird things on that roof before.

LS-Controller on the Roof Boots

Like these boots left by construction workers while they were rain-proofing it.

But I didn’t just notice those boots–I noticed their absence. I’ve been checking that roof for more weird shit to photograph since moving into this apartment, so how did I miss this controller? And how long has it been out there?

It could’ve been tossed out there this past week in a really unfortunate burst of lockdown-gaming rage (it’s a PS4 controller though, so I doubt it, because Mario Kart isn’t on PS4).

Or it could’ve been a bizarre, bottle-flipping challenge? The kind where you get only one turn? No. That doesn’t make sense.

If I had to write a story about it, the protagonist would’ve stolen his friend’s only PS4 controller and put it on that roof as a prank directly before lockdown. Maybe he can see the friend’s window from his room, so he just waits for the reaction. Maybe he sends texts with hints about where the controller is, assuming his friend is looking, but that friend never answers. Never appears at the window. The protagonist doesn’t go crazy (too ham-fisted) but does devote way too much attention to that friend’s reaction, going through the trouble of moving things in his room so he can sit where he can both play his own video games and watch the old red curtains of his friend’s room.

But, of course, as time goes on and that friend doesn’t show up, the protagonist gets impatient–sends texts that are never answered. Maybe Summer comes and the protagonist’s parents put his AC back in his window so he can’t sit there anymore.

And then, maybe he starts to forget about it. His parents just leave the AC in the window until it snows. They finally take it out, but the roof is covered with snow, so our protagonist can’t even see the controller, the gag forced into hiatus.

And so maybe the protagonist completely forgets about the prank until the following Spring, when he looks out the window and realizes the controller’s gone. No triumphant text from his friend. No smug look from the window.

No idea if his friend took the controller back or even saw it there, water-logged and sun-dried.

Ultimately, it would be a story about a stupid kid, sitting at a window, finally noticing that the red curtains across the way, in his friend’s room, are blue now.

2019 – One of the Worst & Most Important Years of My Life

I had . . . plans for this year.

Thinking back to January, I remember being bright-eyed with wonder and excitement about my creativity.

I don’t remember why.

I’m not saying I lost my love for writing this year. I just got hit by life so hard that I genuinely don’t remember why I was so peppy about my projects when the year started.

The goals were:

  1. Finish editing “Nurture Garden 5” and send it out.
  2. Write a short story for Warframe, a looter shooter MMO I used to play.
  3. Finish as much of The Hand and the Tempest as I could.
  4. Work on my board game idea.
  5. Work on other, smaller ideas I had.
  6. Post here more often.

I got two of those things done and had a really good start on the last one before everything fell completely to shit.

I had a medical emergency that turned out to be a false alarm. It consumed a few weeks of my life, which totally sucked, but it left me with a really positive outlook on the rest of the year. “Holy shit,” I thought. “I’m okay! Life is amazing and every day is a blessing!”

I had maybe a month of that–during which I put in a ton of work on that board game idea–before an extremely abusive (like, genuinely abusive) person came back into my life. In that scenario, which I’ve previously mentioned here, I had to move out of my home. My entire life became consumed by that singular goal so completely that even after I found a new place, I just remained in crisis mode. Like, now that I’d found a place, I had to make sure all of my stuff was secure. Once my stuff was secure, I had to save money. Once I saved money, I had to make genuine steps toward getting a better job. Once I started volunteering at a library’s conservation lab, I finally calmed down enough to start writing again.

So, basically, I moved in the summer, spent three months trying to get settled, and only then picked up a pen again.

I had lost all momentum on Hand and the Tempest. I’d already been struggling with it, but now it was like looking at a wall. The furthest I’ve gotten was realizing that I hated a lot of the new stuff and just needed to cut it out and start over (ya know–typical writer fun).

I actually finished that Warframe short story, but I was right-now-years-old when I remembered that I had. I mean, it’s nice that I did, but writing a short for an MMO, to post on a game dev’s forum, is the most 2018-Louis idea ever. Like, I only did a quick first draft one afternoon, but I . . . do not know what I expected to come of that. Not even sure the devs would’ve read it. Whatever. I’ll post it here at some point, just for kicks.

The only thing I finished was that heavy edit of “Nurture Garden 5,” which, submitted in April . . . still has not received a rejection or acceptance, even after a query. I’m giving it ’til Christmas. Googling “how do I withdraw a fiction submission?” will be my Christmas gift to myself.

Outside of that, I started hoarding ideas.

It wasn’t intentional; it stemmed from my desire to work on small ideas, number 5 on my 2019 to-do list. Oddly, it yielded good results (I actually finished two short stories by pursuing two of the best concepts I had), but the hoarding reflex also got crazy. Like, high-school-Louis levels of idea hoarding (back when I wrote notes about my “books” without actually writing them).

But that’s just how this year worked for some reason. Massive set backs paired with bunches of small victories; one of the above-mentioned shorts was “American Made,” which is probably the cleanest, strongest short story I’ve ever written, but the process that yielded it also totally destroyed my focus. I want to write everything now, which is amazing–it doesn’t escape me that I need to be grateful for that–but I keep jumping from project to project, unable to focus on the tone for any of them.

And that’s where I am now.

The Good: I’ve already submitted “American Made.” I finished another short story (that I’m currently doing way too much research for so I can properly theme it). I have other shorts in the works (an 80’s action movie parody and another dark Sci-Fi), and I’ve started a folder for all of my viable ideas.

The Bad: Every day is now a constant stream of my brain processing stimuli as “a good description for setting b in story a. Or no–wait; would it be better for the theme of story g? Or wait! An intro paragraph to character x’s neighborhood?”

It . . . can be . . . kind of overwhelming.

So resetting–figuring out how to hunker down and work on the one project–is my resolution for 2020.

Maybe I’ll find that I won’t be able to. If that’s the case, then figuring out how to work on a ton of projects at once is my resolution for 2020.

And with that, I’m going to take a break from posting until January.

To everyone here, thank you for stopping by. It’s been a strange year for me, and 2020, for better or worse, is already set to be a rollercoaster.

Here’s to hoping it ends well.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

The Mandalorian & the Exciting Use of Danger

Last week, I wrote a giant post that was highly critical of one writing habit.

And I did so . . . after endeavoring to be more positive on this blog.

I definitely don’t want to delete that post, cause it’s full of criticisms I stand by (I will always think it’s bad when logic takes center stage in any Rule of Cool story, not just anime [although popular anime is usually fueled by the Rule], because the resulting logic is often terrible).

However, I will balance the criticism by talking about a writing habit I absolutely love in another hammy, Rule of Cool story.

Today we’re talking about making your protagonist vulnerable . . . with The Mandalorian!

The Paradox of Realistic Danger

A big hurdle for popular fiction writers is presenting believable danger to their audience.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s something any particular writer struggles with; it’s just an issue for the entire genre. People watching a show will see a protagonist flung into extreme danger, a-a-a-and commercial break.

Eyes usually go half-lidded. “Uh huh. I’m sure Batwoman is going to die in Season 1, Episode 4.”

Unless you’re a kid (or reading / watching Game of Thrones), the excitement doesn’t come from the belief that your protagonist could actually die. The excitement comes from wondering, “How are they gonna get outta this one?”

But, naturally, excitement only really comes from that question . . . if the audience can’t easily predict the answer.

In modern entertainment there’s an extreme bent toward the untouchable badass. The perfect hero who kick flips off a rocket or dodges the giant sword by sliding under it, only the very end of a single lock of their hair cut by the blade (in slow motion). There are IP’s that do this intentionally to great effect (One Punch Man is a fun example), but more often than not the goal of the perfect badass is to sate power fantasy.

The thing is, whenever danger is concerned, perfect badass stories are extremely predictable. If an invincible superhero walks into a warehouse full of thugs, danger doesn’t come into play at all; the enjoyment in that scene is derived from watching the hero kick ass. But, at this point, there are only so many new, inventive ways for that hero to kick ass. I’m sure an argument can be made that there are actually a ton.

But even if there are, the end result of that warehouse scene is always the same. The perfect hero beats the shit out of everyone without breaking a sweat. End scene.

But . . . what if it wasn’t always that easy?

What if a story staring a badass protagonist . . . showed that, at the very least, that protagonist had to struggle to get by?

In my opinion, that wouldn’t just make the story way better, it would force the writer to be more creative.

The Vulnerable Mandalorian

I expected The Mandalorian to be a non-stop montage of slow-motion dodging, tacticool trick shots, and shaky cam.

I thought it was going to be a massively boring, masturbatory look at a fan-favorite character (because I assumed the Mandalorian in question was Boba Fett).

I’m so glad I was surprised.

In episode 1 of The Mandalorian, the Mandalorian is [not a spoiler] searching for a bounty. Naturally [also not a spoiler], there are complications. You know that there’s no way the protagonist is going to die in episode 1 . . . but the danger he finds himself in is so intense that you might actually blink. You might actually say, “I really have no idea how the hell he’s getting out of this.”

And that’s probably because, 10 minutes previous, your badass, strong-silent-type protagonist . . . [minor spoiler] almost died.

Yeah–in the pilot, the writers included a scene where the Mandalorian absolutely would’ve been killed had someone else not intervened. And, to be clear, he didn’t just nearly die; he nearly died in a way that would’ve been extremely embarrassing for a perfect badass. Was that the show suggesting its protagonist might actually die? Hell no.

But it was the show saying, loud and clear, “This perfect badass ain’t perfect.”

With that one scene, a balance was struck. The Mandalorian is great at killing things and tracking bounties. He looks really cool and his armor is super strong.

But he is not invincible.

In fact, even in moments when the Mandalorian does survive a confrontation, he’s lost his armor as a result, or has gone out of his way to say, “My armor only protected me from this range,” making it clear that it’s extremely dangerous to be a bounty hunter in the Outer Rim.

And that not only makes the show more exciting and interesting (the Mandalorian has been defeated a few times now and almost died maybe thrice?), but it establishes rules that force its writing team to be more creative, which is always a good thing in my opinion.

See, if the Mandalorian was invincible, then they’d be stuck writing scenes where he just walks into a room, lets people shoot at him, and then headshots all of them. There would be zero danger, and the writing team would fall into the same pitfall as others writing perfect badasses: trying to make them kill or beat up all 18 thugs in a way that’s actually new and interesting.

As is, with the Mandalorian being vulnerable, the writers definitely have more rules to stick to (i.e. “the Mandalorian can’t survive a point blank shot from a sniper rifle”), but that forces them to get more creative, which makes for a more unique, interesting story.

How? Prime example: in one episode, the Mandalorian’s armor gets completely destroyed. It’s a trade off from another confrontation where definitely he would’ve died. If the writers had just gone the easiest route possible, he would’ve killed his opponent with no problem and come out without a scratch. A level below that (but still totally unrealistic): He would’ve had a hard time with that opponent, getting knocked around, but the damage would’ve been limited to typical, Hollywood “fight dirt,” as I call it; his armor would’ve looked dirty to convey that he was beaten up, but a few minutes later, he would be functionally back to tip-top shape. As it was presented, however, with him losing his armor, following the rule that it couldn’t protect him from anything, the writers were forced to create some way he gets that armor back.

Thus the scenes at the Mandalorian Forge. Which, ya know, if you haven’t seen the show, just know that they’re cool worldbuilding moments, used to convey things about Mandalorian culture but also the social setting of the story.

Now, I can’t pretend that the writing team thought of all of this in the order I’ve presented, but I do think that, had the Mandalorian just been another perfect badass, the likelihood that we would’ve gotten those forge scenes would’ve been significantly less.

And, to me, that trade off wouldn’t have been worth it at all.

In fact, blanket statement here: trading creativity to appease power fantasy is never, ever worth it in my book.

All I Can Really Say Is Give It a Shot

This is another one of those points when I have to stop and clarify that, hey, I’m not a published novelist. The ideas stated here are just my ideas about writing, which I at least try to do every day. I cannot say “perfect badasses suck and no one likes them” because that isn’t true. Full disclosure: I’ve absolutely written a perfect badass character before and she’s one of my favorites.

But I can and will say, hey, if you’re struggling to write a story with a super powerful protagonist–if you don’t feel like the danger in their adventure is ever really palpable, and the end product feels silly–why not try dialing back that protagonist’s powers? You don’t have to make them all-the-way vulnerable, but maybe you can establish rules for what their armor / powers / knowledge can and can’t handle.

To be clear, I’m not saying to give them kryptonite, cause that is an easy solution used so often that it’s also wildly predictable. I’m saying . . . maybe don’t make them impervious to bullets, and don’t make them perfectly, unrealistically able to dodge them either.

At the very least, I promise it’ll make it easier for you to create genuine suspense in your WIP.

~~~

Well, that’s it for this one. Excited to be putting out two in a row. I have a backlog of posts to write, some of which I was extremely excited for, but never got around to because of the day job and my WIP. I’m hoping to circumnavigate the persistent end-of-year depression I always go through, so I’ll keep working posts into my schedule.

Still waiting on replies for short stories I sent out, but I did start writing a new Sci-Fi short as well. Of course, it’s another dark one (Black Mirror really opened up the floodgates for me). I’ll do an update post next week to share what the year has been like and lay down plans for 2020.

Anyway, thank you for passing by and giving this post a read. If you’d like to see more, you can give me a follow with the button to the left side of the screen, and if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Anime Logic – A Warning

A kid arrives at the top of a mountain to take an exam.

Not a pencil and paper exam, of course, cause this is anime.

No, our protagonist is taking an    [insert made-up anime profession here]    exam. Ninja? Hunter? Pokemon Master? Doesn’t matter.

All that matters: it’s an exam designed to be harder than any other exam ever. Cause, of course it is.

Without a doubt, there will be a physical portion to the exam. It’s going to be ridiculous, but that’s fine; it’s anime, so you have to expect the kid to pass the test by roundhouse kicking a crab monster into the stratosphere. Sure.

However . . . there’s also going to be a mental side of the exam–some kind of insane logic problem–and that’s where things get dicey. Not for the general public–there’s no danger in most people enjoying it.

But for writers . . . eh. We can be extremely impressionable when we’re young. I’m sure there’s the odd writer out there who wasn’t, but most of us decide we want to write and then spend years aping our favorite stories and writers–the beginnings of developing our own voices. Not a bad thing . . .

. . . unless our favorite stories and writers employee really, really bad writing habits that we pick up from them. Habits that ruin our writing for years.

Habits . . . like writing a mental test for a young boy’s Spelunker Exam (it’s probably been done) and filling it with as much completely backwards, nonsense anime logic as you can because . . . you grew up with anime logic and genuinely think it’s cool.

I’m not here to roast you. I’m just here to warn you.

What is anime logic and why shouldn’t anyone write it ever?

To break it down as simply as I can, anime logic is the Rule of Cool applied to human rationale.

The Rule of Cool, if you’re not familiar, is the rule dictating that any elements of a story (characters, settings, etc.) need to be cool first and foremost.

When the Rule of Cool is applied to anime action, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but enjoyable to watch for a lot of people.

But when the Rule of Cool is applied to logic . . . it’s hell.

Example: Two protagonists are in a killer’s dungeon. The killer has sent them through a series of rooms that test different abilities, like strength, speed, endurance. Now, they’re up to the intelligence test, which is a man holding up a piece of paper. The challenge: they have to predict what’s written on the side of the paper that they can’t see.

Whoa-a-a-a-a-a. There’s no fucking way they could ever do that.

The characters spend an entire episode fretting to each other (and in internal monologue) about what’s on the far side of that piece of paper. There’s a bunch of anime gasping when they realize there’s no mirror on the back wall, that the paper is totally opaque, and that, even if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be enough light in the dungeon to see through it anyway.

Maybe you think, “Literally just run up to the fucking guy, take the piece of paper, and read it. Who fucking cares? This is a stupid test.”

But, ah-ha! The writer thought of that too! And pretty much at the same moment in this scene that you thought of it, because now the killer is on the loud speaker saying, “And don’t even think about running up and taking that piece of paper, because,” and you can almost hear the writer stammering, “uh, because there’s a fucking bomb on this guy’s back! Ha! If you move even an inch closer, it’ll set off the detonator!”

And, maybe now you think, “The paper’s blank. It doesn’t say anything on the back of it, and there’s no bomb.” It probably popped into your mind super lazily.

But, if it’s a really bad anime, the same solution will have occurred to the writer–again, at the same time it occurred to you–only the writer thought it was the coolest, most genius thing ever, and they’re going with it.

Now the writer’s concern is getting the characters to figure it out. Only the writer is convinced that the paper being blank is genius-level logic that a normal person couldn’t possibly fathom, so you get a monologue like this:

“There can’t possibly be anything on the other side of the piece of paper, because the killer knows that there’s absolutely no way for us to see it. The killer just wants to make us afraid, because, when people experience fear, they make random choices. Fight or flight dictates that we scramble to escape a dangerous situation, but if we master our fear, and calmly assess our surroundings, then we’re able to think outside of the box. To see the game the way he sees it. To understand that he just wants us to think we can’t win . . . Isn’t that right?”

And, of-fucking-course, the loud speaker crackles on. “Hmph. How very astute of you,” the killer says, cause the writer is either totally gassed about this genius puzzle he made, or he/she is literally trying to tell you, “Wow. That character is smart,” or, “That puzzle really did make sense.” Characters say shit like that all the time in anime; I watched the anime where one character’s accidental catchphrase was, “That makes sense,” because he was the brainy character and the writer used him to sell faulty logic constantly.

I mean, you literally just described an anime scene. Seriously, what was wrong with it?

Man, so many things.

First, the logic is completely backwards. The writer sat down with the intent to write a cool, impossible puzzle without considering what its solution would be, or even why the killer would present this puzzle. The solution came after, and, just like the puzzle, the solution also had to be really cool. With cool puzzle and cool solution in hand, the writer then had to retrofit everyone’s logic–and parts of the situation itself–to work with what was already there.

It is . . . the worst way to write a human logic puzzle, because human logic is not involved at all.

Second, as often happens with anime logic, the bullshit solution is 100% interchangeable with other bullshit solutions.

“There’s nothing written on the back of the paper . . . because there’s a drawing on it. When I was studying this killer’s file, I read that he used to make drawings in the psychiatric ward–one for every one of his victims.” I mean, sure. “It stands to reason that for this test, when he was so sure we’d fail, he’d kill us . . . with a drawing of our own. Isn’t that right?”

“Hmph. How very astute of you.”

Or . . .

“There’s . . . the number 43. Back when I was in a mental institution with the killer,” ?, “all of the inmates wore numbered straight jackets.” And, because it’s anime, “Those numbers were a warning of how dangerous each inmate was. Our killer . . . was number 99.” This anime is probably called BloodGeiss:99, btw. “It was a badge of honor for him, and he used to lord it over the rest of us. Used to call me number 43 to taunt me, but blah blah blah, I wanted to become the very best Killer Hunter, blah blah, he’s taunting us, blah blah, you get it.”

And, just to clarify here, the problem isn’t that the solution is unpredictable. Again, it’s that the puzzle makes so little sense, and was crafted with so little consideration for the logic behind it, that its solution is completely interchangeable with other solutions. Which means . . .

Third, it has nothing to do with the person presenting the logic test. I wrote up that puzzle and its three potential solutions in ten minutes. It was so easy because, from the start, it had nothing to do with the killer’s character beyond some surface-level, tag-number bullshit; with bad anime logic, the puzzle-provider’s character is never, ever the starting point. The Rule of Cool always dictates that the starting point is “What would be really cool here?”

Fourth, that makes it . . . completely pointless to engage with anime logic puzzles, because they ultimately mean and say nothing. They often are, at best, a way to extend a plot as easily as possible.

But, fifth–and most important, by far–anime logic is bad, because, if you use it in your manuscript . . . there’s a really good chance it’s just going to make you look like an idiot to other writers, agents, and editors. Again, it’s fine to enjoy anime logic if you aren’t a writer.

But, if you are, anime logic is a fucking death sentence. It’s embarrassing, it cheapens your work, and it’s going to make you look lazy and pompous at the same time.

Wow. Someone just vented.

Yeah. No kidding. I’ll totally own that. I just really hate this writing habit. I hate a lot of them, but I was just sick for four days straight, stuck inside with anime logic for hours.

Actually, let me explain–and get out of the frame of some bullshit dungeon puzzle scene I made up.

Hunter X Hunter is terrible. I usually don’t call out a specific writer or piece of media on here anymore, but while I was sick, I decided to give it a watch because a friend recommended it months ago.

And I absolutely despise that show, because it is almost exclusively anime logic mindfucks so pointless that, after binging a few episodes, nothing mattered anymore.

The Show: The protagonists have to run really far because a butler with no mouth told them to, but it’s actually a really smart test, cause, like, how far they gotta run though?

Me: Uh . . . Whatever. Continue.

Show: Omfg, dude, how they gonna get down from this tower?

Me: I dunno. Run down?

Show: There’re man-eating demon babies though.

Me: Oh, for fuck’s–I don’t know. Catch one of the babies?

Show: There’s a trap door.

Me: Wha–That’s the laziest . . . Whatever. Fucking–I don’t care. Good.

Show: Oh shit. There’s a scary Frankenstein-man they gotta fight.

Me: Aren’t they all ridiculously strong except for the comic relief? Why is this even a–

Show: Frankenstein-man ain’t strong though–he lyin’.

Me: I– . . . Oh my God! Holy shit, dude, I don’t care!

Show: Oh shit though; here comes a man with candles. Should the protagonist take the long one, or the short–

Me: AHHH!! Just . . . Why are you so determined to gotcha me with total fucking nonsense!? Why is this exam so goddamn long!? just want to see what the writer does after it’s done! Wait–the entire first season is the exam? Well then, how many episodes are there in this seas–52!?

. . . Yeah, I completely gave up on Hunter X Hunter about two hours ago. I started this post two days ago though, after I started watching it, because I could not get over the thought that there’s a writer out there who grew up on a show like this. A writer . . . who still hasn’t shaken anime logic.

That idea made me really, really upset, because I grew up on video games and wasted . . . –ugh, I just did the math–I wasted . . . eleven years drafting and redrafting a novel that was so heavily steeped in stupid video game ideas that I didn’t pay attention to the emotional heart of the story at all. The novel, War of Exiles (which even sounds like the title of a bad mobile game), said nothing. It made no arguments, presented no emotional challenges to the characters, the reader, or anyone else, because I didn’t think about any of that; I didn’t even consider that it could say or do something important, cause all I cared about was making my characters look cool.

I’m not saying that making your characters look cool is bad–I’m not even saying that the Rule of Cool is bad (the entire anime genre is built around it, and there’s some anime that I absolutely love.) However, I’m pretty confident in saying that when logic takes center stage in anime . . . it is almost always bad.

And when that anime logic appears in other places, it’s worse. I’ve read another writer’s work that was full of anime logic. I’ve even seen it in published works; my favorite example was from a horrible Romance novel, in which the protagonist avoided being kidnapped in a store . . . by stabbing herself with her kidnapper’s knife, to which the kidnapper said, “Hmph. Pretty clever,” cause of course.

I am not a pro by any means. I’ve only been published once, and I’m neither an agent nor an editor. I am on the same level as any aspiring writer out there.

But, as a writer, I know that the most valuable thing any of us can get is honest feedback.

And I’m telling you, with absolute honesty, that if you’ve used anime logic in anything you’ve written, getting rid of it–replacing it with genuine, human, character-motivated logic–will only make your work stronger.

~~~

Thanks for reading this absolute rant.

I’m currently trying to work my way out of the end-of-year funk I always fall into (starts in October and runs all the way to the start of the new year).

I’m in a strange position where I have a ton of projects I’m working on at the same time, meaning none of them are progressing quickly enough. On one hand, I’m grateful to have so many ideas that I feel deserve attention, but on the other, I’m massively stressed out about how slowly things are moving.

Contributing to that is the fact that I sent out one story in April and the magazine I sent it to still has not replied about it, even after I queried them two months ago, and they answered saying I would get a verdict “very soon.” I mean, you know things are bad when you’re genuinely like, “A rejection would be nice right now.”

Anyway, as always, thank you for passing by. If you like what you read here, feel free to give me a follow. I always want to post more frequently on here, but I’m a single man in his late 30’s who currently has two jobs, 8 WIP’s, and a board game he’s juggling; I’ll be completely honest this time and say I probably won’t be posting here again for another month or two.

And that’s why I extra appreciate everyone who sticks around. Thank you guys for the continued support! I hope you have a good holiday season, and, until next time, take care!

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . We Have Fan Art

This is going to be a short one.

But an extremely essential one.

A month or so ago, a friend of a friend asked to read “Aixa the Hexcaster.” It’s a request I get pretty rarely, and I understand why: nothing is worse for a non-writer than reading a writer’s work, finding out that it’s terrible, and having no idea how to tell them that.

So, when this friend of a friend texted me–pulling my number from the group chain we’d both been a part of during trips to PAX–I was surprised. The last time we’d hung out (during the previously-mentioned XenoPAX), we’d chatted over the massive set he’d made for Frostgrave, and laughed at a genuinely chaotic game of Gaslands, but that had all been in March.

Still, cool. Always nice to be asked, so I sent over a link.

About a month later, he wrote back and said that he really enjoyed it–that the mythics reminded him of monsters from Kingdom Death, which is an incredible compliment if you’ve ever seen the miniatures from that game (they’re often weird, sometimes beautiful, but always amazing).

He also asked if I had plans for more, expressed excitement for what he’d want to see . . .

. . . and dropped this on me:

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This . . . is . . . the unnamed asphalt mythic from “Aixa the Hexcaster,” rendered by Jesse Smolover, whose work can be found at his site, JesseDraws. And, although Jesse is a friend, this is still technically the first piece of fan art I’ve ever gotten.

I cannot express how badly I freaked out when I saw this. This was not a commission; I didn’t even joke about him doing art for the story, because he’s a professional artist and I never even considered being coy about the value of his time. Still, this man, who probably has a ton of other projects he’s working on, made this piece because, in his words, my story inspired it.

I can’t put into words how grateful I was to hear that. Every little bit of encouragement counts, and this is a whole other, totally new level of it for me.

To paint a picture of how badly I freaked out:

  1. This is the wallpaper for my phone.
  2. This is the lock screen for my phone.
  3. Now that it’s on my computer, it’s probably going to be the wallpaper for my computer.
  4. When I first downloaded it, my phone asked me if I wanted to replace it with an image of the same name . . . meaning I had already downloaded it, out of sheer, lightning-fast reflex, and didn’t remember. I still saved it again, just to be sure.
  5. I have told almost everyone about it–even people who didn’t know I’m a writer and clearly didn’t understand how big of a deal it was for me.
  6. And, of course, I have been writing like an absolute mad man lately.

Finished a new short story and submitted it. Also building a plot for another short story, while doing essential research to finish up a third.

And, of course, I’m working out a plot for more “Aixa.” I always intended to, but it was always on the back burner, behind other, huge novels that I keep struggling with. The plan now: write a novella for “Aixa.” It’s going to take a while because that world is really important to me (part of the fear has always been fucking it up), but the challenge of doing something that’s consistently resonant–a story that can’t survive without really strong, complicated emotions–wound up feeling essential to my writing. Why would I shy away from a really intense, emotional story . . . when that’s what I should always be writing?

Anyway, thank you for stopping by and joining me for this insanely uplifting landmark in my writing career. I’ll try to be a little more consistent with updates, maybe working them into the new schedule.

But, regardless, until next time, take care and write well.