V For Vendetta, 30 Years Later: Part I, Villainy

The first and most important thing to understand about V For Vendetta is that nobody is necessarily good, everyone is morally gray at best and reprehensible at worst. And on the latter end of that spectrum is the Norsefire regime, the brutal fascist dictatorship that has taken over England. The story is not subtle in portraying the horrors perpetrated by the regime, and they are consistently cast in a negative light. However, it does not simply end there. Adam Susan, the leader, is actually given a coherent set of beliefs that inform most of what he does (although crucially, not all of it, a lot of the nastiest stuff needs to be inferred, more on this later). And what’s so terrifying about this is that in a sick way, his ideology makes at least some sense. His country has survived nuclear war, and was in utter shambles when he and his followers took over. And he believes the way to keep the country together is strength, which he believes can only come through absolute unity. And how does he justify the oppressive behavior of this regime, be it the elimination of privacy, the harsh and brutal policing, or the censorship of all that does not absolutely conform to his ideology? Simple, he argues that liberty is a luxury he and his people cannot afford, the war put an end to such things. The only freedom he sees in any other system is freedom to starve, or to live in a chaotic world, which he will not allow. And the scariest thing about this is that the more you think about it, the more this particular part of his reasoning starts to make sense, at least within the context of the story. Britain only barely managed to escape total annihilation in a nuclear war, London was flooded, most of the countryside is just flat out gone, and without a strong structure holding the country together, it would likely suffer a lot worse. That said, of course, this is fascism we’re talking about, and that part of their logic does not exist in a vacuum. They still put people in concentration camps, still killed everyone who didn’t fit their eugenics ideals, as well as anyone who disagreed politically, and still effectively brainwash the population. You can argue about whether or not that last one makes sense for a monolithic government entity such as fascism, but the real deal breakers are, of course, the former two. The “justification” of this comes twofold, with Susan’s being in his final internal monologue. He claimed to speak with God, about every group who he would later exterminate. It is unclear what he believed God to have said back, but clearly it was nothing good. This apparent hallucination could explain a lot about his obsession with the Fate computer, as his constant anthropomorphization and apotheosis of it is a primary motivation for his character. The other justification comes much earlier, not from Susan, but from Lewis Prothero. And on that note, we should talk about Prothero himself. He is introduced as the propagandist known as the “Voice of Fate”, in a comparatively warm exchange between Derek Almond, head of The Finger (ie, the future gestapo), and Roger Dascombe, Prothero’s subordinate. The important standout here is that Dascombe mentions how Prothero collects dolls, and suggests it’s because he’s genuinely sensitive. The next scene with Prothero is with him on a train, telling a story about an encounter with some prostitutes, when he’s kidnapped by V and suddenly that notion is flipped on its head. See, Prothero used to run a concentration camp, he authorized all the human experimentation that went on there, and eventually, V brings up how he also worked the ovens. Ugh. This reframes his collecting of dolls as a much more disturbing trait. He cares more for porcelain dolls than he did about human beings, and it’s possible that his obsession with dolls comes from his rampant dehumanization of his victims and thus his ability to project that onto something that is inanimate, but the closest to miniature humans that inanimate objects can offer. With that in mind, how did he justify all the awful things they did? Well, his defense is “we had to, it was us or them”, which is of course the most pathetic and worthless excuse he could possibly offer. And how does V react? He doesn’t even grace it with a proper response, only responding with “perfectly” when Prothero asks if he understands before changing the subject and continuing to rake him over the coals for everything.  V, and by extension the book itself, does not accept any excuse for their ideals, and indeed, there is no excuse that could ever justify concentration camps. Larkhill itself is a pivotal element in the story, not only as the emergence of V, but also the reforming of Evey, the disillusioning of Finch, and a lot of important backstories, especially Prothero, Bishop Lilliman, and Dr. Surridge. Let’s go back to that third one. Finch, the head of The Nose (and yes, that is the dumbest name of a government bureau in the book), starts off as an investigator who is in charge of hunting down V. As the story goes on and Finch sees more of what his colleagues are like, he becomes more and more disillusioned with them and their ideals. And he becomes more and more desperate to catch V, so in an attempt to get inside his head, he gets his hands on some LSD and goes to the ruins of Larkhill, hoping to recreate the experience as best he can. The hallucinations start by making an old sugar sack on the fence look like a dismembered torso, but they quickly put him in the shoes of a different person, someone who was there at Larkhill when it was active, someone like who V once was. He’s reminded of everything they lost in exterminating everyone who was different from what they wanted, he sees a value none of his peers did. And he offers another pathetic excuse, which admittedly makes sense, as he apparently had no involvement in any of them or support of them, but the childish excuse of “we didn’t know the gravity of what we were doing” obviously does no better to justify the act of systemic extermination than the abysmal attempt by Prothero. The rest of his experience mirrors the mindset change experienced by V, and thoroughly challenges his loyalty to the Norsefire. Possibly the most notable part of this sequence, at least for me, is attaching humanity to the atrocities perpetuated by the Norsefire, and by extension, those of fascism in general. We’ll get MUCH more into this in a future article, but the attaching of human faces and identity to the horrors of fascism give the average person a much better sense of the tragedy and the sheer cruelty of everything that happened. This effect is visible in Finch, who can be seen walking off on his own, away from the remnants of his old life, at the very end of the book, and it’s done in the perfect way to make his transition believable. One more thing to address is that this is not the only trip through Larkhill present in the book. The real horror of Larkhill is in how we explore it from both sides. From the side of the victims through Finch and another source we’ll get to in a future part, and also from the side of the brutal regime through the diary of Delia Surridge, a doctor who Finch is particularly close with and former camp doctor at Larkhill. Introduced as a generally kind and compassionate sort, this is questioned upon finding out she used to work at a fucking concentration camp. When given the corpse of Bishop Lilliman’s retainer to autopsy, one of V’s roses comes with it, and she of course recognizes it immediately. It seems she really did become a more humane sort after emerging from Larkhill, because she clearly feels deep guilt and regret at what she did, and as such, when V comes to kill her, her primary emotion is gratitude. Her closest comparison to what her deeds at Larkhill say about her character is to compare it to a notorious psychological experiment wherein the subjects were led to believe they were torturing a person, and almost 60% of them continued administering the shocks even after being convinced the subject had died. Seeing how she draws this parallel, it is clear that her opinion on human nature is extremely bleak, so much so that it would be too bleak for a YA dystopian novel. Yet in this case, it makes perfect sense as a result of her past deeds and self reflection after she was, presumably, traumatized by the events where V escaped. After her death at his hands, Finch finds her diary and presents it to Susan, and by extension, the audience. It is a horrifying account of her time at Larkhill, horrifying in how dryly she persents everything. The dehumanizing nature of it all is apparent from minute one, as when she describes first meeting all the prisoners, she describes them as so pathetic that they brought out feelings of hatred from her and make her physically sick, and she is unambiguous in that dehumanization, outright saying “they’re hardly human”. And it doesn’t stop there. The dry way she catalogs the various deaths and horrific conditions her experiments cause in constant dehumanizing language that boils people down to little more than a single defining trait (race, sexuality, etc), sometimes a name, and nothing else, shows perfectly how little she, and by extension the Norsefire as a whole, care about the humanity and individuality of the people they trample and exterminate. When discussing certain deaths, she would only mention them as a sort of footnote  The next important pair to deal with are Conrad and Helen Heyer, Conrad being the head of The Eye, and Helen his conniving wife with ambitions of being unofficial Leader. While he get a little to say in the beginning when all the heads of departments are giving reports on V, it doesn’t offer any real insight on his personality. We get that in the sixth chapter of Act 1. In a conversation with Almond and Rosemary, it becomes clear that Conrad is extremely milquetoast, if not outright spineless, and Helen is practically controlling him. We don’t get a peep out of either of them until Act 3, where this is reinforced, and it further establishes that Helen is clearly a schemer up to something nefarious. Soon after, we see her recruiting Scottish gangster Ally Harper for a planned assassination of Peter Creedy (we’ll get to him), and later on, a scene of her pushing Conrad around while remarking on how obvious it is that Susan’s upcoming public appearance is a plot by Creedy. This makes her affair with Harper (revealed shortly after) a lot less surprising, and it is in this moment we learn her real plan. If Harper kills Creedy and becomes head of The Finger, it puts Conrad in the perfect position to become the next Leader, and Helen can act as a puppeteer from the shadows, with her making a direct comparison to Eva Perón. V happens to be watching, and he makes a tape, mailing it to Conrad right before everything goes mad. As a result, the first part of Helen’s plan goes along perfectly, with Harper killing Creedy and assuming control of The Finger. However, then that goes awry when Conrad lays in wait for him at his house and then beats him to death with a wrench over his affair with Helen. But then, Harper manages to slice a vein in his throat with a razor, and he’s left bleeding heavily when Helen returns. She, of course, is furious, and leaves him to stare into a camera like the ones he spent all his life working as he presumably bleeds to death on the floor. The last time we see her, she’s had to take shelter with a group of homeless people, and they’re getting a little too… molest-y. She blows up at Finch one last time, and it’s unknown what happened after that. So, character wise, I would say Conrad is the most genuinely likable member of the Norsefire, aside from perhaps Finch. Despite being the chief spy, and also a supposed voyeur, he is the kind of milquetoast who is sympathetic, and seeing him rise up and fight out of genuine love for his wife is at least something we as an audience can get behind, fascist though he is. Helen, on the other hand, is flat out reprehensible. Her scheming to put Conrad on top with her puppeting him is at least understandable, but her continuous mistreatment of him is almost sickening to watch. That more or less wraps them up, they aren’t especially deep or complex per se. Neither is Derek Almond, the original head of The Finger. Even more despicable than Helen Heyer, Almond is unceasingly abusive to his wife Rosemary, constantly shutting her up, frequently beating her, and even explicitly threatening to shoot her. He is every bit as brutal and harsh towards everyone else, save for Susan (and I suspect that’s down to understanding what would happen if he ever tried). This makes his death at the hands of V extremely cathartic, but the interesting part is what happens to Rosemary. Left without a source of income and also kicked out of her house for whatever reason, she’s forced to shack up with Dascombe, despite absolutely hating him. Then Dascombe is killed by The Finger (due to the actions of V), and she’s stuck out on the street again, forced to work as a showgirl to survive. Then she buys a gun from Harper, and the final piece of the perfect storm falls into place. It is a coincidence so monumental that not even the best laid plan could produce so amazing a result. The plans and actions of no fewer than 5 characters create the ultimate catastrophic series of events to bring down the Norsefire regime entirely. What is especially important is the thought process of Rosemary, a mixture of resentment for all the sacrifices made in pursuit of his vision, anger at what he did to them all, understanding that it was him and those like him that brought them into this nightmare, and sheer hatred of him because she knows him well, they’ve met many times, her husband died for his cause, she was put through a nightmare as a result, and he can’t even be bothered to remember who she is. So she kills him, and chaos begins. And on that note, it’s time to talk about Peter Creedy, the successor to Almond as head of the Finger, and one of the orchestrators of this perfect storm. Of all the Norsefire, he is probably the least developed, at least of those who get proper screen time. He is an extremely simple character, perhaps unusually so. He wants to be Leader, and he schemes to achieve that, recruiting Harper first, and later being the one who convinces Susan to take that car trip which brought about the end of the government. And then he was betrayed by Harper, because Helen Heyer had a better offer, and he dies ingloriously, his throat slashed by a razor blade. Perhaps an end befitting so flat a character. His first introduction is after the death of Dascombe, when he makes a crude comment to Finch and is punched in the face. Most of his other character defining moments are scheming to plot out his coup, with the exception of his conversations with Susan, wherein he is unceasingly sycophantic. Similar to Almond, no doubt, in that he knows full well that anything else would get him killed. The only other member of the Norsefire who is given any characterization is Dascombe, a coded-queer radio broadcaster who nonetheless flirts with Rosemary after the death of Almond, up until he himself is shot by police due to V forcing him into the costume. There isn’t much to him either, aside from the implication that Susan saved him from the camps because of his talent as a propagandist, despite the fact that everyone, especially Almond, sees the coding all over him. That is an interesting idea, but it is inconsistent with everything characterized about the regime thus far. That more or less wraps up all the individual members.

The Norsefire regime, despite all the stupid department names, is a better portrayal of a fascist regime than most others can ever hope to be. Despite humanizing most of the major department heads, it pulls no punches on how ruthless and brutal the government is, and the heads of every department (except Finch) embody all the worst things about their respective departments. Susan is a fucking maniac who serves as the textbook picture of everything wrong with fascism, Almond is cruel and brutal, Heyer is a voyeur, Creedy is cowardly and conniving, Prothero is slippery and has a frankly vile view of people as shown through his doll collection, and Dascombe is manipulative and spiteful (Rosemary confirms he’s only flirting with her to get back at Almond, who disliked him). It’s a way of putting a human face on the monster that is fascism, and unlike attempts by literal fascists to do the same, V for Vendetta never pretends for an instant that these people are in any way anything more than scum. It is no coincidence that the most likable character is Finch, a police officer who doesn’t really believe in the fascist ideals much, he just wants to catch a terrorist who at one point killed his lover, and as he’s exposed to the shit the regime has done firsthand over the course of the story, his allegiance falters, outright abandoning the system at the end once it starts to collapse, and he is fully disillusioned with them after seeing the horrors of Larkhill with his own eyes. Nor is it a coincidence that Conrad Heyer, the meek and pathetic head of the Eye, is the only other sympathetic member of the entire government, as his job is the least offensive of all those given any kind of distinction in the story. Indeed, every department head is characterized in such a way that the magnitude of their redeeming elements is in inverse proportion to how bad their job is. Finch’s is largely innocuous, and the only one that exists in non-authoritarian governments. Then Conrad’s, while a gross invasion of privacy, is not, on its own, as bad as the others. Then Dascombe and Prothero’s is systematically lying to people and gaslighting them about everything notable that happens. Then Almond and Creedy’s is the most horrific of them all, their jobs are rounding up and killing people the government dislikes for whatever reason. And at the head of it all is Susan, the source of everything bad the regime has ever done. And Susan is indeed the most horrible of them all, in no way is the book subtle about this. He’s a madman, worshiping his computer to the point where he is literally in love with it. He’s not only insane in that regard, it is confirmed in that fateful car ride that he is literally incapable of feeling anything for other people, although after V plays mind games with him, he decides to try anyway because without his computer, they’re all he has left. And his immediate death at the hands of Rosemary is a direct answer to the idea of someone with so horrible a track record as Susan deciding to reform so late into their life: too little, too late. And it’s also no coincidence that Finch, the only one whose loyalty to the government ever falters, is the only one of the Norsefire to survive the story (except for Prothero, but give me a little slack here). This is a clear distinction on the book’s view on fascism, the only high ranking fascist to survive is the one who quits, and it’s not like any of the others die peacefully. Susan is shot in the head, and the result is that half of his head is completely pulverized, Almond is stabbed in the chest, Creedy has his throat slashed, Dascombe is shot who even knows how many times, and Conrad gets cut with a razor blade and left to die on the floor, desperately begging for his wife to help him while helplessly laying there in a pool of his own blood. Yeah, this book is not kind to any of them. Which is perhaps fitting, it is their comeuppance for all the horrible things their regime has wrought over the years.

The characterization and story progression of the high ranking Norsefire officials is a unique take on fascism that has never quite been done so perfectly before or since. Not only does it give a little humanity to the keystone figures of a fascist government, but it is clear that said humanity does nothing to excuse their crimes, nor are they particularly likable by any ordinary standard. It is a genuinely fantastic way to characterize them, because it’s exactly what they needed to be as foils to V, who is on the other end of crazy and… haha, I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll get to him. Oh trust me, we’ll get to him. But that’s for another time, as for this particular group, well, that’s really all there is to say about them.

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Kill la Kill’s Openings and Conveyance of Information

Contains spoilers

Kill la Kill is, as I have said before, one of the most fun shows I have ever seen. However, as I have rewatched it again and again, I have come to realize my previous article was WOEFULLY inadequate in conveying just how much I love this show, every aspect of it is ripe for an article if not a book on how brilliant it is. So today I’m talking about the OPs, which are both utterly fantastic, not just for the high octane music, beautiful animation, and how perfectly they sync up, but also in how well they convey important information to the viewer and how much symbolism is packed into them. This seems to be a thing most people aren’t talking about, so I figured I would, because these are genuinely underappreciated for the things they do the best.

The first OP, Sirius, begins with the title characters flashing to the beat of the drum, and then a full display of the title of the show as Life Fibers start to encroach on the screen, eventually coming together and forming the central divide of a shot of Ryuko and Satsuki, which we’ll come back to later. This shot appearing so early on suggests how important this rivalry is going to be, immediately following the title card and having a faded image of the title still visible implies that the show is built around these two and their rivalry, which is extremely accurate for the part of the show wherein this OP is used. Then we start with an aerial view of Honnouji Academy in a style identical to the spy satellites Inumuta uses on occasion, and then it zooms in to a panning shot of the academy itself, panning down over the city and multiple lines of students. The students all wear the same uniform and have one of seven different faces, which shows how the academy cuts them all of the same cloth, and contrasts them with Ryuko, who emerges in the foreground in a burst of light that simultaneously resembles the entrance of the school and the star on their uniforms, and we get a full panning shot of her in Senketsu, giving a defiant look to the camera, before he’s sliced off diagonally, which is both a fanservice shot and identical to the way Nui slashes him in episode 13, and Ryuko herself slashes him in episode 21. The next five shots are quick stills of Ryuko sleeping, crouching angrily, eating a lemon, blushing with embarrassment at Senketsu, and getting right up in the camera’s proverbial face with a defiant expression. These all symbolize her delinquent attitude, weird personality quirks, and mortification at what Senketsu looks like when transformed. Then we get a pan down of the Honnouji Elite Four, in the order of Gamagoori, Sanageyama, Jakuzure, then Inumuta, which is also the order in which they first appear (Gamagoori at the start of the show, then Sanageyama pummeling Fukuroda, then Jakuzure making a snarky comment, and finally Inumuta scouring for data). Their poses are all indicative of their general personalities. Gamagoori has his arms folded behind his back, suggesting his strict adherence to rules in an almost militaristic fashion, Sanageyama has his arms crossed over his chest, free of his jacket sleeves, which simultaneously conveys being laid back and being a punk/delinquent, Jakuzure is upside down, smirking, and messing with a baton, setting her up as kind of silly and sarcastic, and Inumuta has one arm straight and the other folded while he observes the camera with an expression suggestive of studying it. The shot continues through Mako’s family posing goofily, and then Mako herself actually pumping a fist energetically, indicating her status as a Genki Girl. Next is Mikisugi slicking his hair back, and Tsumugu gruffly looking at the camera while facing away from it. Then the camera pans up on Satsuki, looking down on it all, in her classic pose with the sword in front of her. We get a shot mirroring the one of Ryuko staring at the camera, but with a completely different pose and expression, conveying coolness rather than defiance. And then Junketsu is slashed off her in a mirror angle to the way Senketsu was slashed off Ryuko, setting up a parallel between them. The next four shots are Satsuki posing with Bakuzan at her side, about to slash the camera, sticking her feet out while drinking Soroi’s tea, and angrily shouting. Because she gets four and not five, this sets her up as being almost as important as Ryuko, but not quite. Then we get a sequence of Ryuko’s transformation, which, though lacking in extra meaning, is at least visually impressive. And in the version shown in the first three episodes, Senketsu looks noticeably different from how he does in the episodes themselves, giving away the change to come. The next shot is one of my favorites, as the hands of the academy students join together to form the signature red and black pattern of Life Fibers, suggesting the power of the Goku Uniforms and the common purpose of the academy were key things binding all students together. Then it pans out to Ryuko facing the academy, showing how the academy is ultimately the challenge she seeks to overcome, and then we get this fantastic shot of panning from her face to a selection of the club leaders she fought against, and then the Elite Four all get moments of showing off, and again in the same order, Gamagoori bursting from the ground, Sanageyama slashing his bamboo sword, Jakuzure blasting music, and Inumuta dissolving into data. And then it pans up the tower of the academy while zooming in to reveal Satsuki looking down on it all, still in her pose with Bakuzan clasped in front of her. The camera then zooms in on Ryuko from above as she activates Decapitation Mode on the scissor blade, looking up fiercely and roaring as she leaps up to fight, Satsuki responding to her challenge, and the two trading a few blows until the background dissolves and they’re left facing opposite each other, Ryuko facing to the right, and Satsuki upside down and facing to the left, in a manner similar to the Yin/Yang symbol, further emphasizing their contrast. Ryuko’s hand reaches up and forms a fist, signaling both victory and defiance, and then it cuts to the final shot of Ryuko and Satsuki, divided by the line of Life Fibers. Oh boy, this shot. This shot is absolutely perfect, it tells you everything you need to know about Ryuko, Satsuki, their rivalry, and their positions in society, especially Honnouji Academy itself. How deep is it? Well, let’s unpack everything about it. Satsuki is in white, her design is deliberately evocative of a military uniform, meaning she has a position in the pecking order of Honnouji Academy, and she’s looking down at the camera, meaning she has an extremely high position, or indeed, is at the very top. Her hairstyle is very collected, her face is cool but stern, her chin is stuck out, and her eyes are designed to be in this position, which works to suggest her haughtiness on an instinctual level. Meanwhile Ryuko is dressed in dark colors as an inverse, her design is a lot more rough, she’s looking up at the camera, suggesting both her position on the bottom of the ladder and her goal to climb it and face Satsuki, her hairstyle is much more unruly and has punky red streaks in it, suggesting a delinquent personality, her eyes are designed for looking up, which is both aesthetically pleasing and suggests how she looks at everything as a massive challenge to be tackled. Their contrasting color schemes suggest that their personalities and worldviews are very different and at odds with each other, while their similar facial features suggest that perhaps they do have some things in common on a base level (both in blood and in attitude), and their paralleled expressions reinforce this. And the Life Fibers dividing them show how the issue of Life Fibers, and the system and goals of Honnouji Academy, a system built around them, divide the two characters ideologically. All this info is packed into a single shot, and it perfectly conveys who both characters are, what they’re like, and how they play off each other, all in a single wordless frame. This is the perfect example of conveying visual information, and a shot that has thoroughly earned its iconic status.

The second OP, Ambiguous, opens with another zooming overhead shot of Honnouji Academy, but this time, Ryuko herself is in it, and it continues to zoom into Senketsu and the Life Fibers stitching him together, setting up how crucial they are to the story. Spotlights highlight some important credits, and a runway leads up to a series of shots featuring every main character in every major outfit they’ve worn in the series thus far, with poses befitting their personalities. Then we get shots of two runways, One with Ryuko, Mako, and Nudist Beach on it, and the other with Satsuki, the Elite Four, and her followers on it. Though these are unmistakably separate, both sides are ultimately going the same way, indicating that even though they walk different paths, ultimately they have the same goal, and the camera shows us what’s at the end of both runways, their common enemies of Ragyo, Nui, and Hououmaru, all in poses befitting their personalities, Ragyo looking down on everything with a shit-eating grin, Nui posing like a huge goofball, and Hououmaru standing sternly. Then the entire background is consumed by a horde of One-Star students, and it cuts into this FUCKING AMAZING sequence of Ryuko and Satsuki blasting piles of them into the air and running up a mountain  of them to clash swords as airborne students fall around them. Also, Satsuki is left-handed, which is kinda cool. They fall to earth as the mountain collapses around them, smashing up rocks, and their slashes send spurts of blood all over, dyeing the stones red to form the title. And then we get these lovely little panning shots of both of them completely naked and bound in Life Fibers. Now, most people would write this off as simple fanservice, but this misses the symbolism inherent to it. You see, Ryuko is posed like she’s struggling against her bonds, and behind her are the eyes of a Kamui, not the single eye of Senketsu, but the twin eyes of Junketsu, meaning this is symbolic of when she was forced into Junketsu by Ragyo and Nui, and basically mind controlled by it. Meanwhile, Satsuki is in the same pose as when she was held captive by Ragyo, with the markings of COVERS in the background, meaning this represents her time held captive within Honnouji Academy and the looming threat of COVERS. Then we get shots of the Mk.II Elite Four, Nudist Beach, Mako’s family eating croquettes, Ragyo and Nui, and finally Ryuko and Satsuki giving mirrored defiant glares at the camera, hinting at their common parentage and eventual teaming up. This is also the shot from when they each took half the scissor blade in Episode 24. Then the title is back again, crushed between the two halves of the scissor blade, and eventually they clash, and for a split second, they form a complete pair of scissors, all in the color red, symbolizing the moment Ryuko took back the second half from Nui and reunited the two. And finally, they snip a Life Fiber in half, hinting at their unique ability to do so.

Both OPs of Kill la Kill are absolutely packed with information on top of their visual spectacle and fantastic music, and they’re honestly underappreciated in this quality. I really wish more people took the time to unpack their symbolism and visual information, because it really shows off how much work went into them, as well as how cleverly they cue the viewer into understanding important information.

V For Vendetta, 30 Years Later: Introduction

1988 was a part of a very uncertain time. Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister of the UK, the Cold War was winding down (though it was still very much a thing), and a writer by the name of Alan Moore was in the midst of a magnum opus. Now, Moore was already on the road to being a comic writing legend with the release of Watchmen from 1986-1987, a wholly unique look on the superhero genre that added new facets of humanity to its characters and asked the readers to question not only the trappings of the genre, but even things like their own ethics in regards to things like consequentialism and sacrifices. And he was about to strike gold again, but this time, with something very different. While Watchmen was a contemplation on superheroes first and foremost, V For Vendetta instead focuses on politics, specifically, fascism. And it became arguably the most iconic thing Moore has ever made. V, the imagery of the Guy Fawkes mask, and even the slogan of the Norsefire regime are widely recognizable to this day, and the name of the comic carries weight in many spheres to this day. 30 years have passed since then, and though a lot of things have changed, things seem almost as if they’re headed in a very similar reaction. Russia, rather than the Soviet Union, is becoming a greater and greater threat that many here in the West have come to fear once again. The conservatives are in power again, and moving much further rightward at that. And, of course, fascism is on the rise once more. So, perhaps there is no better time than now to revisit this tour de force and reexamine the various elements of it. Now, to be clear, this is not going to be a complete analysis of the entire comic, I don’t think anyone could ever come close to pulling that off, not even with a team of writers spending years deconstructing every part of it. Part of that is down to the insane level of detail (for example, the last time V speaks to Evey before going to his final confrontation with Finch, the last panel is a sign saying “Farewell, my lovely”, which the entire conversation up to that point leads the reader to realize was what V was thinking at that moment), but the unavoidable truth of something like V For Vendetta is that everyone will come away from it with a different view of many different aspects of the book, especially the primary conflict. We’ll get to that later. Trust me, we’ll get to that. I, no matter how much I try, by definition, cannot truly offer a full view on what this book means to anyone other than myself, and my perception of it will be unavoidably colored by my own worldview. I will do my best to point out my own bias whenever I notice it, but be forewarned that this book will likely mean something completely different to you, and I strongly recommend reading it for yourself and drawing your own conclusion, because this difference is more than just “right” or “wrong”, this is about how one’s own beliefs shape the message of this book, and that is something you can not be told. That said, this is the best I can do to do justice to V For Vendetta. Continued in Part I.

The Higurashi Effect, or, Fear From an Upbeat Tone

My love for Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni is kind of a recurring theme, and I often reference it when making a point about various topics, so I figured it was time I address one. Back in my piece on Madoka Magica Rebellion, I mentioned that the opening half hour was subject to a phenomenon I called “the Higurashi Effect”. In that article, I described it as having a lightly toned opening with just enough wrong about it that the audience is kept slightly on edge and just a little wary, in anticipation for the harsh tone shift to come. While this is the crux of it, it is a little more complicated than that. Madoka Magica Rebellion could get away with just that because of the reputation of the show itself, which would’ve had the audience on guard right from second one. Most examples, including Higurashi itself, do not have that luxury. Instead, the go to method is to start with something really dark, like the double murder in the opening of Higurashi, and then tone shift immediately afterwards into being lighthearted for a while. This in itself is shocking, and does plenty to get an audience on edge, so when you tone shift later, it is a suitable payoff. Of course, in Higurashi, the intro is actually something that will happen over the course of the arc, so a viewer who’s paying attention is meant to realize this and be left wondering what exactly will lead up to it. At least, that’s how it works in the anime. The manga and visual novel are much more ambiguous about it, so you’re instead left wondering what the intro is supposed to mean, rather than understanding what it is and wondering what will lead up to it. Even so, they are written in such a way that it still hints that some very bad things are coming, thereby putting them on edge for things to come. And that is the crux of the Higurashi Effect, to create implicit dread in the audience even in the most lighthearted of scenes. Be it the funny little club games of Higurashi, singing to a bizarre doll looking thing in Rebellion, or any of the myriad of other examples. I’m trying to stay non-specific and short here, because I was hoping more to get you the reader to think more about this particular topic in things you yourself like, in fact, the only reason I talked about these two in particular is because Higurashi is what coined the name, and Rebellion is what I first mentioned it in regards to. It’s well worth discussing, as it is a genius use of tone shifting to create something paradoxical and brilliant.

Devil in a Blue Coat: the Mechanics of Vergil

So, I fucking love Devil May Cry. Like, I have hundreds of hours logged in both 3 and 4, so many that I felt like discussing mechanics in the latter. Specifically, the way Vergil plays in Special Edition. The ability to play as Vergil was one of the big defining features of Special Edition, and I must say, it’s well worth it. Vergil essentially plays like a very mutated Dante, and this is especially visible in his attacks. Vergil wields the tried and true combination of Yamato, Beowulf, and Force Edge, and the latter two play very much like variations of Dante’s weapons. Beowulf plays like a highly modified Gilgamesh, with their base combos being very different, but their secondary combos being almost identical. While the base combo of Gilgamesh is 4 hits, the base of Beowulf is three hits, but similarly effective. The secondary ones are largely the same, but Beowulf includes a dashing straight punch instead of the sweeping roundhouse. While the base combos are similar to a degree, the special attacks are completely different. Starfall, Vergil’s aerial attack, has a second level which causes it to launch opponents into the air. Beast Uppercut, his default launch attack, offers two to three levels of damage depending on the level of Concentration, a meter filled by standing still, landing attacks, and generally being stylish. At level three, it can one-shot almost every enemy in the game, which makes it very useful. Kick 13 makes a return and is useful for extending combos, but it’s now mapped to pushing the attack and style buttons at the same time, which means it likely won’t be used as often. Vergil’s forward-mapped attack is something very special though. Lunar Phase is one of my all time favorite attacks in this kind of game, largely because of how versatile it is when combined with his other moves. It does pretty good damage, it can be cancelled with the Darkslayer teleport and used to extend aerial combos, and in Devil Trigger mode, it includes a launch. As for Force Edge, it plays very differently from Rebellion, but it functions much better. Its default combo is four hits, as opposed to Rebellion’s three, and its secondary combo is fucking insane. Anywhere from 3-15+ hits, it can be extended by mashing the attack button, and even cancelled into a Judgement Cut at the longest duration. As for the special moves, Force Edge becomes a lot more reminiscent of Rebellion here, albeit without as much available and a few notable improvements. Stinger can now be performed in the air, Million Stab is easier to pull off, High Roller is largely the same, Helm Breaker hits much harder, Drive is mapped to attack+style and offers Overdrive (as opposed to Quick Drive on Rebellion, which had the same mapping and did not), and Round Trip now has a much shorter startup animation, as well as now holding multiple enemies in place rather than tracking a single target, which makes it excellent for crowd control or holding enemies in the air. And then there’s Yamato. Yamato in this game is one of the most fun weapons I have ever used in a video game, and it has a crazy amount of depth. By default, it has three combos. Combo A is a simple 5-hit combo dealing pretty good damage and flinging an enemy back. Combo B is a 3-hit combo that embeds a summoned sword in the target and detonates it to launch them airborne. And Combo C offers rapid slashing that can be extended by mashing the attack button. In addition, Combo A gains 2 more hits in Devil Trigger mode that deal a ridiculous amount of damage. Aerial Rave A is a decent aerial combo, but I found myself barely using it, because Aerial Rave B is far more useful, functioning like Nero’s Roulette Spin and pushing an enemy higher into the air. Combine this with the Darkslayer teleport and you can effectively suspend an enemy in the air indefinitely. As for the special moves, they’re fairly simple, but deadly effective. Rapid Slash is much faster and smoother this time around, and it can be extended into a circular slash to send nearby enemies airborne, as well as chained together in Devil Trigger mode. Upward Slash can now carry Vergil into the air along with the enemy, so it functions much more like High Roller than it used to. Then there’s Judgement Cut End, which is just a big fuck-off attack that wipes out everything on the screen, but can only be initiated in Devil trigger Mode with full Concentration. But by far the coolest feature of Yamato is the Judgement Cut itself. Any move in the sword’s arsenal can be cancelled into a Judgement Cut, which is extremely useful for extending combos. Combine this with the Darkslayer teleport, and it effectively cuts out almost all the down time in combat. But it doesn’t end there. Every Judgement Cut has a Just Frame Cut, which is a far bigger and stronger cut that has a shorter startup animation and is activated by timing the cancel perfectly after an attack with Yamato, as a way of adding additional depth to the weapon. Summoned Swords make a reappearance, and they got one hell of a buff. The new Blistering Swords and Circular Swords maneuvers deal massive damage to enemies at the cost of one level of DT, and they can be held in place until the optimal time to fire them and extend a combo. Vergil’s Darkslayer style plays like an offensive form of Trickster, with the primary teleport gluing Vergil to an enemy, as well as offering a convenient number of invincibility frames that can be activated pretty much whenever an attack is incoming, especially in the air, where the rate it can be activated massively increases. Devil Trigger mode, in addition to the damage buff, also changed every dodge into a sideways or backwards teleport, which is very useful for avoiding attacks from enemies like Berial and Credo. The new Concentration meter offers a very interesting incentive for players to fight more like Vergil would in his DMC3 boss fights, by not running or missing attacks, they gain Concentration, which offers different benefits for every weapon. Beowulf gains an additional charge level on nearly every move, Force Edge gains extra hits on its special moves, and Yamato gets both a longer hit range and larger Judgement Cuts. All this combines together for an absurdly fun character to play as, and easily my favorite out of the DMC4 roster. I can only hope that if and when they make a Devil May Cry 5, they’ll find a way to bring Vergil back for it. Until then, just remember one thing: Devils Never Cry.

Kill la Kill: Beauty in Absurd Spectacle

So, Kill la Kill is the most recent show I’ve gotten really into, and holy shit, is it ever fun. I mean, it’s not some ultra complex and intricate show I could wring tons of analysis out of, it’s a simplistic and over the top action show which features questionably clothed girls whacking the shit out of each other with absurd weapons. And that’s fun, that’s enjoyable, because the entire series is presented and animated so well that you can easily ignore the little annoyances in the show, and just sit back and have a grand old time. I really love when a show, movie, video game, etc doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest and sells itself on just being a ridiculously fun experience from beginning to end. So you know what, let’s take a quick run down of everything I really like in the show, in a similar format to my reviews, though I’ll close out with something far different. (For the record, I would’ve scored this show with an S were I reviewing it, I fucking loved every minute of it.) Oh yeah, and I’ll spoil a few things, I’ll try to keep them light where I can.

So let’s start with the character writing. The protagonist, Ryuko Matoi, starts off on a fantastic first impression, being this kind of unusual punk-looking lemon-eating transfer student, who showed up to Honnouji Academy to find who killed her father. Her rough personality and fantastic design make a quick impression on the viewer, and she’s always fun to watch no matter what she does. As time goes on and she’s hit with more and more bat-shit insane plot points, her emotional roller coaster forms her most persistent conflict. Even at her most mopey, however, she’s not really one to sit around and whine, and she always gets back in the action within a few minutes of screen time. I say good for that, because while the moping is always justified, it never overstays its welcome, and so the story keeps moving at a fast pace. This also keeps her more likable, because the audience doesn’t have to slog through her moping for ages. She acts depressed for a little, but always finds her reason to keep fighting, and so she remains driven towards her goals. Her personality, while simplistic, is perfect for the kind of show that this is. She’s driven towards her goals, she’s plenty willing to fight for what she believes in, but she has her limits on what she’s willing and able to do, some of which will be exceeded over the course of the show, and some won’t. Her main flaws tend to be how headstrong she is, which often gets her into trouble, her clear issues with authority (which makes sense, she is technically a delinquent, after all), her difficulty controlling her temper, and her tendency to rush in without thinking beforehand. Are these the most original set of character flaws? No. But who the fuck cares? They’re all believable, they’re consistent with her personality, and they’re fun to watch her deal with. You’ll see me using that word a lot more as we go on, so be prepared. Next we have the second most important character, Satsuki Kiryuin, a haughty, prideful, ambitious, and driven girl who serves as the series’ major rival character. Basically, imagine Vergil from Devil May Cry 3, and make him a teenage girl. As a direct result, she’s one of the most effortlessly watchable villains I’ve seen in a long time. Not only is she utterly devoted to her goals (which are kept secret for 2/3 of the show), but she’s willing to use any means necessary to achieve them. This is shown very early on when she not only sees no issue with wearing what amounts to an exhibitionist suit (because this is Kill la Kill, and to be honest, the ridiculous armor design is probably the weakest part of the show), but she openly mocks Ryuko for being so embarrassed by it, because if it means achieving her goals, she’s willing to go into a battle naked if that’s what it takes. So things like the puritanical value of modesty in clothing mean nothing to her, and indeed she dislikes people who let such things weigh them down. Her driven nature is incredibly compelling to watch, and it’s no surprise she’s become one of the most recognizable characters from the show (though to be fair, I would argue every major character in this show is instantly recognizable due to their fantastic designs and memorable writing.) So, next on the list is Senketsu, a sentient sailor uniform. I said this show was silly, didn’t I? He’s a really funny and likable character, being constantly supportive of Ryuko despite his more bizarre tendencies. One especially interesting part of the show deals with the relationship between the two, described as going far beyond that of a girl and her sailor suit, which makes sense, seeing how the sailor suit in question can talk and all. He’s funny, endearing, and also surprisingly thoughtful, which makes him a remarkably fun character to watch, especially considering, you know, that he’s a sentient piece of clothing. Next up is the best character in the entire show: Mako Mankanshoku, this show’s irreverent Genki Girl who spends most of her screen time getting into wacky misadventures which are only partially related to what Ryuko and Satsuki are busy fighting over. My favorite of these is in episode 14, when she’s dragged to Osaka in order to assist in Satsuki’s raid, but just ends up going on a tour of local food stands, in an over the top hilarious way. One particularly amazing gimmick she has is her hilarious method of delivering exposition and/or motivational speeches, which involves monologuing in a center frame spotlight, while doing incredibly bizarre things in creatively animated ways, which are always hilarious to watch. Everything she says in these speeches is creatively written in amazing ways, like in episode 3, when she tries to motivate Ryuko to keep fighting Satsuki by saying she is the superior person due to the fact that she has larger boobs. I fucking love this show, I swear. As typically irreverent as Mako is, she does have her moments of being more serious, the vast majority of which occur in the instances where she gains her 2-star uniform. As anyone who’s seen even 1 minute of the show knows, all the powers come from clothes in this show, and as far as Goku Uniforms go, the scale is more stars = more power. So Mako gains her 2-star uniform (which looks bizarrely like the outfit Jotaro Kujo wore in Stardust Crusaders) twice in the series, once in episode 7, and once in the final battle. In episode 7, she ends up using it to beat the absolute shit out of Ryuko, because if she didn’t, her family would go back to living in the slums. Obviously she doesn’t want that, and she is willing to go to any measure to ensure it doesn’t happen, up to and including pummeling her only friend in a fashion that makes the legendary beatdown of Steely Dan look like a few ineffectual slaps. But because Ryuko refuses to fight back, eventually that gets to Mako, and eventually she realizes how everything seems wrong, she gives up, and her uniform is destroyed, proving Satsuki’s assertion that even the kindest people are easily consumed by greed to be absolutely wrong. So she loses the uniform (which sucks, I was really hoping she would get to keep it, it’s a great design), and it never gets mentioned again. That is, until the final battle, about 15 episodes later. And when she gets it back, oh my god, is it a glorious moment. During the battle with the Original Life Fiber, she shows up wearing it once again, and proceeds to utterly pummel every hostile nearby, because she’s driven to protect their battleship and help her friends succeed however she can. And when the engines break down, she’s the first to start powering it manually. There’s actually a really heartwarming moment here where she and Ryuko start shouting for each other as the ship approaches the OLF. And that’s not the last moment of potential yuri from this show either, considering what amounts to a confession right before the last battle with Ragyo, and the end credits backgrounds. I’ll explain those more in a bit. So anyway, now we come to the school’s Elite Four (is that a Pokemon reference? I legitimately can’t tell.) Obviously, if the name didn’t make it clear, there’s four of them. The first to be introduced is Ira Gamagoori, who shows up in the opening sequence as head of the Disciplinary Committee, and beats the fuck out of one student who stole a Goku Uniform. He’s giant, angry, and utterly devoted to Satsuki and her cause. He screams most of his lines, beats up any rule breakers, and also uses himself as a human shield with some regularity. His unique uniform is a funny addition to that last one, because not only does it absorb damage as a way to strengthen itself, but it also has the ability to whip itself in order to do so. And did I mention he’s a masochist who shouts about wanting to be punished as this happens? Yeah, I nearly died laughing the first time he said “I’ve been a bad boy! I need to be punished further!” He’s a joy to watch the entire time, and that’s really all you can ask for in a side character. Next to appear, and first to be fought, is the Athletics Committee Chairman and Chief Delinquent, Uzu Sanageyama. He’s one of those swordsman types who enjoys fights and frequently looks for a good one, which results in him being the first one to challenge Ryuko, where he then unveils his unique ability: by studying people’s muscle movements, he can accurately predict exactly what they’re about to do, no matter how fast they do it. Ryuko overcomes this by throwing small pieces of Senketsu over his eyes, thereby allowing her to beat him. So he responds by… sewing his eyes shut, which hones his other senses, allowing him to challenge her a second time, and this time resoundingly trash her. The two of them will never fight again, because as they’re about to, a sudden intervention takes him out, and then various plot elements keep them from fighting again. Still, he’s a badass, his fights are cool, and that’s good enough for the type of character that he is. Next to show up is Nonon Jakuzure, head of the band and director of non athletic activities. She’s a cocky, smart-mouthed, often argumentative loli who spends most of her screen time exchanging back and forth snarks with the other three, especially Sanageyama. She’s also a childhood friend of Satsuki, and seems to be on a similar wavelength, as she can often do exactly what Satsuki wants without being told. Her ridiculous fighting style of literally weaponizing music is endlessly watchable, her occasional wisecracks are genuinely funny, and she deserved more screen time than she got. Last of the four is Houka Inamuta, who is also the weakest as a character, because he especially suffers from a lack of screen time. He’s the Chief Intelligence Officer, which means he’s always in the back, pulling strings and “collecting data”, which appears to be his primary motive. While he has a backstory of having hacked companies for fun and then finally meeting his match with the Kiryuin group and subsequently being recruited by Satsuki, it never really explains how this developed his character, nor is he given an especially strong personality. He has a few good moments, like when he uses an MC Escher drawing to destroy optical illusions in Kyoto, but he’s severely lacking in both feats and notability. With Satsuki and her underlings covered, now it’s time to talk about the 2 main villains: Ragyo Kiryuin, and Nui Harime. Ragyo is, unsurprisingly, Satsuki’s mother, and I would describe her as a Platinum Games villain. Which is to say that her mannerisms, goals, personality, powers, and appearance would fit perfectly into that style of game, so much so that you could imagine the studio designed her. Her goal is to destroy the world, because of course, but it’s in such a bizarre way and her motivations are so strange that it becomes much more entertaining than the usual “destroy the world” villain is. Her design is unforgettable, especially in her clashes with Satsuki, when their two motifs of light clash in creative ways. And my god, is she the most fucking detestable villain I’ve seen all year. Between the murder attempts, the spouting pseudo-philosophical nonsense, and the infamous bath house scene (which I don’t especially feel like talking about, it made me legitimately uncomfortable, though I feel like that was probably the point), she’s pretty fucking evil. And that’s why she’s so fun, naturally. Nui, on the other hand, is fucking weird, even in comparison to the rest of the show. She skips around the place with these ridiculous hair physics, fucks with the fourth wall constantly, kicks everyone’s asses, and does it all with a goofy smile. She’s also the one with the second scissor blade, so Ryuko naturally fucking hates her. And she is definitely a fun one to hate. Neither of these villains necessarily have that much depth, but I don’t think they really need it. They’re exactly what they need to be, and that’s just fine. Kill la Kill has a wide variety of side characters, from the Nudist Beach organization to the over the top club leader mini bosses to the hilarious resistance movements in the raid arc, but of the three, only the first is worth talking about. There are two important members, one of them being the homeroom teacher for Ryuko and Mako. He’s completely over the top, he constantly strips most of his clothes off and shows off his magical glowing nipples. I fucking love this show, I swear. The other is punky mohawk man Tsumugu Kinagase, who is this really gruff and cranky fucker who varies between ally and threat due to his hatred for clothing. His first appearance is dedicated to attempting to kill Senketsu, but he backs off after realizing that, as Ryuko and Senketsu prove, humans and clothing really can get along. He’s largely an ally from then on, but he’s kinda useless. He can’t stand up to any of the high tier characters in a fight, so he mostly just gets his ass kicked. And I mean, that’s funny, but I feel like they probably could’ve done more with him. Anyway, that about wraps up the characters.

I’m gonna gloss over the story here, for a simple reason. Half the fun of the story is its absurd surprises, and spoiling them would ruin the fun. So I’m just gonna talk about a few broad strokes and explain the basic elements. The first 18 episodes are almost entirely built on the rivalry between Ryuko and Satsuki. Satsuki is constantly going through with her own plans, while Ryuko is constantly trying to stop her. It works perfectly well because the rivalry between the two is so well done. Their conflicting personalities and ideologies fuel the rivalry perfectly, and it’s always fun to see how the show shakes things up. So when everything changes angles and they end up on the same side 2/3 of the way through, you just end up wondering where it’s gonna go. And it just keeps building and building and building to a final battle with Heaven Ascended Ragyo, in space, and then it ends with everyone stark fucking naked. This show is so fucking hilarious. And this is beauty in absurdity, because the ever increasing insanity of the story is so entertaining to watch that it makes the show endless fun to watch, even on repeat watches. Not all of that comes from the story, however. A good chunk of it comes from…

The animation. Oh my god, the animation. It must be said that I might be turning into a Studio Trigger fanboy. Their animation is some of the best in the industry, and it’s at the top of its game here. The director, Hiroyuki Imaishi, has serious talent, and it’s definitely on display here. His years of experience in animation and his excellent sense of visual flow really aids the feel of the show. The animation is smooth and fluid whenever it needs to be, and even when it doesn’t necessarily have to be, the animation is always inventive. So why do people complain about the animation supposedly being bad? Because the art style is relatively simplistic? That’s really stupid, because detail would be largely extraneous in such a fast paced show, at least in the way that people seem to think of it. Things like backgrounds are brilliantly detailed with a beautiful style, and are indeed packed full of little details, most famously the Pulp Fiction reference in episode 4. And while character designs aren’t necessarily the most detailed in the industry, they are still made very attractively, and it’s very clear that a ton of effort was put into every aspect of them, which I would argue is a large part of why they’re so memorable. The only other explanation is the various moments of noticeably limited animation, but the problem I have with that complaint is that those critics obviously don’t get that these decisions were obviously intentional and they were deliberately over the top and ridiculous. I feel like I’m retreading ground here, as Digibro already explained this perfectly ages ago. But this ties back into my central thesis, that Kill la Kill is so much fun because it knows how to be silly, and the deliberate use of limited animation is a pretty clear joke. Because if it really was entirely down to budgetary issues, as some of these critics seem to think, then I present this question: why wouldn’t they just use still images? It would be so easy to cut corners in less obvious ways, so obviously these decisions were intentional. So knowing that, I really get annoyed at people bashing the animation because it seems like they missed the point. But the creativity on display here is astounding, and it’s a large part of why the show is so entertaining. Studio Trigger is very good at this style, as their track record very well proves. It’s cartoony, but it looks fantastic, especially in motion. The animation alone would make this show worth watching, but added on to everything else, it’s just the perfect icing on the cake.

And now, the sound. The sound is just as silly as the rest of the show. Especially the music. The music is this high octane mix from tons of different genres, and most of it is ridiculous in some way. Whether it’s the crazy German chanting in Blumenkranz, or the classic “DON’T LOSE YOUR WAY” line in Before My Body is Dry, the music is every bit as over the top and fun as the rest of the show. As is to be expected, the voice acting is top notch (including a cameo from my favorite actress, which is always cool). Everyone fits their role perfectly, everything is over the top and funny, it all turns out great. The bigger focus here is definitely the music, which keeps the same high octane feel as the rest of the show. Once again, it’s so memorable because it’s so crazy, which is what makes it stick in people’s minds.

Overall, my thesis is visible in every aspect of this show. The characters, the sound, and especially the visuals and story. I feel like if Kill la Kill wasn’t as insane as it is, it wouldn’t be so widely and fondly remembered to this day. It’s crazy, it’s over the top, and it gets better every time I watch it. True story, I finished this show for the first time back in November, and I’ve been slowly progressing through this article all month. It’s taken so long because I went back and watched the show again, twice, and it just got better and better. A large part of that is down to how crazy it is, because it knows absurd spectacle perfectly. Permanent favorites list spot for me, solid S all around, and definitely recommended to everyone. And also, whoever controls turning Platinum games into anime, please hire Studio Trigger for the next one. That would be wonderful.

Madoka Magica: Rebellion, aka Salt in the Wound

It was about a year ago when I first talked about the insane entity that is Madoka Magica, and in retrospect, I talked about it far too early. I mentioned a few times that I hadn’t seen Rebellion at the time I wrote it, and this proved a colossal mistake. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s good I spent so long before watching, and later talking about, Rebellion. The reason for this is simple, reflection, and with it, experience. And also, if I had watched both back-to-back, I’m not sure I would be able to stop being depressed for long enough to write about it. Damn it, Urobuchi, how heart wrenching do you want this damn franchise to be? If the original had tragic overtones and instances of emotional discomfort given by several moments of genuine pathos, then Rebellion is taking a rocket propelled sledgehammer right to the chest as the creators try their hardest to make you the viewer start bawling your eyes out through many tearjerking scenes and a story that is built on misery. And damn it, it works. Rebellion opened my eyes to just how depressing the original actually was in some regards. Much like some other notable Japanese tragedies, Madoka Magica is largely based on tormenting a single (well-developed) character. In this case, Homura. The original show, and by extension the Hajimari and Eien movies, tortured her by forcing her to witness the worst event of her life over and over again, continually trying to stop it and yet never succeeding. And that ending was so bittersweet because it had a promise of an eventual happy ending for her, but she would have to go through far more misery before that would happen. Rebellion rubs salt in that wound in so many ways, it’s honestly really depressing. Let’s start with one that gets brought up halfway through the movie which makes the original ending infinitely more depressing than it already was. During the confession of grief from Homura to Madoka halfway through, she mentions how after seeing this horrific event over and over again, then suddenly seeing nobody else remember it, she slowly started to question whether it was real, or if her memories of Madoka were all just things she’d made up. While this may seem like the most depressing thing ever (which in any other series, it would be), this movie is only just getting started. When Homura finds out that she was the one who created the labyrinth because her Soul Gem got overstretched, the ending of the original would suggest she finally gets her happy ending and be reunited with Madoka, but sadly thats not the case here. And just like almost everything else that goes wrong in this series, it’s all because of that little white rat. Apparently, he decided to try and undo the original ending and the sacrifice Madoka made just because he wants to go back to the whole emotional transformation energy generation idea. I swear, his entire motivation is one big “teenage girls are over-emotional” joke. So anyway, when Homura discovers this, she loses her mind and in her rage and grief, she decides to sacrifice herself for Madoka’s sake and turns into a witch, fully expecting the other Magical Girls to kill her and end that rat’s scheming. However, that doesn’t happen. Instead, led by Sayaka and Bebe (the human form of Charlotte, the infamous witch from Episode 3 of the original), all the other Magical Girls fight to break through the isolation barrier and therefore rescue Homura from the labyrinth and carry her away the way things should be. Ultimately, they succeed, and we get to see what seems like the most hopeful scene ever. Homura wakes up and sees Madoka descending from the sky in the most obvious religious homage I’ve ever seen. However, then it goes wrong yet again. Turns out, the time Homura spent as a witch kind of broke her, and so she does one of the most shocking things imaginable. As Madoka comes to take her away, she ends up grabbing her wrists and tearing out a part of her psyche, becoming a demon and rewriting the universe as she does so. Her monologue explains that she became something beyond a witch, because her feelings weren’t just despair and pain, but also something unique to her, so much so that there was no word for it. The closest parallel she can draw is… love. And you know what? I don’t mind this as a twist. After all the trauma she went through, all the grief and torment at the hands of everyone and everything, it makes sense to me that she would lose her mind and do something like that. As reprehensible at it seems, she’s supposed to have lost all faith in everything, and all she knows is that she never wants to be apart from Madoka again, though her insanity causes her to take the personality part of Madoka for herself, creating her own world for them to live in. Once again, I’m fine with this. As nonsensical as it seems to some, I can accept that this makes sense to her and I can understand her deeds. However, after another replay of the opening of episode 1, but with more things wrong, it seems that even this world can’t bring Homura happiness, as Madoka partially remembers being, well, God, and Homura seems to believe that eventually they will have to be enemies. God damn it, why can she never get a happy ending? Those are the big moments of depressing misery, but the entire second half of the film is full of constant reinforcement of this tone, especially the time Homura spends as a witch. That covers the sea of despair that is the majority of this movie’s tone and plot points, but that’s not all this movie has to offer. So, let’s talk about everything else.

Before we get into the main plot of the movie, I’d just like to address one more piece of the depression puzzle: the opening. While this opening starts off with a lot of lighthearted and sweet imagery, it also quickly becomes more tragic, largely focused on (you guessed it) tormenting Homura. One particularly powerful shot involves everyone dancing in an upbeat manner, except Homura, who kneels between them, watching them with a horrified look on her face. This directly implies that everyone can find their way to be happy, except Homura, because after all the horrible things she’s experienced, she can’t being herself to enjoy life the way the others can. The other really notable one is Madoka reaching her hand out to Homura, but when she tries to grab it, it turns to sand, and the whole world disintegrates. Depressing indeed. So anyway, the plot. The movie starts off with about 30 minutes of upbeat scenes of comedy and action, with all 5 Magical Girls working together against “nightmares”. A lot of people call this fanservice because it finally shows all 5 magical girls together with nothing bad happening, but I’m inclined to disagree. Anyone who’s seen the original (aka everyone who would be watching this movie) would know that something is really wrong because of the obvious contradictions with what the series has established so far, and knowing the madman who wrote this, it was clear from the beginning that things would go wrong soon, so this lighthearted opening carries a sense of dread for things to come. I like to call this The Higurashi Effect, which is ironic, considering how much this franchise is clearly influenced by Higurashi in so many ways. Rather than simple fanservice, this part shows a more upbeat series of events that still had enough details wrong in comparison to what the audience knew the continuity was supposed to be like to keep them on edge. In a sense, it was meant to take the viewer off their guard and make them think the whole thing was going to be upbeat, while subtly keeping them at least a little tense, until it could hit them with a gut punch and resume being its usual self. While I had too much experience with Higurashi to really buy into it, I can easily see people falling for it, maybe likening it to the later comedy OVAs that Higurashi itself did. On a side note, I almost feel like this franchise needs one of those, it’s gotten that depressing by now and needs a bit of levity where things don’t go horribly wrong, even if thats non-canon. At any rate, Homura soon tips her hand and reveals herself to be the same Homura we knew from the old show, same personality, same weary cynicism, and still the only one with memory of those events, thereby showing this is the canon sequel. But the tone doesn’t change too much for a few minutes after that, even if her suspicious monologuing does put the audience on edge a little. However, when the tone shifts, it shifts hard, as the first big shift is with a kind of disturbing scene involving trying to take a bus to another city and being constantly brought back to the same point. The way it shows how everything becomes wrong and bizarre given their expectations is honestly very unsettling, and perfectly contrasts the tone that had been previously set, which is what gets the audience up and paying closer attention because of how the film shows that the story is up to its old tricks again. And the fucked up visuals are incredibly effective at reinforcing the tone, Yuki Kajiura’s score is utterly fantastic, and the heavy atmosphere works wonders to disturb the viewer. The next big tone change is thankfully a fun one, as it involves showing off maybe the most amazing action scene ever. Now it’s been argued that this scene isn’t necessary for the story and is therefore just there to please the fans, if not just to show off what they’re capable of. This may be true (depends on the viewer), but I must ask this question: why does that matter? It doesn’t break the story, it’s at least justified well, and as I must say again, it might just be the greatest action scene ever made. Yeah, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that. First off, it gushes style in flooding torrents. Since the fight is between Homura and Mami, the two characters who use guns, and largely takes place with time stopped because Homura is using her typical magic, the kinds of stylish flair they had the opportunity to go for are perhaps beyond any other work in recorded history. And I’m happy to say they masterfully capitalized on it. Colors change vibrantly as Homura freezes and unfreezes time, bullets are frozen in midair, only to explode against each other when time unfreezes, you can tell everyone on the staff, from Akiyuki Shinbo and his glorious directing to the animators drawing it to Yuki Kajiura and her infallible score, were pouring their hearts into this project, and the result is positively breathtaking. Though then again, I’m very familiar with high octane action scenes, so maybe I just had a better time keeping track of it than some others would. Either way, this action scene alone would’ve been worth the price of a movie ticket, even if the rest of the movie was awful. I feel obligated to make some reference to Dio and The World (yes, I am a Jojo fan), so I guess you could describe this fight as Dio vs Kakyoin, if Kakyoin could move in stopped time while Heirophant’s tentacle was touching Dio, and also they both had hundreds of guns. Fucking awesome. So after this comes a confrontation between Homura and Sayaka, where we get the age old dilemma that Umineko posed: Truth, or Peace? Will Homura continually fight to expose the witch, or will she stay in this illusory paradise? Then Sayaka reveals she is, in fact, the original, and possesses the form of a witch as well, though she isn’t the culprit herself. Homura chooses to continue her quest, because living in the illusion and forsaking her duty would, in her view, tarnish what Madoka sacrificed herself for. Madoka herself then catches up to Homura, and Homura more or less tells her about the nightmare she’d been living in up until then. Chiwa Saito offers an absolutely phenomenal performance here, sounding the part perfectly. Madoka comforts her by assuring her that it would be out of character for her to do that (downplaying her own true inner strength), and Homura reads this to mean she never should’ve let Madoka make that sacrifice. So tell me, why does the ending make no sense again? As far as Homura knows, Madoka suffers as the Law of Cycles, and would prefer living again with everyone else. Homura, by this point, has deduced the truth, and by travelling away from her soul gem (giving a very suicide-like speech as she does it), she finally confirms that yes, she is the culprit. Then suddenly everything burns, and it transforms into a hellish landscape, mirroring Homura’s own mental state. Also, you realize how horrifying this must be to her? She’s not meant to become a witch, Madoka’s sacrifice in the show was specifically to prevent that. And yet she is, which must feel like the most awful thing imaginable. And by this point, she’s wearing Bernkastel’s clothes. I’m not kidding. It’s exactly the same, minus the sleeves. So then we get an exposition dump from Incubator (little fucking rat that he is), explaining the scheme he and all of his kind have devised, which honestly makes him seem even more reprehensible through the unimaginable cruelty of it all. Not only are they tormenting Honura, preventing her from even achieving what is essentially heaven at the end of her life, after all she’s been through, but they also intend to remove that possibility from all future Magical Girls, all because nobody taught them the first law of thermodynamics. So now it’s time for Homura to reap bloody vengeance. How? Through some pretty inventive animation, she completes the process of becoming a witch, and unleashes her full fury on that little rat. Defying all his assumptions, she would rather sacrifice herself and go through eternal torment as a witch than ever let him touch Madoka again. Her speech as a witch is horribly depressing, as you’d expect, but they can’t let it end there. The others decide to put her out of her misery, much to the distress of that little rat, as his house of cards crumbles around him. So now comes the battle to save Homura from herself. And they succeed, shattering the barrier, despite Homura begging them to stop and just kill her. Also, yuri implications between Sayaka and Kyouko. Just thought I would add that in there. Despite this actually being a good thing for Homura, a game of Jijinuki with the final card added back in, if I were to use the Higurashi analogy, Homura doesn’t know this, and so she believes they’re just making everything worse for her yet again. Then, when the seal breaks, we get a flashback to the worst moment of Homura’s life, the moment after the battle with Walpurgisnacht, when she had to shoot Madoka in order to save her from becoming a witch. Except then we get a cut, and she’s now pointing the gun at herself, only for Madoka to stop her and open the window to outside, ever giving up on her. Homura breaks down completely, finally accepting that she doesn’t care what she becomes, she doesn’t care what promises she breaks, what horrid things she has to do, so long as Madoka will stay by her side. And she also doesn’t want Madoka to be hurt by anything, let alone the schemes of the Incubators, so in that sense, what happens next could be considered a necessity. Every Incubator, save the main one from the rest of the series, is annihilated in a hail of holy gunfire, we get a scene of Mami and Kyouko conversing around Homura’s body, then finally Madoka herself comes down to lead Homura away. And then it happens. Now, remember that Homura alone truly knows the plot hatched by the Incubators,  she believes that if Madoka remains the Law of Cycles, eventually she’ll just be destroyed, and above all else, she’ll never let go of Madoka again, and so her soul becomes something worse than a curse. Something unique to her, something nobody could ever understand because they haven’t suffered as she has.  And so the universe is rewritten once more. She explains this to the sole remaining Incubator, that this is all based in the one thing above all else that he can never understand: Love. In the face of this revelation, he decides that it isn’t worth trying to control human emotions if they can produce something as powerful as Devil Homura, and so she recreates the whole world, where she and Madoka (and everyone else) can be happy again. Though I feel like what Homura describes herself as seems a little incorrect. She is not “evil”, she’s just unwilling to be hurt again, and she’ll take any measures necessary to prevent that. But her intentions are not cruel, nor were they ever, she just wants to be with the girl she loves forever. And it seems that’s what finally happens, but it’s unknown how that will result, as the movie more or less cuts out there.

So, there have been rumors of a fourth movie, if not a second anime, and honestly, I’m hoping they’re true. This ending doesn’t have all that much finality to it, and it’s heavily implied there’s far more to come. And so I must pose the question from earlier again: will the universe finally stop torturing Homura? I sincerely hope so, because the depressing nature of this franchise is really getting to me. And to be honest, this story deserves a happy ending, at least to some degree. Many of the best tragedies have one, and I’m hoping this franchise will be one of them. Only time will tell, but you can be damn sure I will talk about the next installment, if and when it comes out. Until then, i think I’m stepping back from this series for a while, because no matter how much I like it, the depressing nature of it really really gets to me. So, until the next time, I shall say this: watch the anime, and this movie. It’s well worth the effort. But bring some antidepressants, you’re going to need them.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Personal Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is often sneered at because the story is far weaker and less present than the other games. And while I can’t really disagree, I will say that such complaints are very broad and dismiss the actual high points of The Phantom Pain as a story. Because it certainly does have several things done right, and they shouldn’t be ignored.

Despite the controversy surrounding Quiet when the game released, there actually is an interesting story attached to her. Introduced as a mute sniper with unmatched skill, the big twist revolves around how she breathes through her skin. Many opinions exist on this plot point, but I’m generally accepting of it. Despite her design being poorly justified, I found that the backstory behind this concept to be very interesting. It’s eventually revealed that Quiet was the XOF soldier who tried to kill you in the hospital, and she has to breathe through her skin due to the horrific burns Ishmael gave her as a result. Her connection to Skull Face is largely mysterious, and it’s eventually revealed by Code Talker that she’s silent because she carries the English strain of the parasites that form a major plot device, and she doesn’t want to unleash it. This recontextualized her previous assault on a soldier, attacking him because he had an active parasite strain and she tried to prevent an outbreak. This all builds up to what’s simply known as “A Quiet Exit”. Backed into a corner and forced to speak English to save your life, she then has no choice but to leave. The last message she leaves is widely considered to be utterly heartbreaking, telling her story for the first time. It’s delivered so well that there’s nothing I can say about it, you just have to see it for yourself, assuming you’re the sort of idiot who’s read this far without playing the game first.

Next is an odd one, as it’s not an official mission. If you wander around the medical wing for long enough, you’ll eventually come across a small room with an unexpected occupant: Paz. We then get a redone version of the ending of Ground Zeroes, where it’s revealed that the explosion wasn’t caused by the second bomb (which shouldn’t even be there, it wouldn’t be physically possible), it was an RPG fired by an XOF helicopter. You do several hunts for photos to give Paz, and the last one reveals that the first flashback was a lie. The second bomb really was what caused the explosion, Paz really did die, and you (ie Venom) constructed the first flashback and the Paz you did missions for because of the guilt over not being able to save her. That’s one powerful gut punch, but the game still has another one to give you.

It’s time to talk about the most infamous mission of all: Shining Lights, Even in Death. The climax of the Parasites plotline, this mission is where the otherwise serious if sightly goofy action game takes a full horror turn. Traveling to the quarantine, you encounter countless staff infested by the parasite, all clawing and ripping at their throats. I think Kojima watched a Higurashi marathon before making this part. Regardless, you find one guy who isn’t infected and a pair of goggles to identify who is and isn’t infected. In reality, both of these are façades. Everyone is infected, and you must kill them all. The goggles are just there to dehumanize them as necessary and justify your actions to you the player. So you go through the quarantine, slaughtering your infected soldiers left and right, until you come to one last group. These men, while still infected, are more lucid than the others. They realize that you’ll probably have to kill them, trust that you’d be doing it for the right reasons, and place their lives in your hands, saluting you as you gun them down. It was at this point in my initial run that I had to stop playing and take a break. The sheer crushing horror and guilt over what I had to do proved too much to bear. That has never once happened in any game before or since. No Russian was a breeze by comparison. This monumental act of trust is so powerful that what you’re forced to do strikes so much harder. It’s like being friends with the shy girl in your math class, supporting her in so many ways, then finding out you need to make her cry. Whether  you have to do it or not, it still hurts to do. I’ve seen this decried as lazy because it forces you into a situation you don’t want, but I find that absurd. Forcing you to do something horrible because the circumstances demand it is a perfectly fine way to cause an emotional reaction, as this level proves.

These three highlights were among the many often overlooked by the community as a whole. I hope my analysis of them helps showcase the narrative genius present in MGSV, and further emphasizes how tragic it is that the story was clearly unfinished. Kojima should’ve been allowed to make the game he wanted, with the story he clearly had planned. Also, I don’t know if you know this or not, but FUCK KONAMI.

A Reactionary Autopsy of Major Kickstarters

I remember a short time ago, people were largely trembling in anticipation at the thought of high-profile Kickstarted games bringing back the type of games that major publishing labels appear to have left behind. Even further, Kickstarter has allowed many games to get funding, and obviously we’ve all been hoping they turn out well. Titles like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, The Miskatonic, and Battalion: 1944 showcase the kinds of ambitious ideas that creators can present the internet with. However, concepts and ideas mean very little to the end user, what matters are the results. To that end, what are the results of these projects so far? Well, two of them thus far have released to the public, and they haven’t gone over well. The first to release was Mighty No. 9, which released in June of last year. To make a long story short, it wasn’t very good. Critical reaction was lukewarm to negative, and praise for the game was minimal. Fan reactions were even worse, with a large amount of outraged fury thrown in the direction of the game. Ignoring the content of those complaints, I’d like to focus on the developers more at this point in time. Keiji Inafune, the head of the studio, initially billed it as a spiritual successor to the Mega Man games, which hadn’t seen a proper installment in several years. What I find so interesting here is that Inafune isn’t the creator of Mega Man, not even close. For the first several games, the only work he did was in character designing. As time went on, he would gather credits like “planner” and eventually “producer”, but most of his work remained in the art department. So I’m not sure what anyone expected from the game, the guy wasn’t a game director, or a programmer, or anything like that, he’s primarily an artist. With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that the game was such a failure. The lesson to be learned from Mighty No. 9 is most likely to be wary about who helms the projects you back, they might not be really qualified.

Much more unusual is the case of Yooka-Laylee, a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series of games, which saw even less in terms of new installments than Mega Man did. Though the game hasn’t released yet (at the time of writing), the early reviews are coming in, and they’re quite interesting. Having gotten moderate to high scores from Destructoid, Game Informer, the Escapist, and IGN, among others, there are nonetheless large amounts of complaints coming in from other reviewers. Polygon and Gamespot, for instance, gave the game middling scores, while Jim Sterling gave it an abysmal one. These three reviews all have one common complaint: the controls. According to these three reviews (and even some more positive ones), the game suffers from severe issues with the camera and general controls that stems back to 1990’s, which I find especially interesting. According to Sterling, the camera in particular is a severe problem, constantly positioning itself in awkward places and making the game much more frustrating than it should be. Other complaints include the mini-games controlling horribly, enemy AI being so basic that it runs directly into attacks, and the technical portion of the game (framerate, physics, graphical fidelity) being utterly trashed at times. All these seem to be traced back to the old philosophy that governs the game. Not only does it play on nostalgia for the old Rare platformers of the past, but it seems to be heavily nostalgic in itself for that time, so much so that it doesn’t do much to use the innovations of more modern times to solve the problems of that era. The lesson to  be learned from Yooka-Laylee is that trading on nostalgia can work both ways, and the developers can go so far in that nostalgia that they ignore important design paradigms of the past several years. So, in other words, skepticism is a must.

The common fault in both of these cases is that major design lessons learned over the past 5-15 years tend to be ignored, in favor of much weaker ideas that can result in poor reception. Trading on nostalgia like this often comes with a large dose of nostalgia from the developers themselves, which can blind them to important elements of game design. Hopefully other developers have been paying similar attention, and do their best to avoid making the same mistake. I’ll probably revisit this topic again when a few more games come out, but for now, we have a high-profile failure and a mixed-opinions game to show for all that faith. While Kickstarted games have the potential to fill huge gaps in the industry, it’s important to always remember that they’re not guaranteed to be good, and every announcement should be viewed with heavy skepticism, perhaps even cynicism at times. It’s a very case by case issue, and I still hope that the three games I mentioned at the beginning of the article turn out incredibly. Only time will tell.

Pretentious Rambling about Opinions

Probably the most commonly used defense for a lot of terrible stuff I’ve seen is that the badness of it is my opinion and that what I think doesn’t make something good or bad. Essentially, they’re saying I can’t call it “bad” because everything bad it does is bad in my opinion, and because they like it, it can’t be bad, it just “doesn’t appeal to me”. On the face of it, this seems reasonable. Critique is, of course, based on personal bias. It always has been and always will be. The personal experiences of the critic will always dictate what they like and dislike, what affects them and what doesn’t, and what they may or may not find memorable/smart/powerful. However, surprisingly, this argument isn’t actually the magic bullet it’s often used as by its supporters. Allow me to explain why you’re all wrong, why I’m right, and why you should all listen to me.

To be fair, the difference of opinions defense does work against a few types of criticisms. For instance, I’ve earned a large amount of disdain for my opinion towards Toradora, which is much less positive than most other people. Though I don’t really like the show, I won’t deride anyone else for liking it, and indeed I wouldn’t even call it a bad show. My lack of enjoyment comes from the fact that I find the Tsundere archetype to be irritating, so a show centered around one isn’t something I’m going to enjoy (unless it’s Bakemonogatari). Criticisms such as this one are the kind of points that a difference of opinion really can explain away. Because of this, I hesitate to insult a lot of stuff that’s technically well put together that I dislike for personal reasons.

HOWEVER, that does NOT mean that every criticism that I make falls into this category. Aside from obvious ones like technical errors or plot holes, there are also many criticisms which might appear subjective at first glance, but are actually backed up by facts. One thing that these troglodytes fail to realize is that not all opinions are created equal. That’s right, people’s subjective opinions can be wrong. Now, assuming you haven’t stopped reading the moment I uttered such an arrogant-sounding statement, allow me to explain my point. One of the most common areas I talk about where this is applicable is the most important element of all storytelling: character writing. On the surface, it might seem like a perfect candidate for the Difference of Opinions claim. Many character traits are subjective, and people react to them in different ways. However, between comparable characters, there is absolutely a way to declare one as being better than the other. The answer to this lies in the concept of quantifying character development, which seems like something that’s merely theoretical. However, I have actually managed to do it. This process involves several pieces of information: how many traits a character has, how heavily those traits are reinforced over the course of the story, their flaws, the effect they have on the plot, the consistency of their actions and philosophy in relation to their view of everything going on around them, their backstory, and how that backstory justifies their subsequent world view and actions taken. (This is going to be a rather long tangent) We as people have more than one trait to our personalities, so we identify more with characters that have multiple facets to them. However, merely having a large number of character traits isn’t enough. Those traits also need to be reinforced over the course of the series multiple times by showing them in action. They also need to follow consistency with whatever string of internal logic the character follows. Paradoxically, one of the worst flaws a character can have is not having any major flaws whatsoever. This ends up making the character feel like a self-insert fantasy, or is otherwise just boring to any audience member because the character can’t do anything wrong without acting out of character, which is a death sentence to character writing. Flaws can be simple, like arrogance, greed, a short temper, or jealousy, or they could be complex, like trust issues, a hatred of interpersonal connections, or a prejudice against a group of people because of their history with said group. The point is, every good character has flaws, and more complex and understandable flaws make for better characters. Another valuable trait in a character is that they somehow matter in a major way to the plot. Characters who end up important in the overall story because their personalities lead them to take actions that affect the plot tend to be better than those who just stay in the background and do next to nothing. Perhaps the most important element in developing a character is making sure the actions they take and the things they say remain consistent with the internal pattern of logic established by their motivations and personality. A character who maintains consistency with an understandable pattern of internal thinking is always going to be more compelling than one that isn’t. Last of all, we have the often lauded backstory. To be clear, merely having a backstory is not enough for a character to be compelling. I’ll go more into this in my Beginner’s Guide to Character Development, but for now, all you need to know is that whatever backstory a character has needs to be not only enough to justify their current position, but it also needs to be connected to their views on relevant subjects. Backstories like this will succeed much better than backstories that don’t follow this rule. So, while on the surface naming the better character seems like a completely subjective undertaking, by analyzing all these different elements that ARE measurable, the superior character can be declared from an objective standpoint. Now, there are of course aspects to a character that really are subjective no matter how you look at them. My personal favorite character of all time holds that position largely because of her entertainment value, something that varies more wildly than any other. Now, in my objective analysis of character personality, she would still pass with flying colors, still counted among the masterfully written characters of literary history. However, I don’t think she would be my Rank 1 if I didn’t find her to be so endlessly watchable. That entertainment value can only carry one so far, and if a character is solely banking on being entertaining and lacks the other traits I’ve mentioned before, it’s safe to say they’re an objectively bad character. If something so seemingly defined by personal taste can have an objective system of determining worth, then surely those topics that even the more subjective-minded people can concede the objective parts of fall under the same guidelines.

So what does all this rambling mean? Well, it’s quite simple. All opinions are not created equal. Even discounting how some opinions are more informed than others, there’s also the fact that opinions which can be backed up with logic and reasoning are distinctly more valuable than those which cannot. Basically, this is all a tangent that allows me to say “You’re wrong, I’m right, and I can prove it”. So congratulations, you sat through me rambling about why my opinion is better than those of many of my detractors, and why you ought to listen to what I have to say because I can justify everything that comes out of my mouth. I think ultimately you need to realize that while my opinion is heavily influenced by my personal experiences, and I don’t necessarily look for the same things you do, I can also back up my opinions with evidence, so I can prove why I’m right. If you can’t do that, then think about your opinion and where it comes from, it very will might be misinformed.