Intro — I am generally too lazy to write proper reviews of art I experience. I do seek to discuss it, quite eagerly, with people around me, but oftentimes that intention is thwarted when literally nobody I know has experienced the same art. Sure, there’s the option to describe something to the extent where you can attempt a discussion with someone that hasn’t experienced it, but that doesn’t work very well or very frequently.

I remain, however, an art-worshiper, and it seems poor practice of my religion not to express my thoughts and feelings about artistic experiences somewhere. So I’ve decided to give this a try: a weekly or bi-weekly digest of thoughts on the art I’ve experienced over the last 7-14 days. This is a spiritual exercise for my own sake far more than for anyone else, but I figure it might be at least a little interesting to others from time to time, so I’ll be posting it publicly.

Some notes to start out with. First, assume spoilers always and guard yourself accordingly. Second, I do a lot of re-experiencing — rereading, rewatching, etc. — and tend to have new thoughts with every instance; as my initial impressions of something are often not the opinions I eventually settle on, I’ll try to specify, for context, when this is my first time through something. Third, I’m going to try to force myself to be as honest as possible, so not all of these thoughts and feelings will be positive. Last, because I am, as mentioned above, usually too lazy to write proper reviews, this may all be very disjointed and not at all worth reading XD

Anyway, let’s get started.

World of Warcraft — Given that I play this game in order to have something taking up my spare attention in another window as I write stories, I am probably worse than most people about not playing properly. I very rarely pay attention to what’s going on around me or read quest descriptions, so what story there may be in any given quest chain or area usually goes right over my head.

However, since reaching Pandaria, that phenomenon has lessened a trifle. I find that the storylines in Pandaria seize my attention, and the characters my interest, much more than many a previous area in the game. Whether this is because these storylines and characters are better written than much of the rest of the game or because I was forced by the level cap (not having Warlords yet) to slow down and pay attention for a while, I don’t know, but it has continually been the case.

I’m in the middle of running around with Chen Stormstout, and I love him and Li Li both. What I really wanted to mention today was the adorable moment of characterization of Chen when, finding his presumed relatives at the brewery hostile and unwilling to meet him, his brilliant idea is to brew beer — not in an attempt at showing them up or proving he’s really one of them, but simply as an offering… like a sort of reconciliation even though they haven’t actually fought. When he’s approaching the brewery with his cart full of barrels and he shouts something to the purpose of, “Relatives! I’m back! And I brought beer!” I just wanted to hug him. He’s so simple in some ways; it’s really sweet.

P.S. Mudmug says they’re like beer brothers, and I’m like, “More like beer boyfriends, amarite?” But I haven’t been able to find anyone else shipping those two. Sad day.

Sailor Moon Crystal — So this show hasn’t exactly been a triumph of logic thus far, but the scene in the hospital(?) at the beginning of Act 34 is my new favorite. “She’s in cardiac arrest,” states an indifferent medical person. “She died.” And walks away.

I know I’ve been guilty of glossing over scenes, or even entire stories that would otherwise be more specifically detailed, in official settings I don’t have the time or energy or resources to research properly. I think most writers are. But, seriously, have you never been to a hospital before? Or else where the hell are they supposed to be?

I love to see Usagi demonstrating her maternal feelings for Chibiusa, especially after the manufactured tension of last season, but it was a struggle to stay invested in the emotion of the scene when all I could think was, “Emergency drugs? Calmly frantic staff trying their best to revive her? Actual pronouncement of death? Presence of supposed legal guardians?”

But, then, I think this show is generally very carelessly written, and feels a lot more like an attempt at cashing in on the popularity of the title than a genuine, heartfelt effort at making a new anime closer to the manga. And of course I’m happily watching along drinking in every moment my favorite characters (primarily Uranus and Neptune) are onscreen, but in most ways this is a very inferior series.

Ah, and another new ending theme, too. Certainly a better song than Tuxedo Kamen ever got in the original series, but, good heavens, this end sequence animation is silly. And I can’t help feeling much as I did back when “Rashiku” Ikimashou replaced Watashitachi ni Naritakute — what have you done with my adorable Chibiusa song?????

Jem and the Holograms #15 — I loved the ending of this issue. First off, it’s wonderful to have Pizzazz back and seemingly feeling better, though it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any lingering depression (and what, if anything significant, happens between her and Blaze).

Secondly, I always love it when rival characters team up (see also my interest in Saitou and Sano, heh); I find that infinitely more interesting than endless contesting. It’s similar to my love of the villain that joins the heroes but remains somewhat villainous; the tension generated as rivals that remain rivals but are now on the same side try to work together, sometimes getting along, often uneasily, constantly snarking at each other but mutually supportive at the same time, is one of my favorite dynamics. And I’m hoping we see some of that between the Holograms and the Misfits at this point in the story.

There’s a passage in my favorite fanfiction of all time, Embracing the Shadows by Aoe-san, that I feel describes the Misfits/Holograms relationship in the original series (as well as the relationships portrayed between rivals or enemies in a lot of works) extremely well. Schuldig is talking about Weiß:

“We see them all the time! Half the time I feel like I should just join Yohji at the bar, or call up Omi when Nagi needs a tutor! We’re like the wacky neighbors on some kind of screwed up sitcom. It almost surprises me when we occasionally start trying to kill each other. It’s like that Bugs Bunny cartoon with the sheepdog and the wolf that spend all day fighting and then at the end they clock out on the tree and start chatting like regular coworkers…”

Codex Born — I’ve just finished this book for the first time, and, though there are a million things I’m loving about the series so far, simultaneously I don’t quite know how I feel about Lena. She’s fascinating to read, and some aspects of her character and the way she’s presented are some of the million things I’m loving about the series, but I also feel that the way she’s written is a little… exploitative.

You get the very clear message, “This character was written as a sex fantasy by a juvenile and objectifying author; isn’t that awful? She’s got no choice but to fall easily in love with and be deeply influenced by random people, who then essentially own her, and has no fixed personality or autonomy, and that’s terrible.” But then it dwells on her sexiness and desirability, and uses the situation she’s in to further the romantic interests of the main character and the possibly somewhat morbid fascination felt by the reader. I’m uncomfortable with any character, but especially a female character, being written into an objectified, exploitable situation and then being used, and the whole thing kinda hiding behind this excuse, “Well, I didn’t write Nymphs of Neptune!”

Except that you did, Jim. Sure, you’re exploring how someone might act and what she might choose in a situation like that, and what you’ve come up with is reasonable and empathetic, which is why she’s so fascinating to read about, but that doesn’t change the fact that you did orchestrate this exploitative situation for her in the first place.

Authors put their characters into unspeakably horrible situations all the time, causing them to be psychologically damaged, tortured, raped, and killed for the sake of the story… but usually an author is writing about a situation in which a course of events — people’s choices, natural occurrences, cause and effect — have brought about those catastrophes. I’m not sure it isn’t crossing a line to write a character that is enforcedly objectified and exploited not because causality has led to the circumstance, but because of her intrinsic nature.

And, yes, a point of the books is that this sucks and is unfair and inhumane for Lena, but despite that, many of us (Isaac and the readers) are benefiting from this situation the author has put the character into, admitted is unfair and inhumane, and then blamed on someone else.

I adore the fact that Isaac’s concern about Lena’s autonomy was a major theme in the first book, but I still have two niggling issues even with that. The first is that excuses are pretty neatly found to let Lena be with Isaac despite his reasonable misgivings about that morally questionable decision. Yes, of course, it all made perfect sense in context… but that’s because the author set it up that way. Multiple reasons were provided for why it was OK for Isaac to take advantage of Lena’s nature, and it all seems aaawwfully convenient. In Lena’s very own words, “it’s easy to present simple answers to ethical questions when you’re the one shaping the story.”

My second issue is that the aforementioned nature feels a tiny bit like circumstances set up specifically to showcase Isaac’s decency. I’m all for having decent characters displaying their decency, and for books highlighting the importance of respecting others’ autonomy… but not necessarily at the expense of those very others. It’s not a fridged woman situation, and I wouldn’t want to imply that, but just the fact that I thought of fridged women while thinking about this is troublesome to me.

On the other hand, what Lena is being “used” for, for the readers’ benefit, is to explore how someone might feel and react and choose under those sorts of circumstances. So far it’s been a pretty good exploration of consent and personal growth and how relationships affect a person, and not unanalogous to various real-world, magicless situations. That kind of exploration has a definite value beyond titillation (of which there is also some) and entertainment (of which there is a great deal), and perhaps is worth Lena being “used” for.

I’m afraid I’m not explaining myself very well, and I may just have to leave it at, “I feel uncomfortable about this.” And maybe that’s the point. Maybe Lena’s situation (and even the titillating effect of many of the descriptions of her) is supposed to make readers uncomfortable in order to make the statement, “This kind of exploitation happens in real life all the freaking time — both through works of art just like Nymphs of Neptune that are blatantly objectifying, and in the attitudes and subsequent behaviors of real live people, sometimes a tiny bit more subtle, toward real live women — and it really is awful, and really needs to stop.”

Lena might actually function better as a metaphor than as a literal character, as a representation of victims of abuse that share a lot of her traits in a psychological if not magical sense. (That’s how I feel about some of the characters in SKU sometimes, and it never lessens my enjoyment of that series, so I can possibly accept it here.) Some other parts of the series, so far, work well metaphorically rather than literally too, so at the very least it’s interesting to think about.

And a quick word about authorial intent. A lot of critics like to say that authorial intent is irrelevant, that “the author is dead,” and so on, and I say that is mostly bullshit. In interpreting and critiquing a work of art, authorial intent is an extremely useful tool that can provide invaluable context.

Lena Greenwood, in the hands of another author, might come across to me as deliberately exploitative — the product of someone who wanted a set of convenient excuses to write a sexy slave-girl while exonerated by Nymphs of Neptune and getting credit for also having a thoroughly decent and respectful main character, someone who was laughing up their sleeve the whole time at getting to have and eat their cake.

But I know Jim. That is not true at all; I just follow his blog. But I have faith that he did not in any way intend for the books to feel like he was exploiting Lena just as badly as the author of Nymphs of Neptune. I believe whole-heartedly that he was trying to make an excellent and much-needed point about the objectification and exploitation of women and prevalent, distressing trends in relationships in our society. And there’s a huge, huge difference between “wrote something offensive” and “meant to get a particular point across and didn’t entirely succeed.” Especially given that it may only be me with whom it didn’t succeed; this aspect of the series may resonate much better with other readers.

This, of course, is not to say the work of art itself is altered in either case; that’s where authorial intent doesn’t make much difference. If I found the way Jim wrote Lena’s situation distasteful enough to turn me off the books, it wouldn’t matter what effect he was going for; the effect on me would remain unaltered. But as things stand, I do take what I know (and assume) of him into account.

A few more thoughts before I move on. First. Apart from the larger question rather poorly addressed above, I love that the nymphs’ superficial characteristics — hair and skin color — change for their lovers. That’s a brilliant touch that, though small, illustrates very well (if further illustration is needed) just what kind of person wrote Nymphs of Neptune — the kind of person that couldn’t envision someone wanting a lover to be an individual different from themselves, the kind of person that would see women as a palette-swappable set of assets.

Second, Gutenberg is a delightfully insufferable character I’m loving to hate. The Tolkien reference in relation to Isaac’s ambivalent (to me) choice to spare him was very apropos.

Third, I’m listening to the audiobooks (which is how I read most books), and David DeVries is just… soBAD. What’s really weird about it is that I have him reading a different set of books, and I remember him being passable in those. Either I’m remembering wrong, or he recorded these ones on some really off days.

Busou Renkin anime episode 1 — I checked out the first episode of this series just out of curiosity, since I love the manga, and… get ready for some negativity. Obviously I hold Watsuki adaptations to a higher standard, but I’ve got to talk about something I’m tremendously tired of in far too many manga adaptations. I touched on it above in discussing BSSMC, but now I’ma get a little more harsh.

There is no reason for this anime to exist.

The way I see it, and your mileage may vary, the reason for adapting a story into another medium is to take advantage of capabilities of the new medium that are not present in the old to highlight existing aspects of the story that can benefit from those capabilities. For example, an adaptation into a timed work of a story readers originally had freedom to experience at their own speed may, through skillful pacing, emphasize parts of the story for heightened emotional impact and immersion. The addition of well composed music in a well timed manner may build a mood better than words or visuals alone could do. Visible movement may clarify and simplify physically active sequences. Sometimes there’s simply the benefit of gorgeous visuals where everything was previously left to the imagination.

But most anime adaptations of manga, including this episode (and, I’m going to uncharitably assume, all remaining episodes) of Busou Renkin don’t do any of this.

In this episode, the pacing was poor, the music annoying and badly implemented, the action sequences clumsy, and the animation cheap and often glitchy. And at that point, what’s left? Pretty much the same story as in the manga, only… not told as well. Instead of enhancing the story, the new medium has degraded it.

I might be able to overlook a simply mediocre adaptation that, while doing nothing to enhance, at least did nothing to detract and presented the same story for the sake of people that prefer anime to manga for whatever reason… but these crappy adaptations are never that innocuous. Remember how much subtlety and complexity was stripped from Rurouni Kenshin in that poorly animated mess? Remember how the Shaman King anime devolved into fart jokes? And I’m not even getting into major changes to significant aspects of the manga, which is a whole nother irritating ballpark; I’m just talking about how badly anime already tends to do when it’s attempting to tell the exact same story.

The fact is that most of these shows are little more than cheap cash grabs attempting either to capitalize on a well known manga title or artist or to make a series quickly and easily because the story and character designs are already in place — sometimes both. Of course there are plenty of artists involved, producing real art as best they can — 99% of the music written for RK, for example, is spectacularly good, if very rarely used to good effect in situ — and some adaptations have higher production values, and are therefore slightly less painful, than others; but very rarely, in my experience, can they escape the reek of artistically impotent corporations determined to wring as much money as possible out of the heart’s work of others. And that’s exactly what that first episode of Busou Renkin smelled like.

Steven Universe fanart/episode — I have to restrain myself from mentioning stuff I experienced before I decided to start this, because I could be at just this one post literally forever if I’m reaching into the past for this stuff XD But right after I decided to do this, just for fun, I threw “lapidot” into a Google image search, and this was my favorite result — amusingly, fanart drawn a year ago before those two had had any real screentime together.

I love Peridot’s expression of utter surprise, her blush, and the fact that she’s progressed to playing Earth video games. Lapis still looks mysterious and in charge, but a little more laid-back than the Lapis we know — as she would have to be, to have reached a point where she’d be kissing Peridot :D A very sweet picture overall that brought tears to my eyes thinking of how far these two have to go.

And then of course there was Hit the Diamond, which started to answer a question I’ve had for a while now: just how different does gem society allow gems of the same type to be from each other? It seems like ‘pretty damn different’ covers it fairly well. I loved those Rubies so freaking much.

Our Ruby and Sapphire were so adorable I thought I would drop dead of squee. Their relationship continues to be one of the most fascinating and compelling aspects of the series. Plus I love to see the very in-control and phlegmatic Garnet making goofy mistakes every now and then XD

Another thing I loved about this episode is the continuing subtle characterization of Lapis. I think she’s going to make a great addition to the team if the writers choose to keep her there long-term. She’s hilarious and interesting.

Also, Peridot throwing herself into the path of danger thinking to save her new friends? LOVE. Calling herself the new leader of the Crystal Gems was a wonderful, hilarious touch. It was so typical that she was entirely wrong, too. Oh, Peridot.

Dan Brown article — Aight, I’ll freely admit that I have never read a Dan Brown book. My parents have made fun of one of them in my presence, but that is the extent of my familiarity with the author. I have, however, read plenty of mediocre and bad fanfiction, and to my understanding, this is about the same thing.

I will also admit that satirizing certain types of poor writing is not particularly difficult. But that does nothing to alter how tear-inducingly hilarious this article is or how much fun Michael Deacon must have had writing it. The article is three years old (though this was my first time reading it and then rereading it and then making my brother read it {aloud}), but the humor is timeless.

Outro — OK, this first week’s worth of stuff has gone well. I got a little ranty on one of them there, but that’s really no surprise. I think I’ll try this again and see if it continues to function.