With the release of his latest film, Hayao Miyazaki again increased his legacy in the world of animation. I have a deep respect for Miyazaki. He is a man who has spent most of his life honing his craft with great success. And while there is the ongoing joke of Miyazaki retiring, I simply acknowledge the man is managing expectations. Not just for us, but also for himself.
The Boy and the Heron
The trailer for The Boy and the Heron or How do you Live caught me by surprise. I was aware that Miyazaki was working on something; but since there’s always a big announcement for a new film, I just assumed that there would be teasers and trailers months before release. While I was very wrong; I could not be more delighted. I watched the trailer on release day and it just oozes Ghibli. It looks beautiful, and the minimalist approach of the 1 minute trailer only adds to the mystery surrounding this film.
The film is currently making its way to theaters around the world and for a change I’m trying not to spoil myself. Just so I can form my opinion when it eventually hits a nearby Dutch movie theater1. Like I said earlier: I have a deep respect for the creator Miyazaki and his work. He is the example of a person who has a profession that he loves and uses it with great effect to tell his stories. To that end, I want to comment on two images from the trailer that have that familiar Miyazaki feel to it and make me thrilled to see it.
The dark corridor:
A dark corridor lined with mysterious lights that illuminate the path. This reminds me of Spirited Away and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). It is the unknown and supernatural element we see so very often in Miyazaki films. I find the thought that nature will take over once we humans stop to manage a place really interesting. It also segways into the second image.
A flaming spirit next to a human. Like Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo, the spirits are among us. While in real life they don’t seem to have the power to manifest like in films; Miyazaki asks us to think about nature and respect it. Which is in line with his other works.
Both these images are, like I mentioned before, recognisable for people who’ve seen his other works. They are why I return to his work periodically. Not just because of nostalgia for the film or creative inspiration. But because they all refer to the greater world. One that is connected and where we are not alone. That feeling is the expectation I have when watching a Miyazaki movie. The feeling that has people revere his work and will outlast the creator when he eventually decides to retire.
Miyazaki has been talking about retirement for about 15-20 years now. Which is not odd, considering he currently is 82 years old. The admirable passion he has for his craft is likely the driving force of his continued productivity, yet the question is how his age is impacting production. I cannot imagine how it must be as an 80+ year old creative to add another incredible film to your revered filmography. Even less so to think about a new project. Which raises the question about how physically and mentally fit Miyazaki is.
I hope he can keep enjoying his (semi-) retirement for another few years since another seven-year production will be hard to complete. I’ve seen and heard of people who just “grow old” at a certain age. While for some it starts when they hit the age of 60, others are blessed because “deterioration” starts much, much later. There will come a time when a person just has to slow down because their body cannot work at the same pace as before. And since he’s 82, I’m not sure how age is impacting his work. I do not know his plans but I will not blame Miyazaki if he retires completely. On the other hand, I’m quite intrigued to see another Miyazaki film after this one. If he likes it or not, the world needs his stories. Perhaps now more than ever.
It’s currently being shown in Amsterdam, but I simply lack the time to travel there to see it.
“Follow your dreams” is something we all heard many times before. A simple catchphrase, yet a very general and basic life advice. To a certain extent, it is true. What we dream of is doing something that makes us happy and content. But in many cases, our dream is so general or so far away from our current life that it becomes a condition for happiness. “If I only can do X, I’ll be happy”.
Which results in people only dreaming and not taking actual steps to get closer to their goal. Lofty goals are hard to reach because they are either far away; or taking a first step is difficult because you don’t know where to begin. Not taking the element of luck into account or more importantly: working hard to get closer to the desired goal. In this context, you are the underdog. No one expects you to succeed, let alone make any decent progress towards your dream. But it is not impossible. Let me tell you about a group of people that made history. Let’s talk about the Korean film Dream.
Dream is an underdog story. While we might associate an underdog story with sports films like Cool Runnings and Rocky; there are other well-known films like Die Hard and Shawshank Redemption which have underdog protagonists. Underdog stories are not limited to sports; yet sports provide an easy framework for an underdog story. This is, in my opinion, part of the reason why people love them. As a viewer, I want to root for the underdog. They have to beat the antagonist against all odds in a specific situation bound by a specific ruleset.
In the case of Dream we follow the South-Korean Homeless football team on their way to their first Homeless World Cup. Dream is a recreation of the real-life events of 2010. The film states that the team’s participation had a great influence on the status of homeless people in South-Korea. Because this is an adaptation of the original story, it’s even more important to talk about the dreams that are related to these underdog stories.
In general terms: If the protagonist doesn’t have a dream or wish that the viewer can relate to, it’s hard to be captivated by the story. Dream’s protagonists have goals but not all are as relatable. The most endearing of the bunch is the player (Hyo-Bong) who wants to show that he can take care of himself so his ex-wife allows him to spend time with his daughter. And the spare moments we see him spent with his daughter are cute and well portrayed. It certainly is a lot more relatable than the football star (Hong-Dae) who’s fallen from grace and wants to regain favor from the public. Especially since he is the one that the film opens on and closes with. While his arrogance slowly disappears when he warms to the team; the resolution to his story arc is in my opinion sub-par to the rest and does not contribute much to the story as a whole. As such, it leaves a strange aftertaste. I would’ve ended his arc in a different way1.
The second part of a great underdog story is opposition. Rocky needs to defeat Apollo Creed in order to reach his goal. Creed is an adversary so formidable that it is very unlikely that Rocky has a chance despite intensive training. This is also where the underdog story can shine. By showing glimmers of hope through the looming shadow of defeat. Can the protagonist achieve something which makes them proud?
In my opinion, Dream falls a little flat in completely setting the stage for the World Cup. Due to the limited runtime, the story is rushed in some places. Rushed because there are too many players of note on the board. There is the coach, the documentary maker, the team manager and all of the players. They all have backstories which are in different ways important, yet cannot fully be explored due to time constraints. What we see is heartwarming, but I’m not fully invested. I don’t feel like the stakes are high enough. Not until that one match against Germany. Luckily the comedy and drama working towards the World Cup are fun to watch; but I think in films like these a large cast like this one is detrimental to the depth of the characters and how well the story is handled.
Adaptation and tenacity
The last important part of underdog stories is the adaptability en tenacity of the underdog. More often than not underdogs have exotic backgrounds which gives them an edge. In the case of Dream, the players are very tenacious. Even when the opponents are better in football on every level, the South-Koreans do not quit. When they stumble or fall, they get back on their feet. This has become part of their nature due to the social status they hold in their home country. Even when the majority of society see them as a different kind of people they believe in themselves. A few people worked very hard to get them to the World Cup and the players all have things to fight for. It’s this tenacity that gives them an edge in the games; and it’s this tenacity which makes the game against Germany the most exciting part of the film.
Follow your dream
Having a dream is a good thing. Especially when your dream makes the lives of other people better. The biggest hero of Dream is in my opinion the Big Issue manager, whom we rarely see on camera. He made sure the team could go to the World Cup and because of his (initial) actions, the social status of homeless people changed in South-Korea. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have such an impact?
So whatever your dream is; work towards it. Break it down in smaller steps and bring it to life with the tenacity of an underdog.
My preferred ending (1rst draft): After the cut that the team received the award, cut to the waiting hall of the media team. Play out that scene as it currently is in the film and jump to the title screen: Dream! Next: Show the sweet goodbyes of the father and daughter, followed by the passing daughter and granddaughter who visit the old man in his new house. This can be done by having the girl pass by in the background to ease the viewer to the new scene. Then show the text on how the team’s achievement impacted the status of homeless people in the country. After this: Cut to Hong-Dae who walking into the football stadium for training. He is on the phone with the Big Issue manager. They are talking about him staying on as coach for the next Homeless World Cup. There is only one condition: he can only give shirts to Beom-Soo’s girlfriend through him. Hong-Dae says he’ll think about it. He ends the call and we quickly cut to Beom-Soo eating with his girlfriend. She shares her food and calls him football player. Cut back to Hong-Dae who smirks and enters the dressing room where people start to cheer for him.
Have you ever dropped a stone in a pond and watched the tiny waves circle out until they crash at the edge? This is the ripple effect. Where one action over time has such a large impact on an entire community that the origin cannot be denied. Like our stone, which sank to the bottom, we cannot undo the initial action. But we can take action to prevent a repeating situation in the future. Since the most important metric is time, it sometimes is hard to find the root cause of the effects you are witnessing or experiencing.
When you’re negatively impacted by the effects, you are more likely to take a counter action versus the situation where the effects on your life are negligible. Today I’m looking at the British-Japanese co-production Giri/Haji. Where one man’s action leads to the disruption of multiple families and even the power balance of an entire city.
In Giri/Haji we follow Tokyo police detective Kenzo Mori. He is sent to London to investigate the murder of a Yakuza member. The man in London was murdered with the sword of the biggest Yakuza boss of Tokyo, yet not by his hand or instruction. The sword was stolen from boss Fukuhara by Kenzo’s brother, Yuto. Yuto was part of Fukuhara’s gang. Fukuhara and Kenzo’s superior suspect that Yuto is the killer but there is one problem: Everybody thinks Yuto is dead…
Left without choice, Kenzo travels to London to search for his brother. He leaves his father, whose health is failing, and his disobedient daughter in the care of his wife. His goal is to find Yuto and prevent a war between the Yakuza families. The question is if Kenzo can fulfill his duty or if the shame of past events will catch up to him.
In the initial episodes of Giri/Haji we get the urgency of the matter. If Kenzo cannot resolve the situation soon there will be a Yakuza war in Tokyo. One that will lead to many victims, including Kenzo’s own family. The show plays with multiple story/plotlines to great effect. Especially in the initial episodes there is this feeling of a ticking clock which impacts the decisions that Kenzo makes. He is on edge because of the situation in his family and the fact that his brother still may be alive.
Thus Kenzo makes some choices that are not very smart. Yet they are understandable for a man in his situation. Alone in an unknown city and another culture. Where you cannot rely on things that you know. And where, over time, old shameful memories come back.
I like how the show plays with consequences. Like Fukuhara says: “Someone threw a stone in a pond a long way away, and we’re only just feeling the ripples.”
While Fukuhara refers to the killing of the Yakuza in London with his stolen sword, there is a much earlier decision which set all this in motion. It is arguably Yuto’s decision to become a Yakuza, but given his nature that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. I’m referring to the one very clear moment in Yuto’s storyline that set him on this path. Namely, the moment when Jiro commands Yuto to pick up Fukuhara’s daughter, Eiko. Jiro thinks he’s too important to be a mere bodyguard and chauffeur, while Yuto wants to prove himself by fulfilling this responsible task. The eager and charming Yuto is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for Eiko and they fall in love.
This single moment has such an impact on the other characters that it cannot be denied. While it initially doesn’t seem like much, it causes a disruption with all the other characters. In order to spend more time with Eiko Yuot becomes more invested in the Fukuhara Yakuza family. Which as a consequence marks him as the black sheep of the Mori family.
On the other side there is boss Fukuhara, who does not want his daughter to marry a Yakuza. His decision to remove Yuto from the picture leads to a dissatisfied daughter; a stolen family heirloom (the sword); and eventually his death and the fall of his family.
“Every tiny split second decision we make can potentially have a profound effect on everyone around us.”
In Giri/Haji there is a straight followup between events which all relate to the themes of family and responsibility or duty to that family. There are many groups of people that call themselves a family. Some related by blood, others by a common cause. And there are families which are formed by a group of lonely people.
Giri/Haji shows a clear distinction between types of family. While groups like the Yakuza are very good at adding lone wolves to their ranks, they always demand something in return. Something which is usually not in accordance with the law.
A family related by blood can be comforting and suffocating at the same time. At some point two people found each other and started one. But living together and placing expectations on another can be suffocating.
As an example I would give Taki, who doesn’t feel at home in Tokyo. She feels freed of the expectations placed upon her when she’s in a different country and culture on the other side of the planet. At home, she’s the daughter of a police detective. In London, she’s just a girl. A girl who, like her father, connects with a bunch of people during her stay. A connection of lonely people who all share a need of love, of family. One that has expectations, yet not so much that they become suffocating. A family that doesn’t demand any outrageous action from your part. In this family, you are allowed to make mistakes. You are after all a good person who did a bad thing. You only need to be honest and carry the consequences of your actions. As long as you do, this family will care for you.
Nostalgia is difficult to understand. It frequently brings back films or series in our collective memory. For good or bad, they are everywhere. Partly because we live in a period where a lot is possible by technological developments. So companies see value in doing remakes. It is a chance to bring back a beloved franchise into our collective memory and rekindle the passion for the old one. Not to mention the potential to earn a decent income on the new product and related merchandise. It’s no wonder we live in a time of remakes. Remakes seek our feeling of nostalgia. We fondly remember that amazing Lion King opening and long to see it again. Only this time we bring our kids to the theater so that they hopefully have the same experience.
Another way to invoke nostalgia is to celebrate an anniversary. Like the 25th anniversary of Friends or today’s subject: 30 years of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
GoGo Power Rangers!
I grew up watching the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR). The colorful suits, zords, monsters and explosions really spoke to my imagination. So I really didn’t care that the show was an adaptation of the Japanese Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger and that some things looked strange. Like many other kids I was sold on the idea that if you were a teenager with attitude; you could become a Power Ranger. An idea that was reinforced for the better part of of the ten years1 that I initially watched the series.
I cannot really remember why I stopped watching in the early 2000s. Most likely because of school and I couldn’t see it on tv. Since then I sometimes watched a bit when I encountered an episode; only to find that I’ve outgrown the series. To see now that a lot of the Power Ranger series are rated mediocre at best does not surprise, even though that hasn’t stopped the franchise from doing the same trick over and over again.
As a returning viewer I was skeptical when the initial trailer dropped. It seemed really strange that the Rangers could use all their powers after the destruction at the end of MMPR2.
Aiai, there are issues with this one
The issue with the connected Power Rangers world is that it looks like they’re only sometimes trying to tie it together. Which causes worldbuilding issues. The concept for the Forever Red episode is nice, but raises the question about the status of some powers. Based on the ending of a series, a viewer can assume the ranger powers were destroyed and their connection to the Morphin Grid lost. If you’re a Power Ranger enthusiast you might know everything about it. But if you’re returning now to Once & Always after an absence for some 25 years, you’ll need a lot of your suspension of disbelief to make it work in your head.
I think that as an anniversary show Once & Always (O&A) should be a celebration, or an homage to the original show. With a fun story and perhaps some nice cameos. You don’t need the original cast to act in their suits. They aren’t superheroes who can still fight buff aliens in their fifties. They are humans whom are enhanced by some mystical power (suits). Wouldn’t it be easy to make an extended episode about passing the torch or reminiscing on the old adventures? With the message that you can outgrow something, yet it will always be a part of you.
Unfortunately, this is not what we got. To be short: the plot has heart, the dialogue and action are mediocre and the CGI looks like it was stolen from a 21 years old fan project. I jest a little, but the CGI is easily the worst part. Luckily it’s also the shortest.
This leads me neatly to the big question I have regarding O&A: Whom is this for? Is it for returning viewers of the original show? Like I said before, they need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Turn off the thinking mind to enjoy the easter eggs and callbacks. With 3 of the original cast members missing, I’m not sure what’s there for them besides seeing Billy, Zack Rocky and Kat in action.
Or is O&A for die-hard fans of the Power Rangers series? Maybe. There is something to say for the tried and true format of defeating a villain. But as an extended episode O&A drags on unnecessarily.
In regards to new viewers: I’m not expecting them to come in without someone who watched the original. I don’t consider it a good entry to the franchise. New viewers are better off watching the original on the official Youtube channel.
It feels like O&A is a rushed show, created with the same mindset as the original, yet actually being a creative original work. Which doesn’t help the show, but probably also doesn’t hinder it either. Most people who, like myself, were mildly interested watched it regardless of what people say about it on the internet. All the power to people who liked it, but I found myself wanting more.
How to correctly do Sentai nostalgia
If we take a step back from O&A and list the things that would, on paper, make this a great 30th anniversary I would say we need the following:
A contemporary story;
with the original cast and cameos of replacement rangers;
a look at the future.
Because MMPR is a sentai adaptation it’s easy to look towards Japan to find out how they did this in the past. And there is that one season which celebrated being the 35th Super Sentai in a most successful way: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger3.
Gokaiger did a number of things pretty good. First of: each character had a clear backstory and goals. Then there was the team goal. It which united them and made them a force to be reckoned with. That goal was to collect the ranger keys which would lead them to “The Greatest Treasure in the Universe”. Each (set of) Ranger Keys of the previous 34 Super Sentai Teams would grant the ability to morph into the chosen sentai/ranger to fight the enemy.
Gokaiger is obviously created for a contemporary audience; the tributes to the original series are very present. Yet it is also aware that old fans might be watching, so it feels very mature in its writing.
To provide structure, each episode does the following: 1. progress the main story of the fight against the enemy; 2. provide background information on one of the main characters; 3. have the team encounter a character of one of the previous teams 4. Any combination of the above.
If option 3 happened, the themes of that specific Sentai Team would also be present in that episode. Which would result in the Gokaigers learning about that team before receiving the Ranger Keys and/or the Great Power of that team4.
To top this off the show has a fun ending credits which lists each Super Sentai show and what they’re about. And that ending is in my opinion the cherry on the cake. It makes me curious about shows that I haven’t seen before. The endings and the updated, full versions of it, made me watch episodes of some of the Older Sentai series on Youtube. That’s the goal. To get old and new eyes on the franchise. Which Gokaiger did very well.
What can we learn from this
If the big question is what we can learn from a successful nostalgia show like Gokaiger; then it would be (1) to treat your audience fair, (2) insert the correct themes and be smart about what you use as plot. (3) Let it be its own, contemporary thing.
As research for this blog I read a lot of Power Rangers lore to have questions answered. Questions I had after watching the O&A special. Because of that, I have ideas in my head. And I do not want that to be spend unnecessarily. So I’m taking a bold move to write a basic plot for my version of the 30th anniversary special. One which aims to do the things I mentioned earlier. I hope would’ve interesting enough to get all actors on board if we were in the same timeframe as when O&A was shot.
I respect the actors’ choices to not participate in O&A but I can safely say that I missed them dearly. Not seeing them lessened the experience of watching the O&A special. I do not mean to discredit the other actors, but it is something that I believe O&A needed. Besides the fact that this positive spin gives me an extra layer of closure. Thank you for reading. May the Power Protect you!
That’s how I remembered it ending. Powers destroyed so they sought new ones. I figured that there must’ve been some retconning and worldbuilding choices made to facilitate the starting point of this special. Things that I wasn’t aware of. That starting point wasn’t good. Assuming retcons certainly did not help either. I was confused. Watching the Once and Always special did not improve this, so I can’t imagine how it must be for someone who only watched MMPR until Zeo.
As mentioned, the subject theme of an episode can be a callback to one of the previous Super Sentai series. As an example: there is an episode about traffic safety which relates to carranger. The Great Power they receive is a Megazord addon the Gokaiger can summon.
Finally! After a few weeks of impatient waiting the second part of The Glory was released on Netflix. These eight episodes were, in short, very satisfying. As you could probably tell by my piece of part 1, my hopes were very high.
Yet because of a cautionary nature partially instilled by highly critical media Youtubers like the Critical Drinker I let the show play out its story and held my opinion back. I was not disappointed. Yet again the Korean series machine manages to produce a show that is intelligent, well acted and above all: fun to watch.
Excellent build up
In the end The Glory is a very rewarding show to watch. The plot unfolds over the episode like layers of an onion. Each layer provides new information and a deeper understanding of each character through their behaviour.
Especially during the latter episodes of the show, when the gaps of information are filled it becomes clear just how much transpired to get to this point. We eventually know every action Dong-eun took to get to the endgame.
Like a game of Go she takes all that once belonged to Yeon-jin’s territory. Even if Yeon-jin knew that she was playing a game with these high stakes it is very likely she would end up in the same place. A place of social death. Without friends, a job and eventually her family. Yeon-jin was under the impression that she was in a few skirmishes with Dong-eun while she actually was in a war. And Dong-eun executed her plan like a great general.
War strategies and Go
I already commented on the game of Go in my previous blog on The Glory. The link between Go and the plot is very apparent in the show, but there is another link that I didn’t expect. I’m currently reading The Art of War (TAoW), which is a treatise on military strategy. It consists of 13 chapters which talk about different parts which contribute to a successful strategy.
The strategies utilized by Dong-eun are viable war strategies. I’ve divided her plan in three parts. To make things a bit more clear there is a description and I’ve added some examples. Let’s go to war!
1. Preparation (and information gathering):
When preparing for revenge you must know the precise end goal. For Dong-eun this was to humiliate Yeon-jin. Humiliation to the same level as happened to her. She would take the others of the group as collateral damage but the focus isn’t on them. The focus is Yeon-jin. Hence the letters she wrote over the years.
To successfully execute her plan Dong-eun needed to stay out of reach of the law. She needed to be clean and have the right information to hold leverage over key players. So it was imperative she’d gathered information. On all of Yeon-jin’s family, friends and business partners. In the modern age with social media and the internet it wasn’t hard to learn about Yeon-jin’s group. And some smart bribes also helped. Speaking of bribes; Dong-eun also made sure she had enough funds to execute her plan. A rich boyfriend helped as well, but most funds were her own.
2. Strike precisely and without mercy:
After the initial preparation Dong-eun makes herself known by being present as Ye-sol’s teacher and appearing in social situations where Yeon-jin’s group is also present. An act very similar to the initial stand-off between armies or putting the first stone on the Go board.
Through preparation Dong-eun intimately knows her enemies. She knows how they work and react so she can strike where it hurts. The plans used to bring down the enemy have been created to strike at the specific target’s weakness. Long in the making but when the trigger is pulled, they are without mercy. Sa-ra’s drug addiction became a tool for blackmail and when Myeong-oh disappeared it was relatively easy to seduce Sa-ra in episode 12 to take the drugs and cause her own downfall.
The Glory shows that people die a real or social death for their greed or foolishness. Dong-eun’s Judgement comes without mercy yet it is executed with discretion. This is to limit collateral damage. Think of Ye-sol and Do-yeong. but more importantly, it is the only way to make sure Dong-eun and her allies stay out of the picture.
3. Be agile and creative:
Dong-eun has the end goal in her mind. It is implied that she wanted the total victory without gathering media attention yet it is not clear if she fully knew the way to reach this goal. In other words if she played the Xanatos Gambit or the Batman Gambit1. Based on what we’ve seen I think it is the Batman Gambit. Dong-eun knows her enemies pretty well through her extensive preparation. She is also smart enough to deal with unforeseen challenges such as Hyeon-nam’s greedy husband and a dirty colleague (Jeong-ho). Yet her strategies are flexible enough that these disruptions do not interfere with the end result. She uses them to her advantage.
As an example: Dong-eun probably expected that Jae-joon’s greed would be beneficial to her, yet she could not have planned that he would be the one to deal with Jeong-ho and have that event drive a wedge between him and Ye-sol. Dong-eun’s strategies are smart and well executed, which makes it a delight to watch.
The people in Yeon-jin’s group were living their best lives after what they did when they were young. But their past did not stay buried and came haunting them. In a way, all the group members got what they deserved. Like I said earlier, The Glory is a smart show. Not just in the plot and its execution. It also gives the viewer what they want to see. Revenge with a good ending. A big plus is in my opinion that it does not have over the top romantic moments that do not fit the overall tone of voice of the show. The romance serves the plot and is not intrusive. I greatly enjoyed how the show concluded both Dong-eun and Yeon-jin’s character arc. There is an opening for a new season, but who knows if that will happen. Perhaps if it stays on the netflix most hours watchlist for a longer period of time. If that happens, I’ll certainly watch it.
Xanatos Gambit: a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure
Batman Gambit: A plan that revolves entirely around people doing exactly what you’d expect them to do.
I always like to be surprised by a show or film. At least in a positive way. There are a lot of films and series available, so I’ve learned to be very picky with my time. I want to see a character gain an insight or share a view of life that I can use. A lesson to learn or a healthy habit to copy. Media do not always provide this, but sometimes I get lucky. Today I’ll have two series and one film that provide an insight about staying true to yourself.1
I got interested in Devilman Crybaby because of the Year of Yuasa video essay. His style is recognisable and the animated hyper-violence was a nice palate cleanser in between parts 1 and 2 of The Glory. In the show we follow the schoolboy named Akira Fudo. When his body becomes possessed by a demon he manages to retain his heart and kind soul, thus becoming Devilman. Over its runtime, we see Akira fight demons who have completely taken over their host body. Yet somehow, Akira manages to keep his empathy in the rapidly changing world around him. Because the show only spans 10 episodes, there are some big leaps in the main plot. Despite that, Devilman Crybaby manages to convey the difficulty of the characters to keep their humanity in the polarizing and violent world they live in.
Call me Chihiro
Call me Chihiro is probably the most slice of life film I’ve ever seen. On a surface level it looks like a couple of days from the life of the main character: former sex worker Chihiro. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes more. It shows us that we can help others by being oneself. By connecting people, handing out advice and especially being focussed on the needs of the other. Chihiro is an adorable human being, who by her natural charm is a welcome deviation of the more distant social standard we often see in real life. A film best watched when you’re not in the mood for something heavy, since the bittersweet lightheartedness is heartwarming on a cold evening.
Romantic Killer far exceeded my expectations. This romantic comedy is about high schooler Anzu. A very non-typical girl who only loves chocolate, games and cats. But when she starts her new game, a wizard pops out of her tv and takes what she loves most in life. The goal of wizard Riri is to have Anzu fall in love. Stubborn as she is, Anzu is determined to fight off any romance that comes her way. She will win back her three greatest joys in life and defeat the wizard at its own game.
The plot of Romantic Killer is as ridiculous as you would expect. The animation is great and the characters well developed. This combination gives the (physical) comedy an extra layer which makes this show a wholesome and hilarious experience. What really sells it for me is the many faces of Anzu and the great performance of her voice actor.2 It makes Anzu’s arc from a self-centered person to a kind and loving one a treat to watch.
The giving heart
All these media: Devilman Crybaby, Call me Chihiro and Romantic Killer show us what we can do if we stay true to ourselves. Akira has to make hard choices for the ones that he loves. Even when these choices lead him down a dark path, he manages to keep his human side alive. His inner demon needs to be fed, but because Akira believes in his humanity he can stay true to himself for a very long time. A sight neatly contrasted by the character Moyuru, who after a time gives in to become a full fledged demon. He cares little for others around him and eventually gives in to the pressure, seeing no suitable future for himself as an individual. He chooses to become part of the ever growing demon horde. Something that Akira and fellow Devilman Miko refuse to do until their death. Both Akira and Miko show a strong moral compass which makes them memorable as characters.
Another person with a strong moral compass is Chihiro. As a former sex worker she knows how to handle people. In her new life as a bento box sales person, she becomes the fascinating center of a community. Brutally honest yet never disrespectful. She is a socially binding element between people who didn’t know they needed it. While her focus on the present is an admirable trait, it eventually reveals itself to be a double edged sword. Through her it becomes clear that with a single focus on the present, a character will probably not improve their personal situation in the future.
How to never be alone
Chihiro is an empathic person, yet she chooses to give priority to others over herself. Serving a community like she does is a healthy trait until it becomes unhealthy. Chihiro leaves no room for herself to be happy. We learn little about her past and her inner life. Despite her outward and considerate demeanor, she seems to be afraid of deeper bonds. A behavior made clear by her sudden departure at the end. Chihiro is a person that will most likely feel like she’s alone in the world until she learns she’s not alone.
A feeling that Romantic Killer’s Anzu has no notion of when her distractions are forcibly removed. Companions magically enter her life like they always were there. Initially she rejects them, defiant of the “evil” wizards plan. Yet over time she learns to enjoy their company. She matures as a character. Like Chihiro, she becomes present in social situations. But with the difference that her goal is to win back her three big loves. With that in mind she has a focus on what she wants for the future. Anzu will not allow herself to be swayed into liking a man purely because he is a man. She enjoys the company of the men in her life because they are fun to be around. Over time this reveals Anzu to be an attentive and caring young woman which naturally inspires the company she attracts to grow as people.
Of these three people (Akira, Chihiro and Anzu) one can argue that Romantic Killer shows best how to deal with internal struggles. You never have to be alone when you share your personality with the world. Devilman Crybaby, Call me Chihiro and Romantic Killer show that if you stay true to yourself and try to live your best life you will encounter people that can and will help you. You only need to give yourself permission to be helped.
Being true to yourself means you don’t worry about pleasing other people; living by someone else’s standards or rules. You don’t care what people think of you. You live as your natural self. Without compromise. No one can tell you how to be true to yourself except you. Source: Ethics Sage
I’m a little obsessed with The Glory. This K-Drama released on Netflix in December 2022 caught some attention with the fans.1 A tightly written script, good acting and one of my personal favorite themes: Revenge.
What is The Glory
The Glory is about a woman who seeks revenge on the people who abused her when she was in High School. When she was young, Moon Dong-eun wanted to become an architect. But after the physical and mental abuse she quit school and started working on an elaborate plan to exact her vengeance on the five people that ruined her life.
At the time of writing, only part 1 of the show has aired. In the first 2-3 episodes we learn about the characters and the situation that caused Moon Dong-eun to mastermind a plan that will either ruin or end the lives of the people who abused her. The painful experience that still haunts her. The experience that initiated her change into who she has become. An unstoppable force obsessed with vengeance. There will be no Glory in your life, for I have none as well.
Revenge plots and revealing information
I find that revenge plots are very interesting to watch. Revenge is a powerful motivator for the protagonist. It binds the audience to their cause as equal as it reveals character. The audience should sympathize with the understanding that the only way forward is revenge. We have to see John Wick’s dog killed, Edmond Dantès rot in jail and Moon Dong-eun abused. No matter how distasteful it is to watch.
Like I mentioned above: it is important that we as the audience identify with the reasoning of the protagonist. Yet I do have a disconnect with the physical abuse on screen. Maybe because I only think of mental abuse when I talk about the act of bullying. Physical abuse was before this show not something I related to the word.2 So I needed a suspension of disbelief. Because the abuse is the inciting incident of the show and everything about it is very deliberate.
We are reminded on multiple occasions that the scars are there. They show discomfort with our protagonist in multiple situations. It reveals her emotional state without the need of spoken words. It also reveals the character of the other when it is the topic of conversation. Which makes the on point dialogue even more interesting. It gives a complete picture of the characters in this show without the need of emphasizing certain moods. Expression is used, but in a way that reveals even more of the character; how they feel about the situation and it gives an indication of the choice they are going to make.
The importance of Go
Go is a board game where the players put their pieces (“stones”) on the board. The goal is to claim as much territory of the board when no more moves can be made. The game is very important in the show. Not only is it the way that one of the characters (possibly) switches sides. It reveals the character of the player. Ha Do-yeong was told by his Go teacher that he was born with a black stone in his hand. Black is the starting player in Go. The one who has the upper hand because they can make the first move. And we’re being told that Ha Do-yeong was in an excellent position for his entire life. Always being the initiator. From his profession to his wife, this man was a winner. Until he started to play with Dong-eun. The girl whose parents were of a lower social class. Who was abused and horribly scarred; both physically and mentally. She plays aggressively and doesn’t give up. Her obsession and passion motivate her. She wants to take the world from her opponent and she will not stop until it is done thrice over. Victory is not enough. She will bury her opponent so deep no one will ever be able to find it.
Here lies the crux of The Glory. How far will Dong-eun go? If her playstyle with Go is an indication she will over extend herself and go down with the antagonist Park Yeon-jin. The question will be if Dong-eun will be able to prevent those in her care to remain free of the situation? Both her friends Joo Yeo-jeong and Kang Hyeon-nam are deeply entrenched with her. Will she dig their graves as well? Questions I hope to have answered when part 2 airs. If the first 8 episodes are any indication we will be surprised at the end. Part 2 airs on March 10 on Netflix.
Currently scored with an 8.9 on MyDramaList. But since it’s so new and part 2 of the show hasn’t released yet we have to wait how it evens out over time.
But it happens in real life. There are a number of known incidents in South-East Asia which involve mental and physical abuse in schools. That I’m not relating the word to physical abuse is a lack of knowledge about the subject from my part.
Welcome to 2023 and all the best for the new year. While it still feels we are all going through tough times I’m here to look back on 2022 and celebrate a few things. There are always reasons to celebrate, even when the world looks like a bigger mess than the year before. The January blog is my traditional New Year’s dive. I reflect on the previous year and look forward with the help of my Year Theme.
A Year Theme is one word or a short sentence which denotes your goals of the year. For me, it is a tradition that I’ve implemented to make the best of said new year. It provides structure and empowers to make decisions which improve your life. It is important that a theme is positively formulated, so it helps to create a better situation in a specific area of your life. In other words, it should imply personal growth. Here’s a video explaining a Year Theme.
2022 didn’t go as planned…
New Year’s resolutions are funny. We start with hope. Our goal is to make an improvement in our life. Yet after a couple of weeks our daily worries take over and when March arrives we’ve forgotten our resolutions completely. Because a Year Theme is intentionally vague and open they are malleable. My 2022 theme Future Smart was constructed to create a situation in my life which would be a solid base for the future. Hence being smart about about my future or Future Smart. To support my 2022 Theme I set four simple goals1. Goals to provide a structure for me to work on my Theme. But a year is long and surprise: Life happened!
In the end I was only able to make room in my agenda on a structural basis. This was only realized at the end of the year. Another year which felt as if I was (almost) always working. It was a combination of something that I wanted to do earlier and something that arose because I needed more time for myself. My intention was to make more time for my projects but I also noticed that I received a diminishing return on investment of time. I had to slow down.
That 2022 didn’t go as planned does not mean that my Theme or the execution from my part was bad. It was solely that the focus shifted. I (re-)learned a few things but the most important lesson was the one of letting go. I have a tendency to hold onto things that are important and last year I really had to let go to prevent exhaustion (and possible burn-out).
This was not just professional or work related but also in my private life2. In hindsight the learning experience of letting go is in line with the theme of Future Smart. And looking back I’m satisfied with the lessons learned.
Questions to ask and positive answers for a positive outlook
It is useful to use a tool to reflect. To give words to my growth I use the technique proposed by Jay Shetty in his podcast On Purpose. The tool is to answer a couple of questions that makes reflection easier. The answer can come immediately but when thought about the question for a couple of days, an even deeper understanding may come to mind.
Question 1: What did I discover or rediscover about myself
This is a two parter. First I realized that for me, writing is a form of therapy. I use writing to give words to things that happened and to create a better understanding of it. Creative writing is important and I need to do it on a regular basis.
Second: Editing doesn’t satisfy my need to be creative. So it is important that I moderate other activities in my life to make time for editing as well. I consider myself capable at organizing my time but it needs proper planning so I will not fall behind.
Question 2: What’s the challenge that I overcame in 2022
I already mentioned this earlier. It is letting go of tasks and thoughts. I know this is a lifelong challenge for me, but the experience of acting on the realization that I cannot do a certain thing was very rewarding.
Question 3: what made me the happiest
What made me happiest was the reciprocity that I received from people. I always try to give love and be respectful to family, friends and colleagues. In 2022, I experienced a level of return of investment that I did not expect. So if you’re one of those people in my life: Thank you!
A look forward: 2023 – a year for me
Thinking about letting go of distractions that prevented writing from being at the center of my agenda led me to this: I want 2023 to be a me year. To be more specific, I want it to be a year where my personal interests and wishes are more present. Meaning that I want to spend more time on activities that give me energy. One of them being writing. I’m very grateful to occupy this little corner of the web, but I also want to do more with my writing. Nature and Nurture, if you will.
This led me to my 2023 theme: “Gardening”
Gardening implies a more relaxed state of mind. Working on a little patch of land to make something beautiful.
The Theme itself is build from three aspects:
Feeding the roots of the plants.
This is done by spending time writing, reading or doing courses. There are no big deadlines yet the goal is to remain productive. Productive without too much pressure of said deadlines.
Show off the colors of the many plants.
Being productive allows me to finish projects. That means I can give you things as well, dear reader.3
Remove weeds when encountered.
When gardening there is a high chance of encountering behaviour that I want to change. The goal here is to either grow it into a pretty plant or remove it.
I think 2023 will be an exciting year. Not just because I see an opportunity to re-align myself with my Ikigai (to connect). The focus is on improving my (mental) health to do something nice. I want to have the output. To facilitate this I created a schedule with quarterly and monthly tasks. Task aimed at making the flowers in my garden bloom. Not just by finishing current projects but also by relaxing. I have already booked a vacation to bucket list destination New Zealand. Which honestly feels like closing a chapter since I’ve waited so long to go there. Until then I’ll happily relax with the many books and shows in my back catalog.
We don’t know what the future holds. The only way to move forward is with the knowledge that we make decisions based on our insight of that specific moment. So go with confidence, dear reader. Let’s make 2023 a good year!
As an example: I had to accept that I was too tired because of an increased workload in September. Work was very demanding and I needed time to recuperate. So I had no energy to continue editing my book. I concluded that I wasn’t going to finish the third draft by December and gave up on that.
I have plans to release a short story every quarter of the year. I conjured them last year and they all are outlined or in the first draft. The Hidden Icons shorts will be published on my stories page.
Writing is the practice of putting letters into words and sentences. To put words on paper is a way of expressing yourself to the reader. It is more permanent than speaking, for the spoken word only lives in our memory after the sound is gone while words on paper remain. It is an ancient practice that most of us learn from a young age. We use it our entire life, whether we think about it or not. Our daily writing practice may involve sending emails to our customers or colleagues; typing short messages to our friends; or writing a book. All is possible. But where are the people who write letters? Not letters to government officials or to apply for a job. But true, heartfelt letters to their loved ones. Are there even people who write letters to their loved ones or are we not able to do so anymore? These are questions that Violet Evergarden put in my mind.
What is Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden is a 2018 Netflix animated series based on the similarly named Light Novel. It follows Violet Evergarden, a girl in her teens who was a child soldier until the end of the war. As Leidenschaftlich’s Soldier Maiden she was known by friend and foes alike. The young girl who protected major Gilbert Bougainvillea with her life. As a child soldier, she knew only military life. So major Gilbert’s orders were her direction, her only meaning in life.
A life she almost gave away in the last battle. The operation to take an enemy stronghold that went completely wrong. Violet lost both her arms and her commanding officer, whom she wanted to protect. The major, mortally wounded, knew his time had come. Ever since he took Violet under his wing, he taught her important skills like reading and writing. Which she did, as Violet thought it was part of her training. She could not infer at the time that the major was slowly teaching her skills to live her own life. A skillset which he could not complete. So his last orders were simple: “Run and live. Be free.”
The last words he spoke were: “from the bottom of my heart. I love you.”
Words she didn’t understand. With the major crushed under a building and Violet waking in the hospital bed with two metal arms the show begins. In search for the meaning of I love you.
The impact of writing
After she’s healed, Violet takes a job at a postal company where female scribes (Dolls) work as ghostwriters. In this illiterate world, the scribe is a very needed job. People have requests for written words. Be it stage plays, love letters or something else that is special.
With every letter, we learn with Violet. We learn how to deal with loss, guilt, regret, atonement and love. As Violet’s scribe teacher explains: “An optimal Doll will be able to decipher the person’s true feelings and express it on paper.” A role which Violet makes her own, as we see that with each written word the emotionless girl learns empathy and is eventually able to express it as well.
Letters are such a beautiful medium. Youtuber Sage Rain has an on point definition: “a letter is a message that can exist beyond the constraints of time, age or distance.” A letter can reach those who are lost. People unwilling or unable to listen to the spoken word might be reached on a deep emotional level with the right words. Words expressed by a client, written by the Doll and delivered by a mailman. That is the truth of the world in which Violet lives. All put their effort into these letters so the recipient can read the contents with honest eyes and hopefully an open mind. Violet experiences this as well in episode 9, when she herself is lost. Receiving the letter gives her the realization that receiving a letter equals receiving someone’s precious feeling. Their heart and soul. Which ultimately helps her to step into the light. To an unknown but bright future.
Letters for a loving future
Our digital age allows for convenient means to create and send written words. Watching Violet Evergarden might give the impression that our modern communication systems lack a personal touch. There is no physicality to the received letter simply because no one delivered it in person. While there is a truth in that, I would not dissuade you from writing a letter to another person. You can not know if your written words are the ones that change that person’s life.
With heart and soul
I did not get answers to the questions I asked at the start. Some are simply to farfetched to research myself. Yet I believe that there are people who still write beautiful letters and that we all are capable of writing letters with heart and soul. Even if the after war setting of Violet Evergarden may be distant, the emotional challenges on display are human and relatable to all. For we all have our own challenges in life. Should you feel lost like some of the people in Violet Evergarden, I encourage you to search for words that inspire you. It does not matter who the source is. A small quote from an unknown tv show can be as inspiring as a motivator with millions of followers. If the quote feels important to you, cherish those words. They carry the heart and soul of the writer.
The stars have fallen, the world is broken and danger lurks around every corner. This is the world of Spéir. The world of Campaign: Skyjacks. A long-form podcast created by the One Shot Network. It is an actual play Tabletop Role-Playing Game (TTRPG) set in a custom world with a custom rule-set. With a strong focus on narrative and characters, this podcast is a delight to listen to.
Spéir is a world based on Folk Tales i.e Folk Tale Punk. Meaning that the stories people tell have power. Magical power that can be used by humans and by god-like beings called Luminaries. The players travel the post-apocalyptic skies of Spéir on a ship called the Uhuru1. They navigate problems brought onto them by the Red Feather Corporation, other pirates or themselves.
What I like about the setting is that it differs from others. The basics2 are simple and easy to follow. They are fleshed out constants that always lurk in the background. As a listener you know the importance of the Featherweave which allows any ship to fly. Combine this with the monopoly that the Red Feather Corporation has on the material makes it exciting when the players steal a big bundle of said Featherweave from a Red Feather ship. You know it has long-lasting consequences and implications for the continued story. A simple narrative thread that drives the main story forward while the focus of the players is constantly drawn to their personal problems.
Characters are very important in a TTRPG. Not just because you want a connection with your character while you maneuver through hours of content. A fully fleshed out character adds to the story if the GM chooses to incorporate it in the main narrative. I have played some one-shots where incorporation isn’t possible, and I found that I wasn’t as invested as I expected to be in the game during the short playtime.
Skyjacks is long-form storytelling and has player stories woven through the main narrative in an intricate way. All player characters have very different backgrounds and they all contribute to the story of the campaign and the world. This is done in multiple ways but the easiest example to give is that they are the core group or captain’s council on the Uhuru. Which means that they (conveniently) make decisions for the rest of the ship. This results in a fun cause and effect in the main plot and a compelling series of events surrounding the characters. Because the voice cast are experienced in acting, improv and/or TTRPGs it is a delight to listen to. The quality editing and custom soundtrack only adds to it.
The heart of Skyjacks
I love the Skyjacks OST. I would argue that together with the voice cast it is the heart of this show. The tracks amplify the emotion of each scene. Whether it be fun, dark or emotional; Skyjacks has it. I’m trying hard to not spoil the story but to emphasize my point I need to talk about the bird competition Aur Piora3. First off there is the setting of Burza Nyth (pronounced “bou-ja neeth”). A wonderful city near the hostile sea. It is a place where privateers, corsairs and Red Feather ships can dock and trade. The city is run by a person called the Broker. Their most notable feature is their funny voice and behaviour4. In this arc the players are selling stolen goods. As part of the deal with the Broker they participate in Aur Piora. Which leads to a lot of comedic moments , an exciting competition with custom rules, a character death and a profound life lessen:
I’m a big fan of engaging personal stories. As you can see on my inspiration page I even collect some that I find inspiring to share with you. Skyjacks is a show where engaging personal stories are woven into the narrative to create a compelling podcast. It is not just comedy or a campaign to save the world from destruction. It is multi-layered and the mature themes are greatly appealing to me. The deeply personal interactions of Travis with other characters have caught me off-guard on multiple occasions. With the new arc starting this week I’m hoping you are willing to give it a listen as well.
You can listen to Skyjacks almost anywhere on the internet. Or listen to Courier’s Call; their all ages spin-off. Check the links on their website. Take flight heroes!
1. In Spéir the people have taken to the skies because after a cataclysmic event the sea became death itself.
4. For example, at a certain point the Broker dresses up in a raven-like costume and uses exploding birds to communicate with others. Combine this with personnel dressed as spooky butlers and you have quite the eccentric character.