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New Year’s Dive 2023

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:

  1. 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. 

  1. 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

  1. 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.

You’re OK as a human. But not OK in the greater goal. The incremental improvement is important. Be honest about your current situation. You can be more then you are now.

Jordan Peterson
The Joe Rogan Podcast #1139

To conclude

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!


  1. See my 2022 blog on the goals and explanation.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Extra source Year Themes: Hear people talk about Year Themes in this 2 hour long podcast show

Violet Evergarden: Letters for the Lost

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.

“People have very complex and sensitive emotions. Not every one can express how they truly feel. They end up contradicting themselves or lying, which makes it difficult for me to understand what is true and what not.”

Violet Evergarden

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.


Sources used

Just your easy acces Wikipedia link

Violet Evergarden on My Anime List: It’s top 100

Grab your tissues says Geoff Thew: Mother’s Basement review

Sage Rain video essay

Header image source

I collect inspiring quotes as well and you can find them here

Why I like Skyjacks

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.

The setting

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.

The players

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 spend a lot of my life running away from things, and being under the control of other people. And I fucking hated it. I hated every minute of it. Then I met someone last year who told me ‘the one thing you never wanna do is die with your arms bound. There are gonna be people who try and lock you down your whole life, and as long as you’re not fighting them you’re losing.’

– Hildred Gastaur –
Campaign Skyjacks episode 34

Engaging stories

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!


Notes

1. In Spéir the people have taken to the skies because after a cataclysmic event the sea became death itself.

2. Some of the basics are:

  • The Red Feather Mega Corporation;
  • constantly changing seasons;
  • birds are roughlt 8.3 times as large as normal;
  • a mostly unexplored world
  • the sea is evil and will kill you.

3. This arc starts from episode 16.

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.

Edgerunners: Eyes that skirt the abbyss

The abyss. The pitch black place of moral depravity where normal people do not come. For if you enter it, you are lost to humanity.

Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (C:E) is an exploration of the people susceptible to the call of the abyss. A show dedicated to the cyberised punks who are skirting the edge in search of money and glory. If you’re not familiar with the Cyberpunk universe, C:E does a great job of introducing you to the dystopian sci-fi of Night City in the year 2076. While the show is colorful, there is an unmistakable grittiness to the visuals on screen. The below walk through Night City shows everything you need to know.

The rest contains spoilers for Cyberpunk Edgerunners.

The people

Night City looks like a place where normal people have a hard time living. In a world run by mega corporations and streets dominated by gangs, a simple question is: where does the middle class fit?

We get a glimpse of this in the opening episode where we see Gloria. At first glance, she is an honest, hardworking woman. A single mother who works double shifts to keep herself and her son David alive. She also works for David’s education in one of the major corporations in Night City. But David’s education at Arasaka isn’t what makes him happy. Despite his good grades he doesn’t feel like they are his people. The rich boy bullies also  contribute heavily to this alienation. What David wants is a family. One that he finds on the bad side of the law. The one that his mother was trying to protect him from.

Eyes of the Lost

Stepping over the line and engaging with the outlaws and mercenaries of Night City makes you vulnerable to the call of the abyss. The abyss is not a physical place for the people of Night City. Yet it is a real place for those experiencing it. Anxiety pumped up to eleven caused by a constant input of data in the mind. It’s the reason a person cannot sleep. Not until the mind completely switches off. The individual’s sense of normalcy is reduced and they lose all empathy to resort to the one thing they know: to kill. These Lost or Cyberpsychos are identifiable by their eyes.

When we learn that Gloria was making extra money by selling hardware as a black market dealer we question her concerned eyes. Did they see the abyss? In a way Gloria was part of the ecosystem that produced Edgerunners and Cyberpsychos. So the only option she must’ve had was to be a part of the system or know that her wish for her son to have a proper life would not be realized.

Batman

In a sense Edgerunners are all like Batman. A man who has seen the abyss, walks along its edge, but refuses to give in. It requires a great mental fortitude to not jump into the dark. It is stated often in C:E that everyone who has chrome installed will fall eventually. Which makes the notion that Batman is able to remain steadfast until his elderly years even more impressive. Especially when you don’t seem to have that big of an impact on the world. When pondered, it is understandable why the allure of installing more chrome is present. David is the prime example. To make an impact, protect those you care for. Even if you become Lost while doing so.


Sources:

https://www.cyberpunk.net/en/edgerunners

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk:_Edgerunners

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk_(role-playing_game)

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/moral-depravity

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abyss

Spezzaferri, Mitchell & Collins, Gary & Aguilar, Jenny & Larsen, Anne. (2017). Moral Depravity: Going Beyond Just an Attribute of Psychopathy. Journal of Forensic Psychology. 02. 10.4172/2475-319X.1000122.

The family of Gundam

A couple weeks back the official Gundam Youtube channel graciously published the prologue for the upcoming series The Witch from Mercury. The 25 minute episode gives the primer for the setting; important characters and it puts one of the main themes of the series front and center.

We’re a family

The emotional ending of the prologue indicates to the viewer that family is important in the show. We will have to wait to see if The Witch from Mercury will be a revenge story or one of finding a new family during war. But one thing is certain: family is at the heart of a Gundam show.

It is the bonding of soldiers. Of people in similar situations who find support in each other.

The audience can see that the characters are just people thrown into conflict due to reasons outside of their sphere of influence. They fight to protect their home and family; their country or their beliefs. There are many reasons to take up a weapon. While some are more honorable than others, Gundam shows us that in protecting what you care for, you’ll find a new family with your battle comrades. 

For a bright future

Some of the Gundam shows really play on the family theme. Iron Blooded Orphans (IBO) made us care for the battle-scarred children that only had each other to count on. The IBO crew really found their family during the series. Which was something that Orga and Mizuki fought really hard to realize and protect. That Tekkadan became a mafia style group while realizing their dream only showed the double-edged sword that a chosen family is in times of war. You try your hardest to keep every single family member alive so they may see your envisioned future. But the reality is that people die in the process. The question will be if you can move on with your life or not. One of the truths of life is that there is no place to go back to. The past is the past and things can never be the same because things change. People change. Something that the end of IBO showed very well (spoilers).

Bring it, little Witch

I personally like the family theme. Family is important in my life. It has been a constant which I’m very grateful for. Especially since I know that so many people in the world have lost their (sense of) family because of a myriad of reasons. 

The setup done in the prologue for The Witch from Mercury has me peeked for a story that deals with these real-life problems. If done well, it can teach us as viewers how to deal with grief and even provide healing if the writers chose to incorporate it. Let’s hope the magic of The Witch from Mercury is as captivating as the prologue.

As you probably can tell I’m very much looking forward to seeing the new Gundam show. Which is a stark contrast to my feelings before watching the prologue. I’m hoping that all the emotional beats of the prologue return and that our Witch finds what she is looking for. That would really make it a satisfying viewing experience.

The problem with adaptations

I recently finished the Witcher season 2. Because my Witcher lore knowledge is limited I had questions. Questions regarding characters and events depicted in the show. So I did some research and quickly stumbled upon a video aptly titled: The Witcher Season 2: Is it really the Witcher? So outside of a few events in episode 1 the rest is all new. Or at the very least reimagined. Newly created stories and events that never happened in the books or video games. This discrepancy is a problem for long time franchise fans as well as for new fans exploring the dark fantasy world of The Witcher. Not only has the show continuity issues with the rest of the canon; its tone is also different from the original work. If I was a cynical drinking man, I would tell also tell you about THE MESSAGE1 but that’s not the subject of today’s piece. Today I’m talking about adaptations and the problems with canon.

Is it canon?

Canon or the material officially accepted as part of the story seems to be lost when translating or remaking a piece of media to “the modern standard.” Or whatever people say to justify decisions made to alter tone and story to please the viewers. In our current era, the owner of the i.p. holds the prerogative to make said decisions. So W.B. (now part of Discovery) and the Big Mouse (A.K.A Disney) are the ones who decide what is part of the main narrative and what is not.2

When it’s clear from the start what is canon or not makes it a lot easier for the fans to understand what media they’re consuming. But in our current era of adaptating properties that have been around for decades this poses a problem. If you take a piece of media, say an anime created 24 years ago, and do a live action remake there will be problems. Not only do I think that a near-media adaptation is silly; it could very well be that the original show commented on social issues which are not relevant anymore. So what kind of story do you want to tell that is not a straight copy of the original, but also one that does not alienate the fanbase.

Big Bad problems

My personal answer would be to think twice about adopting a show and asking what a retelling would add to the canon. But I’m not the one receiving a big bag of cash with an explicit wish to have my i.p brought to a large audience.

So that leaves us with the show creators and their eagerness to work on a property. And to these people there is only one thing that they’ll probably keep in mind: It’s never good enough for the fans. Even if they get free reign to bring their vision to the screen there is a fine line to walk. You have likely lost before you’ve even started the battle. I can appreciate bold decisions when adaptations are made; but I question the choice to insert a big bad as a narrative tool.

Examples of this are the adaptations of the Cowboy Bebop and The Witcher series. Where the name of the game is to put a big bad front and center. I can understand the decision to do so. It’s easier for the audience to understand what’s going on if the narrative is pushed by a big bad. But in both cases it’s absolutely not working, I’m not sure about The Witcher canon but I can definitely say that for Cowboy Bebop the big bad is not important. We see that characters overcome difficulties to (perhaps) learn something about themselves and grow as a character. But that growth can come from trying to help your indebted ex-girlfriend3 or from finally burying a resurrected monster baby.4 You do not need a mastermind that instigated these events.5

The power of transmedia

You’ve probably heard of cross-media storytelling. This is in short: telling the same story on different media platforms. It’s a big part of our current (visual) media landscape. It has the benefit of bringing a fanbase over to your platform by retelling a familiar story.

Transmedia on the other hand is using one story world and telling its stories across different platforms. Transmedia has the benefit of bringing the fanbase over to a new platform and expanding the universe with new stories. In the best cases it brings new vision, style and fans to the universe. Think of the Star Wars Visions project, Arcane or Pokemon. These are great examples of i.p’s allowing creators to do something that they want with an i.p (withing the storyworld rules) without compromising the canon.

It’s something that I personally would want if my work has taken an interest by third parties. While it is interesting to retell a familiar story in a different medium I am currently preferring to tell more stories to explore the created world. I hope that they (eventually) learn from constructive feedback from the fanbase that they have to put more care in adapting media properties. For there is a chance that they lose more than just the fans of said property.


Notes

  1. Don’t get me wrong, I find the Drinker’s videos very insightful, albeit a bit on the nose. They always clearly show what’s wrong with the media produced in our crazy society. I’ve linked his Witcher videos here: Season 1 review & Season 2 review
  2. A recent, famous example being the Star Wars Expanded Universe or Legends as it’s now known.
  3. See Cowboy Bebop episode 10: Ganymede Elegy
  4. Referring to the Witcher 3 quest: Family matters

Other sources:

Jakubisko, J. (2016). Defining Transmedia vs Crossmedia. Published in FNE Innovation

Like Stories of Old: Multiverses, Nihilism, and How it Feels to be Alive Right Now

Dena, Christy. (2004). Current State of Cross Media Storytelling: Preliminary observations for future design.

Green, D.A (2021). How Neil Gaiman kept control of the Sandman characters

Storyfloat: Introduction to Transmedia Storytelling

Bubble tells us to listen

First drafted June 11.

I hear a tractor passing on this sunny afternoon. Its heavy diesel engine echoes from the buildings in this tiny Belgium village, somewhere in the Ardennes. Other than the wind and birds, it is quiet. I’m on the annual team weekend, having just returned from a few days off with my parents. Similarly to the last couple of days, I find myself in nature. With limited city sounds or the general business of the working life my mind is in relative peace.

This subdued external input creates space. Space to think and space to listen. 

Listening to my own thoughts is something I value. Especially when it concerns my writing or my current (life) situation. Unfortunately, my agenda was filled to the brim during the last couple of weeks with all kinds of stuff. Thus limiting my time to listen and reflect. I’m sure many of you are in similar situations, where your life is teeming with so many activities that you’re not even thinking about creating a moment to breathe. Luckily Bubble (2022) sparked my drive to conciously create a moment to listen.

What is Bubble (spoilers)

Bubble is an animated feature film produced by Wit studio. It features the visually stunning post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo which was largely flooded by a mysterious event known as the “Bubble Fall”.

During the film we follow a group of teens who do dangerous parkour battles to gather supplies so they can survive. One of these teens is 19-year-old Hbiki. He is an exceptional player, yet limited because of his hearing disorder (hyperacusis).

Part of his exceptional skills come from his ability to hear a song when he focuses. It is implied only Hbiki can hear it because of his hearing sensitivity. The rhythm of the song enables Hbiki to read the ever changing terrain of Tokyo like he practiced it for years. And practice is what he needs. Because when not competing in the parkour, Hbiki tries to reach the epicenter of the bubble at Tokyo Tower which calls to him. However, he constantly fails at his attempts to reach it due to the complex gravity forces. In one attempt he nearly drowns, only to be saved by a mysterious girl he names Uta. 

He takes her back to his team home and Uta joins the team. Over the runtime of the film, Uta influences the lives of everyone around her. Not only those on the team, but also her mysterious sisters. Convince them that they can coexist with humans by simply being among them; listening and learning from them.

If you watched the film you’ll realize the basic plot is a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It even uses the book to give context to the story of Uta and Hbiki. Which is not something that I was expecting before watching this film. Regardless, the plot execution is abstract and sometimes hard to follow. Luckily the visuals are amazing and Hyroyuki Sawano’s soundtrack elevates those visuals to an even higher level. It is a shame that the plot and underdeveloped characters don’t contribute to it1.

Are you listening

I would’ve loved it if Bubble’s on screen action wasn’t limited by some of the mandatory plot or exposition. For example: It is nice to know why Tokyo is in this state, but it would also work if this was shown in the opening of the film2.

If done so, there would be more time for the viewer to spend with the characters. The time we would need to watch them grow. This can be done when the main plot is minimized to let the characters shine. We could learn more about them. Why are they (re)acting like they do? And what are these characters learning from Uta since she is someone who learns from watching and listening to others. On top of that she is a person who values that experience appropriately, as can be seen in the scene where she creates bubble figures. This is why you could argue that Bubble is a study of the human experience; although I would sooner link it to our ability to grow as people through the act of listening.

While Bubble culminates in a rather tumultuous ending, the below scene explains exactly what I mean. Through listening and watching Hbiki, Uta is able to understand him. And she is able to return that experience by singing.

She may not be able to talk, but she is able to convey her feelings. Thus showing us that she grew from someone who clung to Hbiki to someone who has a better understanding of the world3. Sadly the moment is cut short because the plot needs to happen. Which is not a criticism. It is me feeling sad that the moment ends. Especially because these moments are limited compared with the energetic action. But when viewed as a complete product, Bubble is very clear in its visual and auditory storytelling. Storytelling that touches the heart.

 “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” 

L. J. Isham


Notes

1. Which seems to be the consensus among reviewers

2. I want to use Laputa’s opening credits as an example because that kind of short and to the point exposition that Bubble would have benefited from. I couldn’t find it on Youtube so you have to do with an analysis on why it is so good.

3. One with rose-coloured glasses, but a better one nonetheless.

Additional sources/research

What Great Listeners Actually Do; by Zenger, J. and Folkman, J: https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do

There’s NO Such Thing as “Soft Skills”; Simon Sinek

Bubble (2022) Honest Review; Unleash the Ghouls

Bubble: The Beautiful Mess | Bubble Anime Movie Review; ProfessorViral

Bubble | Director Araki and Composer Sawano Reaction | Netflix Anime

Children of the Whales: A show full of contradictions

Upon the sea of sand we see an island. An island that is sailing across the sand. It is a beautiful place where people live in harmony. But things are not what they seem to be. Most of the island’s inhabitants are below the age of 30. What is this place? Who are these people? You’ll find out in Children of the Whales.

It is a nice experience when you’re positively surprised by a show. Children of the Whales (Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau) is one that did. With no prior knowledge on the show save the limited information Netflix provides this was a wild guess for me. But being in the mood for something short I gave it a try. And it was an interesting watch.

The basics

Let’s start simple since the show seems like it’s a bit overlooked1 and its overall ratings across different platforms is somewhere in the 70-75 region. The larger animation focussed Youtube channels also haven’t covered it.

Children of the Whales (CotW) is an animated show based upon the manga of the same name. The manga released in 2013; the animation produced by J.C.Staff dates from 2017.

The series follows the 12-year old boy Chakuro who is the scribe/recorder of the people of his island. The island, called the Mud Whale, is adrift on the sea of sand. The people survive by scavenging other islands that pass by them and the bit of farming that they can manage. This small society is divided in two groups: The Marked and Unmarked.

The Marked are people with magical telekinesis- like powers called Thymia. Thymia is powered by the emotions of the wielder. They people have a short lifespan and rarely reach the age of 30. The Marked make up about 98% of the Mud Whale society. The others are the Unmarked. The people without thymia. While they are the de facto minority of the society, they are the ones in charge because they have a ‘normal’ human lifespan. The story kicks off when Chakuro encounters a human on another drifting island, something that hasn’t happened since people started to record their lives on paper. Contrary to what you might expect from the opening episode of this show, some unlikely events occur and it gets quite bloody real fast.

The show is a mixed bag of mystery, adventure and some other elements in a science fantasy universe. The target audience of the manga is labeled as Shojou, but the anime doesn’t give that vibe to me. Since I don’t know how the manga differs from the anime, I can only comment on the on screen presentation. It differs from things I’ve seen recently and the sound and visuals are a big contribution to that. 

Art and sound

To start: CotW is beautiful to watch. It is a blend of 2D and CGI. Its beautiful coloring and background painting made me reminisce to Grimgar, who applied a similar technique to its benefit. 

Like Grimgar, most of the backgrounds are static which can feel a bit like cheating, but in the best kind of way. Unlike Grimgar, the backgrounds in CotW are sometimes distracting from the action in the forefront. This is (perhaps) enhanced by the chosen color palette, where the character on the forefront look less important over the bright, beautiful background. However, this artistic aspect of the show; combined with gorgeous animation brings a distinct visual beauty to the screen that I don’t see that often. It sometimes is very pretty like below example; and sometimes misses it’s mark.

In CotW, the world looks like a canvas and the sound gives it an ethereal vibe. Even if you don’t end up watching I highly recommend listening to the OST. The soundtrack adds to the mystery of the world like a good soundtrack of a horror show would. It’s complimented by a couple of J-pop songs that represent the innocence of the Mud Whalers. An innocence that they lose rather quickly after the inciting incident.

The next part contains (mild) spoilers.

Thematics and story

The story of the anime is at times difficult to follow. There are large exposition dumps which make your mind dazzle. Combined with the sometimes poorly paced buildup and resolution of events the narrative feels rushed. It is easily the worst part of the show and probably the biggest turn-off for most people. There are so many elements in place that make this world tick, intricate details that are absolutely necessary to create a full understanding of this world that a solid narrative is vital. The creators did not do a bad job, it just could’ve been done better2.

That is not to say the thematics aren’t handled well. Like the visuals, I find it a bit of a mixed bag. The strangeness of Liontari/Ryodari as a character is an obvious display of a boy turned sadist because he is the only one with full emotions in his normal surroundings. His state of mind is what happens when you are accompanied by a host of emotionless child soldiers. You do what you can to survive. I find it very fitting that the nameless soldiers are dressed like Jesters, making it even more clear how this shows puts rationale and emotions against each other. And this is just one of the thematics that are on display3.

A show of contradictions

Children of the Whales is a show full of contradictions. On the one side it has an ethereal quality to it. This is balanced by the richly flowing blood and the importance given to menial tasks like working the land. But the world looks empty with very little scenes of moving people yet it feels very rich because of its art and (implied) history. The deep thematics are front and center but the execution in the story is lacking. It boasts a large conflict in the storyworld but fails to deliver the correct buildup. Because of this there are only minor moments that the characters truly shine as dimensional, breathing people.

At the end of the day CotW has everything in place to ask a meaningful question. Something like “Would you give up your powers for a longer life?” or “What sacrifice would you make for a life full of emotions?” 

Sadly, the narrative execution in CotW leaves much to be desired and is a clear detriment to the beautiful animation and sound that make this world a place you as the viewer would want to visit. So while I was positively surprised, I would give you a big “caution before you watch”. It surely is something that you don’t see everyday, and in the animated space it surely is something special.


  1. Note that this is speculation from my side, and totally not backed by research.
  2. Instead of the info dump on what Marked and Unmarked are by voiceover, they could’ve opted to have Suou or Taisha read it out loud as a check on Chakuro’s work. Work that they assigned to him. Another example would be Masoh’s arc and his relationship with the others (like Kuchiba). I would’ve preferred it if he were presented as someone the children look up to. And because of this, his strained relationship with the ruling powers of the island. Even if he just wants to help everybody.
  3. Think of: ruling minority/handling of power; elders keeping secrets from their children; discrimination; what it means to have a supportive family/community; saying your goodbye/realitionship with death; living a short and predestined life; dealing with disturbances in your community; can you be judged for event/crimes of your ancestors; the visually implied angelic nature of Neri and Aima.

The tombless Tomb Raider

Recently I played the 2013 Tomb Raider game. The first of the “survivor trilogy” that rebooted Lara Croft as an important media character in my perspective. If you’re familiar with the reboot trilogy you know what they are: semi-open world games with big set pieces and loads of gunfights. I’ll get to the gunfights in a moment but during my playthrough a question popped in my mind: Where are the Tombs?

Optional content instead of core content

Ironically this is the last game of the trilogy that I finished. I played Rise and Shadow of the Tomb Raider before this one. And I’m noticing that they improved greatly on the tombing aspect. 

In this game, I found the optional challenge tombs while progressing through the main story. They were marked on my map. But they are optional content and I didn’t explore them until later in the game. In the second and third games there are tombs with some interesting (jumping) puzzles that you progress through during the main storyline. Something I found noticeably absent in this game. 

It is clear that the sequels are an iteration on this game. Even the optional challenge tombs are more elaborate with at the very least an increased amount of platforming and puzzles to get to the treasure.1

This is a good sign, it shows that the developer Crystal Dynamics listened to the players and guided the series a bit more in the Tomb Raider direction. How much they looked at the Uncharted series when creating this game can be debated, but the second and third game make it at least more clear why the game is called Tomb Raider. I haven’t played any other Tomb Raider games before and cannot say for certain I will do so in the future. But naming a game Tomb Raider brings expectations. And the amount of gunfights weren’t exactly what I expected.

Shooting Gallery

One aspect of these games that I don’t like as much is shooting so many soldiers. It makes sense in the story of the second and third game where you are competing with a private army. In this game it feels very contradictory to the narrative. You’re supposed to be on a hidden island where sailors have been stranded over the course of many years. The amount of human enemies on the island is staggering to me. Especially with the Stormguard hunting the survivors to extinction. At least, that is what the game lore tells me. The enemy encounters are quite the opposite.2

It all blends together

So many films, shows and games look like each other these days. From the outside it looks like writers and studios try to capitalize on the things that are popular at the moment which may or may not result in a product that is similar to another. While this may have been practice for many decades, with the amount of accessible content is has become very noticable in the last years. Especially when Disney properties like Marvel and Star Wars release new content on a near monthly basis.

In regards to this game, I’ve made a comment on the Uncharted series earlier. These games are somewhere on my to play list for the future. But with the knowledge that I have of these Tomb Raider games I can safely say I expect a different experience. At least from Rise and Shadow. Not so sure about this one. 

Eponymous Tomb Raider

If you would ask me in five years what I think or remember about this game I’ll probably say it’s an enjoyable spectacle game with a decent story. And that of the Survivor Trilogy Rise of the Tomb Raider is still my favorite.3

First reason being that I liked the snowy mountains more than the humid jungles. Second is the more grounded story told in Rise. I must admit that Shadow has some bad-ass cinematic and character moments; I prefer the groundedness. Shadow also has to balance the personal with the supernatural aspect of the story, which doesn’t convince me all the time. And thirdly: I like the tombs is Rise. From the opening tomb in Syria to the flooded archives and the Orrery.

A hearty recommendation

With all the reboots and remakes in the content space it sometimes is hard to differentiate one thing from another. Especially since aspects blend over into other media. At the end of the day you have to choose how you spend your time. While I have my favorite game, this Tomb Raider Trilogy is worth yours if you like what they have to offer. 

You don’t have to play or watch everything. Just pick something you enjoy or dive deep into something out of your comfort zone. The choice is yours.


  1. The ones that I fondly remember are the Voice of God (monastery) in Rise and the Howl of the Monkey God tomb in Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
  2. Something noticed by others in their reviews as well.
  3. Even though I clocked more hours into Shadow; I 100% Rise without playing the Baba Yaga DLC.

Poirot and the necessity of a backstory

I recently watched Death on the Nile, the 2 year delayed remake of Agatha Christie’s classic Poirot adventure. After the enjoyable remake of Murder on the Orient Express, I’m happy to see the a modern entry of this intriguing story and the return of Poirot to the big screen.

I like Poirot as a character. Cited to have solved more important cases than the viewer will ever see; he solves his cases by asking the right questions, being at the right place at the right time and connecting the dots by using reasoning and psychology. Poirot’s little grey cells are always registering something which involves the case, which makes him more dangerous than any regular policeman.

But those are the character’s qualities we only see when he is on the hunt. When he is simply relaxing or between interrogations the man is very preoccupied with his moustache and looks. And behaves a little funny according to people he meets. Which makes him a charming and intriguing character.

Different eras, different Poirot

Every actor who played Poirot has put their own spin on the sleuth. Be it Albert Finney, David Suchet or Peter Ustinov. The latest iteration with Kenneth Branagh is a more dramatic figure. One who would not be misplaced in a theatre. For me, this seems to be even more the case in Death on the Nile. Poirot is put at the centre of the film as a character with a dramatic background. One created so the viewer can relate more to the man. While it is an interesting take and it certainly adds some emotional depth to the character, I found that it doesn’t add anything to the story. It unnecessarily inflates the runtime and distracts from the people who should be the flavour of the story: the suspects.

I like it when a film doesn’t add unnecessary fluff. Especially in detectives. For me, the detective is just the character that the audience follows to understand the case. We do not need to know anything about this character unless there is a personal stake. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile is an excellent example of that. We learn personal bits about the sleuth in his conversations with others, but we never dive deep into his psyche or his emotional state. That isn’t the purpose of the story. The audience is there to watch the situation culminate into murder and work with the detective to solve the case. The suspects are the flavour of the story, especially in a serialised universe1.

Interesting characters

Let’s jump to a recent classic for comparison: Knives Out. It is a well written film which ticks my boxes for a murder mystery. While it may not follow the traditional murder mystery story structure, it certainly gives us A: an interesting sleuth and B: an interesting cast of characters. Which are both important to keep the audience engaged. The difference with 2022’s Death on the Nile is that at the end of Knives Out we still know very little about detective Blanc. Which isn’t neccesary because the Thrombeys and Marta are the ones keeping us engaged with the story. Which is something that I’m not really confident to say about Death on the Nile. If we were to cut all the dramatic fluff surrounding Poirot on screen and have Branagh act with that information it will at the very least be a more streamlined film. Because the fluff draws the attention away from the the ones who should be on the forefront. It would give the characters more space to interact, giving the audience a chance to learn and remember their backgrounds.  

Besides that, it still is exciting to have new Poirot content. I hope that there will be a new film which is more tightly written and focuses less on Poirot and more on the mystery. That’s why I’m in the theatre. And I’m sure those simple changes will make solving the case a more satisfying experience.


  1. Considering there are 2 Branagh films alongside all the other Poirot content.