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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Note that this is speculation from my side, and totally not backed by research.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Considering there are 2 Branagh films alongside all the other Poirot content.
We have a deep connection with food. It keeps us alive and, when in abundance, allows us to focus on other aspects of our life. Have fun with others or do something creative, like painting or writing stories. Though the experience of food may culturally differ based on the country you grew up in; humanity shares a history of commensality (the act of eating together).
One of the most well-known examples of eating together is the last supper. When you look at Da Vinci’s painting, it shows one of the arguably most recognisable people in the most humane setting. When observed without (religious) context, we see these people share a table filled with food. We assume they’re telling stories and by doing so, they are working on their interpersonal relationship. Because food provides connection.
Eating in media
We see it as well in contemporary media. There are a lot of holiday films with “the dinner scene” to either strengthen the bond of the people around the table or to put their differences under a magnifying glass for discourse to further the story.
Because of their limited runtime, most films don’t have a proper way to tell its story with the help of food. But there are series that do this most excellently. As an example, I would like to take the Korean Drama My Mister. While I am not familiar with Korean culture, this series boasts a level of humanity that is recognisable because of the use of food. In My Mister, the act of commensality is integral to the development of the relationships over its 16 episodes.
Since I won’t go into detail about the premise of My Mister I hope my examples are clear enough for those that haven’t seen the series. If you want more information, you can read my earlier piece on the show. Just be warned that there will be spoilers!
As a personal note: I highly recommend the series. It may not be an easy watch, but the well-developed characters and plot are very rewarding for those that stick with it. Each episode averages around 70-90 minutes and the story masterfully disguises itself as a slow-burner. When in actuality each episode covers a lot of ground with its cast.
My Mister and the food connection
My Mister requires and demands your attention. There is a lot of focus to little details like hands, breathing and staring that are recognisable across cultures. Things that we often only notice ourselves doing.
Should you miss these details or lack a cultural understanding about a certain custom or behavior, My Mister usually provides understanding. Be it by explaining or showing the same in a different context. And doing this is certainly required, because this show is rich in symbolism and unspoken desires1.
It uses all aspects of the character’s life to strengthen the plot. As metioned earlier: eating and drinking are a big part of it. So let’s see how eating and drinking are connecting characters in My Mister.
Serving with Ms Byun
Dong-Hoon’s mother is always doing one of two things. She is either preparing food or serving people food. A strong character whose job it is to care for her three adult sons. Because these boys need it. While her role may be traditional, I think Ms Byun is the strongest of the family. A pillar if you will. She’s always working to provide food for those who need it. Be it her sons or her adopted daughter and the bar. In a way she is keeping the men in the neighborhood alive because they drink at the bar. We see these two aspects play out in episode 14 where she offers Jun-Hui food before she lectures her as a mother.
Since the clip doesn’t have have subtitles I‘ve added them below
MsB: “What are you doing? Why are you not getting ready for business?” JH: “It looks like you were here earlier. Why did you come back?”
MsB: “To cook for you. Come out and eat.” JH: “How come getting changed is so annoying? My body can be so bothersome.” MsB: “You’re too young to be saying that in front of me. Come out.”
JH: “Mother, Aren’t you tired?” MsB: “Of course, I’m tired.”
JH: “Don’t you get irritated? When I’m tired, I get so irritated that I want to smash everything. I really want to cry. “
MsB: “Among your customers, just pick a man and like him. Think about feeding him; and seeing him won’t make you irritated even when you’re tired.
You’re so stubborn. The breakup was 20 years ago. You could’ve married several times. Why are you still holding on to someone you can’t be with?
If this was the Joseon Dynasty, they would have built a gate of chastity for you.”
JH: “That kind of gate is useless.”
MsB: “Come out and eat!”
Ms Byun is the embodiment of commensality in this show. If she would have a one-liner, it would be: “Come out and eat!”
Ji-an and the power of sustaining herself
Ji-an has a weird relationship with food. In the early episodes she looks pale and undernourished. This is the result of only eating the scraps she steals from her second job. She is always on the brink of exhaustion due to all the work she does. Being malnourished doesn’t help her situation either.
This is why she asks for dinner as payment for her services before requesting money. She has the realization she needs to eat to keep working. She can only care for her grandmother when she keeps herself alive.
Because no one ever really took care of her for a longer period of time, her mental and physical well-being are intimately tied together. She looks and behaves better when properly fed and when her grandmother is being cared for. When she’s on the run, her mental and physical state decline rapidly. We see the exhaustion in her eyes and the familiar pale complexion of her face.
Only at the conclusion of My Mister when Ji-An has learned to take care of herself we see her shine.
Dong-Hoon’s relationship status indicator
For Dong-Hoon it’s really simple. When he is interested in being with a person he eats with them. That is a relationship starter for him. After that moment he is more comfortable being with them and caring for them.
For example: episode 7 is where Dong-Hoon accepts to buy dinner and drinks for Ji-An. At this point in the show, she is still a stranger to him and he openly refused dinner earlier.
Another example: while he constantly eats and drinks with his brothers and never declines food from his mother, he rarely eats with his wife. They both have demanding jobs, but it’s clear they are estranged from another. That doesn’t stop Dong-Hoon from trying to connect with her2, even if it is hard for him to do so.
Dong-Hoon also occasionally celebrates with his colleagues, but only in one of the latter episodes eats with the Chairman3.
Eating and drinking is an indicator of how he values his relationships. It is unclear if he’s just being careful about connecting with others (over food), or that he’s scared about the connection itself. And it’s this connecting element between Dong-Hoon and the surrounding characters that takes him further on his path of healing.
I was not really aware of the potential that commensality has. When used correctly, it can be a great asset in life and writing. Though it is not always easy to add to a story. For example: it’s not very practical in my current story. People are on spaceships and eating scenes are easily cut out in this setting. The knowledge of commensality made me aware of how important these scenes actually are. I will take extra care in the few food related scenes that I currently have. It is also something that I will take to heart in my future writing. Food is energy. It is fuel for life. Not just in the literal meaning.
So it is not just a writing lesson. It is also a life lesson. Spend your time at the table wisely. Give your attention to the ones you are eating with. They deserve your attention as much as you deserve theirs.
If you want to deep dive, I recommend the fan-site Give me Slippers. The writer(s) there delve deep into the behaviors and symbolism of My Mister.
He does this by calling her and asking if he should bring something from the store
Note that I’m excluding his camping experience, since we do not fully see what happens there.
Happy new year, dear reader. I hope 2022 will be a year of joy, love and good health. Today I’ll tell you about my 2022 year theme. A new year means a new Year Theme. But before I get to that, let’s get you up to speed if you’re not familiar with the terminology.
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.
2021 in review: “Connecting the Dots”
Before I tell you about 2022; I’ll do a quick review of 2021. What has my 2021 year theme “Connecting the Dots” given me in hindsight. What did I do, didn’t do, and what did I learn?
2021 was a messy year for me. I started with great expectations, but I had to temper those pretty fast because the situation at work wasn’t optimal. Looking back, it felt like I had to work in sixth gear for the first 3 to 4 months. As time passed it slowly improved, which allowed me to get back to work on the second draft of my book. I also started making bi-weekly video updates to help with goal setting and to keep my focus on writing. It is a simple accountability tool to keep moving forward; even if no one watches the videos.
After decent progress for 6 to 8 weeks, the pacing of editing slowed down again. This time due to my volunteer job. The volunteer work (organising a tournament) demanded a lot of attention. And if you watched my writing vlog you might remember I had to shift priorities. This was to prevent a burnout situation. After I recovered and pushed through some harsh edits I finished my second draft on the 28th of December, editing almost 20.000 words in the two weeks before that.
I’m proud I finished the second draft. It was the only hard target I’d set for 2021. And I worked really hard to achieve that. In hindsight, I worked really hard all year round. If you know me personally you might not realize that I have a tendency to put pressure on myself to achieve things. Even if it involves something relaxing like watching a series.
Don’t get me wrong, I tremendously enjoyed my little venture into the 1998 anime and the couple of K-Drama shows I watched. But they also require me to find something interesting to write about. And while not all of my blogs are a success, writing those is a fun little exercise to put perspective on a certain show. An exercise to connect with myself and the world.
The last year showed me that storytelling remains a field of interest I want to continue to explore. The media I consumed sparked curiosity into semiotics, folklore and storytelling. Because it is the place that I believe I can make my ikigai (to connect) work. Through the media I consumed last year I connected with myself on different levels. Not just emotionally, but also on a professional level. It gave me a better understanding of the stories that I want to produce.
Lastly, it showed me that I need to cut some things from my personal agenda. Time still remains an issue. I’m fine with removing a goal like streaming from my agenda, but protest heavily against the thought of not spending my spare time on my writing projects for a duration of 3-4 months. This (internal) conflict is what gave me a lot of stress and it is something I want to take action on in 2022.
I think that 2021 was a productive year, but I learned the hard way that I need to set things straight before I will be able to move on.
2022 and a new year theme
Just before Christmas there was an item on the radio that the song ranked first in the music charts on the day you turned 18 should be your year theme. For me this would be the Dutch song Watskeburt?! (which translates as “What happened?!“.
While I find the idea endearing and maybe next year I will summarize 2022 as such; I’m not choosing it.
The reason that I don’t like it is because it implies that the responsibility of my actions are outside of me. And the Year Theme should be something that is exciting and triggers options. As I mentioned before I want to organise a couple of things in my life. Set my house in order if you will.
By the end of the year I want to:
Be able to spend my time more focussed on personal projects
know how I can decrease my working hours for a boss to create more time for writing
have investigated different ways into making money. Think in the areas of publishing work like creative writing.
Check my spending and cut where necessary
There is a lot of focus on the financial aspects here, and this is intentional. In order to grow I want to make sure I made progress on these elements.
When condensed, my theme for 2022 is: Future Smart
Let’s talk about the question that I had after finishing the Netflix remake of Cowboy Bebop. How do you adapt a classic series into a different medium? This remake has generated a lot of attention on the internet over the last months. And it wasn’t all good. From casting, story decisions and the intro; fans were worried.
The 1998 anime has that place in television history that if you’ve not seen it you have probably heard of it. If both of these do not apply to you let me explain why an animated show created over 2 decades ago still can be the topic of heated conversation. This show is one of the few that made anime popular in the west. It is a serious, character driven series with slick animation and an epic soundtrack. Many people regard it as one of the best or the best anime ever created. Which is a big statement to put on a show. It creates expectations of what it is or isn’t. And though there are certainly many people who don’t like the Cowboy Bebop anime, it is still a show that a great deal of people find entertaining and inspiring to watch.
With the release of the Netflix remake the world could finally give its unfiltered opinion on what the writers and showrunners did with the source material. Everyone who has seen it at least once knows what kind of herculean task it must have been. I’d argue the challenge is equal to adapting The Lord of the Rings into a film trilogy. There are only two options. Succeed and praise will be given in spades. Fail and the masses call “I told you so.”
I intentionally had my expectations set low. The first reason being that the remake remains a close-media adaptation. Meaning that the original medium (animation) is similar to the medium it’s adapted to.
Second: There are elements of the original that, in my opinion, work better in animation. And not in live television unless you might have a Foundation sized budget.
Third: I wanted to give the show a fair shot. Especially since I recently gained a deeper understanding of the original. Not just in the context of its animated peers, but also as a piece of art.
And fourth: the 1998 show has high nostalgia value for me, which means I’m very biased.
Let’s have a look at four elements of the show that are vital to what makes Cowboy Bebop what it is and what happens if you change those.
To understand Cowboy Bebop is to understand its core phrase: “it’s not a kind of space opera; it’s a sort of space jazz.” Meaning it’s not an epic story set in a far future with fleets of space ships battling each other. It’s a story about people. In this case, they are bounty hunters. A lonely profession similar to what cowboys are when usually seen in western films. Which is purposfully the first part of the title.
Then there is the second part of the title. While you may not know what Bebop means, it sounds funky and adds a pleasant flow to the word Cowboy. It is there because the story of the people in this show is told in a Bebop way. But what is bebop?
When the associations and (cultural) meaning of both words are combined we get a sort of space jazz. The people in this show are cowboys, Bebop is how the story and action are presented.
The starting point of both shows may be the same. But early on in the remake we clearly see that there is a difference. The remake focuses less on the bounty hunting and more on the characters progression, resulting in a show that is less serialized. The storyline is much more present, giving us a clear ongoing plot. Which is a very modern thing to do. But as a result, the show limits itself in what it can do with the characters.
The original focuses more on bounty hunting as the main narrative of each episode. And we learn things about the characters as we see them react to each situation. There are some character focussed episodes, but even those often start when the characters are hunting a bounty of sorts. We get to see the Bebop presentation used to make the Cowboys shine.
2. Demystifying characters
Because the original has more focus on showing how characters react to situations and other characters, there is a level of mystique about them. Things aren’t very clear. And only by watching and rewatching episodes one might decipher what is going on. This is one of the strengths of the original and similarly the reason why people turned away from it.1
The remake wanted to make the show accessible for a greater audience and “modernise the characters”. So they expanded the characters’ storylines. They shaped the characters out of their respective tropes into something that could fill the role in the new plot. As an example, I will go with the Vicious and Julia plot. This is the most obvious one and has the greatest impact on the series as a whole.
In the original we didn’t know Vicious and Julia because we didn’t need to. We could clearly see that Julia was the one person Spike always followed. Every single shred of information he followed in a way that Jet “Black Dog” Black would be jealous of in his younger years. We see her maybe 5 times, and each time leaves an impression because we know how important she is to Spike. Vicious is a fearsome enemy because we only see him enough to get a basic understanding of his personality. One that thrives in chaos and bloodshed. Which makes him a formidable enemy. Not because he instills fear in the people surrounding him, but because of his charisma and how it affects those around him. These characters have a certain mystique because we know so little and yet so much about them. I agree with the assessment in the Glass Reflections video that they are a respective shadow and ghost because of the roles they play in the original. Vicious and Julia are side characters that serve as a tool for the viewer to understand the main characters. They are used as plot progression and fade into the background until they are needed again.2
The remake put these characters front and center to tell the expanded story which the original (partly) implies. This decision changes the role these characters play in the overarching narrative. Which changes the dynamic between (all of) the characters. It is sad that this change isn’t taken into account and the remake leans heavily on certain moments that were key in the original, but greatly devalued in the remake. An example would be those flashes we see in Ballad of Fallen Angels when Spike falls out of the church. The scene is copied into the remake and then rendered worthless because of the creators decision to tell us exactly everything that happened between the characters.
3. Show or tell
Show or tell is a balancing act. One that every writer should know. The original was more on the showing side of things. Because of that approach the dialogue was short and on point. If it didn’t need to be said, it wasn’t spoken.
The Netflix remake is quite the opposite. Characters talk a lot. And while I find some of the banter between the main cast amusing at times, it often is a bit much for my personal tastes. Especially when characters are info dumping. Then there is this show‘s nasty habit of naming things. For example: they gave Spike the most stupid, on point nickname. Sure, it is a representation of his behaviour in his past life, but of all the times characters spoke the name Fearless, only 1 or 2 times were justified. The other 9 billion times they just could’ve referred to Spike as “Him” and everybody would’ve understood who the subject matter was.3
In the end the remake failed to use the visual medium that tv is. There are some genuinely great shots and some of the set pieces are really cool, but this show fails at delivering on promises given.
4. Character stories
To me, the original is ultimately a story about broken people. People without a place in the system. People who don’t belong anywhere except with this little family they’ve created. They live on the fringes of society, trying to forget or escape from their past. That is part of the reason why Toys in the Attictakes place in the void of space. It is in that limbo that the main cast recites their (life) lessons. Lessons that are integral to their character’s plot over the show’s runtime. While it may not always be apparent, it is what caused them pain in the past. And this experience is part of what gives them their view on life. It is part of what makes them three-dimensional characters.
Which makes it sad that they changed the core of the characters in the remake. Sometimes to a point that they just aren’t who they were in the original. Or worse, when characters become caricatures of their former self. For example, Vicious is changed into a non-threatening antagonist. He is never a real danger. The moment he kills the elders, it feels like the height of his viciousness. It’s like changing Sauron into Lawrence Limburger. Everybody knows the latter will always lose while the former will be a threat until the end.
Adapting a classic
Adapting a classic is never easy, especially when the source material is in a similar medium then the one you’re adapting it to. I’m glad they went in their own direction and did not copy the original 1:1. Because that would be an unrealistic bar to reach. While the remake tries to do it’s own thing, most of the ten episodes suffer from the poorly written dialogue, badly shot scenes and broken worldbuilding. But the entire show suffers from the removal of the most important elements of the original: Cowboy and Bebop. It also doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. So it ends up being a jack of all trades but a master of none. It is not a goofy sci-fi buddy-comedy. And not a thought-provoking show about the human condition.
It is a show that would’ve fared better without the link to the original, or even without the original characters. The world of Cowboy Bebop is interesting and could’ve given us a great show with the original cast popping in on familiar events. But to paraphrase Spike: “whatever happened, happened. “
My wish is that this remake draws people into the original and into the broader world of animation. Because there are genuinely great shows that will blow your mind. The 1998 anime Cowboy Bebop is a great example of that. One that will pull people in because it is what it is: The work, which becomes a new genre by itself.
See you Space Cowboy
At least I believe so because it makes everything a bit vague. Which is not something everyone likes.