With the release of his latest film, Hayao Miyazaki again increased his legacy in the world of animation. I have a deep respect for Miyazaki. He is a man who has spent most of his life honing his craft with great success. And while there is the ongoing joke of Miyazaki retiring, I simply acknowledge the man is managing expectations. Not just for us, but also for himself.
The Boy and the Heron
The trailer for The Boy and the Heron or How do you Live caught me by surprise. I was aware that Miyazaki was working on something; but since there’s always a big announcement for a new film, I just assumed that there would be teasers and trailers months before release. While I was very wrong; I could not be more delighted. I watched the trailer on release day and it just oozes Ghibli. It looks beautiful, and the minimalist approach of the 1 minute trailer only adds to the mystery surrounding this film.
The film is currently making its way to theaters around the world and for a change I’m trying not to spoil myself. Just so I can form my opinion when it eventually hits a nearby Dutch movie theater1. Like I said earlier: I have a deep respect for the creator Miyazaki and his work. He is the example of a person who has a profession that he loves and uses it with great effect to tell his stories. To that end, I want to comment on two images from the trailer that have that familiar Miyazaki feel to it and make me thrilled to see it.
The dark corridor:
A dark corridor lined with mysterious lights that illuminate the path. This reminds me of Spirited Away and Laputa (Castle in the Sky). It is the unknown and supernatural element we see so very often in Miyazaki films. I find the thought that nature will take over once we humans stop to manage a place really interesting. It also segways into the second image.
A flaming spirit next to a human. Like Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo, the spirits are among us. While in real life they don’t seem to have the power to manifest like in films; Miyazaki asks us to think about nature and respect it. Which is in line with his other works.
Both these images are, like I mentioned before, recognisable for people who’ve seen his other works. They are why I return to his work periodically. Not just because of nostalgia for the film or creative inspiration. But because they all refer to the greater world. One that is connected and where we are not alone. That feeling is the expectation I have when watching a Miyazaki movie. The feeling that has people revere his work and will outlast the creator when he eventually decides to retire.
Miyazaki has been talking about retirement for about 15-20 years now. Which is not odd, considering he currently is 82 years old. The admirable passion he has for his craft is likely the driving force of his continued productivity, yet the question is how his age is impacting production. I cannot imagine how it must be as an 80+ year old creative to add another incredible film to your revered filmography. Even less so to think about a new project. Which raises the question about how physically and mentally fit Miyazaki is.
I hope he can keep enjoying his (semi-) retirement for another few years since another seven-year production will be hard to complete. I’ve seen and heard of people who just “grow old” at a certain age. While for some it starts when they hit the age of 60, others are blessed because “deterioration” starts much, much later. There will come a time when a person just has to slow down because their body cannot work at the same pace as before. And since he’s 82, I’m not sure how age is impacting his work. I do not know his plans but I will not blame Miyazaki if he retires completely. On the other hand, I’m quite intrigued to see another Miyazaki film after this one. If he likes it or not, the world needs his stories. Perhaps now more than ever.
It’s currently being shown in Amsterdam, but I simply lack the time to travel there to see it.
Nostalgia is difficult to understand. It frequently brings back films or series in our collective memory. For good or bad, they are everywhere. Partly because we live in a period where a lot is possible by technological developments. So companies see value in doing remakes. It is a chance to bring back a beloved franchise into our collective memory and rekindle the passion for the old one. Not to mention the potential to earn a decent income on the new product and related merchandise. It’s no wonder we live in a time of remakes. Remakes seek our feeling of nostalgia. We fondly remember that amazing Lion King opening and long to see it again. Only this time we bring our kids to the theater so that they hopefully have the same experience.
Another way to invoke nostalgia is to celebrate an anniversary. Like the 25th anniversary of Friends or today’s subject: 30 years of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
GoGo Power Rangers!
I grew up watching the first season of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (MMPR). The colorful suits, zords, monsters and explosions really spoke to my imagination. So I really didn’t care that the show was an adaptation of the Japanese Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger and that some things looked strange. Like many other kids I was sold on the idea that if you were a teenager with attitude; you could become a Power Ranger. An idea that was reinforced for the better part of of the ten years1 that I initially watched the series.
I cannot really remember why I stopped watching in the early 2000s. Most likely because of school and I couldn’t see it on tv. Since then I sometimes watched a bit when I encountered an episode; only to find that I’ve outgrown the series. To see now that a lot of the Power Ranger series are rated mediocre at best does not surprise, even though that hasn’t stopped the franchise from doing the same trick over and over again.
As a returning viewer I was skeptical when the initial trailer dropped. It seemed really strange that the Rangers could use all their powers after the destruction at the end of MMPR2.
Aiai, there are issues with this one
The issue with the connected Power Rangers world is that it looks like they’re only sometimes trying to tie it together. Which causes worldbuilding issues. The concept for the Forever Red episode is nice, but raises the question about the status of some powers. Based on the ending of a series, a viewer can assume the ranger powers were destroyed and their connection to the Morphin Grid lost. If you’re a Power Ranger enthusiast you might know everything about it. But if you’re returning now to Once & Always after an absence for some 25 years, you’ll need a lot of your suspension of disbelief to make it work in your head.
I think that as an anniversary show Once & Always (O&A) should be a celebration, or an homage to the original show. With a fun story and perhaps some nice cameos. You don’t need the original cast to act in their suits. They aren’t superheroes who can still fight buff aliens in their fifties. They are humans whom are enhanced by some mystical power (suits). Wouldn’t it be easy to make an extended episode about passing the torch or reminiscing on the old adventures? With the message that you can outgrow something, yet it will always be a part of you.
Unfortunately, this is not what we got. To be short: the plot has heart, the dialogue and action are mediocre and the CGI looks like it was stolen from a 21 years old fan project. I jest a little, but the CGI is easily the worst part. Luckily it’s also the shortest.
This leads me neatly to the big question I have regarding O&A: Whom is this for? Is it for returning viewers of the original show? Like I said before, they need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Turn off the thinking mind to enjoy the easter eggs and callbacks. With 3 of the original cast members missing, I’m not sure what’s there for them besides seeing Billy, Zack Rocky and Kat in action.
Or is O&A for die-hard fans of the Power Rangers series? Maybe. There is something to say for the tried and true format of defeating a villain. But as an extended episode O&A drags on unnecessarily.
In regards to new viewers: I’m not expecting them to come in without someone who watched the original. I don’t consider it a good entry to the franchise. New viewers are better off watching the original on the official Youtube channel.
It feels like O&A is a rushed show, created with the same mindset as the original, yet actually being a creative original work. Which doesn’t help the show, but probably also doesn’t hinder it either. Most people who, like myself, were mildly interested watched it regardless of what people say about it on the internet. All the power to people who liked it, but I found myself wanting more.
How to correctly do Sentai nostalgia
If we take a step back from O&A and list the things that would, on paper, make this a great 30th anniversary I would say we need the following:
A contemporary story;
with the original cast and cameos of replacement rangers;
a look at the future.
Because MMPR is a sentai adaptation it’s easy to look towards Japan to find out how they did this in the past. And there is that one season which celebrated being the 35th Super Sentai in a most successful way: Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger3.
Gokaiger did a number of things pretty good. First of: each character had a clear backstory and goals. Then there was the team goal. It which united them and made them a force to be reckoned with. That goal was to collect the ranger keys which would lead them to “The Greatest Treasure in the Universe”. Each (set of) Ranger Keys of the previous 34 Super Sentai Teams would grant the ability to morph into the chosen sentai/ranger to fight the enemy.
Gokaiger is obviously created for a contemporary audience; the tributes to the original series are very present. Yet it is also aware that old fans might be watching, so it feels very mature in its writing.
To provide structure, each episode does the following: 1. progress the main story of the fight against the enemy; 2. provide background information on one of the main characters; 3. have the team encounter a character of one of the previous teams 4. Any combination of the above.
If option 3 happened, the themes of that specific Sentai Team would also be present in that episode. Which would result in the Gokaigers learning about that team before receiving the Ranger Keys and/or the Great Power of that team4.
To top this off the show has a fun ending credits which lists each Super Sentai show and what they’re about. And that ending is in my opinion the cherry on the cake. It makes me curious about shows that I haven’t seen before. The endings and the updated, full versions of it, made me watch episodes of some of the Older Sentai series on Youtube. That’s the goal. To get old and new eyes on the franchise. Which Gokaiger did very well.
What can we learn from this
If the big question is what we can learn from a successful nostalgia show like Gokaiger; then it would be (1) to treat your audience fair, (2) insert the correct themes and be smart about what you use as plot. (3) Let it be its own, contemporary thing.
As research for this blog I read a lot of Power Rangers lore to have questions answered. Questions I had after watching the O&A special. Because of that, I have ideas in my head. And I do not want that to be spend unnecessarily. So I’m taking a bold move to write a basic plot for my version of the 30th anniversary special. One which aims to do the things I mentioned earlier. I hope would’ve interesting enough to get all actors on board if we were in the same timeframe as when O&A was shot.
I respect the actors’ choices to not participate in O&A but I can safely say that I missed them dearly. Not seeing them lessened the experience of watching the O&A special. I do not mean to discredit the other actors, but it is something that I believe O&A needed. Besides the fact that this positive spin gives me an extra layer of closure. Thank you for reading. May the Power Protect you!
That’s how I remembered it ending. Powers destroyed so they sought new ones. I figured that there must’ve been some retconning and worldbuilding choices made to facilitate the starting point of this special. Things that I wasn’t aware of. That starting point wasn’t good. Assuming retcons certainly did not help either. I was confused. Watching the Once and Always special did not improve this, so I can’t imagine how it must be for someone who only watched MMPR until Zeo.
As mentioned, the subject theme of an episode can be a callback to one of the previous Super Sentai series. As an example: there is an episode about traffic safety which relates to carranger. The Great Power they receive is a Megazord addon the Gokaiger can summon.
I always like to be surprised by a show or film. At least in a positive way. There are a lot of films and series available, so I’ve learned to be very picky with my time. I want to see a character gain an insight or share a view of life that I can use. A lesson to learn or a healthy habit to copy. Media do not always provide this, but sometimes I get lucky. Today I’ll have two series and one film that provide an insight about staying true to yourself.1
I got interested in Devilman Crybaby because of the Year of Yuasa video essay. His style is recognisable and the animated hyper-violence was a nice palate cleanser in between parts 1 and 2 of The Glory. In the show we follow the schoolboy named Akira Fudo. When his body becomes possessed by a demon he manages to retain his heart and kind soul, thus becoming Devilman. Over its runtime, we see Akira fight demons who have completely taken over their host body. Yet somehow, Akira manages to keep his empathy in the rapidly changing world around him. Because the show only spans 10 episodes, there are some big leaps in the main plot. Despite that, Devilman Crybaby manages to convey the difficulty of the characters to keep their humanity in the polarizing and violent world they live in.
Call me Chihiro
Call me Chihiro is probably the most slice of life film I’ve ever seen. On a surface level it looks like a couple of days from the life of the main character: former sex worker Chihiro. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes more. It shows us that we can help others by being oneself. By connecting people, handing out advice and especially being focussed on the needs of the other. Chihiro is an adorable human being, who by her natural charm is a welcome deviation of the more distant social standard we often see in real life. A film best watched when you’re not in the mood for something heavy, since the bittersweet lightheartedness is heartwarming on a cold evening.
Romantic Killer far exceeded my expectations. This romantic comedy is about high schooler Anzu. A very non-typical girl who only loves chocolate, games and cats. But when she starts her new game, a wizard pops out of her tv and takes what she loves most in life. The goal of wizard Riri is to have Anzu fall in love. Stubborn as she is, Anzu is determined to fight off any romance that comes her way. She will win back her three greatest joys in life and defeat the wizard at its own game.
The plot of Romantic Killer is as ridiculous as you would expect. The animation is great and the characters well developed. This combination gives the (physical) comedy an extra layer which makes this show a wholesome and hilarious experience. What really sells it for me is the many faces of Anzu and the great performance of her voice actor.2 It makes Anzu’s arc from a self-centered person to a kind and loving one a treat to watch.
The giving heart
All these media: Devilman Crybaby, Call me Chihiro and Romantic Killer show us what we can do if we stay true to ourselves. Akira has to make hard choices for the ones that he loves. Even when these choices lead him down a dark path, he manages to keep his human side alive. His inner demon needs to be fed, but because Akira believes in his humanity he can stay true to himself for a very long time. A sight neatly contrasted by the character Moyuru, who after a time gives in to become a full fledged demon. He cares little for others around him and eventually gives in to the pressure, seeing no suitable future for himself as an individual. He chooses to become part of the ever growing demon horde. Something that Akira and fellow Devilman Miko refuse to do until their death. Both Akira and Miko show a strong moral compass which makes them memorable as characters.
Another person with a strong moral compass is Chihiro. As a former sex worker she knows how to handle people. In her new life as a bento box sales person, she becomes the fascinating center of a community. Brutally honest yet never disrespectful. She is a socially binding element between people who didn’t know they needed it. While her focus on the present is an admirable trait, it eventually reveals itself to be a double edged sword. Through her it becomes clear that with a single focus on the present, a character will probably not improve their personal situation in the future.
How to never be alone
Chihiro is an empathic person, yet she chooses to give priority to others over herself. Serving a community like she does is a healthy trait until it becomes unhealthy. Chihiro leaves no room for herself to be happy. We learn little about her past and her inner life. Despite her outward and considerate demeanor, she seems to be afraid of deeper bonds. A behavior made clear by her sudden departure at the end. Chihiro is a person that will most likely feel like she’s alone in the world until she learns she’s not alone.
A feeling that Romantic Killer’s Anzu has no notion of when her distractions are forcibly removed. Companions magically enter her life like they always were there. Initially she rejects them, defiant of the “evil” wizards plan. Yet over time she learns to enjoy their company. She matures as a character. Like Chihiro, she becomes present in social situations. But with the difference that her goal is to win back her three big loves. With that in mind she has a focus on what she wants for the future. Anzu will not allow herself to be swayed into liking a man purely because he is a man. She enjoys the company of the men in her life because they are fun to be around. Over time this reveals Anzu to be an attentive and caring young woman which naturally inspires the company she attracts to grow as people.
Of these three people (Akira, Chihiro and Anzu) one can argue that Romantic Killer shows best how to deal with internal struggles. You never have to be alone when you share your personality with the world. Devilman Crybaby, Call me Chihiro and Romantic Killer show that if you stay true to yourself and try to live your best life you will encounter people that can and will help you. You only need to give yourself permission to be helped.
Being true to yourself means you don’t worry about pleasing other people; living by someone else’s standards or rules. You don’t care what people think of you. You live as your natural self. Without compromise. No one can tell you how to be true to yourself except you. Source: Ethics Sage
Writing is the practice of putting letters into words and sentences. To put words on paper is a way of expressing yourself to the reader. It is more permanent than speaking, for the spoken word only lives in our memory after the sound is gone while words on paper remain. It is an ancient practice that most of us learn from a young age. We use it our entire life, whether we think about it or not. Our daily writing practice may involve sending emails to our customers or colleagues; typing short messages to our friends; or writing a book. All is possible. But where are the people who write letters? Not letters to government officials or to apply for a job. But true, heartfelt letters to their loved ones. Are there even people who write letters to their loved ones or are we not able to do so anymore? These are questions that Violet Evergarden put in my mind.
What is Violet Evergarden
Violet Evergarden is a 2018 Netflix animated series based on the similarly named Light Novel. It follows Violet Evergarden, a girl in her teens who was a child soldier until the end of the war. As Leidenschaftlich’s Soldier Maiden she was known by friend and foes alike. The young girl who protected major Gilbert Bougainvillea with her life. As a child soldier, she knew only military life. So major Gilbert’s orders were her direction, her only meaning in life.
A life she almost gave away in the last battle. The operation to take an enemy stronghold that went completely wrong. Violet lost both her arms and her commanding officer, whom she wanted to protect. The major, mortally wounded, knew his time had come. Ever since he took Violet under his wing, he taught her important skills like reading and writing. Which she did, as Violet thought it was part of her training. She could not infer at the time that the major was slowly teaching her skills to live her own life. A skillset which he could not complete. So his last orders were simple: “Run and live. Be free.”
The last words he spoke were: “from the bottom of my heart. I love you.”
Words she didn’t understand. With the major crushed under a building and Violet waking in the hospital bed with two metal arms the show begins. In search for the meaning of I love you.
The impact of writing
After she’s healed, Violet takes a job at a postal company where female scribes (Dolls) work as ghostwriters. In this illiterate world, the scribe is a very needed job. People have requests for written words. Be it stage plays, love letters or something else that is special.
With every letter, we learn with Violet. We learn how to deal with loss, guilt, regret, atonement and love. As Violet’s scribe teacher explains: “An optimal Doll will be able to decipher the person’s true feelings and express it on paper.” A role which Violet makes her own, as we see that with each written word the emotionless girl learns empathy and is eventually able to express it as well.
Letters are such a beautiful medium. Youtuber Sage Rain has an on point definition: “a letter is a message that can exist beyond the constraints of time, age or distance.” A letter can reach those who are lost. People unwilling or unable to listen to the spoken word might be reached on a deep emotional level with the right words. Words expressed by a client, written by the Doll and delivered by a mailman. That is the truth of the world in which Violet lives. All put their effort into these letters so the recipient can read the contents with honest eyes and hopefully an open mind. Violet experiences this as well in episode 9, when she herself is lost. Receiving the letter gives her the realization that receiving a letter equals receiving someone’s precious feeling. Their heart and soul. Which ultimately helps her to step into the light. To an unknown but bright future.
Letters for a loving future
Our digital age allows for convenient means to create and send written words. Watching Violet Evergarden might give the impression that our modern communication systems lack a personal touch. There is no physicality to the received letter simply because no one delivered it in person. While there is a truth in that, I would not dissuade you from writing a letter to another person. You can not know if your written words are the ones that change that person’s life.
With heart and soul
I did not get answers to the questions I asked at the start. Some are simply to farfetched to research myself. Yet I believe that there are people who still write beautiful letters and that we all are capable of writing letters with heart and soul. Even if the after war setting of Violet Evergarden may be distant, the emotional challenges on display are human and relatable to all. For we all have our own challenges in life. Should you feel lost like some of the people in Violet Evergarden, I encourage you to search for words that inspire you. It does not matter who the source is. A small quote from an unknown tv show can be as inspiring as a motivator with millions of followers. If the quote feels important to you, cherish those words. They carry the heart and soul of the writer.
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 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.
We are already three months into the new year. The weeks seem to pass at break-neck speed. And while some might argue that is a good thing, I’m not quite sure about that myself. Especially when I feel my weeks mostly consist of work for a living and recuperating from said work. To be honest I have not been putting the hours into my book I intended to. The last couple of weeks have been quite exhausting at work, which limited the time I spent working on a computer screen off work. As you can imagine this is a real issue when trying to work towards a finished book. An issue I realized I needed to address.
How to handle stress
When under stress I tend to procrastinate even more than usual, sleep longer hours and don’t feel like doing anything. Though I am aware of the steps I can take to alleviate that stress I am not fully consistent in taking all of them. The things that I tend to do consistently are taking walks and keeping up with my chores at home. The thing I am not doing consistently is writing. And I’m quite sure I mentioned in a different blog that if it is one thing which counters that feeling of stress is writing, because it gives me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Fantasy writers week
How fortunate it was I enrolled myself in Fantasy Writers Week. A lovely way to increase my knowledge in the craft and invigorate my writing. Unfortunately due to the time difference I wasn’t able to catch any of the talks live but I watched all the replays, even those I did not intend to watch in the first place. And it helped to get some new ideas flowing and gain new knowledge and insight. As expected not all talks were as useful to me, but I made quite a few notes, even on the talks that were less usefull overall. I found that the Worldbuilding Write-in was the most fun. The live viewers could participate in three writing sprints and then share via chat what they wrote. Especially the last sprint was eye-opening to me. For 10 minutes we had to “Describe the opening scene of your novel. Take the described history (created in the previous sprints) and use the five senses.”
Just because I already have a draft of a novel didn’t mean I had to set it in that world and rewrite my existing opening scene. No, I chose to go with a different story concept I’m working on. Note that I wrote it on paper so there are a lot less words than when I would type. And while the result is not where it eventually will be, it surely does not disappoint. It showed me (again) that I can create something interesting for others to read, and that I can create it basically from scratch in a short amount of time. Especially since this world is not really fleshed out yet. This was completely new.
Before I leave you with the words I wrote in ten minutes, I would like to talk about the actions I am taking now to get me going. Put me further on the part to complete my current book before the year ends. First, I bought a laptop so I am not as stuck behind my desk at home as I am at work.
Second, I started posting writing updates on Youtube. It will be biweekly video where I show what progress I’ve made. This serves two purposes: First to keep you informed on the book should you be interested. I also gives me the oppertunity to blog about other subjects here. Second it is a way to remind myself I need to continue working so I can finish within the earlier mentioned deadline. Doing this indirectly leads me to constantly blow off steam so I don’t feel that I do not procrastinate after my work hours while I could do something very, very cool like creating stories for other people to read.
I will see you next month.
The 10 minute opening scene
Jack pinched his nose while he waded through the crowd of bums and dressed up office workers. He did not understand why people would want to stay and watch them investigating a murder, especially in the pouring rain. He sighed and tried to catch a sniff of fresh air, but the closer he got to the crime scene the more overwhelming the scent of the dead shadowrunner became. When he stepped onto the crime scene he stopped in his tracks. He understood. This one wasn’t killed, he was mangled, broken and probably thrown off the nearby apartment complex. The remains of the once human lay all around, and the blood on the alley walls already told him this would not be an easy case.
This year has been a strange and difficult year for all of us. The world is going through a period where we are spending more time alone than ever before. I know that for some people it has been more difficult to adapt to this new norm than for others. But when I think back to this year, I can safely say that I am quite happy with the progress I’ve made. I can say that because of Covid I made a lot of progress writing my book. And though it has not been easy, I have found a rhythm in this situation that I quite like.
So the big question now is: Did I finish my first draft? The simple answer is No, not yet. The expanded answer is that I am still working on the last chapter. The closing part of the chapter as it were. It is outlined but there are still a couple of hours that I need to spend to complete it. It is a slow process, yet I am confident I can finish it in the last weeks of the year. Confidence stemming from my progress over the last weeks and looking back at my progress of the entire year.
Edit December 20th: Finished!
When looking back on the process it has been educational as well as interesting. Writing a first draft of one’s first book is equally exciting and terrifying. From the satisfaction of finishing the first chapter or rearranging the entire book into a solid structure. It all ads up to create an experience I will not forget.
Thinking about the current draft I can already point out a couple of things that I am not happy with. The prose, point of view and the worldbuilding. They show the inexperience of my current self. For now I accept that these elements are not done and will be developed and iterated upon in the months to follow.
The application of structure was the greatest improvement in the process. It allowed for a solid framework so I could make meaningful and creative decisions which added to the narrative.
But the most important thing I learned is having fun while doing it. Feeling the satisfaction of finishing a scene or a chapter. Counting the words to see the physical process as well as noticing the mental improvements by the desire to work on the story multiple evenings a week and during the weekends.
Though I realize this has also been the consequence of my singular goal to finish the first draft this year. Yet I cannot deny that I created the time and (mental) space for it to be important in my life. As will I continue to do next year.
When l think about the next year I am not quite sure how the situation will unfold. I’m writing this on December 14th, the day the Dutch Prime Minister declared the hard lockdown for the next couple of weeks. And as disappointing as it might be for many people, I hold my stance that the situation with Covid continues to give us opportunity to look at our lives in a new perspective. And I encourage you to do so. I learned so much this year and made progress towards my goal of doing something professionally with writing. In the end, all these small steps add up so I can reach my goal.
January will give a fresh perspective and the option to make new decisions for the year to come.* For example I know I will continue with my book, though the text will be put aside for at least a month while I fix some worldbuilding and think about the next steps. As mentioned I already have an indication of what can be improved, and need to decide how to best educate myself on the mentioned subjects.
For now I would like to thank you for reading my First Drafting blog series. I hope it gave you an insight of what I was going through while working on this project, as well as the time and energy that is neccesary to finish it. I sincerely hope that this series also gave you the perspective that though it isn’t always an easy process, it is a fun and fulfilling thing to do. As I mentioned above, I learned a lot and it has given me the confidence to continue on this path.
I wish you happy holidays and stay safe.
* Though you can made those decisions every month of the year, I find January particularly nice since its the start of a new year.