Tag: bad ideas

Breaking the First Rule

Fight Club

The best part of browsing my old college writing is that I occasionally happen upon an event that hasn’t crossed my mind in over a decade.

I usually find a little detail here or there that gives me a chuckle. Very rarely, I’ll find a real gem in there, though. And it’s almost always the sort of story that makes me wonder how I could have possibly forgotten it in the first place.

In this case, I’d been wandering around campus shortly after midnight. I had just returned from a fruitful Taco Bell run. I was probably on my way home to watch Adult Swim because, as a total winner, that was the way I spent most nights. And I very well might have, if the sidewalk hadn’t suddenly been blocked by a group of seven sweaty, shirtless men sporting assorted injuries.

“Hey,” one said when he spotted me, nudging one of his equally shirtless companions. “Let’s ask him.”

It should go without saying that I had zero interest in being asked whatever question he had in mind, let alone answering it. But, like a deer caught in seven very shirtless headlights, I was frozen in place.

“You look bored,” one said.

It wasn’t a question. I very briefly entertained the notion of telling him this, until I heard my grandfather’s sagely advice to never correct a sweaty man with no shirt. For once, the side story of why my grandfather told me that is less interesting than the one I’m telling now, so I won’t get into it.

“Want to have some fun?” another asked. Or maybe it was the same one. It was hard to tell the seven men apart when I was trying to look in literally any other direction.

I cycled through the list of potential answers. I had plans. I didn’t want any trouble. Saying nothing and just falling into the fetal position and crying. As they all seemed about equally likely to end with my savage beating at the hands of a baker’s half dozen of sweaty men, I chose one at random. “I…was just headed back to my room.”

My answer led to the obvious follow-up question. “Have you ever seen ‘Fight Club?'”

Wait. Did I say “obvious?” Because I meant “totally nonsensical shirtless non-sequitur.”

I had seen the movie. In fact, I’d been a disillusioned, angsty high school student, which meant I’d watched it over and over in an attempt to find a bit of meaning in my life. And I certainly could have told them this, though the fact that they weren’t wearing shirts urged caution in volunteering anything but the minimal amount of information. “I think I saw it…a while ago,” I hedged.

One of them stepped forward. “I want you to attack me the hardest you can,” he said with a grin that suggested…I’m not quite sure what. Definitely not something I wanted suggested anywhere in my vicinity.

Punch me as hard as you can,” one of the others corrected.

“No,” another chimed in. “Hit me as hard as you can.”

Suffice to say, I did literally none of those things.

“Oh,” I said. “Like in the movie. I get it.” I glanced off toward the door to my building, wondering if I could make a break for it the next time they tried to correct a misquote from the movie. Don’t get me wrong. So far as being approached by a group of sweaty men goes, this was probably one of the better outcomes. All the same, I didn’t want to linger there.

Though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to ask whether or not it had been a set rule in the movie that no shirts were allowed. I’d never thought of it before that moment. It suddenly seemed very important.

“What do you say? Want to join our Fight Club?” the one who’d recently beckoned me to attack him asked.

“Rule number one! We don’t talk about Fight Club!” another called out.

It was a tempting offer. I mean, they were getting a solid forty percent of the movie quotes right. Still, as fun as it was to be in one of the few situations that would end with me being punched by a stranger whether I agreed with them or told them I slept with their sister, I politely declined. “I’m…actually pretty tired. I should eat my dinner and get some sleep.”

“Yeah, well, how much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” one asked, nearly at a point in the conversation where it would’ve been clever.

“I’ve actually been in…I don’t know…three fights? I’m good.” I certainly hadn’t learned anything particularly interesting about myself, aside from how much I dislike being punched. And even that was probably something I could’ve guessed.

The group was midway through trying to come up with a fitting but not quite correct movie quote when a flashlight shined on all of us, saving them the trouble. “Hey! Everyone put your hands where I can see them. Nobody move!” a police officer said, emerging from the shadows.

Two members of the Fight Club immediately moved, sprinting off at top speed. Within moments, both they and their hands were completely out of sight. Honestly, it was like they weren’t listening at all.

A second officer surveyed the situation and scowled. “What the hell is going on here?”

I turned back to the shirtless men, still having more than a passing curiosity myself. Sadly, no one volunteered the information. On the other hand, no one tried answering it with a butchered line from the movie, so it wasn’t all bad.

Some discussion followed, with one member after another trying to fumble through what had happened in a way that made it seem less insane than it actually was. One had even gone so far as to clam up, aside from saying, “We all wanted to hit each other, so no one’s pressing charges! So no one broke any laws!”

It was then that the officers turned to me and my rapidly cooling Mexican food. “What about you? You with them?”

I glanced down at myself and blinked, wondering if I’d somehow misplaced my clothing and become heavily bruised since I last looked. I felt this should have been the first place the police checked, as well, but I’m not one to tell people how to do their jobs. “No. I don’t even want to be standing near them.”

“Yeah? Then why are you out so late?” he pressed, suspiciously. As though there weren’t thirty other students wandering within a hundred feet of us if he’d just swiveled his head slightly.

I held the bag of food up. “I was getting dinner.”

“What sort of person is out getting dinner at one in the morning?”

I don’t recall my exact answer to the question, though I can safely assume it wasn’t that I was very obviously a total winner.

The officer gave me another look up and down, then shrugged. “Fine,” he said, finally believing either my explanation or shirt. He sent me on my way before leading the line of shirtless and now sobbing men toward the parking lot. The last thing I heard before they left earshot was, “I swear to God. That movie has ruined a goddamned generation.”

“Yeah,” the other answered sarcastically. “Everything was fine between ‘Animal House’ and ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ and now.”

“Shut up, Doug.”

And that’s where I think I’ll end the story. Lest I accidentally end up suggesting there was some sort of greater moral to take from it. Or, perhaps more importantly, before I take the easy way out and end with a painfully forced tie-in quote from the movie.

Stop waiting for one. We’re not doing this. We’re both better than this.

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Three’s a Crowd

Distracted

“Wow. So in the end, you didn’t get the girl, huh?” the radiologist said, dragging both myself and the readers back into the story’s hospital framing device.

I readjusted my open-backed gown as haughtily as I could muster (which it turns out, is “not very”). “Not the girl. I didn’t get one of the girls I met in my lifetime. There were others. Obviously, I succeeded. Eventually.”

The man just shrugged. “Well, how was I supposed to know that?”

I held up my left hand and wiggled my occupied ring finger.

“Honestly,” he said, “you sort of seem like the type to wear a fake ring.”

I gave him a hard glare. “I don’t remember writing you this mean.”

The technician held up his hands defensively before clutching his metal clipboard to his chest. “What I’m saying is, if I understand the bullet points of the story thus far, it’s that you seem to view relationships as sort of a…chore.” He poked his head out the door then, making sure no one had noticed he was listening to an exceedingly long story rather than doing the work he was being paid for. “Or you used to, at least.”

“One…could make that assessment,” I begrudgingly conceded. I leaned back in my chair. “My entire life I’ve been surrounded by people who were miserable because they were alone. And when they found someone, they were usually even more miserable.” It was hardly a ringing endorsement for being in a couple.

Or, for that matter, being single.

The radiologist drummed his fingers on the clipboard absently before sighing. He seemed to have made a decision he wasn’t thrilled with. “Well, in any case, since you wrote me into the story, I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been talking to you for an hour.”

“Let’s call this what it is. You’ve been talking at me.”

I considered the offer before waving it off. The idea of using a character I’d created for the purposes of a story as my therapist seemed like something I’d have to describe to a real therapist later. “It’s fine. I’m just trying to close out this bit of the story. I feel like it’s been dragging on.”

“So, what happened with Kay? Did Hatey find out?”

“He did,” I answered. As far as I know, Kay told him exactly what happened as soon as he arrived – most likely over a very tense meal consisting of bad fighting and worse soup.

The technician whistled. “Wow. I bet there were some fireworks there.”

“You’d be surprised,” I said. In fact, I’d been surprised at the time. Hatey had showed up at my door around 2am the following night. (Or morning, depending on your viewpoint.) Despite my concerns for how he’d figured out where I lived and my suspicions that he’d come to murder me, it was actually a very short, fairly polite conversation. “He actually thanked me.”

“You’re kidding.”

Hatey apologized for being an intolerable ass, though he may have used a different word for it. He said he’d unfairly misjudged me as someone just trying to get into his girlfriend’s pants, largely glossing over the entire portion where she’d been trying to get me into them. “It was mostly pleasant vindication, up until he thanked me for not being as selfish as a lot of guys would’ve been in the situation.”

The radiologist blinked at this. “Wow. How dare he.”

“He was telling me that I might be a more decent guy than he thought at first,” I scoffed, shaking my head. “He even said that if I ever wanted to hang out, he thought the two of us could be friends.”

Mocking outrage, the radiologist covered his mouth. “The monster!”

“I didn’t do it for him.” In reality, he wasn’t even astoundingly far off in his initial evaluation of me. And it echoed eerily close to how Kay had also judged me to be an entirely different person than I really was. “I semi-politely declined his offer to be friends. I told him that I didn’t think not sleeping with his girlfriend for reasons entirely unrelated to him was a solid enough foundation for friendship.”

“Ouch. So that was the end of it?”

I rolled my eyes. “It probably should have been – if I, Kay or Hatey had had an ounce of sense between us. But we actually hung out as a group throughout the rest of the year.” Despite our love triangle morphing into something like a love-hate-lust-vague disinterest…triangle, they were still surprisingly fun little group outings.

“Even when nothing had changed between you and…Hatey?” It was clear he didn’t like using the name I’d picked for him.

“It was a little different. It was less open hatred and more…a temporary ceasefire. A gentleman’s agreement to pretend we liked each other,” I said. Spoken out loud, it sounded pretty stupid.

“That sounds pretty stupid,” the technician agreed. “But at least things must’ve been less tense with things resolved between you and Kay.”

I scoffed again. “I never said anything resolved there. She reminded me on an almost daily basis that she’d happily dump Hatey at a moment’s notice if it meant she could pull me into the nearest dark alley and have her way with me afterward.”

He grimaced at this. “That sounds…horribly awkward.”

“Tell me about it.” And the fact that she regularly communicated this sentiment to her boyfriend – occasionally while we were all together – made it ten times worse.

“Why would those two even stay together? She didn’t seem all that fond of him. And he was basically indifferent to the idea that he’d be gone the moment you decided you wanted sex more than you wanted to be a good person,” the radiologist wondered.

I honestly had no idea. If the story had revealed anything, it should have been that I was no relationship expert. “I think some people just can’t stand being alone. Even if being together makes them just as miserable.”

“Speaking of miserable, what happened to those crazy kids, anyway?”

I gave him a shrug. “Not a clue. I only know what I was personally involved in, and I eventually had the sense to get out of it before they tried to wrangle me into an awkward threesome or some other mess.”

Still, I told him the end of my part in it. “We hung out for the last time before we all left for Christmas. I take it they spent the holidays at her apartment and things didn’t go well, because the next time she got in touch with me she specifically mentioned we should hang out without him there.” I hadn’t wanted to go, but as I was legitimately busy at the time anyway, I hadn’t had to lie to get out of it.

“It got very difficult to be around her,” I continued, “when every time we got together seemed like a trap to wear me down. It eventually became obvious that if we couldn’t be an item, she wasn’t really interested in being a real friend.”

“No offense, but what did she see in you, anyway?” the technician asked, looking me up and down. The hospital gown probably wasn’t doing me any favors.

“None taken. And I honestly have no idea.” If she’d ever given me an explanation, I’d apparently forgotten it. Among other things.

“So that was the end of it?”

“More or less,” I lied. She had, in fact, called me one last time to say she didn’t even care how I felt for her anymore. She was just so tired of being with someone she felt nothing for that she wanted to feel anything, just to not feel empty for a few hours. I hadn’t bothered explaining to her that I was very much a virgin. Unless she’d wanted to fill the void with disappointment, I couldn’t help her.

I don’t remember how I’d answered. But I’d remained a virgin. So she probably didn’t get the sort of disappointment she’d been asking for.

The radiologist nodded. “It makes you wonder, though. I’ve heard of worse couples working things out. You think they ever got married? Had kids?”

“A guy who abandoned his entire life to pursue a girl it would have been illegal to be with in quite a few states? And a girl who pursued the first guy she saw just to get away from him?” I summarized.

If those two didn’t deserve a “happily ever after,” none of us do.

Snap, Crackle, Pop.

explosion

The story of how I ended up with my very own college computer after years of sharing one at home is a long one that begins with my brother winning an athletic prize and buying a computer. It then immediately ends with him joining the Air Force. Exactly one twist and turn later, it passed on to me.

Hey. I didn’t say it was a very interesting story.

The story of how that same computer ended up exploding, if nothing else, is more interesting by virtue of it having at least one more explosion than the one just before it.

I’d like to begin that story by saying that the events that transpired were in large part not due to my actions and ineptitude. Any rational person who was very impatient and not all that aware of how to fix computers would have very likely probably made similar decisions to the one I had. I really can’t stress that enough, especially given that this is a super weak defense in the first place.

Allow me to set the scene…

The first thing you have to know, aside from the fact that this definitely wasn’t my fault, is that this was back in a time when people used to turn their computers off when they weren’t using them. The current system of just leaving them on indefinitely so we could hop on and off the Internet hadn’t yet been invented, mostly due to neither Facebook nor YouTube having existed yet.

I came home from a day of classes eager to peruse one of the seven or eight decent websites that existed at the time. So, as I had hundreds of times before, I pressed the big green button on the front of the computer. And like exactly zero times before, literally nothing happened.

(Note: I realize you were probably expecting an explosion there, but trust me. As much as you think you see it coming now, you’ll know when it’s coming later.)

I was flabbergasted. In fact, my state of mind was so intense that I was forced to run downstairs, find a computer in the library and look up a word that summed up how I felt. The word, if it wasn’t entirely clear, was flabbergasted.

(Though “flummoxed” came in a close second.)

From there, I went through my mental checklist of potential solutions. I don’t claim that it’s a great list, but it’s probably more than 90% of people would have done before calling the IT help desk. Then again, it loses some points for being the same checklist I use for cars that won’t start, printers that won’t print and boring conversations.

  1. Try turning it off and on again, on the off chance that you missed the button with your first attempt.
  2. Try turning the power strip off and on again.
  3. Plug something else into the power strip and turn it off and on again after forgetting which way is the “off” position.
  4. Remove all cords from your computer. Reattach all cords. Try turning the computer off and on again.
  5. Remove all cords from your computer again. This time, take each cord aside and offer it immunity from prosecution if it reveals the identity of the faulty connection.
  6. Give the computer a hard smack. Repeat several times. Begin saying, “Whatsamatteryou!?” every time you smack it. Lament that casual racism has become a part of your everyday life.
  7. Try turning it off and on again, seeing as this is the last possible thing you can do that won’t involve talking to a human being about how inept you are with technology.

Snap. It was on this, the ninth or tenth time I’d tried pressing the power button that I heard the telltale sound of rigid plastic breaking. Naturally curious, I went to work removing the front face of my computer using the saddest collection of tools any human being has ever assembled for the purpose of computer repair.

I made surprisingly quick work of the front face, exposing it – likely permanently, as I’d broken quite a few more pieces of plastic in the process – for a better look at the inner workings of the power button.

I can’t adequately describe what I saw there in any sort of useful detail. It wasn’t complicated, but I should be clear that my knowledge of computers at the time was leaps and bounds beyond my understanding of electrical circuits. And that wasn’t a good thing.

The short version, however, is that the power button used a tiny sliver of metal to connect two other pieces of metal together. Unfortunately, the power button had broken in such a way that it could no longer achieve said function. And, with the day quickly passing me by and nothing even resembling foresight entering my mind, I pressed a metal coin against both bits.

Crackle. I was, to the surprise of no electrical engineer anywhere, given quite a nasty shock for my efforts. This is probably why circuits are rarely connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers. In fact, I’m sure this is exactly why circuits are never connected with a coin clutched between one’s bare fingers.

On the other hand (the one I hadn’t used to complete a live electrical circuit), my computer had actually started.

I went about my business for some time after this rather blissfully unaware of the small doom cloud hovering just slightly above my computer from then on. The second worst thing that can happen to someone is for their bad idea to actually work, since it gives them ample incentive to try it again. The first is the constant wave of movie reboots. That’s not related to this story. I’m just sayin’…

That said, my life went on surprisingly normally for the next seven days or so.

Sure, my computer had been running a week straight without rest. Sure, its front panel was so broken that it was impossible to reattach. And sure, it’s private parts were on display for the whole world to see, like some two-bit hussy.

(Or thirty-two-bit hussy. I’ll…see myself out.)

But, aside from the fact that I’d been completely unwilling to risk shutting down my system, things were going smoothly. Of course, even I was aware that leaving the computer on indefinitely was a problem that was going to need to be addressed at some point. Then again, I figured that by the time it became a real issue, I’d need to buy a new computer anyway.

I mean, in my defense, I was technically right about needing to buy a new one.

For whatever reason, my computer had gone off while I was at class. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it was part of the existing problem. Maybe it had just gotten overworked and overheated. For whatever reason, though, I found myself once again clutching a coin in a questionable attempt to “hot-wire” my personal computer.

“This is a really good idea,” I noted, mere inches from duplicating my previous electrocution. “When I turn on the computer I’m going to write a list of all the things I don’t regret about doing this.”

The computer hummed to life. And, in a moment of surprise that would almost immediately be topped, the coin wedged into place. As a stream of sparks discouraged me from pulling it out of place (which was a brief moment of intelligent thought in a veritable stormy sea of stupidity), I absentmindedly noticed the hum grow louder and louder until it closely resembled a circular saw. To the surprise of absolutely no one, this turned out not to be a good sign.

Then…

Pop. To this day, I have no better word to describe it. There was a sound like stepping on a full bag of cooked microwave popcorn. Then my computer case deformed into a piece of outsider art.

I watched a cloud of dense black smoke rise lazily to the ceiling where it (mercifully) never found a smoke detector. Small mercies, I suppose.

After the initial shock wore off, I surveyed the damage without much optimism. As it turned out, I’d managed to turn my computer’s power supply into a small bomb. The only saving grace was that I was as good at accidentally making bombs as I was at fixing computers, meaning that there was surprisingly minimal damage to the area immediately surrounding the computer. It was, for lack of a better description, a 100% unintended precision strike.

The computer itself, of course, had been reduced to a paperweight. Its outer casing had stretched into odd shapes while its innards became a mixture of blackened confetti. It was more or less the computer equivalent of eating at Arby’s.

I still remember spending the rest of that day gaping at the destruction. I’d never seen a piece of technology fail so badly. And it brought back the bitter taste of every time I’d insulted an older relative for not being able to find the proper input on their television or set the clock on their microwave. At least they hadn’t turned their television or microwave into something that might land them on a government watch list.

When it was all said and done, I simply replaced the front plate as best as I could, sighed and turned off the power button.

Better safe than sorry.

First Impression – “Brave Witches”

Writer’s Note: A first impression is meant to be a middle ground between doing a preview before a show and a review after watching the entire thing. It’s particularly useful to new shows that won’t be complete for several months yet.

From a more self-serving perspective, it also lets me badmouth a show I don’t have the energy, time or interest in finishing when its terribleness is a foregone conclusion.

I do, however, have some standards. I won’t give even my first impressions on a series until I’ve given it a fair chance. In my experience, any anime that’s going to be worth watching is going to get there in three episodes or less. More to the point, since most seasons of anime are only twelve episodes, that’s 25%. And while it’s certainly possible to turn things around by episode four or later, when’s the last time you saw an apple that was a quarter rotted and thought, “Well, sure it’s rotting on this side, but I’m sure if I eat it long enough it will stop being poison?”

With all that out of the way, onward.

brave-witches

The Basics. Brave Witches takes place in a world roughly similar to ours during World War II-era Europe. Only it’s under attack by an alien threat known as the Neuroi. And when conventional weapons prove ineffective against it, the only option is to use magic-wielding girls with animal ears and tails and Striker units – essentially miniature propeller planes on each leg – to fight back.

Or…you know, nothing at all like our world.

From what I can piece together, Brave Witches is meant to act as somewhat of an interquel between Strike Witches Season 1 and 2. From what I can also piece together, very little differs between the three variations besides the character roster. And while I haven’t seen either of the main series seasons (and this outing largely removed any interest in me doing so in the future), I think I can pretty fairly evaluate it on its own merits – when or if they should ever turn up.

I should also point out right away that this is an ecchi series. There are lots of girls running about, often in little or no clothing, teasing a lot of skin but never quite going into the realm of actual pornography. And while I generally don’t consider it a negative in and of itself, I could understand why this fact alone would turn some people off of the series.

The Good. I’ll be blunt. I don’t really have a lot to say here. The animation looks nice and the concept of having to use magic to combat an alien threat in a pre-modern-day world is at least somewhat intriguing. And if the magic had more resembled traditional fantasy magic than, say, tiny weird plane boots, I might have been fully on board.

One of the things I hear most often in praise of this show is how historically accurate the technology is. And I really don’t know what to do with that. Obviously, this technology didn’t exist in our history. So I assume it refers to something like how planes of the era stalled in low air environments or something and so do the Striker units…or…I really don’t know honestly. Moving along.

In any event, the battle scenes are pretty fun to watch if you can get past the questionable technology. The use of firearms alongside magic makes for a little visual diversity, even if the show doesn’t seem clear on how much damage each should be dealing. There’s an odd inconsistency in watching machine guns tear the alien craft to shreds in one scene and then have the damage instantly regenerated in the next, seemingly for no other reason than plot convenience.

In short, the entire story seems to hinge on the idea that conventional weapons were useless against the Neuroi and then…it doesn’t. There’s a whole opening sequence that shows plane-mounted machine guns did zero damage. But the next scene we see witches carrying similar firearms and devastating entire formations of the enemy. Which merits at least a raised eyebrow or two.

A more cynical person might say the only reason they had girls fighting the aliens was for gratuitous panty shots. So…basically me. I would say that.

The Bad. Frankly, there’s more than enough to dislike in this one to make a multi-part column out of it. Out of the kindness of my heart I’ll only focus on the most glaring of these issues, though. So miniature plane boots get a pass. For now.

What irked me the most about this anime was that I really wasn’t sure the message it was trying to get across. And when I say “message” I don’t mean “moral.” If I’d been hoping a show about witches who kept finding reasons to show off their panties would teach me something about life, then the flaw was with me – not the show.

What I mean is this. Hikari, our protagonist, is your typical young, enthusiastic girl with something to prove to the world. Her older sister, of course, has a ridiculous amount of natural talent that allowed her to rise through the ranks of the military and achieve an enormous victory against the Neuroi. And despite everyone’s unfair expectations, Hikari can barely manage even the most basic flight maneuvers. At its heart, it’s an underdog story, with our hero succeeding not through inborn greatness but raw determination.

Only, you know, not that at all.

The problem, in a nutshell, is that determination is Hikari’s only asset. The first half of a true underdog story is setting high expectations. And the second half is seeing the protagonist unexpectedly (and sometimes only by luck) surpassing them. Not surprisingly, without that second part the story sort of falls apart.

Her rise from the dregs to a position in the much-sought-after 502nd Joint Fighter Wing, on the front lines during wartime, is the worst sort of hand waving. It isn’t just that Hikari lucks her way through a test or two in lieu of any real skill. That much I could (and have) stomached. No, the problem is that she somehow manages to consistently fail at every task put in front of her, but regardless, we just cut to a commanding officer shrugging and promoting her anyway.

The immediate implication we’re given in the show is that the protagonist is so bad, so utterly incompetent at being a witch that if by some miracle she graduated it would only be because of the worst sort of nepotism. The show goes out of its way to tell us this. Then, in the next breath, it not only skips her all the way through school but straight to the front lines. And we’re never any closer to an explanation as to why than various officers pointing out her obvious flaws before sighing and rubber-stamping her file.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene a bit.

The first episode begins with various scenes of the Neuroi destroying towns, villages, cities and shrugging off enemy aircraft fire like it isn’t even there. It then shows two separate scenes where Hikari fails at the most rudimentary witching skills. And before you know it, there’s an announcement at school that due to a shortage of able bodies to fight in the war, the military has grudgingly allowed a student volunteer (and even then only in support roles outside combat areas). The idea is that among the upperclassmen, someone is advanced enough to at least fill a support role.

And then, the upperclassmen are just ignored, for literally no reason aside from some arrogant first-year student volunteering first.

Now, I should clarify at this point that the volunteer isn’t Hikari. In fact, she has no interest at all until her hastily-established rival, Mia, raises her hand. In one of the previous scenes displaying Hikari’s ineptitude, Mia flies circles around her and is in every way an objectively better witch. And it’s at this point, with an actual war going on, with mankind on the verge of defeat, that our plucky hero asks to go instead of someone who might actually be able to help.

In this situation, any competent officer would say, “I don’t care how plucky she is. We’re obviously sending the girl with the better scores.” But, of course, that doesn’t happen. Instead of sending the better witch, they hold an arbitrary competition to see who’s faster.

The competition ends up being a race with no skill component whatsoever, with the witch who finishes first being sent to the war. Anyone with an even passing familiarity with cliches knows that the outcome should be for the protagonist to win by sheer determination alone. But no. Neither witch finishes in the allotted time and both are disqualified. Then a bunch of people sort of shrug and send Hikari to the war anyway, despite both witches failing equally badly.

This sort of highlights my major problem with the show in a few ways.

First off, the military requested a witch to be sent to help because they were short on manpower. Only, once the race is over, they don’t choose anyone else. There was an entire academy of witches left to send – including the aforementioned but quickly forgotten upperclassmen – but because the two least qualified candidates couldn’t finish a race within the time limit, it’s probably better we just lose the war, right?

Speaking of forgetting things, remember Mia? I mean, the show spends almost three minutes trying to set her up as Hikari’s rival. She has more natural talent. She’s arrogant. She belittles the hero. So what happens to her after the race? I honestly have no idea, because they never even mention her again.

You see the problem here? Everything in this show exists as a contrivance to move the protagonist from Point A to Point K. Except, she’s barely even qualified to be at Point A in the first place. With each move to another Point she seems less and less like she belongs there. And without earning her trip from one point to the next, everything she does seems tremendously pointless.

They spend the first half of the second episode explaining that, of course, Hikari won’t be allowed anywhere near the front lines. And just as you’re wondering what sort of plot device will change all that, the Neuroi attack. Her sister is knocked out of commission and with her own Striker unit (of course) destroyed, Hikari has to don her sister’s advanced prototype gear. Again, the cliche guidebook says she should save the day with nothing but spunk, moxy and various other 50’s slang words, but by this point it probably shouldn’t surprise you that none of that happens.

Hikari doesn’t just fail to repel the attack. She isn’t just outmatched in battle. She’s completely ineffective, only managing to survive because the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing swoops in to bail her out while she flails about the sky uselessly.

At which point there’s a good deal more shrugging and they put her in the 502nd to fight on the front lines. Why? Because she asked, of course.

To put this in perspective, it would be like someone applying to be janitor at a football stadium but they completely blow the interview. Despite having better candidates, they’re given the job anyway. The following Sunday, the team’s star quarterback is injured, so the coach puts the janitor in the game. The team is promptly beaten 82-0 before the referees just end it out of pity. And afterward the coach says, “Well, you’re terrible and by all accounts we’d have done better with no one taking the snaps at all, but eh. You’re our new starting quarterback, I guess.”

By this point I was pretty irritated at the protagonist just being handed promotions for no good reason. I wanted to finish off a third episode but I was afraid that Hikari would somehow assassinate her army’s own General and then just take the job herself.

To my surprise, however, the third episode was my favorite of the bunch.

Why? Well, a member of the 502nd, Naoe, hates Hikari. And she spends the entire episode effectively arguing my exact points as to why Hikari shouldn’t be within a thousand miles of where she ended up.

She argues (correctly) that a seasoned frontline combat unit can’t babysit someone who hasn’t mastered even basic combat maneuvers. She even argues (correctly) that Hikari is a worse replacement for her highly skilled sister than no one at all. And when Hikari explains that she’ll just have to get stronger, Naoe hits her with the devastatingly accurate statement, “If working hard were all it took to get stronger, it’d be easy!”

“Right now,” she goes on, “we need someone ready to fight!”

And when Hikari argues that they’ll never know until they try, Naoe counters, “The weak put others in danger, too.”

I remember seeing the exchange and thinking, “Wow. I’ve never seen a show write dialogue so clearly aware of its own shortcomings while clearly being entirely accidental.”

The point of this – and Hikari’s subsequent failure to improve through training – is that the front lines of a war are a bad place to learn the fundamentals. Hikari isn’t just being naive when she ignores the very real possibility that having almost no magical power and her inability to fly well will probably get her killed. She’s being selfish by saying she’s more or less indifferent to anyone else who has to die protecting her.

After her commanding officers agree (again) that she’s useless, they decide to send her back home. But there’s another surprise attack where she fails to be useful in any way, almost getting two other witches killed when they try to protect her. And what’s worst of all is that it happens because she refuses to fall back been ordered. It was at this point, I realized, that in addition to being utterly useless, she no longer even met the requisite likeability to qualify as an underdog.

But, of course, it couldn’t end with her getting sent home despite that obviously being the choice any intelligent officer would make.

In the last few minutes there’s yet another Neuroi battle that ends with her doing nothing. In her debriefing, Naoe says that Hikari did nothing and in no way changed the outcome of the battle. So, naturally, Hikari’s dismissal is put on hold…despite there being no new information that contradicts that decision. And at least one new incidence of failure to follow orders that nearly caused three deaths.

In short, business as usual.

In Conclusion. I have a hard time saying this was a terrible series. That’s mostly because I haven’t watched the main series and I really don’t think I’m the intended audience for this sort of show. That being said, this show being terrible makes it very easy to say it’s a terrible series, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding.

For me, there’s just no point in watching the rest of the series.

From this point on, Hikari is bound to progress as a character and witch. Not because she’s shown signs of growth thus far but because the plot will need her to. She’ll inevitably need to save the day in the end. And when that time comes, I’m sure her (probably very sudden) growth will be just as contrived and feel just as unearned as everything else in the series.

In the end, I’m not really sure what the writers were trying to accomplish. The whole thing is a mystery of the most head-scratching variety. Hikari starts out as an energetic, likeable girl with something to prove by succeeding. By the second episode it was clear that she might never succeed. By the third episode, her constant decision to put her own needs ahead of the safety of others actually made it hard to like her. And by the end of what I saw, with an unearned position on the front lines, I wasn’t even sure what she was trying to prove anymore.

It’s certainly a…different direction to take the classic underdog story, though probably not a worthwhile one.

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part IV)

Writer’s Note: You get a previous part! And you get a previous part! Everyone check under your chairs. You all get a previous part!

creative-galaxy

“Creative Galaxy.” There are few children’s shows my wife and I enjoy watching more than this one. And by the fourth part of a multi-column series you’re wondering if the reason why is something completely unironic, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

If you haven’t seen it, the premise is fairly simple. Arty is the green-skinned eldest son of an architect mother and a…dad. Together with his reality-changing friend Epiphany, he explores the Creative Galaxy and solves every problem life could possibly throw at him with nothing more than a can-do attitude and art.

Okay. Quick poll. When did that get weird for everyone? Third sentence? Yeah. That’s about what I thought.

I think what struck me first about this show was how little it took to get Arty rushing off into space. Last-minute school project? “I’m going into space.” Eye-catching letter to a pen pal? “Off to space!” Hang nail? “Space!”

When they’re aware of his whereabouts at all, his parents are always just sort of smiling as they say, “Be safe in the cold, unfeeling vacuum of the void!” If they’ve ever expressed hesitation at letting their eight-year-old child traipse about in the infinite blackness of space, I must’ve missed that episode. And it wasn’t even halfway through the first season before they started suggesting it. Some small problem would arise and the dad would just say, “Oops. My guitar string broke. Why don’t you go hang out in that place where gamma ray bursts are?”

I’ve been quick to note the absence of parents in other series. In this case, though, I’m not sure Arty wouldn’t be better off without their advice.

But Arty’s just fine, of course, because he’s got Epiphany. Epiphany is a soft, huggable pink…well, I don’t really know what Epiphany is. Or what gender. Or really, anything about Epiphany at all, except that they’re capable of changing shape at will, creating objects out of nothing and otherwise just generally raising a giant middle finger to physics as a whole.

Oh. And did I mention that this whimsical reality-changing being is prone to temper tantrums? So…you know, maybe stay on Epiphany’s good side?

Even if Epiphany doesn’t stub his or her toe and then turn Arty into a collection of argon gas in a fit of rage, Epiphany doesn’t really have to. Because without them, Arty would have no way to move from one planet to another in the Creative Galaxy. So if Epiphany decides to cut and run, he’s stuck on whatever arts and crafts-themed world he happens to be on at the time. Hopefully, it’s Cooktopia, because I’ve never seen food on any other planet.

And no, he can’t just hitch a ride on another ship. Because that’s the horrible little secret about the Creative Galaxy. There are no other spaceships.

Not surprisingly for an entire Galaxy so focused on art that each planet has a theme, no one in the Creative Galaxy bothered developing space travel. The only ship we ever see in the entire series is the one drawn by Arty and willed into existence by Epiphany. The entirety of spacial commerce is just one kid flitting from one planet to another trying to finish his art homework and needs to borrow some glitter.

Which makes it all the stranger that the random denizens of these planets – who, remember, have no concept of interstellar travel – never seem all that surprised to see a random kid show up out of the blue.

Now, it’s hard to be too negative about a show like this. Because like all children’s show protagonists, Arty is a good kid. He’s so earnest and helpful it’s impossible not to find him kind of endearing, even for someone as cynical as me. And that’s why it’s especially hard to have to admit that he has zero chance of turning out as a well-adjusted adult.

Assuming he lives that long, I mean.

His problems here are twofold and, like the Creative Galaxy itself, heavily art-related. The first of these is that, well, not all problems can be solved with art. Most problems, in fact, are so far based in science or math that unless you happen to have a friend who can bypass the hardwired laws of reality…oh. I guess we’ll give him a pass there, then.

But it doesn’t do much to help with the issue of his parents. Aside from being so uncaring that they regularly suggest their son leave the planet to give them a break, it doesn’t take long for them to start putting a lot of pressure on their child to solve things like fixing his mother’s poorly designed library or getting his crying infant sister to calm down. You may recognize these problems as belonging 100% to his parents to address.

Okay. So they’re becoming a bit dependent on him to solve the family’s problems. In addition to bumming rides around on his one-of-a-kind spaceship like it’s not a big deal, any issue that arises is up to him to put right. But surely that was just something that happened as the show progressed, right? Nope. Those were the first two episodes.

His mother builds a children’s library, but she’s so bad at her job that she forgot to make it look visually interesting. So she sends her grade school son into space for ideas on how to paint something on the wall…or something? I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure how it ended up that he had to leave the planet to paint a wall there.

Later, when the baby has been crying all night and won’t stop, the parents don’t know what to do. Naturally, they call up the doctor and ask if anything might be amiss when…no, I’m just kidding. They send Arty into space again.

Now, I’ll make it clear that Arty isn’t in the wrong here. He’s being a good bigger brother and that’s admirable. But his parents are so incapable of functioning either as parents or members of the workforce that they regularly rely on an eight-year-old to fix their sloppy mistakes for them. They’re nice enough, sure. They’re kind and seem to…want to care for their children. With these two at the helm of the S.S. Parenthood, though, I think it’s safe to say there’s no happy ending in sight for poor Arty.

Their dependence on him to solve everything probably ends one of two ways.

One, Arty’s parents send him off to single-handedly combat an invading race of interstellar insects that move from world to world devouring their resources. (Not surprisingly, a Galaxy that never stopped painting to learn science doesn’t have much in terms of practical defenses.) This ends predictably when their hard, chitinous outer shells prove resistant to acrylic paint.

Or two, the Season 5 finale has Arty blasting off into space on another adventure. “I need to fix my parents’ failing marriage…with art!” And Epiphany just pats him on the shoulder, shaking its head.

And says, “You’re a good kid, Arty. I just wanted you to know that.”

Abridged Series Where Less is More

Author’s Note: Yes, I realize “Abridged too Far” was low-hanging fruit so far as pun-based titles go, but it sounded like the opposite point I was trying to make here. And no, that doesn’t take the sting out.

a-bridge-too-far

Author’s Note 2: I’m still using it for the title picture, though, because Sir Sean Friggin’ Connery.

For those not in the know, an abridged anime series is more or less what it sounds like. You take an existing series and shorten it in one of two ways. The first of these is to cut out filler strictly for the purpose of streamlining it. (The only two examples I can think of were both done by the same studio as a means of fixing a broken series – “Evangelion” and “Dragon Ball Z.”) The second, objectively better way is to cut the show in such a way that it’s essentially a different, more hilarious show.

An abridged series isn’t just a very short series, like “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.” Although, that show was very short. And frankly, hilarious.

But as I’m so fond of saying by way of teasing future columns, that’s a whole other thing.

For the sake of completeness, I’m going to talk about four here – half of the first variety and half of the second. Of course, there are many more than just four of these, but you should understand that these are almost exclusively fan works. Thus, their overall quality often varies somewhere between the low end of mediocre and the lower end of MS Paint.

Dragon Ball Z Kai. Despite getting into other anime in high school, I didn’t watch Dragon Ball Z until about two years into college. I still remember to this day the conflicted feelings I had over watching Vegeta and Cell scream at one another for two entire episodes on the way to Vegeta’s ultimate decision to stop fighting entirely.

As far as places to get into Dragon Ball Z go, it was probably the worst imaginable. It showcased the worst flaws in the fight scenes while accomplishing nothing at all, all with essentially no outcome. And given that it was an episode central to the main plot, I couldn’t even give it the “filler pass” I tend to give scenes where Goku wants to learn to drive or when Gohan wants to date some random girl just to pad out time.

When I heard about Dragon Ball Z Kai, I was cautiously optimistic. It offered a tighter story presented with more modern animation techniques. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, the voice actors could realize they’ve been doing the same voices for roughly eighty years and totally phone it in.

Okay. So I realize that’s both harsh and untrue. These are people who love the series, I’m sure. Nobody was just coming in for a paycheck, at least as far as I know. But after so long of yelling the same attack names (and just plain yelling), it’s understandable that their performances (and vocal chords) would start to get a little tired.

Especially when this was literally Dragon Ball Z again – just shorter. No new plot points. No new anything. It ended up being more or less exactly what was promised, delivered in such a way that almost no one was happy.

DBZ Abridged. I didn’t discover this series on YouTube until about a year ago, but trust me when I say it was well worth the wait. As much as the creators of the original series might hate to hear it, I honestly consider this the definitive way of getting from one end of the series to the other with you interest still intact.

Most of the plot points are actually untouched, meaning you could watch the entire series in maybe a quarter of the time and still know almost everything that happened. (Almost as if it’s some sort of abridged series. Gasp!) Sure, Goku is an idiot, Vegeta is constantly furious and Krillin is just plain pathetic, but most of the character changes are exaggerations rather than outright changes.

Except for Popo being a vaguely racist masochist, which in my opinion is an improvement over his bland, forgettable performance in the original.

The dialogue is snappy and memorable. It’s infinitely quotable. And except for its nasty habit of being hit with legal claims by the original copyright holders every few weeks, it’s probably one of the best things not on television right now. Like, seriously, top three. You need to go watch it right now whether you like anime or not.

In an extremely meta joke, here’s Dragon Ball Z Kai Abridged – an abridged abridged series.

Rebuild of Evangelion. For those of you who haven’t watched the original Evangelion series, I want to spoil this for you. And no, that wasn’t a typo. I would love to spoil this for you. The only trouble is, nobody knows how the hell it ended.

Evangelion is essentially the anime version of an Olympic runner falling in the home stretch after absolutely dominating the competition. Or it would be, if that Olympian failed so badly that his greatest fans went on to petition for his execution the next time he tried to run a race. It starts out as a coming-of-age story involving teenagers dealing with their own problems. Also, they save humanity from giant monsters-of-the-week by piloting equally-giant mechs. And if anything, it’s even better than it sounds…until it just crumbles before your eyes.

There are a lot of rumors about what happened with the last two episodes. Money problems. Studio meddling. The director wanting to create a giant middle finger to the fanbase that would live on long after his mortal flesh decayed. Either way, it was about fifty minutes of flashing pictures and giant naked girls in space while the main character loses his mind and everyone turns into puddles of orange liquid.

Interspersed with some admittedly awesome mech battles, but still…

Many people were thrilled when they heard the series was being remade in four  movies that condensed down the plot. Finally, it meant we could put all the ugliness behind us and see the story we’d wanted to see from the beginning. And then it fell apart again. In exactly the same way.

The first two movies are admittedly gorgeous. And I think I prefer them to even the solid original work. But episode three starts in a weird dystopian future after the world ended and nothing quite makes sense anymore. Episode four seems to be on indefinite hold and may or may not ever be released. Either way, the sudden shift of the narrative in exactly the same direction as the first time it got screwed up suggests it doesn’t really matter. Jesus Christ giving a piggyback ride to Hayao Miyazaki couldn’t save it at this point.

After all these years, it seemed a remarkably odd choice to tear down the wreckage of the original, shrug and then rebuild the same pile of wreckage all over again.

SAO Abridged. There are a lot of ways you could compare SAO Abridged to DBZ Abridged. Both are fan remakes of popular shows. Both were tweaked to offer a more humorous take of their original source material. The main difference between them was that Dragon Ball Z was good, whereas Sword Art Online was a dumpster fire.

It’s one thing to take a good series and make it better. It’s one thing to take a good series and make it worse. But turning Sword Art Online into a pleasant watching experience is nothing short of lead-to-gold-level alchemy.

This, however, does come with two small caveats. The first and worst of which is that I think you actually benefit from watching the original series beforehand. It’s certainly not mandatory. I just feel like I gained an entirely new insight from watching them one and then the other. Of course, your mileage may vary. I fully understand if watching twenty-six episodes of the original is a bit too much of an investment to squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of the abridged follow-up.

Especially when it starts to slide into weird slug hentai around episode eighteen for no particular reason whatsoever.

The second caveat, though it may go without saying, is that it’s a far less faithful adaptation of the story. The overarching stories are the same, though the characters and episodes are just plain different. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, especially when the dull, half-dimensional characters from the original didn’t give them much to work with. I’m just saying that they’re essentially two different series that just happen to have the exact same footage.

In the best possible way.

I should also note (as caveat two point five) that SAO Abridged does have the same problem when it comes to copyright holders. Despite Fair Use being fairly clear on parodies, each and every episode has been taken down thus far for as long as month while Sony Music (of all copyright holders) files suit. But as long as you catch it immediately after uploading each new episode or don’t mind a little wait, it’s not much of a problem.

Since I don’t have anything shorter to preview…I don’t know. Just watch the first episode.

There’s no real conclusion to this, though it kind of has me wondering if there are any other quality abridged series out there. I may have a look around. Assuming I find anything worth posting, I’ll be sure to include them in a followup.

Suggestions, naturally, are welcome.

The Literal Lyricist

Most of the time I’m listening to music I try not to think too hard about it. If the song was just a solid beat over someone singing a recipe for good Pad Thai, I’d be fine with it.

The musicians would probably be fine with it, too, given that a lot of their writing really doesn’t hold up to even casual scrutiny.

Music Vomit.jpg

Songs with bad lyrics are a dime a dozen. It’s the reason we have so many different ways to change the radio station in our cars. But this column isn’t about those. (I’ll likely come back to those at a future date.) No, this is about a very particular kind of lyric – the sort that, if taken literally, sounds like the ravings of a crazy person as they try in desperation to defend their street corner from invisible monsters.

As with any list of stupid lyrics, the only rule is that I can only include Pitbull once.

And speaking of which…

Pitbull – “Give Me Everything (Tonight)”

Grab somebody sexy, tell ’em, “Hey! Give me everything tonight!” (Repeat 3x)

Okay. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here and assume this is an attempt to get in some woman’s pants. As opposed to what it sounds like – armed robbery.

Of course, as a pick-up line, it’s not much better. I’m sure somebody out there would appreciate your forwardness. The majority, however, would be put off by the random stranger grabbing them and screaming demands at them.

A small but very painful minority would immediately hit you with the bear mace, putting you on the ground long before you were able to repeat it three times.

Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire”

Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, your sex is on fire.

I’ll give it credit. This was pretty much what I should have expected from the title.

I realize that sex talk is filled with euphemisms, but this isn’t one of the better ones. Imagine the confusion you’d cause yelling this mid-coitus. I don’t care what’s going on, if someone yells that your sex has reached the point of auto-ignition, you’re probably going to stop and make sure everything is okay. Maybe do a precautionary “stop, drop and roll” or two.

When it comes to spontaneous genital fire, you can never be too safe.

Nirvana – “Smells like Teen Spirit”

With the lights out it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us.

It’s hard to pick a specific set of lyrics out of this song because it’s almost impossible to even understand. I never knew what the hell he was singing about until I had to do vocals during a game of “Rock Band 2” almost twenty years later.  And this is one of those odd cases where I think I understood the song a bit less once I knew the words to it.

Is there anything you can do with the lights off that’s less dangerous? I mean, whenever I don’t understand something in a song I usually just assume it’s a reference to sex that neither twelve-year-old or thirty-year-old me understood. But that makes the inclusion of a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito and his libido all the creepier.

Unless it’s, like, the most specific fetish of all time. And even then…

Harvey Danger – “Flag Pole Sitta” (a.k.a. that song you thought Green Day did, but didn’t)

I had visions, I was in them. I was looking into the mirror.

The mirror seems to be working as intended then.

Nickelback – “Figured you Out”

I love your lack of self-respect, while you’re passed out on the deck. I love my hands around your neck.

Well, I’ll say one thing for those lyrics – they very nearly all rhyme, at least.

Wow. I won’t say this one takes an ugly turn, because it starts out pretty rough. Nickelback sees a hole and just keeps digging. It’s basically a metaphor for…well, being Nickelback.

I sort of don’t get it, though. You’re choking people after they passed out at barbecues and you’re saying they have a lack of self-respect. I believe there’s an old saying about the pot calling the kettle black. And there’s an even older but less known saying about the pot choking the kettle because it doesn’t have any self-respect.

Perhaps Nickelback is the one who should be looking in the mirror, hmmm?