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Disclaimer: the post is not very intelligible, read the novel to understand what I am talking about.
Want to make a short post on a novel I recently read, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. It is a military sci-fi, meaning it is a novel not only interested in the speculative tech-driven futurism, but also in the military.
The novel is about a young guy enrolling into the army and becoming a brilliant officer. There is no drama and no real tension, it is just a feels-good piece for army fans. The book is set in the future where Earth is at war with some insect-like aliens, and the protagonist is a member of the infantry which engages the enemy on the ground.
The reason why I decided to write about this novel is because, very much like Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, it is full of such utter nonsense, mixed in with entertaining narrative, that it is hard to resist to argue with it. There is no real need too, the book is just cheap entertainment, but still I think I won’t do too much damage if I write a few lines about it ^^’/
The first fun fact about the happy future the book describes is that in that future only army veterans are citizens and only they are allowed to vote. Army service is no trifle either. The army happily killed a dozen people to train a few dozen, as was described in the book. And hundreds were sent home. The training as described in the book is filled with moderately-to-extreme hardships and constant humiliation of the lower ranking soldiers and aggression from the higher ranking army men. As explained in the novel, the army served as a sieve to pick only the most community-minded individuals and allowing only them to vote was good for everyone.
That is where I make my first stop. Obviously such system couldn’t last, it would be dysfunctional from the start. Such a group of voters would be hugely biased and would be easily exploited and lead astray to destroy their country. Not to mention that even in the novel there were plenty of episodes where army was brain-washing its members to follow a certain line of thinking, be it though drills or exams where you had to know the right answers for questions related to governing the planet (like, there was a right answer to a question “should you starrt a war if …”). I think even a little kid would be able to guess that this political system would result in something horrid, probably in extreme militarism.
That is an unfair criticism though. Heinlein didn’t care. He was happy with military dictatorship. Unless he was making a joke, he also believed that it is possible to provide correct answers to moral questions using mathematical proofs (shows he had no idea what math is 😅), and those were usually that you need to start wars and use other kinds of violence. That is fine, no one says that you have to have pacifist views or whatever. This is a military sci-fi after all.
I just finished watching Angel’s Egg, an OVA by Mamoru Oshii made in 1985. That is pretty anime, lots of well drawn scenes, with interesting character designs and nice atmosphere. I’ll post a few pictures so you can see some of what I mean.
The anime is simple and silent, with barely a few lines of dialogue here and there. But you can watch it if you want to see how good you are at reading symbols. The anime more or less tells a story with them.
I am sure you will be able to figure out what the egg stands for and what the end of its and the girl’s storylines mean. Also try to see what the fishes stand for, that is a bit more interesting. And all the dead fossils too. And if you figure out what the angel is all about, then do tell me, that one I am interested in.
I always think that there are so many people I admire, people whom I would like to show my respect. MAL gives us space to mark a few anime/manga industry creators as your “favorite”. It never felt satisfying to me though. And anime and manga aren’t the only entertainment I like. There also books, music, YouTube creators and others.
On the other hand, I am not fond of lists. And things like “the favorite writer” are temporal, and it would be too complicated to talk about all people whom I found interesting through my life. So, a while ago I thought I would write a post about people who influenced me in this year. And here it is, read at your discretion.
Let me start with simple things. This year I’ve read a few manga by authors I haven’t read before that I found interesting, namely Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou by Hitoshi Ashinano, Tetsuwan Atom by Osamu Tezuka and Nisekoi by Naoshi Komi. Each of these is a decent story in its own right, all in terms of art and Yokohama and Atom in terms of story too. I got an omnibus of Atom, an English translation, in a shop I walked by in Hague, just to pass time on the train; Yokohama I was able to read thanks to MangaTube, an excellent German manga translators community; and as for Nisekoi I bought one volume in Berlin a while ago, just to see if this kind of romance/comedy would maybe be my thing after all. Back then, I couldn’t even speak to the shopkeeper in her language, so buying German translations was partly about learning too.
Also, I can’t forget Hideo Azuma and his Shissou Nikki (thanks again, Shaurya! :) ).
A special mention goes to Souichirou Yamamoto, the author of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san and to Rei Hanagata, the author of China Girl, both nice romance stories I started reading in 2017 and continued this year. Also, this year I changed my opinion of Hiro Mashima, thanks to his new manga Edens Zero, which I think is pretty good. I have also been reading Dragon Ball Super, didn’t find it too bad after understanding what kind of story it is.
Next, to anime!
Some time ago, I’ve read a short book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The book tells a story about the titular seagull who loved flying. His attempts at learning more about flight lead him to great peaks of mastery, and at the same time alienated him from his family and his tribe. Through the book, Jonathan learns flight beyond physical limits of his body, meets other seagulls with the same love for flight, learns from them and eventually becomes a great teacher himself. Then he descends back to the world and allows his pupils to spread his teachings.
It is an interesting attempt to describe a way from a normal being to a deity. Through learning and work Jonathan went from a bird to a higher being. The story is naïve and fairytale-like. There is a lot that can be said about it, but today I just want to point out this idea, that one can arrive at a higher form of existence through learning and training. This idea sounds a little similar to some of the teachings by Zhuang Zhou (Zhuangzi), at least in the prof. Puett’s interpretation.
As interesting as it is though, it is not very practical, not very real world-like. There are plenty of people who devoted their entire lives to one occupation and became very good at it. There are plenty of people who have meaningfully learned their whole lives, constantly progressing and becoming better. But it is really hard to say if any of them have arrived at “the goal”, if any of them transcended normal humans. And, it is easy to say that they didn’t become deities, unlike Jonathan in Bach’s book. So, can we have a story that is a little closer to the world we are living in? A story that would reflect on the human nature and our struggles, on the way towards perfection? A story that would tell us what that “goal”, that perfection is?..
I don’t know if we can have such a story, but we do have Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha is a story about a young man, Siddhartha, a son of a priest, who strives to achieve perfection. In his youth when he was serving the gods he sought to learn the nature of divine and the truth about life and everything. Unable to find the answers as a priest, Siddhartha went to become an ascetic, seeking to destroy his “self” to be able to see what lies beyond. Later he would become disappointed in this practice and come to a conclusion that no teaching can ever lead to his goal of enlightenment, that wisdom can’t be taught. Disappointed in the very idea of destroying one’s self, Siddhartha seeks to learn more about his self by indulging in the worldly pleasures and desires like love, food, gambling, earning money, etc. In due time, this will also become meaningless to him, pushing Siddhartha to want to end his life.
As you probably know, Hunter x Hunter anime has ended a while ago, but the manga is still going. Right now, a new batch of chapters is being released, so maybe it is a good time to jump in! The current arc in the manga is referred to as “Succession War”, and it is a part of a bigger arc, which we usually call “Dark Continent”.
I am telling you this to make it clearer what I am going to be talking about. This post isn’t going to be a recap of what happens in the arc, and it is going to be light on spoilers. But still, I will have to tell you a bare minimum about the Succession War arc, like its setup, the parties involved, etc. The arc is really good, and I’ll understand if you’d rather not have any spoilers before reading it; so, decide for yourself.
To put it simple, the Succession War is all about a bloody game the king of Kakin Empire came up with in order to decide on his successor. The Hunter Association got involved because Kakin was instrumental in the expedition to the Dark Continent, which the association was planning. The Hunter Association wanted to just let things go their own way, avoiding any problems; obviously that was not going to work. In order to manage the problems, Kurapika and a group of hunters he selected entered this war as bodyguards for different Kakin princes.
I’ll stop the exposition here. So far, I have presented about 0.1% of arc’s content. Kurapika has multiple motives in this conflict and some of the hunters he enlisted have their own motives too. Each of 8 queens and most of 14 princes have some ideas and plans; most of them have their private troops and guards, and those include individuals who yet again, act out of hidden agendas, not just off their loyalty. This arc is complicated. So much so, that the infographics and charts that circulate on reddit and show just basic info over the characters, they got unwieldy big and now are replaced with 15+ page long documents. Even the Kakin wiki page had to use some fancy designs for their infographics, with tabs and all, just to be able to fit all faces that we saw this arc.
If you have read or watched Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin), imagine a couple of those novels condensed into a manga arc, and further compacted temporally and spatially to fit into a week spent on a passenger ship. And, add more characters. That is what Succession War is.
Now to the topic of this post. In his last few arcs, Togashi experimented with complexity and structure of the story. Making the protagonists never even meet the arch-villain, making the villains and the good guys switch their moral images, blending separate fights and encounters into an inseparable stream of events: I feel confident saying that he knows how to write unusual and complicated stories. And judging by the looks of it, this new arc will be one of them.
But, there is something else, besides it being complex, that stands out to me a lot. I am talking about the side characters. Just to make myself clear, let’s step back and remember the York Shin arc. The main characters on the good guys’ side were Kurapika, Gon, Killua, Leorio, maybe Melody and Hisoka. The main bad guys were the Troupe (counting each member as one). The side characters are people like Neon Nostrade and other Nostrade family members and employees, the mafia, the Shadow Beasts, the ten dons, the freelance assassins (who were “helping” Zoldycks to fight the Troupe), etc.
Some time ago, I started reading this romantic comedy manga about middle school students – Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san by Souichirou Yamamoto. You may have noticed its recent anime adaptation. It is a little weird that, even though I don’t read that much manga, it is the second time I start reading a series before it gets adopted into an anime.
But anyhow, my experience with Takagi-san is limited to the manga, and specifically to the beautiful translation by ziM and Anni from manga-tube.me. It was also my first time reading scanlators’ talk in a chat as new chapters get released. I always knew there were real people standing behind any manga scanlation release, but it was Takagi-san and its team that made me feel it.
It is a story about two students, Takagi and Nishikata; and the gist of it is that Takagi pesters Nishikata, makes fun of him and makes him embarrassed in a variety of ways. Sounds malicious, but it really isn’t; Takagi clearly likes Nishikata in a very clear and direct way (no inner conflicts and other tsundere shenanigans) and her picking on him often does good for both of them. I’ll talk about it in a sec. Nishikata almost always falls prey to Takagi’s schemes, even though he tries his best not to.
If you have watched/read Tonari no Seki-kun you may find the setup to be somewhat similar. And it is kinda true, in both series there are two students, and a stronger one constantly “defeats” the weaker one in a funny way. Except Seki-kun is mostly just a comedy, there is no romance there. But it is not the main difference, I’d say. When watching Seki-kun you are tempted to ask yourself “is Seki going to be alright? Is Yokoi going to be alright?” They are always wasting their time at school, and Yokoi getting into small troubles is almost a theme there. You can safely say that Yokoi would have been better off if she never saw Seki, at least from the pragmatic perspective. I know this is a comedy and all, but still, it is tempting to think along these lines. In Takagi-san, this aspect is completely different.
For one thing, most of the Takagi’s jokes are aimed at Nishikata’s childish ways, like him being embarrassed to say certain words, being embarrassed to admit he secretly reads a romantic manga and so on. On the other hand, when it is something that could be good for Nishikata, Takagi would encourage it. When Nishikata started athletic training, Takagi made fun of his muscle soreness and said, “It would be good if you don’t quit after three days”. When he didn’t quit she praised him for it. Of course, she turned it into a taunt as well, but you get the picture; Takagi wasn’t just having fun at Nishikata’s expense, she was trying to make him a better person as well.
I thought it might be interesting to write a couple of posts on my experience watching Monster. It is a 74 episode long show, and I am sure my opinion about it will change as I watch it. Some things I care about now will seem insignificant then and some things I will only notice in retrospect. So, it might be worthwhile to pause and write down what I’m feeling about the show at the moment, before the next episodes wash the feeling away.
The introduction part was really good. I tend to like shows that have normal adults as protagonists, and I like competent people, so Tenma’s intro was well to my liking. I also like the line with him trying to make a career using both his skills and the good (but dubious) relations with the head of the clinic. It is an interesting setup, there are lots of things you can do with it. Even if you don’t want to play with the morality of the situation too much, there are still endless plot possibilities. Having both legal and personal obligation to his boss would bind Tenma; and him benefiting from these relations would rob him from some of his moral and actual freedom. These are the things that make a story interesting. These twisted constraints put on the characters produce interesting situations that wouldn’t arise naturally, and they also make the plot less predictable.
So, I was a little disappointed when the whole story between the clinic’s head and Tenma got resolved. Imagine if Tenma’s boss remained to be a part of the story, how much more complicated everything could have been. Of course, making things complicated is not the goal but a tool; but I wonder if the show just didn’t want to bother with these more difficult plot lines. Making Tenma acquire an independent senior position simplified everything, and maybe that is exactly what they wanted. I guess I’ll see soon. Hopefully the anime will show me that it knew what it was doing there.
The story with the poisoned candy and sudden deaths of the clinic’s personnel, I wonder if we are supposed to see it as a mystery. I first thought that someone wanted to poison the children and that it would be the same people who killed the children’s parents. I didn’t bother searching for any other explanations. But Johan’s words about him fulfilling Tenma’s wish to see Tenma’s higher-ups dead, that made me wonder. I don’t see any reasonable way how the kids could have anything to do with these deaths, but I don’t know enough to say for sure. It just doesn’t seem reasonable, so I decided not to bother with theories.
This is going to be a bit of an unusual post. Normally we cover manga and anime, but this time it is a novel: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky.
There are a couple reasons I want to write about it. First, unless you follow Russian sci-fi lit, the chances are you won’t even hear about this book. I might be underestimating its popularity, probably not though. Second, there are a few things to talk about in this book. I mean, books often give you something to talk about, but this one was particularly good in this aspect. And lastly, there is no real reason for you to read this book, so I feel fine spoiling the whole plot.
The novel tells the story of Artem, a young adult living in Moscow metro (underground train network) on the VDNKh station, with his stepfather. To be more specific, they live in the Moscow that survived a nuclear war, which wiped out the whole of human population on the surface, leaving a few thousand survivors in the metro. The metro itself had fallen apart and became a total chaos. Some stations try to survive growing and selling mushrooms, some stations created oppressive communist governments, some follow neo-nazism, some exist in the state of anarchy, and some adopted a strict caste system. There are different groups of people trying to achieve different goals, from religious sects to revolutionaries, from merchants to bandits, from insane people to so-called stalkers – people who dare leave metro and go to surface to gather materials and goods people in the metro need.
The setup for the story is fairly classic and shows that Glukhovsky is aware of Tolkien’s and other similar works. At the beginning of the story Artem’s station is sieged by mutants who are not just strong, but also capable of overwhelming human’s will across huge distances, although it takes them time. For the more experienced people it was clear that these mutants will overrun the station and then spread through the rest of the metro, possibly destroying the whole thing. That would be the end of humanity in Moscow, for what it is worth.
So Artem is visited by a stranger named Hunter who tells him to go to one of the central stations to deliver a report of the situation to the people there, and hopefully to get some help. Hunter was hoping to do something about the mutants, like closing the entrance point they use, but he didn’t really expect to succeed. After Artem was sure Hunter died in his attempt, he started his long journey.
I don’t want to give a report of all the adventures Artem lived through while he was trying to get to the center. The metro was in chaos, moving between stations might be difficult for a number of reasons, from locals being extra strict about whom they allow to pass through to the tunnels acting weird and people dying for no apparent reason. Artem lived to see all of that and a whole lot more.
Remember Fairy Tail? The manga that once was considered a candidate to joint One Piece, Bleach and Naruto big trio? And now it ended, and so did Naruto and Bleach, and we are now old and… sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Fairy Tail. The author of this manga, Mashima Hiro, recently started a second project called Edens Zero. Let’s talk about it!
Edens Zero is a brand new manga that Mashima writes on his own, as far as I know. I am saying it to differentiate this manga from other fellow projects associated with big name mangaka, such as Boruto or Dragon Ball Super. And, even though I obviously have no clue how long Edens Zero will run, so far it looks like it is aiming to be lengthy. The story already sets up the ground for multiple future arcs, so it could easily go to be a 100+ chapters long story. My point here is, you can think of it as of a new manga series, not as of a bonus for Fairy Tail fans.
That said, Edens Zero doesn’t shy away from Mashima’s previous work. In fact, he boldly reuses the same character designs and even names. You can find a mascot cat named Happy, a girl who looks just like Lucy, a guy looking like something in between Grey and Natsu and so on. It is clearly an intentional gesture, and Mashima isn’t the first artist to re-use characters between unrelated works. Think of Osamu Tesuka and his reoccurring characters. I don’t see any problem with doing that, it makes the reading experience even better for me.
Now, if you want to see the manga without any further spoilers, pause here and go ahead and read the first chapter. It is worth it.