10/27/2012: Weed Roots Edition

I believe I have difficulty writing in quantity because my ambitious nature is squashed by the reality of time and effort.  A thousand unwritten stories have found residence in my mind, and I create them to entertain myself.  Beside all that, here’s my second op-ed for The Johnsonian.  I don’t know how to fix Winthrop’s ridiculous internet standards, but I can, at the very least, formally acknowledge the issue.  I’ve been using the word ridiculous a lot lately, and I’m not sure why.  Anyway, the positive of reading the article online means you get a super high-definition version of the psychological horror from our newspaper cartoons.  The positive of reading the article in tangible form is that you get to see my half-smiling mug.  So pick your poison.

To try and cut the details short on this week’s Gaming Journalism~! fiasco, here are the basic details.  A columnist wrote a piece about how, while he had no evidence of the press’ corruption, some members of the media seem a bit too chummy with the idea of letting themselves be turned, with corporate public relations’ influence, into walking advertisements.  He pointed wildly at a few people who had done questionable things (like surrounding themselves with Dortios and Mountain Dew advertising, or tweeting hashtags to win Playstations), but never called anyone out directly.  He had no evidence!  It was a worthwhile point, but up its own ass as anything I’ll write here.  He did point to one woman who emblazoned her personal sites in advertisements for the not-yet-released, still desperate-for-marketing Tomb Raider game.  It was a random potshot at a random person who did a questionable thing that hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called journalists had done.  Instead of dealing with the comment with grace and clarity, she had a meltdown and called “libel,” essentially forcing the original columnist to be fired without a good reason.  In the confusion, people looked up this woman’s information.  She listed Square Enix as an employer.  She had written dozens of articles and reviews on that company’s products, consistently praising them.  Whether through simple young-person naivete or through a concerned effort to push product and profit off of lies, she was entirely corrupt!  Fancy that!  The columnist just walked in his town asking, “Are you The Devil?”  “Are you The Devil?”  “Are you The Devil?”  And that third person uttered an unholy roar and grew a second mouth to say, “I AM BEELZEBUB, LORD OF THE FLIES” and vanished.  The chances of that having happened are nearly unfathomable.  It went a little something like this.

Game fans, at least the ones obsessive enough to read and write about it on the internet every day, are as hypersensitive as anyone else.  If a game is scored too high, by their standards, it was obviously a sign that the publisher paid someone off.  Most of the time, the reality is that IGN handing 9.0 scores out like they’re free candy is due to fanboyish inexperience, not a bribe.  If a game is scored too low, reviewers get death threats that contain their street addresses.  The truth there is that no one is out to get games, to put them in their place.  Games should be awesome.  We should all be happy all the time, but sometimes that can’t happen.  Corruption in the media has happened, but it’s as rare as that bird Ash sees at the end of episode one.  A lot of the navel-gazing happening in games journalism is about Kotaku being too off-topic or Destructoid being super sexist, not a direct link to corruption to prove all the conspiracy theorists right.  This is exciting and important because it proves some amount of conspiracy theories entirely accurate, though we’ve seen nearly all other media personalities, one after the other, come out and state that they aren’t a part of the problem.  I hope that’s true.

I remember reading my old game magazines, the old GamePros or Game Informers or EGMs of yore, and occasionally seeing a two-page spread on some upcoming game, written as if it directly spoken to the reader.  It would tell you just how great Fear Effect 2 is going to be, see, it has these scientists [disclosure: not real scientists] there to prove it.  They were, essentially, infomercials.  What helped the situation, what made it not feel so damn shady, is that the infomercials would have big white letters at the top and bottom of the pages that clearly stated “ADVERTISEMENT.”  Interaction between advertisers, publishers, and press isn’t necessarily a toxic thing.  It can be a great thing for everyone involved, even without absurdly high scores and money changing hands.  What matters is transparency.  Transparency, transparency, transparency.

It’s nice to see Polygon establish a code of ethics right up front, the very second their site launched.  Giant Bomb, a site which was born out of a distaste for the political ramifications of press/publisher relations, has repeatedly stated that corruption is completely antithetical to their own code, and their content keeps proving that.  Even writers popping up on Twitter for a mere minute to say “Hey guys, I’m not totally crooked!” is a nicety that goes great lengths to proving that someone’s work is worth it.  Love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed.  You trust you aren’t being lied to, but do you know for sure?  Of course not.  You either give the benefit of the doubt or you spend the rest of your life pretending you live in The Truman Show.

Transparency is putting “ADVERTISEMENT” at the top of your infomercial, and it’s also differentiating between hardcore war zone journalists and the dude who writes for Us Weekly and asks if HD video is going to reveal Britney’s awful complexion.  Take Andrew McMillen, for example.  This is the dude who exposed the abysmal working conditions at Team Bondi, and now he’s the guy who did a tell-all of why Silicon Knights has been in such a rut for eight years straight.  That’s the gaming, super first-world equivalent of covering African civil war.  Compare that to Ryan Davis, a guy whom I professionally admire, whose primary duties are to critique Star Wars Galaxies on its final day while he streams on the internet.  Those are completely different things, right?  Friendship with PR representatives gets a pass as it varies by person, by situation.  These are real people involved in real situations, and human relationships are complex.  What’s wrong is to cast all of gaming journalism in a bad light because of one mistake (a mistake perhaps executed by more than we imagine) from a stupid person.  What’s right is to value each critic or journalist individually, based on their work or their transparency or their entertainment value or kindness.  I don’t say gaming journalism is dead because Jessica Chobot is a paid model more valuable to her company than the employees who do the work.  I just know IGN is valueless trash to me, and continue to love even more what I find morally redeeming in this world.

I’ll just link you to what Shawn Elliot wrote.

This weekend was also spent watching the Rebuild of Evangelion, the four-part remake movie series that updates the brilliant show.  I had seen the first film, 1.0, before, but needed a refresher.  I still think Evangelion has among the best openings to any program I’ve witnessed before, as it’s one that equally plays to and entirely subverts genre tropes.  That first movie is more or less a HD version of the first four episodes, but the final scene lets you know that things have changed.  This isn’t 616.  This is the Ultimate universe.  This is not what happened before.

2.0 (despite being released in 2009 it’s still the latest film) continues in the same Ultimate direction.  The similarities and basic plot flow of the television series remains, but wrenches are thrown into your expectations during nearly every scene.  There’s a new Lilith on Earth, but the old series’ one remains somewhere else.  Even though she’s promoted heavily, Mari, a brand new character, enters and exits the scene dramatically, never answering a single mystery.  It’s Asuka in the Angel-posing-as-an-Eva now, not Toji, so she’s taken out of the equation.  Hideaki Anno, the series’ creator and auteur, knows what you’re expecting and knows just when to throw you off course.  He makes the old new again.

As two individual films, I still can’t recommend Evangelion enough.  But what pulled the original series together, what made it all click, was the climax and fallout.  It’s a confusing series with an encyclopedia’s worth of lingo and religious interpretation, and by the end of the show nothing was explicitly laid out.  Instead, it all worked tonally.  My fear with Rebuild is that of, once again, expectation.  I’m used to Evangelion wrapping up in a romantic and melodic way, and I’m able to watch early episodes with full knowledge of how they contribute to the greater narrative.  In Rebuild, enough wrenches have been thrown that there’s no possible way to figure how the series will tie together.  It’s all up to the creator to redo what he has already done, but for a brand new situation.  Anno hasn’t failed me yet, but he’s always dangerously close to pulling a The Matrix Revolutions.

I guess love is about opening your heart to the possibility of being betrayed.

Molasses

In sixth grade, John Ehler and I waited over four hours for Cell to be defeated.  The promise that Cell’s story arc in Dragon Ball Z would conclude was true, though Cartoon Network gave no hint as to how long and drawn-out the process would be.  Long, drawn-out monologues were bookended by Nerf gun commercials.  My mom would eventually call us upstairs to eat some dinner, and by the time we went back into the basement, Cell was still talking into the camera.  That was anime for me, for a long time.  If it wasn’t Pokemon, it was DBZ.  I had a DBZ BIG DOGS t-shirt, though, thankfully, I never ventured into the button-up variety.  At some point, children of 2001 heard that anime was stupid and dumb and our anticipation for the daily Toonami was easily released.

Later, I would learn that DBZ was an example of the shonen anime style.  Shonen focuses on young males aged ten and up.  The ridiculous length of story arcs, along with the ridiculous abilities and ridiculous muscles on the heroes, is obviously enrapturing to a sixth grader and not a twelfth grader.  Part of growing up, I feel, is picking the bones of youth.  Understanding what was a fad and what carries sentimental value is important to the adult consumer.  I’ve picked up the manga Bleach because I want something enjoyable to read, because I’ve wished to satiate an eager fan, and because I need to pick the bones of sixth grade.  It might not be Dragon Ball Z, but the structure is similar.

Bleach starts off with light-hearted enjoyment, even while the terminology is going bonkers.  The premise, that of Ichigo Kurosaki becoming a Soul Reaper to protect his family from what basically amounts to “evil ghosts,” is entertaining and borderline incredible.  Much in the same way I’ve always assumed Dragon Ball is incredible (without ever having watched it), the beginning ten volumes of Bleach construct scenarios that continuously cause me to empathize with the principal characters.  Your basic Japanese dress-school and perverted friends appear, as do familiar stories including the flamboyant television host without a lick of skill and the passionate remembrance of an anime character’s deceased mother.  Tite Kubo, Bleach’s lone author and illustrator, has a knack for characters.  Humor shines from each one, though in a variety of ways.  The same wacky situations exhibit different responses, and even the same primary motivations for similar characters won’t stop Kubo from giving each a personality and silhouette all their own.  Not knowing the full picture, I hesitate to say that the initial setting of Bleach is its best.  Another ten volumes later, up to twenty, I do say that it leaves a fantastic first impression.  Kubo does not reinvent the wheel with this series.  It’s a joy because of it.

As soon as the cast enters the Soul Society to save Rukia Kuchiki, Kubo’s ambition explodes into a blinding ball of fire.  While Bleach already had a large cast of characters on Earth, the “Heaven” of the series more than doubles that amount.  Rather than doling out each new character as need be, they are presented all at once in a splash page.  When Momo Hinamori cries over Sosuke Aizen’s death, you, the reader, are also expected to cry, despite not having a chance to properly meet either character yet.  As the series continues and spends more and more time in this one story concerning the rescue, one does develop feelings for the assorted Captains and Assistant Captains through a remarkable intimacy.  Even the primary cast of the first ten volumes, the heroes on their way to save the day, are sometimes left entirely out of volumes, what constitutes a real-time eight or ten weeks’ worth of content.  Characters you thought would be important until the end are cast aside.  As soon as Uryu Ishida seems important he’s ignored in favor of Shunsui Kyoraku.  Then Kyoraku is ignored in favor of Kaname Tosen, and so on.  The new terminology for this realm flows like a damn rapid, repeating “bankai” and “reishi” despite never making them seem directly important to story.  The information will rush nonstop, but the actual ramifications are slow.  By volume ten, the steadily rising line of the Bleach story becomes a vertical bar.

The setting Kubo has constructed reminds me of one of my own nerdy interests.  I’ll read a Star Wars anything, no matter how poorly done it is.  At a certain point I stop looking at the specifics of a film’s plot and simply enjoy spending time in my favorite fictional realm.  I imagine fans of Bleach share the same sentiment.  This isn’t to say the plot of Bleach is poor (it’s actually quite enthralling), but the pacing takes a backseat.  If Kubo weren’t so good at drawing cool-looking people and giving them fascinating characteristics, the pace of lots of things happening with nothing really happening would be infuriating.  Instead, I can’t help but smile while reading.  Sure, this one battle takes seven chapters, or most of a lone volume, but it has characters I enjoy, being enjoyable.  He’s all-too conspicuously making this up as he goes along, which is a tactic difficult to control.  The creativity in Bleach is at a constant, though, so it overwhelms most negatives.

I have nostalgia when reading Bleach.  I remember so vividly the equal measure of whimsical enjoyment and cries for a faster story while watching Dragon Ball Z, and I feel many of the same emotions here.  Here, however, Tite Kubo has a series that I don’t think I could give up on if someone on the internet points out some flaw in Japanese cartoons and comics.  Bleach adheres to a formula.  Yet unlike Akira Toriyama, who never could make more than five compelling characters at a time, Kubo has a party of dozens.  At Volume 20, I’m not even close to finishing the series, which has continued up to Volume 56 and is ongoing.  I would be completely amazed if the series’ ending wraps any part up with a neat bow.  Instead of stomping and complaining about an entire genre’s perceived flaws, it might be best to accept them.  Yes, Bleach does what Dragon Ball Z did, but it does so in a more compelling way.  Perhaps I’ve gone soft, but I now find those pacing issues a bit charming.  I find a whimsical, often melodramatic, often serene and beautiful, manga series endearing rather than frustrating.  Who cares about pacing when you’re this entertained?

No media should be given a free pass, but Bleach does deserve to be understood for exactly what it is.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Actual Published Work That Someone Could Point At And Say “Look, That Person Existed” But Then Not Have Strong Feelings Either Way About The Topic

My first article for Winthrop’s The Johnsonian student newspaper is live, and by “live,” I mean in a physical newspaper that needs to be picked up by using hand muscles.  Their website seems to be in perpetual redesign and reabandonment, so I’ll post what I’ve written here, for now.  The articles, the second of which is in the mail, are little ditties about school or whatever I feel like.  A word count for print means I can’t devolve into an emotional soliloquy comparing my past relationships to attempted Atari revitalizations, but what’re you gonna do.  Sometimes all “adult” really means is wearing an adult’s clothes.

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