Story Pile: 15 Minutes
Way back when I wrote about The Beginner’s Guide, I wound up talking about a movie called S1M0N3. The basics of that article are that some gamers seemed to be fooled into believing the fictional story of a developer stealing work and putting it up on the internet for sale was a real thing, just as in the movie S1M0N3 people believed that a movie about a fake fictional digital actress was made with a real fictional digital actress. It still stands out to me as an example of the way that modern, immediate anxieties about our relationship to technology are not, in fact, new at all.
In 2001, another movie came out that had a similar vibe to it, a movie about a fear of the changing culture of the now in the light of emergent technology. The fear was about what people would do in a world where everyone had access to a camera, about what a culture of news of spectacle would do, and the assumptions we make about people’s ability to control and express themselves. The movie was called 15 Minutes.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 5
Here we are, five years of watching into the story that is My Hero Academia, a story that took two seasons to get up to gear and then ran face-first into a pandemic making every part of its production slow and awkward and worse but don’t worry, they had a whole manga to build off. Which means that while the execution may suffer, there was at least a solid, robust spine of storytelling to build off.
Spoilers ahoy!Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Johnny Series
I reread the Johnny Maxwell books by Terry Pratchett, from the early 90s, and this time I had Fox along to help. Then, we talked about it and brought along a microphone so you can listen to us talking about these books.
Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 4
Alright, now we’ve hit our stride, we’ve done most of the set-up stuff required to have stories and character information all out there. The major characters are all laid out, we have a villain on the horizon waiting to happen to people, and we just had an introduction of some new boundary characters, so it’s time to immediately do something with all of those. This is a series that has got a handle on the basic ideas of what it’s going to do, and each season can be snapped apart into a few short story arcs you can consider on their own.
There’s something to the experience of enjoying My Hero Academia, season to season. It’s got all the joy of a catchy pop song, popcorn playful and full of classic shonen anime battle feelings, but this pop song also includes a few slurs? And probably says something condescending about women. Basically, I’m enjoying it but I’m sure as hell not going to defend it.
What we get in this season is some high drama with a big battle, one of those stories that focus on the characters in the setting dicking around with the infrastructure that exists to deal with the commonality of superpowers, and then an absolute top-tier banger of a story arc about excellent nearly-zero-stakes hero bullshit.
I’m going to talk more about it and that’s going to involve spoilers, so, below the fold!Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Owl House Finale
Chances are good you already know what The Owl House is, and chances are even better, you’ve already seen the finale trilogy of episodes if you’re reading this. If you’re not, however, and if you’re just one of the people who likes hearing me talk about kid’s cartoons that you don’t watch, though, or if you’ve been holding back out of fear that the show’s conclusion is bad, I have good news! It’s good, I liked it, it’s charming and it’s very sweet and there’s a good conclusion that shows a respect for the stakes of the situation while also not closing the door on more stories for the characters you’re familiar with.
Basically, it’s a good ending and I liked it and it didn’t diminish my appreciation for the show. It plays fair, is I guess what I’d say. If what you’re looking for is someone to tell you you’re not getting your hopes up for no reason to set aside the time to watch it, yeah, it’s great!
Now let’s go a little more in-depth on the three episodes. This is your Spoiler Warning.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Gideon The Ninth
Here’s the pitch; it’s a sci-fantasy magi-tech murder mystery story with sword fights and a ripped up muscle lesbian who wears makeup to look like a skull and mirrored sunglasses to look like a skull wearing mirrored sunglasses. Then with that kind of approach you’re left grappling with the question, okay, but how does it pull that off?
And the answer is with bombast and aplomb, two words that I think wouldn’t rate for this book’s love of linguistic particulars.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Summer Time Rendering
2022 was a kind of terrifying year for anime.
Terrifying in the scope, the variety and the general quality, mind you. It was still a year with a bunch of movies and continuations of things I don’t care about, and it was also a year in which the anime industry kept reeling after literal terrorism and the results of a pandemic slowdown. Still, the thing is, even when you take that into account and also the burnout and stress the anime producers are under, 2022 was a year with a selection of anime that would, in a less busy year, be considered the best anime released that year.
You doubt me? Well, consider that across 2022, we got heavy-hitter franchise installations Spy X Family, Demon Slayer, Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War, Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War, Ascendance Of A Bookworm and the final season of Attack On Titan. There were also some pretty remarkable releases in the queer media space, with a mainline yuri production The Executioner And Her Way Of Life pushing into the isekai franchise space and The Witch From Mercury taking the lead of probably the venerable anime franchise machine that is Gundam. Looking at the lighter, shorter series, things that didn’t need a big backing from a big studio to get out the door, we got shows all over the genre space like Ya Boy Kongming, Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie, My Dress Up Darling, Akiba Maid War, Fuuto PI, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Lycoris Recoil, Call Of The Night, Bocchi The Rock, Do It Yourself, Urusei Yatsuara, and oh yeah, did I mention Chainsaw Man up top because yeah, Chainsaw Man also came out in 2022.
That’s… one year. Any of those 21 series would be an all-star excellent show to be ‘the one great one’ of the year. For comparison, in 1993, when I think I can say I started really paying attention to anime (we called it Japanimation), there were twenty four anime series made at all.
And I bring this list to your attention, the scope, and the weight of that scope and hopefully also the number of highlighted links showing that hey, yeah, these aren’t just critically praised or noteworthy shows but shows I like, where I want to tell you about the anime that gets to be 22 on that list, and may, in my opinion, be the best one.
Summer Time Rendering is a 2022 anime based on the Shonen Jump+ Digital Manga series written and illustrated by Yasuki Tanaka who at least according to wikipedia has done nothing else. The TV adaptation is by OLM, long-standing anime industry juggernauts responsible for, amongst everything else, Inazuma Eleven, Yo-Kai Watch, Beyblade, Cardfight Vanguard, and, of course, the entire run of the Pokemon anime, amongst other less kid-oriented fare like Komi Can’t Communicate and Life With An Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated Into A Total Fantasy Knockout so we can mention an isekai genderswap anime as well, for the full bingo. As to what Summer Time Rendering is at its heart, is a mystery story, which makes it kind of challenging to talk about in a way that can both illuminate its virtues without dispelling some of the tension that people like to discover themselves, especially since one major component of the story is a time loop,
Story Pile: Lycoris Recoil
Lycoris Recoil is a 2022 action thriller anime about a pair of girls working to prevent terror attacks in Tokyo, while they get to know one another and become ＧＯＯＤ ＦＲＩＥＮＤＳ, while a plot happens around them. You know the type, right?
I am going to talk about things all through the series, I am going to spoil major twists, I am going to Talk About This Show. This serves as a spoiler warning, but also a content warning; this is a show that features guns, lots of guns, police shootings, medical tension, terrorism, bad dads, and dead probably-gays. It’s an action thriller anime set in a terrorism-wracked Japan, don’t imagine you’re getting something else just because there are girls on the posters.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Unseen Academicals
When considering the Discworld series of books, it seems at times that it’d be almost boring for me to discuss them, because they’ve been so important to my personal history and interests that it’d be a bit like ‘oh, hey, this thing I like, but obviously I would, wouldn’t I, because I’m that basic that I kind of got my personality from a series of fantasy novels.’ Every single one of the books that I love, I can almost hold up and say ‘this book was basically written for me, as a person,’ given my interests. And if I could pick the one Discworld book to hold up as an example of me in a book, the things and ideas and experiences that all hold together for me, I think there are definitely books that I think of as cooler and better and having amazing moments and important lines in them. I could name Men at Arms with its maxim that a good man will kill you without a word. I could name Hogfather with its line you have to believe in the small things that don’t exist. I bet I could look stylish as hell if I could invoke Feet of Clay‘s maxim that all days are holy or none are or Monstrous Regiment and you are my little lambs, so many cool lines that would flatter my ego to talk about how this book is a good insight into me.
But there’s a Discworld book that kinda, without meaning, hits me with both barrels, reveals a second shotgun, fires another pair of barrels, and then reloads both of them again.
This is me, pretty much.
SPOILERS after the fold.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 3
Finally I’m having a good timeContinue Reading →
Story Pile: Ultra
Content Warning: Rachel Maddow.
Oh and all the Nazis.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Arrival
Arrival is a 2016 movie about the individual experience of a very thoughtful linguist lady as humanity contends with the first engagement with an alien first contact, not in the vein of guns and bombs and tanks and planes, the way Will Smith taught us, but instead, the high stakes, deeply intense world of complex linguistic deconstruction without an existing linguistic frame of reference. And it whips, but it’s also like being bathed in wax.
It’s a language nerd movie, but I’d leave the detailed considerations of that to other people, you know, people who are experts in language. I’d recommend checking out Lingthusiasm, which goes in on the movie in depth. I’m going to try and avoid replicating anything they cover here. The only thing I’d point to that stands apart is the way that this movie demonstrates how weak our language is to discuss language we don’t have.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk spoilers after the fold. There’s probably some generalities that can give away things ‘about’ the movie, but instead I want to talk about what this movie thinks is reasonable and normal.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 2
You can tell the quality of a shounen series by how quickly it turns to a tournament arc in order to fill out its episodes. Tournament arcs are a break-in-case-of-emergency story beat for any game in the fighting shonen battle franchise, because while on the one hand, they give you structure, motivation, and a clearly defined sense of progression, they are also, ultimately, just a series of disconnected fights where you have to show characters being cool and explaining what they’re doing for mulitple episodes. I understand entirely why an anime might need to do a tournament arc; the manga industry is a machine that eats artists and shits manga, and when you’re doing a shounen battle series, having this kind of chained sequence of fights gives you an opportunity to fill out the audiences’ perspective and demonstrate a bunch of things like you’re filling out a guidebook. They are practical arcs, they are serviceable arcs.
You can also elevate a tournament arc! There are stories that weave (say) intrigue around a tournament arc, or where the rules of the tournament create a different demand on the characters, or if you follow only one character learning about the world through the arc — there’s a lot you can do with them… but they are also predictable and require you to set them up well with an interesting source of tension.
The first half of My Hero Academia season 2 is a single big tournament arc, and it’s shockingly mediocre.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Eat, Play, Love
Alright, we’ve talked about some anime and some interesting indie media, why not talk about the most tedious, boring, mainstream thing in the world? I recruited Fox to talk to me about the movie Eat, Play, Love, produced by the Hallmark channel.
Just so you know: It’s not a good movie.
Story Pile: My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom!
This year has reminded me of something I truly, truly love about anime as a genre: You get a self-contained story idea, usually something with a bunch of familiar anchors, and then says ‘okay, now here’s the idea we’re working with in this space.’ You get useful, familiar tools for telling a story (so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to communicate ideas), and then that lets the story highlight what parts of it stand apart from the standard patterns.
Here’s your standard template: an anime that tells the story that plays out in your typical otome game dating sim, where the characters are divided easily into ‘the ones you want to have sexy stories with’ and ‘the ones who are rivals or hindrances to your sexy stories,’ set in a magical mid-fantasy kingdom where you get fancy outfits, princesses and magical colleges, but also there’s no conspicuous mention of plague or weird pooping habits. Then, there’s the also-standard form of it being a story focusing on a single individual who is from our world, an isekai story, or if you’re familiar with the Christian media space, Narnia-likes.
Here’s your twist: The world she’s in now is the world of a videogame she played when she was in our world, she knows how this type of game works, like the things that signal you’re on the wrong track, but she’s not in the role of the hero of the story like when she played it.
She’s the villainess.
And the villainess, in all the routes of the games, is screwed.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Shikimori’s not Just A Cutie
2022 was a year for extensive arguing about different varieties of Best Girl, what with Yor Forger, Marin Kitagawa, Bridget and probably some more I’m not remembering right now. One of the dark horse entries, based almost entirely in my friendscape’s reaction to the thirteen seconds in a trailer where she pulls a mean face, is Shikimori-san from Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie.
People make fun of light novel anime titles having huge explanations for the entirety of the story you’re buying into but you know, I think that Shikimori’s Not Just A Cutie is basically the same thing. It’s a romance anime from mostly the perspective of a tragically failure-prone boy dojikko (dojibro) who at the start of the series is dating Shikimori. She is a cutie, and also there’s a bit more to her.
Just a bit.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: There She Is!!
In internet culture times, there’s a timelessness and an immateriality that comes from being classic.
If you were on the internet in your teenage years in around 2004, you probably know something about a particular genre of animation that tends to get called ‘Flash’ animation. And there’s a lot to be said about how Flash animation worked, and the gates it left wildly open. Sometimes people get caught up on the techniques and what they permitted, and lose track of the compression, and how turning a long animation into vectors and math meant it could be more easily translated into an internet transmissable format. That format led to hosting sites, and those hosting sites led to communities and those communities led to trends and distribution, and that is how you get things that people knew, that seemingly everyone had seen, but couldn’t attribute to any kind of source.
Even if the thing everyone’s seen has source inside it, ‘cos it’s written in a different language.
Content Warning: Racism and a pet deathContinue Reading →
Story Pile: My Hero Academia, Season 1
Nothing quite like striking after the iron’s gone.
This is the last year in which My Hero Academia will not be an anime that ‘has run for ten years.’ Seems a fine time to get into this superhero comic book anime for tweens. Behold, beyond the fold, I will be talking about the first season of the anime and that means some spoilering.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Children of Time
I understand that when I talk about movies I’m asking you to engage with me on my thoughts about a thing that’s ninety minutes long; a TV series is often something you can whittle away at over time and isn’t necessarily designed for a scope of attention that covers a lot of time in its narrative or a long time in its experience. I’m kinda a pop culture boy, I do the wham-bam-thank-you style of things for having fun and maybe I’ll try and recommend series of books to you like the Tiffany Aching series, I’m going to do so mostly because every part of that series is a book that’s pretty great and can be finished reasonably quickly.
Not so for Adrian Tchaikovsky (it’s a pen name) and his epic science fiction story Children of Time. This book is a juggernaut – the audiobook is something like six hours, and those are not a breezy set of page turners. If I talk about a piece of media it’s often with the tone of someone who’s very confident that you can go get that media and check it out and then use that media to contextualise what I think and feel about it. In this case, I think that’s a pretty big lift, since we’re talking about a doorstopper of a book and I have an audience who exist on the spectrum between ‘oo shiny’ and ‘books bore me because I can’t use them to open thirty-five tabs on which digimon have been shown wearing shoes.’ Knowing that I’m going to start off by giving you a broad overview of what happens in the story, without giving away specifics.
If you know this book already, if you want to approach things without any awareness of the plot, or if you want a push to check out some big-S big-F Science Fiction and all you need is someone recommending it, I do recommend Children of Time! I liked how it handled the scope of its stories, I liked the kinds of things it saw as solutions to problems, and it did some things that appealed to me in very specific, niche ways. Particularly, it appealed to me with its culture of sentient, cooperative cat-sized spiders, and the war they wage on the last vestiges of humanity and how that gets solved.
That got your attention? The book’s full of spiders.
Spoilers ahead, but most importantly, content warning: Spiders.
Oh my word, so much, with the spiders.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Megatokyo
Throughout 2022 I made a bit of fun on social media by reminding people that Megatokyo, the webcomic, was still updating, and had through all 22 years of its existence, produced a plot that at this point spanned roughly a week. It’s one of those things that when you present it to people who remember reading it as literal children creates an interesting reaction that shows you what they remember.
But what of me? What did I remember? I thought that maybe I should go check it out, and see what I thought of Megatokyo, since after all, I’d stepped out well before the talking robot girl had made a schoolfriend who was also the avatar of female tragedy. What is Megatokyo now? And how has it changed? Is it what you remember? is it better? is it worse?
What would I answer to the question, What is Megatokyo?
Content Warning: Y’know, there’s a lot of pretty nasty misogyny in Megatokyo, though not anything I’d step up to the level of a content warning. What I would content warn, though, is the commonality with which they suggest an adult Piro date a fifteen year old.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Rendezvous
In 1976, Claude Lelouch, a french filmmaker, released a short video, about eight minutes long, which showed a single take of an anonymous driver driving ten kilometers through the center of Paris, at an average speed of 80 kilometers/50 miles per hour. You don’t see the car. You don’t hear talking. You don’t get any framing at all for the experience; you start in the car, as it leaves a tunnel, and then you have nothing to do but sit, like a passenger, as the car’s tires squeal, the engine revs, and the driver proceeds to break quite a few laws.
It is a real recording of a real excursion that really broke real laws: speed limits were ignored, eighteen red lights were violated and one-way streets were driven up the wrong way. While there’s no obvious danger to the public on the path, the fact that this was a real thing that was really done, there’s some inherent unpredictability about the things that could have happened, even at 5:30 in the morning in summer, where there’s not a lot of people going through the streets of Paris.
Now obviously, me being me, you might assume I’m pretty okay on some laws being ignored, and there’s definitely a case, though also, rich french dude who could afford a sports car getting away with violating a bunch of car laws isn’t exactly anarchist praxis as much as it is just what we expect. There’s not a lot of Being Gay in this Doing Crimes video. There’s also a potential angle you can take on this video about the way it’s a bit of a magic trick; we only see this version because this is the version where nothing went wrong, and we don’t know how many other versions of it happened, how many other versions of it could have happened, where things were a little different. We know there was a walkie-talkie and a spotter involved, even if it didn’t wind up being a factor, and regardless of the realities of how this video got made, as a text, you don’t get to know anything about that. With such a small, generic diegesis, you could dig into what it means, what the miniscule scrap of text really does explain.
I’m not going to do that, though.
I think this is a speedrun.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Goncharov
Don’t worry, I’m not about to do an explainer on this movie, which does not exist. I cannot stress that enough: It does not exist. I don’t think I need to belabour that point, because it seems almost nobody’s trying to sustain kayfabe on this one. You’re not going to see a big, elaborate description of the critical analysis of a four hour long 1973 Mafia film starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd and Lynda Carter (in a minor role), with a great big twist at the end like hahah, surprise, got you, this movie doesn’t exist!
I know, that is the kind of joke I like to tell! I like walking you down a garden path, introduce a ridiculous idea, and then surprise you by revealing that it’s true (or not, I mix it up). But no, in this case, I’m not here to do that. I’m going to do something so much worse, I’m going to talk to you about my feelings, and they’re not going to be happy or feel-good!
Content Warning: I’m going to talk about Goncharov, which I hope is obvious, and I’m going to talk about being angry at people and the way I felt treated without any intention to change their behaviour or ask apology.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The 2022 Summary
And here we are, on the last Story Pile day of the year. I would say ‘the last monday’ but honestly, I don’t know if it’s monday to you. It’s not monday to me. I don’t think I’ve ever written a Story Pile article on the monday it goes up. The joy of scheduling. Anyway, it’s the end of the year, it’s an arbitary cutoff point before I reorganise some stuff, what was this year like and also can I have a freebie sir thank you.
I watched a lot of stuff this year! I watched some stuff that kicked ass, some stuff that bored me, and some stuff I struggled to finish. This year featured a lot less hate-watching, and a lot more consideration of disappointments, with only a few Hallmark pieces to drag around because it’s fun to make fun of really bad media sometimes, and it’s easy, and it’s something to share with Fox.
One thing I watched a lot more of this year is anime. I feel like the past five years or so I’ve really fallen out of watching anime, something I used to love doing, and only this year did I really get back into the habit of trying to watch an anime on the regular — a single series a month, maybe, and binge on a few when I was of a mood. I joined a discord with an anime club channel. And the result is I watched a bunch of kick-ass anime! Not all of it got Story Piles this year. Maybe next year. I wound up weaving this into my organisation — every month, I would do one Story Pile on an anime.
But this isn’t about what I watched this year.
This is about what I wrote.
What articles did I write, in the Story Pile category, that I want you to look at? What are my top ten most proud of it articles I wrote? Let’s count ’em down!Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Story Pile: Home Alone
Story Pile: A Royal Corgi Christmas
This is dire.
Story Pile: The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated
There’s this genre, called isekai, about a person winding up in a magical world after some major event. Then there’s this other genre based on that, called reverse isekai, where a character from a magical world winds up in a normal world after some major event. And while we can absolutely argue about whether or not Ranma 1/2 is a reverse Isekai (it is), I’d like to talk about a really fun example, with a minimal expansive plot that’s basically just a fun, half-size sitcom about a character who is so much like one of my friends I kinda am concerned she’s not getting royalties.
You can argue amongst yourselves about whom I mean.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Engine Of A Million Plots
The Engine of A Million Plots is the 2013 album by Five Iron Frenzy, their sixth album, released ten years after the previous album, The End Is Near, which was an album about, amongst other things, the band ending. Part of what precipitated the end of the band at that point was a serious contention from amongst the members about their relationship to their faith, which, given that Five Iron Frenzy are explicitly a Christian band signed to Christian labels, was something of a concern.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: The Bear
Coming up later on FX’s The Bear: join Carmy, Richie, Sydney and Marcus, as they learn how to give a care! But first…
The Bear is filed as a ‘comedy-drama’ which I think is perhaps coming from a different definition of comedy than I’m used to. It’s definitely got some funny stuff, after you get past the immense downer of a subject material and the way the whole series is about feeling tense in your gut as you follow the exploits of Carmy, The Bestest Chef Boy, who Chefed The Best until he couldn’t Chef No More because his Chef Brother stopped Chefing to a Permanent End. Now he’s no longer in the fancy restaurants that demand his skills and in his Chef Brother’s mere sandwich shop.
It’s pretty good!
I’m going to go into this with a mild spoiler warning – a discussion not of specific events but to let you know things that are structural to the story, but while I’m doling out warnings, this show kicks off with a character committing suicide, and a huge chunk of the story is about characters left behind that event confronting that trauma. There’s also workplace abuse trauma, money anxiety, suicidal ideation (though they really, really don’t address it like that), support groups, a lot of stuff around drugs and some kids getting their hands on drugs. Oh and guns being discharged. Also there’s an outside chance there’s some racial workplace coding stuff that I’m not quite aware of.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Air America
You know what the kids are into these days? Political action dramas set in 1960s Laos featuring a terrifying antisemite!
Oh don’t worry about it, this is a movie about a CIA-owned former Taiwanese air company that was used to finance the drug trade under the auspices of the Nixon white house, the fact it’s got Robert Downey Jr in it getting extremely inebriated and Mel Gibson expressing fringe religious ideologies just kind of blends in.
Minor spoilers for Air America follows, but honestly, I don’t plan on digging into the events of the movie, but rather talk about the movie and its framing.Continue Reading →
Story Pile: Demon Slayer
Up front Spoiler Policy is that I’m not really going to spoil things in this series I’m just going to tell you broadly about the tone.
There’s this phenomenon in the conversation around pop music where all the best-selling artists of all time were born after like, 1985, a fact that makes a lot of boomer music fans kinda bummed out, because it’s a sign that the musical culture is no longer a sign of how they are the ones who dictate what is and isn’t popular. It’s okay, it’s just how time advances, but it’s also a function of how the technology for making music has just kept getting better. It’s easier to get the best version of any given performer’s art, it’s easier to distribute it faster and it’s easier to express a wider variety of ideas in a lot of different ways. Simply put, it’s possible to make things better these days.
Demon Slayer is a genre perfected.Continue Reading →