Magic

Magic

Magic holds a special place in my heart as it should for many others. Despite recent technological advances and the rise of a more sci-fi-esque world, humans can’t seem to ever let magic go. it remains in integral part of our being and culture, whether it is revered as a gift from the gods, or an untapped human ability. Which is probably why humans still incorporate magic into so many aspects of our literature and works of fiction. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the Mistborn Saga and Sklduggery Pleasant are all amazing examples of magic in literature, but as much as magic is revered, it is feared as well. Humans are inexorably drawn to magic as much as other humans revile it and hold it with superstitious disdain. I was banned from indulging in Harry Potter from a young age, which greatly pained me as my mum made sure to never allow me to watch, or even borrow any Harry Potter material. I always wondered why, and later on I realised that from a religious viewpoint, magic is an anathema. Something held by the darker forces to prey on the holy, the pious and the faithful. But I never cared much for that, because I also realised that humanity will forever categorise whst they cannot understand as magic. But for the majority of humanity who are more secular, magic has been a source of wonder and amazement. But why?

Looking at the greatest works of fiction, you can see two broad elements that make magic great. The ordered, “scientific” application of magic, which involves a system in order to make it work. Most great works of fiction incorporate this in one way or another whether to great effect or not, however it can be plain to see. The rules and regulations placed on magic grounds it, making it understandable, and thus, fascinating. There is lore as much as there is ritual, and this tugs at the curiosity of the reader or viewer. On the far right however, we have the traditional, “purist” form of magic. Unexplainable and mysterious. Capable of almost anything as long as the user has willed it to be, all dependent on their skill or affinity with magic. The latter can be seen in works such as Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf is capable of “magic”. Although it is not specifically stated that he is using magic, and it is generally accepted that he is more of a wise man than a wizard, he is still capable of supernatural feats such as defeating a balrog of Morgoth, or summoning light. Another good example is the Books of the Shaper series, where magic is mysterious and uncategorised. It happens only by virtue of the fact that the wizard, is a wizard, and that this ability is not common. On the other end of the spectrum are books like Harry Potter, the Inheritance Cycle and my personal favourite, and Skulduggery Pleasant. In Harry Potter, almost all magic must be channeled, and very few spells can be cast without a wand. However there are still individuals like Albus Dumbledore and Remus Lupin who can perform magic wordlessly or without a wand due to their skill, age and knowledge of magic. Magic is not tied to stamina, but rather to skillful application, and practice. In Eragon, magic is bound to an old language where words have power. Magic battles are a constant mental showdown, while more mundane tasks can be performed by uttering the old language. However, magic still requires you to exert the same amount of stamina you would by doing said task physically and thus, knowledge of words, wit and also cunning. The careful phrasing of words is careful. Willing someone to explode will most likely kill you, but willing a stone to shoot from your hand and through an opponents skull will most likely take much less power. Furthermore, people can store energy in gems and other objects to have reserves of power.

All these magical concepts are fascinating, and extremely enjoyable to study. Many people dedicate much of their time theorising and studying these fictional systems. However, my favourite system has to be Skulduggery Pleasant’s. As wondeful as magic is, many sorcerers have also adapted to using modern tech. A gun is a wonderful weapon regardless and is not restricted by any magical restrictions. A lock pick is a handy tool especially if there are magical barriers, and a gps will most likely be overlooked by the average mage. Magic is categorised into two base categories. Adepts, who can encompass a great many types of magic such as energy throwing or even something mundane as the practicing of runes, however this means they must dedicate their lives to this branch of magic, and this may leave them with irritating weaknesses. Also, with power comes corruption, and this means that people tend to fall to immorality. Elemental magic, allows you to use or practice the four basic types of magic, fire, water, earth and air. However, due to the difficulty and length of time it takes to master elemental magic it is not widely practiced, however it is versatile depending on your skills. Magic has so many forms and variants that it makes an interesting world. There is always something new, but it creates a vast and interesting plot that is literally brimming with magic, with new forms being explored, mentioned or introduced. It keeps the amazement going.

These are but a few examples, and I’m not going to explain the majestic systems of magic that exist in videogames, but you get the point. Magic is an undeniably fascinating and mesmerising plot device. And one of the greatest things about it, is the fact that literally anybody can create one. I’ve created at least five already and they’re constantly growing. I only improve with time, and that is why I can never grow out of magic. You don’t need any knowledge of physics or biology. You just need imagination and the will to create something amazing, whether for your amusement, or for that of others.

But whatever anyone says, magic exists in our world. It is all around us, no matter what age we are and it fills us with wonder and curiosity. We experience it the most at a young age and it leaves most of us the older we get. After all, as Arthur C, Clarke put it, “Magic’s just science that we don’t understand yet.”

The Subtle Terror of Lovecraftian Horror

The Subtle Terror of Lovecraftian Horror

Lovecraft, the American author and progenitor of Weird Fiction. So many of his works have been revered by horror fans wanting something different. Despite being virtually unknown as a writer when he was alive, he achieved widespread fame and his works are still relevant over 60 years after his death. His work can be glimpsed in many different media due to the amount of depth, but vagueness he put into the characters in the stories we now know as the Cthulu Mythos after the Great Old One of the same name. To put it into perspective for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a fair enough example.  Vilgax, the baddie from the original, and amazing Ben 10, was clearly modeled after Cthulu with the green skin and tentacles for a beard. In popular culture, Lovecraft’s influence can be seen in such works as Darkest Dungeon the Death Metal band Cradle of Filth, and surprisingly enough, TV shows like The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the popular show Supernatural. One of the reasons that Lovecraft hasn’t got much widespread fame despite my insistence is that it is called, weird fiction for a reason. It does not rely on gore, or flashy deaths to inpsire horror. Despite the fact that almost every story from the Cthulu Mythos waswritten by Lovecraft, there are very very few recurring characters despite the stories almost always taking place within the same or a similar time frame. The central characters are usually neither brave, nor wise, however most of the time, they are extremely curious. A trait that leads to their unfortunate demises, which is a very horrifying concept due to the fact that every human has a spark of curiosity within them which makes us all as susceptible to the fate that befalls Lovecraft’s characters. But more on what makes Lovecraftian fiction terrifying later.

Truth be told however, I have not yet completed a single Lovecraft novel or Novella by my own volition. I have listened to a few narrations, and I have read half of “At the Mountains of Madness”, and that should show you the full scope of Lovecraftian horror. One of my favourite  pieces of Lovecraftian work, and the one that I first experienced, is From Software‘s Bloodborne. Bloodborne is a unique game, coming from the much lauded Dark Souls series as a spinoff title existing in the same universe it switches up the formula and changes some core mechanics to deliver a more aggressive, but equally difficult game. But for me, the game truly shines in its take on storytelling. As the player, silent and mysterious, it is up to you to discover as much of the world you inhabit. There are slivers of truth and lore, hints here and there, but many important story points are simply laid to the side for you to find on your own. This allows for a a very open game, as well as a willingness to explore Cosmicism, the literary philosphy of H.P. Lovecraft. To me, Cosmicism is truly horrifying, mainly because I struggle with an existential crisis at least every three days.

Cosmicism is the philosophy that in the grand scheme of things, humans are quintessentially useless. There s no divine presence, there is no manifest destiny, and when faced with the galactic terrors that exist in the galaxy, we are the smallest mite of dust in the intergalactic cog. This concept is especially terrifying to those of a religious fortitude due to the fact that it discredits god and presents us practically blind and weak. Lovecraft quintessentially believed in an uncaring, meaningless and mechanical universe that humans with our young age in the universe and limited senses could never fully comprehend. Which leads to our second point of Lovecraftian fiction and Cosmicism. Every one who has gleamed the truth, or even a small fragment of it ends up spiraling into insanity or suicide. The grand truth of the universe is much too grand to understand. Our preconceived notions of morality, karma and religion fall apart immediately. As horrifying as it may sound, it is also interesting to note that Lovecraft considered himself a man of science, being an atheist and antitheist as religous belief clearly contradicts with religious ideas of manifest destiny  and grandiose ideas of god’s plans. This is perhaps one of the other reasons that Lovecraft’s works are not so widely known in a world dominated by religion. However, there is also the difficulty of adapting a Lovecraft novel into a full length film due to the immense skill required to successfully translate the cosmic horror of Lovecraft onto the big screen. The only person to even attempt this is the talented Guillermo Del Toro, who wrote a script for At the Mountains of Madness. however his script still lays on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.

In fact, aside from a few under the radar films with Lovecraft title’s, the latesr endeavour into Lovecraft is the game The Call of Cthulu, which will release later this year, and which I am genuinely interested in. All that being said, why is Lovecraft so lauded? I believe he is because he is one of those rare and genuine creatives who develop an almost unheard of philosophy and style. One that did not fit into the world when he was alive and only gained fame after his death.It goes to show that new ideas can become influential, even if they don’t follow the status quo, and that even simple concepts can cause abject fear in humans. Lovecraft was ahead of his time, that is clear, but like Isaac Asimov, his ideas have set humans thinking for generations, about space, the cosmos and the grand scheme of things. I think that is a positively wondrous concept despite the fear linked to it, and as humanity moves on in life, we may be forced to face some of Lovecraft’s ideas.

As Lovecraft so bluntly put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

The Fuckery that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The Fuckery that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

**Warning: Spoilers up ahead**

My love for Harry Potter runs deep. Its a novel that has taught me values and given me wisdom. Lessons about friendship and relationships, and responsibility. That powerful men are not usually the best suited for power and that discrimination, no matter what form it takes, is wrong. It takes a great deal of skill to be able to communicate these ideals and values, and there’s no doubt that these children’s books have served as a great source of enjoyment for both kids and adults. That being said, due to Rowling’s very protective nature of her works and her private life, The Cursed Child came as a very big surprise. Debuting nearly 10 years after the final book in the series, the Cursed Child, later revealed to be canon within the Harry Potter Universe was revealed to be a play. A few were surprised by this fact, but many more were surprised by the fact that it was not written by Rowling herself. I, as many fans were, was initially excited to indulge myself in this new story expecting it to be utterly amazing. It was something amazing and I would finally be returning to the world I called home. Boy, was I sorely disappointed.

The Cursed Child was written so haphazardly, like the authors knew nothing about the world they were writing. It is true, plays never translate well to pen and paper, however this is nothing more than a farce. The characters are not only misrepresented, but driven forward by silly motives and less than juvenile aspirations. Its as if the lore, background and depth of the Harry Potter world has been overlooked in order to create a cash-grab of a novel that appeals to the eagerness of Harry Potter fans. A screenplay is not nearly enough to cover the any new characters that appear in the universe. And with many of the moments, such as Diggory’ transformation into a Death Eater reading like bad fanfic. So many things feel so out of place, from Harry’s awful parenting, to the lack of coherence between recurring characters. They feel plain and one dimensional, serving as tropes rather than fully fleshed out people that Rowling so wonderfully created.

Furthermore, many of the things are hastily thrown together with no real explanation. There’s no explanation as to why Harry still hates Malfoy,  It makes no sense to hardcore Potterheads why one of Harry’s sons would be named after Snape and make Snape of all people proud. Why Albus Potter is such an insufferable prat, and how he uses the weakest excuses to do the stupidest things teenagers could do. I don’t know, like messing the timeline up so much that the world is utterly fucked, perhaps? Perhaps the only silver lining in all this is the characterisation of Scorpius Malfoy, who felt like a new and interesting character. The rest are subjected to “been there, done that” elements in the other Harry Potter novels. Using time turners, an unspeakable evil and even a (misguided) quest. Even the use of time turners has fundamentally changed, resulting in alternate timelines rather than multiple characters in said timelines. These are all things that have been used in other Harry Potter novels that are merely recycled to fit a new generation of readers.

But by far, one of the biggest sins that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child committed, is that of Delphi. The child of Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort. Any true Potterhead would know that Voldemort can neither feel love, nor appreciate it in any form. How Bellatrix or Voldemort could conceive children is beyond me. However, she is clearly a pitiful homage to Voldemort, who truly inspired fear and was the poster child for evil. She falls short of a convincing villain, and event though she is Voldemort’s child, the fact that she could overpower the veteran Auror Harry Potter is beyond me. However,it seems a right shame that this work was put in the same realm as Harry Potter. I’ve read fanfics that put it to shame, and it isn’t fair to think that Harry Potter fans can rightly accept this drivel with open arms.

the book wasn’t utter trash, however it contained so many flaws that it’s embarrassing in the slightest to see Rowling toting this work that isn’t fully hers. She created many wonderful things, but this is, by far her worst work. One that can’t come close to competing with the worst out of the Harry potter series. Now, most people would say, “Percy, don’t get all high and mighty. You wouldn’t have been able to do better.” Forgive my arrogance, but I beg to differ. I believe I, and many other talented Potterheads would have done a greater job writing the eighth Harry Potter book. You see, when an a creative mind comes up with a world they’ve created, it is, in the end, their responsibility to entrust it to someone who they believe would do the series justice by the fans. A good example of this is Rick Riordan, who made the talented Viria the official character artist of his various series. Even though he continues to write, he has recognised the talent that exists within his fandom and given a real fan the opportunity to do what they truly love. Perhaps many works of fiction would improve if fans were trusted as much as corporate money hounds.

Perhaps most importantly, is the realisation that even the greatest authors, directors and writers can create works that fall short of what we, the loyal fans expect of them. And it is up to us to never forget that everything can fall under some scrutiny, whether large or minuscule. At this point, it should be clear that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as memorable as some of its moments were, did not Exceed Expectations.

RPGs, and Why Everyone Should Try Them

RPGs, and Why Everyone Should Try Them

Final Fantasy XII, one of my top ten games of all times just re-released on the 11th of June under the new name, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. I just wish that I had enough money to buy it since I’m a poor and broke student…moving on. News of its return filled me with a ton of Nostalgia. I played the original when I was 7 or 8, and it was the first real RPG I had any memory of playing at the time. It’s probably what made me love games so much as well. The PS2 wasn’t the most powerful machine, but at the time the game looked flush and beautiful, with mesmerising scores of orchestral music, a vast and magnificent world to explore and difficult enemies to conquer. It was everything an introverted child like me could want from a game and then some. I spent countless hours sitting in front of the screen exploring the world of Ivalice much to the chagrin of my mum. It followed the stereotypical and classic RP formula well, with an above average plot and genuinely interesting side characters. However, what really makes the game shine so radiantly, is the battle system. Battle systems, and gameplay for that matter can make or break a game. Final Fantasy XII has two specific quirks. Firstly, the battles play out in real time. Gambits, which are pre-made commands can be created and assigned to each character so that they do things during specific conditions. If health falls below 20%, take a Hi-Potion, if party health falls below 70%, cast Firaga, and so forth and on. Furthermore, if you press R2, if I remember correctly, the battle pauses, allowing you greater control to make tactical decisions, which can just as easily take you out of a bad situation as it can prolong your suffering. One might think that this is boring, but it was an exciting and riveting experience, addicting as you progressed through the game trying to find the perfect gambits alongside the ultimate gear.

Another game I remember playing early on was Square Enix’s iconic Dragon Quest VIII for PS2-a game I am playing again on 3DS. Unlike Final Fantasy XII’s breakneck action, Dragon Quest had a slower, more enjoyable pace. The battle system was a more traditional turn-based style which gave you full control of every character and their own special  abilities, and you had to anxiously wait and hope that the enemy didn’t land a critical hit. What set it out from other RPGs though, was the fact that the Hero character, your character, was unnamed and silent, which meant that you could name him and feel like you were crafting your own stories. Making your own decisions. It was amazing, and that was from a silent character. The side characters and random people you met on your quest were so vibrant and full of life, it would become a habit to visit every house, explore every crevice and talk to as many people as possible, and let’s not forget about its sardonic and carefully hidden adult jokes. I”m surprised my Mum didn’t walk in on me during a particularly perverse joke. All of this made me extremely curious and eager to continue playing.

Both games are exceptional, and even though they have their flaws, they were gaming achievements that brought joy to an entire generation of gamers, and you would be lucky if you managed to play it. That being said, all RPGs, even the mediocre ones or those that aren’t traditional contain certain characteristics that appeal greatly to both gamers and story lovers. RPGs are self contained worlds. They are huge, and by creating a world, you are creating many things within it as well. Histories, and lore, myths and legends, normal characters and spectacular characters, all of it possible as long as you have the imagination to create it. RPGs take hours to finish, and have side quests that lengthen that time even more. Your average Skyrim run would take at least 100 hours in the least to finish, bar most sidequests. I poured over 70 hours into The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, and I still have to play Blood and Wine which is absolutely monolithic in size. I’ve seen people spend 4 hours on end to simply gain an item or piece of armour, and don’t even count the hours it might take to defeat a particularly difficult boss. On top of this, the Lore of RPG games,, or games heavy with RPG elements is huge. Simply search up “Mass Effect Lore”, “Fallout Lore”, or “Dragon Age Lore” on YouTube to get an idea of how big the lore is. Those videos have been compressed and narrated to save time, maybe even missing out on some information. Now think of how many hours gamers would spend reading and learning that lore in-game. Also in many, but not all RPGs, there is the element of choice. After all, it is your story. How will you play it out? What will your team, gear  or choices be? Will you be dark, or light? Will you play to your personality, or adopt a different one for the game?

Perhaps, the most famous makers of RPGs are the Japanese as a whole, and CD Projekt Red, the Polish team behind the Witcher series. I wont get into CD Projekt Red, although it should suffice to say that they are becoming a mainstay name when mentioning game developers. However, let us talk about the Japanese in passing. In all things, the Japanese strive for greatness, but on top of this, they are not bound by what some might call “cultural appropriation”. The Japanese will unashamedly take ideas from both Eastern and Western cultures to make media that can be shocking, offensive and more often than not, amazing. They will create a manga about the Protestant Church with a vampire killing zombies, Catholic assassins  and Nazi bioengineered vampires blitzkrieging London, killing millions…yes, that happened, and the Manga is called Hellsing by Kouta Hirano if you’re interested. It has a great anime counterpart. My point is, the Japanese often have to censor or change games for Western releases, but you can see why their games above all leave such cultural impacts on gaming society even today. The are simply unafraid. Perhaps I will explore this in depth soon.

Ah, but what about more recent RPGs, are they worth playing? I talked deeply about games more than a decade old, and mentioned franchises well over a decade old, but what about the newer stuff? Well, the truth is, not all RPGs are good. A lot are utter shite, time-wasting and uninspired, but some in recent memory have risen above the ranks to become memorable games. The first I can think of is Horizon Zero Dawn. An amazing game with a strong female character from a studio that is primarily known for its shooters. The second is Mass Effect 3, the last game in a pedigree of magnificent sci-fi RPGs with game mechanics as amazing as its superb storytelling. And finally, call me biased but in my humble opinion, the Japanese games Persona 5, my personal favourite, Bloodborne, and the mixed mutt, Nier: Automata. These are but few examples of the amazing RPGs gaming has to offer, but in the end, I will still recommend RPGs to all. We all love a good story, whether written, or created by you. And I think that is something worth spending hours on.

One thought provoking quote from The Doll in Bloodborne is, “Hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you’ve made me?” It goes to show just how many ideas can be imparted into RPGs, how many philosophies and insights. Maybe the next time you’re thinking about shelling out £49.99 on that new FIFA or CoD, maybe consider picking out a highly rated RPG.

Nyctophilia, and the love of Grimdark Things

Nyctophilia, and the love of Grimdark Things

When I was a kid, I had an extremely irrational, and frankly, quite annoying fear of the dark. My mum and older brother who, admittedly made some very bad (good) parenting choices when raising me, kind of had a “he can handle most things” attitude. We watched the entirety of Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes when I was just 3 years old, which promptly made me release the contents of my stomach onto the living room floor after the movie ended.  I’m guessing my mum thought nothing of it, because for the next few years, I was exposed to significantly more mature and dark movies, including the horrific Grudge, which gave me extreme anxiety and sleepless nights for a few weeks even though I only watched the very end of it. My worst memory was watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban right after it was released to video. I begged my parents to buy it, but after reading a certain Tintin book and then watching the movie, I woke up that same night, having experienced my first wave of night terrors, delusional and feverish. I carried an irrational fear of werewolves for at least a decade after that. Needless to say, my mum never allowed me near Harry Potter again, and she monitored me as best as a mother working 5-7 on a normal day could. Thus began the censorship of my childhood, leading to the banning of many things including Avatar the Last Airbender, Courage the Cowardly Dog and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. My older brother on the other hand, couldn’t care less, and we indulged in whatever suited our fancies as long as it contained no nudity or sex.  However, by the time I was 8, I could barely sleep in a lit room. My fear had also manifested into extreme anxiety and I was afraid of what I thought hid behind every post and beyond my vision.

So after this, you’d think that I would become an absolute pussy, afraid of every bump in the night with an aversion to anything remotely frightening…no. As I’ve said before, two of my favourite genres of all time are Dark Fantasy, and Grimdark. Two genres not at all for the faint of heart, with themes of excessive violence, hatred, and hopelessness. Even from as early as 11, only a year or so after the end of (most) my night terrors and sleepless nights, I was staying up until 1 AM, reaching Level 35 in CoD Black Ops Zombies with my childhood friend.  Not a year later, my friends and I would usually be huddled around a laptop playing Dead Space in the darkest hours of the night. What could illicit such a prompt recovery? Well, firstly, Dark Fantasy and Grimdark are extremely unique. They are a subgenre, and when these works of fiction reach the ears of the mainstream audience, they are extremely good. That’s because the best Grimdark authors, are extremely good writers, and they need to be in order to sell to the more tame people. There’s a reason A Song of Ice and Fire is so popular, or that Dredd 3D managed to gather some success at least, or that The Witcher series achieved widespread recognition and get turned into an incredibly popular video game series. And its not just these examples, Grimdark and Dark Fantasy pop up wherever you look, because their fan base is both loyal, and a little crazy.

Even if you don’t like them, never played, watched or read them, you’ll have heard of them and the widespread fame they illicit from their fan bases. Look at Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, Kentaro Miura’s manga Berserk, easily one of my favourite manga, and of course, the hellish Dark Souls trilogy, and my personal favourite, Bloodborne, its spiritual successor. They’re famous, and extremely good because they do something that most works of fiction don’t do. They portray a painfully realistic, depressing and morbid world, whether it is one that bears a likeness to the past, or one that hints towards a future so evil that people today would slit their throats before living one day there. I mean, admit it, you’d think twice before even considering to be a Stark in Westeros. But, in all these works, there’s an element of reality in them. Both Kentaro Miura and George R.R. Martin take inspiration from historical settings. Warhammer 40K, which has lore that stretches back to the 80s I think, paints a dark future, which, while incredibly fantastical, paints a picture of the future that is very realistic when one comes to think about it. Not the Psykers and Daemons of the Warp, but the rampant xenophobia against alien races, the fanatic worship of a man as god far surpassing zealotry, and the extermination of “heretics”. Of course, to be fair I’d hate Chaos Cultists as well…moving on.

These factors are extremely important in attracting an audience that is more mature, slightly darker, and who are not phased by portrayals of violence, or sex, or religion that are totally unacceptable in today’s society, even if they are completely true or semi-accurate. And when theses curious minds begin to immerse themselves in these genres, they are poised with important, but highly philosophical questions of morality, “truth”, and even love. If you were to read Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogyy, which is arguably on the same level, or even better than A Song of Ice and Fire, you could clearly see the similarities, as well as things that set it apart in some places, even above its rival work of fiction. These are works of fiction that portray the world with the same level of disillusionment most people get as they grow older. An Anti-Tolkien sentiment where morality is painted in monochrome shades much like it is in today’s world to those who have seen enough of the world to realise this simple fact. That life is cruel, and that to stay sane, or survive, people cling onto whatever idealogy, creed or way of life they can to justify their encroaching death at whatever time it comes. And in some ways, Grimdark helps people come to terms with that reality in a disturbing, often bloody way. That life is short, and often times unfair, and that as bad as the world truly is, we are granted some peace and amenities from which we can truly live in our own way, with our own choices, and our own repercussions.

Whatever your preferences are, Grimdark and Dark Fantasy will continue to exist so long as human malice does, which I should think, is forever. But it is a reminder of what we were, what we could be, but also, what we can prevent from happening.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Imperial Guard Tactical Manual

Streamlining Out of the Mainstream

Streamlining Out of the Mainstream

It is no big secret that I am a counter-culture kid. I’ve often hated mainstream media and all the trash that goes in it-not to say that all mainstream media is bad. No, some mainstream media is alright, and even good. And some of the best are the ones that have subcultures existing within them, like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and the Nier/Drakengard series. However, there are some…some that are so abhorrently mind numbing and boring, that they would surely give most people brain damage after a while, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

For me, subcultures, countercultures, and things that often depart from the mainstream have a level of depth that only the intellectual, curious or a combination of the two, can really enjoy. To put it into perspective, let us for a moment examine the Hobbit movies, as well as the Percy Jackson movies, and their respective literary counterparts. The Hobbit was an entertaining movie, but an undeniable cash grab, consisting of irrelevant characters, two sequels, and misinterpreted scenes when compared to the phenomenal books. Contrast it to the LOTR movies, which were incredibly accurate, and in my opinion, some of the best fantasy movies of all time, filled with an amazing cast and amazing battles. In tuning the movie to the mainstream, they dumbed it down, removed crucial information, added things like female warrior elves who love dwarves, (nothing wrong with that, it happened in other Tolkien works, it’s just irrelevant to the Hobbit itself), and fucking Legolas.

Moving onto Percy Jackson. All. Fucking. Hells. It was a disgrace to the original books, which were filled with witty dialogue, strong and well fleshed out characters, and a plot that kept me hooked to my seat. The directors were obviously more interested in making money than actual delivering a riveting experience for a new and old demographic. And this tends to happen when people are too afraid to take risks, receive criticism and improve their creations. Can you imagine if they made a Star Wars short with hipster versions of our favourite characters doing mundane things like heading to Starbucks and gossiping about how fucked up the Skywalker family is. Cringe. My point is that mainstream media has this way of poisoning great things and creating media that has no value. I absolutely hate Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Jersey Shore and and most other reality shows. To be honest, I do enjoy a few, such as Catfish and Doomsday Preppers, but the number is small. That’s because to cater to the mainstream audience, to create products that will be viewed by as many people as possible, producers need to create things that will be absorbed by the masses without real question. Something that, at first resembles real drama, but is later exposed to be fake, horrible acting. Pimp my Ride is one of those shows, later revealed to be an absolute farce. Many people find excitement in watching seemingly “normal” people, if any celebrities could be called that, do both day to day things as well as extravagant things. This creates a superficial connect between the viewer and the character. In younger viewers, it makes them want to achieve it, and in older viewers, it gives them a sense of excitement, especially in their mundane day-to-day lives. That someone, somewhere has achieved this level of fame while they are living a life, not as lavish, that could have been achieved. After all, these celebrities which we have little in common with are meant to be portrayed as commoners, which is something that they definitely are not.

Despite this, however, it is an effective tactic, especially if you look at how many people watch these type of things. In the end, however, it is purely up to you as to what to watch, however, it is important to note just how poisonous mainstream media is. Feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, hating one’s own image and unrealistic expectations for one’s own life are some byproducts, and the majority of reality TV and mainstream media and pop culture achieves this easily. Breed internalized fear and inadequacy, and they’ll buy our products, watch more shows, and fall into the net more easily. Even games, cartoons, anime, manga are subjected to the thumb of mainstream media. Simply omitting popular trends from your creations might prove detrimental to your future success. Some of the worst pop culture trends of 2016 such as over-excessive use of memes, dabbing, Harambe and uninspired pop songs slither way into mainstream media because they are, as the name implies, popular. But too much of mindless TV can turn the brain to mush, and before you know it, your speech patterns will consist of memes, dabbing, pop culture references, and reminding everyone of that one episode of that one reality show.

Now, where subcultures and non mainstream media stuff diverges, is the fact that it is tailored for its target audience. It knows what type of audience will love it, and so, it’s not afraid to take risks, whether it be by being offensive, poking fun at sensitive topics, or shining through with some highly intellectual shit from time to time. Rick and Morty is one such example of a show that does all of these things, and has now become so popular that it’s popularity has shined outside of its loyal fan base and is able to attract even more fans. Some of which may become extremely loyal die hard fans like Whovians and Trekkies, or may simply be the casual watchers. Either way, this is a win-win situation for both producers and fans. And don’t think that the best non-mainstream media does not include pop culture references. They do, undoubtedly, but in a subtle, and rather impressive ways rather than seemingly revolving the shows around these things. Furthermore. they will almost always find something thought provoking to add to the mix. I have come to expect topics of existential crisis in Doctor Who, I have pondered the reality of causality in Berserk, and even dabbled in a little spiritualism during the odd Adventure Time episode.

This is because more often than not, the obscure things tend to appeal to the intellectual, and the morbidly curious. Those who are not afraid to go against conventional ideas of entertainment in search of things that perhaps raise more questions than answers. Which is why its so important to get out of comfort zones and pursue things that are not filtered by 50 other sources to make it so easy to digest. It may be a little disheartening, but in the end, an open mind is a powerful mind. Get out of your comfort zone occasionally, and explore different things. You never know, because at the end of the day, the hidden things are usually the most interesting.

Keep Your “Family Friendly” Bullshit

Keep Your “Family Friendly” Bullshit

I procrastinate. In fact, I procrastinate an awful lot. I procrastinate…but I manage my time quite well, which is why I can procrastinate. I am, admittedly, not the smartest person, but I don’t aim for the heavens. Earth seems much more more interesting to me, we have philosophers and video games here. This is why even at the age of 18, I am able to enjoy some of my favourite things, be it video games, or cartoons (which I still watch, no shame). However, in recent years, I have discussed before, my favourite things have been sullied, sometimes to the point of no return. I know that i am not the only person who fucking hates reboots/remakes of popular shows. I see it as a cash grab. There are very few examples of studios reviving dead shows to commercial success, with praise from both critics and fans alike. A few examples off the top of my head are Samurai Jack Season 5, the last two Tomb Raider games, Hunter X Hunter (2011), Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Dredd 3D and Batman Begins. I find it somewhat saddening that creatives simply cannot flex their brain muscles, take a risk and imagine something new. The same problem exists in the comic book industry where cowards play it safe by instead re-imagining popular characters instead of creating new diverse characters. They would rather take the easy route of making the new Iron Man (Ironheart) a 15 year old black girl, seemingly appealing to the SJW crowd at a time when Marvel is turning against its long time fans. I have no problems with people of colour in media, I’m black, however, I have a problem with rash decisions and bad writing *cough cough Jane Foster is pretty shit*. But that’s besides the point. I am angry, because we, the fans, are being treated like children….no, worse than children, because when I was a kid, there was some well written, mature, and entertaining media out there, while still remaining safe enough for (most) kids to watch.

We have increasingly been subjected to this wave of “family friendly” bullshit where everyone loves one another, is represented equally, and so we can swallow it and play into their narrative. Just flick to Disney, Cartoon Network, or any other kids network. Turn to MTV, where you’ll find the same mindless reality TV, and the one escape, YouTube, is now turning into a toddler’s sandbox because advertisers do not understand how targeted advertisements work and liberals hate PewDiePie (and also, fuck the Wall Street Journal). What happened to insightful media that was unafraid to take risks and make their own decisions? The number has begun to thin, and it seems that it will continue to do so for a while now.

This leads me to the few vestiges of light in the world of entertainment that shine through the ever-encroaching darkness of censorship. Recently I finished watching a show called Gravity Falls. For those of you who don’t know about it, it was a Disney show which aired from 2013 to 2016, but it shines not so bright because of the brand it represents, but because of the content the show delivers. Children’s shows are perhaps, more heavily criticised due to the fact that they have to strike the right balance in terms of entertainment, life lessons and mindless comedy. Too much of one, and it becomes too mature, too crass, or way to mindless. However, a few shows manage to balance the three extremely well, or highlight one so well that it glows fantastically. Gravity Falls is one such show, and Alex Hirsch, the creator did such a great job ensuring the world of Gravity Falls was as real and full of life throughout its 40 episode run. It is filled with lovable, and hated characters, an intriguing setting, supporting characters who don’t just feel like disposables and a plot that can hold its own against nearly all of its cartoon counterparts and even some TV shows. The show truly holds its own as a mystery themed show, incorporating splashes of horror, bewilderment, supernatural occurrences and action.

But that’s not exactly what makes Gravity Falls great. Gravity Falls is an, as of this article, still unsolved mystery, despite many of its biggest mysteries being solved. The show has an abundance of mysteries to solve, filled with intelligent cryptographs and puzzles, backwards messages, and some crazy symbolism. Its puzzles exist both inside and outside of the show, and I’ve been so impressed by the show that I’m thinking of purchasing the three mysterious journals. All the effort in the show makes it easier to love, but it also makes it a prime example of two things. The first, is an abundance of creativity. From creating immensely wondrous creatures and mysteries, to referencing popular shows like Rick and Morty, to quoting the great Jean-Paul Sartre on existentialism. This is someone who was inspired and created his own show, loved by children and praised by adults, created its own mysteries, puzzles, inappropriate, but well-hidden jokes and child-esque comedy. It was unafraid to make its mark in its own way, and succeeded with resounding success. The second thing it accomplishes, is the way it does not throw its punches. It quickly evolves from a child-friendly show with colourful creature, to dark and menacing within 10 episodes. It’s not afraid to show the grim reality of life, and what happens when you grow up. However, because of this, the viewers grow with the show. Life lessons are taught, and experiences are learned, but in no way does it hold back as the colours become darker, the imagery, more violent, and the themes slightly too sadistic.  It also gets bonus points for poking fun at mainstream TV.

Gravity Falls had its ups and downs, but the reason I decided to talk about it instead of say…Adventure TimeRegular Show or Steven Universe, is because Gravity Falls takes me back to the golden age of cartoons, specifically, Cartoon Network. Back when Coop used to talk about chicks in New Jersey, Jack would decapitate Aku’s robots and Courage would battle monstrosities. We allowed ourselves to become so complacent, we were left with subpar shows consisting of vlogging, meaningless banter and twerking(refer to Teen Titans Go, Ben 10 (2016) and PowerPuff Girls (2016)). Gravity Falls of all things has provided something that CN has neglected for years, and it is positively shameful.

I’m not saying we should get rid of all of it. Culture changes for better or worse. Trends sweep the Earth and popular icons do things that we may or not be proud of on a personal level. But we can definitely shape culture, and I don’t want a culture where kids are watching fingerless girls twerk beside an acid-tripping panda. I want something real in my media, even if it is doused with fantasy. Something that doesn’t hold back punches and hits me right in the gut. The older I get, the more I need to be reminded that the real world is getting rougher each day, and if I don’t get those reminders, my disillusioned self will become less disillusioned and weaker. Give me those monochrome shades, and give me that real shit.

 

Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance. Jean-Paul Sartre