Avatar-An Underappreciated Gem: Part 1

Avatar-An Underappreciated Gem: Part 1

Like many other kids born in the 90s, I got to experience a myriad of amazing cartoons all the way up to my mid-teens. Samurai Jack was one of my favourite, and perhaps something that I’ll revisit along with Courage the Cowardly Dog which was a horrific but amazing kids show along with the likes of Megas XLR, Kim Possible and even Danny Phantom. All of these were forays into the usual structured, and time tested formula for conducting a kids show. A formula that I don’t hate as far as things go. The formula being a non-linear show with new adventures every episode and at most, a 5 episode linear plot that would include some interesting plot devices to keep the story going. But apart from interesting art or the occasional intriguing characters, nothing could keep fans coming back except the length of the show or how much it conformed to trends (Teen Titans Go).
Enter, Avatar: The Last Airbender. A bit of personal history to set up grounds for a potential future blog post, but I was actually banned from watching Avatar the Last Airbender growing up. Not that it stopped me, but it was an annoyance to say the least. That was probably because of the late timing of the Satanic Panic in Malawi, and while it didn’t have as much of an influence as it did in the US and other parts of the Western world. It was still annoying being told I couldn’t watch something for the simple reason that it was “satanic” but oh well. Avatar was one of those shows that made me give fuckall about my parents opinion on what I should watch or not. By the age of 8 I already had my own basic grasp of wrong or right, “good and evil”. Simple statements didn’t faze me, and even the threat of the whip did nothing to stop me. It seemed odd to me that a bald kid who could manipulate air and flew around on a giant bison gave my mum and uncle the shivers. Of course, later on, I realised it was because of the religous, cultural and spiritual connotations the show took from Asian civilisations.

But now, onto some show history and the premise of the show. Avatar the Last Airbender was an animated television show created by  Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko which aired from 2005 to 2008 for the duration of three seasons. The show, besides being highly popular, becoming one of Nickelodeon’s most popular shows, became a cult hit garnering a large adult following despite catering for 6 to 11 year olds. The show follows Aang, the titular Last Airbender and Avatar, destined to bring balance to the world after a century of war and oppression from the imperialistic Fire Nation who also wiped out his people, the Air Nomads. Aang, who was already talented, was told he was the Avatar, the one to master all 4 elements and bring balance to the world, 4 years early, at only 12. Because of this, and other reasons, he encased himself in a sphere of ice for 100 years, and without an Avatar, the world drifted into chaos, war raged and the Air Nomads, who mind you were not necessarily the good guys, were utterly wiped out. After being found by two Southern Water tribe kids, a newly awakened Aang has to truly face his destiny and bring balance to a world teetering on the edge of all out war, and defeat a dictatorial figure who is basically cartoon Hitler.

There are many plot elements that I have gone over, but just from reading that brief summary of the show’s premise, one can tell that this is not a stereotypical kids show. it is nuanced and contains a high level of world building, history and law, taking place in a completely different world with completely new concepts that have been executed incredibly well. But before we dive in, Avatar draws in from many influences to achieve both its emotional and dramatic storyline which is simply peppered with exciting and thrilling fight scenes. The first influence I want to speak of, is the anime FLCL, a rollercoaster action sci-fi amalgamation of chaos created by the lauded studio Gainax. The director of Avatar forced the entire team to watch the full thing to prepare them for the hectic battles. The creators also took pages out of “Legend and Lore” titles like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, inspiring them to make a highly intricate world. This is very different compared to many other series airing at the time in the sense that viewers are going to be immersed in a world completely new to them. This was further reinforced from the fact that the show took many real world influences from Asian history, culture and spirituality. This achieves two distinctly, seemingly opposing effects that work incredibly well when mixed together. Because it is a new world, it is interesting and exciting enough to explore, but because of the clear real world influences spun to enhance the show, it is vaguely recognisable by the audience. Kind of like that word that’s on the tip of your tongue.

People tend to overlook that feature instead favouring characterisation, which is in no means inferior. However, it is important to see just how big of an effect the real world influences have on the show and the lore it crafts, essentially making it very relatable and mystical to kids watching it. Especially kids born in the Western World. For me, seeing the four nations represent their real world counterparts so well intrigued the hell out of me. The Air Nomads were clearly inspired by Tibetan monks, with their philosophies and stances on vegetarianism and non-violence. The Earth Kingdom was a bit more complex, being an obvious nod to ancient China, but more specifically, a pre-Mao imperialist China which still had a monarchy in place at the time. The Fire Nation is a little less obvious as a pre-World War II Japan, as imperialist and war bound as ever. Which is interesting because in the show we’ve got the Fire Nation (Japan) invading the Earth Kingdom (China) which is what happened during World War II. Finally, probably the most interesting was the Water Nation which was represented by the real world Inuit tribes. All of the nations have cultures that clearly permeate throughout the show as well as their own grievances and quirks. Not everyone loves each other, some people straight up hate each other, and some people have the saddest backstories. It’s incredibly interesting to see how the chemistry between each nation works out as the story progresses and events unfold. With all of this being pumped through your screen, you’ll think it might brainwash your kids. I mean, I’m fairly certain that’s one of the reasons my Mum was so against it, becasue she was worried that the “religous” connotations of the show might have an influence on me. But that’s the thing, Avatar: The Last Airbender can be so alien to Western audiences, but it is capable of teaching kids about multiple diverse cultures. About the fact that people can be very different, have incredibly differing views and can both live harmoniously and in conflict with one another.

All of these are points that I think are important for children to be taught, especially if their parents have skimped on those simple at home lessons. I was lucky to have been exposed to that kind of media considering that all things aside, Malawi is rather sheltered from the world, with diversity only in a few spheres. However, cultural influences aside, I think Avatar really shines on two other points, which are its action, and characterisation. For anyone who has ever watched Avatar, the action scenes can be heavy with tension, or lighthearted and playful. A good episode to analyse is episode 3 of season 1 where our protagonists traveled to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. The king of Omashu, despite being a slightly mad, but immensely old man is incredibly powerful, filling the stereotypical “old men are strong” trope from anime. And even though it is plain to see that he holds back, the stage is set, and the fight progresses, with Aang, our main character utilising the whole arena, and Bumi straining his muscles to put Aang to the test. Throughout the episode we get a good measure of speed, velocity and the impacts of blows from the rocks Bumi hurls around. One of my other favourite fight scenes amongst many occurs in Season 2 episode 21 when Zuko, our antagonist until this point is betrayed by his psychopathic sister, they engage in a furious battle. Zuko brandishes knifes of flames while his sister twirls around him effortlessly. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that she’s that much better than him and ends the duel with a frightening display of her power. A shot of lightning directed at her own brother. One that would have surely killed him. This does multiple things, including setting up a big story point, building up tension between the two characters that is played upon, developing a great story arc and finally, adding stakes to the battle. The battle itself is brief, but the impact it has is monumental. And this isn’t even a season finale.
Another characteristic the fight scenes share in common is both the scope and atmosphere, mostly due to the way that battles work in the Avatar universe. Each bending art is based on a specific martial art, and thus it actually feels like a physical fight despite few blows being thrown by actual benders. Also, each bending style is so intricately different that bending duels or battles feel varied and balanced. Earth benders usually carry heavy but powerful blows. Airbending is precise and quick while waterbending flows quickly and fire is explosive and carries the intent to harm. This means that every fight has personality, making sure that the viewer is glued to the screen watching a highly complex and well thought out battle play out.

Perhaps I’ll talk about the fight scenes more in another post, but many fans might argue that only the character development and individual story arcs overshadow the fantastic action. The character development in the show is not only superb, but moves forward at a good pace which ultimately contributes to the high quality of the plot especially for a kid’s show. There are initially three main characters, however by the final season there are 7, one of whom is a former antagonist. The show sets up things about each character from the very beginning by giving them their own quirks and personality traits, and short but personal story arcs. Just to show you how in depth they went with the character development, even the pet and steed of our group have their own story arcs. and while it would be a great disservice to briefly touch on some of the main character’s personalities and their development arcs, there is one worthwhile supporting character who has a profound impact on the show as a whole, and that is General Iroh.

Iroh, the uncle to the crown prince and former crown prince himself is a renowned general of the fire lord and an incredibly powerful firebender, holding the title ” The Dragon of the West”. Despite his weighty positions and glory however, he is a jovial character who constantly takes the piss, cracks dad jokes indulges in self-deprecating humour and serves as a moral compass to the antagonist Zuko. He is introduced in the beginning of the show, and while his character is well established, it is carried out well throughout the show while small trickles of his history are given to us. That he laid siege to Ba Sing Se for 600 days and breached the outer wall, a previously unheard of accomplishment, that he himself developed the technique to redirect lightning, a seemingly invincible ability. Moreover, he could breathe fire, which just added points to the badass meter. However, in the season 2 episode 15 episode “Tales of Iroh”, Iroh goes around Ba Sing Se spreading his usual good vibes and in a generally good mood, even offering life advice to someone who attempted to rob him with a knife. However, at the end of the episode we learn that it is his dead son’s birthday. He travels to a hilltop overlooking Ba Sing Se, the same city he besieged years before and the same city his son died in and makes a small shrine, lighting incense and lamenting the fact that he can help everyone but couldn’t help his son. He begins to cry while singing a requiem, and it is in this moment that we see the entirety of his character. That he’s not just the one dimensional “funny guy” of the show, but a wise and deeply changed person. One who is able to forgive and love even towards the people who cost him so much, including his son. This is A1 writing, especially when considering that this episode is considered “filler” as it does not majorly advance the plot.

And while this is but a small fraction of the greatness that constitutes the Avatar series, I have hopefully enlightened you on what made the series great, or at least some of the things. And while I hope I can cover more Avatar in due time, hopefully that will be when I start my own Youtube channel which will invariably make things much much easier for me. So to end this post with an infinitely wise quote from Aang, “Anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Firelord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like they’re worth giving a chance.”

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Videogames? Yes Please.

Videogames? Yes Please.

I haven’t been able to make a lighthearted non-analytical post in a while but breaking from the once every Sunday schedule, however, today is “National Videogame Day”. It’s probably not, but its a good day to get some discounts and hold off doing today’s chores (master procrastinator). But despite the fact that its probably not even “National Videogame Day”, in fact I don’t even think that’s a day, I’ll use it as an excuse to write up some of my favourite game games as recommendations for the vetran gamers, N00bs or those who want to dive into gaming. Note that all my choices will have reasoning in them, and whilst none are in any particular order, these are all my personal choices, so they might be high on one list, high on none or completely overlooked. I’ll only really be going in depth with systems that I’ve spent a significant amount of time with, so I’m terribly sorry Xbox owners but…no. Also, If  game is cross platform, I’ll mention it but put it on the platform I first played it on or best prefer it.

So to begin with, we’ll start with the filthiest of filthy casuals. Mobile Gamers

I really have nothing against mobile gaming. When I was in boarding school and deprived of almost all technology besides my shitty phone, I almost felt like drowning. Mind you, I went to highschool in 2010, before smart phones were a regular thing in Malawi. You know, back when we used Mxit (kill me now), and you could see that someone was watching porn on BBM if you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to have a Blackberry or Symbian device (chat shit if you even know what that is). All bants aside however, although my preferred devices are an Android phone and iPad Mini, I’ll include both.

Android
One of my favourite games was Super Monster Ate My Condo by PikPok studios in partnership with Cartoon Network which was a bright and colorful rollercoaster ride of a game. If you like fast and furious swiping and hours on end mindless swiping, this is for you. The ridiculous high scores you can get and crazy multipliers are just further incentives. Another game is Badlands, which is a game best played on a large game and with friends as you control squishy beings through a course. Fun co-op adventures with your friends. Finally, Plague Inc, which is a game where you create a plague, playfully name it and unleash it on the world. If you’re one with little to no sympathy for the suffering and plights for AI, and imaginary worlds, you’ll definitely love this one.

Apple
I’ve owned both the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini and for any naysayers, gaming is delightful on Apple devices, arguably more so than on Android. Not only because of Apple’s top notch specs and craftsmanship, but because they keep a strict eye on exactly what’s on their store, meaning you won’t find 70 clones of the same game, and also if there’s a game on Android, it’s sure as hell on Apple. So kicking it off, we’ll go with two games by Rayark studios, Cytus, and Deemo. These are rhythm music games with incredible art. So think of them as that old school mobile Guitar Hero but 50 times better. The games cover genres from metal, to electro to classical, and you’ll hear original compositions from talented artists making for a unique experience. They’re both on android but I prefert hem on Apple. The second game is Monument Valley, and honestly, if “aesthetically pleasing” is your middle name, this might be your brainchild. It’s a wonderfully brilliant isometric puzzle game that will leave you breathless at it’s beauty, and it’s definitely worth playing if you like getting the brain muscles straining.  For the final entries, I’ll give it to Infinity Blade. A marvel of a game with exciting battle mechanics, a rewarding loot system, replayability value, a continual story and so…much…armour! It was developed using the famed Unreal Engine, meaning the graphics are magnificent, and it’s an IOS exclusive and as far as I’ve heard, has never been on Android. Finally, we have Broken Age, another beautiful game with hand drawn animations. However, what sets it apart is the fact that it is a story driven game directed by Tim Schafer, well known for his comedic writing style and wit. He’s been behind some pretty famous cult hits so, your loss.

Moving on from the filthy casual to the eccentric gamers, or not so filthy casuals is the realm of Handheld Gaming. Some people don’t see the use of having a dedicated gaming system in their pocket, but people overlook the great titles on these systems for the most part. Nintendo and Sony both have a big market claim to this, but we’ll be covering the dying Sony PS Vita and fading 3DS due to the fact that I’m too poor to afford a Nintendo Switch

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo have a myriad of great titles existing more in the real of franchises, which is how I’ll tackle this gaming beast. I owned both the Gameboy Advance SP and currently have my prized Solgaleo & Luna Edition Nintendo 3DS XL. I won’t cover well known titles like Mario and Pokémon, so my first title suggestion is Super Smash Bros which is a brawler type game which contains many character both within and outside Nintendo such as Lucario, Pikachu, Cloud and Ryu. It’s a great fighting game that is just as fun as Mario Kart and less friendship ruining. The second title for me has got to be Dragon Quest VIII, a little known game first released on the PS2 and rereleased on the 3DS with tons of additional content and the same classic and biting British humour. It’s a charming RPG wrapped in a childish package but peppered with enough obscure adult jokes to draw in all types of players. The third entry which is a franchise is Fire Emblem which has a number of titles for you to pick from though I recommend Fire Emblem Awakening for beginners due to it’s amazing story, great soundtrack and epic anime cutscenes. It’s a turn based strategy game for all you intellectuals who are above boorish brutality. And for all of you who want a good long story with a sprawling open world, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is the way to go. Another RPG, but with great voice acting as well as an intriguing combat system.

PlayStation Vita
The PlayStation Vita is a bit of an odd one. Sony announced this beast in 2012, a beautiful OLED screen paired with dual analog sticks, a touchpad and a touchscreen, it had every means to be a household necessity for gamers. However, Sony dropped the ball quick and it was never picked up again, but that doesn’t mean it has no good titles. It has many, and some that can even go against the best of Niintendo’s. The first for me has to be Persona 4. The Japanese are weird as hell, but this game which is equal part RPG and school simulator blends gameplay and story together so well that it becomes straight up addictive. The second game for me is Soul Sacrifice Delta, which is a crazy RPG where you can sacrifice your body parts or even your soul to gain access to powerful attacks and magics. Besides the great story, theses are gamplay changers that breathe life into the usual run-of-the-mill RPGs. The third game is definitely Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 which is a cross franchise fighting game which puts you in control of your favourite Marvel and Capcom characters for an exciting fighter experience. The final game for me is Hotline Miami. I cannot stress, just how intense this game can get despite its seemingly simple premise. Its a game best known for intensity, difficulty and violence. Active gore seekers, this one’s for you.

Now before we go onto console gaming, we have to cover a section that I’m just getting into, which is PC Gaming. It’s definitely something I wish I had more experience with PCS growing up. However, getting into PC gaming is an expensive venture that is good for the long term for the most part. If you build your own gaming rig, it can last you a decade if you take care of it. With that said, I’ll go through my top 6 PC Games.

PC Gaming
I grew up with an abysmally shitty PC. We already had a PS2 so there was no way my parents would dole out any more money on a powerful PC. However that didn’t stop us from trying to run games on our potato laptops and desktop. The first genre I got into was strategy, and that genre is widely covered and well saturated. However, I would suggest Age of Empires, Dawn of War, Civilisation and the Total War franchises which will count as one entry for the purpose of this blog. The second game, however, is a timeless classic. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were marvels of gaming that reinvented the genre, showing that storytelling and gameplay were not limitations, but obstacles to be stepped over when making games. To put it into perspective, Half-Life 2 came out in 2004 and people are still crying out for Half-Life 3. Third on the list is Limbo, by Playdead studio. An indie game about a boy who wakes up in a forest and is trying to find his sister. Throughout his journey, he encounters dangerous puzzles and a horrifying spider, however, this is much a story of loneliness and desperation, filled with dark and haunting undertones and a highly contrasting black and white art style. Keeping up with the high expectation, they released a sequel called Inside to critical acclaim. The fourth entry is Left 4 Dead 2, which is a zombie shooter game which released on PC over 10 years ago. It is high paced and got so many things right, and its been a while since gamers have experienced the type of high stakes team based action from a game. Now, the fifth game is a bit of an oddity, mainly because it is something of an arthouse game. Alan Wake is a supernatural, horror, story driven game in which the titular main character arrives in a town and fight enemies with light. It is chilling, depressing and fantastic all at once and a must play for anyone who can get their hands on it now that its been removed from the Steam store. Finally we have Bioshock, the original rendition not the shitty remaster. Bioshock is an interesting game because A) it takes place underwater and B) it contains Orwellian undertones you wouldn’t expect in a PC game. With its iconic enemies and the distinct gloom in the underwater Rapture, the game and its sequals all the way up to Bioshock Infinite will leave you enthralled.

Now onto my favourite part because nothing warms my heart like a controller in my hand. I’ve been gaming since the PlayStation One and I’ve had every iteration of Sony’s PlayStation ever since. Because of this, I’ll focus on my 6 PS4 exclusive titles/ So without further ado, lets focus on the best PlayStation 4 Title’s

Playstation 4
The PS4 is something you’ll either covet, or overlook. So if you’re the type who only buys a PS4 for FIFA and 2K, then kindly fuck outta here. If not, time to look at our number one pick, InFamous Second Son. The story wasn’t as high stakes as the first game, however, being one of the Flagship games and exclusives the PS4 had during its release, it cemented the PS4 as the top and go to console of it’s generation. With its fantastic open world and destructable environment, InFamous showcased the PS4’s immense power and capability to play beautiful games at 1080p. The second game is undoubtedly Uncharted 4: a Thief’s End. With movie level storytelling, hyper-realistic graphics and action scenes that would put Michael Bay to shame, this is a game that deserves to be in everyone’s library, and one that only PlayStation gamers have the liberty of playing. Thirdly, we have Bloodborne. I’ve spoken about Bloodborne before, but never at length, which I will do some other time. The game epitomises atmosphere, and everything from opening the cathedral doors to defeating a boss will leave your heart pumping like a 13 year old boy’s after his first kiss. The Last of Us Remastered which can be summarised in one word…feels. Honestly, this game had me crying like a little bitch before the first act was done, and by the time the game was over, I was an emotional wreck who was very irritable and brooding.  Go…just go play it. For our fifth entry, we have Guerrilla studio’s very own Horizon Zero Dawn. For a studio that developed only shooters, this was a big departure, and an even bigger payoff as Horizon Zero Dawn was an exciting open world game with a strong, well written female lead and an intricate world with ample lore. It’s best to get this because Guerrilla studios will be looking to raise the bar even higher with the sequel. Finally, we have Atlus studio’s Persona 5 which released only on PS4 and PS3. Style and Life, are the only ways to describe this phenomenal game. Seriously, like go play it and see how addictive it can get. Even answering a question wrong in class affects gameplay. Fuck.

But that was my list for you guys, and I hope you enjoyed it. What are your favourite games to jam? Anything you think is particularly interesting, I’d love to know.
Anyways, never stop playing.

**Persona 5-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tP4UkC6dB0
**The Last of Us Remastered-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4Pz9O2Pts0
**Horizon Zero Dawn-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrxIRk3q-ck
**InFamous Second Son-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gACPlAiFlRo
**Bloodborne-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1iKYjVFigM

**Broken Age-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPfH5AmMVH8
**Monument Valley-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqfytVQlhAM
**Infinity Blade-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56XseC2DBB4
**Cytus-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufxIARGVpuk

**Dragon Quest VIII-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZPa17muTZU
**Xenoblade Chronicles-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY5N5sX5t-4
**Fire Emblem Awakening-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvupmEk1peE
**Super Smash Bros for 3DS-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCbDMwzUPAA

**Soul Sacrifice-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTQKFIZC3Qw
**Persona 4 Golden-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ba8LKmqYxA
**Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_spykdPbu4
**Hotline Miami-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53tfOJwmg9I

**Civilisation VI-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lV2r7kORKs
**BioShock-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp0Tz-qWmM8
**Warhammer:Dawn of War III-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpqvjUslvgM
**Half-Life 2-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxQVP3LHciQ
**Left 4 Dead-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3o3_5GmnebI
**Total War Rome 2-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmEp1U9_rG8
**Alan Wake-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWmLj0SN_hY

 

Justice as a Fallacy in Death Note

Justice as a Fallacy in Death Note

*Spoilers for the Death Note Anime and Manga*

I watched the Death Note Netflix movie so you didn’t have to. So don’t especially if you’re not into Young Adult teenage dramas, a lackluster lead and not enough use of the amazing Willem Defoe. That being said I’m not here to wail on this movie which was, truth be told, entertaining enough for a casual watch but not good enough to be the next dark cult hit, which I’m sure Netflix was aiming for. No, I’m here to discuss the original, and frankly amazing concept that is Death Note, which is written by Tsugumi Ohba with art by Takeshi Obata. First serialised in December of 2003 in Japan’s weekly Shōnen Jump, it was given a critically acclaimed anime adaptation in 2006 after the manga had finished its original run and this was one of, if not the first anime I managed to seriously explore before I was ten, and I cannot overstate its important. Back when most of my friends were only concerned with playing the next game of football, WWE or which girl they had a crush on. Not that I wasn’t interested in those things, I would especially make sure to never miss out on a WWE match, however, I was also sneaking out at 4 AM to catch the early morning viewings of mature or adult anime that very rarely aired during the day and only appeared in the late hours of the night. That was also the time I would indulge in other enlightening anime like the original Hellsing, Black Lagoon, Gantz and other shows besides them, but those are tales for another post. The ritual of sneaking out with senses on full alert to the dark living room gave every second watched a weight that I can’t really describe. I wasn’t just watching for enjoyment’s sake, I was hooked utterly and would absorb every concept, theory and philosophy that I could even barely understand, and Death Note was rife with them.

You see, Death Note has a very interesting premise, and I’m talking both within and outside of the crazy world of anime. Light Yagami, a highly intelligent 17 year old student with a promising future is living an average life. His family is well to do with his father the chief of the National Police Agency, and apart from being adored by his peers and family, he is expected to go to a top-tier university and enter a prestigious job, continuing the family tradition of excellence. On an uneventful day however, a notebook, the titular Death Note falls from the sky and Light picks it up. With the Death Note comes the power over life and death. One can kill whoever they please as long as they write their names in the pages. And while there are many technicalities in the series, we won’t go into them. So Light, our protagonist now turned anti-hero decides to take the role of “saviour”, dispensing justice in whatever way he sees fit. Criminals who are often broadcast on TV begin dying mysteriously at a rate unheard of and rumours of a god-like entity begin circulating and the internet dubs this new figure of Justice, “Kira”, which is the Japanese version of the English word “Killer”, a name Light finds befitting and adopts wholeheartedly. One of the things that makes this show so great is the characterisation of all the various main, side and recurring characters. Not only do we get their personal feelings and emotions, but also their motivations, fears and even glimpses into their daily lives. There are no typical ubermensche as found in most other Shōnen Jump manga at the time. It is a constant game of cat and mouse like an old-school detective movie between Kira and his adversary, L, the enigmatic genius tasked with bringing Kira to “Justice”.

And the quoted “Justice” above is not only quoted, but capitalised because the concept of justice is not universal. We are not put in L, the “good guy’s” shoes for a reason. Even though he is on the side of Law and Order, he is not portrayed as a hero, nor does anyone say he is. He is flawed, and rather selfish, and in his pursuit of Kira, he will often resort to underhanded, unorthodox and even dangerous methods to catch him, not because Kira is necessarily evil, but because that’s his job. Its the task he has set out for himself and the one he intends to fulfill. Kira on the other hand, truly believes what he is doing is right. Kira has the power to kill practically anyone, and whilst most would kill world leaders and use that power for personal gain, Kira does otherwise. He is taking out the trash for lack of a better word, which many people support because they perceive him as a god-like figure doing the work that god isn’t and using his power for “good”.  While this only manages to fuel his hubris even more, giving him a despicable god-complex that oft-times leaves him villainous. However, this serves as a good contrast to the virtuous nature of Kira, planting him down in the eyes of the reader as simply a man and nothing more.

So that brings us to the main point of this post, the idea that “Justice” is nothing but a lie. It is something constructed  by those who wield power as a means to further their own goals. In Kira’s case, he seeks to create a “perfect world” free of crime, but full of fear that an omniscient figure will get you for misbehaving. On the other hand L serves law and order. He believes in the rules and in the way they are systematically upheld and executed, suffering no vigilante as someone above the law itself. A good way to summarize both L and Kira’s personalities is when L states, “Kira is childish and he hates losing… I’m also childish and hate losing.” This easily cements the way L views the case to catch the most prolific serial killer in human history. L never takes cases for justice’s sake despite being one of the most intelligent detectives alive, he only takes cases that hold personal interest to him, like the Kira case. Each of the main characters has their own idea of justice, but none are necessarily right. Kira views himself as Just, but not evil, and so does L, but that means that there is no right or wrong justice, just the one that prevails in the end. Kira plainly states at the start of the series, “If we catch Kira, he is evil. If he wins and rules the world, then he is justice.” This has forever been one of the most important lines in manga and anime history. It is a truth reinforces the Fallacy of Justice. That Justice is not a virtue, but a tool, and one to be used by the winner, and the strong implement their will in the world.

And as the series progress, one can see this in Kira’s actions more often than not. He strives to achieve his “Justice” through nefarious means, killing anyone who stands in his way. He becomes more ruthless, willing to sacrifice those close to him in order to keep himself safe and carry out his goals. This shows that even if one claims to be just, that might amount to nothing if the means don’t justify the end, and this is another thing that lends weight to the meaning, and meaninglessness of Justice in Death Note.
Death Note was something that opened my eyes to the possibility of different philosophies and ideals. How what can be considered “good” can be twisted and warped by the person’s personality. I learnt to see the world, not in black and white or right and wrong, but in shades of gray. That opened my eyes to a wider world. One of strong writing, opposing ideals, and the use of art to channel them, and I’m immensely happy that I had the chance to start my journey with something as phenomenal as Death Note.
As L so eloquently said, while in my own opinion defeating the point of Justice, “there is no heaven or hell. No matter what you do while you’re alive, everybody goes to the same place once you die. Death is Equal.”

Being a Geek in Malawi

Being a Geek in Malawi

Being a geek in Malawi sucked. It was the absolute worst thing growing up for more than one reason and I absolutely abhorred it. It wasn’t just about movies and shows, I mean we had DSTV, our cable provider who had a pretty decent library available for subscribers, and I was lucky enough that my dad invested in the premium service even though he pretty much only watched news and the occasional TBN (does that still exist?). The fact that there was, I think a 1 year waiting period to me was horrible back when I was young, but now something I can understand due to my knowledge of the film industry and Box Office. But on top of this, there was pretty much a lack of everything and, anything that was in the country was horribly expensive. When i was growing up, only one place I’m aware of sold comic books, and they were from the 90s, and judging from my Mum’s reaction to me pulling one off the shelf, they were damn expensive. And don’t get me started on videogames. We didn’t have many games growing up due to the steep price of the disks of wonder, although I did have a chipped PS2 and the price on chipped disks was always cheaper. Unfortunately we had a PAL TV, so every NTSC game was black and white, so you win one you lose one…moving on.

Videogames now at Game, the Southern African equivalent of AEON are 90,000 MWK…that’s about 124 USD, double the price of a retail game at its release price. It’s pretty ridiculous right now. As for tech, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus which retailed unlocked for 824 USD was selling for an easy 1300-1600 USD as ridiculous as that sounds. But that is more of a topic for shitty IGCSE econs grads and not a geeky blog. However, by now you must get my point. When there’s a monopoly and the pricing is grossly exaggerated, we can barely enjoy anything of value. And I know you might say read a book or go outside, but most of us never lived in safe white collar neighbourhood-I didn’t for sure-and books were astonishingly hard to come by as time went on. Expensive as well. The size of the most popular bookstore in my hometown could have probably fit in Malaysia’s Kinokuniya 20 times at the least. Into Dubai’s Kinokuniya at least 40 times. There was a scarcity of books, and It was only after I left the country that I could truly diversify my library and include more interesting genres. There was definitely a lack of material to work with unless you were lucky enough to have family abroad or you were wealthy enough to travel outside of the country and buy what you pleased. My brother and I used the latter to our advantages as best as we could when on the rare occasions we traveled to Joburg. Because it was the only way to fulfill whatever hobbies we had.

It ultimately felt extremely shitty having to resort to wiki pages with whatever paltry internet we had at the time (both data and WiFi were expensive and we didn’t have WiFI until 2015 I think). All the info I received was from a computer screen and that’s probably I’m such an avid collector and hoarder of merchandise and the like. I try to take care of my stuff as much as possible and it pains me when a beloved figurine or a disk falls into disrepair. To that effect I have a massive library of games and books, a growing collection of collectibles and figurines, and a massive 2TB library of digital media from anime to comics to series. That doesn’t change the fact however, that growing up all of these things were in extremely short supply, which is forgivable in this day and age, but it strikes me as unbelievable that they are still in short supply now. Recently after having outrageous mobile data prices inflicted on the populace, the CEO of Airtel, the network company said something along the lines of “Internet is a luxury that only a few (the rich) can afford)”. Meaning a lot of people won’t have access to the ease of use afforded by the digital life. No music streaming, online gaming, or video streaming, not to mention the bare trickle of information from around the globe that would follow. For geeks who have to constantly be on the lookout for the latest news or stories, this is almost like a death sentence, basically condemning them to a life of old news.

To top it off, Malawi’s economy was doing extremely badly in the years before my departure. It was almost impossible for most people to order things online because of that reason. In fact, there are no real, reputable delivery services in Malawi. A few years ago, most websites, streaming services or online stores didn’t offer their services in Malawi, Malawi being omitted from the drop-down list. If it was there, you’d have to put your zip code, something Malawi doesn’t have, or provide credit card details, which a lot of people have, simply because it is rather difficult to obtain a credit card inside of Malawi, although it should be fairly easy to get a debit card. To add the icing to the cake, most people aren’t able to subscribe to most of these services or do anything legally because of this. We live in a place that’s so disconnected from the rest of the world that even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t be able to buy or subscribe to certain objects. Both Apple and Google don’t have a Malawian store. Neither can you subscribe for Spotify Premium or Playstation Plus, and many more. Only recently has Netflix support reached Malawi as well as many other countries, but it has come very late for some people.

I say this, and it saddens me to say it, because due to the way the Malawian government and economy is structured, there are far too few ways to legally acquire anything for your media. That challenge increases for geeks who will on average be drawn to more obscure these things. This means that Malawians are faced with a dilemma that they don’t really consider. You can either enjoy your favourite series, movie or artist’s music, and not pay for it, thus not supporting their favourite creators. Or, they can try to support their artists by not pirating their content, but in doing so, not enjoy media. I write this in closing due to the fact that I am becoming more and more of a creator, and understand very well the pain of not having your hard work realised and appreciated. Whilst I neither support nor condone piracy, I do understand that there are some places that are so cut off from the world that there is no other option.

However, at the end of the day, despite the challenges, I’m glad I managed to pursue my hobby, even if only to a small degree before travelling. And that hardship kind of motivated me to pursue it further and find new and creative way to further my hobbies. Now that I’m taking game development and looking back on the damn struggle, I can truly contemplate how difficult it was.

Character Study: Negan, A Modern Day Prince

Character Study: Negan, A Modern Day Prince

**FULL SPOILERS FOR THE WALKING DEAD COMICS AND TV SHOW**

If a man goes around terrorising people with a barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille and breaks the main character’s party in his first appearance, he is undoubtedly one hell of a villain and an all round badass. But that’s not all that Negan is, surprisingly, despite his clear gruff appearance which is common for those existing within Robert Kirkman’s  ongoing Walking Dead comic book series. In due time, I shall explain what he is, and why he is so great at what it is he does, but until then, I believe a proper recanting of the Walking Dead is in order. The Walking Dead, which started serialisation in 2003 and had its TV run start in 2010 became a sensation among horror fans due to its compelling, continuing style. Comic fans were drawn in by Tony Moore’s black and white style and Robert Kirkman’s gritty and believable post-apocalyptic writing. Nothing is held back. He writes about the abandonment of morals, the degradation of humanity, the tragedy and terror that follows in the wake of a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, while peppering it with slivers of light that shine through and give the characters hope. Meanwhile, the series’ characters are well portrayed by their actors, which has given fans great character development, amazing scenery and stunning acting throughout its seven, soon to be eight season run. Man has always had a fear of death, and zombies are one of the many imaginary manifestations of that fear. They are not necessarily inhumanely strong, they are stupid and mindless, however, they outnumber the living and are terrifying in their endless pursuit of the living. However, despite this, Kirkman drives home the point that the living will almost always be the true danger to the living as many individuals come and go. Some with misguided morals, others with fractured minds, and others with despicable intentions.

Having established this, it is important to see how well Negan fits into the equation as not only a villain, but a hero to others. Despite his villainous nature, he has managed to amass a large following of individuals who will serve him no matter where he goes, while those who will not serve him willingly, he breaks down and has them slave for him, providing him with food, weaponry and old world commodities that are now luxuries in the new world of the dead. He has a vast network of soldiers and workers. He has specialists and doctors, people whose worth is priceless. A feudal meritocracy based on a point system where those who obey and play their part are rewarded, and based on the points they have amassed, they can afford the various items in his inventory. You see, Negan is cruel, but one thing he is not, is stupid. Those with ties and attachments, he takes full advantage of. A pretty girl who desperately need the medicine for her ailing mother can be offered the choice between backbreaking labour or becoming one of his wives. A man who has disobeyed him but has a lover can be broken down and become one of his armed men in return for total security and a small measure of luxury for him and his lover. And do not think his intelligence stops there because Negan has even created tactics making sure that even the dead serve his purpose, sending hordes of zombies to settlements in order to weaken them so they are easier to take.

And this is vary important because unlike other settlements we have seen throughout the Walking Dead, Negan is the first to make a truly feudal society. He has his knights, his generals and his pawns, and it is only in this world where Niccolo Machiavelli’s teachings take full effect even though they have some weight even in our world. He was one man, but yet, he is truly and undeniably the only one at the time. Everything belongs to him, even though he says it is for everyone. He can take as he pleases, but he doesn’t because he only takes what he needs, and occasionally, what he wants. He gives others “choice”, which is to serve him, or die. However, in being his direct subordinate, he breaks them down, assimilating their personalities to the point where they lose all sense of identity and are only left with loyalty to the point where “everyone is Negan”. They gain all the rewards, living like kings, but still being thralls to Negan himself. Those who work the menial tasks but retain their individuality live in fear of all the various Negans and, for lack of a better word, are complete and utter slaves. Whilst Negan would think twice about killing one of his Negans, the workers are completely replaceable, and so they live with the knowledge that death is perhaps the first and last punishment they will receive. But yet they are still living, and with enough work they can afford for themselves and perhaps the ones they love. He has been known to smash the brains in of those unwilling to bend, and even permitted the executions of every male over 10 to ensure that a settlement never thinks of revolting against him again. By leaving able bodied people, but no trained fighters, he has sustained a supply source, but robbed it of much of it’s fighting power. He is ruthless to a fault, and that is only possible by having the barest minimum of morals. Morals that can only really help himself the most, and get others by on the most basic of levels.

But Negan has established a Cult of Personality, much like Joseph Stalin. The people worship his power like a demigod of old, and his men respect and fear him. He has a throng of wives at his disposal and his chambers are kingly compared to everyone else’s. Given the choice between betrayal and death, his followers would rather choose death because they know just how terrifying Negan is. He mercilessly punishes those who cross him, beating two of Rick’s friends to death with Lucille at the beginning of the seventh season himself whilst the rest were watching just to show that he was in control. Afterwards, he let them go because he knew that any resistance was all but stamped out due to the fact that he held the numbers, he had the guns and every other resource. In this way, he fulfills the duty of the Prince as Machiavelli intended, being cruel, but also rewarding, and in some cases, kind. When Carl, the main character Rick’s son comes to kill Negan and guns down two of his men, Negan shows Carl what he has built around him, steadily breaking him down. He pokes at his fears and insecurities, showing the benefits of living under his rule whilst demonstrating the punishment for those who disobey, which is burning half of their face with a burning iron.  After which he takes Carl home personally, playing with Carl’s baby sister while cooking in Rick’s kitchen, using their dwindling supplies and making himself at home, showing the level of control he has over everyone.

Despite all of his deeds, as stated before, Negan does this because he believes that survival is only possible through the application and enforcement of rules. When one of his men attempts to rape one of Rick’s people, he kills him right there and there as rape is strictly forbidden, as is disobedience, thievery or murdering one of your own. He ensures that he doles out the punishment to show his superiority, but also to show that this is the leader’s responsibility, and whoever wants to step up also has to take up the less…appealing aspects of his position. Negan rules through strength, all the way from his dominating body language, his armed forces and his menacing baseball bat. He exudes it, utterly overshadowing those around him. He is more than smart enough to know that he should always step up, and only step down if it benefits him. He is, perhaps, the epitome of an “Alpha Male”, and a ruthless, but nonetheless efficient leader, looking down on everyone around with scorn. Therefore, it stands to reason that Negan shall perhaps be remembered as a charismatic prick who pissed too many people off, but his character is an important one. In the face of true destruction, can his actions truly be classified as completely evil considering the massive improvements he has brought about, not counting the undeniable security he has provided for those around him. Should we really fault those who create rules that, while tyrannical and despotic, still manage to keep a populace safe, fed, and most importantly, in check? Maybe we’ll answer that during the zombie apocalypse

To highlight the sheer  confidence of his character, and quote one of his best lines, “I just slid my dick down your throat, AND YOU THANKED ME FOR IT!”

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 was written 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.”