Rant sampler

And now it's time for me to post another random assortment of rants. Ahem:
  • As I said before, the Middle Ages originated the idea of consensual sex—the consent of both parties is what makes marriage a valid sacrament. Fun fact, by the way: sex is the sacrament of matrimony, in Catholic teaching; a wedding is just the ceremony approving a couple enacting that sacrament.

    I've recently come across several instances on TV Tropes, where some mouth-breather holds up the ending of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady (that what a woman wants is her own way), as an example of how sexist the Middle Ages were.

    That legend comes, I believe, from the Troubadours or something similar; I know it dates to the era of the sacramental controversies I describe above. Now, I trust it's hardly shocking that the story works out as a sort of metaphor for courtship—and a proper man leaves the whole thing up to the woman to decide. That is, it's an allegory about consensual sex being the only legitimate kind. Put more generally, it's simply, "Women want what they want, gentlemen, not what you want. Try asking."

    If it had come from now, That Retard Troper would be saying it was an Anvilicious anti-sexism story. But, because he assumes he's got the single most complex era in human history all figured out, he completely ignores the obvious point of the story.

    Seriously, who's reading him that wiki?

  • So, Code GEASS: LeLouch of the Rebellion. First off, the word is actually geis, pronounced "gesh", and it means a taboo; it's only in Dungeons & Dragons that it's a command that has to be followed. Still, the mispronunciation lends to the show being called "Code Gay-ass", which it is.

    Personally I prefer to render the title "Code GEACPS", because of the ending: a coalition of the countries of East Asia, led by Japan, against Western Imperialism, led from America. There was a thing like that, folks, it was called the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperitiy Sphere. It has half a Holocaust worth of murders to its name, and is right behind Mao, Stalin, and Hitler in the "largest scale a-holery in history" contest—and Hitler barely edged it out for a spot in the Top 3.

  • So, all the hooey about race, in fantasy books and science fiction especially. Apparently people in Western culture shouldn't default to assuming that a character whose race isn't specified, is white—even though everyone in Asia and probably Africa does, with their races.

    I hate to point this out, but this attitude isn't just ridiculously PC, it's actually racist. Essentially it's saying that white people are too good to be themselves; apparently the lesser races can have identities, but the master race has to transcend them all.

    Or to put it another way, you only presume you have to represent all races if you think you have the authority to speak for all of them.


Trumpy, you can do magic things!

So all this talk of magic and whatnot got me to thinkin' about fantasy in general, and I realized I am of two minds about it.

On the one hand, I like fantasy; I dig the whole magic and dragons and elves aspect, the idea of setting stories in other worlds (or rather, whole cosmoses {cosmoi?}). My folks read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings before I could read; I read them myself before third grade. Fantasy is in my blood, man; it marches through my veins...like giant radioactive rubber pants! The pants command me! Do not ignore my veins!

Ahem. But on the other hand, I can't think of much fantasy that I like. It's doubly infuriating, because not only is it not done well, it's got so much potential—potential that's always wasted, thrown away so people like Ursula K. LeGuin or Terry Goodkind can preach to us about feminism/"Taoism" or S&M/Objectivism. The earlier Fritz Leiber is pretty good (basically books two and three of Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, and parts of four), and Conan ain't bad, if you can get past the 30s-race-theory aspect (the movie's better). And then there's Tolkien, and various anime like Slayers, Zero's Familiar, and Lewie the Mage-Warrior (not "Rune Soldier"; look at the Japanese title). Other than that, it's a buffet of losers—especially Goodkind (see my remarks about Ayn Rand, and add in that his appearances should probably involve Megan's Law) and LeGuin (aside from her brand of feminism being just as asshat as the Marxism it's an unintelligent knockoff of, no Taoist thinks seeking immortality, as such, is a bad thing...since it's kinda the point).

I don't really know if there's any fundamental rules, but here's a few things I for one could stand to see done different.
  1. Learn about the sodding Middle Ages, if you're gonna use a generic "medieval" setting. This involves three main sub-points, actually:
    1. Medieval property laws were complicated. There were guilds for crafts, peasant proprietorship and multiple forms of serfdom in agriculture, and nobles holding land in feudal gift with various kinds of tenants working it, and using it to pay their armies. There were also merchant guilds, which were a cross between insurance companies and "better business"/chamber-of-commerce type institutions, with licensing from guild-members akin to franchising. Women could have full membership in guilds, and unlike men could vote by proxy, which brings me to my next point.
    2. Women's status was a hell of a lot higher than they taught you in school—much higher than in Rome or Greece, and also higher than in the Renaissance or so-called "Enlightenment". Indeed, it wasn't till the end of the 19th Century that they even started making back what they'd lost. Just for example, the very concept of consensual sex is medieval, originating in the Church working out how sacramental marriage works.
    3. The main—almost the only—inferiority of the Middle Ages to any other era, was feudalism. Now what people don't understand about feudalism is, it wasn't hierarchical. On his own land, a Baron was the equal of a Duke, and often of a King. The only distinction was the size of land, and therefore of army, a lord had. This got really troublesome, since they had to negotiate before every battle, since nobody took orders from anyone else and had to be persuaded (your feudal obligation was to show up when your liege asked, and that was about it). Imagine an army where 2nd Lieutenants have to be bribed by Generals before they carry out any military tasks, and perhaps you'll see the difficulty.
  2. Don't just rewrite Tolkien, or, more to the point, Gygax/Weiss-Hickman/Greenwood. Go and make a modified version of the elves from folklore, rather than the Quendi (or whatever Greyhawk's elves call themselves); go look up real legends rather than knocking off the Silmarillion (or Dragonlance). How about you learn about onmyôdô or obeah, instead of using Vancian Magic or that tired quasi-hermetic elementalism?
    Late addendum (09/9/27): Not that I don't like elementalism (I just recommended onmyôdô, didn't I?); it's just, it's always the same Aristotelian four, fire/water and earth/air, with the pairs in opposition—Pythagoras/India's Ether if you're lucky, and then as an afterthought. Not even Avatar escapes this, and it's set in a Chinese world! There's other ways to do elements.
  3. A world where all the "good" races are actually just oppressing the "evil" ones? Not sodding original. Cliche, in fact, beyond the level of all other cliches because it's also trying to be edgy. Nothing is lamer than this Marxist class-war paradigm, kiddies, so just stop doing it; goblins and trolls are evil, in legends, how about you cope like a grownup? In Hindu myth the trolls (rakshasa) are like the Mazoku from Slayers: they actively seek, as an ideology, to destroy the world. They share an origin with the Jotuns from Norse myth, by the bye—is Surtr just misunderstood and oppressed?
  4. Gender-restricted magic is fine—Korean shamans and Navajo medicine-men are both gender-restricted—but try and avoid the feminist/misogynist trappings that so often go with them. In fact, just steer clear of writing about gender-matters altogether; and actually just deny all your impulses to write about social issues "relevant" to now. You're not in eighth grade, and you're probably not well-versed in all the anthropological facets of, say, slavery, or polygamy. Without understanding the subtleties, and a hell of a lot of talent, it'll just sound like an after-school special. What if you try and be subversive, and point out that lots of societies' slaves weren't Uncle-Tom's-Cabin miserable? More power to you, but tread carefully, or you'll come off sounding like a heartless reactionary—like Terry "butcher the pacifists" Goodkind. Also, his gender-stuff leaves the vague impression he's very active in communities that have to specifically emphasize that what they're doing is consensual.


エリート Eriito

So my musings about Naruto and even Negima being better than Harry Potter, got me thinking: things are apparently just expected to skew smarter in Japan. Now, not always—One Piece, for instance, and anything involving even a cursory discussion of Western history, would tend to indicate there's a lowest common (moron) denominator in Japan, too—but huge swaths of work there are just smart enough that I just barely have to pay attention not to miss something. And that's impressive, because there's not really anything on American TV that I can't watch, and fully comprehend, while reading a book. I can't read while watching the dumber Japanese stuff, either (I prefer subs to dubs, sue me), but if my Japanese was better I could.

But these are some shows I can't do it with.
  • Shakugan no Shana. Seriously, find me an American show where the premise is, "Beings from another dimension invade this one by stealing innocent people's reference to 'to be'." And if there was such a thing, it'd last six episodes and then get canned, for being talky and boring—rather than being Kugimiya Rie tsundere romantic comedy. Shana is the answer to the question, "What if Jacques Maritain had created Moonlighting?"
  • Baccano. The being who grants the Elixir of Life, introduces himself with, "I know thy desires and I'm with thee everywhere." That is, the show contains a fictional depiction of Poemandres, Mind of All Mastery, and a quote from the first book of the Corpus Hermeticum. Now admittedly the Mind of All Mastery wouldn't be capable of curiosity (since, as the self-awareness of Being Itself in an emanationist pantheist cosmos, he'd know everything), but we'll give them a pass for that.
  • Naruto. Among others. And all the existentialism—with the uniquely Japanese answer, that, pace Sartres, heaven is other people. That is, what confirms and gives meaning to one's existence, is one's friends, family, and community.
  • Naruto again, for Kishimoto's understanding that all human conflict is essentially ideological—the first thing he asks when he creates a villain is, "How does his worldview conflict with the heroes'?"
  • Black Blood Brothers. Aside from making me want to play Vampire: the Masquerade (tell me Kane Warlock's not a Tremere, I dare you), it's got Jiro's fascinating statement to the Kowloon Children: "You're not evil, you're just doing what you need to to survive. But since you're a threat to what I care about, I'm going to destroy you." Nothing American could ever have a hero say that (not and be right, anyway); Americans can't abide being told that the fact you love something, might mean you have to fight, and harm, its enemies, whether or not they're actually "evil."
  • Xenosaga (this one deserves multiple bullet-points, actually). The mix of Jewish, Christian, ancient, and modern (Jungian) Hermeticism, for one (though admittedly Hermeticism is the dumb version of Gnosticism, and Gnosticism is the dumb version of Indo-European esotericism). Also the references to Shingon Buddhism (the smartest Indo-European esotericism, as filtered through the Japanese). Also the tech—using the Collective Unconscious as a warp drive? Now that's just a cool idea (hokum, but top-shelf hokum). And hell, find me an American SF show or game that knows enough to make the FTL comms be based on the EPR paradox. Now admittedly it wouldn't work, but you've got to be pretty good to even make that mistake.

Late addendum:It occurred to me, as I reread this (2009/9/23) that I come off rather harsh on One Piece, and its fans (since I sorta called its target audience morons). Now, I like One Piece, in small doses, and Oda Eiichirô is a pretty talented guy who tells silly stories that still have a lot of heart. That said, you can't deny that One Piece works best when you turn off part of your brain and go with the insanity—Luffy can give Kamina a run for his money in the "Kick reason to the curb" department.


Chiefly concerning wizards

Hisashiburi, na?

Anyhoo. So I recently decided to read Mahou Sensei Negima, and it got me to thinking: manga about children with magic, are much better than Harry Potter (the HP influence on Negima's pretty obvious). Just in Negima:
  • The Latin. Negi's spells are just flat out in better Latin than Harry's—apparently Akamatsu Ken can be bothered to notice that Latin spellcasting is in the subjunctive, for instance. Also, when the Thousand Master casts older spells, they're in Greek! Real Greek, too, not English written in the Symbol font, though I don't know enough Greek to know how good of Greek.
  • Negi's spells have a lot more range, though the change to an action series sorta made the utility spells get short shrift in favor of the combat. But Harry Potter made that same shift, and then we discovered the wizarding world has no combat spells that aren't illegal. Also, no area-effect spells! And then again, when Harry was carving things in his arms for Umbridge, who else wanted her to check...and get the message, "I took Explosive Runes today."
    Ahem. But in Negima, he's got like 29 different levels of Sagitta Magica (somehow I suspect we know that name from somewhere *cough*magic missile*cough*), for each element!!! Also I dig the combining magic with martial arts, though this series suffers from the bizarre conception Chinese martial arts are strong (also that Europe doesn't have any, or at least none of them have shown up—anyone else wanna see magic + savate?)
  • Just, the shonen series-ness of it: Negi is more of a man at ten than Harry is at seventeen. Admittedly Akamatsu has an advantage in writing about a young boy's heart that Rowling didn't—as in, he is a boy—but I don't think his female characters are half as off as Rowling's male ones.
  • All that said, I finally found a vampire character I hate more than Alucard and Edward Cullen: Evangeline A. K. McDowell. The real problem with her is she has her moments (her Kugimiya Rie-type tsundere scenes), and then she starts fighting, and you have to hate her Alucard!Sue-ness.
  • Actually come to think of it, and I just realized it now, Akamatsu apparently has trouble writing strong female characters (as in "female characters who can kick your ass," not Strong Female Characters™ as in "good female role-model based on a hilariously androcentric conception of strength"). Other than Ku Fei (whose saving grace is she's a ditz), Asuna, and Setsuna, all the powerful girls are obnoxious bundles of stereotypes and cliches, and most of them are Sue-y, too—especially what's-her-name, the gun chick. Still better than Potter, though.
And then there's Naruto. "That's a reach," you say. No, it's not. It was originally gonna be a manga about a kid in a wizard school, but then Kishimoto-sensei decided he hated drawing Naruto's goggles, and drew other things on his forehead instead, until he came to the ninja hachimaki and decided to change them from wizards to ninjas (who have magic, in folklore). And the rest was history (and then, apparently, a couple years later, Kishimoto heard about some English book series, and realized he'd really dodged a bullet).

Actually Naruto's got more similarities to HP than that. Except it's better.

  • Team 7 is made up of the chump, the bookworm, and the broody last survivor of a rich family. Also the chump has orange hair. Also the last survivor has a mark put on him by a guy who can talk to snakes. So Naruto is Harry Potter, except about Ron.
  • Orochimaru is basically Voldemort, except with a good motivation and actual talent as a villain.
  • Sandaime Hokage is Dumbledore, except he doesn't make everyone else make sacrifices and endure suffering, while getting off the hook himself by forcing someone to euthanize him. Oh, and he actually stands up to the evil student he couldn't kill before, rather than hoping a bunch of children can pull it off.
  • Itachi is Snape, except Kishimoto realized the whole double-agent assassin thing was a really nasty thing to make someone do, and had Danzo do it, instead of the Hokage—because Hokage actually earns his people's love and loyalty.
  • The Chûnin exam arc was the Wizarding Cup—which I realize makes Gaara Viktor Krum, for which I apologize to the fangirls—except instead of "this minor international school contest makes international news," it was, "this thing that directly affects the military strength of every nation on the planet, except the one that uses samurai instead of ninja, is obviously international news."
  • The Akatsuki and Sound Ninjas are actually competent, and the ninja villages actually have defenses. Meanwhile the Death Eaters re-enact Three Stooges bits during battles, and the wizarding world's entire defense appears to be Aurors, which would be like England's only law enforcement and military forces being the CID. At its current strength. And staffed by the gumbies from the Monty Python Architect Sketch.
Yeah, I'm pretty sure Rowling should be embarrassed.