Article: Why I stopped watching Cross Ange

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo is probably one of the most controversial anime series of recent seasons & one that more than a few readers have called on me to comment upon (mainly asking why I haven’t condemned it like I did Kenzen Robo Daimidaler).

The 1st few episodes of the series is all about extreme dehumanisation through violence, degradation, sexual assault & humiliation & turning a joy-filled girl into a terrified non-entity & eventually an effective killing machine.

This is all done through the worst forms of visual denigration seen outside of BDSM hentai media. In that basically the titular heroine, Ange, is beaten, stripped, abused, molested, pseudo-raped, near (lesbian raped), degraded, deprived & humiliated until all that remains of the once happy is mistrustful sociopath who is only looking to survive & get revenge on all those who destroyed who she once was.

The reason that I didn’t condemn this series like I previously (& briefly) did with the aforementioned Kenzen Robo Daimidaler) is that all the degradation has a narrative context. It exists for a purpose outside of the titillation of the (majority male) audience. That does not mean that I liked or approved of it but I understood why such acts were within the story. I did not forgive or tolerate Cross Ange for that, more like I endured it. I put up with all the nasty Fan Service & brutality because it seemed to be leading to a point of character & narrative development & had shown that dehumanisation within context shows how terribly people can be transformed &/or destroyed.

And then the series committed the Cardinal Sin of entertainment: it bored me.

At some point, all the development suddenly stopped & Ange was stuck as this angry, untrustful, violent creature who constantly had Tusk (the male love interest) constantly falling into her crotch for comic effect or otherwise getting sexually entangled with her. The Fan Service (in the form of revealing clothes, hinted nudity & lesbianism) dragged on & got worse & the plot just got itself tangled up after they began to (finally) reveal what’s going on within the narrative universe.

This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find
This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find

The basic conceit of the series is that humans live in a Utopia where “The Light of Mana” fuels everything & grants people magical abilities. There is no war or poverty but it all comes at a price. For within society there are women who can’t use The Light of Mana, called Norma (taken from the word ‘normal’) & there very touch actively destroys any magical field. They are scapegoated by the rest of society, degraded & hated as being violent creatures who wish to destroy the world. So as soon as they are found, they are taken from their families & removed from the world. Naturally, Ange (formerly Angelise), being the ruling princess hates them, so is in denial when it’s revealed that she’s secretly a Norma & her parents have been keeping that fact a secret from not only the kingdom but from Ange herself.

After her father is deposed for hiding the secret & her mother is killed trying to protect her, Ange is taken to the Norma prison, where she is molested, sexually assaulted & humiliated by the commanding officer of the Normas & told that she must fight the DRAGONS or die.

All the Normas are put into transforming mecha units to fight dragon-like creatures, for which they get a bounty for each confirmed killed to use on whatever they want to buy within the prison. Having never committed an act of violence before, Ange is terrified of being thrown into such a situation & her cowardice costs her team several lives. Being humiliated & isolated by the other Norma girls, Ange rebuilds herself as a vicious killer in order to humiliate those who humiliated her & eventually gain her revenge.

This character arc changes after a few episodes, when Ange begins to accept that she’s a Norma & that Normas aren’t as she was taught growing up. Being a Norma is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that they can only become violent & anti-social because that’s what society turns them into. They are the weapons in a war that the rest of humanity is completely unaware of & one that means they can keep using their precious Mana-imbued powers.

Once they start revealing the nature of the Norma, the history of the world & the truth behind the DRAGON attacks, things start to get muddled & vexing in a form.

You’re presented with all this info as to why you’re meant to see how the dehumanisation of the Norma occurred but Ange remains a basically unlikeable & selfish character that you find it hard to support her when all of her actions are contradicting others & she keeps denying information presented to her even when the facts are to her benefit.

That becomes the problem when dealing with a narrative around dehumanisation.

It’s exceptionally easy to break a person down but it’s next to impossible to rebuild them again from that point.

I feel that’s the major problem with Ange as a character and with the series as a whole.

After spending the 1st half dozen episodes ripping Ange apart -mentally & physically- they don’t really try to rebuild her as anything other than angry & mistrustful.

I didn’t want her to return to normal, not being any mental, emotional or physical scars -because trauma is inescapable- but I did want to see her develop into someone who takes their pain, their scars & their hatred & channels into into a positive force for others.

Maybe it does go that way, I won’t know because I lost any & all engagement with it around episode 16, when they crossed over into the ‘real’ world & the truth of the DRAGONS was revealed.

From this point on, I could bang on & on about the extremeness of the hypersexualisation within the series or how the Fan Service was so blatant that it became numbing but that would be pointless. That dead horse has been flogged so long it’s not a bloody pulp beneath my mighty boots (guessing no one will get those references).

I might come back to this when they release the blu-ray version but unlike considering the back catalogue I still have to watch (over 2 terabytes on computer & dozens of DVDs/BDs).

So, lessons to take from this: dehumanisation is OK if it has narrative context & purpose & isn’t glorified in any way, shape or form; don’t bore the audience or they won’t go with you to the conclusion.

Oh, & don’t bother messaging me with your butthurt over how I didn’t like this series when I did or how you feel that it’s nothing like I depicted with the dehumanisation & so forth because I will ignore you. If you try to defend your masturbation material in the series like others have with other series I dislike, I will insult you until I get bored.

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Article: Steph’s life as a Gamer

This is the 1st part of a new feature to And The Geek Shall,  articles/interviews with people across various realms of Geekdom -be they gamers, writers, genre fans or just generalist nerds. If you are interested in contributing, either leave a comment or PM me at Twitter: @andthegeekshall (follow me there anyway!) or via the Tumblr link above.

Today’s contributor is Steph, an old friend of mine. She’s a consummate gamer, especially in the PC arena. If you are up to the challenge, her Battle Net ID squidularmy#1683 & her Steam handle is squidularmy (both online ID’s posted with personal permission, so be respectful when asking to add her & no, she won’t be your girlfriend so don’t even fucking ask, twat!).


Steph:

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Bio:

    My name is Steph, I’m a 27 year old female & I spend far too much of my time in front of a screen; during the day I build software, & as soon as I’m home I’m PC gaming exclusively. I could be doing other things, productive things no doubt, but after doing two degrees while working full time I think I’m entitled to spend my leisure time doing whatever I bloody well want.

What made you start gaming?

My first memory of gaming was when I was probably about six years old. During school holidays my father would stay home with me, which meant I would spend all day sitting on a piano stool watching him play Warlords II. It was a good deal for Daddy Dearest, & a great deal for me too – I couldn’t get enough of seeing more & more of the game tactics (or the ganking). This kicked off my interest in top down strategy gaming & probably catalysed my later obsession with the Sid Meier’s Civilization series.

What types characters do you most often play?

I love casters. Mages. Wizards. There’s just something about this tiny unarmoured person acing the everloving shit out of monsters without even touching them that I find appealing. I generally play female wizards too – even though I know I could play a lady paladin, or a warrior or whatever, I feel like being a caster allows me to express femininity, whatever that means, while being a totally destructive badass. Armchair psychologists are welcome to read into this however they like.

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What features do you most enjoy in games?

I definitely enjoy breaking games. I love setting myself obscure meta objectives just to see if something can be done. Yes, occasionally I muck around with cheat codes, but only to stabilise certain aspects of the game while I try & achieve something ludicrous. Whether it be trying to create the ultimate mage tank in World of Warcraft, or trying to balance a five-way polyamorous household in The Sims 3 – chances are I’ll be chasing after something dumb at any given point in time. I’ve started having fun with some Steam based software development kits lately to build my own ridiculous scenarios that don’t make any sense.

Following on from that, I can be a bit of an achievement junkie at times. I mean actual achievements, the ones the game designers actually want you to pursue, rather than the “Can Poland successfully invade Germany” style campaigns I design in Civ V. Following the main storyline of a game has never felt too appealing to me, & I like that the achievement system allows me to venture off & obsessively grind at whatever I feel like doing with some kind of arbitrary motivation.

What I don’t enjoy is games that are completely based around a clear storyline or objective chain – I need to have the flexibility to do other stuff & some kind of end game motivation. Game structures like the Mass Effect series have never appealed to me for this reason.

Also I don’t do PvP because I need to be able to beat you or I won’t come to the party.

What are your current gaming activities?

I’ve recently decided to up my game in World of Warcraft & get really good at playing my main, rather than just mashing my mage bomb macro & crossing my fingers. I’ve been researching & experimenting with build, spell rotation & stats balancing. I do a few raids with pick-up-groups each week, which is always a gamble in itself to find a group that doesn’t aggro the whole room for shits & giggles, but I will probably look to join a raiding guild soon, once I’m more confident in my DPS consistency.

I’m also levelling a hardcore character in Diablo III, & determined to get her to the max level without being mortally wounded. So far this is going rather smoothly, however I am noting it’s a funny balance between being super resistant to all kinds of damage & actually being able to kill a boss within an hour of engaging combat – one trades off the other to some extent. I’m quite excited about the upcoming patch to Reaper of Souls & am looking forward to running through the new tiered rifts with my friends during our Saturday night Diablo LANs.

Random: w00t for my Academic Internet Wang Size!

Just found out that my article for The Conversation is their 5th most popular article for the past month with 2,164 views.

If you are yet to read the article, you can find it HERE.

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Academic article: Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & The Machinations

This is the raw draft of an academic article I’m writing for publication. It’s basically 1,200 words over the limit, so needs to be cut down.

the topic itself is on famed animator & head of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki Hayao. A brief bio & examples of his works, themes & influences.

It’s a rambled mess but they wanted a conversational style aimed at the not exceptionally bright & this does mimic how I talk (asides & all).

Anyway, please give feedback if you have any.


Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & the Machinations
by
Shadow & Craig Norris

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If you were to ask any involved with media/cultural studies -be they academic, critic or pop culture consumer- the question: “Who is the greatest creator of animation the world has ever produced?”, their answer would all undoubtably “Miyazaki Hayao”.

Miyazaki strides the world of film & animation like a titan of old. Garnering such titles as “The God of anime”, the “godfather of animated cinema” & “the Walt Disney of the East”. Yet, in his humbleness, he rejects such titles.

Miyazaki’s presence in the filmography is felt the world over by fans & creators alike. To a level that many of his works are considered one of the greatest factors upon the mass consumption of Japanese media on a global level, allowing for a greater awareness of, & desire for, Japanese media products.

It has been argued for over three decades that he is the one who has set the mould for anime films, to those who wish to create such art & to those consider themselves devotees of such cinematic art forms.

Yet, to understand why, you must first understand the man, the mould that he made & the machinations behind his works.

Miyazaki the Man:

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Miyazaki Hayao was born in 1941, the son of the director of Miyazaki Airplane, who made parts for the Zero fighter plane. It was this early life that sparked Miyazaki’s constant interest in airplanes, flight & the freedom that it brings. The fact that his family made parts for the Zero was also the reason for the subject of his final film as director The Wind Rises (2013), which is the story of Hirokoshi Jiro who created the Zero.

Due to his family’s affluence & military connections, Miyazaki says that he was able to live out the war in relative comfort but he says that witnessing the firebombing of the town of Utsunomiya affected him greatly for the rest of his life. During a 1988 lecture, he said how his family’s callous abandonment of people feeling that burning town gave him the resolve to become a compassionate individual, a theme that permeates his work. During the release of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) he also told how the image of the burning sky scarred him for life, leading to the creation of the apocalyptic war scenes in his first independent feature      Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which were revisited in Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986) & Howl’s Moving Castle.

In his early teens, Miyazaki said that his single greatest influence was the godfather of manga, Tezuka Osamu (creator of Astro Boy). Miyazaki focussed all of his energy into becoming a manga artist but destroyed all of his early works, calling them “a poor copy of Tezuka-sensei”. Still wanting to be creative but at a loss what to do, Miyazaki saw the animated feature Hakujaden (1958) (Tale of the White Serpent), which made him fall in love with both the heroine of the film & animation in general. Realising that if he wanted to be an animator he would need to learn to draw the human body better, Miyazaki returned to his manga work.

After graduating university with degrees in political science & economics, Miyazaki began working low level jobs in the anime industry, writing & co-directing several TV series, such as very adult Lupin III. Eventually, after much labour, he managed to be given his first film directing job, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), a movie adaptation of Lupin III. It was this film that directors such as Steven Spielberg says put Miyazaki on the map as a writer & director of animated features.

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His next film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (based upon his own manga), about a girl trying to heal a world broken by fiery holocaust, propelled Miyazaki into mainstream fame as a director in Japan -even if he only managed cult status in the West for many years. Each new release was eagerly awaited by his growing fan base until 1999, when he released Spirited Away, which pushed him into the mainstream international spotlight.

Miyazaki has made only made 3 feature films since there (making a total of 11 features) but each broke new box office records.

In 2013, he announced his retirement from feature film making with his final release The Wind Rises but his close friend & frequent collaborator Takahata Isao (maker of the heart wrenching film The Grave of Fireflies) wearly says that Miyazaki will never be able to keep away from film making no matter how old he gets.

The Mould Miyazaki Made:

Few would argue over how influential Miyazaki has been in nearly four decades in animation -everyone from members of Disney-Pixar to comic writers such as Grant Morrison & Bryan Lee O’Malley to writer/illustrator Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) but what have been some of the influences upon Miyazaki himself?

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki has an exception passion for foreign literature, art & philosophy. Preferring them over many Japanese works, even collecting books in both English & Japanese.

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He’s often spoken about his love of Western fantasy & European fairytales. Once telling the author Ursula le Guin that he keeps a copy of her books by his bed so he can read whenever he gets the urge.

Miyazaki has also shown a great love of such classics as The Wizard of Oz & Alice In Wonderland -although both books (& their various adaptations) are surprisingly popular in Japan. Miyazaki tends to pepper his films with references to them, such as Chihiro’s trans-world journey in Spirited Away.

The Machinations of Miyazaki:

One of Miyazaki’s most famous & enduring qualities is his use of various social, political & spiritual as well as visual themes through his films. Many consider the most obvious to be his staunch environmentalism, as seen in Nausicaä & Princess Mononoke (1997) as well as his love for aircraft & flight -which are central themes for Laputa, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) & Porco Rosso (1992).

Though what is slightly more skirted over is Miyazaki’s humanist approach, his idealisation of community & human connection -to each other, to nature & to the spiritual world. Some have argued that this stems from his aforementioned experiences during WW2 & the following American occupation but it extends deeper than that.

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His films Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away explore the dehumanisation nature of material obsession & extreme Capitalism; how they affect our connection with the natural & spiritual worlds as well as divorce us from our sense of community & connectivity with other people. Such themes are echoed in Porco Rosso & Howl’s Moving Castle but they focus more on the negative transformations caused by war & other conflict (something that Princess Mononoke also addresses with the Forest Spirit Boar turning into a demon).

Miyazaki’s proposed solution to such dehumanisation & disconnection is determination through hard work, stoicism & forcing oneself through difficult situations to arrive at a point of growth. Yet never to do such things in isolation.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki openly rejects the machoness of many male anime characters, which focuses on the strong being alone because they are strong. He believes that people can only become whole once they accept others, especially outsiders, into their lives.

Miyazaki’s other form of rejection of anime tropes & cliches comes in his use of female protagonists. Unlike so many other depictions of female characters in Japanese media, especially in the girls only genre known as shojo, Miyazaki refuses to sexualise, victimise or belittle his female protagonist (of which are more numerous than male protagonists in his filmography). In fact, Japanese media expert Susan J. Napier cites Miyazaki’s ability to create female characters who “are remarkable for taking charge of their own lives” as one of the primary reason for the popularity of his films.

What makes Miyazaki’s female protagonists different from others is that first & foremost he treats them as real people. Miyazaki has previously stated that if there is no genuineness in any of your characters, no matter how strange or fantastical, then the audience will not connect with them. So in creating characters such as San (Princess Mononoke) or Chihiro (Spirited Away) or even Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service) he starts with them as being real girls who go on a journey to find a lost connection. With San it’s her lost humanity, Chihiro is her lost sense of spirituality & Kiki has to discover her own confidence. Such journeys can be see in all of his female protagonists & why they appeal so much to an audience is that they start the narrative with a solid grounding in reality. Be it a physical place that they are removed from or the necessities of the “Hero’s Journey” that pushes them into adventure, Miyazaki always attempts to make them as real as possible, even with the limitations of narrative need.

Both fan & academics argue as to why he puts so much emphasis on female protagonists over traditional male ones. One reason can be given in that it comes from the influences of such stories as Alice In Wonderland & the works of authors like le Guin & Diana Wynne Jones (who wrote the original novel of Howl’s Moving Castle) all of whom put female characters at the centre of their narratives.

The other reason is because he wishes to challenge many traditional Japanese societal values; the role of women being primary amongst them.

This stems from the belief that post WWII, women in narrative were seen as an echo of the nation itself: fragile & in need of support because they were beset by trauma outside of themselves.

Where as Miyazaki has female protagonists beset by issues but never needed to be protected from them. That is because they are able to draw on their own inner strength as well as the strength of the people around them &, by extension, the further community as well. Such as with Sheeta from Luputa receiving support & encouragement to emotionally grow from the pirate Dota & her sons.

This sort of narrative & character driven challenge reflects the other challenges that Miyazaki throws at society as a whole.

Many critics & academics often view Miyazaki and works as conservative & driven by feelings of nostalgia.

That could honestly not be further from the truth.

Miyazaki has regularly stated that he stands against ideas of false nostalgia or nostalgia for its own sake -such as the ones that the Japanese government has attempted to foster over the past 16 years. Miyazaki is someone who believes that true traditions, such as connection with the animist spirits of nature, should not be abandoned. Nor should people destroy themselves & the world through pointless aggression or to become slaves to the machines of Capitalism. What he & his works hark back to are notions of tradition but ones that are known globally.

He says that modernity should not come at the cost of nature, our spirituality or community but he also believes that there is no sin in using technology. His use of aircraft & other forms of mechanisation & engines is proof enough of that. His belief is that technology must be a positivist things, free of aggression or destructive potential. It is not technoloy that is evil, just those who wield it.

This too can be seen in the animation style of both Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli.

Many people have criticised Miyazaki’s non-use of CGI as being that of a man being afraid of technology & modernity but that could not be further from the truth.

It is a two fold approach founded in very simple concepts.

Firstly: that of expression. The belief being that reliance of CGI strips the magic an audience can take from watching the nuances of the image play upon the screen. That it removes that level of the suspension of disbelief & thus a sense of wonder. Especially in regards to the fine detail of characters’ expression & how an audience can read & relate to them. Studio Ghibli is known for the quality & depth of their expressions & this leads directly into the second point.

Which is, secondly: it is a form of branding. A way of setting up a form of animation authenticity to distinguish the works of Studio Ghibli from those of other production houses such as Gainax (creators of the Neon Gensis Evangelion franchise) & even Disney. By using traditional animation techniques & bringing them up to a level of CGI productions Studio Ghibli is engaging in a form of branding & one-upmanship with other studios.

This can even in his final production, The Wind Rises, which starts in Japan at the turn of the 20th century & goes to the start of World War 2; as it tells the story of airplane designer Jiro & his fate to build an instrument of war in the Zero fighter.

It could be seen as nostalgia ladden & denying the atrocities of the past -as it has actually been accused of being- but more it should be seen as brilliant art unto itself.

The acme of animation as rendered by a man so meticulous that he does everything from the script to the storyboards to sitting with individual scene animators in order to explain to him his vision of the film.

When all is said & done & Miyazaki Hayao has passed from this Mortal Coil, that is what we shall be left with.

His incredible eye for detail & exceptional style of storytelling that shall continue to beguile & inspire countless animators, writers, directors & audiences.

Not only to work better at the own art but to work better at being better people.

His is the heart that lingers & the compassion to give his al for his audience, even if it is tinted by his own passions & experiences. Yet it is a passion that is infectious & it shall go throughout the ages as a glorious legacy of compassion, spiritual, modernity & wonder that none in our current age will ever be able to match.