On X-Men: Days of Future Past

My fellow comic book buddy, whom you might know as Muscle Milk, and I have differing perspectives on what makes a good movie. His focus: Did I have a good time? Did enough things explode? Was I constantly entertained? Was there a hot girl?

My focus tends to be: What did this say to me? Was it consistent? Did the characters develop through the course of the movie? Then, depending on the genre: was it funny enough? Was it dramatic enough? Did Godzilla eat enough people?

It’s the rare occasion when these two standards intersect on one movie – especially a comic book adaptation. I actually feel, though, that the latest X-Men entry didn’t fare too badly. Beware, because the following contains spoilers.

Admittedly, I am the first to say that I’m getting a little tired of all the Wolverine entries. Yes, he’s a cool tough guy and that’s always fun. But believe it or not, there are plenty of other cool butt kickers in the X-Men universe. Let’s try exploring some of them before Hugh Jackman gets too old and tired and then the whole X-Men franchise crumbles beneath his adamantium claws.

However, if we go back to the questions ahead:

Did I have a good time? Yes. The movie was pretty quick-paced and I felt it didn’t spend overly-long drawing out points that we already know and have ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. We did not need to be re-introduced to the fact that Wolverine is a tough guy bad-ass. Just look at that haircut and facial hair! We know the Xavier-Magneto dynamic, so they didn’t re-tread that too much beyond what felt natural. And plus, Patrick Stewart is objectively wonderful. So there’s that.

Did enough things explode? Aka, was there enough action. Yes. Although, we were subjected to Wolverine bone-claws again. Ick. But I mean, watching the opening with the younger generation of X-Men, headed by Bobby, fight off the Sentinels was pretty awesome.

Was I constantly entertained? Yes. As mentioned, the movie kicks off with pretty great battles against the sentinels, demonstrating what a threat they are. We get some drama between young Charles and Eric. Mystique is actually pretty entertaining throughout – despite how I felt about her portrayal in the previous movie (they took the mystique out of her). It’s partially heist, partially action, all comic book. It’s definitely entertaining.

Did it have a hot girl? Take your pick. Jennifer Lawrence. Bingbing Fan (aka Blink aka the Asian chick with Portal powers). Even Famke Janssen made an appearance (of course).

Down to my criteria:

What did this say to me? There are a few areas to focus on. I really liked the treatment of Xavier, for example. What Prof. X said to his younger self was a thought to ponder on: young Charles wasn’t afraid of feeling other people’s emotions. He was afraid that it would make him confront his own. There’s a lot to be said of that even for we non-mutants. For example, are people with hurtful biases able to sympathize with those over whom they’re casting judgment? Or are they afraid to because once they do, it will cause them to confront themselves and their own wrong-doing? Would it cause their entire value system to collapse? How about focusing on Eric and Raven: are people born villains? Will changing events of their past keep them from pursuing a villainous future? And that ties right along with destiny, namely: will time always auto-correct its course so that no matter what “pebbles” are thrown into its stream, the current remains unchanged? (The movie says no).

“Was it consistent?” didn’t fare as well. By and large it’s pretty solid – especially for a summer blockbuster. But it’s afflicted by the same plot hole as pretty much every movie that ever uses time travel to fix a present-world problem: why, if you could transport a person back in time to any point in time, would you only give them a matter of days (or hours) to fix a huge, time-changing problem? Now, the reason from a story-telling stand-point is obvious. The movie needs tension to be exciting. But there’s not even some convenient deus ex-machina to explain why Wolverine was given so little time. They don’t really explain it at all – they comment as little as possible on it, in fact.

On to power problems, such as Blink’s. The Sentinels are shown to have adaptive power to compensate for the powers of the mutant they’re fighting, rendering them almost indestructible when fighting one mutant long enough. Blink alone seems to offer them an upper-hand: she opens portals left and right so that the Sentinels cannot anticipate who will attack them. For a brief moment of time, though, whoever is on the other side of a portal is vulnerable to attack. At one point, she’s not quick enough closing a portal and gets stabbed through the chest – the portal immediately closes and severs that portion of the Sentinel off. So… her portals can literally slice through Sentinels. While it’s awesome watching the portals being used by her teammates, wouldn’t it be more effective to open portals around the Sentinels and slice them in half?

Or Mystique’s powers. While Mystique traditionally has been an ass-kicker with the power to look like anyone, the movie implies that it’s more than just that: she adopts their traits on a biological level – it’s what gives the Sentinels their adaptive power. So wouldn’t that mean that while she looks like Wolverine, she’d heal like Wolverine? Look like Charles, become a telepath like Charles? While I’d have been satisfied if they’d explained that the Sentinel’s abilities come from scientists tweaking Mystique’s genetic code, the movie implies that it’s already inherent.

Then, of course, there’s Kitty Pryde. When, exactly, did she gain the power to send people’s minds through time to inhabit their past bodies? She’s not a telepath. She can’t do it to herself. And it’s not exactly molecular phasing.

From a story-telling perspective, they also had to retcon the past movies by making old Prof. Xavier give his spiel about how Raven was a cherished childhood friend – though if you watched the first trilogy, there’s no evidence of that. The Sentinels already had working prototypes in the 70s, but did not attack the X-Men until well over 40 years later. Magneto sends Wolverine back to help himself out – and yet young Eric has no interest in knowing how his future self would correct his… er… present past. Or the fact that a mutant killing some random scientist motivates the government to begin plans to exterminate mutants – but not a group of mutants breaking into and out of the Pentagon. Nor a mutant literally lifting a football stadium, encompassing the White House, and threatening to kill the president and his cabinet – the fact that Mystique saved him does little to fix the fact that something so tremendous happened. And Charles decides to trust Eric to go free, despite his willingness to kill friend and comrade. And somehow old Xavier is still in his own body… inexplicably. So consistency wasn’t DoFP’s strong suit – but it wasn’t so glaring that it detracted from my enjoyment.

If we move on to whether or not the characters develop, in this case I’d go back to yes – although Wolverine is still obsessed with Jean and there’s no mention of Mariko. But young Charles transforms dramatically, and Mystique is swayed by her old friend to become a hero to the president rather than villain – although her true allegiance doesn’t seem to be changed. In the end, Wolverine took up a lot of screen-time, but plot-wise, he was really a bystander (or perhaps prompter) in a story about Charles, Eric and Raven – which was welcomed.

And as for whether or not it fulfilled my expectations of the genre, it did. It had, as mentioned previously, explosions, cool fight scenes, excellent graphics, and an ounce of drama.

Overall, I’d give the movie 4/5 stars.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A(nother) Chick Flick with Superheroes

uncle ben

If you can do good things, or like… the stuff that isn’t bad… or you know… make the choice that will mean good stuff happens for someone, you should because of things and stuff.

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 last week, and it’s taken me a full week to really digest it and form what I want to say about it. As a review, this will include spoilers, so don’t read on if you haven’t seen said movie or if you haven’t but don’t care about spoilers.

My number one complaint about the first Amazing Spider-Man was that it’s basically a chick flick with a super hero. I mean, there’s even a period joke, guys. A period joke. If that doesn’t scream chick flick, I don’t know what will.

Maybe a drawn-out “will-they-won’t-they” relationship with some dreamy guy with a dark secret… oh, wait.

But over and over, with this new Spider-Man franchise, the whole thing seems to be carried on the back of Peter Parker’s chemistry with Gwen Stacy – because frankly, nothing else about it is that great.

The amazing acrobatic feats that Spidey is capable of, for example, all seem incredibly CGI-ed. At points, it’s almost like watching a cartoon. Which would be fine if… you know… I paid to watch a cartoon.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Electro Screenshot CGI Effects

On the other hand, it IS the most realistic cartoon I’ve ever seen.

It’s also quite long, at two hours and twenty-two minutes. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: not every movie needs to be Lord of the Rings. Thanks a lot, Peter Jackson.

It spends a lot of time telling us that Jamie Foxx is quirky, alone, idolizes Spider-Man (because Spider-Man’s careless with his words and cares more about how he is seen by people than he does about how they’re affected), and doesn’t have any friends because he’s just too weird and nerdy. Ryan from the Office ryans him around a little bit. Suddenly, because Ryan ryaned him so hard, he gets powers!

Then it spends a lot of time kind of re-treading the last movie: Gwen and Peter have great chemistry, but he’s afraid she’ll get hurt, but he doesn’t care about the risks because he just can’t help himself, and Gwen’s kind of perfect because she’s cute and smart and funny. Blah, blah, blah. He loves her, can’t be with her, is with her anyways, then she’s going to leave him, but he’s going to go with her…

It throws in Harry Osborn – albeit, the most emo, slimy little Harry Osborn you’ve ever seen in any iteration – as Peter’s best friend that you knew absolutely nothing about in the last film because he was conveniently in boarding school. They haven’t seen or talked each other in years, but clearly that’s the basis for the closest friendship Peter has!

The plot thickens: Harry Osborn is desperate for some of Spidey’s blood because if he can do everything a spider can, maybe he has increased self-healing ability that would help cure him of a deadly hereditary disease!

But plot hole, and the worst one of the movie: ok, so Norman Osborn’s bout with the disease set on while he was Harry’s age – around 20. Still, Norman didn’t die till he was at least 50. Why would Harry get so pissed off that Spider-Man told him “not yet.” That’s not a no. It’s a “we don’t know what it’ll do yet, so let’s get it tested and make sure it’s safe first.” But Harry’s all, “WHY DOES SAFETY MATTER?! I’M DYINGGG!!!!!” Dude, you’re not dying MUCH faster than the rest of us. Chill out. Plus it’s a hereditary disease. It’s not the same as a virus that your anti-bodies can fight. It’s something that might actually require gene therapy – not spider venom.

Because he can’t get it, he goes all crazy, teams up with Electro, raids the company that formerly belonged to him, and uses an experimental serum on himself. Sounds rational.

The end of the movie was expected for any comic fan. And there was a lot that was done well. Overall, though, I’d probably only give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a 3 out of 5. I hate drawn-out movies, and more than that: I hate plot holes.

What did you think?

Manga Review: Dawn of the Arcana (Volumes 1-12)

I used to spend every Saturday afternoon – or any evening/afternoon/day I had free, really – hanging out at Borders, sipping on some milk tea, and reading manga. It started with Sailor Moon, and other classics like Ranma 1/2, Rurouni Kenshin, Neon Genesis Evangelion, of course Dragon Ball Z, Trigun and loads of magic girl stories, like Ceres and Yu Watase’s other gem, Fushigi Yugi. It followed with the boon of manga that came later: several CLAMP works, Nana, and later, some sillier girly ones: Love Com, Monkey High, Otomen (hilarious!), and Skip Beat. But of late – and especially since Borders closed – I’ve felt like truly engaging manga were few and far between. It could be that I’m getting older. Or it could be that the American manga market is getting flooded with Twilight clones like Black Bird. Whatever the case, I turned to DC and Marvel to fill my animated reading needs though on a much sparser basis.

I picked up Toma Rei’s Dawn of the Arcana months ago – probably over a year ago – with low expectations. But I’ve just read volume twelve, and I have to say: it’s reminding me of the feelings – the anticipation and excitement – I had when I was a kid begging my parents to take my to Borders, where I was reading four-five different series at a time. Probably the last manga I felt this way about was Red River.

The Story

Centered on Princess Nakaba of Senan, she was born of an ignoble complexion for her land: red hair. True royalty in the region is viewed as having black hair. But her black-haired mother had run off with a commoner and thus she was born with a look that was not only disrespected, but relentlessly mocked and disgraced – to the point that she was hidden away from the land’s subjects for most of her life. Her only friend, Loki, is a member of another maligned group: the ajin, who are humanoids with animal traits that are enslaved and mistreated by humans.

Senan and its rival kingdom, Belquat, are nearly always in a state of war. To ease tensions, Nakaba is offered in marriage to Prince Caesar. In a classic tsundere style, Caesar initially is immature and taunts her, but the two soon fall in love. His father, the king of Belquat, though, fears the Arcana of Time – and it’s for that very reason that he wiped out her race, leaving her the lone survivor. Tension rises when he discovers her heritage.

Initially, it felt like standard fair to me. Girl marries jerk, eventually falls in love, but her best friends loves her and has always been kinder… she’s a princess… she’s super special because she’s just the most special person in the world… conflict, yadda yadda… obstacles to overcome………… you know the schtick. But Dawn of the Arcana has pushed expectations for me.

For example, Caesar and Nakaba, at this point, are only a prince and princess in Belquat – still under the rule of his antagonistic parents. Senan, on the other hand, is controlled by Nakaba’s cold and uncaring grandfather, and seems destined to be ruled by her spoiled bully of a cousin. Peace looks like a distant dream. But with each kingdom destroying villages of ajin and threatening destruction of the other, time is running short. The two become uncertain of whether they can wait for time to run its course. So they hatch a plan.

In a twist I never expected, Nakaba leaves Belquat – and by effect, Caesar – and returns home to Senan, where she remarries her cousin, the heir apparent, in a grab for power and with hopes of one day reuniting with Caesar. This was impressive to me because shojo manga so rarely has a girl that displays the strength needed to leave her love, by her own choice, indefinitely. And because of the limits of her power, she doesn’t know exactly when they will reunite. In many ways, it is Nakaba who leads Caesar along, hatching plans and somewhat dubious ones for a young girl, like a political (but of course it’s chaste) marriage, at that.

The story, to me, rates at a fair 5/5 – not in terms of this simplistic overview, but in the details Toma infuses.

The Characters

The protagonists are, of course: Nakaba, her eventual love Caesar, and her best friend/loyal protector/long-time admirer, the ajin Loki. The antagonists would be Caesar’s parents and a majority of Nakaba’s remaining family. The cast is also filled out by some fairly standard shojo characters: the willowy, princess-y girl who despite being everything Nakaba was expected to be is utterly sweet and her best friend; the jealous brother who wants to take the protagonist from her love interest due to spite more than love; the boy lolita; loyal-to-unnatural degrees servants.

What sets apart the cast, for me, are Nakaba’s true strength of mind, her willingness to step into moral grays, and her ability to deny her own wants in pursuit of her ideals. Her longing for true peace is such that she’s willing to sacrifice all else that is important to her. She’s willing to threaten lives to advance her goals. She’s willing to tread in the gray area that shoji manga all too often side-steps. And Toma really makes us see how gray her choices are, as opposed to some lesser manga who try to make minor offenses seems like major moral dilemmas.

The characters, weighed down by some pretty standard archetypes, are saved by the likability of Nakaba, and the balance made between the rest of the cast. I’ll give it a 4/5.

The Art

A bit simplistic, I do find it refreshingly nostalgic – a bit of a callback to the 90s style I grew up with. The people themselves are not superbly drawn, but Toma – or at least one of her assistants – is very good with clothing and scenery. Again, for a mainstream manga that I know probably has some serious deadlines to meet, I’ll give it a 4/5.

Overall

All in all, I’m hooked. It was slow going at first, and I mostly picked it up because the costumes were worth examining. But the story has really progressed in an engaging – even addicting arc. Overall, I’ll give it a solid 4.5/5 stars as a superb shojo manga.

Have you read this series? How do you feel?

Nerd Blasphemy: Why I Don’t Like Firefly

There are some things that nerds just enjoy. Robots, space ships, blasters that go “Pew pew!”, smart people talking over the heads of the “cool” and attractive – or better yet, being the cool and attractive – winning the girl/guy and saving the day. These are things that we just want to see in TV shows. Put all of them together and we will literally give you all of the money (but not literally because that would be just crazy). Firefly, Joss Whedon’s brain baby (yes, that Firefly, just to be sure), gives us a good portion of these. And I just. Don’t. Like it. I tried. And I can’t.

Disclaimer: I know that Firefly is over 10 years old, and the anime listed even older, so this argument has probably been dumped back and forth, but as another friend of mine just proclaimed his deep and abiding affection for this show, I want to lay out exactly why it strikes me as stale.

It’s not a terrible show, granted. The characters are good and the world is built nicely. But let’s put this all into perspective from my point of view. I’ve been watching anime since I was in… 2nd grade, when Dragon Ball Z was airing early Saturday morning. I’ve been watching giant robotic ships blast each other into oblivion near since I can remember. My 90s were filled with scenes like these:

vash spikemelfina

Now look at the scenes below. Any of them seem a little familiar?

Simon_Tam_Glasses

Notice the round, orange sunglasses.

mal-reynolds

The callback to the signature pose of our favorite anime space cowboy/ship captain/bounty hunter/does anything for a meal bad-ass with a mysterious and haunted back story.

river tam

…does this need any explaining?

So the homages to anime are obvious. What about the plot points?

-Several anime are more or less “episodic” like Firefly. Most of the series doesn’t cover a specific arc, but the arc is divided sparsely between episodes before coming to a dramatic conclusion. See: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star.

-Features anti-heroes with a history as part of some kind of organized violence; men that are soulful and damaged who don’t trust easily but wouldn’t betray a crew mate. Clever in combat and tricky in dealings, even if not part of intelligentsia. Smugglers and bounty hunters with rascally charms just trying to get by. See: Spike Spiegel, Gene Starwind, Lupin III, Vash the Stampede.

-Shepherd Book – a minister formerly of a deadly profession. See: Nicholas D. Wolfwood.

-The “special”/”gifted” girl – usually one that has undergone some kind of experimentation – and an ongoing investigation into her background, i.e. what caused her to be special and pursued by enemies. River Tam was abducted for being so fantastically special that the government just had to have her as their uber special super-soldier. Melfina from Outlaw Star, the character whose pose River Tam borrowed in the picture above, is a special biosynthetic android created by scientists to find the Galactic Leyline. Both girls are hunted by various organizations but are protected by their ragtag crew mates because, as you might’ve guessed, they’re just so damned special. (An even even features River “becoming one with the ship.” While a prank, was this a purposeful allusion to her influences?).

Obviously, it’s not a carbon copy of any particular anime. The plot specifics differ completely and the characters themselves unique. Indeed, the settings differ: where Japanese media depict crime syndicates ruling the roost and weak governments unable to protect their citizens, American media like Firefly often depict a heavy-handed, oppressive government keeping the masses suppressed while “the little guy” squeaks by on petty crime, just trying to get by. Clearly cultural viewpoints have somewhat reversed the respective roles of government/organized crime, and the series reflect that.

I’m just saying that the elements are definitely there. Firefly feels inspired by the anime/manga mediums but is unable to fully convey the essence due to the constraints of its own medium. And considering what a nerd Joss Whedon is – what, a comic book writer and all – and the fact that he makes it a point to include Asian-inspired motifs – I would not be surprised at all if he’d watched anime or read manga himself. Or at least was aware of the space cowboy subgenre at the time of creating Firefly and used that as a launch point to create something that Western audiences haven’t given much of a chance.

In fact, his later project Dollhouse shares a lot of similarity with the fantastic and iconic Ghost in the ShellBuffy The Vampire Slayer, likewise treads in the magical girl genre (and though entirely different series, there’s something to be said for the immature, boy-crazed, popularity-seeking, blond Usagi/Sailor Moon growing into a butt-kicking, sacrifice-making heroine and the basically-fits-the-same-description Buffy Summers. Oh and the appearances of Dawn/Chibiusa. And exploring alternative sexualities through secondary characters).

It’s completely possible that Joss Whedon simply had all these good ideas on his own, independent of the boom of stories that happened to manga in Japan in the 90s. In fact, from what I’ve read, he lamented that the show was viewed merely as a “live-action anime.” But then damn: why would you make it so close?

Honestly, all the shots, the angles, the costume design, set aesthetic – all of it from the pilot onward just reminded me of my well-loved anime. Except that anime is drawn, so it doesn’t need to worry about budgetary constraints or technological limitations. If you want to show a pants-crappingly scary monster, draw one. If you want to show incredible maneuvering by a space ship, animate it. If you want your hero to have super-human fighting ability, well, ok! And so all the callbacks to anime that I noticed in this otherwise original series simply reminded me of all the things it was missing: action, visible and creative enemies, cool visuals. Instead we got Reevers, which until the movie were boring, faceless crews of ships with blood spattered on them – and dry-as-can-be Alliance military (although I enjoyed the plot linking the two).

It’s not that I can’t enjoy Firefly because I think it’s bad or anything. It’s just all-too-familiar when I had a decade of watching action-packed anime before Firefly ever made it on TV. As for fans’ claims that Firefly was… like… the most creative, original sci-fi basically in the history of ever, a lot of them don’t watch anime – because if they did, the themes would be instantly recognizable and familiar. In fact, by the time I got around to watching it, everything Western audiences felt was incredibly original to me felt tired and used. I don’t think anyone born and bred on manga/anime would find Firefly particularly groundbreaking – maybe just cool because it’s live action and Whedon-esque. And to fans that did watch Cowboy Bebop and like to claim that Firefly was “done better”, well – geez: I guess it’s just like how I like Chipotle better than Moe’s and probably always will. Chipotle introduced me to this style of food and set the standard for me. Chipotle also came first. And has better-seasoned chicken. Moe’s will therefore always play second fiddle, despite their provision of wonderful sweet tea and a salsa bar. I’m sure that people who tried Moe’s first might have a similar feeling, just like people who prefer Firefly and think that Cowboy Bebop‘s plot is “simplistic” can be excused for their poor taste due to a lack of proper culturing.

What do you think? Am I being fair to Firefly? Which side of the debate do you take?

Why a Reboot of Sailor Moon is Needed

Many people remember Sailor Moon as unwaveringly and unapologetically ridiculous and girly. And many people would be right.

In the name of the moon, and not S&M- definitely, certainly… I mean… S&M… Sailor Moon… holy cow! did I stumble onto a secret code?!, anyways- I WILL PUNISH YOU!

If, that is, they’re thinking about the anime. See, like many works the anime and the manga differ immensely.

This really terrific manga, which basically on its own revitalized and recreated the magic girl genre, had been reduced from basically a coming-of-age story for girls with a character who progressively matures and tackles difficult, literally world-changing decisions to kind of a platform for goofiness. Yes, while still unabashedly a girly fantasy, the manga also had more dramatic undertones, coupled with plenty of mythological allusions and mature themes. For example, in the later books Mamoru (aka Darien aka Tuxedo Mask) was even wiped from existence by the latest foe and Usagi, stricken with PTSD, couldn’t remember it as anything other than a dream (as he had been traveling to America for college at the time of the incident). Later, she struggled with the idea that staying with him in what was basically the afterlife could endanger the rest of the universe – literally a would-you-save-one-despite-the-many ordeal. Michiru and Haruka, in the manga, had a more complex relationship, too, than even what was presented in the Japanese anime – and were certainly not cousins. Feminine empowerment is highlighted, and so Usagi’s transformation from a careless teen to a responsible leader even more pronounced. Oh, also, Darien/Mamoru is a high-schooler, too, when we first meet him. So that’s way less creepy. (It was always pretty ambiguous in the anime),

One time, after my friends told me that Pokemon was now on Netflix and it was almost embarrassing to watch, I looked up clips of the anime that I so used to enjoy. One of the only ones I could find were of a kiss between Serena and Darien. And it. Was. Awful. “HMMMM… MUWAH MUWAH MUWAH, mmm MMM MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmMMMmmmmMMMMmMMM.” SERIOUSLY?! I WATCHED THAT?!!!! THEY GOT STUCK ON HER BUBBLE GUM?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSI-

Ok. Cool it. It was just a show. A show for kids.

*Deep breath*

Anyways… all this to say, basically, that an anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s coming-of-age legend of a manga is certainly welcomed.

What do you think?

Throw Back Thursdays: An Ode to Toonami

Cartoon Network’s Toonami block of action cartoons and anime was by no means my first exposure to anime, but it definitely had the biggest impression. Before that, I’d really only seen Dragon Ball Z on Saturday mornings on a different station, but I didn’t wake up early enough to see any others.

In fact, because Dragon Ball Z was placed so late in Toonami’s two-hour run, it meant I sat through other shows that I’m not sure I would’ve given a shot (like Sailor Moon. Which I came to love. But at first, it was way too girly – too big a risk factor for my brothers to make fun of me. Good thing it was on between Robotech and Dragon Ball Z).

Yes, Toonami steered me wrong with some shows: Beast Wars was a little too… er… young for me at that point. Not to mention, I’ve never really cared for cartoons done in CGI. ReBoot definitely wasn’t my cup of tea (though I know some people, like Justin, really enjoyed the second season), and they tried to parlay Power Puff Girls and Samurai Jack into the mix (perfectly fine cartoons, but I wanted anime, dammit!). Honestly, though, half the cool stuff I know is largely because of Toonami’s influence: Robotech, Ronin Warriors, basicalled all Gundam series, Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star, Big O, Ruroni Kenshin – heck, even Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell – all of them reached me first through Toonami. The ones that didn’t (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Trigun) were introduced to me by people whose first exposure to anime was Toonami.

In fact, if I’d never watched Sailor Moon on Toonami, I never would’ve stumbled upon the manga at my local Barnes & Noble. I never would’ve sat in Borders (remember Borders?) for hours, reading Sailor Moon, then filling my time reading anything else I could get my hands on. I discovered some real gems waiting for the latest releases of whatever manga I was currently hooked on (Ranma ½, Crimson Hero, Clover, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Alice 19th, Fushigi Yuugi…basically, everything else I’ve ever read until I learned to start searching), all because I was waiting for Sailor Moon or Saint Tail or something similarly innocuous (hey! I was 12!).

I’d always liked to draw, but Toonami opened up a whole new world of style to me, and I can’t deny: it has really, heavily influenced how I draw and what I create even down to this day.

So here’s to you, Toonami. Here’s to you, Moltar and Zordak and T.O.M. and eventually, Adult Swim. Without you, I’d still be a nerd. But not the kind that would eventually become ironically cool.

How I Settled for Your Mother (Spoilers Ahead)

Back in high school, I had an awesome best friend. A lot of my friends thought we’d end up with each other, and I’m sure thoughts like that crossed both of our minds briefly. But we had different belief systems, life goals (and on the important stuff, to boot), and a completely different life trajectory. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever have changed said trajectory for someone else, lest we both become disillusioned with the result. So we parted ways at the end of high school, and I eventually moved across the country and found a fuller love that didn’t require that extreme level of compromise. I love Justin – and he changed the way I view love. I know that I could never go back to an old flame for that very reason.

So when, like two or three episodes of How I Met Your Mother back, Ted finally let Robin go and we saw her float away like a balloon, I was ready. “Finally!” I thought, “A show that’s going to show life how it is! No more Ross-and-Rachel tropes! No more ping-pong! No more arresting or undoing of character development! This is it!” (Spoilers ahead) I knew that the mother would probably die from all the little hints that they laid out. I did. But with Robin and Barney finally getting married, I thought that they couldn’t leave Ted hanging that badly. So I thought maybe she was in the hospital, going up against steep odds with a potentially life-threatening procedure, and it would end with the two of them reunited or something. But nope… they spent nine years purportedly telling the story of how Ted met his soul mate, probably 45 minutes total showing us what purported soul mate is really like, one whole season building up to Robin and Barney’s wedding, and then it was all over within ten minutes. I mean all over. Robin and Barney got divorced within three years, the mother died, and then her children basically are just like, “Good thing mom died so that you can get back with your true soul mate Aunt Robin!”

A lot of fans, I guess, are happy that Ted and Robin ended up with each other. A lot of fans are pissed that the mother died. But this is what bothers me: you spend three or four seasons developing, say, Barney by having him realize that maybe he really can love only one woman at a time. He does these giant, grand gestures. He passes on his Bro ways. And then within minutes, that character development is chucked out the window and he reverts to the same guy we saw in the beginning. Oh, and then has a baby, and supposedly that’s going to change him. Hmph. We’ll see. Given that if nine years and a marriage to the only woman he ever really loved couldn’t at least make a dent in his Bro ways, maybe the thrill of a baby won’t last either. After all, there are plenty of invalid dads. Another character: we see Robin’s feelings for Barney are deep if not confusing to her, and she consistently picks Barney over Ted. She fed him a speech of her own feelings toward him for him to say to Nora, just so that he could be happy. She got over her trust reservations with him. Ted and all their friends were convinced of their compatibility/”meant-for-each-other-ness.” Ted accepted that he lost and was not right for Robin. And then all of that reverts, again, to basically square one of the first episode. She suddenly can’t compromise work for him. They struggle so long just to get married, but they can’t fight to stay married – not even for three measly years after NINE.

No one really learned or grew. And maybe that’s comforting to some viewers, because they’re still pining over that girl or boy that got away, and they want to think their life will give them everything they want. Because they don’t want to think about how letting go – really letting go – can help you to grow and become even happier in life. They want to be told that they don’t need to make changes because they’re great as they are now, and the universe will cater to their current status quo of awesomeness. But we’re living organisms. And living organisms change. We don’t always get it right the first time. The first time we think we’re in love, for example. Sometimes, we don’t even know what love is like. And rarely do we ever know who we’re going to marry until we meet that person randomly, in the middle of our life, and it changes everything.

If I had to sit through and listen about how my father had really been in love with someone else for twice the span of my entire life, and his entire relationship with my mom, I’d be pissed. And I’d be annoyed that my father was such a pansy that couldn’t let anything go.

I’m all for tragic endings. Sure, kill her off. Have Ted weep as he talks about it. Have his children console him in that, heck, they were born. And then have him tell them that you never see where life goes, and you never know who you’ll end up with, and maybe you don’t know that person now. But if you’re smart, and if you let go of the distractions, you’ll recognize that person when he/she enters your life, and you shouldn’t waste a second of it – especially not pining away after someone else who just was not as compatible.

That’s how I would end that story. Because I didn’t tune in to be bored to tears re-watching an over-used TV trope (will they? won’t they? Oh! Of course they will!). I tuned in to watch a story about a beloved mother of two children and how Ted’s entire life prepared him to meet her.