How to read Leopardi? No, seriously, I’m asking! The paradox of choice in translation

Image source: Wikipedia

[I am not a scholar or anything close… instead just a confused consumer trying to read the 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi in English and finding that it is much harder to choose a translation than I ever expected. But, I hope this post can maybe function as an un-academic bibliography of Leopardi translations, and for my own purposes, a purchase guide for leisure reading.]

Have you heard of the paradox of choice? The concept comes from the 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by psychologist Barry Schwartz, who popularized the idea among casual audiences with this 2005 TED Talk. It proposes the counter-intuitive behavioral economics hypothesis that consumer welfare might decrease when the market presents them with too many similar products because the costs of choosing the utility-maximizing option between those products will increase.

…or to eliminate the economics jargon and talk like a normal person, trying to pick the perfect product out of dozens can become stressful, especially for anxious people with what Schwartz calls “maximizer” personalities who fixate on ideals and feel prone to regretting their choices.

Of course, the concept has faced some substantial criticism by economists and the early experimental results have failed to replicate like so many other psychological studies popularized by TED (and then even if it did replicate, I’m not sure how much choosing between 6 jams or 24 can tell us about more serious decisions like purchasing a car or health insurance plan).

However, despite the weakness of the empirical results, I think Schwartz does propose a subtle insight that can apply to our most complex, difficult choices: in economics jargon, taking the time to consider the opportunity costs of a complex decision itself carries an opportunity cost. And in ordinary language again… instead of agonizing over a tough choice by trying to find the best one, you could just make a quick pick and go on to enjoy your day (the easy-going “satisfier” personality type identified by Schwartz).

Simple everyday experience can probably provide better examples of the idea than any experiment every could. Most grocery shoppers won’t worry much about grabbing one of the 175 varieties of salad dressing mentioned in Schwartz’s TED Talk, but they might have trouble choosing which of the 80 Vanguard ETFs they should invest in when planning for their retirement (if they’ve even settled on Vanguard out of dozens of investment companies!). Or to use an example from my own life abroad in Japan, I spent hours researching different remittance options to send money back home to America. But when I finally committed to one, I regretted my choice within a few weeks after I discovered that I could have saved money with a different company. It was the paradox of choice in action: the large number of complex options confused me, and when that confusion produced a suboptimal decision, my nagging “maximizer” personality dragged on my guilty conscience.

For the purposes of this post though, I have a much more trivial example of the paradox of choice — which of the 40-some editions of Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi’s translated works should I read in the office between class periods? The question sounds simple, but then my “maximizer” personality strikes again; I’ve spent the last week reading about how to read Leopardi …instead of, you know, actually reading him. And then as I re-read this post before I hit “publish,” I can’t help but wonder if all of that choice hasn’t driven me insane…

Continue reading “How to read Leopardi? No, seriously, I’m asking! The paradox of choice in translation”

Kemono Friends 2 is plenty of fun! …and some less fun thoughts on fandom


[Here I am, the most cynical, pessimistic person I have ever met, asking people to be less cynical …not that I expect to succeed. After all, you can hardly convince anyone of something that they don’t already believe. Futility! Anyway, Kemono Friends 2 is good fun, even if it disappoints the expectations of the excellent first season]

Well, Kemono Friends 2 is finished. I liked it! It’s so simple that there’s not much to say: a young girl named Kyururu wanders around an abandoned zoo looking for her human home alongside her anthropomorphized cat Friends Serval and Caracal, all while learning about the other animal Friends they meet along the way. It’s cute, it’s kind, it’s fun  …a perfect inoffensive late-night sleep aid. I can’t ask for much more.

But follow the online discussions around the season, and you might encounter some of the most uncharitable comments for any anime I’ve seen:

“What a pile of trash,” “blatant cashgrab,” “failed fanfic attempt,” “the definition of a disaster,” “they managed to do everything wrong,” “an elaborate April Fools joke,” “What a shitfest,” “it absolutely disgusted me,” “abomination of an anime”

Though I won’t try to refute an opinion, most of those seem unfair, hyperbolic, and maybe even a little cruel. I mean… it’s a children’s show! What more could you want than a handful of simple moral tales and some light educational bits about biodiversity?

In many ways the negative reactions remind me of a similar online backlash against another children’s animation: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its spin-off Equestria Girls. Like Kemono Friends, the series’ first season attracted an ironic following of hate-watchers that exploded into a genuine subculture of mostly male adult fans (the so-called “bronies”) when many discovered that the show was actually pretty fun. However, as Friendship is Magic entered its second season and the novelty of the odd subculture began to fade, outrage brewed following the departure of season one’s popular executive producer Lauren Faust amid rumors that the IP-owner Hasbro had pressured her to resign (in Kemono Friends case, this would mirror the actual firing of season one’s fan-favorite director, Tatsuki, by the publisher Kadokawa). A polarizing third season fractured the community after the main character transformed into a princess, but then discontent achieved an absurd vehemence that degenerated into harassment against the animation production studio ahead of the release of the Equestria Girls spin-off movie (again, with parallels to the harassment against Kemono Friends’ season two studio). So much for the fandom catchphrase “love and tolerance,” huh?

Anyway, what drove the vitriol of the angriest fans? I try not to psychologize (or anymore, even read) pseudonymous online commenters, but I think much of the backlash resulted from a failure of empathy.

Continue reading “Kemono Friends 2 is plenty of fun! …and some less fun thoughts on fandom”

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 isn’t much fun

I’m always looking for visual metaphors and here it is courtesy of a common motion-blur graphics bug: if you squint, Kotor 2 looks pretty good as a low-resolution outline. But to clear eyes it’s damaged by a severe lack of polish and muddy, confusing details. And then deep beneath the surface, you can feel the pain of the unfinished product…

[First time for this blog, a game review! My brother recommended that I play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. I love my brother but… oh man I hated that game. I’ve really only written this post to explain to him why I disliked it so much, so forgive the fragmented, rambly style]

I try to avoid calling anything overrated, but the praise I see for Kotor 2 just baffles me. I can’t find a single serious negative review for it, even though it’s a buggy, broken, imbalanced mess that suffers from obvious development limitations. It has a solid enough narrative outline (but as I will explain, the actual narrative sputters) and I restored much of the content the developers cut to meet publishing deadlines with this mod. But the game still feels like such an incomplete, disjointed experience that I can’t recommend to anyone. It’s awful, or at the very least, does not hold up 15 years later.

First though, I suppose that I should address the elephant in the room early: Kotor 2 seems incomplete because it is. The publisher (Lucas Arts) pushed the developer (Obsidian Entertainment) into an early release, forcing the devs to scrap much of the work-in-progress content and rush out the remainder without much time to polish or address bugs.* But let me make this clear: I do not care about the game Kotor 2 could have been if it had completed its original production schedule. I only care about the game Kotor 2 is now, and even with support from post-release patches and fan-fixes via the Restored Content Mod, it’s still just… not much fun.

I don’t really have an argument here beyond a series of impressions on vague categories including level design, gameplay, characters, dialogue and narrative, role-playing features, and the so-called “philosophy.” Spoilers abound, but whatever, the game lacks a big twist like the original and it’s been 15 years anyway, so who cares.

* (Just a quick note on bugs because everyone will experience them differently: on my Windows 10 PC, dialogues skipped, cutscenes broke, graphics exploded, characters fell out of the map, voice lines didn’t play, framerates collapsed and I crashed over and over again across my 65 hours and 1.5 playthroughs. The game just doesn’t run well with my modern system)

Continue reading “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 isn’t much fun”

Tokyo Ghoul’s many failed allegories

[I wrote this post a whole year ago, before I even made this blog (so no pictures). It was inspired by conversations with my third-year middle school students, who have now graduated. I really liked them, so now that they are gone, I figured I might finally publish this. With that in mind, I am not necessarily reacting against Tokyo Ghoul itself, but rather against what I maybe consider immature interpretations of the series. Not that I consider immaturity bad… I love adolescent mediocrity. It’s more that Tokyo Ghoul isn’t just mediocre, it’s gross. In their exuberance for a dark setting and relatable protagonist, I worry that my teenage friends probably missed many of the ugliest oddities in Tokyo Ghoul’s thematic content.]

Tokyo Ghoul came recommended to me from a third year middle-schooler, so to be honest, I really only picked it up to win some “cool teacher” points. If I could watch the show for some surface-level understanding of the characters, I would have a great English conversation starter during lunch periods. I would ask “Who is your favorite character?” followed by huddled whispers and a reluctant “I like… iiya dare, dare… Touka is.” I would respond “Oh, Touka? Me too!” and then follow up with the worst question of all: “Why?” This time, frantic huddled whispers as five boys tried to come up with the collective answer “Touka is cool.” Then the ringleader would shout “unbariibabaru” (unbelievable, the freshest middle school meme to come out of cleaning period) and we would all laugh. 11 years of English education in a tiny rural school system, (probably) not wasted!

To my surprise though, Tokyo Ghoul had a really strong start. The proposed themes seemed so much more mature than a standard shounen flick about friendship or whatever, Kaneki and Rize’s post-mortem hybrid relationship had the potential for some interesting depth, and the middle schoolers were right: Touka was cool. For the first two or three episodes, I thought I had stumbled upon a clever, authentic show to finally put a capstone on the over-saturated market of adolescent edge-appeal fiction.

But the illusion broke. Though Tokyo Ghoul had a lot that it wanted to say, it wasn’t doing a very good job saying it. Many reviews blame the flaws in the series on a poor adaptation from the source material and for their part, my middle-schoolers told me the manga was “meccha better” (a real cross-language quote, meccha is slang that means “very” or “way,” so “way better”). To be sure, a 12 episode anime is a much more limited format than a manga or light novel with an indefinite publishing window. However, I think Tokyo Ghoul has more fundamental world-building problems that result in frequent — and often gross — contradictions of its themes.

Continue reading “Tokyo Ghoul’s many failed allegories”

Escaping time with Girls’ Last Tour: a close look at the chapter “Bath”


[This is a direct continuation of my post from last week …and maybe just an excuse to practice translating Japanese. For the purposes of this essay, I want to maintain a narrow focus on a single, critical chapter early in the series, so I’ll assume some familiarity with Girls’ Last Tour. I love it though, so I might write more later.]

Huh, I really did just need to wait a few more days for warmth. After the freezing, drizzly graduation ceremonies last week, winter and spring seem to have settled their miserable transition just in time to enjoy the vernal equinox, a public holiday in Japan. Three days ago, I had to defrost my windshield for the last time during a sub-zero morning before work. But on my way home today, the thermometer on my car hit 26 degrees Celsius while soaking up sunlight in a low-albedo asphalt parking lot …not the real outside temperature, but the automatic AC turned on! I guess winter’s finally dead then. It’s warm!

In last week’s post, I commiserated with the despairing heroine Mio from Izumi Kyoka’s short story “One Day in Spring.” Mio suffers from time consciousness. She could tolerate the misery of winter as long as she felt that she could not escape it. But when spring fluttered along and invited her to take a hopeful glimpse at a warm paradise, she could no longer bear her suffering. She treats hope like a sickness which steals away her ability to enjoy the present pleasures of the spring day while she ruminates on an uncertain future. Will she reach her paradise, and if so, when? For those last few days of winter, I felt much the same way: spring had tempted me with a little warmth, but it was still too cold now. I just had to wait, but hope made me impatient…

But now that my mood’s improved with the weather this week, I thought that I should look at a more positive portrayal of a warm paradise from the “Bath” chapter in Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou; anime episode 2; manga volume 1, chapter 3). It’s a perfect encapsulation of the whole series’ style. As the manga’s author (pen name: Tsukumizu) describes it in this interview, “[Bath] condenses the appeal of Girls’ Last Tour into one story.” The sisters Chii and Yuu travel across a frozen, post-apocalyptic wasteland, find an abandoned power station still producing hot water, and enjoy a break from their aimless journey with a nice bath.

But beyond calming effect of the simple slice-of-life adventure, Girls’ Last Tour asks light philosophical questions about how to best enjoy life. It comes to a counter-intuitive answer: abandon hope. Like Mio, Girls’ Last Tour perhaps sees hope as something more harmful than good. Hope looks to a better future, but an excessive focus on that future can limit enjoyment of the present and the ability to cope with suffering. Mio cannot suppress her anxious fretting over time and dies for it. But Girls’ Last Tour has a much more positive solution: try to stop thinking and embrace “hopelessness” (in Yuu’s words), if only for a little while. It’s an appeal to escape time consciousness and focus on the present. As Tsukumizu puts in an address to her fans: “whilst going about your day, I would like you to notice the virtues in everyday life.”

[Some quick housekeeping notes: I’ll refer to the manga for quotes as a matter of convenience, since I have the book in front of me right now. Because the anime script lifts lines almost word-for-word from the manga for the “Bath” chapter, they should have identical interpretations anyway. With that said though, I sometimes don’t like manga’s official English translation from Yen Press (I think the anime subtitles have much more subtle translations of the same lines), so I’ve produced my own as some just-for-fun language practice. It resembles both the manga and anime official translations — with some of my own colloquialisms — so I hope it will suffice.]

Continue reading “Escaping time with Girls’ Last Tour: a close look at the chapter “Bath””

Cold in March, graduation in Japan, and the problem with time consciousness

Not much snow, but even seeing it crushed me

[It’s school graduation season in Japan, so I’ve been busy with stupid, ceaseless ceremony. I’m so tired and so cold, and so tired of being cold, and so tired of being cold in rural Japan. Something low effort this week then… time is criminal.]

It snowed yesterday, on March 14, a week away from the official start of spring. It all melted by the end of the work day, but when I saw about four inches (10cm) of the real heavy, wet stuff on my car in the morning, I just about cried. I’m so tired of winter in rural Japan. I want to feel warm again; spring is so close! But now, it’s still so cold.

The feeling of futile anticipation reminded me of a passage from Izumi Kyoka’s short story “One Day in Spring.” As spoken by the despairing lover Mio:

Those people you see out there working in their fields — when fall comes they brace themselves, each doing his best to not be overwhelmed by melancholy. There’s still strength in those dispirited legs. But in spring the strength is stolen away. They float up, as if they’ve been turned into butterflies or birds. They seem anxious, don’t they?

Invited by a warm, gentle wind, the soul becomes a dandelion blossom that suddenly turns into cotton and blows away. It’s the feeling of fading into death after seeing paradise with your own eyes. Knowing its pleasure, you also understand that heaven is heartless, vulnerable, unreliable, and sad (trans. Charles Inouye).

Let’s take the point about the seasons literally for a moment: I could bear winter without complaint as long as it seemed inescapable… clearing the thick mountain snow off my car every morning, shivering in my full winter coat during class in uninsulated rural schools, fumbling with clumsy jerry cans to refill portable heaters, de-icing the shower (…and the toothpaste…) in my unheated bathroom. It was so cold. And that was fine.

Oh, but now spring is coming! I’ve gone weeks without shoveling snow. I’ve floated through class with just a jacket! I’ve felt warm air blowing in from the sky again, instead of from a kerosene burner! I don’t even need to heat my toothpaste under the water before I can squeeze it out of the tube! I’m so close to escaping the cold!

But then winter clawed me back into its freezing hell one last time with that snow on the 14th, and then a second last time with another flurry this morning. March promises me rebirth into the paradise of spring, but that stubborn winter refuses to give up its grip and just die already. I’m impatient, anxious in anticipation, tired of winter for not going… But then I resent spring too, for not coming sooner. It’s still so cold.

Continue reading “Cold in March, graduation in Japan, and the problem with time consciousness”

Where ‘A Place Further Than the Universe’ stops: a brief character analysis of Yuzuki Shiraishi

It’s ironic: when Yuzuki is forced to move in a direction she doesn’t want to go, it’s evidence that she’s stuck

[Short on time this week, so I’m leaning on floaty quotes rather than original writing. A Place Further Than the Universe is excellent, but in the same way I’ve struggled to connect with other triumphs of animation like Spirited Away, it hasn’t clicked with me somehow. Plus, Yuzuki’s far and away my favorite character in the series, perhaps making my concerns here more a matter of disappointed expectations than a genuine story misstep. And I dunno, I’m also a big fan of failure, so maybe I should take it as just another of the series’ good points]

Man, I don’t much often watch good anime anymore. I think I subconsciously avoid it, out of an odd irrational anxiety that if I consume the best too fast, I’ll run out — for good. So, between the masterpieces, I usually content myself with rank garbage …because, yuck, I seem to like it better anyway (and you never know when you’ll find a diamond in the muck!).

Given my preference for trash then, I surprised myself when I watched A Place Further than the Universe (Japanese: Sora yori mo tooi basho, apparently it’s abbreviated Yorimoi?). A friend had recommended it to me and I’ve seen nothing but praise for it online. It even made the New York Times’ list of best television shows from 2018! An anime drawing acclaim from America’s most mainstream newspaper? Probably pretty good, right?

Yes, very good. Yorimoi is excellent in just about every way. Buuut… with pessimistic me, there’s always a but. I found it a little maudlin, a bit boring. Yorimoi has a strong coming-of-age message about putting “youth in motion,” explored through an extraordinary journey to Antarctica and captured by one of the highest quality television anime productions I’ve ever seen. But! As the show’s relentless positivity ground down at my pessimism and all adversity collapsed under cathartic crying sessions in the name of f-r-i-e-n-d-s-h-i-p, I began to lose interest. Yorimoi is a startling success. But uhhh… hmm… bleh. I much prefer failure.

I hate to quote Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran again, but he’s too topical (and funny!) to ignore here: “Failure, even repeated, always seems fresh; whereas success, multiplied, loses all interest, all attraction.”

To the extent that success aspires to some fixed ideal — becoming popular or wealthy, having a respected career, achieving truth or virtue or even just simple contentment — good successes all begin to look alike. Just think about the students at Ivy League universities with their immaculate academic records, stalwart extracurricular leadership experience, and identical spiritual epiphanies earned on mission trips to Central America or wherever. Maybe good life choices, but eh… Boring! It’s youth in motion, just on a fixed path towards a stop.

By contrast, a preference for failure opens consideration to everything else life might offer. All of those students have blemishes, no matter how well they hide them in their transcripts and applications. And that makes them so much more interesting. I wrote my own not-good-enough-for-Ivy application essay on my habit of oversleeping before school while half-listening to NPR weather reports on my radio-alarm clock. It didn’t impress any admission committees, but I’m glad to have failed on my own terms rather than conceding to the proper path. Failing sidewise, where will I go? I dunno! Neat. (and… ugh. scary.)

With those thoughts in mind then, I want to focus on what I consider Yorimoi’s greatest failure: the conclusion to Yuzuki Shiraishi’s character arc. Yuzuki enters Yorimoi’s narrative as a lonely, discontent child actress trying to resist her mother’s unwelcome management of her inauthentic career …but then ends the story a passive actor, again acceding to social pressure to take a role in a drama that she doesn’t seem to want to do. Though Yuzuki finds friendship on the journey to Antarctica, in the coming-of-age story, I don’t know if she asserts her youth in the same triumphant way as Kimari, Hinata, and Shirase. Unlike the other girls, who move so fast that it becomes difficult to keep up, Yuzuki… doesn’t. Instead, by the end of the series she’s still charted on that same path towards her mother’s idea of success, into an acting career Yuzuki herself doesn’t seem to enjoy.

Ah, a failure of youth in motion, and all the more interesting in an animation that exalts movement for its own sake! Let me explain where I think Yuzuki came to a stop…

Continue reading “Where ‘A Place Further Than the Universe’ stops: a brief character analysis of Yuzuki Shiraishi”

Shichisei no Subaru review: evidence that original does not mean good, and unoriginal does not mean bad

This is just a transition card but like, yikes! Why did they choose that filter? The show itself has such a nice, light color scheme…

[I’m a big fan of funny-bad and Shichisei no Subaru comes so close. I can’t recommend it as a genuine disasterpiece, but it was so comically unpopular both within Japan and without that I could only find three other reviews of the complete series beyond basic episode impressions! So, as someone who adores bad anime, I felt that I owed Subaru a loving shake – even if I’m six months too late and don’t really love it. Also, for whatever it’s worth, I do recommend my impression post on Subaru for a more serious thematic discussion on making meaning in an online world. Here though, I’m just having a laugh.]

There’s a fun quote often attributed (without evidence) to the 18th century writer, critic, and scholar Samuel Johnson in response to some “manuscript” he had reviewed and apparently disliked. It’s apocryphal, so the wording varies with the source, but it usually goes something like this:

Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.

Heh, that’s gotta be one of the sickest burns in all of literature. Beyond the insult though, I think there’s some hidden wisdom in the wit. I often notice an unfair impulse by casual critics to take “unoriginal” as a synonym for “low quality,” especially among online fan communities looking for “objective” reasons to review bomb something. But the quip does the opposite: it observes an instance for which original does not mean good and unoriginal does not mean bad.

Of course, since that’s just a baseless claim drawn from a pithy, unauthored aphorism, I’d like illustrate the idea with an example: the summer 2018 video-game fantasy anime Shichisei no Subaru (English: Seven Senses of the Reunion).

Back when it first aired, Subaru became an easy target for mockery because it so shamelessly imports the plot and characters from AnoHana into a Sword Art Online-style video game setting. A mysterious ghost girl with blonde hair and blue eyes returned from the dead to bring her five childhood friends back together? Yep, that’s AnoHana. And a overpowered swordsman with the personality of a brick wall traipsing through a virtual reality death game? Yep, that’s Sword Art Online …and um… apparently Subaru too. I mean, just look at the two lead characters and their likely inspirations:

I jest because plenty of anime characters look alike, but then they also have near identical personalities and narrative functions sooo… As I concluded in my impression post on the series last summer, Subaru is “not exactly bad… just astoundingly unoriginal.” Mind you, it’s not good either. To add another quip to the quote, the good parts (AnoHana’s premise) aren’t original, the original parts (Subaru’s genetically determined video game skills?) aren’t good, and the other unoriginal parts (Sword Art Online’s …Kirito) aren’t much good either. But even if the series as a whole doesn’t achieve anything better than a tepid “bleh,” that mediocrity makes Shichisei no Subaru such a perfect case-study to demonstrate my point: original does not mean good and unoriginal does not mean bad.

I think I’ll take a revised “good, bad, and ugly” approach here to break down Subaru into “the unoriginal good, the unoriginal bad, and the original ugly.”

Oh, and did I miss a category for the “original good?” Nahhh, ssshhh…don’t worry about it!

Continue reading “Shichisei no Subaru review: evidence that original does not mean good, and unoriginal does not mean bad”

Embrace the Absurd: the coherent incoherence of Angels of Death’s existential allegory

[content warning: discussion of suicide in the context of fiction]

I wish for another shinjuu…

[So, as usual, I know it’s a massive stretch to compare some silly anime to “serious” philosophy but today’s theme is the Absurd, which I’ll define with Camus’ lucid simplicity in The Myth of Sisyphus: “The absurd is born of [the] confrontation between the human need [for meaning] and the unreasonable silence of the world.” For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to avoid any more philosophical jargonizing or existentialist name-dropping beyond that Camus quote. But if he’s right and there’s no meaning in the world, why am I looking for it in anime? Because I’m bored, of course. Madness.]

Oh, how to review Angels of Death?

The last time I asked that sort of question, I was looking at RErideD: Derrida who Leaps Through Time, a time-travel adventure anime that has fast become one of my favorite “just laugh” disasterpieces. Even though Derrida relies on simple sci-fi cliches, it crams so many of them into its short twelve-episode run that they collectively stop making sense. It’s a failure of over-ambition, leading to a severe lack of focus in the narrative and even plenty of “out of time and money” production problems in the sound design and animation. But for all that, I love Derrida for everything it tried to be — but couldn’t. It’s a perfectly incoherent failure, a real comedic gem.

At first glance, I hoped that Angels of Death (Japanese: Satsuriku no Tenshi) would turn out the same way. After all, it has such a perfectly ironic premise! A young girl (Rachel) who wants to die teams up with a serial killer (Zach) who refuses to let her, all while they try to escape a prison tower that wants to kill them both? I’m not big on psychological horror, but sure, sign me up. And oh ho ho… what’s that trivia? The source material is an RPG Maker game? Now that’s a mark of quality. Maybe I’d found another rough diamond…

But eh, too bad. As I crawled into the second half of the series, I couldn’t bring myself to toss the thing aside into the “good-bad” garbage bin alongside my glorious, incoherent darling Derrida. Angels is certainly confusing, but in that self-aware, winking way that tells me there’s probably more going on. After all, no one just quotes Nietzsche by accident, but Angels comes close during some climactic dialogue: “My God… is dead!” “Yeah, that’s right… [and] I killed him!” I laughed out loud at the directness of the cliche, but unlike all of Derrida’s earnest, unintended nonsense, I suspect that Angels meant it.

Despite the unsubtlety of the line though, I’ve struggled to put together much of a coherent interpretation of the series as a whole. Angels of Death resists understanding; through a heavy reliance on unreliable narrator devices like memory loss, psychological breakdown, hallucinogenic gas and a fair share of deadpan comedy (Rachel’s mewling monotone…), it’s hard to ever trust anything on the screen. Though Angels has something to say, the series quickly becomes a jumble of self-contradiction that offers little to help the viewer tease out any thematic message, let alone do the basic task of distinguishing the real from the surreal.

With that said though, I’ve been trying to apply two pieces of advice I’ve given myself on this blog: 1) to stop worrying about realism in fiction and 2) to extend a little charity to confusing writing. So, I’ve issued myself a little challenge. Can I make Angels of Death coherent?

Spoiler alert: No, not really. But as I’ve maybe already suggested, I think that might be the point. A bit like a piece out of the Theater of the Absurd, all the incoherence in Angels of Death coalesces into something tangible: it’s an existential allegory, an attempt to capture the feeling of the Absurd itself.

…aaand I’ve already lost confidence in my argument. This exercise already feels absurd with a small ‘a’, doesn’t it?

[Before I start my own post, I’d also like to give a strong recommendation for this excellent one by zeroreq011. Seeing another serious analysis of Angels’ existential themes gave me the confidence to finish my own.]

Continue reading “Embrace the Absurd: the coherent incoherence of Angels of Death’s existential allegory”

Goblin Slayer’s just like… kinda sad and boring, I guess?

[content warning: discussion of sexual assault in the context of fiction]

Ah, the visual metaphor I needed! The horse is rape, the cart is the first episode, and the desolate world is everything else. Behold the smallness of Goblin Slayer!

[It’s 2am and I can’t sleep because I already slept, all day, on a stultifying migraine. Let’s turn on the blue-light filter and see what comes from this moment of madness.]

I hate having opinions. Of course, that doesn’t to stop me from actually having them… for example, I enjoy irony because it helps me close the paradoxical loop that “hating having opinions” is itself an opinion. Oh, but that loop’s still a problem. Maybe I should revise…

No, I don’t hate opinions so much as I do thinking about them. You have to justify them, and then consider their rebuttals, and sometimes even rebut their opponents in turn. That’s hard work. Sure, maybe you don’t have to do any of that. You could just content yourself with fluttery feelings: “I like this, not that.” But that approach always seems dangerous to me. What if you need to revise an opinion, like I just did? Or what if you hurt someone’s feelings? Or worst of all, what if you reveal your ignorance, if you’re just wrong?

I think Emil Cioran gets it about right in The Trouble with Being Born:

To have opinions is inevitable, is natural; to have convictions is less so. Each time I meet someone who has convictions, I wonder what intellectual vice, what flaw has caused him to acquire such a thing. However legitimate this question, my habit of raising it spoils the pleasure of conversation for me, gives me a bad conscience, makes me hateful in my own eyes.

I have opinions; yes, it’s only natural. But except for the most serious issues, I never feel secure enough in them to approach a considered conviction. It’s not just my own waftiness either: if I fear the flaws in all of my own opinions, I distrust everyone else’s as well. How can anyone have such surety to upgrade a mere opinion to a conviction? Like Cioran says, the question becomes awkward in conversation: I can hardly criticize someone’s convictions if I can’t counter with my own, beyond the ironic one that I can barely have any to begin with. “Bad conscience” indeed…

I suppose it’s good then that I don’t have any strong opinions on Goblin Slayer. When the series first aired for the Fall 2018 anime season, it exploded into the most polarizing piece of televised fiction I’ve ever encountered. After the rape scene in episode 1, most of the people who would have disliked it bombed the series with negative first impressions before dropping it like a live grenade. That uproar left some severe survivorship bias in its wake: the complete reviews that followed offered little but glowing praise. Given the severity of the polarization surrounding the first episode and the series’ own singular focus on killing goblins, neither this world nor Goblin Slayer’s left much room for ambiguity.

But as someone with little tolerance for certainty, I never understood the hype. Goblin Slayer has little positive or negative to recommend it, even when compared to other works in its stale video-game-inspired fantasy genre. To summarize my ambivalent experience: Goblin Slayer‘s just like… kinda of sad and boring, I guess?

How can I put an even greater damper that opinion…

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