Short Story – Wednesday

Yumi_P4

Image above is artwork from Persona 4, taken from the Shin Megami Tensei wiki.

This is a much less exciting and out-there story than most I write. Recently I have been thoroughly enjoying Persona 4, and although it inspired this writing (and indeed the picture I used above is from the game) the piece itself has little to do with the memorable plot of supernatural murders in a small town. That is, ultimately, only a small part of the game’s appeal. What I find much more interesting is the way the game plays out so many domestic sub-plots, people who are completely oblivious to the supernatural goings-on but nevertheless live lives full of worries and problems that often just need someone to confide in. It is for this reason that I chose the picture above; she is a side-character from the game that some players will never even discover or learn the story behind. There are similarities between the unnamed character I wrote about and this character above; both are actors, both are in school.

But there I think the similarities end. I simply wrote – and this story felt very easy to write – trying to draw in some of my own personal experiences. While I never specifically skipped school, when I was at university I would regularly take long walks to clear my head, and spent a lot of time when I did need to work working alone. So those personal memories are tied up with the well-crafted domestic storylines that really make the Persona games memorable in this piece of writing – an attempt to write something a lot more intimate, that does not rely on genre spectacle.

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The End. (Episode 26 of Rahxephon // Conclusions)

Any finale for Rahxephon would, after the revelations of the ending arc, be a personal rather than action-filled one. There is no sense of a war any more; humanity is annihilated and forsaken, Ayato has had his chance to embody the machine, to become the saviour of humanity, and turned away from it. It is hard to say this is turning away from a duty, because what duty did he have at this point? He is a Mulian, he has been all but rejected and used by humanity, and so it is almost inevitable he would not seek to be their saviour. So, the conflict that remains is between what remains emotionally of Ayato, what human touch he picked up in his life on Earth, and the insecurities which fuelled his sudden abandonment of Haruka and Megumi. He took action, but it was action with unknown, uncertain consequence – and now almost limitless power is in the hands of someone who does not know where he belongs or what he should do with it.

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Book Review – The Last Colony (John Scalzi)

The science-fiction author John Scalzi is currently highly regarded and popular within the science-fiction community, and, from reading his novel The Last Colony I can see why. I did not particularly rate The Last Colony myself, for reasons I will try to set out in this review, but at the same time it is by no means a bad book and as a piece of science-fiction I would not hesitate to recommend it to a fan of the genre. Scalzi is a science-fiction writer for science-fiction fans, if this novel is anything to go by; literate within the genre, aware of the pitfalls of writing science-fiction and generally able to avoid them, he writes with an enthusiastic and quite readable prose style that feels like a modern equivalent to the brisk, at times methodical prose of science-fiction greats. The Last Colony is, perhaps, as a result the epitome of the science-fiction novel – and yet as a result hard to recommend to anyone other than diehard fans looking for more solid, unremarkable science-fiction.

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How Steins;Gate Ends.

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In my first article about Steins;Gate I talked about how its protagonist, Okabe Rintaro, embodied the toxic, sociopathic social outcast and how the game’s unsympathetic depiction of him – and his ultimate exploitation and emotional (verging on physical) abuse of the woman in his life presented him as a monster of sorts, someone with the latent potential to do real harm and who is blind to how and why. His failings – human ones masked by his lack of social graces – are set against his very real power to influence others’ lives; the time-travel conceit central to the story is a fitting science-fictional one because it lets him be the master manipulator he always wanted to be. He can change lives with a suggestion, fulfilling his fantasies of being in control.

Note: This article discusses the endings of Steins;Gate in detail.

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Combination and More in Aquarion LOGOS

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It is too early in the third series of Aquarion, Aquarion LOGOS, to say if it will capitalise on its potential; the recurring issue with past seasons is that ambitious and entertaining concepts are unevenly explored. Genesis of Aquarion ran with the inherent absurdity of super-robot anime’s strangest attacks and gimmick episodes but was generally somewhat underwhelming in its execution; there are very funny and inventive episodes, yet the main plot is quite uninspired. Aquarion EVOL never quite hit the absurd heights of Genesis but was overall more consistent, its through-plot engaging and its oddities and strange gimmicks more closely tied to that story. It was an often absurd take on the super robot story as a coming-of-age story by tying it (through Genesis’ sexual redefinition of the term 合体, combine) to an obviously sexual metaphor. Mastering robot-piloting involved being able to combine with your friends without embarrassment (and the opening theme, Your Legend, made this obviously clear with its opening lines “I’ll keep embracing you again and again and again”, reminiscent of Brain Powerd‘s opening, with its chorus about a sexual dream mirroring – in a strange way – the almost romantic bonds pilot and machine form). The third series, Aquarion LOGOS, has taken a completely different approach yet one which is undeniably Aquarion in its grandiose, yet bizarre ambition.

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Stein’s;Gate and the Sociopathy of the Outsider

[AnimeRG] Steins;Gate - 02 [720p] [DushiKushi].mp4_snapshot_00.23_[2015.07.09_23.24.24]

The visual novel Stein’s;Gate, recently released in English translation, is an interesting and in-depth piece of science-fiction, with a believable and interesting take on a time-travel plot. Exploring the idea of being able to send messages to the past to try and convince people to act differently, it both avoids the usual cliches of time paradoxes by limiting the function of its time machine to very recent history and a very small scale, but also creates new questions that it seeks to answer; how can one be sure if a message had its intended effect? Yet aside from this, the real appeal of Stein’s;Gate is its central characters and how they, as people, are key to the plot unfolding as it does. It begins endearing, and rapidly turns dark without these characters particularly changing their behaviour and it is this exposure of the unpleasantness hiding within the protagonist that is more compelling than the conspiracies and science-fiction inventions he is involved with.

Note: This article contains discussion of the plot of Stein’s;Gate as well as discussion of scenes of emotional and physical abuse within the story.

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Tabletop Game Review: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Part II – Game Mechanics and Conclusion)

The first part of this review of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar explained in some detail the game’s setup, army composition and terrain rules; this second article will explain the full turn sequence (accounting for two of the four pages of game rules). As a system it aims to be simple, efficient and quick to play; it achieves all of these aims inconsistently, although there are a number of good ideas to be found within it. Conceptually the shift in focus from ranked troops and formation movement to a freer, less regimented system is not unreasonable; a number of good alternative rule sets for blocks of troops in this fashion exist, considered to be of a generally higher quality than Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle eighth edition. However, even when considered as its own thing, not as a follow-up to a previous system it does not aim to emulate, I am unconvinced that Age of Sigmar is a particularly good streamlined fantasy game.

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Tabletop Game Review: Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Part I – Launch Events, Game Concepts & Setup)

Warhammer: Age of Sigmar is effectively the ninth edition of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles ruleset by Games Workshop, one of their two flagship products (the other being Warhammer 40,000, released in its seventh edition in 2014. Released in July 2015, it marks a significant change in focus both for the game compared to other editions (dispensing with the hallmark emphasis on ranked formation and unit maneuver in favour of an open formation, skirmish-like system more comparable to GW’s previous Lord of the Rings miniatures game, or Privateer Press’ Warmachine system) and Games Workshop as a company; rather than releasing a premium-priced hardback rulebook and supplementary premium-priced army lists, Age of Sigmar offers a free online rulebook, a full ruleset printed in the weekly White Dwarf magazine and full online army lists for all factions at no cost. The entire focus of army lists has changed from these books to unit cards with vital statistics and special rules listed – a design used to great effect in Warmachine, Malifaux and numerous other games.

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“Horse and Rider Are One” in Super Robot Anime and Rahxephon

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Episode 25 of Rahxephon begins with Ayato having “become” the Rahxephon, its true form being a giant version of him with design elements of the machine itself attached. This is, one could argue, the “mid-season upgrade” of the machine, its point where its true power is unlocked for the final battle – and there is definitely a final battle at hand, with the Mu controlling earth, TERRA in ruins, Narai-Kanai destroyed and the moments of love-confession and resolution passed. Rahxephon has toyed with becoming a super-robot anime at times, but never committed; some combination of events has always subverted or prevented action catharsis. In a way this is the ultimate in the robot representing the pilot – Ayato has never been particularly comfortable in his identity or at home in this unusual world, and TERRA has never really understood what it is doing – and so the “message” being pressed home is that there cannot ever be proper catharsis. When he tries to be decisive, he misunderstands the situation. When he vacillates, people die.

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Short Story – “Thanks.”

This is a story following on from the short series of tropical-set military mecha pieces I wrote a while ago. It is, I suppose, the inevitable next part of the archetypal story progression – the protagonist has a first encounter with the military, ends up alongside them, the super-prototype or charismatic ace is introduced – and then the enemy are humanised and given a perspective character.

This is that character’s story. While talking with a friend recently the subject of conversation turned to Code Geass and the terror in the characters the Lancelot and Guren – both sides’ most powerful weapons – caused in their enemies. I liked that aspect of the series, even if its impact felt lessened by later plot developments – for those early episodes one unit with capabilities most others did not was enough to psychologically turn the tide of the battle even if it offered only a limited material advantage.

I ran with that in this story in a slightly different direction – what if, rather than the effect of a new enemy ace arriving being mad suicidal glory-seeking, it was a more defensive, evasive response? Would there be the usual protagonist-driven carnage against an enemy less interested in attacking than defending? And, what would a putative ace think about this?

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