Short Story – What’s Her Name? Lovely Chaser! [Part 1]

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Illustration kindly drawn from my request by Daniel Olsen

This is the first part of at least a two-part story. It began, as an awful lot do, with a chat online in which I asked the question “wouldn’t it be cool if?”

In this case, it was “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a story a bit like The Iron Giant and War in the Pocket, but with the relentlessly cheery child protagonists of the Braves franchise?” That and “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a robot story with a female AI as its lead robot?”

I began, probably approaching this backwards, with the robot. Lovely Chaser (intentionally a riff on Lonely Chaser, the opening theme to Galvion) was going to be the inexperienced but ambitious superhero, someone sent out to do good in the world with a very – initially – straightforward sense of justice. She would meet the usual kid archetypes, and from there things would go somewhere interesting. One thing I have been considering a lot is the urge to “deconstruct” or subvert traditionally child-friendly media with “dark” or controversial readings – infamous examples include reading Spirited Away as a film about the sex trade, for example. How do stories like Madoka, or War in the Pocket, fit into this? Why do I happily read Madoka as a relentlessly sociopathic tale that can’t let media for girls be innocent, and yet have no qualms with War in the Pocket taking the gungho world of Gundam into dark places? And how should this be applied to something as (generally) cheery as the Braves stories?

The answer I think came from approaching the matter from the other direction; looking at, specifically, the differences between the 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 and the OVA finale to the Braves franchise, GaoGaiGar FINAL. Both are, in their way, “dark” spins on beloved children’s robot shows. Tetsujin unsympathetically, unheroically, paints a post-war world where there’s little place for a straightforward hero. GaoGaiGar FINAL takes the colourful aesthetic unchanged and just adds a high body count.

So with all of this in mind I thought about what I needed to do to stop Lovely Chaser just being a “what if this happy robot show was actually dark?” affair. The answer seemed to be – to suit the tone of the inspiration materials – make it an improving story, not one setting out to vindictively punish its cast – and indeed in this story and probably not the sequels I want to avoid being mean-spirited. But there’s no shortage of implied emotional heaviness in children’s shows. The ending of Brave Police J-Decker is good precisely because it’s being sad in a traditionally funny show. It’s adversity that the heroes emerge from. Much like, in a way, how Pixar’s films reduce you to tears and then leave you feeling a bit better at the end. I don’t profess to say this is going to be as adept as Up or the Toy Story films (although those latter are themselves worth considering in how they let adults approach media about childhood in an emotional way) but I want to try and get that same sense across – Lovely, Daichi, Yuuya and Keiko are not going to have an easy time any more than Woody and Buzz, or Al and Bernie, do. But rather than this being a story of their being crushed, I want to try and make it about how they come out stronger.

That’s a lot of high-minded words, ultimately, for a story about a schoolgirl super robot. But for some reason this story – about, and inspired by, an awful lot of things I really like – needed a lot of thought to work out how to approach.


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Humanity Tested in Episode 45 of Eureka Seven

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For several episodes the secondary plot of Eureka Seven, the increasing disharmony among the Federation forces around Dewey’s increasingly extreme plans, has proved more interesting than the main plot of Renton and Eureka as the emissaries to an apparently uncaring alien intelligence. This is perhaps indicative of the series’ wider difficulties; it is a particularly existential story at its heart, an expansive narrative that plays its hand very cautiously. Renton and Eureka’s non-courtship, their development, has played out over the whole series so far and now they are left in limbo, the preparations by definition inadequate. A human story – the mad genius trying to destroy the world to prove a point – is understandable. It offers a conflict that can be comprehended and fought with guns, the sort of thing a mecha anime wants. A story of metaphysical self-discovery, of discussion of the nature of humanity and of the nature of an alien deity, is alien, conceptual science-fiction. That Eureka Seven discusses this, and gives it space to grow and develop at the pace of uneasy first love as an allegory for first contact is its virtue, and yet at the same time difficult to write about on an episode-by-episode basis.

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Privilege and Power in Rose of Versailles

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One of the key drivers of dramatic conflict in shoujo anime tends to be the clash between the privileged and underprivileged; in Aim for the Ace you have the school’s “elite” versus the perceived talentless interloper (picked up in Gunbuster and mixed with the macho world of robot piloting), in Dear Brother these themes are further explored with its setting of a very exclusive school with its own student inner circle, membership of which encourages disdain for non-members. Even something like Glass Mask, set in the world of theatre, still builds core conflicts around two things – rebellion against, and then acceptance of, an apparently unreasonable authority figure and the distinction between the right sort and wrong sort of people. The protagonist of such stories is generally one of the out-group for some reason beyond their control – a lack of money, unsupportive parents, etcetera, and the story is about their overcoming adversity to earn the respect of the in-group. It is not always this simple – Dear Brother begins in this fashion and then questions whether the “in-group” should really exist by portraying it as destructive and unpleasant – but I feel it fair to say questions of class and privilege sit centrally within a number of popular shoujo anime.

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Short Story – The Things I Learned on Genesis

This story owes an awful lot to two things. One is Tom Wolfe’s excellent book The Right Stuff, an acerbic, shocking and often brutal look into the US manned space program and jet fighter development program. It is a work of nonfiction that any fan of science-fiction, of robot anime or boys-own aviation stories like Top Gun should read. It talks about the real life analogues – to be blunt almost to the point of banality – of the most memorable figures in military science fiction. It is a book about the people whose fictional equivalents are Roy Fokker, Isamu Dyson, Bernard Monsha, and so on.

I read it and felt no military SF I had read really captured the world of the fighter ace adequately. In order to make stories in that world entertaining, the aces must be cocky and ultimately, for the most part, successful. They do not die until pathos requires it and it was that that was exploded by The Right Stuff. The military fiction mould from which military mecha anime is cut eschews – in the sorts of stories that felt most analogous to The Right Stuff – the arbitraryness with which someone’s life could end. As a result they do not, I feel, adequately capture the macho camaraderie Wolfe also highlights. The most memorable characters of stories I loved were revealed as thin facsimiles of far more fascinating historical figures.

Yet the second inspiration for this story is undeniably Macross Plus. It is still – even if it now feels hollow and empty in its characterisation – an OVA which gets across, I feel, how the world of the test pilot was presented to the world in the space age. The rebellion is sufficient to thrill but still undercut with respectability. There is a sense of nobility and responsibility as Guld is forced to come to terms with his being a bad person. I have not watched Macross Plus since reading The Right Stuff but I very much want to, because while Wolfe’s book was often brutal, unremitting in its depiction of a churn of human life that seems to a modern perspective insane and unsustainable, it was also humorous and hopeful and filled with – as one settled into its prose style – the camaraderie that made it all possible. In its bizarre scatological moments, its depictions of utter bravery in the face of death, its depictions of the constant pursuit of success, it makes the sanitised fictionalised version of events seem believable.

This story is my response to all of this – my response, in fact, to my considering what I liked about mecha anime in light of reading Wolfe. Its protagonist is introspective, trying to understand from an outsider’s perspective how others she has distanced herself from live.

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Short Story – The Countess of Anor Cathil

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For a while I have tried to find a way to interestingly lay down background information for a wargaming army and custom setting; I am always interested in the creation of narratives around such games, but too often when creating a background the focus falls simply on inventing past glories on the battlefield. A wargame requires, generally, military characters. I find it increasingly dull to simply write timelines of fictitious battles, and so in writing this – arguably the background to a tabletop army I am currently building and painting – focused more on how its leader, the ruler of a province in a fantasy nation, is perceived by her subjects.

In time, as I play games, I will most likely add lists of accomplishments to the units within the army. Until then, what would matter in a fantasy nation is the leader of men, the person who rides into battle. Establishing them as a ruler, trying to lay down why the army I am devising would fight under the flag it does, is far more interesting than trying to create exaggerated past military glories which are then in turn reduced to nothing by the vagaries of dice rolls.

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Short Story – Wednesday

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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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