Is it useful to talk about privilege in the sense of superhero narratives? Is the “us-and-them” fear of the unpowered of an apparently unelected and unaccountable elite a useful thematic line of enquiry? The idea of a majority being forced to recognise the existence of a marginalised group is a strong allegory, and using fear of the unknown and the different to highlight society’s irrational prejudices. Doubly so if the source of the power is random genetic chance. The argument perhaps becomes inverted when one is talking about self-made heroes like Batman or Iron Man; there, there is a very real case to be made for the idea of the superhero as a rich person setting themselves up as an extrajudicial force. Indeed, the arguments behind whether or not superhumans should be regulated and registered drive many narratives in interesting directions; ideas of registration as a means of control and oppression versus the opportunity to create an organisation that can work together to help each other and be supportive.
There is a lot to like about My Hero Academia‘s opening episodes; it is a series which does something interesting with superhero origin stories and ideas of passing on the mantle of hero. I like generational hero stories and the idea that a title and duty can be passed on (indeed, stories where the role of, say, Iron Man or Spiderman can be passed on to a new incumbent offer interesting avenues for characterisation). I also like that it is a story that tries to deal with the idea that being a superhero is something ubiquitous and ordinary without using it as a metaphor for social divides in the usual sense. This is not to say social commentary by means of superpowers cannot be good; it is, after all, a key theme of the X-Men, and Concrete Revolutio.
In a lot of computer games, moral choices can be reduced to personality tests; they may be interesting dilemmas, but my enduring memory of games even as enjoyable as Mass Effect and Dragon Age is the choices still led you, eventually, to a fight or not a fight and a vaguely equivalent reward. This is not inherently a bad thing, the games still had memorable character moments, and generally hold up well as stories. Even something like The Witcher 3, which does not simply fall into good/bad decisions, generally has a lot of situations where the options are bad/worse and you as a player are not quite sure what will be worse (because the people the characters interact with are irrational, bigoted or stupid). But, nevertheless, it is not for no reason that moral decisions in video games became typecast as “do a good thing for a small reward, or a bad thing for a possibly bigger reward and a fight”; idea like Mass Effect‘s Renegade and Paragon points provided clear mechanical incentives for making choices that were often empathy versus utilitarianism. Bioshock was probably the weakest example of all; there, moral choice was “do you murder someone who looks innocent for immediate fiscal reward, or spare them for a larger reward later”. Hardly an interesting dilemma and almost a purely mechanical one.
Brent Spivey’s skirmish wargame Rogue Planet plays like the much-loved Games Workshop RPG/miniatures game hybrid Inquisitor; it has similar systems of random activation counts and a focus on interactions with terrain and inventive skill use. It is different in fundamental ways mechanically, but the intent – bringing together the freer mechanics of role-playing games and the structure and campaign advancement of a miniatures skirmish game. It will not stand as a direct competitor to something like Necromunda, as the focus is not on highly granular combat and strict rules (insofar as Necromunda’s rules were strict), but it offers an attempt to emulate, as any niche wargame should, a specific kind of skirmish combat.
Your Name is a film about obsession which handles this topic in interesting and unexpected ways; it is about two peoples’ drive to, essentially, solve a mystery. To say more would necessitate discussing the film in much closer detail, and so should best be discussed below. Suffice to say, it is a film I highly recommend, and before reading this article would advise readers watch.
Note: This article discusses in close detail the plot of Your Name, and also discusses in more general terms details of the plot of Steins;Gate.
Fantastic Children is a series that like so many anime uses its opening episodes to establish mysteries to draw the viewer in; it is arguably a hallmark of good fiction to be able to open with a story in media res or laid out in such a fashion that all the pieces of the puzzle are not immediately discernable. Many anime attempt this but too often either the resolution of the mystery is inadequate payoff for the time spent reaching it, or the mystery is spun out for too long prior to its resolution, meaning the impression is given that the characters are dragging their heels needlessly. Harder still to pull off is a series that plays dramatically with the audience’s empowered position as capable of seeing sides of the story the characters cannot.
The Grey Cliff chapters of Garden of Eden were where things kicked off in all directions, where I tried to capture the excitement of meeting people, of finding new things, of everything that could happen.
For the characters it isn’t necessarily a new experience, but I wanted it to feel like even so, there were surprises.
It is relatively uncommon for a mecha anime to focus too strongly on the process of robot design and testing; test pilots are a common archetype (most iconically, perhaps, Isamu Dyson in Macross Plus), and the process of thrashing a new unit through its paces is usually a good framework for its sudden deployment in combat. This is why it is particularly interesting that 2017 saw two series ostensibly focused on robot designers, rather than professional robot pilots. I have written at some length about Atom the Beginning‘s interesting slow burn to a disarming revelation about society’s relationship with AI from the perspective of two students of engineering who build a sentient machine. It focused, in its own way, on the minutiae of being a research student. The difficulties in getting funding. The importance of always moving forward and iterating.
The ending of Atom: The Beginning is left so that further adaptation of its ongoing source material can be made; this is not the complete conclusion of the story, and knowing this context now rather sets my initial observations about the series in context (that it was taking a very laid-back and almost uninterested approach to its worldbuilding and the ethical questions raised). It is an adaptation of a small part of a longer, ongoing work. Of course it will not provide all the answers. Before moving into the meat of this consideration of the series, it is worth considering something else. I was initially perturbed, or at least surprised, to see that the series was raising and ignoring questions about machine sentience and robot ethics. It felt like a failure of science-fiction to studiously avoid taking a stand while raising allegorical and philosophical questions.
The second half of Garden of Eden is ostensibly about a race. It’s more about how just the right things at the right time can lead to new friendships and a new life.