Short Story – Achelois

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This story came from an idea that was initially something else. I was trying to write a super-robot story that had a professional woman pilot, someone in the mold of Cima Garahau or Haman Karn (both, notably, villains – but both good examples of the mature, skilled and powerful woman I meant – maybe the hero equivalent is Miria Jenius), in the lead. Someone who would pilot in “sensible” clothes rather than whatever the hell the woman pilots of Godannar or Gravion wear. Someone ultimately a bit like Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, a super robot pilot who is a woman rather than the archetypal “woman robot pilot” of anime.

The initial plan was for this story to have a good chunk of robot action in it – I even sketched a robot, with a suitably silly name – 月騎士ダイルーナ (Moon Knight Dailuna) full of stock Masami Obari-inspired robot ideas like shoulder-cannons, a huge sword, missile launchers on its ankles and so on. My hero would be basically the female counterpoint to Klein Sandman, the super-cool operator and pilot from Gravion. She would be on the run from the evil empire, the equivalent to Duke Fleed from Grendizer.

When I began writing, I found it was far more interesting to explore the hero’s backstory; Achelois (pictured above) turned out to be a character who “lost” the political games that define the scheming super-robot villain hierarchy and changes sides – but whether or not this is a wholly humanitarian, Soldier of Justice style move or simply a pragmatic survival move is left vague. I have plans for writing more in this setting; on Earth, Achelois would assume a secret identity to fight her former comrades – that of a professional, competent businesswoman and socialite, someone phenomenally rich, empowered and independent. This almost felt like a satirical move; the scheming alien general who proved not quite good enough to scheme her way to the top of the evil empire instead excels in the world of corporate capitalism. Whether or not this angle remains, should I write more, is up in the air.


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Video Game Review – Splatoon (Version Reviewed: Wii U)

The idea of making a “family-friendly” arena shooting game in the mold of Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 seems counterintuitive; the draw of such games is fast-paced, “elite” gaming experiences, over-the-top explosive gore and a very macho, tournament-minded attitude. The genre itself embodies the popular perception of e-sports – spectacle, competition and a self-conscious striving for “maturity”, a world of announcers shouting “HEAD SHOT” and “KILLING SPREE” and lightning-reactions to score sniper kills while flying across the map jumping constantly. That, anyway, is the perception of the competitive arena shooter, and a perception that really clouds the wider genre. Nintendo’s Splatoon is, nevertheless, an arena shooter, which has a thriving ranked playlist, and is resolutely family-friendly and positive in its entire presentation. It is, in itself, an excellent game; on a technical level its basic shooting mechanics and movement gimmicks are superbly executed, it has a continually-updated armoury and map list (which is provided via free patches, rather than paid DLC – ensuring no fragmentation of the player base) and a solidly-made single-player campaign.

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Short Story – Contact.

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This is, I guess, the conclusion to the “first two episodes of a mecha anime” story that these pieces – The Circus in the Sky, Time to Get Up and Get It By Your Hands – tell. The stories began with a young boy witnessing a mecha battle above his hometown, helping the downed pilot – written intentionally to evoke Ledo from Suisei no Gargantia and Bernie from War in the Pocket – and joining the military to help defend his hometown. Now, as this introductory-feeling story concludes and some greater plot begins, the phony war that has preoccupied the Pillar of Heaven Army comes to an end and the enemy’s main forces are revealed. This is the part where some catalyst for the development of the story – something like Renton’s fateful dive off a cliff to help the Nirvash in the opening episodes of Eureka Seven – marks the protagonist’s journey beginning for real.

I feel like I want to write more in this setting. The drawing above is the work of an artist I encountered on the online mecha anime community /m/, intended to be a design for the Armours that this story skirts about. It absolutely nails the aesthetic I was hoping for here – a mixture of Eureka Seven, Dragonar and Reconguista in G.


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Where is “The Heroic Legend of Arslan” Going Wrong?

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Although my initial impressions of The Heroic Legend of Arslan were highly positive, enthusiastically pointing to its depiction of the crises of confidence facing an exiled heir to the throne learning the injustices the house he represents has placed its people under, this enthusiasm has waned as the series has settled into its stride. Quite why was initially hard to describe; knowing that Arslan was from the same writer as the superlative Legend of the Galactic Heroes made initial criticisms about the style, narrative voice or aesthetics seem like they were based on placing this new, unrelated series in the shadow of something known to be a standout classic of its genre. Galactic Heroes is a 110 episode minimum OVA from some decades ago, meaning it was made under a very different release pattern and era of animation to a modern-day weekly broadcast television series. Making direct comparisons between things in fundamentally different media in this way is a common misconception among writing about anime, particularly in aesthetic terms; as a result, it took some time to settle into accepting Arslan for what it is, and then in turn discussing what works and does not work within that medium.

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The Beginning of the Last Days of Rahxephon

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Much happens in episode 24 of Rahxephon; the series has built to a climax and now the final act begins in earnest. Episode 23 could be seen as, in effect, the motivating force for this climax – the destruction of the heroes’ base, the loss of a much-loved character – and now, with this episode, the events of the ending begin. Yet it is a subdued episode, a fitting and mature response to the death that defined the one before – and that if anything shows how the series has progressed since Isshiki’s removal from TERRA. The characters are given a chance to grieve for a lost comrade in their own ways, and this is shown to be important. It is a restrained – at first, anyway – response to a heroic sacrifice which sets a very different, more elegaic tone to how the episode proceeds.

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The Superhero and the Cyborg in Full Metal Alchemist

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I came comparatively late, as an anime fan, to watching Full Metal Alchemist; for a long time it had been something I was aware of as being the series about the strange robotic knight and his child companion, and I gathered it had some alternate-history elements from seeing fanworks of imperious caricatures in fancy uniforms. When I finally got around to beginning it a few months ago, choosing the remake, Brotherhood, over the original series, I was incredibly impressed with what it offered as a piece of, ultimately, superhero fiction. The setup is archetypal old-fashioned superhero origin story; two children carry out a dangerous experiment to harness forbidden power, it goes incredibly wrong and they end up changed, with the changes giving them incredible power to do good or evil. The framework may be fantasy rather than super-science, with alchemy and necromancy replacing cosmic radiation or mysterious particles, but at the heart of it the Elric brothers are old-fashioned superheroes.

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Short Story – Get It By Your Hands

The title of this story (the follow up to Time to Get Up and The Circus in the Sky) is a reference to this song, used to great effect in Eureka Seven. It picks up on a theme that I find incredibly powerful in E7 and which I feel was alluded to and squandered in Gundam Reconguista in G – the positive, idealistic drive of an ultimately immature hero that is catalysed by their growing up into something workable and valuable from something ignorant and misguided. I described in a blog post about Reconguista that its protagonist, Bellri, fought irrepressibly for the right thing without even knowing what the right thing was – and there are definite parallels there with E7‘s Renton.

At their heart, a lot of mecha anime are coming-of-age stories, using conflict to drive immature protagonists towards adulthood (even if this maturation comes as a kicking-out against conservative, “adult” values). Youthful, naive idealism is hardened into something valuable and positive; perhaps the ne plus ultra is Gurren Lagann, where the climax of the entire series serves as a recapitulation of how ultimately being able to punch harder won’t help in every situation – yet being able to take the drive to improve to the highest possible extreme is valuable. There are parallels there with Full Metal Alchemist – a story which repeatedly impresses upon the viewer that there are many, many problems that simply being good at magic can’t solve and which is entirely about the quest to atone for hubristic failure.

In this story I imagine how someone’s exposure to war might not, necessarily, turn into a desire to be a hotblooded Simon, piercing the heavens with overwhelming firepower – but instead, to maintain the above analogies, someone more like Renton trying hard to do the right thing in an unfamiliar situation.

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Short Story – Time to Get Up

This is a direct continuation of The Circus in the Sky, where I try to take the very standard opening of a mecha story I began with and take it in some direction that is more my own thing. Something not enough series really dwell on is the cold war type feeling that would come between the exciting first sneak attack (be it the Crossbone Vanguard’s attack in F91 or the ice station raid in War in the Pocket) and open war reaching whatever remote place the action begins in. War in the Pocket is a good example of this; from the excitement of an underwater raid on a secret base the action cuts to a child at school, living in a community that is aware of war but has yet to really experience it. There’s a tension – the audience knows the war is going to reach this place soon, but the people live normal lives until it does.

In this story I wonder what would happen if the defending forces didn’t simply win, but won apparently decisively; the sneak attack is driven off. Obviously the threat of retaliation or a follow-up attack exists, but morale is comparatively high. All of this is really secondary, though, to the characters at the centre of the story – a protagonist unsure if he’s really helping, and his new companion who is really in no state to comment.

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Short Story – The Circus in the Sky

I realised recently I have written an awful lot of what I would call “anti-genre” stories; stories that show my love of a genre (usually mecha) by subverting or undermining it. Stories where the limits of heroism are shown up, where the everyman hero is just an everyman or the expected relationships fall through. They are fascinating to write, but I wanted to try and write something more sincere, more loving and which shows what I really like about the genre in itself, not what I want it to be.

This is such a piece; it’s my interpretation of a scene that’s been used throughout the genre’s history from Orguss to Gargantia, from War in the Pocket to Eureka Seven. The title, as genre fans may recognise, is a reference to the Itano Circus, the signature combat choreography of Ichiro Itano.

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Short Story – The Dawning of the Age of Legends (as Recorded by the Archmage M. Ludendorff)

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This is a fairly light-hearted story, written with the above picture as inspiration. The story behind it, as there so often is whenever I write, is a serendipitous one. The picture is a response to my description of a pair of NPCs from an upcoming Dungeons and Dragons campaign I am planning – the initial idea being two apprentice mages accompanying a renowned academic on a dangerous quest. The artist interpreted my description as much younger than I envisaged and as a result I began reconsidering the initial dynamic of this sub-plot.

Thus I wrote a story about these two young girls, under the wing of a particularly harsh teacher, and it turned into a slightly silly piece about academia – an askance look at how a magic college might have been run in the past. Whether or not the Margot and Lisbet in this story will be the same Margaret Strauss and Elizabeth Regen who will be encountered by the D&D group at Iron Forest Games remains to be seen (it is highly likely the Archmage Miriel von Ludendorff alluded to below will be the same character, though).

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