Short Story: Episode 48 – Showdown in Space! The Heroes’ Greatest Battle!

After a number of fantasy short stories laying out the groundwork of an imagined nation’s culture, I have turned back to writing science-fiction for a change. Over Christmas, I watched Aim for the Top 2 – Diebuster, and found its handling of the super-robot genre to be unexpectedly moving and emotional – it was a huge spectacle and yet all that mattered was a few lives, a few characters who were shown to be heroes.

It was a quite impressive feat of storytelling to make a colourful visual spectacle of absurd scale feel completely immaterial compared to the lives of a few individuals and it quite inspired me to try and emulate that sense that behind the visual spectacle of the most exaggerated, over-the-top of genres, there have to be people. Thus I wrote this, unashamedly indebted to Gunbuster and Diebuster and Gurren Lagann and more. Its inspirations are obvious, but I wanted to try and see if I could bring across in my own writing what I love about them.

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Short Story – The Things That One Learns With Age

Some of the most entertaining chapters of The Pillow Book are those where Shonagon’s voice and opinions come most strongly through; it is these which inspired my newest writing. Our narrator tries to, with due respect, talk about the sorts of parties a family angling for social status might throw – but is unable to keep their own cynicism about this kind of showing-off out of it.

On the way, there are descriptions of fashion, and manners, and what someone either too cynical or too privileged to play at the usual social games feels are the good things in life. I am getting far more invested in this narrator now – they sit somewhere between Shonagon and Pliny in being perhaps over-cynical about the society they inhabit.

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“Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” Versus the Establishment

Reading Stella Gibbons’ novel “Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” from a position of ignorance of her previous work divorces it from its position in a series – preventing comparison or thematic contrast with “Cold Comfort Farm” or discussion of continuity – and considers it as a discrete text. This gives the novel’s own themes room to speak for themselves, and any continuity consideration must be implied. Taken on its own in this way, the novel is a critical depiction of modernity that does not hesitate to condemn both the artistic world and those who ignorantly criticise modern art. It is superficially an anti-intellectual novel parodying pretentious intellectuals, and similarly a criticism of anti-intellectualism. Comprised as it is of a series of lampoons of modernist and postmodernist political, philosophical and cultural thought, Gibbons’ deftness of wit disorients the reader and invites scepticism.

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Short Story: “The Village”

Having begun this series of short stories with a look at a festival at the highest levels of society, and moved through comfortable small-town life, this experiment in a fantasy setting finally reaches the farming-villages in the countryside, and the end-of-year ritual of the gathering of taxes and the royal visit.

Its inspirations – in historical and fantastical terms – are becoming more clear. There are elements of medieval Europe and Heian Japan, but it is not intended to be a direct analogue to either. What matters more, I think, than it being directly comparable to a real culture is that it feels like a credible culture in its own right, and even if the writing does not explicitly explain everything, the reader’s own understanding of cultures and how people think can let them fill in the gaps in their own way.

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Short Story: “The Union”

The short story I wrote yesterday depicting the preparations for some kind of religious festival inspired me to write more in this setting – depicting a small-town wedding ceremony from the perspective of perhaps the same laconic observer.

Fantasy theology, to me, often is too obsessed with creating a dynamic pantheon of Gods doing mighty things, of creating paladins and clerics and great Parthenon-esque temples without much consideration of everyday faith. As my writing on Eureka Seven has suggested, the difference – in a genre fiction setting where God is real – between practiced religion and philosophical, ethical religion is a very interesting one. What is more interesting to me when worldbuilding is imagining how people would live their lives, how some fictional theology would be turned into day-to-day traditions and rituals and even superstitions.

Thus turning once again to this imagined world’s practiced religion – of priests, and services, and holy observance – seemed natural.

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Short Story: “The Waiting”

Recently, I have returned to playing tabletop RPGs with great enthusiasm – the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is a quite excellent game that improves upon the previous editions. In many ways, I enjoy running a game more than actually playing in one; being the DM/GM permits me to create societies and scenarios for other people to run up against, exercising greater planned creativity than improvised actions in response to someone else’s scenario within a ruleset (for this reason, collaborative games like Fiasco and Ribbon Drive are much more fun to play for me).

As part of my running games, I enjoy creating imagined worlds and traditions. Recently, I have been reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and its first-hand view of a period of history – much like the Letters of Pliny – has proved invaluable in helping me make worlds that feel alive and credible, while my love of fantasy fiction (particularly those pseudo-historical works of Guy Gavriel Kay) is rich inspiration for the fantastical.

Thus, I wrote this, as some idea possibly for a game I may run in the future – an excerpt, perhaps, from a fantastical Pillow Book or diary in its tone. It describes someone reflecting on the last minutes of preparation for some religious festival – the details of the culture or festival did not seem important when I wrote it, those details could be filled in if I returned to the setting.

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Breathtaking Arrogance – the Downfall of Makoto Isshiki in Rahxephon 21-22

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Episodes 21 and 22 of Rahxephon form an elegaic two-part story which drives the story forward significantly; through conversation, the characters make their peace with each other and through action, the different factions – Mu, TERRA and Bahbem Foundation – each begin their master plans. The protagonists – Ayato and Quan – are almost sidelined in all of this, diminished to “actors” in their respective “directors’” plans. Quan, previously the powerful yet enigmatic figure who has driven Ayato forward, is reduced in the opening scenes of episode 21 to a sexualised object, felt around by Bahbem and told to “play” for him. The change in outfit here – to a formal black dress and lingerie as she is paraded before an old man who “inspects” her – is obviously exploitative and puts someone who has previously been not so much vulnerable and distant as clearly a victim. Ayato is outplayed by the manipulative Mamoru, the Mu infiltrator who waltzes across Nirai-Kanai mocking all he meets and taking advantage of Megumi.

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Diebuster Made Me Change How I Viewed Gunbuster

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Over time, and several viewings, I have reconsidered my attitude to the classic 1988 OVA Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. It is a well-constructed, entertaining and aesthetically spectacular piece of television, but precisely what it represents – to me, anyway – has changed as my knowledge of anime of its time has increased. Most viewers realise from the major genre shifts throughout that Gunbuster is a wide-reaching pastiche of numerous anime genres rich in visual homage, metatextual humour and made with a dear love of animation as a medium. It is a bildungsroman of sorts which uses genre and narrative scale as a way of depicting the maturation of someone who is almost a neoteny – a series that goes through the ages of anime history while its protagonist remains an eternal child.

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“Chance Encounters Change People, As Do Farewells” (Episode 42 of Eureka Seven)

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Were Eureka Seven’s 42nd episode to be the beginning of its immediate end, the setup to a resolution of the whole plot in episode 43, it would be a fitting and powerful ending. As the introduction to a longer final arc it is just as powerful, and definitely the point where for all its superficial resemblances, the series moves far away from Gundam via a damning exploration of the same themes. It is – in a series built on build-and-release moments of emotional intensity – a long-deferred moment of emotional power for every character, not simply a barometer of Renton’s maturity or Holland’s coming to terms with his past, but absolute closure for plot threads which have been running for 41 prior episodes. Emotional release – the climaxes of past arcs, the moments of revelation and resolution that have preceded this point, implies a build back up, a temporary moment of clarity from which lessons are learned and the next conflict will build on. The whole focus of episode 42 is on moving on in the most physical sense, driving forward and looking to definitively close the past off.

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Yawara and the Sporting Ideal

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Last time I wrote about Yawara, I was only a small way into the series; even now, around a fifth of the way through its 124 episodes, there is still some distance to the main “event,” the Olympic Games which every episode counts towards. If anything, the series’ pace is slow and all the stronger for it; 25 episodes is the same length as some entire animé which tell a full story, and yet Yawara is just beginning its journey. Enough time has passed to settle nicely into the characters’ roles in this story, but enough time remains (over eight hundred days – over two years of these characters’ lives to follow) to leave things incredibly open for a change in focus and plot.

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