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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A Narrative Malifaux Battle Report (44SS, Taelor vs Francois)

Week 2 of the Southend Toy Soldiers Club Malifaux campaign saw my Outcasts take on a Gremlin force, in a battle to take ownership of a large pig wandering through the board. The game was quite absurd, with both sides losing almost every model they fielded to a combination of their own misfiring guns and a cataclysmic chain reaction in the centre of the board described below…

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Video Game Review – Azure Striker Gunvolt (Version Reviewed: 3DS)

While the Mega Man franchise has seen little development since the retro-inspired Mega Man 9 and 10 released some time ago, a number of imitators and homages – including the similarly-staffed Kickstarter success Mighty No. 9 – have taken up the mantle. Azure Striker Gunvolt, finally released in Europe after a period of overseas availability, is one such successor to Mega Man. Gunvolt is quite distinct from any of the Mega Man games by virtue of its core gameplay gimmick, the “Flashfield” weapon, yet the same techniques and mechanics that have contributed to the originals’ success – intuitive level design, well-designed boss fights based on pattern recognition and situational upgrades – are all in evidence. Technically it is a largely well-executed game, but as a whole product it falls down slightly owing to a number of both fundamental and very specific flaws.

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Short Story – Gotterdammerung

Reading up on the upcoming Captain Harlock film, and thinking back over Giant Robo, an OVA I dearly love, drove me to try and write my own homage both to Leiji’s ostracised, misunderstood hero in a future beyond caring and Imagawa’s preoccupation with principles, expectation and duty set against science and scientific ethics. These are huge themes, the very substantial content that makes their respective series – the original Harlock, the excellent My Youth in Arcadia, and the similarly introspective Yamato 2199 on the one hand and the demolition of hubris that is Giant Robo on the other – so enduring.

Trying to write this made it clear I cannot match the narrative highs of either Robo or Yamato 2199. On the other hand, the imaginative impetus these inspirations give did I think create a story that serves as my response to pieces of popular culture that I rate very highly.

Note: The opening speech of this story is in equal parts derived from President John Kennedy’s speech at Rice Stadium in 1962 (used to great effect in Public Service Broadcasting‘s 2015 album The Race for Space), and Professor Vogler’s “Beautiful Night” speech from Giant Robo.

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A Narrative Malifaux Battle Report (25SS, Taelor vs Candy)

Today, my local wargaming club, Southend Toy Soldiers Club, began a Malifaux campaign, starting with small games and building up using the official Wyrd Wave 3 campaign rules.

I have entered using an Outcasts faction, and my first game was against Neverborn. In the campaign system, players do not start with a Master but instead a Henchman and a limited crew. Mine is Taelor, with support from two Ronin and Rusty Alyce.

In this first game we had an even more limited force – 25 soulstones including the Henchman. The lists were as follows:

Ray (Outcasts)

Taelor

Ronin

Ronin

3 Soulstone Cache

Paul (Neverborn)

Candy

Young Nephilim

Doppelganger (“Nursey”)

The Strategy selected was Turf War. I selected the Schemes Bodyguard (for Taelor) and Entourage. My opponent selected A Line In The Sand and Entourage. The final score was 9-7 to me, having scored maximum points for a revealed Bodyguard, 3 points for Turf War and 2 points for a revealed Entourage, versus my opponent scoring 3 points for Turf War, 1 for a revealed Line in the Sand and 3 for a revealed Entourage.

Following the game, I recruited a Freikorpsmann and drew cards for injuries. One of my Ronin gained the injury Unfocused, meaning in future games she cannot take the Focus action.

What follows is a very special kind of battle report, given that apparently a magically-empowered small child killed two highly-trained mercenaries…

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Talking About Legend of the Galactic Heroes by Talking About Arslan

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Although The Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an anime I greatly enjoy, its immense scope (110 episodes, detailing the rise and fall of immense superpowers through the lens of two men who emerge as their figureheads) makes it a challenging prospect to write about. It is not just epic in terms of its plot – epic in the sense of scale, with planets and star systems changing hands and yet also in the sense of character, talking about the rise of charismatic leaders of men with ambitions to bring down political entities centuries old – but in terms of ambition as a piece of fiction. It presents two entire ideologies embodied by its warring factions, in a sense – monarchy (and a quasi-respectable monarchy under an “enlightened” ruler at that) versus democracy (a corrupt, self-serving democracy that is no more enlightened than the monarchy it fights againt) with capital – the private sector and corporate interests represented by Phezzan – and religion, via both the spirituality of the Empire and the mysterious, destabilising Earth Cult – as third-parties who play both sides. This scale makes discussion of the series as a whole less fruitful than character studies or discussion of individual plot arcs – but these are still articles I have trouble beginning to write. More accessible is the creator of The Legend‘s, Yoshiki Tanaka’s, more recently adapted work, The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Currently two episodes into its 2015 adaptation, Arslan presents the same thematic intent as Galactic Heroes but within a different context.

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