Wake Up, Kriz!

I always run from anything I don’t like.”
– Miyu Okamoto, Wake Up, Girls!

Wake Up, Girls! holds nothing back in highlighting the numerous disgusting facets of the idol industry, both in real life Japan and as represented in Japanese fictional media. The girls are subjected to the gaze of their drunken male live audience. They are objectified, forced to wear skimpy clothing while dancing, serving, and receiving propositions from older, menacing salarymen who have no concept of personal boundaries. It’s a personal hell to some in the group, a necessary step for others.

For Miyu Okamoto, it’s a significant departure from her humble origins at her maid cafe, performing in front of a similar yet familiar audience. After running away from her first oggle-filled occupation , she retreats to Maid in Sendai and performs a loving rendition of “Moeyo Chaos” to her crazed Otaku supporters. She has a devoted fan base, one that would never treat her the way she had been treated at her first gig with Wake Up, Girls!.

It’s through her performance and its reception that she realizes both the rude awakening that she’s received as a budding idol, and the uncomfortable steps that she must take in order to succeed in an industry that is clearly unkind to her. She wishes to break into a business that profits off of the objectification of women like herself, where she’ll often receive recognition based on qualities that contextualize her collective gender in a negative light.

The idol industry itself is a horrible, squicky thing, as discussed by many, but in it lies a lauded sphere of eminence that many wish to grace, that figurative Centre Nova that one wishes to achieve. From the viewpoint of a fan, it is incredibly difficult at first to sort out these feelings, supporting the individual and not the industry vices that the individual wishes to avert en route to penultimate popularity. At the end of the day, we learn to acknowledge and criticize the business but root for the idols themselves who gleam at the opportunity to legitimately chase their wildest dreams.

Yet, from the viewpoint of the idol herself, she has to put up with a lot of bullshit to get to where they want, and they ultimately have to sacrifice a bit of their pride in order to make it through the opportunities presented to them, favorable or otherwise. It’s a necessary sacrifice for them, and it’s unfortunate that they have to make them at all; but it’s that sort of mental and emotional fortitude that earns the support of those who genuinely love the idol and not the problematic industry of which they are part.

While I’ve come to the same realization of supporting those who wish to chase those dreams, I’ve also come to realize the nature of my own dreams and other opportunities that have been presented to me.

Recently, I accepted an offer for a position to produce written content for a well-known League of Legends esports website. I love League of Legends and the MOBA subgenre as a whole. I’m a horrifically average player, but I love learning about the strategic depth that comes with games such as these. I could have ended up loving other games like DotA or Smite, but with League as my formative multiplayer battle experience, I’ve come to learn so much about the game and the way it’s played at the highest levels that I’ve also come to love writing about it. And now I find myself on the precipice towards something amazing: the ability to write about something I love and to develop an even wider audience for it.

However, while my first opportunity to write at this level won’t begin until a little later on, I’ve become scared about what I myself am faced with. The esports world from a social aspect is utterly deplorable at times, filled with uncomfortable amounts of sexism, racism, homophobia, and more. It’s a sphere that is even more toxic than those I’ve written in before, simply because of the myriad of problems that microagressions that I will witness throughout my experience here. It’s uncomfortable, to the point of hesitation. I get so angry at the prospect of possibly having to put up with such a  deplorable environment that, like Miyu, I find myself wanting to run away.

But here I am, in my own little garden of words, with my tiny readership consisting of those who have stuck with me from my anime blogging days, and perhaps even further back to my World of Warcraft blogging days as well. The story of my life is one of constantly drifting between places and experiences, and while writing is no different, I find myself drifting into yet another exciting phase.

Seeing Miyu in episode 2 of Wake Up, Girls! was an encouraging moment for me given the context of my own pursuit of a dream that requires meandering through a hazy path. It is through the love of her closest fans that she is given the strength to face her challenges head-on, and I can only wish to do the same. I hate the idol industry, but I love Miyu. I hate gamer culture, but I love video games, particularly watching them played at the highest level. I’m a walking contradiction, and unlike others, I’m still trying to sort myself out through all the grey. It might be a while before I become “pro-me,” but I’m glad that I have the support network that I have. They give me the encouragement to continue to find myself through my writing, and the courage to take on the opportunity that not many are ever given.

I’m excited to see what you can do with Wake Up, Girls!”

“Leave this place and make it big!”

“We’ll support you even more!”

In her meagre maid cafe in Sendai, Miyu loves her audience, and the audience loves her back. If you read this blog, or have read any of my other previous ones, you have essentially been an audience for myself. I’m thankful to have you, and I can’t wait to show you what I can do with the new opportunities that I have, even if it means I’ll have to put up with a lot of disgusting bullshit. It’s because of you that I keep reaching for the stars; I promise that I won’t let you down!

Planetes is Life…In Space.

At first, I was a bit hesitant to participate in the Reverse Thieves secret Santa project, but along with the 12 Days of Anime, Secret Santa has always been an aspect of the blogosphere that I really enjoyed both from a reading and writing aspect. In the end, I couldn’t really get away from this exchange, so I decided to join this year as well. I was given a choice from three shows: Planetes, Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team, and Simoun. I ended up watching Planetes. Actually, I’m still watching it as I type this review out. I’m on episode 14, and regardless of what happens by the end of the series, I’m confident that my impression of the show won’t change.

Everything is better in space. It’s a strange little cultural moniker, to add “in space” to the end of any sort of title, yet the novelty of space reinforces the notion into a sort of hard and fast rule. For me, what I love so much about settings in space, science fiction, and genre fiction as a whole, is that no matter how novel a setting or circumstance is, a wonderful story or idea can still be conveyed that allows for people to connect, even though they might not know what it’s exactly like to be in that given circumstance.

What makes Planetes particularly amazing is how it makes this moniker so apparent. This is very much an “X in Space,” but what that X is differs from person to person. It’s environmentalism. It’s romance. It’s diversity. It’s capitalism. It’s everything at once.

And for me, it’s work, and I love Planetes so much because of it. I’ve written before about Space Brothers, and about the career trajectories of their characters. With Planetes, we’re treated to almost the exact same thing, but with a larger, more diverse cast of characters instead of an in-depth look at a singular character like Serika Itou. Amongst the staff of the Debris Section, we’re treated to people in a wide variety of places in life and in their careers; Ai Tanabe is the fledgling rookie and wonderful female protagonist; Hachimaki Hoshino is the reckless dreamer, stuck in the mire of the office environment; Fee Charmichael is the strong, capable manager, steadfast in maintaining a lower position because of her passion for her work; Claire Rondo is the driven career girl, fighting hard against cultural prejudice and patriarchy in the corporate ladder; Edelgard Rivera is the temp worker working to keep her life together after escaping her dark past. There are others as well, just as unique and fleshed out as the rest. No single character is wasted, and what we see from this picture is that of an entire career spectrum.

It reminds me of my own job right now, one that I’ve been working hard at for the years since I wrote about Space Brothers. Watching this show at this point in my life makes me feel even better about where I’m headed. I was once at the cusp, but have since turned the corner and have a whole universe to explore. I have a whole staff of coworkers who span the same sort of career spectrum as those from the Debris Section. It hits so fantastically close to home, but it’s set in space, so that automatically makes everything better.

Happy holidays, and have a happy new year.

#1 Everybody Loves Somebody

Sometimes the simple rhythm of typing gets us from page one to page two. When you begin to feel your own words, start typing them.” – William Forrester, Finding Forrester

Frequently, change happens slowly and without notice. We wake up every day to the same routine, convincing ourselves that nothing has changed, or will. It’s incredibly easy to settle in to doing the same thing repeatedly, never pushing forward, unwittingly passing up opportunities that present themselves daily.

When one is stalled, it is difficult to recognize a change in one’s self, but it takes that one single moment to realize that change is inevitable, or in my case, that change has already happened, and all that is left is the emergence of someone different, someone who you may not like, or if you’re lucky, someone who you always wanted to become. Regardless of outcome, it’s important to recognize the change in yourself and the feelings that come with it, lest others discover it before you do.

I have no idea when when that kind of change happened to me, but it was when I watched episode 9 of Tamako Market that I realized that I was in love. It’s in this episode of the series that we begin to see more clearly the feelings of a number of characters in the story. In a conversation between Naoko Yamada and Reiko Yoshida, the show’s director and series composer, respectively, their thoughts on love and how they wanted it to be portrayed centralized around Tamako, a girl who showered with love by everyone in the shopping district, as well as her father, Dai. Tamako lies at the center of a complex, yet understandably resonant web of relationships between people who, by the very nature of knowing each other and Tamako, are capable of loving each other:

Perhaps it would be better to say she’s a symbol of everyone’s happiness or perhaps she opens doors for people. Even though she’s supposed to open doors for them, she’s supposed to have a lot of problems. She makes resolutions to open those doors for others. I wanted to convey that through her conversations with the others in the shopping district.” – Naoko Yamada, director

As we come to know Tamako as the treasure of Usagiyama, she remains a catalyst for others to realize their feelings. What makes this show adept at making these feelings resonant to its audience is how gradual these revelations are exposed for some, and how sudden they are for others. For Dai, his love for Tamako and his late wife, Hinako, has always been present. For the former, it is much more apparent to the audience, usually played for laughs with his hot and cold tsundere act towards his daughter; for the latter, however, it’s something that lies a little bit deeper in the story. It isn’t something that had changed throughout the series, but has always been, hidden in the melody that Tamako spends most of the series trying to identify.

In episode 9, those feelings  rise to the surface and figuratively erupt in a series of flashbacks, pushed along by Tamako’s “accidental” discovery of the song’s origin. She overhears his wistful singing and slowly strummed chords on an acoustic guitar she probably never knew existed. Upon that fateful discovery, that Eureka moment, she drags her father to the record store, triggering the penultimate flashback of his performance with his band, Dynamite Beans: an expression of his love for the person who meant so much to him in life, and still means so much to him after death. By reluctantly sharing those memories with Tamako and Anko, he extends that love to them as well. He has always meant to do so, but it took a little, albeit accidental push for him to get there.

It’s kind of funny, how the tiniest unintended coincidence can spark such a significant torrent of change. It’s even more funny to not even realize this change until years later.

I have always considered myself a romantic, but have come to accept the fact that, due to my “unique” personality and unconventional choice of hobbies and interests, I wasn’t the “right kind” of romantic for most women; I even conceded that I wouldn’t be an ideal partner for the vast majority of them. The compatibility requirements for someone to not just accept me for who I am, but to also appreciate and support it, left me thinking that the odds of finding someone, anyone, who could fit that particular mold would be so rare that it would be a futile effort to actively try and search for her.

And thus, instead of going on that obsessive search, I wrote and reflected about that hypothetical search instead, which was perhaps just as obsessive (if not more). I reflected on matters of the heart, but mostly matters regarding my own heart. By writing about Serika Itou, I reflected on where I was in life, and how I longed for someone on the same cusp as me, or at least on the other side of it. By writing about Katawa Shoujo, I reflected on the weight of gesture, and that I could appreciate someone who was kind and thoughtful enough to appreciate the value of the time we’d spend with each other, regardless of circumstance. By writing about Yuki Nagato, I reflected on the idea of a person who could love me from the sidelines, silently supportive and who could communicate her feelings to me without having to say it directly.

By writing about iDOLM@STER girls, the penultimate romantic self-assessment, I reflected wholeheartedly about my ideal partner; it was a journey of deep introspection and discovery, albeit experimental and hypothetical in nature, and I learned many things about myself and the kind of person with whom I wanted to fall in love.

As I watched Tamako Market, I realized that the feelings born from my introspective writing had been building up underneath for the longest time and became what they were, and just like Dai, they revealed themselves unto me in a volley of emotions from the show that I had come to identify with so closely. Throughout, I had been subjected to nearly every single kind of love: first love, unrequited love, love that moves on, love for friends, love for family, love ephemeral, love eternal. Somehow, I had connected to every single loving feeling in this show, and it allowed me to contextualize the love that was within myself, from which I discovered I was capable of sharing it with others, namely one person:

She would be loving and supportive of your writing endeavors, able to cheer you back up should you ever fall into a funk or suffer from extreme writer’s block. Not only is her positive attitude seemingly inexhaustible, but you both value family.

Underneath her dreaminess I think lies a very loyal and loving person, who is also very whimsical and humorous. She would take most everything in stride and laugh at all of your puns.”

For someone who had previously commended my honest self-assessment, this ideal partner that she painted out was a lot closer to me in real life than I had imagined, far closer than any idol, astronaut, or humanoid interface ever could be; it took several years of friendship and a series of her own sudden changes for her to become that very person she had described. Before I afforded myself the opportunity to reveal my love for her upon my late, late realization of this development, I would instead share a moment watching an episode of Tamako Market with her instead.

I had no idea why I had extended such an invitation so late that Thursday night in March of this year; somehow I should have known that sharing an anime experience such as Tamako Market would have led to something significant happening. One could say that invitation was sent on a whim, by chance, by accident. But as episode 9 so easily showed, such accidental occurrences could make all the difference.

No, it wasn’t a climactic and dramatic gesture that had set this entire event in motion, it was something that had been there, hidden, and revealed so gradually, yet at the same time even suddenly. It was like that of the emotions of love revealed and expressed in the show that we had watched; it was the show’s ultimate resonance that had caused the appropriate outburst and response. The rest, one would say, is history.

And thus I bring myself back to the original quote that I used to open this post. Whenever I find myself in a writing slump, I always turn to my favourite film of all time, Finding Forrester. In its iconic scene where Jamal Wallace learns to write and to love writing, he starts with words from the person he eventually comes to admire the most, and quickly fills in the rest with his own. For the Twelve Days of Anime, this particular installment was the most difficult to write, not so much in terms of gathering the courage to express what I wanted to say, but rather to take the next step in my writing. As such, I followed in Jamal’s footsteps and started with a piece I loved, and let my words take over once I felt comfortable.

All this time, I’ve been writing about finding that person, but what now? I should feel confused and lost, but all I know is that, like Jamal, I am also inspired the wonderful words of those that came before me. If it weren’t for that wonderful post that was so honestly written, this one would not exist today, and I am as thankful for that as I am for Tamako Market itself. And while I will continue to write, it will no longer be about finding that person; it will be entirely about myself and for the purpose of sharing my love for writing with those who mean the world to me: family, friends, future fans and a fervent fiancée.

Everybody loves somebody. With time, Everybody eventually loves somebody, just as I have with her. And I couldn’t be happier.

#2: Taking the Next Step with Touch

Touch is the kind of show that’s often glossed over and ignored because of its episode length. It’s a perfectly understandable assessment, as not everyone has the sort of time to commit to a show like that. For someone like me who often likes to experience stories at once, I like the marathon approach simply because of the immediacy of story; characters change over time, and seeing them do so within a short timeframe allows me to take a closer look at the big picture, rather than pay attention to the minute-to-minute minutiae of whether or not changes, or how they do if at all.

On the flip side, however, I really enjoy shows that take their sweet time at making incremental changes to a person. For stories that span a year or more, it allows me to slowly digest the manner in which a person grows throughout their story arc, and the best subset of stories that employ this particular quality is that of the sports/competition narrative. I watched shows like Chihayafuru, whose second season aired in 2013 and brought the episode count to that magic yearlong; like Aikatsu, whose second year of episodic continuity has only recently started and continues to slowly bring about change in its cast in the most wonderful ways; I’ve come to enjoy these particular shows the most, as the gradual pace the story allows us to grow old with the characters themselves.

The best thing about Touch is how the show’s length essentially forces me to take my time with this show, to see the change of Tatsuya Uesugi and paint a picture of the developmental curve that he undergoes as a function of the influences of certain presences in his life, namely those of his twin brother Kazuya, his childhood friend and love interest Minami Asakura, and his friend and mentor (frientor?) Shohei Harada.

Yet, despite how apparent his developmental influences are in his life throughout the story, none of them are more mysterious to me than that of his underclassman, Takeshi Yoshida. Watching the resolution of his arc, if you really want to call it that, I’ve come to truly accept the reality of his situation. While you can probably read into his character as a sort of contrived foil for Tatsuya in the absence of his brother and the not-yet-arrival of Akio Nitta that fills in the gap in between important events like the heavily emphasized Koshien tournaments and qualifiers. Yoshida’s presence is convenient, but feels all too real at the same time because of how jarring his development is compared to Tatsuya’s.

Unlike Tatsuya, who spends the entire series going at his own gradual pace to improve, Yoshida takes an even more interesting curve, initially appearing as a non-threat to Tatsuya’s title of Ace Pitcher; in life, as well as on the field, Yoshida seemingly settles for less, and is perfectly content with idolizing from afar and developing by himself in order to chase his internalized, yet somewhat detached ideals. It’s at the point where Yoshida realizes that he is actually capable of earning that position over Tatsuya — having accelerated incredibly, yet convincingly in his development — that he makes a conscious push to compete with him.

What makes me so fascinated about this sudden change in attitude is how it completely goes against the slow pace that Touch has given with Tatsuya’s development as a pitcher; in fact, that juxtaposition makes such a great statement in regards to real life. Everyone and everything develops at their own pace, and is never suited to fit that of someone who wants to progress in something, whether it’s becoming a kaibutsu or whatever one’s career may be.

This is quite amazing, because those moments are inevitable for one’s development in anything. Even Tatsuya needed that one moment in that series to push him in the direction that he’s headed at the time of me writing this (I’m only halfway through). While life is fraught with plateaus that people hopelessly stare at and struggle against for long, agonizing periods of time, it only takes a single moment for someone to simply see the way through and take the next step and blast off from there.

My life, as difficult as it is for me to admit this, is nothing but turning the corner, making it over those cusps that punctuate the end of arduous streaks of boredom and/or frustration. This entire year for me has nothing but an experience in going past a particular cusp of my life, separating that of uncertainty and not knowing what my future holds for me, and suddenly knowing what you want to do, or making a random discover about something you really love.

It’s that realization that something is so important to you that you simply cannot go back to stagnancy. Once the way is opened, you have no choice but to keep plowing and see the opportunities that are available as a result of that single development. For music, that moment was a quiet night in my room in a high-rise in a Toronto suburb, and I had played Nirvana’s Polly on the guitar and sang along to it. For anime, that moment was when Naota swung his guitar at the satellite in FLCL. For relationships, well, I’ll save that one for tomorrow.

The idea here is that there’s nowhere else to go but up once that corner has been turned, and somehow, to hideously stifle Yoshida’s moment by putting him on the bus and having him never return. What really frustrates me the most about this is that Touch, as a result, communicates favor of slow and steady development over punctuated, yet rapid changes; through Yoshida’s removal from the cast, the show feels like it’s dismissing the viability of that approach altogether. From a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t fit the show’s intended length and the pace that it’s trying to deliberate, but to portray both at odds with each other is something that could have been amazing for me to watch as someone who identifies much more strongly with the latter camp. I certainly wouldn’t have minded if Tatsuya won in that respect; to not even give an opportunity for Yoshida to lose to him prevents this show from truly speaking to me. It was getting there, but somehow never arrived at all.

That isn’t to say I don’t love Touch. It’s fantastic in what it does, and I can still love something that I don’t necessarily resonate with. I’m just glad that I was able to identify this moment in the show and think to myself that I don’t need a story to tell me how I should live my life; my life is its own story, even if it’s one that will never be suitable for anime, no matter how many or how few episodes it takes to tell it. I’m my own person, and I’ve recently turned the corner and can see plenty of opportunities for myself going forward.

I’m simply glad that Touch has been there for each moment along the way.

#3 I Still Love PreCure.

2013 was a very interesting year for me and my PreCure fandom. At this time last year, I did 12 Days of PreCure, and there were plenty of moments in Smile PreCure! that warranted a list by itself, and it provided a nice bit of momentum heading into the new year with things to blog about leading up to Smile’s finale. This year’s installment, Dokidoki PreCure! was an interesting follow-up to Smile, which, even though it was a lot more unevenly presented compared to other shows, still managed to keep me watching and interested in the franchise as the fan that I am.

Where PreCure fit with my life this year was quite interesting. It took to the backburner a little bit because of the sudden changes in my life, but it wasn’t too far off from my normal cycle of interest in a yearlong show. Even with smile, which I did watch from week to week, was the first show that kept me interested enough to write about it from week to week, and while it took some getting used to, I managed to write a fair amount, in a way that hopefully reflected my overall enthusiasm as both a PreCure fan and as a writer.

For completely unrelated reasons, I stopped writing about both shows partway in; I lasted longer with Dokidoki than I did with Smile, which I feel is an indicator of how far I’ve come in both fandom and writing respects. I feel fortunate to have been the PreCure guy/resource/whatever in the anime blogosphere, but with all of that behind me, I feel that there’s still a bit of fandom and writing interest left in me to maintain the site. Part of it is also due to laziness in paying bills related to maintaining the hosting services and the website name itself. I did a lot of great things and learned a lot with switching to CureBlogger, and even though I, for the most part, moved on to blogging mostly about PreCure, the burnout took its toll when Dokidoki itself went through its own slog.

It’s very easy to lose interest in writing about a show when the show itself doesn’t offer a lot, and makes a lot of mistakes. It reminds me a lot of sports bloggers who blog or write about a single team that doesn’t show much promise in being competitive in its league. Being a Leafs and Raptors fan is very difficult, and to write about Toronto sports teams when they’re perennial disappointments (save for that heart-breaking series with the Bruins last year, which still counted as one for the most part) takes a lot of dedication when times are rough.

I took my cue from those writers who clearly showed their passion just by sticking around and talking about things, because it’s not like those teams aren’t really doing anything, per se. And as far as PreCure is concerned, Dokidoki isn’t actually that bad. I thought Suite had a lot of problems as well, and it turned out to be strictly average; yet, there was something remarkably unique about it that would make it someone’s favourite. That’s the really cool thing about PreCure that I love that I can’t really see with Macross.

There’s enough to write about and catch up with specific shows, and even with the new HappinessCharge PreCure! that was revealed in October, there will always be things to talk about with PreCures  past, present and future. I’ll always be around to watch and write about it, and I look forward to working on CureBlogger. I have a lot of interesting ideas that I want to try out, particularly with regards to Heartcatch, but that will have to wait until after the new year.

Above all, however, the defining moment of PreCure fandom for me in 2013 occurred during Anime North, when I headed up a panel by myself to talk about the Pretty Cure franchise, as well as taking part as a panelist for a panel about yuri in Magical Girl anime. I had a fantastic looking slideshow, and even though the audience itself wasn’t nearly as, um, present, as other panels that I did, I still enjoyed talking about it quite a bit, and managed to keep the attention of whoever was in the crowd. I did appreciate having a few of my friends from the anime blogosphere in the crowd, and they certainly added to the experience as well.

For a while, I also experimented with a bit of tumblr as well, but I just couldn’t really get myself to commit to the microblogging medium. Posting pixiv links was great and all, but I wanted to write about PreCure; mini-posts about the franchise were regretfully hosted on tumblr instead of CureBlogger; just because the content wasn’t as in-depth as some of my episodic posts shouldn’t have meant that it didn’t belong; writing about PreCure was still writing about PreCure, and I definitely should have interspersed those in between posts about whatever most recent episode aired.

I still want to watch and write about PreCure; that much is certain. To what extent I will end up writing about the rest of Dokidoki remains up in the air, but at the very least, I don’t want to give up on the things that I love. I owe the franchise that much, at the very least. With my little mini-marathon to catch up with the show today, I feel that I’ve come to really love Dokidoki in its own way, much more differently than the others. It’s a beautiful mess, and ridiculously entertaining.

Oh, and the ending. I totally called it, months before Cure Ace even showed up. I like PreCure way too much to not be able to see it coming. I’m really pleased with how the show is going to turn out, and it makes perfect sense. It’s the best the show can do to clean up its multitude of story details, and I can’t help but grin smugly at my personal enthusiasm about the show. All that’s left is for me to sit back and enjoy the chaos in how all of that is going to unfold.

#4 Gatchaman Floods

It takes a lot of courage to be a hero. It’s the element of escapism in fiction that allows the audience to take danger for granted, and even when the repercussions of a hero’s failure lead to tragic results, the tragedy is commonly presented in a dramatic way, and doesn’t convey a sense of dread or darkness that reminds people of their mortality.

I live in a condos 26 storeys up, deep in the heart of Toronto. The weather is hardly ever as extreme as that portrayed by other parts of Canada; we’re never too cold, too hot, or anywhere in between. Springs  and autumns last for only a few days each year. We never get struck by hurricanes or tornadoes, but storms that pass by here are so finicky and come out of nowhere that citizens are often, if not always unprepared for the dangers that may occur. Everyday conveniences necessary for life become life-threatening. When those circumstances arise, who are the heroes? What do they do, and what does it take to become one?

What fascinates me about the near-futurism of Gatchaman Crowds is how the GALAX system’s social network requests the abilities of everyday people to provide service to those in need in unexpected situations. The hero’s call, as commonly known and extensively studied in literature, is made almost mundane, that anyone with the right skill sets can rise to the occasion and become someone’s or even an entire city’s saviour. While this concept is explored to an intriguing extent, the context of GALAX’s existence being in a genre series puts a sort of dramatic lens on the possibilities.

Crowds was a strange series for me to watch, as the context of my experience of this show was once again unique to the circumstances in which I lived. Episodes 5 and 6 involved a tunnel collapse, and occurred almost exactly a month after the flooding that occurred in the Greater Toronto Area. Stuck in a tunnel with her other GALAX offline buddies, Hajime jumped at a call that never came to her. She simply burst out from her bus and led the effort to assist those stuck in the tunnel, in cars, and elsewhere. The other citizens, glued to their smartphones, heeded to light, yet monotone instructions from X:

More than twenty vehicles and approximately sixty people are trapped in the debris. Their rescue is a priority, but there is a risk of fire. Please move with caution. Please evacuate children and the elderly from the accident site first.

A young woman clings to her phone, somewhat startled by the sudden alert that she receives during the commotion:

Please take advantage of your skills as a nurse. Your skills are needed right now.

Everyone not trapped in a care look up from their phones at the wreckage ahead, and they nod in unison. They all answer the call, potentially unaware of the risks involved in mobilizing within a dangerous, enclosed location. They are moments away from falling debris, automobile explosions, gas leaks, electrical fires, and whatever else. They charge forward and try to help.

I applaud the people in the tunnel at the end of Episode 5 of Gatchaman Crowds, and I appreciate the courage that they collectively gather. Two men pry open the door of a crushed car with crowbars, freeing a woman and her crying baby; yet, the moment is temporarily lost on me when Rui comes in with the Crowds and supposedly, heroically, cleans house in the tunnel. Fallen debris is carried away as if they are styrofoam; sliding doors are ripped away from their vehicles like they’re nothing; rescuees fall neatly into enlarged hands and lowered down to the ground with nary an injury. There’s even an action movie-esque “run away from explosion” moment thrown in for good measure that completely removes me from the urgency of the disaster. I’m watching a superhero show again, and there aren’t any heroes in sight.

It’s in episode 6, and Utsutsu’s realization of the limits of her powers and resulting feelings of helplessness that clinches the reality of the situation. She reaches out towards those who she wants to give her life force to, but can’t break past Joe’s grasp on her. Her normally melancholic demeanour is pushed to its furthest when she realizes that she wants to help, but can’t. I see her defeated, green eyes widen as a wave of panic washes over her. She desperately fights to break free from Joe, but he pulls her back. While they eventually work together to save those who were injured in the explosion, it’s that moment of sheer helplessness, and the feeling of absolute defeat that weighed so heavily on me, not too far removed from my own tunnel-like experience.

I was eating dinner at the concourse level of my condominium, one floor underground. I bought a half-chicken and mixed vegetables meal at the concourse grocery store, and the flooding waters seeped in through the elevators nearby. Trickling eventually gave way to a full downpour; the doors of the elevators that I normally take on the way back to my building were shut tight and without power, and the lobby area resembled that of a fountain exhibit at a modern art museum.

There was no other way out but up. A number of Longo’s grocery store staff approached a group of us who sat and ate in blacked out tables. Among us was an elderly lady with a walker, who would require store assistance to navigate through our only means of evacuating the building, an unpowered escalator on the other side of the elevator area. I abandoned my food and made my way through, but noticed the crowd forming around the elevator. Several of the grocery store staff stood in front of the jammed doors, yelling through the crashing water.

“Can you hear us? We’re employees from Longo’s, and we’re doing everything in our power to get you out of there. Please stay calm. Please do not panic.”

As more people gathered, the shouts of assurance filled with a tinge of panic in the staff’s voices. It was like they were saying this to whoever was stuck in there in order to calm themselves down instead. I was mortified. I had my smartphone, and couldn’t do anything with it. There was no call to heroism. There was a desperate person, or possibly people, stuck in that elevator, drenched with unfathomably cold floodwater. There was no X to tell us who was stuck inside, and internal temperature of the elevator due to the flooding. What if there were children there? What if they were claustrophobic? I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t.

I stood there, dialing 911, and unable to get into contact with anyone who could possibly help. More staff came by with anything that they could find to pry the door open. They smashed garbage cans at the door. They pried away with a crowbar to no avail. Every clang of impact of metal against metal ringed out to my ears, and the only thing I knew was that the sound was a thousandfold louder for whoever was inside.

There was nothing that anyone could do to save whoever was trapped inside, yet, there were other people who needed “saving” as well, those standing around, watching in abject horror. I learned a little bit about how one can be courageous that day. Those who stay calm during panic, and are able to calm down those affected, are also worthy of praise and acknowledgement that the strongest and most agile people are often due. I saw other staffers attending to children who sat at the tables, keeping them occupied while the scene played out. One wonderful woman, who I’ve visited nearly every single morning on my way to work, kept conversation with the old lady with the walker, talking about the Leafs, and how heartbreaking their playoffs were earlier this spring.

For me, my personal hero was one very woman who lived in my condo, a few floors up from my unit. Some time after the scene in the concourse grocery store, I went back to my condo lobby to discover that emergency power had been restored to one of the elevators not affected by the flooding. I was invited to her unit after I had made it apparent to her that I was stressed out about the whole ordeal. I was still worried, and all she did was show kindness and hospitality, even though I lived in the same building as her. She shared a glass of champagne with me, and gave me the rest of the bottle to finish off at home while I wrote. She even gave me another bottle of white wine to boot. She said I would have been able to use it more than her.

I took the stairs back down to my condo unit, and returned to a pitch-black room. I was without power, and my phone was out of battery, so I couldn’t even contact my fiancée (who was still my girlfriend at the time) to tell her I was alright. I overheard conversation that the flood had hit hard elsewhere in the Toronto area; my mom, who commutes back and forth to work every day, was stuck on her train for four hours, and I couldn’t call her either and check if she was alright. All I had was a flashlight, a notebook, and a bottle of champagne, given to me out of solidarity. So I wrote and drank until the power went back up, thankful that I was safe, and that others I knew were safe as well.

“Hero” is an interesting label to give someone, and while the qualities that are often shown in fictional media emphasize physical prowess, not as much attention is paid to emotional prowess. Courage is such a default trait that it easily loses meaning in the portrayals of the genre’s protagonists. I’m happy that Gatchaman Crowds is capable of showing glimpses of that sort of thing through its dynamic and reasonably resonant cast of characters, as well as its usage of GALAX to turn people who we’d otherwise pass by on the street into people who matter. Because the show shuns the super- in lieu of everyday-heroism, we are shown that the tiniest of gestures can have the strongest emotional impacts on people during dangerous circumstances.

While that bottle of champagne was emptied out quickly as I wrote, I still have that bottle of white wine sitting unopened in my fridge, and I’m going share it with my fiancée the next time she comes up to visit. As for that kind woman, I kept in mind her unit number, and left a note for her later in the week, thanking her from the bottom of my heart, and for helping me stay calm during an emotionally difficult situation. I am forever grateful for what she did that day. There were probably a number of people in Toronto who became someone’s hero; to me, she was one of them.

#5 The Sound of Gravity

Music always pushes me to keep writing, whether it’s in the form of background music that I use to create a writing atmosphere, or experiencing a concert performance that spurs me to capture every moment into words. Despite my long history with the art, I have always considered myself to be incapable of describing and putting music into words. Long have I always wanted to write stories pertaining to music, like one particular plot idea that I’ve had in my head since university; a piano prodigy falls in and out of love with the same girl throughout the course of his life, and fate somehow brings them back together throughout the course of their lives through Fantasie Impromptu, a piano composition written by Frederic Chopin. Back then, having a particular story about love that I wanted to put into words, I tried to marry the literary genre with which I was most comfortable writing with that of music, but I could never really accurately describe the melody of a piano when Fantasie played, and distinguish how it sounds from another piece, like Revolutionary Étude.

Writing about music eluded me, and it was completely the fault of my own. Several other writers, whether they be music critics or novelists themselves, who have proven capable of describing music with words, have been a considerable reading outlet for myself over the course of my hobby, but I always thought that my understanding of what they wrote was based on my own knowledge of the music being described. Because I already know what a song sounds like in regards to its melody and timbre, it’s a bit easier to imagine in my head, and how it could be translated into literary visual. It’s a bit strange to concede to the notion that music is much more easily communicated when presented with a visual accompaniment. I admire that Yoko Kanno’s concert at Otakon 2013, Piano Me, played off of this concession in order to reach a wider audience. It was an amazing performance to take in with all senses; I can still smell the windex wafting from the nearby washroom while I stood, waiting in line for the concert hours before.

I’ve written about this experience in the past, and reading that post again, as well as the tiny white moleskine covered with Piano Me stickers where I kept my notes of that concert, I feel like I’ve come a long way since the day I wrote about it, but not so much in regards to my writing. Writing is something that I’ll always do in some capacity, but in regards to how I’ve come to terms with that experience and how my memory of the event has served me. I wrote all of it immediately as soon as I came home from Baltimore, and there’s a bit of me that wishes that my memory of the event is the same now as it was back then. Unfortunately, time whittles away even the sharpest of minds, which is why I resolve myself to write down as much as I can the experiences that I want to keep with me. Words are forever, and even when the memories are gone, I can still go back to what I wrote before and be brought back instantly, not to the place itself, but rather my own feelings and emotions surrounding what had happened.

Because of this, I worry about my ability to write about and describe music the way I remember it in my head. I can recall sounds (music, in particular) better than any other sensation, which is probably the reason why I never really “needed” to learn how to describe music; however, sharing such experiences with others is a different thing, and I worry about that point in the future when even my recollection of sounds begins to erode. What will my writings tell me then? I’m a bit scared of it, but all I can do is try. Which is why I will try to write down what I can remember hearing from Otakon and Piano Me.

I remember the woman in front of me in line with the Piano Me T-Shirt, and her low, yet soft voice. I remember the slight tremble in her voice when talking about Yoko, because she loved and idolized her, and felt this was her only opportunity to see her live.

I remember the sound of fingers tapping on an iPad screen, belonging to a Japanese tourist who flew all the way to America to see the concert, and how he wanted to take pictures of everyone so that he could have his own memories of Yoko. His camera flash didn’t make much of a sound, as it was drowned out by the suddenly growing mumblings of an excited crowd ready to listen to anime’s finest musician and composer.

I remember the high-pitched whir of the dyson hand dryer from a convention centre washroom, used by a man with a thick middle-eastern accent, pointing out how interesting the dryer was, and how excited he was to listen to Yoko despite being in a foreign land.

I remember the song Gravity, and the sullen, yet hopeful tone of an audience-turned choir, and their perfect unison in singing its English lyrics. I remember the slow pulse of piano chords pouring out into the crowd, fuelling its hopeful chant. Am I going home?” The crowd longingly sings out, wailing out into the auditorium, knowing somewhere deep inside that their memories may fade like the mist, like that in the lyrics.

I remember that something is pulling me, and I feel the gravity of song. I must write it.

#6 Love, Life, and The Wind Rises

Love is such a fascinating, complex, powerful emotion. It exists in a wide variety of facets ranging from filial to friendship, from selfless to self-acceptance, and everywhere in between. Everyone is capable of loving to a given capacity, even if said love is misguided and leads to disagreeable actions. Whatever the circumstance, each one is different for each person; not only does everyone has their own story to tell, but they have a story about love that they can tell as well.

I feel as if Hayao Miyazaki was trying to wrestle with telling his own thoughts on love and relationships throughout his filmography, but for me, the films he directed throughout his career were often cast aside by more strongly communicated messages in his films, talking about the environment or other sociopolitical issues relating to Japan at the time of each film’s release. It was one of the reasons why I shied away from him and preferred the emotionally cinematic experiences of other directors such as Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosoda. It wasn’t until his swan song, The Wind Rises, that I finally received a heartfelt message related to love.

In the film, the protagonist Jiro Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko Satomi are brought together by a lyric from Paul Valéry’s poem: “Le vent se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre!” / “The Wind rises; we must attempt to live!” It is through this lyric that Naoko conveys her final message of love to Jiro before she passes away due to illness; she abandons her own treatment and stays by Jiro’s side as he designs the prototype of the A5M fighter, predecessor to the Zero of World War II fame. When she dies, she reminds Jiro in his dream to keep going on without her, living a complete, fulfilled life.

I often see love portrayed in media as something romantically selfish, or at least something that would cause self-harm; the common sentiment that lies in figurative declarations in which one would walk a thousand miles, cross the ocean, or give up one’s life for a loved one suggests that sacrifice is required in order to simply express love. It’s something that is at once selfish when perceived by the person receiving such declarations. If I were to receive love from someone, I would feel guilty at the thought that one had been put in harm’s way, even if the circumstance was self-inflicted. If you only live once, does that not also suggest that you only love once as well? Why throw life away out of love when one can spend that life being with the one that they love?

Thus, we are brought to a simple question of love. How do we honor those we cherish the most? In The Wind Rises, Jiro honors the memory of his late wife by not only doing what she wants him to do (to keep living), but to live life to the very fullest, with every ounce of enthusiasm and passion that one has for life itself: “A life lost is not forgotten yet / A life wasted brings nothing but regret.”

Okay, so that last verse isn’t actually a famous lyric, I made it up, and it’s kind of dumb and doesn’t roll off the tongue particularly well, but I’ve come to identify with the general idea of this adage, particularly as it relates to present relationships and the way I wish to honor my most cherished. While I can understand why Naoko wanted to make the most of the time she had left by being with Jiro, I can imagine that if she were in better health circumstances, she would have lived quite the life herself. Valéry’s lyric is a two-way street, we must attempt to live.

As such, for as long as my fiancée tries her best at everything that she does, and does everything in her power to be with me, I can’t help but do the same. We love each other too much to live the rest of our lives without the other. We must fight with each breath that we have, as tired and strained as they can and have gotten in this demanding, difficult month of December. Our efforts will not go unwasted, nor will the intentions behind them go uncommunicated.

To love is to live, and vise versa. This message was the finest that has been given to me by Hayao Miyazaki during his illustrious career. It took several tries, but he finally got it right, and I am content to finally have been won over by one of his films. His career will be remembered forever by countless fans and well-wishers; while I certainly won’t mourn his death the way I did for Satoshi Kon’s, I’ll deeply appreciate the life he had lived. It will have been one filled with love for cinema and animation.

#7 Plus

I met my best friend Patrick in grade 5, when I arrived at a new school, in the first year of a program for identified-gifted children. Having moved schools several times before ending up in this particular program, I never really had the opportunity to make lasting friends. In my mind, at the time, making friends had meant actually keeping them, and in the powerlessness of my youth, I had merely been unable to hold on to anyone close for any sort of platonic companionship.

We were both Filipino, which somehow made it more comfortable for me to make acquaintances with him, and we had a lot in common as far as our family backgrounds were concerned. We were both considered “special” children in our families, being brought to school with a sort of pressure to succeed and fulfill the family dream of becoming a doctor. At the time, I was easily convinced by my mom (as Patrick was by his) that career success meant everything.

We grew and developed together intellectually and as friends within this program, being in the same class almost every single year, and upon graduation of elementary school, we both enrolled into the International Baccalaureate program in high school. While the filial pressures to academically perform skyrocketed, what developed even more dramatically was that of our friendship; emotional closeness, camaraderie, and even rivalry had formed. We pushed each other in our studies, rocked out together in concert band, and reassured each other that we were the shit; bullying was never an issue, because we built each other up to be better than what we were seen as by the more popular students.

But with those incredible highs came trying low points as well, points which challenged and tested the mettle of our friendship. In sophomore year, we found ourselves in a love triangle with a girl in our concert band, one year our junior. We quickly became friends with her, not only as a group, but in our respective pairings with her. Tensions rose to the point where we had to call a truce to not act on any of our respective feelings for her, but the emotionally active beings we were during puberty, he ended up confessing to her anyway. I was sorely disappointed in what he did, and grew a bit distant from him.

That distance grew further with time, and before I even had a chance to finish the junior and senior years of International Baccalaureate, I dropped out of the program due to the overwhelming stress that I had felt academically, and having felt a sort of loss in our friendship, I felt as if I had to find myself, or the quintessential high school version of myself, at least.

I started over once again, so late into what would eventually become the peak of my high school life, and Patrick wasn’t around for any of it. We never kept in touch, save for a few of his school band concerts that I had attended. It didn’t really feel as close as those days in freshman and sophomore year. We went our separate ways in University.

I never heard from him again. To some extent, I even stopped thinking about him and the valuable friendship that we had developed, in spite of that weird triangle that had formed and put a wrench in our relationship. Sadly, I never felt any regret or loss, as I had pretty much written him out of my life completely.

And then I watched Macross Plus.

Watching the relationship between Isamu and Guld, as rocky as it was throughout the story, didn’t necessarily bring all of those memories back; if anything, other than the fantastic visuals of the production itself, the actual triangle between the two of them and Myung was so far out in its drama (as far out as Shoji Kawamori could be, anyway) that it was difficult to relate. Yet, it did make me think about him, and how dumb a disagreement between two very good friends like us had set two people off in separate directions, despite having so much in common at first.

Watching the triangle in Plus sort itself out the way it did, I was sort of baffled by how any sort of resolution between the two sides of any love triangle in general could be at all mutually beneficial. Someone always gets hurt, and someone has to bear the weight of repairing once-sterling friendships. Patrick was my osananajimi, and realizing that we had reached a completely different stage of my life compared to high school, I wrote a heartfelt email to him immediately after finishing the short series. I heard he was living in Japan at the time, working on a project for his PhD, and there was a possibility that I had lost my chance to get back in touch with a person who had meant so much to me.

He responded to my email barely a day later. By stroke of luck (or perhaps fate), he was in town, and was overwhelmed by my sudden reappearance in his life. We met up for coffee, and we spent an entire evening catching up at a bar over pizza and beer. Good ol’ guy stuff, I suppose, but the two of us were hardly anywhere close to that sort of manly ideal suggested by media and society. We were still dumb nerdy boys at heart, and in completely different places in life from each other, with completely opposing worldviews.

Yet, despite everything that had happened, our chance meeting was perfect. Opposites attract, I guess, and having grown apart, we somehow become more compatible friends than ever, providing each other with completely different insights based on our shared experiences and our unique journeys in life since I left the IB program. The cycle of friendship was complete, and we patched everything up, and then some.

During our talk, I asked him about that girl in high school that we fought with each other about, and unsurprisingly, the both of us had forgotten her name. It was all history, and looking back at what we meant to each other made us appreciate where we ended up even more. We’ll continue going in our separate directions, and we might not even see each other again until we’re dumb adults with our own families and such.

Patrick is the kind of best friend who will never go away. As long as we both know that we are rooting for each other’s success in life, our relationship will last. Unfortunately, it’s the kind I’ll never be able to keep for a period of time; however, I’ll always end up finding it once again, which is a plus.

#8: Pineapple Cakes, Hospitals, and Anti-Spoilers

In elementary school, summer breaks were the best thing. Two months of fantastic weather not spent at school left kids like me back then to do whatever the hell they wanted. Raised by strict and overprotective parents, however, I was not as fortunate as others; this unfortunate reality was solidified during one particular summer spent entirely at Mikelle and Gliselle’s house.

Months-long sleepovers made that stay feel like summer camp. It was the closest thing to one, anyway, since it was quite unreasonable not only from a parental paranoia standpoint, but also from a financial one as well. The fear of getting “the call” from camp, that something horrible happened to one’s only child, or that someone was bullying them, was something that lingered too much in my mother’s mind, which is why the supposedly next-best and safest thing would be to be around people who she trusted.

Once I broke my foot while on the jungle gym towards the end of that Summer, it was completely different story. I wasn’t necessarily rushed to a hospital or anything; it looked like a harmless fall to outsiders, and frankly, my memory of the moment in which I landed on the sand hard after swinging off the final bar wasn’t even that painful at all. Hell, even my uncle, who was a doctor at the time, thought I walked gingerly enough that it seemed more like a sprain than a broken bone. When we went to the hospital to make sure, I was put in a cast, and it was pretty damn cool. For a kid sheltered most of his life from going out and doing cool things with friends (ha! I didn’t really have any other than my cousins), getting a cast felt like some sort of rite of passage. It was a battle scar of youth, and my nemesis was the playground.

My mother wouldn’t have any of that. All she had to hear over the phone was the word “hospital” and she bolted straight home from downtown where she worked an office job, to coddle me as much as she could, and to nag my medically-certified uncle (her brother) to death. I really couldn’t understand why she would be so worried. I wasn’t really dead or anything; in fact, I was even more alive than before! I was a real kid! Or something.

Somehow, I never really put her perspective into context until I watched Macross Frontier, and that non-spoilerific scene involving pineapple cake (which, supposedly shared several suggestive elements to the original SDF) and Ozma Lee. What made this particular moment special was the rumblings I’d heard about this particular moment in the franchise, and having not watched the original series prior, I had practically no expectations towards what had happened in this episode. In fact, I wasn’t trolled by the episode at all, the way other Macross afficiandos likely had been when they were either watching the series as it aired.

It’s a bit difficult to talk about spoilers: what constitutes a spoiler, who is responsible for spoiling/being spoiled after a particular time, and how one should react after being spoiled of a particular detail of something that they haven’t yet seen or experienced. I personally prefer to not be spoiled, which doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, considering my tendency to want to have a pristine an experience as possible when consuming fictional works. I certainly enjoy shows more when everything is new and unexpected, even the ones that were supposed to build up to something big, but end up being nothing at all.

Spoiler: Your kid was gravely injured and is possibly close to death.

Anti-Spoiler: Your kid just broke a leg swinging off a monkey bar like an idiot and is laughing his ass off with the same amount of idiocy.

I imagine my mother at work, with the anti-spoiler going in one ear, the spoiler coming out the other. It’s the way that she processes information that makes her immediately think of the worst possible scenario, and naturally prepares herself as such. She ends up stressed out over the smallest things, and it caused her to, after this particular fiasco, completely distrust me with doing anything remotely dangerous, to the point where I was even more bubbled away from every other possible experience. I never got to go on the “fun field trips” since. I don’t really hold it against her, but looking back on that particular day at the hospital, I came out with a very good impression of such an institute; nice nurses, cool machines, and not understanding why people don’t realize how awesome casts are.

Hospital settings in fiction seem to come with a sort of foreboding aura. I’ve had my share of visits there, and it’s because of my unique formative experience there that I grew up being rather comfortable in one, even if the mood of a particular visit was somber or even heartwrenching. It’s the reason why its usage in fiction never really sold me in terms of establishing the graveness of a situation.

Oh, Ozma is in the hospital? He’s probably fine. He probably just broke his foot or something. Not that big of a deal. He could probably get Sheryl to sign his cast, because casts are pretty fucking cool. And SDF and the pineapple shoutout? I’m definitely spoiled for that, but that’s alright, because it’s goddamn Macross; I’m watching the same show anyway, right? Don’t answer that. I’ll find that out for myself.