Kay’s Korner : Mob Psycho 100

Sorry for the hiatus guys! Kay here and ready to get you guys and gals pumped up about a personal favorite. I am patiently waiting on the return of this anime but until then, why not write about it and inspire people to hop on the bandwagon. This time around, I want to focus on Mob Psycho 100! This show is different from the other anime I reviewed because it is centered around the supernatural and espers. An esper is an individual who is capable of harnessing telepathy and other paranormal activities at the user’s expense. As a kid, stuff like that used to freak me out! However, I can honestly say I love these types of phenomena! Not to mention it’s a dope anime that includes all of this, a decent plot, a lovable protagonist, and epic ass fight scenes. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR?! Let’s just jump right in!

EPIC OPENING FOR AN EPIC SHOW! The series follows an individual by the name of Shigeo Kageyama (Mob) on his quest to navigate middle school. Mob appears to be an average middle school kid who lacks appropriate social skills and emotions by your first impression. Hell even his name (Mob) literally translates to background character but as the show progresses, his presence is well known. Mob is an extremely powerful esper and is well aware of that his psychic powers are volatile. He actively seeks guidance and checks his powers by trying to remain inure to his emotions throughout the show.  By suppressing his powers, Mob constantly lives a life without emotions which contradicts his ultimate goal in life: to be normal.  In his quest for normality, trouble is looming and forces are acting against him. Will he be able to face this adversity and how long will he be able to check his emotions before Mob becomes overwhelmed? You have to find out for yourself!

Slider_uno

The original manga (comic) was written by ONE and was adapted into animation form by Studio Bones. Studio Bones is well known for producing other shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, My Hero Academia, One-Punch Man, Bungo Stray Dogs, Eureka Seven, Noragami and Soul Eater just to name a few. In my opinion all quality anime so why not check out another one of their shows. The anime aired between July – September 2016 so season two should be on its way soon. The show has garnered so much attention that Funimation decided to pick up the show and released the English dub December 11, 2016.  SO OPEN YOUR MIND TO IT!

Mob-Psycho-100-01-24-1280x720                            CUE THE DR.STRANGE MUSIC. Sorry for being cheesy.

The anime is very brief and only one season in at the moment. The show is 12 episodes long.

The music does an amazing job complementing the show’s transitions and fight scenes especially. The upbeat rhythm keeps you on your toes and takes you on an adrenaline ride like no other. Like I stated earlier, even the opening theme song gets you excited for the show and its content.

Visually, the anime is breathtaking. BONES is well known for their amazing animation abilities. The fight scenes are very well done. The colors and art style are very vivid and colorful. Its very appealing to the audience in my opinion and depicts the fun nature of the show.

There are a plethora of characters in this show but I am going to focus on the Big Five as I call them. I have already introduced Mob in the paragraphs above but lets cover his supporting cast.

Arataka Reigen is Mob’s master and life advisor. He is the one that Mob runs into when he is beginning his quest to control his powers and live a normal life.

Mob-Psycho-100-Arakata-Reigen-e1465531501853-225x350

Dimple is one of the paranormal entities that Mob encounters early on in the show. His role steadily evolves as the show progresses and he becomes fond of Mob’s powers and his company.

Dimple_anime

Ritsu Kageyama is the younger brother of Mob. He is the complete opposite of Mob in every sense. He is popular, intelligent and loved by all of his peers.  Mob looks up and is inspired to have the life of his brother. However, as the show progress, the audience discovers a secret that Ritsu carries and changes the dynamic of the show.

Mob-Psycho-100-Ritsu-Kageyama-e1465531563215-225x350

Teruki “Teru” Hanazawa is another fellow esper. He is rivaled only by Mob in the beginning of the show but the rivalry grows into something more. His perception on life and his powers can be questionable and considered dark. Can Mob help him see the light?

Mob-Psycho-100-Teruki-Hanazawa-e1465531579178-225x350

Overall, this show is one of the best and I am patiently waiting on the second season to come out already! The plot is simple but rather enjoyable. The visuals especially the combat scenes are captivating and I find myself constantly re-watching the epicness. The character development is something I am fond of with this show. For the show to be only 12 episodes so far, it does an excellent job with pacing and skillfully allows the audience to view the growth of the characters with ease. The opening is epic. Enough said. The show is very fun and shout-out to Studio BONES for all the great anime! Y’all do some amazing work!

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Kay’s Korner : Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma!

Hey guys! I am back at it again trying to shed some light on newer or underappreciated anime. I decided that this time I wanted to discuss an anime that is on the rise in popularity but is still relatively new. So, you can quickly binge watch the first season and be on track with the second season. Food Wars! : Shokugeki no Soma is the name and food is the game. Please be advised this show is not for everyone; it has been dubbed “food porn” because of the partially nude and major fan service with the female characters (ridiculous body types). However it is a fun, interesting show that will make you want to hop in the kitchen and throw down! Or you will becoming super hungry; Eat before watching!

food-wars-shokugeki-no-soma-season-2-release-date

Food Wars! is an adaptation that tells the tale of a young protagonist by the name of Yukihira Soma. Yukihira Soma is a cooking genius and is only recently exiting junior high at the beginning of the show. He dreams of becoming a full-time chef in his family’s diner and surpassing his father in cooking skills. However his dreams of running his family diner are almost instantly put on hold as his father abruptly closes up the shop and travels abroad. As the first episode progresses, Soma stumbles upon Totsuki Culinary Academy, an elite school where only 10% of the student population actually graduates. He finds himself immersed in the gourmet world and instantly sets his eyes on a new goal; getting into the academy and becoming the best!

The manga started of as a one shot in Weekly Shounen Jump in April 2012. As of November 2012, the manga had began as a series. As of July 2016, the series has published 19 volumes. It was written by Yūto Tsukuda and illustrated by Shun Saeki.

The show debuted on April 3, 2015 and the first season wrapped on September 25, 2015. Do not cry though! The second season is currently running so you can jump right back into the show. The show is licensed by Sentai Filmwork for digital and home video release in North America. The licensing company is also responsible for licensing the show Angel Beats and Akame ga Kill! The adaptation is simulcasted with English subtitles by CrunchyRoll! (usually how I watch all my anime by the way).

The show is very fast paced and keeps you on your toes. However, they still seem to find a way to properly and effectively develop characters which adds to the depth of the story. The show is only 24 episodes and runs through three main arcs: The Introduction to Totsuki, The Freshmen Training Camp, and the start of the Autumn Elections.

In the first arc, the audience is introduced to new budding rivals, a few support characters and Shokugekis. A Shokugeki is a battle or a cook off between two or more individuals usually with some high stake on the line. This could be anything from class rank, school expulsion, honor, etc. Remember this term! It is mentioned a lot from time to time. Here is an example!

The second arc is focused on the Freshmen Training Camp at Totsuki Resort. This is the first major event for the freshmen class or 92nd Totsuki Generation as they are referred to in the show. The camp is notorious for its challenges and obstacles and the group must overcome the odds in order to survive expulsion! That’s right, the first event is a major weed camp to ensure the Totsuki academy name isn’t tainted or tarnished.

The final arc is the start of the Autumn Elections which is the second major event in the show. This tournament is compromised of 60 contestants voted in by the Totsiki Elite Ten Council. This council is made up of the best ten students in the academy. They handle a lot of internal affairs for the academy such organizing events and evaluating student performances. Once the 60 candidates with the most potential are selected, they are split into Group A or Group B. The top four of each group will move on to the actual tourney!( Yes the first tourney is a preliminary). Will Soma make it to the actual exam?! Watch and find out!

food-wars_1

(Left to Right: Takumi Aldini, Ikumi Mito, Isami Aldini, Alice Nakiri, Erina Nakiri, Megumi Tadokoro, Soma Yukihira)

What’s a good anime without some interesting characters and rivals along the way?!

Soma Yukihira, the red haired boy, is very laid back, impulsive individual who is determined to the very best. He never backs down from a challenge  and his cooking style is very unorthodox for the academy standards.

Megumi Tadokoro, the blue haired girl, is Soma’s first friend and a sweetheart. She seems to be a pushover and always doubts herself until she becomes friends with Soma. Her cooking style ties in heavily with her hometown and based usually with vegetables, herbs, and fish.

Ikumi Mito is the golden haired girl and is one of Soma’s rival. Her cooking style is a reflection of her personality, tough and precise. She incorporates the finest meats in all her dishes! She is a meat fanatic!

Takumi Aldini is the yellow haired boy on the left in the photo. Isami Aldini is the drooling guy in the photo.The two brothers are twins and both specialize in authentic Italian cuisine. Takumi is more driven and prodigious than his brother Isami, however both are excellent cookers and challengers throughout the show.

Lastly, the Nakiri relatives! Erina Nakiri, yellow haired girl to the right, is one of the Elite Ten at the institution and is for having the “God Tongue”. Her “God Tongue” only appreciates the finest of food and makes her a really difficult individual to please. Alice Nakiri, the white haired girl, is Erina’s cousin. She specializes in Molecular Gastronomy cooking techniques

The visuals of the show is breathtaking. The show is filled with vivid imagery and descriptive words that makes the food come to life in my opinion. With the usage of random cutaways, the artists try their best to colorfully and playfully allow the audience to visualize tasting experiences throughout the show. This is also usually when all the fan service and sexual references comes into play.

The music of the show helps create the fun and exciting environment for Food Wars. I love both the opening and ending songs; I never skipped past them unless the previous episode left me on a cliff hanger. The music played during competitions or during Shokugekis add another dimension to the appeal of the show and helps develop the serious nature of the battles.

In summary, the words boring, dull, lame are not words associated with this anime. It is very fast paced but leaves plenty of time to develop the characters and a good plot. The show currently is airing a second season which further proves my point about it being a great upcoming anime to begin watching. The characters are very likable and the show is easily in my top 15 for anime. The show is subbed but don’t let that stop you from missing out on some good eats! Bon Appetite!

Kay’s Korner: School-Live! Review

Hello, my name is Kayvious Campbell and I love video games and anime! After consulting with my good friend Dennis, I decided to write material to add to his awesome blog’s arsenal! I am a recent college graduate and currently just passing the time as I attempt to apply to graduate school. I hope to shed some light on some mainstream anime as well as some underappreciated anime. Feel free to leave comments and feedback to assist me in this new process or if you just want to generate conversation! Let’s get the show on the road!

School-Live girls

School-Live! is a relatively new anime that has a special place in my heart. I decided to make this my first review because it was a show that I just randomly scrolled onto it while on my CrunchyRoll account this past summer. From the first episode, I was hooked and it has made its way onto my list of all-time favorite anime.

The show revolves the main character, Yuki Takeya, who is a third year high school girl who is in love with going to school. So much that Yuki and a couple of her friends have created a club titled “The School Living Club” in which the members virtually live at school and enjoy each other’s passions and school.

The president of the club is Yuuri Wakasa. She is the leader of the group and the brains of the club who assists the club supervisor.

That club supervisor is Megumi Sakura, who is the one of the girls’ teachers. She is a lighthearted, caring person who is adjusting to her new profession.

The other three members are Kurumi Ebisuzawa, the athlete of the group, Miki Naoki, the club’s newest member who respects Yuki as her mentor or senpai, and the lovable club mascot and dog Taroumaru.

The School Living Club

Clockwise: Kurumi (Purple Hair), Yuuri, Yuki, Miki, Taroumaru

The manga series began serialization with the July 2012 issue of Houbunsha’ Manga Time Kirara Forward Magazine. The manga was written by Nitroplus Co. Ltd., a Japanese visual novel computer software company. The company’s other claim to fame or major associations is with the Fate/Zero series and Assassination Classroom series. They tend to focus on material with darker themes such as reanimation of the dead and murder (Spoiler).

The anime adaptation aired between July and September 2015. It was created by Lerche Studio, and thank goodness they decided to fund it. After the first episode was broadcasted, it sparked a dramatic increase in the manga sales; a ten-fold increase. The first episode has been viewed on Nico Nico Douga over 2.5 million times as of October 2015.

The manga steadily continue to thrive, however the sales for DVD are rather low, so the likelihood for a second season is slim. If you find yourself loving the series after you complete the anime adaptation, I definitely recommend that you continue with the manga series since it seems like it will be around for a while.

The School Living Club

The show is comprised of 12 episodes, 22 minutes in length. It began streaming stateside this past summer via CrunchyRoll and was constantly praised as one of the top anime of Summer 2015. At first glance, the show’s presentation conveys itself as a happy-cute-girls-doing-cute-things anime.

Yuki Takeya, as previously stated, is the central protagonist. The show constantly focuses on her relationships with the characters and her perspective of her life. She is airheaded and simpleminded, but her personality and actions help complement the group’s seriousness. All was going well until one unfortunate day and Yuki’s life and relationship with her friends would be changed forever.

As the show progresses and develops, it does a complete 180 and constructs serious reoccurring themes such as betrayal, despair, and even death evident by the end of episode one.  The phrase “Everything is not as is seems” rings true with this anime. The show contains several major plot twists that keep the audience captivated. The show leaves the audience in awe and scrambling to understand what has transpired or what may happen next. This thriller is filled with multiple elements and components that elevates its quality in my eyes, and I believe it deserves more attention throughout the anime community.

The art style is modern looking, and the show was done well overall. The one thing I noticed is that the main characters are very detailed while all the other characters throughout the show aren’t as detailed or look incomplete. I feel the artists and directors did this to put the focus on the girls rather than the background people.

The opening is very enjoyable as well! It is constantly changing and adapting to the follow alongside any major events. And the lighthearted J-Pop song will be forever etched into my brain. I will admit it was a tad bit annoying at first, but then it started to grow on me. Now, whenever I hear the opening, I can’t help but bounce along to the catchy tune.

Need more reason to watch this show? The show deserves attention because it is still an underappreciated and relatively unknown anime. The anime is subtitled and not available dubbed with English voices. I mention this because I have noticed a lot of people new to anime dislike having to read subtitles. But I firmly think this show is relatively easy to follow and the plot will keep you on your toes and wanting more.

~Kayvious

The problem with swords in children’s animation

Children’s animated programs, particularly action shows, often feature characters with swords. However, due to the inherently violent nature of swords, creators are hamstrung in portraying the accurate use of weaponry.

Fantasy action shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and ThunderCats feature a lot of fighting, but the violence is often sanitized since these shows are technically for children. In this post, I want to explore the use of swords in children’s animation. Many action heroes carry swords, as they seem—on the surface—less violent than guns. But any kid knows that swords are instruments of death.

Which is why creators of animated programs need to abstract how swords work, creating fantasy worlds were swords do not operate the way they should, or characters don’t use them the way they are intended. While these sanitations might fool some, I never bought them as a kid. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time, but I always felt that these shows were lying to me in how they depicted the use of swords.

I’ll show you why.

Using swords in combat

Swords are meant for cutting, slicing, and chopping, yet cartoon characters cannot hit each other with swords, as anybody knows that a sword will leave a mark. Ranged weapons are easily sanitized. Children’s shows typically use lasers in place of guns with bullets. A character can shoot a glowing pink or green projectile at another character, and the impact is usually shown. Laser guns don’t exist in real life, so there’s no harm in showing kids this form of violence.

Melee weapons are meant to hit a person, and in some ways, the close-quarter combat of melee weapons is a more primal, visceral experience than shooting guns.

The challenge for animators is: how to depict these weapons in shows targeted to kids?

Some shows, like Dungeons & Dragons (1983), limit the use of swords all together. The Barbarian, or fighter character, carries a club instead of a sword.

Barbarian in Dungeons & Dragons

The Cavalier, a Paladin scrubbed of religious overtones, carries a shield.

Cavalier in Dungeons & Dragons

And Diana, the Acrobat, carries a staff.

Acrobat in Dungeons & Dragons

These weapons are fine, of course (except for the shield. No kid role-plays as the guy with the shield), but swords are so much cooler!

Think of the Sword of Omens in ThunderCats (1985). It’s such a powerful weapon. Lion-O, however, chained by the constraints of 80s moral television, doesn’t use his sword to hit people.

In the following example, the Thunder Tank is stolen by Mumm-Ra’s henchmen. Lion-O attacks, not by cutting his enemies, but by slicing the barrels off the tank’s guns.

Lion-O attacks

Guns on Thunder Tank sliced off

He stands over his enemies, and instead of attacking them, let’s them run away.

Lion-O stands over henchmen

ThunderCats

How many of the ThunderCats’ problems would’ve been solved if Lion-O actually used his sword on his enemies? If he wants to live a life of peace and refrain from killing, then carry a stick, not a sword.

Cartoon characters often find ways of using swords in ways that defy logic, even to children.

The sword as a defensive weapon

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) is my favorite animated show of all time. The show has been praised for its accurate depiction of war, genocide, and child abuse. The show is meant for kids, and the creators are usually successful in not talking down to children, but in adapting these serious issues in ways that make sense to them.

However, even Avatar pulls its punches.

One of the main characters, Sokka, isn’t a bender. He cannot manipulate the elements of fire and earth and water like his friends. Instead, he uses melee weapons, like a sword and boomerang, in combat. However, he frequently uses these weapons for defense, rather than offense.

In one episode, he helps rescue his sister and the earthbenders from a Fire Nation prison. The guards attack the kids with spears, and Sokka uses his sharpened boomerang not to attack the soldiers, but to break their weapons. As he slices the heads off spears, he tosses them up to Aang’s flying lemur Momo.

Sokka slicing spear

Sokka slicing spear

Momo catches spear heads

In Season 3, Sokka is feeling sorry for himself because he can’t do cool things like all his bending friends. His friends suggest that he needs a master to teach him how to fight. He becomes the pupil of a Fire Nation sword master, and later crafts his own sword out of a meteorite. As I watched that episode for the first time, I got really excited. Sokka finally has an awesome sword! And he’s trained in using it!

Sokka's master

Unfortunately, the space sword merely becomes a stylized version of his boomerang. He uses it not for offense, but for defense. On the Day of Black Sun, when the resistance fighters invaded the Fire Nation, Sokka led the charge, once again resorting to disabling weapons.

Sokka on the Day of Black Sun

Sokka on the Day of Black Sun

What’s strange about swords in animation is that they are often shown to be more powerful than swords in real life. In many shows, they are simply lightsabers made metal, able to cut through anything. For example, in Samurai Jack (2001) Jack uses his sword to cut through robot after robot as if they were butter.

Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack

In the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Leonardo slices through the Kraang in much the same way. The Kraang are brain-like aliens that control powerful robots by residing in their stomach cavities. Leo has a remarkable ability to slice exactly through the center of the robot without somehow cutting the brain, as seen in the opening.

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

Holding back

Even though swords can’t really cut through metal, having the good guys cut through robots, cannons, and weapons with their swords is okay from time to time. Just because a hero uses violence to solve problems doesn’t mean they always have to kill.

That said, in some cases, it would make much more sense for the character to use the sword to at least injure or incapacitate their enemy.

Let me give you a couple more examples from TMNT.

The Kraang control these deadly robots, and while disabling the robots is sometimes part of Turtles’ mission, it doesn’t really solve their problem. The Kraang, the brains, are the problem. Destroying the robot only makes the problem go away temporarily.

In one of the early episodes of the 2012 series, the Turtles infiltrate a Kraang base. Leo slices through a Kraang droid, leaving the brain exposed.

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

The Kraang tries to run away, presumably to alert the other Kraang in the base that the Turtles are here. Even though Leo would be perfectly justified in killing the little brain (after all, the Kraang are trying to terraform planet Earth into a replacement Dimension X, a move that would likely kill all life on earth), Leo steps aside so Mikey can clobber the Kraang with his nunchuk.

Mikey hits a Kraang

Mikey hits a Kraang

Given the cartoony stars floating around the Kraang’s head, I’m guessing he won’t be out for very long.

In another episode, Donatello invents a robotic turtle, Metalhead, to do his fighting for him. Metalhead is a little slow and clunky, but has incredibly high-powered weapons. While initially devastating a squad of Kraang droids, one brave Kraang plugs himself into Metalhead, takes control, and starts attacking the Turtles!

Kraang on Metalhead

The Turtles expend a lot of effort attacking Metalhead the robot, even though their weapons are useless against him. Leo in particular swings his swords not at the Kraang placed conveniently on top of Metalhead like a cherry, but at Metalhead’s face.

Leo attacks Metalhead

Leo attacks Metalhead

Why, though? The problem is not with Metalhead, but with the Kraang on top of Metalhead!

One of the worst examples of holding back comes from Avatar, season 3. Sokka and Zuko break into a Fire Nation prison, the Boiling Rock, to save Sokka’s dad. As Team Avatar is escaping, Azula, the baddest princess around, confronts Sokka and Zuko atop a cable car.

Azula attacks Zuko and Sokka

Azula shoots fire at Zuko, which he blocks. Sokka, hiding in the wing, rushes ahead, sword pointed at Azula’s face.

Zuko blocks fire

Sokka attacks Azula

Azula

For a split second, Azula is actually terrified. Sokka points the sword inches from her face, and then mysteriously, pulls back so Zuko can attack Azula again!

Sokka attacks Azula

Zuko attacks Azula

Zuko attacks Azula

Sokka had the perfect opening: Azula so rarely lets her guard down. Every time I watch this scene, I cringe. What’s the point of Sokka having this awesome space sword if he can’t even use it?

Predictably, Azula flies away, escaping harm yet again.

Azula escapes

The loopholes

Children’s animators clearly feel pressure to restrict the use of swords, especially when it comes to harming other human characters. However, animators are clever at bending the unspoken rules of television to include more palatable forms of violence.

Samurai Jack, for example, predominantly fights robots. He frequently dismembers robots, and sometimes oil and sparks exit the robot’s wounds as if they were blood.

Samurai Jack attacks robot

Samurai Jack attacks robot

Attacking robots is fine, though it should be noted that children’s shows like Samurai Jack and TMNT often feature very lifelike and humanoid robots: it’s a way of having graphic violence without technically hurting anybody.

What bothers me most about swords in children’s animation is that they are frequently used to cut or kill other living, non-human creatures—monsters and fantasy beasts.

In one episode of the 2011 ThunderCats, an ocean’s water is stolen by a giant plant monster, turning the ocean into a desert. Lion-O gets sucked inside this monster, then slices it open from the inside, restoring the water.

Lion-O cuts plant monster

Lion-O comes out of plant monster along with water

Plant monster returns water to ocean

TMNT uses this same cop-out. The Turtles fought a giant plant creature with tentacles and claws called Snakeweed. Leo slices through one of the tentacles, spewing purple guts everywhere.

It’s okay to show this kind of violence, apparently, because Snakeweed is “not real” and it’s not really “blood” coming out of it.

Turtles fight creature

Leo cuts tentacles

I guess in the minds of the creators? the censors? the television execs? parents? violence against monsters is okay because MONSTERS ARE BAD and MONSTERS ARE NOT REAL and MONSTERS ARE NOT PEOPLE.

As a kid, though, I never made those distinctions. To me,monsters and mutants were just as human as the human characters. Mutants and monsters are living creatures with their own goals, intelligence, and spirit. Harming a mutant should be no different, in these fictional universes, than harming a human.

What’s interesting is that TMNT, in particular, often goes out of its way to show that the mutant enemies were in fact humans at one time. Snakeweed, moments before the fight with the Turtles, was a misguided gangbanger named Snake who teamed up with the Kraang. In the midst of the battle, a ton of mutagen, the substance that creates mutants, spilled on Snake the human. Look at the pure terror on his face as he transforms into a vile mutant.

Snake transforms into Snakeweed

Yes he’s a bad guy, but does that mean his humanity is stripped away simply because he becomes a mutant?

At the end of the episode, Leonardo burns Snakeweed up with a power core, leaving him for dead.

But remember, by the standards of children’s television, this is okay because Snakeweed is NOT A HUMAN.

Overcoming the problems of swords in children’s animation

One children’s show that pushed the graphic use of swords pretty far was ThunderCats 2011. From time to time, they actually showed Lion-O hitting enemies with his sword. True, he never sliced through the more human-like enemies, and there was never any blood, but at least there was an impact.

Lion-O attacks Lizards

Lion-O attacks Lizards

Lion-O attacks Lizards

While this is uncommon, it’s apparently okay by the censor’s standards as the lizards aren’t human. The world of the ThunderCats is populated entirely by anthropomorphized animals who are quite human in their emotions, rationality, and goals.

So how should swords be depicted in children’s animation?

One possibility is to get rid of them entirely, the same way realistic guns are largely absent from children’s animation. I’m not sure, though, that this solves anything. No matter what method of violence a character uses—lasers, fists, magic, throwing rocks—some amount of sanitation is usually applied.

If swords are left in, then they should be depicted somewhat realistically. If a character is going to flash a sword against another living creature, then they should use that sword on the creature. The gore can be sanitized a bit—I’m not advocating for Kill Bill levels of blood in children’s shows.

But children’s animation should show the consequences of violence, and show that swords and other weapons really do hurt people. I think kids can accept this even at an early age. Avatar: The Last Airbender is the gold standard when it comes to showing the consequences of war: if only they’d pushed the realism of violence a bit farther when it came to swords.

After the closing credits roll, kids will go into the backyard to reenact the shows they just saw. My brother, cousins, and friends did this all the time. We role-played as Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, soldiers, professional wrestlers, even Freddy and Jason from horror movie fame. We used sticks for swords and bananas for guns.

And we learned early on that if we got too rough, and somebody got hurt, then we needed to pull back.

Using swords to slice through robots and mutants and monsters is a distraction. These sanitations might make the violence acceptable to network execs, parents, and censors, but kids can see right through it.

Give kids more credit: they understand what swords are meant to do.

~Dennis

Post Conflict World Building: The Force Awakens vs. The Legend of Korra

When a major fantasy series reaches its conclusion, the viewer is often left with a feeling of optimism. The foes have been vanquished, evil is defeated, and our heroes finally have peace. But what happens when that fantasy series is so popular that viewers demand a sequel? How can the writers continue to build their world after the major conflict is resolved?

Star Wars fans have long been preoccupied with this question. After Return of the Jedi ended there was a slew of media products that continued the stories of Luke, Han, Leia, and the others. When Episode VII: The Force Awakens was announced, fans received some devastating, but also curious news: the Expanded Universe would have no bearing on the story of Episode VII. J.J. Abrams and crew were starting fresh, picking up the story 30 years after Jedi.

However, in throwing out the canonical mythology of Star Wars, Abrams’ team created a huge challenge: how do they make The Force Awakens exciting given that the Empire has been defeated? And how can they possibly top the tension and conflict felt in the Original Trilogy?

I’m of the opinion that The Force Awakens, for all of its strengths, made several missteps in its attempt to continue the Star Wars mythology in the wake of the Empire’s collapse.

But before I explain why, I want to examine the post-conflict world building present in the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel, The Legend of Korra. The creators of Korra faced a similar challenge to Abram’s team, and found a way to make Korra feel fresh, even though the central conflict of Airbender was long resolved.

The Fire Nation and the Hundred Year War

Avatar: The Last Airbender (TLA) is a fantasy martial arts show about a world made up of four people groups: the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each society is centered around one of the four elements. The Avatar’s job is to keep the world in balance. The intro explains it concisely.

However, before TLA begins, the world is thrown into chaos. The Fire Nation declares war on the world. They commit genocide and wipe out the Air Nomads. Then over the course of a hundred years, they wage war on the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom.

Aang, the Avatar, ran away from his duties and accidentally froze himself in ice. There he remained, hidden in the sea, for a hundred years, until two Water Tribe peasants freed him.

The central conflict of TLA is clear: the Fire Nation is on the verge of conquering the world, and the Avatar has to stop them.

In fact, at the end of Season 2 (of 3), the Fire Nation succeeds, finally conquering the Earth Kingdom, by far the largest people group. The situation is hopeless, but Aang and friends manage to defeat the Fire Lord and end the war.

The series ends with our heroes hopeful for the future. They know that the world must be rebuilt, and know it will take a lot of effort.

Korra picks up the story 70 years later

TLA was hugely successful for Nickelodeon, and it’s my favorite animated series of all time. The show is perfect in its execution, from the story to the visuals to the music to the voice acting to the characters.

When Nick announced in 2010 that Avatar was receiving a sequel, I was excited, though I had some trepidation. How could The Legend of Korra possibly live up to the scope of TLA? The original series was about saving the world, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher: a hundred year war, a missing avatar, the destruction of an entire people group, and the conquering of the biggest nation.

The short answer is: Korra could never create a conflict greater than TLA. The creators—Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko—knew this, and they didn’t try.

Korra takes place 70 years after TLA. Aang is dead, as are many of his friends. A new avatar, Korra, has been reborn. She’s now charged with keeping the world in balance.

Korra ran for four seasons, 52 episodes, almost as long as TLA’s run (61 episodes). Instead of having one central conflict, Korra instead has four smaller conflicts. These conflicts never begin to approach the scope of TLA, and that’s okay. By having more tightly focused conflicts, the creators showed us more of the world, and exposed the characters to new challenges that didn’t come up in TLA.

Stories, at their core, are about characters, and DiMartino and Konietzko created an ensemble cast of characters who felt like real people. Just because Korra didn’t have as big of a conflict as TLA didn’t mean the show was automatically lesser than TLA (side note, Korra is a lesser show than TLA, but that has more to do with pacing and story problems, as well as a botched production and release schedule).

The four conflicts in Korra show us new facets of the world and are interesting in their own right. Season 1 is about an anti-bender revolution that believes that the benders, the heroes of the Hundred Years War, are bad people. Season 2 is about a civil war between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes about which tribe should control access to the Spirit World. Season 3 is about overthrowing the government and throwing the world into chaos. Season 4 is about the rise of a totalitarian Earth Empire.

The story of TLA also continued in the comics. We see the struggles of Fire Lord Zuko and Avatar Aang as they annex land from the Earth Kingdom to make Republic City, a place where people of all nations can live. We see the creation of Toph’s metalbending school. Each new arc in the comics explores consequences of the fall of the Fire Nation.

The creators of TLA found meaningful ways to continue the story, world building, and characters in both a sequel TV series and comics. So far, the Avatar mythology hasn’t tried to top the central conflict of the first story, and that’s for the better.

With that background, let’s look at how The Force Awakens struggled in its execution, namely in trying to make a conflict bigger than the Original Trilogy in a way that didn’t make logical sense.

Star Wars’ post-Empire challenge

When Star Wars: A New Hope begins, the stakes are set incredibly high, and it’s very clear from the opening scene what they are. The Empire is a massive, all-powerful operation. The Rebels are a ragtag group of freedom fighters with dirty, substandard ships. Midway through the movie, the Empire demonstrates the height of their power: they can blow up entire planets.

The Rebels have a brief victory in the destruction of the Death Star, but in The Empire Strikes Back their base gets destroyed, and in Return of the Jedi the Empire has already rebuilt their planet-killing machine.

By the end of the movie, all the conflicts are resolved: the Emperor is killed, Darth Vader is redeemed, and the second Death Star is destroyed. Similarly to TLA, the viewer is treated to an optimistic few minutes of denouement. Leia and Han fall in love, Luke mourns his father and sees the ghosts of his trainers, and the galaxy celebrates the fall of the Empire.

The viewer feels good: all the conflicts are resolved, right?

Well, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of thought to realize that ROTJ doesn’t definitively end the conflict. Sure, the Emperor is dead and the Death Star is gone, but the Empire is huge. There are millions of soldiers spread across the galaxy, and countless Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters. And as anybody knows from history, toppling a dictator isn’t the end of any country’s struggles. All it does is create a power vacuum.

The Expanded Universe understood this. The first EU novels I read were Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, which concern Grand Admiral Thrawn, who attempts to pull together the last vestiges of the Empire to resist the New Republic. When I read those novels, the storyline of the EU instantly made sense: the Rebel’s actions at the end of ROTJ did not fully defeat the Empire. It would take years to recover from a generation of tyranny.

The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after ROTJ. Just as the Legend of Korra couldn’t replicate the magnitude of the conflict in TLA, there’s no way that the new Star Wars trilogy could replicate the magnitude of conflict in the Original Trilogy.

But that didn’t stop Abrams and team from trying.

The Force Awaken’s missteps

Star Wars is a series where you have to suspend your disbelief in many ways. It’s not science fiction: the way spaceships jet in and out of hyperspace like it’s no big deal wouldn’t actually work.

So it might be reading into it a bit too much, but researchers have calculated what the cost of building two Death Stars would be, and the amount is staggering. One estimate is $419 quintillion (billion billion). I’m not exactly sure how big the galaxy of Star Wars is, but even if there were thousands of systems containing intelligent life paying taxes to the Empire, this is an awfully large sum of money.

And the Rebels blew up both projects! The result should be a galaxy-wide economic depression, one that would take generations to recover from.

Considering that, how did the First Order manage to rise up in the first place? Sure, there would’ve been a power vacuum after the defeat of the Emperor. It’s reasonable to conclude, as the Hand of Thrawn series did, that splinter groups would arise.

The First Order, though, isn’t made up of the leftover parts of the Empire. Their ships are new, the stormtrooper armor is new, and somehow they found the resources to create an even more powerful weapon than the Death Star, one that can destroy not one planet at a time, but multiple planets and/or moons! And it also destroys suns in the process.

Our hero Finn says that he’s been raised since birth to be a stormtrooper. He looks about 20 in the film, so considering that The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Jedi, that means that the First Order must have arisen very near the beginning. How else would they be so organized that they are already raising babies to be stormtroopers?

For all the flaws that the Prequel Trilogy had, one thing they did well was show how Palpatine slowly, over the course of a decade, set all the pieces in place for the rise of his Empire. We see in Attack of the Clones that Palpatine was already planning the creation of the first Death Star, something that wouldn’t be complete until some 25 years later.

The First Order, then, would’ve had considerably less capital to work with than Palpatine did, given that the galaxy would likely be in an economic depression (not to mention the political chaos caused by the formation of the New Republic). And yet somehow the First Order was able to achieve dominance faster, and to a greater extent, than the Empire before it.

Abrams and crew, by the end of The Force Awakens, have somehow created a threat greater than the Empire ever was, but in a way that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

How the Force Awakens should’ve approached world building

The EU was on the right track with the understanding that the Empire wouldn’t completely collapse overnight. Others would attempt to fill the power vacuum, using the remnants of the Empire’s force.

And the New Republic, while its goals were certainly noble, would have a difficult time actually establishing a galaxy-wide government. How exactly could one government somehow maintain control of so many disparate systems? In The Phantom Menace, we saw that the Old Republic couldn’t even handle a simple trade dispute on a backwoods planet.

The Force Awakens should’ve began with both the fledgling New Republic and the resistant First Order each vying for power. And there would be no “Resistance” separate from the New Republic. Why would the New Republic be financing a secret organization that shares their same goals for peace in the galaxy? Why exactly didn’t the New Republic have an army, considering that many people would remember how well it worked out for the Old Republic when they didn’t have an army?

The Prequel Trilogy was criticized, rightfully so, for having far too much politics, far too much talking and legislating. Those criticisms have been well-voiced the past 15 years.

The Force Awakens, however, shows us absolutely nothing about how the New Republic functions. The viewer is treated to about 10 seconds of footage about the New Republic. We see a new planet and a new city that we know nothing about. We see dozens of people standing on a balcony, presumably the leaders of the New Republic? And then there’s a flash of light as the planets are vaporized by Starkiller Base.

It’s like Abrams wanted to reset the Star Wars universe as quickly as possible, to return us to the classic conflict of the Underdogs vs. a repressive Empire. The Legend or Korra recognized that it couldn’t top a Hundred Years War, so it didn’t even try. The Force Awakens did try, and hurt itself in the process.

The Force Awakens actually succeeded the most at world building in the first few minutes that we meet Rey. We see her scavenging through a deserted Star Destroyer and selling the parts. As she speeds into town, we see several downed Star Destroyers, the artifacts of a war a generation removed. Rey even lives in a broken down AT-AT!

Downed Star Destroyer in The Force Awakens

Those first few minutes with Rey are my favorite part of the movie. They provide a glimpse of how far the galaxy has to go in healing itself from the Empire. And isn’t that how military conflicts in real life resolve, after decades and decades of rebuilding? After all, the Great Wall of China was designed to protect the country against invaders. Post-World War II Germany was segregated into Eastern and Western sections for two generations. Many countries in Asia still have landmines buried from the result of wars long past.

And many nations around the world, including the United States, are still using military equipment that’s several generations old! The First Order shouldn’t be outfitted with shiny new black Star Destroyers. They should be using equipment from the Empire days that’s visibly degraded. You know how Han’s Millennium Falcon is always breaking down? Why aren’t the TIE Fighters doing the same thing?

The Force Awakens should’ve opened with a scrappy New Republic, struggling to keep everything hanging together. And the aggressors should’ve been the remnants of the Empire, jury rigging whatever equipment they could find just to keep their army functioning.

The citizens of the New Republic should be frustrated with the lack of progress that the galaxy’s made in recovering from the Empire. And the First Order should step in to show them a clear alternative, a group of people who believes they can return the galaxy to the glory days of the Empire.

There’s a scene right before the Starkiller Base fires when General Hux, dressed in black, gives a stirring speech about the majesty of power to crowds of assembled troops. Abrams was clearly drawing off Nazi imagery, and I think the Nazis provide a useful, albeit clichéd, lens for understanding the First Order. That’s fine, but Abrams misstepped by paralleling the Nazis at the height of their power: he should’ve paralleled the Nazis during their rise to power.

In the 1930s, Hitler arose to speak to the needs and desires of the German people. He promised a return to glory. He spoke to people who were fed up with the economic depression they were experiencing, caused in part by crippling debt from World War I.

I don’t think Starkiller Base was the correct plot device in the Force Awakens. It should’ve been something much smaller scale—after all, how can the Star Wars team possibly top this conflict by Episode IX? It would’ve been wise, though, if the First Order, by the end of the movie, managed to destroy, or at least significantly damage, the fragile New Republic.

Then, in Episode VIII, we’d see a shift in power. The New Republic and the First Order are no longer co-equals. The First Order clearly has the advantage, and the collapsing New Republic becomes the seed of the new Resistance.

The Force Awakens has already succeeded in introducing several new lovable, human, relatable characters. The Legend of Korra proved that if you have strong characters and strong relationships, you can still have a successful story, even if the scope of the conflict doesn’t match the level of the previous series.

If only the Force Awakens had shown similar discretion.

~Dennis