Category Archives: Reaction

Posts in response to anime, manga, or other media. We would call them “recaps,” except we’re not that diligent.

Review: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong

I picked up this volume pretty much on a whim. While I’ve read plenty of manga, manhua is relatively new to me, and it seemed like a good time to dive in. The story of two artists leaving bustling city life behind for a secluded, yet picturesque existence on an isolated mountaintop was immediately appealing; I’m a sucker for anything about the beauty of nature (except for actually going outside in real life, since there are bugs out there, but let’s gloss over that for now.)

So I was expecting a kind of manhua version of Non Non Biyori, or Laid Back Camp; a comic that immerses you in the wonders of the outdoors through beautiful artwork, and leaves you feeling serene and somehow, purified. Uncomfortably Happily is that, to a certain extent, but there’s a lot more going on here. It’s also about the dangers (both physical and psychological) of trying to earn your daily bread as an artist, and the difficulty of living in the moment even when you’re trying your absolute damndest to do so.

Hong’s style is well-suited to the material. While the characters are very cartoony (and quite adorable), the backgrounds are elegant; detailed, yet not fussy or over-rendered. The story covers the change of several seasons, and through Hong’s linework, you can very nearly feel the change in the temperature on your skin. When the trees are all covered in snow and Hong and his wife huddle around their little charcoal stove, you can feel that warmth, that inviting coziness, so effortlessly. At some points the art loses its detail work and becomes very stark, but always in the service of creating powerful images that communicate the characters’ inner lives better than any dialogue could.

This is an autobiographical comic and it feels like it, filled with tons of little details that would probably only occur to someone who had lived in this exact scenario. I’m always a little hesitant to use the term “autobiography” in regard to comics, because a lot of so-called autobiographical comics that I’ve read feature a lot of fiction weaved in with the real-life remembrances (and there isn’t anything wrong with that, necessarily, but it does make me wonder if the term “semi-autobiographical” isn’t a safer designation.) I have no idea how much of this comic was drawn directly from Hong’s experience, and how much might have been exaggerated for drama, but regardless, it feels real; it feels like a glimpse into a year or so of someone’s life, disappointments and all.

Sometimes I think about retreating to some rural cottage somewhere, breathing clean air and going swimming in a crystal-clear stream every morning. It’s a nice idea, but for some reason, I think I’d always assumed that in that venue, my problems would just disappear, and Uncomfortably Happily shows all the reasons why natural beauty, as wonderful as it is, is not a cure-all for your problems. In fact, sometimes it felt a little uncomfortable to read this book, since the gap between the pastoral paradise Hong wants and the reality of his life is so jarring, it made me conscious of how unrealistic my own fantasies were. Nevertheless, nature can be a cure for what ails you, but it’s not going to do the work all by itself; you need to meet nature halfway, by being at peace with yourself (or close enough to it) that you can actually take in the wonder of what you’re surrounded by with clear eyes.

Uncomfortably Happily is $29.95, published by Drawn and Quarterly. Originally published in two volumes in Korea, this thick edition has the complete story. The paperback edition isn’t as robust as I would like; after one reading, the spine already looks pretty worn. Nevertheless, it’s an attractive looking book and deserves a place on your graphic novel shelf. And if you don’t have a graphic novel shelf, for some strange reason, you can always just put it on your regular bookshelf (preferably next to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden), and call it a day.

X-Men: TAS Episode 3: Enter Magneto

Hi everyone, and welcome to the latest installment covering a cartoon from 1992 that still feels so relevant it kind of hurts you on an existential level, X-Men: The Animated Series! Seriously, this is a pretty stellar episode with a surprisingly adult script (even for this show), and I don’t want to wait any longer before diving into it.

Actually, I should pause to say one thing: I’m not going to attempt to keep politics out of these recaps. As sympathetic as I usually am to the “please keep your stupid politics out of my fun escapism show” argument, this cartoon happens to deal with a huge amount of political themes. Trying to write about this show without mentioning politics is like trying to write about My Little Pony without mentioning unicorns: You can try really hard, but at some point you have to acknowledge that Ponyland is just bursting to the gills with fucking unicorns, you know?

We start out at a jail; apparently this is some kind of super-secure jail for mutants, or perhaps just hardened criminals, but it doesn’t really matter. Beast is reading Orwell’s Animal Farm in his cell, and the idiot guards are taunting him, mistaking from the title that it must be a picture book for children. Beast doesn’t look terribly upset by this; I’ll bet if you asked him, he would lay the blame for their behavior at the feet of a sub-par American education system that allowed these people to go through school without learning about George Orwell, and he bears no grudge against them personally. For Beast, the root problem is never hate, only ignorance. He may not be entirely right, but he’s right more often than Magneto.

Speaking of which, Magneto is going nuts ripping up the facility with his magnetic tomfoolery, leading the guards to panic. Beast, bless him, calmly puts a bookmark in Animal Farm so he won’t lose his place, and prepares to scold Wolverine, whom he assumes is responsible for the all the hubbub. Alas, it is not the brash Canadian one, but Magneto, in all his power and glory! It’s telling that Beast already knows who Magneto is; even though Xavier clearly hasn’t told the other X-Men about Mags yet, he has confided in his fellow doctor.

Magneto wants to break Beast out of jail in the name of mutant solidarity, but Beast isn’t having it; he wants to go through the legal system properly, to prove that mutants can and should be treated as humans by the law. What’s really striking about this is how out of touch it is with today’s notions of “social justice;” from a modern, progressive perspective, Beast is putting himself in the hands of the oppressor and expecting the oppressor to give him justice after an appeal to their common humanity, and that’s a fool’s errand. The modern view, at least in many academic circles, is that you should do everything possible to disrupt “the oppressors,” because you’re never going to convince them to do the right thing through reason.

But that’s the nature of (this particular) Beast though; you can’t convince him that “civility doesn’t work” (or, more on the nose, that Civil Disobedience doesn’t work), because Beast’s whole character is about rejecting the primal, emotional reactions you’d expect a “beast” to be governed by, in favor of civility. If your path to justice isn’t civil, Beast has no interest. I never thought about it before, but really, Beast is the one who’s more diametrically opposed to Mag’s viewpoint, and not Xavier. Xavier and Magneto are different sides of the same coin, while Beast is using different currency entirely.

“While I respectfully recognize that this is in contrast to today’s notions of Performative Wokeness, I will surrender myself to the mercy of my Oppressor because I refuse to internalize the simplistic Oppressed/Oppressor dichotomy; not primarily out of any altruistic concerns for my ideological opponents, but because I do MYSELF an injustice by conceiving of my existence in such terms.”

“Also, jail gives me a lot of free time to read and that’s awesome, don’t ruin this for me bro.”

Magneto is surprised to learn that Xavier was responsible for the lawbreaking that got Beast jailed, since he always thinks of Charles as sitting around and doing nothing, waiting for humans to start being nice. This is another important distinction: according to Magneto, Xavier doesn’t fight, and that’s naive. In reality Xavier does fight, but he tries to fight surgically, picking the most important battles, whereas Magneto just wants to declare all-out-war all the time. It’s classic all-or-nothing thinking: Xavier does fight back against evil and injustice, but he doesn’t do it exactly the way Magneto wants, therefore Magneto treats it as Xavier doing fuck-all. If he had to accept that Xavier was also actively fighting for mutant rights, he’d have to examine his own views, and he’s too emotionally damaged to do that. Much easier to adopt an “you’re either with me or against me” mentality.

“Listen, Charles doesn’t like us breaking into government facilities on general principle, but there were kids being kidnapped, so we had to vaporize all of their data and destroy all of their advanced weapons.”

“How like Charles, to sit there doing NOTHING!”

“…what part of ‘we destroyed their entire operation’ is confusing to you?”

Naturally, the guards are trying to shoot Magneto, which Magneto tries to use as proof of the humans’ overall terribleness; not very convincing when Magneto was the one who broke in and started causing havok. Beast says that the humans fight because they don’t understand, but Magneto counters that they do understand; humans realize that mutants are superior, and that’s why they fear them.

This is an interesting point, but one X-Men dealt with relatively early in its publishing history. Cyclops has a wonderful speech in X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills about how mutant talents, while special, are not far-and-away above non-mutant talents in terms of overall value. Sure, being able to use your eye-lasers to punch through a wall has its uses, but how does that compare to a doctor who comes up with a new treatment for a disease, saving thousands of lives? How does enhanced physical strength compare to what a visionary artist or musician can do, enhancing the lives of millions? From this perspective, “Homo Superior” really isn’t superior in any meaningful sense, and is merely part of the vast continuum of human ability.

As an aside, the reason why I haven’t enjoyed X-Men comics in about 15 years is because Marvel Comics seems to have collective amnesia about God Loves, Man Kills. They’ve doubled down on the idea of mutants as this special, “endangered” species separate from humanity, which seems completely at odds with what the original point of the series was. Basically, regardless of how much Magneto is involved in the stories (and it varies), recent X-Men comics seem to be about a world where Magneto’s ideology won, and that’s not okay with me. But I’m getting too far afield of the episode here, and I’m sorry.

Mad that Beast isn’t read to join Team Mutants Only, Magneto goes on a rampage and destroys more of the jail. For the most part, he’s seen damaging tanks while the human pilots escape, but there are a few cases where it looks like the pilots must have been killed, or at least hurt. This will be important later.

Back at the mansion, Xavier is explaining his history with Magneto to Jubilee. Now, World War II and the Holocaust cast a huge shadow over this show– especially this first season– but since it’s a children’s cartoon, they can’t be too direct about those things. So Xavier says that he and Magneto met “after a war,” without giving any more specifics. There’s an interesting question here about whether or not Magneto is still truly Magneto if you detach him from the Holocaust, but we’ll come back to that another time.

Anyway, Xavier was using his telepathy to “cure” refugees from the war of their trauma, and I wonder; while this is supposed to be an example of what a good guy Xavier is, it’s does provoke some interesting ethical questions. Like, is his version of “curing” patients just burying their PTSD deep in their minds so it can’t affect them? Because that’s essentially what he does for Rogue, burying the Carol Danvers persona so Rogue can function (and we see what happens in Season 2 when he’s not around to do this). It’s questionable if that’s really curing anything, plus, these patients absolutely cannot consent to what he’s doing, because non-telepaths can’t fully understand how telepathy even works. I doubt this is a problem that we’re going to have to face in real life in regard to actual telepaths, but it is something that may come up the more we develop technology that directly interfaces with the brain.

“I’m going to bury those bad, bad memories away deep in your psyche; you’ll probably start having horrible nightmares sometime in the future and you won’t even know why, but hey, you win some you lose some. I’m a very ethical doctor.”

Magneto was supposedly a “young aide” to Xavier at the time, but the animators couldn’t be bothered to come up with a younger character design for Magneto, so he still looks about 45 years old. Magneto and Xavier reveal their powers to each other while rescuing their patients, and Xavier discovers Magneto’s rage at humanity. Xavier urges Magneto to use his powers to help make peace with mankind, only for Magneto to point out that humans “can’t even make peace with each other.” This is an ironic line on many levels, primarily because if there’s one thing that would make all of humanity band together in solidarity, it would be against the kind of mutant uprising that Magneto wants.

Xavier has already defeated his old colleague once, but he’s disturbed that Magneto is starting a new campaign for mutant supremacy. Jubilee reassures him that with the X-Men here now, Magneto can’t fight all of them, and Xavier doesn’t respond. You can kind of tell he’s thinking “Actually, he can fight all of us,” but you don’t say that to a vulnerable 13-year-old whose just had her entire life turned upside down.

Scene change to the courthouse, where Beast is being arraigned. Anti-mutant protesters hold up signs saying things like “GO BACK HOME,” and “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!”, which is amusing since Beast is a U.S. Citizen. This is typically the problem with telling people to go “back where they came from,” because Earth isn’t that big a place; if you’re dealing with say, a Shi’ar invasion, you could get some mileage out of “Go back to the solar system where you came from, bird-feathered scum!” but that’s a rather unique circumstance.

Angry Mob in New York: “Go back where you came from, mutant!”

Beast: “Very well.” *Packs bags, goes home to Illinois*

Angry Mob in Illinois: “Go home, mutant!”

Beast: “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

Inside, the prosecution moves to deny bail to Beast because he’s a danger to the community. I think it’s not accidental that the prosecutor is depicted as a black woman; just because you’ve experienced prejudice, that doesn’t mean you won’t dish it out to somebody else when you get a chance. I think it was actually a pretty ballsy choice to do this, since you didn’t see a lot of black female lawyers in cartoons (or on live-action TV) in 1992, and this is a decidedly negative portrayal, brief as it is.

“Your Honor, The People would like to clarify that the phrase ‘People of Color’ has never included, and will never include, blue people. Some colors are just wrong.”

Beast’s lawyer claims that The People want to deny bail just because Beast is a mutant, and the judge is offended by the suggestion that the court is prejudiced. The kind of brilliant thing is, I think the judge honestly believes he isn’t prejudiced; he’s just part of a larger system that is. Like the judge may honestly want to be fair to Beast, but if everything he’s heard about mutants for his entire life has been biased to give him a negative impression, there’s a limit to how fair he can be.

Just in case any adult viewer had somehow missed the fact that anti-mutant sentiment is meant to parallel real-life racism, Beast takes this opportunity to quote The Merchant of Venice. Oy vey, the man has about ten PhD’s, and none of them have taught him how to properly read a room. The judge denies bail, and I can’t even say he’s wrong to do so; the audience knows that Beast did not approve of the violence Magneto did in the course of trying to rescue him, but the court has no real way of knowing that. There’s an element of Magneto’s fears being a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it’s stuff like his attack on the jail that torpedoed any chance of Beast being positively received in court. Beast knows this, and seems more sad than angry.

“Oh God, he’s really doing it. He’s quoting The Merchant of Venice in the courtroom.”

“I thought we talked to him about this.”

Beast holds up a copy of Crime and Punishment and says he’ll have a chance to “catch up on his Dostoevsky,” and I call BS; there’s no way in hell that Beast hasn’t already read Crime and Punishment at least three times, possibly in the original Russian.

Then all hell breaks loose when Sabretooth busts into the courtroom and starts attacking at random. Grrr, Sabretooth! Stop making Beast look bad by association in court! I don’t know, I feel like I should be excited for the arrival of Sabretooth, being such a major recurring villain and so on, but he’s much less interesting than everything else in this episode. The guards manage to use their wimpy little laser guns effectively (for once) and knock down Sabretooth, leading Cyclops to say “they’re going to kill him!” This is unusual, because while characters use euphemisms for murder a lot, very rarely on this show do they actually use the words “kill” and “die”; I think there was some kind of limit to how often you could use words like that on a Y-7 program.

“Arrgh, this is the one time these puny pink laser guns do something? Are you kidding me?”

Wolverine, who’s even less excited by Sabretooth’s appearance than I am, is prepared to let Sabretooth die, which probably comes off as shocking and disturbing if you don’t know the history between the two characters yet. Cyclops fights off the guards and saves the ‘Tooth, although how he lugged about 400 pounds of feral Canadian mutant back to the mansion without Wolverine’s help is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, somehow Sabretooth ends up in the X-Men’s infirmary.

Jubilee is immediately sympathetic towards Sabretooth because he reminds her of Wolverine; fortunately for her, Wolvie isn’t in the room to hear her say that. Cyclops passes on to Xavier that Wolverine knows (and hates) Sabretooth, and the Professor wants to know why; naturally, no one knows why because Wolverine refuses to tell anyone anything. This little storyarc ends up being about how the team should have had a little more trust in Wolverine when he told them that Sabretooth was bad news, but Wolvie’s at fault too for not even trying to explain. If he’d sat Cyke and the Professor down and told them his whole history with Sabretooth, they might not have kicked the guy out, but they would certainly have been a lot more cautious. The only way Wolvie’s decision not to share information reads as anything other than horribly stupid is if you assume that sharing stuff from his past has come back to bite him more than once, and he’s afraid of making that mistake again.

“Grrrr, I hate this guy so much! Don’t ask me why, it’s a secret. I will take to my grave the reason why I hate this guy, but I want everyone to know that he is just the worst. The worst!”

Wolverine wants to literally push Sabretooth out of the mansion, bed and all, which is kind of funny; he could just pick up Sabretooth and throw him out of the house, but then he’d have to actually touch him, so I guess just shoving the entire bed outside was more appealing. Obviously, Xavier is not going to tolerate any patient being forcibly removed from his infirmary like that, so Wolverine is forced to decide how far his loyalty to Xavier goes. Or rather he would have been, except Magneto attacks a nuclear missile base (!) and everything else is put on hold.

On the way out, Wolverine asks why the X-Men have to go beat up Xavier’s old enemy, but go easy on his, and there’s a very simple answer: because Xavier is in charge, and the X-Men trust his judgement Re: who needs to be beat up more than they do Wolverine’s. But what he says manages to touch a nerve anyway, as Xavier’s grimace shows. The Professor is very conscious of the dangers of abusing his power as the X-Men’s leader; granted, he still does it, but he’s worried about it.

“You know what you are, Chuck? A big fat hypocrite.”

“Be that as it may, nukes are being launched. I need you to go stop Mutually Assured Destruction. You can be angry at me whenever we’re not busy saving the world.”

“…Oh, I see what you did there.”

Magneto starts wreaking havok at the missile base, and to be honest, I’m not sure what his goal is here, exactly. Does he want to set off nuclear Armageddon, figuring that while humanity’s leadership is destroyed, he’ll be able to fill the vacuum? Seems kind of foolish, since a lot of mutants would be killed in a nuclear war too, but I can’t think of any other motivation that makes sense. If he just wants to destroy this one base as proof of what he can do, all he’s doing is setting all military everywhere on high alert, making his life harder. I can’t really complain that the specifics of his plan aren’t discussed though, because there’s no way they could be discussed on a show with this age rating; frankly I’m surprised they got away with identifying the missiles as nuclear warheads, specifically.

Anyway! Storm, Wolverine, and Cyclops show up. No idea where Rogue, Gambit and Jean are right now (you’d think this would be an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation for the X-Men), but whatever; I will have to get my regular dose of Gambit another day. Magneto quotes The Tempest, because spending any time around Beast apparently does that to people, and introduces himself. He seems genuinely disappointed that the X-Men aren’t in favor of his “Nuke our way to happiness” plan. He writes off Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence as hopeless, leading Storm to haughtily respond that his preferred alternative is a civil war. To which he basically says, “YES, exactly! A gold star for you!”

I see this argument taking place a lot today, albeit in slightly different form. A lot of people go around saying “Do not even try to reason with members Group X,  they are trash, they are garbage, it is hopeless,” and in some cases, they may even be right. But then it’s like…uh, what alternative do you propose? I have yet to hear any good ones. People who don’t outright call for violence seem to have their hearts set on the naive hope that if they just ignore their ideological opponents hard enough, they’ll somehow stop existing.  At least Magneto realizes that the only solution his logic allows for is violence, and he’s up-front about that.

Magneto throws the X-Men around a bit just to show he means business, then takes off. One thing that’s nice about Magneto as a villain is you don’t find yourself asking “why didn’t he just kill the heroes?” because he will always spare mutant lives on the assumption that they’ll eventually realize that he’s right and join him. Anyway, Wolverine’s version of trying to stop the nuke is to smash up all machinery in sight and hope that some of it, somehow, connects to the launch mechanism; in a way, Wolverine is kind of like a befuddled senior in a “Learn to Use the Your Computer!” class who just doesn’t get how this newfangled technology works. Needless to say, he is about as successful as most 89-year-olds at setting up their email, and the nukes launch.

FISSION MAILED

Professor X said that he “should have stopped Magneto when he had the chance,” which sounds an awful lot like saying he should have killed him when he had the chance, but censored for kids TV. Actually, what the Professor could do (and has done in the comics, although it didn’t stick) is disable Magneto’s mind to the point where he’s a vegetable; either way, not something they can be specific about on this show. Storm decides the only solution is to use her winds to pull the missiles after her and then detonate them over the ocean, killing herself in the process. Apparently there were no rules against suicide on Saturday Morning cartoons at Fox Kids; probably just the word suicide itself was banned.

Using Cerebro, Professor X sends technical information about the missiles into Storm’s mind, which teaches her how to disable them without blowing them up. This seems to work kind of like learning a new skill does in The Matrix, since in a couple of seconds, Storm knows enough about the warheads to know exactly how to deactivate them. Telepathy on this show is exactly as weak or as powerful as it needs to be at any given moment, but to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that utilized telepathy where that wasn’t the case.

You have no idea how hard I worked to get this screenshot. So many shots on this DVD end up just being a blur of two cells together, and there were very few shots with Storm AND any of the missiles in the same frame! See what I endure for you, dear reader?

In an impressive display of her power, Storm guides the missiles, uses electricity to deactivate them, and deposits them harmlessly into the ocean. She then faints, not unlike a nineteenth-century woman in a corset getting the vapors, but eh, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. It is sexist that Storm (and also Jean) are more likely to faint after using their abilities than the men are, but I don’t think this scene makes Storm look fragile; it makes her look incredibly badass, first for being dedicated enough that she was willing to kill herself on the spot, then for working so hard to stop the missiles that she had nothing left after she was done. Anyone who thinks she looks weak for reaching her physical limits is being unreasonable– the woman just single-handedly averted nuclear war, for crying out loud. Have some respect.

“What would have happened if Storm was on another mission, and instead we had say, Rogue–“

“Don’t ask those questions, Wolverine. Storm was here. STORM MUST ALWAYS BE HERE.”

As the X-Men take off, Magneto gives credit where credit is due and admits that the X-Men have been well-trained. He seems genuinely confused as to why Xavier would turn his back “on his own kind,” and oh dear, this might be hard to explain. If Magneto doesn’t understand why Xavier doesn’t see “provoking global nuclear war” as synonymous with “helping mutantkind,” it may take a while for them to get on the same page here.

“All I wanted was the death of untold millions and the utter chaos that would emerge after the devastation, is that really so much to ask? Why does Charles have to be so unreasonable? He really hasn’t changed from that time we were involved in the [redacted]War in [redacted].”

Next time: Sabretooth reveals his evil scheme! Jubilee pulls her weight! Rogue flirts too much and makes everyone super-uncomfortable! See you next time for Episode 4, Deadly Reunions.

 

My Hero Academia: Episode 54

As the events from last week alluded to, the battle between U.A. against the world commences in the tournament. Everyone holds their ground against opponents from Ketsubutsu with some really neat powerups that range in effectiveness. One of the dudes can stiffen items, and is able to stiffen his balls (no I’m not giggling, you’re giggling, shut up) to make them more powerful and effective, while a dude who looks like Android 17 can Boomerang objects back and forth in a really cool animated sequence. And then there’s a cutie who can fold her body in and out just like that of a turtle which is, uh….man, you really gotta wonder how some of these abilities work. The class manages to fend them off real good with new upgrades and additions to their costumes, like Jiro’s cool sound gauntlets and Mina’s Acid Veil.

And then there’s Dark Deku Boy, Yo Shindo who’s quirk is basically to make giant earthquakes with the neat side effect that the strength of the aftershock transfers back to him. It’s a very powerful, very excessive display of strength.

And SPEAKING of excessive displays, let’s talk Inasa. The passionate gust of wind who’s SO PASSIONATE he decides to just…steal the balls of hundreds in a giant tornado and just…knocks out 120 people in one fell swoop, showing just how strong and crazy this enthusiastic mad man really is. Time starts ticking down as people start passing the exam filling up the 100 person quota quicker than anticipated, making the entire thing feel like a real rush for time.

Deku finds himself recovering from the aftermath of Inasa’s attack, tangling head-to-toe with a femme fatale from Inasa’s school. She succeeds in overwhelming him, messing with him, and potentially coming on to him all in one fell, acrobatic swoop. He’s narrowly saved by everyone else coming to attack her.

I’ll say this: as much as I enjoy this show, this feels like an episode that they definitely had to pad out a tad. They were cutting in and out of flashbacks we’ve already seen, some as recent as just a few minutes prior. It’s not a major detriment to the show, but MHA has managed to do better than this for so long that if feels genuinely distracting when they do pad for time this way.

Ochaco runs away with Uraraka, but she’s on the move to ATTACK! That said, Deku ain’t no dumbass and is aware that she’s trying to pull something. He KNEW that she would be able to make herself float, and wouldn’t be dumb enough to reveal herself out in the open with no plan whatsoever. Camie, the femme fatale who had been hitting on Deku, shows off her ability to transform into other people, even if it meant transforming her clothes into an admittedly kind of awkward-looking white bodysuit (for broadcast censorship purposes, I imagine.) Deku is then saved by Tape Boy Sero and the real Ochaco, Uraraka, who manage to get him out of a pinch as they plan their counteroffensive.

What’s interesting about the last segment with Shoto Todoroki is that it’s actually material that was not in the manga. One could argue this is technically “filler” material but to be honest, in a giant tournament event where everyone is doing things on their own, there’s a fair bit of material to be explored and expanded upon. So seeing Todoroki get to face off against a ninja clan is actually pretty entertaining and cool to watch. And if next week’s episode preview is to be believed, we’ll get a little more hands-on with the rest of Class 1-A as they get to do cool things on their own, and frankly, it’s ALWAYS exciting to get more of that.

Pacing issues aside, this was still a pretty fun episode with some cool fight sequences, and I’m psyched for next week.

My Hero Academia: Episodes 52 and 53

Episode 52:

Going to be doing a bit of a double duty catchup for this one. The new cour of My Hero Academia’s third season has started and we begin it, like any other, with a brand-spanking-new opening: Make my story, by Lenny Code Fiction. It’s got a really sick opening riff, along with a lot of really cool foreshadowed visuals and some nice bits of animation. Good tune and strong visuals, so I give this one a Plus, not necessarily a Plus Ultra.

We begin the first episode with a demonstration of life going back to normal, while the students adjust to their new lives at UA’s Alliance Heights dorm halls. Classes resume, and the first thing on the docket is to work towards achieving provisional licenses. One of the first things they need to do towards that goal is doing the very thing this episode is called: “Creating Those Ultimate Moves.” In practice, this means that the teachers offer students advice about how to reinvent their own understanding of the quirks.

A superhero’s ultimate move is about more than just looking cool and flashy. It’s also about cementing your identity, refining your abilities, and showing something that represents what you are as a hero. It’s like how the Kamehameha wave is so ingrained with the image of DBZ and Goku; you want a move that’s so synonymous with who YOU are that making a move is equivalent to screaming out out “I Am Here!” to the world, and that’s a really neat thing.

Some of the students are able to gradually come up with new cool uses of their abilities, like Bakugo’s AP Shot, Mina’s Acid Nozzle, Tokoyami’s Shadow Stand, and Mineta’s…Sword of Grapes (which honestly just looks suspiciously inappropriate in it’s design, and was super intentional). But we’re shown two major conflicts in the form of both Deku and All Might’s recent developments.

All Might has to deal with the fact that he’s officially a teacher first and foremost, not only to Deku but also to the other students of 1-A, as he does his best to offer critical advice without overstepping his boundaries and showing favoritism. He even got himself a copy of a  Teaching for Dummies. But you can definitely tell it is still rather difficult for him to adjust to his newfound role as a mentor while being completely retired as a superhero.

As for Deku, he’s trying to find a new way to both be a hero and stop imitating All Might, especially with news that if he overexerts his arms any more he’ll have permanent, irreversible damage. That problems leads him to rediscovering an old friend from the Sports Festival, Mei Hatsume. She’s at the center of this episode’s comedic levity, leading to some solid visual gags, expressions, and potentially even some romantic tension in the mix for Deku and Ochaco. She’s a mad scientist excited to use any and all available test subjects for her experimental “babies,” and she’s just an absolute riot every time she appears.

After spending some time with her, Deku has a breakthrough about how to both reinvent his own fighting style and his costume: Instead of trying to just be All Might, he decides that he should try being Sanji instead, by fighting with KICKS! While kind of silly, it’s actually a genuinely cool moment where he has to step in and save All Might from falling debris, revealing his a snazzy new costume in the process. Deku’s new SHOOT STYLE technique is a logical reinvention of his fighting style; it both makes sense and works within consideration of his weakened arms.

This episode features a lot of setup, but it’s still really neat to see the way these characters continue to evolve regularly as this show goes on. It’s pretty standard fare, but there’s some solid jokes and visual gags, plus interesting stuff about the importance of Ultimate Moves and how one goes about updating one’s costume. It’s a lot of worldbuilding, but very importantly, it’s good worldbuilding.

Episode 53:

We see the aftermath of Deku’s reveal, alongside quick reveals about Kaminari and Kirshima’s new costumes (and I especially like Kirishima’s new design) but they don’t have time to explain it as Class-B has to train now. They’ll take the exam while at a different location from others in the school, so that no group has to clash too much. Monoma, the ass face from the Class 1-B, is both happy and relieved by this.

Plus we also get some casual banter among the ladies of 1-A about their training, while they don some casual garb, with Momo’s hair down and Tsuyu’s froggy bun style, alongside some romantic conversation. Ochaco admits to spacing out a bunch while Mina is able to tell clearly that yeah, she’s got feelings for someone, and she floats away in embarrassment. Small thing: while we, the viewers, know it’s Izuku she’s into, I appreciate there’s enough plausible deniability here that the girls feel it could be either Izuku or Tenya, as the trio all hang out regularly together. That’s just a nice little detail that could have been easily overlooked.

As the day of the exam arrives, there’s several new characters to introduce; naturally, since this exam has about 1500 applicants from all over the place. [Editor’s Note: Oh my God, how long is this series gonna be? I thought I could catch up!]

First up: Inasa. An eccentric guy who jumps into the conversation, and SLAMS HIS HEAD IN APOLOGY from a super popular school in the West: Shiketsu, one that rivals UA in its elite hero program. He’s got a splitting headache, but he’s strong and impressive enough to have been considered to apply to UA via recommendations, much like Todoroki and Momo. Goofy and charismatic, but strong enough to have been considered for UA, he has potential to be interesting.

Next up: a pro-hero who serves as the bane of Aizawa’s existence. She enjoys messing around with him, constantly expecting a major reaction out of him and often asking to get married. She’s eccentric and goofy, while he’s stoic and tired, and they make a great comic duo. She herself is a teacher at another school, Ketsubutsu Academy with a class of second-years, with slightly more experience than 1-A.

Then there’s one of her students, Shindo, A friendly guy with a pretty face (who kind of looks like a Dark, Cooler version of Deku in a weird way). He tries to be friendly and spark a conversation, but Bakugo quickly catches on that he’s being disingenuous and doesn’t truly mean what he says.

This arc is big with a lot of moving parts and new characters, and some weird exam rules. There’s a lot to digest, and the first round of the exam is revealed to be even crazier than you might have thought.

Everyone gets 3 mini-targets, and 6 rubber balls to hit the targets. Once all three targets on the body are hit, you’re out. Students need to knock out a minimum of two opponents to pass onto round 2. By the end of the exam, only 100 are expected to pass. The building opens up to reveal a major colosseum of obstacles, and everyone’s off to the races to embark on a time honored tradition (albeit one that Aizawa felt no need to mention to his students.)

At first it looks like things are going to play out a lot like the Sports Festival, but Aizawa knows his children: they’ve improved and can kick some major ass. As some students depart, Deku finds himself in a position of leadership to rally the class and take on the world as the episode ends. The two episodes have laid some important groundwork, but get ready for the real action to begin next week.

X-Men: TAS Episode 2, Night of the Sentinels Part II

Time to wrap up this opening story. We’re in the middle of the mission to destroy all of the files at the Mutant Control Agency; an ill-advised plan, but oh well, it happens. Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are waiting outside the building. Cyclops is worrying about how the mission’s going, to which Gambit reiterates that he should be the one inside, in case anyone forgot how this mission should have gone down.

Inside, Storm nearly walks her team into a trap, but Wolverine stops her. He claims he can smell gun oil, so he knows that there’re armed guards on the other side of the door. Funny, I would think the scent and pulses of about six people would stand out more than the gun oil would, but what do I know? Maybe Wolverine just really hates that new gun smell.

“There’s guards on the other side of the door, so blow the door off its hinges and send them flying; in fact, always do that. That’s how we’re gonna handle all doors from now on.”

Beast makes a joke about wondering where Storm got her Nom de guerre, and I’m 99% sure this line only exists so kids would ask their parents what ‘Nom de guerre’ means. Then the parents would ask where the kid heard that term, and the kid would say “X-Men!,” and at least temporarily, parents would think X-Men was educational. Oh Fox Kids, you devious charlatans.

A bunch of reinforcements arrive outside to back up the guards, so Cyclops begins taking them down. Cyclops instructs Rogue and Gambit to do the same, but cautions them not to hurt the humans; Gambit snarks that perhaps Cyclops should tell the humans not to harm them. This may shock you, but I think Gambit has a point; Cyclops is assuming that the X-Men outmatch their foes by enough that they can afford not to take the fight seriously, and that assumption is going to cost everyone dearly. I mean, I don’t think Rogue and Gambit should be running around using lethal force on human guards, but still, they’re playing this way too fast and loose.

Back inside, Morph uses a ruse to get some guards out of the way, and the voice he uses is so obviously Cal Dodd (Wolverine’s voice actor) making a froggy voice that it’s pretty funny. The inside team begins destroying the mutant files. Going by the size of the file cabinet, it looks like the MCA has data on thousands of mutants. Err, not good.

We switch scenes to Detroit, of all places, where Jubilee has been kidnapped. Gyrich is trying to get her to spill the beans about the X-Men, but unfortunately for him, Jubilee didn’t stay with the X-Men long enough to even finish the Orientation Breakfast, so she doesn’t know squat. Well, actually she does know the location of the X-Men’s headquarters, and the personnel, and so on and so forth, but she’s not talking. This doesn’t play like Jubilee playing tough to protect her new friends; more like she’s so confused by constantly being kidnapped that she doesn’t even know what’s what anymore. You can’t really blame her.

Bolivar Trask, scientist-guy who makes the Sentinels, discovers that Gyrich kidnapped Jubilee and is clearly upset about it. At first it seems like maybe he’s a decent guy who thinks they shouldn’t be running around kidnapping kids. But no, he’s just pissed that Gyrich went as far as kidnapping a mutant before the Sentinel project had reached the next benchmark.

“Now listen here, if you want to kidnap 13-year-old girls and strap them down to a table, there are certain very specific items of protocol you need to be aware of, Gyrich. First of all, that is not my preferred bondage table.”

Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are all fighting the guards outside while being careful not to play too rough. Cyclops wants the inside team to come out so they can regroup before things get out of control. Oh Cyke, things are already out of control; you’ve got Rogue dumping tanks into the Potomac. You probably should have told her not to do that.

Fortunately, the inside team is almost finished destroying all the files. Beast tries to wipe out the digital files with a computer virus, but Storm loses patience and fries the computer. I would like to be able to make some joke about how that data is backed up on Dropbox and Storm is screwed, but eh, it’s 1992; Storm’s probably right to just take out the hard drive and call it a day. Informational terrorism was so much easier in the days before the Cloud.

It haunted poor Derrick here that when the hottest woman he had ever seen touched him, he called her a “freak” because of the whole mutant thing. Determined not to ever let that happened again, Derrick adopted a new personal motto: “Booties before Muties.”

The two teams meet up outside, and make a run for the Blackbird. Morph makes another comment about how it’s “Clear sailing all the way!” and oh my God, I’m ready for him to die at this point. You’ll notice a lack of pictures of Morph in this post; that’s not deliberate, I just never felt the urge to take a screenshot when he was on screen. I guess I’m not Morph’s biggest fan, is what I’m saying.

Okay so I felt guilty for not even taking a screenshot of Morph, what with him selflessly sacrificing himself and whatnot, so here you go. Heroic Morph! To be fair, death improves his character a lot; his arc in Season 2 is fun.

Oh no, the Sentinels from Detroit have gotten to Washington in record time! Wolverine is ready to scrap, but Morph gets worried and jumps to push Wolverine out the way of a blast. Jarring scene change to Jean groaning over Cerebro; Morph just died off-camera, sacrificing himself for Wolverine. By the time Xavier puts on the Cerebro helmet to try to sense Morph, it’s already too late.

“I ain’t gonna say I tol’ you so, but I tol’ you so, mon ami.”

As little as the character of Morph himself moves me, I’ve always been impressed with this choice. Killing off a member of the team in the first story shows pretty strongly that there are real stakes here, and makes you question what the X-Men are doing. Was this entire mission worth it? Hundreds, maybe thousands of mutants may be safe from harm now that the data has been destroyed, but the X-Men don’t know that for sure; for all they know, the MCA could collect the same info again quite easily. And even though I didn’t like Morph much, a lot of viewers did; the show killed off a character people actually cared about.

I’m not sure how the show got away with this, because it seems way too hardcore and depressing for a program rated acceptable for 7-year-olds; I have that thought frequently while watching this series. When I first watched it I was already 10, maybe 11, so I had already encountered death in books, but I wonder what it must have been like for really young children who saw this on TV.

We skip ahead a bit to the team arriving back at the mansion; we’ll flash back to the fight against the Sentinels in a moment. This actually reminds me a little bit of the famous second episode of Evangelion, where you see the first half of a fight and don’t get to see the end of until much later; it’s much less dramatic than the Eva version, but to be fair, this came first. Wolverine is about ready to take Cyclop’s head off for leaving his teammates behind, but Jean comes and defuses the situation. She shares that Beast is alive (Thank God!) but Morph is not (okay.)

Instead of shredding Cyclops, Wolverine takes his rage out on Cyclops’ car and takes off. Jean says that what happened wasn’t Cyclops’ fault, or Wolverine’s, and no Jean: it’s Professor Xavier’s fault, for not sending Gambit. I’m not going to remind you again.

Flashback to two minutes ago! After Morph makes his heroic sacrifice, the X-Men are quickly overwhelmed by Sentinels, and poor Beast gets shoved into an electric fence, which is hard to watch. Remember how Cyclops can easily decapitate Sentinels with his optic blast? Well try to forget that, because he doesn’t even attempt it here. None of the X-Men’s attacks seem to do much in this battle, and in order for this to make sense with the end of the episode, we have to assume they were completely taken by surprise and are off-balance. Either that, or everyone gains about ten levels of power progression after this fight.

When the group decides that all they can do now is run, Wolverine wants to go back for Beast and Morph. Rogue uses her energy-sucking power to stop him, which is…weird. She’s not at all subtle about the fact that she’s about to do it, and Wolverine makes no attempt to fight or evade her. You know what I think? I think he wanted Rogue to stop him. I think he wanted to be able to say that he tried to go back from Beast and Morph without actually doing it. Sneaky Canadian.

I said I didn’t care much about Morph, but seeing Beast be sad makes me sad. Anything that makes Beast sad is intolerable.

Beast gets taken into captivity, where he prays for Morph. It may seem odd that a man of science like Beast is praying, but I think I get where he’s coming from. The only thing Beast can possibly do to help Morph at this point is pray for him, so unless he has solid proof that praying won’t help, that’s what he’s going to do. If Beast has ever gone into depth about his religion in the comics I haven’t read it, but that’s how I like to believe he thinks.

I would complain that Beast is sidelined for the rest of the season due to being captured, but to be honest, the scenes with Beast in jail are some of the best scenes in the entire series, so I’ll live with it. You’ll see what I mean when we get to Episode 3.

We see the President of the United States, and she’s a lady! It’s cool. At first it seems like the president is pleased that the X-Men’s attack on the MCA was foiled (it wasn’t actually foiled, they achieved their mission, but whatever), however we soon learn that a) she’s a smart lady who understands the nuances of the situation and b)she’s committed to cardiovascular health. She wisely tells Gyrich to stop with his MCA nonsense, because it’s only going to lead to more bloodshed.  Honestly, at this point, if you put this woman on the ballot, I would vote for her in a hot second.

Wolverine is playing pool at a crummy bar to try to distract himself from his grief. I’ve always gotten a kick out of how seedy this show makes Westchester County look, by the way. I haven’t been there a whole lot in real life, but whenever I have, it’s seemed like the entire area is ensconced inside a giant Starbucks; it’s a little precious. We hear from Senator Robert Kelly over the bar’s TV, in a nice piece of foreshadowing. They really planned out this season! Cyclops shows up to recruit Wolverine on a revenge mission against the Sentinels, and Wolverine is so turned on by the sound of the word “revenge” that he temporarily suspends his hatred of Cyclops and goes along with it.

“I know you’re mad at me, but in my defense, I’m about to offer you a mission that involves chopping up dozens of robots.”

“This is why I can never stay mad at you, Scott.”

This next part is cool. Cyclops goes to Jubilee’s foster parents, and her Foster-Dad rats him out to Gyrich. It quickly becomes obvious that this is what Cyclops wanted to happen, because he wanted Gyrich to send a Sentinel that the X-Men could then track back to the Sentinel’s home base. This is some pretty clever social engineering on Cyclops’ part, and goes a long way toward showing why he’s the leader. Cyclops easily damages the Sentinel (which apparently he can do when he feels like it), and the team tracks the damaged Sentinel back to Detroit in the Blackbird.

Detroit, inside the Sentinel Skunkworks. Gyrich tells Trask that they’re going to pack up the Sentinel operation and move overseas, now that the President has withdrawn the government’s support of the MCA. I would go on a rant about how hard-working American Sentinel-building jobs are being destroyed, but it seems like Trask is the only one actually building the darned things, so I guess that’s not a concern. You have to give Gyrich credit though: by pulling manufacturing out of Detroit, he’s about 5 years ahead of the curve there. If only Detroit had kept the critical killer-giant-robot industry, things might be very different today.

In the chaos caused by the broken Sentinel returning (apparently losing an arm also fries their guidance system), Jubilee tries to escape. She does a pretty good job of blasting through a metal wall, which seems like it shows off a lot more juice than her powers usually have. Why? Because Gambit is near, of course! Gambit gives Jubilee the courage to fight like a proper X-Man!

NEVER LET GO

What follows is a virtuous ass-whomping, with the X-Men easily taking out about 30 Sentinels. It’s a bit puzzling that they’re so good at fighting the Sentinels now when they sucked at it the first time, but I guess we just have to assume that the X-Men are all full of piss and vinegar now and were ready to engage. Back at the MCA, they were still in “Let’s pull our punches and not harm the puny humans” mode, and that’s why their attacks at that time were so weaksauce; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

“I can nevah kill these robots properly until I’ve had my coffee in the mornin’! Let’s get ’em all, while I’m still running on French Roast, Sugah.”

One particularly choice moment in the fight involves Cyclops yelling at Jubilee to “duck!,” then he promptly blasts some Sentinels about forty feet above her head. There was no need to duck, is what I’m saying. Another nice moment (this time being serious) involves Wolverine using his claws on a Sentinel with extreme prejudice. Even though we know the Sentinel is a robot and not really alive, it still looks impressively brutal and shows off what Wolverine is about.

And so ends the Detroit Sentinel program; of course it’s going to be resumed in Bangladesh or something like that, but for now, the X-Men enjoy a well-earned victory. Besides, the quality of the foreign-made Sentinels won’t be nearly as good as these patriotic, American-Made Sentinels, so the X-Men’s hardest fight is likely behind them. Vote for X-Men:TAS President in 2020, she’ll bring manufacturing back to America and Make Sentinels Great Again!

Wrap-up time: Jubilee is saying goodbye to her foster parents, now that she knows she belongs with the X-Men. She confesses that the pair are the best foster parents she’s ever had, and uh…let’s all take a moment to appreciate what a scathing indictment of the American foster care system that is. Nevertheless, Jubilee will now call the X-Mansion her home for the next five seasons; beginning of an era.

There’s a moment at the end of the episode where Cyclops asks Jean if he did the right thing back during the battle where Morph was killed and Beast kidnapped, and she replies that he “did what he had to do.” Cyclops, hon, you shouldn’t have been put in that horrible situation in the first place, because you shouldn’t have even been there. If the Professor had only sent Gambit—-

*gets pulled away from the keyboard kicking and screaming*

Okay, let’s bid goodbye to Night of the Sentinels, and I promise that I’ll never mention that Xavier should have sent Gambit again. Probably. Unless it’s highly relevant. Next time: Magneto! Sabretooth! Due Process! Wolverine not understanding the concept of organizational hierarchy! We’ve got some good episodes coming up.

Connecting with My Hero Academia

[Hey guys, this is Andrew’s first post for Otakusphere. He’s a life-long anime fan with eclectic tastes who’s going to be covering My Hero Academia for us. Before getting caught up in episodic posts, we wanted to take a moment to let Andrew talk about what first drew him to the series.]

“Young Man, you too can be a hero.”

A phrase so simple, yet so powerful. Both in the context of the scene  itself, and what it’s come to mean to fans of the show. This was the moment that I felt this was going to be something very, very special.

But let’s start from the top.

My Hero Academia premiered in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine about 4 years ago, the magazine home to such monster hits as Naruto, One Piece, Dragonball, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and many more. Written by Kohei Horikoshi, MHA tells the story of a world where 80% of the world have superhuman powers called Quirks and Superheroes have become a regular profession; they have about the same level of authority as civil servants, like firefighters or police officers.

Izuku Midoriya is one of those 20% born without a quirk, despite his dream to be a hero all his own, much like his idol, All Might: a symbol of peace and one who represents the very best and brightest of heroism. One day, the two have a chance encounter that changes his life.

That’s the initial premise, and after some gradual buildup it becomes a Battle Shonen school setting with all of the friendships, rivalries, tournaments, awesome fights and major conflicts that are typical of the genre. But to say that MHA uses bog-standard genre trappings feels dishonest, in a way; the implication is that the show is uninspired because of the use of those tropes, or perhaps uses them poorly. I feel the opposite: To me, this is the show that reminded me what good shonen anime is truly capable of, and why so many classic series worked so well in the first place. It’s not the awesome action scenes that made the show resonate with me; it’s the show’s emotional core, which is always front and center.

Izuku Midoriya, given the nickname Deku, is effectively judged at a young age to be worthless, broken, and strange. He has no power or ability, therefore he’s seen as an outcast. His struggle to reach his dreams, despite not having powers, feels real, painful, and inspiring, all at once. The powerful All Might seems like the opposite of Deku, but he’s revealed to be much weaker than he lets on; His muscular form can only be sustained for so long, and he reverts to a skeletal stick figure of a man when not saving others.

All Might at first writes off Izuku as someone who has no chance at being a hero without a superpower.  However, during a major fight with a kidnapped student from Deku’s school, All Might cannot sustain his muscle form long enough to help. Everyone is helpless and has no clue what to do, until little Izuku– the powerless, quirkless little boy– rushes into the fray, to save a kid who has bullied him for years. He selflessly rushes in, when those with powers around him are unable or unwilling to rush to his aid, prompting All Might to act.

Which leads to the scene we started with: All Might commends Deku, even if no one else will, because while what Deku did was reckless(or even stupid), All Might saw something no one else did. He saw that Deku is the kind of person who is willing to rush in and react before he could think, all for the sole purpose of saving another. And in that moment, this kid…this kid, who had been told all his life that he could never reach his dream, that he could never do anything, that he was never going anywhere. Now someone he respected deeply had told him that he had the power to reach his dreams, and become a hero in a way that no one else could.

There’s so much I could write about when it comes to My Hero Academia, but that one moment spoke to my very core. I hadn’t felt that strongly about anything in a show for a long time, then this scene hit me in a way I didn’t think was possible. Izuku is sympathic to anyone who has ever felt loss, felt lesser, or looked down upon by society. No matter what your particular challenge is; be it a disability, mental illness, or a history of bullying– Izuku is someone you can see yourself in. And when All Might (so proud, noble, and respected) told him he could achieve his dreams?  It melted my heart. And I knew I was in love with My Hero Academia from the start.

Early on, the show endears you to the main character’s struggle. But even as the story goes on, you’re so engaged with him the whole way that it makes the entire journey, from zero to hero, so gratifying. All the battles, all the friendships, all the amazing moments he earns feel rewarding in a way that’s truly unusual. In a few episodes this show does to me what other series struggle to do for their entire runs.

There’s enough aspects of the world, characters, or the way the show tackles storytelling that could warrant their own article. [Editor’s note: I want that article. Get busy!] I am just here to say that I am a big MHA fan, caught up with the latest manga chapters, own all current English volumes of the manga and the collector’s editions for both Seasons 1 and 2 of the anime. Obviously, this is a series I’m greatly invested in, and I know that it has many more great stories to tell in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll join me.

X-Men: TAS, Episode 1: Night of the Sentinels, Part I

Let’s start with a note on format: I’m taking screenshots from the official Marvel DVDs of this series. While I was glad to support the show by buying the official release, these DVDs don’t have much going for them beyond that. The special features are virtually nil. I have all of SheRa: Princess of Power on DVD, and those sets have tons of extras, including episode commentaries, featurettes, and even the entire series bible; my X-Men discs are just kind of sad in comparison. I don’t know what necessitated putting out such a bare-bones release here (maybe some legal restrictions?), but I hope someday, we get something better.

I’m impressed with how this episode has aged overall. The visuals are often too dark and muddy (a problem that plagues much of the show), and the backgrounds are often very perfunctory, even by the standards of the time; the only area where care seems to have been taken with the bg art was Xavier’s mansion. Still, this episode has to introduce 10 different characters, plus the entire world of the X-Men, and does it pretty darn well, all told. It’s also patently ridiculous at times, but the ways in which it’s ridiculous function better as satire than I’m entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, enough preamble, time for Night of the Sentinels!

We open with a news report about mutant violence and hysteria, which seemed overblown to me at the time. As a child, while I was aware of racism and bigotry, I thought of those as being largely problems of the past; understanding and acceptance of different types of people had improved within my lifetime, and I had every reason to believe that this was something that would only continue to improve as I got older. I thought that if super-powered mutants ever existed in real life, the response to them would be much calmer than this show portrays, because people have to be smarter than this. On some level, I think I’ve always been a little mad at the world for disappointing me about that, ever since.

“I’m telling ya Lorraine, we shoulda known something was up with that kid when she kept wearing that raincoat even when it wasn’t raining. Now she’s blowing up VCRs, and we can’t tape General Hospital? That was the last straw!”

Jubilee’s foster parents are agonizing over what to do about their mutant foster child, and it’s surprisingly hard-edged. Her mother even asks if the father regrets taking Jubilee in, and whoah…isn’t that the kind of thing you’re never, ever supposed to say as an adoptive parent? Granted, she didn’t know Jubilee was listening, but still, introducing the idea “maybe your adoptive parents don’t actually want you,” seems like a pretty dark place to go right out of the gate. This show is really dark for a kids cartoon, notorious for it actually, but I’m still surprised sometimes at the ways in which it’s dark.

Jubilee whines that she used to be a normal kid, and I wonder if she ever was, really. She was a gamer girl in 1992, and weren’t all girl gamers at that time vilified and harassed constantly? I read it on the internet, it must be true!

Five feet tall, I can believe, but 90 lbs.? Yeah, and I’m Scarlett Johansson, pfft. Someone lied on their Mutant Control Agency paperwork.

We get our first look at the mutant-hunting Sentinels, and by God, are they ridiculous looking. They were terrifying when they were first introduced in Days of Future Past, but that was in the context of the whole world becoming an unbelievably horrific place; seeing a bright red-and-purple giant robot strolling down a suburban street just looks ridiculous. Also ridiculous is the amount of collateral damage Sentinels are authorized to allow while capturing mutants; apparently it’s totally fine to destroy houses while in pursuit of target mutants. Part of me wants to laugh at this, and part of me realizes it’s actually not funny; you mean, ideological zealots don’t care who they hurt or what they destroy in the process of rounding up “dangerous” people? HAHAHAHAH what a huge exaggeration that has no relevance at all to current societal problems!

One tiny little dog does not approve of the giant robot in his neighborhood and hassles the Sentinel; remember this dog, he’ll be important later.

Jubilee takes out her frustrations on some space aliens at an arcade in the mall, and someday, when I watch this show with my daughter, I will probably have to explain what an arcade was. Jubes breaks the machine with her mutant powers, and tries to blow it off by being too cool for school, but naturally it doesn’t work. The arcade owner really should just chill; once the Sony Playstation comes out in a few years, electric-type mutants with poor impulse control are going to be the least of his problems.

“Dude, it was a Robocop cabinet, I did you a favor here.”

Jubilee runs out of the arcade and collides with Rogue and Storm, who were clearly on a shopping spree. In fact, considering the fact that they have about ten packages, I wonder how much of an allowance Xavier gives them for “personal expenses?” Meanwhile, Gambit is introduced flirting with the cashier at a stationary store; this wouldn’t be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that it’s so clear they’re both thinking about knocking boots that it’s actually kind of disturbing. Like, I have seen hentai less sexually charged than this scene between Gambit and this nameless cashier lady.

Sentinel bursts into the mall, causing havok, and captures Jubilee. Rogue and Storm take exception to this, and Storm changes in a flash of lightning from her normal clothes into her X-Men uniform. It bugs me a little bit whenever Storm does this, because it looks too much like magic, and mutant powers are not supposed to be magic. Technically she could be using lightning to incinerate her outside clothes to reveal her uniform underneath, but eh, I still don’t like it. Rogue’s initial response to all the mall shoppers running and screaming for their lives is “Must be sale,” said in a very deadpan way; this is why the entire world loves Rogue.

“Ah keep tellin’ ya Sugah, if you didn’t keep frying your clothes like that, we wouldn’t need to go to the mall once a damn week!”

“As if you don’t LOVE IT.”

“Ah do.”

Rogue and Storm retrieve Jubilee from the Sentinel, which involves Rogue decking it with an escalator, than flying up and punching the snot out of it. Jubilee is amazed that other people have powers more useful than breaking  VCRs, and seems to be somewhat in awe. Rogue eventually sends the Sentinel flying into the card shop where Gambit is busy flirting, nearly nailing him. I’m 90% sure she didn’t mean to do that, but I guess we’ll never know.

The Sentinel blasts Rogue and Storm out of commission for a little while, leaving Jubilee to run into Gambit. He actually catches her in his arms, making this the best thing to happen to Jubilee all day. Granted, her day so far has involved being betrayed by her foster parents, getting yelled at, and getting attacked repeatedly by a giant robot, so it’s kind of a low bar to clear, but still; Gambit has her in a princess carry. You cannot put a dollar price on that.

Suddenly this trip to the mall was not such a bad idea. Now, onward, to Dippin’ Dots!

Unfortunately, the version of this story where Gambit and Jubes have a romantic date at the mall will have to be continued in my fanfiction, because the Sentinel catches up and proceeds to blast the shit out of Gambit. When the Sentinel looks like it’s about to finish Gambit off, Jubilee belts the sentinel with her fireworks power. I like the fact that Jubilee’s first proper use of her powers is done to protect Gambit; that’s my girl.

Dear Sentinel 9872, this scan has revealed insufficient information. Please do a more thorough scan, and send all of your findings to my phone Mutant Control Agency Headquarters.

Jubilee bolts outside and runs into Cyclops, who easily takes out the Sentinel by using his optic blast to sever the Sentinel’s head from its body. Now forget you ever saw him do that, because if you remember, you’re going to spend all of Night of the Sentinels Part II wondering why he doesn’t just do that a few more times, and many Sentinel-related problems could be avoided. Jubilee succumbs to some knock-out gas the Sentinel emitted before its unfortunate decapitation, and blacks out. Scene shift to the Mansion, yaaay. The backgrounds in the mall were just too depressing.

Jubilee wakes up and destroys the lock on her door, since that’s what you do when people rescue you from a rampaging giant robot; break their stuff. She begins sneaking through the mansion, only to run into Beast, doing some kind of experiment. Beast muses aloud that it would be really fascinating if his experiment were to suddenly explode, so Jubilee wisely books it out of there. She then gets a view of Morph, the male character created for this show with Mystique’s shape-shifting power. Hmmph. I feel like I should have a lot to say about Morph, but I’m not sure what that is yet. Maybe I’ll wait until next episode…oh, wait, never mind.

Beast’s Log: –Still no progress creating an anti-dandruff shampoo that doesn’t dry out the scalp. Shampoo +Conditioner hybrid is still years of testing away.

Professor X and Jean appear, with the professor upset that the existence of the X-Men is going to be revealed to the world “like this.” Err, what were you expecting exactly, Charles? Did you expect to send out a press release that said “Today I’m proud to introduce my private militia, the X-Men,” and get favorable media coverage? It was always going to go down like this. Jean realizes that something is amiss, and the Professor puts out an alert that “an intruder” is afoot. Kind of rude to call Jubilee an intruder when she’s a guest, but I understand that it’s important to find her before she hurts herself.

“I always thought the public launch of the X-Men would be a joyous occasion. I had even hoped for…cake.”

“I can bake you a cake, Professor.”

“It’s not the same, Jean.”

In her zeal to get away, Jubilee accidentally crashes a Danger Room session meant for Gambit and Wolverine, which is definitely not something you want to be in the middle of without superhuman agility. Gambit tries to get her to safety, but he has Wolverine to deal with, who’s still oblivious to Jubes’ presence. Interesting choice to introduce Wolvie over halfway through the episode, by the way; you would think they would have put him front and center. Since Jubilee doesn’t know yet that the Danger Room is for training, and Wolverine is only pretending to beat up Gambit, she blasts Wolverine with her fireworks, sending him flying. Apparently, whenever Jubilee is protecting Gambit, her mutant powers increase by about 50%; that’s a girl with her priorities straight.

“Hah hah Wolverine, you just got beat up by a 90 pound girl!”

“You really believe she’s only 90 pounds, Bub? And I thought I was the one who just hit my head.”

Storm takes Jubilee outside for a heart-to-heart about who the X-Men are. Jubes is less than enthused about being taken to Xavier’s School for the Gifted, pointing out that “gifted” is a euphemism. That’s a really politically loaded comment that I’m afraid to touch, and I don’t mind admitting it. Storm tries to console Jubilee about her situation, but Jubes gets her bitch mode on for some reason and points out that the people at the mansion seem a little old for school, like they might have been left back because they failed. Wow! Is that how you treat someone who just rescued you, kiddo? I like you, but you pick all the wrong times to get vicious.

Storm then does a gratuitous display of her powers, allegedly to show Jubilee the importance of learning to control your abilities, but mostly to get back at Jubes for being a snotty little brat; no one would hold it against her.

“How big an allowance does Professor Xavier give you if you join the X-Men?”

“It’s $200 a week. In 1992 dollars.”

“WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Inside, everyone gathers in the war room, planning their next move. Wolverine asks if anyone’s called Jubes’ parents, and it’s important that he’s the one to ask that; when he finds out that they haven’t heard back from her family, he effectively becomes her parent, right then and there. All you need to do to get on Wolvie’s good side forever is blast him in the spleen with some explosive energy, he respects that sort of thing. Professor Xavier has somehow hacked information out of the disembodied Sentinel head (don’t ask), and found out that the Sentinel had Jubes’ information because it had access to her profile from the Mutant Control Agency.

The gang then discusses what the MCA is, and I feel like I need to quote this:

Cyclops: Professor Xavier, could the government be plotting against mutants?”

Xavier: No; the Mutant Control Agency is a private organization with occasional support from the government.

….

…Wow, what a critically important distinction, Professor. I’m sure Cyclops feels so much better now. Of course, it’s a little rich that anyone’s surprised that an organization called “The Mutant Control Agency” has an interest in controlling mutants, but that’s one of those things we just have to shrug off. It would make a lot more sense if it were called The Mutant Outreach Program or something, but we gotta make some allowances for this being a kids cartoon.

While the X-Men are all busy discussing the MCA and its “hidden” agenda, Jubilee hops a bus to go see her foster parents. Great security there, X-Men, but I guess hacking that giant Sentinel head was pretty distracting. Gyrich from the MCA is asking Jubes’ parents about her friends, curious if the X-Men are among them, but they claim not to know about Jubes friends because she’s only been with them “a year.”

Your kid has lived with you for an entire year, and you still don’t know who any of her friends are? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I’m supposed to have some sympathy for these folks, being caught in a dangerous situation they were totally unprepared for, but damn, are they making it hard to care about them. Jubilee then promptly gets captured by the Sentinels, because without Gambit there to motivate her, her powers are still weaksauce.

Back at the mansion, Professor X comes up with a plan to sneak into the Mutant Control Agency and destroy their files, so that hundreds of mutants will get their anonymity back and hopefully be safe from the Sentinels. Gambit suggests doing it himself, and hey, that’s a great idea! And no, I’m not just saying that because I obviously want to marry him like his character. Gambit is a professional thief; getting in and out of places without being seen is his specialty. Even if the Sentinels were to show up, he’d pull some ruse to distract them and then get away, the other thing he’s really good at.

But no, Professor Xavier decides that for a stealth breaking-and-entry mission, he does not want the free services of the best thief in the known world, but instead wants a team of Beast, Wolverine, Morph, and Storm; Storm, the woman who cannot go five feet without announcing her presence. You know, Cyclops is going to get hammered later for how this mission goes south, but really, this was all the Professor’s fault from the very beginning; he put lives in danger the minute he refused to send in the best qualified person.

I think the implication is supposed to be that Xavier doesn’t full trust Gambit yet, whereas he does trust the others, but still; stupid, stupid decision.

Cyclops confronts the professor about his concerns about the mission, namely that attacking a civilian organization is not the way to teach people that mutants are not to be feared. It’s really interesting that we’re already getting this schism between Cyclops in the Professor this early on, although it’s never fuly developed here the way it is in the comics. The Professor really has no response to Cyclops, so he cops out with “we have no choice,” and leaves it at that. I kind of feel like all of Professor X’s terrible decisions in the entire series were front-loaded into this one episode, because I don’t think I’d remember him as fondly if he were normally like this.

“Look, all I’m saying is, if you want people to learn to like us and even trust us, this is not the way. This is not how we win hearts and minds.”

“That’s an excellent point, Scott. My well-reasoned counterpoint to that is that I am the boss of you, and you will do what I say.”

The crew finally catches on to the fact that Jubilee is missing, and Wolverine decides to go after her, despite the fact that he’s just been assigned the MCA mission. Cyclops and Wolverine have power struggle/testosterone spewing competition, then Wolvie storms off; if you make taking a shot every time this happens part of your X-Men:TAS drinking game, you’ll probably have a very good time, but that’ll be the end of your liver.

Mission time! For some reason, everybody’s tagging along on this mission (except Jean and Prof. X) even though only Wolverine, Storm, Beast and Morph are supposed to go inside. En route to the MCA complex, the group has an interesting discussion about what makes mutants the way they are. One of Beast’s suggestions is “television!” which is delightfully meta; see, it’s a good thing this program that you’re watching is teaching you how to deal with being a mutant, because it might be turning you into one. Discussions like this, by the way, are what put this show a cut above typical action cartoon fare, at least in my mind.

Wolverine catches up with the rest of the team, having lost Jubilee’s trail. He sheepishly says that he “got bit by a dog, too,” and AHA! Remember that little dog from the beginning of the episode, the one who was hassling the Sentinel like “stay way from my house, dude!” That dog bit Wolverine, apex predator; canine has balls of steel. Great guard dog, 14/10.

You know who has really good night vision and wouldn’t need to use binoculars to scope the joint out? GAMBIT.

Storm whips up some clouds to lower visibility (I guess she has her uses), and the guys head into the complex. There’s an interesting little bit where Morph gets thrown over the fence, then uses his shapeshifting power to impersonate a guard and take him out. What’s neat is when Morph copies the guard’s appearance, he also copies the weapon the guard is using, then uses said weapon to shoot the guard. Then when he shifts back, the weapon disappears.

This is interesting to comics geeks because this isn’t how Mystique’s shape-shifting works; she can copy anything, but it’s cosmetic when it comes to devices that people may be carrying. If Morph can make his copied objects functional, that actually makes his powerset more like a cross between Multiple Man and Mystique, but he’s going to die in about ten minutes, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Storm electrocutes a guard (nice job being gentle on the puny humans there, team), and Wolverine uses his claws to destroy the door inside. Beast already lifted the key from one of the guards, meaning there was no need to destroy the door, but look; Wolverine needs an excuse to use his claws on something. It’s actually a bit of a problem for this show that Wolverine is constantly brandishing his claws but can’t do much with them, because if he used them on a person, things would very rapidly get too bloody for the Y-7 rating.

“I can’t decide which one I love more; nineteenth-century poetry, or assault and battery.”

“No one’s asking you to decide, Bub.”

The inside team encounters a laser trap. Beast quotes nineteenth-century poet Coventry Patmore, of all people, then uses his agility to disarm the trap. I’m curious what went on behind-the-scenes here; who on the staff was a big enough fan of Coventry Patmore to include his poetry in an episode of X-Men, but was still okay with Beast’s dismissive quip “A minor poet for a minor obstacle,”? Maybe someone had to read Patmore in college and this was their revenge? In any case, it’s delightfully incongruous with the rest of the episode, like about 50% of everything Beast does.

Outside, Cyclops is worrying how the inside team is doing, wishing he had some way of keeping tabs on what they were doing. Gee, if only there were someone on the team who had the power to keep everyone in constant telepathic contact, that would be mighty convenient. Come to think of it, aren’t there two people with telepathic abilities, both of whom stayed home for no apparent reason? At some point, you have to wonder if Professor X is trying to sabotage this mission.

Morph says “It looks like clear sailing from here,” so of course a bunch of gun-toting guards are just waiting to ambush the X-Men. This is why I’m not too broken up about Morph’s imminent death, by the way; who but a moron tempts fate like that? Plus, he teased Gambit not once but twice during this episode, and that’s not acceptable.

Storm opens the door, enemies await on the other side, and we’re done with this episode! Next time, we’ll see the conclusion of this storyline, and commiserate a little more about how everything bad that has ever happened is actually Professor Xavier’s fault.

 

Catching up on Steins;Gate 0

I haven’t been too enamored of any of the Summer anime I’ve seen so far, so this seems like a good time to dip into some things I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Steins;Gate 0 started airing in the spring, and even though I’m a huge fan of the original series, I didn’t watch it. I didn’t watch it for a kind of stupid reason, now that I think about it.

See this show is an alternate timeline from the original, and I didn’t feel as tempted to watch the show as I would have if it were “canon,” so to speak. But now that I’m watching Steins;Gate again, I realize that making these kind of distinctions between alternate timelines and canon timelines is kind of against the entire spirit of the show. On this show, alternate timelines happen; even when the world line switches, you know the alternate reality is playing out in it’s entirety. In the primary timeline, Makise Kurisu is dead, but Okarin gets to visit a timeline where she’s still alive; the Kurisu in that timeline is very, very important, even if she doesn’t exist in the main reality.

At the end of Steins;Gate, Okabe Rintarou goes back and time and manages to just barely save Kurisu from being murdered. Steins;Gate 0 is the story of what would have happened if he’d failed. I didn’t think I wanted to see a world where Okarin was mourning the woman he loved, but it’s really interesting how well this works as a point of divergence.

The brilliance of the original series is that Okarin goes from being a fake mad scientist (pretend name Houoin Kyouma) who says things like “the organization is out to get me!” and pretends to have vast science-based power over reality, to being the real thing, without ever really meaning to. By the end of the show, Okabe Rintarou is actually more powerful, due to his ability to influence time, than Houoin Kyouma, the character he invented, ever was. He successfully becomes what he always pretended to be, almost by accident. However, in this timeline, once he fails to save Kurisu, he throws Houoin Kyouma and any pretensions of being a powerful figure away; how can he possibly be powerful, if he can’t even save Kurisu from dying at the age of 17?

What we get with Steins;Gate 0 is a version of Okarin who’s not only discarded his alter-ego, but is embarrassed by the very idea of Houoin Kyouma. Having real experience with tinkering with time and causality, he knows too much to boast about what it might be like to have that kind of power. He’s also suffering from PTSD due to everything he went through in the original series, on top of losing Kurisu, so he’s in a very rough place overall.

I can’t see Okabe and Moeka together without thinking of that one brutal scene in the original where he nearly beat her senseless; fortunately, Okabe seems to have the same problem, so it’s not like that aspect of the series has been forgotten. Okabe knows he’s gone to some very dark places, even if none of it technically happened from anyone else’s perspective.

What’s great about it is that I think the viewer really wants Okarin to don his trademark lab coat, make a cool pose and do his patented mad scientist laugh; maybe even say his catchphrase “El. Psy. Congroo.” very seriously, despite the fact that it’s gibberish. And I think he will again, someday. But for now, he can’t do it; the part of him that was fanciful and goofy died with Kurisu. I think the series is ultimately going to be about getting that part of himself back, even though that’s not his goal.

Kurisu does have a presence in the show, both in alternate timelines, and in the form of an AI named Amadeus, based on her memories. Amadeus is important, because I think a version of Steins;Gate with no Kurisu at all would just be too depressing, but therein lies the rub; she’s a crutch for the audience, just as she is for Okabe himself. As much as Maho, a likable new character introduced this season, warns Okabe otherwise, we want to believe that Amadeus is somehow the real thing; that she has real feelings, and she’ll fall in love with Okabe all over again. Introducing a Kurisu AI is experimenting with time travel in a different way: if you really could save someone’s memories in a computer, wouldn’t talking to them be like going back in time to when they were alive?

I didn’t realize until I started watching again how much I’d missed the intelligence of Steins;Gate. There are other anime with intelligent scripts, but there’s something special about the way the show toys with our fears and hopes for the future. In fact, Steins;Gate may be a little too intelligent for me, because I have a helluva time figuring out what’s going on. I didn’t really thoroughly understand what happened in the first season until I rewatched, and the same thing will probably happen here. After catching up on the first cour, I said to my husband. “I’m so happy. I’m so confused, but I’m so happy.”

My face whenever I’m trying to figure out what just happened in Steins;Gate, only with more drooling.

Now that DARLING in the FRANXX is over, I’d like to pick up S:G 0 as the new show to write too-long blog posts about. This is a dangerous proposition, since I never know what the hell is going on in S;G, and writing about it at length is going to reveal the extent of my ignorance. After all, I was the person who, during the first series, predicted that Mayuri was an evil mastermind. Granted, I was half-kidding, but still; I was a little off the mark there.

Speaking of Mayuri, she’s busy rolling with the punches, throwing parties and making costumes for everybody like none of the World War III stuff going on is a big deal. It’s implied that Mayuri knows basically what happened in the previous series, but not the details, and this would not work with many characters. With Mayuri though, Okabe could have said “Once I made a time machine that involved sending text messages to the past, except I changed time so that you died, so I had to undo all the messages I ever sent and go back in time to before I invented the time machine,” and Mayuri would just nod and say “Okay!”and not require further explanation. I’m still not convinced if Mayuri is kind of stupid or really, really, really smart, and I think that’s the point.

Suzuha and Kagari, wondering how it is that there’s enough demand for CRT TVs (even in 2010) that they can both have jobs in a CRT TV shop. I’m not sure how I feel about Kagari yet, but I don’t think you can watch this show without loving Suzuha.

So yeah, I feel a little dumb for not picking up this show in the spring like I should have, but what can I say: mistakes were made. I watched Uma Musume for some reason, so my judgment regarding what shows to start at the beginning of any given season is a little suspect. (Not to suggest that Uma Musume was horrible, because it wasn’t, but it’s still no Steins;Gate.) Now I just need to catch up on Full Metal Panic and I can count myself among the people who actually watch good anime again…at least, until next season.

Blogging X-Men: The Animated Series

X-Men: The Animated Series is not anime, and even the most vocal proponents of widening the definition of the term would not label it as such. It’s an American cartoon, and arguably doesn’t belong on a blog called Otakusphere, which is mostly about anime most of the time. However, X-Men:TAS was kind of like my gateway drug to everything otaku: discovering the X-Men cartoon led to a passion for American comics, which led to a passion for anime and manga, which led to me becoming…well, me. If I hadn’t become a huge X-Men fan at the age of 11, chances are I would be a vastly different person today.

Maybe I would be a better person. I mean, maybe if I hadn’t wasted so much time with cartoons, comics and anime, I could have become a doctor, found a cure for cancer, and already gone down in history as one of the most important people to have ever lived. Maybe I should be pissed as hell at the X-Men for keeping me from sundry achievements in medicine, astronomy, or theoretical physics. Instead, I became the kind of person who writes thousands of words about cartoons on the internet, and I think I should probably just go with that at this point.

I tried to have my cake and eat it too by blogging the 2011 X-Men anime; it was anime and X-Men at the same time, score! Unfortunately, it was a pretty terrible show. Still, I was probably harder on it than I should have been because I was mad at it for the unforgivable crime of not being the X-Men show I really wanted to write about. So I apologize, X-Men anime; you were kind of bad, but I could have been nicer to you.

Now I want to cut the nonsense and go through my childhood obsession show episode by episode, which I think I’ve really wanted to do for a long time without consciously thinking about it. This will probably be like my Tomb Raider project, something I dip into from time to time when I’m taking a break from anime.

Let’s start by going down the cast list before diving into the show proper, so I don’t drag the individual episode posts off-topic by waxing poetic about certain characters. It’s funny that I think of this roster as being the “classic” X-Men line-up, when it’s really not at all; in fact, to comic fans at the time, this team probably seemed like a slap in the face. Where were X-Men stalwarts like Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde? Why was Gambit included, when he was only created about ten minutes before the show aired? Even so, for better or for worse, I’ll always think of this team as my X-Men.

Cyclops

Character created: 1963

Power(s): Constant beam of concussive energy issuing from his eyes.

Voice Actor: Norm Spencer

At the time, I didn’t care much for Cyclops; he was just a boring authority figure. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate him. He’s usually a competent leader, but suffers from the deep-seated fear that if he ever screws up, Professor X might just drop him back in the orphanage where he found him.  He loves the professor as a father figure, but on another level he resents the hell out of him; on the show, he never seems to realize this. In the comics, he absolutely did.

The comics-version of Cyclops is one of the few characters who went through genuine character development, without said development being constantly compromised by resetting him back to the status quo. Cyclops, towards the end of his life, had changed dramatically from the person he was introduced as. Unfortunately, he’d changed into a person I didn’t like at all, but that doesn’t take away from the achievement that he was a Marvel Comics character who actually (and believably) changed as a person due to his experiences. He’s dead now in the comics, but his entire character arc represents a singular achievement; until they inevitably revive him and screw it all up again, that is.

It’s nostalgic to see this innocent version of Cyclops, basically a big Boy Scout troop leader who’s trying so hard to please his adoptive father and his girlfriend that he can’t see that he’s grinding himself down in the process. In the world of the animated series, Cyclops seems to agree with the Professor’s principles, whereas in the comics (I almost said “real life”), he finds that he doesn’t. In a way that makes Cyclops problem more subtle on the show than it was on the page; the problem isn’t the ideas he’s being forced to represent, its the fact that he never was given a choice in the first place.

Wolverine

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Enhanced agility and senses, super-accelerated healing, claws protruding from hands; skeleton bonded with super-strong metal, which is not a natural power but the result of tampering by Those Evil Government Types.

Voice Actor: Cal Dodd

Another character who’s grown on me tremendously over the years. At the time, it bugged me that Wolverine was so obviously the star and we were all supposed to like him; it annoyed me how much screentime he got, and I wished everyone else would get equal time in the sun. I didn’t really care for his gruff attitude, and I thought that having knives come out the back of your hands was a boring superpower; to be fair, it still is.

Once you crack the Wolverine code, and realize that Logan is the most sensitive of all the X-Men– even moreso than teenaged Jubilee– then he suddenly becomes much more interesting. He’s been deeply scarred by losing practically everyone he’s ever cared about, but his memory has been so tampered with over time that he’s not even sure who those people were. He’s always mourning someone, but he doesn’t always know who it is. Both in the comics and on the show, Wolverine’s stories have tackled surprisingly complex themes about identity; if you as a person are the sum of all your previous actions, how can you even know who you are if memory is fallible?

I think the X-Men movies to date missed a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the strengths of the comics, but one area where they absolutely succeeded was with Wolverine: casting, attitude, etc. And Logan is one of the best superhero films ever made, to the point of not feeling like a superhero film at all. Wolverine’s cinema presence is having an odd effect on me though; I never found cartoon Wolverine attractive in the slightest, but now that I associate him with Hugh Jackman, I’m finding early ’90s Wolverine to be oddly sexy, and it’s weird. I really need this to stop, because everyone and their Mom knows that Gambit is supposed to be the sexy one.

Rogue

Character Created: 1981

Power(s): “Life-sucking” touch that sucks out other people’s strength, memory, and superpowers, either temporarily or permanently; flight, super-strength and near-invincibility have been permanently stolen from Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel.

Voice Actor: Lenore Zann

Everyone loves Rogue. You can tell even the animators loved Rogue, because whenever she’s onscreen, the art quality seems to go up by about 30 percent. Everything about the show will look dull and kind of muddy, then Rogue flies into the room, all crisp linework, and suddenly, it almost looks like an anime.

Rogue was my favorite character for a long time, even though as a kid, I really didn’t understand the nature of her problem. I remember thinking it was weird that she complains that her power doesn’t allow her to touch anyone, whereas she touches people all the time; that’s what her gloves are for! It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Rogue’s real problem was that she couldn’t have intimacy. I guess this is what happens when you discover X-Men before you discover sex.

The animated series version of Rogue has a bit of a problem though, because she’s much, much more open to using her life-sucking power than she is in the comics. This changes the nature of the character a bit, because it’s hard to believe that she deeply hates her superpower when she uses it all the time. The problem is, if she didn’t use it, then the audience wouldn’t really know who Rogue is supposed to be. I think Rogue’s issues, and her moral issues with stealing other people’s powers and memories, were on the cusp of being too dark for a kids show to deal with. They tried admirably though, as the Ms. Marvel flashback episode demonstrates.

One thing that used to really bug me as a kid was that Rogue would always get thrown around, run over by trucks, etc., just because she was the only one who could survive that kind of punishment. I hated seeing my favorite girl get pummeled just to show off how strong the enemy was. It still kind of bugs me, but now I understand that one of the reason that happens is that Rogue intentionally takes hits for the rest of the team; at the time, it seemed like all the villains were just being really mean to her. Stop throwing Rogue into things, meanies! What has she ever done to you? Besides possibly stolen your memories and powers, that is?

Storm

Character Created: 1975

Power(s): Ability to manipulate the weather, which manifests as wind-riding (flight), throwing lightning, making snow, and doing basically whatever the writer can think of that is even vaguely weather-related.

Voice Actors: Iona Morris, later Alison Sealy-Smith

There are almost as many versions of Storm as there are comic books published. You have original, Earth-Mother Storm, Saavy Thief Storm, Megalomaniac Storm, Competent Leader Storm, Vicious Brawler Storm, etc. She’s a character who’s gone through a lot of changes over her publishing history, but with much less consistency than Cyclops. When Chris Claremont was writing her back in the ’80s, she had a definitive personality; ever since then, every writer has put their own spin on her. You never really know what you’re going to get with Storm these days.

Almost by necessity, the cartoon goes with the most boring version of Storm; naive, Earth-Mother Storm. This is because if she was shown as being as smart and competent a field leader as she often is in the comics, then she’d be taking over Cyclops’ role. Plus, her backstory– the stuff that makes up the core of Storm’s personality– actually was too dark for the cartoon to deal with. We’ll get to this in more detail in episode 4, but basically, we got a severely watered-down version of Storm on this show because the real one just wouldn’t have worked on a program rated Y-7.

Even Storm’s skin color is toned down; on the show, she could pass for a white woman who just got back from Hawaii and has a great tan. It was a little bit of a shock when I read the comics and realized that Storm was actually black. From our modern perspective, it’s  appalling that they changed Storm’s character design to make her more appealing to white people, but I think it’s better to shrug this off as a bad decision and let it go; it was 25 years ago. We have enough to worry about with racial representation in today’s programming.

Even with all these limitations, the TV character still has some charm. I love when she gets snarky, because it’s such a contrast to her typically grandiose way of speaking. But it wasn’t until I read the comics that I realized why Storm was actually an interesting character, as opposed to a boring character with interesting powers.

Beast

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Enhanced agility, with enlarged hands and feet. Technically his blue fur and ape-like appearance isn’t a mutation, but let’s not get into that. Also genius-level intellect, although it’s never been clear if that should really count as a mutation.

Voice Actor: George Buza

One part mad scientist, one part Frankenstein’s monster, one part loopy English professor who really wants you to do well on the exam; I love this version of Beast, full-stop. He’s like a blast of pure joy whenever he’s on screen. In the comics they tried to give him this existential angst, and it was usually more annoying than interesting. Even on the show, he still had a dark, brooding side, but they didn’t overplay it the way they did in the comics.

What’s really fun about going back to this show as an adult is getting all the literary references centered around Beast that went completely over my head as a kid. One thing that sticks out in my mind is when Rogue and Gambit go to visit him in prison during Season One, they bring him a copy of You Can’t Go Home Again, to which Beast responds “Thomas Wolfe; an old friend.” Any old friend of Thomas Wolfe’s is a friend of mine!

As much as I like the character, I find I have very little to say about him in this incarnation; he’s just wonderful. Wonderful things are self-evidently wonderful, you don’t really have to explain it.

Gambit

Character Created: 1990

Power(s): Ability to kinetically charge objects so they’ll explode, enhanced agility, some kind of hypnotic tomfoolery that the show wisely ignored completely.

Voice Actors: Chris Potter, later Tony Daniels

I’m going to break with protocol and give away a closely-guarded secret here. If you know any female, any woman at all, who was on the cusp of puberty in 1992, she was in love with Gambit. Like, if you gave her a form and asked her to fill in her sexuality, if she’s being honest she would ignore the boxes for “straight” and “gay” and add a box called “Gambit,” then check that box three times.

I didn’t have relationships until relatively late in life, and up to this point, I have allowed people to believe it was because my standards were very high; in reality, the reason why I didn’t date for so many years was because I never ran into anyone who looked sufficiently like Gambit to make it worth the bother.

Why was I so into Gambit? Why were so many of the girls I knew into Gambit? I think it’s because he’s kind of like the archetype of the mysterious, handsome guy who knows a lot of stuff you don’t know. Adults often find his character grating for just that reason, but when you’re 11, you’ve never seen that kind of character before, it’s still exciting to you.

Gambit was another character where the show wasn’t able to explore his darker aspects, but unlike Storm, I think this actually worked in his favor, making the cartoon version the superior incarnation of the character. The trick with Gambit is he’s supposed to have some really dark stuff in his past, and oh, if only the X-Men knew what it was, they’d be forced to kick him out in disgust. But the moment you reveal that stuff, if it really is dark and sinister, he stops being viable as a hero; if it’s not dark enough, then the audience feels lied to. The comics successfully threaded this needle until about 1995, then after that most of what they did with Gambit was just embarrassing. Even now, most writers have no clue what to do with him.

A part of me will always love Gambit the way he appears here, An 11-Year-Old Girl’s Introduction to Sex. I have changed over time, and am no longer strictly Gambit-sexual (I also found a place in my heart for Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy VIII), but this cartoon character with an odd obsession with playing cards and the color pink will always be my first love…I mean, my first cartoon crush. Same thing?

Jubilee

Character Created: 1989

Power(s): Ability to discharge brightly-colored energy from her hands that functions similarly to Cyclops’ eye lasers. Ability to make ’90s slang sound even more cringeworthy and painful than it actually was at the time. Ability to be a brat.

Voice Actor: Alyson Court

If Wolverine was the obvious star, Jubilee was the obvious Point-of-View character for the young audience, and I resented her for it. It was so obvious that I was supposed to relate to Jubilee, when I vastly preferred Rogue, Gambit, or Beast. I think her dialogue, peppered liberally with early-90’s slang, sounded incredibly dated even at the time, but that could just be my memory playing tricks on me.

That said, Jubilee has a lot going for her as a character. She took over the role that Kitty Pryde had in the ’80s as the X-Men’s resident teen sidekick, but while Kitty had to be annoyingly perfect at just about everything (at least to me), Jubilee is refreshingly average. She’s not supposed to be gorgeous, or brilliant, or particularly powerful as a mutant, but she knows what she wants and goes after it with considerable aplomb. She also has about zero tolerance for bullshit, something not true of the more romantic Kitty; as an orphan on the streets, she had it rough way before she found out she was a mutant.

Like Storm, Jubilee was basically turned white for the cartoon; you would never know that she was supposed to be Chinese. However, unlike Storm, this was true of Jubilee in the comics until pretty recently, so at least it was consistent.

Right now I kind of feel bad for Jubilee, because she’s been a horrendously abused character. First she was kicked off the X-Men on to a satellite team where she didn’t really belong, then she did nothing for about a decade, then she lost her powers, then she got turned into a vampire (seriously, a vampire), and God knows what else. I think they restored Jubilee to normal recently (meaning, she no longer drinks blood and is back to shooting fireworks out of her hands), but to say she’s been through the ringer would be an understatement.

Even though I wasn’t fond of her initially, it’s nice to see Jubes here as she was meant to be: energetic, bratty, and really excited about being part of a superhero team. To me, the most interesting thing about Jubilee is the fact that Wolverine was (and is) a much better father to her than he ever was to any of his actual children, but this show takes place before Wolverine’s kids were invented, so we’ll have to put that aside for now.

Jean Grey

Character Created: 1963

Powers: Telekinesis and Telepathy. Ability to become a giant, invincible firebird flying in space, but that may be from an alien possessing her, or maybe it was really her all along? It’s complicated.

Voice Actor: Catherine Disher

It has recently come to my attention that I have no clue who Jean Grey is.

On this show, she’s very feminine and altruistic; definitely the Mom of the team. However, for most of her character’s history, she wasn’t like this in the comics. When Stan and Jack invented her in the ’60s, she was Stan Lee’s typical “pretty girl” character; practically indistinguishable from Sue Storm or any of Lee’s other female creations. When Claremont reinvented her in the ’70s, it was as a fiery redhead, with special emphasis on the “fiery” part. The character died in 1980, then after she was revived years later, writers tried to write her kind of like Claremont had written her, only a little less fiery. (At least, that’s what I think; to be completely honest, I haven’t read the early issues of X-Factor yet.)

In the early 2000’s, written by Grant Morrison, she was a brainy, aggressive genius, who was very interesting but seemed to come out of nowhere. Then she died again, and they’ve since brought her back, as recently as a few months ago. I have no idea what her personality is like now, because I’m not buying X-Men Red: it’s not happening, Marvel.

I’m kind of fond of the motherly, calm version of Jean we get on the show, even if she’s not really consistent with her comic counterpart, because at least I know who she’s supposed to be. Towards the end of the show they tried to play up the “fiery redhead” angle a little more, and it mostly just felt forced. TAS Jean is like your Mom, or rather like a mom on a 1950’s sitcom, and trying to give her an edge just doesn’t work.

One thing to note about Jean is that her Jim Lee-designed costume made the worst transition from page to screen. Her ’90s outfit was just some strange aerobics-type getup, but when Jim Lee was drawing the X-Men, everyone looked so damned gorgeous it didn’t even matter what they were wearing. On the show it just looked dumb, even when it was on-model, which wasn’t often.

Professor X

Character Created: 1963

Power(s): Extremely powerful telepathy. Technically has the ability to use mind control, although he never does it because if he did, the X-Men would have no enemies and it would be a very boring series.

Voice Actor: Cedric Smith

Just like TAS Gambit and Beast are my preferred versions of those characters, the cartoon Professor Xavier will always be the real professor to me. As much as I enjoyed Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of the character (especially in Logan), I felt like his Xavier never quite escaped the shadow of Captain Picard. When I think “Professor X,” I hear Cedric Smith’s voice.

A lot of the character’s appeal can be pinned on Smith’s performance, which was serious and intense without quite crossing the line to sounding pompous; well, okay, sometimes he sounded pompous, but I’m pretty sure it was intentional. But I think the cartoon distilled what was good about Xavier without getting caught up in his domineering, paternalistic baggage. He was commanding, and a father figure, but generally always seemed like a nicer person to me than his comic counterpart.

What was really striking to me (though I only realized this recently), is how much of his dialogue on the show takes the form of questions. Xavier is supposed to be very intelligent, but sometimes his arrogance undermines this; on the show, he had the humility to always know how much he didn’t know. I wish his comic version was as perceptive.

In the name of “progress,” the comics have ditched Xavier and his dream of human-mutant peace; I think that was a terrible mistake. I have no interest in a group of paramilitary fighters with superpowers who grumble about how “naive” Xavier was with his dream of coexistence; I get enough ideological terrorists in the real world, thanks.

Where the X-Men are concerned, my happy place will always be a relatively small team, holed up in a nice mansion in Westchester County, with Professor Xavier at the helm. If I think the X-Men were more likable and interesting in this incarnation than they are currently, it’s undoubtedly part nostalgia, but it’s not only that. To me, for all it’s flaws– often hokey dialogue, limited animation and all– this show really captured what the X-Men are supposed to be about. I wish they were still like this, but if I can’t have that, at least I’ll always have this show.

Next time I feel like writing a silly amount of words about the X-Men, we’ll tackle the pilot episode of the series, and how you know a kids cartoon means business when they kill off a character in Episode 1.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 24

A few missteps aside, I feel like this stayed exactly the show I thought it was all along: all about the beauty of life, specifically the continuation of life through sex, conception and childbirth, with a thin veneer of shiny mecha antics. I know a lot of viewers wanted something else from it, and I can respect that; but for me, this was in my wheelhouse from moment one.

Hiro and Zero Two go on their “honeymoon,” traveling through deep space toward the VIRM homeworld. This is not as unusual a honeymoon as you might think; my honeymoon was spent exploring different aquariums. Space has a lot in common with the bottom of the ocean floor.

They don’t have very much to say to one another, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, since they’ve merged (their metaphorical marriage), they’re supposed to be communicating on a deeper level than speech. If neither Hiro or Zero Two says much of interest in this episode, beyond “I love you,” it’s because the real communication going on is supposed to be stuff they couldn’t put into words anyway. I get that, but I think this could have been communicated to the audience better. If this show had been 26 episodes instead of 24, we could have spent a whole episode exploring what it’s like to be inside their heads, but as it stands, we just have to assume the two of them have a rich inner life that we’re not seeing.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we see the lead-up to Kokoro having her baby, in which Useless Nana manages to actually be helpful for once. See, the future is so bright that even the crappy Nana is being nice! Then the baby’s born and I kind of lose it for a moment.

Of course, thanks to anime genetics, the baby looks exactly like Kokoro, even fresh out of the womb. I wonder what’s that like; when my girl was born, she didn’t look anything like me, and still doesn’t; she takes after my husband, full stop. Sometimes I think that the main reason I want to have another baby someday is because I might have one that looks like me. Selfish? Yes, but everything about having kids is this weird mix of extreme selfishness and selflessness.

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to see a baby for the first time, as Mitsuru does, when you’ve never seen pictures of babies, or even knew about the concept of a baby until recently. Then again, even in real life, I think parents don’t really understand what a baby truly is until it’s born. It’s one thing to have an idea of this cute little thing, but when you first see it, those impossibly tiny hands and fingers, you realize that you never had a clue what you were in for. So I guess Mitsuru’s experience is pretty universal, really.

Hiro and Zero Two are all set two destroy the VIRM home planet, but VIRM has a trick; using Hiro’s humanity (since he’s still at least partially human), they manage to lull him into unconsciousness and screw up the bond between him and Zero Two. The solution to this problem comes very close to being a Care Bears Solution: everyone links hands and thinks about how much they love Hiro and Zero Two, aided by the statue of Zero Two’s body that now serves as a conduit between worlds. What stops it from being a Care Bears Solution, to me anyway, is that it’s Ai, Kokoro and Mitsuru’s daughter, that jars Hiro back to reality. Ai, and the entire process that transpired to create her, is basically the antithesis to VIRM’s entire program; it makes sense to me that she– perhaps the very idea of her– would be the trigger that would kick VIRM out of Hiro’s head.

So Hiro and Zero Two transform one last time, their final offspring, and destroy the VIRM home planet. Of course VIRM isn’t destroyed forever, because bad ideas can’t be destroyed forever, but they’re set back for long enough that our crew on Earth has time to get a foothold, which is all we need.

Back on Earth, everyone’s going crazy having babies, and I think it’s important to stop and look at this for a moment. It would be really easy to misinterpret the message of this show as “have lots of babies, that fixes everything!” but that’s clearly not exactly what’s going on. It’s critically important that Ikuno plays a crucial role in helping humanity get back on it’s feet. She doesn’t have a child, probably couldn’t if she wanted to at this point, and it doesn’t matter; there would be no future without her. Similarly, Zorome and Miku haven’t had kids a decade after the main conflict ends, and for all we know, they never will; it doesn’t matter one way or the other, because they’re contributing to the future too, teaching the children.

I can understand, given all the positive imagery of children and babies in this episode, how it might seem like a kind of pro-childbirth propaganda (especially in light of Japan’s declining birthrate.) But I really don’t think the point is that everyone should have children; not everyone in Squad 13 does. What everyone does do, is pitches in to help make the world a better place for their friends. Kokoro does it through motherhood, Ikuno does it through science, Miku does it through teaching, and Futoshi does it through cooking. Goro does it through exploring, letting the human thirst for knowledge overpower his fear.

I just don’t think the creators are saying “Hey, all you people out there who aren’t making babies? You should get on that! Babies rock!” What they are doing (and here I go putting words in other peoples mouths), at least from my vantage point, is asking a question: what are you doing to touch the future? Are you contributing to making a better world for everyone, like the Squad 13 kids are? Or are you just kind of doing whatever makes you happy at the moment? Are you like one of the “Adults” from episode 10, plugged into the pleasure machine, happy to stay there until the battery runs out?

And that again is an oversimplification, because it’s not everyone’s responsibility to save the world. For some people, just taking care of themselves, getting through the day in one piece, is enough of a challenge, and that should be respected. But if we want the world to get better, at least some people have to be committed to making the world a better place; it’s not going to happen on it’s own.

I think you could also interpret this show as being a counterpoint to the kind of transhumanism depicted in cyberpunk works like Ghost in the Shell; illustrating that it’s our primal biological functions, like eating and making babies, that define us as human. But that’s not quite right either; at the end, Zero Two and Hiro have both gone through tremendous physical changes (and ZT was never really human in the first place), but Ichigo believes that they were “more human than anybody else.” In Darling in the Franxx, the definition of human doesn’t revolve around whether or not you can reproduce, or if you have pale skin instead of red or blue.

As an aside, I said last time that maybe Ikuno would hook up with Naomi, and that does seem to be what happens. There’s no evidence that they’re lovers, but they’re clearly close. Ikuno gets perhaps the saddest ending of all the kids, but at least she’s not alone.

It’s also worth noting that the kids (well, they’re not kids anymore, but whatever) give up using Magma energy, and seem to commit to renewable energy. I think that’s a pretty transparent message about how humanity should abandon fossil fuels and find other ways of generating power. A lot of the stuff in this episode isn’t exactly the way it appears, but hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes showing fictional characters giving up on using the remains of dinosaurs to light their houses is a way of saying “You know, you should really considering giving up using the remains of dinosaurs as a way to light your house.”

Anyway, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another baby. It cost us 6K to have the first one, and that’s with insurance: I think, for some reason, one night in the newborn ICU wasn’t covered, so we were stuck paying that off for a while. It’s become prohibitively expensive to have children, and from what I understand, it’s worse in Japan than it is here in the U.S. (though that isn’t the only reason for the declining birthrate). So even if the creators of Darling really do want everybody to go out and have a bunch of babies, it’s not going to work unless they start writing some checks. (Maybe that’s what the new Trigger Patreon is for?)

Whether or not I have another child is dependent on a lot of factors, only some of which are financial, and I guess that’s not really the point. What’s important is, am I living a life worthy of Zero Two– or, more importantly, of Ikuno? That’s what this show is leaving me with, and for that, I’m thankful. It was hardly a perfect show, and it would have likely benefited greatly from having a few more episodes to play around with. But I think it’s heart was in the right place; maybe a tiny fetal heartbeat, not quite strong yet, but clearly there.