Author Archives: James

A Parent’s Perspective on Steven Universe

stevenuniverse

When my wife and I work around the house on weekends, we usually turn on the Cartoon Network. Most of the shows are the kind of programs where I think, “you know, I don’t take recreational drugs, but if I did, I would be well served in terms of television.”

This one show called Steven Universe seemed like just another wacky and surreal short program that was silly for silliness’ sake. It was the story of boy named Steven who is being raised by 3 surrogate mothers (Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl) who happen to be the Crystal Gems, magical guardians of the planet Earth.

But then, I noticed something as I carried the loads of laundry in front of the TV. There was an ongoing story that sometimes left you on a cliffhanger. Some of the jokes were powered by a mythology that was deep and consistent. There were also copious amounts of anime references.

So Sara and I started to recording episodes on our DVR and marathoning them at night. It’s really one of the best shows on TV right now. Everything from the animation, to the music, to the voice work, is done with such care and attention. The songs are catchy and broadway quality, and the backgrounds are so beautiful that they should be illegal. I bow down to the staff’s knowledge of anime. Most studios would throw in a couple of Akira references and call it a day, but the people behind Steven Universe draw from the entire history of the genre, with series such as Ogon Bat and the original Astro Boy.

The crowning achievement of Steven Universe’s cultural impact is how they deal with relationships. It’s like they’ve taken the innocent emotional conflicts of shows like Daniel Tiger and brought them into realm of high fantasy and science fiction.

I especially love how they handle the relationship between parents and children. In most television shows, parents either know what do or think they know what to do. In Steven Universe, the main character is a product of a human father and a mother who is a 5,000 plus year old Rock alien who doesn’t exactly reproduce biologically. This means that Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, are like most parents. They are unsure of what’s normal or healthy for a boy Steven’s age, and many times there are just no right answers. The gems are often left to bicker among themselves, and in episodes like The Test, Steven figures out the answer for himself.

I think the time the series really grabbed me by the guts was in an episode called Rose’s Scabbard. Pearl learned that her relationship with Rose, Steven’s mother, wasn’t what she thought it was. She ends up running away, and Steven almost falls to his death trying to find her on top of an island floating in the sky. This just puts her further into despair, and she asks herself, “What would Rose think of me now?”

Steven just gives her hug and says, “Well, I think you’re pretty great.”

I think every parent has felt that low. Parenting is such a great responsibility, that it seems like every child is the Child of Destiny.  And then, there are times when you fail. Sometimes you yell at them for no reason other than you’ve been stressed at work, or you let them get in trouble when you should’ve been watching. Sometimes it seems like the only thing separating you from your child is the height difference and the years of experience. Sometimes, even that doesn’t seem like enough. Setbacks happen, hearts get broken, and you are just…you. But the one thing about parenting you can never prepare for is how much your children love you back. Sometimes it seems like that love is conditional. You might think that they just love you because you feed them, but you find out that it just doesn’t work that way. You find that you love this child, they love you, and you are deserving of that love.

That’s what Pearl experienced. That’s what all parents experience. And that’s why Steven Universe if my new favourite show.

Allow me to be completely unfair to the Ghost in The Shell Movie

I’ve been bombarded by a few ads for the live action Ghost in the Shell movie, which I will never see in theaters. This gives me the right, nay the duty, to unfairly pan this movie that I have not seen a full minute of.

Nevermind the whitewashing, and there is a LOT of whitewashing in this movie. The trailer’s byline is “There was an accident. We saved you. Now you save others”

Whoah. No. What?

Why did they take this direction with main character? I know that in the manga and anime they never actually go into how Major Motoko Kusanagi (The protagonist) got her cyborg body, but I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t due to some drunk driving incident.

The Major we know drank sake in under Cherry Trees before leading a team of soldiers riding spider robots to go kick ass. The Major we know lectured the sweat shop kids she just rescued about the value of hard work and to make good use of their cybernetic implants. She has lovers of multiple genders, and her self-confidence calms even the most nervous people under her command.

This origin completely removes her of the agency that was central to her character. Without it, there’s no counterpoint to questions like “Is she really human?”, or “Is really in control of her destiny?”. There’s none of the ambiguity that separates the truly great art from the mediocre.

I can’t understand why the producers of these movies keep doing this. They option these media properties from all these different cultures and then pave over everything that makes them unique and saleable in the first place. They say that all these compromises come from a place of wanting to make more money, but this movie debuted at #3 at the box office. Who do they think they are fooling?

Uh-oh.

I was in the parking lot of my local BCAA, hoping to buy some car insurance. It was November 8th, 2016. My Birthday. Election Day. I was fumbling with last year’s insurance papers when I furrowed my brow for a fateful last time. Pop! The bridge of my glasses snapped in two. Both halves fell into my lap. As I futilely struggled to tape the two halves together in front of the insurance agent, I wondered, “Is this an omen? This can’t be an omen. It would be really stupid if this was an omen.”

I managed to get home and put in some contact lenses. I went to the Costco where I bought my glasses only to find out that the frames were discontinued and had to be special ordered. I tried not to wonder how the day could get any worse. That would call down an even funnier mishap, in accordance with the universal laws of comedy.

Just then, my phone rang. It was a recruiter offering me a remote work contract. I accepted right on the spot. It was the first job I had landed entirely by phone. Later that night, my parents and in-laws treated me to a pizza party and a Star Wars ice cream cake. My wife got me that multimeter I had wanted. It was a great 37th birthday.

Even so, Trump was still elected that day. In the months to follow, he would take that grand double-trailer semi-truck better known as the US government and do a few doughnuts in the parking lot. I transitioned from that remote contract to a full-time job just 20 minutes from my house. I know that day was just a bunch of coincidences, but my brain can’t help but try and arrange them into some kind of life lesson. It’s a kind of defence mechanism against insanity. The lesson here is that while some omens are true, you can’t let them distract you from what’s good in your life. Even if you don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current political climate, you’ll need the help of your friends, your family, or whatever else you have going for you to get you through the day.

James Buys A Vita


Sometimes I look at my video game collection, both real and virtual, and think that there is no possible way I’ll be able to play all of this in my lifetime. I spent well in my youth, and now the years of combing bargain bins at the local Electronics Boutique has left me a virtual playground to rival Inception, the Matrix, and the Holodeck combined.

It was around one of those times that one of my co-workers mentioned she had a spare Playstation Vita lying around. I chuckled to myself, thinking that even if I had it, it would be YEARS before I could play games on it. Still, the months wore on, and that Vita was still available for a very reasonable price. So I thought to myself, I work hard, I pay taxes, I pull back into the slow lane on my morning commute. I need a symbol of my diligence, tangible proof that I can hold in my hands and then say to myself, “I contribute to society”.
So I paid in cash, and now I have it! Even though it’s officially a legacy platform in Sony’s eyes, there are still a few games that I’m excited to play on it. Some of these are already out, and some of them will have to remain as japanese imports. I’m actually looking forward to putting down cash for some of these at a convention. So much more personal than online! Here are my top five:

5. Disgaea 3 & 4

I’m a strategy RPG fanatic, and the Disgaea series is one of the genre’s 800 pound gorillas. In any given entry to the series, you lead an army of adorable demons in a dastardly plot to take over the multiverse. The characters use attacks like 10 person suplexes with damage counts numbering in the millions of hit points. There are so many ways to grind and level up your army. Even the weapons all have rogue-like dungeons inside of them where you can improve your weapon and your warriors. I will probably finish these games and make it to Disgaea 5 some time around the heat death of the universe.

4. Attack on Titan

The Titans of Hajime Isayama’s manga are serious business. They are so tough, you would need an army of Ninjas- no an army of Spidermen-  no, Ninja-Spidermen! Luckily in you get to join this Ninja Spider-man army and defend Humanity from the ultimate in Fee-fi-fo-fum.

3. Berserk

When Koei Tecmo decided to make Dynasty Warriors, a game where you literally fight hundreds of enemies, it’s hard to believe they didn’t have Berserk in mind. There’s nothing like taking a huge sword to mow down entire armies to take your mind off a day in traffic.

2. Macross Delta Scramble

 

The Macross Scramble series absolutely ruled on the original PSP. Since Macross Delta is still on the air, I hope the campaign mode is a little more involved. It’s hard to get invested in the story if you are constantly reminded that it’s just a simulation.

1. Super Frickin’ Robot Wars

This game series is the my chocolate and peanut butter. You have every giant robot series banding together in a loosely plotted cross-over scenario to carry out the most ridiculous attacks in a scenario that is…well…a battle royale would not even begin to describe it. In this latest installment, Super Robot Wars Victory, Space Battleship Yamato is getting a special guest appearance, fighting alongside the Mobile Suits of Gundam, Macross’ Valkyries, and so, so, many others. It is pure madness, and it’s also getting an English translation! I’m freaking out here!

I hate anti-cell phone memes.

cellphones

I want to draw your attention to this photo art exhibit. Photographer Eric Pickersgill took pictures of people looking at their smartphones and then photoshopped out the all smartphones. The effect is kind of eerie. It’s everything you want modern art exhibit to be. Even so, I really don’t like the way it’s being used. It’s being passed around on Facebook to show off our horrible addiction to cellphones and that is a reminder to get us off our horrible addiction to cell phones. I swear, the word horrible must have been used at least 3 times in the share I saw.

This is not only screed I see on Facebook (and ironically, through my phone) that you need to get off your phone. I absolutely agree that smartphones should only be looked at with consideration to those around you. Still, I feel like these blanket statements to just get off your phone, get outside, get interacting with people, they ask the wrong questions. Nobody seems to ask why are you on your cell phone? What are we looking at? What if we started talking about what was on our phones? Is it because we’d rather be somewhere else? Or we don’t get to see our friends enough? Would your opinion change if we photoshopped books into people’s hands instead? Better yet, why do we want to disturb people who are clearly enjoying themselves?

I understand the impulse to give the stink-eye to people on their phones. No one likes being ignored, and when you see a lot of people on their phones it can feel like they’re all shunning you, like you’re in some sort of fundamentalist sect. We should still be asking the right questions about this. Maybe we should be using our phones as conversation starters. All I know is that simply ringing an apocalypse bell and demanding an end to the mobile internet is not going to move the conversation forward.