Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Sorry

Been a bit distracted recently. Hopefully I'll have a better post up next week.

For now, here's a quote I got from Julie of Happy Catholic to tide you over:

Projects undreamed of by past generations will absorb our immediate descendants; forces terrific and devastating will be in their hands; comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.
Winston Churchill

This seems pretty apt for our current generation. Well, something to mull about. Have a good week!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Thank you for waking me up





Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files is a Japanese anime that ran long ago in the early 1990s. The original manga it was adapted from was written by Yoshihiro Togashi and next to Dragon Ball is probably the most influential manga from that era.

For me, it is one of my favorite shows out of Japan. Though those of us in North America only got it a decade later, most of us saw past the fact that it was a decade old show (as the way it should be) and saw the material for what it was. A clever action adventure show with a focus on good against evil. Something that even Japan is having problems putting out these days.

The story starts as our hero, Yusuke Uremeshi is killed in a car accident. He dives in front of a speeding car to save a boy from being struck and in doing so dies an uncharacteristically heroic death. You see, everyone had written Yusuke off as a trouble-making punk with no love or passion for life. But something inside him made him do the unexpected, and it confuses pretty much everybody, including the bureaucrats who run the border between life and death. You see, the Spirit World is run by those who wish to help guide along the souls in the living world from point A to B in their lives, but in doing so tended to miss the eccentricities that make humans such a complex being.

Because of this, Yusuke wasn't "supposed" to die. Thus, Koenma, the son of the man in charge of the Spirit World finds a way to give Yusuke back the life he sacrificed.

What happens next is quite the wild ride, and the reason why Yu Yu Hakusho is considered a classic in its genre.

It is only through dying that Yusuke is able to see the world for what it is, and what lies below the surface. Japanese folklore demons are real, and Yusuke must use his new spiritual powers to stop them from wreaking havoc in the real world. At the same time he befriends a couple of these demons who have turned over a new leaf and are far more interested in doing the right thing as opposed to greedily engaging in their own interests. And yet again we meet humans who are not on the right side of the fence, who wish to watch the world burn, demon or not. All this to show that good and evil is far more than skin deep.

But despite the usage of "demons" (again, this is not in the supernatural sense, these are folklore demons from Japanese legend who have abilities of their own) the lines of good and evil are not by race but by the character of those propitiating the acts.

The story is of a coming of age of a teenage boy who sees the full scope of the world for the first time and is determined to make a positive change to save it from those who might have been more like he once was. Those who would prefer to tear it all down. In this way, we have the adventures of Yusuke Uremeshi, the Spirit Detective, the guardian of the balance between the two separate worlds. Where it ends up going is quite the adventure. I'll try to speak about it more in future entries.

Of course, it is an action show. There is a lot of martial arts action, battles of will, and violence. Blood is spilled and some sequences can be a bit much for some viewers, making this more acceptable for older teens and up. By then the themes would be more apparent, as well. Those with a love of the genre should enjoy Yu Yu Hakusho. It is a classic for a well deserved reason.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

. . . and he almost deserved it.

I'm currently hip deep reading Narnia. Every January, due to how miserable the weather is and how depressed everyone seems to get, I read a massive book to pull my attention and keep my spirits up. Last year I read The Stand by Stephen King and this year I decided to read the entirety of The Chronicles of Narnia. So far I have completed the first two and am in the middle of the third book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is currently my favorite.

I have the edition that binds all seven books in one paperback brick which, unfortunately, makes the gross error of printing them in timeline order instead of release date. I much prefer reading author's works in chronological order, so I just keep skipping around the massive brick in order to keep the pace. It's working just fine.

In recent years much has been made about the Christian allegory in these stories, but I don't really understand the issue. Any sort of Christianity is used the way it's supposed to be used-- in tandem with the story. The tale never goes off on a tangent like many books nowadays about authors' pet peeves or political party of choice, but only what the characters think and feel in relation to the moment they are thinking them. As it is, the stories flow wonderfully.

Actually, I'm sort of itching to get back to them, so I'll cut it short.

There's no wonder why these stories are classics and will always be read to children-- they speak truth and beauty all within a ripping fantasy adventure yarn. No matter how many authors try to rip it off or invert it, those efforts will fall by the wayside. Sixty five years after they first were published, Narnia is still a wonderful place to visit. And it always will be.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Eight Days With Diana


I'm a bit of an anomaly when it comes to reading "modern" fantasy. This stems from the fact that I find most modern fantasy the equivalent of a pretty shell that's hollow underneath the surface. Something that has a flowery description on the back of the book, a cool cover, and a lot of flash in the characters and plot turns, and has at least one of my friends always raving. Looks cool at first sight. But once you get into the thick of it you realize-- there's nothing really there outside of the quirk and flash. This coincides with the fact that most modern fantasy stories are forgotten rather quickly after release when they are hyped up like mad when they first come out. Think about the classic (or just great) fantasy stories of the past ten years and you'll find the list rather short outside of one very obvious boy wizard and a small handful of others.

To be honest,despite the fact that Diana Wynne Jones wrote Howl's Moving Castle (one of the best modern fantasy stories) I was worried that her book, Eight Days of Luke, would be just like these modern stories. This despite the fact that the book was written in the early '70s when fantasy was still a force to be reckoned with. I've just grown very suspicious of the genre, I guess. But I had seen far too many positive remarks about this book to just cosign it to the "modern fantasy" pile, not to mention the author was one of the best in her field. Since I received it for a Christmas present, I decided to give it a chance anyway. No sense ignoring it further.

Eight Days of Luke starts like the best modern fantasy stories do-- a young boy mistreated by his family goes off and stumbles into a fantastical event that pulls him in. Young David Allard is living with his relations who don't appreciate him much at all. One day he accidentally says the magic words to unleash a laughing boy with a strange affinity for flames named Luke from his prison. The two become fast friends and eventually it comes to David to fight to keep it that way when other strange characters show up looking for his friend.

The story never wavers from this and is all the better for it.

How the story really works is that it never loses sight of the characters. It takes place over eight days where we center around David's family and learn more about Luke and the strange people who are looking for him. While we slowly find out who these pursuers are and what they want with Luke, we also learn more about David and his relationship with his family who are all given chances to grow themselves. It would be so easy for the family to stay as cardboard cutout villains, but they don't-- and even David begins to wonder if he really has it that bad. One family member even turns out to be an invaluable friend. But of course, some choose to wallow in their own vices despite being given the chance for something better.

David's small world in his house and with his hobbies is soon tested as well, as he is forced out into the world to help his friend and pushes himself to do things he would never have considered otherwise. All to save his friend. He even finds backup himself as he makes new friends and discovers that the world is a far different place outside than in his cramped home. During his adventure, he grows and learns.

Of course, not everyone grows, but that's life. By the end of the story, not only has David learned much about Luke and those who were trying to find him, but also about the world and himself at the same time.

Eight Days of Luke is a great read both for kids and for those who enjoy a good fantasy story, modern or not. A story of friendship and real family wrapped in fantasy, the genre was made for stories like this. Diana Wynne Jones hits out of the park yet again. If you have any interest in fantasy, give it a go.