Friday, October 19, 2018

The Quiet Power of Inara Serra

The legendary TV series Firefly brought us over a dozen incredible characters, but the hardest to understand yet arguably strongest is the companion Inara. Despite her controversial career choice, she is the voice of comfort, wisdom and the matriarch of the Serenity's crew.

*If you haven't seen Firefly spoilers and also what's wrong with you? Seriously, get your life together and watch it.*

Inara is a companion. In the Firefly universe this essentially means a high priced prostitute, but she is so much more than that. Inara is a lady in every sense of the word. Trained not only in the physical aspects of her job, she is also well versed in the art of conversation, tea service, and socializing. She frequently mingles with the upper crust of society, honored and accepted in her station and even envied for her lifestyle. She works from the Serenity as a way to expand her clientele and see what the universe has to offer, converting one of the shuttles into her own private lounge.

Inara's strength doesn't come from her ability to fly a ship or shoot a gun, but from the pure feminine energy she extrudes in every aspect of her being. Her cabin is a drastic contrast to the rest of the ship, decorated in silks and cushions, making it a soft welcoming place, as opposed to the hard edges and metals in the rest of the ship. She speaks gently whenever she talks, even in anger or frustration, using her force of will rather than volume to defend her space.

Her relationships with her shipmates are as diverse as the crew itself. With Kaylee she acts as an older sister, with River she becomes a mother. With Jayne she's more of a scolding nanny and most interestingly besides her psudeo love interest is her relationship with Shepard Book. Shepard in this context is a traveling minister for a vaguely unexplored Christian denomination, and when he first meets Inara both seem slightly standoffish, as their professions seem to be polar opposites. They quickly grow to see the wisdom in each other's council, and form a mutual respect in one another, sometimes even appearing as the only sane people on the ship.

Inara-focused episodes don't break out into her firing a gun or chasing down a spaceship. They focus mainly on her place as a companion and what that relationship brings out in others. The most notable episode featuring this is Jaynestown, where a wealthy merchant hires her as a companion for his son, with the hope to "Make him a man" by taking his virginity.

Inara, in true form, performs her job but explains to the young man that what they did does not make him a man, and that it's not her place to do so. She helps him navigate his complex feelings of masculinity and his relationship with his father, helping him see that weather or not he is a man is up to him, not up to his father or society. He defines his masculinity, which ties into the other characters conflict and ends up saving the day.

It's easy to say Inara is a throw-away character by hearing her profession described. Most prostitute characters are played purely for laughs, occasionally as tragic characters like Les Miserables Fantine, but rarely are they painted as people to respect or admire. In Firefly's short lifetime we met a strong fascinating woman that exemplified femininity, not despite her profession but because of it, making her one of fiction's strongest women.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Almost Invisible Alien

(This post was originally posted on my personal blog in March 2013)

SPOILER ALERT FOR ANY DOCTOR WHO FANS!!! I’m going to be talking about a Season 5 (Eleventh Doctor) episode today.

The episode features the Doctor and Amy, his companion, traveling back to nineteenth century France to meet Vincent van Gogh and take care of an alien he’d painted in a church. Whilst taking care of the alien, the Doctor finds van Gogh having an emotional breakdown that very much reminded me of my experiences with depression. Though there is no consensus about what van Gogh’s mental disorder was, the writers of Doctor Who portray it as a bipolar disorder. As I watched the episode, van Gogh mourning his loneliness, misery, and hopelessness, I was reminded of my own episodes of depression, feeling that I have no hope and I eventually all those close to me will leave me. Yet I can also relate to how only a little while later, van Gogh had cried it out and was a happy person again. He says that occasionally he’d be tormented by those moods, but then suddenly he’d be okay. Sometimes I feel like I can go days or weeks at a time feeling completely happy… and then an episode hits and I’m upset for a day, a few days, a week, or who knows how long. It wasn’t until the end of the episode when the Doctor takes van Gogh to the present day and he sees a museum full of his own work that he believes his life was worth something.

Depression, bipolar, and other mental disorders are a huge trial for many. One source I looked at said that about 10% of the US adult population deals with depression. Another statistic said that about 2.6% of the population deals with bipolar. Another thing I want to touch on here is suicide. Like van Gogh eventually took his life, there are many that feel mortality is too painful and so they take their own life to ease the pain. One website told me that in 2010 it was reported that there were 38,364 deaths in the United States. The same website says that 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death. And what about the other 10%? Does that mean that that 10% without a diagnosable disorder could have been helped? Perhaps saved?

Back in the 1980s, Elder Ballard said about suicide, “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”
It’s important to show love to those around us, because as the saying goes “everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” but oftentimes we can’t see that. Like in the Doctor Who episode, the alien is invisible to all except van Gogh. He’s labeled as crazy and mad. Even when the Doctor and Amy try to help him with the alien, they’re left pretty helpless because the only person who can see it clearly is van Gogh. It is just like depression and other mental illnesses. I have felt many times like I am fighting an alien that only I can see.

There is help though. If you are struggling with depression, bipolar, or another mental illness, see a doctor or see a psychiatrist. All else fails, call this number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Human life is too precious to give up so easily. Keep trying. No matter how many times you fall, keep trying, because you’ll make it to eternal life if you just keep trying to keep the commandments.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Digimon Adventure Loose Ends (2)

A year and a half ago, the Digimon fanbase was in the middle of the Digimon Adventure Tri series. I did a post about the loose ends the series left after that universe seemingly closed over 15 years before. So now that Digimon Adventure Tri has ended officially (and the dubbed has aired in English), we have another Digimon Adventure project announced. So in honor of that, I've got some more Digimon Adventure loose ends that this new series could address.

02 Kids and King Drasil
In the opening of "Reunion", we see the Season 2 kids taken down by King Drasil's Royal Knight Alphamon. They appeared to be in their Digital World clothing. We see nothing of them until silhouettes in "Future", where we learn they were interfering with King Drasil's plans. So Why were they in the Digital World to begin with? What happened to their partners? I'd personally like more details and maybe more than a sillhouette.

Dragomon, Maki, and the Dark Ocean
I referenced this one in my old post, but we had Dragomon alluded to in "His Master's Voice" (episode 2x13) ending with a silhouette and a cryptic narration. We saw the Dark Ocean again several times after that cliffhanger, but nothing. Last we saw of the Dark Ocean, we saw Maki being dragged into the ocean, seemingly by Dragomon's minions (Scubmaon/Divermon). So what happened to Maki? And Tapirmon? And Dragomon?

Gennai and the Black Sphere
Again, I alluded to it before. I feel like I have even more evidence towards it. In "The Ultimate Clash" (episode 1x45), Piedmon pushed a mysterious black sphere into Gennai's back. Could this be why Dark Gennai was working for King Drasil in Adventure Tri?

Daemon's return
Speaking of Dark Gennai, as he disappeared at the end of "Future", he referenced the possibility of Daemon coming back. Granted, this could be his insanity, but when Daemon was sent to the Dark Ocean in "The Dark Gate" (episode 2x45) he vowed to return. It would definitely be unexpected to have Daemon return out of nowhere, maybe with Dark Gennai's help?

Daigo and Maki's team
First seen as sillhouettes in "Now Apocalymon" (episode 1x53) and then in flashbacks in "Loss" and "Coexistence", we didn't have any information on the original Digi-Destined for almost 20 years. Then we met two of them and they've both (presumably) died. I would love to see flashbacks again, maybe from the perspective of the Digimon (now the Digimon Sovereign) to fill in some of the blanks. Or I suppose we could see some of the other three kids who remained nameless when we met Maki and Daigo?

Anything from Digimon Adventure, Digimon Adventure 02, or Digimon Adventure Tri you'd like tied up nicely in the 20th anniversary movies? Maybe some action with Davis, Ken, Yolei, and Cody. Maybe they could get crests and reach Ultimate and/or Mega? That'd be fun.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Occasionally I get asked by a well meaning friend "Hay do you want to get together sometime and we can play Dungeons and Dragons?"

I try to keep the smile on my face while I cringe just a little inside.

I realized recently that with all the different media depictions, misunderstandings, accusations of witchcraft and so fourth that a majority of people don't know what Dungeons and Dragons is exactly, so here is my attempt to set the record straight.

A Different Beast

In most board games, a group of people can sit down one evening, open the box, set up the components, play, then put everything back in the box. Dungeons and Dragons though, is a whole different beast.

Let's say we're playing a basic pre-written campaign that one can buy in the store or pick up online. To start a group would need the book that explains how to make and use a character, a book that explains how to run a campaign and a book that features the creatures the adventurers may run into during the campaign and need to make sure all these components are of the same set. Usually this costs between $60 to $100.

Next each player will need to build their character. Some characters can be found online but the point of Dungeons and Dragons is to create a custom character that you want to play, unlike a video game where you slip into Mario or Geralt's shoes.

Lastly and most importantly, you need a dungeon master. This is a person who will run the game. The players each play one character in the world, the dungeon master's role is to play everything else. The creatures, the other characters the players may run into, even the cosmetology the game exists in.

So already you can see that this is levels beyond a game of Monopoly, so this alone makes it all but impossible to start a game on the fly. Usually character creation alone can be at least an hour long process for new players. Some of the more experienced players can streamline the process, but for the uninitiated a lot may need to be explained.

Oh and dice. You need all the dice. Like ever. If you think you have too many dice you don't, you're still short.

The Art Of Roleplay

Dungeons and Dragons is a pure roleplaying game. It goes far beyond moving a piece across a board then rolling dice to determine success or failure. Say a player encounters a merchant. In a mainstream board game the options for interaction may be little more than buy or sell items. In Dungeons and Dragons though, the player could buy from the merchant, sell to the merchant, attempt to rob the merchant, attempt to fight the merchant, attempt to seduce the merchant, attempt to befriend the merchant, try to capture the merchant to use as a slave, try to buy the merchant's entire store from him and set it up as a franchise, or burn the merchant's store to the ground then use the ashes in a dark unholy ritual.

These are just a few options I could think of on the fly. Honestly a player could do whatever they can imagine to varying degrees of success. The player needs to know that all options are available and what they can and need to do based on who their character is, what their motivation is, what the quest is and where their morals lie. A degree of acting, improvisation and imagination are all required for this exercise, which can be a major departure for most new players who aren't used to getting to be people.

Length and Sessions

So let's say you've got everything together. You've got your friends, someone's a Dungeon Master, character sheets are made, and snacks are within arm's reach. An average campaign of Dungeons and Dragons takes about 5 or 6 hours. Now that's if the players go from one objective to the next completely focused on the task at hand. Add in the players banter, the in-jokes, the references, the side talk, and the discussion as to what to do next the short 5 hours can stretch out to a good 20+. Now of course few have the constitution to sit for 20 hours straight playing a game, so this means the game usually takes place in sessions over months and even years. Some games have been rumored to have been going on for decades, as new players are added and others retire, move or even pass away. Being in a campaign isn't a casual game night, it's also a commitment to help your buddies take down the bad guys and save the world.

Still Want to Play?

This may all seem intimidating, but if you still want to give it a try know that they're are people who are happy to teach newcomers to the game. If we didn't the game would probably be dead. Some Dungeon Masters are even informally tutored by veteran players eager to pass on their skills. THe point is that if you want in you're welcome to join but just know what you're in for.

Also, never split the party.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Salt Lake FanX, gender normativity, and the awesomeness of geekdom

Another FanX has come and gone, leaving behind some very poor geeks and a downtown covered in discarded costumes. As a massive FanX fan, I was excited to attend this year's events.

And even more excited (And scared) to premier my latest cosplay.

Some background: at my first FanX (Then called Salt Lake Comic Con) I cosplayed as a gender bent Harley Quinn, who I named Harvey Quinn. It was my first time cosplaying anywhere, and I was a bit nervous to try one that wasn't only labor intensive but a little unusual. My favorite character in all of fiction is the Joker's favorite hench-girl, so I definitely wanted to make sure I got it right. Long story short: Few people could tell who I was and my wife's Invader Zim tee shirt got more compliments than my outfit.

...Okay kind of a fail...

Right before my wedding I went as Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with my buddy who was a dead ringer for Neil Patrick Harris's character. I spent most of the time getting pictures of him with other people who loved his cosplay but once again kept having to ask who I was.

Okay a major fail.

Next I tried the world of onesies. Full sized fur outfits with hoods that resembled characters. I went through Stitch, Baymax and Sully, all with various degrees of recognition. Most people at least knew who I was which was a step, and I since refined my Harvey Quinn costume to the point where I was recognized.


This year though, call me egotistical, I wanted people to not only know who I was cosplaying as but would want pics with me because of how good my cosplay was. After some careful planning and throwing my last few inhibitions out the window, I put together this year's costume: The Bearded Lady.

I found a winner.

Now it wasn't EXACTLY the Bearded Lady from the film The Greatest Showman, it was more of a Bearded Lady along the lines of Spaceballs or American Horror Story: Freak Show, but I had a beard, I had a wig, I was in a dress, and off I went.

I got my results.

The intial terror was the standard fear of leaving the safe gender normative world and entering briefly into the world of cross dressing. We're still in an age where even an homage can be seen with intolerance and misunderstanding, plus I'm always a bit shy about showing any skin in public. Temple worthy Bearded Lady dresses are just not found at DI so bare shoulders it was.

I wasn't stopped by everyone, certainly there were far better cosplays than mine (Even of the Bearded Lady) but what was awesome was that as far as I saw I was the only man as the Bearded Lady. After getting a picture with another cosplayer, my niece whispered to me "Yours is better Uncle Joe" which made my heart soar.

To me this is the heart of FanX, comic con, and other geek events. Since The Greatest Showman came out I have been in love with the Bearded Ladie's character and the message her story both in and out of the movie portrayed, one of acceptance and being who you really are despite adversity. Cosplay is about expressing the characters we love, what they mean to us, and celebrating them with the world. To have a good cosplay for me means that I did it right, I celebrated my character not only in how I dressed but in how I did it.

What are your cosplay stories? Is there something you've always been afraid of dressing as?


Monday, September 10, 2018

15 Obscure Cosplays that Deserve a Shout-Out

One of my favorite parts of any Con (whether we call it "Salt Lake Comic Con" or "FanX"... that's another rant for another time) is checking out people's cosplays. Of course you'll see a million Doctors and a few dozen Deadpools, but my favorites are the iconic, notable characters who aren't so common. So those are the ones that get a shout-out today, the obscure, memorable characters.

Magician's Valkyria and Dark Paladin from "Yu-Gi-Oh!"
Sora, Donald, and Goofy from "Kingdom Hearts"

Darla from "Finding Nemo"

Gadget from "Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers"

Teen Girl Squad from "Strongbad"

Shego from "Kim Possible"

Cosmo and Wanda from "Fairly Odd Parents"

Miss Piggy from "Muppets"

Team Aqua from "Pokemon"

Flight Attendant Genie from "Aladdin"

Pacha and Chicha from "Emperor's New Groove"

Moss, Jen, and Roy from "IT Crowd"

The Seventh Doctor from "Doctor Who"

Killer Frost from "The Flash"

Miss Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus"

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

4 Power Rangers "Ships" That Should Have Sailed

Today was deemed Power Ranger Day as it's the 25th Anniversary of the franchise. It's probably one of the longest running children's franchises and it still lasts today.

Tommy and Kimberly (Mighty Morphin)
How many fans were shipping Tommy and Kimberly as kids? Even before shipping was a term. Kimberly had an interest in Tommy from the start and was heart broken when she learned he was the evil Green Ranger. Then broken anew when he lost his powers. She even fainted when he reappeared as the White Ranger. They were meant to be and even dated for a bit, but then Kimberly left for the Pan Global Games. Unfortunately, after she left, Kimberly met someone while training in Florida. There was no mention of this during her appearance in the Turbo Movie, but in the meantime Kat and Tommy got together for a bit (they even appeared married in a possibel future in "A Season to Remember"). But by the time of "Forever Red" and Dino Thunder, Tommy still appeared single.

Zhane and Karone (Space)
It was short lived, but while Karone was Astronema, she had a thing for Zhane, the Silver Space Ranger. She was later revealed to be Andros's sister and (after some brainwashing) she was returned to the side of good. The unfortunate thing is that after Andros, Zhane, and Karone returned to KO-35, we never saw what happened to their relationship. Karone later appeared as the Pink Galaxy Ranger in Lost Galaxy and Super Megaforce and there was no mention of Zhane... so we can only suppose it never worked out.

Wes and Jen (Time Force)
This one was almost like a weird Oedipus Complex. Jen was engaged to Alex, who appeared to be a distant descendant of Wes, while still in the year 3000, but then when Jen wen to 2001 and met Wes... well, it wasn't love at first sight. It was more like shock at first sight. She actually had a hard time taking down her walls with him, because of how similar he looked. But after all the time in 2001, her walls were down enough and she'd become level-headed enough that she was obviously feeling for Wes. But of course to protect the timeline she had to return to 3000.

Blake and Tori (Ninja Storm)
After the Thunder Rangers joined the Wind Rangers, they became a tight knit team. Around half-way through the series though, Blake and Tori seemed to have a little bit of a spark. A few episodes in the last quarter of the season had to do specifically with some jealousy going back and forth for a little bit. After Lothor was defeated, Blake and his brother returned to the Thunder Ninja academy and nothing seemed to happen with Tori. At the very least, nothing significant was referenced in the Dino Thunder crossover or "Once a Ranger".

Who would you have wanted together? Personally, I'd even be satisfied if there's even a reference to an off-screen relationship between any of these. Maybe Tommy or Wes will mention one on the anniversary special tonight? Doubtful, but I can wish.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sorting the Avengers into Hogwarts Houses

As if Harry Potter isn't everywhere already, I had the thought recently to (as many geeks have done before me) sort some of my favorite characters from other fandoms into Hogwarts house. Please tell me what you think. First up, The Avengers!

Tony Stark/Iron Man - Slytherin
This is maybe a controversial one to start out with. Between his genius and his ambition, it's hard to place him between Ravenclaw and Slytherin. However, in the end it's his overwhelming ambition and pride that do it for me. It seems like every Avengers movie he's overwhelmed by ambition (manifesting as pride): he made himself the leader in "The Avengers", he created Ultron in "Age of Ultron", and he tried to take control on Titan in "Infinity War". As a result, I'm classifying him as Slytherin. A good-guy Slytherin, of course.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow - Ravenclaw
I debated between Slytherin and Ravenclaw here, as she's very intelligent but she also used to be an enemy spy. Even though she's ambitious and cunning, I think intellect and analytical mind trumps that. She speaks multiple languages, she's a strategist, and a super intelligent overall. Even as I write this I'm tossing between Ravenclaw and Slytherin. I'm going to go with Ravenclaw, because as a reformed spy she isn't as focused on ambition as she is what's right.

Bruce Banner/The Hulk - Ravenclaw
The Hulk is a tricky one to place, specifically on the Hulk-side. Banner is easy. He's all about the textbooks and the analytical. Sure, his physical strength comes from the Hulk (I'd probably classify him as Gryffindor Slytherin... it's hard to tell since he doesn't have much personality in most of his movies), but the man behind the Hulk is a hardcore Ravenclaw, valuing knowledge before all else.

Thor Odinson - Gryffindor
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. Before his arrival on Earth, I might say Slytherin, because he was all about honor and power, but as an Avenger he tends to do the courageous thing, even if it's stupid. During "Ragnarok", he was willing to risk everything in order to save Asgard from Hela, even if it meant fighting off the whole of the Grandmaster's Sakaar. This bravery in risking himself for others is why I put in him Gryffindor.

Clint Barton/Hawkeye - Hufflepuff
There had to be a Hufflepuff on here. Especially since I started owning my own Puff-ness, I had to include someone. And who better than Hawkeye. In many ways he's the stereotypical Hufflepuff, quiet and loyal. But inaddition to his loyalty to the Avengers, and to making amends after breaking Loki's mind control, his fierceness and preciseness also match Hufflepuffs I've seen in my life. But in the end the biggest thing I've put him here for is his loyalty to his team and his family.

Steve Rogers/Captain America - Gryffindor
It's the easy answer, but it also makes sense. Cap is known for standing up to bullies and showing courage, whether as a scrawny kid in "The First Avenger", against corrupt SHIELD agents in "The Winter Soldier", or against his friends in "Civil War". My second choice was Hufflepuff, due to his loyalty to Bucky and Peggy, but his bravery in regards to ALL the odds leaves me with Gryffindor.

Which sorting do you disagree with? Would you put Tony as a Ravenclaw? Or Black Widow as a Slytherin? Is Cap the real Hufflepuff? Let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

5 Things in Pokemon that Make No Sense

Being a 20+ year franchise, it's inevitable that there are some inconsistencies in the Pokemon world (games, anime, etc). But some of them are funnier than others.

Slow on the Uptake
So it's relatively normal on Pokemon Go for the average Pokemon to run away after failed capture attempts. What doesn't make sense is the super slow ones: Slowpoke and Slakoth. Slowpoke are notoriously slow (hence the name). Blue Version even states that it takes Slowpoke 5 seconds to feel pain. Other Pokedex entries state that it doesn't feel pain when bitten. So if Slowpoke is that slow to respond to pain, how does he run away from a Pokeball? Similarly with Slakoth. The Pokemon can't even attack 50% of the time because it's so slow... so how is this Pokemon able to run away when someone tries to catch it?

Fish Out of Water
This isn't such a big deal in the anime (we even have explicit lines about it) but throughout all the games we get fish Pokemon fight on land. Magikarp, Goldeen, Feebas, etc. Any and all of them fight on land in the games. How is Goldeen supposed to fight any Pokemon when all it can do is bounce and flop?

More Zords than Power Rangers
Late in the Johto series, it's explicit that our Team Rocket trio doesn't have any money. In fact, they are very in debt to to Giovanni (so Delibird comes swooping around every few episodes). So if Team Rocket has so little money, how are they buying brand new Meowth balloons every episodes (sometimes more than once per episode) and new digging/stealing machines every other episode. Those things aren't cheap and yet they never have money to pay back Giovanni or to buy food.

Going on a Walk-ish
In HeartGold/SoulSilver and Pokemon Go you get the chance to walk around with your Pokemon. Funny thing is that you can choose fish Pokemon and chrysalis Pokemon to walk with you. I love the concept, but how exactly does it make sense to drag a Metapod or a Magikarp behind you and call it a "walk"?

The Ultimate Retcon
In the Pokemon anime we have often have glimpses of the next Generation, especially towards the end of a region. In Kanto/Orange Islands, we saw Togepi, Ho-Oh, Lugia, etc. In Johto, we saw Latias, Latios, and Wynaut. In Hoenn, we got Lucario and Manaphy. In Sinnoh, we saw Zoroark. Unova region saw Genesect. And Kalos had Magearna.
Besides these special circumstances, we don't often see newer Pokemon in older regions. However, we often see older Pokemon in newer generations. For example, May caught a Bulbasaur in Hoenn and Dawn had Cyndaquil/Quilava. To a large extent, we see this in the games too. Even in the remakes, we mostly only see the original Pokemon from that game and the generations before... nothing new. Just seems kind of odd that we'd have so many more Pokemon available in Kalos and Alola than Kanto ever had back in the day.