What Do Toxic Gamers and Fascists Have in Common?

“Fascism is not a specific ideological system with particular content. It’s just a strategy for taking power and maintaining power against the rule of law, and against the majority in a democracy.” –Jamie Raskin

Years ago, I wrote my thoughts on the use of slurs online by gamers to insult others (language warning). I expressed the idea that many of the people who use these words aren’t aiming to be racist or sexist, and that part of the problem is that we live in a society where describing someone as gay, black, or whatever else can be viewed as demeaning in the first place. But the above quote from United States Congressman Jamie Raskin stuck with me because of the way it describes fascism as a strategy rather than a belief system, and it had me reflecting on the strategic use of words to harm others.

What I’ve come to realize is that I had approached the topic of online toxicity from a limited angle. Freedom of expression and the full repertoire of a language are important things that I still support, but there’s another dimension to consider.

One problem with how easily slurs get thrown around online isn’t as simple as whether or not the words are deeply offensive to different peoples and cultures. It doesn’t matter how silly it is that some gamers will throw these words out even if they don’t actually apply to the person on the other side of the screen. The individuals who behave this way, whether they’re conscious of it or not, are basically trying to hurt the person they’re talking to by any means necessary. They’re using slurs as buckshot and hoping the spray will do damage. Similar to fascism, this is less an indicator of beliefs and more of a method to exert power over others—however limited in this specific context—even if they might also actually be racist or whatever. But what happens when the context gets larger?

It’s no secret that Gamergate was basically a precursor to the fecal stain that is Trumpism and the alt-right in the United States, which bring with them the very real threat of actual fascism. And while I truly do not believe that all gamers who ever used slurs to insult others are inherent fascists or will inevitably turn into them, that desire to use words not for the ideas they represent but as tools to probe cracks and fissures in order to do harm feels all too similar to what I see from the fascists who try to undermine American society day in and day out. Donald Trump, right-wing media, the Republican Party, and others in power lie endlessly because “meaning” is meaningless to them—they’re just trying to find the thing that sets people off and helps them maintain power.

Beyond the scope of words alone, this mindset bears scary resemblance to the kinds of strategies we’re finding out were deployed in an attempt to stop the transfer of power in the US on January 6, 2021. Whether through enraging a mob and turning them violent, or trying to exploit gaps in the Constitution and other legal documents, what we saw a year ago was an attempt to twist words and their meaning into crowbars to try to pry open and undo American democracy. Though cliche, I can’t help but think of a famous line from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”

Calling someone a slur whether in frustration or contempt is not an automatic pipeline to undermining the foundations of a government; I’d even hazard a guess that most people who engaged in the former never got anywhere close to the latter. But the ease by which words are weaponized in smaller contexts feel like they should be scrutinized more carefully. After all, the alt-right specifically targets gamers, seeing gaming as a resource for young and disaffected men. The racism and sexism expressed in them are a major part of the problem of how words are abused, yet they’re also reduced down to cudgels meant to inflame and diminish. While we should avoid censorship as a blunt form of enforcement, the less weight we feel the weight of the words we use, the more easily they become the tools of fascism.

Best Anime Characters of 2021

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Ikari Shinji (Evangelion 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time)

For as many strong and unique characters as there were this year, there’s really only one right choice for me.


Shinji was never my favorite Evangelion character. However, seeing his transformation from the original TV series all the way to the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie feels nothing short of profound. It’s almost unfair to compare him to other characters because of this long arc of this through multiple versions, but the way he finally comes into his own after 25 years of being the poster child for emotional and psychological turmoil in anime makes what was already a lasting impression into something even more enduring. The boy became mythology in the most unexpected way.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Laura (Tropical-Rouge! Precure)

In the Precure franchise, there are rarely characters of Laura’s disposition. A mermaid with ambition to become the next queen of the seas, Laura is a haughty and proud sort whose closest equivalent is Milk from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. One part of what makes her work as a character is that she fluctuates between earned and unearned confidence, and her friends are there to teach her when the latter occurs. 

But what I think seals the deal for Laura is the fact that she overcomes one of the most common pitfalls of mid-season Cures, which is losing much of her original identity once she joins the team proper. While she gains legs and learns how to live in human culture, her mermaid origin still plays a significant role and gives an extra facet to her character. Laura has to navigate the worlds of both land and sea, and that process is both endearing and hilarious.

Final Thoughts

There was no shortage of strong characters this year, but in the end, I felt that both Shinji and Laura both showed an immensely satisfying amount of growth in their own ways. For Shinji, it’s arguably unfair to be tapping into something with as much history as the Evangelion franchise, but it really feels like Eva has the closure it needs, and it comes courtesy of the Third Child(ren) himself. Laura meanwhile all but perfects the “unusual sixth ranger” by making sure the show doesn’t forget what made her an interesting character in the first place. 

I won’t say who they are, but a few characters got real close to taking the top spots. Some of their stories are still ongoing, so we’ll see if they make it to the top of the list in 2022.

Fan vs. Fandom

Recently, someone close to me revisited one of their favorite TV series of all time: Burn Notice. They can talk forever about how they love Michael, Fiona, and the rest of the cast, as well all the things that make the show stand out from its peers. However, something occurred to me in discussion, which is that as much as they’re fond of Burn Notice, they never felt the need to actively engage with other fans of the show. In other words, they’re a fan but not part of the fandom. Increasingly, I find myself in a similar boat about the things I love.

I still try to emotionally and critically engage with the media I enjoy (or don’t, as the case may be). I might even strike up a conversation with people through social media, including (but not limited to) those I would genuinely call friends. But if there’s one major difference between me today and the young me from decades past, it’s that I’ve since mostly stepped away from being a part of communities. I sometimes get a glimpse of a certain discussion or trend from within those communities, and if it’s interesting, I’ll check out what exactly is going on. Yet, I often don’t feel that strong pull to search for camaraderie through shared hobbies whereby I end up keyed into all the in-jokes and prominent discourses. 

What I’m doing isn’t inherently better. I cherish my past experiences with chat rooms, forums, and messageboards—I even still participate in a few. What pushes me to engage less with fandom is that whenever I get into a new show, comic, anime, etc., a part of me worries about my initial perception being overly shaped by the particular beliefs and biases of whatever the most vocal hardcore parts of fandoms obsess over. 

There are plenty of fandoms that grow “beyond” their targets of obsession, e.g. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Voltron: Legendary Defender, pro wrestling. While it’s a mistake to assume that these groups have been monolithic in their thinking, certain assumptions of what’s good or bad about a given aspect—characters, stories, staff—tend to ossify in at least parts of the community and end up getting taken as gospel. Often, I find that they overshadow other potentially interesting discussions or explorations, and I seek to avoid getting sucked in. 

Disengaging with fandoms at large comes with a potential drawback: ignorance. For example, I could watch something with certain assumptions and not realize I’m dead-wrong about a vital piece of info—perhaps a show’s audience is expected to know about it because it’s considered common knowledge in another culture—but I’d rather be mistaken at first and adjust my views afterwards than to just be given the “proper fan” way of seeing something right off the bat. I will not accept fan consensus as gospel, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ignore it entirely.

I sometimes see certain anti-fandom sentiments expressed: “the fandom makes me hate the show” or “I love the series but hate the fandom.” Often the counterargument is that these things shouldn’t impact your enjoyment of a work—what does it matter who else is a fan or what they do within the fandom? However, like so many instances of trying to go against the tide, it can be draining. You might want to engage with the things you love without having an interpretation already in the back of your mind, acting like experiential spoilers. You might want to talk about why you think a show or movie is your favorite without people automatically assuming you think or feel a certain way. And if part of the fun of being a fan is the communal aspect, what happens when you can’t find a community that suits you? 

It’s why I think the geek social fallacies still apply to this day: geeks understand what it’s like to feel like they don’t belong, and they overcompensate by trying to connect everyone through a fandom even if there are people within who are fundamentally incompatible. But because of that desire for community, it can also lead to attempts to control fandoms whereby it becomes a requirement to justify one’s fandom tastes or accept certain established fanon in order to remain a part. 

It’s okay to be a fan without a fandom. It’s okay to be a fan with many fandoms. It’s even okay to be a mix of both. What it comes down to isn’t simply about likes and dislikes. Rather, when you peel back all the layers, I think fan vs. fandom reflects how we choose (or not choose) to engage with communities, but are nevertheless still indicative of the same human social dynamics that dictate everything else, even if the exact contours and who’s in power are different. The important thing is to not forget yourself. 

P.A. Works and the Home-Renovation Spirit

Some time ago, I wrote a kind of light and frivolous observation: What if the home renovation shows were given a kind of isekai twist? Because both genres are built on reliable tropes and wish fulfillment, it could work. What I later came to realize is that there are already anime out there that capture some of that same spirit as a Fixer Upper or Home Town, and they’re “most P.A. Works shows.”

While P.A. Works anime like Sakura Quest and the recent The Aquatope on White Sand aren’t focused on sprucing up individual houses, they do often tackle or at least address an increasingly prevalent problem that home renovation shows are also built around: decreasing populations in small towns as people move to bigger cities to find opportunities and birth rates decline. This is a recurring issue in both Japan and the United States in particular, and has led to the decline of rural areas as they can’t hope to compete with more urban ones. Much like how Home Town remodels homes to try to breathe life into Laurel, Mississippi, so too does P.A. Works create events from scratch like Hanasaku Iroha’s once-fictional Bonbori Festival as a way to try to start traditions—because they have to begin somewhere, right? Sakura Quest meanwhile is explicitly about this topic, and the characters actively strategize on how to bring people back to a half-way abandoned town.

The cause is just, and it would be great if these approaches could make a difference, but there are underlying issues that TV shows, fictional or otherwise, can only do so much to fully fix. For the US, one major problem is the poor health infrastructure (and infrastructure in general) that forces even those who might not want to leave non-urban areas to try to chase employment down in the hopes of, if not getting health insurance through work, at least making enough money to afford it. In Japan, a lack of economic opportunities and a sexist society that still looks at career-oriented women with suspicion means that the rural regions of Japan are filled with empty and abandoned houses as a brain drain occurs. 

I wonder if the two sides could learn from each other. Perhaps P.A. Works can do an anime all about renovating homes in a town, while maybe HGTV or whatever can try to make a program that pulls the camera back a bit and looks at infrastructure issues beyond single homes per episode. If there’s some way to make both work, I’d love to see the result. 

Imagine Fourteen Balls on the Edge of a Cliff: Ogiue Maniax 14th Anniversary

14 years is a strange milestone—it almost doesn’t feel like one. As the date approach, I kept wondering what would I even talk about. Then came the death of disgraced Something Awful founder, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka. I never knew the man, but I definitely knew his site, and as I reflected on it and my earliest days blogging, I came to a realization.

If not for Something Awful, I might have never started Ogiue Maniax. 

I never contributed directly to Something Awful, nor would I say that it gave anything directly to me, but I found a community of fellow anime fans through various unofficial offshoots of the site. Chatting and posting among them were some of the early bloggers and podcasters who helped inspire me to start blogging myself—in my 10th anniversary post back in 2017, I thanked numerous people, and more than a few of them I came to know through these communities. For that, I have to be thankful in some part.

Many words have been written these past few days about how Something Awful’s complicated legacy defined much of the standards of internet humor and discourse we see today. In terms of the good, my favorites include the disastrous video game attempt known as The Zybourne Clock and the man who tried and failed to hike across America, both of which were kneecapped by unbelievable amounts of hubris. 

But while the big achievements and the major consequences are more visible, I can’t help thinking about the ironic combination of personal authenticity and endless posturing that defined interactions on that site and its descendants. It’s been a very long time since I looked at Something Awful on a regular basis, and a major part of my walking away was the frustrating degree to which posters there would become increasingly afraid of their own shadows, too eager and desperate to chase the crumbs of a specific kind of “respectability” that would provide at least a moment of respite from endless mockery. Irony was both the sword and the shield, and I assume that’s still the case today, given how the responses to Lowtax’s death turned out.

Something Awful’s community liked to create scapegoats to make its users feel safe and superior. Anime fans were one such group, with furries getting arguably the worst of it. It’s very easy to slip into these mentalities as well, and in hindsight, the fact that the furry community ended up being famous for encouraging inclusive behavior without allowing bigotry to permeate its ranks makes me reflect on how wrong Something Awful got it as a whole.

Even then, the joy of seeing people genuinely communicating their likes and dislikes at length despite an often-caustic environment—a scenario common to more than just Something Awful—made me appreciate when such discussions could occur. Even if someone vehemently hated a particular series, I appreciated when it didn’t come from trying to maintain a position of specific standards of taste one was supposed to have. Part of what motivated my blogging in those early days of Ogiue Maniax was the desire to present myself authentically, and while I hope I’ve changed for the better 14 years later, I’d like to think that desire is still there.

I also find myself reflecting on the fact that writing and communicating in a “real” way is a challenge for so many, and I think about those toxic environments that have and still exist where the toxicity is, in part, a product of defensiveness. Evangelion talks about the “hedgehog’s dilemma,” and so much of the nastier parts of the internet 20 years ago through today is influenced by the degree to which people are afraid to get hurt and expose themselves. In fact, I think many of the problems of today related to discrimination and communities rooted in fascism comes from people taking advantage of those vulnerabilities I mentioned, exploiting the hurt of people to a foul end. Funnily enough, absolute intolerance for Nazis has become a common trait between furries and Something Awful.

I still wish to write and share with little pretense, and I hope that comes across in what I still do. Next year is the 15th year of Ogiue Maniax, and I hope to see you there.

Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Gameplay Thoughts

Sora was the most desired character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. When you have a character with so wide an appeal, it behooves the creators to make him accessible to the fans eager to use him. In this respect, I think Sakurai and his team have succeeded in spades, but I’ve also been watching the pros try their hands at Sora, and I’ve noticed that the character seems to have a very high ceiling for what is possible. From this, I find that Sora is built very firmly on a classic concept of game design: easy to learn, but difficult to master.

Surprisingly, that combination isn’t all that common among characters in Smash—all the more odd because it’s a franchise built around that very idea. Often, characters who are simple to pick up don’t get absurdly tricky at higher levels, and the characters who are difficult to get the hang of remain complicated even at higher levels of play. Sora, in contrast, has a relatively simple and easy-to-understand game plan, but the room for optimization looks endless. 

Sora’s enormously generous air mobility and the ease by which he can get his Kingdom Hearts–esque combos started (neutral air, forward air, and down tilt are all strong tools) means that neutral isn’t overly complicated. At the same time, the ability to delay or interrupt hits means that players will likely get better and better at maximizing damage. His special moves also allow players to do a lot right off the bat, but their intricacies are deep. The very fact that his neutral special, Magic, switches between three very different attacks every time you hit the B button makes it so that players have to subtly change strategies every time they use the move.

One thing that’s very unusual about Sora is his movement. Overall, he’s below average in nearly every mobility category, but a combination of an enormous second jump reminiscent of Ness and Mewtwo—as well as a level of floatiness that’s strange even compared to other generally similar characters—means that Sora ironically can feel more strange to those with lots of Smash experience. As a Mewtwo user myself, one would think that Sora would feel right at home, but even I found the character’s physics to be bizarre at first blush. On a technical level, this is owing to a combination of very low fall speed and extremely low gravity, a stat that determines how quickly a character hits their top vertical speed in the air. The result is a character who just ends up spending a lot of time in the air. His high-altitude juggling and deep offstage edgeguarding are, as expected, both incredibly powerful.

At the same time, Sora doesn’t look like a slouch on the ground either. What I find is that, due to the contrast between his mediocre-yet-funky mobility and the relative safety of his disjointed Keyblade attacks, Sora is neither especially good nor especially bad at getting in on his opponents. Against those who like to fight up close, Sora should have no trouble making it happen. In fact, more often I could see the fight coming to him. And against characters who like to play more of a bait-and-punish style, Sora can contend decently well. It’s the strong zoners, the ones who excel at running away and have either one or more long-range tool, who can give Sora trouble. From a Mewtwo perspective, I can see my character doing well because of a combination of Shadow Ball and just across-the-board superior mobility that allows Mewtwo to both play keepaway and chase Sora down in the air, which is supposed to be Sora’s specialty. 

I predict Sora is going to get better and better over the course of Ultimate competitive play, but he won’t necessarily be able to ignore his weaknesses the same way other characters can. He might always have at least a few bad matchups where he has trouble getting his game plan started, but against most of the cast, Sora shouldn’t have much trouble playing Kingdom Hearts in Smash. And he’ll always be that accessible character who eases people into Smash but provides ample room for players to grow, and for the experts to flex their skills.

Sakura Wars, Super Robot Wars 30, and the DLC Hype Train

Sakura Wars is in Super Robot Wars 30. That means, for the second time in history, a Sega giant robot video game series is debuting in Super Robot Wars as a newcomer—16 years after Virtual On broke new ground in Super Robot Wars Alpha 3. I find this to be an important moment in SRW history, and not only because Sakura Wars has been long anticipated by fans. The other big factor is that Sakura Wars is the first new series to come in as DLC, and the concept of continued hype via shocking entries reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite game franchises: Super Smash Bros.

Super Robot Wars as a whole predates Super Smash Bros. by almost a decade, but they’re built from a similar concept in terms of promotion: Show all the varying franchises that are in each game, and have players freak out over the fact that what was thought to be impossible is, in fact, real. Even on Youtube, Super Robot Wars 30 has been getting the reaction videos common to Smash, albeit on a smaller scale. But SRW has long done it in one giant cannon fire, releasing one massive preview video, as opposed to the drip-drop approach that Smash has utilized since the Brawl website days. While there are only two batches of DLC for Super Robot Wars 30, I like the idea that there are still surprises on the table after we thought things were done. I don’t necessarily feel this way about DLC in general, and the difference is that SRW and Smash alike are generally already filled to the gills with content.

It’s also funny to think about how the series that go into SRW are collectively older than what shows up in Smash. The oldest mecha manga dates all the way back to the 1960s (namely Tetsujin 28), while the Duck Hunt light shooter game (before video games even really existed) came out in 1968. While Nintendo and video games in general are bigger business these days, one could argue that the resources that make up Super Robot Wars are bigger and more legacy-defining in their own way.

Super Robot Wars 30 comes out in a couple of weeks, and I already have my Ultimate Edition pre-order. Unlike previous games, this one is officially available in English in an easy-to-obtain way via Steam, which is where I’ve purchased it. I’ll be eager to try out the Sakura Wars units, and everything else the game has to offer. Most importantly, we’re gonna get some sweet-ass Sakura Wars music.

It might be about time for me to work on another Gattai Girls post too…

Let’s Talk Evangelion in Shinkalion Z

Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA, a robot that's a combination of Shinkalion and EVA-01 from Evangelion

It’s incredibly strange to go from the finality of the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie to seeing Shinji and Gendo characters show up in Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion Z, the fun-filled sequel anime about kids piloting bullet-train robots. What’s even more bizarre is that there’s a kind of thematic resonance between the two. The portrayals of the Eva characters in 3.0+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time and their Shinkalion Z appearances actually feel like they fit together.

Possibly due to its transportation and tourism connections, Shinkalion is famous for its unexpected pop culture cameos. A version of Hatsune Miku is a recurring character in the original Shinkalion. The franchise also makes multiple explicit references to city pop legend Yamashita Tatsuro, has Godzilla in a feature film, and showcases a Hello Kitty Shinkalion. It even just had a tiny Maetel from Galaxy Express 999 show up. Evangelion is just one of many pop culture icons to appear, but the sheer tonal difference between it and Shinkalion makes its presence all the more jarring on paper.

Ikari Shinji turning to face the viewer/the Shinkalion pilot Arata Shin.

Shinkalion already had a crossover with Evangelion in the first series, but whereas the main character back then (Hayasugi Hayato) visited Tokyo-3, here we have Shinji showing up in the world of Shinkalion. What really stands out about Shinji here is how gentle and reassuring he is in this world. The Shinji we see greeting the new protagonist, Arata Shin, has a calming presence that feels closest to the version of him we see towards the end of 3.0+1.01, as if parallel Shinjis arrived at the same place, only one had to go through some of the most dire trauma possible. The next closest would be the Shinji often found in Super Robot Wars after the positive influence of hotblooded pilots has rubbed off on him.

Not only does Shinji come across as a mature ment figure to Shin with the aura of a mentor, but he specifically mentions that he’s met a Shinkalion E5 pilot before. In other words, not only does the series acknowledge the previous Evangelion cameos within the world of the story, but we’re also likely seeing a Shinji who’s a little older. In a previous episode, it’s revealed that Shinkalion Z takes place in the world of the original Shinkalion after its climactic final battle, and reuniting with a Shinji with memories of what has come before actually creates a kind of anticipation for Hayato to return at some point.

Gendo sitting on a train platform bench next to some Shinkalion Z characters. The background is red and eerie, and Gendo's signature glasses are reflecting light.

As for Gendo (featured in the image at the beginning), he’s mostly played for laughs in terms of how incongruous he is with the relatively lighthearted world of Shinkalion. He says all the things you expect (“Shin, get in the Shinkalion”), but delivers it all with such a straight deadpan that it veers straight into parody territory. At the same time, his presence and demeanor feel reminiscent of a key scene in 3.0+1.01 involving trains, which makes the aforementioned resonance between that film and Shinkalion Z all the more noticeable. 

Ultimately, both Shinji and Gendo seem to be in better places in Shinkalion Z. While there’s nothing concretely saying so, I like to believe that the Shinji and Gendo of Shinkalion are better people because they have robots that are also trains—the kind of thing both father and son would probably enjoy, given their personalities and histories. 

Rei from Evangelion points at something, encouraging Asuka to take a look. Both are in their school uniforms.

Episodes are up on the official Youtube only until the following Monday EST, so anyone who wants to check out Shinji and the Shinkalion Z 500 Type EVA should do so as soon as they can. Unlike the last series, this episode actually has “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” for the streaming version.

Smash Ultimate and the Shmup Life of Jigglypuff

I like watching Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments, but it’s only over the past year that I’ve started watching individual streamers more—chalk it up to a pandemic. During this time, one player I’ve been enjoying is Super Smash Bros. Melee “god” Hungrybox try his hand at Ultimate as a Jigglypuff main. But while a part of the fun is in seeing a top Melee player use a heavily toned down version of his signature character to become a low-tier hero, I’d felt that there was also something inherently compelling about Jigglypuff itself. Then, realization hit me last year as I watched the Touhou game Shoot the Bullet during Summer Games Done Quick 2020: Jigglypuff in Ultimate is a lot like a ship in a shoot ‘em up boss fight.

Shmups are a genre where your character is besieged every level by an endless procession of enemy ships and projectiles, generally culminating against a boss character of some kind. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that your playable unit will typically die in one hit, so the ability to evade and barely make it out of harm’s way is key to success—especially if you’re playing for some kind of record or achievement. 

Jigglypuff in Ultimate is in a similar position. It excels in moving back and forth through the air thanks to a high air speed, multiple jumps, and a slow fall speed. Being the second lightest in the game means it can’t withstand many attacks, but its small size means being able to dodge things other characters can’t. The character also has short reach on its attacks, thus any opponent with projectiles or a long weapon like a sword presents a daunting wall that Jigglypuff must surmount through effective weaving. Like the heroine Aya in Shoot the Bullet, there is a clear edge that Jigglypuff’s foes have in the fight, in that their ability to threaten and cover space is something Jigglypuff cannot match.

This is somewhat different in Melee due to the strength of Jigglypuff’s back-air. In that environment, it’s a deceptively far-reaching attack that makes Jigglypuff the “wall” that players must deal with instead of the other way around. Jigglypuff’s ability to throw out repeated beefy back-airs while juking is even referred to as the “wall of pain.” Jigglypuff in Ultimate not only has less range, but the character automatically turns around after throwing a back-air out, preventing the ability to string multiple back-airs together. 

Instead, Jigglypuff must bob and dance, hoping to be in the right place at the right time to nickel and dime the opponent without overextending. While it has an ace in the hole in the form of Rest, it’s hard to hit and requires a lot of planning and game sense (and maybe even a bit of luck). Every mistake is a costly one, and the frail nature of the character means defeat is often snatched from the jaws of victory. 

Does this make for a particularly strong character? Probably not. But it sure makes for a tense and exciting viewing experience, and it’s why I keep watching Hungrybox, as well as other Puff mains like Bassmage. Also, when I think about it, this would also make a great template for a Touhou character…

PS: If I ever had the chance to rebalance Jigglypuff to be stronger, I’d give Jigglypuff a kill throw because being such an air-focused character means shielding is especially effective against it. Due to its floatiness, slow ground speed, and lack of range, Jigglypuff also has a harder time landing grabs—so I think it’d still be fair.

The Unquenching Desire for Villains: 9/11, 20 Years Later

Trigger Warnings:  September 11, COVID-19, and all they entail—death, suicide, etc.

I still remember visiting the Twin Towers with friends after school. We would go semi-regularly, with the Japanese restaurant on the underground level being our favorite destination. Between the massive riceballs and the generous helpings of udon and soba, it was always something to look forward to. Then 9/11 happened, and I never even learned if the people running that place even survived. I still wonder. 

20 years is a long time, but there are still feelings and memories that stick with me to this day. No one among my friends and family were hurt or worse, so I have much to be thankful for, but I remember the panic of a friend whose dad worked in the World Trade Center. I remember the shudder of the school building as something happened—I think it was as the second plane hit. I remember the eerily calm evacuation, and me handing a half-full water bottle to a firefighter who was desperately gathering any water he could. I remember meeting up with my siblings in Manhattan—one of whom walked miles on foot, another who was close enough that day to see bodies falling. I remember having a dream that night in which the block where I lived was seeing invasion by futuristic caterpillar tanks, of all things. 

I also remember how naive I was at the time, and how much I wanted this to be a truly unifying moment for the United States of America. I didn’t understand why one classmate refused to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. I wanted to believe that President George W. Bush would utilize all this good faith for the better. I was someone who didn’t really know or understand politics, and my greatest concern in that respect was trying to find a mental compromise that would reconcile the beliefs I’d been taught and the questions I’ve always had. 

Now here we are, those hopes long since dashed, and facing a new problem in COVID-19 that makes those lives lost on 9/11 seem horrifically quaint by comparison. Thousands of bodies have made way for hundreds of thousands and counting. But while that sense of unity in 2001 was fleeting and illusory, it was still more than what we’ve gotten out of fighting the coronavirus. Sure, some of that could be explained by the fact that the US is more divided now, driven to the brink in part by the poison of disinformation. However, I think there’s something else: in the aftermath of 9/11, we had in Osama Bin Laden an enemy we could hope would be on the receiving end of a bullet. In recent days, as I reflect on the events of the past year but also the past 20 years, I’ve come to realize that the US (and perhaps human beings as a whole) are more comfortable with a flesh-and-blood target we can attack through physical violence.

Columbine was just two years before 9/11, and started two generations of kids on their path of customary active shooter drills. What’s a common refrain when it comes to the epidemic of gun violence we see in the US? “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” We actually think the solution is to just have more, better guns and to shoot harder. I truly believe this is because the US (or at least a significant portion of it) has an incredibly hard time dealing with problems that don’t just involve overwhelming them with brute force. But COVID-19 can’t be defeated by guns, glaciers will not unmelt if we bomb them…and yet, part of the nation keeps desperately seeking that living, breathing entity to vilify. 

I recently read an article called “25 Essential Notes on Craft from Matthew Salesses,” which is an excerpt from a larger book by Salesses about the rules we construct around what makes good or bad fiction, and how this can differ between cultures. In it, he points out that Western critics often label Asian stories as “undramatic” or plotless” because of their lack of “conflict.” While I’m under no illusion that discrimination, intolerance, and scapegoating are somehow absent in Asian cultures (and in fact are often downright prevalent), I do think that this Western obsession with stories needing conflict also bleeds into how we as a culture approach so many other things. That includes the narratives that are built up in the news and in media—to create easily identifiable villains to vanquish. It’s the Chinese. It’s Dr. Fauci. It’s Joe Biden. It’s Greta Thunberg. It’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s Mexicans at the border. It’s a secret cabal run by Democrats who abduct children to create an immortality elixir. And I’ll even admit that Trump has made a hell of a foe to rally against because he is demonstrably a monster of the worst kind.

There’s a certain comfort in having physical, human obstacles to overcome instead of abstract ones. One of my favorite anime genres is giant robots, and that’s built on a basic premise of “big metal man punches monster to death and saves the day.” Sure, plenty might house anti-war or anti-racism messages (Tetsujin 28, Gundam, Voltes V), or even act as metaphors for the struggles of the human mind (Evangelion). But even those tend to depict physical struggles, even if they might be symbolic in nature. Superheroes are in a similar boat, more traditionally geared towards stopping an arch-nemesis than childhood malnutrition. It’s hard for stories like these to deal with systemic issues, especially those that would be better solved by policy and activism.

It’s okay to think weapons are cool. It’s okay to think fights are cool. Tanks, guns, lasers, planes, kicks and punches, mecha—I love seeing this stuff in fiction, and I think people do need some kind of outlet. However, in our actual societies, when we focus too much on punishing perceived evildoers instead of creating an environment that minimizes the likelihood of such people arising in the first place, we do ourselves greater harm still. An education system able to equip people with the skills to truly think critically and a healthcare system where people aren’t deathly afraid to find out what might be afflicting them would be a good place to start. While there are indeed always going to be bad people who need to be stopped, we have to understand that violence comes not just in the form of a terrorist with a bomb or a shooter with a gun; there’s also the harm caused by dehumanizing others, whether because of their race, culture, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or any other aspect of our beings. The collateral damage of 9/11 was more than just the lives lost, and I hope we can learn that lesson before it’s too late.