Attack on character development

I picked up Attack on Titan (AOT) after a while and I couldn’t help but put down a few things that rubbed me the wrong way.

Of course the strengths of the series, and most Shonen, still shine through with the pacing, concept and emotional tension being pretty good. But I was a little less enthused since it seemed to be written for adolescents more than it is about adolescents.

I’m not saying it’s juvenile but the writing and characterisation are definitely a kind of wish fulfillment for that adolescent urge to defy authority, righteously struggle for some cause and fit in with a group of companions. Compare that with say Akira, where you also have young adolescents up to onerous tasks. What stands out is that Akira’s characters are more fleshed out. Their flaws, age, doubts come out in conversations, in the way they interact and their actions.

In contrast the characters in AOT are always moving from one revelation to another, their conflicts always in service to some greater ideal they uphold or some great tragedy that they are haunted by. I couldn’t help but feel that these faces have more motive than character. It makes for an intoxicating pace that has the plot constantly moving even during political posturing but it ends up hurting the characters, leaving little room for development. These characters don’t live beyond their service to the plot.

There’s little breathing room like how Akira shows its main characters being underage hooligans, layabouts and delinquents hanging around shady bars but just as easily have their heroics entirely dependent on their impulsive, angst-y behavior. They aren’t caricatures, they do ask great questions and change the world but they’re still realistically within a transformational period in their lives. They aren’t ideological warriors, they’re living out their pasts even in what they believe – there’s more subtlety, nuance and humanism.

The tedious focus on the one or two characters that the entire world revolves around wouldn’t be that unbearable if there were any characters with the will power to disagree or not go along with the latest inspirational speech that’s being flung at them. The AOT world has no room for doubts, uncertainty or shifting moods in the human mind. You agree or disagree, you’re on the red team or the blue team. We get spoonful after spoonful but no time to chew.

What seems to have hurt the series is that the personal motive driven plot had to go from the high intensity of family avenging, friend slaying action that went rooftop to rooftop to a slow burn of exposition that suddenly found the story having to explain an entire history, social context, lore etc. The pacing is admirably consistent from the days of tense Titian slaying to and endless series of palace coups but without the life threatening danger, the same things that worked earlier start to show their weaknesses.

It’s a shame because, in hindsight, the survival focused story telling was some of the strongest I’ve read and so much of what the story continues to do made so much more sense since it was also in service to this constant tension. By giving way what the titans were the series kind of gave way the main threat. There is no more doom, no more end of the word as interesting. The world war plot is fine, the exposition wasn’t too clumsily delivered even if it wasn’t subtle, but it just isn’t as interesting.

When the Colossal Titian kicked down that wall, it genuinely felt like the end of the world was slowly creeping up, that hopelessness and desperation we got a worms eye view of never came back.

Addendum: Ernin the child trying to protect his own is far more interesting than Enrin the political schemer trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and the necessary prerequisites for Geo-politcal domination. It’s not hard to see how the entire series can be read within the context of the Japanese experience of WW2. The devastation, the end of the peace, family life etc. The humanism and trying to survive, rebuild etc. is compelling, but the unapologetic attitude, the kind of equivalency between crimes, love of Royalty and the idea that the Eldians were kind of bad in a country that has never apologized for its war crimes and is still run by the decedents of war criminal is a whole other can of worms that I’m not going to open.

Icy night

Skittish shadows leaving wet footprints and proof of our crime, right to the unlit pool, where the dark mirror has but one flicking moon.

The reflection melts as we enter and the biting chill drowns us, a pair of silhouettes sneaking a glace at each other while we look around for anyone who might see us at this hour.

I would have said it was a honest mistake, I came back after college and walked into the wrong apartment and someone else’s flame embraced me. I shook off the rain and I didn’t know where I was. The evergreens brushed against the windows and my breath steamed as we sneaked outside.

Here in the ice cold water I look at the walls before I turn on my back and push down into the darkness. My body freezes and then flows as I swim towards the light. I wonder if my reflection would shattered if I swam back fast enough.

For no reason at all I remember a novel, a child with a yellow origami dragon. I see my companion buoy back up again. We meet, the lights gone out and we’re faceless in the dark, laughing and shivering.

Guilt TV

Tears shimmering metallic in the moonlight, we turned down the roads back to our homes, far, far away.

Far from this howling corner a plague has swept the world away, but we are the only ones running, walking on the railways. You may run your hand over a shoulder and say “I know, I know” but you fear you’ll never really know. That’s the convenience of guilt blasted from TV sets, product placements come next.

The days are heavy with summer and monsoon brings misery. The master is screaming as we bowed our heads and march on. It smashed the place were we slept, it tore up the railways, it took away our work and people but our family were days away. The rest we could handle, not this.

Now you wait for the ad break and what they say next.

New paint

The way home; as the footprints taper
I see yesterday’s footprints
have collected rainwater

An argument
stitched together in pauses
and a flickering lampshade
all that remains is hate

The damp walls-
the smell of rotting paint
with every breath
sweats into me
a strange intoxicant
I am home again

Energetic sleep–
an errant twig scratching
the broken moonlight-etched window

I wish I dreamt
of an old photo, us
in an blur of star shine

The Blackcoat’s Daughter

I came across the “Gretel and Hansel” (2020) movie the other day and melted. There was something unbearably engrossing in that spin on the old fairy tale that had become a coming of age story for Gretel.

The movie flirts with a magical, frighting Jungian version of femininity but unfortunately doesn’t commit to it’s strongest feature choosing instead to get lost in the woods. I don’t know if it was studio interference but some unnecessary voice overs bury a possibly sinister, lovely ending. The film has all the making of a cult classic, but wouldn’t go beyond that.

You can easily make the case it’s a bad movie despite the wonderful symmetrical shots, blurred edges, neon colour palettes and synth-y music. But something about the peasant Gothic setting and the visuals that seem to be channeling both the Vvitch and Midsommer create some impressive looking magic that I can’t stop thinking about. The witches house is all red & yellow lighting, making it seem hellish. Sometimes the visuals mix 1450 & 1970.

Though the modern sounding dialogue can get grating there’s a real thrill in seeing a cannibal witch’s magic seem seductive, subversive. The subtext is what you should look at instead of the plot. Though it does have an amazing, hidden twist if you look closely enough. I’ll write it below but don’t read it if you haven’t watched it.

Spoiler: The beautiful child is none other than Gretel herself. The witch/ mother tells her to stop pretending and even states she is Gretel’s mother; she ask how Gretel would know the tale if she was not somehow a part of it. In fact Gretel has managed to draw Hansel and his mother to her much like the witch draws children to herself. Gretel is the character who put everything in motion.

Reddit user Phantom- Hacker in the horror subreddit elaborates and says “In truth Gretel is in denial about who she really is, with it possibly occurring ever since she imparted her darkness onto her mother. Gretel wants the freedom to chose her own path and who she really wants to be. However in reality it was her own actions which set in stone the future of who she would become, hence the irony of her being the girl who could once see into the future, and would even take that future from others before finally taking it from herself as once she finally chooses to act saying she’ll pursue a path in the light only for her hands to return back to the darkness constrained with her original self”

In another post he explains “The way I see it the villain won. As a child Gretel is kicked out for being too dangerous, she then forcefully gifts the darkness to her mother who then goes on a killing spree, killing her other children and any that she can get. Doing exact what Gretel herself imagined the pink hooded girl aka her younger self to be doing. Meanwhile in the time passing Gretel takes over the mind of Hansel and HIS Mother bringing them misfortune for years to come, likely killing the father as well. 

Pretending to be an innocent little girl as she lives a life of tainted righteousness and continues to care for her younger brother. Then she goes back to the witch, her original mother only to enact a subconscious plan to steal powers back which comes to a clashing game of ethics as said witch attempts to take away the very brother Gretel has sired to her whim. And doing what Gretel herself would have done had her darkness stayed with her. She defeats the Witch all whilst claiming to be on the light, making zero efforts to morally save the woman tainted with HER darkness in the first place.

Then going on claiming to set her broth free, as well as bring vengeance for the souls that would never have died without her actions in the first place. Then taking over the witches home, claiming she has control of herself as well as her destiny and that she use her powers for the light while subconsciously her darkness returns to her as planned as she continue to play the innocent victim and in the moral right despite being the one who brought curse into fruition in the first place. All while fully intending to do exactly as her mother did”

This is why Gretel’s hands turn black.

The same director made another movie, which seems to play to his strengths, once again about young women. There’s something to be said but this little genre of horror hovering around women but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway this time in the Blackcoat’s Daughter (2020) we’re in the bleak but comforting prestigious, catholic, prep school. Winter is here and the sun is always waning, the windows and brick walls have been cleared but there’s something about the way the school lingers that envelops you. I can’t say much without revealing major plot points so go watch the movie first.

We begin with a dream sequence with a one of the movies main leads. Kat is shown how her parents died in a dream and this is the last time we see Kat with a neutral expression. For the rest of the movie she is desperate for any kind of human connection but all her attempts are rebuked.  Sad faced Kat slowly comes to embrace the demon inside her, in a turn that expands the usual embracing Satan trope. She is treated like noting more than an inconvenience and the perhaps familiar character pining for every little bit of attention and care is on a dark path.

What really makes the movie great is how the entire world around Kat, manages to treat her with the kind of callousness that makes her turn to the dark almost sympathetic. She is alone even before he parents die, her educators see her as an inconvenience. When she hears Rose lie about satanic worship in the basement, Kat goes ahead and tries it having been abandoned by the one person explicitly told to take care of her. That’s why she tells Rose “You had your chance”

Her loneliness makes her a prime target. Little by little she unravels and makes her offering. After that we shift into the different actress. Was this just to show a more aged Kat? Is it implying that she’s just a host going through the same process? It’s unclear. But if the new girl, Joan, is the vessel for Kat it makes the ending particularity strong. Rose’s father ends up being one of the few people who show Kat kindness, ironically because Kat kills his daughter and he can’t help but be kind to people who remind him of her. He sees a connection no matter how different they look. His speech about there being no coincidences is what convinces her that the demon that was exorcised from her (against her will) might be coming back .She never wanted it to leave her after all.

When she kill’s Rose’s parents she going back to what she knew, that her demon did not abandon her like the people in her life. But the demon never comes back and she realizes she’s been abandoned after she’s killed the only person who was ever kind to her.

Most horror ends up being disappointing after a great set up but this one really nails its ending.

Lock down lifting

Under the street lights, spiders mend their webs

Today a tree was felled and now darkness dwells

The trilling crickets must hurry, for man begins the old flite in a flurry

They must not forget in whose hand the world is held

No one has caught sight of the end, so the old order is still upheld

No illness draws close the curtains and the world’s bend is yet uncertain

The people strain and fend for themselves  and dare to learn a lesson

Falling ants

The shadowy bark stands

Pure wonder

In its hollow

There are ants outside my house that you can only see at night. You’d never notice their orange bodies in daylight. When it’s dark you can see marching troops and lines but not on the street.

Right above the roads and the rats that scamper below, my balcony offers a view looking down onto the power lines. Otherwise innocuous, there seems to be a host of enterprising ants that have realized its potential as a kind of fortress. Between the shades of two trees and three houses these ants make their way across the power line highways.

In the dark, the crows are no longer around but perhaps the bits of food they’ve scavenged remains on the lines for the ants to collect. Or maybe there are greater concerns for the ants that I cannot see where the lines obscured are by leaves. This season there are even moths that circle the street light and float above the ants like guardians.

These red ants leisurely making their way across are not like the smaller black ones scampering around crumbs and corners around my crowded apartment. The ones outside are noticeable less Neurasthenic.

Wherever their nest is or whatever happens to the unfortunate souls that slip and fall, what must be unfathomable heights, down to the street is something we can only dream about. What would an ant from the tress and power lines make of the ground and how impossibly far above their usual routes are. Could ant see that far, and catch the moths in the light?

Metro nomads

Migrants on their own soil, the caravans walk on thin legs, one hundred kilometers from home. Their calloused skin numbing as the empty roads curled unmercifully across the great resurgent hills and plains. As stars invade, the water slides clear in rivers, brooks, and their home are burning.

When they finally look up, having outrun the silence, there are rifle shots of hunger and life as it always was. Flames illuminate the roads they have taken, thick pillars of smoke blot out the moon of harvest and the bridges are empty.

You are children only in news reports.

Good girl

Like melting ice cream
Vanilla sunlight, dripping joy
A street dog with no name
A history of kindness
Kneading strangers with her fore-paws
Where'd she go?

New arrivals, the child 
called her "Marie biscuit", "chicken leg piece"
pampered and greeted with film dialogue
Then one day, gone before she was ever named
No one sees,  a dog with no name

Her allies, a rotund white hobbler, brown paranoia
Sickly dogs, pushed further down the street
Under cars; while black twins and a broken leash
run free
I can no longer see the dog with no name