May 25, 2024

Persuadable

Jane Austen's Persuasion has the reader rooting for the protagonists to rekindle their estranged affections. But what of the novel's nemeses? In the end, the wily and impious Mr. Elliot casts aside his carefully groomed reputation and persuades the infamous Mrs. Clay to become his mistress.

But every persuader needs a persuadable partner, and Mrs. Clay is no ingénue; she'd send a Willoughby or a Wickham packing. Though no less calculating than those romantic villains, Penelope Clay and William Elliot discover in each other the kind of kindred spirits they fail to find among the titled Elliots.

While highlighting and transfiguring classic scenes from the novel, this unconventional version provides a romantic pairing on a par with that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. In the process, Persuadable illustrates an eternal Austen truth: love is wholly individual, no matter the age or time-period.

Who says a couple of shameless gold diggers can't find true love?

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

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May 22, 2024

Outsiders and insiders

Thinking about slice-of-life anime, I believe the genre often has an clear-cut narrative structure, what I call the outsider-to-insider learning curve.

In Super Cub, Koguma starts out as a novice. Learning the ropes first from her mechanic and then from Reiko, a Super Cub aficionado, Koguma goes from outsider to insider over the first half of the series. But neither of them have ridden their motorcycles in the winter, so a whole arc is devoted them learning how to adapt their Super Cubs (and themselves) to the cold, again going from outsiders to insiders.

In the last episode, their friend Shii buys a Super Cub and so she as well is on her journey from outsider to insider.

Non Non Biyori begins with Hotaru moving from Tokyo and attending her first day of school. The quintessential outsider. Laid-Back Camp has Nadeshiko biking to a scenic overlook for a view of Mt. Fuji. There she meets Rin and gets interested in camping. As in Super Cub, the first season follows Nadeshiko as she learns about camping from Rin and the school's camping club. As the POV character, what she learns, the audience learns.

In the food genre, Solitary Gourmet features Yutaka Matsushige eating at a different (real) restaurant every episode (being the proprietor of a one-man import-export business is the pretext for him traveling all over the place). Every episode begins with him as an outsider at that particular restaurant and ends with him an insider, having observed the cooks and clientele and eaten practically everything on the menu.

Samurai Gourmet and Wakako Zake follow a similar formula. The latter even includes details about the restaurants visited at the end of each episode.

What makes Akebi in Akebi's Sailor Uniform more of a Mary Sue (though an entertaining one) is that she goes from outsider to insider in one episode. By contrast, in Snow White with the Red Hair, earning her insider status takes Shirayuki most of the first cour.

As a general rule, the romance genre always benefits from a learning curve unrelated to the romantic relationship, such as Sawako in Kimi ni Todoke using her nickname as an impetus to study up on Japanese folklore, which pays off brilliantly at the end of the second season.

And in Insomniacs After School, given the task of revitalizing the astronomy club, Ganta takes up the hobby of astrophotography and finally learns how to use the expensive digital camera his father gave him.

In the last third of the season, Ganta and Isaki travel around the Noto Peninsula searching for shooting locations, a narrative arc now made all the more poignant in the aftermath of the 2024 Noto earthquake. A realistic learning curve can't help but touch upon the real world.

Related posts

Mary Sue to the rescue
Non Non Biyori

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May 18, 2024

Clasp

Buried inside a cache of religious relics from Medieval England, the ghost of a young boy knows only that he must protect these holy treasures. But as his era recedes into history and the relics scatter hither and yon, all he can do is rage against the collectors of the last remaining object, a silver spoon.

Centuries later, he encounters Donna Howard, an antiquities appraiser who can speak with the spirits. Donna's research has convinced her that a sixteenth century skeleton recently discovered in England is the boy's remains. Now in order to free himself from the spoon, the boy must confront his own murder.

Even when the crime is five hundred years old, Donna Howard is determined to solve the case.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

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Donna Howard Mysteries

Coin
Silver Spoon
Apron
Clasp

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May 15, 2024

Tubi in Japanese

Tubi has three anime channels and two Kdrama channels but nothing specific to Jdrama.

All the more confounding, Tubi doesn't have country or language filters. Combing through the Recently Added, Foreign Films, and Foreign TV categories can be an frustrating process.

It's often faster to do a global searches for "Japan" and "Japanese" or look up specific titles, actors, or directors.

The Tubi search engine is fuzzy so the results will also be all over the map. And be forewarned that Tubi licenses just about anything as long as it's cheap and available. That means everything from art house to grindhouse to documentaries and travelogues.

I've curated a list of Tubi titles I thought were worth a second glance. I hope to update this list on a semi-regular basis.

  • Blue Thermal (2022) follows Tamaki Tsuru as she learns to fly gliders in the college soaring club. This anime movie makes the common mistake of trying to cram in too many plot points from the manga, but the subject matter was compelling enough to keep me interested.
  • Cats of Japan (2020) is a cute travel documentary about cats lounging around and being cool. The kind of show to watch when you want to just kick back and relax.
  • Detective Dobu (1991) is an Edo period Columbo, whose slovenly and bumbling ways disguise his keen mind and relentless drive to catch the criminal (although Columbo never drank as much as Dobu does, if at all). The series covers the same material as the earlier made-for-television movies, also on Tubi.
  • Crisis: Special Security Squad (2017) Shun Oguri heads a secret team of specialists tackling threats the regular cops can't handle.
  • The Great War of Archimedes (2019) The first six minutes documents the sinking of the battleship Yamato. The rest of the movie is a political drama about how Admiral Yamamoto tried to scuttle the project in favor of building more carriers. Also see my longer review.
  • Kamen Rider Zero-One (2020) This comedy action series in the long-running Kamen Rider franchise could be a Terminator prequel. Enjoyable in small doses as practically every episode is the same and not all that different. It gets old fast if you don't pace yourself.
  • The Life of Bangaku (2002) is an Edo period action comedy starring acclaimed actor Koji Yakusho as an expert swordsman who is simply too honest and principled for his own good. Directed by Kon Ichikawa.
  • Shogun's Samurai (1978) was broadcast in Japan as The Yagyuu Conspiracy. Sonny Chiba stars as the historical figure Yagyuu Jubei. Together with their father, a high-ranking government official, Yagyuu and his brother carry out a palace coup in order to install Iemitsu as the third Tokugawa shogun.
  • Zankuro (2001) Ken Watanabe plays a retainer of the shogun during the Edo period. Despite his position in the low aristocracy, his expenses constantly outstrip his stipend, leaving him to moonlight as a bodyguard or executioner or private detective or anything else to make ends meet.

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May 11, 2024

Japanese language links

This list of Japanese language resources is not intended to be definitive. These are simply the sites I access the most.

My main online dictionary is Weblio. I also reference Eijirou and Word Bank.

Along with the Random House Dictionary from my WordPerfect days (it's an ancient TSR that runs in vDOS), my favorite English language dictionary is Word Hippo.

NHK World Japan is NHK's English language service. The live feed can be viewed online, along with an extensive VOD library and OTA in some areas (9.4 in Northern Utah). There are apps for most streaming platforms.

Good Morning Japan, News at Noon, News 7, and International Report, NHK's four domestic news programs, are available on the NHK World Premium website. The site also includes recent episodes of Today's Close-Up, A Small Journey, and A Hundred Views of Nature.

The previous 24 hours of NHK Radio newscasts can be streamed online.

YouTube hosts a large number of commercial network news feeds from Japan, including the always delightful Weather News (hosted coverage begins at 5:00 AM JST).

dLibrary Japan relaunched in January 2024 as Jme TV. For now, my primary sources for anime and Jdrama are Viki, Crunchyroll, Netflix, HIDIVE, and Tubi.

A Japanese tutoring YouTube channel I watch on a regular basis is Kaname Naito.

Related links

Weblio
Eijirou
Word Bank
Word Hippo

NHK World (Japanese)
NHK World (English)
News from Japan
NHK Radio News

Crunchyroll
Viki
Netflix
Tubi
Jme

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May 08, 2024

Tokyo South

In this largely autobiographical account of the author's two-year proselyting mission to Japan during the late 1970s, a Mormon missionary is confronted by an overzealous religious bureaucracy and faces his own growing doubts as the work of preaching the gospel gets turned into a cynical and self-serving game of numbers and spiritual one-upmanship.

The first chapter of Tokyo South, "Lost in the Works," was the first real story I produced in my writing career. I'd signed up for a computer programming class at BYU and discovered that I enjoyed using the Pascal editor as a crude word processor (this was back during the Apple II era) more than the programming.

Then "Number Games" won second place in the 1984 Vera Hinckley Mayhew Awards, my first solid bit of external validation. (I seriously wonder whether such a story would be so well-received today; I like to call the first half of the 1980s BYU's "glasnost" era.)

Over the last two decades, a series of reorganizations and consolidations and force reductions finally resulted in the consolidation of the Tokyo North and South missions in 2007. This Ted Lyon interview makes it clear that the shenanigans I describe in Tokyo South were by no means unique to Japan.

If anything, time and nostalgia and the detached sense of sang-froid that comes with age and experience led me to pull my punches a bit.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Kindle
Paperback
ePub
Read an excerpt


Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

Related posts

The evolution
Tokyo South is alive
Tokyo South is dead
The weirdest two years
The problem with projections

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May 04, 2024

Jme TV (a few suggestions)

NHK Cosmomedia has created a classic Hobson's Choice. Just as Henry Ford famously offered the Model T in any color as long as it was black, now you can legally livestream any live-action Japanese content as long as it's on Jme TV. (Crunchyroll simulcasts most of its new anime content every season.)

Dish briefly picked up Family Gekijyo after getting dumped by TV Japan. DirecTV offers Nippon TV as a replacement for TV Japan. NHK World Japan aside, there's no Japanese programming left on Xfinity or Dish. By contrast, Korean live-action content is available everywhere and on all platforms. Even Tubi has two dedicated Kdrama channels.

Live-action television comprises a paltry 5.5 percent of Japan's media exports. Fuyuhiko Takahori points to the cour system, with small budgets and short run-times holding down audience size, which limits budgets and run-times. But as anime has proven, I don't think the cour system is the impediment Takahori makes it out to be.

The cour-length season became standard practice in North America back during the premium cable days, long before streaming took off.

There's nothing wrong with the episode counts of the typical Jdrama series. The push, rather, should be to increase audience size. NHK Cosmomedia's overpriced and poorly designed streaming service is the wrong approach. If NHK cannot reduce costs to the consumer, it should let somebody else handle the business.

Another part of the problem may be a sibling rivalry. NHK World Japan is a worldwide service with an international audience, available for free online and streaming, on cable and satellite, and OTA in nineteen North American markets.

NHK World Japan is on YouTube and even shows up in screensaver ads on my Roku. Compared to NHK World Japan, NHK World Premium (née TV Japan) has taken over a vanishing niche. Jme TV is not a long-term solution. Granted, if you're looking for a one-stop shop, now you don't have a choice, unless one of the choices is "None of the above."

Here are a few possible solutions. I was also going to suggest creating a VOD sumo channel but Jme has already done that. So kudos for that. However, I would mirror the sumo channel on NHK World Japan as well.

  • Move Jme Select to the free NHK World Japan website and use the same templates for the program guide. Jme Select has the same format as NHK World Japan, meaning a six-hour block of programs repeated four times a day. NHK World Japan should also add the Asadora with subtitles. It'd be a great PR move.

    Like NHK World Japan, the Select programming would be primarily news and infotainment. The premium drama and variety content would remain behind the paywall. Even NHK World Japan content could be reused by removing the dubbing and ADR.
  • Do a deal with Rakuten Viki similar to the deal Viki has with Kocowa. Kocowa is South Korea's far more affordable equivalent of NHK World Premium. The $10/month Viki Pass Plus plan gives subscribers access to Kocowa and the entire Viki catalog, that includes VOD content from across Asia, including Japan.

    A hypothetical Viki Pass Japan Plus plan would provide subscribers with access to Viki's VOD catalog and all of the non-localized material that previously ended up on TV Japan. One big advantage here is that Rakuten Viki is a well-designed and well-known (in its niche) website with all of the streaming apps in place.
  • Okay, instead of doing a deal with Rakuten Viki, at least copy their website and app designs. Viki really does have one of the best streaming UIs in the business. And then only stream the newscasts live (simply copy the news section from NHK World Premium). Make the rest of the programming available as VOD.
  • If nothing else, the core VOD streaming service should cost considerably less. HIDIVE and Viki charge $6/month. Kocowa and Netflix start at $7/month. You can bundle Viki and Kocowa for $10/month. Crunchyroll's basic tier is $8/month. HIDIVE, Viki, and Crunchyroll offer discounted annual subscriptions.
And for a non-hypothetical option, simply go elsewhere. If you're willing to forgo the latest and greatest from prime time Japanese TV and do a bit of spelunking through sites like Viki, Tubi, and Netflix, there is plenty of (legal) live-action content available at far more affordable prices and even for free.

Related posts

Jme TV
NHK World Japan
Live-action Japanese TV
Jme TV (grumpy old man edition)

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May 01, 2024

Fox & Wolf

Yuki Yamakawa comes from an old yakuza family. She loves training dogs and beating up bullies for a more clandestine reason: she's a werewolf. But then after one fight too many, Yuki's uncle sends her to Osaka's most exclusive girl's school to straighten her out.

There she meets her exact opposite, Ami Tokudaiji.

Ami is as high in society as Yuki is low. But with the family facing a financial scandal, the fate of the Tokudaiji fortune depends on Ami's mother participating in a shady real estate deal. Just as Yuki's estranged father returns to Osaka to lead the criminal investigation.

As it turns out, on her father's side, Yuki's blood runs bluer than any of her aristocratic classmates. Even so, that long-hidden family connection pales in comparison to the most fantastic fact of all—Ami is a kitsune, a Japanese werefox, and doesn't know it!

When they both end up in the same homeroom class at school, they'll have to stop fighting each other long enough to join forces against the mobsters menacing Ami's family.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Kindle
Paperback
ePub
Read an excerpt


Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

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April 27, 2024

Jme My List management

If a show on Jme TV is in a series, the series can be removed from the queue ("My List"). But for movies and series listed as standalone episodes (like Shoten), I couldn't figure out how to remove them from the queue. Clicking the thumbnail simply replayed the show without providing any other options.

But it turns out there is a workaround.

After you've watched a show, the title URL defaults to the following format:
https://www.jme.tv/playback/item/######

If you edit the URL as follows, then the My List checkmark icon will appear:
https://www.jme.tv/details/VIDEO/item/######

The hashmarks represent the five or six-digit code at the end of the URL unique to each program.

One of the best features of the Roku is its simple user interface. To make things even simpler, under Settings > Home Screen > Layout you can remove a lot of the clutter on the Roku home screen.

Useful links

NHK World Premium program guide
NHK World News (in Japanese)
NHK Radio News (in Japanese)
News networks that stream on YouTube (in Japanese)

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April 24, 2024

The Amakusa Church

As with Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the title character of A Certain Magical Index, many of the seemingly farfetched religious references in the series are based on actual historical people and events.

For example, Stiyl Magnus and Kaori Kanzaki are members of Necessarius, the Special Forces sorcery squad of the Anglican Church.

Okay, that part is fiction.

Kaori Kanzaki is a former leader of the Amakusa Catholics, descendants of the "Hidden Christians" that preserved the faith after the disaster of the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.

That last part is not.

Jesuit missionaries arrived in Japan in the 1540s in the company of Portuguese traders. They were followed by Franciscans and Dominicans under the aegis of Spain. During the latter half of the sixteenth century, they enjoyed the patronage of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the Three Great Unifiers of Japan during the Warring States period.

Nobunaga had no interest in Christianity per se, but he was very interested in the firearms provided by the Spanish and Portuguese. Christianity was also a useful political check on the Buddhist factions in Kyoto that were a constant thorn in his side.

Alas, several years after Nobunaga's assassination, Spanish conquistadores were caught saying the quiet part out loud and Christianity quickly fell out of favor with the powers that be. As Hisaki Amano explains,

A Spanish ship en route from the Philippines to Mexico suffered serious damage in a series of typhoons and drifted ashore in Tosa (modern-day Kochi Prefecture). Under interrogation, the ship's crew responded that Spain was a world power that dispatched missionaries to convert the local population before occupying the countries.

Nobunaga's successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, began persecuting Christians with a vengeance, culminating in the martyrdom of twenty-six priests and believers in Nagasaki in 1597. Under the Tokugawa shoguns, Christianity was outlawed. Especially after the Shimabara Rebellion, simply being a Christian was deemed a capital offense.

That legal status was not amended until the late nineteenth century.

The Shimabara Rebellion erupted in 1638 on the island of Kyushu. Nagasaki was once a major Portuguese trading port and Shimabara had the highest percentage of Christians in the country. The rebellion began as a peasant uprising, and was soon joined by Catholic Christians chafing under the heavy hand of local leaders and the shogunate.

Although the rebellion was not without cause and the governor of Shimabara was later executed for misrule and incompetence, such a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Edo government could not go unanswered.

At the age of seventeen, Amakusa Shiro became the leader of the Japanese Roman Catholics in Shimabara. After a tortuous siege, Shogunate forces overran Hara Castle in 1639 and killed upwards of 37,000 rebels and sympathizers. But the Hidden Christians persevered until the anti-Christian edicts were removed two and a half centuries later.

This is a case where the winners wrote the history books, so Amakusa Shiro was made the villain. He is one of the bad guys in Makai Tensho, a 1967 fantasy novel by Futaro Yamada that has Amakusa Shiro rising from the grave to exact revenge on the shogunate.

Three movies have been made from the book, the most recent in 2003. The best known remains the 1981 version starring Sonny Chiba as Yagyu Jubei, a role he returned to often in samurai action series such as Shogun's Samurai. Overseas releases appended Samurai Reincarnation to the title.

Tubi has a generous selection of Sonny Chiba films and series, including a dubbed version of Samurai Reincarnation and half a season of Shogun's Samurai.

Over the past century, and certainly since 1945, the image of Christianity in Japan has been thoroughly rehabilitated. Christian style weddings (fake pastor included) have become all the rage. Former prime minister Aso Taro is a Catholic. And Christmas (along with Santa Claus) is now one of Japan's most popular unofficial holidays.

Along the way, as evident in series like A Certain Magical Index, Hellsing, and The Ancient Magus Bride, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, became a rich source of dramatic material. Unconstrained by the usual cultural preoccupations, Japanese writers often push those religious tropes in quite unexpected directions.

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April 17, 2024

A certain anime franchise

As I mention in my review of Little Witch Academia, the philosophical and legal dilemmas at the center of Captain America: Civil War and the Incredibles are more often than not settled issues in manga and anime. The existence of superpowered individuals is widely known and they work within a regulatory framework.

One-Punch Man is another recent example. When it comes to consistent world building across an entire franchise, I've taken a particular liking to the three anime series based on the light novels by Kazuma Kamachi.

Sharing many of the same characters and storylines, A Certain Magical Index, A Certain Scientific Railgun, and A Certain Scientific Accelerator take place in Academy City. Imagine if every major high school, university, research institute, and corporate lab in the country had extension campuses within the same prefectural boundaries.

This being Japan, students are tested and ranked from zero (no superpowers) to six (out of this world). Following a normal distribution, there are a lot of zeroes and ones, and only seven Fives. Even the Fives are ranked, with Accelerator at the top. The ranks are logarithmic, so similarly ranked espers can still be orders of magnitude apart in their powers.

Espers are seen as "scientific," as distinguished from skills derived from magic. When Index Librorum Prohibitorum (her name derived from the 103,000 forbidden magical books she's memorized) shows up in Academy City with a bunch of sorcerers and miniskirted Catholic nuns in her wake, her presence throws Toma Kamijo's life into turmoil.

Incidentally, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was an actual list of publications deemed "heretical or contrary to morality." It was revised and updated until 1966, though it contained thousands of volumes, not hundreds of thousands.

As the title makes clear, more than the rest of the franchise, A Certain Magical Index switches back and forth between magical and religious forces or scientific and superpower forces as main drivers of the conflicts. The result is an interesting mix of fantasy and hard science fiction.

Railgun and Accelerator belong almost entirely to the latter genre while half or more of Index could share the same world as The Ancient Magus Bride.

In the second and third seasons of Index, it's the English Reformation redux as the Anglicans and Puritans go to war with the Catholic Church. I get a real kick out of the tossed salad of Western and Eastern religious tropes that show up so often in manga and anime, like Jesus and Buddha sharing a Tokyo apartment in Saint Young Men.

Toma Kamijo, the protagonist in A Certain Magical Index, is actually a negative infinity in the esper superpower rankings. With his right hand, he can negate both magic and esper skills. He seems to be the only one who can do this, which means that all the espers milling about in Academy City create a unique law enforcement problem.

Working alongside the regular police are two additional organizations. "Judgment" is run by the students, who basically form patrol units of glorified hall monitors. Though when the hall monitors have superpowers, they tend to stray outside their jurisdictional boundaries. "Anti-Skill" is comprised of heavily-armed SWAT teams.

But when high-level espers go off the rails, even Anti-Skill can find themselves out of their depth. Then only another Five (or Toma Kamijo) can hope to match them. Kuroko Shirai (a level Four teleporter) is a member of Judgment. She's also roommates with Mikoto Misaka, a level Five, so Mikoto often ends up getting drawn into the fray.

Mikoto has a skill set similar to Magneto in X-Men. Her preferred technique is to propel a coin through a self-generated electric field to hypersonic speeds, hence her "Railgun" moniker.

Despite the proliferation of so many superpowered individuals in Academy City, there is, refreshingly, no one ring to rule them all, no big bad, no supervillain. Accelerator certainly has the potential to step into the role, though his reasoning is that if he really could become the biggest big bad in the world, everybody would leave him alone.

There are, to be sure, a whole bunch of little bads, espers renting out their skills to government and private sector and black market organizations. But they usually play supporting roles to the actual villains. If there is a consistently distinct and identifiable antagonist, it is the academic establishment itself and the accompanying state bureaucracy.

The underlying motivations for these actors come down to ordinary human failings like arrogance, envy, and greed, though A Certain Scientific Accelerator starts out as Magnum Force and turns into the sixth season opening arc of Buffy, where the Scooby Gang resurrects Buffy (with near apocalyptic results in this case).

The crazies aside, they don't perceive themselves as bad people doing bad things. They're too busy filling out grant proposals and delivering papers at conferences to worry about the moral implications of their experiments. Surrounded by so many fascinating labs rats, who can blame them for the odd ethical lapse? Scientific progress justifies all!

Tying the three series together is the kind of underground experiment that the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files would love. It involves the manufacture of 20,000 Railgun clones that have been specifically designed to raise Accelerator's powers to the mythical Level Six through the brute-force use of real-time Darwinian selection.

The fate of the clones draws Mikoto into a no-win conflict with Accelerator, the most powerful level Five in Academy City. When we first meet him, Accelerator is a bona fide sociopath. But not beyond salvation. The terrible things we see him doing were not his idea. But he is the reason the Railgun clones were created.

Mikoto's low point comes when she realizes that fighting the establishment using the "Hulk smash!" approach simply results in one Pyrrhic victory after the next. Wreck a laboratory and they'll build another. The only way to stop these Doctor Frankensteins to make them question the validity of the experiments themselves.

This is when Toma steps in to settle things with a good old-fashioned fist fight, he being the only person who can literally reduce every superhero to his level.

Toma takes so much damage getting close enough to deliver the beat-downs that he's got his own hospital room reserved for him. Luckily for him, he can count the Frog-Faced Doctor as an ally. Also known as Heaven Canceller, the Frog-Faced Doctor can reattach limbs and bring practically anybody back to life as long as they're not stone-cold dead.

Along the way, Toma likely sets some sort of cinematic record for getting into brawls with women. As Arnold Schwarzenegger's Harry Tasker says in True Lies, "Yeah, but they were all bad." Academy City is an equal opportunity employer on both sides of the equation and thus home to some of the more interesting female villains in the genre.

Though as they all eventually discover, defeating someone in physical or supernatural combat doesn't change them unless what gets them up in the morning changes as well. It doesn't help that when you're the top dog, somebody is always trying to take you down a notch.

Accelerator's attempts to resolve his own moral quandaries eventually restores a portion of his humanity when choses to defend the final Misaka clone (known as "Last Order") from yet another mad scientist. Though doing so doesn't make him nice. He's like Spike in Buffy after he gets his soul back.

The substance of the conflict is told from the POV of Toma Kamijo in Index, Mikoto Misaka in Railgun, and then with Accelerator as the main character. The result is often great superhero storytelling without any spandex or the world ending every other week.

One ongoing flaw in Railgun is an odd scripting quirk that frontloads each of the narrative arcs with all the comic relief at once. Granted, this approach quickly dispenses with most of the dumb stuff, after which the narratives turn increasingly dark, at times descending from science fiction into outright horror.

The fan service in Index that gets tossed in at random intervals is no less juvenile, though pretty typical of shonen-oriented content. Accelerator is mostly free of slapstick. I guess Accelerator getting stuck with the chirpy Last Order and her third-person self-references was considered punishment enough.

All of the Misaka clones do this, something to do with their programming. It does help to tell who is a clone and who isn't.

The first five series follow a fairly cohesive narrative, interspersed with standalone arcs. Index begins with Toma meeting Index and explains her relationship to the Church of England. Starting with episode ten, we get an abridged version of the Mikoto Misaka clone arc that is significantly expanded upon in the first season of Railgun.

The first season of Index concludes with a segue to the Accelerator series and then adds a short arc that brings the Anglicans back into the story. Season two returns to the religious wars heating up between Academy City and the Catholic Church and the renegade Amakusa sect.

The Index story arcs at this point can get pretty scattershot. In season two, the best Index episodes are those that feature Accelerator. I think Railgun has better overall consistency in terms of the plotting and writing.

1. A Certain Magical Index (1)
2. A Certain Scientific Railgun (1)
3. A Certain Scientific Railgun (2)
4. A Certain Scientific Accelerator (1 season)
5. A Certain Magical Index (2)
6. The Miracle Of Endymion
7. A Certain Magical Index (3)
8. A Certain Scientific Railgun (3)

The timeline plays out in approximately the above order. Except for Accelerator, the series have two-cour seasons so we're talking about a ton of content. The core of the franchise can be condensed to series 1 – 4. Crunchyroll places The Miracle Of Endymion between seasons two and three in the Index series.

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April 13, 2024

Apron

Making the most of her unique ability to speak to remnants of the dead, Donna Howard researches the provenance of art and antiques. This time, her investigation into a colonial-era portrait delves into the dark history of her adopted niece, SarahAnn, uncovering a kidnapping and a murderer who got away scot-free.

The journey to uncover that history takes the Howards and the Gregersons from Maine to upstate New York, from wedding venues to house museums. Facing a past she never knew, SarahAnn questions what constitutes a person's "real" heritage and whether breaking the law is justified in order to prevent more heinous crimes.

There are times when honestly confronting the past may leave our descendants with no choice but to choose their own ancestors.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Kindle
Paperback
ePub
Read an excerpt

Donna Howard Mysteries

Coin
Silver Spoon
Apron
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April 10, 2024

Christianity is cool

In Japan, that is. All the more surprising considering that Christians constitute at best one percent of the population. Or perhaps that simply makes it more exotic.

Catholicism has the deepest roots, having arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century. So the aesthetics associated with Catholic culture and architecture are the first things Japanese think about when Christianity is mentioned. After that comes the ecclesiastical structure, extrapolated from the Roman Curia.

Anime like Witch Hunter Robin and Hellsing (Catholics versus Anglicans) play off the supposed existence of an all-powerful Catholic Church that shows up in movies like Constantine, Stigmata, and The Da Vinci Code. The Catholic Church is just too cool an institution not to imagine it running a global conspiracy.

Although in A Certain Magical Index, that role is also shared by the English Puritan Church (also translated as the Church of England).

And as with the spy agencies of any country, in the paranormal action world, the Catholic Church is also a good source of skilled agents, operators, and intelligence networks. Ghost Hunt is an ecumenical paranormal actioner, so it naturally features a Catholic priest as one of the ghost hunters.

At the same time, in terms of theology, the suggestively Catholic Haibane Renmei can stand beside any of C.S. Lewis's work as an accessible Christian parable. The same is true of anime such as Madoka Magica and Scrapped Princess, though you may have to look harder to see the metaphors.

Along with Camille Paglia, Japanese writers have discovered that "medieval theology is far more complex and challenging than anything offered by the pretentious post-structuralist hucksters."

They eagerly pilfer Christian eschatology for interesting characters and conflicts (another good reason to study religion!). Kaori Yuki's Miltonesque Angel Sanctuary turns Paradise Lost into a Gothic romance, with a war in heaven and a descent to the underworld to reclaim a lost love.

At the other extreme, the quite clever The Devil is a Part-Timer (stranded in Japan, the devil gets a job at McDonald's to make ends meet) features both Satan and Lucifer as separate characters.

The only overtly religious aspect of The Devil is a Part-Timer is an institutional church roughly analogous to the medieval Catholic Church (under the Medici popes). The state religion in Scrapped Princess is largely the same.

Then there's the offbeat syncretism of Saint Young Men, about Jesus and Buddha hanging out in modern-day Tokyo. Manga artist Hikaru Nakamura approaches the subject with a goofy but respectful touch. Unless you find the concept itself heretical, there's nothing at all blasphemous about it.

Saint Young Men is hugely popular in Japan (a staggering 10 million copies sold). It won the 2009 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and is still in print. An anime series and movie were released in 2012 and 2013.

Most Christians react to this type of thing the same way most Mormons do to The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone: "Hey, at least they spelled the names right!" What is far more insulting is ignorance hiding behind a smug mask of condescending self-righteousness.

There's none of that here. Whether the Shinto gods in Natsume's Book of Friends or the traditional folklore of Northern Europe in The Ancient Magus' Bride, these writers have done their homework. They honestly respect the source material.

What gives manga publishers pause when it comes to the Norther American audience is the fear that somebody will whine and stamp their feet and the bad publicity will kill sales. Nobody's going to get killed. But the suits understandably get skittish about the fringe elements that breath such threats.

During the localization of Saint Tail (which features a Catholic basilica as the "Bat Cave") for the North American market, references to God were

removed from the first two volumes in a possible anticipation of a TV broadcast. Considering that Seira Mimori [the protagonist's sidekick] spends half of the time in a nun's habit, one wonders why they thought they could do Saint Tail without references to God.

Common sense finally prevailed and the censoring stopped with the third volume.

This is rarely a problem in Japan, where the whining and foot stamping mostly comes from the political right. They're strident secularists, except when the emperor enters the picture. Then they turn into strident Shintoists. Until they die, that is, at which point Buddhism kicks in with a vengeance.

"Buddhism for the dead, Shinto for the living," so the saying goes. In everyday life, Japanese move back and forth between Shinto rites and Buddhist beliefs and Christian-style wedding ceremonies. It's not that the adherents are blurring the lines. The lines were never firmly drawn in the first place.

You might expect this sort of fuzzy wuzziness to lead to the kind of apathy and neglect that emptied out the churches in secularized Europe. But in Japan, people not getting worked up about stuff can motivate the curious to mix and match belief systems in ways nobody else would have dreamed of.

And in the process, scrub the dust off of old, worn-out tropes to reveal the shining gems buried beneath.

Related posts

Pop culture Catholicism
Pop culture Buddhism
Pop culture Shinto

The Ancient Magus' Bride
Constantine
Haibane Renmei
Hellsing
Madoka Magica
Scrapped Princess

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April 06, 2024

Coin

It's 1995 and Donna Howard is living an ordinary life in Portland, Maine. She works as a hairdresser, has a boring boyfriend, two opinionated brothers, and two exhaustively energetic parents. As far as she's concerned, she's an ordinary person and proud of it.

Except she can see the past. Walk down any street in the old part of the city and four centuries of its inhabitants walk right along with her. She can observe them, hear them, smell them. And, frankly, she'd rather not. She'd prefer to leave the past in the past.

Until a customer "accidentally" leaves an ancient Roman coin at the hair salon. A coin worth an awful lot of money. Then the woman appraising the coin for the Portland Museum of Art "accidentally" ends up dead. And now the past won't leave her alone.

Not even the man who's visage was molded into the metal 2000 years ago, a man who wreaked mayhem then and may have witnessed murder now. Quite unwittingly, Donna uncovers family secrets, confronts historical controversies, and closes in on a very contemporary crime.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

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Donna Howard Mysteries

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