Friday, November 30, 2012

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - The Crystal Empire Parts 1 & 2

First, the musical numbers. I'm sorry to say that I found them mostly uninspired. "The Ballad of the Crystal Empire" was nice enough, being both pleasing to listen to and serving as a montage of preparations for the fair, but "The Failure Song" and "The Success Song" did nothing for me and felt shoe-horned in to meet a quota of musical numbers. Less is more, folks, and always remember that musical numbers really should only happen when the character's emotions reach a point where just talking won't cut it. I was not buying that as the case for Twilight here. Maybe for "The Failure Song" but definitely not "The Success Song." And, perhaps more crucially, if you removed these two songs, nothing would be lost, which is a good way of identifying extraneous musical numbers. Take "The Failure Song." We've already seen Twilight over-prepare for the test before leaving for Canterlot, and the first two seasons also show her scholarly abilities and growth as a person (well, pony). And her lament about not being prepared for the task which Celestia set her is also covered before the song even starts, when Twilight voices just such concerns to her mentor. I also think that the tone of song doesn't fit with the relatively darker tone of the rest of the two-parter. It feels too Disney coming off the heels of a fairly tense book scene (if you'll pardon the theatre lingo). There's some legitimately discomfiting stuff in these episodes, and there's some mood whiplash here.

But as far as the actual story goes, I have no complaint. Twilight is summoned by Princess Celestia to save the Crystal Empire by stopping Kind Sombra from stealing back control of the empire with his black crystals. I'm kind of hazy on the details, having only watched this once, but the best parts of the episode don't deal with minutia, they focus on Twilight's character arc. Enjoyable parts include the very first scene with her packing for a test in Canterlot and having a mini-version of her "Lesson Zero" freakout. She may have learned her lesson then, but that doesn't mean that Twilight's studies aren't the most important thing to her after friends and family. Besides this scene being funny, it also hearkens back to previous character moments as well as setting up how important it is to Twilight to pass this episode's test. I liked seeing Princess Luna again, and there were some cryptic exchanges between the two princesses of which I was unsure whether they were just for setting up the atmosphere of the episode or if they were hinting at a possible plot arc for this season, in the same way that the Grand Galloping Gala was a plot arc for the first season. We'll skip the first song, as I've already talked about it. When Twilight and friends arrive in the north and meet Shining Armor, that was actually fairly, well, not scary, but definitely eerier than I'd been expecting. Something I did expect which didn't come to pass was that the black crystal chunks on Shining Armor's horn would factor more into the plot than to block his magic, but I guess having him get possessed would be too much like what happened to his bride last season. The Crystal Empire itself was really freaking eerie, sort of deserted and dystopian. And the overhanging sense of oncoming doom kept the tension in the episode high. I was glad that the story followed through on Twilight having to find the Crystal Heart alone; again, that keeps the stakes high and the focus on the character who is undergoing a development arc. And Spike coming along made sense; he's her number one assistant, a nice foil for her, and the way they helped each other helped Twilight learn something about herself and helping others. This time was different from the usual sort of friendship lesson. Instead of learning to work as a team to overcome an obstacle, it was, as Princess Celestia said, about self-sacrifice, about acting on your own, but still for the good of others. And even though it hurt for Twilight to go against the conditions of the test, she made the call without much dithering, because she knew it was the right thing.

Twilight Sparkle is the protagonist of this story, but Friendship is Magic is overall an ensemble show, and the narrative for these episodes does a nice balance of keeping her at the center of things while not giving the other ponies short shrift. Rarity acts completely in character, being a supportive friend even while she is understandably distracted by all of the shiny things. Applejack is the loyal lancer to Twilight, holding down the fort and keeping things on track. Rainbow Dash is headstrong, unthinking, and a source of comic relief, especially when paired with inoffensive and timid Fluttershy. And Pinkie is just Pinkie. These five all get moments to themselves, such as when they're searching for information and running the fair, which helps balance the episode. And Spike is allowed his fair share of screen time as well, and his relationship with Twilight is, as always, adorable.

Overall I was very pleased with these two episodes as the opener for season three. Unlike some highly anticipated pieces of media, the build-up did not let down all of the fanbase's hopes and dreams. On a completely unrelated note, I think I might start crossposting my Golden Sun: Dark Dawn reviews/gameblogs here from my old blog. Keep an eye out for that, as well as for more MLP and other reviews.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Half-baked metaphors

Today I made dinner. It was a rather last-minute thing. I received the recipe by e-mail and was told to get to it. Okay. Go downstairs, raise my eyebrows at the printout. Eight ingredients? Minced garlic? Dry sherry? Well, aren't we fancy tonight? So okay, in the kitchen I start pulling out the ingredients. Ground beef, yeah. We're missing egg noodles, so we're going with rotini and penne instead, combining two partial boxes. The sherry's there, and so's the Worcestershire sauce, but we only have one can of tomato soup, so I'll have to sub in some diced tomatoes in too large a can size. There's sliced cheddar in the fridge, but no Parmesan, so let's go with mozzarella instead. I hate dishes like this anyway (I've got a lovely rant about Italian food I'll do if anyone ever gives me an opening in conversation), so what do I care if we've got the wrong cheese?

Well, I get started. Boil some water for noodles and just guesstimate the right amount, pour 'em in to cook. Start browning the meat, and chop some garlic while that's happening. Life pro tip, gotta peel garlic a bit before you get to the good stuff, and also, there are several cloves for each bulb. So don't just throw a whole thing under the chopper. Where was I going with this? Ah, yes. I don't remember about draining the meat until after I'd added the tomato sauce (because you'd think they would put something that important in the instructions), the noodles don't seem to be softening at all, the whole mess is too big for the pan, and by the time I get this hot mess (both literally and figuratively) in the oven, I am wiped out and prickling with annoyance.

You know what, though? It turned out swell. Everyone raved about my casserole. Even I didn't think it was terrible. It occurred to me later that this whole experience is an imperfect metaphor for writing. For your rough draft you've got your recipe, your outline of what you expect the story to be about. Your ingredients are all the characters, settings, plot devices, and the like, which you may have to swap out or change at a moment's notice for the betterment of the story. You slop the whole thing together, wincing at every mistake or every clunky paragraph, but the important thing is getting it in the over, finalizing that draft. And I guess you could compare the oven to editing, but that's a bit more of a stretch. Still, it can take something as simple and unexpected as a come-from-behind success at making dinner to drive home the point that fussing over perfection every step of the way while writing is counter-productive. So I'm not going to get in my own way. When I get back to cooking up this short story in a bit, I'm going to press forward, write what excites me, and shove that tasty first draft in the oven.

... Now I've made myself hungry again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


When I first heard the concept behind Moshidora, it cracked me up. A high school girl manages her high school's baseball team using Peter Drucker's business book Management. How were they going to pull that off? I expected a comedy about a failing team that pulls wacky stunts as they vainly try to apply corporate management techniques into their training. I was not expecting a heartfelt slice-of-life show that balanced comedy and drama in a sincerely told and uplifting story. For whatever reason, baseball media seems to be especially good at this sort of underdog tale.

Kawashima Minami volunteers to manage her high school's baseball team when her best friend, and the team's current manager, Miyata Yuki is hospitalized. Minami hates baseball and knows nothing about management, but being a gung-ho young woman she visits the bookstore and finds a volume with which to educate herself about the latter. The team is full of unmotivated and discouraged young men, but Minami applies herself, and with the help of Yuki and team member Nikai, she employs Drucker's techniques to energize and focus the team, setting their sights on the Nationals.

Now, I'm not such an anime connoisseur that I can comment knowledgeably on production aspects such as animation, sound, voice acting, and the like. I will say that you're not missing anything if you skip the first two minutes of each episode, which is the introduction and opening theme, the latter of which is pretty terrible. The ending theme isn't bad, but it's nothing special. The animation is good enough that if you're just a casual viewer, like I am, you'll have no cause for complaint. Occasionally the series makes use of super-deformed art for comedic effect. The story is well-told and well-paced. We get some early episodes setting up how Minami transforms the team using management best practices, and then the series tones down on introducing new terms and concepts and goes into showing how the efforts of Minami and the others are working out for the team. There are some predictably dramatic moments, but they're handled very well. Nothing overblown; the characters act how you'd expect high school kids to act under pressure or grief. Overall, this is a funny, sweet stories that tells an uplifting story in just the right amount of time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Musings of a real nerd girl

Over the past few days quite a few posts about "fake geek girls" have popped up on my radar. If you're not familiar with the concept, a fake geek girl is a girl who pretends to be into nerdy things just to appear attractive to nerd boys. A poser, basically. Now, if you're worried about whether you or someone you know may not, in fact, be a real nerd girl, worry no more: simply take this test and find out! And real nerds no longer need to worry about their status being doubted. Now you can just get fandom certified and have your geek cred ready to produce at any challenge.

I love the internet.

But like I said before, quite a few posts on this subject have showed up recently, and I think I know why. This article discusses the latest bout of disgusting misogyny from the comics industry, a rant by comics artist Tony Harris about how cosplay girls aren't real comics fans and are just doing it for the attention. Harris' lovely piece of badly written vitriol is just the latest example of how the battle for nerdy equality is far from won. But there's hope. Both men and women are speaking out against the prevailing culture of objectification. Happily enough, I've never really had any of this sexism directed at me personally, or I haven't noticed it if it was. (I can be rather oblivious.) But I've seen plenty of the sweeping generalizations demeaning women who are into nerdy things, and it certainly gets me fired up. In the end, we just need to stay strong, pull together, and continue to resist this treatment instead of passively accepting it. I'm lucky to know plenty of nerdy lads who hold women in equal regard, and I'm thankful for these friends every time I hear of things like this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I play NaNoWriMo on hardmode. One of the biggest things they stress is to let yourself go crazy and not worry about little things like spelling errors and clunky sentences. Well, that was good for me in the early years, when getting three thousand words in one month was an accomplishment and I thought that description was something that happened to other people, but these days I'm no longer a casual, to continue with the gamer theme. I play NaNoWriMo on hardmode, and that means I correct spelling errors as soon as I see the little red squiggly line, and I'll rewrite sentences if I can think of a better way to phrase something at that moment. I don't compulsively edit my work on a large scale, and I have a healthy enough sense of what can wait and what can't, but these days I take some pride in my writing, enough that I don't care to be sloppy just for the sake of sloppiness. I also research without guilt. If I want to know the correct form of address for the eldest son of a duke, I will browse the internet until I find out, never mind how long it takes, even if I happen to be in the middle of a word war.

But of course I wouldn't humble-brag about my hardmode tendencies if it were just for those little foibles. Oh, no, when I say hardmode, I do mean it. Four days ago I took 8000+ words, scrapped them, and began again from scratch, simply because my story at the time wasn't holding my interest. And that, I firmly feel, is a much worse problem than any sort of writer's block. If you're blocked and angry because of it, then you have emotion towards your story. You want to finish it, and whatever's keeping you from doing so angers you because of the depth of your connection with the narrative. But a lack of interest... That's killer. If the author isn't interested, how could a reader ever be? I had a writer's block, I guess, but the real problem was the lack of any motivation to work through it. I wasn't cudgeling my brain to figure out what happened next because I didn't care about what happened next. The perils of writing with an outline.

So now, after four days of writing I'm back to pretty much where I was after ten. I switched to the new idea midway through a day and thus only wrote one thousand then, but these past three days have seen 2.5k apiece. I will need to see about 2.5k a day every day from now on, but I'm not worried. I like my new story much better. I get to use a character concept I've been itching to take for a spin for a while now, the setting is much smaller in scale, and I'm running two different plots concurrently, romance and adventure, which satisfies my main tastes. And with that, I return to my novel, getting closer to victory one word at a time.