With the Attack on Titan manga doing extremely well and Season 2 of the anime on the horizon, I finally decided to watch the OVA’s as an extra way to immerse myself into the universe again. It was also the perfect excuse to get back to watching OVA’s as I said I would do months ago (see! Told you I’d get back to it…eventually), so as promised, here’s another round of OVA minireviews – the Attack on Titan edition!
Ilse’s Notebook: Memoirs of a Recon Corps Member
Based on an early side chapter from the Attack on Titan manga, “Ilse’s Notebook” explores the story of a Scouting Legion member after she is separated from her squad. The OVA does a good job of expanding on her journey of survival, showing her traversing the land and writing in her notebook, in addition to showing Levi and Hanji during their mission before they find her remains. Ilse’s interactions with the speaking Titan are largely the same as in the manga, but her death is a bit over the top. In the OVA, she continues narrating her experiences in her notebook, even as she is inside the Titan’s mouth, before dying. I have no doubt the scene was trying to be powerful, but for me it just came off as silly. Interestingly, at the end of the OVA Levi and Hanji find her body placed inside of a tree, almost as a sign of worship or reverence from the Titan that killed her. This had really interesting implications considering that all they found of her in the manga was her notebook.
No Regrets: Parts 1 and 2
“No Regrets: Parts 1 and 2” are based on the spin-off manga series written a few years ago. I wrote an extensive review about this manga before and the issues I had with it, and unfortunately, the OVA’s don’t fare much better. They’re gorgeously animated, as is expected from Studio Wit, but the characters and plot suffer much of the same issues as the manga did. The fact that his friends are killed off screen is also an issue because of the impact they were meant to have on him, as was explored more in Part 1. The scene when Levi goes berserk and kills the Titans is very animalistic-looking, but the fact that he kills much fewer than in the spin-off manga makes it painfully difficult to believe his ascension to becoming the best soldier in the Scouting Legion just a year later. These OVA’s aren’t much better than the manga they’re retelling, but the animation is certainly worth it and manages to make the friendship a little more convincing.
“Distress” features an original story of the 104th prior to their graduation. They’re assigned to work in teams, but as expected, Eren and Jean don’t get along, and this makes things difficult for their leader, Marco. There’s a surprising amount of character development for Marco, and this is rather nice considering his limited role in the anime. Things go awry when Krista is kidnapped by bandits, and they must all work together to save her, leading to a pretty cleverly done rescue mission. Overall, I think this OVA was decent. It gives character development where it’s least expected and manages to have clever moments as well.
The Sudden Visitor: The Torturous Curse of Youth This OVA is based on the ending panels Isayama likes to close out the manga volumes with. These are often very comedic and completely random, such as Jean hiding from his mother or Sasha holding a cooking contest (among others). “The Sudden Visitor” combines many of these random scenes by merging them into an amusing but heartwarming narrative. Jean is rather distant with his mother, and after getting into a scuffle with Sasha, is challenged to a cooking contest. They compete to hunt a large boar for the contest, and after Sasha kills it and claims it for her team, Jean reflects on his past with his mother and the food she made him. He presents a homemade omelette at the contest and is declared the winner because of the love he put into the dish. This OVA is definitely the most comedic and lighthearted of the four, but it’s still very well done because it still handles the emotions in a mature way.
The Attack on Titan OVA’s are overall good, and I hope that the OVA’s for Season 2 will be even better. Season 2 should cover a lot of amazing content for the OVA’s to reference and work from.
Gurren Lagann is among my favorite anime shows ever with its engaging story, great cast of characters and epic soundtrack. A couple of years after the show came out, Gurren Lagann was retold in two movies: Childhood’s End and The Lights in the Sky are Stars. I had always been interested in watching the movies to see what changes were made, but sadly the movies weren’t dubbed or released in the states. I finally took the plunge and watched them online to see how they hold up in comparison to the show. Are the films good adaptations of the show, and are they worth watching? Let’s find out!
Warning: if you haven’t seen Gurren Lagann, there will be spoilers ahead! Read at your own risk!
The beginning of Childhood’s End depicts Lordgenome’s childhood and his battle with the AntiSpirals, using footage from Parallel Works 8. I talked about the significance of Parallel Works 8 before, and this scene functions as intended, providing a strong back story to the plot while introducing relevant characters and ideas. This was a great way introduction that is substantially different from how the show started, and arguably better for it too. If only the rest Childhood’s End went as smoothly.
In Gurren Lagann, the time skip is instantaneous and doesn’t waste any time developing the story even further. In the beginning The Lights in the Sky are Stars (after the poorly placed Lordgenome fight at the start, which I’ll talk about later), the time skip is supplemented with a montage of major events that take place over the course of the seven years. By showing the progression of civilization through the time skip, it helps develop the world and provide a real sense of change. It also does a good job of showing the characters mature and change during this time so that it’s not as stark of a transformation.
Not only are many of the characters fleshed out, but so are their relationships with each other. Simon and Nia’s relationship in Gurren Lagann is already fantastic as it is, and the fact that The Lights in the Sky are Stars manages to expand on this in a meaningful way is great. Not only that, but their relationship is even cuter! The few scenes added between them helps add investment into their story and make the audience root for Nia’s rescue even more.
Simon’s time in prison in Gurren Lagann was pretty short, and The Lights in the Sky expands on this a bit. Simon gets some great character development that hasn’t been seen before in the show through these added scenes, and he goes to a pretty dark place. It also gives viewers a clue of just how powerful he has become and trying to control this power by refusing to fight the other inmates. It shows a more natural progression for Simon giving up and thereby accepting the reality of the situation – in the show this was a rather quick turn that came out of nowhere, and the movie allows us to see this change more slowly and understand his actions.
The final battle in The Lights in the Sky are Stars is even more bombastic and insane than in the show. A lot of the craziness was overwhelming even as a fan of the over the top action, but the main thing I thought this sequence did very well was the individual fights against the AntiSpiral. Characters like Yoko, Viral, and Nia get their own mecha to fight with, and Nia’s contribution to the battle is the best (despite the overemphasis on her nudity). Not only does she get to fight back (the first time she’s been given a chance to do so), but she also draws first blood against the AntiSpiral while protecting Simon. The fact that Nia is able to protect him for a change is a notable moment for her considering her brainwashed and kidnapped status from before. Her mecha also has the best design and is a perfect fit for her character.
In Gurren Lagann, the long, hard fought battle against the AntiSpirals concludes with Simon killing the AntiSpiral leader with Lagann. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars, Lagann is incapacitated and forces Simon to fight the AntiSpiral one on one. The animation is rough and gritty, reflecting the intensity of this fist fight. I think this scene of the two fist fighting is great because it’s forcing them to rely on their own strength and will to win rather than mecha. It adds a new layer to the strength of humanity that was already so emphasized in the show, and makes it even more prominent in the movie’s conclusion.
As many changes as The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes, the ending is still bittersweet. It does add some nice scenes of Nia writing in her diary for the last time while Simon prepares to pass Lagann down to the next generation before the wedding. Their marriage itself largely plays out the same, but makes a very subtle change that greatly affects the scene that follows, which I’ll talk about next.
Originally, after Nia disappears, Gimmy desperately asks why Simon can’t just resurrect her. In the anime, Simon’s response is a grin as he says that he’s accepted her fate. In the movie, Simon’s grin remains but now his eyebrows are furrowed. This is a very small change, but it shows that despite his acceptance of Nia’s fate, he’s still upset by it and he has every right to be. It makes the scene so much powerful because it conveys his resolve not to abuse his powers to resurrect dead people. It also shows just how much Simon has grown and matured over the course of the series by acknowledging his grief but still moving forward.
After the credits of The Lights in the Sky are Stars roll, it focuses more on Simon wandering around the world. He helps whoever he can and plants flowers in Nia’s memory, which she mentioned as a dream of hers in a new, earlier scene in the movie. He also wears Nia’s wedding ring as a necklace, which is such a small touch that I love. It shows that he always keeps her close to him, and I prefer him keeping the ring with him rather than having it as a place marker at her grave.
There are many other small changes that The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes that are good as well, but these are the most noteworthy because of what they add to the lore of the series and characters, specifically Simon and Nia. Wondering why Childhood’s End hasn’t been praised more? Well…
The starkly different animation style from Episode 4 of Gurren Lagann was not redone in Childhood’s End. I’m not sure if this radically different and unfitting style was maintained because of the guest director that worked on the original episode, and I suppose that if that’s the case I can’t argue with it too much even if it doesn’t make any sense in movie format and looks rather cheap. The bigger issue is that the budget was largely spent on adding pointless scenes of fan service. These scenes do nothing for the story and characters, and it’s frustrating to see new animation devoted to such irrelevant scenes in a series that already has an excess of just that.
The fact that Nia blurts out her identity as Lordgenome’s daughter as soon as she meets Team Dai Gurren in Childhood’s End eliminates all suspense about her identity. I understand that this was done for pacing purposes, and it’s not something entirely out of character for Nia to say, but it eliminates the build up about her identity that was done well in Gurren Lagann. This scene’s placement also results in several other scenes being out of order as well, and this leads to Childhood’s End feeling extremely rushed.
Many of the moments between Simon and Nia in the first half of Gurren Lagann are not only sweet to watch, but show a natural progression of how they fall in love with each other and eventually become engaged years later. Unfortunately, Childhood’s End cuts many of these moments from the film, leaving the audience wondering how they could develop such a close bond in only a couple of scenes. I can’t complain about this a ton since The Lights in the Sky are Stars makes up for this substantially, but it does make the relationship feel more empty in the first movie with so few scenes for them to interact to develop a genuine relationship with one another.
In Childhood’s End, Simon and Team Dai Gurren fight against the three remaining Generals of Lordgenome and Viral all at once. In the anime, these fights were broken up individually, so it makes sense for the movie to streamline these battles into one for pacing. But the individual fights gave a sense of scope and danger to the story and Team Dai Gurren’s mission, and defeating them all in this one battle takes away a lot of the tension that the show was so good at building up.
Childhood’s End concludes after the defeat of Lordgenome’s Generals, leaving the impending fight against Lordgenome as a cliffhanger. This cliffhanger isn’t very well done here because it’s needlessly splitting the story arc of the fight against the Beastmen into two movies. Furthermore, it leads to The Lights in the Sky are Stars having a jarring start continuing a battle that should have been resolved at the end of the first movie. Because The Lights in the Sky are Stars is forced to begin with this battle, much of the fight from the anime is cut down and feels hastily rushed and devoid of intensity, ultimately hampering what was a fantastic showdown in the anime.
In Gurren Lagann, the scene where the AntiSpiral is extracting Nia’s memories for analysis is already uncomfortable to watch. His apathetic attitude and monologue combined with her screams in the background makes the scene almost cringe worthy to watch, but at least it’s short lived and feels like it adds something to the story. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars, this scene is sexualized because of Nia’s nudity, and goes on for much longer to the point that it’s unacceptable. This may have been how the scene was intended to play out in the show, but it’s so uncomfortable to watch that it was reminding me of the offensive moments of Kill La Kill, and that’s not okay.
In Gurren Lagann, the final battle feels like it has real stakes largely due to how many characters sacrifice their lives for Team Dai Gurren’s victory. These deaths, while sad (especially in Kittan’s case), help the story have real stakes that it lacked to this point. By having these characters die, it gives a sense of urgency and shows that battles can’t be won without sacrifices. In Gurren Lagann, these sacrifices are handled well and add to the story and characters. In The Lights in the Sky are Stars however, all of these minor characters – except Kittan – survive. This is rather irksome because it takes away the meaning of their sacrifices in the show – by having them live through the final battle, it makes it feel too easily won.
So, are the movies worth watching? Well, yes and no. The pacing of Childhood’s End is very sporadic and there aren’t many good changes that enhance the story – with the exception of the fantastic introduction. This isn’t to say the first half of the show isn’t good, but there’s something about the pacing of those episodes in a show format that made them exciting to watch. But having the way these episodes are condensed in Childhood’s End, the movie feels rushed and lacks fluidity.
On the other hand, The Lights in the Sky are Stars is much better. The pacing is slower and more fluid, and the additional scenes (for the most part) add a lot to the lore and characters and story. Neither of the movies are without flaws however, and because of this I think that ultimately, the show tells the story best. The movies are overall a great addition for the series and retell the story in a new interesting way, but they shouldn’t replace the experience watching the show. Gurren Lagann’s story is told most strongly in an episodic progression because its tonal shifts are more exciting and dynamic. In some ways, the movies compliment the show well, but Gurren Lagann is an adored anime because of the risks it takes to develop its story and characters, and it’s a show that should be experienced by every anime fan.
Part two! PART TWO! It has arrived. Notice a second photo of beloved Sufjan Stevens. I promise he’s just as relevant in this post as he was in Part One.
If you see the massive wall of text below and think, “Oy vey, this isn’t a quick review, you LYING LIAR,” I’m sorry. Except not really. I have a lot to say about these two books. But also, if you only have time to read just one, please read the review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. And then read the book. Because omfg.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This contemporary coming-of-age novel set in Atlanta, Georgia follows closeted high-school student Simon Spiers. When fellow classmate Martin happens to stumble upon Simon’s email carelessly left open on a school computer, things take a dramatic turn. Martin threatens to post Simon’s personal emails to the entire school unless Simon helps Martin on the dating front with one of Simon’s best friends–a popular gal named Abby. But what’s so blackmail-worthy about Simon’s emails? Well, he has been emailing an anonymous classmate by the code-name “Blue.” Blue is also gay and closeted. And very, very secretive. If these emails were to go public, they would out Simon (not good), and would certainly scare Blue away (also not good). And between Simon and the reader, he’s got a bit of a crush on Blue and really likes being able to talk to him.
So, I will say first and foremost that I found a story set in the digital age to be kind of… strange? I don’t usually read contemporary novels that utilize social technology, so the book’s references to Tumblr were oddly endearing to me. I will also say that the decision to firmly plant itself in the present day will likely date this novel, and it very well may fall into cultural irrelevance within the next decade or so. All that said, it works for the time being. No huge complaints there.
The main cast of characters are colorful and interesting. Most of Simon’s friends are unique and diverse and decently flawed, albeit kind of lackluster and underdeveloped overall. No one character really stood out to me all that much, and I found myself less than invested in their arcs. Which was fine because none of them really end up with tons of page-time, all things considered.
But Simon! Simon’s the main character! He’s–well, he’s not super compelling, but he’s a good kid who likes theater and acting and Oreos and he has a bit of a kooky family. And… huh. That’s all I can really say about him.
This is my biggest problem with the novel. I spent about four hours in his head (first person POV, no less) but I still don’t feel like I know what makes Simon tick. I was told a lot of things about Simon by Simon himself, but I don’t see him doing much of anything. I don’t really know what truly motivates him or what he wants. What he’s really good at and what his weaknesses are. It’s a weird place to be in. I didn’t connect much with him, and I feel like I should’ve.
Example: I’m told that Simon is a fan of folk musicians Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens (YES, HE’S BACK!!!! I TOLD YOU HE WAS RELEVANT). I love both of these musicians as a woman in my late-twenties, but I can tell you right now that they did not grace my iPod as a high-schooler. By and large, kids don’t listen to somewhat obscure, nearly two decades old indie folk music unless they’re a little counterculture or otherwise different. And I feel like the author could’ve explained it away with some throwaway line about his older sister introducing him to the music or something. Instead it just reads like the author loves these musicians, so she shoved them into the novel and told us the main character likes them too. But I don’t really understand why Simon is attached to their music or why he would prefer to listen to their music over the music his peers listen to. Or why it’s super relevant to mention his taste in music at all. I can think of a bunch of reasons Simon would be drawn to Sufjan Stevens’s music: his songs are rife with homoerotic subtext, and they cover a multitude of interesting topics, such as religion, desire, and identity. If the author had taken more time to relate the music to Simon as a character, mentioning Sufjan could’ve been a great moment. But instead it just hangs there, and it’s kind of pointless except for the name-dropping “cool” factor. Because let’s be honest: Sufjan Stevens is cool af.
If we compare Albertalli’s novel to Stephen Chbosky’s young adult novel Perks of Being a Wallflower, there’s no contest: Chbosky’s use of ’80s music is beautifully done. It weaves seamlessly into the rest of the novel while informing the reader of Charlie’s intense introversion. We understand why he connects to each and every musician–sometimes even each song. None of that happens with Simon, and in a lot of ways I feel like these details are better left unsaid if they’re not doing double duty. They’re kind of random character facts that serve no higher purpose, and in the end they only muddy the story.
Another somewhat clunky aspect of the novel is the mystery surrounding Blue’s true identity. Unfortunately, there is no real mystery–except to Simon, apparently, who is dumbfounded by the revelation even though I knew who Blue was the moment the character showed up on the page. The author tried too hard to make him seem like he couldn’t possibly be Blue, which of course told me that he 100% absolutely was. To Albertalli’s credit, ultimately I didn’t care about the mystery because the ending is nice and hopeful, and it made me smile. I’ll forgive a lot of things if you give me happy endings for queer kids in love. But still, it felt like she was trying a bit too hard and it backfired.
My final thoughts: Not a book to really write home about, but I think the message of the novel is very, very important: coming out is a personal process and decision, and taking someone’s agency away and outing them is an incredibly awful, vile thing to do. Don’t freaking do it, okay? Okay. 3/5
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
A coming-of-age literary novel that takes place in the summer of 1987, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is told from the perspective of Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza, a Mexican-American teenager living with his family in El Paso, Texas. His summer is already off to a miserable start: friendless and decidedly angsty, Ari lazes about at home. He spends his time obsessing over his estranged and incarcerated brother, silently resenting his family for behaving as if his brother is dead. He resents his strained relationship with his father, a Vietnam veteran who returned from the war with PTSD and night terrors. He struggles to have meaningful interactions with his hard-working but sometimes mysterious mother. Aristotle thinks a lot, resents a lot of things, and says very little. But the silence becomes suffocating after a while and, desperate for an escape, he decides to go to the community pool. That is when he meets the utterly delightful and captivating Dante Quintana, and the two become inseparable and fast friends over the course of the summer.
Where do I even begin? Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is probably among my top five favorite novels of all-time. This novel is everything. From Sáenz’s brisk yet detailed writing style to the thoughtful characterization to the emotional resonance to its themes, this book is a damn powerhouse that hits in all the right spots.
On the character front, I love the two main characters Ari and Dante like my own children. They both inhabit a duality of being relatable and frustrating at the same time–as teenagers are wont to be. Their subtle characterizations are beautifully rendered on the page. Their relationship is one of the most tenderly written I’ve ever come across in fiction. I also adore both Aristotle and Dante’s parents, who are given plenty of space and time to shine even if the book is mainly about Dante and Ari’s friendship. They’re all so wonderful and flawed and fascinating. But Ari’s father’s subtle development and budding relationship with Ari over the course of the novel is the primary reason I openly wept for four hours and whispered, “I just can’t–” at my Kindle. Seriously. I did that. I am not ashamed.
Ari and Dante tackles some serious issues in some of the most tactful and gentle ways possible. It makes sure to avoid harmful stereotypes and it always puts character first. Speaking of issues, can I just say how refreshing it was to read about characters who are not white, from a not white author? I’ve noticed a whole slew of queer fiction popping up lately that features predominantly white protagonists–and while that’s by no means a bad thing, diversity is a godsend. Sáenz does a wonderful job of incorporating the Mexican-American identities of his protagonists and exploring this theme to wonderful effect.
Some might argue that there is no real plot to Ari and Dante, and to an extent I agree. The story is framed between two summers, but it’s 100% character-driven. Some people have a problem with stories that take their time and meander. I am not one of those people. In fact, I crave them. Give me thousands of them in my face right now.
I’ve been reflecting on why Ari and Dante resonates so much with me, and I think it’s because it has given me some much needed introspection for myself as a writer. In the late-night throes of emotional devastation after finishing the book, I cruised Tumblr for fanart of my favorite boys when I stumbled upon a text post that said:
“I’ve never read a book that treated its characters with more tenderness, generosity, and sympathy than Benjamin Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante. Even when the characters don’t think they deserve it, especially when the characters don’t think they deserve it… It makes my heart ache so much; it’s a book that genuinely makes me aspire to be a kinder person.” (touchmycape).
I was blown away by this comment. As a writer, I think we all kind of sadistically enjoy making our characters suffer to an extent. I’ll be the first to admit it. I mean, if your characters don’t have conflict, there’s no story. Right? But I’m starting to rethink this approach. Perhaps I should be gentler and more generous to my characters. Maybe this perspective towards writing is what I’ve been lacking for so long. It’s given me so much to think about. One day I’d love to write something as emotionally affecting as Ari and Dante. I aspire to it. And maybe this is the key.
I realize that I’m an emotional person, but I’m being honest when I say that after about the first 20 pages, I simply couldn’t stop crying all of the cathartic tears in the universe. I can’t recommend this gem of a novel enough. Please read it. You won’t be disappointed. 5/5
I’m a sucker for romance in stories, but I’ve found that over the years, I have pretty high expectations for what a good couple should look like. I’ve talked a lot about anime couples that I think fit the mold very well, but not for video games. There aren’t a lot of canon couples in the games that I have played, let alone couples that I found likable. But despite that, I’ve found that the rules I’ve set up for judging good anime couples also applies to video game couples as well:
1. The couple needs to be canonically together, established through the story and their interactions. Because of this, I have to exclude couples from the Fire Emblem series because of the many options the games feature, as any one of them could be “canon” from a fan perspective rather than a story perspective.
2. The couple should have good chemistry together through their interactions and dialogue with each other. Through this, lots of character development can be explored while showing how the two characters influence each other.
With all of this in mind, Noctis and Luna technically don’t meet those requirements. They’re “canonically” together in the sense of their arranged marriage, but the player unfortunately doesn’t get to see them interact outside of flashbacks as adults, and so the chemistry and character development is almost nonexistent. Based on these circumstances and the guidelines I set for myself, I shouldn’t like them as a couple. But I do, and I was really surprised at how invested I was in their relationship because of how unusual yet genuine it is.
Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t beaten Final Fantasy XV yet, read at your own risk!
Noctis and Luna have a sweet childhood friendship but are torn apart from each other by war as adults shortly before their arranged marriage. Though the marriage is largely for political reasons, it’s easy to see through their flashbacks as children how an eventual romance could bloom someday because of how well they get along with each other. But because of the present circumstances, the audience is unable to see these emotions transfer to adulthood outside of the (adorable) journal exchange.
Normally, this lack of adult interaction would be a red flag for me because couples that are forced together with little to no interaction (cough cough nearly every couple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe cough cough) aren’t likable and feel pointlessly thrown in. In the beginning, I was admittedly concerned about how this couple would be portrayed because of how the story was developing. Final Fantasy XV however, does a good job of showing them talk and think about each other a lot, and by extension, influencing the way the players think about them as well.
In addition, despite being apart, Noctis and Luna choose to communicate through a more traditional means of journal writing – rather than calling or texting, which they could do with the modern technology in the world. Through the journal exchange, the players are able to see the sweet, vulnerable moments after Noctis and Luna receive it and read what each other wrote. It’s a small touch that adds a lot to the relationship and shows their closeness without having them interact in person.
The entire game builds their mutual desire to see each other again after the wedding is canceled because of the war, and their duties force them down their own paths, eventually leading to one of the best moments in the game – the trial with Leviathan. Noctis and Luna do see each other from afar with the hope that when the trial is over, they can finally be reunited.
But things go terribly wrong and in the chaos of Noctis fighting Leviathan, Luna is mortally wounded. She wills the powers of his ancestors to him, and it leads to incredible boss fight against the sea beast. Luna lives long enough to heal him after the fight and entrust the ring to him in a very touching, heartbreaking scene. I barely knew anything about Luna because of how little she’s in the game and yet I found myself genuinely upset over her death because I wanted to see them reunited and happy together just as much as they did.
Following this heartbreaking scene, there are flashbacks of Luna speaking highly of Noctis after her death, further reaffirming their mutual feelings for each other in addition to lending her some much needed character development. But what I found so great about this tragic romance is that it feels realistic. The war ravages their lives to the point that they are forced into the roles assigned to them as King and Oracle, and they’re always just out of each other’s reach. The war forces their priorities to shift, and the romance becomes a fantasy with her passing.
The ending delivers on the romance finally becoming a reality with a sweet scene of Noctis and Luna married in the afterlife, content to be together again as they were meant to be while they were alive. I was overjoyed with this ending and loved how they were developed. Based on how I usually judge couples, I shouldn’t have cared for these two to reunite again, but Final Fantasy XV’s strengths come from how it develops its characters. Great care is taken to show these characters thoughts and feelings about each other, and it allows the players to become invested in their relationship as well. I wanted to know what they would talk about, what they would fight about. The fact that the game made me want to know even after it became an impossibility is indicative of how strong the writing is.
Before Final Fantasy XV was released, the creators mentioned that Noctis and Luna’s love story wouldn’t be developed in the traditional way that we’ve come to see in previous Final Fantasy games, and it makes them stand out. Previous entries in the series often portrayed the love of the main characters conquering all despite the chaos around them. In the face of adversity, their love would be the source of strength and a means to defeat their foes.
Final Fantasy XV chooses to deviate from this by showing that their love, while strong, wasn’t enough to overcome the corruption of their world, and there was something about that message that was tragically beautiful and depressing as well. I appreciated the creator’s willingness to do something different and portray love in this different yet refreshing way.
Final Fantasy XV is an imperfect game, but its characters and their relationships are some of the best in the series. I look forward to seeing new cutscenes and content added to the game through DLC to further explore the backstories and dynamics between the cast of characters, and I hope that Noctis and Luna’s relationship gets similar treatment. This couple surprised me with the realism of their separation but mutual love that continued to grow because of it, and I want to see even more of it.
(I promise the above picture of Sufjan Stevens is at least sort of relevant. Kind of. *squint*)
Because I have decided to have absolutely no chill in the Year of our Lord 2017, I’ve already read four books since January 1. All of them are queer/LGBT+ fiction, mainly because the topics of sexuality and identity personally and emotionally interest me, but also because I am a very passionate LGBT+ rights advocate. None of the books I read are particularly recent, so that’s a bit of a bummer–talk about irrelevant, yeehaw!–but I desperately want to talk about them, so here we go.
I’ll split this up into two parts, and maybe I’ll add to this the more books I read.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2012) by Emily M. Danforth
A period piece set in Montana in the 1990s, Cameron Post is a coming of age story that follows the titular main character through her adolescent years. Cameron is just beginning to discover her sexuality when her parents die in a car accident. The strange relief that comes with realizing that she doesn’t have to tell her parents that she just kissed a girl (and liked it) is fleeting when she goes to live with her born-again aunt. With nowhere to turn for support, Cameron carves her own paths and educates herself with the help of some friends–until she is outed by someone she loves.
I really, really loved this book. For one, it’s beautifully written. The style is smart and elegant and deceptively simple. Danforth doesn’t speak down to her YA audience, either; rather, she challenges her readers with sophisticated and clever prose. She takes her time developing the characters, and they are all three-dimensional and delightfully flawed and unique. Cameron is a wonderful narrator with a distinct voice that made the book difficult to put down if not for its serious subject matter in the second half of the book. For anyone who is unaware of conversion therapy camps (which STILL exist, by the way), this book puts them into perspective as the emotionally abusive and traumatic facilities that they are. The betrayal and rejection Cameron feels from what’s left of her family and closest friends when she is sent to one of these facilities is something I can’t even fathom. It’s horrifying. Truly. These kinds of stories are important to tell.
Cameron Post succeeds in every area as far as I am concerned. But my favorite thing about the book is that it doesn’t subscribe to the idea that every character that comes to life on the page or every scene that unfolds needs to have greater meaning in the story. Sometimes a character plays a part and then leaves. There’s no closure. That uncomfortable lack of closure–the story’s unwillingness to tie up loose ends in a perfect little bow even through to the end–is what makes the story feel so real. At times it reads more like a memoir than a novel. And I love it for that. It’s raw. And it has one of the most powerful endings I’ve read in years. 4.5/5
Call Me By Your Name (2007) by André Aciman
Next up: Call Me By Your Name is a love story told by an intellectual and introverted American-Italian seventeen-year-old named Elio. His family has a peculiar tradition: each summer, they take in a house guest to live with them in Italy, who uses his/her time there to revise an academic book manuscript. In return, the house guest agrees to help Elio’s father, a professor, with academic paperwork. Elio has been indifferent at best to this annual arrangement for years–that is, until 24-year-old Oliver comes to stay with them for the summer of 1988.
To be 100% honest, the only reason I picked this book up in the first place is because my beloved Sufjan Stevens wrote music for the film adaptation that’s coming out this year. See? Told you the featured image wasn’t completely random… Anyway, so I picked up this book for all the wrong reasons, but once I started reading, I was immediately drawn to the writing style. It’s almost unbearably poetic at times, but it’s fun to get swept away in. I wish I had half the intellect that the characters in this novel possess, and I applaud Aciman for having the wit and know-how to write characters that are precocious and clever and philosophical and–yeah, pretentious. But, I gotta say: sometimes the conversations get a little too precious and pretentious. There’s only so much introspection and philosophizing that I can take before the tension within the scene wanes and I inevitably grow bored. Maybe that just proves how much of a plebian I am, alas.
Speaking of bored, Call Me By Your Name is one hell of a slow burn for very little payoff. Mutual pining is definitely a trope I’m weak to, but I never felt emotionally fulfilled by their relationship on the page, even after they do finally admit their feelings for each other. Perhaps that was the intent. Though I will say that some of the romance was downright adorable and frustrating and everything a good romance should be. You really can feel the desire that Elio has for Oliver, and vice versa, so it does succeed on that front. I just wanted more. Of what, I’m not entirely sure… but something was lacking.
I’m going to just come out and say that this story’s premise does not lend itself to a happy ending. Oliver only has six weeks to spend in Italy before he has to return home to the States. In a genre romance, the characters would defy the odds and somehow stay together. But this is a piece of literary fiction, not genre romance. So you can imagine how this goes down. And the truth is that I’ve grown tired of these clinical, cynical kinds of endings when it comes to queer romance. There are so many instances in Western media that introduce queer characters with so much promise, only to later refuse to let them triumph. Over and over again, they lose: their families, their friends, their lovers, their identity, their privacy, their lives. Tragedy is the norm for LGBT+ characters. Can a girl get a beautifully written queer romance that doesn’t end in despair and loss? (The answer is “yes and boy howdy”–just wait for part two.) Hell, I’ll even take bittersweet; The Miseducation of Cameron Post was bittersweet and perfect. Call Me By Your Name doesn’t have any sweet in its ending. It’s bitter and dry as a fierce prairie wind. It punches you in the gut. It makes you despair. It kind of makes you regret reading the book.
Also, you’ll never look at a peach the same way again. 3/5 (or, just watch the movie when it comes out, maybe?)
I haven’t talked much about anime endings in this series of posts, but Erased’s is certainly a notable one. It takes a much more stylized direction with its art style and colors, weaving abstract images and scenes together to create the ending. Because of the unique art style and more abstract imagery, the ending doesn’t outright spoil anything in the show – certain thematic ideas are represented, but it’s only by watching the show that the images gain meaning. The song suits the mood of the show well, using a more somber yet hopeful tone.
With season 2 of Tales of Zestiria the X underway, it reminded me of how much I enjoy the opening of the first season. I’ve talked about another opening Flow has done before, and this song also proves to be just as great, with the bagpipes in the beginning and the combination of pop and rock during the chorus. The opening has gorgeous visuals that establishes the powers and abilities of the large cast of characters. In addition, the opening balances the action scenes with more calm ones that give a glimpse of the world and other characters that the main group will meet in their journey. I didn’t skip this opening very often when going through Tales of Zestiria the X, and anytime an opening has the staying power to be viewed constantly, I think that’s a good sign.