The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Best of 2018 PART THE FIRST

Hey 2018 sure did suck. There were occasionally some good things though. This is me celebrating those good things, because I need a quick $300 to pay for a visit to the oral surgeon so I can maybe eat without excruciating pain again, and also because it is good to reflect on the blessings of the year or whatever.

It's split into two parts, because as usual I can't shut up.

pictured: me exiting 2018









Annihilation

The scene I keep coming back to in Annihilation is the scene where the title is finally dropped. The two surviving members of the expedition into the Shimmer--an expanding rainbow zone of distortion that twists and mutates everything within it--have made their way to the epicenter of the anomaly. Inside a strangely organic obsidian chamber beneath a lighthouse that seems to be turning into a tree, the protagonist faces off against the leader of the doomed expedition, who seems to have experienced some revelation (one that left her blind--her eyes are sealed over with shiny new black opal flesh). She announces that the entity that created the Shimmer, an utterly alien presence, is inside her now, and will soon expand to consume everything. And right before she vomits out an incredible, beautiful, horrifying mass of light and color which burns her whole body to nothingness, she makes a final prophecy:

"Our bodies and our minds will be fragmented into their smallest parts until not one part remains. 

Annihilation."

This is a movie about self destruction, a one where the "alien" "threat" is "vanquished" for whatever value any of those words can have by the protagonist teaching it how to self-annihilate. It's a movie about destroying your relationships, your body, your hopes, your future. Oh, and it's a movie about horrific bear monsters with half-human skull faces. It's a fucking scary movie, gang! But it's also one that's incredibly beautiful at times, one that really makes, say, wandering off into the foliage, roses blooming out of your self-harm scars, an attractive prospect.

That's probably sort of the point. There's an allure to self-destruction, as my repeated listening to early Nine Inch Nails albums attests. Part of self destruction can also be transformation, rebirth into new forms, adaptation. As much as trauma fissures the self, perhaps so deeply that there's no bridging from one side of the rent to the other, there is potential in this to become something resilient and alien.

You'd think those possibilities within the film would make it timely material for 2018, but no, pop culture reporters, moviegoers, and the odious Paramount Studios who all but asked people not to see the film, stood united in slack-jawed incomprehension. Dan Olson did a good breakdown of the response and how woefully unequipped people really are to deal with a film so based in metaphor and visual symbolism. It's good, you should check it out, though for once I'm gonna recommend experiencing the film largely unspoiled because you really should experience its mindbending visuals for yourself. Regardless of whether anyone gets this shit, we've had a good crop of films lately that share this space. I finally watched Ex Machina, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 this year, way after I should have seen them. Oh and It, too, finally got around to that. I did manage to get out to the theater to see both this film and Sorry To Bother You. There's, shockingly, some smart shit stumbling with weird mutant gait out of Hollywood. Even if I'm frustrated with the apparent difficulty people have with these films, I'm glad they exist.


Pop Team Epic

It was another good year for Anime, not quite as incredible as 2017 was but still pretty impressive. Although there were exceptions, like the very deliberately classic-seeming, admirably well-constucted Megalobox, or the solid straightforward My Hero Academia, a lot of the standouts for me were things that pushed the envelope in one way or another. The current season of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, for example, seems to be adapting the weirder non-sequiturs of the manga by leaning into the weirdness. The incredible Devilman Crybaby deserves its own coverage, but it's also doing some pretty innovative shit.

But head and shoulders above them all was Pop Team Epic, which was so good I actually managed to write about it, right before going on hiatus forever. Arrested for blogging crimes. Read those articles, and watch this absolutely incredible performance.


You Are Jeff Bezos

When you wake up this morning from unsettling dreams, you find yourself changed in your bed into a monstrous vermin.


So opens this year's only game on my Best of 2018 list which I guess means no other good games came out this year maybe? Sorry, Guacamelee 2, I love the core gameplay, but I really don't like floating levels, and the overdone meme level was... it was extremely bad. 

This game is pretty great though, putting you in the horrifying position of being Jeff Bezos and trying to spend all his morally indefensible riches. It's a hilarious adventure, but it's also a really great teaching tool, a lesson in just how difficult it is to actually spend a hundred billion dollars. I went into the game thinking of the general leftist "eat the rich" thing as a fun slogan but probably too simple. And it is, because there's a whole system that gets in the way of your attempts to send all of Jeff Bezos's money, but I still came out realizing that actually we COULD solve a lot of problems in the world if we just took all of Jeff Bezos's money. Because, it's a ludicrous amount of money, more money than one man could ever possibly do anything with, more money than it's even really possible to wrap one's head around easily. Which is why this game exists: to help you really wrap your head around it.

In a year when I had lots of reasons to feel cynical about the utility of art as a teaching tool, this stood out as an incredibly well constructed little narrative game that I think could do some real good. Give You Are Jeff Bezos to your kids. Teach them well, that being a billionaire is, in itself, monstrously immoral.


The Inescapability of Homestuck and Undertale

With new Hiveswap content and the release of Deltarune, or part of it if we're gonna hold out hope that more will come, it feels pretty safe to say that this general sphere is not going away anytime soon. Neither is the fandom--between Homestuck Explained and Perfectly Generic Podcast and their attendant communities, I think we've probably got better analysis of these texts than ever before, which is pretty incredible so long after Homestuck's initial launch. This is bad news for, like, the Homestuck subreddit I guess, and for dumbasses who are reflexively snide about this stuff and probably still think furries are weird or whatever, but it's good news culturally speaking. And it's good news for me, because I still have lots to say about Homestuck, Hiveswap, Deltarune, gnostic lit, and all kinds of other related stuff. Maybe I'll even have the energy and improved health to make that shit happen in 2019!


Deafheaven

There was a solid chunk of new metal this year. Interestingly, the stuff I gravitated towards was pretty wildly divergent from what you might see as the metal baseline. 

Like, there was a new Zeal and Ardor album. Their whole schtick is doing slave spirituals merged together with black metal, positing an alternate history where the victims of chattel slavery found strength in Satanism. This is metal about dragging white civilization to hell as part of a bloody, centuries-old vengeance, which... fair enough! 

Or, Oceans of Slumber, not as outre as Zeal and Ardor but still remarkable among female fronted progressive metal for integrating more emotive, pop-influenced elements without it seeming like a haphazard ploy. Lead singer Cammie Gilbert is incredible, capable of really selling sincerity that sometimes eludes more pompous and theatrical prog metal bands. 

Oh, and there was a new A Perfect Circle album. They're so all over the map I'm not even sure they count as metal, and on the whole I found Eat The Elephant a little uneven, but there's some very solid A Perfect Circley things there, so, hey, they deserve a mention here as well.

Kamelot also had a new album out, and they're basically right across the line from metal into musical theater, but let's be real they've been there since Epica at least. I'm not complaining: they've got a bunch more duets with female symphonic metal vocalists and that gives me a chance to sing harmonies like I like to do.

So obviously this section is sort of an excuse for me to just plug a few runners up within my beloved genre of metal, but it's also kind of a snapshot I guess of where my head is at with metal at the moment, wandering around on the edges of the genre where it's presently bleeding out into other aesthetic spaces.

And boy does Deafheaven's "Ordinary Corrupt Human Love" bleed hard into some real weird aesthetic spaces. When Scott Benson of Night in the Woods fame tweeted a recommendation of it describing it as "bliss rock with a dude doing black metal goblin vocals over it" I couldn't really wrap my head around the description, and I suspect if I add my own description of "like sunny 70s pop recording that a black metal band sort of wandered into" it will also not quite do it justice. You kind of have to just listen to a song like "Canary Yellow" to make sense of it. Or watch the ostentatiously retro video for "Honeycomb" which pairs a burnt out summer polaroid camera aesthetics with blistering metal, before opening up into a shockingly catchy, upbeat rock number (almost Pillows-esque), before a final four minute long chill and groovy instrumental outro. 

Oh and, not that they're particularly comprehensible because, you know, goblin screams, but it's got lyrics like "my love is a bulging, blue-faced fool hung from the throat by sunflower stems," which is really not much like anything else I've seen in metal. I mean god just read that line out loud a few times. I'm not really sure what it means but it's evocative as hell, and it feels like it encapsulates something of the bizarreness of this album's experience: deathly imagery paired with flower child pastorals.

It's easy to feel like there's not much of anywhere for bands to go at this point, with music all sort of sliding into this sort of Imagine Dragons singularity mush. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a shocking demonstration of just how much potential there still is for original spins and experiments with genre.


Devilman Crybaby

Devilman Crybaby is a......... HELL of a show!


Taking A Fucking Break

I'm sitting here staring at this evernote document of my best of the year 2018 and every time I go to add something my jaw twinges. If I ignore those twinges and keep going, what will happen is that the twinges will erupt into a burning pain that lasts for a minimum of one day, possibly much longer. This dynamic, you might imagine, makes it a little difficult to get much of anything done.

That's on top of the burnout. I've been doing this for over seven years, god help me. I looked at a chart for Symptoms Of Burnout a bit ago and was extremely amused to see that I scored well over the "seek medical attention" threshold. Social media has contributed heavily to this, of course, as we all slide into Discourse Hell, hands locked in a death grip on each others throats. (More on that later.) At one point this year I suggested that maybe a certain company publishes stories because they expect to see some sort of long term profit from doing so, and a representative from that company threw an unhinged tantrum at my editor for not "fact checking" this assertion. Oh, and my apartment, Murnau Haus, was collapsing in on itself like some German Expressionist nightmare, with my roommates basically disappearing, one owing me over $2000 in unpaid rent. More on that in a future series, if I manage to get un-burnt-out enough to get THAT project off the ground.

The wild thing is, I don't think it's just me feeling this sort of pressure. A lot of the youtubers I follow have slowed their production to a remarkable degree, and everyone's talking about "parasocial relationships" suddenly. Podcasts, webcomics, bloggers... across the board people are going on hiatuses, slowing down, expressing exhaustion. The last few years have been this relentless grinding mill and I'm starting to wonder if the reason media from the mid 2000s sucked so hard was because reactionaries in ascendancy put out garbage art of their own while simultaneously making leftists too exhausted to produce anything themselves. Certainly, doing analysis of random cartoons on the Internet feels like a grotesque luxury in the face of a world on fire. It's hard to justify what I'm doing, and I suspect a lot of other critics are having a similar internal struggle.

Taking an eight month long break from StIT and, more recently, a break from writing about Magic the Gathering has not solved any of these problems or fully healed my burnout. I'm still taking things very slow, trying to treat my brain and my jaw gently. But it's helped. I do still, it turns out, have things to say, I just might need to rethink how I'm saying them. I've been doing this so long that I lost track of why I was doing it, or whether my way of doing it made sense, or the fact that there were alternatives to doing it. Taking a long break was the best--and frankly the only--choice I could have made for the blog in 2018.


Revolutionary Girl Utena

I can't believe, on the one hand, that it took me this long to get into Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Particularly since you can watch the whole thing for free on Youtube go do it now run, run!) On the other hand, judging by my first attempt at watching it a few years ago ending in failure, maybe I just wasn't ready till now for the Utena experience.

Really I gotta thank optimisticDuelist of Homestuck Explained fame for pushing me to finally watch this, and for giving me some crucial context for making sense of the show's often dense visual language. Youtuber Zeria's lengthy documentary about creator Kunihiko Ikuhara was also incredibly helpful. oD and I ended up streaming my viewing of the final two episodes, which I think went shockingly well. Look for the podcast version of that commentary sometime in the next few weeks hopefully (sorry oD I promise to get the edit done soon RIP).

The whole experience of engaging with this show has really highlighted for me the value of a critical community. It really has made a difference in my viewing experience, having a wider group of people also experiencing, thinking about, and discussing the show. Oh, and once again it's actually been pretty helpful to have spoilers, because instead of being bewildered by some of what was going on, knowing what broadly was happening thematically let me get more pleasure from viewing something that actually made some sense. Turns out when you're not confused all the time you can actually enjoy yourself a little more!

It doesn't hurt that the show itself is brilliant, far ahead of its time in its analysis of teenage sexuality, queerness, repression, patriarchy, abuse, and structures of control. It's given me tons to think about, not just in terms of the narrative itself but in the incredible, experimental way it's told. Oh and I'm still thinking about some of the incredible, surreal gags the show has to offer. The humor in this show is so weird it's hard to even give examples, because in context the jokes are often deliberately absurdist, and out of context as a consequence they just sound kinda lolrandom, which isn't really what the experience of watching the show is like. Honestly they do an incredible job of breaking up the incredible intensity of the show's actual themes, highly necessary for a story that has All The Trigger Warnings.

But all of this was really helped significantly by the segment of the fandom I happen to be connected with. It helps to have other people laughing with the weird humor, and working through the heavy, potentially triggering content. It's honestly inspiring that a show so centered upon the way society takes queer adolescents and pits them brutally against each other and against themselves, could inspire such communal viewing experiences.


Together we'll shine.



Part 2 will be up in the new year, probably next Monday.

In the meantime, here's a COOL BONUS BACKUP FEATURE:

Some Thoughts On 'Hopepunk'

In which I try to gently critique something that I'd rather throw out of a window while screaming.

Well bye.

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