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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, January 28, 2019

Best of 2018 PART THE SECOND

Hey remember when I said this would be up the monday after New Years'? Hahaha. Anyway, part 1 of my Best of 2018 list is here; part 2 is below. Thanks to everyone who supports me on Patreon I was able to use the money from the last article to see an actual oral surgeon, so thanks for helping me out like that.









Under Your Spell

Maybe I'm just regressing emotionally, but I've actually found it helpful this year to get in touch with my inner angsty teen goth. I must be somewhat temporally confused, at any rate, because The Birthday Massacre's album Under Your Spell actually came out LAST year. I only got into it THIS year though, so it's going on this year's list.

I'm not going to claim Under Your Spell is revolutionary. It's kind of exactly what you could want from a retro synth-goth new wavey kinda record. It's melancholy and emotional and full of meditations on isolation, codependency, and pervasive depression. 

This was a pretty good year for this kinda content overall. IAMX also put out a solid album, Alive In New Light, which hit some similar notes. Lyrics like "Thank you/You need to know/That you dragged me out/Of a mile deep hollow" aren't subtle, but when paired with soaring synths they really hit the spot.

The Birthday Massacre have been putting out this kind of content for a long time now, and I'm largely ok with that. Back in 2004 they were already helping me express my emerging experience of Bisexual Misanthropy, the sense that boys and girls were equally inclined to leave you feeling lonelier than you were before, and that it's not going to get better: "They'll never change," they sing matter-of-factly, "as long as they're breathing."

What I like about The Birthday Massacre is the willingness to go all in on those sorts of sentiments. There's no cringing away or ironic detachment from sentimentality, and as much as things are cloaked in a synthy, purple drenched stylization, sometimes purple-drenched stylization is what I'm feeling. Say what you will about self indulgence or teen dramatics, bits like "I disappeared, hid my name/No one even noticed for days/The surface I'm sinking under/What's at the bottom that I can discover?" or "You're a story that I hoped I'd never have to tell/You're a lesson that I wish I'd never learned so well" aren't just resonant they're fucking biographical.

2018 was a year for pulling out my old Evanescence cds again, a year for The Birthday Massacre, and a year when I bought myself purple cat eye frames for my new glasses, unapologetically, wearing my big blue and violet feelings for anyone to see.



Possessed

Alien Sex Fiend put out an album this year and while it doesn't have the same level of surreal horror lyrics as their classic shit, there's something cool about couple Nic Fiend and Mrs. Fiend making weird goth-industrial-batcave shit about, uh, whatever "It's In My Blood" is about. Probably, being possessed? It's sweet. Keep doing your thing, Fiends.



New Nancy

If you weren't aware Nancy has a new comicker. She's great. I can't believe I'm saying this but I now find myself regularly laughing out loud at venerable comic strip "Nancy".

It's not just that the jokes are good--though they are--or that the comments are full of salty fans of the last dude's saccharine offerings--though they REALLY are--it's that the comic actually has an internal storytelling logic to it that I'm finding it surprisingly enjoyable to study. It's not always something immediately apparent--I parsed the decision to enroll Nancy in an after school robotics club as just an interesting way of updating the character. Comicker Olivia Jaimes had deeper ambitions:

"I realized that all of the nouns that Nancy used to have are being supplanted by a phone. ... So how, then, can Nancy solve problems, given that technology is advancing to the point where problems are being solved in really nonphysical ways? That’s why I’m making her learn robotics. It opens up a wider range of visual gags to make down the line."

There's a lot of similar things in the strip where, despite the comic not having a story per se or a developing continuity--it's still locked in the forever now of other comic strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes--overall "story problems" are solved in innovative ways that open up interesting narrative space. Narrative space here meaning jokes, mostly, about these characters getting on each others nerves.

In conclusion, Sluggo is lit.



Tumblr Dying

I've never read the Battle Royale manga, but I encountered this promo image from it years ago in a Diamond Distributors catalogue and it's been lodged in my brain ever since:


That, to me, is Tumblr. And Social Media generally, but boy Tumblr in particular felt, by the end, like a bunch of crying teens pointing guns at each other all the time.

Tumblr finally turning its guns on itself and blowing its stupid dick off was one of the best things to happen in 2018.

It's also pretty bad for a host of reasons, a grim symbol of how totally broken the Web really is. Early this year, congress almost unanimously passed the heinous SESTA/FOSTA bills, which, in an ostensible attempt to stop human trafficking, actually effectively criminalized adult artists of all sorts while pushing full service sex workers out onto the streets. (I know I've been dunking on Vox writer Aja Romano for several weeks--read part 1 and part 2 of my critique of "Hopepunk" on Patreon--but her coverage of the ill-conception of this law is actually pretty good.) Tumblr in response cooked up a plan to deal with the fact that, whoops, half their site is porn. The plan involved just banning all the adult bloggers, "adult bloggers" defined as "anyone stupid enough to self-report their adult content to Tumblr, as well as anyone Tumblr's idiotically mis-engineered bots flag, as well as anyone some grudge-wanking Anti reports to the Bot Secret Police." The plan was accelerated after Apple, in its ongoing quest to turn the entire world into sterile, sexless, utterly monitored white blobs, banned Tumblr from their app store, thus making it impossible for people to install software on the Apple hardware that they ostensibly "bought" and "own".

They're not banning the Nazis on Tumblr, though. FREEDOM OF SPEECH, HEARD OF IT??

That is the diseased state of the Internet in 2018: a world of impossibly huge platforms making implausibly stupid decisions, often to appease the reactionary pearl-clutchers who have dominated the West since I was a teen, or the whims of grotesque monopolies like Google and Apple. This world is aided and abetted by a userbase eager to surrender freedom and control in the name of...

...of...

Well, what the fuck were we actually getting out of Tumblr anyway? Or Twitter, or Facebook, or Youtube, or Reddit, or uh Google Plus I guess? All these platforms have made it pretty impossible to advertise external work, are hostile to original content, structurally encourage sociopathic behavior through skinner box mechanics, and are selling your personal information to fascist thinktanks. I was autobanned from Twitter a few months ago for putting "'Elon Musk' Is A Slur" in my username, and it highlighted for me first of all how much social media is dedicated to fellating the rich and powerful, but also how emotionally trivial it was to abruptly decide to throw my account away in the name of trolling some robots. I sat back, thought about my whole history online, and realized that I have accomplished nothing of value, not a single thing I was proud of, on social media. Anything I've done online that had any worth was done on my blog, or on old, outdated, specialized forums.

Tumblr blowing itself up resulted in real mayhem and strife for people tied closely to the platform (people like my girlfriend, proprietor of the Monster Blog of Monsters, which was randomly labeled "adult" in the leadup to the purge), or those who depend on social media to get their work in front of a few extra eyes, or whose work developed out of the particular technological affordances of these websites.

But, this was coming whether we liked it or not. The Web went cancerous, and we're finally seeing the effects on a large scale. Luckily, Tumblr is so incompetent they could not help but make a ton of noise and smoke as they shot their own dick off, and people are taking notice. Also luckily, Tumblr is mostly crying teens pointing guns at each other. I've been praying for it to burn down for years now. I am now getting my wish, and it looks like it's burning down in such a spectacularly slapstick way that the rest of the Internet finally has to sit up and take notice of how lackadaisical we've all been about fire safety regulations. 

Fiery auto-castration is a fitting end to 2018, and a fitting end to the blue hellsite.



Devilman Crybaby

In This Anime, The Detail... Is In The DEVIL!

Ok, ok, fine, I'll do it for real this time.

I went into Devilman Crybaby apprehensive because of the dark, sexually violent reputation of the series, but also extremely hype because Masaaki Yuasa is very cool. I loved his episode of Adventure Time enough to write about it a few y-FIVE years ago? Jesus!, and the main reason I haven't finished The Tatami Galaxy yet is because it's so incredibly information dense that I haven't had time to beam it directly into my eyeballs, Clockwork Orange style. What I didn't anticipate from the show was the level of political, interpersonal, and thematic complexity that accompanied the strange, abstract animation and wild sex and violence.

Devilman Crybaby masquerades as a show about a dark antihero fighting demons, but winds up as a meditation on violence, rejection, manipulation, the roots of fascist nationalism, and ultimately on how humans fail and hurt one another. It's a bleak show, with about the unhappiest ending imaginable, but there are also moments of incredible beauty and empathy. The two go hand in hand, really--it's a show about empathy, in a lot of ways, and how crucial, difficult, messy, and redemptive empathy can be. The central tragedy of the show is that key characters learn to care about others too late or cannot forgive others who have done wrong; the key catchphrase of the ostensibly badass central hero is "...But you're crying too!"

Of course it's also a show where the titular character comes about when a softhearted teen is dragged by his friend to a drug-fueled orgy and subsequently gets possessed by a demon. There's a scene where someone has a wet dream that leaves the ceiling covered in semen. There's a lot of shots of people and demons getting ripped in half and stuff. Satan's in this, and he's got big tiddies.

It's a weird show because there's a weird undercurrent to some of the scenes, like, maybe media ultraviolence leads to demonic behavior? But the show gleefully indulges in that same ultraviolence. This could be incoherent, but it comes off to me more as a complex interrogation. Given that a major recurring theme is humans using the existence of demons as a pretext for ethno-nationalist pogroms, I don't think the show's ideology can be mapped so easily to a black and white moral framework.

Devilman Crybaby doesn't have any easy answers and I'm still working through my own thoughts on it. Hell, I tried doing some audio recording on it but it ended up probably too raw to publish. It's not for the faint of heart, but I'd put it without hesitation besides such giants as Evangelion and Utena as an essential classic of Anime, and a genuinely important work for our current era.



Steamed Hams Memes

You know what? They were good. People got really creative, and it really demonstrated how formally interesting and entertaining this sorta remix variations-on-a-theme thing can be. Was that really this year? It was. Wow. I feel about a thousand years old. 2018 sucked so much, and I am so tired. Steamed Hams remixes were good though.



Hunter x Hunter

A lot of what I have to say about Hunter x Hunter is basically parallel to stuff I said about Utena in part 1: encountering it for the first time finally, queer characters, community analyzing things alongside me, it's good. I didn't have a graceful way of cramming this into my section on Utena though so I guess it's getting its own bit.

Really it deserves it because there are specific things about HxH that deserve their own explication. The final arc of the anime, for example: the (alleged) main character of the comic Gon Freecss is in a coma having used some pretty cursed power to get revenge on one of the villains of the previous arc. His boyfriend "best friend" Killua Zoldyck returns home to his shitty abusive family of assassins to retrieve his sister, who happens to share a body with a powerful wish-granting entity. Oh, his sister is also transgender. The Zoldycks, Killua excepted, are predictably pretty awful to her. Bunch of ZolDICKS if you ask me. Got 'em! Meanwhile, the main character's also-quite-shitty deadbeat dad is caught up in a political squabble with global implications, and a ton of characters from the whole of the series pop in and out of the narrative.

The result is an incredible twelve episode run that on the surface is about shonen bullshit but at heart is about damaged, neglected, abused, queer kids finding ways to help each other move out of the shadow of their broken families and communities. I mean really, this is not me reading into things, Alluka is literally textually gendered as male by the entirety of her family besides her actually good older brother, who goes out of his way to aggressively correct people who misgender her. Like. The possible relationship between Gon and Killua might be subtextual. Alluka's transgender nature is not.

I won't spoil the conclusion (or the circumstances of what I consider the most satisfying uppercut in the history of Anime), but that canonical, textual nature is important because of the themes of Alluka and Killua's shared arc. Ultimately the narrative emphasizes the need to respect Alluka's identity in its totality, even the strange, challenging, or scary bits. It's one of the most moving and beautiful queer narratives I've seen. Alluka and Killua are my desktop background right now. I bought the volume of the manga with their story in it. Listen. I have a lot of feelings about the queer solidarity of the Only Two Good Members of the Zoldyck Family. 

Anyway watching the show NOW worked out for me because I finished right around the time that mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi emerged from one of his lengthy hiatuses to publish more chapters of the actual manga. And wow what chapters they were. Hunter x Hunter is a fascinating series because it tends to start arcs with a fairly straightforward shonen setup, and then, as the aims of various characters collide and shift, finishes arcs in a completely bizarre, unexpected place. We're well into the weeds on the current "Dark Continent Expedition Arc", having started with the premise of the titular expedition, and ended up in this rapidly more and more confusing succession crisis between a bunch of royals on the giant expedition yacht who are using weird monsters that reflect the nature of their soul to kill each other. Watching the plot unfold in real time has been fascinating, one of the best serial narrative experiences I've had in a while. It reminds me of the Upd8 Culture of Homestuck, when each new piece of information was scrutinized for clues as to just where this wild ride was taking us.

Togashi has a history of health problems and stress related issues stemming from the brutal sweatshop conditions of manga and anime production, so currently HxH is back on hiatus again. That's fine; I'd rather Togashi live to finish the series, frankly, than to have an unending stream of new content. Between the power of the final arcs of the anime, and the intrigue of the ongoing serial story, I'm on board for this ride, no matter how long it takes.



Kathe Kollwitz Prints

Having blown off all my other responsibilities and attained codeine, I was in a good position in the last month before I left Toronto and Murnau Haus to see some art. I spent several days at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, both of which had some great shows. In particular I want to shout out the ROM's "Biodiversity: Life In Crisis" show, which presents all the incredible multitude of amazing, unique animals in the world, and how we're making them all die. It's an incredible mix of beautiful and depressing and well worth seeing.

The real standout for me, though, was the AGO's current exhibit of Kathe Kollwitz prints. I've made use of Kollwitz before, appropriating her narrative series of Peasant Revolt prints to talk about Snowpiercer, Splendor and Misery, and the end of the world. Clearly, I already had some fondness for Kollwitz.

Holy shit I was not prepared for seeing her prints in person, though.

The thing about internet reproductions is that they lose a LOT of data. Leave aside the size of the reproduction or the quality of the scan and how much it erases detail through bad contrast or color configuration, and just consider the simple dot count. A 300 dot per inch print in a book has 4^2 times the information a similarly sized image on a computer screen does, because of the standard 72 pixel per inch resolution of screens. A 600 dpi print has 8^2x the information. Compared to the physical media of the original etching, woodcut, or lithograph, even more information is lost.

This might seem insignificant but when you're talking about a printer as subtle as Kollwitz it really, truly does make a difference. There's an incredible delicacy to her work, even when she's portraying images of war, crushing poverty, famine, oppression, and death. Images of the specter of Death which in digital reproduction turn into vague grey mush have, in person, a horrible spectral tangibility, at once a thing of expressionistic shadow and horrible, uncanny physical weight and presence. But there is also, in her works, an incredible humanistic subtlety, an interest in the nuances of human posture and expression, particularly the posture and expression of ordinary working people in all their solidarity and strength and grief and exhaustion. It was incredible, and deeply inspirational, a reminder of why I care about making art and studying art history.

The image I keep coming back to, one that encapsulates so much of Kollwitz's craft, was a piece made late in her life, part of a whole series on Death in various guises. Kollwitz created numerous self portraits during her long life, and she is immediately recognizable in the image, her shoulder tapped by a subtly spectral hand reaching from beyond the picture frame. Kollwitz draws herself starting in surprise at the touch, but in the way one startles from deep thought at the unexpected touch of an expected presence, a friend or family member. What for a lesser artist might be overwrought or self-aggrandizing is, for Kollwitz, simply a small, human moment, the artist and her old, familiar subject.

Hey, in 2019, go see some art! Art, is good.



High as Hope

Florence + The Machine's new album is a fragile, strained affair, more down to earth than previous works, about struggling to stay grounded, recovering from trauma personal and generational and societal, and trying to pick through the shards of broken relationships. I like to listen to it, and feel gay, and like a girl. The album opens with a description of a crumbling world and "heavy days in June/when love became an act of defiance" which sure is a mood for this year, in which it's felt very difficult to be gay, and a girl. The album ends with an acknowledgement of its own limitations, the difficulty of expressing simple, ephemeral happiness, the momentary putting down of burdens.

In between there's a song about having a big empty space that might never be filled, which is both very emotionally profound, and also feels a bit like a dirty joke. The video is mesmerizing, apparently inspired by one of Goya's black paintings, which is nice because it twists the subjectivity from the male viewer to the desires of the witches themselves. High as Hope does a good job of expressing the subjectivity of queer witches--the hurt that we suffer and inflict and the possibility of recovery and connection.

And if tomorrow it's all over
At least we had it for a moment


On to 2019, let's hope it's a little less wretched. If you got exposed to something you liked as a result of these articles, shout out in the comments here or on Patreon. I'm often too exhausted to reply but I do read whatever people send me.

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