Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Fall From Grace

This post is the third of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through six, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

Coming up with titles for these posts is often a challenge. Every now and then, there will be a title which just jumps out at me and I know it’s a perfect fit right away. Most of the other times, I tell myself to just think of something later and by the time I’m done typing, I’m so tired that I just stuff the first thing I think of in there. This post is sort of neither; I knew right after episode 7 what central idea I wanted to talk about in the post, but at the same time, the title was sort of the first thing that came to mind. The idea behind the fall from grace seems like a natural follow-up to the way we left things last week. The characters had been flying high, and it seemed like internal tensions and inter-character conflicts would be the order of business for the rest of the series. As we will see in a moment, tensions between the characters persist, but the conflict is mostly coming from within the characters themselves. As any fan of drama can tell you, that tends by the most delicious kind – not that I’m salivating at any of the characters misery, or anything.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Regretting Miracles

This post is the second of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through three, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

One aspect of this series that continues to intrigue me is the Faustian deals that the contracts turn out to be. There is something very human about wanting something so badly that you’d consider taking a deal that is not in your favor, not only in known ways, but possibly also in unknown ways. It’s easy enough to empathize with; I’m sure we’ve all had things that we wanted  badly enough to consider taking disproportionately risky gambles on. However, in both fiction and real life, it’s rare to see though gambles not come back to haunt the gambler. In the case of the contract that the girls make with Kyubey, I can see the allure. The contract is fixed in terms of what Kyubey’s demands are – it demands your life, regardless of what you want in return for surrendering that life. In fact, it’s not even really asking for your life directly; a sufficiently skilled fighter might be able to maintain a respectable life expectancy as long as they don’t get cocky or slip up. So, in exchange for simply risking your life, the girls can have anything their heart desires – it doesn’t seem like that bad a deal on the surface of it.

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Introduction

This post is the first of five covering the series ‘Puella Magi Madoka Magica’. It contains spoilers for episodes one through three, with some speculation for episodes beyond that.

This series has been on my watchlist for a long, long while – in fact, right after I finished Fate/Zero a lifetime ago, I thought long and hard about what series to go for next. I ended up picking Neon Genesis Evangelion because I felt that it would be good to go for something a little more classic but there was a strong case to be made for Madoka as well. Maybe it would have been a little too much Urobuchi at a stretch, or maybe I would have been better able to articulate the similar themes that Madoka and Fate/Zero share, but I’m glad I watched Evangelion regardless, if only to understand the history of the genre a little better. By way of introduction, I’ll start by explaining how much (or how little) I know about the series going in. I had heard that the art style and the general ‘cutesy-ness’ of the setting was a put off to many people and I had been told in no uncertain terms that I needed to watch at least the first three episodes before making a decision on whether or not the show was for me. I’m glad I watched the first three episodes; though I think by the end of the second episode I was quite sure the series would be an interesting one. Given my past experience with Gen Urobuchi’s work, I don’t expect any of the characters to end the series unambiguously better off. I expect the characters to suffer – and not always for any particular reason – but I also expect some kind of exploration of the human condition, whether in terms of the search for happiness or purpose, or in terms of trying to understand their role in society. This means I’m going to have to reconcile the optimism of the series’ setting – a normal, peaceful middle school – with the gloomy themes that the series will likely explore.  I don’t see this being a particular problem but it’s something that will need a bit of getting used to.

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[Re-Read] A Storm of Swords – Tyrion II

This post has spoilers for George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, including fan theories and speculation. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.

Well, it’s been a while but it looks like the ‘Re-Reads’ part of Re-Reads and Reviews is back on the menu. I don’t intend to go on hiatus again but no promises right now, unfortunately, given how bonkers my schedule is right now. It took me a while to even remember where in the story we stopped, and then it took me a while to just familiarize myself with the story again; it’s not like I’ve forgotten anything but rather I needed to remember what I’ve already talked about and what I intended to mention in future posts. For we dive back in to this read-along, I should probably explain why there has been such a long gap between posts on A Song of Ice and Fire. Long story short, I was rather disheartened by the fact that we still don’t have The Winds of Winter. Yeah, yeah Martin isn’t our bitch, sure, message received – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been six years and the book is nowhere in sight. I guess I could finish this re-read project and move on – it’s not like there’s any shortage of things for me to cover – but when I first started this way back when, I sort of imagined that The Winds of Winter would be out by now and that was primary motivation in getting me to pump post after post out. Of course, back then I also had a mountain more time than I do now, which obviously helps as well, but when the key motivating factor disappeared, I turned my attention to other topics. The good thing is that when I decided to pick my books back up, thanks to Amazon, I had all my notes exactly where I left them – I don’t know if there is a way for us to share annotations with each other, but that could be a pretty cool idea for a community read through.

Coming back to this re-read project, I guess, if it’s not going to be in time for the release of The Winds of Winter, then at least it will get some buzz around the final season of Game of Thrones – to which I have foolishly read spoilers. I won’t spoil anything here of course, but be warned that as always, this re-read does have spoilers for the television series. The re-read last left off with us looking at the older Lannister boy as he began to the long, long journey to redemption. This post however, picks up on where we left Tyrion – he has recovered from the worst of the wounds that he experienced in the Battle of Blackwater Bay but there are psychological scars that are still plaguing him, though of course, we aren’t told this. Not a great happens in this chapter from a plot perspective, but a lot of Tyrion’s future misfortune is sown here. His unwillingness to set Shae aside, his inability to accept that he is no longer able to call shots, his insistence on staying in game that is looking like it has already been lost. As has always been the case with Tyrion, these decisions are understandable, if not logical, but they will come back to bite him nonetheless.

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[TV] Westworld – Tracing Decay

This post is a second attempt at discussing Westworld. The first can be found here. This post has full-season spoilers for the first season of Westworld

My previous piece on Westworld felt inadequate and I really should have seen that coming. In retrospect, it was pretty naive of me to assume that I could discuss everything I wanted to, while still studiously avoiding spoilers. The end result was that the last post ended up being half-hearted and incomplete. While I still stand by everything I said in it, the post offered little beyond simply identifying what the interesting elements of the show were. This week’s post is a return to Westworld, with the intention of setting those wrongs right.

In case you missed the by-line above, this post has spoilers. Not light, early-in-the-season spoilers – real spoilers, you know, the ones that can actually ruin your enjoyment of the show. Consider this fair warning, there won’t be a second.

The post is going to be structured into two halves, roughly speaking. In the first part, we’re going to talk about the surface level of show. That includes things like acting performances, special effects, story-telling techniques and plot construction. There will certainly be some level of overlap with what was mentioned last week, but I hope to add a lot more in terms of detail. The second half will deal more with ideas and themes – elements that I believe made Westworld a little more engaging and thought-provoking than your typical sci-fi thriller. I tend to be rather hit-or-miss when discussing abstract ideas, but I do find them interesting regardless, and hope you do too.

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[TV] Westworld – Violent Delights, Violent Ends

This post is going to be a little different from my usual posts. It isn’t an episode by episode run through nor is it really a review of the show in a traditional sense. It’s really more of a written response to the series after a weekend long marathon. To those of you not familiar with Westworld, don’t worry – I won’t be spoiling any major reveals, but as a result I won’t be going into much detail. Westworld takes place in a very special kind of Wild West themed amusement park populated with near sentient robots. The robots are subject to exactly the kinds of twisted abuse that humans would inflict on things that they would consider less than human. This is usually not an issue – the robots memories are wiped clean routinely and the humans can live out their sick fantasies without fear of repercussion. Things begin to change when Dolores, begins to malfunction and recall inconvenient memories of the park and the people that frequent it.

Broadly speaking, it is the interplay of two elements that drives the success of any story; its premise and the way that premise is explored. In most television series, immediate, short term viability is born out of the former while true longevity depends on the latter. Game of Thrones, for example, for all the intricacy of its setting would never have lasted this long without great writing and amazing performances. In some ways, Westworld works in exactly the opposite way. Even if it weren’t the third attempt at adapting a Michael Crichton novel, the core of Westworld‘s premise hasn’t aged particularly well. The blurry line separating human sentience from its robotic counterparts has been explored quite thoroughly in other works and the looming threat of a robotic uprising is a trope common enough to even be considered passé. That is not to say that the premise has nothing going for it – our relationship with technology is something that has only become more relevant in the time since the novel was published and and the atmosphere within the setting, with its quests and daily ‘resets’, is evocative of many video games. Having said that though, the series leans more heavily on its cast and its script than other series would in similar stages of their lifecycles.

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[TV] Game of Thrones – The Winds of Winter

season-6-tease

This post is the third  and final post covering the latest season of Game of Thrones. If spoilers, including material from the books and fan theories, aren’t your thing, you might not want to scroll down too much further down

Part 1: Queen’s Landing

Part 2: Cutting the Meereenese Knot

Merry Christmas! What better time to talk about Game of Thrones – specifically the advance of the icy White Walkers and the winter they are bringing – than the middle of our real world winter? This is the final post on Game of Thrones season 6, and it’ll be covering the storyline closest to audiences’ hearts – the Starks of Winterfell. Before we get any further, let’s be real for a second. This storyline was not perfect but got it the job done. I didn’t watch the season as it came out in real time but I remember the social media and Reddit hype; it seemed like people were genuinely enjoying the season and seemed to be keenly anticipating the next episode each week. In fact, the internet pretty much seemed to have a collective orgasm in the weeks that episodes 9 and 10 (‘Battle of the Bastards’ & ‘The Winds of Winter’) and its not hard to see why. Those episodes, along with some of the more explosive episodes in the season, were engineered precisely for those reactions. While I’m not taking anything away from the quality of those episodes – I think they showcased some great writing and directing – I think the real test of the season is to see how well it stands up on a second, or even third, viewing, when the explosions and plot twists have less of an effect. By those metrics I’d say Game of Thrones season 6 fares less well, and the story in the North, which was arguably the centrepiece of this season, is no exception. I don’t want this post to be all doom and gloom, though; I think for all its flaws and missed opportunities, this season and the Northern storyline, especially, has had some great moments and there’s plenty in it that has me excited to see where this story in particular goes next season as we finally approach the end of this long song.

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