One Piece- An Analytical Dive Into Big Mom’s Backstory

One thing we often forget while following the adventures of the Straw Hat Pirates is that the world of One Piece is a very dark place. A government oozing with corruption, a class of nobles that is above all laws, and political conspiracies at every turn are just a few of the harsh elements that bring Oda’s world to life. Although definitely a major aspect of the central narrative, these world-building elements most often flourish in character backstory flashbacks. This in turn, makes them one of my favorite elements of the series.

With this in mind, you can understand my immense excitement when arriving at the cliffhanger that would begin Big Mom’s backstory sub-arc. Due to a combination of a suddenly busy schedule and the newfound knowledge that this story would only last two chapters, I decided to hold off for a double review. Since these chapters are so dense, I will only be addressing important details, as opposed to the typical complete breakdown.

Enough dilly dallying, let’s dive right into Big Mom’s backstory.

 

Chapter 866:

An immediately noticeable element of intrigue regarding Big Mom is that she is, contrary to popular theory, not a giant. Linlin may be unique in size and strength, but through her parental abandonment, we learn she is human. Although this abnormality may lead to some speculation in the theory community, I doubt it will be addressed by Oda any further. In a world with fishmen, various long-limb tribes, and anthropomorphic animal people, it isn’t too farfetched that an outrageously large, non-giant human would be born.

Just because Big Mom is confirmed not to be a giant doesn’t mean the giant race isn’t major importance in this sub-arc. We learn Mother Caramel, a woman supposedly dedicated to her religion, plays a direct role in the modern history of Elbaf. You see, after Brogy and Dorry began the battle that would come to serve as the catalyst for the Little Garden Arc, the Giant Warrior pirates were left without a captain. This void led to reckless pirating, which, in turn, led to their capture by the Marines. As the crew was about to be executed at Marineford, Mother Caramel arrived, stepping in to their defense. Long story short, she became a hero amongst the giants, and was given refuge in Elbaf. There, she began her orphanage, The Lamb’s House (named with clever foreshadowing from Oda *COUGH COUGH* LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER *COUGH COUGH*).

Oda didn’t just simply use Elbaf as the setting for this arc for the sake of reader familiarity. He took full advantage of this location by integrating every single giant character we’ve met thus far (aside from the hands-down best, Jaguar D. Saul) into this sub-arc. Our favorite giants from Little Garden, Enies Lobby, and Marineford either make cameos, or are referenced in dialogue. Even Hajrudin, who, as a reminder, is currently a division captain in the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, shows up as a child.

The last essential point of discussion for this particular chapter is the variety of the orphans. It seems almost all of children living in the Lamb’s House represent victims of different dark corners of the One Piece world. Political chaos and poverty induced slavery are just two emphasized examples.  This only adds to the unsettling nature of this sub-arc, and sets the tone for the chapter to come.

 

Chapter 867:

Before moving forward, I have some very strong general opinions on Chapter 867 that need to be addressed. This was by far the most disturbing chapter of One Piece in recent memory. After my initial, edge-of-my-seat readthrough, I was left with a gnawing lump in my chest for the remainder of the day. The sheer potency of this chapter is not something to be downplayed; Oda deserves a damn medal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took inspiration from Junji Ito when sitting down to write. His genius textual attack comes in two waves- the Mother Caramel reveal and the shocking ending.

Mother Caramel, the kind religious woman who takes in orphaned children, is not what she seems. Bringing a dark truth of the One Piece world back into the limelight, we learn that she is in fact an infamous child slaver. Every two years, she sells one of the orphans to the Celestial Dragons or the Marines. This practice doesn’t raise any suspicion, as she publicly pretends that these children were “finally adopted!” This explains the unconditional love she showed Linlin; the child was set to be her biggest sale yet.

The only confusing aspect of this reveal is who she was speaking to when it took place. In direct conversation with a CP agent, she has to defend her slaver actions. I am very confused by this dynamic, as one of the main objectives of the CP units are to cater to the whims of the Celestial Dragons (who make up the majority of slave masters in the One Piece world).

Regardless of this minor contradiction, Oda does a flawless job of writing Mother Caramel as an absolutely despicable character. Spending months building her up as a figure of kindness and compassion in Big Mom’s life, only to reveal her as a pure evil, real-world monster makes the punch all the more devastating. She reminds me of a more two-faced version of Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The dramatic irony of this situation is that, to this day, Big Mom still has no idea about Mother Caramel’s true nature. She continues to base the model of her entire pirate empire after the facade Caramel displayed. This helps us to develop a bit more sympathy towards Big Mom, which was probably one of Oda’s main intents when writing this backstory.

As if the chapter wasn’t perturbing enough, the closure of this sub-arc was downright nauseating. Big Mom’s days as a free child are numbered as her sixth birthday arrives. Keeping up the facade, Mother Caramel holds a birthday party for Linlin. All of the orphans are gathered to celebrate with a croquembouche feast (a clever throwback to the early chapters of this arc). Big Mom’s love for the food brings her into an eating frenzy. She loses all awareness of her surroundings as she monstrously devours the massive platter. After she finishes eating and confesses to getting overexcited, she finds Mother Caramel and the rest of the orphans are gone. Big Mom looks around for a while, but all of her friends are nowhere to be found.  

That’s right, she committed accidental cannibalism and ate all of her companions. Despite disturbing plot elements being commonly sprinkled throughout the series, this is a new level for Oda. This is the first time One Piece has made me outright scared. This fear is welcomed; we finally understand the true threat that Big Mom poses. When she loses control, there is no telling the atrocities she is capable of committing. If the members of her massive crew know this, it adds a whole new eerie contextualization to the entire arc. All of her subordinates that we’ve met, including commanders, must be living in constant fear.

With that, we are brought back into the current plot, as Big Mom completely loses composure in the face of the shattered Mother Caramel photo. Now that we understand Big Mom’s viscous potential, there is absolutely no way the assassination plan will succeed. There is no doubt in my mind that the Straw Hat/Fire Tank alliance will fail. This is actually great for the plot; their escape now becomes abundantly more interesting.

 

Conclusion:

Overall, the Big Mom flashback sub-arc was immensely satisfying. It stands strong in the company of the tragic backstories that play a pivotal part in making One Piece the series it is. Its brevity, disturbingness, and high level of fan service all work together to produce two masterful chapters. Successfully re-contextualizing the Whole Cake Island arc, this backstory added even more intensity to an already gripping climax.

Gurren Lagann- The Consequences of “Fighting the Power”

At its core, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a show about maturing as an individual and rebelling against oppression. Despite the equal importance and narrative intertwinement of these themes, today I will be focusing on the latter. More specifically, I will be looking at how, without the second half of the series, Gurren Lagann would not be remembered today.

Rebelling against oppressor is one of the oldest, and therefore, most used storytelling devices. After all, rebellion is a frequent and important element of real-world history. We saw revolution in the earliest human societies, and we still see it regularly throughout the world today. Further, it is so simple to garner support for a character when they are fighting against a tyrannical regime that is trying to put them down.

The first half of Gurren Lagann takes that narrative device and boils it down to its absolute pure essence. We are provided with one of the most clean-cut, smooth, and satisfying rebellion stories in fiction. There you have it, Simon and the rest of the Dai-Gurren Brigade defeated Lordgenome and the Beastmen forces, regaining control of the surface world. They had some tragic losses, but also made some new friends along the way. A young boy who started out as a non-confident, bullied antisocial in his underground village transformed into the man who led the rebellion to its victory. As most writers would put it, THE END.

What makes Gurren Lagann stand out from its contemporaries is that this “ending” is only the halfway point of the series. After a seven year timeskip, “act 2” begins with what I like to call the “political consequences arc.”

Historical rebellions aren’t as clean cut as most fictional works would have you believe. Revolution often comes with the desire for a new form of government, something that is immensely difficult to implement in a nation so accustomed to tyranny. Systems must be destroyed and rebuilt, citizens must be accounted for and entered into government programs, and all prior opposition must be dead or imprisoned to prevent regime reversal.

The second half of Gurren Lagann addresses all of these elements, and more. Simon and Rossiu, who occupy the two most prominent government leadership positions, are having an excruciatingly difficult time running their nation. Initiatives to move citizens from their underground villages back to the surface world are failing; they didn’t account for people wanting to remain in that oppressed lifestyle. They find out Viral, a high-ranking and unaccounted for member of the original oppressive regime, is working as a terrorist, undermining citizen relocation efforts.

When citizen dissatisfaction and political unrest begin to spread through the new capital, we see Rossiu, a rebellion hero and close friend to Simon, turn on him in a political move he believes is in the best interest of the nation.

All of this climaxes with the invasion of the anti-spiral forces. You see, it is revealed that the initial oppressive regime was present in the first place in order to prevent this external “nation” from invading. Simon must escape from political prison, gather his old rebellion friends (and even some former enemies), and fight against the invading anti-spiral.

Despite being presented through high-concept science fiction and dimensional shenanigans, the second half of Gurren Lagann is showing real-world consequences. Political turmoil, betrayal, and even foreign invasion in times of weakness are common elements of real post-revolution nations. Most fight against the tyrannical regime stories don’t dare tread these complicated waters, they are satisfying enough as it is.

The fact that Gurren Lagann takes a step beyond mere satisfaction, and addresses these logical consequences, is why it is still remembered as a masterpiece today.

Rapid Reviews- Alien: Covenant

Introduction:

Rapid Reviews is a new series I’m launching. Here, I will be covering films that I want to talk about, but don’t plan on writing in-depth analytical essays on. I will also include a final verdict section at the end of each review, so those who don’t feel like reading the whole post can gain an even quicker summary of my opinion (skip, worth seeing, and must see are the three verdicts I can assign). Anyway, enjoy the first of many rapid reviews to come. Who knows, one day I may expand to other mediums, but for now, I’m just sticking with movies.

Review:

Alien: Covenant serves as both the sequel to Prometheus and the second prequel to Alien. I consider myself to be somewhat of a fan of the Alien franchise, having really enjoyed the original, but not yet got around to watching Aliens. My opinions on Prometheus, however, can be best described with one point: I can’t seem to recall almost anything that happened in the entire movie.

Thankfully, Alien: Covenant doesn’t fall into the same forgettable trap. Combining the strongest elements from both Prometheus and the original Alien, Covenant serves as the bridging point between the two. Despite some major issues, I really enjoyed this entry into the legendary science fiction franchise.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as David, while also portraying a new character named Walter. Regardless of who he is in any given scene, Fassbender is the standout performance of this film; he’s worth the entire price of admission alone. However, when it boils down to the rest of the new cast, we are left with an undeveloped and generically bland horror ensemble.

What makes this movie stand out over its prequel predecessor is the villain, the identity of whom I will not spoil due to its implications in the Alien lore. Despite being an amoral and nefarious character, you find yourself rooting for him due to the sheer blandness of the protagonists. I found myself wanting his sinister plans to succeed, despite their horrible nature.

Aside from one standout performance and a tremendous villain, there isn’t really much to Alien: Covenant. At its core, the movie is a fun popcorn flick, and a solid entry into the classic sci-fi/horror saga. If you were disappointed by the lack of Xenomorphs in Prometheus, you will be immensely satisfied this time around.

Speaking of Prometheus, I would recommend giving it a re-watch before seeing Covenant, just as a refresher. It’s not absolutely necessary, but based on the amount of recap questions I had to ask my friend during and after the movie, It’s probably a good idea.

Final Verdict: Worth Seeing

One Piece: Chapter 865- Review

I want to start off by immediately addressing the elephant in the room. I apologize for the unannounced hiatus. I did not intend to cease posting for nearly a month. In the weeks since I arrived back in South Florida for the summer, I have been focusing my time and creative energy on both my fiction writing and professional endeavors. In this unexpectedly busy haze, I simply lost track of my gonzo journalism efforts. I promise I will go back to posting more frequently, at least once a week excluding One Piece chapter reviews.

With that out of the way, let’s jump right into this week’s chapter. Chapter 865 was an overall mixed bag for me. While there were some elements I absolutely loved, I do have some concerns that I plan on discussing in-depth. The main takeaway from the chapter was the cliffhanger, the implications of which I will inevitably address before this review is through.

The cover pages have always been one of my favorite components of the One Piece manga. I love how cleverly Oda uses a standard element of the medium that so many mangaka simply take for granted. He recently transitioned from fan requests back to traditional side-story arcs. This time around we are following the remaining captains of the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, and what each of their respective crews are up to. I find the potential in this cover story to be immense. We are dealing with intriguing characters that didn’t get the time they deserved in the immensely complex Dressrosa arc. Although I never really cared for Cavendish, the current subject, I look forward to the possibilities of cover pages to come. P.S- I don’t expect to see Bartolomeo in this cover story arc, due to his involvement back in Zou.

On to what you are all really here for, the main story. This chapter was heavily action based, which typically is not a problem. However, I was somewhat disappointed in the cluttered and disorienting action that Oda conveyed in this chapter. The smoothness and weighty impact that typically defines One Piece action was traded for a choppy, non-impactful, and hard to follow mess. I found myself constantly scrolling back up to make sure I understood what had just transpired. Panels didn’t flow into each other well, making the transition of focus between characters downright confusing. Although there isn’t any way to prove this hypothesis, I have a theory that Oda was heavily rushed on this chapter; it just doesn’t seem like him.

A problem I had with the previous chapter has become increasingly more evident this week. Judge is acting excruciatingly out of character. For a supposed genius scientist and power-hungry dictator, he is behaving awfully cowardly and unintelligently. I’m having a hard time telling if this is supposed to be comedic, or if I’m just dealing with bad writing. Even if he is being played for laughs, the fact that I am not sure whether this is the case shows poor character writing regardless. Obviously I’m nitpicking here; Oda is one of the greatest writers of all time. It’s just this particular instance that perplexes and disappoints me.

One element of recent plot progression that actually surprises me is how smoothly the Straw Hat/Fire Tank alliance plan is running. Obviously there have been some serious bumps along the way, but for a Yonko assassination plot I thought was for sure dead on arrival, I am pleasantly surprised. Obviously there is still room for the plan to fall apart (throwback to the Battle of Marineford), but, for the sake of the characters, I really hope it doesn’t. If we do end up taking the Marineford route, Jinbe is screwed.

I promised I’d circle back to the cliffhanger, and here we are. The final three panels of this chapter comprised one of the most simultaneously satisfying and frustrating cliffhangers in recent memory. We are finally getting a Big Mom/Mother Caramel flashback sub-arc, and much sooner than I expected! I was also correct about Big Mom’s ties to Elbaf; it seems this is where she and Mother Caramel are from. We are going back to the past people, 63 years ago in Elbaf to be exact. As someone whose favorite element of One Piece is the flashback sub-arcs, I got literal chills absorbing these finishing panels. The reason I bring the word frustration into play is because of how pissed off I am that I have to wait almost a week for the next chapter; I WANT IT NOW!

As I said earlier, this chapter definitely gave me mixed feelings. Despite choppy and confusing action coupled with strange characterization choices, the cliffhanger nearly redeemed my reading experience. I can’t wait to see what Oda has in store for us over the next few weeks, and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you all only amplifies my excitement.

WUFT- UF Chabad Jewish Center Hosts State’s Largest Passover Seders

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 4/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/04/10/uf-chabad-jewish-center-hosts-states-largest-passover-seders/

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida will host the largest Passover Seders in Florida this week.

Both of the Seders are open to the public and free of charge with an online RSVP and are occurring Monday and Tuesday nights.

The Passover Seder is a ceremony held on the first two nights of the eight day holiday. The traditional Jewish holiday celebrates through prayer, symbolic acts and traditions with the two halves of the night divided by a meal.

Aron Notik, one of the center’s two rabbis, said although it is hard to tell exactly how many people will attend beforehand, it is safe to say these Seders are the largest in Florida.

Berl Goldman, Notik’s co-rabbi, said no one has been able to prove that they aren’t the largest in the United States.

He said the majority of the first night turnout will be comprised of University of Florida students, while the second Seder will bring in a more varied population from the community.

Both Rabbis said they are set to receive roughly 700 guests the first night, followed by around 400 on the second.

“That’s past 1,000 just for the Seders alone,” Goldman said.

Notik said he attributes this turnout to the inconvenient timing of the holiday this year. Both Seders are on weeknights two weeks before UF’s final exams, making it difficult for students to return home to spend the holiday with their families.

“Everyone here is away from home,” Notik said. “If our students lived within an hour away from home, we’d have no one.”

photo 5
The Seder plate is a dish filled with symbolic items to help facilitate the Passover Seder. More than 1,000 guests will use plates identical to the one pictured over the course of Monday and Tuesday. 

That is why Alexis Burton said she will be spending her Seders with the Chabad.

“It’s too close to finals to go home,” the UF senior said.

Although she said she has been regularly attending services at the Jewish center since August 2016, this will be her first Seder with the synagogue.

As the Chabad provides kosher-for-Passover lunches and dinners for the remaining six days of the holiday, the synagogue is preparing roughly 2,500 meals.

“It takes an army to do what we’re doing,” Goldman said.

photo 4.jpg
Volunteers help set tables for the Chabad’s Seders. More than 50 volunteers have offered their services throughout the past week.

Volunteers from both the university and the Gainesville community have been a comfort and inspiration to Goldman and Notik.

Mazal Fernandez, a regular Chabad attendee, is one of these helpers.

“It’s very humbling to be part of something really big,” she said.

Fernandez said she saw the unprecedented amount of reservations, and decided to help by unpacking food and decorating.

“You need people to come here and bring it to life.”

In order to support the time and resources needed to host Seders of this scale, Goldman and Notik organized a phonathon and online donation pool, both of which will be active through the end of the holiday.

As of Monday, they are roughly two-thirds of the way toward their goal of raising $76,000.

“It relieves some of the financial pressure,” Goldman said.

photo 6.jpg
Rabbi Goldman facilitates the burning of chametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, outside of his synagogue. In order to hold a legitimate Passover Seder, none of this food can be on the premises.

Both rabbis said they have seen the challenges that Seders of this scale pose.

“It’s hard for a large crowd to follow a 15 step process,” Notik said.

In order to partially combat such difficulties, they are hiring captains for each table. These volunteers will help their respective tables keep up with the main Seder, which will be conducted by the rabbis.

“It will help us do the Seder more efficiently,” Goldman said.

Both Notik and Goldman said, regardless of affiliation level or reservation, no one will be turned down at their Seders.

“You’re Jewish, it’s Passover, come and experience the Seder,” Notik said.

Attack on Titan and the Avatar Effect

Note: At the time of writing this analysis, I have not yet watched the premiere of season 2.

The second season of Attack on Titan is finally upon us. Although there are plenty of diehard fans donning their scout regiment hoodies and celebrating, the common consensus is a pungent apathy. A second season that would have been welcomed with open arms just three years prior is now faced with an overwhelming wave of indifference. I call this the Avatar effect.

In late 2009, James Cameron released a film that many at the time considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made (including myself). Avatar was treated to critical and box office success, working its way up as the highest grossing film in the history of the medium. When Avatar 2 was announced, fans and the general population alike were ecstatic. Years have passed, and here we are without a sequel. Walt Disney World, however, wanted to cash in on the Avatar mania, and is finally opening Pandora- The World of Avatar later this spring. The problem is that this mania that Disney is trying to take advantage of no longer exists. If they wanted to cash in on a craze, they needed to do so in the small amount of time that the phenomenon would have still been prominent. I probably can’t find you a single person out there now who is taking the trip to Disney World for the opening day of this sub-park.

Attack on Titan had its “mania” period from the second half of 2013 through nearly all of 2014. Hell, Attack on Titan stars were still being featured as guests of honor at conventions well into 2015. There was plenty of wiggle room for Production I.G to get themselves in gear and pump out a second season. Whatever the reason for the delay may have been, here we are, nearly halfway through 2017, and we are finally getting this sequel season. Yet the remaining fans are still wondering why nobody is excited?

You may be asking yourself, if something is a timeless classic, then why would it matter if it took so long to get a sequel, everyone would still be excited, right? Here in lies the issue with Attack on Titan. It is entry level shlock trying to disguise itself as a masterpiece.

I first watched the show in January of 2014, a time in my life where my interest in anime, manga, and otaku culture in general was virtually non-existent. I had been a diehard fan of Naruto for most of my life prior, but even my love for that manga had died out almost a year before. This was also at the height of my tumblrcore phase, where colossal titan and scout regiment memes ran rampant through the site.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I fell in love with Attack on Titan upon my first viewing. I was enamored with an animated work that felt as mature and sophisticated as most of the adult television I was consuming at the time. There was this sense of mystery and intrigue, all presented through gorgeous animation and crisp action.

I considered Attack on Titan to be one of my favorite shows for a large portion of 2014. I bought all of the merch I could get my hands on, spent hours in line waiting to meet voice actors from the english dub of the show at conventions, and posted about the series constantly on Tumblr. I did not, however, take the leap into further anime consumption.

Then my friend showed me Mekakucity Actors. Then I watched Kill la Kill, immediately followed by Madoka Magica. By the time I had watched Gurren Lagann, constructed my MyAnimeList account, and eventually quit Tumblr altogether, that initial anime about kids killing monsters was just a speck in the back of my mind. Still, whether it be out of stubbornness, or sheer denial, I continued to claim it was a masterpiece.

It was not until around mid-2015 that this claim came back to haunt me. After all of my praise, my friend Zack finally decided to give the show a watch himself. Note: At this time, he had also seen the slew of classics I listed above. Zack could not get through a single episode without either zoning out or falling asleep. The show was just boring to him, plain and simple. He did end up finishing it, but only under my excruciating insistence that it got better as it progressed. He did not agree with this sentiment.

It was at this point that I decided to read the manga that the show is based upon. I not only started from the beginning, but surpassed the season 1 content, chugging through what will probably account for all of season 2 and an early chunk of season 3. With atrocious art, bland and non-differentiable characters, and a story that never goes anywhere, it was one of the worst manga I had read to date (and I’ve read a substantial portion of Bleach). It was when I made the decision to drop this ghastly manga that everything came together for me.

The Attack on Titan anime is, to put it quite simply, not very good. However, I can’t deny that it is astoundingly smart. Production I.G knew exactly what strings to pull to craft the perfect entry level anime. In other words, AoT is the metaphorical gateway drug into otakudom. Once you work your way up to LSD and cocaine, do you really see your self regressing back to cheap marijuana? With its gorgeous animation, attractive character designs, and mystery-centric story, it is bound to draw in many on a base level of appeal. However, once you consume other anime that share in all of those properties, but actually execute them masterfully, there is really no point to Attack on Titan. When you can watch Mekakucity Actors, a show with stellar animation, unique and memorable characters, and an intriguing mystery that actually progresses and resolves, why would you bother with the exact opposite?

Avatar drew in such a mammoth crowd with its groundbreaking visual effects and allegorical story. Then you watch Dances with Wolves. Then you watch Princess Mononoke. These are two films that take the same premise as Avatar, but handle it masterfully. What is the point of going back to a bland and uninteresting version of an intriguing premise, when you can consume masterpieces that apply that very same idea?

My autographed poster of Eren Yeager, signed by dub voice actor Bryce Papenbrook, now sits in the recesses of my closet, collecting dust.

I will be watching the new season of Attack on Titan. Who knows, I may end up writing some pieces about it if I have anything interesting to say. The point is, I hope I helped current diehard fans understand why there is virtually no hype around their anticipated sequel season, and why there will be nowhere near as large of a community to share in their enthusiasm this time around.

How I Will Be Covering Rick and Morty Season 3

If you are currently unaware, Adult Swim hosted an April Fool’s Day stream in which they looped the long-anticipated season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty. Although we will tragically have to wait until summer for the remaining nine episodes, I thought now would be an appropriate time to discuss how I will be covering the upcoming season.

If you remember back to late summer/early fall of 2015, when season 2 was in its prime, I was writing weekly episode reviews. Similar in style to my current One Piece chapter reviews, I would analyze the episode, and speculate its implications on the overall narrative.

For season 3, we are going to be doing something a tad bit different. I will still be covering each episode, conducting the same thorough analysis. It is the medium, however, that will change.

Over on my YouTube channel (the link to which you can find under the YouTube Channel section of this blog), my friend Zack (123zc1) and I have been podcasting for almost an entire year. Our main show is The Two Fine-Looking Brothers Podcast, in which we discuss whatever we wish to on our own schedule. When RWBY Volume 4 debuted, I was working in Washington, D.C. I would not have had the time to write weekly episode reviews. In order to still cover the show, I decided to create a spinoff podcast titled The Fine-Looking Brothers Talk RWBY. Along with our friend Alberto, Zack and I covered each episode with the same level of detail and care I would have used in my text reviews. This podcast blew up in a sense, quickly becoming my most popular creative product to date.

In order to fill the void on my YouTube channel that the RWBY hiatus has created, we have decided to start a spiritual successor podcast. That’s right, The Fine-Looking Brothers Talk Rick and Morty is on its way! In other words, I will still be sharing my opinions on a weekly basis, just not on this blog. If you’re sick of hearing just what I have to say, the opinions of my co-hosts Zack and Alberto should tide you over. Feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel in order to ensure you don’t miss an episode.

The premiere podcast on S3, E1 will be uploaded this week, while the rest of the series will coincide with the airing of the remaining episodes this summer. I hope you all enjoy this change of pace, and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Spirited Away is a Reality Show

As someone who grew up with Spirited Away, and hails it as a flawless masterpiece, naturally I am obsessed with getting other people into the film. Throughout my execution of this mission, I have noticed one common thread: everyone feels that the ending was anticlimactic. At first, I just dismissed my inability to see this problem as mere childhood bias. After all, I had seen the movie so many times that I have probably become desensitized to any flaws it may have.

However, after seeing the movie on the big screen with my roommate while living in D.C., something finally clicked. My roommate loved the film, up until the ending, as most seem to do. However, he explained his issue not just as one of anticlimacticness, but of a lack of payoff. He saw the driving force of the movie as Chihiro’s mission to return her parents to human form and return to the mortal world. If you did have to give the movie a simple synopsis for the sake of a magazine review or IMDB page, that is essentially what should be said. However, I also believe there is a huge misconception based on that very synopsis.

Spirited Away is not an epic fantasy story; it is a reality show. The fantasy adventure premise is merely a vehicle to transport you to a world. Once you are settled in this world, the movie is not about this central conflict. It is about Chihiro, a young immature girl, learning to adapt to a new environment, and mature into a responsible and strong individual.

It is, for this very reason, that the plot of saving her parents is somewhat abandoned for the second and third acts of the film, only to be quickly resolved in the last five minutes. The movie is not about that story, it is about a story of personal growth in a unique setting. But the conflict did get you invested in Chihiro and the characters that inhabit this world, didn’t it?

Reality shows are about people’s lives, individuals adapting to new situations and dealing with their own personal growth. Although person vs. person conflicts are present, they are often artificially inserted to get you more invested. Sound familiar? Hayao Miyazaki inserted an almost artificial fantasy conflict to get you into your seat, and then pushed it to the side to make room for the real Spirited Away.

It is also for this reason that there is no central antagonist in the story. Yubaba, the witchy owner of the bath house, may seem like an obvious candidate to point fingers at. Those assumptions would be misguided. What did Yubaba ever do to harm our protagonist? Yubaba didn’t turn Chihiro’s parents into pigs, her parents did that out of their own selfishness. Yubaba didn’t refuse to give Chihiro her parent’s back. Chihiro never asked for that directly, Haku told her to just ask for a job in the bath house instead. Rather than simply turning Chihiro into an animal, she decided to allow her to work. Yubaba was just a greedy, but overall redeemable person, using a bad situation to profit. Despite being a spirit, she was just being human.

That’s the core of Spirited Away to me, a story about people. Through Chihiro’s eyes, it’s a peak into a world that has been static for a long time, and will continue to be static after she leaves. Chihiro isn’t some epic fantasy heroine that is going to change the status quo of some fantasy world. She’s just a girl, thrown into a rough situation and learning to mature from it. Spirited Away is not a fantasy adventure, but a reality show peering into a fantasy world through the eyes of an outsider.

How Moana Messed Me Up

When I think about movies I want to see in theaters, I place them in one of three categories. There’s the top tier- movies I must see in theaters, maybe even opening night. Then comes middle tier- movies I would like to see in theaters, but will take my time to see. Finally, at the bottom tier comes movies I will see if invited or if bored with a friend.

Despite being a new Disney animated feature, Moana fell into the third tier for me. I really don’t know why it did, I’m usually the first one out the door when it comes to Disney Studios and Pixar films. I think it may have just been a sheer lack of someone to convince me to see it. The last day before my good friend Zack (go check out his YouTube channel 123zc1, it’s well worth your time) and I left for the semester, we had a few hours to kill. We made a last minute decision to finally see Moana, and boy was that decision well made.

Moana is not the best Disney film by any means. Movies like The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame take that position. However, it is by far the one I’ve personally connected with the most, making it my hands down favorite. I can definitely say that Zack felt very similarly, but at a stronger level, as he was crying throughout most of the movie.

I’m entering a crossroads in my life that has put me in existential disarray. I will be graduating college, and entering the “real world” this year. I know that I will have to get a 9-5 job, and probably live with my parents until I can save up enough to leave Florida. Although not thrilled, I have come to terms with this seemingly inevitable future. This is the path for someone with a passion that does not lead directly to a sustainable career. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a driving passion in my life. Since a very young age, I have always wanted to be an author. Writing fictional stories is my calling. My characters live in my mind like real friends and family, becoming fully realized even before they are put to paper. Having written my first novel last year, I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing more thrilling and satisfying then acting upon your passion.

I can’t talk about the experience of seeing Moana at this time in my life without talking about the accompanying short film. Inner Workings follows the story of a man who is living the exact path I face. The moral of the short is that you have to include little things in your 9-5 office life that make you happy, or else you’ll be miserable. However, I’ve had some influences in my life over the past year that have made this short mean a bit more to me. The Pro Crastinators are a group of YouTube content creators that have served as my main creative influence and entertainment source over the past year or so. Each member serves as a shining beacon of success from abandoning the normal path, and focusing their entire lives on their creative passions. Whether it be anime analysis, writing/drawing comics, or documenting their slow path towards insanity on video, they have embraced their true purpose, and abandoned their ties to the typical life structure that society enforces. In other words, they are a very hedonistic, but intelligent bunch. They would take Inner Workings, and throw it in the trash. I can’t say whether the Pro Crastinators are the angel or the devil on my shoulder. What I can say is that Inner Workings falls right alongside with the ideals of my parents, grandparents, and mentors/advisors, who all believe that a stable 9-5 job is the way to go. Just add a few small things that give you joy and you’re good to go.

If Inner Workings represents the ideals of my family, Moana is the mindset of the Pro Crastintors. The very meaning behind the entire plot of the film is to ignore what society deems to be the correct life path, and follow the passion you have in your heart. Moana has a deep-seated desire to explore the ocean. However, her entire family and village swears by never leaving the island they inhabit, and fulfilling the traditional life path that they have all taken. The only human character who encourages Moana to act on her passion is her grandmother. Gramma Tala is to Moana what Jesse Wood is to me: the voice on one of my shoulders telling me to screw society and follow my passion for writing fiction. While the ocean in the film is a literal entity that calls to Moana from inside her heart, it is clearly symbolic of her internal passion.

I would like you to read the following lyrics. They are to one of the climatic songs of the film, I Am Moana. The first stanza is the ghost of Moana’s grandmother singing to her (I believe this ghost not to literally be present, but in her head). The second stanza is of Moana herself responding. I believe these words perfectly reflect the entire point of Moana as a work of art, and hope you agree:

 

I know a girl from an island

She stands apart from the crowd

She loves the sea and her people

She makes her whole family proud

Sometimes the world seems against you

The journey may leave a scar

But scars can heal and reveal just

Where you are

The people you love will change you

The things you have learned will guide you

And nothing on earth can silence

The quiet voice still inside you

And when that voice starts to whisper

Moana, you’ve come so far

Moana, listen

Do you know who you are?

 

Who am I?

I am a girl who loves my island

I’m the girl who loves the sea

It calls me

I am the daughter of the village chief

We are descended from voyagers

Who found their way across the world

They call me

I’ve delivered us to where we are

I have journeyed farther

I am everything I’ve learned and more

Still it calls me

And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me

It’s like the tide; always falling and rising

I will carry you here in my heart you’ll remind me

That come what may

I know the way

I am Moana!

 

I just need to replace all the specifics of the lyrics with things about me, and this song becomes about me. That’s the beauty of Moana as a piece of cinema. The film is made for self insert; you can’t help yourself but look at everything metaphorically. You can replace the plot elements, setting, specific passions, and characters with things that apply to you, and the story still works. Moana is the story of a girl following the voice inside her heart, and embracing her true passion. That’s the most inspiring thing imaginable to me, and that’s why this movie messed me up.