A Story in Song

While talking to my friend Marie, she mentioned listening to a classic song with her mom and dancing around. She highly recommended this song, (“Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies) to me, and because I’m not one to turn down a song recommendation, I looked up the song on Youtube.

Marie’s taste in music is a little different than mine. I would say in general she’s more appreciative of the “classics” than I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it whenever she throws an older gem my way, and this time was no different. However, I made the terrible awful mistake of scrolling down into the comments, where I found this gem.

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And, unsurprisingly, I was peeved. My problems with people like this is one of the biggest reasons I’m not more into classic music. I’m no stranger to music elitists. One might call me one, to be honest. But as far as I’m concerned this commentor has never even heard a modern song before.

See, I’m a huge fan of music that tells stories. And, as a caveat, I should say, most songs tell a story. Even your cookie cutter radio hits tend to follow some sort of plot. I mean, just cherry picking from the current Billboard Top 100, the so-called scourge of music according to classics fans like this person, “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars tells a distinct story of the narrator wanting to shower their lover in luxury goods and experiences, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran recounts the singer’s physical attraction to their lover and tells the story of their first date as well as several sexual encounters… I mean, even the most vapid 2008 pop has some kind of story. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a clear story about the singer’s lifetime devotion to partying! To say modern songs don’t tell stories is ridiculous because all songs have to have some sort of story, or else they’re just incomprehensible gibberish.

But, okay, I’ll bite. Maybe what this commentor means is that no modern music tells such a romantic story as the one in “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”. And not romantic in the love, coupley, sense, but more along the lines of a novel put to song. And even then, this commentor is wrong, as I will prove today.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I really love lyrics. They’re probably my favorite aspect of music. Whenever I get into a song, I like to delve into the lyrics and discover their meanings and the story behind them. So, why not talk about some of my favorite musical stories? So, here we go, five songs that tell fascinating stories… true or not.

In Another Life – Vienna Teng

I’ve touched briefly on this song before in my Women in Music post, but I didn’t get to focus specifically on what it is that makes this song magical. Vienna Teng uses her usual theatrical style to tell the tale of two lovers over the course of many different lives. The song traces these two lovers through various points of history and through various occupations. I think the story is told just beautifully, with some really poignant images, and even though the song never directly states that the two subjects of the song are in love, it is clearly conveyed through the tiny details in the way they interact.

I love the tone of this song. It’s really disconnected, very objective. You get the feeling that although the singer of the song identifies themselves as living all of these very tragic lives, they are happy and distant enough from the tragedy to describe it objectively. Even when this song gets morbid, the narrator remains disconnected and simply describes the scenes.

And the subject matter of this song gets… well, really morbid. I mean, we go from mine shafts caving in to Tiananmen Square to stillborn children yet the same up-tempo style continues, which really drives home the bittersweet message of the song. Even through the death and suffering these two lovers experienced over the course of their many lives together, the song is ultimately a positive one. Ultimately, the lovers end up happy and together in modern times.

The Mariner’s Revenge Song – The Decemberists

The Decemberists is no stranger to fantastical stories told through song (part of the reason I keep meaning to familiarize myself with more of the music). I also considered discussing their equally fantastic song “O Valencia”, but I decided this one fit the song storytelling category in a more straightforward way.

This song is a shanty fit for a pirate ship, and that makes sense considering the subject matter. The story is told at the end first, with the narrator stuck in the belly of a whale. From there they go into the tale of how they arrived there. What follows is a tragic tale of revenge after the singer’s mother is cheated by a rakish young man and left to die penniless and heartbroken. The singer follows this man all the way to sea, where the two are ultimately swallowed by a whale, bringing the song back full circle.

I think this song is an absolutely beautifully told story. The instrumentals always match the emotion of the story. Plus, I think the story itself is loaded with some great dramatic irony. I mean, the fact that the singer’s quest for revenge leads him to dying himself alongside the man he swears revenge on, in the belly of a whale, a tried-and-true symbol for hopeless and self-destructive quests. (Think Moby Dick). Plus, the repetition of the mother’s voice, and her sweet, singsong tone contradicting the violence she wishes upon the man who did her wrong… it’s all so great. I always get chills at the end.

Jenny Was a Friend of Mine – The Killers

This song is actually one of a three-part series of songs, all of which describe a man murdering his lover. Yep, some real happy stuff, I know, but trust me, this song is really fascinating. While the other two songs tell the story leading up to and during the murder, this song recounts the questioning of the murderer afterward. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a murderer, and the way he justifies his actions and proclaims his innocence.

Paired with the police sirens at the beginning of the song and the tense, dark instrumentals, the repeated admission of the man that his lover Jenny was a friend of his becomes sinister and chilling, and that’s the mark of a really well-told story. This song always gets me singing along and then feeling bad about it because the lyrics are just that twisted.

Unfinished Business – White Lies (Mumford and Sons Cover)

I always feel bad recommending the Mumford and Sons version of this song because it’s not the original, but to be honest, the jangly banjos just fit this song so perfectly that I have a hard time with the original. The title is a play off of the idea that ghosts remain on earth because of unfinished business – in this case, the narrator is the confused ghost of someone who has just been murdered by their lover (… yeah there’s a bit of a pattern here, I know).

The interesting thing about this song, though, is the narrator is completely unfazed by their own demise. Instead, they seem more concerned about their lover, noting their fearful oaths to God and urging them in the chorus to “get off their low” so they can “dance like they used to”. This song is tragic and also somewhat beautiful – the murdered lover vows to wait for the one they love in the afterlife.

The reason I recommend the Mumford and Sons version over the White Lies version is I think the upbeat instrumentals match the ultimately positive tone of the song better. Sure, the situation described is dark, but the real interest of the song is the singer’s positive attitude over their own demise, so I think the jangly banjos fit this perfectly. But hey, to each their own.

Cleopatra – The Lumineers

And finally we arrive at one of my favorite songs of all time. This song took my number one spot in my top 30 songs of 2016 list, and that’s hugely because of the beautiful and tragic story told within its lyrics. Based on the real life of a taxi driver the lead singer met, “Cleopatra” is the story of a woman who refuses to marry the love of her life and how she lives with the regret. It’s told as if the woman is telling the story herself, and hits that perfect combination of tragedy and hope as the woman struggles to live her life to the fullest despite her sadness over the loss of her lover.

The song is warm and nostalgic, and I’ve yet to find a single person who isn’t touched by the real-life story behind the lyrics. I have a hard time describing it here, so I’ll just advise you to give it a listen and read through the lyrics yourself.

But this isn’t even the half of all of the songs out there that tell poignant stories within their lyrics. I advise people like that youtube commenter to give more songs a chance – to really read into their lyrics. You’ll find some fantastic stories there.

 

The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)

 A Lyrical Analysis of “Sometime Around Midnight”

I went through several possible blog post ideas for this week, but the one I finally settled on came to me in a flash of inspiration after my AP Government test. (Okay, maybe not a flash of inspiration, more like a cascade of boredom. The essay questions did not take up the full 100 minutes allotted…) Anyway, this song was stuck in my head, and I came to ruminate on the lyrics, and how expertly written and deep they are… and well, here we are.

“Sometime Around Midnight” by Airborne Toxic Event is one of my favorite songs, and it has been for years. It’s so simple, so beautiful, and drags you into its emotion so effectively. This is due in part to its structure. The song has no chorus, and instead relies on verses that constantly build upon each other. The melody itself is pretty simple and repetitive, but the constant addition of new string instruments into the sound builds up the emotional intensity in tandem with the story told in the lyrics. I’m no expert in music, so that’s the best analysis I have in that particular area, but there is a lot to dissect in the lyrics, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

So let’s all put on our analysis caps and dive in!
“And it starts sometime around midnight
Or at least that’s when you lose yourself for a minute or two”

The beginning line of the song sets the scene. And yes, the scene is vague. A really important thing to remember about this song is that it’s incredibly general. You get the feeling that this song is not describing one particular person and situation, but rather hopes to draw the listener in by allowing them to substitute the vague descriptions with their own personal experiences.

For that reason, the exact time of the scene presented in this song is just “sometime around midnight.” It’s not an exact time or place, and that is continued in the second line with the vague subject of “you.” The song is presented as something that has happened to the listener personally, which may also explain why the descriptions are so vague, so as to apply to as many people as possible.

Finally, these first two lines introduce the idea of “losing oneself.” This is a motif that will come back several times throughout the song, but in this case it furthers the attempt of this song to put the listener in the shoes of the situation it describes. The time the song takes place relies on when the listener themselves imagine they most “lose themselves.”

“As you stand under the bar lights
And the band plays some song about forgetting yourself for a while”

Once more, we come back to this idea of losing oneself. These lines makes the subject of the song seem disconnected from the setting. They’re not doing anything, just standing there, apparently alone. All of the emotion they’re experiencing is not their own – it’s being supplied by the band playing, and even in that case the band is suggesting forgetting your emotions and troubles.

“And the piano’s this melancholy soundcheck to her smile
And that white dress she’s wearing you haven’t seen her for a while”

And here we are introduced to the conflict of the song, the subject’s ex-lover. I love the juxtaposition of the melancholy music and the ex-lover’s smile. It serves to further this idea that the subject of the song is disconnected with what is happening, and plays with the idea of mixed emotions. The subject is happy to see her, but is also filled with a rush of sadness. It also serves to set up the difference between the subject and the ex-lover. While they ruminate on the sad music, she is smiling and apparently happily moved on from the relationship. 

Finally, the first image of the ex-lover cues the listener in on understanding that the story of this song is being presented in a stream-of-consciousness way. The speaker notices her white dress and then ruminates on the last time they saw her with no connection between these two ideas – we’re simply witnessing the thought process of someone who has just run into their ex-lover.

“But you know that she’s watching
She’s laughing, she’s turning, she’s holding her tonic like a crux”

That stream-of-consciousness perspective is important to remember when looking at these lines. The story is being presented in the unique, unfiltered perspective of the “you”, the subject, and as such the events presented are very biased. This explains the confusing way the ex-lover is portrayed here, simultaneously watching the subject of the song while also apparently enjoying her time at the bar in a carefree, happy way. The fact that it’s the subject that “knows” that she’s watching suggests some degree of projecting on the speaker’s part – they want to believe their ex has noticed them and is watching them, but it seems that the reality is she’s simply enjoying herself on a night out.

Once more, the inner thoughts of the subject and the objective reality of the situation is placed at odds.

“The room’s suddenly spinning, she walks up and asks how you are
So you can smell her perfume, you can see her lying naked in your arms”

And here the subject goes again, their inner thoughts conflicting with the reality of the situation. Nothing about the actions of the ex suggests any sort of intimacy in these lines – quite the contrary, in fact. She simply walks up to them and asks how they’re doing, an action which suggests distance between the two of them. She is no longer involved enough in the subject’s life to know how they’re doing.

And yet, and yet, the subject flashes back to memories of intimacy, of being incredibly close physically. It’s clear that this is no longer the reality of the situation, but the subject clearly cannot move on.

“And so there’s a change in your emotions
And all these memories come rushing like feral waves to your mind”

Remember that emotional distance we established early on in the song? Of “losing oneself”? Yeah, here’s where that all comes crashing down. That is the “change in emotions” described. Where the subject of the song could once spend their time at the bar in blissful denial of all of their problems, here their ex is, making their problems tangible, real. And this conflict is feral, wild and uncontrollable.

“Of the curl of your bodies like two perfect circles entwined
And you feel hopeless and homeless and lost in the haze of the wine”

The most important aspect of these two line is structure – not of the lines themselves, but rather the idea of structure within. The subject’s memories compare their intimate moments as two “perfect” circles – two exact, quantifiable shapes. Now, without their ex, the subject feels unstable. They have lost their structure, and in this exact moment it causes them to feel listless and lost. They’re shapeless where there once was form.

“Then she leaves with someone you don’t know
But she makes sure you saw her, she looks right at you and bolts”

Once more, it’s important to remember that we’re seeing this scene through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, imposing their own bias. The fact that the ex is leaving with someone the subject doesn’t know establishes that she’s moved on enough from their relationship to already have friends (or possibly lovers) the subject doesn’t even know. This is obviously not a positive thing for the subject, who seems to impose a degree of vindictiveness on their ex. It’s very likely the ex paid no mind to the subject of the song as she left the bar, but to the ex the very act of leaving without them is an insult, and they present it as such.

“As she walks out the door, your blood boiling, your stomach in ropes
Oh and your friends say ‘What is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost'”

Remember how I mentioned before that the subject of the song seems alone in the bar? Here we have the first mention of any other person with them. I think this is important – it establishes a certain degree of selfishness in the subject that they didn’t even think to note their friends before now. The subject is too consumed with their own internal emotions to note anyone in the bar other than themselves and their ex. I also think it’s interesting how this line and the line where the ex asks the subject how they are are both never answered. It continues to emphasize this point that the subject is all alone in their thoughts, never responding to anyone else but themselves.

Also, I love the double meaning of “ghost” here. While, yes, it’s a common idiom to say those who look pale or frightened appear to have “seen a ghost”, in this case it’s almost literal. The subject has seen a ghost. A ghost of their past, someone visible but untouchable. There and gone, like a specter. Excellent symbolism.

“Then you walk under the streetlights
And you’re too drunk to notice that everyone’s staring at you”

Finally, the strings have reached the highest point of the crescendo that is this entire song. There’s a definite disconnect between this line and the line before it. As I mentioned before, this song is very stream-of-consciousness, so I think the lack of connection between the subject being in the bar with their friends and them being outside of the bar following their ex suggests a lack of thought between these two events. It’s pretty heavily established that the subject is drunk, and very little rational judgment was used in the decision to leave the bar and go after the ex.

“You just don’t care what you look like, the world is falling around you”

There’s an almost fatalistic lack of care in this last line, as well as a continuation of that selfishness we’ve seen so many times throughout this song. No longer is there any rational thought driving the subject, all they can focus on is their own inner sadness. They see this event as so catastrophic that the whole world is crumbling, even though, to an onlooker, they would appear to just be a sad drunk.

(Yup, that’s that dichotomy between reality and the inner thoughts of the subject.)

“You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You just have to see her
You know that she’ll break you in two”

These are the only repeated lines in the entire song, and they serve to further the point I was making earlier – that the subject is no longer employing any rational thought. The only motivation driving them at this point is their desire to see their ex again, and this is shown through the repetition of “You just have to see her.” What’s interesting, though, is the last line. It’s the final thought of the song, this contradictory statement. Considering that the lyrics of this song are the inner monologue of the subject, though, it makes sense. Even as their mind is consumed with the desire to follow their ex, there’s a tiny thought in the back of their mind that holds onto the reality that seeing the ex won’t actually do anything to heal the subject. In fact, it’ll hurt them more.

And with that, the song winds back down, returning to the simple instrumentation of the beginning. Whether or not the subject catches up with their ex is left up to listeners to decide on their own, but ultimately I feel it’s not important. We know from the last line that it won’t lead to anything but more heartbreak.

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in a bit of lyrical analysis. I hope to do this sort of thing again in the future… it’s my favorite part of listening to music.

Character Spotlight: Camilla – Princess of Nohr, Queen of my Heart

If you’re wondering why I haven’t yet talked about Fire Emblem Heroes yet, it’s twofold. One, I didn’t really have anything I felt was meaningful to say, and two I honestly hadn’t played much of it. It wasn’t a testament to the quality of the game, per se, just a testament to how busy I’ve been… and also how disappointed I was in my summons. For awhile I had to get through the game with one five star Merric, one four star Donnel, and a three star Lissa and Henry and it was… disheartening to say the least. I have some experience with luck-based pull style games (coughcoughLoveLivecoughcough) and I’ve never been the luckiest with them.

And then, lo and behold, last Sunday, my luck changed completely.

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Yes, the beautiful goddess Camilla has finally blessed me with her presence. And because I know a lot of people playing the game don’t know much about her and why she’s such a wonderful character, I’m here to provide a loving thesis on the princess of my heart, Camilla, so that when you are lucky enough to draw her, you know just how appreciative to be.

The Story so Far

Camilla comes from Fire Emblem Fates. It’s a really great game that I highly recommend, but I know not everyone has played it, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of the plot so that you can understand where Camilla fits into it all.

Fates tells the story of two warring kingdoms, Hoshido and Nohr. You play as a young prince(ss) of Nohr, who, for their entire life, has been kept in a tower far away from the Nohrian capital and the main castle. However, war is brewing once more between the two kingdoms, and they want to help. Unfortunately, on the front lines of your character’s first battle, they are captured by Hoshidan forces. In the beautiful, prosperous capital of Hoshido, they learn that they’re actually not Nohrian royalty by blood… instead, they were captured from their true family, the royal family in Hoshido by Nohr’s King Garon many years ago. The player is faced with a choice, and two game routes – stay with their birth family and defend Hoshido or return to the family that raised them in Nohr. (There’s also a third route where you can choose neither and attempt to reconcile the two forces… but that route is only available if you’ve played through one of the first two routes.)

Camilla is a princess of Nohr, your character’s older sister. Depending on which route you choose, she becomes either an ally or an enemy, but exactly how she plays both roles is what fascinates me.

The Kingdom

If you want to understand Camilla’s character, it’s important to understand where she comes from. Nohr is a super fascinating location in the game. It’s definitely painted as “the bad one” of the two options with its dark, gothic imagery and violent, warlike tendencies. Plus, its ruler, King Garon, is definitely  Not a Nice Guy™. Yet, throughout the game, it’s heavily implied that Nohr’s warlike tendencies come from a place of necessity. Nohr is not a very fertile land and has very few resources compared to their neighbors in Hoshido. This can be inferred in several places in both routes, but this is also seen in the collectibles available in each route. In both games, the player can collect crops to exchange for items, and the crops available say a lot about each kingdom. On Nohr’s route, the player can collect meat, wheat, cabbage, milk, and berries, while Hoshido sports soybeans, fish, daikon radishes, peaches, and rice. As you might be able to tell, Nohr’s only two “crops” are cabbage and wheat. Wheat is of course used for bread, but that’s not the most luxurious of foods. And then there’s cabbage. Which is, you know, cabbage. The other available “crops” are simply animal and foraging products.

Compare this to Hoshido, which grows the staple rice and beans as well as a fruit and vegetable for the side and fish. While yes, Hoshido is a paradigm of peace and harmony, it’s also pretty clear how they can be. When your kingdom has a history of being able to provide for all of its people, it’s easy to preach pacifism. Yet, while Nohr isn’t excused for its actions, it’s at least implied that there’s a reason for them.

So, when am I going to talk about Camilla?

I Finally Talk About Camilla

So, Camilla, right. That’s who this whole post is about. Camilla.

As I said, Camilla is the player character’s older sister from Nohr. Of the four Nohrian royals, she’s the second eldest, and acts as a motherly figure to her three younger siblings (the player character, Leo, and Elise). She cares deeply for her family but shows no mercy to her enemies. But… I’m pretty sure you could guess that last part. I mean, she rides a giant undead dragon, wears hardcore black armor, and swings a big ol’ axe around – I’m fairly certain just about anyone could see she’s a bit of a bruiser.

But, of course, the elephant in the room regarding Camilla is not her personality. Right, yes, her looks. Her appearance is… a little exaggerated, I understand. Fire Emblem has always had a little difficulty giving its female characters realistic battle outfits, especially recently, but Camilla’s appearance is perhaps one of the most out-there designs to date. It caused quite a stir when Fates was first being teased. And yeah, I have some issues with the way she’s depicted at times, but when it comes down to it, there’s a pretty interesting reason why Camilla looks (and acts) the way she does.

See, Camilla, as well as three out of four of the royal Nohrian siblings, are not actually full-blooded heirs to the Nohrian throne. It’s not like anyone cares succession-wise, because they’re all still children of King Garon, but Camilla, Leo, and Elise are all illicit children of Garon’s various concubines. While none of these concubines are ever seen, they’re discussed in detail by Leo and Elise in a few of their supports. Basically, after the eldest Nohrian royal and only child of the late Queen Ekaterina, Xander, was born, there was a power struggle known as the Concubine Wars, where several of Garon’s lovers hoped to take the queen’s place. Leo specifically discusses how his mother tried to use him to gain power.

Judging by the fact that none of these women actually appear in-game, and the word choice in “Concubine Wars“, I’m assuming it didn’t end well for Leo and Elise’s mothers, and while Camilla never really talks about her own mother, I’d be willing to bet a hearty sum of cash that her mother probably was caught up in this conflict as well. In fact, I think of the three Nohrian royals who came from the wars, Camilla seems the most affected, even if she never even talks about it.

For one, Camilla’s motherly instincts immediately calls attention to hers and her siblings lack of a mother figure. And while yes, Camilla does really care for her siblings, there’s something… just a bit sinister about her method of motherhood. I mean… one of her lines when you invite her over in-game is literally “Tell me who I need to kill to make you happy, sweetie!” Camilla seems to very often confuse love and violence… and it brings me to some interesting conclusions not only about her but also about the world around her.

See, if we make the assumption that, like Leo and Elise, Camilla’s mother was a concubine hoping to take advantage of the power vacuum by Garon’s side, and if we add on the idea that Camilla’s mother was hoping to use her as a weapon to achieve this purpose, it sure does make sense why Camilla would so often confuse love and violence. I mean, if your own mother tried to use you for her own selfish means, and then presumably died in what must have been some sort of violent conflict, it would probably mess up your perception of what motherly love really is.

But Camilla’s problems with love and violence extend far beyond just an explanation of her personality. Her role in the story too hinges on this, excuse the pun, conflict, especially in the Birthright route. If the player character chooses to side with Hoshido, Camilla’s first appearance is… jarring, to say the least. She is at first loving and warm, seemingly happy to see her runaway sibling, but she very quickly becomes hostile.

Plus, this particular clip brings up another important point about Camilla’s character – her sexuality. Yes, Camilla is a very sexual character, but it’s something I once again relate to her background. Consider the fact that her mother tried to use her sexuality to gain power and Camilla’s own behavior becomes clear.

Her incredibly volatile attitude is one of the most fascinating parts of her character, to me. It’s pretty clear that she’s not the most mentally healthy character. Really, none of the Nohrian royal siblings are – probably due to the less-than-stellar parenting they received from their father. However, Camilla in particular seems to struggle the most with the player character’s betrayal. Throughout the route, she is shown falling into bouts of depression. Elise mentions her refusing to leave her room. Even at the end of the route, when the sudden death of Xander gives Camilla the chance to take the throne, she gives up the throne to Leo, apparently due to her lack of confidence in her own ability to rule.

Honestly, it all seems connected to her upbringing. It’s pretty clear that Camilla’s main motivation is her family, so experiencing the betrayal of one of her beloved siblings sends her into a tailspin that is simultaneously interesting and tragic to behold. While all of the Nohrian royals suffer if the player decides to side with Hoshido, it seems Camilla is the one who is dealt the worst hand, losing three siblings and losing an entire war.

Plus, her character parallels Nohr itself surprisingly well. Remember what I said about Nohr having to resort to violence out of necessity, because they don’t have any other choice? Well, Camilla seems pretty similar, doesn’t she? Yes, she’s very violent and merciless, but what she does is not without reason. The turmoil and dysfunction in her family life has led her to clutch onto her loved ones with an iron grip (literally) and defend it with blood if necessary. Like the kingdom she hails from, Camilla has had to fight to survive all her life, so it makes sense why she acts the way she does. (Plus, just look at her design. She’s the only one of the Nohrian royals with purple hair – and it sure does connect her pretty easily with the purple-and-black color scheme of Nohr proper…)

Obviously, she’s a character with a surprising amount of emotional depth and complexity, and it really makes me love her. Despite her relative silence on her own background, the conclusions one can draw on it based on the ways she looks and acts make her a fun character to analyze. That’s why I love Camilla… yes, boob window, brutality, and all.

 

Review: “Gakkou Gurashi!” is Surprisingly Good

gakkougurashi

I finished “Gakkou Gurashi!” or “School Live!” about a week ago and, let me tell you, I was not expecting to ever be able to type that sentence truthfully. To be honest, this show looks nothing like something I’d enjoy (I say, very hypocritically, as I realize that it resembles “Love Live”, an anime I adore, even down to its name… but whatever.) This show is… definitely surprising to say the least.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since this is my first review, I thought I’d speak a minute on how reviews are going to work on this blog. Since I think reviews are great ways to recommend good stuff to people, I want to make sure to give readers an easy way to avoid spoilers. For that reason, each of my reviews will be two parts. The first part will be a general recommendation with no spoilers, and the second will be a more in-depth review of what I thought, spoilers included.

For this anime, that means the spoiler-free part is going to be very vague, just because about 90% of what I can say about it is a spoiler.  So, uh… sorry in advance?

General Overview [Spoiler Free]

“Gakkou Gurashi!” is an anime about Megurigaoka Private High School’s School Life club, and its members Yuki Takeya, Yuuri Wakasa, Kurumi Ebisuzawa, and Miki Naoki as they go about their daily routine and club activities. Along with their teacher and advisor Megumi Sakura and high-spirited dog Taroumaru, the girls of the School Life club live at their beloved school and take part in all of its activities. And… that’s really all I can tell you. Anything more, and the completely fascinating first episode of this anime is spoiled, and I would hate to do that.

What I can tell you is that this anime is certainly worth you time. It has its flaws – namely a cliche main cast, some really hyper-stereotypical character interactions, and cheap fanservice – but I was honestly able to overlook this just on the strength of its storyline alone. If you’re thinking you might want to check this show out, though, DO NOT, I repeat, DO. NOT. google search it. Do not look up anything about it. Just go to whatever anime streaming website you prefer, put on your blinders and click the first episode without reading anything else.

Even if you’re not too interested by the synopsis alone, I highly recommend you at least check out the first episode. Wait until you’ve seen the entire first episode to judge this one – I promise you won’t regret it. Honestly, the experience of going in blind to this anime’s first episode was enough for me to justify watching the rest of it, even if it never quite ventured into any genres I particularly enjoy.

… And really, that’s all I can say without giving too much away. This anime really does wait to show its hand, so give it a chance, at least. I recommend it.

More in-depth, spoilery review under the read more!

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On Otome Boys

**Spoiler Warning for Mystic Messenger

I recently completed Yoosung’s route on Mystic Messenger. Now, Otome Games like MM aren’t something I find myself spending much time on often (just out of personal preference) and while I found myself enjoying Yoosung’s route and the rather unique form of gameplay MM provides, I also faced one of the biggest issues I have with games like this one that I want to address.

In my experience, in these sort of games where the characters are what you’re meant to be motivated by never seem to make them all that great narratively. While most of them are really pretty and appealing, I usually come away from them feeling rather unimpressed. I think part of the reason that is is because creators of these characters focus too hard on making them likeable in a real-world sense, and forget that they’re still characters in a fictional world.

What I mean is that a lot of characters in Otome games would be impossible to dislike if they existed in real life. They’re physically beautiful, they have easily understood personalities that make absolutely nothing they say or do surprising to someone who is familiar with character tropes, and what flaws or tragic pasts they have only serve to heighten their appeal rather than give them any sort of downfalls to pursuing their stories or paths. They’re appealing to the eye, of course, and have personality traits that would endear you to them, but also won’t surprise you with any unwanted emotional baggage. If I were to meet any Otome character in real life as a real person, I would have no trouble at all liking them, or even falling in love with them.

In any other story besides the wish-fulfillment-oriented story of an Otome game, these characters would never work. In order for a character in a real, fully fleshed out story to work, they have to have actual flaws. They have to have obstacles to overcome. While they should probably be somewhat likeable, they also have to be human (or at least close to human). Characters in Otome games are not usually like this, because they exist to be perfect, to fulfill a fantasy of the person playing them. (This is the main reason I’m not a big fan of these types of games, mostly because I like flawed characters and also am not too motivated by self-insert romances, although I know a lot of people who are, and that’s okay.)

However, a lot of recent Otome games have attempted to go against this formula, and present a more complex story with more flawed characters. There are actually a pretty good amount of these, and I usually quite enjoy them, but most of them aren’t really huge mainstream successes. In fact, MM is the first really popular Otome-style game I’ve seen to exemplify this new movement, and I’m happy to see it gain success.

While I only played one route, I’m pretty confident that I’m not interested in any of the others due to the huge amount of effort that would require and what I’ve heard from the friend who got me into this game in the first place has said to me about what the other routes entail. But I overall really liked the characters as they appeared in Yoosung’s route. I thought they were all believable and well-thought out and I could honestly see all of them being appealing characters for someone to pursue… except… well…

707.

707, or Seven, or Luciel, or whatever his name is, is probably the most popular character of all the options, and on the surface it’s not hard to see why. He has a striking design, done up all in reds and oranges and yellows. The game itself seems to push his appeal pretty hard – his good ending is known as the “true ending” that reveals the most complete image of the story in its entirety, and there’s a popular and decently supported theory circling the fandom that he is self-aware of his role in an Otome game, and “waits” for the time the player gets around to playing his route. In addition, his route is harder to get to and usually requires the player to have completed at least one route before attempting his. AND on top of that, he gets the most attention from official merchandise and art of the game.

You might have noticed I have said nothing about his personality, and that’s because, well, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t really have one? I know, I know, I’m maybe not at the best position to judge because I haven’t played his route, but god, what is his personality? I mean what is it? Who is he?

As far as my initial impression, he seems like the hacker/tech savvy guy of the group. He possesses pretty impressive technical ability, almost to the point where it’s unrealistic, but that’s something I can excuse if it’s the only crazy thing about him. But… it’s not. He’s also some sort of world traveler. One conversation involves him just dropping that he once was stranded on an island with a civilization who worshipped him as a god because he… gave them a Nintendo DS? I think? It was really just such a random detail that it left me confused. On top of that, he has some deeper stuff going on with the main antagonist of the game being his brother, and the darker past there, and he’s also caught up in the religious cult of the surprise antagonist character Rika and… honestly, it’s confusing.

He possesses so many different faces and aspects of his character that it left me just dumbfounded. Maybe he’d fit in better with a different narrative, but compared to the other characters of MM, it’s downright odd how unfocused he is.

Let me use Yoosung for an example. Yoosung is the youngest character, and as such his innocence and naivety is important to his role in the story. Because he is young, he has the unique struggle of balancing schoolwork with his responsibilities as an RFA member. In addition, going right along with his juvenile nature, he’s obsessed with video games, which is simultaneously one of the flaws he has to overcome in his route. Finally, he is the cousin of Rika, and her death left a permanent scar on his psyche, one that was never able to fully heal due to the older members of the RFA refusing to talk about it outright, because, among other things, they wanted to protect him as the youngest member of the RFA.

Yoosung is a pretty multifaceted character, and he develops throughout the story in a way that was really interesting and engaging for me. Along the way, he learns to focus on school, to lessen his unhealthy obsession with video games, and ultimately, he learns how to move on from Rika’s death and find happiness. He has definite flaws that he overcomes with the help of the player, and that makes him a pretty successful character.

At the same time, however, he is a very simple character to understand. Basically all of his personality traits and conflicts stem from his youth. He’s in school, he plays video games, and he hasn’t quite gotten over the death of a beloved figure he looked up to. He is innocent and naïve. All of these traits fit in with his overall character of being young, and because of this, he makes sense as a whole.

Seven, on the other hand, draws personality traits, experiences, and obstacles from a bunch of wildly different ideas. His hacking ability should mean that he’s a smart guy, but he also uses a lot of “lol so random” humor that makes him seem more juvenile and dumb. This also conflicts with the worldly, mature ideas his many exotic experiences across the world paints him with.

Now, yes, it’s okay for characters to have contradicting traits sometimes. Often, this can be really interesting. But for Seven, it just makes no sense in the context of the other characters. NONE of the other characters in this game are quite as contradictory and all over the place as he is, and that, on top of the other traits I’ve mentioned about him, makes him stand out really strangely from the other characters in a way I didn’t really appreciate.

I think part of the reason this bothers me so much is that I feel like he’s closer to the classic Otome character I was describing before, where what flaws he possesses doesn’t really serve to make him deep, but rather just makes him more likeable. He has a tragic, complex backstory of which he is the victim, but at the same time, that doesn’t seem to make it more difficult for him in any real way. He just feels… cheap. I feel like his path is being pushed at me as the correct path for the story to go, without giving me any reason to care about his story. I mean, he doesn’t seem that affected by his past, so why should I be?

And yes, I know he’s hiding his true pain behind a mask, and he’s more affected in his actual route. But it’s harder to get to that route, so why should I bother? He didn’t give me any meaningful reason to pursue him in the basic routes. He’s a weird and unfocused character that doesn’t deserve being put on such a higher pedestal than the other characters. Why is he so much better than the other characters, who make sense and have natural flaws?

In fact, why play Otome games with characters like Seven at all unless I want to play with the fantasy of dating a perfect human?

I guess what I’m saying is that all the other characters of MM are the sort of characters I’d like to see in Otome games going forward, but it bothers me that Seven, who shares more similarities with more classic Otome characters, is the most popular one. It bothers me that aesthetic appeal is being put above character depth when the other characters clearly show that you can have both!

But, eh, whatever. If you like him, I don’t blame you. The game certainly seems to want you to.