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Long gone are the days when Digimon tried to compete with Pokemon. Regardless of who won that war, fond memories exist for both. When a new Digimon anime that would feature the original cast but older was announced, I think it’s safe to say that many fans rejoiced at being able to see their favorite characters again. Anyone who’s seen the previews for Digimon Adventure tri., however, will notice that, even if the characters themselves are recognizable, their designs are significantly different compared to the original anime in a way that can’t just be explained by them being in high school.

Digimon had a typical yet still distinct enough style where characters had big heads, big eyes, and big hands that it carried through multiple series. In many ways it was unmistakably the way a kids’ anime was expected to look. Digimon Adventure Tri, in contrast, not only has characters with more realistic human proportions but also has a kind of looseness to the art that to an extent resembles Hosoda Mamoru’s famous Digimon films such as Our War Game. They could have easily mimicked the original style or even refined it to look more mature, so obviously this change is deliberate, but I think this change is particularly fueled by the fact that Digimon Adventure tri. is targeting the audience that watched the original Digimon Adventure all those years ago.

Essentially, I believe that the new character designs and general appearance of Digimon Adventure tri. are a way to show how the series itself has grown up just like the people who first watched Digimon Adventure. The audience has changed, the world has changed, and so too has Digimon evolved into something else. If anything, it’s grown up just a bit more slowly, as the kids who watched it then are probably in their 20s at this point, and they’re going to see Taichi, Yamato, and the rest stepping forward into adulthood.

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The fact that anime and manga about food is a “thing” is one of the commonly referenced points to show how diverse Japanese animation can be. Rather than fighting with weapons or fists, characters will often try to outmatch each other in the kitchen, and the results are as diverse as Mr. Ajikko, Yakitate!! Japan, The Drops of God, Fighting Foodons, and indeed the current Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.

However, I have to wonder if America is that far off from getting something similar, based on the direction that the Food Network has taken over at least the past five or six years. Where once the main feature of the cooking-oriented Cable channel was the variety of personable chefs making food from around the world look amazing, now the most common feature on Food Network has been competition through cuisine. Chopped. Food Network Star. Iron Chef America. Cake Wars. 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. Guy’s Grocery Games. Food Feuds. Food Fight. Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The list goes on.

While one obvious difference between food anime (which doesn’t have to be about competition but frequently is), and these Food Network shows is that one is inherently fictional while the other thrives off of the idea that they’re real people engaged in real rivalries with each other, they share a similar air of dramatic narrative. Both find ways to make something as visually appealing but not as lively as, say, sports or fighting, have more intensity. Close-ups on fine knife work. Flames roaring as someone stir fries using a wok. Unfortunate accidents and injuries. All of this works together to make food preparation a fierce, perhaps even macho world in a bid to get more guys to watch Food Network in the first place.

In that respect, another point that some food anime and Food Network shows have in common is the use of sex appeal. While it’s much more noticeable for a series like Food Wars!, where the girls are drawn to be curvaceous, and eating good food is a downright orgasmic experience, I think it’s no secret that a lot of the Food Network’s female stars are dressed in ways that enhance their bodies. This isn’t a criticism of the use of sex appeal, and especially for TV it’s par for the course. Food and sex are also not unfamiliar companions, and I could see two arguments coming out of this: first, that sex appeal can add to the excitement of food, or second, that the sort of “excitement” it brings emphasizes anything but the food. Food Wars! strikes a “balance” by pushing both to the extreme.

That’s not to leave out the other common type of food anime (and especially manga), however. One of the other common trends with food-themed works in Japanese visual media is an emphasis on travel, discovery, and healing. These series are built upon finding the next interesting food, or having a particular dish or beverage be exactly what someone needs to fix an emotional problem in their life.

Perhaps what might bridge the gap and possibly even get an animated food series on something like Food Network would be to add drama through presentation, to take something like a documentary and try to give it greater expressiveness through the art of animation.

Or they could just make a series where Fieri is a Super Saiyan.

ssj-guyfieri

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

When first approaching the anime Senki Zesshou Symphogear, my view of the show was colored by one experience in particular. A few years ago, I was on the Veef Show to discuss AKB0048, another show from Studio Satelight that also involved singing, battling idols in a science fiction setting (no surprise coming from the studio founded by the creator of Macross). There, Veef informed me that Symphogear was essentially a show made by a relatively inexperienced staff, and it showed. So, I went in with the impression that it’d probably look nice but be fairly discombobulated, lacking the veteran knowledge of Kawamori Shouji or others. While after watching four episodes I certainly can’t say how the series concludes or holds together, what I can say is that Symphogear is very good at conveying passion.

I’m aware that this kind of sounds like a cop-out response. How can any anime, created by teams of people, and often tied in along with a desire to sell and succeed, be any more or less passionate than others? For that matter, how can a series that combines mild yuri, skintight space battle uniforms, idols, mecha, and general fanservice be anything more than a cynical marketing ploy? However, when watching Symphogear, I can’t help but feel that all of those elements are less calculated ploys and more actually the things that the creators themselves wanted to see. I haven’t read any interviews, and I haven’t researched this show heavily, so none of what I say is backed up by hard facts. It’s mainly my impression, and that feeling says to me that there’s something beyond appealing to the lowest common denominator as an external factor in Symphogear.

Being calculated doesn’t make a bad series, and neither does being true to one’s passions result in a good series. I think Love Live! School Idol Project, for example, is a fantastic series, entertaining through and through, with lots of great characters with well-rendered personalities, but it feels on a very basic level to be a product of marketing knowledge. All of the characters, even my favorites such as Hanayo and Nico, are carefully crafted to have just the right balance of traits. It’s just that this has worked out in its favor, and the series is genuinely well-written. Conversely, a series that is genuinely the product of its creator’s vision and interests but might carry an unfortunate message or soapbox situation can also be an issue. Symphogear seems as if it on some level has to go cheesy and get overloaded with all of those otaku interests, because that’s just what the creators think would be enjoyable.

I think the best example might just come from the main character Hibiki herself. Within the first four episodes, she’s shown to be this quiet girl with large, gentle eyes and a petite yet shapely figure who gains a mysterious power almost equivalent to that of a berserker. She’s shown to have a strong sense of justice, a willingness to get her hands dirty fighting, and a childhood friend who seems to be on a Daidouji Tomoyo level of “friendship.”At a distance, she can come across as this amalgam of desirable traits, and even upon looking more closely they still maintain that impression, but through the efforts of the animators and artists, the writers, and her voice actress Yuuki Aoi, her sense of being shines through. All of the elements that might be viewed as schlock when viewed with a cold, critical eye gain an air of warmth, and it feels possible to connect with Symphogear on a deeper level as a result. Perhaps it’s because Symphogear, more than even Kawamori’s own series, is the pinnacle of combining singing idols with space fighting faction, because the girls’ suits are literally powered by their voices.

With three seasons of Symphogear now in existence, I might assume that the series gets better as it goes along, but of course that’s never a guarantee. One thing I’ll be looking out for is, simply, what this inexperienced team ends up doing with the experiences they gather.

 

A number of years ago I was in an online conversation with a friend who refused to be critical of anime. While others argued that this didn’t make sense because every person has to prioritize likes and dislikes to some degree, my friend rebutted that it was not their own role to pass judgment or to push their own taste on others. Rather, what they preferred to do was to match a show with what someone was looking for, a librarian’s approach rather than that of a critic.

While in the end this was only one person with a very particular way of viewing media, I find that it encapsulates an unspoken (or perhaps sometimes unconscious) disagreement among fans within all sorts of popular media, from games to anime to comics as to how people should view and engage with media. This philosophical disagreement can in some sense be described as “modern,” the idea of aiming progressively towards an ideal, vs. “postmodern,” the idea that there are essentially multiple truths.

I will give two examples. The first comes from the popular site Anime News Network, and the other comes from the Super Smash Bros. online community.

Anime News Network is a general anime and manga site with news, an encyclopedia, and reviews. As is typical of a review site, its writers will often talk about a specific work, list their likes and dislikes, what they might find interesting or problematic about a series, and then give letter ratings. On the forums, this inevitably leads to some strong disagreement, where people respond as if they are being personally attacked by the review, while calling the reviewer out for bias.

I’ve seen the argument that ANN forum posters do not understand what it means to a review a series, and that they should not be so close to their anime that they would feel personally offended by a harsh review, but the more I think about it the less I think it’s that simple. Rather, what happens is a difference in how engagement with anime is perceived. The reviewer will tend to state their opinion in a manner to try and convince the audience that, as a reviewer, their thoughts have significance, and while the idea that a review is an opinion is thought to be implied, it’s a tendency of “good” English writing to state things somewhat authoritatively. This results in the sense that the goal of reviews, and what anime fans should be doing, is progressively refining their tastes. The more they watch, the more discerning they should become.

However, many forum-goers see things differently. While they often look towards the review for validation and thus see the reviewer as someone of importance (and indeed when the reviewer and the posters’ opinions align they tend to express positive feelings), there’s also a strong sense that a lot of these anime fans are not trying to become more critical, to develop better taste in anime. Rather, they’re trying to find the anime that suits them on some mental or emotional level, and because some reviews will criticize some social aspect of a work (portrayal of women, for example), this becomes a point of contention because from their perspective it can seem as if the reviewer is trying to invalidate the work and its readers, when it really comes down to a difference in philosophy. From the reviewer’s side, the forum posters might appear to be people with no taste, who don’t understand what reviews are generally meant to do. It’s like two different conversations are happening.

In the case of the fandom surrounding competitive Super Smash Bros., since 2008 there has been an on-going tension between fans of different iterations of the franchise. Amidst frequent arguing over the years, there have been proposals for fans of the different games to unite under one banner and respect and support each other, but almost without fail someone will ask the following:

“Why should I support a game I don’t like/is terrible? What’s in it for me?”

This way of thinking views the Super Smash Bros. games not as different takes on a core idea with varied gameplay experiences, but a series where one game in particular is the best and the others should live up to its example. This assumes that there is one right way to make a competitive Smash game, and that, the further away you get from that approach, the less competitive and interesting a game becomes. More importantly, however, this mindset assumes, rather than bringing in more people of different tastes and opinions, it is better to cull other games in order to further refine the ideal competitive environment.

Relative to the idea of unity across the Smash franchise, it is assumed that supporting “lesser” games is insincere, thus compromising one’s own tastes and, for some fans, going against their “objectively” derived conclusion that their game is simply the best. In contrast, basis for unity, the reason why it is touted as a goal for the competitive Smash Bros. community, comes from a different place. The idea is that, not only does the idea of a fun, competitive game vary from person to person and that those with whom you disagree might see something that you don’t, but that there should also be mutual empathy. Rather than focusing on which game is the best and why fans of the others simply aren’t seeing things correctly, this unity in a sense prioritizes people and their hard work over the games, which implies that, while playing the right games are important, it’s a very individual and subjective choice.

I don’t know if these differences are simply a matter of personality, or upbringing, or just the manner in which people are exposed to their hobbies and interests, but that’s less important to me than having people be aware of these varied mindsets when talking to others. Even though we might all be called “fans” of the same things, even within specific categories there are dissimilarities as to what we consider to be fundamentally important. If you’re an anime fan, what’s more important, the anime or the fan? If you’re a gamer what’s more important, the game, or the er (this is a less effective play on words)? This is not a black or white situation, as different people might even value different aspects of particular media. For example, someone might truly believe that books are in the eye of the beholder, but that music should be held up to higher standards. While this might seem to be hypocritical, I think it’s quite possible for it to be a positive thing, as it potentially allows people to see the other perspective more clearly. Each side, although they might have different goals or motivations, aren’t automatically invalidated.

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I’m not big into musicals, but after watching the Les Misérables film and seeing all of the criticism of Russell Crowe’s Javert (especially in terms of the quality of his singing), I began looking into the Javerts from Broadway, most notably Philip Quast, who was used for the 10th Anniversary performance. While Quast is clearly a more powerful singer and better at acting through his singing (as opposed singing along with acting), what stood out to me was the sheer difference in Crowe’s and Quast’s interpretations of the character of Javert.

Quast’s Javert is supremely confident in both himself and his sense of justice, with the idea that, as the story progresses, he begins to lose his philosophy of absolute righteousness. Crowe’s Javert, in contrast, comes across as someone who is constantly at war with himself, fighting against the fact that he is “from the gutter too.” What amazes me about this, as perhaps someone who’s spent arguably too much time with anime and manga and not enough with other media, is that the same lyrics, the same script and dialogue, could result in such different characters.

In thinking about this in terms of recorded media, I have to think about the position a particular work has to have in order to get to this point where multiple interpretations of a character can exist based on the same core script. Sure, remakes happen, whether it’s anime, film, or something else, and American superhero comics are known for re-inventing characters through the different minds of new creators who revisit or take on older properties, but it’s not quite like having a stage play (or a movie that tries its hardest to be faithful to a stage play), where having new actors, new people to give their voice and mannerisms to the same character and script, is expected.

Dragon Ball is one of the most famous manga and anime ever, and between Dragon Ball Kai, Dragon Ball Super, Resurrection ‘F,and more, its characters have been coming back stronger than ever. In fact, Kai had all of its dialogue re-recorded even though the story was Z’s. In a way, that idea of having different interpretations despite the same script happened, only most of the voices were the original cast, and it’s more seeing how experience has changed them.

Where the “actor interpretation” idea might exist in anime is, perhaps, the act of dubbing. For most who grew up with the English voices of Son Goku (most famously at this point Sean Schemmel), Nozawa Masako’s original Goku portrayal is extremely jarring, her shrill voice sounding much less masculine than their image of Goku. Because Dragon Ball is so internationally successful, that also means that it and similarly popular works (Pokemon, One Piece) all give these potentially very different experiences due to how the same (or similar) script is communicated through dozens of languages. English-language Goku and Japanese-language Goku are in a way very different, and I can only imagine that Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic Goku are all going to bring variations even though they share the same basis.

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One of the recurring endeavors in the study of anime and manga has been to remove some of the aura from Tezuka Osamu. Rightfully one of the most influential figures in anime and (especially) manga history, it’s not so much about questioning whether Tezuka had any impact on Japanese popular culture but to what extent the attributions given to him (either by others or himself) are necessarily accurate. Did he really create the first anime (no) or the first TV anime (no)? Did he really invent shoujo manga (the answer is also no)? However, amidst the pursuit of the truth, this brings to mind the question of how much one is willing to peel back the veils of illusion that go into the production of art and media, to look at the creators themselves, and perhaps to take away even their brilliance in favor of treating them and their works as mere people and products.

What inspired this post was the book Anime: A History by Jonathan Clements, which aims to study anime as objects, created and sold, and in doing so reveal a side of anime’s history that isn’t merely about lauding the successes or pointing out obscure, overlooked works. As much as one might argue that this is removing the “magic” from anime, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially if one is in pursuit of a more factual type of truth. In fact, it’s not so much that the veneer of fantasy has been peeled away from the anime or the creators that has me writing this post, but rather about the degree to which another might accuse me of doing the same thing through this blog.

One of the aims of Ogiue Maniax from the very beginning has been to get people to think more about anime and manga, to explore why one might love anime in a certain way. To this extent, I’ll talk about different themes in series but I’ll also bring up both creators and audience in a mix of modernism vs. postmodernism that I don’t necessarily think needs to be resolved. I’ll go to panels at Otakon and lament the lack of audience for Maruyama Masao, who is one of the greatest troves of anime production knowledge in existence (though maybe now that he’s been parodied in Shirobako this might change things) and question why people pay so little attention to the creators. And yet, is that so different from what Clements does in his book?

While Clements strips away the aura from the creative process a bit in order to question the self-congratulatory aspects of creators and studios, am I stripping away the fantasy of the anime as a story in and of itself, the narrative as entity that wishes for people to engage it on some level as inherently real? Do even the people who follow voice actors do this same thing in their own way? And perhaps most importantly, should these contrasting stances all be considered under the same umbrella of “fandom,” or are they distinct enough to need more specific categories?

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The #1 thing I want to talk about for this month’s Patreon status update is that as of late I’ve gotten really bad at regularly updating the Patreon page. People who frequent the blog are likely well aware that Ogiue Maniax updates frequently, but I end up neglecting the actual Patreon page itself, resulting in large swathes of updates at once. It’s not the best way to do things and for that I have to apologize.

Even so, I’m glad so many of you have been sticking around. Due to various time constraints I can’t devote quite as much attention to the blog as I like, but I still try to get out my thoughts on anime, manga, games, and other topics.

This month’s special Patreon sponsors are:

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

Anonymous

This month, one of my Patreon-sponsored posts was from Johnny and was about making time for your hobbies. It’s as much a reflective piece as I come to realize what it means to be truly, truly busy as it is advice, and I also think it’s worth reading if you’ve ever felt burnt out on your hobbies or fear that you might be heading towards burn-out.

The other post was actually private at the behest of the sponsor. What do people think of this idea? Normally, what would happen is that a Patreon-sponsored post would be there for all to see and discuss, but if people want something more private and in-depth on a personal level, I’m willing to consider it.

Also, I’ve been writing a bit more about games and game design philosophy, even though I’m not a game designer. For example, I wrote a post about the relationship between balance and faithfulness to source material in Super Smash Bros. Would readers like to see more, or less of these? Keep in mind that ultimately the decision rests with myself, but I do appreciate the input.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to be a patron of Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

This month I received the following topic request:

“Keeping interest in your hobbies through the trials of life.”

I wonder if it’s more than coincidence that I would get this at a point where life is busier than it’s ever been. I used to think I understood what being busy meant, and that keeping up with your hobbies is simply a matter of carving out time, like watching shows during mealtime, or playing a game or reading a manga while commuting. That still applies to some degree, but I realize now that sometimes it’s not possible to carve out bits and pieces of time if your spirit isn’t up to it.

Everyone’s day is a bit different, and if the issue is being too busy for your hobbies, the first question that I think needs to be asked is, does your hobby help you mentally/emotionally? What I mean is, when you’re done working through the day or week, whether that’s at a job or in school or taking care of your family, does watching anime, playing games, etc. make you feel better or worse? I don’t mean this is a narrow way either, like the way “healing anime” is meant to provide stress relief, though there’s nothing wrong with that genre. Rather, there are many different ways that your hobbies might motivate you.

Maybe you want to constantly refine your tastes and experience the best of the best. Maybe you need a good laugh. Maybe you see it as an opportunity to bond with friends. Whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t feel like a burden more than anything else. Even if it’s “work” to keep up, there should be some level of satisfaction associated with it. If you have a completionist mentality, then make sure it provides you more joy than disdain, and if you’re the type who enjoys watching shows you hate so you can make fun of them, at least make sure that it provides energy and doesn’t drain you, whether you see it as a form of stress relief or because you believe you have some responsibility to tell others to avoid bad things.

It might also be possible that you’re so busy that you can barely do one thing, and you feel terrible for not being able to keep up with as much as you like. Not being able to watch or play as much as you’d like is why you’re losing energy and motivation. In that case, I think it’s still useful to prioritize in the way I mentioned above, but to think of your lack of time as an inspiration. Look at all of the things you haven’t done or watched or played, and how satisfying it’ll be when you get to it. If it turns out that it’s not so fun after all, maybe put it on the back burner or drop it entirely if that’s your style. Sometimes not finishing something doesn’t mean you didn’t love it enough, it just means you didn’t finish it. That’s all.

The reason why I’ve spent so much time emphasizing this idea of getting energy from your hobbies is that, if you don’t at least prioritize the hobbies that actually drive you forward or give you strength, then the busy days will feel even longer and busier. The problem of not having enough time to follow all of your hobbies isn’t quite the same issue as the problem of burnout, but they are similar in that they can make the day feel longer, and in fact the former can become the latter if those “hobbies” drain your strength. Again, strength in this context can mean many things, and how you define that is a personal matter.

 

I’ve been recently reading the book Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls’ Culture in Japan by Deborah Shamoon, which looks at the culture surrounding and created by girls in the early 20th century, which includes magazines that were basically the precursors to the manga magazines of today, and bridges the gap between that period and modern shoujo.

One aspect it talks about that was common at the time was “Class S,” where female teenage classmates had close, intimate relationships with each other, and which became a common subject of fiction for girls’ magazines at the time. These could be interpreted as lesbian but at the time were considered an innocent substitute for male-female relationships (which were so forbidden at the time even seeing boys and girls together was scandalous), with the idea that these “S” relationships would be outgrown as girls became adults and married.

When it comes to more recent anime and manga portraying girls together in early 20th century Japan, the first series I think of is Taisho Baseball Girls, which is a series about girls living in the Taisho Era (1912-1926) who learn to play baseball in spite of the fact that girls weren’t supposed to engage in athleticism. It’s an excellent series, and even after reading Passionate Friendship I still hold that opinion, but it does prompt me to look at the series in different ways.

One aspect that Shamoon talks about is how some of the popular images of the “Class S” relationship would frequently portray one girl dressed in western clothing, and one in Japanese clothing. As Taisho Baseball Girls is set in a specific time period, school is portrayed as an environment where some where the sailor uniforms that are ubiquitous today while others wear kimono, but with “Class S” in mind I have to wonder if there’s supposed to be a bit of subtext in that general direction. The opening to the anime leaves it open enough that it looks like it might be just a close friendship, or something more.

Another plot point in the show is the fact that the main character, Suzukawa Koume, is betrothed to a boy who works at her father’s restaurant. In fact, one of the things I really like about Taisho Baseball Girls is that it contextualizes its feminist angle by showing how the characters both defy and are a part of their culture at the time, and that arranged marriages are one face of that. Koume and her future husband are shown to get along and even have feelings for each other, and yet at the same time there’s this idea that this is Koume’s fate, even if it looks to be a fairly happy one. Compounding the complexity of this situation as well is the fact that the idea of romantic or spiritual love (ren’ai) was only recently introduced to Japan at the time (also mentioned by Shamoon), and so there’s this mix of duty, desire, innocence, conformity, defiance, and more, with a great deal of hindsight.

It really makes me want to watch through Taisho Baseball Girls again every time I learn more about Japanese history and the Taisho period.

Anime is no stranger to characters crying. Whether it’s Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star or the entire cast of Alien Nine, tears are fairly ubiquitous. Over the past 10 years, however, there’s been one studio that’s stood at the top of the salt mine, and that’s Kyoto Animation. When they animate characters bawling, the tears are so physical, so three-dimensional that they practically become characters unto themselves.

Kyoani’s new show, Sound! Euphonium is no exception to this trend. Particularly in the penultimate Episode 12, the main character Oumae Kumiko has a scene where she just cries her eyes out. However, while on a technical level this is what we’ve come to expect, within the contest of the narrative itself the tears in Euphonium they take on a new meaning compared to their old works.

[Spoiler warning]

What makes Kumiko’s tears different and indeed special within the greater works of Kyoto Animation is what they represent. In prior shows, tears generally came from some kind of deep trauma or suffering, as if the characters were so overwhelmed by their particular circumstances or the horrible truths of their existences that crying often meant a kind of cathartic, primal action. Reason gives way to sheer passion, so to speak, and the result is a very Key game-esque scenario, not surprising given how many Key games they’ve adapted.

Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 11.01.04 PM

However, in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko’s tears are specifically tied to her reason and logic. They’re not caused by her simply being overwhelmed by emotion, but are also tied to the fact that she knows exactly what’s causing them. At that point believing that, despite all of the time and effort she poured into improving, that she would be denied the opportunity to play as part of the ensemble in one of the most important points for a Euphonium in their competitive recital, Kumiko’s tears are frustration towards inadequacy. In doing so, those same Kyoani blobs of liquid gushing out the character’s eyes transform from this generally moe trait to actually conveying the sheer weight of failure, or at least the self-perception of failure.

In a way, in older series from Kyoto Animation, the tears were about being not in control of one’s own life. In Sound! Euphonium, there’s still that sense of lack of control, but it’s paired with a character’s earnest attempt to master her own destiny, and to fall short in the process. Sorrow through action, rather than inaction, is what defines that moment in a series that already places more active motivation in its characters than many other similar series.

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