Posts Tagged ‘anime/manga’

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

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It’s here! It’s today! It’s the day I celebrate every damn day of the year, even during the High Holidays, but which I celebrate twice as hard in October, because everybody is celebrating it too. It’s Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween and the month of October.* In fact, I consider it the most wonderful time of the year. And before you say December and Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, think about this: during this month, you start worrying about a fat old man who watches and stalks you for three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year, and then one night breaks into your home via the chimney. And depending on whatever his judgment of your behavior is, he’s either going to leave behind awful fossil fuels or consumer goods that violate so many patent, copyright and trademark laws, you could be pulled into a class action lawsuit just by association. Prove me wrong!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems I have with calling December the most wonderful time of the year.

But back to Halloween. You know what makes it really special? It’s a holiday both for the mainstream of society and outcast. For one day, you’re allowed to be someone else and revel in that. No one’s allowed to break that spell, and those who do are cursed to be jerks.

No one’s ever accused me of being mainstream. There were times where I didn’t have many friends, and when I did, I was always a little bit different from them. Call it being neuroatypical, call it being half-human and half-entity from another universe, call it just being different. There was always this barrier between me and other people.

But on Halloween, all that changed. Kids and adults changed into costumes, became other beings and we were all equals. We all had a simple goal of showing off our costumes, getting candy, and having a spooky delightful time. It was magic for me. And as I got older, that magic has still been part of my love for the holiday. That, and more people actually get my obsession with things dark and creepy and horrifying and get into it, too.

But also this strange equalizing. For one night, we’re as different as can be from ourselves and from others, but we’re all equal and having a fun time. In a world where the wrong kind of scary is all too common, that’s something special.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a Heaven that I’ll be allowed into, and if that Heaven individualizes itself for each person in it, it’s going to be a forever Halloween. Lots of people in costumes, and my costume changes at my whim. Plus real monsters to fly around and terrify with. Lots of candy that never tastes bad and never upsets your stomach. There are endless horror themed rides and mazes, as well as libraries and theaters with an endless supply of horror movies, TV shows, books, manga and anime, music and art. All to digest at your leisure. The sun is never a problem (which is good, because even outside of sunscreen season, I have to worry about sun damage to my skin and even to my eyes!), and it’s just cool enough for sweatshirts. And everyone’s as friendly and chummy as the Addams Family, even after you scare them silly. And no one ever feels left out.

Like Hell Fest, but much better.

Seems like a nice dream, doesn’t it? And if it’s one I can someday achieve (though hopefully not too soon), I’ll be happy.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween this year!

In the meantime, I’ll work on making a Heaven on Earth. By that I mean, becoming a successful horror author who can afford to host an awesome Halloween party every October and get a bunch of people into a room to celebrate being scary together.

Wow, I really went on a ramble, didn’t I? Anyway, I think you get what Halloween means to me, don’t you? And I hope it means something special to you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out by the end of the day, a review of a new scary movie. Until then, Happy Halloween and pleasant nightmares!

*Even if, in Central Ohio, this is the month when summer heat and humidity changes to winter chill. Yeah, there’s no autumn here. It just switches from one extreme to the other. I’m pretty sure God’s punishing us for something, but I can’t figure out what.

From left to right: Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Moon, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus.

I’ve been wanting to do this a long time, especially after the post about my favorite manga series did unexpectedly well. Just had to have the right timing. And as this weekend is the first of two Sailor Moon movie screenings,* I figured now would be a good time to discuss one of my favorite anime of all time, Sailor Moon. What it is, why it’s great, and what it means to me personally. There’s a chance that very few people are interested in that, but I’ve often been surprised by what gets read the most on this blog, so who knows? Perhaps you’re as interested in why a 25-year-old horror writer holds a debt to Sailor Moon as I am.

So if you’re somehow unaware of what I’m talking about, Sailor Moon is a Japanese media franchise that started off with a manga by Naoko Takeuchi and has since seen several different adaptations, the most enduring and popular of which is the anime that ran from 1992-1997. Stories vary slightly from iteration to iteration,** but the basic structure across all, especially the anime, involves a 14-year-old teenager named Usagi Tsukino who learns from a talking cat that she is a guardian with special powers bestowed upon her by the moon who must gather allies, find a mysterious princess and her magic gem, and stop dark forces from taking over the world. Thus she becomes Sailor Moon (the Sailor part referring to her superhero outfit being based on the sailor-style school uniform), a magical warrior dedicated to love and justice.

And if you’re unfamiliar with the show, just based on that description and the photo above, you might think that this is the silliest premise ever. And I’ll admit, you’re  not wrong. It is kind of a silly show at times, and not without its problems. Most episodes were formulaic monster-of-the-week stories with the characters discovering a scheme by the enemy of the season and destroying a monster. There was also a lot of reused animations, which was typical for a lot of anime from the 90’s (and today, to a degree). And let’s face it, the main character Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon isn’t your ordinary protagonist. She starts out as only caring about sleeping, eating, relaxing and finding a cute boyfriend. Fighting evil is the last thing she wants to do!

Oh, and this show was also being made simultaneously the manga. So while the former took cues from the latter, it often had to make drastic changes and that occasionally led to glaring storytelling issues. (*cough* rainbow crystals? *cough*)

Usagi Tsukino, aka Sailor Moon. Goofy as heck, but a heart and the capacity to grow braver with every episode.

But despite all that, there’s quite a number of things that this anime has going for that. For one thing, the characters: in the 1980s, female characters were in animated shows were either just “the girl” (ex. Smurfette or Arcee) or they all existed to sell toys and didn’t have very distinct personalities from one another (ex. the original My Little Pony). But Sailor Moon was special as each of its female leads had very distinct personalities: Usagi/Sailor Moon is goofy but kindhearted; Ami/Sailor Mercury is smart and bookish; Rei/Sailor Mars is a hotheaded but empathetic psychic; Makoto/Sailor Jupiter is a strong-willed fighter with a passion for baking and gardening; and Minako/Sailor Venus is a fun-loving but ambitious girl and a skilled warrior. Not only that, but throughout the series, the characters would have individual episodes devoted to their growth where they worked on overcoming their flaws and issues. Even Sailor Moon, who always retained her goofiness throughout the series, became a strong leader and fighter who wouldn’t hesitate to fight to protect the world she loves. This ended up creating a mix of role models that people like me growing up could look up to and identify with on a number of levels.

There’s also the fact that this show was hugely empowering for a number of kids back in the day. On the one level, it is highly feminist in its portrayal of its female leads. They are able to fight off their enemies while still retaining their personalities and femininity, and the show doesn’t make a huge deal out of it (like they would if characters regularly shouted “Girl Power!” or something). Even if the male lead of the show often helped out and stepped in during a pinch, it was still the ladies doing the main fighting. That’s really amazing. And on another level, you have regular teenagers saving the world from forces that are cosmic in their power. When you consider the other big superhero shows at the time were shows like Batman or Superman, that’s big. I mean, one’s a billionaire and the other’s an alien. How many kids growing up with those shows were either of those? And then you had Sailor Moon, with ordinary teens, teens we already looked up to, being chosen to be superheros. Do you know how inspirational that could be to kids back then?

And those are just a couple of reasons this show has been so enduring and beloved. It’s also been noted for being very LGBT-progressive at a time when that wasn’t usual; for pumping new life into the magical girl genre of anime that’s still flowing today; for influencing a number of shows, including the American hits Steven Universe and Star vs the Forces of Evil; and so much more. It’s no wonder that the show has endured and continues to find new fans.***

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls. There are good reasons why I bought them, and why I hope to buy more someday.

And as I said, I owe this series a huge debt. Sailor Moon is still one of my favorite anime ever. I identified with many of the characters, and Sailor Moon herself made a big impact on me. She wasn’t hero material at all when she started out, but over the course of the series she truly became a hero. That’s a character arc I still include in my own stories (Zahara Bakur from Reborn City, anyone?). Not to mention this show helped plant the seeds of feminism in my young mind.

And you know what else? I still find reasons to love this show to this day. Just a couple of months ago, this show gave me a pep talk when I was feeling a little disenchanted with writing. It was quite powerful, and it reignited my love for storytelling again. If a show that’s older than me can do that, then I’m glad I still watch it all these years.

To sum up this monster of a blog post, Sailor Moon is just an awesome show, and it isn’t hard to see why it endures to this day. And if you’re at all interested, I highly recommend checking the anime out, or any of the other incarnations out there.  You never know. You may get out of it something special like I did all those years ago.

Are you or have you been a fan of Sailor Moon? What did/do you like about it?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading this long post of mine. I hope you liked it. Maybe someday I’ll write more posts about anime I love. Would you like that? If so, let me know. And until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*The first two films get screened in theaters this Saturday, and a special and the third movie is next Saturday. Probably won’t surprise you that I have tickets for both.

**And I’m sorry I won’t discuss those here. Perhaps I’ll discuss some of the other adaptations another day.

***Especially with more faithful translations. Back in the 90’s when I found the show, it was heavily edited to make it more geared towards American kids, because that’s what you did with anime in the 90’s. While I still have fond memories of that edited version, I’m glad that nowadays you can get the anime without all those silly edits or American character names. It feels more pure that way, and endears it more to new fans.

Well, looks like I’m not the only one who’s having a dream come true. And I’m very excited about this interview. She’s a rather unique voice I’ve come to know recently.

I first met Rabbi Leiah Moser back in December, when I ran across one of her posts on her blog, Dag Gadol (Hebrew for “big fish”). Her post was about why, as a rabbi, she was writing a fantasy novel. I read through it, and I found that not only did she have some good points, but there was something about this blog and its writer’s voice I found compelling. As I read further, I found out that not only was she a Member of the Tribe, a rabbi, and a writer, but a member of the LGBT community. And here’s me, not just a writer, a Member of the Tribe and of the LGBT community, but the son of two rabbis, one of whom is also LGBT. I think the first line of my first comment on her blog was something like, “An LGBT female rabbi who writes fiction. Where has this blog been my whole blogging life?” Thus started our acquaintanceship.

Recently, Rabbi Moser announced that her YA fantasy novel, Magical Princess Harriet, had been published and was live on Amazon. Me being me, I offered to give her an interview here on my blog. Thus are we here today to here about Rabbi Moser and Magical Princess Harriet. Enjoy!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to my blog, Rabbi Moser. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

Rabbi Moser: I think I’ve wanted to write a fantasy novel since I was in the sixth grade, but the road to actually achieving that ambition has been a long and convoluted one. Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood I tried my hand at writing fiction from time to time, but never managed to actually finish anything to my satisfaction, partially I think because I still hadn’t managed to get the whole identity thing nailed down. Trying to write without really knowing who you are is like trying to run on loose sand — the ground keeps shifting beneath you and you never seem to make any progress. After a while I kind of gave up on the dream of being a writer. I tried to find other dreams to pursue, but in a lot of ways I was just drifting.

Then while I was living in Japan I had this really intense religious experience. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the practical upshot was that afterwards I had this absolutely unshakeable conviction that God was real and that I needed to be Jewish. When I got back to the United States I found a synagogue and began attending, and after a while converted to Judaism. Later on, I decided I wanted to deepen my Jewish learning so I could do more work in the Jewish community, and that’s how I ended up moving out to Philadelphia to go to rabbinical school.

Rabbinical school was amazing, but before too long I was running into the same problem there that I’d had with my writing, namely that to do this kind of work you really have to bring your authentic self, whereas I’d been doing my best to hide from my authentic self ever since I was in middle school. After a great deal of soul searching I decided to come out as transgender and start my process of transitioning, and that, of all times, was when I finally realized that I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. It was really that closely connected — converted to Judaism, came out as trans, and then the idea for Magical Princess Harriet popped up out of nowhere begging to be written.

If anything what I’ve learned from all this is that in this life things sometimes have to happen in a certain order and I am in no way the one who gets to decide what that order is. As they say in Yiddish, a mensch tracht un got lacht (a person plans and God laughs).

The cover of Magical Princess Harriet.

RU: Reminds me of the old country. So tell us about your new book, Magical Princess Harriet. I’ve heard some good things.

RM: Magical Princess Harriet is a young adult fantasy novel that draws its inspiration in roughly equal amounts from the “magical girl” genre of anime, Jewish mysticism, and my own strong feelings about LGBT inclusion and neurodiversity in Judaism. It’s about a young trans girl named Harriet Baumgartner who is doing her best to avoid having to think about the persistent feeling she has that she’s not supposed to be a boy, when a pushy angel named Nuriel shows up and tells her that she’s a magical princess now and that it’s her job to protect her town from the forces of darkness. (A quick side note: You have no idea how difficult it is to figure out how to talk about a book in which the main character changes their name and pronouns a third of the way in without misgendering them. Of all the challenges I’ve faced in figuring out how to explain this book to people, that has been the most difficult!)

RU: Tell us about some of the characters, and why we might like (or if applicable, hate) them.

RM: Harriet I’ve talked about a little already, so let me talk about her friend Frances.

Frances and Harriet have been best friends for years, ever since they met in Hebrew school. When Frances was six years old she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ever since she’s been pushing back against peoples’ tendency to regard her as stupid or crazy because she sometimes has trouble speaking. Obsessed with architecture, she has an inherent talent for understanding spatial relationships, which serves the kids well in the labyrinthine corridors of Arbory Middle School where the ordinary laws of space and geometry tend to break down.

The girl on the cover with the lavender hair and the dark holes where her eyes ought to be is Kasadya. She looks like that because she’s one of the nephilim, a group of creatures who got their start as angels unwilling to devote their existences to service. As a nephil-girl, she has the power to influence human minds, and she has used this ability to turn the middle school into her own private domain… well, private except for her brother Azrael, that is, but as far as she’s concerned she is the one in charge. Kasadya likes to think of herself as an epic villain from a TV show or comic book, and she’s been waiting for a hero to come along to challenge her. When Harriet shows up, glowing like a disco ball, it occurs to Kasadya that she might fit the bill — much to Harriet’s chagrin.

RU: What was the inspiration for MPH? Did any of your own life experiences make their way into or influence your writing of the story?

RM: I think all of my life experiences made it into the book in one way or another. This was an intensely personal project for me.

RU: MPH had an illustrator, Magdalena Zwierzchowska. How did you two meet and what was it like working with her on the book?

RM: When I got to the point where I was thinking seriously about publishing this book for real I knew I wanted to find an illustrator. I’ve always been a very visual person myself, and know how helpful illustrations can be in solidifying one’s sense of the world an author is presenting. How we met was fairly prosaic — I posted an ad on DeviantArt indicating that I was looking for someone to illustrate this book, and she was one of nine or ten people who responded. I was totally charmed by her work, by the gorgeous, surreal creepiness of it, and so she got the job.

Working with her was easy in some ways, difficult in others. She was extremely professional and always willing to listen to my input and feedback regarding how the characters and setting elements should look. The tough part was figuring out how to translate the images I had in my head into concrete instructions she could use. In the end I was very pleased with how it all turned out. I think it has a very unique look.

An illustration of a seraph by Magdalena Zweirczkowska.

RU: You address several issues in the pages of MPH: autism spectrum disorder, Jewish identity, gender identity, intersectionality, etc. Was it hard to talk about those subjects in the book?

RM: Yes. Not because I normally find it difficult to talk about these topics (on the contrary, most of the time I can’t shut up about them!) but because I didn’t want to address them in a way that would come across as preachy. That may sound a bit weird, coming from someone whose job literally involves preaching, but I was writing with the assumption that these were things my target audience, middle schoolers and teens, are dealing with every day, and the awareness of that fact demanded that I approach what I was doing with a self-critical eye.

RU: MPH is a crowdfunded, self-published book. What made you decide not only to self-publish, but to crowdfund your story?

RM: While it is theoretically possible that I could have found a publisher for a book like this, my hopes were not high. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, mind you, but rather its subject matter. MPH in many ways defies categorization. I mean, Jewish fantasy is not exactly a well-represented subgenre, is it? Add on top of that the transgender element and… well, I felt like I might be able to find a publisher for a Jewish fantasy book, and I might be able to find a publisher for a queer fantasy book, but a queer, Jewish fantasy book with a transgender protagonist? That’s where I wasn’t so sure.

Also, I’ll admit, there was a part of the decision that was about actively wanting to do it myself. I’ve always been fascinated with every aspect of the publishing process, and with print-on-demand and online sales venues making it so easy to self-publish these days, it seemed like a waste to write the book and then turn it over to someone else to produce. I probably bit off more than I could chew, and I had to spend a lot of time learning about things like layout and formatting for print, but in the end I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

RU: What has the reception for MPH been like so far (from congregants, friends and family, random Internet people, etc.)?

RM: It’s still early days, but so far all the feedback I’ve been getting has been very positive. The first question of everyone who’s actually finished the book has been, “When is the next one coming out?”, so that’s pretty great to hear. My one thing is that because my Kickstarter backers are obviously all adults, I haven’t yet received any feedback from the young people who are the primary audience of the book. I’m really looking forward to that.

RU: Are you working on anything new? And what are your plans for the future?

RM: Right now I’m mainly focusing on getting the word out about Magical Princess Harriet, but I have plans for at least two more books in the series. After that… well, who knows? It all depends on what kind of response I get, I guess. I really loved writing this book, and now that I know I can, I feel like there’s very little stopping me from writing another, and another, and…

RU: What advice would you give another writer, regardless of background or experience?

RM: Write! But that’s ridiculously obvious and patronizing, so I take it back. Here’s the best piece of advice I can give: Take the time to figure out who you are and to learn how to be okay with that. Writing can be this incredibly daunting thing because those ideas and feelings on the page you just handed to someone else to read are basically you. It’s hard not to get intimidated by that and start pulling back, to restrain the words, force them into a mold that’s more about what you think others are expecting than it is about what you have to write. Edit your writing, not yourself.

And also: It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days. Give it a try, you’ll see what I mean.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which ones would you picks?

RM: Ack! That’s so hard! Assuming that “three books” refers to three actual bound volumes and that bringing an entire set would be cheating, I have to go with:

  • Volume 2 of my portable Talmud set (the one with massechet Chagigah)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • A copy of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig, because then I might be able to actually finish the darn thing.

RU: Thanks for being on the show, Rabbi Moser. We all hope the book does well.

If you’re interested in checking out Magical Princess Harriet, you can check it out on Amazon. And I highly recommend checking out her website Dag Gadol. Trust me, it’s a great site and I always enjoy seeing new posts in my inbox.

And if you would like to have an interview for your new book, hit me up on my Interviews page or email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can make some magic happen.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite prince. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.

Today I’m doing something different, and showcasing one of my favorite things: collect dolls and figurines! I’ve mentioned it maybe two or three times on my blog, but I have a growing collection of these, coming in a variety of styles and themes, and from a number of franchises. Why am I showing this off, when this is a blog about a horror author? Read on, I might get into that later in this post.

First off, plenty of anime figurines. As many of you know, I’m a huge anime and manga fan, so it’s no surprise I have figurines based on anime characters:

From left to right: Homura Akemi from Madoka Magica; a cutesy chibi Christmas version of Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion; and Madoka Kaname, also from Madoka Magica.

Hatsune Miku, a famous Japanese music persona; Nina Wang from My-Otome; and Asuna from Sword Art Online.

Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion, outitted in a Gothic Lolita style (this one partially inspired a novel).

Except for the Nina Wang figurine, which I bought on Amazon, all of these figures were purchased at Akiba Arcade, a local place that caters to the Japanese game, manga, and anime fans in Columbus (which are many). They have a ton of Japanese games and merchandise, and I visit as often as I can. Yeah, they can cost a lot (most of these cost between $40 and $60), but they’re well worth it.

Of course, not everything I have that is Japanese in origin is anime/manga-related. For example:

This is a maneki-neko, or a lucky cat statue. In Japan, these babies are supposed to bring good luck, especially financial luck. I don’t know if it has, but I’ve noticed my life has improved bit by bit over time, so maybe it’s having an effect?

Of course, not everything I have is Japanese. True, a lot of it is, but not everything. Like these:

Ninth Doctor Funko Pop doll

Sailor Moon and Luna Funko Pop dolls.

Jason Voorhees Funko Pop doll

Lizzie Borden bobblehead doll and a raven statue. Nevermore! Thwack!

The barfing gnome from Gravity Falls; a Grinning Jak from The Nighmare Before Christmas; and Waddles the Pig from Gravity Falls

Yeah, the Sailor Moon one is technically Japanese, but Funko is American, so it evens out. And you’ll notice, a lot of these are related to franchises or pop culture properties I’m a fan of. The exceptions in this group is the Lizzie Borden bobble head doll and the raven. The former is related to an amazing experience I had earlier this year, while the latter is just a fun Halloween decoration that I have out all year because for me, every day is Halloween. Not to mention, they’re creepy.

And now for some of my most recent acquisitions:

 

These are Sally and Jack, and they’re pixified versions of the Sally and Jack characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas. In fact, you can see them holding doll versions of their namesakes in their arms. These are first-edition figurines made by the Hamilton Collection. There are two more figurines in the series, and I hope to collect those two in time. For now though, I’m really happy with these two. Thy’re very pretty, based on a truly awesome movie, and I just love to see them when I walk in the door each day.

And finally, here’s the oldest figurine I own.

This is Zero from the anime Code Geass, which is still one of my favorite animes ever. I made it in art class back in high school, because I couldn’t afford figurines or dolls at that time, and not for several years afterwards. Zero was my way of saying that one day, I would be able to own these sort of things I’d always wanted. And I think I can say I’ve accomplished that goal.

And my collection is growing every day. I’m probably going to get the other two figurines in The Nightmare Before Christmas series from Hamilton, as well as many more figurines from various anime (including an actual Zero figure), and maybe even some of the more traditional kinds of dolls, the ones that wouldn’t look out of place in Victorian England, among others. I’m saving up for them, and for a cabinet to put them all in so they don’t get dusty. And when that happens, maybe I’ll post about those new editions too. We’ll see.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. Just wanted to post about my weird hobbies and show you all how proud I am of them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

“The Power of Friendship!” as symbolized in Yu-Gi-Oh’s famous hand smiley face.

So yesterday I watched a YouTube video about a common trope in fiction (you can check it out HERE), which is (say it in your heads with a big, echo-y voice) “The Power of Friendship!” Now, if you aren’t familiar with the trope and you didn’t have time to watch the video, “The Power of Friendship” is a trope in which the bonds of friends is so powerful, it becomes a power in and of itself, capable of cosmic-like acts such as giving heroes power ups, stopping psychic mind readings, snapping people out of brainwashed states, and occasionally even defying gods. This power shows up in a ton of popular media, including a ton of anime and manga (the Fairy Tail series  practically is nicknamed “The Power of Friendship” manga).

Now the video I linked to goes into much more detail about the various intricacies of this trope (go watch it if you do have the time, the channel that produced it is awesome), but I wanted to focus on one particular aspect of “The Power of Friendship” trope that the video didn’t go into: how it surfaces in the horror genre. Or rather, how it doesn’t surface in the horror genre. At least, not all that much.

So if you didn’t watch the video (and you’re missing out!), the trope works like this: you have friends, and those friends can help you out of a bad situation, whether that be isolation or a powerful demon overlord is about to destroy the Earth and your power alone is not enough to destroy the demon’s power. It can be a metaphorical power to help a character out during a bad patch, like the former situation, or it can be a literal power and the equivalent of taking one of those mushrooms in a Mario game, like the latter situation. Thus, “The Power of Friendship!” And you can kind of see why it shows up so much: we all wish we have that power, or believe our relationships are that powerful.

But horror doesn’t feature this power as much as other genres, and there’s a reason for that. Horror is horror. It incorporates the darker aspects of the world around us and sometimes amplifies them for maximum effect. And in real life, friendships aren’t as powerful and as lovely as in fiction. In the stories, friendship is powerful and unyielding. It can overcome all sorts of obstacles, and the more you try to destroy it, the more it bounces back and kicks bad guys in the ass. But in reality, friendships grow, cool, and break all the time. It can take only a little bit to destroy a friendship, and a lot to repair it once it’s broken. Horror writers not only recognize that, but incorporate that into their stories. And it’s such a well-known fact about life, writers don’t draw attention to it, because it’s so well known among readers.

That’s not to say that “The Power of Friendship!” doesn’t show up in horror fiction at all. For example, Stephen King’s It pretty much says that the friendship of the seven main characters is what allows them to fight the malevolent entity in their town.* It just doesn’t say it as loudly as other media does, and also tells the reader that the characters’ friendship, while powerful, can be broken or is less effective if they aren’t all in sync or allow their fear to divide them. This is what leads to that one infamous scene in the novel, and is also shown in the new movie after the first fight with It.

Weirdly enough, the power of love or family is shown more than the power of friendship in horror, and I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because love and family, unlike friendship, has a more powerful evolutionary purpose, and therefore is given more power in fiction in general. If you’re willing to do more to save your perfect partner for creating offspring or the lives of your offspring, it’s going to show up more in stories than the grouping of creatures of the same species to ensure survival.** Hell, a lot more of my stories revolve around romance and family than friendship. One of my stories even involves a friendship gone bad, but that’s about it.

If “The Power of Friendship!” can be portrayed as it was in It, you can include it in horror stories more effectively.

That doesn’t mean we can’t include “The Power of Friendship” in horror stories. It can be used, but it’s more effective if used as it was in It: not overstated and a bit more realistic.  Showing a friendship form, grow, and overcome obstacles in a story, without drawing too much attention to it and showing how fragile the friendship can be under certain pressures, will work fine for the horror audience. If you go for overblown storytelling and basically say, “The Power of Friendship can overcome anything,” it will take the audience out of the story. Let the friendship’s strength demonstrate itself, rather than shoving it in through dialogue or just outright stating it. In other words, show, don’t tell.

While still not that common a trope in horror, “The Power of Friendship” can be part of horror. It may require being handled differently than in other genres, and with a bit more realism (weird for “realism” to show up in horror, but there you go), but it’s not impossible. You just need the right touch, and “The Power of Friendship” can best even shapeshifting entities that take the form of clowns.

That’s all, Followers of Fear. I’m in a bit of a blogging mood right now, so expect more posts from me soon. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*There’s also some sort of power up thanks to a turtle from another universe, but let’s not get into it, shall we.

**Best explanation I can come up with given my aromantic nature and already jaded worldview.