Monday, June 27, 2016

Bibliography and Mailing List Added

I did a little maintenance work on the blog, adding features that I've been meaning to add for a while.

You'll notice that there are now tabs above this post! One will take you to my online bibliography, complete with links to my work when applicable. I've noticed that about half my short fiction is locked behind a paywall of some kind or venues that remove issues after a certain period of time.

I can't entirely control that, each individual market handles their fiction differently, so if you like my work in the online magazines and they're likely to be taken down, please read them soon after they come out. I do like me some reprints though, so I'm trying to get some of those that originally appeared in anthologies into online venues.

The second (third?) thing I added is that I have a mailing list now. The plan is to send a newsletter during the first week of every month, letting followers know about my latest publications and what I'm working on. For fun I'm adding a little widget so you can also see what I'm reading, playing, and watching.

If you'd like to sign up, you can click on the tab and either follow the link or fill out the form right there. I'm hoping the first e-mail will go out July 1st (because I'm expecting a new story to come out!), but it might end up being July 2nd depending on my schedule.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Voltron Legendary Defender: Changing My Favorite Character was the Best Thing They Could Have Done

I was going to write a more general post about Voltron: Legendary Defender, because I've been a pretty big Voltron fan throughout my life and there's so much to say about the decisions the creative team made, and I still might.

But instead, I'm going to write about Shiro.

This guy.

When the original Voltron came to the US I was in elementary school and it was one of my favorite TV series ever. But being a kid with homework and piano lessons, I didn't always get to see every episode after school, but I knew most of the show. Four guys and a girl piloted robot lions that formed a big robot every episode. But there was one character who I knew very little about.

That guy, on the left. In the opening credits of every episode was this one person wearing the striking black and gold uniform. Because of a coloring book my mom bought, I knew his name was Sven, but for a long time I didn't see him in the show (because it turns out that I'd never watched the opening six episodes).

Sven took on a bit of a mythic quality for me. When I finally watched far enough, I saw the episode where he came back after having been a prisoner on Planet Doom. I was thrilled to finally meet him and as a character, he didn't disappoint. Sven had a lot more development than the rest of the cast, due to being a fusion between older brother Takashi and younger brother Ryou from the original Go Lion anime. The American adaptation probably didn't intend it, but they created a character who changed over the course of the series.

Voltron eventually went off the air, but when my family would go rent movies, I'd ask for whatever Voltron I could find, which eventually included the first five episodes, letting me see the character for the first time as he was originally presented. Looking back, his faux Scandinavian accent was atrocious, but even after I entered middle school it was still magic.

Which brings us to Voltron: Legendary Defender.

The showrunners were making an active effort to avoid having a show starring five white dudes, and as part of that, they replaced Sven with Shiro, taking the name from his original Japanese one, Takashi Shirogane.

When I first heard this, I hoped they meant to do more with this childhood character I had come to love, and not simply kill him off or remove him from most of the show just because that's what happened to the original. Sven, despite his name and accent, had scanned as Asian to me, and as a Chinese kid growing up in the US I was starved for Asian protagonists. I grabbed on to just about any I could find and came up with ways to justify how this clearly Asian character could have such a distinctly non-Asian name.

I mean, look at him. Black hair, dark eyes, and when you see his full outfit it resembles an 80s Japanese high school uniform. His character design doesn't scream Scandinavia.

So Sven reverted to Shiro in Voltron: Legendary Defender, and the creative staff talked about pulling in a lot of Takashi Shirogane's traits from Go Lion that never really carried over to the American Voltron.

It sounded good, but until I saw it play out it would only be good intentions, and I'd seen good intentions before.

There's a lot to like about Voltron: Legendary Defender, but for me personally, I was most happy to have Shiro, whose full canonical name in the show now isTakashi Shirogane (you can see it on the news in the flashback when Pidge is learning about the Kerberos incident).

It is so rare to have an Asian team leader in an American-produced show, where the series isn't about being Asian. Shiro's heritage never comes up and I'm happy. The focus is on fighting an alien tyrant and becoming a team, none of which requires that the team leader be Japanese.

Which makes it all the more important that he is.

A character shouldn't be defined solely by their ethnicity and this is a role that Asians seldom get.

Shiro doesn't fall into stereotypes. Though he knows martial arts, everyone on the team does so that's no big deal. He doesn't speak with a funny accent. He's not the nerdy Asian boy. Character design-wise he's broad-chested and the tallest member of the team. Those are not traits commonly assigned to Asian characters!

This confident guy in the middle? The obvious leader? Totally Asian.

And I'm admittedly a sucker for guys with a strong sense of duty, so as a character Shiro pushes all the right buttons.

He's not entirely the Sven I remember from childhood, but I find I love Shiro just fine.

Okay, maybe there are some things about him that haven't changed.

I have to admit, then when I saw Shiro crossing his arms and leaning against the wall, I immediately thought of Sven, because he did that so many times in what few episodes he was in.

Considering how much Asian media gets distorted and changed when adapted and brought to the US, it's amazing to actually see a previously adapted character restored and made closer to the original.

They could have named him anything when they changed his ethnicity back to Japanese, but the fact they specifically chose Takashi Shirogane means something, and I appreciate that.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fire Emblem Fates' Child Problem

I've been playing Fire Emblem Fates as a creative recharge and plan to write a dissection of the story as I've done for other RPGs, but there is one secondary game component that I figured was worth its own separate discussion, and that's what I'm calling its "child problem."

As I mentioned when writing about Fire Emblem Awakening, one of the unique things the game did was how the children of characters who married in the first generation went back in time to save the lives of their parents, resulting in two generations of characters fighting side by side on the battlefield.

The marriage plus children feature was hardly required for beating the game, but went over so well with the player base that it was kept almost entirely intact for Fates. But the problem is, going back in time to save their parents was woven into the main narrative of Awakening's story and Fates doesn't bother with the same trick (nor should it, since it would be contrived to figure out a convincing way to do it a second time).

So instead we have the introduction of the Deeprealms.

Under the justification that it's too dangerous to have the children raised at home, their parents send them to the Deeprealms, essentially pocket dimensions in the Astral Plane (presumably with some attendants to watch over them). But in a surprise that no one expected, time passes differently in the Deeprealms than in the regular world, which causes the children to age much faster during the time they're away.

Now, it's not like their parents sent them away and found out the next day they have teenage children. The narration (and subsequent dialogue during recruitment battles) make it clear that the parents visit their children from time to time so even after finding out about this crazy accelerated aging, apparently no one cares whether or not their children largely grow up without them.

Though some of the children rightfully chew out their parents for being away, it's a little surprising the group as a whole aren't more resentful for having been left behind. More than a few eventually break out of the Deeprealms and go to their parents' world on their own, though usually this isn't out of a desire to seek out their parents so much as they're teenagers now and more likely to bend the rules.

Compounding this is that player's base of operations is already on the Astral Plane and cannot be touched by the enemies they're at war with, so it seems ridiculous to send the children even further into the Deeprealms. The garrison does get invaded from time to time by otherworldly entities, but so do the Deeprealms, as we find out during the recruitment missions, so I can't say they're much safer.

The cynical min/max gamer in me considered that the kids are intentionally being left there to grow into adults, because once they're old enough, they can join the army! But this is not actually borne out by parent/child dialogue. (Though it is part of Nintendo's selling point if you watch this promo video at the 0:52 mark.)

Involving the Deeprealms rather than time travel, also results in some weird time dilation as to just when in the story the parents ended up having time to manage pregnancies.

In Awakening the only characters who have a child during the story itself are Chrom and his wife, and the pregnancy and birth happen during a two year time skip. The rest of the children have not been born yet, which is fine, since they're coming from the future.

As other couples marry in Awakening, side missions appear on the map, but the underlying assumption is that the children have already arrived from the future. It's just they have not been located until this time. This bears out with characters like Laurent, who says that he actually arrived a few years ahead of everyone else, which is why he now appears to be older than the other children.

In Fates there is a similar BAM! Instant children! recruitment mission right after a couple gets married, but since the children are being raised in a sped up timeline rather than coming from the future, that means that all the women (who are currently soldiers in an army no less) have somehow managed to get pregnant and take a leave of absence in a ridiculously short period of time.

To give an idea of how this played out in my game, my female avatar married Silas at the end of Chapter 14 in the Conquest storyline, which was right after completing a difficult mission and they returned to Nohr before the start of Chapter 15, which means that there actually was downtime in the story when they weren't on the march.

I don't think that it was two years' worth of downtime, to allow for their children Sophie and Kana to be born, but it could have been, so narratively I could buy it. Wars could drag on for years and this could have been one of them. But on the other hand, they could have gotten married between two chapters when the army was on the move, and the kids would have appeared anyway!

Which should result in awkward conversations. For example, in Chapter 16, Xander, the adopted brother of the avatar, returns and asks how things have gone since the last time they met (around Chapter 10 or so).

I kind of pictured the conversation going like this:

Xander: Well met, little princess. I hope I have not missed anything important.

Avatar: Oh, nothing much. I got married and now you have a niece and nephew.


Avatar: They're also teenagers because I sent them off to the Deeprealms for some accelerated aging.

I understand having the children in Awakening was a nifty feature, but part of the reason was for the narrative. It was a unique twist and involving the player's decision-making in who got married to who was solid gold for shipping fans.

But shoehorning the second generation into Fates feels tacked on, since the plot makes no mention of their existence. Considering that most of the major characters are royalty and you'd think that succession would be a big deal, it's incredibly weird that someone like King Garon wouldn't comment on having a grandson by Xander or comment on who Xander chose to marry.

Chrom in Awakening, who was royalty, had a limited set of potential partners, probably to prevent him from marrying someone who would be considered too far out of left field for a queen. Xander, on the other hand, can marry the majority of marriageable female characters in the Conquest storyline, with only his blood-related siblings being ineligible. In my playthrough, he ended up taking the former assassin Beruka for his wife.

I figure they don't have much in the way of bedroom conversation, but damn if they didn't make a fantastic wrecking crew on the battlefield.

Going back to the topic of time dilation, this also creates something strange in Xander's particular case, being the crown prince of Nohr. From his parent/child conversations with Siegbert, we can see that he's concerned about making his son into a good heir, but when you consider that they're physically no more than ten years apart in age by the time Siegbert joins the army, it's unlikely that Siegbert would spend much time ruling at all. Barring accidents, Xander isn't likely to die much ahead of him, making his son's reign a very short one.

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but it feels like the person who wrote the Deeprealms parts of the game either doesn't have kids or know someone who has them.

For gameplay purposes it's fun mixing and matching the parents and looking at the kids that come out of the relationship, but I'm not entirely sure the game needed that. I would have been fine if they had left the support system in (since it has been a Fire Emblem feature for several games now) and just stopped it after marriage.

The kids generally forgive their parents for the bone-headed decision of having left them to grow up alone in a speedier timeline, but it just feels like all that trouble was ultimately unnecessary from a storytelling perspective. And I still would have liked to see how the pregnancies were managed while on the march. I mean, seriously.