1. Yesterday was my birthday, which is once again depressing to realize. I’m never satisfied – or even close to it – of what I’ve done with my life so far. But I’m trying not to think in those terms and to instead try to think of whether I’m doing better than I was yesterday. A change of mindset and not letting regret eat at me is one of the things I’m working on for this new year.
2. I’ve begun watching My Hero Academia, and once again I’m struck by how much less conventional and predictable Japanese storytelling seems to be compared to American storytelling these days.
For instance, part of the premise is that the protagonist, Deku, is selected by the great hero All-Might (who is basically this universe’s version of Superman) to inherit his powers. In a typical western superhero story, he would get the power all at once, be able to use it more or less at once, and probably have a long series of ‘comedic’ episodes where he gets used to it, misuses it, learns about it, and so on.
Here, he has to undergo months of rigorous training before he can accept even a small portion of All-Might’s power (both to test his resolve and discipline and because it would literally kill him otherwise), and then when he gets it, he finds that using it pretty much shatters his bones because his body isn’t accustomed to channeling that much force. Right from the start, he has to work twice as hard as anyone else, endure enormous amounts of pain, and his power is effectively unusable in most situations, leaving him to rely on his own natural abilities in a world of super-powered individuals.
Later, after he gets into the superhero academy, one of his teachers bluntly tells him that his power is a liability and that he doesn’t belong there. But the teacher isn’t a Snape-like asshole; even All-Might admits that he has a good point that can’t really be denied, and Deku has to figure out a way to thread the needle of showing that he can use his power without rendering himself useless for the rest of the battle.
All this feels much more real and honest to me than the majority of western shows and films; it makes more allowance for the complexities and hardships of real life without glossing over them to try to get to a desired result.
3. Another dynamic I really like: Deku comes up through school with a hot-headed bully named Bakugo, who is extremely talented and popular in junior high, but completely full of himself and constantly cruel to Deku. But then, when they get to the elite school for aspiring superheroes, he makes the rude discovery that this dynamic doesn’t hold true anymore; he’s now in a whole class of supremely talented peers, none of whom (except Deku) have any history with him. As a result, his angry posturing just makes them think he’s an asshole, while in contrast Deku quickly becomes well-liked and popular for his humble, supportive attitude and undaunted determination.
I like this because, again, it’s a very plausible and realistic situation: the bully discovering that the bad attitude that worked in one environment is a liability in another because he’s simply not the top dog anymore. Being always the best, he never learned how to healthily deal with not being the best.
4. Something else: I mentioned that All-Might is this universe’s Superman. Unlike most takes on Superman (including many direct adaptations), MHA actually gets the central point of the character: which is that when he shows up, everyone can stop being afraid.
That, by the way, is why Superman is described as a “symbol of hope” and why he doesn’t kill. He’s supposed to be the one whose appearance means that everyone – everyone – is going to walk away from this. No one has to worry that he’s going to lose his temper, no one has to be afraid of misfires, misjudgments, or just the sheer pain and terror of seeing someone killed. This is going to end, and everyone is going to live to deal with it.
5. I also visited Sully, about the Miracle on the Hudson the other day. It’s a good, not great movie that mostly gets its power from the sheer uplifting sense of experiencing what turned out to be a wholly positive event. Plus, like Apollo 13, it largely revolves around just mature, competent men doing their jobs well in an extreme situation.
But following on the last topic, that’s the kind of thing that superheroes, and especially Superman, are supposed to bring about; something terrible is about to happen, but because this guy arrived, it was averted against all odds. “No one dies today.”
If you’re going to write superheroes, keep that in mind.
6. Movie night last weekend was Battleship. It’s stupid and overly long, though the focus on naval combat is at least refreshing. I also wish they could have fit more of the game in: like, come on, you could have had the classic five-ship fleet from the game if you’d really tried (though I do like that they worked in the pegs). And, well, yeah, lots of other issues. Big dumb blockbuster.
But, that said, if you’re going to make a big dumb blockbuster, you should at least take the opportunity to do something as cool as having a crew of WW-II and Korea veterans start up the USS Missouri to pit it against an alien battleship. That whole sequence was one of those rare movie moments that pretty much justify the entire rest of the film.
The movie in general paid a lot of tribute to veterans, down to have an actual Iraq veteran who lost both legs as a supporting character. It’s really very appreciated and goes a long way to making up for the film’s shortcomings. Overall, I’d say it’s not a good movie, but it’s got elements that make it feel more worthwhile than many an objectively better one.
7. It’s Black Friday. As a reminder Perseus Corbett and the Forbidden Valley is available on Kindle completely free through Cybertron Monday. More details on shopping recommendations in yesterday’s post.