Emotion in The Ancient Magus’ Bride and Violet Evergarden

This season, I have been watching Mahoutsukai no Yome and Violet Evergarden and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they explore many of the same ideas.

In Mahoutsukai no Yome, we are introduced to Elias as a character who is devoid of emotion. At the beginning of the series, Elias believes that about himself, but as his relationship with Chise develops, it becomes self-evident that he does have emotions but has not been socialized enough to understand himself or those around him.

Violet, the titular character of Violet Evergarden, is definitely human, but at this point in the series we’re not exactly sure of her backstory. We know that she has been used as a weapon on the battlefield, but it’s unclear what that entailed. Unlike Elias, we know she has definitely been around people for a long time, but she thrived in the military environment of complete order. She works as an Auto Memoir Doll in part to understand what love is, but also largely because it’s the only thing she can do now that the war is over.

While I was initially hoping that Mahoutsukai no Yome would develop differently – I wanted the series to further operate as though Elias was actually devoid of emotion and show the limits of relationships when one side is unable to reciprocate emotionally – now Elias and Violet are both in the thick of it, learning what it means to love and be loved.

I’m sure I will have more profound things to say once both series conclude, but for now, I will simply say that I am hooked.


Comparing Devilman Crybaby and Tokyo Ghoul

This post is very spoiler heavy for both Devilman Crybaby and Tokyo Ghoul. You have been warned.

First it was PewDiePie. Then it was akidearest. And after that The Anime Man and Gigguk also boarded the hype train for “Devilman Crybaby.” So I watched it last night with hubby and after being so amped up for it… It fell short. Really short.

The first two episodes were difficult to watch. It felt like the anime was trying to make up for its lack of an original plot by being edgy. While, for the most part, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the art style, it did keep the graphic sexual scenes from becoming completely impossible to watch. The sex scenes aren’t the “sexposition” type in “Game of Thrones” and they aren’t meant to be arousing. They are meant to disgust you. Disgusted I was and if it weren’t for the hype, I would have stopped watching after the second episode.

“Tokyo Ghoul” explored very similar themes and, in my humble opinion, did it better than “Devilman Crybaby” in almost every single way. The sad thing is, even with all its religious references “Devilman Crybaby” just didn’t go as deep as “Tokyo Ghoul.”

The Root of All Evil

In “Devilman Crybaby,” the devils possess humans at the raves. These parties are dubbed “Sabbath” gatherings, which can be interpreted as a strictly ironic name, but can also be understood as the height of a kind of hedonistic cultural belief that casual sex and drugs is as close as people can come to reaching the divine on earth. This suggests that society at large abandoned religion and traditional spirituality and was instead embracing an artificial, chemically induced kind of religious experience that was focused solely on bodily pleasures. In fact, the only religious characters we see are Miki and her family, who are ill-equipped in the face of pure malevolence; they are so out of touch with the mindset of the general populace that it is no wonder they all die.

Miko is another character whose physical desires corrupt her. She hates Miki for being a faster runner than her. She believes the people around her only value her due to her connection with Miki (which is somewhat true). Miko loses herself spiritually and thinks she must reclaim her identity as the true “Miki” by proving herself to be the physical superior of the two. Miko derives her worth from her body, so it makes sense that she allows Nagasaki to take lewd photos of her while Miki does not.

At the rave, Ryo breaks a bottle and starts attacking people to make the devils appear and begin possessing people, further driving home the point that evil manifests when people operate purely as animals. While Akira had agreed to become possessed to defeat other devils, he remains a good character because he retains his empathy and love for others. This is what sets him apart from Ryo and the other devils; Ryo doesn’t believe in love and has no compassion. On the other hand, Akira does not want to sacrifice those at the rave for the sake of the greater good. Akira becomes a “devilman” somewhat against his will after his body was contaminated (he is forced to drink some alcoholic beverage and swallows some other drug, most likely ecstasy).

In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Kaneki becoming a ghoul is somewhat similar. Kaneki is socially a bit awkward and very innocent. He is attacked by the ghoul Rize on their first “date” (ghouls survive by eating human flesh). Rize dies from steel beams falling on her and the doctor who saves Kaneki decides he’s going to transplant Rize’s kidney into Kaneki to save his life. Like Akira, Kaneki’s body becomes contaminated. However, Akira goes in with his eyes open while Kaneki is blindsided. They both become hybrids; half monster, half human.

In “Devilman Crybaby” the existence of evil in the world is demonstrated to be a lack of compassion for others and surrendering to physical desires. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the origin of evil is not nearly as straightforward. The existence of ghouls is never explained. Yet, we see characters who take their condition as ghouls in different ways, and their choices of how they manage their urge to eat flesh show their differing moral standards. On one end of the spectrum is the gourmet, who makes a spectacle of finding the best tasting people and eating them, and on the other end are characters like Hinami, who is just a child, and Yoshimura, who takes in wayward ghouls and helps them blend into human society. “Devilman Crybaby” introduces the devils as having a predisposition toward evil. In fact, Silene briefly comments on the sexual depravity of the devils and flippantly asks why they should resist their urges, a point that is never brought up again. Only Akira has overcome those urges and influences others to follow suit. The characters lack depth and immediately flip from evil to good. “Tokyo Ghoul,” by contrast, shows that people (and ghouls) all have the ability to be evil and most only choose to do what they believe to be necessary, though some will go out of their way to cultivate their evil tendencies.

The Price of War

“Devilman Crybaby” and “Tokyo Ghoul” both end with all-out warfare between the “monsters” and the humans. However, the battles begin and end very differently. In the beginning, Kaneki and Akira’s bodies are invaded by evil forces, but Kaneki, who was completely innocent and did not consent to what was happening to him, must recover and almost died from the experience. Akira, on the other hand, knew what he was getting into and actively tries to grapple with the evil in the world and use it to his advantage. (This is the difference between Bilbo stumbling upon the ring and Elrond thinking he can wield the power of the ring without being corrupted, though this does not seem to factor into why Akira ultimately dies while Kaneki lives.)

Side-note: Kaneki is simply more developed than Akira. After Akira becomes a devilman, his personality does not change. Kaneki, however, radically changes as a result of Jason’s torture. Before his encounter with Jason, Kaneki struggles to exist as a ghoul, being too conflicted to eat. After being tortured, he embraces the power that comes from being a ghoul and puts himself on the front lines, eating other ghouls to become stronger, so that he can protect the people he cares about. (I would say this is similar to Frodo using the ring to hide from enemies when he needs to.)

Akira and Kaneki both position themselves as leaders against the “true monsters” they face for the same reason: they both want to protect those they care about. However, the line between good and evil is less clear in “Tokyo Ghoul” than in “Devilman Crybaby.” In “Tokyo Ghoul,” the ghouls that Yoshimura brings together at Anteiku (a coffee shop) regard each other as a family. The viewer sees them as the good guys and they are the ones that end up being attacked by humans – not Aogiri, the ghouls that do not attempt to live peacefully among humans. In other words, the final war is between two sets of people that the viewer believes to be good. The humans are retaliating against all of the innocent people that have died and the Anteiku family are fighting for their right to exist. This is what makes the final battle so heartbreaking.

Conversely, in “Devilman Crybaby,” the final battle still feels like a war between good and evil. As stated previously, the only devils who reclaim their humanity are the ones approached by Akira. Plus, the only human death the viewer really cares about is Miki’s. Sure, the circumstances of Miki’s family’s deaths are quite sad, but it was the situation that was sad, not the loss of any beloved character. Ultimately, there was Ryo/Lucifer, his band of devils, versus the humans, who were misguided but good for the most part.

Both shows have that one human character that is basically Jesus/completely pure and is almost killed for knowing too much fairly early on in the series. In “Tokyo Ghoul,” Hide represents everything that is good and innocent. I don’t think this needs to be explained if you have seen the anime. During the final battle, he is wounded trying to save humanity, of course, at Anteiku: where good and evil meet, literally and figuratively. We don’t know for sure if he dies in the anime but he sure looks dead.

Miki is the sacrificial lamb in “Devilman Crybaby.” While the deaths of Hide and Miki symbolized the inability of the good guys to protect the innocent from the evil of the world, the ending of “Devilman Crybaby” is much more nihilistic. While Hide dies because he inserted himself into the fray (which, perhaps, is inevitable in its own way), Miki has no chance whatsoever. Miki is hunted down by humans because she announced to the humans that Akira is a devilman and that not all the devils are evil. Humanity didn’t want to believe her and just wanted to silence her. People already referred to her as a witch because of how fast she was at running. Both humans and devils wanted her dead and the vast majority of the good guys died trying to protect her.

The final battle in “Tokyo Ghoul” is a purge. The wrongs of the past are wiped out and the survivors have a chance to rebuild and learn from the past. The final battle of “Devilman Crybaby” is the end of the world. Good cannot compete with the destructive nature of evil. Not only does the symbolic representation of good die, but then its strongest defender, Akira, dies as well. Lucifer regrets killing Akira but there is nothing to be done. God finally steps in and destroys the world. Really, though, the world seems to have already been destroyed by the time God pokes his nose in.

While “Tokyo Ghoul” is a cautionary tale that exemplifies the dangers of embracing the evil within and not looking for the good in others, “Devilman Crybaby” laments the unavoidable destruction of all that is good in the world. “Tokyo Ghoul” is a story of hope and “Devilman Crybaby” is a story of mankind imploding due its lack of humanity.

Appropriate Analysis and Sleeping Beauty

Disney movies have long been labelled Problematic. Sleeping Beauty, one of the supposed worst offenders, actually has a very positive message that has been drowned out by all the Feminist outrage. Not only is this outrage unnecessary, it is completely out of place for this story.

Feminists, in general, have two main complaints about the film. The first, more reasonable argument is that Aurora lacks agency and exists only as a prize for others to fight for. The second criticism is that the film romanticizes sexual assault; it’s not okay to kiss a sleeping woman. While this article by Leigh Butler argues that Sleeping Beauty is actually a Feminist-friendly film because the main characters are the three good fairies and they are the ones truly responsible for defeating Maleficent, this analysis isn’t very fruitful. Rather, it undercuts the heroism of the Prince taking down a dragon for the sake of making the film more female-centric. It also forces the reader to consider the main conflict of the story to be the three good fairies against Maleficent – nothing could be more black and white than good vs evil. This reading takes away from the message of the plot rather than adding to it.

The second Feminist criticism, that the film depicts sexual assault in a positive light, is simply laughable.

When Aurora opens her eyes and sees the Prince, she smiles. She is not a victim of sexual assault. What more needs to be said?

A more straightforward analysis of the plot is that Aurora’s parents tried to shield their daughter from the evil in the world. Even as a baby, she is exposed to the horrors of reality, and instead of realizing their error, her parents shelter her even more. She is so sheltered that pricking her finger causes her to fall into a coma. It is only through outside help (the Prince breaking the spell) that she is able to return to the real world. She then marries the man that actually helps her cope with the world as it truly is, immediately fleeing her parents and the fairies who are at fault for the entire mess.


Did Somebody Say Free Classes?

I’ve been caught in a cycle for the past few months that looks a little something like this:

  • Week 1: Existential crisis
  • Week 2: Less panicking, careful consideration of my career and school options
  • Week 3: Decide I’m not decided enough for grad school and can’t afford to waste my time on a random pursuit like massage therapy
  • Week 4: Comfort myself with fulfilling projects until the next existential crisis

Therefore, when T-Mobile decided that one of its T-Mobile Tuesday perks was going to be a free class from Shaw Academy, I was elated (and very skeptical). I’ve wanted to take up graphic design for so long but could never justify it. If I’m going to go back to school, the results need to be tangible. I’ve been doing the freelance/work from home thing for a few months now and it is not all it’s cracked up to be.

When I looked through the reviews for Shaw Academy, they were pretty mixed. Some people were saying that they got charged when they were doing the free trial, some said the lectures were obviously not live, and some had other complaints about it. After seeing that it was accredited and digging around on the website, I decided that I would try the regular free trial and, if it went well, later on I would redeem the T-Mobile credit for another class. Part of me also figured that T-Mobile wouldn’t give credits to a scam school, but then I remembered that they did the whole free year of magazine subscriptions thing and figured it was pretty much on the same level.

I signed up for Principles of Graphic Design and was quite taken aback. I enrolled on a Wednesday or Thursday and the class started the following Monday. That seemed way too convenient. Then, the same day I signed up I got several text messages and 3 phone calls with verification codes for the email account I used to sign up for the class. I’m not saying that the school tried to hack my email…. but that has definitely never happened to me before. (If you do not have 2-factor authentication set up for your email accounts, you should definitely get on that!) The key thing is that they didn’t ask for my credit card information.

Despite the red flags, I logged in on Monday and attended my first lecture. There was definitely a real person teaching the class. However, it was also very definitely not live. You do have a chat option, but you aren’t talking to the professor. Instead you can talk to support. I very cheekily asked how to partake in the “live chat” that the professor kept referencing and got no response. However, this past week I attended my fifth lecture and they had a drawing for someone to receive a free year-long membership and you had to put your name in the chat. I opened the support box and noticed that support had been asking questions to help me stay engaged through the lecture. I was quite surprised.

While the first week was very basic, I must say I have actually really enjoyed the subsequent lectures. I went in knowing nothing about Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.* After week 2, I asked my best friend to send me a picture to Photoshop and ended up making a picture of her dog being sucked into a black hole. Progress!

*In my high school photography class, we only had one assignment using a digital camera and I didn’t have Photoshop at home. I played with sharpening, contrast, and saturation, and that was it. Then, in my college photography class, we had a few more assignments where we used digital cameras, but I still only did super light editing. It’s been… 4 years since I even did that, so for all intents and purposes, I knew nothing.

I just finished my third week of lectures (meaning I’ve attended 6 in total), and I don’t feel like an expert on any of the Adobe programs, but I know where to start.

Overall, I have really enjoyed Principles of Graphic Design. The whole email thing still seems really shady… and I usually have issues with my web browser crashing after I’ve attended a lecture, but I’m not too worried. (Mostly because hubby can fix anything that happens with my computer and I know whoever it was didn’t successfully breach my email account.)

If you want to take a class and actually have proof that you know what you are doing, then this is not the program for you. You can theoretically get the equivalent of an associate’s degree through the program, but it’s not worth actually paying for, in my humble opinion. For one, there is no homework. You just take these 20 question quizzes on the material and as long as you get the answers right, you’ll get a completion certificate. Of course, if you’re interested in pursuing graphic design, I don’t think a degree matters anyway. You just have to have a good portfolio. This program works for me, though, because I’m just learning because I want to. I’m not necessarily going to do anything with the material other than make my blog look better.

When I finish this course, I am undecided on what to take next with the credit from T-Mobile. It would make sense to take the Advanced Graphic Design course, but I feel like now that I’ve gotten my feet wet with Photoshop I might be able to figure out the rest of what I want to know from YouTube tutorials. The other course I’m interested in taking is Digital Media Marketing. Luckily I have until November to decide. (Thank you, T-Mobile!)

If you’re feeling adventurous, I would definitely recommend taking a free course. Maybe consider making a new email account just for the class, though.

My Favorite Works of Art Inspired by Starry Night

In general, I think most people disregard “modern art.” We look down on those paintings that aren’t pretty, seem to have no discernible meaning, have an incredibly high price tag, and were probably created by a hipster. For instance, here’s Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, often referred to as “the zero point of painting.”

So deep, so mysterious, so…black. Except that one bit there.

A few years ago, I went to the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow with a friend and we spent the entire trip either giggling or being very confused. I’d say there were a few things I found intriguing, but I did not feel emotionally moved by anything the way I felt the first time I saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Of course, there have been a million works of art inspired by Starry Night since then, but the vast majority of them are either studies/recreations of the work, or just add in famous characters without adding any original content whatsoever. I can’t recall how many dorm rooms I walked into in school that had the Dr. Who/Starry Night poster plastered on the walls. While I like that poster, I feel like the only reason I like it is because it is like Starry Night. I also love the Hogwarts version and every single Charlie Brown version I’ve seen, they’re just not different enough to stand on their own.

There are, however, those far and few between works that truly move beyond being a recreation and add to the conversation. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order).

1. Starry Night by Alex Ruiz

I love the idea of making the “inspiration” of a work the work itself. This clever twist on the iconic piece is mesmerizing. If you don’t know this guy by name, you’ll definitely know him by his work. He’s had a hand in The Simpsons, Eragon, Halo, Avatar, Family Guy, etc.

2. Starry Night Interactive

Animating the painting and letting people play with it is simply genius. This video is hypnotic. (You can download the app here on Android and here on iPhone.)

3. Daan Roosegaarde‘s Starry Night inspired Bike Path

Van Gogh Fietspad.jpg

While I love the “art for art’s sake” mentality, you bet I would ride my bike every night if this was in my neighborhood.

4. Van Gogh on Dark Water

This captures the movement in the piece like no other medium can.

5. StarryNightmare by FrozenTempest

I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong. I did say that I don’t count those works that just copy & paste without doing their own thing. But, this piece does do its own thing! Digital painting is not the same as oil painting or stop-motion animation, for one. More importantly, this piece mixes the look of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Starry Night together and has its own unique style, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

What do you think? What’s your favorite Starry Night inspired work of art?

Please support all these very talented people by checking out their other art.

Anne With An “E” – Season 1 Review

As a general rule of thumb, I believe book lovers anticipate literary adaptations will fall short of their expectations. A beloved scene gets cut, a relationship is developed oddly, the mood of the story is altered, and before you know it, there is a strange disconnect from the story you loved so well in its literary form and what you’re seeing on-screen. Book lovers tend to want the adaptation to be 100% true to the source material. After all, shouldn’t they be? The developers are taking advantage of the existing fandom.

Anne With An “E,” in some respects, is faithful to L.M. Montgomery’s original work. However, the overall tone is much darker and the adaptation is more political than I remember the book being. In fact, the edition I purchased when I about 10 was part of the Charming Classics collection and came with a necklace.

Every adaptation of Anne of Green Gables that I have seen features a beautiful actress with red hair. While the actress for Anne in the Netflix series, Amybeth McNulty, is gorgeous, she still looks like an awkward little girl in the series. Her hair is thin, her teeth are crooked, and her clothes aren’t flattering. In every other adaptation, Anne feeling plain or hating her hair has always been a bit mystifying because the actresses were always stunning. When Mrs. Lynde calls Anne ugly in the Netflix series, it actually makes sense why she would say that.

The superficial difference of Anne’s appearance I think demonstrates the main difference between this adaptation and every other adaptation I’ve seen. While most adaptations focus on how bright and sunny Anne’s view of the world is and paint the outside world as well-meaning but a bit snooty, Anne with an E takes a very different approach.

The thing is, Anne’s past is not wildly different in the Netflix series than it is in the book. How she copes with it, on the other hand, is radically different. Instead of Anne having an annoyingly overactive imagination that earns her some extra knocks, we see that Anne has been traumatized by her past and has frequent anxiety attacks. Rather, her imagination is truly a coping mechanism. Her discussions with Katie were particularly poignant.

I really enjoyed that interpretation of the work. It adds to Anne’s character and gives her more room for character growth, and seems very realistic. In the various homes she grew up in, Anne was treated as free labor. If she wasn’t seen as useful enough, she was sent back to the orphanage.

There were a few changes I did not like nearly as much, though. For instance, everything surrounding the supposedly stolen brooch was handled very badly. For one, if Marilla and Matthew did decide to send Anne back, they had previously decided that she would go to the Blewitt family. Instead, we see Anne back at the orphanage, which was quite confusing. Additionally, no matter how angry Marilla was, I don’t think she or Matthew would let Anne go alone. There was no reason to put her in that much danger, and it reflected badly on Marilla’s character. These changes to the plot I don’t think were justifiable. They only served to add unnecessary drama.

I also don’t think Marilla would have had such a hard time apologizing to Anne. Coming right after Anne’s apology to Mrs. Lynde, seeing Marilla reflect on that would have also been nice. Anne said that Mrs. Lynde should apologize to her since Mrs. Lynde gave the first offense, and Marilla could have reflected on that moment and found the strength to apologize sooner.

On a completely different note, I’m not sure how I feel about the frequent references to Jane Eyre. While I can definitely see why Anne would cling to Jane as a good role model and identify very strongly with her, it feels really odd to mix fictional universes. Every mention takes me a bit out of the story. I also don’t know when Anne would have been able to read it. Where has she been that would have that book?

Although I was a bit dubious of the fire scene, my main criticism of the series comes in the final episode of this season. Matthew deciding to mortgage the farm, attempting suicide for the life insurance, and the suspense surrounding the renters really rubbed me the wrong way. I have no idea where they are going with this, but I really don’t like it. Again, this seems like unnecessary drama that changes who the characters are. While some of the other changes felt like they were adding to the story, making it more realistic, or making the work more overtly relevant for modern feminists, these changes aren’t subtle or meaningful. They just add suspense for the sake of adding suspense.

Overall, I liked the series… until the last episode. To me, it signals a major departure from the canon that I really don’t care for. I will probably watch the first episode of the next season, just to see where they’re taking the story, but I doubt I will make it through season 2.

Cinderella Phenomenon Review

I downloaded “Cinderella Phenomenon” on a whim—I was actually waiting for “Fausts Alptraum” to finish downloading and browsing the other free games on Steam when I came across it, and I was absolutely blown away.

In the game, you play as Princess Lucette, the “ice princess” who shows more affection for her dolls than for anyone in her actual life. In an effort to thaw her frozen heart, a witch places the fairy tale curse upon her. Her curse is a twist on the Cinderella story. Instead of going from rags to riches, the princess finds herself in an alley with nothing but rags to her name. No one in the kingdom seems to remember who she is. In order to break the curse, the princess must perform three good deeds.

Eventually, the princess arrives at a tavern for the cursed. The player is then given the option of choosing who to ask for help. There are 5 different people to choose from, and each story can either have a happy ending or a bad ending, depending on what you do.

The Good Stuff (No Spoilers)

This game has beautiful artwork, and the in-game music is incredible. (Oddly enough, the only music I don’t like is the song they used in the promo trailer.) While the plot may seem simple, the longer you play the game, the more nuanced it becomes. Each character gives you entirely different pieces of the puzzle, and each arc becomes more complex. Plus, if you forgot to save the game and need to retry for a happy ending, you can fast forward through everything you’ve seen before.

The Bad Stuff (No Spoilers)

My main complaint with the game is that your choices really don’t make that much of a difference. The main plot of the game is predetermined, so your “choices” are more preferences on how you would like to phrase what you say. Even if there appears to be a major choice in front of you, you will likely end up actually performing the same actions eventually, though your character will feel differently about what happened later on. In short, though there are a lot of “choices,” remember that each route only has two possible endings. You will unlock a bit of different dialogue depending on your choice, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Additionally, in intense moments where the characters comes closer to the camera, the models don’t always look so good. It’s not something that particularly bothered me until I got to the last character. The game has so many gorgeous backgrounds and artwork, but there are those few moments that stick out like a sore thumb.

Finally, there are more than a few grammatical errors and some of the descriptions are a bit redundant. One more pair of eyes on the finished product could have easily eliminated those issues.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed “Cinderella Phenomenon.” If you like re-imaginings of classic fairy tales, you should definitely download it. It’s currently free on steam.

Spoiler-Filled Plot Critique

Continue reading “Cinderella Phenomenon Review”

Dynasty Warriors

When I was a little girl, I loved watching my dad and my older brother play video games. It was a very special occasion when I was able to actually join and be player 2.

Dynasty Warriors was one of those few games where I was able to play with my brother without being dead weight – I really, really sucked at video games back then. We played DW 4 on PS2 for a long time. I absolutely adored the power trip it was to single-handedly wipe out entire armies. (This is one of the reasons why I love the God of War games, too.) Much later on, after our first PS2 died and we got the more compact model, I was able to play it with my stepfather. We even got DW 5, only like 5 years after it came out. After my brother moved out, no one really wanted to spend the money to get new gaming consoles, so that brought an end to my exposure to the Dynasty Warriors world for a few years.

Regardless, the Dynasty Warriors games hold a special place in my heart. When I saw that a mobile version had been released, I downloaded it immediately. In the past, I have tried out a lot of these type of mobile games where there is an onscreen joystick and buttons like there would be on a traditional controller, though you can opt to have the game auto-play for you, and I can honestly say I didn’t like a single one of them. My knee-jerk reaction has always been what’s the point in ‘playing’ a game that does everything for you and if I wanted to use a joystick and a few other buttons to make attacks, I would be playing this game on a console, not on my phone.

However, I have been more or less hooked on Dynasty Warriors: Unleashed since it came out several months ago. I think I have persevered with it because I was already attached to the story and the characters, not because the game is inherently better than any other game in this genre. I will say this, though: the women, in general, wear a decent amount of clothing in DWU. The same cannot be said of the other games.

Because most of the game’s community is on Facebook, I haven’t been keeping up with it much. However, based on the… 3 YouTubers I have seen discuss the game, I think I am taking a different approach than most players.

Here is what my account looks like right now:

As you can see, I have kept a lot of generals that I think most people would have sold or used to level up. I only have two natural 5 stars, and only one level 60, but I’m actually pretty satisfied with my progress right now. Instead of racing to have as many level 60 officers as possible, I have been waiting to get my favorite characters and build them up. (On the other hand, I do wish I was further along with my equipment.) I have also tried to keep one gold version of every officer because I can’t control my inner completionist.

Of course, most of my favorites are the female characters. Da Qiao was my favorite in the older games because I loved her war fans, her voice actor wasn’t as obnoxious as the one for Xiao Qiao, and she ran the fastest. Plus, she wasn’t stuck-up like Zhen Ji (though I did get a kick out of her flirting in DW 5). I also always got really frustrated with the fire chariots, so I just associated Yue Ying with that suffering. And I just never felt particularly attached to Sun Shang Xiang.

While I like the newer female characters, Da Qiao will probably always be my favorite just because she’s been around longer. That’s why I have kept her even though I only have her as a bronze officer. I’m also disappointed that now she has these weird baton looking things that shoot magic at her enemies. I can see why they chose to give her a different weapon since her sister also had war fans, but in the old games their fighting styles were separate enough that I never minded them having the same weapon.

I am really excited for Dynasty Warriors 9 as well. The concept art for it looks fantastic and the developers have said that they are trying to be more historically accurate, which is always a good thing. Even if we don’t have the money to get the game when it comes out, I am hoping to at least be able to vicariously enjoy the game by watching someone play it on YouTube. Hopefully they will also further develop the story of the two Qiaos as well. All I really remember about musou mode for those two was that Da Qiao had to protect Sun Ce in one battle and Xiao Qiao was told to basically stay put and not get hurt, which made it all the more fun to go off and kill everyone so that her husband would be like “you did what? Oh, that’s great, honey. I’m so proud of you!”

I feel like my hubby would probably have about the same reaction if I went on a killing spree…

My Experience with Online Therapy

I guess you could say I “celebrated” Mental Health Awareness Month by going back to therapy. This time, though, I didn’t have to physically go anywhere. Instead, all I had to do was either visit the website or use the app to send messages to my therapist.

I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about trying it out. I probably would not have, but it seemed like kismet; I had just told my husband that I felt I needed to go back to therapy, had checked out our insurance coverage, and was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of finding an office (do people leave yelp reviews for counseling services?), and the next day, I happened to watch a video talking about online therapy.

(If you were wondering how I found a therapist previously, I took advantage of my college’s psychological services.)

Choosing the Platform

The week before I became 100% convinced I wanted to seek professional help, I had tried using Headspace, partially because John Green had recommended it, and partially because I figured guided meditation would be free – like a podcast. The letdown of finding out you have to pay for it coupled with the fact that most meditation exercises remind me of the time my best friend was hypnotized made me quickly abandon it.

With renewed vigor, I tried the app the YouTuber recommended: TalkLife. The second I opened the app, I knew it was not for me. Simply put, there were too many people. There was too much suffering and whining. I needed something that was going to be uplifting. I was struggling myself and was not in a position to deal with a feed of “pity me” status updates. I’m sure that some people get a lot out of TalkLife, but it made me sick. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition for basically being a Facebook for people with mental health issues, TalkLife does allow you to connect with an actual therapist.

But I did not give up! The next app I tried was 7 Cups of Tea. This was a step in the right direction. While people could post in a general feed, not everything looked like a failed meme. Additionally, 7 Cups has a group of “active listeners” that you can connect with at anytime for free. I would say that if you absolutely cannot afford therapy and need someone impartial to listen to your problems, this is the way to go. Active listeners will not give you advice. They simply listen to your problems and empathize with you. This is not a good long-term solution, but if you are having a really bad day and need to let everything out to someone immediately, it’s a good option. If meditation works for you, 7 Cups also has guided meditation available. Finally, I did not like that you can see when your therapist is active. Anything that makes me stare at my phone and wonder why the person hasn’t responded yet is not fun for me.

While I originally thought 7 Cups might be the one for me, it didn’t work out for quite a few reasons. The main one is that I hated the user interface. It was very hard to navigate the app because there were a lot of menus within menus. There were also a lot of notifications that I didn’t care to figure out how to disable. Finally, even though the app has a free trial period, you have to give them your credit card information to be matched with a therapist. While they advertise that it is $5 a day, you are billed monthly. I asked what would happen if I cancelled in the middle of the month – would the charges be prorated or would I be charged for the whole month – and didn’t get a clear response. That lack of transparency, the problems I had with the app, and the fact that the app really pushed you to not just get help yourself but to join in the general discussions all made me decide to delete it before my trial period was up. I was matched with a therapist but didn’t hear anything within the first 48 hours and I didn’t want to be tied to that service when I might only get a “hello” message from my therapist before the trial period was over. I was really turned off by the fact that you can only change therapists once a month as well. One good conversation with a therapist is usually enough to know whether or not you are going to click and I want the freedom to change my mind as much as I want. Luckily, I have never had the issue of feeling uncomfortable with a therapist, but that doesn’t mean it will never happen.

I was feeling a little discouraged when I decided 7 Cups of Tea was not going to work out for me. This time, instead of browsing the app store, I did a quick Google for online therapy and settled on using Talkspace. Talkspace was what I anticipated online therapy would be like. When you open the app, you can open the menu to view your account details, but otherwise it is just a focused conversation with your therapist. The website is the same. I also appreciated that when I was picking my plan, the person that helped me decide and matched me with a therapist was upfront about the billing details. Talkspace does not have a trial period, but your billing period does not begin until your therapist has responded to your first message. You can choose to mix up how you talk to your therapist – you can add scheduled video chats or live sessions to your plan or you can just use text. Even if you choose to do just texting, you still have the option to send your therapist pictures and voice messages.

What It Actually Involves

My therapist messages me twice a day, 5-6 days a week, which is pretty typical for online therapy. Usually her messages are a paragraph long, though when we first started talking, some of her responses were much longer. When we discuss complex issues, she frequently sends me links to additional resources. She also sends me voice messages sometimes, which makes the whole thing feel less like I am talking to a robot.

What I Like About Online Therapy

  • If I am having an existential crisis at 3 AM, I can write my therapist a novel that she will respond to. I have never and will never receive a complaint about writing too much.
  • Talking to my therapist every day helps me stay accountable and motivated to keep trying to get better.
  • I don’t have to worry about not remembering what we talked about.
  • I don’t have to worry about missing an appointment. (In college, I sometimes missed appointments because I needed to recover from an all-nighter. Now, I am worried I would miss appointments because I can’t be bothered to drag myself out of the house.)
  • I never have those “I wish I would have mentioned ____” moments.

What I Dislike About Online Therapy

  • It takes up a lot more time than traditional therapy for me. My first week, I had so much to say that I easily spent several hours every day writing essays to my therapist. This is not good because I work from home and the time I spend writing to my therapist is time I could have spent working.
  • Sometimes, it feels a little less personal. Yes, I can spend hours writing novels to my therapist. That doesn’t mean she is obligated to send me novels back. Getting links to outside resources is great, but they obviously aren’t personalized and sometimes the temptation to skim is a little too overpowering.
  • The discussions are a little less focused than when I went to traditional therapy. Because there were longer periods of time between visits, it made sense to make a weekly goal. When you talk twice a day, you don’t take as much time to reflect on the past week or however long it has been since your last appointment to monitor your progress. I also feel less motivated to make big goals because there’s such a short time period between messages.
  • Going to an appointment helps you focus – sometimes what I spend an hour trying to write I could have easily explained, albeit less eloquently, in 5 minutes.
  • Therapy dogs are great.

Overall, I think online therapy was the right decision for my current circumstances. For the same amount of money as I am paying for a month of online therapy, I could have gone to about three traditional appointments. I don’t think I would have been able to get as much out of three appointments as I have with online therapy. With my current financial situation, this was what I could afford. Now, I will have resources to fall back on in a few months. I can pick up where I left off if things change financially or if I move (which will hopefully be happening very soon), too. Would I recommend it? Yes and no. If you have never been to traditional therapy, I would strongly suggest that you give that a shot before trying online therapy. However, it has been extremely helpful for me and I think if you put the time and effort into it, you can get back on track in a short period of time.

‘Til It Happens To You

The first time I heard Lady Gaga was on the way to my high school prom. Inevitably, I found myself checking out The Fame from the library and dancing to “Poker Face” for the week after. At the time, I never would have expected a song like “‘Til It Happens to You” from Lady Gaga, but I am glad that she is using her position to try to change the world for the better.

However, I really think that “‘Til It Happens to You” falls short lyrically. I don’t mind at all that the song is vague about what “it” is – “it” could be any kind of traumatic experience whatsoever. I also don’t have a problem with the message that it is insensitive and disrespectful to tell people how to cope and/or grieve. My problem with the song is that it doesn’t encourage people to move forward.

Before writing this post, I watched the music video and her performance of the song at the Oscars, and I applaud both of those things. At the end of the music video, we see the victims transform into survivors. They open up to their loved ones and move forward with their support.

Similarly, at the end of Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars, there were survivors there, coming together in solidarity and showing that they were not defeated by what happened to them.

Without these outside influences though, the song can really leave the listener in a bad mental place. Consider the opening lines:

You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together
You’ll be fine
Tell me what the hell do you know

On the one hand, yes, telling someone that time heals all wounds is generally unhelpful. What makes time the healer of wounds is that over time, you have to do hard work to get over something. You develop coping mechanisms. You realize your life didn’t end when whatever happened took place. You become stronger because over time you slowly realize you have learned how to deal with it.

The speaker, understandably, throws the empty advice back in its giver’s face. However, instead of simply making the point that it’s not that simple and words don’t mean anything, the song also says, “You don’t know that I’m going to be fine.” It gives the speaker permission to feel isolated, to feel that no one can help them, and, essentially, to wallow in their pain. While the music video and the performance show people coming together, the song alone doesn’t create a sense of community between people going through any particular issue.

The song further reinforces the idea that it’s impossible to move on:

You tell me hold your head up
Hold your head up and be strong
‘Cause when you fall, you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on
Tell me, how the hell could you talk
How could you talk?
‘Cause until you walk where I walk
It’s just all talk

Again, this section goes beyond making the point that moving on is easier said than done. Trauma can impact a person for the rest of their life and it is insensitive and cruel to tell someone how quickly they should recover or what their recovery should look like. Again, though, the speaker is essentially saying, “I don’t have to ‘move on.'” No one can force you to heal, naturally, but this also introduces the idea that it’s okay to give up. Additionally, if someone truly cares and does their best to give you advice, even if the advice is bad, they are still trying to be there for you. And, honestly, while the advice the speaker receives is a bit oversimplified, it isn’t bad advice. Instead of arguing and being defiant and justifying why s/he hasn’t moved on yet, the speaker could very easily respond by saying, “I’m trying.”

Let’s examine the lyrics from a different perspective. In the former reading, the “you” in the song is assumed to be one person. Instead of a close friend/family member/other loved one trying to encourage you by saying these things, let’s imagine that the “you” refers to society in general. I think this is more so how the song was meant to be interpreted given the current political climate, especially following the revelation of the “grab ’em by the pussy” comments made by President Trump. (Another inciting incident could have been Rep. Todd Akin’s remark that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” to avoid pregnancy.)

Side note: While I do think this is the true intent behind the song, I didn’t discuss this reading first because the first time I heard the song, that is not how I took it – probably because I simply listened to the song without the video or performance. Additionally, without the context of either of those two items, the song isn’t necessarily about rape or sexual assault. At any rate, I loved the song and was floored by it and had listened to it 19 times before I realized I was in a really bad head-space.

Some of the lyrics make more sense if we assume that the “you” in the song refers to societal pressures to move on, or even to specific politicians. “’til it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real,” in particular is much more poignant. For sexual assault survivors and anyone who suffers from an invisible disability, the song serves as a defiant proclamation that yes, these problems are real and they will not be swept under the rug or minimized because they make other people uncomfortable.

In the end, though, the song has the same issues no matter who you assume to be the “you.” For instance, let’s assume the speaker is clinically depressed and is making the argument that depression can be managed but is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. Society arguing that “you’ll be fine” or “you’ve got to get up and move on” is somewhat minimizing the issue, but the speaker is still being a bit defeatist by responding by saying, “what the hell do you know?”

While it is not the job of any person suffering from a mental illness or getting over a traumatic event to defend themselves to the world, the song could have avoided sending the (most likely) unintended message that it’s impossible to cope with whatever the speaker is going through by including more specific details. I understand that this is very difficult to do in a pop song. It is also true that the ambiguity of the song makes the speaker easier to relate with. However, simply pointing out that someone doesn’t get what you’re going through doesn’t help that person understand. Asking “what the hell do you know” doesn’t necessarily make the listener want to understand either.

Ultimately, my main criticism with the song is that it doesn’t align more with the music video or Lady Gaga’s performance of the song. While the music video and performance were obviously meant to create a dialogue about sexual assault, the lyrics don’t open up the conversation. They close the door on the listener who fails to understand. What the hell does the listener know? Nothing more than they did before they listened.