Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Friend

I met you when I was a shadow of my past.
I resigned myself to trusting no one.
But we poured our quirks into each other.
I trusted you.
Then you needed me... really needed me.
Through all my stains, I was there.
We laughed together in a room of pot and anime.
Then you didn't need me anymore.
You left... and I trusted you.
You were my friend.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

An Anime Dark Age

There's always been slow years in any medium, or even in a historical context. That’s just life. However, with the topic of anime for the last ten years or so, I have to say that quality products are down to a minimal trickle. The age of Akira has passed.

Like any complex phenomenon, multiple factors are at work. But first I’d simply like to highlight what anime used to mean for me. I was born in 1989, so while much groundbreaking anime had already come out, it wasn’t really until 1998 or thereabouts that I actually recognized what anime was. You see, collectively we as a culture had been watching anime since the 60’s with Astro Boy and the 70’s with Speed Racer… but we all just thought that they were drawn weird. Even Voltron in the 80’s suffered with this assumption.

By 1998 Pokemon finally came out, and with that came the licensed anime. Pokemon, as ridiculously simplistic as it was, was the first show to have all the hallmarks of anime on American television. Then the floodgates opened on Cartoon Network. Ronin Warriors, Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing, Rurouni Kenshin, Yu Yu Hakusho, and of course, Dragon Ball Z.

Anime back then had humor, sure. But if you look at the overall arc of its style from the 80’s to the end of the 90’s it mostly had one thing in common: being badass and having an unapologetic macho streak. Being the non-historian that I am, I suppose I’d place the beginning and end to awesome anime as a general trend from 1984’s Fist of the North Star to 1998’s Cowboy Bebop.

Then you get into the stuff they never dared show on Toonami, which ahead of its time as it was, still was a children’s programming block. Radical content like Akira, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, Vampire Hunter D, and Demon City Shinjuku, blew away my teenage mind when I brought them home from Blockbuster. It wasn’t just the bloodshed, it was the manic yet masterful way these titles were drawn. Not with fancy computer algorithms either, but hand-drawn frame by frame just like the great Disney animators of old.

Now with big exceptions like the Hellsing Ultimate reboot and Attack on Titan, I really think mainstream anime has lost its way. No longer can I show a bunch of friends a new anime and expect their jaws to hit the floor… instead, I can expect a shrug. Which is fitting, because that’s what Japan itself seems to be doing. Katsuhiro Otomo and Satoshi Kon have been replaced with Ouran High School Host Club and Sgt. Frog. Unfortunately, this is not an aberration, it’s the status-quo now.

I’m not that smart, but if I could, I’d give Japan some advice. That being, for one stop overworking your animators like glorified sweatshops and listen to their creative input. Stop producing garbage for the lowest common audience. Yes, stupid high school comedies might be good for business on paper, but it’s a dead end. Go back to your roots. Don’t just make everything CGI. Tell a story worth telling. Finally, be badass again.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The public death of American Christianity

Words have meanings. That’s as simple a fact as admitting that some things are so and some things are not so. In 2016, however, the definition of a “Christian” has officially become nonsensical and irrelevant in the United States. Obviously, there are always gray areas… probably hundreds of them. Yet with the inevitable rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, all rules have been broken.

Quite honestly, the religious right or “moral majority” has always been hypocritical to some degree. This is due to the founder of the movement, Jerry Falwell, being largely unaware of basic theology in a way that other evangelicals like C.S. Lewis and Billy Graham never were. These cracks were evident from the 80’s. Civil rights for minorities was shunned, wars were lobbied for, and the rich were made richer and the poor were made poorer. When you have an ignorant teacher, you create ignorant students.

This long assembly of pious stupidity helped create the America we are held witness to today. The tragedy of it all is that conservatism, and yes, even the GOP have a proud history. While the two parties did fracture ideologically in 1964, it is a fundamental truth that the “man who freed the slaves,” Abraham Lincoln, was indeed a Republican. How far they’ve gone into the Wilderness!

Even men like Ronald Reagan, someone I thought was dramatically overrated, kept the Oval Office dignified. When Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” it wasn’t just an insult. He was protecting something noble. He talked about us being a “City on a Hill,” a Biblical phrase his Christian audience well understood.

If Donald Trump had been president then, I honestly have little doubt that he would have engaged in MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction). And, quite frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed him for it. That’s because Donald Trump isn’t trying to protect something near and dear to him. He is trying to win… by scorched earth if he has to. When Trump says that we as Americans have to collectively lower our moral standards and torture to fight enemies like ISIS, he is saying he doesn’t care if he fights evil with evil.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump is not a Christian. While we are rightly admonished in the Gospel for talking about a speck of sawdust in a brother’s eye while we are stricken with a plank in our own, we are also called to speak out against false prophets. If Donald Trump is just a “politically incorrect” truth-teller, then I’m Donald Duck. He wants pure power.

When Trump says he’s never asked God for forgiveness, when he calls Mexicans “killers and rapists,” when he refuses to denounce the Ku Klux Klan, when he mocks our veterans, when he says that we need to ban all Muslims from America and even create a “database” to identify them, and when he says he wants to actually target the wives and children of terrorists, I have a Biblical duty to call out this monster.

I will never be a conservative. I am a liberal and proud of it. That being said, if you voted for Reagan or look up to Lincoln, and call Jesus as your savior, you cannot vote for Donald Trump. It’s better for you and Christendom that the Republican Party lose the White House than lose its soul instead.

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” -Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

“Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is no inner discord between private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

See Ya!

Well, I think it's time to finish this blog. Basically, I've written everything I wanted to. From Super Nintendo games to existential theology, I've said a lot. I'm also making quite a bit of personal progress as well. I've been working at an upscale grocery store for almost nine months now, longer than anywhere else I've been before. That, and I finally moved into my own apartment. Things are looking up. I thank God, my family, and my friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gay Marriage is Biblical

Progress is a good thing. As a black man, would you rather be enslaved in 1860’s antebellum South, or live in the modern day Union? Would a woman rather subsist without the right to vote in 1910, or flourish in today’s America? These are easy questions for a reason. That reason, put simply, is that humans can improve themselves. We can become nobler.

The controversy of gay marriage never bothered me as an atheist. From that perspective, as long as there wasn’t a victim, it was okay. However, since becoming a struggling Christian, morality has become stickier. The issue of holiness and purity has thrown a wrench into my thinking. For a while, I was actually against it, maintaining that gays could only be Christians if they didn’t act on their feelings. Then I started actually thinking.

Similar to interracial marriage in the 1960’s, gay marriage has been called “unnatural” and “ungodly” by conservatives. I have seen compilations of racist and anti-gay quotes on websites with their sources and dates taken out… and you literally can’t tell them apart. They’re the same argument, just from a different era.

Are there verses in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, that speak against same-sex attraction? Yes, I admit this. Perhaps the most quoted is Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Yet Leviticus also instructs us to stone our children for disobedience. We don’t follow this stipulation anymore.

Beyond that, what is the core of the Gospel? It is Jesus and His love for us all. Constantly throughout the New Testament, Jesus contradicts the rule obsessed, outwardly focused Pharisees. When a woman is brought to Jesus for adultery to be stoned, Jesus forgives her sins instead, a revolutionary act. Is it possible that the Church’s teachings on gay marriage are a little too similar with the Southern Baptist Convention’s support for slavery and racial segregation?

But what really changed my mind and cemented my beliefs about gay rights was this: I knew gay people. Once you know someone personally, it’s harder to hate them, or deny them rights. I’ve always been a liberal in the truest sense of the word; I believe in liberty for everyone. To me, Matthew 7:16 is proof alone that gay marriage is moral and even biblical. “You will know them by their fruits.”

Think about it. By 2015 haven’t we seen tender and loving same-sex couples? Haven’t we seen children being adopted by gays and being cherished? Haven’t we seen gays bravely serve in the military? I’ve seen it. The truth is that if gay marriage was evil, you would know it. I think love is love, and I believe God agrees.

Monday, October 6, 2014

God as Delighted Father

I hiked up a mountain yesterday. By the way, I’m out of shape and 280 pounds. Yeah, it was hard. It was only about two miles the whole way, but to me I was climbing Mount Olympus. I did it though… and I was pretty damned proud. What I must remember is that God is even more proud of me.
You see, God delights in his children. It’s all over the Bible, but where that truth first hit me was in Psalm 18. There, King David details how he was beset on all sides by his foes. He openly admits that they were too strong for him, that he was too weak to fight them. But what does David say next? “But the Lord was my support. He brought me out to a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” What a picture of God’s love!
Of course, God doesn’t just delight in me because I climbed a little mountain. He delights in me because I am a son to Him. I’m a child of God. And the crazy thing is, while I remained an enemy of God, He still adored me. That is the power of God’s unfathomable love.
What must be understood is that God is not just God. He is our true father. While I endlessly love my earthly father, he has his failings. He has sinned before me. This is true of all fathers, except One. God is the perfect doting dad. There is no abuse or neglect in God’s sight.
God looks at us and watches our first physical and spiritual steps. He really does delight in every fiber of our soul. This was unconditionally demonstrated at the cross. Remember, you are not a failure… God delights in you! Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Castlevania: Genesis versus SNES

Whereas Capcom only released a small handful of games for Sega’s 16 bit console, the Sega Genesis, Konami was much more gracious with their licenses. Besides Street Fighter 2, Capcom really only gave Strider and Ghouls n Ghosts to Sega, and that was in the company’s early years. Konami, on the other hand, essentially released their whole library on the Genesis. Where to even start? Heck, I’ll just list em’ all. Contra Hard Corps, Castlevania Bloodlines, Tiny Toon Adventures, Sunset Riders, Snatcher, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Rocket Knight Adventures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, Lethal Enforcers, and Sparkster. What a pixel-perfect treasure trove!

As great as the list above is, believe it or not there were even more Konami games released on Nintendo’s 16 bit console, the SNES. So, what I’ve decided to do here is simple: I’m going to compare just one franchise from both systems and see how they stack up against each other. This isn’t to prove which console is better (if you read this blog at all, you’ll know my favorite console is the Super Nintendo), it’s just for fun.

1A: Super Castlevania 4

Ah, Castlevania. What a legendary series. It’s the ultimate in 2D horror. Coming from the 8-bit NES, Castlevania 4 looks positively stunning… especially considering this was released very soon after the SNES’ launch in 1991. Gamers were right to drop their jaws at the power of Nintendo’s 16 bits. I liked this game so much that I even put it in my top 50 games of all time.

There’s just one problem: It might not be as great as I remembered it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game or anything; it’s just slightly underwhelming compared to Sega’s Castlevania Bloodlines. My main problem with the game is its atmosphere. It’s just not scary or really even that creative.

You see, it’s almost as if the game designers were told by Nintendo to not make the game “too scary.” I mean, the game’s bad guys are just so boring. They include empty coffins and tables… yes, tables. Even the game’s bosses make me drowsy: Mummies and a dancing ghost couple… yawn.

Also, while I’m at it let me complain about the sprites themselves. They look ugly. I know it’s supposed to be gothic, but the sprites are just too large and gangly for their own good. Simon Belmont looks like a basketball player who crapped his shorts when he walks.

Finally, we get to the slowdowns. Yes, I know this was an early SNES game, and that Konami hadn’t quite figured out the system yet, but it’s still an issue. There are whole rooms that don’t just stutter, but move in a constant haze of slowness. The “Mode 7 room” as I call it, with the room looking like a rotating tube, is impressive, but it practically brings the game to a halt. The same slowdown happens every time you attack a mud man in the caves.

I know it sounds like I’m being hard on the game, but no Castlevania on the NES had these problems. I still love Castlevania 4 though, I would just have to say it’s no longer my favorite Castlevania.

1B: Castlevania Bloodlines

What a step up from Castlevania 4! Yeah, Bloodlines (or Castlevania: The New Generation for you Brits) is on technically inferior hardware, but it doesn’t matter. The colors pop off the screen and you’ll witness the Genesis push itself to the limit without any slowdown whatsoever.

For starters, I just like the graphical aesthetic to the game. The colors aren’t grimy like they are in the SNES version, they just look more vibrant to me. While the sprites may be slightly smaller, they don’t look awkward like Castlevania 4. Also a huge improvement is the creativity of the enemies themselves. They look positively nightmarish. From massive hellhounds whose howl breaks apart glass that you must dodge, to a seemingly beautiful princess that transforms into a giant disgusting moth, Bloodlines just has more creativity.

One of my favorite parts in the game has to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here, you’ll fight a demonic Gargoyle boss as the tower beneath your feet rotates 360 degrees. Bloodlines is full of cool touches like these. Like when you enter stage 6’s Castle Proserpina and you have to navigate where you’re going through a split mirror effect.

Quite honestly, Bloodlines is just more daring than Nintendo’s effort. For the first time in Castlevania history, you’ll see copious amounts of blood as you behead harpies or spill the guts of zombies with your whip or lance. Yes, I said whip OR lance. In Bloodlines, you can actually pick one of either two characters and each has slightly different branching paths and weapons.

All in all, I really underestimated Bloodlines on the Genesis. It’s more than just a solid Castlevania translation, it might be my favorite in the series.