Monday, January 1, 2018

A Convinced Agnostic

I’ve decided to write this for my own catharsis and nothing more. I don’t expect it to change anyone’s mind. To quote Jethro Tull, “I can make you feel, but I can’t make you think.” I can only say that I’m being true to myself.

To clarify some unfortunate cultural ignorance, Agnosticism actually has two definitions. One is what most people say, which is that they’re undecided on Theism or Atheism and they’re still looking for evidence. The other definition, of which I fall under, is that any talk of God or any ultimate explanation as to why we’re here is fundamentally unanswerable. I’m not waiting for new evidence to come in, because any possible data we receive would be inherently unacceptable under the lens of scientific rigor.

I want to make another distinction here, in that I’m only talking about being Agnostic in the sense of a prime mover or a Deistic creator that metaphorically “wound the clock” of the cosmos. Or perhaps even that life was seeded by an alien species so advanced that they would functionally appear as gods to our primitive ape-like minds. All of these are interesting and plausible ideas. Hell, if you really want to go crazy, you can even say that since philosophically we can’t prove our five senses past brain chemicals, we could all be in the Matrix. Of course, the probability for the last one is pretty low I’d say… Not that I wouldn’t want to be Neo. Despite the lack of evidence, I even admit in wanting to believe that there's an afterlife.

What makes me an Agnostic as opposed to an Atheist would be my attempt to be humble about not knowing everything. Science is the best tool humanity ever invented. In just a few hundred years from Galileo, we understand so much about our universe. We know the Earth rotates around the sun and not vice-versa. We know that all species evolved from a common ancestor through natural selection. We know that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. We even know what the surfaces of all the planets and moons in our solar system are like through photographs sent back from probes like Voyager 1 and 2.

As grand as all that is, science is only capable of answering “how” questions. In which I simply mean that science explains natural phenomena in the material world. It cannot, and is not even supposed to, try to answer a question like, “Why are we here?” That’s not to say we can’t fight back against pseudoscience like young earth creationism, but it does mean that there are boundaries. For example, what caused the Big Bang is a realm that we cannot enter. Theists say God created everything, however, this only begs the question as to who created God. Atheists say that there might be billions of universes, a sort of “multiverse.” Of course, that also just begs the question as to where the multiverse came from. So, at the end of the day, we merely have to be skeptical of any “grand theory” be it theistic or atheistic.

Concerning the religions on this small planet, specifically the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, I am as close to being an Atheist as I possibly can be as an Agnostic. I view their likelihood as I would with Greek or Roman myths. However, I also recognize that the Golden Rule found in all major faiths has tremendously helped progress our collective ethics. Stories like Jesus' Sermon on the Mount still have moral power and relevance.  

I was a Christian for a long time. In fact, I only left it very recently, so I don’t view religious people in contempt or anything of the sort. As I said, I simply must be true to myself. I could easily spend pages upon pages dismantling Christianity and all its intellectual pretenses as a justification for my apostasy, but the truth is there are better things to do. I was born Jewish by heritage, an Atheist for most of my life, then a Christian, and now an Agnostic. However, these things don’t define me, nor should it anyone. The only thing that ought to matter is how we treat one another. If humanity fails to love everyone, even those they disagree with, then it won’t much matter who was right when we all kill each other.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What's Wrong With Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite

So, after six long years in the making I finally got to play Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. I also bought it new near launch, something I don’t really do anymore. However, Street Fighter V passed the Xbox One by, and I wasn’t going to miss the fourth iteration of my favorite Capcom brawler. It’s hard to believe MVC 3 came out back in 2011. Despite the 11 year wait from MVC 2, MVC 3 was just as crazy as its predecessor, with crazy 3 on 3 character fights, ridiculous air combos, screen filling super specials, and a simply wonderful stylized look to the levels that payed homage to both Capcom and Marvel’s rich heritage. That’s certainly a lot to live up to… so how’d it go this time?

Not too well. In fact, not well at all. Of the four features I just listed that made MVC my fighter of choice, only one of those things made it into this game: the super specials. To be fair, Street Fighter or even Mortal Kombat has super specials, so that alone is not going to save this game. I suppose at this point Capcom expects that I should be thankful that Ryu can still fire a large hadoken. Sorry, I’m not.

So, to go point by point here, let’s talk about the 3 on 3 fights. Whoops, I forgot… there are no 3 on 3 fights anymore. Instead, they’ve gone back to something that hasn’t been in a MVC game since the first one in 1998. I’ll merely remind you that’s nearly 20 years ago when the N64 and PS1 were in their prime. Imagine if Street fighter V just took their mechanics back to Street Fighter 1 in 1987 so as to not “frustrate new players.” It’s clearly an attempt to just make this a game for casuals as dictated by Disney. We don’t want the Angry Birds crowd to feel left out, now would we?

Ah, and now about those air combos… oh, damn my poor memory. Shucks, they’re gone too. At least half of the fun of MVC 2 and 3 was finding a creative and natural flowing way you could knock your opponent in the air, bounce him around, and keep him there. It was an art of sorts. Now in Infinite you can barely get the guy in the air to do a few meager moves on him, which I guess makes sense now. You don’t want to hurt him too much… there’s only two characters left after all, right? There are a few air combos I’ve seen done online, but pretty much all of them boil down to just getting one guy in a corner and trapping him. This has simply been called “cornering” since the days of Street Fighter 2 and it’s just a really lazy strategy, even if it’s effective.

Then we actually have the look of the game. Well, at least there are actual graphics on my television I guess, as opposed to a black screen. Progress? Of course, there is the issue as to whether the in-game graphics make me want to duct tape my eyes shut. The answer is yes, yes they do. Apparently, Capcom decided to go with the Unreal engine for the character models and levels this time… and good God do they look hideous. The characters look like lifeless mannequins, especially any character that’s even slightly stylized. Mega Man X and Zero for instance look like their blank doll eyes are going to steal your soul. Who the hell thought that anime-like characters such as these and others, would be best served by the engine that runs Gears of War? Someone’s doing bumps of cocaine at either Capcom or Disney… Hell, maybe they’re all going at it like Tony Montana in Scarface. Also, to be brief, the stages look completely bland, and they’re almost entirely focused on the Marvel universe. Boring.

Let’s also talk about the infinity stones. First off, it’s obvious, but I do feel the need to say that the only reason this game was finally allowed to be made, was because Disney thought it would make a nice advertisement for their new Avengers: Infinity War movie. This is also why Disney refused to use any Marvel characters used in Fox movies, such as all the X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and Deadpool. To not at least have Wolverine in here is just shameful.

So, what exactly do the infinity stones actually do in this game? Well, in theory they attempt to make up for a lack of a third character by giving you one of six different colored stones with various abilities. It actually sounds compelling on paper… until you realize when you go online that only one stone really matters: the soul stone. When the soul stone is powered up it can actually bring a downed character back to life. In addition, you can actually control them both simultaneously against the poor bastard who is about to have a train run on him. I once had a guy who revived his dead partner not one, but two times. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.

Are there a few good things in Infinite? Yes, I don’t deny that. It’s nice to finally have Mega Man and Venom back. It’s also pretty cool that we finally have a story mode now. I even think the new villain of Ultron Sigma actually makes a lot of sense. That being said, this is not Marvel vs. Capcom to me. I honestly don’t know what this is. I suppose it’s trying to be its own thing, and I can accept that… However, whatever game this actually is, it is quite simply not for fans of MVC 2 or MVC 3. I’m also honestly disgusted at how corporatized this game is. Everything just reeks of Capcom sheepishly approaching Disney and routinely asking “Is this okay, Mr. Mouse?” I still wouldn’t call Infinite a terrible game, but I won’t be playing it anymore either. Maybe Dragon Ball FighterZ can save us all.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dragon Ball Super is the new GT

Warning: if you don’t watch Dragon Ball Z or Super, then this post will mean extraordinarily little to you.

Now with that out of the way, we can get to the meat of it. Let’s start with the basics… As silly as I know it sounds, Goku was an early kind of Christ figure to me as a small child. His ethics were profound, yet was an exceedingly simple man to understand. He believed in forgiveness, was a loving father, and being remarkably powerful, he protected the planet from evil.

A character like Goku only really makes sense when the stakes are high. Goku, being a martial artist who constantly wanted to test his own limits, came into many situations where his back was against the wall. Dragon Ball Z (really all the way up until Buu) also had Goku’s friends assisting him to manage some outrageous wins for the good guys.

Just the first saga with the Saiyan invasion had every one of “Earth’s Special Forces” pulling out all the stops against Vegeta and Nappa. Yamcha, Chiaotzu, Tien, and even the mighty Piccolo fell in battle. Furthermore, if it hadn’t been for Gohan, Krillin, and Yajirobe’s surprising act of bravery in slicing off Vegeta’s tail, victory would never have been achieved. Also, when it comes down to a coward like Yajirobe, you know you’re cutting it close… The bottom line: people aside from just Goku pitched in and the weight and urgency of the battle was lost to no kid watching Toonami at the time.

Then you get to the Android Saga when a time traveler named Trunks warns everybody that their future just went full Terminator and they need to train like hell to stop it from happening. Not to mention, just the appearance of Trunks, this awesome new character, and how he killed Frieza by brutally chopping him into chunks with his sword and then proceeding to blow those same bits up, was literally the coolest thing I had yet seen on TV. Once again, these moments were filled with the question, “Are they actually going to win?” Or just as important, “Is someone going to die and not come back?”

Now… sigh… we get to Dragon Ball Super. I could honestly talk about DBZ all day and my favorite episodes (best one is Save the World, just saying), but that would defeat the purpose of this post. God in Heaven, where to even begin with this fan fiction? Well, let’s just start from the beginning I suppose. While I did enjoy the two new movies in the theater (Battle of Gods and Resurrection F) the problem is that Super literally just adapts HALF of its show into being just drawn-out filler of the films. It’s truly quite remarkable. With Dragon Ball Z you had filler like Garlic Jr. for an obvious reason: They were still drawing the manga! So, this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that has self-imposed filler because apparently the writers for this show are a bunch of asshat monkeys… and please don’t give me, “This was all from Akira Toriyama’s imagination.” It’s not. I don’t believe that for a second. It’s just like GT because it has Toriyama’s name attached to it but not much else. Maybe he did some character designs like Super Saiyan Blue, similarly to how he also did the sketch for Super Saiyan 4 in GT.

I could also rant and rave for days at how the animation and line work looks like garbage… but I’ll simply say that if you think the animation looks “modern” it’s only because they’re putting a CGI “watercolor” type sheen on everything. It’s not good, it just looks shiny. Compare that to just the one scene of Vegeta raging out and beating the crap out of Recoome… my God, the vivid frames of movement. It’s such a shame because back in the day Toei had great hand drawn shows. Even Sailor Moon had tons of detail.

Another gripe with Dragon Ball Super is that there’s no weight, there’s no gravity, there’s no urgency, and there’s no real threat. The only time when Super isn’t stealing from their own films, is when they decide to do the most boring and tiresome thing a shonen fighting anime can do in the year 2017… Have another tournament of course! I mean, really? Dragon Ball, Yu Yu Hakusho, G Gundam, and Hunter X Hunter have already done this to death. It’s a proverbial dead horse where even his ghost has been beaten to death. Are we genuinely still doing this Japan?

My final complaint is the worst one. They destroyed Future Trunks and his entire reason for existing. It’s the equivalent of dragging a beloved individual like Giordano Bruno through the streets and burning him and his ideals to the stake. Trunks had lost almost everything. The point for his continued heroism was that he still had people to protect. His mother and the remnants of humanity counted on him as a savior. Super might actually be worse than GT because it retconned one of my favorite characters and now his universe is literally an empty hole. Gee, thanks Toei. The saddest part of all is that the 19 out of 20 episode saga of “Goku Black” was actually really good. I mean it. It had urgency and dramatic storytelling… it was truthfully close to Dragon Ball Z. Then came episode 20. Oh Kami, what have you done? I’m not joking, Trunks had decisively beaten the bad guy with some type of Spirit Bomb “Sword” attack, and everyone was celebrating… then it all just gets reversed with basically some kind of magic. I sure hope Trunks doesn’t have PTSD now.

I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z. Sad as it may be, DBZ and the N64 basically formed the basis for my childhood. So, it’s with great and bitter disappointment that I must say Dragon Ball Super is not for the Toonami generation. If you like bullshit like One Piece, maybe you’ll find yourself at home. As for me, I’ll just keep watching Attack on Titan Season 2.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Gay Marriage Once Again

I'm a Christian that supports gay marriage. Many teens are kicked out of their homes by their parents for coming out, or just as worse, told that they're "being sinful" and need to "suppress their urges." Also, remember when "reparative therapy" was a thing and Exodus International said you can "pray the gay away?" Too bad Alan Chambers, the founder of that entire organization, admitted he still had same-sex attractions himself, eventually shut down the practice, and even issued an apology. From the Kansas City Star in June 2013, “We’ve hurt people (and) caused years of undue suffering.”

The recent study done by John Hopkins and Harvard University confirms what common sense told us all along: that being ostracized or hated for loving someone of the same gender makes gay teenagers more likely to commit suicide. In states that barred gay marriage before the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the statistic for gay teens attempting suicide was 28.5%... do you know what it was once the law changed? 24.5%. Gay marriage is saving lives.

It's amazing, no church cares about divorce and adultery anymore (conservatives just elected a man as president that's been married three times), but homosexuality is apparently the big sin. In my own church, they allowed a divorced man to play in the worship team, but they would never allow a married gay man to do the same. It’s the Pharisees and the blind leading the blind all over again. How many times do we have to fight for civil rights and the church be on the wrong side of it?

In the antebellum South, there was a belief that all black people were actually descendants of Cain, and their black skin was there to outwardly show their sin. This “Curse and mark of Cain” was the actual worldview of white slaveowners. That’s how they conditioned themselves to be monsters to innocent people. They would also quote Ephesians 6:5 as it says, “Slaves obey your earthly masters...” Flash forward to 1958 and not much has changed… here’s Jerry Falwell doing his best racist rant he can muster, “If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never had been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.” Yes, even after almost a hundred years since the end of slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention was still that stupid.

I'm going to be real honest here. I don't care what Leviticus 18:22 says about not lying with another man, Leviticus also tells us to stone disobedient children and to kill a man who works on the Sabbath. These laws were specific for the Israelites 3000 years ago, not us. And now this moves us to literally the only other verse in the Bible that mentions homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27. Yes, it does say that God gave them over to unnatural passions… but again, we’re talking about a generation and a culture that existed 2000 years ago. Was Paul honestly talking about a devoted gay monogamous relationship here? Paul also says for women to be silent in church. Jesus (who never mentioned homosexuality, but did repeatedly talk about divorce and adultery) also tells us to turn the other cheek and to not match evil with evil. Last I checked, women are still talking in their churches in America. Last I checked, our so-called great “Christian nation” has been involved in numerous wars that have bombed children and butchered their tiny bodies. Doesn’t really sound like loving your enemy to me…

The bottom line is that you can easily handpick a verse in the Bible (which is not one book, but 66 books written all across ancient history) and say, “Aha, see! You’re wrong!” What’s harder to do is actually look at the heart of scripture… which can only be Jesus. Sometimes people can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s like the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says the First Great Commandment is to “Love your God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.” Jesus then says simply this about the Second Great Commandment: "Love our neighbors as ourselves.”

I merely ask if we’re loving our neighbors as ourselves when we tell our gay brothers and sisters that they must live alone for the rest of their lives. That they can never be married or have a family. Many gay people are pillars of support in their own community, some even serve and die in the military. I am unapologetically liberal, but it’s as a Christian that I cannot say to a gay teen thinking of suicide, “Sorry buddy, but you’re just going to have to suck it up and deny your identity and live in solitude for the rest of your life… but don’t worry, Jesus loves ya though!” This is not love, and I just refuse to do it. If I’m wrong about believing in a God that loves us too much, then I suppose I’ll follow old Huck Finn’s example, “All right then, I’ll go to Hell.”

"And these children that you spit on, as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They're quite aware of what they're going through." -David Bowie, Changes

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

So, is Star Trek Beyond the Fast and Furious shit show we sci-fi fans all thought it was going to be? Well, a little yes, but mostly no. Surprisingly, the main problems with the film aren't poor actor chemistry or too many stunt scenes (although there are a lot of the latter).

The essential trouble, if you could boil it down, would be the story. Quite honestly, it’s very clumsy bordering on being nonsensical. The main villain, Krall, is essentially the equivalent of a big dude whose shadow is looming over the city in an arcade game’s intro. Even his “plot twist” later is pointless.

Unlike Khan’s character in 1982's Wrath of Khan, Krall has no legitimate beef with the Federation. Khan was marooned by Kirk on Ceti Alpha V, which then became a barren world. There most of Khan’s crew grew sick and died. Krall, on the other hand, is basically Tom Hanks from Cast Away. His revenge is akin to blaming a root for tripping him.

All that being said, Beyond is a true summer blockbuster. Explosions dart the black recesses of space, and photon torpedoes bloom as miniature suns. Hell, even the Beastie Boys have an actual plot inclusion that will sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

But what makes this still Star Trek to me are the characters and their love for one another. A moment between Spock and Bones on their unspoken friendship really got to me. As Zachary Quinto’s Spock mourns his predecessor’s passing, the audience feels a sense of reverence. Just one question: How many times are they going to blow up the Enterprise? 7/10

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 entertainment 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, Demon City Shinjuku, and Wicked City 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, stop overworking your animators like glorified sweatshops and listen to their creative input for once. 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.