The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Nowhere Near as Good as I Remembered

The Mortal Instruments ShadowhuntersWith the new television show coming out next month, I decided to sit myself down and reread The Mortal Instruments series. I just got done with the first book, City of Bones, and I can safely say that I was not blown away by the writing. Now that I’m older and more aware of social justice issues and my own internalized sexism, I definitely loved Clary, our main character, a lot more than I did on my first read through, but the downside to that is that I detested just about everything and everyone else. In theory, the ideas behind City of Bones are fine. The plot is fairly compelling, the relationships between characters give us significant conflict, and the worldbuilding is interesting—but the story doesn’t know what it’s doing half the time, and many of the good things about the book get lost under the bad.

Spoilers for an eight-year-old book up ahead.

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Colette and Evaluating White Mages In Tales of Symphonia

A little more than a month ago, I brought to light my dislike for the white mage trope in RPGs and my wishes that such lazy tropes would be re-worked into more dynamic characters in the future. I still very much think this, but in writing said article I made myself consider the white mages that I had already come across in my gaming life. Unsurprisingly, the character that I automatically think of when considering this trope is not, in fact, Yuna from FFX, but Colette from Tales of Symphonia.

This is an obvious choice in my case because, while my brother certainly is a fan of the Final Fantasy series, I never really got into it until X-2 and honestly, I’m still not really into the series beyond that specific game. Instead, my first true foray into the JRPG scene, and probably the RPG scene as a whole, was Tales of Symphonia. Its story focuses on a religion that has been perverted to the point of sacrificing someone in waking up the goddess that will bring mana back to the world, and it just so happens to be Colette that has been chosen to—rather, has been bred to—become this sacrifice. However, most people aren’t aware that this ‘chosen’ will end up giving their life, and instead believe that they will become an angel. As such, it makes sense for Colette to carry the typical angelic-healer looks and personality: blonde hair, blue eyes, white clothes, and a sense of self-sacrifice that could make anyone around her feel ashamed.

Tales of Symphonia Colette Mystic ArteYet Colette isn’t the healer/white mage of the group. In fact, Colette gets no healing abilities and is actually more aggressive in her play style. The healer in Symphonia is Raine Sage, a somewhat bitter half-elf who has more fondness for ruins than for the people around her. I bring these two up not because Colette is exempt from the white mage trope due to her lack of healing skills (she’s still a “white mage” in terms of motivation), but because the game actively presents opportunities in which the audience can re-evaluate the inherent tropiness of having someone be a “white mage” in the first place.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Supernatural Beings: Angels in Pop Culture

Baby AngelsEarlier this month, the Catholic Church celebrated the Memorial feast of the guardian angels—it’s like a holiday to celebrate that spiffy angelic being given the job of poking you in the direction of Heaven. In honor of it, my mom planned a lesson for her fifth grade Sunday School class about what the Catholic Church thinks about angels, particularly guardian angels. Afterward, she told me that her students had all kinds of weird ideas about who and what angels are, none of which were really drawn from our own faith tradition at all.

You see, most people in America tend to think of angels as cute baby cupids from old, beautiful art, and as beautiful people who fly around, sit on clouds, and play the harp. They also tend to think that nice people turn into angels when they die, so that they can watch over us. But while those first two ideas clearly come from artistic representations of angels throughout history, the idea that humans turn into angels when they die really doesn’t have much religious basis… in Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. In the big three Abrahamic religions, angels (and demons, also known as fallen angels) are completely separate created beings. To any of these religions, it’s a bit like saying a dog turns into a human when it dies—it just doesn’t work in any of our cosmologies. And while it’s a nice, comforting idea that angels are beautiful, harp-playing souls of the much-loved departed, at the end of the day it’s a rather boring concept. Comforting, yes, but boring. But why must we stop at boring? Even if we don’t want to get our ideas of angels directly from religious faith, there are plenty of much more interesting examples of angels in pop culture.

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Rome, part 1.

piazza_cavour_camille_romeGreetings from the Eternal City! Rome is so lovely, in many ways, that it is often easy to forget that it is a city. Dirty, noisy, and crowded, as you’d expect. Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing a post. I’ll try to keep it brief so I can get back to being a dilettante. I am the owner of many, many pairs of Chuck Taylors. My love for them cannot be overstated. When I got ready to go out this morning I put on a pair that looks like this:

Converse-x-DC-Comics-Holiday-2011-FlashThe Flash is one of my favorite superheroes. It’s only logical that I would wear him on my favorite shoe and every once in a while when I’m wearing these shoes, I’ll get a compliment or two on them. They’re nice shoes. But yesterday, I happened to be in the Vatican when I saw two men, obviously Catholic priests, gesturing toward me. I checked to see if I happened to be wearing a fedora, or if I was dressed like Psy. Maybe I had chosen to wear my Manchester United shirt on the day of a Rome derby at the Coppa Italia. It turns out that the answer was (d): none of the above.

It was my Chucks that had attracted their attention. In what sounds like an exceedingly strange joke, an American, an Irish priest and an Italian priest had a long conversation about shoes and comic books in a mix of Spanish, Italian and English. Imagine my delight to find that I had traveled to the other side of the world to find two people as excited to talk about superheroes as I was.

Our conversation began to sputter as it moved from sneakers and superheroes to superheroes and privatio boni, the privation of good, a theodicy which argues that good is much like light, whereas evil is like darkness. Thusly, evil represents simply the absence of good, and not an entity unto itself, rendering the “whence cometh evil?” question moot. As you might imagine, this is a difficult topic about which to be articulate when you lack advanced skills in a language.

We did manage to make words out of the idea in that in comics, evil seems to rise as the result of good. This is an oft-stated problem, centering around how superheroes seem to attract supervillians. I wondered aloud if some superheroes could be thought of as angels, and the conversation shifted briefly to Islam, wherein angels definitively lack free will. The conversation died right about there.

I was left with lots of thoughts on the subject, which I’ll share in my next post. For now, I’m very pleased with how deep a conversation I stumbled across all because I wore a pair of shoes.

Manga Mondays: D.N.Angel

Minitokyo.D.N.Angel.114887D.N.Angel follows a not-so-normal boy, Niwa Daisuke, and his epic crush on Harada Risa. Daisuke’s family has raised him inside a booby-trapped house that tries to kill him whenever he comes home from school and wakes up for breakfast in the morning, leading Daisuke to be a very active and physically capable fourteen-year-old boy. A true sign of love from his family, I’m sure. But the men in the Niwa family have a strange genetic mutation, one that turns them in a phantom thief called Dark Mousy. And to top it off, this transformation happens because of hormones. So whenever Risa is around—or if he thinks about her too much—Daisuke will transform into Dark. However, in order for Dark to change back into Daisuke, the same must happen, and Dark has his own little crush on Risa’s twin sister, Riku.

Oddly enough, though Dark is aptly named, as he’s a phantom thief, his main antagonist is an angel of light, Krad. Krad is more or less and exact opposite of Dark. Whereas Dark is a lawbreaker with a heart of gold, Krad is the genetic mutation of police commander Hikari Satoshi and he repeatedly attempts to murder both Dark and Daisuke.

D.N.Angel is a cute little story that deals a lot with crushes, love interests, and the difference between light and dark.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Manny (Man in Moon)

0So Manny, sometimes referred to as Man in Moon or even just MiM, is the God figure in the Rise of the Guardians universe. Just to be clear, I have only read the first half of North’s book in the Guardians of Childhood series, so while some of what I say will come from that, most of this is based on the movie, since that is what I know.

Manny became the very first Guardian many years ago, around the time the Earth got a moon. It is Manny who chooses who to make into spirits for children to believe in and it is Manny who chooses which of those spirits will become Guardians. He watches over the children of the world through both the Guardians and his moonbeams, which act to him as angels might to God.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Savior is Missing

I wasn’t really sure how to title this, so let me explain what I mean. You know shows that have religious themes, and sometimes even characters who are firmly rooted in specific religious traditions, but avoid ever actually talking about that religious tradition? I can understand that writers and producers want to avoid appearing to advocate one religion or another, both because that can get, well, preachy, and it will probably lose the show viewers who don’t follow that religion. But sometimes it just gets silly. Let’s look at a couple of shows where Christianity exists, and sometimes plays a huge role, but where the J-word is never actually said.

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