Magic corrupts. Well, the real saying is “power corrupts”, but in many fantasy settings, having magic is the same as having power, so for our purposes, magic corrupts. Indeed, where would a fantasy villain be without awesome magical powers? And as villains are some of my favorite characters, this is a topic that has fascinated me for ages. Magic + amoral people is a surefire way to make me interested in a story.
Buffy was one of my first fandoms, and I loved it. I also loved Willow Rosenberg, a Jewish witch who’s openly queer and unapologetic about her nerdiness, a great deal. Willow spends most of the series as Buffy’s best friend, constantly ready to help save the day with her powers. Unfortunately for Willow, things take a turn for the worst in Season 6. We learn that magic is addictive, and her powers start controlling her more than she controls them. As Willow loses herself to her magic, she turns to villainy, leaving her at odds with Buffy and the rest of her friends.
The recently concluded arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, “The Smartest There Is”, opened on nine-year-old protagonist Lunella Lafayette learning that, thanks to her results on a test created by Bruce Banner, she is the smartest person. Not the smartest kid, or the smartest girl, or the smartest human, or the smartest being on Earth; she’s flat out “the smartest there is”, hence the name of the arc. The other people on the list (mostly adult men) are a bit salty about a little Black girl from the Lower East Side stealing their thunder, but none more so than one Victor Von Doom.
Doom sends robots to attack Lunella, and they’re unlike anything she’s fought before. Namely, they’re powered by Doom’s magic rather than by some kind of quantifiable science. So what does the smartest there is do when faced with something that defies scientific understanding? Attempt to explain it scientifically anyway.
Magic and sci-fi don’t have a great track record when it comes to pregnancy. I already talked about this in a previous post a while back, but thanks to Shadowhunters, it’s time to talk about it again. Shadowhunters is not a bad show. It’s not good either, not by a long shot. It’s based on a subpar book series, and although the show has taken a lot of creative liberties—most of which are for the better—the acting’s awful, and the story’s pretty campy. That said, it’s still a lot of fun, and as Noodle has pointed out, it’s giving us some greatLGBTQ+ representation. It’s even used magic in some unique ways. All in all, it has my approval. At least, that was until I starting catching up on Season 2 and reached the episode “Dust and Shadows” and Shadowhunters went right into one of my more hated tropes—the mystical pregnancy.
I hate this trope so much. It’s steeped in rape culture, has numerous implications for worldbuilding, and is rarely handled all that well. Shadowhunters may do a really good job with some things, but this is not one of them, and it’s one of the few instances where the show is actually worse than the books.
Spoilers and a trigger warning for sexual assault ahead.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much hope for the latest installment in the Star Ocean franchise. I wanted to be optimistic, the same way I wanted to be optimistic about the Assassin’s Creed movie or Final Fantasy XV—but near every time I go for optimism, reality has its ways of disappointing me. Integrity and Faithlessness came out after The Last Hope, and The Last Hope is anything but a good game. The plot made no damn sense, the characters are all unlikable, and the massive amounts of sexism and rape culture on top of everything made the game more than unenjoyable.
The Last Hope’s failure ensured that the budget for Integrity and Faithlessness was small, and it sure as hell shows. We only get to visit one planet, the monster designs are all reused from previous games, there are hardly any cutscenes, meaning that it’s possible to walk away from important dialogue, and the plot itself is a little lackluster. It’s not hard to see why the game only has three stars on IGN. Despite all that, though, Integrity and Faithlessness did a really good job with what it had. A lot of effort went into its characters, and following a group of well rounded people more than made up for any of the game’s other shortcomings.
Sadly, I still haven’t gone to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast yet, but since it seemed timely, I decided to go back and revisit the 1991 animated film first. Ever since it came out, Belle has been lauded as one of the more feminist Disney princesses, especially in comparison to other older Disney protagonists such as Cinderella or Ariel. Belle is book-smart, curious, and outgoing, and she defies societal conventions by being completely unapologetic about who she is. So of course we see her as feminist, and it’s through the use of magic that Disney attempts to capture a feminist message in her narrative. However, despite all of Belle’s potential feminist characteristics, Disney still creates a world in which the only possible option for Belle and the other princesses is to fall in love with and marry a man. The magic in these movies exist to subvert some patriarchal values, but in the end, they adhere to others by continuously rewarding its protagonists with unwanted love interests.
I love space. I am absolutely obsessed with outer space, exoplanets, and various other things that I don’t fully understand because I don’t science for a living or even go to school to learn how to science. But as someone who reads every science journal I can get my hands on about space and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, I think I’ve reached the point where I have at least a rudimentary understanding of things like gravity. Since I find science super fun, I’ve always been interested in exploring it through a fictional medium where I can vicariously travel to different planets and meet alien life. Stargate, Star Wars, Star Ocean, the new Star Trek movies—why do so many titles have Star in them?—and even Dark Matter and Jupiter Ascending are all right up my alley.
But one of the things that has always annoyed me about these stories is the lack of variety on the planets they go to visit. This is significantly less true for Star Wars and Star Trek, which feature a wide array of alien life and habitats, but in the end, the only way I can conclude that physics works the way it does in too many of these stories is because of magical plot convenience.
James Cameron’s Avatar disappoints me as a movie. Without a doubt, it’s a beautiful film that a lot of time and effort went into, but despite all that, the story falls flat in so many other areas. In terms of worldbuilding, the movie’s biggest crime is that none of the characters seem to realize that they’ve discovered the key to eternal life.