How in tarnation are we supposed to tell which is the real (Leap of Faith)

To be fair, I’d react the same way to being given something
by someone whose name is literally “Shill.” I mean, come on.

It’s March 29, 2014. The top song still Pharrell Williams with “Happy” and the top movie is Noah. In the news, an ongoing Ebola outbreak in Guinea spreads to Liberia, Ukrainian forces begin withdrawing from Crimea, effectively ceding it to Russia, and the first same-sex marriages take place in the UK.

In ponies, Josh Harber returns for his third outing (both this season and overall), “Leap of Faith.” Despite the title, this episode is largely about the importance of skepticism and extending the principle of honesty not just to interactions with others, but to oneself.

Applejack is struggling with two distinct problems in this episode. The first is what it means to be honest. Naively, we might say that being honest is a matter of saying and believing true things to the best of one’s ability, but that simply passes the buck on to the next question, of what it actually means to be truthful. Which is, in turn, a vast philosophical question way outside the scope of a twelve hundred-word essay about an episode of My Little Pony, so we will simply outline a few ways in which it is a problem and then move to how Applejack deals with it.

Consider these two statements: “Value is in the eye of the beholder; one person’s trash may be another’s treasure,” and “Platinum is worth about $1,200 per troy ounce.” Both are true (as of this writing in the case of the latter), yet they appear to contradict one another. However, that is because they are being artificially placed next to each other; generally these statements would never appear together because they apply in different contexts. A person who states a specific dollar value for an ounce of platinum is almost certainly speaking in terms of the commodities market, while a person making the former statement is most likely speaking philosophically, probably in the realms of aesthetics, ethics, or politics. To try to argue against either statement by proposing the other is likely to result only in confusion, since each statement is inapplicable to the other’s context.

But there we are dealing with fuzzy, human-made concepts like value. Surely the hard sciences can provide some hard truths? Not so much, unfortunately. Consider gravity. For an engineering project, say the construction of a bridge, gravity is a constant acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second. But if you’re trying to put a spacecraft into orbit, then the acceleration due to gravity varies based on one’s distance from the Earth according to Newton’s laws–and for astronomers taking advantage of gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies, it instead functions according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Now, one can argue that these are just successive refinements–applying the theory of general relativity does give one a figure for the surface gravity of the Earth very near to 9.8 meters per second per second. But that’s not what engineers actually do; they just use the 9.8 figure, because it’s more useful to them–it is a better model, so we could argue that it’s true in that context.

Or not. We could equally well argue that the statement about value being in the eye of the beholder is clearly false, and the value of platinum is determined by the market. Or we could argue that the market is trying to impose consensus on something that is inherently a matter of individual judgment. Or…

The point is, the question is difficult, so being honest is difficult. And that’s exactly the situation Applejack finds herself in: it is true that Granny Smith is more athletic and healthier as a result of drinking the tonic. And it’s also true that Flim and Flam are selling a “tonic” that contains neither medicine nor magic, and employing the unscrupulous and duplicitous tactic of paying a shill to give false testimonials on their behalf to up their sales. There is, in other words, a case to be made that the tonic helps Granny Smith, and a case to be made that Flim and Flam are liars.

It’s debatable whether Applejack has a responsibility to tell Granny that the tonic isn’t helping her, when it is–it’s just that the process by which it’s helping her, namely the combination of the placebo effect and a confidence boost, could be easily replicated in ways that don’t require paying money to con artists. However, it is definitely dishonest of her to help Flim and Flam continue to lie about their tonic’s healing powers–and it is a lie, as demonstrated by the number of ponies who appear in their audience multiple times.

This puts Applejack in a rare situation for her, which is quite welcome in terms of making her character more interesting: an actual dilemma. She is torn between not wanting to hurt Granny Smith, and her drive to be honest and not support liars, which leaves her no choice but to deceive herself into believing that no harm will come of Flim and Flam’s lies. This is where the episode becomes, in many ways, a response to Season One’s “Feeling Pinkie Keen.” There, Twilight refused to believe in a phenomenon that was actually (unlike real-world claims of psychic powers) demonstrable and measurable, and her closed-mindedness resulted in her coming to harm. Here, Granny Smith’s belief is instead what nearly brings her to serious harm, because she chose to believe (the titular “leap of faith”) in a falsehood.

Applejack’s mistake was in treating Flim and Flam’s “miracle cure” like an article of faith, which is to say a statement with no material consequences. What I mean by this is that the material universe is actually the same place whether Granny Smith has confidence in herself or not–her capacity to swim was there all along, and she actualized it by believing she could do it. However, there is a big difference between a universe where Flim and Flam’s tonic can actually reverse the effects of aging, illness, and injury and one where it cannot–in the former, leaping facefirst from a great height into a pie tin of water might not end in disaster, while in the latter it definitely will. And Applejack knows for a fact that she lives in the latter universe, because she’s seen Flim and Flam making their tonic and met Silver Shill.

Ultimately, of course, Applejack decides to be honest, which here appears to mean acknowledging and respecting the universe in which one actually lives, as reasonable a definition as any, and in the process she teaches Silver Shill a lesson and receives the penultimate key. This is the least spiritual episode in the key arc, but that makes sense for Gevurah, the sephirah of Strength; it is the capacity for judgment and the imposition of limitation, the separating out of that which is false, and so its episode is devoted to skepticism and tracing the limits of the spiritual, which is that it must not be dishonest. It is fine to believe, for instance, in a drink that boosts confidence, but only so long as one is aware that confidence comes from the belief, not the drink. A drink that grants superpowers, by contrast, is right out. Which is to say, the role of the spiritual is here established to be in shaping our perceptions and attitudes, but only material action can shape the material. It is not enough to think, to feel, to wish; we must also do, and our doing must be shaped by honest appraisal of the material effects of our actions.

Next week: Which is not to say that our perceptions don’t matter or are entirely of our own choice, either…

Escaflowne Liveblog Chat Thingy: Episode 1

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Vision of Escaflowne and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST

Chatlog below the cut!

[09:04] I like how she’s all “Was it real? Or just a vision?” when the series title says it’s a vision.
[09:05] Is she holding shoes or bread?
[09:06] “Objet d’drool?” Bravo (I’m guessing fan-) subbers.
[09:07] Oh look, a mystical pendant. Yep, it’s the 90s all right.
[09:08] Man, I hate when I’m trying to run and there’re ghost swordsmen and giant mecha on the track.
[09:08] (I’m kidding of course. I never run.)
[09:10] Hrm, video technical difficulties just as Hitomi wakes up.
[09:17] OK, think I got it working.
[09:19] ~Mysterious pendant~ inherited from her mother, AND it breaks the laws of physics.
[09:19] *grandmother
[09:20] Okay, so Hitomi’s friend TOTALLY just cockblocked her, and now Hitomi owes her an apology for some reason?
[09:21] Whoa, big house.
[09:22] Ace of… serpents? You’ve got a weird Tarot deck, lady.
[09:23] Or you could just kiss, without the weird elaborate games..?
[09:24] And here comes ghost swordsman to cockblock her.
[09:24] It’s like the entire universe is trying to keep her from getting her mack on.
[09:25] Running into an armored guy at top speed seems like it would hurt.
[09:26] Interesting how Hitomi’s affected. Is she making this happen somehow?
[09:26] Oh, that dragon’s WEIRDLY animated. Can’t place what it is, but it’s a cool effect.
01[09:27] Really makes it feel otherworldly.
[09:27] Really makes it feel otherworldly.
[09:28] Okay, dude just coughed up blood, that’s pretty screwed for just the first episode.
[09:29] Okay, I like it’s sort of kite-like configuration, and the organ that glows when it breathes fire. This is a REALLY cool creature design.
[09:30] So she can straight-up see the future soemtimes. Of course.
[09:31] And it just evaporates? Convenient. Weird, but conventient.
[09:31] And of course sword dude is a jerkface. *sigh* The show probably wants me to ship them.
[09:32] On the one hand, it’s pretty reasonable that Hitomi would start crying, becvause she’s had one hell of a day. On the other… well, if she and sword dude had their genders swapped, I highly doubt Hito-dude would cry?
[09:33] And dragon-chunk just zapped them into, presumably, sword-dude’s world.
[09:33] Wait, what!?
[09:33] They’re on an invisible second moon?
[09:34] And now werewolves.
[09:34] Okay, so far I’m tentatively into this. The music is great…
[09:34] …he says, just as the embarassingly 90s end credits start.
[09:36] Okay, that aside, the music is great, the animation is good, althoguh I’m going to take a while to get past the giant Pinnochio noses, and it’s too early to judge anything else.

Continue reading

Xenosaga Fic: Chapter 3, Part Two

Continuing from where we left off a couple weeks ago…

In the absolute emptiness of intergalactic space a green AMWS drifted impossibly. It was tall and narrow and insectile, with an angular head much like a mantis’ and long, jointed limbs. Spikes curved cruelly from its knees, elbows, and shoulders, and a pair of long blades extended from its wrists and along the backs of its hands. There was nothing to suggest that it was remarkable–except for its location, hundreds of thousands of light-years from the nearest IS Gate.

Even the Dammerung, Scientia’s vast flagship and capital, which could create temporary Gates of its own, would have taken years to reach this distant spot. Any other ship would have had to have set out when stone tools and fire represented the cutting edge of australopithecine science.

And yet, here it was. The entire cluster lay beneath its feet, two great whorls of multi-colored light surrounded by a scattering of smaller balls and knots of stars. The Virgo Cluster gleamed over its shoulder, a tiny gathering of yellow and blue lights, impossibly distant. And beyond that…

Beyond that, spread out in every direction, was the universe. Great filaments of red and yellow, like rivers of jewels, curved and arced across the sky, marking the borders of vast bubbles of void. It was at once vibrant and serene, cold and beautiful, wonderful and terrifying.

Aser was the only human being to have ever seen it. Oh, astronomers had reconstructed it millennia ago, painstakingly mapping distant objects detectable only in radio through the thick dust and gas that surrounded every star, but Aser had seen it. He knew what no other human knew, would never know. He knew where God lived.

He gazed out in silence, at the infinite majesty of the universe, and pitied the poor fools who believed God cared about them. They ruled a cluster of a dozen galaxies, a paltry few billion stars, and believed themselves masters of the Universe. Aser knew better. One day, he would go out there, to the place no one else could ever reach, and touch the face of God.

He, and he alone, could do it. Those idiots, Calvin and the Primus, believed they led a cadre of Chosen, but Aser knew the truth. He was the only one could reach God, the only one truly Chosen.
He just had one piece of business to attend to first.

Aser, came a familiar voice drifting into his mind.

“Dasra,” he said. “What does our fearless leader wish of me today? Shall I bring him rare fruits, perhaps, from the gardens of Magella Minora? Or perhaps something sweeter? A young virgin from the flesh-markets of Orleans 3, mayhap?” He giggled. “Ah, how silly of me to forget. Our fearless leader does not partake of the pleasures of the flesh. He –” Aser could hardly finish the sentence from laughing. “He believes they’d take him farther from God!”

Aser, you know you shouldn’t speak of Calvin like that. In her own AMWS, countless quintillions of kilometers away, she sighed. Touching Aser’s mind was never pleasant at the best of times, but when he was out in the deeps, it could be downright disturbing. Once, she had made the mistake of going deeper into his thoughts than the level of intentional words.

She had seen many terrible things in the minds of the Chosen. She had no illusions on that front. She had seen herself and her sister, performing lewd acts in van der Kaum’s imagination. She knew how Mia felt every time she used her power. She knew what secret Calvin hid so deeply even he did not know it.

None of that had prepared her for Aser’s mind. In Aser she found a whirlwind of crystal fragments, countless broken pieces of thoughts and memories caught up in an endless torrent of feeling, never quiet, never still. In Aser there were depths of joy and heights of despair beyond anything she had ever felt or imagined. There was nothing there she could follow or understand, just terrible, black, howling wind and the occasional flash of a half-formed idea or one tiny piece of a perception.

What little she did see was, however, enough. She knew who Aser was, better perhaps than he did. She knew what he thought of himself, and what he thought of others. She had sworn then two things: first, that she would never again go deeper into his mind than she absolutely had to, and second, that she would never allow him to be alone with herself or her sister.

He just asked me to show you something I picked up. He doesn’t have any orders. Dasra fed Aser her memories of the attack on their freighter off Bethel, and the intervention of the Isolde.

“It is him?” said Aser. “You know his name?”

The only survivor is now her captain. It is him. His name is Seth Mikra.
“YES!” crowed Aser, and Dasra flinched at the burning-hot acid of his emotion pouring through every crack in her defenses. “Finally, finally! Oh, yes, I’m coming for you, old friend. I’ll burn you, cut you, crush you…” He laughed.

He must not be killed. You know that, Aser.“Oh, no, no, no. I won’t kill him. Of course I won’t.” Aser paused. “Can I maybe kill him a little?”


“Mia would have laughed.” He pouted, but could only maintain it a moment before he began laughing again. “I’m going now.”

Please, Aser, don’t kill him. We need him. I’ll be watching.
Aser’s laughter faded to wonderment as he felt Dasra withdraw. He truly was closer to God out here. How else to explain that the one task he had left before he could fulfill his destiny was simply handed to him as soon as he began thinking about it?

“My slate will be wiped clean,” he hissed, filling with rage at the memory of what that man had done to him. “Seth Mikra will pay, if I have to tear apart the entire cluster and all the Chosen to get to him.” He looked out one last time at the universe. “I’ll be back, God.”

And then empty space was empty once more.


Nadeshiko put the lab report away with a sigh and looked down at her patient, a small and sallow man, balding and bearded. “Patient Ortir Kormas, age… approximately thirty-five,” she said for the recorders. “Found unconscious behind the single men’s barracks. Bloodwork indicates extreme hypoglycemia typical of late-stage Horviss-Greln disease.” She sighed. “Intravenous feeding has proven inadequate to counter symptoms. Supplies of Isoprate are low, so I will commence treatment with Korana–“


Nadeshiko looked up to see her boss, Dr. Viri, standing at the entrance to the medium-risk ward. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Viri’s pale, pudgy face was flushed, and his eyes, overlarge and the best of times, were bulging. “Koranafil! Do you want to kill him?”

“I– oh shit.”

Propanofil, Dr. Kodesh. Propanofil is the treatment of second choice for H-G. Koranafil is for renal failure.”

Nadeshiko hung her head. “I know that, doctor. You know I know that!”

“Yes, I do.” His flush was gone now; his face was stony as he walked over to the medication cooler and withdrew a bottle of Propanofil. “Normally. When did you last sleep, Nadeshiko?”

“I woke up half an hour ago,” she countered. “Are you trying to accuse me of something?”

“That depends. How long did you sleep?”

She looked away. “Three hours.”

“That’s what I thought. You need to sleep! Better no doctor at all than one who can’t keep her drugs straight.”

Nadeshiko winced. “Mizrahi–“

“Aren’t gods. You may need less sleep, but you still need sleep.”

“And I’m getting enough!” she insisted. “Now get out of my way and let me treat my patient.”

“No.” Viri attached the Propanofil to a nozzle on the patient’s IV, and watched a moment to make sure it was dripping properly into the stream. “There are two possibilities here, doctor. Either you’re entirely incompetent, which we both know isn’t true, or you’re slipping because of tiredness. Which do you prefer?”

“I made a mistake,” she said. “People make mistakes. Don’t tell me you’re not tired, too.”

“I am,” he said. “But I know I’ll save more lives on a good night’s sleep than I could by working myself into exhaustion. You seem to be having a hard time learning that.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll try to sleep more. Now I have to check up on patients.”

Viri shook his head. “No, Nadeshiko. You’re taking the week off, starting now. The supplies should be here today, so I won’t really need you for a few days. You can go back to town with the deliveryman, sleep in your own bed for a couple of nights, come back fresh when we start running low on nanomachines.”

“You can’t make me do that.”

Viri sighed. “Yes, I can. Go to the gate and see if the deliveryman’s here yet. If I hear of you touching a patient, you’re fired.”

For the second time that morning, Nadeshiko fought to deactivate her tear ducts. It was getting harder. Exhaustion pulled at every cell in her body, despite all her best efforts to fight it down. She wanted to scream at Viri, to tear him apart. Didn’t he understand that people were dying? What if somebody she could have saved died while she was gone?

“Fine,” she said, and slumped. “I’ll go. I’ll be back Saturday.”

“Good,” he said. “Get some sleep, and some exercise, and eat something fresh.”

“Yeah,” she said. She left the building, little more than a shack, and walked out into the harsh mid-morning sunlight. Finally alone, she shrieked her frustration at the sky.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She came to Bethel full of hope and pride. She’d seen herself, Scientia-trained, amazing the other doctors with her ability to heal these poor patients. She would save lives, heal the sick, and by the time her two-year stint was up, the refugee camp would be empty, everybody healed and home.

What a little idiot she’d been.

Poll results are in! The new show for liveblog chat thingies is…

…at the bottom of this post. First, the results.

With a massive FIVE voters, we have:

  • Penguindrum: 1
  • Psycho-Pass: 2
  • Escaflowne: 2

So I’m tossing in my vote as the tie-breaker. Tough call, since I’ve heard good things about Psycho-Pass, but Escaflowne is a classic.

So, I’ll see you all this Saturday at 2 p.m. for the first episode of Vision of Escaflowne!

The Babylon 5 that (thankfully) never was: Season 5

Continuing my series attempting to reconstruct how Babylon 5 was originally (for certain values of original) “supposed to” go. More detailed explanation and Season 1 are here, although note that since writing that original post I have gotten access to JMS’ “original” treatment and am no longer working from summaries.

Known: Season 5 opens with the return of G’Kar with evidence of Londo’s alliance with the Shadows and their meddling in the Centauri-Narn conflict. The Minbari military caste stage a coup and take over, resuming the war with Earth. The Centauri lay claim to the neutral sector that includes B5, which Earth contests, leading Londo to break off diplomatic relations. Shortly thereafter a massive Vorlon ship carrying most of their civilian population is destroyed by the Shadows, although Earth is framed. Londo helps in the attack, though without the knowledge that it will result in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

The series ends (yes, ends) with the Minbari attacking and destroying Babylon 5. Sinclair, Delenn, and their baby escape on a shuttle and flee into hiding, with every remaining power in the galaxy considering them enemies: the Minbari because of Delenn’s ties to the deposed Grey Council and the Warrior Caste’s belief that the prophecy is one of destruction, Vorlons because they believe Sinclair helped Earth destroy their ship, Shadows and Londo because they believe Sinclair and Delenn suspect who really did it, and Earth because they’ve been fed false intel that Sinclair betrayed them.

Speculation: Given how much happens in this season, and how little happens in Season 4, it seems likely that some of this would have been moved earlier. Any of a Centauri attack on Babylon 5 as part of them seizing the sector, the fall of the Grey Council, or the destruction of the Vorlons would have made good season finale material (though the last might be too soon for the war to end in this version of the story).

Given his human-Minbari hybrid wife and the renewal of Earth-Minbari hostilities, it seems likely that Earthgov’s false intel makes Sinclair out to have betrayed them to the Minbari. Likely sources for the intel are the Minbari, Centauri, and Shadows, all of which have good reason to want to isolate Sinclair and Delenn and thereby cut them off from Earth support.

It’s up for grabs whether the warrior caste are being manipulated by the Shadows in this version of the story. They almost certainly weren’t in the actual series, but by this point the treatment and the show have nothing in common except Delenn’s pregnancy.

And yes, this colossal downer really is how the series ends in the treatment. But it’s not how the treatment ends–that still has another page and a half, almost a quarter of its length, to go. We’ll cover that in the next and final installment of this series.

Concluded next week!

When is violence an appropriate response?

I don’t know.

I honestly don’t.

I do know this. I know that when I was 17 and got stopped going 94 miles an hour, I reached for my coat in the passenger seat because my license was in it, and the cop who stopped me pulled his gun. It was frightening enough, but in hindsight I realize, if I were black he’d have shot me in the head until the gun ran out of bullets, because that is what cops do to black people.

And I know that if you are constantly subject to violence and the fear of violence, if the courts encourage violence against you by punishing it less often and less severely, if the people whose job is supposedly to protect you instead treat you as a threat, then it is not my place to tell you that you can’t use violence in response.

And I know this, too: in communities around America, the police act like an occupying army, carry the equipment of an occupying army, speak and think like an occupying army, which makes them, guess what, an occupying army.

And this as well: if you put on the uniform of an occupying army and walk out onto the battlefield, it doesn’t matter if your soul is as pure and sinless as the driven snow, you are a legitimate target.

“Some people,” says the voice of wisdom in a well-acted but otherwise terrible and reactionary film, “just want to watch the world burn.” Given what this world does to them, I can’t blame them.

It may be that violence will just give them the excuse to clamp down harder. Or it may be that violence is the only hope of tearing down a system designed to prevent any kind of meaningful change. It’s not my place to make that decision–only to lend my voice in support of the people who do have that right.

And one other thing I know: I know that when you have the power–a weapon in your hand, armor on your chest, an entire power structure designed to protect you from accountability–then violence is definitely not appropriate.

Let’s try this poll thing again…

So it turns out trying to hold a poll that’s also open to suggestions is a terrible idea.

Also, I now have way more suggestions than voters.

So, I’ve gone through all the suggestions, picked the three I’m most interested in, and now I’ll throw them open for voting ONLY, suggestions are closed.

Remember, anything that doesn’t win, including things that didn’t make it this far, is fair game for a couple months from now when we add the next show.

Anyway, the options are:

  • Psycho-Pass (Season 1 only, same writer as Madoka)
  • Legend of Escaflowne (classic 90s mecha-fantasy series)
  • Mawaru Penguindrum (same director as Utena)

Hush now! Quiet now!/Lay your sleepy head! (For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls)

The young Sweetie Belle wallows in whatever
it is ponies are supposed to wallow in.

It’s March 22, 2014. The top song is still Pharrell Williams with “Happy,” and the top movie is young-adult dystopia Divergent. I saw the number two movie, Muppets Most Wanted, instead, and found it a pale shadow of its excellent immediate predecessor, appropriately enough. In the news, Russia formally annexes Crimea, while the U.S., Europe, and Japan respond with sanctions against Russia; the U.S. expels all Syrian diplomats and closes the Syrian Embassy in the U.S.; and the BICEP2 experiment finds evidence of cosmic inflation.

In ponies, “For Whom the Sweetie Belle Tolls” by Dave Polsky airs, largely retracing ground already covered by “Somepony to Watch Over Me,” but with the other prominent pair of sisters. There are some differences–Sweetie Belle feels overshadowed, rather than controlled, by Rarity, lashes out at her sister rather than trying to prove herself, and therefore the resulting race across Equestria is Sweetie Belle and her friends rushing to undo the damage Sweetie Belle has done, rather than Applejack rushing to save Apple Bloom. But overall it is the same story: little sister feels smothered, acts out, chaos ensues, sisters reconcile.

So rather than retread territory just covered two weeks ago ourselves, let’s focus instead on the fascinating ways in which this episode draws parallels between characters and events. Most obvious here is the one blatantly stated in the episode: Luna sees Sweetie Belle’s feelings of being overshadowed, and acting out in response, as a parallel to her own jealousy and transformation into Nightmare Moon a thousand years ago. This is a particularly interesting statement to make, as it is the first time the show has reversed its usual approach to mythology. Generally, the mythological functions within the show as a way to depict the personal on a vast, even cosmic, scale: sibling rivalry becomes a cosmic war between moon and sun, Fluttershy’s fears become a dragon, Twilight’s completion of her education becomes the apotheosis and ascension of a new princess. This, however, is the first time the show has really made the cosmic personal; the ancient war of moon and sun becomes a point within Sweetie Belle’s life, descending through her dreams in order to help her work through her personal issue.

This transformation of the personal to the cosmic and back is one of the unique functions of fiction, because in reality the cosmic is entirely impersonal. The moon and sun maintain their motions no matter what we mere mortals do, and have no message to impart to us–any secrets we think we see written in them are messages from ourselves. As, of course, are dreams as well, which makes the next set of parallels interesting: the degree to which the episode is full of performances.

The two most obvious performances in the episode are Sweetie Belle’s play and Sapphire Shores’ show. But most interesting is the third performance: Sweetie Belle’s dream, which, it is implied, was deliberately constructed by Luna, and can therefore be regarded as a performance put on by her. But if it is a performance, and the majority was not real, what of the two memories of Sweetie Belle’s fifth birthday? The first, from Sweetie Belle’s perspective, is accepted by her as her own memory, so we can regard it as such, but what of the second, which shows that Rarity wasn’t trying to steal the spotlight, but rather help her sister?

There are a few possibilities. The first is that it is a genuine image of the past as it occurred; given that the season premiere established that alicorn magic can empower a potion to see the past, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Luna can create dreams of the past. A second option is, given Rarity is also asleep, that Luna is bridging the two sisters’ minds, and letting Sweetie Belle see Rarity’s perspective. This is led some credence by the appearance of dolphins earlier in the dream–Sapphire Shores will later mention that they are a common fixture in her own dream. The third possibility is that Luna is just making up a likely scenario about the birthday in order to help Sweetie Belle accept that her sister acted out of love in the more recent incident involving the play–not a lie, exactly, but a comforting story that for all Luna knows is actually what happened.

Regardless of exactly where the scene came from, Luna deploys it skillfully, and along with her timely assistance to Sweetie Belle during the chase sequence later in the episode, successfully engineers a reconciliation between the sisters. That intervention then creates a chain reaction of characters happily supporting one another without credit: Luna suggests the dolphin stitch to Sweetie Belle, who passes it to Rarity without crediting Luna. Rarity then gives the headdress to Sapphire Shores without crediting Sweetie Belle, and Sapphire Shores performs without, presumably, crediting Rarity–certainly it seems unlikely that a major pop star would interrupt her performance to thank her costume designer, any more than she would the technicians who operate the lighting or set up the speakers, at least by name.

But the key thing here is that all of these characters seem content to not be credited. Luna in particular smiles and nods to Sweetie Belle, seeming to encourage her to take credit and not mention Luna’s help. It is Rarity who provides the key here: why is she excited to have her costumes worn by Sapphire Shores? Because ponies in Canterlot and then across Equestria will see them. Most will only see them as one small part of a pop performance, but those who are most interested in fashion and costumes might inquire further and learn Rarity’s name; even if they do not, they will recognize and acknowledge the quality of the costumes. In other words, she is content to do good work because it is good work, secure in the knowledge that those few who do notice it will recognize it as good work. This fits very well with Rarity’s characterization; like Rainbow Dash, she seeks praise and acknowledgment of her skills, but where Rainbow Dash prefers the roar of the crowds, Rarity wants the accolades of the elite. In this case, “elite” means “those elite enough to recognize her work.”

In turn, this gives us a powerful insight into how Luna now deals with being overshadowed by her sister. (Remember, Luna and Rarity share an actress–it is unsurprising they share other traits as well.) Luna, we see, is happy to have helped, happy that one pony, Sweetie Belle, knows and appreciates what she did. It doesn’t matter to her whether or not Rarity, let alone Sapphire Shores or the general masses, know that she helped two sisters reconcile; what’s important to her is that she did. She is no longer jealous of her more famous, more widely praised sister, because she has realized that the work she does isn’t the kind that makes you famous, just as Sweetie Belle has realized that Rarity’s costumes overshadowed her play because it wasn’t very good. Luna has learned to appreciate the rewards her work does provide, instead of pining for the rewards another receives–that popularity is not the only measure of worth.

Next week: Although there’s a fine line between telling people a story to help them, and peddling placebos as miracle cures…

FINAL Kill la Kill liveblog chat thingy

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Kill la Kill and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST Sunday. Yes, that is a day later than usual, sorry!

Chatlog below the cut!

[13:59] Click la Click
[14:00] (I can’t believe it took me this long to think of that)
[14:00] Whoa, a combo mecha
01[14:00] I see they were saving up some animation budget for this ep.
[14:00] It’s supposed to look phallic, right? That has to be intentional
[14:01] Whoa
[14:01] Well, Mako referred to the “big rubber barrier,” so yeah.
[14:01] Ad.
[14:02] Wait, Ragyo can just yank the stars from the uniforms just like that?
[14:02] When I listen to it, it sounds like they were able to do a pun in Japanese on submission and clothing
[14:02] With her ridiculous new super clothes, yes, yes she can.
[14:02] So, this is the final handicap fight
[14:03] (it’s weird, usually the final miniboss is the “gimmick” fight, and the final battle is an all-out brawl)
[14:03] Crunchyroll is not being kind to FoME today
[14:03] Finally back.
[14:04] Because of course it’s named “Shinra” something
[14:04] And then Ragyo brags of her corporate success.
[14:04] A ball of yarn… I love it
[14:04] And now they get OHKO’d
[14:05] Eeyup, called it
[14:05] Interrupting their cut scene? That’s just rude.
[14:05] Worse, she interrupted their attack callouts
[14:05] Also, tide of LCL.
01[14:05] LCL!
[14:06] So, are the Elite Four gonna be OHKO’d first, or are they more crucial?
[14:06] Whoa, Mako underwent asexual duplication
[14:06] Whoa
[14:06] Yep, Nui’s officially lost it
[14:07] Ryuko Matoi: Legendary Artifact Creature
[14:07] Bikini fight, of course
[14:07] And here’s his Disney Death
[14:07] Hououmaru is that assistant, right?
[14:08] Yeah, the one with the sunglasses.
[14:08] Hououmaru Rei, yes
[14:08] Ad.
[14:08] Shorter one.
[14:08] Another ad, now? What time are you paused at?
[14:08] I’m back.
[14:08] 6:15
[14:09] Whoa
[14:09] She got a new one
[14:09] Eww
[14:09] I mean, it’s not gonna work, but that’s still awesome
[14:09] Oh, it allowed their friends to break free
[14:10] Why did they need a panty shot on this series?
[14:10] Headbutt!
[14:10] Whoa, Ragyo’s teeth go sharp
[14:10] Heh. Scissor sisters.
[14:11] Nonon saves the day!
01[14:11] Whoah, that’s a lot of Nuis.
[14:11] Ooh, now THAT was an insult, coming from him
[14:11] “You’re not worth collecting data on?” That’s the worst thing he can say to someone
[14:11] Hahah, Nonon calls him out on his Disney Death
[14:12] Eww
[14:12] Totem Pole attack
[14:12] And then Gamagoori tore through the AT Frield and became a Ganmen.
[14:12] Ah, he really does attack with his scary face
01[14:12] That is 100% what just happened.
[14:12] And it’s ejaculated
01[14:12] Yeah, that was intentional.
[14:12] So, does Ragyo’s healing power drain her HP?
[14:13] Uh oh
[14:13] Whoa
01[14:13] “Gir, self-destruct, now!” “FINALLY! EeeheheheheheheBOOM”
[14:13] Ad.
[14:13] It’s Safer-Nui
[14:13] Last one.
[14:14] I’m back.
[14:14] I’m at exactly 11:00
[14:15] Ragyo has issues, as has been established
[14:15] We have liftoff!
[14:16] Ah, so now are all the Earthlings going to wind up fighting it off at once?
[14:16] Uh… Mako?
[14:16] Giving her a reason to come back.
[14:16] What the…
[14:17] Oooooooookay, that happened
[14:17] By their powers combined, she is Captain Fashion.
01[14:17] That’s basically my reaction every time Mako’s on screen.
01[14:17] …they’re doing a combining mech thing NOW?
[14:17] Ooh, Phoenix form!
[14:18] Aww, Satsuki should be up there with her
[14:18] Well duh
[14:19] She’s gonna need to channel her energy and the love from her friends into her final attack
[14:19] They misspelled “principle,” of course
01[14:19] She’s gone super-saiyan, maybe a soul bomb?
[14:20] Well, she’s kind of wearing everyone’s fightnig spirit…
[14:20] “So what now, Jack Sparrow? Are we to be two immortals battling each other until judgment day?”
[14:21] This is basically Vegeta’s plan to beat Freiza
[14:21] “Tough love,” of course that’s how she absorbs it
[14:21] “I get stronger when I almost die, so beat the shit out of me”
[14:21] You said that already
01[14:22] Oh yeah, I forgot they absorb life fibers after battles.
[14:22] Oh, they’re BOTH as well as neither
[14:22] Giant red text battle!
[14:22] Ahah, of course the dramatic statements are being printed
01[14:23] And then seven billion people fell out of the sky, burned on re-entry, and went splat.
[14:23] Well, presumably the Life Fibers had just enough energy left to help them survive the fall
[14:23] Whoa… going into Once Upon a Time territory now, only grosser
[14:23] That is not a healthy looking heart.
[14:23] Well, it’s Ragyo’s heart, of course it’s not healthy
[14:24] Now that’s a good reply
[14:24] Aww, his heroic sacrifice
[14:24] I bet if Ragyo had taken Matoi’s offer instead of doing that, Satsuki would have been displeased
[14:24] Isn’t “wrapping things up” what clothes are supposed to do?
01[14:24] *rimshot*
[14:25] Anime physics
[14:25] AHAHAH
[14:25] Anime physics to the max
[14:25] This is like, the logical extension of anime physics
[14:26] Okay, how is the closing different?
[14:26] Do we see their date?
[14:26] We’re about to, yes.
[14:27] (that doesn’t count as a spoiler if it’s about 15 seconds ahead of time)
[14:27] D’awwwww
[14:27] (Didn’t think it would.)
01[14:27] But… Gamagoori?
[14:27] Satsuki cut her hair?
[14:27] That doesn’t seem right
[14:27] Blink and you’ll miss him, Froborr.
[14:28] I love this song, BTW
[14:28] Wow
01[14:28] No, I saw him dressed like Saved by the Bell extras with the other Elite Four
[14:28] So that was Kill la Kill
01[14:28] I was referring to the fact that he and Mako were kind of developing into a thing..?
[14:28] A lot of people like it, but you can’t deny that some seriously bad decisions went into this show
[14:28] I was expecting that too
01[14:28] So that was Kill la Kill. It was… okay?
[14:29] So, was it worth it?
01[14:29] The liveblogs were interesting enough to make it worth it.
[14:29] (I also ship Satsuki and Nonon, because they’re both awesome)
[14:29] You see people on the internet say that this is a friendship date, but naw
01[14:29] Even if I’d given it a second chance without the liveblog, I doubt I would have watched past That Scene.
03[14:30] * Sylocat changes topic to ‘Welcome to Rabbit Cube! During the MLP hiatus, we stream anime instead. Next series TBA! ‘
01[14:30] I mean, the series DID just end with the entire cast in a naked cuddle pile.
[14:30] They made Mako/Gamagoori the most popular het ship in the show and then sank it for Mako/Ryuko
01[14:30] So it’s entirely possible everyone/everyone to be a ship.
[14:30] Yeah, I get the feeling a number of characters are gonna be non-monogamous
[14:30] Though their date is pretty Platonic
01[14:31] Yeah, but they’re anime characters.
01[14:31] They *might* hold hands after six months of marraige.
[14:31] Heh. Point.
[14:31] Structurally, Mako has been The Protagonist’s Girlfriend for a while
[14:32] I did like that there was no hetero love interest for either Ryuko or Satsuki
[14:32] One of the common resolutions of the “overwhelmed by the dangerous power they wield” crisis is being brought back to their senses by the love interest
[14:32] As Mako did. Twice.
[14:33] Some people read Senketsu as a “sword boyfriend” (another example is the Transistor from the game of that title)
[14:33] And Satsuki did once
[14:33] (and while Ryuko and Satsuki are sisters, they didn’t grow up together… just pointing that out)
01[14:34] This show has enough icky incestual stuff going on as it is, Sylocat.
[14:34] Oh, believe me, I know
01[14:35] Netflix is now recommending I watch Gurren Lagann, which is just serving to remind me how much more I enjoyed it than this.
[14:36] IIRC, a number of the same people worked on that and this?
[14:36] They did, hence the numerous references to several Gainax shows.
01[14:37] Yes, Studio Trigger is basically made up of the people who made Gurren Lagann.
[14:38] I think that’s fair, but I also think Kill la Kill is important because it allowed shouty and angry women to totally run the show, while Gurren Lagann’s two principle woman exist to a.) be moe and motivate Simon b.) kiss a couple of dudes just before they die
01[14:39] Excellent point.
[14:39] A lot of people love this show, a lot of people hate this show, and there are reasons for that.
[14:40] It isn’t a show that’s easy to feel neutral towards.
01[14:40] I kind of do though?
[14:40] I manage that just fine
01[14:40] Basically because there are bits of it that are great and bits that are horrible and mostly it just feels like somebody autotuned Gurren Lagann.
[14:43] I feel like Gurren Lagann involved at least one of the principles expressing some of their intense life experiences though stuff they really like, while KlK was the same person or people just indulging in those same things that they really like
[14:45] I caught a whole bunch of weird symbolism and metaphor at various points of KLK, though I’m not sure it’s worth going over it with a magnifying glass to unpack it
[14:45] (at least one analyst claimed it was a metaphor for State Shinto or something, IIRC)
01[14:45] That’d be Charles Dunbar and Kit Paige.
01[14:45] They have a book coming out.
[14:46] Satsuki’s speech to the sewing club president about how school uniforms are based on military uniforms definitely suggests that reading
01[14:47] IIRC I think they argue that Satsuki is Amaterasu, Ryuko is an oni, and Ragyo is Ho-oh?
[14:49] Hm, I’m not sure I buy a reading in which there’s that much of an asymmetry between Ryuko and Ragyo
[14:49] Sorry, Ryuko and Satsuki
[14:49] Like, you can very easily draw a Red Oni / Blue Oni read of them
[14:50] They have a Red/Blue color scheme and the differences between their personalities line up with the trope
01[14:50] Wait… but Ryuko’s got the Red personality and the blue clothes, while Satsuki has the Blue personality and white clothes..?
[14:51] The color of the wrist gadget Ryuko uses to transform is red
[14:51] All the trim on Ryuko’s clothes is red
[14:51] The armband that Satsuki uses to transform is blue
01[14:51] Ah, yes, I see.
[14:52] I’m not familiar with Ho-oh other than I think there’s a pokemon named that?
[14:52] Like apparently the legendary pokemon are basically dieties so I guess it’s not terribly surprising
01[14:53] Ho-oh is the Eastern phoenix, bascially, which is MUCH more powerful than its Western coutnerpart. Also called Hinotori and Otori, I believe.
01[14:53] Associated with rainbows, eternal life, cosmic power, enlightenment.
[14:54] Because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west?
01[14:54] Er, I meant Eastern as in “East Asian culture” as opposed to Western as in “West Asian and European culture”
[14:55] They do a lot of visual compare and contrast with Ragyo and Satsuki
[14:55] The close up shots of either of them making a step forward before speechifying, with a clear sound effect for the heel landing on a hard surface
[14:56] Ragyo’s rainbow presence and Satuki’s white light presence
[14:56] Reminds me of Gandalf’s line about Saruman starting to wear a robe that was not white, but woven of many colors
[14:57] I always thought that was an odd way to know that the Way of the Enemy was upon him
[14:58] I too found it odd that it was the villain who had the rainbow aesthetic… even outside of MLP, aren’t rainbows usually the good team’s thing?
[14:59] It’s actually kind of ironic, because one of the themes of the villains here was homogenity. And yet, there’s Ragyo, with her rainbow aura.
Continue reading

Fiction Friday: Faultless, Part 1

Still running that Patreon! The Near-Apocalypse of ’09 is still more than three months away, but Patreon backers can start reading it today!

I’m taking a break from Felda’s story for a while, because I find I keep thinking about Ghost’s instead. So I’m taking a crack at writing it. This is set quite a ways to the north of Toftor, in a culture with rather different structures and issues.

Trigger Warning: Child abuse and neglect, internalized racism, body image issues

Caer Wyndle, Pryderys
Twelve years, four months, and seven days until the end.

It wasn’t Ghost’s fault. Not really.

Sure, she was the immediate cause, but she had no idea what she was doing, and more importantly no way of knowing what she was doing. There had simply never been a chance for her to learn what she needed to know–if there had been, she likely would have learned it gladly.

That’s what she was doing in the library, after all; learning. She spent a great deal of time there, there being little else to do. She got yelled at if her parents or Parry caught her doing servant work, and of course she couldn’t go outside because someone might see how ugly she was.

Every once in a while Mother would send her maid, Kina–though mother always called her Kiah for some reason–to fetch Ghost. Kina would drag her to the baths to be washed and scrubbed and shoved into a frilly blouse and short pants, and then she would be presented to Mother. That was the only time Ghost was called Emlyn, which was her name in the big red book of family trees on the shelf by the mantle in the library: Emlyn Glenys Dyvis, daughter of Gwenfer Dylan and Caradoc Dyvis (nee Gruffyd). Mother was the only person who called her that, when she called her at all.

Every time started the same: Mother would grunt, say, “You seem in good health, Emlyn,” and Ghost would agree. Then Mother would sigh and say, “Really, we must get you a governess or a tutor one of these days. It isn’t right, a Dyvis child growing up wild.”

Then Mother would brush her hair, or play a game with her, or teach her something, until eventually Ghost did something wrong and the screaming started. She stopped being Emlyn once mother started screaming; she was just that child, as in “Take that child out of my sight!” It was hard to tell what would be wrong, but there was always something.

Once, a few years ago, Mother taught Ghost her letters, and the sounds they made. After that Ghost would practice in the library, sounding out the words one by one. As time went on she got better at it, and learned more words. No one particularly cared if she sat for hours in the library–not like the kitchen, where sooner or later she’d be in someone’s way, or the halls and rooms where Mother and Father lived and entertained guests, where Ghost wasn’t permitted except when Mother sent for her.

No, in the library she was left in peace, except if Father or Mother or a guest wanted to use it. Then she had to disappear before they entered, so they wouldn’t see her. She was very good at leaving a room just before someone else entered, which was why everyone called her Ghost. Well, at least, all the servants called her Ghost, and she herself did too, so that made Ghost her real name, whatever the family record-book might say.

So her education consisted of whatever books she pulled randomly from the library shelves, which meant a great deal of history, mostly in the form of “and then General so-and-so led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy,” books of advice on business, and literature, mostly in the form of “and then General So-and-So led the charge on Wherever and won the Battle of Thingy, as well as the hand of Princess Whatsername.”

There was very little in there about magic, and none at all about the proper order in which things ought to be attempted when learning magic. And she was eleven, that age when such gifts begin to manifest. Not that her gift was that great–middling, really. But it was a Fire rune she looked at in the book, tracing her fingers over it while she read the instructions about focusing on it, letting herself flow into it. And the library was full of wooden shelves stacked with paper books. And they did put the fire out without too much damage. Eventually.

Honestly, she probably could have just faded away, stayed out of sight until the whole thing was forgotten, if not for the fact that she panicked as the first flickers of flame danced across the book, and ran screaming from the library straight into Mother, Father, and the Thain of Caer Wyndle.

On the other hand, six months in a dark cellar did give her both time and motivation to practice the fire rune. She had it quite under control by the time they let her back out.

Eleven years, nine months, and thirteen days until the end

Ghost sat under a table in the kitchen, nibbling at a twirlbread that had been dropped on the floor and trod on. Normally she wouldn’t eat food that had had feet in it, since Alamea always made sure that every meal she prepared for Mother and Father had more leftovers than all the servants together could eat, but she very much liked twirlbread, with its cinnamon-sweetness and chopped nuts. Unfortunately she couldn’t have the fun of unwinding it into a long thin strip of fluffy baked dough, because it had gotten all smashed, but it was still quite tasty after she scraped off the footprint.

Speaking of her, Alamea walked into the kitchen at just that moment, trailed by the new scullery lad. Ghost didn’t know his name yet, since he’d started while she was in the cellar. Ghost quite liked Alamea; she was kind as long as you stayed out of her way and obeyed her iron-fisted rule of the kitchen, and she had a big, round, lilting voice that was somehow exactly right for a woman barely taller than Ghost and seven times wider, with a broad face and thick black calluses on her big, strong hands. The scullery lad was a bit taller and a lot thinner, but his face was close enough that he might be her cousin–and probably was, for all Ghost knew.

Alamea strode over to the bubbling pot of soup, and her apprentice, a shy and anxious girl named Luana, only a few years older than Ghost herself, stepped back. Alamea lifted a ladle and tasted the soup, while Luana clutched her slender hands together and watched in worried silence. “Hrm,” said Alamea, and Luana visibly relaxed. That meant, Ghost knew, that the cook had no complaints about Luana’s work.

Alamea turned to the counter, inspecting the vegetables and spices Ghost had watched Luana chopping and grinding for the last hour. “Hrm,” she said again, and laid a saucepan on the stove next to the soup. Soon she was tossing and flipping vegetables, adding them and the spices to the pan in some arcane order Ghost couldn’t figure out.

“Hi, Mele,” Luana whispered to the scullery lad. Aha! So that was his name!

“Hi,” he said.

“How is, uh, everything?” Luana asked. When he shrugged, she continued on, “Um, if there’s anything that you need help with, or want to know… I mean, since I know you’re new–I mean, of course you know that you’re new, but–“

“Oh, just go fuck already,” Alamea interrupted. “After work. Luana, I need you to start cleaning the fish. Mele, run to the pantry and get me more flour and two onions.”

Luana blushed like two inkblots spreading across her cheeks, but Ghost caught the hint of a smile on the older girl’s face as she turned to her work. Ghost watched in fascination; this was a part of life she’d only seen glimpses of before.

A couple of minutes later Mele returned and laid down the supplies Alamea had requested. “There actually is something I’ve been wondering,” he murmured to Luana. “Who’s that little girl I sometimes see? The one with the filthy face and the torn smock? Is she the maid’s daughter or something?”

“Little girl?” asked Luana. “Oh, you mean Ghost! No, no, she’s their daughter.”

“Them?” he asked. “You mean–she’s a nob? But then why do they let her just… wander like that? It’s not right!”

Ghost perked up, suddenly interested. Wasn’t it?

“You’ve answered your own question, boy,” said Alamea. “You said she looked like a servant’s girl. Oh, she’s got the same lovely dark skin and eyes as her mother, all the Dyvis women do, but she looks more than half Keo, doesn’t she?”

Ghost stifled a sigh, since that was likely to get her noticed and probably walloped for eavesdropping. That was always what it came down to, her ugliness. Fat and short and toadlike, flat nose in a broad face, and a tangle of curls that grew denser and bigger rather than longer–not like Mother’s hair that hung down shining and dark and straight, tall, slender, long-limbed, beautiful Mother, or the tall, slender, long-limbed, straight-haired, beautiful ladies that sometimes visited her.

“Hard to believe she’s their child,” Mele agreed.

“Exactly,” said Luana, voice dropping to an excited whisper. “Rumor is, His Lordship thinks she’s not. He thinks Her Ladyship had a Keo lover and forgot to take her draft.”

“Rumor,” said Alamea, disgusted.

“Well, that’s what Kina told me!” Luana protested.

“Yes, and she told me Her Ladyship thinks the child’s a throwback, that the Gruffyds aren’t quite as pure Tarnic as their family tree says,” Alamea countered. “She repeats everything she hears, that girl.” Alamea passed the vegetables in their pan to Luana and took the cleaned, boned fish from her.

“Well, if either one is true, why do they stay together?” asked Mele.

“Here, make yourself useful, boy, and peel this garlic.” Alamea cracked a couple of eggs in a bowl and whipped them swiftly, then poured out the flour onto the counter. Soon she was at work coating the fish in first egg, then flour. “Because the Gruffyds might be rich and Tarnic, but they’re as common as we are,” she said. “And Lady Gwenfer might be a lady, but this manor was half in ruins and all her old father had left before young Mr. Gruffyd, as he was then, proposed. They may hate each other, and they do, almost as much as they hate her, poor little thing! But they need each other, Ghost or no.”

Ghost clutched her scabby knees to her chest, hardly daring to breathe for fear they might catch her. She’d never heard anything like this before. Mother and Father hated each other? Hated her? She rolled the word around in her head. Yes. Yes, that was the right word. They hated her. And, she was vaguely surprised to notice, she hated them.

The next day she snuck out of the house for the first time.