Saturday, August 12, 2017

Update: New Exclusive Fiction Coming Soon!

Itching for more stories and excerpts? Then I've got good news for you.

Starting next week, I'll be posting brand-new serial fiction stories!


Interested to know a little more about the world of The Victor's Blade? Want to read more of my takes on various fandoms? Thirsting for some collaborations between me and some of my fellow writers?

You'll be able to enjoy all of these in the upcoming fiction posts!

Or, if you're short on time, you can check out even smaller flash fiction versions of the same stories exclusively on the TaleHunt mobile app. Follow me @Rynfyre for all your flash fiction needs!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Popularity and Art Quality

You're driving in your car listening to the radio, and that new pop song sensation comes on... for the five-hundredth time this week. And while everyone else seems to start tapping their feet to the beat, this song makes you want to rip off your ears. Awful.

You get to class and your teacher tells you to read "the great American novel," but you can only stand the first two sentences before you drop all pretenses of doing this homework. Boring.

Then you get dragged to an art museum by your gung-ho art major friends. As they're gawking at a wall full of splatter paintings that look like the work of a two-year-old, you wonder what anyone could see in this stuff. Unoriginal and uninspiring, you think as you stare at what could have been a combination of fingerpaints and yesterday's lunch.

Nothing against the abstract, but I draw the line at plastic toys on canvas counting as "art..."

Two months ago, I started a discussion about "good art": whether it exists and, if so, what might separate it from "bad art."

But art quality--or at least enjoyment of that art--has objective and subjective elements. How do we know what's bad art and what's just something you don't like? If you don't like something, does that make it "bad art" for you? Does it mean you have no artistic taste if you don't like something that's been hailed as a masterpiece?

I've got a couple hypotheses to get this week's discussion rolling.


Popularity Doesn't Make Art Objectively Good

As my friend Curtis pointed out on my "good art" post, popularity doesn't make a piece objectively "good."

I think this is a pretty commonly-held belief: that just because something is eaten up by the mass populace doesn't mean it's "good." It's this very philosophy that birthed the term "Hipsters": people who allegedly avoid any sort of trend because its sheer popularity has rendered it "un-trendy." But you don't need to be a Hipster to think this kind of way. There are video gamers who bash the Call of Duty games. There are musicians who loathe the samey pop songs that flood the radio. There are film buffs who groan at the latest explosion-littered summer thrill flick.

So just because something has a large fan base or sells well doesn't mean that art is objectively good art. Subjectively good, however, is a whole different discussion...

...because they operate independently of one another.


There's no direct relation; something isn't necessarily subjectively good just because it's objectively good or vice versa. Objectively and subjectively good aren't mutually exclusive, either.

This is where that philosophy of mine on "good art" comes in--that art quality is both objective and subjective. Objectively "good" art is well-crafted, art that stands the test of time; for example, these are the art pieces that artists study in order to improve their craft. Subjectively "good" art, however, is art that at least one person enjoys or thinks is good. But that means that the term "subjectively good art" can be even further divided: is it subjectively good art in general or just for you personally? Is it something that has mass appeal, or are you just commenting on your own personal tastes?

Wow, this is getting confusing fast. Let me throw down an example to help explain. We'll take a look at the anime Sword Art Online. (Wow, I use a lot of anime examples. Can you tell what I've been watching lately?)

Many viewers immediately fell in love with Sword Art Online's attractive visuals and dark premise (being trapped inside a virtual reality video game that kills you in real life if you die in the game). During its first arc, the show exploded in popularity.
However, shortly after the show's impressive popularity spike, vocal anime fans began to release scathing reviews of the show. They rightly pointed out the show's numerous pacing and characterization flaws.

Whether sparked by these reviews or not, public opinion of the show noticeably shifted. Whereas viewers had once praised Sword Art Online, they now critically massacred it (The Pendantic Romantic, "Sword Art Online - How Digibro Killed An Anime").

So, was this show objectively "good" art? Will it become a timeless classic? It's hard to say at this point, but I'd argue probably not. The reviewers weren't needlessly bashing a show they didn't like: Sword Art Online does possess glaring writing flaws. While the visuals and music are excellent, the storytelling is certainly not great, especially when compared to other anime of the same genre (Thew, "Why Do So Many People Love SAO? - The Art of Mass Appeal").

But was this show subjectively good? In a general sense, absolutely. Sword Art Online wouldn't have enjoyed such a burst of popularity without capturing the attention and imagination of a vast audience. And in a specific sense, there is still a sizeable enough Sword Art Online fan base to warrant the release of a new movie and upcoming season 3 to the anime; clearly there's at least one person who thinks Sword Art Online is subjectively good (Schley, "Sword Art Online Season 3 Reportedly Announced").

So we can see that a piece of art can still be objectively bad while remaining subjectively good to a select audience--even if that audience is an audience of one.

However...


Popularity Doesn't Make Art Bad

Just because something is wildly popular doesn't mean it's objectively bad art, either.

This is something I've actually struggled with personally. If something suddenly becomes wildly popular and I can't immediately identify why, I'll dismiss it as a stupid flash fad and ignore it (you know the ones--fidget spinners, bottle flipping, or for you 90's kids like me, Furbies).

But passing up art just because it's popular can lead to you missing out on some great gems. For instance...

Disney

When Disney XD began to run teasers for then-upcoming show Gravity Falls, I rolled my eyes at what I thought was going to be another slice-of-life kids-at-summercamp episodic bore. At worst, I was expecting Camp Lazlo, a show I'd despised.

Mayyybe I just wasn't the targeted demographic...?

But when the Gravity Falls pilot aired, I sat down and watched it out of sheer curiosity. As it turned out, my first impression had been totally wrong, and Gravity Falls remains one of my favorite TV shows to date. I'm hardly alone in that opinion; the show has a large, adoring fan base.

If you assume something is going to be bad just because it's popular, you might miss out on something you would have loved.

I probably would have never watched Gravity Falls if I'd heard of it after it had gained a following. And I hate to think what would have happened if I'd shied away from seeing The Lord of the Rings film trilogy just because it was becoming popular. I would have never gotten into high fantasy fiction, for one. And high fantasy fiction is my life now.

If popularity doesn't make something objectively good art, it doesn't make it bad, either. So don't let other people's opinions dictate your own. Sample art for yourself; then judge that art on your terms.


Unpopularity Doesn't Make Art Good or Bad

If popularity doesn't dictate art quality, then unpopularity doesn't, either. An art piece can be unpopular, wildly disliked, or totally unknown, but none of that means the art is bad or good, objectively or subjectively.

After all, unknown art happens all the time in our media-saturated age. That doesn't mean a book that never makes it big isn't as good as or better than the ones on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

An art piece isn't objectively bad if it has a small following or even if a large number of people hate it. Just because a mass number of people dislike something doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't well-made; it just means lots of people disliked something about the art. Even a piece that's almost universally-hated might still have one person who enjoys it and finds it subjectively good.


Popularity Doesn't Mean You Have to Like It

I wish every college art professor would open their class with this sentence. It would've freed me from a lot of angst throughout my education experience.

Just because something is popular--even if it's popular among professionals or famous artists or academics with credentials up the wazoo--that doesn't mean you have to like it.

Something can be considered good art objectively or subjectively--doesn't matter which--and you still don't have to like it!

Your personal tastes--what you like and dislike--are completely your own. Don't let someone tell you that you HAVE to like this band or that movie. Don't let a professor make you feel like you have to enjoy a short story you actually hated, no matter how "well-written" it might have been.

The truth is that your personal tastes aren't based on the objective quality of art; it's based on your own preferences, your own interests, your own experiences, your own outlooks... a million things that are your own--unique to YOU. You never have to justify liking something nobody else does; it's just something you like. You don't even need a reason! You just do. That's good enough. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Same goes for things you dislike, by the way. Though it's awesome to have specific reasons for why you don't like something so you can discuss it with others, you don't need to have a reason beyond "I just didn't like it."

Just remember to learn from my mistakes: don't dislike something you haven't even tried just because it's popular and it therefore "probably won't be good." :P

Speaking of trying things out, if you enjoyed this post and want to check out more on the subject of art popularity and art quality, I'd recommend checking out The Nostalgia Critic's Top 10 Films I Hate But Everyone Else Loves and Top 10 Films I Like But Everyone Else Hates mini series. If you've seen these videos before, did you agree or disagree with his picks?

Whether you check out the vids or not, are there any pieces of art that you've enjoyed that other people hated or vice versa?

And as always, are there any points you'd add to this article, or is there something you disagree with?

I want to hear it all in the comment section below.

---
Works Cited:

  • The Pedantic Romantic, director. "Sword Art Online - How Digibro Killed An Anime." YouTube, LLC, 20 Jan. 2017. 
  • Thew, Geoff, director. "Why Do So Many People Love SAO? - The Art of Mass Appeal." YouTube, LLC, 25 June 2017.
  • Schley, Matt. “Sword Art Online Season 3 Reportedly Announced.” OTAKU USA Magazine, OTAKU USA, 30 Jan. 2017. 
    Photos (in order of appearance):
    • Peacock in Space by Aelita Andre, who--despite my cheeky caption--has done some pretty incredible pieces. Check out her story here and her online art gallery here.
    • Gravity Falls screenshot by Walt Disney Studios; originally posted on UnderScoopFire.com.
    • Camp Lazlo screenshot by Cartoon Network; originally posted on DailyMotion.com (which kind of looks like a sketchy site. Learn from my mistakes and don't go on there)
    All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws.

    From Him, To Him

    Friday, August 4, 2017

    Anime Review: World Trigger

    Toei Animation

    Genre: Shounen/Coming-of-Age
    Year Released: 2014 - 2016
    Distributor:  Toei Animation
    Directors: Mitsuru Hongo (episodes 1−48), Kouji Ogawa (episodes 49-73)
    Seasons: 2 Seasons; 73 episodes total

    The Premise

    In a near-future Japan, Earth has come under attack by bestial, bio-mechanical aliens known as "Neighbors." The only force that's been able to go toe-to-toe with Neighbors is the Border Defense Agency. They've developed a way to draw Neighbor attacks into fenced-off evacuated areas, keeping civilians away from the fight. It's a solid strategy... but not foolproof. Young Osamu Mikumo finds himself in one of these "forbidden zones" in the middle of an attack. When he's rescued by a Border Agent, Osamu vows to join Border. He's determined to rise through their ranks so he can one day take the fight to the Neighbor home-planet as part of Border's rare but elite invasion forces.

    But Osamu must overcome plenty of obstacles along the way.

    For starters, Border's Neighbor-killing weapons (called "Triggers") rely on Trion, a natural energy produced by the human body. Because Osamu's Trion output is pitifully low, using Border's basic weaponry is almost unsustainable for him.

    And that's not even mentioning the fact that Osamu has unwittingly befriended a Neighbor.


    The Visuals

    Computer-generated graphics (CG) are a relatively small presence in World Trigger, allowing the 2D-animated characters to shine with their bright and colorful but still natural-looking character designs. CG is mostly used for the lighting/particle effects of Triggers and for setpiece "bosses" such as particularly large Neighbor creatures. The Triggers in particular are often very pretty to look at, with their various glowing fluorescent colors and sparks that shower upon impact. My personal favorite effect is when a person is KO'd in combat, which results in their Trion-generated body (which functions as a shell to protect their true physical body) disintegrating in a burst of green-blue cubes.

    Despite the flashy Trigger effects, none of World Trigger's CG sticks out like a sore thumb against the 2D animation: an issue that has plagued many other modern anime. It's refreshing to see Japanese studios properly blending the two animation styles.


    The Story and the Fights

    I'll admit that this is a show you will be watching more for the tension in its fights than the draw of the overall plot.

    I'm not trying to say there isn't an overarching tale; there's enough story there to keep snobs like me entertained. It's just...

    The fight scenes are so interesting.

    World Trigger has flashy fighting moves in spades. And, to their credit, while they could easily rest on that alone to carry their combat, they don't. They also offer strategy and natural tension, which is great since a good chunk of the show is characters fighting each other in mock combat.

    By far, the best thing about World Trigger's fights are the strategies.

    Characters are constantly reassessing their opponents' moves based on their knowledge of the rapidly-unfolding situation. New Trigger abilities enter the mix, forcing the defenders to rethink their strategies. Characters hide with cloaking technology, only to appear and pop off a vital sniper shot and then leap from a building as the opponent's countering shot destroys the sniper's perch.

    It's well-paced, and it's interesting to watch the entire cast strategize and counter-strategize--whether they're in combat with Neighbors or practicing against each other.

    The overarching plot isn't quite as well paced, however. Long arcs of combat will yield only a few episodes that further the plot, which can either reveal more information about the Neighbors or delve into character backstory, but not often both.

    There's also a filler arc shortly near the end of season 2; and while filler arcs are hardly uncommon for anime, the fact that it's fifteen episodes long (out of World Trigger's total 73 episodes; that's about 5% of the whole show!) is almost an unforgivable sin in and of itself. Add to that the fact that it's set right in the middle of Osamu's march to become a top-tiered Border agent and this particular filler arc feels especially maddening.


    The Characters

    This show has an enormous cast.

    And you know what? I did not mind one single bit.

    That's shocking for someone who can barely keep two characters straight if their names both start with the same letter, and it shows just how well World Trigger handles their cast. In my opinion, the character designs and development are so good, they earn the story's pacing issues a pass.

    World Trigger does an excellent job introducing its vast cast gradually and making sure to remind you about characters at just the right time. How they do it so effortlessly, I have no idea. But the fact is, despite the cast of good guys alone exceeding 70 characters, I recognized each and every one when they came across the screen--even if I couldn't necessarily remember their names right away (foreign names, like names that start with the same letter, are particularly hard for me. I'm just really bad at remembering names, guys).

    The main cast are all very likeable if gentle-hearted souls, which means you're not going to get a whole lot of group tension due to differing worldviews. But this choice of a main cast makes sense; this is a show about teamwork, in which one ace combatant is not going to be able to carry his whole group, no matter how talented; the team, therefore, needs to actually work.

    In fact, some of the important characters actually feel like an extended family, and it's always fun when they return to their home base. Whether they're teasing each other, helping each other train, or just enjoying each other's home-cooked meals, it's always a welcome change in pace after the combat's over.

    But one of my favorite parts about the main cast is how Osamu's teammates all look up to him despite his shortcomings...


    The Theme

    I'm always a fan of a coming-of-age story, and the shounen genre is literally built on tales of unlikely heroes training to become stronger. Still, I'm always pleasantly surprised at how relatable this theme continues to be, particularly for me.

    To me, Osamu's consistent failures and his lacking natural prowess only make me love this theme even more. It doesn't hurt that Osamu is out of the ordinary for a shounen protagonist, who are more often "chosen ones" who merely have to learn to control their inborn abilities.

    World Trigger makes it clear over and over again how perfectly ordinary--or worse, how below average--Osamu really is. Other characters, mostly those who should be his allies in fighting the Neighbors, often make fun of him or outright bully him for his lacking natural abilities. He regularly gets his butt handed to him in fights, even when he's trying his hardest.

    But Osamu is still an inspiring character, not because he learns some secret or gains some incredible power... but because despite how many times he loses, despite his lack of power or talent... he keeps trying every single time. He's a kid who pushes aside how many times he gets knocked down, not out of some pride or ferocity of spirit, but just because he wants to do the right thing.

    In fact, one character outright asks Osamu why he's constantly running into harm's way if he knows he can't be as much help as others. Osamu replies,

    "I'm not that noble. It's just, for me... If I run away from what I think I should do even once, then surely, I'll end up running when I really need to stay and fight. I know that, [sic] that's the kind of person I am." ("Each One's Determination," 00:20:10 - 00:20:29)

    As someone who regularly struggles with feelings of cowardice, I love having Osamu as a reminder that courage means facing fears to use my strength when someone else needs me most.


    The Conclusion

    Other than removing the filler arc, I'm not sure there's much I'd change about World Trigger. It's a great show with lovable characters, an impressively large cast that works, and excellent chess-like strategic fights.

    That's why I was so sad to hear the World Trigger anime was no longer airing after its second season (Green, "'World Trigger' Anime Wraps Up In March"). That's no guarantee that the anime is canceled, but at the very least it'll be a long few years' wait to hear if the anime is going to continue.

    I guess for those of us who are dying to see where the story goes, we'll always have the manga. I'll be sure to let you know how that holds up if I ever do get a chance to read it!

    ---
    Photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws.

    Works Cited:
    • Hongo, Mitsuru, dir. "Each One's Determination." World Trigger. 20 Dec. 2014. Crunchyroll.com. Web. 20 July 2017.
    • Green, Scott. ""World Trigger" Anime Wraps Up In March." Blog post. Crunchyroll.com. N.p., 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 20 July 2017.
    Review format adapted from Curtis Bell's Iridium Eye. Interested in seeing something you've never seen before? Check out Iridium Eye for a medley of movies and shows I can guarantee you've never heard of.

    From Him, To Him