Friday, March 30, 2018

What Makes a Good Remake?

Nostalgia may be a good thing depending on how we respond to it, but it can be used to manipulate us. Just look at all the media geared toward appealing to our nostalgia via remakes, reboots, and adaptations.

I don't think remakes are inherently bad; they stand or fall on their own merit. For instance, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is one of my favorite films, while the 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fell flat for me. Why? What makes the difference, and how do you make a great remake?

Remakes need to present something new.

I agree with YouTuber and film reviewer Captain Midnight, who believes remakes should “bring something new to the table”1 If a remake tells the same story we've seen before, it's pointless. There's no new story to tell.

Captain Midnight believes this is why Spider-Man: Homecoming felt like such a breath of fresh air compared to The Amazing Spider-Man series. Fans were tired of seeing the same things repeated in every film, Spidey's origin story being one of the big offenders. To combat this fatigue, Homecoming writers took inventory of what had been done in previous Spider-films and instead presented things we hadn't seen before.2 Homecoming told a new story. It had something new and fresh to offer.

That isn't to say that a story has to be completely unique in every way; that's impossible. Storytelling is all about how you weave elements together. You may have a story about a protagonist and his love interest experiencing sexual tension and arguing with each other throughout the film, but what if they weren't exes or potential lovers—what if they were currently in a relationship and struggling to make things work? Instead of having every single romantic arc in every bland action thriller, you have the unique and delightful Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Stories stand out from the competition when the writers weave common elements with less-common and unlikely ones. This is the kind of “new” elements remakes need to present.

That being said...

Remakes are best when they retain the essence of the original.

Remakes can't shove so much “new” stuff in that they lose the core of what made the franchise interesting in the first place. As soon as you lose the core, it ceases to be that franchise, and you're going to lose the support of the original fans. It's a disservice to the original content because it's taking too many liberties and making the franchise something it's not.


Remakes need to stand on their own.

Remakes need to be a good piece of media by themselves, not due to some content or characters they contain. They need to be well-written, well-made, and well-presented, just like any other story. A remake can't rely too much on the universe it's put into. For instance...

Remakes CANNOT assume people know what the film has not shown them.*

Remakes cannot rely on outside sources to deliver information key to the immediate conflict.

For example, one common criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi is how it presents the enemy organization, the First Order. YouTuber MauLer discusses it at length in his video series “A Critique of Star Wars: The Last Jedi”:
The state of the galaxy has always been important in Star Wars because it gives us the framing of the story... “The Empire exists. It's bad. We need to topple it, etc...” We're not provided some massive essay about the functionality and power, but we understand the premise.3
Even the Star Wars prequels, despite the controversy surrounding them, did this, as MauLer points out. Those films may have presented a very different world than the original trilogy, but both sets of movies presented enough worldbuilding to leave the viewer feeling that “the world was built, the stakes were set, and the progression of events were clear.”4 MauLer then contrasts this with the modern trilogy's methods: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins with a crawl telling us that 'The First Order reigns.' Now, why is this a problem?”5

It was a problem because it left viewers confused. This simply wasn't enough information to create a solid framework of worldbuilding, MauLer asserts.
We were left to assume that there was a Republic, but they really didn't do anything. And the First Order rose from nothing, as far as we can tell. On top of that, there is a Resistance force, but we have no idea what they're even resisting. Who joins a guerrilla team fighting against nothing in peace times? Why does this force even exist, and if it is supported by the Republic, then why is it so limited? 
There are ways to explain all of this... But it was implied that [the Empire was] crushed. Something of a history would have been appreciated, because now our framing is confusing. [W]hen characters talk about “bringing the First Order down,” it makes sense in that they are a negative force that needs to be stopped, but didn't we already do this? Anyone who knows of Star Wars has that niggling question in the back of their mind: “Isn't this just the Rebellion and the Empire again?” But this time, when they don't explain much of the operation or history, it doesn't stand on its own, as we assumed they were destroyed, but now they aren't.”6
Many fans of The Last Jedi attempt to argue that these “niggling questions” are answered via outside source material: novelizations of the films and such. But this is an intensely unsatisfying—not to mention sloppy—way to create a film. Viewers should not have to read a book in order to understand what's happening in the film they're watching right now.

Although there is a very important exception to this “deliver key information in the present film” rule...

*You DON'T need to present everything if all three of the following elements are present:

1) Your target audience already knows.

Remembering your target audience is vital in any medium, but it's especially important for creating remakes. What does your target audience already know about this universe? You may not need to include it in the film.

You know why we didn't need to see Spidey getting his powers and watching Uncle Ben die in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Because the target audience going to see Homecoming had already watched all the other Spider-Man films. They didn't need to see it happen again, especially because...

2) It was recently-divulged information.

The reason Marvel movies can get away with only slight references to the events of their other films is because they've all happened within a relatively short period of time. If there were ten years between Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Avengers (2012), we might be more confused as to why Tony is suffering from PTSD. But because these films were released only a year apart, audiences remembered seeing Tony fly into space with a nuke in The Avengers. We don't need Iron Man 3 to present us with the full flashback of Tony suffering his near-death experience; we saw it recently enough for it to be fresh in our minds if it gets a brief mention.

Of course, it also helps if...

3) You've already established that your version of the characters and world is a preestablished one.

Setting your story in a preestablished version of the universe saves so much time. This is why the animated Batman films work; the animation style confirms that “Yes, this is the same Batman universe as in Batman: The Animated Series.” This way, writers don't need to take time reestablishing who Batman is.

This is also why so many people feel that DC's Justice League failed. It's clear that these new live-action versions of the characters are not any previously-established versions of these beloved characters. So DC needed to take time establishing who this version of Cyborg is or who this version of Aquaman is. And while Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman all had films of their own that attempted to do this, only Wonder Woman's film did a good job showing us who Diana was and why we should care about her. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not, leaving Justice League with the near-impossible task of introducing us to five different characters in addition to presenting an actual plot. That's incredibly challenging to do well.

Needless to say...

Remakes are hard to pull off.

I don't envy writers who have to create a remake or reboot. It's grueling work to analyze what makes a series special, who the target audience is, what fans might like, and what new things audiences haven't seen before. In many ways, writing a remake is harder than writing a sequel, let alone original content.

So let's give writers and directors a break. Because even if that remake is supposed to be a cash cow to prey on your nostalgic connection to that beloved series, nobody's trying to ruin your favorite franchise. We all want remakes to work, especially the people whose paychecks depend on them—especially if those same people are fans of the series themselves.

Notes and References:
  1. Captain Midnight, “5 Things Star Wars: The Last Jedi HAS To Get Right,” YouTube video, 10:14, August 17, 2017.
  2. Captain Midnight, “How Marvel Fixed a Franchise - Spider-Man: Homecoming,” YouTube video, 11:47, July 13, 2017.
  3. MauLer, “A Critique of Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Part 1,” YouTube video, 1:22:31, January 19, 2018.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
Photo: Roll of Coupons by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash.

Batman, the Justice League, and all related names and terms are the property of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Star Wars and all related terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. Spider-Man, Iron-Man, The Avengers, and all related terms property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC (and also Walt Disney Studios). Mr. and Mrs. Smith property of 20th Century Fox. And I am not affiliated with any of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, March 23, 2018

On Nostalgia

People say 90's kids are obsessed with nostalgia. Studios make reboots, sequels, and adaptations to cater specifically to nostalgic 20- and 30-somethings.

Nostalgia is often seen as a bad thing. Either your nostalgia is being manipulated (to get you to buy a ticket to that remake of Robocop) or your nostalgia is manipulating you (and you really shouldn't like that video game that you played as a kid because it was actually garbage).

But does nostalgia deserve a bad reputation? And what exactly is nostalgia?

Nostalgia, at least when it comes to consuming media, is the sense that something was better than it actually was. Nostalgia happens when we have an overly-fond memory of something because we ignore or forgot any bad memories associated with it.

But nostalgia isn't some error in our way of thinking or some kind of mental disorder. Dr. Sarah Whitbourne explains that it's a totally normal psychological experience—albeit a strange one and not well-understood. Nostalgia is the result of “[a] phenomenon called the 'reminiscence bump...'1 [which] leads adults of all ages to remember with great clarity and fondness the years of their own youth,” specifically ages 15 to 30.2
As you think back on your past, you're most likely to be able to generate strong mental images of what you were doing at that time, perhaps even to the date. It's literally, [sic] a 'bump' in your ability to remember what happened during these key critical years of life.3 ...[W]hen we think back on these times, the painful events become dimmer and dimmer. We shape and re-shape our life stories, reworking the narrative in a way that enhances the way we feel about ourselves now.4
Nostalgia itself isn't a bad thing, though there are unhealthy ways to respond to nostalgia. As Dr. Whitbourne explains, “[i]f we only focus on the positive, we'll lose touch with the reality of the events that actually shaped who we are now.”5

So while psychologists recommend tempering those warm, fuzzy memories with a realistic and complete view of what really happened—yes, sad and unfortunate memories included—Dr. Whitboune reiterates that nostalgia is actually important to discovering who we are as individuals.
Dip into your own past to refresh your sense of who you are now. Emotionally connecting with your younger self helps you maintain a sense of continuity over time. Without memory, we would have no identity. The experiences you've had throughout your life help define who you are at any given moment.6
She goes on to emphasize this by pointing out why people with amnesia suffer so much: “The blank spaces in their life stories leave gaps in their sense of personal identity.”7 Because they have no memories, they essentially lose a piece of who they are.

So if nostalgia isn't inherently bad, is it bad if nostalgia affects how we view media?

Yes... and no. As with our personal lives, that depends on how you deal with nostalgia.

Nostalgia is bad when we refuse to temper it with the less-flowery truth. Mishandled nostalgia creates fans who cannot admit their beloved franchise has flaws. Mishandled nostalgia makes reviewers who praise a film or game as “perfect” because of how they remember it as a kid without considering how bad it might actually be.

But as long as we're willing to see things with clarity, there's nothing wrong with having a nostalgic fondness for something. In fact, nostalgia is actually incredibly important. Our tastes—including our nostalgic preferences—are part of what make us who we are.

I believe this is what Dr. Whitbourne means when she says our memories help shape who we are. Some things from our past—even if they were corny or weren't well-made or didn't age well—still touched a deep part of us. In some senses, they became a part of us: one of our cherished memories.

When I was three years old, my favorite TV show was The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. There was one episode that always stuck out to me. I couldn't tell you a point-by-point summary of the plot, but I remember how it made me feel.

Buena Vista Television, 1989
In the episode, Pooh Bear's responsible but up-tight friend Rabbit discovers a baby bird struggling to fly in the middle of a dangerous storm. Rabbit takes the bird in and nurses her back to health. When Rabbit discovers the baby bird is all alone, Rabbit takes it upon himself to raise her. The baby bird bonds with Rabbit right away, affectionately calling him “Rabbie,” which almost becomes a term to refer to Rabbit as her father.

Time passes, and the baby bird is no longer a baby. It's time for her to leave. And Rabbit is overwhelmed by this terrible sense of loss and pride and sorrow at seeing his little bird fly away. There's some implication that the little bird may come back, but there's also this sense that they might never see each other again. And it's certain that their relationship will never be what it once was: Rabbit will never again fuss over his baby bird and teach her to fly or cradle her in his arms.

A simple cartoon about a father letting go of his grown-up baby girl. And even though I was only three years old—certainly too young to understand most of its message—I understood the emotions. I understood that this was sad, and it made me feel sad. But there was also something I was too young to put words to: because even though the episode was terribly sad, it was also one of my favorites. There was something about it that was truly beautiful.

And this is the value of nostalgia: it allows us to enjoy and savor things long after we've experienced them. In many ways, nostalgia is good for all the reasons memories are good. They teach us important lessons. They allow us to go back to a special time in our lives. They speak to us in ways that we may not fully understand at the time, but that we come to appreciate more as time goes on.

Nostalgia, like our memories, tell us something about who we are.

And that makes nostalgia quite valuable indeed.

Notes and References:
  1. D. C. Rubin, T. A. Rahhal, and L. W. Poon, “Things learned in early adulthood are remembered best” [sic], Memory and Cognition, 26, (1998), 3-19, quoted in Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, “What's So Nice about Nostalgia?” Psychology Today (blog), March 24, 2012, accessed March 21, 2018.
  2. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, “What's So Nice about Nostalgia?” Psychology Today (blog), March 24, 2012, accessed March 21, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, “The life-span construct as a model of adaptation in adulthood” [sic], Handbook of the psychology of aging [sic], 2nd ed., (NewYork, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985), 594-618, quoted in Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, “What's So Nice about Nostalgia?” Psychology Today (blog), March 24, 2012, accessed March 21, 2018.
  5. Whitbourne, “What's So Nice about Nostalgia?”
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
Photo from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Episode: “Find Her, Keep Her,” originally aired on ABC September 8, 1989 and property of Walt Disney Studios 1988-1991. Screenshot from The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh E4 Find Her, Keep Her [sic], posted by innodesadjo. Used under US “Fair Use” laws.

The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and all related terms are the property of Walt Disney Studios. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, March 16, 2018

Type Casting: Katuski Bakugo

Some characters are so well-written that they seem life-like. But how would these "realistic" characters stand up to real-life personality typing?

It's time to put the Enneagram back to the test, gauging characters' personality types based on their core drives and greatest fears.

Type Casting:

Personality Typing Your Favorite Characters

The remainder of this post will contain some spoilers for

My Hero Academia

You have been warned.

[S]elf-confident, strong, and assertive... resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive, but can also be ego-centric and domineering. [They] feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating... [T]ypically have problems with their tempers and with allowing themselves to be vulnerable.1

My Hero Academia, Bones 2017

Get ready to go beyond, Plus Ultra-style, because today we're typing a fan favorite from My Hero Academia, King Explosion Murder himself: Katsuki Bakugo!

Bakugo is a poster child for the Type Eight personality, also known as “The Challenger.”2 He's determined to become the number-one hero, and he has the strength and tenacity to do just that.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016
While most characters in My Hero Academia share this desire, it's clear that Bakugo wants to be the best specifically “to 'leave [his] mark'” on the world—a common Eight trait.3 He knows even “[a]t an early age... that this requires strength, will, persistence, and endurance...” and he works hard to cultivate these qualities.4 Bakugo relies on no one but himself, training hard to become physically and mentally tough. It's no surprise that others consider him the epitome of self-confidence. One of his childhood friends comments:
He was the type who could do anything he tried his hand at, a rascal who led the group of neighborhood kids. Good or bad, [Bakugo] was full of confidence, and I thought he was so cool.5
My Hero Academia, Bones 2016
This confidence drew others to Bakugo like moths to a candle when he was young—another common trait of Eights, who are known for being “charismatic and hav[ing] the physical and psychological capacities to persuade others to follow them into all kinds of endeavors.”6 To be sure, Bakugo had no problems convincing his childhood buddies to go along with any of his plans, whether it be venturing past fences or wandering the local neighborhood... or even picking on those Bakugo deemed weaker than himself.

Unfortunately for Bakugo, his temper and ego quickly outpace that charisma. In high school, Bakugo finds the tables have turned when he becomes the object of teasing. His classmates have no problem pointing out his many flaws, including his less-than-always-charming personality.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

This scene is Bakugo's worst nightmare. When people look down on him, it means they have power over him: an Eight's greatest fear.7 Bakugo wants to be in charge at all times. Even when his instructor gives him a direct order or tries to give him advice, Bakugo ignores it or brushes it aside. He won't show weakness. He refuses to show vulnerability. He's a rock.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

Although Bakugo exhibits so many Eight traits, I initially had a hard time typing him—not for lack of Eight behavior, but because of the explosive anger he aims at his former friend and fellow classmate, Midoriya, whom he scornfully calls “Deku” (which he uses to describes someone he considers useless).8

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

It's clear Bakugo sees Midoriya as a rival despite his constant comments that Midoriya is “nothing but a pebble”9 on his path to greatness. Bakugo repeats this assurance like a mantra, as if trying to ward off an overwhelming sense that Midoriya is indeed a threat.

But this anxiety doesn't add up. Eights are driven by the fear of being controlled. Yet Midoriya is the last person who would or could overpower anyone, least of all Bakugo.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

Midoriya had always been smaller and naturally more timid than Bakugo. Where Bakugo charged in head-first, Midoriya often hung back. And while Bakugo and Midoriya both want to become heroes, Midoriya was born with no superpowers—virtually unheard-of in this society—whereas Bakugo has a “flashy”10 superpower that people have praised since he was young. Surely someone with no powers could never compete with someone who sweats nitroglycerin and can set off controlled explosions at will.11

So why on earth would an Eight like Bakugo be afraid of Midoriya? Unless he wasn't an Eight, but a Four.

A Four's core desire is to have a distinct persona, a clear identity. Fours will do almost anything to preserve this identity—for instance, even going so far as to wallow in self-pity forever if their identity is “suffering martyr.” Fours are constantly trying to make themselves look different or stand out because they want to believe they're special. Just as Bakugo is constantly trying to stand out. Just like how Bakugo has built up this persona of being the very best... and just like how he'll do whatever it takes to eliminate Midoriya, who threatens to steal his identity as “the best.”

So that was it. Bakugo was a Four. At least, that's what I almost wrote, until I came across the Enneagram Institute's “Misidentifying Fours and Eights” article:
It would seem extremely unlikely that Fours and Eights would be mistyped for one another, but it does occasionally occur... Eights cope with [their] feelings in radically different ways than Fours... Eights learn to toughen themselves up and to “get over it” so that they can do what they need to do to maintain their independence and personal authority. Fours find it difficult to let go of their childhood wounds and do not want to “get over it.” Fours... are willing to rely on others if it gives them the time and resources to work out their feelings or to develop their creativity. 
Eights do feel vulnerable inside, but as much as possible, they steel themselves against any feelings of insecurity and weakness in themselves. Eights tend to see such feelings as self-indulgent luxuries...12
Bakugo would never be caught dead relying on anyone, especially not to sort out his feelings. And he doesn't seem to have much of an artistic side.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2017

So where do Bakugo's Four-like qualities stem from? I believe Bakugo's Four-like anger and anxiety come from self-loathing.

“Self-loathing is that underlying feeling that we are just not good: not good enough, not good at this, not good at that...”13

There's no direct evidence to suggest that Bakugo feels like he's not good enough... except for the way he lashes out at Midoriya and others.
We may try to suppress this feeling of inadequacy by behaving as though we are superior to others... It’s as though we have to prove that we are the absolute best in order to avoid the torrent of internal abuse waiting to pounce the moment we show any fallibility [emphasis mine].14
Bakugo's constant habit of puffing himself up while tearing others down is a strong indicator that he suffers from self-loathing. Pride is his coping mechanism, his attempt to tell his hostile, criticizing inner voice that it's wrong... when he's terrified it's right.

But there's one final piece of evidence that proves Bakugo is an Eight: the Enneagram can predict Bakugo's character arc. This is the advice The Enneagram Institute gives to unhealthy Eights:

“[A]ct with self-restraint. You show true power when you forbear from asserting your will with others, even when you could. Your real power lies in your ability to inspire and uplift people. You are at your best when you take charge and help everyone through a crisis.”15

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

“[L]earn to yield to others, at least occasionally. Often, little is really at stake, and you can allow others to have their way without fear of sacrificing your power, [sic] or your real needs.”16

In my opinion, this final quote is the key. During My Hero Academia season two, the students must choose a hero agency to intern at for one week. Because of Bakugo's exemplary performance at the school so far, Bakugo has the pick of the litter. So does the fiery and combative Bakugo choose an internship with Gunhead, a renowned martial arts-specialist? Does he opt to intern at the Normal Hero Agency, which was recently attacked by the hero-killing villain Stain, so he can show off his skills in a real fight?

No. Instead, Bakugo chooses to intern with Best Jeanist, who's a well-groomed and highly-ranked hero... whose only listed accolade is winning “The Best Jeanist Award” eight years in a row.17

While why is still unknown (at least in the anime), what's clear is that Bakugo does not enjoy his internship with Best Jeanist. He gets forced to smooth down his hair and walk and talk like Best Jeanist wants him to. He bristles at Best Jeanist's methods. It looks like an Eight's worst nightmare.
And yet, he does try to follow Best Jeanist's advice. For instance, while on patrol, Best Jeanist asks him:
[H]ere's a question. Patrols are meant to deter villains from committing crimes, but they also have a secondary effect... to show people who we are. To give the public peace of mind. It builds trust between those who protect and those who are being protected.18
When Best Jeanist goes on to tell Bakugo to build that rapport, the hot-headed King Explosion Murder actually tries to do so.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2017

...In his own way.

Bakugo may be a proud hot-head who screams “Die!” for a battle-cry, but as time goes on, Bakugo has proven he's capable of—and aware of his need for—change.

Another example occurs during season two, when the students participate in a tournament held by the school to help them attract potential hero agency employers. During this tournament, Bakugo must face off against Uraraka, a girl well known among their class as being tender-hearted and compassionate. Uraraka and her classmates are understandably concerned as the match draws near: Bakugo has never shown any sign of holding back, and Uraraka is no fighter compared to him.

Sure enough, when Bakugo fights, he doesn't go easy on Uraraka. But he doesn't charge into combat with reckless abandon either, instead remaining on the defensive. The crowd begins to boo, thinking he's just toying with Uraraka.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2017
But Bakugo isn't playing cat-and-mouse; far from it. He's fighting cautiously for the first time in his life because he expects Uraraka to be a difficult opponent.

Bakugo's comment after the match is particularly telling. While his classmates marvel at how he was able to attack such “a frail girl,” Bakugo's retort—almost more to himself—is “What part of her was frail?”19 Despite beating Uraraka and thus proving his superiority, Bakugo has nothing but respect for her. The Bakugo of season one would have never made such a comment; this is proof that he is already becoming a healthier Eight, using his strength to inspire people to push themselves harder and farther than they ever would have on their own.20

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

Season two left Bakugo a little less egotistical, a little more thoughtful, and a little bit better than he was at the start of season one. So I'm going to use the Enneagram to make a little fan theory. I predict that someday we're going to see a fully-realized, healthy Eight in Bakugo: someone who is “heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.”21
They take the initiative and make things happen... They are honorable and authoritative—natural leaders who have a solid, commanding presence. Their groundedness gives them abundant “common sense” as well as the ability to be decisive. Eights are willing to “take the heat,” knowing that any decision cannot please everyone... They use their talents and fortitude to construct a better world for everyone in their lives.22
And with season three less than a month away,23 we might not have to wait long to see if my fan theory proves correct.

My Hero Academia, Bones 2016

Notes and References:
  1. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (New York City, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 1999), 289-91, quoted in “THE CHALLENGER [sic],” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed March 7, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Izuku Midoriya, My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 15, 2016, Funimation.
  6. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 289-91, quoted in “THE CHALLENGER [sic].”
  7. Ibid.
  8. Katsuki Bakugo, My Hero Academia, “Rage, You Damned Nerd,” Season 1, Episode 6, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 8, 2016, Funimation.
  9. Katsuki Bakugo, My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 15, 2016, Funimation.
  10. My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” Season 1, Episode 7, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 15, 2016, Funimation.
  11. Katsuki Bakugo, My Hero Academia, “Deku vs. Kacchan,” Season 1, Episode 7.
  12. “Misidentifying Fours and Eights,” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed March 7, 2018.
  13. Jo Barrington, “Self-Loathing,” PSYCHALIVE [sic] (blog), 2016, accessed March 7, 2018.
  14. Ibid.
  15. “THE CHALLENGER [sic],” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed March 7, 2018.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Izuku Midoriya, My Hero Academia, “Start Line,” Season 1, Episode 4, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, April 24, 2016, Funimation.
  18. Best Jeanist, My Hero Academia, “Everyone's Internships,” Season 2, Episode 32, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, August 12, 2017, Funimation.
  19. My Hero Academia, “Bakugo vs. Uraraka,” Season 2, Episode 22, Directed by Kenji Nagasaki, Written by Yosuke Kuroda, May 27, 2017, Funimation.
  20. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 289-91, quoted in “THE CHALLENGER [sic].”
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Godswill, “My Hero Academia Season 3 SimulDub Date,” Funimation, March 5, 2018, accessed March 13, 2018.
All photos are screenshots taken from Crunchyroll and are the property Funimation 2016-2017. Used under US “Fair Use” laws.

My Hero Academia and all related terms are the property of Funimation. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, March 9, 2018

Parentage and Family History: Bane or Boon?

This post will contain spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You have been warned.

YouTube 2018
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the first new Star Wars film in a decade, so it came as little surprise when fans began feverishly theorizing about every question the film raised. Thousands of Star Wars theories flooded YouTube, but one question surfaced more than any other: Who were the parents of Rey, the newest Star Wars protagonist?

The answer, it turned out, was quite controversial. While many fans were disappointed, some say that writer/director Rian Johnson made the right call. They argued that tying Rey to any of the established characters would have prevented her from standing on her own merit.

This was a valid argument, as were the others Rian Johnson listed as influencing his decision1. Still, I was one of many fans who had taken Rey's parentage for granted. Surely she'd be the daughter of some important preexisting character, I'd thought! Because to me, a familial tie to a previous character makes someone more important. I'd never considered familial ties could weaken a character or story.

Still, Star Wars controversies aside, I can see several arguments against familial bonds with preestablished characters...

Reason #1: The previous generation may outshine the new one

There's a reason fans loved the previous generation. They were cool or funny or classy, and they were certainly memorable. But this, coupled with notalgia, can be a death-sentence for any descendants. Why bother creating new characters at all when the old ones would have worked even better?

Reason #2: The previous generation might get forgotten completely

This might be far worse! Sometimes writers forget or ignore the previous generation. This gives the impression that what the previous generation did—and subsequently, all the time fans have poured into the series—didn't matter. This also gives the impression that the writers just name-dropped the previous generation to get more eyeballs on the series. This is dishonest storytelling, because the story ultimately isn't about either group of characters: it's just about making a quick buck off the viewers' nostalgia.

Reason #3: The descendants don't get the attention they deserve

Having descendants may feel like an attempt to milk the old franchise, but these new characters deserve a fair shake, too. So it's a problem when the descendants aren't properly developed, either because the series is a cash-in or because the story actually features the previous generation too much, robbing the descendants of the time they need to develop and reach their potential.

Reason #4: It can create bad drama

Family baggage can be over-dramatized and dragged out far too long. How often have we seen the “You don't understand me, Dad” trope? This is one of the reasons why I'm a big proponent of stories with healthy, strong familial bonds. I've seen way too many tales deal with familial conflict poorly, melodramatically, and unrealistically.

Despite all these potential pitfalls, however, there's a few reasons why I personally find familial ties so powerful.

Reason #1: It honors the old while creating something new

In the case of a sequel, having descendants is a call-back to the original characters. For long-time fans, this is a delightful nod that signifies the characters we watched mattered and that the franchise has not forgotten them. For newcomers, it might encourage them to check out the previous series: “Who are these characters they're talking about? What kind of adventures did they have?”

Reason #2: It makes the world feel alive

Making descendants gives the world credibility, a sense that the story continues even when you aren't watching. Showing that the previous generation have lives after their “happily ever after's” lends realism to the characters and the setting.

Reason #3: It's a quick, easy way to give characters a history

Family ties give a character grounding in the universe. They aren't just a random blip in the timeline; they have a history and a background built-in as soon as they're related to a preexisting character.

This is an easy way to write in relationships and conflict for descendants. They may gain allies (like friends of the family) they wouldn't have met otherwise. And any conflicts of the previous generation might carry over, too: descendants may face obstacles because of who their parents were or what their parents did.

Family ties also immediately give the character baggage. At the very least, descendants have to wrestle with their relationship to their parents. Do they know who their parents are? If so, are they proud of their parents? Resentful? Struggling to live up to their image? If the previous generation is still alive, do the descendants generally get along with their parents, or is their relationship a bit rocky?

Reason #4: It lets long-time fans recapture the magic

Even if the previous generation is dead, we at least get a glimpse into how our beloved characters handled the future. Did they generally remain the same or did they undergo some dramatic changes? Did they get their happy ending after all? Fans love seeing what happened to their favorite characters as long as they're treated respectfully.

If writers keep hold of what made the franchise so good in the first place, fans get to rekindle their love for the universe while falling in love with something brand-new. And we will never get enough of that.

  1. Megan McCluskey, “Here's the Real Reason Behind Rey's Controversial Origin Story in The Last Jedi,, Time Magazine, January 17, 2018, accessed March 5, 2018.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Star Wars and all related names and terms property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney Studios. And, unfortunately, I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fixing Titan A.E.

We're going back to Titan A.E.

This may seem like a blast from the past to those who remember the review I wrote on this film back in June of 2017. To those of you who are new or need a refresher, Titan A.E. is an early 2000's space opera in which the alien Drej destroy Earth, leaving the remnants of humanity homeless... unless Cale Tucker can locate his father's brilliant terraforming machine, Project Titan, and create a new planet for humans to call home.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000

Despite the film's interesting premise and lauded directors (Gary Goldman and Don Bluth), Titan A.E. languished in three years of production purgatory1 before it released: a box office flop that lost Fox Animation Studios $50 million.2

One could argue Titan A.E.'s failure was a culmination of many complex problems rather than one single issue, but its lackluster story certainly didn't help ticket sales.

As I was working on my review, I realized that Titan A.E.'s ills stem from one core problem: it tried to be a plot-centric story when it was begging to be a character-driven one. With this in mind, it became far easier to pinpoint how to improve the narrative.

Here's how I'd go about fixing Titan A.E.

Fixing Titan A.E.

To shift the film to a character-driven story, I would do two things:

1) Change the Conflict

2) Solidify the characters

Change the Conflict

Stories are all about conflict: conflict between two people, between people and organizations, between people and God. Without conflict, the story has no stakes; nothing interesting happens. This is why it's incredibly important for writers to examine their story's main narrative conflict, or what kind of struggle their story focuses on.

Writer Mark Nicol asserts that there are seven different types of narrative conflict.3 One of the most common is Person vs. Person: this conflict type pits the main character against an antagonist. This is the superhero fighting the supervillain, Bruce Willis punching terrorists, and so on.4 By contrast, Person vs. Self conflict focus on the main character's struggle with their own nature or character flaws, including their “prejudices or doubts.”5

Person vs. Person                                                   Person vs. Self

Titan A.E. was written as a Person vs. Person conflict, but it would have worked far better as a Person vs. Self conflict. Rather than highlighting Cale's fight against the Drej, focusing on Cale and the crewmembers' prejudices would have created a far more nuanced and meaningful story.

But shifting the conflict type would cause some major changes to the pacing and plot. Let's start by looking at what role the Drej would play in a Person vs. Self story.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000
Even in the original film, the Drej do a great job getting humanity (including Cale) backed into a corner. I love that the writers used the Drej to make humans the underdogs instead of resorting to the “Humanity's pollution burned Earth to the ground” cliche.

Unfortunately, the Drej were not designed to support a Person vs. Person narrative conflict. Their motivation is unclear at best. And because the Drej are technological, near-supernatural beings, they have no personality. As I said in my article defending “Evil for Evil's Sake” villains, these kinds of antagonists only work if they have either a clear motivation, a striking personality, or both. The Drej have neither. So we're left with a poor antagonistic force and, by extension, a weak main conflict. You can't have an interesting story about one person against another without clearly labeling why they're opposing each other and who each force is.

But if we switch the film to a Person vs. Self conflict, there's no need to keep the Drej around. They cripple humanity in the first few minutes of the film, so after that point, we can write them a swift exit. Maybe blowing up Earth is their final act: their weapon misfires and destroys them as well as Earth. It might seem too convenient that the humanity-destroying-race suddenly disappears, but it does send a pretty powerful “You reap what you sow” message, and it reflects how imbalanced trying to take out an entire group of people can make the world!

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000

Or, if you don't want to remove the Drej altogether, have most of them die off but leave a few survivors. (After all, if humans survived the Drej attack, maybe some Drej did, too.) If you did this, you could even put a Drej on the crew. That would certainly cause some interesting conflict!

And that's our ultimate goal now that this is a Person vs. Self conflict: play up the “us-versus-them” mentality between the alien races and humans.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000
This creates a far more interesting dynamic among the crew (half of whom are not human) and it amps up the conflict. Instead of being mildly annoyed by one another, now they start at each other's throats. The aliens now toss Cale back-handed compliments at best and insults at worst, and he dishes it right back. After all, humans are old news. They're the butt of the universe's jokes. This conflict best highlights just how much of a broken mess the crew is, constantly bickering and never able to get anything done... until they survive scrape after scrape by working together, utilizing each person's unique knowledge, talents, and skills. This stronger conflict makes their eventual cohesion all the more satisfying.

Solidify the Characters

With our Person vs. Self conflict established, the next change comes naturally: design your characters to best highlight that conflict.

The Person vs. Person focus of the film didn't know who its characters were, resulting in their horrible mishandling. You can see it in the film's over-use of tired tropes (a “Sociopathic Soldier”6 was “Evil All Along”7 and “Only in It for the Money,”)8 and the head-scratching 180's the characters perform repeatedly. One minute, they're the mentor. The next, they're a villain with confusing and ill-established motives. And then they're... redeemable after all?

But with a Person vs. Self conflict established, we know to design the characters with clearly established motives and room to grow into their character arcs.

I actually find most of the cast just fine as they are. There are only two key characters I would have changed.


Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000
Cale's motivations are unclear throughout the film, which contributes to his confusing shift in attitude (from “I don't care what happens to humans” to “I'll give my life to find humans a new home!”). I can only assume this was to give Cale a reason to reject the quest at the beginning of the film.

But there was no need to make Cale a reluctant protagonist. He clearly feels his father abandoned him, but he takes it out on all of humanity, essentially saying, “Nah, you guys can all die even though I have a map in my hand to build a new home for you.” This is one of our first impressions of Cale, and it makes him seem painfully immature. No humans ever did anything to hurt Cale (unless you count his dad leaving with Project Titan to try to save humanity). By contrast, he has every reason to be prejudiced against aliens given how poorly they treat him.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000

I'd have had Cale instead go through something that explains why he hates humans even more than the aliens that make his life miserable. Have him blame humans for Earth's destruction (“If they hadn't been war mongers, maybe their planet wouldn't have blown up”). Have him share this philosophy with the Drej! This gives Cale a reason to butt heads with Korso, who's the voice of reason, arguing that humanity deserves a chance to survive. And when Korso can't quite get through to him, Akima can. Cale and Akima's budding romance (which needed far more time to develop), coupled with him seeing Akima's colony, would eventually help Cale realize how destructive the Drej's anti-human philosophy truly was, much as it tries to in the original film.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000


Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000
Korso (and Preed) should have never been villains! Their villain reveal is riddled with problems. It had no lead-up throughout the film; it came out of nowhere. It made no sense based on Korso's prior actions. The actual reveal was ridiculous, contrived, and anticlimactic. And what's worse, they even invalidated the whole thing when they tried to give Korso a redemption arc at the end. But I guess at least he gets offered a chance at redemption. Preed isn't so lucky, despite Korso being the mastermind of their betrayal.

The entire villain reveal proves that the writers did not solidify who Korso was. Instead, they made him whoever the plot needed him to be. But if we change the conflict to Person vs. Self, Korso's initial characterization is exactly who he needs to be for this story.

Before Korso's villain reveal, he's nothing less than a great leader for his motley crew. The others respect him as he keeps them on task. We have no reason to believe he's anything but genuinely concerned about their wellbeing. He and the crew have some great chemistry, which is why it's such a shame when the villain reveal happens and he abruptly becomes a threatening, ranting dictator with no discipline over himself or his crew.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000
But in our Person vs. Self conflict, Korso would remain the respectable leader. This would only make the aliens' respect for Korso even more impressive, highlighting how good of a leader Korso must be and even creating some delightful irony. I can just picture Cale complaining why they have no problem showing Korso respect, leaving one of the aliens dumbstruck by the revelation that Korso is also a human. This dynamic of the crew faithfully serving under Korso would serve as a glimpse into the crew's growth potential, emphasizing that these characters can indeed overcome their differences and bond with one another if they only give each other a chance.

In addition, Korso makes a perfect mentor for Cale. In fact, Cale's father, Professor Tucker, spent some of his last moments with Korso. It makes sense then that Korso is the one who finds Cale and teaches him that humanity is worth fighting for.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000

What doesn't make sense is how the film makes Korso into a traitor, selling Cale out for a quick buck. What doesn't make sense is Korso, the man who convinced Cale that humanity deserves a second chance, bellowing that he's believed all along that “Humanity is washed up!” Korso's villain reveal is not only nonsensical; it robs us of the genuinely heartwarming and well-written scenes between Korso and Cale, rendering them meaningless.

Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox, 2000

Titan A.E. already had a lot going for it. Its premise was interesting, its setting was a unique take on space operas, and its cast was incredibly likable. It would only take two changes to take this mess of muddied plot twists and tangled character motivations and work it into something classic and truly heartwarming: a story that reminds us that no matter how different people look on the outside, we can all learn to understand, respect, and care for each other.

Notes and References:
  1. Evan Backes. "Why Does It Take Ten Years!?!" Animation World Network, AWN, Inc., April 1, 2001, accessed February 27, 2018.
  2. "Titan A.E." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, February 9, 2018, accessed February 15, 2018.
  3. Mark Nicol, “7 Types of Narrative Conflict,” Daily Writing Tips (blog), March 16, 2013, accessed February 28, 2018.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Extra Credits, “Force-of-Nature Villains,” YouTube video, 5:33, June 3, 2015, accessed February 28, 2018.
  7. “Sociopathic Soldier,” TV Tropes, January 27, 2018, accessed February 26, 2018.
  8. “Evil All Along” TV Tropes, February 22, 2018, accessed February 26, 2018.
  9. “Only in It for the Money,” TV Tropes, February 24, 2018, accessed February 26, 2018.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Titan A.E., and all related terms are the property of 20th Century FoxRobin, Slade, Teen Titans, and all related terms property of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him