Friday, September 28, 2018

Type Casting: Aang

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

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom via GIPHY

He’s goofy, spontaneous, and enthusiastic about every new experience he comes across. But he’s also diligent, hard-working, and compassionate; never afraid to take a stand for what’s right.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom via GIPHY

Today we’re typing Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender!

It’s clear at a glance that Aang is a Type 7: The Enthusiast1. They’re known for their “quick, agile minds” that “move rapidly from one idea to the next.”2 They love new experiences, chasing what they want with dogged fervor.3

Aang breaks free from an iceberg and wakes after a 100-year sleep. And what’s the first thing on his mind? Experiences. He wants to go penguin sledding. He wants to learn about the Water Tribe’s way of life. He wants to explore that wrecked Fire Nation ship.

Aang is fearless, but he can also be reckless, not thinking through what he wants and instead just focusing on the fact he wants it. This is the key problem for a Seven and for Aang: they can’t determine what they truly want and need.4 They’re afraid of feeling bored, so they try everything—too many things—and can sometimes miss out on what they really want.5

However, it initially seems Aang does not fit into a Seven’s core motivation. “Sevens do not feel that they can find what they really want in life,” which is what spurs a Seven to try everything.6 But rather than dissatisfaction, it seems like sometimes Aang’s pursuit of experiences is born out of fear... particularly the fear of being the Avatar.

In the first two episodes of the show, Aang meets Katara and Sokka, two kids who show him around their home at the South Pole. But when Katara explicitly asks him what happened to the Avatar, Aang lies and says he has no idea... while knowing full well he is the Avatar, the last hope of the world, and that he ran away from his responsibilities. When the truth comes out later, Katara asks him why he didn’t just say he was the Avatar.

“Because...” Aang replies, “I never wanted to be.”7

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom

Aang is afraid of being the Avatar: the responsibility, the shackles that will place on what he can and can’t do, and how it will change his life. Whenever Aang is afraid, he runs, either physically running away or mentally fleeing by stuffing more and more experiences onto his to-do list.

Aang’s response to this fear is quite Sevenly indeed: “They do not feel that they know what to do or how to make choices that will be beneficial to themselves and others.” So how do they respond? “First, they try to keep their minds busy all of the time...” so they can mentally run away from their anxiety.8

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom
When Aang is at his most stressed in the story, his go-to option is to train harder than is physically feasible or healthy. He’s desperate to find experiences (in this case, actual experience) to comfort himself, since he can’t have what he really wants: peace of mind that he is strong enough to save the world.

So while initially it seems Aang pursues life experiences out of fear, in truth, Aang does display the core Seven problem. It's just in Aang’s case, it’s not so much a sense that he can’t figure out what he wants... it’s that he thinks he’s too lacking to achieve it.

This is actually quite common for Sevens. The Enneagram Institute says Sevens often justify this behavior by thinking, “‘If I can’t have what will really satisfy me... I’ll have all kinds of experiences—that way I will not feel bad about not getting what I really want.’”9

But Sevens have incredible potential if they only learn to stop and listen.

Sevens need to learn to listen to their impulses before deciding whether to chase them or not.10 Are they good and healthy desires? Is it a good time to pursue this experience? Sevens need to learn to stop and ask these kinds of questions. In Aang’s case, his desires aren’t necessarily bad (except for the few that put him in actual danger)...

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom

...But they can be used as distractions to keep him from introspection.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom
There’s a point in the story where Aang has suffered an intense loss and feels he needs to close himself off emotionally to move forward. While this does allow him to “man up” and get things done, Katara points out how it’s also taking away a very important piece of who he is, something he needs to be the Avatar. His emotions allow him to be compassionate to all people; it’s only when Aang pauses to listen to his emotions that he is able to return to being a compassionate and truly powerful Avatar, able to bring hope to people who otherwise would have none.

This brings up one last thing Aang must learn to listen to in order to become a stronger, healthier Seven: others.

Though Aang doesn't exactly struggle with listening to others, he certainly grows in this skill as the series goes on. Initially, his desire for experiences easily distracts him. But as the show progresses, he’s more willing turn to others with more experience when he’s not sure what to do, rather than just trying a bunch of options until he finds one that sticks.

When Aang takes the time to stop, meditate, think, and listen, he becomes a much wiser person and a powerful Avatar. Even when others don’t have the right answers, listening to their perspectives helps ground him so he can find the right answers on his own.

Becoming a Seven who listens enables Aang to pursue what truly matters with the same determination he would have applied to whatever first came to mind. It enables him to channel his inner drive to the best of his ability, to be truly courageous and stop running from what he really wants: to be an Avatar who can protect others and save the world.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, 2005-2008 Viacom

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), 262-64, quoted in “THE ENTHUSIAST [sic],” The Enneagram Institute, 2017, accessed September 18, 2018.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Aang, Avatar: The Last Airbender, “The Avatar Returns,” Season 1, Episode 2, Directed by Dave Filoni, Written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, February 21, 2005, Viacom International, Inc..
  8. Riso and Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 262-64.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
All photos are the property of Viacom International, Inc. 2005-2008. Used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Avatar: The Last Airbender and all related terms are the property of Viacom International, Inc.. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

No Post This Week :(

Sorry for the sad news, everyone! My extended family came over to visit this week, and unfortunately, I wasn't as productive with my writing as I would have liked! I sure tried hard, though! The post juuuuust isn't quite ready for this Friday. But not to worry--we'll return to our regular schedule on September 29th.

And don't worry, you anime-lovers: you'll still have an anime-related post on October 6th!

In the meantime, if you're dying for something to enjoy this Friday, I highly recommend checking out Weight of Cinema's video essay series on Avatar: The Last Airbender for some great analysis... and a teaser for next post's topic! ;)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Vash the Stampede: Building a Character (Intentional Pacing)

The anime Trigun begins like a classic Western. No-good outlaws rule the land, making life especially hard for the ever-dwindling population of law-abiding citizens who just want to eke out a wholesome living.

1998 Madhouse

There’s far more money to be made in a world with no rules, where the man with the fastest trigger finger is king.

On the planet of Gunsmoke, the man with the fastest trigger finger is also the most-wanted: Vash the Stampede, an outlaw with a bounty of 60 billion on his head. Low-lives and thugs from the most insane to the most deadly are out for this prize.

1998 Madhouse

But there are conflicting reports about Vash the Stampede, from his demeanor down to the most basic descriptions of his appearance. No one seems to know who the dangerous devil really is.

All Meryl and Milly know is that their employers at the Bernardelli Insurance Society can’t afford any more insurance claims due to Vash the Stampede’s reign of havoc. The ladies are sent to find Vash and keep his destruction to a minimum.

1998 Madhouse

On the way to find the outlaw, Meryl and Milly meet a doughnut-loving yahoo with spiky blonde hair: a real craven who professes he feels faint at the very sight of blood. Unfortunately for the girls, a group of bandits believes this man is Vash the Stampede. The bandits attack on sight, catching the girls in the crossfire. Fortunately, their mystery man is an escape artist extraordinaire and subdues the bandits without firing a single shot.

1998 Madhouse

It’s only after four more episodes into the 26-episode anime that we learn that this cowardly, flamboyant, ridiculous, squeamish man-child is in fact the Vash the Stampede... and that the stories have got him all wrong.

The Core Question

Though the animation is dated (unless you have a thing for classic 90’s anime charm) and the pacing may have some issues (episodes 1-4 almost feel like a thug-of-the-week slice-of-life; the overarching plot of the show doesn’t kick in until halfway, and the dramatic backstory episode that reveals how much Vash has suffered isn’t until two-thirds of the way through), to me, Trigun isn’t primarily about the animation or the plot or the insane moves Vash is able to pull off that would make Jason Bourne jealous—

Trigun, to me, has always been about who Vash is.

1998 Madhouse

It’s the core question of Trigun’s story, the same question Meryl keeps asking herself and the one the show gets the viewer to wonder from episode 1 until the very end: who is Vash the Stampede?

Who is Vash the Stampede?

1998 Madhouse
Vash is a barrel of delightful contradictions that reveal just what a well-written character he is. He’s flawed, of course, so he’s relatable and funny, and the show doesn’t need to be afraid of portraying him as a goofball, a sappy romantic, or a steel-hearted combatant, because he’s all of these things and then some. One minute he can be a singing drunk hanging out at the bar with the guys; the next minute he’s defending a town from thieves. One minute he can be hitting on the first attractive woman he meets; the next, he’s declining the offers of some prostitutes who want to thank him for rescuing their town.

Vash doesn’t make any sense... unless you watch the show in the order it was carefully paced.

Trigun brilliantly reveals Vash in the same stages as building any relationship with a person would go: it begins by revealing how others view Vash, then reveals what he’s actually like, and finally reveals the deeper intricacies of his character. This way, by the time we see what terrible things Vash is capable of, we know without a doubt who the real Vash is... and we can’t help but root for him to conquer his demons.

This is brilliant pacing. And it’s one of the things I love most about Trigun.

Who They Think He Is

The show begins by presenting who Vash is on the most surface level: the way the world views him. There’s an air of mystery surrounding this unknown gunman. He’s fast. He’s powerful. He’s probably insane. And he’s as destructive as an atom bomb.

1998 Madhouse
Then the lens zooms in a tiny bit more, and we see Vash as a stranger would see him: through the girls’ eyes. To them, he’s a bumbling oaf who doesn’t have much going on upstairs. This leaves the viewer feeling just as confused and uncertain as Meryl and Milly. Surely this coward can’t be Vash the Stampede. He isn’t destructive; he’s harmless.

But as the next few episodes show bit by bit, his bumbling oaf first impression is just due to his carefree nature... the nature he wishes he could enjoy all the time.

But when bad things threaten good people, Vash steps in. And when Vash steps in, people change.

Who He Really Is

Vash tries to see the good in all people, but he isn’t afraid to fight those who would hurt others, which is what he deems the ultimate sin. Many of the villains who encounter Vash emerge profoundly changed from the encounter; even those who feel they had no choice but crime learn that it’s never too late to do what’s right.

And it’s once you see the good within Vash, despite his moments of carefree bliss (episodes 1-4), that you begin to see another side to him, a side that is equally as true as his delight for the little things in life or his drive to better others: his skill and dangerous abilities, which he willfully harnesses to use for good.

The Danger Lying Beneath

In episode five, we’re introduced to a particularly destructive villain, one of the most dangerous and unhinged we’ve seen in the series so far. Whereas others were normally just bank-robbers or low-level thugs, this guy is certified insane. Professor Nebraska has no regard for human life and actually seems to get some pleasure out of watching innocent civilians scramble around like cockroaches as he and his gigantic cyborg son rampage through town, destroying everything in their wake as they hunt for Vash the Stampede.

Vash spends the first half of the episode fleeing the people of the town and the giant monster they’ve sicced on him. But when Nebraska turns to some underhanded tricks to lure out Vash—willfully threatening innocent lives—Vash immediately comes out of hiding to risk his own skin and save the very people who had put a gun to his head earlier.

1998 Madhouse

And this moment is the first time we see Vash use his gun. This show never demonizes guns, but up until this point, most weapons have been used by the wrong people to cause harm or threaten others. And it’s clear that Vash’s gun in particular is a symbol of his strength and potentially destructive force. But Vash doesn’t even use it to kill the bad guys. Rather than going for a killing blow, he merely shoots to divert the professor’s mad weapon, his own son’s mechanized fist, away from the people the villains are about to crush.

1998 Madhouse

This is our first glimpse into Vash’s power.

It’s clear that this power can be used for the wrong reasons; we see examples of strength and force being used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons in every episode. But if we hadn’t seen Vash for the goofy and fun-loving person he is before, we might have been tempted to think he was just as dangerous as the other gun-slinging riffraff we’ve seen throughout the show.

But because we’ve seen who he really is... we know that’s not the case. We know that this hero is the real Vash. And so we can marvel in awe as Milly cheers him on for having rescued the town from Professor Nebraska using only six bullets.

1998 Madhouse

Who He Fears He Is

Now that we’ve come to love Vash, we can start to gain a better appreciation for his struggles. The later episodes of the show begin to challenge Vash by forcing him to confront his demons and his frustrating limitations. And as Vash agonizes over terrible decisions he’s forced to make, we agonize too, because we know how painful these decisions are for him. We know who Vash is and what his values are. We know what a gentle soul he is and wants to remain, despite the overwhelming power of destruction he has at his fingertips. We know this duality is tearing him up inside, because at the end of the day, Vash is struggling the whole series with the question:

“Who is Vash the Stampede?”

1998 Madhouse

He agonizes when he’s confronted with his deepest fear: that the answer is he’s a monster, a killing machine. We see this most clearly of all when Vash performs an act so destructive that it surely confirms who he is... and he runs from everything he ever was, trying to assume a new identity and a new life to escape it.

Who He Fights to Be

We don’t find out the full extent of why this potential for destruction bothers Vash so much until later in the series (episode 17 of 26), but we know why long before this point. It’s because hurting people is so diametrically opposed to everything Vash is and everything he values. He sees beauty in the world worth fighting for, so the fact that he could be one of the main things threatening that beauty haunts him.

But Vash learns—through his experiences and through the girls’ persistent following and a priest’s incessant meddling—that he can’t run from parts of himself that frighten him... because there are people out there who need his quiet, forceful strength. There are evils out there that must be stopped, because they won’t stop unless strength meets strength.

1998 Madhouse
Vash shows us that there is nothing wrong with masculinity in all its varied forms. There is nothing inherently wrong with strength or even fighting... as long as we use them for the right reasons and in the right ways.

I love Trigun because I love Vash and everything he teaches. And that never would’ve come across without the show’s conscious pacing, revealing Vash piece by fascinating piece.

All photos are screenshots taken from Crunchyroll and are used under US “Fair Use” laws. Trigun property of Funimation. And I am not affiliated with either of them.

From Him, To Him

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hype: When Others’ Opinions Affect Our Experience

I finally got caught up on the deluge of Marvel movies.

It took my more cinematically-informed friend sorting through the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s must-see’s and optional’s, but several weeks and six films later, I was finally ready to see the big one—Avengers: Infinity War.

My friend tried hard not to say too much about it, in part because I hate spoilers and in part because, in his words, “I don’t want to hype it up too much.”

We’d experienced issues with hype in the past when I’d convinced him to check out one of my favorite anime, Trigun.

“It’s got such great characters!” I’d told him. “The pacing’s really good. It’s funny, it’s emotional; I loved it!” But he was less impressed, and I worried I’d let him down in a big way by over-hyping the show.

And my friend and I aren’t the only ones susceptible to the damaging effects of hype. When the video game No Man’s Sky released, fans were rabid to play. Expectations sailed sky-high due to fan speculation and promised features. But when No Man’s Sky released, it was a shell of what had been promised and an echo of what people had anticipated. The PR fallout was tremendous, but some argue it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if it hadn’t been for the game’s over-inflated hype.

These may not be No Man's Sky fans,
but the sentiment was the same.

But is it really hype’s fault for a piece of media’s failure? Is it someone’s fault if they “ruin” a story for you by over-hyping it? How can talking up a piece of media ruin the experience?

Expectations Affect Us

Like it or not, our expectations affect how we feel about what we watch. When we go into something expecting greatness but it falls short of our expectations, it can cause us to be extra critical when we might otherwise be more tolerant of flaws.

But why is that?

When Betrayal Happens

Over-hyping something feels like a betrayal on some level. It feels like someone lied to us. That’s not a great way to start. And a bad start can cause opinions of a piece to rapidly tumble downhill. Ever noticed how much easier it is to nitpick when you have a bad attitude to start?

I often wonder if this is contributing to The Last Jedi controversy. Would people be listing so many flaws if the film hadn’t failed them early on... and if the hype surrounding the film hadn’t been so great?

In fact, has Star Wars’ perceived “fall” as a series been largely due to hype? Star Wars is, of course, an enormous franchise, and people have high expectations for it, as super-fans themselves will admit. Many argue that the alleged “fall” of Star Wars quality hasn’t actually happened, that this is just the clamoring of “fanboys” who are over-hyping the new films, upset that they can never recapture the nostalgic feeling Star Wars once evoked.

But I don’t think that’s the case for the majority of upset fans. Take two of the most recent Star Wars televisions series, The Clone Wars and Rebels, for example.

Many fans reacted to the announcement of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with skepticism, but it eventually became something fans say “took [their excitement for Star Wars] to whole new levels”1 and is described as “some of the best Star Wars media that you could ask for.”2

These glowing quotes aren’t the product of nostalgia; this show only ran from 2008 to 2014, a pittance compared to the original three Star Wars films’ legacy of 41 years and counting.

By contrast, when the follow-up TV show Star Wars: Rebels arrived, many older fans didn’t like it. Why? Was Rebels too hyped-up after the “nostalgic trip” people had experienced from The Clone Wars? Perhaps. But many fans will tell you that Clone Wars had displayed the high level of storytelling quality we could expect from a Star Wars TV series... and Rebels did not deliver that same level of quality.

When Opinions Matter

In a perfect world, others’ opinions shouldn’t matter. But the problem is, for many of us, some people’s opinions DO matter, either individuals that we care about (like close friends), those whose opinions we respect (reviewers), or even the mass public (“If a lot of people like it, it must be good!”). Many of us turn to others to give us hints on things we’d enjoy watching. If our friend says some movie was awesome, we’ll probably be more willing to give it a chance than if we’d never heard anything about it. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, as anyone in media knows.

So what happens when someone says a piece of media is horrible? How much does that affect our own experience?

I’m personally more willing to skip something altogether depending on what the story’s reputation is, whether it’s founded or not. This has its pros and cons. I’m judging something based on what others have said about it; I’m not forming my own opinions about it. However, I do know a lot of my own tastes. If someone who has very different tastes than me says a story was great, well... I can usually avoid that story and save myself time and aggravation.

For instance, I have a friend who adores stories with surprise endings that result in tragedy. I, however, don’t care for sad endings. So if my friend were to say, “Oh, such-and-such movie was fantastic,” I’d be more leery to watch it knowing that it probably has content I just wouldn’t enjoy like she does.

And I think this is the key to understanding why hype can ruin an experience: it’s all because of our different opinions and interpretations. One person may love an element of a story you don’t value as highly; they may think a story was phenomenal when you walk out thinking it was just “Okay.” In the really bad cases of over-hype, you walk in expecting to find something you’ll adore... you don’t end up adoring it... and it turns your opinion from “It was okay” to “It was actually bad—especially compared to what I was anticipating.”

It’s unfortunate that expectations and hype can affect our opinions this way. I really envy those who can safely form their opinions free from any bias.

As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to carefully sift what we hear before passing judgment on something.

Notes and References:
  1. Thor Skywalker, “How The Clone Wars Saved Star Wars,” YouTube video, 8:47, September 3, 2018.
  2. The Cosmonaut Variety Hour, “Why You Should Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” YouTube video, 13:20, December 23, 2016.
Photo by niekverlaan, originally posted on

Avengers: Infinity War and all related terms property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC and Walt Disney Studios. Star Wars, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and all related terms property of LucasFilm (and also Walt Disney Studios). Trigun property of Funimation. No Man's Sky property of Hello Games. And I am not affiliated with any of them.

From Him, To Him