How to Fix Sword Art Online

Alright, I got into a furious Facebook discussion on why SAO is terrible and it got me thinking, SAO is actually pretty easy to fix. So let’s take it from the top with a (relatively) short blog post.

What is Sword Art Online?

Sword Art Online is known to be a popular anime produced by A-1 studios based on the light novel of the same name by Reki Kawahara. Some people have read the light novel. I have not. So everything here will be based on the animation. And I’m doing this from memory so if some of the details are a little fuzzy, my mistake. Not going to go rewatch it. Make of that what you will.

So the animation features Kirigaya Kazuto. He is a gamer in high school. He is incredibly excited for the release of Sword Art Online (SAO). SAO is a fully virtual MMO where you really feel like you’re Batman Spiderman in the game. He is fortunate enough to receive 1 of only 10,000 copies sold. He logs in immediately like any normal person does. Meets his totally-not-homoerotic friend after which he is told by a Game Moderator that no one can log out and if you die in the game you die in real life. The only way to get the logout button back is to beat the game. Thus begins the struggle to beat the game without dying once.

What’s wrong with Sword Art Online?

Well, a lot, actually. Many people I talk to online say that things went down during the second arc (Alfheim). I disagree. I think it was wrong from the get-go. A lot of this next bit might sound familiar if you’ve literally seen any coverage of SAO but I have to put it in for completeness. Also I’m going to keep it to the Aincrad arc because I did say we’d have a relatively short one. If I do Aincrad + Alfheim you’ll be here all day reading this.

It has a pretty good starting premise and for 1-3 episodes it’s actually pretty good. However around episode 4-6 or so, it begins undercutting its premise by making Kirito (oh yeah, Kirigaya Kazuto’s IGN is Kirito) overpowered. He gets mobbed by like 10 guys and they can’t do enough damage to outpace his natural regen. What the $#@! And it only gets worse. Kirito goes through the motions of having a hard time but he always seems to come out ahead and it never feels satisfying. Feels like he got out easy most of the time. Even at the end of Aincrad he loses all of his HP and dies but somehow can break through the death and deal a killing blow to the final boss.

That’s not to say that overpowered characters are bad by design. We can take a look at Superman for a relatively overpowered character that is well done. Superman is effectively god. There’s really not a whole lot that can actually stop the guy barring Kryptonite (we’ll get back to that). So when your character is overpowered, nothing can kill them, how do you manufacture conflict? In the case of Superman, morality is used. Superman’s greatest foe is his own sense of morality and justice. His greatest enemy is his own naivete.

When your gimmick is “If you die in the game, you die in real life”, don’t make us follow a character that can’t die. Make us follow someone that actually struggles and fears for life.

 

Dying

“Hold up Artemis, there are at least 3 times he almost died and on the third time he did actually die,” I hear you say. Well, let’s actually look at those.

The first near-death for Kirito is against Gleam Eyes, or is it. No. It isn’t. This chump lets a ton of people die because he doesn’t want to show his two-handed skill for no reason. He could’ve won the fight at any time without incurring as large a loss of human life if he had not waited for everyone except tsundere-chan to die.

The second near-death for Kirito is when he’s paralyzed by poison and his assailant takes his sweet time killing him 1HP-by-1HP. Which buys Kirito enough time to pull a deus-ex-machina and have tsundere-chan arrive to save his ass. And then Kirito kills the guy even though it would have been more satisfying (from a writing perspective) to have tsundere-chan kill the creep.

The last near-death experience is at the end of Aincrad when he dies and somehow manages to magic his way through death when no one else can. It’s bullshit. Now you’ve done one step further. For 99% of this series there was no risk of death and when there actually is death, it doesn’t even matter?

Tsundere-chan

Let’s take a moment to talk about tsundere-chan. At the beginning of the series we’re introduced to tsundere-chan and she comes out strong like a total BAMF. She’s made to seem like someone who is naturally almost as good as Kirito. Bear in mind that Kirito had some 2 months or so to play the game in beta while this grill did not. So she’s been given a high initial rating. You see her 4 episodes later and she’s been totally domesticated. She’s cooking and stuff. Cowering behind Kirito from a creep she should easily be able to take out in seconds. Kawahara neutered this character. And he does it with every character. Any time you want a character to come out strong and define themselves they turn into harem bait. Even the guys. The guy from the beginning, his name is Klein. I just remembered it. I ain’t editing this after I finish writing it so if his name is still Klaus from paragraph 2 or something that’s what it’ll be when I hit publish. Anyway literally everyone becomes “X person”. “Blacksmith girl”. “Dragon girl”. “Black man shopkeeper”. “Best guy is a girl”. I think there was one more harem member but it might’ve come after the series. *Shrug*

The Writing Makes No Sense

I’d like to take this moment to point out that this game is definitely rated PG-13 at least. Probably rated whatever the highest rating is because you get naked and (probably) have sex. So now I gotta ask the question, why are there like over nine thousand 5 year-olds in it? Did Mom and Dad let drunk Uncle Rick watch the kids that day? Because after 2 years there’s still like a bajillion 5 year-olds and they’re all being watched by full-time starting town people.

Honestly Kawahara loses track of how many people are supposed to be alive in this game which also kinda takes away from the series.

About half-way through the series Kirito and girlfriend encounter a program (yes, a program) that looks like a little girl that they decide to ‘adopt’. Then, holy shit, she’s as broken as Kirito is. She can delete (yes, right click, delete) boss enemies and chooses to do so to save Kirito. Why, why does such a program exist. Why does it have that power either? It was designed as a psychology robot, being able to delete other programs should be well beyond the scope of its power. Then Kirito suddenly becomes expert hacker, familiar with the system intimately, and manages to save the program as an item. What? Where did all of that come from?

This guy has literally no struggles. The authors try to frame things as struggles but they can’t do it properly because the characters that they’re working with are broken. The source material has to be fundamentally broken by design. There’s no excuse for this.

How to Fix It

Alright, I could go on all day about how the series is bad. We see sub-plots that lead to absolutely nothing, yadda-yadda. But we’re already at 1300 words and I want to keep this relatively short.

Break things down as simply as we can, what is SAO? SAO is a shounen anime with no threat and side-stories that go nowhere. Without the struggle, there’s no point to making this a shounen series. The most enjoyable scenes of this anime were the slice-of-life scenes and the whodunnit episodes in the middle. So how do we fix SAO? Simple. We focus on what it does well and drop what it does poorly. If SAO was purely a slice-of-life anime it would actually be quite decent. The action scenes (while well-crafted) are pointless because we know Kirito will win. Every. Single. Time. Remove them. This life-or-death game isn’t life-or-death. It’s just life. And since it’s just life, just make a slice-of-life anime about a man and his waifu in a medieval world. The music is excellent. The stories are fun enough. At least this way, I’d be forced to give you a 6 for being meh rather than a 1 for being awful. Do something about your characters. We see some characters for all of one episode before they’re relegated to the harem and exist to be an extra voice in a later scene.

So yeah, that’s my fix. Make it full-on slice-of-life. Problem solved. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

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How to Fix Sword Art Online

[Article Response] “Damaging a Franchise”

This article was pretty short so I figured I could do a quick response to it. This means that my response will only be about 3-4 times as long as the article in question rather than 20 times.

Alright, so what’s going on here? Well, it’s exactly on the tin. “[James Mangold] warns fans that backlash will to films by hacks”.

At the point when work writing & directing big franchises has become the emotionally loaded equivalent of writing a new chapter of The Bible (w/ the probable danger of being stoned & called a blasphemer), then a lot of bolder minds r gonna leave these films 2 hacks & corp boards

In my opinion, his claim isn’t unreasonable. He claims that when producers fear backlash, they will take the safe route when it comes to making films and films will be produced by committee. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but it’s not an argument that I find difficult to accept at face value.

So what’s the problem? Well, there’s one big problem

Respecting the Franchise

I think it’s important that when new writers and directors take on a film, they need to show a great deal of respect to the franchise that they are picking up. They need to recognize that fans love the established universe as it is and work with that. Yes, you are writing a new chapter of the Bible. You don’t get to claim the glory of writing Chapter VIII while flagrantly abusing Chapters I-VI.

Outside Example: Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a show about a humanoid species called “Time Lords”. Time Lords are a unique species in that they possess the ability to “regenerate” when they sustain heavy injury, affording them a new body, new personality, new everything, while retaining the experience they’ve accrued in their past lives. This power is not infinite, it can only be used twelve times. When it came to be nearing the end of the Eleventh Doctor’s run, the producers of the show were faced with a problem: the twelve regenerations (as stated in already established canon) were up. What do we do? Do we create an ending to the Doctor? Or do we cheat, and try to find a way to keep the series going now that it’s relatively popular?

The directors chose to cheat, and ass-pulled some kind of time-energy regeneration. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that Christmas special in which Eleven ends his tenure as Doctor, but it is an ass-pull and it is a disrespect to the show. And after that episode, we see the ratings drop Could the ratings drop be due to something else? Certainly. But it certainly seems suspicious that the ratings drop by 30% over the years since Eleven. Could it be the writing? Moffat, a highly-renowned writer, was a writer for the series after Eleven. He seemed to have been doing an excellent job until then. Why did the ratings go downhill after Eleven? Could it be the Doctor? Peter Capaldi has an impressive discography, extending over 40 years. To say that he is not an accomplished actor would be a bold statement to make. Perhaps Doctor Who was just a passing fad that has lived its 15 minutes in the limelight.

I recognize that we all want to see our favourite characters do the thing, but all stories must come to an end, and by disregarding previously established canon, it is my belief that the writers disrespected the series and in turn disrespected their audience as well.

Star Wars

When it came to the writing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we arrive at a story which seemed to have the intent to “Let it die, kill it if you have to”. Let [Star Wars] die, kill [Star Wars] if you have to. This was not a Star Wars movie for people that liked Star Wars. This was a Star Wars movie to disrespect people who like Star Wars while attempting to sucker in a new generation. Which may be why Solo did not sell. People simply do not trust the studio to produce Star Wars in a respectful manner anymore. Star Wars Episode IX isn’t out yet, and we may need to see how Boba Fett plays out, but at this current moment, I will not be surprised if Episode IX does not sell.

The Point

I recognize the point in that you want movies to push boundaries but there is a way to do it without taking a dump on the source material. Of course failing that, there’s no reason that an established franchise has to have a movie that pushes the boundary. Marvel has been pushing out the same movie for at least 5 years, probably more, and all of the Marvel movies I’ve seen are legitimately enjoyable movies.

The decision to toss out tons of canon is incredibly baffling to me when the new canon to be written seems to want little to nothing to do with the existing material. It might’ve been forgivable if the writing actually made sense. But it didn’t. The world of Episodes I-VI felt so much bigger compared to this. Most of this episode takes place during the slowest car chase ever in the vast emptiness of space. The Force Awakens was so much better than this. It’s almost like you don’t even like Star Wars. You just wanted to slap your name on it. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised when in your act of greed that you failed to maintain the old guard while simultaneously being unable to entice a new order.

Conclusion

So I guess in summary, it’s not the fans that are damaging the franchise, it’s the producers.

The short version is that I don’t particularly like this criticism. Fundamentally, I think it misses the mark. Excepting that which I’ve stated above, Mangold’s statement could pessimistically be taken as “Don’t criticise movies or you’ll get bland movies”. I think the question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the fan backlash is justified. Again, I believe in this case, it is, or at least a significant audience believes that it is, considering the market failure of Solo. The people have voted with their eyeballs and their dollar. Whether or not Star Wars will recover from this, I don’t know. I don’t plan to speculate. But I would hope that the writers for the next movie are watching the internet, acknowledging concerns, and making necessary adjustments. If not, we may see the death of Star Wars, rather than the end of Star Wars. Which, in my opinion, would be pretty sad. That’s my take. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

[Article Response] “Damaging a Franchise”

Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition

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Steam

Not sure why ‘Windows Edition’ is important but whatever, it’s in the title on Steam.

Don’t think that this is going to be a habit or anything. I just happen to have had some extra time because I finished my certification courses and I’m waiting for the certificate to come in the mail.

I want to preface this review by saying I absolutely hate JRPGs. I hate the grind, I hate the backtracking, I (generally) hate turn-based combat, I hate the lack of good story, I hate the cliched characters. I just hate JRPGs. I’ve started several Final Fantasies, I’ve only finished one. That is to say, I’ve only finished Final Fantasy VI. Because I got sucked into the stories and the characters. Outside of that, I really couldn’t find myself getting attached to characters in any of the other ones I’ve tried.

This game is fantastic. It manages to avoid most of the major pitfalls that come with JRPGs. Taking place in a 3D world definitely plays to the game’s credit. It’s easy to get lost in the scenery while you’re traveling throughout the world. The Backstreet Boys also keep things interesting with their little dialogues and being able to listen to music from the other Final Fantasy games (and NieR… for some reason) really passes the time. Best part is, you don’t even have to suffer the drive if you’re traveling to parking spots or towns. Just fast travel. The grind is still there but relatively tolerable because the combat is actually fun even if simple and repetitive. When it works, it feels very fluid and you feel like a total hero flying from monster to monster. When it doesn’t work, the real monster is the camera trying to film you through 10 meters of foliage or through a wall. This didn’t happen often enough to me to really be annoying though. The characters are great. I found myself really appreciating the characters. I think this game gets by by having the characters fully developed before you really interact with them. They already exist and you don’t have to create them and the story doesn’t have to bend to meet your personal choices. And honestly? This Band of Brothers is just really cool. The way they interact and rely on each other really makes you feel like these characters have a history together. They’re all pretty likeable as long as you don’t look too hard at the story.

Which I guess brings me to what I believe is the game’s biggest flaw. The story. While there’s an advantage to having the characters developed before the game, there isn’t as much of an advantage of having the lore developed before the game. This game seems to assume some level of background knowledge to the lore and I have no idea where any of this comes from. I want to lose myself in this game, in the story, but it feels like there are so many pieces that were chopped out and I have no idea where to find them. Granted, I am still looking around the map for little things to read, but I dunno. Something about this presentation rubs me the wrong way. Another major flaw would be its load times and the last (and this one annoyed me for a few before I found a workaround) is that the game would often crash my computer. Not crash to desktop, literally crash my computer.

The open-world setting works well with the character because without a sense of direction it really just feels like the Fantastic Four being the Fantastic Four. Really. I just really like the camaraderie of these guys and playing the game is just bros being bros. In my view, the game is really relaxing. Just pick a direction and go there. Eventually I’d get overleveled and decide maybe it’s time to do the story but then I realized that the story is super short. This has to be one of the shorter Final Fantasy games because it feels like it just flew by. Or maybe time flies when you’re having fun? Who knows.

Either way, I really do commend Final Fantasy XV for being a great game and I do recommend it to people. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

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Steam

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse picks up where Risky’s Revenge left off, with Shantae still effectively human. The town is getting bulldozed by its Mayor, Ammo Baron (yes, he’s still Mayor) and you decide to stop him. Unfortunately, this is effectively rebellion, so you get a court summons. While under house arrest, you uncover a lead into the revival of the Pirate King and decide to stop it. Who cares about court summons, amirite?

I’ll say outright that Pirate’s Curse is better than Risky’s Revenge. It maintains the quirky design and pleasing aesthetic of the first game.  It decided to go full 2D this time though, so that’s an improvement in my books. The movement feels so much more fluid and the movement options unlocked throughout the game feel better. You get a glide, a dash, and an extra triple jump… which you lose… in the final boss fight… because design decisions.

What I find most amusing is that this game sorta solves the problems of Risky’s Revenge while also adopting some problems that the old problem solved. The backtracking is less insufferable. Might be level design making it a bit more enjoyable to go through them. Luckily the backtracking is mitigated in Pirate mode (unlocked after beating the game once). Honestly, what might have fixed it for me in backtracking might be the addition of a new item called “Pirate’s Flare” which is effectively an escape rope. Tired of a map’s BS? Get out of the labyrinth and flare back to base. Speaking of items, they’ve rebalanced the items to be less broken and now none of them are required to unlock certain areas. Health drops regularly (if you’re killing enemies) and you can use these drops whenever you like instead of immediately.

There are few things more frustrating than entering a screen only to get knocked back because instant dash enemy. Yet here we are. Insufferable stealth section and the climb to the final boss is a series of spike traps that exist purely to try my patience. No enemies. Just spikes. And lord save you if you game ogre there because the save point is not between spike hells but rather at the beginning and at the end. Bring all of the potions.

Let’s talk about the final boss fight. Now in Risky’s Revenge, I didn’t really dock points for the game taking away all of your transformations because they weren’t really used for combat. The time required to dance for them took away from the pacing anyway. However, in this game, most of your upgrades are movement upgrades. Which means you don’t pause to use them and you’ve been using them the entire game. And they were instrumental in spike pit hell because each puzzle room was set up to utilize a specific upgrade. So by the time you’ve gotten to the boss, you’re pretty used to using them like, all the time. You get to use them for phase 1 of the boss. Then the boss takes them away. Then you have to deal with phase 2 with limited movement. Then phase 3 which is phase 2 with some extra patterns. And phase 4 which can be cancer because it’s not the same kind of combat you had been doing all game.

Look, the final boss is a test. A test on all of the skills we’ve obtained up until now. You don’t teach us all of the math required to do the exam and then give us a stinkin’ psychology exam instead of a math exam. That’s completely unfair to the player

But when the game works, it works. Pirate Mode (again, unlocked after playing through the game one) is a great replay option if you’re into that sorta thing. The game is legitimately enjoyable and the characters are as delightful as ever. I’m going to give this game a pass, but not by much. Be prepared. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge [Director’s Cut]

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Steam

I am a regular speedrunner of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight. I’ve gotten my time to a pretty good spot and while I love the game to death, I’ve been flirting with other games just as a change of pace. Sometimes I watch speedruns and the Shantae series has been on the radar for a while because the “plot” is amazing it looks really cute. So while it was on sale, I bought the bundle. Looked up the order the games are in (chronologically) and started up Risky’s Revenge.

Boy what a mistake that was.

In Risky’s Revenge (a sequel to GBC game I will likely never play) you play as Shantae. She is a half-genie girl that acts as the guardian of Scuttle Town. One day, while her uncle unveils the magic lamp, an artifact he found, pirates attack and steal the lamp. Your job? Get the lamp back. Seems simple enough. In metroidvania style, you gather your genie powers from magic fountains throughout the world, become super powered, only to lose these powers in the final fight not like you were using the powers to fight anyway (we’ll come back to that).

Aesthetically, the game is quite well-designed. It diverges a bit from the typical metroidvania style of screen transition by instead showing you a faded version of the screen behind you as you travel through your current screen. This is a pretty cool innovation because now you don’t get surprised by random flea knocking you back into the prior screen. You always know where you’re going to land. Only works one way though, so to prevent you from getting mauled on the way to a screen “in the foreground” you’ll always land on a safe spot after transition. That’s not to say the usual screen transition from one room to another isn’t still there. Just that I found this little experimentation interesting. This experimentation creates a pseudo-3D map. The map is also very compact. There aren’t too many places to go in the game. Overall, maybe 3 major zones. So the design is incredibly efficient! The art design (as stated earlier) is quite cute. All of the designs feel good. The audio design is sweet too.

Unfortunately, while I praised the design in terms of ‘efficiency’, I’m afraid that the design is incredibly frustrating. James Montagna. That’s right, I wrote down your name before preparing this review. Why? Because SCREW YOU AND YOUR LEVEL DESIGN. I absolutely hate backtracking in games. I will tolerate backtracking if it’s to find new full zones in games. But in this case, you have to go to Zone A to get story progress then go to Zone B where you get a powerup which you need to use again in Zone A to get another piece of story progress to complete Zone B. Absolutely disgusting. I hate you. I want my five hours of life back. You can teleport between areas of the map but for some reason there’s no teleport in Scuttle Town, the hub for the game. Which makes no sense.

But wait! Are we incentivized to to back to these zones? What do we get? Well, magic jam, an item that lets you buy more item skills. But I went through the entire game only really using 2 items once. The fireball you use to break a wood barrier (why there’s a wood barrier, lord knows) and lightning to activate a bomb (required for story). The rest of the time, the pike ball pretty much carried me through the game.

Honestly, the backtracking added so much to the runtime of this game. I wonder if it’s intentional padding.

Oh yeah, let’s go back to the powers thing. So being half-genie you get to transform into aminals throughout the game. It’s the main map exploration gimmick. Now thank goodness the animals are never really used for combat on land, because if they were. Wooh boy I’d be ready to split skulls. Spoiler alert – the final boss of the game is you(r genie half) and you lose your ability to transform for this fight. How retarded would it be to spend the entire game collecting powers, using them, only to lose them for the final fight? That is horrendous game design.

Overall, I found the game more frustrating that enjoyable. I plan to try out the others, but this one is going to be a no from me. I wanted to like it, but I just can’t give this a pass possibly because of the map/power interaction. That’ll be it from me though. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

Shantae: Risky’s Revenge [Director’s Cut]

Super Motherload

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Playstation Store
Steam

Super Motherload is a… how would I describe it… well it’s a digging game. I guess I’ll just briefly describe the story, mechanics, and my experience.

In Super Motherload you play an Earthling that finds themselves working on behalf of a spooky corporation. You are an independent contractor. Your job – dig minerals out of the Martian underground. I guess Elon Musk saw this game and figured that it was time. As you dig, you receive unusual broadcasts and it’s up to you on how to ‘respond’ to them. And by ‘respond’  I mean  whether or not you’ll dig up the materials required for a quest. This game is literally just digging. When you reach the level where it’s hot and you can meet the devil, you enter a flying minigame + boss battle and then you’re faced with a “moral choice”. You get achievements based on these choices.

They have a few characters to choose from, from what I gathered some have more upgrades than others. You can play with friends, or so I’m told. I have no friends, so I could not test this feature. I can only imagine having four miners on the screen at once, trying to track yours would be a pain. The game is frightfully easy to play. I wound up just digging a straight line down. It takes a bit longer but it’s easier in terms of returning to base, lest you run out of fuel.

Honestly, what sells the game to me is the atmosphere. Unfortunately the atmosphere only seems to be effective on first playthrough, since after you know the triggers and the dialogue, there’s nothing else it has to offer you. The way tone is handled is c’est magnifique. This game could effectively do horror if it tried. The way the dialogue is delivered and the way the music changes is amazing. I was legitimately feeling my hairs stand on end for a good third of the game.

That said, I’m not terribly pleased with the story and its apparent limitations. I think there’s a good experience buried here underneath the surface, but I can’t help but feel there’s a lost potential here. It’s short – took me 2 hours to complete on my first (safe) playthrough. Is it worth its cost? That’s up to you. I personally do not believe that this game is worth too much. Overall – I do recommend the game, barely, but get it cheap if you can. Thanks for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

Super Motherload

Woke AF: Hagakure

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Disclaimer: Everything stated below is my opinion and is based on all of the information I have obtained and can remember at the time of writing. If you find any inaccuracies, or if you have any disagreements, please comment them. I want to learn. 

Alright, so in my last post, I noted how I had read Hagakure and what I made of it. I tried to stick within what I felt was the core message of the book. There are a lot of cultural things that I left out. For example, it was not uncommon for the older samurai to take a younger samurai under his wing for uh… completely wholesome purposes. There are some rather fascinating vignettes that I rather appreciated because they took me for a turn. And there were some lines that were just W O K E. But instead of polluting the prior post and getting derailed in what was already a fairly length post, I decided to split the post into one, fairly concise (I hope) that is focused on the core message and another post which has all of the silly stuff for which I make no reservations about length. If this post winds up having more than nine thousand words, so be it. You have been warned.

Women

The sheer disregard that is shown for women in this work is just priceless. Which is made all the more remarkable when you consider that traditionally, the state of the sexes in Japan has actually been a bit more, shall we say… progressive by modern terms.

It has been pointed out by more than one writer on Greece “that in the former and ruder period women had undoubtedly the higher place, and their type exhibited the highest perfection.” This is certainly the case in Japan. The women of the early centuries were, according to Japanese history, possessed of more intellectual and physical vigor, filling the offices of state, religion, and household honors, and approaching more nearly the ideal cherished in those countries in which the relation of the sexes is that of professed or real equality.

Griffis, William Elliot. History of Japan, 660 BC to 1872 AD (Kindle Locations 878-882). Lecturable. Kindle Edition.

I am currently reading the book cited above. I have no idea what ‘Locations’ is but I really have no good way to otherwise cite it so eh. Griffis writes this in regards to the second century. Honestly, for the feminists in the audience (does an egalitarian like me even have feminist readers?) you might even take some kind of a victory in one of the myths regarding Izanami and Izanagi.

The first manifestation of the male essence was Izanagi; of the female, Izanami. Standing together on the floating bridge of heaven, the male plunged his jeweled falchion, or spear, into the unstable waters beneath them, and withdrawing it, the trickling drops formed an island, upon which they descended. The creative pair, or divine man and woman, designing to make this island a pillar for a continent, separated  –  the male to the left, the female to the right  –  to make a journey round the island. At their meeting, the female spirit spoke first, “How joyful to meet a lovely man!” The male spirit, offended that the first use of the tongue had been by a woman, required the circuit to be repeated. On their second meeting, the man cried out, “How joyful to meet a lovely woman!” They were the first couple; and this was the beginning of the art of love, and of the human race.

Griffis, William Elliot. History of Japan, 660 BC to 1872 AD (Kindle Locations 414-421). Lecturable. Kindle Edition.

Make of that what you will. I personally think that it’s rather funny and cute story and I’ll leave it at that. Anyway, getting back on topic about women in Hagakure…

Moreover, the relationship between father and son can break down if the mother is foolish. If the mother pampers the boy, and sticks up for him when he is admonished by his father, the paternal relationship will deteriorate. Women have a shallow tendency to side with their children as they foresee that they will have only them to depend on in the future– Hagakure: Book 1 – 85

I actually can nicely cite stuff in Hagakure because it’s set up by book and… story number. Kind of like the Bible. So I’ll do that for Hagakure and quite frankly the rest of the post will be cited from Hagakure so whatever. So anyway, here we see Tsunetomo’s view of women. I don’t think of this as a condemnation, but rather just an observation. It may even be valid today. The mother needs to curry the favor of the children because when the father inevitably dies before her (women have longer lifespans than men throughout history I guess) someone will have to make sure that she’s fed.

Or maybe both she and her husband are both in their golden years and just need help. Then we see a difference in attitude. The father may feel entitled to care due to the fact that he cared for the children when they were young. Maybe he’d feel that it is their obligation to care for the father. Or maybe the father doesn’t care at all, and accepts his condition as a sign that it’s time to move on. Women, being the more attached sex, want to maintain their existence on this Earth just a few moments longer.

Once, a certain man said, “I know the shape of ‘reason’ (ri) and ‘women.’ ” When somebody asked what shape these things were, he replied: “Reason is a square, and will not budge at all. Women are round. Women do not discriminate between good or evil, wrong or right, and will roll into any position. – Hagakure: Book 10 – 2 

I lost my shit while I read this. Although it took a few moments for me to puzzle out what was being said. First, I think the joke is based on the kanji for reason (理) and women (女). Kanji in general contain many “sharp edges” so the closest thing to round that they have will probably be these angles like we see in ‘女’. At least, I haven’t come across many ’round’ kanji in my studies. Though it makes me wonder; hiragana is said to be based on some number of kanji and we see some very clearly rounded characters such as お、め、ね、and so on. The only reconciliation I might make is that hiragana was once called ‘woman’s hand’, so the curves may be deliberate changes to the kanji.

Anyway, the point here is that women will change their mind, lie, whatever it takes to position themselves into what they find most advantageous.

Disclaimer: It may be worth noting that kanji have changed throughout the years and I am merely using the ones that I know from today. If this is a joke based on the kanji used for reason and woman, it is entirely possible that the kanji I’ve used above are not the ones being referenced. 

Jin’uemon [Tsunetomo’s father] used to say “One should not bother bringing up daughters. They may stain the family name, and disgrace the parents [after they are married off]. The oldest daughter is special, but any others should be discarded.”Hagakure: Book 2-117

What a hot take, dang. This isn’t terribly surprising to me. Daughters were to be used as political pawns, and it seems that being a political pawn was part of the problem. “They main stain the family name and disgrace the parents after being married off”. Honestly, I’m not too sure why this is singled out so. Surely there were more opportunities for men to stain the family name and disgrace the parents, as they were the face of society. But there ya go, I put this in because woweee that take so hot I need a glass of milk.

Men

Whatever Tsunetomo said about women, it’s actually not that bad in my opinion. I’d never profess it as good character today,  but I can see his plan. He seems to see society as structured in a certain way and women are to behave this way while men are to behave this way. Which is why the insults he hurls at men are (in my view) worse than the things he said about women. Let’s revisit that first quote from above and actually borrow the full ‘story’.

There is a special way for rearing children in warrior families. From an early age, children must be taught to be brave, and not for a moment be threatened as a joke, or tricked in any way. Cowardly behavior learnt during boyhood will remain ingrained as a lifelong flaw. It is unwise for parents to make their children afraid of the sound of thunder, or of the dark, or to say things to frighten them. A boy is likely to become timid if scolded too severely when he is small. The parent must take care that the child does not develop any bad habits. A habit cannot be easily rectified once it has sunk in. Gradually make the boy aware of the proper way of communicating, etiquette and so on, and ensure he doesn’t develop greedy tendencies. A normal boy will mature into a decent man if you nurture him properly with these and other points in mind.

Furthermore, if parents are not on good terms with each other, it is natural for the child to grow up deficient in a sense of filial devotion. Even birds and wild animals are affected by what they see and hear in their formative years. Moreover, the relationship between father and son can break down if the mother is foolish. If the mother pampers the boy, and sticks up for him when he is admonished by his father, the paternal relationship will deteriorate. Women have a shallow tendency to side with their children as they foresee that they will have only them to depend on in the future. – Hagakure: Book 1-85

The first paragraph is about teaching your children to be strong men, and I’ll be later posting several quotes which emphasise this. I exceptionally like the advice to never teach your children to be afraid. If you spend your life telling your kid that the lightning is out to get them (even when it isn’t), don’t be surprised when they believe that the lightning is out to get them when they are an adult. Looking at you, United States universities. 

But let’s focus on the second paragraph because that’s the part we used above in the section regarding women. When observed as a lesson regarding women, it’s a lesson about the nature of women. When observed as a lesson regarding men, it’s a prescription for parenting. Mothers should not pamper their sons. I guess it was a foregone conclusion that fathers would ever pamper their sons. The son needs to become strong, like the father. If the mother pampers the son, he will grow up effeminate. The mother needs to (and I wonder the effectiveness of this advice today) stay out of the father-son moments so father can teach son how to be a man. If the mother undermines the father, you’ll create a fractured home and fractured relationships. The son will not respect his father, the mother may not respect the father and the father may not respect the mother. Everyone needs to operate as a unit, for the betterment of the family and of the son’s future.

I guess the short version is, mothers should trust that the father knows what he is doing when he is… applying a correction to the son’s behavior.

It is a crime to have no serious purpose, living idly and giving little consideration to what a warrior should be, even in your dreams. – Hagakure: Book 2-49

This is something that I’ve heard from Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. The sentiment is summed up above. You need to have a purpose at all times, even while sleeping. Your purpose needs to be so ingrained in you that when you do something that you think “How does this further my purpose”. However, in modern society, I do not believe such is always the norm. Or at least, it’s not always well-thought out.

There isn’t too much more regarding “Men” as a class. The book is geared towards samurai, so I figure my Reflections: Hagakure post probably covers the prescription for men.

 Feminization of Men

I do not entirely buy the fish that men are becoming feminine in today’s society. Rather, I see that western society may be becoming more agreeable and this is a trait that is broadly found in women more prevalently than in men. As such, an increase in agreeableness across society could be a symptom of men in society becoming more feminine.

[A doctor speaking] The pulse of a man is different to that of a woman. Still, in the past five decades or so, the variance between the pulses between the sexes has become indistinguishable. Since noticing this, I have modified my treatment of eye ailments in men to comply with how I treat women. Male patients show little response to traditional male treatments. I have come to the realization that manly essence is absent in many of them, and they have become very feminine as a sign of the worsening times. This is an observation gleaned from medical treatment that I keep secretly to myself.”

After hearing this, I [Tsunetomo] realized how true it was; so many men now seem to have the pulse of a woman. There are few who can be thought of as a real man. This means that one man can surpass others by making just a small effort.

That manly courage has faded is evident when few men show enough nerve to behead a criminal with his hands bound behind his back. In the case of performing kaishaku for a man who is to commit seppuku, it’s considered prudent or solicitous these days to decline the request. – Hagakure: Book 1-36

I told my adopted son, Gon’nojō, “Young men today are inclined to be effeminate. It is an age in which warriors who are approachable, sociable, non-confrontational, and gentle are glorified as being virtuous men. This proclivity means samurai are limited in their potential, and are unassertive. Above all, as men are absorbed with protecting their station and stipend, I think they are just wasting away. – Hagakure: Book 2-111

Regarding Edo period society, I know very little. I cannot really form an opinion on what Tsunetomo means as he says what I’ve posted above. My guess, based on what I’ve read here, is that he glorified the Sengoku Period. Which is ironic, considering what he said about glorifying the past:

[…] Thus, any longing for the “good old days” of a hundred years ago is futile. It is more judicious to adapt and improve the ways of the present. Men who hold a nostalgic view of the past are misguided in their outlook because they are blind to the reality of the present. Conversely, those who revel in the present, but loathe the customs and traditions of yesteryear, can’t differentiate between core principles and insignificant details. – Hagakure: Book 2-18

 

I think Tsunetomo, being unable to fill these warrior roles within the Sengoku period, idolizes them as being the epitome of manliness. And I believe the documentation he has made he kind of sets the bar as a way of trying to preserve the “manliness” of the Sengoku Period. He may have seen this move away from the Sengoku Period as the loss of manliness.

What Is This I Don’t Even

This section is for stuff that I really didn’t get. I literally can’t even so if anyone can even, please let me know. I’m just lost here

51. Master Genshin was asked, “I have heard that if you are attacked by someone in the [shogun’s] palace, it will work in your favor to keep calm and simply report the incident to the inspector (o-metsuke) without retaliating, even if you are at fault. I wonder if it’s worth enduring the shame, thinking that you may be better off for it later on.” The master responded: “This is where skill with words is indispensable. You can take the other fellow to the inspector, or you could go on your own and explain the situation. Say ‘Although the humiliation is difficult to bear, as the incident took place at my master’s palace, I prioritized his feelings, and chose to endure the shame [through not taking immediate action], and hope for your understanding as I explain the details of the affair.’ If nothing happens, you can kill the other man because you are already dead.” – Hagakure: Book 2-51

How are you already dead? What does that mean?

If you concur with everything brought up at a formal discussion or when chit-chatting, and just dally in the conversation, you will be unable to see higher reason. When somebody describes an object as black, think to yourself, “It can’t be black, but could be white. There must be a reason for it to be white.” Endeavoring to attach a reason to something will help you deduce a higher logic. You will be incapable of exceeding others without making efforts like this.

If it is something that can be said on the spot, do so in a way that won’t cause offense. If he cannot be told, keep conversing without causing ire, and craft a logical response in your mind. This is how to develop sounder logic than others. Points concerning a man who severed ties with another (relayed verbally). This approach is different to “conjecturing,” “forestalling,” or “holding reservations.” – Hagakure: Book 2-10

What is this “higher logic”? Why is it “higher” than regular logic?

Personal Favourites

This is the final section, which will just cover things that I particularly liked from Hagakure. Just gonna post them here rapid-fire.

If you focus only on the good points of a man, then everybody can be a good model to learn from.” – Hagakure: Book 1-64

You may seek to borrow items from others every now and again. But, it is akin to begging if you ask too often. If you can make do without asking people for favors, then it is better not to ask. Hagakure: Book 1-78

In the Kingdom of Tang (China), there was a man who adored pictures of dragons. He had dragon motifs on his clothes, utensils, and other things. His profound love of dragons was felt by the dragon god, who sent a real dragon to appear before the man’s window. The man was so surprised that he fainted. Some people like to talk big, but act in a way that doesn’t match their words. – Hagakure: Book 1-81

It is preposterous to feel crestfallen when dismissed from duty. It was customarily said at the time of Lord Katsushige: “You won’t make a true man of service unless you have experienced being a rōnin seven times. Fall down seven times, and get up eight (nanakorobi-yaoki).” – Hagakure: Book 1-126

If one is insensitive when sympathizing with a man who is plagued by misery by blurting lame comments like “How sorry I feel for you,” he will become even more despondent and unable to see reason. Instead, it is better to cheer him up by nonchalantly implying it is not serious at all. Say, “Actually, this is quite propitious old chap. It could have been much worse!” With such reassurance, the unfortunate man will see things differently. As we live in an ephemeral world, feelings of sorrow or joy need not be embraced for long. – Hagakure: Book 2-57

On that note, I thank you for sharing in this experience with me. I do hope to hear your thoughts and as always, thank you for reading.

Artemis Hunt

 

Woke AF: Hagakure