A Technical Conglomeration of Suffering (Record of Grancrest War – Analysis and Dissection Part Two)

20170802_013032In last week’s post, I did a brief dissemination on the various story elements of Records of Grancrest War and why, due to writer oversight and lack of understanding of the subject matter, have lead to a rushed and unsatisfying anime viewing experience. Now, I plan on going into detail on the technical side of the anime’s shortcomings, and hypothesizing as to why some of the poor directorial decisions that have been made have been, well, made.

On that note, we’ll start with the Director himself. And this part, actually, baffles me to some extent. Director Mamoru Hatakeyama is actually a very proficient and, at the very least, clever director. While I did not watch many episodes of it, the two episodes of Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû I did see were brilliantly put together with clever staging and visuals. Even the voice actors, whom I’d like to reiterate I don’t pretend to understand, handled their dialogue in compelling and entertaining ways. So why, then, is this show such a mess by comparison? My first presumption is that, working under the A-1 Pictures banner, he’s been contracted in to directing this series, where all the writing is being handled by the writers of the Light Novel series. Or, perhaps he agreed to do this series but wasn’t as comfortable with the material he has to work with?

In all likelihood, I’d put safe money that the issue lies with the former. The writer of the anime series is the same man who wrote the light novel series, and is also the same man who wrote the RPG rule-set for the game.

I wish I was making that up; everything makes a little more sense now.

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Because if it’s bad, it needs a bad video game as well it seems…

While rooting around in writer Ryo Mizuno’s career history, I turned up an explaination that Records was, in fact, originally written as a role-playing game, much in the same spirit of western Dungeons and Dragons or Legend of the Five Rings. It turns out that the RPG was created alongside the light novel, one being used as a marketing tool for the other (which is which I cannot be too sure presently). Then, the manga series was written to advertise the previous incarnations, and finally we’re given the anime, which I’m entirely convinced exists only to advertise the RPG. It’s the only reason that so many locations, big characters and cumbersome plot elements. Not unlike the first twenty minutes of the World of Warcraft movie: it’s basically a grab-bag of iconic and recognizable characters and setting elements from the game to wow people familiar with the source material.

Of course, this is not to say that you can’t use an RPG rule-set to create a fascinating and entertaining story. Many great movies out there borrow heavily from these games to make their world more fascinating and exciting. The issue comes when you simply copy/paste the elements into the script and call it a day. Again, this comes down to bad writing: irredeemably so. But as I’ve harped on the literary failings of Mr Ryo for the entirety of the last blog, as well two paragraphs now, let’s turn our gaze to the other primary culprit here: A-1 Pictures.

y4CjgWDh_400x400One of the most frequent compliments I’ve seen of this anime up to this point has been that it looks polished, professional and well animated. I’m just going to come out and say it now: it really isn’t. What it is, however, is familiar. A-1 Pictures, much like all animation studios, has their own particular way of animating characters and settings. In many cases, this can be a very good thing. If you’re fond of the animation style of one studio, you’re much more likely to tune in to their next release, even if you don’t know much about it. However, the issue arises when your animation style does not suit what exactly you’re aiming to show. The artwork needs to reflect the narrative.

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Starts fun and whimsical…

If you’ve watched Made in Abyss, you’ll probably agree that the show was incredibly animated. The art style was whimsical and fun, but the animators were not shy about instilling the darker elements into the story when the time called for it. Recall the differences in tone when Nanachi was recalling her time with Mitty before the horrific transmutation, and while it was happening. It was simply grotesque; and that made it all the more brilliant.

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…and then you get nightmare fuel!

The art style of Records, however, is better suited for a more mellowed out comedy or even lite-romance anime. The blood effects, when added, are cheap and illogical (they actually remind me of the original gore animations from Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct, and I wouldn’t peg either of those as artistic masterpieces with the blood effects), the battle damage, when the artists can be bothered to add them, look very clean and do not reflect what a reasonable degree of battlefield damage would look like, and the reactions and expressions of the characters are too simplified to work with a political drama.

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Each of these faces are pulled from an A-1 Pictures production. You may go ahead and try to guess whose face belongs to whom, but you probably can’t; which is kinda the problem.

Now, in the most recent episode, A-1 did try to make things look more dynamic with their camera angles with the Bellatrix-Kamakaze-Comet attack. Up until this point, they had made no attempt at utilizing over-exaggeration in any of their visuals, they had not played with camera distortion and everything had been very straight-on with the camera angles. Suddenly, they add this new visualization trick, and it was jarring. It pulled me, and my friend, right out of the show as we tried to understand why the Artistic Director had chosen to do that now, 15 episodes into the series. And while it was supposed to be super dramatic and intense, it just played out as comedic: this witch character, who had had a combined 15 minutes of screen time, was supposed to be taken as seriously as the main villain readying their main attack. Then, wand-throw later, her spell simply ends and she is sent blasting off again a la Team Rocket. Disclaimer: if there was some sort of effect that ended the witch’s spell, it was so anti-climactic that I’d forgotten it completely (and it’s not just because I have utter disdain for this series. I remember quite clearly the melodramatic charge of death that the Earl of Villar made on the bridge and the effects used in Margaret’s fire dance thing-y. Admittedly, both reasonably neat and almost well animated).

The battles themselves aren’t exciting to watch. I understand that the costs of hand-drawing all the background soldiers with incredible animation detail and effort is hella expensive. But that’s the cost of a good battle anime: adding cheap 3D models to the background hamstrings the whole effect and kills any sort of excitement that might have been built up. Characters doing battle involve a couple of sword swings, some metal grinding, then a close-up grimace/dead-pan expression as is the character’s wont. Admittedly, even these animations are more “Hollywood” than realm medieval fighting was; but if I wanted historically accurate swordplay to watch, I’d go to SCA faires. Instead, I want to see the anime utelize exciting and sometimes audacious battle manoeuvres that keep me, the audience, riveted to the edge of my seat. It takes more than just cool moves to sell a great battle, granted; but meat-and-potato-style swordplay is another dampening effect.

As a brief aside, costume designer: decide if you’re pulling costume ideas from Medieval periods, or from the Renaissance. The degree of bouncing back and forth between the two is staggering and just hurts the continuity. If you’re going to have peasants, then ensure your ruling class looks era appropriate. Likewise, if you want your ruling class to be wearing suits and ascots, you can’t have peasants. Creative licence is fine: contradiction is not.

As another aside: the music is fine. Not amazing, not bad; and reasonably appropriate for the scenes they play it over.

It’s at about this point that I must end my tirade against this series. Anything I say beyond this point will either be repeating myself, or harping on about issues I’ve already raised. It’s my sincere hope that shows like this die out before too long: as an anime viewer, I’ve come to expect better than what we were served en mass in the 90’s. Anime has evolved to be more compelling and more intricate, and it pains me when garbage like this is handed to us under the pretenses of being amazing. When it all boils down: Record of Grancrest is only a marketing anime. Admittedly, this is also a shortcoming with the structure of the anime industry on the whole, and requires a mass overhaul if we’re to see great shows thrive and inspire others to follow in their wake. It is also my hope that if you who are reading this aim to write your own stories, you’ll use Record of Grancrest as a cautionary tale as to what happens when you write while knowing nothing about your material.

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It’s the Train-Wreck That Just Keeps on Giving (Record of Grancrest War – Analysis and Dissection)

20170628_001052-1I’m starting to develop a general theory that no anime that possesses the words “Record of…” or even just “Records” in general will be very good. Twice now I’ve been treated to anime possessing that word in the title and have been either overwhelmingly nauseated or underwhelmingly disappointed by what I’ve been subjected to (I did a video on how much I disdained Akashic Record of Bastard Magical Instructor, and even applied to do a panel on the subject at a local comic-con). Fascinatingly, however, even though I’ve been perpetually disappointed by this series, I continue to watch it. It’s become something of a morbid fascination for me, as of late: the train wreck title is a little more than just symbolic in this sense.

322ad2bbe085d7ad53beea371af5e76f1515179616_fullAs a matter of comparison: my friend and I enjoy watching a bad anime just as much as the next person, myself doubly so. I have a soft spot in my heart for war-time anime that try a little too hard to be taken seriously, but inevitably fall flat in one category or another. Pumpkin Scissors initially comes to mind as a great example of a terrible show with bad directing and poor scripting; Strike Witches shortly to follow. Even Izetta: the Last Witch was an ambitious if ultimately anti-climactic attempt at instilling anime-sensibilities into a western genre (the parallel here being those three aforementioned titles focus on First and Second World War Euro-centric topics, and the subject of this blog focuses on classic western Euro-centric pseudo-medieval fantasy). As a writer, you can glean a great deal from a badly composed show: where the pacing falls through, stipulations on poor actor choice, et alia. But in the specific case of Grancrest, it almost becomes impossible to deduce what, precisely, is going so horribly wrong with the show.

The common opinion is that the series is progressing far too quickly. No single plot point is given near enough time to develop organically and in a convincing way. There is credit to this belief: each episode includes at least one “high-stakes” battle that’ll decide the fate of an entire kingdom, introduces anywhere between 1-3 new noble houses/families/individuals and summarily purges said individual or other miscellaneous supporting characters. Not to mention that there is actually enough plot material to have filled several seasons of this series and still have had plenty of room to explore things in fascinating and original ways. To prove the point, I’ll list the primary plot topics as we’ve been presented, but listed in no particular order:

  1. Theo (later adding Coranao as his surname) wishes to return to his homelands once he’s powerful enough to overthrow the ruling family, the Rossinis
  2. The Factory Alliance is at high-tension odds with the Fantasy Union over a botched marriage spurred by unknown individuals
  3. “Vlad-but-Totally-not-a-Copy” the Vampire Lord and Knockoff-Bellatrix conspire to continue the Era of Chaos because they do not wish to lose the power that the Chaos affords them
  4. The Earl of Villar, more commonly referred to as the Lustful Earl, is eager to expand his sphere of influence through careful manipulation of allied forces
  5. Lord Milze thirsts for bloodshed and violence, but ultimately seeks to be subservient to whomever he views as the more ambitious ruler, and conquers enemies with brutal efficiency
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While looking for pics to add to this blog, I stumbled across this piece. It makes the scope of the anime world make marginal more sense, oddly enough…

At the very least, these are simply the topics I can readily recall off top of my head: each one being complicated and involved enough to fill an entire 13 episode season all their own; perhaps even pushing to be a full double-season plot-arc without feeling too devoid of topics. However, because each of these plot arcs are being slammed together with reckless abandon, it does in fact beg the question as to why the writers felt the need to include so much.

The primary reason, I believe, comes from the writers’ unfamiliarity with the material they are actually writing about. It is a common, if ultimately incorrect, trope in the fantasy genre that a single battle will decide the fate of a nation. Indeed, looking back on a condensed history of your preferred war, it does indeed seem like all it takes is that one pivotal fight to change the course of history. Think about D-Day in the Eurpoean Theatre of World War 2, or the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil war (again, citing simple ones that come to mind readily). However, as very nearly every military historian can tell you: these might have been significant or even decisive battles in a military theatre, but they were far from the only ones. The writers of Grancrest seem to have misunderstood how traditional battles ebbed and flowed in a pseudo-medieval society. Yes, there were the big and dramatic clashes between armies at key military forts, but there were also frequent raids and skirmishes made by much smaller units to capture other key resources and strategic points in the landscape. A castle overlooking the sea is a great stronghold (-ish), but to effectively blockade it, you need to capture other costal cities surrounding it to ensure supplies can’t be ferried in or out of the castle. As well, a proper siege could last weeks of protracted bombardment and blockades: very few military commanders back then would elect to storm the gates right away since the soldiers inside would be in high-spirits and much more likely to put up a strong defence.

Of course, military misunderstandings aren’t the only area where the writers don’t understand the minor nuances of exchange: the dialogue surrounding the political discussion between not only enemies, but allies as well, is woefully lacking. The main problem with the dialogue isn’t so much what is being said (though even that part hurts), so much as what isn’t being said. What makes political intrigue so delightful is when you, as the audience, can sense that something is amiss. There’s just something about the way the character inflected upon a particular word, or chose how to phrase that retort, that just makes you feel like there’s more to it than just what’s being said. In a word: subtext. While I will admit that my understanding of the Japanese language is inept at best, ignorant at worst: I can’t speak for the quality of the voice actor’s attempts to instill that sense of subtext into their dialogue. However, I can make several inferences and assumptions based on what is being read out in the subtitles as well as how the director has chosen to block and stage each scene, action and shot. Instead, we’re treated to a high degree of static “talking heads” (a drama term translating to a bunch o’ people standing about just jabbering at each other) and characters saying what they mean in the most literal terms.

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She is a cool character with interesting powers… that are never explained in better detail than “Yo, she be an Artist”…

Again, it seems the writers are working way outside their comfort levels on this. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge advocate for writers pushing the boundries of what they’re comfortable with writing. My NaNoWriMo project pushed me outside of writing what I specifically knew and it was to great effect. However, even though it was different than what I was familiar with, I still made sure to understand what I was writing about. A bit of research into specific historical aspects, discussions with people who did have more familiarity with some of the subject matter I covered and pulling inspiration from other sources that have handled the material well (not, to clarify, redefined the genre: as a rule, I don’t encourage writers to take too much away from works that are sold on the premise on how it’s so unlike anything else in that genre. By its very nature, it’s unique and deals with matter in unconventional ways. To mimic that is to miss the point, but more on that another time). This, of course, brings me to another unusual aspect of the anime: the extensive size of the cast.

For the first four episodes, we were given two main characters. It was around them and their experiences the whole series was based around. Theo had a goal; flimsy and vague, granted, but one none-the-less. Siluca had a goal as well, and it seemed that her goal was veiled beneath the guise of helping Theo achieve his goals. At the time, I suspected that her true ambitions was to prove her worth and amass her own power while using Theo as a means to her end. While this has, by episode 13 (14, technically) not been the case and all but debunked, it made for an interesting dynamic between the two. Then, come midway through episode four, the gears abruptly shifted and our two main characters were relegated to the sidelines to make way for an even more generic and uninteresting character: Lord Villar. Poorly written as a stock regal and graceful character (who, unfortunately, comes off as more creepy and abusive than intended), this character is suddenly thrown in the audience’s face and it’s all but clear that the writers preferred this character to the ones we started with. Begin the countdown, mind you: it’s abundantly clear from the amount of awkward exposition about his backstory, motivations and relations with his estranged cousin (of whom he basically declared war on, but then promptly gives up when asked to actually step up or shut up) that he’s all but dead by the time we’re introduced to him. Frankly, every time the character strutted into frame, it was like the writers were screaming “Look how cool this character is! Isn’t he cool and awesome and amazing and cool? It’d sure be a shame if something bad were to happen to so cool a character!”

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Also, that uncomfortable dance/sex scene that went on for far too long. And it wasn’t even that well animated…

In a way, the anime almost became a fan-fiction just as soon as it started. It was weird.

However, more pressingly irritating than this weird diversion of protagonist focus is the sheer size of the cast. The number of characters zipping on and off camera is staggering; very nearly to a point where you can keep up with them. And, just as soon as they show up, they die or leave just as abruptly in the most awkward “clichéd overly-dramatic death” that the writers can contrive. We don’t have enough time, not just in minutes, but in meaningful interactions, to become invested in the characters or to learn of their desires, fears, goals or even their favourite colour. Hell, the same thing can even be said of the characters who are the main focus of the series most of the time. And it’s not like throwing in a character profile on-screen would solve the issue. The main issue is that the plot is the main focus of the series. The characters are only there to advance the plot.

downloadThis was a writing technique I had mastered back in high school: write a really cool plot, write some really cool characters, then put them together. The intention is to hit the audience with a double whammy of cool2, but what your instead get is two mismatched components that don’t add up to a compelling story. I’m presently reading a book titled “Damn Fine Story”, and it’s helped bring to light several shortcomings in my own abilities to tell a compelling narrative. One of the things emphasized in the book is that it’s the people, not the things, that make for a great story. Flashy set-pieces and high stakes are all well and fine, but it’s what the people standing before these trappings that make us invested and make us care. With some of the characters in this story, I want to care; I want to actually give a fuck. But I don’t. Amidst all the negative reviews of the show I read, the common complaint is pacing. It’s too fast; things move too quickly.

It’s worse than that. The show isn’t moving too fast (well, it also is, but…), rather the show itself has no soul. There’s no life behind the narrative we’ve been handled. The characters are little more than standard tropes without depth or drive, the settings are the same castle and the same army over and over, and the plot is one we’ve all seen before. This isn’t to say that a story we’ve all seen before can’t be good, or can’t be incredible. For those who’ve played Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.hqdefault That story is hardly the most original one out there: mercenary happens along defenceless princess and vows to protect her because he’s a good and loyal civilian, but their journey leads them around the continent fighting off the droves of villains from the enemy nation. You can almost point-for-point predict every twist and turn in the story, but it’s still a great story. Why? Because the characters are vivid and interesting. You catch their quirks and personality ticks based on how they talk to one another and based on their behaviours in combat (or, at least, their combat dialogue since it’s a Gamecube game and not exactly the most revolutionary mechanics out there). Even the princess, whose about as tropey as they come, is still fascinating and more alive than all the characters in Grancrest mushed together.

And there’s more to rip apart from this series, but this blog is already surpassed 2,200 words and I’ve still got a lot to go. So, I shall leave it here for now, with the intention of picking up in another piece where I’ll analyse the medium of the anime itself: the shortcomings in the animation, the poor framing choices and need we even mention how bad the second OP was? You don’t just make an OP recapping the first half of your season: the OP is supposed to get you wondering about what’s to come, not what already happened. That’s just bad form.

I would also like to apologize for being so absent from this blog for so long: I’ve started a new day job a while back and it’s quite physically demanding of me. It doesn’t leave me much energy to commit to writing, but I’m finding ways to change that around so that I miss uploads less frequently. Sorry again, m’bad!

Seven Years of Antics

20180226_120515[1]My mind works in a never-ending parade of fascinations and borderline-obsessions: for several months I’ll be fixated on my miniature painting, then I’ll switch over to being engrossed with fiction writing, after a half year of that I’ll surround myself with gaming as the thing I cannot stop thinking about, et alia. I’ve been like this pretty well my whole life, and I’m not entirely certain if it’s a by-product of my ADD, or just a peculiar quirk I personally possess.

Up until quite recently, anime had been my mind-engrossing obsession, as anyone who’s been reading this blog for the past few months can attest as at least half my material has been anime centric in some way, shape or form. And while anime is still a focused point of my life these days, my mind has been priming itself for my new fixation: the world of Live Action Role-Play. To anyone not familiar: Google it. I’m sure you’ll turn up something that’ll explain it succinctly in some way, shape or form.

For myself, LARP has always been a degree of freedom and/or challenges that has forced my own psyche to change, for better or worse. I’ve been LARPing now some ought seven years this coming summer, and at least six and a half of that has been in the realm of playing my particular character: “the Grinning Fox, Yuurri, the World’s Most Dashing Rogue (in Training, of Course)”.

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This picture is really old; from either my second or third event as this character

Normally, I wouldn’t spend much time reminiscing about the ebb and flow of this character’s interactions in game, since he’s been an oddly stabilizing, if erratic, presence within my particular LARP chapter’s world. He’s outlasted wars between infernal and celestial hosts, a conspiracy of lycanthropes and the crown, the rise and fall of entire noble houses, as well as skirted the fringes of not one, but two wars.

For anyone whose LARPed themselves before, it’s actually a pretty standard resume for the average adventurer, (in the classic Fantasy-genre sense, at least). But due to recent events, Yuurri’s ambitions have lead him to stand opposed to those he used to stand shoulder to shoulder with, and it’s been cause for some reflection on my part.

Most predominantly on my mind has become the mortality and life this character I’ve come to be associated with. In its own surreal way, the character has become just as real and alive as I, myself, am. Within particular circles, my character has a lasting impression that I could never hope to possess myself, due entirely to his actions, choices and, most notably, personality. Yuurri would be able to handle himself in situations I could never confidently navigate, whereas the opposite is just as true.

Evil LingersBut, the very real possibility is that this character, this alter-ego of mine, might very well find himself put to the executioner’s axe and his story to come to a close. That looming sense of finality is oddly compelling: what awaits beyond in my own life without that personality I’ve come to be known as, and similarly, what will become of the world he’d be leaving behind in his death?

While there are entire branches of philosophy dedicated to such questions, yet it’s quite difficult to explore in the world surrounding since, pending either very elaborate social experiments or research methods actually involving someone’s death, there are few ways to explore this possibility on a personal level. And despite not being able to call this a perfect analogy, it still bears enough similarities to operate as a jump-off point for further mental musings.

After all, this character, persona even, has been a part of my life for just shy of a quarter of my existence on this mortal coil. Anyone thinking on it might be able to draw parallels to similar occasions where something, or someone, who had been a part of their life for just as long and was removed from contact by one means or another: the missing piece is notable to say the least. I’ve been through a lot of changing experiences with this persona as a fall-back point, almost a grounding point, to keep some form of continuity in my own life.

AN Yuurri 1It’ll be interesting to see what transpires next: whether by choices I make or consequences outside of my control that this character, this part of me, comes to a conclusion. And more importantly, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects not only myself, but those around. How often, after all, does one get to attend their own funeral?

A Curveball, a Rollercoaster, a Paradigm Shift

20170816_150524I think it’s safe to say that, at one point or another, we’ve been there: on a course or path that we’ve chosen and with full confidence in where we’re headed. The mile-markers (or would kilometer markers be more appropriate?) have been tacked and, not to belabor the metaphor, the destination in mind. There’s a particular comfort in a certainty in this idea. A kind of determination that helps keep the darker days more manageable and give credit to the idea that I am moving forward in life as opposed to stagnation.

As a brief aside, a small note about the feeling of stagnation to those not acclimatized to depression or those who suffer it. We live in a world where there are very clearly defined parameters of what we should be doing and by when. If you think on it for a moment or two, I’m sure you can do up your own little list: go to school, go to high school, work a crappy part-time job, go to post-secondary, meet someone there and fall into step with them, work a crappy full time job, start a family, begin career, reproduce, then watch your offspring repeat your steps. This is heavily ingrained into our culture and reflects every aspect of western life.

When you live with depression, everything takes more effort and takes longer, it would seem. I’m a ripping 27 years old, and I’m still far from where I thought I would be ten years ago. Is ripping a good descriptive word to use before age? I dunno, but we’ll stick with it for now. On multiple occasions over my life, especially in these past three or four years, I’ve felt a particular unease about where I am in life. The lack of going somewhere or being something by this age is something I’m acutely aware of, and reminders of how far “behind” I am are everywhere.

In moments, I’ll begin resuming what most would consider “forward momentum” in my life: either attending to some form of education or settling into what I would expect to be a long-term job. Hells, this blog started as an effort to start hammering together something of a long-term career for myself as a self-made author. Before that, I was settling into that aforementioned long-term job in an environment I seemed to do well in. Before that, I was attending courses at the Adult Learning Center nearby (this last point is quite relevant).

Once again, I was at this ALC trying to get my high school mark upgraded. I had survived my first two terms, passing three courses (one of which was the source of a great deal of grief in years past when I was at this center before) and was saddling up for my last three courses. Beyond the half-way point, let’s do this thing.

I was hesitant and apprehensive, as these last three courses I was being faced with were math classes. Math and I have a very specific understanding of one another: mutual distrust and hatred, among other things. Well, if I want to go to university for psychology, I need to do this thing: let’s do the thing!

That was the beginning of January. As of a week and a half ago now, I had dropped out of the program and was, once again, stuck in stagnation. My mental health had collapsed (as it has done many times before and will invariably do many times again in my life), I was thoroughly disheartened with how poorly I was doing in the only course I had this term (university level, grade 11 Functions), and I was struggling with reconciling who I was trying to be and what I was trying to accomplish.

Now, when you’re faced with an impasse, it’s important to carefully plan your next move. I could stay in math and try to bludgeon out something resembling a passing mark: it wouldn’t be a great mark, but it’d earn me the credit. The problem with this was that I barely, if at all, understood the material, and the two courses I had to take next were much more advanced and required a complete understanding of these “basics”. Odds were not in my favour there.

I could drop out of the course. Not a great plan, as I had already dropped a few hundred dollars on university applications and was pulling in very close to deadlines for re-applying to programs; but it would save me a great deal of stress and alleviate a lot of burden from my mind. From there, it would be a matter of deciding where to go from there: pursue different education avenues or re-evaluate life direction.

Sufficed to say, dropping the course was simply the better choice. True, it screwed me out of many opportunities I had struggled to achieve for the four months prior, but I was very likely setting myself up for brutal failure or disappointment with my current trajectory. Don’t misunderstand, though: it was still a hard, and very upsetting decision. I was defeated, once again, by the education system that I needed in order to accomplish my goals in life.

Then, cue the follow-up punch to the jab I had just been served: I was summarily laid off my job. Recent economic changes in our province’s employment policies has created a great deal of uncertainty in business owners about viability, and I’d heard a statistic on the radio that the month of January had seen the largest increase in unemployment in over three decades (I’ll not claim this as fact as I do not recall the source cited by the report, so take this with a grain of salt. Or several). More importantly, I had failed in the courses I was taking, I had lost my job, and was being met with a plethora of mixed emotions with other news.

Many of my closest friends have been in stable relationships for a long time, and of them, perhaps close to half are presently or shortly to be engaged/married. Try to suspend your disbelief, but I am shockingly single, and haven’t been on anything resembling a date in the past two or three years. And as anyone who contends with depression can attest: it’s easy to feel alone when your brain is working against you; doubly so when you see things you wish you could have but, for one reason or another, cannot attain.

In fairly nearly everything I had been pursuing these past several months, everything had failed. I was, once again, locked in a state of stagnation: not moving forward, not moving backward. Simply not moving.

An odd thing has transpired, though. Despite all these set-backs, these severe blows to my confidence and life direction, I’m not broken by it. Not irreparably so, at least. In fact, I still trudge forward. The feeling is queer to me, I promise you that: logically speaking these set-backs should almost cripple my ability to do very nearly anything, but this time has not.

I’d share my secret if I knew it, but there are still too many x-variables I need to mull through. Perhaps it’s a change in medication on my end, perhaps it’s the rolling of the calendar and re-focusing on direction, perhaps something in my brain has finally started to tick properly. I don’t know.

But if anything, I’m still moving. Perhaps not forward, and not in the same direction that our western culture has dictated I should, but its motion. I haven’t the foggiest where my future is going to be, but I plan on getting there one way or another.

Preferably with a slightly more consistent upload schedule. Sorry again about not keeping to that :/

“More Than Just a Pretty Face” – Cosplayer Profile: Anniechie Designs

20170913_110023_HDRMy never ending journey to fully, or even marginally, fathom the exact nature of mental health issues leads me through many retrospectives. There is, after all, no shortage of things to ponder: what specific events lead me to this point? Why does it seem that chronic anxiety tends to affect particular demographics more visibly than others? Of the frequent thoughts I have, are they unique to my own mind or do others experience similar?

Sufficed to say, many of these questions are some that I certainly cannot answer just by puzzling it out on my own. Cue sudden idea: I’ll talk to someone else about it. Truly, I am a genius of untold proportions, eh?

But, more-over, I had this particular thought while breezing through my Facebook feed, as one is prone to doing when they’ve nothing better going on (or whatever social media app it is people use these days; I can’t be bothered to keep up with the changes). This is when I scrolled over another of the plentiful photos of cosplayers I follow online. In particular, an otherwise anonymous figure by name of Annie.

Now, for those who don’t know who Anniechie is (to specify, pronounced Annie-ch-ee; you’d not believe how much time I spent figuring that out before I just came out and asked her), she’s an Ontario-based cosplayer who predominantly focuses on video game characters for her creations, even more specifically from the Legend of Zelda universe. I’ve been following her work for some odd two years now, I think, and only have communication with her because she made the mistake of commenting on one of my sister’s old vlogs she made.

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Lissa photo courtesy of Soulfood Photography

For starters, most of us are accustomed to a certain degree of professional distance that online personas don when interacting with their fans. I can’t blame them either: these are people who we don’t know and their motives can be suspect at best of times (for further proof, just search online for stories of web-based harassment for those in the cosplay community from anonymous/near-anonymous fans). But, Annie isn’t quite like that.

No, she possesses a very small-community mindset when talking with her fan base (because I find it impossible to believe that I’m the only one she talks to like this). We’d communicated once or twice, at the very least, to coordinate marking her social media link to the aforementioned vlog to give credit where credit is due. Not only was she very polite, but she seemed uncannily cheerful as well.

Getting back a few paragraphs now, I got wondering about my present conundrum about those who suffer anxiety and what their experiences are like. Sure enough, there’s one of Anniechie’s photos and I thought, “I wonder…”

I reached out and she responded. Indeed, she does suffer from some nasty anxiety issues, and furthermore, was more than happy to share some of her experiences with as many people as possible: “I am really happy it’s a topic that more people are covering since the more it is talked about, the more people will be able to face their anxiety or depression problems since they may not be as scared too.” It also takes a great deal of strength and emotional fortitude to come forward about these issues, especially for those who are in the world of cosplay.

Think on it this way: many people turn to their idols for strength, compassion, or escapism from their issues. It can severely tarnish a fan’s faith in those they look up to if you find out that they, too, suffer from similar issues. However, the converse may be true as well; in an online world where simply smiling and looking perfect is what people flock to the most, opening up yourself to that potential judgement can be daunting.

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Symphony and Silk Cosplay LITERALLY lifting me up” -Anniechie

As you might have guessed with Annie, this isn’t the case. A Master-level cosplayer who not only shares her photos about her various projects, but she’s also earnest and open about her anxiety issues. It’s something that’s been a part of her life for quite a long time now, earliest recollections going back to the “sweet sixteen” part of adolescence. Most curiously, however, Annie (not sure if she’d be okay with my just calling her Ann… or An… or A…), it took her some time to realize what, exactly, it was she was experiencing.

It’s about that time when, for most teenagers in North America, you’re in high school. Certainly, there is a great deal to be anxious about: classes, futures, social life, work life, talking to that cutie you’ve had a crush on since forever, etc. And Annie thought this was very much the case for her: just a normal experience for a high schooler to be going through. And besides, other people have it far worse, so just suck it up, right?

For about a year, this was her mentality: I don’t have it that bad, so I shouldn’t feel this way. In hindsight, she’s thankful that she finally came forward and sought help, where she was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and started to receive proper treatment for it.

Now, every professional who’s worth the degree on their wall will tell you that simply medication alone will not solve the problem. It’s also about lifestyle: finding means to combat those nervous landslides that envelope their unfortunate victim. Surprisingly to me, but perhaps not to others: cosplay itself was a great source of strength for Annie.

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“Myself as Esmeralda with Tsuki No Star Dust and Mae-Gwyn at a local cosplay meet up” – Anniechie

I mean, I was (and to a lesser extent, am still) very impressed to hear that not only her personal cosplay page, but the community by large is the source of a great deal of positivity in her life. After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories of cosplayers, especially those of the female variety, who are harassed by people with poor senses of boundaries, or the petty fights over misunderstandings that can result in some very bad publicity for the community on the whole.

Think the Logan/Jack Paul YouTube debacle, but for a community that already gets a bad enough rap as is. Lookin’ at you, Heroes of Cosplay: you were bad and you should feel bad!

“Oh those types of horror stories have occurred to me, just not on the same level as other cosplayers or even some of my friends,” she confessed “I’ve never had a situation where it got dangerous, it’s always just been annoying things online, never a situation in person as far as I can remember. Some online apparently associate female cosplayers with the wrong idea- as you and I both know, cosplayer does not equal “nerdy prostitute” as some may think it does.”

“If anything my cosplaying has a VERY positive impact on my anxiety problems. Sewing, crafting, and usually most things that keep my hands busy help me to calm down, and creating things really helps me keep my mind off of small things that could eventually develop into anxiety. The most positive thing about cosplay though is the confidence it gives me.”

And when you really think about it, it makes a great deal of sense: I’m not a cosplayer myself, but I can certainly imagine how amazing it’d feel to put hours and hours and hours and hours and then a few more hours into a project, assemble it, then just enjoy yourself while in costume. I’ve been to nerd conventions, I know how a well made cosplay can make me excited just as the person looking at it. It shows a sense of community that’s hard to create outside of the cosplay world itself.

Even if the cosplay isn’t Hollywood level, even seeing someone put something together from a game/show/book you love hits a special little place that says “WHAT? YOU LOVE THAT THING?! I ALSO LOVE THAT THING! THAT’S AMAZING!”

Capitals represented appropriately.

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Mae-Gwyn Cosplay giving me a surprise hug while I’m dressed as Tetra, photo by Jason Setnyk Photography” -Anniechie

When it comes to the specifics of what Annie chooses to cosplay, I made an observation that turned out to be quite accurate. Amongst her repertoire of various characters (all of which you should go check out and appreciate as soon as you’re done here) are characters like Zelda, Merida, Lissa, and Sakura. Those familiar with those characters and where they’re from: congratulations, you may stay. All these characters are powerfully minded, confident in their goals, and much more than just another pretty face. It’s facts like that that draws Annie to her particular creations, “A character’s personality can make or break my decision to cosplay as them, so I won’t usually just cosplay something solely because it’s pretty. I would consider myself a bit of a feminist so a strong female character can really stand out to me. I really just have a strong admiration for strong female characters as when I was younger and felt quite weak mentally they had something I wished I had- confidence.”

“And you’d be surprised how confident one can feel dressed as these characters, it’s actually pretty awesome.”

And isn’t that the point of our idols? To represent that which we aspire to be and want to see more of in ourselves? Speaking as someone who also lack confidence in himself, Annie’s work and her ability to bring these characters to life is astounding and fills me with a sense of awe that’s hard to express in words properly. What I see standing there is someone who is bursting with a degree of confidence that I wish I possessed.

Perhaps that’s the biggest take-away from all this? Annie’s various works all look like they’re of someone who is un-phased in the face of adversary, of one who knows precisely what they want and how to obtain it, and never second-guesses their ideals. Beneath that, however, is someone very human, very real. Annie, not unlike countless others all around the world, battles her own internal war against anxiety. She was fortunate: family and friends who support her during her bad times, the ability to receive help and treatment to make her mental health livable, and an outlet that gives her the support and positivity to keep doing what she loves most.

Based on what she’s said to me in the past, she’ll be finishing her post-secondary program and venturing into the world of design to bring her unique values and views to a larger audience. To reflect this, her Facebook page was renamed Anniechie Designs, and I for one very much look forward to what sort of world she helps to create.

Before we go, though, I’d like to offer one last story she shared with me. It speaks volumes to those who are debating getting into the world of cosplay and have their own self-doubts. I’ve not yet the pleasure to see Annie performing on the Cosplay Contest stage myself, but based on the video clips I’ve encountered, she seems completely comfortable and at home before an audience.

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“Myself as Zelda and several friends of mine all being goofs at a masquerade award ceremony” -Anniechie

Spoiler alert: this was not always the case: “I entered my first masquerade when I was nearly 17 years old, basically at the peak of my anxiety problems. At this time I would cry and become a mental little mess with just the idea of doing skits in front of my small class of 20; yet I decided to enter a masquerade because I wanted to push myself and I had always dreamed of entering one since I was a kid. And, even though I was a shaky nervous mess backstage during the green room and judging periods, I ended up enjoying myself a LOT! Once I got on stage I just felt so wonderful and enjoyed myself so much. Even today it’s the same. Entering masquerades and performing on stage is almost like a confidence boost or a type of “high” for me, I’m rather addicted to it because I enjoy the atmosphere of performing, hanging out backstage and meeting a bunch of new people and the like.”

“So yes, cosplay has helped me tremendously, and a good part of that is because masquerades push me hard to improve myself in more ways than just improving my costumes”

 

Check out Annie’s Various pages to give her your support:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnniechieDesigns/
Website/Weebly Site: https://anniechie.weebly.com/
Instagram: @anniechiedesigns

Bring Her (a Step) Back

20170807_004837There’s been this game running amok in the world of indie games and social media for maybe a few weeks now, something of a different string of game experience. Under clever facades and brilliant writing, the collective internet has been exposed to the next big online gaming mystery that people are itching to solve, piece together, and revel/cower in the presence of. I’m sure the title has popped up on your radar once or twice by now, but it bears discussion for many reasons. Several blogs and online articles do a great job of peeling back the layers as to why it’s been so fascinating an experience, and reviews on Steam race it Overwhelmingly Positive, always a good sign.

Indeedly so, this game rapidly breaking into the realm of infamy goes by the innocuous title of Doki Doki Literature Club. A slow-burn psychological horror that plays on a few uncomfortable meta-tropes and mechanics that, as gamers, most are at least superficially aware of, if not intimately familiar with. But before I delve too far into the subject matter I wish to discuss, I need to preface it with a few disclaimers:

  • I’m writing this with the assumption that the reader knows about the game and its major plot points
  • I’m writing this with the understanding that the material I discuss is difficult for people who are mentally debilitated might have a hard time coping with or reconciling
  • This article is much like the tag-line of the game reads: “This is not for young audiences or those who are easily disturbed

If you’re still reading this, then I’m taking it as implied consent. As mentioned, this game serves predominantly nerve and willpower testing ride. While there is a great deal of “choice of illusion”, the fact always remains that you, the player, are ultimately powerless in the face of the developments for the story. And, frankly, this might be the single greatest tool to educating people about how mental illness and, by extension, how powerless those afflicted with depression can feel.

Doki Doki Title CardThere’s this overwhelming issue with trying to sympathize with a character who has depression in video games: by the very nature of the game, the player is always saddled with options for how to approach and overcome a challenge. This also reflects in the choices a developer of the game chooses to build their options and choice-pathways for players to navigate. You can really get a sense from how the developer feels about depression and, in many cases, suicide, by how they choose to allow the player to contend with it.

In many cases, there are hopeful (bordering on idealistically optimistic) about how you can overcome depression with some pluck, determination and stalwart friends. If it sounds like I’m describing many other methods of overcoming challenges, say dragon slaying for example, that’s because the similarities are certainly there. While these aforementioned traits most assuredly help, they’re often not enough; anyone diagnosed with clinical depression (hello) can tell you that this isn’t enough.

Some developers take a slightly more bleak on the subject: depression and suicidal tendencies only end in one conclusive event; where there remains nothing left for those after the tragedy other than to simply move on. Suicide is inevitable, and everyone left behind will just have to live with that. This mentality plays out as a sort of guilt-trip for people who contemplate these thoughts: how dare you do something so selfish to people like that?! Don’t you know they care about you? Again, talk to some people who have contemplated, or even attempted, suicide and they’ll tell you about how little they care about what other people think. And if they do care, guild it the last thing that’ll help in that situation.

Rarely do we see cases where we, as the player, have to rationalize and contend with that logic: games try to put you in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem, and by that very nature, removes some of the problem with depression by giving the player choice. How do you choose to react to this? What options will you pick?

chibi_by_satchely-dbo7yijIn DDLC, we’re given something different. Enter Sayori, your spunky life-long friend who’s always been there for you, even if she’s really tardy and hungry. Of course, it’s revealed late into the first arc that Sayori has depression, and not the kind of “gee, life is kinda hard, isn’t it?” sort that we commonly throw around as slang. Rather, a crippling and self-depreciating depression that permeates every ounce of her action and behaviour.

I played through the first arc a day ago, but was already familiar with how it was supposed to end. I’d seen people try to give Sayori the affection they believed was needed to bring her back from the brink (didn’t work), I’ve seen people try their hardest to distance themselves from the issue hoping to spare themselves the pain of her death (didn’t work), and I myself tried to do what she asked of us by making good friends with another of the girls and being happy for her (didn’t work).

Ultimately, it always ends the same and robs players of the chance to do anything about it. Knowing what’s going on and having fairly extensive experience with the subject matter myself, I could read between most of her lines and deduce what was transpiring from the very beginning. As Sayori admits: the depression was always there. And for the (rapidly completed) two hours you get to know her through dialogue and gameplay, you unwittingly grow fond of the bouncy creature you call friend.

In the end, however, Sayori’s death by hanging was forever bound to happen. And, because of another clever programming trick: it doesn’t matter if you saved before to try something else, the game will not let you go back. No mulliganning here, pal! Though there are some misconceptions on this topic: it was not your actions that lead to Sayori killing herself, and neither was it her’s (or Monika’s, either).

Sayori HangingIn actuality, there is no logic to this choice. This can be a maddening fact for most people to comprehend; we like to believe humans are inherently logical creatures, and that we do things because A + B = C. Instead, in this case, it feels like every answer leads to C, regardless. When that power is ripped from the player’s hands, you suddenly start to get an surface level understanding of the powerlessness of a depressed person against their own brain.

Time and time again, Sayori is shown to be a pivotal and crucial member of the Literature Club. Her enthusiasm brings all three girls to cooperate and disarm fights, her understanding lets everyone find common ground, and it is absolutely her that brings you, player, into the realm. When she misses a meeting, you can begin to see the wheels falling off the tracks as some of that gentle compassion is lacking.

In actuality, the gentle compassion is only because of Sayori contending with her own demons and doing what little she can to bring a measure of value to herself. In her confession to you outside your house after Yuri/Natsuki leaves, she virtually shatters as she explains how worthless and terrible she is. Sayori isn’t, however, blind to the good she does: it’s more that she doesn’t care. The pain and misery far outweigh the good: as it has always been and always will be.

Never before have I seen something so poignant and accurately explained about a sensation that I myself contend with on a daily basis, but cannot seem to express in a way that others who don’t live with similar can understand.

And in that cataclysmic finale to Sayori’s existence, she finally decides to take her life into her own hands. It’s not that she chooses to kill herself, but rather she chooses to alleviate a burden from everyone’s mind. Deep within the core of who she is, she readily believes that everyone around her would benefit from her not being part of the picture.

Of course, as a player whose seen otherwise, nothing could be further from the truth. But this raises the question: what, exactly, IS truth? Truth is information that we as a large demographic agree upon and accept. To do that, we rationalize information we are given and, should it fall under particular quantifiers and qualifiers, we deem it as acceptably factual and, therefore, give meaning to truth.

Did that sound a little abstract? Because it is. Truth, by its very nature, is a construct of the mind. A mind that is mouldable and shaped by experience; experience that is controlled by what our own minds process and fathom. And if your mind is convinced that your very being is a burden upon others, and the only means you find value in yourself is in how you can make other people’s lives better…

The danger comes when that illogic becomes too logical, and the logical becomes irrelevant.

If this whole thing makes you feel a little hollow, without confidence in an arguments ability to change anything, you’re on the right track to understanding how deeply disturbing it can be for someone to live with constant knowledge that their brain is out to get them. Cause by trauma, genetics or chemical imbalance, it is a pervasive and invading aspect of life that can’t simply be willed away.

Yuri CuttingI’d like very much to explore some of the other elements that this game brings light to in regards to mental health and those who live with it, but this blog has already gotten quite long as it. I shall wrap my thoughts here for the time being, with intention of exploring other avenues of this game’s narrative mechanics in understanding mental health.

If you’re reading this and feel like you know someone out there who might be going through similar to Sayori: there are one hundred ways to help. Each person is different and each circumstance impossibly unique. As of presently: learning how to comprehend, even if only on a surface level, is a starting point.

The Conclusion of a Habit

20170816_150524November was an exceedingly busy month for me. I had finished a very taxing Chemistry class and had moved right along to a double-feature of English and Biology for the next term of my lessons. English wasn’t going to be terribly difficult for me, but I was anticipating it to be very heavy on homework and assignments (of which it ended up being), which Biology would be a class I could do rather well at, but it also turned out to be very much saturated with assignments and homework (most predominantly of that is memorizing terms and orders of operations).

On its own, these two things should have been more than enough to keep my brain fully occupied; coupled with pressure to get a paying part-time job since my writing habits earn me no income (perhaps one day that’ll change), as well as the desire to not live my life in a basement at a computer screen typing away for the remainder of the autumn season. And, to top it all off, my Minecraft cycle kicked in again, forcing me to reboot my village and begin the project once again from the ground up. And that goes without mentioning that I had every desire to get back into my weekly blogging and vlogging pastimes.

Understandably, some of these things don’t much seem like reasonable distractions, but fight me: I am very proud of how my new village is coming along. Now if only I could turn up some diamonds…

All in all, very busy month ahead of me. Then a friend of mine, my literary rival (though she frequently assures me that it’s a one-sided contest) informed me of a little ditty called NaNoWriMo. Some might have no idea what that is; while some, like myself, had only a vauge inkling as to what it was. I had heard it being mentioned once or twice in a Vlogbrothers video, but that was some years ago and I had fully forgotten about it. For those not in the know, a brief summary:

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResNaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month in full, is a month where authors and writers world-wide are challenged to concoct, write and complete a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This pans out to an ambitious almost seventeen-hundred words per day of writing. This is a very ambitious undertaking for pretty much anyone I know, but when you’ve been saddled with an academic workload like I had been, the smart thing to do it not take on such a maddening extra task.

I’ve never been accused of being smart, though; you can probably assume what I did.

Now, the real humour comes from my starting time for this. Instead of starting on November first, like a sane person might, I came into the game late on November 4. So instead of having to write seventeen hundred words like everyone else per-day, I instead got to look forward to two-thousand words per day. This would be very easily achievable, were it not for the aforementioned mountain of homework I had before me.

When it came down to choose what to write about, I had initially intended to work on my current novel in progress to actual get some make some head-way on that. However, I was jokingly teased that a good writer would start something new and do that instead: I caved and pulled a pet-project idea out of the back of my mind to work on.

Years and years ago, I had concocted a small novel-worth of plot for my Dungeons and Dragons character, but I wasn’t sure if it would be a worthwhile story to put into formal print. Besides, I was just finishing writing what would become my first published novel, and I felt guilty about working on something else while that one was what I was most passionate about. In the end, I put the idea aside as a fun project I might work on when I finished with my current writing series.

Figuring this would be a good time to just have fun with writing, something that I had been struggling with since the publication of my first book and the crippling anxiety and stress of writing a better sequel (a whole blog topic all of its own), I decided that I was going to bring this pet project to light and just prod my way through it. It had no great ambitions, it had no great morals, or anything to that extent.

At first.

The introduction very nearly wrote itself, I found; moreover, the story had taken on this riveting and exciting life of its own. The focus changed from the very basic roots of what the foundationary material had been into something that I was earnestly excited to work on. I genuinely looked forward to when classes would finish so I could keep working on it; and in a way, it almost became a little obsession of mine.

As with any obsession, however, it started to become all consuming. Initially, I wrote off working on any blog or vlog material until the end of the month; people had been willing to wait this long (or had just moved on, either or), so it wouldn’t be too much of an issue if they waited a month longer. Then came my decrease in seeing friends as often as I should. I needed time to write, after all; I was plenty behind as things were. Then came the crowning achievement: writing my project during class while trying to multi-task learning the material.

Academics: begin your frustrated temple-rubbing.

In the end, though: I do not regret this decision. In fact, this amusing little pet-project had awakened a genuine pride in writing that I had long since lost. Excitement to see where a story took me and to what fantastical adventures lay in the next, blank page (digital page, though). By the end of the month, I had achieved the 50,000 word destination. But now I was met with a new problem.

shrunken-manuscript-1024x574At final count, my story was 50,026 words long, the last hundred or so words being hastily slammed together to meet the deadline more than much else. However, the story wasn’t finished. Like with most of my plans: my ambition outweighed the practicality of the situation. I had started working on what could only be called an epic, and I was very nearly at the half-way point with it.

“Screw it,” I thought to myself, “I’m just going to keep going on this.” But first, I had to finish the term of classes I was in. My marks had dipped a bit in Biology, English was a non-issue though. I determined to resume working on it after the term had ended, and aim to finish the story.

About a week ago, though: I caved and spent an hour clacking away at my keyboard to keep going on the tale. Should have been working on homework, but this was still forefront on my mind. Just needed to hammer off another page or two…

In the end, I finally acknowledge something my literary rival had mentioned in a blog that she wrote about NaNoWriMo. Roughly quoted: “It’s not about writing something good so much as it’s about writing something. Anything. Building that habit to write, even when you don’t feel like it.”

I had built that habit, and something else. I had built my next project; this silly little pet-project has grown into something I am both unreasonably excited for, and very proud of. With every intention of publication of this, I will continue writing this silly little novel that had taken me by surprise.

There’s a few morals to this tale, as it goes. Many different conclusions that can be drawn, and I’ll not beat your brow with how important these morals might be. Though they are very important to me and helped me reconcile something that had been an issue for a long time, these might be of little to no consequence to you, reader-type person.

But if nothing else, I wish to iterate this one point: I now consider myself a writer. For months, I had been writing, but never considered it to be a key aspect of my life. Now, however, I do declare myself a writer.

4051009161_8f543d2d90My pen is mighty indeed; though I’d still default to a sword if my life depended on it…