It isn’t nothing, it’s everything! (Rarity Takes Manehattan)

I am about 80% sure this bit was added in just to explain
Pinkie Pie talking about hot dogs back in Season 1.

If the qlippoth are the anti-sephiroth, then the absence of sephiroth, the “hole” which can be filled with any fruit of the Tree, is Da’at, Knowledge. In Jewish tradition it is identified with the awakening of self-awareness and with adolescence, and divided into the “upper gate” that mediates between wisdom and understanding, and the “lower gate” that mediates between pure intellect and emotion. It is thus the heart of the creative process and the path to Enlightenment–and yet it itself is empty, just a container into which any of the ten true Vessels may be place.

In some variants of the European occult tradition, most notably Aleister Crowley’s, it is a gateway to the Abyss, beyond which lies the inverted tree of the qlippoth, and which must be crossed to attain true Enlightenment. There is battled the formless demon Choronzon, the shifting one who becomes your own shadow; there one is forced to either abandon the quest or abandon the Self.

Back in the Jewish tradition, the Zohar calls it “the key that opens six.” Just so we’re clear on what we’re talking about.

It’s January 4, 2014. The top song is still Eminem and Rihanna with “Monster.” The top movie is once again and quite deservedly Frozen. In the news, a pair of terrorist bombings in Volgograd, Russia; ISIS takes control of the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi; and attempted arson at a gay nightclub in Seattle results in only a small fire and no injuries.

In ponies we have Dave Polsky penning “Rarity Takes Manehattan,” and something more or less new for the series: a season-long, preplanned arc.

That this arc is season-long and preplanned is not controversial; that this is something new for the series and in this episode might be, so let us consider. First, there are some intimations of arcs in the first and third seasons. However, the creators of the show have made clear that the Grand Galloping Gala was not a preplanned arc in the first season, but a throwaway reference that they decided to run with; meanwhile, the Princesses’ testing of Twilight ended up, thanks to the reduced length of Season 3, compressed into the premiere and the finale, so not so much an arc as a single story and its sequel.

The second objection is that the arc was introduced with the appearance of the crystal box at the end of the season premiere, so how can it said to be introduced in this episode? And the answer is that no event can be the “First Annual…” anything; it’s not annual until the second year. Likewise, an arc can be intended, but it doesn’t become an arc at the beginning; only when a second episode continues it can it be clearly seen as an arc. Of course, in hindsight “Castle Mane-ia” and arguably even “It’s About Time” are part of the arc as well, but watching the series in order, that is not yet apparent as of “Rarity Takes Manehattan,” while it is fairly straightforward to recognize that the ending implies that the rainbow thread will return–and since we know the ponies are keeping their eyes open for six unknown keys, parsimony suggests the rainbow thread as a candidate for one, making this episode a sequel to the premiere and implying five more like it, presumably one for each of the Mane Six. (Which is, of course, what occurs.)

So what, actually, is happening in this episode? There are three layers at work here, all important.

The first is the running theme we’ve been seeing all season of exterior intrusion. In this case, it’s again an ideological alien, namely our villain of the week, Suri Polomare, notably voiced by Tabitha St. Germaine, the same actress as Rarity. We have, in other words, a pony with the same voice and profession as Rarity, but devoid of her essence. Chokhmah is literally Wisdom, but in the process of creation it represents the underlying creativity, and is also known as the power or palate of selflessness, a fitting choice for the pony of Generosity. Its qlippothic counterpart in Crowley’s system is Ghagiel, the force that hinders the creative process, surrounds itself with pride and ego, and dwells in a world of illusion and lies.

Thus we find Suri Polomare, the embodiment of the capitalist ideal of the economically rational actor. She is motivated purely by her own self-interest and pursues only her own advancement, exploiting those too weak to stand against her, such as Coco, sucking up to those with the power to give her what she wants or stand in her way, such as when she tricks Rarity into giving her the fabric, and then betraying her benefactors when they are no longer useful or powerful enough to endanger her, as when she tricks Rarity into staying away from the judge. She is without scruple, perfectly willing to be dishonest, violate the trust of others, or steal, as long as she profits from it–even in the face of defeat, she will use trickery and underhanded tactics to get the victory, as long as it’s in a way that she thinks she won’t get caught.

By contrast, Rarity’s song “Generosity” presents the more typical pony way of life, which is basically a socialist utopia. She describes Manehattan as a gift economy in which ponies, motivated purely by the desire to help others and confident that it will eventually come back around, do favors for other ponies. She demonstrates by giving a hotel bellhop an enormous tip and, along with the others, helping a taxi driver fix his wheel. After the song, the episode demonstrates the power of this concept by having the taxi driver, out of gratitude at the Mane Six’s earlier help, volunteering to take Rarity to the fashion competition when she needs to get there in a hurry, and then the bellhop helps the rest of the Mane Six get Rarity’s dresses there in time. But note that Rarity helped several other ponies during the song, none of whom do anything to help her in the rest of the episode. Such is the nature of generosity; while the rational actor is entirely about personal profit and thus works to guarantee it, the generous actor doesn’t care about their own personal gain, and accepts that it might work out in the end or it might not. The point of generosity is not to accumulate gratitude as a sort of currency, but to be generous; personal gain is irrelevant.

This means that it is quite possible for a rational actor to exploit a generous one, as Suri does to Rarity. In the short term, Suri comes very close to destroying Rarity, making her act extremely ungenerously as she pushes her friends hard to make a second round of clothes for the contest (the image of young women in a small room, working themselves to exhaustion on sewing machines, is almost certainly a reference to sweatshops). But here we get the second layer of what’s going on in this episode: Rarity is being tested. She is pushed to the limits of her generosity by Suri’s greed and manipulation, and very nearly falls into the trap letting herself be guided by personal gain, denying the ideals she expressed at the beginning of the episode. This is the illusion Suri/Ghagiel weaves, because the rational actor wins in the short term, making it often look as if economic rationality–or, to call it what it is, callous, manipulative selfishness– is the winning approach, that the bastards will always win in the end.

But Rarity passes. She abandons the contest to find her friends. Winning, acquiring, gaining, is less important than making and maintaining social bonds–and it’s true. An excessively rational person cannot be trusted, because they will eventually betray you once that is in their best interest; loyalty is irrational, and therefore only a somewhat irrational person can be trusted. The illusion in which Suri traps Coco is, as Coco notes, in getting her to believe that everyone is as cruelly rational as Suri, and that Coco must therefore go along with Suri’s desires in the hopes of one day being able to advance her own goals. But this is false; people are far more generous than is logical, as Coco realizes from observing the generosity of Rarity and the Mane Six.

This is the third layer: by passing her test, abandoning gain in order to reconnect with and do something nice for her friends, Rarity teaches Coco about generosity. Rarity is evolving beyond being merely an icon of generosity; she is a source of it, spreading it to others. And because Coco learns generosity, she gives Rarity a gift as well, allowing Rarity to win out over Suri in the fashion contest and netting Coco a new job as a costume designer with the theater company. As the simulations in the article I linked demonstrate, the selfish bastard wins in almost any isolated contest, but over time and a sequence of contests, the altruistic and generous–the followers of strategies the researchers dubbed “nice”–triumph because they are able to trust one another and cooperate, while the rational actor becomes isolated.

The illusions and selfishness of Gaghiel are defeated. The first key is found, and moreso we have found the formula for acquiring the rest: each pony shall be tested, and in passing their test, shall teach another–fitting for the fruit of Knowledge.

For now we are done, but we shall be returning to the Abyss soon enough.

Next week: But there are more shadows here than just the qlippoth. This episode had perhaps the highest density yet of references for the older viewers, from the Fifth Doctor to the cast of Mad Men to Grumpy Cat. The bronies are invading the show more and more–what darkness follows them? The dread specter of adulthood is here…

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy Returns!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST today.

Chatlog below the cut!


 
[14:05] Is everyone using Crunchyroll?
01[14:05] I’m using Netflix.
[14:06] I’m using Hulu. Crunchyroll keeps skipping to the end of the video.
[14:06] Netflix here
01[14:06] Oh yeah, I remember where we left off, they’re all going to conquer the schools of Japan, yeah?
[14:06] Yup. Raid trip.
[14:06] This was good after that tournament arc. While it was saved by al the character development
01[14:06] Wait, is this their equivalent to the School Trip episode!?
[14:07] Yup
01[14:07] And yeah, I think that was one of the least painful tournament arcs I’ve seen.
[14:07] Mosdef
01[14:07] (Indigo League in Pokemon remains the best.)
[14:07] I could cosplay the tracksuit versions. ^^
01[14:08] (Wait, no, I forgot, technically Yakitate Japan is nothing but tournament arcs. Those are all the best.)
[14:08] Because magic bread is awesome.
[14:08] FoME, how did you become indebted to me?
[14:08] I gotta watch that.
[14:08] Jinx.
01[14:08] WORLD-DESTROYING, TIME-TRAVEL-INDUCING MAGIC BREAD
[14:08] Maybe a future liveblog idea, Fro?
[14:08] BREAD TAHAT GUARANTEES YOU WILL GO TO HEAVEN.
01[14:09] Hmm, I was half expecting the opening credits sequence to change after the arc shift. Maybe next ep, this is the halfway mark of the series isn’t it?
[14:09] Ad.
[14:09] paused
01[14:09] I still think my favorite is either the bread that turns you into Gamera or the bread that teleports you to Middle-Earth and then becomes Sauron.
[14:09] And the next credit sequence is kind of spoilery at this juncture.
[14:09] I need to watch this don’t I?
[14:10] The bread becomes Sauron?
01[14:10] Hmm, possibly Viga. I’m still pondering what to do after we finish Kill la Kill, though it looks like new MLP will be sooner than I expected.
01[14:10] Yes, the bread becomes Sauron.
[14:10] O_O
[14:10] I’m back.
[14:10] I’m tempted to suggest that we watch a Chip Cheezum Metal Gear LP
01[14:10] So, yeah, this school is really, really militant.
[14:11] Mako-chan! <3
01[14:11] I’m still waiting for the part where this becomes a CRITIQUE of militant nationalism like Charles Dunbar claimed, so far it’s looking like an endorsement.
01[14:11] Also, blech, Mako.
[14:11] “It’s my mind that’s boggled!”
01[14:12] Haha, it’s funny because her level of geography knowledge would be normal for an American hihg-schooler.
01[14:12] …Oh, for a second I thought that WAS Ryuko, wearing glasses and dressed as a boy for some reason.
01[14:12] …I am really bad at telling the characters in this show apart, aren’t I?
[14:13] No, there’s definitely a resemblance. It’s the hair.
[14:13] There’s a recipe for the croquettes I left at home.
[14:13] 🙁
01[14:13] The scruffy teacher with the glasses IS one of the two guys with a sniper rifle during the tournament arc, right? Those aren’t two separate characters?
[14:13] Right
[14:13] You are correct.
[14:13] He’s the one who takes his shirt off
[14:14] We interrupt your introspective moment to bring you crazy yelling people.
01[14:14] Lol, okay, the boy opening the window is the first time I’ve laughed out loud watching this show that I can recall.
[14:15] lol
01[14:15] Ah, he’s the Intrepid Reporter standing up to the Fascist Machine State.
01[14:15] Oh for fucks sake.
01[14:15] Shut up Ryuko, get in the Eva.
[14:16] Ad.
[14:16] I can’t wait to see what Trigger does net after this
[14:16] are you guys familar with Inferno Cop
[14:16] ?
01[14:17] I’ve seen like two or three episodes.
[14:17] Not familiar
01[14:17] Pretty absurd, kinda amusing.
[14:17] It makes even less sense than Kill la Kill.
[14:17] Same studio. 2 minute episodes. Crazy !
[14:17] I’m back.
[14:17] This show is big on crowd scenes full of identical dudes
[14:18] Revocs make me think its Reebok but pronounced with an accent.
[14:18] Fun fact: The No-Star students are all unique in design.
01[14:18] I do like how evil-lady’s speeches to her troops are staged like fashion shows.
[14:18] The Ominous German Chanting is also a treat.
[14:18] Is this her first appearance so far?
01[14:19] *facepalm*
[14:19] She’s had a few appearances
01[14:19] COVERS
01[14:19] I only just got that!
01[14:19] Also, is she FONDLING her OWN DAUGHTER?
01[14:19] Ew.
[14:19] I mean out in the open. Not just a voice
[14:19] Dracula logic. No one recognizes the name when it’s reversed.
01[14:19] Yeah, we’ve seen her a couple of times.
[14:19] She got in a helicopter
[14:19] and yeah…THIS IS WHY I DROPPED THIS SERIES AT ONE POINT! ARGH! I really hate her
[14:20] Yeah, Ragyo is kind of… well, there’s a reason one of her fan nicknames is “Mama Bad Touch.”
[14:20] It gets worse too… 🙁
[14:20] Viga, be very strict about no spoilers
01[14:21] Yeah, please no comments about things to come from the people who’ve seen the show before.
[14:22] Ad.
[14:22] Last one.
01[14:23] This is feeling very much like a prep episode so far.
01[14:23] You know, setting up the next arc.
01[14:23] And apparently that ad killed FoME.
[14:23] Back.
01[14:23] WB FoME.
[14:23] Wish I knew why that happens.
01[14:23] Are you back from the ad as well?
[14:24] Yes.
[14:24] The covers/revocs thing is a little bit harder to spot because the terminal ‘s’ doesn’t move
[14:24] I didn’t notice till now.
[14:24] IIRC this episode is the first time they say “covers” so imo it isn’t possible to spot before that
01[14:24] …Why are they filling armored cars with trash cans full of basketballs?
01[14:25] Or… spiked footballs? Da fuq?
01[14:25] Oh ffs.
[14:25] Athletics clubs. What did you expect them to use?
01[14:26] Okay, I’m declaring a new principle, I shall call it the Law of Korra: Programmatic characters angsting is really obnoxious and boring.
[14:26] Programmatic characters?
[14:27] Characters in TV programs. I think.
01[14:27] Characters that exist solely to fulfill plot functions, as opposed to having their behavior emerge organically from interactions between motivations. It’s related closely to being a flat character, but a flat character isn’t necessarily programmatic.
01[14:27] And a programmatic character may not be entirely flat, if they’re cliche enough.
01[14:28] Ah, of course newsboy is evil.
[14:28] At least Ryuko’s over herself.
01[14:28] That’s true.
01[14:28] Wait, so Nui is a master of disguise now too?
[14:29] Grand Coutier. What’s a disguise but a change of clothes?
01[14:29] I do love her leaning on the titles.
01[14:29] Well, that was unexpected.
01[14:30] Is Satsuki about to rescue Ryuko?
[14:30] Nui! <3
[14:30] Unwinnable boss battles are always frustrating.
01[14:31] Oh shit, this is the midseries revamp of the main character’s mecha, isn’t it?
01[14:32] Okay, that picked up at the end.
[14:32] Yeah, this isn’t a series content with letting its characters stew in their own angst.
01[14:32] Still don’t feel like there’s sufficient investment in Ryuko’s nonexistant character to care about her angst, but at least it was over quickly.
01[14:33] Anyway, ’twas fun!
[14:34] ‘Twas. 🙂
[14:34] Crystal later today, right?
[14:34] Yup
01[14:34] I believe there’s no Sailor Moon today, right?
01[14:34] I actually don’t think there’s an episode.
[14:34] I mean’t yup to twas fun not crystal
[14:34] It’s been two weeks…
01[14:34] It’s First and Third Saturday, not every two weeks.
01[14:34] This is the fifth Saturday in August.
[14:34] Nope. It’s just 4 up
[14:34] Oh. And you’re right.
[14:34] Huh, it’s true, 5 isn’t out yet
[14:35] Next week, then.
[14:35] 5 is next week
01[14:35] Yeah, I’m pretty sure the new Crystal is next week, so that’s when we’ll have the double live blog.

Fiction Friday: Continuing the XS fanfic where we left off…

Seth lay on his bed, watching computer code scroll through the air. “Well, looks like it’s not hiding in your personality routines, whatever it is.”

“You’re sure it’s there?” asked Izzy. “I can’t find it.”

“I’m sure,” said Seth. “Your unused cycles aren’t. Something’s running in them, and I want to know what it is and how it got in you.”

“It’s creepy, not being able to detect it.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what has me worried. A virus that can infect youhas to be more than some kid playing around. It’s somebody who knows what he’s doing. But the virus doesn’t seem to do anything! It’s processing something in spare cycles, but it has no inputs or outputs I can find, and it always gets out of the way whenever you need the cycles. It’s like it’s waiting for something — but if that’s the case, why run at all? Why not just sit there quietly until it’s time to do whatever it’s programmed to do?” Seth threw a grease pencil through the display. “Turn it off. I’ll work on it later.”

“Hey, boss, you made me, remember? You’ll figure it out.”

Seth rolled back off his bed and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair he’d slung it over. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he walked out into the hall. His footsteps echoed on the shiny metallic deck, kept meticulously clean by a small army of cat-sized maintenance robots, one of which whirred past his door as he left the room. The walls were a warm, friendly shade of tan above and silver-gray below, marked here and there by the golden splash of a lamp. A multicolored stripe ran between them. Potted plants, marked as “oxygen reclamation units” on the ship’s blueprints, lined the corridor, and a holodisplay in the corner was busy cycling through Izzy’s latest attempts at drawing. Privately, Seth thought she should stick to interior design; her drawing of him looked like he’d lost a fight with several very large, very angry bouncers and one extremely irate barber.

He walked the other way down the hall, toward the elevator that led to the cargo deck and the AMWS bay.

“You all right, boss?” asked Izzy.

“Yeah.”

“You’re worried,” she said. “Is it money?”

“Nah. We’ll make do. We might have to make ourselves scarce in Federation space for a while until we can make some of those back payments, but we’ll figure something out.”

“Vix isn’t going to stay much longer if you don’t find a way to pay her soon.”

“I know,” said Seth. “But we need a crew. If people figured out you can run the ship alone –“

“You’re worried about the virus, aren’t you?”

“It shouldn’t be possible to hack you, Izzy! You’re way too complex and self-referential for an intruder to hide.”

“And a computer that can be hacked can’t be trusted to control the ship unsupervised. You’d need at least one more crewmember, and you can’t afford the ones you’ve got.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about!” The elevator reached bottom, and Seth stepped out into the AMWS bay.

“Aw,” said Izzy. “That’s sweet of you, boss.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m going to see if I can tweak any more maneuverability out of AMWS Two. Watch the drive output while I do, huh?”

“Captain!” shouted Wehj’s voice over the intercom. “We’ve picked up what looks like a space battle near the fifth planet!”

“Izzy, feed it to the AMWS’ screen.” Seth watched as lines of light and blossoms of fire erupted around a large cargo ship, boxier and more heavily defended than the sleek Isolde. It was no match, however, for the dagger-like warship bearing down on it or the AMWS units picking off its defenses.

“All right!” said Vix. “A chance at some decent salvage. I’m staying somewhere with a tub tonight!

“Pirates,” Seth hissed between clenched teeth. “Both of you, get down to the AMWS bay, now. We launch in five minutes.”

“Captain, you can’t mean we’re going to help them! That’s a real warship out there, with real military AMWS! We can’t take on something like that,” Wehj whimpered.

“That’s an order!”

Seth hopped down from AMWS Two. “Prep the launchers and load AMWS One’s missile batteries. Arm all weapons, and set us on an intercept course with that warship, best speed,” he ordered Izzy.

He had his flight suit on and was just sealing his helmet when the others arrived. “Suit up!” he ordered. “We’re launching in two.”

“This is crazy,” said Vix. “There’s a pocket cruiser and a dozen military-grade AMWS out there! We’ve got one bow cannon, one out-of-date military AMWS, and a pair of heavy lifters you slapped partacs on! Besides, what does fighting them accomplish? We drive off the pirates, we get to keep whatever debris they leave behind. Maybe a few damaged AMWS at best, and we have to split it with the ship they’re attacking. Just wait a little while, and we’ll have an entire ship’s worth of scrap metal, any munitions or cargo the pirates don’t carry — way more stuff.”

“I gave an order!” snapped Seth.

Vix stepped forward, topping him by a full head. In her black flight suit, the helmet still deflated and dangling from her collar, she looked sleek and deadly. “I refuse to risk my skin with nothing to be gained from it.”

“I am the captain of this ship!” Seth shouted, beginning to purple.

“Not for long, unless you figure out how to pay off some of those loans.”

“Bounty,” said Wehj.

The other two turned to look at him.

Wehj cringed but kept talking. “Federation has bounties out on hundreds of pirates, and we’re not far from their space. There’s a good chance we can sell these scraps to the Feddies for a lot more than market value?”

Vix rubbed her jaw. “Yeah, okay, could be worth it,” she admitted.

“We launch in 70 seconds,” Seth said, ignoring her. “Finish getting on your suits and power up your AMWS.” He climbed the concealed handholds on AMWS One’s leg and swung into the upper of its two cockpits.

“You all right?” asked Wehj, eyeing Vix warily.

Vix growled. “If this doesn’t pay off, that’s it. I’m bailing, and forget the back pay. There’s gotta be some other ship in this shitpile system that needs crew.” She glanced at Wehj. “You with me?”

He considered a moment. “…Yeah, I guess I am.”

Utena Dump, Episodes 26-30

I have a guest post on Doctor Whooves up at Phil Sandifer’s TARDIS Eruditorum. Give it a read; then, on the off-chance you haven’t already, read everything else he has ever written. He does to Doctor Who and British comics what I do to ponies and Madoka, only better.

If you’re coming over here from there, welcome! A brief explanation: what you’re looking at currently is a biweekly dump I’ve been doing of my comments on Mark Watches, another site at which I am a semi-regular commenter. As the title implies, this particular dump is my comments on Revolutionary Girl Utena, episodes 26-30.

If you’re looking for something more in-depth and Eruditorum-y, I recommend clicking on either of the two Readers’ Guides links in the sidebar. My Little Po-Mo is my ongoing project studying My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, while The Very Soil is my now-complete project on Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Ep 26-7

[Due to illness, I never commented on Mark Watches Utena 26. My irate paragraph of comments on MWU 27 was an apology for this. We pick up with the second paragraph:] Fortunately, if I HAD to miss an episode, at least it was Miki’s Nest Box, which I find the least interesting episode of the series. I am pretty sure it is only there because the formula demands that a duel with Saionji be followed by one with Miki.

This episode is, fortunately, a lot more interesting. More than any prior episode, it really makes clear that for all her cruelty and posturing, Nanami is incredibly, toxically innocent. It is an important contrast to the Akio car and its offer of the adult experiences unavailable in Ohtori. As horrifying as that is, this episode is a reminder that being stuck in childlike innocence is no less horrifying. Whatever the path away from horror is, it lies through experience and out the other side, not cowering and clinging to a safe, comfortable past.

Poor Nanami. Her Tragedy is that her sense of worth is entirely wrapped up in the approval of others, and as the rich little princess that approval comes not from anything positive she does, but from remaining in her define place and following all the (impossible, contradictory) rules laid down for her. Of all the characters, she is perhaps the one who needs to break the shell most–and, interestingly, in this episode she metaphorically does so by exploring her maternal side in defiance of social rules that say when and how she is permitted to do so.

And Chu-Chu hatches, leading me to my latest theory: Chu-Chu IS the World Revolution. He is what breaking the world’s shell creates.

Ep 28

One thing that really stands out to me in this episode is the scene of Shiori and Ruka first meeting. First, it definitely foreshadows the end of the episode, but I’ve never seen anyone (myself included) actually catch it on first viewing: Shiori HAS to be lying about polishing his sword every day since he’s been gone, since Juri’s been captain of the fencing team since the first episode and Shiori only transferred in partway through the Black Rose Saga.

Shiori’s hair looks brown in the orange light bathing the lockers. Given that orange is Juri’s color, it may be a reference to how Juri makes her feel so ordinary and unspecial.

Anyway, I utterly despise Ruka, and this episode contains one example why: He lied about someone polishing his sword, and Shiori lied about being the one who did it, so apparently in Ruka’s eyes that makes Shiori a liar and himself cunning. Yay double standards!

It’s appropriate his hair is a darker version of Miki… he’s basically what Miki could become if he let his entitlement overwhelm his empathy and crossed over into full-on manipulative bastard–he’s basically the PUA to Miki’s Nice Guy Syndrome.

(Of course, “Miki lets his entitlement overwhelm his empathy” works as a capsule description for basically every Miki episode. When he’s not the focus, he’s a pretty cool kid who needs to mature up a little. Moment he gets to be the focus character, he starts getting all “Mine!”)

And then there’s Shiori, who… yeah, okay, she lied to get the boy she liked and was a willing participant in his schemes against Juri. But I don’t think she’s acting out of entitlement, but rather the same horrifyingly low self-esteem we saw in the Black Rose Saga. Shiori has always struggled with feelings of inferiority, and always believed Juri looked down on her. Compounding that now, Shiori also hates Juri because she believes Juri pretended to be her friend just to get into her pants. This doesn’t justify Shiori’s actions, of course, but it does help make clear how Ruka is able to manipulate her in this episode. (Surprise surprise, the proto-PUA predator went after the girl with low self-esteem that he could easily control. What an upstanding guy.)

Have I mentioned that I utterly, ferociously despise Ruka?

As for Juri… Eh. We don’t really learn anything about her we didn’t already know. After Miki and Saionji, that’s kind of becoming a pattern in he Car Saga.

Ep 29

Trigger warning: rape, homophobia, sexual violence against lesbians

Shiori is a WRECK when Juri talks to her. She really did develop feelings for that asswipe Ruka.
Ruka physically pins Juri and forces a kiss onto her. So we can add straight-up sexual assault to his list of sins. Then he threatens to destroy Juri’s most precious possession, all to make her hate him enough to duel him, even after she’s agreed to do what he wants, all so he can set her up as “to blame” or a “willing participant.”

And now that he has Juri doing “whatever he wants,” Mr. Sexual Assault takes her on a ride in the sexmobile so that they can take the role of bride and groom in the duel.

And then at the end of the episode we learn that this was all a scheme by Ruka, who’s got a crush on Juri, to “free her” from her destructive crush on Shiori.

So, yeah. He sexually assaulted the woman he’s interested in to end her same-sex attraction. That’s called “corrective rape,” and it’s a real thing that happens to lesbian women.

Ruka is a complete, utter monster who never shows a trace of doubt or remorse. He cares only about HIS wants and HIS perceptions, and uses his strength and fencing skill to violently force them onto Juri. He is the worst person in this entire show, and the fact that he’s deathly ill excuses NOTHING.
At least we get a fucking amazing dueling song?

And Juri is still, 29 episodes in, the only member of the student council Utena has never actually beaten.

But whatever, Ruka’s a homophobic, misogynistic, rapist asshole and we’re well rid of him.

/Trigger

Ep 30

What’s most interesting to me about this episode (besides it being just generally relentlessly uncomfortable) is how much like typical, non-fantastic, generic shoujo soap opera it is. I mean, Utena looks older than she is thanks to being a billion feet tall, so it would be easy for a viewer who’s never seen Utena before to think this is about a high school girl with a crush on her best friend’s kinda skeevy older brother, as opposed to RELENTLESS NAIL-BITING HORROR.

The One Actually Funny #AskIslamicState Tweet

Most of the #AskIslamicState hashtag is a predictable melange of testosterone-poisoned, armchair-general posturing, racism, and religious bigotry, but one tweet I saw in my brief sojourn into the hashtag’s depths stood out as being actually pretty funny:

…And yeah, I’m aware that this is probably not going to be remotely relevant by the time it actually goes up, thanks to me actually having a buffer for once. *shrug*

Round up our critters (Bats!)

What is it with cartoons, songs about bats, and earworms?

It’s December 28, 2013. The top song is still–quite appropriately, as we shall see–“Monster,” and the top movie is still the second Hobbit. In the news, members of the Russian band Pussy Riot are granted amnesty and released from jail three months before their sentence would have ended; British WWII hero and computer pioneer receives a posthumous pardon more than 50 years after he was chemically castrated for the crime of homosexuality; and the sign-up deadline for Obamacare arrives.

Meanwhile, Merriwether Williams’ delightful “Bats!” airs. In addition to being a strong episode in its own right, this episode also harkens back to the themes of the season premiere more than any prior episode, albeit in three relatively subtle ways.

The more straightforward of these thematic echoes is in the use of concepts of corruption and dark mirrors. Corruption in the premiere was fairly obvious, from the decay of day and night to the transformation of Ponyville into an outpost of the Everfree Forest by the Plunder Vines to the transformation of Luna into Nightmare Moon. Here in “Bats!” we are treated to even more examples of corruptive influences at work from the very beginning of the episode, starting with the transformation of Applejack’s apples into globs of gray goop by the vampire bats. This, in turn, leads to a corruption of Applejack and the rest of the Mane Six (except Fluttershy) over the course of the deliciously creepy song “Stop the Bats,” from Applejack’s initial, understandable position of wanting to protect her crop to a five-pony mob chanting their hatred of bats.

The centerpiece of the story is the corruption and physical transformation of Fluttershy, as feedback from Twilight’s magic causes Fluttershy to become gradually hybridized with the bats into a fructivorous “vampire pony.”

The figure of a vampire is a classic figure of corruption. The infectious nature of its bite, traditionally, leads to physical and spiritual decay, from the bat- and rat-like features of the titular character of Noaferatu to the conversion into a soulless, super powered predator as in Fright Night or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here, Fluttershy’s physical transformation involves acquiring bat-like features, while her mental transformation begins as a craving for fruit and ends with her becoming aggressive and territorial, along with apparently losing her capacity for speech.

This corruption is accompanied by a frequent presentation of dark mirrors of characters. In the premier, there were several such pairings: Discord as the trickster mentor, who uses aggravation and teasing to teach Twilight not to accept special treatment that separates her from her friends, is a distorted reflection of Zecora as the sagely mentor, who teaches Twilight about history by providing a helpful elixir. Nightmare Moon, the darkness of a solar eclipse, is a reflection of Celestia, the light of the sun. And of course the Plunder Vines themselves, plants with the power which consume the landscape and distort magic, are reflections of the Tree of Harmony, which eats the magical Elements and restores order to the landscape.

Likewise “Bats!” contains numerous dark mirrors. The clearest such pairing are Fluttershy, or more accurately Flutterbat, and Applejack themselves: both, after all, are motivated by a desire to take the apples for themselves and prevent others from having them. To a lesser extent, Flutterbat’s craving to suck the juice from the apples reflects the running gag of Rainbow Dash’s obsession with cider. Even her vampirization itself, as an unexpected transformation into a demonic creature resulting from a seemingly unrelated spell cast by Twilight, is a dark mirror Twilight’s transformation and apotheosis at the end of Season 3.

The most subtle thematic echo is also the most important: we once again have a crisis caused by parasitic creatures attacking trees, which means that all of the apple trees are substitutions for the Tree of Harmony, which we have already identified as the Tree of Life, the Sephiroth. In the article on “Princess Twilight Sparkle,” I noted that the identification of the tree’s symbols with the 10 Sephiroth is in places tenuous, most notably for Applejack and Fluttershy. Since they are the focus characters of this episode, that is now worth re-examing.

The two Sephiroth in question are chesed, the Sephirah of Loving-Kindness, and gevurah, the Sephirah of Strength. Chesed refers to the capacity to care for others, protect and nurture them, and provide for their needs; gevurah refers to the capacity to reject what is dangerous, wicked, or false. A common description of the is as the right arm that embraces and the left arm that pushes away. Fluttershy’s gentle, nurturing, self-effacing nature makes her a natural fit for chesed, while Applejack’s sometimes-blunt honesty, drive, and strict adherence to a particular notion of How Things Should Be make her a good fit for gevurah.

However, in the Tree of Harmony, Applejack’s apple symbol was in the position where we would expect chesed, while Fluttershy’s butterfly is in the position of gevurah. This episode helps make sense of that apparent contradiction. At first, Applejack is clearly the one rejecting that which is destructive, namely the bats, while Fluttershy is defined by her kindness toward them. However, the descriptions of the Sephiroth I gave above are not complete, because they reflect only one perspective on the Tree of Life, that of the path to enlightenment, from mundanity at the bottom to enlightenment at the top. The Sephiroth, however, are also the process of creation, from inspiration (or, if you prefer to capitalize “Creation,” the Divine) at the top to material product (or the World) at the bottom. In that respect, chesed is the boundless love of the creator for the created, the enthusiastic and potentially infinite expansion of the project; gevurah is the capacity to set limits and boundaries (which is why it is sometimes also called by the Hebrew word din, “judgment”).

It is thus significant that this episode is set on Applebucking Day; the last episode set on that day, Season 1’s “Applebucking Season,” was about Applejack’s inability to set limits on her kindess to others or her creative labors (and farmwork does follow the creative process–it begins with an idea, continues as a series of conscious decisions, and ends with a material product, shaped by those decisions, which would not otherwise exist). Here in “Bats!” Applejack admits that she is more concerned with saving Fluttershy than stopping Flutterbat from devouring her crops. Applejack has more than a little affiliation with chesed, in other words; her association with it in the Tree of Harmony, at least where this episode is concerned, is not entirely wrong, even though normally we would place her with gevurah.

Likewise, Fluttershy is very much defined by her boundaries and limits, particularly her social anxieties–and perhaps more importantly, when others cross those boundaries, she is quite capable of forcefully rejecting that which is dangerous or wrong. Indeed, at the end of the episode she states that she she shouldn’t have gone along with a plan that made her uncomfortable–that, in other words, she needs to work on boundary-setting where her friends are concerned. Fluttershy has some gevurah to her, and she belongs there in this episode.

The combination of the Qabbalistic theme with corruption and dark mirrors suggests something else may be present in this episode: we should be seeking the qlippothic here as well. In Jewish Qabbalah, the qlippoth (actually kelipoth, Hebrew for “husks”) are the obstacles which must be overcome on the path to enlightenment, which get in the way of fully realizing each Sephirah; they are the peels or husks which must be penetrated to get at the “fruit” of the Tree. Certainly there is plenty of that here. Applejack’s attempts to drive off the bats are constantly thwarted, because she is using the wrong aspect of gevurah; she should be trying to set limits on them instead, by providing a sanctuary. Fluttershy, meanwhile, finds that her attempts to be kind to the bats are undermined by her excessive meekness and willingness to go along with her friends.

The notions of corruption and dark mirrors, however, become more interesting when we consider the Hermetic interpretation of Qabbalah, in which the qlippoth are corrupted reflections of the Sephiroth. Here we find the associations between Applejack and gevurah on the one hand, and Fluttershy and chesed on the other, are strengthened. The qlippothic reflection of gevurah‘s strength is the destructive and self-destructive impulse, which we see in this episode in Applejack’s determination to stop the bats at any cost, which keeps making things worse for her. The episode avoids mentioning it, but the spell Applejack has Twilight cast is a cruel death sentence–it makes the bats uninterested in eating fruit, their only source of food. And, of course, it is that spell which creates and unleashes the Flutterbat.

Flutterbat is of course the qlippothic reflection of Fluttershy herself, and unsurprisingly it epitomizes the qlippothic reflection of chesed‘s loving-kindness, the impulse to devour and consume. Flutterbat appears to have no desires except the mindless consumption of all the fruit she can find, until none is left. As is often the case with the vampire, she is reduced to nothing but a hungry predator, (albeit a strictly fructivorous one), leaving drained husks–qlippoth!–in her wake.

And yet Fluttershy insists twice, once during her debate with Applejack at the beginning of the episode, and again after the ponies finish setting up the bat sanctuary at the end of the episode, that the bats’ destruction of the apples is, in the long term, good for the trees and the farm, spreading seeds and helping the trees grow stronger. What she is asserting is an alchemical idea we briefly touched on back in Season 1: putrefaction. Literally a form of fermentation, in traditional European alchemy putrefaction is the creative power of decay, the emergence of life from death and value from rot. A rotting peace of fruit looks and spells repulsive to us, but it is also an explosion of life, molds and bacteria and flies. These form the basis upon which the survival of creatures we find more attractive, and ultimately ourselves, depends; the husks make the tree stronger.

In Jewish thought, the qlippoth are not evil or even entirely corrupt; they serve a positive and useful function in that they prevent the energies of the Sephiroth from escaping. The husks make the Tree stronger. This episode thus ties the Hermetic notion of the qlippoth as distortions of the Sephiroth to the Jewish conception of them as having a useful function by way of putrefaction: the corruption and decay of something pure is not inherently evil, and may make it purer and better.

It’s a point worth remembering in a season that opened with two fundamental changes to the show’s premise, namely Princess Twilight and the introduction of a true seasonal arc–and more changes are coming.

Next week: Speaking of the arc…

No Kill la Kill Liveblog Today…

Sorry, but I’m at Intervention, enjoying a con where for once I have no responsibilities and, if past years are anything to go by, regenerating my creative energies for the remainder of the year.

In the meantime, have some videos! Today’s theme: videos that celebrate the oft-forgotten minor enemies in video games.

First off, this great song parody by the inimitable Smooth McGroove and Dookieshed, “Pokemon: Try to Catch a Few!”

Second, this brilliant original song by Matthew Taranto of Brawl in the Family, “Ode to Minions.”

Speaking of Matthew Taranto, he has an *incredible* ability to make songs/videos that give me actual feelings about personality-less classic video game pixel-collections. For example, “If It Takes a Lifetime,” which examines what the video game concept of “extra lives” would really mean, passing through horror to something actually kind of sweet:

But the one that makes me actually, I kid you not, cry for a sprite with virtually no characterization is “Prodigal Robot.” I tear up at 2:11, and just lose it at 2:29 every goddamn time, because I am apparently a sentimental loser:

Fiction Friday: Some Old Stuff

Well, I don’t really have time to write anything new, but since apparently some of you actually do like this feature after all, and one person expressed liking for that “Choosing Ones” bit… have some very old writing of mine, the beginning of the story that that scene would eventually be part of. I’m going to be posting what there is of that story for the next few weeks, while I work on M.L.Po-Mo vol. 2 and the Madoka book, since I have it and it’s not completely terrible.

Seth crouched in the corner as the soldiers’ weapons pounded at the door. It exploded inward, into the kitchen, chunks of roof falling all around him as the cold night air rushed in, black-clad, masked and goggled soldiers just behind it.

Alarms blared; the Isolde was under attack. The ship was damaged, couldn’t move, and the captain lay spread-eagled on the floor, under a broken strut.

His mother lay under the smashed remnants of the kitchen island.

Any moment now they would fire again. The Isoldewould be destroyed. The soldiers would kill him.

He screamed, and there was a terrible explosion of red light, and a terrible, all-engulfing silence.

Seth’s eyes flicked open and he gasped once, quietly but sharply.

“Morning, boss!” said Izzy merrily.

Seth cursed, not for the first time wondering why he’d designed the Isolde‘s computer with such a bright, perky voice. “Blarg.” He rolled over.

“You had the nightmare again.”

“You know,” Seth said, voice slightly muffled by the covers, “they have this thing called ‘privacy’ now. It means computers notwatching their crews in their sleep just because they can.”

“Aw, you’re not really mad. Those centers of your brain aren’t getting hardly any blood.”

“Don’t watch me in the shower!” Seth warned, rolling out of bed and stomping to the stall–one of the perks of being captain was getting his own. Not that it mattered, since currently he only had two crewmembers to use the two crew showers. On the way to the bathroom, he stubbed his toe on one of the many piles of mechanical junk, broken electronics, and tools covering most of the floor, and swore again, vividly and at length.

“Gasp, my virgin microphones!” He never could tell when Izzy was being sarcastic. “It’s not like I can’t see through your clothes if I want to, anyway. Not that I do–guys made of meat aren’t my thing.”

“You’ve been talking to Vix again,” Seth muttered, turning on the shower. “Now leave me alone for a bit.”

A few minutes later, he stomped out of the bathroom in his boxers, a toothbrush dangling from his mouth. “Hey! Since when do you have an MRI?”

“I don’t,” Izzy giggled. “Just messing with you.”

***

Vix sat back in her chair, feet up on the navigator’s console, watching Imaginary Space drift past.

“Ten minutes to the Bethel Gate,” Wehj reported from behind her. “Everything’s running smooth, for once.”

Vix waved acknowledgment. “Great.”

Wehj looked forward. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Creepy, but beautiful. Red and orange ribbons of light, slowly drifting and curling, all around us, going on and on forever. A whole universe of them, hiding behind our own.”

“Eh,” said Vix. “I always thought it looked like somebody threw up a bunch of blood right after eating cotton candy.”

“Yuck.”

“Hate to interrupt your poetry jam, but the captain’s on his way up,” said Izzy. “And would you quit putting your feet on me?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Vix, sitting up.

“Hey, Izzy, don’t we put our feet on you every time we stand up?” asked Wehj.

“Don’t remind me.”

The doors at the back of the bridge hissed open and Seth walked in, a short, wiry young man in a black bomber jacket, with close-cropped red hair and messy bangs. He flopped into the captain’s chair behind Wehj and raised it to nearly ceiling height. “What’s our status?” he asked.

“Six minutes to Bethel Gate,” Wehj answered. “Toll signal just coming in.”

Seth punched it up on the armrest and authorized payment. He frowned as the money disappeared from his dangerously small account balance.

“So,” Vix drawled, “we gonna get paid on this stop, cap’n?”

“Well, maybe. If I don’t buy any food or fuel.”

“Shit,” said Vix, “we barely have enough fuel to make it to Ur-Chaldis after we’re done here! How’re we supposed to salvage anything if we can’t fly? And I am not eating another one of Wehj’s bean and yeast-culture surprises.”

“Hey!” said Wehj. “It’s not my fault we’re out of everything else!”

“So, we’re agreed,” Seth said. “I’ll give you an IOU.”

“You know what I think?”

“Yes, Vix, we know what you think,” said Seth.

“They’ll pay a lot of good money for medical supplies on Artaxerxes. A lot more than the Federation’s paying us to deliver them.”

“I told you before, Vix,” said Seth. “We’re not pirates. We’re not going to steal.”

“And cheating’s so different? Not two months ago you sold an antique dealer a random piece of scrap metal claiming it was a chunk of the Woglinde! Hell, for that matter, how different’s being a scavenger? Isn’t that stealing from the dead?”

“We collect debris from battlefields and sell it. That’s a lot different from taking medicine from refugees!”

“You’re right. This is safer and more lucrative!” countered Vix.

“Forget it,” said Seth. “We’re delivering these supplies and fulfilling our contract. That’s final!”

“Approaching Gate,” said Wehj quietly.

A point of darkness directly ahead of them suddenly expanded into a spherical window, through which they could see stars and the occasional chunk of rock. Then they were through, and the Gate collapsed, the only sign of it a tiny red point at the center of the slowly rotating Generator station.

“Ah, man!” Wehj groaned. “Bethel’s all the way on the other side of the sun. Just our luck, we hit the system this time of year.”

“Can it!” snapped Seth, kicking Wehj’s headrest from his position above and behind the mechanic–as near as he could tell, the only reason the ship’s designers had put the captain’s chair on a movable arm. “It is lucky. We can do a big curve in, do a sensor sweep of most of the system before we get there. Maybe we’ll find something left over from the war!”

“Yeah, right,” said Vix. “This system’s been picked clean a thousand times. Setting course for Bethel, ETA four hours.”

“Hey, my grandma always told me, where there’s life, there’s hope.” Wehj rubbed the back of his head, though his headrest had absorbed almost all of the captain’s blow.

My grandma always said, where there’s life, there’s shit,” Vix countered. She added thoughtfully, “Then she’d get drunk and start screaming about Realians.”

“All right, that’s enough sharing time for me, kids.” Seth returned his chair to ground level and hopped off. “I’m headed below. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”