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Games: Phoenix Wright

February 18, 2017

I’ve just been playing the original Phoenix Wright trilogy. These DS games have you play as a lawyer trying to win court cases. (Minor/vague spoilers in this post.)

These games are good fun and packed full of drama and humour. They are heavily text-based; it’s like an interactive story, so the focus is on the twists and turns of the stories and the interactions of the characters. As Phoenix, a defense attorney, you have to frequently defend people who seem to have all the evidence stacked up against them. You investigate the crime scene, interview people, gather evidence – and yet most of the time you step into the beginning of a trial with almost no idea what actually happened or what you’re going to say.

At the beginning of the case, you start with almost impossible odds, which would make a normal lawyer seriously question their own possibility of success. For example, you might take on a client who not only has numerous points of evidence against them, but has actually already confessed to their crime. Or you might have to defend someone who was actually shown to run the victim through with a sword. If someone actually saw you running someone through with a sword, it’s pretty hard to get off the hook, isn’t it?

Fortunately, in the world of Phoenix Wright, things often aren’t all they seem. People constantly dress up as other people, have doppelgangers, and channel the dead. Even if numerous people actually witnessed you murdering someone, that doesn’t mean you actually did it.

Usually you start the case having no idea what happened or how the contradictory facts you’re hearing could possibly be true. All evidence points to your own client being guilty. However, as time goes on, you learn that there’s always more to the case than initially meets the eye. The game works well at gradually revealing more and more facts so that by the end of the case, you can finally piece together what really happened. It was very rare that I could predict where a case was going to go; even if I could guess who the murderer might actually be, it would take a while to figure out why and how they’d done it.

Happily for Phoenix, your clients are usually conveniently innocent and so there’s no moral dilemma defending them. The job of a defense attorney, after all, is to bravely defend the innocent and believe in them until the end! I wonder if Phoenix could be quite so heroic if he had to defend a string of clients who were all blatantly guilty of their crimes…

(On that subject, this blog entry is an interesting look, by an actual lawyer, at the second Phoenix Wright game (it has lots of spoilers) that talks about this issue. It talks about how the games portray being a defense attorney as achieving justice for the innocent, whereas in reality, as a defense lawyer you should provide your client – innocent or guilty – an essential service, which is the right to a fair defense in court. See also their first post for more about how the justice system in Phoenix Wright differs from the real justice system (in America anyway).)

The game’s logic

The main decisions the player has to make are in regard to presenting evidence. As a case goes on – and sometimes during the investigation period, as well – you have to prove your points with supporting evidence. Conveniently for the defense, every witness on the stand will either lie their heads off, have misinterpreted something, or have remembered something incorrectly. Your most important job is to identify the contradictions in their statements by choosing the right statement to query, and presenting evidence that will highlight their error.

Ideally, the player’s mind will follow along with what Phoenix is thinking and be able to logically work out what to produce. For example, if a witness says they recognised the defendant by their distinctive hat, but you have a photo that proves the defendant wasn’t wearing a hat that night, you produce the photo. In general, I feel that most of the time it is possible to logically deduce what to present and when.

When you can’t follow it, though, it’s time to save constantly and keep hitting the strategy guides, because a game only allows you a few errors before you fail your case, and finding contradictions through trial and error is too costly. I usually have a walkthrough open in the background while playing this, and especially in the last case of each game.

Figuring it out

Occasionally, you’ll know the witness is lying through their teeth but have no idea how to prove it. This can happen either because there’s too great a leap in logic required for the player – and this doesn’t happen all that often but it’s quite frustrating when it does – or because you just have so many pieces of evidence you could produce that it’s hard to know how to proceed or which statement has the flaw.

Unfortunately, the game cannot read your mind either. So you might be thinking ‘well, obviously the victim couldn’t have written the defendant’s name in the dirt in huge letters, because the victim had a broken neck; are you all stupid or what?!’ But until the game is ready for you to make that point, it won’t accept the piece of evidence you want to present.

 

Or perhaps you have figured out what the correct problem is for that stage in the trial, but not how to present it. In another example, a witness claims that it had stopped snowing by the time a murder took place. You know this is untrue, for three reasons. Firstly, there were two pieces of evidence that fell into the snow during or after the murder, which were both found with snow on them (indicating the snow hadn’t stopped at the time they fell on the ground). Secondly, a weather report shows when the snow stopped, and it seems unlikely it would have stopped before the murder. Thirdly, if the witness really had dragged the victim’s body across the ground after the snow had stopped, there would have been tracks left in the snow, and there weren’t any.

However, producing those two fallen items, the weather report, etc, all fail to make Phoenix make your point. It’s not that your logic is wrong. You’ve figured it out perfectly, and you get frustrated because everything you do makes you get penalties rather than progress in the game. Turning to a walkthrough, it turns out that instead of presenting this evidence after the witness says ‘it had stopped snowing…’, you have to present it when she says she dragged the body. Sometimes it can be frustrating having the game only accept one very specific action at one specific point.

Every witness gets a hearing

No matter how dishonest or incompetent the witness is proven to be, every new statement they make is considered gospel truth and taken very seriously.

Made-up but very representative example:

Witness: At about 9pm, I saw Joe drag the victim’s dead body across the room and push it out the window.

Phoenix: Objection! At 9pm, Joe was outside with a broken ankle, as we know from Jane’s testimony.

Witness: Oh… well, maybe I misremembered the time. Yeah, maybe it was earlier. I can’t be expected to remember every little detail! So maybe it was about 8 o’clock. He dragged the body across the room and pushed it out the window. Oh, but before he pushed it out the window, he hacked at the victim several times with an ax, and that’s when the victim died.

Phoenix: Objection! This autopsy report clearly shows that the victim died of gunshot wounds, not an ax.

Witness: Oh yes, I forgot, it was a gun, not an ax. I saw Joe chopping wood earlier in the day and I must have just got confused. Silly old me. Joe shot the victim with a gun and then pushed him out the window. That’s the truth, I swear it.

Judge: Okay, so clearly, it has been proven that Joe was the murderer in this case.

This judicial system has the attitude of ‘guilty until proven innocent’. No matter how many holes you poke in witness’s testimonies – no matter how much you establish ‘reasonable doubt’ – you still have to conclusively prove that someone else committed the crime before your client gets let off the hook.

Missing the obvious

Sometimes also, the prosecutor will make a point, all smug-like, and you, the player, will think of a perfect objection that Phoenix completely fails to bring up.

Example: a witness describes how she saw a certain person fighting another. Phoenix strongly doubts that these two people would have been fighting. The witness admits it was very dark, so she couldn’t see what happened to the murder weapon, and she blatantly makes an error when describing how the victim was killed. Phoenix points this out, and the prosecutor smugly replies that the witness has already covered herself by pointing out that it was dark, so she couldn’t be expected to have seen everything perfectly.

In that case, shouldn’t Phoenix make the logical point – if visibility was so terrible, how can this witness actually be sure she saw the people she claimed she saw? To me, the fact that she could barely see anything is hardly something to proudly proclaim; it completely invalidates her whole testimony and we shouldn’t be taking anything she says seriously!

Still…

Still, these nitpicks don’t often get in the way of enjoying some genuinely fun games. Apart from some occasional disconnects between the player’s brain and the game’s, it’s fun to go along for the ride, prove your clients’ innocence and serve the bad guys their due.

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TV Shows: Survivor (Millennials vs Gen X)

December 18, 2016

Survivor Millennials vs Gen X has just finished. (Spoilers for the season, including winner, in this post, and spoilers for Australian Survivor.)

This might be my favourite season of Survivor that I’ve seen, and it seems like other people are rating it highly too. Why is it good? Here’s what I think. Most of this applies more to the second half of the season than the first half.

1. The cast was reasonable

It was good to have a final six where I really liked every one of the contestants and would have been happy (or at least not unhappy) to see any of them win, if they had been able to show they deserved to.

This is the first season of Survivor I’ve seen where they didn’t really have a ‘villain’ – or at least someone who all the castaways turned on and seemed to despise. Taylor was pretty obnoxious in his boot episode, where he stole food and then tried to sabotage Adam’s game, but since he immediately got out, it didn’t matter much.

What it showed, to me, is that you can have a really engaging season where the drama comes from the gameplay rather than from people being nasty, obnoxious, crazy or vindictive. I must say I never really like watching reality TV with manufactured villains, or weirdos that everyone seems to hate and that the viewers are just constantly hoping get eliminated, so this was refreshing.

When I say the cast were reasonable, I mean most people were fairly savvy game players – they knew Survivor and elements of good and bad gameplay – but also that they accepted Survivor was a game. Most people didn’t really get spiteful or hold grudges if other players turned on them, voted out members of their alliance, etc. They just got on with things and never really burned bridges. So your ally turned on you and voted with someone else? Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t ever work with that person again. You’ve just gained more insight into their thinking and you can be more careful when you work with them. By having this attitude, players kept more options available and kept the game more engaging.

At the end, also, the players made it clear that what they really valued was good strategic and social gameplay. They made their decision for a winner based on who they really thought had played Survivor the best and hardest. It was good having so many keen players on this season.

2. The twists kept coming

Speaking of which, in this season, you could never go into any episode knowing for sure what would happen or who would get out. I compare this with Australian Survivor, which became depressing in its predictability. ‘Pagonging’, in Survivor terminology, is where one dominant alliance sticks together to pick off all the members of another tribe/alliance, one after another. It’s usually good gameplay but makes for boring watching.

In this season, there were alliances, and some of them stuck together, but different groups of people could work together, so there was less feeling of inevitability about the outcomes. For instance, Hannah, Ken, David and Adam stuck together as the most cohesive, long-lasting alliance – and so it was they who got the final four – but it never felt to me like that was the only possible outcome. Hannah started off being more aligned with Zeke but then chose David instead. Adam was often off trying to make other things happen where necessary. There were times when they were outnumbered by the others and had to take risks. And David often seemed like he was going home. So things stayed interesting.

There were quite a few blindsides and votes that people didn’t see coming – idols played wildly and erroneously – fake idols, new advantages, crazy tribals – and so each episode was fresh. The players played hard. This even led to people making moves they didn’t need to – like Will going after Zeke or Hannah gunning for Sunday – which may not have benefited the players in question, but meant each episode brought something new.

3. There was a worthy winner

I liked all the contestants who made it near the end, but Adam was my favourite.

I saw a lot posted about who had a “winner’s edit” and most felt it was David, although some did think it could be Adam or Jay, because all three were portrayed positively, the former two had a real narrative, and all got a decent amount of airtime. I had not thought about this before when watching Survivor, because on Australian reality TV shows, I don’t think they really go in for winner’s edits. They just show you lots of things that happen – each contestant has good and bad moments – and then the ending ends up being a surprise. They do usually manage to make it so that by the time the winner wins, you feel okay about their winning, but it’s not necessarily easy to predict who will win. Again, Australian Survivor is a good example. I was happy enough for Kristie to win by the time she actually did, partly because she had a cracker of a final episode and tribal council, but you could not honestly look back over the season and say she was portrayed super positively.

Anyway, for a lot of this season, I was rooting for Adam, not really because of his “story”, though that made me happy for him when he won, but because I liked him. Actually, what first made me like him was that tribal council where Taylor really threw him under the bus and tried to make the whole tribe distrust him. After that, to me, Adam was the underdog, and he fought pretty darn hard from that position to stay in. I liked his dogged earnestness and effort, and he seemed like a decent guy.

What I think Adam did particularly well was that in this season of strategic-minded players who were always trying to vote out threats, he made himself not seem like a threat. Given everyone was always saying almost everyone else was a threat for some reason or other, and given he was constantly working his options, talking to different people, proposing ideas – you’d think someone would target him. But he didn’t become a big target and people seemed happy enough to go to the end with him.

Adam wasn’t perceived as a leader, which is true, and it was good for him not to be a leader, because the leaders – David, Zeke, Chris, etc – were all eliminated. He aligned himself with loyal, smart people – and solidified that alliance by, for example, playing an idol for Hannah etc. Yet he was willing to turn against David when it seemed like a good time to do so, and I think that gave him extra credit in the Jury’s eyes. He didn’t always succeed in his plans, but he was smart about the game and had good ideas.

4. There were some other great characters and personal stories

Near the beginning of the series, each tribe kind of divided into the ‘cool kids’ – the alpha males, beautiful people, etc – and the ‘nerds’, or outcasts. At first, the nerds seemed at a numbers disadvantage. What I liked is that it was, ultimately, the nerds who outplayed and outlasted.

They gave us some good stories of personal growth. David and Hannah are good examples – and really likeable people besides. Both were always good for an interesting or funny line, and it was good to see them relax and get stronger as players. Even though Hannah got no votes, I certainly didn’t see her game as a disaster. In some seasons, or against other opponents, she could have probably spun her Survivor journey into a win. This season, though, just had too many strong, move-making players.

Jay, though not a nerd, is another character I really grew to like. He was so positive and energetic and fun, but also caring. I liked him for his heart, his lack of cynicism. Take his responses to Adam. At first, he and Adam seemed like quite different types of people, not people who would click. When Adam gave up his advantage and when Adam told him about his mum, Jay really responded to him sincerely, from the heart, and openly said he admired Adam, even though he hadn’t completely gotten along with him before. There have been plenty of times when people on Survivor try to do something nice or say something from the heart, only to be misinterpreted by the others around them. A more cynical, less open-hearted person might have said “Adam obviously said that for strategic reasons” or “he’s obviously trying to get me on side” or something uncharitable.  So I liked the way Jay responded to Adam, and their friendship was one of the heartwarming parts of the series.

For all these reasons, I think this was a really fun season to watch.

I’m a bit less enthusiastic about the thought of the next season. Generally, I’d rather see new players play than bring back old ones again and again. Still, I must admit I’ve missed a lot of previous seasons of Survivor, so there are plenty of people here I’ve never seen before. They’ve obviously been chosen for their ability to make things happen, so hopefully it will be exciting.

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TV Shows: Poldark

December 13, 2016

Poldark is a BBC period drama set in 18th century Cornwall. The main character, Ross Poldark, has just made his way home from war after years of absence and silence. When he returns, he finds the woman of his dreams, Elizabeth, is now about to marry his cousin Francis. Too decent – or too proud? too conflicted? – to intervene, Ross makes no effort to win Elizabeth back, and she marries Francis. However, there are certainly lingering feelings between the two.

Ross is, on the whole, a man of principle and decency, although rather rough in his manner and never too concerned about tact. Although he is by birth a gentleman, he is a man of the people and genuinely cares about the poor of the community, particularly those affected by the closure of mines in the region. This puts him on bad terms with George Warleggan, a banker who has risen from humble beginnings to great prominence in the area. George has a finger in many pies, and as someone who holds the loans and debts of many in the community, is not a person to cross.

Ross, however, is never concerned about saying what he thinks and quite happily crosses George. He doesn’t bank with George – deliberately – and resents the banker for his decisions that have led to mine closures. George really doesn’t care at all if his decisions result in unemployment and poverty for countless people.

What George does care about is winning, and one thing he seems particularly desirous to win is Ross’ good opinion. At first he seems to genuinely try to befriend Ross; perhaps he doesn’t like the thought that there’s one person out there he hasn’t won over, or hasn’t got a hold over. However, Ross is never anything but dismissive of him. Over time, this dislike develops into real enmity between the two and their mutual hatred becomes a major theme of the show.

Another major theme is financial struggles. Times are hard and mining is not always profitable. Although Ross is by name a gentleman, he lives in rather reduced circumstances, and as time goes on and his business ventures fail to prosper, things get harder still. Ross is determined to keep his mine open and provide ongoing employment, but at times, he himself is barely making enough to live on.

 

From this point, spoilers for seasons 1 and 2.

Season 2 was harder to watch than season 1 and grimmer in tone. Season 1 certainly had its share of hard knocks for our protagonist, but in season 2 it seemed like calamity after calamity was heaped on. Every now and then there’d be some small breakthrough – a loan from a mystery benefactor, a small discovery in the mines – to stop things becoming too grim, but mostly the finances went from bad to worse… not to mention the various relationships.

Not only that, but more of the hardships were caused by Ross himself. As he became more desperate, he started doing more foolish things. It’s understandable that he would, for example, allow the smuggling, given his severe financial strain, but there were plenty of times where, without any clear plan or potential for gain, he took risks, lost his temper, or otherwise brought about some of his own problems. He also lost some of the closeness he’d once shared with his wife, Demelza, and that took away one of his greatest providers of ballast, of good sense.

The worst thing he did, of course, was that night when he went and virtually raped Elizabeth. That was pretty unforgivable and turned him from ‘sometimes rash but fundamentally decent protagonist’ to ‘significantly flawed protagonist’. I suppose what he did in follow-up – staying with Demelza – was the right decision in a way – I certainly do think he should have stayed with Demelza – but to give Elizabeth no word at all, no apology, no anything, was appalling. She was just left waiting for him and he never came. He really did force her into a bad position.

Speaking of which, I assumed her main reason for agreeing to marry George was that she realised she was pregnant, and Ross did not come to see her, so she needed to get herself safely married urgently. However, when the old woman hinted to Elizabeth that the baby might not be George’s, Elizabeth seemed genuinely taken aback, like it had never occurred to her. So it seems I was mistaken and that she took George perhaps partly out of spite at Ross – ‘well, if Ross won’t come for me, I’ll show him that George will‘, partly through being tired of managing difficult financial matters, partly from concern for her son, and partly as a result of George’s patient manipulation of her.

Anyway, there’s no doubt Elizabeth sometimes makes bad decisions where men are concerned, but it’s not always just her fault. It seems like she’s doomed to a life of staring sadly out of windows…

Does George love Elizabeth at all? I don’t think George is capable of much love. The love he has is polluted by a need to possess, to control, and to use people. It’s clear that part of the reason he wanted Elizabeth was to get revenge on Poldark by getting the woman he loved. But I wonder if this was always his motivation for pursuing Elizabeth? Back when Elizabeth was married to Francis, he seemed genuinely devoted to her and can’t have seriously expected her to be unfaithful to Francis… his interest in her seemed to stop him from being as much of a jerk as he usually was; for instance, he didn’t immediately try to ruin Francis, for Elizabeth’s sake. For an eligible bachelor to remain unattached for so long suggested, also, that not just anyone would do for him.

So I think George is as fond of Elizabeth as he can be of anyone. But he still has a need to manipulate and control her, which is an ugly thing to see. And I also think that he is the type of person who pursues something doggedly until he has what he wants. That is, I think that if Ross had given George his esteem and friendship way back when George first wanted it, then George wouldn’t have been particularly interested in Ross any more, but since Ross played hard to get (hah), George became almost obsessed with him until such a time as he could achieve his goal and ruin him. He wants what he hasn’t got. Now that he’s got Elizabeth, we might find him less interested in keeping her good opinion, though at the moment he’s still playing it smooth and at least trying to seem like he has her best interests at heart.

Who is the better woman for Ross, Demelza or Elizabeth? I think Ross hit the nail on the head when he finally apologised properly to Demelza. Elizabeth was his idealised love; all the higher in his mind because she was unattainable. Until he actually went to bed with her, he didn’t realise what it would be to actually be with her. He didn’t see her as real. Demelza is too real.

Demelza is a worthy woman in every way. It’s not that Elizabeth is worthless; she’s loyal and decent and could no doubt rise to some challenges, but would she be able to really support Ross in his life? Think of Demelza, working from dawn to dusk at all the household tasks, going fishing, bringing in harvests, helping townsfolk in emergencies, dealing with rough folk, standing up to thugs, and winning over all who come into contact with her by being a woman of the people, just as Ross is a man of the people. She went through every disaster, every setback, every financial hardship, with strength and good humour.

Elizabeth is a lady; she doesn’t suit Ross’ real life. Ross needs someone who can be his support, not someone whom he has to hold safely on a pedestal. He felt bad enough, when they had to sell most of their possessions, to be taking these things away from Demelza. But Demelza stood stalwartly beside him and didn’t really care; she’s made do with far less. If it were Elizabeth in that position, I think Ross would be far more wretched about it and Elizabeth less sanguine. With Elizabeth, Ross would feel more pressure to play the gentleman and this goes against both his financial means and his inclinations.

Also, I think Ross needs someone who can stand up to him more forcefully. It’s true that he doesn’t often listen to Demelza when she does that, but even so, it’s good for an arrogant man like that to be faced with truth and plain speaking. It’s probable that Elizabeth and Ross would quarrel less – and who knows, maybe she would exert a positive influence over his life by her purity; it would make him want to live up to her good opinion and not let her down – but I think Ross needs that life and spark in his life and marriage.

I’m not sure where the story can go from here. To me, most of the stories that we followed through seasons 1 and 2 have reached their natural end. Having much more about Ross’ financial difficulties and problems with the mine would be excessive, as they’ve been so much a focus of the first two. Ross and Elizabeth shouldn’t really continue their smouldering ‘what if?’ relationship, as that’s been effectively put to bed. Ross and George’s rivalry has really, in my opinion, almost been played out; how much further is there for either of them to go, except for one to murder the other? I’m getting a bit tired of that whole story. And Demelza’s frustration that Ross doesn’t appreciate her or listen to her properly will hopefully not be too much of a theme in the future.

So I feel like a lot of the story elements we’ve focused on should be almost at an end, or else season 3 could be kind of tedious. I’ll be glad if they introduce several quite new story threads, characters, etc, to keep it engaging.

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Movie: Fantastic Beasts

November 29, 2016

I went to see ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. I am not particularly a fan of the Harry Potter movies; despite many good points, I find them overacted, gloomy and long – but then, I’m not really a movie person and I’m not big on long, ongoing epics. However, I am a fan of Harry Potter in general and since this story wasn’t available in book form, to the theatre I went.

What disappointed me about this most – and what I did NOT know going into it – was that this movie was apparently the first of a series of movies. When I went into it – knowing that the source material was a single, short book – I actually thought, as I saw the opening scenes, ‘isn’t it nice to see a unique story that is telling one story rather than being some ongoing epic?’ I thought it would be nice if there could be several movies dealing with the Harry Potter universe but all focusing on different times and places and characters, so that with each movie we got some new, interesting story that leant on the same world for its inspiration.

But no, instead we got ANOTHER victim of Fantasy Epicitis. I feel like I did when I heard The Hobbit was going to be three movies.

Okay, to talk about the movie itself. It wasn’t bad. Actually, I liked it well enough at the beginning. I was quite excited as it started and I felt ‘ooh, we’re back in this world again’. It was great to be taken into a world of magic that was a little familiar but also new and full of new characters, settings and experiences.

The characters were quite likeable, particularly Jacob, the No-Maj, who seemed to have slightly more air time and character development than the others. The story was pretty engaging, at least in the first half. The world of the beasts that Newt had was quite cool. I’m sounding a bit lukewarm here, probably because nothing about it all really grabbed me emotionally.

The problem was that, being The Beginning Of A New Saga, the characters weren’t quite developed and the elements of the story weren’t quite fully fleshed.

(Spoilers from now on.)

I thought the story would have been better if there had been no Grindelwald at all – just make the movie about Newt trying to recover his creatures in a wizard-unfriendly New York, find some way to have a bit of an epic climax and make him a hero, and done. That’s almost what they did do, but the character of Graves/Grindelwald confused things. Looking back on the movie, his role was confusing. Why was he working for the Ministry in America, and how did he get to be so important in it in such a short time? How did he know to befriend this boy he thought was a Squib? (Did he think he was a Squib?) Why did he? Why would it have been to his benefit to take out Newt and co? Shouldn’t he be pleased if Newt’s beasts get loose and show the world that magic exists? If his whole goal is to get the wizards out of their secrecy and show the world they exist, how do most of his actions make sense? How was Newt associated with Grindelwald? During the war?

Now, I bet some of these questions may be answered – or at least rendered less important – in one of the sequels, and he’ll obviously show up as a foe again in the future, but that’s exactly why I find these Epic Series can be disappointing – if we don’t feel like the story in the movie was complete in itself.

I also felt the story was a bit weak – it didn’t have the depth or complexity that the other Harry Potter stories do. Now again, that might be because the ‘depth’ will be spread through several stories. But I’m not sure quite how this story would lead into those other stories. The main story here, of Newt just trying to recapture his beasts, doesn’t seem to have a lot of places to go. More importantly, the story’s characters don’t seem quite interesting and developed enough to bother following into other stories. None of the characters really had a story arc or development to speak of, and so it wasn’t like we were really invested in any of them.

Following the world of the story – where relationships between magic and non-magic people are banned, and the magical community are living in even more fear of discovery than in the days of Harry Potter – is potentially interesting. So is the world-building; the American wizarding school, the Obscurials, the wars (and wizarding wars), death potions, underground wizarding bars, the characters with new abilities (Queenie as a Legilimens – not before established as an ability someone could just have and use effortlessly – reminds me of Tonks as a Metamorphagus – a reminder that some people in the wizarding world are ?born with unusual and distinct abilities)… These are the things that saved the movie for me and made it interesting. I do really dig getting more Harry Potter canon, and I’m looking forward to more in the future, even though I probably won’t end up watching the rest of the movies in this series.

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Movies: Kimi no na wa (Your name)

November 26, 2016

This animated Japanese movie, which was a major hit in Japan, has just been airing in Australia this last week, and so I got to see it on the big screen. A good move – it’s a beautiful looking and beautifully animated film and well worth seeing in a cinema.

I like to watch the odd anime movie to keep up my Japanese (and I can’t bear the over-acting in a lot of live action Japanese movies). I have to say, this is probably the best Japanese animated movie I’ve seen. I liked the story, the characters, the visuals, and the music.

The story starts off in confusion (with a great song accompanying it) as we see a guy and a girl – doing what? Meeting each other? They seem to have a strong connection; the girl knows his name but she has to yell out her own name to him. And then the girl wakes up and we see she’s been through some kind of weird experience – an out of body experience? Amnesia? At the start, we have no idea what’s going on, but the movie will take us there eventually.

The girl is Mitsuha, a high school girl who lives in the boondocks in mountainous Gifu prefecture. In this little community, she’s under the pressure of being the mayor’s daughter and also a miko at her grandmother’s shrine, which puts her in the public eye. Mitsuha finds her own life boring and constrained, and really wishes she could be, say, a boy living in an exciting place like Tokyo.

Well, be careful what you wish for…

Mitsuha starts having very strange experiences. She’ll wake up in the body of Taki, a high school boy in Tokyo, while he wakes up in her body. Both, naturally, have no idea where they are, who they are, or what they’re supposed to be doing. They somehow make their way to school, where they don’t know their own names, where they work, how to do any of the things they normally do. For example, Mitsuha, as Taki, talking to Taki’s friends, uses ‘watashi’ (a slightly girly way to say ‘I’) and, seeing their reactions, runs through a list of other options ‘watakushi?’ ‘boku?’ ‘ore?’ until hitting on the one that ‘Taki’ actually uses. Meanwhile, Taki as Mitsuha can’t do ‘her’ hair properly and plays basketball with an intense ferocity that makes Mitsuha’s classmates stare.

The next day, they’ll be back in their own body, but without any knowledge of what ‘they’ had been doing the previous day. And it’s not a one-off. They keep swapping bodies periodically, randomly, over the days and weeks to come. This leads to both seeing the world through the eyes of the other and communicating, rather amusingly, with the other, via diaries and whatnot.

Who knows how it happens? The movie never exactly says, but it sets up an atmosphere that makes all things seem possible. Mitsuha comes from a family of women with a strong connection to the supernatural, and with a shrine in her own family, a connection with the underworld and the mystical. While visiting their shrine’s god, her grandmother explains the idea of ‘musubi’ (‘ties’) and the connections between things. Meanwhile, a beautiful and rare comet has appeared in the sky, just about the time their strange story begins, like an omen.

Mitsuha and Taki get to know each other by living each other’s lives, and over time, the two start to feel they’d like to meet… but that may prove more complicated than they originally think. Is there a deeper reason why Mitsuha and Taki have become able to swap bodies? And what will happen when the comet nears the earth?

The movie introduces a few big plot twists and the last third of the movie is rather different in tone from the first parts – more dramatic and urgent. I think my favourite part was the middle third – where they know what’s happening and are trying to work with it, living each other’s lives. There’s a lot of humour in the story at this point and our protagonists are likeable throughout.

It’s never 100% clear how much of what they experience is ‘real’ or if elements are dreams. Why do they sometimes have trouble remembering each other? It does seem as if they’re living an ongoing dream. I like that the movie never tries too hard to answer this definitively.

I couldn’t help crying at the end; it was a great ending. One thing that helped was the music, which I found uplifting and well performed. The band ‘Radwimps’ did several songs for this movie, and I’ve just bought them all and I’m listening to them over and over again.

The movie, being set in the Japanese countryside – showing the beauty of the different seasons, and various cultural traditions – as well as the bling and busyness of fast-paced Tokyo – gives a great snapshot of the country and certainly made me want to go back!

Hmm! I’m not usually so full of praise for anything – and I usually think praising something, if you’re trying to get others to enjoy something, has the opposite effect (because as soon as you go into something with high expectations, you’re likely to be more disappointed than if you expected nothing). Still, this is all how I felt after seeing it.

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Why I want to study at GenkiJACS

October 27, 2016

It’s no great secret that I’ve been battling along with my Japanese study for quite a few years here in Australia. I’ve done a great deal of it on my own, without classes, because there are no high level Japanese courses in my city. As I discovered last time I took the JLPT, sometimes giving bits and pieces of self-study to a task isn’t quite enough.

I still have a lot to learn and lately my progress has slowed a lot. I think what’s needed for me to bridge the gap is to actually go back to Japan and give it a go studying full-time for a while. A course designed by actual experienced Japanese teachers, where I could be immersed in Japanese language and culture – not to mention being surrounded by Japanese once I step out of the school – would be such a boon and help me to get to the next level.

I have thought about this before and right now I am keen on the idea of GenkiJACS, a school in Tokyo and Fukuoka. It’s a well-regarded school, has lots of different courses, and  was recently awarded Star World Language School 2016. They have short and long term courses, a basic program to which you can add elements that interest you (pop culture, conversation, etc) and overall, I’ve heard good things about it. It’d be great to be surrounded by like-minded people and in a city I love being in.

So… will I go? I’m not sure. But I’d certainly like to!

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TV Shows: Australian Survivor (again)

September 28, 2016

Unfortunately, Australian Survivor has jumped the shark; there are still eleven contestants left in this competition, but nobody worth watching remains. In the last four dismal tribal councils, one good player after another left. (Well, I don’t know if Conner and Kate were good players in the sense that they always played well. But at least I liked them, which is still more than I can say for most of the others.)

I don’t think I’ve seen such a disappointing outcome in any series of Survivor. I mean, it’s rare that my favourite contestant wins – I think it’s only happened once (that was ‘Fabio’ Jud, heheh) but usually there one or two cool people left near the end. Now… hmmm. I would probably go for Sue; I like her take-no-crap style.

I think the way the ‘good guys’ alliance played things was really stupid. For example:

-Kylie, who ought to know better, stuck with the Saanapu tribe that’s never treated her well, and went dobbing to them. Maybe I can suck up to my alliance but still not get rid of Kate! Good strategy! Not! The only pro is that your alliance does trust you more.

-After realising that Nick knew of their plan to vote him out – and really, their blather at tribal could hardly have made him feel safe – they still put all their votes on him rather than going for a girl who couldn’t have used an idol. What they should have done was to make Nick feel unsafe – so he’d play his idol – and then actually voted for someone else. (However, it’s hard when you’ve got a whole alliance full of people who consider themselves too decent to lie and ‘scheme’. This is what happens when you get so-called ‘good guys’ together. They can’t make a proper go of things.)

-Lee and Sam didn’t vote the same way, thus undermining the whole thing anyway.

I thought I’d be really angry to see Kate voted off, but in the end I couldn’t muster the energy. When Conner got voted off, I swore a lot, but by the time Kate came around, there was a sense of fatalism about it all. Kate herself seemed so tired by the whole stupid game that by the time she got voted out, there might have even been a little bit of relief to get away from all those irritating people and the unfairness of it all.

(I mean ‘unfair’ from the point of view of that original ‘Saanapu getting all the powerful players’ twist that had consequences for so long. Not ‘unfair’ because she couldn’t make her plans work; that’s Survivor, sometimes.)

I don’t think, by the way, that the ‘good guys’ alliance is much of an idea – who wants to take good, decent people to the final 3 where they can beat you? – but she definitely had the right idea as to something that would appeal to Sam and Lee. And that was one pro about aiming to get rid of Nick. Because the guys personally dislike him, Kate could persuade them to take him out, even though it would make more sense to keep him and go after, say, Flick. However, if Sam voted for Flick, there would be no way back from that – no way to argue ‘oh, but I just wanted to take this one snake out of the game this one time; that doesn’t mean I’m turning on my alliance’. Taking out Flick would equate to turning on his alliance, no doubt about it. On the other hand, Nick was a target she could get them on board to gun for.

(Incidentally, I don’t think Nick is a bad guy. Doesn’t always know when to stop talking, maybe, and doesn’t do well in the way he presents himself to others, but I must say I agree with most of what he says. He really hasn’t been shown to lie to others. He has made an effort to keep his word and be transparent, but everyone still thinks he’s a weasel. He’s in an unwinnable situation he couldn’t climb back from. I do think he has a good amount of sense when it comes to the game. Most of all, I agree with his comment that all the bleating about integrity etc is pious and unnecessary.)

Basically, we have seen Vavau play Survivor – and all get voted off one after another – except with the twist that (probably) none of them will take home the money at the end. They didn’t even make it to the jury. It’s like watching a series of Survivor where everyone loses!

Now we get to see Saanapu play Survivor. Except that nobody in Saanapu is much fun to watch. ‘Strategy’ isn’t much happening any more. The minority who are controlling the game, are doing quite well with their decision-making, but nobody is succeeding in any upsets.

Possibly the only moment from these episodes I really enjoyed was seeing the Survivor auction. I was delighted to see both Conner and Kate getting the chance to shove some food down!

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(After Tuesday’s episode)

Now that all my favourite characters have gone, I actually watched Tuesday’s episode with a much less stressed feeling than I’d had the last couple of weeks. I no longer much cared who got out – one was as good as another – so I didn’t have much invested in it. (I don’t even care if Brooke and Flick get out. At least they are playing intelligently and making good judgment calls. I didn’t like them when they were smug and winning everything, but now that all the people I like are out anyway, I don’t dislike them as much.)

When I was invested, every episode I went in wanting something to not happen – please don’t let Vavau lose again, please don’t let Craig go home, please don’t let Conner get out, etc – and every time without fail, that was the outcome of the episode and it made me frustrated. (It’s alright to be emotionally invested if the people you like get occasional victories.)

It was funny editing, in a way. Getting the audience to really want something and then see it not happen might work a couple of times but after it happens every episode, it gets wearing. Maybe they should have tried to set up Conner and Kate with more of a villainous edit, so we’d be glad to see them picked off. Ha! See what you did to the Aganoans on your tribe? How they could never make much headway with you? Now how do you like it?!! Sucked in!!

Anyway, after a while you forget that these likeable players were once there and you just focus on who is left. At least this episode gave us a respite in that we got the letters. We got a nice moment with Kristie giving up her letter. We got a few moments of Flick showing sympathy or loyalty, thus humanising her a bit. We saw some epic endurance from Brooke and Kylie. (I can’t believe how long that was!! How boring for everyone waiting for that challenge to finish!)

If there was a legitimate reason for those guys to distrust Nick, it was mostly that he talks unguardedly at times, like at his final tribal council where he was talking all about who ranked where. If it was his final tribal, as he suspected, then no harm done, but if he was hoping to stay and continue to be buddies with his alliance, it wasn’t the smartest speech.

Watching ‘Rob has a podcast‘, Rob and Stephen made the point that one reason for the conservative play this season (ie, ‘let’s vote off anyone who shows a sign of having a brain’) is how long it is. With so many contestants and so many tribal councils, everyone is looking for some excuse, however trivial, to vote off someone else. If one person gets a couple of people’s backs up, there’s no great difficulty rounding up others to vote for them. It does result in conservative players, however.

I do wonder, if Brooke and Flick end up in the final 3 with someone else (ie, not El), would they want to take each other to the final 2? Or take someone less popular with them? Under the current system, they are getting rid of anyone who is even a little unpopular, because others can be persuaded to get on board and go after them. If they were smart, they might consider taking Kylie or Kristie (or would have kept a Nick, whom lots of people seem to dislike). Not that Kylie or Kristie are exactly unpopular, but I don’t think the jury would consider their gameplay as strong overall, and they haven’t made quite the social headway that others have.

(Then again, with this mix of people, who are all about ‘trust’ and ‘friendship’, being voted out by Brooke or Flick might be enough to make them vote against them at the end of the game. It will probably be the most likeable and uncontroversial contestant who gets voted for at the final council, even if the other has played a better game. Then again, that has happened plenty of times in the American version as well!)

I don’t get the thinking of everyone who sticks with the majority alliance until the point of no return. Once you get rid of players like Conner and Kate, there might not be enough of you to band together to take out the majority. Is there going to be a final 8 or 9 at the end of the game? No? Then realise that at one point, if you stick with the majority, it WILL be you out! (This is like what happened with Survivor: Redemption Island, where everyone stuck close to Boston Rob, who then got most of them out.)

Then again, you can only work with the people who are there, can’t you? It’s easy to think ‘you should get together a minority group who aren’t the top dogs, and take out some of the girls who are calling the shots’. But if you can’t trust a couple of the people in the minority to stick with you and have some guts in their decision, your options *are* limited…

Anyway, now that I’m over my frustration, I’m still watching the show with interest, if less passion than before!