Wanderers

This comic was written by me and drawn by LunaArtGallery, whose work can be found on Tumblr, on Instagram, and on Twitter. You can read their commentary on the piece on their Tumblr post (here).

Given that the universe of the Legend of Zelda games is characterized by its disparate timelines, I’d like to think that there’s at least one timeline in which Zelda and Ganondorf work out their differences peacefully instead of enacting the cycle of destruction brought about by a war between two ancient gods. Every game in the series is filled with abandoned ruins that Link explores but never questions, so it might be interesting for Zelda and Ganondorf to seek out the truth underlying the legends that have shaped their lives. This idea was inspired by the game Journey, which is about bearing witness to the mistakes of the past in a quest for atonement and enlightenment. If we ever get to play as Zelda, it would be lovely for her adventure to take her in a similarly compelling direction.

Mount Hiei

My story “Mount Hiei,” a dark fantasy about two young monks navigating the eerie twilight years of the Heian period, was just published in Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, a special issue of the journal White Enso. The issue is currently ongoing and free to read online (here), and “Mount Hiei” is on (this page).

In this story, a ten-year-old boy becomes an apprentice monk on Mount Hiei, which houses a temple that has been tasked with protecting the nation. The boy grows accustomed to monastic life but never becomes comfortable with the statues of the monstrous Guardian King venerated by the other monks. When he discovers a secret door leading into the mountain, he comes to understand why the deity is depicted in such a frightening manner – as well as what “protecting the nation” actually entails.

Mount Hiei is a real place, as is Enryaku Temple, which serves as the setting of this historical horror story. To the best of my knowledge, the practical details of monastic life are accurate for the time period. I was inspired by the fiction of the Japanese author Ken Asamatsu, who applies a Lovecraftian sensibility to Japanese mythology and folklore, and I wrote this story from a place of admiration and respect for the medieval war epic The Tales of the Heike, on which it’s very loosely based.

By the way, the editors of White Enso are still looking for personal essays and original fiction for the 100 Ghost Stories Kaidankai project. Although they’re selective, they accept shorter and more casual pieces, and the submission process is very chill and relaxed. The editors are a pleasure to work with, and they’ll also create a podcast recording of your writing! If you’re interested, you can send your submission (here).

How to Board the West Philly Ghost Bus

(1)  It needs to be after dark.
(2)  You should be standing at a bus stop.
(3)  You need to be horribly, desperately lonely.
(4)  You can’t have a specific destination in mind.
(5)  You’ll see a bus with no route number on the display.
(6)  It will slow down but not stop, so you need to chase it.
(7)  You probably won’t catch it, but if you do…
(8)  The driver will let you on without asking you to pay.
(9)  You’ve made it this far. You might as well sit down.

I’ve recently found myself asking people I meet in West Philadelphia if they know any urban legends. Most of what I’ve heard are rumors about real people who have become local characters or stories about bodies being buried under public places. (Because Philadelphia is a relatively old city, the stories about buried bodies are mostly true!) A few people also told me about a ghostly SEPTA bus, which is famous enough to be mentioned a few times online.

According to the stories I’ve heard from university students and friendly strangers I’ve spoken with at local bars, the ghost SEPTA bus picks up people late at night, but only if they have nowhere to go and no one to miss them once they disappear onto the bus. 

There are actually a number of non-supernatural SEPTA buses that drive back along their routes through West Philly when they aren’t in service, and I occasionally see them pick up city maintenance workers and hospital staff late at night. What’s different about the ghost bus is what happens once you get on.

Apparently, there are three possibilities. The first is that the bus vanishes, and you’re never heard from again. The second is that you’re now trapped on the SEPTA bus along with the other desperate and unlucky souls who boarded before you. The third is that the bus travels back in time, albeit within a span limited to the history of the bus, and that you can signal the driver to stop when you’ve reached your desired destination in the past. 

The third possibility seems the most likely, as no one who has vanished or become trapped on the bus would be able to tell other people how this process works. Then again, it may be that a person who boards the mysterious SEPTA bus seems to vanish or sit in stasis from the perspective of someone who’s still in our timeline. There’s only one way to find out for sure…

Sparkle

“They’re for my niece,” he explained to the clerk who rang up the pair of earrings. He was too young to have a niece, and he wouldn’t have given her cheap dollar store earrings anyway, but oh how they sparkled when he clipped them to his ears later that night.

. . . . .

I wrote this 50-word story for the “Dollar Store” issue of a magazine called Blink Ink, which describes itself as “home to the finest in contemporary 50 word fiction.” Blink Ink is only available in print, and you can get a subscription on their website (here) if you’re interested.

Top Five Japanese Games Set in Fantasy America

5. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a portal fantasy in which a young boy named Oliver travels to another world from his home in Motorville, a small town based on a suburb of Detroit that’s filled with classic 1950s Americana. The game’s characters and environments were designed by Studio Ghibli, so Motorville’s cars, houses, and grassy lawns surrounded by white-picket fences are infused with color and charm. Every character in the fantasy world of Ni No Kuni has a counterpart in “our” world, so Oliver is frequently tasked to returning to Motorville to help people by solving puzzles and fighting enemies. Through these transitions between Motorville and Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch suggests how a child’s imagination might create an entire sprawling fantasy world within a small American suburb.

4. Final Fantasy XV

According to its developers, Final Fantasy XV was partially inspired by a road trip down California’s famous Route 1 coastal highway. Not only can you take the wheel of a stylish convertible to enjoy the scenery of the American West, but you can also stop off at various diners to take in the Formica counters and shiny chrome jukeboxes while picking up recipes for burgers and fries slathered in ketchup. While the game’s landscapes reflect the beautiful natural environments of California, its inhabited areas reflect the state’s cultural diversity, and Eos is home to cities inspired by locations as far-ranging as Shinjuku and Havana.  

3. Pokémon Black and Pokémon White

Each of the mainline pairs of games in the Pokémon series is set in a region analogous to a location in the real world. Pokémon Black and Pokémon White take place in the Unova region, which is loosely modeled on New York. The center of Unova, the thriving Castelia City, is much larger than any city previously seen in the series. Castelia City is filled with skyscrapers and boasts a bustling harbor, as well as a festive boardwalk entertainment district in the nearby satellite city of Nimbasa. During their journey, the player can also get a taste of American-inspired desert highways and city-sized airports. In addition, the Unova Region marks a major landmark for the Pokémon series – this was the first pair of games in which characters could have darker skintones and Afro-textured hair.

2. Silent Hill 2

The setting of the iconic survival horror game Silent Hill 2 is Silent Hill, Maine. As a mid-sized resort town that sprang up around the scenic Toluca Lake, Silent Hill is lovingly modeled on small-town New England, with picturesque pine forests framing a charming central business district. Thick mist rises from the surface of the lake as the heat of the day cools in the evening, creating evocative vistas of telephone poles emerging from a sea of fog.

If you linger too long in Silent Hill, however, you may start to notice that the town isn’t doing too well – many of the stores in the strip malls are closed, the hospital and other public buildings are slouching into genteel decay, and odd graffiti has been scrawled on the tarps and fences surrounding abandoned construction sites. There is, of course, also an underground cult whose activities have linked the town to a hellish nightmare realm. As the game’s tagline reads, “Every town has its secrets,” and Silent Hill’s secrets are pure Stephen King.

1. Earthbound

One of the reasons why the quirky 16-bit RPG Earthbound has managed to secure such a strong hold on the imaginations of generations of gamers is the vibrancy of its setting in Eagleland. Your hero Ness, a boy destined to save the world with psychic powers and a baseball bat, grew up in a modest wood-frame house on the outskirts of the small town of Onett. Onett has a burger joint, an old-fashioned arcade, and a handsome public library, as well as wide streets and sidewalks large enough for Ness to navigate on his trusty bike.

Once he sets out from this pitch-perfect Steven Spielberg movie set, Ness travels around Eagleland to visit an outdoor market filled with hippies, an indoor mall filled with bored teenage employees, a seedy nightclub hosting the Blues Brothers, and a compact version of New York City that becomes a neon-lit wonderland after dark. Ness’s adventure even takes him to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the famous “Pink Palace” of Waikiki. Far from being a whirlwind tour of the United States, Earthbound offers players countless incentives to spend time in each town seeing the sights, talking to the locals, and discovering the stranger aspects of American life as seen through Japanese eyes.  

2021 Writing Log, Part Eleven

– I posted “A Noble Pursuit,” the story I contributed to the Memorabilia fanzine, on AO3 (here). Memorabilia celebrates the architecture and archaeology of Breath of the Wild, and it’s fitting that the print version is a handsome and extremely well-designed physical object. It’s the size of a paperback novel and has fantastic text formatting, so it’s easy to read the stories as well as appreciate the art. Leftover sales of the zine and its accompanying merch are open until September 5 if you’d like to excavate a copy of your own. You can check out the project on Twitter (here) and visit their online storefront (here).

Fated, another Legend of Zelda fanzine I contributed a story to, has extended preorders to this Sunday, August 15. This zine features a lot of incredible art and stories, and it’s going to be a big and beautiful book. The previews of the merch I’ve seen are also gorgeous! You can check out the project on Twitter (here) and visit their online storefront (here) if you’re interested.

– I posted a review of the YA soft fantasy novel Lonely Castle in the Mirror on my book review blog (here). I read the original Japanese version of this novel over the course of 2020, and its story of teenagers overcoming bullying helped me stay sane as my former colleagues watched me lose my job during the pandemic due to harassment and did nothing. Even though Lonely Castle is staunchly YA fiction, I think anyone who’s ever had the experience of feeling alienated in the face of abuse will be able to appreciate this novel, and I’m grateful it’s received such an excellent translation.

– I also posted brief reviews of a few short indie games that are currently on sale on the Nintendo Switch digital store: the comedic adventure game Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (here), the darkly fantastic and surreal adventure Anodyne (here), the retro survival horror game Mad Father (here), and the wholesome and brightly colored visual romance novel Half Past Fate (here).

– My book Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze received its first academic book review via the comics journal ImageText. This is super exciting to me, especially because ImageText published the first academic book review I wrote as a grad student. The journal is online and completely open-access, and you can read the review in its entirety (here).

– My essay “I Coveted That Wind: Ganondorf, Buddhism, and Hyrule’s Apocalyptic Cycle” was featured in a short review article on the website Playlab. You can read the review (here).   

– My zine Ghost Stories was featured on Broken Pencil magazine’s zine showcase for International Zine Month, along with a half dozen other interesting titles. You can find the article (here), and you can check out the zine itself (here).

– My zine It Never Happened was reviewed on the website Sea Green Zines. I’m not sure how I missed this review when it was posted back in May, because it’s lovely! You can read the review (here) and check out the zine (here).

As always, I’ve been keeping busy writing, submitting, and… waiting! I hope to be able to share some forthcoming stories and comics soon, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for positive responses to my current batch of submissions.

( You can follow me on Patreon if you’d like to support my work! )

Half Past Fate

Half Part Fate is a visual romance novel by an American developer that follows three couples on their journey to their first date. There’s a long list of possible achievements to unlock, but the story itself is entirely linear. Although the characters are adults, the tone is 100% PG, and everything is very sweet and wholesome.

The game is divided into twelve chapters, each of which takes about ten to fifteen minutes to complete depending on how quickly you read and how much you want to explore. You play each chapter as one of the romantic leads in a top-down environment, each of which functions as a small and self-contained stage reminiscent of the “town” sections of a 16-bit JRPG. Your job is to walk around and talk to people, and the gameplay elements are limited: Person A will give you Object B, but only if you trade it for Object C that you get from Person D. There are (mercifully) no puzzles or reflex-based minigames, making Half Past Fate a chill and relaxing experience.

The environments are a lot of fun. The game is set in a romanticized hybrid of Los Angeles and Austin, and there is no crime, poverty, or infrastructural decay. Everything is clean and neat and aesthetically pleasing, and no one is rude or creepy. You can therefore walk around urban environments like coffee shops, public parks, outdoor shopping arcades, and waterfront bars without worrying that someone is going to report you to the police for striking up conversations with strangers. Half Past Fate reminds me a lot of Earthbound in that it offers the player an opportunity to stroll around a contemporary city and read quirky flavor text while catching small glimpses of people’s lives.

The three love stories are just as cute and charming as the pixel art. One couple has been friends since college but never found the right time to confess their feelings, and now they find themselves realizing how much they mean to each other as their artistic careers have started to take off. One couple meets randomly at a tea-themed street fair and has a lovely afternoon together, but then the boy loses the girl’s phone number and has to track her down. The third couple is entangled in a high-stakes game of money and power and deception, and it admittedly takes a willing suspension of disbelief to fit them into the same world as the other characters, but I still liked their story a lot.

The three main couples are straight, but they’re surrounded by representatives of a rainbow of genders and sexualities. Many of the queer side characters are involved in romantic dramas that you can piece together if you take your time exploring, and queerness is so open and omnipresent that the straightness of the main characters doesn’t feel forced.

In addition, the diversity of the cast is taken entirely for granted, which I appreciate. The racial and ethnic identities of the characters are specific and affect more than their family names and physical appearance, but they’re never the sum total of any character’s personality or backstory. Speaking personally, it’s rare to see multiethnic friend groups represented in popular media in a way that doesn’t involve tokenism, but the characters’ networks of relationships felt very real and natural to me.

I picked up Half Past Fate on Nintendo’s online storefront, and I enjoyed playing it as a handheld portable game on the Switch Lite. I’m not sure if the full $10 list price will be worth the three hours of gameplay for everyone, but it definitely was for me (especially considering that paperback novels cost almost $20 these days). Although I would have preferred a bit more bite and tension in the storytelling, the art and graphics are wonderful, and I’m a big fan of this retro JRPG style of structuring a visual novel. I’ve already downloaded the second game in the series, Half Past Fate: Romantic Distancing, and I’m looking forward to sitting down with it the next time I want to spend a relaxing afternoon in a softer and brighter version of reality.

The Coming Storm

This is a tribute to the iconic Zac Gorman comic, but with a twist.

I sometimes think about how Ganondorf more than likely didn’t start out as evil. I imagine that he probably went on a journey that paralleled Link’s, but his reaction to the secrets he found in hidden caves and forgotten temples was substantially different due to the circumstances of his life and destiny. While the Legend of Zelda games contain subtle elements of melancholy from Link’s perspective, Ganondorf’s story is more like a full-on Greek tragedy.

Mad Father

Mad Father is a retro survival horror game about a cute girl named Aya who lives in an isolated mansion with her father. As you might be able to guess from the title, her dad is not 100% sane.

The game was originally designed with RPG Maker and released on Steam in 2012, but it’s been remastered for Nintendo Switch with updated graphics and sound design, as well as a few postgame bonus segments. It takes about three hours to play, and I felt that it was a good value when I bought it on sale on Nintendo’s digital storefront for $5. The horror is ghoulishly cheesy, and the jump scares are a lot of fun.

The opening of the game is nonlinear, as Aya has the run of the entire aboveground portion of the mansion. It’s somewhat difficult to understand what to do at first, and I admit that I had to consult a walkthrough to figure out how to get started. Once you gain access to the family’s sprawling underground murder dungeon, however, the path forward becomes easier to discern. Also, once you figure out how the environmental puzzles are supposed to work, they become much more entertaining.

As you grow accustomed to Mad Father during the first hour of playing, the jump scares become less effective, and the game compensates by leaning hard into camp. I don’t mean to suggest that anime can’t be scary, but Mad Father’s combination of over-the-top character portraits and cute pixel art amps up the carnivalesque elements of the story. By the time the dad starts chasing you with a chainsaw, my main reaction to the various horrors on display was delighted amusement.

There is one genuinely creepy moment toward the beginning of the game involving the father’s (nonsexual) reaction to the distress of a naked preteen girl, and it’s creepy because the game knows this reaction is upsetting but still treats it as perfectly natural. The killer dolls and unquiet ghosts haunting the tunnels of the murder dungeon aren’t actually all that scary, but the “kind” behavior of the father during the sepia-tinted nostalgia flashbacks is super disturbing. Mad Father is officially rated Teen, but it’s definitely not for kids (or adults sensitive to depictions of child abuse).

The basement of this family’s house is truly epic, by the way. The other day I was reading that a lot of families who live in McMansions don’t actually have any furniture in most of the rooms, and that makes sense to me. If you’re not imprisoning people to use as subjects for occult medical experiments, then what are you supposed to do with all that space, exactly? If nothing else, I suppose Aya’s dad is to be commended for his commitment to his interior decorating theme. It’s a shame that this theme is “horrible grotesque murder,” but if he’s paying the property tax on all those rooms then he might as well put them to good use.