Anodyne

After starting and abandoning Anodyne a few times on various platforms, I downloaded it onto my Nintendo Switch. Being able to play this retro-styled adventure game on a handheld console turned out to be just what I needed in order to appreciate the experience, and I got completely sucked into its world. Because of its horror elements, I’m not sure Anodyne is for everyone, but I had a great time working my way through the game while eagerly anticipating what sort of strange and grotesque imagery I would encounter next.

The game has Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire style Game Boy Advance era graphics. The pixel art is by turns allusive and unique, and it’s occasionally genuinely gorgeous or horrifying.

The screen-by-screen dungeon and overworld layouts remind me a lot of the two Legend of Zelda Oracle games, and the gameplay is like what those games could have been if they had focused on their core strengths instead of distracting the player with extraneous marginalia. If you’re willing to explore a bit, you can learn to jump fairly in the game, and it’s a neat ability to incorporate into the Zelda-style gameplay.

Anodyne also gives off strong Yume Nikki vibes. You start off on a fairly generic quest, but it quickly becomes clear that you’re exploring a manifestation of the subconscious mind of the protagonist, who is not doing okay. There are clear references to addition, depression, and suicidal ideation, and each of the dungeons is themed after a specific fear. The first dungeon is about the fear of not being able to see, the second dungeon is about the fear of being born from the bloody entrails of your mother’s body, the third dungeon is about the fear of being generic and unnecessary, and so on.

Anodyne also reminds me of the original The Legend of Zelda in that there’s zero guidance – the game has no interest in telling you where to go or what to do. This is why I abandoned it the first few times I tried to play it, as I arrived at its open field area and became overwhelmed. Once I decided to stick with it and finally figured out the small environmental clues meant to lead the player forward, it was a lot of fun to be able to go anywhere and do anything while unearthing a few secrets along the way.

Anodyne’s structure is balanced between the overworld areas and the dungeons, and each of the dungeons is a perfect puzzle box. Despite the gameplay mechanics being deliberately limited and basic, some of the puzzles are very clever. The controls are a little loose, but it’s not really a combat-heavy game. There’s no real penalty for dying, and I died a good three dozen times out of sheer laziness but didn’t feel frustrated even once.

It took me about six hours to finish Anodyne, and I enjoyed every minute. It seems there’s a lot of postgame content that involves revisiting various locations, talking to important characters again, and using a new ability to access a bonus dungeon. This game is subtly but undeniably disturbing, and I’m looking forward to seeing just how weird it can get after the first “quest” has been completed. Or maybe the player-character finally works through his trauma and gets better? That would be good too. I guess.

To summarize: Anodyne is a 16-bit nightmare adventure for a mature audience, sort of like a re-imagining of Majora’s Mask in which characters are allowed to say fuck. Putting the edginess aside, it’s super fun to play, and the dungeons are ghoulishly creative.

Murder Is Very Expedient!

This comic is based on a marvelous illustration of Ceres and Weive created by @l-a-l-o-u on Tumblr. You can see the piece in all its colorful glory (here). 

I’m going to use this illustration as the cover for the second story arc of The Demon King, which I plan to start posting on AO3 beginning on August 1. Being able to work on collaborative illustrations and my own silly comics fills me with inspiration, and I’m excited to share the next segment of the story!

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion

Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is a 16-bit Zelda-style adventure game with cute graphics and meme-heavy writing that takes about two and a half hours to play from start to finish with 100% completion.

Along with a bright and colorful overworld, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion features three formal inside dungeons and two less formal outside dungeons, as well as the usual variety of “go fetch me this thing” sidequests. The game is meant to be accessible to a diversity of players but still presents a range of entertaining challenges. The gameplay isn’t engineered for precision mechanics, which makes the boss fights somewhat more difficult than they perhaps need to be, but you can turn on “god mode” at any time from the menu. Around the middle of the game, Turnip Boy discovers a device that generates portals, and this tool enables are some fun puzzles involving getting bombs and blocks to where they need to be on the map in order to move forward.

Your main goal, as Turnip Boy, is to destroy every single piece of horrible paper you get your (non-existent) hands on. Tax documents? Rip them up. Leases? Rip them up. Receipts? Rip them up. A love letter that the girl you like wants you to deliver to someone who isn’t you, even though she knows you like her? Rip it up right in front of her face. Someone’s uwu anime drawing? Rip that mess up.

It’s very cathartic.

The exploration and puzzles are fun, but what I really enjoyed about Turnip Boy is the dialog, as well as the way your adorable yet feral protagonist’s silence is used for comedic effect. This game uses one of my favorite Earthbound-inspired tropes ever, which is to populate dungeons with people who talk to you, making them feel like towns that happen to be temporarily overrun with monsters. There are also diaries and other documents (that you can rip up!) scattered about in the dungeons that provide lowkey Fallout-style worldbuilding.

So I suppose you could say that Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is a comedy story game that’s set up as a 16-bit Zelda adventure quest. Thankfully, the 16-bit graphics and Zelda-style gameplay elements work really well. The music is super-catchy too.

Is Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion worth $15? To me, it definitely was. A team of fifteen people developed this game, and I’m happy to give each of them a dollar. If you’re in the “I want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and I’m not kidding” camp, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is the game for you, especially if you’re in the mood to take an afternoon off and enjoy yourself by exploring a colorful fantasy garden while gleefully smashing capitalism.

A Noble Pursuit

None of the lessons from the Gerudo Classroom have prepared Rhondson for married life with Hudson, who has grown restless and disappeared from Tarrey Town a year after its founding. She travels to the Akkala Citadel Ruins to hunt for her husband while reflecting on the bridges that will need to be rebuilt in order for Hyrule to embrace a peaceful future.

“A Noble Pursuit” is a short story that explores the theme of cultural differences, including different attitudes regarding the preservation of historic sites, via the Akkala Citadel Ruins.

As the Gerudo tailor Rhondson crosses the Sokkala Bridges, she’s impressed by how sturdy and practical they are; and, at the end of the story, she considers how building more bridges – both literal and cultural – might help make the Akkala Citadel habitable once more.

At the end of the story, Rhondson finds that her missing husband Hudson has made friends with the monstrous Hinox who’s always snoozing away on the citadel’s parade grounds. She realizes that both the Hinox and her husband need a renewed sense of purpose, and she encourages Hudson to direct his energy into rebuilding the ruins of the Akkala Citadel into a place better suited to cultural exchange.  

This story about archaeology, castles, ruins, giant monster friends, and what it means “to live happily ever after” was written for Memorabilia, a Breath of the Wild fanzine​ that you can check out on Twitter (here) and on Tumblr (here). The accompanying illustrations are by the stylish scholar Pocketwei, whose art of handsome characters and beautiful landscapes can be found on Twitter (here) and on Instagram (here).

You can read “A Noble Pursuit” on AO3 (here).

Hot Dad Ganondorf

I saw a screencap of (this tweet) circulating on Tumblr after watching the recent teaser trailer for the Breath of the Wild sequel, and this is where my mind immediately went. People in the Legend of Zelda fandom say that they want “hot dad Ganon,” but be careful what you wish for!

I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Frankiesbugs for putting up with my awful dad humor and drawing this silly comic. You can find more of the artist’s cute and creepy comics and illustrations on Instagram, on Tumblr, and on DeviantArt.

Malice

Malice is an urban fantasy AU of Breath of the Wild starring Zelda, a scientist researching ancient technology, and Ganondorf, a tech investor who takes an intense interest in her work. Ganondorf is more than he seems, however, and Zelda is about to learn just how real her nightmares of calamity might become…

The complete illustrated story is on AO3.

Falling Out of Love with Teaching

Dear Professor,

I’ve enjoyed your class this semester, but I need to prioritize other demands on my time during the exam period. Could you tally my grade and let me know if I can pass this class without submitting the final paper?

Please reply at your earliest convenience.

Best regards,

[Name Redacted]

I fell out of love with teaching during the exact moment I opened this email from an undergraduate student. My disillusionment with academia has always been present in varying degrees since the beginning of my career, but the shift in my belief in the value of my work was sudden and complete, like flicking off a light switch before going outside.

Professors famously enjoy complaining that their students are lazy, and I couldn’t agree less. Having taught at various colleges and universities in the United States, it’s been my experience that the kids are all right, actually. There are always going to be a few students in every class who don’t make any secret of the fact that they’d rather not be there. Still, most undergrads are hardworking and earnest young adults who have grand dreams but are painfully aware of their low likelihood of achieving success. They’re intelligent, they’re socially conscious, and they’re almost frighteningly talented. Unfortunately, for most of them, their prospects aren’t great.

As of 2021, the average annual cost of a four-year college in the United States is $35,770, and the vast majority of college students owe at least $30,000 in student debt when they graduate. The employment opportunities for recent graduates aren’t great, regardless of whether they major in the Humanities or a STEM field. Ambitious students aiming for salaried positions are often forced to enroll in a graduate degree program. Others continue to accept unpaid or underpaid internships after graduation as they chase the chance of a stable job that offers a livable wage. During their hunt for a decent job, many recent graduates feel compelled to move far away from their family and friends, breaking both their intimate social ties and the networks of connections that college life is supposed to facilitate. Any way you look at it, it’s a bleak picture.  

I teach classes about contemporary media cultures in East Asia. The discipline tends to attract Business students and STEM majors who’d like to minor in the Humanities for personal reasons but feel as though they need to justify their choice on a resume. Most of my students aren’t white, and many of them have explained that they’re interested in histories and cultures that aren’t Anglo-European. Some of them have admitted to wanting to learn about the country their family immigrated from in a space that’s mostly separate from the complications of the relationships they have with their parents and grandparents. It can be tricky to occupy to the position of teaching someone about their own culture, but it’s been a pleasure and an honor to stand behind my students during their journeys.  

What I feel that I owe to these young people, the gifted and the mediocre students alike, is to help them make their way in the world. A professor publishes research and teaches classes, but it’s also our job to create connections for our students. We write letters, we make phone calls, we introduce our students to the right people, we send them applications to programs that align with their goals and interests, and we help them win grants and scholarships and paid internships. When necessary, we do battle against the bureaucracy of the university administration on their behalf.

What students get out of our classes isn’t necessarily the acquisition of concrete knowledge, but rather a framework for dealing with the world on both an intellectual and a practical level. In the end, even if our students don’t become specialists in our fields, they will hopefully have a pleasant experience learning about how beautiful and complicated and interesting the world can be.

That’s what I thought, at least, right up until the point I lost my job at a public university during the pandemic. After I was notified that my contract wouldn’t be renewed, I was able to find a part-time job at the sort of well-funded private university that can afford to hire temp workers during a pandemic. Although I’d gotten my degrees at places like this, actually teaching there was an altogether different experience. Many of my students, at twenty years old, have a higher net worth than I will ever have at any point in my life. They know it, and they made sure that I know it as well.

For all the magic of teaching and learning, higher education in the United States is a tool of social and economic privilege. The rich use it to maintain their wealth, while it causes the lower and middle classes to become poorer. The undergraduate students who go to colleges that aren’t “top twenty schools” work hard and take on massive amounts of debt in order to have access to something that students born into wealth feel entitled to. No matter what my intentions may have been when I entered academia, no “decolonizing the classroom” initiatives, job placements, or glowing recommendation letters can account for that fact that I function as a cog in an engine of inequality. To add insult to injury, my salary isn’t even that high. American universities espouse a neoliberal ideology of “personal commitment to teaching and service,” which functions as a means of justifying their exploitation of the precarious labor of instructors.

In other words, my career in academia was like an abusive relationship. I kept telling myself that it would get better, but this was little more than a fantasy that supported my idealistic but naïve view of higher education in the United States. Nothing made this clearer to me than reading my first “please reply at your earliest convenience” email from a student who saw our power dynamic for what it was and had no qualms about using the privilege of his position to negotiate a grade.

You may be wondering how I responded. I allowed the student to pass the class without completing the work, of course. The way I see it, you either do things for love or money, and I’m not being paid enough to care.

2021 Writing Log, Part Ten

– I posted the final two chapters of Malice on AO3. It took me almost exactly two years and three months to finish this novel. This may seem like an inordinate amount of time to spend on a Modern AU Breath of the Wild fanfic, but I’m glad I saw it through to the end. I’ve been wanting to write a monster romance story like this for a long time.

– I capped off the project with a “Hyrule Compendium” of all the product and place names in the story, which is accompanied by the lovely illustration from Mirarasol that I posted above. You can find more of the artist’s charming and colorful work on Twitter, on Instagram, and on Tumblr.

– I’m excited to announce that I’ve got a piece in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology coming out from Muswell Press in November. My essay, “Sympathy for the Villain,” is about video game villain fandom, as well as about leaning to love yourself when the world sees you as a monster. You can learn more about the anthology on the press’s website (here) and via an article in The Bookseller (here).  

– Speaking of which, the short story I contributed to the Ties of Time fanzine, “The Flower Thief,” is now up on AO3. This story is about Ganondorf visiting Hyrule as a child and having a fraught encounter with the adult princess who will become Zelda’s mother. You can read the story on AO3 (here) and check out the rest of the zine on Twitter (here).

– I posted a review of Louisa Roy’s Ocarina of Time fancomic Only Power Remains, which is also about Ganondorf coming to Hyrule as a kid. Great minds think alike, and I love the artist’s take on this character and his story. You can read my review (here) and order a copy of the comic zine on Etsy (here).

– I posted a review of Natsuko Imamura’s novella The Woman in the Purple Skirt on my Japanese fiction book review blog (here). This book is about urban anomie and economic precarity with a touch of stalking and obsession, and it’s creepy as hell. I really enjoyed it, and Lucy North’s translation is excellent.

– I queried Women Write About Comics about possibly writing reviews for their site. I query them about once a year, but I never get any sort of concrete response. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that their small press comics editor will get back to me this time around, but I wonder if it’s worth being more persistent…?

– I’m continuing to write and submit original fiction to various venues, and my work continues to be rejected. It’s tough, but that’s just how it goes.

– I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for Duotrope, if only to get a better sense of the market.

– I also signed up for a workshop at a local Philadelphia writing center called Blue Stoop. If you’re interested, it’s (this one), “Pitching Nonfiction for Publication.” I’m having serious doubts about the viability of academia in the United States, but I’m still committed to public education that encourages and supports diversity and cultural literacy. That being said, I have no idea how to successfully pitch my work on non-Western media to non-academic venues, so I feel that this workshop is something that I can benefit from. Thankfully, they offer the fee on a sliding scale, so I can actually afford it without going into debt.

– Meanwhile, I started working on the second story arc of The Demon King to keep my spirits up. It feels wonderful to return to these characters and their world after a three-month hiatus. Since this project doesn’t yet seem to be going anywhere in terms of finding representation, I figure that I might as well keep posting it on AO3 for the time being, and I’m looking forward to sharing new chapters soon.

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

Invitation of Bread

I moved to Philadelphia during the pandemic. My building had recently been renovated, and my husband and I were the first people to occupy our apartment. Unfortunately, an internet cable hadn’t been installed before we moved in. Since we’re on the top floor, the Comcast technicians would have had to go through everyone’s apartment under ours to run the line, which wasn’t going to happen during the lockdown.

Now that Philadelphia has gotten people vaccinated and lifted its pandemic restrictions, we were able to get Comcast to run a cable up to our apartment, and we finally have internet. Hooray!

During the lockdown, my husband and I watched a lot of old DVDs, and all of the DVDs I own are anime. I have a list of horror movies that I want to check out, but the habit of watching anime has become so ingrained that I turned on my newly online PS4 and went straight to Crunchyroll. Most of what’s currently streaming is the usual shōnen and isekai nonsense, but there’s also a cute slice-of-life series with 15-minute episodes called Let’s Make a Mug Too about an all-female high school pottery club. This anime features the antics of cute girls doing cute things in between sessions of talking about their feelings, and it was clearly financed by the regional tourism promotion board of the city of Tajimi in Gifu prefecture. My husband, who is the director of an internationally prestigious graduate program, unironically loves every character in this show and watches an episode every evening.

In fact, he loves it so much that he’s started writing (in his head) his own anime. It’s called “Invitation of Bread,” and it’s about three thirty-something women who open a bakery in west Tokyo. Given that my husband never watched anime before we moved to Philadelphia last June, the premise is surprisingly solid, and I’d like to share it.

. . . . . . . . . .

Yumi is a 35-year-old housewife who decides to open a small bakery in Jiyugaoka, an upscale neighborhood to the west of Tokyo. Her architect husband leaves his firm and starts working from home so that he can help take care of their ten-year-old son, Haruki.

Yumi’s cheerful and energetic best friend from high school, Chie, is an accounts manager for a restaurant supply company, where she is constantly harassed by gross older men. When Yumi goes to Chie to inquire about outfitting the bakery, she listens to Chie’s tales of woe and invites her to become her partner in the business.

Chie happily accepts the invitation, and she and Yumi open a bakery together. They decide to call their new business Pan no Kangei, which means something like “the warm sense of welcome you feel when a restaurant offers you freshly baked bread” but is officially translated as “Invitation of Bread.”

An upperclassman whom Yumi and Chie admired in high school, Sakamoto-san, works in the editorial department of a lifestyle magazine, and she visits the bakery to write an article. Sakamoto-san is beautiful and intelligent, but she is unhappy at her job because she feels as though the long hours she puts into writing for the magazine don’t leave her time for the creative work she always dreamed of doing. Yumi and Chie invite her to be the third partner in the business, so she leaves her corporate job and takes on the task of managing the bakery’s branding and social media accounts while working out her surprisingly violent frustrations on the bread dough every morning.

In every episode, Yumi and her friends try their hand at creating a new menu item, but they sometimes have trouble getting it right. They’re aided by a German sports reporter named Lars who lives in the neighborhood. While taking his Golden Retriever Lola out on walks, Lars visits the bakery and encourages the three women by telling them stories about the origins of various European pastries.

In the second half of the season, the bakery takes on a high school student named Momoka as a part-time worker. Momoka is the older sister of one of Hakuri’s friends, and she’s a video game otaku who has trouble talking with people. Yumi was also shy as a teenager, so she sympathizes. She invites Momoka to spend a few afternoons helping out at the bakery after school, and Momoka’s fantasies of heroes and monsters serve as the inspirations for several new confections.

Although the Pan no Kangei bakery gets off to a somewhat rocky start, by the end of the season it has become a neighborhood favorite, as well as a space for Yumi, Chie, and Sakamoto-san to reignite their high school friendship and rediscover the joy of the dreams they had when they were younger.

. . . . . . . . . .

You know, it’s funny. I remember when I first learned that the target audience of anime about cute girls doing cute things is white-collar professional men in their thirties and forties. I didn’t believe it then, but I totally get it now. Many people (including myself) watch violent sci-fi anime as a form of escapism, but there’s also a definite appeal in a more low-key and relaxing fantasy of good-natured young women who don’t have anything to worry about save for what sort of delicious snack they’re going to eat while enjoying each other’s company. If nothing else, this sort of thing kept me sane during the pandemic, so I’m disinclined to judge its inanity too harshly.

By the way, if you’re interested, these are my husband’s top five favorite anime:

1. Weathering With You
2. Whisper of the Heart
3. From Up on Poppy Hill
4. Penguin Highway
5. Azumanga Daioh

Only Power Remains

Only Power Remains is an Ocarina of Time fancomic that explores the backstory of Ganondorf, the iconic villain of the Legend of Zelda games. According to the series lore, Ganondorf was the only male child born to the Gerudo, and otherwise all-female society living in the desert at the border of the kingdom of Hyrule. Through a series of connected scenes, Only Power Remains investigates how Ganondorf grew from a strong-willed boy to a power-hungry warlord.

This comic is a fascinating and insightful exploration of Ganondorf’s backstory that rings true to the Legend of Zelda canon while still being accessible to casual fans of the series. It also stands on its own as a cohesive story, and I would happily recommend it to curious readers who may not be familiar with the details of the Zelda games. Louisa Roy’s writing is sharp and original, and her vibrant and expressive art does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of introducing and developing established characters.

In her extensive “Author Notes” at the end of the zine, Roy explains that she especially enjoyed drawing Ganondorf’s childhood interactions with a merchant in Hyrule Castle Town. The merchant is disrespectful during their first meeting, as he sees Ganondorf as nothing more than a bratty kid. Ganondorf therefore learns the Hylian language spoken by the merchant in order to come back a year later and verbally cut him down before taking what he wants from his stock of musical instruments. Without becoming too political, Roy conveys the tensions of cultural differences, and there’s a certain charm in watching Ganondorf slice through the Gordian knot of xenophobic stereotypes.

The supporting cast receives a similar level of nuance and sympathy, especially Nabooru, a Gerudo leader who eventually rebels against Ganondorf. With Nabooru, as with Ganondorf, the reader is given a sense that the tragic story of the Gerudo could have gone a different way had circumstances been even slightly different. The comic ventures into many unexplored corners of Hyrule during its journey, but the artist’s design work is brilliant and remains faithful both to the world of the games and to their real-life cultural influences.

Only Power Remains is far from the first Legend of Zelda fancomic created by Louisa Roy, who has published a number of zines featuring side stories that allow the minor characters in the games to shine in their own heroic (or antiheroic) light. The publication quality of these comic zines is consistently excellent, from the layout to the lettering to the cover design. You can follow the artist as @om_nom_berries on Twitter and @om-nom-berries on Tumblr, and you can find her comics on her website (here) and browse through her zines on Etsy (here). If you’re interested in Only Power Remains, you can check out the listing is (here).