Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When it Reigns, it Pours

My library has had the worst luck lately. First, they were booted out of their main building when funding for their location dried up. Then they were relocated to a smaller building with the majority of their books shelved in the basement. Then they suffered a flooding earlier this year. Just recently, they hired some College students to help with the the final remains of the damaged books, and determined which ones were still salvageable, and which ones to throw out. Then once these student's job was finished for the month, we had another flood Monday night.

Upon first seeing the damage when I arrived, I said, "This building hates us". Indeed, it certainly seems like a certain someone (or something) out there was conspiring against us from ever having our books made available to the public. Those aforementioned College students? A large portion of the surplus budget was used to hire them in the first place. And JUST as they finished the results of the clean-up job, we had a relapse. The really depressing thing is that the library was on the verge of opening themselves up to the larger public again, after two years of renovations.

Actually, we had something of an early warning system last week when there was some leaking from the ceiling pipes that fell directly upon a select few books & DVDs on the cart rack below. Nothing too damaging, though it paled in comparison to what happened before and later. However, that little incident brought up alarm bells from the people who'd suffered the memory of the last flooding incident.

Fortunately, we'd taken some precautions after our last natural disaster. There were several organic wooden supporters (prickly to the touch) that were placed on the floor and several boxes were later placed down upon. Several new boxcases were installed slightly above water level. And the final touch - plastic sheets covering the entirety of high-risk bookshelves. At the time, I thought it was an overkill response to a leaky pipe that was quickly fixed. They'd even covered the collapsible boxes on top of the bookshelves without even bothering to take them off. At the time, I didn't like the plastic covering making it harder to reach and read my potential reading material. Now, I know better. Those plastic sheets were a safety precaution against any potential leaks, but sadly, they weren't enough. There were still plenty of boxes still lying on the floor in a few rooms that hadn't been elevated quickly enough, and as a result, a large portion of these stacked boxes were tipped over and falling onto the floor, causing the contents to spill out, causing further damage.

I spent the majority of my morning moving out hundreds of damaged empty boxes, some of which previously contained old books and magazines. The sad part was that this library was under a mandate to scan these rare books for online use so their contents wouldn't die out. One such box was labeled "Daily Graphic from 1877" that'd survived all these years only to wind up waterlogged. We also had to throw out any books that were slightly water damaged at the edges, even if the contents were perfectly okay. I also did some mopping up the floor, using a newfangled kind of plastic wringer where you squeezed the wet mop strings downwards into the pail below. It was slightly different from my experience with metal wringers, but the basic function was pretty much the same.

The only soaked boxes whose items could be confidentially said to remain undamaged were those containing metal bookends.

Unlike last time when the flooding happened, I was suffering from collective guilt (even though it wasn't my fault), I still felt impotent since there was so much activity happening around at the time that I couldn't possibly have participated. Being unable to help in any way didn't do any wonders for my morale, and waiting around just made me feel worse. But I didn't feel like that this time. THIS time I was able to help.

Ironically enough, some of the stuff that was damaged were books that were to be weeded out and recycled at a later date once there were enough of them. All my hard work at blacking out the barcodes and stamping
Discarded at the front and back inside covers was nullified. If it wasn't so depressing, it would actually be kinda funny.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Video Games - My Salvation and Bane

Sorry for the lack of posts last week. I was all set up to create a post after going on a writing spree from some sudden time off on Thursday, but that was only for a short story whose entire concept was scribbled on a scrap of paper, and took the afternoon to lay the basic skeleton structure. By the time I was all finished, I'd only managed to throw away two pieces of paper out of my pile of notes, and I hadn't even started on a blog topic yet.

I decided to use the last post for a placeholder, and was all ready to show it, when a friend introduced me to another online gaming site full of free games. Normally, I regulate myself to playing widely unavailable Nintendo games on emulators, with savestates so I don't have to replay the annoying obstacle course 100 times just to fail one last tricky jump before the end. However, some of these games looked rather addictively fun. One of them was The Asylum, where you try to treat various mentally damaged stuffed animals through means of hypnosis and therapy. (Ironically enough, I had the most difficulty with the autistic hippo and had to restart several times using the electroshock device underneath the bed) It's recommended that you play the hairy penguin last, since there are references to other patients.

The shortest "game" I ever played isn't really a game, but actually an educational scale model of the Universe according to size, and may remind people of a certain Simpsons couch scene that's inspired by the NFB's Cosmic Zoom.

The reason I keep coming back to these addictive platformers at the risk of damage to my frontal lobes and general health is because videogames are the only thing that make me feel alive. Even when I become incredibly irritated whenever I'm interrupted or make mistakes, there's nothing like the thrill of getting that elusive item after hours of searching. Solitaire simply isn't enough for me.

For the most part, playing these games is just something to occupy my time while I wait for the next Mario or Zelda game. However, waiting for Nintendo's next release when each game can take up to two years to complete simply takes too long, and I seek out gratification elsewhere in order to get my fix. For that reason, I seek out other hacks of their previous games that're extended "expert mode" versions of their games, or Indy games that rely on exploration. New Super Mario Bros. and Treasure Adventure are highly recommended. Pretty much any game that borrows the sense of joy (and frustration) from playing these gaming classics is high on my list.

Besides, their stories become more elaborate with fancy graphics and inane dialogue, while adding absolutely nothing new to the gameplay. I don't need a long-winded motivation to bash in some bad guy's head every five minutes. I just want to be able to explore and gather as much stuff as I possibly can. (Incidentally speaking, the first time I played a Mario game was on a Black & White television, and I thought the goombas were human faces walking via moving mustaches. Now there's an interesting alternate backstory right there)

I keep playing even though I know that it causes me undue stress with every failure, and takes away time and concentration from things I should be doing. All that matters is getting 100% completion on everything, no matter how insignificant. This is the kind of thing that Achievement Unlocked appeals to me, even though I get rewarded for doing the most basic things in typical sidescrollers, it eventually gets harder to get those remaining few goals in order to get the desired 100%.

For the past few days, I've been obsessed with Burrito Bison Revenge - a game about a minotaur who wants to beat up hundreds of gummi bears using various wrestling poses for daring to steal his wallet. (Don't ask about the excuse plot. Just enjoy the insanity)

The challenge comes from trying to complete the majority of the mostly luck-based missions. And indeed a lot of the missions seem statistically impossible, even if you increase your odds by buying more bears to the game. Early on, the only way you can advance is by buying certain powerups after you've earned a certain amount of money. One of the first you'll want to purchase in a hurry is the Increase money from defeated gummies option. At first, you'll have to monitor your actions early on to ensure your chances for victory. But once you've received a certain amount of powerups, you can pretty much leave the screen alone for several minutes and be guaranteed that the action will continue from the minotaur bouncing around even without your constant guidance. You can check back sporadically to use the powerups once in a while, but if you're not concerned about getting the highest score, you needn't bother.

Actually, Bison Revenge is nothing more than an improved version of Nacana Crash, which takes its character sprites from a dating simulation game. It's a game that starts out with some minor schlub standing all alone in a corner when all of a sudden out of nowhere, this cute girl on a bike crashes into him, sending him sprawling off at high speed, where he's routinely punched by any girl who dares to get close to him. (In short, just another day in Haremville) The exceptions are two boys who are in the way who either slow him down or change the angle of his movement, a long-haired brunette who blocks the next girl the guy gets next to, and a glasses girl who can end the game prematurely. The objective is to get the guy flying for as long as possible.

In a sense, Bison Revenge is the American version of Nanaca Crash that's gotten the Kirby effect where instead of some poor schlub being beaten into submission, it's now a powerful macho male figure beating up other weak creatures for money in order to get ahead.

Nanaca Crash's instructions only give a few basic pointers while ignoring any potential hints that could actually help the player, and have to find out for themselves. For instance, at the beginning, after you select your angle, you have to HOLD the mouse button until you've got your power setting. Too many novics make the mistake of only pushing once, assuming the game will wait for the next click. Also, while the game normally stops when you land in the bosom of the green-haired glasses, that's only if you're on a rebound. If you've been kicked by a girl beforehand, then you're given the biggest combo in the game. But you have to be quick - wait too long, and the game will be over at that point. I've only been lucky enough to get bounced from TWO consequentive glasses girls in a row. And then I hit a blonde guy and all that forward momentum got shot upwards instead.

Another thing that isn't apparent is that after you hit the long-haired brunette, you have a chance for a special Comic Force Field with one of the other violent girls at any multiple of every 100 meters. And you can't use her own special against herself. Too bad there isn't one for the guys, since that would be rather amusing. The girl in charge of the special attack is the same girl who crashed into you at the beginning, and I suspect she's reacting to the "love triangle" between the guy & the rival girl, and depending on who's present, each girl has a different effect.

The glasses girl gives you Double Impact, which doubles the distance for the next five girls who hit you. This includes combos as well.

The brown-haired girl gives you a Charge Blast that takes up all your pent-up energy and releases it when you're on the verge of stopping.

The blue-haired girl makes you a Parachute Death Sentence, that lets you teleport (fly) across the field over 100 people.

The blonde girl gives you a Bound Boost which doubles your bounces on the ground instead of slowing you down.

To be able to hit these elusive targets, you need to take advantage of the midair bike collisions. It may not be apparent, but there are two different cycling "boosts" that you can achieve at certain heights. If you're falling towards someone you don't want to hit, you can click the mouse to use up one of the three available red boosts. Alternatively, if you're bouncing up off the road, but want to hit a target below and to the side of you, use the blue booster to bounce down and reach your girl. Unlike the limited midair boost, this'll gradually refill its meter in midair, but only in the middle of the sky. Too high or too low, it won't register in the "sweet spot" zone.

During the course of playing these kinds of games one of two things can happen. Either I accomplish everything the game has to give me, or I grow tired from the intense repetition that's involved. Either way, it sets me up for a bout of severe depression afterwards. I only grew tired of Nanaca Crash after it became apparent that there was no possible way I would be able to beat my previous score of 14,000 Meters. The last straw was when after a particularly good combo, I was suddenly stopped due to a bad bounce. It also didn't help that the only possible "Good ending" was the same, whether it was 10 meters or a 10,000.

After achieving multiple highs from finishing everything a game has to offer, the down invariably comes, leaving me to cope with my fix and focus on other stuff that I've been putting off. And so, the cycle continues.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Coloured FBOFW

Something that was pointed out in a recent topic on the Foobjournal were various For Better or for Worse comics that were never collected. I was familiar with all of them, save for the throwaway panels in the first comic. However, there were some details of the black & white Sunday comics that were lost when they were reprinted on the FBOFW webpage.

These comics hadn't seen the light of day in years, and I felt it important to show them, since it could take years for them to be released in the latest omnibus collections, and who knows if they'd still retain the spirit of the original.

There's not much missing here, since the evidence is clearly shown on Elizabeth's shirt, but the blotches on her face is better emphasized to show just how much fruit she ate.

The second one is more significant, since you can clearly see the effect from Elly's reaction to the salesclerk. She just looks stunned in black & white as opposed to appallingly embarrassed.

This is weirdly similar to two Fox Trot comics in Eight Yards, Down and Out that had to include an Author's note that several panels for two strips needed to have Jason's face look a pale blue. It's probably just a meaningless coincidence that two cartoonists dealing with family life published two Sunday comics that needed colour to further emphasize the joke; and that said colours were also gender-specific.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Orbit's Secret Codes

To the sharp-eyed observers noticing the numbers at the bottom of one of the Shoe comics in my last post, they're actually notes from my mother trying to crack the code to the Orbit codes that could only be deciphered by subscribing to become a primary member of the Orbiteers, by using the code symbol of the Key planets as a reference point.

Or at least they would be considered undecipherable if the codes needed to figure out their hidden messages were more complicated than just using a cipher wheel. (Better known as moving the alphabet several letters away from each other) It also helped that there were spaces in between the nonsensical words, so I could figure out how long the sentence was. Once I was able to figure out what certain key words were in one, I could use them to fill in the blanks for another, especially if I already knew the answer to the joke. This made it easier to break down their 36-character cipher (numbers were part of their coding system).

At first, I ignored these little meaningless words since they weren't imperative to the narrative, but it began to gnaw at me over the years. I'd had these comics since my childhood, and it gnawed at me that there was something about them that I hadn't memorized backwards and forwards. Over time, I was able to compile a comprehensive list of answers to a feature that was largely overlooked. They're not exactly on the same level of "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine", but they're still kinda amusing:

1. Orbit fans across the galaxy welcome you to the Orbiteers!
2. Have you gotten your Galactic Decoder yet?
3. Hi Earthlings. I am happy you have joined the Orbiteers!
4. You get a pooched egg.
5. My pet glurb. Has 329 purple tentacles, one blue eye. Answers to the name "Cuddles".
6. If you eat uncooked Plokberries, your antennae will curl.
7. Used planet hopper in good condition. Needs new Stardrive clutch.
8. He had a leaky Woof.
9. My big brother is mean. He won't play with me because I'm only 647 years old.
10. One planet in nice neighborhood. Bring your own atmosphere.
11. Because there's no present like the time.
12. Because he has had his Flue shots.
13. Put them in a Barking Lot.
16. Because 789.
18. If you have any donut jokes, send them to me, I collect them.

14-15 were advertisements to join the Orbit Fan Club, and requests for readers to send in their alien fan art, and 17, 19-31 are missing. This isn't from any Sunday comics I don't have, but from the latest Orbit comics no longer bothering to fill in that little blank spot. Whether this was from the newspaper refusing to print these little extras or Bruce Hammond's laziness at updating these silly little extras was something that was never adequately explained. However, it came back without warning for the duration of the strip's run before it was unceremoniously canceled.

32. A polar Boar.
33. It wanted to be a Sourpuss.
34. A pickle with measles.
35. It is too far to walk.
36. A Fresh vegtable.
37. Because you can catch cold.
38. A camel who got lost.
39. Railroad tracks.
40. To get his Bill passed.
41. One smart cookie.
42. Electricity.
43. Repossessed.
44. He could not make enough dough.
45. Its a Hare-Raising experience.
46. Interested in Sports? The Aldebaran Purple Sox want some good gleeb players.

So far, of the 46 Orbit comics, only 30 of them had secret codes attached to them. (To simplify matters, I didn't include the early comics which didn't have the extra yellow box, or the other Sunday comics I was missing) The final breakdown for which planets were used tallys as follows:

Mercury - 4
Venus - 4
Mars - 5
Jupiter - 3
Saturn - 4
Uranus - 1
Neptune - 5
Pluto - 4

Uranus seemed to be the least popular choice for some reason, with Jupiter coming a close second, and every other choice being closely tied. No guesses for why Earth wasn't chosen.
Uranus was also the one that was the most difficult to complete, since there weren't any others it could be used for, and the puzzle it was used for (no. 9) gave no clue to its contents.

For those curious about the questions to some of these answers, here's the English cheat sheet referenced to the relevant answers above. (Though you could try to reverse-engineer the results yourself) Only No. 1 is excluded, since it was the only one that appeared in complete gibberish.

2. Special Message: Orbiteer Commander Buvvit
3. Orbiteer Gleb 322, Planet Mivrak
4. What happens if you cross a chicken with a dog?
5. Missing Pet
6. Eating Tip
7. For Sale
8. Why did Tyrone get wet in his Doghouse?
9. Orbiteer Nrdel Quyv Planet Bellatrix 5
10. For Rent
11. Why did the Zamlit give her friend a watch?
12. Why doesn't Santa get stuck in chimneys?
13. What's the best way to keep dogs off the street?
16. Why was 6 afraid of 7?
18. Save & Send

32. What do you get when you cross an ice cube with a pig?
33. Why did the cat eat lemons?
34. What's green with red spots?
35. Why do birds fly south for winter?
36. What do you call a carrot that talks back?
37. Why is hot faster than cold?
38. What has two humps and lives at the North Pole?
39. What runs from place to place without moving?
40. Why did the duck go to Congress?
41. What do you get when you cross a fig newton with a college student?
42. What city has the most lights?
43. What do you get if you don't pay your exorcist?
44. Why did the baker go out of business?
45. Why is caring for baby rabbits hard?
46. Fymblurt Nurb. Head Coach Phrugg Stadium Alderbaran V

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Skyler's Essays

One of Shoe's reoccuring themes that fit perfectly well with Jeff MacNeilly's mini-essay format on the Sunday page was through Skyler's answers to his various school essays.

While the main enjoyment from these essays was Skyler's rationale in finding ways out of producing answers to questions he plainly had no idea of (and went further than just filling up the page and word count with multiple descriptive sentences that revealed absolutely nothing), the major source of humour from his essays were mainly in cursive. It wasn't until I was taught the activity of doing fancy looping writing that I was able to decipher what Skyler's sentences actually meant. On those occasions where Skyler provided his thought process in between lines, I was able to gleam only part of the message.

One particular linguistic lingo that I heard ONLY in Shoe and nowhere else was that their pencils/pens were called "shovels". Would this have anything to do with the urban legend of how Abraham Lincoln used to do his homework on the back of a coal shovel?

I always had trouble doing book reviews in school, because there was always a certain ordered ritual to doing these things that kept me from doing a purely accurate review of how I actually felt about the book. I was too focused on doing a checklist of making sure the title and author were present, a concise summary of what happened (which I always found impossible to cohesively summarize) and a conclusion of all the above points into one brief paragraph. In addition, I felt that if I ever gave a report revealing my true feelings on the book I was forced to read, I would've been flunked on the spot.

This last one I relate to more than when I first read it. At the time, I couldn't comprehend how anybody could possibly prefer wanting a bunch of forced boring homework to do when there were all kinds of fun activity just waiting to be discovered? Now that I've actually graduated from school some years ago, I'm now finding that I'm starting to be nostalgic for a pastime I'd rather loathed. Even though there was the daily routine of having mind-numbing and soul-crushing activities weigh heavily on my mind, I miss the mental challenge in trying to do as much work done possible with the minimum amount of effort.

On my own, my imagination flourishes, but without somebody out there to give me a direction to focus all that untapped energy into, I'm lost. I need a compass, not a roulette wheel to guide my direction, even if I'm kicking and screaming the whole way. At least I'll be producing something entertaining.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kid Paddle Link

Last week Friday, the Kirby / Smash Brothers fancomic Brawl in the Family had a comic where Mario's extra lives were put to use in order to cross an impassible pit. (Though technically, if there's a point where all the bodies keep piling up, then they're not really 'bottomless' pits)  It was an almost exact copy of another comic, a popular European comic by the name of Kid Paddle, a video-game enthusiast whose favorite game is The Little Barbarian, a character who's a cross between Asterix, Link and Wily E. Coyote, and got his own spin-off in the silent comic, Game Over.

As you can guess, The Little Barbarian is a representation of all those times when the game player was caught unaware by getting themselves caught in a game-designed trap, by not being careful enough, or those undetected gamer glitches that're the bane of video game players everywhere. Given how often lives get used up like potato chips, there's a lot to identify with there, especially on a level of The Impossible Quiz or I Wanna be the Guy kind of games.

Kid Paddle actually started out as a companion piece for Video Game commentary reviews in Spirou, very much in a similar vein to those Howard and Nester! comics in Nintendo Power. (There were also extreeeme comics focusing on the Postmeister and the Monitaur in Gamefan, but no one seems to remember those as fondly) Eventually, the comics stopped making overt connections to the games themselves when the title character became more popular than the column he appeared in. This isn't that unusual, since another regular comic is about a family of TV couch potatoes (Les Zappeurs / Zapping Generation) who're obsessed with new technologies. A sure sign of a magazine playing to their audience's interests.

Here's a larger version of the above comic:

Some games are easier to figure out than others. For instance, there's no doubt that the comic below in question is for the Genesis Aladdin, and not the Super Nintendo version. (There weren't any collectable apples, and Aladdin didn't carry a sword) but there are some stumpers, such as a game phoneline which gave a hint that the only way for an explorer to get out of an impassable dungeon was by wiggling his ears. (No, I'm not going to give context for that)

There was even an animated version of this comic which ran from 2006-2006 in 52 13-minute segments, but it doesn't seem to have increased any further interest in an English release. When Kid Paddle isn't obsessed with V-games, he's engaged into disgusting stuff that'll annoy his sister, or focusing on elaborate fantasies of what he'd want his milquetoast father to be. In short, pretty typical kid stuff. This isn't quite a license request, but just giving further publicity for a comic that by all rights should be more popular in countries that're dominated by video games. There may have been other more popular webcomics out there that have V-games for their subject, but Kid Paddle was one of the accidental firsts.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Birthday

Usually, Mother's day is a general celebration to give begruding respect to the people who gave birth to us, and to have a day to themselves to make up for all the trials they've had to endure from their children during the course of their lives.

However, I'm usually stymied around this time of year due to an unusual coincidence. My mom was born in the spring, which means I'm struck with a double whammy of trying to find adequate presents for both Mother's Day, and then her birthday. Since my parents are notoriously difficult to shop for, unless they give specific hints on what they want, I'm usually at a loss on what to give them. I know my mother likes flowers, but my dad always gets her perennials, which die out when summer is over. At least they last longer than the snipped stems in flower jars, which fade away after a week or so, but that only leaves me with either a card or candy.

For years, I was able to breeze by on the assumption that I could get away with murder by giving tribute with a self-made card I created myself, without having to splurge any money on an actual merchandise-driven Hallmark card. (That, and I was notoriously cheap, and looking to save money in any corner possible) However, these cards were not to be considered shoddy knock-offs of the original material - they were to be comic-designed masterpieces with running commentary throughout them. I can never create a story unless it makes a point of some kind.

Depending on the subject material, or whatever theme was happening at the time, I would base the conflict within the card in related context, such as when we got rid of our old refrigerator, or had to move multiple heavy boxes. Most of them were family-based in-jokes, that would only make sense in context, though I would still try to create them so anybody could understand them. Another obstacle is that it's very difficult for me to reread my old material, since I worry that it won't live up to my unusually high standards, and I'm extremely embarrassed with what I've written. (Though pretty much all artists and writers are their own worst critics)

If the text looks difficult to read I apologize. My handwriting has always been extremely messy since I was little, and hasn't changed, unless I'm concentrating hard. I generally hold my writing instrument between my thumb and middle finger, resting against my ring finger, with the base of my palm lying against the paper until I reach the end of my word, then move back until I'm finished. This is why computers are a Godsend to me, since I can concentrate on the message, and not worry about how sloppy my handwriting looks.

The punchline to this was something I stole from a Ren & Stimpy comic, where Ren was shaking the TV screen after trying to play on his Yak fundraiser sympathies using a teary-drenched nonsensical song. References like these completely flew over their heads, and I never intended for anybody else to see them, until they popped up after a bout of cleaning up the office, where old obsolete papers were kept long after their relevance had passed.

As amateurish as this attempt was, it's nowhere as impressive as my first attempt, drawn on a large leftover piece of paper for a College project which had over 60 panels of the talking ball talking to himself on the dilemma of having both celebrations being so close in approximation to each other, to which he proposed an announcement that after a hefty deep breath, on the other side of the page was him shouting through a microphone, "HAPPY MOTHER'S BIRTHDAY!!!". Sadly, since it was larger than the other cards, it was presumably recycled and lost to the ages.

In later comics, I would increase the cast with the addition of an ostrich who had a beak very much like Cyril Sneer's, and would use his legs as arms. Even though he was never named in any of them, I always called him Scritch. (I had no name for the talking ball, which I designed as a kind of idealized version of myself) This gave the ball somebody else to talk to instead of monologuing, as well as a potential antagonist to spur him on and allowed for a slightly wider range of unusual comic tricks, such as having Scritch's fluffy body be replaced by a word balloon, or his 3-toed legs resembling fingers. It also gave me an opportunity to stretch what little drawing skills I had.

However, due to lack of practice, I gradually found it increasingly difficult to draw the ornery bird in relation to the panel. If I'd bothered to draw more than two times a year, it might've not been so hard, but drawing is not really my forte. (That was more my sister's field) I never bothered making a sketch beforehand, because I couldn't stand the screeching scratch of pencils on paper, which always sent shivers down my spine. Ironically enough, I was resistant to using pens in grade school, because I didn't want to lose the opportunity to erase mistakes, and once I found I preferred the sleek movement of pens, it was extremely difficult for me to go back. Recently, I've found I prefer pencils with soft lead, which helps resolve my dilemma somewhat.

For some reason, my scanner is having a difficult time giving a clear image of the 3rd page here. No matter how many times I scan it, it comes out looking faded, even though every other page looks fine. It'd probably look clearer if I photocopied it, but I don't have one handy. Hopefully, it should be clear enough. Hopefully I'll replace it with a clearer image in the future.

In case it's not clear here, there's 100 cards in the form of the spelt out celebration words, "Happy Mother's Birthday!". I can't remember if I counted the number of strokes I used or not, though it's likely there are duplicates.

Even now, having devoted today's blog entry for my mother, I still have no idea on what to get her for her birthday. Short of buying her an actual fancy cake, and cleaning up the place, I'm pretty bereft of ideas.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fukumoto Gambling Manga

Lately, I've been spending the past week by going on a Nobuyuki Fukumoto Manga binge. I was amazed that I watched the entirety of Kaiji (on fast-forward, natch) in one sitting. I just wanted to see what would happen next, even though the gambles and logic became increasingly convoulted and longwinded. Reading this stuff is like downing a bathtub full of greasy popcorn. I know it's awful for my health, but I can't stop reading.

Fukumoto is somewhat unusual in the Manga community, since his artwork isn't quite as polished as most of his contemporaries, and he has an art style that's more commonly seen in gag Manga or family strips, which makes the suspenseful themes explored seem strangely compelling. His online popularity is rather remarkable, given that Fukumoto's characters don't quite match the attractive male archetype that's typical of most Manga. Sure, they'll sport Anime hair, but that's as far as the list of attractiveness goes.

There are very few women in his stories, and as such, there's hardly much chance for romance.
You'd think that having such a large cast of overwhelmingly male characters would be a deterrent, but apparently, Fukumoto has quite a large female fan base. Part of this may be because there's not much opportunity for putting them in scantly clad positions facing the male gaze, and the few women who DO show up don't last for very long. This also allows a certain amount of subtext between the manly male characters, who are so emotionally fragile that they'll shed tears at the drop of a hat.

There's also a high amount of narrative, which is quite unusual for Manga, which relies more on character dialogue and telling with pictures. Fukumoto is also famous for his usage of purple descriptive metaphors to describe the predicament his characters go through, such as; "This is what gambling is! I had forgotten it! This sensation... The anguish! The blood rushing to your heart! Fine... I may have lost, but it's fine...! This is much better than timidly standing before a raging river! I have to... JUMP IN! TOSS MYSELF IN! Into the currents... The currents of this river known as 'gambling'! The river... of gambling... has a current that can push you to a safe shore... As well as one that pushes you further away... both can be found at the whirlpools. Within the blink of an eye, one can be pushed away far downstream beyond all help... But with luck... one can also be pushed upstream towards safety! Among these whirlpools, the current to safety HAS TO EXIST! And I have to find that current! And ride it! Whether I win or lose... I have to throw myself... deeper into the river!"

This kind of inner turmoil goes on for pages and pages on end, with visual metaphors added for extra effect, and make the reader feel like screaming, "Stop complaining and rationalizing your actions and just deal already!!!" If there's one major fault, its that Fukumoto has a tendency to drag on his scenes for longer than necessary. His stories and arcs can be so decompressed that it's practically maddening, and makes me wonder how any casual reader could possibly stand reading his Mangas in serialized form. They would be on pins and needles for months and years on end, waiting for a satisfying conclusion. A chapter that takes multiple pages to over explain every facet of the rules could be easily explained in fewer pages than necessary. Comic fans who have an unfavorable image of Manga decry the medium on the basis that they have too much decompression on their pages, and their finest ammunition would be Fukumoto's works as proof. There can be up to two or three chapters of just explaining the rules to a game before the game even gets played. In addition, there's a ridiculous amount of exposition and explanation that would put Brian Michael Bendis to shame. They're the kind of infodumps that would overload Luffy or Gon's (Hunter X Hunter) head from too much information.

His stories tend to revolve around depraved rich people who enjoy seeing the suffering of poor people scrambling around for their lives. The poor victims in these schemes talk a lot about "finding the sensibility of gambling", when they're really just exploiting the loopholes in the rules. And a LOT of cheating happens in these pages, all in the name of trying to acquire large sums of money, but the way is strewn with dozens of carefully hidden traps that would require heavy observation or a mind-reader to figure out.

The themes tend to revolve around not being dependent on a Goddess of Victory who may pass over your pleas for help, but making your own luck, and relying on your own intuition and observation. (Though there are times where the characters proclaim over how lucky someone is) There are also instances of betrayal, and self-defeat where somebody will either place too much trust in someone, or overthink things in the heat of battle. And these instances will always be emphasized on for several pages just to drive in the intense pain of when they do occur. Very often, elaborate plans will be outlined in detail on how to beat the system, only for said carefully prepared plan to completely fall apart at the seams once it's put in action. The less you hear about the desired outcome of a plan, the more likely you'll be able to succeed.

Even if you ignored the criticism of his stories being of Stephen King length, another strike against Fukumoto is the high amount of repetition in his art. The most commonly uses poses are:

Joker/Liefeld smiles (multiple teeth does not make you look friendly)

Looking shocked or amazed (usually accompanied with a "Zawa" sound effect)

Blubbering uncontrollably (no Fukumoto Manga is complete without shedding manly tears. Usually in the form of a hanged head in a downward manner while gritting your teeth after being swindled)

Psychological devolution (this is even more satisfying when it happens to the bad guys)

Excessive sweating (this happens a LOT more in the Mangas compared to the Animes. Hardly a moment doesn't go by where somebody doesn't excude some kind of water from their face)

Sometimes the above will be combined together into a single page. For instance, you'll have somebody grimacing their teeth while sweating, only to collapse into a defeated hangdog expression. Other times, you'll have a psychedelic experience that's suddenly offset with a sudden shock or tears.

Another example was a high-stakes game where the contestants were to keep their balance while crossing story-high beams. It was ridiculous how they were able to keep perfectly proportioned even when they were turning around and talking to people behind them. Then again, that's natural, given the stiff artwork. Go ahead, try it yourself. Put your feet on an imaginary straight line and stand straight. Now, try looking behind you and see if you feel comfortable. You'll probably feel like one of the many poses on EscherGirls.

Another common trait for Fukumoto men is they'll look perfectly normal when viewed straight ahead...

...but when seen from a different angle, they all have weird chins that jut out oddly in profile.

It reminds me of a Rubriq-a-Brac comic by Gotlib where a handsome prince is smitten by a shepherdess girl, until he takes a closer look:

Most gambling games follow a typical formula - overconfidence at the beginning, followed by an early sudden defeat, followed by a spiral of suffering and despair, until a glimmer of hope is found by taking advantage of a previously unnoticed element of the game that is played up to the furthest advantage. In other cases, the gambler will start out at a disadvantage, that slowly (VERY slowly) becomes advantageous after several setbacks that must be endured to ensure a satisfactory result.

Of all of Fukumoto's protagonists, only Akagi manages to subvert this formula by Intentionally putting himself into hazadrous situations and even self-sabotaging himself to keep raising the stakes. Even when he's at a disadvantage, he'll still manage to eke out a win by stubbornly sticking to his convictions of his death-wish mentality, which runs counter to most gamblers' ambitions, which is to be satisfied with a large win after suffering multiple losses.  Akagi is willing to go all the way to breaking the bank, and will keep running even when he's already wagered the dealer's pants. Even if Akagi is on life support and his life is hanging by a thread, he won't back down if there's the possibility of doubling his winnings.

Akagi is actually a spin-off of an earlier less insanity-induced Manga, Ten, another Mah-johng Manga. Akagi is notorious for producing what is probably the longest Mah-johng game in history, lasting over 12 volumes and beyond. It's even devised its OWN prequel spin-off (not by Fukumoto) in the form of Washizu: King of Mahjong Hell.

It's difficult to get a handle on Fukumoto's philosophies, because they don't always conform to a typical way of thinking. While most writer's policies can be determined for supporting either the left-wing or right-wing, he doesn't go for any easy solutions. (Okay, the solutions are easy, but the route required to take that shortcut is so fraught with peril that it makes giving up look easy in comparison) Very often characters will build up a very rational argument or plan, only to demolish or point out the flaws completely.

In Buraiden Gai, the prison warden tells the prisoners that after putting them in a sadistic glass floor cage for days on end so that the prisoners have no choice but to crawl around on the ground like dogs on their hands and knees. The warden tells them that in order to become human beings, they must first realize that they must want to become human again, by inducing psychological warfare by denying them basic human rights until the prisoners become so desperate that they'll do or say anything to get out of their predicament. In short, he'll build up seemingly rational arguments, then break down the logic in those very same pages by displaying the apparent faults in them. His stories teeters between the belief that Humans are Bastards and the ideological value that we can be better than we are.

It's hard to tell whether Fukumoto believes the very philosophies that he spouts. They're so outlandish and over-the-top that it's difficult to take any of it seriously. Not to mention that Manga creators are no different from other writers - they have the ability to let their audience suspend their disbelief long enough to tell their stories, even when the facts are fudged with all the time. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, "Writers are liars". Most likely, his themes of struggling poor people against sadistic rich people resonates highly with the public.

Even though the protagonist's motivations are paper-thin and they wear their emotions on their sleeves, I really like how the crude artist's portrayal of insane events controlled by sadistic players and insane logic that requires mind-reading to comprehend, even if the explanations are rather long-winded at times. Equally hilarious are the questionaires that're obviously implanted to make readers feel that their lessons at school wasn't a waste of time. After all, you never know when you'll be in a death match over a gambling debt, and have to calculate the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle to figure out the puzzle. This is not an exaggeration - this actually happened in Gambling Emperor Legend Zero, where in another game, a particular obstacle can be only figured out by multiplying the square root of a fraction in order to find the remainder numbers.

However, there are also several leaps of logic that don't quite match what would be considered normal in society. For example, in a quiz game that's hosted by a sadistic game commentor who reminds me of Pandora the Magician from Yu-Gi-Oh!, the following question is given:

Obviously, the correct answer would be: Multiply the base number by 2, and add 6, right? But that's not the kind of logic that's used here.

Essentially, he's tapped into a similar addictive style reminiscent of Naoki Urasawa's run on Happy!, a Tennis Manga that's pretty much the antithesis of his first major Manga, Yawawa! Despite its name, the female protagonist continually endures multiple suffering and setbacks in her route to earn enough money to pay off her brother's loans. As a reviewer once described it, "You just want to keep reading and reading until you get a feeling of closure for something good to finally happen to her." That theme of delayed gratification is persistent in Urasawa's other Mangas, where it's the struggle, not the resolution that's the main focus.

Of course, given how long Fukumoto's stories can go before any resolution or payoff, it's highly doubtful that any of his works will ever be officially licensed, since there's not much demand for Mahjong Manga in the first place.