Saturday, January 27, 2018

Top Tens of 2017: #5s

Here are the fifth best podcast, film, album, TV show, and videogame of 2017:

#5 Podcast: Fave This

Fave This is a new podcast from Kotaku's Gita Jackson and Patricia Hernandez, which touches on videogame culture, but also does deep dives on things like fandom, general internet culture and more. Even this early in its run, it has improved significantly; the first episodes felt stilted, with Hernandez often sounding like she was quoting at length from an article she had written. By the third or fourth episode, though, her more rigorous style opened up a little, and Jackson's more free-flowing conversational style have molded a little more to fit each other, making this a really enjoyable thing to listen to.

The big sell here is that, while this is a videogame podcast hosted by a videogame site, it breaks the mold a little by often focusing on fan works, interpretations of updates, and generally stuff that might be sort of discarded as ephemera. More than anything else, I think, that's what keeps me coming back: it feels like a genuinely different approach to a fairly homogeneous genre of podcasts, and that's exciting.

#5 Film: Lu Over the Wall

Lu Over the Wall is Masaaki Yuasa's second film of 2017, and is generally the better of the two. On the other hand, the titular Lu is designed like, identically to Ponyo, which is maybe my least favorite Ghibli movie (and is now a decade old?) and that was kind of a stumbling block. On the other hand, however, Lu Over the Wall is an excuse for Yuasa to structure a movie around musical interludes and a high school punk band, which is worth everything. Plus, that resemblance to Ghibli means that I could see it being easily his most accessible work - excluding maybe his Adventure Time episode - so far, which is a nice thing to have. It's certainly no Mind Game, but the possibility of having a movie to introduce someone to his work that doesn't water it down is a heartening one.

#5 Album: Dear by Boris

Dear might be the most spacious Boris album I've ever heard. It might also not be, of course; it's hard to compete with something like Flood there. But goddamn if it doesn't just build and release, but give every individual sound the clarity of a fucking concert hall. The sound itself seems to pull from a ton of the threads that the band has been individually developing over the course of their career; the driving rock of Heavy Rocks, the noisy textures of their collaborations with Merzbow or Vein, the spaciousness of Flood, and even some of the poppier sensibilities of Pink. It's a culmination of a quarter century of music in many ways, and I can't quite tell if it feels a little like resting on laurels or moving forward. Either way, it's pretty incredible metal.

#5 TV Show: Big Little Lies (season 1)

Big Little Lies is basically a seven-hour adaptation of the video for "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga with significantly less style. It's a show that bites off more than it can narratively chew, sometimes veering into slightly awkward sanctimony that is only saved by its incredible main cast. I had absolutely forgotten how good Reese Witherspoon is, and of course Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern are powerhouses. It's also a show that tries to intelligently deal with domestic violence and sexual assault and their immediate and long term effects, on both victims and children. It does so better than a good chunk of things I've seen, although it is of course not without flaws.

All of this was largely something I was impressed with but kind of bored by, up until the ending. I still don't know that I loved it, but I very much respect the wild utopianism. In the end not only is the abusive husband and rapist killed; not only do the feuding moms become friends; they organize a defense of the black woman (Zoe Kravitz who is also amazing, though she has way less to work with) who would be facing severe repercussions from the criminal justice system for delivering that utopian ending. Three rich white moms (and one white mom who can afford to live in Monterey on a part-time bookkeeping salary?), in other words, show solidarity with a non-white, only kinda rich woman in the face of the police. It is, I think, the most utopian thing I have ever seen on television.

Also it shits on San Luis Obispo a little which hell yeah.

#5 Videogame: The Evil Within 2

There is a moment about 2/3rds of the way through The Evil Within 2 where Sebastian Castellanos, our playable character and ostensible protagonist, where his character develops. It is the one and only time this happens during the course of the narrative, and is pretty beautiful. Up to this point, he is a man consumed by his trauma. His reaction to nearly every occurrence in the Matrix-like fantastical world that he has found himself in is to spiral back into blaming himself. He is searching for his daughter, who he only recently learned has not passed away in a house fire that he was unable to save her from. In fact, she was abducted prior to the blaze to become a "core" in the Mobius organization's STEM system.

What this boils down to is that Sebastian is transferred into a virtual world of the mind, which is crumbling. The game itself is a largely linear exploration of this space, dotted with open world segments. The first half or so is dedicated to a search for an artist. It has overtones of Edogawa Rampo's Moju: The Blind Beast. The second half switches antagonists to a charismatic preacher/ex-motivational speaker, who utilizes the space to prey on Sebastian's fears and self-doubts to try to convince him to join up, with the ultimate goal of reuniting Sebastian with his daughter and assuming her power to control the town and, ultimately, the Illuminati-esque corporation that has created it.

It is just prior to the sequence that begins the climactic encounter with this second villain that the turn happens. One of the ways he - Father Theodore - has been tormenting Sebastian is by conjuring images of Sebastian's daughter, Lily. In these visions she accuses Sebastian of the things he himself feels - of abandoning her and failing to save her - coupled by imagery of herself on fire. This is a little odd, given that Sebastian knows, or at least has been told, that she never died in that fire, which is precisely why he is here now, hunting for her. But that is also some of the best character work: the man we are playing is so entrapped by self-loathing, so defined by it, that even as he takes concrete steps that require him to understand his previous belief was untrue, he himself is incapable of moving beyond them. It is one picture of guilt and trauma.

Ultimately, though, he is required to overcome this guilt in order to defeat Theodore. And the way he does so is some hard-to-define mixture of hilarious, unsettling, and brilliant. A late-game character basically sacrifices herself for his quest. Her death is annoying. Just prior to it, however, she finally gets through to Sebastian with this message. Theodore is weaponizing your guilt, and you must learn to defuse it or else you will never win. The lesson he takes from this is the opposite of a healthy response. Instead of acknowledging that his failure simply did not happen, and that he has been acting on that assumption the entire time and can finally internalize it, he simply externalizes again. This is all Theodore's fault, he is to blame, and he will pay. It's the most dad move ever.

Which, ultimately, makes sense. In the end, it becomes clear that Sebastian is not the hero of this story. He's just a kind of shitty dad looking to drown himself in devotion to his child. His wife, Mara, is the one who takes down the evil corporation at the cost of her own life; she does this with the help of Kidman, an agent of Mobius who I think probably betrayed Sebastian in the first game. Sebastian is there primarily to act as a catalyst for these things to happen, and to see some cool spooky shit along the way. And then also to provide an exit for Lily at the end of things. Which is part of the reason that turn prior to the Theodore fight is the center of this game, in my eyes. It's an indicator of how things go from here, but also a nail in the coffin if you were wondering about the man himself. Any chance he had at taking a real lesson away from his experiences is in the ground; from this point forward, his only real utility is in being used as a pawn by the people around him, especially his wife, and taking his daughter to a place where she can hopefully learn to resent his lack of understanding of the world and better herself because of it. It is a horror game, after all.

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