Anime Philosophers

Anime Philosophers

By: Jose

I will be the first to say that rumors of my demise have been exaggerated.  Here at Two Dudes, there are many important things that have to be done behind the scenes (such as making sure that the attic is clean, the Mountain Dew has been restocked, and neckbeards reach the proper level of dishevelment), and one could say that I have been fighting the good fight for some time to make sure that high quality posts come to all four of our readers.

That said, certain rumblings of discontent from Pep have forced me to come out of my cave and make a post.  I’m under the impression that he thinks it’s quite important for continuing to grow our somewhat meager readership.   To that end, I will admit here, freely, under the cloud of complete anonymity, that I occasionally watch anime.  I will not point people towards the anime disclaimer, but rather simply state that I enjoy giant robots, explosions, and occasional bursts of “burning spirit.”  Like all things, it vacillates rather exceptionally in the quality presented. [1]

However, occasionally I come upon something so utterly and completely ridiculous that it makes me writhe in agony, drop to my knees, and scream “Japaaaaaan” in much the same voice that Darth Vader takes at the end of Episode Three.  In today’s case, it is the following:

To preface the following rant it must be noted that I was a philosophy major in college.  I spent nights agonizing over things like “world” and “being” and “truth.”  To this date, I’m unsure if this actually did anything for me other than give me a substance abuse problem, but there is something so utterly ridiculous about the philosophers being transposed into the bodies of magical teenage girls that it fills me with something vaguely between rage and agony.

I’m really rather annoyed at the way each of the philosophers are presented.  The sort of twin like mentality of Hume and Berkeley seems to be indicating some sort coherent identity between their philosophies.  In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Berkeley struggles with the existence of reality that is not directly perceived [his ultimate answer is that things don’t disappear because God is watching everything. QED], while Hume is much more concerned with direct assaults on the ivory tower of metaphysical thought.   While Hume’s philosophy is extremely well done, most of it is done in the way we think of more Critical Philosophy now-a-days.  He points out a foolish assumption [something like causation], identifies that we have no perception of it [i.e. we can’t perceive cause and effect], and then asserts that some fundamental frame work of our everyday existence is actually just a habit of mind.  While they’re both very concerned with the perception of existence, their interaction with the philosophy and the ultimate thrust of the empirical philosophy is completely different. [2]

Kant makes a certain amount of sense, but unless she’s got a weird sort of worship/hatred relationship with Hume, then it completely misses the point of what caused Kant to create the Critical Philosophy. [3]  Kant was originally a Leibnizian rationalist, but after reading Hume, basically fell apart and slowly put himself back together intellectually.  [This is a common occurrence after reading Hume for the first time.]  Hegel appears to have a giant rack.  I have no idea why.  And the fact that Spinoza is having a panty shot raises feelings of extreme ire.  [4]  Nietzsche looks rather angry, which I suppose is sort of correct, but one needs to realize that Nietzsche was in no way actually a nihilist.  He basically said it himself.  Rather, Nietzsche should be thought of as the Anti-Plato.

Descartes looks completely boring and in this sense is probably the most accurate, but I’m sure Japan will find a way to screw this up too.

tl;dr: Keep your damn anime out of my intellectualism.

[1] Unfortunately, anime often feels the need to provide things like fan service (which I find awkward at best, and downright weird at worst) and very warped representations of human relationships.  I’m sure Pep understands the reasoning behind all of it, but anime’s general idea of how people interact with one another often leaves me frothing and wanting to throw things.

[2] Berkeley is still very much in the tradition of the old metaphysicians– his primary concern has to do with God.  It makes sense, he is an Archbishop at the time of his writing.

[3] The Critical Philosophy is best expressed through his magnum opus: The Critique of Pure Reason.  Effectively, this is an attempt to save Metaphysical & Religious thought from what Kant thought was the damning thought of Hume.  Whether or not he saves it is a matter of some debate, but the Critical Philosophy forms the basis for pretty much all philosophy that comes after it.

[4] For those of you unawares, Spinoza was a philosopher who was SO God-Drunken that both the Jewish Faith and the Catholic Church found him rather odd and summarily kicked him out.  He basically lived as a lens grinder and wrote letters to various philosophers about how his geometric proofs, in fact, proved that we were all actual modal existences of God (don’t ask).

The Salamander War

The Salamander War
Charles Carr

Today’s post will be a bit short, recovering as I am from a week plus of Idaho-based debauchery. Well, not “debauchery,” exactly, but we did see a moose. I’m digging in the archives for this one and expanding on some notes I wrote several years ago for Mr. Carr’s masterpiece. I have no idea what context this was written in, who Charles Carr is, or what he tried to accomplish with The Salamander War, but I can’t pass up any book with a cheesy cover proclaiming “A battle fought in the skies of an eerie planet!” I looked up Charles Carr on the Internet, but the only information I could find at the time was a Spanish Wikipedia entry that said, “Charles Carr is a British SF author.” (I don’t speak Spanish, but I am reasonably confident of this translation. I also can’t find the entry now.) More recent searches turn up a few links to free online copies of the book, which seems to imply that the copyright has expired, but may just mean that Carr’s estate doesn’t care.

The Salamander War is better than it has any right to be, in a Roger Corman sort of way, and is best enjoyed without thinking too much about what is going on. I found myself turning bits and pieces of it over in my brain afterwards and finding plenty of holes, but it held together at the time. Even the parts where, if I remember correctly, the world is split into East-West hemispheres without the planet being tidally locked to the sun. (I could be wrong about this, but any book that leaves questions like, “Wait, is that even geologically possible?” deserves whatever misunderstandings it gets.)

I especially enjoyed the Swiss colonists, who didn’t laugh or kiss because “it has no logical purpose.” Good times! A whole planet full of Spocks! And fighting battles! With bad guys who toss fireballs! They are also pacifists, with a substantial faction dedicated to sabotaging the heroes’ defense efforts. Normally I am sympathetic to pacifist ideals, but if random alien creatures were lobbing balls of molten lava at my town, I would be hard pressed to demand communication and engagement. Rest assured, however. (Spoiler alert!) Not only do the traitorous Neville Swiss Chamberlains get what’s coming to them, but their daughters learn about kissing from our dashing (and presumably American) protagonists. My wife pointed out that the portrayal of what I think are Americans is also pretty hilarious. “Ho there! We will battle evil and defend you! On the side, we will teach your fluttering daughters what love really means! Onward, boys!” Finally, Neville Swiss Chamberlains would also be a good name for a band.

If the Gentle Reader has not guessed by now, I will confess to not having a lot to say about this book beyond some jokes. There is a reason why The Salamander War has faded into obscurity, likely taking Carr’s budding career as an author with it. Still, it’s tons of fun in the same way that Syfy original movies are tons of fun. If nothing else, read it for a window into the secret life of the Swiss. There’s more to them than banks and watches!

Rating: The very young playing football. There’s no sense cheering for anything but chaos, as two amorphous blobs of six year olds collide on the pitch. At least the six year olds laugh and kick each other, rather than frowning and calling for dialogue with the enemy.


Dark Angel
Meredith Ann Pierce
(reviewed by Jose)

Part of being in the book business means that I’m generally kept fairly aware of what is selling and what is not. I have to say, with some dismay, that the majority of fantasy that I see anymore is published by Luna press or TOR. For those of you unaware, Luna is a press that specializes primarily in “alternative romance.” This catch-all term describes romance that involves vampires, werewolves, space ships, and all of the other abominations that the recent Twilight and/or Harry Potter craze have infected the modern fantasy scene with.[1] The relative boom in Luna’s success over the last few years has not gone unnoticed, and major publishers have started picking up startling quantities of both “alternative romance” and young adult fiction that revolves around the same topics, if somewhat censored.

Dark Angel, oh, excuse me, DarkAngel, is very much in the style of this young adult fiction. It is a fantastic account of some young girl who becomes enraptured with a “vampyre” and all of the zany and somewhat cringe-worthy adventures this leads her on. The prose reminds me very much of a failed Patricia McKillup. There is a serious attempt to lend a certain dreamlike and airy quality to the entire story, but rather than coming off as charming and elegant, the author often falls into the trap of overly obfuscating prose and general inability to form a coherent point. And while, as I will elaborate on further, this seems to be a conscious choice of the genre as a whole, it leaves the entire thing feeling rather empty. I struggled to remember characters once they weren’t on the page, and there seems to be no attempt from Pierce to actually make sure you’re keeping track of who’s important and who’s not. (Which is because no one is, except the main character and the vampyre. Doting ahoy.) There’s not really anything of substance to the plot, and it probably can be read in a short afternoon or over a couple lunch breaks.

I’ll be the first to say that two paragraphs is completely insufficient for what attempts to be a formal conversation or commentary on a piece of “literature” [2]. This is systemic to the genre. Reviews panning the stuff struggle to walk the fine line between beating a dead horse or writing a single paragraph that implies the authors need to go take a damn creative writing class. So rather than try and walk that line, I want to try to analyze the reason that the line exists in the first place.

Vacuity tends to make things very difficult to criticize. It’s why until someone sat down and took the ninety minutes necessary to coherently ream the entirety of the Star Wars prequels, most audience goers were left with a vague sense that they had been cheated and that the movie sucked, but were hard-pressed to point at anything in particular when challenged. The key, of course, is that there is nothing to actually point at. I’m going to elaborate on three of many specific decisions [some in more detail than others] that create this effect.

1.) Self-Inserts. The bane of any good reviewer, especially one that is read by large swaths of people, is that s/he is typically under some level of pressure from his editors to avoid anything that can be construed as libel. This practically means that generally anything even resembling an ad hominem attack is flatly off the table. This is a problem.

The main character in this wonderful little pile of crap is named Aeriel. Lets run-down the check list: Aeriel is clumsy. Aeriel is constantly reminded of her much better looking and grateful mistress. Aeriel is shy. Aeriel is also, obviously, exactly what some dark vampire needs to redeem his soul, and, because of all of this, she will become the prettiest flower in the flower patch with her dark and brooding lover. [3] Here is a picture of Meredith Ann Pierce. She is not ugly, nor is she particularly attractive. She plays the harp and lives in the woods in south Florida. She went to normal schools, and enjoys normal activities. She has been a reasonably successful author, and probably isn’t that bad of a musician. In short, there is really nothing special about her. She’s altogether quite ordinary.

I remember, a long time ago, when I was first introduced to this sort of “alternative romance” drivel, I had picked up a Catherine Asaro book because it had a picture of a neat spaceship. I was not totally disappointed (it was one of her earlier books, apparently she’s gotten much much worse,) it indeed had a cool spaceship. It had lots of battles and explosions. It had quantum phasing missles slamming into space stations the size of planets and lots and lots of talk about klein bottles. It was pretty cool. [4] Unfortunately, it also had a main character who was achingly special, despite the fact that she was totally ordinary on Earth. I can distinctly remember at the ripe old age of fourteen that it was perfectly obvious, down to the way the girl was described as looking and acting, that Asaro was definitely inserting herself into the shoes of the main character.

I’m not trying to argue that Pierce is creating a fantasy for herself where she is swept off her feet by a dark and brooding lover. Rather, I’m saying that this yearning (which, to be fair, all of us kind of have) to be special or better is the creative impulse which drives the main connection within the plot. It leads to an unacceptable connection between the author and her characters. She becomes invested–unwilling to let bad things ultimately happen and tell a story–and rather gives the reader a sort of twisted bastardization of a morality play. The bad guys get what’s coming to them, the good guys get everything they want, and Aeriel is undoubtedly the primary force for redemption and butterflies and sparkles.

This makes it incredibly hard to attack the plot and conflict as anything other than absent. You can’t point at particular struggles that the characters have because they really aren’t there. The vampyre screams about how awful he is and how much he wants Aeriel to go away, and Aeriel dotes after him like a good princess.

2.) Bad Prose. At one point, Pierce describes a persons’ eyes as “mocking-merry.” What in the world is mocking-merry? Is it gleeful sadism? Is it a friendly jab? Is it hidden resentment? WHAT IN THE HELL DOES MOCKING-MERRY MEAN, AND WHY DOES IT MAKE ME SO ANGRY? [5]

3.) Superficial Othering. This is slightly more complex, so bear with me. One of the tropes, especially of “alternative romance,” is the overwhelming attempt to beat you over the head with the supernatural, or “otherliness,” of whatever it is that the author is trying to do it to. Typically this is done through small tropes that you may not even think of. Misspelling words as “vampyre” instead of “vampire,” or “magick” instead of “magic” all serve to try and disassociate the author’s creation from the other tropes that you’ve read about. Done properly, this effect can be very powerful. It allows the other to create a powerful sense of humanization and redemption–as the thing we establish as the “other” slowly comes more and more to resemble a complex individual. Done poorly, it allows the author to hide her static character behind it’s otherness, because goddamn it, it’s not human, so why does it have to act like one?

All of these combine to create a veritable moving target of literature. On one hand, there’s something disturbingly wrong with the story, but instead of being able to point to any one particular thing, all we’re left with is a vague sense of vacuity. The words seem to mean nothing, the relationships between the characters are meaningless, because the author has already made it quite clear that she is uninterested in them acting like humans. And, perhaps most damningly, the plot is already quite clear from the very second that our glorious author becomes too connected with the redemption of her characters.

Stepping back, one might think it silly to even take the time to write this review. It’s been done to death, and people have been doing it far better than I for a long time. Twilight is here to stay until something else gets big, and even then, the damage will have probably been done. I only mention this book because it was written in 1984– a veritable pioneer of the genre before it was cool.

I need a drink.

Rating: Blackburn v. Stoke, both coached by clones of Sam Allardyce.

[1] I’m not saying that these things weren’t there before. Vampire fantasy has been around for some time with authors like Brian Lumley. The difference is that vampires were definitely not all sparkles and happiness. Conversely, the books had vague tones of satanism, sadism, and a fairly heavy element either of redemption or despair. They were also often quite gory.

[2] Seriously, I’m at a loss to try and say much more about it. The story is simple and handled poorly, there are large elements of deus ex machina at work through-out the entire interaction of the primary characters, and said characters are wood cut-outs with a little bit of glitter strewn on them for good measure. Aeriel pines after her black clad DarkAngel, and he radiates ANGSSTTT like any good teenager It, ultimately, is trying to be a story of redemption, but when all you want to do is club the person that’s supposedly getting redeemed into a fine mist, it sort of loses any effect it might have.

[3] Admittedly, this is only book one of a trilogy. This does not happen in this book, but if you want me to read the other two, I’m going to have to be bribed.

[4] There were a few moments that my thirteen year old mind had just started to grasp, but I generally plowed through them with my mind off. Gratuitous space sex is the easiest type of sex to ignore.

[5] Rant aside: prose that means nothing means there’s nothing to criticize.