Comfort Entertainment: Why 1997s ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ is the best Cinderella

Screenshot of Paolo Montalban as Prince Cristopher and Brandy Norwood as Cinderella in ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’. Copyright goes to BrownHouse Productions, Storyline Entertainment, and Walt Disney Television.

Hey! Hallie here!

The 1997 version of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ just had its 25th anniversary and there’s no other production of ‘Cinderella’ I’d rather celebrate. This is absolutely my favorite ‘Cinderella’ adaptation of all time, and that includes the animated Disney film. The casting is amazing, not just because it’s so diverse but simply because everyone was perfectly cast in their roles. The music, as it always is in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, is gorgeous and the cast does more than justice to each song. The sets are beautiful in both grandness and color. And the costumes, primarily the iconic ballgown, are hard to look away from. There’s so much to love about this movie, but I’m going to dive specifically into the characters and why they stand out to me more in this ‘Cinderella’ than in any other. Let’s get to the gushing!

Cinderella:

Ok, first off, Brandy was the perfect casting choice for Cinderella. She was the first ever woman of color to take over the role and she forever changed the way I, and so many other people saw the character. She brings a classic sweetness to Cinderella that makes you instantly sympathize with her. But just as prominently, she brings a quiet strength to the character. Both can be easily seen when she first meets the Prince. Though she’s instantly taken with him (And who wouldn’t fall instantly in love with Paolo Montalban), she’s also cautious of him and even criticizes him for his overconfidence. When she meets up with him again at the ball, her instant kindness endears the Prince, King, and Queen to her. But in her conversation with the Prince she cuts off his wishing by telling him that too many people wish for things to change instead of taking the initiative to change them. It’s a lesson she learns from her Fairy Godmother first, but it’s still really cool to see her adopt it with such confidence. There’s even a scene where she kneels on the floor to talk to her deceased father in which she reveals that she promised him she’d stay with her Stepmother and stepsisters, and despite the way they’ve treated her, she’s kept her promise. But she further says that she can no longer keep to that promise because she deserves to be loved. I absolutely adore that we get to see a scene where Cinderella openly acknowledges she deserves happiness despite everything. All of that and I didn’t even mention Brandy’s amazing voice. Her version of “In My Own Little Corner” will forever be the most iconic version of the song. There’s so much to admire about Brandy’s Cinderella and, in my eyes, it makes her the best version of the character.

Prince Cristopher:

Ok, putting aside that Paolo Montalban is definitely the dreamiest guy to play the Prince in any ‘Cinderella’, we get a lot more of a character here than we do in other adaptations of this tale. First though, I have to acknowledge that we have yet another person of color stepping into a role that was predominantly white before he was cast. Another reason why this movie made, and continues to make, such a huge impact. Our first time seeing Prince Cristopher isn’t in a palace, but is instead in the general marketplace. He’s wearing commoner clothes and trying to blend in. This is also the first time he meets Cinderella and manages to make a bit of a fool of himself in the process. This whole scene sets up a far different character than we expect for the Prince. Instead of a regular royal, the Prince is down to earth and doesn’t always appreciate his royalty. He goes so far as to tell Cinderella that royals don’t care about who they might be inconveniencing. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to take up his responsibilities as prince, it’s just that he feels there’s more to life than what’s inside the palace. This ties in perfectly to the idea that the Prince wants to marry for love rather than by choosing another royal who his parents could easily set him up with. Of course, he still doesn’t recognize Cinderella at the ball despite having seen her before (Although, his version of “Ten Minutes Ago” completely took my breath away). But he avoids coming off as oblivious by putting the pieces together the minute he sees her in her peasant outfit again. That and the way he looks at her through the entire movie makes it feel like he’s truly in love.

The Side Characters:

I’m starting off this section with Whitney Houston because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to write a post about this movie without mentioning her as soon as humanly possible. She’s an amazing Fairy Godmother. She’s comforting, funny, and she made “Impossible” my favorite Cinderella song ever sung. And speaking of complete perfection, the King and Queen in this movie genuinely make me light up every time they walk on screen. Whoopi Goldberg plays a comical Queen who’s far too invested in her son’s love life, and Victor Garber plays a deliciously sarcastic King who plays mediator between his wife and son. The two have several moments of fun banter, and best of all, they always treat each other with the utmost care and love. You never really wonder why these two are together. Bernadette Peters holds a special place in every theatre lover’s heart and she kills it here. She strikes the perfect balance between over-the-top and cold. Amongst it all, though, are strange glimpses of humanity. She gets swept up by Cinderella’s tales and she bemoans her failed attempts at love. You almost get the feeling that her version of the Stepmother could be a better person in the future. And the same goes for Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle Reid’s Calliope and Minerva, who are certainly bumbling, but always feel more funny than malicious. Last, but certainly not least, is Jason Alexander’s Lionel. Lionel is hilarious. With quips like “Who dances in glass slippers?” and “You know I honestly wish there was something between us. A continent,” it’s hard not to like him. And the running joke of Lionel injuring himself right in from of the indifferent King and Queen never stops being amusing. This entire cast did such a good job.

I adore this version of ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella’. The story and dialogue fit perfectly with the songs while still giving us a fresh look at all of the characters. The chemistry between Brandy and Paolo makes me want to cry every time I watch “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” The entire ensemble cast fits together so well that you can’t picture anyone else playing any of the characters. I’m so glad people are still just as enamored with this movie 25 years later as they were when the film came out. It deserves every bit of praise it’s received and more.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

Comfort Entertainment: ‘H2O: Just Add Water’

Promotional photo of (from left) Cariba Heine, Phoebe Tonkin, and Indiana Evans. Copyright goes to Network Ten and ZDF Enterprises.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I think it’s about time I mention another one of my childhood obsessions. Like many, I’ve always loved mermaids. The nautical theming was always compelling to me, I love the sea, and obviously I love the myth and legend surrounding mermaids. I was the type of kid who always played mermaids in the pool with my friends when I was younger. One of the versions of this game was absolutely my friends and I pretending to be the characters from this show that is now very nostalgic for me. I completely lost track of this show for years, only for it to recently pop up in my recommended shows on Netflix. I had no idea that this show was even on Netflix and I have no idea how long it’s been there. But now, needless to say, I am rewatching one of my favorite shows from my childhood. And I, as always, have a lot of thoughts. Specifically, between powers, personality, and most fun to watch, I’m going to rank the four main mermaids from one of the best mermaid shows to date. This is your MAJOR SPOILER WARNING!!! I probably won’t be going too deep into spoilers, but I will be talking about some basic plot points in their story arcs. And if you haven’t yet watched this amazing and cheesy Australian show about teenage mermaids, I personally think its pretty worth it if you’re at all interested in mermaids. Let’s get into it!

4. Bella

Bella is the last mermaid to come into the series; mainly because she was the substitute for Emma as the actress playing Emma had landed a different job. A season three of the show was never planned, but eventually happened due to popular demand. In other words, Bella isn’t in a whole lot of the show and she isn’t super integrated into the friend group. While Emma, Cleo, and Rikki all became mermaids together and navigated the new experience while leaning on each other; Bella became a mermaid when she was nine. And while I like the idea of there being other mermaids in the show, it felt a little like Mako Island wasn’t as special with Bella having found a completely different cave when she was nine. It also didn’t help that much that the beginning of Bella’s run involved both Cleo and Rikki being a bit unsure about her. The friend group didn’t feel as intimate as it did when Emma was a part of the group, and Bella’s personal storylines were usually pretty far removed from both Cleo and Rikki. To add insult to injury, this season also saw the loss of Lewis, a fan favorite and reliable character. While this season was amazing, it didn’t hold the magic of the first two seasons. And the first two seasons together felt like a complete story because it was only meant to have a limited run. That aside, Bella was an interesting character and always knew how to stand up for herself. I just wish she felt a little bit more integrated into the main plot. I’m also not a huge fan of her powers to turn water into gelatin. It’s probably my least favorite of the powers overall.

3. Emma

Emma is the smart one of the original Mako Island trio. While Cleo is initially scared, and Rikki is a bit over eager; Emma is the responsible one. She’s the one that’s realistic about learning about their powers, figuring out what they should do about the situation, and actually putting study into helping all three of the girls integrate being a mermaid into their normal lives. She’s also an incredibly supportive friend and has the very relatable flaw of being a bit of a control freak. But what I like about Emma is that, though she is supportive, she never takes anyone’s bullshit. Emma is intelligent and is completely unafraid of anyone else knowing it. She never hides it to make herself seem more desirable and she definitely never hides any of her creative ideas. If she thinks something is wrong, she’s blunt about it. Any of the knowledge that Rikki or Cleo have about how to use their powers or navigate being mermaids is entirely due to the help of Emma and Lewis. Emma also had more to lose when she initially became a mermaid, as she was looking towards a career in competitive swimming. She was the only one who had to make the major decision of changing her life goals. And her powers of freezing water come in handy often, especially in stopping an assailant. My only issues with Emma lie in the times where she views her decision as the best one because of her knowledge, rather that looking at all sides of a situation.

2. Cleo

The sweetest of the group and probably the least popular at their High School before all of this starts. Cleo usually keeps to herself and is fairly anxious. Her struggles with her anxiety last the entirety of the show, and I very much relate to her because of it. Cleo is not used to having attention and often doesn’t know what to do with it. She’s most comfortable around her smaller social circle, including Lewis who becomes her love interest. Only Cleo and Rikki have long-term and popular love interests in the show. This is one that’s hinted at from the very beginning. Lewis has always had a crush on a very oblivious Cleo and when they do get together it’s one of the cutest relationships in the show. Cleo begins the show afraid of the water and it’s her compassion and love for animals that eventually helps her to overcome this fear. Cleo is also completely supportive of everyone else and often the center of the plot without having to cause a lot of the drama herself. She also has the most dynamic power of everyone else, with her power being the general manipulation of water. But most of all, I like how she doesn’t let her new circumstances affect what she wants to do. She’s dedicated to working with dolphins and continues this despite the attempts of her friends to persuade her not to. Her compassion really makes her stand out, but she’s not the most appealing of the characters in this show.

  1. Rikki

That distinction goes to Rikki. While both Cleo and Emma have picture perfect lives; Rikki comes from a slightly more humble background. She’s also impulsive, sarcastic, and overall pretty carefree. Or seemingly. While Cleo and Emma are quick to embrace the new connection between the girls, Rikki has a bit of a harder time coming to terms with letting people in. She’s often told off for not being compassionate enough, but it really isn’t for her lack of compassion overall. Her defense mechanism is always to seem like she doesn’t care, and she puts the most into attempting to work on herself and still be herself throughout the show. Her main relationship is with Zane; the original antagonist and main bully of the show. This is definitely one of those hate to love relationships that people love so much. And I think it’s actually done really well for a show like this. Rikki does not feel anything towards Zane until she truly feels that he’s better of a person. And she’s also fully ready to tell him whenever she feels that he’s not being that great of a person. Her powers are arguably the most dangerous of the mermaids, as she can boil and steam water. This is the only power of the three that is shown to be completely destructive and potentially lethal. She can even set things on fire, and her temper is the most fiery of the girls. But she’s also often the voice of reason and the strongest in the group. She’s been my favorite character since I was little.

I love anything mermaid themed that I can get my hands on. But I still feel like there’s a gaping hole in mermaid related entertainment. Though mermaid mythology is both popular and timeless, there is a general lack of mermaid related entertainment that isn’t only for children. And while I do love going back to this nostalgic show and really taking in the beach scenery; I wish there was more mermaid content that was closer to mythology and for older audiences. Could you imagine how amazing a show about sirens would be? That aside, I love the nostalgia of going back to old shows and this show is always good popcorn entertainment in the very least.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Studio Ghibli: Important Themes in ‘Castle in the Sky’

Screenshot of Pazu, Sheeta, and a Laputian robot from ‘Castle in the Sky’. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

A while back I did a post like this for my favorite Ghibli film, ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. And I realized I could probably talk about Studio Ghibli films for the rest of my life without getting bored. So today I’m tackling my favorite underrated Studio Ghibli film, ‘Castle in the Sky’. ‘Castle in the Sky’ is the first Studio Ghibli film that was officially created under the Studio Ghibli company and is also, therefore, one of their first dives into environmentalism. Aside from that huge theme there are other themes that are prevalent in this film that we saw pop up in other Ghibli movies, as well as general aspects of the film that are worth appreciating over thirty years after it was released. We have a lot to talk about so let’s get into this!

Environmentalism:

As one of the largest reoccurring themes in Ghibli movies, environmentalism is always a good place to start. From the beginning of the movie we hear about the castle floating in the sky on an island known as Laputa. Our heroes, Pazu and Sheeta, badly want to reach Laputa, but for entirely innocent reasons. Pazu wishes to find it and prove that it’s real because his father was ridiculed for his interest in Laputa and died before he had evidence to show other people. Sheeta is descended from the royal family of Laputa and is drawn to the island because of her ancestry. On the other hand, our main villain Muska knows the island holds the technology to become the most powerful weapon on Earth and wants that power for himself. By the time we get to Laputa in the film, these opposing ideologies come together pretty clearly. While those who know about Laputa remember it to be a technological wonder, the absence of humans has made it clear that its true beauty lies in the nature on the island. Huge trees and gorgeous flowers have thrived on Laputa since it was left abandoned, as have species of animals not normally seen on Earth. This change is made even more striking when we consider the setting of the rest of the film, which is a Steampunk wasteland made up of mostly mining towns. Laputa is the first setting we see that’s full of lush, gorgeous greenery. But perhaps the most interesting part of it all is the fact that Miyazaki isn’t proposing that the technology others expect from Laputa is the opposing force to Laputa’s nature. In fact, we get to see the Laputian robots living harmoniously with the wildlife on Laputa. It’s humans like Muska, who wish to use that technology as a weapon and care very little for what Laputa became, that threatens the nature on Laputa. It’s both humanities lust for power and war that threaten the nature of both Laputa and Earth, making the message not just a dig at uncaring humans but a classic Ghibli dig at war.

Is Anyone Truly Evil?:

Here we have yet another theme that comes up a lot in Ghibli movies. While Studio Ghibli has its fair share of villains, most have at least a touch of redeemable qualities and many have a complete turn around where their beliefs align with the heroes beliefs by the end of the film. Here we’re going to have to mostly look past the character of Muska. While Muska does turn out to have a deeper and more understandable connection to Laputa than just his desire to own a powerful weapon, that being that he is also a descendant of Laputian royalty, he remains very much evil and unredeemable all the way up until his death. But he isn’t the only villain in the movie. The first villains Pazu and Sheeta run into together are instead a group of pirates led by an older woman named Dola. Dola and her pirates, or her sons, want to reach Laputa because of the rumors that there’s a large amount of treasure in the floating castle. Their greed drives them to try to kidnap Sheeta multiple times through the movie’s runtime because of her ability to find Laputa. But when Sheeta gets captured by Muska instead, Dola and her pirates team up with Pazu to help him get her back. As Pazu and later Sheeta travel with them, the two parties come to an understanding. Dola comes to care for Sheeta and decides that she would much rather work with her and gain her trust than force her to do anything against her will. Meanwhile, the pirates interest in gold is understood to overall be pretty harmless considering Laputa’s been abandoned for many years and the treasure in the castle doesn’t really belong to anyone. The bonds between Pazu, Sheeta, and the pirates becomes so strong by the end of the film, that the final scene is the group reuniting and hugging one another. Miyazaki really likes characters that prove that humans have the capacity for good and evil regardless of the path they’ve chosen, and the pirates are ‘Castle in the Sky”s example.

The Gentle Male Lead:

Pazu is one of my favorite characters in any ‘Studio Ghibli’ movie and it’s entirely because he breaks so many gender stereotypes in favor of just being a good dude. Pazu is almost naive in his earnestness. Meeting Sheeta is extremely exciting for him and he never attempts to hide it, instead immediately inviting Sheeta to join him in his daily activities and, on a few occasions, embarrassing himself with his excitement. His bright personality and passion right from the off doesn’t just make you want to know him, but it also makes you connect to him in a way you don’t connect to more stoic male leads. There are other male leads like this, but we don’t see them nearly as often as we should. As the events of ‘Castle in the Sky’ continue to unfold, we also see Pazu not just rescue Sheeta as most action heroes do, but also offer emotional support. He understands that the fate of Laputa isn’t up to him, an explorer who just wants to find Laputa, but is instead up to Sheeta, whose ancestors came from there. So he offers advice and comfort whenever Sheeta becomes conflicted about her search for Laputa. And none of it is romantically driven. While there are some scenes that may suggest that the two have romantic feelings for one another, they aren’t ever confirmed as a couple during the movie. Miyazaki has done this in a few movies, partly because many of his protagonists are children, but also because he feels the greatest relationships are the ones where those involved learn to grow by being with one another and romance isn’t always necessary there. I really like this line of thinking, especially after growing up with so many stories where male and female leads could never be friends. I also love this thinking because it makes Pazu’s intentions feel pure. He’s just a really nice guy who would do anything for his friends. I love that about him.

And that’s it! ‘Castle in the Sky’ isn’t the perfect film. While Sheeta does have moments where she stands up for herself, Sheeta does take up the role of damsel in distress a few times during the film. And I think it’s obvious that some of the themes in this movie were perfected on in later Studio Ghibli movies rather than in this one. But ‘Castle in the Sky’ still sticks the landing on every one of these important themes and brings with it a charm that makes it stick out amongst other Ghibli films. It’s even gained a reputation as a staple in Steampunk movies. I love this movie and I love how many deep themes Studio Ghibli tackles in their animated films. It’s clear why they’re so beloved amongst people of all ages.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

Theme Parks: Efteling Modernization

Professional image of the inside of ‘Symbolica’ at Efteling. Copyright goes to Efteling.

Hi! It’s Annie!

A while ago I mentioned my absolute dream theme park. This being Efteling, a fairytale theme park located in the Netherlands. If you’re a fan of 80s fantasy movies; such as Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’ starring David Bowie (my favorite movie of all time), ‘The NeverEnding Story’, or even ‘Lady Hawke’, then I highly recommend this park. It appeals to both lovers of that and fairytales from all over the world. Many of which most people aren’t familiar with anymore. So if you’re thinking that this sounds like an old park; that’s because it is. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been kept updated and that it isn’t modern. In fact, Efteling has made many major modern advances in the past years that no other park has kept up with. Though, some of this modernization was a long time coming. I’m going to go over the changes Efteling has made and what makes this park so modern even if it was originally opened quite a while ago.

Environmentalism:

The original idea for Efteling was only the large portion of the park called the Fairytale Forest. This was the first part of the park built, and it was built to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The cottages, smaller buildings, and statues used to tell these fairytale stories were built in between existing greenery in the area. The natural trees in the surrounding area that were taken down ended up amounting to a very small number. And this has kept going. Though more of the natural trees were taken down as they added to the park; the park still aims to keep as much of the natural scenery as possible. Which is much more than most worldwide theme parks can say. The nature also serves to cover the skyline so that the park feels more immersive. You can’t really see the outside world beyond the park; so you almost feel as though you’ve been transported somewhere completely new. This is a trick that Disneyland uses, and I always appreciate a park more for the simplistic things it does to really make the guests feel immersed in another world.

Symbolica:

Before Disney finally listened to the fans and opened a ride within their castle at Shanghai Disney, Efteling had already responded to the interest in the possibility of a ride actually being located inside the park’s castle years before. ‘Symbolica’ is a dark ride, but it’s also very interactive and completely trackless. And yes, Efteling did come up with and fully utilize this trackless system before Disney did. ‘Symbolica’ follows the mascot of Efteling, a magical jester of sorts, as he takes you through the palace of fantasy. There are three tracks on this ride; the Hero tour, the Music tour, and the Treasure tour. There is only one difference between each of these tours, which is the major interactive scene in the ride. On the Treasure tour you interact with a box of treasure, on the Hero’s tour you can make two heroes fight each other, and the Music tour allows guests to experiment with different musical sounds. The ride is also complete with a ‘Dark Crystal’ style observatory, a very adorable whale, and a waltz at the end with stacks of pancakes. The only party worth attending, in my opinion. And all of the effects are practical for the most part. I am personally a huge fan of immersive entertainment, and as much as I enjoy digital effects on rides sometimes, I don’t usually find them to be particularly immersive. This opinion seems to be growing in popularity with theme park goers. So when maybe a couple years ago the digital effects would have been considered modern; I think the trackless style here accompanied with practical effects feels more modern. I prefer something to be right there in the room with me, rather than just on a screen.

Negative Stereotypes:

Now this… I am really not hyping up the park for in any way. I think theme parks in particular have been some of the worst about dragging their feet regarding negative stereotypes depicted in their parks. We’re all looking at you ‘Splash Mountain’. Seriously, the fact that it still hasn’t closed for Disney to change it yet, is making me just a bit angry. But Efteling was definitely on par if not worse. The park once held a teacup style ride entitled ‘Monsieur Cannibale’ after a song and story of a similar name. Efteling first opened in 1952, so over the years they have been slowly taking out several racist caricatures that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But, bafflingly, no offensive imagery has stayed as long as ‘Monsieur Cannibale’ had; a ride where the guests get into boiling pots and the cannibal is portrayed as a massive racist caricature. It really doesn’t help that, glaringly awful racism aside, the story and song accompanying this ride is REALLY not kid friendly. The song (or poem) is very sexual in nature. I think most park goers were surprised at how long it took them to get rid of, or at least re-theme, this ride. Finally a couple years ago they closed the ride down for good and released art for the re-theming. But the fact that it took them that long is still baffling. It wasn’t like the ride was subtly racist; it was glaringly so. But at least Efteling closed the ride immediately even if it meant they weren’t quite ready to do construction on it. That’s more than I can say for Disney. But that really isn’t saying much at all.

Raveleijn:

This show is probably the most insane show I’ve ever seen come from a theme park. Many people who have vacationed with their families at Disneyland California might recall also using their vacation time to attend ‘Medieval Times’. A dinner and tournament not too far from Disney and located right next to Knott’s Berry Farm. This dinner experience is a completely immersive show including live falcons, real sword fighting, and a storyline to go along with it. With a story and show this immersive, it makes sense that it would be a business all on its own. But in Efteling, you don’t have to look outside of the park to find this kind of immersive experience or show. Though, admittedly, ‘Raveleijn’ is more like a twenty minute show rather than the hour-ish long experience you get at an actual dinner show; it includes all of what I mentioned above. Real sword fights, live birds (though ravens instead of falcons), and a storyline to boot. This storyline even includes statuesque knights who fade into the river and beneath the water once defeated. Though this show doesn’t run year round often, it’s an insane addition to the park.

What Works:

I’ve been mostly proving the modernization of this park by comparing it to practices of other parks, so I might as well keep going. Disney has been known to get rid of original pieces that were well loved in the park (NOT ‘Splash Mountain’). I am constantly baffled when Disney takes out a well loved ride and then keeps ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’. A ride where you quite literally end up in hell at the end. Efteling is really good at expanding on what they already have and taking out what they need. Though they aren’t very timely about taking out what they need. Efteling has kept their Fairytale Forest in a similar fashion to what it was, but just amps it up so that it doesn’t age badly. Also, one of their most popular rides, ‘Dream Flight’ is very original but is kept up wonderfully. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold all the charm that it used to. Efteling sees what works and improves on it, rather than replacing.

I know I’ve been making some pretty pointed digs at Disney (and Universal a little) all throughout this post, and I am not saying that I don’t like Disney! Disneyland is one of my favorite parks and I grew up going to the location in California. But I feel as though Disney often feels like they have no competition or goes a cheaper route because they feel that something can’t be done any better than the way they’re doing it. And Efteling is a clear example of something being completely amazing and doing things differently. I am a complete geek over immersive experiences and Efteling became my top choice of theme park to go to because it checks off so many boxes for me in that regard. As you can tell, I want to go very badly! Not just because it’s escapism, but because this entire park feels almost like a work of art. I would love to see this passion again in other parks too and even more of a dedication to immersive entertainment!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Sci-Fi: The Perfect Intro Episodes to the ‘Deep Space Nine’ Cast

Promotional image of Colm Meaney, Nana Visitor, Cirroc Lofton, Avery Brooks, Terry Farrell, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Dorn, and Armin Shimerman for ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’. Copyright goes to Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry Entertainment.

Hey! Hallie here!

Currently I’m going through some stressful changes in my life, and that usually means that I’m heavily relying on episodes of my favorite Star Trek series, ‘Deep Space Nine’, to get by. I always love talking about this series when I get the chance, but I’ve also been showing my sister this series for the first time and receiving her first opinions on the characters. And really, starting out at the beginning of season one doesn’t get you the best look at pretty much any of the main characters. Especially Julian Bashir and Jadzia Dax, who both very obviously changed as the series went on. So if you want to get into the series and, like me, you need to get attached to the characters to fully enjoy it, what should you watch? I’ve come up with an episode for each of the main characters that showcase the best of their personalities and can be viewed without any prior knowledge of the series at all. Hopefully these give you a good idea of where to start!

Benjamin Sisko: Sisko is the captain of the series so it’s clearly important that you get comfortable with his character as soon as possible. The introductory two-parter of ‘Deep Space Nine’ actually doesn’t do too bad a job at getting you comfortable with Sisko, but it can be really slow or awkward at parts and there are certainly better episodes that show off his personality. At this point I feel like most fans would bring up ‘In The Pale Moonlight’, which is an excellent character study of Sisko. But the episode definitely requires you to know more of the nuances of his character in order to fully accept some of his darker sides shown in that episode. So instead I’m going to recommend you go over to the ‘Past Tense’ two parter in season three. Aside from being an amazing critique of the way we as a society refuse to deal with the homelessness problem that still runs rampant today, we get to see Sisko acting as a captain while completely out of his element. While trapped in a time that isn’t his own with the doctor of the station, we get to see Sisko both comfort and defend Doctor Bashir, take up a historical mantle in order to save the timeline and ensure a better future for everyone, and kick ass as the protector of some hostages. You get to see his full range as both a kind and caring captain, and a heroic badass. Plus, you get to see how little patience Sisko has for other people’s attitudes which is an essential part of the character.

Kira Nerys: This one is easy. Do yourself a favor and watch season one’s ‘Duet’. ‘Duet’ is an episode that gets brought up a lot when people talk about Kira and it deserves all the hype. Unlike ‘Past Tense’, this isn’t an action-heavy story. Instead, this one is essentially a series of incredibly well-written debates between Kira and a Cardassian criminal. It dives directly into Kira’s prejudice against Cardassians, the alien species that took over her home world and enslaved her people. It’s pretty understandable as to why she has a major prejudice against them and the show never calls into question her general reaction to them. But this episode puts some of her ideas to the test when the Cardassian she encounters turns out to be different from what she expects. I won’t spoil the episode for you, but I will say that it gives you a full idea of what Kira is like. Not only does it reveal quite a bit about her past in the Bajoran resistance and show off her complete fearlessness in the face of anyone who threatens her people, but it also shows you just how kind and compassionate she can be when the situation calls for it. This is a near-perfect Kira episode and one of my favorite episodes in the entire series.

Jadzia Dax: Season one Jadzia Dax feels like they were trying to make a Spock-like character. She’s very strait-laced, keeps her emotions mostly under wraps, and even openly states that she’s sworn off things like romantic relationships because they’re a distraction. All of that gets thrown out the nearest airlock by season two, which is why I recommend you go ahead and watch ‘Blood Oath’ in season two. ‘Blood Oath’ is the first episode that focuses on Jadzia’s connection with the Klingons, which will later lead to many more interesting episodes and a great connection with Worf. In this episode we learn that the last Dax host, Curzon, made an oath to avenge the death of a Klingon child who was named his godson. Jadzia, despite now being a different person, still feels an obligation to fulfill the oath. This episode gives us everything, from a struggle with her balancing her own life with the lives of the past Dax hosts, to her practicing with a Bat’leth, to her stubbornness and sense of humor finally coming through. And it all ends in an epic final battle. Jadzia really comes into her own by this episode.

Julian Bashir: Many, many people struggle with the character of Julian Bashir in the first few seasons of ‘Deep Space Nine’. He’s a naive womanizer who easily offends literally everyone on the station with his thoughtlessness. But don’t be too worried. This characterization was meant to show off his naiveté, but he starts moving past it by the end of season two, and season three Bashir finally feels like a character you’d want to call a friend. That said, I’m going to recommend an episode that’s towards the end of season two. ‘The Wire’ is one of the more popular episodes and an excellent look at not just Bashir, but also the resident tinker-tailor-lizard-spy, Garak. In the episode Julian’s slowly developing friendship with the mysterious Garak gets put to the test when Garak suddenly falls deathly ill. The source of his illness is a chip in Garak’s head that’s been providing him with a drug. Which means Bashir has to help Garak get through withdrawal symptoms in order for him to be cured. This episode gives us Bashir in full doctor mode. We get to see him dealing with the illness of a close friend by actively developing a cure and spending days upon days monitoring his patient. On top of that, we get to see how caring and understanding of a man Julian is as he’s faced with the moral ambiguity of Garak. And the best part? This episode laid the groundwork for a lot of the Garak/Bashir shipping that nearly resulted in the first gay Star Trek couple. If only.

Miles O’Brien: And now I have to introduce you to a concept that follows Miles O’Brien around in almost all of his solo episodes. The ‘O’Brien Must Suffer’ concept. Unfortunately for Miles, who doesn’t deserve any of this at all, a lot of his character building is done through some really traumatizing events. As an act of mercy, I’ll avoid sending you to something as messed up as ‘Hard Time’ and instead direct you over to what is technically both an O’Brien and Bashir episode in season two. Miles is dying from an illness for most of ‘Armageddon Game’, but he turns out all right without the amount of mental scarring we see in later episodes. This episode also benefits from the fact that it serves as the main event to kick off the friendship between Bashir and Miles, which means we get to see them discuss more personal things with each other in order to grow closer. In particular we get to see Miles talk about how much he loves his wife, which is very sweet, as well as his experiences as a soldier. In one of his best moments, we see his soldier-like bravery come out when he requests to be lifted to his feet when threatened with death, despite his illness, so he can die honorably. Still sad, but a very telling moment for the character.

Odo: This is another really easy one. The thing that makes Odo shine most as Chief of Security isn’t his fist fights. It’s his investigations. Which is why ‘Necessary Evil’ should be the episode you watch to get to know Odo. ‘Necessary Evil’, an episode towards the middle of season two, switches between his first ever case and a case that’s happening present day. Naturally the cases are connected, but their connection becomes more personal to Odo as the episode goes on. As we go back and forth through the two cases we see both the way that Odo puts together mysteries, and what he was like during the Occupation of Bajor contrasted by the ways he’s grown over the years. And amongst it all we get to see his strong friendship with Kira Nerys and the lengths he will go to for her. I won’t spoil the importance of his relationship with Kira, but I will say that these two are worth keeping an eye on. And if all of that didn’t sell you, we also get a good amount of Odo’s exasperation with Quark in this episode which is always rewarding.

Jake Sisko: This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Jake. Jake doesn’t get a ton of episodes to himself, but believe it or not, the episodes he does get are remarkably amazing. And unfortunately for you, some of them are really sad. Take ‘The Visitor’ for example, a season four episode that I’m 100% recommending to you. In ‘The Visitor’ Benjamin Sisko disappears in an accident and is declared dead, leaving Jake and the others to mourn his death. But Jake doesn’t quite believe his father’s dead and the mysterious, brief reappearances of his father confirm his theory. It slowly becomes clear that Benjamin’s trapped in some kind of time pocket that’s connected to Jake himself, preventing Benjamin from returning back to the accident. In this episode we watch Jake grow up and live his life. We watch him pursue being a writer, we watch the underlying intelligence and wisdom he frequently shows fully develop, and we watch him demonstrate his love for his father. Fortunately, all of the sadder parts of this episode get undone when Benjamin finally gets to return to the time of the accident. But all the points in between, where Jake patiently waits for his father to reappear, are heart-wrenching and show an undeniably emotionally-mature and persistent personality.

There are so many excellent episodes of ‘Deep Space Nine’, but I hope my list gave you some good stand-alone episodes (except for Sisko’s two-parter) that you can start with. Or if you’re going back through the series, I hope this gives you a good reminder of what the characters are like! I didn’t get around to talking about characters like Quark, Dukat, Nog, or Vic Fontaine so I might make another one of these. But until then, enjoy getting to know one of the best ensemble casts ever written! Really. They’re all so good.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

Video Games: Blooming Panic

Image of character NakedToaster from ‘Blooming Panic’. Copyright goes to ‘robobarbie’ and itch.io.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I don’t think it’s been much of a secret on this blog that I’ve been getting into more romance-drama-like content. Between K-Dramas, similar plot lines in books, and even other international dramas; it was only a matter of time before I tried out a dating sim. I’m not a huge fan of the phone downloadable games and it can often take me a bit to be convinced to play a dating sim; but recently two fell in my lap that I absolutely love. My sister has briefly mentioned ‘Andromeda Six’ on here, which is a computer downloadable dating sim that’s based in the far future. It’s a sci-fi game with five male love interests and two female love interests so far, that takes place on a mercenary spaceship. All in all, pretty awesome! But while I really like games with those full stories; I really find a game fascinating when it can succeed to completely immerse the player. And while dating sims are fun, not many of them really succeed in that part in particular. There’s no exploration of the world in dating sim type games and only so many options you can choose as a player. But when dating sim creators came up with the idea of a chat room type of game, suddenly these games became that much more immersive. The most notable of these examples being ‘Mystic Messenger’. Not only is ‘Blooming Panic’ one of these types of games, but it’s also completely free and absolutely amazing! This is incredibly immersive and also feels really real. The game also has an impactful message in each storyline. So I’m going to go through the four storylines we have so far from my least favorite to my favorite. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!!! And keep in mind that this game is fairly recent and one of these storylines was recently added; so they may add even more romances soon! But so far, there are three love interests that go by he/him pronouns and one love interest that goes by he/they pronouns. LAST SPOILER WARNING!!!

Summary: You as the player are unhappy in your exhausting job in finance. In order to escape, you usually immerse yourself completely in weekly uploads of the webcomic ‘Blooming Panic’. A webcomic about a college student caught in between three love interests (initially the game was only supposed to have the three), and also transforming into some sort of human-plant hybrid. One day you see a mysterious post on Twitter to a discord for fans of the comic that mysteriously disappears right after you click it. It does take you to the discord, where a select amount of fans who had a similar thing happen to them all share fan art and discuss this comic. But none of them are allowed to share their real names or any personal information whatsoever at the risk of being kicked out of the server. In the game you both talk to the members of the server in the chat and you get plenty of one-on-one video calls with whoever you’re romancing to make it feel even more real! The calls are voice acted and everything!

4. nightowl:

A twenty-five year old college student who is passionate about architecture and stays up far too late, sometimes drinking. He is the shortest of the love interests but also the most playful. nightowl is known for his snappy responses and bright personality…for the most part. When you romance nightowl you learn that there’s an entire other side to him that he often tries to hide from everyone else on the server, but many of them know it anyways. Though nightowl is really passionate about architecture and loves what he’s studying, he has the worrying habit of getting extremely drunk the night before exams and has failed several times in the past as a result. As you get to know him you realize that his parents are completely unsupportive of his dream to be an architect, frequently put him down, and even refuse to come to his graduation. In romancing him, you become his sole support. And this is where I wasn’t as big of a fan of his route. Because he quickly comes to rely on you as his only support, he becomes extremely jealous and off put if you ever even slightly disagree with him on something or suggest that there’s something wrong. This is purposeful and a known character flaw within the game! Yay, characters with flaws! But I don’t think it entirely excuses the way he cusses everyone out in the chat, including the player character. While he’s sweet; he’s the type I would definitely see more as a friend. I think he might need a bit before he’d be a great boyfriend. But either way, he’s a sweet character! His character equivalent is Damian; a former boyfriend of the main character of the webcomic who broke up with her because he wasn’t attracted to her appearance. (They acknowledge how messed up this is!) But nightowl relates to him because he’s flawed and wants a second chance. This romance is one of the first two that you can get, though admittedly the more difficult of the two to fall into. I love the depiction of how much everyone truly needs support in their lives and, despite the fact that he isn’t my first choice, I love that he’s flawed!

3. Quest

This is the second of the first two romances you have to play in order to unlock any of the other stories. And, admittedly, this is the one everyone gets the most. And that’s because Quest is the sweetest human being. A six foot puppy who works an office job. It doesn’t take much to endear Quest to you and after you begin to romance him, it takes a lot to get a bad ending. Did I mention you can get a bad ending in any of these storylines? Though, don’t worry! It’s usually pretty obvious within the choices what will get you a bad ending (with a couple exceptions). Quest is the Dad of the server. He’s the moderator and the first person to ever receive the mysterious invite to the server. He’s constantly protecting, defending, and just engaging in some lighthearted and pleasant conversation. His character equivalent is Xander, the sweet baker who is supportive of the main character every step of the way and just wants her to notice him. He’s the endgame of the comic. And Quest is just that sweet. His storyline involves the player character’s stalker ex-boyfriend finding them on the server. And Quest, being the moderator, helping you to deal with the problem both emotionally and quite literally through the server. As your stalker ex-boyfriend realizes that you might be having feelings for Quest, he does some digging and drops a huge bomb on everyone in the server. Quest, who you’ve already seen has some hidden tattoos and unexplained scars, used to be a convict. But obviously, he’s an absolute sweetheart now and sometimes people get into trouble when they were teenagers. He’s turned a new leaf, which is a story I wish we could see more of in media. I actually knew someone kind of like this, who got into trouble when he was a teenager and turned it around to become one of the sweetest guys you’d ever meet. It blew me away and made me unexplainably happy to see this story in here! My only gripe with Quest is that it feels like your choices mean a bit less because he’s so accepting. The only way you can get any sort of bad ending is if you deliberately tell him that you only like him platonically. Why would you do that playing a dating sim? But other than him just being too darn accepting; Quest and nightowl have shorter stories because they were the first written. But I love Quest with my entire heart and it was difficult to not choose him as my favorite romance. Which is a testament to the others!

2. xyx

xyx’s character equivalent isn’t a love interest, but is instead the main character’s best friend Celeste, because the writers never really intended on giving him a romance at all. He’s the most recent romance added into the game, which makes me wonder if maybe we’ll see romances with some of the other server members sometime in the future. xyx is a pretty big presence from the beginning though, because he’s the resident server troll. He’s actually the first person you ever see a message from while playing the game. His profile picture is a kawaii filter Ben Affleck in a flower crown. And it only gets better from there. When you first see him and his sarcastic team ups with NakedToaster, you’re expecting someone who you might usually picture as being an internet troll. What you aren’t expecting is an extremely handsome Australian POC complete with an almost too attractive accent. Also, get this, he’s a lawyer. And not a small-time one either. He’s a rich lawyer who deals with celebrity clients. He’s also a huge flirt. Between his flirtatious behavior and hilarious antics (such as creating a bot on the server that hypes up certain people who interact with it and ignores others), you’d expect a pretty lighthearted story. What you don’t expect is that xyx is dealing with a pretty difficult stint with his mental health where he’s been coping by doing increasingly reckless and dangerous things on his motorcycle. This is partly because his beloved cat is sick and he doesn’t really have anyone there for him besides his cat. Apparently it’s really easy to get his bad ending, which is also apparently extremely sad, so I would recommend using a walkthrough for this guy. His route is literally the epitome of ‘will make you laugh, will make you cry’. But I do like what it has to say about mental health and also not forcing people into doing something that might trigger them when they haven’t reached that level of healing yet. This is one of the most in depth stories here. And it also manages to not be too much of a downer either with how consistently hilarious xyx is!

1. NakedToaster

Though I loved xyx’s storyline (and his was my sister’s favorite), the character I actually thought would be my favorite was Quest. He’s my type in a lot of ways, even if I thought that xyx’s story may have been crafted slightly better. So it says a lot that this very tall adorkable doofus was the one who ended up being my favorite in the game. He completely caught me off guard! What I will say, is that you’ll want to play this storyline no matter what and no matter which character is your favorite. NakedToaster is the true ending of the game. His storyline solves the mysteries of the server and your choices impact both your relationship with NakedToaster and the future of the server as a whole. This isn’t the first time you see NakedToaster. If you’ve gotten here, you’ve probably already played Quest and both NakedToaster and nightowl video chat you on his behalf in that storyline. Which made fall in love with this character in the first place; because when Quest was gone it was NakedToaster that subsequently became server Dad for a while. NakedToaster goes by he/they pronouns, is a rich CEO gamer, and is also one of the funniest members on the server along with xyx. The two of them can be an unstoppable force. But by themself, Toasty (which is what you end up calling them), becomes the cutest and most easily flustered character in the game. Not only does he feel like a comfort whenever he comes up because he looks after you so much, but he’s also the most sincere to talk to in my opinion. In one case you have a conversation with them about how you don’t like sad endings in your escapist fiction. Which is a conversation that I have actually had with people and related to so completely that I was blown away the conversation happened during the game. You’re constantly talking about fiction and things that mean the most to you. And Toasty relates to your character because you both have trouble letting go of things important to you. There’s even an adorable moment with the resident server Grandfather where he advises both you and Toasty on grief. And in the end, Toasty does everything he can to make sure that you can meet in real life because you grow attached to each other while you’re detaching and dealing with change in other elements of your lives. It felt so raw and real! I should also mention that his character equivalent is Nathanial, a sweet ex-boyfriend of the main character who during a dip in his mental health snapped at the main character causing their break up. Both you as the player and Toasty talk about mental health here too!

That’s probably enough of this, but I highly recommend you play this game! It feels so immersive and real and has some of the best messages I’ve seen in any game, never mind a dating sim. This game completely blew me away! Please check it out if you have the chance! I know I’ll be obsessing over it for a while just like the player character obsesses over the webcomic. Though I don’t think I’m going to find a ‘Blooming Panic’ server with Toasty in it, which makes me a little sad.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Studio Ghibli: Why Do We All Love Howl So Much?

Screenshot of Howl from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Copyright goes to Studio Ghibli.

Hey! Hallie here!

It doesn’t matter what fandom I’m in, I always inevitably stumble across some sort of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ reference. Whether it’s fan art of K-Pop idols as Howl or a quotation of his from the movie or book under a video, the amount of love Howl receives from everyone who’s ever encountered him is always evident. At this point he’s pretty well passed any Disney prince in terms of the amount of collective fans who find him dreamy. But why has Howl become THAT popular? Especially after the author of the original ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ book openly admitted that she feels he would be too irritating to be a good partner to anyone? I’m going to try to address both the movie and the book here, but as a bigger fan of the movie, here’s your warning that I’m probably going to talk about the Ghibli film more. Also, SPOILER WARNING for all the poor souls who haven’t seen or read ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.

Howl’s Flaws:

Before I start shamelessly obsessing over Howl, let’s talk about why some, including the author, find Howl annoying. First off, let’s talk about that slime scene. In both the movie and the book Sophie goes into the bathroom to clean despite the fact that Howl declares the bathroom off-limits. A little while later he goes into the bathroom to take a bath and runs out of the room shrieking at Sophie about how her organization of his potions in the bathroom caused him to accidentally dye his hair red. At which point he has a complete mental breakdown and slimes himself and the entire room while calling some kind of dark forces to him. And the entire reason for the breakdown? He thinks his beautiful looks are ruined. This isn’t the only time where Howl resorts to dramatics mostly because of selfishness. Not to mention his reputation with women, which is even worse in the book than in the movie. In the movie Howl’s reputation for dating and breaking-up with women is pretty synonymous with the rumor that he eats the hearts of women and is really only mentioned in passing. In the books we get to see his reputation with women in action, in particular with Sophie’s sister, and because it’s the main manifestation of his heartlessness it’s a huge part of the story. There’s also Howl’s cowardice to discuss, which is another huge part of the character. He openly admits he’s a coward in both the movie and the book. In both Howl sends Sophie to blacken his name so he doesn’t have to answer to the king simply because he’s frightened of doing so himself. So so far Howl’s a dramatic, selfish, womanizing, coward. But unfortunately for the two Howl haters who exist, I’m not finished yet.

Howl’s a Good Person and Love Interest:

There’s a few theories as to why people like Howl so much, one being the idea that Howl represents the fantasy of taking someone from their regular, boring life and into a world that’s more magical. But given the fact that Sophie’s adventure doesn’t start as much with Howl as it does with herself and the Witch of the Waste, I don’t think that’s true. And I think that idea also overlooks all of the really amazing qualities Howl has. For one, despite his bad points both the book and the movie set out to prove he’s a good guy early in the story. In the movie Howl swoops in to help Sophie when she gets accosted by two pushy men, and ensures that he returns her safely to the bakery her sister works at after they’re both chased down by servants of the Witch of the Waste. In the book it establishes that Howl lessens prices for his potions drastically for the poor, and even sets up IOUs for those who can’t pay for them. And though Howl has a reputation for breaking women’s hearts, there’s no denying that he’s never cruel or demeaning towards them. He always treats Sophie with the utmost respect in every interaction, though he’s often amused by her actions. And in the book, Howl is described as a kind and doting suitor up until he breaks up with a girl. Though that doesn’t completely excuse his actions, it doesn’t make him feel toxic.

There’s also a few extra moments in the movie that proves how kind he actually is. When he sends Sophie out to blacken his name, he goes to watch over her and appears at the end of her interaction with Madame Suliman to help her. He also does fight in the war he claims he’s too cowardly to participate in, he just refuses to pick sides because he’s against the war. In the book he slowly overcomes his cowardice for Sophie, but it’s just further proof he’s willing to overcome his flaws when it matters. Then there’s the little details. Such as the fact that Howl encourages Sophie whenever possible and argues with her when she demeans herself. He’s never aggressive but instead he’s gentle and attentive. He tries to be thoughtful about the gifts he gives her. There’s even something positive to be said about his breakdowns. Though he’s dramatic, there’s still the fact that we don’t get to see men express their emotions so freely so often. That scene alone indicates that he’s more emotionally available than many, many other male love interests we often see in fiction. In other words, the general way that he acts communicates safety, particularly to women who are used to seeing love interests on screen who are entirely full of red flags. He might be a lot to deal with, but he also proves himself to be worth the frustrations Sophie goes through by the way he makes it up to her and cares for her. There’s no wonder why so many people want to have a partner like him.

I wrote all of that and I didn’t even have to mention how attractive the “That’s my girl,” line is! But you really couldn’t expect me to go the whole post without mentioning it, could you? In any case, this post isn’t to say that if you’re someone who doesn’t feel like you could deal with Howl’s energy, you’re wrong. He’s really chaotic and his flaws don’t just disappear because he has good points. But I did want to come out in defense of all the girls, gays, and theys who won’t ever shut up about how amazing Howl is. Because he is amazing and I truly do wish more men were like Howl.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

BTS: Be Open About the Future

Promotional image of (from left) Kim Namjoon, Jeon Jungkook, Kim Seokjin, Park Jimin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok, and Kim Taehyung. Copyright goes to BTS and HYBE.

Hi! It’s Annie!

First, I want to say that I know that this topic can be a bit hard for some ARMY. That is completely understandable and if it means that you want to skip over this post, that is also very understandable. This post is mostly going to talk about what BTS has discussed about future steps and some possible what ifs after some more recent news came out. Mainly, I want to talk about how we need to calm a bit down over the prospect of BTS having a longer or even more indefinite hiatus. Mostly because, if BTS makes a decision for any reason there’s a lot that’s going to go into it. And the only thing we can really expect from them right now (and really the only thing we should be expecting from them) is for them to make the best decision for them. The last thing I want for any of them is feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders, which they have been feeling far too much recently. I’m going to go into all of this. Once again, feel free to skip out on this post if you need to. I’m just going to jump into it!

The Break:

When BTS announced that they were taking a small break, everyone freaked out. And I mean EVERYONE. While fans were constantly battling back the fear (and accusations from non-ARMYs) that they might break up; South Korea as a whole seemed to freak out as well. For those of you who don’t know, BTS is so influential to the South Korean economy that they bring an estimated $3.6 billion to their economy. That’s more than agriculture brings to the economy of South Korea. Obviously, this is both insane and a position that no other group has ever come close to in the history of worldwide music. So when BTS announced a break and the South Korean government noticed that they may lose money; fans were no longer the only people hoping that the break wouldn’t be for long. In fact, certain companies and even members of the government started insisting that BTS immediately come back from their break. The issue is that coming back from that break is not an option. And it shouldn’t have been considered an option at all by fans or members of the government. I can’t stress this enough; BTS took this break for their mental health. And as someone who has definitely experienced her fair share of mental health struggles, this is incredibly important. It’s not only important for them to take breaks for their mental health because we all need them to look after their mental health as much as they look after their physical health. But it’s also important because BTS is currently one of the main mediums to bring mental health up as a constant message in mass media. If they’re all great role models for mental health; showing that you should take a break for yourself when you need it, is a great way to continue that. And South Korea, a country who has admitted to having mental health issues, encouraging them to come back from that break doesn’t send the best message.

Solo Work:

BTS went further to say that we wouldn’t not be receiving content at all, but that the break was also partially so that they could focus on solo projects. Obviously, Hobi has also released the main solo project he’s been working on. We know that all of them announced that they would be releasing solo albums and that Namjoon feels his will be coming next with possibly Jimin’s not that far behind. Other than that, it’s been clear that they’ve all also been exploring their individual likes. Hobi has been experimenting with his own music, Yoongi has been moving forward on more producing projects, Jin has been enjoying doing whatever he wants whenever he wants (yay for self care!), Namjoon has been looking into art and even art curation, Jungkook has been experimenting with more collaborations, Jimin has been working hard on bringing as many influential people together for his album as possible, and Taehyung has been falling head first into the fashion industry. Obviously, this is all of their interests no matter if they involve music or not. Which is important for them! Their solo projects don’t necessarily mean content that ARMY get. And I know that many ARMY are thrilled that we’ve been getting so much media despite the announcement of a break, but I think we should probably guide our happiness towards other things. Such as the fact that they’ve all been trying to find themselves. Content is great, but constant content is also partly what caused a burnout and I don’t want them to think that we expect it for them even during their break. But, by all means, let’s be thrilled about what they do give us!

Mandatory Military Service:

Once again, for the umpteenth time, the discussion regarding mandatory military service for BTS has been picking up again. I still have no idea what the verdict will end up being, as it has gone back and forth so much. Recently, some government officials have suggested the possibility of having BTS do performances for South Korea during their mandatory military service. The responses to this suggestion were incredibly mixed and confused. Some people were happy that they would be able to perform but were still disappointed at the prospect of them having to go at all. Personally, everything about this suggestion angered me. I am of the camp that, especially with how much they’ve contributed to the economy, they’ve done enough to deserve an exemption. But as someone who doesn’t live in South Korea, I know that I don’t have as much context involving this issue as many would. However, this suggestion seems to be focusing on forcing BTS to both participate in mandatory military service and come back from their break. The suggestion, which was of course meant to sound like a kind gesture towards them, feels incredibly controlling in my eyes. BTS has already agreed to represent South Korea in future projects, but this doesn’t just feel like that. This feels like a blatant disregard for their break and mental health. I don’t know what will happen, but this suggestion is not something I agree with at all. And right now I’m honestly hoping that if BTS doesn’t blatantly express that they want this; that this is the last suggestion that will be taken seriously.

Dissolution:

I know that word I just wrote up there freaks everyone out; but hear me out for a minute. I am not at all saying that I think they should disband, but I am absolutely saying that we should all be more open and supportive towards the idea. Firstly, a dissolution of the group wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. There have been several groups that have disbanded and gotten back together, sometimes several times, after a couple years; after which they expressed that they felt revitalized and much better after having taken the time to rediscover themselves outside of the group. Which is partly why BTS decided to take a break in the first place. A dissolution wouldn’t necessarily have to be permanent. The main reason why I bring this up is because of the discussions many of the members seem to be having. The point of Hobi’s track ‘Arson’ is to express that he either needs to put out the fire he started or let it burn out of control. And Hobi has said that he’s unsure where to go from here or which he would choose. Now Namjoon has expressed that he’s interested that the fans seem to be worried that BTS will disappear because he personally is afraid that the fans will disappear. He even stated that it must be part of the fan-creator relationship. Even if they decide to disband, I don’t think any of them would go away. Most of them would still be involved in the industry with their own interests. But with South Korea so reliant on them, it’s now feeling more and more like dissolution, at least for a little while, might be the only way for them to get the break that they deserve. And though dissolution seems scary, I want to be supportive if that’s something that they decide on. Because really, I want my happiness of this group to be more reliant on them also being happy and not necessarily on getting more content. And I’m sure the amount of content wouldn’t completely stop even if they did disband. Because they would probably be doing solo projects. Do I want them to disband? No. Am I saying that we should expect them to? Also, no. But I want to be supportive of whatever they decide to do in response of the continuing pressure they’re under.

I didn’t make this post to scare anyone. But if BTS decided to actually call it off officially, even for a little while, it shouldn’t be about us. It should be about whatever is best for them and whatever makes them happy. They would probably still have continuing careers for us to follow and K-Pop itself is growing. There are other groups that people have found through BTS that could still keep the public interest in K-Pop going. BTS certainly opened the door and led the way; but it would be unfair to say that they are still the only ones holding the door open. BTS has a career forever if that’s what will make them happy, but we should be open to whatever they choose that might make them happy. Even if it is dissolution, or career changes, or settling down and having families, or whatever they decide! The main purpose of this post is to say that our support of them shouldn’t be contingent on them making music as a group. Let’s support them in whatever they do and whatever they decide! Because what they decide will be a new and exciting beginning; not a permanent and horrible ending.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

Video Games: Games With Good Romance Options

Screenshot of Solas from ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’. Copyright goes to BioWare.

Hey! Hallie here!

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about gaming on this blog, but I love it so much that I really can’t stay away from it for long. This time around I’m speaking directly to the people who, like me, are hopeless romantics. I’m not going to lie, romance options seriously elevate my opinion of almost every video game that includes them. One reason is absolutely because a good video game romance supplies me with instant serotonin. But another reason is that video games that include romances often have much more character development for their side characters than other games in order to make them viable romance options. This list is going to include some of my favorite, and some of the most popular, games with romance options. I won’t be able to talk about them all (And I’m not going to talk about ‘Witcher’ because I have problems with the way women are written in that series), but I’ll try to cover the most notable ones. With that out of the way, let’s get started!

BioWare Games: BioWare’s getting its own section because their games are very clearly at the top of the romance competition at the moment. For simplicity’s sake, though, let’s talk about their two most popular series: ‘Dragon Age’ and ‘Mass Effect’. The romances in these franchises work similarly. In each of their entries your main character, who is customizable and meant to be a stand in for the player, spends part of their time recruiting allies to their party in order to achieve the main goal of the game. In all of these games all of the recruitable characters have backstories and character development that can be discovered by the player if they talk to their party members enough. While not all of the characters that can be recruited are romanceable, most of them are and, should you choose to romance them, will reveal even more about themselves than you would learn otherwise. ‘Mass Effect’ is the weakest of these two when it comes to romances, though it’s by no means poor. The romances in these games are important, but not nearly as detailed as the later entries in the ‘Dragon Age’ series. The first game doesn’t have many romance options, only one romance option that can be a LGBTQ+ option, and doesn’t include many romance scenes. The second two games do much better though, with many more options including more LGBTQ+ options, though still not enough, and more romance scenes. ‘Mass Effect: Andromeda’ gets even more detailed, and finally has a decent amount of LGBTQ+ exclusive romances, though the overall story of the game is controversial. ‘Dragon Age’ does better with much more developed romances through its games, many more romantic scenes, and particularly in ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’, a large plethora of romance partners for anyone of any sexuality. As far as the romances go in these games, they really can’t be beat.

GreedFall: ‘GreedFall’ may have flown under your radar if you’re not paying much attention to indie game companies, but especially if you like the BioWare style of romance, I would recommend this game. Right off the bat I’ll warn you that if you’re expecting BioWare levels of cutscenes, storylines, and character moments dedicated to the romance you chose, you won’t find it here. But you will find something satisfying with characters who are very well developed. ‘GreedFall’ operates the same way as most BioWare games. You have a customizable character who must put together a party of side characters to help them complete the tasks at hand. All of these characters have backstories and storylines worth exploring should you choose to talk to them, and all but one are romanceable. Like early ‘Dragon Age’ and ‘Mass Effect’ entries, the options for LGBTQ+ players aren’t exclusively LGBTQ+ and there are less options overall to choose from due to the smaller party. But the romance scenes available here are really good and do feel at least partially important to the plot. Plus, these characters are well explored in the story so you don’t feel like you don’t know a character well enough to make an informed decision about dating them.

Persona: Not all the Persona games have given players the option to pursue a romantic relationship, but the two most recent main entries gave players some really good options. The catch is that, if you’re not attracted to women, there isn’t really a romance for you here. Both games force you into the role of a male protagonist who doesn’t have much personality so that you can still insert yourself into the story, but is not customizable at all. Instead of the player recruiting the side characters in the game, the characters are introduced gradually throughout the story, though it’s still up to you to pursue deeper relationships with your peers and learn more about them. Whether or not you explore their deeper stories, both games do a good job of fleshing out their characters so that you feel as though you know them very well by the time you can choose a romance to pursue. There are also a few moments in each game, particularly if you purchased ‘Persona 5 Royal’, where you get to spend some quality time with the person you chose and even get to arrange a few of your dates. ‘Persona’ has its problems with romances, especially considering that you, as a minor, CAN romance adult characters like your teacher in ‘Persona 5’ but you CAN’T romance any men including Goro Akechi who is clearly in love with the protagonist. That said, it’s sadly not that different from most other video games in this regard and the games still dedicate a good chunk of time to the romances.

Fire Emblem (Three Houses): ‘Fire Emblem’ is one of those franchises that’s consistently had romance options for a while. ‘Fire Emblem: Three Houses’ is the best attempt ‘Fire Emblem’ has made in the way of romance options. This game works a bit differently from the games listed above because the sheer amount of romanceable characters here is actually kind of overwhelming. The way the game narrows down your options for you is by having you choose one of three “houses” to represent and teach for. Once you choose your house, you’re pretty much limited to other faculty and whichever students are part of your house. Understandably, some people find the romances in this game a bit questionable because you take up the role of a teacher while the majority of romanceable characters are students. Luckily, you’re established as being a prodigy that’s around the same age as your students, and all of the romantic relationships in the game are only possible once you create a trusted friendship with whoever you want to romance. If anything, it makes the faculty romances more questionable. Anyways, there aren’t a ton of romance scenes in these games, and your dates are more minigames than they are romantic moments, but you do get a handful of rewarding scenes for each character you wish to romance. Like too many other games on the market, LGBTQ+ options are few and far between in this game despite the amount of romance options, but they did attempt to add more with the DLC. While the romances aren’t important to the plot here, they’re still perfectly satisfying.

Stardew Valley: This one is just a really feel-good game with some really wholesome romances. This game is light on the story, but unlike many games of its kind, romances aren’t just a matter of choosing someone to marry on the spot. Each character has a developed backstory that you can learn if you earn their trust. Earning a character’s trust is a difficult but fun process, involving not just speaking to the characters, but learning about the things they like and giving them appropriate gifts to match those things. Once you spend enough time giving the characters gifts and spending quality time with them, you’ll have the option of entering into a romance with them. While the process to get to a romance is much lengthier and more detailed than the romance itself, it’s still really rewarding to be able to cement a relationship after all the hard work you put in. And once you give the final gift, a gift that’s meant to mimic a proposal, you get an adorable marriage sequence and then your new partner moves in with you. They won’t have much more to say to you at this point other than some really lovely compliments, but they’ll help out around the farm, sometimes treat you to breakfast in the mornings, and you can even expand your house and start a family with them. Plus, the kissing animation in this game is really cute. And though none of the characters state their sexuality explicitly, that does leave it open for anyone of any gender to romance any character! Yes please!

And that’s it! Of course, if you’re looking for games centered entirely on romances there are other places to look. There are plenty of games on the App Store and Steam that you can seek out, and even independent ones online that are worth giving a shot. I’m specifically going to name drop ‘Dream Daddy’ and ‘Andromeda Six’ if that kind of thing’s what you’re looking for. As far as the titles I listed go, they’re really good options for the people who want an epic story with a little romance on the side. I clearly have a particular soft spot for ‘Dragon Age’, but really any of the things I listed are worth giving a shot! And if you are going to try out ‘Dragon Age’ for the romance options, stay away from the egg. You’ll understand later.

Don’t of anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

Sci-Fi: Best TNG Data Episodes

Screenshot of Brent Spiner in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. Copyright goes to Paramount.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Re-watching various seasons and series of Star Trek has proved to me one thing over anything else. My love of Data from watching odd episodes of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ when I was young has come back with a vengeance. I’m not sure any character comes close to Data for me for so many reasons, many of them having to do with the complexity with which they handled his character. But I think what really stands out about Data is how much he’s become a comfort character for so many people. Data is kind of like a giant golden retriever puppy in the form of an android; he’s the innocent on board and easily befriends children of all ages. Easily one of the most huggable characters in all of Star Trek. Data’s episodes are some of my favorites not just because of how important of a character he is to me, but also because of how eloquent, cute, and meaningful they are. So I’m going to rank some of my favorites! Obviously, MAJOR SPOILER WARNING for TNG.

Dishonorable Mention: Of all of Data’s episodes, choosing my least favorite one was remarkably easy. That is because this may be the only Data episode that I’m not particularly fond of. ‘In Theory’ is technically Data’s second attempt at a romantic relationship, but the first real one. Not only is his love interest in this completely annoying, but she also seems to think that because Data is an android she can tell him every time she feels he’s not doing something correctly in a relationship. Oddly, this episode seems to have been made with the purpose of proving that Data is a machine, while the other episodes focus on showing us that he’s more human than he thinks he is. Though as Picard so eloquently put; have we ever argued that Data isn’t a machine? No. Not being able to figure out his partner who is evidently putting in no effort to figure him out in turn, does not make him less emotional. Though trying to make Data seem less emotional to the audience seems to be the point of the episode. Personally, I don’t think this works in any regard. It wasn’t as though the episode depicted a moment where Data wasn’t there for her when he needed to be or didn’t love her when she loved him. All the episode depicted was her attempting to force gifts onto Data because she didn’t like the look of his quarters, or insisting that he drop whatever he was doing the moment she walked into a room. Both seem a bit stupid to me. The lesson of this episode feels less like Data doesn’t have emotions as humans do and more like the moral is to be careful who you choose to date.

Honorable Mentions: ‘The Offspring’ is unfortunately going to have to go here for me, though I know many would argue against this. Don’t get me wrong, I like ‘The Offspring’! But there were elements of this story that I thought were done better in other episodes. Data dealing with family members, such as his father and brother, feels more meaningful in other episodes in my personal opinion. And the threat of Lal being taken away feels almost too much like ‘The Measure of a Man’. I love Guinan and her interaction with Data this episode and I love that Lal learned to love. But the fact that Data was able to randomly create this effect feels a little odd. Especially because she’s so much like Data and whether or not Data actually can love but just doesn’t know it seems to be a question throughout TNG. I’ll talk more about that later. So why would Lal be able to tell that she has those feelings and Data not? It’s still a very emotional Data episode though and I love it all the same. I also want to bring up ‘Elementary, My Dear Data’. While this isn’t the most profound Data episode, it has to be one of the most fun Star Trek episodes I’ve ever seen. Seeing Data as Sherlock is adorable and the fact that Picard has to come in to easily fix the mistake of the kids, is hilarious.

5. ‘Data’s Day’

Again, this isn’t the most profound of the Data episodes, but I think it’s particularly important. This is the only episode of TNG to be told entirely from Data’s perspective. The plot is fairly standard, there’s nothing really special to it except that this is the episode that we see Keiko and Miles O’Brien marry. But Data’s interactions with people and how he still doesn’t seem to understand them is hilarious. Keiko tells Data that she wants to cancel her wedding because she doesn’t feel happy on her wedding day. Data, only really hearing that she would be more happy if she postponed it, interprets this initially as good news. Wouldn’t Miles be happy if his fiancée is happy? And then the audience witnesses the hilarious moment when Data tells Miles, who is very much… not happy. This episode continues with instances like this, as Data partially narrates through letters his difficulty understanding people around him. It’s nice to see an episode completely through Data’s perspective and also see what his friendship has meant to his closest friends in the form of his integral role in giving away Keiko at her wedding.

4. ‘Brothers’

Not only is this Brent Spiner in three different roles, but this is also an amazing appearance of Lore. I’m always a fan of when Lore shows up and it’s never underdone when it happens. During the first part of this episode the audience is left in complete confusion, as well as the crew, when Data suddenly goes rogue. He completely takes over the Enterprise and brings everyone aboard to an unknown location that he immediately goes down to. It’s here that we finally see why Data suddenly went a bit off the rails. His homing beacon was activated and he, as well as his brother, return to their father. The man who created them. The best part of this episode? The reveal that Data was actually created after Lore. We had all, including Data himself, been under the impression that Data was created first because of his more android-like traits and his apparent lack of emotions. But here we find out that Lore actually scared the villagers with his semi-malicious personality. Data was created to be more approachable. Leading both Lore and Data to the realization that Data is no less perfect than Lore. This information both angers Lore and adorably shocks Data who now seems to value himself a little more than he had before. It is everything Data deserves.

3. ‘Descent’

This is another one of the Lore episodes. This I particularly like because it’s one of the episodes that features Lore as a truly powerful villain. While he does damage in other episodes, this is a world domination kind of damage. Through many different means, he controls Data who is confused through the entirety of the episode. This is all including a point where he almost kills Geordi. Watching a highly confused, manipulated, and controlled Data in the middle of Lore and the Borg is both heartbreaking and highly interesting. It’s also nice to see Hugh back in this episode! But what really makes this one for me even over all of that, is Data saving the day at the end. Not only is he reminded of who he is and who his friends are, but he successfully takes down Lore singlehandedly. And this is the most heartbreaking part. Throughout the episode Lore is trying to emphasize his familial relationship with Data, even attempting to convince Data that he loves him. Towards the end of the episode when everything starts falling apart, Lore tries to kill Data who in turn is forced to shut down Lore. And just as he does, Lore tells him that he loves him. It’s an emotional moment for Data and a confusing moment for the audience, who doesn’t know if maybe this time Lore is actually being sincere.

2. ‘Hero Worship’

If you’re looking for a cute Data episode, look no further than this gem. In this one Data saves a little boy from the debris of a recently destroyed ship. And the traumatized boy immediately, and understandably, attaches to his savior. We all know that Data is good with kids. There’s an entire other episode where a child attaches to Data and the crew can do little to get her to detach herself from him. But this episode takes it to a completely different level. In an attempt to forget his trauma, the boy decides that he wants to be as similar to Data as he possibly can. This includes him watching and imitating Data and Data even helping him to look like him. One of the cutest Data moments ever is Data’s attempt to style the boy’s hair so that it looks like his. There’s even an adorable moment where the boy falls asleep painting with Data, who then takes him to bed and even tucks him in. This is the ultimate comfort Data episode. Even above all of his adorable moments with Spot, which is a difficult level to pass. But this specifically shows how attached Data can get to other people. In fact, Data tells the boy at the end that it would be a pleasure to be his friend. One of the only times that Data doesn’t seem to realize he just expressed that he felt an emotion. Pleasure. This one is so cute!

1. ‘Measure of a Man’

I think everyone could tell that this was coming. This is not only the best Data episode, but it is also one of the best philosophical episodes of Star Trek. Which is saying something. But likely, you’ve heard something about this episode whether or not you’ve seen Star Trek before. Whether it’s Picard’s message about Data being exactly the new life that they’ve been trying to find or Picard’s speech about how the decision will determine whether or not they condemn an entire race to servitude; this episode has blown up for being so applicable to real life. This episode follows Data as a Starfleet science officer comes aboard in order to propose a potentially lethal study on Data that would allow him to make more androids like Data. When Data refuses, the science officer argues that Data is property belonging to Starfleet and a trial ensues. Picard defends Data while Riker is forced to prosecute, and here we establish that Data is far more human than anyone thinks. Data expresses that he packed his medals simply because he wanted them and even shows a capacity to fear for his life. I cried the first time I watched this and it still never fails to make me a little emotional. Even though calling Data, an entity who chose to enter Starfleet and wasn’t created by it, property of Starfleet is kind of ludicrous. You would think they would have answered that question when he joined Starfleet. But either way, this episode is pure genius.

I love Data so much! Absolutely the kind of character that you wish was real so that you could hug him at the end of a long day. It helps that this comfort character has so many comfort episodes too! But I’m also blown away with how intricately Data was written. Because Data could have easily become a gimmick, but instead he’s probably one of the most complex Star Trek characters to exist.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie