A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Does anyone else remember Mulberry?

Lowell Kempf
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Every once in a blue moon, I remember an obscure little British show called Mulberry. It was never finished (and it clearly has an ending built in) and may have been underrated. It did have a beautiful sad, sweet theme song and a killer concept.

Miss Farnaby is a sour, sullen old lady living with her equally elderly maid and gardener. Into their lives comes Mulberry, her new manservant, who is blessed with humor, vibrance and an astonishing area of vests. Mulberry breathes new life into their home.

Ah, but there is a twist! Mulberry is actually the son of the Grim Reaper. He has come to take Miss Farnaby away. However, he has a sweet and tender side from his mother, Spring, and he wants to give Miss Farnaby a chance to enjoy life before she had to give it up.

Damn, but that’s a hook!

It has been probably decades since I last watched Mulberry. And, at best, I watched it intermittently even through there were only thirteen episodes. But if my memories of it are true, it often fell into sitcom shenanigan and didn’t really live up to its high concept.

I think that Mulberry could be rebooted very effectively. Not darker or edgier but with more drama. Lean into the melancholy and sweetness and you’d get an unwritten Peter Beagle masterpiece.

As I mentioned, it was canceled before it could end and I wondered if the plan had been for Mulberry to somehow extend Miss Farnaby’s life. However, I found an interview with Bob Larbey, one of the writers. In it, he said Miss Farnaby would die in her sleep and Mulberry would meet her in the garden to guide her awayZ

Which makes sense since that’s the ending that’s baked into the core concept.
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Wed Jun 22, 2022 10:51 pm
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Magical tree houses and child endangerment

Lowell Kempf
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For the past several months, The Magic Tree House book series has been my go for reading to our son and occasionally having him read back. I’ve written about the series before but I’ve got some more thoughts.

The series describes the adventures of a brother and sister who discover a treehouse that can travel through time and space (but it is _smaller_ on the inside than on the outside)

The books are formulaic as all get out, down to the dialogue. That said, I have read Stratemeyer Syndicate from the start of the 20th century so I have read much more formulaic and much worse children's literature.

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The series is broken down into four book story arcs. At the end of the first arc, they learn that the treehouse is owned by Morgan Le Fay, the librarian of Camelot.

Morgan or Morgana Le Fay is often portrayed as one of the big bads of King Arthur stories, although she’s apparently okay in the very earliest stories. Still, it’s a little surprising to see her as the benevolent patron of a eight and seven year old.

Except, as we hit the fourth arc, I’m starting to question how benevolent she really is.

In the third arc, Jack and Annie go through the process of becoming Master Librarians. Which doesn’t involve much in the way of literacy or archival studies or the Dewey Decimal system but does seem to feature a willingness to risk life and limb across time and space. They become Morgan Le Fay’s gofers in the fourth arc.

First thing Morgan Le Fay does? Send them to Pompeii to get a book the day Mount Vesuvius erupts.

While there are time travel story arguments for why that was the only way (the book had to be taken from the time stream right before it was destroyed, you can only travel to specific points in history, etc), those aren’t presented. And they don’t excuse the fact that she sends young children into mortal danger and the only warning she gives them is a book about Ancient Rome.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius is a high point but she keeps sending the kids into serious danger. Yeah, it’s in the name of education and entertainment (readers learn stuff by it happening rather than lecutures) but it’s still hard to swallow as a grown up.

Kids in danger is a genre staple but there’s usually some attempt at justification. Adults are out of the equation or the kids are trapped or they are the only ones who can pilot the Eva units. After the Jack and Annie get home safely, Morgan just sends them out again.

Of course, what really matters is that our son loves the series and just eats it up like popcorn. He might even be learning some facts from it (but I count on Mystery Science videos more for his random facts) When I first wrote about the Magic Tree House, it was wondering if he’d like them. That question has been definitively answered.


Post Script: I won’t be surprised if the kids are actually Morgan’s descendants. Annie displays supernatural intuition on a regular basis. That doesn’t make sending them into danger any better, of course.
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Thu Jun 16, 2022 12:38 am
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Kiwi Blitz has actual nuance

Lowell Kempf
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When I was bingeing Sleepless Domain for the third time, I decided that I should really try Kiwi Blitz since it’s from the same creator.

Kiwi Blitz is a web comic sent in a slightly cyberpunk near future. There’s cybernetics, mecha, and bioengineering. A girl named Steffi decides to become a costumed vigilante with the help of a kiwi-bird shaped mech, her family and friends, and lots and lots of money.

One touch I like is that the cops easily figure out who Kiwi Blitz is but her dad has too much money and too many lawyers for them to do anything. I can easily imagine a version of Batman where the Gotham PD darn well knows it’s Bruce Wayne but can’t do anything about it.

While the series starts off light-hearted and looking like it wll be a serial-style, villain-of-the-week romp, the threats Steffi and company face prove to be interconnected and serious. The webcomic turns out to be an overarching storyline.

And the characters develop as well. Steffi seems to be a bored, rich thrill seeker at the start. However, she really, really doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, even more than, say, Superman. (Captain America shot folks in WW II in multiple continuities so he’s clearly flexible)

More than that, we learn that one of her formative experiences was losing a leg during an assassination attempt on her father. When she was five. In fact, while avoiding spoilers, I will say that the more we learn about the incident, the darker it gets.

While Steffi is the most extreme example of character development in Kiwi Blitz, the other characters also get deeper.

I do like Sleepless Domain more. It’s a deeper, richer story with deeper characters. It’s also darker, which is saying something since Kiwi Blitz has a toddler getting maimed as a major plot point. But I still enjoy Kiwi Blitz.

Kiwi Blitz has been hiatus for several months. But, honestly, I’m used to webcomics ending without resolution. I enjoy them for as much as I can get out of them.
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Mon Jun 6, 2022 10:16 pm
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How do light novels work anyway?

Lowell Kempf
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Every once in a while, I like to look at light novels. I am pretty much only aware of the existence of light novels since many manga and anime started off as light novels.

It’s reached the point where I finally looked up what a light novel actually is. Um, it’s just a Japanese young adult novel. The only thing particularly different about them seems to be that they have a particularly dedicated publishing sub-industry.

My luck with light novels has been pretty hit or miss. The first one I read was The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was really good. Other books I’ve read since then haven’t been as well written. I actually put down Toradora after one chapter.

I have a number of theories about why I’ve had better luck with manga than light novels. The medium of manga may be easier to translate since it’s driven by pictures. There’s more money in manga so maybe more money is put into translating manga. Or it might be that light novels are churned out at such a high rate rhat there are quality issues.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong about all of that.

So I went into Slayers: The Ruby Eye with trepidation. I watched the first couple episodes of the anime back in the day and just couldn’t get into it. It felt like stereotypical characters in a stereotypical parody for me.

I actually quite liked The Ruby Eye. The characters started out with more depth (I assume they do get it in the anime) and a tighter plot structure. I’ll read some more.

And Slayers still doesn’t answer my ligut novels questions. Not only did they only get translated after the success of the anime so there was more urgency to do a good job, I’ve read that the translator, Elizabeth Ellis, is particularly good. So Slayers may not fit the usual model.

I will continue to look at light novels. For one thing, they are easier to read on my phone than manga lol The Boogiepop books are also on my list.
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Mon May 30, 2022 5:54 pm
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I sobbed through this cartoon

Lowell Kempf
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I am dabbler in watching animation in much the same way I’m a dabbler in reading the manga. Which is to say, I’ve seen a lot of cartoons compared to someone who isn’t interested in them but I am far from an expert.

When I read about a Pixar short from 2019 called Kitbull, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to emotionally handle watching it. And then I watched it anyway.

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It’s a cartoon about a little black stray kitten who helps a pit bull escape his abusive owner who forces him to fight. I cried pretty much the whole way through.

Before I actually talk about content, I do want to note that this was apparently Pixar’s first traditionally animated cartoon. (That means hand drawn. I had to look it up to be sure) And the design work is really strong. In particular, the kitten’s design, which is the most cartoony by far, is powerful. With a head the size of her body and maybe a third of that head being eyeballs, she is adorable, painfully vulnerable and brave all at the same time.

If Scott McCloud is to be believed, the more cartoony and abstract a character is, the easier it is for us to identify with them. The kitten is the point of view character. A small mercy from this is that we don’t see the actual dog fights, just the painful aftermath. But an important part of the short is her journey to learning to not be afraid of the pit bull and to love him.

Another important part of Kitbull is that there is no dialogue. The two animals just make animal sounds. There is nothing fantastic about Kitbull because it is depicting the kind of animal abuse people actually do. And which rarely gets the happy ending Kitbull has.

Every pit bull experience I’ve had has been ones with caring owners. And the only problem I’ve had is them deciding to be stubborn lap dogs and it’s like having wet bags of sand holding you down. So I can get behind the clear message of Kitbull. Animal abuse happens and animal abuse is bad.

It took me years to find out Kitbull existed. It wasn’t a fun watch. But it was a powerful one.
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Wed May 25, 2022 7:29 pm
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Kukariyo feels very familiar

Lowell Kempf
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When you get enough books electronically out of the library, the system starts making recommendations. Which is how I got to learn Kukariyo exists. Apparently because I read Demon Slayer. I guess manga = manga to the system.

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Kukariyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits is a manga based on a series of light novels. Aoi is kidnapped to the spirit lands by an ogre because her late grandfather promised the ogre her hand in marriage. Instead of marrying the ogre… Aoi starts a restaurant at the resort the ogre runs. (The whole marriage thing is to pay for the time her grandfather wrecked the resort)

If I were asked to describe Kukariyo, I would say it’s Spirited Away as food porn with some romance thrown in. Will she marry the ogre Odanna, whose actually a handsome and nice guy, or fall for Ginji, the sweet fox spirit? Who cares, let’s talk about food and cooking!

Kukariyo is foodie Heaven first, fantastic spirit land second and romance last.

There’s an amazing lack of tension in the work. Will Aoi manage to win over the latest troublesome spirit with her amazing food? Of course she will! Was there any question? The real question is what tantalizing dish will she spend three pages lovingly making.

The part of the manga that has been the most fascinating for me is Aoi’s late grandfather, Shiro. He’s dead from the beginning but Shiro casts a shadow over seemingly everything.

Shiro apparently had the ability to see spirits, travel between worlds and had vast undefined power. He could be a scoundrel and a trickster but he was also capable of great kindness as well. The dead grandad is the most complex character in the entire work.

And he’s the reason everything happens. Not only did he promise Aoi’s hand in marriage, he’s the one who taught her how to cook. And her mastery of the kitchen is literally a super power since apparently her spiritual energy is a part of it.

Kukariyo isn’t flawless but it does stick in my head.
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Thu May 19, 2022 2:14 am
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Manly Guys and ADORABLE velociraptors

Lowell Kempf
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After years of seeing commented on, I finally looked at and binged the web comic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. The title had turned me off but I found out that most of its humor comes from deconstructing toxic masculinity.

It’s about a temp agency whose job is to reintegrate ludicrously macho men back into society. And by ludicrously macho men, we mean characters from video games, movies and comic books. And, yes, I have to look up a lot of stuff to get some of the jokes.

When I do get the jokes, the comic is funny. And Commander Badass is actually an interesting reconstruction of the macho man. (He can be a loving father and sensitive partner AND perform brutal acts of violence.) BUT what won me over were the velociraptors.

Picture fat, fluffy chickens with teeth.

THEY ARE SO ADORABLE!!!

The velociraptors don’t show up often but a little goes a long ways. They are so ridiculously cute that I _refuse_ to look for plush ones on Etsy because I know they must be there and I don’t know if I could resist them.

If I was asked to show one comic strip that explain why I binged this web comic, it would be the one where the velociraptors needed hugs on the Fourth of July because fireworks are scary.

Manly Guys Doing Manly Things has been on hiatus since 2018 so it’s probably not coming back. But it gave us the most cuddly velociraptors ever so it did what ir needed to do.
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Sat May 14, 2022 12:52 am
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The Old Man and the Iceberg

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I promised myself that I would try to read more stuff this year that was challenging and actually made me think. I also have to balance that with time management so I’m gravitating to shorter works. Which is why I reread Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

Yup, another book that is a staple for high school book reports.

Is it possible to spoil The Old Man and The Sea? Well, just in case:

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The book is about an old fisherman’s last great struggle bringing in a giant marlin, only to have sharks eat it before he can bring it back to shore. It’s one of the classic examples of Man versus Environment, unless you choose to interpret it as Man versus Himself.

As I read it, I couldn’t decide the book was holding up Santiago for his struggles against adversity and loss or if it was condemning those choices that led to him probably dying as the book ends. Which pretty much sums up Hemingway pretty well.

Reading about the book after I read it, I found that Hemingway himself had coined the Iceberg Theory of writing. That almost everything, particularly the things that the author knows, should be hidden, left out. The meaning of a work should be left for the reader to figure out.

Which is why Hemingway Scholarship is its own industry. When everything is up for interpretation, every interpretation can be pursued.

That said, I don’t belong to the school of thought that Hemingway was a lazy author or a bad author. Relentlessly shaving a work down to a theoretical minimum and still have it be engaging is an impressive feat. And frankly, it’s not as minimalist as people who don’t read Hemingway say it is. The Old Man and The Sea may be about an old guy, a boat and a fish and not much else but Santiago has a rich inner dialogue.

Reading about the publication of the book, I read that The Old Man and The Sea was the last major work that Hemmingway published before his death. It’s also apparently the book that revived and sealed his literary reputation. And, boy, it’s tempting to read the book as a metaphor for that point in his career. Which is definitely an option but the open nature of the work makes that only one of many interpretations.

Which just goes back to the Iceberg Theory. The more I look at the book, the more I come back to the idea that there cannot be any one right answer. Rereading The Old Man and The Sea made me think more about Hemmingway than the book.


Post Script:

While reading about Hemmingway, I found out he really was a champion fisherman. And that he kept a tommy gun on his boat to shoot any sharks that got near his catches. That might actually be an idea that is viable but damn.
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Wed May 11, 2022 11:53 pm
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A grab bag of media comments

Lowell Kempf
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While I like to write about what I’m reading or watching, this is going to be a catch all of stuff that I didn’t feel like writing a full individual blog entry of.

The God Engines by John Scalzi

This novella is about an galactic empire whose spaceships are powered by literally torturing gods. Man, you cannot escape War Hammer 40,000, no matter how hard you try.

I’m honestly not sure what my final opinion about the story is but I have to say that Scalzi never backs off from his premise and relentlessly escalates.

Lady Knight by Tamara Pierce

Protector of the Small is the first series I’ve read by Tamara Pierce. And, of course I started in the middle of her Tortall books. Well, it convinced me to read more Tamara Pierce. Maybe even go back to the beginning lol

Amusingly enough, I didn’t realize how much the series kept building on Kel being a defender of the weak and down trodden until she was openly referred to as the Protector of the Small when she was rescuing a refugee camp’s worth of kids.

The theme and arc of the entire series is in the name

Soft & Cuddly by Jarett Kobek

I keep Boss Battle books on my devices so I have ‘safe’ reading material when I’m at work and around kids. Not so much with this one. Soft & Cuddly only spends one chapter on the title game and the rest is a bitter, angry history of England’s early micro computer industry. Clearly biased, very informative and pretty interesting.

Moon Knight - episode 5

Man, this is the episode that we were waiting for, when Moon Knight finally hit its stride. I am fully expecting a cliff hanger ending and the promise of another a season at the end of the season.

I realized for the first time that, as someone who first read Moon Knight in 1981, I went in with certain basic assumptions. Until this episode, it never occurred to me that there could be a question of who the original personality was.

Dragonbreath Book 11: The Frozen Menace

The last book in the series. Our son wanted to stop three chapters from the end. I wonder if he just doesn’t want Dragonbreath to end. I wanted to find out what happened so I finished it by myself.

While the series ends on an open note for more books, The Frozen Menace feels like an ending point. Danny achieves some character development that has been in the works since book one and the last paragraph is about how good going home is.

This was a good series for our family.
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Thu May 5, 2022 9:50 pm
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So that’s why the kids like Demon Slayer

Lowell Kempf
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After I kept seeing multiple students reading Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (and I’m going to call it just Demon Slayer from here on out), I finally asked one what was so special about the manga. I was told that they really liked the character development.

So I got the first few volumes out of the public library so I could read it for myself. (As someone who is old enough to remember when the United States was given Mazinger Z as Tranzor Z and when Robotech was actually a good thing, I think we live in an age of wonder as far as manga and anime is concerned)

Here’s the one sentence pitch: After a demon ravages a boy’s family, the boy devotes himself to slaying demons and restoring his demonic sister’s humanity.

So, the actual plot isn’t that unusual. Tanjiro and his true companions fight the monster of the week. New powers show up as necessary. If you’ve read any Shonen stuff, it’s familiar.

However, I found the character of Tanjiro to be unlike what I was used to in Shonen heroes. To be fair, I’m a dabbler and far from up to date on developments. But I’m used to hot-blooded idiots or cynical anti-heroes.

Tanjiro, on the other hand, is very sensitive and empathetic. I’m fact, his sensitivity helps fuel his fantastical sword fighting. He mourns for demons’ intrinsic tragedies. (He still slays them on any day ending in Y, of course)

It is very easy for me to see why some students would really take to Tanjiro. He is a character that they can relate to and has traits they probably aspire to.

(All that said, the fact that Nezuko, the most significant female character, has been reduced to a child mentally and has to wear a bamboo gag feels problematic for me, no matter the story justification)
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Wed Apr 27, 2022 6:00 pm
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