Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top 10 Fictional Cats


Those who know me are familiar of my fondness of cats.  They are cute, cuddly, adorable, lazy, indifferent, self-absorbed, cowardly, quick-tempered, gullible, agile, tenacious, sharp, and sly – and I find the sum of all these qualities very winning. 

I lament the fact that there are more interesting and notable dog characters than cat characters.  Nonetheless, there are still a couple of stand-outs among fictional cats.  Here are my picks for the best from the lot.  

Honorable Mentions: Cat-Bus (My Neighbor Totoro), Bill the Cat (Bloom County), Meowth (Pokemon)

10.) HEATHCLIFF

I read Garfield and any affection I have to the strip is out of my affection for newspaper comic strips in general.  I find Heathcliff as the better fictional ginger cat over Garfield.  Heathcliff doesn’t talk (though in the animated series, he does, and wisecracks, which is great also) but he still possesses an extent of anthropomorphic characteristics (e.g. fighting with his fists; understanding human culture, concepts, and language; maintaining a girlfriend; standing on his hind legs; serving as an informant for dog catchers, etc.) that allowed more absurdity in the gags of his comic strips.  His episodic adventures are usually about outsmarting his adversaries; bullying dogs and other cats; stealing from and annoying the tuna fisherman, the fish market owner, and the milkman; making lady cats swoon; and just being a plain nuisance to almost everyone. 

9.) LYING CAT

This is the most recent one that I’ve encountered in this list since it’s only this year that I’ve come to read and be a fan of the exceptionally terrific Saga comic book series.

Lying Cat is the pet cat of The Will, a bounty hunter that was sent after the main protagonists (an eloping inter-species couple that belong to opposite sides of the war).  What is remarkable and interesting about this cat is how it shouts out “Lying!” whenever someone speaks a lie within its earshot.       

8.) FELIX THE CAT

I know that Felix the Cat is more known as an animated character; ever since his creation during the silent film era, Felix has appeared in a couple of animated shorts, animated series, and animated movies.  But my fondness for the character happened because of the funny “Felix the Cat” comics digest from Harvey Comics Entertainment; I immensely enjoyed reading “Felix the Cat” comics during my early childhood.  The simple but stylish cartoon design of the character is also worth noting.

7.) PUSS IN BOOTS (Shrek)

The Shrek franchise has succeeded in reinventing some fairy tale characters to hilarious effect.  One of those characters is Puss in Boots, wherein he was depicted as a swashbuckling cat with a Mexican accent (with Antonio Banderas’ distinctive voicing enhancing this character’s charm).  Debuting in Shrek 2, Puss was first introduced as an assassin tasked to kill Shrek, but he quickly became his ally instead.  Donkey was initially threatened from being replaced by Puss as Shrek’s sidekick, but the three of them eventually became close friends.

Puss is a capable swordsman, but he isn’t unaware of the adorable qualities that a cat possesses by default – he even uses his adorableness (e.g. winning people with his trademark cute, large “puppy eyes”) to his advantage in a fight or to get his way. 
     
6.) CHESTER

Chester is a character from the excellent Bunnicula series of children books.  He is the only cat among the four pets of the Monroe household, and was the only one convinced that Bunnicula is a vampire and a threat.  His name is taken from G.K. Chesterton (he was a birthday gift for Mr. Monroe, a literature professor), and grew to love reading books.  Because of reading many books, Chester is smarter or at least more knowledgeable than the pet dogs.  However, his intelligence is also probably the reason why he’s obnoxious, extremely imaginative, stubbornly narrow-minded, and incapable of admitting wrong (typical flaws of most smart people).  Nonetheless, his flaws and obsession on Bunnicula make him a very appealing and enjoyable character.        

5.) TOP CAT

The titular character of the immensely entertaining Top Cat animated series is a charismatic, street-smart, and ingenious alley cat.  Top Cat – or T.C. for short to his friends – usually spend his days leading his gang of alley cats in earning a quick buck through outlandish schemes or cons.  As expected, T.C. often finds himself in a bind from the outcome of his enterprises.  However, he is also often able to talk himself out of trouble with the help of his smooth-talking and quick-wittedness.  Though not as competent as the Fonz, T.C.’s personality is very much Fonzie-like, i.e. he easily wins over both co-characters and audience alike.   

4.) SWAT KATS

Let me cheat a bit.  The sixth spot belongs to both Chance "T-Bone" Furlong and Jake "Razor" Clawson – the SWAT Kats – since they equally provide to what makes the SWAT Kats awesome.  This duo is former paramilitary law enforcers that were exiled to the city’s military salvage yard.  Despite being removed from service, the two still desired to fight crime and protect the city, hence, they decided to become vigilantes – the super-hero duo, SWAT Kats.  They modified the salvage yard to serve as their base of operations, and using parts they can find in it, they created a state-of-the-art fighter jet, the “Turbokat”, as well as gadgetries, weapons, and other vehicles to use in their crusade.   

3.) DORAEMON

The delightful Doraemon anime series features the daily struggles (e.g. being bullied, getting poor grades, etc.) of fifth-grader Nobita, in which the titular character Doraemon would provide aid for.  Doraemon is a robot cat sent from the future to improve the fortune of the hapless Nobita.  He does this by providing Nobita with strange but effective gadgetries that are intended to help address his present predicaments.  However, half of the time, especially when Nobita becomes abusive, greedy, and too self-seeking of the advantage provided, the whole thing backfires on him.  Still, throughout the way, the loyal Doraemon consistently provides counsel and caution.          

2.) SALEM SABERHAGEN

Technically, Salem is – was – a human warlock.  However, he was turned into a cat as punishment for his attempts to take over the world.  As a cat, Salem is a delightful companion to Sabrina Spellman, especially in Sabrina the Teenage Witch and in Sabrina: the Animated Series wherein he was portrayed as a wisecracking, loud-mouthed black cat – extremely funny and charismatic.  

I don’t care much for early versions of Salem in the comics since he’s originally orange and doesn’t talk.  Thankfully, due to the sitcom’s popularity, the comics opted to retcon Salem so that the comic book portrayal would closely reflect the much improved, more hilarious version of the character set by the sitcom. 
 
1.) PUSS IN BOOTS

Shrek’s reinvention was great and fun, but the original fairy tale depiction is still the best.   The “Puss in Boots” story charmed me greatly from the first time I read it.  And the story’s titular cat who ensured the fortune of his master through clever manipulations and quick-thinking made an empathic impression on me that he has been my most favorite fictional cat ever since.

As ending, I’ll leave you with the narrative of the fairy tale to enjoy the awesomeness of the original Puss in Boots.  Here goes...


*  *  *        

Once upon a time there was a miller, who was so poor that at his death he had nothing to leave to his three children but his mill, his ass, and his cat. The eldest son took the mill, and the second the ass, so there was nothing left for poor Jack but to take Puss.

Jack could not help thinking that he had been treated shabbily. "My brothers will be able to earn an honest livelihood," he sighed, "but as for me, though Puss may feed himself by catching mice, I shall certainly die of hunger."  The cat, who had overheard his young master, jumped upon his shoulder, and, rubbing himself gently against his cheek, began to speak. "Dear master," said he, "do not grieve. I am not as useless as you think-me, and will undertake to make your fortune for you, if only you will buy me a pair of boots, and give me that old bag."

Now, Jack had very little money to spare, but, knowing Puss to be a faithful old friend, he made up his mind to trust him, and so spent all he possessed upon a smart pair of boots made of buff-colored leather. They fitted perfectly, so Puss put them on, took the old bag which his master gave him, and trotted off to a neighboring warren in which he knew there was a great number of rabbits.  Having put some bran and fresh parsley into the bag, he laid it upon the ground, hid himself, and waited. Presently two foolish little rabbits, sniffing the food, ran straight into the bag,' when the clever cat drew the strings and caught them.

Then, slinging the bag over his shoulder, he hastened off to the palace, where he asked to speak to the King. Having been shown into the royal presence, he bowed and said:
"Sire, my Lord the Marquis of Carabas has commanded me to present these rabbits to your Majesty, with his respects."

The monarch having desired his thanks to be given to the Marquis (who, as you will guess, was really our poor Jack), then ordered his head cook to dress the rabbits for dinner, and he and his daughter partook of them with great enjoyment.  Day by day Puss brought home stores of good food, so that he and his master lived in plenty, and besides that, he did not fail to keep the King and his courtiers well supplied with game.

Sometimes he would lay a brace of partridges at the royal feet, sometimes a fine large hare, but whatever it was, it always came with the same message: "From my Lord the Marquis of Carabas"; so that everyone at Court was talking of this strange nobleman, whom no one had ever seen, but who sent such generous presents to his Majesty.

At length Puss decided that it was time for his master to be introduced at Court.  So one day he persuaded him to go and bathe in a river near, having heard that the King would soon pass that way. Jack stood shivering up to his neck in water, wondering what was to happen next, when suddenly the King's carriage appeared in sight. At once Puss began to call out as loudly as he could:
"Help, help! My Lord the Marquis of Carabas is drowning!"

The King put his head out of the carriage window and, recognizing the cat, ordered his attendants to go to the assistance of the Marquis. While Jack was being taken out of the water, Puss ran to the King and told him that some robbers had run off with his master's clothes whilst he was bathing, the truth of the matter being that the cunning cat had hidden them under a stone.

On hearing this story the King instantly dispatched one of his grooms to fetch a handsome suit of purple and gold from the royal wardrobe, and arrayed in this, Jack, who was a fine, handsome fellow, looked so well that no one for a moment supposed but that he was some noble foreign lord.

The King and his daughter were so pleased with his appearance that they invited him into their carriage. At first Jack hesitated, for he felt a little shy about sitting next to a Princess, but she smiled at him so sweetly, and was so kind and gentle, that he soon forgot his fears and fell in love with her there and then.  As soon as Puss had seen his master seated in the royal carriage, he whispered directions to the coachman, and then ran on ahead as fast as he could trot, until he came to a field of corn, where the reapers were busy.

"Reapers," said he fiercely, "the King will shortly pass this way. If he should ask you to whom this field belongs, remember that you say, 'To the Marquis of Carabas.' If you dare to disobey me, I will have you all chopped up as fine as mincemeat." The reapers were so afraid the cat would keep his word that they promised to obey. Puss then ran on and told all the other laborers whom he met to give the same answer, threatening them with terrible punishments if they disobeyed.  Now, the King was in a very good humor, for the day was fine, and he found the Marquis a very pleasant companion, so he told the coachman to drive slowly, in order that he might admire the beautiful country. "What a fine field of wheat!" he said presently. "To whom does it belong?" Then the men answered as they had been told: "To our Lord the Marquis of Carabas." Next they met a herd of cattle, and again to the King's question, "To whom do they belong?" they were told, "To the Marquis of Carabas." And it was the same with everything they passed.

The Marquis listened with the greatest astonishment, and thought what a very wonderful cat his dear Puss was; and the King was delighted to find that his new friend was as wealthy as he was charming.

Meanwhile Puss, who was well in advance of the Royal party, had arrived at a stately castle, which belonged to a cruel Ogre, the richest ever known, for all the lands the King had admired so much belonged to him. Puss knocked at the door and asked to see the Ogre, who received him quite civilly, for he had never seen a cat in boots before, and the sight amused him.

So he and Puss were soon chatting away together.

The Ogre, who was very conceited, began to boast of what clever tricks he could play, and Puss sat and listened, with a smile on his face.  "I once heard, great Ogre," he said at last, "that you possessed the power of changing yourself into any kind of animal you chose--a lion or an elephant, for instance."

"Well, so I can," replied the Ogre.

"Dear me! How much I should like to see you do it now," said Puss sweetly.

The Ogre was only too pleased to find a chance of showing how very clever he was, so he promised to transform himself into any animal Puss might mention.

"Oh! I will leave the choice to you," said the cat politely. Immediately there appeared where the Ogre had been seated, an enormous lion, roaring, and lashing with its tail, and looking as though it meant to gobble the cat up in a trice.  Puss was really very much frightened, and, jumping out of the window, managed to scramble on to the roof, though he could scarcely hold on to the tiles on account of his high-heeled boots.

There he sat, refusing to come down, until the Ogre changed himself into his natural form, and laughingly called to him that he would not hurt him.  Then Puss ventured back into the room, and began to compliment the Ogre on his cleverness.

"Of course, it was all very wonderful," he said, "but it would be more wonderful still if you, who are so great and fierce, could transform yourself into some timid little creature, such as a mouse. That, I suppose, would be quite impossible?"

"Not at all," said the vain Ogre; "one is quite as easy to me as the other, as I will show you." And in a moment a little brown mouse was frisking about all over the floor, whilst the Ogre had vanished.

"Now or never," said Puss, and with a spring he seized the mouse and gobbled it up as fast as he could.

At the same moment all the gentlemen and ladies whom the wicked Ogre had held in his castle under a spell, became disenchanted. They were so grateful to their deliverer that they would have done anything to please him, and readily agreed to enter into the service of the Marquis of Carabas when Puss asked them to do so.

So now the cat had a splendid castle, which he knew to be full of heaped-up treasures, at his command, and ordering a magnificent feast to be prepared, he took up his station at the castle gates to welcome his master and the royal party.  As soon as the castle appeared in sight, the King enquired whose it was, "For," said he, "I have never seen a finer."

Then Puss, bowing low, threw open the castle gates, and cried:
"May it please your Majesty to alight and enter the home of the most noble the Marquis of Carabas."

Full of surprise, the King turned to the Marquis. "Is this splendid castle indeed yours?" he asked. "Not even our own palace is more beautiful, and doubtless it is as splendid within as without."

Puss then helped his Majesty to alight, and conducted him into the castle, where a group of noble gentlemen and fair ladies were waiting to receive them. Jack, or the Marquis as he was now called, gave his hand to the young Princess, and led her to the banquet.

Long and merrily they feasted, and when at length the guests rose to depart, the King embraced the Marquis, and called him his dear son; and the Princess blushed so charmingly and looked so shy and sweet, that Jack ventured to lay his heart and fortune at her feet.

And so the miller's son married the King's daughter, and there were great rejoicings throughout the land.

On the evening of the wedding-day a great ball was given, to which princes and noblemen from far and near were invited. Puss opened the ball, wearing for the occasion a pair of boots made of the finest leather, with gold tassels and scarlet heels. I only wish you could have seen him.

When the old King died, the Princess and her husband reigned in his stead, and their most honored and faithful friend at Court was Puss himself, for his master never forgot to whom he owed all his good fortune: He lived upon the daintiest meat and most delicious cream, and was petted and made much of all the days of his life, and never again ran after mice and rats, except for exercise and amusement.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sony Should Adapt 'Spider-Verse' to Revitalize Their 'Spider-Man' Franchise


Click to enlarge for this art’s full magnificence
The future of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man franchise is shaky and unclear after the unsatisfying performance of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in both earnings and critical reception (for the record, personally, I still liked it despite its flaws.  But it was likely because of my extreme loyalty to Spider-Man).  It’s so “shaky and unclear” that rumors of Sony’s next step for their Spidey franchise range from insanely stupid ones like an “Aunt May” movie to insanely delightful ones like teaming up with Marvel Studios to bring Spidey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  At this point, Sony is still unsure of where to go after ASM2.   

Well, if anybody from Sony can read this, I have this free, crazy suggestion for them to dramatically rejuvenate the franchise as early as possible: let them adapt the “Spider-Verse” storyline!

“Spider-Verse” is Dan Slott’s ongoing Spider-Man mega-event wherein different Spider-Men (and “spider” characters) from different universes band together to face the threat of Morlun and his kin, who are hunting and consuming people across the multiverse that belong to the “spider totem.”  I am currently enjoying it a lot so far, and I think that its premise could work well in making an epic Spidey movie.    

Sony should proceed with ASM3.  Keep the continuity of the first two Amazing Spider-Man movies, but abandon everything related to the “Sinister Six” or Oscorp.  Don’t mention anything about Oscorp or the Sinister Six anymore.  The movie will pick off Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man years after the last movie (the movie can start with a montage of short glimpses of his adventures during the gap between the movies).  Later, Morlun is introduced to the story.  Peter Parker has no idea where this new villain came from; let Morlun’s background be a mystery for a while.  The only thing that Peter knows is that Morlun wants to feed on his spider life force.  To get to Spider-Man, Morlun will threaten Peter’s love ones.  They fight.  Spider-Man experiences the toughest, deadliest fight of his career.  He wins; Morlun is seemingly vanquished.  After the denouement – in a post-credit scene – Spidey is swinging around New York, when, suddenly another Spider-Man swings and called out to him.  Astonished and startled, Garfield’s Spidey jumped to engage the second Spidey in battle.  After a brief skirmish, the newcomer Spidey was able to calm Garfield’s Spidey.  The second Spidey removes his mask, revealing the face of – dum-dum-dum – Tobey Maguire!  “The war is just starting,” Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man says.   Roll credits.  Two years later, The Amazing Spider-Man: Spider-Verse happens.                   

Wouldn’t that be mindblowing?

Aside from getting the chance to see Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man together, here are other awesome implications of a Spider-Verse movie, where different Spider-Men from different universes will team up:
  • Andrew Garfield playing different Peter Parkers, a la Tatiana Maslany’s fantastic performance in Orphan Black.   There is no need for a lot of them (a big roster will probably me too crowded, too messy).  Three or four different Andrew Garfield-played Spider-Men is enough (as long as one of them is Spider-Man Noir). 
  • Miles Morales and Miguel O’Hara in the big screen!  For me, “Spider-Verse” is the best approach of bringing these two alternate Spider-Men into the big screen.  I don’t think that a stand-alone Ultimate Spider-Man or Spider-Man 2099 movie will work just as well.   
  • One of the players in “Spide-Verse” is “Spider-Gwen”, a Spider-Woman from an alternate universe where Gwen Stacy is the one bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker.  Emma Stone killed as Gwen Stacy, and her returning to play an alternate spider-powered version of the character is going to be exciting. 
  • A CGI Spider-Ham!!! 

If Sony really want to replicate what Marvel Studios has accomplished so far with the MCU, Spider-Verse is probably their best opportunity to do so.  They want an ensemble of superheroes like Marvel Studios’ Avengers?  Boom, a superhero team made up of different Spider-Men.  They want a shared universe?  Boom, they get a shared multiverse.  They want an answer to Rocket Raccoon?  Boom, Spider-Ham. 

$$$!      

Do it, Sony!

It’s ambitious, but if pulled off, “Spider-Verse” could turn out to be the most epic thing ever accomplished in the history of superhero movies.  

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Christian's Freedom of Making Moral Choices Without Fear


Let’s have a thought experiment…

Imagine that you are a government secret agent tasked on protecting the city from a terrorist attack.  You were able to capture the terrorist.  Unfortunately, he was able to hide, arm, and start the timer on the bomb before he was caught.  The nuclear bomb can explode at any second, and there’s no time to evacuate the city.  The only way to save the city, particularly the millions of lives in it, is to extract the information of the location of the bomb from the terrorist.  However, the terrorist is an extreme fanatic; he has no fear of dying and won’t be broken by torture.   On the other hand, you got your hands on the terrorist’s family – who have no idea what the husband/father/terrorist was into – and there is a good chance that he will give you the location of the bomb if you torture his wife and children instead.  Will you do it?  To save millions of lives, is torturing the innocent wife and children the right thing to do?

The thought-provoker above is called the “Ticking Time Bomb Scenario” – a thought experiment on the morality of torture (this has been constantly explored in the TV series 24).  It’s a complex moral dilemma that we definitely don’t want to encounter.

In our actual lives, we probably don’t have dilemmas that are as complicated as the “Ticking Time Bomb Scenario”, but we are nonetheless put in situations where making the right choice is difficult, for we don’t know what the right choice is.  Moral or ethical choices are not always about picking between the “black” and the “white.”  There are times that it is hard to determine which is “black” or “white”, or if there’s actually a “black” and a “white” at all. 

Of course, as Christians, we need to consciously pursue the right thing and what will glorify God the most.  The guidance of the Holy Spirit and the instructions of the Word of God help us in choosing.  But there will be times that we fail to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance and can’t comprehend what the Word’s instructions are.  We are human after all.  We fall.  We make fool of ourselves.  We make mistakes.  That is simply part of the Christian journey.  Until we get to Heaven and have glorified bodies, we still need to endure the difficulties of the battlefield of Christian life.  Which includes the complexity of moral struggles. 
   
Fortunately, we Christians are under God’s grace.  Though we aren’t free yet from undergoing these complex moral battles, we however have been given freedom to engage in these battles without fear of the results.   Our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven.  Thus, we will no longer receive condemnation if we ever made the wrong choice. 

It doesn’t mean we should just impulsively make choices without seeking God’s will.  Or still make the wrong choice when we already know it’s the wrong one.  Again, we should consciously pursue the right thing and what will glorify God the most.  If we are convicted by the Spirit that a particular choice is a wrong one or would dishonor God, why still proceed to choose it?  The freedom of making moral choices, like all other aspects of God’s grace, should never be abused, but treasured and esteemed.

God understands our limitations.  We should just do our best in carrying on the purpose of our existence: bringing glory to God.  If we ever err in our choices and methods, let it be out of ignorance or unintended blunder, and NOT deliberately.  There might still be earthly consequence that may arise from these mistakes we made, but God’s mercy is likely to shield us from most of it, and, most importantly, there will be no eternal judgment that will be passed on us.

I still don’t know what I will precisely do if I get into complex moral dilemmas like the “Ticking Time Bomb Scenario.”  But by God’s grace, I know I can make a choice without fear. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A Reflection on Psalm 23



Psalm 23 is the only chapter in the Bible I know by heart.  It has been for many years.  Throughout my life, I got to memorize several chapters in the Bible, but I eventually forgot parts of it or its entirety completely.  Only Psalm 23 stuck.  Probably because it’s just six verses long.  But also because it has likely appealed to me a lot. 

Psalm 23 is a very notable passage in the Bible.  It used the metaphor of the LORD as a Shepherd, and it’s full of encouragement and comfort for His flock since it gives a comprehensive glimpse of the benefits that a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd will enjoy.  

This reflection is my short analysis of the blessings depicted in Psalm 23.  I will be discussing them by verse.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

The LORD is our Good Shepherd (note: from this point on, when I use the third person pronouns like “we”, “us”, or “our”, I am referring to us Christians – the sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd).  The Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep (John 10:11).  The Good Shepherd who willingly sought us in the wilderness when we were lost (Luke 15:4-6).  It’s a great blessing and honor to have Him as our Shepherd! 

Belonging to Him, there is the guarantee that we will never lack of anything we need.  Emphasis on “anything we need.”  God will always give us the things He knows we actually need, not the things we want or think we need. 

So if we don’t have something, it’s because we don’t need it.  If God didn’t provide the thing we are asking for right now, then it’s because we don’t really need it yet.  Or at all.

Indeed, what we need to get the most out of our lives and accomplishing a task for the glory of God is always present or provided in the perfect time.              

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,         

The imagery from this verse inspires tranquility.

God gives us rest and peace.  And they are not dependent on the circumstances around us.  Regardless of the weather we are in – pleasant or turbulent – there is an inner calmness, for the Good Shepherd is always in control.  

he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

When God saved us, He also guaranteed that He will preserve us and sanctify us till we are ready to stand in front of Him.  By our own strength, we can never remain faithful.  It is God who enables us to be faithful.  There may be times that we falter and fall, but God will keep on sustaining and restoring us till the end.  

Through the power of His Word and Holy Spirit, His instructions and wisdom to discern what is righteous are revealed to us whenever we seek them sincerely.  But even if we fail, His forgiveness is readily given when we repent, replenishing the vigor in our souls in continuing our pressing on forward.  All of this is for His glory; so what He started in us, He will surely see it brought to completion (Philippians 1:6).    

This is basically the doctrine from the 5th-point of Five-Point Calvinism, “Perseverance of the Saints.” Such great source of reassurance.      

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

God promised that He will never leave us, nor forsake us.  He promised to be with us till the end of age (Matthew 28:20).  So no matter how terrifying, impossible, dire, or threatening a certain circumstance we are in, His presence gives us courage, cheer, and calm.  For if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) 

In short, God got our backs. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Simply, we are overwhelmingly blessed! 

Unfortunately, there is a popular misconception that being overwhelmingly blessed always translates to material gain – good health, fixed relationships, promotion, excelling in academics, improved standard of living, ownership of more properties, etc.  God never really promised these things.  God never promised that we will have problem-free, wealthy, comfortable lives in this world.  Quite the opposite actually. 

However, what God did promise us are the honor and joy prepared for us in Heaven that are incomparably, incomprehensibly greater than any material gain from this world.   And even in the presence of whatever form of antagonism and menace, these great blessing and glory from God is made apparent. 

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Due to God’s grace, we have been gifted eternal life.  Hence, we will be able to enjoy His presence for all eternity in Heaven.  But even while we are still remaining in this world, undergoing our life journey towards Eternity, the glorious presence of God is already felt to an extent – His love and grace evidently working to push us forward until we get there.  The Good Shepherd will get His flock there.     

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

'Haikyuu!' Made Volleyball Awesome to Me



I was not expecting much from Haikyuu! at first.  My sister recommended it to me when I asked her if she knew of any good anime series I would likely be interested in.  She described it as “like Kuroko No Basuke” but instead of basketball, the featured sport is volleyball. With nothing else to do – and since I enjoyed Kuroko No Basuke a lot when I encountered it last year (but I was greatly disappointed of the manga’s anticlimactic and underwhelming conclusion this year) – I proceeded to watch it… and found out that it’s better than Kuroko No Basuke in so many levels.

I’m wary to make a definite “best sports anime I’ve ever encountered” proclamation since following seasons may not be as fantastic as its 25-episode first season.  But if the same quality is sustained all throughout its run, then it’s a no-brainer for Haikyuu! to get such title since I find no other sports anime that has been nigh-perfect in totally nailing what the genre should be. 

If anything else, Haikyuu! has made volleyball fascinating to me for the first time.    

PACKED WITH EXCITING ACTION, ENGAGING DRAMA, AND HUMOR

Like all sports anime, Haikyuu! was able to enhance the energy and excitement of the actual experience of watching the sport in real life.  But it was able to do this without having over-the-top player abilities (like in Kuroko No Basuke, Prince of Tennis, and Eyeshield 21).    I’m not saying that everything is realistic, but it was down-to-earth compared to most sports anime.  Still, even without having the benefit of ridiculous action sequences, it was still as fun and thrilling as those sports anime that went that approach.

The drama is just as important as the action in making the story engrossing.  Not only did Haikyuu! feature exciting volleyball action but it was also able to convey deep emotion.  It accomplished making the audience feel the sweet victories, bitter defeats, and exhilaration of the contest with much empathy. 

Moreover, it has several times made me genuinely laugh.  Haikyuu! is probably the funniest sports anime next to Eyeshield 21.   Since Eyeshield 21 is wacky and hilarious, that’s saying something.  Humor is always a big plus.   

INTERESTING CHARACTERS

The primary thing I like about this anime is how good it was able to handle its characters.  For me – more often than not – if the characters are made worth caring about, the audience will be deeply drawn to the story that the characters are in.  Haikyuu! was able to make me care about every single member of the team, which made me emotionally invested in the team itself.  If I had encountered Haikyuu! before I’ve written my top 10 fictional sports team list, Karasuno High School’s volleyball team would end up in number 3.          

Every member was given the chance to have his respective talents, passions, and struggles explored by the narrative.  Thus, every member of Karasuno has been given enough personality for me to appreciate what he brings to the team and the story.  Of course, most of the development and exposure are on the main characters, which are rightfully so, but the supporting cast has never been made irrelevant.  

Not everything about the characterizations are unique or original.  I can find several similar character elements from other sports anime – e.g. the central characters being some form of phenomenal rookies, adopting the mold of the usual anime character archetypes, club members in hiatus re-joining the team, characters figuring out the “there’s no ‘I’ in team” principle, etc. – but they were so well-executed and satisfyingly justified in the overall narrative and characterizations that I’ve no complains.   

I LEARNED A LOT ABOUT VOLLEYBALL

I’ve never been a big and knowledgeable sports fan, so sports anime are often very informative to me.  But more so with Haikyuu! and volleyball.  I’ve never been educated by an anime on a sport by such extent ever since Slam Dunk taught me a lot about basketball

Example, I got to have a deeper understanding on the rules.  Like the way you can return the ball to the opposing side can be made dependent by how you received it.  You can’t just set and spike by whim. 

Moreover, I finally learned that the positions in volleyball actually have particular roles just as much as the positions in basketball, American football, and soccer.  This was never made clear to me when I got to play volleyball in school and summer camp when I was still a teen.  I thought that since the players are rotating anyway, each player has basically the same roles. 

The most mindblowing thing I learned is the role of a libero and why he or she has a different uniform from his or her teammates.  Prior this, when I saw professional or collegiate volleyball games in TV, I thought that a player has a different uniform because he or she was the captain.            

BEST ANIME SERIES OF 2014

Okay, this is probably unfounded in my part, since I’ve never watch much anime these days (even with the current major titles – Naruto, Bleach, Fairy Tail, and One Piece – which I mostly follow by manga and only watch their respective anime occasionally).  Nonetheless, it’s the best anime series of 2014 that I’ve got to watch (Attack on Titan is really the best anime series I’ve seen this year, but it originally run in 2013, so it’s technically not an anime series of 2014).  So for what my recommendation is worth, I say that Haikyuu! is the best anime series of 2014.


Miscellaneous musings:
  • Up until now, I still have no idea what the word “haikyuu” means. 
  • I applaud the visuals. It’s beautiful and really enhances the overall narrative, characterizations, and gags.     
  • I think volleyball is more fun to watch if the players are females.  So, if I can make any change in this anime to improve it, I would have centered it on a female volleyball team instead. 
  • Ryuunosuke Tanaka’s brash-and-tough demeanor always cracks me up.  His death stares are greatly fun moments.  
  • Kōshi Sugawara is the classiest “benched senpai” character ever.  
  • The main characters, Shōyō Hinata and Tobio Kageyama, are both “super rookie”-type characters.  The former is a technically limited volleyball player but a very phenomenal jumper and spiker; the latter is a genius setter as well as a well-rounded volleyball player.  One interesting unique detail is that the “ace player” of the team is neither main character but a B-tiered character named 3rd-year Asahi Azumane.
  • Seriously, it’s only now that I understood how volleyball is much of an awesome team sport as basketball and American football.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Evaluating DC's TV Series Programming


PART 1: The Dominance of DC Over Marvel in the Small Screen

Through the years, Marvel has not only been taking the lion share in comic book sales most of the time, but they have been also kicking DC’s butt in the market that really matters: the big screen.  To be fair with DC, they do make the better direct-to-video animated movies (I think “Hulk vs. Wolverine” is the only Marvel animated film that I get to really enjoy).  But the money in direct-to-video is incomparable from the money earnings from theatrical blockbusters, which will come from ticket sales to merchandising.  So unless DC ever figure out how to create an engaging and profitable cinematic universe as Marvel’s, Marvel, which has a clear plan already until 2018, will continue to be the winners for a couple more years.    

However, DC has been clearly more productive over Marvel in the small screen.  Not only does DC make more good-quality animated TV series (Marvel had produced great animated TV series, too, but DC has three for every good one Marvel makes; also, for every good Marvel animated series, there are two bad ones) but they also have the most success in producing noteworthy live-action series, both in volume and value. Up until now, Adam West’s campy Batman series from way back in ’66 is still beloved by many.  There was the delightful Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in the 90’s, which Marvel had no answer.  Then, there’s Smallville, which despite its many flaws had its awesome moments as well, which, again, Marvel had no answer.     

In the present, Marvel now has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which had weak early episodes but eventually improved into a must-watch show.   In fact, despite the lack of a legitimate superhero presence, AoS is as intriguing as DC superhero shows, Arrow or The Flash.  However, though S.H.I.E.L.D. is a concept originally from the comics, AoS is nonetheless more of a spin-off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) rather than an avenue for Marvel to freely render their comic book universe into the small screen.  Hence, in this case, DC is having more success with Arrow and The Flash in translating their comic book universe into a TV universe. 

In terms of quantity, there are four ongoing DC TV series right now.  Three of which have just premiered this fall of 2014.  Clearly, DC went into “aggressive TV series production” mode, probably to keep a foothold in their dominance of the small screen.  

Sure, several Marvel shows are coming up; there’s the Agent Carter series, and then a couple of Netflix TV series featuring Marvel’s street-level superheroes like Daredevil and Luke Cage (which I presume will also take place in the shared MCU).  However, a lot more DC shows are also rumored in production.  It’s as if that for every one that Marvel plans to make, DC has two.  And I’m quite excited with some of the titles being mentioned.  Maybe not all of them will rock.  But considering the fact that I like 3 out of the 4 DC TV series right now, and my dislike for the 4th one is not because it sucks (I will be discussing this later), it’s presumable, based on historical data, that all will at least be watchable and entertaining enough. 

The advantage that Marvel has here is their TV series will exist in the same universe as their movies.  Again, the potential awesomeness in crossovers alone is worth being excited about.  If it works, Marvel’s approach of expounding one shared universe instead of establishing several universes for their properties will pay big dividends.     

Nonetheless, even if not all of DC shows exist in the same universe, as long as they can be individually enjoyable, or at least adequately fun, it’s still going to be DC’s win due to the sheer volume of their properties that they manage to get on screen.     
 
PART 2: Pros and Cons of Each Present DC TV Series

Constantine


PROS:
→ Matt Ryan nailed John Constantine.  
→ It’s turning out to have the same charm and humor that made Sleepy Hollow a regularly entertaining supernatural/horror/fantasy series to watch.
→ It has been made apparent that this show will feature many of DC’s supernatural characters.  

CONS:
→ Charles Halford’s Chas doesn’t give the same vibes as the Chas in the comics, who was a great supporting character.  
→ It’s not “R”, hence, Constantine is restrained in bringing into the small screen many of the things that made John Constantine an awesome character and Hellblazer as one of the most well-written comic book series ever.  It feels too tame to give Constantine and Hellblazer justice.       
→ Its primary setting is in the US instead of England.  Ugh.  

The Flash


PROS:
→ It got me to finally check Arrow out.  
→ Grant Gustin is the greatest Barry Allen version of any medium, including comics, ever.  As I’ve explained in my post after watching the leaked pilot months ago:
The Flash’s Barry Allen is “Peter Parker-esque” – it’s as if there’s a lot of Parker’s trademark geeky charm, strong sense of moral responsibility, and bearing in The Flash’s depiction of Barry Allen – making this version mightily interesting.  If this is sustained through the show, there’s a chance that this Flash could become my favorite speedster.   
→ Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West and Tom Cavanagh as the mysterious Dr. Harrison Wells are consistent in providing the strongest performances in the show.  Because of the magnificent acting from these two, we can always expect compelling scenes whenever their characters are part of the scenes.  
→ Clever premise of how super powers became possible.     
→ It has massive potential.  The fun and intrigue it creates offset the aggravation that any weak writing brings.  It hasn’t been a strong series so far, but it has made itself as something worth being patient about.  

CONS:
→ There is lack of chemistry between Barry Allen and Iris West.  And, no, It’s not the race difference.  There’s just no “spark” between that makes me care for them as a couple (to be fair, I also feel no interest rising from Oliver Queen’s parings in Arrow).  In fact, the whole Barry-Iris angle feels like a distraction to me.    
→ Aside from Barry, Joe, and Dr. Wells, the other characters are not easily likable.  They might grow on me eventually.  But, as of now, I can’t bring myself to be invested in them. 
→ When Arrow’s Felicity Smoak visited, that was the highest point of the show so far.  And it’s just a bad thing that for The Flash to have its best episode, it has to rely on a character (and the writer/s that probably came with the character) from another show.  There’s no interesting female character in The Flash so far. Moreover, Felicity’s effortless chemistry with Barry also emphasized Barry’s lack of such with Iris.     
→ The Flash suffers from uncreative and dumb writing half of the time.  Most of the episodes have plots that are generic or Smallville-like.  And there are many dialogues that are excruciatingly cheesy.         

Arrow


PROS:
→ This is easily the best among the current line-up of DC TV series.  It’s not perfect, but it is engaging and well-plotted most of the time.
→ It nailed what Green Arrow should be, a Batman analogue that happens to work with bow and arrows
→ Since a Batman TV series seems to be impossible at this point, I’ll take Arrow.
→ Oliver’s lateral pull-up/climbing exercise is awesome.  First time I saw such thing.    
→ The charming Felicity Smoak.  Could be the most likable character in the series. 
→ Interesting supporting and recurring characters. 
→ It is bringing as much of the DC Universe as it can possibly can to the small screen, without making it too crowded. Amanda Waller (which I hoped would have the original fat appearance). Suicide Squad.  Deathstroke.  Huntress.   League of Assassins.  Ra’s al Ghul.  Etc.  Just awesome.    
→ Superman as the Atom.  Brandon Routh’s charming portrayal of Ray Palmer is as fantastic as Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity Smoak. 
→ I appreciate the unique narrative style:  flashbacks that reveal the happenings during Oliver Queen’s five year-hiatus from Starling City running alternately with the present narrative.  This definitely enhanced the storytelling, and made the whole show more intriguing.  
→ Great development of the character from vigilante to hero.
→ It spun-off The Flash.  The implication?  The creation of a big DC TV Universe.  I really hope The Flash is not the last spin-off happening from this shared universe.  If many other non-Batman-Superman-Wonder Woman (since these three are likely reserved for the movies) superheroes pop out in Arrow and The Flash, or have their own spin-off shows, and they form a Justice Society of America (since the Justice League of America is likely to be exclusive for the movies), it’s going to be the best thing to happen in TV ever.           

CONS:
→ It’s not a Batman TV series.  This show’s existence sometimes drives me crazy since that there is no Batman TV series instead.   
→ It kind of annoys me that the promotion for Arrow seems to always involve Stephen Amell being shirtless.  To be fair, the man is pretty.
→ I feel that there is lack of usage and variations of trick arrows.  
→ It’s not always good.  The plot kinds of feel tiresome sometimes.  Only sometimes.  I can’t really explain it much, only that I feel that it’s not fun sometimes.  Again, only sometimes.  Can’t stress “sometimes” enough.     

Gotham


PROS: 
→ Strong, winning performances from Ben McKenzie as James Gordon, Donald Logue as Harvey Bullock, and Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot.  
→ Beautiful production value.

CONS:
→ It’s not a Batman TV series. 
→ My dream prologue Batman series is that of young Bruce Wayne traveling around the world as he acquires the skills and trainings that would prepare him as Batman when he returns to Gotham.  The existence of a Gotham TV series means that my fantasy Batman prologue TV series hasn’t happened, and has no chance of happening in the near future. 
→ The fine production value means much effort is exerted in creating a good Gotham setting and mood.  Thus, it frustrates me that such effort is not applied on a straight-up Batman TV series.  Too much Batman allusions are being done anyway, why not make the whole thing centered on Bruce Wayne/Batman then?   
→ Right from the start, I never got sold with the whole premise of the show.  I gave it a chance.   But I gave up on the third episode.  The whole thing just reeks of gimmickry to me – pretending that making it centered on James Gordon is a creative concept, when the reliance of adding too much Batman Easter eggs is very much apparent as gratuitous and having no confidence on establishing something original.      
→ I understand why this show might work on others, but it’s not my cup of tea.
→ I might get into this series in the future, especially if the kind hype is created wherein it’ll make me feel that I’m missing out of something awesome and important.  But with lots of great TV series to choose from each week, I have no problem of not getting into Gotham early.  I don’t think I will be missing out much.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Slogan: 'Keep Calm and Press On'


This post is to officially announce my life slogan. 

“Hakuna Matata” has always been my motto since I was able to understand what a motto means.  During the time I was about to get to my silver anniversary – a notable life milestone – I contemplated if there’s a need for me to change my motto as I move forward with my life, but I arrive at the conclusion that there’s no need; “Hakuna Matata” is still appropriate at this point in my life. 

So with “Hakuna Matata” already at hand, why is there a need for a life slogan?  Well, basically, a motto is different from a slogan.  A motto is a brief statement that serves as the guiding principle or philosophy that one has to live by.  A slogan is more of a catchphrase that pushes an agenda or cause.  Therefore, the purpose of a life slogan is to promote in my life the cause that I have to live on and to pump me up as I progress with my life. 

If it’s still not apparent from the title of this post and the T-shirt I’m wearing in the photo above, my life slogan is “KEEP CALM AND PRESS ON.” 

“Keep Calm and Press On” is just another play with the “Keep Calm and…” meme, in which particular revisions are made on the original “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan done by the UK government during the financial crisis back in the late 2000’s. Nonetheless, “Keep Calm and Press On” is almost similar in function as the original “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  Both basically mean that in the presence of excitement and difficulties, we should just remain calm and just continue moving forward.  It gives an optimistic message that no matter how hard and chaotic the situation is now, we will get through it.    Somehow, we’ll manage.  Somehow, we’ll overcome.

However, even if the implication of my life slogan is virtually similar to the original UK slogan, I still prefer to use the phrase “Press On” rather than “Carry On.” “Press On” alludes to what the Apostle Paul has stated on Philippians 3:7-14:
    But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
     Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Despite the tremendous amount of hardships and struggles that he had undergone in his life, Paul remained enthusiastic, resolute, and kept moving forward.  Why?  For he understood the great value of this future prize that God has set for him in Heaven, and that no earthly pleasure or glory can ever come close in matching that.  So he worked hard for the glory of God – storing riches in Heaven that will last for eternity – rather than seeking earthly pleasures and glory that are all temporary anyway.  In everything, he gave it his all, no matter what.  He knew that every sacrifice, every pain, every drop of effort, is going to be worth it; the glory and happiness that he would receive as reward far outweigh the sufferings that he experienced in this world while working for God’s glory.

Paul doggedly pressed on towards an upward prize, and didn’t get distracted by anything that this temporary world gives, whether temporal enjoyment or suffering.  Thus, by pressing on towards the Prize, his life became meaningful.  So for my life to be meaningful, I should follow the example that he has set.

I definitely won’t be able to do it with the same extent and quality as Paul’s, and there are times I completely forget about it that I ended up being a hypocrite.  But I just have to keep on trying; rise up each time I fail, and move forward again; don’t panic; and do the best I can and be the best I can be.  

This is what “Keep Calm and Press On” reminds me of.

Everything in this world is temporary.  Both earthly pleasures and pains will pass.  Therefore, I should not focus on the things of this world   No matter how bad my problems are, I should not let myself be drowned in them and despair – be calm.  And no matter how delightful earthly pleasures and personal glory are, I should not ground my ultimate satisfaction in them, pursuing them instead of heavenly rewards. 

My focus should be on the Prize.  If it’s for the glory of God, then I should go all out.  No holding back.  And no matter how hard the circumstances are, I should keep moving forward.  Even crawl if I have to.  Press on towards the Prize, no matter what. 

For the pains and the pleasures of this world are nothing compared to this immensely glorious Prize that God wants me to enjoy in Heaven.  Everything is going to be worth it.

In the Bible, the “crown” has several times served as symbol for heavenly rewards.  If the crown on top of the art design of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” campaign is any indication, then it’s definitely meant to be tailored for the context of my life’s slogan.