Writing in hiding

Okay, “in hiding” is way too dramatic. There have been writers who have actually had to hide out of fear of being harassed or even murdered (as we saw last week.) What I’m talking about here is far more mundane and less of an actual issue, but one that I still think a lot of people who write online have to deal with: the matter of who to let in on your writing in your offline life. For some people, I think this isn’t an issue at all — either you’re writing on subjects that you feel people won’t have any issues with, or your friends, colleagues, and family are cool to the point that nothing you write about will faze them, or alternatively you just don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of you and your interests.

None of the above is true for me, and I’m guessing it’s not for a lot of writers here. Most of us have to be at least a little selective about who we let in on that we write online, since those old questions can follow: what do you write about, do you have a site/blog, where is it so I can follow it. Sometimes all these might just be polite questions that the person asking will never follow up on, but you never know when you’re talking to that rare one who might actually look your work up.

Not quite my work. I wish I had this kind of talent.

This partly links back to a post I wrote a few days ago about getting more personal. One of the reasons I think I get personal about certain issues on this blog is that I can’t do so in real life. We all have matters we can and can’t talk about with certain people — some only with close friends, some only with family (or excluding family, another important point.) And some require a kind of partial anonymity at least to talk about.

I can find at least a few reasons why I can’t share this site with anyone I know in real life. I’ve recently brought up my past issues with drinking, for example. This was a matter I felt I had to get off my chest, especially since I was going through a rough spot a few weeks ago, but most of my “real-life” friends only have a faint idea of the problem, and my family has never had any idea about it since I’ve always hidden it from them — it’s not so easy admitting to issues with alcoholism when drinking alcohol is considered not just a bad idea but a sin, a breaking of God’s direct commands. Following up on that, I’ve questioned some forms of religious belief in a couple of posts where I felt my views on it were relevant, another reason to not let on to any of my family about this blog. And of course, worst of all, I’ve reviewed games like Nekopara. That last one is probably enough to get me raked across the coals on Twitter assuming anyone even knew who I was or gave a shit about me, but far worse for people I actually know to draw some uncharitable conclusions about me (baseless ones, of course, but you know how it is.)

This screenshot has never been so relevant.

All of the above is even more relevant to my fiction. I’m not exactly Mr. Grimdark — I find that kind of excess pretty embarrassing really, unless there’s a good reason for it. But my stories are also fairly weird as you might imagine. I don’t really need to hear people asking if I’m okay assuming, again, any of them were to read what I wrote instead of just feigning polite interest (the answer: no, I’m not really okay, but there’s nothing much either of us can do about that and this is part of how I’m coping with it. Best not even to open that door.)

For these reasons, I don’t tell anyone I know in my day-to-day offline life about this blog — even if I might trust one friend enough to “get it”, you know how this kind of shit can magically spread and suddenly you’re hearing your aunt ask about something you wrote and forgot about five years ago. And just for good measure, I’ve never posted my name or face here or on social media connected with this site either. Again, I don’t think I’m in a special situation here: I think doxxing is a concern partly for these reasons on top of the potential for harassment that comes along with it.

All that said, I’d like to reach a point in my life where I don’t feel the need to conceal my interests. Bisque Doll had the right idea about that, but in some ways it really feels like a fantasy to me. In the end, I don’t have it so bad, really, but I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never be able to live as openly as I like. Now I just wish I could convince my family that I actually have “real” hobbies and don’t simply work and sleep without getting into all of the above. To readers and fellow writers, I hope you’re having an easier time with this than I’ve had, or else that you truly just don’t give a fuck and can live your life the way you like.

The personal touch

Three years ago, I was agonizing over how much objectivity I should be going for in my reviews. I took the examples of old-school (at least now they would be old-school, I guess) independent internet music critics George Starostin and Mark Prindle, two guys whose work I equally admired but who had very different approaches. Even though I’d had this blog since 2013, I never really thought much about this question or about my own writing here until about 2019, and by that time I’d realized that a lot of what I had written previously wasn’t that great — I felt this kind of self-examination would help improve my work here.

Well now it’s three years later, and I don’t know whether I’ve improved at all. I “solved” the problem of how I should use ratings in my reviews by not using ratings anymore, and as for the Starostin/Prindle spectrum or whatever you’d call it, I think I’ve more or less fallen somewhere in the middle of it. Not exactly by choice — I write most of my posts in a nearly stream-of-consciousness style, usually all at once or maybe in two sittings and with barely any editing, which probably explains a lot of the mistakes and post-posting edits I end up having to make. So I can’t say I’m really thinking very consciously about how objective or subjective I’m being in a review, but I write in what I feel is a natural way.

One question I still wonder about, and that this Blaugust daily posting challenge raised for me, is how personal I should be in these posts. I’ve written about some personal matters this month, but the fact is this has always been partly a personal blog — I complain about my petty problems sometimes, but I also try to connect with readers on some personal level. I think the enjoyment of art, in a very broad sense what my site is all about, can’t be separated from the person talking about it. Our personalities affect how we see art, after all; it’s not just impossible to view art in an objective vacuum but would be useless even if it were possible.

But then I still want to keep readers’ interest, and I can’t pretend I’m someone anyone should give a flying fuck about. One of the things that annoys me about a few prominent anime YouTubers, for instance, is their tendency to let their personalities overshadow whatever anime they’re actually talking about. As much as I liked Mark Prindle’s reviews, he could also fall into this very occasionally, talking about family problems or his feelings about religion for three paragraphs in a totally unrelated album review. That was just his style and something you had to expect from him, and it was rare that he’d go into that kind of personal depth in a way that wasn’t actually connected to the music he was talking about from what I remember, but it was still noticeable.

Then again, I might have done the same on this site. I think it’s best to maintain a balance in these cases, anyway, and I’ll do my best to keep that balance. None of this is to say fully personal blogs are bad — they can be interesting, but that’s also not what I’m going for, and anyway I present this site as a game, anime, and sometimes music review/analysis blog, and presumably that’s what most people come here for. And that’s what I want to give readers: my feelings and opinions about art. But again, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about art without getting a little personal at least, unless you’re going for an extremely dry sort of “here’s what this work is composed of and when it was made” sort of wiki style that I have no interest in doing myself, because it would be personally boring for me to write and wouldn’t provide any value to readers.

As a side question to the writers reading: how personal do you like to get in your posts? We all have different styles, so it might be interesting to gauge that here.

Variations on a theme

It’s another short post today, but one for both the writers and readers out there, since I’m in both of those groups.

I’ve been trying to write fiction lately, digging back up my old dream of living off my art. I’m taking a different approach with that goal than I did before, however. I understand now that I’ll never be able to actually “live off my art” in the sense I used to think of it. I’m stuck as an attorney forever now. This might be a punishment for a crime I committed in a past life, but whatever it is, I’ve accepted it. Luckily it’s possible to do at least two things at once with your life, so I can still pursue my writing ambitions while being a lawyer.

Partly because of this changed approach, I’ve totally given up on the idea of a novel. It’s not that it’s impossible for someone to be a full-time working professional and write a novel, because people have done it before. It’s just impossible for me, since I seem to lack the energy and focus to do both, and if I lose energy and focus on the job I’ll lose the job, and then I won’t be able to eat or live.

But maybe that’s not so bad, because it’s pushed me towards a format that I’ve found pretty rewarding: the short story. I can actually find the time to dedicate to short story-writing since it’s so much less time-intensive — aside from the issue of length, a novel requires a lot of planning and outlining, editing and drafting, and that’s time I just don’t have. Short stories need some of that as well, but the scale of it all is so much smaller that I find it a lot more manageable. When you start to factor in all the tasks around writing fiction, putting together even a halfway decent novel looks like an exponentially more demanding task.

That’s not to say that writing short stories is easy. Writing of any kind takes real effort and an idea to drive it, and that’s why I’m writing this post today. I’ve “finished” three stories now — the quotes because I’ll never be really satisfied with them at this point, but they’re in their final forms anyway. Out of those three, two of these stories, together with all the rest of my still unwritten but outlined story ideas, deal with more or less the same themes expressed in different ways.

At first, I felt like this was a problem, like I was repeating myself too much, but I don’t feel that way anymore. Plenty of authors write on the same themes constantly. It’s the same with the visual arts: a few of my favorite artists do the same thing, using common elements in their work. Look through a catalog of work by Giorgio de Chirico or René Magritte and you’ll notice all those repeated elements.

Not that I’m comparing myself to these guys, really. Their work was monumentally great and mine is just some scribbling. But I do look up to these and other artists like them. Maybe I should be referring to authors who specialize in short stories instead of surrealist painters, but I’ve been a lot more affected and motivated somehow by that surrealist art than by a lot of modern short stories. I certainly don’t care for a lot of what I’ve read in modern journals — I’ve read through some literary fiction publications online and it seems like they have a strong emphasis on gritty realism. That’s fine, but I have no interest in gritty realism at all. I can get that by going outside.

I do want to take on some serious issues that I care about in my writing, but I’ll leave the realism to people who like it and are skilled in that style. I guess that makes me a genre fiction writer, but that’s fine with me (and more on that literary/genre division later maybe, because I have some god damn opinions about that too. I’m not even sure any of these professionals would be interested in my pet issues or my views on them, but then I’m not writing for them anyway. The traditional path feels like a dead end for someone like me.)

I’ll keep writing fiction off and on as I’m able and when I get the motivation. And tomorrow I’ll be back with a more typical sort of post, so until then!

Seven SAT words I’ll never use (except in this post)

More about me this month: before deciding to become a lawyer I worked a few odd jobs, and one of them was teaching the English sections of the infamous standardized college entry test the SAT (formerly the Standardized Aptitude Test when I was a kid, now just the SAT because fuck acronyms having meaning1) along with a few subject-specific SAT II and AP-related courses. I taught anything not related to the sciences or math — history, geography, literature, grammar, and yeah, writing in general. I enjoyed some aspects of teaching, and I even considered getting an advanced degree and going into that field.

Then I realized that I wasn’t a perfectly good person with the patience of a saint and also that I like money. I have massive respect for teachers in America considering just how put upon they are here, and I have no desire to sacrifice myself in that way (and see how supposedly shocked some of our state officials are at our current teacher shortage — we treat them like shit and pay them shit salaries, then we suggest they also double as federal marshals? And they have the nerve to quit? Truly, utterly shocking. There’s a special circle of Hell reserved for hypocritical politicians.)

School is extremely serious business and they’ve been fucking everything up for a long time now

Part of my job as a tutor was to teach high school students vocabulary that comes up on the SAT. Some of these words are commonly used but at more of a high school reading level, the sorts of words you probably wouldn’t use too often in everyday conversation but might use in a formal piece of writing. Some are rarely if ever used in everyday conversation but have scientific or other specialized meanings that are important for students to learn. But there are a few SAT words that should never be used in any context, except to make fun of their use as I’m doing here.

This last category is full of words that are good to know if you plan on reading a lot of old literature, say up through the early 20th century, but that since have fallen out of both everyday and literary use. They’re still legitimate and technically usable words, but they’ve either been made redundant by more commonly used words or were always too highfalutin and ostentatious for anything more than occasional drops in very particular circumstances. (No, “highfalutin” and “ostentatious” don’t fall into this category. Though I don’t think I’ve ever used either on the site before today. Run a search and prove me wrong.)

But since we’ve established both today and in every post I’ve made over the past nine years that I’m a nerd anyway, let’s just give up the act here and have a look at seven of the words off of this 6,000 word SAT study list. Many of the fancier words on this list are commonly known as “SAT words” for the very reason that you’ll never use them after learning their meanings as a high school student studying for the SAT English sections.2 Going alphabetically down the list, these are words such as:

antediluvian – Meaning very old, and literally “before the flood”, as in the Great Flood that Noah survived along with his family and all those animals, then he presumably had to help repopulate the Earth again or something. I don’t remember exactly how that story goes. But my opinion on antediluvian is that it’s fine to use if you’re referring to something that occurred in scripture before the Flood, but not otherwise. If you’re using it just to mean “old”, then say “old”. Or “ancient” works for something or someone especially old. Throwing around antediluvian otherwise just makes you look like kind of a jerk.

eleemosynary – Of or relating to charity. I’d never even heard of or seen this word before seeing it on this list — if I taught it as a tutor, I’ve long since forgotten it. It’s taken from Latin and is the root of the common word “alms”, but why we still have eleemosynary in English is beyond me. It certainly shouldn’t be tested for on the SAT. Because who the hell uses it anymore? Again, aside from people who just care about showing off their education, about which see antediluvian above, only this case is even worse.

masticate – To chew. The verb masticate and its noun form mastication are often used to refer to the constant chewing of animals like cows, but they can also be used in a more satirical or joking way to refer instead to people chewing their food in a similar way as using “to feed” as an intransitive verb instead of “to eat”.

Which of those words would you use when referring to a human pretending to be a cow in someone’s dream? That question is beyond me.

I actually think this word is fine to use in the right context, but it also sounds close enough to another common bodily function, both in its verb and noun forms, that it may cause you some problems with people who don’t know the term.

nonplussed – Taken from the Latin non plus, or no more, nonplussed is an adjective meaning confused or stunned into silence. Unlike most of the words on this list, it’s used fairly often even in modern writing. However, a lot of its users have no idea what it means and even use it in, if not quite its opposite sense, a very different sense from its actual meaning. The non- at the beginning looks like a negative prefix, which it isn’t (the non is sort of a negative, but you can’t remove it from the word and just be “plussed”) and the contexts the word is used in combined with that false prefix makes it look something like “unbothered” or “unfazed”, and it’s also sometimes used to mean “unimpressed” because who cares about meaning at this point if we’re just making shit up.

But do you think I’m going to go to war over nonplussed? No. In my view, if a word can no longer effectively communicate its own meaning in speech or writing, despite being in every English dictionary on Earth more advanced than a middle school level, it’s time to dump it. It’s broken and past fixing. That’s my opinion, anyway, but the people who write the SAT don’t share that opinion, so you’ll still have to know it if you’re taking the test. And beware, because nonplussed and other commonly misused words let them set up traps for unsuspecting students, and they love their fucking traps from what I remember.

perambulate – To walk around something, as in “after dinner I took a constitutional and perambulated the garden with my companion.” Unlike the last word, I don’t think this one needs to be dumped necessarily, but it’s a bit much when you can use “walk” or “stroll” for the same effect and have people actually understand what you mean. Sure, those don’t technically mean “to walk around“, but addition of the word “around” solves that problem.

puissant – Oh, here’s a good one. Puissant means powerful and/or influential, usually in reference to a person. It’s derived from Old French like so much of our vocabulary is, including a ton of commonly used words like beef and castle. Some of them are extra-literary archaic words like puissant, however. I can’t think of a single reason to use puissant, except that it has a completely coincidental resemblance to a slang term for a part of the female anatomy. A pretty funny one too, since that term is used in a vulgar way to refer to not strong but rather weak people (which I never understood. Just misogyny going on there? I’m no expert but it’s just a guess. Then again, we call difficult people dicks and pricks too, so maybe the matter goes beyond gender and just relates to our understandable obsession with genitals.)

pulchritude – Meaning physical beauty, from the Latin pulcher, or beautiful. It still occasionally shows up in journalistic and literary writing, but nobody knows what it means, and even if they do remember, they probably have to stop for a second to connect those wires in their brains because it doesn’t read or sound at all like its meaning. On top of all that, it’s a difficult word to say. Just try saying pulchritude clearly without having to spell out every syllable slowly — it takes some practice.

The master of the manor was enchanted by his maid’s beauty… no, by her pulchritude. That’s a lot better!

Like antediluvian and eleemosynary and the other couple of p-words on this list, you’ll come off like a jerk if you use this word. (Of course that didn’t stop someone at The Washington Post from using it early this year. I hope the editor at least made fun of the author for that word choice. That’s aside from the content of the article, which I have nothing to say about except that suits and ties haven’t gone out of fashion in my profession and likely never will. People forgetting about the lawyers as usual.)

There are more words I can go on about here, but I’ll keep this list at just seven, since I think I’ve made my point. A lot of my feelings about most of these and similar words are described in George Orwell’s six guidelines for English writing set out in Politics and the English Language. Wrapping your meaning up in self-consciously fancy language hurts it — at best it makes your writing and speech muddled and confusing and at worst might make people think you’re a self-aggrandizing asshole, which you probably aren’t aiming for. And if you’re writing fiction, you might just end up with something like The Eye of Argon, only probably without most of the unintentionally entertaining badness, which you also probably don’t want. Mixing up your vocabulary is a great way to add spice to your writing, but spice has to be used sparingly, or else it can ruin the dish.

But that’s no excuse for not studying, because you still have to know these god damn words for the SAT. If you still have to take it, good luck, and I know your pain. It only gets worse from here!

General edit — I don’t mean to suggest with any of this that you shouldn’t bother knowing these or similar words, just that it’s best to balance out your writing by not relying on obscure or complex words when common and simple ones will do. Of course, there are always exceptions, and you’ll know these exceptions when they show up, but only if you already have that large vocabulary and plenty of experience in reading and at least some in writing.

In fact, here’s some real advice for approaching the SAT or any other standardized language test: the best way to prepare for these is to read a lot, and over a broad range: journalism, nonfiction, and fiction of various genres all help. Read like crazy for several years on end and you’ll naturally pick up a large vocabulary that will help you not just for your tests but throughout your life (and an advanced tip here: read Herman Melville and you’ll pick up a lot of the more obscure/archaic words right away. Moby Dick is the classic, but also check out White Jacket, far more successful upon publication but now mostly forgotten except by avid readers. Throw in his short story series The Piazza Tales too. He’s still one of my favorites.)

I know that’s not much of an aid for students who have their exams coming up in a few months, though. If that’s your case, just cram as much into your head as you possibly can. Make flash cards or something.

Anyway, that’s my attempt at teaching something useful after several years. I’m not a real academic anyway, just a fraud: a law degree is basically just an extremely expensive trade school certificate without any of the need for writing theses or dissertations. And look, to the students again: if an idiot like me can put together sentences, you certainly can too, so I hope that’s some motivation for you.

 

1 I know not everyone agrees that a term that’s usually “spelled out” like the SAT (though I have occasionally heard it pronounced like the word “sat”) is classified as an acronym, but that’s what I’m calling it. If I’m going to have a nitpick-anticipating endnote in any post it should be this one.

2 Its informal name. The two “English” sections are broken into Reading and Writing & Language. The test has undergone some changes since I took it in the early 2000s and maybe even since I taught it several years later.

Talking shop #3: Get in the pot

One day in the year 691, in Tang dynasty China, two men sat down to lunch. These two were Lai Junchen and Zhou Xing, the chiefs of Empress Wu Zetian’s widespread network of secret police and informants. Lai and Zhou were infamous and widely hated for heading up an officially sanctioned reign of terror against the empire’s bureaucratic and military elites, even having produced a book on “advanced interrogation techniques” that’s survived to the present day.

Over lunch, Lai asked Zhou his opinion on the most effective way to get a suspect to confess to a crime. Zhou replied that he would place his suspect in a large pot of water with a fire lit under it. At that point, he said, the man would spill everything.

Lai agreed with his colleague. Then he called for his servants, who brought out a massive pot full of water that they began heating up. Lai explained that Zhou had been placed under suspicion of plotting against Empress Wu and invited him into the pot. No need: Zhou immediately confessed to his plotting, knowing what was in store for him otherwise. This story is the origin of a Mandarin phrase that translates as “to invite the gentleman into the urn” — to trap someone using their own cruel method. Maybe a stronger version of our own English saying, to give someone a taste of their own medicine.

Why am I telling you this? It is one of my favorite historical anecdotes — whether it all happened in exactly that way or not, it makes for a good story — but there’s another reason I’m bringing it up that relates directly to writing, social media, and accountability. Writers have various tools we can use, some sharper than others. For as much as I harp here on the importance of preserving and respecting freedom of speech, it’s also important to recognize this simple fact: we have the power through our words to influence society for the better or the worse.1 Even if the effect of one person’s words is microscopic (like most of ours, including mine — I’m not going to pretend my basic as hell plan WordPress blog has that much impact on the world) I believe every writer has their part to play in this.

Which brings me to this dumbass tweet I saw a while back:

Name cut out partly because I’m not interested in calling particular people out and partly because I don’t want to give this person any more undeserved attention than they already received.

Now sure, some people might think: “Ah, AK is mad because he likes video game soundtracks.” But that’s not exactly the case here. I don’t even see the above tweet as a slap against me, since I listen to a lot of types of music, of which game soundtracks are just one. But calling a game soundtrack a “type of music” is inaccurate in itself, considering the amazing diversity of musical styles you can find in games. I can’t read this person’s mind, naturally, so I don’t know whether they have misconceptions about what “game music” consists of, whether they think it’s all either beeps and bloops or Sonic Adventure butt rock.

But even if that were the case, it doesn’t matter to me. The reason I’m highlighting this tweet is not what it might imply about the quality of video game music, but its nature as a personal attack over a matter of taste. Sure, maybe it was meant as a joke. But even then, looking at this statement in the most favorable light possible, it was a mean-spirited one, and not nearly a clever enough joke to come close to justifying such a tone.2

Anyone who’s spent a few minutes on Twitter will know that this tweet isn’t out of the ordinary. The platform hosts a constant flood of insults of this sort. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with all personal insults, though I think they should be avoided as much as possible — only that when I see insults lobbed at people who are actively and intentionally hurting others or making the world a measurably worse place (like say certain politicians and executives) I can’t blame those lobbing the insults, and sometimes I’m happy to see them posted.

Insults over disagreements in taste are another matter entirely. Even I, as bitter as I am, don’t have the energy for that level of constant negativity.

I also saw an unkind implication a few days back about the social skills and habits of people who like NagatoroUzaki, My Dress-Up Darling, and similar series, and that initial tweet in the thread got a hundred thousand likes or something, so maybe I’m just an idiot. But it also raises an actually interesting argument against these series that I want to take on in a later post.

Naturally, social media is set up to encourage this kind of inflammatory talk since it thrives on engagement, both positive and negative. This connection has been so well understood for so long that I don’t even need to bring it up, but it’s always worth talking about considering how much social media has been woven into all our lives. Even if we don’t think about it much ourselves — my own engagement with it is pretty minimal; I only use Twitter and then under my pseudonymous initials, nothing using my real name, yet I have almost 3,000 tweets a little over three years into my presence there, which is probably far too many.

And on occasion I do read some boneheaded shit someone wrote in retweets or replies to tweets from people I don’t know, and though I don’t do it, I might at least have the urge to get into it with them. Over those three years I’ve even joined in a couple of those common ratio pile-ons as I noted back in this self-flagellation post, though in these cases I make sure to address the contents of whatever was posted and not to attack the person making them, a distinction not everyone makes. But I’m still not happy about it afterwards.

Yeah, Udon-chan from Aquatope would love Twitter I bet.

Looking back on my now 25 years online, starting when we got our first dial-up connection at home, I’ve probably done about as much of this dumb shit as the average user has. I’ve always been not much more than a bystander in these situations, even when I frequented 4chan way back in the day (and really 95% or more of that site’s users are bystanders too, despite whatever nonsense the news back at the time would have had you believe about an elite team of megahackers — though good on those actual rogue expert types for taking on Mr. Putin’s criminal regime right now.)

So maybe I’m not the best person to address this matter, but even as a bystander, I’ve seen enough bad consequences happen to other people that I have at least a basic understanding of how things work. Which as I see it goes like this: if you make a habit of insulting people and gain a following for that, be prepared to take serious hits at some point yourself. At the very least, insult people who really do deserve it, like those aforementioned asshole politicians and executives. Otherwise, it takes a very special sort to insulate yourself from blowback: even a few famously untouchable internet personalities who got into drama talk ended up pulled off their pedestals. So sure, none of this bullshit comes anywhere close to the horrific antics of Lai and Zhou above, but it’s still worth remembering that story if only for instructive purposes.

And in our own game/anime/etc. circles here and on YouTube, it’s vital to keep in mind that you can express dislike and even hatred for certain works and types of works without insulting those who enjoy them. I don’t think I ever do that, and I also don’t follow anyone here on WordPress who does — there’s no quicker way to get me to hit “unfollow” than to jump into the mud like that.

And it’s generally just a bad idea to make a spectacle of yourself unless you’re at least as entertaining as Mr. Libido here. This guy also mainly minded his own business in spite of appearances. Yakuza 0 is full of great life lessons, isn’t it?

My intention here isn’t to shake my finger at anyone. I don’t think any of the excellent people reading this site need this lesson from me anyway. Even if that weren’t the case, I don’t care to tell people what to do, but merely to give a warning, and partly to myself. Plenty of us can dish it out, but how many of us can take it in return? Best to worry about yourself and leave others to their own business. God knows I have enough to worry about.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write another one of these posts so soon, but that’s how it is sometimes: I’ll read something that sets me off (this time the anime Twitter scuffle) and I can’t rest until I’ve addressed it. As usual, I’m interested in hearing about how other writers and readers think of these situations. Next up will be the regular end-of-month post, I promise.

 

1 There’s an important distinction here between what I see as the social responsibility of the writer who takes on real-life issues and addresses real-life people, on one hand, and the contrasting lack of responsibility of a writer or any kind of artist who deals purely in fiction and fantasy on the other. I have far more respect for a writer who produces vile stories but acts respectfully and honorably towards others than for one who claims to be upstanding but uses their pen to recklessly destroy others’ lives and livelihoods, or even just to generally make the world a more miserable place to live. Life doesn’t need any help being miserable, does it? On the other hand, a vile story can just be critically torn up and ignored without further harm. At least that’s how I feel — again, I know a lot of people disagree with me on this point.

2 And following up on the above point, I don’t think it’s even justified to attack people based on objectionable contents of the artistic works they enjoy. What counts as “objectionable” is usually pretty subjective, but even setting that argument aside, even objectionable fiction is still just fiction. To use a fairly common example I’ve seen from anime, Monogatari is a divisive series, and while I completely understand why someone would have serious problems with it based on what I’ve watched so far (though I still think the first scene of Bakemonogatari should filter a lot of them out) I draw the line at insults directed at the fans. The same goes for fans of any other ethically and morally produced artistic work.

I’ve already addressed this subject a few times (you can see those in that “commentaries” tab above along with a link to this nonsense I’ve just written) so I won’t beat that particular dead horse again too much, but it does keep coming back up. I just don’t think I have anything else to say about it.

Talking shop #2: Two types of success in online writing

Go to Google and run a search with the terms “how to blog”, “blogging guide [fill in current year]” or similar, and you’ll find yourself tripping over ten thousand nearly identical blog posts about how to blog successfully. But what exactly does it mean to be a successful blogger?

If you’re new to the site and don’t know my style, then don’t worry — this post isn’t one of those “guides” that starts out pretending to criticize such courses and ends up trying to sell you on one of its very own, and one that mostly likely upsells you on a far more expensive one. There are so many of these interchangeable online courses available now that if they were put in box form like how they used to sell PC games, they’d likely reach beyond the orbit of fucking Jupiter.

No, this post is just the opposite: yet another opportunity for me to complain, this time about the often soulless approach you’ll find towards online writing (and crossing over into other forms of creative work, poking my nose into areas of art I might have no business talking about. But I’ll do it anyway. And if I ever end up trying to sell you an online course, please unfollow this site and cancel me from the internet forever.)

Also, to make it clear: I like money. Of course I do — I’m a good American capitalist after all. I’d also like to make a lot more money than I make right now, though naturally I have ethical and moral limits to what I’d do to get more, just as most of us do (aside from the ones selling bullshit courses, of course.)

As much as I’d like to afford the good meat, I still wouldn’t do that. Also yeah, I’m using unused anime and game screenshots I had lying around like I usually do in these kinds of posts; this is part of how I economize. (Also, watch Yuru Camp.)

I also recognize that writing, and more broadly speaking any creative/artistic pursuit, very often has a commercial element to it. Criticism of any kind of creation merely on the grounds that it’s “commercial” is meaningless, since almost everything exposed to a public audience has that commercial aspect — the creator and/or publishers trying to find said audience, to market the writing, painting, music, film, or whatever other medium you’re dealing with. And there’s plenty of great art out there that has a strong commercial element, however you’d measure that.

That said, there’s also plenty of creative work that can’t find an audience, maybe because it never gets noticed in the massive sea of similar-looking work, or because it’s too bizarre and obtuse or in too small a niche to have much appeal to most people. It is entirely possible to successfully market bizarre art and make massive amounts of money doing so (as two guys in particular have who I’ll bring up later, and not in the most favorable terms.) But generally speaking, the vast majority of both that and even of more “normal” work never finds much of an audience, beyond maybe the creator’s family and friends, if even that.

How is this connected to blogging? There are tons of experts out there ready to tell you what exactly you need to do to be a success at writing online, but without acknowledging that there are different kinds of success in online writing. You might be able to divide this form of “success” into several categories, but here I’ll stick to just two broad types.

I won’t let my obsessive nature entirely take over this post.

One type of success, and the only one that I believe many of these guides acknowledge, is what I’d call the business-oriented or profit-driven type. Monetize and go for the clicks by writing about only what’s hot and trending and optimize all your posts with search engine optimization tactics (and search engine meaning Google, because that’s the only one people use.) Don’t worry about the longevity of your posts or the fact that almost none of them will be relevant to anyone months or years from now — that’s not your goal anyway. It’s clicks now, money now.

This sort of writing is naturally appropriate for those writing online for marketing/commercial purposes. If you provide goods or services that you want to advertise, or more likely you’re a freelancer writing posts for someone else providing said goods/services, getting eyes on your work is your chief concern. There’s a reason requests for articles written purely with SEO in mind demand a bunch of very specific phrases and terms be used, typically frontloaded for maximum effect — the crawlers1 that scan sites for new information look for such phrases to match with what people are searching for in the present and recent past, and matching your posts with the relevant searches is one of your primary goals.

And of course, if you’re trying to get more eyes on your writing in general, it’s a good idea to use these tools. Mandatory, even, because this is how Google selects what sites and posts to put on page 1 of its search results. It doesn’t give a damn how much work you might have put into a post — arguably, aside from judging effort by word count which is not the only indicator of effort anyway, it can’t even tell how much you put into it. You simply have to learn how to game the system while still writing articles that people will actually want to read and that you actually care about writing. That’s the tightrope you have to walk if you want to make a real impact writing online for yourself without burning out on it.

And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Except there actually is; don’t let people say otherwise. This is an old cliché that I wish would die.

But there’s the rub: do you actually care about what you’re writing? If you’re writing purely for money, the likely answer is no. When I worked as a freelancer, I wrote for all sorts of small businesses, and most of the work I produced was on subjects I didn’t really give a damn about. Very occasionally I’d get a request for something touching on geography or history somehow, usually in connection with travel, but I never managed to get anywhere near writing about games, anime, or music as I do here. I knew that work was out there, but my path never took me in that direction. Yet as long as I was being paid, I didn’t care.

Now imagine you don’t have a profit motive in writing. Or maybe you do, but you’d like to balance that with your desire to write what you want (which as noted above can be a difficult balance to achieve.) Or maybe you just want to increase your visibility so you can get more people reading your short stories or your novel or playing your indie game or whatever you might have created. In these cases, I think the above monetization advice doesn’t work so well. Aside from the use of SEO tactics, which I’m too lazy to bother with on this site but I know can be very effective, I believe the conventional wisdom about online writing only takes you so far if your primary goal in writing is personal satisfaction.

Here I want to dump on two artists in particular, two who have made careers out of being flashy and extremely divisive: Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. These two have found great commercial success, selling their work at auction for insane amounts of money. They are both undoubtedly master marketers — if that’s your business, you’d do well to study how they operate.

Their artistic work also has absolutely no emotional effect on me. It’s all a complete dead end as far as I can tell. I don’t want to go so far as to call these guys talentless hacks as some people do, since they absolutely have some kind of talent; otherwise they wouldn’t have the art world by the balls. I just think their artistic work is pretty close to worthless from that emotional angle.2

Maybe they’re simply not going for that effect — both have emphasized the importance of profit in the art industry, and I’d be a hypocrite to argue with that, since as I’ve said I’m interested in making money too. But then, I’m not a professional artist. I’m an attorney, and I get my money by providing clients with legal services. You could say there’s maybe some art in that work, but it’s not the kind of art that anyone outside our niche would give a shit about (and I’m not the type of attorney who goes into court and makes dramatic speeches either, so that’s definitely not true of my work.)

It’s great if you can make massive amounts of money doing what you love, but that’s hard as hell to pull off.

There’s a reason I’m picking on Hirst and Koons in particular: I’ve seen online writers cite them as examples of how we should approach our craft. Granted, I have the luxury of keeping this blog purely as a hobby, so I can really write whatever the fuck I want here (and I can use as many fucks as I like without fear as well.) But unless your goal is to make Hirst or Koons money, which God bless you and good luck if it is, this seems to me like terrible advice. It’s the same sort of advice I see from people who take a completely cynical attitude towards artistic work, who harp on the importance of timely and trendy “content creation”3 above all else without regard to its emotional impact or its longevity, and who are probably also on the goddamn NFT train. It’s all money, all profit, all fucking soulless.

Now again, I have to emphasize that it is absolutely possible to be both commercially and artistically successful (however you’d define the latter — though technical skill is important, I also pin it on that “emotional impact” element that is admittedly going to vary from person to person.) There isn’t a starving artist dead or alive who actually wished to be starving, and I doubt any of those “died penniless and were discovered after their deaths” types like Van Gogh and Lovecraft and so many others wouldn’t have preferred success during their own lives.

I only question this purely profit-driven approach to creative endeavors. I write here because I like expressing my views on art I enjoy and occasionally on art-related legal matters.4 If I were a professional artist, I think I’d be working first to express myself as I wished and only then hoping to get recognition for it. Because of personal circumstances, I don’t have the ability to take that gamble, so to make sure money I became a lawyer. And sure, being a lawyer isn’t the most conducive thing to leading a happy and healthy life. But the alternative as I see it is worse. I’m not sure why I’d want to try to become a writer by only writing what I thought other people wanted to read, following trends without any regard to my own feelings. That sounds like a truly miserable life to me.

Honestly, I’d rather sit on this “power source” than do that — it’s probably more comfortable. Don’t tell me the people who made Ryza didn’t realize what this looked like; I’ll never believe it.

But then, I don’t know why people do a lot of things. I’m not the one to listen to about how to make money online. Go buy one of those bullshit courses if you want to know about that, or far better still, dig up some actually free advice on that. Maybe the good people at Automattic can provide some free advice as well; I think WordPress might provide some free seminars on SEO or whatever, though not having taken them I can’t speak to their quality.

As usual, it’s probably best to ignore my advice, since I’m not exactly the happiest person on Earth anyway. I can only speak for myself. I will probably be writing more utter bullshit about writing at some point, though, so please look forward to that.

 

1 Am I the only one who thinks of weird robotic spiders or squids feeling around websites when I hear about SEO crawlers? Like something designed by H. R. Giger.

2 I’d say I feel the same about stuff like the famed drip and color field paintings of Pollock and Rothko, but in their cases, I think there’s something there that hits other people emotionally but that just doesn’t hit me. By contrast, I don’t even see that in the work of Hirst and Koons. The fact that people have paid millions for their art says more about the quality of humanity in general than it does about the quality of their work in my opinion.

This isn’t an issue of my disliking “weird art” either, since a few of my favorite artists are early 20th century surrealists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst, and they painted some weird as fuck stuff. Yet I always at least thought their paintings were fascinating, and often emotionally powerful even if they were more on the abstract side. Maybe this really is just another matter of taste that can’t be argued over.

3 The constant use of the term “content” for what we do is also something I have a problem with. It just feels to me like reducing all our work to the creation of something samey and bland. “Content” in this context makes me think of tasteless paste people 300 years in the future might eat out of tubes to sustain themselves, maybe on a colony ship flying to a new star because humanity has somehow managed to nuke the entire Solar System. I won’t push too hard on this, though, because there are plenty of excellent writers and video makers whose work I enjoy who also use the term.

4 And just in case — I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this site would disagree with me on this point, but yes, games and anime absolutely count as art. I might dump on Hirst and Koons above, but I also don’t like to draw a distinction between “fine art” and “popular art”, or between low and high art or any of that shit. Same with genre fiction like fantasy and sci-fi vs. “literary fiction” — there are good and bad examples of both, and one type is not inherently better than the other.

Talking shop #1: Grammar and style

Today I’m starting a series of posts on a subject I’ve never really brought up here, or at least not in a serious way: writing. As my fellow bloggers know, writing isn’t exactly easy work. A lot of care goes into the process, and though we all have our own approaches and methods, I think the effort we put into our work always comes through in the final result.

It’s enough work, anyway, that we probably wouldn’t be writing at all if we didn’t enjoy it, and that’s especially true considering that most of us don’t make a cent off of our amateur blogs. If I could afford to do so, this is what I’d try to make a living on. However, my obligations and my unfortunate lack of a massive pile of money both force me to work at a different profession.

And while legal work pays the bills, and I do take pride in that work in some sense, I’d be lying if I were to say I love being a lawyer. No, my real love is writing.

Okay, writing and my waifu, fine. (Original Holo by Juu Ayakura, another favorite artist)

But while I love writing, I don’t love following writing rules. I mean that in both the sense of strict English grammatical rules and looser but generally accepted (by English teachers and professors, at least) guidelines on style. Of course, there are a ton of rules I do follow — otherwise my writing would be a jumbled and unreadable mess of characters. So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I’m not a pedant or a stickler, except when I am. I follow the rules I like and ignore those I don’t.

This attitude is one of the reasons I think I started this blog. When I first logged onto WordPress in 2013 and came up with the dumb name for my site and the dumb first article I posted, I was still doing some freelance copywriting work, mostly for small business and lifestyle/travel sites. Certainly much less than I’d been doing the few years before — I was just starting at law school at the time, and as any 1L can tell you, that first year occupies nearly your entire schedule with reading cases and writing summaries, briefs, and outlines. But I kept working a bit on the side, as much as I could manage.

And that wasn’t much at all, because while copywriting work has some benefits (working from home being the greatest, and this at a time when working from home was not a standard situation as it is now) it also comes with serious annoyances, one of which is the prickly client and/or editor who puts your work through a rigorous grammar check and yells at you for having one comma out of place or for putting a preposition at the end of a sentence.

The life of a copywriter at least half the time

Of course, I understand having high standards for the writers you employ. Even when it came to my fluffiest, least substantial jobs, I would not forgive myself for producing crap. I always wanted the reader to be informed and/or entertained in whatever proportion seemed appropriate for the subject matter. In that sense, I didn’t mind the fact that some editors could be strict — but some of them were strict on those fixed rules of grammar and style guidelines, even when strictly following those rules made no sense at all.

But when wouldn’t it make sense to follow these rules? When you’re writing a piece with a casual tone, and that’s exactly what you’re doing as a copywriter most of the time, at least in my experience. Clients and editors hammer these points into your head — be friendly and conversational, put in a call to action at the end, and for God’s sake cram those SEO keywords in, especially at the top so Google-senpai notices your article enough to get it on page 1 when those keywords are searched.

When it comes to pieces like these, my approach was always to, big fucking surprise, write in a conversational and easy tone. To me, that means being a bit loose with grammar rules. My writing flows better that way, and people honestly, genuinely don’t give a shit if you don’t have your comma placement down — chances are most of your readers won’t even know those rules or remember them from their elementary and middle school English lessons. And in fact, outright breaking a few of the strict rules of grammar can give your writing exactly that conversational tone you’re going for.

But then, every so often, I’d run into someone ready to jump up my ass about my approach, perhaps thinking that my not following every rule in the Chicago Manual of Style or MLA Handbook or whatever reference they wanted me to follow meant I was a lousy writer. In almost every one of these instances, I wouldn’t be able to convince them of my reasoning, and I’d have to go back and hammer my draft into a different, and in my opinion less effective, form.

Typically poor copywriter-editor relations. Which side you think represents which depends on where you stand.

To be sure, I’m not saying students shouldn’t learn said rules — you have to know the rules before you know how and when to break them, after all. And I’ll bet some of those editors would have enough to say about uncooperative, temperamental writers like me anyway. But then, that’s partly why I left that field behind forever (also because the work was extremely uneven — it’s hard as hell to exist as a freelancer in America unless you don’t mind being uninsured for the rest of your life and living in an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, but that’s a different matter.)

No, I’m quite happy to keep writing as an amateur, getting most of my actual stress and headaches from the work I get a regular paycheck for. I’m sure my writing style on this blog would give any editor a fucking heart attack, but thankfully for both me and them, they don’t have to edit my writing here. And truly, absolutely, fuck Chicago style* and double-fuck MLA.** The only style guide I’ve ever read that wasn’t an irritating mess is The Elements of Style by our old friends Strunk & White, and even then, I don’t follow their rules religiously or even close to it, though I do appreciate their more casual approach in providing more tips than set-in-stone rules.

There’s only one “style guide” I pay attention to that much, and it’s not quite a style guide but more a short list of don’ts: George Orwell’s “six rules” in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”. While these six rules are directed at political and journalistic writing, they can easily be applied to other forms, including writing about anime or games or whatever else you like. I’ll admit that I don’t always follow all Orwell’s rules (especially the one about cutting out unnecessary words — I basically agree but am also too lazy to edit all that much.) But my favorite, one I try to always follow, is his final one: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.”

To me, that’s the real heart of writing for any kind of audience, even if it’s just an audience of one. Style is important, but if the substance is lacking in integrity and genuine sentiment, it may as well not exist. Anyone on Earth can create mere content — that’s simple enough. But the best style employed to create the worst kind of mindless drivel, provocative clickbait, or incendiary hate speech is wasted. There are different kinds of trash, but in the end, trash is trash.

Because I’m trash. Wait, this isn’t how I meant to end the post. Fuck.

I have more to write about writing once I sort my thoughts out, but for now, that’s all I’ve got. I’d like to say I hope I didn’t offend anyone with anything I wrote above, but if any offense was given, it was honestly meant. Especially if you’re an editor who yells at writers for not following the MLA Handbook 9th Edition to the letter.

 

* To be clear again, I mean the style guide, not the city. I’ve never been to Chicago but I’m sure it’s very nice.

** And triple-fuck the Bluebook, but that only applies for law students and law clerks who have to actually cite cases. Even law clerks don’t really use it, or at least I didn’t, since Westlaw and Lexis do all those pinpoint citations for you. Guess I’ve just gotten lazy.

Blogger Recognition Award pt. 2

No, I can’t think of a clever title this time. But I did get recognized again, which is always nice. This time the recognition comes from Yomu of Umai Yomu Anime Blog, which if you have any interest in anime you should be following without question. Yomu also posts some great insights about living and working in Japan as a teacher.

As before, here are…

The Rules:

Thank the blogger that nominated you and give a link to their site.
Do a post to show your award.
Give a summary of how your blog started.
Give two pieces of advice for any new bloggers.
Select at least 15 other bloggers for this award.
Let each nominee know you’ve nominated them and give a link to your post.

I’ve gotten through the first requirement and am currently working on the second, so now it’s time to take on the rest. I already gave a summary of my blog’s history in the first Blogger Recognition Award post I wrote a while back, so you can read that if you like. Here’s a summarized summary: I started this site seven years ago when I was looking for an escape from my routine after returning to get my last degree. Video games, anime, and music are my escape, so those are what I write about. For years I had almost no involvement with the community here just because I wasn’t really making the effort, but I’m happy that I am now. You’re all great people, and that’s not flattery so you’ll keep reading my site, I promise.

Twitter leaves me in despair, but the community here cures it. Thanks!

Since none of this information is new, here’s another fact about the site: for a few weeks it had a different name, which is why the URL is what it is. I use that name on Twitter as well, but other than that I should probably do something about the difference between the current name and address.

And now for two more pieces of advice for new bloggers.

1) Maintain a sustainable posting schedule

Another piece of advice that sounds obvious but that I’ve ignored at times. Burnout for writers is a real problem, especially if you’re taking on long hours at your job or at school on top of the work you’re putting into your site. There are people who make a daily posting schedule work, turning out great posts every morning or evening, but if you can’t manage that, it’s nothing to be down about. I can’t do it myself, which is why I usually post between once and twice a week. And I have to admit I can only keep up this schedule now because of the free time I have thanks to working from home and cutting out 10-15 hours of commuting time every week. I know this won’t last, not when I’m called back to the office.

I’m not actually Joker, I’m one of these depressed fuckers in suits in the foreground.

Do the best you can while keeping your limits in mind. When you’re starting out, you probably won’t know those limits yet, so don’t worry if you do end up feeling burnt out for a while: just take that time to readjust. And if you end up having to take a break, don’t worry about that either. It can be hard to do, but it’s just necessary sometimes.

2) Write about what you want, but try to target an audience

This advice only applies if you care about getting views and finding and keeping dedicated readers. If you don’t, then go nuts — write about the movie you saw last week, what you had for lunch yesterday, some relationship advice based on past experience, and maybe throw a few political rants in for good measure. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with writing a blog like that, but the fact is that you’re going to be attracting such different audiences with all those sorts of posts, none of which are probably going to have much overlap, that you won’t retain many long-term readers.

My site isn’t the most focused in the world, but I do try to maintain my focus on anime, manga, and games that are in that general sphere — visual novels, JRPGs, platformers about shrine maidens fighting demon girls, that kind of stuff. That doesn’t mean I won’t write about a totally western-made and -styled game; I do that sometimes too (not lately so much, but it does happen, I swear!) I’ve also reviewed other forms of media outside the usual areas I cover like artbooks. But I also feel that maintaining a strong site identity is important, because otherwise people won’t know quite what to expect from the site.

Again, it’s not bad in itself to write a blog with a broad focus or no focus at all. Especially if you’re getting what you want out of it — if so, then forget about what I or anyone else thinks of your work. With regard to your site, do what makes you happy: that’s a more important rule to follow. But don’t expect to do very well with your stats if you don’t strategize a bit. I’m not even talking about SEO or using Google Analytics or any of that stuff here, just the basics.

If serious revenue is what you’re looking for, I can’t help you at all.

And now for even more nominations. Fifteen is a whole lot for someone as lazy as me, but I’ll give it my best try. I hereby recognize:

K at the Movies

Lost to the Aether

Frostilyte

I drink and watch anime

MoeGamer

Nepiki Gaming

Otaku Alcove

Mechanical Anime Reviews

Extra Life

Nintendobound

Mid-Life Gamer Geek

Crow’s World of Anime

Raistlin0903

The Traditional Catholic Weeb

A Geeky Gal

All of the above are great blogs to follow as well, which is part of why I’m recognizing them. Be sure to check them out! I’ll be back soon with a game review/retrospective idea I’ve had sitting around for a while now, one that I’ve wanted to complete for some time. Until then!

Deep reads #2.3: The power of love (Disgaea 1)

Almost every time I’ve read a review of a game from the Disgaea series on one of the mainstream game review sites, I think the reviewer felt obligated to mention how crazy and over the top the story/characters/humor in the game are, either at or near the beginning of the review. As if to say “yeah, I know these ultra-powerful demons and angels look cartoonish and silly and all, I know” and almost apologizing for that before going on to mainly praise the game.  This doesn’t seem too different from the “guilty pleasure” disclaimers you’ll see people post at the beginning of reviews for works that are traditionally considered embarrassing to like too much.  I know I’ve seen people attach similar disclaimers to reviews of otherwise critically acclaimed movies, stuff put out by Marvel and the like.  Hell, I know for a fact I’ve done this myself with a few games right here on this site.

So you’d be justified in calling me a hypocrite if I say that I don’t like seeing these disclaimers, simply upon the principle that if you like something, you should like it without shame (that’s a belief it took me a while to finally reach, but I have.)1  That’s especially true of the Disgaea series for me.  Because under all the slapstick antics, the the over-the-top expressions, and the planet-destroying sword and magic attacks, the Disgaea games have substance and a real heart to them.  And while the series would make a lot of mechanical upgrades throughout its decade-plus run, the best example of this heart is still in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the PS2 original, and its several ports and remasters.  (Actual disclaimer: All the screenshots here are from Disgaea 1 Complete, the PS4 remaster, but it’s essentially the same game for story/character purposes at least.  Also, I don’t feel like digging my PS2 out of the box it’s in.  I’m moving again soon, you know how it is.)

Also: massive spoilers ahead.  I spoil the whole damn plot to this game below, so fair warning as usual.

Fighting a dragon in the tundra, just another day in the Netherworld

In my first post in this series, I covered how ridiculous and wacky the characters and stories in Disgaea can feel, at least at first. That tradition started with Disgaea 1.  The game opens with a text crawl and narration explaining that the Overlord of the Netherworld, King Krichevskoy, has died, leaving his only child Laharl the heir to his throne.  Laharl, however, went for a nap two years ago and hasn’t woken up since.  In the course of his sleep, the Netherworld has gone to hell, with petty demon lords rising up and taking control of their own pieces of it.  This is where Disgaea 1 begins: with Etna, one of Laharl’s few remaining loyal vassals, trying to wake him up by hitting him in the face with various weapons and power tools.  Finally, when she’s about to try shooting him, Laharl wakes up and wonders what the hell all the noise is about and why Etna is pointing a gun at his head.  Maybe we should call Etna questionably loyal.

Not trying to kill you, I promise

Once Laharl learns that his father is dead, he immediately declares himself the new overlord by right of birth and sets off to rule over his realm.  Except it’s been without a ruler for two years, and vassals who were formerly loyal to Laharl’s dad because of his strength and influence don’t have any regard for his kid.  So Laharl decides that he’ll need to beat some sense into his subjects to get them back into line. The only help he’ll have with that at first is Etna and her squad of Prinnies, a set of penguin-esque monster characters that contain the souls of sinful humans put to work in the Netherworld until they can pay off their moral debt balance and reincarnate.

One of Laharl’s vassals giving him valuable advice.  I wish I could tell you we get to take this talking dragon with us to battle, but these lazy NPCs just hang around the castle all day while we do the fighting.

Unfortunately, the Prinnies aren’t terribly useful at first.  Being monster characters, they can’t equip regular weapons like swords and spears, and they’re not especially impressive in any one stat.  As Laharl starts to plunder the estates of nearby petty demon lords, however, he makes money that he can use to recruit new demons into his army, including a growing set of specialized character types like Mages, Archers, Thieves, Ninjas, and Healers, each with their own special sets of skills and weapon proficiencies.

Just as there’s a Netherworld populated by demons, there’s a heaven-like land called Celestia populated by angels.  And at around the same time Laharl begins his quest to consolidate power, the head of the angels, Seraph Lamington, decides to send one of his trainee angels down to the Netherworld to assassinate King Krichevskoy.

Pictured: probably not your ideal candidate for the open assassin position.

Wait, what?  Yes.  At first, it might seem that Celestia has some bad intel, but we eventually come to learn that Lamington has some ulterior motives and is sending Flonne down to this hellish land for another purpose entirely that he isn’t telling her about.  Because 1) he already knows Krichevskoy is dead, and 2) from the one scene we’ve seen her in at this point, Flonne comes off as the exact opposite type you’d want to carry out an assassination: cheerful, kind, and a little naive.  This is made clear shortly afterward when Flonne somehow makes it down to the Netherworld, arrives at Laharl’s castle, accidentally runs into him while doing her best ninja impression… and politely introduces herself as an assassin.

Flonne then remembers she’s on a secret mission and runs away, but not before deliberately bowing and saying goodbye, seemingly not realizing who she’d been talking to. Laharl is so flustered by what the hell just happened that she gets the start on him; however, despite her ninja skills and serious magic abilities, an angel like her can’t get far in the Netherworld. Laharl and Etna fight through a bunch of angelic monster summons, finally manage to corner and capture Flonne, and find out what she’s up to.  But when Laharl tells Flonne that the old Overlord, his father, is already dead, Flonne bursts into tears.

This understandably weirds Laharl the fuck out considering the fact that he’s talking to his dad’s intended assassin. Flonne asks Laharl why he doesn’t seem sad about his father’s death, and he replies that it’s only natural, because love isn’t something demons feel. She can’t bring herself to believe this, however, and decides to join Laharl and Etna for a while to discover whether the Netherworld’s demons truly can’t feel love. Laharl lets her tag along, reasoning that he’ll have fun shocking her with the kinds of horrors she’d never witness in Celestia.  Meanwhile, Etna wonders out loud what the hell Laharl is thinking by letting an angel into his court.

The mid-game follows this trio as they work to claim the overlordship of the Netherworld for Laharl. Along the way, they run into a lot of other strange characters, including a money-loving pig demon, a Dracula-esque vampire lord, a team of ineffective, understaffed Power Ranger/Super Sentai ripoffs, and a Buck Rogers 50’s serial-style dashing hero from Earth.  The crew must defeat all these characters and more in battle, and in many cases these defeated enemies are converted into allies and join Laharl’s party, often completely without his consent.

Laharl’s vassals gather to take him down. Thankfully, these ones are just a bunch of basic grunts.

By the game’s final act, Laharl has defeated his demonic foes and claimed his throne, but he and his crew then have to ward off a joint human/angel invasion of the Netherworld led by General Turner, the military ruler of Earth, and Seraph Lamington’s hotheaded lieutenant Archangel Vulcanus.  At the end of this war, assuming the player achieves the best ending, Laharl establishes himself as the new overlord, and everyone is happy except for the assholes who instigated the Netherworld invasion in the first place.

Assholes like Vulcanus, here trying out for the role of YHVH in the next Shin Megami Tensei game.

So maybe you’re thinking sure, that sounds kind of silly.  And it is in parts.  Disgaea 1 features plenty of buffoonish characters, slapstick antics, and dirty jokes.  However, buried under the surface is a story about coming of age and coping with loss — about a kid who rejects the concept of love not because he’s a demon, but because it’s the only way he thinks he can deal with losing the person closest to him.

The first hint of this seriousness comes when Laharl has to decide how to handle one of his father’s old vassals, the money-grubbing Hoggmeiser, a pig demon who “says” dollar signs at the end of his sentences in the same way some characters end theirs with hearts. Laharl is all set to kill this disloyal vassal, but when Hoggmeiser’s young son stands between them and refuses to move, the prince decides to let his enemy off the hook.  He even leaves the family enough money to get by without starving. Laharl still loots most of Hoggmeiser’s stuff, but this act of mercy is enough to give Flonne hope that Laharl does have some love in him.

I know I’ve used this screenshot before, but it sums up Etna so well

A few chapters later, Etna intentionally leads Laharl into a trap set by another one of his dad’s former vassals, the above-mentioned Dracula-esque demon lord Maderas.2  Not for no reason, either: Maderas is blackmailing Etna in exchange for the return of her memories that he somehow stole from her, straight out of her brain. In true villain fashion, Maderas decides to have the whole lot of them killed once has has them surrounded, including Etna.  But Etna has already outsmarted him by paying off the Prinnies he sent to spy on her, and the team wipes the floor with him and his demons (assuming you beat them in a boss fight, of course — these parts are entirely up to the player’s skill.)

After the fight, Laharl naturally asks Etna what the hell she’s about. Etna admits that she betrayed Laharl at first, but says she really intended to use Laharl as bait to get back at and defeat Maderas, which is supposed to make her original betrayal okay somehow. Anyone would expect this self-proclaimed Overlord of the Netherworld to show no mercy in a case like this.  However, after freaking out at Etna a bit, Laharl laughs it off, saying he would expect no less of such a devious demon.  Flonne is surprised to see this mercy on Laharl’s part and decides that demons might have love for each other they show in ways other beings don’t.  Laharl clearly feels some kind of bond with Etna — not one of love in the way we’d normally understand it, but there’s some kind of affection there even if Laharl would never admit to or even recognize it.

This is where things start to get a bit heavy

Even the sarcastic, cynical Etna seems to genuinely care for Laharl in her own way.  Despite being his vassal, she treats him like a kid, albeit one she cares about, a bit like an older sister might a younger brother.  This semi-sibling relationship is strengthened by the fact that Laharl’s father took Etna in as an orphan.  She has a lot of reverence for Krichevskoy, going so far as to ask Laharl if she can steal a portrait of his father from the wall of one of his other vassals to keep for herself.  While she does go hard on Laharl most of the time, she also says she’d like him to become the kind of ruler his father was — powerful but fair-minded.  She also says she’ll kill him and take his place as Overlord if he fails to do so, and the game gives us no reason not to believe her.  But there’s still a kind of caring there.

This brings us to Vyers.  This guy is initially presented as a joke character, an extremely vain upstart demon lord who has nicknamed himself the “Dark Adonis.”  Vyers is the very first enemy that Laharl pursues, mostly for the purpose of getting some loot to build his army up.  He puts on a lot of airs when they meet face to face, but Laharl and Etna aren’t impressed and give Vyers a different name that they think suits his character better.  Since he’s not even important enough to be a final boss, they call him “Mid-Boss”, and in the first of many, many meta-jokes in the series, Vyers’ name in the game’s dialogue box (and his profile, stats page, and everywhere else) immediately changes to “Mid-Boss.”

Mid-Boss after taking yet another beating from Laharl and company

Mid-Boss refuses to leave the party alone, showing up a few more times throughout the game to challenge Laharl and his vassals to a fight.  However, despite appearances, he isn’t just some buffoonish fop who keeps annoying Laharl for no reason.  Now and then, the game cuts away from the Netherworld to see how things are playing out in Celestia between the serene Lamington and his eternally pissed-off and aggressive subordinate Vulcanus.  When Vulcanus isn’t around, Lamington has private conversations with a hidden figure who happens to sound a lot like Mid-Boss.  Players who are paying attention the few times Krichevskoy’s portrait comes up on screen might also notice a resemblance between him and Mid-Boss.  The game doesn’t spell it out until the late game, but it’s heavily implied by the end that Mid-Boss is Laharl’s father in disguise, revived for a short time by Lamington so he can watch over his son long enough to ensure he’ll be all right on his own.

Laharl’s long-deceased mother is also present and watching over him, though again, the game doesn’t hint at this fact for a while.  There’s one Prinny in Etna’s squad of servants that’s different from the rest in almost every way: demeanor, voice, style of speech, and even color.  All the other Prinnies we meet are lazy and prone to partying and getting drunk when they’re not on the job, and they use that now-iconic “dood” interjection at the ends of almost all their sentences.  By contrast, this “Big Sis Prinny” is diligent and responsible, and she seems to have to consciously remind herself to add in that “dood” interjection.3  She even helps Flonne out early on during her stay in the Netherworld by giving her a potion to help her survive the hellish environment.  As Etna points out, the Prinnies in the Netherworld generally house the souls of the worse sort of sinners and so aren’t usually inclined to be too helpful to others, but we already know Big Sis Prinny is different from her colleagues.

Just as planned?

If you’re used to these kinds of twists, you might have predicted that this unusual Prinny carries the soul of Laharl’s mother.  Laharl only discovers this Prinny’s true identity in his efforts to stop some of the Prinnies working in his castle from reincarnating and leaving his service without his permission.  Laharl and his crew pursue them and even fight a group of death-god demons to prevent them from being sent to their next lives.  After beating them, however, Laharl is persuaded to let them go by Big Sis Prinny, who’s also in line for reincarnation.  This particular Prinny, it turns out, was sent to the Netherworld as a punishment for suicide.

At this point, it becomes clear that she’s Laharl’s mother, though she doesn’t come out and say it directly.  A few chapters earlier, Etna related to Flonne the story of how Laharl suffered from a terminal disease when he was a child.  No doctor could cure him, but the Queen knew of a sure way to save him: by sacrificing the life of someone who loved him, he could recover.  She therefore took her own life to save his.  The cure worked, but at an obviously great price, both to Laharl and his father.  It’s implied, then, that this is why Laharl is so down on love — he blames love for his mother’s death.  Of course, there’s a massive irony here: in saying that he doesn’t believe in love because it took her from him, Laharl is admitting that he loved his mother.  Otherwise, he naturally would not have cared about her dying to save him.

To the game’s credit, it doesn’t take this chance to write in a tearful, heart-string-pulling reunion.  Laharl’s mother says she has no right to face her son after everything that’s happened.  She only asks Flonne and Etna to take care of Laharl before her soul is transported, leaving the empty shell of her Prinny form crumpled on the ground.  Laharl, meanwhile, seems to have quietly absorbed all this and tells his crew that they’re headed back to his castle, leaving the rest of the Prinnies to reincarnate in peace.

Laharl’s arc comes to an end in the final chapter, when he and his vassals are about to face up against that allied human/angel invasion force.  In the course of helping to defeat both the massive spacecraft fleet of General Turner and the angelic forces of the archangel Vulcanus, Flonne ends up injuring humans and fellow angels — two of the most serious sins an angel can commit.  And when Flonne decides to go back to Celestia to seek out Lamington and ask him about the invasion, Laharl, Etna, and their crew of newly conquered human allies come along, resulting in her leading a sort of informal counter-invasion.  Not that Flonne intended for it to be taken that way, but she’s not given the warmest welcome when she returns home.

I could write a separate post about how angels are usually arrogant assholes in JRPGs and how that contrasts with the view we have of them in the West.

So our heroes are required to fight a bunch of battles once again on their way to meet the Seraph.  When they finally reach Lamington and find Vulcanus at his side, Flonne explains herself to him and delivers her account of the Netherworld’s invasion.  Lamington realizes Vulcanus has been conniving behind his back all this time trying to purposely start a war between their two worlds, and he fucks his disloyal lieutenant up by turning him into a flower.  However, Lamington also tells Flonne that she must be punished for her own sins and turns her into a flower as well — if not exactly killing her, then putting an end to her existence as a sentient being.

Despite his insistence throughout almost the entire game that he doesn’t care about Flonne and finds her completely irritating, Laharl completely loses it at this point and proclaims that he will kill the Seraph for what he’s done.

Yeah, the fun’s over now

What happens next depends upon the ending you’re locked into. In the course of the final fight with Lamington (PROTIP: you should have a thief in your party to steal his equipped item Testament; it’s good) Laharl gets the upper hand and defeats the Seraph. However, despite his anger, Laharl concludes that killing Lamington won’t help bring back Flonne. He instead prepares to give his own life to revive her, repeating the sacrifice his own mother performed to save his life when he was a child.

If you’ve achieved the best ending, Mid-Boss shows up at this point to stop Laharl. He explains that he and Lamington had been secretly working together to make peace between Celestia and the Netherworld by sending Flonne down as a sort of envoy in disguise.  Apparently direct negotiations would not have worked, so this backdoor approach had to be taken instead.  Even Flonne had no idea that this was her true role — her natural kindness more or less acted on its own, something that Lamington had been counting on.

Mid-Boss then tells Laharl his self-sacrifice isn’t necessary and revives Flonne himself, but not as an angel. Flonne instead returns as a fallen angel, a special class of demon. He says this was Flonne’s true punishment for fighting against humans and angels.  Not that it seems like much of a punishment.  Flonne ends up looking a little demonic, with a pair of bat wings, a tail, those pointy demon ears, and red eyes instead of blue.  Otherwise, she’s exactly the same old Flonne as she was before.  Mainly because she still doesn’t shut up about love and kindness, much to Laharl’s current and future annoyance.

I like the new look better myself

Lamington, despite being passed out for most of this final scene, is all right, and when he gets up he makes a peace deal with Laharl, just the thing that he and Laharl’s father had been planning for behind the scenes.  Laharl’s father, meanwhile, uses up the rest of his borrowed reincarnation power and finally disappears, joining his wife in the afterlife.  And Laharl and Etna return to the Netherworld along with Flonne, who’s now a permanent resident at Laharl’s castle.  Laharl establishes himself as Overlord, Flonne continues to try to teach demons about love with probably very mixed results, and Etna does… whatever it is Etna does.

Part of it probably involves her making fun of Laharl for acting like he doesn’t care about Flonne, as in this scene where she’s doing a mocking imitation of him (it works better if you’re listening to the voice-over.)

So despite how it looks on the surface, Disgaea 1 does have some pretty heavy emotional moments, with Laharl coming to terms with the death of his mother and nearly sacrificing himself for Flonne’s sake.  It’s easy to imagine how a different game might play up the melodrama, but Disgaea does a good job at keeping it measured, even when Laharl is going berserk near the very end of the game.  It’s only when Flonne is turned into a flower that Laharl loses control in that dramatic scene, but by this point the drama is earned because their relationship has been pretty well established.  Even if Laharl still won’t admit it, it’s pretty obvious well before this point that he cares about Flonne, even with all her irritating talk about love.

And when Captain Gordon, Jennifer, and their retro-sci-fi robot Thursday are thrown into the mix and fight/make friends with/join Laharl’s party, they don’t take away at all from this aspect of the story even though they’re coming in straight from a 50s sci-fi serial, a style that you wouldn’t think would mesh at all with the game up until that point. Gordon is a buffoon of a space captain sent by General Turner to the Netherworld as an unwitting tool to open the way for an invasion from Earth — he’s sort of a Zap Brannigan from Futurama, only a lot more noble and less of a selfish jerk, standing against Turner when his true intentions are revealed.  In fact, his far smarter and more competent assistant Jennifer has her own drama dealing with the fact that General Turner, her adoptive father, is an asshole who only cares about using her for her genius mind.  (The fact that Jennifer always wears a bikini and nothing else isn’t even a distraction from this dramatic character development.  Okay, maybe just slightly, but not too much.)

I think Jennifer is probably a reference to an old sci-fi serial character too, but I have no idea.  Maybe Nippon Ichi just wanted a busty blonde somewhere in their game.

Disgaea 1 also tries to incorporate its gameplay mechanics into the plot.  As you play through the regular missions and move the story along, you may very well accidentally kill an ally.  This is surprisingly easy to do, especially once you start to unlock attacks with wide areas of effect, and it’s all the more likely to occur if you take breaks from the main game to dive into the Item World.  At first, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  A unit that gets knocked down to 0 HP during a battle isn’t killed forever, after all — all it takes to bring it back is the right price paid to the Netherworld Hospital.

However, killing even one ally means that you lock yourself out of the best ending, in which both Laharl and Flonne survive unscathed.  The ally kill count can be tracked by checking the game stats with the male healer standing in one of the corners of Laharl’s castle, but it can only be reset by starting a new game cycle.  There are thankfully ways to do this without playing through and completing the game’s final chapter, but most players will likely do exactly that and be left with a bittersweet ending on their first playthrough in which Laharl goes through with his sacrifice and revives Flonne, ending his own life in the process (well sort of — as we’ve seen, death isn’t a totally permanent state in the world of Disgaea, and this ending concludes with Flonne and Etna talking about a new Prinny at the castle who has antennae sticking out of his head that look just like Laharl’s.)  Other, significantly harsher endings can be achieved by really going nuts and killing loads of your allies early on in the game.

I do like the fact that there are multiple endings to Disgaea 1.  It fits well with the game’s central themes of love and sacrifice that Laharl is made to actually carry his sacrifice out in one of the more common endings.  The one-ally-death mechanic is a little harsh, though.  Even when you’re actively trying to avoid causing ally kills, one or two always seem to occur in the course of a typical game.  It’s easy to remedy the situation by saving often, cycling those saves, and checking the ally kill count with that male healer NPC on a regular basis, but this does add some extra work to the game that some players might get frustrated with.

No, I’m not mistaken, this is indeed the male healer

And I wouldn’t really be able to blame them.  Later games in the series eased up on this criterion for getting the best ending, requiring an ally kill count that would take serious negligence or total callousness towards ally units on the player’s part to achieve.  This works better in a thematic sense as well — if the idea was that Laharl could only achieve the best ending for himself by proving himself a good ruler and not harming any of his allies, it seems unreasonable to punish him for screwing up a single time.  It doesn’t even have to be Laharl who screws up, in fact.  Even if he’s is killed by one of his allies, the player is locked out of the best ending.

Still, this effort to link the player’s in-game conduct to the ending is admirable.  It’s not exactly innovative; plot-driven RPGs and visual novels had been doing it for a long time by this point, but usually by way of more straightforward player choice through branching dialogue options or decisions to be made at key points.  The bad endings of Disgaea 1, by contrast, are generally unexpected and really hit you in the face as a consequence when they happen.  The game is essentially set up to lock you out of the best ending your first play through, since killing allied characters seems so consequence-free at first.  So unless you’re using a guide to play, it’s more than likely you’ll rub out a few of your allies by accident and think nothing of it.

Linking this game mechanic to the ending you get also might serve to show that the love Flonne keeps going on about isn’t strictly familial love, the kind that Laharl claims he never felt for his father.  The love she talks about is a broader kind, including the bonds between friends, and even the bonds that should exist (but rarely do) between a boss and his subordinates.  Even the extremely unromantic Etna pushes Laharl to show this kind of love to his subjects so that, rather than ruling over them through brute force, he can gain their respect the way his father did.  Realizing this kind of love exists within him is part of Laharl’s arc throughout the game, to the point that by the end of the game he manages to show mercy even to a mortal enemy.

And of course there’s an element of romantic love in Disgaea 1 as well, namely between Laharl’s parents.  Because both these characters are technically sort of dead at this point, all of this romance occurs before the events of the game, but there are some hints dropped throughout that suggest Laharl’s father and mother were very much in love.  You might even read an implied future relationship into whatever it is Laharl and Flonne have going, since they pretty much shack up together at the end of the game.  Well, so does Etna, but I can’t see Etna settling down with anyone.  Anyone who tried getting with her would most likely end up on the wrong end of her spear.

If you’re looking for a game that places the main characters into a straightforward romance, check out Disgaea 2. No, not involving the talking frog, but rather the human warrior Adell here and the demon princess Rozalin on the right. There’s a bit of that commoner/nobility romance novel appeal in this game too. An old angle, but it still works.

While this emphasis on the power of love works as a theme, I think the storytelling in Disgaea 1 ultimately succeeds because it implements that theme in an interesting and effective way.  In a typical JRPG, you’d play as the hero, probably a human, entering a Netherworld to fight its demon overlord, and you’d probably end up drawing from your friendships and the power of love in that sense to gain the strength to defeat him.  In Disgaea 1, by contrast, you’re playing as the demon overlord and fighting/recruiting the heroes sent to vanquish you.  This in itself is turning the usual RPG setup on its head, but it does so still again by depicting the demon overlord and his minions as not typically evil.  They think they’re supposed to be uncaring and unloving and try their best to act that way, but the game slowly reveals that these demons are a lot more complicated than even they realize.  Meanwhile, while Lamington and Flonne talk about love and peace and all that good stuff, most of the angels we meet in Disgaea 1 are almost robotic in their obedience to Vulcanus, who even the top demons of the Netherworld think is an evil bastard.

By the end of the game, both demons and angels come off as a mixed bunch — driven by the same emotions of love, caring, greed, and ambition.  They really just come off as overpowered, more extreme versions of humans.  Maybe that’s the main gist of the game: that despite our preconceived notions about what we’re “supposed” to be, we’re not all that different from each other.

In the end, maybe Disgaea is just another JRPG about how the power of friendship defeats evil. But it does so in a unique and interesting way, and that’s why I like it. 𒀭

***

If you were wondering why it took so long for me to post this, I guess it’s pretty obvious by now.  I try not to make these too long, but the show/game-specific deep dives that get into plot specifics are hard to edit down too much.  And I’ve still got one more to go.  Next time, we’ll finish out the series with a look at Disgaea 5, seeing how the series evolved over twelve years and examining some of the weird quirks that make that game unique in its own right.  Until then.

=

1 Here’s a meta question for you: was this opening itself the kind of disclaimer I was just saying I didn’t like?  Am I still a hypocrite?  Think about it.

2 I don’t know the English-language voice actor who plays Maderas, but he does a good Bela Lugosi impression.

3 After all this time playing Disgaea games, I still don’t know where “dood” came from.  I think it was the localization team’s best attempt at translating the Japanese sentence-ender the Prinnies use, which is something like -ssu.  It might be related to “ossu”, which is a very casual greeting that fits with the Prinnies’ kind of sloppy, lazy attitudes.

Blogger Recognition Award + 200th post landmark

Many thanks to both Irina from the excellent blog I drink and watch anime and Ospreyshire from the also excellent blog Ospreyshire’s Realm for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award, which I believe was created to recognize bloggers.  As always, I’m grateful for an excuse to go on about myself.  This also happens to be the 200th post on my site.  You’d think I’d have posted more considering the blog has been active for over six years, but some years I didn’t post a whole lot, and I also took a few months-long hiatuses.  So yes, this is post #200.  Not a bad time to look back on what’s happened and what’s still to come and all that stuff, though I’ll save the big retrospective for when I hit the seven-year mark.

I don’t think of my birthdays as very important, but I’ll throw one for my site.  I also now have a bunch of Disgaea screenshots that I’m never going to use anywhere else like this one.

The rules are as follows:

1) Say thanks to who nominated you and leave a link back to that person’s blog.

I can check this one off the list.  By the way, if you’re not following Irina and you’re into anime at all, you should absolutely be following Irina.  Ospreyshire also writes on anime and entertainment in general and posts original spoken word and musical works.  Check it out!

2) Give the story or history of your blog.

I might have recounted this already, but I started this blog as a way to have something else to do while I attended law school.  I can’t say how much writing here helped me retain my sanity.  In fact, it still plays that role, helping me to deal with circumstances.  This is one place where I can truly be myself, where I don’t have to pretend at all to be what I’m not.  It means a lot to me that people care to read what I write, in part for that very reason.

Over time, the focus of the blog narrowed a bit to primarily anime, games, and music, with an obviously heavy emphasis on the weeb material that you can find from the very beginning.  I’ve also recently shifted over from reviews to long-form commentaries and analyses, so if that’s more your style, I’ve got plenty more of it on the way.  Not that I’ll stop writing reviews, but it’s become harder to find time to play new games with my work schedule.  I still have a massive backlog to work through, though.  One day I’ll get it cleared out, I hope.

If there’s one screenshot that sums up my blog, it’s probably this one

I wish I had a more dramatic story to tell, but that’s really the whole thing.  As stated above, the blog did go inactive a few times for months-long stretches, but I always felt the urge to return, and now I’m dedicated to posting on a consistent basis, even if that means only posting once every week or two.

3) Give two or more pieces of advice for new bloggers.

First: write about something you care about.  I know this might seem like painfully obvious advice, but you may be surprised how many people disregard it, instead choosing to chase after trends that they may not necessarily give a damn about only for the clicks.  This is probably more of an issue among Youtube video creators, since that’s long been a far more visible and potentially profitable platform than WordPress or other blogging sites — it’s full of people chasing those trends and mostly burning out, likely because they never had any true desire to create such content in the first place.

If you’re creating a blog strictly to generate ad revenue, then I totally understand this approach.  Make maximum use of SEO tools, go for the clicks, promote yourself everywhere, and get that money if you can.  But if you’re doing this strictly as a personal thing or a stress reliever, and you find yourself writing exclusively about mobile games, or Youtube drama, or Apple and Samsung product updates because “that’s what people actually care about,” you’ll likely end up hating it.  Remember: unless it’s part of a broader business venture or it’s a collaborative effort, your blog is yours, not someone else’s.  The same goes for creating podcasts, Youtube videos, and every other form of popular media.  Write about what you like, and stuff everyone who tells you otherwise.

And second: be yourself.

I don’t know if there’s a worse cliché around than this one when it comes to advice.  Just to be clear: “be yourself” is not advice I endorse when it comes to living your everyday life.  Of course, you shouldn’t try to be someone else, exactly, but you also shouldn’t expect members of the general public to accept you just as you are.  Maybe “try to be the best version of yourself” is better advice in that case.  On your blog, however, you have the freedom to completely be yourself, especially if you’re maintaining relative anonymity with your username and associated social media accounts.  You can write about whatever you like without being forced to put on that mask most of us have to wear when we go out to our jobs, see our relatives, and deal with our respective cultures.  Or maybe you’re one of those lucky free souls who doesn’t need to wear that mask, or you have enough money to not have to worry about what other people think of you — in which case you don’t need this advice.

I can write about questionable maid services if I want, and so can you. (This is also a spoiler for a future post scheduled way down the line, so if you know what this is all about, you can look forward to that in a couple of months probably.)

This piece of advice ties into the first one pretty well, so I’ll just leave it at that before I start rambling on and on about nothing.  I do believe, for what it’s worth, that without following these precepts I would never have made it to 200 posts on this blog.  I care about everything I write about here, and you can be sure that I’m always giving you my honest opinion.  If you do the same, you can go far in creating something of real value.  You might not get a million views a month, but you’ll make something that’s meaningful to you, and as a consequence it will likely be meaningful to other people who come across it.

Anyway, I hope I’m not giving new bloggers the wrong advices.  This is what worked for me.  It might not work for you.  If you want to achieve financial success through blogging, you sure as hell shouldn’t listen to me.

4) Nominate 10 other bloggers and link their blogs.

Shit, ten blogs is a lot to ask, especially considering how well this tag seems to be doing.  But I’ll do it.  As usual, if you’ve already been nominated or don’t feel like answering this, feel free to ignore the tag.  All of the following are well worth checking out:

Curiously Dead Cat

Fan of a Certain Age

K at the Movies

Tiger Anime

Umai Yomu Anime Blog

Frostilyte’s Blog

No Rez, No Life

And a few of the usual suspects (I know I probably tag you all too much, but here’s another one if you want it):

Mechanical Anime Reviews

Extra Life

Lost to the Aether