Rock: Lost in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Ok, so it is the end of week 8, one week “break”, and I’ve been feeling kind of lost.

Mostly I think the feeling is because it’s near the end of my first quarter here at Evergreen, yet I’m already planning out my next two quarters plus summer and next year as it will be my senior year. And in all that planning, since it involves planning for graduate studies too, my brain is feeling maxed out.

And with the House passing a new tax law that turns tuition waivers into taxable earned income for graduate studies students, finding a feasible way to fund my tuition now without taking out extra loans to pay off, just the taxes on tuition waivers, it’s something everyone in graduate studies will have to deal with if the law sticks. And my, and many others, usual methods of self-employment through the internet, will more than likely be cut off if Congress dismantles the Net Neutrality Act, which will make the lag and bad wifi signals we all deal with now seem like a futuristic dream in a galaxy far, far away…

Whenever I start to feel lost in a sea of options, variables and the unknown, there is always one thing I turn to, to refocus. And as you may have guessed, that’s “Star Wars”.

Concept art from the original trilogy of “Star Wars”

“Star Wars” is the origin of my “home”. It was one of the first movies I watched as a kid, about age four, some of my first books, toys, games and it was one thing that has always been a safe harbor in my life. No one questioned it, challenged it, tried to take it away, persuade or discourage me from it. No one batted an eye or said anything otherwise when I decided to start celebrating “May the 4th” or “Star Wars” day.

I was never consumed or negatively obsessed with it, so no “fan boy” issues.

It is hard to describe without it sounding weird to myself, but for the people in my life who knew and had known me, to know me, was to know “Star Wars”, in a way. On the outside it is odd and even thinking about it, seems absurd, but these movies in many ways have defined much of my life, including my chosen career path going into film, despite it being a common inspiration among film students and that it was a choice I made at twelve years old.

And I couldn’t give up on it. It had less, if anything, to do with how much I loved “Star Wars” and how much it had helped and impacted me throughout my life, and everything to do with what it symbolized to me. A life spent writing and creating stories for everyone to see.

A page from Carrie Fisher’s annotated script from, “The Empire Strikes Back”.

I love writing. I love movies. I love creating and drawing things. Photographing, filming, learning, studying, and just being curious about everything. As a kid I wanted to explore, travel, think, create and as I got older and understood the world around me better, I wanted to do something good that would make it less dim and give other people hope the way “Star Wars” had done for me and still does.

Donnie Yen or Yen Chi Tan, who plays Chirrut Îmwe in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” whose character is famous for the line, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” He is also the most favored character in the film according to the StarWars.com poll that is still open.

I didn’t care about making a bunch of money, or being famous. I wanted to create stories I could see, and not just read. The idea of being rich and famous in Hollywood, the pinnacle of the “American Dream”, had to be pointed out to me, but I could have cared less. If anything, fame and fortune scared me and that fear, plus the cultural pressure to “make it”, made it harder to focus on what I wanted really wanted to accomplish.

My goal was to create and share. Create and do something good to make the world better in some way for someone.

Here in America, in a culture whose nexus is wealth, celebrity and material goods, I know that sounds, well stupid and naive. Who wouldn’t want to be rich and famous? Like in the lyrics to the Nickleback’s song “Rockstar”: “I’ll trade this life for fortune and fame. I’d even cut my hair and change my name.”

And given Nickleback is Canadian, and though the song is referencing the typical things artists do to make it in Hollywood, like changing their name, the second part of that line does echo what many Asian immigrants did to be model citizens, such as the family in “When the Emperor was Divine” and the sisters’ names in “Forgotten Country”.

It makes me wonder, and then ache, at how much people have given up of themselves in pursuit of this dream that to me is a nightmare.

To give up who I am, the principles I believe in, and let the pursuit of wealth and status shape what I create, would be as bad if Luke had taken Vader’s hand in “The Empire Strikes Back”.

The scene, prior to effects and editing, in “The Empire Strikes Back”, when Vader asks Luke to join him and Luke refuses.

I would rather face an uncertain future where my hopes and dreams could still exist, than accept a present reality where they would end.

“Star Wars” and “Nausucaa” crosscurrents fan art.

Given that I will be turning 27 in less than a week, with my completed BA within less than two years, my graduate studies along with turning the age of 30 in front of me, I’ve been looking back, searching forward, wondering what it is I need to do now, so I can do what I want later and make an uncertain future, less uncertain, and maybe possible.

And honestly, it’s watch “Star Wars”, remember what is I want to do, why I want to do it and who I want to do it for.

Why has “Star Wars” been so important, not only to me, but to others.

How it is, that in this massive franchise, whose stories and universe have spanned almost half a century now, in the forms of movies, games, books, comics, toys, clothing, music, with massive space battles, intense light saber duels and weapons the size of moons and planets, that it is the quietest moments and the simplest words that seem to stick with us, or at least these ones with me:

“I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” – Chirrut Îmwe, Rogue One

“Because it’s the right thing to do.” – Finn, The Force Awakens

“So this is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.” – Padme, Revenge of the Sith

“Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is. Uncluttered.” – Yoda, Attack of the Clones

“Remember: Your focus determines your reality.” Qui-Gon Jinn, The Phantom Menace

“I can save him. I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.” – Luke, Return of the Jedi

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” – Ben Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

The right thing. No luck. Try. Do. Focus. Uncluttered. Liberty. The good.

I don’t know what my “Star Wars” will look like yet, but I know what I want it to have as I move forward.

Not the stories, the fictional universes they will take place in or the characters of the stories, though I have a few starting places.

I want stories that are about people as they are, not people forced into molds.

I want main characters from all sorts of places, with all sorts of identities and traits.

I want them in roles, genres, and scenarios we were told not to expect and would never work.

With a lens focused on a diversity that is absent of stereotypes, tokens, the words “progress”, “at least” and “more than before”. Because that isn’t diversity.

And one person’s concept of diversity isn’t diversity either.

It’s one reality shaped by many people, from many perspectives, from many places, many experiences, identities and ideas, working together in that paradoxical, juxtaposition of harmony of differences that means to be human.

The words I hope will be at the forefront is, “Why not now.”

And it’s not a question. It means, “Let’s do this and let’s do this for real.”

Rock: A “Spirited Away” Homecoming

For this post I decided to finally watch my “unofficial, official” introduction to anime, “Spirited Away”, which to myself feels like a homecoming of sorts and has added a new depth in how I view otaku culture and some things I had not known, and still wouldn’t know without Hayao Miyazaki’s work.

Chihiro and the river spirit Haku.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I watched it when it first came out in the US when I was ten years old, and had a very had time watching it and Japanese animation in general afterwards because of this particular scene:

Scene in “Spirited Away” where Chihiro finds that her parents had turned to pigs, a result of their greed.

At the time I didn’t understand Miyazaki’s message with “Spirited Away”, about greed and his reoccurring themes/viewpoints about what industrialization and Japan losing its connection to its culture and past (plus his own struggles with his father being a part of that industrialization, embodied in aircraft, which Miyazaki also loved).

There are many levels and meanings to his works, some he is explicit about, others, like with all artists, can be inferred from what is seen, but it is never confirmed or denied. To me this means it’s something the viewer needs to seek out and understand themselves instead of having it hand fed to them. In other words, being told what it means would not have the same effect as understanding what it means. Continue reading →

Rock: Robots, Boxing and “Home”

While reading “Dark Blue Suit” and the boxing documentary, watching the fights, and reading the imagery, I started to recall some parts of my relationship with my own father I had tried to “remember to forget”. They weren’t bad memories, but memories that reminded me too much that he was still my father.

After what little we had as far as a father/child relationship at the time fell apart during the summer between my 9th and 10th grade years, and again after I had graduated high school. He had told the court I would never graduate during the child support case that would decide if he be required to help pay for college expenses, and after I found out and had the official court record with his hypocritical words on it (told me my whole life to go to college and he would help pay for it), I gave up on ever having a relationship with him and wanted nothing to do with him.

To have nothing to do with him also meant rejecting the support that the court decided he was required to pay, I did so by taking a break year between high school and college since it was contingent on attending college right after high school.

I knew that if he paid for my college, I would have little say in my education and to become dependent on him to attend college would be to hand my future over to someone who I barely knew and didn’t care. Continue reading →

Rock: What is a NEET anyways?

So one of the common stereotypes within otaku culture is known as the NEET or Not in Education, Employment or Training. While the term was first used in the United Kingdom and in a similar manner in regards to the word otaku, NEET is a loanword in Japan with a similar meaning.

What I find interesting though is that, while being a NEET, which in the otaku subculture is stigma on top of stigma, there seem to be two types of NEET that recently have been reoccurring.

The first would be the stereotypical NEET, a person who has withdrawn from society, its obligations and does not pursue any productive means to be part of society, which most otaku actually do (hence the extra stigma within an already stigmatized group). This is demonstrated in the web manga via the Comico app and now in a newer slice-of-life comedy anime that airs throughout this fall called, “Recovery of an MMO Junkie”.

Screenshot of the main character Moriko Morioka in “Recovery of an MMO Junkie”.

Continue reading →

Rock: The Stigma of Anime

This entry includes content that some may find uncomfortable and may have possible triggers for some.

In my last post, I started to introduce one of the main issues that the otaku, and even general anime and manga enthusiasts face: stigma.

Since there are many sides to this particular subject that I could easily write another few thousand words on alone with the issues behind the American rating systems, video games, the specific anime genres such as “harem” and “ecchi”, my focus for this post is the American double standards and the main root of the stigma behind otaku culture.

Given how well accepted Studio Ghibili’s works, game based anime such as “Kingdom of Hearts” and even the Hasbro toys turned animation “Transformers”, stigma should seem like less of an issue. Except one thing I noticed, and keep noticing, is that most of the anime, manga and games that are not associated with the stigma are geared toward kids. Or are “family friendly”, even if they deal with more mature themes, such as Studio Ghibili films.

In contrast, much of the anime and manga that otaku watch are not what would be considered in Western culture a “cartoon”, and can be very graphic, dark and/or deal with “R” rated themes. Continue reading →

Rock: Exploring Origins

In exploring my “home”, which for me is otaku (and to that extent nerd/geek) culture, I’ve been watching anime that myself or others first watched and introduced them to this previously much more private niche. This post is more, I guess soul “surfing”, looking back into my own history with anime and manga and looking for connections to explore on how I came to find “home” in otaku culture, which I was actually scared away from by the parents and pigs scene from the first anime I watched “Spirited Away”.

For myself this was “Eureka Seven” that got me into anime and manga, past a lot of fears and actually was a very healing experience for me that is still ongoing.

“E7” is a 50 episode long original mecha anime series by studio BONES in 2005 (they also did the well-known “The Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”). Something that would be a rarity to be able to create now in 2017, given it was an original story that wasn’t based on a manga, light-novel, video game, sequel, reboot (same issues that Western entertainment currently has), is a mecha (giant robot) anime (which are more expensive to animate) and is fifty episodes long (most anime now are 12 to 26 at the most).

Artwork of the Nirvash Type Zero mecha “lifting” from the anime “Eureka Seven”.

Continue reading →

Rock: On “Otaku”

Akihabara, Japan, one of the most notable centers of otaku culture.

So while looking into various parts of Japanese anime/manga fan culture and how it has impacted the entertainment industry in America, (Eureka Seven has a lot of “pop crosscultural currents” within itself alone to explore) I decided to look up one of the less favorable terms that reoccurs both in Japan and as a loanword in the US, “otaku”.

Most have probably heard it stateside in the negative context, along with the even more demeaning “weeaboo”, from what I’ve read it applies beyond anime or manga in Japan and is slang term referring to an obsessive, not necessarily unhealthy, interest in a subject with there being twelve ranked otaku interests.

What I found interesting is that the its sub-culture origin in Japan came from school clubs where students various interests outside school work were encouraged (at least what I’ve found so far).

I also found, and expected to find, the general accusations of otaku culture, and even using it as a loanword, outside of Japan as being cultural misappropriation, on top of the already negative stereotypes.

I admit that the otaku topic and exploring into already has me out of my comfort zone, mainly because of the stigma, misappropriation issues, the “weeaboo” derogatory term (thanks 4chan…), and not wanting others to apply this to me. It became personal very quickly reading extremely negative things, whether they were true or not. Continue reading →

Rock: What is “Home”?

So far, the concept of “home” has been fuzzy to me. Initially I perceived my “home” in relation to Asian-American pop culture, to be Asian-American pop culture, as that was one of the few “places” I felt safe, could be myself and for the most part could connect with other people. Specifically it’s Japanese pop culture and the following it has here in the US, which you can see at conventions such as Sakuracon in Seattle every April. It was one of the few areas where I found common ground and values within Japanese culture as a whole, I could identify and actually express myself with.

But if I use Japanese culture as my “home”, then I would be mashing together two parts of the Venn diagram we were shown. So I pulled back and made my definition of “home” broader, looking at what part of myself it was that had found comfort in Asian-American pop culture.

Trying to figure out the part of me that traditional American culture and ideals had rejected and left “homeless”. The part of me that was not “white” or “colored” enough to be accepted by either and to be called a foreigner by both (I mixed-race, Cherokee, Sami and European). The part of me that was told to be silent, because my viewpoints, opinions and ideas were not welcomed and at best were ignored.

During the workshop, a common thread of words kept reoccurring when I was looking for my “home”. “Creativity, books, paper, art, games, internet, computers, exploring, connecting, sharing, learning, internal, external, escape, dreams, identity, real-self,” and so on. What I got out of these worlds was my struggle to find and express my own identity, my internal self, with the world around me. And the place that was most comfortable, my “home” was who I knew I was on the inside, which was always in conflict with what the society around me wanted me to be on the outside.

And what Japanese culture and pop culture had done for me was provide a common thread that I could connect and share my own values and self with others also along this thread, enabling me to express who I really was and make the long and many times when I was alone, much less alone knowing there were others and I just had to wait to meet them.

The concept of a common culture being what brings people together, their internal selves rejected by the societies around them, even though they all come from completely different walks of life.

And I want to explore that in relation to the Japanese media, starting with the anime that helped me find it myself called Eureka Seven.