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Category Archives: General Discussion

Top Gun: Maverick – A Reflection and Review, Flying into the Danger Zone With A New Generation

“Fight’s on. Let’s turn and burn.” – Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

Three decades after the events of Top Gun, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell has become a test pilot, and after a test flight ends with the destruction of the Darkstar hypersonic aircraft, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky sends Maverick over to train TOPGUN graduates for an upcoming assignment to destroy an illegal uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. After meeting his students and defeating them in dogfighting exercises, including Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Maverick reunites with Penny Benjamin and reveals that Rooster’s mother had asked him to keep an eye on him and guide him away from being a pilot. Torn between allowing Rooster to fly and respecting his mother’s wishes, Maverick decides to speak with Iceman, who’s afflicted with terminal throat cancer. Iceman suggests that Maverick must let go of the past. When Iceman dies from his illness, and after a training accident, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson relieves Maverick of his role and resets the mission parameters, making the initial flight to the target longer. However, Maverick seizes an F/A-18 and demonstrates the flight is possible against orders. Cyclone determines that the assignment must be completed, and with the time constraints, decides to entrust Maverick with flying a part of the mission. Although the strike is successful, Maverick is shot down, forcing Rooster to save him, and in the process, Rooster himself is shot down, as well. The pair end up stealing an F-14 and destroy the pair of Su-57s intercepting them, but run out of ammunition and flares. At the last moment, pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin saves the pair, and they return safely to their carrier. Later, Rooster helps Maverick work on his P-51 and, while looking at a photo of their mission’s success, watches as Penny and Maverick take a sunset flight in the latter’s P-51. Releasing over three decades after 1986’s Top Gun, Top Gun: Maverick (Maverick from here on out for brevity) is a phenomenal sequel that has earned its praises and accolades in full – in a rare occurrence, Maverick is an instance where the sequel surpasses the original. Maverick is a superior emotional and visual experience over its predecessor, fully capturing Maverick’s character growth as he learns to promote teamwork and entrust the future to youth. This sentiment is shared by professional critics and movie-goers alike; besides a tepid romance between Maverick and Penny, the remainder of the film hits consistent home runs, with a gripping story, solid thematic elements and authentic aviation sequences making the movie a masterpiece to behold.

Over the course of its runtime, Maverick is a film about the dynamic between older and younger generations. On one end, Maverick speaks to putting one’s faith in the next generation, and allowing younger minds to step into roles of responsibility. At the same time, Maverick also indicates that youth should not be so hasty in dismissing experience – it is to general surprise when Maverick schools the TOPGUN graduates in exercises, surprising even the cocky Hangman and defeating him in a dogfight. Even Natasha “Phoenix” Trace makes the remark, wondering who’s going to be teaching the best of the best. While youth often believe that they’re ready to handle anything and are eager to jump straight in, an experienced professional will hang back, assess a problem and then draw upon their prior knowledge to decide how to best approach a problem. Although the TOPGUN pilots have more vigour and faster reflexes than Maverick, Maverick makes up for this in being able to anticipate his student’s actions and plan accordingly. By impressing the TOPGUN graduates, Maverick shows them that learning is an ongoing process, and learning never really stops. On the flipside, because of his promise to Rooster’s mother, Maverick is afraid to let Rooster fly to his full potential, and even interfered in his application process. It is only upon hearing Iceman’s advice, “let go”, that Maverick is able to see Rooster as a full-fledged pilot and select him for the mission. In reality, veterans often can have a tough time entrusting tasks to youth: it’s natural to feel protective of the people one is asked to look after, but there comes a point where it’s important to let youth test their own strength, and have faith in their ability to get things done. Maverick demonstrates this best when Rooster, on an unexpectedly impulsive act, flies back and saves Maverick from being blasted by a Mi-28 Havoc. After he’s shot down, when Maverick demands to know why Rooster flew back, Rooster retorts that Maverick had taught him to “don’t think, just do”. In this moment, Maverick is completely taken aback, but recovers – evidently, Rooster is competent and capable. Maverick thus suggests that young and old minds, contrary to what internet articles suggest, can get along – young people should be open to learning something from old minds, and old minds should have more faith in young people, trusting them to get things done in a mix of old and new ways.

Maverick is also a visceral show of what leadership looks like. While Maverick himself has had a history of insubordination, which had prevented him from advancing to flag rank, viewers are shown that this insubordination occurs because, since Goose’s death, Maverick has become more mindful of the people around him. This is made clear to viewers right out of the gates during the Darkstar test: when Maverick learns the Darkstar program is about to be scrubbed, he decides to go on a test flight anyways and comments on how, if he doesn’t defy orders to stand down, the program will go under and take the team with it. Maverick is willing to put himself on the line to ensure everyone else is safe. A good leader is someone who puts others ahead of themselves, and while from a command perspective, Maverick is appropriately-named, those who work with him are willing to do so precisely because Maverick is not a glory-seeker; he just wants to make sure everyone succeeds. This is seen again when he designs the mission parameters for the canyon attack – Maverick’s insistent on the fact that the flight be short so that the attacking aircraft have the most opportunity to evade the enemy defenses and return home. Maverick’s experiences with Goose ended up shaping him into a leader, and while this makes him appear very unreasonable, to the point where Cyclone is all too happy to dismiss Maverick after an incident during training, Maverick has one other trait that makes him a valuable leader: he is able to walk the walk, on top of talking the talk. Maverick’s test run impresses all of the TOPGUN graduates, and even Cyclone begrudgingly admits that the mission, as Maverick defined it, is technically possible. A good leader always leads by example, and can do the things they expect of their subordinates, and by showing the TOPGUN graduates that this mission is achievable, the mood suddenly changes, as a formerly impossible mission suddenly becomes a challenge that the candidates are curious to see if they can overcome. Throughout Maverick, Maverick shows that Iceman was right; the other admirals and leadership may not see Maverick as an asset, but Maverick’s traits actually make him invaluable, and it is these leadership qualities that ultimately make the mission successful. In this way, Maverick is a highly inspiring film, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that leaders are people who can do the things they expect of their subordinates, put their subordinates first, and are able to inspire subordinates to better themselves.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the 2000s, the top film experiences were the Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight trilogies. Avengers: Infinity War and EndgameFirst Man, Dunkirk and Interstellar were my top picks for the 2010s. Here in the 2020s, things start off strong with Top Gun: Maverick, and ahead of the film’s release, I watched the original Top Gun so I’d be familiar with things. The original film is a fair experience, but things do feel a little less cohesive. In spite of this, the film was still enjoyable, and the music was especially good. Maverick, on the other hand, is on a whole different level.

  • The film actually opens similarly to 2018’s First Man, which had Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) piloting an X-15 and struggling to get it back into the atmosphere during a test flight. From there, the remainder of the film was a powerful portrayal of Armstrong’s journey to being the first man on the moon. Maverick starts with Maverick (Tom Cruise) testing the experimental “Darkstar”, a hypersonic ramjet aircraft intended to reach speeds of up to Mach 10. Although Lockheed Martin representatives vehemently deny Darkstar is based on any real aircraft, it does resemble the SR-72 prototype.

  • Maverick features numerous callbacks to the original Top Gun: as Maverick reaches the stipulated speed of Mach 10, he whispers to himself, “Talk to me, Goose”: in Top Gun, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had been Maverick’s WSO, but died during an accident when their F-14 suffered a flameout. Both Maverick and Goose had ejected, but Goose broke his neck on the canopy, and since then, Maverick regretted not being able to save his friend. Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by a military court, Maverick continues to be haunted by this failure.

  • As Darkstar reaches Mach 10, Admiral Cain arrives with the aim of shutting the programme down, disappointed by its failure and anticipating that unmanned drones would soon replace human pilots. This concept is not explored in greater depth in Maverick, but Ace Combat 7 delves into the topic in great detail and suggests that drones or no, human pilots continue to be relevant since they can make decisions automaton cannot. On the topic of Ace Combat 7, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC set was released to accompany the film, and I’ve been eying it precisely because it lets me to fly the Darkstar aircraft, along with Maverick’s custom F/A-18.

  • When Maverick pushes Darkstar past its operational boundaries, its airframe disintegrates. Viewers have been very critical of this scene: ejecting conventionally at Mach 10 would liquify the human body, and Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich claims that, because this one scene isn’t survivable, the entire movie was undeserving of its praises. In the story, the Darkstar aircraft was likely equipped with an ejection capsule, similarly to the F-111 Aardvark; it’s always amusing to see people like Fighteer taking themselves so seriously, when they lack the ability to reason through things and properly walk others through their thoughts.

  • For someone who still moderates Tango-Victor-Tango to this day, while I appreciate Fighteer’s devotion to a meaningless pursuit (conversation at Tango-Victor-Tango has intellectual value the same way Spontaneous Generation is a valid scientific theory), it is a little surprising to see someone with a complete lack of literary knowledge take such an interest in fiction. I have previously argued that works of fiction like Maverick don’t need to be realistic, but rather, internally consistent: so long as the rules of the fictional world are not broken, and so long as a work can convey its message, it will be successful.

  • The only aspect of Maverick that didn’t work quite as well was the romance between Maverick and Penny: in the original film, Maverick’s attempts to impress instructor Charlotte Blackwood was a part of the story’s way of fleshing out Maverick’s character, but here in Maverick, Penny feels like she came out of the blue. Had the film omitted this piece, I feel that its themes and messages would not have been diminished in any way.

  • On the other hand, the rocky relationship Maverick has with Goose’s son, Rooster, is a central part of the film. On their first day, tensions already run high – Rooster holds Maverick accountable for Goose’s death, and Maverick wishes that Rooster would’ve chosen any other profession besides following his father’s footsteps, a wish his mother had made. The other pilots are shocked to see Maverick as their instructor, having watched him get thrown out of Penny’s bar the previous evening after he made a gaffe and wasn’t able to pay the tab, per house rules.

  • Owing to these initial impressions, the TOPGUN graduates are pretty confident that they can hold their own against Maverick, and during the first day of exercises, Payback suggests upping the stakes after hearing Maverick’s exercise conditions: the graduates must work together to shoot him down before he decides to shoot back. Two hundred pushups is a lot, and the young aviators are confident that they’ll have no trouble besting Maverick.

  • This scene was set the The Who’s iconic song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Like its predecessor, Maverick has excellent music, but unlike Top Gun, the film uses existing music – Top Gun had several pieces written specifically for the film, including Kenny Loggins’ iconic “Danger Zone” and “Playing With the Boys” and the Oscar-winning “Take My Breath Away”. My favourite piece on the original soundtrack, however, is Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” because its iconic opening riff inspired the theme to Ken’s stage in Street Fighter II.

  • Were I in the TOPGUN graduate’s shoes, I’d be nervous to hear Maverick casually accept the terms of the wager: he quickly disappears off the radars and flies between the two F/A-18s from underneath, timed perfectly to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”‘s iconic YEAH moment. Maverick is all business, but the movie has moments of levity to remind viewers that while the TOPGUN graduates are all skilled aviators, and their assignment is deadly serious, they’re still human at the end of the day. It’s a clever way to lighten the film up in the early stages.

  • Maverick uses the F/A-18E Super Hornet, a twin-engine multi-role fighter that entered service in 1999, replacing the F-14 Tomcat, which featured in Top Gun. The Super Hornet was chosen in the film, over the F-35 Lightning, on the grounds that the newer aircraft and their high-tech suite of electronics wouldn’t be suited for the mission, but in reality, the F-35 is a single-seater, and this wouldn’t allow the film to have been filmed with real pilots. Further to this, the F-35 was designed to launch its ordnance from high altitudes at a distance, so using them would’ve simply meant hanging back and launching missiles, rather than going in for a high-octane low-altitude run.

  • Rooster’s “Not this time, old man!” is one of my favourite lines in the film: having just prevented Maverick from getting behind Payback and Fanboy, Rooster attempts to engage Maverick, but ends up being “shot down” in the exercise. Moments like these are a great way of showing why it isn’t a good idea to underestimate anyone: while Maverick’s reflexes and physicality aren’t what they were thirty years ago, he makes up for this by knowing his aircraft and knowing how other pilots react in certain situations, allowing him to act accordingly.

  • There are a large number of TOPGUN candidates in the beginning, but seeing which characters got more speaking roles hinted at who would be selected to participate in the mission. Among the characters is Phoenix (Monica Barbaro). I was very pleased with how her role was handled in the film – she’s presented as a confident and skilled pilot in the skies, and she’s also got a good sense of humour, even when under stress. Phoenix’s WSO is Bob (Lewis Pullman), a quiet fellow whose call-sign’s meaning is left open to interpretation, and whose name might be a clever callback to the Bob Hoover story.

  • As the story goes, after being shot down behind enemy lines, Hoover was taken as a prisoner of war, escaped during a prison riot and then managed to find a pistol. After reaching a German airfield, he held a mechanic at gunpoint and forced him to start up a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, then proceeded to fly it over to the Netherlands. This actually lines up with how the end of Maverick goes, so a part of me wonders if Bob was named after Bob Hoover. Here, watching the other TOPGUN graduates taking a selfie while Rooster is doing the pushups was an amusing sign of the times; smartphones didn’t exist back in 1986.

  • More amusing was what happened after Maverick bests all of the arrogant and brash airmen, prompting Bernie “Hondo” Coleman to remark that “it was all fun and games in that selfie”. A chief warrant officer who worked with Maverick on Darkstar, Hondo joins Maverick in the TOPGUN programme. The whole point of the dogfighting drills here is to test how pilots and WSOs work together as a team under pressure, and also to prepare them for the sort of flying they might be up against when in the air over hostile territory.

  • When it’s Phoenix and Bob’s turn to go up against Maverick, they’re paired with Hangman (Glen Powell). Hangman is easily the cockiest of the bunch, being the only pilot with a kill to his name, and his first act is to ditch Phoenix and Bob, leaving them to be shot down. Hangman’s remarks to Bob and Phoenix are mildly disrespectful, speaking to his character and reminding viewers of a younger Maverick. Again, speaking to Maverick’s experience, he comments on how “leaving your wingman” is something he’d not seen in some time.

  • While Hangman proves a formidable pilot capable of some skillful manoeuvres, without a wingman to help him spot, Hangman is surprised by Maverick, who ends up shooting him down. The importance of this moment is to show that individual skill only takes one so far – having been around the block for some time, I can speak to this. As a developer, my skills lie in mobile platforms, and while I am capable of doing a few things with backend and web client code, I count on other members of the team to ensure those aspects are working smoothly.

  • Once the initial exercises are done, the story in Maverick steps up when Rooster goes up against Maverick a second time. Maverick’s up to his old tricks, and decides to fly inverted, daring Rooster kick the party off. In the original Top Gun, Maverick and Goose had done this to an enemy combatant, taking their photo with a Polaroid camera before flying off. The scene really serves to show the sort of animosity between Maverick and Rooster: it turns out that Maverick had intervened and delayed Rooster’s application to the naval academy.

  • The resentment in the moment causes the normally-cautious Rooster to begin flying much more recklessly, and the pair are locked in a spiral down to the hard deck. The hard deck refers to a preset altitude in which aircraft during training are not permitted to go below, otherwise, it counts as an impact with the ground. This element had been a point of discussion during Top Gun, when Maverick had dipped below the hard deck to get the kill on Jester – strictly speaking, if Jester was below the hard deck, this would be counted as a ground collision, and the exercise would end. Thus, there was no need for Maverick to continue pursuing.

  • The tense exchange between Rooster and Maverick suggests that both are having trouble dealing with their respective pasts; Rooster is more open about things, whereas Maverick attempts to talk Rooster down from things even as he himself struggles to deal with what had happened to Goose. Conversations like these give a bit of insight into the characters and, when they’re set during a tense moment, such as a dogfight, it allows a film to show, rather than tell: the way Rooster and Maverick fly and move both reflect on their internal turmoil, with the small difference being that at this point, Maverick is experienced enough to identify things are going bad and is willing to pull out before anything can happen: he breaks from the dive moments before Rooster does. In the end, Rooster is unable to outmanoeuvre Maverick and is shot down yet again.

  • Maverick (and Top Gun) remain highly dramatised accounts of what being a naval aviator is like, but as a work of fiction, one must allow for the presence of creative liberties to be taken in order to facilitate the plot. I’ve previously discussed this before; as long as a work is internally consistent, then even if there are overt elements of fantasy one knows to be impossible in reality, they can still accept it because it remains within the bounds of what the writer has defined. However, even when a work is internally consistent, there remain some people who adamantly insist on analysing it for flaws.

  • As it turns out, if a work of fiction fails to engage with an individual at the emotional level, one will instinctively attempt to rationalise why. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence to do this, and where one cannot readily explain why they are unable to relate to a work, they will fall back on picking at the small details. This would explain why Fighteer immediately picks apart the Darkstar scene as “unrealistic”, and why Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review griped about K-On! The Movie: the respective films simply don’t appeal to them, but because it takes maturity to do introspection, neither Reckoner or Fighteer are able to articulate why a work didn’t click with them personally. Their displeasure thus manifests as gripes about trivial details that have no bearing on the story.

  • I have stated before that it’s perfectly normal not to like something, and this stance hasn’t changed. However, when people use realism as the reason for why, I now know that they’re probably having difficulty in expressing themselves. I concede this isn’t easy to do: for instance, Stella no Mahou didn’t work for me, and it took a few days for me to determine that the payoff at the end of the journey wasn’t consistent with what I’d previously experienced. At a personal level, the anime didn’t succeed, but I simultaneously note that some folks might like it anyways. Back in Maverick, Maverick spends a bit of time with Penny, and while I will hold the story could have worked without the romance piece, Maverick courting Penny does have a nontrivial impact on him by showing him there is a world outside of his career.

  • The Su-57s in Maverick are referred to as “fifth-generation fighters” exclusively. The ambiguity of the foreign power with the illegal uranium facility in Maverick was a brilliant way of avoiding any political controversy, and shows that writers can indeed keep politics out of their work without impacting its quality. Here, the enemy nation is irrelevant: what matters is the presence of an assignment that drives Maverick and Rooster’s growth. While some people insist that all fiction is political by definition, I disagree. At their core, works of fiction are about individuals within a given system, and depending on the story, politics may or may not be relevant.

  • One of Maverick‘s most moving moments was the return of Val Kilmer as Iceman; now an aging admiral with terminal cancer, Iceman is unable to speak, but still retains a very healthy amount of respect for Maverick. The pair had been rivals in Top Gun, but developed professional and mutual respect for one another following their first combat sortie together. Having seen what Maverick can be like at his best, Iceman had kept Maverick around, knowing he could do the things that needed to be done. Maverick treats Kilmer and Iceman respectfully: Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 and has found it difficult to speak since then, and this was woven into the film to create a very poignant meeting.

  • The fact that Maverick seeks out Iceman for advice shows how he’s changed: no longer cocky and self-assured, Maverick occasionally acknowledges that he needs help from others, and similarly, when his conversation with Iceman ends, and Iceman asks, “who’s the better pilot” in jest, Maverick simply smiles and embraces his old friend. Maverick is best known for its aviation sequences, but interpersonal moments act simultaneously as callbacks to the original film, as well as giving Maverick a way to acknowledge the older actors and their contributions.

  • Despite knowing the stakes, the training exercises aren’t going well: the mission entails flying through a narrow canyon to evade enemy surface-to-air missiles, popping up and delivering a pair of precision strikes with laser-guided munitions, and then escaping before enemy Su-57s can engage them. During one drill, Payback passes out from g-LOC and nearly crashes, while Phoenix and Bob both are forced to bail following a bird strike. No matter how many times the pilots try, they seem unable to fly the stipulated route in under two minutes and fifteen seconds.

  • The turning point in Maverick comes when Rooster confronts Maverick over the latter’s decision to impede his application into the naval aviation programme. Maverick had done so to honour his word to Rooster’s mother, but now finds himself at a crossroad; if he sidelines Rooster on this assignment, Rooster will resent him for the remainder of his days, but if he chooses to select Rooster as one of the pilots and Rooster is killed, then he’ll have to live with the guilt of having seen both his best friend and his son’s deaths.

  • According to interviews, when Val Kilmer was shown the sections of Maverick he appears in, he was moved by how things were done, and director Kosinski, upon seeing Kilmer’s reaction, felt that they’d gotten right such a critical moment in the film. After Iceman dies from his illness, Cyclone removes Maverick as the instructor and changes mission parameters in light of the incidents during training. If Maverick were to be entirely faithful to reality, this would be the end of Maverick’s time in the film: an instructor dismissed from an assignment won’t be returning.

  • However, assuming that viewers accept Maverick as a work of fiction, they’d be treated to one of the most thrilling moments in cinema this side of the 2020s: after Cyclone explains the updated mission parameters, the TOPGUN graduates suddenly hear a transmission from Maverick, who’s taken a Super Hornet and is now flying the course. When the range controller informs Maverick he’s not scheduled for a run, Maverick’s reply, “I’m going in anyways”, earns him a “nice” from Phoenix. As Maverick pushes his F/A-18E to the limits, the students, along with Cyclone and Warlock, suddenly find themselves cheering Maverick on internally.

  • I’ve heard that Maverick’s breathing during the whole sequence is actually deliberate, a means of forcing air into the lungs and stave off hypoxia. From a cinematography point of view, these moments really emphasise how taxing flying is on the body. To put things in perspective, we feel our heads spin when a commercial aircraft banks more than ten degrees, and in science fiction works, technologies like G-force dampeners are supposed to nullify the extreme forces that occur as a result of the demanding manoeuvres pilots engage in.

  • As Maverick nears the simulated target, the entire room waits with bated breath, hoping that Maverick will successfully hit the target. For this exercise, Maverick is using the laser module on his F/A-18E to designate the target, making a successful bulls-eye strike all the more impressive. For the actual run, the aircraft will fly in pairs: a front aircraft will drop the bombs, and a supporting aircraft will provide the laser. When the training bombs, characterised by their blue colouration, strike their target, the entire candidate group is impressed.

  • Warlock’s silent fist pump says it all, and in the aftermath, Maverick’s demonstration the mission could be done changes the tenour of the film. Of course, Maverick’s actions are not without consequence; his career’s been dotted with reckless acts of insubordination, and this latest stunt earns him yet another reprimand from Cyclone, who comments on how Maverick’s choices have left him in a difficult position. On one hand, following protocol means discharging Maverick dishonourably, but on the other, Maverick’s actions here show that the mission is doable.

  • In the end, because the consequences of allowing a rogue nation to achieve nuclear capabilities far outweighs the need to discipline Maverick, Cyclone’s decision ends up being a relatively simple one. He assigns Maverick to fly the lead aircraft and asks him to pick his pilots. Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy are selected for the mission. With the mission now set, the fun and games in Maverick ends as the film becomes deadly serious. For the viewers’ benefit, the mission outline is given to viewers again: the supporting fleet will launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at the enemy airfield to cripple their aircraft, and Maverick’s team will fly in and destroy the target before the patrolling Su-57s can intercept them.

  • Maverick and Rooster share one more personal conversation before taking off from the carrier: Maverick promises they can chat after everyone comes back in one piece. Throughout Maverick, Maverick had emphasised the importance of coming back alive, and this mindset had stemmed from his own experiences. While this meant making the mission requirements seemingly unreasonably demanding, it’s Maverick’s way of expressing how he values life following Goose’s death. With these personal thoughts set aside, it’s time to get all of the aircraft in the air.

  • Upon seeing the mission for myself, I was immediately reminded of Ace Combat 7‘s Cape Rainy mission, which required players to fly through an extremely narrow canyon to evade enemy radar, while at the same time, avoiding searchlights placed throughout the canyon. Viewers familiar with Ace Combat immediately saw the similarities, and after watching Maverick, immediately went about recreating the film’s most iconic moments in-game. Project Aces saw these similarities and released the Top Gun: Maverick expansion for Ace Combat 7, adding six new aircraft, ten Maverick-themed emblems and twelve call-signs.

  • The DLC ordinarily retails for 26 CAD, but past sales have seen prices drop as low as 13 CAD. At this price point, I feel that it would be worthwhile, and I am now waiting for the Steam Winter Sale before I add the Maverick set to my library; during the Winter Sale, purchases also give players event cards, and since I do enjoy jazzing up my Steam profile, I feel that I can wait a few more weeks before I fly Darkstar or Maverick’s custom F/A-18E for myself. Having said this, I am quite excited to do so: Darkstar equips pulse lasers and can reach a maximum speed of 5000 kilometres per hour.

  • Mach 4 is only 40 percent of what Darkstar in Maverick is capable of reaching, but even this renders the aircraft brazenly overpowered: the AIM-9 Sidewinder has a maximum speed of Mach 2.5, so in theory, if an enemy aircraft fires on Ace Combact 7‘s Darkstar, evading the missile would simply be a matter of opening the throttle and accelerating. In fact, this is how SR-71 Blackbird pilots were taught to deal with missiles: after surface batteries detected the aircraft, it’d be too far away to hit by the time the missiles were ready.

  • Back in Maverick, the Tomahawk missiles impact the airfield, and this causes the patrolling fifth-generation fighters to immediately divert and head back to defend the uranium site. Although Maverick and Phoenix are on track, Rooster begins falling behind after spotting the surface-to-air batteries. The unnamed enemies in Maverick use S-125 Neva/Pechora missiles, which are Soviet-era weapons that were designed to hit smaller, more mobile targets. I imagine that the missiles seen in Maverick are the V600 variant, which have a fifteen kilometre range and carries a sixty kilogram warhead. V600s have a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, so F/A-18E/Fs are not outrunning them.

  • Maverick’s experience allows him to reassure his fellow pilots: when the fifth-generation fighters begin diverting, Maverick remarks they’re headed to defend the uranium plant, and the S-125 batteries remain on guard. After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Rooster opens his aircraft’s throttle, allowing him to make up lost time. According to the air speed indicator, Rooster begins reaching 800 knots. This corresponds to roughly 1400 kilometres per hour, an impressive speed considering how narrow the valley is.

  • The computer imagery used to brief the pilots had made the canyon seem narrower, and the mountains look steeper, than they did in reality. This doesn’t mean that the flight was a walk in the park, but for me, seeing the actual terrain itself helped to put things in perspective. While Rooster, Payback and Fanboy follow from the rear, Maverick, Phoenix and Bob prepare for the first strike. They pop up over the ridge, invert their aircraft and bring their planes into a dive. Having dug around, there’s more to this manoeuvre than the cool factor; it’s done to maintain positive loading and prevent the airframe from failing, as well as allowing the pilot to maintain consciousness.

  • Here, the GBU-24 Paveway IIIs can be seen on Maverick’s pylons: these laser-guided munitions carry a two ton warhead and require a beam from a designator to lock onto their target. In reality, the Paveway III is indeed accurate enough to be guided down a ventilation shaft so long as the laser is not lost. Military tacticians comment on how a single B2 Spirit carrying the BLU-109/B bunker buster would’ve completed the mission more readily, and while this is true (I would’ve probably recommended a Tomahawk strike), it is akin to wondering why the Eagles didn’t just carry Frodo and Sam to Mordor.

  • Common sense causes fiction to break down, and while this is important in reality (I favour simple solutions over complex ones), it also takes the fun out of a story and diminishes its ability to convey a specific message. Taking a more convoluted route allows for characters to grow, and this is one area where Maverick did unexpectedly impress in. Being the most soft-spoken and low-key of the TOPGUN graduates means that Bob has my respect: although he’s a skilled WSO, he lacks the same bravado and swagger as the other pilots, preferring to do his work in the background. By having Maverick select him as a part of the strike team, Maverick acknowledges that the quiet folks can walk the walk even if they choose not to talk the talk.

  • The more subtle lessons about teamwork, trust and humility are present in Maverick, even if they can occasionally be buried by the more bombastic, thrilling moments, and having now taken the time to give thought to both Maverick and the Yuru Camp△ Movie, I can see why there might be a case where the two films might be compared against one another, especially since both were quite successful. Both movies deal with people coming together to achieve something against the odds, persevering and overcoming both external and internal challenges.

  • Such themes are hardly unique to either Maverick or the Yuru Camp△ Movie, but the films do share quite a bit in common despite being in totally different genres. This has led Hinataka, a writer for the blog Netorabo, to claim that when compared side-by-side, the latter is a movie that “surpasses” the former as being the best film of 2022 without any additional explanation or context. Since Hirakata never elaborates, I conclude that this remark was probably an off-hand comment; Hirakata is free to enjoy movies however he wishes.

  • Film opinions can and will vary from individual to individual, but things become trickier when Centcom08 repeated this statement at Wikipedia. To the casual reader, it would set the expectation that the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a technically superior film or possesses a message that’s more cohesive and meaningful than what Maverick presents. In reality, neither film is better than the other; the Yuru Camp△ Movie excels in presenting an incremental tale of perseverance and making the most of the hand one is dealt, while Maverick is a story of trust, teamwork and learning to let go of the past.

  • Between this and the radically different premises (Maverick never goes camping with Rooster, Phoenix, Bob, Payback and Fanboy, and Rin, Nadeshiko, Chiaki, Aoi and Ena aren’t about to take on fifth generation fighters), I don’t feel that such a statement should be taken as anything more than a personal opinion. While a valid opinion, it should be common sense that this is by no means the end-all. While I am tempted to sign up for a Wikipedia account and strike that particular line from their Yuru Camp△ Movie article with due haste, I am aware that users like Centcom08 spend every waking moment monitoring the page – any changes I make will be reverted within minutes. I have better things to do than drop to Centcom08’s level, but I will remark that the Wikipedia article on the Yuru Camp△ Movie is unreliable and filled with factual errors.

  • Back in Maverick, after Bob provides the laser that allows Maverick to hit his target, Rooster follows up so he can drop his Paveway IIIs down the hatch. When Fanboy reports that his laser is malfunctioning, Rooster decides to drop the bombs blind. As luck would have it, both bombs find their mark, and seconds later, the entire uranium enrichment facility collapses. The moment this happens, the enemy forces are now aware of their presence, and all of the S-125 sites come to life, filling the air with missiles. In the chaos, it’s all the pilots can do to evade the missiles, dropping flares in a bid to throw them off.

  • When Rooster runs out of flares, Maverick sacrifices himself to keep Rooster alive. In the process, one of the V-600 missiles hits him. The moment brought to mind the likes of the 2001 film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson) as Chris Burnett, although flares and missiles behave a little more plausibly here in Maverick: the missiles in Behind Enemy Lines switch between heat-seekers and radar guided modes at times, allowing them to turn around and ignore flares, and they appear to fire buckshot, whereas real missiles carry an explosive warhead.

  • However, viewers generally agree that despite the lack of realism in Behind Enemy Lines, the scene where Burnett and his pilot, Jeremy Stackhouse, evade the surface-to-air missile does capture the intensity and terror that accompanies air combat. Since Behind Enemy Lines captured this well, it can be said to be authentic, even if it isn’t realistic. I have found that a lot of folks who demand realism in their fiction oftentimes are conflating lack of realism with a story they can’t relate to or connect with at an emotional level.

  • Despite being a solid story from a narrative perspective, Maverick cannot be said to be realistic by any stretch. After Maverick is shot down, he survives and finds himself face to face with a Mi-28 Havoc. He manages to somehow evade 30 mm rounds from its Shipunov 2A42 autocannon and survives long enough for Rooster to show up and shoot it down. In the process, Rooster himself is shot down, and he manages to eject. In another situation, the odds of survival would be quite slim, but viewers must set this aside and accept that, if Maverick were realistic, the film would’ve probably ended an hour earlier.

  • It is necessary that some aspects of a story be contrived such that one can be granted a satisfyingly experience. Here, Maverick manages to catch up to Rooster, and after their initial shock wears off, Maverick devises a plan for getting them back home. The lighting and tone surrounding the moment is evocative of how Behind Enemy Lines had felt after Burnett and Stackhouse were shot down, but in that film, the story had been about how Burnett evades capture in the Balkans, and here, both Rooster and Maverick are only shot down late in the game. Maverick’s plan is as bold as it is daring: see if there’s any airworthy planes left at the airfield their forces just took out and use one of them to get back into the skies.

  • At this point in the film, the reasonable viewer accepts that this is the only route Maverick and Rooster have for getting back home, and spots that, given how an earlier briefing had mentioned that F-14s might be present, opens the floor up to an exciting possibility: seeing Maverick and Rooster fly an F-14 as a clever, well-written homage to the original Top Gun. Indeed, this is exactly what Maverick has in mind, and after sneaking up to a hangar unseen, he and Rooster get one of the F-14s online. For Maverick, it’s the return of an old friend, but for Rooster, who’s accustomed to the F/A-18 and its glass cockpit, the F-14 feels ancient.

  • This scene in Maverick was reminiscent of the Yuru Camp△ Movie‘s finale, which had similarly seen the return of an old piece of hardware from the originals; when Rin’s motorcycle develops a fault, her father suggests that she fall back on her original ride, the Yamaha Vino, and it ends up playing a big role in the film’s climax. Having seen Maverick first, it was nice to see echoes of Top Gun in Yuru Camp△ Movie, although here, I note that an appreciation of the similarities between the two movies despite their drastically different premises is about the extent of my wish to compare the two films.

  • In typical Maverick fashion, both aviators are airborne after a harrowing takeoff: Maverick has used the F-14’s variable sweep wings to generate more lift and accommodate for a very short takeoff, surprising Rooster. To emphasise this, the F-14’s front landing gear is knocked off, but for the present, Maverick and Rooster are aloft, to the surprise of the command staff back on the carrier. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a Top Gun movie without dogfighting in a live environment, and now that they’re in the skies, the patrolling fifth-generation fighters intercept the pair.

  • Any experts or fans of military aviation will immediately recognise the Su-57, a Russian multi-role fighter that began development back in 2010 and entered service in 2020. Although widely considered to be inferior to the American fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the Su-57 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the F-14 owing to superior avionics. In an engagement, what would likely happen would be that the Su-57 would simply fire a missile from outside visual range and score a kill before the F-14 could even flinch. Moreover, even though the Su-57 lacks the same the same thrust vectoring that the F-22 possesses, it still has an impressive turn rate and would easily overcome the F-14 in a dogfight.

  • The idea of an F-14 going toe-to-toe against an Su-57 is the sort of exercise that military fans love thinking about (experts are more concerned about how their hardware stacks up against hardware that’s presently in service, versus against older hardware), and in fact, reminds me of the thought experiments I did regarding hypothetical matchups like pitting a single M1A2 against twenty Tiger Is, or a head-to-head battle against the Panzer VIII Maus. For the most part, comparing technology from different periods is akin to comparing video cards more than two generations apart: the newer technology comes out on top every time.

  • When the Su-57s show up, Maverick reasons that at least for the moment, the pilots don’t really know what’s going on and attempt to hand signal to them. While pilots do know hand signals so that they can continue to communicate in the event of a radio loss, or during an exercise, it is possible that the Su-57 pilots operate on a different set of standards, ones that Maverick and Goose are unfamiliar with. Some folks with a background in aviation translate the pilots’ signals as requesting them to “divert to heading 3-3-0”, suggesting that they’re to defend the facility from further attack.

  • Thus, when Maverick signals he’s not understanding the message, the other Su-57 prepares to engage the F-14, which they now interpret as being under hostile control. The setup here is a bit of writing that allows Maverick to shoot down one of the Su-57s and take it out of the fight: in a prolonged dogfight, the F-14’s odds are extremely slim, even with a good pilot at the stick, but since the F-14’s M61 Vulcan is simply an older version of the M61A2 that newer generation aircraft carry, it’s not inconvincible for an F-14 to disable an Su-57 with a well-placed shot, the same way a Tiger I could score a mobility kill against an M1A2 that was standing still.

  • Much as Top Gun had previously done, the hostile pilots wear helmets with tinted visors. Protagonists wear clear visors simply so we can see their expressions: in reality, all helmets have tinted visors, but this is another instance of how being realistic would diminish the film’s impact, similarly to how portraying the combat performance differences between an F-14 and an Su-57 would prevent the film from telling its story. Once Maverick and Rooster realise their ruse isn’t going to work, Rooster persuades Maverick to give this fight everything he’s got.

  • Spurred on, Maverick uses the element of surprise to disable one of the Su-57’s engines, and immediately breaks off. In a moment of pure savagery, Maverick manoeuvres his F-14 so that the damaged Su-57 shields him from the other fighter’s missiles, and this results in the first of the Su-57s being taken out of the fight. With the second pilot dead-set on taking the rogue F-14 out, it’s an all-out fight. The entire scene is set to some of the tensest music I’ve heard throughout the whole of Maverick: with Hans Zimmer listed as a composer, there is no surprise that the incidental cues in the film are well-suited for the moments they accompany.

  • While motion blur means that it’s difficult for me to get good screenshots in a live-action movie, some of the stills for this post turned out quite well. This is the biggest challenge I face whenever writing about live-action; in anime, this isn’t a problem since everything is smooth. I don’t mind admitting I had a bit of difficulty in writing this post; cutting down the screenshots to a manageable number was probably the biggest challenge, and originally, while I have had the pool of screenshots and an idea of the post’s contest ready since late October, it’s taken some effort to distill everything into a post that isn’t the size of a graduate thesis.

  • One of the most thrilling moments during this dogfight happens when the Su-57 suddenly executes what appears to be a flat corkscrew. Immediately, viewers are reminded that Maverick and Rooster are dealing with a highly skilled pilot who isn’t just depending on his aircraft’s technology to get by. Maverick spots this and decides that it’s time to go for a lower altitude, claiming that the terrain will confuse their adversary’s targetting system. Assuming that the Su-57s in Maverick is carrying the R-77, this holds some truth: the R-77 is a radar-guided missile, but some versions are outfitted with infrared seekers that use radar to acquire an initial lock. By flying closer to the ground, the Su-57’s radar system is prevented from quickly acquiring its target.

  • Maverick ends up getting behind the Su-57 and uses his guns to damage its engine, causing it to crash. Only in a film could such an old aircraft stand any chance against a current-generation fighter, but it is a thrilling show of skill. In fact, the mindset of going up against a fifth generation fighter with an F-14 is equivalent to watching Graham Aker fighting the Exia to a standstill with a Flag, or seeing Char Aznable giving Amuro Ray’s RX-78 II trouble. The idea of skill being able to overcome technological disparity is a staple in fiction, offering a satisfying experience.

  • Rooster cheers after seeing the second Su-57 crash into the canyon’s ledges. Moments later, he’s able to get the radio on. Having Rooster act as Maverick’s WSO is a direct callback to the original Top Gun and shows how Maverick and Rooster have both overcome their pasts to be able to work together as a team, much as how Maverick and Goose originally had. For Maverick, Rooster has become a full-fledged pilot in his own right, while Rooster now sees why his father was able to work well with Maverick. However, even after getting in touch with the carrier, the fight’s not over yet.

  • A third Su-57 appears on their nose, and with their F-14 out of missiles, guns and countermeasures, it’s all Maverick can do to keep the fighter off them. During the dogfight, the F-14 takes a few hits. The portrayal of aircraft guns in Maverick is one of the few gripes I do have about the portrayal of things: the M61 Vulcan fires with a distinct buzzing noise rather than the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, while the Su-57 is armed with the 30 mm GSh-30-1, which is a slower-firing autocannon that can destroy enemy aircraft in as few as three shots. The fifth generation fighters appear to fire the same guns as the F-14, and moreover, despite taking three hits, the F-14 continues to fly.

  • This is yet another moment created to maximise dramatic effect, and it is actually quite rare for movies to correctly depict aircraft guns, so I will clarify that the guns have no bearing on my overall enjoyment of the movie. Realising that there’s no other way, Maverick orders Rooster to eject, but the ejection handles are damaged and fail to fire. Having come so far, Maverick is filled with regret at not being able to protect Rooster. However, moments after the Su-57 fires one of its missiles, it’s blown out of the sky. Hangman has come to the rescue, and while he was chosen to be a reserve pilot, he ends up being given permission to sortie and cover Maverick and Rooster.

  • Although Hangman is portrayed as being arrogant and self-assured, at the end of the day, all of the TOPGUN graduates are on the same side and work towards the same goal. The rivalries between the candidates is secondary to the fact that everyone is fighting on the same team, and this is a piece of Top Gun I’ve always loved seeing: a healthy rivalry encourages growth, but when the chips are down, everyone has one another’s backs. On the topic of Hangman, Glen Powell had previously appeared as a trader in Dark Knight, and he will be starring in Devotion, which portrays naval aviators in the Korean War.

  • I’m suddenly finding myself excited to watch Devotion: the Korean War isn’t portrayed all that often in film, but it’s also a critical part of the Cold War. The film opened a week ago in North America, and I might just go catch a screening if time allows (I do have a fair amount of vacation time banked up). Failing this, I imagine that Devotion will be available for streaming in the new year. Back in Maverick, after ensuring Maverick and Rooster are okay, Hangman breaks off and heads back to the carrier for a landing. Since Maverick had broken the nose landing gear while taking off earlier, his landing will be a little trickier.

  • As a bit of a clever callback to Maverick’s tendency to buzz the tower after a successful flight, he ends up doing exactly this, causing Cyclone and Warlock to duck for cover. Previously, doing this has landed Maverick in hot water, but here in Maverick, the successful operation means that this is probably the last thing on Cyclone’s mind: all that matters is that their hit was successful, and everyone’s come back in one piece. I’ve heard that carrier landings are one of the hardest parts of being a naval aviator, and things only become more tricky if the carrier is bobbing up and down in rough waters.

  • Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector captures the details that are involved in touching down on a carrier, and through reading the novel, I became aware of the fact that aviators will prefer to increase power when touching down. This is because if the aircraft misses any of the arresting wires on deck (I think this is called a “bolter”), it has enough power to climb back into the air and try again. Of course, this beats coming in too low. Since Maverick’s experienced, and since the oceans seem quite calm, the technical aspects of a carrier landing aren’t shown; Maverick and Rooster’s return to the carrier has the same feel as returning home after a difficult drive.

  • Overall, I found myself immensely satisfied with Top Gun: Maverick, as it tells a solid, self-contained story, is respectful to its predecessor and is accessible to both old and new viewers alike. The story isn’t something that demands familiarity with the original Top Gun, but folks who’ve seen the original film will immediately appreciate all of the references made to the original movie. Moreover, despite being a film about the navy, Maverick manages to elegantly handle the matter of politics: for this movie, the biggest enemy is actually within oneself (fear and doubt), with the hostile nation and pilots acting merely as the driving force for Maverick and Rooster to overcome their inner dæmons.

  • While Maverick has been criticised for glorifying the American armed forces and acting as propaganda promoting the military’s actions, I’ve always felt that war films are simply just a highly visceral way of portraying a given theme, the same way that first person shooters are simply a game of resourcefulness and being observant. The healthy mind is able to make a distinction between fiction and reality, and here, I would argue that the themes of Maverick are actually not too different than the themes from 2015’s Creed, which saw Adonis Creed enter the ring and fight to create his own legacy with help from Rocky, who had similarly been reluctant to train Creed initially.

  • The ending of Maverick does prompt the question of whether or not Top Gun will continue in any way: Miles Teller has expressed interest in a follow-up film, and given the quality of Maverick, I am curious to see what such a film would entail. On the flipside, Maverick is successful mainly because it tells a self-contained story that respectfully wraps up elements from the original Top Gun, and a continuation is not strictly necessary simply because Maverick closes things off on such a decisive note.

  • Observant readers may have noticed that in my screenshots, letterboxes appear in some stills, but are absent in others. This is because the action scenes were filmed in IMAX, which allow more to be shown. For dialogue scenes, the aspect ratio is a standard 21:9. The hybrid approach allows a film’s most critical moments to completely immerse viewers, and admittedly, this can make for some inconsistencies in a screen-shot heavy review: when I wrote about Dark Knight Rises back during the summer, I elected to go purely with the IMAX stills.

  • However, this had also been because that particular post was an unconventional discussion. For Top Gun: Maverick, a more ordinary review, I utilise a mixture of stills so I have a chance to cover all of the thoughts on my mind. I admit that my talks can be on the long side, but this is primarily a consequence of a given work providing a lot to consider. For readers in a rush, reading the paragraphs will give a complete insight into what I make of something; the figure captions are meant to provide various thoughts, trivia and asides.

  • With this in mind, I’m not about to change the way I blog: I believe that celebrating fiction and what one enjoys is best achieved by being thorough. While lengthier posts can be discouraging to readers, I contend that this is a matter of UX. This is why my posts are structured the way they are. Everything important, I provide up top, and then I use the screenshots and figure captions to talk about details that are not relevant to the more important topics. The conclusion at the end then sums up my personal thoughts and allows me to speculate on what future directions look like, or otherwise address elements that aren’t quite as important to readers.

  • It goes without saying that Maverick was a superbly enjoyable film for me, and having now written about the film in full, I am filled with an inclination to go back and revisit both Project Wingman and Ace Combat 7. I am glad to have taken the time to lay down what made the movie so entertaining for me, and while Maverick does seem far removed from my typical predisposition for slice-of-life anime, it is always fun to branch out and explore different forms of media every so often.

  • Since Maverick opened with Maverick working on his vintage P-51, I’ll conclude this post with a screenshot of him taking it out for a flight with Penny. This just about brings this talk on Top Gun: Maverick to a close. This is going to be my last post of November; I was originally planning on writing about Itsuka Ano Umi de, but production issues shook things up somewhat. Entering December, readers can expect more posts on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, a few special topics posts, and my thoughts on Itsuka Ano Umi de once the fourth episode airs. Before any of that, however, I do have a talk on Battlefield 2042‘s third season lined up. The game’s come a very long way since last year, and the latest additions make the game feel like a proper Battlefield title.

There is a reason why Top Gun: Maverick is 2022’s top movie – the themes are inspiring, the flight sequences are phenomenal, and elements from the original Top Gun make a return. Unsurprisingly, it is 2022’s highest grossing film, and the film is nearly universally acclaimed. However, when Netorabo’s Hinataka suggests that the Yuru Camp△ Movie surpasses even Maverick in terms of enjoyment in their review of the former, eyebrows are raised – Hinataka doesn’t explain what specifically about the Yuru Camp△ Movie makes it the superior film. Both films, despite their radically different premises, actually share quite a bit in common. The Yuru Camp△ Movie and Top Gun: Maverick both are set some time after their original, deal with an ongoing assignment that requires Maverick, Chiaki and their respective teams to pull through and get things done in creative ways, and similarly see the return of an iconic piece from their original works (in the Yuru Camp△ Movie, Rin’s Yamaha Vino makes a comeback, and in Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick and Rooster steal an F-14). However, whereas the Yuru Camp△ Movie is a highly cathartic experience which gently reminds viewers of what it means to be an adult, Top Gun: Maverick is meant to be a thrilling and inspiring adventure that shows viewers what leadership and trust look like. The two films are quite different in this regard, and where the Yuru Camp△ Movie is meant to portray its story in a relatable context, Top Gun: Maverick uses a much more dramatic story to convey its themes in order to fire up viewers. As a result, Top Gun: Maverick is endlessly quotable, and scenes from the film are endlessly rewatchable. The Yuru Camp△ Movie reminds me of the fact that I’m probably conducting myself in a reasonable manner, but Top Gun: Maverick shows me one vivid example of what leadership looks like. In conjunction with the fact that I’m rewatching moments like Maverick flying the course in the two minutes and fifteen seconds, or managing to take on a pair of Su-57s in an F-14, on a daily basis, and making bad jokes about real life situations with lines from Top Gun: Maverick, it is clear that the two movies cannot be compared side-by-side as Hinataka does. Consequently, in response to Hinataka’s comment, I would counter that Top Gun: Maverick isn’t “surpassed” by the Yuru Camp△ Movie in any way, and in fact, I would suggest to readers that both movies are worth watching on the basis of their own distinct merits.

Jon’s Creator Showcase: A Summer Extravaganza, Celebrating July 2022’s Finest Content From Around The Community

“A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role.” –Yehuda Berg

Foreword

According to the archives, the last time I hosted Jon’s Creator Showcase was back in February 2021, where I had the honour of being the first to showcase the freshest posts from around the community. Eighteen months have elapsed since then, and significant changes in my life have been the reason behind why I’ve not hosted until now. However, having foreseen that things might slow down enough for me to participate again, it is my pleasure to host Jon’s Creator Showcase for the month of August 2022. Jon’s Creator Showcase is an initiative that has its origins in 2017, when Jon Spencer Reviews opened a programme to celebrate and share content from around the community. The rules are simple: the host invites content creators (ranging from bloggers and YouTube creators, to published authors, E-commerce store owners and everything in between) to share their content via Twitter, tag it with #TheJCS so hosts can find the content, and then invite more people to participate. Traditionally, Jon’s Creator Showcase posts have become gargantuan posts as I strive to really feature all of the submissions, so this time around, I’ve elected to go with something a little different. Before I turn the floor over to the real stars of the show, the forty-two content creators who’ve submitted something, I decided to indulge my curiosity and see if there were any interesting patterns and trends among the submissions received for this Jon’s Creator Showcase.

  • If memory serves, the last time I hosted Jon’s Creator Showcase would’ve been back in February 2021, over a year and a half ago. While I had expressed interest in hosting again, the main reason why I ended up choosing the August slot was because by November last year, I’d known that a move had been on my schedule, and therefore, to ensure I had ample time to ensure all my ducks were lined up, I decided to pick a time later in the year. August proved to be a good choice: while this month has been busy, I was able to both maintain my blog and complete Jon’s Creator Showcase.

Remarks on Community Trends

Firstly, I would like to thank all forty-two of the content creators for participating. The first metric worth mentioning is that this is the single largest Jon’s Creator showcase I’ve had the honour to host. Over these forty-two submissions, there were forty blog posts and two videos. Among the forty blog posts, 57632 words were written, which corresponds to an average of about 1441 words per post. I ended up looking at two other metrics for these posts, as well (Figure I). The first of these is the Flesch-Kincaid score, which is a measure of readability. A score approaching 100 means a passage is very easy to read and is readily understood, while a score approaching 0 is extremely difficult to read. The average Flesch-Kincaid score among the submissions is 62.2, which corresponds to text that is easily understood by middle to high school students. Writing in easy-to-understand terms is a sign of effective communication, and it is evident that this cohort of Jon’s Creative Showcase submissions are very well-written. The other metric I have looked at is sentiment analysis, which measures how positive, neutral or negative a given bit of text is. While I found the natural-language processing algorithm utilised to be somewhat inconsistent (there were cases where the algorithm assigned a post to be negative when it should have been marked positive), interesting results arose from carrying out sentiment analysis on the submissions. Overall, the sentiment averages out to neutral (-6.67). With three metrics, it became possible to determine if there were any patterns in the submissions. It turns out that there is a very weak correlation between post length and readability: posts become slightly less readable the longer they are. Conversely, there is no significant correlation between post length and sentiment. This should be unsurprising: when people wish to express their criticisms or praises of something, they will do so in a manner of their preference, and seeing no correlation here suggests that the submissions are indeed as diverse as the means of expression. This is a sign that the community is very healthy and supportive of diverse, varied styles and approaches.

  • Figure I: Summary of Jon’s Creator Showcase portraying the trends for submissions. This is the surprise I was referring to on Twitter, and was motivated by the fact that, for previous Jon’s Creator Showcases, my previous format was not sustainable if that month received a larger number of submissions. However, it also hit me that, with a larger number of submissions, it would be fun to see if there were any trends and patterns among the submissions. Although my original plan had been to do more metrics and write less, August had arrived so suddenly that I didn’t have time to plan out everything, and this Jon’s Creator Showcase thus ended up being a compromise, allowing me to write a little less than before, and at the same time, do something a little differently.

Just for kicks, I also decided to see what would happen if readability and sentiment scores were plotted against one another. Based purely on the submissions, it appears that the less readable a post is, the more it trends towards a slightly negative sentiment. Although more information would be needed to draw any concrete conclusions from this outcome, it is possible that people tend to be more direct when using neutral or negative language. Finally, I plotted out submission patterns to see if there were any noteworthy trends in when content creators replied to the Twitter thread and submitted their content. It is unsurprising that almost all of the submissions happen within the first week of the month, and initially, the topics submitted are most similar to the host’s content. Since I write largely about anime, most of the submissions in the beginning were anime related. What is interesting is the surge of gaming related posts from the sixth of August, which suggests that one of the participants nominated a blogger with a gaming focus, and this subset of the community became very enthusiastic about participating. A few posts did trickle in later in the month, rounding out the submissions, and over the course of August, I had a great deal of fun in assembling this post and seeing what sort of content is out there. Since submissions tend to cluster around the early parts of a month, a host can keep up with things by logging all submissions, and then slowly chip away at their post. I’ve found that doing this is the best way of keeping up and still have enough time left over if anything unforeseen should happen: I don’t mind admitting that because of how Twitter’s mention system worked, I actually missed all of the posts from August 6 until I went back and checked the #TheJCS tags. Luckily, I did have the presence of mind to check, so I hope I’ve not missed anyone. I have now hogged the spotlight for long enough, and without further delay, I present this post’s highlight: forty-two excellent submissions that showcase the insightfulness, diversity and energy within the community.

The August 2022 Showcase

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Bladeworks (2014) Route 1 Alternative – Should You Start Here? (Jon Spencer, @JS_Reviews)

Jon Spencer Reviews opens up this showcase with a breakdown of where a novice should start with the Fate franchise. This article is perfect for a greenhorn such as myself: for long, I’ve put off with Fate because of how much content there is, and while fans of the series greatly enjoy discussing the series in all of its glory, from character dynamics and themes, to philosophical implications, it leaves first-timers out in the cold. Jon Spencer’s post, on the other hand, rectifies this: not only is an order supplied for beginners, but there is also a substantial explanation backing the order he recommends. Simply put, watching things in a certain order helps to extend the storytelling, and clarify things that may otherwise appear more challenging. This becomes especially helpful because now, I’ve got the foundations for making a decision: if I were to go down the route of watching only the newer adaptations, I would start at Fate/Zero. This is actually what I’d been planning to do, since I’ve heard that Zero is the starting point. A large part of why the blogging community is so valuable is because of posts such as these; armed with Jon Spencer Review’s suggested viewing order, it really does appear that I can no longer say that concern about where to begin watching Fate is an impediment. With this being said, the community does know me as a bit of a procrastinator, so I hope that Jon isn’t terribly surprised when I come back in a year or two and then say, I’ve got my own thoughts on Fate/Zero finally written out!

College Craze Review [Indie Spotlight] (Tequila, @CoreReviews)

It’s not often when one can find a game that fulfils all of the elements they’d sought out, but Tequila of Core Reviews has experienced such a title in College Craze, which is a dating simulator set in the post-secondary. The game allows one to simulate every aspect of their post-secondary, from academics to social life with an exceptional level of depth. In fact, according to the developers, a sophisticated decision engine allows for over a thousand possible outcomes based on one’s decisions, which Tequila praises for mimicking real life, and moreover, College Craze doesn’t shy away from dealing with more difficult topics like consent, abuse and the like. Overall, Tequila’s impressions of College Craze is positive, and brings to mind a similar set of criteria I have when hunting down new games. While I’m most unlike Tequila in that I play first-person shooters almost exclusively, I share the same appreciation for a game well done. Having said this, I’ve never quite found any one game that allows me to check off all of the things I’d like in a game (a semi-open world first person shooter set in Japan and China about biological warfare, with a deep weapons customisation system, and meaningful decisions that impact outcomes in a tangible fashion), but this too is a positive: it allows me to try out a variety of games. However, I will note that my preferences limits me to what action titles can yield, and so, it is always enjoyable to read what people play, as well as specific details behind what makes different games so engaging for different people.

Anime Review: Kaguya-sama: Love is war – Ultra Romantic (Odaisensei, @Odaisensei1)

In a glowing review of Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Odaisensei offers readers a strong recommendation for the series’ comedy and romantic aspects. Despite there being only thirteen episodes to work with, Kaguya-sama: Love is war – Ultra Romantic makes full use of every moment to develop the characters to an extent where they believably bounce off one another and grow. Beyond this, the sound and visual aspects are also praised. That Odaisensei suggests that Kaguya-sama: Love is war is something that folks would enjoy, even if it’s outside of their typical preferences, is telling: I’ve said this myself in previous reviews when a series is especially impressive, to the point where one needn’t have an extensive background in a given genre and its traits. While at first glance, a priori knowledge of a genre and its style might be helpful, it turns out that these smaller details only serve to enhance a story. A solidly-executed work succeeds on virtue of its characters, storyline and themes to capture the excitement of general views, and then smaller details will wow more dedicated viewers. Yuru Camp△ is one such example on my end: for folks who don’t watch slice-of-life, showing universally relatable themes (such as solo versus group activities and the merits of both) makes the series one that almost anyone can enjoy, while outdoorsmen and cooks will enjoy the attention paid to detail in things like how to light a fire, or preparing a delicious outdoors meal. It is plain that Odaisensei greatly enjoyed Ultra Romantic and has done an excellent, but also concise, job of selling this series. I’ve now developed a curiosity to see things for myself: longtime readers are familiar with my love for slice-of-life and military moé, but I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion on recommendations from viewers, and it looks to be the case that Ultra Romantic will probably not disappoint, either.

New Video Added! – How To Train Your Dinosaur (ManInBlack, @MibIH)

For Jon’s Creative Showcase, ManInBlack submits a completed video of RentaDinosaur – How To Train Your Dinosaur!. As a part of the creative work that ManInBlack does for the community, he edits videos for the RentaDinosaur team, a British company that brings excitement to events and parties. The resulting videos are used for marketting and promotional purposes, and in this post, the video ManInBlack shares is clear, funny and plainly sells what RentaDinosaur does. The video reminds me of the promotional videos that the founder for my previous company had made as a part of our social media marketting work, and having seen him at work, I appreciate the effort that goes into making these videos. ManInBlack has done a fantastic job of this video, and it is great to see the final product approved: I don’t have the video here, but readers should definitely swing by ManInBlack’s blog and check out the finished RentaDinosaur video for themselves!

EP 68: Kids of the Slope w/ Religiously Nerdy (FatherOfVash, @DadNeedsToTalk)

Podcasts have their origins with Apple’s iPods, when content creators of their time created audio shows that could easily be played on media players or portable devices. Although they are associated with the iPod, podcasting has since been an umbrella term that refer to all audio discussions. The biggest advantage about a podcast is that, as a pure-audio format, it leaves one to listen in the background, just like a radio programme. FatherOfVash’s submission for Jon’s Creator Showcase is the only podcast, and the topic is Kids on the Slope, an anime dating back a decade that follows Kaoru Nishimi after he moves to Sasebo, Nagasaki. Widely praised for its portrayal of friendship and male relationships, Kids on the Slope began as a manga series and was adapted into an anime for the spring season, running for a total of twelve episodes. FatherOfVash is joined by Ellie, Tobi and Toyin, who go over a plethora of topics that the anime brings up, and in this conversation, it felt as though I were attending a panel at an anime convention. The podcast and Zoom-style format creates a more dynamic discussion that’s a world apart from the blog posts I’m most accustomed to, and watching FatherOfVash’s podcast all the way through reminds me of how even talking with one other person about an anime can lead to interesting tangents, new perspectives and laughter as one shares their thoughts. FatherOfVash’s podcast runs for an hour and nineteen minutes, which is a shade longer than the length of an average panel at my local convention, but it does provide a broad set of thoughts on an anime that looks quite worthwhile for fans looking for a slice-of-life series that deals with a range of social and interpersonal topics.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Ultra Romantic: Breaking those Limits (Dewbond, @ShallowDivesAni)

“Damn well written” and “one of the best anime I’ve seen” is how Dewbond characterises Kaguya-sama: Love is war – Ultra Romantic. My curiosity to check this anime out now doubles as a consequence of reading Dewbond’s typical fashion for presenting compelling, persuasive arguments for why something is worthwhile. It is telling that Dewbond also counts this series’ comedy and heartfelt character interactions as a plus, with Ultra Romantic especially excelling by pushing the characters’ relationship forward where most series would maintain the status quo for fear of portraying things incorrectly. There is a reason why comedy is featured so prominently in romance series: falling in love is touching, but when it’s new love, even seasoned veterans approach it as a touch-and-go problem, treading as carefully as though one were navigating a minefield. When things invariably blow up or backfire even from good intentions, the awkwardness can elicit a few understanding smiles. However, this contributes to the pay-off as things become more serious. To my great surprise, Dewbond also indicates that there’s going to be a film and new season on top of things. With this, I’ve now got two ironclad reasons to give Ultra Romantic a go, with the same caveat as I do for all the recommendations that come across my path: I’ll actually have to find time to do so. There is one consolation: anime films and new seasons do take some time to appear, so at the very least, it would appear that so long as I start within the next twelve months, I could probably catch up: Dewbond has previously succeeded in convincing me to go through Gundam SEED, and from this momentum, I would finish Gundam SEED: Destiny before the movie came out, too.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock – The Power To Save Yourself (Scott, @MechAnimeReview)

In titling this post “The Power To Save Yourself”, Scott provides an insightful glimpse into Captain Harlock, protagonist of Space Pirate Captain Harlock, an older anime that was adapted from the manga in 1978 and follows Harlock as he participates in various operations against the alien Mazone in a world where humanity has become a space-faring civilisation. With an incredibly rich cast and deep world for Harlock to explore, facets of Harlock’s personality beome explored over time, bringing this intricate and complex character to life. While the characters are lifelike, and the stories are compelling, Scott notes that owing to the fact that Space Pirate Captain Harlock is an older anime, the visuals feel dated, and some of the values presented no longer hold true. In spite of these niggles, Scott greatly enjoyed Space Pirate Captain Harlock: he counts it as being among his top thirty, and with a thousand shows under his belt, this means that Space Pirate Captain Harlock would be in the 97th percentile, an impressive placement indeed. Going through Scott’s post on Space Pirate Captain Harlock leads me to the classic question of whether or not old anime should be brought into the modern era through things like movies or reboots, the same way Cucuruz Doan’s Island explores one of Amuro’s adventures in greater detail using contemporary visuals, or how Modern Warfare 2019 takes aspects from its 2007 incarnation and tells a story with increased relevance in today’s political landscape. On one hand, remasters and reboots could dramatically improve the visuals to immerse viewers in a hitherto unparalleled fashion, as well as shine more light on topics and values that are more dated, or perhaps skipped over in the original. However, reboots may also prove unfaithful to the originals. Regardless of which outcome applies for the classics, Scott’s final verdict is concrete: Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a series worth checking out.

25 Amazing Anime With Diverse Characters (YumDeku, @YumDeku)

Because I grew up in Canada, multiculturalism and diversity is a part of life: I think nothing of the fact that there’s a store selling Chinese medicine right beside an Indian Restaurant, and across the street is a Greek-style tavern. In YumDeku’s submission, we’ve gotten our first list for this Showcase: twenty-five culturally diverse anime. I won’t spoil any of the inclusions and encourage readers to check out this list: it suddenly hits me that I’ve not seen any of the shows presented. However, a glance at the series finds that all of the anime here are equally diverse in genre as they are with their characters, and moreover, many of these anime are older series. Japan is culturally homogenous, and this is most evident in slice-of-life genre, which focuses on self-discovery and other things surrounding the ordinary lives of Japanese folks. Outside of slice-of-life, the sheer creativity and imagination that goes into other genres means anime are afforded with an unparalleled chance to explore the world well beyond Japan, whether they be fantasy worlds, alternate histories, or dramatisations of the real world. Anime has been culturally diverse and multicultural for a non-trivial amount of time, and as a result, have had plenty of opportunity to celebrate this; having people of all backgrounds and ethnicities makes a series more lifelike, believable, adding to each of the anime on this list. In summarising an impressive number of series (there’s actually ten more honourable mentions), YumDeku presents readers with a fantastic launch point for getting started, and I remark here that such lists have previously helped me to become introduced to anime that I now count among my masterpieces.

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? by Harold Schechter & Eric Powell: A Darkly Fascinating Biography of America’s Most Disturbing Serial Killer – Comic Review (BiblioNyan, @AdmiralNyan)

BiblioNyan’s submissions for this Jon’s Creator Showcase is a literature review of Harold Schechter and Eric Powell’s Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?, which is a graphic novel that portrays Edward Gein, who became known by the moniker Butcher of Plainfield after he became known for exhuming corpses and making keepsakes from the remains, as well as committing two murders. In this graphic novel, Gein’s life is described from childhood, profiling a troubled past where his mother was a dominant figure in his life, and compelling readers to continue turning the pages as crimes and disappearances plague the town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. BiblioNyan finds this graphic novel a highly captivating read, brilliantly presenting a horrific story in a shocking manner. In their review of Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?, BiblioNyan presents a powerful recommendation, and I am reminded of a book sitting on my shelf: Feng Chi-Shun’s Hong Kong Noir, which writes of a dark side of Hong Kong few people considered. One of the most vivid and gruesome stories in Hong Kong Noir is the Hello Kitty murder, whose details are sickening (which I won’t recount here) and speak to the fact that human depravity has no limits. Like BiblioNyan, I find such stories fascinating, although they also remind me of the horrors that people can commit. However, unlike BiblioNyan, I don’t have a stomach for visuals, and while I am drawn to murder mysteries of this sort, I’m most comfortable reading about them through words. Seeing the pictures is a bit much for me, so I do appreciate that BiblioNyan, in their post, clearly indicates that this graphic novel contains imagery of mutilation and cannibalism.

Lycoris Recoil Episode 4 Review – Best In Show (Terrance Crow, @CrowsAnimeWorld)

Lycoris Recoil is said to be this season’s counterpart to Luminous Witches, being a military moé series following a task force of high school aged operators who carry out wet operations against terrorists and criminals. However, unlike the military moé anime I typically watch, Lycoris Recoil is a ways more grim. However, even then, this anime still has its light-hearted moments: Crow walks readers through some of the most engaging moments of the fourth episode, which focus on the characters’ choice of undergarments and the comedy surrounding what is sure to be an awkward conversation. While this creates comedy, Crow also suggests that this comedy sets up for darker moments later in the series. The trends that Crow spots in Lycoris Recoil is one that is employed in a large number of anime, and is a recurring trend because it helps to humanise the characters. In recalling such moments in Lycoris Recoil, Crow reminds viewers that while Chisato and Takina might be wet operatives (wet in the sense of being assassins), there’s still a person behind the trigger. This is something that helps viewers to empathise with the characters and create a reason to follow their experiences. In celebrating this aspect of Lycoris Recoil, Crow’s submission reminds me that I should probably get a move on in this series: it’s been on my watchlist since several readers have indicated that the anime is up my alley, and I’ve always been fond of series that can expertly juxtapose moments of combat and trouble with calm, slice-of-life experiences and conversations. It is refreshing to see that I’m not the only person who appreciates such a contrast, and Crow’s presentation of the fourth episode to Lycoris Recoil is another reminder that my ever-growing backlog is perhaps out pacing my ability to enjoy things!

Anime Corner: Princess Connect! Re: Dive Season 2 Review (neverarguewithafish, @ChrisGJoynson)

neverarguewithafish delves into Princess Connect! Re: Dive‘s second season, and just a few sentences in, it is plain that I’m in for yet another wonderful recommendation; the second season to Princess Connect! takes the elements that were established in the first and expands them into full-fledged stories that leave viewers curious to learn more. Even though this continuation leaves some lingering questions, the character growth and animation is of a high standard, leaving to a conclusion that’s as plain as day: Princess Connect! Re: Dive‘s second season is worth checking out, and in neverarguewithafish’s words, I’m going to have to pick this one up, on top of all the other shows that have receieved recommendations: Princess Connect! is on my (procrastinating) radar. From neverarguewithafish’s review, two things immediately come to mind. The first is that Princess Connect! sounds a great deal like GochiUsa and Machikado Mazoku in that both anime, although they’re both slice-of-life, started out with a slower first season to establish the world and their characters before opening the throttle and diving into thematic elements that really help viewers to connect with everyone. The other point here that is worth raising is that neverarguewithafish has managed to sell me on Princess Connect! without spoiling any of the plot points at all. This is an impressive feat: I’ve never been able to do spoiler-free reviews because I’m entirely dependent on a story’s outcomes to draw out its messages and convey this to viewers, so it’s always fantastic to read writers with a skill for presenting an anime’s strengths and weaknesses without exposing mission-critical elements to folks who’ve not seen something for themselves.

Fav 4 Anime or Video Game Fighters (Matt-in-the-Hat, @MattXnVHat)

Blog tagging activities pre-date social media, and in fact, can be seen as a precursor of sorts to Jon’s Creative Showcase in that they operate on similar rules. For this submission, Matthew of Matt-in-the-Hat presents four of his favourite fighters from anime and video games, providing a summary of what makes each fighter so commendable: Son Gohan of Dragon Ball, Bleach‘s Yoruichi Shihōn, Sub-Zero from Mortal Combat and Street Fighter‘s very own Chun-Li make this list. What each of these fighters have in common is a sense of honour and integrity in conjunction with their physical prowess. For me, I’m most familiar with Chun-Li, since I’ve got a Street Fighter fan in the family. I still remember how when I was younger, Chun-Li was the only character I could use with any reliability thanks to her Hyakuretsukyaku, which can be executed simply by mashing the kick button. Of course, I don’t mind admitting that Chun-Li’s thighs are also appealing to me: I’ll leave readers to make of this what they will, and return focus to the post itself; Matthew tags four more bloggers to continue this party, and this represents a fantastic way to engage members of the community. I’ve participated in only a few of these tagging posts previously, but it’s always fun to know that people do remember my blog well enough to tag me, and it similarly represents a chance to spread the love to other blogs. Social media has simplified this somewhat, although it is good to see that these activities are still practised in the community, speaking the blogging community’s healthy respect for both old and new alike.

My Dress-Up Darling (Episodes 1-4) – Self-Confidence is Infectious! (Lynn, @TheOtakuAuthor)

An anime excels when its messages are so clear that viewers of all backgrounds end up drawing the same conclusion, and Lynn of Otaku Author’s breakdown of self-confidence in My Dress-Up Darling bring to mind the very things that captivated me about this anime. The first four episodes do a fantastic job of presenting several different themes. First and foremost, Marin’s popular and well-regarded not because of who she’s trying to be, but because of who she is, and this creates a powerful juxtaposition between herself and Wakana, who’s a bit more reserved about what he loves. Unlike Marin, who is unabashedly forward about what she likes, Wakana’s past experiences meant he’s worried about being judged for his hobbies. These elements play off Wakana, who slowly opens up and embraces the crafting of cosplay as a part of his journey. Along the way, Wakana also realises there’s a deeper reason behind putting in an effort to find success; he wants to see Marin smile. Lynn’s remarks about accepting oneself is especially moving: one is only as beautiful as how they see themselves, and this is where My Dress-Up Darling truly excels. Much as how Wakana is able to live life more fully and embrace his love for hina dolls, and how Marin is filled to the brim with excitement and life, I’ve found that the people in my life I most enjoy being with are those who are completely at peace with who they are, and pursue a life of maximising the things that make them happiest without worrying about being judged. These messages are especially relevant and important in an age where social media creates the impression that the grass is greener on the other side, and when presented with something like My Dress-Up Darling, which encourages people to accept their own inner beauty and wear this with confidence, one is reminded to count their blessings.

Lycoris Recoil – 03 (FlareKnight, @Flare0Knight)

FlareKnight of Anime Evo submits a review and discussion of Lycoris Recoil‘s third episode, praising the episode for focusing on two characters with different objectives and desires, but whose interactions help the pair to cooperate better despite these differences. The dynamics between the other characters are further explored as Flare Knight explains the significance behind what happens in this episode and how what’s seen here may potentially be relevant later down the line. The fun about posts like these (which are similar in style to what I do) is seeing how close we are as a series progresses. While sometimes, we’re spot on owing to being familiar with a genre, other times, series can find ways of surprising us, and this is what gives the exercise worth. Standing in contrast with the fourth episode, which Crow has presented, it appears this third episode has a much larger emphasis on the human side of the Lycoris operators. Finally, it’s always uplifting to see writers describe episodes as being fun; something one can smile about is sometimes precisely what’s needed. It is apparent that with FlareKnight’s post, which opens with the header “Grade: A”, readers would be given another, excellent reason for giving this series a go. Here, I will remark that I’m quite familiar with Anime Evo: I was introduced to the site through AnimeSuki’s former moderator and a peer, Flower, who had wondered if I would be curious to guest-blog about Brave Witches some six years earlier. Although this opportunity never came to pass, I always enjoyed the different perspectives that Anime Evo brought to the table through its small but devoted group of authors. Today, FlareKnight’s doing a solid job of keeping the blog going, and I find myself wishing him to be a closer part of the Jon Spencer community.

A Review of Made in Abyss (S1) (A K, @sonata_no1)

Although I’d said to A K that I’d give Made in Abyss a go as soon as time freed up in my bewilderingly busy schedule, the moment A K indicates there’s a horror piece to Made in Abyss, one which stands in stark contrast with the art style, his post had my full, undivided attention: the world the characters inhabit is a dangerous one, and there’s hazards at every turn, but ultimately, teamwork and cooperation is what helps the characters to get through what would otherwise be incredibly difficult ordeals, the most horrific of which is what happens to some of the characters experience when they meet a villain who experiments on children and creates Eldritch horrors. The scope of the story in Made in Abyss ends up being quite compelling despite some of the shortcomings, and A K concludes on the note that Made in Abyss is worthwhile for its world-building, characters and the driving story, which conveys both beauty and horror. Having read this post in full now, I’ve more information to make a call on whether or not this one joins my watchlist. On one hand, I’ve a weakness for body horror; while I have no qualms with watching a 50-cal go to town on people, body horror is something that unsettles me to an uncommon extent. However, seeing the juxtaposition between the grotesque and pleasing in a well-written world is also quite enticing. Coupled with the fact that A K mentions that there’s nothing like The Animatrix’s Second Renaissance, and since the violence was, admittedly, a factor in my original decision to pass over Made in Abyss five years earlier, it is reassuring to know that we won’t be seeing anything quite as graphic. This is the joy of having reviews of all sorts; on some occasions, they greatly clarify what one is getting into, and beyond answering the question of whether or not a work proved enjoyable for an individual, the discussion can also offer insight into other questions that readers may have.

The Observation Deck: Odd Taxi (Jack Scheibelein, @AniObservations)

For this Jon’s Creator Showcase, Jack Scheibelein submits a recommendation for Odd Taxi, a 2021 anime that received critical acclaim for its gripping mystery story surrounding a taxi driver who becomes entangled in things, but to keep viewers captivated, Odd Taxi rolls the curtain back smartly, revealing just enough to keep one captivated while at the same time, deliberately introducing complex dialogue to keep viewers guessing. In spite of this, Odd Taxi is never too complex, allowing viewers to work things out for themselves and enjoy the story for what it accomplishes. Moreover, by using highly stylised characters, Odd Taxi is able to convey a great deal about each individual and their dialogue. A quick look at the series would suggest that the deliberate choice of using animals for the characters allows for the series to eliminate biases that might accompany people, and this enables viewers to fully focus on the dialogue and mysteries that protagonist Hiroshi Odokawa encounters during his drives: in this way, the series is able to succeed with simpler visuals. Although Jack Scheibelein writes that hype can often dampen enthusiasm for a series, Odd Taxi appears to be one of those rare exceptions in that it lives up to expectations. Hype is indeed a challenge when it comes to picking and choosing anime; there are cases where people may not fully express their reasons for enjoying something, and this can create expectations that cannot be fulfilled. However, hype also becomes an interesting indicator of a work’s ability to capture the viewer’s interests, and if a work is almost universally acclaimed, it achieves this because it plainly struck the right chords with many viewers. I myself have not looked at Odd Taxi, but reading Jack Scheibelein’s review of it strips away some of the mystery behind the hype: with this post, I’ve seen one well-presented set of perspectives on the show, and this leaves me one step closer to deciding whether or not I should give this ago.

Edens Zero Chapter 200 Review – Alternative (Haru, @OtakuSpaceBlog)

Haru of Otaku Space drops readers into the heart of Edens Zero‘s two-hundredth manga chapter, and expresses enthusiasm that despite having run for a nontrivial amount of time, this manga still continues to surprise in a positive way; even though Eden’s Zero has had this much development, there’s always more to show, and the manga shows no sign of easing back on the throttle. Long-running manga often fall into a trap of becoming repetitive or stale, but Haru finds that this isn’t even a concern for Edens Zero, giving the latest chapters a perfect score and expressing complete enjoyment of things every step of the way. The feeling of total satisfaction in a work comes from a longtime investment into said work yielding an outcome that is well-deserved, an appropriate payout. While I’m not familiar with Edens Zero by any stretch, this is a feeling that I completely relate to; seeing the winding, bumpy path characters take to achieve their goals and overcome their problems makes successes more rewarding, and watching the process unfold is gripping. Haru’s review of Eden Zero’s two hundredth chapter also provides for readers an example of how to format a manga review: back in April, I concluded my read-through of Harukana Receive when the ninth and ten volumes became available at the local bookstore, but I had no way of actually reviewing it in my usual style because manga pages convey multiple events, and this leaves me in a bind, since I would subsequently need to talk about the whole panel. Haru’s post, on the other hand, takes panels from the manga to convey some of the strongest moments while at the same time, allowing the writing to convey what’d worked so well. If I am to write about manga in the future, I see Haru’s formatting one approach I could take: I might’ve been in the blogging game for over a decade now, but I’m always impressed by what other bloggers do, and have no objections to learning from what different folks in the community do to convey their enjoyment of a given work.

Ranking 12 Times Dvorak’s New World Symphony was Used in Anime (moyatori, @The_Moyatorium)

Classical music is a big deal in anime, and when blogging veterans like Moya of the Moyatorium presents a discussion of how classical music can create vivid memories of a certain scene when used in anime, readers are in for an excellent show. In this post, Moya covers use of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony, which has been heard in no fewer than twelve anime. After presenting a brief history of the New World Symphony, Moya jumps right to rating how well each of the twelve anime utilise the piece in order of efficacy. Legend of the Galactic Heroes takes the top spot, utilsing the symphony at several iconic moments to convey the scope and scale of battle. Although Moya claims to be not knowledgeable in classical music, the opposite holds true: this post is a fantastic demonstration of how important music is to a work, and when anime utilise classical music in place of custom-made incidental music, there is a reason for doing so; it allows for directors to immediately create an emotional tenour viewers are immediately familiar with. This is an effective technique, and while I’ve seen use of New World Symphony’s second movement in Hibike! Euphonium, I’ve not seen any of the anime on this list (which speaks poorly about me as an anime fan). Having Moya’s list provides a broader perspective on how music can be used in different contexts to convey very different ideas. However, even to a music novice like myself, I definitely appreciate the use of classical music in different anime contexts. For instance, Schubert’s Ellens dritter Gesang (Ave Maria) was originally composed for The Lady of The Lake, a romance surrounding the legend of King Authur, and in anime with a predominantly female cast (Madoka Magica and Yuri Kuma Arashi), the song comes to signify the presence of romantic feelings, akin to what was seen in The Lady of the Lake. I’m not the first to comment on the creativity of posts like these, and I certainly won’t be the last, but creativity of this sort is precisely what makes reading the blogging community so enjoyable.

Anime Review: Violet Evergarden (TangAce, @misakalol)

TangAce finds 2018’s Violet Evergarden and all of its follow-ups to be a surprisingly refreshing anime whose sincerity and simplicity made it a masterpiece to watch, and even praises it as being the best anime produced in the past decade. With a captivating protagonist in Violet, whose journey is entracing, Kyoto Animation’s usual penchant for creating vivid worlds, and Evan Call’s musical genius, TangAce finds Violet Evergarden a series whose successes comes precisely from capturing how much emotional maturity Violet undergoes when she pushes herself to make coherent the plethora of emotions people have and convey it fully to every letter’s recipient. I share TangAce’s praises for Violet Evergarden: this series represents an incredibly meaningful and heartfelt journey about the seemingly-simple phrase “I love you”, a far cry from the original light novel, which had a larger action component. In stripping out these elements and focusing purely on the human piece, Kyoto Animation’s Violet Evergarden far exceeds expectations and creates a work that, as TangAce has indicated, is worth watching even for folks who may not readily watch coming-of-age series: I’ve successfully convinced folks in my own life to give Violet Evergarden a go and was universally met with praise. Beyond a review that succinctly captures what makes Violet Evergarden worthwhile, one aspect about TangAce’s blog is the ability to jump to a specific section using a contents bar. It is not lost on me that for longer posts, such a feature could make navigation considerably easier, and while bloggers may not often consider UX, it is a vital part of one’s longevity. For instance, folks have previously provided me with the feedback that my font was too small, and fixing that has made it easier for readers. TangAce has no such challenge; the blog layout is clean and easy to read, allowing me to focus on the post’s contents Violet Evergarden.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (TheAlmightyBacklog, @EuphoriaGremlin)

TheAlmightyBacklog submits a reflection on Ghost Trick, which was played as a part of a community initiative. In Ghost Trick, the central mechanic of creatively taking control of and manipulating objects in the environment, as well as viewing the last few moments to a given object (or being) for additional insights. Information from these interactions is used to work on solving a mystery, and although the core mechanisms are cleverly woven with the story, TheAlmightyBacklog finds that a part of the tension in the game is removed by the fact one can easily reset to a given checkpoint, which diminishes the significant of certain decisions (e.g. if an outcome proves unfavourable, one can always return to an earlier state without penalty). This becomes especially challenging when the game deprives players of this feature, which means less-than-optimal choices are amplified and force a poor outcome. Similarly, the game’s outcomes left TheAlmightyBacklog feeling unfulfilled, which was unfortunate considering how enjoyable the other aspects were. TheAlmightyBacklog’s honesty in writing about Ghost Trick is valuable; games are multi-faceted experiences, and depending on one’s preferences, a title might or might not be worth investing time and money into. Folks who prefer games with a decisive ending and tie in smaller elements throughout the game into its finale might not find Ghost Trick as satisfying in the end, but TheAlmightyBacklog also acknowledges that this is one perspective, and that other players may enjoy the game anyways, especially if one can pick up the title during a sale. Here, I remark that it is through sales that I am willing to accept a game’s limitations. For instance, I recently picked up Ghost Recon: Wildlands at nearly eighty percent off. When I tried the open beta in 2017, the game was janky in its movement system and driving controls, dissuading me from playing it. At ten dollars, I was convinced to give the game another go, and in my willingness to do so, I found a richly developed world. Similarly, TheAlmightyBacklog’s suggestion for folks to give Ghost Trick a go during a discount could potentially introduce new players to a novel experience.

BABYLON’S FALL – What went wrong? (MagiWasTaken, @MagiWasTaken)

BABYLON’S FALL was released recently: a third-person hack-and-slash title coming from a storied pedigree, the game’s reception proved underwhelming after its launch, and MagiWasTaken explores some of the reasons behind why the player count dropped to zero on at least one occasion (which puts the game as being even deader than Battlefield 2042, which is currently entangled in its own troubles at the moment). In this post, MagiWasTaken pinpoints an uninspired and overly simplistic gameplay system, which limits players in their options. When limited options converge with limited variety, players lose incentive to play when the entire game loop becomes playing in the hopes of getting better gear. On top of this, a poor microtransaction and live service system stymies solo play, which becomes frustrating for players who wish to experience things on their own. The game demands multi-player co-op, which contradicts the developer’s claims the game could be soloed, and moreover, the content updates have been remarkably poor. MagiWasTaken concludes by suggesting that increasing exploration through open-world biomes and procedurally generated quests, as well as rebalancing the game to be more solo-friendly. In MagiWasTaken’s writing about BABYLON’S FALL, I am reminded of Battlefield 2042, which suffered from a similar set of issues. The live service has only delivered one new map and three new weapons despite nearly nine months elapsing after launch. Specialists and an emphasis on cosmetics completely defeat the purpose of having classes. Maps are poorly designed and favour vehicles over infantry. However, like MagiWasTaken, I still remain hopeful that DICE can turn things around, even though history suggests that Battlefield 2042 might be left to suffer. MagiWasTaken’s final section, then, is something more gamers should take a leaf from: while games can disappoint in a big way, offering constructive criticisms and suggestions for improvement shows an individual as understanding what their own preferred experiences are.

The Book of Gothel, by Mary McMyne (Jamedi, @jamediGwent)

Jamedi’s submission marks the first literature review for this Jon’s Creator Showcase, following the story of Haelewise, who lived under her mother’s protection until she died. Haelewise subsequently heads out into the world to search for a tower called Gothel and unravel its mysteries. The intriguing premise of portraying the tale of the witch that imprisons Rapunzel in her iconic tower immediately captured my attention in this post, and Jamedi praises The Book of Gothel for both its story, as well as its faithful reproduction of details to really immerse readers into its stories. While perhaps a bit of a stretch, Jamedi’s enjoyment of the attention paid to details in The Book of Gothel is reminiscent of the reason to why I enjoy Tom Clancy novels. Seeing all of the nuts and bolts, and the characters’ actions described in precise detail, adds weight to every scene. It was interesting to learn that Jamedi had actually attempted this draft three times prior to the post that wound up being published; it can be tricky to pin down what about a work makes it worthwhile, and this is something that all bloggers face. It does lead me to wonder how different bloggers handle this particular challenge.

In Favour of Old School Open World: My Own Brand of Hot Beverage (Hundstrasse, @Hundstrasse)

Open world games are among some of the most richly-developed and immersive experiences out there. My first open world game was 2011’s Skyrim, and while overwhelming at first, I chose to build a hybrid caster-archer on my way to defeating Alduin. Along the way, I became the Thane of Whiterun, got myself a house and explored the world on horseback. There wasn’t a specific need to defeat Alduin, but being the goal-oriented person I am, I elected to finish the campaign. Here in Hundstrasse’s post on open world game, the idea of what makes open world worth playing is explored. Knights of the Old Republic and Red Dead Redemption 2 are compared: Hundstrasse found the former significantly more enjoyable because of the fact that the activity density was greater, and the impact of one’s actions were more clearly felt. This forms Hundstrasse’s metric for what makes open world fun: the game can’t be set in a space that is large for the sake of being large, and accomplishments should be more tangible. For Hundstrasse, games like No Man’s Sky and Fallout 4 proved tedious because there wasn’t any nuance or variety to what one can do in these spaces; travelling from point A to point B to achieve a repetitive task is hardly the definition of fun, and older open world games, despite their technical limitations, still manage to create a superior experience by focusing on player choice and cutting down on travel times. Trends in the industry mean that open world games tend to create cautious optimism for me; Bethesda’s Starfield is one such example, and while it promises to be massive, contemporary open world games occasionally do fall into the trap of creating excessively large worlds without a suitable content density and variety to occupy players. On the other hand, some open world titles, like The Division, spaces strike a balance between large scale spaces and high engagement. Because open world games demand a high time investment, picking the right experience becomes essential: having well-defined metrics like Hundstrasse’s helps one to ensure their time is spent on the things that one enjoys most.

Aquamarine Review (Michelle, @AGeekGirlsGuide)

Jon’s Creator Showcase always represents an opportunity for receiving surprisingly enjoyable and unexpected topics. In Michelle’s review of Aquamarine, a print-and-play game is presented. This game simply requires one to print out a map, acquire some dice, and then explore the ocean within the constraints the game provides. While seemingly simple on paper, there is considerable depth and nuance, requiring players to act with an eye on strategy. Moreover, the game supports both solo and multiplayer modes, extending its versatility. Altogether, Michelle recommends this game and indicates the game is available on Kickstarter. In Michelle’s review, besides successfully selling readers on the game’s merits, a very clever solution for increasing the printouts’ longevity is shown: the game can be played by inserting the page into a page protector, and then markings are made using dry-erase pen. Print-and-play games are making a resurgence in part owing to the fact they can be played without an electronic device, internet connection or power supply; in a world where tablets and smartphones are only going to become more ubiquitous, physical games have an appeal to them, and print-and-play games represent highly accessible (and affordable) alternatives to board games for getting people together for wings, a couple of beers and a good night all around.

Dorfromantik Review – Zen/10 Experience (Frostilyte, @Frostilyte)

Although Zen games have recently seen a rise in popularity, Frostilyte finds that they can be quite stress-inducing if they require a substantial learning curve and entail keeping on top of tasks. Dorfromantik is none of these things, being a cathartic puzzle game built in the same lineage as Carcassonne; the goal is simply to build a town by connecting similar hexagonal tiles together and maximise one’s score. However, if players so choose, they can pursue side goals instead, and players looking for a purely relaxing experience can play a creative mode, allowing one to see where things go. Frostilyte’s recommendation represents a departure from the titles I write about: longtime readers will be familiar with the fact I prefer games with guns in them. However, I wholly relate to Frostilyte’s experiences, and sometimes, it’s good to play a game that isn’t about sneaking into a base, blowing stuff up and leaving, or fending off entire armies on my own. Earlier last month, I had the pleasure of playing through Among Trees, an outdoor survival simulator with the zen aesthetic, and although getting started was quite tricky, once the game settled down, I found that the game allowed my mind to wander as I began exploring further. There definitely are merits to this genre, and from Frostilyte’s review of Dorfromantik, it does feel like a version of Sim City 4 that isn’t a game of hardcore optimisation and planning. Such a game would represent a pleasant change of pace from something like Battlefield 2042, Ghost Recon: Wildlands or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and as such, I could see myself picking up Dorfromantik when it goes on sale.

Well Folks, I Fucked Up My First Three Hopes Playthrough (Robert Ian Shepard, @adventure_rules)

In Robert Ian Shepard’s submission, a reflection on Fire Emblem: Three Hopes. However, rather than delve into recollections of the best playthroughs, Robert Ian Shepard delves into the thought process behind his worst playthrough, shares the learnings from this and then explores how these were applied to subsequent playthroughs so that he could have a more complete experience. Three points stand out: on should play the game with an eye for the decisions that appear, make an effort to complete the side missions and utilising every mechanic available to give one the best fighting chance. Robert Ian Shepard’s points apply to Fire Emblem: Three Hopes, but they can universally be applied to almost every game available, and by extension, even has applicability in reality. While I’ve never played Fire Emblem previously, I immediately relate to how making mistakes is one of the most effective teachers; once Robert Ian Shepard finished his first playthrough and landed the bad ending, he applied all of these experiences and returned to the game with every intention of seeing what could be done better. I have had similar experiences before: in 2013’s Metro: Last Light, I occasionally used lethal force to swiftly achieve my objectives, and earned a bad ending as a result. By the time of Metro: Exodus in 2019, I played the game with significantly more patience, made a more significant effort to explore and support the characters, and the end result was similar to Robert Ian Shepard’s: I earned the good ending. Most games tend to operate in this fashion, rewarding players for taking the time to think out solutions and achieve their goals in ways they might approach their own lives. In this way, games act as a superb teacher; people who slow down and methodically work out solutions tend to fare better than those who rush headlong into a problem.

Speedrunning Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine GBC – Level 1 – Canyonlands (Part 2) (NekoJonez, @NekoJonez)

The idea of speedrunning represents a realm of extreme gaming that demands commitment, precision and utmost skill. For NekoJonez’s submission to Jon’s Creative Showcase, a detailed blow-by-blow breakdown of burning through Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine‘s first level is presented. Unlike the typical any% (basically, a speedrun that prioritises ending a level over completeness), NekoJonez presents a run that entails collecting all of the treasures, and moreover, NekoJonez holds the current record of four minutes and forty-one seconds. In a post that reminds me of strategy guides that I used to read to up my game, NekoJonez recounts every detail, every decision and every aspect of the thought process that went into making this record possible, before mentioning that along the way, some things could have been done better. It is fantastic to read bloggers who reflect on their choices and indicate the room for improvement; in the context of a blog post, it may apply to a game, but the same drive for self-betterment in a game extends to reality, and bloggers who partake in reflection often produce some excellent discussions. I certainly did enjoy reading through this exceptionally vivid post. I’m no speed runner, and while I have optimised a few runs in my time to farm points for games like Halo 2 and The Division, it takes a special kind of dedication to speed run games. Such runs are always enjoyable to watch and read about, and this marks the first time I’ve featured a speed run discussion here for Jon’s Creative Showcase.

Street Cat Photography (GhastlyMirror, @GhastlyMirror)

I share GhastlyMirror’s wish for having a pet, but unlike myself, GhastlyMirror is a talented photographer who’s able to capture wonderful pictures of the cats in his neighbourhood. This submission is unique is that it’s a photo post, so there’s a lot less reading, but the age-old maxim, that a picture is worth a thousand words, certainly holds true here. GhastlyMirror’s five photographs portray five different cats, each with their own story. While reading through this submission, I couldn’t help but notice that GhastlyMirror is a newer blogger, and this is one of this times where Jon’s Creative Showcase excels: it allows us readers to find and enjoy content from creators of all experience levels. With a solid start to blogging, I hope that GhastlyMirror will come to find fulfilment and enjoyment in this hobby, both through sharing excellent content and through interacting with an open, inviting and accepting community.

You Need to Play Stray (Kate, @bloggingdragons)

The joy of video games is that they allow players to experience worlds from all sorts of perspectives, from the day-to-day life of a train operator, to exploring a remote forest with nothing more than a radio and compass. For this Jon’s Creative Showcase, Kate presents Stray, a game that takes things to the next level by allowing players to wander an immensely mesmerising world from the viewpoint of a cat. In this dystopian world, players only encounter robots and terrifying life forms, and as a cat, Stray presents gameplay opportunities that are otherwise implausible when playing as a person. This encourages players to consider options and think creatively, and in conjunction with the game’s slowly unveiling things to player through exploration, rather than forcibly introducing story and gameplay mechanics, creates for a game that captivates. While Kate notes that some elements, like the user interface and lack of customisation were strikes against the game, Stray is, overall, a fantastic title: Kate finds it to be something to be suitable for both animal lovers and folks seeking a game with exceptional world-building, and more impressively, indicates the game is worth every dollar. Through Jon’s Creator Showcase, I always enjoy reading about the plethora of games out there beyond the usual genres that I myself enjoy and write about. Besides offering insight into the minds of the bloggers who play them, written posts about games provide a much more comprehensive and detailed explanation of what makes a game worth checking out: while I have nothing but respect for YouTubers like TheRadBrad, who’ve played Stray, it can be tricky to consider things like narrative and game design when title has completely engaged the player, and video game reviewers can be a little tricky to follow if they’re showcasing gameplay footage while discussing the game. For deep-dives into games, I find that blogging remains the best option for sharing nuance and analysis, and Kate’s review of Stray is an excellent instance of why blogging about games is still effective in a world where videos are now commonplace.

Even If Tempest | Game Review (Oona Tempest, @sweetnspicy_en)

Games that give players powers equivalent to the Time Stone are intriguing, and while at first glance, such powers would be overwhelmingly powerful, game designers often find ways of cleverly utilising this ability without breaking immersion. In Oona Tempest’s review of Even If Tempest, it is made plainly clear that this game is one that invites multiple play-throughs for one to appreciate the depth of this story. After picking the game up for the Nintendo Switch, Oona Tempest indicates that this is the sort of game that one should block out a decent amount of time for and get comfortable with, as the game’s developments really drive one to continue on. While the game is dark, the themes speak to hope and courage, encouraging players to persist and continue moving forwards. Events will occur that feel overwhelmingly depressing, but these serve to remind players that life is adversity, and that picking oneself up is the best way to continue onwards. Since Even If tempest is a visual novel style game with branching storylines, Oona Tempest’s post also provides a recommended play order and a succinct overview of game mechanics for folks looking to get into things for themselves, as well as a profile of the key actors. This detailed and comprehensive review wraps up with the note that while Oona Tempest greatly enjoyed Even If Tempest, there are some elements that make it less suitable for some players, before wrapping up by reiterate some of the game’s strongest points and indicating which sort of demographic would find Even If Tempest to be up their alley. While I’m probably not in the target demographic (as my extensive library of first person and third person shooters can attest), I always appreciate a lengthy review that covers all of an author’s bases, and in the case of games, it’s always valuable to get as complete of a picture as possible before one makes a decision of whether or not something enters their libraries. Reviews like Oona Tempest’s are especially valuable in this regard, and I have a feeling that somewhere out there, a fan of otome games who’s read this review will have gained enough information from Oona Tempest’s post to determine whether or not Even If Tempest will be entering their library.

Reading List | Sweet & Spicyyy — More Spicy, Sweet, Wholesome, and/or Fluffy Smut (Minty, @piecesofminty)

Minty’s submission to Jon’s Creator Showcase comes with a surprising title: this is going to be a list of spicy (am I using this euphemism correctly?) works that are also wholesome. At first glance, this is a juxtaposition of two, seemingly contradictory terms. However, as I continue to read through Minty’s list, it turns out that all of the works themselves involve romances that are more physical, but each of the works are defined by a very meaningful emotional piece to it. Of the works recommended, Isanghan Ahopsu and Dekiai Zentei, Keiyakukon. ~Iwashiro Bengoshi wa Ai ga Deka Sugiru!?~ appear to be especially strong: while it’s not fair to say that correlation implies causation, I have found that when people have more to say about a work they recommend, chances are, they had an especially good time with it. While Minty generally isn’t too big of a fan of steamier works of literature, works that possess a modicum of emotional maturity are worth reading. What Minty describes with this recommended reading list, an insightful and thoughtfully-articulated one, has parallels to reality; while relationships and romance will inevitably involve a degree of physicality, it is ultimately the emotional components of a relationship that makes it worthwhile. Books that capture both aspects are therefore those that are being the most faithful to portraying a wider variety of the aspects in a relationship, and when tastefully done, bringing the physical piece in can accentuate the strength of the feelings in a relationship. All of the titles on Minty’s list do this, and while I’m generally not a romance reader, I can probably say with confidence that these authors portray the physical side of a relationship much more effectively than Tom Clancy’s novels can. Sometimes, it’s better to leave some things to the imagination, rather than reading about everything with the same precision that Clancy describes military hardware in!

A locked room mystery. (Fred, @AuNaturelOne)

Fred is a Jon’s Creator Showcase veteran, and for this submission, we’ve got a review of The Perfect Insider, a proper mystery where the protagonist is pitted against a foe of even greater cunning. In this anime, Fred mentions the perfect storm of darkness in conjunction with philosophy, and this is impressive because it can be difficult to write about brilliantly gifted people when one doesn’t have first-hand experience of how they think. However, despite gaps in The Perfect Insider‘s writing and conclusion, Fred still finds the mystery to be the series biggest draw. It’s clear that Fred’s having a good time of watching older anime, and at the end of the day, this is exemplary of what it means to be an anime fan. All too often, people forget about the having fun and simply watching shows for kicks: while Fred may not have found every aspect of The Perfect Insider to be perfect, the anime succeeds in its intended role. I was especially intrigued by Fred’s remark about how difficult it is to write about characters with abilities exceeding the norm: having read about intelligence and the like, one thing that uncommonly gifted people share is that they intuitively reach solutions in ways that are illogical to ordinary people. However, intelligence at this end of the spectrum is unfortunate because it can be wasted, and so, one element that I’ve always been taught to value is to find a way of conveying complex ideas in a way that is easily understood. I would be curious to see if The Perfect Insider does this: a part of enjoying the actions that super-intelligent characters take is having them walk us through the process and feel the pieces fall into play, and I personally hold that, it’s perfectly okay if authors can’t get into the heads of such characters, so long as the process feels consistent with the sort of personality a character possesses. Fred’s sold me on The Perfect Insider‘s intrigue, but like all of the wonderful recommendations for this Jon’s Creator Showcase, I find myself wondering if I’ll have time to add this to my constantly expanding watchlist.

Three Episode Rule – Lycoris Recoil – Episode 3: More haste, less speed (Jusuchin, @RightWingOtaku)

This Jon’s Creator Showcase has three separate submissions on Lycoris Recoil from three separate writers, two of which deal with Lycoris Recoil‘s third episode. Jusuchin’s review of the third episode reinforces something that Crow and Flare Knight have already conveyed: that Lycoris Recoil is an excellent series. Jusuchin is a blogger I respect for having an eye for military detail that even I miss. In this review, he speaks to an organisation called the DA, which has exceptional gear and training, but whose operatives lack creativity and adaptivity in their tactics. In addition, Jusuchin also shares his thoughts on the complexity of organisations like these, and how dynamics create scapegoats that can be hard on those who are made to take the fall. In spite of this, Lycoris Recoil actively takes the effort to humanise its characters, both through the cafe the operators hang out at, and through moments the characters share together. With three submissions on Lycoris Recoil now, it seems that I hardly have any excuse for skipping this anime, and it appears that, as soon as things settle down and the finale airs, I’ll join the party for myself and see what this series does well. While this means that I won’t be hearing people talk about things as episodes air, nor will I be able to join in on the speculation parties surrounding seasonal anime, in the past, I have found that watching acclaimed anime at my own pace helps me to relax: series such as Lycoris Recoil have, in the past, seen particularly fierce discussions, and by my admission, I’m getting a little old to be arguing with people on whether or not a secondary school-aged character’s actions are professional or realistic. Jusuchin’s posts offer a superior discussion to what’s on social media and forums, possessing a detail that helps me to gain a better measure of this show, and so, in conjunction with the positive impressions that Crow and Flare Knight have presented, it looks like I’ll pick this one up as early as the gap between the summer and autumn anime seasons.

Streaming from the Nintendo 64 (Tipa, @tipadaknife)

In this step-by-step guide, Tipa walks readers through how to get the venerable Nintendo 64 set up for streaming, and more impressively, how it can all be done for under 50 USD: armed with the TENSUN HDMI video converter and a video capture card, it’s possible to grab the video from the Nintento 64 and get it into a format the OBS Studio can interpret. After some experimentation, Tipa has managed to get a working setup that can stream old classics from the Ninento 64. This post demonstrates how a little creativity can get people a long way: there is a dedicated solution for streaming from the Nintendo 64 at unparalleled resolution, but the tradeoff is that this costs six times as much. As a software developer, I’ve always been intrigued by inexpensive solutions that can get the job done for a lower cost than alternatives, and when things work out, there’s always a sense of relief. While Tipa expresses interest in buying a RetroTINK-5X Pro, the more expensive solution, I hope that at the very least, the solution discussed here provides a workable solution in the meantime.

9 Monkeys of Shaolin Indie Game Playthrough (Jordan GGG, @GameGushGamer)

The prevalence of indie games speaks to how powerful and versatile developer tools are, and whereas triple-A titles from big-name developers are often beholden to formulaic approaches, indie titles allow smaller shops to be creative. In this submission, Jordan writes about 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, a short but enjoyable title that sees players hone their arts in Shaolin as they fight through intense and well-designed levels, all the while ranking up their skill tree and unlocking powerful new abilities to employ in combat. One downside about 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is that the achievements appear to be buggy, and Jordan speaks of the frustration in putting in the effort to earn something, only for faulty code to stop this in its tracks. For this post, Jordan also provides a YouTube commentary-free playthrough of the game to provide readers with an idea of what the game looks like. I am especially fond of this element: having blogged about games for as long as I have anime, I utilise screenshots heavily, and while they give a fair idea of a given title’s aesthetics and UI/UX, screenshots offer no insight into the gameplay itself. By supplying a video, readers now have a good idea of how 9 Monkeys of Shaolin handles, and it does look like a fun game that is both nuanced and simple.

Another One Bites the Dust (Roger Edwards, @ModeratePeril)

Roger Edwards’ submission to Jon’s Creator Showcase is a more sobering one: this post is about longtime members of the blogging community who decide to call it quits because of circumstances in their lives. While blogging doubtlessly becomes a large part of these individuals’ lives, one cannot blog forever, and Roger Edwards speaks of Geek to Geek, two podcasters who delivered excellent, insightful and sincere content but ended up retiring. Their absence leaves behind a void, but Roger Edwards presents an optimistic outlook of things: people will continue to create cool stuff irrespective of the medium, and while Roger Edwards expresses sadness at the closing of these podcasters, over time, people will come to fill the vacuum. Roger Edwards’ post got me thinking: I’ve long wondered what the inevitable closure of my blog would look like, and while I’m confident that there will be no shortage of excellent writers (as this Jon’s Creator Showcase already shows) to take my place, I find it difficult to decide when to close things off, and how to most elegantly do so.

Search Engines Other Than Google (Tagn, @wilhelm2451)

After being delisted from Bing for potentially not meeting their standards, Tagn began exploring the other search engines out there, and writes of several notable search engines that might represent alternatives to Google. Tagn expresses surprise at how many there are beyond the juggernaut that is Google, and how using different search engines might be able to yield different results for what one is looking for. These other search engines have proven quite useful, as Tagn states; I do use Baidu to search for Chinese music. Similarly, Yandex has an interesting reverse image search tool that I’ve utilised when Google’s reverse image search came up short. With this being said, like Tagn, my blog isn’t indexed on Bing, and in fact, a search for me doesn’t yield any results at all. My guess is that my screenshot heavy format violates their copyright terms. However, I don’t miss Bing at all: almost all of my traffic comes from Google, and I have previously stated that I’m in the blogging game for myself. If I get readers from a search engine, that’s icing on the cake.

Steam Summer Sale 2022 – What I Bought (Emily, @MLsDiary)

Emily expresses a problem that affects every Steam user, myself included: whenever the Steam Summer Sale rolls around, one always feels compelled to pick up something. For this sale, Emily’s bought Stray (a fantastic game that was part of this submissions for this Jon’s Creator Showcase!), A Plague Tale: Innocence, a survival game set that is set during the Black Death period of time, and sees two siblings survive to try and make their way in a brutal, unyielding world. The last title Emily picked up is PC Building Simulator, which provides a bit of a sandbox for getting used to a new build. Emily’s haul, while comparatively modest this year, still represents a fun set of acquisitions, and with a Steam Deck on the way, it appears that Emily’s future is going to be an enjoyable one. Steam Sales are probably one of the best opportunities during the year to pick up games, and while it represents a fine chance to broaden one’s horizons, they also create backlogs of gargantuan proportions. Over the years, I’ve found that having a backlog isn’t a bad thing: at lease one will never have a dull moment, and I myself have whiled away otherwise dull afternoons exploring new worlds in the books and games I’ve picked up during the summer on winter days where it’s too cold and snowy to be out and about.

I Shouldn’t Be Running Sword Coast Adventures, However… (Jaedia Hannah, @jaedia)

Hannah reflects on how she came to begin being a GM for Sword Coast on top of her existing, already-busy schedule, citing a Dungeons and Dragons movie trailer, plus all of the incredible lore and possibility as starting this journey, and on top of this, still has a collection of books (such as the Drizzt Do’Urden trilogy) and older PC games, Hannah’s certainly booked solid. It’s always fun to see how the community fills its time, and while Hannah cites a busy schedule as reasoning for putting the breaks on Sword Coast, in the end, the draw of trying things out outweighed this. Curiosity is a powerful agent, and at its best, can lead individuals to have fantastic experiences; as long as one manages their time well, there is absolutely no problems with adding new things to one’s schedule, and Hannah demonstrates that at the end of the day, the biggest metric is having fun: so long as one is having fun, one’s time is well spent.

Game Over – Escape Academy (Krikket, @OhaiKrikket)

Krikket’s submission is a review on Escape Academy, a short game that, despite a steeper price point and deterministic gameplay elements, remains a modestly enjoyable title. While mostly fun, Krikket recommends waiting for a complete edition to be released before picking this game up. While I’ve no familiarity with puzzle games, I am familiar with the modern-day practises of publishers and their preference to release season passes and DLC. This stands in stark contrast with the early days of gaming, where players got the complete package upon a game’s launch after spending years in development; for their patience, players are rewarded with a whole and satisfying experience, one that could keep them occupied endlessly. Games have certainly changed since then, and having been around video games for the better part of my time, my strategy is similar to Krikket: I tend to wait a year or so before deciding on picking up a title, because by then, more content will become available, and the game is likely to have seen some discounts. Gaming is a hobby that requires a modicum of patience, and those who are willing to wait may find themselves with a better deal, one which may justify an experience that may otherwise feel a little pricey.

FFXIV: Journey Through the New ARR MSQ for a Hat (Aywren, @Aywren)

Rounding out Jon’s Creator Showcase is Aywren’s exploration of Final Fantasy 14‘s updated A Realm Reborn content, which began from a desire to pick up an item called Amon’s Hat. To unlock said hat, Aywren needed to reach level fifty and complete all of the A Realm Reborn‘s story missions to unlock the Syrcus Tower. Along the way, some of the updated changes became apparent to Aywren, who enjoyed the updated visuals and mechanics that have been tuned to improve a player’s experience. After going through all of the content in two weeks (an impressive feat), Aywren finally unlocked the raids, promptly got destroyed, and found the spirit to continue. Upon reaching Syrcus Tower, Aywren was fortunate enough to find the hat almost immediately, bringing this quest to an end. I absolutely love hearing gaming stories like these, as it makes me feel as though I were right there watching the experience for myself. Although Aywren’s post makes use of many acronyms that I am unfamiliar with (MSQ is Main Story Quest, referring to campaign missions that advances the game’s core narrative), Aywren provides an explanation of what these mean, and I am reminded of a practise I am occasionally guilty of: players unfamiliar with first person shooters would not immediately know what TTK or ADS mean, for instance. Beyond this, reading through Aywren’s post was a joy: it is clear a lot of effort went into the two-week run which yielded Amon’s Hat, and I remember having similar experiences in The Division and The Division 2, where I would go hunting for exotic gear (extremely rare items with special properties that are a cut above even the high-end stuff available to players at the endgame). It is immensely satisfying to finally have something drop, allowing me to complete my gear-set or try out a new exotic weapon: while I’ve never played any of the Final Fantasy games myself, I completely relate to Aywren’s story.

Tuesday Tea: Error143 & Na Daoine Maithe (Sailor Otome, @sailor_otome)

Sailor Otome’s submission for Jon’s Creator Showcase is a weekly update on the state of things, and in this post, the stars of the show are Error143 and Na Daoine Maithe. Error143 is a visual novel with a curious premise: the player takes on the role of a hacker whose OPSEC is a little less-than-stellar, and ends up being busted. Rather than any legal recourse, however, the person on the other end begins to create the beginnings of a curious relationship. Next up is Na Daoine Maithe (The Good People), which deals with færies, and a title that Sailor Otome is especially enthusiastic about for portraying magical creatures in a way that most stories do not bother depicting. Both titles show promise and has Sailor Otome excited to see what new developments arise. Gaming update posts are similarly a rarity in the blogging community I’m most closely connected to: most of the folks I follow write extensively about anime, and as a result, seeing posts like Sailor Otome’s is a bit of a rarity, which made this submission especially fun to peruse. Tuesday Tea reminds me of LevelCap’s This Week In Gaming, which has a similar premise but takes on the video format. LevelCap is a well-known YouTuber whose content is always helpful, so when I say that Sailor Otome’s Tuesday Tea posts have the same quality and engagement factor as LevelCap’s, it’s plain that I found Sailor Otome’s submission enjoyable to read, too: I’m not knowledgeable about otome games by any stretch, but it is reassuring to know that there are always wonderful folks within the community who have experience in this arena and moreover, are willing to share their thoughts to help readers out.

Closing Remarks

  • It was a pleasure to go through each and every one of the forty-two submissions to showcase the best of blogging for the month of August. Such showcases are quite time-consuming: it took about eight hours to read through each submission and summarise it, two hours to gather all of the metrics and prepare a visual, an hour to write the opening and closing text, and one more hour to format and proof this post, for a total of twelve hours. However, this is spaced out over the course of three weeks, and the prize for hosting is having the chance to read blogs I otherwise don’t normally get to read.

I’ve been a participant in hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase for three years now, having started the party back during July 2019, and since then, have hosted four times in total. Each and every time, I’m always impressed with the quality of the submissions, and the enthusiasm that is shown in the community. For me, this means that as Jon’s Creator Showcase grows, my old format was less likely to be sustainable, and this time around, I decided to mix things up a little by running a little data analysis on the submissions to see if anything interesting might show up. All of the quantitative aspects notwithstanding, what is very clear is that we have a wonderful group of writers out there. While some folks have suggested that blogging as a whole is on the decline because of shifting formats, like YouTube videos, TikTok shorts and Reddit threads, which allow content to be shown and conversations to move at a much greater pace than blogging, such is evidently not the case. Bloggers are still thriving, capitalising on the medium’s slower pacing to share their thoughts on things in a manner that invites readers to really understand the blogger’s thoughts. This in turn cultivates a sense of community, and it is for this reason blogs have continued to endure. Going through the superb blogs in Jon’s Creator Showcase continues to remind me of this fact, and it’s been remarkably fun to host this iteration of the showcase, as well as experiment with a slightly different avenue of presenting all of the submissions in a fresh way. With this Jon’s Creator Showcase in the books, I hope that all of the participants have as much fun reading through all of the submissions as I did. As we enter September, we presently have no host for the upcoming Jon’s Creator Showcase. Folks who are interested can get in touch with Jon Spencer to host (or drop me a comment expressing interest: I’d be happy to pass things along and get everyone connected), and in the meantime, I will note that whoever chooses to host won’t have to suffer through my talk on Blue Thermal; it wouldn’t be sportsmanlike conduct for me to submit a post with eleven thousand words, especially considering the average post length submitted to Jon’s Creator Showcase hovers around a much more manageable 1440 words!

Ten Years After The Dark Knight Rises: Revisiting a Batman Masterpiece and The Last Weeks of Summer

I see a beautiful city. And a brilliant people, rising from this abyss. I see the lives, for which I lay down my life – peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

Eight years after Harvey Dent’s death, and the Batman’s vanishing, Bane kidnaps a nuclear physicist over Uzbekistan in preparations for his plans to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s work of destroying Gotham and avenging his death. Having been out of action for eight years, Bruce Wayne is unprepared for Bane’s arrival and is brutally beaten in a fistfight with Bane. Bane condemns Bruce to the same prison he was once held in, before setting in motion his plan to destroy Gotham using the fusion reactor Bruce Enterprises had been working on. Refusing to see his city die, Bruce trains relentlessly and eventually makes the jump, escaping the pit and returning to Gotham, where he forms an unlikely alliance with the cat burglar Selina Kyle, who ends up returning and killing Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. With help from Commissioner Jim Gordon, police officer Johnathan Blake and his longtime friend, Lucius Fox, Bruce manages to secure the weaponised reactor and uses the Bat to fly the core over the bay, where it detonates harmlessly. Batman is presumed dead in the aftermath, but Alfred spots Bruce and Selina while on vacation. Meanwhile, Blake resigns from the police force, receives a package from Bruce and discovers the Batcave. When The Dark Knight Rises premièred ten years earlier, it became the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight triology, which approached Batman and Bruce Wayne’s character with a then-novel position: Nolan strove to present a more realistic, human side to Batman and the duality that existed in Bruce. Although Nolan’s films are known for involving aspects of philosophy, such existential and ethical themes, into his works, he also has a talent for ensuring that his films are approachable. Here in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan uses Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities as an allegory for messages of revolution and revival. Sydney Carton’s willingness to sacrifice himself at the guillotine is paralleled in Batman’s decision to fly the bomb out over the bay; Carton’s actions give hope that Paris will be restored, much as how restoring the Batman’s legacy through sacrifice gives Gotham new hope, especially after Dent’s accomplishments was revealed to be a sham. Similarly, in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suggests that while revolution in and of itself is commendable, the violence surrounding it is deplorable; fighting fire with fire simply shows that the revolutionaries only perpetuate violence, and generally speaking, the mob’s actions are never justified. Nolan chooses to present this more directly: while Bane inspires a revolution in Gotham, the violence and spoils ultimately amount to nothing because Bane simply had planned to kill everyone anyways. Nolan thus adds to Dickens by suggesting that getting caught up in the pillaging and looting is counterproductive because the revolutionaries may use the mob to their own end, but otherwise never had any intentions of helping them.

While chock-full of references to A Tale of Two Cities, The Dark Knight Rises remains immensely accessible to viewers, even those who’ve never seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight: in previous films, Nolan’s villains are highly intelligent and calculating, preferring to match wits with Batman using wits rather than physical force. Ra’s al Ghul plays on patience to advance his plan, while the Joker’s chaos and machinations mean that conventional means have no impact on him. In this way, Batman had previously counted on being a superior martial artist and support from his allies to get him close enough to his foes in order to outsmart them and play on their weaknesses (e.g. Ra’s al Ghul’s incorrect belief in Batman’s compassion, and the Joker’s belief that people are monsters by default when the chips are down) to triumph. Bane represented a new kind of villian, being both clever and apt; while the most traditional of the villains seen in the Dark Knight trilogy, Bane’s plans and actions mean that he is remarkably easy to follow, and this in turn makes The Dark Knight Rises very straightforward: it’s a film that speaks to two central messages. The first of these messages is the idea that “evil rises where [one] buried it”. During a terse conversation between Jim and Batman following Jim’s hospitalisation after falling into the sewers and encountering Bane, Jim’s remarks reveal his guilt at having allowed himself to live with the lie that Harvey Dent had stayed uncorrupted to the end; this lie had allowed Gotham to nearly completely eliminate organised crime, but the lie also came with a price. However, things had been so dark in The Dark Knight that Jim was forced to take this route, a band-aid solution, and so, when Bane appears, he finds the perfect weapon to use against Gotham. There are numerous parallels with reality in that band-aid solutions never last long-term, and in some cases, may even cause more trouble than they solve. For instance, if an app is written such that a text label displays error codes that cuts off, a band-aid solution would be to truncate the string if it exceeds a certain length. However, this doesn’t address the underlying problem: the server might be returning bad data and could potentially suffer from an exception if this isn’t dealt with server-side. The Dark Knight Rises thus indicates that the consequences of trying to bury a problem won’t cut it: the truth always gets out, and the consequences can be devastating.

While evil can fester where it is buried, evil does not exist in a vacuum, and in The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce finds the strength within himself to revive what he’d once lost. Speaking to themes of duality in A Tale of Two Cities, if evil can rise, so too can good. Trapped at the bottom of the pit, the other prisoners help Bruce to recall his old strength, and while Bruce believes that his body makes the jump, the elderly prisoner is right in that the mind drives the body. Bruce had largely acted without fear before, feeling that his aim was to overcome his fears by embracing it, but in time, he’d grown accustomed to embodying fear without understanding what it felt like. This is what Bane refers to when he remarks that “victory has defeated [Batman]”. Nolan had previously shown Bruce as striving to compartmentalise his fear and overcome it. However, operating in the absence of fear can be an impediment, as well. This is akin to stress management: in the absence of stress, one becomes complacent and lazy. Too much stress can immobilise an individual and render it impossible to act. In the middle, stress drives one to work harder and push past their doubts. Similarly, in the absence of fear, Batman fights with the expectation that his foes will fall, and so, when faced with an opponent like Bane, who is familiar with the League of Shadows’ methods, the same tricks fail, and Batman is defeated. When Bruce learns to rediscover fear again, he fights with a greater intensity, of knowing what the stakes are should he lose again. In this way, Batman and Bruce Wayne are both reborn after being thrown into the pit. Rediscovering fear acts as a form of resurrection, and the only way this was possible was because Batman and Bruce Wayne fell. Through The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan also suggests that one can improve, and be their best self, after being knocked down. This message had been alluded to in Batman Begins, but here in The Dark Knight Rises, it is explored fully. Between its accessible themes, deeper allegories and philosophical pieces, excellent choreography and a compelling soundtrack, The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Even though The Dark Knight Rises was my first Batman movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it acted as a fitting way of kicking off my post-MCAT summer a decade earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The Dark Knight Rises opens with what has become the trilogy’s most-parodied moment: an unknown CIA agent takes custody of the masked man known as Bane, but in parodies, is ridiculed for his efforts to maintain control and keep cool. In the theatre, I had no idea of what to expect, but this scene was meant to establish that Bane is a sufficiently cunning foe that he can plan things out and maintain control of a situation flawlessly, as well as the fact that his henchmen are willing to sacrifice themselves for Bane’s cause.

  • Beyond establishing Bane’s character, the opening sequence also has Bane seize a Russian nuclear physicist, Leonid Pavel, foreshadowing Bane’s plans for the film. The use of nuclear weapons in film is an age-old plot device: their terrifying firepower and immense destructive potential have meant that fiction gravitates towards them because they immediately convey what’s at stake. In mere moments, Bane’s men takes control of the plane, kills off most of the soldiers on board and gives Bane the space he needs to secure Pavel.

  • For his role as Bane, Tom Hardy put on some 30 pounds of muscle, but what makes Hardy’s performance especially brilliant is the fact that as Bane, he’s wearing a special mask throughout the entire movie. Despite only acting with his body language, eyes and eyebrows, Hardy manages to convey emotion and intensity anyways. Unlike the Bane of the comics, this mask supplies Bane with a painkiller gas, and all of Bane’s physical feats in the film are otherwise under his own power, making him a plausible match for Batman, who, in Nolan’s trilogy, is similarly a highly experienced martial artist with prototype gear meant for the armed forces.

  • Without any of the over-the-top elements, such as Batman’s peak human conditioning, or Bane’s Venom (a sort of strength-enhancing substance), the Dark Knight trilogy is firmly grounded in reality, and Nolan uses this to explore the human side of each character that the previous films had not emphasised. Further to this, Nolan also chooses to shoot the Dark Knight trilogy in real world locations, rather than using a highly-stylised portrayal of Gotham: in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Chicago and Manhattan stand in, giving Gotham a much cleaner feeling compared to the rainy, grimy and gritty feel of the comic Gotham. 2022’s The Batman and Batman Begins are both more faithful to the originals in this regard.

  • After a congressman goes missing after Harvey Dent Day, Commissioner Jim Gordon heads off to search for him, while Bruce Wayne deals with the fact that they’d been robbed, and that his mother’s pearls have gone missing. The congressman is found, and Jim chases some of the culprits into the sewers, where he is knocked out and captured by some uncommonly well-equipped thugs. It is here that Jim runs into Bane for the first time, and viewers gain a modicum of insight into how extensive Bane’s plans must be.

  • While the internet’s parodies of the CIA plane scene abound, the YouTube channel and musical group, Auralnauts, took things one step further, using their incredibly sophisticated skill in sound engineering and video editing to create hilarious videos parodying virtually everything Bane does. In their Bane Outtakes video, they portray Bane as a heavy-savvy terrorist who’s more concerned with people’s dietary preferences and eating well, rather than blowing Gotham City to kingdom come. Seeing these parodies helped me to lighten up considerably.

  • It turns out that the fingerprints the cat burglar had lifted are used to help Bane and his men carry out a hit on the stock exchange, where they use Bruce’s fingerprints to purchase future options illegally, effectively rendering Bruce penniless. This segment of the film really got me into The Dark Knight Rises: besides the suspense conveyed throughout the entire sequence, watching Bane burst out of the stock exchange after commenting that the stock exchange is where people go to steal money from others proved to be an excellent juxtaposition that again emphasises how Bane has the brains to go with the brawn.

  • The resulting chase sequence marks Bruce’s first appearance as Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, and while he’s been out of action for eight years, Batman still operates the Batpod expertly, using an EMP gun to stop one of Bane’s mercenaries before continuing on the chase. The entire way this vehicle pursuit was done is brilliant: use of the lighting from the sirens and city lights and Hans Zimmer’s crescendoing soundtrack acts to convey the intensity of things. However, this scene also acts as a stunning visual metaphor: in the dark, Batman’s weaknesses are concealed, and he’s able to take down the mercenaries and retrieve their tablet only because of a technological advantage.

  • Nolan is well known for how he uses symbolism in his films, but despite covering topics that can be highly complex and thought-provoking, Nolan does so in an approachable manner, presenting challenging questions and moral dilemmas in a way that people can readily understand. This is something I especially respect: as a university student, my supervisor constantly reiterated the importance of being able to communicate scientific concepts well, and in fact, his lab’s aims were to showcase swarm behaviours in a way that was visual.

  • My undergraduate thesis project was the task of taking the model of physical flow I’d built a year earlier and then scaling it up so that a mathematical model could be used to influence behaviours back at the agent level. In retrospect, I didn’t accomplish much with this project, since the mathematical model was doing almost all of the heavy lifting and simply fed parameters back into the agent-based model. At the undergraduate level, however, this project was deemed to be of a satisfactory difficulty, and I therefore spent the next six months building and tuning my model.

  • The thesis project was actually more about the research process, development of the project and presentation of the results, rather than the work itself, and looking back, this proved to be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman asks to be taken to Bane for a confrontation. Having not trained for the past eight years, Batman’s lack of physicality is apparent. Upon encountering Bane for the first time, Batman launches into a frenzied attack, but his blows deal no appreciable damage. Bane then effortlessly kicks Batman over the railing.

  • It was actually quite terrifying to see Batman getting beat so easily: although I’d not seen the previous movies, the reputation surrounding Batman is legendary. I would later watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, when Batman was at his prime. His technique here lacks the same strength and precision, speaking to how out of shape he is. While perhaps at his peak, Batman may have traded with Bane, here, he is outmatched. For the viewer’s benefit, Bane even voices as such; nothing in Batman’s arsenal, whether it be his smoke grenades or martial arts, is doing anything of note.

  • The fight ends when Bane reveals a part of his plan, which entails stealing Bruce Enterprises’ hidden armoury, before he breaks Batman’s back on his knee in an iconic moment inspired from the comics. In the aftermath, Bane has Bruce delivered to a remote prison in an ancient part of the world, and Selina disappears, hoping to get out of country before Bane carries out his plans. However, the new cop, John Blake, happens to catch her after visiting Bruce Manor and finding no-one there: Alfred has already left at this point, and Bruce is nowhere to be found. The worst that Alfred had feared has come to pass; Alfred (Michael Caine) has a much smaller role in this movie, but his moments on screen are especially poignant.

  • Although Blake is seen as a liability because he’s meticulous and dedicated, Jim quickly promotes him to a detective and has him look into the unusual comings and goings around Gotham. With a sharp mind, Blake quickly works out that the construction companies around town have been pouring concrete laced with explosives, and moreover, since the disappearance of the entire Wayne Enterprises board, Gotham’s police force have decided to go underground in an attempt to flush out the mercenaries under the guise of a training exercise.

  • Unfortunately for Blake and Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley, Blake’s discovery comes way too late: during a football game, Bane sets off the explosive charges that trap the entire police force underground and isolates Gotham from the rest of the world. Without any cops, or National Guard to intervene, Bane’s plan is now able to go ahead unimpeded, and Bane himself reveals himself from the darkness. Much of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight take place at night, where darkness conceals things and make things look more intimidating than they are.

  • Still recovering from his sojourn in Gotham’s sewers, Jim continues to recover and can only watch as Bane takes control of the situation. Throughout The Dark Knight Rises, Jim is presented as being at war during peacetime, and his fellow police officers comment on how, since the events of The Dark Knight, Jim’s wife and children have left him. As a sort of coping measure, Jim immersed himself in his work and puts in strenuous hours even as other cops take it easy in the knowledge that Gotham’s organised crime engine is all but dismantled. When Bane reveals himself, his mercenaries head to the hospital to take out Jim, but Jim hasn’t lost his edge.

  • Bane and some of his mercenaries take to the football pitch and announce their plan to put the detonator of a now-primed nuclear device in the hand of, in Bane’s words, an “ordinary citizen”. He kills Pavel in full sight after the latter had converted Bruce’s fusion reactor into a neutron bomb with a ten kilometre blast radius. Although Nolan commits to realism, there are some oversights here in The Dark Knight Rises: fusion reactors are safe by definition because a fusion reaction requires very specific conditions in order to proceed, and if these conditions are removed, the reaction would fizzle out and stop. However, a fusion reaction does yield a large neutron burst, and when the right casing is picked, free neutrons from the reaction escape. Such a device should have a very low blast yield, below ten kilotons: Dr. Pavel suggests it is a four megaton device, but a blast of this size would have a fireball exceeding the irradiated area. While the weapon itself doesn’t work in concept, it prompts the existing story to a satisfactory extent.

  • Coming out into the open by day thus reminds viewers that Bane is unlike any foe that Batman has previously faced. Bane’s speeches and promises felt outlandish and ludicrous back in 2012, but it is ironic that some of the colour revolutions out there have people flocking to the cause and its leaders in the same way that Bane’s accrued a group of fanatical followers. The irony lies in the fact that Bane cares very little for those who support his cause: the very fact is that Bane doesn’t actually just hand the detonator to anyone. As Bruce quickly figures out, Bane’s likely got the detonator, and that his speech was purely metaphoric. Here, Bane announces the truth behind Harvey Dent and frees Blackgate’s prisoners, creating total chaos on Gotham as the underprivileged classes begin looting, and wealthier members of society are hunted down, beaten and killed.

  • Seeing the chaos unfold gives Bruce the motivation he needs to try and escape the pit. In his spare time, he trains to overcome his injuries and old limitations: Bane had knocked a vertebra from his spine, but one of the prison doctors replaces it, and over time, with his old discipline and will, Bruce recovers quickly. If memory serves, a half year passes, giving Bruce time to rebuild his strength. While he becomes physically strong enough to make the attempt, initially, he fails. One of the prisoners states that in order to succeed, Bruce must not mask his fear, but use it as a source of motivation.

  • I’d long seen fear as something to be overcome, set aside and compartmentalised. However, Nolan boldly shows, in The Dark Knight Rises, that fear is a powerful motivator. In order to save Gotham, Bruce must make the jump, and failing would permanently stop him from doing so. The realisation that failure is final is what gives Bruce the psychological boost he needs, to push himself further and harder than ever before. In the years after, I came to see this for myself: under the threat of failure and defeat, I found myself producing work of a standard higher than I could before.

  • The prisoners chant deshi basara, which composer Hans Zimmer has indicated to mean “rise up”. Folks fluent in Arabic state that it’s actually as تيجي بسرعة (Tījī basara’ah), which translates literally as “come quickly”. The scene with Bruce’s final jump, without the rope, was the most inspiring of the moment in the whole of The Dark Knight Rises, and when he succeeds, the music crescendos to a triumphant flourish as the prisoners cheer wildly, having witness what would’ve been a miracle. This is the turning point for Bruce Wayne: he’s found his will again, and as Ra’s al Ghul had stated, the will is everything.

  • As a gesture of compassion, Bruce throws a heavy rope into the pit, inviting the prisoners to free themselves, before making his way back to Gotham. Looking around the production notes, this particular part of the film was filmed in Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. However, the interior of the prison itself was constructed on a sound stage. With Bruce’s resolve back in full now, and the occupation of Gotham under way, the stage is set for the inevitable rematch between Batman and Bane.

  • In the six months or so that have passed, Gotham’s residents have kept their heads down while Bane’s mercenaries and Blackgate’s thugs roam the streets unchallenged. Although ordinary folks live in constant fear, and the presence of the neutron bomb prevents the remainder of America from intervening, common citizens appear to have gotten off easy, while society’s top echelon, the so-called one percent, have been harshly punished. Cillian Murphy makes a cameo here, reprising his role as Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), and here, he acts as the judge to a kangaroo court, clearing enjoying sending out the wealthy to their deaths.

  • While Bane and his mercenaries have more or less taken complete control of Gotham, they’ve not explored every nook and cranny. This is to Bruce and Fox’s advantage: after arriving home, the pair locate the old underground saferoom where Bruce had kept spares of his Batsuit, along with other equipment that he’d previously used. When Bruce Manor had burned down in Batman Begins, while it was undergoing reconstruction, Bruce built a second saferoom to store his gear. By the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce shuts the room down.

  • The Batsuit in the Dark Knight trilogy is one of my favourite portrayals of the Batsuit in general: Fox had previously outfitted Bruce with a heavily customised Nomex suit which provided protection from blunt tools and lighter bullets but restricted his mobility. By The Dark Knight, Bruce approaches Fox with a new design, consisting of hardened kevlar plates on a titanium-dipped fiber. This suit provided a significant improvement to mobility at a cost to defense, and could not withstand gunshots from even pistol calibres at close range. In Batman v. Superman, the Batsuit Ben Affleck’s Batman wears is heavily armoured, to the point where it could even repel a pistol to the cowl at contact distance. The vulnerabilities in Nolan’s Batsuit is another sign of this trilogy’s commitment to realism, and that as Batman, Bruce Wayne must find other ways to win.

  • Since Batman had left the Bat high on the rooftops of Gotham, Bane’s mercenaries never found it, and this vehicle, a curiosity at the film’s beginning, becomes instrumental in saving Gotham. There is a sense of reassurance in knowing the Bat had been allowed to stay here all this time – as far reaching as Bane’s impact is, even he has his limitations, and subtle cues reinforce this. Here, Lower Manhattan’s financial district can be seen: the shot is north-facing, and the One World Trade Center is seen under construction.

  • Bane personally kills a special forces leader sent in to Gotham to help, and out of options, Blake decides to try and help out. Bane’s mercenaries promptly stop him. Meanwhile, Jim’s also been captured, and after a brief show trial, Crane decides to exile him. However, on the cold river ice, the Batman makes a return; after the guards are taken out, he invites Jim to light a flare that ignites a fire on the bridge tower, making the shape of the Bat-logo.

  • Bane is shocked to see this, and in this moment, the assured calm he’s held begins vanishing. Knowing the Batman will likely go for Miranda Tate, he orders his men to keep her close. Bruce had fallen for Miranda earlier on, and in the novelisation, meeting her marks the first time he’d not thought about Rachel Dawes in eight years. A major part of Bruce’s depression here in The Dark Knight Rises comes from his guilt at failing to save her and the belief that she was the person he wanted to be with in the future. The letter she’d written for Bruce would’ve been to signify that she no longer would wait for him, and this would’ve presumably led Bruce to continue being the Batman. Alfred burns the letter to spare Bruce of the pain.

  • I’m very familiar with what Bruce had been feeling: after the friend I’d wished to ask out began seeing another fellow, I felt a combination of disappointment, dejection and anger – this individual had supported me throughout my MCAT and my undergraduate thesis project, and I became convinced I might’ve had a shot. However, I channeled this frustration into a different direction, and also forced myself to re-evaluate my own values, which impacted how I approach things today. I’ve heard faint rumours that said individual, who became an expatriate in Japan, isn’t doing so well at present. Although this friend and I no longer communicate on a regular basis, if we were to chat again, I’d do my best to help her talk through things.

  • I note here that while this friend has a sizeable social media presence, support from strangers on Twitter or Twitch end up being empty words – there is no substitute for a heart-to-heart conversation from family or friends. While I wish I could do more, I’ve moved on, and it feels unwise for me to re-enter her life unexpectedly. Back in The Dark Knight Rises, after saving Jim, Batman also ends up beating down the mercenaries about to shoot Bane. Once the last of the mercenaries are cleaned up, Batman offers a suggestion to Blake – this moment was especially touching, since Batman had not, until now, ever considered the idea of someone else taking on his role. During The Dark Knight, Batman had adamantly rejected any help, but now, he imparts advice for Blake, to operate in a way to protect those around him.

  • Once the cops are freed, Batman passes a special EMP jammer to Jim, who’s tasked with putting it on the truck carrying the nuclear bomb. While Jim and a small group of allies work to locate the truck, the other cops will march on Bane’s base of operations, and they will be joined by Batman. Foley had been trying to keep his head down throughout the crisis, but spurred on my Jim’s words, and the Batman’s return, he ends up donning his dress blues and leads the cops downtown to assault Bane’s headquarters.

  • Every person seen in this scene is an extra, and in a behind-the-scenes commentary, Nolan describes how this scene was controlled chaos. Off-camera, all of the extras playing both the cops and Bane’s mercenaries are shown as sharing friendly banter – I always love the special features that accompany a movie, as it serves to show how much effort went into making things.

  • Although she’d been reluctant to help, after Bruce returns to Gotham, she agrees to take the Batpod and clear a path. Despite being relatively new to the highly-customised motorcycle, Selina wields it well, and quickly blasts a hole in the barrier. However, something compels her to go back into the heart of the fight, showing that Bruce was right about her. I’ll admit that as Selina Kyle, Anne Hathaway appears to have a natural affinity for the Batpod in a way that even the Batman didn’t: it does feel as though this vehicle was designed for her style.

  • When Batman appears for his second showdown with Bane, it marks the first time viewers see Batman in broad daylight. By no longer hiding in the shadows and operating by night, Nolan emphasises the idea that Batman and Bruce Wayne are reborn to the extent where he is no longer bound by his old limitations. In this fight, Batman fights Bane in a much more measured fashion, striking at the mask and using blocks rather than attempting to absorb Bane’s blows, before creating openings and landing hits of his own.

  • Although Bane starts the fight confident and calm, as Batman deals more damage to his mask, the painkillers no longer are delivered to Bane, and pain begins creeping in. Bane abandons his more refined fighting style for something more animalistic. Eventually, Batman is able to overcome Bane and kicks him into the hall of a building, demanding that Bane reveal the location of the trigger in one of The Dark Knight Rises‘ most hilarious moments. While this aspect of Batman is virtually unheard of, it’s probably Nolan’s way of reminding viewers that here, Bruce isn’t the old Batman, and he’s basically fighting Bane as himself, albeit kitted out in a specialised suit of armour.

  • While the fighting is going down, Blake gathers the children from the orphanage and asks them to help spread the word to evacuate in the event that the Batman cannot succeed in stopping the bomb. The Dark Knight Rises‘ climax is gripping, and I found myself rivetted to the screen on the day that I’d watched this film, precisely a decade earlier. At this point in time, my summer had really begun: I’d finished the MCAT for two days, and after taking the previous day easy by sleeping in (I don’t actually recall what else I did that day), the next day, I went to the theatre to watch The Dark Knight Rises and stopped by the bookstore to pick up some new books.

  • I had about twenty days of summer left to me after the MCAT ended, and I resolved to make the most of this time. I ended up using most of that time to spearhead an effort to get a paper published to the provincial undergraduate journal, and in my spare time, I began conceptualising what my undergraduate thesis project looked like. This allowed me to occupy the remainder of my summer in a productive manner: I subsequently lost the inclination to game, as I’d lost all of my cosmetics in MicroVolts and began attributing the game with my pre-MCAT jitters.

  • Besides getting the journal publication done and rapidly catching up with my peers on laying down the groundwork for my undergraduate thesis project, I had enough time left over to build the MG 00 Gundam Seven Swords/G, and also spent a weekend with the family out in Cranbrook a province over. After visiting the Frank Slide in the Crowsnest Pass, the first day ended in Cranbrook, where we enjoyed a steak dinner. The second day saw us drive up the Banff–Windermere Highway, stopping in Invermere for lunch before passing through Radium for home.

  • Thus, even though I “only” had twenty days of summer vacation left to me, I entered my undergraduate thesis year fully rejuvenated and refreshed. This year proved to be my strongest: after the MCAT, I developed a much more relaxed attitude about challenges, and this newfound confidence allowed me to approach exams with a sense of purpose rather than worry. It is striking as to how much time has passed since then, and in that time, The Dark Knight Rises has aged very gracefully. I ended up making a habit of watching the film every New Year’s Eve, with a glass of champagne in hand, ever since rewatching the film during the New Year’s Eve leading to 2013.

  • Although Batman defeats Bane, Miranda Tate betrays him and reveals herself as Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s. Shocked, Batman is unable to respond, but he is saved at the last second when Selina appears and blasts Bane with the Batpod’s cannons. The pair subsequently work together in an attempt to stop Talia, with Batman taking to the skies in the Bat. Meanwhile, Blake’s now reached the bridge, and he implores the guards there to open the bridge and let them across, since the nuclear device is about to go off. This moment proved to showcase some of the finest acting in a film chock-full of excellent acting.

  • The cop is so utterly gripped with fear that this is tangible in his voice and body language. In a moment of panic, he orders the bridge blown, stranding Blake and the convoy behind him. Although Gotham’s citizens and Bruce’s allies have maintained a dignified composure about them, the fear that this cop conveys must’ve reflected on the sort of fear and concern Gotham’s citizens must’ve surely felt. With this bridge down, everything now falls on Batman and Selina’s efforts to secure and stop the reactor; the original plan had been to force Talia’s convoy back to the reactor coupling in an attempt to stablise it.

  • The scene of the cop setting off the charges and blowing the bridge shows that this was filmed at the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge facing north on the East River: Roosevelt Island can be seen below. However, the location has been digitally modified: Randall’s Island cannot be seen, and Astoria appears to be cut off, although the Ravenswood Generating Station and its distinct chimneys can still be seen. The Dark Knight Rises presents Manhattan as Gotham, and it did feel curious that The Avengers, which I’d watched with friends a few months earlier, was also set in New York. The dramatically different stakes and contexts illustrate the gaps between the MCU and Dark Knight trilogy, and I remember being about as lost in The Avengers as I was in The Dark Knight Rises.

  • That is to say, I wasn’t terribly lost with either films despite having only a minimal background in both; while there’s some prerequisite information one must be familiar with in order to appreciate all of the events and references, I found both movies were well-written enough so that even someone coming in new could enjoy things. In both cases, I would be compelled to watch all of the previous movies in full. For the Dark Knight trilogy, I ended up doing this in December 2012, after I’d finished all of my finals, while for the MCU, I ended up doing a full-scale watch-through after Thor: Ragnarok came out.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that this year’s summer is rapidly dwindling: this week, I began noticing that I now need my alarm clock to wake up again, since the sun no longer illuminates my room before 0600. Having now settled in, I’ve capitalised on the time I’ve got to make use of some of my vacation days, and earlier this week, I decided to take my parents out to Cochrane, a tranquil small town located half an hour northwest of the city. Here, we explored the Cochrane Ranche park under gorgeous skies. I’ve not been back since 2017, when the Kantai Collection movie became available, and because it’d been a Monday, we more or less had the entire park to ourselves.

  • Because I’d already gone out for fried chicken pancakes, and then a Swiss Mushroom grill burger with poutine over the weekend, and because my parents were longing for a full breakfast, we ended up swinging by the A&W on the quieter west side of town. I ended up enjoying an Bacon Cheddar Uncle Burger, a heartier burger that was delicious as always. The afternoon was spent visiting Glenbow Ranch, a stunning provincial park of rolling hills and grasslands overlooking the Bow River. From this park, an eagle-eyed visitor can even spot the city center: with more or less perfect weather, we walked along the pathway until reaching Vista Pointe, whereupon we turned back. This wound up being the perfect day to wrap up my own long weekend, and I returned to work refreshed.

  • Looking back at the summer thus far, I’ve begun making some progress on some of the things I had wished to do post-move, especially with regard to getting to know the community better. Besides swinging by the bookstore on quiet weekends and enjoying sushi from the place across the way, I’ve also gotten to know a handful of the people in the area better, too. This has made lifting weights in the mornings more spirited. I’ve also capitalised on the hot summer weather to try working out of the local Starbucks with a Mango-Dragonfruit beverage: it represents a livelier environment than the quiet of my home office, and it hits me that this wouldn’t be a bad way to work if I’ve got days where my assignments are less intense. I ended up helping another patron with connecting to the free Starbucks WiFi.

  • In making use of the Bat, the final effort to stop Talia’s convoy sees Batman use the Bat’s full arsenal to try and stop the extremely heavily-armoured truck. The upgraded Tumblers give the Bat some trouble, but fortunately, Selina’s on station to blow them away, and in the end, Batman manages to destroy a Tumbler by flying some of its own guided missiles back to the sender. With the Tumblers gone, Batman trains the Bat’s rockets on the truck, and while the truck is able to resist these lower-caliber rockets, the resulting explosions create enough of a visual obstruction such that Talia crashes into the underground freeway.

  • Talia dies shortly after, and Batman decides that, with time running out (as well as the fact that Talia activated the reactor’s emergency flood protocol), there’s only one way to get rid of a bomb. He hooks the reactor to the Bat and flies off with it, but not before revealing to Jim indirectly that he’s Bruce Wayne. The revelation is a shocker, but it also gives Jim a sense of closure regarding what had happened years earlier, and everything that had transpired since. In a way, becoming the Batman and helping Jim fight the mob became Bruce’s way of expressing thanks.

  • The scene of Batman flying the reactor core out over the bay reminds me of a much more comical and light-hearted moment in Adam West’s 1966 Batman, during which Batman has a similar struggle of disposing of an active bomb and removing it from a populated area. However, with Nolan’s interpretation, things become considerably more grim and heroic: the weight of the reactor alters the Bat’s handling characteristics, forcing Batman to use the remaining missiles to blast a hole in the buildings in front of him to gain more breathing space.

  • Before taking off, Batman explains that the Bat has no auto-pilot, which led to a bit of ambiguity in this scene surrounding whether or not Batman makes it out okay. I’ve heard that some eagle-eyed viewers would’ve noticed that shadows flicker around the Batman moments before the bomb explodes, but flying over an open ocean, there shouldn’t be any shadows (presumably cast by the buildings). On this reasoning, some viewers felt that The Dark Knight Rises did an excellent job of hinting at Bruce’s survival, and moreover, one shouldn’t need an auto-pilot to fly in a straight line.

  • With the nuclear device dealt with, and the cops gaining the upper hand over the remainder of Bane’s forces, The Dark Knight Rises draws to a close – I found the film’s message about violent revolution to be a well-written one, and in it, Nolan conveys the idea that the methods Bane utilises are deplorable and untenable. At the same time, The Dark Knight Rises also indicates that modern society is one that teeters on the brink of revolution, a consequence of widening inequality.

  • Although there isn’t a Batman equivalent in the real world, Nolan reiterates that anyone can be a hero – the reason why society hasn’t folded outright despite increasing inequality and unrest is because, at least for now, the number of people committed to doing good still exceeds the number of people who desire disorder. Here, I define “doing good” to be actions with tangible consequences: donating to the local food bank and giving blood qualifies as doing good, whereas retweeting activists or trying to get a political hashtag to trend on social media does not make the cut by a longshot.

  • While Bane’s mercenaries were originally so devoted they would be willing to die for him, after Bane’s death, the remainder of the mercenaries are shown as surrendering rather than fighting to the death. This could be seen as a sign that in the absence of a charismatic leader, people would not view their cause as being so important as to lay down their life for it. Seeing this in The Dark Knight Rises creates a sense of catharsis – viewers know that with the nuclear device no longer a threat, and Bane dead, Gotham now has a fresh start. The truth about Harvey Dent is out, but so is the reality that Batman has just saved a city of 12 million.

  • Seeing the injustices of the world, and how governments become shackles prompts Blake to throw his detective’s badge into the river. While order and systems ostensibly exist to protect the people, over time, systems can and do become corrupted. The absence of any order and system is similarly undesirable, and the fact that humanity operates best somewhere in the middle, a balance of individual freedom and social responsibility, is spoken to in The Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s genius is that in his films, he never espouses one extreme as being better over the other. Instead, in implying that there is a happy medium that people thrive under, Nolan leaves viewers to decide for themselves what works best, only enforcing the idea that extremes are bad.

  • Once the climax passes, The Dark Knight Rises enters its dénouement. Bruce Wayne is believed to be dead, and his estate is settled. The Batman becomes recognised as a symbol of hope and heroics, and Gotham begins picking itself back up. The entire scene is set to Hans Zimmer’s iconic incidental music: Zimmer creates a soundscape that constantly creates a sort of suspense and anticipation for Nolan’s movies, and because the sound is ever-present, silence becomes even more noticeable.

  • When one of Fox’s technicians tell him that the autopilot to the Bat had been fixed, he’s surprised – I imagine that Bruce was using some sort of version control, like Git, and since these repositories are reasonably secure (Git, for instance, accepts SSH keys as a means of authenticating a user prior to a commit), this was the biggest sign that Bruce is alive and well. In 2012, I was an undergraduate student, and my lab used SVN. The principals behind both are different when it comes to management, although from a user standpoint, there are similarities, and so, I transitioned over to Git from SVN without too much difficulty after entering industry.

  • At the end of The Dark Knight, Jim had smashed the Bat-Signal as a symbol of his reluctant disavowal of the Dark Knight for his “crimes”, but here, seeing the repaired Bat-Signal reminds him that even though Bruce Wayne is gone as the Batman, what the Batman stands for will now endure.

  • For me, the best part of The Dark Knight Rises was seeing Alfred enjoying his drink in Florence, and then spotting Bruce with Selina. He’d long expressed a wish for Bruce to move past Batman and live his life out. Years after my own experience with unrequited love, I’ve come to relate with the events of The Dark Knight Rises, and throughout the film, Alfred and Lucius Fox’s remarks about the women in Bruce’s life parallel remarks I’ve been given. The Dark Knight Rises suggests that Bruce was held back by the belief Rachel would wait for him, but it ultimately takes a rebirth of sorts for him to see what there had been out there, beyond the cowl and memories from eight years earlier.

  • The optimism The Dark Knight Rises demonstrates here made the film’s ending decidedly positive, a fitting and decisive conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy and shows how the combination of time and experience allows one to open back up – even it takes a great deal of time, the important thing is to allow this healing process to take place at once’s own pace. The sum of the messages in The Dark Knight Rises makes for an exceptional movie, and although the film might be ten years old, it has aged remarkably well, just like K-On! The Movie. The themes are still relevant, the action sequences hold up very well, and the execution makes the story timeless.

  • Because of the film’s ability to speak to so many topics so effectively, and because the film easily withstands the test of time, I count The Dark Knight Rises to be a masterpiece of a movie. I’m not alone in this stance, and I’d hazard a guess that the reason why so many enjoy The Dark Knight Rises is because Nolan is able to hit so many points in a way that works for different people; in fact, I’d expect readers to tell me that they’ll have enjoyed this movie for completely different reasons, and drew completely different conclusions than I did. This speaks to strength of the writing in this film, which ends with Blake taking up the mantle of the Dark Knight, and with both this film and my reflections at a close, it’s time for me to take a break from blogging for a bit and finally begin looking at submissions for Jon’s Creative Showcase.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic film, raising the bar for what a superhero film could convey well beyond providing thrilling action sequences: The Dark Knight Rises is thought-provoking, inspiring and emotional. In fact, after finishing The Dark Knight Rises, I later would watch Iron Man 3 and wonder why Aldrich Killian’s motivations felt so shallow compared to those of Bane – in fact, it did feel as though villains of other films suddenly became superficial, and for a time, I found myself with a decreased enjoyment for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. This subsequently dissipated after I watched Captain America: Civil War; the MCU’s films are fine, and speak to a different set of ideas than do Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The experience I had resulting from The Dark Knight Rises is a phase that some consumers of fiction go through: after watching something especially well-done, expectations are raised, and going into another film with a different director can often alter one’s enjoyment of things. Unlike the Dark Knight trilogy, the MCU is a long-running series whose greatest strength lies in how well-connected the stories are, and the masterful use of humour. It is therefore unsurprising that the aesthetic, tenour and end messages differ so dramatically, and failing to appreciate this is why the me of a decade earlier initially was more reluctant to watch MCU films. Fortunately, an open mind allowed me to turn around, and in the years subsequent, I would come to greatly enjoy the MCU for what it succeeded in presenting. However, not everyone follows this path: for instance, shortly after K-On! The Movie became available to international audiences, Reckoner of Behind the Nihon Review was quick to dismiss K-On! The Movie as being “disingenuous” and “false advertising” for not delivering the same level of though-provoking content as his favourite work, Ergo Proxy. Such a mindset precludes one from broadening their perspectives; had I remained stuck on that path, I would’ve never been open to enjoying things like Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War and Endgame. However, I am ultimately glad to have seen The Dark Knight Rises because it represented a unique experience. My enjoyment of this movie led me to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and help me appreciate different interpretations of the Batman, whether it was Ben Affleck or Robert Pattinson’s portrayals (Pattinson proved a solid detective Batman, Affleck captures Batman’s physicality and resourcefulness, but for me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne hands down) – it goes without saying that an open mind allows one to have the most complete experience, and in taking such a method, also deepens one’s understanding and enjoyment of a work (or genre) by appreciating different interpretations and perspectives of things.

Norway and Tiburón Island: Survivorman Ten Days, Remarks on Resilience and a Reflection Ten Years After The MCAT

“It would seem that in this survival ordeal, I’ve experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.” –Les Stroud

Although Les Stroud had wrapped up Survivorman in 2008 owing to the significant physical toll associated with filming survival in extreme environments, in 2012, Stroud would embark on two survival expeditions that were larger than anything he had previously done. This series would become known as Survivorman Ten Days, and true to its title, has Stroud surviving in two new environments for ten days. In Norway, Stroud simulates how one might go about surviving if their car broke down. In the beginning, with intense wind and a wet snowfall, Stroud stays with the vehicle until his provisions are depleted. He siphons gas from the vehicle and lights a fire, then uses the car’s upholstery to fashion snowshoes before heading out into the backcountry. After a cold night in the bush, Stroud manages to find hunters’ cabins, and deer remains. Capitalising on the shelter and food, Stroud enjoys a few days here in the cabins before preparing to head downhill towards the coast. Although Stroud is put into a perilous situation as the sun begins setting, he manages to make it down before nightfall. He later explores the coast and finds a summer cottage, where he rests before preparing a massive signal fire for his recovery team. At Tiburón Island, Stroud plays the role of a sailor on a yacht who is stranded. After reaching shore, Stroud notes that water is his biggest priority and fashions a desalination device from items he found on the beach. With the still making water, Stroud then explores a nearby estuary, where he finds an extensive clam population. While Stroud enjoys a feast of clams and calamari, he determines that in order to survive, he must head inland and find water – he leaves behind the coast and travels inland. After a few days, Stroud ultimately locates a spring that provides him with fresh water, the most critical of necessities in a place as dry as a desert. Continuing on in the same vein as its predecessors, Survivorman Ten Days features Les Stroud creating an entire survival show with no camera crew or production team assisting him. This time, however, instead of the typical seven days, Survivorman Ten Days extends the survival ordeal by three more days, and while three days initially seems minor, this can add another dimension of complexity to survival, especially in the knowledge that one must plan for three more days’ worth of survival. In Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud rises to the occasion, drawing upon his extensive knowledge and experience to survive, as well as utilising every advantage in his environment to make a difficult situation manageable.

Survivorman Ten Days comes to represent a fantastic show of how having a reliable knowledge base means that, even when one is confronted with a problem they’ve never faced before, or if the problem is of a different scale than one is familiar with, applying the same principles will help one to put things in perspective, and break things down so that it is more manageable. At Tiburón Island, surviving ten days in the desert seems daunting: previously in the Kalahari, Stroud had suffered from heat stroke and very nearly had to call off his shoot for safety reasons. Here in Tiburón Island, the absence of fresh water meant survival was already going to be a difficult task. However, with the knowledge that he could obtain water in a creative fashion, Stroud chooses to construct a distilling apparatus and is able to draw potable water from the ocean, prolonging his survival and giving him a chance to take stock before making the decision on what his next steps are. Stroud had previously utilised novel methods of acquiring water in difficult situations, and acknowledges that these methods only provide one with the minimal amount of water. However, even this small amount of water helps survival, and in helping to ward off dehydration, Stroud ultimately is able to find a more substantial supply of fresh water. Similarly, in Norway, Stroud has his most difficult experience when he attempts to make his way down into the valley. Although Stroud had known there were paths leading down, the combination of slippery and damp conditions meant that, had Stroud happened onto a cliff, he would’ve lacked the means of returning back to the cabins before nightfall, and potentially putting him in harm’s way as the wet, cold conditions elevate the risk of hypothermia. Even with all of his experience in the bush, Stroud is in a perilous situation – this situation puts all of this knowhow and decision-making to the test. In the end, Stroud decides to keep going, and to his great relief, finds himself on the edge of the fjord right as night is about to fall. Despite being in a terrifying, gripping situation, Stroud remains calm and collected, doing whatever he can to stave off disaster. However, he’s also honest about it: in a voice-over, Stroud indicates that viewers can audibly hear his heartbeat, a consequence of a genuine, tangible worry about how dangerous a seemingly-simple trek down the mountain had become. When Stroud reaches the bottom of the cliff and sets up camp, viewers breathe a sigh of relief alongside him, and similarly, cannot help but smile when Stroud comes upon summer cabins. Through it all, Stroud continues to call upon everything he’s previously done to persist, endure and ultimately, make it safely down the mountain. With a bit of luck, Stroud succeeds here, and much as how his resilience and experience come together to help him find fresh drinking water in Tiburón Island, the same mindset and skillset is applied to help Stroud reach safety in the snow-covered fjords of Norway.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Survivorman Ten Days aired during July 2012, a time when I’d been fully focused on studying for the MCAT. By that point in the summer, my physics course had ended, and I walked away with an A-. My days were thus spent attending the preparation course, doing revision in my spare time and, to unwind, I divided my time between Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. To learn that Survivorman was continuing proved to be a huge psychological boost; I’d already been familiar with the series by then, and always found myself inspired by the teachings Stroud conveyed in his episode.

  • Survivorman Ten Days had come completely out of the blue, but I welcomed the news and watched episodes with enthusiasm. Unlike previous Survivorman episodes, which were set over a week, Survivorman Ten Days has Stroud surviving for three more days, but the additional three days meant that there were two episodes for each location, providing Stroud with extra time to really showcase everything. In Survivorman Director’s Commentary, Stroud had mentioned how one of the challenges in the editing phase was actually paring down footage to fit the episode’s 40-minute length.

  • This is actually similar to the problem I have in blogging: I end up with a large number of screenshots that would result in far more content than I could realistically write, and to ensure my posts are of a manageable size, I cut down the number of screenshots to a multiple of ten for easier writing. The idea of breaking posts up into parts has been suggested to me before, and this is why for some series, I do split things into parts. For discussions on movies, however, I prefer keeping everything together in a single post. In Norway, Stroud initially remains behind with his vehicle to mimic what the average traveller might do if their ride suffered from failure. With the wind gusting outside, Stroud says it’s only natural for people to want to stick with their vehicles and wait out rescue.

  • Moreover, a vehicle represents a ready-made survival shelter, and so long as one has fuel, they can take the chill out of the air readily. However, a vehicle can also become a death-trap in that, in keeping people attached to the vehicle, may create scenarios where people would rather stick with their car than walking out of a difficult situation. Because this is a Survivorman episode, Stroud mentions that it’d be possible for him to walk out of this situation, but then there’d be no episode. For this episode, Stroud’s brought some provisions with him, including a jar of peanut butter, a six pack of beer and a mandarin orange.

  • Rationing food in a survival situation can be tricky because one doesn’t have a definitive idea of how long they’ll be in survival for. For Stroud, the mandarin orange depletes after a few days, and Stroud decides to take on a more proactive approach to survival. Being trapped in a dark vehicle might mean that crews clearing the road will likely ignore it, but a roaring fire burning behind a vehicle would pique some curiosity. While Stroud doesn’t have any obvious fire-starting materials on hand, he’s never out of options.

  • Siphoning fuel from the tank, and then using the vehicle’s battery to ignite the mixture creates a very powerful flame that would certainly attract attention, but even if this doesn’t happen, it gives Stroud a significant source of warmth. Being active with the fire outside also reminds Stroud of how cramped the vehicle interior is, leading him to plan out how to head into the bush in search of more beneficial conditions. The situation Stroud finds himself in during Norway would, in retrospect, parallel my own experiences with the MCAT.

  • Stroud’s desire to stay with the car is not so different than my initial feelings about the MCAT being an unbeatable opponent. I had managed to do well in the physics course despite coming close to throwing in the towel, but after the MCAT preparation course began, the lessons gave the impression that the exam was completely unlike anything I’d faced before. However, the further I got into the course, and the more practise exams I did, the more I realised that I needed to adopt a new strategy towards handling the stress associated with the exam.

  • Stroud’s leaving the car is analogous to me embracing a new method of studying, one which entailed making use of strategically-placed breaks. Every day, after five in the afternoon, I would stop all revisions and play a few rounds of Team Fortress 2 or MicroVolts. The idea was that I would have dedicated time to study and prepare, but then I was always assured of downtime so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed on a given day. Previously, I approached exams with brute force, studying until I was confident with the materials.

  • After leaving the car, Stroud spends the night under a tree and recalls he has a portable survival stove, which he uses to boil some water. It is here that Stroud mentions how he always hits the bathroom before sleeping; any liquid in the bladder forces the body to expend energy heating it, so emptying out said bladder allows one to conserve energy and sleep better. This is a habit that I learnt from my parents as a child: the reasoning they had was that it would help me sleep through the night and not run the risk of nocturnal enuresis, but Survivorman shows that there’s more than one reason to hit the bathroom before sleeping.

  • While my dislike of the winter and snow is no secret, I will concede that there is a beauty in a snow-covered landscape under semi-overcast skies. This appreciation is doubled if I don’t have to travel anywhere, and during the past couple of years, I worked from home during the winter. Snowstorms stopped being an irritant, and there is a sort of coziness associated with waking up to a fresh snowfall. Knowing that my commute is a 15-second walk to my desk increases the charm. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud’s managed to find hunter’s cabins, complete with a wood stove and bed.

  • The situation improves even further after Stroud spots a deer carcass left over from hunters: while all of the meat one would normally eat is gone, Stroud finds that the hunters have left behind the heart, liver, lungs, and a bunch of fat, plus a bit of meat. Although such moments appear contrived, Stroud has encountered hunter’s remains on many occasions previously, and even in Survivorman, during the Alaska episode, Stroud has found a partially-eaten fish that an eagle dropped and later enjoys a fish dinner after cooking it. On the first night, Stroud prepares a broth for himself: as he states, eating too much at once would overwhelm his digestive system and cause all sorts of problems.

  • Having enjoyed deer broth and a little bit of meat the previous evening, Stroud begins preparing the remainder of the deer remains for consumption and gives viewers a close-up of the deer. Besides the entire deer liver, Stroud’s pleasantly surprised to find the entire heart is also present. The heart of an animal tastes especially rich and beefy because it is the hardest-working muscle. The day had begun with some sunshine, but soon, the clouds roll back in and create an overcast sky. Despite this, Stroud’s in fine spirits, since shelter and food are now taken care of.

  • Because Stroud had been trapped in a car for two days, he ends up cooking his meal outdoors. The cabins come stocked with matches, but to conserve on limited resources, Stroud uses duct-tape as a fire-starter here, and in a few moments, his fire’s hot enough for him to begin cooking the deer. Imagery of cooking the meat over an open fire is par the course for enjoying the great outdoors, but in a survival situation, every bit counts. Stroud previously mentioned in Alaska that boiling the meat would be the best way to get all of the nutrients out, and here in Norway, he applies this approach to the deer meet, boiling things up to create a highly nourishing, if unphotogenic, meal.

  • The psychological boost of being able to eat, and sleep in a warm bed, proves to be a pivotal moment. The renewed energy Stroud gains from food and sleep allows him to plan out the final leg of his journey, but it also results in intense and vivid dreams that can play on the psyche. Survivorman Ten Days uses some very unusual footage here to convey this: a time lapse of the Norwegian Winter is played while Stroud gives a voice-over, creating a very chilling and surreal feeling. I’ve never quite understood how such footage was obtained, and if Stroud were to ever do Norway for Director’s Commentary, I would likely ask how this was filmed.

  • With a chance to re-evaluate his situation, Stroud determines it’s time to head down the cliffs for the coast, reasoning that now’s the time to do so: if he stayed in the cabins, he’d eventually run out of deer. However, what was supposed to be a simple hike down the mountain becomes one of the most challenging things he’d ever done. The combination of slippery rocks, snowfall and the constant threat of running into a cliff, meant that Stroud was more nervous than usual, and at one point during this trek, one can hear his heartbeat from the camera, speaking to how worried he was.

  • To the viewers’ great relief, Stroud does make it down the mountain okay, and he swiftly sets up camp before lighting a fire. As miserable as being soaked during cold, wet weather is, Stroud has, at the very least, reached the bottom without being stuck: his worst fear was that he ended up at a cliff, and as exhausted as he was, he would’ve had no way of heading back up the mountain and reaching the shelter of the cabins before nightfall. Hypothermia was the biggest risk here, and here at the bottom of the cliff, it’s still a very real risk, but Stroud is afforded the reassurance that the cliffs are behind him.

  • The next morning, Stroud continues on with exploring the coast: he stops to take a drink and finds some rosehips. However, the next find is a truly game-changing one – a summer home on the coast. Stroud’s fortunes completely turn around, and after a frigid night on the mountainside, he’s now able to take shelter in a cozy cabin. Stroud mentions that breaking in for shelter is something that should only be done in a survival situation – although breaking and entering remains illegal, the law states such an action would not be counted as an offense in a situation where such an action was necessary to avoid personal death or injury, and provided that one leaves no sign that an offense was committed.

  • This B-roll shot of the sun rising over the fjord is one I’m especially fond of – the B-roll footage in Survivorman has always been fun to watch even though the focus in the series is on survival. Such moments are typically shot before Stroud actually begins survival, and per Stroud’s commentary, is actually the most ordinary part of a Survivorman shoot in that it’s the one part where there’s a camera crew. After looking around the summer cabin, Stroud finds a key that allows him to enter. He immediately sets about seeing what other food might be available to him, and manages to locate some seaweed, blue mussels and potatoes.

  • I did a bit of looking around and found that the summer cabin Stroud comes across towards the end of the Norway trip is called Tingastad, which is located near Sogndal Airport. Looking around at satellite imagery of the area, one can even find the hunter’s cabins located higher up on the mountain, which are located a mere 1.29 kilometres from the airport. Although this shows that Stroud could’ve walked out at any time, the whole point of Survivorman is to show what happens if one were in trouble, and being somewhat close to civilisation is important in case things do go south.

  • In the end, Stroud creates a large signal fire for the purpose of letting the rescue boat know of his location. An effective fire doesn’t need large flames, but rather, smoke, and to do this, one needs to burn oily substances like birch bark. The boat eventually notices him and picks up him, bringing the first of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes to a close. Although Norway represents one of the most difficult of Stroud’s expeditions yet, I was thoroughly impressed with how he continued to draw on existing knowledge and push towards bettering his situation even when things looked grim.

  • This was the sort of mindset that I would carry with me into the MCAT – I found that at the heart of all difficult, seemingly-insurmountable problems, is a collection of smaller problems which, when attended to properly, can be handled individually. The important lesson learnt here is to always be mindful of the basics, and understand how the basics can be applied towards dealing with much bigger challenges. In fact, it is fair to say that failure results if one allows a large problem to overwhelm them to the point where they forget the basics.

  • I’ve now transitioned over to the Tiburón Island episodes, which sees Stroud travel to a desert island in Mexico. Here, the weather is the polar opposite of what it’d been in Norway: snow-covered trees and foggy fjords are replaced with rocky beaches and blue skies as far as the eye can see. Stroud faces a completely different set of problems here, with water being the chiefest of his problems. In Norway, Stroud could ingest snow to replenish his water, so hydration was never a problem, but here at Tiburón Island, there’s no freshwater nearby. Stroud does down a mouthful of ocean water to restore electrolytes, but for this trip, he carries enough water to last a few days.

  • As such, the immediate concern is making his water supply last while he works out where to get more water. One of my favourite Survivorman moments happens here – after finding a large bucket on the beach, Stroud crafts a handmade desalination still. The idea is simple enough: boiling salt water will create steam that evaporates, and this steam, when condensing back into a liquid form, will yield fresh, drinkable water. Although simple in principle, desalination at scale is an incredibly expensive process because of how much energy it takes to boil water.

  • Stroud’s handmade still yields about two cups of water a day; while it’s not enough to stave off dehydration and requires that Stroud continuously tops off the fire to ensure he can boil the water, it does allow him to extend the lifespan of his existing water supply. Stroud names techniques of this as a MacGyverism, of creatively using whatever materials in his environment to fashion tools and equipment that can be helpful in survival. Once the desalination still is fashioned, Stroud turns his attention next to exploring the beach and nearby estuary.

  • Although Stroud was hoping to find a flounder at the estuary, he ends up digging up a fair number of clams. In a survival situation, Stroud notes that having a food source he can easily gather is a huge advantage (in his words, there’s nothing worse than expending energy to travel a mile, only to find enough food for a half-mile walk). The clamming technique Stroud describes here is something I’ve previously commented on in Houkago Teibou Nisshi, and I was impressed the latter echoes Stroud’s sentiments about leaving the smaller clams so their population isn’t decimated.

  • I am particularly fond of the Tiburón Island episodes because they’re set under sunny skies, and while survival out here is no less difficult than in Norway, having blue skies conveys a sense of calm: things don’t feel quite as urgent or deadly as they did in Norway, and these episodes would come to remind me of those days when the MCAT seemed like a manageable exam, when revision was going well and I felt more confident in being ready to handle the exam.

  • The pacing of Tiburón Island meant that Stroud spends his first few days checking out what the nearby area has to offer, and by chance, he encounters a dead squid floating on the beachside. He decides to bring it back with him, and after cutting the grippers off, proceeds to cook it over an open fire. In a voice-over, Stroud admits that he’d never prepared squid before, so here, he ended up cutting away a lot more than he needed to for safety’s sake, but if he’d come in with more background, he could’ve gotten more from the squid. This is a recurring theme in Survivorman – it’s better to err on the side of caution if uncertain, but over time, experience allows one to survive more effectively

  • It was immensely satisfying to see the desalination still do its magic for Stroud: beyond the effort of building the still, fetching the water and topping the firewood off, Stroud now has a reliable means of getting access to water. Watching Stroud get water always instills in me an inclination to get some water of my own. I’ve never understood why people dislike water and would eschew it, and while I prefer to take my water filtered and boiled, I have no qualms with water so long as it quenches my thirst when appropriate.

  • Stroud’s approach of mobile, proactive survival means taking advantage of good times to make things better. With the clams in the estuary as a known, reliable food source, he’s able to explore other options. He fashions a makeshift spear here, along with shinguards, to explore the area for fish and defend against stingrays that may be trapped. Although his fishing expedition is unsuccessful, Stroud finds some oysters that he deems worth eating. This move proves to be a poor choice, since the oysters subsequently knock Stroud out of the game.

  • While stomach problems at any time are difficult, stomach problems during a survival situation would be debilitating. Stroud mentions that during survival, one shouldn’t take any chances, and aim to minimise their problems one by one. This is sound advice, and while Stroud does his best to adhere, speaking to the complexity of survival, even a veteran like Les Stroud can occasionally make a mistake. Far from invalidating Stroud, moments like these serve to remind viewers that even experts aren’t infallible, and it makes Stroud more human.

  • After Stroud recovers, he begins to travel inland in search of water. Tiburón Island represents an interesting conundrum in that the areas with food are close to the shore, where there’s no water, and where there’s fresh water, there’s no access to food. In previous Survivorman episodes, Stroud’s mentioned that travelling great distances during a survival situation is immensely difficult, and we recall earlier that even in Norway, when he’d been about a mile or so from the airport, the lack of food and rest means that travelling even a kilometre can be challenging.

  • Before heading inland, Stroud writes a message in a bottle and hucks the bottle into the ocean. Ocean currents mean that eventually, the bottle will end up on a shore somewhere, although I’ve not heard of anyone who managed to find the specific bottle Stroud threw into the water. This bit of imagery is a stereotype that is at least as old as that of the cartoon depicting a desert island several metres across, with a single palm tree on it. This depiction originates from gag comics published to The New Yorker in the 1930s and became the mid-20th century’s equivalent of a meme, which annoyed readers and editors enough so that they implemented a ban on publication of desert islands. The ideas endured into the newspaper comics of the 1980s and 1990s – The Far Side is especially fond of these gags, although I find The Far Side vapid and uninspired.

  • In general, I’ve found newspaper comics have become increasingly irrelevant and out-of-touch with reality: Blondie, The Meaning of Lila and Between Friends, for instance, present office culture in an antiquated, unrelatable fashion. Back in Survivorman Ten Days, Stroud makes use of his gear to continue boiling water, and he’s also brought clams with him, providing a food source as he treks further inland. Once in the desert itself, Stroud’s back in terrain similar to his survival trips to Arizona, Utah, the Kalahari and even the Australian outback. Each desert in the world represents a different kind of survival challenge, but all deserts share in common the same problem Stroud must address: the need for water. Bringing the desalination still inland is a good idea, allowing Stroud to to continue making water.

  • The last of the Survivorman Ten Days episodes aired on July 21, 2012 – at this point in the summer a decade earlier, K-On! The Movie had just seen its home release, and I had finished writing my review of the film. In those days, my blog wasn’t well-known, and reviews were mainly more for myself rather than readers. By the time July ended and August arrived, and after I wrote the last of the full-length practise exams, I began rolling back on my revision efforts. Previously, I spent most of my days studying, but once two weeks were left to the exam, I only studied for about four hours each day.

  • As I entered the final few days to the exam, I stopped studying outright – besides gaming, this blog’s archives showed that I also spent time blogging. The idea behind this was that an extra day or two wouldn’t likely make any difference and may even increase stress. On the morning of the exam, I remember re-watching Gundam Unicorn‘s fifth episode to psyche myself up for the MCAT itself. After a light lunch, I headed out into the afternoon, and steeled myself for a difficult war of attrition. However, as difficult as the MCAT had appeared, in retrospect, I had prepared adequately. Besides the preparation course, and spending hours doing drills, my friends also had determined it would be helpful to study together.

  • On top of this, I managed my stress by budgeting out time to game and watch various shows – besides Survivorman, I also watched Man v. Food extensively. Seeing Adam Richman taking on food challenges allowed me to approach the MCAT with humour: I likened my own exam experience to Richman and particularly tough moments, even joking that I hoped to avoid the same situation that Richman experienced at Munchies 420 in Saratosa, Florida. There, the mystery challenge proved so diabolical, it gave him the hiccoughs within one bite. I would later learn that this was no laughing matter, as the staff at Munchies 420 had emptied an entire bottle of ghost chilli extract into his wings for kicks.

  • However, watching Richman prevail over his challenges proved inspirational, and it was pleasant to see him stoically accept defeat. Besides Man v. Food, I also ended up making my way through CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~Tari TariPapaKiki and Kokoro Connect during the summer. Dealing with the MCAT did leave me with a newfound way of managing stress, and I became more able to make light of my situations. This led me to continue to crack jokes about things like my undergraduate defense, conference presentations, seminars and graduate defense later down the line.

  • After several days of pushing through the desert, Stroud finally finds a pond with a large amount of rainwater. He fills an entire bottle with it and revels in this fact. With water now dealt with, Stroud is now confident he can continue to survive in the area, and the episode draws to a close. For me, I prepared to step out and face down my foe, one I’d spent several months preparing for, at this point in time a decade earlier, and while I did not know it at the time, I would indeed rise to the occasion. Survivorman played a significant role in making this possible, and even now, I attribute my mindset and path to the things I learnt while watching the show.

  • With this, I’ve now done a full recollection of the days leading up to the MCAT, and readers are now assured of the fact that I likely won’t mention these stories again, having written about them to the depth I’d wished to. Once the MCAT was done, I spent my weekend unwinding and watched The Dark Knight Rises – this was a fantastic movie that I do wish to do justice to, and to this end, I will be writing about the film on short order. The movie has aged very well; in fact, it’s aged as gracefully as K-On! The Movie, and even though I’ve rewatched The Dark Knight Rises with the same frequency that I have for K-On! The Movie, I find myself impressed each and every time.

While I have not experienced things to the same level that is seen in Survivorman, much less Survivorman Ten Days, the MCAT that I’d written a decade earlier is an analogous situation. On this day ten years ago, I wrote the exam itself, and although I would love to say the exam was a straightforward and smooth experience, my own exam day was anything but. After a light lunch, I arrived at the exam venue, and was surprised to find the building holding a sweltering 30°C (86°F). Moreover, one of the exam invigilators had stood at the door, saying that they were half an hour behind schedule. As it turns out, the building had suffered from an HVAC malfunction, causing both the power and air circulation to fail. I sat down and meditated until we were called into the exam room. The building’s technicians were still working on getting the fans back up, so it remained blisteringly hot as I sat down to the physical sciences section. Within a few minutes, I developed a cramp in my stomach. However, as the exam began, I had no choice but to weather on: I leafed through the questions, determined that the third problem set was something I could do, and set about writing the exam. When the time for the first section ended, I rushed out the door and immediately hit the facilities. The stomach pains subsided, and I wrote the remaining sections in relative comfort: the temperatures remained high, but at least the cramps were gone, allowing me to focus on the task at hand. All concern and doubt was dampened as I recalled the materials I reviewed, the strategies I was provided with, and days spent studying with friends at the medical campus’ small group rooms. The exam ended four hours later, and I stepped out into the evening, seeing the setting sun cast a warm, golden light on the landscape. After most exams, a part of me worries about the outcome, but with this MCAT, I felt as though I’d put in my best possible effort. I joined my family to a dinner at my favourite Chinese bistro in town, before sleeping the best sleep I’d had all summer. Like Les Stroud and Survivorman Ten Days, beating the MCAT became a matter of psychological resilience, and setting aside the “what-ifs” to deal with whatever was in front of me in that moment. Much as how Stroud focused on getting down the mountain despite the setting sun, I focused on solving each question without any thought to what happened post exam. While I saw numerous concepts on the exam that I certainly didn’t review during practise, they’d been similar enough in principal to materials I’d already seen, and I fell back on existing knowledge to reason through those questions. I didn’t learn of the end result for my MCAT until a month later, but the final score, a 35T (518), speaks volumes to the efficacy of these methods. The numerous parallels between my own experiences, and what Les Stroud presents on Survivorman, thus became a reminder to me that survival techniques had applicability in almost every walk of life: while I’m no outdoorsman like Stroud, everything that is presented in Survivorman is relevant to everyday life, too. It is therefore fair to say that watching Survivorman Ten Days was yet another part of the reason why I survived the MCAT ten summers earlier, and while I’ve never used my score for anything other than an interesting conversation topic since taking the exam, the ancillary learnings, such as prioritising problems, applying existing knowledge to take on new problems, dividing and conquering, and maintaining a mindset of resilience amidst adversity, have fundamentally changed the way I operated, positively impacting everything I do even to this day. Ten years ago to this day, it’s almost time for me to head out and write the MCAT – I had no idea what the outcome would be, but, armed with the will to survive, I set off for my exam, resolute to do my best, too.

Arctic Tundra: Survivorman, Baffin Island and Remarks On The Final Approach to the MCAT

“Cold…wind…lack of wild edibles…it’s a tougher one. The skies and temperatures…grey skies, very little blue, can play on the psyche.” –Les Stroud

In the third season of Survivorman, Les Stroud is dropped off at Pond Inlet in Baffin Island, located in one of the furthest reaches of Canada. Up here during the summer, the sun never sets, and Stroud is faced with the challenges of surviving in an inhospitable land battered by wind and waves. The blustery weather becomes especially wearing, and during the week, the overcast skies and lack of food begins taking an emotional toll on Stroud, on top of a physical toll. However, when Stroud decides to head inland and gather wild edibles and other plants, he realises he’s forgotten something at his campsite. Returning to retrieve it, he notices a school of Arctic Char swimming by, and in the moment, immediately gets a fishing line into the water. Moments later, his demeanor is completely changed – with four large Arctic Char in tow, Stroud is energetic, animated and ecstatic his situation has suddenly changed so dramatically. The resulting fish feast becomes Stroud’s favourite Survivorman moment, and in a Director’s Commentary video, Stroud comments on how this particular food moment even surpassed the feast he had on the Cook Islands. Stroud’s excitement is tangible, and viewers smile right alongside Stroud as he cleans the fish, enjoys fresh roe and fish, and cooks up the fish to enjoy later. In the space of moments, Stroud’s fortunes have completely turned around, showing how quickly circumstances can change, and moreover, how important it is to maintain a positive mindset during difficult times, and how one should not be complacent even when things begin turning around. At one point, Stroud comments on how he can use some of the entrails from the Arctic Char to potentially catch some seagulls and add to his food reserves. While Stroud is rewarded with a delicious meal, viewers are treated to loving closeups of Stroud preparing and cooking the Arctic Char. In the aftermath of this pivotal moment, Stroud continues to explore inland and retrieves a variety of plants that provide nutrition and kindling, taking advantage of a good situation to improve things even further; as a result, when a rainstorm sweeps into the area, Stroud ends up enjoying his Arctic Char as it rains, does stretching exercises to keep the blood flowing, and even makes a qulliq oil lamp with a stone, old sock and the remainder of his whale blubber. Only when the storm worsens, does Stroud call things in and prepare to head back to the settlement. By this point in Survivorman, Les Stroud has found his rhythm, allowing his experience and knowledge to feed into his decision-making process while at the same time, acknowledging to viewers that the variability of survival means that one often has to make the most of the hand they are given.

The Arctic Tundra episode represents Survivorman at its finest – while it is undeniable that Les Stroud is an incredibly skilled outdoorsman with years of survival knowledge under his belt, being placed in the wind-swept, desolate hills of the Pond Inlet area of Baffin Island puts his skillset to the test. Out here, there is no substantial vegetation to craft shelters from, and food is scarce, being difficult to gather and hunt outside of a small window of time in the year. Weather can change at the drop of a hat, and during the episode, Stroud remarks on several occasions that the wind prevents him from travelling to a more favourable spot, keeps him from exploring his surroundings, et cetera. Stroud’s able to capitalise on his skills to make a difficult situation manageable, moving to a better spot on his canoe and whipping up a surprisingly sturdy shelter using old steel drums found on the beach, but has no luck in luring in seagulls for food. As the weather becomes increasingly gray, Stroud comments on the conditions and how they can be incredibly demoralising even when one is armed with a vast collection of skill and experience. Here in the Arctic Tundra, Stroud’s situation speaks to how there are cases where a little luck is required. However, while one might interpret this as being how luck is necessary, the opposite is true: if one has the skill, then they have the means to capitalise when luck shows up. There is no substitute for skill, and this is what makes Stroud’s experience in Baffin Island so inspiring – even when things appear to bottom out, Stroud continues to count on and share his knowledge, with the end result that he is able to net a total of four Arctic Char. In any other show, such a moment would be scripted, but what makes Survivorman especially rewarding is the fact that everything that happens occurs naturally. In some episodes, Stroud is faced with exceedingly challenging scenarios: at Kalahari, Stroud grappled with trying to fend off heat stroke, and in other episodes, he’s unable to secure food. Having seen these previous episodes, it was rewarding to see luck on Stroud’s side and show what can happen in a survival situation when the stars line up, and one possesses the skill to capitalise on the opportunity. Seeing Les Stroud cooking and enjoying the Arctic Char, in his words, “fresh sushi”, was so visceral, it felt as though I’d been the one who had caught that fish, and therein lies the main joy of watching Survivorman. In all episodes, I’m especially fond of moments where Stroud finds food, and whether it’s something like the Witchetty grub or scorpions, to a roast bird and deer remains, Stroud has a talent for making anything look good. Stroud has previously mentioned that in a survival situation, one takes what they can get, and there’s no room for dramatisation: it’s all about getting the nutrients down. This has increased my appreciation for the food, but Survivorman actually had another, even more profound impact on how I conduct myself that influences how I do things even to this day.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My story with Survivorman is an extensive one: I came upon the series while travelling. In 2010, I was in China on a tour of Beijing and Shanghai, and one evening, we’d stopped over in Hanzghou. A major thunderstorm had rolled into the region after dinner, and so, rather than explore the neighbourhood around the hotel, we decided to retire to our quarters and take it easy. I began channel surfing, and came upon a Chinese dub of Survivorman as he was preparing a turtle in the Georgian Swamps. My curiosity was piqued, and upon returning home, I began following the series as it aired on Discovery Canada.

  • While Survivorman remained little more than a curiosity at that point, and I mainly watched the show to see Les Stroud’s reactions to finding water, enjoying survival food or successfully lighting a fire with unorthodox means, by the time the MCAT rolled around two summers later, Survivorman had become a sort of panacea for the stress I was facing: watching Stroud survive off the land and making do with the hand he was dealt reminded me that my own challenges weren’t quite as demanding, but moreover, a similar mentality for survival would be essential in getting through a difficult time.

  • By that point in time, I’d already caught up with all of the Survivorman episodes and was familiar with Stroud’s approaches for reasoned, methodical survival. Seeing a similar set of skills being adapted for different situations was one of the biggest draws in Survivorman, and the first of these skills is determining what to do first. In the desert, Stroud’s immediate priority is determining how he might find more drinking water. Here on Baffin Island, the bitter cold and relentless wind meant shelter was essential. With old plywood, Stroud is able to construct a shelter that stops some of the wind, and as a break, he sits down to a bite of whale blubber, reminiscing about how he’d done something similar during an earlier episode.

  • Survivorman episodes instruct viewers in three ways. The first is when Stroud walks a viewer through what he’s doing and explains the rationale behind why he’s doing something, and the second comes from voice-overs Stroud later adds in the editing suite, which provide a bit of reflection on his actions. The third is unique to Survivorman: Director’s Commentary, a YouTube series that released back when the pandemic was starting. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes and further presents to viewers his thought process. On some occasions, he may even indicate that what he was doing in a situation was not optimal.

  • Beyond the act of showing survival in a measured and methodical manner, the nature of Survivorman means that viewers are treated to stunning vistas and landscapes. Even somewhere as desolate as Baffin Island in the high Arctic, there is great beauty in the scenery. In episodes, Stroud notes that he captures some of the landscape footage himself, but larger shots and time lapses (the industry term is B-roll) are done by a team, oftentimes before Stroud himself gets out onto the land for survival. These elements then come together to make the episode.

  • Fresh water is always a priority: the body lasts an average of three days without water before dehydration kicks in, and dehydration brings with it a plethora of unpleasant symptoms, including headache and dizziness. In some episodes, water is a major challenge, but at Baffin Island, fresh glacial melt and pristine meadows mean that Stroud isn’t worried about Giardiasis or Cryptosporidium. Even when water-borne parasites may be a real hazard, Stroud notes that where possible, boiling the water will lessen the risk, and in a time of extreme difficulty, it might be okay to risk an infection and then seek treatment once one is back in civilisation.

  • In both the Arctic and Arctic Tundra episodes, Stroud is legally required to bring a rifle with him as a means of protection against polar bears. Luckily, in both episodes, polar bears have not approached Stroud in a way that has required use of this rifle. While a rifle might be a form of defense, it is worth noting that unlike humans, which collapse when shot as a self-preservation reflex, bears do not share this trait and may keep charging, so shooting a polar bear with a single .22 may not be effective unless one’s got extremely good shot placement.

  • To simulate real-world scenarios, Stroud’s episodes often have a narrative, simulating things like getting separated from a team while diving, getting lost while canoeing, being injured in the wilderness after a plane crash or a lapse of judgement resulting in one’s vehicle running out of fuel in a remote area. In the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud simulates being a part of a research team stuck here, and outfits himself accordingly: among the pieces of equipment he’s brought include a fishing tackle and a CB radio. Here, he attempts some fishing: one of his Inuit guides had mentioned the area would be dense with Arctic Char, and Stroud figured that a fishing tackle would be an essential survival tool.

  • Stroud’s lament about the presence of trash on beaches along every coastline in the world was a sobering one, and is a reminder that whatever one carelessly discards will always end up somewhere. This is why I do my part to ensure all of my garbage is properly dealt with: when my city introduced a compost and recycling programme, I was thrilled: reusing things and repurposing waste means less effort is expended in remaking everything anew, and this mindfulness also extends to other parts of life. I’ve long been a proponent of sustainability, but I also recognise that stopgap measures are needed to reach our ideal level of environmental consciousness. This is why I do not espouse activism, and instead, commit myself to smaller scale things I can do: composting, turning the lights off and conserving water is much more environmentally friendly than organising large rallies.

  • Through Director’s Commentary, I was able to learn much more about the episodes beyond just the survival elements. Arctic Tundra was Stroud’s first Director’s Commentary, and he explains that early episodes were plagued with issues because he was shooting with different camera brands, which use different recording chips and yield different image colours. Later episodes has Stroud switching to one brand, and being mindful of each camera’s capabilities: some cameras have buttons that can instantly disable autofocus, and Stroud mentions how he would use tricks like taping up the button to avoid accidentally depressing it, which would leave an entire scene out of focus.

  • In Secrets of Survival, Stroud mentions that his favourite method of starting a fire is the fire bow, although things like a flint striker come in a close second. For a non-expert like myself, a flint striker would be especially appealing, representing a reliable means of getting a fire going (provided one already has access to tinder and a good supply of wood). However, I can spot why Stroud might not like the flint striker: it would require a good strike from something like a knife, and in a survival situation, having a sharp knife can make the difference between a difficult situation, and something that can be managed.

  • As such, when the moment allows, Stroud will utilise unorthodox methods to get a fire going. In Baffin Island, Stroud uses the battery from his CB radio and some steel wool he’s found nearby. It turns out that touching the steel wool to the battery’s terminals will create a short circuit that ignites the steel wool, and this creates fire. Stroud refers to these as MacGyverisms, the practise of being creative and using whatever is on hand to achieve something. With this in mind, if and when I’m asked, having been a fan of Survivorman for the past decade, my top five survival items would be a hatchet or hand-axe, multitool, lengths of rope, a steel container for carrying water, and a flint striker.

  • Behind the comfort of a screen, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the locations Stroud visits in Survivorman, and it suddenly strikes me as to just how vast and barren the northernmost reaches of Canada are. For the Arctic Tundra episode, Survivorman makes use of very distinct incidental music that isn’t heard anywhere else in the series; the soundtrack to Survivorman is composed by Peter Cliche, Dan Colomby and Les Stroud himself, being an eclectic collection that captures the tenour of the locations that Stroud visits, combining modern outdoor sounds with local flaire. There are two albums with songs from all three seasons altogether.

  • Even while out in a survival situation for Survivorman, Stroud still takes the time to describe indigenous cultures and their means of survival. High in the Arctic Tundra, the indigenous peoples would create warm shelters out of whale bones and caribou hides: although people nowadays tend to congregate in population centers located in comparatively temperate environments (past a certain point, it’s too cold to reliably maintain infrastructure for sustaining larger populations), the fact that there are humans in virtually every corner of the globe, and that all of these populations have developed adaptations to not just survive, but thrive in their environments speaks to the level of ingenuity there is in people.

  • Until Survivorman and Sora no Woto, I’d never really been a fan of grey, overcast days. As Weathering With You‘s Hodaka says, people do feel most alive on sunny days, and feelings of joy appear to be amplified. Overcast days create a sense of gloominess that diminishes from one’s spirits. However, moodiness represents a chance to look inwards and reflect: Sora no Woto‘s fourth episode had been set under grey skies that later turn to rain to gives Kanata a chance to see Seize on a quieter day, and do some introspection on why her bugling skills seem to have stagnated.

  • During the summer a decade earlier, I recall how May and June had been predominantly overcast, but then by July and August, the days became sunny. As July began turning into August, I’d been more or less ready for the MCAT itself, having spent long days reviewing materials and doing practise exams. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would wake up early and go to campus to lift weights, while my MCAT preparation courses were on Monday and Wednesday mornings. Throughout most of the week, then, I spent mornings on campus either doing my course, or studying, before returning home for the afternoon for more revisions.

  • However, as July drew to a close, and I wrote the last of the full-length exams that was bundled with my course, I began to roll back the level of intensity; in the last two weeks leading up to the MCAT, I only studied in the mornings and took the afternoons easy. In the last few days before the exam itself, I stopped studying outright. This was so I wouldn’t suddenly come across a concept and then panic. The approach I took towards the MCAT was inspired by Survivorman, where Stroud does things in a methodical and deliberate manner. Here, his camera lens is covered with raindrops, and he remarks in Director’s Commentary that this was so viewers could really feel they were being rained on.

  • About halfway through the Arctic Tundra episode, Stroud packs up his gear and moves to a different site. Here, he fashions a new shelter out of some oil drums and uses his canoe as a roof. Being able to take advantage of stuff in the environment is of a great help: earlier episodes saw Stroud building his own shelters from tree boughs and whatnot, and while this was important, it’s also extremely time consuming to find all of the materials and assemble it into a shelter that can somewhat keep out the elements. Stroud himself would comment on how even a single piece of tarp can make all the difference in a survival situation, saving him an entire afternoon’s worth of work to waterproof a shelter.

  • After putting a sturdier shelter together to keep him out of the wind, Stroud proceeds to build a bird trap using the remaining bits of whale blubber he’s got. The idea behind these traps is that they work even when one isn’t, making them a nice way to potentially get food without expending too much energy besides setting the traps up. While at first glance, these details are far removed from things like studying for the MCAT (or tackling a particularly challenging development problem), but when abstracted out, Stroud’s approach corresponds to doing the low-effort-high-payoff stuff first. This approach is identical to how I would take on the MCAT itself (do the questions that I’m most comfortable doing first, especially if they’re worth more).

  • In Director’s Commentary, Stroud mentions that the Arctic Tundra episode is a personal favourite of his, but his editors also enjoyed editing this episode immensely because the grey clouds of the north created a sort of gloominess that other settings couldn’t. The weather seen in Baffin Island is reminiscent of the weather in Calgary from April through June: these are our rainiest seasons of the year, and while I wasn’t fond of such days previously, Survivorman contributed to my coming around: cloudy and rainy days are perfect for feeling a little sullen, of slowing down and appreciating the warmth of one’s home.

  • Stroud’s low point in this episode comes after another failed effort to fish: between the lack of food and grim weather, Stroud slowly walks away from the camera, and his senior editor, Barry Farrell, enjoyed using this moment to really convey to viewers how defeated Stroud must’ve felt here. He crouches down in front of the camera and remarks that even one day can mean the difference between life and death to accentuate the gravity of this situation. In what I found to be one of the cleverest bits of editing, Stroud does a voice-over on how timing is everything, cutting to him standing at the water’s edge with a fishing line in the water.

  • Armed with a fishing tackle, Stroud’s fortunes change entirely: he catches not one, but four large Arctic Char. It speaks to the brilliance of Survivorman that the elation Stroud feels here is so tangible that viewers cannot help but feel as happy as he does, and right out of the gates, Stroud states the importance of having a fishing tackle as a part of one’s survival kit. One thing that’s always bugged me about this scene was how Stroud says that he seems to have lost his fishing line after catching a particularly large fish, but since Stroud seemed quite unconcerned with things and makes no mention of actually losing the line itself in Director’s Commentary, I’ll assume that it was briefly lost on the beach.

  • In a curious coincidence, the Arctic Char that Stroud catches are caught in order of increasing size. Stroud immediately sets about preparing his prizes for consumption, removing the entrails and separating all of the different parts of the fish out. It is this specific scene in Survivorman that opened my mind to watching anime like Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Slow Loop, both of which feature fishing and preparation of freshly-caught fish prominently. However, they key difference here is that in anime, the characters have home field advantage and therefore can access the gear they need to be successful, whereas Stroud is playing the away game.

  • In spite of this, I was impressed with the finesse Stroud prepares the fish with. He cuts the fish at an angle so the slices fall away from one another, allowing them to air out. Stroud notes, both in the episode itself and in Director’s Commentary, that this is a traditional method of preserving fish. The end result is that the fish ends up looking like strips of watermelon, and Stroud immediately digs in, commenting on how this is the freshest sushi he’s ever eaten. The Director’s Commentary reveals that his crew were camped out a few kilometres away from him, and while Stroud is enjoying fresh fish, the crew was eating canned soup.

  • Different camera placements capture the sense that Stroud is really alone on his adventures; some of the survival shows that came out after Survivorman are actually shot with full crews, and on some occasions, the stars of the show even return back to civilisation as the day draws to a close. Conversely, by continuously reiterating that Stroud has nothing beyond himself, his camera and whatever the land has to offer, Survivorman is a true show of what survival entails. In later years, serious bushmen and outdoorspeople have risen up to the occasion and put on shows that rival Les Stroud’s in terms of quality and helpfulness, but for me, Survivorman remains iconic, a trailblazer.

  • Watching Stroud enjoy freshly-caught Arctic Char raw, and then the safe consumption of raw fish in Houkago Teibou Nishi and even Yuru Camp△ would ultimately convince me to give nigiri a go: I’ve long been apprehensive about raw fish dishes of any sort, and during my vacation in Japan, when a hotel served us sashimi, I clandestinely dunked my fish in the nabe, cooking it instantly and rendering it in a state I was much more comfortable eating. As it turns out, raw fish intended for consumption is frozen, which kills any parasites in the flesh, and when properly prepared, it is reasonably safe to eat.

  • Nowadays, I’m perfectly happy with eating things like raw fish in moderation: when raw, salmon and tuna are surprisingly tasty, although nothing quite beats a piece of fried cod or steamed Tilapia topped with soy sauce, ginger and spring onion. One other side effect of watching Survivorman was that I became open to eating offal: in a survival situation, Stroud utilises every part of an animal, including the liver and the heart. As a result of seeing this, I became open to eating things like turkey liver and blood tofu. Here, Stroud enjoys the fish roe, which is a delicacy and which I know best as a part of sushi and, in Cantonese cuisine, can be added to fried rice or siu mai.

  • Amidst the preparations, Stroud mentions that all of the fish blood smell might attract polar bears. It suddenly strikes me that the rifle he’d been carrying earlier is nowhere to be seen, and I imagine that it’s probably stashed away at the campsite. After finishing preparation of the fish, Stroud notes that with the intestines and other entrails, he might be able to add to his bird trap and see if he can’t get a few seagulls to increase his food stockpiles. In Director’s Commentary, Stroud appends that it’s always important to keep looking forward, and just because things are good now doesn’t mean one can’t take advantage of things to better things further. This is another one of those nuances that applies to real life.

  • I smiled upon hearing Stroud say that a good guide should be able to get a fire going even somewhere that’s seen nonstop rain for the past three days. A determined bushman will be able to find or make dry tinder anywhere and make things work; this is what speaks to being a good guide. I remain skeptical that a master guide could simply summon wine and chocolates as readily, but the comment adds a bit of humour to things and acts as a reminder that the situation has shifted enough for Stroud to be cracking jokes. Something similar happened in the Colorado Rockies; after a fishing trip, Stroud says he didn’t catch a single fish.

  • Instead, he’s caught two; being able to apply humour in a difficult situation helps to lighten the mood up and gives the mind a chance to regroup. After the wood’s prepared, a bit of steel wool and a battery is all that’s needed to light the fire. In other episodes, Stroud has used duct tape as a fire-starter, validating the MythBusters‘ episode where they had shown that duct tape is actually a viable fire starter (on top of being useful in many other functions). In other episodes, Stroud has used corn chips and chapstick to start and hold a flame (which is unsurprising, since corn chips are basically oil and hydrocarbons, and chapstick is basically wax). Having a fire at this location proves to be a massive morale booster, giving warmth in a place of nonstop wind and cold.

  • Stroud ends up cooking his Arctic Char over an open flame, and this moment had gotten me curious about what Arctic Char tastes like. Despite looking a little like salmon, Arctic Char is a bit more oily and has a more intense flavour compared to salmon – it is supposed to be more trout-like in terms of texture and taste. Despite being considered more sustainable than salmon, Arctic Char is not widely farmed, and as a menu item on restaurants, it tends to be pricier, being found at higher-end places.

  • The Baffin Island episodes marks one of the few times where Stroud’s so thoroughly enjoying the moment that he addresses his editor, making a joke about how later, once he’s back home and they’re working on editing all of the cuts into an episode, his editor, Barry Farrell, will doubtlessly begin feeling a little hungry at the sight of watching Stroud enjoying fresh-cooked Arctic Char. Director’s Commentary never clarifies whether or not Stroud and his team shared a laugh at this moment, but I would imagine that Farrell probably smiled at this moment.

  • Towards the end of the episode, a persistent rainfall rolls into the Pond Inlet area, preventing Stroud from doing too much beyond sitting in his shelter and enjoying his fish. The aesthetics of this moment reminds me of when I’d been in Rennes, France, after the Laval Virtual Conference had ended; I’d picked up a bug and was not feeling well, so I spent my day in Rennes at the hotel, trying to rest up. A fierce rainstorm was raging outside, and in moments where I had the strength to do so, I was reading through a novel I’d brought. I was lucky in that my stomach bug had subsided long enough for me to make the flight back home, although it was another few days before I healed up completely.

  • Memories of watching rain for large drops against the hotel window linger in my memory, and even now, whenever it gets rainy, my mind wanders back to the March of several years earlier, as well as Stroud’s Baffin Island experience. June this year was especially rainy, and as I worked from my home office, I occasionally turned to face the window and enjoy the sound of rain pattering against my window. We’re now entering the August long weekend, and like the two previous years, we’ve got a heat warning in place, with the temperatures hovering above 30ºC until Tuesday.

  • When the rain lessens up, Stroud heads out into the fields behind his camp to forage for wild edibles and other plants. With the energy from the Arctic Char, Stroud is able to wander around and explore for different things, including a sort of tuber that is quite nutritious. Throughout this episode, Stroud says that timing is vital, as being in a certain place at a certain time can mean the difference between having a Smörgåsbord of things to eat, and being stuck in a desolate landscape. This timing influences when Stroud chooses to go out onto the land for a survival excursion, and while Stroud is widely respected amidst the community, he does have his share of detractors.

  • Stroud always has a fair and reasoned answer for his detractors, explaining that there are certain constraints and limitations he works within. Director’s Commentary really brings these topics into the open, and in fact, when Stroud began doing Director’s Commentary for his Survivorman: Bigfoot series, he explains his mindset behind how he approaches the pseudoscientific field of cryptozoology – although my own scientific background makes me a skeptic by default, Stroud makes a very valid point about how it’s so important to keep an open mind even for this sort of stuff because some of the people who recount these stories are experts in their own right.

  • To dismiss them as delusional, or lying, is then unfair, and at the minimum, one should hear the story through and try to understand what happened. This mode of thinking opened my mind to the idea of Sasquatch, and since watching the Klemtu episode back in September 2020, I’ve also become more open-minded towards the History Channel’s Ancient AliensSecrets of Skinwalker Ranch and the like. While it’s not hard science like NOVA or Nature, there’s a fun about these shows that make their topics worth considering. If and when I’m asked, I would say that while I am skeptical of things like UFOs or Sasquatch, I do not deny that there is a possibility such things do exist, especially considering how large the universe is.

  • Director’s Commentary opened me up to things that I would’ve otherwise not experienced, and this is why Survivorman is something I respect so deeply – even today, Les Stroud always finds a way to impress with his content, and ever since subscribing to his YouTube channel, I’ve broadened my horizons considerably. The global health crisis changed the way I consume media: before the pandemic, I was subscribed to no YouTube channels and only ever watched music channels. Amidst the pandemic, I ended up following a variety of channels, including MeatEater, Binging With Babbish and Rick Steves’ Europe.

  • As the rain continues, Stroud decides to make a qulliq, a traditional Inuit oil lamp that provides long-lasting light during the darkest months of the year. This bushcraft was a reminder of how once the basics are taken care of, the mind is free to focus on other pursuits. Inclement weather subsequently shuts down the episode, forcing Stroud to end things earlier. With the end of this episode, Survivorman concludes one of the most memorable survival experiences, and for me, my reminiscence on the MCAT very nearly is about to draw to a close: I have one more Survivorman related discussion for covering my own recollections of exam day itself.

  • I’ll save those recollections for that post proper, apologise to readers who were doubtlessly hoping for posts about anime, and note that folks will only have to suffer through one more MCAT-related post for the remainder of this blog’s existence. The reason behind why I embarked on a trip down memory lane was because there were learnings from that period of my life that still impact the way I do things now, and I find that it’s important to do a little introspection and reflection every so often. Understanding old experiences and being mindful of how we did things before allows one to keep doing what works, and avoid doing what doesn’t. In the meantime, I’ve got a surprise post for a movie and Among Trees scheduled for early August. Here, I will also note that I’m hosting Jon’s Creative Showcase, aka #TheJCS, for August. I’m not too sure if anyone was hosting it in July, but I do look forwards to seeing what submissions will be available this time around.

For me, the Arctic Tundra episode became a quick favourite for this reason – Stroud speaks to the importance of proactive survival, keeping an eye out for anything that can be helpful and always looking for ways to better one’s situation, all of which are traits that proved instrumental for the me of a decade earlier: at this point in the summer, less than two weeks had remained between myself and the MCAT. Despite having spent nearly two full months in the MCAT preparation course, and despite having done several full-length practise exams, I remained quite nervous about the actual exam itself – in my final week of the preparation course, I was swinging between wanting the exam to come as soon as possible so I could write it, and wishing I had another month of preparation time. As a part of my preparation course’s offerings, I had one full-length exam left to me at this time, and I decided to write it with two weeks left, just to gauge how I might do. I thus spent a sunny Saturday indoors doing this exam under simulated conditions. Six hours later, I finished the exam, and to my great surprise, I scored a 33 (551 in today’s terms). It suddenly dawned on me that the preparations had been fruitful after all: my practise scores had trended upwards, and I thus left for a family dinner that evening more relaxed than I’d been all summer. In the days leading up to the MCAT, I did practise sections and found that for physical and biological sciences, I was scoring 11-12 (128-129), while the verbal reasoning was giving me 9-11 (126-128). The shift in momentum was brought on by this one moment, and I immediately found myself relating to Les Stroud’s Arctic Tundra experience – entering Baffin Island, Stroud had already possessed a considerable set of survival skills, and with the right bit of luck, a difficult situation turned into a manageable one. For me, the realisation I was probably more ready than I felt provided a similarly significant psychological booster: I had all of the knowledge and skills needed to face down the exam, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. Having this confidence proved to be the final piece of the puzzle I needed, and as the final two weeks to the MCAT approached, I spent the remainder of my days doing revisions and drills in the morning, before taking the afternoons easy by blogging, or playing Team Fortress 2 and MicroVolts. The end results speak for themselves, and my experiences with the MCAT would later impact how I faced my undergraduate thesis defense, graduate project and the transition from university into industry: falling back on existing knowledge and doing my best even when facing down a problem of unknown scope has allowed me to consistently work out solutions to problems. While Les Stroud’s Survivorman may deal with bushcraft and survival, the mental aspects of survival, such as the will to live and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity.