441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Calcifer

This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)

Charizard

Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Zuko

In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:

Firebending

Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)

Hades

At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)

Smaug

Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

428. An Open Letter to Hollywood 2: The Sequel

Dear Hollywood Executives,

I know you’re all very busy, so I’ll try to keep this short. It’s been a while since my last letter, which I assume you all read, and another one is due. Consider it a sequel.

You’ve made a few small improvements since my last letter. For example, you actually made a Deadpool movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. (I’ve also heard that it’s extremely vulgar, but Deadpool’s gotta Deadpool, I guess.) So many superhero movies are all doom and gloom, because, y’know, heaven forbid comic-book stories be fun for anybody. Irreverent takes on the genre like Deadpool and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy are a welcome change. It’s okay for superhero movies not to take themselves so seriously. We don’t mind, honest!

Speaking of superhero movies, can we get a bit more diversity? Please? Take the Avengers, otherwise known as the League of White Guys. (They have only one female member: a token femme fatale with no superpowers.) I don’t read Marvel comics, but I know they feature more than white dudes. I don’t have anything against white dudes—I am one, as a matter of fact—but flooding superhero movies with them is unfair, uncool, and frankly kinda boring.

To be fair, I must congratulate you on giving Black Panther, the no-nonsense African superhero, a part in the new Captain America movie, and working toward giving him his own film in a couple of years. For a change, the black guy won’t be just a sidekick. He’ll be the hero.

Black PantherIt will be nice, after more than a dozen Marvel movies, finally to have one whose hero isn’t a white American (or quasi-British) male. It’s a step in the right direction. Keep stepping, ladies and gentlemen. Keep stepping.

I’ve already written about video game movies and portrayals of Christians in secular media, so I won’t repeat myself here. Just go read those blog posts. I will, however, emphatically repeat my appeal for a Metal Gear Solid movie. It should happen. It needs to happen. Please, please, please, make it happen. I will give you anything to make a Metal Gear Solid movie, unto half my kingdom. (I won’t actually give you anything for making the movie, but I will buy tickets to see it.)

Look, I’ve even done some of the casting for you.

Metal Gear Solid movie Now you just need to make the movie. Please do.

As long as we’re discussing film adaptations: Why don’t you adapt more old books? As you struggle to come up with ideas, consider the thousands of terrific stories available at your local library. I once made a list of books that would make great films, and you’ve made only one of them (Ender’s Game) with a second (Ben-Hur) on its way. Seriously, I want a film version of The Man Who Was Thursday almost as much as I want that Metal Gear Solid movie.

Incidentally, I hear Martin Scorsese is working on an adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s Silence: a brooding and powerful novel about the silence of God.

SilenceIt’s exactly the sort of obscure, slow-paced book you Hollywood execs won’t touch with a ten-foot boom pole. Mr. Scorsese thinks differently. Learn from Mr. Scorsese, Hollywood.

Moving on from a good director to some really bad ones: Why are you still letting Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan make movies? Why?! Just stop. Stop. Staaahhhp.

On a brighter note, Disney and Pixar have been making some outstanding movies lately. I’m glad to see that animation is not merely surviving on the Hollywood scene, but evolving and thriving. As long as you have Disney and Pixar, Hollywood, I think you’ll be all right.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough for one letter. I hope it doesn’t seem too harsh or demanding. For all of my grumbling, I really appreciate good movies, and I suppose I have you Hollywood people to thank for them. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for making my life a little brighter, and occasionally a little more explode-y.

Peace,

Adam

P.S. I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could just put Disney’s John Lasseter in charge of everything? No? Well, there was no harm in asking.

415. The Bests of 2015

I no longer review stuff on this blog, but I don’t mind taking a day to look back on the best media I experienced in 2015. I didn’t spend as much time reading, watching movies and television, or playing video games as I would have liked, but I did enjoy some notable works, and here are the best of the best. (For clarification, this list includes only media I experienced for the first time in 2015. I’m featuring neither old favorites I revisited nor new episodes of shows I’ve seen.)

After I’ve shared my favorites, feel free to share yours in the comments! What great films, books, television shows, or video games did you enjoy in 2015?

Here are mine.

Best Live Action Film: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max

This film is a work of art, and also an action movie with spiky cars and fire-spewing electric guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense, with sparse dialogue and explosive momentum. The movie is basically a two-hour car chase through a dystopian wasteland, yet manages to convey (amid explosions) meaningful themes such as guilt, redemption, the empowerment of women, and the worth of human life. The film also gets bonus points for its oversaturated, brightly-colored scenery: a welcome change from the bleached, washed-out look of most dystopian movies. Fury Road is stupid, campy action elevated to an art form: a film with all the ferocious beauty and power of an erupting volcano.

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Inside Out

Pixar films nearly always leave an emotional impression, so it’s only to be expected that a Pixar film about emotions makes a terrific impact. Inside Out nearly made me cry in the movie theater, and I’m not a person who cries. Pixar’s best movies have a simple premise, and this one is no exception: What if your emotions were tiny people inside your head? Inside Out tells two intertwining stories: the fantastical journey of a little girl’s emotions inside her mind, and the consequent struggles of that little girl to accept the changes in her life. This film warms the viewer’s heart, but only after it has finishing breaking it. Inside Out is a sad, joyful movie… which seems appropriate, as Sadness and Joy are two of its most important characters.

Best Fiction Book: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King cover

The Once and Future King is a retelling of King Arthur’s life. Like Inside Out, this story is both happy and sad; unlike that film, this novel leans much more heavily toward sadness than happiness. The epic backdrop of the Arthurian legends is used here as a stage for the intimate stories of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Fragments of the old legends—the Round Table, the Grail Quest, Mordred’s betrayal—are woven neatly into two stories: the king who spends his life trying to do the right thing, and the knight whose loyalties are forever divided. Both men are great heroes, and both are doomed from the start. As it reinvents old stories for our cynical age, The Once and Future King is funny, sad, and well worth reading.

Best Nonfiction Book: All Groan Up

All Groan Up

Its title is a really bad pun, but this is not a bad book. (Seriously, though, that title causes me physical pain.) This memoir of a young man’s post-college panic, crises of faith, search for employment, and painful transition to adulthood is eerily similar to my own experiences. Paul Angone tells his story with openness, honesty, Jon Acuff-like humor, and way too many silly metaphors. In the end, despite its stylistic quirks, his story is well worth reading for all those college-age adults who feel lost, alone, ashamed, and hopeless. I wish I had read this book five years ago.

Best Console Video Game: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

This is probably the most beautiful game I have ever played. With visuals inspired (and some contributed) by the legendary Studio Ghibli, and music by noted composer Joe Hisaishi, this game looks and sounds amazing—and it plays beautifully. The game’s story of a little boy searching for his mother is touching and bittersweet… except for when it’s cute and hilarious, which it frequently is. The Final Fantasy-meets-Pokémon gameplay may be a bit deep for casual players, and the ending is unsatisfying, but these are nitpicks. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is magical. And it’s getting a sequel!

Best Handheld Video Game: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

“A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved,” and Professor Hershel Layton is the truest of gentlemen. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a delightful collection of puzzles, strung together by the most intriguing Professor Layton story I’ve seen yet. The good Professor’s search for the diabolical relic known as the Miracle Mask is packed with interesting characters, charming visuals, good voice acting, and (of course) scores upon scores of puzzles to solve. This is a game for everyone, casual players and veteran gamers alike. In fact, the only people for whom I can’t recommend this game are those with no feeling, soul, or sense of humor.

Best Live Action Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil

Marvel's Daredevil

I’ve already written two entire blog posts about the excellence of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I won’t add much here. I’ll just point out one more fun detail: a scene set in a Hispanic lady’s home contains a two-liter bottle of Inca Kola. (I grew up drinking Inca Kola in Ecuador.) That is serious attention to detail.

Daredevil (now with 100% more Inca Kola!)

Marvel’s Daredevil has a breakable hero, a fascinating villain, great writing, brilliant action scenes, a gripping (and grounded) story, and an artistically comic-booky visual style. This show is superb.

Best Animated Television Series: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

This anime isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s something compelling about its unromantic romance writer and his quirky entourage of artists. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is neither a romantic comedy nor a satire, but something in between. It never feels cynical or mean-spirited as it deconstructs rom-com clichés; the show’s self-aware humor is balanced by a heartwarming charm and innocence. As an added bonus, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the process of making manga (i.e. Japanese comics). It’s fairly short and available only in Japanese with English subtitles, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is delightful.

What are some of the best media you experienced in 2015? Let us know in the comments!

384. Spiders Are Noble and Misunderstood

Nearly everyone I know has an irrational fear of spiders. In fact, most of my friends and relatives react to spiders by terminating them with extreme prejudice. This is a shame. Spiders are noble, innocent, misunderstood creatures. I’m fond of the little guys, and I think they deserve better than to be slaughtered without pity or remorse.

I grew up in Ecuador: a tiny country with a bewildering variety of birds, animals, insects, and other creatures, including several species of spiders. At one point in Quito, my family and I had tarantulas burrowing in our back garden. No spider ever did me harm. Other bugs attacked me, such as mosquitoes; still more tried unsuccessfully to hurt me, such as scorpions and a Giant Mutant Killer Jungle Ant, but spiders were contented to mind their own business and leave me alone.

Most people refuse to return that favor. A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Socrates, once tried incinerating a spider with a flamethrower cobbled together from a lighter and a can of cooking spray. Other friends—less creative than Socrates, but just as violent—have wielded books and shoes in their bloodthirsty crusade against spiders.

Misunderstood spider is misunderstood

Heck, even J.R.R. Tolkien, a man of enormous creative genius and one of my heroes, hated spiders. A childhood encounter with a tarantula traumatized him for life. His arachnophobia surfaced in his stories; his most famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, both feature wicked giant spiders.

As much as I admire Tolkien, I think E.B. White was closer to the truth when he wrote Charlotte’s Web, a children’s book about a sweet, noble friend who happens to be a spider.

Charlotte's Web

Everyone thinks spiders are awful, but look at that goose! That bird is clearly evil, and probably possessed by many devils.

Charlotte is basically any and every spider: hardworking and considerate, spinning beautiful webs to rid the world of pests like flies and mosquitoes. E.B. White understood, guys.

Flipping heck, even cartoons for young children get it.

Spiders quietly eliminate true pests. Have you ever tried sleeping with a cloud of mosquitoes buzzing around your ears? I have. It sucks. Have you ever been annoyed by flies, stung by bees, or menaced by cockroaches? I have. It sucks. (Cockroaches, my archenemies, are the worst creatures on God’s green earth.) Spiders prevent the proliferation of these wretched beasties. If spiders did not exist, the world would be overrun by filthy pests. Spiders are God’s guardian angels.

Spiders aren’t so bad, really.

Look, I get it. Spiders look scary. They have a lot of legs and too many eyes, and the way they move is a little creepy. Spiders are odd-looking. However, if it were okay to kill things just because they looked odd, Pete Docter would have been murdered ages ago, and Pixar’s Inside Out (which Docter directed and co-wrote) would never have been made. So there.

Pete Docter

I have nothing but respect and admiration for Mr. Docter, but he sure is a goofy-looking guy. He has roughly 70% more forehead than most people.

If we killed everything that looked weird or made us uncomfortable, I probably wouldn’t have made it to my teens.

An expert on Englishing

There’s a reasonable explanation for this. Probably.

Yes, some spiders are venomous. Some can kill you. Do you know what else can kill you? Donkeys. (They have a vicious kick.) Human beings also kill each other occasionally, but I like to think most of us aren’t so bad—and neither are most spiders.

So the next time you want to slaughter a spider out of fear or disgust, consider showing some mercy and putting it outside instead!

371. Ladies in Fantasy Fiction Need Better Armor

I’m no expert, but I’ve noticed a difference between armor for men and women in fantasy fiction: men wear more of it.

I’m no feminist, but I do believe in treating people with decency and respect. I’m also fairly pragmatic. Most female armor in fantasy fiction isn’t respectful or decent, and pragmatic it most certainly is not.

Here, for example, are male and female warriors from one of the Dragon Quest video games. In the game, they have exactly the same role on the battlefield. Is unreasonable to expect them to wear roughly the same armor?

Amor differencesIn the picture above, the male warrior gets a padded tunic over mail hauberk, along with leather gauntlets, a sturdy helm, a kite shield, and articulated armor plating for his legs. The female warrior, by contrast, gets a tiny mail blouse, half a mail skirt, and random bits of plate armor on her arms and legs.

There are several problems here.

The most glaring issue is sexism, of course. It just ain’t fair for male characters to be fully armored while female characters wear swimsuits. (I’ve touched upon this before.) It exemplifies the concept known as the male gaze: the way visual arts often assume the viewer is male. The male gaze ogles female characters or puts them in revealing clothes, like the chain mail swimsuit above. It’s insulting to women.

(For those ready with the “fantasy fiction is not supposed to be realistic” arguments, I believe at least a small amount of realism makes fiction more believable. If a woman wears dangerously revealing armor, there had better be a good reason for it! For those ready with the “you should stop taking everything so seriously” arguments, I don’t believe fiction is a valid excuse for sexism or double standards.)

This is not, however, a blog post about sexism. Nah, today’s post provides a more pragmatic rationale for giving female characters better armor: the kinds of armor worn by most female characters in fantasy fiction would get them killed.

Let’s take armor styles one at a time.

The chain mail bikini

Chain mail bikiniIt was challenging to find a picture illustrating this style of armor that wasn’t NSFTMTF. (For those who don’t know, NSFTMTF stands for Not Safe For Typewriter Monkey Task Force: a designation covering vulgar language, extreme violence, sexually explicit material, and any media related to Kristen Stewart or Justin Beiber.) Even the picture above pushes the boundaries of good taste.

The chain mail bikini describes any style of armor that (sometimes barely) covers only the naughty bits of a lady’s anatomy. I need hardly describe the practical difficulties of such armor. It exposes vital organs such as the stomach and lungs, providing practically no protection whatsoever. More often than not, what little armor is worn looks like it could fall off at any moment. High heels, which are often worn with chain mail bikinis, don’t allow for quick movement or proper balance.

Are there benefits to chain mail bikinis? I’m really reaching here, but I suppose they could offer good mobility, and might prove distracting to enemies.

Nah. Who am I kidding? Chain mail bikinis are completely useless.

The boob plate

Boob plate armorAs the name suggests, the boob plate is a breastplate with breasts.

Opinions are divided on the usefulness of the boob plate, but the most logical view is that it would probably kill you.

You see, armor doesn’t merely shield the body from sharp or spiky things. It also deflects the force of blows from weapons. A blow from, say, a club will do far less damage if it glances off a breastplate than if it strikes it squarely. In other words, armor is meant to deflect blows, not to absorb them.

The problem with boob plates is that they wouldn’t necessarily deflect blows away from the chest. They could also deflect them inward, funneling them into the cleavage between the breasts—and right into the wearer’s breastbone. Even if a weapon didn’t penetrate the armor, it could fracture the wearer’s sternum. Flipping heck, even falling forward could slam the ridge of metal separating the breasts into the breastbone, breaking it.

As it happens, people who wore armor usually wore padding beneath it, so a woman’s chest would probably be wrapped or padded and wouldn’t require a form-fitting breastplate in the first place.

The battle dress

Aerith

A battle dress is a dress worn into battle. Like the boob plate, it’s fairly self-explanatory.

I applaud the battle dress for being less blatantly sexist than other styles of female armor… but it still gets low marks for practicality. Long skirts and dresses have the same problem as capes in The Incredibles: they get caught on stuff. A woman can hardly run, ride a horse, or vault over bushes in a dress. Sooner or later, it will snag on something.

Besides, dresses offer no protection… unless they have chain mail or plate armor sewn into them. Then, unless the armored sections are kept close to the body, such weighted dresses are even more likely to snag on stuff. Besides, any heavy part of the dress left hanging, such as a skirt or long sleeve, impedes movement by swinging awkwardly.

The sensible armor

Sensible lady's amorThe armor in the picture above isn’t perfectly practical—it should lose the flowing skirt, and the breastplate really ought to cover more of the abdomen—but it isn’t bad. (I would cut off the braid and add a helmet, but what do I know?) The shoulders, chest, and legs are protected, leaving the arms free and allowing bend at the waist for wielding so large an axe. The armor also looks awesome as all heck.

Women can wear more or less the same styles of armor as men, with minor adjustments for shoulder width. Even adding a slight outward bulge for breasts is fine, provided it doesn’t include the sternum-shattering cleavage mentioned above; a gentle convex curve can deflect blows as well as anything. Designing sensible female armor doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Is impractical lady armor ever appropriate in fiction? I suppose it has its place, such as in comedic tales and parodies of fantasy fiction. In more serious stories, styles of lady armor which would be useless in battle could be used for ceremonial purposes: parades, coronations, etc.

In the end, however, I think practical armor is definitely the best way to go.

369. Review Roundup: Fairy Tale Edition

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Indiana, Adam the blogger enjoyed a number of whimsical stories and contemporary fairy tales. Here are his impressions of three animated films, a video game, and an anime: Inside OutBraveBrother Bear, Ni No Kuni, and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.

These are the stories of a plucky princess, an Inuit tribesman, a brave little boy, a Japanese manga artist, and the personifications of a girl’s emotions. Do they live happily ever after?

Let’s find out.

Inside Out

Inside Out

Inside Out brought me closer to weeping openly in a movie theater than any other film has done. (Fortunately, I have a heart of stone, sparing myself and my younger brother the embarrassment of annoying our fellow theatergoers.) This is a brilliant movie, and I have literally nothing bad to say about it.

Pixar’s Inside Out pictures the human mind as a control room operated by five engineers, each representing an emotion: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. In the mind of Riley, a girl from Minnesota, her emotions struggle to keep her happy as she moves with her parents to California. When an accident sends Joy and Sadness to the farthest reaches of Riley’s mind, these unlikely partners must make it back to the control center before Riley breaks down.

This film boasts the usual Pixar polish, with top-notch animation, writing, and performances. Beyond that, Inside Out is the first Pixar movie in years to feature a truly original concept. (Of the past four Pixar films, two were sequels, one was a prequel, and one had the style of a traditional fairy tale—more on that last one in just a bit.) The movie’s concept of the mind is creative, clever, and—importantly—consistent. The way the mind works in Inside Out isn’t hard to understand, and the film does a fine job of sticking to it.

As I hinted above, this is a film with emotional punch. Pixar has a gift for depicting emotion with heartfelt sincerity and simplicity: Carl’s irritable despondency in Up, the toys’ sense of loss in Toy Story 3, Mike’s resignation to his limitations in Monsters UniversityInside Out is quite literally a film about emotions, so you can bet it hits the viewer—at any rate, this viewer—with feels.

This is pretty much how I felt at the end of the film.

This is pretty much how I felt at the end of the film.

Inside Out is a fantastic film. Somewhere deep inside my mind, my sense of Joy is fiddling with whatever knobs and buttons affect my actions, willing me to recommend this film. Watch it. Your own sense of Joy will thank you.

Brave

Brave

Here’s another Pixar classic, this time telling the age-old story of a princess who falls in love with a prince and—what’s that? She doesn’t fall in love with a prince? Well, that’s different.

Brave is an original fairy tale. Set in Scotland, it tells the tale of a princess named Merida, who decides she doesn’t want to let her parents marry her off to any of the local chieftains’ sons. Merida tries to change her fate… and accidentally transforms her mother into a bear. Mother and daughter must shelve their pride, settle their differences, and somehow make things right.

The film’s independent, self-reliant heroine is a refreshing change of pace from the mild princesses of other fairy-tale movies, and I appreciate the way the Merida and her mother learn to understand, respect, and trust each other. Merida’s family is a colorful bunch. Even the chieftains and their sons, who could easily have been throwaway characters, have some personality.

As a Pixar movie, Brave doesn’t feel particularly, well, brave. It’s a fairy tale. Even with its feminist undertones and emphasis on family relationships, it treads a lot of familiar ground. It’s a fine film nevertheless, and I appreciate it as a deeper alternative to the princess-flavored romances Disney loves so much.

By the way, does the Scottish setting of Brave give anyone else flashbacks to How to Train Your Dragon? No? I guess it’s just me, then.

Brother Bear

Brother Bear

Here’s another animated movie about people turning into bears. Why do people keep turning into bears? I just can’t bear it. (I’m so, so sorry.)

Brother Bear is a Disney animated film from the early two thousands: that nebulous stretch of Disney history whose movies nobody remembers. In the film, an Inuit tribesman named Kenai seeks revenge on a bear that killed a loved one, and is turned into a bear for his trouble. He must go on a quest, and learn the power of love, and—y’know, forget it. If you’ve ever seen a Disney film, you know where this is going.

This is not a bad movie. The Canadian wilderness is a great setting, and Inuit culture is largely unexplored in pop fiction. The acting, animation, and story were all perfectly adequate. I just couldn’t help feeling that this film didn’t really need to be made. Brother Bear is an uninspired blend of other Disney movies. Its plot borrows heavily from The Emperor’s New Groove: a man turned into an animal finds a buddy and goes on a trip to regain his (literal and figurative) humanity. The film’s music channels the soundtrack of Tarzan, down to a song from Phil Collins. It’s all been done before.

Brother Bear does have its moments. A couple of moose with heavy Canadian accents wander in and out of the movie, providing comic relief and stealing every scene in which they appear. The movie lacks a traditional villain, which is a refreshing change from Disney’s usual black-and-white morality.

In the end, however, Brother Bear is nothing special. I recommend The Emperor’s New Groove instead: pretty much the same story, but much funnier.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

Flipping heck, this game is amazing. I’ve already discussed the excellence of Ni No Kuni, so I’ll try not to ramble!

Ni No Kuni is a beautiful fairy tale. (It also happens to be a JRPG for the PlayStation 3.) It tells the story of Oliver, a little boy who sets out on a quest to save his mum. Accompanied by Drippy, the “Lord High Lord of the Fairies,” Oliver must mend broken hearts, defeat an evil jinn, and rescue a parallel world.

That world is one of the most charming and beautiful places I’ve seen in a video game. The look of Ni No Kuni was based on the work of the legendary Studio Ghibli, which handled the game’s animated cutscenes. This a lovely game. Apart from the cutscenes, which are nothing less than I expected of the Oscar-winning animation studio, the game itself is gorgeous.

I mean, look at it. Just look at it.

This is a gameplay screenshot, not an animated cutscene. This is what the game looks like. Ain't it pretty?

This is a gameplay screenshot. This is what the game looks like, more or less. Ain’t it pretty?

Ni No Kuni is visually appealing, but its excellence doesn’t stop there. The music, composed by renowned film composer Joe Hisaishi and performed by a live orchestra, is fantastic. Most importantly, the game is flipping fun to play.

The gameplay blends the fighting and adventuring of Final Fantasy games and the creature-catching of Pokémon. Oliver and his companions command familiars, adorable monsters that handle most of the fighting. Like Pokémon, familiars can be caught, trained, and metamorphosed into stronger creatures. Outside of battle, exploration is fun and sidequests abound.

Ni No Kuni even includes the full text of an original book, The Wizard’s Companion, which contains maps, spells, descriptions of familiars, old-fashioned illustrations, runes to decipher, and fairy tales. Yes, this fairy tale contains fairy tales of its own, and they’re delightful. In fact, The Wizard’s Companion is so good that I wish I owned a hard copy. As Oliver travels, he gathers the book’s scattered pages, unlocking more reading material.

Alas, Ni No Kuni is not quite perfect. It’s hard to read The Wizard’s Companion on a television screen, and flipping through its pages is a pain.

By far the biggest flaw of Ni No Kuni is its ending. Without spoiling anything, I must admit that it feels tacked on. The game reaches a satisfying conclusion, with Oliver reaching his goal and finishing his character arc… and then the game goes on for another four to six hours, limping doggedly to an anticlimax. Although the game’s final chapter answers some lingering questions, a little rewriting would have tied up those loose ends sooner, giving the game a stronger finish.

Despite its weak ending, this game is one of the finest I’ve ever played. RPGs aren’t for everyone, but for anyone with the patience, Ni No Kuni is a gem.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

I can’t decide whether Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is a heartwarming parody or a self-aware romantic comedy. Either way, it’s brilliant.

In Japan, there is a genre of manga (comics) called shojo. This genre is aimed at teenage girls, generally focusing on romance and emotional characters. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is the story of a high school student named Sakura. When she tries to confess romantic feelings for Nozaki, one of her classmates, he mistakes her for a fan of his work. You see, Nozaki—an analytical, unromantic wet blanket—is secretly the writer and artist behind a popular shojo manga series, Let’s Fall in Love. When Nozaki invites Sakura to be his assistant, she agrees, hoping to get closer to him.

This twelve-episode series is a hilarious deconstruction of romantic comedies. The eponymous Nozaki-kun is intrigued by romance, but only from an academic point of view. For example, he loves St. Valentine’s Day, but only because observing romantic couples gives him ideas for his manga series. The thought of actually being romantic never crosses his mind. This makes for some delightful moments when Sakura is convinced he is finally falling in love with her… only to realize he’s testing out ideas for his manga.

For example, Nozaki realizes it’s romantic for a man and woman to share a bicycle, but he doesn’t understand why. He tests the scenario repeatedly with Sakura, eventually acquiring a tandem bike and riding down city streets with Sakura reluctantly in tow. Once he figures out the most romantic method for sharing a bike, he reasons, he can use it in his story for optimal effect.

Romantic, I guess

This is romantic, right? Right?!

As Sakura becomes acquainted with Nozaki and his other assistants, she realizes how much of his manga is based on people she knows. For example, the heroine of Let’s Fall in Love is based on Mikoshiba, a flirtatious male friend of Nozaki’s who is secretly very insecure.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun deconstructs rom-com clichés, yet the series is never bitter or mean-spirited. I was also pleasantly surprised by the show’s family-friendly tone. Japanese anime is notorious for its inappropriate content. As I began this anime about high school romance, I resigned myself to the saucy innuendos and panty shots that plague other series. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun rises above cheap lewdness, keeping things at a PG level. I found the show’s innocence added to its charm, which is already considerable.

Like many anime, this one offers fascinating glimpses into Japanese culture. I was particularly interested by the creative process of writing and drawing manga, which is gradually shown in the series as Nozaki enlists more assistants.

I highly recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun to anyone who likes anime or romantic comedies. I’m not a particular fan of either, yet I really enjoyed it.

What books, films, shows, or video games have you enjoyed lately? Let us know in the comments!

348. About Storytelling: Getting Drunk on Milk

In fiction, as in real life, bad things happen. When tragedy strikes, fictional characters sometimes try to drown their grief in alcohol.

We’ve all seen this in the movies. In one scene, a man loses his job or girlfriend; in the next, we find him drinking or drunk. It’s an age-old trope of storytelling. Heck, even I’ve used it. Lance Eliot, the protagonist in my novel, is quite a drinker.

What about stories for children? Here we have a problem. A story may need its characters to drink away their sorrows, but that sure ain’t appropriate for the kiddos! Storytellers, crafty creatures that they are, have discovered a family-friendly alternative to getting drunk on alcohol: getting drunk on nonalcoholic things, of course!

(In writing this blog post, I discovered this trope actually has a name: drunk on milk. Thanks, TV Tropes.)

Here are some examples of characters in family-friendly media drowning their sorrows in things that aren’t alcohol.

Tea (Toy Story)

Tea drunkI’ve drunk Darjeeling tea before, and let me tell you: the stuff Buzz Lightyear drinks (or pretends to drink) in Toy Story is like no Darjeeling I’ve ever tasted. Whatever is in those teacups, Buzz gets buzzed. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry. By the way, in case one bad pun isn’t enough for you, “Buzz” is pronounced “booze” in a Hispanic accent.) Buzz’s, um, tea is strong enough that he doesn’t seem to mind being called “Mrs. Nesbitt,” which must be humiliating for an intergalactic hero. Darned Darjeeling!

Doughnuts (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic)

Drunk 'n' donutsA happy cartoon about magical rainbow ponies can’t show its characters consuming alcohol, despite the fact that one of its protagonists is apparently named after a hard liquor. The alternative? Doughnuts. When Spike the dragon is left behind by his pony pals, he hits the local doughnut shop—the name of which, I can only presume, is Drunk ’n’ Donuts. (Pun intended, but I’m not sorry for this one!) Spike may not get a hangover from his excesses, but I don’t envy him the inevitable sugar crash.

Ramen noodles (The Legend of Korra)

Bowls and BolinBolin—the young man passed out on the table in the picture above—deals with romantic rejection as heartbroken men do: by heading to the local ramen joint and eating too many bowls of noodles. This early scene from The Legend of Korra makes me chuckle; I’m especially amused by Bolin’s pet ferret lounging in an empty bowl. The Legend of Korra is a good show… I should catch up with it someday.

Milk (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)

Milk drunkThe Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is, without question, one of the greatest games I have ever played. It’s also one of the few to feature a milk bar. (Yes, I’ve seen a milk bar in more games than this one!) Open late at night, the milk bar caters exclusively to adults and offers both live entertainment and a variety of dairy drinks. I think the Shakespearean-looking gent in the picture above says it best: “Milk… It’s miiiilk… Can you get tipsy from something like milk?!? Hic!”

Ice cream (VeggieTales)

Ice cream drunkI’m digging deep into my childhood memories for this one. At one point, Larry the woebegone cucumber responds to bad news by eating too much ice cream at a diner. (VeggieTales is not just a kids’ show, but a Christian kids’ show, so they really had to keep it family-friendly!) In the picture above, Larry recovers with a warming cup of tea. Let’s hope it’s not Darjeeling.

Juice boxes (Jan Animation Studios)

Bar buddiesAll right, I’m kinda reaching here, but I suppose this short video counts. Bar Buddies, a brief animation from the brony community, has a kid getting wasted on juice boxes. Apple juice, apple cider, applejack—what’s the difference? They’re all made of apples, right? This one makes me laugh because of the disparity between the well-dressed, hard-drinking guy on the left and the silly kid on the right.

What’s drunk-on-milk scenarios did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

If Pixar Made a Video Game

I don’t plan to play this game, but dang if this isn’t the most entertaining video game trailer I’ve ever seen.

After a brief, faux-propaganda introduction, the trailer for Overwatch shifts to a style more like Pixar or Disney: let us say, The Incredibles meets Big Hero 6. There’s a gorilla wearing glasses, a sprightly gunslinger, a couple of brave kids, and (of course) some explosions. I really enjoyed this trailer.

The video game industry is full of games with guns. (These games are widely known as shooters.) They’re nearly always gritty and gory. Some of them are actually quite good, yet their unrelenting doom and gloom are depressing… and some of the people who play games with guns are just mean. Bullying is common among players of shooters.

It’s nice to see the developer of Overwatch, Blizzard, taking the games-with-guns genre in a brighter, friendlier direction.

Chris Metzen, a developer for Blizzard, shared a refreshingly positive philosophy for the game: “Is it even possible to build a shooter that doesn’t feel cynical, that doesn’t feel cruel, that doesn’t feel nasty? Can you build one that really promotes teamwork and relationship and having fun with your friends, and not getting killed with a thrown knife from halfway across the map as soon as you jump in?”

I hope it’s possible. Overwatch seems like a great step in the right direction. At any rate, I must give it bonus points for the gorilla.

The Darker Side of Toy Story

Meet Creepy Woody

Who would make a toy like this? This is a genuine, honest-to-goodness toy. Who on God’s green earth thought giving a classic Pixar character that perverted expression was a good idea? This is one Woody I’m really, really thankful won’t ever come to life when I’m not looking.

As much as I like the Toy Story movies, I’m glad toys don’t have secret lives of their own. We just assume toys would be well-behaved, but what guarantee is there of that? What’s to say some of them wouldn’t be misanthropic jerks?

Creepy Woody #1

Creepy Woody #2

Creepy Woody #3

I rest my case.