TAKUMI YOU ARE A COOL PERSON WITH A LOT OF NEAT PROJECTS AND CREATURES AND I WISH I KNEW YOU BETTER???dregadude
(Adjusts hat to hide incredibly awkward smile for a moment, then adjusts it back up and puts on a somewhat more outgoing face)
Oh man. Most of the time people don’t acknowledge me and my projects much so when they do I get really happy, and almost a little guilty because I know I’m just a little bit of a covert narcissist, and I kind of have this idea lurking in the back of my mind that ‘I deserved it all along’. Yeah… sometimes I kind of have to try a bit at humility. I think it comes with being ambitious and needing some reason to not just give up. :p
Anyway… a little bit about myself.
(Well, actually, a lot. Brace yourself, it’s 10,737 words to be exact.)
First of all, I guess I’d better explain my name.
I came up with the name Takumi when I was at most 14. (I was just going through an old XP computer yesterday and I now at least have proof that I made a png of my kanji to use as a document background in OpenOffice in 2009, but the first time I used Takumi in a username was 2008.) In any event, I found it when looking through my first kanji dictionary and saw its meaning was “skill”, “cleverness”, “ingenuity”. For some reason, I immediately thought, that’s me! and I also liked its simple but distinctive look and the sound of one of its pronunciations, “takumi”. I also found out shortly that it was also an actual name people had sometimes, and… pretty quickly, it stuck.
I think the first word that defined me was Pokémon. (I was 4, and like, watching Pokémon. I’m serious.) I don’t know if I got interested in animals and then Pokémon or Pokémon and then animals, but somehow I was just all animals and Pokémon all the time. Sometimes I would try to create random creatures, a little bit like NN’s stuff but… well, a good deal more flat and “I have no control of my hands”-y, and with less of a coherent concept. It was all about the look of the thing and its behaviour; none of them even had worlds or stories really.
Alongside Pokémon I kind of developed a Monster Farm phase. Monster Farm (or Monster Rancher) was this series where there were these people kind of halfway between pet breeders and coaches for boxing or something. You became one of them, of course, and raised these monsters by deciding what kind of training, etc., to do every week (for most of the series you could only do one thing each week). Periodically, you’d take your monster to a tournament to try to advance to the next rank, which was kind of risky as your monster could come back tired if it got ‘KO’d’, or very rarely actually get hurt and have to go to the hospital. If you managed to get it to any decent rank, though, there were a bunch of things you could do, like send it on special training expeditions to get more powerful moves or send it off with these random explorers (a different thing) who would go to these far-off places where you could find items that allowed you to get new monster breeds.
Of course, what was hyped most was that there was an area where you could put any CD into the Playstation and by some sort of wizardry the game would use the metadata on it to create a new monster for you with… if I remember right, unique statistics in a couple of the earlier games, though I think they dropped that in later games. This was a fun feature that I played with a lot, but not really my favourite part of the game.
My favourite part of it was more just some of the monster designs and seeing the monsters move around and express their emotions in various weird and funny ways depending on how they felt about what you did. (Some of them would make pretty good gifs, I think.) For one I can remember the “Gaboo” monster (basically this big, freaky blob of yellowish clay with eyes and a mouth in a kind of haughty expression) making this hilariously pitiful face and sinking down, also making this hilariously pitiful “Euuuuuuaaaaaaaaaaaargh” noise when it’s stressed. Awgawd. Some of the monster breeds would just do the. funniest. things. when they came back from whatever activity stressed and tired, or when you gave them an item they didn’t like, or whatever. Some of them were so ferocious when you did the latter but other were just like, why me and it was just so funny how much variation there was.
As for designs…
These two things were my absolute favourites.
Raiden is kind of plain, but they were actually pretty expressive. I remember for instance that they’d jump up in the air and throw one fist up triumphantly if you praised them, for one thing. And when they failed at something I forget exactly what they’d do but they were so sincere and it was just like awwwww.
And Maya… that screenshot above doesn’t really show how awesome it was, though it was the only screenshot specifically of a Maya I could find. The wings are these beautiful holographic rainbow things, as this kind of crappy screenshot I just took of the trailer shows:
I was so bummed out when these two were nowhere to be seen in the final two games for the DS (Maya actually only appeared in one game :<). I guess they thought there wasn’t enough room for a cool rainbow caracal when they already had a now-ridiculously-realistic singing plush toy cat that’d always been there from… I think the first game?
Anyhow… I LOVED the mechanics of these games but was kind of disappointed in the selection of breeds sometimes. This prompted me to think about designing my own monstergame that I was going to sort of model on Monster Farm but have more of the kind of creatures I wanted in it. Which… apparently means slightly more naturalistic and boring designs, I guess? :p Or it did for me at that time, anyway. Maybe not so much today.
Sort of after that came a brief phase in which I pretended to be an anime/manga fan but in my heart, wasn’t really. The funny thing is, I loved things in the Japanese language, but I wasn’t really into anime or manga just for the sake of anime/manga. I blame most of that on NARUTO for seeming like it was a good story but just turning out to be really blah, extremely confusing and not really worth following after a while, and a little of it on One Piece for being like the most concentrated mountain of anime/manga cliches you could ever imagine. (“I will never forsake my friends!”? Check. “I never go back on my promises!”? Check. “I won’t lose to you!”? Check. “I must do X, for Y-who-is-incapacitated!”? Check. And so on… those aren’t great examples of cliches per se but I can’t think of good ones right now. Anyway, I won’t say it was a terrible story or not entertaining. It was just at times like oh my god is this even real? Am I even really reading this?)
What had initially started me learning Japanese when I was… 12, I think? (maybe 11) was frustration over not being able to understand the dialogue in a game called Keitai Denjuu Telefang. Yep, that was the real, exact reason, and I still remember the day.
Now, Telefang was kind of interesting because it was a hell of a lot like Pokémon in a couple of ways (oh, look! Monsters! Let’s fight! Look at them evolve!), but a hell of a lot unlike Pokémon in a number of other ways. For one, the monsters (Denjuu) actually had a semblance of politics—there was this silly ambitious earth guy who was trying to get elected “prime minister of the Denjuu world” or something, and there was some kind of conspiracy among the “elders”, as I remember from later reading the manga. For another, the monsters just did their own thing most of the time and you called them up on a cell phone. For yet another, there was this really complicated evolution system where every stage had a name and each Denjuu had as many as maybe five or six stages out of the lot, and there was this cool mechanic where you could “mod” Denjuu with various objects and make them into special stages such as “Techno Denjuu” that were weird and awesome in exchange for not being able to evolve further (this pretty much directly inspired objmodding in Dinostuck, to be honest).
And for yet another, the monsters were all named after plants. In retrospect, I actually think that was kind of bouncing off the sort of complaint I once read in Michael Shermer’s one ‘slightly cynical humour’ page of Scientific American, that Pokémon field guides were filling kids’ heads with useless knowledge when they could be learning about how amazing real animals were. I mean, I could just see the Telefang people just being like, “well let’s name them after bushes and grasses and things and then maybe the kids will learn something :p”. If that was the intention, I guess it worked because I did end up learning about a few plants I didn’t know about before. XD
(Here’s a video that… well, speedruns Telefang Speed version :p So… you could basically see the whole game extremely abridged in 15 minutes if you wanted to. And here’s a not-speedrun of the more visually impressive sequel, though the recording regrettably has a rather crappy framerate compared with the game.)
Anyhow, I guess what I’m trying to get at is that Telefang kind of awakened this latent originality in me that I’d rarely thought to bring out before. Before, I was always just kind of regurgitating my previous experiences with only a small amount of digestion, also having added a couple of random and often kind of stupid but sometimes interesting additions. But Telefang started to inspire me to think differently. Its designs were just all so weird, and the way it twisted what I perceived to be the usual monstergame template was very interesting to me. As I made a handful of small fan arts for it, trying out this whole ‘giving monsters plant names and weird designs’ thing for myself, I took this idea to heart. When I came back to my monstergame idea from my Monster Farm phase (which hadn’t really ended either; my phases overlapped a lot) at various times, I would experiment first with complicated chains of evolutions like Telefang featured and then much later (almost recently) with monster “types” based on habitats, sort of based on the way Telefang did it but with a lot more types (it only had… six I think?), and a variant of each monster for each habitat, much as Monster Farm 3 had done things.
My transition from fake anime fan to real anime fan happened when I realised I could watch and play Pokémon in Japanese. This was actually pretty recent, maybe around 2009?. High school, anyway. As I actually learned Japanese through high school classes and also perhaps at a slightly greater rate from Pokémon after about my first year of class, I started to actually get into reading manga and watching anime more, and also into doing it on principle a little bit more, though even to this day I never fully became somebody who likes anime/manga just for the sake of anime/manga by far. I started out watching Pokémon DP since it was “recent”, but also went back to watch a teeny bit of the original series, and… well… got kind of infatuated with Kojirou for a while. It was kind of funny to me because I NEVER felt that way about “James” in the English version. EVER. Even AFTER I had started feeling that way and went back and watched a short comparison somebody had done between the Japanese version and the dub, when things were going badly for Kojirou I was kind of sympathetic, but in THE EXACT SAME SCENE when it was James with his stupid voice I was like “too bad for you, loser”. It amazed me how much difference the voice actor taking things seriously or not made in how I felt about the character.
(And now you know: this is why I sometimes insist that Kojirou is a totally different person from James or ‘no he’s Kojirou not James‘, even though they’re supposed to be the same person. :p)
When I got to the end of DP and started watching BW, of course, I was really conflicted. On one hand, I could tell that this new Kojirou was truer to the original intentions for the character, remembering what he was like when he was first introduced in the very second episode ever. On the other, though, the character he’d managed to transmogrify into over the course of all the previous series was one I connected to a lot more readily, probably because I felt like… well, he was kind of like me. It might seem like a weird comparison, but:
- For much of my life, I’d felt like I was just fumbling around because nobody had ever explained to me what to do, and I could be doing much greater and more interesting things if only the right person had noticed me and put me into some kind of accelerated program, but no, I was just stuck here fumbling. Kojirou never really knew what to do so he ended up with a sometimes kind of dickish ‘companion’ and a weird talking cat nominally as a part of Team Rocket.
- Kojirou, when not trying to do insane “evil” things, sometimes showed a lot of concern toward his Pokémon, and they in return showed him a lot of affection. If I didn’t make it obvious, this is kind of how I played MF, or for that matter Pokémon. I was always a little bit anxious when I forgot whether I had let my monster rest, and I always felt really guilty when I sent them to a battle or exploration or something but they weren’t ready and they came back too tired or hurt or something. In Pokémon, bad things can’t really happen to your Pokémon on the same scale but I still really did not like to let them faint unnecessarily. And I also really liked the silly little Amie feature in XY.
- I actually kind of like exotic plants in real life
- I can oddly relate to being terrified of ending up married to a complete jerk
- Sometimes Kojirou would be the “tsukkomi” (old Japanese comedy term) and be like, the only sane person out of the three while the other two are like blah blah blah blah totally terrible idea blah blah shut up Kojirou we didn’t ask for your opinion! And I’m honestly a lot like that. I try to tell people if I think things are a bad idea but if they don’t listen to me and I can’t come up with a better one, I usually just cringingly watch to see what happens, even knowing that it will probably be bad.
- Those times when Satoshi (Ash) is just being a complete self-righteous self-assured brat and I was right along with Kojirou wondering what would be the best way to bring him down off his laurels.
- And, well… there are also a couple of times Kojirou is just kinda crying in the background not noticed by anybody. I think a lot of teenagers have been through this so I don’t really need to explain it. :p
This and the fact I wrote a mediocre fanfic (I did a pretty decent job writing a story and showcasing a fairly good writing style, but only fully discovered what the central idea was supposed to be mid-way through and did a terrible job actually portraying Kojirou) and submitted it to a dA group run by a much more mature trilingual person who clearly did know Kojirou backwards and forwards—I was kind of afraid to submit more Kojirou stuff to dA for a while lest I disappoint this ‘sempai’ and others again—kind of broke my infatuation to a great extent.
(Still, I guess I never quite got over him, because Sleipnir and Hughes are kind of a vague echo of Team Rocket when I think about it. More my experience of Team Rocket than other people’s, granted; it’s not as if they’re following anybody around or aiming for anything in particular. They’re more the “we don’t know what the hell to do so we turned to sometimes shady things” and “damn this is rough but we have each other and things will hopefully turn out ok” aspects of Team Rocket.)
While I was still infatuated with Kojirou though, I read a few short manga miniseries in Japanese that really bolstered my “actual anime fan” phase. There was Dengeki Pikachuu, Keitai Denjuu Telefang (the manga :p), and Blue Dragon RalΩGrad. (Well, I read the last one in English, actually, but oh my god, it was such an interesting story it didn’t even matter.)
As I read these three, I was struck by the intense emotions and highly dynamic visuals of the stories and also, for Dengeki and RalΩGrad, the intensely cool and different aesthetic styles.
It’s… actually hard to convey how hard I fangirled over the art style of RalΩGrad, to be perfectly honest. But, let me use my powers of fair use to show you some of the illustrations, and maybe you’ll at least partly understand. It’s hard to capture how detailed they were and how small and precise some of the pen strokes were with my tablet camera, but I think this should give you the gist of it. (I edited out most of the dialogue in these photos in fan wiki tradition because I didn’t think it was relevant.)
Are those awesome or what?
Also, here are a few pics from from Dengeki to show you its style; I particularly liked the Eevees and the way the artist drew eyes. Musashi and Kojirou were not really super interesting, but that was forgivable when the Pokémon were so awesome. (I believe I didn’t even think about them being in it or not when selecting it, despite my feelings toward Kojirou; it was just about the Pokémon.)
Ok, now we’re gradually getting into my Tyrian phase. This part may be a little disorganised, because there were a bunch of things going on here, but bear with me.
The first was, well, RalΩGrad. It was based on this silly video game with the visual design done by Mr. Dragonball himself, but the thing was, Obata had taken something I thought was super silly when I’d seen commercials for its anime on TV and turned it into one of my favourite things ever by making it much more visually beautiful and compelling. When it was just a silly video game/anime I was like “Really? People with silly-looking monsters coming out of their shadows? …Really?” but after RalΩGrad I absolutely loved the idea. I wanted to create something that similarly involved mysterious beasts with abstract appearances that lurked in the shady, repressed parts of people’s psyches. The idea that Obata had created of always having a companion but somehow just kind of being out there in the middle of the cold, troubled world having to figure things out, not really helped by this faceless “companion” as they don’t really know much more than you do but them just kind of being there deeply resonated with me for some reason.
Now, put all that serious stuff aside for a moment and just think about Bōbobo.
(Yep, “wtf???” is a perfectly acceptable response.)
I was kind of obsessed with this for a short period of time. It was kind of… almost grotesque, but Obata also made them look so awesome. I kind of wished the actual Bōbobo had been drawn in that style, and often fantasised about what it would be like if Bōbobo had been Obata’s story to start with. What kind of weird-ass story would it have been??? I mean, it was already a weird-ass story, but what would Obata have made it into? Would the humour have been more subtle? Would it have been vastly more surreal? Would Dengakuman actually have revealed himself to have been some kind of freakish alien dogmonster with a mouth full of big sharp almost shark-like teeth with drops of drool leaping out several feet into the air? I had no idea.
So… I gave myself the next best thing: a project that would essentially weld RalΩGrad and Bōbobo together.
This project was called Viridian. I’d impulsively decided it was going to star Heppokomaru (fart dude), just because… idk, he seemed easier to relate to? Or something like that. :p
Anyway, I’d named it Viridian because heppoko literally means “hack”, “not that good at (something)”, “useless” (that’s the definition goo.ne.jp gives). Not too good at stuff… inexperienced… green… yeah.
Bōbobo was going to have this dark shadowy Indian-ish dragon named Anyokurou, and Heppokomaru, who I took to often calling “Hep” after his nickname “Hekkun” (Japanese has this letter that means “double the previous sound” and when you put it with “kun” it doubles that instead; I guessed that if his name were abbreviated to that in English it would just be Hep) was going to have this totem wind cat named Sorazora, and learn the “Divine Wind Art”, Kamikazedou. This was a very deliberate pun and I think I may even have been planning that he would actually combine it with the fart arts to shoot kamikaze out of his butt, but I don’t remember. I think I had this idea he was like giving up the fart arts to learn that, because he was ashamed of his former self being too weak to do anything and wanted to be stronger, but in the end would end up coming back to them and be all the stronger for ultimately not being ashamed of who he was. (Which honestly is a pretty good lesson now that I think about it. It’s a lesson that took me a lot of years to fully learn for real myself even though I obviously was already aware of it then.)
TokoroTennosuke, because I’d interpreted his name a little too literally, had become the “Gelestial Assistant” and he lived in this place in the sky that was somewhat literally seaweed gelatin heaven; it was called “Tokorodiso”, after Paradiso. They had this emperor named TokoroTennou Kanten (kanten is the seaweed-derived substance tokoroten is made out of) and Tennosuke had this job as a mail carrier of the “Tokorodiso Nuubin“. He also had a colleague or something named Mercurius that seemed to pride himself on being able to restructure himself into at least the form of a “sabretigre“, but I forget if he was actually going to appear much or not.
Bōbobo was probably going to be one of the most interesting in Viridian because I’d headcannoned him as wearing those glasses because he had a really serious and kind of piercing stare. I had this idea that somewhat due to Anyokurou being bound to him, he was actually kind of… being consumed by shadow and pain and, like, nothingness? I forget exactly what was going on there or what the explanation was, though I think it had something to do with Anyokurou being angry that he was stuck with somebody so intolerably un-serious and kind of wanting to exact revenge. But in any event, he was using his incongruous and silly nature to cover that up and kind of counteract it, as it tended to have more of an effect when he “went along with it”. The thing was, although it was problematic for him it was also a huge source of uncontrollable power (I think the thing was that I was kind of parodying his somewhat Mary Sue-ish powers in the original by suggesting that Anyokurou was so terrible that very few save this dude would be qualified to contain him), so he had to be kind of cautious not to let it “leak out”, or he’d, like, transform into Tatsu-Bo and be this super-powerful but also super serious and kinda terrifying thing. And he didn’t want to be that, because for one he didn’t want to frighten people with his shadowed/pained/oddly demonic “true state” or make them lose morale when they learned about what was actually going on, and for another, he’d gotten kind of used to being crazy and ridiculous and didn’t really want to be forced into being serious by Anyokurou because he knew that really, that would just be sucky and boring.
In any event him not wanting to scare/worry people and not wanting to break his façade of being carefree and crazy was the reason for the glasses in Viridian.
Anyway, kind of the central premise (yep, there was a central premise to the story other than just “let’s make Bōbobo incredibly weird on top of how incredibly weird it already is and just a teeeeeny bit grittier”) was that the sort of ‘nonsense martial art’ that everyone in the Sawai universe practised, called hajike (yep, it had a collective name, despite what the dub may have led you to think) had kind of been corrupted into something that was tearing at the seams of reality. This new organisation, the Artifices Absurditatum, had quietly turned up, and was making a lot of trouble just by doing incongruous and crazy things. Part of it was that there was this sort of dynamic going on where everything was suddenly really literal, and things that would have just been vastly over-the-top cartoon-physics gags in Bōbobo and not have changed anything despite being flat-out crazy things to do were now subject to something closer to normal physics, and thus sometimes very disruptive/destructive, depending.
The guy who was behind this new organisation of oddly destructive “Artifices” was named Jyr Lins, and he was supposed to be—and I quote—”Ayn Rand’s worst nightmare”. His name was a straight-up parody of “Ayn Rand”, actually.
You see, recently, my English class had had us read a couple of short stories by Ayn Rand, and these had very strongly resonated with me. I’d realised after reading them that truth and objectivity were literally the most important things in the world, because without them, basically, all bets were off. And I’d kind of wondered what would happen if Team Bōbobo had to deal with that problem. I’ll come back to that idea just a bit later.
So, yeah, anyway, that was kind of the main, central conflict of Viridian. On one hand, Team Bōbobo could fight and suppress this new organisation to bring order to the universe again. On the other, they were going to have a lot of internal conflict as they did so because… shouldn’t we all be on the same side if Tsuru’s gone and nobody’s hunting anybody else’s hair? On one hand they could continue to use the same kind of absurd techniques they always had, at the risk it would contribute to the disorder created by the Artifices, but on the other, abandoning them for new ones such as Kamikazedou and Shinkoudou (powers gained from Anyokurou) could be risky because, well, they don’t know how to use them as well yet, and they also risk forgetting who they are and losing the individual strength that comes from knowing that.
Ok, now finally to get to the point of this!
Eventually, I decided that it was just too embarrassing to be planning a big and serious (somewhat) fanwork for something as silly and off-the-wall as Bōbobo (I think it’s important to point out here though that the point was not to make Bōbobo a totally serious thing; the story would still have been awfully absurd, bizarre, and surreal, and still have probably involved a bunch of weird gags, just with more of a focus on the central story and characters than the original), and also realised that I was way too socially awkward to try to ask for any kind of permission on something already that awkward.
So, I ended up basically throwing out all the Bōbobo-specific stuff and reworking the concept into Tyrian. (I literally picked the name Tyrian just because it was the only other colour name ending in -ian that sounded both title-ish and name-ish to me, but somehow, I liked it.)
Practically everything else stayed, though, and I just built on top of what sparse, little worldbuilding I had and added new things until it was a distinct universe. The Artifices, the absurd arts (now called the Artes Perabsurdae, and only having arrived thanks to the Artifices), and the companion beasts with powers (they were initially slightly parodying the Tailed Beasts from Naruto actually, and for that reason they were the “Whiskered Beasts”, but by now I’ve kind of gone back to my roots and opted for something more abstract, mysterious, and closer to the shadows from RalΩGrad again), along with some other things all carried over. Even a couple of characters did, actually; Kazahiko, for one, was initially a character in Viridian. I forget what exactly was up with him in Viridian, but I know it was something kind of weird and funny. I think he was being banished/imprisoned in a lighthouse but I forget what the details were? XD It was like everyone was all “Kazahiko is so awesome Kazahiko is our hero” but he was nowhere to be seen, and then we find out the Artifices put him in a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean. And he had to like be rescued, but I’m not even sure what the main characters would have gotten out of that because though Kazahiko was the previous wielder of Sorazora I think Hep already had her?? Yeah uh… I dunno what was going on there.
For a long time, I kept working on Tyrian and adding things to my brainstorming doc but it seemed like even as I worked on it and tried to fill gaps in constantly I was never getting to a greater state of completion. Eventually, I just kind of backburnered it as new projects started to form in my mind, which I’ll get to very soon. Before that, though, I’d just like to say that I really want to come back and finish Tyrian in some form, because I think it has a lot of potential, and I think the message I was trying to send with it applies as much as it did when I first started if not more (and will pretty much always apply really).
This idea that I was trying to put into story form with Tyrian is that as soon as you discard truth and objectivity as unimportant, there can no longer be justice, order, or safety. If people are just allowed to twist the truth and argue whatever damn thing, and you’re not allowed to say “but the truth is this so that argument is nonsensical and this is not a good idea”, there’s practically no way to stop bad ideas any more. Anyone can say anything, and any conclusion becomes just arbitrary, way more subject to the whims of who or what arbitrarily has power than any kind of logic or common sense.
I think this idea rings really true when you look at, for instance, the recent NSA scandal. The NSA was basically allowed to use marking things classified to create its own little insulated reality where it could do whatever it wanted, as nobody was allowed to question what it was doing since answering such questions might reveal ‘state secrets’. That much might not have been a problem, but then it proceeded to basically use its veil of secrecy as an excuse to lie and claim it wasn’t violating people’s privacy when it was, because telling the truth might reveal classified information (read: information we decided to hide from you) and as long as it gave the “least untruthful answer” things were okay, right?
As a clearer illustration, Senator Diane Feinstein apparently had been extremely ready to side with the intelligence agencies and I think may have insisted that they wouldn’t abuse their power (I could be remembering that wrong), but anyway, recently she found out that the CIA was ready to use information it had gathered from surveillance to file a criminal complaint against her staff. Then, suddenly, she started to realise how vulnerable you are no matter who you are and how innocent you are, when nearly every hour of your life can be collected as evidence against you. Or, to put it another way, when the intelligence agencies are allowed to pretend that isn’t a thing that can happen and people think it’s no big deal that they can hide the evidence that that’s exactly what’s happening.
Anyway. That’s kind of what I’m trying to get at with Tyrian. I’m sorry if it’s a little unclear or the logic seems a little wonky, as I’m still trying to figure out the best way to articulate this idea and make it make sense.
Now, for something completely different. Stablehand! Be patient. We’re finally in the home stretch now. :p
My Stablehand phase, which is to say my current one, began very recently. I think it’s safe to say the very beginning of it was in about 2012, since that’s when I joined the MSPA forums. Just a while ago some acquaintances of mine (and others) had mentioned Homestuck on another forum, and I assumed for some reason it was some kind of silly TV cartoon that I wouldn’t find that interesting.
But then on another site I saw it misspelled as “Homestruck”, and I went to look it up on Google.
Then I ended up on mspaintadventures.com, and discovered fairly quickly that it was a webcomic. And my life changed drastically.
It’s kind of funny. Before Homestuck I’d found it kind of awkward to create human characters, to tell the truth, even though I’d done so many times (literally over 100 thanks to Tyrian, actually). But Homestuck’s template-like world, where everybody had a colour, symbol, internet username, some interests, a chosen weapon, and a number of other things, a lot like blanks on a character sheet, was somehow incredibly attractive to me and in a way I guess made something click in my mind, as character creation got significantly easier for me after that. Also, I’m not sure what, but something about the clean, consistent aesthetic style and sparse scenarios, with additional background info only discovered by the characters accidentally, really appealed to me too.
Anyway! Homestuck. Homestuck is responsible for a lot of quirks I picked up in recent years. These include naming characters based on scientific names of animals (e.g.: Jinfeng[opteryx], Panthera leo/Pantéras-León, Pterodaustro; this actually started because of my fan side-story centred around dinosaurs when I was browsing Wikipedia and realised Jinfengopteryx would make a good name), generally using Latin to name everything including fantasy species (as their scientific names, of course), making things eyeless or at least not have eyes in the “proper” position (amusingly I even do this to caricatures of myself without thinking about it), putting miniature airplane wings on things (again not because of Homestuck itself, but a parodyish thing I’ll describe shortly), actually using the word “shipping”, swearing (‘not filtering what I’m actually thinking’ is a more accurate way to put it), and being oddly ready to introduce vaguely RPG-like mechanics into things.
More importantly though, Homestuck has a bit more of a story behind it than my other fandoms, because I was never really part of a “fandom” before Homestuck.
The funny thing is, I never actually had friends. I had people I called my friends, and who claimed to be my friends. Sometimes we interacted and had fun. But I could probably count the number who were actually my friends on one hand (maaaybe it would take both but I doubt it). So often, my “friends” didn’t actually care about me. All they were interested in was interacting with their friends. Every time (EVERY time) there was a group activity in class, nobody voluntarily chose me, even if I tried really hard to immediately go around to every single person possible and ask them; often, even if my “friends” were there, as long as there were more than two of them, it seemed like more often than not they picked each other rather than me.
I got used to being that silent kid at the table in the middle of an often intolerably noisy lunch room who didn’t talk to anyone or interact with anyone, but just ate and/or drew things. On a bus which was typically packed two-per-seat (once again intolerably noisy, but much more so because we had to share with a middle school -_-), I always insisted on having my own seat because sitting with anybody at all was always awkward. I was never in extracurriculars because even if I could have made time for them, I’d always have been an outsider and never really ‘one of the group’. The teachers were probably closer to being my friends than any of the other students sometimes; I think it’s safe to say I interacted with them more regularly, being somebody who answered a lot of questions in class if I was at all sure of the answer.
My life was extremely repetitive and empty, and at times felt rather meaningless. Most of the time I treated social interaction as if it wasn’t even a thing that existed, and my thoughts mostly revolved around anime, games, fanworks, and projects like Tyrian and Tenkai (my monstergame idea). I’d pretty much given up on the idea I could ever go to something like a dance or a barbecue and not just be extremely bored sitting in the corner the whole time a long time ago. I ate, slept, breathed, did homework, did creative things, rode the bus, and that’s what I did.
But then, in 2012, I joined MSPAforums. Very quickly I gained a lot of new acquaintances, as had happened on some previous forums and other sites I’d tried to join.
But then something else happened.
I saw this random group that had decided to split off and form their own forum. And I made the impulse decision “what if I went and joined this thing”.
And somehow, for pretty much the first time in my life, I actually ended up with friends.
Everything changed immensely.
One of these many things was my storytelling. I’d tried to write or otherwise construct stories a lot of times from a young age, but a lot of the time, they’d just basically fallen apart. And the couple of times they hadn’t and I’d somehow finished them, I was never really proud of them. I wondered a lot of times if I’d be better at doing game storylines and game worldbuilding than book-type stories, and experimented with that a bit while trying to put together things for Tenkai and other smaller things (which must have died too because I can’t think of any right now :p).
But somewhere between Homestuck and friends, I largely stopped having the problem of not even being able to write a natural-sounding conversation between two characters without a lot of effort. My universes suddenly became full of people with roles, instead of cardboard cut-outs that didn’t matter. Everything gained structure and order and regularity. Suddenly I wanted to write stories about people rather than just about monsters and monster trainers. Suddenly people had faces and genders and I actually thought about whether my characters were male or female instead of creating universes where the male to female ratio was literally 5:1. Suddenly everybody had a story and a character and… a life. Suddenly everybody had life, period.
All in all, Homestuck and friends were kind of a crash course in how people interact with each other that I somehow managed to go 18 years without and sorely needed.
…Well, to be perfectly honest, I’m leaving one thing out of that, and that’s MLP: FiM. Having watched it before I discovered Homestuck actually helped me build up some of that stuff too, but I think I mostly just kind of filed it away not knowing how to use it because I don’t feel like that show changed much for me by itself. Also, yay for worldbuilding that’s extremely “single-minded”—pony pony pony—but actually uses that to be distinctive and interesting rather than annoying and boring, something I can’t say for some anime I’ve watched. XD
‘K, three final pieces to this. Spyro, the Cleverbad, and copyright.
I loved the Spyro games. Both the Spyro the Dragon series and Legend of Spyro series, because one was fun and had nice textures and one was beautiful and epic as well as engaging, with a vast and complex-seeming world. Not that the first series didn’t have a vast and beautiful world; if it had anything it had a lot of world to roam around in. It also had nice music, though I didn’t really like listening to the music in-game as much as I later found out I liked listening to it on shuffle on my music players. (I think the songs were too repetitive and short, as they tended to be annoying when repeated endlessly, but they’re pretty good to listen to if you only have to listen to each one once at a time.)
For some reason I became incredibly nostalgic for Spyro and dragons somewhat recently, which may have been why the hexarts got into Stablehand so fast and got so much importance in it. (Interestingly, I was trying to sculpt something kind of like Bashou from Telefang when I was making the original Red, but when I was trying to sculpt Shadow, I remember noticing he looked vaguely like one of the dragons from the Spyro the Dragon series for a moment but not particularly caring.)
Spyro music (created by Stewart Copeland of The Police in a synthesiser program), along with some music from a label called Pacific Moon also helped me discover that I liked synthesiser music, and one album from the latter (Nadi) in turn helped me discover I liked sitar music. I still like synthesiser and sitar music without lyrics, as well as other types of ambient music like jazz. Now I get new music almost exclusively from libre.fm, but there’s more than enough there to find a new song or two every day. I literally have about 700 mb of it saved on my computer already I think. :p
Um… I don’t know how to transition from music to the Cleverbad, other than saying that it gave me the idea for the “technotranscendents” (the miniature plane wing guys) by making me put “techno” and “trance” together. XD
Anyway it kind of started out when I’d seen a bunch of “Homestuck according to such and such” memes and then I saw a thread where people were trying to teach Homestuck stuff to Cleverbot. And, well, my brain quickly put two and two together, and made a “Homestuck according to Cleverbot” conversation. It wasn’t super awesome but it was definitely something.
Then, there was Buffet Breakfast, this crazy thread that was basically running Homestuck through Bing 35 times. Cleverbot Homestuck may have been kind of funny, but Bad Translator Homestuck was just the funniest thing ever. The kids were suddenly these important politicians trying to foil some kind of convoluted terror plot, Jade was somewhere at the centre of the terror plot islamic veil islamic veil islamic veil islamic veil islamic veil, and Gamzee got renamed Elisabeth Feuilles Schötchen, among other things. (Seriously there were these phrases like “islamic veil” for instance that just kept getting repeated periodically over and over, often just because they were translated from a phrase that appeared often in Homestuck but not always. I swear the act that introduced Jade said “islamic veil” at least about 20 times.)
Naturally, the most logical thing to do next was to combine the two, and start putting responses from Cleverbot into Bad Translator. This got some pretty good results, but after a while I started using questions I got from WikiAnswers instead (there are some pretty crazy questions there sometimes, so I’d often go there just to read some funny questions; after a while I’d started making a list of them, and this list was conveniently handy when I created the Cleverbad).
Now, the thing that got me most about Buffet Breakfast was that even though it was basically complete nonsense, it was frighteningly close to being a coherent story completely different from Homestuck sometimes. For the first two acts, I eventually ended up writing up summaries in which I tried to guess what this story was and tell it somewhat more coherently while still preserving the surreal, nonsensical feel Buffet Breakfast had.
It was kind of tough to just try to objectively interpret that nonsense and fit it to the framework of Homestuck and the story I’d already established though, and eventually I decided I wanted to do a similar thing but write an original story with it so I’d have leeway to just interpret the nonsense however. So, I put my “Cleverbad” to work and began creating Stablehand. You can browse my about Stablehand tag for more info on that, so I won’t try to describe it more here.
I will say though that the concept of the Cleverbad has expanded a lot since I first created it. Now, it pretty much just means either “interpret seemingly normal things in a weird way” or “interpret weird things in a normal way”. It includes a whole bunch of things, from looking at modern furniture to get ideas for creatures (this is my secret for creating weird-looking mystery beings like the Insulator and Adumbrator… shhh) to drawing designs from patterns in the wall plaster to creating designs based on what a piece of music conjures up in my mind (I think this is kind of limited to me because of my weird condition I often refer to as synaesthesia though).
Ok, now finally for the big and serious one… copyright.
For the longest time, I didn’t care about copyright the obsessive and preaching way I do now. It wasn’t until about 2013 actually that I even thought about it much. But then, that fateful day arrived when I was to enter college, and everything changed again.
In college, we were given a handful of presentations to try to teach us about the university and being there, or something like that. And most of all, to make us feel welcome.
And I did, until one very sour note hit the screen, which basically ruined any chance I’d ever feel completely welcome at college.
It started out as a fairly innocent presentation about being aware of thefts on campus and taking precautious in order to retain your valuables. A pretty decent topic overall. Sure, you could bring in the whole argument of preventing thieving rather than telling innocent people to be careful, but I was pretty much okay with this.
But then, the presentation got into “most often stolen items”.
And then, one of these items was announced as ‘an item most people would not think of as being stolen even as it is taken’.
What was it?
The answer was files.
Fucking “pirated” media.
You know why most people don’t think of it as being “stolen”? Because it isn’t stolen. It has nothing to do with the theft of tangible items like purses and (sigh) cars. Regrettable as it may be for the people who make entertainment, entertainment media is at its heart information, which exists independently of material goods, and naturally flows from place to place freely unless its flow is halted by censorship. Like, you know… copyright. It can be incorporated into products, such as CDs, but ultimately it’s a completely different kind of “product”, with a completely different kind of economics.
Ok, so that made me a little angry. But I might have gotten over it and forgotten, had the next thing not happened.
The presenter briefly explained that the university had an agreement with the MPAA and the RIAA to literally kick anybody caught infringing copyright by “stealing” files out of college. (Presumably just MPAA and RIAA copyrights, but I’m not sure.) “So don’t do it!”
This deeply jarred me.
Because I knew what it meant.
It meant, most likely, that the music and movie organisations had grown so big and powerful, gained so much influence over our society that they had essentially created a situation where they had the power to threaten the very existence of everything including universities with arbitrarily gigantic statutory damages, only allowing them to live in exchange for the persecution of all they believed were harming their business (a belief that is rather shakily supported at best).
Tell me that is not terrifying.
Whether you believe unauthorised copying is wrong or not, is it not also wrong and absolutely horrifying that an organisation that’s just supposed to be making music or movies nearly has the power to shut down entire universities? Or entire websites? Or entire businesses…? That’s the direct, immediate reason websites always ask you “do you agree not to infringe?” before you’re allowed to sign up and sometimes every single time you upload something, or at least one reason. They’re afraid of being sued out of existence by people like this.
Now, to repeat, this is just a really big group of people who manage things for musicians and movie studios, basically. These people are not part of the government. But they might as well be, because they’ve been making copyright law for a long time thanks to their lobbying efforts, and a few of them have actually gotten into official positions, thanks to the so-called “revolving door” of politics.
There are a number of stories out there about how organisations like the MPAA and RIAA basically siphon most of the money away from actual creators of content, but I won’t look up or cite any right now because this isn’t supposed to be an article about how bad the MPAA and RIAA are. Well… okay, you can have this one that just came to mind about the RIAA, and this one about the MPAA, just for a taste of what’s out there. Again, this isn’t the big idea I’m trying to get at, though.
The big idea that I began to realise gradually is that when everybody buys into copyright as a natural right, when everybody begins to believe that restricting the use of their ideas is necessary to get anywhere, when the idea of “stealing” ideas becomes legitimised and people forget it’s just a loose metaphor… it creates an atmosphere of hostility in which artists fight one another and split hairs over distinctions that shouldn’t matter in the greater scheme of things.
Here’s what I mean. If somebody creates a character “Alex”, and somebody else makes a character “Beth” based on him, and somebody else genderbends “Beth” again to create a character “Charles” that looks a hell of a lot like “Alex” without necessarily knowing that “Alex” exists, should we really care if that’s different or not from when somebody creates a character “Alex” and somebody else just “steals” the design of “Alex” to create the same “Charles”? Why are similarity and arbitrary distinctions tied to morality like this? Why do we care about being superficially “original” when in reality our original creations may be incredibly unoriginal, with merely knowing and acknowledging that somehow making it “bad”? Why do some people argue against copying poses from photographic references in ways that imply that if you had a video of a thing that showed it from all its possible poses and all its possible angles, that it would be morally superior to freeze the video on a pose and angle other than the one you wanted to use, and attempt to imagine it in the pose you wanted, rather than just freezing the video on the pose and angle you wanted, when they should theoretically result in the same pose? (I can understand why somebody would think that would help improve a person’s visualisation skills, leading to a better ability to draw when references are not available, and completely buy that part of the argument, but that’s different.)
I dunno. I could be wrong, but I think it’s because people don’t understand the nature of information, and how relative everything cultural, creative, factual, or real is to everything else.
In any event, I don’t know how to halt this greater problem I’m describing, which starts at the basic level of accepting the idea of “owning ideas” or thinking copyright accomplishes anything good, and culminates in abominable things like SOPA, PIPA, TPP, and probably a bunch of even worse stuff if it’s allowed to continue for a few more decades.
So… in the meantime, I’ve been trying to distance myself from what I call “nonlibre media”. What I mean by that, basically, is anything that makes it really clear up front it was not made for you to share, re-use, connect to, and make a part of you, often through dramatic copyright notices like these:
Libre media, by contrast, are anything that is designed for you to re-use, share, re-edit, or otherwise use however you want to, sometimes under the condition that you release any derivative works with the same licence and hence the same permissions (this is called copyleft, or ShareAlike in Creative Commons licences).
You know, everything you already do with your favourite stuff, but which thanks to copyright laws, you’re probably doing unlawfully. …Erm, let me fix that.
ILLEGALLY!!!!!1!1!111!!!! STOP RIGHT NOW AND *ALSO* PAY US LITERALLY 3.6 MILLION DOLLARS!!!!!!!1!!!1!!1 >PIRACY IS A CRIME!!!!!!!1111!!!!11!!!
(There, that’s a little more authentic. :p)
I don’t think everybody needs to immediately become a “copyright hipster” the way I did and start avoiding nearly every industrially-produced work with only a handful of exceptions (and any work with a scary copyright notice) in favour of only listening to Creative Commons-licenced music, favouring indie games, mostly only watching independent films (libre-licenced ones if possible), and trying to seek out libre news sites and other reading material when I can find it.
One reason I don’t suggest everyone else try to do this is that it was honestly more of a survival tactic than an actual plan to change anything like movements to only eat “organic” or reduce, reuse and recycle. I was just too damn afraid of getting unjustly kicked out of college and onto the streets by the entertainment industry to let myself anywhere near the temptation to “ILLEGALLY!!!!!1!1!” download. The thing is, if I allow myself to have any interest in things, I can’t be trusted. I used to watch unauthorised Japanese-language anime streams a long time ago, and I used to play retro games on emulators even longer ago (Telefang, for example, partly since it’d been out of “print”, so to speak, for a pretty long time and of course I couldn’t be bothered to find out if Japanese games would even work on my American GBC—region restriction is another thing I dislike and think should not exist, by the way, for the same sort of reasons I dislike copyright in general). I also had, a few times, downloaded video game soundtracks and read unauthorised manga “scanlations” online.
So, all in all, I was more or less a no-good pirate. Even my original stuff I spent the biggest chunk of my time creating, even the stuff that wasn’t fan works at all, I realised as I began to descend into “copyright hipsterism”, had still always been rather heavily influenced by other things, and even as I tried my hardest to be original, due to the nature of information I just described above, there would always be some chance that it would coincidentally collide with creations of other people that I had never seen. At what point was it plagiarism? At what point was it copyright infringement? At what point could something become “bad copying” just because before having created it my browser history or a server over at the NSA saved a page displaying something a hell of a lot like it, even though my brain didn’t even process it and I could not have recalled it from memory it if I’d had a month to do so? At what point was I not entitled to my original ideas, even as I had no reason to think they weren’t original?
The thought gave me a deep kind of nausea I’d never felt before, and I didn’t know what to do.
Stop writing? Stop drawing?
If I did that, I’d only be confirming the supremacy of the MPAA, RIAA, and similar organisations not just over the world but also over my own thoughts.
Just disregard the law and keep making stuff not even thinking about copyright?
That was no strategy either. Nobody would take me seriously when I tried to convey this problem, if I didn’t have ‘proper respect for the law’ and its place in our society.
I realised eventually that the only good way to protest copyright and this corrupted system in which everyone ignores the nature of information was… to scrupulously follow it.
To actually heed all those warnings that sites like YouTube give you about avoiding copyright infringement. To literally censor out every scrap of nonlibre media in any video I produced. Claim with feigned sincerity and regret that something everybody was fanworking could not legally be displayed on my blog, citing actual DMCA victories. Come up with libre substitutes for a bunch of things (mostly music), such as my ‘libre alternative to the Jeopardy theme‘ and use them often.
I haven’t been able to make myself do much of that stuff though, in actuality. To tell the truth, there are occasionally some pretty big gaps in my copyright hipster act from time to time when I give in and go back to MF, or Spyro, or Pokémon, or whatever, or sometimes even check out new nonlibre media. Most of the “fandoms” (used loosely) I listed here are things I’ll pretty much never give up for my libre crusade, as much as I might occasionally wish I could, so I’ve made do with just compartmentalising things and separating them heavily from my original stuff in my mind.
It’s still not very satisfying though, and to some degree I’ve become afraid of getting into new series, just because my risk of appropriating things subconsciously and losing track of where they came from increases with the number of series I become familiar with. Every new series basically introduces to me new places I can’t go with my own creations, and as such, when looking for new entertainment I tend to be really sensitive to things that “smell like IP”—that is, appear to be creating colourful, original new designs largely for the purpose of owning them. I’m very reluctant to look at worldbuilding-type things on deviantART because from all the browsing deviantART I’ve done, deviantART artists seem to be some of the most likely to insist that their art not be used for any conceivable thing ever, sometimes seemingly even suggesting they have rights that don’t actually exist.
These days, I probably spend more time creating stuff than I ever did before I became obsessed with copyright, since I don’t bury myself in entertainment created by other people as much any more, particularly if it came from somebody like the MPAA, RIAA, GEMA, or similar organisations. (Nintendo I’ve become incredibly ambivalent about because every so often a few of their things are just too good to resist, but I really don’t feel like supporting them when they do things like threaten to shut down sites for releasing a little bit of harmless Pokémon info—which would not necessarily even be spoilers after the game is out—a little “too early”.)
Not knowing what else to do, I now promote libre media as much as possible, and also try to release as much of my own work libre as possible, hoping that maybe other people will start to come to conclusions similar to the ones I’ve made and decide to release their own work libre, eventually creating a large network of libre fandoms that becomes big enough the influence of music, movie, game, and similar organisations on the way we communicate, create, and live our lives will increasingly lessen, and a new art culture will emerge where artists don’t fight each other over who “owns” what, but instead work together in harmony.
It seems to be a really hard message to convey, though, and a lot of times I have my doubts about whether anything like this could ever happen. Sometimes I wonder if we’re more likely to see a future in which the creation of art itself becomes a highly dangerous action just because the monopolies of the big organisations on the creation of art have expanded so much.
I don’t really know how the future is going to turn out. The best I can do is be optimistic and hope my efforts to save and resurrect individual creative freedom might maybe turn into something if I keep trying hard enough.