Category Archives: Books

A Few Thoughts on Fans and Fandoms

It’s a damn shame and a sad fact of life: sometimes a fandom is enough to ruin your enjoyment of the thing itself.

You would think that meeting fellow fans of something is a great way to make friends with like-minded people, but just as often, if not more so, it just angers or disheartens you. It’s not just about alternate interpretations and theories; with a series like Steven Universe, for example, it’s the idea that people would take a show with a message of love, kindness, and acceptance and use it as a justification to bully someone that they don’t agree with. However wrong you think that person might be, it does not excuse you and your despicable actions.

 

 

Another issue, though generally less reprehensible, is when you feel that avowing your fan identity lumps you in with the less savory parts of the community. For example, while there are many “bronies” who are reasonable, well-adjusted grown men or women who just happen to genuinely, un-ironically like a cartoon made for children, the world at large will always focus on the numerous fans who post creepy fetish stories and pictures for My Little Pony. The fans who, while maybe not actual pedophiles, still clutter up yours and your children’s Google searches with unwanted content that can’t be unseen, if you ever accidentally left the NSFW filters off.

 

The less you have to see those sides of the fan community, the better.

Or how about the jerks who suddenly swarm out of the woodwork to complain every time a character doesn’t fit with their worldview?

 

 

Personally, I also dislike people who insist that what they love is perfect, because in my opinion, a true fan of something can enjoy it without blindly worshiping the ground upon which it and its creators tread. I love The Lord of the Rings (both the book and movie iterations), but I’m not afraid to look at them critically and admit where aspects could be improved. I’m definitely not afraid to criticize Peter Jackson for his choices in making The Hobbit movies, even though they are parts of an established world and mythos that I love.

I realize this argument smacks of No True Scotsman, but that is just how I look at things. As always, you are welcome to disagree with me, but have you ever heard the phrase “media digestion”? To me, there are those who wolf down food and those who actually eat it. It’s the difference between gorging on autopilot, caring more about the good taste than if it might be bad for you, and taking the time to chew, swallow, and actually enjoy the food, and maybe making a few notes to better the recipes for the next time around.

My personal fan pet peeves are weeaboos, a.k.a. hard core anime fans who behave like cutesy cartoon characters come to life, and who usually assert that they “speak Japanese” when they only know 5 words tops (and all of which they learned from watching T.V.). But they are by no means the worst kind of fans ever. They tend to be bullied more than they bully others, at least.

 

But generally speaking, it’s irritating that the ‘extreme examples” of anything (fans, politicians, etc.) become the immediate, quintessential image of that entire group in the public consciousness.

 

I’ve said before that some escapism can and should be mindless, and sometimes all it needs to do is make you feel a cathartic emotion. Movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, or video games like Mario Kart and Mario Party, don’t have a lot of application outside of their original, intended purposes, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have value. But I also believe that skepticism and criticism are important to have, whether you are a kid, an adult, or somewhere in between, and sometimes the flaws of something can just make you love it all the more. Just look at cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show; it makes no sense and amounts to basically nothing by the end, but its unorthodox storytelling and utter shamelessness, among other things, making it an enjoyable watch, especially at special group showings.

In a similar vein, I get tired of being told that I expect too much out of my media diet. That may be true from time to time, but what is so wrong with asking for better quality stuff? I’m not just bickering for the sake of being contrary.

It seems to be coming from the same people who always argue that kids are stupid, and therefore it’s okay when the things we make for them are stupid too. Or those who complain when a movie or T.V. show is too “high brow” or “artsy” to be good .Most of these folks clearly mean well, but the bones of that message seem awfully familiar somehow…

 

Hmmm…I’ll figure it out one of these days…

Anyway, when fans and content makers can embrace the flaws of their favorite works and take them in stride, and argue their points respectfully with other people in the community, that makes a fandom great. More importantly, it doesn’t drive new and casual fans away by getting all up in their face right off the bat, then refusing to leave them alone. Sometimes, that actually just inspires an equal and opposite reaction.

Why does it seem like moderation is the key to everything?

If you do have a serious axe to grind, however, try not to be a belligerent ass about it, and always make sure you sincerely follow this advice. I try to.

 

*The images in this post do not belong to me.

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CftC: George Orwell’s 1984

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

october

 

My near-favorite holiday season has come again. Now begins the epic prelude of movies, T.V. specials, haunted houses, corn mazes, and anything else that I can think up that won’t cost me an arm and a leg. You never know who might be using those for a Frankenstein’s monster these days.

Halloween is pretty unique on the modern calendar. It is inclusive to both the young and the young at heart, much like the winter holidays, but it has a dual, seemingly-conflicting nature. On the one hand, you have the kitschy, goofy, Addams Family/Munsters side of Halloween, sometimes too innocent for even Walt Disney’s unique brand of child-friendly darkness. Costumes can be literally anything, and make you feel like anything, which holds a ton of appeal for even the jumpiest boys and girls. On the other hand, you have the honest-to-goodness horror-loving side, positively dripping with fake blood from the blade of a rusty ax. Here come the folks (mostly adults) looking for real thrills; a heightened sense of danger and adrenaline, lasting mental scars and terrifying questions, but no physical harm done.

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I am one of the few, the proud, the unflinching, who enjoys both sides of the coin for exactly what they are. Much like chocolate and sushi, I don’t try to put them together, but rather, I devote time to each individually; a sort of ritual, you could say, that honors my past, present, and future Halloweens. I celebrate horror in its many forms, from the abstract, image-based creepiness of childhood days, to the chilling concepts and explorations of adult human depravity. I also like to look at the overlap; things like fear of the dark and the unknown that never truly leave our subconscious.

In that spirit, I want to talk about something else today. Something that is (technically) not Halloween related.

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1984 is a book that many people remember more in fragments than its entirety. It is one of those reading requirements in public schools, often assigned too early to be interesting or meaningful, and inspiring shuddering trepidation from those who recall the title. Personally, I enjoyed it more than other assigned books, but to be fair, enthusiasm for reading as a whole was rare among my classmates. And even then, my opinion of 1984 at the time (about grade 5 or 6) was that it was very on-the-nose, occasionally dragging, and the stereotypically dry British sense of humor often sailed right over my head.

Despite that, its legacy has lived on. The mere gist of it has inspired countless totalitarian, dystopian dramas, the most popular and recent of which are probably The Hunger Games and Divergent series. A new indie video game from Montreal called We Happy Few takes a similar setting and initial plot, but with the public’s complacency being drug-assisted. They are also encouraged to take part in the beating and apprehending of criminals in their midst, with the pill causing hallucinations, lowered inhibitions, and general critical and moral thinking.

 

My first impression was that the masks reminded me of The Purge, but there are more interesting twists involved, and the game has a distinctly Bioshock feel to it, which is usually a plus. It’s not a point-for-point retelling of George Orwell’s classic tale, but it clearly draws a ton of influence from it.

Terrifyingly, a few countries in our modern day can be likened to 1984. Leaders like King Jong-un and his predecessor abuse the system, walling their people off from the rest of the world and then punishing any opposition, peaceful or otherwise, against them.

Even in the United States, you can find  1984  brought up occasionally in conversations about government surveillance. How much freedom and privacy are citizens willing to forfeit for real, or even just perceived, protection?

 

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

 

As I said, 1984 is not “laugh-out-loud” funny. It’s very dry and bleak and existential. Contrary to popular belief, satire does not have to be funny to be effective. Satire uses the tools of comedy (caricature, irony, ridicule, etc.) to make a point, most often about negative trends in human society as a whole. What seems needlessly over-the-top and even unbelievable at the time of writing can eerily reflect our world as the years pass. That which we thought would never happen, could never happen, somehow snuck up on us, and it always feels like it happened faster than it really does.

1984 is not what I would call “pee-your-pants” scary either, but it’s the kind of horror that we like to pretend can’t actually happen. Unlike, say, ghosts and demon possessions, I guess?

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The story can seem cartoonish (and it is), but it’s outstandingly poignant. To the main character, Winston, nothing is certain, not even the eponymous year.  He can’t be sure of his own memories because history is both constantly changing and how things have always been. Winston is monitored everywhere he goes, both audibly and visually, and despite his discontent and his desire for a simpler life, he lives in constant fear of being exposed, of even thinking in a way that contradicts the Party’s authority. People who do that often disappear; if not betrayed by their own actions, then by hidden spies among their friends, family, and neighbors.

Buildings are dilapidated and neglected, some from a war long past and barely remembered. Language is simplified so that it can discourage free thinkers, let alone the forthright dissenters. Children are indoctrinated like the Hitler Youths of old, allowed to run wild and dole out their own “justice” because their parents are afraid that they’ll report them. No one has agency unless the Party wills it, and even then, it’s to suit their own ends more than anyone else’s.

There is more subtle, manipulative fear-mongering at work, but I won’t spoil the ending for people who haven’t read the book or seen a film adaptation. I will say that, as the reader follows Winston, they too will not be sure how deep the rabbit hole of control and corruption goes.

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Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

 

When you really think about it, how well did George Orwell represent the past? How much of the future did he predict? As a young adult, I can only so accurately discuss the former; for as much as I try to understand them now, I did not personally experience World War II, or the Cold War. But regarding the latter, look at the scale of political polarization today; how biased leaders and media sources feed the emotions and egos of the people. Look at Edward Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking classified government surveillance documents in the interest of transparency with the public. Look at the TSA and the effect that they’ve had since September 11th, and how that date in particular has fed the fear and hatred of millions.

The list of comparisons goes on and on, and while some subjects may be interpreted or inferred, others are directly applicable. And that’s not just depressing; it has the potential to become “pee-your-pants” scary.

When tragedies pass and the pain dulls, how much have we honestly learned? Are we doomed to repeat mistakes, or in trying so hard to avoid those, we make even worse ones? Is it alright to lean towards one extreme, knowing that in time, the pendulum might just swing back the other way?

 

“The best books…are those that tell you what you already know.”

 

Whatever your personal beliefs are, 1984 should frighten you because it represents the danger of any one group holding too much power, and not enough checks and balances. It represents the desensitization to violence and inhumane treatment; in the first few chapters, the citizens of Oceania clapped and cheered, watching films of enemy refugees mercilessly blown to smithereens.

It represents a caution against idolizing homogeneity and uniformity, because diversity and healthy conflict help us grow, thrive, and meet the future head-on. Instead, altruism is stripped away, and the Outer Party members of Oceania isolate and turn on each other. The Proles, though numerous and freer than most, are poor, uninformed, and scorned by the upper classes. They are kept fat, dumb, happy, and most importantly, useful, by the mindless entertainment manufactured by Party machines, and occasionally, the Thought Police infiltrate their numbers to weed out any individuals that they deem troublemakers.

The overwhelming sentiment for everyone is: don’t fear or mistrust the Party, even though they breed fear and mistrust themselves. Don’t concern yourself with anything that we haven’t told you to.

 

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

 

And the worst part is that it may be too late to change anything. Winston is alone and constantly in danger, but what did the previous generation do? Was instant gratification or the path of least resistance more important than guarding their rights?

I shudder to think, but can things get worse, even in a place that is already so awful?

Probably.

Dr. Seuss’s the Onceler once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.” One thing that scares me is the idea that so many people don’t care, or don’t think, and they like it that way. They dual-wield ignorance as both a shield and a badge of honor, and what they want is more important than even listening to the concerns of others.

Even as a kid, I wondered: how many people were in the Inner Party? How do they come to and agree on  mutually-beneficial propaganda and policies?  Will they eventually turn on each other?

Halloween is at least partially about actual horror, and lasting horror touches on taboos, the fears that make us most ashamed, disgusted, and panicky. Plenty of adults still fear the dark and its unknown enemies because things can still emerge from it; home invaders, just to name one. And what about spiders, snakes, bats, and high interest loan payments?

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But the desires of the ego – saving face, feel justified, being in control every minute of every day, no compromises – often divide and corrode us when overindulged. To Winston, the Party came out of nowhere, but only because he was too young to remember, and the evidence of its rise was erased. We are not sure about the past, but in the present, it thrives on unchecked selfishness and nepotism. Power is not a means, but the end itself, and it silences dissent by any means necessary.

You might call that ludicrous and extreme, but there must be a reason why dystopian stories have grown in popularity over the years. By all means, let’s keep them relegated to the stuff of nightmares. You never know when even the tiniest precedents we set might blossom into something more problematic.

Or, in another word, ungood.

 

9/10

*Pictures and other media used in this review do not belong to me.

 

Pet Sematary, Part Four: The Conclusion

I love the story. It is so much more than just a goofy horror story, and definitely by today’s standards, the gore in the movie isn’t gratuitous. There is a lot of great suspense, atmosphere, and, perhaps most importantly, an investment in the characters that sees you through to the end, despite your chills. I would put Pet Sematary up there with the likes of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, except that Poltergeist’s characters have more easily likeable charm (probably due to it being a Spielberg movie in sheep’s clothing).

The movie is a decent stand-alone version of the story, but there are aspects of it that make more sense if you’ve read the book. That’s true of many adaptations, but the more you rely on viewers having read the book, the more likely you are to have confusion and plotholes for those who didn’t.

Despite its flaws, or even because of its flaws, it deserves to be studied and discussed.

If you haven’t seen or read it, I recommend the book over the movie, but both are pretty good. If you would like a nice medium between the two (slightly short than the book but cuts out less than the movie), check out this BBC radio play from 1997. The actors are spectacular, although I’m not crazy about Gage because he sounds too old in my mind.

Whatever you do, do NOT see the sequel movie.

 

Book: 10/10 

Movie: 8/10

*All pictures, video clips, and other media belong to their respective owners (Stephen King, Mary Lambert, etc). None of the images or sounds belong to me.

 

 

Pet Sematary, Part Two: The Book

First, let’s look at what worked in the book; the positives. In no particular order:

 

  • Louis Creed, the main character of the story, has a complex relation with the women in his life (his wife Rachel and daughter Ellie), which makes him a more interesting character than just an average “nice family man”. He feels exhausted by them and occasionally resentful, implicitly related to his loss of youth, “manhood”, and general freedom that being single and unattached provides.  He is drawn to male friendships such as with Steve Masterton, his colleague, and Jud Crandall, his elderly neighbor, who also acts as the father figure that Louis never really had growing up. He is particularly attached to his son, Gage Creed, both before and after the accident that spurs the story’s main conflict into motion.
  • As a doctor, Louise is a man of science, skepticism, and reason; agnostic, if not atheistic. He is clearly intelligent, which makes it all the more understandable and tragic as we follow his reasoning into whether or not he should attempt to revive his toddler from death. He attempts to hypothesize and experiment, despite the fact that we know, deep down, that he knows he’s dealing with something he cannot hope to understand or control. Some might claim stupidity here, but I think it’s a case like the Thestrals from Harry Potter.

Only those who have known loss can really see it.

  • The supernatural elements are superb and chilling. I don’t believe that the presence of the Wendigo, a cannibalistic demonic spirit of Native American lore, is ever directly stated to be the cause of the burial ground’s power, but rather drawn to its power and influence and perhaps adding to its overall strength. The unknown is inherently unnerving to people, and so the power of something not of this world, unable to be fully comprehended let alone controlled by the characters, both bringing the dead back to life and setting events beyond its borders into motion, is truly horrifying. We’re never quite sure how doomed the prey are, so the chance that they could escape or reason out of it at some point keep us invested, with eyes full of suspense.
  • The way the dead behave, both in general and towards the living, is very creepy. The book describes the animals as always smelling foul, lumbering around almost drunkenly, and having glazed-over eyes. Church the cat continues catching mice and birds, but tears them up and leaves them uneaten and bloody. The family, unbeknownst to his death and resurrection, starts to regard him as unpleasant and irritation, while Louis begins freaking out internally at Church’s touch and presence.

I also like that the rule is “each buries his own.” What you resurrect is your responsibility, and you have to want it badly enough to break through the hard, “sour ground”.

  • The dead humans speak with knowledge that they could not possibly possess, and frequently taunt their victims with their own sins, particularly while manipulating their own voices and appearances. The first human mentioned doesn’t even kill anyone, but terrifies the town and drives his father insane. Gage Creed‘s transformation to the dark side is particularly noticeable for going from speak few word sentences to full, adult sentences, and, like a zombie, bearing his hideous mortal injuries.
  • It is interesting that, when Louis considers the hypotheticals of bringing his son back to life, I think he thinks more of Gage being handicapped than potentially evil. I suppose it’s because, despite Jud’s story about Timmy Baterman, Louis thinks that Gage will be like Church, but he also completely disregards the idea that he would be as unnerved by Gage’s presence as he is with Church in the present. It is touching and tragically understandable, though, that he would still love and cherish his son, even if his mind was deteriorated.
  • If, as Jud says, “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, like the soil up there in that old Micmac burying ground,” does that imply that a man’s heart is bad (“sour”) or that it has the potential to go bad? I think what King is trying to say is that a man has a harder time “planting seeds, growing, and mending” things in his heart, but the whole line is vague enough to be interesting in both the film and the movie.
  • I like the discussion of Rachel’s sister, Zelda. Illnesses that impact the body and mind are difficult enough to deal with for the affected person, but though it might not be flattering to Rachel or her family’s characters, it does feel like they have a real reaction to such a situation. In a time not unlike that of Rosemary Kennedy, a family had to struggle with loving their daughter and taking care of her (despite, in this case, her deterioration causing her to become resentful) and keeping up social appearances.

We can’t pretend that sort of thing didn’t happen. It still happens to some people, albeit to a lesser extent. These days, we are becoming more knowledgeable and sympathetic to the conditions that affect the body and mind, but though it may be cruel and unfair, Rachel regarding her sister as a monster in the later stages of her condition and her parents looking at her as “a dirty secret” in their back room is understandable when given some context. Controversial, but still.

 

And now, for the more negative:

  • The action comes to a grinding halt in the middle for a while, which can be hard to get through.
  • King’s “foreshadowing” of Gage’s death is too on-the-nose, and really takes away from what little shock there is when he tragically dies.
  • While the quirky habit of King’s of repeating of certain words, phrases, song lyrics, and colloquialisms (my particular love-hate line for this book is “Oz the Gweat and Tewwible”, which is Zelda’s and becomes a metaphor for death when brought up by the other characters) can make them more poignant and meaningful later in the narrative, sometimes they come across as goofy now, then, or later.
  • Hey…you know…if the Micmacs stopped using the ground when it “went sour”…does that mean that it ever worked out well? Did the ground always bring people back to life, or only after enough victims of cannibalism were put there?

O.o…so many unanswered questions!

 

To Be Continued

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Th1rteen R3asons Why: Teenagers Contemplating Mortality

I felt this one was appropriate, coming right on the heels of my Inside Out review.

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Unfortunately, like The Babadook, there isn’t a lot I can say about this book without giving it away. It would feel like an unforgivable disservice to divulge such an emotional and fascinating read in excruciating detail, as the mystery is nearly half of what makes the story so interesting.

Unlike The Babadook, however, I feel relatively comfortable giving you the premise at least. The narrator is a high school senior named Clay Jensen, a shy, relatively good kid who had a crush on Hannah. Two weeks after her suicide, he receives a package with no return address on his doorstep, filled with old cassette tapes marked with numbers. When he finds a way to play them, he is startled to hear Hannah’s voice in the recordings:

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” (Chapter 3, Cassette 1 Side A)

The only rules for package receivers are that they must listen, then pass the tapes on to the next person on the list. If they don’t, a second set of tapes will be made available publicly, promising embarrassment for certain individuals mentioned throughout. In addition, each person gets a map marked with several red stars, pinpointing locations that Hannah references in her story.

In a pretty unusual case ( judging by the books I have read previously), Hannah acts as a secondary narrator and the true protagonist. Without her, there would be no story.

I will also say this: at the start, the book seems to be about blame; whether Clay or the other characters are at fault, in their own eyes and the reader’s eyes, or Hannah herself is entirely responsible. But over the course of the story, you come to realize that the “who done it” doesn’t really matter. Hannah died, and life goes on, as it always will.

Th1rteen R3asons Why is both passive and yet gripping and immediate. We listen to the tapes as Clay does, so even though the end result of Hannah’s story has already played out, it feels as though we are right in the moments with her. As though, maybe, something we learn could help us stop the inevitable, rather than just understand how it came to be.

But we are and always shall be powerless on this journey. Just as stuck and helpless as Clay, though not in the same quasi-captive audience sort of way.

The book also shines by not making Clay the first person on the tapes. We don’t know what he’s done, so we judge him as a normal person and empathize with him, as he rides this macabre rollercoaster through a dead girl’s psyche.

But characters that you like at first may change or, at the very least, you will come to see them in different lights. Everyone is to blame and no one is to blame, perhaps even Hannah herself.

I finished this book today and chose it to follow Inside Out because it relates once again to depression, this time from the outside looking in. It may not be possible to completely 100% relate to or understand the mind of a depressed or suicidal person, but that is not the book’s main goal anyway. No, the goal is to talk about how we communicate and relate to others, and how a small, seemingly harmless thing can work to chip away at a person’s sense of happiness, safety, worldview, or even overall sense of self. How mistakes, though at times well-intentioned or comfortable in that moment, are irreversible, and their consequences may go forever untended.

If John Donne is right in saying that “no man is an island,” then it could be argued that no decision he makes can be completely divorced from the actions and inputs of those around him. But on the other hand, Eleanor Roosevelt claims that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Both ideas have validity, I think, but the questions remain: Are feelings all in a person’s head, under their direct command? If we need other people to survive and thrive, as an emotionally compelled species, how much weight should we give outside opinions, comforts, or criticism? How much is any individual to blame, if at all, when all control and joy in life seems lost and something drastic seems to be the only answer?

How much can you tote or denounce, say, a chemical imbalance in the brain?

Th1rteen R3asons Why is not as fun or funny as Inside Out, but it is very mysterious, compelling, and wonderfully-written all the same. It made me wonder, and spoke to me on a very personal level. Even if you have never experienced depression, I recommend this read with all of my heart. Despite being a work of fiction, it does what only a select few stories can successfully accomplish.

It feels almost unbearably real. Human.

One particular line stands out to me, as Hannah explains to her listener why she ultimately lost interest in writing poetry:

“I stopped writing when I stopped wanting to know myself anymore…If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t listen to that song anymore. But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.” (Chapter 10, Cassette 4 Side B)

Everything in life is relative. Good, evil, happy, funny, sad. Control is relative too, and all too often, it can feel like just an illusion. And yet so many people will tell you to just smile, as if the slightest twitch of muscles in your cheeks can evaporate all of those pesky feelings right out through your skin, gone forever. I’m not saying that you can’t control anything, just that you can’t control everything.

What you take away from this is your business; it may be a thrilling mystery, an intense high school soap opera, or a cautionary tale to the unobservant. All I ask of you is to simply listen.

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10/10

*All pictures belong to their respective owners. None of the images belong to me. The book was written by Jay Asher, published in 2007 by RazorBill.

CftC: Top 13 Favorite Villains of All Time

Note: This is Marge’s top 13 (Arthur can do his own if he really wants to), and I’m including all media for this list. Movies, games, books, shows, etc.

The only thing I’m leaving out is music, and that’s because music doesn’t typically have heroes and villains…unless you count one-note, one-sided break-up songs.

Meh.

So, why top 13? Because:

october

 

It’s Halloween season, and I’ve got your number! Unlucky 13!

Also, you may see some antagonists on this list. The difference between antagonist and villain is that the former can be merely a force that opposes the protagonist (the main character), while the later is seen as unambiguously bad or wicked. I used “villains” in the title because it sounds better, but I’m not limiting the choices.

This is how I judge them:

  • Crazy, hammy, and/or fun to watch
  • Creepy and scary
  • Love to hate ’em
  • Complex and/or sympathetic

Enough chatter! Let’s get to it!

 

#13: Team Rocket (from Pokemon)

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Ah, Team Rocket. Was there ever a more nostalgic and lovable force of complete and total failure?

Well, maybe this one:

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But she’s a bit grating on my ears, and I didn’t watch Power Rangers for very long, so…

While I think that Jessie, James (haha, get the joke?), and Meowth lost all menace very early on in the show, they were instantly and lastingly memorable with their theme song, epic proclamation (where they state their names and cause every single episode), and subsequent defeat and blast off. With only those three aspects remaining constant, they quickly grew into the beloved, inept but determined characters we know today.

Jessie and James have big egos, but James is the more flamboyant and wimpy of the two. If they were in a relationship

*cough cough*

Jessie would probably wear the pants.

Meowth is one of the only speaking pokemon in the series. He’s a sarcastic loudmouth, ridiculing Jessie and James nearly as much as he schemes with them, but ultimately, he is loyal and cares about them very much. He wants to please their boss, Giovanni, and regain his standing in Team Rocket, having been demoted from evil villain lap cat.

Their aim is to steal rare and interesting pokemon, at first because, well, it’s their job, but later mostly to get back in Giovanni’s good graces. For some insane reason, they usually settle for trying to steal Ash’s Pikachu.

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These guys are endlessly fun to watch. They’re corny, snarky, hammy, and safe, but by God, they will get that Pikachu one day…

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#12: Gladys Leeman (from Drop Dead Gorgeous)

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Hyperbolic, and yet so eerily spot on, this character is what I see when I look at crazy, jerk parents who try to bask in their kids’ accomplishments. Or, similarly, berate all the self esteem out of them when they lose.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a mockumentary (think Spinal Tap) about a succession of beauty pageants, starting off in small town Mount Rose, Minnesota. Rebecca Leeman is the richest girl around, and you can bet that her parents Gladys and Lester have bought off all of the judges to vote for their precious little princess.

But Gladys takes it a step further.

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Gladys shows us that divas never age well.

Taken from the spotlight of her own pageants perhaps a little too early, she sets out to make sure her daughter gets to state levels no matter what. She is willing to murder and sabotage anyone who gets in her way.

I love how sweet and impartial she pretends to be, playing it up for the cameras and breaking only occasionally when her husband is around. She’s punchable, but mostly enjoyably crazy and cutthroat, and we’re never really sure what means the most to her: her daughter, or the competition.

She’s more realistic than Violet’s mom in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the movie), and yet just, if not more, cartoony.

I have no doubt that this self-proclaimed “God-fearing” woman would sell her soul for another chance at glory.

 

#11: Big Brother and the Inner Party (from 1984)

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The basic gist of this one boils down to: overbearing government that noses its way into everyone’s business, manipulates news and changes history, watches citizens at all times, and even changes the language in order to better control people’s thoughts.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a cautionary tale about overabundance of power; it being abused by one group jealously guarding the monopoly. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and what better way to keep everyone in line than to make them fear for their lives if they don’t fully, willingly, submit.

No one outside the Inner Party knows what is real and true anymore, and questioning could end them up in the mysterious Room 101 in the Ministry of Love.

Yes, I’ve spoiled that the government and Big Brother are the villains, but what they want, what exactly they do, and just how thoroughly they have infiltrated everyone’s lives will be left up for you to read, should you choose to. And especially given the controversies surrounding the NSA in recent years regarding breaches of privacy, you may find it even more interesting and relevant.

This story is a word to the wise and a whisper to the wondering. It urges we, the common folk, to be vigilant and involved in our government, lest it grow out of hand and turn on the very people it is sworn to serve and protect. Big Brother and the Inner Party earn this spot for the mystery; they took the people’s faith and trust and repaid them in fear and uncertainty.

It is good to love Big Brother. And we’d never want to be ungood.

 

#10: Ursula (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid)

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Ursula. What can I say that would do her complete justice?

She’s a Disney villainess modeled off of an iconic drag queen. She lusts for power over all the oceans…and a decent meal. She’s a cacaelia and a witch who effortlessly hooks our ditzy, pouty protagonist into her schemes, and mostly gives her a fighting chance.

But most of all, she sings this song:

 

How Ariel has no qualms about this, I’ll never know, but this is one of the best villain songs ever. I stand by it.

That song alone tells you all you need to know about Ursula’s character. She’s just awesome. Maleficent is a close second, but despite her powers and presence, she feels a bit one note.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I think Ursula has more personality (silly, fun, and serious), even if Pat Carroll isn’t nearly as boss as Eleanor Audley.

Also, Maleficent’s motivation is pretty funny, when you think about it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

#9: Dolores Umbridge (from Harry Potter and

the Order of the Phoenix)

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Book or movie, take your pick. I’m going more for the movie character because damn did her actress know how to make her so perfectly punchable.

Senior Undersecretary for the Minister of Magic, and for a brief while, Hogwarts’ Professor, Inquisitor, and Headmistress, Umbridge drove students and readers to call for a good, old fashioned witch hunt. She is harsh and unforgiving, yet outwardly sweet enough to rot your teeth. And she has no qualms about hurting students; like a pink-clad nun holding that dreaded ruler.

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The movie made her extra annoying, with pictures of kittens all over her walls, meowing constantly. And the way she smiles widely, knowing she’s hurting or irritating people and clearly doesn’t care…I just love to hate this woman.

The only thing I hate more than Dolores Umbridge is that we didn’t get to see the full extent of her comeuppance.

 

#7: Gaston (from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast)

 

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Yep, another Disney. And who do you think gave Frozen the idea of the whole “who’s the real villain” upheaval?

This guy.

No one’s slick as Gaston, no one’s quick as Gaston, and no one turns a superstitious town into a angry mob like Gaston. He does this in seconds, and you know why? Because he wants to marry the prettiest girl in town, and she snubbed him in favor of a brooding beast.

For that, all bets are off.

Gaston, like Maleficent, is not the most complex character, but in some ways, he’s a bit scarier than the Mistress of All Evil. He’s a jock and a misogynist who is so used to getting his way that he won’t tolerate otherwise. He’ll turn dirty and underhanded, even violent, to get his prize, and he’ll manipulate his crowd of followers to do so. Out of fear and love.

Gaston is one of the more relatable Disney villains. We know from the start that he’s a jerk, and by the end, he’s the true villain, but as I’ve said, he’s the town darling. He’s close to being just an average guy, and he uses other people to suit his ends. There are plenty of people in the real world like that, whether we like to admit it or not, and that’s kind of scary.

Could one of them become a Gaston?

I’m inclined to say no because, hey, as no one Gastons like Gaston, but the sad truth of the matter is yes. And they can be even worse than him, too.

Gaston. He’s the evil potential in all of us viewers. Handsome on the outside, jerkish in the middle, and pure monster on the inside.

 

#7: Azula (from Avatar: The Last Airbender)

 

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This is the princess of the Fire Nation. If this is your first time meeting her, rest assured: she will either find a way to use you, or kill you. Or both.

What is it with kids’ and family fare giving us some of the best villains ever?

Azula is Dolores Umbridge fully realized. She is a joy to hate, but also frighteningly awesome; incredibly powerful and intelligent, manipulative, and, in one episode at least, even a bit relatable.

She schemes in circles around her adversaries, and bullies her friends. She watched her own brother be scarred in a duel with their father, and smiled. She lives a life of luxury in the Fire Nation, that seeks to dominate the other nations, and gets pretty much whatever she wants. And Azula mercilessly hunts down the one hope for the salvation of the world, fully intent to kill. She’ll kill her brother and uncle if they embarrass her, or get in her way.

(big spoilers below)

 

This scene is one of her best and most punchable moments.

While Zuko, her brother, is perhaps just as interesting and complex (but more sympathetic), Azula looks cool, sounds cool, and is bitingly cold. Scarier than even the Fire Lord himself.

 

#6: Lord Darcia (from Wolf’s Rain)

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I doubt even some anime fans would know this guy, but trust me, he’s worth checking out.

Darcia is the main antagonist of the series, starting out with motives that are good (albeit selfish) that eventually deteriorate into madness. Without spoiling too much of his or the story’s twists and turns, the world is coming to an end and wolves, which are believed to be the messengers of the gods, are prophesied to open the way to a place called Paradise. Though believed to have been hunted to extinction, wolves have survived by passing themselves off as humans and living scattered among them.

The main character is a deeply faithful and prideful wolf named Kiba, who soon gathers friends in the form of a small, ragtag group of outcast wolves. They seek to rescue and protect Cheza, a maiden artificially created from a Lunar Flower, who is another, more established key to the doors of Paradise.

Back to Darcia, he is what is known as a Noble. He is powerful, old money, and not as human as he appears. He seeks a cure for his lover Hamona’s illness. Known simply as Paradise sickness, it supposedly takes the soul to Paradise but leaves the body behind, resulting in a comatose state.

There is much more to it than that, and the show is fairly complicated. For the best and shortest explanation of things, I would recommend this lovely video:

 

Suffice it to say, Darcia has a lot of complexity and mystery surrounding him, like Big Brother. Who he is, what he is, and all that he plans to accomplish can be found in watching the progression of the show, of course, but also by musing over subtle hints and details wagged just under your nose. Wolf’s Rain is very deep and takes “show, don’t tell” to heart, often revealing very little outright, but making the discoveries regarding the characters and the surrounding world all the more rewarding and interesting.

At least, I think so.

Darcia is generally calm and cool, and can even be sympathetic at times, but he also has moments of creepy and crazy. You do not want to mess with this guy lightly.

 

#5: The Joker (from Batman The Animated

Series)

 

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I’m sorry. As good as Heath Ledger was, I couldn’t put him higher than Mark Hamill.

This Joker is a ball of ham wrapped in an enigma. We’re not sure why he does what he does, but boy does he enjoy it!

And best of all (or worst, depending on how you look at it), he makes it enjoyable for us too.

Batman the Animated Series is a great show that gave kids something a little different than what they were used to. It took influence from Tim Burton; being just as campy, but darker, with truly tragic backstories, memorable and dramatic characters, and stylish and shadowy animation.

As I’ve said, we’re never sure if what the Joker says is true, but it almost doesn’t matter. He is the embodiment of chaos, for fun and for the sake of itself. He bounces around with the temperament of a toddler, but he’s so devious, clever, and malicious, tormenting people in his unique little traps without a care.

And must I mention his sidekick?

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Their relationship is so twisted, it’s evil.

He’s one of Batman’s most dangerous adversaries, and my favorite.

 

#4: Ghirahim (from The Legend of Zelda:Skyward

Sword)

 

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I am sufficiently conflicted about this.

I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t Ganondorf be here? He is the main baddie, and  the most iconic of the Zelda series. He’s such a big deal that he literally hijacks games away from other villains.

Let me say that Ganondorf is awesome. He has consistently great character designs, and has given players some great, memorable battles over the course of the games. But to be honest, his personality is not all that memorable. He wants to rule Hyrule (Wind Waker probably gives him the most sympathetic reason why), and that’s about it. Sometimes his minions have more stage presence than he does.

So why not the main villain of the game, Demise, then?

Because he doesn’t get enough screen time or presence to stand out besides the cool, menacing design. As you’ve probably guessed by now, cool look alone doesn’t make a good villain. He, she, or it has to have a stronger whole than that.

Demise’s principle minion, Ghirahim, on the other hand, has a distinct personality. He very nearly smacks you in the face with it.

Ghirahim is sporadic and flamboyant, which makes him seem both very creepy and very hammy at the same time. He loves to monologue like the classics, but his ability to teleport allows him to sneak up on you and spook you easily while he does it.

He’s got a calm, calculating side that barely manages to rein in his murderous side. One minute, he’s strolling around the room and taunting you quietly. The next, he’s doing something like this:

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I don’t even know what this is.

When it’s finally revealed who he is, it all makes sense. But until then, you’re left to wonder at this strange person popping in occasionally to hijack dungeon boss battles and taunt you. All you know is that he wants to revive his master, which means bad news for you and the rest of the world.

His early fights are fairly easy, but then again, he underestimates you.

He dances, prances, whispers, and shrieks. He even kind of flirts with you. He’s Ghirahim!

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The news that he made this list “has just filled (his) heart with rainbows!”

No, really. That’s a quote.

Oh, Japan. You and your homophobic game villains…

 

#3: GLaDOS (from Portal and Portal 2)

 

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Imagine Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but make it a woman.

AHHHHHHHHHH!

Okay, it’s not that simple. GLaDOS is a lot more human than Hal (for good, but spoilery reasons), starting out as quietly deceptive and dry but slowly becoming more childish and, as you might have guessed, murderous. Even when she claims to be losing the restraints that kept her ethical and “human,” she still has a strong presence and personality you wouldn’t think a machine would be capable of.

She controls the Aperture Science Computerated Enrichment Center, an AI computer that stands for “Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System.” I’d say putting her on this list is a spoiler in and of itself, but anyone who is in anyway familiar with the meme “The Cake is a Lie,” or even casually starts playing the first game (with two functioning brain cells to rub together) could deduce that she’s up to something.

Both games’ greatest comedic moments come from her, whether she’s being sarcastic, childish, matter-of-fact, or any combination of the three. If you can’t play for whatever reason, I suggest watching a let’s play of the games. The first game takes about an hour if you know what you’re doing. And GLaDOS’s dialogue is worth it.

She’s my in my top 3 for a reason 🙂

 

#2: Eric Cartmen (from South Park)

 

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This “kid” is a piece of work. The ultimate bratty, despised character.

Sometimes I love to hate him, and other times I just love to watch him. Eric Cartmen is fascinating in many ways, but primarily for being a character that can represent the worst in both children and adults.

Like Gaston, but cartoonier. And worse. 

He’s manipulative, bigoted, selfish, murderous; he is whatever the plot demands, or whatever he needs to be if the plot threatens him in any way. Often, he will act like he’s working for the greater good, when really it’s for his own reasons, and if good comes from his actions, it’s usually an accident or incidental to his whims.

I think Kyle sums his character up best here (excuse the crappiness of the clip, but it was the only one I could find):

In case the video doesn’t play, here’s the quote:

“I believe that you believe you helped write that joke. That’s how people like you work. Your ego is so out-of-whack that it will do whatever it can to protect itself. People with a messed-up ego can do these mental gymnastics to convince themselves that they’re awesome, when really they’re just douchebags.”

~ Kyle, Season 13, “Fishsticks”

He lives under the delusion that the other kids think he’s cool, when really, only Butters does. He is constantly critical and bigoted towards Kyle and his family for being Jewish, Kenny for being poor, and many others, mostly in denial of his own insecurities of being fat and not cool. He prays on his lonely mom’s desire for companionship and acceptance, manipulating her and other parents and authority figures when it suits him.

Cartmen is the worst. Even when he ends up doing something good, he’s either not happy about it, or spins it to work in his favor. If he comes out on top, you just want to smack him off his high horse with a spiky mallet, then set him on fire tied to Joffery Baratheon.

The funniest and most reprehensible of cartoon figures.

 

 

So who’s going to beat him? Well…

 

#1: Lady Eboshi (from Princess Mononoke)

 

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Some people are probably thinking “who now?” Others might be wondering why she’s so high up on this list.

Let me explain…

The main character of the movie, Prince Ashitaka, leaves his people and travels to a far away land in search of a cure for the curse that is slowly killing him. The curse was given to him when he battled a cursed, enraged boar god that attempted to attack his village. His only clue to the curse and what angered the deity is an iron ball that he found in the boar’s body. The metal festered inside of him, driving him mad with “a poisonous hatred.”

Ashitaka eventually finds the land that the boar god came from. It is a land at war, with the local humans attempting to destroy the forest for their own gain and safety, and the animal gods fighting to drive the humans out and protect their domain.

It sounds like your typical hippy “save the forest” kind of movie, but it isn’t. It really, really isn’t.

Lady Eboshi is the mistress of Iron Town. She wants to uproot the forest for more iron and riches, but she also protects the people who work for her. She saved prostitutes from local brothels and gave them jobs working the bellows at the ironworks in her town. She took in lepers, “washed (their) rotting flesh,” and put them to work making rifles and other weapons. Neither the lepers nor the woman have easy lives, but they are very happy and indebted to Eboshi, following her plans and dreams faithfully.

In addition to the forest gods, Eboshi also has to deal with other humans as well; lords and samurai who are jealous of her success and aim to take it for themselves. She is also employed by the emperor’s men to help track down the forest spirit, the deer god who can grant life and death, and cut off its head. The head of such a powerful spirit may be the key to healing illnesses and unlocking eternal life, but Eboshi is more concerned with the safety of her own people, and aims to put an end to the war between man and nature once and for all.

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This is a sympathetic villain done right, although Miyazaki clearly strives to make the opposing sides equal threats to one another, and equally misguided. There is no designated good or evil, but beings simply working toward their own ends, and Lady Eboshi is a strong character among a cast of strong characters. She is charismatic and likable; taking care of the needy, powerless, and lowest members of society. She is smart, smooth, calculating, and caring, with moments of crazed obsession scattered here and there.

The other characters like to joke that she’s out to rule the world.

Eboshi is on the top of my list because she was the first genuinely likable, sympathetic villain I ever came across, and her characterization is done masterfully well. Sure, she’s not hammy, creepy, or the most fun to watch out of everyone on this list, but she comes the closest to seeming like a real person you would meet (without being a total psycho like Gaston or Cartmen). A person who may be likable, doing what she thinks is right, and someone normal people would be inclined to follow.

Eboshi: A leader and general decent human being, though misguided.

*As per usual, most of the pics don’t belong to me. The title card does, though. Twas done by the gracious and talented Zero, who can be found here. Check her out! 🙂