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Topics - NO1SY

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What are the things that make us feel that a piece of literature is a classic? What is the feeling of reading a classic or modern classic? After a bit of a Sci-Fi audiobook marathon this summer, I think I’m beginning to get a slight grasp on that feeling, which I would describe as a sense that what I am reading/listening to/watching is profound.

There are a couple of series I want to comment on here that helped me learn a bit about how to aim for profundity in writing and inspired me to write this ramble, but some honourable mentions would also be: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Dune by Frank Herbert; and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, just to cover the inspirational bases.

Earlier this summer I listened to the Dogs of War duology, followed by the Children of Time trilogy, both written by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky is one of the most profoundly speculative authors I imagine that I will ever read (and also ridiculously prolific). I felt this when I finished Bear Head with its presentation of populist politicking, and even more so when I put down Children of Memory, concluding a delightful and confronting journey of identity and bridging understandings between different species, and AI, across the universe.

Likewise, last week I finished Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, which was a meandering, messily paced, wonderfully prosaic, almost (probably) masterpiece. I began to notice a few similarities between the two series in terms of what gave me that feeling that I was reading something profound or cemented as a classic.

Firstly, the characters in these books were iconic (alive, well-realised and overflowing with character) and recurring. It is impressive to me that Tchaikovsky is able to accomplish this with characters who are literal spiders, but he does. In his case, I would say that he takes certain character traits quite close to the edge of caricature - not immersion breaking, but a punchy way to semi-shortcut to memorability. Simmons’ characters are generally more reserved, save for Martin Silenus, but the main characters from the first two books have the advantage of essentially a whole, one book-long (ambling but never sluggish) prologue, whereby their individual stories in the lead-up to their pilgrimage are played out, giving readers a lot of time to get to know them with a great level of depth. But then that is not to say that the characters who do not get the same time commitment lack depth or make less of an impression. Simmons’ descriptive excellence brings everyone vividly to life, and once again their character shines through their dialogue, thoughts and actions - Meina Gladstone and Paul Dure are particular stand-outs.

Next is a case of world-building and its presentation to the reader. Pretty much all of the books I have mentioned so far are journeys through fantastic worlds, whereby the setting is basically a character unto itself. The journeying is as important as, if not more than, the destination, and, in at least the case of the Hyperion Cantos, you feel as though you yourself have explored the entire galaxy by the end, having taken in all of the sights, smells, sounds, flora and fauna, cities and spacedocks, cathedrals and ruins and digital realms. But you are left with a sense that these universes are both so deep and so expansive that what we learn as readers is a fraction of a fraction of what there truly is to know. But this remaining mystery and ambiguity is a great thing. It keeps the awe-inspiring awesome, the mysticism mystifying, the depths of the unknown both exciting and foreboding. The Shrike is great for this. Several questions about it are answered by the end of the series, yet it remains decently shrouded, enough that it never loses its lustre as both an impending boogeyman and mysterious extra main character. This air of mystery also helps to veil it as a convenient plot device from time to time. It’s a difficult balance to hold back explanations, so that in the end you understand just enough that it is not unsatisfying and confusing, and you have not explained away the sense of magic and wonder - to show what lies just beneath the water’s surface, to give an impression of what is their on the way down, but never actually seeing through to the ocean floor. The approach would work really well for any eldritch creatures, god-like beings, hidden realms, strange physics, fears of the unknown etc.

Lastly, these stories are explorations of fascinating and/or relatable questions, often exaggerated by the “what if” Sci-Fi settings, whereby a dialogue with the readers is presented through the characters’ stories, and a conclusion is reached in that narrative, without it necessarily being presented as THE correct answer. The character may state whether it is right or not, but in the author-reader dialogue it should come across as more of a “do you agree? or “what do you think?”. Tchaikovsky asks us to consider how we as people should approach life if the simulation theory were true, wrestle with issues of identity and imposter syndrome, ponder the difficulties and possibilities of first contact and the implications of sharing qualia between different perceptions of the universe. In Hyperion and The Rise of Hyperion by Simmons, I especially enjoyed Sol Weintraub’s grappling with Abraham’s Dilemma, which was like the dramatisation of a rabbinic commentary from the Talmud. Gladstone’s political manoeuvring also felt very weighty with the implications that her final choices presented. And the next two books present a cautionary tale about the faith of the pious being abusable and hijackable by malicious actors when they offer some sort of affirmation of beliefs, explore philosophies of progress, evolution and personhood, and ask us to confront our own mortality and make the most of it in whatever form that takes.

Or, it seems, that the only thing you really have to do to sound profound is to write a few short poems and stick them in your story…

General Manga writer discussions / The Best Romance I Have Read
« on: August 11, 2023, 05:18:10 AM »

The Wax and Wayne trilogy by Brandon Sanderson may not be the first series that springs to mind when you think of a case study in “romance”. They are not, after all, romance novels. But for me, possibly the best part of this second trilogy of books in the Mistborn series - more than the expanded magic systems, or the worldbuilding for a new era in the saga, or learning what became of the old characters - was the writing of the romance involving the main character Waxillium Ladrian. Yeah, I almost wouldn’t believe me either…

I almost cannot remember the last time I felt engaged by or interested in the romantic elements of a story. The manga “Basilisk” springs to mind, maybe bits of The Wheel of Time, but not much else. And then I was blindsided by the Wax and Wayne Trilogy.

Spoiler warning for Mistborn Era 2

Long story short, the main character Wax enters into an entirely political (and literally contractual) engagement with Steris Harms - a stern, wooden, unapproving, transactional and generally unromantic person - but after the hints of a love triangle with the “cousin” Mirasi Colms, and then Wax rescuing Steris after a kidnapping, we are treated to the story of two disparate characters learning more and more about each other, learning each other’s strengths and working with their faults, leaning on one another in moments of hardship and shoring up each other’s gaps, coming to care for and then truly love one another. It is potentially one of the most wonderful romantic progressions that I have had the pleasure to experience in all of fantasy literature.

It very rarely felt idealised - at the start, there was no “love at first sight”, there was a clash of cultures, and there was friction caused by Wax choosing duty over a love interest with more immediate potential in Mirasi - not until they had settled into one another by the final book, and the growth felt natural and justified over the course of the story. From the first sparks of acceptance and affection at the end of book one, to the impactful moment where Steris is the consoling, steady shoulder for Wax at the end of the second, to the cuteness of the pair when they are searching through house finance ledgers together in their train car, the growth of their romance complimented the growth and development of the characters individually too. It never felt just obligatory or tacked on, and in fact was an enhancement to the complete story to have this kind of romantic sub-plot contextualising the inclusion of Steris as a full-fledged character and supporting the development of Wax from Lawman into politician and family man.

And so, I am encouraged, and I hope you all will be too, to find more varied and interesting ways of exploring romance as an enhancement in Sci-Fi and Fantasy storytelling, such as is achieved in this series of books.

What are some other examples of exceptionally well written/presented romance, or romance that bucks the trends in popular media, that have given you inspiration for your writing?

General Manga writer discussions / The Strength of Simple Powers
« on: January 29, 2023, 12:18:19 PM »
Another essay. This is the 3rd time I’m rewriting this because I never felt I was quite getting across the point I wanted… let’s hope this is good enough because I’m not doing it again! Hopefully others can pick up the slack for whatever slips through the cracks in further discussion on this thread.

The Strength of Simple Powers

I have reviewed quite a few written pieces in my time on MangaRaiders, and given input towards several concepts. A common theme I’ve seen from amateur writers, particularly those inspired by shounen manga and anime, is the desire to write a super powerful, badass main character. This is quite reasonable. Even I have ideas like that. However, the way that many seem to want to go about this is by giving their character a really awesome superpower that can do EVERYTHING (or just give them a power that sounds cool but if they thought it through could practically can be applied in such a broad set of ways that they can achieve absolutely anything with it). “The power of creation” is a big one, but unlimited powers of entropy and energy, life and death or immortality, time travel or manipulation, and even complete control over one’s body to an extent are all examples of what I would say are powers that are too broad in scope if this is the level at which they are presented.

I have spoken of my views on power fantasy in a past discussion, but another issue exists for writers, outside of problems with generating tension and delivering satisfying conflict resolution, when dealing with broad powers: a sort of conceptualisation paralysis - the powers can do so much that it becomes hard to imagine absolutely everything that they can do, but also, without knowing, you risk obvious plot holes in your storytelling that could have been solved by the powers in a way you didn’t realise. So in the end it becomes another hurdle to get over when it actually becomes time to sit down and write.

The irony is that very few of your favourite series have main characters with powers like this. My inspiration for writing this essay was going from reading Solo Levelling to watching Fire Force and just revelling in the clear cut nature of the powers in the latter and how well they tie into the setting as a result. But let’s just think about the “Big 3” and think about their powers or ‘magic systems’. You may be tempted to say “Devil Fruit, Jutsu and Bankai” and “these can do just about everything right?” Well, you are only half right. Looking top down, you may be correct, however flipping the perspective to look at the character level and you will see that each of these are actually large collections of individual, simple, and limited magic systems uniquely used by single characters (for the most part). Luffy has Gomu Gomu powers specifically, Naruto specialises in Shadow Clones and Rasengan, Ichigo… well I think his bankai is just to basically go super sayan and fire off progressively more powerful getsuga tenshos (more obvious with different bleach characters)… There can also be generalised magic systems in each too: Haki, basic ninja techniques, and reishi, which either add a foundation of power or stack on top to escalate power, but the character defining powers come from the individualised magic systems.

So how can you achieve something similar in a satisfying manner without getting carried away? I have a few points to cover here: Start small and grow, add costs and/or constraints, tie the powers into your setting.

Start small and grow: Natsu starts out with basic fire punches and kicks. Naruto can only summon a few shadow clones at the start (by himself). Luffy starts out with basically just Gomu Gomu no Pistol, Gatling and Rocket, before adding more techniques to his repertoire over the long course of the story. Each new technique usually comes about in response to having to learn to use his Gomu Gomu powers in a new way to overcome a new enemy that his current techniques do not work on. This can either be by working out how to make his elasticated punches more powerful, or a more creative solution combining his elasticity with the environment or another character’s techniques. In all examples, starting small allows you time to establish the rules about their powers in a manageable way for you as the writer and for the readers. It should be easy to see why the magic can be used to create the effect. At this small scale and level, there is less crossover in effect also, so you have the benefit of the powers being distinct and identifying for your characters. (These principles can be applied to power fantasy stories, however the power level of the main character just starts higher than other characters’.)

Add costs/constraints: Devil fruit users sink in water and Luffy can be cut by slashing attacks. Notice how one of these weaknesses is imparted by the generalised magic system whereas the other is specific to Luffy and his Gumo Gumo powers. Anyways, powers always become more interesting in and of themselves when there are trade-offs involved. This can really be anything from requiring rituals or somatics, which can be interrupted, or limiting the number of times that the powers can be used (or the amount of time they can be accessed for/the amount of energy they can draw upon), which builds tension when they are down to their last try and everything is riding on it. On the more extreme end of things I think of Code Geass, where the power itself is very unwieldy and one slip up can lead to tragedy, or Darker Than Black, where people have the compulsion to do strange and very specific things after using their powers. Following this, sometimes we see powers driving the users insane if used too much or if they are unable to pay their costs. Even in Harry Potter, wands have to be used as conduits for the magic spells, combined with specific “swishes” and “flicks” and generally reciting the words to the spells with the correct intonations and inflections - some powers can fail if not accessed correctly. Perhaps they have to have access to an energy or power source like the sun or a lodestone or lots of food. An interesting power is not just defined by what it can do or be used for, all of these things add into it, meaning that when it comes to power level, less can be more whilst still drawing readers in.

Tie the powers into your setting: Superhuman abilities and magic fundamentally change how societies function, how they would be organised and built, and how people would interact with one another, the environment and the natural world. That’s a lot of world building to get lost in, but, thankfully, the more straightforward your magic/power system, the easier it is to apply it to your world. Fire Force is the best example of this for me in recent memory. It’s nothing groundbreaking conceptually, but I was constantly in awe of how seamless the worldbuilding of that series was on account of a very tight magic system at the bottom of it all. Honestly, I don’t think I could recommend a better case study. And all that centred around a main character whose power it is to blast fire out of his feet! Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Reckoners series are probably other good examples. When the magic/powers are connected to the setting/worldbuilding, once again they become more than just their strength, and can take identity from the full breadth of your world and characters’ places in it.

Finally, ok, so some of us may just want to write a character with just completely overpowered abilities for the sheer spectacle of it, and well, that’s fine too. But once again, unless you want to write a story about a literal god presiding over some sort of creation story, or total annihilation story, keep the powers straightforward and sensible. One-Punch Man is great at this (although it is all ironic). Just remember that the true conflict and tension and other things that grip the readers will more often have to come from elsewhere. If a character has a power that can do anything, they can solve everything, and plot holes will arise when they cannot (although this might be a more interesting concept - a Moriarty type character trying to find the one thing that a superhuman character cannot solve with their powers).

I hope all of this has made some kind of sense. There is definitely stuff that I have forgotten to include, or that I just could work out how to say, but maybe they’ll be teased out if some discussion is generated. Let me know your thoughts about superpowers and magic systems, and their complexity vs. simplicity. Do you agree or disagree with me? What are examples of powers that you find cool? Are there examples of really overloaded powers that have been done well? Any other advice for writers?

Cheers for reading

Music / NO1SY's Melodic Metal Scale
« on: December 21, 2022, 06:59:19 PM »
Hello! :biggrin:

In Flames - O2 Brixton Acadmey - 20/11/2022

So, last month I was showing my Mum pictures from the first concert I’ve been to since covid began, and after the “I just don’t understand how you got into that music, I tried so hard to make sure you liked Blue and Westlife…”, she genuinely surprised me by suggesting that I should give her a list of my kind of music, so she can learn a bit about what I like!? (I had to check that pigs weren’t flying!?)

Most of what I like falls under the category of “Melodic Metal” (although I do listen to some softer rock and jazz stuff too), and I decided to make a scale of songs from kinda easy/light to pretty heavy.

I tried to do just 10 songs but the steps felt too big and some iconic songs were missing (and I still couldn’t fit in all the bands I wanted even with 20…). Also it bugged me that the whole list was male fronted, so I have slotted in the names of some great Female led bands underneath at the points at where I think they land.

I don’t have Spotify (honestly their format is awful for browsing new releases...) so this is the closest I’ll get to sharing my “Music Mood” like my friends do every year around this time with Spotify Wrapped… It's like the advent calendar that no-one needed nor asked for, but if you have some spare time and are curious, see how far you can manage and let me know!

So, thanks for indulging my ramble, and I present:

20 Levels of Melodic Metal:

1. Sabaton - "Winged Hussars"

2. Katatonia - "Serein"

3. Coheed and Cambria - "Welcome Home"

4. Tool - "Schism"

5. Animals As Leaders - "Kascade"

6. TesseracT - "King"

7. System Of A Down - "Chop Suey"
(Unleash the Archers)

8. Eidola - "Counterfeit Shrines"
(Rolo Tomassi)

9. Slipknot - "Duality"

10. Protest The Hero - "C'est La Vie"

11. Mastodon - "Blood and Thunder"

12. Killswitch Engage - "My Curse"

13. Orbit Culture - "Flight of The Fireflies"
(Jinjer) (Infected Rain)

14. Harakiri For The Sky - "I, Pallbearer"

15. Gojira - "Born For One Thing"

16. In Flames - "Take This Life"
(Arch Enemy)

17. August Burns Red - "Composure"

18. Born of Osiris - "Follow The Signs"

19. Archspire - "Drone Corpse Aviator"

20. Lorna Shore - "To The Hellfire"

General Manga writer discussions / An Essay On Power Fantasy Stories
« on: November 28, 2021, 12:10:00 PM »

So last weekend I watched Gigguk’s video on the manhwa “Solo Leveling”, and ended up binge reading all of it in one sitting. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed it nearly as much as he did… But, it got me thinking about other power fantasy series - One-Punch Man, Noblesse, and Overlord - which I have now caught up on also. I have thoughts about writing in this particular sub-genre, if you’ll permit me to share.

You’ll notice that, compared to other super-powered fantasy stories such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Fairy Tail yada yada yada… the series that I previously listed all have one thing in common, and that is a protagonist that is in another stratosphere of power compared to every other character (Noblesse maybe less so, but still…). To summarise each: Overlord’s Ainz is isekai’d to a fantasy world with all of the power from being a top player in what sounds like a pay-to-win game; Noblesse’s Raizel is the bedtime story that keeps the vampires in check; Solo Leveling’s Sung Jin-Woo can level up infinitely into a K-Pop super-star-esque adventuring god in a world where everyone else has been given a fixed level; and One-Punch Man’s Saitama… well he just did a normal workout routine until he could win every super-powered fight with one punch. So that’s the meta-concept at play here, one that I think has its own unique challenges that I will hopefully discuss in a bit.

(To quickly address the elephant in the room… There is actually one major mechanical difference between Solo leveling and the other three series: Sung Jin-Woo’s power progresses. Now, this is technically true, to an extent, but it really isn’t too long before his power reaches a level that surpasses all others and his further growth becomes somewhat meaningless.)

The main reason Solo Leveling got me thinking, whereas the other series didn’t, was because, outside of some surface level spectacle, I really haven’t been all that interested/impressed by it. It wasn’t bad enough for me to put down, but it wasn’t hugely compelling either - although it had its moments here and there. But I read something like 174 chapters and I had to go and look up the main character’s name to write this piece, which I think says something about my level of emotional investment… So what is the difference between this series and the others, and what lessons can I extract?

Firstly, I want to touch on where I manage to derive enjoyment from these kind of power fantasy stories. It’s easy to think/compare them to the power-fantasy aRPG’s that I enjoy playing (especially with the gamified settings of Solo Leveling and Overlord), where I hack’n’slash my way through hordes of enemies and power up my character to do so with greater ease and cooler abilities, and climb to higher levels of challenge or previously inaccessible content. Focusing on Solo Leveling, the series features pretty much all of these elements, but on reflection I really didn’t get the same feeling of enjoyment from them at all… This is for two reasons that I can see: 1. The reader lacks the agency that a video-game player has in participating with this progression of power; and 2. I just wasn’t that invested in the world of Solo Leveling to care about the abilities or the items and the power increases that came with them. There is no RPG here, just action. No, my moments of enjoyment were much more discrete in Solo Leveling, although they are moments that all of these series shared: Mainly 1. The satisfaction when the protagonist finally reveals their power level to everyone in the scenario, after they have been sorely underestimated; and minorly 2. The set-piece moments of artwork that just show off a really cool still image (usually when they use the whole anime neon white eyes with those wispy glowing trails and the looming silhouette etc). The reveal moments are the real gold here though. They are the satisfying release after building tensions from everyone else underestimating the protagonist. But while those tensions build, the reader is also being empowered in a way that feels good (possibly like a stand-in for the agency video games can give) because they know the relative strength of the protagonist and the other characters don’t. It’s about basking in the inevitability. Basically, readers become the cheerleaders for that one sports team in the league that always wins every game, and you feel sorry for the challengers who think they have a chance…

This cycle of minor deception and reveals seems to remain fairly satisfying as a plot function, so long as the story or context for each cycle is varied and interesting. Unfortunately, this is not a strength of Solo Leveling for me. At best it’s a story concept that an edgy high-schooler could come up with, with very basic plots and themes that aren’t really explored at all, and a main character that is basically the Korean Superman, who is able to right pretty much every wrong in the world… On top of this, the cycles of satisfaction get fewer and farther between because he becomes world famous so can’t really hide his strength to be underestimated. It really doesn’t hold a candle to the comedic and deconstructionist themes and scenarios of One-Punch Man, the much more deep and interpersonal plots of Noblesse, or even the political and dungeon-keeper plots in the mess of storytelling that is the Overlord manga. This highlights the core of the issue for me… How interesting can things really be if the protagonist winning is a foregone conclusion, AND when they won’t even have to struggle to win? Well, my personal answer to that is: innately, not very… This means that everything surrounding and framing the protagonist’s inevitable, effortless victory has to be much more engaging and interesting to make up the difference.

It is here that I want to move on to another major short-coming of Solo Leveling when compared to the other series I have mentioned: the supporting/side characters. And yes, I realize the irony about complaining about this in a series called SOLO leveling… The thing is, every other series is so much better for having characters that not only have more personality, but are also powerful enough to have to hold their own and participate in the context of the story. In fact, often-times the side characters become the main focus of these other stories and the main protagonist basically just makes a cameo, providing some variety in powers, plots, themes and scenarios that can be explored. Conversely, in Solo Leveling, the power levels of Sung Jin-Woo AND the enemies of the story so quickly outclass the S-Rank and even some of the National-Rank hunters that it ends up feeling awfully pointless and boring to even give anyone any page time at all, because their actions will have absolutely no impact whatsoever (I felt similarly about the school-kids in Noblesse, who were kept around in the main narrative of the story way past their usefulness and welcome...). Solo Leveling treats all of its side characters as measuring sticks for the protagonist, whereby they beat certain monsters to show off their strength but then immediately get bested by the next monster to show its equivalent strength to make it look more impressive when Sung Jin-Woo beats it. But when Sung Jin-Woo has the power of a god that completely dwarfs that strength anyway, who really cares about the strength of the monster, or the side character, or the previous monsters, or the lower-rank hunters anyway - you aren’t really measuring anything with them anymore because they aren’t a useful scale.

This side character issue is exacerbated by something else I have a gripe with in Solo Leveling; Sung Jin-Woo’s secret “Necromancer Class” abilities… Despite initially being cool (albeit cringe-inducingly edgy…) and actually being at least fairly intelligently used by Sung Jin-Woo in the story, they develop to not only 1. Invalidate the participation and development of interesting side characters by giving him a loyal army, but 2. They partially invalidate Sung Jin-Woo’s own initial character development and detract from his agency as a character having to engage with situations in the story. The boss monsters he turns into his minions basically become side character stand-ins without the requirement for actual character development and as much dialogue, and then their power makes it feel as though Sung Jin-Woo is not actually using his own power to overcome challenges anymore (he does, but it feels like the minions lessen his engagement), which detracts from the power fantasy. I would actually have less of a problem with the latter point if Sung Jin-Woo had immediately reawakened into the Necromancer class and not gotten me as the reader invested in him developing as a Rogue/Assassin type character for ages beforehand, as to me it felt like there was a disconnect between the new class and the old. I actually enjoyed the fact that him gearing up felt meaningful and that he was the one that had to fight and unlock the potential of his current skills and learn new abilities from extracting those cores etc. Getting the Necromancer class doesn’t feel like it was a natural career progression option like you’d see in a final fantasy or fire emblem game, but I don’t even mind the fact that he was gifted a secret class - it’s that it doesn’t feel like complementary multi-classing and build-craft. He doesn’t feel like a Shadow Assassin or Nightblade or a Wraith/Spectre, he feels like a Rogue and a Necromancer, and that feels like wasted potential…

I have other minor gripes, but I think I’m going to leave it there for now, because I want to just highlight my take-aways from all of this. To Summarize:
1. The most enjoyable thing about power fantasy stories seems to be the cycle of hiding the protagonist power level and then revealing it at the best possible time in the most effective way.
2. The story itself still needs to be compelling to facilitate repeating the cycle.
3. It is important that side characters still feel competent, well developed and relevant in the story being told, so that they can participate and be engaging, even if they are just measuring sticks for the main protagonist.
4. Power development isn’t necessary for the main protagonist, but if you choose to do so then make sure that it is cohesive and doesn’t cause further problems.

I hope people found this interesting and maybe worth discussing. Maybe you strongly disagree or believe I'm analyzing too much about a sub-genre that just shouldn't be thought so hard about. Maybe you have your own thoughts and ideas that you would like to share in response. Please feel free to share :)

Video / PC Games / Trying out Final Fantasy 14....
« on: July 05, 2021, 09:41:12 PM »
OK... So my brother unknowingly caught covid a day before I met up with him so I've been in full lockdown for a week. Only so much work I can actually do from home in a molecular biology PhD, so I've had free-time to play some videogames. Namely Wasteland 3, which has so far been pretty fun, and over the weekend I started the free portion of Final Fantasy 14 (A Realm Reborn + Heavensward), which I want to talk about here...

So in terms of MMORPG's, since playing Runescape as a teenager over a decade ago, my main game has been Guild Wars 2. The reason I chose it was because I couldn't afford a WoW subscription back then. I joined in 2014 during Living World Season 1, and took full advantage of its jump in and out playstyle over the years until I got hooked on the World-vs-World game mode again a few years ago. But with my daily GW2 routine done and a lot of hype around Final Fantasy 14 at the moment, I thought I'd give it a go. SO, obviously I have been comparing my experience of FF14 to my time in GW2.

I'm not gonna lie... I don't see what all the fuss is about really...

FF14 probably plays a lot closer to WoW than GW2, so that may be a huge part of the disconnect for me compared to a lot of other MMORPG players. Also GW2 initially tried to establish itself as kind of the anti-MMORPG MMORPG, going out of its way to break or reinvent trends and conventions, whereas WoW and FF14 feel much more like traditional MMORPG gaming experiences. This means more traditional style questing from a conveyor belt of NPCs through the zones, back tracking, limited fast travel, and lots and lots of running...

I had hoped that traditional style questing would mean well crafted and deep like Runescape, which it would be nice to see a bit of come to GW2 also, but no, FF14 questing so far has been pretty dull for me. Aside from the main storyline and profession questing, most of the side content is just chores without import or even adding much lore or atmosphere. GW2 "hearts" and open world events and meta events are just so SO much more fun. Generally the hearts involve chores too but they don't feel so bad because they are quick, varied and sometimes more engaging. On top of this, compared to GW2 where there is forced level down-scaling but scaled experience gains that are always relevant, questing in FF14 starter zones after you finish the first, and participating in low level Fates, feels super un-rewarding... at the very least it's nice to receive actual quest rewards most of the time. Overall, GW2 feels more like an adventure of exploration to me, with a more vibrant and living world as you progress through map and story completion. And although a lot of GW2 players lament the impact mounts have had on base-game world immersion and jumping puzzles, having to jog great distances at a snails pace everywhere in FF14 just isn't fun or more immersive (fast travel does exist, but it feels expensive in the early game, and I've not yet seen anything about mounts).

A huge part of why questing and exploring feels so bad to me in FF14 is the animation locking on interaction. Everything you interact with locks you into a 2 second animation. Talk to an npc, locked, activate a fast travel point, locked, pick up an item, locked. It doesn't make it more immerisive. One dumb quest marker I went to made me talk to a woman, who immediately startled and dropped her money on the floor, which I had to retrieve for her. 5 coins. I had to sit through a slow, locked animation with a progress bar 5 times. That was the whole quest. GW2 would make item interactions like those instant, which would feel spammy and pointless, which this quest is. Pointless. Wasn't even worth anything to me at level 20 anyways. I was only doing it because I'm an OCD completionist who can't leave quest markers unresolved on my map. Save those animation locked interactions for actual important interactions that require tension, like difusing a bomb or hacking a computer before a patrol spots you. Having it everywhere makes the game feel clunky, which FF14 already feels because of the requirement to full-on target things to interact with them at all, requiring extra unnecessary button presses.

GW2 pushes its engine so much further it's actually laughable how old it makes FF14 feel. The only thing FF14 has up on GW2 here is that it is currently on Direct X 11 compared to DX9, meaning better utilization of computer hardware for more steady and higher FPS - but GW2 is finally getting an upgrade to DX11 soon anyways so FF14 won't even have that... Oh, I guess the FF14 servers are generally a bit more stable... Personally I think that the graphics in GW2 turned out better (might be because of the slight stylization though), character movement and combat feel smoother and more responsive/snappier, zones actually use verticality and jumping and are more open, there is voice acted ambient dialogue in the open world and all cutscenes, and you can surprisingly even do more with the character creator!? It feels like the FF14 devs did the absolute minimum with their engine, whereas ArenaNet got super creative.

This continues into the combat, which is why most people play these types of games. FF14 combat is fine, and is designed in a very different way than GW2's. It is classic tab-target, slow and methodical (suitable for skill-clickers), minorly position-based, and designed for making complex choreographed squad-based fights in dungeons and raids (which is more difficult for the GW2 devs to do with their combat system). There is a combo system with enjoyable skill interplay, which is something that GW2 lacks and could use on top of its already deep field+finisher combo system for added buildcraft. But that's really the extent of the interactivity in combat (there is also some resource management later on). You combo a few skills and move a few steps to avoid AoE (which is very difficult if you keep the crap default lock-on settings...)... Unfortunately the poorly used game engine gets in the way here too... Combat skills require a target, but there is no autotargetting, which after GW2 feels clunky to me. Now, I don't mind manual tab targetting, but the lack of automatic skill re-targetting feels way worse. I have been playing a Lancer, which so far has absolutely no AoE or cleave capability whatsoever, and fighting more than 3 trash mobs one at a time already feels very slow, repetitive and dull, and therefore it does not need the added jankiness of trying to aquire a new target after each kill making it feel worse. On the plus side, you can swap between all the classes on the same character, so if you aren't feeling one like me, you cant swap over to another.

Non-cash-shop cosmetic progression has been pretty meh... Early GW2 armour and weapon sets are a bit bland too but feel better so far for one reason: in character creation you pick a default colour scheme that applies to all new armour you aquire, making everything cohesive. Moreover, loads of dyes can be unlocked easily in game and are account-wide and unlimited use. In FF14 every piece of new gear I get is a different colour and it looks stupid, and it's obviously an incentive to get people to buy SINGLE USE dyes from the cash shop. Honestly my experience with FF14 so far has really highlighted for me just how good value for money GW2 really is...

Jesse Cox said in his recent video comparing WoW and FF14 that "everything in FF14 revolves around the story"... and I'm feeling that this is only half right... Story-wise it seems cool if you are really into Final Fantasy and it is story focused yeah, but it seems to me that a lot of the game is actually designed around player roleplay. Want to know the only unskippable cutscenes I have encountered so far? No, it's not anything to do with lore or story, you can click through or skip all of that. It's the conversations where my character learns new dance emotes, and I have to sit and watch 2 NPCs and my toon each go through the dance and talk about it... like 2-3 minutes of being locked out from doing anything (in each starting zone). Obviously someone is very proud of these dances, and I'm sure that they get spammed by the fountains in cities often... but why can't I skip these? It's not like they are even DDR minigames or quicktime events to justify it.

Right... I have satisfied my British side by ranting an raving despite the fact that I will certainly be continuing in FF14, at least until I finish the non-subscription content and try out some of the other classes, which I will admit is decent value and I'm told is an upward journey. I'm sorry it has been such an essay but I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to get out of my head. If you are into MMORPGs I honestly recommend trying out GW2 - the whole base game is free now and the expansions come bundled together and are often on sale for about $20 for everything.

Let me know your thoughts on these games or MMORPGs in general :)

General Manga writer discussions / Dune... confused me...
« on: March 30, 2021, 06:57:44 PM »

I have just finished the second book of Frank Herbert's "The Dune Sequence". The first book was a longer read (about 2 weeks of casual reading), while the second was a shorter book that I finished in an afternoon, and I have been left feeling a little upside down about my experience with them.

Published in 1965, Dune is one of the older Sci-Fi Fantasy stories that I have read, preceded in the genre basically by Tolkien's, C. S. Lewis's, and H. P. Lovecraft's works in the genre, and I guess classics like Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. There was definitely a aged feel to the work, but also a timelessness to it that has me hesitant to call it dated. I think this is mainly a contrast of the language and narrative choices, with the exemplory exploration of themes ([xeno]ecology, galactic (but familiar) politics, engineered religion and mysticism, philosophy and determinism) and wonderfully deep characters and worldbuilding.

The narrative style is what kind of bugged me the entire time. Initially, I thought that Dune was written in 3rd person Omniscient, which is a narrative perspective that has kind of fallen out of favour in the genre and my lack of exposure to it encourages me to lean towards other perspectives. However, I think I was wrong... I think that The Dune Sequence is written in 3rd person limited, but is constantly switching the narrative between perspective characters, in some instances as often as line by line. The effect felt annoying to me, or at least didn't sit right, and I think not for the reason I expected. Part of why I like 3rd person limited is that it retains that depth of character that you get from a 1st person narrative; seeing how the character interprets their experiences and the world, seeing the flaws or genius in their thinking; forming empathic links. This is fantastic when the focus in on one or a few characters. The expectation when you increase the number of characters the reader sees the story through is that the experience will be lessened or more shallow because the time share for each is stretched so thin; less opportunity to see the character manifest and develop, and to form those empathic bonds. The effect in Dune however, where every character is a perspective character, was, to me, almost the opposite: it was near overwhelming. I suppose this is a testament to how well realised almost each and every character is that they don't feel particularly shallow, but the constant character swapping felt a bit too much at times to the point of discomfort. It might be akin to sensory overload - just too much information from too many angles to effectively process (It also didn't help that the kindle edition of the SF Masterworks publication of the 1st book was edited so poorly that it was a challenge just to read the sentences on the page...).

While the characters remain fairly well realised, some really significant story beats feel almost glossed over... I don't know if the perspective swapping is to blame for this, or if this was a result of just narrative and pacing choices, but in certain instances there are events that really do not get their due in my opinion. That all said, and in stark contrast, there are some other moments in these books so far that are masterfully executed, ranging from beautiful and thrilling, to harrowing and hollowing. Moreover, the exerpts from in-universe sources that precede each chapter are absolutely wonderful; more engaging and immersive than even the multitude of tolkein-esque poems and songs that feature througout the story adding depth to characters and cultures (maybe a little too often though...). Writing all this out I'm beginning to see that Dune is a real dichotomy to me...

Moreover, now I can't even imagine if the book would be able to tell the same story to the same effect in a different narrative style. Would what could be gained from focusing on just a few character perspectives without switching so often outweigh what is lost in terms of a wider understanding of such an intense and grand narrative?

I was going to put the series down after Book 2, which seemed to end at a natural stopping point and considering my reservations about the books. But already I feel an inexplicable pull back to the series. Maybe it's the incredibly rich universe and grand narrative that Herbert has constructed, or maybe it's just my OCD not allowing me to leave a series such as this unfinished...

P.S. Really interested and cautiously excited to see how Denis Villeneuve pulls the first book off in film.

Hello everyone!

So I've recently been returning to some of my old writing projects in preparation for a Writers' Workshop, and let's just say that... well, a lot of it is pretty cringe... Not just from a conceptual standpoint, but on actual literary and language levels too...

So I wanted to begin a thread that, for one, outlines the real, practical things that I think have led to me becoming a much better writer since I initially posted those pieces back around 2014. This is not to say that I'm on a level with professional writers, or even editors and reviewers, but I still think that there is valuable information here.

I think I will focus on just one aspect at a time in my posts, and hopefully it will spark some useful discussion and bring other people in to share what has worked for them too. Although my recent endeavours have been much less graphic novel focused, I believe a lot of the points will still transfer across the related mediums. Maybe other members can help bridge that gap with their advice.

Manga Creations / MR War Arc: MR Sentai Revival!
« on: January 20, 2021, 07:56:32 PM »
Hello everybody!

I wanted my first post of 2021 to be a piece of writing, so here we go, continuing with some MR Canon side stories - this time about the revival of the Sentai. I promise that this will not be a long series.

Many thanks to Lego and Coryn for all the help in getting my head around all the Sentai related Canon, started by Litt all those years ago, so that I can build on it going forwards. I hope you all enjoy. :biggrin:


Deal with the Beast

The night was young but the sky was always dark in this part of the Net. It was the kind of place that, no matter the gait of one’s step, forced you to feel as though you were skulking. It was enough to make a man’s skin crawl. But Major Narcissus was not above such places. After all, he was a man of practicality, and sometimes it was practical to wade through the filth if it meant that you won in the end. Muck or no muck, he marched with perfect military precision, and if someone dared accuse him of skulking then he’d rip out their throat (because he was and it would not do to leave witnesses).
      The location was unassuming; a gaudy neon light show framing the large open doors, belching out the tumbling digital chimes of rolling slots. Specifically, this was the one-hundred and first best casino on the Net. Just competitive enough to draw in semi-noteworthy clientele, but not breaking into any “Top 100” lists. Just comfortable enough whilst still maintaining an air of sleaze. Cooking the odds and programming the dopamine just enough to look legitimate. They even went so far as to stage a pay-dispute class action lawsuit against themselves so as not to be left out among their peers. No doubt their forward operating base in MangaRaiders City would be equally innocuous, easily escaping any notice by patrols. Major Narcissus was almost impressed. The average 4Kids acolyte, bless them, lacked the imagination required to see through an illusion so overtly on the nose as this.
      It was all a front of course. Whilst more successful casino sites were counting the pennies made from their high-rollers, the Clan were raking in the real credit through the one thing that really sells on the Net: Information. But, as much as Major Narcissus appreciated such a commodity (primarily in the form of the most convincing blackmail leverage or devastating military counter-intelligence), tonight he sought the Net-wide crime syndicate to procure the other thing that they were known for: Their army.
      Major Narcissus strode forth into the hazy warren of the gamblers’ den with purpose. It was designed, as any casino worth its salt, to always lead you to another machine or table if you took a turn away from the one you were at, to always point you inwards away from the exit, to swallow you up and feed you through a digestive tract for your wallet; but if you just walked straight… He stood at ease with his hands clasped behind his back as the concierge pressed the button to the elevator in the lobby at the back.
      An annoyingly pleasant jingle played as he ascended, first past the conference room floors, then past the general office floors, then into the many layers of hotel suites. There was nothing particularly discerning about the 18th floor; it was packed with perfectly serviceable suites just as any of the others were. Major Narcissus looked down to the small leaflet containing the room key-card he had been provided. It had “1859” engraved in gold into the matte-black paper. He ambled through the plushly carpeted corridor, admiring the large, polished mirror framed ornately in real gold at the passage’s end, and running his fingers along the coarse quality of the chic wallpaper. The façade was so good because it was real, and the audacity of it he found marvelous. He toppled a perfectly arranged vase off of its stand, half hoping that it would be the thing to cause such a robust house of cards to collapse. It thudded mutely on the carpet without even a crack.
      With a singular, swift stomp it shattered into pieces anyway.
      The door was roughly two-thirds of the way to the end of the corridor, one amongst many. Not positioned at the back of the building, or in a corner, or particularly central either. Major Narcissus presented his key-card to the lock and was rewarded with a little green light and the satisfying sound of the automatic latch releasing. But what greeted him on the other side was not a fresh hotel room. The stainless steel of an elevator door slid open unceremoniously and he stepped inside. He stood, centered, and ignored the lurch of his insides as the elevator began its descent. There was no music this time.
      The journey down took almost twice as long as the journey up, for it brought him as deep once again as he had risen. No doubt that the operation The Clan ran here spanned many layers below the surface; the real offices for their call centers, message designers, data analysts, brokers; the offices of their infamous Phishing Trip Agent; and the barracks for their army of field agents, the Spam Ninjas. If he was lucky he may even lay eyes on one of the “nests”. The strange creatures grew in and hatched fully formed, clothing and all, from large, metallic eggs fed by grotesque blue roots. The breeding facility here was sure to be vast; a sight that was sure to be as stomach turning as it would be inspirational for the military mind. However, disappointingly, as Major Narcissus alighted the elevator, all that was on display for him was a vast and dark warehouse space, in the center of which a spotlight shone down upon an ornately carved wooden desk flanked either side by two red velvet, armless chairs with legs to match the desk. It was still a good two-hundred paces away.
      The clip of his boots rang like gunshots across the space as he casually, but purposefully, made his way. When he reached within ten paces, a shadow stirred from the dark on the other side of the desk, materializing into a woman as she stepped into the light at precisely the moment that Major Narcissus did, so that they both took their seats synchronously. She was dressed elegantly in a fitted, high-collared, black dress and matching buttoned blazer. The dress split to reveal her well-toned left thigh, which she had subsequently crossed. Her dark hair was expertly and pristinely pinned into a bun. Only a few very well covered lines on her face, and at the corners of her dispassionate eyes, betrayed age on the she-dragon. She was indeed fierce, one of the twelve leaders of the notorious crime syndicate, holding, quite deservedly, the title of Dragon. To anyone outside of the Clan, she was known as Auntie or “Oba-san”. She presided over clan territory in a sector of the Net that encompassed MangaRaiders, and thus was Major Narcissus’ target for parley.
      “The Lost Chorus is grateful for your hospitality Oba-san.” After a slight bow of the head he motioned at the surrounding gloom with his eyes, “love what you’ve done with the place.” He let a well practiced smile veil his face.
      The matriarch of the Clan put on a smile of her own, but she couldn’t hide the edge of genuine pride within it from him. She evidently felt quite confident in this space, proud of her operation. After a few more boring moments, she decided to grace him with a response. “What place?” Major Narcissus could only grin at that. The moment he stepped foot within the building above, her peons had probably begun packing and clearing away every modicum of evidence that there was ever a base hidden here to begin with; ready to cast off such a perfectly constructed cover without shedding a tear. Shame. It would take some small amount of effort to locate their new hive. “Shall we dispense with the pleasantries, Major? I hear that you are a man of action, and business, no?”
      “Of course, esteemed matriarch. No doubt you are aware that the Lost Chorus, in the name of 4Kids, has conquered the once deviant city of MangaRaiders.” A microscopic twitch of her eyebrow let slip her thinly masked envy. “All but a few of the miscreants have been forced into submission, but therein lies the problem. The rebels are like tiny spiders, scuttling around and weaving fragile webs in a commendable, yet futile, fight to hold back our tightening fist.” He waved the notion away, “they will ultimately not be able to divert our... righteous path. However, that does not mean that they should be ignored. Among them, there are a small number that have stolen access to something most important. Something that could become quite the problem for all if left in their hands. I believe you are quite familiar with the group? These so-called ‘Sentai Raiders’?” At this the Dragon could not contain her sneer.
      He continued, “What... concerns us is that, with all efforts focused on securing the site and ensuring the productive obedience of the populace, the Lost Chorus just does not have the time nor man-power to spare on pinning these vexatious varmints down. Their movements appear impossible, seen at one moment somewhere in the city only to pop-up moments later in a completely different quadrant. Their frankly ridiculous armor obscures their identities and, although we have been successful in suppressing knowledge of their exploits from spreading thus far, there is much risk in letting the already quelled populace find out about them. They are an elusive problem, and it seems not just for us; it would appear that they leave a trail of ninja bodies in their wake.”
      Major Narcissus let the statement hang in the stale air, hoping that he was pushing enough buttons. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the fine, lacquered desk. Steepling his fingers, he pushed further.
      “Now, I would never suggest that Oba-san would have sent operatives into a zone under Lost Chorus occupation, after all, any old amateur can grow up a few thugs in black wraps these days.” That placed a subtle sheen of perspiration on her brow. “But what if the city did not have to remain closed to the Clan?” Now, would she put two and two together? Move on the opportunity presented? Her response was slow and careful.
      “Their voice is small but strong, not easy to remove.”
      Major Narcissus stifled a sigh. It seemed that the Clan’s survival was more a product of timidity than of creativity. The casino front had been so promising but now felt infinitely less impressive. “Oba-san, Oba-san, I understand. You did not become so successful through rash decisions. But we find ourselves at a rare moment, where the Raiders can no longer deny us. They are few, we are many. They are weakened, whilst we are stronger than ever. The Lost Chorus has set the snare and tied the noose, all that is required now is a little moxie and some necks for hanging.”  Leaning back in his chair he playfully hummed the tune to “Itsy, bitsy spider”, watching as the cogs turned in the Dragon’s mind.
      “So…” she said finally as the pieces clicked into place, “you wish for us to flush them out?” Moxie indeed...
      “With all due respect, Oba-san, these… cretins hoard the key to accessing one of the greatest powers on the Net. This is not a time for half-measures. Flush? No. What I wish for is a flood!” Major Narcissus did not mind the venom that was creeping into his voice, he had her now. “I want them... to drown. To be battered and broken by the torrent. To gasp painfully for those last precious gulps of air as the raging maelstrom drags them under. To flail uselessly as they sink into the depths of despair. And, at that moment, when they know just how utterly defeated they are, we shall strike in one final, glorious display of might to bring their end.”
      A vile grin cut its way across Oba-san’s face, to match his ugly own. Without breaking her eye-contact with Major Narcissus, and with practiced grace, she raised her hand from her lap, casually holding it aloft. Then, after a brief pause, presumably for some sort of superfluous effect, she snapped her fingers. The bright white spotlight over the table immediately snuffed out, replaced only barely by a diffuse red glow throughout the expansive chamber. An endless sea of shadows surrounded the pair of them at the table, stood perfectly still and waiting.
      The dam would break upon MangaRaiders.
      The Sentai would be crushed beneath the weight.
      MR-tan’s power would be his.
      Through his scarred and pallid skin, Major Narcissus’ blood flashed a vile green.

We open with a piece that was meant to be a two paragraph prologue... but I was having too much fun exploring villainy, so it ended up as 3 pages!






Aaaaaand we are done!

MR Pub / Happy New Year MangaRaiders!!
« on: December 31, 2020, 07:38:49 PM »

Wishing a very heartfelt happy new year to all MangaRaiders.


Alrighty! So, now that I have started commuting again, I have gotten back into reading. It's amazing what progress can be made with two and half hours journeying everyday, and then a bit of time before bed instead of videogames or Youtube...

The series I picked up (much to the dismay of my wallet...) is one I have been wanting to read for years now:

"The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan (and finished by Brandon Sanderson)

Clocking in at 14 CHUNKY books long, each at 750-1000 pages, it is quite the undertaking, but I found myself engrossed in the series before long and unable to prevent myself from buying the next in the series as soon as I finished the previous. And so in the space of 3 weeks, I have stormed through half of the entire series!

Something that I noticed early on was that this series is a trove for learning opportunities - for novel writing, fantasy writing, and just writing in general - so I began reading with a relatively analytical eye, which thankfully didn't detract from my enjoyment. I wanted to share some of my thoughts on the forum and hopefully generate some discussion.

Please note, I have done my best to make this all
SPOILER FREE, so please refrain from any major spoilers in any discussions. I mostly talk about concepts as opposed to story as I think that is more productive, however If people want to discuss story elements that is fine, just please keep it in spoiler windows.

Manga Writer workshop / HALLOWEEN 2020!
« on: October 31, 2020, 06:57:01 AM »

We live in a dark and troubling time, such that tonight, a night used to festivities and house-parties galore, may be an unsettlingly solitary experience for many Raiders.

And so, I invite anyone who finds themselves unnerved by the quiet, or bored of the trashy horror flick you have watched 13 times before, to bleed their creative juices onto a page and create something new and hideously terrifying.

Write, draw, or both and fill our 2020 tome of horror this Halloween.

(I apologise for the damned watermark...)

Anime Talk / The World Ends With You Anime!?!?
« on: July 06, 2020, 01:32:19 PM »

Official Teaser Trailer


I don't think Square appreciate just how long I've waited for this!!

Funimation trailer says it is dropping in 2021

break Room / Tabletop / Pen-and-Paper RPGs
« on: June 24, 2020, 06:26:50 PM »

So I’ve been running DnD 5e campaigns for about a year and a half now (it’s where a lot of my creative writing efforts went for a long while), but I’ve been running into walls recently where the system just isn’t really keeping me engaged as a GM.

A key example of this is that combat (especially if I use grid-based battle maps) feels quite dry and very gamey, without much narrative flare or input from the players a lot of the time, as they often want to aim for the most optimal damage dealing options. Skill checks are also not very well mechanically fleshed out to facilitate a range of narrative outcomes, as they tend to operate In a quite binary pass/fail way.

I’ve been playing around with making my own Homebrew Sandbox world and I currently have a very messy list of modified rules to try and get DnD 5e to feel mechanically closer to the narrative experience I am aiming for. But I’ve also been scouting for other RPG systems that I can either pull from, adapt or use instead.

Recently I’ve been watching Jesse Cox’s
“Echoes of Eternity” Star Wars RPG campaign (which is worth watching for the sassy droid character alone!), and have been quite intrigued by Fantasy Flight’s Narrative Dice system - this system is also used for Genesys, Legend of the Five Rings and Warhammer Fantasy 3rd edition.

I was wondering if anyone else knows of some other cool Tabletop / Pen-and-Paper RPG systems that I could check out? Or maybe just some mechanics that ended up working really well in your DnD games?


Manga Creations / MR War Arc: NO1SY
« on: June 19, 2020, 05:52:18 AM »

I’m actually super happy that my first writing project back is contributing to MR Canon, which will hopefully lead into some more collaborative writing later on.

I have been advised to collect all of my work relating to this more solo part of the story into one place, so here it is! There is more to come and I hope you all enjoy  :biggrin:



A light wind swept the sand up against the walls of MR City, piling it into a yellow skirt. The walls still reached skyward, solid as ever, holding the dense city in its secure embrace. They were a comfort, like a warm hug, letting you know that your ideas, your creativity, your interests were safe and welcome. At least that is how the figure looking out at the city from the top of a dune in the distance used to feel.
      I got close this time... he thought to himself, in equal part nostalgic excitement, equal part wary anxiety. For as he gazed at his former home across the sand, those walls felt like cold hurdles now, the gates just portals to peek through into a city that looked like commitment.
      Once NO1SY had worn the appearance of a spritely young man with angular features, smooth skin and a healthy head of radiant orange hair that sat strikingly in a carefully curated mess. While working shifts for Pub-Tan he would dress in the get-up of a high-class service establishment, although he would never be seen without his headphones at least hung around his neck.
      However, over time, his image began to change: His features softened, his skin felt more coarse, his hair shortened and felt like dry straw, his beard grew long and disheveled, his shoulders became burdened with the weight of unseen responsibilities and lack of creativity, and his new clothes came across as hipster but trying too hard. Moreover, his headphones were now less a conduit for social engagement and instead an island of solitude whenever he wore them.
      By that time he had links to many sections of MangaRaiders; from Radio to Writer, Artist to Music, Review to Support. He had had plans, and had made promises, but one day when the sun rose in the sky above MangaRaiders, NO1SY was nowhere to be found.
      That was two years ago.

      A growing wump Wump WUMP broke NO1SY from his reverie.
      The heavyset military chopper crested the dune behind him, flying so low that the gusts from its blades threatened to sweep NO1SY off of the dune-top. He steadied himself in a wide stance and shielded his face from the billowing sand with his arm. He watched the chopper zoom towards MR City, and then what little colour he had drained from his pasty skin.
      They came from everywhere: tanks burrowed from hidden tunnels in the ground followed by legions of marching footmen, choppers descended from the sky in every direction like a swarm of locusts, artillery turrets breached through the sand on rising platforms and turned their sights towards the city. NO1SY had never seen anything like it.
      In a panic he launched himself down the side of the dune towards the city. As he descended, he sunk below the peaks of the other dunes in front of him and his view was cut off. NO1SY broke into a run to start scrambling up the next sandy mound in his way. He could hear the rumble of explosions in the distance, the faint rattle of gunfire. Somewhere to his left a roar and then a sizzling hiss indicated that a missile had launched from one of the artillery platforms. He pushed on and on despite the burning in his legs, as the battle raged on ahead of him.
      He ran. And then he slowed. He walked. And then he came to a stop.

      NO1SY stood looking up at the colossal walls looming before him and the buildings rising from within. He was closer to the city than he had gotten in years.
      Smoke billowed darkly from several locations across the skyline, while countless scores of troops rappelled from military helicopters that hovered like a dark cloud above the streets. Bolts of lightning and bursts of multicoloured lights flashed like a strobe from within, indicating that The Mods were in the thick of battle. On top of this, it was hard to explain, but it felt like The City was less... animated... somehow, like something important was now being lost.
      A part of NO1SY screamed to move forward. But instead he hesitated.
      I don’t think I’m ready for this... his chest felt heavy as he took an involuntary, wobbly step backwards. And suddenly, NO1SY once again found himself in the middle of a vast expanse of empty desert.

Check out the other MR War Arc Shorts here!


      It had been well over half a year and much was different, just not his choice of words...

      NO1SY had changed though. While his features were still not as sharp, his jaw was more set. His beard was trimmed and well shaped. As was his hair, which had regained a little personality atop its short back and sides. Despite his muddy green eyes speaking of some new aged experience, as well as old burdens, it seemed that he had learned to stand a little taller with it.
      The digital sun was high in the sky, beating down oppressively the desert landscape. NO1SY was just barely not boiling alive in his slim-fit combat trousers, (blessedly) breathable, grey hooded sweater, and tall, lace-up combat boots. He was a city dweller, not meant for a life of wandering a sweltering wasteland as hot as Satan’s balls. While he was as comfortable in a mixologist’s apron as he was a scientists lab coat, these days he opted for a bomber jacket, which provided extra manoeuvrability and extra padding. Unfortunately, now was not the time for his bartender’s waistcoat and cufflinks either. With a handgun strapped to his right thigh, instead he was prepared for a battle.
      At least he still had his headphones.
      He wiped sweat from his brow and shifted his toes uncomfortably in his boots, trying to ignore the gritty feeling. Sand really does get everywhere...
      The wayward Raider stood atop a dune, reminiscent of before. And once again, finally, after months of searching and directionless wandering and stumbling over shifting sands, he had found his way back. MangaRaiders lay ahead of him. Its alloy walls rose out of the sands that stretched from horizon to horizon. A sight for sore eyes. But also a despairing sight.
      Between him and his destination still lay a smouldering expanse of desert that unquestionably remained Lost Chorus territory. The artillery turrets still stood sentinel in the sands like mechanical monoliths. Military convoys and soldier squadrons trundled back and forth between the city gates, desert camps and the underground desert facility network. They looked like busy ants from this distance, and ants were unfortunately effective as a collective.
      Once upon a time it would have been second nature for NO1SY to simply will himself to appear at the gates of the city, which would have been open and welcoming. Now, that method of traversal seemed to elude him, new guard posts at the gates notwithstanding. In fact, he had seemed near physically incapable of even getting this close to MangaRaiders before now. Every time he trekked through the desert he found himself falling foul of one of a multitude of obstacles that only served to sow the seeds of doubt within him. The moment that happened he would either find himself whisked away once more into the middle of nowhere, or driven to seeking solitude in one of his many other haunts elsewhere on The Net. YouTube was the domain he most often sought comfort in; whiling away the days in endless streams of digital gaming entertainment and now completely defunct political debates. But it was only ever a matter of time before his will resolved once more and he would resume his search. Over and over and over again NO1SY relived this cycle, each attempt never more successful than the last.
      NO1SY even made negative progress on one particularly nightmarish journey. On that occasion, the endless dunes had a potent monotonous effect on his faculties, and so he did not spot the crevasse in the ground until he was already falling into it. He tumbled through darkness for what was far too long for the crack to be a natural geographical phenomenon. At some point he thought he could see streams of something trickling through the nothingness. It was glitchy and hard to look at, like thousands of superimposed letters and numbers tumbling through the aether. Before he could wrap his head around the sight, NO1SY hit solid ground with a thud that knocked the wind out of his lungs. After gasping in enough air, which could only be described as "ripe", to regain his feet, he flicked on his torch to reveal a dingy room with a tiled floor. He could not say how long he spent trapped in that dark corner of The Net he had accidentally illuminated, but it had taken a very long, very cold shower to rid himself of the filth from the place he now dubbed "Oppai Hell". Who knew that so much of a good thing could be so awfully bad.
      Nevertheless, this latest excursion had begun as any other: summoning himself into the desert plains, picking a direction and heading straight. In truth, the lost Raider had really held out little hope by then. He just put his battered headphones on, hit play, and walked. Then his headphones began picking up a signal. It began as spikes of static and he tapped at his headphones to make sure that the sand hadn’t damaged them. Then the odd word came through here or there.  He took a step in one direction but then the static cut out and his music resumed. NO1SY stood still for a moment, then backed up. The static returned. He began to walk in a circle until he reached a point where words cut through again, then he followed this faint signal like a compass until the crackling gave way to more and more speech. The voice was so familiar.
      “Bzzzzzt -ear Listeners, bzzzt -rently 202 days into... spell of mild bzzt sunny weather bzzzt rather boring bzzzzzzzzzzzt Occupation... worse than the infestation of the mimes! bzzzzzzt -iterally underground, totally pretend, gambling... Screw you fickle sponsors!........ bzzzt Together we...... strong... work bzzzzzzt freedom of all... bzt -aiting for you bzzzzt will come and go, but they never truly leave.... bzzzzzzzt.... WE ARE RAIDER!.... bzzzzt I miss the break room cookies... bzzt -nd now for Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘Call me maybe’ as performed by an orchestra of coffee machines!”
      It was kind of annoying, but also kind of beautiful, and it was undeniably 3.0. NO1SY didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, to fall to his knees or to punch the air. Instead, he just quickened the pace in whichever direction made the signal clearer. And so, now here he was catching his breath on the top of a hill of sand. MangaRaiders once again within his sight after so very long. He had truly missed it. And that’s why he felt nothing but wholehearted determination this time as he descended the dune and prepared to strike out across hostile territory.

      Through Oppai Hell or high water, NO1SY would return home.



(For an extra spooky atmosphere, listen to this while you read!)




For a rundown of current MR Canon, check out Coryn’s Quick Guide here!

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