Weekend Reads: "Ted Lasso," Alan Moore, Critical Role, Japan's Hikikomori, "The Expanse"

Recommended weekend reading material for October 10, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles to give you some good weekend reading material.

We don’t have an Apple TV+ subscription, but I’m sorely tempted to sign up so we can watch Ted Lassoand not just because it’s (nominally) about soccer.

On one level, it is a heartwarming comedy about Premier League Football, but on another level it is a celebration of the life and work of a coach who embodies true kindness, love, joy, and patience amidst many storms — both serious and humorous. Ted Lasso celebrates the fruit of the Spirit, and I certainly didn’t anticipate writing that about a TV-MA original streaming sports comedy in the year 2020. But in a time when winning has become the ultimate morality, and the struggle to gain and maintain power has turned otherwise absolute standards of goodness into subjective opinion in the eyes of so many, we all need more of what Ted Lasso is dishing out.

Alan Moore is responsible for some of the most iconic and influential superhero stories of all time, including Watchmen, V For Vendetta, and Batman: The Killing Joke. But these days, he’s pretty down on comic books and superheroes in general.

Most people equate comics with superhero movies now. That adds another layer of difficulty for me. I haven’t seen a superhero movie since the first Tim Burton Batman film. They have blighted cinema, and also blighted culture to a degree. Several years ago I said I thought it was a really worrying sign, that hundreds of thousands of adults were queuing up to see characters that were created 50 years ago to entertain 12-year-old boys. That seemed to speak to some kind of longing to escape from the complexities of the modern world, and go back to a nostalgic, remembered childhood. That seemed dangerous, it was infantilizing the population.

Moore’s latest project is The Show, a surreal feature film set in his hometown of Northampton.

One of the things that makes Avatar: The Last Airbender so great is its detailed depiction of the different “bending” styles, which are all grounded in real world martial arts.

“Originally, bending was gonna be lumped into this one big category of martial arts manifestation that created rocks flying or fire coming out of hands,” Kisu says. Connecting these elements to martial arts involved a deep understanding of the body. Kisu notes that his teacher — who he has been with for over 40 years — maintains a vast curriculum, and as a result, he was able to pair styles he had expertise in with elements that heavily resonated with them.

We’re big fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender here at Opus HQ. Back in 2010, I wrote this extended piece about the series’ rich mythology and world-building.

Speaking of animation, Vulture recently compiled a list of the 100 greatest and most influential animated sequences of all time.

Inevitably, a list like this can only scratch the surface of an art form unparalleled in its elasticity and capacity for wonder. And yet the sequences included here, listed chronologically, speak as much for the evolution of animation as a medium as they do for themselves. The creators of the early, tastelessly minstrelsy-laden shorts on this list could not have imagined how our entries would make vast audiences vibrate with joy — and the basic compact of the craft still holds, firm as ever: Animators continue to fool us into believing still images can move and breathe, and we in turn remain delighted to live between the frames.

Some of the titles featured in the list include Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), Steamboat Willie (1928), Duck Amuck (1953), Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), Akira (1988), Space Ghost Coast to Coast (1997), and Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse (2018).

If you play Dungeons & Dragons, then you’ve probably heard of Critical Role, a very popular web series that features professional actors playing the game. An upcoming book discusses their love of RPGs.

“I have a theory,” says Marisha, “that we’re seeing a resurgence in tabletop and the board game scene in general because, as much as technology and the way we use it will continue to advance, nothing will ever replace face-to-face human contact. And I think the more we do have technology invading all aspects of our lives, the more we will continue to go back to sitting around a campfire telling stories. And that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is nothing more than a communal storytelling device. As people, I think that’s so ingrained in our DNA and so necessary to who we are. We will always need our stories.”

Given the pandemic’s effects on the film industry, Disney’s latest move shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Under the new Disney model, a theatrical release is determined not by its cinematic grandeur, its awards potential, or by the need to support exhibitors. The litmus test is dollars: Will a movie make more money for Disney in theaters or streaming? “The consumers are actually going to be who makes these decisions,” [Disney CEO Bob Chapek] said. “They’re going to lead us in the way that they make their transactional decisions. Right now, they’re voting with their pocketbooks and they’re voting very heavily towards Disney+. What we want to do is make sure we’re going to go the way that consumers want us to go.”

Disney previously released Mulan direct to Disney+ earlier this year. And on December 25, Pixar’s Soul will be available to all Disney+ subscribers without any additional fees.

Ride’s landmark debut album, Nowhere, turned 30 this week. Joe Taysom breaks down what makes the shoegaze classic so special.

The record perfectly encapsulates the early ‘90s and the initial days of the shoegaze movement. It was a scene that Ride asserted themselves right into the middle of with this astounding debut. Although Nowhere does sound of its time, it doesn’t feel dated or corny listening back, a testament to the sheer quality of the songs that make it up. Perhaps the only reason it feels very much of the era that it originates from is that Nowhere set the tone for the decade and, following its release, a number of band’s attempted to ‘borrow’ their sound after being taken aback by the record which, in a weird way, acts as the greatest of compliments.

For what it’s worth, “Dreams Burn Down” contains one of my favorite drum intros of all time. It sounds so massive and epic and it lays the perfect foundation for the existential angst that drives the song.

I know what it’s like to get lost in video games, but my experiences pale in comparison to those of this 63-year-old retiree.

From the biological simulacra to the digital fauna, Stephen describes these interconnected systems as if they were hewn directly from their real life counterparts. His obsession over failures in the game reflects this. Even when he quit, returned to the desktop and shut the computer down, the game maintained some gravitational pull, difficult to dislodge from his thoughts.

On the one hand, this level of devotion to fictional, virtual worlds is a bit troubling. On the other hand, his account makes it clear that such worlds can, indeed, spark beauty, mystery, and awe, and I don’t think we should dismiss such experiences out of hand.

The QAnon conspiracy theory is using religious themes and language to lure in Christians.

According to the religious view of QAnon, Q is a postmodern prophet, “Q drops” (aka his messages) are sacred texts and Trump is a messianic figure who will conjure “The Storm,” an apocalyptic revelation exposing evildoers.

If QAnon is a new religion, it bears the birthmarks of our truth-deprived time: Born on an obscure internet image board, it spreads through social media, preaches a perverted form of populism and is amplified by a president who has demonstrated little regard for facts.

Yoshiaki Nohara writes about Japan’s “lost generation,” those people who — due to poor job opportunities, social anxiety, and other factors — have essentially dropped out of society.

There was no shortage of potential subjects for my project. Japan has an estimated 613,000 middle-aged hikikomori, a term usually used to describe socially withdrawn adolescents who hole up in their bedrooms, according to the results of a government survey released in March of last year. Among those in their early 40s, as many as one in three said they had become shut-ins because they had trouble finding or settling into a job after finishing school.

From the Blog

Amazon recently released a trailer for the fifth season of The Expanse, aka the best sci-fi show on TV right now.

For all of the grittiness, violence, and cynicism of characters like Josephus Miller — The Expanse, by the way, is definitely not something to watch with young kids — I find it to be a deeply moral and even optimistic series. It celebrates sacrifice, diversity, community, heroism, and exploration while condemning corporate greed, political corruption and cowardice, opportunism, and prejudice.

The Expanse’s fifth season will begin streaming on December 16.

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