Saturday, November 30, 2013
I'm amazed at how much better this is than the first season. As soon as Tomoya graduated from High School in episode 10 it got a million times better. I was slogging through up til then but once he graduated I was marathoning it. Well, amazement aside, let's start the review.
First of all, there was less of the other girls from the class. Huge plus. Nagisa was a little less annoying. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it was just that it wasn't focused as much on her, but on them as a couple. The first couple of arcs weren't as uninteresting as the arcs in the first season. They weren't that great either. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I liked them, just that they were comparatively better than the other ones. I don't really have much else to say about the first couple of arcs.
Once the Tomoya X Nagisa arc started I was hooked. If this had been the whole series with just a little bit of the background at the beginning, minus those stupid arcs, this could have been a truly great show. Oh well. So, I pretty much liked everything. The animation is better and so is the music. I loved seeing Tomoya trying to start his life as an adult. I loved seeing them interact when they weren't in school together anymore. I loved it when he started working so hard he could barely follow Nagisa's conversation or stay awake. It was just so realistic and I really empathized with both of them. The story started to have some real weight to it. It wasn't just manufactured melodrama about characters you barely know or care about anymore. It was still melodramatic but it worked because it was anchored in reality. I won't really get into what happens because I don't want to spoil anything but I'll just say a few things in general.
There was some honestly good stuff between Tomoya and Nagisa. Even though I still don't really like her, I did like her with Tomoya. Akio and Sanae were terrific as always. They were the one thing I always liked about this show. Well, them and Tomoya. There were some funny moments. Touching moments. And of course, sad moments. I think I cried for at least five episodes straight. And again, I am shocked that it got so much better and that I ended up caring so much about all of them.
The ending. Well. It was an ok ending. I can't say I am really satisfied with it. It didn't make me mad or anything but I just think it could have been better. I've been wondering if it was worth it to go through all the boring crap to get to the really good stuff. On the whole, I think it was worth it. Even though it was so boring in the beginning there were still some good moments there too and some good characters amidst all the unnecessary stuff. So, I'm glad I watched this show after seeing so many people liked it so much. I love sad stories so this was right up my alley in the end. It had major problems with the story and pacing but it got its act together and ended up being a really good show.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I'm still watching Clannad After Story but I figured I'd go ahead and do a review of Clannad. As you might be aware I don't typically watch this genre. And this anime kind of confirms me in my opinion of these types of anime in general. Don't get me wrong, there can be some good ones, but it just is not my cup of tea. So, what about this anime in particular?
I'll start with the things I liked. My favorite part of the whole anime is probably Nagisa's parents. They were really enjoyable and they provided most of the laughs in the show. I especially loved her Dad. (Nagisa herself is another story, but we can get to that later.) I like Tomoya as the main character. I like how he teases everyone and kind of has a mean streak sometimes. I wish there was more of a background story for him but perhaps that comes in After Story. Sunohara and the electrician guy were pretty interesting and funny. There were some cute things I liked about this show, like the dango family song. I have to admit that the scenes with the girl in the world that has ended and her toy companion did lend an air of mystery to the show and made me want to see what it was. So far, the payoff has not really come for that though. It is a pretty clean show too. I don't recall there being any fan service or ecchi stuff and they never even showed any of them kissing.
Ok, that was a short list. Let's get to the stuff I didn't like. The girls were all just stereotypes and annoying. I sort of got used to Nagisa a bit because compared to some of the other girls that come along she is not half as irritating. Nagisa is obviously the female lead and what can I say? The only character of this type (goody goody Mary Sue) I've ever liked is Honda Tohru from Fruits Basket and she is no Honda Tohru. The various story lines with Yuko or that violin girl were not that interesting and went on way too long. Once the main story line between Tomoya and Nagisa started I got more into the show. Before that it was really hard to keep watching arc after arc about annoying girls and their silly plots. I mean, Yuko was just unbearable. How many episodes do we really need about her handing out starfish? Honestly! The violin girl was like a robot. They kept having her play her stupid violin over and over and it wasn't funny the first time! The only ones I sort of liked were Tomoyo and Kyou but their personalities were still just doing the same shtick over and over basically.
Why did it take so long for the story line that actually matters (Tomoya X Nagisa) to really start? It could have been at least more hinted at earlier on to build it up. The animation is not that great and it is pretty irritating. Why do they give some girls those antenna on their heads? I know they think it is cute but it is so stupid looking and just stylistically weird. The music has some good moments but for the most part it sounds like repetitive video game music constantly in the background. Sometimes, I had a really hard time concentrating on what was going on in the scene because the music was so grating and distracting. Yes, it was a visual novel but that doesn't justify having that type of music in the actual show.
The overall story is just not done that well. What the story was trying to say was that Tomoya was finally getting interested in his life at school and becoming a better person despite his bad home life. But, there was no real development. He says a few lines at the beginning about being a delinquent, not having much of a future and then immediately he starts helping the girls at school with their problems. It wasn't a development at all since we didn't get to see much of how he was before this point and because it isn't like he seems that resistant to helping any of them. Another thing I didn't like was that it was so melodramatic to the point of just being pandering and forced. I read people's responses to each episode and they said they were crying. I never even teared up once. So, I guess I'm just out of the loop on this one. Anime makes me cry all the time. Everything from One Piece to Naruto to Attack on Titan has had me bawling. But this one, not a bit.
After Story is the one that everyone touts as being a really great show. I'm on episode 3 of that so I'll write another review after I've finished it. I hope it gets better but I'm not really that optimistic.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
"The minutes that follow Communion are the most precious we have in our lives." ~ St. Mary Magdalena de Pazzi
I've come to realize recently how important it is to make a good thanksgiving after communion. I have always tried to spend at least a couple of minutes after Mass but it is so hard at any parish I ever go to. Everyone is talking after Mass and sometimes even shouting, so praying can be difficult. A lot of the time I end up just leaving as soon as Mass is over. I've thought so many times about staying longer but it seems like the minutes are used up waiting for people to leave so I can have some peace and quiet to try to recollect myself. But, the Saints stress that we should spend time in thanksgiving after we receive. I've seen recommendations from half an hour to an hour from different saints but if that is too long then at least fifteen minutes would be a start.
I think we're missing a lot of graces if we neglect to give a proper thanksgiving after Mass. Jesus told St. Faustina: "My great delight is to unite myself with souls...When I come to a human heart in communion, my hands are filled with graces which I want to give to souls. But souls do not pay attention to me: they leave me to myself and busy themselves with other things. They do not recognize love. They treat me as a dead object."
I started to make my thanksgiving last Sunday and there was so much noise. People were shouting, talking, and then the catechism class came and sat in front of me. Shortly thereafter the choir lady went to the piano at the front and started practicing. I gave up and headed to the door but then I decided I would just go as far away from the noise as I could and keep praying. Before I knew it, forty-five minutes had gone by! I know it won't be like that every time, but it was a great encouragement.
If you aren't in the practice of making a thanksgiving, then make a resolution with me right now. At least fifteen minutes with Jesus and only with Him. Even if I have to go out to my car to find some quiet, I'm determined to do it and I hope you will join me.
Friday, November 15, 2013
This was a pretty frustrating anime to watch all the way through. It has some great moments but it just doesn't deliver. I can see why people like this show but it has a lot of problems.
The animation and style are really nice. I especially liked some of the music that is featured in this show. It is very atmospheric and beautiful at times. The general idea of the anime is very interesting and it had a lot of potential. The tone of the show is great and it really creates an atmosphere all its own. So, what kept this from being great?
The biggest problem is the main character. Saya is not a completely terrible character, but she isn't that interesting either. Especially for someone who has to carry a whole series. On top of that, she is supposed to be the main fighter and she's totally weak and never gets very strong. It was really annoying. Even to the end she never gets strong as a fighter and I really don't get why. The action throughout the series is very mediocre and at times laughable. There aren't many other characters that I found to be that interesting either. Haji was my favorite but he doesn't say much and he doesn't even do that much.
The second biggest problem is that it is way too long. There are so many boring episodes that don't really advance the plot that much. The beginning of the series takes so long to set everything up when it could have been done in one or two episodes. I could understand it if it was setting up an emotional impact or something, but it doesn't. Saya's family is just not that interesting and I didn't really care that much about their relationship. I was interested in Saya's relationship to Haji but that is barely sketched out and it comes in much later episodes.
It is really disappointing because you can tell this is some quality material that just wasn't handled right. Perhaps if it was a shorter, tighter story it could have overcome most of its major flaws. I did keep watching it to the end and once I got past the terribly boring beginning I did get pulled into the story. I've only watched two other vampire anime and I would have to say this is the best one that I've seen. The other two were Shiki and Vampire Knight. I liked both of those shows but I think this one is a bit better.
If you like vampires or supernatural story lines I would recommend this. It isn't the greatest anime and it has a lot of problems but I would still recommend it with some reservations. The story line is unique and interesting but way too drawn out. The action is passable and the characters are not completely terrible. It has a quality that shines through I think and it's worth seeing it for that.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The devil from another world is being beaten back by the hero and he retreats into a gate. He ends up in modern day Tokyo. His magic is pretty much gone and he looks like a regular human teenager. So, the devil and his general end up using the last of their magic to whip up ID's and bank accounts, rent a tiny room and get jobs. The devil lands a part-time job at McDonald's and his general takes on the role of house wife and rules over their meager budget with an iron fist. Eventually, they run into the hero who had followed them through the gate. She is alone and is working at a call center. Other people from their world show up and wackiness follows in their wake. It turns out that the devil really likes working at McDonald's and he likes living in the human world too. He's polite, a model employee and he helps people out. He even volunteers for neighborhood clean up. So, what is the verdict on this anime?
There were some moments where I really laughed. Even out loud. It is a funny premise. They could have done more with it but I still liked what they came up with. The characters were stereotypical but I still liked them. The animation is nice and the music is pretty good. There is some annoying ecchi stuff but it isn't too over the top.
It's hard to criticize something like this because it is really just fluff. I mean, sure, they never really explain why the devil suddenly becomes a good guy. They never really fully address the situation between the devil and the hero and how she could ever get along with him after all he did to her world. But, hey, it's the devil working at McDonalds. What can you say? The power of ordinary life just worked it's way into his heart and turned him around. I kind of like that message.
If you're looking for a day or two of watching a light, funny little anime, then go for it!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
"Three crosses stand on Calvary's height
One must be chosen, so choose aright;
Like a saint you must suffer, or a penitent thief,
Or like a reprobate, in endless grief."
A quote from St. Louis de Montford's 'Letter to the Friends of the Cross." It is very short but I'm not done with it yet. Despite its brevity, like all the works of this Saint, it is intense.
"To suffer much, yet badly, is to suffer like reprobates. To suffer much, even bravely, but for a wicked cause, is to suffer as a martyr of the devil. To suffer much or little for the sake of God is to suffer like saints."
It is hard for me to think of any specific graces I have been given apart from my conversion. But, the ones I do remember were graces to embrace my cross. In a way, my conversion itself was a grace to embrace the cross. The reason I know these were huge graces is because I am a comfort-lover. My spiritual friend said she thought she was bad about being attached to comforts but then she got to know me. Believe me (or her), I'm the worst.
If I think about it now my conversion was a grace given to me to embrace my cross. I searched high and low for an answer to the meaning of life, but it was only when I admitted to myself that I could never find the answer on my own and sunk down into those depths of humility that an answer was given to me.
It's hard to describe a grace that could be bigger or better than my actual conversion, but I can think of one. It was when literally everything in my life was going wrong. Physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually, every single thing in my life at that time was a cross. But, there I was, in the most intense physical pain of my life, writhing in agony in the emergency room. I was waiting to be seen and trying to keep from vomiting and screaming and passing out. The days before this were the most terrible of my life and this was the crown jewel to top everything off. I'd dug myself into a hole and there was no escaping it. If it wasn't for my faith, I would have literally lost my mind and I'm not being dramatic. I was thinking of everything I'd done wrong, the hospital, the relationships that were going up in flames and my own responsibility for all of it. All of this in the midst of intolerable pain and sickness.
I was in that darkness with no way out and then a light came on me. It is hard to describe. It wasn't a feeling or a push or a voice. It was just a way. I saw a way. The way. I just accepted it. I stopped fighting against the suffering and even the responsibility I carried. I accepted all of it. I stopped thinking about why it was happening or what was going to happen or what I should do. I accepted that it was happening and I fully embraced it. There was no self-pity, no self-accusation, no dodging and no whining. I didn't think about ways to make it easier on myself. I didn't think about ways I could make it better or right. I didn't think of who to blame or why I should be angry or fight against my humiliation and justify myself. I didn't really think about much of anything except accepting the cross from God. It's like everything floated away even though it was still right there in my face. Even though there were months still of rebuilding, recovering and reflection, this grace never left me.
Objectively, they were the worst months of my life. But, interiorly, I had never been happier. Never. I was happy, but even more than that, I was at rest and in peace. When I accepted that cross, I believe Jesus was right there beside me and He carried the bulk of it. The way opened up and I was able to see how to gain back the trust that I had trampled on. I was able to make up for the things I had done to an extent. I was able to forget the pain and suffering and simply be in the present moment and let it be. That was the real beginning of my spiritual life. That was the time when I could really open myself up in prayer and really listen.
Whenever I try to think of a happy time in my life, that is the time I always think of. Of course, I don't live up to that grace. There was one other time that I can think of when I tried to embrace the cross, but I let it drop and even though it's still there I haven't been able to accept it again. The weight still pushes me down, but I drag it along, complaining bitterly. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson from that time and that grace, but I have not. Not by a long shot. I've had ample opportunity this past year but I've let all of those chances slip by. Except one. It was only a few days, but I embraced the cross once again. It was an even more profound peace but I still rejected it. It's hard to say why. It is the mystery of sin I suppose. Regret, bitterness, anger and pride are probably the best words to describe the reasons, if you can really call them reasons.
"Suffering for me is of greater value than the gift of miracles, the power to command the infernal spirits, to master the physical universe, to stop the sun in its course and to raise the dead to life." ~ St. John Chrysostom
I call it a profound gift that I can understand what that great saint is saying at all. I know that without those graces I wouldn't be able to. The cross is folly and a stumbling block, after all. I've only caught a glimpse but I hope that someday soon I will be able to see more of the light of the cross. I hope one day that I can be called a friend of the cross.
Monday, October 14, 2013
I just watched the new Great Gatsby movie. It was not a great movie but that doesn't take away from the story itself. I read the book in school as I'm sure a lot of people do. It is one that I remember liking. I don't really remember anything I 'got' out of it though. But, when I watched the movie it did make me think about a few things.
The narrator, Nick, keeps saying that he was drawn to Gatsby because he could see that he had hope. He said he'd never met anyone with such a great capacity for hope and he figured he never would again. I think what he meant was that Gatsby believed that he could make things happen in his life, like a child. He believed that he could make his dreams come true, no matter what means he had to use. Sometimes he reminded me of Peter Pan. A little kid with such imagination who wastes it on trivial things like playing with pirates, when the promise of the true stuff of life is out of his grasp.
In the story, Gatsby's dreams and hopes start out in the future, move to the present and then move back to the past. They are personified in the love of his life, Daisy. She represents everything that is good in life. Beauty, wealth, popularity and passion. She is the golden girl. Gatsby leaves her to make something of himself for her but she doesn't wait for him. When he finally does make something out of himself he finds her again and pursues her with abandon even though she is now married to a wealthy man.
The character of Gatsby is the most interesting thing about the story. Leonardo di Caprio turns in a very good performance in this movie and I would recommend seeing it for that reason alone. From almost the first moment he came onscreen I felt sorry for him. I felt like he was a terribly lonely and lost person. I even teared up a couple of times. It wasn't because of anything sad that happened, but just because Gatsby was such a sad figure. He so child-like in his innocent dreams that is hard to not feel some sympathy for him, even though he is doing so many misguided things. There is one scene where he's standing alone outside of his gigantic house with all the lights on. It sums up the character. It isn't that Gatsby is some miser like Scrooge with all the wealth but no one to share it with. That is sad. But what is even sadder is a man who has all the wealth but he has so much more the desire to share it with someone yet his hopes are pinned on the wrong person.
Jay Gatsby is caught in a dream. He says that a man like him should never have allowed himself to fall in love. I think he meant that his dreams were so big that if they were caught up in one person they would be stunted and yet grow out of control. They had to be allowed to grow and yet they became trapped in something that could never contain them.
I think the irony is that Nick is the only one who cares about Gatsby or understands him and yet Gatsby keeps his attention on Daisy who could never value him for all that he really is. Just before Gatsby's death, he is waiting for Daisy to call him and the phone rings. He is shot and killed before he could answer it and his last word is 'Daisy'. But it wasn't Daisy on the phone, it was Nick. Nick was worried about Gatsby and reaching out, while Daisy was simply running away. If Gatsby could have simply valued the true friend he had found in Nick, he could have been saved.
What keeps Gatsby from being nothing but a lying, criminal, unsympathetic character is his child-like, grand hope and his self-sacrificial love. It is imperfect, just as Gatsby is imperfect, but it is still there. It makes Gatsby a very tragic character in the end. Hopeful in his dreams of love and happiness to the very end.
In a way, I think it is an indictment of romantic love. There is nothing wrong with having those feelings, but again and again, if there is no true friendship in the relationship, it will vanish like smoke.
To me, Gatsby represents a sinner who really is seeking the best things. True love, beauty and something greater than himself that he can sacrifice for. Daisy represents the false promise of transitory goods of the world. Nick represents the one thing that is needed, the true friendship of a Godly, disinterested love.
The tragedy is that Gatsby is ready for that Truth since he showed that he was ready to sacrifice himself for another by taking the fall for Daisy; but it is cut short. If he had gotten through the trial of reality and suffering, that Daisy did not really love him, but only cared for herself, he could have been saved. If he had picked up the phone and made contact with that true, disinterested love of his friend, Nick, then perhaps he could have finally seen through the mist of the false promises of the worldly passions he was ensnared in. His last thought is of Daisy, of the world, of a dead past, and not of his true friend.
It is the same for us. We have hope in our lives but our sight is blinded by the mists of our worldly passions that bring no lasting peace or happiness. Perhaps we too are even graced with a self-sacrificial love for our friends and our families. But if we miss contact with our only true friend, Jesus Christ, through prayer, then our life will still end on a tragic note.
It is Gatsby's amazing hope that is steering him in the right direction, even if it is a misguided hope. Our hopes can be misguided but they are still a grace from God that can be turned at any moment in the right direction with just a simple call from the one who truly loves us. If we can hear that call in time our hope can be turned to the only one who can fulfill it.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Blessed Martin Martinez Pascual, priest executed during the Spanish Civil War at the age of 25. When he was asked if he would like to face away from the rifles during his execution, he said no, all he wanted to do was bless those who killed him and pray that God would not hold his death against them. Then he shouted VIVA CRISTO REY! Right before being shot, he smiled for the photographer, who took this last picture of him. In his eyes, one sees the courage and joy of a faithful priest.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Tomorrow is the feast of my favorite Saint, Francis. Out of any Saint I've ever read about, he has always seemed the one that imitated Our Lord the closest. He didn't even join a monastery or become a priest. There are certain levels of security in doing that. He went and lived in total poverty. He didn't seek followers but he still got them. They came to him and asked him, 'where are you staying?' I wonder if when Jesus was asked that question, he showed them that he had nowhere to lay his head like St. Francis did? The way in which he lived his life really was like a wild love affair with God. Once, St. Teresa said that she wished everyone would go mad with love for God. I think that is exactly what St. Francis did. He was a great saint who did great things but I don't think anyone could call him anything other than little. He is a little brother. I have such a feeling of affection for him that I think he must be close to me in his prayers.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
This book is right up my alley. It turned out to be a rather frustrating read though. At first, it was pretty interesting. Martin goes through the development of doctrine about who can be saved and how. There was much more to it than I ever knew and I'm glad I got to learn a little bit about it. The theory about invincible ignorance and all that entails was around for a lot longer than I ever realized. It makes sense because it was mostly prompted by discovering how many people there were in the New World who had never been able to hear the gospel.
He goes into the puzzling fact that people forget about a certain thing that Vatican II said about the likelihood of people who are outside the visible bounds of the Church ever actually being saved. Following the scripture, it says that VERY OFTEN it does not happen. Overall, it does not give an encouraging picture of people being saved because of their invincible ignorance. You may be invincibly ignorant of the gospel, but that doesn't automatically mean that you are trying to seek God, cooperating with His grace or refraining from sinful behaviors. All of those are qualifiers that must be present in order for a person to be saved outside of the visible bounds of the Church. Vatican II sees it as possible but not likely. People quote the first part of L16 and completely ignore the second part that qualifies it. They even build entire theologies on it apparently.
However, after this first foray into a history of the doctrine and the willful ignorance of what Vatican II actually says, it just becomes frustrating. Martin goes into the theories of the 'anonymous christian' put forth by Karl Rahner and about the hope for universal salvation by Balthazar. The reason it is frustrating is because it goes into a lot of detail about their justifications for these ludicrous positions. It is just sad to see how many mental gymnastics these two had to do to come up with this nonsense. Even sadder is how much of an impact such nonsense has had on the Church. One statistic Martin comes back to again and again is the collapse of the missionary work. Once you take away the motivation for people to go out and save souls, missionary work almost disappears. How people failed to realize this is beyond me. If you keep hammering home the doctrine that pretty much everyone is saved even if they aren't in the Church, then what reason is there to go out and preach the gospel to them? Martin says the fall-back position is to just keep saying, well, Jesus said so. As we've come to witness, that just isn't a good enough reason for most people.
I suppose trying to be positive isn't a terrible thing. Cutting out the essentials in the gospel, however, is a very terrible thing. We're seeing the consequences. I once had someone tell me that people don't need to have this hell-fire motivation for going out and spreading the good news. Well, if we look at Jesus, I think we know for certain that is false. Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone else. If we want to say that our pastoral focus has to change because of our modern world, I have only one thing to say to you. Jesus, "needed not that any should give testimony of man: for he knew what was in man."
Man's nature never changes. Jesus knew human nature. His approach doesn't need updating.
I would recommend this book. It provides invaluable insight and also some solutions towards the end. It is hard to wade through the terrible theology of Rahner and Balthazar but it is still worth doing.