BHS Blogress Report: 2021, April – New Avenues

April – New Avenues

Well, when I least expected it, I found a new creative outlet. How about that.

I bought Koikatsu at the beginning of the month as an impulse purchase… I got an unexpected payday and it had been in my wish list for a while, so I went ahead and took the plunge.

What I expected was a dating sim/h-game with a robust character creator and a thriving modding community. I got those, sure… but I also got a massive virtual toybox filled with almost every anime character I’ve ever loved, the means to recreate the few that are missing, and literal millions of props, backgrounds, and special effects to play with.

If you’re reading this on DA, you’ve seen the results: all month long, I’ve been busily making scenes with the characters I’ve downloaded, both for my own enjoyment and for others. I’m making a concentrated effort to build up my skills with both KK and the CharaStudio add-on, with the eventual goal of illustrating as much of Shattered Skies as I can with it. To that end, I’ve begun the long and sometimes frustrating process of digging into the guts of the character models, learning how to alter textures, wireframes, and code… Some of them won’t be recreated without a lot more work and tweaking, but I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to learn in such a relatively short time.

As I’ve been telling people all month, the possibilities here are nearly endless. With thousands of character models from anime, video games, comic books, western cartoons, and movies at hand, and the skill to make more of my own… hell, I know at least half a dozen people who do commissions for KK characters on Patreon and make some impressive money for it, maybe I could turn this into a lucrative side project!

That’s not to say it’s all been a blast. Last Sunday in particular, I discovered that the process for converting one article of clothing into an accessory, without changing its model or anything else, is somewhat akin to learning Greek. After three hours spent with an experienced modder walking me through it step by step, I conceded temporary defeat in that regard. I do intend to pick up the more advanced modding techniques eventually, but until I truly understand the tools I’m using and the relevant terminology, I think it’s best if I just work with what I have. That still leaves me with a hell of a lot that I can do, though!

Anyway. This week marked ten years since the airing of Madoka Magica’s final episodes. It’s for that reason, I suppose, that there’s going to be a special tenth anniversary live event in Japan tomorrow afternoon. I briefly considered buying a ticket for the livestream… but then I found out that it would be happening at 4 AM our time tomorrow morning, and that settled that. Massive PMMM dork though I am, I’ve reached a point in my life where I just can’t disrupt my sleep schedule like that anymore. Hell, I stayed up past midnight tinkering with KK for a number of nights in a row earlier this month, and last weekend I paid for it, and hard. PMMM is a massively important and influential series for me, and I’m thrilled to think of what might be announced at this event… but I already slaved away to make my tribute back in December and January. I’ve shown my love of the series multiple times over, I think… I have nothing to prove by waking up at an ungodly hour to watch a live stream, and paying for the privilege at that. No, this is fine. I’ll see the news, whatever it is, when I wake up. In the long run, I know I’ll be happier for it.

-BHS

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BHS Blogress Special Report: You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

Puella Magi Madoka Magica first aired ten years ago today. Of all the many works of media I’ve seen, read, listened to, or experienced in the last decade, only Steven Universe has had the same kind of massive impact and influence as Madoka Magica has on my life, and on who I am as a person.

I didn’t think much of it at first. I saw fan art flying around, but you always see that happening with whatever the hit anime of the season is. I was interested because it was magical girls, but I heard it was really dark, and I was afraid it would be some tasteless bloodbath gorefest. It was only when I heard that my beloved Emiri Katou, my favorite voice actress and voice of my girl Kagami Hiiragi from Lucky Star, was in the cast that I started to take notice. My interest picked up further when I heard that Yuki Kajiura, who had written two of my favorite anime soundtracks ever, was the composer… I love Kajiura’s music so much that I count her soundtrack for Noir as one of my favorite OSTs ever, despite the fact that I’ve only seen one episode of the anime. Both Katou and Kajiura… I decided it was at least work checking out.

I went in with tempered expectations at best. I distinctly remember my first impression of Homura being “Oh, great. It’s the show’s obligatory Rei Ayanami / Yuki Nagato clone. She’s going to be tiresome.” An early guess of mine as to the twist was, “It’s some kind of sadistic game they’re being set up to play, I bet. Like magical Hunger Games.”

And then episode 3 happened.

Within 48 hours of starting the series, it was one of my all-time favorites. When I finished episode 10, the latest at the time, I sat shivering in my chair, stunned, with tears in my eyes. I had that same feeling that I had when I finished Princess Mononoke for the first time: the absolute certainty that I’d just seen something that would change my life. My entire world felt upended. This wasn’t just my new favorite anime… it was something powerful and meaningful that spoke to my soul. An exquisite, devastating, almost perfect tragedy… but one with enough of a chance that it might turn out okay that I couldn’t despair. I couldn’t. There was still a chance. That’s a delicate balance to pull off, one that most dark series fail.

For the next month, my love for the series grew as I waited for the final two episodes. The Great Tohoku Earthquake had just happened a week or so before, and the last two had been delayed due to the sensitivity of the apocalyptic imagery. Understandable, I thought. I saw rampant speculation leading up to it: how painful would the finale be? Would they kill everyone off? Would the real-life circumstances force SHAFT to change it? Would it air at all?

And then, on Good Friday 2011, appropriately enough… the ending, at last. With that, Madoka Magica ascended in my mind from “excellent” and “mind-blowing” to “masterpiece”. I wept, as I do every time I watch the final episode. Endings are always hard to pull off, anime endings especially so, and hyped-up endings nearly impossible… and Madoka’s was perfect. Glorious. Victorious. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure. A triumph of hope from the depths of despair… and for someone who knew those depths, who felt trapped in them at that point in my life, seeing people who should have been lost overcome their pain and rise up stronger in the end… it meant more to me than I can express.

There’s more that I love about Madoka than I could say if you gave me a thousand pages: the masterful execution of its twist in episode 3. The intricacy of the plot. The depth of the characters. The gorgeous art design, which incorporates multiple mediums in order to portray a feeling of wrongness. The majesty of the soundtrack, Kajiura’s finest work of her career.

But the primary reason I treasure it, and will treasure it forever, is because of how close to my heart the story hits. As I’ve said, I’ve been in the depths of despair. I’ve been lost in the abyss, feeling like I’m worthless to the world and would be better off dead. I know all too well the feeling that the sun will never shine on me again. Madoka understands that feeling, the raw emotional agony of it. And likewise, I know the feeling of meeting someone for whom simple love or friendship seems too prosaic a word… someone who pulls you out of that darkness you didn’t know you were in and shows you light you never knew existed. I know the anguish of seeing people like that suffer, the all-consuming need to do whatever you have to do, go to whatever lengths you need to go, to save them like they saved you. Yeah, I know those feelings. That’s why Homura’s story speaks to my soul.

When Madoka Magica first aired, it was at a time when I needed both hope and emotional release, and it brought both. It’s continued to do so for ten years now. I’ve used the great words from the final scene on any number of occasions, during some of my darkest hours. The idea that someone would love the world so much that she’d make kind of the sacrifice Madoka did… I’ve never been a particularly religious person despite being raised in a Christian household, but after seeing that finale, I told people that I finally got it. I finally understood the idea of a loving and omnipresent God. A higher being always watching over you, no matter where you are or how far you go, with a love that’s absolute and all-encompassing… If people can find comfort in that idea, well, I can get behind that even if I might not believe the same way as they do. Yeah, there’s obvious Biblical symbolism there, but the series earns it in a way that very, very few pieces of media can ever do.

That’s what it comes down to, for me. That’s what makes Madoka different from all the clones that it inspired: it’s not about the darkness, it’s about the light at the end. It’s about hope overcoming despair, and love overcoming loss. I can’t think of many things more inspiring than that.

Of course, Madoka has had a phenomenal influence on my creative work as well. It was in September of 2011 that I started Stars Above, working off an intial frenzy of creative inspiration that still has yet to really peter out all these years later. I put three years of my life into that story, into writing something that I hoped would affect my readers as deeply as Madoka affected me… and I’m still damned proud of the results. Without Madoka and without Stars Above, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my love for the magical girl genre, and it goes without saying that Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights, my other hugely ambitious fan fiction project, wouldn’t exist without it. Without Madoka, I wouldn’t have made the dear friends that I have in this past decade… I wouldn’t be part of this community that I’ve given so much to, that’s given so much to me in return. It’s no exaggeration at all to say that Madoka Magica changed my life for the better. I can think of no higher praise than that.

Times have been dark, and the world seems to have grown crueler. But when I’m lost, I try to think of those words…

Don’t forget.

Always, somewhere,

someone is fighting for you.

As long as you remember her,

you are not alone.

-BHS

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