Monday, November 30, 2015

"But I Don't Want to Say Goodbye to Gravity Falls"

I have to confess something: I'm a huge Gravity Falls fan. Gravity Falls is a traditionally animated show on the Disney Channel about two twins, Dipper and Mabel, who spend the summer with their charlatan great-uncle and discover strange creatures in his tourist trap town. At first starting with slice of life episodes, in which the twins encounter ghosts, gnomes, mermaids, and even a cherub, the series has taken a darker turn with new characters in the second season. Currently the season two finale has been taking place over second episodes, in which the show's world has turned upside down.

Several weeks ago the show creator, Alex Hirsch has announced that after the season two finale, Gravity Falls will end. Within the show, summer will come to an end, and Dipper and Mabel Pines will have grown up. This came as a shock, as the season finale has pretty much destroyed the world so far and pushed the main characters to their limits, raising the physical and emotional stakes. We have a vast amount of questions that require answers, as well as multiple unresolved plot-lines. Hirsch has three episodes to handle a vast amount of material, while not telling us how the world will change from a near apocalypse.

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Before Gravity Falls, the best Disney show on the air was Phineas and Ferb. While the show is brilliant with the references and storytelling, it relies on a rather straightforward and almost predictable formula. In addition, it operates on strange logic at times, has animation that at one point is lampooned as MC Escher-derived and romanticizes the notion that one can do so much during summer and winter vacation. The format feels very limited, and the best characters were the ones who didn't speak. It takes one a long while to get used to that show, and to its zany sense of adventure.

When it comes to animated shows, Disney's Golden Age from the 1990s spoiled me; the humor and fluid animation from shows like Chip 'N Dale, DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, Bonkers, and others had me accept high standards for their successors. A new show would have to wow me with an awesome opening or preview. I caught one or two episodes of Gravity Falls, and they seemed to be heavy-handed in telling morals: don't change an aspect of yourself just because others are making fun of it, and don't cheat at mini-golf even if your opponent is nasty.

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Then I saw the season one finale; it won me over with an epic fight scene and important character development. Tumblr also screen-capped some of the show's best moments, including a deconstruction of the "friend zone". I started to watch more season two episodes, including one that hit very close to home for someone with an introverted personality, and I started watching episodes on the days that they premiered. Slowly, with each standalone story-line, I got into the show, and started working out to it. A few fanfiction pieces are even saved on my digital clouds.

When the first big hiatus ended in the spring, Gravity Falls no longer became a weird slice of life series with a big mystery; it became a large tragedy. The episode that changed this dynamic, "A Tale of Two Stans," introduced a character who understands how the weird Gravity Falls logic works, and has even found possible explanations for it. We also see a family torn apart, a sobering reality in this day and age, and fears of the past repeating itself with future generations. This character has made the world of Gravity Falls bigger, more complicated, more fascinating, and more dangerous. He talks about the future, or the lack of one.

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With all of that material, that emotional investment, that fanbase that can be delightfully divisive when debating over the main characters' selfishness or morality, just how can we say goodbye? It feels like we've only gotten started. A lot of Chekhov's Guns have gone unused, and the characters have to figure out how they've changed now that the world has ended.  Yet we have to accept that the story ends with summer, and with quite a few ramifications. 

Good shows do have endings; Avatar's two series had wonderful finales. The fact that Alex Hirsch announced this right as season two is ending, however, feels like a shot to the heart. It would have been one thing if he had told us at the season premiere, so that we could brace ourselves to say goodbye, the way we prepare to say goodbye when a dear friend or family member moves away. Instead we have gotten the announcement that a friend has to leave on an emergency red eye, and we can't even see him off at the airport.

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With that said, I cannot thank Alex Hirsch enough for the ride. He restored my faith in the Disney animation block, so that I've discovered other shows like Wander Over Yonder and Star Vs. the Forces of Evil. He wrote a good story, and one that has been rewarding thus far. Thank you for your imagination, brains, and willingness to relive childhood.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Brief Thanksgiving Post

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Happy Thanksgiving! Just wanted to make a quick list of all the things I'm grateful for:

1) My family coming into town and cooking for the holiday. Looking forward to a Indian-style version of a Thanskgiving meal!

2) The lovely November weather. We got a cold front in on Sunday.

3) Having the week off to relax, catch up on schoolwork and job work.

4) Having one of the best summer internships ever, working for a corporation with high values. 

5) All my beta readers, those who read the rough drafts in progress and gently guide me towards revisions.

6) All the editors who allow me to revise, and who believe a story can be bigger.

7) Silvia Moreno-Garcia for publishing "The Opera Singer" this year.

8) Everyone who has purchased a copy of Carousel, my first novella.

9) Soundtrack playlists that help me write.

10) Having a stack of library books to read, and the card renewed.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Nanowrimo Start (Or Lack Thereof) and The Loose Threads Peeve

I hope that everyone had a good start to November, which started with All Saints Day or Dia de los Muertos for those who have Mexican roots or have seen The Book of Life. It’s Nanowrimo season, but I’m taking a long story break due to having worked on a ten thousand word short story for an anthology. I’ll be plotting out works this month and writing on themes, so that when winter break rolls around I can hit the ground running by writing.

Last year, in August,  I saw an article about the Rock A Fire Animatronics, a robot band that used to perform in Chuck E Cheese franchises but had moved on to perform as a solo act in Orlando. Then I confused the article with some posts I had seen on a place called “Freddy's Pizzeria”, and googled Five Nights at Freddy's. That was stupid.

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Five Nights At Freddy’s is a game that features a fictional pizzeria, though a lot of people have claimed that it reminds them of Chuck E. Cheese. It's also a horror game where you play a security guard trapped in a room, having to keep the doors closed against walking, haunted animatronics, but you probably know all this, since it’s become quite the online phenomenon. I made the mistake of watching the trailer at night, and reading up on the gameplay. I was scared of the dark for several months, up until I saw Markiplier playing the game and was able to laugh at his frustration.

Five Nights has since become a multi-game franchise that has sparked a rather controversial and excited fanbase, with the creator Scott Cawthon having released four in total plus a Halloween edition of the fourth game, and even some talk about it becoming a movie. Each succeeding game seemed to add a bit more to the story, making the animatronics seem more tragic than monstrous while showing the utmost cruelty and kindness of human beings. Then Game Four came out, which undid the satisfaction that the viewers got from the third game, and left us with a few ambiguous situations and even more unanswered questions, turning what had seemed like an ostensible “happy” ending into a tragic beginning.

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This past Fall 2015, Scott has revealed that he knows all the answers to the questions he has kept under wraps, that he plans to make no more games in that original storyline, and that his latest game will be a different story entirely. In addition, he showed a locked box that supposedly held the answers to the game, and told us he wasn’t going to open it. This felt like a huge middle finger to the fans, and to the people like me who weren’t diehard fans but were nonetheless lured in like innocent insects to a sticky mosquito trap.

A Five Nights at Freddy’s clone ended, or rather disappeared, in a similar fashion. Five Nights at Treasure Island took the same game mechanic setup and transplanted it to the Bahamas, at the abandoned Disney World resort “Treasure Island”, complete with haunted Mickey, Donald, and Goofy “suits” plus several unknown figures. After two demos, one of which merged several Disney Creepypastas, the game creator and his successors decided to pull the plug on the project. Five Nights at Treasure Island is on indefinite hiatus, with none of their questions answered either.

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Why do I find these actions frustrating? Because the games triggered in me a fear of the dark, but their story helped to alleviate it; I was able to focus on the backstory that fueled the tragedies that had occurred before and during the games. We got the Purple Man, a monstrous human whose true features we never saw, and we saw the fate that befell him when karma caught up to him. Then we see another heinous crime occur, without his involvement on screen, and the viewer becomes unsatisfied. We never see what happens to that perpetrator, and we can’t even place the event on a definitive timeline. Five Nights at Treasure Island is just as bad because while we may have some opinions on how Disney’s business executives skirt across lines and ethical boundaries, the supernatural mystery is quite alluring, more so that if you know that Treasure Island is real, albeit not haunted.

I would call these endings “cliffhangers” precisely because they leave the sensation of what the original cliffhanger, as Charles Dickens put it, must have felt like to the readers either listening to an epic saga, but at least cliffhangers are typically resolved. Instead we have loose threads to two different stories that provoke obsessions, with the creators deliberately withholding the answers. It’s one thing if the creators plan to create a huge reveal in the story, the way Alex Hirsch has done with multiple plotlines in his show Gravity Falls or J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter, but it’s quite another if he or she plans to never tell that tale. The reader deserves some common courtesy when the creator promises to add more to the story with each installment.

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If you’re going to write a story with multiple parts, with each succeeding part building on the previous one, you have to promise to answer most of the questions that you set out in a long work. Not answering these questions will lead to frustrated readers, and they will let you know if you missed a spot. Deliberately and openly withholding the stories will provoke anger from the fans, since they have devoted their time to reading. Speaking as a reader and a writer who has been on both sides of the equation, with stories that have made people ask questions and I’ve frustrated them by not answering them, I understand that answering the big questions is the important part. Writers and readers exchange words, and those words must have a current of common courtesy. I know that if I make that mistake, my lovely beta readers will let me know and express their frustration openly.

On that note, I am going to resume my storytelling break and return to detailing themes for the month, and story plotting. For those doing Nanowrimo, good luck and I hope that you meet your 50,000 word goal!