Journey

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By Mia Carnevale

There are various ways of controlling anxiety or stress: sitting down with a good book, taking a walk outside, or even enjoying a cup of tea with one’s current activity. Video games tend to be overlooked in this area. They are better known for being loud or fast-paced—not what someone would turn to if they were searching for calm, or emotional investment.

This is the obstacle Jenova Chen set out to overcome in Journey, the final game of a three-part contract between Thatgamecompany and Sony that came out on PlayStation in March of 2012. It eliminates the goal-driven structure most video games follow, instead allowing one to get lost in the surroundings and music. The atmosphere makes it easy for a player to feel small.

The story is told without any verbal narrative and uses cut scenes that are, at times, ominous. It was only after finishing the game that I decided to go back and read about the storyline, picking up on details that enhance one’s understanding but don’t hinder the gameplay if missed. Journey is the story of a now-ruined civilization. The player travels through the remnants, past floating centipede-like mechanical automatons that are on the lookout for intruders.

The premise itself is fairly straightforward: the player assumes the role of a strange robed figure standing in an endless desert. A large mountain looms overhead, with a light shining upwards from its split peak. The goal is to slowly make one’s way through the game in order to reach the summit. But putting it that way eliminates all of the things that are important in Journey. Here, the focal point is in the things that people tend to overlook when playing a game.

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Image from kotaku.com

The music sets the tone from the very beginning. As the player guides the cloaked figure through the remnants of a destroyed civilization, there is already something meditative about the game. This is particularly evident when the figure’s scarf comes into play. Rune-decorated scarves and red ribbons are probably the central imagery of the game. The scarf lights up when fully charged by magical ribbons scattered throughout the environment. The charge is then slowly expended when you hold down the O button to fly. Later on, these ribbons form bridges, or make up huge floating jellyfish and serpent-like creatures. The player has to charge up at one creature before gliding on to the next one.

Large, white-cloaked figures reminiscent of Tibetan monks appear at occasional checkpoints to further elaborate on the story. The meditative quality of the gameplay is heightened by encounters with anonymous figures at various stages of the journey. These are controlled by other players somewhere in the world who happen to be at the same stage in the game. Players can communicate via a series of chiming tones, and can choose to work together by charging up each other’s scarves. These encounters build a sense of companionship that is strengthened by the anonymity and lack of competition between players.

Yet all of the above is still focused on the minute details of the game. The reality is that one must play the game in order to fully understand the effect Chen was going for. Despite how short it is—taking only a couple hours or so to complete—playing it feels like one has wandered into a tiny time loop. It’s a game that elicits melancholy and longing, as well as joy and relief, taking you from a vast desert into dark underground caverns guarded by Matrix-like automatons, then up the mountain and through a blizzard. There is one particular moment, at the end of the underground cavern before one has finally broken out, that I would gladly replay over and over again, flying from one ribbon jellyfish to another through a sea of golden mist as it rises higher and higher, until it finally bursts into a warm glow. It was a moment that sent a tingling sensation through me, making me understand what all the praise and near-perfect reviews were talking about.

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Image from picquery.com

At the end of the game, after reaching the summit, there is a beautiful cut scene of the player’s figure dissolving into an expanse of white light. A shooting star crosses the sky from the summit and follows the journey backwards, illuminating the other players who are on the same path. Once it fades beyond the sand dunes and the sun rises again, one has the option of starting the journey over again. Regardless of how cliché or predictable it may sound, Journey feels like an entire lifetime shrunken down into a few hours, at the end of which there is such an overwhelming spectrum of emotions that it is difficult to leave it behind. It’s a few hours of pure, unfiltered magic that has been skillfully woven into a narrative that doesn’t care about overloading the player with details or imposing criteria, instead it seeks to comfort and move, and does both in the most unique way possible.


-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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From Inspiration to Illustration: An Interview with Koyorin

Koyorin is a Toronto-based digital illustrator whose work has appeared in conventions like The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) and Anime North. Currently, they are working as a freelance artist after having completed their bachelor’s degree in design from OCAD university. In their free time, Koyorin draws fan art or original art, plays video games, and simultaneously runs multiple social media accounts. You can find more of Koyorin’s art here: http://koyoriin.tumblr.com/

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

weight_of_the_world___web_by_koyorin-dbnp5f2.jpgWhat was it about drawing that captured your interest in the first place? And what inspired you to make the shift from drawing as a hobby to drawing as a career?

Well, I have a great interest in visual storytelling and creating appealing characters to tell said stories, and I was also an avid consumer of different video games and anime. Around my teen years, I started paying a lot more attention to the concept art and illustrations that went into the creation of some of my favourite entertainment media, and it occurred to me that I could start turning my hobby into a viable career. After all, from an early age I decided that I wanted to work in a career path that went hand-in-hand with my passions, whatever the cost.

Could you name some of your all-time favourite video games and anime?

Some of my favourite games in the past few years include Bloodborne, the Gravity Rush games, NieR and NieR: Automata, Persona 3 Portable, Undertale, Transistor, and VA-11 Hall-A. My main draws to these games are their likeable characters, good music, and appealing art direction. In terms of anime, I think it’s harder to pick a favourite series, but there are several anime films that come to mind, such as most Studio Ghibli films, Akira, and Kimi no Na wa.

When did you make the decision to focus on creating digital art, and do you think it suits your personal style more than traditional approaches to illustration?

I got my first tablet—a Wacom Bamboo tablet—when I was around 15 years old, which is when I started to dabble in digital art. Ever since then, traditional art kind of got put on the back burner, and it’s been digital drawing and painting for me ever since. Digital art allows for a different workflow and for different visual elements that appeal to me more than those of traditional art, which is why I chose to stick with it I suppose!

You’ve become a very popular fan artist, so do you intend to keep up with your large output of fan art in the future or do you foresee a shift to a greater focus on original work?

Eventually I’d like to be better known for original work. Fan art is never a bad place for artists to start building a social media presence, but I also genuinely enjoy drawing fan art for games and anime that I like. It’s a good way to show that appreciation while also attracting an audience with similar interests.

What was building up your social media presence like? Were there any challenges you faced?

Personally, I think it was a pretty organic process. I started uploading my work to websites like DeviantArt when I was 14 or 15, and eventually started a Tumblr blog when I was nearing the end of high school. Since then, I made sure to keep sharing work on a regular basis, and to never disappear for too long. I think any challenges I faced were mostly on my own side, like being too busy to make my own work to share, which was an issue I faced while I was in university, and now while I have freelance work as well.

You’ve recently created a series of original pieces (collected in a zine) called “Weapon Girls” that combines a science-fiction aesthetic with traditional fantasy-style weaponry like greatswords and giant hammers. Would you say that you have a current interest in the hybridity of these genres?

Science fiction and fantasy are my two favourite genres in the games and anime that I engage with, so combining the two is only natural, I think. My drive for the series is to just have a personal project to work on that isn’t related to my freelance work. I think there are a lot of general inspirations but no direct, specific inspirations for it—really just whatever related art media has caught my eye recently.

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Hypothetically, if all your other responsibilities were wiped out of existence, and you could work on any possible project at this moment, what would that dream project be?

Ideally, I’d like to be a lead character designer on a Japanese role-playing game. I think the kind of work that I put out is more suited for that genre as opposed to most Western style games. And I also feel like I’d excel more on projects that had more female characters than male characters, or just only female characters, since I tend to prefer designing them.

Do you have a goal for yourself as an artist? As in, is there a certain standard that you want to achieve, and could you describe what you envision that to be?

There’s definitely a level I want to be at in terms of artistic skill and design sense, but it’s something I’m still working towards. Of course, I’d also say that reaching the level of my favourite artists is definitely a goal of mine, but I also believe that the learning process and interpretation of what it means to “improve” constantly shifts as an artist gets further into their artistic career. Eventually, when I do reach a level that I’m satisfied with, there will always be some other artistic endeavour I want to achieve; so it never really ends!

Are there are any active artists now who you admire? What makes their work stand out for you?

There are many who do stand out to me, and more recently I’ve been interested in artists who have good style as well as design sense. This includes artists like ASK, Akihiko Yoshida, Yuya Nagai, Ilya Kuvshinov, Shigenori Soejima, pomodorosa, and Krenz. All of these artists have really good technical skills, but are also skilled designers and have styles that are easily recognizable in the immense field of illustration and concept work. I think the reason artists like them are standing out more to me now as compared to when I was more interested in semi-realism, is that I’ve begun to notice the importance of having a good style and good design sense. With enough practice, anyone can learn to render well and paint well, but it’s harder to learn to reinterpret reality in a way that’s memorable.

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What’s the difference in your creative process when you produce original art in comparison to fan art?

The benefit of working on fan art is that you don’t have to worry about design. All of the design work has already been done, and all you need to do is focus on the composition, light, and colour. When producing original work, there’s the additional steps of figuring out coherent design that fulfils the purpose you want to achieve with it, in addition to the compositional parts. A big part of designing is problem solving, and doing fan art removes a portion of that from the equation when creating artwork, so in some ways it’s more relaxing on the brain. My personal design approach (for my own work, not for my freelance/commercial work) tends to be very impulsive, since it’s just for me and only really needs to fulfil my needs for the design.

Is there any advice you can give to aspiring digital illustrators about finding their own approach to design?

It’s important to establish a strong foundation, regardless of style, and also to recognize that it’s good to have a wide variety of influences, art related or not. I find that it’s far too easy to pigeonhole yourself into creating work that looks like your favourite artists’ work, so it’s important to be open to all kinds of inspiration to contribute to your personal work. In addition, I know many other artists say this too, but don’t worry yourself too much about comparing yourself to others or what others are up to. It’s a source of stress for many, including myself, but ultimately it amounts to a poor use of time and energy that’s better put towards improving yourself. Everybody’s growth as an artist is different, and I think that’s a core aspect of being creative in the first place.

-Contributed by Lawrence Stewen

Speculative ASMR

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Image from YouTube channel AsmrArtistsRead

Speculative settings are known to enchant and exhilarate. Whether you’re flying through space and time, or surrounded by magicians and dragons, speculative works create an overpowering sense of adrenaline and excitement. What proves fascinating is the way in which these worlds and characters are also capable of lulling the audience into a peaceful, sometimes trance-like state; and all with the help of a little science.

Many people mention feeling a tingling, goosebump-like sensation when they’re asked to describe a state of relaxation or calm. Frequently this feeling arises from seemingly insignificant things: whispering barely above a murmur, the sound of water droplets, or thunder. Over the past decade or so, science has come to classify this sensation as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. A person can enter a euphoric state upon hearing sounds or seeing things that stimulate a tingling sensation, which starts at the scalp and moves down throughout the body.

For insomniacs or anxious people like myself, there is a large and growing ASMR community on YouTube. Users called ASMRtists make videos where they do anything from playing with crinkly tissue paper and tapping on various surfaces to roleplays and personal attention/positive affirmation videos that engage the viewer. While most videos are rather mundane, using everyday objects or referring to regular scenarios such as a trip to the spa, some users have decided to get creative and refer to the speculative realm for help.

One of the first ASMR videos I’ve ever watched was a simple whispering video by a user called Whisper Crystal, in which she layered the reading of Tolkien’s elvish poetry, in Elvish and in English, with music from the movie. Though the video has since, sadly, had its settings changed to private, I still remember the way in which the breathy pronunciation and laments for the evening star made me feel safe and lulled me to sleep, once again sobbing at the unfortunate twist of fate of not having been born an elf.

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Image from YouTube channel Heather Feather ASMR

These videos have only gotten more popular over the years. There are those like Heather Feather’s “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!” roleplay, in which the viewer feels like a character in the beginning of a video game. The viewer is presented with a variety of weapons from well-known games like the dagger of time from The Prince of Persia. These videos play with pop culture and incorporate existing details or languages, like one read in Valyrian, a language from Game of Thrones.

One channel in particular has become a personal favourite of mine, a channel by the user ASMR Rooms. Each of her YouTube videos is called a “room” because of the way in which it incorporates sounds that one would hear at a specific location. One can listen to the low humming and tinkering of the dwarves of Erebor, or the sounds of the waterfalls of Rivendell with the gentle singing of the elves. Many of her videos focus on the world of Harry Potter, capturing locations such as the Three Broomsticks. The best by far are the four videos dedicated to each of the four houses, among which Hufflepuff is the best. Situated near the Hogwarts kitchens, the Hufflepuff common room is sunny and breezy, with the sound of birds chirping and a pleasant spring breeze blowing through the windows, while the occasional chatter of students or the shadow of a stranger pass by.

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Image from YouTube channel ASMR rooms

Though the sounds used in these videos are simple, and similar to what one might hear on a regular basis, they are successful in stimulating the imagination by creating a sense of setting and atmosphere. It becomes easy to choose your appropriate House video and imagine oneself as a student in Hogwarts, sitting and studying for your O.W.L.s or simply taking a nap between classes. While other videos can include speculative characters or props, they focus much more on calming the viewer down—though some, like the few roleplays of Nurse Joy, are worthwhile to watch/listen to because of their cuteness.

One of the greatest pains for an avid reader is being unable to slip into the pages of the book and exist in whatever world one is reading about. While movies are capable of bringing these stories and characters to life, they do so in a way that makes one want to run headfirst into battle or do something reckless, like ride a dragon. ASMR videos offer a different side to these beloved characters and places, letting them become something each person visualizes and understands differently in a vivid, sensory fashion. It becomes much easier to make the experience personal and enjoyable, a “mundane day” in a fantastical world.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

How Dark Souls Taught Me to Close-Read

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All images in this post are the author’s personal screenshots of his Dark Souls playthroughs.

 

Like any English undergrad, I’ve been lectured on the concept of close-reading by nearly every professor I’ve encountered. During discussions of how to find meaning by picking apart the form and content of a text, I’ve often found myself thinking about Dark Souls. At the time, I almost felt ashamed for thinking about a video game rather than a novel. But after a year of considering the game’s analytical potential, I’ve realized that Dark Souls had taught me how to close-read long before I was even given a definition for the term.

Created by developer FromSoftware, Dark Souls has garnered both acclaim and criticism for its lack of guidance and difficult combat. Many who play Dark Souls would describe it as a masochistic dark fantasy game with a dry narrative that barely ventures into the foreground. Those people are partially right, and on my first few attempts to play the game I agreed with them. I dismissed Dark Souls as flawed and inaccessible and left the game on my shelf to gather dust.

What changed my opinion was the Souls Community. This collective of YouTubers, bloggers, Reddit threads, wikis, and many other Internet venues had undertaken the task of analyzing and interpreting Dark Souls and its sequels. After immersing myself in essays and videos dedicated to the game’s narrative and gameplay, I had to give it a second chance. After all, how could I dismiss the patterns clearly seen by so many others?

All I had to do was change my expectations. The second time I played Dark Souls, I didn’t expect it to provide me with a prominent narrative coupled with a challenging yet railroaded gameplay experience. In other words, I had to realize it wasn’t designed like so many other modern roleplaying games. It was designed to be a lot deeper than that.

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The dying world of Lordran is filled with secrets.

This time, I experienced the game step by step. I overcame its merciless combat by realizing that its gameplay rewarded patience. Those who rushed in expecting instant gratification were inevitably given a grey screen with the words “YOU DIED”. By being patient, I saw the holes in my enemies’ attack patterns, allowing me to turn the fight to my advantage. I then applied this philosophy to its obscure story, and I came away amazed at the level of detail the creators had woven into its minimalistic world.

On the surface, Lordran (the setting of Dark Souls) is just another medieval fantasy world with knights, demons, gods, and dragons. There is a fallen kingdom to reclaim and heck, there is even a princess to save. It’s only when you start examining your environment, reading item descriptions, and making the connections between them that you start to decipher the game’s lore. That’s when you realize that the “monster” you killed was just defending the grave of her long dead master; that the princess and the kingdom of sunlight to which you pledged your fealty were just illusions created by a lonely deity of the moon; that the dark portal you were dragged through didn’t actually bring you to a new location, it just put you back in the same place several hundreds of years in the past.

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Ravenous beast or loyal guardian?

Any other game would just give the player all of this information in cutscenes, long expository dialogue, or big chunks of text. But instead of telling, Dark Souls shows the player the aftermath of these events and expects them to take the initiative to make sense of it all. This game expects a patient, attentive, and skeptical player, and if you meet the game on its own terms it will reward you for your efforts.

Nevertheless, there are always gaps in the story that the player will have to interpret for themselves. While other games may provide every question they raise with a canonical answer, Dark Souls revels in its fragments and provides the player with just enough evidence to evoke narratives and themes that they have to interpret on their own.

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But can you really trust an old withered snake?

While part of close-reading involves discovering a text’s hidden meanings, the rest is all about the interpretation of what you’ve discovered. Your interpretation is the “so what?” that gives your findings an actual purpose. This is why people still continue to interpret and reinterpret the lore of Dark Souls. Like any dense text, Dark Souls provided me with multiple layers of understanding to critically analyze in order to discover evidence to fuel my own interpretations.

The game never explicitly told me to do this. Instead I was led to this path through its combat, which taught me to be aware of the details and to take things slowly. Then, when I discovered that its item descriptions suggested the existence of unseen narratives, I felt encouraged to gather evidence and come up with my own conclusions. In lecture, you may close-read a text simply because the professor told you to do so. But Dark Souls convinced me that in order to enjoy the game for what it was, close-reading was my best option.

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The player interprets the ruins of Lordran like how the reader interprets the text. Both are proactive users of the present trying to comprehend what came before them.

I’m sure many people have discovered the concept of close-reading through complex novels or other works that require critical analysis. For them, those works are what pop-up in their thoughts whenever the topic is brought up. Since Dark Souls has come to occupy that space in my thoughts, I’ve begun to wonder when video games will become a valid medium of study. When will the first courses on close-reading video games begin? When will the first person graduate with a major in video game studies? The international success of Dark Souls has shown that there is a demand for this kind of game. This means that developers are likely to produce such games in the future, and perhaps even find new ways to increase their depth and complexity.

While I think Dark Souls came out far too early to be regarded as a subject of professional study, I’m sure that the Souls Community will continue to discover new interpretations of this game’s vast textual world. Hopefully, that will be enough for future video game scholars to recognize Dark Souls as part of a vanguard that led the medium into the realm of professional study.

-Contributed by Lawrence Stewen

Why I Play Dungeons & Dragons, and So Should You (If You’re Into That)

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Illustrated by Mia Carnevale

Okay friends, it is time to talk about my favourite subject.

Despite the rise in nerd culture, Dungeons and Dragons still has a bit of lingering stigma. The problem is that many people do not understand it. When you ask non-nerds about it, often they’ll make references to teenagers running around in sewers dressed in wizard robes, or mumble something about demon summoning and satanic rituals (I mean, that sounds fun too, but it does not really have much to do with D&D—unless that is how you want to play, in which case: you do you, buddy).

Even nerds will sometimes shrug and say, “I’m not that kind of nerd.” It’s as if D&D players are some kind of off-brand super nerd: a lower rung in the nerd hierarchy that no one likes to acknowledge. However, if you like fantasy, storytelling, and hanging out with friends, I think you should give this game a chance.

Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy improvisation game played with friends. You have a Dungeon Master (or DM)—yes it is silly, but the game does have its glorious roots in the 70s after all, so we need to get past this, guys—who acts as the storyteller and main author of the world. Think of it like a fantasy novel, but each player brings their own protagonist to the table, each with their own personalities and goals. Together, you weave a story as unique as the people playing the game.

Every group I have been a part of has had a completely different dynamic. You could play a character-heavy intrigue game full of alliances and betrayal, a heroic coming-of-age story, or even the rise of a villain. Alternatively, you can just battle monsters and collect loot, Diablo-style. Unlike video games, there are no “invisible walls” limiting what you can do; the narrative is purely based on the creativity of its players.

What makes D&D special is that it provides a framework in which to tell your story. Its core mechanic involves dice-rolling, where your character’s success or failure in a task depends on their skill—represented by bonuses or penalties added to the dice total—and on pure luck. This last part is what draws you into the game: the stakes are real, and every time you engage in combat, you are risking your character’s life along with all of the personal investment you have in their continuing story.

Putting your characters in “danger” can lead to the most creative and memorable experiences in the game. I’ve seen situations where, when the chips were down, a player in trouble has pulled out the most off-the-wall solutions and just rolled like a boss to pull it off. These moments can stay with you for years; I still look back fondly on many of my own close calls.

Dungeons and Dragons also provides a large range of pre-made settings and adventures, plug-and-play style:  if you are new to the game, the developers have your back. Many experienced DMs engage in what is affectionately called “home-brewing,” and create their own rules, maps, and other features customized to their players. So if you really want to play a gunslinger in a medieval fantasy setting, your DM can make that happen in a way that keeps the game balanced and enjoyable for everyone.

I really want to emphasize the social aspect here. Unlike playing an online game, D&D lets you sit around a table, along with some snacks and a case of beer (or whatever floats your boat). In short, you should play Dungeons and Dragons because it is fun.

Now that I have given you my spiel, those of you who are still reading may be asking, “So how do I get started?” What a great question! If you are not asking that, you do not have to read this next bit.

First of all, you need to find a group of like-minded individuals who are interested in playing. The best size for a group is around five people (including the DM), but you can play with as few as two and as many as you can fit in one room.

If you want to do some window-shopping before you commit, there are a few recommendations I can make. Critical Role on Geek and Sundry (also on Youtube) is a show where a bunch of “nerdy-ass voice actors” (their words, not mine) get together and record their D&D sessions for the world to enjoy. If you are into anime, cartoons, or video games, you may have heard of some of them: Matthew Mercer is the DM, and the players include Ashley Johnson, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, and Sam Riegel. Orion Acaba stayed on for the first twenty-five episodes before moving on to other projects, and there are several exciting guest stars that make an appearance throughout the series.

I cannot emphasize how amazing it has been to watch this show and its storyline develop. From a slightly glitchy first episode to the jaw-dropping latest episode (fifty-eight was a personal favourite—I may have cried a little), this show is definitely worth your time. Matt Mercer is a master storyteller. He’s the kind of DM I aspire to be, and he really demonstrates the heights of what a game can reach.

I have also recently started Acquisitions Inc., a podcast of Penny Arcade fame—being only six episodes in, I am a little late to the party, but it has been highly recommended and from what I have heard so far I feel comfortable passing it on to you. They play fourth-edition Dungeon and Dragons, which is slightly less streamlined and intuitive than the newer fifth-edition, but it is still great.

You will need some gaming dice to get started. The rulebooks can be pretty pricey, so if you are not sure you want to commit (and you live in Toronto), the Merril Collection at the Toronto Public Library at 239 College St. lets you peruse them for free. Look for the fifth-edition Player’s Handbook—that’s where everyone starts. There are a myriad of supplemental materials once you have gotten past that, so feel free to go wild!

If you are an aspiring DM, I recommend Matthew Colville’s Youtube series on how to run a game. He lays things out in a really accessible, straight-forward kind of way that I found really helpful when I started DM-ing (not too long ago, I might add).

And that is all she wrote! I hope this helps you.

Go forth, friends, and play!

Contributed by Eleanor Crook

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Charming New Chapter of the Wizarding World

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Some people may understand I say that the first time I saw the commercial for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it felt very much like deciding whether to go and order another cup of coffee. On the one hand, you know you’ve already had several and so drinking another will probably ruin the pleasant effect, but on the other hand the thought is so appealing, and it looks so damn good that you can’t help but wonder if this one might be even better than all the rest.

At first, the movie seemed like just another cash-grab. And when J.K. Rowling announced that she plans to turn it into a series, with five films rather than the initially planned three, I have to admit it felt like another example of an author milking their success.

But seeing the movie turned out to be much different, and the feeling of relaxation, enjoyment, and overall lightness after exiting the theatre made the verdict quite clear: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very good. The adulthood missing from Harry Potter is present in Fantastic Beasts.

Fantastic Beasts transports the viewer to New York in 1926, and it is the wizard and magizoolistic Newt Scamander who serves as our protagonist. He is just as British as Harry, and as tussled and quirky, but that is where their similarities end. Unlike Harry, who we first met at 10-years-old, Newt begins the series as an adult and has the knowledge to prove it. He never sets out to flagrantly display his intellect, but instead spends the movie content with inwardly curating it out of the joy that it brings him.

The main conflict of the film is a little formulaic, part Pandora’s box and part comical-accident-turned-catastrophic. The magical suitcase Newt brings into NYC ends up switched with a suitcase full of pastries carried by the No-Maj (the American term for Muggles) Jacob Kowalski, who accidentally releases several of the magical creatures within it. One of these animals is the adorable Niffler, which has the appearance of an echidna and the personality of a magpie, amassing all the gold and jewels it finds into its bottomless pouch.

And thus begins a hunt for the missing creatures throughout the city, with the help of Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, her Legilimens (telepathic) sister “Queenie,” and Jacob.

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Right from the start one finds the distinction Rowling draws between the North American and European wizardly worlds. From the use of terminology for regular humans (muggles vs. no-maj), to the American wizards governed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is headed by a president. There is even a squabble at one point between Newt and Queenie over which wizarding school is the best in the world. Of course, Newt represents Hogwarts while Queenie argues for the recently introduced and still unfamiliar Ilvermorny.

Some aspects of the world-building cross the geographical borders, such as the Deathly Hallows sigil and the name dropping of Albus Dumbledore. Others transcend time and begin to create a sense of interconnectedness with the future, occurring in the form of a photograph Newt carries with him of Leta Lestrange, as he later admits, a past love from his Hogwarts years that ended poorly.

These differences and connections within the plot cannot compare to the most important difference of all: that of the quality of the story. Rowling presents a much more measured and sophisticated approach to magic, making it feel magical and all-encompassing in a way that doesn’t bombard one with a dazzling show of gimmicks and terminology as the Harry Potter series did. Instead time is taken to show the inside of Newt’s suitcase, to explore the nooks and crannies of it and develop a personal attachment to the creatures living inside it, giving a detailed example of the Undetectable Extension charm which was previously only vaguely shown in Hermione’s bag.

There is also a greater sense of order—or lack thereof—and consequence in the movie. The character of Mary Lou Barebone, head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an order that that fights to draw New York’s attention to the existence of witches, adds a touch of urgency to the story. She was a reminder that the threat of exposure and negative influence of no-majs on the wizards was just as significant as the threat wizards posed to each other.

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I can find few qualms in the movie, and even those are more technical than they are glaring plot errors. The obsession with darkness and dark scenes grew to be a bit much at certain points, making some scenes difficult to make out visually. The casting of Johnny Depp was another reason for confusion. His appearance in the film and just in general were unpleasant, by the bleached hair, eyebrows, and moustache, while his last words “Will we die just a little?” were delivered in a muffled manner that was also contextually disappointing.

These had little impact on the movie, which was a well-crafted story of adult wizards and witches from beginning to end. It did have the quality of a prologue to it, and some may find it to lack action while stressing the informative tone, but that is to be expected of a movie that is not only part of a series but is also introducing a new side of the wizarding world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them balances the familiar with the new, the former used more as a strategy to make the viewer more comfortable with the latter. It isn’t a crutch but rather a reminder that there is always room to create new worlds, characters, and plots, which is exactly what Rowling was able to achieve. The fact that she wrote the screenplay gave the movie a quality of confidence and authenticity, strengthening the sense of magic and wonder it already possessed.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

The Poor Teaching Practices of Professor Dumbledore

dumbledore
Illustrated by Mia Carnevale

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was a great man. A champion of wizard and muggle rights, defender of the innocent, genius, scholar, warrior, philosopher, and general. Founder of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore single-handedly stopped the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s reign of terror, kept the dangerous Elder Wand safe from those who would abuse its power, and waged two wars against the Dark Lord Voldemort (yeah, I can say his name) over a period of twenty years, even giving his life in order to stop the darkness.

Dumbledore’s life stood for kindness and compassion for others, and the value and power of love. I love him and I will challenge anyone who disagrees to a duel. And yet… how well suited was Dumbledore to be the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

Here, to the detriment of my own soul, I admit that as great a man as Dumbledore undoubtedly was, he wasn’t a very good headmaster.

Let us start with the dangers that Dumbledore allowed into his school. Does everyone remember in The Philosopher’s Stone when three eleven year old children stumbled into a room that held a gigantic, vicious three-headed dog? I sure do, that book was great. But you might be shouting, “Fluffy and the other traps were there to protect the philosophers stone you moron!”. And yes, I know this.

It was a very decent thing of Professor Dumbledore to do, to keep safe the most important possession of a dear friend against the forces of evil. But…why exactly did Dumbledore decide to do this in a school? Yeah sure, he mentioned at the feast that year that the third floor was out of bounds to any who didn’t want to suffer a horrible death. This is a school full of children! It was wildly inappropriate for Dumbledore to hide the philosopher’s stone inside of the school where his priority should be the children. Yes, he had the best intentions, but he still endangered the lives of his students in order to prevent the return of Lord Voldemort.

Also, speaking of monsters, remember how there was a giant child-killing snake hiding in the Hogwarts castle? The first time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, Dumbledore was a professor! A child was killed, and that was absolutely out of his hands. But later, once the attacks stopped, Dumbledore just kind of went, “Well, I know there is a child-killing monster somewhere in this castle. Neat.” and he did nothing about it! There is no evidence that in the fifty years between the times the chamber was opened that Albus ever so much as peeked under a bed to try and look for it.

Now we must come to Dumbledore’s teaching practices. Professor Quirrell can be excused, as he was hired before supergluing the Dark Lord to his head. I will also fight anyone who says it was inappropriate to hire Remus Lupin. Even Hagrid I would say was a perfectly decent choice for the Magical Creature’s professor, although some limits as to what he was allowed to teach at what level (and what he was allowed to breed) should have been firmly put in place before Hagrid accepted the job.

So this leaves us with six teachers we know were hired by Albus Dumbledore during his tenure as headmaster of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Severus Snape, Gilderoy Lockhart, Sybill Trelawney, Firenze, Mad-Eye Moody, and Horace Slughorn.

The most obvious and insane mistake of Dumbledore’s hirings: Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart, who is a barely-competent wizard, a selfish fraud, and a charlatan, is hired by Albus Dumbledore, a man adept in seeing through people, has the power to read minds, and hopefully the ability to check references. What on earth prompted Dumbledore to hire a man who is so obviously incompetent that a bunch of twelve year olds figured it out after a couple weeks of lessons? Really, there are only two possible explanations.

  1. He did it because it was funny. Yes, Albus has a great sense of humour. No, it should not be at the cost of the education of the youth under his care. Or…
  2. Dumbledore thought Lockhart was very pretty, and so hired him on the basis of how pretty he was. This is horrible and his students suffered as a result, though admittedly, since I too am hoping to get by in life by being so very pretty, it does give me hope for my future.

Sybil Trelawney is a true psychic. Indeed, it was her prophecy which caused the deaths of James and Lily Potter, and ensured that their son Harry would be the one to bring about the downfall of Lord Voldemort. Knowing her importance, Dumbledore agreed to hire her as the divination professor in order to keep her safe from Voldemort’s forces.

But just to be clear, so far as Dumbledore is aware, Trelawney has only ever made one real prophecy in her life. Albus believes that the rest of the time, Trelawney is a fake. He does not hire her to teach his students, he hires her as a chess piece in his war against Voldemort. An asset in a supernatural war is really not a good reason to hire a bad educator.

Now how about Mad-Eye Moody, eh? Yes, I know Moody himself never got a chance to teach since he had been secretly replaced a Death Eater. That wasn’t the real Mad-Eye. But we still meet the real Mad-Eye Moody in later books. We get to see how paranoid, abrupt, and extreme he is. This is a man with intense PTSD from his time as an officer of the law. He is brilliant, but he is also prone to violence, shouting, and telling people that someone is going to come and try to kill them at any moment.

Albus Dumbledore thought it would be cool to put this man in charge of eleven year old children. Maybe I’m being judgmental here, and it could have turned out that if given the chance, Mad-Eye would have been a great teacher and had hidden talents in working with youth.

But I don’t think so.

And finally: Snape and Slughorn.

Slughorn is a more than competent potions master. He is perfectly capable to do the job he has been hired to do and, creepily making students join his pseudo-cult aside, he seems like a good teacher. But this is not why Dumbledore hires Slughorn. Slughorn is actually hired so that Dumbledore can have Harry Potter extract a memory from the old professor, so that Albus may confirm his theory on Voldemort’s seven horcruxes. Slughorn is hired so that Albus can continue the fight against Voldemort. It had nothing to do with his teaching ability.

And finally, Snape. Snape, who is Dumbledore’s valued spy. Snape, who Dumbledore entrusts with both his life and his death. Snape, who brutally tortures the child of the woman he loved, just because she didn’t love him back. Snape, who was biased in the classroom, cruel, and abusive. Snape, who made thirteen year old Neville Longbottom more afraid of his teacher than anything else in the universe.

I understand that Snape was ultimately not the villain he pretended to be. Snape did what he needed to do on Dumbledore’s orders. He was an excellent spy and soldier. But he was a terrible teacher. Maybe Harry could forgive Snape for his treatment of children, but I can’t. Dumbledore brought Snape to Hogwarts to fight a war against evil, and they won. But he did so at the cost of allowing a teacher to bully his students until they trembled when he approached.

I will never forgive Snape for being the thing that the Bogart became at the sight of Neville.

If there is an underlying theme of my criticism of the headmaster, I think it is that Dumbledore often put his fight against evil over the safety and education of his students. Yes, he did the right thing, he stopped a terrible dark wizard from destroying his people. Albus worked as hard as he could, and saved as many as he could. But really, did he do so as a teacher? No. Many of his hiring practices were to do with fighting evil, which was good for the fight, but bad for the school.

Dumbledore might have turned down the position of Minister of Magic, believing he could not be trusted with power. But really, it might not have been a bad idea to go and run the war from the Ministry instead of the school. If anything else, he could have at least found a place for that giant three-headed dog where an eleven year old girl couldn’t break the lock.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Great man. Lousy school administrator.

 

-Contributed by Ben Ghan