7SEEDS

Intro

Your last memory before going to sleep is a small feast with the family, organized for no apparent reason, with your mom cooking all your favourite dishes.

You wake up suddenly. There's a thunderstorm outside. Despite the darkness, you realize you're in unfamiliar environment. You stumble, trying to get up, as the room you're inside rocks around. A boat? Suddenly a door opens and a stranger, a woman, all but orders you to make haste if you don't want to drown. Still stumbling, you emerge out in the thunderstorm, as more unfamiliar people help you onto a lifeboat, saving you from drowning when you slip and fall into the waves. The inflatable lifeboat has a small tent that protects the group form the thunderstorm. Inside, you find your backpack, and the other strangers, none of whom seems to know what exactly happened, and why they're finding themselves in such a situation. A kidnapping maybe?

As the weather calms down, the priority becomes finding a safe place to land, and then finding food and water in an unfamiliar environment. Doubts and suspicion split the group, leading to the finding of more castaways in the unknown island inhabited by weird plants and animals. And when the group is finally complete, the woman that has more or less directed the initial group finally presents an incredible explanation: you are a unwitting member of the “7 seeds” project, a desperate last-resort attempt at the survival of the human species after a predicted natural apocalypse. Five teams, each composed of 7 young people (school-age boys and girls) and an adult (the guide), have been hibernated before the cataclysm, to be thawed when the system determined the environment to be capable of supporting human life again.

There's no help coming. Civilization has collapsed. Everyone you knew —in fact, probably everyone, outside of your group and maybe the other teams— is dead. The environment is still hostile, and survival is your priority.

What would you do now?

7 SEEDS

This is essentially the premise (and the first chapter, in a very tight synthesis) for 7SEEDS, a polyphonic post-apocalyptic speculative fiction manga (I would go as far as calling it a graphic novel) with strong psychological underpinnings, written and illustrated by Yumi Tamura. Its publication spanned 16 years (from 2001 to 2017), and the work has also been collected in 35 volumes of about 190 pages each (around 6500 pages total), followed shortly after by a 4-chapter spin-off “epilogue” (7SEEDS Gaiden).

The manga is apparently only officially available in Japanese, with an official French translation covering only the first 10 volumes, although there is a complete (but unofficial) scanlation available in English, which is how I was able to enjoy the manga. (Of course, this also means that the quality of my analysis below also depends on how close to the source the translation is.)

(An alternative would be to watch the anime, distributed on Netflix, that is available with dubbing and subtitles in a wide variety of languages, but I would actually recommend against it, since the anime has managed to butcher one of the strongest point of the manga: the depth and pacing of the story. The third season of the anime having been cancelled, it also doesn't cover the whole story anyway.)

Art

I'll talk about the art first mostly because to me it is the only aspect with a significant negative: on a personal level, I'm not a big fan of the art style due to its heavy reliance on traditional shōjo stylistic choices, such as unrealistically large eyes with ridiculous detail inside and airy hair.

Despite my dislike for this stylistic choice, though, I acknowledge that the art is very good: the pages are rich and detailed, with consistent and expressive features (despite the coarseness of Tamura's trait), carrying the story with the appropriate emotional and psychological appeal over the full length of the work.

(I was actually looking forward to the anime in the hopes that it could “patch up” the stylistic choices I dislike in the manga art, only to be disappointed by the massive use of cheap CGI and sub-par animation that complemented the butchering of the pacing of the story.)

Story

Scientists predict a meteorite impact that will cause an extinction level cataclysm. On the quiet (to avoid spreading panic in the population) all nations on Earth work secretly on several projects to ensure the survival of the human species, from attempts at destroying the meteors to the design of long-term underground shelters to allow (parts of) the population to “ride the wave” until the surface is inhabitable again.

In Japan, the “last hope”, in case everything else fails, is the titular «7 seeds» project1: leveraging the progress in cryonics to put in cryogenic sleep small teams of young people (7 “seeds” per team, plus one guide), stored in safe houses able to survive the cataclysm, and to be automatically released when the surrounding environmental conditions would be deemed able to sustain human life again.

Despite the government of Japan ultimately deciding to not sponsor it, deeming it unrealistic, the project was realized anyway thanks to several contributions from private investors and the embezzlement of welfare money by some government officials (among which the father of one of the protagonists) that were involved in the project itself.

The original plan was to have four teams with season themes (summer, autumn, winter, spring). The first team (summer) was composed of children raised from birth specifically to survive in the post-apocalyptic world, but during their training it was decided that, for the other teams, members would be picked from the general population, selecting healthy teenagers (and a couple of younger children) coming from families with good track records both in health (no known hereditary health issues) and sociality (no crime history, solid social standing, good education and healthy habits).

Finally, to maximize the opportunities of survival, a second summer team (Team Summer B) was created, picking people that, while still in good health and without a family history of disease, didn't fit well in society for any number of reasons: troublesome kids, lonesome kids, kids that had ran out of home, single-parent kids, kids that were bullied or otherwise isolated at school.

To assist the teams in their future survival, aside from the excellent training given to the Team Summer A members, the project also created seven storage shelters where seeds, tools and manuals were stockpiled.

While the members of Team Summer A were raised, trained and selected with the specific objective to be sent to the future, the members of the other teams were completely unaware of their destination: they woke up unexpectedly in a foreign world, with their last memory before that being the last night with their parents.

The manga follows, in non-linear order, the story of the teams as they get thawed and learn to cope with the realization of their present condition, and as they lose and then regain hope and the will to live in the new reality they have been thrown in against their will and without forewarning or preparation, into a hostile future where everything and everyone they knew are no more.

Unprepared, most of the “seeds” are forced to learn ex abrupto essential wilderness survival skills, finding day after day not only the physical strength, but also the willpower to not give in to the animal and geophysical threats that constantly put their lives at risk, and the constant reminder of the possibility of being the last small group of humans on the face of the planet.

Tossed around from place to place across the now broken and unrecognizable geography of Japan, looking for water, food and shelter, escaping torrential rains, landslides and volcanic eruptions, much of the strength they find is in the discovery of the hints of the existence of the other teams, even when they fail to actually come across each other. And when they finally meet, they face the hurdle of trust, to be both given and deserved, leading to the first human crises since their emergence into the future: with each team having adopted a different attitude due to both mindset and circumstances, conflict is unavoidable, despite (and yet also because of) the critical situations in which these young men and women find themselves in.

Team Summer A, the only team trained and prepared for the survival in the future, has to face different daemons than the other teams: the memory of the gruesome selection process through which the seven to be sent to the future were picked among the hundreds trained from birth. The “final test”, after 17 years spent learning and going through exams in more traditional form, comes unexpected in time, nature and scope: several incidents start weeding out the less attentive among the candidates, until in the fatal day (and night) they end up scattered throughout the land hosting the facilities they've been living in since birth, haunted by dangers both natural and artificial in nature. As more and more of the candidates fail to recognize the threats and end up maimed or even killed, the cries of request for assistance by the drop-outs fall on deaf ears, as the teachers are nowhere to be found, until the pool of candidates shrinks down to the final seven.

The trauma of the test marks the survivors (the final members of Team Summer A) with deep psychological repercussions, that manifest differently from person to person: a visceral hatred for the teachers, the lingering memory of their comrades left behind, and even, in some cases, the conscience of having been responsible for their death. Thus the team that should have led the others comes to the future fully prepared, yet mentally broken. Unsurprisingly, their first act on emerging from the cryogenic sleep is to kill the teacher that has come with them as a guide. Yet the worst comes with the discovery that the members of the other teams did not have to undergo any test. Finding out that one of the teachers has actually sent his own daughter to the future becomes the trigger of one of the main human crises in the story, that will only find its resolution in the final chapters of the manga.

Convergence (starting around volume 24 of the manga) leads all of the teams towards the connected islands of Kagijima and Sado. The former is found to have hosted a team of researchers leading the «Open Sado Project» (OSP), a project complementing «7 seeds» to preserve as much as possible of humanity and its compatible ecosystem on the island of Sado (connected to the Kagijima facilities through a set of underground tunnels), including an Ark, a cryogenic pod holding over a hundred frozen humans, most of which infants.

The island of Sado itself is found to be also the one where the members of Team Summer A had been trained and sifted out from the rest of the candidates. The teams' coming together through their confused wandering across the OSP and Sado facilities leads to the final confrontation with Kaname Mozumoto, former assistant teacher of Team Summer A sent to the future as a member of Team Summer B and incarnating «Death», «The Reaper» (the ultimate judge for the actual possibility of survival for the teams and the fitness of the Team Summer A members in their role in support for the other teams), an encounter that finally brings closure both to the members of Team Summer A, and to Kaname himself, whose troubled history had led him to be one of the masterminds behind the «7 seeds» project itself and some of the most disturbing choices in the selection methods for the first team. His departure from the reuniting groups marks the end of the tethering of the future to the past, a symbolic cut of the umbilical cord that is concurrent with the actual first birth of a child into the new world.

Alternate tales

Daniel Pennac recalls that he was inspired to read War and peace by his brother describing it as «the story of a girl who loves a boy but marries another one». I wish I had Pennac's brother's gift of synthesis, but the best I can do for «7 Seeds» are the following.

It's the story of a boy and a girl who get sent to the future separately, and have to find each other in a destroyed world.

It's the story of a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to save humanity —including sacrificing his own humanity.

It's the story of a man who discovers the emotional and psychological cost of his own trauma after inflicting much worse to his cherished ones.

Characters

What characterizes 7SEEDS as a polyphonic manga is the abundance of “main” characters (“heroes” and “heroines”) and the emergence of the story from their coordinated (although sometimes discordant) actions and interactions.

It's commendable how the author manages to balance the story of the five teams. While not all of the “seeds” and guides are given the same weight or amount of space, every one of the 30 survivors (and even some of the characters that died before the awakening of the seeds) has a story to tell —even if a small one— with individual backgrounds, perspectives, objectives, crises, personality, growth.

I'll leave the introduction to the complete list of 7 Seeds characters to Wikipedia, to focus here on their relative importance in the development of the story, at least by my (purely subjective) analysis.

We can classify the characters as protagonist when the story dedicates a sizable part of the timeline to their arc, deuteragonist when they have a prominent (yet smaller) personal arc that isn't directly associated with the protagonists, and supporting characters anyone else whose story is largely perfunctory to the progress of the protagonists' arcs. This simplified classification, however, leaves out much of the ambiguity in the roles of the characters, and their perception by the characters themselves and their travel companions, which is one of the more realistic aspects of the story, and one where the polyphonic nature of the narration shines the most.

Protagonists

Arguably, the most prominent protagonists in the manga are 末黒野 花 (SUGURONO Hana) from Team Spring, daughter of one of the project leaders, and her boyfriend 青田 嵐 (AOTA Arashi) from Team Summer B. In fact, the manga's entire story can be reframed in terms of their efforts to meet again after being sent to the future in separate teams.

Despite their indisputable importance in the story, however, I find Hana and Arashi to be among the least interesting characters. Much of their struggles are the same as those of the other “seeds”: reconciling the violence of the abduction with the opportunity to survive the cataclysm, developing and making use of physical survival skills, finding a purpose and the will to live in face of the possible extinction of humanity and the loss of the dearest ones (until they discover traces of each other's presence).

In the first half of the manga, one might even be tempted to go as far as saying that Hana and Arashi, as protagonists, are such mostly because of their “representativeness” of the challenges and hopes faced by all the characters. However, this is unfair to the unique traits and stories of these characters. This is particularly the case for Hana, whose arc follows a dramatic downturn in the second half of the story, when the role of his father in the project is revealed, and with that his true (?) nature, leading (for both her and Arashi, in different ways) to the conflict with Team Summer A. In a sense, this is both the strongest point and the biggest limitation of Hana and Arashi as protagonists: their story gets truly interesting only in relation to the story of the two other main protagonists, Aramaki from Team Winter and Ango from Team Summer A.

The loss of his teammates and the years of aging without the possibility to really mature in a psychoemotional sense give him a unique perspective on death, but also an exceptional fragility towards loss: while the obsession with saving everyone is a common trope in action manga, its development in Aramaki rings deeper, more real than in any other manga I've read2: it's not just him being the “good guy”, it's not the byproduct of a villainous plot, it's not his duty as a (super)hero, but the raw offspring of the abandonment syndrome he developed, and the need to give back the (undeserved, in his own perception) life and joy he has been gifted by others.

Quite different is the development for 安吾 (Ango), the protagonist from Team Summer A and the main character in their background story. The traumatic experience of the gruesome test by which the members of the team were selected, and in particular the death of the companion he most doted on, for which he feels responsible, feed him with a desperate, blind, raging hatred for the teachers; amplified by the realization that none of the other teams had to undergo a similar selection, this leads to an initial profound contempt for the “civilians” who got to the future without deserving it, much less so in comparison to the Summer A candidates who failed the test. While most if not all of his team members largely share his feelings, Ango is the only one who aggressively and impulsively acts on them3: his lack of control is what leads to the death of Team Autumn's guide on the first meeting with the team mix emerging from Ryūgū shelter, and to his attempted rape on Hana in an insane attempt to find closure for his obsession against his teachers, actions that ultimately result in him getting ostracized by the other survivors, including most of his own team members, and in Kaname's “judgement” against him.

There is a strong duality between the characters of Aramaki and Ango: not in a “good vs evil” sense, but in the (anti)symmetry of their experiences and how they affected their growth. While much of the duality is common to the antithetic experience of the members of Team Summer A and that of the “civilian” teams, there are specific aspects that are unique to this pair of protagonists.

Aramaki is a young man filled with self-doubt, transplanted without warning or personal intent into a hostile future where he remains alone for 15 years, psychoemotionally “frozen” into a state that doesn't match his physical growth. His “anchors” to reality are his wavering hope to meet other survivors, and most importantly the dogs that accompany him and eventually help him find and connect with other people, giving meaning to his life again.

Ango is a confident young man with a well-established objective, the achievement of which crosses a threshold that shatters some of the most important emotional connections he had with other people, leaving him psychoemotionally “frozen” into that same threshold, and largely unable to connect to the new people he meets. His “anchor” to reality is his teammate Ryō, who is however no less psychoemotionally stunned than he is, and whose strategy to “protect” Ango's psyche is actually counterproductive, eventually acting as the wedge that drives him irremediably apart from his objective.

Aramaki is first shunned by Arashi, who meets him at his lowest moment of desperation, and is later “thawed” by finding new teammates in Hana and her group, which restarts not only his psychoemotional growth that had been stunned in his years of solitude, but also that of the members of Team Summer A (minus Ango and Ryō), who arguably never had the opportunity for “normal” human relations.

Ango first enters in conflict with Hana and her group, ending up shunned by them and his own teammates, and is later “thawed” by the meeting with Team Summer B, that makes him regain his purpose (despite Ryō's well-intended but misplaced interference), and in particular with Arashi, that helps him achieve the necessary introspection on the repressive nature of his past even before the deadly test, and on the need to come to terms with it in a non-aggressive way.

The duality finds its synthesis in the final chapters, when Ango finds himself face-to-face with Kaname and the corpse-waxed body of Shigeru at the bottom of that same pit that was the scene of the last traumatic selection, his explosive desperation frozen in-place by Aramaki's seemingly insulting remark («You should be glad») with the final opportunity for Ango to find closure in the subversion of Kaname's judgement by the other teams, and in the chance he gets to finally bring Shigeru's body outside, counterbalanced by Aramaki's willingness to sacrifice himself to give Hana the opportunity to escape with the Ark, and the enlightenment he receives on the selfishness of his sacrifice when rescued (and scolded) by Arashi and members of Team Summer A.

The other seeds: deuteragonists or supporting characters?

As mentioned, it can be argued that all of the (surviving) “seeds” are heroes and heroines of the story. It's however just as clear that we don't see as much of their story as we do for the protagonists. This creates some ambiguity in their characterization, because for the most part we see them in action in the same context as the protagonists, or in storylines that ultimately connect to theirs.

Consider for example the case of 岩清水 ナツ (IWASHIMIZU Natsu). She is the first character we meet, and the closest thing to a narrator we have in 7SEEDS4. The arcs where she is involved are the only ones where we see a significant use of the character's introspection and “inner voice”, whereas for all other characters the same role is for the most part taken over by either purely visual representations, or over-/undertone comments from the spectators.

Natsu has her own character story (like every other “seed”), finding the strength to mole her way out of the awkward shyness that made her “fit” for Team Summer B, and getting appreciated for her keen, if untrained, observation skills and meticulousness (an exceptional progress that helps her break out of the spider-induced dream, as she is one of the few who has found more meaning in her future life than in the one she had before), yet it's easy to disregard much of it as perfunctory to the protagonists' stories, from her interaction with Arashi helping delineate his character just as much as hers, to her decisive contribution to the Ark's unlocking and ejection (thus helping to save Hana), passing through her unintentionally crucial contribution5 to solving the Fuji ship crisis, and her interactions with Ango as a mirror for the difference in attitude between him and Arashi, especially towards people perceived as less capable.

Such a superficial analysis however completely misses the growth of the character, her gaining confidence in her own capabilities even while still unable to completely get rid of the shroud of clumsy shyness that she started with (which is, after all, consistent with the relatively short timespan covered by the story from her thawing to the end of the manga). One could even subvert the analysis by looking at all other characters in relation to her: Arashi as the helper and initial love interest, Hana as the presumed challenger for her sentiment towards Arashi, Ango as the would-be protector who however ends up antagonizing her growth, Semimaru as the tsundere, etc.

Similar arguments can be made for many of the other “seeds”, with the possible exception of the younger ones (Hotaru, Hibari and Sakuya), even though for most of them their personal stories are even less prominent.

Special mentions are most definitely due for Kaname (who deserves his own section), and 涼 (Ryō). In contrast to the others, it could be argued that Ryō's story wouldn't even exist without Ango as protagonist, as in both the Team Summer A history arc and in their adventures in the future, Ryō is essentially defined in relationship to Ango, both as a supporting character and as a counterweight. This characterization, however, dismisses the value of Ryō's own story, and that Ryō's siding with Ango is a personal, character-driven choice rather than just a narrative stratagem.

Ryō's independence is very clear in the history arc, where his lucidity and cold blood are already contrasted with Ango's passionate but less acute involvement (Ryō himself will define Ango as “dense and oversensitive” in the «7SEEDS Gaiden» epilogue). Ryō is the first among the candidates (possibly together with the accompanying Nijiko) to realize that the selection will not be anything like the typical exams used to weed out the less competent candidates in the preceding 17 years. He understands pretty early the value given to independent thinking and action (to the point of frequently countering the mandates of the teachers, even when this leads to various form of punishment —but never expulsion). He and Nijiko are also the first to isolate themselves from the others when the “accidents” that are later revealed to be the start of the final test begin happening.

At the same time, Ryō is well aware of his inadequacy as leader to other people, but also of the need for someone like that (given the purported Team Summer role to also guide the other teams); he understands that Ango, with his competence, passion and charisma, is bound to be the “natural leader” of the group in the future, but also reaches the conclusion that due to his “denseness” and emotivity, Ango will need someone to help him remove possible obstacles to the fulfillment of his role. The final test in the cave where only two between him, Ango and Shigeru can come out alive is the moment where Ryō really starts down the path of “Ango supporter” (literally in that case, even), accepting that this may involve killing people6, as he does by cutting off Shigeru from the belay to save Ango.

This is also the point where Ryō's ambiguous characterization fully develops: from his own perspective, he's the helper, assisting the hero (Ango) in fulfilling his role, by committing what he deems necessary evils to put the hero's mind at ease (eliminate Haru so that Ango doesn't worry about Koruri, eliminate Hana to release Ango from his obsession about Takashi, “test” Team Summer B putting them in danger of death); in practice, however, his actions and how they reflect on Ango have the opposite effect, alienating from him not only the other teams, but even the other members of Team Summer A: in Ango's story, Ryō is one of the closest thing to a villain one could find, albeit an unintentional (or well-intentioned) one.

In fact, it's not even clear if Ryō sees his own actions as evil at all. Despite his lucidity, the lack of remorse show that Ryō came out of the test even more broken than Ango, possibly a full-fledged psychopath, not even capable of seeing what is wrong in his modus operandi. Where Ango is affected by the test to the point of taking actions completely counter to his normally helpful, even affectionate nature, but beyond his impulsiveness remains aware that his actions were wrong7, Ryō instead finds in the test a justification for his course of action (“this is what we learned from our teachers”), remaining essentially convinced of its opportunity.

And yet, it could be argued that some part of Ryō is in fact aware of the error in his ways, which is what triggers his unusually aggressive reaction to Matsuri's “scolding”, and that his use of the test as a justification is largely intended as a form of childish “revenge” towards the teachers.

Ambiguous characterization: Takashi Sugurono

Ryō is only one example of the ambiguous characterization in 7SEEDS, most of which are however found outside of the main roster.

Consider now the case of 末黒野 貴士 (SUGURONO Takashi). As the technical and executive leader of the «7 Seeds» project, he covers several of Propp's functional abstractions. He is undoubtedly the dispatcher, since he is responsible for sending off the heroes and heroines (the “seeds” and their guides) to the future. He is also partially responsible for the equipment the teams start with, and for directing the preparations of the storage shelters left to assist the teams in their survival, making him the donor and possibly also the helper.

Yet his behavior can be considered nothing short of “villainous”: most8 of the “seeds” are forced into their roles, selected against their will, bought off from their parents when not straightforwardly abducted. Takashi's role as the villain is even better-defined in the eyes of the members of Team Summer A, since together with the other teachers of the training facility, he is responsible for setting up the deadly challenges the candidates had to face in the gruesome selection that only left the final members standing.

(Although the design of the final test is largely Kaname's proposal, Takashi is one of the executors, and most likely the one responsible for other aspects of the facility design, such as the idea of recycling the “expelled” students as fodder —as Ango is made to find out to “enlighten” him— and looking at the analogous situation in Ryūgū.)

Even outside's of Propp's formalism, the figure of Takashi Sugurono is extremely controversial. His behavior can be considered nothing short of psychopathic: in both Team Summer A's background story arc and in the Ryūgū shelter arc he shows a complete lack of empathy, disposing of human lives (including his own, in the end) with no outward display of emotions.

And yet, even to his own daughter, at least until she is made aware of his actions, he is nothing more than a serious man, fully dedicated to his work. And in many ways, this is exactly what he is, even though his actual work lies outside of Hana's perception: Takashi's work is to save humanity, and he carries the weight imposed on him by his role in the project «to the bitter end» (an expression he himself uses when recruiting the personnel for the Ryūgū shelter), surviving even when others were crushed simply by the knowledge of the impending apocalypse9.

The question remains if (or to what measure) the brutal and emotionless attitude taken by Takashi was essential to the completion of his task and ultimately the success of the project, or if a different, softer approach would have been as good if not better. Would Team Summer A have emerged just as strong, but less broken, with a less severe selection? Could the X Mites (or Acari X, depending on translation) infection that caused Ryūgū's shelter demise have been avoided without the culling of residents and their recycling as fodder for the plants and animals10?

Would humanity (or at least Japan's population) have survived without a psychopath leading the «7 seeds» project?

In fact, is Takashi actually a psychopath? There's little doubt that he is able to maintain composure even in the face of the brutality he (by his own perspective) has to inflict on others for the sake of the project, but at the same time he reveals an excellent capability to judge people, understand their emotions, and give them the appropriate value, as shown throughout several flashbacks in the manga: he is aware of Kaname's infatuation over his (Takashi's) wife Miho, and his influence on the selection of the “seeds” allow him to carry over a few couples (his daughter Hana and her boyfriend Arashi, as well as Chisa and Akiwo) even if scattered through the teams, and to include artists such as the pianist Haru and the painter Chimaki among the “seeds”.

It could even be argued that the choice to extend the roster by including a second Team Summer, while rationally justified on the basis that it's impossible to know what skills will be most important for survival in the future (so much so that a ragtag assembly of misfits might be better than specially trained individuals), was mainly intended to make sure that the humanity sent into the future was “complete”: Team Summer B could be a testament to Takashi's emotional side.

Leaving aside how both Haru's and Chimaki's skills turn out to be actually useful for survival, I believe the key to Takashi's decision can be found in «The nameless skill», the last chapter of the epilogue spin-off «7SEEDS Gaiden» four-chapter series, where it is revealed that the Buddha statues signaling the presence of a storage shelters were carved by Chimaki's father. When he is informed that the son will be sent into the future, the sculptor asks:

«It'll be a struggle just to find food, right? Will there be any reason to have an artist in that world?»

«That world» is Takashi's reply «is exactly where I think they'll need art the most.» In his cold demeanor, Hana's father manifests a profound understanding of the importance of art for the emotional and psychological well-being of the survivors.

(Of course, none of this actually contradicts the hypothesis that Takashi is a psychopath, since psychopaths are well known for their ability to understand and manipulate emotions. But would a psychopath go to the length Takashi goes to, for no personal gain, just to save humanity?)

Just like with Aramaki and Ango, there are some clear parallels between Ryō and Takashi, this time particularly in their willingness to take extreme measures to achieve their goals. And while this is something that Ryō is well-aware of, he ascribes it to his being Takashi's student, even though none of the other members of Team Summer B, despite being in the same situation as him, have internalized or normalized the same psychopathic attitude.

Ambiguous characterization: Kaname Mozunoto

Possibly even more ambiguous is the character of 百舌戸 要 (MOZUNOTO Kaname). Sent to the future as a member of Team Summer B, a “seed” despite his (unspecified) older age11, he is later revealed to be a key member of the project, and in fact the one who designed the selection test for Team Summer A, inspired by his own survival experience when kidnapped as a young boy.

In his own perception, Kaname is almost like a father figure for the teams, especially Team Summer A. He spends his time roving around all of Japan, watching over the survivors and often helping them, directly (especially his team members from Summer B) or indirectly (e.g., while not specified, it's likely that the trekking signs found by Hana to direct them away from Mt Fuji were placed by Kaname). Yet, he is also “death”, the “reaper”, the “final solution” sent to the future to kill the “seeds” if the need arises, a role that he ponders over in at least one occasion with Hana (when at her lowest she is considering suicide), but most importantly in relation to Team Summer A, and in particular towards Ango.

Him being “death” is not necessarily contradictory with his feelings towards Team Summer A: in a sense, it's also his way of taking full responsibility for their behavior, which would be commendable, if not for the way he approaches the matter: as an extension of the macabre test for the Team Summer A selection, disposing of the lives of the unworthy members.

There is an interesting write-up about the possible reasons why Kaname, an otherwise brilliant and capable mind, could miscalculate so badly in the design of the test, even in face of the subtle hints from his relatives that the idea might not have been as wise as he believed12.

In the above-mentioned write-up, the key to the interpretation of Kaname's choices about Team Summer A is his being in denial about the emotional scarring that his own experiences left him with. I believe however that there's something more to it, something that also explains his general attitude in the project: Kaname's biggest issue is an overinflated ego.

On the one hand, he has good reasons to consider himself superior to others. He is a brilliant young man, who from the youngest age manifested excellent strength (both physical and mental) and capabilities. As a child, he underwent the traumatic (although he refuses to admit so) experience of being kidnapped, and then of surviving for two weeks alone in the wilderness. His involvement with the project, after his father's suicide, started when he was still a child. Growing up, his brilliant mind allowed him to skip classes, becoming Takashi's younger colleague in the research surrounding the cryogenic system when most people would still be in high school.

What he failed to develop, however, is a corresponding level of empathy to complement his intelligence. Even worse, he even lacks the sensitivity to understand his own response to trauma, despite the hints dropped by his uncle about it, and possibly in general his emotions in the general sense (if his denial of being infatuated with Takashi's wife Miho isn't just pro forma).

This gives him an excessive sense of self-importance, a deep mistrust for the capability of “common folks” to even look after themselves, and a certain disregard for the lives of the unworthy, (possibly cultivated during the “farming” of the Team Summer A candidates13). Hence the mission he gives himself to watch over them in the future (traveling throughout Japan on his own) and to look after them in his own fashion, as well as the readiness to dispose of the lives of the members of Team Summer A that he considers a threat to the others.

While there's no doubt that his watching over the other teams is sometimes key to their survival (particularly for his own Team Summer B in the beginning, and to the mixed groups in the prelude to the Kagijima/Sado arc), it's also true that the lack of trust is often misplaced, and the decisions he takes are at the very least excessive, as the final confrontation with Ango and the judgement from the other teams (of all three of them: Kaname, Ango and Ryō) manifests in particular.

Now, Kaname's readiness to eliminate the unworthy and the dangerous (that so inappropriately imprinted on Ryō) isn't explained simply by his being in denial of his own trauma. It does however line up with him considering Team Summer A as the results, and a mirror, of his own efforts: the unworthy, the dangerous, are mistakes, and as such they must be eliminated, because a brilliant mind like himself cannot let his mistakes wander around freely. This isn't of course a conscious decision (and it is, obviously, just my own interpretation), but the way in which, during the judgment, he describes his feelings during the final test clearly indicates that he is still his own center of attention: his biggest issues with the dropouts or with Ango's fragility isn't that they failed, it's that he (Kaname) himself failed (in teaching them properly, in helping them grow strong, in picking his favourite, etc).

I would argue that in contrast to Takashi, Kaname is an actual psychopath. Hana's father is pragmatic and acts cold and emotionless, but he is perfectly capable of relating to other people, understanding their emotions. He is however a “true professional”, someone who does not let emotions and feelings get in the way of his work, and he expects the same from the others (as seen in the Ryūgū shelter episodes, starting from the selection of the actors and entertainers hired to help lift the spirit of the shelter population after the cataclysm). And still we get brief glimpses of his emotional side in his interactions with his family, and particular at his wife's death.

Kaname, on the other hand, shows no sign of being actually able to relate to anybody else, or to feel any emotion outside of disappointment (for himself) in front of (his own) failures. Even the Team Summer A candidates, and the selected members in particular, seem only to exist to accomplish his goal, and he judges them exclusively by how well they seem to achieve what he intended for them. Kaname doesn't simply keep his emotions in check: he doesn't appear to have any at all, or at least he appears unable to perceive them; but most importantly, he does not understand that others may have them —hence his failure to understand e.g. the feelings of the Team Summer A members at the end of test, which he assumed should have been of satisfaction for achieving their goal of being selected to go into the future.

It's possible, as hypothesized in the aforementioned review, that his psychopathy is rooted essentially in his unprocessed trauma from the kidnapping, a trauma that he refuses to acknowledge («it wasn't a trauma for me, it was a lesson») to the point of deciding to ignore his uncle's hint («it's difficult to overcome that and remain mentally sound») since it would mean admitting the possibility that he himself is broken. And it's also true that he obviously never had the kind of support that e.g. the members of Team Summer A ultimately found interacting with the other teams: not from his family (possibly fearing that he could commit suicide like his father did), nor from his colleagues14 (as e.g. Ango finds in Arashi) nor from a possible love prospect (as e.g. Ryō probably finds in Matsuri).

However, just like Ryō is the only one among Team Summer A to have absorbed the cold and actively cruel imprinting from the teachers, there's definitely a personal component to the outcome: the experience may have been the seed to his psychopathy, but it likely found fertile ground in Kaname's natural inclinations and massive ego. And yes, we do have to take into account the fact that Kaname was only a young child at the time, so this may ultimately just depend on one's perception of the relative weight of nature versus nurture.

Themes

One of the fascinating things about 7SEEDS is the wealth of psychological and ethical themes touched by the narration (as might have been obvious by now from the descriptions of the characters). Let's see briefly some of the highlights.

Freedom

One of the key themes is the ethical debate about free will, coercion and choice.

Right from the first pages, it's clear that the characters aren't in the situation they are in by chance or by choice. Indeed, until the guide finally gathers the entire Team Summer B and explains the situation to them, their predominant hypothesis is that they've been kidnapped —which in a sense isn't even that far from the truth, except that the kidnappers (arguably, the Japanese government, or the part of it that —officially or not— operated the project) aren't after a ransom from their parents, and in fact essentially bought the children off from them, to give them an opportunity in the future. And the situation is largely the same for the other teams, with the possible exception of Summer A.

But was Team Summer A really an exception? Its members would say that they wanted to be sent into the future. They wanted to improve their survival skills and show that they were the best and deserved to go into the future —although possibly not tested in the way there were. And yet, they weren't really free to choose either, as Arashi tries (unconvincingly) to explain to Ango: they were brainwashed into that desire from the youngest age. Did they ever have a choice? Were they ever aware of it?

And yet, sent there be it by physical or psychological coercion, in the future the “seeds” experience freedom like they never could have in the old world: there is no State, no society; there are no laws, no enforcers15. Against their will, they have been given a freedom that almost no human has experienced since prehistory, the freedom where the only real obligations are to themselves, for their own survival. And each of them reacts to this in its own way, by prioritizing the loss of the familiar environment or sentimental affections, the sudden lack of external pressures directing their actions, the missed opportunities, or even a more dramatic loss of purpose —and with it, sometimes, the loss of the will to live.

And more: had they been given the choice, would they have agreed to leave everything behind to go to the future as the only survivors? Are they better off as they are now than they would have been if they had refused?

The Summer (both A and B) and Winter teams have particularly strong connection with this topic, each in their own way.

The members of Team Summer A are the unaware, prisoners of their conditioning, blind to the possibility to reject authority. The members of Team Summer B are the irresponsible ones, unshackled even by any sense of commitment to their future, taking things in stride as they come. And finally Aramaki, the only survivor of Team Winter, is the incarnation of absolute freedom, in the 15 years that he travels Japan as the only living human there.

(It's fascinating in this sense the first meeting between the Summer B trio of Arashi, Natsu and Semimaru with Team Autumn, whose village has been holding for three years under the strict and sometimes violent guidance of Akio and Ran, and in fact thanks to it, as the other members reveal to the surprised trio.)

Justice, punishment, repentance and forgiveness

Without an inherited structure, “seeds” set up their own rules. In the evolving situation, as groups split up, reform and mix up, nothing is settled, everything is improvised. There are no laws, but there is still a sense of morality, and the “seeds” need to find their own way to handle violations,

Even with Sakuya's eidetic memory and his ability to recall the entire civil and penal codes of Japan, it becomes clear pretty quickly that neither the laws nor the punishments of the old world make sense in the post-cataclysm future, leading to a rediscovery of the fundamental principles of justice. What is a crime? How should it be dealt with? Who has a right to enforce the punishment? What is even the purpose of justice?

While a preliminary “scrape” with justice is illustrated in the meeting between the Summer B trio (Arashi, Natsu, Semimaru) and Team Autumn, when Semimaru's attempted theft is dealt with quickly and harshly, the first key moment is after the presumed murder of Hana: this is the first time the “seeds” realize that, as survival needs become less pressing, the development of a functional society will require a (new) justice system, something that will further mature during the “trial” in Sado, where the “final judgement” on Ango, Ryō and Kaname is exacted, and the possibly extenuating circumstances for Ango's and Ryō's behavior emerge16.

The discussions by the “seeds” on the topic are understandably far from the philosophical meditations of Beccaria or Foucalt, and in both instances, the only intent of the agreed-upon punishment is to remove the “disturbing” elements from the society with as little violence as possible, by ostracizing them.

It is interesting to note that while there is no reforming intent in the decision, it does lead to Ango regaining composure and awareness of the insanity of his actions, and ultimately to his repentance, arguably despite Ryō's interference with the maturing process, and in a deeper and more thorough way than Akio's naive interpretation of it.

Trauma and loss

A major theme throughout the manga is coping with trauma and loss. This is eminently the case for the members of Team Summer A and the only survivor of Team Winter given their exceptional history and circumstances (as we've discussed in the presentation of the story and the characters), but all “seeds” have to find their way out of the traumatic experience of waking up in an unknown world in the future, centuries after the death and destruction of everything and everyone they knew.

We see this in Matsuri's realization of the difference between running away from home and not being able to return anymore. We see this in Arashi's desperation at the thought of the loss of Hana. We see this in Haru's conflicting realization that he missed the last opportunity for the great concert, but also that it's all meaningless now. We see this in Ran's and Akio's management of Team Autumn, and the prohibition of sexual relations to spite the project creators by refusing to have children. We keep seeing it throughout the manga, down to the spider/fungus-induced daydreams in Sado, or Tsunomata's discovery of his lost lover's remains.

It goes beyond this, for many characters. Aramaki has to recover from what seems like a never-ending stream of companion losses, from the other members of Team Winter to the dogs that have helped ensure his survival for 15 years. Hana has to cope with the realization of his father's true nature, and the attempted rape at Ango's hands. Momotaro has to face the mistreatment from his alleged saviors (Team Summer A, and Ayu in particular). Among the Team Summer A members, while the selection test was traumatic for all, for two of them in particular (Ango and Koruri), the trauma is compounded by a sense of personal responsibility towards the death of their companions. On top of this, Ango in particular finds himself having to deal with the price paid for his and Ryō's actions, the realization that he has burned any possibility to join the others when they finally settle on Sado.

Trauma and loss are so pervasive in the manga, that we are exposed to those from the old world as well: Botan's loss of child, Kaname's kidnapping and survival experience, Takashi losing his wife Miho —and, of course, the Ryūgū shelter survivors during the cataclysm.

Religion, spirituality and the supernatural

While rarely with a prominent role, religion and spirituality are also present throughout the manga, almost in an undertone, largely due to the founders of the project imbuing it with deep symbolism (sometimes to the point of bordering into the superstitious) that takes largely from Buddhism (from the choice of the number of seeds to the statues of Buddha placed as indicator —and protectors?— of the storage shelters), with arguably some Shintoist influence, albeit essentially stripped of its supernatural character, and thus mostly in connection to the relationship between human and nature, in what could be considered an animistic perspective.

The “seeds” survival is tied to their rediscovery of a “sense of nature”, learning not only the properties of the new plants and animals, but most importantly learning to read nature itself, understanding the signs of its safety and dangers (where and when is it safe to settle and build? what is safe to eat? what kind of dangers can be expected, from wild animals to the weather?)

With survival being such a prominent aspect of the life of the “seeds” in the new world, it's no surprise that more formal aspects of religion tend to be left in the background, with the most notable exceptions being the respect in the face of death (especially the deaths of the people long gone due to the cataclysm), and the character of Tsunomata, arguably chosen because of his heritage, whose main story arc traces the path from an almost nihilistic attitude towards death to the discovery of the true importance of burials and funeral rites17 (not for those who die, but for those who remain).

On the other hand, that same rediscovery of the “sense of nature”, and with it of the respect for both the sustenance it gives and threat it poses, is a spiritual message in itself, exemplified by the telling tale of the imbalance brought by human intervention, and nature's ability to rebalance itself, with no particular regard for the lives (and feelings) of any individual plant or animal (or human).

Beyond the religious symbolism and its value for the living, however, the supernatural doesn't seem to have much room in 7SEEDS. Takashi himself, during the Ryūgū shelter arc, even gives a (partial) explanation in-story for this: cultures with a different religious background, particularly the monotheistic religions, would have turned to God for consolation and hope after the meteor strike, «but the Japanese really don't have anything like that to hold on to […] because we're a nation that sees all of their gods in nature»18.

And yet Nature is seen as a powerful entity in itself, capable of self regulation, with little care for the lives and pains of specific individuals, as the “seeds” (and especially some of them, such as Aramaki) learn the hard way.

Nature versus nurture

It should be clear from the description of the characters how important the theme of “what makes us what we are” is in the manga. How much of our course of action is determine by our nature, and how much by our experiences?

The mangaka puts a lot of stress on the nature of the characters (strong-willed or submissive, extrovert or shy, aggressive or peaceful, empathic or detached), and Team Summer A is arguably a poster child of the importance of genetic traits in determining how, and how strongly, similar experiences result in completely different outcomes: despite the communal system employed to educate them all together from the earliest infancy, each of the candidates develops its own personality, through which they filter the common experiences into distinct opportunity for growth, along different paths.

Yet it's undeniable that all of the characters undergo a personal growth stimulated by their experiences, that their full realization comes from their interaction with the others, and that even though the way they are affected by their experiences changes from person to person according to their nature, each of them learns to step beyond. This is particularly evident in some characters (such as Natsu overcoming her passive shyness, Nijiko discovering attachment and cooperation, Ryō feeling he is being “affected” by Team Summer B's openness, or Semimaru learning to live less in the moment) and is one of the central themes of the last volumes.

Suspension of disbelief

It should be clear by now that my opinion on 7SEEDS is enthusiastically positive. That being said, I'll have to admit to myself that it's not perfect. Aside from the graphic style (which is largely a matter of taste, so could actually be a positive to others), there are a few small flaws, mostly pertaining to suspension of disbelief.

We'll start with some of the least important, and leave the biggest for last.

Consistency

Take Kaname's parents suicide, for example. On the one hand, they are said to have been forced to commit suicide; on the other, it is hinted that the father committed suicide simply for being unable to carry the weight that came with the knowledge of the incoming disaster and having to take all the necessary decisions without being able to consult with anyone but the small circle of people behind the project. And what about the mother?

I'm also a bit skeptical about Ango's attempted rape of Hana: the scene isn't forced, but presents several points of perplexity. It's unclear where he would draw the “pay with your body” line from, given the rather sheltered upbringing the team had, and while it's clarified by his memories and discussions with Ryō that his feverish mind essentially associates sex to pain for the female, the attempted rape itself is completely out of character (something that even Ayu points out in-story), although it could still be explained by Ango being really “out of his mind”.

Timing issue #1: the X Mites

Most other issues are about timing.

The first concerns the lack of clarity about the origin, evolution and spread of the X Mites in the Ryūgū shelter story arc. The data points we have from the comic are that the aggressive infection only happened after humans were used as fodder for the animals, that the mites don't survive for long in open air, that the spread was probably in a single burst rather than the typical contagion pattern, and that Maria was an asymptomatic carrier.

One possible route could be from normal mites (external parasites) being ingested by animals (due to humans being served as fodder) and there being selected for internal parasitism, then spreading to other animals and to humans through a combination of animal products (e.g. milk or meat19) and short-range coexistence or contact. Maria could have been infected via this route, and then helped spread the contagion through her concerts and jogging routine.

The problem with this timeline is the short span available for the selection of the internal parasitism trait for the mites, even accounting for multiple iterations through the human/fodder/animal/food cycle before the first symptoms manifest. An alternative route could be that Maria was actually infected with parasitic mites before getting into the shelter (by whatever means), spreading them via her singing, and that the fodder cycle simply resulted in the more aggressive variant. This is however inconsistent with Maria's lack of sleep and hunger, that would be consistent with the infection taking control of her body, as Hana remarks by observing the parallel with the behavior of Team Spring's guide (Yanagi) when the giant praying mantis larvae take control of his body. So the first timeline is probably the correct one, but it stretches the limits of the suspension of disbelief about the speed of evolution of the mites. Moreover, in both timelines the idea of Maria being a “super-spreader” remains a stretch, as it would imply air transmission for the mites across relatively longish distances (even if an enclosed space like the shelter's main hall) which is hard to believe not only give the weight the droplets would have (but then again, we're talking about mites small enough to dwell in the blood vessels of the host) but also because the mites are said to not survive long in the open air.

(By the way, while we're still talking about the Ryūgū shelter: the collapse doesn't necessarily eliminate the threat posed by the frozen mites, does it? Should the seeds discuss about the opportunity to take care of the threat once before it gets forgotten across generations? Or can they be content with it being buried under tons of rock, possibly to be unearthed by some excavation for any reason hundreds of years down the line? Or can the mites be expected to not be able to survive that long, assuming the collapse has destroyed the refrigeration system, and the thawing of the dead people would result in the mites quickly finding themselves without food anyway?)

Timing issue #2: the mushrooms

Consider now the Great Tree arc, when Hana reunites with Fujiko and Chisa around the “Great Tree” and the surrounding ecosystem, only to trigger a new crisis when they open the “mushroom shelter”, and the spores spread across the small forest colonizing all living things, both vegetal and animal.

Even if we accept the speed at which the spores spread, and that they somehow evolved to implant on both vegetable and animals of the new world20, the resolution of the crisis presents a serious challenge to the reader's suspension of disbelief: going by the in-comic explanation, the lightning strikes and the adult's dogs decision to spread the ensuing fire to purge the invasive species of mushroom would have to be read as a sort of “natural response” of Nature towards a new balance, taking at once care of the excessive proliferation of both the dogs and the mushrooms.

Ironically, the entire arc would be less incredible without the framing as a natural rebalancing, simply as a matter of chance, leveraged by the adult dogs with a self-sacrifice to eliminate a threat to their own offspring, and nothing more.

(To clarify, I love the scene. It's powerful and moving, in addition to being a brilliant tie-in for the reunion of the scattered teams. I do however find the timing of the whole sequence to be unnaturally fast, which I only accept for the narrative constraints that it satisfies.)

Timing issue #3 (the big one): How much time passed?

The last, but definitely not least issue, the “big question”, is again a question about the passage of time.

What is the time gap between the apocalypse and the main story? How much time has passed from the cryogenic conservation to the thawing of the teams?

On the one hand, the state of preservation of the relics of the old world, especially major ones such as the Fuji ship and the OSP facilities, would indicate that “not too much” time has gone by, possibly within a thousand of years at most, or in that order of timespan: even taking into account the effort of the mangaka to show how dilapidated things are, and how fragile they turn out to be once activated again, and even conceding that these structures were “built to last” with fantascientific progress in material science, there is only so much that could be achieved when periodic maintenance cannot be provided. (The state of the Fuji ship is particularly surprising in this sense.)

On the other hand, the state of evolution of plants and animals would suggest much more time has passed, possibly in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, particularly considering the number of species that turned into gigantic forms of old-world equivalents: as evolutionary pressure in times of crisis (harsher climates, less food, etc) tends to push towards smaller rather than larger sizes, the development of the giant insect species found throughout the land would require enough time to have passed to at least locally stabilize the climate, possibly eliminate the predators while providing a sufficiently rich environment for food, and ensure the survival for a sufficient number of generations (living longer, as it's generally the case for larger life-forms) to select for the “gigantic” trait.

Arguably, the stretch to the suspension of disbelief required by the fast evolution of the X Mites in Ryūgū matches the one observed for the plants and animals outside of the shelter in the time preceding the thawing of the teams. This is compounded by the successful preservation of many (but not all!) “old-world” life forms on Kagijima and Sado, that are found to have evolved “along the original path”, as remarked by the teams on their arrival in the island,

A possible explanation for the evolutionary acceleration might be given by a combination of extreme environmental changes and an increase of some other contributing factor such as cosmic rays reaching the planet or higher exposure to radioactivity21 (either from the meteors themselves, or from the ground upheaved by the impact), with Sado being largely unaffected due to the OSP facilities being built explicitly for preservation, and thus probably taking measures against the accelerating factors that would have come with the cataclysm.

Such an explanation not only remain still a bit of a stretch, but leaves the open issue on the “exceptional efficiency” of the energy bars in making the ants (and their predators: spiders and earthworms) grow in size so much.

(And here I'll confess to my ignorance of the geography of Japan: could the giant insects met by Team Spring at the beginning be somehow connected to the giant ants and spiders and earthworms in Kagijima?)

Conclusions

My only real issue with 7SEEDS is that it's only available (in full) in Japanese. And I can't read Japanese. Should I buy the volumes anyway, as an incentive to learn Japanese?

1. it's actually revealed in the last volume that the «7 seeds» project had chapters in other nations too, at least USA and probably Europe as well. ↩

2. 7SEEDS is not unique in giving the character a backstory that justifies their “Samaritan Syndrome”, as opposed to it being just a character trait because of how much of a “good guy” he is; however, in my reading experience, the narrative style in 7SEEDS make it feel more natural than the flashbacks frequently adopted elsewhere to shoehorn the explanation as needed. ↩

3. arguably, Ayu's (ab)use of Momotaro as a guinea pig for testing the edibility of food and usefulness of ointments is no less violent than Ango's behavior, even though premeditated and not overtly aggressive. ↩

4. if anyone is, Natsu is most likely to be the alter ego of the author Yumi Tamura, much more so than the protagonist Hana. ↩

5. to be fair, 7SEEDS does not really fall into the “No Periods, Period” and related tropes, since there are tangential mentions of bodily functions (including periods) throughout the manga, in relation to both wilderness survival (how to take care of it) and interpersonal relationship (dramatic in this sense is the warning Hana gives Ryusei to watch over the pregnant Kurumi, after getting almost raped herself). ↩

6. others have argued that the last nail in his conversion into a cold-blooded murdered is instead Takashi's reminder that he should have killed him when he last had the opportunity. ↩

7. this is made particularly evident in the 7SEEDS Gaiden epilogue, where Ango is given the opportunity to sincerely apologize to Hana (again thanks to one of Ryō's debatable interventions). ↩

8. one could argue that all of them (not counting the guides) were forced into their roles as “seeds”, given that the Team Summer A were essentially brainwashed into not considering any alternative to going into the future. ↩

9. it is hinted that this was at least one of the reasons for the suicide of Kaname's father, although this is actually uncertain. ↩

10. Maria's discovery that she is the asymptomatic carrier for the mites, and essentially their “control center”, seems to indicate that Ryūgū's shelter was condemned either way; on the other hand, the mites are said to die quickly when exposed to open air, which makes the claim that she was responsible for infecting everyone with her concerts dubious at best: the human-to-animal-to-human path remains more credible. ↩

11. he is said to be some 6 years older than Ango, and got frozen a few years after Hana was born (since Hana got to know him, and she went trekking in the mountains with him and her father); considering that Hana was born when Team Summer A was frozen, and that the team members where 17 at the time, this would make Kaname around 23 years old when Hana was born, and thus put his cryo age around 30. ↩

12. we are shown one of his discussions with a paternal figure, most likely his uncle, that passively remarks on his kidnapping experience and whether it really made him stronger. ↩

13. it could be argued that the need to physically eliminated the dropouts from the candidates for Team Summer A, rather than releasing them back into the “civilian” world, was a necessity for the project, due to the need to preserve absolute secrecy, the possibly unethical means by which the foeti themselves were created, and the difficulty in justifying the trickling of “orphans” that would have to be reinserted into the general population after having been raised for years with nothing but the “future survival” objective in sight and mind. In this sense, it's possible that this wasn't necessarily Kaname's idea, but Takashi's, or simply an agreed one, that however contributed to amplifying Kaname's attitude. ↩

14. with Takashi in particular: it's quite possible Kaname found in Takashi a presumed kindred spirit, misinterpreting his cold demeanor for his own rejection of emotions, and conversely that Takashi failed to understand Kaname's stunted emotional capability (preferring to interpret it as professionalism), or decided to ignore it (as acknowledging it would have impacted the project even more negatively), preferring to work around it with the selection of the other teams. ↩

15. there is Kaname, there are the guides, and while their presence does have a regulatory effect, it's still far from being the constricting presence that societies can be. ↩

16. Volume 31, “Mountains” Chapter 25. ↩

17. including, possibly, the closest thing to the recite of a prayer for one's own benefit, when Tsunmata recites the Buddhist “Heart Sutra” after discovering Rikako's remains (Volume 32, “Mountains” Chapter 27, page 35). ↩

18. Volume 10, “Ashes” Chapter 5, page 121 ↩

19. although the Mites were never found in the muscles (meat), they could still end up in the ingested products due to the presence of traces of contaminated blood from neighboring blood vessels during processing. ↩

20. considering they had remained sealed into the shelter for the undefined but long lapse of time between the cataclysm and the shelter being opened, that the were essentially dried out and dead when the shelter was opened, it's unclear how exactly they would have evolved at all, since that requires generation after generation of living individuals; an in-comic explanation by the change in behavior is given with the hypothesis that the mushrooms did not evolve, but rather the plants and animals in the “new world” had changed to the point of losing whatever prevented the spores from attaching to living matter in the “old world” (and that the team members are actually safe, because they are still “old world” animals). ↩

21. would this imply that Ryūgū shelter would have died out from radioactive poisoning anyway? ↩

Stendiamo un velo pietoso
E sia pietosa coltrice l’onda spumosa e ria

È questo un verso della poesia Schiavi di Belgrado Petrini, composta durante la reclusione scontata dall'anarchico negli anni del dopoguerra.

La poesia è famosa soprattutto nella sua versione rimaneggiata e musicata (sul tema della canzone popolare romana Se tu ti fai monaca) da Paola Nicolazzi, con il titolo Il galeone.

Con tutto il rispetto che si possa portare a Paola Nicolazzi c'è però una cosa che mi dà un immenso fastidio nella sua versione: l'accento sbagliato sulla parola coltrice (cantata coltríce invece del corretto cóltrice). E sí, non mi sfugge l'ironia di fare il grammar nazi su una canzone anarchica.

Ma ancor peggio dell'errore di Paola Nicolazzi c'è il fatto che molti di coloro che si sono cimentati con il brano hanno pedissequamente seguito l'errore dell'autrice.

Non è peraltro nemmeno possibile addurre la metrica come scusa, giacché è perfettamente possibile cantare il verso con l'accento corretto e senza nessuna forzatura; invero, a dimostrarlo, esiste almeno una dozzina di versioni in cui la parola è pronunciata correttamente, tra cui quelle di Cinzia La Fauci, Mara Redeghieri, Rocco Rosignoli, Révolte Ensemble, Cesare Basile1, All Middle Fingers Up, Storie d'alabastro e d'anarchia, Montelupo2, Anonima coristi, Friser, Gli Impopolari, La leggera, Acoustic Vibes (?), Voci di mezzo (?), Giovanna Marini, ed un'illustre sconosciuta.

(Una menzione speciale merita la versione dei Surgery, in cui riescono a piazzare nella parola entrambi gli accenti, sicché non si capisce se la pronunciano correttamente o meno.)

Queste versioni (con l'eccezione di quella di Giovanna Marini, in cui il verso corrispondente manca del tutto) hanno però un altro difetto: nel verso

spezziam queste carene, o chini a remar morremo

la parola carene è sostituta da catene. Questo non solo fa perdere un importante nesso con i versi che seguono, in cui l'autore incita a mandare la nave sugli scogli, ma stravolge anche profondamente il senso della canzone: spezzare le catene è un semplice invito a conquistare la libertà, ma nella metafora dell'autore sono le carene a dover essere distrutte, ovvero il galeone stesso, che altro non è che (fuor di metafora) la società stessa.

Cantare «catene» invece di «carene» “smonta” il valore anarchico della canzone.

Verrebbe da chiedersi da dove nasca questa interpolazione, visto che la versione della Nicolazzi dice ben chiaramente carene, cosí come il testo della poesia originale del Pedrini, fugando ogni dubbio che possa trattarsi di un errore (come l'accento errato in «coltrice»). A peggiorare le cose, esistono parecchie versioni in cui sono sbagliati entrambi: l'accento su «coltrice» ed il termine «catene» invece di «carene». Mentre per il primo errore è assodata la responsabilità di Paola Nicolazzi, per il secondo sospetto una (co)responsabilità del sito AntiWarSongs, che riporta il testo errato.

È stato infine con immensa gioia che sono riuscito a trovare una versione giusta della canzone, in cui si invita a spezzare le carene, e «coltrice» è pronunciata correttamente: quella di Marco Rovelli dal vivo con l'accompagnamento di Lara Vecoli. Posso risparmiarvi la tortura di sentire me che canto solo per donare all'universo una versione corretta della canzone.

1. che però l'ha anche cantata con l'accento sbagliato. ↩

2. anche se sembra che dica «morir tra i frutti». ↩

Clerihew

Il Clerihew è una filastrocca in quattro versi con rima AABB e metrica libera, generalmente a tema biografico o pseudo-biografico (i.e. con fatti inventati). È richiesto che il primo verso contenga (e preferibilmente finisca con) il nome del soggetto.

L'ho scoperto recentemente su Twitter, ed ho deciso di cimentarmici, trasformando un mio precedente tenativo.

I risultati del mio lavoro si possono apprezzare qui.

Webcomics and the long strip format

Introduction

I've been reading webcomics for decades. I've seen them be born, flourish, be abandoned, decay, make it to print form, disappear from the 'net, win awards and be forgotten. And I've seen them change format.

For a long time, webcomics were published in formats not unlike those found in print. Some, especially those striving for daily updates, follow the daily strip format, with a certain (fixed or variable) number of panels in a row; others took advantage of the greater liberty the web gives, by using “sunday-style” multi-row paneling, sometimes with a side-joke near the title. More artistically ambitious projects went for the “full-page” comic, with print-page tables paced either to manage to squeeze at least one joke per page, or going full graphic novel.

Recent times, however, have seen the emergence and spread of the “long-strip” format, obviously designed for mobile consumption, or at the very least for a visualization on screens in a portrait orientation rather than the classical desktop landscape orientation.

While quite convinced that its first solid foothold was in the Far East (Japan and South Korea at least), most likely due to the earlier spread of mobile web consumption over there compared to the West, and while today it has undoubtedly gained widespread adoption globally, I'm not entirely sure where the long-strip format originated.

In fact, my first encounter with an infinite canvas experiment was Nine planets without intelligent life, followed by the Wormworld saga. Only much later I realized how widespread this was elsewhere (see e.g. the relevant tag on Mangadex), and noticed it becoming widely adopted “on the Western front”, as testified by the vast number of long-strip format webcomics present on WEBTOON, but also by more professional products such as Pepper & Carrot (a permissively licensed humorous graphic novel by a French artist passionate about the free-software and free-culture philosophies, David Revoy), or even The Resistance, written by Straczynski and illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr..

Why the long strip?

I see the long strip as the evolution of the episodic single-page webcomic. To show why, let me first discuss briefly how the choice of format for (web)comics correlates with narrative choices.

The “daily strip” format, for example, is usually matched with “a joke a day” content: each strip is self-contained (even when part of a longer narrative arc), and must provide an end-of-strip conclusive or pausing effect (e.g. the punchline in a humorous comic).

The full-page format is usually used in one of two ways: one is similar to the daily strip format, but with more room for content; the other is the graphic novel narrative style.

Full-page “dailies” (or, more frequently, “weeklies”) must still achieve the conclusive or “pausing” effect, at the end of the page (instead of strip). The larger visual estate available allows for more sophisticated set-ups, and can better tie-in pages belonging to the same, longer narrative arc, but the pacing is still board-based.

A narrative style matching that of a graphic novel is also possible with full-page releases. In this case, page-based pacing is not necessary (although it can still help keep the reader's attention), but as a counterpoint the reading experience can become fragmented with slow releases. In this case, some authors may opt for a different release schedule: rather than releasing (or trying to release) individual pages at the given schedule, they choose to release full episodes (spanning several pages) at once (obviously on a less frequent schedule), providing the reader with a more consistent reading experience, at the cost of reduced “engagement” (buzzword du jour), which is sometimes recouped by posting sketches or other complementary material on a more frequent basis.

But then again, what is even the point of restricting oneself to the “printed page” format when the release schedule is episodic and the target is online publishing? This is where the long strip comes in handy: it gives greater artistic freedom, it's quite easy to navigate (scrolling) even (or maybe especially) on mobile, and it allows a fuller utilization of the visual estate (again, particularly on mobile).

Ups and downs

There are a few downsides to the long-strip format.

First of all, subsequent print publication may require some restructuring (unless the continuous strip was designed with this in mind from the start, with sacrificial filling in strategic places). This, of course, is not a downside if the material is never supposed to leave the web as medium.

Obviously, two-page spreads are simply impossible on a long strip, although wider solution are possible (and used), with single panes placed sidewise compared to the standard reading direction.

Finally, there is a lack of fractional addressing: when reading a page-based episode release, it's possible to use standard browsing features to e.g. bookmark a specific page, while this is impossible (or at least much harder) for continuous canvas releases (although publishing websites may provide more fine-grained bookmarking solutions of their own).

With episodic releases, the time between one release and the next can be significant, and it may be helpful to provide the readers with a reminder of what was going on. With page-based content, the reader can simply go back a few pages to make sure they connect with their last reading point, but with the long-strip format this becomes cumbersome, due to the just mentioned reduced granularity in content addressing.

On the other hand, the long-strip format provides a natural, seamless way to integrated callbacks into the first lengths of the episode (frequently, this is provided before the logo/title), similar to the callback page(s) found in multi-volume (printed) serial publications, or to the «Previously, on [title]» introductions sometimes used in organic TV series.

In this way, providing appropriate recaps becomes now the author's responsibility (as opposed to the reader's choice), and when reading through old published episodes in one sitting the recap itself may actually break the narrative flow for the reader. On the upside, the author-controlled recap can provide more appropriate references to previous material, compared to simply going back a couple of pages, especially with very intricate storylines.

Filling with style

I would group the drawing style for the long-strip format in two categories.

The first one, that I've only come across in Western comics (examples: The Wormworld saga and The Resistance), takes full advantage of the entire canvas width, and while there is still a panel structure, it's frequently overlaid and/or intermixed with full, colorful backgrounds or full-width, border-less and junction-less scenes.

By contrast, the style more frequently adopted in Eastern comics (and may Western comics that imitate the style) presents a more sparse and empty layout, with single panels covering a sizeable percentage of the canvas, but not all of it, and abundant blank space between them. The extra space can still serve a purpose, such as by hosting the speech and thought bubbles without covering the scene, or by providing chromatic hints to narrative changes (present time versus flashback, reality versus dream, pauses and scene changes, etc).

(A third category could be reserved for webcomics that, while using episode-long canvases, maintain an internal page-wise structure, and are thus effectively equivalent of page-based comics, although presented on a continuous canvas with pages on top of each other and with no observable discontinuity; Pepper & Carrot falls in this category, which is quite obviously aimed at providing easier conversion to print format.)

Aside: not the only option

Infinite canvas (either as in the experimental NPWIL, or in the long-strip format discussed so far) has become the common way to exploit the freedom allowed by electronic consumption over classic paper, but it's not the only one. Other common ways to extend/expand the “reading experience” include complementary multimedia (such as soundtracks, as seen and heard in Always Human) or small animations (sometimes limited to single panels, as seen in Questionable Content (list), sometimes used more aggressively, such as in Shiloh).

One of the most (technically) astounding experiments in this regard is most definitely To Be Continued, an Italian (also available in English) science-fiction graphic novel about teenage superheroes, their daily struggles in the shadow of the older generations, and their surprising destiny. The visual format is 16:9 landscape, and while most episodes are essentially “paged”, with standard navigation (left/right keys or mouse clicks), some take advantage of (not-really) linear scrolling to provide something closer to the infinite canvas experience, frequently with a “non-uniform” scrolling direction (with junction-free panels spread out on a convoluted path).

Consumption

As an avid reader of visual content (comics and graphics novels), I can't call myself a big fan of the long strip format. While it does make (arguably) better use of the flexibility allowed by the new (compared to print) medium, I find most of the production uncomfortable to read on my favorite hardware platform, the laptop.

This shouldn't be surprising, since the new design is quite obviously geared towards other means of consumption (primarily, smartphones —to the point that when reading e.g. The Resistance on a landscape screen you can clear read the advisory: «For the best reading experience view this comic on a mobile device.»), but it is quite annoying.

On the one hand, reading this content on the desktop results in a massive under-usage of the screen estate (contrary to one of the possible advantages of the infinite canvas), or requires impractical tricks (such as putting a laptop on the side and rotate the screen contents). On the other hand, even the mobile phone with the crisper display remains immensely more tiring for my eyes than any moderate-to-high quality laptop display, even for content designed to be consumed on such a tiny display.

I'm not sure what the best solution would be, or even if there is one. Maybe some kind of adaptive panel placement, that can take advantage of wider screens just as well as long and thin ones? Or maybe just spending less time reading webcomics?

Decenni dopo

È incredibile notare la differenza di qualità tra Panda kopanda (1972) e Totoro (1988), ed ancor piú tra Il circo sotto la pioggia (1973) e Ponyo (2008).

Sia ben chiaro che non parlo delle capacità dei rispettivi registi: anche se è vero che gli antecedenti in questi confronti sono di Isao Takahata, mentre i conseguenti sono di Hayao Miyazaki, non trovo affatto che il primo sia inferiore al secondo, e non è a questo che mira il confronto.

Peraltro, lo spunto nasce dagli evidenti paralleli —chissà, forse persino gli intenzionali richiami: tra Totoro ed il papà Panda1, tra l'allagemento nel Circo e quello in Ponyo. Paralleli che non possono sorprendere, vista la grande amicizia tra i due artisti, e la stretta collaborazione che ha segnato gran parte della loro produzione (d'altronde, i due mediometraggi degli anni '70 sono essi stessi frutti di questa attiva collaborazione, essendo il soggetto e le sceneggiature di Miyazaki).

Alla base della differenza vedrei piuttosto la crescita artistica (e, diciamocelo, anche economica) che i fondatori dello Studio Ghibli hanno avuto la capcacità (e la fortuna) di sviluppare nei decenni trascorsi dagli anni '70.

Per gli amanti dello Studio, Panda ed il suo sequel non hanno moltissimo da offrire, dal punto di vista artistico. Vuoi per la fretta (per cavalcare l'onda della passione per i panda nata in Giappone in quel periodo), vuoi per la penuria di mezzi (eh sí, l'aspetto economico non può essere trascurato), vuoi per l'ancora mancante contributo di Kazuo Oga (che sarà poi determinante in gran parte delle opere Ghibli, a partire proprio da Totoro), la realizzazione lascia molto a desiderare, con colori piatti ed animazioni poco fluide e spesso limitata ai personaggi principali.

D'altronde, si tratta di due mezz'orette senza impegno —foss'anche solo per completezza— godibili soprattutto se passate in compagnia del pubblico adeguato (sono mediometraggi decisamente per bambini2).

1. ancor piú se si pensa che nel progetto originale di Totoro la protagonista era una singola ragazza, poi “sdoppiata” nelle due sorelle Satsuki e Mei. ↩

2. a patto, però, che non siano bambini troppo facili allo spavento: con i miei non sono mancati gli «ho paura, ho paura» nelle scene di “tensione” che anche queste animazioni riescono a regalare. ↩

Coronamaison

The game got started by Pénélope Bagieu on Twitter, and it's very simple: draw your ideal environment for your quarantine, based on a template provided by acupoftim.

The results are impressive, even though for the time being the initiative has been picked up mostly by French or French-speaking artists.

I'm really not good at drawing, therefore my contribution so far has only been to make a vector (SVG) version of the the template:

On Christopher Tolkien

Christopher JR Tolkien has died. This is a sad moment, but as we say in Italy, «no wedding without tears, no funeral without laughter.»

And I found myself thinking, as a joke: look at the difference between university magnateship (or, as we say in Italy, baronage) between Italy and the UK.

What does a university baron in Italy do to ensure that their offspring inherits their position? They play all kind of dirty tricks. They coopt their group into adding the offspring's name as co-author of their research papers. They pull in favors to ensure that the commissions for calls and exams evaluate their offspring more favorably.

What does a univeristy baron in the UK do to ensure that their offspring inherits their position? They gather all the mythos of the literature of lore, create a fantasy world, publish several novels on it, and leave around enough material to guarantee a prosperous legacy for the offsprings, as curator of the material and with enough arguments for literaly criticism that the offspring can build their own career on top of it.

The mathematical anarchist

Apparently graffiti things such as this and this have appeared in Bruxelles (and who knows where else).

Note: this article makes use of MathML, the standard XML markup for math formulas. Sadly, this is not properly supported on some allegedly ‘modern’ and ‘feature-rich’ browsers. If the formulas don't make sense in your browser, consider reporting the issue to the respective developers and/or switching to a standard-compliant browser.

I must say it's not too common seeing mathematical graffiti, so let's have a look at them a little bit closer. Let's start with a transcription:

$f(x) = 2+ -(x-2)2 + 1 g(x) = 2- -(x-2)2 + 1 h(x) = 3x-3 i(x) = -3x+9 j(x) = 0,2x+1,7$

There's a few things I don't like about some choices made (such as the choice of decimal separator —which could be avoided altogether, as we'll see later), but let's first try to understand what we have, as-is.

What we're looking at is the definition of five distinct functions of a single variables. One of the nice things about real-valued functions of real-valued variables (which is the assumption we make here) is that, thanks to the brilliant intuition of Réne Descartes to associate algebra and geometry, we can visualize these functions.

Thus, another way to look at this is that we have an algebraic description of five curves. The obvious implication here would be that, if we were to plot these curves, we'd get another picture, the actual, hidden, graffiti.

Can we reason about the functions to get an idea about what to expect from the visualization? Indeed, we can.

For example, the functions $f$ and $g$ are obviously closely related, as they differ just for the sign of radical. We can thus expect them to be the two possible solution for a second-order equation, which we're going to discover soon. Additionally, the form these functions have also give as a domain of existence: since the argument to the radical must be non-negative for the functions to have real values (and thus be plottable), we must have

$-(x-2)2+1≥0,$

that is

$1≥(x-2)2,$

which would more commonly written as

$(x-2)2≤1,$

whose solution is

$-1≤x-2≤1,$

or

$1≤x≤3.$

Now we know that, for the functions $f$ and $g$ to exist, $x$ must be in the interval between 1 and 3. Since the other functions do not have restrictions on the domain of existence, we can take this as domain for the whole plot.

The next step is to find out what are $f$ and $g$ the two halves of. To do this, we can “combine” them using $y$ as placeholder for either, and writing:

$y=2±-(x-2)2+1,$

which can be rearranged to

$y-2=±-(x-2)2+1.$

Since we're taking both the positive and negative solutions for the square root, we can square both sides without worrying about introducing spurious solutions, obtaining:

$(y-2)2=-(x-2)2+1,$

which we can again rearrange to get

$(x-2)2+(y-2)2=1.$

This is the equation of a circle, centered at the point with coordinates $\left(2,2\right)$, and with radius 1. $f$ represents the upper half, $g$ the lower half.

The circle represented by the first two equations

The lines

The next three functions ($h$, $i$, $j$) are much simpler, and anybody that remembers their analytical geometry from high school should recognize them for the equations of straight lines.

If we look at the first two of these more closely

$h(x) = -3x-3 i(x) = -3x+9$

we notice that they are rather steep (the absolute value of the $x$ coefficient is $3>1$), and symmetrical with respect to the vertical axis (the $x$ coefficient has opposite sign). They intersect for $x=2$ which is conveniently placed halfway through our domain (derived from the circle equations). Note that the resulting ordinate $y=3$ places the intersection point on the circle we've seen, as:

$(2-2)2+(3-2)2=1$

is satisfied.

The last equation, as I mentioned at the beginning meets my full displeasure due to the choice of decimal separator —in fact, the most annoying thing about is that it uses one at all, as the same values could be written in a more universal way by using fractions:

$j(x)=x5+1710$

or inline using the solidus:

$j(x)=x/5+17/10.$

This straight line much less steep (in fact, one could say it's barely sloping at all). It also intersects the other two lines in places with some funky values which I'm not even going to bother computing, as we are only interested in the visualization:

The straight lines

So, an ‘A’ shape.

Putting it all together

If we put it all together now, we obtain the quite famous anarchist logo:

Anarchy

Halving series

Note: this article makes use of MathML, the standard XML markup for math formulas. Sadly, this is not properly supported on some allegedly ‘modern’ and ‘feature-rich’ browsers. If the formulas don't make sense in your browser, consider reporting the issue to the respective developers and/or switching to a standard-compliant browser.

This article has been inspired by a post on /r/math, that presented a graphical way to show that the sum of the series of consecutive powers of 1/2 (geometric series with ratio 1/2) converges to 1:

$∑ n=1 ∞ 12n = 12 + 14 + 18 + 116 + … = 1$

The proposed image was very roughly made and raster, so I decided to re-create it, cleaned up and in vector form:

Halving series (triangles)

Of course, this is not the only possible approach to demonstrate (note: demonstrate, not prove) the convergence of the series. A similar approach (the one I was more familiar with) is based on rectangles rather than triangles:

Halving series (rectangles)

Which one of the two is ‘better’ is obviously up to debate: some people prefer the triangle version, because the series is assembled from figures which are (geometrically) similar, while others prefer the rectangle version, as it features lines parallel to the sides of the original square, and thus clearer features to a higher detail (i.e. more visible sections).

Of course, these are not the only possible representations for the series; for example, sticking to rectangles, one can also proceed by halving each remaining fraction of the original square with lines all parallel, obtaining the striped version:

Halving series (stripes)

I honestly find this version boring compared to the other two, since in this case it makes much more sense to give a one dimensional representation, by consecutive halving of segments, instead:

Halving series (segment)

The segment splitting is most definitely the simplest, but some people might be more comfortable with the two-dimensional demonstrations, since apparently humans tend to deal better (intuitively) with areas than with lengths.

Animations

Note: this section stress-tests support for SVG animation with SMIL. Sadly, this is not properly supported on some allegedly ‘modern’ and ‘feature-rich’ browsers. If the animations don't make sense in your browser, consider reporting the issue to the respective developers and/or switching to a standard-compliant browser.

One of the upsides of using SVG as format for these demonstrations is that it is possible to animate them. Animations have two advantages in cases such as these: one, they present a more intuitive visualization of the “progress” of the infinite summation; and two, they make it easier to avoid the mess which is “perfectly centered text” in SVG (an issue that deserves its own rant).

We can animate the one-dimensional example by introducing each new term with a timing which is proportional to the length of the segment, obtaining something like this:

Animated halving series (segment)

There's no need for textual explanation, although we can achieve it by adding an animated summation (which sadly doesn't seem to work correctly in most browsers):

Animated halving series (segment, with formula)

Of course, the same can be done in two dimensions, with both the triangles and rectangles approach.

Animated halving series (triangles)

Animated halving series (rectangles)

(And of course we could have the variants with formulas here as well, but I think the idea is clear and, honestly, coding these SVG and MathML by hand gets boring after a while, so their realization is left as an exercise to the reader.)

xKSd

I couldn't draw a human figure if my life depended on it, so I've tried drawing the Katawa Shōjo girls as stick figures, in an ‘artsy’ attempt I've called `xKSd` (as an obvious pun between KS and XKCD).

My first attempt seemed pretty satisfactory to me (to the point that I felt it was good enough to share on reddit), with the idea that future work would be aimed at tuning the pose or something like that, and remarking that I might have gotten something wrong in my calculations.

xKSd (v0)

Apparently, the image was successful enough to be linked even from the official Katawa Shōjo forum, where it was promply demolished by pointing out that I had gotten the head/body proportions all wrong: due to a brain slip, I had essentially doubled the size of the heads of all characters (using the diameter as radius), achieving a ‘chibi’ effect, as my wife likes to call it (even though the proportions are slightly over 1:4 rather than the 1:2 or 1:3 ratio to which the ‘chibi’ term has ended up referring at least as a Western import).

So I set up to correct the drawing and achieve the intended 1:8 proportions. After some distractions and recomputing, the base image has finally been completed. This is then how it was intended to look like:

xKSd (base)

Honestly, I can't say that I'm particularly satisfied with the result. Overall, the previous version, while less correct in terms of proportions, has a better visual appeal.

Am I still getting something wrong in my calculations? Or could it be that ‘chibi’ proportions are more appropriate for stick figures, since the lack of ‘thickness’ in the torso makes them otherwise appear abnormally long?

Whatever the case, it definitely looks like my work here isn't done yet.

Katawa Shōjo

かたわ少女 (Katawa Shōjo, nel seguito KS) è una visual novel (nel seguito VN) interattiva: un lungo racconto multimediale in cui il testo è associato ad immagini di sfondo (gli ambienti) e, durante le interazioni con altri personaggi, da figure (poco) animate in primo piano dei personaggi stessi (con l'esclusione, generalmente, del protagonista), il tutto corredato da musica di sottofondo (altre VN hanno anche voci per i personaggi, ma non è questo il caso di KS); l'interattività è abbastanza limitata, riducendosi ad alcune scelte che il protagonista può fare (nel corso di dialoghi o in momenti cruciali) e che porteranno allo sviluppo della storia in un senso piuttosto che in un altro, sulla scia dei “libri gioco” di un tempo.

Katawa Shōjo rientra nella categoria dei cosiddetti dating sims, simulatori di appuntamento (di grande successo in Giappone); grossolanamente, il protagonista si ritrova in un (nuovo) contesto dove ha la possibilità di incontrare e frequentare un certo numero di ragazze, per arrivare (con le scelte giuste) a fidanzarsi con (o quanto meno portarsene a letto) almeno una.

Non posso negare che questa categorizzazione di KS, benché non errata, è ben lontana dal dare alla VN in questione il giusto valore. In ciascuna delle storie che possono essere seguite, infatti, KS si mantiene ben lontano dalla banale routine “conosci ragazza, frequentala, coccolala/consolala nei tempi e modi giusti, portatela a letto” in cui i dating sims scivolano troppo facilmente. KS è invece una VN di notevole spessore psicologico, di sorprendente profondità, e di coraggiose scelte contenutistiche.

Il titolo, grossolanamente traducibile in “Ragazze Storpie” e che nell'originale giapponese è evidentemente una variazione su bishōjo, termine che caratterizza giochi, fumetti e VN i cui personaggi sono, invece “belle ragazze”, è una immediata presentazione del contesto in cui si troverà a barcamenarsi il protagonista.

Hisao, vittima di un infarto un pomeriggio di febbraio mentre una compagna di scuola gli confessa il proprio amore, scopre grazie all'incidente di soffrire di aritmia cardiaca, e di dover vivere il resto dei propri giorni accompagnato da medicine e con la spada di Damocle di un possibile nuovo, fatale, infarto.

Dopo mesi di ospedalizzazione, in cui tutti i vecchi amici e compagni, finanche la ragazza, lo abbandonano, Hisao si ritrova trasferito in una nuova scuola specificamente attrezzata per ospitare e prendersi cura di ragazzi con vari livelli di disabilità fisiche, grazie anche alla possibilità di ospitare gli studenti nel campus ed alla presenza di personale medico presente in loco 24 ore al giorno, 7 giorni la settimana.

Costretto ad affrontare la propria nuova condizione di disabile (pur privo di menomazioni esteriormente visibili) il protagonista comincia quindi la nuova vita, che gli si prospetta davanti tutt'altro che gioiosa. Nell'arco di una giornata incontrerà i principali personaggi con cui si troverà ad interagire nel corso della storia, dal professore distratto al paranoico vicino di stanza, e soprattutto le ragazze a cui, a seconda delle scelte del lettore, il protagonista potrà avvicinarsi: Emi, senza gambe, Hanako, ustionata, Lilly, cieca, Rin, senza braccia, Shizune, sordomuta.

La VN non è però semplicemente un dating sim per lettori con un feticcio per le disabili, benché ciascuna delle storie che possono essere seguite non manchi di un aspetto erotico: le varie linee, infatti, ciascuna con tre possibili finali (positivo, negativo, ‘neutro’), esplora infatti con notevole acume una varietà di temi psicologici individuali e sociali. (Ulteriori dettagli, non privi di spoiler e corredati da mie personali riflessioni, sulle singole storie raccontate in KS seguiranno in articoli dedicati.)

Pur con le sue imperfezioni nella realizzazione tecnica (punto maggiormente dolente, a mio parere, l'impossibilità di tentare strade alternative dai ‘replay’ delle strade già percorse), la VN dimostra comunque una straordinaria qualità, ancora più sorprendente se si considerano le sue origini e la sua storia (qui per esteso e qui sinteticamente raccontata dagli sviluppatori).

Il seme di KS è infatti un omake, una pagina extra di schizzi, in un dōjinshi (fumetto autopubblicato) liberamente ispirato a Nausicaa della Valle del Vento. La pagina, tradotta in inglese e colorata, riscuote un incredibile successo su 4chan, la più prolifica (e criticata) image board di lingua inglese: proprio su 4chan vengono in breve gettate le basi della VN, ed è tra i partecipanti dell'image board (e di altre comunità successivamente coinvolte nella progetto) che emergono gli artisti, scrittori, musicisti, fotografi che, nel corso di quattro sofferti anni e ad una decina d'anni dall'omake che a tutto ha dato origine, portano infine l'opera a piena maturazione.

KS è quindi “figlia di Internet”, e per molti versi è una brillante dimostrazione di come prodotti artistici di notevole qualità (e successo) possono emergere come frutto delle hive minds (menti collettive) delle comunità online, anche senza pesanti investimenti da parte di ricchi produttori. Rilasciata sotto licenza Creative Commons BY-NC-ND, è anche liberamente (e gratuitamente) ridistribuibile. (Personalmente avrei preferito una licenza più libera —in particolare che permettesse lavori derivati non commerciali— ma trovo consolazione nella natura multi-piattaforma della VN, ed in particolare nella sua disponibilità per Linux.)

Per chi conosce anche solo di fama 4chan e la sua capacità di trattare qualunque tema con la più crudele e dissacrante irriverenza, la profondità ed il tatto con cui KS tocca le varie problematiche affrontate nelle sue fila giungono come una (piacevole) sorpresa. Gran parte del successo della VN è legata proprio a questa sua sorprendente natura, ed alla conseguente capacità di portare il lettore a riflettere sui temi affrontati.

A differenza di altre VN il cui obiettivo è semplicemente di strappare il cuore al lettore (seriamente, c'è un intero genere dedicato a questo, che in giapponese è noto come nakige), infatti, KS riesce a coinvolgere emotivamente senza superficialità.

La molteplicità degli autori coinvolti nella creazione di KS (dopo i brainstorming su 4chan comunque non meno di uno per storia) è alla radice di una certa disomogeneità stilistica nei vari percorsi percorribili all'interno della VN, ma fa anche sì che nella maggiore varietà di temi e modi ciascun lettore possa trovare una strada che risuoni meglio con la sua sensibilità. (Purtroppo, fa anche sì che più difficilmente un singolo lettore possa apprezzare ugualmente tutte le strade.)

Un dato interessante che emerge sfogliando ad esempio il forum dedicato a KS su reddit è la quantità di lettori, soprattutto nella fascia d'età della tarda adolescenza e prima gioventù, che hanno trovato KS educativo, illuminante su come affrontare (o non affrontare) certi aspetti della propria vita o certi rapporti con amici o parenti.

È possibile che il successo riscosso da KS fin dalla pubblicazione del suo Atto I (prima ancora che il gioco fosse finito), e che la VN continua a riscuotere tuttora, abbia motivazioni che vanno oltre la semplice valutazione qualitativa, vuoi nelle scelte contenutistiche, vuoi nelle anomale (e parzialmente anonime) radici nella perversione di 4chan; è tuttavia innegabile che nel panorama dei videogiochi e delle VN esso rimane una scelta raccomandabile, e non solo a chi volesse provare il genere.

Georg

Ho sempre pensato che il momento in cui un autore dovesse sentire il bisogno o la necessità di spiegare una propria opera fosse il momento in cui l'autore ammettesse una sconfitta delle proprie capacità di autore. Conscio di questo, trovo comunque opportuno spendere due parole sull'unica cosa da me scritta ad essere finora ‘uscita’ da questo Wok: Georg, incluso ne L'ennesimo libro della fantascienza recentemente pubblicato da Barabba.

Il racconto è stato (giustamente) ‘stroncato dalla critica’: scrive infatti il Sig. N:

"Georg": premessa interessante e costruzione scorrevole (non facile con un tema astratto), ma manca di una conclusione che richiuda la narrazione. 4/10

Similmente, .mau. dedica a Georg il premio come Migliore Idea Sprecata. D'altra parte, io per primo non sono mai stato soddisfatto della chiusura del racconto, come suggerito da un commento nascosto del testo stesso, pur non trovandone una migliore.

Vista l'unanimità del giudizio (negativo) della critica e dell'autore, sarebbe superfluo dilungarsi su un commento all'opera; d'altra parte, visto l'argomento astratto e possibilmente non familiare al lettore, ho pensato che potesse essere comodo offrire un paio di importanti chiavi di lettura per chi fosse interessato.

Innanzi tutto, il titolo: Georg è un ovvio riferimento a Georg Cantor, uno dei primi ad aver indagato il concetto di infinito, giungendo alla scoperta paradossale dell'esistenza di infiniti di ‘dimensioni’ diverse.

È proprio in riferimento a questi che il Georg protagonista del racconto vuole superare l'infinità numerabile (l'infinito più ‘piccolo’) delle pagine dell'eponimo oggetto de Il libro di sabbia di Borges: e se l'infinito di ordine superiore più conosciuto è quello dei numeri reali (razionali ed irrazionali, tra cui anche gli infiniti numeri trascendenti) l'obiettivo di Georg è di andare oltre, producendo un'opera per ciascuno dei numeri surreali; il Vuoto incipit prima opera di Georg, e la caratteristica delle opere successive di essere una ‘generazione’ successiva alla precedente, è un riferimento al processo di costruzione dei numeri surreali, che comincia con lo zero, per costruire da qui tutti i numeri in ‘generazioni’ successive, con le nuove generazioni ottenute combinato opportunamente i numeri di quelle precedenti.

Infine, cosa è Georg, in definiva? È ‘qualcosa’ che ‘consuma’ opere in lettura e produce (altre) opere in uscita, nuove opere in cui talvolta si può riconoscere la fonte originale; l'idea è simile a quella dei generatori di testi casuali secondo catene di Markov, programmi molto semplici che ‘imparano’ da uno o più testi calcolando la probabilità che ad una serie di lettere ne segua un'altra.

Astratto questo principio ad un livello più complesso, ed implementandolo direttamente in hardware, si finirebbe con l'ottenere (come spiegato in un altro commento nascosto del racconto stesso) un Generatore Elettronico di Opere Riproducibili Grammaticalmente.

Elian script

I've recently come across and started getting an interest into the Elian script, an alternative to the standard Latin script alphabets. Although writing in Elian script has shown to not improve my horrible handwriting1, the script itself and its composition rules allow for some very interesting graphical results which may even compare to the wonderful effect that can be achieved, for example, with the Arabic abjad.

The basics

I'm not to go into details on how to write Elian, because the web is full of better resources than I would ever write, but I will recall some of the essential details, which are useful to what I intend on writing next.

The principle behind the Elian script is very simple: take the standard hash/number sign or Tic-tac-toe grid, and assign a letter to each cell, in columns, starting from the bottom left. Since the grid has 9 places, this gives you the symbols for A to I. The next nine letters (J to R) are the same, but with one (any, but one) of the stems made longer, and the remaining eight (S to Z) are like the second-tier letters, with a dot or other similar marker added.

An example exposition of the Elian alphabet, with sharp corners and very regular traits, follows (read left to right, top to bottom as you would any other)2.

Elian alphabet

Of course, there is no need for the glyphs to be so regular in shape and size, nor for the corners to be so sharp. This is just practical when illustrating the alphabet and drawing the shapes by hand-coding an SVG.

The power of the Elian script comes largely from its weak composition rules, the lack of size constraints and from the shape flexibility of the tier II and tier III letters.

Composition and shaping

The composition rules are simply a local “left to right, top to bottom”, allowing to put characters on top of each other, or next to each other, or a combination of the two, as deemed aesthetically more pleasing. One of the main consequences of this is the lack of the concept of a baseline like in most other scripts.

Since there are no size constraints, ‘wrapping’ characters in other characters also comes quite natural, and the shape flexibility of the letters from J to Z can give spectacular effects.

To see this composition in action, let's look at my nickname, Oblomov. If I just take the SVG alphabet illustrated before and juxtapose the letters keeping their top alignment (that comes from the SVG coordinate system) I obtain:

Oblomov in Elian, try #1

But I can also imagine a bottom baseline, with ascendants and descendants, obtaining:

Oblomov in Elian, try #2

Much better, or at least more familiar to us, given how we're used to seeing text.

But we aren't even starting to scratch the surface of what can be done in Elian. The next step is to alter the shape of some of the tier II glyphs so that we can do some kerning, Elian-style:

Oblomov in Elian, try #3: kerning #1

By switching the shape of the letter ‘o’ around, we can interlace it with some of the following letters, and we can also nest the ‘b’ in the ‘l’.

But there's actually no reason why the ‘o’ should be shaped the same way throughout the text, or the stem lengths be consistent through different letters:

Oblomov in Elian, try #4: kerning #2

In this attempt, all three possible ‘o’ glyphs have been used, and the short/long stems are glyph-specific: the long stem of the ‘m’ is as long as the ‘a’ stems, and shorter than the short stem of the ‘l’. It's important to notice that the short stems of the ‘m’ could have been made longer, but this would have made it harder to tell the letter apart from a ‘d’, violating one of the rules about text legibility.

{ }

Symmetry

To a newcomer, the Elian script can be quite confusing, due to the high similarity of the glyphs. However, when thinking about it, this is really not different from the high symmetry found in our standard Latin script, with letter such as ‘d’, ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘q’ obtained by mirroring and rotations, or the hand-written l resembling a taller e, and so on. { Ambigrams. }

Limitations

The Elian script was mostly developed for English. Its simplicity in this regard, that greatly helps in the fancy composition that makes Elian beautiful, become limitations when looking at possible applications of the script to other languages.

Case

First of all, Elian lacks case: there is no distinction between uppercase and lowercase letters; although this is a pretty common occurrence in Eastern scripts, most Western ones have developed mixed cases in the centuries, and have since codified rules for the use of the different cases. In German, for example, nouns are marked apart from other parts of speech by their uppercase initial.

Although case is not that important in many cases, there are even in English, situations where the initial uppercase can change the meaning of a word. It would be useful if Elian could develop a bicameral system like the other Western scripts.

It's interesting to note that casing cannot be reduced to a simple matter of size: as we've seen, letters can have very different sizes within the same word, and this is controlled more by overall aesthetics than other rules.

Proposal: outlining

First of all, it is important to remark that a bicameral system is not strictly necessary: Western scripts have done without until the Middle Ages or so. An important feature of Elian would be that the script remain mostly in a single case, with ‘uppercase’ (discussed momentarily) only used when deemed necessary. So we can forget about the abuse in capitalization for languages that don't actually need it (did I mention for example how I cringe at the so-called Title Case? All lowercase is fine.)

This being said, when uppercase letters want to be used, they can follow the same composition rules as standard Elian, with the exception that they are highlighted by outlining: the main shape will not be the stroke of the glyph, but its outline.

Since no Elian glyph intersects, outlining a glyph is trivial. Of course, this should be done by keeping the stroke width of the outline on par with the stroke width of the standard characters. Back to Oblomov, this time with an initial capital, the result would be something like the following (back to a more linear structure):

Oblomov in Elian, uppercase initial

Accents and diacritics

A second aspect showing how Elian was essentially developed for the English language is its lack of friendliness towards the huge variety of accents and diacritics that are present in most other languages based on the Latin script.

For accents, the author does describe how to use them, but it's undeniably true that their presence tends to ‘break’ the rhythm and flow of the script. For diacritics, the problem grows even worse: while they are seen as modified Latin letters by foreigners to the languages that uses them, their are usually considered independent ones by the native speakers of those languages. How should they be treated in Elian?

I'll go into more details about this issue when discussing the applicability of Elian to other alphabets, and on the topic of ligatures.

Numbers

Finally, the Elian script by itself does not provide for a numeric system. The simplest approach in this case is to just use the so-called (Western) Arabic numerals we are used to, but it's obvious that their shape does not fit particularly well with the dynamic nature of the Elian script, and that a writing system for numerals more in line with it would be preferable.

There have been a number of proposals (see for example a relevant thread in the Elian script subreddit), some of which are interesting (such as the use of Roman numerals, but with the letters in Elian scripts) but not the most practical.

One of the proposals that caught my attention is to write numerals as letters with an additional mark. This is similar to the way numerals were written in ancient Greek, and also in the Arabic abjad before the introduction of what has become the more widespread Arabic numeral system.

The biggest issue I have with this approach is that the digit zero looks a little bit alien, and there is no clear connection between the digit value and its shape (which is there when you look at stylized forms of most Arabic numerals).

Proposals: tagging the circle

The solution I've been pondering is based on ‘tagging the circle’, where the circle refers to the Elian glyph for the letter ‘e’, which normally turns into a circle in handwritten Elian. Since the ‘circle’ has four sides (eh), it's possible for numerals to be identified by the number of tagged sides, or the tag position, or a number of variations thereof.

An interesting potential offered by these approaches is that they can be easily extended to bases other than 10, and particularly higher than 10, without using letters instead of digits (as it's normally done e.g. with the common base-16 using letters A to F as the digits after 9).

Elian numerals proposal #1: digits 0 to 9

In the first proposal tags cross the sides of the square, in clockwise order starting from the top, with each subsequent number adding a tag. It's therefore easy to read the number by counting the number of tags, but the writing starts to get expensive in terms of the number of traits.

There are two ways to simplify this: by moving the tag rather than adding it (so that, for example, number 2 still has a single tag, but on the second side), and by coalescing multiple tags on the same side into some form of squiggle. Both these approach are also more friendly to handwritten Elian, since they allow more continuous drawing.

Elian numerals proposal #2: digits 0 to f

The resulting numeral system (shown with rounded corners and caps) is much less baroque than the first one, making it easier to cover all of the 16 hexadecimal digits, for example. Of course, in the standard base-10 numbering system, one would only use the first 10 digits (0 to 9).

Identifying the digits is still very easy, since they go in groups of four. As a bonus, there's also a resemblance between the tag on the digit for 5 and the Roman numeral V.

Other solutions are also possible, of course. For example, tagging the corners instead of the sides, a single corner from 1 to 4, two corners for 5 to 8, and so on. But I'm not going to develop other alternatives for the moment, since I consider this last one quite satisfactory.

For multi-digit numbers, we are going to follow the usual (Western) convention of writing the most significant digits first; the mixed direction (left-to-right, top-to-bottom) of Elian script will also be allowed in multi-digit numbers. Consecutive digits will be allowed to share one side, since the reading order is sufficient to resolve ambiguity. When a common side would be tagged by both numerals, the tags are placed in clockwise order from the most to the least significant.

As an example, we will write the (base-10) number 19670224 (which if you want you can read as the date February 24, 1967).

Number 19670224 in Elian

Among the higlights, we remark the difference between the single double tag on the right side of the digit 6 and the double single tag in the common side of the final pair 24.

When handwriting numbers, the consecutive circles on which tags are written can be drawn with a single winding trait, sort of like a long (sideways or vertical) Arabic 8 with as many loops as there are digits.

Other alphabets

One of the upsides of the Elian script is that its simple geometrical generation rules can be applied to any alphabet that has up to 27 letters. It's funny that it falls short of one letter from the Arabic abjad (28 consonants), while it has one extra possible glyph over the standard Latin alphabet (26 letters).

For example, the principle behind Elian could be used for Greek, with e.g. the glyph used for the letter ‘c’ in the (standard) “Latin Elian” script being used for the letter ‘γ’ in the “Greek Elian” script.

The situation is a little more complex for alphabets based on the Latin script. These alphabets often have a few ‘missing’ letters from the complete 26-letter Latin script, and sometimes additional letters: while many of these can be composed as a standard Latin script glyph plus a diacritic, some others come from completely different scripts (e.g. the Thorn still in use in Icelandic).

In this case, it would be appropriate to preserve compatibility with the standard correspondence between Latin and Elian scripts, and devise appropriate solutions (such as the ligatures discussed momentarily) to replace the missing letter forms. In a few cases, exceptions can be made: for example, in Turkish, the difference between the letters ‘i’ and ‘ı’ can be rendered by using the ninth Elian glyph for ‘ı’ and adding a dot to achieve the letter ‘i’: there would be no confusion with the non-existent 27th glyph because of the matching length of the two stems (additionally, the dot could be added in a safe position near the corner to further prevent confusion).

Turkish dotless (right) and dotted (right) ı in Elian

A few examples of how to work diacritics into Elian are discussed in the next section.

Ligatures and other letter forms

For most purposes, ligatures are typographical solutions to the problem of glyph stems interfering with each other: hence the need for ligatures such as ﬀ or ﬂ or ﬁ, as would happen for example with two consecutive letters ‘f’. In this sense, they are only geared towards improving the aesthetics of the line.

Other letter forms, such as æ or œ, were born as ligatures but have been standardized as actual letters in some alphabets to represent specific sounds or etymological spelling of particular words. In fact, the ‘w’ letter itself was born as a ligature (guess what for).

Finally, ligatures such as the ampersand (& from ‘et’) or the “at symbol” (@, from ‘at’), have entered common usage beyond their original role.

So how does Elian scripts deal with ligatures? I would disregard, at least for the time being, the idea of typographical ligatures in Elian: due to its sophisticated and unusual set of composition rules, the need for a ligature arises practically never, and other brilliant solutions are available to achieve aesthetically pleasing results.

A more interesting issue is that of ligatures as “native” letter forms in alphabets based off the Latin script, and that of other symbolic ligatures. Finally, we shall see how some ligatures can be used to replace letters from extended Latin alphabets (we will see the example for the thorn letter (þ), replaced by a ‘th’ ligature).

Possible candidates for an Elian ‘at symbol’ (@)

The at-symbol is the simplest ligature we can recreate in Elian. There are a number of possibilities, some of which are pictured. The dot position in the top rightmost solution is quite arbitrary, and could be moved to a number of places.

The key component to these ligatures in Elian is that each letter preserves its individuality, to prevent confusion when identifying the components. While with ‘at’ this is quite simple, achieving the same clarity with ‘et’ (&) is much more complicated, since almost any joining of the ‘e’ with a stem from the ‘t’ is likely to cause confusion, creating a glyph that could be read as ‘ns’ or ‘nu’ rather than ´et’.

Possible candidates for an Elian ampersand (&)

The number of solutions in this case is much more limited. The key point for a correct reading in this case is the stem length: to ensure that the last letter is a ‘t’, the long stem must be the one connected to the ‘e’. Observe that the solution still isn't perfect, though, since there is still no indication that the first ligature component is not an ‘n’.

I see no clear solution to this issue, except by abandoning the ligature approach and either using simple juxtaposition, or some other graphical trick such as glyph intersection. In fact, these other proposed approaches are the only way to clearly indicate the components when ligating the ‘e’ with a tier II letter, such as in the œ digraph; for tier I letters, the equal stem length composition rules can help in identifying the component, just like the dot in tier III.

Ligatures and pseudo-ligatures for æ (top), œ, & (bottom) in Elian

The weaker form of glyph intersection shown here is to join the letters in such a way that it's clear that a stem ends without merging with a stem of the next letter: this is easier when typesetting things e.g. the way I'm doing it in SVG, much harder to do in writing, as it effectively kills the possibility of writing these ligatures with a continuous trait. The result is also not particularly appealing.

To conclude this section, we give a short look at the last possible use of ligatures in Elian that we mentioned: replacing letters from extended Latin alphabets by ligatures of Elian glyphs representing a possible transcription of the matching sound. This is obviously not an universal solution, but it can be used for things such as ‘th’, ‘ch’, ‘sh’ etc. We will have a look at a way to compose ‘t’ and ‘h’ as a substitute for the letter thorn (þ).

Since the letters to be merged in this case are facing opposite directions, I believe that the cleanest solution to the ligature is ‘wall sharing’, a practice which the script authrix abandoned in the early stage of the development of Elian.

Elian letter thorn (þ)

In the proposed examples, the letters are clearly recognizable, and there is no room for ambiguity. As an additional bonus, the rightmost option even has a thorny look. It's easy to see how the same principle can be applied for the German ß, by considering it as an ‘ss’ or ‘sz’ ligature: in fact, this could solve the eternal dispute between the eszett and scharfes S by actually providing distinct glyphs for each.

Elian letter eszett or scharfes S (ß), as a ligature of sz (top five) or ss (bottom two)

As an ‘sz’ ligature, ß offers a number of interesting opportunities (only 5 possible variations are show in the previous picture). The number of ‘ss’ combinations is somewhat reduced, but a few interesting effects can still be achieved. In fact, in the ‘ss’ case, we could even propose a simple doubling of the dot (no extra lines), although that would be quite a stretch on legibility, unless the convention is universally adopted3.

It's probably impossible to dictate general rules for these ligatures, although it's easy to see how a similar principle to the one used for the þ or ß could be applied to e.g. a ch or sh ligature. Moreover, the choice of these ligatures is obviously language dependent.

For example, a French speaker that would like to write a ç without adding a cédille to the Elian ‘c’ glyph might want to look into a ‘cz’ ligature (referring to the origin of the symbol) or a ‘ce’ ligature (referring to the pronunciation, and mirroring how the sweet ‘g’ sound is enforced by adding an ‘e’). There's also a matter of practicality: a ‘cz’ ligature can be easily achieved with wall sharing, whereas a ‘ce’ ligature is extremely hard to achieve unambiguously.

Proposed solutions for an Elian ç: cz and ce ligatures

In the ‘ce’ case, the left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading order of Elian prevents mid-stem adjoining of the ‘c’ to the ‘e’, but it also helps reducing the ambiguity of the ligature. The solution remains sub-optimal.

If we are willing to live with the consequent ambiguity, the small Elian ‘e’ as a loop at the corner of a letter may become the standard for altering any letter of the alphabet, thereby producing, for example, the ä (as ‘ae’), ö (‘oe’) and ü (‘ue’) common in German, or the Norwegian ø (again, ‘oe’). A less ambiguous solution would be to not insist on ligatures, and turn the (typographicaly) smaller ‘e’ into some sort of diacritic, in a way that might resemble the use of the iota subscript in Greek.

Proposed solutions for Elian ä, ö, ü as ligatures for ae, oe, ue (leftmost), or using a small ‘e’ as diacritic (other columns).

1. I've always tried to look for some scripts that were more ‘compatible’ with my horrible handwriting, and on which I could try to develop an actual calligraphy rather than my usual unintelligible cacography, but there goes. Not even Arabic could do, despite its right-to-left writing direction. ↩

2. Implementation note: older versions of Gecko and WebKit have a bug that prevent external CSS stylesheets from being loaded by SVG images; if the rendering seems off, consider upgrading your browser; Also, due to a bug in Opera/Presto's SVG rendering, the dots in the SVGs had to be implemented not as zero-length paths but as paths with a very small, but non-zero, length. ↩

3. At a certain point during the history of the script, Elian herself used to write doubled letters once and mark them with double dots. She then decided to discard this option. ↩

Brave — Ribelle

Può darsi semplicemente che io sia andato al cinema con troppe pretese, pur sapendo del film (anzi, dell'animazione in 3D) solamente che la protagonista sarebbe stata una giovane figura femminile ‘forte’; e può darsi che anni di Miyazaki mi abbiano abituato a tutt'altra classe di ‘giovani figure femminili forti’. Fatto sta che Brave, tradotto in italiano in Ribelle — The Brave, mi ha sinceramente un po' deluso.

Per chiarire meglio la questione, comincio dalla seguente piccola osservazione.

Prima di andare a vedere il film, ho profondamente disprezzato, come al solito, la fantasia dei traduttori di titoli: brave, dopo tutto, significa coraggiosa, non ribelle; e poi, perché ripetere poi il titlo inglese, stavolta aggiungendo l'articolo? (L'articolo in realtà si spiega con il fatto che altrimenti sembrava che dicesse qualcosa tipo “brave ribelli”, con brave plurale femminile dell'aggettivo italiano.)

All'uscita dal cinema, il titolo italiano aveva invece persino più senso di quello inglese: benché la protagonista non manchi certo di coraggio, la sua caratteristica principale non è tanto quella, quanto la sua attitudine alla ribellione alle pressioni della madre; e com'è noto, non si sa mai bene quanto lo spirito di ribellione venga dal coraggio, quanto dall'incoscienza, quanto dall'esasperazione: tutte e tre caratteristiche che non mancano alla protagonista. Viene da chiedersi se la Pixar non avrebbe fatto meglio a mantenere il titolo originale, L'orso e l'arco.

Ma al di là delle eventuali elucubrazioni sul titolo, la cosa che più dispiace del film è che praticamente non succede niente. Davvero. L'italianissima abitudine di interrompere il film a metà con l'intervallo mi ha fatto pensare: ma come, siamo già a metà? e il film deve ancora cominciare?

Per carità, è apprezabile che si sia deciso di perdere un po' di tempo all'inizio per introdurre bene i personaggi e svilupparli, cercando di dare loro uno spessore che non derivasse solo dalla visione stereoscopica, ma non è molto corretto sacrificare poi la storia per rientrare in certi tempi prefissati: il secondo tempo dà infatti un'idea di sviluppo precipitoso, quando invece illustra la parte di storia che avrebbe dovuto essere predominante.

Anche su questo può darsi che il già detto Miyazaki mi abbia abituato male: il regista giapponese non si è infatti mai fatto problemi a realizzare, con il suo Studio Ghibli, cartoni animati interminabili. La domanda che viene spontanea è: questi cento minuti stentati di animazione stereoscopica sono una scelta, o è mancata agli autori la fantasia per arricchire la parte centrale del film?

Purtroppo, il mio sospetto cade sulla seconda possibilità, osservando l'eccessiva frequenza con cui i personaggi si soffermano a dibattere, fin dall'inizio, su quella che vorrebbe essere la morale della storia. Tre volte nel corso del film? Davvero? Non avevate altro da fargli fare? Poi non so, forse è solo che a me le morali esplicite danno molto, ma molto, ma molto fastidio.

E per non chiudere con una nota negativa, c'è una cosa che si può certo dire: il film è rilassante, e soprattutto divertente: è innegabile che qualche spontanea risata riesce a chiamarsela, forse meglio quando l'intento non è esplicitamente quello di suscitare ilarità. Ed è altrettanto innegabile che la realizzazione è eccellente, sia nell'animazione sia nell'uso suggestivo —ma non esagerato— della stereoscopia (ovviamente, chi va a vedere i film in 3D per avere la sensazione di roba che gli finisce addosso potrebbe rimanere deluso anche in questo.)

Horror nello spazio (cinematografico)

Terrore nello spazio

Tempo fa un mio amico mi fece vedere un film horror di fantascienza di serie B, Terrore nello spazio, a sua detta (e a quanto pare non solo sua) ispiratore del ben più famoso Alien, cult della fantastascienza horror (e che io allora non avevo ancora visto).

Tre sono gli elementi che caratterizzano, a mio parere, Terrore nello spazio: la penosa recitazione, i patetici effetti speciali, e la realizzazione della storia.

Se sugli effetti speciali si può cercare di chiudere un occhio (dopo tutto, stiamo parlando di un film del 1965 e con un budget molto ristretto), la recitazione è per contro imperdonabile (ed il doppiaggio non aiuta).

Nonostante questi problemi non da poco, il film mi ha lasciato comunque un'impressione non del tutto negativa, riuscendo persino a comunicare un po' di tensione, e grazie anche alla geniale quanto allusiva chiusura. Confesso di essere persino arrivato a chiedermi che tipo di film sarebbe potuto venir fuori con un cast capace di recitare e la possibilità di effetti speciali del livello cui siamo ormai abituati in questo millennio.

La risposta, nonostante i detrattori di Ridley Scott, non sono né il già citato Alien né il nuovissimo Prometheus. Ma purtroppo la cosa non va letta come un complimento.

Prometheus

Ho visto Prometheus al cinema in tutta la sua gloria stereoscopica, in lingua originale, a pochi giorni dalla sua uscita. Praticamente nelle condizioni ideali. Sono uscito dal cinema con “mah?!”

Intendiamoci, gli effetti speciali sono di prima classe: non c'è un pezzo uno di scenografia che sembri un modellino di plastica visto con la macro. Ed è tutto sbrilluccicoso e touch. E hanno gadget fichissimi per la scansione 3D.

E la recitazione, signori miei, la recitazione: le azioni naturali, le reazioni realistiche, le espressioni facciali credibili! Tutto un altro pianeta, rispetto a Terrore nello spazio (anche, letterariamente, eh). C'è persino un androide i cui movimenti sono giusto quel tanto più rigidi da apparire quasi innaturali. Perfetto.

Dove Prometheus cade miseramente è invece la storia. Non tanto la parte centrale con la storia, in realtà, quanto piuttosto il polpettone di contorno, e la ricerca delle origini della nostra specie (e forse della vita sulla terra?), e la ricerca dell'immortalià, e per finire quella orrenda scappatoia del “guarda come mi preparo al sequel del prequel, che non sarà Alien, ahah”. Seriamente? Fanculo.

Alien

Ho visto Alien (molto) dopo aver visto Terrore nello spazio, e poco dopo aver visto Prometheus. Forse per questo mi è sembrato qualcosa di molto meno avvincente ed interessante di quello che sarebbe potuto essere altrimenti. Nonostante sia risultato alla fine un po' deludente per il sottoscritto, questo film riesce a dare punti persino al suo prequel.

Se è vero che gli effetti speciali sono molto più limitati (pur essendo immensamente più credibili di quelli del film di Bava), ad esempio, questa loro modestia rende l'astronave più realistica dell'eponima Prometheus del prequel.

La storia, priva della cornice del prequel, è più soddisfacente di quella di Prometheus, e se i paralleli con Terrore nello spazio sono ben più evidenti, le differenze sono significative. Ma non si può dire che il film sia invecchiato bene.

Un confronto sincero (e con qualche spoiler)

Non vi sono dubbi che i due film di Scott battano a mani basse quello di Bava sia in termini di realizzazione tecnica che in termini di recitazione. Ma per la storia la questione è ben più delicata.

Lo sceneggiatore ed il regista di Alien sostengono di non aver visto Terrore nello spazio prima della realizzazione del film. Ed è certamente vero che gli scenari per gli horror di fantascienza sono piuttosto limitati, quindi è ben possibile che più autori giungano independentemente a film molto simili. D'altra parte, se è vero che certe scene e certe atmosfere rimangono sorprendentemente simili, è anche vero che vi sono alcune differenze sostanziali.

Innanzi tutto, il film di Bava è molto meno splatter dei film dell'universo Alien: è più un film del terrore che dell'orrore, benché un cadavere putrescente ambulante il suo schifetto lo faccia.

In secondo luogo, nell'universo Alien l'esplorazione spaziale è in mano ad una compagnia che sembra ossessionata dalla scoperta di alieni, soprattutto se pericolosi. Questo tipo di ricerca viene affidata alle mani di androidi le cui azioni sono la chiave essenziale per quei gesti che nei film horror sono tipicamente riservati alla semplice stupidità umana, laddove a mettere continuamente a repentaglio la vita dei protagonisti di Terrore nello spazio è (quasi) esclusivamente la malvagità degli (invisibili) alieni.

Ma non solo per questo la storia del film di Bava è molto più cupa delle altre due; anche sorvolando sul polpettone di contorno del Prometheus, infatti, entrambi i film di Scott finiscono infatti con una nota positiva: le rispettive protagoniste sono le uniche sopravvissute, ma sono comunque sopravvissute; in Terrore nello spazio non solo manca questa nota finale positiva (nessun umano sopravvive), ma per di più gli alieni decidono di sbarcare sul più vicino pianeta abitato, la Terra.

È interessante notare che nelle intenzioni di Scott Alien sarebbe dovuto finire con l'alieno che strappava via la testa di Ripley, per poi contattare la Terra usando la voce di lei: un finale ben più simile a quello del film di Bava.

The Bee Gee

La notizia della morte di uno dei due membri dei Bee Gees ancora in vita, Robin Gibb, è stata immancabile fonte di humour nero. Laddove però la maggior parte della gente si è concentrata sull'inevitabile quanto scontata battuta centrata su Stayin' Alive, la mia attenzione è stata catturata dal sopravvissuto.

Dei brothers Gibb fondatori ed eponimi del gruppo musicale rimane vivo infatti Barry Gibb, che a rigor di logica potrebbe continuare a chiamarsi B.G. (senza plurali) come semplice acronimo del (proprio) nome.

Per inciso, Barry Gibb per me è stato a lungo soltanto la seconda voce in alcuni duetti con Barbra Streisand nell'album Guilty. Solo ‘recentemente’ ho scoperto che lui era invero uno dei Bee Gees, e soltanto oggi scopro che l'album attraverso cui lo conoscevo è stato scritto (e prodotto) da lui, ed è —a questo punto verrebbe da dire non a caso— il più venduto degli album della Streisand.

Giovani donne

Mädchen Mädchen, del regista Dennis Gansel poi diventato famoso per l'Onda, è uno di quei film per i quali vorresti prendere il traduttore e picchiarlo selvaggiamente sulle gengive con una mazza ferrata arrugginita: la scelta del titolo nella distribuzione italiana, “Ragazze pompom al top”, sembra infatti più adatta ad un porno. A lungo con mia moglie ci siamo persino chiesti perché l'avessimo in lista, prima di deciderci finalmente a provare a vederlo.

Il film è una godibilissima commedia incentrata su tre giovani proganiste (giocatrici di pallavolo, non ragazze pompom) e le inevitabili (ma non imprevedibili) peripezie attraverso le quali troveranno la soluzione ai loro problemi sessual-sentimentali. Piuttosto che ricorrere a ridicoli quanto inutili colpi di scena, il film preferisce costruire una storia credibile e naturale, lasciando l'effetto all'intrinseca comicità delle situazioni che si vengono a generare.

Alla riuscita del film contribuisce in maniera determinante il brillante appoggio di personaggi ausiliari quali l'imperturbabile nonna della vergine del gruppo o il padre veterinario (e soprattutto ex castratore di tori) della bionda protagonista. Ma il nostro preferito rimane il disinvolto (for lack of a better term) Flin.

Babylon 5

Babylon 5 è una serie televisiva di fantascienza (e l'universo creato attorno ad essa, con lungometraggi e tentativi di spin-off) la cui storia editoriale è quasi più articolata, complessa e sfortunata della storia narrata dalla serie stessa.

In un universo in cui il viaggio spaziale ha portato varie specie intelligenti a contatto (e spesso in conflitto) l'una con l'altra, dopo un conflitto in cui l'umanità ha rischiato l'estinzione, la stazione spaziale Babylon 5 (quinta perché i precedenti quattro tentativi di costruzione erano finiti variamente male) mira a realizzare il sogno diplomatico di un centro in cui le varie specie possano incontrarsi, conoscersi e (si spera) risolvere pacificamente le occasioni di attrito.

Nel corso delle cinque stagioni di cui la serie è composta, si scopre presto come il progetto iniziale per il quale la stazione è stata costruita dovrà passare in secondo piano; la storia che viene raccontata è una storia di giochi di potere, meschinità e grandi sacrifici personali, mentre forze misteriose agiscono sulle sorti delle specie senzienti come fossero pedine di un gioco di strategia.

Vizi e virtù della natura umana (anzi senziente) diventano occasioni per riflettere implicitamente su questioni sociali, politiche, religiose: razzismo, fede, etica e moralità, autodeterminazione e predestinazione, individualismo e spirito di sacrificio.

La storia segue principalmente una manciata di personaggi (umani, alieni, ibridi) che, pur non riuscendo come ‘persone’ a tutto tondo, tentano di sfuggire ad una designazione macchiettistica, bidimensionale e monocromatica.

Se il principale protagonista, il Capitano John Sheridan, uomo tutto d'un pezzo che passa dall'essere noto come “Starkiller” (praticamente l'equivalente del Barone Rosso nella guerra tra umani e minbari) allo sposare la (ex)minbari Delenn, è forse il personaggio meno sofisticato, sono comprimari come Londo Mollari e G'kar e personaggi più secondari come Susan Ivanova o Lennier a dominare in realtà l'interesse, le speranze e le paure degli spettatori, con la maturazione delle loro esperienze, le loro tragiche cadute, i disperati tentativi di risollevarsi e le fatalistiche rassegnazioni.

Dal punto di visto realizzativo, fatti salvi gli episodi più misticheggianti, la serie spicca per una solida base di realismo scientifico, un punto di forza per qualunque cosa voglia essere seriamente chiamata fantascienza, mentre soffre dal punto vista tecnico, con CG ancora plasticosa, soprattutto nelle scene più dinamiche.

A complicare le cose, la storia editoriale del progetto, che raggiunge il fondo con la triste possibilità che la quinta stagione non possa venir realizzata, costringendo il Great Maker a comprimere i tempi per chiudere le principali fila del discorso entro la quarta serie, lasciando alla quinta (che verrà poi realizzata) ad un acquoso e nostalgico trascinarsi verso la fine.

Ben peggiore sarà la sorte dello spin-off Crusade, che avrebbe dovuto raccontare di eventi conseguenti la ‘vittoria finale’ narrata in B5: la nuova serie morirà infatti sul nascere, prima del completamento della prima stagione.

Alla fine, forse, la lezione più importante che B5 può dare non è una sui temi discussi nella serie stessa (e nei film di contorno, e nello spin-off abbandonato), ma piuttosto quello della serie stessa, su quanto, purtroppo, l'economia pesi sull'arte.

(Manual) birth of a logo

Recently, in a momentary lapse of reason and finding myself with the need to keep some time (the usual ‘too long to not do anything, too short to get started on anything serious’) I found myself picking back up the idea I had already had some time ago to create a vector image of the Grammar Nazi logo.

Of course, the first step was to see if there was one already; there are in fact plenty of rasterized renditions of it, but a scarcity of its vector form. In fact, I found three of them (from Wikipedia, in the Wikimedia commons and finally on OpenClipArt), none of which was to my satisfaction.

The most glaring defect in two of them was the presence of text: I was looking for a pure logo format. The Wikimedia file was, in fact, the one that got closest to what I wanted, except for one minor detail: the color choice for the red of the flag (in this respect, the OpenClipArt version was more to my liking).

The solution would seem simple: all I needed to do was open the Wikimedia SVG and hand-edit the choice of flag color to match the one from OpenClipArt. Which was in fact what I set up to do.

However, on opening the `.svg` I realized in horror that even such a simple and elegant design could result in the most horrible and displeasing source code.

For reference, this is what I found:

``````<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE svg PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD SVG 1.1//EN" "http://www.w3.org/Graphics/SVG/1.1/DTD/svg11.dtd">
<!-- Creator: CorelDRAW -->
<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xml:space="preserve" width="229.999mm" height="229.999mm" shape-rendering="geometricPrecision" text-rendering="geometricPrecision" image-rendering="optimizeQuality" fill-rule="evenodd" clip-rule="evenodd"
viewBox="0 0 36.8553 36.8553"
<g id="Layer_x0020_1">
<rect fill="#FF4942" width="36.8553" height="36.8553"/>
<circle fill="white" cx="18.4277" cy="18.4277" r="15.863"/>
<polygon fill="black" points="21.1059,7.71462 10.3929,18.4277 18.4277,26.4625 26.4624,18.4277 23.7842,15.7494 18.4277,21.106 15.7494,18.4277 23.7841,10.3929 31.819,18.4277 18.4277,31.8191 5.03626,18.4277 18.4277,5.03633 "/>
</g>
</svg>``````

What the hell was I looking at? Whoever in their sane mind would write something like that? What were all those fractional numbers doing as coordinates? Why was the size fixed, and to such a ridiculous number, to boot? What were those rendering specifications about? Why reference the `xlink` namespace?

Of course, the answer to all those questions (and many more!) was in the brief XML comment on top of the file as well as in the empty metadata element: the file was computer-generated, after being sketched in a specific application.

So I said to myself: what the hell, I can write something much better than that in half the disk space. Which I in fact did, with room to spare. At first, I tried to follow the original design as closely as possible, while getting rid of all the stuff which I deemed useless (grouping, fixed size, etc), and of course altering the color to my taste.

What posed the biggest problem was the polygon describing the stylized G of the Grammar Nazi. I couldn't make head or tail of the numbers, although the design of the G was relatively easy to follow: if the G was in a straight orientation, it would be: go right three, down three, left five, up five, right five.

And I wondered: why not do it this way? In fact, I had at least three different ways to achieve it in SVG: either with a polygon (as per the original) or with a stroked path with appropriate cap and corner options, or with a filled path describing the outline.

My final choice was for the outline path, specifically to easily allow an outline version of the same stylized G, using the same parameters. The use of the path instead of a polygon allowed me to use the `h` and `v` commands instead of elaborate pairs, and designing the G in its straight position, centered at (0,0) allowed for a very compact description. Of course, the G then had to be put in place with translations, rotations and finally scaling.

This was the result of my first attempt:

``````<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<svg
xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg'
viewBox='0 0 40 40'>
<title>Grammar Nazi</title>
<rect fill='#d00' width='40' height='40'/>
<circle fill='white' cx='20' cy='20' r='15'/>
<path fill='black' d='M-5,0v5h20v10h-30v-30h40v-10h-50v50h50v-30h-30z'
transform='translate(20,20)rotate(-45)scale(.4)'/>
</svg>``````

resulting in the following render:

Grammar Nazi (v1)

Although the color was finally right, and the file had finally been cut down to an elegant, efficient, modicum of instructions, there still was something odd about the size of the G with respect to the circle and square. I couldn't quite put my finger on the issue, so, quite proud of my results, I decided to share it with the world.

To do things ‘the right way’, I wanted to fill the file itself with the appropriate metadata on authorship and license, something which is not the most trivial thing to do. After perusing the Internet and leaning on Inkscape just to see how metadata could be saved, I managed to fill up the file correctly.

Oh god. A three-hundred-and-something lean-and-mean minimalistic `.svg` had bloated to a monster five time its size, just to specify the author, the license and a couple of tags. (No, I'm not going to paste it here.) So I finally opted for having two files, one with and one without metadata, uploading the former to OpenClipArt, and keeping the lean and mean version here on the wok, given the low upload bandwidth featured by my ADSL connection.

The most glaring difference between my initial version of the logo and the Wikimedia file was in the ratios between the main component sizes.

For example, the Wikimedia picture has an inner circle with a radius r of almost 16 centered in a square with a side s of almost 40, although r differs from 16 less than s differs from 40 (1% difference for r, 8% for s). The r/s ratio is 0.43, a pretty close approximation to sin(π/3)/2, indicating a diameter/side ratio of sin(π/3) = sqrt(3)/2. By contrast, my initial choice of 15/40 gave me an exact 0.375, a 3/8 that had no rhyme or reason.

Much worse than that, the ratio of the stylized G to the circle and square was absolutely arbitrary in my case, and undecipherable in the Wikimedia file case. I noticed that my design for the G filled a square of length 50, while the main square had a length of 40: the scaling by .4 = 2/5 brought the actual G to have a side which was half that of the main square.

So my next idea was to adjust the circle/square radius, while at the same time bringing the square and G sides to be more reasonably in tune: the square side was brought from 40 to 50, and the circle radius from 15 to 20. The only thing remaining was to choose a sensible scale ratio for the G, and I finally came up with a 5(1-1/ϕ)/4, that somehow tried to take into account the ratio between the circle diameter and square side (now 4/5), while introducing the magic of the golden ratio, resulting in the following image:

Grammar Nazi (v2)

Much better, but possibly still not perfect. Yet, the best I have been able to come up with, so far.

One thing that I've learned from this experience is that even for a logo that is nothing more than a very small number of elements with simple geometrical characterization, it is not trivial to find the ‘best’ proportions between the components. Especially when, as in my case, one is not satisfied with just finding a visually pleasing solution, expecting also to derive meaningful mathematical relations between the numbers.

The Dispossessed

Superficialmente, The Dispossessed di Ursula Le Guin (tradotto in italiano con il titolo I reietti dell'altro pianeta), è un romanzo di fantascienza che narra i precedenti dell'invenzione del viaggio superluminale in un universo narrativo che comprende anche altre opere della stessa autrice (il Ciclo dell'Ecumene).

L'ambientazione principale del romanzo è un sistema planetario doppio, costituito da un pianeta, Urras, con la propria luna abitabile, Anarres. Urras è politicamente in una situazione simile a quella della Terra nel secondo dopoguerra, con due aree d'influenza nettamente contrapposte ed il cui confronto militare non è diretto, manifestandosi piuttosto nell'alternarsi del controllo politico e militare di Stati cuscinetto. Anarres è invece stata concessa, circa due secoli prima degli eventi del romanzo, ai seguaci del pensiero di Odo, un'anarchica morta prima di veder realizzato il proprio ideale.

Entrambe le società sono viste attraverso gli occhi e le esperienze del protagonista, originario di Anarres. Su Urras, costui interagisce quasi esclusivamente con l'equivalente urrastico del nostro blocco occidentale, la nazione di A-Io, una repubblica parlamentare di stampo capitalista con una netta divisione classista e con una certa propensione alla repressione violenta delle manifestazioni di protesta. Dell'altro blocco, dominato dalla nazione di Thu, si sa poco, se non che la sua organizzazione è formalmente socialista e politicamente totalitaria.

Anche la società anarco-comunista di Anarres è vista attraverso gli occhi del protagonista, in momenti successivi della propria vita, dall'infanzia e l'educazione al “non egoizzare” fino alla maturità e l'emigrazione su Urras, a rischio della propria vita e marchiato come traditore. Ed è in questo progressiva disvelazione che il protagonista (ed alcuni suoi compagni) percepiscono sempre maggiori discrepanze tra i principî fondanti della loro società e le realtà contro cui si devono scontrare, dalla semplice burocrazia organizzativa a più subdoli e meschini meccanismi egotistici.

Se il romanzo in sé non è privo di una certa qualità letteraria che scade forse solo un po' sul finale, è proprio nella presentazione di queste realtà, e nell'affrontare temi quali il rapporto tra linguaggio e percezione del mondo, che brilla.

A differenza dei libertari da blog con le loro ossessioni sulla falsa equazione tra tasse e furto, l'autrice di The Dispossessed (che non ha mai nascosto le proprie simpatie per l'anarchia) esplora infatti in questo romanzo, accanto ad una impietosa presentazione di realtà sociopolitiche di cui abbiamo esperienza più o meno diretta, la possibilità della realizzazione e della sopravvivenza di una società anarchica: non in platoniche condizioni ideologiche, ma in una realtà che, per quanto fittizia, è costituita da esseri umani con i loro vizi ed i loro difetti, su un pianeta poco generoso, tra l'eterna (percepita, non si sa quanto reale) minaccia d'estinzione se dal pianeta d'origine si decidesse un'invasione e la necessità primaria di sopravvivere di generazione in generazione.

Toccando così aspetti su cui troppo spesso è comodo sorvolare, Le Guin descrive una realtà ben lontana dagli idilliaci quadri ideali che piace propagandare ad altri libertari in altre sedi: una realtà dove già l'educazione dell'infante ai principî fondanti dell'anarco-comunismo mostra il paradosso del plagio, dove la meschinità umana ed il sotterfugio trovano il loro spazio accanto a forme di potere più subdole, ma non per questo meno oppressive, dell'autorità imposta con la violenza; una realtà dove le crisi più profonde fanno riemergere l'egoismo della sopravvivenza individuale a discapito di quella altrui pur dopo secoli di sacrifici individuali (più o meno volontari) per la sopravvivenza di tutti; una realtà dove pur senza leggi scritte una società riesce ad imporre comunque un'omogeneizzazione del pensiero e della sensibilità degli individui che ne fanno parte, con la conseguente ostracizzazione di individui o piccoli gruppi il cui sentire è troppo diverso (pur non lontano dagli stessi comuni principî fondanti) e pertanto pericoloso.

Se pure parte di questa analisi critica delle realtà sociopolitiche presenti nel romanzo emerge esplicitamente in brevi momenti funzionali alla narrazione, nelle reazioni o nelle parole del protagonista o di altri personaggi, è l'intera opera, con il suo detto e non detto, a costituire un importantissimo spunto di riflessione. Ed il tutto senza alcun sacrificio alla narrativa ed alla qualità letteraria dell'opera.

La lancia di Longino

Vorrei cogliere l'occasione per profanare la memoria di uno dei santi meno conosciuti della mitologia cristiana, Longino, il presunto soldato romano che trafisse con la propria lancia (diventata poi famosa come Lancia del Destino) il costato del crocifisso.

Purtroppo, la mia mente plagiata da Life of Brian dei Monty Python non può che far correre il pensiero al padre di Brian, Nortius1 Maximus (che, come il centurione spiega a Pilato, è un nome finto, spiritoso, come Biggus Dickus/Marco Pisellonio).

E allora, cosa possiamo pensare di uno chiamato Cassio Longino e famoso per la sua ‘lancia’?

1. in italiano Minchius, in originale si sarebbe probabilmente potuto scrivere Nautius per render meglio l'idea di presa in giro di naughty. ↩

Battlestar Galactica

Una storia semplice: dopo la singolarità tecnologica l'umanità si trova a dover affrontare la rivolta delle intelligenze artificiali da lei stessa create. Un armistizio isola i creatori dai creati, e dopo 40 anni un attacco a sorpresa manca di poco il genocidio del genere umano. I sopravvissuti cercano scampo ed un pianeta su cui ricominciare.

Nelle sue quattro stagioni la serie riesce a toccare temi interessanti, a partire dal rapporto uomo-macchina, con particolare attenzione all'etica dell'intelligenza artificiale, ma anche a quella dell'umanità stessa. Si va dalla predestinazione all'eterno ritorno passando per il razzismo e la redenzione.

La serie piace.

Piace per l'egregia recitazione, curata fin nei piccoli gesti, dai tremiti del nervosismo all'eccesso di zelo.

Piace per la perversa manipolazione cui sottopone le mitologie occidentali e medio-orientali, quella greca e quella cristiana in particolare.

Piace perché tiene un buon ritmo, senza esagerazioni e con pochi intoppi, reggendo una buona suspance; e se certi momenti si prevedono con largo anticipo è anche vero che non mancano imprevedibilità e colpi di scena.

Piace per la gnocca, con eventuali dibattiti sulle preferenze: è meglio una Tre, una Sei, una Otto o una Dee? (I link potrebbero contenere spoiler.) Per altri appetiti c'è un po' meno scelta, tra Lee e Agathon, o Gaeta se piacciono i nerd.

Piace perché riesce a non essere manichea, per le personalità sufficientemente ricche di spessore e sfaccettature da non appiattire quattro anni di storia in una semplice guerra di buoni e cattivi, pur non mancando di protagonisti ed antagonisti.

Piace perché può stimolare la riflessione. Cos'è una persona? Qual è il futuro dell'umanità? Quanto vi pesa il suo passato? Sappiamo imparare dai nostri errori?

Non mancano gli scivoloni. A volte un po' buonista, a volte troppo mistica, a volte troppo filosofica, la storia procede, mantenendo anche nel finale quel misto di qualità e piccoli difetti che ne caratterizzano l'intera realizzazione, quel finale che ci si aspetta, ma non proprio come ce lo si aspetta.

La leggenda di Koizumi

Qualche mese fa, nei pressi dei Quartieri Spagnoli in quel di Napoli, compravamo il nostro (primo?) set di Mahjong. Ieri, sfogliando il tumblr di Indizi dell'avvenuta catastrofe trovavo un link che suscitava la mia curiosità portandomi inevitabilmente alla lettura de La leggenda di Koizumi: un manga dove le tessere del famoso gioco prendono il posto delle più tradizionali arti marziali, e dove le sorti delle nazioni (e più avanti del mondo intero) sono decise attorno ad un tavolo di Mahjong.

Il manga ne ricalca altri più classicamente d'azione (tipo Dragon Ball) con smaccati (e riusciti) intenti parodistici, e sfrutta l'ambientazione contemporanea per non lesinare caustiche caricature satiriche dei principali leader mondiali: da un risibile Kim Jong-il ad un goffo e timido Bush jr sempre protetto da Papa Bush, da un cinico Putin ad un temibile Ratzinger (divenuto papa ovviamente vincendo a Mahjong tutti gli altri cardinali). Nelle migliori tradizioni fantapolitiche, non manca nemmeno il Quarto Reich, stavolta fondato sulla Luna, dove rivivono i presunti scomparsi campioni del Terzo (senza mostrare i segni dell'età avanzata che dovrebbero avere), i loro discendenti, e persino qualche loro ispiratore, come lo zombie Wagner.

Se satira e parodia sono i punti forti di questo manga, che non manca di suscitare qualche risata, è anche vero che l'umorismo è piuttosto settoriale ed a volte un po' tirato per i denti. Raccomandato a chi ama il grottesco ed il ridicolo, decisamente meno a chi preferisce materiale più ricco.

Inception

Ci sono film (ma il discorso vale per praticamente ogni opera dell'ingegno, dai libri ai videogiochi) che si contraddistinguono per la loro potenza memetica. Non sono necessariamente eccellenti qualitativamente, non devono neanche necessariamente essere originali (sebbene in genere lo siano): ma hanno un impatto notevole sul modo di pensare, di esprimersi, di vedere le cose di intere generazioni.

È questo il caso di Inception: benché il tema della confusione tra sogno e realtà non sia stato inventato per l'occasione, e benché sia ancora presto per valutare l'impatto memetico del film, sono convinto che la sua trattazione delle scatole cinesi della vita vissuta nel sogno, le discese di livello ed i tempi dilatati, i calci (sic1) ed i totem segneranno la prossima decade quanto gli Smith, i cucchiai inesistenti e gli slo-mo di Matrix hanno segnato il primo decennio di questo millennio, se pure forse non con la durabilità della Forza di Guerre Stellari.

Il film riesce anche ad essere un buon film d'azione, senza tempi morti, senza eccessi di ritmo e senza nulla perdere rinunciando alla proiezione stereoscopica (il famigerato ‘3D’). Ma la cosa più divertente del film (del, non nel) è la controversia del suo finale.