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Lupin the Third Rewind: Farewell, My Beloved Witch


Linda the Flower Witch

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Pretty much any long-running anime series has to have at least one episode like this week's. You know the kind: our hero meets a mysterious and tragic girl whose fate is inextricably linked to a thing that must be destroyed. There's probably something vaguely supernatural (or at least weird) about said thing. The girl probably doesn't deserve whatever is going on, but she's almost certainly going to die.

In this spirit, we get Linda the Boomflower Witch. Though what actually makes her a witch... I'm still trying to figure out.

The Story

Lupin and Jigen are shocked by all of this.

There's a fair bit of futzing around in this one to start. Lupin and Fujiko are on a motorboat, playfully acting like they're going to kill each other, when they catch up to some actual killers trying to take out a young woman in another boat. The assassins are a notorious gang known as the "Killer-in-Killers," and the woman is a blonde named Linda. Some sharpshooting from a previously-hidden Jigen saves the day, and Fujiko (presumably seeing Lupin is otherwise occupied) takes off with the boat.

No matter, Lupin and Linda are now on an island full of flowers. Flowers Linda smells like. The two have a nice little frolic before meeting up with Dr. Heinlein, a nuclear fission expert running experiments from his lab on the island. Turns out if you pulverize the flowers and mix them with his proprietary blend, you make a powerful explosive. The aforementioned Killers want it very much.

As for Linda? She was Dr. Heinlein's assistant, and he "ran experiments" on her involving the flowers. Now she needs them to survive. Also this "turned her into a witch," though what that actually means is sort of vague.

The battle for the explosive is underway. Fujiko wants it. The Killer-in-Killers want it. Lupin... wants to help Linda. He says as much when captured by the Killers, eventually making his escape. 

Dr. Heinlein finally decides the only solution is to burn up all the flowers so no one can use them. Where's Linda when they do this? Frolicking in the flowers, obviously. Dr. Heinlein shoots her as she's burning to death, then gets shot in return by the Killers. His last request to Lupin is to find a missile deep in the ocean, one containing the last portion of his explosive, and deliver it to a lab in Japan.

Lupin nearly manages... but Fujiko shows up, wanting to ride the missile out of the wreckage with him. He explains that any extra weight will prevent them from making it to land, but this doesn't stop her from hitching a ride. We end with Lupin, Jigen, and Fujiko paddling to shore with the remains of the missile.

Witchy Things

Linda the witch

This episode is notable for being Lupin's first (and dear God not remotely his last) time rescuing a damsel in distress. His entire motivation is Linda; and once he's gotten the horny out of his system, he actually does respond to her promise to protect her. Granted, he initially assumes she's simply being dramatic, but finding out her claims are true only strengthens his resolve.

Granted, we're dealing with pre-Miyazaki Season 1 Lupin (more on that in a moment), so he's going to have more than a smattering of his manga persona still about him. But this is where, at least in his anime form, we get a first glimpse of his more heroic side.

Then there's the whole thing of Linda herself. The story of the Third Sun flowers, Dr. Heinlein, and Linda herself doesn't come from the manga. The story "Lupin of Arabia" follows Lupin stealing a missile (with the intent of selling it and stealing it again), and is the source of the episode's final scene with Fujiko and a bit of the Killer-in-Killers action.

It's not really sticking my neck out to say this new story is a one off of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter." Just in case you didn't have to read it in high school: our narrator Giovanni goes away to school in Padua and falls in love with Beatrice, the daughter of medical researcher Giacomo Rappaccini. Raised among the poisonous flowers he researches, she herself also becomes poisonous - and so does Giovanni the more he comes to visit her. He gives her an antidote to the poison, so she can leave her father's garden, but it ends up killing her.

Linda is a pretty clear analog for Beatrice: she's forced to live among the flowers because of an experiment, and eventually dies among them. But that's about it. It's never really explained why Dr. Heinlein claims he turned her into a witch (the word used in Japanese is majo, specifically referring to a magic-using woman, and some releases have translated it as "sorceress"). 

We do see a final shot of her as she dies, appearing to turn into a flower and waft away on the flames, and Lupin gives a similarly romantic description of her demise. Whether we're meant to see this as some magical happening, or simply an artistic interpretation of her death, it's hard to tell. It's not a terribly well animated episode to start. In fairness, Hawthorne's original work was similarly vague about Beatrice. But it does feel a bit as though there was a scene or story beat cut that might have clarified the "witch" claim.

The Lupin Syndicate

Fujiko, as seen in "Lupin of Arabia"

In my first entry of this series, I glossed straight over something pretty big: mention of the Lupin Syndicate. This gets mentioned as a major plot point in Strange Psychokinetic Strategy, the manga, and early episodes of the anime. But we don't hear about it much these days.

So, surprise! Back in the day, Lupin the Third had his own crime syndicate. And I don't just mean Jigen and Goemon and sometimes Fujiko. The manga laid down the idea to some degree that the Lupin family was actually a... you know. Family. That Lupin was feared and revered by the criminal world. And it can be a bit strange to see in retrospect.

It's not hard to see why this has gone almost entirely out the window. Lupin still has associates, old friends, old rivals. In the Blue Jacket series and forward, it's established (at least as far as the TV series go) that "Lupin" is a name passed down along a line of thieves, rather than an actual family line. But even then, he sticks to his trusted small crew.

It's part of his regeneration into the "thief with a heart of gold," it seems. It's a bit hard to argue you're a good guy when you're leading an international crime ring. That aside, we do get to see the great dichotomy of Lupin: the total goofball who can also be pretty terrifying if he cares to be. The guy who, even when his brain seems to be switched off, is potentially still keeping his eyes open. There's a fun little scene in this episode to that effect where Lupin and Fujiko, both seemingly ready to get it on under a tree, are actually squaring up to shoot the half-dozen assassins gathering around them.

Lupin the 3rd Part I Blu-ray

I want to close this one out by pointing out something someone else noticed about this episode: it's our first time seeing Lupin actually shed a tear about something. (That "something" being, of course, Linda's demise.) It's an empathy alien to Lupin in the manga, who was all about getting money and things and girls, and whose stories generally ended somewhat humorously. We still have a few episodes left until the game-changers start to arrive on the scene. But even now, he was making a move toward becoming the character we know.

Next week, Zenigata is back!


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Lupin the Third Rewind: The Man They Called a Magician


When engaging with Lupin the Third, the first thing you need to do — immediately — is suspend your disbelief. Gravity will be defied, plot armor will be donned and dropped in whatever way best serves the plot, and sometimes things will get downright paranormal. How paranormal? That's a good question.

We're all the way up to the second-ever TV anime episode, titled "The Man They Called a Magician." The episode is based on chapter 14 of Monkey Punch's original manga (released by TokyoPop as chapter 7, "The Hand Is Quicker Than the Spy.") In it, we meet Pycal: a man who can shoot fire from his fingers, levitate, and who (apparently) is impervious to bullets. Even for the notably resilient Lupin Gang, this is a lot.

Sleight of Hand

Pycal is Lupin's second-ever onscreen foe, and he's not messing around. Technically he's called "Paikaru," which is also another name for baijiu — hence Lupin's comment in the episode that his name sounds drinkable. Let's not get hung up on names, though. This guy introduces himself by setting Fujiko on fire, and that doesn't sit well with Lupin.

After a night resting up at Lupin's hideout, Fujiko is about to be treated to a big breakfast. Or she would be, if Pycal hadn't tracked her down, enduring a hail of bullets from multiple guns of varying sizes and leaving with her in tow. She has something he wants: some valuable slides of film, which she has since dropped off in Lupin's car.

On the one hand, Lupin is raring to rescue his lover. On the other, this dude just had machine gun death rained down on him, got back up, and set Lupin on fire with (it would seem) magic. Fortunately, Lupin can start to unravel most of his tricks. The last of them, it just so happens, can be figured out with the help of that all-important film.

Pycal isn't a magician, as it turns out. He is, however, in possession of some very cool science. Chief among these science-y things is a formula for a thin bulletproof membrane that, when sprayed on a person, makes them impervious to bullets and fire for a set amount of time. Lupin and Pycal eventually square off; but when  Pycal sets Lupin aflame again, all he manages to burn up is his own film. The encounter devolves into a fire fight, with the victor being whoever's bulletproof spray is freshest. That would be Lupin... meaning Pycal is eventually burned to death.


Love and Lies

Fujiko... sitting in a tree.

It's still early doors yet for Lupin and Fujiko, at least as far as the anime is concerned. As time goes on, their relationship (and what others think of it) will become a pivotal aspect of the story. 2018's Part V in particular relies heavily on examining all the relationships among the cast, with their strange romance being the strongest through-line. Having Fujiko finally demand to know what they are to each other, and getting an answer, is some of the most rewarding anime I've watched.

From the first episode, we get a sufficient surface-level view of their dynamic. She's operating in her own interests, with full awareness that Lupin has a weakness for her. Lupin is also aware of his weakness for her. And it's pretty clear that, whatever else he may say, he knows that any dealings with her have a high probability of ending in betrayal. He just goes ahead regardless.

Fujiko's in the midst of her own machinations with Pycal: carefully cultivating the same level of loyalty in him that she already has in Lupin, then sending them off to go toe-to-toe for dominance. Her aim is, of course, Pycal's film (or, more specifically, the formula on it). But she does, however briefly, show a bit of concern and emotional attachment for Lupin. It's when he's out of earshot, but it's there. And boy, will it stay out of earshot for a long time.

Paranormal Activity

Aspects of the sci-fi and supernatural — the ancient tech of The First, for example, or the strange history-magic of Part II's Rose of Versailles crossover episode — became more common in Lupin the Third the longer it went on. And, in particular, they became more baked into the anime's worldview the more Indiana Jones-esque it became. But Monkey Punch was no stranger to such things.

Kyosuke Mamo (a different Mamo from The Mystery of Mamo) was one of his creations: a mad sci-fi writer from the future who used his knowledge of time travel to attempt to put an end to the entire Lupin line. In fact, Mamo and Pycal would cross paths in the 2018 OVA Is Lupin Still Burning?, which Monkey Punch co-directed as a celebration of the manga's 50th anniversary. (Mamo will appear in Part I as well, with an altered back story... but all in good time.)

In other words, things of a fully sci-fi nature have always been welcome here. Which makes a character like Pycal all the more interesting. His story hammers home that, even in a world of strange happenings, everything must be somehow explicable beyond a hand-wave.

We see this in action constantly. Goemon's Zantetsuken operates well beyond the means of any real sword. But it's forged from a meteor and wielded by a legendary samurai. The gang regularly encounters technological marvels... but they are technological. At least, this is the general  rule. There will be several exceptions to prove it, especially when Lupin goes Pink Jacket. (Or when Mamoru Oshii gets involved... speaking of things for another time.)

Of course, in the next episode he apparently meets a witch named Linda... so perhaps this whole blog post will go up in flames like Pycal's film. I guess we'll see. And (like I mentioned last week) Pycal does come back in a TV special, armed with a new bag of tricks. Remember when I said he may or may not have burned to death? Yeah... it's complicated.

For now, if you want go back and watch from the beginning, there are lots of ways to do so — including a very nice Blu-ray set:

Lupin the 3rd Part I Blu-ray


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Lupin the Third Rewind: Is Lupin Burning?


Lupin the Third, Part 1

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the anime adaptation of Lupin the Third. That means I spent even more time than usual talking it up over on Crunchyroll, Otaku USA, and wherever else I could get away with it.

Abandoned: What Lies Inside Schrödinger's Blue Box


Splash screen for the game Abandoned

Every week I told myself: this week is the week I get back to blogging. Every week I stared at the computer and had no idea what to say. I wasn't sure what to do with my corner of the Internet anymore, now that people are actually letting me say what I want to say in a lot more places (fools), but I finally got there. So expect weekly updates once again where I rant about storytelling in the places I'm not paid or qualified to talk about it.

So what got my jimmies rustled enough to break a six-month silence and overcome severe bloggers' block? Only this whole Blue Box Game Studios thing.

There's no time. I'll explain in the car.

A brick wall and trees, from the "Abandoned" trailer

So there's a game coming out in Q4 called Abandoned, from a little company called Blue Box Game Studios. Blue Box has very little to its name, and what it does have is by and large failure. A Kickstarter for a game called Rewind was refunded after raising only $207 of its $12k goal. After saying it would be backed by a private investor, Blue Box instead released The Haunting: Blood Water Curse... a game that was apparently bad, and which was going to get an upgrade this year. And instead, we are getting Abandoned.

Blue Box apparently has many people working there, but only one visible: Hasan Kahraman, whose Internet footprint exists, but is minimal. And yet this indie company with zero wins "caught the eye" of Sony, and big hitters like Nuare Studio and Dekogon Studios are on board for the project. The blog post announcing the game promises lots but reveals little, and the front-facing communication is about how Kahraman just can't tell us things right now.

Also — and most importantly — all their projects look kinda like Silent Hill. And then when games journalist Geoff Keighley announced that he would be part of the Abandoned reveal, it all kicked off.

"Joakim Mogren"

For those who don't recall — and boy, you're in for a fun rabbit hole if this is new to you — a new studio made its appearance at the Spike VGAs in 2012. Led by Joakim Mogren, Moby Dick Studio was set to release a game called The Phantom Pain. Fans picked up that something was odd. The Phantom Pain looked awfully Metal Gear-ish, and the studio had only been founded two weeks prior to their announcement.

Long story short, Moby Dick Studio was an invention of Hideo Kojima to build hype for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kojima's just a mad lad like that.

So what happens when we have every reason to believe a new Silent Hill game is on the horizon, yet another indie studio from Europe pops up out of nowhere with suspiciously good contacts, and the head of it is a secretive dude with the initials HK, and whose surname translates to "Hideo" in Japanese? Come on, you are way ahead of me already.

Hideo Kojima left, Hasan Kahraman right

The thinking is this: Hasan Kahraman is a character created by Hideo Kojima, and Abandoned is another Phantom Pain scenario. Lots of people believe it. Bloomberg video games reporter Jason Schreier was confident enough about the theory to go full red-string on main. Videos, articles, and entire Reddit communities have popped up to discuss whether this is true, and the evidence is compelling. Hidden messages, numbers hidden in Kahraman's PSN profile, just the fact that the whole thing feels like such a Kojima move.

And yet Kahraman insists he is a real person, and all his coworkers are real people. He just can't tell us who they are, or what's going on. And he's also bumped the gameplay reveal to August (Kojima's birth month!), while posting Twitter vids insisting he and his unnamed coworkers are real. 

So what's going on? I think I may have a theory. A wild one, but a theory.

See, Kojima has pulled this kind of thing before. He's played this literal card. He's set up a fake European studio with a seemingly unskilled programmer, claimed to have nothing to do with them, then sent the exact same video games journalist to do the launch interview. There's no way in hell he could make it fly again as an ARG... unless he had already accounted for us being wise to him.

Think about the clues we get. They're too easy. The initials HK? The names meaning the same thing? A series of Silent Hill-esque games? The letters "P" and "T" being notably blocked out of a certain shot in the announcement trailer? The game moving to August? It's all so easy. It's like we were meant to follow this trail.

And where does the trail lead us? A blue box.

The "Blue Box" from Mulholland Dr.

Kojima has made no secret of his love of David Lynch. Where do we see a "blue box" in Lynch's work? Mulholland Dr. What is it? The link between reality and illusions — the link between fictional and fictionalized versions of people in an industry fraught with corruption.

Here we have a game designer who's gotten a straight-up fairy godmother deal, who doesn't want us to ask why his situation seems so suspicious, who can't explain to us why his story seems so blotchy, who keeps putting off his explanation. And we have red strings that lead back so perfectly to him and his company and his whole scene being a Kojima creation.

This is the theory: Hasan Kahraman is, in the fiction of this ARG, a character who doesn't know he's a Kojima creation. He believes he is an original creator releasing an original game, but he's being confronted on all sides by fans who see the clues. We're all a part of the fiction: we're playing his antagonists. We're doing exactly as we've trained ourselves to do, following leads that can't be coincidence because they're just too perfect. All while a fictional character, trying to create his dream project and just thinking he got super lucky, slowly comes to terms with the fact that he is living in an illusion on the other side of his own blue box.

... at least, that's what I'd say if Blue Box had not actually made profit off The Haunting.

See, it's one thing to play a long game. And I think Kojima would be willing to play very long games. But six or seven years long, in an industry where deals are made and broken so quickly that one was announced while I wrote this? Running a Kickstarter and banking on it to fail? Deliberately releasing a bad and buggy game and taking people's money for it?

If this is an ARG, it's a bad ARG. And I don't think Kojima would do something like release a buggy game under a fake name, take money, and then go "haha just kidding it was all for Silent Hill, you're not mad right?" He's eccentric as hell, but there's a line.

Figure in, too, just how much of what's been getting around isn't actually true. "Hideo" and "Kahraman" do translate to each other, according to Google Translate; but it's a tenuous link relying on alternate kanji readings, and is still flimsy at best. And his games looking Silent Hill-ish confirm only one thing: he likes and is inspired by Silent Hill.

A lot of the influence behind the spread of the rumor came from two places: a YouTube channel later proven to be unconnected to Blue Box, and Schreier's own confidence in the conspiracy. Which he recanted on the same day.

So Kara, are you saying that this guy Hasan Kahraman really is just a guy who's made years' worth of flubs, somehow got surprisingly major deals for undisclosed reasons, and all the clues and similarities are coincidences? Yep. That's what I'm saying.

The final nail in the coffin for me was his June 25 Twitter update. Many people have argued that this is a convincing actor, or even a highly-advanced CG render. But what I see when I look at this video is a dude who is legitimately stressed and scared. This is a guy in over his head.

I don't know much about Kahraman. But operating on the most basic assumption that he's real, I can assume — and I apologize, I'm sure he's a lovely dude — that marketing is not his strong suit. An absence of information could be a sign of a company being fake, but it can also be a sign of just not knowing what you're doing. Awkwardly refusing to divulge more of your game could be a red flag that you are secretly a fictional character created by Hideo Kojima, or it could mean you're very awkward at self-promotion.

"But big studios!" For assets? It's quite possible. Now, it does to me seem wild that Rewind would have caught Sony's eye. But I have seen weirder deals be struck in many industries.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the real story:

Hasan Kahraman is real. Blue Box Game Studios is real. He might be the totality of Blue Box Game Studios, and wanted to give the impression that he wasn't, and that's why he names no co-workers. That, I can't say. After multiple failures, he's gotten the deal of a lifetime: someone's going to fund a game for him. Perhaps he's created something that will use a new peripheral or a new technology; perhaps not. But he is making something.

He's also clearly a Silent Hill fan. It's influenced his work for years. So when mild buzz started that he was actually a Kojima invention, maybe he rode it, in hopes that when all eyes were on him, he could flip it and reverse it. (Perhaps that's the real reason for the swiftly deleted "We're making something that starts with S and ends with L" tweet, which he's been apologizing for ever since.) Or maybe not, maybe he didn't encourage it at all.

Either way, he is now staring down the barrel of the Abandoned gameplay release: the moment everyone cracks it open and realizes that, no, it's not the game of their dreams, it's exactly what was advertised. This is an indie dev who bit off more than he could chew, one way or another, and he's watched it spiral out of control, and realized he can never deliver on the hype he's generated, because that hype isn't for him or his game.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe Kahraman's work has been faked and backdated. Maybe Kojima is working with a real person with a real history, in order to add verisimilitude to his story. But the more you poke, the less of a slam dunk the story is.

Someone on Twitter said something along the lines of — when the Abandoned gameplay trailer drops, everyone's going to get either a detective badge or a clown nose. I have no idea which one I'm getting. But I will say, if you're on this roller coaster, enjoy it while you can. I don't think any gameplay trailer is going to cash this check.

NEW SHORT STORY: Feather Fall in Corvid-19


A robot, a skeleton, and a crow dance on the cover of Corvid-19

For many years now, I've been attending or working at RavenCon, a Virginia-based literary and sci-fi convention. I was there for the first one, when it was held in an airport hotel. I've performed there, done panels, and for a few years ran their Artist/Author Alley. Unsurprisingly, they did not hold an event this year — and have made the call early not to do so next year.

Anyone who's run or worked a con knows that taking a year off can be detrimental to an event on multiple levels. Be it the staff's own money, the money of people who have already bought memberships, keeping the name and event active and relevant enough to hold interest... basically, cancelling sucks. But there's also really not been much of a choice this year.

It's been cool to see events working around this in different ways, from virtual events to smaller interactive panels scattered throughout the year. In the case of RavenCon, they're keeping themselves funded and active with a crowdfunding campaign and new short story anthology. And they've already reached their crowdfunding goal, but that shouldn't stop you from giving this book a look.

Corvid-19 sums itself up pretty well in its title. Besides the obvious pun, it's also literally what it say: a collection of 19 stories that, in some way, each involve a crow. As a previous guest of the event, and a planned guest for the 2020 convention before it was cancelled, I was one of the authors featured in the book.

The stories are all over the map in terms of genre and tone. We basically just had the one proviso of including a corvid. Mine, "Feather Fall," was written based on a lot of what I was feeling (and to be fair, still am feeling) during lockdown. In the story, a girl with no name and no memory finds herself at a café for wayward souls, in the middle of a city where time never seems to budge past twilight.

It's unclear why she's there and under what circumstances she'll be allowed to leave, but the girl discovers that there is a bridge to a different world, accessible via the feathers of the café's owner.

"Feather Fall" doesn't come from a specific idea in need of a home, but rather a series of images and moods I'd had floating around in my head while navigating days alone. With winter upon us, it feels even more appropriate to be talking about it. There's a lot of that same darkness going around, inside and outside. Poking at it usually feels like a bad idea. But sometimes to get past it, we need to step through it.

As much as I love dark imagery and horror and all those gruesome things, I like to write stories with at least some shred of optimism. I want to know that, if someone's found this story on their worst day, I've given them something to ease it a little — the way my favorite stories have done for me. "Feather Fall" touches on some of the darker parts of my own life, but I feel like it's ultimately a happy story.

That's what I really want to be able to offer right now: happy stories. The idea that there is an other side to the darkness, and it's okay to lose sight of that sometimes. We don't have to always remember that the darkness will end. I sure don't. But it will, and that's why it's worthwhile to keep pushing ahead. And to help others on the days they can't.

I really hope you'll pitch in on the Corvid-19 Kickstarter and help them push ahead to even bigger goals. There are also music rewards, the chance to be on an RPG podcast, and opportunities to become a part of an upcoming novel by one of several authors (not myself - though if you really want that, leave a comment and maybe they'll add it to the stretch goals?). Thanks in advance for your support, and I hope you enjoy the book!

Gentle NaNoWriMo Tips for 2020

It's that time of year again. Well, it's a lot of different times of year at once — but in particular, it is NaNoWriMo time. I've participated (and completed the requisite 50,000 word manuscript) twice, and know plenty of others who've participated to varying degrees. It's encouraging, it increases the amount of written word there is in the world, and (unlike some creative challenges out there) they're connected to charities rather than plagiarism and lawsuits. Not naming names, but we all know.

I'm not participating this year, but I'm seeing a lot of people in my various online communities who are. And a few who want to, but have opted out for one reason or another. It's a big commitment, and it can be as frustrating as it is rewarding.

For those considering it, here's what I've picked up in the past, and what I've learned from writing books throughout the year.

It's more about the discipline than the result.

I've had friends who opted out of NaNo because they couldn't finish it. Or who felt defeated because they "lost" — i.e., they didn't finish 50,000 words in the allotted time. I can understand why that would be discouraging. The whole point of the exercise is that anyone can get that many words on paper with a little effort per day.

But life is weird. Sometimes work gets in the way. Sometimes you oversleep. Sometimes your gallbladder needs to come out, like, now. Some days you aren't feeling it, and you're not a writer by trade where "not feeling it" could result in no paycheck.

The thing I think NaNo themselves get wrong about their own exercise is that the true value isn't in the completion. I mean, yeah, the "win state" is good. But even if you only make it a few days, you learn something. Someone who's never written x number of words every day before is going to have the same problem that someone who's never exercised before would have with doing a half hour of aerobics every day. It's untrained muscles. Some people might hash it, but it's not a surprise that people don't finish.

To that end, if you do participate and are new, it's more valuable to treat it as self discovery. How many words do you feel good writing per day before you burn out? What time(s) of day work for you? What do you find gets in the way? Do you find you don't like writing things that are tends of thousands of words long? All of these things are valuable, and all can lead to progress on your next writing project, should you aim for it.

The Shovel is valid, but it doesn't have to stay.

Amongst NaNo's writer's block tips is a meme called the Traveling Shovel of Death. Basically the idea is: if you find yourself completely stuck, kill someone with a shovel. It can be a main character, minor character, rando, whatever. It can be on-screen or off-screen. Just have someone be killed with a shovel. It's a twist on tried-and-true writing advice with a little more heft and a much weirder visual.

It's weird but I'm here to tell you it works.

Why? Because you've shaken things up. You've introduced, in one move, a whole package of imponderables that now have to be dealt with. Who died? What happens without them? Who did it? Will someone else get blamed for it? Has the Shovel murder alerted authorities to actions in your story that should remain hidden?

When I used it (in an unpublished work), I killed off a background character who wasn't coming back anyway. In later edits, I've removed the Shovel, but kept the sudden death. I was able in retrospect to see what elements it introduced that served the story and which overcomplicated it. And it was nice to have that grab bag of effects to play with.

Will it serve every story? It might not. If you're writing a children's book, I'd advise against it (or find a gentler way to introduce chaos). But in general, it's done a surprising amount of good.

Forget "planning" vs. "pantsing." Your story will change.

"Planners" and "pantsers" (and a third in-between hybrid) are different categories of writers when it comes to how a story evolves. "Planners" are, as you'd expect, the ones who carefully plan and organize every action. They know the beginning, the end, and everything in the middle. "Pantsers" fly by the seat of their pants, letting the story organically and seeing where it takes them.

The fact of the matter is, you will be both at some point, and that's okay.

If you intend to pursue a career in writing, you will be required to turn in pitches describing the full intended course of your story. So there is some merit, even if you're not a planner by trade, to be able to be one. Just because it'll come up. On the other hand, even the most tightly-planned story will start to go its own direction as it evolves. And that's fine and good. It's better to let these organic things happen if they're going to improve the story, and provided you're not working in an environment where going off the rails without approval would cause significant issues.

If it's overly stressing you, try another challenge instead.

There's a difficulty curve to be expected in all things. If you've never written this much before (and also if you have, let's be real), you can expect some stress. But if you find you're unhappy with yourself while trying to find time, or disappointed with your progress, or anything else that makes it a slog rather than an experience — don't do it.

The point of NaNoWriMo is to show you what you can do, not make you feel like you can't do things. And if participating has the opposite effect on you consistently, it may be a sign that you should search out other methods or challenges for getting your writing game up. That doesn't mean you're a failure. It just means you currently need something different to inspire you.

April and July offer Camp NaNoWriMo, which is more flexible in terms of what you track. Rather than word count, you can track pages written, time spent writing, or editing progress for a finished manuscript. In other words, you're not looking to finish a project (though you can totally do that) so much as set daily goals that may or may not add up to a whole.

There's also the 750 Words Challenge, which asks you to write three pages a day, privately, on whatever you want. Or there's A Round of Words in 80 Days, taking place four times a year and inviting you to set whatever writing goal you want.

Yes, NaNo is objectively the most popular and talked about, and will by default have a larger community. But it is admittedly not one size fits all, and it's totally okay to look elsewhere for a different challenge. As you can see, others have also felt the need.

Best of luck to everyone participating. Remember, even if you don't clock in at 50k by November 30, you've still done something, and that's what matters.

SINoALICE Is Too Relatable for Writers

I can't play gacha games because I have no impulse control. I've played (and loved) Fate/Grand Order, Love Live!, and Love Nikki, but damned if all of them didn't make grabs at my wallet. And while I absolutely believe creators deserve money for their work — talk to me for five seconds and you will know how I am about this — I also know that a freelancer like me has no business being tempted to spend real human dollars on a 0.002% chance at getting a JPG.

I scrubbed every damn game from my phone because they're time sinks and money sinks. I have upwards of seven writing deadlines on my plate, not counting daily anime news. I get addicted easily. I don't need 'em.

Then SINoALICE went global and look I can explain.

So yes, this is a gacha game. It hails from the mind of Yoko Taro, the masked madman who brought us the Drakengard and NieR games and holds equal standing for Industry's Biggest Troll alongside Bkub Okawa. This is a dude who can look a production company in the eye and say "I am going to set myself on fire and yeet myself into hell and I'm taking you down with me," and they'll respond, "Thank you, sensei, the check is in the mail." I can't not love Yoko Taro.

It's Dark And Edgy Fairy Tale Stuff. And I know theoretically we should've gotten that out of our system with the Dark And Edgy Fairy Tale Boom of the 2010s, but I sure didn't. Neither did you. Especially not if it's got Alice in Wonderland, and especially not if she's got a sword as big as she is. Snow White's there. Cinderella's there. Hansel and Gretel is there, one of them is just a rotting head in a cage, and I'm not telling you which one.

Also, the whole point of the game is that these characters are in a massive battle royale to resurrect their respective authors. And honestly, this was the tipping point because I can't look away from that — especially when you start finding out why each one of them has this motivation.

Character vs. Author is, I'll be honest, a tricky field. I've seen it done beautifully. I've seen it done basically okay. More often than not lately, I see it done cringe-level bad. It's a valid and interesting thing to explore, because — as writers know — we don't always feel the most in control. And telling a compelling story means putting our darlings through the wringer.

The whole concept of characters as other people occupying space in our brains feels true when you're in the midst of a project. You have to learn to talk, think, and act like a person who doesn't exist so you can write them well. And so eventually, your thoughts get ahead of you and "they act on their own," because you have achieved your goal. Sometimes that means your carefully crafted story outline goes in the shredder. Okay, it means that a lot.

Exploring this phenomenon is challenging to do without coming over a bit up yourself, but the rare ones who do are pretty damn relatable.

Anyway, I was talking about SINoALICE.

Our storybook characters — Alice, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and so on — are fighting each other for the privilege of resurrecting their respective author(s). Each has a reason. Cinderella wants a new story penned where she's a powerful queen. The Little Mermaid wants Hans Christian Andersen to write her an even more painful story than the one she already has. Alice simply wants Lewis Carroll to be alive again, even if she never actually sees him.

And then there's Red Riding Hood, who wants her story to go on longer so she can just kill people forever... including the author, maybe? Dorothy (who will be coming to the global server eventually but is well active in Japan) apparently wants to resurrect L. Frank Baum so she can put his brain in a jar. As you do.

Considering the number of characters I've abandoned, put though the wringer, and occasionally outright killed, there's something unpleasantly relatable about a game full of characters turning into murderhobos just for a chance to shake their writers down.

The game does have its issues as regards UI, playability, and usage of its characters. It ends up being more about the weapons than the characters themselves, and you can't use your stable of kickass-looking protagonists to actually build a team — you're one of a group, with the others either being the CPU or other players currently online. The upside of that is I am less tempted to put real money down for gacha. All the characters are beautifully designed, so my main becomes whichever character I think is prettiest, rather than absolutely needing a certain one. And considering you can gather a fair variety of characters just by playing the main story, even those of us most curséd in the eyes of the RNG gods can get some variety.

I won't lie, though. There's something about the "personal attack" of SINoALICE that keeps me coming back, along with the promise of a story that goes completely off the rails reality-wise. And I can't help wondering to myself which of my characters would venture into the Library and fight everyone else off just for a chance at taking a swing at me.