Pokemon Conquest Gets an F- in History

By Chalkey Horenstein, Editor In Chief

Like many American gamers, I picked up a copy of Pokémon Conquest largely because of the Pokémon part, having little to no knowledge about the other half of the crossover, Nobunaga’s Ambition. Nor did I know anything about the titular character, Oda Nobunaga, who pursued conquest and unification of Japan in the Sengoku period. In order to feel somewhat informed about what I had just played, I looked up a few basic facts — and was both relieved and disappointed to find that the game itself was just as misinformed about Japanese history (and Pokémon history) as I was.

Based on the names, Pokémon Conquest is designed to seem based on the Sengoku period of Japan. Without going into a full blown history lesson, it was a time of a lot of war; and while many did not give up their kingdoms as easily as those in Pokémon Conquest do, loyalties were built over said wars and other politics, and eventually this would lead to the unification of Japan. Oba Nobunaga, the series’ antagonist, is known in both actual history and in Pokémon Conquest as someone who is a driving force for a while. 

Nobunaga does not succeed in conquering and unifying Japan in either case, though in the actual history he died from betrayal at the hand of Akechi Mitsuhide. Toyotomi Hideyoshi later rose to take his place, actually unified Japan, and then died, with Tokugawa Ieyasu eventually ruling. In the game, however, there is no betrayal; the final battle has Ieyasu, Mitsuhide and Hideyoshi all loyal to Nobunaga, and Nobunaga doesn’t die. Additionally, the fact that Ieyasu started as a prisoner of the Oda clan is not referenced at all. From what I’ve played of the side episodes so far and read online, neither the betrayal nor the inheritance of the nation take place at all; the player’s decision to let each nation rule itself seems to stand in the end, before anyone in Nobunaga’s clan gets any chance at ruling. 

In addition to real history, the game sort of botches Pokémon continuity as well. Several easter eggs reference “the other regions” that have Pokémon carried around in spheres — which not only anachronistically contradicts the feudal system setting of this time period, but also the fact that the terminology of “nations” and “regions” is inconsistent. In the other games, Kanto, Johto, Sinnoh, Hoenn, and Unova are “regions,” while the whole of the world in which the games take place is the “nation.” Conversely, the Ransei region of Pokémon Conquest has seventeen nations within it. Additionally, if we are to believe this is based on the Sengoku period of Japan, then the main player and Nobunaga are striving to take over all of Japan, while it is commonly believed that each other pokemon game’s region is a part of Japan. Oh, and there’s also the extremely obvious “what the hell is Mewtwo doing here” moment, where you realize that not only is Mewtwo allegedly one of a kind, but that somehow some unknown person in-game also managed to acquire the technology to bring him here.

Then there’s the stupidly obvious anachronism stew, like the existence of blimps, top hats, glasses, power plants, security cameras, and automated cranes. But we’re not even going to bother there.

But at least the game is true to the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, right? It still has that going for it, right? Well, sort of. Nobunaga’s actually a playable character right off the bat in the other series, which directly contradicts his role as an antagonist of this game. Not only that, but Nobunaga’s Ambition is a more complex game, with other necessities besides conquering land; players have to please the peasants to prevent riots, and sustain the economy to keep the obtained lands fruitful.

The game isn’t entirely off, though. All of the names are references to real people, and many of the warlords look at least somewhat similar to their real-life counterparts. Nobunaga, Tokugawa, and Uesugi Kenshin have very similar facial structures, and some carry the same outfits and family crests as their real-life counterparts (though occasionally a poke-ball replaces a notable other image). Date Masamune is probably my favorite here, because he is portrayed as a teenager in Pokémon Conquest and, in real life, is a good thirty years younger than Nobunaga, which puts him at approximately the right age for consistency there. Not only that, but his hair swoops over his right eye, making it unseen — which I choose to believe is a nod to the fact that he lost his right eye in childhood. Oichi, Nobunaga’s sister (a plot twist totally spoiled if you do know the history) is probably the biggest exception, looking nothing alike in terms of hair color, eyes, or body shape. She’s also extraordinarly whiny compared to her strong-willed real-life counter part.

Above all, the one thing Pokémon Conquest keeps consistent with previous Nobunaga’s Ambition is its own reputation for historical accuracy and intrigue. Games by the development team Koei in general are known for about 30-40% accuracy; the facts aren’t always correct, but the games give enough names to make it easy to look things up later, once you’ve gotten hooked. And much like other crossover games, the game gives you just enough of a taste of things you haven’t seen/tried yet to make you curious. It almost seems like, in many cases, the point of a crossover game is never to get things perfect, but just to attract interest using things you already enjoy as a branching off. 

So don’t get me wrong — none of this is a strike against the game. Pokémon Conquest is a stupidly addicting game if you’re into strategy games, and it’s actually a little more strategic than the average Pokémon combat system, despite each Pokémon only getting one move. But if you’re hoping to culture yourself or gain any sort of appreciation for the past, look elsewhere. Or, better yet, play the game, and just double check when you think you’re learning something. I’m sure the developers would still pat themselves on the back if they at least got you to look up what was right or wrong about the characters.

What? Pokemon And Digimon Are Evolving! Or, Why Both Series Have Become More Linear

By Chalkey Horenstein, Editor-in-Chief

When I was a small child, it was a forbidden subject to compare Pokémon and Digimon; the hardcore fans of either (though Pokémon fans more notably) would get riled up and call one a rip-off of the other, engaging in date-wars that tried to allege which game came first. Playgrounds were a hot mess of misinformed kids arguing over something that could’ve been solved in two clicks of Wikipedia, had it existed and had we been old enough to think of using it. But one of the more undeniable and fascinating links between the two series, as far as their games are concerned, is not the character design and monster-human partnership similarities, but rather the evolution from exploratory to linear gaming style — both game series have traces of open-world games in their roots, with more linear games in the end.

Normally, you defeat Team Rocket in the Game Corner
to get the Silph Scope to identify this ghost and battle it.
But using a store-bought pokedoll,
which ends any non-trainer battle instantly,
accomplishes the same thing.
Pokémon Red and Blue allowed the player to battle the gyms in a seemingly linear fashion, but with replays and knowing where to go next (or just bumbling that direction stubbornly), the player could very easily do certain badges out of order, go to certain areas before the logical progression, or skip areas altogether. A few examples: the Thunder Badge isn’t necessary for some time given that it only grants access to Fly, the Marsh Badge is skippable up until you need it to get to the Earth Badge, and the Rocket Game Corner’s Silph Scope isn’t necessary at all thanks to Poké Dolls, allowing you to bypass an entire wave of Team Rocket. Should the player desire, the world could be explored in multiple orders.

Digimon World, the first PlayStation game to exist for the franchise, follows suit. The game takes place on the circular File Island, which you can explore in either direction, with no real requirement to get to the next area other than figuring out how to get there. The side opposite to the starting location, File City, can be accessible from either direction, such that you create a full circle. The only thing really limiting you is how strong your partner is, but most of the areas adjacent to the city in either direction are approximately the same difficulty, with Freezeland and Factorial Town (the farthest from the main city) being of the more challenging areas. The plot of the game is that various Digimon are losing their memory and leaving the city, becoming more hostile in the wild and uncultured land, and it is up to you to recruit city dwellers and create a peaceful area with the necessary amenities to function as a city (examples include a restaurant, item shop, hospital, bank, and farm), while figuring out what is brainwashing the various natives. The recruiting can be done in any order as well, and you don’t need to recruit everyone in the game to open access to Infinity Mountain, the area with the final boss. This game, much more so than Red and Blue, can be completed in just about any order you desire.

Starting at the circular part of the map,
the entire right side of Unova is inacessible
until post-game, making the main game
very straightforward.
By comparison, both games have far more linear areas now. The most recent editions of the Pokémon series, Black and White versions, follow an exclusively one-direction path along the left side of the Unova region — and games before it, like Heart Gold and Soul Silver or Diamond and Pearl, forcibly give you items like HMs and tell you where to go with them. Prior to that, Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald of the third generation forcibly gave HMs, but proper use required backtracking and more exploration than just exploring the next place on the same path like in Black and White  which marks this linear pattern as a gradual progression in the series. With each passing game, more imagination is lost with the loss of ambiguity of the directions. Similarly, Digimon World Dawn and Dusk versions also become more linear, with the worlds being unlocked in a set order and leveling conforming to traditional methods (grinding) rather than the time-limited manual training of stats in Digimon World. Additionally, the need to feed your partner or let it sleep is gone, and the way to obtain certain Digimon is explicitly stated in-game. Both the newer Pokémon games and the newer Digimon games have a clear start-to-finish path, and ultimately only one way to go about it, with the only customization being in your party itself. 

Gamers like big worlds to explore, right? So why did games with big open worlds like this change to more straightforward games?

Compare: Emerald interrupts your quest to give
you HM03 and tell you where to use it,
while in Red and Blue you find it with little to no guidance. 

Largely, it has to do with the evolution of the gamer, and the evolution of a game designer’s ability to sense what a gamer wants. For reference, let’s change gears and briefly consider Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a 1970s psychologist known for his work on “flow.” Put simply, he observed a person’s ability to do a given task, and found that participants needed to feel they were growing in skill with a proportionate rate to an expected increase of difficulty in order to maintain motivation. In other words, if the participant’s skill increased faster than the difficulty, the person would grow bored, but if the difficulty increased faster than the participant’s skill, the person would grow anxious — both of which discourage continuing.

While Csikszentmihalyi’s research is sort of dated, the timeless principle above applies directly to video games  and game designers, much like the gamers themselves, respond to feedback from the games and adapt. They look at what sells well, and what doesn’t, and move forward from there; heck, Digimon World‘s instruction manuals even came with surveys asking what players liked/didn’t like about the game — and based on the progression of the games, it seemed like the majority of the people preferred games like the newer ones, despite the few token hardcore fans that preferred the challenge of Digimon World

Above: the introduction tutorial to Digimon World
being extremely unhelpful.
Compared to more recent games, Digimon World and Pokémon Red and Blue both offer seemingly insufficient feedback. It’s easy to look at choice moments in either game and think, “How was I supposed to know that was there? How was I supposed to figure that out?” Examples include knowing where the Silph Scope was in Red and Blue, or knowing how to get partners strong enough to beat most bosses in Digimon World. In both games, you had to sort of rely on talking to everyone,  exhausting all options, and then going back to areas you couldn’t beat before and seeing what you could apply that you didn’t have or know beforehand.

In the newer games, there’s an instant feedback. You beat an area, and they congratulate you and tell you where to go next. You have a certain path of progress you can log by checking your status in either game, and you have a vague idea of how close you are to the end at almost any time.

And if sales are based on human response, it makes perfect sense that humans sided with Csikszentmihalyi’s findings and molded the later games. Players want to feel like they’re accomplishing something — that their time in this virtual place met some sort of goal. Digimon World had progress through watching the town grow and develop (which also made it easier to get other city dwellers farther away), though the initial lack of tutorials makes the game irritating to beginners. Pokémon Red and Blue also sort of assume players will figure things out — and while newer gamers can feel patronized by the plethora of tutorials, most players would rather feel like the game was disappointingly easy rather than impossible to beat and a waste of money.

Not only that, but the demographic of gamers is changing. Younger players are growing up in a more casual gaming environment, which discourages longer games, and older players are constrained for time in ways they weren’t in childhood — both of which lend itself to the game having to adapt to the player just as much as the other way around. 

This is not to say that open-world, hardcore games don’t exist; Digimon even has a fairly successful MMORPG still garnering users after several years. Players evolve, but it’s tough to say any kind of gamer or game has truly gone extinct yet. And even though the games (and, to a large extent, the shows) are changing, at the end of the day they’re still the characters we love, battling in the way we love. On more unfiltered days, I attribute some of the great lessons I learned in youth to either Digimon or Pokémon  — courage, friendship, reliability and kindness among others from Digimon, and competitive drive and love of traveling from Pokémon — so it’s only fair that the games get to grow up from us, just as we do from them. 

Sound off question: What trends in video games do you see evolving into other trends? Is this a positive or negative change? Tell us your thoughts in the comments! 

Panel Report: The Sociopath as a Television Trope

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

The goal of this panel was to discuss the idea of the sociopath in television. Namely, we attempted to identify characters like Gob Bluth, Sterling Archer, Eric Cartman, and others that share sociopathic traits; why the trope works the way it does; and why it appears so often in television.

To get everyone on the same page, we started with the basic traits of a sociopath: callous lack of concern for the feelings of others, persistent disregard for responsibility or social norms, inability to experience guilt or learn profound lessons, and the tendency to blame others or rationalize when forced to acknowledge one’s own questionable behavior. We noted character comparisons like Eric Cartman versus Michael Scott (for the purpose of this panel, we primarily used the US version, not the British version) to note the difference between characters unconcerned with the feelings of others and characters just a little ignorant of others’ feelings. A true sociopath, many in the audience argued, knows they have these tendencies and doesn’t care.

After defining the sociopath in television, and bearing the disclaimer that no one was trying to diagnose anyone, but just to note similarities, we started to discuss different examples from shows. Audience members brought up shows like Dexter, Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and South Park, among others. The main examples the panelist gave came from Arrested Development, Seinfeld, and Archer.

We talked about all sorts of reasons why the sociopath trope was so common in television, focusing primarily on comedy for time constraints. Within comedy, we found several: the panelists mentioned surreal humor from watching characters who are clearly socially incompetent managing themselves in high-paying positions in social jobs, vicarious living from wanting to break social norms in a society full of norms and networking, and “who you know” scenarios that force us to bond with others. Fans contributed the idea that we also fascinate ourselves with sociopaths that, through their eccentricities, get things done   Dr. House came up here. Other fans noted some shows, like South Park, where we like to see sociopaths eventually get what’s coming to them. 

Then we started to talk about characters like Homer Simpson and U.S. Michael Scott, who shared some but not all similarities with the sociopath, and whose tendencies decreased as seasons when on — habits were humanized or explained, and the characters received depth. Comparing this to older comedies like Seinfeld, we then raised the question of why they felt this was a trend now where it wasn’t before.

Panelists described the technological advances that happened since Seinfeld was on the air; back then, one panelist argued, a series was hard to watch in one sitting. You either watched it live, or on one-a-day reruns, or possibly VHS tapes with a few episodes. Television was all around more casual. But with the introduction of elements like DVDs, Netflix, and season box sets, people were able to watch shows all at once, and catch up on episodes they hadn’t seen. This newfound ability of the viewers made way for two things: 1. the ability to make longer arcs that last over several episodes, and 2. a more hastened diminishing return on comedy. After a certain point, the shows realized they could and had to develop their characters a little more, to avoid boring the audience.

Fans also speculated that we are a completely different culture than before. We do like to overanalyze things, and we’re less into casual television watching. We watch TV more in general, and exposure to great shows in the past have raised the bar of our expectations for later shows.

Overall, this panel was much more audience-driven than the rest of them, though most of our panels this con were pretty intimate with the audience. I enjoyed this, though — especially with a topic as sensitive as a disorder and a topic as wide as television, keeping opinions diverse and examples plentiful is what really makes a conversation like this strong. Thanks again, patrons. The panel wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Panel Report: Community and Metafiction

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

Chronologically, this was the first panel we did upon arriving at Connecticon – but at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night when we were competing with the con’s annual striptease, we were lucky to fill as much of the room as we did. All the same, the fans were fantastic conversationalists (and it should really speak volumes about the Connecticon diversity when 3/4 a room wanted to talk about Community and metafiction over seeing a striptease).

We started out by defining metafiction: namely, that it is any work that acknowledges its own fictionalism. And while Community never outright breaks the 4th wall, there are many moments where light jabs are made to acknowledge the possibility. For example, the first episode has Abed compare the cast to the breakfast club, and in “Cooperative Calligraphy” he refers to the actions of the other characters as a bottle episode. 

Community uses metafiction pretty heavily, some ways like other shows and some ways like nothing else on television. Many of the metafiction references utilize a sense of humor that rewards tv nerds, the same way continuity jokes can reward loyal fans of a show. There’s a sense of surreal humor that comes when movie and television tropes are applied to mundane activities  like making pillow and blanket forts, playing Dungeons and Dragons, or beating the class billiards instructor — something action packed. The tropes emulate times when the stakes were high, but the action itself and the actual consequences are all pretty low stakes. Humor arrives from both sides; we laugh at non-serious moments being taken so seriously, while also attributing that high stakes mentality vicariously to our own activities of similar nature. Audience members chimed in here, noting that they think of the show when making forts now or other activities that occurred on the show (one guy in particular mentioned he actually goes to a community college, leading to this train of thought frequently). 

But unlike other shows, Community also has a way of using metafiction in serious tones. Scenes like when Abed referenced Hawkeye to pep talk Jeff come to mind – Abed in particular is good at relating other characters to fiction to get them where they need to be. 

As we mentioned this, conversation started to revolve around Abed for a while, partially because he redefines relatability through his metafiction ways. The same way most characters are relatable for quirks, like Jeff’s ego, Britta’s pontificating, or Pierce’s old man racism, Abed is also relatable — but we relate to him as consumers, not as people of a certain quirk. Abed’s frequent references to television are something we understand, having seen these shows. Not only that, but Abed relates to the rest of the world through television the same way we relate to him; his understanding of what to do in a given situation is largely influenced by television. For example, he proved he could pick up girls when the group suspected otherwise, but only because he was able to successfully imitate Don Draper. Through imitating other things he has watched, he is also able to run a chicken nugget mafia, help save his school with paintball, and operate a space simulator simulator, among other talents. Not only that, but the insight he brings to the group in hard times occasionally rivals Jeff’s “Winger takes it home” speeches that end many episodes. Despite the fact that Jeff runs on street smarts and smooth talking, Abed is able to quote movies and reference shows and still often prove to be just as insightful and relevant. 

And Abed, much like Community itself, is less concerned with reaching all of the possible audience as much as he is concerned with reaching choice targets who will understand or need to understand what he’s trying to say. “Introduction to Film” and “Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples” both come to mind here, as well as the end of “Filmmaking Redux.” One of the ACP members, Jonah, commented here on how Dan Harmon frequently got into arguments with the network about whether or not the show should be a generic, safe, selling sitcom. The show isn’t meant to be safe, though. 

All in all, the Community panel went pretty well, largely thanks to, well, the community. Thanks to everyone who participated through listening or contributing comments! 

Is there anything else we forgot to add? Say so in the comments! 

Panel Report: Psychology of Gamer Overs, Take Two

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

The basic goal of this panel was to challenge the audience with this question: why is it that a game can make you fail over and over, yet still want to try again, while slight discouragement from the real world can make you want to give up? Using sources like Jane McGonigal and Jesper Juul, I talked about the basic psychology behind game overs and loss in video games, focusing much on how games were, in many shades, more positive than real life scenarios. Since this was one of two panels that was covered already at Revoluticon, I’ll skip some of the finer details to avoid being redundant.

What I found really interesting about doing this panel a second time was that a different audience made for a completely different kind of feeling to the panel. Many more people at Connecticon were eager to participate and throw in their two cents, so the variety of game overs and games discussed greatly increased. Among others, our panel this time discussedDonkey Kong Country Returns,Conker’s Bad Fur Day,Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed,Tales of Symphonia, andThe Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.

Much more time was focused on McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, and discussing the way that, compared to real life, video games are more forgiving. Pattern recognition games, combined with McGonigal’s Fun Failure theory, make video game losses less discouraging; we take the loss itself less seriously, and receive more constructive feedback to know where to improve later. With the pattern recognition of games, we always know just what made us lose; we didn’t jump far enough, we didn’t know an enemy was there, that sort of thing. Each time we play, we think, “This time will be better. I know something I didn’t know before.” But with real life losses, like trying and failing to get a job, we don’t always receive the same feedback — an employer has no obligation to write a letter saying, “Thanks for applying. Your resume looked great, but you could have won us over with more experience in so-and-so,” or, “We appreciated your qualifications, but your interview was a little abrasive.”

As we continued to make real life examples applying the comparison of game losses and why they were more forgiving (see the other panel report for more detail), we started to hit a wall that the Revoluticon kids didn’t really find — the mood in the room started to get a little dark. A little depressing. Hoping to not end on that note, I reminded the audience that McGonigal did not write her book comparing real life to video games to depress us. Her approach in that book was to take what made video games more appealing and utilize it in real life. Amongst harsh critics that say we spend too much time playing video games and that games should be eradicated, McGonigal was one of the first to say that this wasn’t a problem, it was a solution we haven’t noticed yet.

With this in mind, we started taking the comparisons we made and attempted to problem-solve a bit, thinking of ways we could make our own lives a little less hectic. Responses were slow at first, but people started jumping in eventually. Constructive criticism was a big thing — nobody wants to fail and not know why, because that makes most people feel like loss is out of their control.

Doing this panel at two cons instead of one was a pleasure; it reminded me that not every crowd will react to information the same way, just like not every gamer will love a game for the same reasons. What we can bring out of games, much like what we can bring out of life, is different for everyone — which I think is pretty cool.

Was there something we missed about the panel that you wanted to add? Tell us in the comments!

The New And Improved Snow White

When a movie adapts an old, classic piece of literature, a lot of people initially get up in arms because they change things — but what these people forget is that the movie, much like the original, is sometimes not intended to create some timeless classic in its final draft, but rather a popular piece of fiction that will sell. Stories are revised all the time to adapt to the rise of a new audience; for example, you won’t ever again see a version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with African pygmies instead of Oompa Loompas. Analogously, the changes that Snow White and the Huntsman made to the original come to adapt the film to a newer generation, and one of the ways they did this was to make the film more empowering to women than the original version.

The ending of the film [spoilers] involves Snow White rallying an army and taking the tyrant queen’s castle by storm, eventually being the one to have the final duel with her. Compare this to the original German fairy tale, where the queen dances in heated iron shoes until she falls to her death. The film, arguably, replaces passive actions with very active women; Snow White doesn’t wait for the Huntsman or anyone else to save her in the end, and arguably would have fought alone had the Huntsman refused to help her. Not only that, but earlier in the film we see the Queen Ravenna actively trick and murder the king, rather than the king taking her as a wife. These characters, once just characters driving the plot points, bring agency into this version.
Smaller details also belittle potential male heroes in comparison to Snow White, something the fairy tale did not. A young male rebel, only present in one scene, stabs the Queen in a manner very similar to the way Snow White delivers the final blow, yet the Queen easily survives the boy’s attack. In another scene, the Huntsman attempts to defend Snow White from a monster, only to find that, right before he was to die, Snow White calmed the monster and sent it away. Even Prince William gets overlooked by Snow White a little bit; when she finally awakens from her slumber, William is the first to greet her, yet Snow White barely acknowledges him, then moves towards the others to organize the rebellion — entirely dismissing the hinted love triangle of the story in favor of a more purposeful move.

And despite Snow White running from enemies for a large portion of the movie, she is known to kick tail when needed. Her escape from the prison requires both skill and moxie as she hides a loose nail under her pillow and stabs Finn, Queen Ravenna’s brother, with it to distract him long enough to escape.

But this movie is aware of past attempts at female hero movies, and does not merely fall for the facile logic of “to make women tougher, let’s give them more characteristics of men” (G.I. Jane, I’m looking at you). At the end of the day, Snow White remains Snow White, known for her compassion; the scene of her calming the forest beast with no violence, along with the gentle scene of her playing dolls with the scarred child, are just a few examples of how she remains the intended character. She is brave enough to lead an army, but still gentle and caring enough to peacefully rule a kingdom (at least we assume until a sequel comes).

Snow White and the Huntsman is not without its flaws. Certain scenes inexplicably give Snow White helpful plot devices, like the white horse, and a few of the characters stay unsympathetically flat (seriously, did no one else feel bothered by how random the horse was?). But for its attempt to integrate the fairy tale into a society striving for gender equality, it does a pretty decent job. The female characters pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and the female leads are strong, active roles that, in their respective areas, get results. Yet they remain feminine, not having to sacrifice this characteristic to have agency; Snow White is still a fairly innocent and loveable young woman, and Ravennais still seductive and orderly. Welcome to the new millennium, Snow White.

Comments sound off: What adaptations have you noticed change from the original iteration? Why do you think that is? 

Men In Black 3’s Callback To 90s Film Conventions

Will Smith reprises his role as J.
Tommy Lee Jones sort of reprises his role. 

 When Men in Black 3 came out a week ago, Pitbull made Men in Black history by being the first non-Will Smith person to arrange the credits theme song — sadly, among the parade of borrowed tracks and melodic intervals that combined to make the song, one of the only somewhat original lines was this: “to understand the future, we have to go back in time.” While many accept this as just a reference to the time travel element of MIB3, understanding the writing of the movie also makes more sense with this unintentionally foreshadowing line. Men in Black 3, despite coming out in 2012, utilizes many common conventions of movies that came out around the era of the first MIB: namely, 90s movie tropes.

One of the more common patterns of 90s films included the use of nostalgia — but not as a source of cathartic release; rather, a source of humor. Movies like Edward Scissorhands, Back to the Future Part III (and largely its predecessors), Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Drop Dead Fred made a common convention of not only reliving the past eras of culture, but actively making fun of them. Jon Lewis, a professor at Oregon State University, wrote a book on 90s films called The Road to Romance and Ruin: Teen Films and Youth Culture, which described this phenomenon: “In Back to the Future, the nostalgic vision is merely an extended joke at the absurdity of someone else’s youth.” Looking back, many 90s movies shared this basic formula for humor; Back to the Future had characters out-predicting past characters based on present knowledge, Edward Scissorhands poked fun at housewife stereotypes, and Drop Dead Fred punished an adult for interactions with her childhood imaginary friend, leaving it ambiguous whether she suffered for growing up or not growing up.

Men in Black 3 follows this convention of satirizing the past with its time travel element. While some scenes look like they could pass for parts of a generic Ozzie and Harriet episode, others derive humor from, as one minor character put it, the comparatively high levels of racism in the 50s. “It wasn’t a good time for you,” he tells Agent J, which is validated when police officers pull over Agent J, asking how someone of his “ethnic background” could afford a nice car and nice suit. Over-the-top early hippies also make cameos, as well as outdated technology, like oversized and cancerous mobile phones, all of which compliment the mentality of “this time sure was silly.”

Boris The Animal can’t get through
to his younger, rebellious self. 

Youthful rebellion is another 90s theme Lewis points out in The Road to Romance and Ruin (Think Sister Act, Home Alone, and Back to the Future again if you want 90s film examples) — and it almost seems obvious to realize that Men In Black embodies this with Agent J. Agent J jokingly compares himself and Agent K in MIB2 to the cars they drive, specifying “old and busted” and “new hotness.” J obviously represents the new hotness, being the one to counter all of K’s traditional etiquette and procedures with fast-paced, smart alec remarks, while K remains the old and busted, the traditional man who needs to learn to loosen up. But this relationship grows stale quickly once you realize just how much older the main characters are compared to their first movie in 1997, so to embody youthful rebellion, they introduce Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who is so insubordinate and self-righteous that he won’t even take advice from himself from the future.

“The failure of institutional authority … relates to a dysfunctional, weak society,” Lewis writes. “As a teenager, you can’t watch The Wild One and not side with Johnny, not reject the sheriff as yet another symptom of the problem of the older generation.” This quote calls to mind rebellious characters such as Holden Caufield, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and, of course, Agent J, who all see the older generation as outdated and flawed. The audience endears to them partially because they rebel when we can’t, but also because we grow up feeling the same way; by the time we’re old enough to appreciate these kinds of films, we sure as heck don’t still believe our parents always know best. The youthful approach — the badass, rule-bending approach that still gets results — is what we prefer.

It bothered me that J wouldn’t listen to his senior partner’s advice, but
had no qualms when a stranger told him to jump off a building.

So why did MIB3 — a product of the 2010s, not the 90s — recall the conventions of an older time in a few of its elements? Aside from the obvious “it sells” answer, Lewis brings to mind a critical quote in first sentence of The Road to Romance and Ruin: “By some time in the mid 1990s, over half the earth’s population will be under the age of twenty. For better or worse, the world is getting younger.” But this book was written in 1992, meaning that the generation that was and still is the majority was teenagers then, but adults now. Not only that, but MIB3, in spite of being action-packed and comedic, remains esoteric and generally funnier to the loyal fans than the newer generations. Both of these thoughts lead to one conclusion: the writers intended this movie for kids of the 90s, who would recall these themes with fondness. It sold in the 90s, and it will sell to their target audience — and when the target audience is the majority of the country, using 90s conventions just seems like a good idea.

It would be ironic or downright false to claim that MIB3 sparked predominantly new content; the trope of time travel, combined with the 90s conventions listed in this essay, have all been done before, as has MIB as a whole. But what makes this movie truly remarkable is that it celebrates a culture young adults understood as young teens — and despite being something we’ve seen before, it still finds ways to amuse and move us. That being said, don’t judge the movie until you’ve seen it — there’s still plenty of fuel in the 90s tank.