Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hayate Reflections: The Creation Of Dilemmas In Hayate No Gotoku!

Ok, first some awesome news. The covers for Vol. 51 and 52 are out and they actually come together to form one complete picture. Also, I am quite ecstatic about the covers for obvious reasons. Here they are.
Take a close look at Hayate and Nagi's hands. Very subtle, Hata-sensei... very subtle~

Now for the discussion of the week... we begin with a demonstration of how relatively simple it can be to create an artificial atmosphere of trust

By way of example, say I made a promise to post a pseudo-philosophical rambling and then subsequently posted a pseudo-philosophical rambling
therefore, I delivered upon that promise creating the illusion of trustworthiness
Now you might think that this is way too simple and that no person in his right mind would be fooled by it, but that is because you have already been preconditioned to prepare your psychological defenses for such an attack.

Now if you had not been warned beforehand of the promise and the subsequent fulfillment, the trick would have worked much better.

In the same vein, say you were trying to swat a fly and you took a giant swing at that fly that it disappeared from your sight a quick glance around and you discover that there is a dead body of a fly on the floor. Naturally, your mind would come to the obvious conclusion: that fly on the floor is the same fly that you just took a swipe at. 

But does that mean that this is objective reality? You cannot be sure because the fly disappeared from your sight for a moment before you found that dead fly on the floor. It could be that there was always a dead fly on that floor that you just hadn't noticed until now while you completely missed your original target, but your mind has already been preconditioned with a bias towards that dead fly being the same fly that you just tried to swat
the human mind works in such simple ways no matter how complex our thought processes might have become

Awright~ now we come to the meat and potatoes of this subject matter: creating a dilemma.

Basically, a dilemma occurs when two relatively equally attractive choices are presented before the individual who has to make said choice. Now for example
if one were to ask whether I like Nagi or Miku more, I could just end all debate by unequivocally declaring that I like Nagi leagues more than Miku
but... where's the fun in that?

Let's say I deliberately wanted to create a dilemma while also imposing some degree of certainty on the final choice? So instead of replying directly to the question beforehand, I reply with an ambiguity.

Like so:

And then leave the conclusion to the observer. Now, the observer is presented with a dilemma: which is it, really?

Going by mere appearances, it would appear that Nagi is the obvious choice since the appearance of the character is leaning more towards Nagi
but is that really true?

Going by the tiny details included in the picture, there may actually be a strong argument in favor of Miku (again taking the fact that I just declared a few moments ago that it is definitely Nagi). For one, the song used in the text is a Miku song. The outfit worn by the character is a Miku song. But even more telling, the way the eyes are drawn look more like Miku's despite the fact that the colors are definitely leaning more towards Nagi.

Therefore, assuming the observer is not suffering from ADD, the answer to the original question is now even more ambiguous than when we first started. Which one the observer thinks I have chosen would depend on personal biases.

For example, there are equally strong but differing arguments in favor of Nagi -- ones which do not contradict anything said for Miku

  • The body type is closer to Nagi
  • The hairstyle apart from the location of the twin tails is obviously Nagi
  • and even with the Miku clothing, it can be argued that Nagi has been known to cosplay the character before even in the manga's early pages.

therefore, taking the history and personal declarations of the creator of the picture and the originator of the dilemma out of the argument, no valid conclusion can be made.

Now the arguments for both sides do not contradict each other -- and this is important. Because if the arguments overlapped or contradicted each other, then it would not be a dilemma but rather, a paradox. The main difference being that there is a definite answer to the question of who I actually like better.

So what we have here is a situation wherein a dilemma gives birth to another set of dilemmas with the only definite conclusion hanging on "word of God."

And how does all this relate to Hayate no Gotoku!? -  You might very well ask at this point. To put it simply, "the ship wars."

While the question as to who won the ship wars (do stay salty, haters) has finally been put to rest, there is no doubt that had the results been different, there would have been plenty of equally compelling but differing reasons for any of the other girls to win. This is something that the ships who lost cannot seem to accept. 

Nagi is a good choice for Hayate, but so would have been all the other girls. However, having lost the war, there can be no acceptance of Nagi's ship for the losers. At the end of the day, the human mind reverts to such a simple way of thinking no matter how complex our thought processes as adults might have become. "I lost therefore I'm bitter and I will hate the winner" This is the one true rationale behind every long tirade against Hayate x Nagi's ship. Certainly, you can dress it up and pretend that it's about Hata's bad writing or the "lack of development," or other similar assertions, but what it really boils down to is that "I lost therefore I'm angry." Thus, the mind desperately clings to every other valid excuse that it can find to justify this anger. It's simple compensation in the guise of an intellectual discourse

... and perhaps, I would not have been immune to this sort of behavior had things not gone my way. Again, the human mind works in simple ways after all. With that said, this ends this week's rather unique discussion (even if I do say so myself). See ya in a few days when I post pics of my White Cat Nagi from Orca Toys which just arrived a few days ago.

Fanart Corner: Here are a few pieces for you guys... also, I used paintschainer as a lazy way to complete that Hisui x Nagi pic from last week.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hayate Reflection: Hisui - The Epitome of Evil?

I'll definitely finish this by next week!

So I guess I'll be calling these weekly blog posts "Hayate Reflections" from now on. The name sounds nice and also...

First off, you might be excited for the "Hayate Big Reflection" books to be included in the limited edition volumes of Hayate vol. 51 and 52 to be released on 6/17. I've already preordered mine... how about you? Go! Go! Go!

Edit: New stuff from Hata's twitter

12 pages added to the main story
15 pages of epilogue
26 pages added to the limited edition
A total of 53 new pages.

For more details (in English), you can visit Doughnut Gunso's Blog.

Perhaps unlike a lot of Hayate readers (as always, I hold the unpopular opinion), I never once thought that Hisui was really "evil" even though she was clearly introduced into the story as an antagonist.

She was first shown to us... or at least her back was shown to us back in chapter 433. I even made some fanart showing her with what I surmised would be her normal face and then her face if she had any resemblance to her sister, Jenny.

Anyway, it was made pretty clear that Hisui would be an antagonist and this was foreshadowed way back in 2013. When she was finally re-introduced to us as a real antagonist, Hata made sure to show how deadly she can be when she attempted to literally decapitate Mikado. It was very definite that she would have gone through with it had Hayate not blocked her slash. Even so, Hayate was shaking after blocking that strike showing us just how much martial prowess she possessed inside her little loli body.

Even so, I was never really convinced that she was going to be all THAT evil because of several reasons. Let's go over them:

Hayate's Parents

From the start, I'd always believed that Hayate's parents would come back someday -- and they would do something very unforgivable. However, my theory was that despite all this, Hayate would learn forgiveness from Nagi and even if there would be no reconciliation between Hayate and his parents, there would be forgiveness and moving on from Hayate.

Obviously, this did not happen because Hayate' parents were the key to Nagi's explosion of negative emotions back in chapter 561. However, 561 did prover that Hayate's parents were a lot more evil than Hisui because of one key factor: TREACHERY.

Hayate's parents employed treachery at every angle -- which is what makes them such effective villains. They take what little trust that people give them and then betray this trust in a most spectacular manner. Hayate has experienced this several times off the top of my head:

  • His dad betrayed him 10 years ago with Athena. 
  • Even before that, Mikado spotted Hayate's dad betraying his trust when Mikado was stalking Hayate as a possible candidate to enter the Royal Garden. 
  • His parents sold him off to the Yakuza to pay off their own debt.
  • His parents caused him to betray Nagi's feelings by revealing the misunderstanding in the most destructive manner possible.
No Real Betrayal

Hisui has been portrayed as greedy, violent, cruel, selfish... but one thing that she has never been shown as is treacherous. Hisui has never actively betrayed anyone -- most especially not her childhood friends. The only time she ever raised her hand against one of them was in her battles with Isumi. In all her actions, she never actively tried to instill any deep emotional pain on her childhood friends and the people she works with.

This is clearly evident when Hisui shows off a kuudere streak when Nagi invites her for some cake in the penultimate chapter. (the subject of this week's image that I didn't get to finish.)

She Was Nagi's Role Model

Hey, you remember that scene when Hisui stood up for 5 year-old Nagi? While some people with western sensibilities would probably think that her actions were barbaric and a little bit "too much," I certainly did not. Maybe it's because I'm a violent person myself, but I was actually cheering her on the whole time when that happened.

Fortunately it seems that little Nagi (and Hata) shared my sentiments. He did not attempt to villify Hisui's actions in any way during this chapter as much as people want to make their own interpretations in the subject (that's dangerous. That leads to a lot of salt... :D). In fact, Nagi was not looking at Hisui as a villain but as someone she looked up to.

In a way, Hisui was the first to teach Nagi the value of being able to stand up for yourself. While this was probably a minor moment for many people, for me, this really entrenched my belief that Hisui would somehow be redeemed (as a character and not necessarily a 180 degree turn in personality) in the end.

Hisui was one of Nagi's first role models, and as a result, Nagi developed her shounen "never give up" attitude, her sometimes groundless confidence in the face of adversity. It is one of part of her multi-faceted character that I really love and can empathize with and it is, in my belief, thanks in part to Hisui. 

Hisui Is Cute

Hey, I can't be wrong if even Hata agrees with me. But yeah, this is my last point, but I'm quite serious here. Hisui is a cutie despite also being a very menacing character at heart. Basically, my thought was that "she's too cute to be all that bad." The same logic (Hata logic, that is) applies to Yozora Housen and Kananiwa as well. While both were introduced to be pseudo villainous characters, neither of them turned out to be all that bad. In fact, Kananiwa was never actually a villain in the first place despite having some similarities to Dolly from Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

Fanart Corner

I've been drawing Nagi (and sometimes Hayate) a whole lot lately. I've got a few more works in progress works that I'll be showing you next week. Also feel free to comment and tell me what you want topics regarding Hayate you want me to talk about. As always, see you next week~

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Year Of Less - A Guest Post From mikey

Greetings! Lordcloudx here. If you've been following my blog for the past half a decade or so, you probably wouldn't realize this, but I was once an active member of the English Visual Novel scene... well, that was a horrible decision in hindsight. In any case, I made quite a few "connections" with people there whom I will always consider to be my liftetime friends. Today's guest post is from said friend.

Also, I am still participating in the 365 project mentioned in this article through 365 Nagi wherein I take a pic of one of my Nagi dolls or figures every day for 365 days. At the moment, there's only two of us left and we're in the home stretch so wish us luck.

Anyway, I leave you with mikey of ATP Projects:

My Year Of Less

Dear reader, imagine the following inner creative monologue:
Arrrgh! There's just not enough time to do it all! Too much to dooooo! Okay okay, stay cool - let's make the list here:

  • there is this VN I'm working on, my current big project
  • I need to catch up on the TV series I started, plus there is a new one that people are starting to talk about.
  • I really need to update my site and fix all the broken links and downloads, check and approve the comments and answer questions
  • art commissions, I ought to do them, I could use the money, need to prepare a post
  • this person wanted to get back in touch regarding a possible big project I could participate in, I wonder if I should contact them again
  • next month the new console comes out and people are posting these cool screenshots of that upcoming epic RPG, I think I'll have to just postpone everything when that happens, I'm so hyped up about it!
  • but... I really need to write an opinion piece about what's going on in the VN world right now, my Twitter is lighting up with this one controversy and if I don't write something today or tomorrow, it'll be pointless, so I have to do it with priority.
OK, so I'll do that opinion piece - I suppose I won't be so fresh in the morning, but I'll catch up on sleep tomorr... wait, tomorrow is that Steam sale, so... just add it to the list:

  • I need to check out the VN deals, I've been meaning to try that time travel VN, and if I end up buying it (and I will, it'll be like 50% off, I have to take it) that's like a solid week gone right there
  • oh, and the VN-making jam is in two months, I have to start figuring out what to do soon.
  • and of course my project backlog, I have one or two semi-fleshed-out ideas, maybe I should consider doing one of those instead of the main project, it's a bit too hectic these days, I need to sort through my notes
Aaaaand... I think that's about it,... it's not so bad... I'll just push through this (actually, this would all be much quicker if I didn't need to sleep, I mean seriously, sleeping takes away so many precious hours), and in one, two... three months, at latest when the VN-making jam is over, I'll be in a much better place, and will be able to focus much better when all of these things settle down a bit.
Well, dear reader, you already probably know what will happen to this person in three months. They will have just as much open projects and upcoming cool games to play, series to watch or read, or controversies to voice their opinion on as they have today. Additionally, they will of course not manage to keep their 3-month plan, because unexpected life changes and situations will happen - crunch times at work leaving them with almost no energy, a new relationship that's now more important than most things, a health annoyance that leaves them with less time to spare or makes it harder to work, or some administrative nightmare with lots of paperwork and errands hits their life. And that's before we count the inevitable delays in the above mentioned projects, not finishing the game jam on time, commissions by unexpectedly difficult people, and of course hitting those walls in games, getting sidetracked while watching a series by jumping on its spinoff... in the end they will be - just like now - at full capacity. In fact, probably attempting to do 120%, while being frustrated that they instinctively don't see how to make work the 170% they would actually like to accomplish.

While not in the situation above, in 2016 I did nevertheless experience that same feeling of "if I push a little harder, I can fit it all in, and then it'll be all over and I'll enjoy a slower pace of everything". But just like in that example, that relief never truly came. In 2016, inspired by having Aurora Fall done, I enjoyed randomly doing small creative projects and treating myself to (also random) entertainment - games I've been meaning to play "once Aurora Fall is finished". In other words, a guilt-free creative and entertainment life. But as time went on, as a human, I fell into some less-than-optimal patterns. I took on a bit here, a bit there, and while fun, I did find myself at the end of a seemingly "impressive" 2016. I released more VNs than any year ever, with several running projects, many of which were longer term regular commitments, a backlog of games I bought to celebrate my "freedom from Aurora Fall", a hard disk full of "stuff I finally get to watch", and last but not least - a note book of great little ideas that may or may not potentially grow into something.

It was at the end of 2016 when I realized that now, almost two years after completing my creative "life's work" in the form of the "Original 22" visual novels, the way I was making my small post-retirement VNs, the way I was watching those series and movies, and how I was playing my backlog of games was leaving me with a sort of disjointed sense of progress and completion. Meanwhile, a difficult leftover project from the old "Original 22" days (the SSV project) was still unfinished and started to weigh on me... and so, after having the time and space to think about it over the year-end holiday season, the idea of the "Year of Less" was born.

In general, if ever the "Year of Less" had a tagline, it would be "no, you can't fit it all in". This was a key point in all my decisions, and it addresses exactly that feeling which I described in the previous paragraphs. The feeling you get that the overwhelm you feel today is only temporary, that if only you get this current workload done, if you just push through this time, that there is a peaceful, non-hectic life waiting on the other end. That the games that will come out in 6 months will not be as tempting to me as the ones that are out right now, and that I will manage my time and energy much better, and will not be going to bed late just because I was so involved with whatever I was doing and it felt like a good idea to stay up.

My heart was saying yes, it's true - I will definitely change how I approach things in the future... just as soon as I finish what I have going on right now.

But of course, today is the future of six months ago, and at that time I was also saying the same thing. The conclusion is simple - the "calm" future never comes. Which is why for the "Year of Less" I relieved my delusional, optimistic heart from command - and decided to give the helm to the analytical part of my brain - and let it run the show this year. I was kind of hoping for a "new CEO" scenario - when a new CEO is appointed at a failing company, often heads start to roll, and instant changes are made. And as 2017 nears half-time, here is all that my analytical CEO brain and I have done so far and how it's worked out:

1. Finished last long-term project (SSV)

By far the biggest reason to start the "Year of Less" was to finish my screenshot project (i.e. converting all the visual novels from my "Original 22" set to screenshots). This was a grueling and time-consuming project that I was doing manually. Even in December 2016 I still had the biggest visual novels yet to go, and I felt if I wouldn't make this the absolute top priority, it would drag on for a year longer. Add to that the fact that even though this was a monumental undertaking, it was always just "creating new versions" of existing visual novels, and so there would be no single "project" I'd be able to claim to have accomplished.

And so, much like with my very focused first half of 2014 when I was completing Aurora Fall, I decided to subordinate every other thing to the completion of the screenshot project. It was too much on my mind, too much of an unfinished business. And so I did. Save for "The Buzz", I pretty much stopped all activities, and focused only on the SSV project, still fueled by the rush of the glow of the New Year's resolution (which it kind of was). But much like with Aurora Fall, any progress was good, and if I should slow down after a month, I would have at least made intense progress.

Did it work out? It did, and quite fast, it turns out. Not two and a half months later, and it was done. And much like Aurora Fall, it wasn't so much the time needed to complete it that was the problem, it was the uninterrupted time I needed to focus on it, which, once I managed to free, made the whole project possible. The problem was, that in order to gain this focus, I didn't really have time to finish all the commitments and projects I had going on - I merely ignored them. So after I was finished, I had to call on my sense of discipline and NOT say "mission accomplished".

Because this was not a sprint. Yes, I did want to primarily finish the SSV project, but the euphoria about finishing should not mean I should now forget why I did this in the first place - I wanted to have a slower year, do things more judiciously. With the SSV project done, I now had more time and less obligation, and I needed to spend that extra time to FURTHER REDUCE everything.

If you are into cars, imagine the Rolls-Royce Wraith (a luxurious and powerful car). Unlike many other cars, it has no rev counter - instead it has a "power reserve" gauge. So while in other cars the rev counter shows you how close to its limit your engine is, the Rolls-Royce's power reserve indicator tells you how much power is still available to you. "You have 80% in reserve, sir". And it's the same way I wanted to think about my own "energy" as well - rather than measuring how much I can accomplish, how "productive" I am, and making tweaks so I could do and jam in a little bit more here and there (equivalent to car that's being tuned to give more and more power), I wanted to focus instead on increasing the margin - to get my "power reserve" as high as I could, all the while still moving forward.

So instead of having all those 15 projects and commitments kind of going on at the same time, I wanted to have just 3, or 4. I wanted to have the space, the buffer - especially because so many times I've been operating on 95% capacity and when suddenly something unexpected is thrown your way, you have to drop something else to deal with it. I wanted my "power reserve" for this exact case, because in fact this is what happens all the time. As an example, I really wanted to finish that website update tonight (because tomorrow I must finish editing the podcast so we can release), but my son woke up and I had to put him back to bed, I lost a lot of time... and just hearing myself saying that felt so stupid. I shouldn't be in a position where I'm stretched so thin, that even a relatively small interruption causes a chain reaction of missed things, and broken commitments.

That's why I had to remind myself of this - I have freed up this time to continue the Year of Less, make more space, make the space nicer and cleaner. And not to throw it away or fill it with more of the same. And the next thing really helped in that:

2. Finished several small projects

One of the mottos for this year was "finishing, not starting", and this encouraged me to officially end some of my ongoing smaller projects. For example "Penshooter II", which was going on indefinitely, as well as discontinuing maintenance for some websites I ran, such as the list of VN podcasts. I also rummaged through my archive of unfinished articles and overviews, and put together a few "final lists" that I published as a way of closing all of them. And after that, I deleted all the unfinished stuff that remained (but more to this point later).

How did this feel? It felt kind of like when you tidy up and clean out your house. It's not the most fun thing to do, but it feels great and freeing when you're actually done. More to the point, getting small projects out of the way feels like you're removing a lot of the distractions and creative "mess". I was especially surprised how many "unspoken" commitments I had, where I realized that something I had somewhere was in fact kind of unfinished (like an article I took screenshots for, or that website that I neglected for so long). There were loads of things like that - small, seemingly insignificant little pieces of silent guilt, failure or unfinished business.

Especially in the cases where I ran "service" websites, such as lists that needed to be periodically updated, it was especially hard to take the decision, because even though I know how very little traffic they get, there was still a (disproportionate) sense of obligation from my side towards their visitors. I felt like I was letting them down, but I have realized that it makes a huge difference that I publicly stop the commitment as opposed to simply letting it lapse and not update silently. I am the kind of person who needs the closure to be public in this way. So I announced the end of all those sites as I was closing them down and formatting their data as "articles".

The result? Fantastic. To beat the house analogy to death, if the SSV project was the old furniture that I finally threw out, these small projects were all the "could-be-useful-one-day" type of clutter that we hang on to. And much like with those things there is a bit of sadness when we finally eliminate them from our lives, but that's the price. And since the analytical brain was in charge, it helped to overcome a lot of the emotional resistance to officially wrapping these projects up.

3. Said "no" to NaNoRenO 2017

Last year, I participated on a whim and released five NaNoRenO visual novels. This year I publicly committed myself already in January that I wouldn't join, mostly to counteract any last-minute impulses. Last year I not only impulse-joined NaNoRenO, but also participated in SuNoFes (another jam), as well as the month-long art challenge Inktober. Together with starting a year-long daily "365" photo project during the summer, the need to consistently show up and/or deliver was starting to eat away at my sense of calm.

Did it work out? It did. I never felt like I was missing out when I was reading other people's updates, and afterward I had no regrets whatsoever. Watching from the sidelines (and putting together a summary later on) was plenty.

4. Tracked stuff

Not in a very labour-intensive way, though. I found an app that suited me, and then set 11 parameters that I wanted to track every day - almost all of them were yes/no things. For example
  • "Did I play with my kids today?" Yes/No
  • "Did I go to bed before midnight?" Yes/No.
And so on. All of these were things that mattered to me the most, and that I felt like I should always keep on my mind.

In fact, it wasn't as much about tracking, but more about reminding myself every day what is most important in my life. Spending less than a minute to check off (or not) a few boxes on my phone has done wonders to my awareness of what actually matters. I would also export this data into a spreadsheet and make monthly "reports" on how I did. The results didn't really surprise me, except one which was a simple question of whether I achieved what I planned for that day - here, courtesy of the planning fallacy, the logs showed that I did really badly. The only remedy was to just plan less, or plan more realistically, which helped, and I came to around 50% plan achieved versus not achieved in a month, which I was quite content with - especially when I often miss a "plan achieved" by a single simple todo, which means that I still managed to do most of the tasks.

I also found it helpful (another practice I borrowed from the "productivity" world) to define my "MIT", most important task for the day (best determined the night before, maybe as a part of the daily tracking process), that if I finished, it would already be a success. These aren't necessarily "important" tasks, but they are important to happen on that day for practical, but also emotional reasons. Sometimes it was important to me to change a light bulb that started to annoy me. Sometimes it was that we have a nice dinner. Other days it was a phone call that I have been putting off for too long... and sometimes it was as simple and non-negotiable as "tomorrow the kids have their play in the kindergarten" - there is nothing more clear about what's most important for me to do on that day... (it's being there, in the audience, of course).

The thing is, as silly as it sounds, we don't seem to distinguish between the importance of todos very intuitively - and having a constant reminder or a very simple way of quickly find your bearings during a busy day adds a huge sense of control and confidence. I even have a sticky notes app with a single item on it, the most important thing to do on that day, but one tip - if you are going to do this, don't put vague things on it - just really specific things. I remember back in the days when I wanted to motivate myself to work on Aurora Fall, I would have something similar on my phone, but it would just say "Aurora Fall". And that actually achieved the opposite, because it just reminded me of this big obligation to myself. So best to define your MIT as something - as they say - "actionable".

5. I started to reflect regularly

One significant system improvement that I did in the Year Of Less apart from tracking things was also to regularly (once or twice a week) review all my "life administration" tasks. If you're into Getting Things Done (conceptually best explained via the audiobook), this is pretty much the "weekly review", though I also included reminding myself of my personal mantras (to keep doing what helps me) and cautionary tales (to stop myself from doing what never goes well for me). The whole process about 30-45 minutes to do for me, and its components are:
  • review of all of my to-dos and problems
  • go through personal mantras
  • reminding myself of my "cautionary tales"
Firstly, the regular review of all administrative tasks and general life to-dos is immensely helpful. If nothing else, I am at least able to see the entire pool of my problems, tasks and obligations, determine what has to happen to move each of them forward (creating the actual to-do's), and update any corresponding lists. This simple exercise alone takes away a lot of the stress and helps me feel confident that I'm doing the right things. And the fact that this sounds like the teachings of a productivity guru should not detract from the fact that it truly helps your psyche to calm down and feel in control.

Secondly, in the same session, I will also go through my personal mantras, and remind myself of the things I value, my priorities, all mostly boiled down to short little "do's" and "dont's" like for example "don't write after midnight", or "family comes first, not only on weekends".

Finally, I found it especially helpful to write out more detailed accounts of things I disliked in a particular project, and created short "cautionary tales" to remind myself of the negatives I often kept forgetting once the projects are done, and which makes me susceptible to engaging in something similar again - and I desperately want to avoid that. I wrote these things down as if speaking to myself - warning myself, in a way. For example: "Hey, remember how much of a pain it was to maintain this one list up to date, how you made website crawling scripts and how you spent hours formatting it, checking and verifying the information, every week, and it took almost an entire evening, and for what? In the end no one really cared, no one noticed when it was not updated for a month? And then you had to migrate it to another site? Do you remember that it took three evenings to find a new theme and format that you were happy with, and move all the metadata? This was fun for the first few months, but then it became just awful, wasted time - you should never do this kind of thing again".

And yes, that's worded quite harshly, but in fact that's the point - I do want to keep myself from doing this, so I intentionally speak of the lowest lows in the given project - it's a warning. And there's a reason why warnings always shows the worst case scenario.

Anyway, a mild example of something that I would like to stay away from for at least a while could be my 365 project, which you can read about in the next point. Though I will be much kinder in my wording this time.

As with any of these productivity methods, it's the underlying thought that is most important. Whether you follow the "GTD method" of a weekly review, or simply sit down and look at some giant list of everything, what matters is that you reflect on the past period of time, and plan the next one. The fact that this is a very important habit to try to form may also be underlined by my experience with it which was that it's not easy to build up and keep. It takes quite a lot of mental energy to do this, but on the other hand it does provide a lot of benefits. I can say that I have so far this year not missed a single week, but a few times I was close to skipping the weekly reflection, which is why keeping this process is now a part of my to-dos.

It's just too valuable to let go - chiefly because if you have the total picture of all your obligations and tasks, you will (especially if you have it on paper) visually see just how much there is. And that's the thing - it gets easier to say no to new things once you know of every one you already have. I have of course always had the feeling I have "a lot going on", but it wasn't until it was actually quantified and listed that I realized the extent of everything. Reflecting on everything periodically is one of the toughest things I had to do in my "Year of Less". But I do feel that without it, making a lot of the positive changes wouldn't have been possible.

6. Finished the 365 Kei project (kind of)

This project (taking a picture of a toy car I had every day, for a year) was more of an artistic challenge than a personal one. Still, I've always wanted to do this, and so I started it last summer (along with some friends, including the owner of this site), which meant that at the beginning of 2017, I still had roughly half a year of daily pictures to do.

How was it? Well... generally it was great, but then... not so great. Actually it was quite fun close to 80% of the way, but in the last two or so months (which I will focus on, but which should not detract from the overwhelming net positive) too many small annoyances have piled up and the project turned into a bit of a chore.

The breaking point however came when I forgot to take a picture one day, roughly two months before the end. It wasn't a big deal at the time, I took a picture straight away the next morning with the argument that "technically it was still yesterday's date in America" (I live in Europe). I even turned it into a feature when I took another picture when it was "already the specific date in Australia". In hindsight, I can say that it was then, that internally the project lost purpose for me.

I of course understand that for many photographers a 365 project does not fail if they miss a day (and they either catch up the next day or skip that day), but as this process showed me, I had a very personal definition of "daily". And no matter what I did, there was no convincing my inner self that skipping a day was okay. Conclusion? I have failed in the daily photo project, and almost from one day to another, the project got incredibly frustrating, amplifying all the small nagging irritations that I was able to overlook when the project was still giving me joy.

For example: I recalled how on a few occasions I have missed photo opportunities, and had to settle for less interesting themes - be it because I forgot to always have the toy car on me, or because taking a photo in the particular situation would be socially inappropriate. All this is eating away at me, and yet it doesn't matter, because if I just took the same picture of the car every day, I'd complete a 365 project. So why was I even worried about what the photo looked like when it seems like deep inside the day-specific nature of the thing is more important for me?

There were more troubles, too. Even without the missed picture, many days I just felt uninspired to compose a picture, and that should have tipped me off that the 365 was (if I'm honest with myself) more about the gimmick to me. I also often felt I was spending way too much time mentally scanning my surroundings for a unique shot, and my frustrations rising as it became obvious that I'd have to settle for a sub-optimal shot. And many times I'd be out with my kids, and I'd have to stop and take a picture of the toy car, not because I wanted to, but because I knew I wouldn't get a nicer opportunity that day. It kind of took the fun out of it.

It was on Day 312 that I missed the shot, and after two weeks of increasingly demotivating photo taking after that "failed day", I admitted failure, and decided to end it at 333. On that day, I had 3 pictures left. I announced it on Twitter, and - quite surprisingly - at a stroke, everything changed.

The moment it was "official", I felt like I had to make the most out of the last 3 images. And no, in the end they were not all that spectacular, but the process and the pictures felt genuine and fun again. It was almost like a bittersweet ending - the good kind, much more sweet than bitter. I even ran out of work earlier to buy the car some "friends" with which I ended the set. And then, gave the cars to my kids, because they weren't "subjects" anymore. They were toys again.

So in the end, I had a positive experience, and when all was said and done, I decided to call the project 333 Kei. That also contributed greatly to all the frustrations and resentment towards the project being gone, and I was reminded of how wonderful it was that despite the failure to complete the project, I managed to capture (almost) a whole year going by, and inserted symbols of things that happened or have been at the front of my mind into some of the shots, a few of them even representing personal things, friendships, or memories. It's nice as a record of things, and even visually I think it's quite diverse and interesting. Even the uninspired photos now symbolize those emotions now, and I'm glad they are there.

And if you wanted to shoehorn this into the concept of the "Year of Less", I'd say the decision to stop it was the link. I was ready to accept it as "cutting my losses", and not engage in an activity just for the sake of completing it, making it a case of sunk cost fallacy. That it ended up feeling like an accomplishment was a nice bonus I didn't anticipate.

7. Killed my creative notes periodically

If this sounds cruel, it kind of is. This year I have decided that the collections of notes, ideas, partially complete things and inspirations that I have been keeping ever since I started to creative stuff was also a form of baggage. And last year I finally found the trust that even if I deleted all my stuff, I would come up with new stuff that would still feel like it was "me", just expressed through different ideas.

I do want to acknowledge however, that most people might think this is too radical. After all, what's the harm? So I keep my old notes somewhere in the cloud - they are my inspiration, and I never have to feel anxiety over ideas that I lost. Except that while I do feel like this works for your todo's (always write all your tasks down in the same place), with creative ideas it's a bit different.

In April, I made a short visual novel, Oliver Renhelf. It was a "fresh" idea, I was happy with it, and it felt just as "me" as any of the other ideas I had archived before. And it just confirmed to me that our ideas and concepts don't really define us - they don't own us, because they are not what's important - what's important is that we express ourselves through them, no matter the form.

Crucially though, Oliver Renhelf could never have been done had I had my old notes - I would rummage around in them, synthesize from them, and never really experience the fresh mindset of a truly blank slate. For me, it's like when I began creating stuff. It's a happy process that lets me experience the freedom of being able to imagine anything I want. And knowing that it's not the idea, not the story, not the design that matters, but rather that it's what the work expresses (or how it expresses you) which gives it soul, has given me the confidence to throw away ideas, because I now know they are not what really matters in my works.

I continue to periodically delete all my notes and incomplete projects now.

8. The end of The Buzz's run

Strangely, the second reason for my "year of less" was so that I'd have more time to focus on The Buzz - a podcast which I was a co-host of. At the beginning of the year it turned out however, that it was kind of naturally slowing down, and so we all agreed to end the run with Episode 30 (where around 1:27:40 you can also listen to us talk about this in more detail).

So I don't actually see this as a year-of-less-accomplishment in that sense - but because The Buzz was a very demanding project and commitment, wrapping it up in early 2017 freed up yet more mental energy for me. The "power reserve gauge" was now at a reassuringly comfortable 50%, since together with completing the screenshot project, I had no large projects and no major creative commitments anymore. Yet again though, there was a trial to be passed before the gauge really settled down.

You see, there is this instinctive reaction I seem to have whenever I finish a project - I feel like whatever "void" was left, I need to fill with something right away. This doesn't just happens with creative projects, though. Also in the area of entertainment, when I finish a game, I feel the need to start a new one right away. It's sort of a creative / entertainment inertia thing, and I try to remind myself about it whenever I am about to finish something large - and in this case, I kept telling myself - "hey, when you release the last episode of The Buzz, you will probably want to start another podcast.


9. Implemented a "weekly watch & play list"

One of the feelings I had last year (and some years before that, actually) was that I was doing a lot of half-conscious bite-sized watching. I felt like apart from going to the movies, rather than watching I was more going through series, videos or movies. Every experience felt very fragmented. I also felt like I was doing a lot of "aspirational" watching - things I wouldn't choose myself, but which were talked about at the moment, and which I ended up being mostly underwhelmed by.

Well, no more. I wanted to get more deliberate in what I'd watch, and make sure what I watched was not driven by other people's opinions or recommendations. And so I implemented a simple rule - Sometime during the weekend, I needed to write down what I'd be watching the next week and could not deviate from that plan.

At the end of the week, I'd see what I watched and what I didn't, and make a new plan for the week ahead. And if I got the urge to watch something that wasn't on the list, I hoped that the knowledge that I'd be able to put it on the list for next week would suffice - after all, it was at worst just 7 days. I could wait that long, right?

Yes, it turns out.

In fact, I can't sing enough praises for this decision - this method is something that has worked wonders for me. In practice I would typically choose:
  • two movies and a TV series to watch (e.g. XYZ Season 1)
  • some bookmarked videos
  • maybe a game playthrough (downloaded offline)
  • or larger events (these days I enjoy pro wrestling, for example)
  • and one game (sometimes one game per console I own - 3DS and PS3/4)
The first few weeks I kept ending up with unwatched movies (or movies which I skipped around in), but come the second month, I was really picking only the things I actually ended up watching.

In terms of numbers, compared to often 10 different entries on my to-watch list in January, my to-watch list in the following months was just around 4 items, into which I quickly started to include video games as well - one game I was actively playing, one movie and one TV series. While we were on skiing vacation for instance, I only had a single item on the list, and I really literally only watched a single TV series for the whole week (I left my 3DS at home, so I really had nothing). The whole system also helped cut down on random Youtube watching, too, because it was unrewarding and bureaucratic to watch short videos (I had to in some way bookmark or download them for later), a perfect side-effect, because short-form or non-continuous entertainment was the main reason I felt my experiences were so unsatisfying and inconsistent.

No surprise then, that will continue to use this approach, probably indefinitely. I've even been able to make this into some kind of a habit, in that I now find it "barbaric" to just randomly watch something. It's kind of funny, but actually, it's exactly what I wanted, and I'm really happy to have brought back watching from being something to pass the time to feeling special again.

10. Locked down news and social streams

Two things were frustrating me with social media last year - on one hand it was the various types of re-postings of other people's content by the people I followed. Often not filterable, and not well marked, it contributed to the confusion - was I seeing original thoughts and content by this person I followed, or were they forwarding me this information that someone else I don't follow has produced? It was hard to determine at a glance, and I felt like much of the personality of the individual people has been lost - my timelines have felt like streams of stuff people I followed were kind of associated with - a far cry from what I really wanted, which was their thoughts, their things.

My second frustration is related to this, too, as in recent times social media has moved to the idea that your stream / timeline will not necessarily show you all the content by people you follow. So if I make a new post, well... there is no guarantee that people who follow me will see it.

And all of this demoted social media in my eyes to more or less a shoutbox. To be able to still use it though, I implemented a lot of news filters, spoiler filters and generally shielded myself from opinions on most hot topics and news. And so, together with using thirdparty clients, I have still managed to make social media work for me, mostly as a way of keeping in touch with what people I like are doing - either by directly following them, or having quick searches saved when I want to see what they are up to on my own terms.

It works quite well, and on any given day my pared down, filtered social media stream produces anything from 5-30 messages, all from people I care about and with information I want to know. It is "less" than the average 300-500 messages that I have been receiving before I radically cut things down, but it has made social media enjoyable again, so much so that I now have notifications enabled to tell me people have posted, because I'm looking forward to hearing from them.

11. Continued with "solitary enjoyments"

Related to the above point is also the idea of "solitary enjoyments", which I also talked about in an episode of The Buzz. In essence, from time to time I try to have watching or gaming experiences purely for myself, not sharing them with anyone. So I may read a manga, or watch a movie and not talk about it. I may play a game, and keep my opinions on it to myself. Or I may do something fun, but not tell the entire world about how I'm enjoying it. Keeping stuff to myself.

I still continue to do it in 2017, but it's not officially a part of my "Year of Less", mostly because the realizations that my opinions or thoughts on things will end up partially disregarded by social media algorithms has made it less appealing for me to share them. Which is, weirdly, a positive thing - I will now just enjoy something and then enjoy something else, without explicitly having to tell myself that this is one of my solitary (or "silent") enjoyments and I must resist the temptation to share it. That temptation is often not even there anymore. The memories of it will just be mine, and actually, there is a certain romance about not having it publicly documented. It's like one of those gentlemen art thieves who steal a beautiful painting so that they can enjoy it alone.

12. No VN collaborations with anyone in 2017

The last point is something that has organically developed in 2017, rather than me coming up with it as a restriction beforehand. And it's that in 2017 I want to make all projects purely by myself, with no help from anyone.

This came about when I first thought about making a visual novel this year, but just wanted to do something simple, and on my own schedule. And since I can basically do everything I need to make a visual novel except the (character) art, for Oliver Renhelf I looked at some free-to-use sprites over at the Lemmasoft forums. I wasn't ever a huge fan of taking "readily available stuff", especially not when it came to characters, but then, as I've pointed out already, I consider myself retired - and kind of free from any philosophical constraints I might have had when I was working on the "Original 22" set of visual novels.

So, you know... why not? Why not take an existing sprite, especially if it hasn't ever been put into a VN that was actually completed, and why not do it? It's less stress for me, because I don't have to coordinate, and the sprites find their purpose. And no, they are not bespoke, but again - the 2017 version of me isn't one that's bothered by this. And much like I used to be protective of my scripts and would always use the packed and scrambled Ren'Py files, post Aurora-Fall-me just releases all the game's assets open and for everyone to see. It's therefore not really surprising to me that I've come around to using pre-made sprites, too - and that I'm finding it to be a really creatively rewarding thing to do.

Which is why this works so well for me, and why I've later formalized it for this year, too - taking a break from aligning, organizing and collaborating on creative projects. It's definitely a change of pace that I can appreciate and enjoy now. Again, a more inward and in a way solitary way of doing things this year.

In conclusion:

The "Year Of Less" is still going on, and it confirmed to me once again, that change doesn't just happen overnight - and that's fine. It took time, but it's worth being more resilient towards impulse creativity and impulse entertainment. For example, having bought a Playstation 4, I now have the ability to easily make gaming videos, which has tempted me to make and release something like a video review.

But seeing how much work would go into it, the (thoroughly non-monetary) "return on investment", it is more clear to me that as fun as that would be, I couldn't afford to do it, making me less frustrated that I just can't do everything I would like to do.

In fact, I almost feel like "I have more say in what I choose to do", that my choices are more "me", more honest. And that I have much more time as well as mental reserves for unexpected problems down the line. Implementing my own "Year Of Less" isn't really fun, but... in a way it makes up for it by being very personal and inward-looking process.

I guess at this point you may expect me to recommend you do the same, or urge you to think about these things, but that's not what I want from this, because this isn't a manifesto, or a primer on mindful engagement.

What I'd actually like to achieve is that if you ever come to a situation where you feel like it's time to re-think a few things in your life and that a general idea of slowing down, being more deliberate and doing or engaging in less activities to get back more of the depth of these experience occurs to you, that you will remember this article and read it again. And I hope it will speak to you much more than it probably does now.

And when that day comes, I do wish you the best of luck with your own "Year Of Less".

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Maria's Departure:Not As Bad As You May Want To Believe

I actually followed someone else's art style for this one. I just love the way the artist drew Nagi's head and expression. Making her look all sparkly was my decision.

Greetings! It's a Wednesday in Japan and if Hayate had not ended, it would have been published today in Weekly Shounen Sunday.

By the way, Hayate no Gotoku Volumes 51-52 limited editions are now available for preorders from your favorite international online hobby stores. Grab em while you can -- this is the last time after all. Also, White Cat Nagi is now available from Orca Toys too. No delays this time. Mine has already shipped.

So for this week's blog post, I'd like to talk a bit about Maria's departure from this series. Naturally, I am talking about the last time we see the real Maria and not the one in the Royal Garden who was obviously not the tangible Maria that we have come to know throughout the series no matter what your unsupported delusions might lead you to believe.

Anyway, the last time we see the real Maria is in chapter 558 and since I am always the holder of controversial minority opinions (proven right for once -- thank goodness), for this week I'd like to put forth a few points to show that Maria's departure from the series was not really abrupt and that her character development cycle was complete -- even if she may not have been given the screen/panel time that many of you wanted her to have. 

By the way, it's worth noting that there was a sudden influx of support for Maria to become Hayate's romantic partner (which didn't happen) as the other girls abruptly got their ships sunk systematically in the chapters leading up to the finale. It was almost as if certain factions were clutching at straws in the vain hope that things would turn out differently even though the PLOT logically leads to only one conclusion... ah yes, the salt is real... ahem...let us begin:

Full Circle

Like I mentioned in my review for the final chapter, "full circle" is a constant theme in Hayate no Gotoku!. In fact, it is more like a motif of the series in how so many things come full circle either at or near the finale.

In Maria's case, her role came full circle back in the penultimate level 5 arc in my opinion. It was at this point in chapter 515 when Nagi beat her in a direct game for the first time when Maria had a realization. This realization would be voiced by Maria later on in chapter 519 when she acknowledges Nagi's growth. This is also a good time to point out that Hayate is in total denial of Nagi's growth and the reason is pretty clear now -- he wanted an excuse for Nagi to need him because she was his raison d'etre after all.

Early Foreshadowing

Maria's role was actually established as early as in chapter 2 0f the manga and even in the prototype one-shot manga of Hayate no Gotoku! While Hata has shipteased her several times with Hayate and perhaps even hinted at his blog that Maria was in the "strike zone," when the story of Hayate no Gotoku! is taken as a whole and by itself, Maria was always meant to take on the role of a confidante -- as the bridge between Hayate and Nagi. This is why she is the only person who actually knew of the misunderstanding for a while until it all came to light through an explosion of negative emotions from Nagi in chapter 561.

Any hints of a "romantic development" between Hayate and Maria were never really "developed," as far as the plot of the story goes. It was always just shipteasing moments here and there which were never really explored. Could they have been explored? Most certainly, and the story could definitely have taken a different direction... but it didn't. Hata chose to stick with the pre-defined path that the story had been logically and consistently following all along and for those of us who saw this path -- he struck gold. For people who were in constant denial of Nagi's viability as Hayate's eventual romantic partner -- well, stay salty as always.

Establishing Her Character Development Phase

Maria was admittedly largely underused for a majority of the story. Her first major breakthrough actually came in the Mangaka Arc or what the fanbase might call the "ComiSun arc." Anyway, call it what you want. Let's not be pedantic about names.

Worth noting that Nagi makes a similar declaration in the penultimate chapter

Anyway, take note of the following select pages from chapter 424. While of course, I personally loved this chapter because of Nagi's awesomeness, in the background, it also sets the tone for Maria's character development cycle. Nagi decides not to give up on something instead of going to Maria to cry and this makes her (Maria) realize that Nagi has grown a lot. Hayate was not there to see it (and so were most readers) but Maria was around to bear witness to Nagi's development and in the process, this kickstart's Maria's own development phase as well. Take note of Maria's reaction here:

This was the point wherein she first began to contemplate her role in Nagi's life -- and course, her own life as well. In my opinion, she was probably thinking about what her existence meant beyond Nagi -- something which she confirmed in her own finale as she finally quit being Nagi's maid. Meanwhile, it's an excellent contrast to Hayate who had explicitly anchored his existence to Nagi's well-being. Unlike Maria, because Hayate had not been paying enough attention to Nagi's amazing growth throughout the series (and because he was fooling around with other girls at these key moments), he could not accept it when Nagi's maturity hit him square in the face.

Chapter 558 Was Her Finale -- And It Was Sufficient

While I cannot pretend to know what Hata was actually thinking without his official declaration, I can make an educated guess that chapter 558 was really meant to be Maria's finale -- and for me it was sufficient.

In chapter 554, Maria had declared to Hayate just a few chapters prior that she would quit as Nagi's maid. This time, Hayate is confiding to Maria that he now knew about the misunderstanding and tells her of his plan to quit as a butler after he's secured Nagi's inheritance for her. To also ensure that Nagi would not be lonely in the future, he tries asking Maria to stay with Nagi. Instead, when Nagi suddenly comes up to them as they are talking, Maria reveals her plan to quit on Nagi's 14th birthday. 

Now many people saw this as irresponsible on Maria's part, but I must disagree. Maria was a confidante, but she was always a third party in the relationship between Hayate and Nagi. What Hayate sought in Maria was an easy way out -- and frankly, Maria had no obligation whatsoever to grant this to Hayate. This is especially true when Hayate himself was trying to be evasive and could not even properly sort out his feelings for Nagi. This, I believe is partly why Maria cut off his options. (again, the flow of the story would prove my assumptions correct). 

Her other reason was more personal. She did not want her existence to be tied to Nagi for the rest of her life. It would not be healthy for both of them. Maria being psychologically dependent on Nagi needing her and Nagi needing maria for physical and emotional support. Yes, the same could be said of Hayate as well -- which is why this much was also addressed eventually, but I've already discussed that matter before.

In any case, finally, in chapter 558, 10 chapters before the finale of the story, Maria says her goodbye to us, the readers and to Nagi as well. There is a definite air of finality to this chapter and I found it really beautiful despite the sudden timeskip. 

The throwback to the comedy of S1 of the anime with the absurd talking dragon fish and the references to the amusement park mascot from Nagi Nagi Land felt really nostalgic for me. It was a chapter of just Nagi and Maria having fun, but somehow, their roles were reversed. Maria was being impulsive and playful, while Nagi was getting fed up with her antics and scolding her. Her role in Nagi's life had come full circle back in the level 5 arc and this final chapter was confirmation of that.

We see it not just in the words they say, but in their expressions.  When Maria looks at Nagi as they are both drenched in the water -- her eyes were saying "thank you and goodbye" at the same time.

I really love the way the words were phrased in Nagi's narration after that as well. "Just like the wind, she disappeared." For me, there could not be a more fitting ending for a character as mysterious and beautiful as Maria was portrayed to be in this series.

We Could Have Seen Her Again In Chapter 568

With that said, I would not have been against seeing at least just one panel of what Maria was doing in the final chapter, 568. While I don't believe that it was necessary, it would have been nice.

Conclusion: Reader Introspection Is Necessary

Please do not think that Hata is a horrible author if some degree of introspection from the reader is necessary in order to derive some enjoyment from his works. That is just the way some authors roll. It doesn't make Hata a bad author, it just makes you a reader who doesn't like his works. I for one am happy that in this world of instant gratification and the need for concrete evidence in order to justify an assumption -- that there are still writers like Hata who can tell a story without needing to declare something explicitly.

Fanart Corner

Well, I've had tons of time for drawing lately... but here are a few I've finished so far. These are mostly watercolor paintings and sketches
16 year old Nagi is so lovely~

Nagi: Here, my haters... I think you could use some more of this.

I should talk about Hisui and Nagi at some point.
Not too happy with how this turned out... but I guess it's not that bad.

You're salty about the ending and Hata knows it~
Also scored another retweet from Hata~!

That's it for now! See you next week for sure~! lordcloudx out.

Nakoruru: The Gift She Gave Me (Dreamcast): A VIsual Novel Review by Mid-Tier Guard

To Derek Pascarella, Marshal Wong, Duralumin, Lewis Cox, Piggy, Nico, Danthrax4, Lacquerware, EsperKnight, SnowyAria, VincentNL, cyo, and Ha...