Welcome to the 2018 inductees to the Torres Christmas Canon.
As a discerning connoisseur of the Christmas Spirit, it’s easy to become inured to the joys of the traditional Christmas canon after so much exposure. That’s why I make a point to pepper my Christmas playlists with songs that are just barely Christmas adjacent – and some songs that only have anything to do with winter celebrations if one were to use my specific psychological profile as a cipher.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the sixth James Bond film. It was George Lazenby’s only portrayal of the character, and features the only “Bond girl” to actually marry James Bond, portrayed by Diana Rigg – known by then as one of the leads of the TV spy fiction The Avengers, probably better known now as Olenna Tyrell.
One particularly tense sequence has Bond making a daring escape from longtime adversary Blofeld’s headquarters in the Swiss Alps which naturally results in a downhill ski chase.
I’m not even the hugest James Bond fan. It’s just that our household had a lot of movie soundtracks, including the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s take on much of the film series’ scores. The standout for me, the theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, invoked such a specific sense of tone and intention that it made perfect sense to me to discover it set to a thrilling ski chase.
Much like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s work, this song takes the sort of features you’d expect of a Christmas song (here, sleigh bells (huh… or is that tambourine)) and makes something a little more sinister, exaggerating all of the surrounding elements to get something more intense, moody, and driving than a simple jingle. I’ve come to associate it with adopting the resolute mindset and courage necessary to brave the elements on the worst of winter commutes.
It also has this ticking clock feeling that’s exciting and anxiety-inducing, very appropriate for the season. Will you sail through effortlessly as Bond always manages to, or soar off a cliff like Blofeld’s cronies? Hope you’ve done all your shopping!!
Look forward to a few more inductees to the Torres Christmas Canon (TCC). Are there are any songs you get in the mood for around this time of year that you’ll never hear playing over the speakers at the mall?
Seasons, by Future Islands
December 19, 2017
Welcome back to the 2018 inductees to the Torres Christmas Canon – my own personal reserve of songs that I play alongside the better known Christmas classics.
As I talked about with Last Christmas, Christmas, being such a tentpole on the social calendar, has come to nearly outpace New Years Day as a unit of measurement in the Western world. An event built on tradition invites endless comparison to its previous iterations. But measuring time really means measuring something more important: change. Noticing the weather, noticing the seasons, is noticing change. To reflect on the seasons is to anticipate, look forward to, or dread those changes. How often do we fantasize about gently falling snow in the blistering heat of summer, or about bright sun and blooming flowers while trudging through slush? How do we assert our desires and maintain our senses of self even while at nature’s capricious whims, going along for the ride?
Aside from the changing seasons, the other way to measure time is in other people, and that’s what this song is about.
In this video, frontman Samuel Herring, channels a strange, emo Elvis, moving his body with the effort of someone trying to have a great time, but is infected with something that might be killing him. It’s easy to get used to the idea that change is something that will happen in due time if you let it – which can blind one to the fact that change, much more often, requires a choice to be made.
Though the song seems to be about a slow, extended ending to a relationship – and the realization that stagnation can look so much like comfort – in it is an acknowledgment of what an enduring relationship is supposed to look like: something that allows you to change and grow together with the seasons.
To talk about seasons, to me, is to talk about winter and not-winter. That’s why this feels like a Christmas song to me. It takes something cold and uncomfortable and makes it… hopeful? At least, if you choose to look at it that way.
I particularly like this live performance done on Letterman. Herring really goes for it, and I’m thrilled that Letterman seems to love it.
Lahan (aka My Village is #1)
December 20, 2017
Introducing another inductee to the Torres Christmas Canon, a special reserve of songs that I attempt to argue to actually be Christmas songs. Here’s a weird one, so great ready.
Two of many staple albums of the Christmas season in the Torres household were Celtic in style.
One, sponsored by the elder generation, was The Bells of Dublin from The Chieftains. I really liked this album when I was younger because it did for me what no other Christmas music I’d been exposed to could. For the most part in my life till then – and, really, even now – the most played Christmas songs were easily divided in two categories: carols and hymns written (or rewritten) in the 1800s, and “instant classics” penned and crooned in the 1940s and 50s. The Chieftains’ music managed to evoke an era in-between the songs that had become popular with time and repetition and those that became popular because they were written to be.
It also invoked a place set apart. Repeated images of carolers, holiday feasts, and “how Christmas ought to be” often evoke for me an old world setting, places where many American immigrants families may have come from. Being an observer of Christmas in America is constantly acknowledging that the root of the traditions you participate in came from a different time and place. Where many performances of the old, arcane Christmas canon can feel distant and too-holy, the Bells of Dublin feels so much more inviting, a mix-up of the personal and the sacred.
And more strikingly, as someone who basically never considers his heritage or genealogy, it makes me wonder how members of my family who died before I could speak with them celebrated Christmas – if they would have preferred either the more solemn or more jolly tunes at a given time. It should be stressed as well that this was my first and most enduring exposure to Irish folk music, which tied the genre inextricably to the holiday season in my mind.
The second album was discovered by me and my brothers on the Internet at the turn of the last century. This was before the dawn of Napster and P2P file sharing, when downloading a single MP3 file was a momentous occasion. An American otaku living in Japan took on the responsibility of sharing the video game and anime soundtracks he bought online. But the times being as they were, he didn’t have the storage space or bandwidth to share and upload entire albums at once. Instead, he decided to curate a rotating selection of music and host it on a public website. This was BIGmog.com.
It was here we would listen to music from video games that weren’t even available in America yet. We would also discover a trend that had been secret to us until then; the demand for video game music CDs in Japan was big enough that sometimes the creators of that same music was release new albums rearranging that music with real, live instruments instead of synthesizers. It was a heady rush to see our niche interest lent a new dignity and sense of legitimacy in this way.
In this way, bafflingly, we began to download and listen to another album with Celtic influence: Creid. We were already familiar with Yasunori Mitsuda’s work with the game Chrono Trigger. With this album, arranged from his music for the coming game Xenogears, he went in our eyes from a someone who made video game music to someone who made music. His music wasn’t merely cool – now it could MEAN something. From Wikipedia:
The album’s title [‘creid’ is Old Irish for ‘believe’] refers to two ideas, with one being ‘a message to those who feel they have lost sight of their ambitions for the flood of information this era surrounds us with’ and the other an affirmation to himself that Mitsuda had ‘rediscovered [his] own path’. Mitsuda felt that with this album, he had ‘discovered the precise mode of musical expression [he] was seeking within’ himself and ‘given form to the belief within [his] heart’.
More interview excerpts with Mitsuda get across his excitement in getting to play and record new takes on his music with other people in Ireland and Japan. This sensation of gratitude and collaboration is encapsulated in the album’s penultimate song, Lahan, named for the protagonist’s Doomed Hometown. The feeling of the Beloved Peasant Village is incredibly strong here, and as it goes on, it sounds like the more talented and expressive residents of a tucked away settlement deciding to come together, culminating in the sort of atmosphere you’d expect at one of those impossible, idyllic, year’s end celebratory holiday feasts.
Because Yasunori Mitsuda’s work reminded us so much of the Chieftains, we routinely attempted to insert it into the the house’s Christmas album rotation with only some success
December 21, 2017
Introducing our final 2017 inductee to the Torres Christmas Canon. Finally, the reason I decided to initiate the Canon to begin with.
Going off of yesterday’s Japan motif… the way Christmas is observed over there, at least as I understand it, is really interesting to me.
In European style, Christmas Eve seems to be bigger than Christmas Day itself. Moreover, Christmas Eve has come to have very romantic connotations – like Valentine’s Day, but in Overdrive. Unlike Valentine’s, Christmas usually comes with time off from work, and is followed closely by the New Year. This raises the stakes exponentially, as dramatic romantic gestures are more expected and single people have to decide with whom they’ll be spending New Year’s Eve in a week. This leads often in Japanese narratives (at least those that I have observed (or at least Terrace House and Love Hina)) to a decisive “all or nothing” conveyance of affection, made more fateful by the fact that it will be the last great affirmation of one’s will that may be made in the calendar year – and will define this year’s You. Here, the “Christmas miracle” is not something that happens to you, it’s something that you make happen.
The enduring themes here are “love” and “courage”, and to an extent, “timing”.
The best expression of the sort of passion that results in these “all or nothing” moments is the theme song to last year’s special little darling ice-skating show, Yuri on Ice. So often a story of achieving one’s dreams, especially in the context of a competition, is about obstruction. Narratives like this are about what’s in your way, about all the reasons you “cannot”. Obviously, this is the most dramatic way to tell a story. But it’s also exhausting, and, if you’re like Yuri – someone for whom the “self” is the greatest obstacle, for whom shame and sabotage come unbidden – potentially oppressive.
Imagine instead a story of self-actualization that emphasizes the “cans” instead of the “cannots” – that your success, your glory is fated, inevitable, because OF COURSE you can do it, you were always going to be able to. What separates this from other pump-up songs is its perspective. Even though it’s one singer, it starts by going back and forth between two people: the one stuck in the darkness, and the one who guides them out of it. The chorus goes to first person plural, and then the next verse goes back to two people, but now the magic has already taken hold – our dreams have gone from something that we talk about to something that we can see! The way these two voices alternate between standing out individually (I, you) and combining as one (we) not only illustrate the metamorphic quality of an empowering love, it – FUCKING BRILLIANTLY – evokes a pair skating routine.
It’s your preemptive victory parade. It’s about having the courage – and more importantly, the permission – to believe in yourself. I’m on your side. HISTORY is on your side. You’ve already won!
That belief, that hope in darkness, lets me comfortably play this alongside other Christmas songs.
(Also, it’s got skating and tubular bells, I don’t know how else to sell it!)
Welcome to Day One of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
Naturally you’re thinking, “Are there even 25 GOOD Christmas songs, let alone ones that could be called The Best?” Probably not, and it might get weird in the middle, but it’ll be funny to try.
We’ll start with perhaps the most obvious of inaugural choices: Christmas Time Is Here. It’s title is a simple declarative, but its message of anticipation is emphasized by the first phrase, like a snowflake falling to the ground, so simple yet suggesting something more, then repeated like a question you didn’t quite understand the implication of the first time.
Christmas Time Is Here – does that make you more or less anxious? Arriving at an answer is, I think, the most vital journey of the holiday season.
This song was given new context in Arrested Development when used as a theme for deep, acute disappointment or failure. It’s meant to invoke less a feeling of Christmas than of Charlie Brown himself, a boy who fails perpetually not just in the pursuit of goals but in his endeavors to be seen as worthy as a human being on the most basic levels.
These fears are naturally exacerbated to an oppressing degree during a time when gestures of kindness, however performative, are idealized, scrutinized, and conflated with your value as a person. Getting the wrong gift, picking the wrong tree, means failure – beyond spoiling one event, demonstrating that you may not even understand the people closest to you.
I mean, that’s one way of looking at it. The lyrics are as pleasant as most Christmas songs, about comforting sights and togetherness, but they end with, I think, the main point.
Oh, that we could always see, Such spirit through the year…
Keeping the “spirit” throughout the year is a common theme in Christmas stories. But what does that mean? And is it even possible? Let us find out together.
19. The Christmas Song
December 2, 2016
Welcome to Day Two of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
Often during this season, we’ll have to deal with the constant nuisance of melodic Christmas Lists – songs that are basically just about Nice Things that are associated with the winter holidays. Snowflakes falling, bells jingling, fire roaring in hearths, a constant barrage of context-free pleasantries that are expected to stand on their own as a testament to Holiday Cheer that often comes across as desperate in its presentation. “It is as I have foretold! The chestnuts… The wreaths… Once all is in place, Christmas will be upon us!”
The majority of decent Christmas songs, and all bad Christmas songs, adopt this format. However, what is important to most people, in regard to not just Christmas songs but any facet of the holiday, is context, and personal memories in particular. Nostalgia is a natural bed for the growth of sentimentality, both vacuous and poignant.
Which brings me to a piece of music that has the balls to actually be called The Christmas Song, the biblical David of the modern Christmas List song. This is one of several well-known holiday tunes that was actually conceived during a hot summer. The opening verse alludes to this dream of relief from the heat vividly – “Jack Frost nipping at your nose,” gets the point across especially well.
Two things in particular make this song work for me. It’s actually pretty constrained, in terms of time and space, in its description of a scene of Christmas Eve. Verse one addresses the coziness that can combat the bitter cold, the second reference to a holiday meal, itself a pleasant thing but a mere formality for the third verse, which lingers on the anticipation (not frenzied, but hushed) of Christmas Day itself, which is only hours away. The final verse acts as a farewell – or more like a crane shot, slowly lifting up and away from the happy home.
Second, the phrase “to kids from one to ninety-two.” You can argue that “92” in particular is either a clever or stupidly cheap way to make the rhyme work, but the intent behind the rhyme elevates the song itself. The one distinct image that’s focused on for the longest is of Santa’s arrival, and how joyful it will be for the kiddies. In a way, the Santa myth is a morally righteous thing to uphold here, providing happiness and hope to children. But by taking part in it, adults also reinforce the importance of a warm, safe home where you have the stability that lets you rely on certain things happening at certain times, like Santa coming on Christmas. When it is not stodgy or rigid, this is the real value in tradition.
You’ve had the Nat King Cole version, but to carry on this thread of memories and parents providing for children, I’ll be using the 30 Rock version, mostly because (although Jane Krakowski is fine) of the part where Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin come in. This sequence occurs after Jack realizes that all the times his mother “ruined” Christmas by inviting over a boyfriend were actually attempts to get toys for the kids by putting out to the man who turned out to be the owner of FAO Schwarz. Rather than talk about it, the song gets across what they wanted to say anyway.
By the way, 30 Rock’s Christmas episodes always have fantastic music from Jeff Richmond. Great medleys that should be available, because I would buy them.
18. Carol of the Bells
December 4, 2016
WHOOPS, its late! But still, welcome to Day Three of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
Let’s cut to the chase: it’s Carol of the Bells, a song which, despite its severe tone, is about Christmas cheer. It’s fascinating how portentous this song is considering the subject matter!
Apparently there’s a reason for that strange juxtaposition between the words and the sound. The original Ukrainian song, “Shchedryk,” (“the bountiful one”) is based on traditional folk chants meant to be associated with the New Year – the ORIGINAL, pre-Julian calendar new year, when spring came in April! But when Christianity came, the New Year changed, and the song just moved with it.
It got popular in the West, and was rearranged and given lyrics by the NBC Symphony Orchestra during the Depression. And they made it about bells, because it sounds like bells. Yeah! That’s it.
Riding the fine line between exchange and appropriation is, too, a Christmas tradition. From the Romans switching from Saturnalia to a more Christian observance, from English taking Christmas trees from Germany and roast turkeys from North America, from the rest of the western world borrowing the concept of the Christmas card from the United Kingdom, to everyone taking Santa from everywhere, Christmas is a star around which so many culture touchstones revolve, and shines on us all. Looked at one way, it is a game of Telephone. In function, it acts as a delicious melange, a love letter from humanity to itself to light our darkest hours.
I present the Trans Siberian Orchestra version, which really delivers on the promise of the song’s intense tone. I’ve talked already a lot of Christmas songs being about anticipation for the day itself. This take that feeling to the next level. Here, “Christmas” is the name of the advanced unit of an invading army. (They cheat a bit with the God Rest You Merry Gentleman motif, but it works well as a fakeout).
17. Jingle Bells
December 4, 2016
Welcome to Day Four of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
Continuing our bell theme, it’s the granddaddy of them all. Originally “One Horse Open Sleigh,” JINGLE BELLS was written here in Massachusetts and performed in Medford regarding the town’s popular sleigh races. It’s so ubiquitous, so, simple, so easy to remember, other, different Christmas songs refer to it either directly or through motif. Although, do consider that this is the first of our songs that does not actually mention Christmas!
Two interesting things: the “jingle” in “jingle bells” was apparently meant to be a verb! The phrase is a request, or I guess a demand. “Jingle bells” aren’t even a kind of bell. Those are sleigh bells, stupid.
Also, and more importantly, we don’t know who came up with “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.” Though popularized for a new generation by Bart Simpson, reports go back to the 60s. For our version, we’ve got Mark Hamill doing what is, apparently, his debut performance as The Joker. Honestly, this is what is basically what I started this list for.
16. Christmas in Hollis
December 5, 2016
Welcome to Day Five of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
The story I’m interested goes beyond the song itself, but let’s start with the main course, RUN-DMC’s Christmas In Hollis. In this song, Run – along with, presumably, DMC and Jam Master Jay – find a million dollars in Santa’s dropped wallet. What do they do with it? Well, although they could spend it on themselves, they decide to send it back to Santa, dropping it all into a mailbox, if the stellar music video is to be believed. But when they check under the Christmas tree, there’s a million dollars!! See, being kind is its own reward, except on Christmas, where you can also get a real reward for being nice. Even with the money, they go on to celebrate the holiday in a traditional, familial, wholesome manner.
I was reminded recently that Darryl McDaniels (DMC) fought depression and suicidal thoughts for a long time, especially into the later 90s. This was exacerbated by his very late discovery that he was adopted out of a foster program.
The things he cites as saving him from the brink of self-destruction? Sarah McLachlan’s song, “Angel”. In 2005, they collaborated for his song Just Like Me, a song about his origins that was partly made-up with another song both artists loved, Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle.
DMC discovered that Sarah McLachlan was also adopted.
This sort of story, rooted in tragedy and culminating in a new understanding of one’s place in the world, is a Christmas story in spirit, if not in actuality.
RUN-DMC’s style makes the otherwise innocuous holiday observances resolute, almost defiant, a tone that rather fits a particular facet of the Christmas spirit that goes back to humanity’s earliest days of feast-like celebration despite winter’s killing advance, and the invitation to despair that we abate through that same defiance. We eat! We drink! We spit in the face of death for another day! We will see another spring yet!
(Though it should be noted as well that the song’s strong backbone is a sample from Clarence Carter’s Back Door Santa. It really gets the job done.)
15. Sleigh Ride
December 6, 2016
Welcome to Day Six of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Meaning of Christmas through music.
This may feel like a safe, or even redundant, choice, but next is another Massachusetts original, Sleigh Ride! It was written as an instrumental and popularized by the Boston Pops, and shortly afterward by the Andrew Sisters, but by then it had words.
Yes, this song is another Christmas List of pleasant sensations, but what saves it from being formless and meandering is a strong sense of place, time, and purpose. The singer clearly wants to get with the listener, offers some activity, and I THINK it’s pretty convincing! It’s exciting and comforting at once, you get to experience the sights of the season, and then you go inside somewhere warm for a party where someone else makes the food. Sounds pretty good!
Now, the original, with its peppy tempo, sounds just like a sleigh ride. But the Ronettes have blown past Arthur Fiedler and the Andrew Sisters with their popular rendition, which is both fun and luxurious. But it was ruined for me by a kid on one of my tours who kept singing, without invitation from anyone, the “ring-a-ling-a-ling ding dong ding” backup part. It was actually pretty funny in retrospect.
A staple in our house around this time of year was The Roches’ Christmas album. I’m a big fan of their Sleigh Ride, which I feel like best gets the sleigh ride-ness of the original in a way a lot of covers have not, even though it’s actually quite stripped down. I’m an especially big fan of the friend that calls “Yoohoo” they throw in there.
14. Hard Candy Christmas
December 7, 2016
Welcome to Day Seven of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
I believe the Christmas Spirit, in essence, is an insistence on believing in a better future despite what may be a bleak present. This in turn can manifest in so many different ways – giving gifts to friends, giving to charity, observing traditions (the proof that those who came before you, after all, survived THEIR calamities).
But the truth is, sometimes it isn’t enough. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. You can’t fix every problem with cheer, and it’s not easy to change every circumstance, or even to change how someone feels. Sometimes Christmas just makes people sad, because they’re reminded of what they don’t have. This is why I believe it is so important to view Christmas not as a time just for cheer, but for hope. Hope isn’t necessarily about succeeding or failing, but trying.
Failure (or the misfortune that one internalizes as failure) does come, though, and while dwelling on it is not always helpful, to blow past it would mean wasting those good, good things called “emotions” that you’ve been blessed with, and which your brain makes you endure and process for a reason. In times of despair, I think often of Macduff’s discovery of his family’s fate, and his response to Malcolm’s suggestion that he “dispute it like a man” and get a hold of himself: “I shall do so, but I must also *feel* it as a man.”
Let’s both Dispute It and Feel It, not like men, but like Dolly Parton, with Hard Candy Christmas, the song from the end The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I guess I don’t feel too bad spoiling it, but by the end of that show, the whorehouse has to close! All the girls have to pack up and leave and figure out what they’ll do with their lives. They insist that they have plenty of options, even if none of them sound especially good, and none of them can commit.
I think “hard candy Christmas” in this case is more a metaphor for taking what you can get than it is an actual Christmas sentiment, but country stations started playing it around Christmas, so it’s like a real Christmas song now, and I think we’re better for it.
Some songs do really well when freed from the context of their musical; having listeners bring their own context provides a kind of depth that might not have been there otherwise. By itself, all the opening words of the song sounds like someone gearing up for a new beginning, but it’s soon obvious that what it’s really about is dealing with something that has come to an end. Isn’t that how every December goes, to some extent?
13. Santa Baby
December 8, 2016
Welcome to Day Eight of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
I’ve talked a lot about the Christmas spirit without dwelling too long on the person whom the holiday is all about: Santa.
To believe in Santa is to believe in a just meritocracy. If you’re good, you get material rewards. If you’re bad, you get nothing, or at worst, fossil fuels.
In reality, the arbitration of the Naughty and Nice lists was usually left up to Santa’s earthly ambassadors, Mom and/or Dad. I’d be curious to know, though, who actually failed to receive a gift they wanted due to their naughtiness, as opposed to, say, scarcity or forgetfulness.
I feel the negative reinforcement of going without gifts has been supplanted by this CRAZY notion that all children deserve gifts on Christmas. Parents may have concocted a method for getting obedient behavior from their children that was only effective in the short term. In the end, it turns out a lot of parents probably don’t want to be hated by their children for not getting them anything for Christmas, and so, the shoe ended up on the other foot.
Which is silly, because what on earth could a child do that makes them more worthy of a present compared to, say, an adult? Who’s looking out for them??
Earth Kitt knows. What makes Santa Baby work, aside from being a flagship in the desolate sea that is the “sexy Christmas song” genre, is the realization that grown ups are WAY BETTER at knowing what they want, and better at wanting the best stuff!
In a way, this is another Christmas List, but the cliche is subverted by actually being appropriate for the season, as a series of requests for Santa can take no other form but a list. Moreover, it’s never rushed. Each item on the list is framed as being, possibly, the last, but it usually isn’t. The pacing works to wrest control from the gift giver to the receiver.
Now, is she talking to Santa, or a lover? If it’s Santa, it makes her requests more doable in the end and makes the seductive tone more deceptive, which is way funnier.
Another angle from which this works is imaging it’s just Catwoman singing.
12. Waltz of the Flowers
December 9, 2016
Welcome to Day Nine of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
There was a time when the Disney Channel didn’t have original programming. It was just previously produced Disney movies and shorts. Those things didn’t always fill half-hour increments neatly, so they sometimes cut together five-minute clips from the Disney pantheon. Y’know how many times I saw just the part where Prince Phillip escapes, gets that sword, and slays Maleficent? That was just space filled on the Disney Channel.
A few years in a row there, I know they all had a lot of Christmas or wintry programming that we had on VHS. Wrapped up in there was this sequence from Fantasia. Y’know: The Nutcracker.
In fact, I think they even diced this sequence up to fill out commercial breaks. I’ve synced the timecode to my favorite part: The Waltz of the Flowers.
Here, winter is not destructive, but creative, organized, not killing nature, but altering it. It’s orderly, it’s beautiful, and good perspective to keep winter from driving you mad.
I’ve learned since that here’s a lot of good shit in The Nutcracker, but this is my definitive experience with it even now. The rest of the sequence isn’t bad, either.
11. Good King Wenceslas
December 10, 2016
Sorry for the late one! Welcome to Day Ten of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
Apparently, spring-like celebrations getting bumped up early to become part of winter observances isn’t that rare. I guess if I were in charge of spreading holidays around, I’d look at the winter months and say, “We’re gonna need a LOT of cheer over here.”
Tempus Adest Floridum (or “It is time for flowering”) was a Finnish carol from the 1200s that appeared in a collection of songs in 1582, that eventually spread through Europe. As late at 1853, a guy named John Mason Neale took a tune and changed the words to be a Christmas carol. Critics in the following years referred to the song as “doggerel,” “commonplace,” and hoped that it would “gradually pass into misuse.”
These people can go fuck themselves, because I love Good King Wenceslas. First of all, I love any songs that presents otherwise lesser known history in a simple and straightforward way, like the defining behavior and reputation the 10th-century Catholic duke of Bohemia who is the song’s namesake. It could’ve been a song about “some nice dude in a position of power,” but the fact that he’s named and titled automatically puts you in a place and a time.
Second, it’s a tidy, efficient little morality tale. It supposes that the British Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day tradition of giving excess gifts to your subordinates or those otherwise less fortunate is taken for granted a great distance across time and space. The presence of the page works very well, so that he may lose his nerve in the cold and have the King encourage him, emphasizing that being charitable may not always be easy, but is always worthwhile. The King as a result isn’t merely a good example, but something of a benevolent god-like figure. In this case, the listener is the page, and the King is someone whom we both seek to please and aspire to be more like.
Another old criticism of the song is how its “ponderous” moralism does not fit the “light-hearted dance measure” of the original tune. I think I understand… but I also think its lightness is what makes it work as a Christmas song?! Downhere gets the tone that I think works best with the story, framing the tale less as something that should be accompanied with a “ponderous” gaze and more with a raised glass and a mutual acknowledgment of a universal truth.
10. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
December 11, 2016
Welcome to Day Eleven of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
Oh, boy, we’re getting into the weeds now, folks, as I get through our introductory numbers and preserve the aces up my sleeve for the finale. I’ll take this moment to meditate on a moment in the life of my coworker Jeremy Murphy, which may or may not have happened, when he dealt with another actual adult insisting on “keeping the Christ in Christmas,” and talking about how Happy Holidays is a weapon in the War on Christmas. To paraphrase Jeremy, perhaps if we were to keep the Christ in Christmas, we should keep the Saturn in Saturnalia as well?
Christmas in the modern era really isn’t Christmas without someone getting upset at dumb shit that doesn’t really matter, and fussing over what is or is not appropriate behavior, putting us more in common with our Puritan ancestors who declared the holiday illegal to begin with.
Speaking of scrutinizing others’ behaviors, what the heck is happening in I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus? Apparently many people (including, apocryphally, the Boston Catholic church??) were confused as to what mommy was up to? Cheating? And on Christmas??
No, idiots! Santa is Daddy. Dad is dressed as Santa, and that is who is being kissed. I’ll be honest, I made the same mistake, but I was a dumb kid. The misunderstanding may also be generational – I think dads dressing up as Santa to give out gifts and stuff was more popular when this song was written. For example, my dad never dressed as Santa that I remember. He did dress as Darth Vader for another kid’s birthday party, though.
What I like about this song is that it’s not from the perspective of an adult knowingly and solemnly divining the symbols that indicate the holiday’s approach, but from a kid actively in the throes of Christmas-mania, and their deep conviction in it. Consider that seeing his Mommy kiss Santa Claus could have given away that Santa was Daddy all along. Instead, the kid doubles down. That particular passion is what makes this a cuter kid-centric Christmas song than, say… Well, I won’t disparage any, in case I’m forced to add them to the list on further reflection.
The song is novel as well because it’s the rare Christmas song that actually makes you spend a few fired synapses considering the trick of the story is what’s inferred and not merely stated.
And, man, there’s no better version than the Jackson 5. Consider: a young Michael Jackson ACTUALLY singing the perspective of a child!
9. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
December 12, 2016
Welcome to Day Twelve of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
I don’t have much of an analysis for this one. It’s perfectly written (BY Dr. Seuss himself) and sung. Every other phrase is a delicious burn. It’s so good that, despite its sheer negativity, it’s the standout song from a special about the meaning of Christmas.
What I can give you is trivia! Hopefully you know already it’s sung by the voice of Tony the Tiger. Even better is his damn name: Thurl Ravenscroft. The thing is, he isn’t credited in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, so everyone assumed it was the narrator, Boris Karloff, singing. Dr. Seuss was embarrassed by the mix up to the point of writing to columnists nationwide to correct the mistake.
It works well from the perspective of the singer, in all his righteousness, but consider being in the place of the Grinch. Yeah, you’re bad… but do you even care?
Removed from its context, is it really a Christmas song? Well, fight me if you disagree.
8. Blue Christmas
December 13, 2016
Welcome to Day Thirteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
I hope you guys know that although these songs are presented in an order, they aren’t IN AN ORDER, you know? It’s not a competition. At least not until we get to the Final Five.
I’m sure everyone changes their minds about certain songs over time, and I bet thats’s doubly true with Christmas songs. I’m not sure I always appreciated Blue Christmas. I mean, at face value, there’s not much to it. It’s not long, the imagery’s straightforward. What makes it work, of course, is everything underneath.
Like most of Elvis’ good work, it’s just aurally rich for what might otherwise be a simple song. I mean, the way he revs up at the onset, getting you right into the depth of his heartache, is impressive enough, but the backup vocals do a killer job supporting him every step of the way. Covers of this song are cute, but simply can’t get the same effect.
Of course, it’s just a viscerally sad concept, not being near the person you want to be with on what is potentially the most important day to be with them. But although the distance is felt, the reason isn’t made explicit. What keeps them apart? Unforeseen circumstances? Duty? A mistake? Consider that Elvis thinks this other person will be having a relatively fine Christmas, unlike his own. Did this person even consider how Elvis would feel until now? That’s even sadder!
And, boy, it gets the job done in record time. That’s something I’ll give to most decent songs from this era. They knew when to get in and out without wasting a tune or a feeling.
7. Last Christmas
December 14, 2016
Welcome to Day Fourteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
Let’s get back into the quality of holiday cheer and melancholy with Wham!’s Last Christmas.
Last Christmas I gave you my heart But the very next day you gave it away. This year To save me from tears I’ll give it to someone special.
The song could end after the first three lines and get the point across. There’s more imagery after this, but it doesn’t really deviate, musically or story-wise, from this tone.
In a way, Christmas could seem incidental to this song, but it’s what ties it all together. The singer clearly uses Christmas as a unit of time, marking heartache and aspirations with it.
The question then is: WILL you give your heart to someone special? Can you find someone special, let alone trust them? The chorus is repeated twice every time, making it seem like a cycle that is perhaps unavoidable.
The cyclical nature translates to the music, the apex of “meditative 80s synth”, perfectly willing to just play around with one idea for, basically, the whole time. In fact, it’s honestly pretty pleasant and contrasts greatly to the sentiment in the lyrics. The instrumentation represents a hoped-for Christmas cheer that meets one’s expectation for the holiday, while the vocals on top of that – or more appropriately, under that – are the thoughts you really can’t stop from rising in tense social situations.
The chorus, then, acts as a mantra that helps the singer organize their interior self, despite the confusion in the rest of their life, as described in each other verse. Together with the synth, the meditation and repetition actually work to make the melancholy productive, building up to those more cathartic howls at the end – maybe a resolution to get thing sorted out before next Christmas after all?
Welcome to Day Fifteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
This was a tough one. After this one, we’ll move onto the next stage of this journey, in which I will begin to venture into tricky territory by turns lionizing and demonizing the members of the classic Christmas canon. To make this transition, it might be worthwhile to define, or defy, the range of that canon.
Soundtracks of larger Christmas specials have not been off the table, nor should they be. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and the Grinch are a part of the pantheon, and I wouldn’t seek to divorce them, in any of their forms, from the season. I have an expansionist view of the season – never purge, always add. More Christmas for the Christmas Spirit!
It only recently dawned on me to add Danny Elfman to this cast of characters, or more specifically, the Danny Elfman responsible for the soul of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Though not his first foray into creating an audio atmosphere for Christmas – he already cut his teeth on Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns, after all – Nightmare actually gave him a chance to write a MUSICAL about Christmas. His music really does a good job of exploring the answers to the question: What if an unfocused, tortured artist discovered, all at once, an inspiration unlike anything they could have imagined?
The entire story goes further down this rabbit hole – how does the artist realize their vision? how do they know when to compromise? what does it mean to share a vision with the world? – and it’s all super good, but there’s nothing quite like that first moment when Danny captures Jack Skellington discovering Christmas for the first time in What’s This?
This song is certainly rooted in the context of its story, taking for granted that there are, indeed, different “towns” that are created around different holidays, but I think it can be briefly wrested from that frame to be enjoyed on its own. It keeps the jingling bells and sleigh-ride like pace of the traditional canon, but Danny’s touch adds an unhinged manicness that’s by turns joyous and unsettling, really capturing the feeling of not quite knowing what to do with yourself.
And this is an INCREDIBLY effective subversion of the Christmas List song. Yes, it is a series of observations, but unlike other songs of the season, they’re not merely affirmations, but DISCOVERIES. The story, and the visuals, certainly indicate this moment is meant to parody the saccharine and now banal imagery of other seasonal tales like The Night Before Christmas or any commercial depiction of the North Pole, but even that doesn’t dull Jack’s constant vacillations between deep mirth and performative joy. Even when he doesn’t understand them, he knows each tradition means something deeper, something that invites participation, something that excites the part of someone that wants to be part of something bigger. Christmas is for everyone!!
Every song from this soundtrack is phenomenal, but this is the right one for this list.
Sidebar: The Worst Christmas Songs
The Worst #1. Jingle Bell Rock
December 16, 2016
Welcome to Day Sixteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
And welcome to our countdown to the final five! To whet your appetite, a change of pace… Welcome to Day One of the Five WORST Christmas Songs ever!
As has been the case until now, these will not be in a particular order. Indeed, their poor qualities, distinct in themselves – either having fallen hard out of style or having never been great to begin with – will together outline the Christmas nadir. Some of these are apparently obvious, while someone require examination.
I have never liked Jingle Bell Rock, and I’m not convinced anyone ever did. I believe it persists purely out of a mass sense of irony.
Consider the core concept, that making a song in a particular genre is novel enough that attention needs to be drawn to it in the naming. Consider, as well, that this is simply is not a sterling representation rock and roll. I know that not all rock is meant to match the activity and frenzy of AC/DC, but why is this so dull? “Giddy up, jingle horse”?? Not to this beat!!
Would this song not be exactly as tacky if it were Jingle Bell Rap? If it were written, “I’m MC X an I’m hear to say, I love jingling bells in a major way?”
All that aside, what is happening in this song? I’ve complained a lot about the Christmas List of Christmas stuff, but, like… this is too vacuous to even count as a list. There are mostly just allusions to dance – either suggestions to or descriptions of. When would dancing ever happen near this song?
For this stretch, I’ll only submit you to the least-bad version of any of these songs, or in the context of something better of funnier. Here’s Mean Girls.
The Worst #2. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
December 17, 2016
Welcome to Day Seventeen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
And welcome to Day Two of the Worst Christmas Songs Ever. Yes, you’ll need to keep track of two different, parallel continuities with their own sets of numbers to make sense of this. It’s like Kingdom Hearts.
With so many Christmas songs all more or less attempting to tell you what Christmas is “about,” you have to assume that some of them are either flat-out wrong, or not even trying, or trying TOO hard.
So is It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year pulling my fucking leg? It comes on pretty strong and fast with its hyperbole, not even having the nerve to put out some evidence before touting It (that is, this time of the year) as the Most Wonderful.
When the evidence comes, it sounds like descriptions of Christmas from an overconfident shut-in, or someone from the future who has read mistranslated histories, or some rich dweeb with zero real friends.
Here’s what you can expect this time of year: kids “jingle belling”; people yelling at you to be cheerful; other humans saying hello to each other. Already, this is a rough start – you can look forward to the abundance of Uninvited Noises on Christmas, something most people look forward to.
The following Christmas List doesn’t even bother to come together to build a cohesive image, so each presented on its own appears not just shallow, but weird.
There’ll be parties for hosting Marshmallows for toasting And caroling out in the snow There’ll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago
Yes, the only time of the year where it is customary to Host Parties or Toast Marshmallows. The concept of caroling is almost able to ground us once again in Christmas, but it’s all lost come “scary ghost stories” – a Christmas tradition SO POPULAR, it gets three lines.
This song is so obnoxious, vacuous, and insincere, I hope in time that it won’t be remembered outside of this Staples commercial.
The Worst #3. Little Drummer Boy
December 18, 2016
Welcome to Day Eighteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music. AAAAAND welcome to Day Three of the Worst Christmas Songs Ever.
This song is about the Nativity, yes, but I guess it didn’t think the existing cast of characters was especially good, so it decided to add its own Original Character (do not steal!!) who was also there to get the approval of the holiest family ever: The Little Drummer Boy.
Wow, really cool, little drummer boy. It’s really cool that you came to play a song for the king of the last millennium on… a single percussive instrument.
I praised the meditative quality of Last Christmas, but the repetition of Little Drummer Boy is somehow the opposite. It’s not soothing, but more like nodding off and waking up over and over in a social situation, like school… or church.
And the worst part is that it’s a classic anyway. We finally get Bing Crosby and David Bowie in a room, and they said, “Well, this is on the list of Christmas songs,” so they went for it, WASTING an otherwise glorious opportunity. On this plodding, repetitive nonsense.
This song only works if you fundamentally change it. Only Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi could figure it out.
The Worst #4. Wonderful Christmastime
December 19, 2016
Welcome to Day Nineteen of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music. AND! Welcome to Day Four of the Worst Christmas Songs Ever.
It could be that “Worst” is probably strong, but the truth is, I don’t know what to do with this song. I don’t know what to do with Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, and that is frustrating.
Like with It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I assume it’s stuck around due to a communal sense of irony. The edge I suppose it might have over that song is, I guess, a concision in its imagery and poetry? (“We’re here tonight / And that’s enough” is the closest to a distinct human sentiment I can appreciate) Most lines of each verse are made up of four words a piece. It’s not overwritten, at least.
But I guess the problem is that it’s underwritten. It feels like a sub-two-minute song produced as an almost four minute song. It’s almost like it was written hastily and absent-mindedly to fill some sort of quota and became a hit by accident.
What do I do with this song?? I doesn’t make me happy OR thoughtful, and I need at least one of those in my Christmas song! And there’s something about the polite blandness of it that embodies the social disaffectedness that I perceive to be a foundation of mainstream British culture. That’s probably reading into it, BUT IT FEELS REAL TO ME.
I bet people have a lot of strong feeling about Paul McCartney’s Wings/solo career, and I haven’t had any complaints myself. This song is the exception. It makes me thing of him as a lazy son of a bitch. It strikes me that any positive qualities in this song are entirely from McCartney’s talent, but none of his skill.
Only way to make it work properly is to double down on the goofy, warbly instrumental and mix the shit out of it. I can count on that from Kylie Minogue (and friends).
The Worst #5. Do They Know It’s Christmas
December 20, 2016
Welcome to Day Twenty of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music. AND! Welcome to Day Five, the last day, of the Worst Christmas Songs Ever.
So there was a little while in the 80s when the West suddenly notice that other cultures exist. That’s why ninjas and Australians suddenly become cool.
But before then, African culture was kind of popular! By which I mean English-speaking musicians put more African drum beats in their songs. We, of course, have Toto to thank (blame??) for this. Paul Simon would bring this to its natural conclusion with You Can Call Me Al, to most people’s benefit.
Unfortunately, in the middle there, we had Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?
When Toto wrote Africa, even they admitted they were doing it from the perspective of someone who did not know much about Africa. Band Aid learned nothing from the trail blazed by Toto.
This song was written to raise awareness of and raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1984. The sentiment meant to encapsulate this idea? The question, “Do they know it’s Christmas?”
I dunno, man. Do you think? Do you think they know it’s Christmas in the oldest Christian nation in the world? Honestly, I guess that could be a good question. Ethiopian Orthodoxy certainly predates Christmas’s formal induction into Christianity.
I would rather listen to a song written by Ethiopian musicians to raise awareness about British smugness. “Do They Know Christmas Didn’t Originate in England?”
I mean, I feel like I’m cheating by putting this song here, because this isn’t a Christmas song. I mean, NOT REALLY. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to write about Ethiopian struggles, but I get the feeling the only reason Christmas was wrapped up into it was to impart some other sense of purpose for the song’s existence. It doesn’t work.
The song attempts to contrast the comfort of Christmas time in the first world to the Ethiopian famine, but none of the language is specific, so the contrast is flimsy and meaningless. “You know, over here / It’s pretty good / And, ohh, over there / It is not so good…”
This lack of distinct imagery is exacerbated by the complete absence of any cohesive structure, musically. Yesterday’s “Wonderful Christmastime” was all hook, but this song has nothing resembling a hook. I already forget what it sounds like.
They start by immediately using the word Christmas. Then they allude to Ethiopia. Then they get to a “call to action” – feed the world. Like, yeah, great, but… Way to pave the road to normalizing feeble pop activism, dudes. We couldn’t even get a good song out of this.
To writer Bob Geldof’s credit, he recognizes his hand in writing “two of the worst songs in history”: this and We Are the World.
5. Silent Night
December 21, 2016
Welcome to Day Twenty-One of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music. Welcome to the Final Five.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Let’s put aside for now that other stuff – that it probably happened in the spring, that it was bumped over to December to coincide with winter solstice traditions like Saturnalia to convert pagans to Catholicism, that Coca Cola defined the Santa Claus as we know him now and shit like that.
The nativity, the story of the birth of Christ, is the original Christmas story, and – folks, let’s be honest here – the best. A young couple is saddled with the greatest responsibility in the world, and only they know it. They need a safe place to birth the Messiah, and they can’t find or even afford one. Ultimately, they are forced to resort to stay in a barn, and the first witnesses to the event are livestock and shepherds.
The most important thing to ever happen occurs in the humblest place imaginable.
Silent Night captures the absolute serenity that follows what could have been a catastrophe. The birth of Christ, surely, is the greatest success that could ever be seen, but here mankind’s saving grace is distilled to this one moment: a mother, a child, and sweet relief.
The phrase “Sleep in heavenly peace,” sung twice, concludes narrative of the entire song, and ideally the narrative of humanity’s travails until this point. The ascension from one note to the other on the first “peace” is achingly, anxious, almost like the fitful stretching of a fussy baby. When the phrase is repeated, it floats gently downward. The deserved rest finally arrives.
The song’s tranquility carries through history up to it association with the famous Christmas Truce of World War I. There are stories that the truce began on some part of the western front with German voices echoing a carol over the battlefield. It was a song that was much more popular at that time in its native Austria than its English translation: Silent Night.
Ideally, this song would be sung with great care and control by a small church choir, or, hell, some talented children. Most importantly, a light tough is best. A perfect version is hard to come by. Because the song is so simple, any minor tweaks can impart varying levels of awe, peace, and humility. Sarah McLachlin gets close.
4. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
December 22, 2016
Welcome to Day Twenty-Two of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
Christmas is a time of great expectations. The events of one’s life are meant to proceed on a certain path this time of year, in accordance with tradition, promises, and schedules.
These expectations, put upon by ourselves, our peers, our histories, and, yes, commercial interests, cannot possibly be met every single time. Changes in one’s life tend to compound and conflict with the things we wish to maintain.
The song There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays narrowly missed being on the Worst Songs list for its vacuousness and focus on fucking LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL, the most obviously hideous feature of the holidays. Its evasion of this misfortune is thanks in large part to what was surely an honest and widespread sentiment in postwar America – that being able to get around freely to see your loved ones and conquer the tyranny of distance is the greatest blessing of the modern era.
Unfortunately, before the postwar era, there was the war era, when today’s song was written.
There’s a popular myth that Ernest Hemingway bet John Robert Colombo and Arthur C. Clark. that he could craft a novel in six words. The result: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He apparently won the bet.
The last two lines of I’ll Be Home for Christmas is the baby shoes of Christmas songs.
The song begins with assurance, that all the expectations of the holiday will be fulfilled, that, with the signer’s arrival, order will be restored and the idyllic scene we had hoped to enjoy will be preserved by their presence, the last piece of the puzzle after the presents, the snow, the mistletoe.
The last two lines flip this script. The recounting of all these comforting images isn’t for the reassurance for the listener, but for the singer.
It is completely up to the listener if “If only in my dreams” is a phrase of hope or defeat. Or both.
Alternate Performance: The Killers
there’s a new cover of this song this year, where brandon flowers has the music teacher that got him into music singing the first part of it acapella, and it’s got a really pretty, haunting quality to it (starts at 3:30)
Brian Bates, December 21, 2016
3. O Holy Night
December 15, 2020
I regret my original choice for this slot, so I’m rewriting history.
I don’t have a lot of personal memories of this song. It never made it into my own playlists. But I know I’ve heard it.
It’s not really a Christmas song a kid appreciates. It’s a bit ponderous, slow, and somehow broad tonally. But what I like about it now is not the way it captures joy or glory, but catharsis and relief. “A weary world rejoices.” Boy, I hope so.
Johnny Mathis has a distinct voice, so I hope you like it.
2. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
December 24, 2016
Welcome to Day Twenty-Four of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
Frank Sinatra’s greatest contribution to the Christmas season was his decision to include a song in his album A Jolly Christmas that was popular 13 years prior, cementing it in the Christmas canon for years to come.
The problem was, though, that the song needed tweaking. Its old contextual trappings didn’t fit the feel of the album. “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas,” Sinatra told the original songwriter, referring to a particular part of the song. “Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?” The line in question, along with a few other words, were tweaked prior to recording. The result was a perfectly good Christmas song about togetherness.
I believed this to be the definitive version of the song for most of my life, as I’m sure most people born after its recording did. Learning that there was an “original” version in my adulthood was a more shattering revelation than learning that there was no Santa Claus in my youth.
In fact, the moment I even decided to do this list came when I went to Market Basket shortly after Thanksgiving, when they were already piping in Christmas music. They started playing this song, and as I listened I discovered, astoundingly, it had the original lyrics.
It hit me like reading a letter from someone I loved that was postmarked from before they had died. I was going to cry in the Market Basket because someone was singing to me the exact thoughts I had all along about the past year.
You see, the song was written to be sung by Judy Garland in a movie. She and her entire family are about to go through a tumultuous change, and nothing will be the same again. In this song, she bears the responsibility of easing the fears of her little sister even while grappling with the situation herself. In a shifting world they can’t control, they have to decide how to define their course going forward, and most importantly, what they need to be doing at that exact moment.
The title of the song is not a vacuous platitude. It is advice. It is permission. It is a mission!
This song was written, of course, during World War II, and its popularity outlasted the movie in which it appeared, becoming quite popular, of course, with the troops. Considered this way, the message of the song could be seen as patriotic. Keeping the Christmas spirit is something you do for those around you. In this way, it is your duty. You need to hold the line, keep the spirit alive, and maintain normalcy in whatever way you can. This is how many people survived the worst things to ever happen in history.
Christmas, and every other winter solstice observance, occurs at a time when light fades, the killing cold encroaches, and the weakness of human flesh is made apparent, and as the actions of our bodies are restricted, our wills are hollowed and grow stale.
Or they might, if not for our attempts to stave of this despair with these holidays. These days are meant to remind us that winter – at most other points in history, a time as synonymous with death as spring is to birth – is only temporary. And yet, this is more than just a biding of our time. You don’t just survive the Darkness because you waited it out. You have to do something. You can make someone a little happier than they might have been otherwise through a gift, a shoulder to lean on, or just being available. You can remind someone that they’re not alone.
At the bare minimum, you can be kind to yourself. You can believe that, though the world crumbles and dies around you, things can be better. You must not let that last good in the world, Hope, be lost as well.
This not to say it is easy, and that “it’s all going to work out.” This isn’t to miss the suffering of many, and those who did not survive history’s great tribulations. This is to recognize that these things have happened before, and they will happen again.
But that’s true of Christmas, too. Many, many people have celebrated many, many Christmases in many, many different situations. This song, better than any other, reminds us of that. Christmas, in acting as a collection for these many traditions and pieces of art, is a time capsule, a love letter from humanity to itself.
No, it’s not always easy. But we have to start somewhere. A better future is possible. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
1. All I Want For Christmas Is You
December 25, 2016
Welcome to Day Twenty-Five of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever, where I’ll attempt to define the breadth and depth of the Christmas Spirit through music.
We’ve discussed the many facets of Christmas. There’s the things that Christmas INCLUDES, like familial togetherness, Santa Claus, presents, sleigh rides, revelry, certain kinds of songs, and the anticipation that comes with waiting for those things to be appropriate. Then there’s the things that Christmas is ABOUT, like hope in darkness, peace, and a recognition of our common humanity.
What is the best and simplest way to combine these things? What sentiment best encapsulates both the need to undergo a particular experience at a particular time and the need to demonstrate and affirm your values to the world?
One song correctly embodies this journey we’ve taken together, our attempt to cut through all the bullshit and get to the heart of the matter, to, like a drill, boldly and resolutely focus our efforts and hopes for the season down to a single point:
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU
This song fits the bill for a great Christmas song in every fucking way. First of all, like a good Christmas song, you can pick up the words and sing along pretty easily. It’s actually a pretty simple idea with a very simple structure. Anyone can have fun with it, but a GREAT TALENT can unfurl it, making the merely simple into a universal truth.
For another thing, not only does it feature a subversion of the Christmas List, the whole song is devoted to decimating it! Santa, sleigh bells, reindeer? For Mariah Carey, NONE OF THESE WILL DO! Now, cleverly, she still gets to include the list, and she doesn’t count these idolistic features of Christmas as some how worth less – just that what SHE wants is worth MORE. She gets to have the list, and then go beyond it. This is an INCREDIBLY clever thing to do for a modern Christmas song, aligning itself with the classics while at once defying them.
Finally, it tells a good Christmas story in which tragedy could strike, but is averted. Consider how the first verse, our minute-long prologue, starts, passionate but sort of solemn, the church-like tone amplified by the chiming bells. At this point, we only know what she wants, not if she’s getting it. Are these wedding bells? Funeral bells??
That’s for us to find out in the rest of the song, measured but peppy, like a treasure hunt. Will he be here tonight? Holding on to her so tight?? Maybe!! The bridge emphasizes the tenuousness, when she is forced to actually implore Santa for aid.
But how do I know it’s a happy ending? It’s not from the words, but the voice. The last heaven-piercing “you” is the only resolution I need, and the height and totality of that “you” is the reason I cannot accept this from anyone but Mariah Carey.
That god damn “you” is how I know it’s Christmas. I didn’t used to think so, but now it’s obvious.
When you boil it all down, the good will, the cheer, the gift-giving, Christmas, like most important things, is all about love.
I THINK I’m right about this. But if I’m not, another way to look at this song is that Christmas is whatever you need it to be. Christmas has been flexible for nearly 2000 years, it can bend a little bit more for your sake.
Have a good one!
Bonus: St. Stephen’s Day Murders
December 26, 2016
Welcome to the Epilogue of Terry’s 25 Days of the Best Christmas Songs Ever.
The day after Christmas is known, depending on where you’re from, as Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day, or December 26th.
This song is about resisting the urge to kill all of your relatives on the day after Christmas because you’re sick of them being around them.
Apparently, St. Stephen was one the first martyrs ever, stoned to death spreading the gospel. In Ireland, they have a tradition where you send out the children for hours to chase/hunt/capture a wren. Apparently they thought a warbling wren gave away Stephen’s hiding place. So modern day wrens must suffer. These hunts, too, apparently, may be the St. Stephen’s Day murders.
The tensions among the drunken adults seem to be resolved, at least, when they finally get rid of the fucking kids.
Lauren and I finally wrapped up our biggest game of the social distancing era, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Complete Edition. I do not really understand why it’s considered the greatest game of all time. It’s like a mix between a Zelda game and an Elder Scrolls game, and it doesn’t get either quite right. Movement and combat always feels just slightly delayed, the choices that are allowed don’t offer for much role-playing or especially emergent storytelling, and considering how much time is spent managing inventory, there is a lot of lag simply navigating the many menus. Although it’s fun to arrange abilities and buffs in such a way to maximize your potential, It never FEELS especially good to play, at least compared to other Games of the Year.
I get why anyone would like it though – it’s freaking huge. It’s full of stuff. The sheer amount of writing and recorded audio even for the most insignificant situations is unbelievable. And the accessibility to all the quests is like nothing I’ve seen. You can find out about a quest by overhearing a conversation, pulling a notice off of a bulletin board, meeting the quest-giver in town, or just by running into the abandoned house they were going to ask you to look at anyway. It doesn’t always feel like a well-crafted game, but it is clearly the result of a lot of work. Sometimes it pays off, but honestly, it’s just too much.
We were told we could jump into this one without playing the previous entries, which now feels like a lie. Most of the main storyline lacks urgency because we never felt a deep connection to the major players, and the big threats are… pretty lame, predictable villains. Frankly, most of the major events felt BYOC (bring your own charm) because the characters left theirs in the previous games.
Thankfully, we stuck with it to get to the DLC expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood & Wine, which were, frankly, what I was hoping the rest of the game would be like. It felt a lot like we were playing through the early kitschy seasons of a TV show (say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to get to the later, wilder, genre-pushing seasons. A lot more fun, a lot more imagination, a lot more unique boss fights (though, again, it’s rough fighting a Zelda-style boss fight without Zelda-style responsive control). Also, the Witcher acts more like a professional rolling into town and resolving magically-complicated Shakespearean family power struggles and not some dumbass on a wild (goose) hunt.
The disparate feelings between the main game and the expanded content felt like a natural result of the production. This game is huge and, like most games this size, required a huge crunch to be finished. The result is a game that usually feels spread thin. The reason the DLC feels so much more lively is likely just a result of more people focusing on a smaller set of stories. Seems like a much better use of resources! As is, this game is overwhelming to the point I really can’t imagine returning to it.
Still, it’s hard not to spend so much time with something and not feel an attachment. With our last quest finished, we had Geralt strip down to his underwear, hang up his best suit of armor to display, down 20 bottles of wine (and a few onions by accident), read a goodbye note from an old vampire friend, and hit the hay in his retirement vineyard. Goodnight, Geralt.
I get the sensation of being a well-built killing machine refined from millennia worth of war data. The slashing, shooting, and dodging come from the previous NieR, but these actions are amped up in every way, bigger, faster, and most importantly, effortless. You don’t even have to hold your weapons most of the time!
I did not get the point of making the differences between each difficulty level so severe. Easy mode is basically meant to allow you to experience the story without much heartache. Normal mode is meant to be just challenging enough to make the proceedings feel dramatic without being punishing, but most difficulties can be solved by just… using a healing item when your HP get low, and failure usually comes less often from a desperate struggle than being too lazy to pull out a Medium Recovery in time. Hard mode decides to pair harder-hitting enemies with the inability to even lock on to them — TWO new challenges to get used to! The wish for a mode between Normal and Hard meant a constant feeling that there was some alternate version of the game that I’d rather play.
I get the feeling that chips and their customization were meant to be the central mechanic of the game, or should have been. They offer the clearest encouragement to pay attention to the way you play, either enticing you toward different strategies or allowing to you make your current methods even more effective through the clever combination of fusion of the right chips. They’re also a constant reminder that you are not human, driven home brilliantly by the fact that your entire chip set is customizable except for your core processor, which you need to literally function.
I don’t get why chips are sidelined by less interesting mechanics, specifically the acquisition and equipment of multiple weapons. I changed up my weapon sets at maybe two points in the game, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have had a problem with using only the first two swords the whole time. I’ll grant that different weapon choices can provide different tactical advantages — this is especially true when countering after a dodge can result in a rising slash, a spinning attack, or a forward thrust — but there isn’t enough motivation to try even half of the 38 weapons you can get. I would rather have had twice as meant chip sets as they provide, and I would have MUCH rather had the option to switch between chip sets from the quick menu instead of weapon sets!
I get the world design. The best way to illustrate a foot soldier’s part in a global conflict without actually bringing the globe into it is to give them dominion over a large contained area filled with distinct zones. The “ruined city” and its neighbors can either represent to the entire world, or just one apparently very important metropolis. This “anywhere”-ness accentuates the distant, fable-like tone of the game. The minimalism of the game’s style helps there, as well. Though tying your narrative to a mostly empty world populated by featureless automatons probably made the producers happy. *taps nose twice*
I get the side quests. In the last NieR, sidequests were an absolute nuisance that padded out the game and got in the way of the story. In Automata, the side quests, justified as operations to assist the android Resistance and gather intelligence on the machine threat, ARE the story. The simple act of being on Earth and being sentient — being alive — makes machines act strangely, and the game shows basically every possible permutation of ageless, disaffected robots looking for purpose. We see machines love each other, hate each other, try to be human, try to be BETTER than human, embrace struggle, find out what it means to live, what it means to be. Most define themselves by a single trait — the way most NPCs tend to do, right — and either embrace or are trapped by it. They so often act like any quest givers in any video game, but by merely knowing that their identities and desires originate from an entirely artificial place, your decision to take on these missions means elevating the stakes of their pantomime and recognizing their will, in turn asserting that everything is meaningless until you provide meaning to it. Magnifying this sensation is the ever-present irony that the self-serious androids, despite looking human, make far fewer attempts at acting human than most machines you meet. This is what it really means to ask the question, “What is it to be human?” This is truly science fiction.
I get the abstraction of time, kind of. It’s unclear how much time passes over the course of the game, especially when you take on sidequests that cut to a title reading TWO DAYS LATER once in a while, but it’s long enough to feel like an active and momentous number of weeks — months? — in the war against the machine threat, and long enough for 2B and 9S to form a working relationship.
That said, I don’t get the relationship between 2B and 9S. 2B is cold and 9S is outgoing, right? That comes across very effectively in the way they work together. 9S not only does most of the talking between the two of them, he also does most of the talking to NPCs on behalf of the both of them, not just because he’s naturally a talker, but because 2B either comes to expect this of him or allows him to. Their closeness is most believable in the subtle transition after a number of missions, when they go from clashing with each other to becoming comfortable in their complimentary roles.
That is, until their roles get switched up seemingly at random. They have a bad habit of mixing up their “machine’s have wills and are interesting” / “machines have no wills and must die” routine whenever they come across a new set of strange robots, with 9S being pretty inconsistent. 9S is the older model, yet he needs to be reminded that emotions are prohibited by YoRHA. And then 2B seems to forget about the emotion prohibition, and is even the first to shed tears! I get the change that’s being illustrated here, with the cold soldier getting in touch with her feelings, but there is basically no proper set-up for this moment. That is, unless you assume that she learned the value of caring for others from the sidequests you complete, which passes the work of convincing the audience that 2B and 9S have a reason for caring about each other onto the audience itself.
Actually, this is the abstraction of time coming back to bite us in the ass. Relationships presented between NPCs are suggested to have endured for centuries, but we’re supposed to believe that these taciturn androids are soul mates after… what, a month?
So I don’t really get where 9S’ enduring affection for 2B comes from, but I sort of do get that his obsession with the loss of 2B is meant to be analogous to his loss of purpose as her supporter, a member of YoRHA, and a defender of humanity when the shit hits the fan at the top of act three.
I don’t get A2. The most interesting possibility in the discovery of A2 is that there is a powerful android who lives off the grid who might be able to able to provide a new perspective into YoRHA’s real workings. Instead A2 is just like… a tough loner, and that’s it. It’s not even clear what her deal is unless you gather intelligence documents to reveal that she was an older model sent on a previous secret mission by YoRHA, which you… basically already know before you play as her.
Her ultimate purpose is to represent the desire of living for living’s sake in contrast to 9S’ madness-induced nihilism at the climax, but the path feels clumsy. Wasn’t there some other way to have this emotional moment? Why couldn’t the story be constructed so that 2B an 9S were facing each other in the end, and have their point of contention be disagreeing on what to do with the information that humanity is extinct?
I get that the game wants to shake things up once in a while by having you control different characters. It does this pretty well, most notably with the little machine getting oil for its “big brother” at the start of 9S’s story, an especially brutal moment when you trip and spill it everywhere. It really helps you understand the stark difference between the effortless flow of the androids and the ponderous gesticulating of the machines.
I don’t get 2B actually being 2E. I have no idea if that news is meant to momentous or not. If 2B’s whole thing was making sure 9S never got to the truth, what circumstances decide whether she is cold and dutiful about it or emotional and remorseful about it? Has this cycle repeated outside of the game as played? Moreover, the shallow “gotcha” of 2B’s identity switcharoo undermines 9S’ decisions to keep the truth of humanity’s extinction from 2B. Which sounds like a more interesting secret: the beliefs of every sentient thing on Earth are based on a lie, or “Actually, it was a different letter”?
I don’t get why Project YoRHA is designed to end the way it does. Considering the purpose of its formation — to boost android morale, a nebulous concept; why not just… program androids that have morale? — why violently end something that was fake, anyway? To hide its existence from who? The machine network’s purpose for fighting continuously — so it can evolve — makes more sense in comparison. But what does creating and destroying a military force actually do for humanity’s memory?
I do get the repetition of ironic circumstances of origin and the maddening implications of being created in the image of another and being forced to rely on that other. It happens first and most obviously with Adam and Eve, the game using the names of the first biblical humans to make it VERY CLEAR that one is derived from the other. But it happens again when you meet A2, the Adam to 2B’s Eve, and in a way it happens again in reverse, when 2B passes on her sword with her data to A2. And it happens again, most saliently, when 9S discovers that YoRHA’s black boxes are based on the same technology as the cores of machines. Not only does YoRHA as an organization exist because of the machines, but, literally, members of YoRHA can only exist because of the machines. This irony is the core of the absurdity of all conflict.
I don’t get the obsession with repetition and multiple endings. What if instead of being split into multiple playthroughs, the game was just… the game? And then there were just two endings: A2’s and 9S’. After all, those are the only endings that require a choice tobe made, while the ones before that happen as a matter of course.
If you are going to have multiple playthroughs, I don’t get why you would spoil the future ones. After playing as 9S, I assumed that the next playthrough would be as A2 — an easy assumption to make since you spend two playthroughs picking up Taunt chips you can’t use. I was so surprised to see that the third playthrough didn’t go back in time, but forward!
… Is what I would say if the second playthrough didn’t end with a teaser for what happens in the third playthrough. The one I was… about to play. Why would they do that?
Now, I do get one part about the second playthrough: being on the other side of 2B’s reboot after the first mission and watching yourself from the first playthrough make your configurations. The sensation that I was watching and BEING watched in that way felt like a very personal moment, and was the perfect way to get across the feeling of being connected to someone else. That felt like a door was opening onto the possibilities of seeing the same story from a different angle. There should have been more of those moments.
The only other moment that matches, and exceeds, the success of that one is, of course, ending E.
One of the great ironies of Automata is that the least humanoid characters are the ones to exhibit the greatest humanity (that is, the belief that life is worth living regardless of its purpose). That the belief that 2B, 9S, and A2 have a right to live comes from 2B’s support pod, the most primitive of all the artificial beings you ever meet — and that it’s able to awaken to this will over the course of the third act just by talking and learning to understand somebody else — is such a beautiful notion that I want to cry just thinking about it. (That said, I don’t get why the pods being the moral center of the story isn’t set up earlier; it could’ve been a great bookend).
Being in a bullet hell battle with the credits is goofy at first (I mean, Smash Bros. did this in ’98) until you get that you are literally fighting the concept of Ending. And I get the concept of your friends lending you their Friend Energy has been applied in every anime or anime-adjacent story from Dragonball to Persona. But other people who’ve played the game cheering you on from all over the world and then joining your game to die for you as the song swells in multiple languages feels like a completely unique experience in the moment.
And the notion that this game, a follow-up to a game that was already bleak, turned out to be even more bleak for most of its playtime, then flips it around to being happy and culminates in asking you to be part of something huge by giving up your save data to help someone you’ll never meet, an act that in the moment feels more like a gift than a sacrifice… I get that.
I get that finding meaning in life is recognizing and caring for the life of someone else.
I get that Automata tells clear, ringing truths by using its game mechanics to drive the story. I get that its points are muddled, hollowed, and prone to “anime logic” when using only its script to tell the story. I get that Automata’s best moments are playable. I get that its worst moments are not.
I don’t get a lot of the game’s trappings. I don’t get wanting to reach a broad audience while always conveying the sensation that you missed something by not playing the first NieR. I don’t get combining action and RPG mechanics until each ultimately diffuses the effectiveness of the other. I don’t really get the plot’s layered double-crossings and obfuscations of motivation that still manage to leave emotional moments in cutscenes feeling unclear or unearned.
Despite that, I get the feeling that Automata knows what its purpose is, which seems to be the point.
This is a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic written for a 1up.com contest to write the least offensive Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic. The top winners put character from Sonic up against the horrors and mundanity of everyday life.
What do you think? The black, right? ’Cause it should be something serious.”
Amy was holding the dress in front of herself, then brought it down to look at it again.
“No, that’s too much. It’ll be like I’m trying too hard.”
She went back to her closet and returned with a pinker, more summery top. “This is more cheerful. Wouldn’t it be nice to be… No, that’s stupid, I can’t go there like this, like it’s a normal day.”
She tossed it onto the bed. “If I had my red dress… He liked that dress. Are you sure I didn’t leave it at your place?”
Blaze had dressed in her regal purple coat, as she often did. She didn’t consider putting as much thought into her appearance as Amy did. “I could go back and look again.”
“No, forget it. I’ll just wear the black. Black is… it’s what you’re supposed to wear, right?”
“Black is traditionally worn in mourning, yes.”
Amy appeared to have had the air sucked out of her by the word. “That’s what I am, aren’t I? I’m mourning. But… I have to be the supportive one. I mean, Tails, and…”
She stormed back to the closet, sweeping every piece of clothing from one side to the other. “Why? Why is it all pink? Why do I always… Why do I dress like some damsel in distress?”
She turned back to Blaze. Her eyes were wet and turning pink as her wardrobe. “How come I can’t be the rescuer? Why can’t I save anyone?”
“It’s okay, Amy.”
“I can’t do this!”
Blaze suddenly took Amy’s head in her hands and pulled her close. She began to breathe in a slow, steady rhythm. Amy began breathing with her, quivering. When she calmed, Blaze cupped her face in her hands and their eyes met.
“We can do this.”
“I know. I know we can. We can be there for… Oh, Tails, little Tails…”
Blaze tightened her grip, as though to wring the doubt from her. “We can be strong.”
“Yeah. We can.”
She stepped back and stood up straight, looking around her room.
“I wish I had the red one.”
* * *
Heads turned to see the a visitor standing in the doorway of the vestibule. Though he had traded his familiar red flight jacket for a black trench coat, there was no mistaking his ovoid frame.
Tails had already lurched out from his pew. He struggled to stand straight as he walked toward the huge, round man, but grief and fury wracked his body with tremors. He was always the youngest of them, and now he was shaking like an old man.
He stopped halfway down the aisle, lifted his head, and opened his arms as though to invite Eggman to take in the sight of the congregation, their empty faces, the altar, Knuckles standing at the lectern, the box holding his dearest friend.
“Congratulations. This is what you’ve wanted, right? Everything you’ve built, everything you’ve destroyed. It was all for this view, right?” Tails began to stagger toward him again. “You made it. Was it… worth it?”
Tails’ body seized, and he fell down to his knees. Vector, who was in the nearest pew, came to his side and offered a hand. Tails slapped it away and leapt up at Eggman, no longer hiding his tears.
“Why are you here? To gloat? You’ve always hated him, and now look what you’ve done, look what you’ve made!”
His fists pounded hollowly against Eggman’s soft exterior until he didn’t have the strength to hold himself up, and he slumped against the rounded doctor and whimpered.
Slowly, gently, Eggman put his arms around the small fox.
Once he was certain there would be no resistance, Vector pulled Tails away from Eggman and brought him back to his seat. Then Eggman sat down in the nearest pew and, along with the rest of the congregation, politely turned his attention to the lectern.
That man could deliver a better eulogy than I ever could. Knuckles cleared his throat and took a moment for the air to clear. They knew each other longer than any of us.
He would never have thought of giving the eulogy if Tails hadn’t asked. He expected the departed’s closest friend to speak, since Knuckles himself was making all of the other arrangements, but in the end Tails yielded this last responsibility to the taciturn echidna as well. Even after all this time, in many ways, Tails still had growing to do.
“As some of you know, my first encounter with Sonic was on less than amicable terms.
“I… adopted the belief that he and Miles had invaded Angel Island to take away the Master Emerald, which my people held sacred. I challenged Sonic at every turn, not realizing what I was doing. I did not realize I was being deceived.”
He was unsurprised to see heads turning to look for any reaction from Eggman, who feigned ignorance either out of pride or courtesy.
Knuckles sighed and shook his head. “I know what some of you are thinking, and I’m afraid you’re mistaken. There’s one person to blame for what I did — and that’s me.
“I deluded myself into thinking that the world ended with me. I didn’t trust anyone from outside to let me be safe. To let me be myself. I was stronger by myself. I was stronger alone.
“It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized I had nothing. I was the custodian of a floating tomb and I didn’t know anyone who would call me friend.”
Knuckles looked over at the blown up picture resting on the easel next to the coffin: the arms rebelliously crossed, the eyes wide with expectation, looking as he did when they first met. Is this how he will be remembered, while the rest of us get older?
He gathered himself again. “He pointed me in the right direction and he showed me what could be accomplished if you have the courage to trust someone. As he trusted Tails. As he trusted me. And most importantly, as he trusted himself.
“Sonic was a risk taker, and he would be the first to admit that — like any of us — he’d made mistakes. But that’s what life is. It’s mistakes. Live and learn.
“He never regretted a single thing he did. He learned, and he kept moving forward. He had a steadfast heart of gold. No matter what happened, no matter what anyone said, everything he did was a step in the right direction. And it’s because Sonic was such a risk-taker that we’re all here today.”
It wasn’t until then that Knuckles noticed the irony in those words.
He took another moment and looked out at the faces staring back at him. Amy and Blaze and Cream. Vector and them. The bird rogues he never really knew, but he was glad they were here. Shadow, Rouge. Big. Tails. He never would have known any of them if he had stayed on that island.
“It’s because of Sonic that we’re together right now. He was open to every possibility that life could offer him and his world exploded and grew to include each and every one of you.
“He was strong. He could fly. He reached the other side of the rainbow. But if you look around, you’ll see that he’s still here in each of us. In the way we live each day. Always moving forward, with no regrets.”
As Knuckles stepped down from the lectern, he felt lighter. Whether he had gained something or lost something, he didn’t know.
* * *
“That was really wonderful, Knuckles.” Rouge leaned in to touch him on the shoulder.
Shadow stopped short of the exit and draped his coat over one arm and checked his watch again.
Knuckles turned his attention from the Babylon Rogues to Rouge with a sense of relief that didn’t escape Shadow’s notice. “Thanks. I appreciate it. I hope he would’ve liked it.”
“The eulogy he would’ve enjoyed, but the reception! I don’t even see any chili dogs here.”
Knuckles laughed politely. “I still have some things to clear up before I go. But, hey, Cream’s family is having people over later, though, so… I’ll meet you guys there?”
“Oh, a get-together? That’s nice.” Rouge looked back expectantly at Shadow, who made an exaggerated show of checking his watch. “Well, I guess we’ll… go and change first. See you later, Knuckles.”
She hugged him, then turned toward Shadow, who was already walking out the door into the cool dusk. She hurried to catch up to him. “Somewhere to be?”
“We do now, evidently.”
“Come on, just go with me. You don’t have to say anything to anyone.”
“I’ve had enough of that today.” Shadow still couldn’t feign vapid optimism the way he assumed everyone else did, no matter how often he was subjected to it. Sonic had pulled him into this world and Rouge was keeping him in it.
He fished his keys out of his coat and unlocked the Escalade from afar. They stopped when, in its headlights, he saw the silhouette of a boy with two tails.
“Oh,” said Rouge, “Hello, Tails. Do you…?”
He looked up at her with dry, steely eyes. “Knuckles is staying here. Can I… get a ride home?”
Shadow looked sidelong at Rouge. He had no intention of acquiescing, so he left the honor to her.
“Of course you can. Come on in.”
As they pulled out of the lot, Shadow spotted Eggman walking along the curb toward his Eggomatic hovercraft. Rouge waved politely as they passed, but it was too dark then to tell if he had noticed.
She crossed her legs and sank back into her seat. “What a lonely man.”
As they approached the intersection, Shadow turned his head to look for oncoming traffic, and in the corner of his eye he saw Tails looking out of the window back at Eggman without a hint of scorn.
Ryuji should have been tempted by fame, and suffered for it. He is the one character most vocal about unfairness. Not injustice, but unfairness — a purer, more childlish notion that you deserve something for your troubles. He is the party member most bothered by his negative public image. He aches to be recognized for his efforts, but knows he has to keep his identity secret. This should have made him completely buy into the hype of the Phantom Thieves’ authority, thirsting for approval from the online fans, excited to give them what they want. Ryuji should have been radicalized to the point of believing that the Phantom Thieves had the vision to be the rightful judge, jury, and executioner of Japan.
Imagine in one of the scenes following Okumura’s death if Ryuji leaned back in one of the booths at Leblanc and said, “Maybe he deserved to die.” Sparks fly as the rest of the group try to counter, forcing themselves to ask what their goal in the end really is.
Of course, Ryuji wouldn’t think he’s being ridiculous — he just believes in the mission more than everyone else. It would be up to the player to decide if Ryuji’s thinking makes him a liability to the team. This could make an interesting twist when we get to the end of Shido’s dungeon, when Ryuji makes his suicide run, a decision he makes not just because he can run good or whatever, but because he’s already shown to believe that, in pursuing the Phantom Thieves’ goals, death is acceptable, even his own.
And then Ryuji should actually die. No lame pointless fake-outs. Make the player wonder if Ryuji’s radicalism was foolish (because it killed him) or noble (because it saved everyone else).
This idea of the Phantom Thieves investing too heavily into their own image is only barely explored in Mishima’s confidant story, to no great effect.
Morgana should have been the Grail’s creation, not Igor’s. Discovering that he is made by Igor reveals Morgana’s nightmares to be, really, just nightmares, and that his insecurities were actually nothing at all to worry about. This… isn’t dramatic. Instead, Morgana should have been sent by the Grail to mislead the player. However, much as the Grail was distorted by human cognition, Morgana would have been changed by the player’s, but in this case, reformed, becoming an agent for self-determination. This fits perfectly with the game’s theme of rebelling and defying expectations. This would make Morgana a character. As is, he’s reduced to an inefficient deus ex machina.
Ann should have been smarter, more autonomous, and, generally, better respected by the script. Ann has several lines expressing her dissatisfaction with her catsuit. That doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Why, in a world formed by one’s vision of their self, would she end up with an outfit she doesn’t even like? Let the woman just like being herself, for fuck’s sake.
She’s a professional model, the only member of the group to have a job, and to routinely interact with adults — the very adults so often maligned by this game! She should have maturity and insight that the other character have yet to develop. It doesn’t matter if she isn’t a top student or hacker. Ann shouldn’t be oblivious, she should be smart, and if she’s insecure about anything it makes no sense for it to be her body!
Let’s take that stupid ass scene where she’s asked to pose nude. What would be funnier? If she waved her arms and said, “You want to do WHAAAT?” or if she said, “I always told myself that if I had to pose nude… it wouldn’t be for less than a 200,00 yen.” Exclamation points shoot up over everyone else’s heads. Giving Ann conviction like this gives you so many options when she finally meets up with Yusuke. For example:
She shows up and immediately throw around her weight as a professional model, making increasingly more ridiculous demands for her comfort. Yusuke, obsessed with the creative process, rationalizes her demands as being for the sake of ART, expounding on his own process.
When asked to disrobe, she makes a big striptease out of it, coming onto Yusuke hard in attempt to turn him on so much that he has to get up and leave, giving her a chance to snoop.
Like 2, except it’s revealed that Yusuke is completely cold to her advances, asking that she speed things up a little. Realizing she’s in over her head, she just knocks some paint over and says, “Whoops,” forcing him to clean it up while she snoops.
There are bits like this throughout that script that could be tweaked. Don’t let stuff happen to Ann, let her do stuff.
Yusuke should have been fragile, not bombastic. Yusuke is like the Shylock of Persona characters — potentially interesting, but fucking broken by virtue of being, uh, p r o b l e m a t i c. His monkey cheese antics set him up to be a fan favorite, but it’s all blighted by his entire introductory arc — his treatment of Ann and his static inner motivation of Doing Art — which just makes him seem like a flippant asshole.
But let’s look at the facts: every facet of his life has pointed him toward a career of painting professionally, and then all at once, his key to that industry is taken away — what if he didn’t have to do that thing every adult in your life told him he had to? Yusuke could have been rendered by this terrifying possibility, the main question of his arc being, if he paints, will it be by rote, or because he chose to recommit himself?
In the script as is, Yusuke has a LOT of insight and confidence for someone whose narrow worldview was just shot to hell. Shouldn’t the artist be dealing the most seriously with their own subjectivity? I think this same question could have made him more reflective on his role within the Phantom Thieves when the shit hit the fan. Would he have the conviction to know when they were going to far? Yusuke should have had a fateful moment when everything looks bad where he says, “I just don’t know.”
A character with conviction is one thing. If a character knows exactly how to answer a hard question, consider if that character is actually just the writer in disguise.
Haru should have been the weird one. Haru’s archetype is “rich girl”. But how would you know that without being told? What about her background informs her personality? How can someone with such a huge asshole for a dad be so nice? At most, Haru should be well-mannered, but she shouldn’t actually be very good at understanding other people, because she’s never really needed anything from anyone else. Through the cracks in her manners, she should come across as tactless and unrelatable. The others should vacillate between being charmed by her, annoyed by her, and feeling pity for her. This difficulty in getting close to people should facilitate her one genuine love: gardening.
I can’t believe I have to explain this, but Akechi shouldn’t have been a super evil sneering villain, but rather, like you, someone striving to make the world better in way that doesn’t look good from the outside. Akechi is implementing a plan that has been years in the making. Despite the fatalities, getting a visionary like Shido into a leadership position must be the best, most realistic chance to improve Japan. To paraphrase the bad guy from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, Shido should seek to use corrupt shenanigans in the government to END corrupt shenanigans in the government.
Hey… Speaking of Shido and that other guy… What a lame, un-Persona-like design.
Makoto’s strategic mind should be pushed to its limit. Knowing the overwhelming odds they’re up against, and knowing how huge and complicated society is, she should have objectively appraised Akechi and Shido’s plan to reform society through political machinations as being, actually, the best way to bring about change. (This necessitates that the villains have a plan that makes sense) Ryuji and the most outspoken Phantom Thieves would push back angrily, but Makoto would remind them that their mission is to make the world better, and that maybe the mental breakdown plan is the shortest route to that. Makoto would only relent after making it clear to the Thieves that their path going forward may result in failure.
Makoto would still put all of her effort into planning Shido’s heist, considering every edge case, making sure everything will go smoothly, taking into account everything they’ve learned up until then. When Shido shuts down his palace manually, and Ryuji dies, everyone cries, sure, but Makoto, like… hides, not even available for Confidant excursions. She doesn’t respond to request for a Phantom Thieves meeting. She has to be tracked down and convinced that she’s not the reason Ryuji died.
The main characters should have had to make a real sacrifice. The Phantom Thieves never really earned their rosy ending. These are people who chose to wrangle otherworldly powers with the specific goal of changing how the world worked. The player should have been confronted directly with the question of whether or not their choices were rooted in charity or hubris. Instead, the player gets away scot-free, with all of their friends, no mark on their record. What the hell is the moral of the story?
Bad things need to happen to good people. Several times the game does somethings dramatic and then immediately reverses it. Morgana leaves the team, but not for long enough to impact any in-game choices. Ryuji vanishes, and then comes back in the next fucking scene. When people in Shibuya Square start panicking and disappearing toward the end, I thought that I was making irreversible changes in the real world, destroying shadows and killing civilians in the process… But, instead, my actions HAD no lasting effect on the world.
Drama lives in conflict. Conflict is not when the good guys beat up the bad guys. Conflict is when the good guys think the bad guys might have a point. Conflict is when the good guys are tempted to fight each other. Conflict is finding out the premise for your mission might be flawed. As is, Persona 5 is a game dripping with style but devoid of drama.
I know a lot of people are, rightly, ragging on the translation. But, honestly, I think the original script is open to criticism, too. The characters – at least in the first two months – just aren’t real or interesting or consistent enough. I think it’s totally fair to compare them to characters in Persona 4, since they’re based on the same archetypes.
In Persona 4, your Bro is Yosuke. Yosuke has a crush on an older classmate who dies early on, and the rest of his arc constantly refers back to his failures – he didn’t tell her how he felt, and he couldn’t save her. This is also complicated by his family’s background, since they run the big new department store in town which competes directly with the store run by the family of his dead crush. Even if he were to go back, would his life circumstances allow him to get whatever it is he wants?
Yosuke has plenty of notable surface-level traits (he jokes, he complains, he’s clumsy, he’s tactless), but the game’s tragic inciting incident forces him to spend the rest of the game trying to figure out what his role is in his family, his circle of friends, and his hometown.
In Persona 5, your Bro is Ryuji. What I get about Ryuji is that he used to be a punk, and now he’s less so, but people still think he’s trouble. On paper, this fits in great with our main character’s back story and the game’s driving theme – in resisting what society makes you, you tend to become it. What’s missing is a tangible action. Ryuji’s misfortunes, it turns out, can actually be blamed on the game’s first major boss, which basically absolves Ryuji of responsibility in his own origin. So what does he have left to learn?
In Persona 4, your next two team mates are Chie and Yukiko. While they’re distinct characters, their relationship beautifully illustrates what makes that game so good. Chie’s perceived image in school is as a boisterous and outgoing “tomboy”. The popular perception of Yukiko is that she is ladylike, sophisticated, and impenetrable. We meet them as good friends, but when it comes time to actually confront their Shadows, we learn how codependent they are, how jealous they are of each other, and how their attachment might be based on their own respective inferiority complexes. As time goes on, the same feelings that spawn their jealousy also gives rise to a true understanding of each other. It perfectly illustrates the transformation from a childhood friendship of convenience to an adult friendship based on mutual respect.
In Persona 5, Ann‘s role seems to be The Girl. And what do you do with your primary Girl? In Persona 5, I guess you figure out as many sexually compromising positions as possible and go to town. Her reactions to these situations provide no insight and make less sense as time goes on. She objects to these situations, but offers no rebuttals or alternatives because either 1) she’s an idiot or 2) the script says so, so here we are. Her thought process during these moments are never connected to her experience as a professional model. In fact, her profession basically never comes up. Almost as though it’s a flimsy excuse to have a tall, skinny, hot girl hang out with us. Add to this that she was a target of constant unwanted sexual attention just a month prior and, not only does the player and rest of the cast come off as cruel and stupid, but the story feels completely disjointed from itself. Why not use what little we know about Ann’s past experience to inform her current situation, instead falling back on, frankly, typical anime bullshit of a girl waving their arms and screeching, “You want me to do WHAAAT??”
The only party member I actually like so far is, amazingly, the animal mascot. What makes Morgana work is the simple hook in his backstory: he has all this knowledge about this strange new world, but he doesn’t remember who he used to be or what he used to look like, so he’s decided to help YOU so that you can help HIM. This noble quest of self-discovery is what makes his goofy and weird behavior funny, making use of the best parts of Teddy’s story in Persona 4 while avoiding some of the more unBEARable parts. It also means a lot when someone who told you up front they want to use you for their own gain starts to actually like hanging out with you.
That’s it! The difference between the Persona 4 cast and and most of the Persona 5 cast is HISTORY.
Persona 4 really captures the feeling of being new in town, because, even when you’re in the moment with your friends, you know they’re all still dealing with their own past, and you’re able to help them work through those problems.
In Persona 5, I don’t feel like I’m missing a damn thing. Ryuji and Ann don’t feel like they have mysteries to unravel. They seem to be exactly what they look like, at least until the script needs them to act some other way.
From the thread Platinum Demo Impressions: Thank god for this thread. Looking at positive reactions on YouTube, I felt like I was living in a cuckoo clock. I downloaded the demo after watching the awesome trailer, and I played it in the same room as my wife, trying to come up with nice things to say while I was going through it.
“Okay, the controls are kinda responsive. The battle transitions are pretty smooth.” Knowing me, she said, “Do you believe anything that you’re saying?” and I finally admitted, “No.”
The trailer had panache and drama, and the demo didn’t have any. The coolest part was when I stepped on a switch and Leviathan soared over me and into a lake, and then just… disappeared. It’s like none of the teams working on this were ever in the same room. “Here is an ENVIRONMENT; insert SPECIAL EFFECTS; insert MONSTERS – good job, everyone.” It didn’t feel crafted at all. Really, why did any particular encounter have to occur in any particular space? It was all just Some Stuff Happening.
I was looking forward to the novel concept of playing in Noctis’ dream to, like, get into his headspace, find out more about his character. But then I realized they set it inside of a dream for one reason: so they wouldn’t have to think about how to transition from one environment to the other. “Oh, shoot, how do we get from the forest to the toy room? Ehh, just say it was all a dream and call it a day.”
Remember waiting for the release of previous Final Fantasy games? The question I always remembered asking about any new one coming out was: “So what’s the new core mechanic? What’s materia all about? How does junctioning work? Sphere Grid? Gambits?” What are the new possibilities being demonstrated here? What makes this the Next Step in the series? Really, what is the POINT of this demo? What’s the Thing we were supposed to see that was meant to confirm how we shouldn’t skip this game when it comes out?
The demo didn’t seem to know. Instead of introducing me to a world, showing me how I should play the game, showing me what makes a strategy more worthy in one situation than another, what’s the tactical difference between dodging and warping, they were like… “Circle attacks, Square dodges. Here’s some Heartless Nightmares. You’re a truck now. It’s a dream. Whatever. Here’s a summon monster.”
Cool. Can I summon it?
“Uh… No.” The game barely cared that I was playing it.
And for those defending it as “just” a tech demo:
1) I didn’t play Episode Duscae. I borrowed FF Type 0 from a friend, but found out that he had already “claimed” the digital copy of the demo, so I couldn’t play it. As a result, this demo is ALL I HAVE to go on. I also didn’t like Type 0 much, either. So I’m not gonna pay money for a game I know I don’t like to play a demo that I am now PRETTY SURE I won’t like.
2) It’s not called the tech demo – it’s called the PLATINUM DEMO. And then at the end of it they asked me if I wanted to pre-order the full game. If this demo isn’t supposed to be representative of the game, someone tell Square Enix, ’cause they don’t seem to know.
At first I thought the multimedia / Florence and the Machine / Lena Hedey movie stuff was kind of cool, but it was only cool so long as I thought FFXV would be any good. Now that I don’t think it is, I realize now how stupid all of the other stuff is – they’re doing the same crap they did with FFVII and FFXIII, banking on the success of a franchise without having even finished it. In marketing this way, it’s like they’re saying, “Oh, FFXV isn’t just a GAME – it’s an EXPERIENCE!” It lowers the stakes for all of the projects under the umbrella as a result.
No. Stop it. Just make a game.
There’s also just the fact that they’re acting like this is an action RPG… While this demo has no RPG-ing, and barely any action. I never had to be thoughtful about my resources or my equipment, and the fights are impactless. The warp sword is ALMOST cool, but hitting things just doesn’t feel fun. The Nightmares just kind of melt under your flailing, and the Iron Giant is a wall you can’t be killed by.
If you really wanna understand how I feel, check out this video:
You can watch the whole thing, or jump to 4:57.
Have you gotten to the part with the red circles?
FFXV feels like the circle on the top. Other users’ insights:
+ I’d gotten fairly excited for this game (never played the first demo), but this thing just knocked the wind right out of my sails. Also has me really worried about FFVII Remake, which I was already way more excited for than XV.
+ When you push L1 and R1 at the same it brings up a bunch of swords around Noctis, which does… something. I dunno.
+ Transforming to a beast showed how static the maps are. You’re telling me that this animal that includes rocks crumbling in his attack animation can’t bring a lawnchair to fall?
+ Also I forgot how much I hate the Japanese take on children, particularly the sounds they make when lost and befuddled. So many stupid, unnecessary “gahs” and “huhs?”
+ I kind of hated this(?).
+ I haven’t liked the design and art choices in a Final Fantasy game since IX, not a huge fan of SquareEnix’s sci-fi takes. I don’t know the man’s name but isn’t that crazy zipper guy in charge of this game and KH3? I don’t like his style.
+ …All that said, if I had to boil time my problem with this demo into a sentence, it would be “I don’t see the product of 10 years worth of work.“
+ XII I played multiple times and enjoyed thouroughly. XIII was okay at first but I got tired of it after awhile. This I just wanted nothing to do with immediately.
On Day 3 of Parasite Eve’s six day journey, during a sequence of events that are peaceful as they are chilling, our blonde, blue-eyed hero Detective Aya Brea is joined by her hot-blooded partner Detective Daniel Dollis on a stroll through an evacuated Manhattan seeking to liberate resources from abandoned businesses to use in their battle against the mysterious being known as Eve and the mutated creatures at her disposal.
They are followed by a civilian biophysicist named Kunihiko Maeda, whom they’ve allowed to travel with them, since his research on a being similar to Eve from his native Japan may prove useful. And he’s also some skinny, unarmed nerd, so what harm could it do?
When the player takes control, the trio will eventually end up standing in front of Sams [sic] Gun Shop. When approached, Maeda rubs the crown of his head and says, “They weren’t kidding when they said they sell guns here in America, were they…”and then reverts to a looped animation of furtive glances to the left and right.
When the door to the shop is examined, Aya will notice that it’s locked. Her partner Daniel tells her to step to one side.
“Daniel, no…” says Aya. “Sorry, but it’s the only way,”Daniel responds.
With a flourish, Daniel pulls out his concealed firearm and shoots at the glass of the door surrounding its handle. Aya knows to cover her ears and turn away from the breaking glass. Maeda doesn’t have time to react, and so makes no move until after Daniel already holsters his gun.
“Are… are you really a cop?” he asks.
“We think so,” Aya says. “But we don’t have scientific proof, if that’s what you’re asking.”
As the player peruses the the shop for ammunition, Aya can find Daniel casually glancing between two products, and waves his arm out generously when approached. “Go ahead and pick your favorite accessories, ladies!”
Maeda, hunched over, peers through the protective glass at the bounty of weaponry, small and large: “This is just too much.”
There are are two NYPD officers who manage the weapons dispensary at Aya’s Precinct 17 offices. The first the player meets, Wayne, coolly and possessively spreads his arms along the width of the front desk. “So what’ll it be… Shotgun? Rocket Launcher?”
Wayne stands at attention when his supervisor, Torres, walks in to reprimand him. “Idiots like you are the reason why guns won’t disappear from this country!” Torres tells Wayne to get his ass back to the storage room, and let a responsible adult handle the registration process.
That’s right: the officer in charge of registering and dispensing new firearms to other cops HATES guns. He’s not too obstinate though, and recognizes that gun violence is systemic, referring to it as a “vicious cycle” of law enforcement relying on guns because criminals do, and vice versa. Moreover, he recognizes that it’s fair to bring heavy weaponry to a battle against an unstoppable, mutated terror.
Once Aya leaves, she’s met by Wayne gain. Although Torres will only modify Aya’s firearm with a permit, Wayne bypasses Torres’ authority by letting her know that she can tune weapons on her own through the game’s Tool system, the mechanic the player will use most to overcome mitochondrial monstrosities. “Trust me,” Wayne says, “you can never have too much firepower”.
During the events of Day 3, Precinct 17 comes under attack by Eve’s mutated creatures. As the player makes through way through the hostile territories, they reach the weapons dispensary and find Wayne over a fatally wounded Torres. “Why didn’t ya shoot, man?!” Wayne asks him. Torres reveals that he hasn’t even fired a gun since his daughter died. “Torres, you can’t blame guns for that!”
“I suppose… you’re right…” Torres concedes. He encourages Wayne to take good care of the place, and then dies.
Afterward, Wayne hands Torres’ gun over to Aya, a decent weapon that he always kept in top working condition, although he never used it. Wayne reveals that, although Torres was an excellent shot, after his daughter’s accidental death he stopped using guns – and, in fact, he relocated to Precinct 17 for the express purpose of filling the dispensary position and keeping all the guns in check out of a sense of duty.
And so the gun safety expert, constantly surrounded by weapons that could be used for self-defense, dies because he is unwilling to use one. Meanwhile, the brash gun enthusiast lives on because of his love for weaponry.
Parasite Eve is one of the few games by Square to take place in a world not framed by fantasty or cyberpunk aesthetics, and the very first to take place in a representation an actual real world, current time location. In a Square game, a player often makes use of magical items and equipment to surmount obstacles. Of course, magic doesn’t exist in 1997 New York City – aside from the magic of Rockefeller Center at Christmastime. In lieu of giant swords or glowing crystals, the player uses something much more down-to-earth: guns.
Even then, firearms in Parasite Eve are treated with the same pomp and reverence as any mystical weaponry. Some of them even have fantastical qualities that sound feasible with the right wording – some ammunition is corrosive and deals acid damage, some grenades explode into… ice, and deal cold damage.
Consider that, to the average player within the originally intended Japanese audience, an actual gun might as while be a magic sword, and that playing Parasite Eve might be as close they will get to gun ownership.
Parasite Eve only briefly meditates on gun ownership and the use of firearms, but the choices made clearly indicate the game’s origins. Maeda, the only Japanese character in the game, can rather easily explain concepts related to genetics and biochemistry, but can’t quite wrap his head around the nature of American gun culture or the behavior of a New York City police officer.
This same outside perspective, though, offers a measure of moderation that isn’t often seen in the national conversation regarding gun violence – a willingness to admit that the right answer isn’t always obvious.
Wayne and Torres clearly both represent the opposite perspectives on guns in the country, with Wayne seeing no problem with putting limitless firepower in the hands of a citizen who wants it, and Torres not even believing that law enforcement should be using such weapons. It could be said that Torres, who dies, is the loser this debate. His ideas, though, live on in other officers at Precinct 17, who clearly had great respect for him, and in Wayne, who must take on his responsibilities. Although he did die during this one unbelievable situation, for the most part, aside from battles against monsters, his mediation on the vicious cycle of gun violence rings true.
That said… Wayne is much more cavalier about dispensing firearm modifications to Aya than Wayne was, going so far as to give them out in return for trading cards. What kind of trading cards? Trading cards with pictures of guns on them.
You can train someone to be responsible, and you can put obstacles in the way of someone who wants a firearm, but in the end, gun culture is bigger than any law or any one person.
There is one single moment that tells you everything you need to know about Tifa and Aeris, and the kind of people they are.
The calculations that go into deciding who Cloud dates at the Golden Saucer is based on how many invisible “affinity points” a given character has. Based on certain actions and dialogue choices, Tifa, Aeris, Yuffie, or Barret can gain or lose points.
When my wife and I played the game again this past year, we were determined to date Barret. We were successful — with the help of a handy guide. Rather than spoiling the fun, the guide actually provided a lot of funny insight, like how romantic or gruesome particular decisions were interpreted based on the amount of points gained or lost.
But the biggest revelation comes pretty early on in disc one, when you have to infiltrate Don Corneo’s lair.
If Aeris is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Tifa:
“You alright?” and lose 2 points for Tifa or “We gotta help Aeris!” and gain 3 points for Tifa.
If Tifa is chosen as Don Corneo’s date, you can say to Aeris:
“You alright?” and GAIN 3 points for Aeris or “We gotta help Tifa!” and LOSE 2 points for Aeris.
Aeris and Tifa don’t even know each other yet, but Tifa is still ready to help her, and Aeris doesn’t give a shit.
That even the behind the scenes MATH of the game supports the characterization is fucking INSPIRING to me.
But still, it shows what good characters they both are. They’ve both had tumultuous pasts, but Tifa had the luxury of a stable home life for her formative years. Aeris, meanwhile, has had to run, hide, and mistrust all sorts of authority figures to stay alive and sane. Indeed, it could be seen as admirable that she’s maintained her kindness despite so much trauma, but her somewhat arrested development shows that she was not unscathed. Her penchant for pink, her coyness, her fixation on guys in uniforms, making a living in a busy city selling flowers at 22 (?!) years old… all seem to bely an unwillingness to grow up because, well, her actual childhood sucked! While Cloud lacks a strong identity, Aeris actively manufactures her own. This, ironically, is what allows her do commit her most heroic act, and also her most dangerously naive: sacrifice herself for the sake of the world. Could it be that Aeris simply wasn’t very happy inside?
Tifa, meanwhile, had her most traumatic experience at the cusp of adulthood. Because she has strong ideals ingrained on her by her family and her teacher and her peers, she is able to hold onto them and carry on, even after tremendous loss. This leads her to being somewhat reticent at times, like Cloud, but unlike Cloud, she is also sincere and usually more honest about her feelings.
I love these characters. Not just because the have crazy destinies and origin stories, but, besides all that, they’re fucked up in the tragically banal way that lots of real young adults actually are. And they still carry on and care about each other.