My Games

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Superpowers 2.0

My old Superpowers (or Mutations) Weird & Wonderful Table is still one of my most popular posts (as can be seen on the sidebar), and there were a lot of cool ideas there, but it suffers from the problems of many of my older writings (and frankly many of my current ones still πŸ™ƒ) of being overwritten, overly dry or "clinical", and not enough regard paid to gameability. I'd like to think I've improved on that front, so here's a new set of 50 superpowers (this is actually my third superpowers table if you include Cantrippers).

You may note some redundancy compared to previous lists (not including the superhero funnel posts since this is just an extension of that), but these are much more tightly written, and I tried to only use powers that would be gameable and threw in some that are less high-concept but still tickle my fancy for whatever reason.

These were originally posted on The OSR Pit and also The Cauldron, and most of them previously appeared in my last Superhero Funnel post. As much as I still really like the idea of a Superhero Funnel, I ultimately decided I wasn’t happy with the direction that my Superhero Funnel was going and realized I was going to have to scrap a lot of the work I had done, and so it sort of sapped my motivation for the time being, but I do hope to come back to it or something like it eventually. But for now, here's the list of 50 superpowers I created for it.

  1. Bloodhound: Has the proportional strength, speed, and senses of a bloodhound.
  2. Gray Goo: Nanomachines convert non-living matter into other things (must understand the creation’s properties), and create virtual reality spaces.
  3. Vector: Unstoppable while moving in a straight line, vulnerable while pivoting.
  4. Pinball: Superspeed and proportional superstrength, but must account for inertia and other laws of velocity and acceleration.
  5. Snake: Floating orbs spontaneously appear around them. As they eat the orbs, they grow longer. Their sharp scales are dangerous even to themself.
  6. 2D: Two-dimensional. Can flatten against surfaces, slip through crevices, and fold like origami.
  7. Scanner Darkly: Superspy skills and gadgets, appearance and voice scrambling mask, separated brain hemispheres for multitasking, and deep-cover identity dissociation.
  8. Mushroom: Grow giant-sized or shrink to the size of a mouse from eating mushrooms.
  9. Flash Fry: Project hot grease and resistance to grease fires.
  10. Cinnamon: Emanate novas of burning-hot capsaicin.
  11. Mint: Emanate novas of ice-cold menthol.
  12. Alkahest: Project a universal solvent.
  13. Kintsugi: Injuries make them stronger with scars of gold.
  14. Librarian: Paper Elementalist.
  15. Technomancer: Override software and control devices as an extension of themself.
  16. Herbalist: Gain superpowers relating to the properties of held plants.
  17. Landfill: Telekinetic control of trash and waste.
  18. Schrodinger: While unseen, can be anywhere and nowhere in the vicinity.
  19. Laservision: Laser-grid visual overlay for perfect accuracy and precision.
  20. Aye-Aye Aye: Long bony finger, like an aye-aye, with advanced supersenses.
  21. Memetos: Living idea that can infect the collective unconscious over time, or more rapidly the consciousnesses of individuals in the vicinity.
  22. Constructor: Rapidly construct cartoonish but functional devices and structures from minimal resources that break down shortly after use.
  23. Cleric: Summon rays of cleansing, healing, but also searing light.
  24. Parkour: Superhuman agility, dexterity, flexibility, reflexes, etc., that accelerate so long as they remain in motion, returning to athletic human levels if halted.
  25. Icarus: Waxy melting wings, dripping with the heat of Greek Fire. Wings melt and regrow over the course of a turn.
  26. POP: Compel any non-living object to spontaneously combust. The force of the explosion and predictability of the detonation time is proportional to the size of an object.
  27. Flurry: Throw rapid and near-infinite consecutive strikes.
  28. Wavecrash: “Teleportation” via the internet and strike from the other side with the force of a vehicle speeding down the information superhighway.
  29. Babylon: Scramble or silence sounds, including language, and emit sonic force beams.
  30. Triplets: Coordinate in perfect harmony; far greater than the sum of their parts.
  31. Warhead: Fortified with an organic metal shell. Can explode without harming themself, but lose their metal shell for the remainder of the conflict.
  32. Kafka: Proportional strengths and abilities of various arthropods, although their greatest power (and weakness) is their utterly horrifying appearance.
  33. Combo Ace: Store three pre-programmed athletic or combat feats like video game controller macros, infinite use unless replaced (between conflicts).
  34. Chopper: Human attack helicopter cyborg.
  35. Wormhole: Create a temporary human-sized portal between two locations in the vicinity.
  36. Snapshot: By taking a photo and holding it up to their face in the exact spot it was taken, they may retrieve small objects from the same place and in the same state as in the photo, even if the object is no longer in that place or state.
  37. Rainmaker: Project a torrent of (fake) money strong enough to knock over an average human. By shooting into the air, those caught under raining money are overcome with excitement and susceptible to greedy impulses.
  38. Rust: Make metal rapidly rust.
  39. Roller: Superspeed from biological wheels under their feet.
  40. Superposition: They can take up to three brief actions in a row, all occurring simultaneously and able to affect each other, before collapsing into the last action.
  41. OP: Can’t affect or be affected by things they can’t see; lack of “object permanence”.
  42. Firehose: Rapidly absorb any raw material (e.g. water, dirt) by pressing one hand into it and simultaneously project it as a powerful and steady stream from the other hand.
  43. Nono the Non-Euclidean Clown: Wibble-wobble in spacetime-bending strides stretching and collapsing like a human slinky.
  44. Redlight: Bathe the vicinity in red light and cancel out any one kind of action (e.g. moving, fighting, talking) for the round, once per conflict.
  45. Plasma Platypus: Electrolocation, biofluorescence, venom “plasma” shock, and other superhuman abilities proportional to a platypus.
  46. Tetraminos: Summon brick-like tetrominoes that can be rotated as they fall in a 10x20 block grid. Once started, they continue to summon for the duration of the conflict. At 20 rows they are incapacitated for the rest of the conflict, but a filled row disappears and lowers the others.
  47. Tough Enough: Always and only as tough as the toughest other person in the vicinity.
  48. Broadway: General superhuman abilities and a magic weapon only active while monologuing in song and dance. Infectiously spreads to others (without the benefits).
  49. Nitro: Nitrogen-related powers including freezing liquid nitrogen, explosive TNT, superspeed of nitric oxide (NOS), and biological effects of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) which they can use to self-empower or release as gas to affect others.
  50. Captain Canine: Uplifted experimental super-dog; a “one dog army”.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sheep & Sorcery: Weird & Wonderful Interviews

Prior to the development of my game Maximum Recursion Depth, I had been doing interviews with other bloggers, which I had mostly put on hold in order to focus on development. Now that I'm freed up on that front, I wanted to get back to some interviews before I get caught up in other projects. First on that list is another one of my oldest blogosphere friends, Mike of Sheep & Sorcery.

Max: What are some of the core themes of your blog? Are they the same they've always been, or have your goals changed over the years?

Mike: Fascinating question. I think I can answer best by saying just how things started. I started reading the Hill Cantons blog as I was looking into the OSR. It really inspired me to start my own blog. I wanted to show people my wacky games ideas and talk about my setting and the way I run games. My blog is unapologetically my self-expression outlet. I dump whatever is in my brain straight into the blog. That usually means I am talking about different settings and worlds that have come into my brain. These settings usually explore ideas of "what happens when the world goes wrong?" I love things like Bioshock or Bloodbourne where humans arrogantly toy with things they do not understand, trying to dominate it with their intellects, and ending up being destroyed by it. I also often think of my PCs as survivors of worlds that have gone off the rails. Children of the Howl comes to mind, as a setting/system thing I wrote about children trying to survive and escape the aftermath of a city hit by a magical disaster.

Max: That was actually something I wanted to ask about.

Max: At one point it seemed like you were interested in turning Children of the Howl into a larger-scale project. Is that something you're still thinking about or working on?

Mike: I've thought about returning to Children of the Howl. It seemed to resonate with people. I've wrestled with how to format such a project because a city has a lot of complexity and I am not sure how to make it navigable for players. Or maybe how to not make it so much work for me and other GMs

Max: What are some of the specific concerns?

Mike: My first idea was to lay out the city into a grid and have each square be a building and the paths could be the lines between. As I contemplated just how many squares it would take and then figuring out a way to line out the roads in the lines between the grid squares, it added up to a lot of work and a possibly quite messy visual situation. I think the best thing to do would be to figure out some kind of an abstracted mega-dungeon situation, but I'm not sure. In a broader sense, I have never actually published anything, and I think I would need a lot of motivation to get an idea like Children into a sellable state.

Max: Ah I see, ya that does seem like a lot of work and scope creep is always a concern but especially if it's your first big project!

Max: You've written plenty of settings which I've enjoyed, I think most of all I enjoyed Inhuman, if I'm remembering correctly that's the one that had that sort of 80s/90s indie comix scifi/cyberpunk sort of vibe, right? But alongside this really gonzo setting, you have things like Children of the Howl, or your really stunning literary analysis of Silent Titans. And currently you've got the Weirdways cross-country road trip Americana game going. Among this variety of sensibilities, what kinds of things would you say you're most interested in right now in terms of tabletop or worldbuilding?

Mike: Right, that was Inhuman. I really liked Inhuman too. It was fun to write. A big interest that I am currently mulling over is making something inspired by the Soulsbourne games. I have been particularly inspired by Elden Ring. I want to be able to make an open world that feels full and free with plenty of things to do without too much work on the GM's side of things. I like the Soulsbourne formula of (insert thing here) was a resource that everyone thought was awesome and relied on, only it turns out that it was super bad. Souslbourne also dips into that fascinating world-building idea to me that human beings shape the world in dramatic ways through the stories that underlie our societies. The effect of human perception/will on reality and its ability to turn the world into hell is fascinating to me. 

Max: Admittedly I have not played much of and am not into the Soulsbourne games, but I appreciate how they bring OSR sensibilities, to a surprising degree of verisimilitude, to videogames; whether that's in terms of challenge and deadliness, or the degree of environmental storytelling/worldbuilding. However, and I'm asking as someone who again is not especially familiar with them, but given how similar they are to OSR sensibilities, what about them exactly can be applied to TTRPGs or worldbuilding that isn't already there? That is separate obviously from the thematic points you just mentioned, and maybe that's your primary concern or maybe not, I'm just wondering if I'm missing something.

Mike: The thematic elements are really what interests me about Soulsbourne games. I have rarely actually played them but I love the lore videos and the art from them. I think one major element is that the Soulsebourne games are not traditional fantasy most of the time. They include knights and dragons but they are curiously human-centric and what sentient non-hostile creatures there are usually weird things like decrepit crow men. There is just a lovely originality and a depth to their worlds that just draws me in time and time again.

Max: I wish I could get behind the games themselves because I agree that from what I've seen they're quite stunning and interesting.

Max: You mention here the human-centric elements, and previously the idea of human beings shaping the world and of hubris (I don't think you used that word specifically, but that idea). Would you mind elaborating on some of these ideas in a more broad sense. What is it about these themes that especially interests you?

Mike: This is likely not a particularly nice place to bring this, but I think of Nazi Germany. This was a world reshaped by people believing a hideous lie, birthing unimaginable pain and torment. For the Nazis, I am sure it did not seem so at the time, that they were making hell on earth, but they were. From their alternate reality, the one they had constructed in their minds, this all seemed to be necessary. They may have known it was wrong, I almost have to believe some part of them was able to recognize that what they were doing was wrong, but they submitted their individual free will to the collective consciousness and so they became insane along with everyone else. We can shape the world in hideous ways and birth monsters and this is often the result of a kind of arrogance by a few and the willing capitulation by many. It seems to me that to create a better world, there must, by contrast, be humility, beauty, and love.

Max: I wonder why, given the modern American landscape, you'd be thinking about Nazis πŸ€”…

Mike: What happens when you drop players into a hellish situation, a world gone wrong, is that they tend to adopt the heroic attitude. They will set the world right if it kills them. I am amazed by the level of goodness that emerges when people are confronted by evil in a role-playing game. No matter what the world faces now, it is the ordinary goodness of decent people that will set the world right. We will not perfect the world. I think that is part of the problem. People think the world is perfectible, that they even know what perfection is, but there is no humility in that and rarely any real love because love requires mutual submission.

Max: That has not necessarily been my experience; I seem to find as many murderhobos or people looking for heroic wish fulfillment as opposed to actual heroic intentions, but I do commend your attitude in wanting to find the love and humility in people.

Max: I think we're working our way around the edges of something else I wanted to talk about and I imagine you anticipated, but I wanted to wait until we had a chance to talk about some other things first since it's a large topic that may very well require the rest of our time. You are a very religious person, and I am very much not, but you and I have talked about this stuff enough before that I am comfortable discussing it with you and I hope you are as well.

Max: If I remember correctly, in the time since I've known you, you've become a preacher, right? Can you talk about how some of your religious beliefs have affected your approach to TTRPGs, or your writing? I imagine there will be a lot to unpack there, but however you'd like to take it and we can go from there.

Mike: It may not surprise anyone reading this that I am a preacher, considering I've already gotten up on a soapbox once or twice πŸ˜…. I am a preacher, yes. That happened like three years ago. I think the big effect my religious beliefs has had on my writing and TTRPG stuff is how I understand grace. My last statement kind of describes this. I think, even in the deepest darkest places, you will find moments of unexpected grace, a little light in the darkness if you will. Beauty in ugliness. Goodness in evil. My perspective in my personal faith as a Christian has led me to see these themes as essential.

Max: I will say, particularly after talking with you about it in the past, I've become much more interested in the Christian concept of Grace. While I'm not religious, Buddhism and Taoism have obviously influenced me a fair bit, and I was raised Jewish and more recently I've become somewhat interested in certain religious ideas from Judaism as well such as Tikkun Olam.

Max: You've described the idea of exploring the role of humanity in the world, and of the grace and humility you feel towards your players. Are there other ways you think Christianity has affected how you play or run games? Or how you design settings or campaigns?

Mike: For one thing, it might be important to say that I have run games with elf cocaine, with many titted frog demons, and plenty of swear words. As an aside, for some reason, I really like magic hallucinogenic drugs in my games though I have never used them myself. All of this is to say, I do not censor any ugliness nor strangeness from my games and I allow my players complete freedom. In other words, I do not endeavor to impose my values on other people at the table. I think more along the lines of Tolkien. He was a Christian but anyone can enjoy Lord of the Rings without being put off. Anyway, I do think my games tend to definitely think of evil as real. I tend to think of evil as a kind of sickness just as Christ says. In my games evil is definitely a presence and it often crystalizes into particular characters, usually otherworldly ones. Pretty much everyone is redeemable in most of my games and even the otherwordly demonic things get their chance as well sometimes, but I think my Christianity has made me think that evil is often more concretely real than modern people tend to believe. The whole: "Everyone is redeemable" thing is probably also a Christian influence too.

Max: I appreciate you clarifying. Honestly, if it were not for the fact that I know you, I may have had preconceived notions upon reading this myself, and I imagine I'm not the only one. No small part of why I enjoy talking to you about theology is that you are clearly someone who has thought deeply about these topics- it is not about superficialities or politeness or whitewashing.

Max: Whether in the context of games or more generally, can you elaborate further on these ideas of evil and redemption and grace? I'm asking this somewhat leadingly because I don't actually think these two things are mutually exclusive, but it does seem like, to believe in evil as something more concrete or morally absolute, is somewhat at odds with the idea of redemption or grace.

Mike: I would say the opposite. I recently read a book called Competency Based Counseling that one good way of getting on top of a problem is to disassociate it with yourself. Like there was a story about an artistic girl who had some anger troubles. She had a pretty good idea what that anger looked like and, for her, it was like anger was a big red monster with lots of teeth that would take her over. When I talk about evil, I am literally talking about the demonic and I believe the demonic has an effect on our daily lives. Just like Kronk with an angel on his left shoulder and a demon on his right. Our minds are not sealed vessels but passions and spirits flit in and out of them all the time. When I think of evil as something that holds people captive, that takes them over, I think of them less as people who have done wrong and deserve punishment and more as people who are in need of mercy and healing. That might sound kind of wild but you might think of demons and angels more as ontological constructs if that is more comfortable. The Christian worldview views the world as kind of run by patterns that can be good for people or bad for them. Alcoholism is a big pattern that "possesses" a lot of people. So alcoholics are in need of freedom rather than condemnation.

Max: No that actually does make sense to me. It's a method, or heuristic, for how to take a complicated problem, or one that could be very emotionally or existentially challenging, and making it easier to grapple with or even just accept in the first place. I'm less convinced that it's an objective truth of the universe, and also have a lot of skepticism around the implications of such methods when extrapolated across a society or over time, but I can acknowledge the underlying logic of it and the value it can provide, and it's a really interesting perspective.

Mike: One person I like to listen to said that, at some point you have to jump up. Whenever we see unity in multiplicity, we are seeing something that is more than the sum of its parts. So if you are just listing the different aspects of a thing, you basically have to eventually just "jump up" to the identity that truly represents it. Like the three blind mice. One grabs a tail, another the trunk, and another the leg. All of them cannot really understand the elephant unless they can see the big picture. There is infinite complexity in the world and yet we perceive infinitely complex things as unified things rather than a bunch of little things. Those identities are what an ancient perspective would say are in heaven. Sort of Platonic but not quite.

Max: Well, I definitely agree with the idea that there are complex effects in multiplicity but I usually call that a Statistical Interaction, and the Platonic / Heavenly ideal of systems I call Systems Theory, but I'd like to think on some level I understand what you mean. And I'm also very fond of using the three blind mice as an analogy for thinking about systems in a vacuum vs. recognizing how they interact with other systems.

Max: We're starting to run past time, but at least one more question I'd like to ask is, how do you, or would you, implement some of these ideas in a game? I'm not often interested in new game mechanics per se anymore, but I actually would be really interested to hear how you might think of applying Grace as a gameplay mechanic, or if you think that would be feasible or appropriate in the first place.

Mike: That's a good question. In the Lord of the Rings, Arwen kind of prays that whatever grace she has might be passed to Frodo as she is carrying him to Rivendell. You could think of Grace as a pool of points that a cleric or paladin or even an elf has to power certain spells or miracles. You could kind of use them as a morality system that characters gain grace whenever they rescue someone from a bad situation and then they could use these points to get out of tough situations themselves. Really, the concept is best used as a thematic one. I think it is an awesome idea for dungeon designers to have something in their dungeon that is just awesomely beautiful and benevolent. It can shock players out of their usual state of caution. There doesn't have to be a lot of reason for it but it adds so much texture to what otherwise might be just a drably dark environment.

Max: I do really like that idea of having something so profound, positive, or beautiful, to challenge the Players to actually sit with that, and how it defies their expectations. I've done some stuff maybe a bit like that in the past, and it's surprising how powerful that can be.

Max: This is in itself a really nice note to end on, but before that, are there any last things you'd like to say? Can be related or totally unrelated to anything we've discussed yet. Things you're thinking about or working on that you'd like to share?

Mike: Well people can keep an eye out for further blog posts from me. I think I will be writing more about my Dawn Lit Heights setting in the future. I love it when people comment on my blogs and I think a lot of people do too, so I think we should do that more! A little kindness, humanity, and... dare I say... grace will make TTRPG spaces much better places to be. Thank you so much for asking me to do this! It's been fun!

Max: Of course! That's a big part of why I started doing these interviews. There are so many blogs and so many games, and I know that I can't keep up with everything nor is it fair to expect everyone else to keep up with everything, but it really sucks when you put something out there only to get little to no response, to feel like nobody cares or is engaging with it. Unfortunately I had to put these interviews largely on pause while I was working on MRD, but I'm glad to finally be back to it, and I hope to do more in the future. I'm glad you had fun with it, and I hope we have more conversations like this again in the future.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Maximum Recursion Depth, or the Beginning is the End is the Beginning (MRD2 abandoned concept)

With Maximum Recursion Depth, or Sometimes the Only Way to Win is to Stop Playing, the first "issue" of the Maximum Recursion Depth "zine" published (drivethrurpg,, I've been thinking a bit about what to do next. This was one idea I had considered, but since it's no longer my top choice for an MRD2, if I even want to commit to an MRD2, I figured I'd share the idea for now. Maybe I'll circle back to it, but for now my head is going in another direction. Note that this draft was written at a time when I thought this would actually be MRD2.

Shared by Roque Romero in the Weird Places & Liminal Spaces discord server, felt appropriate here.

Maximum Recursion Depth, or the Beginning is the End is the Beginning
A standalone but cross-compatible game, that takes place in the same setting and explores similar themes, but where players are superheroes or other superpowered beings who aren't specifically Recursers and Poltergeist Investigators.

I am not subtle about my love for superheroes and the ways that superhero comics have inspired me creatively, and there are already a lot of superhero comics influences on MRD. I'm still glad that the original game is what it is, I think it's a more unique and personal vision. However, The Beginning is the End is the Beginning will probably be a more marketable/mass-appeal product, even if it's still tied into this atypical setting. I had considered just making this an expansion, but realistically, it is probably going to be a tough sell to produce more MRD content that requires additional purchases, I would be better off either keeping the expansions much smaller, or allowing them to be played standalone so that someone could purchase just one book if that's all they want, and in this case, I thought the latter was warranted, although I may do just expansion issues in the future, we'll see.

The core mechanics will be basically the same (again, cross-compatible), but the Karma system will work a little differently, and there will be some kind of superpowers list or superpowers generator process. In practice, it will probably be too rooted in the setting for someone to use as a generic Into the Odd-adjacent superheroes system, but ideally, somebody should theoretically be able to hack it for more generic purposes.

The Karma system will be inspired by that of FASERIP, but flipped on its head a bit to better reflect my interpretation of Karma in Buddhism, as opposed to FASERIP's more colloquial definition. PCs will make Heroic Attachments, Karmic Attachments that are more specific to Superhero issues, and can also adjust their Karma by altering the result of their Karma die on Saves, or by doing Superhero Stunts, or things of that nature. Superheroes are not capable of recursing (unless they are also Recursers...) and are generally at lower risk of becoming Ashura. Instead, the higher their Karma, the more powerful the threats they face, and if their Karma exceeds 6, a Major Threat Event occurs, like a major supervillain or arch-nemesis, or some kind of disaster. The Advancement system will be tied to encountering and confronting these threats, but there will be conditions tied to the Heroic Attachments, and if those conditions aren't met before the Major Threat Event is triggered, it will be significantly more difficult, and they may be more likely to become Ashura.

I think this ties in well with the overall themes of MRD, but also creates a good superhero arc baked into the game. It's somewhat inspired by Anyone Can Wear the Mask, which I had the fortune to play with Jeff Stormer himself. There will probably be some random tables players can use for generating these threats, and ideally, it should be structured so that I won't even need to include a Module in the book because the character creation process and the game itself naturally gear the story, although I may do so anyway. It's a little more prescriptive and genre-focused than I usually prefer, but as with ACWtM which is itself a hack of a game that is not about superheroes, I don't think this is so limiting that you can't do other things; at its core, it's still MRD, you could largely ignore the Advancement system and still have fun.

As is often the case with me, the subtitle of the game is multilayered with symbolism relating to MRD, but also an in-joke/reference to a superhero-related thing that probably only like three other people besides me will catch but if you're familiar with superhero stuff, maybe think about it ;).

I'll try to find a balance with the powers, between things that are a little more typical and grounded, with things more so rooted in the setting. Some possible origins / PC species I'm considering are the Deva (or regular humans with Dharmatic modifications), Agents of WORD, Nature Spirits, Mu Hosts, Rogue Poltergeists, Refugee Gods, and Dysfunctional Devils.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time Not-Review

Reminder: Maximum Recursion Depth is now available on drivethrurpg and check it out so you can say you were into it before it was cool

Not sure when this will get posted but I watched the movie on 10/19/21 and drafted this blog post on 10/20/21. Also, note that there may be spoilers.

Probably unsurprising to read, but Neon Genesis Evangelion was formative to me creatively and personally growing up. It's one of those series where, as a child, you can rewatch it year-over-year, and get a completely different experience out of it, because it is by design exploration of the experience of childhood. I have been writing a lot about Mecha lately, and this movie is making me remember why this genre is so profound to me, what kinds of themes it can explore, and it may even be changing the direction in which I'm thinking of exploring this genre further. It is a deconstruction of the Mecha genre in the best sense, regardless of whether some people think that's an overrated term (I will run this bit into the ground I swear it!). It identifies the core themes of the genre, as well as the core superficial trappings, and it tells a story that uses those parts and is true to those themes, but all the parts are arranged in a totally different kind of way than anything before it.

This is not a not-review of the series, nor even of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies in their entirety, just of the final movie. But if it helps, I will give very brief thoughts on the previous movies. I watched these movies more or less as they came out, and they took around a decade to complete, so it's been an interesting experience in its own right and many details are now lost to me, and also I was a different person upon watching each of these and did not do a rewatch and likely will not do so ever, although it's not impossible.

First Movie: A mostly faithful retelling of the first handful of episodes of the show, but with a much bigger budget, and some general streamlining of the plot that worked in its favor.

Second Movie: Had some pacing issues, made some plot changes that I had mixed feelings about, but I respected that they tried to do something a little different with it. There were a few red flags, but on the whole, I enjoyed it enough.

Third Movie: I hated this movie with a passion. I won't elaborate too much, because the fourth movie actually retroactively makes me seriously question if I fundamentally misunderstood this one, or maybe I could not have known what Hideaki Anno was trying to do until the fourth. I thought it had betrayed the underlying themes of the series in a critical way (as opposed to the second movie which made relatively "harmless" changes), but I no longer think this is the case.

This brings us to the fourth movie.

I wish I could give these really beautiful, sweeping reviews of the things I experience like Patrick Stuart does. I'd like to think I've demonstrated on this blog that I know how to write, and yet something about trying to coalesce my memories into words in some specific, coherent way... it just doesn't have the same effect. That's why I do "not-reviews". But it's a shame because this movie deserves that kind of review and analysis, the kind that is like a piece of art unto itself, that makes you want to have that experience- that may very well be better than the experience per se.

In lieu of that, I'll just say the following things. First, because it's easy to start here, the movie is gorgeous. I don't just mean in a big-budget sense, although certainly that, but it is just very visually interesting. It wasn't quite as experimental as I might have liked, as a younger Hideaki Anno might have done, but it also doesn't fall prey to lack of constraint either, as is often the case when creators are given unlimited resources and nobody telling them No. It does some things I've never seen before; it felt like a big-budget Saruri-Man.

There are battleships and Mecha being puppeteered on strings, with gun-hands on a discus, being launched like missiles, on massive whirling planes of red and glowing colors; massive airships with cyborg parts on top of something like a whale carcass, weird dangling double-"headed" Mecha arm monsters...

But also, it explores THEMES. This fourth movie made clear to me, that these movies were really more of a spiritual sequel to the original series than a remake. Yes, it retells the story in broad strokes, but it's exploring something else, and that exploration is a satisfying evolution of the original series. The last time I watched the original series in its entirety was over ten years ago, probably shortly before the first movie. Even at the time, I remember feeling like I was aging out of the subtext. That's not to say I didn't still enjoy it or respect it, but it no longer felt like there was more for me to gain from it, which honestly was a little disheartening. For the first time in ten years, across all four movies of Rebuild, Evangelion challenged me again, felt true to my current experiences and development. I actually struggled a bit last night, evaluating where I am in life and what I'm doing and if it's getting me what I want... and admittedly that's pretty normal for me, but in this case, I guess it was in a more fresh or profound way, that unfortunately I can't better articulate, or maybe I just don't want to because it's a very personal experience.

The pilots themselves stopped aging for plot reasons, something which as of the third movie I thought betrayed the psycho-developmental subtext of the original series. But I realize now, that's the point. Shinji was in stasis- he's still the 13-year-old boy; the bridge, or point of reference between the two narratives, but also a reflection on our youth.

The "real" Rei (or one of them...) died at the end of the third and this new Rei is even more so a child- but actually, she's really more a lens for somebody discovering themselves and finding internal peace. She lives a simple life, finds appreciation in others, makes meaningful connections. All she wanted was normalcy, and she finds it and is happy.

Asuka is on the face of it just as angry and frustrated as before- if not more so, borderline psychotic, like a hermit. But it eventually becomes apparent that she did in fact grow up, in her own way, and that while she'll always be this anti-social and awkward person, she's discovered herself a bit. She has unresolved issues, some of which she may never figure out, but it feels like she has made growth and is continuing to grow. This movie did right by Asuka in a way that I deeply appreciated, as Asuka was always the character I most resonated with (for whatever that says about me...).

Then there's Mari. Prior to the fourth movie, I never understood why she was introduced. Why would you create a new character, in an already overstuffed narrative? And prior to this movie (or admittedly, even in this movie), there's not too much to her. She's got a bold personality, but she never felt quite like a real person. It becomes apparent in this movie, though, that really she's more of a cipher (if I'm using that term correctly...), and maybe one could argue that that's problematic, but I think it worked here.

In the end, Rei comes to terms with herself- her issues were always more personal than interpersonal. Asuka recognizes that she grew up and grew into a different kind of person than Shinji, and she moves on, but the break is amicable. Mari is the love you find later in life. You have Rei and Asuka, these proxies for Shinji's sexual and romantic development (who also as I just explained, very much have their own narratives as well); these are the childhood crushes you think will last forever and have permanent importance. Mari seemingly comes out of left field, but in the end, they develop their little quirks together (cute little hand over eyes games and such), and although we don't see the full development of their romance, I am convinced of its truth.

Every character gets a proper send-off, all of which feels deliberate and considered. The conversation that Shinji and Gendo have at the very end, especially, is such an evolution from the original series. Shinji grows into his own, not by becoming some badass tough guy who yells and screams and has his shonen moment, but because he is reflective and contemplative. He shows bravery and empathy. He doesn't want to just defeat Gendo, he wants to understand him, and come to terms with him.

Looking back, and I know others have said this not just me, one complaint I might have with the original series, is that it narrowly straddles the line between grimdark and bittersweet. This movie feels decidedly more positivist, with still an appropriate amount of bittersweetness. It feels more adult- it doesn't just identify problems, it tries to solve them.

Every moment of this admittedly rather long movie feels deliberate. It is clear that Hideaki Anno thought a lot about what kind of story he wanted to tell, how he wanted to reflect on his own life or life in general. I know that no matter how well told, no story is an accurate reflection of life, but if the original series is a reasonable metaphor for my own lived experience up to this point, and Rebuild is where I see myself currently, it is encouraging and inspiring to believe that maybe I can find that degree of growth and acceptance that the characters in Evangelion, that likely Hideaki Anno himself, have experienced.