Media Monday: House of Five Leaves

House of Five Leaves, Cover of Manga

House of Five Leaves

Over the last few years, Arlys and I developed a fondness for Japanese animation. We have very specific tastes. For example, we don’t care for “slice of life” dramas such as the award-winning “Ping Pong the Animation” or weird cutesy concepts like “Kantai Collection” (which portrays battleships as Lolly girls.) Having watched most of the classics, we’ve been having difficulty finding interesting shows that we haven’t seen. A coworker recommended “House of Five Leaves,” which is a historical drama that takes place in the samurai era. This is one of our favorite genres, so we gave it a try.
“Five Leaves” is a single 12-show season, based on a manga by Natsume Ono in 2010 and adapted by Manglobe as a TV series in 2012. We were surprised we hadn’t heard of it or seen it in any of the “best of” lists we’ve searched for. Nevertheless, we found it quite interesting. The first thing that struck us was that the art style is deliberately simplified. The characters look cartoonish, though not in a childish way. It reminded me of classic American cartoons such as “Little Orphan Annie.” (Rather than having blank eyes the characters tend to have huge black pupils.)
The protagonist is Masanosuke (Masa), a samurai who has lost his job as a bodyguard. Though he is a skilled swordsman, his meek personality makes him an ineffective protector. As he searches for work, homeless and hungry, he meets a shady character named Yaichi (Ichi.) Ichi heads a secretive group of criminals called “Five Leaves” after their symbol, the five-lobed maple leaf. Their specialty is kidnapping the sons of wealthy aristocrats, and holding them for ransom. They are unusually ethical kidnappers; they return the hostages promptly on payment and are distressed by the idea of killing.
Despite his desperation, Masa is reluctant to be involved in anything illegal. Ichi presents a carefree facade, but is actually a skilled manipulator, slowly drawing Masa into the gang. Besides these two characters, the group includes a tavern owner, an ex-thief, and an ex-prostitute. As his life becomes more intertwined with the gang, Masa’s childlike innocence and Asperger-ish bluntness threatens them all with capture. In the meantime, Ichi’s past comes back to haunt him, as members of his former gang hunt for him to settle a score. With its theme of crime and criminals, you might expect “Five Leaves” to be a shonen (young boy’s)-type show, with lots of swordplay, but it’s actually a character study. Its focus on relationships between the characters would make it just as appealing to a female audience. The Five Leaves gang is like a dysfunctional family, and the characters are all endearing in their own quirky ways.
The “House of Five Leaves” anime is licensed in the USA by Funimation.

Can We All Get Along?

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This election has been without a doubt the most contentious one I’ve ever witnessed. I see the acrimonious political postings on Facebook and Twitter, as people lose friends and gain enemies. The closest I’ve seen to the current situation was the Vietnam War era. I’m not talking about the conflict itself. I was too young to be drafted and didn’t have any war casualties in my family, thank God. I’m talking about the battle it spawned in America, pitting family members and friends against one another.

In the early days of the conflict, those on the right were the most intolerant. The war’s supporters smeared peace activists as Communists, America-haters, and cowards. As the war went on and the carnage in Asia increased, the left became vitriolic as well. Anti-war protesters screamed “baby killers” at the returning troops, as if they hadn’t suffered enough already. Though I turned against the war at the age of 12, I never thought to blame the American soldiers, who were just as victimized and traumatized as the Vietnamese.

Now, in 2016, the intense political debates on social media give me a sense of déjà vu. I’m OK with trashing politicians like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton; that comes with the territory. However, we shouldn’t let our scorn trickle down to our friends and neighbors who support the opposition.

The election has played on our emotions, even though few of us find either major-party candidate likable. I think this is because we’re afraid; afraid of unemployment, soaring prices, civil disorder, terrorism, and crime. Because Trump and Clinton both speak the language of identity politics, it adds another dimension of fear. Will our group fall victim to punitive taxes, regulations, confiscations, or censorship? Will the powers that be neglect our rights while granting favoritism to others? Why does it seem that every other group, from crooked bank presidents to third-world refugees, receive better treatment than the hard-working middle class?

What’s missing from too much of our discourse is respect. Assuming we are sane, legally competent adults, all our viewpoints are based on some degree of truth. This means we should try to avoid labeling others, and listen to each other before reacting. We need to define our terms, too, because words like “justice” and “fairness” can have many disparate meanings. When all is said and done, however, we must agree to disagree. To quote the late Rodney King, whose controversial arrest led to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, “Can we all get along?”

Photo of 1967 Anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon is from Wikimedia Commons.

Vladimir Putin’s Seven Smartest Moves

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Next to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the most vilified figure in America today has got to be Russian President Vladimir Putin. The media portray him as the next incarnation of Hitler, the man behind all the evil in the world. As Charles Goyette recently joked on lewrockwell.com, if someone spills their coffee at Starbucks it has to be Russia’s fault. Yet Putin consistently gets over 80% approval ratings from his own people. Clearly, there’s something the mainstream media isn’t telling us. As an avid reader of international news sites, I have a different view. I see Putin not as an evil dictator, rather as one of the most capable leaders of this century. The following are seven reasons why I think the man’s a genius.

1. Russian Renaissance
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was decimated, its industries failing, its people unemployed and hungry. Life expectancy and birth rates fell precipitously, while alcoholism and suicide rates soared. To make things worse, the vultures of Western capitalism swooped in, looting Russian national assets for kopeks on the ruble. As the 1990’s came to a close, the Russian people elected Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia. Putin put a stop to the hemorrhage, re-acquiring some of those stolen Russian assets and deporting or imprisoning those oligarchs who wouldn’t play by the rules. If only we had this kind of leadership in America – not only do our financial criminals escape prison, we reward them with bailouts.

2. Trashing the Terrorists
While American financiers were busy subjecting Russia to economic “shock therapy,” America’s intelligence apparatus, cheered on by neo-conservative pundits, was attacking Russia’s Islamic underbelly. Jihadists fighting for Chechen independence committed numerous acts of terror, including the horrific 2004 shooting of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren in the town of Beslan. Putin’s subsequent crackdown on Chechnya was harsh, but Russia could not afford to have a hotbed of Islamic terrorism on its southern flank. Unlike France and Germany, Russia has the will to deal with radical Muslims who attack their host country.

3. Reclaiming Crimea
Speaking of subversion, the 2014 coup d’etat in Ukraine, in which the popularly elected pro-Russian President Yanukovych was replaced by pro-Western Poroshenko, was a typical plot fomented by the CIA and its “civil society” puppets. One of the new government’s first actions was to stir up trouble by passing laws discriminating against Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority. No doubt Putin realized that America’s main goal in instigating this putsch was to deprive Russia of its strategic naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. He took the logical step of annexing Crimea, which is a historic part of Russia with an overwhelming majority of ethnic Russians. It did not “invade,” as Russian troops were already stationed there. Nor was the change unwelcome; in a referendum, about 90% of the voters favored rejoining Russia. Despite the presence of international observers, Western officials called the election a sham. They saw no parallel with America’s meddling in Serbia and the “independence” of the province of Kosovo against the wishes of the Serbian people. No, that was entirely democratic.

4. Surviving the Sanctions
After the so-called “invasion” of Crimea, the US quickly imposed economic sanctions on Russia and pressured its European allies to do the same. The American media could hardly contain its delight about the suffering of the Russian people, which would surely cause them to reject the evil Putin. They could not have been more wrong. The Russians rallied around their leader and his popularity increased. Furthermore, the sanctions were a wake-up call which led Russia to develop its own financial infrastructure and forge closer ties with China and Iran. This tough period will benefit the Russian economy in the long run while hurting America’s allies, especially the Germans, who had enjoyed a profitable trading relationship with Russia.

5. Banning the Bastards
One of the dirty tricks in the play book of the American Deep State is the non-governmental organization or NGO. Supposedly harmless and neutral, they often help foment disorder and plot “color revolutions” in any nation that opposes American hegemony. Ukraine is a prime example, along with other countries on Russia’s fringes such as Georgia. In 2015 Putin decided that enough was enough, and banned such busybody organizations as George Soros’ “Open Society Foundation” and the so-called National Endowment for Democracy from operating in Russia. By the way, Russia does have a political opposition, part of which is pro-Western and anti-Putin. Political freedom is still alive in Russia, just not for organized foreign subversives.

6. Saving Syria
The American propaganda war against Russia has hit a new low with allegations of Russian “war crimes” in Syria. Yet it was America that stoked the flames of rebellion in the first place, tearing apart a nation that was once peaceful and prosperous. Not coincidentally, Syria was an important Russian ally on the site of the nation’s only military base outside the former USSR. At the verge of defeat by the fanatics of ISIS and al Qaeda, the Syrian government requested Russia’s help in defending itself. Unlike the busybody Americans, Putin did not seek regime change, merely to restore peace. In September 2016, the US destroyed the hard-won truce by “accidentally” bombing a Syrian Army position, allowing ISIS terrorists to gain territory. Now Russia is working to end the siege of Aleppo by helping the Syrians defeat the Islamic terrorists that infest the eastern half of the city. American leaders weep crocodile tears at the inevitable civilian casualties while ignoring the much more terrible crimes that their ally Saudi Arabia is currently inflicting on its impoverished neighbor Yemen. It is not Putin who should face a war crimes tribunal, but our “friend” King Salman.

7. Minding His Own Business
The last in the list is something that Putin most likely did NOT do, despite the hysterical claims of the US government and its lapdog media. They have accused the Russia government of hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and plotting to influence the upcoming Presidential election. Putin has denied any involvement, and in my view, he’s wise to stay out of it, since such interference would probably backfire. Of course, the media offers no real evidence, just  the allegations of a private security firm called CrowdStrike, hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the breaches. Interestingly, CrowdStrike’s CTO Dmitri Alperovitch is a member of the Atlantic Council, a well-known neo-conservative (anti-Russian) think tank. Many people believe that the American establishment is inventing these allegations out of whole cloth to provide a scapegoat in case the election does not go the way they want it to.

I’m not saying that Putin is right about everything, nor am I denying that Russia has problems. For example, there are reports of bigotry and violence against gays, though nothing like the death penalty they face in Saudi Arabia. I would personally not choose to live in Russia because of its censorship of pro-gay speech, and its banning of “offensive” words and memes. All thing considered, however, it’s probably not much more restrictive than the suffocating political correctness that muzzles America’s corporate media.

Vladimir Putin is no Hitler. He is a democratically elected politician, not a tyrant. In the context of Russian politics, he’s a moderate, walking a fine line between pro-Western and hard-line influences. Under Putin’s tenure as President and Prime Minister, Russia has returned from the brink of being a failed nation to once again be a proud world power.

Thanks to the following off-beat, alternative, and deplorable sites for their enlightened and unbiased coverage of Russian issues: lewrockwell.com, antiwar.com, thesaker.is, consortiumnews.com, voltairenet.org, theduran.com, zerohedge.com, unz.com, and alternet.org. Thanks also to wikipedia.org, whose article on Putin was less biased than I expected it to be. Putin meme from http://knowyourmeme.com/videos/33177-vladimir-putin.

If you admire Vladimir Putin, or if you despise him, you’ll like my books. Check them out here.