Thursday, December 19, 2013

Death, Minecraft and Ranma: Family Bounding and Mourning through Geekdom

Last week, my Grandfather passed away very suddenly. There were no plans for his burial, no money set aside for the funeral cost, and dealing with family politics is always a hassle. Needless to say, it has been a very rough week. Plus to make matters worse, a set of the grandchildren were still aged in single digits, and the death of a family member was very new to them.

The older of the two children, who will be named "Molly" for the sake of the article, took the news a lot harder than her younger brother. Molly is a nine year old girl, who loves to play video games. Mostly things like Pokemon, Minecraft and other games aimed for that younger audience. She's a very sweet-hearted girl, who has the occasional fight with her sibling about teddy bear tea parties being too "girly".

When she first heard the news of our grandfather's passing, her first course of action was building a virtual tombstone for my grandfather in her cell phone addition of Minecraft. It was extremely sweet and I had not personally seen children from this current generation mourn their loss through gaming. While it is just pixels on a screen, Molly took the good chunk of an hour building that memorial and it was clear through her actions that she was going to miss her grandpa.

Also one of the great things about Minecraft is that it's a game that you build from the ground up. It's a world you create from scratch. For the younger generation, this world is an extension of themselves. They build houses they'd want to live in, care for pets they wish they had, and even create their own demons to over come an slay. This world was Molly's world and she used up her own space so that she'd always remember her Grandfather. She couldn't buy flowers for his actual grave and she didn't have any means of making a card, but she built this grave in a place of virtual escapism. While it might not seems like much, it meant a lot to her.

After the burial was all said and done, Molly's parents asked if I wanted to stay the night at their place while my parents continued to take care of my Grandmother. I agreed, got into the car and sat next to Molly. I currently live a couple of states away from most of my family, and I rarely ever get to see Molly. At this point, she had somewhat returned to her chipper self, but there was still a faint sadness in her voice. During the car ride, we mostly talked about Minecraft, but its not exactly like I can have a conversation about the economy with a nine year old.

At one point, she asked me a direct question, "How old are you?"

To which I responded, "I'm twenty-three."

Without missing a beat, she struck me with, "And you still live with your parents?"

I couldn't respond, but for whatever reason, I gained a lot of respect for her. Seriously though, what nine year old calls you out for living with your parents after you earn a bachelor's degree that virtually useless?

Anyhow, the next day I hooked up their family's Roku box with my Hulu account as a way to say thank you for letting me stay the night. As I'm going through how to use it, Molly notices one of the shows in my queue.

"What's Ranma?"

For those who don't know, Ranmais an anime series that ran from 1989 to 1992 about a teenage boy who gets cursed. When he gets hit with cold water, Ranma turns into a girl, while hot water will change him back into a guy. The show is about 143 episodes long and this year, Hulu has been adding four episodes every week to their line up. Which has been great for old school anime fans like myself. This was one of those shows where you either had to collect the VHS tapes, pay an arm and a leg to get the out of print DVDs, or try and download the show from a torrent that didn't have any seeds.

But to get back to our story, my young cousin is asking me about this show. I told her the basic premise and added the bit about Ranma's forced engagement to Akane. So with the additional knowledge that there's a love story involved, she's interested, but not completely sold. She looked back at the cover image on Hulu and asks me, "What's with the panda? Is he his pet?"

She was of course referring to Ranma's father, Genma, who is also cursed into becoming a Panda whenever he gets hit was cold water. When I told her about how the panda was actually Ranma's father, Molly burst into instant laughter and started to beg me into letting her watch the show as soon as possible.

Before I agreed, I asked her two things. The first was to make sure it was ok with her parents. The show isn't incredibly violent or anything, its pretty much a high school Rom-Com with really fun fight scenes, but it does have a few adult themes, like an older character named Happosai, who is an underwear thief. Plus the show is not afraid to show nudity and has a lot of scenes in the bathroom. So I warned her parents before letting Molly watch the show, and they were ok with it.

At first. When Happosai did show up in the random episode I had selected, he started throwing underwear into the air and making it rain panties. After the scene, my uncle did jokingly accuse me of letting his daughter watch "Japanese Cartoon Porn."

The other thing I wanted to clear up before starting the episode was making sure that she was ok with reading subtitles. While there is an English Dub for the show (Not a very good dub, but it's a dub), Hulu has only been posting the episodes with Subs and I was worried that Molly might be put off by this. Her mother chimed in and actually said Molly was the type of girl who would turn on the subtitles whenever she would watch a movie and read along. So, no problem there.

I selected episode 39, "Kissing is Such Sweet Sorrow! The Taking of Akane's Lips." Why? Cause it was the episode that was next in my queue.In a nutshell, the episode was about Akane getting the role of Juliet in a school play and the other characters are fighting over who gets to play Romeo. It is a really funny episode that greatly demonstrates the balance between high school romance and slapstick-ie fight scenes. If you are interested in giving this show a try, this is actually a great episode to get your feet wet.

While I was slightly worried about Molly being lost with who's who, I figured this would be a good place to start since it wasn't apart of any storyline. As the episode progress, it didn't matter. She was able to keep up with what was going on and had a very good time with it.

She loved it. She thought Ranma's embarrassment about having to kiss Akane was really cute, and she rolled over laughing whenever Genma held a sign over his head to communicate. She had a blast and it was clear she wanted more.

This made me proud for two reasons. The first was just the simple fact that I was able to give her some happiness in the wake of our Grandfather's unexpected passing. The other was just the fact I was able to pass along an older show to a new generation.

With a lot of younger anime fans today, they tend to stick with the holy trinity: Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. While there's nothing wrong with watching these shows, those tend to be the only shows they'll watch. They don't branch out and try new things, be it from different genres or even titles from different time periods. Hell, for me, that's what makes anime great in the first place. There is literally anything to suit your taste. Romance, Fantasy, Adventure, you name it, there are multiple titles you can experiment with.And by introducing my cousin to anime through this way, she's already on the right path.

By the time the show was over, she was asking me if there were any actual anime based on Romeo and Juliet. I know for a fact, that if she continues down this road, she'll be exposed to more titles than if she had just stuck with the holy trinity. Plus with the aid of sites like Hulu, Crunchyroll and Netflix, searching for titles has never been easier.

And its good to know that Ranmais going to continue getting fans as time goes on because of how easily it is to access now. Molly will never have the experience of having to run to multiple video stores in search for the next VHS volume of Pokemon, all three episodes worth. I am actually grateful for that and I hope that whenever Molly begins to feel sad or lonely or she just misses her grandfather, that she'll be watching Genma make a fool of himself to left her spirits.
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