The Nostalgia Paradox

“There is no greater sorrowThan to recall a happy timeWhen miserable.” ― Dante AlighieriThere’s a scene in Boruto (a sequel to Naruto and Naruto Shippuden that no one asked for or wanted) where Sasuke and Naruto fight a cheap Orochimaru knock-off and it’s a one that has been on my mind for a while now because of how sneaky it is. Here’s a why the fight is so insidious:

  • It’s a perfectly good shonen fight. Many attack. Much punching. So many jutsus.
  • And two that if you have watched Naruto or Naruto: Shippuden it’s a masterful fight. It’s watching two characters that we have grown up with (hell, I’m the same age as Naruto now, I think) using the skills they learned as kids and teens to defeat a foe. It’s amazing to see their training pay off by becoming efficient masters of moves they used to take on early foes of the series. It’s a wonderful fight if you have that decades long history with the show.

And here’s where I’m going to play a little Nando v. Movies for a moment. That fight shouldn’t have been Naruto and Sasuke’s fight: it should have been Boruto and Sarada’s. For more background on Boruto, this show centers around the children of the main cast. Boruto is one of Naruto’s annoying children with Hinata and Sarada is Sasuke and Sakura’s annoying daughter. And the show is…fine? It’s fine. It’s a weak show and I’ve never seen a series so afraid of its protagonist. We have spent time Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura…over 10 years, in fact. And the companies behind Boruto are very anxious this show cannot and will not live up to the long shadow cast by its predecessor. Boruto as a character also lives in the shadow of his father, Naruto which is metacriticism nearly beaten into the viewer. The show has lots of potential but it’s too soon and it isn’t Naruto. But one change with this fight that happens, honestly, 60 damn episodes in the damn series about the actual main cast, not the older generation, there is a lot of potential for positive change. Back to the Nando v. Movies comparison.

If you made this fight with the mastery of old techniques about Boruto having to learn the moves that lead up to his father being Hokage then that gives Boruto an arc and gives him something else to connect to his father on. If you make this about Sarada and Boruto then it becomes about them becoming the new Sasuke and Naruto. That lets you pay homage to the past while honoring the present rather than reminding me that I am old and that I miss Naruto.

After all that preamble I want to talk about nostalgia.

The whole fight with Sasuke and Naruto didn’t make me happy about Boruto. It made me want to watch Naruto. That’s the upside down of nostalgia. I had the exact same feeling about Pokemon: Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. Aside from the Delta Episode, that game didn’t make me fall in love with it, it made me want to go back and play Pokemon Ruby. And considering that the current media landscape is nothing but remakes, reboots and more, I find increasingly that I am not interested in in the remake, it just makes me want to go back to the original. Knowing that we’re going to have Marvel movies from now until the heat death of the universe doesn’t make me want to see all of them (I’ll see most of them) it just makes me want to go back to the source material.

Which brings us to homage, intertextuality and shameless cash grabs.  

There’s such a fine line between rip-offs and homage that honestly, that could be its own blog. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a shot-for-shot genderbent redo of Star Wars: A New Hope but some praise the film for it while others saw it as pandering attempt at rebooting a legacy franchise. It’s what lead to all the conflama with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, that movie now is too different from the original but it’s only because we’ve gotten very used to being spoon-fed nostalgia. We can also see this in all the dumb Disney live-action reboots. They so badly want us to think of the innocence we had as a childhood that they just keep repackaging the stories we grew up with but worse. Beauty and the Beast (2017) so badly wants to remind you of the iconic movie from the 90s  but it ignores all the things that made the first movie so great and I left the movie not loving or appreciating the homage, it just made me want to watch the 90s version of the movie. There are very few live-action remakes or just remakes in general that do much to improve the original. The nostalgia these movies want to milk is hollow and just makes me miss the 90s.

Which brings us back to intertextuality. Hey, do you remember that thing? Sure you do. You gotta remember that thing. Take heart in knowing the simply fact of whatever thing you insert into that line will be bill in a movie, game, comic or more. We saw it in Pokemon: Sun/Moon. We see it in Stranger Things and we see it in the new remake of It. What makes intertextuality different than homage is that rather than it taking inspiration from a thing it’s just copying or inserting something into a newer property so that you feel connected to that new thing. And the problem is that leaning into the older and more beloved aspects of a franchise can backfire spectacularly. Again back to Boruto, cramming the older characters in is just there to keep our attention and it actively ruins the story. We aren’t given time to spend with the kids because we have to keep looking at the adults. As much as I dislike Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we at least don’t spend a lot of time with useless adult Harry Potter and useless adult Draco Malfoy: we spend time with their sons and their friends and it’s wonderful despite the plot of that play being a red hot garbage fire.

This is not the same as the shameless cash grab though some are unique examples of all three.  Newer reboots of shows like ThunderCats (2018) and Teen Titans GO! certainly are repackaged for a younger audience and are both from older and more beloved properties but neither seem to want to even touch the shadow of their former cash grab shows. Teen Titans GO! evenly actively reminds you of the fact that this show is far from the glory days of its prior better television show. But while I’m not really angry at these shows (I know they aren’t for me because I am old) again, it doesn’t make me feel anything for them outside of my desire to just go back and watch their originals.

That’s the problem with nostalgia. While sure, some are inspired by remakes and rehashes, so many more are just tired. I’m old now, it’s why I have such a hard time with newer anime. I started watching My Hero Academia  and it’s so aggressively like Naruto that I’m actively taken out of the show (and while yes, the show does plenty of things I can praise later, it isn’t enough to distract from all the tropes and beats it has taken from other popular shonen series). Why would I want to watch discount Fullmetal Alchemist? I can just watch Fullmetal Alchemist.

If you’re pro-nostalgia, let me know! I’m curious if I’m just an old fart now and just refuse to be hip with the young kids.

 

A Direct Hit to Nostalgia: Intertextuality in Pokemon Sun and Moon

“Nostalgia is an illness for those who haven't realized that todayis tomorrow's nostalgia.” ― Zeena Schreck.png

Intertextuality is a zeigeisty kind of word. It essentially means a call back in a current piece of media to a further piece of media in that franchise history. It’s been used a lot by video essayists and it’s a fine word but one I don’t use a lot in day to day speech because I find it pretentious. But it’s appropriate for my point. So minor spoilers for games. Sit back and relax. We’re going to talk about a firm grip on the nostalgia and when a callback is not genuine.

I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years now. I remember getting Pokemon Red in 1996-7 and enjoyed the game as much as a 6 or 7 year old could. It wasn’t until Pokemon Crystal or really even Pokemon Ruby that I decided to sell my soul to Nintendo and to the franchise. I have since played every game that has come out. Well, the mainstream ones. Never did play that weird JRPG one. But after 20 years of Pokemon, I’ve seen the games reach epic highs like Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon X/Y and I’ve seen it hit some lows like Pokemon Sun/Moon and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.

I’ve gone on record that Sun/Moon were not my favorites. Despite giving me my favorite round owl son I had serious issues with the game. I didn’t like that the game was hand-holding and too easy. I hated the Rotom-dex. I thought the story was lacking and overall, I just didn’t enjoy the game. But the game had a troubling side since the start: it was aggressively pandering towards us older 20-somethings while also making a game that was built clearly for Japanese children. Each ad for the game made callbacks to the older games and that it’s been 20 years. The game brought back all sorts of things we knew and loved. A new tan Professor Oak. A new surfing Raichu (which Carlos hates). New forms of old Pokemon. Sun/Moon was nostalgia: the game.

And while I bit on the nostalgia, I slogged through the game. And in my key attention to detail as I begrudgingly played through a game I bought with my own money, I noticed a few things. The first was Grimsley. Grimsley is one of the Elite 4 in Black/White and in Black/White 2 (close friends will notice that this is actually one of my favorite games). And there Grimsley was. On the beach. Dressed like Byakuya from Bleach. Ranting on and on about love and loss. I was floored! What was my darling Elite 4 trainer doing? Why was he in a kimono on the beach? Why is he giving me items? What is this nonsense? You do get some clues once you’ve dug deep into the lore but what was the point of adding Grimsley to the game? To give hope to people like me who had given up on the game up until that point?

Another instance was with Colress. Now, this one has a funny story. Carlos and I were playing Sun/Moon around the same time but he was way ahead of me because he liked the game more than I did. He mentioned meeting a man with strange hair and a Nintendo power glove in the game that gave him an item and he thought the man was really interesting. This was the same day Nintendo released a short centered in the Black/White universe of Unova where Colress is shown icing a bunch of people in a city to literal death. The game glosses over some of the violence but the short does not skip on the detail that people likely died as Colress and Team Plasma tried to find a way to better control Kyurem.

I immediately recognized Colress once I met him in game and went back to Carlos barking about how he shouldn’t trust a literal murderer. And sure enough, Colress gives you an item, babbles about research and leaves like he isn’t a snow killer.

What was the point of adding Colress? Was it just a cool callback? Were there no other scientists in game that weren’t evil that the writers couldn’t think of? No, it was just a cool callback to an earlier and much more loved part of the franchise.=

And this isn’t the first time Nintendo has weaponized nostalgia. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby was absolutely a giant direct hit to the nostalgia of adults like me who cut their teeth on Ruby/Sapphire and the additions made in the new game involved riding the mythical Latias/Latios and the brilliant Delta Episode which almost almost turned the game around for me. AS/OR was essentially just a retread of Ruby/Sapphire with updated graphics like Pokemon Emerald was. And those games do have value but when they’re done to just redo a game for a cash grab, it’s frustrating. Emerald at least added things to those first generation games that were rough around the edges and did not always age well.

The best parts of the newer games were the times they added to the foundations of the older games like X/Y. I loved being able to have a character with my skin tone and that could dress very fashionably. I loved being able to sit on benches and pet my Pokemon. I loved being able to roller skate around and be given Pokemon from games that I adored like Lucario and adding to its mythos rather than just dropping a Pokemon off and saying “Here, young adult. I hear you like nostalgia. Here’s a Pikachu with a hat. Enjoy your nostalgia and your half-baked game.”

We see intertexuality at work in a lot of video game and comic book movies. Many will be a comic book saga in name only like Captain America: Civil War which had very little actual Civil War and was mostly just Tony and Steve have a lover’s quarrel. We see Star Wars movies that essentially just redo the original trilogy with better graphics. Stranger Things is literally a show based on callbacks but Stranger Things does so with love and reverence while Star Wars: The Force Awakens is done to help hide some of the less than ideal storytelling.

Remember, nostalgia is only as good as the thing it’s based on and while I love Pokemon, my love is not enough to keep me motivated when a game’s only interest is reminding me of how great the 1990s were.


This was different and timely! I don’t do this very often. I mostly just wanted to rant. I am not enjoying Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon like I thought I would. Motivate me to make my owl son proud.