Anime Review: Saki

Saki
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Saki

Mahjong is a game with origins tracing back to Chinese culture. The game consists of tiles with several suits and ranks, and there are many variations by which anyone can play it. For solitaire-obsessed players, one can organize the tiles in elaborate stacks and find matching tiles to tear it down. For everyone else, of course, it’s a gambling game that involves having to draw and discard tiles over several turns in order to find the best combinations against their opponents. Not quite sure which came first, but mahjong tiles are very much treated like a deck of poker cards, only much heavier and typically made with higher quality (and therefore far more expensive).

This Chinese gambling game is played around the world in the modern era, and that neighbor across China’s easternmost sea that gave us anime is no exception. This anime, as well as its original manga, were inspired by this game and, of course, features something that some otakus like to fawn over: overtly cute high school girls.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know much about mahjong, since I’ve only played the gambling version of it maybe once or twice, and of course I didn’t really know how to keep score to make money off of it. Thankfully since I was with family while I played it, they didn’t really care for keeping score either (not that they knew how in the first place). Needless to say, mahjong wasn’t entirely a selling point for me to watch this series (though after watching it, the game looks very interesting), but then again, I watched Chihayafuru without any prior knowledge about Uta-koi Hyakunin Isshu either. Not sure if I have a strong curiosity in the games created by my ethnic cultures (if you haven’t guessed, I’m Chinese/Japanese American) or I got suckered into watching this series by the cute girls; but either way, I honestly found Saki quite enjoyable.

The series focuses on an entourage of high school girls in the (you guessed it) mahjong high school championships, particularly in the Nagano prefecture. While there is also a boys’ tournament, author Ritz Kobayashi obviously decided to go with the girls’ side only. Throughout the series you learn to love (or just get annoyed by) the six protagonists who are in a mahjong club at Kiyosumi, a high school that has yet to participate in any tournaments due to a long-standing lack of membership (do I smell an underdog story?) Among these girls (and one guy, who in my opinion, has no real influence on the plot) is our titular character, Saki Miyanaga, a seemingly plain girl who apparently has a mysterious power over the tiles. This power, of course, bothers another protagonist, Nodoka Haramura, the former middle school mahjong champion who gains much of her experience by playing the game online and doesn’t believe in superstitions. And before you can say “shoujo-ai,” these two seem to hit it off by promising to enter the national tournament together.

The 25-episode series actually only covers the Nagano prefecture tournament and hints at the very end that there will be a national tournament (I suppose that counts as a spoiler), but not without developing over twenty girls’ characters! Yes, I said TWENTY! Maybe even more. Saki the animation features mostly the team finals of this particular tournament. Each mahjong match is played with four people, and each team consists of five players. So if you did your math right, you have a lot of high school girls to choose from in more ways than one.

Among the girls who are featured in this series, many of mahjong’s superstitions and playing styles are exploited. While playing a match in the anime, the players have imaginary cut scenes where they go beyond the metaphors of their gameplay and act as if they were superhuman. From a girl who conceals herself as well as her discards, to a girl who appears to have psychic powers hiding in her heterochromic eye, to a girl whose special combo in the game is aptly named “Bottom of the Sea” thereby drowning her opponents in anguish, there are a lot of different superstitions at work in mahjong. None of these cut scenes, of course, are physically happening, but I guess that just brings an extra anime flavor to the mix. It also gives guys (and girls, perhaps) a variety of fetishes to choose from.

Fans of this series can also argue over which school is the best, which players are the best, or who would totally beat the crap out of another character in a game of mahjong, and who can blame them? Despite there being the protagonists of Kiyosumi I obviously knew were going to win, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the other girls who did not. The story beautifully develops several other characters from the other teams, showing that they too aren’t so bad themselves, almost to a point where I totally wished that the series wasn’t called Saki, which obviously favors the team that the titular character is on.

And yet there is a plot beyond just playing mahjong at work in this series. Well at least, I’d hope so, because just having cute girls play mahjong and fans ogling over it qualifies more as teasers without a plot. Saki Miyanaga also has an older sister who left the family in order to hone her skills as a mahjong player. Now a national superstar in the game as well as a two-time high school champion, big sister Teru Miyanaga poses a major threat to Saki in that Teru’s reputation has pulled them almost too far apart to even talk to each other, let alone the fact that Teru does not acknowledge ever having a little sister. Saki appears to have demonic powers as a mahjong player (if you watch the series, you’ll know what I’m talking about), but has a very noble, yet innocent goal that competing with her sister on the national stage will somehow convey her to return to the family.

Wishful thinking, perhaps? In any case, Saki the animation is a true underdog story where the protagonist fights on for all the right reasons. Despite being a heterosexual male otaku’s dream, Saki actually does have a beautiful story that brings out the innocence of a common goal amongst friends in a popular game. Its development of characters beyond just the protagonists also gives it a fairly bittersweet flavor, knowing that the girls are all good friends, yet throw down dramatic fits in any given mahjong match. And while I do lash out against the fan service on several occasions, I admit that perhaps I might “like” some of the characters myself, in a non-creepy way, of course.

Saki the animation first aired in 2009 on TV Tokyo. It is based on the manga written by Ritz Kobayashi. And in case you didn’t get enough of it, the spin-off Saki: Achiga-hen was also produced as an animated feature. Review on that coming soon!

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Game Review: Myst V End of Ages

Myst V: End of Ages
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I apologize if I didn’t make it clear earlier that I’m NOT reviewing all of the games in the Myst series. Technically, I did play all the games with the title “Myst” in it, but there was also a spin-off game based on the same premise with some familiar puzzles and NPCs called Uru. I suppose it’s appropriate to mention Uru here, because it was, in my opinion the most unique game to come out of the series (granted, I have yet to play it).

Uru had two parts to it: a single player mode, where you played through the game as usual as you would have in Myst. There was also a multiplayer mode where you could go online and connect with friends to solve puzzles together. Cyan, the company that created the Myst series, supposedly also had plans to develop an MMO version of Uru, but unfortunately never quite got off the ground.

What made Uru different from the other games in the series was that you actually had an avatar that you could see of yourself as well as change the appearance based on whatever you felt like having. The cut scenes were also not built around movie sets and green screens either. All of the NPCs you met were CGIs.

Why am I mentioning this now? Because for Myst V: End of Ages, you are no longer playing the timeline of the Stranger, who had played through the series as Atrus’ mysterious friend from Myst, the person that helps rescue Catherine and capture Gehn in Riven, the person who set free Saavedro from Exile, and the person who had unfortunately witnessed the tragic deaths of Sirrus and Achenar. Seeing that the premise was set further into the future (not to mention the game was developed after Uru), all the people you meet have changed. Sure, Atrus makes a cameo in the beginning and end of the games, but for me as a classic Myst player, I was disappointed that he was animated like another computer avatar.

But enough gripes. Let’s get through this review.

Myst V: End of AgesTwo Steps Forward, One Step Back

Okay, so I lied for a moment there. The opening to Myst V: End of Ages, is still a classic cinematic possibly made on film. Once again, Atrus narrates the premise in his amazing voice, but now is completely troubled. Despite all his attempts at being the guy that everyone can rely on, it seems that Atrus is faced with a deep sorrow. The city of D’ni is gone. Atrus has survived his grandmother Ti’ana, father Gehn, wife Catherine, and sons Achenar and Sirrus. It seems that as the years passed, Yeesha has abandoned him as well. Due to the pangs of his losses as well as trying to carry the burden of the survivors of D’ni on his own, he loses all hope that things will work out in the end. And yet, in one final attempt at making things right, he calls upon a complete stranger to change the course of things. That’s where you, the player step in.

It appears that you have been summoned to an age called K’veer (which by the way is mentioned in the Myst canon as a gateway within the city of D’ni), and if you are familiar with the first Myst, you should notice exactly what this place is. Some creepy-looking creatures lurk around the chamber you stand in, but quickly run away from your presence. You walk up to a table and notice there is a Myst linking book. You, however, are not actually playing the original Myst, so don’t get too excited. Besides, the linking book is locked up, so you won’t be able to get there. At least, not yet anyway.

As you travel through what limited space there is in K’veer, I should also mention the other unique tools you should find. There is an orb thing and a journal along the only path in the game. This orb is your saving device (way to go). The journal is yours to keep for writing (or typing) notes to yourself as well as being able to make multiple loads of this game. Whenever you click on the orb, a photo of what you are looking at is placed in the journal. If you click on the photograph, you return to that specific time and place in your journey.

This, in my opinion, is totally lame. I personally liked it better when I had a built-in image recorder that pretty much used this same function, but instead of making game loads, it enlarged the image so I can see exactly what I was looking for! Now I have to squint my eyes if I need to recall an image, or, I suppose, save in my current spot as well as the puzzle piece and link back and forth from the past and the alternate future (whatever that means). I guess that means in this game, I’m roleplaying as Dr. Who. Now where’s my amazing telephone booth?

Yeesha

Yeesha in K’veer

A Familiar, Yet Unfamiliar Face

Once you’re done running around K’veer, you see a mysterious bubble thing that shows visions of several ages (presumably the ones you will visit in this game). As you step through the bubble, you notice a stone tablet sitting inside the chamber. When you touch it, some strange force happens, but you are not quite sure what exactly.

Once you’ve finished admiring the tablet, you step outside of the bubble, and someone in her CGI glory comes to meet you. If you’ve played the other Myst games as well as Uru, you know exactly who this is: yep, it’s Yeesha. She’s all grown up now, and oddly enough, she’s also got some weird thing on her skin that makes her look old on half of her face (yeah, gave me the creeps when I first saw it). She foretells of you having to go through some trial that she has gone through and failed. Why are you going through this? Because that tablet you just touched said so. Yeah, that’s the reason.

After Yeesha’s monologue, you are taken to another place around D’ni, known only as the Great Shaft. In this multi-tiered age, you meet another guy named Esher, who appears, at least on the surface, as a nice guy. In fact, Esher becomes somewhat of a fellow traveler to you, the player, and occasionally gives clues on how to solve puzzles (nothing too revealing, unfortunately).

Esher

Esher on the age of Taghira

As you explore the Great Shaft, you learn about the history of D’ni, as well as pick up a series of twelve diaries left by Yeesha. This age is pretty much like Myst in the first game: it is a hub for all the other ages you are to visit, granted there is only one tunneling age that you can link to while you are here. Learn of the city of D’ni, its people, as well as both Yeesha’s and Esher’s perspective on it and its destiny. Once again, if you can read into the nuances and things either of them say about D’ni, it will influence your final choice later in the game whether you live happily or die swallowing your own sorrow (and possibly stupidity).

The Bahro

A Bahro creature on the age of Noloben

The Bahro Trials

Unlike the other Myst games, this one has an extra element to it. In order to solve puzzles, you must carry a slate into each age you visit. All the necessary slates are found on pedestals leading to the ages within a tunneling age called Direbo (in my opinion, the most beautifully rustic, yet nonfunctional of them all). Each of the four ages requires a different slate. And if you can imagine, the ages are all very different from each other, too. You have Taghira, the former prison age, Todelmer, the astronomical age, Noloben, the rustic age (and oddly enough, Esher’s home after the fall of D’ni), and Laki’ahn, the obligatory age of showing how amazing yet cruel the D’ni people were!

Once you have the slate, you will find symbols which will influence what exactly you plan to draw on it. Each age has one functional symbol, where you call upon the Bahro creatures to do amazing things like create high winds, speed up time, make rain fall, or allow heat to rise. There are also a series of teleportation symbols, which force the Bahro to carry the slate to specific locations. If you drop the slate, the Bahro will attempt to read whatever scribble you drew on there and act accordingly based on the symbol. If you accidentally drop it blank, the Bahro will kindly bring the slate back to where you began (way to go, fool). This slate-drawing functionality will serve as a crucial part in solving many of your puzzles.

There is, actually, a few other functions the slates can do, but you have to find them outside of the ages. If you’ve played through the other Myst games, you know that usually means flipping through all those texts you get in the game! Yeesha will occasionally provide a drawing in her various diaries that look obviously like the slates. The symbol drawn in her diary is not like the ones that can be transcribed and remembered on the slate. It’s basically a one-shot deal. When you find a puzzle in the ages you can’t solve with the environment nor the primary function of the slate, you will have to consult with the drawings Yeesha has left for you.

Once you have explored each age in its entirety, the slate will be placed on the last pedestal etched with the final symbol you look for. This pedestal should look familiar to you, because it is the same pedestal that holds the tablet of the Bahro, which you found and touched at the beginning of the game. After Esher gives you another monologue about his past and what you should do once you get this tablet, you can move on back to Direbo.

Who is the Grower?

Throughout gameplay, both Yeesha and Esher refer to a prophecy about the restoration of D’ni. Apparently there is a single person who is left with a task as the Grower, one who solely has the power to restore D’ni. As you complete each trial age, you remove a lock from the tablet. Once you have unlocked all four, you can now return to K’veer and take the tablet.

If it wasn’t obvious yet, this tablet you hold is now the key to restoring D’ni, but to what? Both Yeesha and Esher have warned you that both of them had failed once in using this tablet. Once you have read all of Yeesha’s documents and heard Esher’s monologues, the choice you should make becomes clear on what to do once you have the tablet.

It appears, once again, that you are faced with a choice to trust someone or something in this game. Do you trust Yeesha, the perennial protagonist, with this tablet? Maybe Esher, that traveler guy that helped you out? One clue from Yeesha’s journals made my choice clear.

In the last book left by Yeesha, she describes a dream she had. She held the seed of D’ni (presumably that tablet thing) in her hands and saw two holes. One hole led to the ground, where she saw the Great Shaft. Another led to the surface and sky above. A mysterious voice asked her to put the seed one of those two holes. She asked for wisdom, and this was, in paraphrase, her answer:

“Do not plant the seed in the ground, for it is the past and too easy to return. Do not plant the seed in the sky, for it is impossible and is a task for another.”

In the end, she knows what to do. However, if you read it correctly, it is not up to her to complete this task. You must make the final inference for yourself.

Who is the Grower? Place the tablet in the right “hole,” and find out!

Atrus and Yeesha

Atrus and Yeesha on Releeshahn

The End of Ages

If you’ve unlocked the good ending, you get to meet Atrus once more. He is now an old, frail man, living in Releeshahn, an age that he had written as a haven for the remaining survivors of D’ni (not to mention referenced from Myst III: Exile). It seems the old man is glad to see his daughter once again; but most of all, he is glad that you have rid him and his family of the burden of what should be done of the D’ni.

Alas, Atrus can finally close the book on his burden of restoring the famous D’ni civilization and live at peace with Yeesha and the D’ni survivors. No more tyranny, no more lust for power, and after 10,000 years of oppression, the Servants of the Maker are now in control of themselves. You know who they are.

And with that, the Myst game series is complete. No more elaborate puzzles without instructions. No more dealing with this nut-job of a family. No more frustrations for the gamers who attempted at playing this series. For me, however, it was fun, in a twisted, masochistic kind of way. I’m going to miss having to play through the story line and creating destinies my own way. Oh well.

Thanks, Cyan, which created a challenging, yet wonderful game series!

Game Review: Myst IV Revelation

Spire and Haven
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After over a month’s worth of distractions and busyness and stuff, I finally found time to play and complete the fourth game in the Myst series. The challenge for me, of course, was that the copy I had came with hints built in to the DVD it came with, so I urged myself not to look at them (although for the sake of time, I took a peek). This is actually my second time playing through the game in its entirety and man, is it still frustrating (but fun) to play!

Your sons are alive?

Spire and Haven

The linking books of Myst IV: Revelation

In case you don’t remember the story thus far, your friend Atrus has been freed from his prison on Myst, you rescued his wife Catherine on Riven, and you helped them rebuild their past lives by freeing an exiled soul from Atrus’ past. Atrus now resides in the age of Tomanha with his wife and newborn daughter, Yeesha.

Fastforward another ten years into the timeline and Atrus calls upon you for your help once again.

It seems that Atrus is one who just can’t let go of the past; and more specifically, he can’t let go of his sons, Sirrus and Achenar. After destroying the two prison ages that confined them in the first Myst game, Atrus basically confines them again in two additional prison ages. So basically, he didn’t destroy the prisons and his sons with them, he merely “transferred” them.

Your job in this game is to find out how much twenty years of confinement has done to the two sons; and ultimately, whether either of them are worth freeing from their prison ages. Of course, like all the other Myst games, getting help from anyone is not an option; and if you follow the story, certain dramatic things happen too, like, oh I don’t know, Yeesha totally gets kidnapped by her two brothers who find their own way out of the prison ages!

Gadgets galore!

Image Recorder

Image recorder screen in Myst IV: Revelation

In past Myst games (such as Riven and Exile), you are given various tools that help you on your way through the game. These previous tools, however, are usually journals that describe stuff that you will encounter later, sort of like a heads up or something. In Myst IV: Revelation however, you get by far the best tool to ever grace this puzzle adventure series: the Image Recorder!

The image recorder (or “camera” for all you non-steampunk peoples) has two main functions: taking screenshots and saving them to your archives where you can then write your own notes about them. You get 999 pictures, so there’s definitely plenty to go around.

You can use this image recorder throughout your game for several reasons, but perhaps the most useful thing for it is when you come across a visual clue. One thing I hated about the Myst series is having to jot down or memorize even some of the smallest details from other points throughout the game and using that know-how to solve a puzzle that occurs much later in the game. I’m personally not a very visual person myself, so if I completely forget something I saw in one part of the game, I have to tediously run back to that part to attempt at remembering the clue that helps me later on in the game. The image recorder saves me a step from having to do that.

This way when I think or even simply know that something will be useful later in the game, I will just take a screenshot of it right then and there and the game will automatically save that image for me. Now running back and forth isn’t as necessary!

The other gadget you get in this game is Yeesha’s pendant, which is apparently a gift she got from Serenia (we’ll talk about that later). According to the game, this pendant recalls strong memories in specific places when you access them. When you reach a certain area in the game, the pendant glows and when you click on it, a helpful memory from the past reveals itself. Some of these “memories” are hints to solving puzzles. Others are easter eggs that you find about Atrus and his family (particularly the revisited scenes from Myst III: Exile). And still others are hints that will guide you to the endgame content: inferences about the characters’ personalities and allow you to decide which characters you meet you should trust later on.

Both the image recorder and the pendant are extremely helpful in gameplay. Having these extra gadgets made Myst IV: Revelation much more enjoyable and, since I’m not a visual learner, very interactive so that other mediums can be used to figure out some of the game’s more challenging puzzles.

The Ages

Serenia

Serenia, age of dreams

You visit roughly four ages in all of Myst IV: Revelation. The first you should be slightly familiar with from the previous game, and that’s Tomanha, Atrus’ new home. Two more are the prison ages: Spire and Haven, for SIrrus and Achenar respectively. As you go through these three ages, you learn about Atrus’ family infer all the secrets about their lives that lead up to the final events in this game.

As you travel Spire and Haven specifically, you should definitely get a feel for how the two sons have lived and felt over the past two years. If you played like I did and inferred things properly, you should find helpful clues about them and ultimately who you should trust. If you played the original Myst game, you learned that you could not trust either of them when you met them. In Myst IV: Revelation, this is not the case. As a spoiler, one of the brothers seeks redemption while the other seeks revenge. What you do with that information, however, is entirely up to you.

Once you piece all of the clues together from Spire and Haven, you are given a chance to see Serenia, a very unique age in that you actually do meet people from there! Serenia, from what I understand, is one of the ages that Catherine supposedly wrote a link to (but don’t quote me on that). In any case, Atrus seems to have trust issues about this age partially because his daughter visits it so much, but also because he doesn’t believe anything from there is real.

And why is that? Because the Serenia has one unique quality: you can visit the world of Dream there. Dream is the place you allegedly store your collective memories with all other people, and is also the way you can communicate with spirits of the past. Yeesha, for whatever reason (which you will find out later) was taken to this age as her brothers’ hostage. In this last age, you must learn the secrets of Dream and confront the two brothers in order to reach your objective.

Closing this chapter…

Yeesha and Achenar

Yeesha and Achenar

If you’ve been following the game well enough, you should be able to solve the turning-point decision at the end of the game when you confront Yeesha in Serenia. She seems to have been strapped to a chair by her brothers and asks you to help release her. As the good friend of Atrus you are, you obviously help her, right?

As soon as you reach the machine to release Yeesha, Achenar walks into the room and points a crossbow at Yeesha’s face! He then goes on to tell you that this Yeesha is actually Sirrus and that listening to her would be much more disastrous. You are then faced with a difficult choice. Who do you believe: Yeesha or Achenar? If you have learned enough about the inferences in their personalities and all the other clues in the game, you should already know the answer. If you choose the right path, you get a chance to play one more puzzle. If not, you get killed. Sounds simple enough, right?

Either way, the true ending to this game is that both Sirrus and Achenar are killed in this fiasco (how, I will not tell you). You find out in the aftermath that Yeesha, despite knowing little about either of them loved them like brothers regardless of their pasts, and Atrus has mixed feelings about what it means for having both of them killed. Alas, however, the bleak past that haunted Atrus’ family for so long finally comes to a close. And with that, closing this chapter in Atrus’ life allows him to finally start things anew, and raise his family the right way, without having to worry about the actions of his (or rather, his sons’) past.

Within the Myst series, only one game of the same title remains to be reviewed by yours truly. While I haven’t actually played Myst V: End of Ages yet, I do have a copy of it finally. From what I do understand of the game’s contents, Atrus is either dead or dying (not sure which one), and you follow around Yeesha who is now a grown adult. For serious though, in the game series’ timeline, how old does that make you, the player? I have no idea, but look forward to that review soon!

Jack Merridew Helped Me Through High School

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I have a confession to make. While I love writing and I enjoy expressing myself in that medium (and love it even more when other folks actually read it), I myself was not much of a reader. This is a huge problem for me since most writers also enjoy reading (or at the very least, are good at it). I end up writing a lot, enough to a point that many of my readers probably stop halfway through due to the length.

The truth is, I do actually like to read; except that when it comes to reading, I don’t do very much of it. When I was growing up, I was always reading something that was what seemed to be “beyond” what my peers were reading. I mean, I read the first five books of the Bible (613 laws and I still can’t remember all of them) in the 6th grade, Stephen King’s Carrie (still surprised that his publishers never edit his work) in the 8th grade, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (that’s pronounced GAHD-oh, by the way) in 9th grade, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (the bourgeoisie is evil) in 10th grade, and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (may the proletariat rise) in 11th grade. Did I mention that I read all of these things on my own time without instruction from any of my teachers?

When I was in high school, the Accelerated Reader program was in its foundation stages, and I took the assessment test for it in 9th grade. Despite my peers being at or below their grade level in reading, I was one of the rare cases that hit 12.9 overall in comprehension and vocabulary. I honestly believe that the program must’ve been broken, because that meant there was no level for me to “accelerate” to because 12.9 was the highest level they went to at the time.

There was no way in hell I was going to read college-level material in high school. My friends are reading all the fun stuff like Harry Potter and I got stuck with some of the highest-level books that I’m sure even college students had trouble reading if they didn’t have instruction. Needless to say, I tried picking up Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I believe was assessed as a 10th grade level of reading. After 50 pages and 100 distractions later, I gave up. Reading was not my forte.

And that became a problem for me once I got into college. I was amazing enough to get by in high school with my abilities and things, but I never truly enjoyed the work that was involved in getting through all of it. By the time I got to college, my assumptions of success without trying very hard became a farce. Over time, I had to leave one college to transfer to another, hoping that somehow I’d be able to find my niche and squeeze by. Three colleges later, I graduated, and yet I wonder how I actually made it. I still don’t have a regular stable job, I still want to improve myself, and I still don’t really read a whole lot, like I would like to.

When I was in a real slump in my life, I decided to take another reading assessment test. This time it was the Nelson-Denny, an assessment that specifically tests for reading ability. It turns out that I am perfectly normal in both vocabulary and comprehension in reading, but I was below average in “speed” (yes, there is a time assessment in reading); far below, if I can recall. What this means is that the time it takes me to read and analyze what I am reading takes a significantly longer time for me to do than that of an average person. So despite being the amazing person I was in high school, it became clear to me in college that I was in fact just as human as everyone else!

I occasionally contemplate on what I did right back then and why I am not doing it now in the present. That’s when I remembered William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, and how a certain character helped me in high school.

Jack Merridew is the leader of the choir boys in Golding’s classic, and eventually becomes the antagonist to the main character Ralph. Despite being a villainous bastard, he is a natural-born leader. He’s charismatic, he already has a group of followers, and when the circumstances asked for one to rise and lead the boys to survival, he took the chance with both feet forward. Sure, he had a mean-streak and only cared about sustenance on a deserted island by any means necessary (even if it meant killing his own), but he was, in my opinion, a great leader. When I took the California High School Exit Exam, the essay question asked who I thought was a great leader and why; the choice was clear: Jack Merridew.

As a result, I earned a perfect score on that essay, and therefore passing the exam. And throughout high school, I, like Jack, was the driving force to take initiative in leadership; whether it was being an editor for the school newspaper or piloting my high school’s pending International Baccalaureate program.

And yet, even in the novel, Jack was not in full control. As many readers may imply, the Lord of the Flies had enticed Jack, and made him a naive boy leader who only sought bloodlust, regardless of his background as a former choir boy. It turns out that in the novel, it is Ralph who finds a way to return home from the island and, despite his differences, would allow Jack and his gang to also return (or at least that’s what’s implied). Ralph was elected the leader of the boys early on under circumstances that allowed him to do so (since he was in the most neutral position amongst all the survivors). He was never very confident with his leadership role or ability, and yet he wholeheartedly focused on the main objective (finding a way out) and protecting the weakest boys while he was at it. Truly Ralph was the ideal leader in this novel, but lacked the confidence and charisma that Jack had.

I’ve come to realize that I must learn from the leadership styles of both Jack and Ralph to help me out in life. I must learn from Ralph, the idealist, because his heart was always in the right place, while also taking from Jack, the realist, who had no fear in taking on responsibilities that others may have otherwise neglected.

Such is the way life itself is in many ways. We must learn to take examples from one source, its opposition, and find a balance between them that works for us as individuals. Jack may have helped me in high school, but now it’s time that I learn from Ralph as well.