Thursday, August 6, 2020

My Brother Michael: Ten Years Later

A remodeled room you'll never touch again-- one that was once yours, but is now mine. Each day, I lock myself away and clatter away at the keyboard, hashing out whatever incomplete thoughts cross my mind and mold them into something resembling legible prose. Some say my works are genius; myself, I'm tormented by insecurities that I can do better. Walls once decorated with Steve Austin, Bruce Springsteen, and South Park posters are now monuments to childhood mainstays -- Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and The Legend of Zelda -- as Japanese tomes await my self-teaching exercises.

Not a trace of you remains, but it's still here.

Most of your N64 and SNES cartridges are still locked away in my drawers. Some, like Donkey Kong Country and Bomberman 64, became lost to the ravages of time and were replaced accordingly; even now, I'm still haunted by a wispy, fleeting memory of you saying you gave the latter away, but I guess I can forgive you. Regardless, all were subject to physical degradation: a phenomenon I'm still amazed has never been widely documented within gaming media, let alone permeated among the medium's consciousness. As N64 polygons mesh and coalesce into disfigured forms and the fabric of two-dimensional backgrounds are ripped asunder by garish, intrusive flares, the heartbreaking contamination of relics I held sacred forced me to embrace a digital future.

You'll never play them again, but even so, they're still here.

I'm marathoning The Simpsons for the first time on Disney+ -- it's a cultural cornerstone I've always wanted to experience, but I only engaged in peripheral media like The Simpsons: Hit & Run to tongue-in-cheek family albums and self-help books. (Remember when despite your legitimate protests, Mom let me play Connect the Dots on that one Bartman comic's double-spread? Sorry about that.) Regardless, even as I analyze the laser-sharp social commentary and find myself in hysterics over its brilliant non-sequiturs, I'm always scanning for whatever you would've found humorous. As per my typical memory gaps, I don't remember what you particularly enjoyed about America's most dysfunctional family; as noted in my first tribute, you grew disenchanted after "kids started watching it", but maybe therein lies the clue: being prepubescent yourself, you came for the seamless conduit in Bart Simpson's mischief and stayed for the captivating sex underlying it all. (Why else did you get that T-shirt of Bart mooning his mirror? Of course Mom refused to let you wear it to school!)

Maybe you were a hypocrite, but like it or not, The Simpsons are alive and well.

I used your yellow CD player long, long after iPods and phones dominated the world; I still have a penchant for that colorful design, especially after my red one from middle school died. Your chain wallet's still strapped to my pants; with how forgetful I am, it's perfect for me. The Skull Mountain playset from Mighty Max, albeit stripped of all its miniature actors, rests in the other side of the basement alongside the rest of our toys. I'm too scared to let go of anything that defined my halcyon days. I don't want to be cynical; I don't want to grow up.

And yet, you're not here. Not once does Michael Pelone, my older brother, factor into my daily decision-making. After all, you're dead.

Even so, evidence of your earthly existence still lingers: photos of you, us, and our family serve as a stark reminder you'll never age beyond twenty-three. Misty photos of us as toddlers were printed onto Dad's favorite coffee cup; the first time I saw it, well after midnight as I emerge from a basement gaming session, I collapsed into darkness. Prank letters delivered to residents in our old Animal Crossing town, should I ever desire to power up my GameCube. (Admiral, that grumpy bird villager you always tormented, would undoubtedly show off your masterpiece -- "Anthony wants to make out with you")

And yet, as far as the larger world is concerned, Michael is forgotten. Irrelevant. Rotting in the ground. Another replaced cog in the machine.

Your voice still echoes in my brain; the warmth of your hug embraces my senses. Yet all that must be discarded for getting back into the grind.

In my second editorial about you, a casual observer would look upon my resolution towards college and nod sagely, proclaiming "Would you look at that: Anthony's ready to enter the big man's world. He's got it under control." I'd elaborate on how the following year would end up as, by a significant margin, the most emotionally excruciating, agonizing period of my life, but the point is, I didn't. For far, far too long, I aimed for an impossible dream: to create my eternal never-land of adolescence, where I'd write and play video games in eternal, nostalgic reverie, isolated from the rest of humanity and living according to my own rules. I'd get side-eyed, sure, but being treated as an outcast was nothing new to me -- I just had to achieve that romanticized center, that happily-ever-after punctuating so much of the media sheltering me from reality.

As expected by anyone not living under a rock, I crashed and burned. Repeatedly. You'd think from reading that article I'd have moved on, but as I endured the trials and tribulations of college degrees and fleeting friendships, of falling outs and private disappointments, personal satisfaction was my one true goal -- one that could only be achieved by cutting out excess negativity; in other words, I tried not to think about you. I had to forget you.

But grief still persisted. It should be so obvious now, in retrospect -- that time in the spring following your death, when I confessed to Mom I was dead inside? I thought I was growing apart from my lifelong passions, yet that was just me wrestling with your passing's natural after-effects. I don't beat myself up over that; even if I dared to, Dad's constant mantra following your passing -- "This will not define us" -- still pulses faintly as a deterrent. Your overdose didn't leave us in vulnerable hysterics -- we fought past it, found comfort in innumerable family and friends, and moved on.

They say the dead addict is finally in peace, that you no longer have to bear with the constant tug-and-pull of your disease. And yet, when you put it that's almost like saying you're better off dead.

I don't know how I feel about that.

At least I emerged from my rock. I've still never dated, yet I've come to accept my autism and the innate weaknesses and idiosyncrasies associated with it. I'm still scared to approach people, but now I recognize it's not all about me; if anything, my bleeding heart for the rights of others to even dare dream the same goals I once did has firmly established my political beliefs. The pervasive Christianity at Eastern University may've flown over my head, but I know now to never wait -- always seize the moment.

How much has your invisible hand guided me through it all, I wonder.

Yes, I know I just said I didn't want to think about you.

Well, I'm doing that now.

When I've reached the climax of the legendary Final Fantasy VI, when our heroes drag themselves out of despair and confront the mad Kefka far, far above the World of Ruin his newfound godhood had wrought -- nihilism and life-affirmation dueling among ascending peaks of raging fire and 16-bit operas -- are you there?

As the harp-strings of Dragon Quest VIII's orchestrated overworld theme grace my ears for the first time, tears spilling from my eyes as the endless green hills and blue skies recall the gentle embrace of Dad's favorite art following your death -- are you there?

Every time I encounter the bonds of brotherhood in media -- Fullmetal Alchemist's trip to hell and back to restore Alphonse's body; Undertale's striking juxtaposition between skeletons Papyrus and Sans as molded by the player's morality, a certain SKET Dance character's retreat into isolation and self-blame following personal tragedy, Mother 3's fatal familial clash deciding the world's fate, and One Piece assuring a heartbroken Luffy he's not alone -- are you there?

Whenever I'm forced to confront life's sudden fragility, or the miracle of beating love between siblings in the real world -- be it comforting co-workers and bosses after they've lost their own brothers, or watching over the niece and nephew I know you would've loved very dearly -- are you there?

During the euphoric highs of achieving personal dreams -- looking out my plane window as we touch down in Los Angeles just before attending E3 2018, or when I interview a Nintendo game composer and inform him how much his work soothed the grieving process -- are you there? 

Are you here now?

Can you hear me?

See me?

Feel me?

I can't do the same.

I'd very much like to.

But I can't.

I don't want it to be this way.

But it is what it is.

So what can I do?

I remind myself the world may not remember you, but I do.

I remember your humor -- the mischief compelling you to sneak into my room at night and introducing yourself as Jonathan, the man who lived in our attic. Maybe that evaporated in the last year I knew you, yet I still crack a grin at how you wrote "Rated R" on my fictional game posters.

I remember your smile -- the knowing grin that'd tease me as you'd recite the Pokémon opening theme, knowing full well how aggravated I'd get. Maybe that grew rarer over time, but I'll always treasure us reciting Spaceballs quotes in unison or how you'd provoke my juvenile gaming sportsmanship.

I remember your warmth -- the very same emanating from every hug you'd give me. Maybe I don't remember the last hug you gave me -- the one before you slunk off to rehab for the last time -- but I don't need that junk; all I need is that familiar glow circulating throughout my whole being.

I remember your passion -- the devotion to bands and music that developed our local musical scenes. Maybe our parents' aspirations for my becoming a fellow devotee of The Boss never came to fruition, but those occasions where they put his songs on full-blast were our household's most magical nights.

I remember the bad times, too -- but more than that, I remember how blessed we were for that drama-free summer before you passed. We played Mario one last time. We went to the movies one last time. There was no theft, there was no fear; just family.

More than anything, though, I remember your laugh, and the best part is, my brain's not necessary -- I just laugh at anything, and I hear you: that familiar, larger-than-life giggle that'd captivate the entire room. I don't need religious beliefs or enlightenment to recognize that.

Our parents love it, too.

Maybe I can do that, at least. Hearing you.

But it's through me.

You're not here, but I am. Maybe I'm not anyone special, but that only affirms my humanity: I'm struggling and living like anyone else. Even as grandparents die and cultural bedrocks lose their luster, I still have me; no, I still have us.

You might not be here, but there you are. Through the idealism I inherited from my mother, and the realism you obtained from our father, we can achieve anything.

Let's celebrate life together, for as long as I live.

I love you, Michael.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

My Hero Academia Vol. 23 Review (Hey Poor Player)

Thanks to the aforementioned priorities involving Animal Crossing: New Horizons -- as well as unforeseen complications involving coronavirus -- this one came out later than I wanted it to.

Jujutsu Kaisen Vol. 2 Review (Hey Poor Player)

...still not a fan. I plan on doing one or two more volumes.

Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru Vol. 1 Review (Hey Poor Player)

I was planning on reviewing Volume 2, but the series got axed no less than two weeks afterwards. Just goes to show nothing's guaranteed in this industry; better luck next time, Kishi!

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Volume 6 Review (Hey Poor Player)

Only two chapters!

8-Bit Chronicles: Ice Climber (Hey Poor Player)

This took longer than I wanted it to; I don't remember why. Bad scheduling, maybe. I aimed for a monthly schedule for this column, but the priorities involved with the Animal Crossing: New Horizons guide threw a monkey wrench in that.

The Promised Neverland Vol. 13 Review (Hey Poor Player)

Article Here

I guess me updating this so late here speaks volumes about my lack of interest.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Leave Luck to Heaven's 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago, I began Leave Luck to Heaven as a pet project: despite my wild ambitions in chasing my writing dreams, the relevant drive and passion stagnated outside of schoolwork, and the need for consistent self-improvement grew evident. My initial hesitance towards a blogging format soon ebbed -- as an awkward high school student averse to socialization, enunciating upon my undying passion for gaming proved itself a much-needed form of stress relief. The blog's compact visibility was just small enough for any passerby to peek in, but my laser-focused emphasis on lengthy analyses appealed more to my goal-setting than dreams of widespread grandeur. (Indeed, the only piece from those days drawing any notable attention was none other than my brother's raw eulogy -- a mecca for friends and family alike to pay their respects.)

Like most everything else I wrote in 2010, this debuting post -- a gross violation of my current writing standards in everything from inconsistent contractions to the rebellious 'tude nonsensically laced throughout (Am I aiming for a wannabe punk-rock motif, or heartfelt passion stemming from a genuine love for gaming?) -- evokes nothing but winces and cringe, yet I hardly begrudge myself for my stumbling beginnings; after all, I'm hardly the only artist with green beginnings, and I humbly admit they're useful gauging tools for my progress. Could I just sit here and pick apart numerous flaws and revisions within my GameCube anniversary editorial and EarthBound review? Yes, but such heartless commentary would be a disservice to the genuine heart poured within.

Nay, my one true regret lies within the blog's scattershot initiatives -- whereas my elaborative essays on Nintendo games naturally evolved from multi-faceted columns into singular essays, other features promised in that initial introduction either fizzled out over time or, worse, never came to fruition. My tardiness and lateness became crippling impediments on Leave Luck to Heaven's development: much as I endeavored in Kirby anniversaries and Biweekly Music Wednesdays, sloppy time management and my perfectionist approach to writing often stalled any potential for constant development. If there's any one reason Leave Luck to Heaven never took off in the public eye, it's assuredly this lack of commitment.

Were nothing gained from this venture, I'd endlessly elaborate on the many insecurities induced by these failures -- not the least in doubting in my writing abilities or questioning my capacity for critical thinking -- but that is not so. Oh, sure, I've had my daydreams over being a famous author, but never in all my wildest dreams did I imagine the dedication invested into this personal experiment would serve as a stepping stone into gaming journalism. I use that term with reserved trepidation -- in the end, I'm really just blogging about games to a wider audience (putting it this way: I'm not snooping around for the latest scoop ala Jason Schreier!) -- but in everything from debuting on the very website that introduced me to online gaming journalism (Nintendojo) to chronicling arcade classics and penning wildly successful guides, I remain ever fascinated in how I can endlessly flex my love for this lifelong passion. (And let's not forget my descent into manga reviews!)

Over the past half-decade, there's been a gradual focus in this pursuit, and with everything from my music column's retirement to an empty supply of game analyses, I'm left to ponder Leave Luck to Heaven's current purpose. For all my efforts, there remains no sufficient audience to continue any ambitious pursuits in a Nintendo review library -- fine for when I was starting anew, sure, but this has only proven cumbersome in my professional pursuits. (After all, why write about the latest games here when a media outlet already pays me to do just that?) In a way, I'm sad -- much as I adore Hey Poor Player, there's only one me, and I took pride in how this blog presented a unique, solitary voice  -- but the duties that site beckons are far more vital for my growth, and so I'll continue prioritizing my endeavors there.

This is by no means to announce Leave Luck to Heaven's demise -- if anything, I've come to recognize I need to revisit the fundamentals of writing, and I may very well return to this blog's more experimental days in the near future -- but in accordance with all the above, I'll soon be making preparations to repurpose this blog as an archive of my works. In the words of our dearly departed Satoru Iwata, please understand this was no easy choice to make.

To all those who've followed me on this journey, I'm truly grateful for your enduring patience and support. Please continue to observe how and where I'll grow from here on.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Best 25 Nintendo Games of the Decade (Hey Poor Player)

This was a month ago, but as evidenced by the 13,000+ word count here, I worked my butt off on this one! I planned and prepped for this for years, and it's beyond cathartic to finally see it realized. Props to my co-worker Heather on the beautiful header.

Even so, much as I'm proud of my work here, I couldn't help but think, "I've hit a wall." We'll discuss in a celebratory post here tomorrow. (Guess what day it'll be?)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dr. Stone Vol. 9 Review (Hey Poor Player)

Amazing manga as always, but I wasn't happy with this review -- kicked my butt for the better part of a week.