Voltron: Legendary Defender, Rebooted and Rewarding

voltronNetflix’s new animated series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, takes the much-beloved 80’s cartoon Voltron: Defender of the Universe and rebuilds the world of space battles, robotic lions, and strong friendships in a new take on the classic sci-fi adventure. With its second season having been recently released on Jan. 20th, fans have jumped at the chance to devour the new set of 13 episodes and now eagerly await more.

Our story centers around five humans from Earth – Shiro, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Keith – that discover a giant blue robotic lion that’s been sitting dormant in the desert. Once they’re inside, the lion activates and flies the five heroes into space – yes, a flying lion spaceship – where they meet two aliens named Coran and Allura. They are from the planet Altea, which was destroyed by the Galra Empire thousands of years ago. The Galra Empire has been continuing its tyrannical takeover ever since, and the universe needs Voltron to save it. What is Voltron, you ask? Coran and Allura explain to the five heroes that the blue lion they uncovered is one of five robotic lions that, when piloted, can combine into a massive, human-shaped robot of great power named Voltron. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Despite the absurdity of the idea, this show executes it so well. The action is intense, the alien civilizations wildly creative, and the animation a far leap ahead of its 80’s counterpart. The characters are developed and getting deeper as the show goes on, and the plot is fast-paced and entertaining. I saw the first season when it first released early in 2016, and the year long wait for Season 2 was worth it. The creators of the show, Joaquin Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, stay true enough to the original but have updated it in many, much-needed ways. They pay attention to their ever-growing fanbase and deliver quality episodes that continue to appease and surprise.

The characters are all individually enjoyable and have great dynamics together. Shiro leads the group as the paladin, or pilot, of the Black Lion and acts as the head of the group, as opposed to Keith doing so in the original series. Keith now pilots the Red Lion as its impulsive, ready-to-fight paladin. Lance is the flirtatious jokester and sharpshooter paladin of the Blue Lion. Hunk is the food-loving engineer and pilot of the Yellow Lion. Pidge, who is now a girl as opposed to her male 80’s counterpart, is a tech genius and the youngest of the group, piloting the Green Lion. Allura is the princess of Altea, and Coran is her advisor.

Not only have these characters been fully-fleshed out with backstories (although we’re still waiting on Lance’s and Hunk’s backstories) and motivations, but the new Voltron has made an effort to diversify its cast. Allura, Hunk, Shiro, and Lance are all people of color now, and Pidge’s gender change has brought a second female into the limelight. I for one am incredibly happy to see this push for diversity. The dialogue is conversational and natural, and the tone switches appropriately from light-hearted and goofy to serious and heartfelt when called for. In the newest season, the concept of prejudice is brought up and addressed exceptionally well. It’s progressive, and I love it.

Of course, the past 30 years have led to much better quality animation, leaving Netflix’s version with a style reminiscent of the popular Avatar: The Last Airbender. Voltron mixes CGI into the mainly 2D show in order to make the lions, Voltron, and fight scenes stand out. The character animation is exaggerated for comedy and detailed for intensity, switching it up depending on what the story calls for.

Voltron: Legendary Defender deserves a watch; go and see Season 1’s first episode, which is pretty plot-heavy, and you’ll have a good sense of the show’s dynamic. I applaud Netflix’s approach to this classic and anticipate next year’s season!

-Abby F., 12th grade

 

A Political Analysis of The Devil’s Highway

devil's highway_luisalbertourreaThe Devil’s Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea, is a deeply evocative story about the border conflict between the United States and Mexico. More specifically, it follows the lives and experiences of illegal immigrants, smugglers, and U.S. border patrolmen. Urrea tells of the desperation of the immigrants— the desperation that drives them into the hands of cruel and business-minded smugglers. On the other side of the border, Border Patrol searches through the unforgiving desert, looking for illegals to capture, and oftentimes save from the throes of dehydration.

Apart from being an interesting story, or even an interesting tale of human bravery, The Devil’s Highway has a complex political meaning, one that is not easy to discern. Luis Alberto Urrea openly describes himself as a liberal opposed to the U.S. border policy, especially due to his Hispanic descent. During the investigative preparation for this book, he talks with numerous border patrol agents who are openly suspicious of his intentions. It would not be unheard of for media outlets to portray the agents in a bad light. And yet, they open up to Urrea, and in turn Urrea creates a fair and accurate book.

An English teacher once told me that reading The Devil’s Highway would open up a whole new world and cause students to develop a completely new mindset towards the 2016 presidential election. The reasoning was that once we learned about the hardships and root motivations of illegal immigrants, who were just trying to better their families’ lives, we would immediately support illegal immigration.

Even though this was Urrea’s intent, I don’t think The Devil’s Highway had the intended effect. Most readers already know why immigrants enter the United States: higher wages and less violence. Learning about the arduous journey through the Sonoran Desert doesn’t create support for illegal immigrants. If anything, it makes readers wonder “why would you do that?” and scoff at their foolishness. More conservative readers will see Urrea’s horrid descriptions of poverty in Mexico as further proof that border policy must be enforced. They see low wage workers as a weight on countries, and if more and more flee to the United States, the United States will eventually resemble the chaos in Mexico today.

Such a focus on nationalism over humanitarianism is a sad reflection on human nature, but it is equally unfair to blame everyday Americans for this mentality. No country wants to sacrifice its own well-being for poorer countries. Even Mexico must deal with poorer illegal immigrants from the countries to their Southeast: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Mexico supports giving citizenship to its immigrants in America, all while deporting Central Americans by the thousands. At the end of the day, each country wants the best for its own people, and that’s just the way it is. Any country claiming the moral high ground in this cutthroat world is an act of hypocrisy.

The more surprising aspect of The Devil’s Highway is learning about the border smugglers, called Coyotes, and the U.S. Border Patrolmen. The agents themselves are often overlooked in the great debate over border policy. Liberals see them as Mexican-hating racists while conservatives see them as soldiers defending a battlefront. But at the end of the day, the agents are just ordinary people. Urrea does a fantastic job at humanizing them. He describes many of the agents as “bleeding-heart liberals” who paid out of their own pockets for life-saving towers in the desert. Towers that save the lives of failed illegal crossovers, without any taxpayer dollars. The Devil’s Highway succeeds in teaching readers about every aspect of the border issue, even if it doesn’t provide a convincing solution.

Throughout his book, Urrea laments the misguided use of the term “illegal immigrants” and speaks about border security with cynicism. Although he can illustrate the problems of poverty and corruptions quite well, it is far more difficult to provide actual solutions. Yes, living conditions in Mexico are worse than in the United States, but would Urrea really have our country throw away the border and mesh the two countries? The solution cannot be purely humanitarian, which is far too idealistic, nor can it be purely survival of the fittest. Until we figure it out, two parties pointing fingers will get us nowhere. I don’t claim to know the answer, but I imagine it will rest in solving the root causes of elevated poverty and violence to the South.

Take The Devil’s Highway as a baseline education of all sides of the issue, not as an end-all solution. It merely illustrates the problem for readers to then develop their own opinions and solutions. If we can learn to meet in the middle, someday the world will be able to look back on this book as a historical text of bygones.

The Devil’s Highway is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

ravencycle_maggiestiefvaterThe Raven Cycle series, by Maggie Stiefvater, finally came to a close this spring with the release of her fourth installment, The Raven King. After finishing the first book, titled The Raven Boys, this series quickly jumped high onto the list of my favorite books. The more I read, the higher it climbed. Stiefvater’s characterization and descriptive language is enthralling, bringing me to actually set down the book and relish over a line or two of pure perfection multiple times.

This series deals with magic, mystery, romance, but above all- friendship. The main cast of characters are deeply developed and intricate, and the story gives us a thorough look into their pasts, presents, and heck, even their looming futures.

Blue Sargent, the main female lead, is the only non-psychic in a family of seers, but she has the ability to amplify their clairvoyant powers. For this reason, Blue accompanies her Aunt Neeve on St. Mark’s Eve to go to an abandoned churchyard; St. Mark’s Eve is the day of the year when psychics can see the ghosts of the people who are going to die in the following year walk along the Corpse Road. Blue has never been able to see these ghosts- until tonight.

She asks this sole visible ghost his name- Gansey- and her Aunt explains that the only reason that Blue, a nonseer, would see a ghost is if he’s her true love- or if she’s the one who kills him. Gansey, very much alive, has spent the past couple of years researching the legend of the dead Welsh King Glendower. Legend says he was buried on a magical ley line, and whoever wakes him gets a favor. He and his best friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah devote their time to finding this sleeping king and recruit Blue into their questing court.

The series offers many twists and turns, oftentimes surprising me with a suspenseful showdown or a magical revelation. The more I learned about the characters, the more I loved them and feared for them as their stories grew darker and darker. The characterization stands out as the highlight of the series. Stiefvater chips away at the inner beings of each character until we have a roadmap of each one, pointing out their fears and flaws and tracing their dreams and desires. Out of the main five characters, Blue is the only female, but her family- who we spend lots of time getting to know- is overflowing with a cast of unique, quirky, and psychic women, giving us a wide array of female side characters. Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are my personal favorites; their dynamics are very complicated and interesting, and I anticipated the chapters written from their points-of-view most of all. Stiefvater’s imagination is abundant, and it is evident as she builds her world in the small town of Henrietta.

I have and will continue to recommend this series to any avid readers I come across, for it was a wild ride that I will never forget. The four books- The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, and The Raven King– have secured their positions as some of my favorite books, and I hope they will continue to be recognized in the future as the truly captivating novels they are.

-Abby F.

The Raven Boys and the rest of the Raven Cycle novels are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Stranger Things: A New Netflix Phenomenon

stranger_things_logo

Once a new TV show permeates every form of social media, I take it as a sign I should get around to watching it – both to join the chaotic mess of fans and to avoid the ever-growing list of spoilers. Stranger Things, Netflix’s new original TV series, has taken the world by storm, and after watching the entire first season in two nights, I have been fully swept away in its winds of success.

Stranger Things is an eight chapter story about young boy, Will Byers, who goes mysteriously missing after a game of D&D with his quirky gang of friends. The town goes on high alert trying to find the boy, while a strange and, quite frankly, disgusting monster lurks in the shadows and awaits its next victim. The only one who has any semblance of understanding as to why the monster is stalking the small town is Eleven, a girl of few words and many powers. As Sheriff Hopper traces what he believes to be Will’s tracks to the suspicious government organization in town, Eleven teams up with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to search for Will on their own.

The show walks the line between horror and sci-fi, using the rural town of Hawkins, Indiana as a setting for a supernatural hotspot, including an alternate dimension, telekinetic powers, and the monster that’s been nicknamed “The Demagorgon.” The pacing can feel slow at times, but it gives the show lots of room for character development and raw emotion.

The actors give stunning performances that truly convey their characters’ internal struggles, whether it be a desperate mother grasping at supernatural straws to find her son or a lab experiment runaway hiding from her manipulative “Papa.” The show’s comedic relief, which is mainly circumstantial and dialogue-related, is found mostly among the group of middle schoolers Mike, Dustin, and Lucas as they search for Will and coax Eleven into helping. They’re nerds, scientists, and adventurers-in-the-making, and I fell in love with them immediately. Eleven’s reactions to everyday phenomena always got me to crack a smile, too.

However, the show’s comedic moments are few and far between. A large portion of the show is suspenseful and emotional. Stranger Things‘ main theme would have to be trust and faith. The boys must earn Eleven’s trust in order to gain her help, and Eleven must earn their trust so that they won’t suspect her of being the “Lando” in their story, as Dustin would say. Joyce Byers, Will’s mother, needs someone to trust her as she tries not to lose faith in the supernatural signs her son sends her. The show relies heavily on its characters and their relationships with one another, whether it be family, friends, or even lovers. Fear and desperation can bring together the unlikeliest of people, and Stranger Things has more than enough fear and desperation to provide these opportunities.

The directors, the Duffer Brothers, have brought about a new pop culture sensation that is steadily increasing in popularity. If horror, sci-fi, and supernatural are your buzz words for a good show, Stranger Things is right up your alley. I enjoyed every minute of this series, and I eagerly anticipate Season 2 (coming next year).

-Abby F.

Death Of A Salesman

deathsalesman_arthurmillerDeath of a Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1949. This play is about a man named Willy and his sons Biff and Happy struggling to find work. Willy recently was fired from his traveling salesman job and tried many ways to kill himself, such as crashing his car multiple times and clogging the tailpipe.

Biff is trapped in his father’s work. Ever since he failed math in school, he couldn’t play football and receive a scholarship. He was the quarterback of the football team, but his grades in school messed him up, and now he lives like a slump. While trying to figure out a way to make money in his current state, his brother Happy wants Biff to join him on an adventure and become successful, but that takes huge risks. They want to travel the world and become successful businessmen. Will this happen? If you like this so far, I would advise you to pick up this play and read it, because it will entertain you.

I would rate this play a 10/10 because it never ceases to amaze me how well it was written. It leaves you speechless and so much to think about. I would recommend everyone to read this play. It’s one of a kind!

-Kayla H. 11th Grader

Death of a Salesman, and critical analysis of the play, care available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Essay: Inevitable Death

In “The Flowers,” by Alice Walker, there are multiple symbols and themes presented throughout the short story. “The Flowers” is a short story about the innocence of a child by the name of Myop. The story starts off with Myop skipping and relaxing under the “warm sun.” Myop starts to explore, the woods behind her house. While she is exploring the woods, Myop picks blue flowers. When Myop circles back to the house, she runs into a strange man. “Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she stepped smack into his eyes.” The man is described as “tall”. His head laid beside him. Myop is very curious about the man and she looks around.

After exploring even more, Myop views many limbs and a wild pink rose. The rose is described as wild and Myop adds it to her collection. Finally, Myop laid down her flowers that she picked previously. The short story ends with “the summer is over.” “The Flowers” starts off with a light and happy mood and ends with a dark one.

Throughout “The Flowers,” there are many symbols and themes that are present. The most prominent symbol, would be the flowers. Myop picks a handful amount of blue flowers, the flowers themselves, represent innocence and life. When you pick a flower, it will eventually wither, no matter what, because it has been separated from its roots. Just like life, we all are born one day and we will die one day. There is no exception to this rule.

Another major symbol is the dead man. The corpse relates to the meaning of the flower in a way, how the man was described as tall and big, yet he is dead. The importance of that is, no matter what a person accomplishes, or becomes, will have no bearing on whether or not that person would die. Death is inevitable. “Around an overhanging limb of a great spreading oak clung another piece. Frayed, rotted, bleached, and frazzled–barely there–but spinning restlessly in the breeze.” The limbs show how they were once part of a man, but are now dead, along with the man.

Finally, another major symbol is the summertime. The summertime in the short story shows the innocence of Myop. By the end of the story, the summer ends. The ending of the summertime represents Myop’s transformation into an adult. She lays down the flowers that she had picked up and following that, the end of summer occurs. Which shows that Myop’s days of skipping and picking flowers are done, because she has set down the flowers and faced the hard reality, that life isn’t always fun and games.

-Satej B.

Modern Music and Classic Literature

“Classics in literature are irrelevant now and don’t relate to life today.”

At least, that’s what I used to think before given an assignment where I had to relate a classic to a text “in my own world”. I didn’t like classics before, and some I’m still not interested in, but after analyzing one for the assignment I realized there is much I can relate to. I started to see the relation and it was pretty surprising. And there really wasn’t that big of a generation gap.

As a very big fan of music, I have a lot of connections to songs and my life. One of the main reasons I love it so much is because it’s so similar to my situations and how I feel, so I always love to tie it to anything I can. In this particular assignment, I found a song that I think is a shorter, more modern version of the idea behind J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

“Somewhere in Neverland” by All Time Low closely resembles the story of The Catcher in the Rye. The song talks about a boy in between adolescence and adulthood who doesn’t want to grow up. He doesn’t want to get a job and a life on his own. He feels lost “with no compass to guide”, much like Holden during his stay in New York. He wishes he could start over and be “forever young” and innocent, which is why Holden admires children.

In the song, the boy wants to run away with a girl to Neverland, a place where time stops and everything just keeps going around and around like the carousel. Holden just wants to go to a place where everything can stay the same, something he also likes about his memories of the Museum of Natural History museum. Holden proposes the idea of running away with Sally so they can escape the inevitability of growing up and having responsibilities. He wants to “start a life of the plain and the simple” when he has the idea of staying in a cabin in the woods away from the real world. This song is a close interpretation of the book and ties in with the ideas and themes very well.

-Sabrina C., 10th Grade