The word “deconstruction” has become useless poison

There was probably some point in the past when the word “deconstruction” was actually useful. Roughly speaking, what I understand the definition to have originally been was something along the lines of “taking genre tropes that we usually take for granted and don’t question, and questioning them”. There are times those kinds of things can be interesting, but nowadays, when I see someone unironically using the word “deconstruction” to praise something, I take this as a sign that the person is probably just condescending and ignorant.

For an analogy, the word “deconstruction” has become similar to the word “Mary Sue” to me. “Mary Sue” used to refer to a certain archetype in writing criticism that probably was useful to discuss at some point, but instead got co-opted by condescending (and often misogynistic) people to become completely useless in practice. I do agree that the original “A Trekkie’s Tale” parody fanfic that spawned the term might have been a bit too cruel on the idea of self-indulgent wish fulfillment fanfic (and I think we really do need to move past the idea that anyone should feel bad about doing that), but if you actually read the original text, the thing being parodied wasn’t how “perfect” or “overpowered” the character was or how many “flaws” they had, but the fact they shove the character’s alleged greatness down the reader’s throat and make all of the surrounding characters worship them without justifying it. This is a common writing pitfall that usually results in the character turning off the audience instead; proper writing criticism nowadays refers to this as “character shilling”, which doesn’t have any gendered nuance (and isn’t particularly focused on fanfic). Meanwhile, the word “Mary Sue” has now become so equated to “female character I don’t like” that anyone actually using it seriously nowadays makes me immediately want to disregard them.

That was a digression, but my point is that a similar concept applies to me and the word “deconstruction”. Let’s keep in mind the fact that the word was originally supposed to mean “examining genres and genre tropes we take for granted more closely”. Now let’s look at some lovely examples of the word as used on TV Tropes as of this writing:

Deconstruction: Of the henshin hero genre. Shins transformation is graphic and painful, the monsters are incredibly desaturated in their color scheme, and the amount of gore here would make Kamen Rider Amazon proud.

(From the Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue page)

What exactly are we “deconstructing” here? The idea that transformations in henshin hero series aren’t normally graphic and painful? How do desaturated color schemes deconstruct anything? How does the presence of gore deconstruct anything? The only way “deconstruction” makes sense here is if we’re implying that henshin hero shows are always sparkly and shallow shows where nothing is brutal ever (for which GARO would beg to differ), so this “deconstruction” is here to say that things aren’t always pretty, which is a pretty shallow and ignorant point to make. But really, this is just a textbook example of the word “deconstruction” being abused to imply that something is apparently meaningful or deeper because it’s gory and edgy. It’s nothing but what I call “edginess fetishism”.

Here’s another lovely example:

Deconstructor Fleet: A very odd case, in that they tear apart every trope related to Mons… while still being the Trope Maker.

(From the Shin Megami Tensei page)

Someone actually wrote this with a straight face, trying to pass it off as an “odd case” instead of admitting that what they just wrote is an inherent contradiction. By the sheer definition of a deconstruction, you cannot deconstruct a genre that does not exist yet. MegaTen was the one that basically invented the monster-collecting genre as we know it; it was the one that went “hey you know how messed up it’d be to collect demonic monsters and have them at your disposal?” and everything else was what went “yeah actually that sounds GREAT” and made more idealistic takes on the genre after that. MegaTen obviously can’t “tear apart” any tropes when those tropes didn’t even really exist at the time the series first started! But just because MegaTen has a more cynical take on the concept of monster collecting, I’m expected to believe it means “tearing apart” anything that came after it. This “logic” can only make sense if you come from the inherent mentality that idealism is stupid and unrealistic and anything that’s grittier (and edgy) is a “reality check”.

Now, I do like myself a healthy dose of emotional pain in my favorite media, but I like emotional pain when it serves a larger narrative purpose. Unfortunately, this fixation with the concept of a “deconstruction” (which is actually “I use my edginess fetishism to dunk on media and genres I don’t respect”) has poisoned discourse of too many things, both things that I think are actually just shallow edge-fests and things I do actually like but seem to be put on a pedestal for the wrong reasons. If you ask me what I like about Puella Magi Madoka Magica, I’ll gladly tell you that I love the character writing, the inspired creativity of Gekidan Inu Curry’s work, the Kajiura music, the worldbuilding in general…but for someone like me who’s grown up with a lot of magical girl anime, the (mostly Western) idea that it was ever a “deconstruction” of the magical girl genre is, excuse my language, absolute bullshit. Madoka does a lot of things very well that deserve praise, and I think it’s honestly a shame that everyone keeps reducing it to a thing that should only exist to dunk on the magical girl genre (actually, it’s a completely conventional magical girl show). I grew up with Wedding Peach, a magical girl anime that was bizarrely more popular in Korea than it was anywhere else, and there was a fair share of coverage of the mental toll of being a magical girl and what they were fighting for in that one. Even the original Sailor Moon covered that too. As did Phantom Thief Jeanne (that one had a “the cute recruiter mascot is evil” swerve too). As does every year’s PreCure.

The discourse for many other things I like has been likewise poisoned. I really like Kamen Rider Gaim (which is also an Urobuchi Gen series), but what I like about it has to do with it being a very grounded and relatable portrayal of lost young adults, whereas actual (also mostly Western) discourse about the series is insufferable a la Madoka. Apparently it’s supposed to be a “deconstruction” of Kamen Rider, which is really funny because the series is Urobuchi’s thinly-veiled love letter to earlier series Kamen Rider Ryuki (actually, a lot of his work is a thinly-veiled love letter to it), which is specifically about the importance of idealism in a cruel world. A lot of the so-called “darkness” in Gaim is actually on-par with a good chunk of older series (particularly Ryuki and Blade), and I’m pretty sure paying tribute to them was actually an intended part of Gaim, so there’s something very bitterly ironic about the fact people like to exploit its name to dunk on other Rider series like it’s meant to tear them apart, instead of talking about actual praiseworthy things from the series like the very fun cast of characters. For another example, while I have a lot of good things to say about Digimon Tamers, discussing it with Digimon fans often ends up in dealing with insufferable people who act like it being the most unsubtle about inflicting suffering on its characters makes it a “gritty realistic deconstruction of Digimon” that’s superior to other series. (In reality, it’s not immune to sometimes being contradictory about its messaging and being a bit too black-and-white, and a lot of what it does in its second half feels like pointless shock value, so I’m more likely to take someone seriously if they’re praising Tamers for anything but how edgy it is, like the characters or even things like “Dukemon is cool”.) Meanwhile, I’m personally excited for the upcoming Digimon Survive, but I’m already seeing people starting to get insufferable about it because People Die in This One, and I’m fully expecting people to start calling it a deconstruction of isekai or something. Neon Genesis Evangelion deserves a lot of the acclaim it gets for its portrayal of mental health, but it is not and has never been a deconstruction of the mecha genre, and “unlike most mecha anime, this one’s about the characters!” is practically a meme among mecha fans as a statement of ignorance.

And so on and so forth. In the end, the word “deconstruction” is just shorthand for a streak of malice that indicates disrespect for a genre, or disrespect for anything idealistic. At this point, I think we’d be better off just trying to cut it out of our vocabulary. If you really want to discuss something in the original sense “deconstruction” was meant to mean, you could maybe try saying something like “a different take on this trope” or “a less fantastic and more grounded take on it” or something like that. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find better ways to elucidate what you like and don’t like about writing. But I have no patience for edginess fetishists anymore. The word “deconstruction” is, to me, just another way they deflect criticism by turning it into an excuse to be condescending with or towards things that deserve better. Both the idealistic things being dunked on and the “dark” but well-made things with more heart than just grimdark edginess deserve better than that. And if someone can only tell me that something is good for being a “deconstruction”, rather than elaborating on what else is so good about it, maybe it’s not actually that deep after all.

Why I can’t play action games and why everyone’s suggestions for “easy mode” don’t help

Every time some kind of Souls-like (or whatever you want to call it) comes out, we get this discourse again. And every time it happens, opinions fly in all directions about how accessibility in gaming is really bad and how easy modes should be more normalized, but also about how demands for easy mode are not always feasible to answer because it often requires sacrificing integrity of gameplay. I think it’s only recently I’ve actually started seeing proper discussion of the added nuance that, actually, everyone’s suggestions for an “easy mode” are really oversimplified and don’t add the kind of accessibility that would be genuinely helpful (I particularly like this article about it).

Now, I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I can at least see if my own perspective provides anything helpful, or if anyone else understands what I’m talking about. So let me say that I am in the audience of people who can’t play action games at all. I love video games, but the majority of what I play is turn-based, and I struggle with anything that requires reacting quickly — mostly action games, fighting games, platformers, and the like — because my reaction time is completely screwed up. I used to consider this just a personal failure, and that maybe I just really sucked at this and had to accept it, but after a while it turned out that I do actually enjoy challenge, and it’s not that my overall “speed” or motor skills are necessarily that terrible (for instance, I’m fairly good at certain rhythm games, because I know the song and what to expect at a strict pattern). If it weren’t for my reaction time problems, I probably would enjoy the process of spotting enemy reads and figuring out what move to take in order to act accordingly.

Unfortunately, most action games fall under one or both of the following problems for me:

  • The enemy signal of what they’re about to do next is too unclear. This has especially gotten worse with modern 3D games, because now there are so many fancy animations and hyper-realistic graphic detail portions that I can’t figure out what’s supposed to be a tell and what’s just part of the general idle animation. By the time I’ve figured it out, I’ve already gotten hit.
  • There’s too little time between the tell and the attack. I’m trying to memorize the enemy’s move list and remember which ideal action corresponds to what, but (especially if I’m having difficulty figuring out what the tell even is) by the time my brain has figured out what’s going to happen and ready to react accordingly, I’ve already gotten hit.

The problem is that everyone’s favorite concept of “easy mode” usually just boils down to “reduce enemy HP, increase player damage, reduce damage player takes”. That doesn’t actually help the above problems. Sure, “easy mode” is definitely easier for me, in that even if I get hit a hundred times (which is probably going to inevitably happen when I can’t react to reads quickly enough no matter how hard I try) I won’t die, and I’ll still do decent amounts of damage even if my attack pattern is suboptimal. But you didn’t actually make the game fun. You just made the game theoretically possible if I mash buttons, I don’t understand why I won, and it doesn’t feel earned at all. So I still have no reason to be interested in the game because it’s not going to be fun either way, just “impossible” or “possible but boring”.

I think it’s possible for me to play more action games if there were more ways to deal with the fact my thinking process is fundamentally slow. I’m not against thinking hard, and I’m not against trying to be engaged. I mean, I play Atelier; I’m not a huge minmaxer or anything, but I could easily spend hours making high-level synths, and I have been pretty decent at very simple things that make me have to act in real time accordingly. While it’s not a huge accomplishment or anything, I was very satisfied figuring out the right timing for Infight Battles in Blue Reflection: Second Light. So if action game devs could make their tells actually readable for me, and give me a bit more breathing room to figure out what tell is being used and prepare accordingly, I think I could get behind that kind of easy mode (or adjustment slider, or whatever), and far more so than if you just mixed up the HP and damage numbers or something. And I get that’s a lot of dev overhead rather than just mixing numbers! But I’m telling you this is what I actually would like to see more and would rather push for, rather than just equating “theoretically possible to clear now”.

Art preservation, and the importance of accessibility

One thing I’ve always been unusually fixated on is the concept of preserving things, sometimes even to the point of borderline paranoia. I’m constantly making backups and more backups of things (both of my stuff and stuff I’ve gotten from others. And I think the hardest pill I’ve had to swallow regarding this is that there’s no way you can preserve something forever.

I’m an self-published indie creator (and very proud of it), so preservation of my work, like my UTAU libraries or my music, is almost entirely dependent on my own ability to maintain it. Physical media, of course, deteriorates no matter how hard you try to take care of it; even digital media is subject to the limitations of the physical drive it’s kept in, or even bit rot. And as nice as it is that digital media is easy to copy, I’ve still had to migrate my files from service to service hoping that the links won’t die this time, as services and clouds keep imploding. It’s a lot of work to keep this up! And despite all of my best efforts, I have to accept the fact that I am inevitably going to die someday (it’s morbid to put it this way, but after all, I’m an ordinary human being), and who’s going to maintain that when I’m gone?

“If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re using still knows about the mouseover text�!

Even if I weren’t an indie creator, I still don’t think I could trust companies with preservation; see the cases of the BBC infamously writing over Doctor Who tapes, or Square Enix losing the source code of older Final Fantasy games. In the end, I had to accept the horrible truth that ephemerality is inevitable. You can’t guarantee something will last forever; the only thing you can do is try to prolong its preservation as much as possible.

So, after accepting that, the question became what I could do to maximize my work’s chance of lasting for as long as possible? And in the end, the only conclusion I came to was that the best chance of my work’s survival was making it as accessible to as many people as possible. In the above-mentioned Doctor Who case, some of the tapes were recovered thanks to third parties finding copies and sending them back to the BBC. There are countless other cases where art that could have been considered “lost” was saved by people all over the world maintaining their own copies. In this world, the best thing we all have is each other.

I think that’s why I’ve gotten obsessed with trying to make my work accessible. Obviously, I do still want to have some control over my work; I have to pay the bills (I’m a hobbyist, but the things I do have material costs, and it’s nice to have more to sustain my fees with), and I request that people not repost my work without my permission (at least, as long as I’m alive). But if I want to have a shot at my work surviving for very long, each person who is kind enough to enjoy my work and take a copy for themselves is adding another opportunity for my work to survive a little longer. I’m trying every outlet I can possibly use, from physical media that isn’t dependent on cloud or streaming services, to digital downloads that are easy to copy and keep intact. I try to keep my prices low, at least to a level that’s reasonably affordable for both myself and the buyer, and I try to make sure a variety of inexpensive options are available. And, of course, for any of this to work, it has to involve actual ownership of the physical copy or file, so I do make it a point to distribute the actual items/files, not just streaming them or providing access to them.

Everyone has different feelings about what they want for their art, so maybe it’s just me, but for me, “accessibility” is one of the most important things I can offer with it. Every person who’s kind enough to support my work by buying or downloading it is helping it live a little longer and allowing my hard work to keep reaching people, and I really appreciate it. I put my effort into these things in the hopes they can continue to reach others, so what’s the point if it can’t do that anymore? I think — especially when it comes to art — sharing and appreciating things together is one of the most powerful things we can do, and the best things are created and maintained when we all continue to help each other. And it’s also why I have no patience for models that try to promote exclusivity, or remove the concept of “ownership” from the equation, because that’s the exact kind of thing I’ve been working so hard against for all of this time.

Thank you to everyone who’s been supporting my work. I really hope that all of us, creators and audience members alike, can continue to keep sharing and supporting each other.

Happy 5th anniversary, Appmon!

This is a redraw of my favorite scene in the series. The context is a bit of a spoiler, so if you want to know what happened, you’ll have to go watch it for yourself 😊

It’s Appmon’s fifth anniversary today! How?! Has it really been that long already?! I think everyone should watch Appmon (it’s currently on Crunchyroll, if your country supports it), and by that I mean everyone, not just people who already know Digimon. I can approximate my feelings during the entire climax and ending of the series as [INCOHERENT SCREAMING] through all of it. Phryn can probably testify about how we went out to dinner together around the time the last few episodes were airing, and I went on a long and nonsensical rave on the way there because of how emotionally compromised I was. I don’t know of many things that can so tastefully navigate such a delicate balance of being so charming and funny while also sending you into an existential crisis about the potential future of humanity in the current era. It’s like when Mega Man Battle Network predicted the dangers of everyone plugging everything unnecessarily into the Internet, except speaking about those issues as they pertain to society in the present day. Oh, and also, everything hurts (in a good way).

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“Limitations” are a good thing, and you should embrace them

I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of an image of the perfect work that should ideally strive to be as “ambitious as possible” in every single aspect, and because of that, whenever a “restriction” — like, say, a budgetary or technological one — is lifted on your creative work, it’s all too easy to think “Wow! I don’t have that thing holding me back anymore! Now that I don’t have this restriction, I should make use of my newfound freedom that I couldn’t make use of before!” So you then try to take advantage of it and break all the boundaries you had before, since those “restrictions” you had earlier only served to restrain your work and keep you from achieving your real creative vision, right?

A lot of the time, this just leads to the work in question becoming more unfocused and mediocre. Surprisingly, limitations are often a good thing, and I’d even say that they’re often very helpful to the point where actively putting a restriction on yourself can help your work.

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It’s been a hell of a year lately (but since when has that been news to anyone?), and while I’ve been doing my best to keep it going, the well of creative energy has gone really dry at a time like this, but I feel like it’s a waste if I don’t do something with it. It’s not to say I’m not still working on things, but it’s definitely in a more low-key fashion than before, and I feel like I’m keeping a lot of people waiting. So I decided to open this blog.

Well, the truth is, I’d actually been thinking of opening something like this for a while. I’m normally kind of a private person, and I don’t really like to go into my personal life in front of people I don’t know; I love talking to people and working with people, and I love engaging with others when it comes to creative work, but I’d been worried about my presence as a person influencing how people read my creative work. Over the last few years, I decided to loosen up on this stance, especially since my public presence started becoming more important for the collaborative work I was doing. Plus, it’s not fun being in hiding all of the time. If I have something to say, I should say it.

Still, Twitter threads are an absolutely horrid place to say anything eloquently, so a blog it is.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know me from my creative body of work, but I’ll introduce myself again for the sake of clarity. I’m formally known as Lystrialle, casually known as Aster (the reason for the disparity between names is a long story), and the brunt of my online activity has to do with creative work, mostly in the realm of music production and collaborative project management (such as albums and illustration books). To the very end, I do this within the range of hobbies, mainly because I want to keep this as something I can do with as much personal freedom as possible, rather than as a career aspiration (although I have deep admiration for those who are able to do so). Otherwise, I don’t really want to go into deeper details about my personal life in public, so we’ll leave that there.

My “hometown” where I started getting into creative work is the Vocaloid (vocalsynth) community, and I have a huge emotional investment in its potential as a creative outlet, but it’s by no means the only context I’m willing to make things in. As a musician, my preferred genre is neofolk or anything adjacent to it, but as a listener I’m not actually all that picky about genre.

I have a complicated relationship with visual arts, since I’m not very confident in my abilities in it (especially compared to music), but I dabble in it from time to time. I’d like to do something in the future with it if I can, but that’ll be a story for another day.

I’m Korean-American, although I was born and raised in the US. I have a limited command of Korean and Japanese and sometimes informally work in translation (mainly in regards to helping people communicate for hobby projects; basically I don’t have plans to work in it professionally). To that end, I also have an interest in translation and localization theory, along with a lot of really strong opinions on it.

Since almost everything I talk about here is within the range of hobbies, you should probably take everything I say with a grain of salt, but I do have a bit of formalized music background and a degree in linguistics and computer science, so I’m not just saying completely random things out of nowhere.

In general, I also like video games, although I’m not very good at them due to having infamously poor reaction time, so I usually have to stick with things like turn-based RPGs. My media interests are all over the place, but I like things with good music, kids’ franchises (animation, tokusatsu, and games), and anything I think is interesting or fun.

Basically, I have a lot of disparate interests and will probably be talking about them whenever something strikes my fancy. I have a few projects going on the background at the moment, but I can’t talk about them in detail yet, so in the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep things interesting. I hope you enjoy.