You can read this week's story HERE!
Summary: Torako and Starhawk are chilling on Gongen, but people aren't too keen on Starhawk since he is a foreigner. Torako's brother chalenges Starhawk to a duel, which he manages to "win" by intentionally losing, proving he understands their culture and respects Gongen traditions. Its pretty
Its September 16th, 2004, and we're saying goodbye to our very senses. In many ways, this is the end of our introduction, but its also the end of a friendship. We're saying goodbye, with a conclusion that leaves as many things hanging as it fittingly resolves. The first thing we should mention, is this isn't the end of serialization for WARS fiction, its the end of that serialization having the chance of being anything ongoing. The stories after this that are serialized are only in two parts, and there are only two of them. While there is still a spin off of this series of stories we'll cover next, for all intents and purposes this is the end. Which means not only the end of Torako and Starhawk, but the end of WARS really having a cohesive story to draw in readers.
This was a pretty big misstep as far as WARS goes. Even if the ongoing story wasn't written by Michael Stackpole, who I'm sure was more expensive than usual for his six short stories, having a story that kept going for readers to follow, perhaps every other week to allow for the stories that would explore other random parts of the universe, would have been great. As it is, anyone hoping for a resolution to the plot threads of this story series will be left waiting for... Oh at least ten years, if not many more. What is Jane doing on Titan Seven-Three? Who are the Allies she made? Why did those allies require certain people offed? All of those things are good questions, and all of them are mysteries. We can certainly make fairly good guesses: the team up of the Mavericks and Quay in the Nowhere to Hide starter deck for the TCG, specifically the Accord-Aligned Hellcats (the Accord is run by Raving Red Jane) point to it probably being the Quay. As to why.... Who really knows? Something to do with Traginium? We can only speculate.
But lets take for a moment what this strange format is doing right, in that its giving us a very broad very of the WARS setting fairly quickly. Its a haphazard, tonally inconsistent, potpourri of a view, but we can still see quite a lot very quickly, and by the end of Stackpole's stories we'll have visited every culture of WARS at least once. While we haven't gotten a cohesive narrative to believe in from all of this, we have gotten a world to believe in. So for the purposes of making us learn about the world of the WARS card game, this has all been a success. Unfortunately, it was only just starting to really make us care about the world and get attached to it, and for those people who want to get involved with characters, this is the end.
Which is a huge misstep for WARS. One thing Magic the Gathering, as well as other games like Legend of the Five rings got very right in promoting their games was the necessity of commissioning novels. They didn't have to even be particularly good, just passable pulp, but to have a book where people could really delve into the workings of a world in depth, and learn about the people who live there is invaluable. That these short stories are free is awesome, that they are only a few pages long and feature few returning characters, less so. Its easy to see what decipher was thinking: they want to feature more characters from the cards in the stories so people can see more of their favorite characters from the cards doing things. But this strategy doesn't bode well for the long term, as the very nature of making a collectable card game involves making new cardsets with new characters. Certainly there probably would have been new versions of some old popular characters, but its also likely there would have been a very high turnover rate. Heck, the amount of new characters we'll see in upcoming weeks who quickly vanish is proof enough of that.
I've said before how its strange this string of stories is the real basis for what we think of WARS as, but its very true. This story in particular forms a huge basis of our understanding of Gongen society, as it not only actually takes place on Gongen, but involves a duel that is rife with symbology. We're also back to Starhawk's point of view, and he's snarkier than ever, more conceited than ever, and yet when he jokes he prides himself on his humbleness we have to concede that the guy actually has learned something.
Defeating Torako's brother Oushi is one of the cleverest things Starhawk does, and his mastery of the intricacies of Gongen culture is pretty darn smooth. As we are told fairly clearly, in case there was any doubt: the Earthers desire domination, the Gongen desire harmony, and the Mavericks just wanna survive. Moreover, it shows again why the Mavericks are so popular. While the Gongen and Earthers are caught up in how to best serve their own ideologies, Mavericks are concerned about living. This seems like an attitude very much in tune with our own Zeitgeist, after all the honor of Gongen and Earth hasn't proved effective in saving their loved ones, and we've been shown an Earther and Gongen character now who is fighting on for their own reasons despite the death of family members serving the system they have supported. More so, the Mavericks are still all about family. Starhawk's speech about how he and his grandma got matching tattoos, and the old woman everyone respected on his spacestation push aside much of the strangeness that come out of a culture where limbs are chopped off casually to be replaced, and leave behind a culture that cares about the individual needs of its citizens. While this isn't always a good thing, as it has shown to leave gangs of people grouping together to protect their own interests at the expense of others, over all its one that is easy for anyone who has been failed by an ideology or system to relate to: what matters most are people. That there is a hint the Gongen as well may be able to recognize place both of them beyond the Earthers in terms of being a society that fits with the ideals of our own broken era, filled with a generation disillusioned with wars and a lack of jobs and support from the system that they were supposed to fit into.
This story is the final nail in the Mavericks and Gongen being the go-to factions of WARS. Even though after this point the Gongen are going to practically disappear from the fiction, relegated to the background, it doesn't matter anymore, because this will be the handful of stories people will talk about long after WARS ends.
So, since this is their final farewell, lets talk for a bit about the characters of Starhawk and Torako. They're clearly very shipable, that is to say, a lot of fans like to imagine the two of them in a romantic relationship. Its easy enough to see why, after all they have great chemistry, and while they don't get along at first and sort of want to kill each other, at the end of this story it would be amiss to say the two don't care about each other, at least as friends, and since Starhawk flirts with everyone in the universe, dead, alive, or alien, he naturally flirts with Torako as well. It would be hard to say they could be together though, at least not at this point in their lives. Torako is after all focused on her vendetta, and Starhawk is worried about survival. Not to mention he is still too Maverick, and her too Gongen for the two of them to be in a relationship that would be anything but a big long argument.
But yet again, that is what makes this story in particular notable, is that it hints at a future that might be different. The Mavericks and the Gongen both have a lot of common enemies: they are both being attacked by a Jingoist Earth, they are both threatened by the Shi and Quay, and they are both trying to survive outside of Earth's stability. The moral of the story is that the Gongen need to become more like the Mavericks, but the reverse maybe also true. Starhawk arguably becomes quite a bit more Gongen over just these three stories. Sure, he still has all the trappings of a Maverick: shiny metal body, tattoos, snark... but most Maverick's would have fallen into the trap and just either fought Ouishi or ran away. Starhawk chooses a different path, one trying to forge a new harmony with the Gongen by using Maverick cunning. Its a moment of true cultural blending, and one that foreshadows a possible future in WARS we never reached, where some of the Mavericks and Gongen might join forces, if only for the marketing purposes of creating cyborg space samurai to a cynic, but to me it signals a real sense of hope.
After all, we life in a real world of highly differing opinions on the ways of living our lives, and how the world should be run. If a narcissist like Starhawk and a hardnose like Torako can manage to blend their cultures safely and both learn and be bettered by it, that gives me some hope for all of us.