Pocket Guide to China is a 64 page primer for American soldiers stationed in China during World War II written by unknown personnel of the Special Service Division of the Army Service Forces of the United States Army. The text offers insights into Chinese behavior, cultural values, food, cleanliness, social structure, military capabilities, and everything else an intrepid American spending years in the deep interior of a foreign land might need to know. The Guide is a charming time capsule of old-school liberalism, propaganda, and clunky-yet-earnest cultural tolerance, and while it’s too short for me to write a deep dive, I couldn’t help but do a quick write-up about it.
Prior to last month, I knew next to nothing about K-pop (Korean popular music) besides having heard a few songs in passing and the rumors of the industry’s infamous elements, most notably a string of high profile suicides over the last few years. As an American with no connection to music or South Korean culture, I wondered if I was getting an accurate picture of the industry or if I was being misled by the most lurid and morbid elements eagerly conveyed by the media.
So I decided to do a deep dive down the internet rabbit hole of K-pop to understand what it is, how it works, and what I think about it. For anything that’s not my personal opinion or that goes beyond basic historical knowledge, I’ll cite my sources, which are a mixture of news articles, academic articles, YouTube videos, and some content aggregators like Wikipedia and Statista. I welcome any corrections or criticisms on inaccurate sources or things I didn’t understand.
I’ll warn you upfront – this essay is over 30,000 words long. It is the largest post I have made on dormin.org besides my novel. Since I sympathize with anyone who doesn’t want to make such a large time investment into a subject of passing curiosity, I will present my key findings here divided between the five parts of the essay. If you’re not sure if you want to read everything, you can jump to any individual part and understand it without reading the other sections.
Death Stranding simultaneously contains more good and more bad than probably any other video game I have ever played.
Death Stranding’s basic setting and story pieces are epic, ambitious, utterly original, and wonderfully imagined. Many cutscenes are the best Kojima has ever directed. The atmosphere is grim, immersive, all-encompassing, and beautifully crafted, just like the game’s environment and music. Many characters are crisp, fun, and well-captured by real actors. The core gameplay is a revolution in fundamental game mechanics. I blasted through a 50-hour initial playthrough, put in another 20 hours to get all the trophies, and then replayed the whole story again in an additional 20 hours, and I was never bored.
Death Stranding’s plot is convoluted, confusing, both over-and-under explained, and lets down its incredible premise. The pacing is bad, with way too much happening at the beginning and end of the game and not enough happening in the vast middle. Many of its characters are dull or nonsensical. Plenty of dialogue is cringeworthy. The core gameplay is too easy, and barely evolves throughout the course of quite a long game.
That mixture of greatness and disaster is what makes Death Stranding so amazing. It’s a work of pure auteurism. Hideo Kojima is an eccentric genius with a touch for imaginative worlds and epic stories and big ideas executed in completely original ways, but he’s also a bad writer with some terrible storytelling instincts. There has been much speculation on how these two parts of Kojima were enhanced or hindered during the development of each Metal Gear game, but Death Stranding seems to be the ultimate personification of both at the same time… the best and worst Kojima has to offer in one package.