Archive for June, 2011

Proboscidean Power…. No tapirs allowed

If you can tell by my title, my favorite animal order (yes I’m kind of fond of mammals go figure) is the order Proboscidea…which I failed to pronounce for most of my life anyway.  Yes, this is the group that elephants and their relatives, ancestors, etc. belong to.   Or to be exact, the “trunk animals group”.  Animals that have developed a boneless muscular proboscis to as their primary appendage.  Elephants were my favorite animal as a child, and even today are on my top ten animal list.  Why you ask?  Well, they have one of the most unique appearances in the animal kingdom.  An intelligence level on par with cetaceans, primates, and parrots* and corvids.   They’re empathetic creatures.

   But since this piece is called Proboscidean power, let’s do a brief rundown of the evolutionary history.  One of the prominent early proboscideans was Moeritherium.  Generally, these creatures had a semi-aquatic lifestyle, not unlike that of a hippo.  One would probably compare them to pigs or tapirs, rather than to modern elephants.  Gradually, members of Proboscidea began growing larger, as well as developing a more prominent proboscis.  Perhaps the most famous elephant relative is the woolly mammoth, on par in status with many “stock dinosaurs” despite not being one.  Contrary to popular belief, mammoths were not actually ancestors of modern elephants, but were closely related to asian elephants.

Today, there is one extant family, Elephantidae.  It houses the Asian elephant Elephas maximus as well as the African Elephant Loxodonta africana.  There are a few subspecies like the Bornean Elephant and the African forest elephant (which is probably its own species).  Only the Asian Elephant has been domesticated and very precariously at that.  Bull elephants all go through a period of high testosterone levels known as musth, where they become much more aggressive.  Many a mahout have suffered injuries due to this neglect.  Unfortunately, domestication can be a cruel process; elephants are beaten into submission and forced to obey whims.

Elephants are most closely related to the Sirenians (dugongs and manatees) and Hyraxes.  Similarities can be drawn from dental structure and feet.  Together, they form the only extant members of Paenungulata.  All three groups are part of the larger superorder Afrotheria, which include aardvarks, tenrecs, elephant shrews, and many other unique creatures.

Proboscidean evolution is nevertheless a popular model to use to teach others about evolutionary history, on par with hominid evolution.   The way the group has changed over millions of years is quite astounding.  Each species is worth taking a look at.  Habits, habitats, and appearances are all fairly diverse.  Hopefully, I can find another group that equals proboscidea in its captivating qualities.

PS: I know that tapirs are more closely related rhinos and other perissodactyls*.

* Thanks Albertonykus

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Protagonist? Or just unnecessary focus?

It’s been about a year since I’ve done a Tv trope related article, so here it is…

Generally at the center of every story, no matter what the medium, is the protagonist. There’s always the character that is the focus of the story.  This isn’t necessarily the nondescript, bland narrator, or the epic hero.  At its base, this is simply the character for which the story is about.  So of course, you have to make them worthwhile.  Because the protagonist is, well… the main character of the story and the one who you place your empathy upon, it’s not surprising for him/her to receive a bit of popularity.  However, the opposite often happens: some characters end up only receiving prominence because they are the main character, and nothing else.  For example, I think Liu Kang of the Mortal Kombat series is an intriguing guy.  A bare-fisted messiah monk who has the fight the forces of evil.  Oh and can turn into a dragon.  But I don’t think I’d pay as much attention to him if he wasn’t the protagonist.  A major reason for this is his lack of distinctive flaws.  Liu Kang is a pretty upstanding hero, and he doesn’t possess too much character other than being a pinnacle of goodness.  It’s understandable why Sub-Zero, Scorpion, or even his archenemy Shang Tsung would be more popular as their antiheroic or outright villainous traits make them more lively characters.  The same “protagonist syndrome” happens with Ryu of the street fighter, or even Mario. As playable characters, I’d use them but they’re not particularly fleshed out as characters.  In video games, this is partially justified because the developer wants you to step in their shoes.  But if that’s the case, then let me design my own damn character. Regardless,  I try to force myself to like or at least relate to each protagonist of a work.  After all, a story matters as well.

Recently, I wondered to myself, whether I truly enjoyed certain characters, or only bothered with them because they were the protagonist.  But I realize this is not the case. In the harem genre of male-demographic manga, we almost always have a relatively bland male protagonist who happens to attract several females (and maybe some males) through certain virtues.  This is often either sheer kindness, wholesomeness, or honesty.  It’s pretty obvious that the male protagonists are supposed to be stand-ins for whatever male comes to read it.  Mangaka seem to think that showcasing the attractiveness of various other characters excuses them from fleshing the very characters that the story is centered around.  No we don’t want the see him get the crap beaten out of him every chapter or episode, because of some random perverted misunderstanding.

If you’re a TV tropes reader, this phenomena is known as Designated Protagonist Syndrome.  Sometimes, it’s not the main character’s fault, just that the others are more interesting.  The reasons often vary, from the protagonist taking up too much spotlight (yes it’s possible) to the point where the other protaognists or supporting characters are left undeveloped.

If you ever choose to make a protagonist, it shouldn’t be a case of fighting for spotlight.

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