Dragon Ball Super: Dubious and Lacking Heart

Dragonball Z is perhaps the most iconic Shonen anime.  So, when Toei Animation announced a new Dragonball series helmed by the legendary Akira Toriyama, fans were no doubt excited.  I’m a little late to the part myself where Dragonball Z is concerned.  As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t grow up with DBZ and didn’t really get into it until I saw DBZ Abridged on Youtube.  I was not a fan of the original cut of Dragonball Z, which was bloated with filler to the point of being un-watchable.

When I finally got around to watching DBZ Kai, I was blown away.  The battles were tight and fierce, and every episode left you wanting more.  The pacing was spot on: seriousness was balanced with comedy, and action was balanced with periods of relative peace where the plot developed.  But what really made the show was the characters.  We saw Piccolo move from a villain to a hero, becoming more human along the way and learning about his own heritage.  Vegeta, too, moves from a world-blasting baddy to a father who is willing to sacrifice for his family.  Gohan moves from a frightened child to a warrior to a young man trying to balance his odd place as a half human warrior and his mother’s wish that he be a productive member of society.  And, of course, we have Goku, who is defined by his desire to constantly transcend himself but who also is a man who stands up for what is right and is willing to fight to defend his family and home.

There were some problems with the series, of course.  The Majin Buu arc was uneven at best, and the way that the power was scaled in the series got really over the top fast, undermining the plot points of previous arcs, along with the “scare factor” of previous villains.  Some of the battles got repetitive, even if they were pretty good overall.  Transformations became overused, moving from something of a surprise to something extremely predictable.  Overall, though, the good parts of the series outweighed the bad.

Given how good DBZ was, I had high expectations for Dragonball Super.  I’m about 30 episodes in, and I have to say that I’m disappointed.  On the surface, it looks like Dragonball Z.  There are epic battles and new enemies for Goku to face, and the Dragonball universe has been expanded quite a bit with all sorts of interesting new characters.  The art style has also been updated, and the series looks as good as ever.

The problem I have with Super is not with the surface elements but with the heart of the show.  It lacks the soul of DBZ Kai.  There are many reasons why, but the core of this issue is twofold.  The first part has to do with the power levels involved in the show.  The big new characters in Super are the God of Destruction, Beerus, and his martial arts teacher and caretaker, Whis.  To put it mildly, they are absurdly powerful.  Beerus at one point flicked Super Saiyan 3 level Goku in the head and sent him flying, and on more than one occasion Whis steps in to stop Beerus from going overboard, demonstrating that he is clearly the more powerful of the two.  This in and of itself is not necessarily bad, but what throws off the show is that, after their original battle, Goku becomes friends with the pair.

This is problematic in more ways than one.  For one, it sucks the dramatic tension out of the series.  At one point, Frieza returns and comes to Earth to get revenge on Goku.  At one point in the battle, Whis and Beerus come as spectators.  They do not directly intervene in the fight, but their presence still robs much of the tension because either one could destroy the antagonist with the flick of a wrist.  This is the same problem that DBZ had, but it is far more pronounced.  Nothing in the DBZ universe can compare with Beerus, which would be fine if he were looming over events as an adversary to be conquered, rather than a dubious ally who is so overpowered he takes the winds out of everyone else’s sails.  Even if the power scales were off in the old series, at least it was somewhat exciting to see the upper limits of each new villain and how Goku and his allies will overcome that limit.  Here, the upper limit is already defined by a character so absurdly powerful that he and Goku almost destroy the universe just by fighting in their initial battle.  And there’s a character already in the show who out classes even this monster!

This is closely tied to the second reason Super lacks the heart of DBZ.  There is no doubt that Beerus is a monster, who has committed genocide thousands of times over.  His disregard for life is casual and somewhat played for laughs, but no amount of yucking it up can override the fact that he is basically a force for evil who destroys on a mere whim.  Now on the other hand we have Goku, who has his own morality but is generally kind-hearted to a fault and concerned for the well-being of others.  He fought world-busting baddies and yes, many times it began as a way to test himself in battle but he also became righteously angry at the needless taking of life.  Goku fighting then befriending an enemy is a cliché of the show, but this doesn’t always hold true.  Frieza, for example, is portrayed as incredibly evil, and remains Goku’s greatest enemy, but in reality, his crimes pale in comparison to those of Beerus.  So, to my mind Goku being buddies with the God of Destruction, even if it is in line with the sportsmanlike part of his character, clashes uncomfortably with the part of his character that is generally good.  The show seems to lack the sense of morality inherent in DBZ, where even if Goku mostly wanted to test himself in combat, he still stood up for what he thought was right and fought for those who couldn’t protect themselves.  Instead, he has befriended the worst villain in the universe and trains with his teacher, who is complicit in his crimes by simply being indifferent to them and making no attempt to stop him.

Now, the argument can be made that Beerus is a God of Destruction, and his function is to balance out the creative propensity of the universe.  This is pretty much struck down in the beginning of the season by something the Elder Kai said, where he more or less refuted the Grand Kai who argued the same thing.  That isn’t the point anyway.  The point is that DBZ made a point to show how evil Vegeta was for destroying planets and committing genocide to sell planets to the highest bidder.  It depicted Frieza as an evil ruler grinding a large chunk of the universe under his proverbial boot heel and showed how cruel he was by destroying the Saiyan home world.  Cell was evil for taking hundreds of thousands of lives to make himself stronger and for wanting to destroy Earth as well.  Then there’s Maijin Buu, who destroyed planets wholesale and killed gods.  They were clearly marked as being evil, but Beerus for some reason gets a pass due to the fact he’s a god.  It clashes with the spirit of the original series, this sense of good struggling mightily to triumph over evil, and it doesn’t sit well with me.

A third aspect of Super doesn’t sit well with me.  Comedy of varying quality was always part of Dragonball Z, but generally the original is serious in tone.  Super feels like it is going out of its way to be a comedy.  Goku comes across as a buffoon, and Vegeta is almost disgustingly servile toward Beerus.  The balance between comedy and dramatic tension that generally held up well in DBZ is completely off in Super.

So, what is my verdict on Super, overall?  It might sound like I despise it, but that isn’t the case.  DBZ Is great, while Super is merely ok.  It lacks much of the dramatic tension that made the original such a joy to watch, while also lacking the heart that made DBZ touch so many people.  It relies too much on dubious comedy, while repeating tropes of the series that were old when DBZ was young.  All in all, my impression 30 episodes in is that it’s interesting in terms of world-building, but mediocre in terms of plot and story.  I’ll watch it, but it’s probably not going to be one I’ll watch over again like DBZ Kai.

The Unsolved Murder of Akio Kashiwagi

baccaratAkio Kashiwagi was a whale. No, he didn’t perform tricks at Sea World. Casinos call super-elite high rollers whales. How high did he roll? He would bet $200,000 a hand at baccarat tables. When he visited Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, he would wager $14 million an hour (Johnston, 1990). Kashigawa worked as a Tokyo real estate investor, and like James Bond he enjoyed baccarat.

His love for the game led to problems with creditors. When he died, he owed $9 million to American casinos (New York Times, 1992).

akio-kashiwagiKashigawa was said to be a normal Japanese salaryman outside of his high rolling habits. For example, he enjoyed samurai dramas and traditional Japanese furniture. He married a popular geisha who was 6 years older, and they had 3 children together. As a strict parent, he worried about alienating his eldest son, and he owned expensive paintings that he lent to museums (Watanabe, 1992).

At age 54, he was found dead in his kitchen, stabbed 150 times with an object resembling a Japanese sword (Watanabe, 1992; New York Times, 1992).

Japanese media speculated one of Kashigawa’s creditors decided to make an example of him.

His house lacked signs of forced entry, and Kashigawa always locked his home (Watanabe, 1992).

The middle child of 10, he worked as a farmhand and later as a guide at Mt. Fuji. Kashigawa entered real estate just as the market began to explode, but his money-lending business earned him a shady reputation. He was said to disappear on loan-due dates so debtors couldn’t pay. Kashigawa would then seize their property. He seized land a kindergarten stood upon, evicted the children, tore down the school, and built an apartment complex (Watanabe, 1992).

His murder was never solved.

Japanese and American Violence

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It sounds like a crime straight out of CSI or NCIS. For those of us in the United States we shrug. Murder is so common in the news that we only blink. Back in 2008, the US saw more than 12,000 gun-related murders. Japan: 11 (Engel, 2014). Kashigawa’s death stands out because of its rarity and circumstances. According to a study by the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (2014) less than 1 person in 100,000 is murdered in Japan. In the US, that number is 4.8 per 100,000. The report further explains why:

The country’s homicide rate is associated with a stable and prosperous society with low inequality and high levels of development. Young Japanese males now commit only a tenth of the homicides committed by their predecessors in 1955, and the age and sex distribution of victims tend to be uniform across age groups. This has been attributed by some researchers to, amongst other factors, extremely low levels of gun ownership (1 in 175 households), a greater chance of detection (according to police data, 98 per cent of homicide cases are solved), the rejection of violence after the Second World War, the growth of affluence without the accompanying concentrations of poverty common in many highly developed countries, and the stigma of arrest for any crime in Japanese society.

This isn’t to idealize Japan. If anything, Kashigawa’s death suggests a strong presence of organized crime in Japan, which most people who study Japan are aware of. Rather, I want us to think how we  consider crime. TV shows like CSI and NCIS make crime glamorous in many ways. Sure, the bad guys get caught, but crime is shown as an exciting chase, a battle of wits. Criminals appear to be heroes against the government and the status quo.  Anime like Psycho Pass and Ghost in the Shell show the same. Crime is generated by society. There is a strong correlation between crime and economic opportunity (Kanayama, n.d.). Money had a hand in Kashigawa’s death. People with fewer economic options (or feel their business is threatened) resort to theft and violence. American society often focuses on having more and better. That pressure stresses those who lack the economic options, and many turn to crime. Ghost in the Shell touches on the higher end of this. Those with wealth often turn to crime because they seek to preserve their lifestyle or feel as if they can get away with it.

In any case, Japan may have lower gun violence than the US, but that is primarily because gun ownership is lower. An act in 1958 limited ownership of weapons by citizens: “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” with a few exceptions (Allemon, 2000). This law didn’t prevent Kashigawa’s murder. This blog post is turning a little political, but these are topics that we need to discuss. Swords and many types of guns are designed for one thing: to kill people.

Limiting access would reduce the number of deaths associated with these weapons. The proof is in the statistics, but it cannot eliminate it. After all, 11 people still died from guns in Japan in 2008. If we could magically make all guns disappear in the United States, we will still see just as much violence. Although we would probably see fewer fatalities. The issue isn’t with firearms (for the record, I come from a hunting family, and I have no issues with owning hunting rifles and shotguns and other hunting-oriented firearms) but with society. Japanese culture’s focus on community and family encourages its lower level of violent crime.

Likewise, American individualism encourages violent crime. Individualism places value of the self above that of the community. It makes selfishness a virtue, and selfishness leads to increased disregard for the welfare of others. However, you can also argue community can encourage violence: gangs. Gangs appear when a sense of belonging is missing. But if American community hadn’t eroded as it has, gangs would have fewer voids to fill.

This is a heavy set of topics for an anime and culture blog, but it is important for us to think about these problems. It is important to set aside all the media hubris on the issues and the political hubbub about gun ownership. We must look at the underlying reasons why violence happens. It will never disappear, but deep societal change, a slight shift away from individualism and toward Japanese-style communal focus, would benefit the United States.

References

Allemon, M. (2000) The Japanese Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law: Translator’s Introduction. Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Association.

Engel, P (2014) How Japan’s Murder Rate Got to be So Incredibly Low. Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/why-japans-murder-rate-is-so-low-2014-4

Johnston, D. (1990). “At $200,000 a Hand, He’s Trumps Kind of Gambler,
Inquirer. http://articles.philly.com/1990-05-11/news/25887492_1_casino-al-glasgow-atlantic-city

Kanayama, T. an Arichika Eguchi (n.d.) Japan’s Challenge on the Increase in Crime in the New Century. https://www.npa.go.jp/english/seisaku2/crime_reduction.pdf

New York Times (1992). “A Top Gambler is Killed Owing Casinos Millions”, New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/12/us/a-top-gambler-is-killed-owing-casinos-millions.html

UNODC (2014) Global Study on Homicide 2013 https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/GSH2013/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf

Watanabe, T. (1992) “Global High-Roller’s Trail Ends in a Mystery,” LA Times. http://articles.latimes.com/1992-02-08/news/mn-1383_1_japan-s-real-estate

Dragon Ball–The Freeza Arc, Book 1

20160320_194730Dragon Ball Z is one of those series that I’ve evolved on over the years. It was big among the geek crowd in my middle and high school years, but at the time I was more into shows like Inuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist. Then, after Chris started this blog, we attempted to watch the original Dragon Ball Z series, and while I could see where it had potential, the vast amount of filler in the show turned us off.

But then Toonami added Dragon Ball Z Kai to its line up, and I decided to give the series another chance. Now the show has become the highlight of the week. It is a vast improvement over the original, not only in terms of art but the story as well. From what I understand, the Kai series is closer to the original manga than the first anime was, so was happy to find that the original source material wasn’t as ponderous as the anime became. I don’t want to sound like I’m downing on the original anime–if I had grown up with it, I’m sure I’d love it as much as some of you do. But for someone trying to get into the show who didn’t grow up with it, well, it’s a tall order.

Long story short, while I was once skeptical of how good Dragon Ball Z was, now I’m a believer. So when Chris asked me to review a full color copy of a full color version of the manga we received from VizMedia, I jumped at the chance. The book covers the beginning of the Freeza Arc. After his defeat at Goku’s hands in the first arc, Vegeta returns to Freeza Station to recuperate from his injuries, intent on going to Planet Namek to gather their Dragon Balls and use them to wish for immortality once he recovers. However, Vegeta is beaten to the punch by the evil emperor Freeza, a powerful being who also wishes to use the Dragon Balls to achieve immortality. Vegeta rushes to Namek, hoping he still has times to get his hands on the Dragon Balls.

20160320_194850Meanwhile, back on Earth, Son Goku is recovering from the wounds he received fighting Vegeta. Many of his friends died in the battle with the Saiyans, and now the remaining Z Warriors want to gather the Dragon Balls from Namek to revive them.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with vibrant colors and detailed artwork, more akin to Kai than the original anime. All in all, the story and dialog is similar to Kai–I believe there were a few small differences, but those may have more to do with my faulty memory than anything else. Manga is new to me–I’ve never been big on comics, and manga in particular throws me off since it reads backwards to what I’m used to. Even so, I enjoyed this book, and based on my limited knowledge of the genre, this volume is a solid addition to any manga lover’s collection.

 

Available at Amazon.

Japan on a Pedestal: Thoughts on the American Idealization of Japan

Japan_map_1783Japan. The Land of the Rising Sun. American has long had a complicated relationship with Japan. America forced Japan to open her ports to the wider world for the first time after nearly 500 years of isolation, resulting in Japan’s astonishing transition from an agrarian feudal society to an industrial powerhouse. This planted the seeds that eventually bloomed into flowers of death and destruction at Pearl Harbor, when Japan struck at the American “sleeping giant” in retaliation for cutting off the Empire from vital oil reserves. After the wholesale destruction of World War II, which saw Japanese cities leveled by firebombing and two atomic bombs, America helped her former enemy rebuild and become one of the most formidable economic powers the world has ever seen. This eventually led to competition between the two nations, especially in the area of consumer electronics and automotive manufacturing. Even so, our two countries remain staunch allies to this day.

Woodblock print of Commodore Perry, the man who forced Japan to open her ports.

Woodblock print of Commodore Perry, the man who forced Japan to open her ports.

This very, very brief history of Japanese/American history serves as a backdrop to a curious phenomenon that has arisen in contemporary American culture, especially among those who consider themselves Otaku. There is a tendency to put Japanese culture on a pedestal, to hold a romantic view of life in the Land of the Rising Sun. Sometimes this view leads to a longing to live in Japan, one that when finally acted upon leads to a fair bit of disappointment. After all, it is easy to forget that even though Japan is home to some weird, weird stuff, people there live like the rest of us. They work, pay bills, go to school, and worry about their families the same as people in the US. Life for an expat in Japan, once the initial culture shock and excitement wears off, probably isn’t that different than life in the states. If anything, it would be lonely, because there are many cultural barriers between Japan and America that a person may not be aware of until their wading in hip deep.

The question is: where does this romantic view stem from? There is probably more than one cause, and they will of course change from individual to individual. If a person is lonely and misunderstood in their current community, a sort of “the grass is greener” mentality is a possible explanation. But perhaps a more general explanation is possible, and it is rooted in our shared history with Japan.

Japan and America are, at their roots, radically different. Japan tends to be very traditional, structured, and community oriented. America tends to be more individualistic, more enterprising, and more progressive. However, there are some telling similarities as well. Both cultures historically value hard work and determination. Both have a warrior ethos that is central to how they see themselves (the Japanese samurai; the American minuteman/revolutionary.) Both value honor and respect for family. And both have a tendency to be isolationist and xenophobic.

The Golden Hall, a relic of Japan's ancient past. "Horyu-ji11s3200" by 663highland - 663highland. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons -

The Golden Hall, a relic of Japan’s ancient past.
“Horyu-ji11s3200” by 663highland – 663highland. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons –

These similarities gave a sort of cultural compatibility that allows for the sharing of arts, entertainment, business practices, technology, and the like. Especially in modern Japan, there is enough that is familiar to Americans in Japanese culture that they feel like they would be comfortable there. At the same time, Japan is different enough to be exotic, what with it’s unique history and cultural practices. I think this comes to the heart of the American idealization of Japan: they’re like us, but they’re different enough that we can project fantasies onto those differences. Familiar, yet exotic. Known, yet unknown. Accessible, yet inscrutable.

Perhaps this is why so many Americans have such a romantic view of Japan. This, at least, is the conclusion I have reached. So what is wrong with putting Japan on a pedestal? Why are Chris and I making a point to reveal as much as possible about Japan as it is, rather than as it is often perceived?

The modern Tokyo skyline. "Skyscrapers of Shinjuku 2009 January (revised)" by Morio - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

The modern Tokyo skyline.
“Skyscrapers of Shinjuku 2009 January (revised)” by Morio – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

When a person puts something (or someone) on a pedestal, they cease to see the object of their adoration as it is, and only see it as they wish it to be. They see their conception of the idealized, rather than the thing itself. This leads to a distorted view of the idealized object/person, and leads the admirer to a flawed understanding. Now most times this is harmless, but it can lead to a lot of disappointment and unhappiness when the “bubble” of distorted view is popped. Imagine an Otaku’s disappointment when they move to Japan and find existence there as humdrum as it is here, and find that they do not mesh with the culture because they fundamentally misunderstood it.

In addition, projecting an idealized image onto Japan (or a person or anything else really) is fundamentally disrespectful. That is because you are not accepting it for what it is, but rather making it what you want it to be. If you truly love Japanese culture, you would accept it as is and try to understand what is really there, without your own biases interfering.

To conclude, the way of seeing Japan in America is distorted by a tendency to idealize our ally and friend. Anime fans and Otaku especially have this tendency. This likely stems historically from the close, often antagonistic relationship our two nations have shared. We would do well to recognize this tendency toward idealization, and cultivate a more realistic view of the country and culture we find so fascinating.

 

Andrew’s Guide to Blogging–Good Writing is the Key to Good Blogging

In the first two installments of this series, we talked about how to choose a premise for your blog, and in the second I gave a brief primer on different blogging platforms. Assuming then that you’ve chosen a topic and have a platform to write on, you’re probably eager to start clacking away, churning out blog posts with all the enthusiasm of any new hobbyist.

Which is good! That is the first step to writing (and blogging) well: actually writing in the first place. But you don’t want to stop there; you want to make your writing the best that it can be. After all, you could have the slickest looking  blog out there, with an engaging perennial topic that will allow you to continually find new and interesting subjects to write about, but if you write poorly readers will not be engaged and your blog will only receive a fraction of the views it might have otherwise had.

Now, I am far from the best writer out there; believe me, I’m well aware of my own flaws and bad habits. The giant sentence in the previous paragraph is one example. My habit of using parenthesis (for emphasis!) is another. These things are fine in moderation, but taking them too far is another thing entirely. As a blogger who presumably enjoys what they’re writing about and wants others to enjoy reading about it, you want to become aware of your bad habits and to do as much as you can to correct them.

But a lot of that comes with experience. If you haven’t done much writing, in school or otherwise, you need to learn the basics of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure before you can begin to find your bad habits. You can find basic guides online that will move you a long way toward improving your writing. I won’t go into an exhaustive list of different mistakes you might come across in this post, but perhaps in the future I’ll point out mistakes I see often in my online wanderings.

One of the best ways to learn to write is to read. Read a variety of things, both different genres and different mediums. Read the newspaper. Read other blogs. Read articles by big news sites. Read books from the 19th century. Read modern books. Read books from different genres. See how different people write in different circumstances, and see what appeals to you and what doesn’t about those writing styles. You’ll learn a lot about the basics simply by reading and then becoming aware of how your own writing mimics (or doesn’t) other authors.

You will start to become aware of how to structure sentences and how to present subjects in a clear, concise way, which is definitely what you want when blogging. Be careful though, because you might pick up some bad habits along the way. For example, my wordy and over long sentences stem from having read many works by H.P. Lovecraft, who was infamous for his dense prose. While I liked his style, these days it isn’t as favored as the more concise, direct style you see in novels and especially online.

Another key to getting better at writing is to allow yourself to suck. Looking for bad habits is one thing, but it’s another thing to nitpick yourself to the point that writing isn’t fun. You have to allow yourself to write crap, because that’s how you get better. Writing anything, even if it is the most incoherent, poorly structured, hardly readable hunk of garbage you’ve ever had the misfortune of laying your eyes upon (*cough* like some of the stories sitting on my hard drive *cough*) is better than writing nothing at all. A blogger who doesn’t write any posts isn’t a blogger, just like a novelist who does nothing but plot, plan, and outline but never actually writes the damned novel isn’t a novelist.

So write, but don’t rush to post. Write, and hold in the urges to edit as you go, then release them once the post is done. Be ruthless. If it doesn’t need to be there, cut it. If it sounds off and you don’t know how to reword it? Cut it, you probably don’t need it. Look for typos, awkward sentences, and misused words. Built in spelling and grammar check features help, but knowing what to look for yourself–and when to break the rules–is critical.

A guide to good writing is far beyond this little blog post. My goal here was to get you thinking about how you could improve your writing to make your blog the best it can be. You don’t have to be the next Ernest Hemingway to have a great blog; all you need to do is learn the basics, and write to the best of your ability. It takes humility–you might find that you’re making a lot of mistakes. That’s ok. You might go back to your older posts five years from now and cringe. That’s ok too! That means you’re getting better–in fact, if your writing style hasn’t changed at all in five years, there’s probably a problem.

In the next installment of this guide, I will talk about how to source your blog posts. We will go into primary and secondary sources, and where to find the best sources. Not only that, we’ll talk about how to evaluate sources, and tips on citations. Stay tuned!

Andrew’s Guide to Blogging–How to Choose a Blogging Platform

In the first installment of my guide to blogging, I touched on how to choose a premise for your blog. Perhaps you already had some idea of what you wanted to do, or perhaps you wanted to blog but had no idea what to blog about. Either way, hopefully my post was a bit helpful.

This week, I’m touching on the next step in the process: choosing a blogging platform.  This can be a little overwhelming, since there are a variety of options, some that cost money and some that don’t. I aim not to make an exhaustive list of all the options–simply put, I don’t know them all–but more to illustrate my own experiences with different platforms and to point out what I think is best depending on what you want out of a blog.

Let’s get the two easiest and most user friendly platforms out of the way first. These are Blogger (Blogspot when I used it, although I think it goes by both names) and WordPress.com. Both services have free options, and both are pretty intuitive to start for the most part. You can sign up and be blogging on the same day with very little set up time.

Now, I haven’t used Blogger in a long time, so it has probably changed in the mean time, but I found it less user friendly than WordPress.com. There are more options for customization if you know how to do HTML (again, this was when I was using it more than five years ago, so it has probably changed since then,) but overall the set up is far clunkier and harder to use than WordPress.com. There also seems to be less of a blogging community on Blogger. While it is a valid option, most bloggers starting out seem to prefer WordPress.com.

There are a lot of pros to starting a WordPress.com blog. The Dashboard is well organized and easy to navigate. You can choose from a variety of pre-built themes that have a lot of easy customization options built-in, allowing you to do a lot with little knowledge of coding.

In addition, there is a very large blogging community associated with WordPress.com. It’s easy to follow blogs from WordPress, and I noticed that when I ran WordPress.com blogs I got far more comments and subscribers than when I was on Blogger or even now that I self-host. Also, WordPress.com has a feature called “Freshly Pressed” where WordPress picks its top blogs and posts them prominently on the site. Getting a post freshly pressed leads to a huge spike in views and subscriptions, not to mention a nice ego boost from the surge in attention.

WordPress.com has a free, basic package that puts limits on amount of images you can post (I believe the limit is 3 gigabytes, which would take awhile to eat up.) There are paid options that have more features, but they are pretty pricey. WordPress.com has domain registration features as well. I believe it is $25 a year to register a domain with WordPress.com, including privacy protections (which you definitely want to get for the extra five or ten bucks.)

Registering a domain means you can get a customized domain that no one else can copy. The standard WordPress.com domain reads “fillinyourdomainhere.wordpress.com,” whereas a registered domain drops the “.wordpress.com” part. Some people feel that having their own domain registered makes a blog more legitimate, but if you don’t care about that, don’t worry about registering your domain. Overall, for a basic blog that isn’t really image heavy, a free WordPress.com blog would fit your needs perfectly.

If, however, you want a more elaborate blog without the limitations of a free WordPress.com blog or the expense of the upgraded options WordPress offers, self-hosting might be the route for you. All self-hosting means is that you own the domain and pay for server space on a hosting company’s servers.

The company I host through–Bluehost–allows for unlimited media and images, and will let me attach more than one domain to my hosting account (I only have one–I don’t recommend trying to run more than one blog at a time because you spread yourself too thin.) Hosting costs will vary depending upon your needs, and whether or not the hosting company is running any promotions at the time. On average, the basic hosting package through Bluehost is going to run about $120 a year, with an additional $25 or so for the domain registration fees for each domain you host (you have to register a domain if you self host, and again you want the privacy protection.)

Now, self-hosting has its downsides and upsides. The downsides are the costs, and the fact that it takes more technical knowhow to run a self-hosted blog. I recommend running WordPress.org for your blog–it gives you the same easy-to-use features as WordPress.com, especially if you use the Jetpack plug-in, which links your WordPress.org and WordPress.com accounts and lets you basically run your self-hosted blog like a free WordPress.com site.

Also, with WordPress.org you get access to similar templates as you would with a free WordPress blog. If you know coding, you can do more modifications of these templates than you could on a free site. There are good guides online to getting your self-hosted site up and running, and if you do it right you shouldn’t have to do much more than basic maintenance here and there. I don’t personally know much about coding or really anything computer related, but I got OddlyHistorical up and running with few problems, and it has needed very little maintenance in the year and a half it has been live. It’s definitely doable–it just takes more patience to operate, but the flexibility you get from self-hosting is well worth the effort. I recommend it if you’re serious about blogging and want to build a blog that will stand the test of time.

There you have it. A very short guide to choosing a blogging platform. To summarize, your best bet is going to be WordPress. If you want a free, easy to use platform, WordPress.com is the way to go. There are limitations, but this is a solid choice for the beginning blogger. You don’t want to spend a lot of money before you know that you like doing it.

So, if you’re new to blogging, sign up for a free WordPress.com site and start clacking away without worrying about hosting, domains, coding, and all that technical stuff. As you get into it more move toward a self-hosted blog. If need be, you can migrate a WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted blog later. It’s a hassle but doable.

I’ve glossed over a lot when it comes to considering different blogging platforms, especially when it comes to the self-hosting aspect, but this series is just meant to outline the basics. Next time we’re going to talk about how to compose a blog post, especially the importance of proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Stay tuned!