Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

Twisted_Lancelot

I can barely imagine how I can hate the Fate universe.  It’s about a bunch of mages and ancient heroes, of the real and mythical varieties, with super powers throwing down in a battle royale for the Holy Grail.  It’s got all kinds of historical references and confusing lore and it’s appeal practically writes itself, especially to a history buff with a serious interest in magic, fantasy and mythology like me.  Funny then that, barring Fate Zero, I can’t stand any Fate show anymore.  There will be spoilers.

Maybe I should dial this back a bit before I go in too hard.  So a few years ago I see Fate Zero and I’m fucking blown away.  I’m like “Bro bro bro, top tier anime right here”  and literally the entire anime community agrees.  Then I watch the infamous train wreck that was the original Fate Stay Night and I think it’s shit but I still like the concepts contained in the franchise and move on.  Then I see UBW, the TV show not the movie, and that’s when some of the underlying negative feelings I have with the Fate universe begin to solidify.  It’s when I start getting into long arguments with Fate fans, about details I don’t think make sense.  And don’t get me wrong I’m not here to paint these guys in a bad light, the arguments I had with them were among the best I’ve ever had with regards to anime even if most arguments ended with us agreeing to disagree or them agreeing the anime stumbled on a particular point that the visual novel handles like a champ.  And I’m totally willing to take their word at face value that the visual novels cover my problems with the various anime adaptations.  However the fact that Fate was created as visual novel is the root of every nail in all of the various anime adaptations’ collective coffin.

There are three major issues I have with the underlying construction of the Fate universe and it’s lore that arise from the nature of it being a visual novel, routes, game mechanics and harem style love interests.  Now you might be asking yourself, “what’s wrong with having multiple routes?”  In the visual novels, absolutely nothing.  In literally any other medium – a lot.  Multiple routes or experiences which mirror multiple routes, i.e. playing an RPG and doing things in a different order or siding with different factions, etc.  work fantastically in video games because you get to play each route.  It’s fun and it lets you approach the story a totally different way, it allows you to significantly alter the experience.  However this requires a ton of freedom on both the player’s and creators’ parts and film and printed media do not have that freedom.  The only non-video game examples I can even think of are choose your own adventure books, which I discovered in middle school and have never seen since because they never caught on, the movie Clue which allowed you to choose multiple endings because it’s a comedy based on a who-dun-it game (good luck making many shows like that) and spin-offs.

But even spin-offs aren’t really a good equivalent to routes.  Spin-offs become entirely different shows with familiar characters or show the same story as the original from a different character’s perspective.  Routes don’t work like that compared to spin-offs they have either greatly reduced changes to the story or greatly increased changes to the story and overall they function very differently from a spin-off.  UBW is not a spinoff of Stay/Night, it most closely resembles a choose your own adventure story but those died in print and never made it to film, because they aren’t workable in that medium.  This why when after UBW wraps up and they announce a Heaven’s Feel movie I groan in frustration instead of getting hype, this despite the fact Heaven’s Feel actually looks more up my alley than UBW did.

This next bit is probably going to sound pretentious as fuck but in film you can’t just keep changing the story.  So get this, there’s an event called the Fourth Holy Grail War and the combatants are blah blah blah and the winners are X & Y.  You can’t tell that story and suddenly go here’s another version where Z & U win.  I know art isn’t supposed to have rules and all but frankly you can’t do multiple routes in film.  Not if you want it to be immersive, not if you want the audience to suspend their disbelief and get them hooked.  It is my humble opinion that routes require an abstraction that can only really manifest in games and it’s an abstraction called – I know I’m playing a fucking game.  Here’s an example.  Because I never play new games when they are new I recently start up Bloodborne.  I love the difficulty, sound, environment and the feel of the combat.  But then I hit a wall and because it’s a game, I take a step back and say if I grind for blood echoes (currency/exp) by killing these two infinitely respawning giant pigs I can level up to the point where the boss isn’t hard or I have better gear or whatever.  Point is I have to deliberately take a break from trying to immerse myself in the world and story to take a sort of meta-view and exploit the game’s mechanics to my advantage.  This is not something I would wish upon anyway trying to enjoy a film because unlike with video games, you aren’t playing your way through a film.

I actually kind of hate that in Bloodborne there are times when I am so stuck I have to break my immersion on purpose and find a solution using my outsider knowledge of game mechanics.  It’s frustrating remove myself from the horror and magic of the setting to do some basic tactics and math, putting fun and exploration on hold to do the heavy lifting required to push through the next boss.  I do basic tactics and math everyday in real life, I don’t walk in a beautifully horrific city fighting all kinds of twisted monsters everyday.  The point of immersion is for me to escape real life and that’s why immersion breaking events suck, even more so when you initiate them yourself.

So in summary, routes aren’t possible in film because they require a level of abstraction that is antithetical to immersive storytelling and to me good films are all about immersive storytelling.

Moving on to game mechanics, one of things which is so crushing to me about Fate lore is that it’s designed as though the Holy Grail war was a video game.  For example let’s look at the seven servant classes.  The classes clue us into what kind of weapons, fighting styles and certain attributes a hero will have.  For example, Saber fights with swords, Caster uses magic and Berserker is not sane.  These are broad categories that leave a lot of room for character and power development, as well as, simple descriptions that can be easily fit into existing lore.  For instance it’s no surprise that King Arthur would be a Saber servant because Excalibur plays a huge role in the Arthurian legends.  This also leaves room for the same hero becoming multiple classes though I admit I have very mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand it makes sense in terms of real world lore as many heroes fought with more than one weapon or were known for more than one aspect of their character.  On the other it plays into that multiple routes crap I broke down above and makes the character less defined.  I suppose it could used for very interesting things if, for example Lancelot the Saber had to fight Lancelot the Berserker so that we can see what fighting his other self does to Lancelot both in physical and mental terms.  But thus far that’s never happened and there are too many other weaknesses to make me watch a Fate where it did happen.

Much more frustrating however are that each servant class have basic traits which apply to everyone in that class regardless of lore.  All Sabers get magic resistance for example.  Ok but here’s a hypothetical.  What happens to sword wielding heroes who, in their own legends, fell victim to magic.  Sure in the specific story you can just not include such a character and bypass the issue.  But the fact that I can make a believable hypothetical which makes this part of the Fate universe lore not make sense, proves that it’s a weakness in the lore’s construction.  Moreover I think it’s fucking stupid.  When I watch two Heroes with magical superpowers go head to head, the last thing I’m thinking of are class advantages.  To make matters worse they have literal stats like Strength A, Constitution C, etc.  I can’t even imagine to how you could make me less interested in a clash between to Servants, viewed without any of this knowledge they fights are generally great but knowing they have fucking stats rather just allowing them to test their ability against each other with no knowledge of their opponent’s relative skill is a buzzkill of epic proportions.

There is nothing, literally NOTHING, less appealing to me than trying to quantify a character’s ability and power level by busting out a stat sheet and using that to help guide or predict the outcome of a fight.   And when you do that to such towering figures of history and legend it boils my blood, which then evaporates due to sheer heat as soon as those figures turn out to be great characters in their own right.  Which incidentally brings me to third and final problem, the characters.

Up until this point I’ve largely been talking about my gripes with the Fate universe, or Nasuverse, or the flaws that come with adapting a visual novel into anime and still treating it like a goddamn visual novel.  The latter point is not restricted to Fate btw, I’m absolutely furious about Steins:Gate Zero and it hasn’t even come out yet.  But the characters are arguably the most important point because it what will maybe justify some speculation on my part.  That speculation being that Nasu, the creator of the Fate universe is a big part of the problem.  I will admit I have not intensely studied Nasu’s work so take my speculation with plenty of salt but as it appears to me Nasu isn’t very good when it comes to people, or in writing terms, characters.  Jumping back to the stats thing for a second, to me the fact he would even assign stats to Servants like that at all says to me that he is either trying to bind his lore to the medium, in this case visual novels, or that he is a man who puts a lot more emphasis on systems than people.  Broadly speaking men are more interested in systems at a basic psychological level so it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic to imagine that Nasu is especially interested in systems and thus applies systems where he doesn’t need to, in this case to the Servants.  Again this is complete speculation but Nasu seems to be someone who makes hard rules, or perhaps, creates order where he doesn’t need to.

I’m not saying this slight the man.  He’s not stupid or bad for creating a system within his own ideas.  I am saying that I disagree with him fundamentally on this point.  I think placing a system within the Fate universe is a bad move because I want to see the places it could go with a bit more chaos.  I think it has all kinds of room for malleability and the potential for very organic stories and clashes which I personally find far more interesting.  I think putting in a stat system makes the Fate universe more stale and that wild, chaotic speculation as to how well a given Servant does against any opponent is a universe full of far greater intrigue and possibility.   Alternatively if Nasu was seriously hard-wiring the nature of the medium into his lore then fair enough – but if that’s the case there will be an inevitable drop in quality when you put it in a different medium.

This where the characters come in.  Me and my best friend have a big problem with the all the gender bending going on in the Fate universe.  To me it totally undermines certain characters, like King Arthur, or is just there for fanservice, which fair enough I have no problems with fanservice but it really takes away from the gravitas of these figures if we see their gender-bent tits flopping about.  King Arthur is an especially bad example as the main reason she is gender-bent is so she can be one of the main love interests to Shrio, aka the most insufferable Fate character of all time and one of my least favorite anime protagonists of all.

The biggest gap in quality between the one Fate show I liked Fate Zero and everything else is that the characters are less interesting across the board, one of the main reasons being the teenage romance central to the visual novels plays a major role in the various anime versions.  Once again this is a huge mistake to me because there’s nothing I would rather not see in a Holy Grail War than weak, harem-style teenage romances.  Their very presence undermines the coolest aspects of the Fate universe and makes the whole experience less serious.  This is one of the reasons I think Nasu either struggles to write good characters or tailored his creation so closely to the medium of visual novels, to me there is no logical connection between the romantic elements and the Holy Grail War beyond the fact basically all visual novels are centered around various routes wherein you can romance different love interests.  If I were in Nasu’s position and came up with the Fate universe I would never have included boring teenage romances and it probably never would have been a visual novel.

My other justification for this line of thinking, that Nasu either isn’t good at characters or tailored Fate to the visual novel medium, is Fate Zero.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magicka fame using Nasu’s preexisting lore and characters as a template for the prequel to Fate Stay Night.  With the change in writers there a ton of immediately apparent changes between Fate Zero and any other Fate work.  There is only one teenager and all his enemies are adults.  The only gender-bent character is King Arthur and that’s because of preexisting lore.  The only romantic elements that exist are used to enhance a few characters and they are not a major focus of the story.  Instead the focus is now squarely on the battles and the characters.  Waver, the sole teen, is a teen precisely because it puts him such stark contrast with his Servant, the best character in the show Alexander the Great.  They make a great pair because Waver is young, not especially confident and has no guiding principles or goals and Alexander is this massive force of personality with larger than life dreams and goals.  They have an effect on each other, an effect which transforms Waver’s character because frankly that was the point of pairing them together.

Fate Zero is unusual in that the conclusion is a forgone one, we already know how the Grail War ends.  The individual battles are given a lot of attention but overall this is a ‘the journey is more important the destination’ kind of show.  That’s why it allocates so much of focus on the characters, their development, their ideals and their desires and how and why they come into conflict.  This is perhaps best shown by the famous Banquet of King because it spells out in no uncertain terms that all of the Kings have very different ideals and this will inevitably bring them into conflict even if they can have a dialogue for the moment.  There is nothing like the banquet of Kings in any of the other Fate works because frankly none of the characters in any of the other Fate shows are strong enough and fleshed out enough to carry such a scene.  And the fact that Fate Zero can speaks to Gen Urobuchi approaching things from a fundamentally different lens than Nasu, and I prefer the Urobutcher’s lens.

There is actually one more problem with Fate and it’s characters and it’s the problem showcased by Fate Grand Order and Fate Apocrypha.  There are way the fuck too many characters being thrown at us all at once.  I got about halfway through Apocrypha and dropped out because nothing in it seemed to matter.  The characters were boring and just seemed to fill space, looking cool and not having any real weight in the broader sense, like this was some Fate shit to tide us over until Heaven’s Feel.  Seeing the sheer number of servants, their alternate forms and masters on the wiki makes me think the best way to do Fate is to go full long form shounen on that shit.  Because otherwise there’s way too much and we won’t have time bond with any of the characters or enjoy much of a story, and ultimately I think that robs the Servants of their uniqueness and intrigue, much the same way I think the Avenger’s movies suffer from having to cram too many characters into one story and thus have to keep things simple and not explore any individual heroes in greater depth.

I hope you enjoyed this huge rant.  I’m not here to slander Nasu or pick a fight with Fate fans, I think the Fate universe is full of great shit but it’s also full of shit that is not to my tastes and the onslaught of upcoming Fate stuff has really just caused me to kind of despise Fate as an IP, especially considering all the hype surrounding Fate at the moment.  See you in the next one.

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Understanding Storytelling: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Boruto

Sumire_desconcertada

Now that Boruto has hit the 50 episode mark, it’s first recap episode, and the Chunin Exam will start shortly it’s as good a time as any for a look at what Boruto does well and what kind of problems the show faces.  Obviously there will spoilers.

My greatest concern overall is that Boruto seems to have a big problem managing weakness.  Many of of Boruto the character’s fellow shinobi are pretty weak, as one would expect them to be.  But Boruto’s team is broken as shit.  I get that Boruto is supposed to be a prodigy and all but he, Mitsuki and Sarada are all way better than basically all of their classmates.  The only character whose strength I’m totally ok with is Iwabe, because is several years older and has intensely focused on ninjutsu to the detriment of his studies – hence why he’s had to repeat the academy several times.  Honestly this problem really just applies to Boruto’s team but considering that they are the main team it’s a serious problem.  Boruto seems to have very few problems fighting opponents who should be above his level, Mitsuki apparently can already use Sage Mode because plot and Sarada, who at least is still a beginner at the Sharingan, can inexplicably use super strength despite that not being a technique she is training to use.

This jump starting of the main team is a serious mistake as what made the early parts of Naruto great was how the characters managed their very limited abilities to the best of their ability.  There’s no real need for them to be this strong and some of the things they can do, like the Sage and super strength don’t make any sense.  These are not abilities you just get.  Sage Mode requires intense training and the super strength is the by-product of a very specific style of healing jutsu.  Mitsuki and Sarada have not done any of the training required to get their powers.  Boruto on the other hand just seems to have more jutsus than he should although he’s honestly the least problematic of the three.  Still having the characters start so strong raises some serious red flags.  The biggest trap Boruto should be aiming to avoid is the drastic rise in power levels that made late Naruto episodes a snorefest .  Ideally Boruto and Co never get as strong as their parents partly for the sake of the story but also partly because they live in an age of relative peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately one of the core ideas in Naruto was the whole, child/student surpasses the parent/teacher, and it used that idea to excellent effect so I would bank on Boruto going for the same thing.

Which brings me to my next point.  Boruto seems very willing to follow almost identical story beats to Naruto, some of which work to it’s advantage and some of which are unnecessary or even weak.  As I discussed before the Kakashi test was a good example of this being weak, because the ideas which Kakashi was trying to teach are way less applicable in Boruto’s day and age than they were in Naruto’s time.  They’ve basically taken the Zabuza arc and split it into three parts, the Mist Village rebellion, the random town they saved from rouge ninja’s where the conflict centered around a bridge and now the Byakuya gang arc which drew heavily on Haku and Ice Style to create it’s own story, which admittedly was the best of the three arcs.  Drawing on Naruto for inspiration isn’t necessarily a problem but it has been very hit or miss thus far and the creative staff needs to take into account the global changes in Boruto’s world which separate it from Naruto.

Jumping back to the first problem about jump starting the main team I think I see the motivation.  One of the main problems Boruto’s creative staff will have to face is creating adversaries and scenarios which are dangerous enough to be tense and challenging for the kids but which aren’t so dangerous that their parents won’t just come in and curb stomp the problem.  They have mostly managed this just fine so far but as the power levels rise this problem will only get trickier.  I think the reason the main team is so strong for their age is so that the staff can justify letting them tackle problems which, realistically, the adults would do.  This is counter productive though, in part as explained above the dangers of making the kids overpowered but it also negates one of the shows greatest strengths, the contrasts between the current generation and the previous one.

Consistently the greatest scenes and most interesting dialogue comes from Naruto era characters either talking about how things used to be/how different things are now, or imparting word of wisdom to Boruto and Co.  I loved when the Five Kages have a discussion about their concerns about a lack of strong new ninjas.  Naruto and Sarada had both some warming father daughter moments, because Sasuke is terrible as a dad, but he also impresses on her how ludicrously strong he is during the fight with Uchiha Shin, and honestly I think Boruto needs a taste of that to level out his ego.  Hell even more recently when Naruto personally takes some time to recognize Iwabe and let him now that being a repeat student is not a stain on his reputation or character as Naruto himself was a repeater.  It’s been great stuff all around and if anything I’d rather see the kids struggle more and involve the adults more in helping them get through their issues.  Because while seeing the kids develop is part of the appeal of a show like Boruto, another obvious appeal is seeing how characters we grew up in Naruto have changed as they became adults.

One of the other differences between Naruto and Boruto is their pacing.  Both shows are slow but for entirely different reasons.  Naruto was slow because of protracted battles and lengthy, gratifying training arcs.  Boruto is slow because it switches off between being Naruto and being Naruto-slice of life edition.  There are a number of episodes where the objective is definitely about building the class and the teams as characters and not bothering with any serious conflicts.  And even the conflicts are taken much slower, as I explained thus far Boruto has taken elements of the Zaubza Arc and split it into 3 arcs.  The battles in Boruto are not protracted because how could they be?  If the battle was a big enough deal to be protracted the adults would come in and clean things up quickly.  I don’t mind that Boruto is taking it’s time but I do sincerely hope they don’t forego training arcs entirely as the Naruto’s training arcs were fucking great, it made his high level techniques feel far more justified if we see him busting his ass to get them.

Those are the main issues.  There have been some surface level changes like Naruto generally being goofier and more consistently funny, there being an all male and all female team instead of the standard 2 guys 1 girl, and Anko went from sexy to fat, but Boruto has been treading cautiously, a wise move, and hasn’t had any moments big or dramatic enough to make it like Naruto.  My only suggestions would be that if Boruto is intent maintaining this slower pace it should be doing more to flesh out the changes in the world that have occurred since Naruto’s generation have come into power and adulthood.  If on the other hand Boruto is about to drop some big dramatic or action bombs then it needs to be careful of not treading into power levels which the kids should not have or which the adults should deal with.

I think Boruto has been a decent time and I’m looking forward to where it goes but ultimately it doesn’t have the same hook that early Naruto did and nor can it really.  It’s banking on Naruto’s famous if somewhat dubious legacy and that severely limits what the creative staff can do and what they should or should not do.  I will be cautiously optimistic about the future of this show but I see some clear pitfalls and am very worried by what I saw in the opening flashforward.  Honestly I think Boruto will crash and burn at some point and the real question is, how long can they prevent this from happening while keeping the show interesting, and so far the answer seems like quiet a while.

Unpopular Opinion: Kekkai Sensen & Beyond

kekkai sensen & beyond

Back in the saddle baby.

Kekkai Sensen season was the coolest dude in town when it was airing and then it had two recap episodes and an ending that came out months after the season when the show aired, and the finale didn’t even make sense.  Like it was cool to look at and all but story-wise it didn’t make sense and it didn’t even save White which is what everyone was hoping it would do.  If you want more details you can go here and here.

Fortunately for the coolest dude in town, Kekkai Sensen and Beyond spends no time whatsoever addressing the confusing ending of season 1 and speeds ahead full throttle into the same chaotic, action comedy that it handled so well in most of season 1.  Seriously the only nod to the first season’s ending is this quick flashback to white after the the credits of episode 1.  You could probably skip straight from the search for lunch (episode 9 I think) in Kekkai Sensen to Kekkai Sensen and Beyond with no real issues.

Tonally seasons 1 and 2 of Kekkai Sensen are very similar but where season 1 had some slow episodes, I can’t really recall a slow episode in season 2.  This is in part because season 2 spends more time fleshing out the characters, most notably best girl Chain.  And this is vital because on of the weaknesses of Kekkai Sensen was that it didn’t really explore the characters in much depth, and sure it mostly worked anyway because there was so much to take in, but the character building was a godsend.

KK’s episode in particular where she has to deal with fighting vampires and gangsters while also attending Parent’s Day at her son’s kindergarten because she cares about her family and she keeps missing family events like this due to her job was flat out the best episode of the season.  And the finale is much better as well, as the final conflict takes place over 2 episodes and deals with one of the more insidious opponents in the show.

And honestly that’s about all there is to say about Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  It has the same great chaotic flavor and visual style of the Kekkai Sensen and comes with more character building as well as homages to other media like Chain’s Mission Impossible episode.  Everything there was to like about Kekkai Sensen is back and Kekkai Sensen and Beyond builds on that foundation to make an even better Kekkai Sensen.

If you liked Kekkai Sensen, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  I mean I’m guessing most of you have since that show aired a while ago, but to anyone who felt burned by Kekkai Sensen’s ending, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond it is SO worth it.  I was kind of skeptical at first because I felt burned by season 1’s ending but Kekkai Sensen and Beyond had won me over again in minutes.  It’s a literally just a better Kekkai Sensen.  Go. Watch. It.  See you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

Darling-in-the-Franxx

You know many moons ago I complained about certain anime seasons being total shit.  Today I look back at my old self and give me a “if only you knew” kind of look.  Because this season is legitimately the worst season in years.  There’s almost nothing that’s actually good or interesting despite their being another huge chunk of shows to actually watch.  Also there’s basically nothing in the way of solid sequels to help pad the season out – the only one off hand that might fill that role is Nanats no Taizai season 2, but having read the manga and hating where it goes I’m skipping that one despite really liking season 1.  Since this season was so barren I figured I’d do a 3 episode test on the few shows i’m actually watching.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou – I’m actually a big fan of the original Basilisk so I was bewildered to see a sequel.  If you want a spoiler free review of season 1, it’s here, and I do recommend season 1 as it was a good show.  However considering the ending I never would have believed it would have gotten a sequel much less one set only 10 years after the events of season 1.  Having seen 3 episodes of the sequel I can say I was right to be wary.  It’s not so much that it has been bad – it’s just not been good – and it has some problems.  For example why are the young recruits from the two ninja villages, Iga and Kouga, split along gendered lines?  In Basilisk season 1 both sides had men and women fighting.  How are Hachirou and Hibiki related to Gennosuke and Oboro exactly?  Both of those characters died before they had kids.  Speaking of which why does Hibiki look nothing like Oboro and why do her mystic eyes not match up with Oboro’s?  The village leaders insist she’s connected to Oboro but they describe her mystic eyes as neutralizing all hostility while Oboro’s eyes simply destroyed unnatural techniques, i.e. all ninjutsu/ninpou.  My problem is not that this show outright sucks but it looks to me like the team putting it together have a surface level understanding of Basilisk.  Forgetting all the details they have which don’t make sense, their uglier character designs and willingness to kill characters off are reminiscent of Basilisk – but nonetheless the whole thing feels very off and I’m not sure I want to continue.

Citrus – Yuri.  Nuff said.  Ok it could be Shoujo Ai… In all seriousness this show is just ok so far.  The story is very basic and while it’s not as slow and irritating as most shoujo shows are to me it is nonetheless carried by the fact it has lots of yuri fanservice to distract viewers from the thus far lackluster story and characters.  It’s a decent time but nothing spectacular – unless you loving seeing hot girls kiss.

Darling in the Franxx – So far this is the best show of the season.  Episode one was top tier with a great battle, weird monsters, tons of explosions and a bizarre looking mech.  I love Zero Two, the whimsical horned girl who has a nasty habit of overwhleming and damaging her partners.  What partners you ask?  Darling in the Franxx pulls a Pacific Rim and it takes two people, this time male and female to pilot a Franxx and fight the monsters, klaxosaurs.  Also emotions and one’s state of mind have a major effect on piloting the Franxx so managing the teenage pilots is going to be a big part of the show.  This in fact leads me to my main issue with Darling in the Franxx.  The world looks like a wasteland and what little politics have been shown give the society a distinctly dystopian edge, though it may be a justified one considering the monsters at their doorstep.  Excuse my sounding tyrannical but this society needs to control the kids better.  Not counting the anomaly that is Zero Two, most of the problems in making the kids combat effective come from their attitudes screwing with their compatibility.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to either control the kids with strict rules to create a less emotional children a la Shin Sekai Yori or to have the kids constantly doing the kind synchronization training Shinji and Asuka did in Evangelion to fight the twin angel?  I feel like either process would have better results than letting these kids run amok and destroying their own squad with huge egos and shitty behavior.  Also the pairs seem to be random considering the swathe of comparability problems, so maybe that needs work too.  Minor criticism of the setting aside this show is great and you should watch it.

Grancrest Senki – In season less barren than this I wouldn’t have even given this show a look.  It’s pretty bog standard fantasy action fare with simplistic and boring politics, bland characters and unexplained magic.  It has a strong military bent to it but while individual parts of the battles are great, overall it’s not that impressive.  I’m probably dropping this because what little charm it had has already worn off.

Killing Bites – This show is trash and I love it.  There’s something special about shitty action shows that know how trash they are just not giving a single fuck and plunging headlong into more fanservice and basic action scenes.  It’s not the kind of show which should ever be taken seriously and because of that it’s kind of fun.  Definitely a better way to pass the time than the last show I talked about.

Koi wa Ameagari You ni – Honestly I don’t get the appeal of this show.  The art style looks pretty but the main girl and her best friend on the track team have all kinds weird proportions.  Both of their upper legs are way too long, main girl’s neck looks too long in close up shots and track club senpai has noticeably bigger eyes than main girl and even her eyes look a little too big for her face.  The romance is between a quiet, seemingly anti-social high school girl and generic nice guy 45 year old.  I guess some people are into that but I certainly don’t see why.  It’s not a bad show and I’ll probably keep watching but it’s not a great time either.

Kokkoku – This one is weird.  So there’s this dirt poor family that has a rock which can stop time and after two members of the family are kidnapped at random they use the rock.  Unbeknownst to them they are being monitored by a cult which worships the rock and it’s time powers and they complicate matters immensely by taking yet another hostage and trying to kill Juri, the main girl.  At the rate this show is going they might have to resolve the entire plot in the pace of one time stop, which seems like a bit much but whatever.  Also the main family has extra powers like teleportation and being able to turned people who aren’t frozen in time into people frozen in time.  This show has a good mystery thriller vibe and the episodes are flying by, but it seems like a lot to resolve quickly so let’s see where it goes.

Violet Evergarden – This is the outright prettiest show of the season and good luck to anyone trying to top this show’s visuals.  The story has only been ok thus far as it centers around writing letters and the main girl, the titular Violet Evergarden lacks most human emotions.  But that’s ok because the Violet has spent most of her life fighting in a war that recently ended and everyone’s struggling to adjust – she just struggles all the harder because she has no concept of living a peaceful  civilian life like most people.  I’m personally fascinated by the concept of people accustomed to war suddenly struggling with peace so that’s a big plus for me.  Definitely give this one a try.

Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 5

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I’ve established several times now that I really, really love the RWBY franchise. It had a rough start but with each new volume it was seriously upping it’s game until it became something I went from casually appreciating to outright loving. Volume 5 is the first time I think RWBY can be reasonably accused of backsliding. There will be spoilers and I’m going to assume you’re up to date – if you’re not I have an in-depth recap of the franchise here.

I don’t think Volume 5 is bad. It has a couple excellent twists, major events and battles, and some great additions to the characters. It also is quite a bit slower than it should have been. Volume 4 was supposed to be the “slow” transition between the major defeat of Volume 3 and what we can now call the major victory of Volume 5, and after the much slower, more character focused transition one might expect that Volume 5 would start with a bang or at least a spring in its proverbial step.  Instead it dragged its heels.  In retrospect given the scale of the events which occur in Volume 5 it definitely needed time for some set up but unlike previous volumes Volume 5 had almost no battles to help break up exposition or planning.  The only fight I can even think of which happens before any major plans start going in motion is Weiss’ fight against the giant Grimm bees, which while fun, was not nearly as impressive as it could have been considering the kinds of Grimm we were treated to in Volume 4.

The real problem here is due to the teams being fractured.  Blake’s fight for control of Menagerie has to be wrapped up before the final battle.  Normally this would be fine but Team RNJR are already in Haven and we knew from the final scenes of Volume 4 that one of Salem’s agents was already in Haven meeting with Haven’s headmaster.  By comparison Weiss and Yang’s travel flows much better because it’s a lot shorter and it gives us more time with the character who arguably is the centerpiece of this particular volume, Raven.  Raven has only ever appeared briefly in other volumes but she’s a major focal point of this one, especially once it’s revealed that she is in fact the Spring Maiden.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Basically I think the problem has to do with the amount of plot and the time frame it’s being squeezed into.

The Faunus and their internal struggle makes things awkward.  It’s a big struggle that involves a lot of internal politics, from speeches and polling to outright assassinations and a major battle.  In and of itself that’s not a bad thing but it’s frankly awkwardly timed as putting it in Volume 5 means that team RNJR have to be put on standby in-universe despite their own urgency, the importance of their task and the audience’s own knowledge that Haven is not the friendly ground it was supposed to be right from the beginning.  I get the need for suspense but the amount of time it takes to get to the final battle is just too long and it’s spent doing too little.  Thus the volume feels a lot slower than the rest because well, we the audience are waiting for shit to hit the fan and boy does that take some time.

Really I think the biggest mistake was putting Adam and the Faunus in Haven at all.  Assuming Adam’s battle was independent of the Haven battle the two stories could have  been told concurrently, which technically they already are but not really because Blake has to have control of Menagerie to foil Adam’s plans in Haven.  What should have happened was that Blake and Adam should have had their showdown on Menagerie, and maybe have Ilia find out that Adam killed Supreme Leader Khan and reveal this, turning most of Menagerie against him and forcing him to flee the island.  Hell Blake could even still head to Haven to reunite with her teammates under the logic that with Menagerie secured and Adam posing a seriously reduced threat, she can rejoin her team.  Meanwhile the team RNJR side of the story can virtually untouched beyond being sped up.

In essence the story would have the same pacing until Yang and Weiss reunite with Ruby and Raven makes her deal with Cinder.  Rather than still stalling we could’ve just gone straight to the battle and made that move along at a quicker pace as well because the final battle was riddled with problems.

People have started complaining about worse fight choreography since Mounty Oum’s death but this was the first volume where I felt that complaint had serious merit.  The Haven battle has a number of weak elements one of them being that there’s way too much standing around and talking.  The battle seems to drag on forever, partially because it has to thanks to the inclusion of the White Fang and Faunus in the scheme, and partially because I think almost everyone is underutilized.  However this too stems from another problem, frankly there’s too many people fighting at the same time.  After Weiss is impaled and Raven and Cinder leave the battlefield what should have followed was either a quick series of one on one battles or a team battle wherein both sides coordinated their abilities to crush the other side in one decisive engagement.  Neither one happens and so instead we have lots of awkward standing around with only a few of the fighters, mostly Hazel, being given serious attention.

This itself leads to yet more problems as almost none of the characters get time to shine and the battle just drags on and on with little in the way of major developments until the Faunus arrive.  Personally one of my biggest problems with the fight was Ruby.  Ruby is supposed to be a terrifying opponent and I feel like the team at Rooster Teeth just straight up forgot that.  They put all this focus on her being this symbol of hope and doing little things to improve her unarmed combat but in the major battle she hardly does anything.  In previous volumes Ruby could hold her own against major villains by herself and as Volume 2’s famous food fight scene shows, Ruby’s speed is an incredibly deadly weapon when she chooses to use it.  In this battle Ruby doesn’t use her speed at all – she’s not using it to dodge attacks or charge in and mess people up with her scythe.  Now in fairness at the start of the battle Emerald starts shutting her down right away so that made sense but after Cinder and Raven leave Ruby still barely fights when she should be using this opportunity to pummel the opposition because she’s faster than all of them and having greater speed is a huge advantage in a fight.

All that said considering the actual ending it might be safe to say that this was intentional as the only villains who die are Cinder and Lionheart, and neither of them are killed by the good guys.  Because in comparison to the lackluster Haven battle described above the battle at the Belladonna mansion was excellent – the combat was kinetic and satisfying, the pacing was good and the environment was used extremely well – and the battle between Cinder and Raven was fucking incredible, a strong contender for best battle in the franchise.  Given these battle’s it may be less of a case of Rooster Teeth not having the touch and more of case of stupid contrivance, wherein Ruby and Co. have to be held back so that most of Salem’s forces survive the battle, when logically this fight should make or break either Cinder’s squad or Team RNJR.

The last real issue is the finale.  The final episode was lackluster because it was poorly put together.  They probably should have combined the last two episodes and copied Volume 4’s ending by starting off with the Raven and Cinder battle and the fall of the White Fang before wrapping up the emotional stuff.  Instead the major climactic actions happen on the second to last episode and the finale deals almost entirely with the aftermath.  Individually most of the elements included were good but they were poorly packaged as it were and this really hurt the finale.

Also Adam took a big hit this time around, his dialogue with Blake and his overall presentation seemed a lot more dumbed down in comparison to his brief appearance in Volume 3, though in fairness the character hasn’t had enough screen time for the Rooster Teeth team to really iron out any kinks in the character or even get used to him.  Raven likewise had some dialogue in her argument with Blake that, while in character, felt just a tad forced and stilted.  Personally I would have had Raven answer Yang’s questions about the Spring Maiden and then had her say nothing while Yang tore into her, which I would have liked to have seen more of, before conceding to Yang’s argument on the relic and saying “I’m sorry.”  I feel like that approach would have given Raven a bit more grace and gravitas, as is in keeping with character, while allowing her to take Yang’s criticism on the nose and finally face her own failings.  Because credit where it’s due they did a great job with Raven overall.

Raven was a great schemer and bandit leader, and her portrayal as someone who was drawn into a fight full of secrets so strange and enemies so powerful they scared her into splitting off from Ozpin was handled very well.  The character was consistent, believable and her words definitely had a sort weight to them that could only come from experience and bitter sincerity.  Likewise it makes sense for her to give the relic to Yang because Yang’s argument about how much unwanted attention it will draw to Raven if she takes it is on point.  Raven really did shine throughout the volume and while she was handled well enough at the end, I do think her performance in the argument with Yang hurt the character a little bit.

Overall Volume 5 was a decent volume.  It had 2 great fights, a couple cool plot developments and it spent a lot of time fleshing out Raven and it did a great job on that front.  It’s main issue came from the writing, mainly that it tried tying up all of its loose threads into a neat bow and ended up with a clumsy knot.  All of the other issues can be traced back to this, they just tried to cram too much story into one place and it resulted in a plethora of issues great and small.  I can’t say for sure who is to blame on that front but there’s no doubt Volume 5 could have been tidied up and repackaged to improve it’s overall flow.  It seems to me that whomever is to blame here was too focused on the finish line for this volume rather than the journey it took to get there, and it was the latter that really needed attention.  Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe there were internal changes that caused some stumbles – either way, while this Volume not as good as Volume 3 or 4, the franchise overall is still very good and I’m very much invested in the series and would like to see where it’s going in the future.  Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Juuni Taisen – A Masterwork Failure

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To preface this I want to point out one of the popular arguments defending Juuni Taisen and the complaint it addresses.  Many people are annoyed that Juuni Taisen broadcast when each warrior would die because the robs the death game premise of the show of any surprises.  The counter-argument (henceforth the reverse zodiac argument) is that this sign posting is prevalent throughout various aspects of the show so it’s clearly being done on purpose – ergo the previous criticism is a dumb one.  Admittedly this counter-argument has a major flaw to me, but what the hell, it did help make the case that perhaps Juuni Taisen would go somewhere interesting and I was all for that.  As it happens Juuni Taisen went to one of the most boring places imaginable, there will be spoilers.

It’s actually kind of amazing how big of a letdown the final episode of Juuni Taisen was.  I mean my favorite character had already died so it wasn’t like I was planning on being super impressed but given that source material comes NisioisiN, a man who I am a big fan of, I was sort of looking forward to see where we would end up.  The conclusion is this, Nezumi wins the tournament as the reverse zodiac argument predicts and spends the entire final episode deciding on the wish he’ll be granted.  Keeping in mind that the Juuni Taisen committee appears to have god level powers, like clearing out a huge city in a day, you might also ponder what exactly you would wish for.  Nezumi takes his sweet time and for a while it is interesting, not because of Nezumi but because of what it reveals about the rest of the 12 Zodiac warriors, he ultimately reaches the lamest conclusion imaginable – he has his memories of the whole event stripped away and goes on living his normal, boring life.

It’s a wish that sort of makes sense in the context of Nezumi as a character but all it really does is confirm that Nezumi is the most boring motherfucker in the entire show.  I did kind of like how he had 99 wishes and then formed counter-arguments against all of them but ultimately what he settles on is nothing short of the biggest metaphorical blue-ball of an ending I’ve ever seen.  The only really interesting things about Nezumi in this episode are how well his crippling indecision matches his power and ironically it seems like the wish he really needed was a wish one of the other warriors already wanted, specifically Chicken’s desire for self confidence.

When it comes to Nezumi’s power I’m a little confused.  It’s mostly portrayed as if he can see 100 different outcomes in advance based on what decisions he takes but the fact that other fighters remember him in a deja vu sense means he probably, to quote the comments, “pulled a Subaru.”  My best guess is that it’s a bit of both because that’s the only way this disparity between how it was shown in episode 11 and how people remember him throughout the show.  In any case it makes sense as to why he’s constantly second guessing his own wishes and desires, because it seems like he can’t use his power to see how that would go.  Even if he can, he did spell out that he can come across events which even a hundred solutions isn’t enough for.  Or maybe it’s because he can act on any desire no matter how base, misanthropic or good – in opposition to how everyone else might have similar desires and never act on then because they know they are wrong – that maybe Nezumi doesn’t really have a grasp on right or wrong.  In retrospect trying to dig into the problems of Nezumi’s head is a actually a lot of fun, it’s just a shame his own solution is so boring.

And that truly is the tragedy of Juuni Taisen in a nutshell.  It does a superb job on the character front and then the story of the contest falls into shambles.  Tora, with her transformation from a righteous teen to a drunken monster, followed by an attempt at redemption, was my personal favorite but I was quit interested in all of the character stories on display, be it the cruel nihilism of the Dragon and Snake Twins, Sheep’s past glories contrasted against his desires to protect the future of his grandkid, even Boar’s story of destroying her own family from within – all of these were fascinating.  And the end did a good job bring some extra flair to some of the less explored characters – Dotsuku in particular was made way more interesting when he revealed that he was raising a girl had been sold off to presumably be a sex slave and that he worked at a preschool.  And I loved Boar’s “I want a harem of 3.5 billion men” which is I guess, assuming this takes place on Earth and the population is roughly 7 billion, is Boar’s way of saying ‘I want all men to adore me’.  Maybe this whole farce of a death game is NisioisN’s roundabout way of saying the journey matters more than the destination but even so I’d really rather this had gone down another path.

Because what I meant by my weird ass title was not, ‘this show is a master class in making the worst show ever made and I’ll prove it to you,’ but rather this show was really, genuinely great and I loved it, right up until the final moment.  I guess what I’m saying is that Juuni Taisen was Mass Effect and the finale was Mass Effect 3’s ending.  I was mad enough at the ending that I started writing this within a minute of finishing the episode, and now that I’m just shy of a thousand words talking about it my anger is replaced by disappointment.  The problem is that the story of the events of Juuni Taisen, the contest happening in the present was botched.  It was the stories of the character’s pasts and what was in their heads that was truly interesting, and it’s a shame to see such technical skill in executing that being bolted to a death game that doesn’t even really matter.  And the result?  Boredom.  What could and by all rights should have been a gripping death game was rendered boring and meaningless.  I know NisioisiN is an oddball but I think he really could have capitalized on more straightforward storytelling to make this great.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass that the people die in the reverse order of the Zodiac animals, cut that shit out make and the tournament more interesting.  Because credit where it’s due the characters are interesting, and that’s almost all you need to make a tournament great.  But that almost is so crucial and Juuni Taisen drops the ball on it so spectacularly that it drags the entire show down into a failure which sparks nothing but an odd mix of conflicting feelings about the show overshadowed by a clinically detached boredom coloring the whole experience.  Ugh, fuck it I’m done, I hope you enjoyed this confused, rambling review.  See you in the next one.

Boruto & the Generational Gap: Why Kakashi’s Exam was Misguided

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This post will generally assume you’re up to date on Boruto but in case you aren’t here’s a quick grasp of the situation.  Boruto’s class is taking a Genin exam and for whatever reason Kakashi is the exam proctor and his doing a variation of his old bell test from Naruto.  Boruto’s class ends up passing the exam but during the exam Kakashi ripped into Boruto and his classmates for not being good enough and that’s where about half the intrigue for this test should have been.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By far one the most interesting aspects of Boruto is the contrast of Boruto’s generation and Naruto’s generation.  In the buildup to this exam, an exam which Naruto almost entirely glossed over since Naruto was the only one which couldn’t pass it, though obviously he does end up passing it via learning Shadow Clone.  In Boruto this exam is much bigger deal because it will break the class up.  Everyone wants to pass this exam because it’s like getting a high school diploma but the class is split between people who want to continue down the ninja path or people who want to get a secondary school education and do something else.  Some teams almost fall apart because of the disagreements between those who wanted to be ninjas together and those who want to take their lives elsewhere.

A particularly good scene in the buildup to the exam is when Boruto asks Hinata why she became a ninja.  She casually remarks that when she was a kid that was what was expected of people.  Boruto just kind of moves on from that scene without really taking it in but there’s almost no greater sign of the differences between the two generations.  In Naruto’s time countries were either at war or on the brink of war and ninjas were the lifeblood of every village.  Boruto has never experienced such a world and none of the kids can really conceive of it.  Few if any of them even have concrete goals or motives with regards to becoming a ninja and as mentioned above plenty of them aren’t even interested in being ninjas and do in fact plan to go elsewhere.

This is where Kakashi’s exam is kind of strong.  Kakashi goes incognito and investigates the class and observes their collectively weak or altogether lacking resolve.  He pins Boruto down in 1v1 combat and just rips into him about his lack of resolve and the bad influence he has on the rest of the class, and for a second it seems like he might really go ahead with his threats to fail everyone.  Ideally in fact I think none of them should have passed the exam.  It would have been really cool if the adults had made them face the fact they really aren’t ready to be ninja because the ninja world is a much more brutal place than they realize.  Imagine the amount of time they could spend developing characters after such a major failure, with some people dropping out for real this time, other’s hardening their resolve and so on.  Hell the impact of such a scene would have been phenomenal too a loud smack from an uncaring reality against the mostly happy-go-lucky tone of Boruto, the show and the character.

Alas this is where the exam falls apart, because the real point was to make sure the kids worked together and didn’t abandon their comrades – teaching the “those who break the rules are scum but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum” lesson we saw in Naruto.  But what was the point of that?  Boruto and friends are a hell of a lot more willing to cooperate and look out for each other because to them that’s, well, normal.  This is not an age of war where the best could and sometimes would look down on their squadmates or when leaving comrades to die for the sake of mission was considered acceptable and even normal.  The reason Kakashi’s exam made sense in the past was that it clashed with the established norms of sacrificing people to ensure the team succeeded overall.  And with regards to team 7 specifically it was used to unite the fractious 3 genin under Kakashi’s command.  Boruto and friends need no such push to unite them nor do they need to be convinced they should do things for the sake of their friends, that’s practically all they’ve done up until this point.

What the kids really need is a wake up call, something to really spell out for them how dangerous the world they are trying to step into can be.  Instead of being about uniting to get the Kakashi’s bell the exam really should have been something like the whole class having to beat the instructors in combat or, though impractical and out of character, the whole class trying to even hit Naruto.  I’m fine with them all passing the test so long as they learn a lesson about the realities of the ninja world.  Naruto himself would be ideal to show the kids just how unreasonably powerful their opponents could theoretically be while a maybe using the Ino, Choji and Shikamaru team to beat the whole class could really hit home how deadly enemies working together can be.  The point of the exam should not be about being a good friend anymore, that problem has been solved, rather the new genin exam should be a lesson in humility that challenges the half baked ambitions and resolve of the kids.  It should make them confront whether they really want to be ninjas or not because unlike in Naruto’s time, not being a ninja is an option with no stigma attached.  And I feel like Kakashi himself sort of agrees with me because he remarked that they had made the test too easy for Boruto’s class shortly before they passed it.

Long story short I think this exam shows both some real sparks of intrigue in Boruto and also the problems of sticking too close to Naruto in terms of writing.  The audience already knows all about this test and the lesson it teaches and it’s not given much weight or time at all because it’s a formality for the viewer.  Likewise it doesn’t even effect the kids too much.  However in the buildup to the exam and the split second where it seemed like Kakashi might actually fail everyone we saw glimpses material that could make for great character stories.  Ultimately I think what needs to happen is that in the near future Boruto and friends have to be confronted with the differences between them and their parents in the most stark and serious manner possible, because that will challenge them a hundred times more than this exam did and it will cut to the heart of their character as individuals, while highlighting some of the serious differences between the world of Naruto’s childhood and Boruto’s childhood.