Unpopular Opinion – Re:Creators

 

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Overall I would say 2017 has been a good year for anime.  KonoSuba season 2, Boku no Hero Academia season 2, Little Witch Academia, Youjo Senki, etc.  Overall a good year so far.  That being said it would be remiss of me not to include Re:Creators as one of the top 5 or so anime of the year.  I’ve already made 3 posts on Re:Creators here, here and here if you want more details before going ahead on this post.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

Let’s start by addressing the show’s biggest weaknesses.  Sota, the male lead, is widely hated.  The mid-section of the show is considerably slower than early and later parts of the show, with only one or two noteworthy action scenes to break up long stretches of exposition.  Altair is OP as fuck and especially in the later episodes this detracts from the show.  I’ve already made a post concerning Sota so I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say he is, I think, unfairly maligned.  Many people called him the new Shinji Ikari and that was a good comparison, Shinji and Sota both have severe weaknesses which are only integral to their actions, or lack thereof.  The biggest difference between the two is the severity of the weaknesses and that Sota does overcome his shortcomings roughly halfway through the show.  Both characters suffer from issues we easily understand and they’ve both been thrown into conflicts they neither have the training to handle or ever wanted to sign up for.  I think Sota is a well written character, however I also find that I sympathized with Shinji and his weakness a lot more than I did with Sota.  Well written or not, Sota is annoying before he grows a pair – but once he does he becomes one of the most important factors in the overall conflict and is not in any way an annoying character.

Concerning the pacing, Re:Creators is mostly good.  Given the amount of set they had to do for the Birdcage Re:Creators could never have kept up the frequent combat and chaos of the early episodes and even during a lot of the “slow episodes” there is a lot going on to keep people engaged.  For example the episode which was dedicated to all the author’s originally collaborating on the Elimination Chamber Festival was a great way to study the Creators’ character more, something which was mostly untouched before that point.  The exposition-heavy episodes were by far the slowest but even they had a modicum of technical skill.  To the best of my memory all of the major exposition dumps took place in settings and contexts which naturally call for exposition – like government briefings or strategy sessions between the main characters.  Likewise the concepts being discussed were fairly complicated and meta and did require quite a bit of explaining.  That doesn’t really keep these episodes from feeling slow but at least I can appreciate they are just doing bullshit exposition in a cafe because the writers weren’t creative enough to weave the details in elsewhere.

Altair is one of the greatest weaknesses of Re:Creators.  She’s okay up through the middle section of the show, though the dichotomy between her utterly childish tantrums when she discussed her goals with Mamika and her usual gloating, cryptic lines was jarring.  But by the time she enters the Birdcage she’s just out of control.  She blocks almost every attack with no effort.  For basic attacks that’s fine but it’s stupid as shit when say Silesia uses a special dimensional cage move – a new power given to her as part of the preparations for the Elimination Chamber Festival – and Altair literally breaks out of it in less time than it took Silesia to cast the spell.  I mean come the fuck on, you have to have some kind of gap to make the move seem meaningful.  I think the problem is that the writers went in counting on Altair’s overwhelming power to provide all the tension for the battles in the Birdcage, and that’s not a bad plan as she is monstrously strong, but in my case it made me stop caring about Altair because she was never in any danger.  I would’ve been far more invested in the final battle  against Altair, if for example, Aliceteria’s final blow left her with a gaping wound but she continued to fight on anyway after killing Aliceteria.  But having Aliceteria have all this build-up and delivering a great hit only for the damage to be sent to Aliceteria was a major disappointment – not the OMG moment I assume it was intended to be.

In fact Altair was so OP both solutions the heroes used to defeat her were extremely meta rather than conventional.  First the included a sort of alternate version of Altair and attempted to have the alternate replace the original and thus remove the threat of Altair.  And when that didn’t work they convinced Altair to leave this world, and possibly universe, to create a new one where Setsuna survives.  Why exactly she is able to do this is not explained though I assume it’s the same reason Altair emerged in our world in the first place and could drag other characters out of their stories as well.  All that being said I do appreciate how much planning and effort the heroes put in to defeating Altair both by more conventional, i.e. buffing the characters on their side, and meta, as discussed above, means.  In fact the only thing I’m surprised they didn’t try was to have someone write an official Altair story in an attempt to limit her ridiculous powers – but then again what do I know about strategy?

Despite the past few paragraphs of mostly whining I think Re:Creators has a lot of strengths to make for it’s few flaws.  The characters are excellent.  As I said above, even though Sota is annoying early on, he’s still well-written, and he does a great job of redeeming himself by standing up to and eventually converting Aliceteria, and recreating Setsuna in the Birdcage to ultimately get Altair out of the picture.  How the Creations evolve by engaging with the world is something I’ve touched on before and I think they did a great job with it.  Taking fairly generic characters drawing stereotypically popular genres and media and then having them grow into more complex characters by confronting them with a more nuanced world was a great idea and one which the series uses to great effect.  Even characters like Hikayu, one of weakest examples of this, get to grow and show interesting sides to their personality and becoming more endearing to the audience.  Which given the importance of audience acceptance in the narrative is not only appropriate but a great example of the story concepts in action in real life – which seems pretty meta to me.

And I love all the details they put into the Creators and the scenes where they talk about being creative people.  Suruga’s rant to Blitz when he’s about to kill her, where’s she going on about the struggles of being a creative are pure fucking gold and I agree with everything she said.  Likewise the set of scenes where Marine sees Suruga bust out a great sketch in like 30 sec and runs out of the room to cry because she takes a long time to do her own artwork and thus losses confidence, and the part of the aforementioned rant where Suruga admits she thinks Marine’s art is way better than her own was one of my favorite moments in the show because it is so reflective of how a lot of creative people I know well and how I think as well.  They seriously nailed the Creators in this show and offered keen insight into the minds and behaviors of creative people.

The action scenes were also mostly fantastic.  They were actually what convinced me to watch the show.  I had originally skipped it but when the AMVs came out and I saw mechs vs magic and Personas fighting magical girls I knew this was worth my time.  Barring the examples I mentioned above the fights were a total blast to watch and some, like Silesia & Kanoya vs Charon were not just good fights but ended with immense dramatic payoffs.  Honestly I’m still amazed they had the balls to kill Silesia off 3 episodes before the finale.

Speaking of the finale, I thought it was a very nice touch.  Having Tanaka and Matsubara have talks about how they were busting their asses like never before because they weren’t sure if their stories were good enough for Aliceteria and Silesia after having met their respective princesses was a nice moment and making Meteroa stay in our world to attempt becoming a Creator herself was an interesting move as well.  The only thing which the finale lacked a scene where Magane, who is totally still in our world, shows up to troll Sota again out of the blue.  I don’t think such a scene would have fit the tone of the episode that much but it would have been a great addition in my book because Magane is Best Girl hands down.

That’s about all I have to say.  Re:Creators has a few notable flaws which hold it back but it was ultimately a very positive viewing experience and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone even mildly interested.  And if you’re a creative type yourself I think seeing this anime is a must.  Seriously that aspect of the show was really well done and I can only think of it as a treat and a tip of the hat to creatives everywhere.  Watch it.  I hope you enjoyed this fairly broad and general review – sorry about that but since I already did 3 more detailed posts I figured more of a general send off of piece would be a good way to go for this one – and I’ll see you in the next one.

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Understanding Boruto: How to Save the Naruto Universe – or Kill it for Good

 

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“The generation below us is.. frankly not up to par.”  I included that in the picture at the top of this post for a reason, I think that quote is phenomenally on point both in the context of Boruto as a story and what I believe about how Boruto should best fit into the Naruto-verse.  This line comes up in a Five Kage Summit behind closed doors from latest episode of Boruto and the context here is that Naruto and Sasuke have discovered that Kaguya and her White Zetsu army are likely not the greatest threat the Ninja World will have to face – but they don’t know when this greater threat will appear.  The worry here is obvious, the current generation – Naruto’s generation – doesn’t think the generation below them is strong enough, with the current Raikage claiming that a lack of real skills among the youth is a concern for every ninja village and that this lack of real skills is the result of the current united, peaceful world.  The current Tsuchikage says it best though with the above quote though her literal words were closer to “Frankly the next generation’s level is too low.”

Now this is followed by Gaara and Naruto arguing that every generation faces the same scrutiny from the generation before them and that the kids may well surpass the current generation.  I agree with them to some extent but I think it would be best for the Naruto-verse for Boruto’s generation to never exceed Naruto’s generation.  This is because Naruto’s biggest problem is that the power levels got out of control and trying to write a story involving those power levels basically took Naruto away from the things which made it initially appealing.  I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of there being an enemy greater than Kaguya but if such an enemy exists Naruto’s generation – not Boruto’s – should be the one to face it.  Based on a few hints from the Manga and the very first scene of the anime it looks like the plan is for Boruto to somehow surpass Naruto even when he’s still a teenager – and that would be a death blow to the Naruto-verse.  Keep in mind that most of the Jinchuriki are gone, there’s no Akatsuki anymore and there is no threat of war or great tragedy driving the kids to get stronger at such a young age.  This is why I agree with the Tsuchikage and Raikage, this era can’t produce the same level of ninja, or at least the same numbers of ninja of a high enough level as the generation before them.

What then can be done to save Boruto?  Because against all odds it’s been decent so far.  There are minor details I would’ve changed but the overall feel is fine and some of the scenes featuring Naruto’s generation as parents have been the most well written Naruto moments in years.  I found Naruto’s warm paternal moments with Sarada, who has lacked a father figure her whole life, to be especially good.  And I loved the new Five Kage Summit and seeing all those kids from Naruto all grown up and handling adult problems – it’s been a blast to see character’s I’d largely gotten tired of become interesting again.  To answer the aforementioned question I see only two solutions. 1 – The greater than Kaguya threat (henceforth GTKT) appears when Boruto’s generation is older.  In this scenario Naruto’s generation would likely do something akin to the very first major arc of Naruto – basically give the kids challenging missions to hone their skills while adults supervise and step in if unexpected developments, like Zabuza showing up on a low ranked mission, occur.

The other option, and in my opinion the better option, is to have Naruto’s generation defeat the GTKT but to destroy themselves in the process.  Basically it would be akin to Sasuke’s situation in Naruto, Sasuke has to deal with Itachi because there are no other Uchiha’s left to hunt him down.  I don’t think Boruto would have to be that extreme but the idea here is for enough of Naruto’s generation to die or suffer crippling wounds when fighting the GTKT that they have no choice but to let Boruto’s generation to step up to the plate in the aftermath.  In this scenario no enemy Boruto’s generation would have to face would be like the GTKT, instead they would have to deal with strong leaders from minor villages seeking to claim power now that threats like Naruto are no longer hanging over their head or something like a huge outbreak in mid-level criminal ninjas.  The point is I don’t think Boruto’s generation should ever fight an opponent above the level of the Akatsuki and even then I think the Akatsuki’s power level might be too high for this generation to handle – but at least it could be done I think.  This way Boruto’s generation could grow and struggle but it wouldn’t break the Naruto-verse the way having these new kids surpass their sometimes stupidly powerful parents would, especially if they did so before they were adults.

Ultimately Boruto’s greatest narrative challenge is in creating foes and scenarios which are tough for Boruto’s generation to deal with but not so dangerous that the parents feel forced to come in and curb stomp the problem.  The Nue was a good example as the nature of the Nue made it something which Naruto couldn’t combat but Boruto could because Boruto was too weak to give the Nue any real power while Naruto would’ve given it more fuel for it’s explosion.  So at the very least the staff is clearly aware of the problem and working on it.  But the longer Boruto runs the trickier this challenge will be, and like I said I can only really see two ways out of the problem.  And I for one, hope that Boruto doesn’t break Naruto for good.

Unpopular Opinion: Kakegurui

 

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I’m honestly amazed I even made it more than halfway through this show.  There will be spoilers through episode 7 or so, you’ve been warned.

Kakegurui might have lured me, and most people, in with it’s cool OP, hot main girl and interesting visual effects which spiced up the gambling but that just isn’t enough to distract me from all the other bullshit going on in this show.  For starters why does this show even bother having Suzui in it?  He can’t gamble for shit, which is ostensibly what this show is all about, he has no interesting personality traits or skills which make him important in any way and he basically plays the role of shocked spectator and generic nice guy.  Which is to say he doesn’t at all fit this show which is full of bizarre, broken and edgy characters, and I think it’s safe to assume that his role is mainly to serve as an audience stand-in who Umeko can explain the various cheating tactics and counter strategies used by her and other players – not that they actually need a stand-in for that since Umeko confronts people about how they are cheating all the time and sometimes the cheater explains their strategy via soliloquy.

The gambling itself is also boring as shit.  None of the games being played are especially interesting so to me it would make more sense to just play normal games which the audience is more likely to understand and keep up with because less would be hidden.  Every game used in Kakegurui is more or less set up for the express purpose of cheating and sometimes manipulating the flow of money gained and lost outside of what is actually being bet.  The Life or Death sword game is a good example, the Life and Death rule only exists so that players can gain and lose more cash than they are actually betting and this game only works out in the dealer’s favor because the dealers have magnetic piercings to manipulate the placement of the swords.  I find this approach extremely counter-productive because it means we, the audience, have to be kept in the dark until the cheat is revealed.  To me it makes more sense for these characters to play normal games where more information is readily available and which players could actually win via careful strategy and good decision-making instead of just cheating and counter-cheating.  Also by not screwing with the amount of money being gained and lost characters would end up in their positions because of their own decisions and I think would ultimately make the characters more interesting.

Speaking of the characters, that’s where the show well and truly dies.  Umeko is captivating enough because of how hot she is and how crazy she is but she’s the only one who was ever even mildly interesting.  Everyone else, besides boring-as-fuck Suzui and the Student Council President – who is just this calm, cold maniac – is edgy as hell.  The whole house pet system is a giant fucking blight on the characters because it encourages everyone to be an edgy piece of shit who abuses anyone they have leave to abuse.  And the Student Council is a collection of nutjobs like a little girl who tells the blonde girl who was an enemy at first and the sort of becomes friends with Umeko that she better get good at pleasing older men or the straw which broke the camel’s back for me – the Russian roulette girl.  Jesus fucking Christ, I hated that character.  Her gambling episode with Umeko was awful and her screaming dialogue and leaking fluids everywhere drove me up the fucking wall.

And that dear readers is where Kakegurui ended for me.  After 7 episodes of bullshit games, run by bullshit characters, Umeko and the special effects were no longer enough to keep me interested.  The only game I even remotely like was the debt-swapping Indian Poker because not only was the opponent a total piece of shit but it also had the only character story I liked, the one where the girl is abused into a borderline comatose state of mind finally breaks out and tries to take one of her abusers down when she has the chance to do so.

Honestly I’m having trouble understanding why Kakegurui is so popular.  Is it the gambling?  I hope not the gambling wasn’t even good.  Is it the cheating?  I guess that could be interesting but for me personally I actually like it when cheating is juxtaposed with people who play by the rules and are just better at the game, rather than having every match be about how someone is cheating and how the main character overcomes the cheat.  To get an idea of what I mean you can check out this post where I compare No Game No Life and Mondaiji, because one of my biggest complaints with No Game No Life is that cheating was so integral to every match that it was never the twist it supposed to be – because it happened every fucking time.  But seriously where is the appeal of Kakegurui?  Is it just Umeko and maybe the Student Council President being hot?  Because it sure as hell isn’t the characters those were the worst part of the show.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Kakegurui.  There just isn’t a whole lot there and what is there is not very interesting.  Umeko and special effects look good enough to hook people in at first but they aren’t good enough to carry the whole show – which at this point, given the overall crap construction of this show, is almost what it seems like that’s what they were intended to do.

 

Character Cache: Yasuri Nanami

 

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Given that Katanagatari is the only show I’ve seen four times since I picked up anime in mid 2011, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say Katanagatari is the anime which has fascinated me most.  And within Katanagatari Yasuri Nanami is the character who fascinates me most.  There will be spoilers, so if you’ve not seen Katanagatari yet I highly recommend you do so.

Before it even comes to character traits what I love about Nanami is her character concept – namely that she’s a character who is so strong her power is killing her.  Actually it’s so strong it’s been crippling her since birth and she’s now reaching the point where it will kill her at age 21 (I think), but that’s too in depth to sound slick and cool.  This is concept is not unique but it is sort of a more typical “stronger spells/jutsus/techniques/etc. have greater consequences when used” just taken to an extreme.  What really sets Nanami apart though is that she can’t turn her power off and she did not do anything to obtain it – she’s just born with an awesome power which was always too much for her body to handle.

I’m a huge fan of the general stronger move has stronger consequences concept and I hate it when shows just sort of sidestep it *oh shit we can’t have Sasuke go blind from overusing his power, quick get him new eyes so his powers no longer have consequences that sounds cool right?*  The fact that Nanami has had this power from birth and suffered the consequences from birth makes it a cut above though, especially as it helps play an important role in the kind of person she is and the decisions she ultimately makes during the course of the show.  For context her power is that she can copy any move she sees, with the caveat she needs to see it twice for the copy to be perfect.  If her claims are to be believed she can see through the all the moves any martial art might have just based on the stance her opponent takes, which is why she doesn’t ever use stances when fighting – in sharp contrast to her brother Shichika who puts a lot of emphasis on his stance throughout the course of the show.  Also this power allowed to absorb the superhuman strength of one the mythical clans present in the show, the Itezora clan, still not sure how that works but whatever.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Katanagatari is set in alternate timeline of Japanese history where a certain soothsayer creates 12 magic swords during the Sengoku Jidai – the war where Oda Nobunaga becomes famous – to distort history.  He does this because he can see the future and knows about Japan’s downfall under the Tokugawa Shogunate and thus manipulates history to attempt a different outcome.  Because of this history meddling Katanagatari is full of abnormal abilities and clans which are described as something which could have potentially taken place in our history – though obviously they didn’t.  The 12 magic swords are only known to high level government officials and their agents, the sword masters who wield them and the Maniwa Ninjas.  What no one realizes until very late in the show is that Shikizaki Kiki – the soothsayer who made the swords – actually made a 13th sword, the sword which isn’t a sword, Kyotou Yasuri.  This manifests as the special martial art which mimics swordsmanship native only to the Yasuri family, Kyotouryuu – the flow of the empty sword.

Despite being the eldest child Nanami isn’t taught Kyotouryuu by her father, who appoints Shichika as the head of the clan – but she watches Shichika learn so she learns it anyway and is ultimately far better at it than Shichika due to her eyes.  The Yasuri family and the 7 siblings (there are only two siblings but Shichi and Nana both mean 7 and they are the 7th generation of the clan) are all a peculiar bunch but it’s most heavily pronounced among Shichika and Nanami.  The two live on an island with only their father for company for 19 years and live another year alone after he passes.  In addition both are raised to think of themselves as swords instead of people, which is why Shichika initially has no compunction killing female or weak opponents.  But Shichika is ultimately recruited on a mission to retrieve the 12 magic swords and that journey humanizes him – Nanami on the other hand only really sees Shichika and the woman who recruits him, Togame, as humans.  Her relationship with Shichika largely maternal as most of what she does is in his bests interests and she thanks Togame for taking him away because she thought it be a waste to see him rust away unused on the island.

Regarding everyone else Nanami is a psychopath.  In fairness this in part her father’s influence since he taught her to be a weapon instead of a human.  However as the show progresses Nanami gets borderline genocidal as she wipes out the entire populations of three key locations in the story.  Perhaps genocidal is too harsh as it’s not as though race has any bearing in her decision making, she describes the rest of humanity as weeds and thinks of her mass murder sprees as nothing more than weeding.  She also has a very dark and twisted sense of humor and seems to believe she should’ve either never been born or been killed long ago – and when she enters the story as Shichika’s opponent for the 7th magic sword in episode 7 – she does so because she wants Shichika to kill her.

In retrospect I have to wonder just how genuine her behavior is.  She makes it quite clear the reasons she confronts Shichika is that she wants to die and for whatever reason suicide isn’t an option, though she also wants him to learn the weakness of the new special technique he invents in episode 1.  She also makes it clear that she would’ve have been fine with their father killing her the previous year, something Shichika stops by killing their father.  However as Shichika has progressed on his journey, and more specifically his last two opponents, he has learned to show mercy where he can and given his natural instinct to care for Nanami as seen in episode 1 it wouldn’t be all that unthinkable for Nanami to believe she would need to resort to extreme measures to get him to kill her.  He in fact proves that to be true as he doesn’t agree to fight her to the death until she threatens Togame.  That being said their odd upbringing, her knowledge of the fact that her father allegedly killed her mother, and by extension her belief that inter-familial killings were part and parcel of the Yasuri clan and her generally weird state of mind make her thoughts difficult to track even if her endgame is clear as day.

Another fascinating thing about Nanami is that she proves herself to be the most dangerous being in the entire show, to the point where Shichika can’t beat her in a fair fight.  Though Nanami herself has few cryptic lines to suggest her strength in earlier episodes it’s not until episode 4 that Nanami bursts off the page and jumps to the top of Katanagatari’s power level charts.  Personally I find the scene where she fights Maniwa Chocho to be what seals the deal, she ends their pre-fight banter with this evil little smile that sends chills down my spine every fucking time I see it.  Though the fact she takes on three Maniwa ninjas and kills them in quick succession help.  She also wipes out two “Special Disaster Zones” which are areas so dangerous the Shogunate won’t touch them, with remarkable speed as she has strict time limit while fighting.  And the sole survivor of the Nanamicide, Shichika’s opponent in episode 6 remembers her in this split second artsy flashback shot where looks like some hellish spirit, it’s fucking rad.  And like I said she is the only opponent Shichika seriously loses to, as he and Togame have to use a special trick to temporarily blind her so Shichika can steal the 7th sword from her.

One of the more interesting parts of Nanami’s mindset is her relationship with geniuses and talent.  Geniuses and talent, as well as how geniuses interact with normal people are themes which consistently appear in NisioisiN’s – Katanagatari’s and the more famous Bakemonogatari’s author, works.  In Bakemonogatari for instance there are entire arcs dedicated to the weirdness surrounding Hanekawa due to her genius state of being.  And in Medaka Box arguing about the nature of talent, luck and geniuses is central to several major arcs and all the important characters’ development.  In Nanami’s case specifically she envies everyone else’s ability to work hard and achieve something because she can take up anything with ease and as such can never get that feeling of accomplishment.  And I have to say that while nothing will ever come as easily to me as it does to Nanami and I don’t think I’m a an actual genius, I agree with her sentiments – I’d rather feel accomplished after hard work that just get everything without breaking a sweat, no matter convenient or helpful that might seem during moments of frustration.

Another of the many bizarre facets of Nanami’s character are some her dying words.  She mentions how relying on the 7th magic sword, which forcibly healed whomever it was stabbed into was absurd and weakened her despite ostensibly removing her time limit while fighting.  Part of her justification was that a sword shouldn’t use a sword though I feel like relying on it did in fact weaken her as Shichika is able to kill her in fair fight once the sword is removed – something he previously couldn’t do even before she got the sword.  She also said that by gaining powers with her eyes she was ultimately weakening her powers, a dubious claim but one that might not be entirely false as she was able to handily defeat Shichika with non-lethal techniques, something she wasn’t shown to be able to do previously – though in this specific case it’s hard to say what other options she had as she had no intentions of killing Shichika even if she wasn’t just going to let him win.

Nanami is a difficult character to parse.  One second she is the caring maternal figure, the next a mass murdering maniac – though I suppose she can be both at once given that she taught Shichika to stop chewing on his fingernails by ripping them out.  Until she obtains the 7th sword her thoughts appear entirely lucid even if they are abnormal or outright fucked up.  Even with her “it’s good, or maybe it’s bad?” lines after she grabs the 7th sword it’s hard to tell if she’s genuinely losing her mind or if that’s the result of her naturally warped sense of humor.  Likewise when she really goes overboard and seems to showcase a total lack of regard for humanity, is that genuine or was it an act to convince her brother to kill her?  Probably both given her upbringing, though she shows no outward sadistic tendencies or overblown personality traits prior to episode 7.  The only thing which I believe one can rightly attribute to Nanami is an acceptance of and familiarity with death.  Nanami wants to die.  Nanami also kills more people than anyone else in Katangatari.  Therefore Nanami and death go hand in hand.

The difficulty and darkness associated with Nanami as a character, as well as her overwhelming power and its consequences, are what draw me to her – though her fantastic character design certainly helps.  I’ve yet to find another character even remotely like her and trying to plumb the depths hidden behind her all-seeing purple eyes is an endeavor I find endlessly intriguing.  That, among many other reasons, is why Katanagatari is one of my favorite anime of all time, and if you made it through this entire post without having seen it, I once again highly recommend that you do.  Hope you enjoyed this post.

Understanding Re:Creators – Mind Over Matter

 

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Re:Creators episode 17 proves 2 things beyond a shadow of a doubt. 1 – Setsuna is even more pathetic I expected (see this and this for reference) because instead of just committing suicide she also wrote revenge into Altair’s story.  2 – The real villains of this story aren’t the people with evil intent, it’s the people who refuse to open their minds and engage with this world.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Re:Creators planted the seeds for the second revelation a long time ago and now as the show steadily makes it’s way to the climax those seeds have borne fruit.  The idea that the characters could and in all known cases would change by engaging with the world of the “gods” was established early on to excellent effect.  Mamika was the main poster child of this idea as her character evolved the most rapidly but Meteora playing the game she was from to affirm her creator’s love of the world and the personal growth which resulted from it was another great example.  Enter Blitz.  Blitz has had the least amount of screen time relative to how long he’s been in our world among the Creations.  All we really know about him is that he’s an older mercenary type, fights with a gun and has gadgets which can mess with gravity, and that he’s from what looks to be a popular seinen manga.  And most importantly he was forced to kill his own daughter in the manga and this is the source of his grudge against his Creator – and why he’s on Altair’s side.

Where I think Blitz starts getting interesting is in two short scenes where he talks with fellow Creations on Altair’s side, because the two reactions he gets pretty much lays out the basis for this post’s thesis – the villains are those who refuse to think for themselves.  In the first of these scenes Blitz talks with Aliceteria and this exchange goes quite poorly, Aliceteria shows no interest in Blitz’s reasoning and makes two crucial remarks, the first is that they can both read other’s stories to get an idea of why they act as they do, and more importantly that Blitz seemed fake or hollow compared to Mamika.  This is of course reflective of the rift forming between Aliceteria and her fellow Altair-followers, she is starting to think for herself and it more or less causes her to change teams overnight.  The second remark is especially important as I think it best details the difference between the villains and heroes of Re:Creators – those who can think and grow soon find those who cannot to be fake or hollow in comparison, and they reject this fakeness/hollowness.  Aliceteria even reaches out to Magane (BEST GIRL) at one point, even though she hates Magane, because she at least Magane isn’t like Blitz or Altair.

The second exchange this one between Blitz and Shou (the hero character and rival to Yuya) where Shou shows no interest in bringing down his creator to fix the parts of the story he doesn’t like – like his sister’s death at Yuya’s hands – but instead wants to settle accounts with Yuya.  This reaction is exactly what you’d expect from the character in the game, he’s not grown at all since coming to our world and he’s not even invested in Altair’s goal – he just wants follow the scenario laid out for him in the game by his Creator and joins Altair’s side because Yuya is on the other side.  This is to say Shou is not a villain in the same sense as Altair, he’s not trying to destroy the world because he doesn’t give a shit about the wider implications of either the world of the “gods” or Altair’s plan – he just wants to fight Yuya.  But because he’s mindlessly on Altair’s side he is still a villain, his willful ignorance is his own undoing.  Because I very much doubt he’d be on Altair’s side if he really knew what she was doing and had engages with the world at all, because he’s a hero – I expect given the chance he would’ve either switched sides or tried to stop Altair on his own Mamika-style.

What this is all building up to though is episode 17, specifically the scene where Blitz confronts his Creator.  This confrontation is ultimately the most important one, it means far more than the flashy fight with Altair (who I admit largely bores me at this point since all she ever seems to be is invincible).  In the beginning of this confrontation Blitz is hostile to his Creator and even shoots her after confirming that the reason he had to kill his daughter was because the Creator thought it would make the story more interesting.  Up through the shooting Blitz is the one in control of the situation though his Creator proves that he hasn’t learned a thing from this world right away by predicting specific phrases in his speech and saying that they were the exact lines she’d have him say in the scenario.  This control shifts after the shooting though and the main spark is that Blitz continues to think of his own Creator as a devil while he thinks Setsuna is worthy of praise.

This line in particular sets his Creator and me off.  Setsuna is not worthy of praise, she is not special because she was rejected by the wider world.  As his Creator aptly explains Setsuna creating a character to get revenge for her isn’t even a story – it’s drivel masquerading as speech.  This is because Setsuna is a child, she was enjoying steadily growing success up to that point and then when she hits her first real roadblock she killed herself and blamed the world for all her problems.  What she seemingly failed to realize is as Blitz’s creator points out, no one is successful at first – or as I prefer, you have to suck at something before you get good at it.  And as Blitz’s creator  describes with total accuracy even when make something that’s accepted it’s never good enough.  You run into people you think are better than you and strive to grow or get depressed, and then you get back to work.

I can vouch for everything she said because I feel the same way.  I’ve tried writing plenty of stories I scrapped for being too shit before starting one I was semi-ok with – and even then I keep going through the parts I’ve written and messing with things, worrying that the pacing is too fast or the narration too confusing.  Likewise I’ve done some pretty expansive mods that totally overhaul a game’s campaign, units and map – and then I play it for a while and get struck with the “this isn’t good enough” feeling, like this version doesn’t add up what I’d envisioned when I started it and I need to do more before I finally reach that perfect version locked in my head – which I know for fact I will never reach.  It’s constant, you finish something creative and then wonder how to do it better and then you work on it again and this cycle repeats endlessly.  Even with this blog which is only 2 years old I’ve found posts I was embarrassed to have written, things that make me feel like I am indeed shit at writing.

Getting away from me though, what Blitz’s Creator reveals is how rigid Blitz’s thinking is and, to me at least, the inherent contradiction of praising a Creator who failed and gave up while demeaning and demonizing Creators who succeeded and continue to work – all while claiming to hate Creators and their world.  Blitz thinks his only option is to kill his Creator and help Altair end it all  He doesn’t even consider that his Creator could bring his daughter back – and use that to win him over to heroes’ side.  This is of course the great sin of Re:Creator’s villains they don’t think, they see a final destructive solution as the only way out of their problems – much like Setsuna – and this close mindedness is a gigantic weakness which can be exploited.

Re:Creators has shown over the course of it’s current run time that thinking and planning are ultimately more important than raw power and fighting.  This episode especially proves the effectiveness of a good plan as the gap in power between Blitz and his Creator is gigantic – however as his Creator proves Blitz’s inability to think freely is an equally gigantic weakness and one which he is punished for, as he Creator can smugly claim “I’m your god” once the tables are turned.  I also want to give a big shout out to Sota in this point as well.  I gave him credit for standing up to Aliceteria in a prior post but his contribution far exceeds that, because it’s from engaging with him and his ideas that Aliceteria can begin to grow and switch sides.  At this point it would be no exaggeration to say Sota has made the single largest contribution to the heroes’ fighting power since all the Creations were assembled.  I for one deeply appreciate and enjoy how freedom of thought is treated by Re:Creators and I hope you found my analysis of it interesting.  See you in the next one.

Character Cache: Tokisaki Kurumi

 

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Analyzing entire shows is fun and all but sometimes I just want to talk about one character and why they are so great or interesting.  To that end I present you with the first Character Cache, where I do exactly that.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

I explained this to an extent in my last post on Date A Live but Tokisaki Kurumi is possibly the single most interesting character  to ever explode out of a harem show.  So much so in fact that she puts many characters from beloved, popular, and acclaimed shows to shame despite being from a genre long considered the bottom of the anime barrel.  For some basic background, Tokisaki Kurumi is a Spirit, which are beings of immense power – thus far all of them are female though there are signs that there could be a male one – who exist outside our dimension and enter our world.  Doing so causes a “spackequake” which is basically a void which destroys everything it touches.  The humans of this story’s Earth see spacequakes quite often and have developed protocols to avoid them.  The exceptions to that rule are a few secretive groups, one of them being the government’s covert defense force sent to eradicate any Spirits they find.  This puts them in conflict with Spirits and it’s hard to blame the response because Spirits do God-only-knows how many dollars worth of damage just by showing up.  Because of this conflict most Spirits show a fear of, distrust for or outright hostility towards humans and you can hardly blame them either.

Kurumi is the most evil known Spirit in existence.  She has no qualms  killing people by her own volition rather than just via spacequake and she is one of the few Spirits who seems capable of triggering her own spacequakes at will – it’s unknown how much control most Spirits have over their spacequakes.  However according to government forces even discounting the spacequakes she’s killed thousands of people.  In most stories she would be the villain, and thank God Date A Live doesn’t make her one outright.  Shido, the protagonist, sees her as someone to save like any other Spirit and refuses to back down on that point.  He even attempts suicide at one point in retaliation for her threatening the lives of everyone at his school – and this works because she really, really wants him.

Getting back to Kurumi, her Spirit power is over time – as signified by her left eye which is a golden clock.  This power is exceedingly dangerous as she she appears to have 12 different special attacks/abilities, one for each hour.  Thus far the special attacks she’s shown have been a bullet that stops time, a bullet that turns back time on the person or object it strikes, a bullet that basically lets her teleport, a bullet which can let her look into people’s pasts and a bullet that allows her to make clones of herself.  She can also create a Time-Eating Fortress but that doesn’t seem to require a bullet.  She also has some association with shadow as she and her clones can melt into or spring out of shadows.  In comparison to the other Spirits Kurumi lacks raw destructive power – Tohka can cleave apart buildings and cliffsides for example – but her powers work exceptionally well in single combat and the only opponent she ever seemed in danger of losing to is Efreet, a berserk Spirit of destruction that resides in Shido’s adoptive sister Kotori.

Another interesting difference between Kurumi and the other Spirits is her lack of durability.  Of the six known Spirits four of them have some form of defense to avoid damage and Efreet rises phoenix-like from any wound no matter how mortal.  Kurumi on the other hand is killed by Shido’s blood-related sister Mana at least three times but never truly dies because of her seemingly infinite number of clones.

Kurumi’s power is also her greatest weakness though.  It’s almost unstoppably powerful and is by far the most versatile power among the known Spirits but it comes at a cost.  Unlike the other Spirits who can just use their power without issues Kurumi’s power eats away at her own time – which means her life.  However she can replenish her time via the Time Eating Fortress mentioned above, it’s basically a big shadow which devours the time of any humans in it’s zone of control.  This creates a negative feedback loop.  Kurumi has to use her powers to fight the government forces hunting her down, using her powers carves away at her life, her only way to reclaim her lost time is to devour the time of masses of humans which in turn makes her a bigger target where the government if concerned, which means she’ll need to use more power to fight the heightened response, and so on.  The only way to break this cycle without Kurumi dying is for Shido to save her by robbing her of this power.

But she won’t let him.  Or rather most versions of her won’t let him.  Remember how I mentioned the seemingly infinite clones, they are quite useful but Kurumi’s reliance on them, like the rest of her powers, has severe drawbacks.  There doesn’t seem to be a dominant clone or original, for example there was a clone which operated separately from the rest and dated Shido for a day before being drawn back into the collective mass of clones.  Likewise Shido convinces Kurumi (this is before the clones are revealed) that she can trust him after showing her that he’d be willing to die if it meant protecting everyone but before they can kiss and seal her powers one of the clones kills the Kurumi that Shido was currently interacting with.  This is the other huge failing of Kurumi’s power and lifestyle, her reliance on her own power has fractured her existence so badly different versions of her will kill each other if one seems in danger of threatening the group in any way.

Despite all this Kurumi has a very consistent set of personality traits and values, and barring the two incidents with Shido described above, all of the clones seem to adhere to the will of whichever Kurumi is the one out walking around day to day.  Kurumi’s personality is largely playful in warped sense of the word.  We only ever really see her interact with Shido but during that time she likes to play a lot of games with him.  She’s very forward – to a degree that Shido is uncomfortable with and which would be abnormal for most girls her age – and honest, to the point that she introduces herself as a Spirit when she transfers to Shido’s school even though only like three people in the room will understand what that means.  For a character that lurks in the shadows and appears openly sinister she’s oddly forthright with people, like when she tells a human girl who loves Shido that she wants to devour him.

She’s also a sociopath but not a lunatic, if anything her intentions are quite clear and pure, it’s the means which are a problem.  For example she once encounters a group of teenage or college boys shooting a kitten with airsoft guns, and after asking to join in their game she kills all of them with her guns, paired flintlock rifle and pistol – which she never has to reload because magic weapons.  When the last one is screaming to be spared she calmly remarks that it’s childish to think it’s ok to hurt things without having the resolve to risk being hurt in return, which in principle is not only understandable but a sentiment I agree with – and then she blows five gaping holes in him.

Even when she threatens to all of Shido’s school, first with the Time Eating Fortress and then with a spacequake, she’s doing it as way to assert her own free will, showing that she won’t just bow down to Shido’s plan and do what he says – even if that’s ultimately the best solution to her problems.  And what’s more she’s willing to use her power for good too.  Near the close of the second season when Tohka has been captured and Shido’s allies have been brainwashed by a Spirit who hates him, Kurumi not only helps him confront the Spirit in an attempt make a truce but serves at the main distraction as he attacks a private military organization’s building complex – which she does by becoming a one woman army (of clones) and attacking the robots and private army by herself, at least until further aid arrives.  As stated above Kurumi is not the villain.  She has the potential to be one but for now she’s a chaos factor, the only known Spirit not aligned with Shido, and she seems equally ready to fight Shido and his allies as she does Shido’s enemies.

Tokisaki Kurumi is a fickle and paradoxical character, she’s nigh invincible but also fragile and fragmented.  She’s rational and insane.  She’s a mass murderer who will save a kitten.  She’s clearly the sinister schemer but she’s also honest and forthright.  And it’s because of all these contradictions that she is interesting.  Rather than fitting nicely into an archetype or taking a clear role or side she’d just sort of there, waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to mess with Shido and accomplish her own hidden agenda.  Likewise the duality of her powers as her ultimate weapon and her greatest shackle is fascinating in concept.  Kurumi’s intrinsic connection with time and way she’s forced to expend and accumulate time are key factors in shaping her character, and if I may be so bold, they are by far the coolest set of time-related powers and consequences I’ve ever seen, and a great way to give her a complex place in the story to boot.  Also she’s super hot, it would be a grave dishonor not to mention that, I honestly have trouble deciding between her and Tohka  both for hottest girl and Best Girl.  Anyway that wraps this up, hope you enjoyed it.

Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the easternmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy -no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.