Unpopular Opinion RWBY Volume 8: An Unmitigated Disaster

There are a lot of problems with Volume 8, but before I break into them one by one I think I need to address the influence of team Rooster Teeth and how it’s changing the series as a whole. Mounty Oum has been gone since Volume 2 but it would not be a stretch to imagine his creative vision had a lot more sway in say Volume 3 & 4 than Volume 8. And while I think Rooster Teeth has done an admirable job with the series overall, it’s biases are creeping into the show more and more, to the point that we don’t just have a couple egregious examples – though we definitely have those – but there are shifting trends in what exactly RWBY is about and I don’t think the changes are getting better.

Volume 8 is also the Volume where I can’t help but feel some key aspects of the old RWBY are being lost, chief amongst them being Ruby herself. I know I’ve harped on about this almost every volume review since Volume 4 but seriously when is this girl going to kick ass again? And not in the hurr durr look at Ruby she’s a badass sense. What the early Volumes painted Ruby as was someone whose combat skills and affinity with her profession of choice are not only high enough to be brought to a huntsman academy early but to put her in charge of her older peers. However this came at a cost, which was that Ruby had the social acumen of young, shy introverted girl and almost no skills outside of combat. Up until Volume 8 my favorite line in the entire series was Ruby saying “meeting new weapons is like meeting new people, only better.” In her own quiet way she is kind of supposed to be a badass, but one without the personal skills or confidence to be a stone cold motherfucker. And yet she’s had so few moments to really shine in combat since the early volumes that what was once a minor problem has become a major one. Now more often than not the fights are either easy for everyone or are hard but require Ruby’s silver eyes to save the day or in the case of Grimm dog not even save the day. Sure those eyes of hers are important, no mistake about it, but what happened to the girl who went 1v2 against Torchwood and Neo and won? What happened to the girl who coordinated a rookie team’s abilities on the fly to the point she could drag a giant Grimm eagle up a cliff and decapitate it?

It’s not like Rooster Teeth hasn’t thrown her any bones at all since Volume 3 or 4, but with ever increasing frequency since the silver eyes were introduced the story of Ruby has shifted from the story of her skill to the story of her eyes. The only part of her character I still feel the series has right is her emotional side, which was one of the better parts of Volume 8. For some time now she has been the rock of the team, the one who wouldn’t give up and seeing her start to break down after the team reunites as Ironwood threatens to destroy Mantle was a great touch. It brought it back home, that oh yeah she is actually the youngest person around and she needs to be picked up when her hope in humanity wavers. I like that she is young in enough in her mindset to believe more or less in the good of people despite all that she’s seen, rather than be the tired cynic. I like that she she doesn’t have the personal fortitude to stay positive when it seems her big gamble fails. I like that she feels enough pressure to feel hopeless at least temporarily. She’s done a good job keeping her team together despite a long series of situations which tested their resolve and skill. Sadly however she so rarely is doing so like she did in the Huntsman Exam – we don’t see her calling the shots and directing her teammates, prioritizing targets or formulating tactics. We’ve never seen that much of it honestly. And I think that’s a real shame. I have no idea whether this is from Rooster Teeth or if it’s all in keeping from Mounty Oum’s ideas, but I definitely feel that we need to see Ruby be a tactician again, especially if they aren’t making her perform above and beyond in personal combat.

Anyway moving away from Ruby the most egregious problem with Volume 8 is Ironwood. If you read my review of Volume 7, you may recall that I felt the portrayal of Ironwood in Volume 7 was a good one. In Volume 7 they struck the right balance of Ironwood trying to be a hero and leader, balanced against a guy who can make tough calls and who isn’t very trusting. Someone who is convinced their way is the only way forward and brooks no disagreements when push comes to shove. Volume 8 builds on that foundation and swiftly turns Ironwood into a cartoon villain. He goes from killing a city councilman who gets in his way, to freeing Arthur Watts to sabotage Penny so he can destroy her and bring the Winter Maiden back under his control – directly sabotaging Ruby’s plan to call for aid – to outright threatening to destroy Mantle if his demands aren’t met and trying to kill his own Ace Ops. The last two are especially bad because when he makes that threat the Grimm are not in same kind of shape they were before. At the start of the Volume, the giant whale Grimm is pumping more and more Grimm out and presents a huge threat. The situation is dire and it’s somewhat understandable that Ironwood might remove any civilian authority getting in his way during a critical moment. Killing the city councilman seemed like a bit of an over-reaction, like why not just detain the guy, but I could roll with it. Sabotaging Penny by working with one of Salem’s associates to regain control of the Maiden powers? Not a risk I would take, nor a risk I think he would take, but I was willing to let that one slide because it was narratively interesting. Threatening to destroy Mantle after the Grimm Whale is already dead and the Grimm forces greatly reduced? That’s lunacy and there’s no way I buy that the Ironwood of Volume 7 would make that call. It gets even worse when he was about to kill Marrow for refusing the order, especially since Winter and one of the other Ace Ops do not seem at all keen on the plan even if they aren’t rejecting the order directly. Then by the end he’s trying to kill Winter, as his character spirals downwards towards a truly ridiculous level of self-destruction.

Moreover one of the strengths of the Atlas military in Volume 7 is that it was mostly unified, almost monolithically so, with Marrow being the only one reluctant to follow Ironwood’s order to capture Ruby and her allies. If 60% of his innermost elite circle disagree with his plan I would bet that Atlas military unity is crumbling fast. I can’t imagine for example that anyone in the Atlas military who has any family in Mantle, would be willing to follow the order to destroy it, or allow their comrades to follow this order. This is a move that is frankly too stupid to make. I was always a little bummed out that Volume 7 didn’t explore the virtues of a strong central authority in times of crisis, well now we know why, because Volume 8 was planning to turn Ironwood into a tinpot dictator with the charisma and strategic genius of a drug-addled hobo in a business suit.

One of the trends I think is coming from Rooster Teeth that may not have been in Mounty Oum’s creative vision is the increasing focus on relationships and emotions. In a broad sense they were always there so I don’t want to make out like I think Oum never had these aspects in mind when working on RWBY. However the relationships and emotions of the more recent Volumes feel much more, dare I say progressive in the Western sense. The almost gay not quite bromance between Clover and Qrow last Volume is the most blatant example. But things like Nora saying she needs to find herself, and Robin trying to tell Qrow that killing Ironwood is him being selfish and not fighting for the good of everyone – they feel very preachy and progressive in a way nothing else in RWBY really did. That’s not say there hasn’t been heavy handed or babies first moralizing before, but at least back then it felt relevant to the plot, this more recent shit is almost exclusively character driven including at the expense of plot. Like Robin is flat out wrong in that example I mentioned, removing Ironwood from the picture practically guarantees the situation gets better since Winter doesn’t want to bomb Mantle, and frankly I want the Qrow of Volume 3 back please, that motherfucker was a confident cynic who not only didn’t need pep talks from people half his age but was pretty derisive of anyone weaker than him. That Qrow was cool and it felt natural, even if some of that was façade to hide his own demons – hell especially because of that, it felt like a natural façade too. But some of this dialogue just feels like idealism, and sure idealism has always been there, but it’s getting more prevalent not less, despite the world coming under more pressure. And worse it’s teens and young adults telling older adults what’s what – like they have their heads on straight and know better. Sometimes they do. But it comes across as a total disregard for the wisdom of the older generation and that’s a trend which is very much rampart in Western progressivism.

All of this being said there a couple serious highlights to this Volume. Oscar/Ozpin subverting Salem’s forces was a great move and one that felt very natural. Emerald in particular has felt like the odd man out in this organization for several Volumes, so seeing her switch sides was good. Likewise Hazel turning on Salem and pulling out all the stops and doing as much damage as he could was not only a great scene but a strong character moment for someone who also seemed pretty out of place in Salem’s organization. He was there because he hated Ozpin and Salem was Ozpin’s enemy but a lot of his attitude throughout earlier Volumes suggested he wasn’t really for all the killing that Salem demanded of her henchmen or caused with her Grimm. Neo being something of a chaos factor, was a good touch even if they didn’t do a ton with her beyond having her “kill” Yang.

The real stars though are ironically enough Cinder and Arthur. We see Cinder’s backstory and while it’s pretty trite and heavy-handed it does get the point across. Cinder was a girl who was looked down on and badly mistreated growing up. She had only one person backing her up and he was an infrequent acquaintance. Her efforts to improve herself only earned her more ire and grief from her masters. And so eventually she kills her masters and her teacher, who won’t let her walk away from the prior murders without punishment. It helps explain why Cinder has been so restless and reckless, and by extension much less threatening than she was in the first 3 Volumes. Back then she was mysterious, on the offensive and in control. Then something goes wrong. Ruby deals her a horrible blow and her great moment of triumph is marred. She’s back to licking her wounds and bowing her head to her master, Salem, and it grates. It’s why she keeps making mistakes and can’t just sit around and follow orders, it runs counter to the person she has tried to forge herself into. And despite the fact Salem gives her no credit, she does actually do a lot of damage during this conflict with a few key actions. I won’t necessarily say it makes her a better character, but it does make her a more human one.

Arthur meanwhile makes less than sense than ever while also basically dropping one of the best scenes in the entire series. I don’t really see why Arthur is working with Salem. As I write this I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head what he’s done that made him end up a bad guy, prior to our meeting him. I know why he has a bone to pick with Atlas but I don’t know why he’s working with Salem – he just doesn’t seem like he would be all that keen on ending the world. He thrives in this world and he’s the most sane and competent of Salem’s followers – barring the fact that his presence by her side is questionable at all of course. His method to sabotage Penny was a good bit of narrative work but his real glory was his verbal beatdown of Cinder. Him berating her as she threatens to drop him off a building is one of the best scenes in the series, hands down. The fact they actually have him let go of her arm once he decides he’s going to roast her was a great touch and really helped sell the scene. But it was this line that really did wonders – “You think you’re entitled to everything just because you’ve suffered, but suffering isn’t enough. You can’t just be strong, you have to be smart. You can’t just be deserving, you have to be worthy.” I especially like the last bit, about being worthy and the amount of emphasis the VA puts on that dialogue is absolutely crucial. This is not just Arthur roasting Cinder, he’s actually imparting one of the best bits of advice in the entire series and trying to hammer it through her thick fucking skull. He’s laying bare all of her failings and telling her that her failings are why she’s in the miserable position she’s in. That she doesn’t have everything she dreams of because frankly she isn’t worthy of those dreams. And the fact that Cinder not only relents but that the pair sit down and cool off afterwards, with Cinder practically sulking into a corner – that right made them two of the most relatable villains in the show.

Sadly that about covers the highlights of Volume 8. I mean the portal plan was clever but dropping half the main cast into the “void” Ambrosius specifically told them not to fall into – least convincing dramatic moment in the entire show. Likewise the Penny actually becoming human bit, a very nice and emotional scene and oh – she’s dead like 2 episodes later. Talk about a waste, fuck if you were going to kill Penny anyway they should have done as Penny initially requested, have Ruby kill her and become the Winter Maiden. That makes way more sense strategically and it’s a better bit of narrative work. They could have made a scene about making bitter sacrifices when times were dire, make the characters become more mature by the weight of the actions they felt forced to take. Instead we get a cute and clever plan that would have actually been good if it you know, lasted any meaningful length of time. Like I still remember when Pyrrha died and it had way more impact than Penny’s death, despite the fact Penny had Jaune kill her. Oh and the Ace Op with the extendable aura arms died too, felt like a footnote when so many other characters either died or appeared to die. Ugh.

Back when I started drafting this up I intended to describe Volume 8 as an uneven mess with a number of glaring weakness but a similar number of strengths. But fuck me the finale of this Volume was garbage, like this is the worst RWBY has been in years, maybe even since the shitty bully arc back in Volume 1. I sat through this finale hating almost every second of it. It did literally everything wrong. It had a bunch of deaths, and fake deaths, mashed together with little to no build-up, it had Ruby suck at fighting to point she was getting handily beaten by Neapolitan whom she fought more competently against back in Volume 3, despite the circumstances then being less in her favor. Ironwood completed his journey from flawed and crumbling hero to outright failure and it was both shit and cringe. Like the only good bits at all were Cinder kicking both Neapolitan and Arthur Watts to the curb in her attempt to curry more favor with Salem. And even that was more mildly interesting than actually good.

And sorry but I can’t stress enough how fucking tired I am of seeing Ruby suck ass. Her whole fucking deal was that she was supposed to something of a budding prodigy with regards to combat. That was how she was depicted in Volume 1. Since then they’ve given her more advanced weaponry, turned her already powerful semblance into a semblance that should be a literal nightmare to fight against and given her magic eyes that destroy all but the strongest enemies outright. How in the hell is the Ruby of Volume 8 being portrayed as less effective in battle than the Ruby of Volume fucking 1. At this point there is simply no excuse. Anyone with an ounce of creativity, imagination and logic should be able to envisage just how difficult Ruby should be to deal in personal combat. With the way her Semblance works now she probably ought to be able to go toe to toe with Cinder, or any Maiden for that matter, and win. Her abilities are that good if she ever was allowed to use them properly. But no she’s doing worse than ever and she doesn’t even get to take tactical command when fighting major enemies anymore. I’m reminded of that bit a few Volumes ago where they made a big deal about teaching Ruby to fight better unarmed and it culminated in one little punch against Mercury. It was a total waste of time and huge missed opportunity. Her Semblance would synergize extremely well with CQC, so if they were going to bother having Ruby train in that vein why didn’t they do anything with it? Why are we getting away from action scenes that make any goddamn sense and spending more time talking and feelings and doing what’s right?

You know for a long time now I thought RWBY had moved past the first draft stage of it’s writing and development. It’s had its stumbles from time to time but it was at least generally competent and delivered on some good action set pieces, interesting Grimm and had a story which made sense even if the pacing was messy. It had enough good points to make up for the rough patches. Volume 8 doesn’t. This is the closest I’ve been to dropping RWBY since Volume 1 and in large part I chalk that up to most of this Volume feeling like a first draft. Certain arcs or character moments felt solid or even incredible – but so much of Volume 8 felt slapdash and amateur by comparison. Given how long I’ve been following RWBY I’m sure I’ll watch Volume 9 – but unless the trends that made this Volume as bad as it was change fast, I can’t see myself sticking around much longer. At some point I’d rather set this aside and just write my own headcannon version than watch the real thing come crashing down.

Unpopular Opinion: Jujutsu Kaisen

Holy fucking shit did this show go out with a bang. I’ll be the first to admit that this show always had potential, but for a long way through its run I was alternatively worried it would go downhill or unimpressed by some of the shallowness of writing and blistering pacing. I would even go so far as to say I don’t think Jujutsu Kaisen really won me over until the Yuji & Todo vs Hanami fight. And then that final battle rolls around and I’m well and truly hooked. That’s not to say the show doesn’t have its problems but as of the finale I can finally admit that I’m all aboard the hype train because the madlads actually did it – they made a show with with unbelievably fast power creep not only bearable but awesome, and they made a show with such good action that it does make up for the relative weakness of the show’s writing. There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

The biggest strength of Jujutsu Kaisen was apparent very early on, the team who put this together did excellent fight animation. In and of itself that wouldn’t be enough to make this a great show but the sheer amount of fight animation, particularly in last 2 arcs was fucking mind-boggling. I think the dudes over at Khantent said it best when they described this show as perfect for AMVs, there is a lot of ultra-high movement, very fluid animation with none of the hilarious screw ups best illustrated by the “My pain is greater than yours!” scene from Naruto. If you’re looking for action focused eye candy you would be hard-pressed to find much better than Jujutsu Kaisen. And the author admittedly did a great job come up with powers and skill sets that made extremely physical action, with most of the characters basically having superhuman physiques and those who didn’t generally having distinct weapon-based curse techniques, like Nobara’s hammer and nails. Adding to the eye candy buffet are the domain expansions, all of which looked dope as shit, from Sukuna’s pile of bones to Gojo’s Infinity and even the Jogo’s volcano domain. They all looked great and made for stunning artwork to contrast the mostly hideous curse spirits.

This incidentally was the other great strength of Jujutsu Kaisen, though it took much longer to make clear – the variety and specificity of the curse powers made them not only one of most unique powersets in any given anime, but one of the most intriguing since HunterxHunter’s Nen schooled everybody years ago. And for a while this was actually more important to me personally than the action scene’s themselves. Barring shows which go out of their way to be so dumb or absurd that cool factor and fun are all that really matter, a show’s writing is generally what I’m most interested in. And Jujutsu Kaisen was and frankly still is pretty weak on that front. The power system however gave me a lot ideas, things to consider and details to chew on. It helped fill the void left by the very basic and archetypal writing of almost every character. The curse powers are a saving grace of the show, because when they click just right, they are downright some of the most stylish and awesome powers in anime. I have to give an extra big shoutout to Nobara here because she fucking killed it in the finale with Resonance and Hairpin. Her power remains the most interesting to me because as she explained her Resonance it clicked just how versatile the technique could be and how much it fluctuated in strength without her having to gain new powers stupid fast like Yuji and Megumi. Moreover if anyone in the show really nailed that mid-battle shift to edgy badass well, it was Nobara who hit that note out of the fucking park. Because while I loved Megumi’s Chimera Shadow Garden as a power, his sudden onset of edgy smiling and laughter seemed a bit too forced.

All that being said I do have a couple things which sort of bother me. Mainly the characters and the pacing. The characters have gotten a lot better in the last 2 arcs because I’ve gotten more invested in them through the fights, but the writing is still basic as hell with the only truly interesting character being Todo, because he can fabricate entirely new fake realities in his head on the fly and judges his peers by their taste in women. The rest skate by because I’m digging the fights and by now that might be enough, but it did make a large chunk of the show a lot weaker and even spoiled what was supposed to be one of Yuji’s big scenes. When he said that line about how everything else he’d ever said felt fake compared to just how much he wanted to destroy Mahito – that was supposed to have been a big moment. And the worst part is it could have been, that line and emotion could have had a lot of impact had we either spent more time building up to this, or made the emotional connection between the characters deeper or to the characters, in the viewers’ case more meaningful, they could have made this scene supremely memorable as the dark lead up to a beat down. Instead the line felt a bit corny because neither Yuji nor the bullied kid had enough depth or even time in the story frankly to make me give much of a shit.

And that really is the other big problem, the pacing. It’s not as bad as the bland writing but it’s a double-edged sword that is cutting into the wielder quite badly. The speed of pacing means the show is mostly always on its toes and makes sure the viewer isn’t bored. That’s good, but it comes at the cost of depth of connection and power creep. Yuji in particular but Megumi also have moments of explosive growth without the usual lengthy training arc of the shounen titans of yore. It feels very convenient that Yuji masters the Black Flash in like one or two episodes and then breaks the record of consecutive uses of Black Flash, or how Megumi manifests his Domain Expansion seemingly with nothing more than some choice words of generic psychological advice. They weren’t so egregious as to break the show for me but Yuji’s power up in particular made me roll my eyes. There’s also just weird places where the show breaks away to do a flash back or some exposition that would make total sense if you just moved the scenes around a bit. At this point I think the speed doesn’t really matter anymore, I’m invested and so long as the power creep doesn’t hit end of Naruto levels, I should be okay, but the speed did hurt the show a bit in the sense that it was hard to form much of a connection with any of the characters until quite late in the show.

Ultimately I would call Jujutsu Kaisen a half-baked masterpiece. It is still very rough around the edges in some places and those rough edges made it a good-to-just-above-average experience for a large chunk of the show’s run. But the ingredients that were given the time and attention to shine did eventually make enough of an impact for the dish to come together as a great meal. Honest to God, as much as I enjoyed the ride, particularly the inter-high tournament, it was the finale that clinched the big win in my books for Jujutsu Kaisen. And a big part of that was all Nobara finally coming into her own, since I was honestly a bit let down by her portrayal for much of the show. Jujutsu Kaisen is either going to have maintain this absurd fight animation quality while gradually upping the stakes or it’s going to have to improve it’s overall game if it truly wants to make it to the big leagues of anime. But for the moment I can confidently say “Goddamn that was good!” See y’all in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Slime Isekai vs Spider Isekai

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Fuck it, no point easing into this one. I like Spider Isekai (Kumo desu ga nani ka?) more than Slime Isekai (That Time I was Reincarnated as a Slime). If you’re an anime only this is extra weird because the Spider Isekai anime is sadly not as good as the manga (yes I know it’s originally a LN, I don’t read those, deal with it). There will be major spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Basically what it comes down to is that in Slime Isekai everything always works out and in Spider Isekai it always feels like the Sword of Damocles is just waiting to drop. For the record my ambivalence, and possibly even outright dislike for Slime Isekai has been growing for some time. If I had to pinpoint a place it began I would say the battle with the Orc Disaster, specifically when Rimuru used Great Sage to fight the Orc Disaster on autopilot. That happened like halfway through season 1 (I think) and we’re getting well into season 2 now. And I have to admit was originally going to write this a few weeks ago when the show felt like nothing but Rimuru’s victory lap, but then it seemed like Slime Isekai would do something interesting – it might finally not have everything work out for once. And now I 100% know it will. Like in case you’re not in the know, Rimuru is almost killed on his way back to his country, while his country is attacked and locked behind several barriers that weaken the monsters within and prevent communication with the outside world. It’s the perfect set up for things to finally go wrong. There’s death and destruction in Tempest now, for first time on any meaningful scale. For the first time it looked like the forces of evil scored a win and the naivete of the good guys came back to bite them in the ass. But right as Rimuru is in despair looking at the corpse of Shion – which itself convinced me things would work out, no way are they killing the show’s top waifu – an adventurer Rimuru knows (who it turns out is actually some elven princess in disguise but nevermind that) arrives out of the blue and tells him a story which gives him some hints about how to revive his people. And wouldn’t you know it, the barriers already in place actually work in his favor for this task as they might be preventing the monsters’ souls from leaving, meaning they won’t go insane upon being revived. To quote the meme, my disappoint is immeasurable and my day is ruined.

I cannot stress enough just how frustrated I am with the direction of Slime Isekai. This is a show with great character designs, color choices, backgrounds, landscapes and animation. It’s one of the best looking isekai ever made. And it squanders all that on a story that is really grating on me. Like it wants to suggest it has tension and has battles with stakes, but it constantly undercuts that tension to the point I’m pretty much convinced nothing will ever not go Rimuru’s way. That might sound like weird criticism, after all stories often go their protagonist’s way, that’s normal. The difference is that many stories at least convincingly maintain the illusion that protagonist could or will fail, or even better actually has them fail every now and again. With Slime Isekai the current arc was the first time it felt like the supposed tension actually had any weight to it, like there was any threat that the damage would mean something, that serious consequences would exist. And then a minor character waved them away with a fairy tail which is all to obviously true because it’s obviously about Milim. “But dude!” you might be thinking, “pay attention bro Rimuru has to kill like 10,000 people to make this happen – that’s dope.” I’m not even remotely hyped. Rimuru can kill 10,000 people with ease and this scenario is played out to make him and the viewer care about this specific army of 20,000 people on it’s way as little as possible in a moral sense. Shit the army is already on his doorstep, he’s gonna kill them all next episode to save his fallen people. It won’t even be a big deal. Will there be awesome animation and brutal death scenes? Almost assuredly. Will that keep my attention? For sure. Will it address my fundamental problem with this show? Not in the fucking slightest. And that’s what really guts me about this arc.

Slime Isekai is probably the best anime I’ve ever seriously considered dropping. It has the production values to look great, it’s got a decent story and likable enough cast. I don’t even mind that a lot of the show is spent building up the nation of Tempest, be it the physical buildings or the various alliances between monsters and humans and so forth. That’s plenty interesting. But since the beginning Slime Isekai has tried to balance the generally light tone where everything works out and good people work together without issues to make everything better, with a sense that there are malevolent forces that needed to be overcome and failure to do would be catastrophic. This arc was the closest the show has ever gotten to delivering on the threat of the malevolent forces, or hell even just suggested that things wouldn’t work out. Because as nice as the city development and politics in concept the execution is pretty shit – good people work together and improve the situation, bad people lose and maybe redeem themselves, story moves on without a hitch. There’s not enough realism, which may sound absurd for such a fantasy setting, but believe you me; you can have things like political realism in a fantasy universe. It wouldn’t even be very hard. Look to Kingdom for example and see how the young Zhang Yeng has to strain and struggle against his chief minister and even his own mother for political dominance of his own court. You could emulate that, in some fashion, or just make King Dwargon less of an all around good guy. Make forming the alliances harder or have them cause internal friction within Tempest. There are any number of ways to add intrigue and depth to this show, and this arc looked like it fucking finally might start doing that. Then it undercuts it immediately.

I know it’s bad form to complain about what a show isn’t instead of what it is, and I do want to stress that Slime Isekai is not a bad show. It’s a good show, a solid show, but it’s missing the one key ingredient that I specifically want/need to take it from a decent show to a great show. And it kills me see to a show I would otherwise be all about rooting for become something I grow less and less interested in. And what kills me even more is that Slime Isekai has all production quality in the world, while Spider Isekai languishes in mediocre production values (at best) despite being so much more my kind of show. Well sort of, let’s dig into that.

The Spider Isekai anime is a bit of a mess and that mess has definitely muddled the impact of what me instantly fall in love with the manga. For those unaware, the anime is cutting back and forth between the adventures of Kumoko the spider MC and her fellow classmates who were isekai’ed with her. This would suggest the two sets of events are happening at the same time, when at least going on what’s in the manga and some spoilers I’ve heard is not the case. Kumoko is supposed to have gained the majority of her utterly ridiculous powers which include among others things Immortality and the ability to kill people with Evil Eye from long distances and through walls, before her fellow classmates really get going. I assume the logic here is that since Kumoko is a spider she was born sooner and developed much faster and therefore had a massive headstart. The fact one of her classmates is currently a baby in the manga would imply that. Now some of you may be thinking “What’s this? So far you’ve just described a basic power fantasy, how could you favorably that compare to Slime Isekai?” The answer is that while Spider Isekai has some truly ridiculous powers it also has a Dark Souls idea of power and difficulty. No matter how strong Kumoko gets during her journey she still has a very long way to go if she wants to challenge the top dogs of her fantasy world. It’s awesome and it totally sells that threat of danger that Slime Isekai has none of. From her very first frog fight to her current position as an immortal, she’s always winning by the skin of her teeth. Even when she has breaks where things are relatively easy, she often lets her guard down and is caught by the next big threat, and she’s back to scrambling to stay alive.

The anime falters on delivering this somewhat and that’s a big letdown. Because the anime is consistently cutting over to the classmates and even to flashbacks of their life in the real world, we spend a lot less time watching Kumoko git gud as the kids say. That’s not to say it’s all bad, the classmates scenes look good without an abundance of CG, and more importantly showing us their various group dynamics and how being isekai’ed has changed them adds a lot of depth and intrigue to story. That’s before we get to the teacher straight up hacking one her students so he loses all his skills and levels in a scene which is as yet unexplained – though manga readers will get it more. But the loss of focus on Kumoko is a pretty serious hit to the show all the same. Her journey through the labyrinth and how she has to constantly fight her way through it is extremely compelling, despite the pretty shit CG most of the monsters are stuck with. And her VA absolutely fucking kills it. I loved her as Tanya from Youjo Senki but this performance is on another level, legitimately some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard, Kumoko can carry this show with no problem in my opinion. Despite the anime’s flaws I’m definitely more excited about how Spider Isekai will play out than I am about Slime Isekai. See y’all in the next one.

Understanding Trope Subversion: Redo of Healer vs The Wrong Way to Use Healing Magic

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To say most anime rely on a consistent set of tropes is a massive understatement. A lot of the time anime can feel like nothing but a series of copy and pastes, similar if not identical settings between 10 new shows in the same genre that look the same as 10 shows from the year before in the same genre. The same character archetypes endlessly rehashed in the same genre and possibly even entire medium, even certain poses which appear so often as to be ubiquitous. Perhaps this is why when something that feels new and fresh steps up to the plate, a lot of people are understandably excited. It heralds an opportunity to see the medium grow in new and possibly interesting ways, for tropes to change, new tropes to arise and even for some tropes to vanish forever. Pop culture and its many critics have come to love the word subversion – generally meaning an unexpected twist on something familiar. I however find this love of subversion somewhat misguided. Don’t get me wrong I’m as happy for something new as anyone else but sadly there comes a time in your life when you become a jaded motherfucker and realize that subversion itself can become trendy and a lot of shitty shows based around subverting the tried and true formulas will arise to make a quick a buck. There will be minor spoilers for IPs mentioned in the title, you’ve been warned.

One of the best examples of this going wrong is magical girls. Madoka Magica came out and shocked the anime world. This bright, cutesy magical girl show took a sudden dark turn and everyone ate that shit up. And fair enough, I loved it too, I think it was very well made in all aspects – visually unique and impressive, the story and emotional through-lines well delivered, etc. But shortly thereafter a bunch of “dark” and “edgy” magical girl shows started coming out. Suddenly there were magical girl death games, abused girls becoming magical girls, magical girl wars, and so on and so forth. And most of those are not so fondly remembered, if they’re remembered at all. That’s not to say all of them were shit, some of them might have been good, I can’t really say I’ve never been much into the magical girl scene. But I can confidently say that a lot of garbage shows based around a dark subversion of the magical girl genre popped up as a fad, and thankfully it’s mostly dead now – or at least fewer obviously bad shows in that vein are being pumped out.

I would say isekai, a genre that is bloated with a seemingly endless number of shows with no sign of slowing down, is going through a similar phase now. It’s not quite a pronounced as magical girl one is but the ultra dark, edgy and brutal isekais are coming out of the woodwork. Goblin Slayer is the first one I would point to in this particular trend, though depending on how you want to define the subversion Re:Zero’s first season would be another good starting point, and the big one now is of course Redo of Healer. And it sucks. Were this blog at all popular I might get some ire for saying that. Shit I still might, considering how long my mini-feud with the Overlord fandom (another possible starting point in the trend now that I think about it) has gone on for. Regardless I don’t think my argument here is at all a big sell. Redo of Healer is ultra edgy revenge porn. It’s full of rape, brainwashing, murder and a bunch of other horrible things in a world full of humans so comically evil that you almost have to laugh at how upfront the story is. The story attempts to justify the main character in his edgequest by brutalizing him in the prologue about as hard as you can expect anyone to take but still survive. It’s hot garbage but it can be darkly entertaining or cathartic garbage. I’m up to date on the manga btw, so I’m not just dunking on something I know very little about. In fact I don’t even hate Redo of Healer, I’m not above indulging in some entertaining garbage from time to time, in fact garbage shows can be the most fun sometimes. The anime is somehow even worse than the manga though because it takes this hot garbage story and brings it to life with some of the most terrible production values I’d ever seen, at least until Ex-Arm lowered the bar on terrible looking anime forever. I dropped the anime a couple minutes in. Hated the VA for the MC, thought his voice didn’t match the kind of character the MC would become and it was hard to look at the show before the rape train started.

Sexual content and general attitude of Redo of Healer aside, one of the big things it hinges on is a massive subversion of the Healer character trope. Everyone born since D&D was created knows that healers are generally passive support types with pretty limited abilities. They tend to be extremely important but they have a narrowly defined role and that’s that. Redo of Healer attempts to break this mold by basically redefining what Healer and healing magic means in the context of this specific fantasy world. Now it’s not uncommon for healers to have some offensive abilities roughly in line with their healing abilities – they could be able to cast inflict wounds and heal wounds for example – but Redo of Healer basically overhauls the entire concept of healing magic while leaving the base idea intact. And it sucks. Not so much because it’s trying to ascribe new powers to healing per se, but because the changes are basically a matter of narrative convenience. The author clearly had a type of story in mind and went about creating a world and powerset with that story in mind – and with the subtlety of a fucking brick to the face. Everything from the blatant cruelty world to bizarre aspects of “healing” which really stretch and strain at our common conception of healing (like turning back time or learning the skills of the people you’ve healed) are all there to make the author’s story possible. It doesn’t feel like a story that arises naturally out of a setting, it’s a setting that has been twisted and broken to fit the story. It’s just really shitty writing. Which is why the Healer subversion they should have made an anime out of was The Wrong Way to Use Healing Magic, henceforth Wrong Way.

Part of makes Wrong Way so great is that it doesn’t really change the core mechanics of healing at all. If anything it’s almost entirely limited to traditional healing, no inflict wounds even, at least not in the manga. Instead Wrong Way takes the common conception of healing magic and changes how it’s used tactically to create a Healer who is almost the total opposite of the healer stereotype. The big hook if you will of Wrong Way is that the MC, and his mentor who comes up with the idea, basically use healing magic to abuse their bodies to shit and get swol in the process. They both undergo grueling training that would break the human body, and continuously use healing on themselves while doing so not just survive the training intact but keep it going far beyond what a non-healer could ever do, thus building muscles and endurance with abnormal speed and to inhuman limits. And it’s hilarious. The MC and his mentor both have monstrous strength, speed and stamina that makes them a terror on the battlefield. And they can still heal people as needed. There are way too many differences between Wrong Way and Redo of Healer to get into without a lot of spoilers but to put it simply what makes Wrong Way interesting it that used a common trope in a clever way to tell a new type of story that stills seems well within the common bounds of the isekai genre. And Redo of Healer rewrote the trope entirely to tell a story for what feels like a very different genre.

This is not to say attempting to edit a trope, to stretch it beyond it’s usual bounds is bad in and of itself of course. The time reversal example I cited before actually shows up in reverse in Accel World where a girl is thought to be a healer when she’s actually turning back time, and uses the mistaken perception of her power to turn the tables on the series villain. So it’s not totally beyond the bounds of convention. That being said the main problem with Redo of Healer in this regard is that it’s too extreme and not just with all the rape and whatnot. It’s making such a laundry list of changes to Healing and Healers that it is very hard to take seriously as an interesting or even genuine subversion of the trope. I can scarcely imagine anyone thinks it’s clever or eye-opening the way Madoka Magica was to magical girl shows. A large part of that has to do with surrounding story and hideous anime, but a key component here is that Redo of Healer is just a terrible subversion of the tropes it builds itself around. It’s not an innovative or interesting take a well-trodden path, it’s just crass writing, crudely smashed together to tell the garbage story it wants to tell. And for the people who love it that’s good enough I suppose, I must admit I’ve been losing interest in Redo of Healer for some time now, but we should celebrate when someone does it better. Hence why I wanted to talked about Wrong Way even if just a little. Because Wrong Way subverts the tropes well, not by re-writing the rules of trope, but changing how it is used to tell a different kind of story. And the results speak for themselves, I’m always looking forward to the next chapter of Wrong Way, I’m more or less at the point I want to drop Redo of Healer. Sure that’s just my personal take, but I do believe I’m onto something here. See y’all in the next one.

Understanding Re:Zero Season 2 Part 2: Dead on Arrival

This will spoil the first few episodes of Re:Zero season 2 part 2 but honestly unless you truly love Re:Zero you aren’t missing much. I know it’s considered bad form to review something before you finish it but this will have to do, because I’m done. As soon as this came out I made the decision to watch it despite my disappointment with season 2 part 1 because it’s going to be popular and to be all over the anime community. I did a classic algorithm chasing tactic even though it’s fucking pointless for a blog as small and rarely used as mine. But I honestly couldn’t even make it 3 episodes, shit I didn’t even make it halfway through episode 3. Let me explain why.

Let’s begin by taking a trip down memory lane. In case you missed it, my last post on the subject of Re:Zero was tale of abject disappointment. I felt that for all the genuine high points in season 2 part 1, and there were quite a few – death by rabbit, yandere Emilia, Witch Convention, etc. – there was too much crap in between those high points to consider viewing the show time well spent. Whether it be infuriating scenes of Subaru struggling with harem protag levels of retardation, the grating bore of long scenes of people talking on and on while saying so little of substance, the almost hilarious but truly annoying amount of repeated sentences and ideas used to pad out the already bloated script, or the sheer emptiness I felt when it turned out that we were still stuck on the same challenge for an entire season’s worth of episodes. All of the strengths of season 2 part 1 combined were not enjoyable enough to make up for the fucking slog it took get to all of them. To say I felt let down is one hell of an understatement.

So to someone like me, who was not even interested in, let alone hype for, season 2 part 2 – you can imagine how jarring the start of season 2 part 2 was. Episode 1 was clusterfuck. It starts with Otto the effeminate merchant manhandling Subaru, which was surprising since physical fitness was one of Subaru’s only strengths, and making a big appeal to Subaru that he needs to ask others for help. Which would have been impactful maybe a few arcs ago when he was still trying to do everything by himself but means jack fucking squat now. Subaru even says as much and Otto’s like “but you didn’t ask ME for help!” as if that was supposed to make him more lovable or something. I know Otto is sort of beloved among Re:Zero fans and is a quasi-waifu and maybe this is great move for those people, but overall Otto has not been involved with the story very much and he’s frankly not very interesting. Episode 2 tries to remedy that by plunking half its run time into Otto’s backstory and how he has some special power that let’s him understand and communicate with animals. But it felt so damn hollow, not just because was it a by-the-numbers boy with the weird power gets bullied by everyone else story, but also that it was basically only there to justify why he has this power we’ve never seen before, that he now needs to put up any kind of resistance to Garfiel.

Getting back to episode 1 though after Subaru tells Otto all of his problems and forms some crazy plan with him – we don’t have the details because of course they skipped over the plan they put together nor did they show any of Otto’s reactions to Subaru’s story – Subaru lays out a big wager on Roswaal with the music swelling to convey how epic this moment is. I know that might sound exciting but I felt precisely the opposite for several reasons. As boring as Subaru laying out his story to Otto would be in terms of progressing the plot, seeing Otto’s reactions and how he processes the information could’ve brought some much needed depth to his character and possibly given us some insight as to how most of Subaru’s associates and allies might react when some of the truths about him inevitably come to light. It would have been boring and the dialogue would probably have sucked but it would have given everyone some perspective and served as a soft reset from the suckage that was season 2 part 1. And I would have much rather seen the two making their plan live than what will probably come, when after the plan is at the pivotal moment of success everything will explained. These after the fact plans are really fucking boring and obscenely easy to write because you can mostly write them backwards.

When it comes to writing this kind of scenario where you need a crazy and/or complicated plan you can handle it a number of ways. 1 – You go the HunterxHunter Chimera Ant route where you spend a bunch of time prepping a complex plan and have the characters spend the rest of the arc trying to accomplish each little sub-goal within the plan to make it a success. You can also have something throw a wrench in the works at some point, and then the drama becomes how the characters work around this wrench or have to alter their big plan to accommodate the unexpected change. This approach is risky as the audience could get bored depending on just how much set up you do or how big brained you make some of the ideas. But having Otto and Subaru spend one episode getting Subaru to chill the fuck out and actually analyze all the information he has to make a plan? I think that would work. Partly because again it would serve as soft reset, a tonal shift from the gloom, doom and utter boredom of season 2 part 1 and give the start of part 2 a focal point to build excitement from. But also because that’s a much better use of Otto and what you’d think his strengths would be than him physically defeating Subaru and summoning swarms of bugs to delay Garfiel. Otto is a successful travelling merchant, so you’d think his strong points would be the personal and rhetorical skills needed to be a good salesman and the ability to glean as much information as possible from marketplace gossip and traveler’s rumors, so that can figure out what will sell best where. He should be good at looking at whatever information Subaru would have given him. And Subaru has already shown that he can put a lot of information together with the White Whale hunt, him taking a proactive approach where he sorts through all of his knowledge with Otto could give the story and character some focus to make it seem like this season will actually accomplish something.

Option 2 is the Log Horizon option where, rather than setting out the entire plan in advance, you place important details in advance, then explain how you’ve strung them together into a plan as the plan is playing out. In Log Horizon it’s common for concepts which will be pivotal at the arc’s climax to be present early in the arc and for related concepts to pop up throughout the arc. If you’re paying close attention you can actually figure out most or all of whatever Shiroe is planning by putting together the various pieces the show has given to you. I like this style a lot as it doesn’t require the same level of narrative halt as the planning the whole thing out in advance but gives you enough hints for you to follow along or be like “oh shit I remember that” as it comes up once the plan is revealed. I feel like this too would be a good way to start season 2 part 2. You can get the best of both worlds, show the characters start to strategize and bring in the focus you need to shake off the bad taste of part 1, and give us some of the details so we have an idea of what to focus on or something you can reveal as being more important than it first appears. It also has the much needed benefit not feeling like an asspull, which is precisely the problem with option 3.

Option 3 is what we’ve got. Where we see nothing about the plan and the characters plunge headlong into it without providing any hints to exactly what they’re doing. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to sort of figure what they’re going for based on what the characters do, provided you have enough information to understand the full context of their moves. Often though you will get nothing and the plan will be explained in a big reveal at the climax of the arc. And it sucks. Because the audience can’t follow the plan if they never could have understood how it worked. Also since you aren’t revealing it until the end you can explain away everything without ever having to plan around it. Did a character lose a big fight or couldn’t contain one of major obstacles? Guess what it was all part of the plan! I predicted my ally would fail and that you would arrive here now as I give my big autistic speech to try and break your will. Or you can just have hiccups solve themselves, like Garfiel actually overcoming everything Subaru threw at him to cause him to collapse physically and mentally, only for Subaru’s trusty ground dragon to appear out of the fucking blue and yeet Garfiel into the wall.

That is the moment I stopped watching by the way. Seeing Subaru basically fail to beat Garfiel, only for the fucking lizard to come in and fix the problem out of nowhere and Subaru to triumphantly claim “That’s the power of numbers for you!” – that was when I’d had enough and threw in the towel. And sure, as I write this I can already see a possible explanation, Otto told the ground dragon where to go and help Subaru after his defeat. No idea if that prediction is true or not, I didn’t watch any further. But it could work. But it only works because the ground dragon already acted as required. That’s why this backwards writing is so easy. It’s easier to explain how something happened after it has happened that it is to predict and plan for what will happen. But in exchange for being easy it’s also a lot less impressive if not outright retarded unless you put a lot of care into the reveal.

The best example I can think of is Bleach. When Aizen is first revealed as the true villain of Bleach at the end of the hype as fuck Soul Society arc he was an amazing and terrifying figure. But then, in the final battle (I know it’s not the actual final battle Bleach fans) he starts explaining to Ichigo how he managed Ichigo’s growth from day one, feeding him each of his opponents in the exact order and at the exact time they appeared to maximize his growth. And it sounds fucking ridiculous. He was never in a position to do that and he would’ve had to bee some kind of god for it to all play out exactly as he envisaged. It was Aizen’s big evil plan reveal more than anything else which shattered any love I had for Bleach. The fact that such a great villain was turned into such a fucking unbelievable joke of an antagonist really rubbed me the wrong way. I have a pretty high tolerance for bullshit, especially if it’s from a show I like, but this scene broke even my suspension of disbelief. And I’m sure it comes a surprise to no one at this point that I do not have enough faith in Re:Zero to believe they’ll handle their own big reveal with enough care for it not to feel like bullshit.

But even if the plan had been the greatest of big brain strategies and would have totally won me over with it’s cleverness and made waiting for the hype reveal totally worth it, there are still a couple problems Re:Zero needed to address and it just didn’t. The dialogue is still a fucking mess, full of repeats and bloat with a minimum of substance. Emilia and Subaru said “liar” and “I love you” back and forth to each so much my eyes almost rolled out of my skull and exploded from the force of impact. Like it would’ve gotten boring even if had been some kind speed-based shouting match. It was unbearably bad and I can’t believe anyone thought that scene was ok, let alone a good idea. Subaru’s big wager with Roswaal was similarly bad because Subaru not only made a big autistic speech, and put ridiculous conditions on Roswaal that no one would have accepted, but he didn’t even really say anything. Beyond the absurd conditions Subaru basically said he would win and that was it. And I’m sure, I’m sure, that the justification for Roswaal accepting this bullshit is a mix of his total lack of sanity and him not thinking Subaru could actually win. The problem with making such a stupid bet though is that Roswaal is just strong enough to ignore it. Sure he would be breaking his word but if he actually lost he suffers no real penalty for just killing Subaru and resetting the loop. This is not a winning strategy, you can’t really force Roswaal’s hand if he can just kill everyone. He has no reason to abide by the conditions of the bet once he loses.

And if that wasn’t bad enough there’s the fucking music. Vocal tracks, presumably the OP I haven’t listened to, have played at least twice during dialogue scenes already. It’s been injected into the big wager scene and Subaru trying to mentally break Garfiel to make the scenes more epic, but it falls flat on it’s fucking stupid face because – get this boys and girls – nothing epic is actually happening. It genuinely pisses me the fuck off they thought they could just pick up from the great bore that was season 2 part 1, charge headlong into part 2 without having fixed any problems and bust out the big epic music to spice up some utterly garbage scenes and think that would be enough to cover their asses. They thought they could just create hype from fucking nothing by playing songs over Subaru shouting and the fans would eat it up. And maybe they’re right. But as someone who isn’t a fan almost nothing could have been more revolting. Like this shit bugged me more than the rape scene in first episode of Goblin Slayer. Because the rape was just the show being edgy and lazy, it made me roll my eyes and decreased my interest in the show but it was relatively harmless, this shit that Re:Zero pulled is so much worse. It’s the creators getting high on their own rancid ass farts thinking they’ve made a work of art while dropping the wettest, messiest deuce imaginable on all the viewers. Like omg Garfiel’s mother died! How could she? He made this big dumb mental sacrifice telling himself he could live with her abandoning him if it was for her own happiness. But her for to die before finding that happiness?! It invalidates his mental sacrifice and tears him up inside! He needs to prevent anyone from ever leaving again! Listen to him as scream-shouts in anguish about this whole situation with the subtly and grace of a fucking brick.

Let’s cool it back down. Basically here are the problems with Re:Zero season 2 part 2. The dialogue is still ass. The pacing is still terrible. Long scenes of painfully boring dialogue are still commonplace. We are still stuck on the same challenge. Nothing truly interesting or exciting has happened. The audio, between Garfiel’s shouting and the horribly inappropriate music is the worst it has even been in Re:Zero. And when Subaru should have failed in episode 3 he’s saved by a big fucking lizard at the last second, which even does a fuck you victory cry, because the show is just that blatant in how few shits it gives. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about why I tapped out so early, then nothing ever will. Feel free to disagree Re:Zero fans, in fact berate me in my comments and explain how I’m wrong. Go into as much detail as you want. Because for the life of me I can’t see why anyone would put up with this garbage anymore. It had a good hook and showed some promise, it even delivered on that promise from time to time – but I just can’t slog through all the shit it takes to reach the good stuff. Not when I can watch so many other shows that don’t subject me to the same terrible craftsmanship and frustration.

Rant over. See you in the next one.

Seasonal Summaries: Fall 2020

This is honestly a great season of anime, one of the best in recent memory, which is great since it looks like we might get more lockdowns coming soon. Either way I figured the laziest thing I could do, besides not write anything for yet another couple months, was put together a brief summary of all the shows I’m enjoying this season. I will not include sequels or the Higurashi reboot because I’m either not watching them or they are the exact same as prior seasons. Also not watching Noblesse, gave it a try and dropped it in 3 episodes, the warning bells were going off right from the get go and it sucks, don’t bother unless you have to. Without further ado let’s get to the good stuff, there will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Hanyou no Yashahime

Despite what I just said about the good stuff I’d be lying if I said this was really worthwhile for most people, it’s ok at best, it’s definitely the least interesting of the shows I’m sticking with. Which sucks, because I really wish this better. I mean I’m going to keep watching because Inuyasha was the first anime I ever watched and holds a special place in my heart but this is a pretty lackluster follow up. It looks great which is nice and the soundtrack is back to remind everyone that Inuyasha fucking nailed the soundtrack whatever its faults may be but the battles remind of D Gray Man Hallow – which was honest to God some of the maddest I’ve ever been at anime for wrecking a great IP. All the titular Half Demon Princesses all use massive, powerful attacks, the kind that you usually get after a training montage or because of special weapon or curse, constantly against trash mob level demons. Most hilarious was just how much they struggled with that centipede demon lady that was the first enemy in Inuyasha. I mean, it was a fun throwback but damn if they struggle with her they will be in trouble later.

The tension is very low and I feel like the show is already treading water, mainly because the characters are not developing very much and there’s barely a plot. Even more strangely none of the main cast has appeared except for the flashback episode which was extra awesome fanservice because we finally got to see the original gang using all their powers in the glory of modern animation. I don’t want to say there’s no potential here because there could be if this decides to pick up and stop treading water, but unless Inuyasha is a big nostalgia show for you, you’ll probably want to give this a pass.

Majo no Tabitabi

Majo no Tabitabi is also somewhat of a disappointment, that’s not because it’s bad it’s because the fight scene the main girl has against her teacher during episode 1 was so goddamn good it set the bar really high. The emotional twist of episode was made all the better because of just how brutal that lesson via fight was. Sadly the show is mostly fun and laid back, with episodic adventures that vary wildly in quality. The world is quite interesting with so many locations that are all so very different, but a lot of them are very iyashikei, with occasional standouts like the bit about Javalier and the ruined country up north or the fact our normally good main character just ignores a magic flower field that is ensnaring people from nearby countries and turning them into plant-zombies. Kinda thought she would burn the field down after watching a poor guardsman fall victim to the plants in a scene of somber justice or vengeance, but nope she just leaves as more and more people fall victim to the flowers.

I’m guessing there won’t be much else to this show, hopefully some more magic fights or more serious episodes but if nothing else this is mainly a feel good show with an interesting world and pretty lovable main character. It’s very solid for something in its genre, which I have to admit is generally not my thing. Trust your own judgement on this one, though everyone should at least try episode 1 as that’s where the show really makes a splash.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear

Despite the nonsense name of this show and the cutesy thumbnail that might put off some viewers this is actually a very good isekai so far. It’s about a girl who appears to have almost no connection to her family and instead is a stock market genius with fat stacks of cash who lives alone by choice, using video games as an escape. She’s a great contrast to most isekai heroes because she’s not a hiki-neet or loser nerd or generic good guy who likes games, she’s super competent but awkward in her own way because she’s built up some serious walls around herself, walls which the people in this new world are much better at breaking because even the kids are hard at work to keep their families going.

And in case that sounds too boring keep in mind that when she was brought to this world she got a message from God telling her to enjoy the new world and her ludicrously op bear suit. The bear suit has stupid good stats and is constantly granting our leading lady new powers at the cost of her looking totally ridiculous and being stuck with a teddy bear motif because she’d actually be pretty weak without the bear suit. The episodes are fun and feature some good light-hearted adventures and violence, though any time it gets a bit too emotional it definitely takes a hit. Overall this has been a good time so far and unless it drastically changes it should be a good time for anyone who can get past the cutesy bear aesthetic.

Jujutsu Kaisen

Jujutsu Kaisen is the show I’m most nervous about this season. That’s not because it’s bad, in fact it’s been really good so far, with great animation some interesting if basic characters and a power system that looks like it has lots of potential. But at the same time there is not a lot to inspire confidence in the writing side of things. Visually it’s great, but we know so little about Curse Powers, the setting or much about how the plot will go. The search for the fingers is very Inuyasha-esque while the tone, brisk pace and appearance of the traitor guy give this more of a Bleach feel. Neither of these shows were very good at plot, at least not in the long term. Sure, Soul Society was great but Bleach rapidly drops in quality as each incoming group of characters gets less attention and care than the last.

So far the characters have not been given much development and they’re already gearing up for a tournament arc. I feel like we definitely need more to go on if this show ever wants to be great and it’s a bit odd how the show is just fine breezing past anything beyond some very basic archetypes, as far as characterization goes. I don’t want to be much of a downer though because the fights have been fan-fucking-tastic, visually very interesting with grotesque monsters, brutal violence and a power system that looks like it has all kinds of really unique and niche abilities that I want to learn more about. I am worried that this show has a lot of room to fail but I’d be happy to be proven wrong, and hope it keeps up, and even better, improves on the quality it has put out so far. Very solid so far, let’s hope it stays that way.

Maoujou de Oyasumi

Now we’re getting to the real hits of the season. I imagine some people passed this up because it’s a about a cutesy princess trying to get her sleep on in a generic Dragon Quest fantasy world. And it’s hilarious, easily the funniest show out now, and one of the best comedies I can think of off-hand since Konosuba. The princess is taken hostage by the Demon Lord right away but he has no plans to hurt her, he just wants the hero to come and fight him. So our bored and lazy princess fills all her spare time trying to improve her sleeping conditions, improving her bedding, getting nicer sheets, etc. That might sound boring but she does all of these things in the most heartless was possible, stealing and breaking all kinds of magic items for temporary convenience, butchering random demons for materials and generally abusing the shit of the nice and gullible creatures who are her jailors.

For example, one of my favorite bits was when she died. The first time that happens she falls into some lava with a slime, she and the slime are promptly resurrected by the Demon Lord’s top cleric. She revives in an open coffin and immediately decides she wants to sleep in it because the demons have been loud recently and she needs some peace and quiet. But the coffin is badly worn, the edges could easily give her splinters and the woodwork is rough. Her solution? She grabs the demon cleric by the horns and uses said horns to sand down the rough edges of the coffin, then she grabs the slime who was revived with her and uses it as lacquer, then she takes the remnants of a ghost she cut in half for sheets and crawls into her coffin for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. All to this a surprisingly energetic and memorable theme that makes all of the best scenes even better. Everyone should watch this, it’s so good, definitely worth your time.

Akudama Drive

Akudama Drive is fucking wild. I walked into it expecting nothing, because honestly the description made it sound kind of lame and I wasn’t sure this would be any good. Boy was I wrong, as this show just hits the ground running with a brief intro followed by a tons of violence, stylish character introductions and almost no information about the setting. Like what are Akudama and what the hell is going on in this cyberpunk setting? It blasts right past all of that giving every character a super basic name and a criminal sentence length. And it looks amazing the setting is full of all kinds of lights and tech, and the team behind this did not skimp on animation or detail either for the characters or in the backgrounds. The first episode is this frenetic burst of chaotic violence with almost no semblance of plot beyond a massive reward for freeing Cutthroat, a super serial killer scheduled to be executed that day. A lot the characters are just nuts too, with extreme personalities, quirks and the absolute clusterfuck mishmash of aesthetics common to cyberpunk settings.

The episodes have kept up the visual quality thus far and even have clever little info dumps in the form of propaganda shorts, giving us the info we need and a quick breather while preventing long boring scenes of characters standing around talking to progress the plot. Who needs that shit when you can fight policemen with lightsaber batons in rooms with holographic textures that react to the physical impacts of the fights in real time? And yes a story does seem to be shaping up though there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. And I’m really digging the fact that main girl is not a true Akudama but has no been roped into this scenario and has to work her way through it with her more normal talents and sense of morals. It’s been a ton of fun so far, a total feast for the eyes and I’m super interested to see where it goes from here.

Munou na Nana

But as with every season there can only be one best show, and right now Munou na Nana is king of that hill. But show of the season is a serious understatement, this is looking like show of the year territory and may even be the best thing I’ve seen in a couple years. The best part is how this show total misleads you, the first episode seems like a really generic superpowered kids high school show and then right at the end, after getting the Deku stand-in all pumped full of confidence, our titular leading lady pushes the motherfucker off a cliff with the coldest and most menacing gaze I’ve seen in quiet some time. I love it.

From then on we get more info, Talenteds – the kids with powers, arose naturally out of humanity but almost destroyed the world as they ran amok. Humanity eventually won but more Talenteds kept arising from the populace, usually as teens and their powers seemed to evolve when they were put under threat, with one kid’s minor power evolving to the release of a potentially world-ending virus, which led to the humans nuking the area he lived. Because of this the government has created a system where they isolate the Talented for training in island schools under the pretense that they need to get ready to fight some monstrous threat to humanity and send in infiltrators to kills the kids off. This is Nana’s job, and she’s all in because her parents were killed by a Talented. She transferred to the school pretending to be a mind reader with no social skills, but in reality she applies psychology and deductive reasoning to amazing effect to pass as a mind reader, putting on a nice and airheaded front while she schemes about how to kill her targets, whose powers she has to figure out along the way.

It has a ton of twists and turns already and is fast becoming the most intense game of Among Us ever played. Nana is an extremely impressive character in her ability to assess and gather information, plan and deceive as she is forced to react the complete nonsense laundry list of powers the Talented have. And she’s not flawless so it’s not like she’s just getting by with ease, it’s a total nail biter with each new Talented presenting so many problems and complications that she needs to really work hard to overcome them without revealing the truth. This show is amazing and I can’t wait for the next episode to come out as I write this. Try this, it is absolutely worth every second of time you put into it.

Unpopular Opinion – Re:Zero Season 2

I watched Re:Zero season 1 years ago but I remember it well. It was immensely popular after all, everyone was talking about it. I had to watch it to see what all the fuss was about. I even listened to several very long discussion about it. And um, how do I put this? I still don’t see what all the fuss was about. Like Re:Zero certainly wasn’t terrible, but it was not great either, shit it wasn’t even good. It was as painfully average as shows could get, with occasional high points and tidbits of interest marred by several weak elements – Subaru’s fucking insufferable dialogue chief amongst them. Initially I wasn’t even going to give season 2 a try but I kept hearing that it was even better. And true best girl Elsa the bowel hunter was back, hell yeah. So I gave it a spin and well… there will be spoilers.


Fuck me I wish hadn’t bothered. On the one hand there were more points of genuine interest. We finally met all the witches, Crusch and Rem get wrecked immediately and the stakes are high as ever with Crusch left without her memories and Rem in a super coma where no one but Subaru even knows who she is. We even got to see Subaru get horrifically eaten by rabbits Monty Python style in what is probably his most traumatic death to date. And we also had a lot of Subaru screaming, crying like a bitch and taking forever to figure things out and not noticing important details without being told them.


Like straight up when he was about to form a contract with Echidna he has the presence of mind to ask what that entails and she tells him the benefits – and he doesn’t think to ask what the cost would be? Are you kidding me? A being of great power and infamous for her evil has promised you power and you don’t think there will be a cost? Or you’re so dumb you don’t think to ask? Like I don’t want to be too hard on a character or brag about myself because I’m not very impressive but, as soon as I hear the word contract in this context I would immediately ask what the cost is and I expect any otaku who is at all genre savvy to do the same. Any teenagers who haven’t had everything handed to them on a silver platter should get this. Shit this dude has been taught over and over by the other candidates and their various associates that nothing good comes for free. Surely by now he should at least have the wherewithal to ask what price this contract will cost him. Especially after seeing Beatrice so screwed by a contract that she wants nothing more than to die – how the shit dude? One episode before you saw Beatrice beg for death and then a witch, who you even suspect is involved because you actually took the initiative to ask about that without help from anyone, offers you a contract and you don’t ask the price? Fuck me Subaru is just so damn stupid, it’s genuinely infuriating to watch him not put 2 and 2 together.

I mean if even Roswaal and others can observe that Subaru is not actually worried about dying, and he himself has the resolve to kill himself to reset the loop and he even sets goals for himself and experiments within the loops, surely he should understand by now that what he needs is to amass information, gather details and put the pieces together. He even says at much at one point. And yet he remains so unobservant, so thick-headed, and frankly he sucks. And sure that’s partly the point but, I guess he’s been through enough by now that I don’t think he should still suck this badly. And the whole ending with Roswaal is what really takes this up to 11.


Roswaal arranging the attack on his own manor has to be among the top 10 least surprising twists in anime history. Seriously the only bit about the whole scenario Roswaal sets up about making Subaru choose between who to save, which is at all surprising is that he’s causing the snow. The first time snow entered the equation my initial assumption was that Emilia was taking so long to pass the trials that it had become winter, because honestly the trial seemed traumatic enough for her that I legit thought there was a chance that she was never going to pass it and Subaru would have to complete the trials for her. Which at this point I would have preferred if only because it meant the damn season would have resolved that challenge. Possibly the worst part about season 2 is that Subaru still hasn’t even made it out of the Sanctuary and the trials. The situation is still ongoing after 13 painful episodes.


Granted part of the problem is that Roswaal is intentionally setting up a scenario where Subaru can’t save everyone, which is a concept that is so expected in a story like this that is practically necessary. But at least it could be cool, y’know if it moved along. I get that this is Subaru’s biggest challenge yet and it will take the most work to resolve but I’m genuinely annoyed that I wasted my time here and I feel like Season 2 is a great example of Re:Zero’s qualities as a whole.


It has a fantasy world with some real life in it, some lore that’s cool, political factions that behave fairly realistically and interesting monsters like the White Whale and the Great Rabbit. It has a lot of potential in its details and it is willing to go hard in the paint to build up character drama or go all in on gruesome deaths. It has some truly awesome high points – the rabbit feast, yandere Emilia, Garfiel savaging all the human villagers who tried to help Subaru, the Archbishops of the Witch Cult who kick this whole thing off, and the witches themselves. There were actually a lot of moments that made me keep going, that make want to love this. But then there’s just so much fucking Subaru in between it all. At least he’s mostly dropped his obnoxious otaku-style dialogue from season 1 but between his idiocy, his need to repeat himself all the fucking time when he talks and his astounding incompetence for someone who has worked through quite a few major challenges up to this point make this a frustrating and at times gratingly boring experience. And worst of all is that Subaru is stuck in Catch 22 where his dialogue with side characters is often painfully boring while his big important dialogue’s with major player is either ungodly autistic and messy or basic, ultra emotional and kinda cringe. Like how many times will you scream that the bad guys can’t keep getting away with it Subaru?


One of Re:Zero’s worst problems is that it is ultra-bloated. The writing, especially the dialogue, could be tightened up a hell of lot. I’m all for letting a good story take it’s time, getting all the buildup and so on, but Re:Zero just needs to be more concise both in the writing/dialogue and in Subaru’s actions. The dude takes forever to put shit together or take serious action. I just watched Steins;Gate again with a friend, right before I marathoned Re:Zero season 2. And Jesus the difference is staggering, despite the fact Okabe Rintaro/Okarin/Hououin Kyoma is in many ways even more incompetent than Subaru he’s way better at being a time looper. Like go watch Steins;Gate and compare Okarin’s frantic struggle to save Mayuri to Re:Zero season 2. Okarin tries everything he can with a fanatical zeal, constantly making moves, first with a desperate fervor to save Mayuri and then with an eye for pragmatic attention to details as he establishes what needs to be done to fix the problem. It puts Re:Zero to shame, because even though Steins;Gate spends so much less time on raw buildup and detail-hunting it gets across the emotional drain all this time looping has on Okarin far better and makes it seem like Okarin did way more failed loops than Subaru without ever showing each and every one. And throughout the entire set of episodes from when Mayuri is first killed to the end of Steins;Gate you simultaneously feel the incredible tension and frenetic energy that the character’s themselves must have felt. Re:Zero by comparison is a fucking slog that takes a long time to get where it’s going and it makes the experience boring except for when something really interesting is happening.


I’m getting very sick of Subaru, I get that his sheer level suckage is part of the hook. That he needs to carve himself into a better man from his lowest points. But God fucking dammit he’s been doing almost nothing but, jumping from one dangerous scenario to the next. When will he git gud – or at least get good enough that he isn’t taking so long or is as boring to watch as he figures things out? I get that to people who haven’t seen Steins;Gate or Groundhog Day or any story with this kind of setup, Re:Zero is probably really cool and unique. But as soon as you see a better version it makes this one very hard to sit through despite the distinct advantages of Re:Zero actually having a solidly good fantasy world with intriguing lore. Re:Zero has all the tools it needs to be a better story, but it’s sure taking its sweet fucking time getting there. Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: God of High School

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I debated putting this one down as a First Impression because I dropped this show after only four episodes but unless this show radically changes I can’t imagine it getting past some of the problems which plagued the early episodes.  There will be very limited spoilers since I didn’t make it very far.

I wanted to love this.  Really, I was all over the energy and fun showcased during the purse-snatcher chase.  And a show that gets right into a battle tournament with over-the-top abilities and martial arts, count me in.  But by the end of episode 3, I was feeling pretty much done with the show and episode 4 completely ended my interest.  How did this happen?  Well there are some incredibly petty reasons, chief amongst them that hideous blush applied to everyone’s noses and ears.  Or a total lack of interest in the more esoteric powers/summons that have been displayed thus far.  But that’s not the core of my problem with the show, it’s way too fast.

Now I can understand why people want the faster pace, there’s a ton of material to adapt and I’m sure fans of the webtoon want to see more of the source material brought to life in animation.  But for someone like me, who has no knowledge of the webtoon past the name?  The blistering pace of show makes it really dull.  How?  Mainly that when things are happening so fast I have a hard time getting invested.  This is especially true of the 1v1 fights.  There’s no buildup, no heat.  Each of the people who make it past the initial big brawl is supposed to be a great fighter with important reasons for fighting and potentially interesting philosophies and goals or at least some kickass techniques.  And yet the show blows past all of it so fast you either get none of these potentially great details, or they just kind of say it in an off-hand line and then the show moves on.  Where’s the tension?  Where’s the drama?  Sometimes there are sparks of it.  Like the Tai Chi guy and Jin vs the evil Taekwondo guy.  And I assume that the main fight of episode 5 is relying on such a spark since it will be Mira vs karate boy.

But all of the other fights were incredibly fucking boring.  They didn’t have to be.  But they didn’t have time to breathe.  Mai Miseong?  And the glasses boy?  Both had very distinct designs and were clearly competent opponents.  But their fights lasted what 5 minutes?  If  that?  Where’s the hype?  Where’s the buildup?  Where’s any information at all for me to get invested in?  And maybe if the fights themselves were so good to watch I could ignore that but again the only fights that were great to watch as fights were the battles against the evil Taekwondo guy.  Mira vs Mai?  It was clusterfuck, it actually made Mira look terrible at swordplay as she missed strike after strike, only to win by slashing the air with her hands.  Karate guy vs glasses boy?  That one had some cool effects on some attacks and a bit of tension in that it looked like karate guy was on the ropes but he ultimately won and his opponent had the emotion of a dead fish from beginning to end despite the fact he even said that karate guy blew away his entire fighting philosophy.  And all the bullshit during the wedding episode was the last straw.

Now I know this all personal preference, and maybe this will change.  But with 13 episodes in total and nothing but a blistering pace for four episodes?  I doubt it.  Watching this I’m inevitably reminded of the recent seasons of Baki, in particular the Raitai Tournament.  And comparing the two is a joke.  Baki 2020 was, at least until the Mohammed Ali Jr. bit at the end, was an amazing battle tournament.  And what Baki 2020 has that God of High School doesn’t is buildup.  Even the fight that Baki wins in 2 seconds flat has more dramatic buildup than any fight in God of High School up until I dropped it.  And more attention to detail as they not only show each stage of Baki’s attack slowed down but explain the bio-mechanics of why he is able to knock his opponent out cold so quickly.  There’s nothing like that in God of High School and it’s a shame because as much as I like action, there’s no appeal in most of the action it depicts.

A good fight only really needs a one of a few things.  If it looks cool enough and displays a high level of skill on the part of the combatants that’s a surefire path to success.  If it has enough emotional weight behind it or if the stakes are high enough then even a simple battle can become a great spectacle.  Or if you just make both people fighting people we can get invested in and support, the appeal of that fight writes itself.  God of High School fights do sometimes contain these elements but usually to such a weak and tepid degree that there’s honestly very little appeal.  And I have no interest in a battle show with such a dearth of interesting battles.  That’s all there is to it really.  I don’t care that the show is popular or that the webtoon it comes from might be great, because so little happened in God of High School that made me want to care about it.  I don’t want to be a downer or to drag the popular shows just for the fun of it.  But this was a serious letdown from a show I had some hopes for.  Oh well, at least Deca-Dence has turned out to be great in it’s stead, seriously unless they really fuck something up in the last few episodes Deca-Dence will be the best show of the season, go watch it.

Updated Impressions: Kingdom 3

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After giving Kingdom 3 a few episodes to really get in its full swing, I figured it was time to discuss my initial impressions and how closely they matched the episodes as they’ve come out. If you want to look at the first impressions before getting started, it’s linked here.

Ever since I was aware that Kingdom 3 was coming out, i.e. a few days before the new season started, I’ve been slowly re-watching the first two seasons. I’m currently in the early stages of season 2 and sadly it has already confirmed my biggest concern regarding Kingdom 3 – the audio. For starters the audio seems quieter across the board, I have no idea if this is a recording issue, a source rip issue or what but seasons 1 & 2 are significantly louder at the same computer volume, especially the soundtrack. Which leads me to major problem two, the audio balancing. The soundtrack of Kingdom 3 is so quiet that I keep forgetting it’s even there and have to re-watch episodes with extra attention given to listening for the music to even try and identify and remember it.

Because even when the tracks pick up a bit to reflect the intensity of the battles and such, they are frankly completely overpowered by the sounds of the action. A great example is the Qin charge at the start of episode 4/ end of episode 3. There is a decent, tense battle track playing during the charge but fuck me it so hard to hear over the noise generated by the damn charge.  The earlier seasons were not like this at all. The music was just as immense as the charging noises and you literally can’t miss the soundtrack regardless of what’s happening on screen. The only time Kingdom 1 & 2 are quiet is when there is no music and no action or dialogue. This is a gigantic failing because as I’ve detail over the course of multiple posts, the audio of Kingdom is what really makes the anime worth it. There is nothing in the anime you can’t get in the manga besides color (a nice touch but not essential), movement (let’s face it Kingdom’s animation is extremely inconsistent with large stretches where it looks great and equally large stretches where it some of the ugliest animation ever put to film) and sound.  And sound was where the anime shined the most. The voice-acting was amazing, the soundtrack sounded like a good approximation of period appropriate and it was epic enough to match a story with scale and scope of Kingdom – the unification of China with battles a hundred thousand strong.

Moving right along, though if you can find the focus to listen to the quite-ass soundtrack of Kingdom 3 it is in fact noticeably Sawano’ed. Now I like Sawano’s work but his predilection for electronic sound, especially for tension builds, just does not mesh with the setting and character of Kingdom at all. I’m hoping that when we get to the really big moments the music will improve somewhat but it’s honestly really disappointing that the soundtrack is so different from the earlier seasons. Kingdom 1 & 2 were so unique when it came to sound, I’ve never come across any anime that sounds like it and the music choices were so much better reflective of the story’s location and time period. Listening to the soundtrack of earlier seasons of Kingdom alternatively brings a big old smile to my face or makes my hair stand on end.  It’s iconic and gave Kingdom such a distinct character, and watching all the seasons of Kingdom simultaneously, I think that character came as a result of the love poured into Kingdom by the creative teams of the first two seasons, which had way more overlap than either team has with the new team.

Now far be it from me to claim Kingdom 3 is a cynical cash-grab, it’s nowhere near bad enough to merit that label, but I do think it’s safe to assume Sawano was chosen to do the soundtrack for Season 3 because it was seen as a “safe” move from the corporate end of productions.  That because the man is individually very popular and has a good track record, putting him on the job would make the show more marketable to people in the know.  And not to knock Sawano too much, again I love his work on other shows, but I think he made a significant mistake to let his usual style dominate the composition rather than leaning on the soundtracks of the earlier seasons – like at least use them as an inspiration or something. Maybe the soundtracks will improve as things go on but I do not have high hopes on this front.

Last but not least the voice-acting is, well I want to say abysmal but I mean abysmal compared to Kingdom 1 & 2, overall it’s more like passable.  Minor characters being voiced by different people is annoying if inevitable but far more jarring is the drop in quality by the major players – all of whom have the same voice actors.  Again no idea if this is a recording issues, source rip issue or a directing issue, but almost everyone sounds worse than before.

The calmer strategist types tend to be minimally affected if they even sound worse at all but any character with a louder, more extreme personality and character is basically fucked.  Even Xin has taken a big hit here, with his yelling sounding somehow quieter and yet more grating than it was in earlier seasons.  Huan Yi, Wan Ji, Biao Gong, Lu Buwei and newcomer Ordo all have been it very bad.  I feel like this has to at least partially come from an audio recording/balancing problem because these characters in particular sound quieter and less full than they should.  Go back to the earlier seasons and listen to Huan Yi, Wan Ji, Biao Gong or Lu Buwei for a bit and see what I mean, as for Ordo I would use Lian Po as a point of reference for what Ordo should sound like. And listening to the banter between the two main harem girls is very eye-opening, it’s like night and day between Kingdom 2 and Kingdom 3, with the new season sounding seriously inferior.  I think the director is at least partially at fault here because, looking at both the anime and the manga many of these characters have the most personality in their dialogue and mannerisms and it may just be that the new director doesn’t have the experience or vision to bring that aspect of their characters to life or recognize its value.

Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom.  Now that battles are underway and characters have cuts and sweat over their faces and arms, the characters no longer look even vaguely plastic.  Unfortunately I still think Kingdom 2 with it’s thicker outlines and more emphasis on shading and linework looks better – but Kingdom 3 is now looking very solid.  Kingdom 3’s art has its quirks, particularly how it seems to fade out lighter colors while overemphasizing darker colors but it’s at least been very consistently solid so far and there’s no sign of Kingdom 3 dropping back into the horrible CG of Kingdom 1.

And of course the story is as good as ever, dropping us right into one of the biggest events in the story without any kind of rehash of the earlier seasons was a great idea. Kingdom 3 cuts any waiting time and drops right into the big time, the largest battle in the story where the stakes are as high as they can be and the odds of victory are as slim as we’ve ever seen them.  I do somewhat miss the more frequent narration and directing tricks that slowed earlier seasons of Kingdom down for dramatic effect and build-up, but I can’t really complain with how the story has progressed thus far because this is arguably the most complex arc of the manga in terms of the sheer number of characters, soldiers, number of battles and so forth that need to happen.

Overall Kingdom 3 is looking fairly good and I will be along for the ride, it only really stumbles when you compare it to Kingdom 2.  And that is a shame but nothing about Kingdom 3 indicates that will fall apart or end up being a shit sequel like some other high-profile sequels to old properties.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Peaks & Valleys: Boku no Hero Academia

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This is exactly the kind of post that would get me a ton of backlash if not for the fact I run an obscure blog.  Not only has Boku no Hero already peaked, as someone up to date on both the anime and the manga, my interest in this IP is severely waning.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Boku no Hero has a couple serious problems which I imagine many fans have either not noticed or have overlooked because they like the show.  Fair enough I like it too, but I have to say with the battle against Gentle Criminal and La Brava over, there is basically nothing left that I find interesting in Boku no Hero.  How is this?  How did a story which was at one point so captivating become so dull so quickly?  Well there are a couple of reasons but let’s start with maybe the biggest one – Deku.  Now I like Deku, he’s a hard-working boy with a heart of gold and he wants to be the best there ever was.  But well, he’s kinda boring.  One of the inspirations for this post was NuxTaku’s video “Deku Officially Sucks” which while obviously intended to rile the fanbase of Boku no Hero, did contain some very good arguments.  Chief amongst them were the following: Deku is a character without intrigue and he’s narratively and thematically dwarfed by someone who honestly would have made a much better main character – Lemillion.

Long before I came across NuxTaku’s video I have to say one of Deku’s very first lines bugged the shit out of me – “this is the story of how I became the number 1 hero.”  It comes up before the story really even starts.  Personally I think dropping that line was a bad move because it takes away one of the biggest achievements Deku could make as character.  When I look at Deku my best point of comparison is Naruto and one of things Naruto gets on Deku by default is that it’s never framed like Naruto ever has a chance at becoming Hokage – until he beats Pain.  Sure Naruto constantly says he wants to be Hokage, but wanting something and getting it are two very different things.  For a huge chunk of Naruto, Naruto’s big talk is laughed at.  It’s considered absurd.  But once he proves himself against the worst enemy Konoha had ever faced, suddenly his claims sound a lot less stupid.

By contrast Deku outright saying he became the best before we’ve really even seen anything is a giant buzzkill.  I mean it’s not a deal-breaker or anything but it really rubbed me the wrong way and it makes Boku no Hero all about the journey, because the we already know the destination.  Now that works plenty well in other shows and it could in theory work for Boku no Hero, but Boku no Hero shoots itself in the foot yet again because we know the means by which Deku will achieve this by the end of the first episode – he has one of the world’s greatest powers handed to him on a platter.  Sure he has to train and master One for All but there really no narrative hook here.  A perfectly generic good guy is given an immense power right out the gate and the only negatives are that he isn’t ready for this power so using it beats the shit out of him.  The problem with Deku is that he already has the perfect heroic mindset so all he needs to do is gain experience and master One for All – and while this makes sense as the reason All Might gave Deku this power is because of his mindset and attitude it’s also narratively boring.  Like how many interesting fights can Deku have where his main concern is hurting himself too badly to fight on or fight another day?

As it turns out not very many.  You’ll notice in season 4 none of his big fights revolved around this problem.  And yes this is in part due to Deku creating or developing workarounds but it also shows the limits of his constricting narrative.  I’m once more reminded of Naruto.  Naruto was a kid who worked his ass off developing techniques and was given great power.  However where Deku’s power is gifted to him by his idol and it earns him nothing but respect in wider society, Naruto’s power is given to him as a desperate measure and he is widely ostracized for bearing Kurama within him.  There also a another couple of layers here.  Deku’s worst outcome in any given fight is failing to save someone or doing too much damage to himself to continue fighting.  Naruto’s worst case scenario is losing control of his power and hurting everyone around him without meaning to.  Moreover because Naruto’s power source is Kurama, he has to walk the tightrope path between drawing out Kurama’s power to master his full potential while not being overwhelmed by Kurama’s chakra and giving in to bestial rage.  Deku has no such set of consequences, his only backlash in using All for One is that he hurts himself and he has the selflessness to let that happen for the sake of saving people.

I’m sure I can take this comparison deeper but I think I got the point across.  Deku is boring.  He’s nice, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he has an immense power he has yet to master.  And that’s basically it.  Deku doesn’t have inner demons, his worst mental setback is doubting himself on occasion.  Deku’s power and lack of mastery over it has no interesting consequences, nor can the story really go all in on those consequences more a couple of times or else Deku would never be able to fight again.  There is no mystery, depth or intrigue in Deku – we know his destination and we know the means by which he reaches it, it’s just a matter of watching that story play out.  This isn’t to say Boku no Hero or even Deku himself can’t be great but Deku’s story is one with a short shelf life and I think after Gentle Criminal that shelf life has all but expired.  Deku was at his very best during his match with Todoroki during the Sports Festival.  Because that was a match wherein winning for Deku meant tearing his body apart and ultimately losing the big match that he wanted to win for the sake of getting through to Todoroki and saving Todoroki from his inner demons.  Since then Deku has been significantly less impressive with the Stain battle being the second best Deku moment in my opinion.  It’s a shame because he could have been made a lot more interesting if he was allowed to fail more often – but because almost all of Deku’s battles outside of the Sports Festival are matters of life and death, he can’t afford to lose them.  It would also help if maybe he had a different power that allowed for more narrative flexibility.

Which is were Lemillion comes in.  Lemillion and Deku have the same basic dream, attitude and story arc.  The difference is that Lemillion’s is much more compelling and he ends up in a much more interesting position.  Lemillion was a guy born with a pretty crappy powers who struggled to be more than a joke in the eyes of his peers.  But through an ultra positive attitude, dedication and a tutor that helped him master his bizarre power he rose through the ranks and was very nearly at the pinnacle.  Then when he has Overhaul on the ropes, Overhaul puts him in an impossible dilemma, save Eri and take a bullet that erases his powers for good or dodge the bullet and let Eri die.  Obviously he takes the bullet and this is by far the biggest emotional moment in his arc.  He’s inches away from achieving his goal and yet he’s forced to lose everything for the sake of his ideals, because this is a bullet he can’t afford to dodge.  And yet he doesn’t give up, he keeps fighting, he keeps smiling and he doesn’t lose hope.  Lemillion is Deku but a vastly superior version of Deku, his struggles are far greater, the sacrifices he makes significantly more costly and yet he doesn’t bend, he doesn’t break, he takes it all in stride and has hope for the future.

I’m begrudgingly reminded of Bleach’s Fullbringer arc here.  After Ichigo stopped Aizen he ended losing all of his spirit power for a time and he goes on living a normal life until a group of people show him a way that he might be able to get his power back.  Now the Fullbringer arc is to the best of my knowledge fairly widely panned and I didn’t think it wasn’t very good.  But it did attempt something extremely difficult and with tons of potential, a soft reset where someone who rises to the top suddenly crashes back down to rock bottom because they sacrificed all of their future potential for victory now (see HunterxHunter for reference).  But where Bleach didn’t really have the staying power for that I think Lemillion might have had he been the main the character of Boku no Hero.  In any event Deku could not go through this very arc, because losing his power is too great a loss to the wider world.  Another limitation on Deku’s story, and a reason why Lemillion is more interesting.

Getting away from Deku there are two other problems with Boku no Hero Academia that have crippled my interest in the story.  The size of the cast and the loss of All Might.  Now large casts aren’t inherently a problem but Boku no Hero has lost a lot of steam because many beloved or otherwise interesting characters either haven’t gotten much development or have been developed some and then sidelined to make room for more characters.  Ochako is probably the best example.  During the Sports Festival her battle with Bakugo was, and excuse the pun, the tits.  In a tournament arc with tons of interesting battles her’s was solidly in second place behind the even more phenomenal Deku versus Todoroki.  And since then what have we seen from her?  Basically nothing.  Sure she learned some martial arts and she was even present for the raid on Overhaul.  But what did she do during the raid?  Did she fight any interesting enemies?  Did she suffer serious injuries?  Did she bust out a crazy new technique she’d been working on and make an impact?  None of the above.  She’s barely in the raid.  Kirishima had a bigger part to play, and don’t get me wrong Kirishima is great, his fight was awesome and his Unbreakable form looks rad as hell but I wanted Ochako to shine too.  Worse if you read ahead the manga mostly gets away from the kids and focuses mostly on the adult heroes.

It makes sense with the worldbuilding for the kids to play a smaller role as the war against the villains ramps up but there’s a ton of moving parts and Boku no Hero Academia is all too willing to jump around and develop a ton of different characters, while leaving some of the core characters to essentially stagnate.  It makes the story less engaging because the worldbuilding is not that great.  I mean it’s not terrible and it raises some interesting questions but I’ve seen better versions elsewhere.  I even wrote about it before – here’s the link– I already argued that Tiger and Bunny and Gatchaman Crowds were better at this.  That the strength of Boku no Hero is that it has polished the basics of shounen storytelling to a mirror sheen and delivers on the fundamentals so well.  Now that it’s moving into a more complex narrative it’s starting to fall apart and become boring.

Last but not least is the question of All Might.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever written.  He’s powerful, a national symbol, a man with big dreams and equally huge responsibilities with an unflinching will and all kinds of natural charisma.  To me the ultimate peak of Boku no Hero is All Might versus All for One.  These two titanic figures with larger than life powers, archenemies who have wounded each other so badly they never returned to their top form, duking it out one last time.  The fight was one of the most simplistic I can think of and yet it was also incredibly emotional.  All for One doing everything he can to break All Might’s will and reveal the secrets he didn’t want to world to know, against All Might’s implacable spirit and his willingness to throw away the last dregs of his power in one final Smash to put his nemesis down once and for all was incredible.  And the bit at the end where All Might, a battered husk of his former self points at the camera and says “You’re next” is so fucking good.  It is not just the peak of Boku no Hero but a remarkable high point in the shouen genre, sure to go down with some of the other biggest moments in shounen storytelling.  I always tear up when I start writing about this fight because it was that good, it had that much impact.  And with All Might mostly out of the story, Boku no Hero has lost one of it’s biggest narrative hooks.  All Might was really the glue that held so much of this story together and he’s gone.

With all of that in mind I hope any Boku no Hero fans reading understand why I will not really be hype for any future seasons of Boku no Hero.  All Might is a footnote, Lemillion is out of the picture.  The interesting criminals of season 4 are behind bars.  All that’s left is to explore the League of Villains and have more showdowns, with a little bit of training here and there along the way.  Boku no Hero has gotten rid of its most interesting characters and thrown much of its strong points out the window as it moves on to the next big arc.  I’m not saying it will suck necessarily, but I would be floored if any future seasons were as good as season 4, let alone the true high points of the show seasons 2 & 3.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.