Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Ice Queendom

There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

This one is weird, but maybe a good weird. Episode 1 of Ice Queendom covers the entirety of RWBY season 1 and part of season 2 sans the infamously terrible bully arc, replaced with a new original arc featuring a new Huntress and Grimm – the Nightmare, which enters people’s dreams and uses their negative emotions and Aura to grow. As you might have guessed by the amount of content being squeezed into 1 hour long episode, a lot of stuff is outright missing or has been quickly glossed over and the pacing feels very modern Star Wars movie, ultra-choppy with tons of jumps and cuts all over the place.

In addition some characters personalities have changed to a degree or are just more simplified due to the rapid pace of the show, Weiss and Blake overcoming there fairly deep-set problems with each other so quickly definitely made that moment lose a lot of its emotional impact. To be honest while the story is just functional enough to understand without having seen Rooster Teeth’s RWBY, it is missing a lot of details. Granted a lot of season 1’s details were very rough around the edges but the raw speed of this Queendom episode means a lot is being left off the table or changed to make it fit better. Ruby is much more naturally outgoing and Yang lost a lot of her punk attitude, but the rest of the characters are largely unchanged even if they don’t express their personalities or personal issues with quite the same depth due to the lack of time.

There are some positive changes however. The original arc replacing the bully arc is a welcome change and the way Queendom handles Penny is hilarious. The most obvious improvement though is in the visuals and voice-acting. There are some serious heavy hitters in voice casting and the change to traditional animation is great. Even better the action animation is fan-fucking-tastic with only the big Grimm battle in the entrance exam looking a bit rough.

Most notably the action scenes from Weiss and Blake’s character intros looked good, but at long last Ruby is back on her throne baby. Her first fight against Torchwood and his goons, while extremely brief looks fucking amazing, easily the best animation in the episode hands down. God have I missed the days when Ruby personally kicked ass, so glad to see them brought back to life in gorgeous animation.

Now it’s not all sunshine and rainbows sadly, aside from the brutally fast pacing, the animators clearly could not keep up the sheer level of fight quality for every fight, so they just skipped over Penny’s first fight against Torchwood and the White Fang – as in the fight started and cuts straight to the end without showing us anything. In theory it could be an artistic choice on the director’s part to try and hide Penny’s full power until the upcoming tournament, but the cynic in me is thinking it was a cut made for the sake of animators. And fair enough those guys are probably overworked as is, I just have to hope going forward that they don’t cut too many fights or the trade off of having what fights we do see look amazing will sour a bit.

Overall this is potentially a very exciting development for RWBY as an IP. It has its problems to be sure, but the level of polish displayed in the voice acting and most of the fight scenes is an absolute joy to any fan of the series. If you’re one of the people who was a fan of RWBY and dropped it, or are just barely clinging onto your interest in the show, you owe it to yourself to watch this. I mean this sincerely as someone who fell in love with RWBY as of volume 3 and has been struggling to maintain interest for some time now: if RWBY ever meant anything to you, give this a look, it might be the spark of hope RWBY needs. See you in the next one.

First Impressions – Kingdom 4

As I am duty-bound to do with each new season of Kingdom, I want to give my thoughts now that we’re five episodes deep into Kingdom 4 – which I believe will cover what is possibly my favorite arc in the entire manga. There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

This is already a massive improvement over season 3. The voice acting feels much closer to that of the original 2 seasons, though we haven’t seen some of most egregious offenders from season 3 to judge if season 4 has been a proper return to form. But it has noticeably improved. More broadly all the audio has gotten a lot better. There hasn’t been enough serious combat for me to tell but I think the battle noises have improved to some degree, though not to the extent of the original 2 seasons. The music is now much louder, still quiet compared to the first 2 seasons but I no longer need to strain to hear it – in fact I notice it at all times once again.

I’m still not thrilled by the ost changes, as much as I love Sawano’s work in many other shows, it’s a bad fit for Kingdom specifically, it has not incorporated any elements of the old osts – to it’s own detriment in my book – and this ost feels like Sawano phoning it in, in comparison to say his other work. Kingdom 3 or 4 has no tracks with anything approaching the stopping or staying power of any of Sawano’s work on Attack on Titan, nor other projects like Kabaneri. And I’m sure anyone who has followed all my reviews of Kingdom (assuming such people exist) are tired of the old man complaining that he wants the old soundtrack back. Too bad, I cannot stress enough that audio was what made the Kingdom anime special despite its glaringly obvious flaws and a worthwhile alternative to manga – and that original more period appropriate soundtrack was an integral part of that experience which season 3 failed to capture.

On the plus side this means even modest improvements on the audio front have drastically improved the experience of watching Kingdom again. I was expecting this to be a slog the way the tail end of season 3 was. But aside from a couple moments that linger just a bit too long a bit often, Kingdom 4 has been good. And of course it retains, nay improves on the visual style that made any Kingdom fans hopeful about season 3.

I still haven’t seen any visual flair per se – its still very moving manga and they haven’t included some of the perspective tricks the first 2 seasons would use, like super-sizing a character to convey the weight of their presence, which I probably would have done in their shoes in two scenes so far. But minor nitpicks aside I’m optimistic for the future of the Kingdom anime, and that’s one hell of a step up from season 3.

Unpopular Opinion: 86

Let it be known that I’m not a mecha fan. Particularly not when it comes to Gundam style humanoid mechs, nothing wrong with the mecha designs just not my cup of tea. 86 was one of the rare cases where I found a mecha show interesting. It was also incredibly frustrating for reasons I’ll get into in a second. There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

86 is one of the more unique and strange mecha shows from admittedly limited exposure to the genre. While war stories in mecha shows are fairly common 86 presented a lot of ideas which I’ve never seen in mecha shows up to this point. And that in addition to kinetic and explosive battles was what I really loved about 86. The broken society of the Republic of San Magnolia, the horrific treatment of the 86ers, the bizarre tech ranging from semi-psychic links to machines which stole human brains to move beyond the limits of their original artificial design, a world torn asunder by a legion of AI mechs that had already destroyed their creators and was ravaging the remaining nations. All of this was great stuff. Additionally I loved the dynamic between the Spearhead squad and Milize, their Handler, as she was one of the rare Alba who gave a shit about the 86ers. Something the 86ers both occasionally appreciated and resented her for.

86 came out swinging with strong action scenes and a set of mech designs I’d never seen in anime before, with the sleek AI Legion, which had a number of models, to the battered Juggernauts that looked like crickets with cannons on their backs. The highly mobile but lightly armored Juggernauts made for excellent battles both because of their ability to move about so dynamically and because of their stark contrast to the Legion models. It helped communicate from very early on just how disposable the 86ers were considered. Season 2 continued this by having a couple other surviving nations have their own styles and specialties when it came to mech design, like the Federation’s Vanagandr which was much slower and more heavily armored since the Federation actually gave a shit about their troops. In addition to this the variety of the Legion models from the standard light and heavy pieces to the jammer bots and the ultra railgun of the second season were all nice touches.

Moving away from the mechanical, the human side of 86 was especially interesting, though this much more true of season 1 than season 2. It very much reminds of how Marley was portrayed in Attack on Titan, a nation decaying as it made others fight their battles for them. The Alba are irredeemably shit as a collective group with only a couple showing any spark of complexity, depth and humanity. And of those few they had wildly differing opinions based on how badly Alba society had degraded, from the semi-idealistic Milize to her completely blackpilled uncle who outright wants the 86ers and the Alba to perish because he has no faith in either of them and believes that even if they survive the Alba’s crimes are too great to be forgiven. The dynamic between the handful of Alba who actually have the wherewithal to know how bad things are is actually super interesting, particularly between Milize and her best friend who get in a fight which leads to Milize blackmailing/guilt-tripping her friend into saving Spearhead Squad since the leader of the squad was a former childhood friend of Milize’s friend.

It paved the road for Milize to become an actually amazing character and we did see glimpses of that in the first episode in season 2 when she straight up tells her commanding officer to fuck off and let her do things her way because his career would suffer if he hamstrung her. It was fucking glorious. Season 2 Milize had gigachad energy, shame she appeared only like twice in the entire second season.

Likewise the dynamic of Spearhead squad was interesting. The 86ers have an understandable sense of fatalism, in fact Spearhead squad knew from the beginning that Spearhead squad was where the Alba put the 86ers close to fulfilling their service duration to die. Something Milize is unaware of until late into season 1. Spearhead squad has wild mood swings between the playful downtime, somber losses, bravado, levity, ingrained disdain for the Alba and a strange acceptance of the world as it is that can only really come from people with no other choice but to make do with their lot in life. Their life as the oldest and most experienced of the 86er child soldiers makes them natural warriors, the battlefield is their home and how they would live in a time of peace is such a distant concern they all basically agree they’ll be dead before that come. Which is shown in season 2 when they actually get a reprieve and a second chance at life and decide to get back into the fight within a couple months.

And 86 does not sugarcoat how dire things are for Spearhead Squad. Milize, despite the skill of her troops and her own skill as a commander, loses all but 5 members of Spearhead Squad before they are sent on a long term scouting mission designed to kill them – and Spearhead squad was not a small group when the show started. Season 2 makes a nod to this as well during what few scenes we get of Milize as her board of little portraits for each of her troops is significantly emptier between episode 1 and episode 5 or 6 when the Legion begin their 4 front all out offensive.

All of the above are things which make 86 great. And in truth season 1 was pretty solid with only it’s strange and somber ending during the aforementioned scouting mission feeling off. Season 2 on the other hand… it was infuriating. Not so much because it bad as because it presented a lot of new information and interesting ideas and then paced itself to be as frustrating to the viewer as possible. Season 2 introduces new nations, mainly the Federation – nation built by those who rebelled against the Empire which created the Legion. The Federation has some points of interest especially the leader of the Federation and how the Federation changes their outlook on the 86ers over the course of the season, from pity for their genuine victimhood to a gradual dislike of them as war junkies who keep surviving even as so many Federation soldiers are dying. It also has the last empress of the Empire, Frederica, who has a type of clairvoyance and surprisingly developed outlook on life. In some ways she’s actually the best addition to show as despite her obviously childish nature and silly ultra formal speech patterns, she has a better grasp of the 86ers and one of the lead Legion machines than the rest of Federation.

The problem with season 2 of 86 is that it spends way too long wallowing in the stunted emotions and emotional development of 5 survivors of Spearhead Squad, and the army politics of the Federation which is realistic but not especially interesting. It just takes too long for anything important to get done, both from Legion attack to the final battle against the Morpho railgun. It also completely skips over the battle for San Magnolia, with like literally a couple minutes of the start of the battle shown before declaring the Republic has been wiped out. I mean I can’t imagine anyone was fooled into thinking Milize was dead because she’s the out and out best character, but removing her entirely from the show until Shinei gets some unexpected backup in the Morpho fight is just retarded. Instead of just getting to the point and developing the state of the war, season 2 spent far too much time dragging its feet only to stop after 10 episodes on a cliffhanger ending.

I imagine 86 season 2 is much more tolerable in marathon mode as opposed to weekly viewing but I can’t stand how it just wastes so much time for the sake of a bullshit cliffhanger ending. Fuck that garbage they aren’t going to kill Shinei out of the blue like that, the same way they weren’t going to kill Milize off-screen in a battle they barely teased. This cliffhanger is pointless. Rather than trying to be dramatic season 2 should have just gotten to what is obviously going to happen – Spearhead Squad, now deep in enemy territory once again will be rescued by their 86ers commanded by Milize. Like if they were going to end on a cliffhanger anyway couldn’t you just stop as soon as Milize at least meets Spearhead Squad, have them surprised by her survival they way we’re supposed to be surprised – not that that worked but whatever.

Overall I’d say there’s a lot to like about 86 and if it gets more seasons it has some serious potential. But the handling of season 2 was amateur at best and a bumbling failure at worst and that does not bode well for any future seasons, assuming we get any. And I do want those seasons, I want to see the characters more, I want to see how this war plays out. But I don’t want to deal with a show that deliberately wastes my time trying to be dramatic and utterly failing. I hope we get those future seasons and that they prove my cynical criticisms wrong but until then I have to say that 86 is an interesting but very rocky road. You should probably only go for this if it sounds interesting to you. See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion – Arcane

2021 has been a phenomenal year for anime overall. Lots of big sequels to popular IPs, some surprise hits from new titles and handful of very popular manga finally getting anime adaptations. And despite all that Arcane may well be my favorite show of the year. And yes I know, Arcane is not something I’d necessarily consider anime either. It’s once again one of the border cases like RWBY which is perhaps not anime but definitely isn’t a traditional western cartoon either. And if nothing else the quality of Arcane alone is enough for me to give it a pass. There will be a lot of spoilers, you’ve been warned.

I’ve been playing League of Legends on and off for ten years. I know enough about League to remember before certain lore concepts even existed and how certain characters have gone undergone massive changes over the course of their run. And I don’t give a flying fuck about League lore, because it’s rarely been interesting beyond a particular character’s backstory. Plus it gets modified enough over the years to the point of incoherence. I initially gave Arcane a pass because I didn’t think they could make anything deeply compelling. League has a lot cool surface level ideas and so surface level productions like cinematics and music videos have been awesome, but there’s very little depth to the universe. In fact I expected Arcane to be shit. Can you imagine just how much crow I felt like eating when I stayed up til 3am to marathon it in one night because I was so captivated? Not even Swain has enough birds to feed me.

Dumb League jokes aside the reason I went with this drawn out intro, rather than just getting to the good stuff about the show, is because I both want to hammer home just how good Arcane is, and how I’m still in disbelief about how good it was. Arcane blows basically every anime out of the water in a year that blows most years of anime out of the fucking water. Just typing this is making me want to re-watch it already and I finished it at 3 in the morning, today.

There’s a lot Arcane gets right but if I had to start somewhere the most obvious is that you don’t need to know anything about League to enjoy this. The characters, their arcs, the plot and the setting are fleshed out to such a degree that Arcane not only is able to stand on it’s own, it massively outshines official League lore. Everything is internally consistent, and detailed enough for you to get easily immersed in. You can recommend this to anyone and if they have a soul they will enjoy it.

Arcane is also able to communicate a lot of it’s appeal visually. The unique 3d style, with occasional 2d effects overlaid for extra pop, looks gorgeous. The setting feels alive, cluttered with loads of detail, and able to communicate the broad strokes of Piltover, Zaun and the general character of their respective inhabitants with consummate skill. The action is amazing, with tons of dynamic movement, cathartic, weighty hits and extra effects to make it jump off the screen. Moreover the artsytle does wonders for the characters themselves, leaving enough room for cartoony hair or extreme features but giving them a harder, grittier feel to make them distinctly uncartoonish. It can also convey very complex emotional expressions in a way that cartoons can’t handle at all and which few anime could rival either.

And that last bit is especially important because the characters are what really take the cake. They took characters with like a paragraph of backstory and turned them into incredibly compelling and human characters. They even made a bunch of original characters to flesh out the universe and many feel just as real and important as the actual League champions, if not moreso. Even relatively minor characters can impart very important advice and feel very real. And enough of them are doing their own things at the same time that you can get totally immersed in their individual pursuits before they all come crashing into each other. The amount depth here truly is incredible, everything feels like it has been mined for detail and intrigue.

Here’s an example. Victor plays a largely support role through most of the story. He’s an assistant, first to the conservative Heimerdinger, then to the ambitious Jayce. He doesn’t have any fight scenes. And yet elements of his character that are practically glossed over at first can suddenly become massively important later. Viktor is from Zaun but lives and works in Piltover and for most of Arcane it’s a non-factor. But at key moments it becomes a factor, like how he takes Shimmer from Singed to make his Hexcore function properly. Or how he almost gets into a fight with Jayce because Jayce is so concerned by Zaun he starts treating it as dangerous and evil, without even thinking about how his best friend and partner grew up their and worked his way from nothing to get where he is now.

Arcane is a show with layers, layers upon layers of character and setting detail that coalesce into something truly special. And the characters that result from the well realized world are themselves much stronger for it. Jinx in the game League is a wacky gun-toting Harley Quinn. Jinx in Arcane is arguably the most compelling character in the entire show because you watch as she starts from the young girl who just wants to help but can’t quite measure up, to her tragic mistake when she tries to help in the most dire moment of need, to her abandonment by her sister and adoption by the man who kill her first adoptive father. Jinx as she is portrayed in Arcane is not just a complex character, she’s one of the best depictions of a person being corroded by madness that I’ve ever seen. Having her cartoonish scribbles mar her memories and the whispers of her conscience was fucking ingenious. And if that wasn’t enough her evil second adoptive dad was also in the running for best character in the show.

Silco was an extremely compelling character both in his connections to various other characters and how he was able to change by adopting Jinx. His little soliloquy next to the statue of Vander, his former compatriot and Jinx’s first adoptive father, who he himself killed as a show of his ruthlessness, about understanding why Vander couldn’t sacrifice his adopted kids to Piltover even if it kept the peace – that was one the best little moments I’ve seen all year. And the fact that Jinx was hiding behind Vander’s statue and misinterpreted Silco because she’s literally too paranoid and insane to read between the lines was just the icing on the cake.

Vi has probably the most interesting position narratively because she’s kind of at the center of things in the first 3 episodes but is locked away during the time skip. She doesn’t get the chance to build something nor the chance to fall, instead she re-enters the world and has to try and piece it all together. In a very real sense Vi is the heart of the plot, at least on the character side of the equation. She’s the one with the most connections to both Piltover and Zaun and a major driver of the action across any episode she isn’t locked in prison. She has an obvious influence on Jinx as her older sister, she’s friends with Eko, becomes friends with Caitlyn, goads Jayce into fighting, continues fighting when Jayce backs down, etc. She holds immense sway early on and she needed to in order for her to have a presence at all once the world moved on without her. And Arcane nailed it flawlessly.

I could probably keep on like this for a very long time but if I haven’t sold you on Arcane at this point, I’m not going to. Just know that Arcane gets literally everything right except for Jayce’s skin color – no idea why he got race-swapped but ok whatever I’ll look past it. I’m legit going to start re-watching Arcane as soon as I upload this. If that’s not an endorsement nothing is. See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Star Wars Visions

In yet another classic case of being late to the party, here’s my review of the nine shorts from Star Wars Visions. I kinda forgot they existed while I was watching other currently airing shows. Anyway I’ve ranked them according to my preference because I know that’s precisely what you need in your life. There will be spoilers you’ve been warned.

9 – Tatooine Rhapsody

I don’t think anyone will be surprised that this ranks last, in fact I’d be more surprised if someone didn’t rank it last. This is basically just an animated music video set in Star Wars. The song itself is neither terrible nor great, keeping in mind I listened to the subbed version (I watched all of these in Japanese like a civilized weeb), but it’s not a genre I’m a fan of. The only real part of this episode that put a smile on my face was an ultra brief cut of the Cantina band sweating bullets watching their new competition via hologram. Good jab, the Cantina Band always deserves to be cut down to size. Otherwise there’s really nothing here unless you like chibi Boba Fett or the idea that a failed Jedi Padawan gave up and tried to become a popstar.

8 – Akakiri

I know the obvious reason to bash Akakiri is the visual style but honestly that’s like the last criticism on my list. The visual style while among the worst of these shorts worked just fine for me, with the exception of the big bad who gave me serious Illaoi vibes from League of Legends and not in a good way. I’m also a bit torn on the visuals regarding the lightsabers, the slow fades during lightsaber movement are artsy and cool but they also kind of hurt my eyes. My main problem is that I felt like this needed more time with the characters and maybe less time on the journey. The two old guys were fun but the main duo just didn’t have enough meat for me to chew on, and it makes Tsubaki’s conversion from troubled Jedi to Sith apprentice really lackluster. There were hints of the relationship between Tsubaki and the exiled princess but I felt like there needed to be more in order for the ending to really hit home. I feel like this short had the framework for a good story but just not the vision or time required to build that framework into something more worthwhile. And it definitely sucks that this was the last of the shorts, it makes the experience that much worse when you end on a low note after some much more impressive episodes.

7 – TO-B1

TO-B1 is a cute little episode that feels very much for kids. I love the character designs, they’re practically ripped out of time from the 50s or 60s. And the fight choreography was surprisingly good with lots of dynamic movement. That being said the rest of the short was pretty lackluster. The story was beyond simple and the execution was alright but nothing to write home about. If you’re a young child or want warm fuzzies while watching Star Wars this is for you. If you’re a jaded old man like me this is very boring outside of the archaic character models.

6 – Lop & Ocho

Lop & Ocho was a bit of a disappointment for me. Visually it was one of the best looking of the shorts, both in the backgrounds and the character designs. It set up a nice conflict as well with the planet having trouble modernizing and accepting Imperial aid only for many locals to eventually grow weary of Imperial demands and the way the planet had changed. The ideological conflict between the forward-thinking Ocho and her traditionalist father was quite good, with Lop acting as the kid on the sidelines trying to keep the family together. That being said if any of these shorts needed more time to breathe, it would be this one. Lop, but to an even greater degree Ocho needed some more development, in particular how Ocho went from basically forcing her father to adopt Lop to not even considering her to be a true part of family over the course of maybe a decade. Likewise the turnaround of the conflict is just too quick and it’s hard to get fully invested in, in part because the short sacrifices some run time to establish the world and why Ocho and Lop are sisters despite obviously not being from the same species. This short executes very well on the visual and conceptual fronts, it has good ideas and the visual flair be immediately appealing. But it also feels very surface level, despite the fact it took the time world build, because there is so little time for the actual conflict and character arcs to take shape. Of the shorts this would easily be one of the ones I would most want to see as either a feature film or a tv show. It’s a good short that has many of the right elements to be great, just not enough time to bring those elements together satisfactorily.

5 – The Duel

The Duel has the advantage of being the first short, assuming you watched them in order and boy does it take advantage of it. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything else with the same visual style, it’s a bizarre modern style which uses new tech to deliberately evoke classic black & white film without just being black & white film. Interesting artstyle aside this short is pretty reflective of most of these shorts in that the story is very barebones or lacking but it gives us the fights and visuals it knows Star Wars fans want. Kudos for the ridiculous lightsaber umbrella attachment for the villainess 10/10. On a more serious note the stark visuals contrast very well with the lightsabers and lasers, it makes colors really pop and gives the action a lot more punch. The short has a great flow of action as well, with the frenetic energy of the rebel ambush kicking things off, followed by the villainess stopping the action entirely with her reveal only for it to ramp up again as the rebels desperately try to compensate for her power, only for the Ronin to slow thing down again by force-catching the lightsaber before drawing his own so they can have a fancy duel on a floating log. Very solid action, excellent if you’re the type who likes the really stark mostly quiet action films that no one makes anymore.

4 – The Village Bride

The Village Bride is an excellent short that had very little Jedi action all things considered. And that’s a crying shame because our main girl looks great, very stylish especially with her scifi heels. I really like the look of this short, it deliberately gets away from a lot of what you see in modern anime to make characters look more realistic but it still prevents them from looking at all cartoony. It’s a very striking artstyle and I’d love to see more like it, the setting and characters look great in it. This short also gave me pretty strong Avatar the Last Airbender vibes, felt like it could easily have been an episodic adventure where Aang and the gang discover an isolated village and deals with their problems as the fire nation inevitably shows up. In this particular short the fact that Jedi’s past is only briefly touched on is good because the central focus is on the people of the local planet and their conflict with the raiders who control a bunch of battle droids. The locals’ culture, while not described in too much detail, nonetheless feels fully realized as a very spiritual culture where people have a strong connection to nature and each other. Honestly the biggest downside to this short is that bucket-head man did more fighting than the Jedi lady, not a great plan when the goofy looking guy is trying to outshine the leading lady. But otherwise this was an excellent short. Great visuals, a good story and some kinetic, if brief action. I’d very much like to see a full length film or tv show made in this style following the Jedi lady.

3 – The Elder

As a die hard Trigger fan, I was overjoyed they had two entries. Of the two this is the one that will resonate more with non-anime fans very much like Little Witch Academia. Stylistically this was maybe the most realistic looking of all the shorts, with very detailed character and mechanical designs and backgrounds made in a older painting style. This short also had some of the best characters of the various shorts, with simple but consistent characters that felt like that they had more depth to them as expressed through their dialogue exchanges. This of course makes this short the least accurate of all the shorts since the real Star Wars movies have terrible dialogue, but it nonetheless made the characters feel more grounded and believable. The action here is among the best of the shorts with the Old Man being a surprisingly deadly opponent both in Force power and swordplay. I also liked that this one deliberately played into a episodic feel by making this a random encounter during a patrol, it takes advantage of the brevity of the short because I don’t feel like I’m missing out on a better story that hasn’t been fully shown as I did with some of the other shorts, especially Lop & Ocho. This despite the fact the ending left some mystery and the amount of character details suggested this could have been taken out of the middle of an ongoing story. Very well put together all around.

2 – The Twins

If The Elder came from the Little Witch Academia team then The Twins 100% came from the Kill la Kill team. This is peak Trigger, balls to walls, rule of cool action. It had easily the most interesting use of lightsabers with Am getting the Grievous treatment but then also getting the ability to flex her lightsabers like whips. They even used ligthsabers to one up the sequel trilogy on the hyperspeed ship slicer scene. Does it make any sense that the twins were out in space without a helmet or any kind of atmospheric gear? No. Was there any meat at all to the story? Also no. Do I care about such trifling matters in the face of how awesome the fighting was? Hell no. This was a ton of fun and really showed the power of animation in action and just how much more stylish you can make anime action than real life action. I also thought it had some fun little details like the evil C-3PO and the double Star Destroyer. Because honestly as meaningless as the story was here, at least concept of the twins linking their force powers to fire a special gun that needs a custom double Star Destroyer to work is a million times better than not visually changing a Star Destroyer at all and giving them Death Star cannons anyway. Get rekt sequel trilogy. Truth to be told though this all about the action spectacle and I’m a man who loves me some action spectacle. Glad to see Trigger bringing their A game and smashing it again.

1 – The Ninth Jedi

Despite what I just said though there is simply no competition for first place. The Ninth Jedi is hands down the best of the shorts. It has everything. It has a good plot, a solid bit of lore that means it could take place just about anytime in the Stars Wars cannon outside of the main events, excellent action with plenty of spectacle and it leaves itself open for the story to continue. The ideas presented here are all solid with the Jedi seemingly gone to the point of near extinction so that even the knowledge of how to make lightsabers has been largely lost. Having the mysterious Margrave make this call and offer lightsabers to the few remaining Jedi makes for a scenario where you can easily assume the Margrave is a hidden Sith villain using the lightsabers as bait to wipe out the scattered Jedi who heed the call – only for it to happen in reverse with the most of the arrivals being Sith hunting the Margrave who is in turn using this opportunity to kill them. Kara is an excellent character who blends the right mix of youthful fun and righteousness with the ability to be a fucking badass with a lightsaber. Her jetbike chase and the big lightsaber free for all were the highlights of the short and this entire anime experiment. I also liked some of the little details like having the lightsabers change color according to who’s wielding them and the state of their relation to the Force. It’s a bit cheesy but it works great visually to have the lightsabers change color in real time and is especially strong in how it plays off the semi-transparent lightsaber Kara starts out with due to her incomplete connection to Force. Lots of cool ideas in this short and I’d loved to see more from the same team if Disney ever signed off on it.

Unpopular Opinion: Kingdom 3rd Season

I hate to say it, but this was a letdown. If you’ve read my first impressions of the show then you’ll pretty much known where I’m going with this. Because what I said back then pretty much held true and now I have the details I need to prove my suspicions as well as some other problems. There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

The big problem with Kingdom 3 is the sound. I’m sure to many the idea that Kingdom 3 is a letdown to me despite it’s consistent visual quality, especially compared to janky CG that plagued the first 2 seasons, is something of a surprise. And yes visually Kingdom 3 is the most consistently good looking Kingdom (though personally I prefer the 2nd season’s take on the visuals more). However going to Kingdom for the visuals is kind of pointless. The directing is pretty flat and it looks as much like the manga as possible during every scene, and the manga is one of the best looking manga in existence. It has more detail, more blood and just generally is better than anything you could feasibly afford to animate. The same problem is true for the story, barring some minor edits, the story is the same in both anime and manga because of course it would be. So if there was anything to come to the anime for it would be the sound.

And the original creative staff understood this. The audio of Kingdom 1 & 2 is some of the most engaging audio in any anime. The OST is powerful and pervasive, adding to the tension of the court struggles or colossal clash of armies. The voice acting was amazing, with stellar performances all over the place. And last but definitely not least were the battle noises. The fighting itself was a lot louder and the individual clashes were punctuated with much meatier blows and deaths. Important characters even had extra attention given to their sword strikes like Xin having a particularly heavy grinding sound effect that reflected his tendency to simply tear through his enemies armor and all, as opposed to the airy and surreal swipes of Qiang Lei’s semi-divine fantasy swordsmanship. The major blows of great generals going at it were tremendous, when Lian Po swung his glaive it actually made a sound like it could crush shields and boulders. And almost none of this made it in to Kingdom 3.

The Kingdom 3 audio is what I can only imagine to be the brainchild of a bunch of producers and lackluster/inexperienced director. It preserves none of the creative vision of seasons 1 & 2. The new OST composer is Sawano – and don’t me wrong he’s an amazing composer, who I normally love, with a track record that is beyond reproach – but he makes no attempt whatsoever to meld his style to Kingdom. Kingdom 3’s OST (when you can actually hear it, because fuck me is it quiet) just sounds like a more generic version of Sawano’s other work. Lots of electric for tension builds and some sweeping orchestration for the big moments. But even the most hype track of this OST pales in comparison to the OST in the older seasons. And it hardly ever shines through anyway. It’s super easy to miss the music most of the time because someone, presumably the director, had it set way too low given the general clamor of a show about gigantic, chaotic battles and weighty dialogue scenes.

This alone is very nearly a deathblow to the show for me. Audio is the one realm (other than movement not that Kingdom has great track record there) where the anime can blow the manga out of the fucking water. And this audio is weak as fuck compared to the older seasons. There are no special battle noises for certain character’s attacks. The only unique audio that survived was Qiang Lei’s “ton-tum-tum” and they completely changed how she sounded when she invoked her dance. In the older seasons it was pitched low and had a distinct ritualistic vibe, in Kingdom 3 they made much more high pitched and girly – and they didn’t have her repeat the sounds in a rhythm over and over anyway, she just kinda goes “toooooon” and moves on. In a similar vein there is little to no narration in Kingdom 3, which is understandable in that Kingdom 3 is tackling a more complex arc and needs to cram more in, but it’s a surprising loss to me all the same. The way the narration used to break up the pacing did wonders for building tension as it slowed things down or dropped key details just before something big happened. And it’s pretty much gone in Kingdom 3.

Last but not least on the audio front is the voice acting, which took a nosedive of calamitous proportions. This is yet another hint to me that the director was the big problem. The major characters have the same VAs as before, with only some of Xin’s old squad captains losing their original VAs. But the difference in performance is night and day. This is especially true of characters who are passionate, emotional or quirky – just about the only characters who walk away unscathed are the calm and collected types who can get away with Stay Calm and Sound Grim. Xin took a distinct hit and he’s on the lower end of characters who got screwed, Biao Gong and the Yan general got screwed especially hard. And it’s not just the boys either, watch any scene of Xiang from season 2 back to back with her scenes in season 3, because my God did she get a downgrade. There also just some odd VA choices, like giving Marron a very rough voice for a character all about rustic refinement and I’m still torn on Wa Lin’s VA as it is not all how I would have imagined her speaking but it did grow on me some over the show’s run.

There are some other minor problems like some really weird animation cuts where it looks like character’s arms and weapons whirl in and out of position really awkwardly fast – best example being during the Han Ming and Meng Wu duel. Then there’s the big Qiang Lei duel, and I swear to god I’d almost rather watch that in the old CG, because as janky as that shit was they could fucking move that CG model around very dynamically in a way that reflected Qiang Lei’s fighting style. The modern equivalent basically just has her disappear and reappear to mimic the manga as much as possible while doing as little as possible to connect the attacks. Which is a crying shame as Qiang Lei’s final battle was probably the best looking individual combat in the show.

But still we come back to the big problem, the audio. The Kingdom anime has always looked worse than the manga. Even the new artstyle can’t change that. But I was willing to look past the visuals because the audio presentation of the story made me want to be there, on those battlefields, with the characters. To this day one of my favorite scenes is Lian Po’s retreat. This amazing beast of character was so inspiring and weighty that his valiant withdrawal after losing the main battle of Kingdom 2 was more impactful and emotional than even the big Zhang Yeng speech to hype up the Zui citizens in Kingdom 3. It’s such a world of difference and it’s painful to have to say all this.

I wanted Kingdom 3 to be the best Kingdom has ever been. I absolutely love this IP, you can scarcely make something more tailored to my individual tastes than this show. But the drop in audio quality is nothing short of catastrophic. I actually struggled through the end of the war, to the point where I considered tapping out during the battle of Zui because it felt like it was dragging on. Which sucks because it should have felt like an-edge-of-my-set ballclencher of a desperate defense. I should have been leaning way forward watching intently for the changes in the ebb and flow of this battle upon which the fate of main cast and the whole of Qin rested. But the show just could not capture that feeling at all, and I put all the blame on the poor directing and crap audio. Because the story is there, and visuals are sort of there, though they needed to be spiced up during some specific scenes like Xin’s crazy mode on the 6th day. But the bits I needed most, were not there, at all. And it really brought down this show for me. See you in the next one.

Understanding Chronology: Featuring Baccano, Spider Isekai and Peach Boy Riverside

Chronology is such a basic facet of storytelling that it’s basically an implicit agreement between author and audience that you don’t play with it in such a way as to overly confuse the audience. Because if you can’t even interpret what events occur in what order then the coherence of the story completely falls apart. That being said there are a few techniques you can use to tell a story out of chronological order without causing any real problems, such as starting with a character who has amnesia who is making actions in the present while trying to uncover the events that happened in the past. So long as present actions of the character follow a straightforward chronology, it’s engaging for the audience because we get to work alongside the character to make sense of the chronology as they discover various events, see flashes of prior memories or uncover evidence the character’s past. However if you made events in the present happen out of order too then good God would the story be a nightmarish mess to untangle. And with that example out of the way, let’s dig into a couple shows which play with their chronology to varying degrees of success. There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Baccano is one of the most complicated cases of chronology meddling in anime – barring the truly absurd chronology puzzle that is the Monogatari franchise – and yet it functions very well as a coherent story. For those not in the know in Baccano there are three stories, each a year apart from each other, being told simultaneously so that all of them can reach their various conclusions at the end of the show rather than being told as 3 separate arcs with their own individual climaxes. How does Baccano accomplish this? There are two major tools used to help guide the audience. These are posted dates and the Daily Days, a newspaper shop-cum-info broker that seem to be obsessed with knowing everything about everything going on. The Daily Days is particularly helpful in that one of the characters Eve Geonard is trying to find her brother during the storyline that happens last chronologically. Despite Eve’s search beginning chronologically towards the end of Baccano we are made privy to her search from very early on in the show and will get updates on her search throughout, which can gives us hints that Baccano is in fact telling multiple stories in parallel and providing guidance as to what actually happened. This combined with the much more obvious posted dates not only makes the wonky chronology of Baccano apparent but it strikes a great middle ground by being just complex enough that you need to pay attention to avoid confusion, while not being so complex as to just be a confusing mess.

By using the simple tool of posted dates and the much more engaging tool that is Eve Geonard and the Daily Days, Baccano is able to mitigate confusion to a set of stories they deliberately made less clear. And it works like gangbusters because it means you can navigate the chronology and aren’t overly confused while the show is able to have the 3 endings of the different stories build into each other for one giant climatic finish, that justifies all the fancy footwork done during the buildup. I watched Baccano years ago and I can still remember the chronology and and broad strokes of each storyline because Baccano gave me the tools to make sense of it all throughout the experience. Having said all that I doubt most stories or shows could pull a similar trick off unless they pretty directly from this playbook, or by using amnesia and digging into the past in much the same way Baccano uses Eve. That’s not say no one else should try but Baccano sets just about the highest bar for successful chronology meddling contained in a standalone show, so I doubt most will even want to attempt to replicate Baccano in this regard.

Moving right along we have Kumo ga nani desu ka? aka Spider Isekai, which goes a thankfully simple chronology meddling route. Spider Isekai also tells multiple stories in parallel, one about Kumoko’s journey through the Labyrinth and her struggle against the Demon Lord, and one about all of her classmates. There’s a roughly 15 year gap between these two stories before they eventually connect as Kumoko, now in her final form for the foreseeable future meets her classmates. Both stories are told with straightforward chronologies and this timegap between them become immediately apparent when Sophia is introduced. Sophia appears as a baby in Kumoko’s story and as a teenager in everyone else’s story, with the implication that since Kumoko reincarnated as a spider she physically matured lickety-split while the rest of her classmates and teacher had to physically mature at the same rate as humans.

This method is great because it’s both easily understood and allows Kumoko to enter the classmate story as a ludicrously overpowered character without feeling like a bullshit OP character. We’ve seen – albeit in far less detail than the manga, which is a shame – Kumoko make her hard as balls journey through the the Labyrinth. We know what skills she gained, what foes she overcame and how she has skated from one near-death experience to the next by the skin of her teeth up until she allies with the Demon Lord. Then, when the classmates are mostly starting from scratch as teenagers and just hitting their adventuring groove, save for the ones under Kumoko’s wing, Kumoko and her allies can appear as the unstoppable forces of evil to most of the other classmates – while they target supposedly good elves for using technology that could lead to the world’s destruction and are secretly the good guys. Which reminds me a bit of Helck, a manga you should definitely read if you enjoyed Spider isekai.

So far I’ve explored tools and tricks that allow stories to successfully meddle with their chronologies while still being coherent, enjoyable stories. What happens if you fuck it up though? Well you get Peach Boy Riverside, which was the main inspiration for writing this post. Now before I go on to shit on this new show let’s make a couple things clear. I went into PBR hoping to like it. It looked mildly edgy but had a thicc princess, Oni and some bastardized mythology for story backdrop. All of these things were pros in my book, even though I would say the presentation is lackluster at best and that’s before we get into the chronology. Like why does Frau the white hare who is clearly from some Japanese folk tale I can only vaguely remember wear a modern school uniform in a world that is otherwise medieval? Why do Oni have such a loose physical boundaries as beings to the point that more traditional Japanese Oni are technically in the same group as vampires and monster chickens? These are big questions people. That being said it also presented some interesting ideas, like having Peach Boy be a borderline genocidal pyschopath who fights Oni not to save people but for the joy of slaughtering Oni. Or Sally the MC having a similar power but not having any control of it. Things which suggest interesting possibilities. And then we get to the timeline and just, ugh.

At the time of writing, PBR is six episodes deep and the chronology is Episode 4, Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 3 – and Episode 6 has two different characters make reference to a battle that happened previously but which we haven’t seen yet except in a brief flashback that probably takes place sometime after Episode 2. In case that sounds like a mess, congratulations it absolutely fucking is. For the life of me I can’t understand why PBR is presented this way. This chronology fucks with the story so bad it hurts. For example it’s implied in Episode 1 that Sally is searching for Peach Boy because they are longtime friends, possibly even childhood friends and they have some deep connection. Episode 4 then proves they are very nearly strangers who spent like a day or two together before he got her kingdom out of an Oni-induced jam and then left. Episode 3 ends on a semi-cliffhanger as it appears that one of Sally’s companions are about to end up fighting one of Peach Boy’s companions in a fighting tournament while the leader of the Oni and Peach Boy both make Sally an offer to join them. Keep in mind we have almost no insight into either of these characters at this point nor any reason why Sally would choose the Oni over Peach Boy. Then we cut to her meeting Peach Boy and it’s both briefer and more traumatic than expected as she sees his darker side. So you would think the logical thing to do then is cut back to the spot Episode 3 ended and at least have some dialogue before maybe branching off so Sally can weigh the events of Episode 4 against some of her own encounters with Oni. But no we cut to a random 2 episode event in the timeline which has more to do with Frau than the Oni, which itself suggests that there is yet another, earlier event (that we haven’t seen yet) which effects Episode 3 because it involves Peach Boy’s companion who is in the fighting tournament and is probably going to fight Sally’s companion in the fighting tournament. And if you can parse that set of sentences without scratching your head you have some idea of just how baffling this show’s chronology truly is.

PBR’s timeline is a clusterfuck the likes of which are rarely seen. I cannot comprehend why it was presented this way. There is no describing it beyond confusing mess or clusterfuck. I can only assume that it was presented this way in an attempt to be artsy or cool, or that the creator was outright trolling because this mess is just so needlessly retarded. I’m all for complex stories and as detailed in the prior entries I don’t mind when shows mess with their chronology so long as they do so in a way that doesn’t make their stories incoherent. PBR is borderline incoherent, aided only by the fact it isn’t actually finished yet so I don’t have a full picture of just how badly they fucked this whole thing up. But I know enough to say that this show will fail, hard. It’s tone is utterly inconsistent, the events as presented don’t even string together much a story – honestly they’re like bullet points in a rough draft story outline, there’s practically no buildup and what buildup there is is being worked into the story retroactively from episodes released after Episode 3. There is no real story to speak of, no overarching plot worth mentioning, and what has happened so far really only serves to give a vague sense of what the characters are like – sort of, maybe as it suggests there’s more depth that we haven’t been shown yet if we’re lucky. Maybe this is all supposed to present us with an intriguing mystery to keep us hooked but if that’s the case it could not be working any less if it tried. The only reason I’m still watching is because this season is so barren I’d pretty much be down to Idaten, Dragon Maid and Bakarina if I dropped everything else I tried out and didn’t immediately hate. And even then I’m still considering dropping this. See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Baki 2020

With Baki Son of Ogre now on the horizon, now’s as good a time as any to re-examine the existing seasons of Baki, in particular Baki 2020 as I never got around to reviewing it when it was fresh out of the oven so to speak. There will be spoilers you’ve been warned.

In case you haven’t read it, here’s a review of the 2018 season of Baki. It’s not necessary reading material as I think the 2020 season can largely be taken as a standalone show, but it does highlight some of the potential problems a new viewer might have with the modern seasons of Baki in general.

Baki 2020 continues right where the 2018 season left off and begins the arc that I thought show handled amazingly, the Raitai Tournament. Because in contrast to my main issues with Baki 2018, i.e. that conflict was a meandering mess and severely undercut the initial premise of a faceoff between the 5 most dangerous prisoners in the world versus the top 5 contenders of the underground martial arts tournament, which the older seasons of Baki covered. Baki 2020 has no such issues, at least not for most of it’s run. The Raitai tournament is a simple, direct conflict that requires minimal background story to get invested in and it makes the most of Baki’s most obvious strengths as a show, we get to see beefcakes beat the living shit out of each in combat that ranges from graceful and tactical to brutal contests of pure strength.

The only parts of Baki 2020 that you need any prior knowledge of are that the titular Baki has been poisoned and isn’t looking so good (which I’m 99% sure they do a flashback to), that Baki doesn’t really get along with his dad, the strongest creature on the planet (which is made apparent pretty early on anyway), and that Retsu is total bro (which again is revealed during the course of Baki 2020). By and large though you can just ignore Baki 2018 and watch Baki 2020 cold turkey and you’ll be fine. All of modern Baki starts 4 years into the full story of Baki anyway, so unless you go back and watch it all or read the manga you’ll be missing most of Baki’s story by default. And despite the fact I do have a fondness for Baki I would be lying if said I didn’t feel the 2018 season wasted my time.

By comparison the much more direct Raitai tournament of Baki 2020 was a total joy. No bullshit, no meandering, no fights getting undercut by old characters you’ve never seen before who only appear for like 5 mins – just 1v1 battles pure and simple. And it’s glorious, in particular the big climactic fight between Yujiro and the oldest Chinese martial arts master alive – the Sea Emperor. It’s an amazing spectacle that pits the raw physical power of Yujiro against the perfectly refined technique of the Sea Emperor. There are other great spectacle fights along way too, with Oliva vs Shobun Ron being my personal number 2 pick of the tournament.

Unfortunately Baki 2020 does falter slightly near the end as we move away from the tournament and enter the infamous Muhammad Ali Jr. Romance arc. This arc is trash. It starts with Jr. being built up as serious opponent who trounces various recurring characters from older Baki arcs before being beaten by Baki’s half-brother Jack. It then plays in reverse with Jr. being roundly beaten by all the same dudes he just beat, before getting instantly destroyed by Baki during the big match and crying like a little bitch in front of his crush, Baki’s girlfriend. It’s suggested that the point of this mini-arc is about having the resolve to kill or be killed or some other emotional bullshit but it grates hard. I don’t even particularly like Jr. but at least up until his romance bit he was portrayed as competent, he won his fights in the Raitai Tournament pretty handily. He could have been an interesting rival to Baki in his own way, but sadly it was not to be and his couple of episodes towards the end are the worst of Baki 2020, and frankly some of the worst bits of storytelling Baki has to offer overall.

Simply put should you watch Baki 2020? Yes. Chad yes even. Baki 2020 delivers on what makes Baki appealing as a property and contains only small disappointments, while Baki 2018 was much more of letdown overall. It also hopefully makes a good transition to the upcoming Baki Son of Ogre which contains some of the most ridiculous and action-packed arcs of Baki. If you’re hesitant about watching this because you might need to see Baki 2018 first, don’t, it is not required viewing in my opinion.

Unpopular Opinion: Shuumatsu no Valkyrie – A Failed Adaptation

Just to head off anyone who disagreed based on the title but for some reason chose to read this anyway, I don’t mean that Record of Ragnarok (henceforth RoR) is actually terrible or fails to capture the source material. Quite the opposite, it captures the feeling and appeal of the source material too well. There will be spoilers.

My main issue with RoR is twofold, the relative lack of animation and the slow pace. The RoR anime managed to preserve the ultra-detailed character designs of the manga and brought them intact into a show with color and (sometimes) motion – barring that horrible CG Hermes violin performance. However that level of detail came with a serious cost, in that the movements of the characters tended to be very limited a lot of the time. The worst example I can think is the Thor flashback to the giant attack on Asgard which is a lengthy flashback that looks like it was animated in Powerpoint. I understand why they might have gone that route stylistically but it was outright laughable for this minutes long scene to have each cut slowly fade into the next cut. But even outside that particular example there generally isn’t a lot of movement. Most attacks are extremely simple and straightforward, but the amount of detail in the designs severely limits the fluidity of animation. Likewise the huge flurry of blows used in certain attacks are just the same handle of cuts repeated over and over in a loop.

RoR tries to distract from this by using lots of flashing colors and shaking lines in the background to convey energy and hype – which is totally fair given the nature of the conflict between legends among men and literal gods in the battle for humanity’s continued existence. But having recently come off the likes of Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia, the difference is clear to see. There is not a lot of dynamic animation and the fights do not have a lot of fluidity and motion as you might expect from other shows. If anything has ever captured the moving manga look and feel, RoR is my new go to example of that phrase in action.

Sadly the look of the manga is not all the anime retains. It comes with the slow pace. In the manga this is not a problem, the cut-aways and flashbacks are integral to RoR, building up the combatants both as characters to get invested in and as badass warriors you get hype about seeing go head to head. RoR has an amazing formula in just how far it is willing to go keep a hype train running, or even build on that momentum by interrupting the battle to see important details about a character’s past, philosophy and so on. The constant use of crowd reactions, a common trope in battle anime tournaments, is turned up to eleven too by having the crowd encompass all gods and humanity. There are tons of fun cameos of famous people and tons of hype men in the crowd drawn from the people who personally knew the relevant fighters during a given match. The RoR anime preserves this formula to a T as well. But in doing so it both reveals one of anime’s strengths and how the RoR adaptation failed to use the medium of anime effectively.

One of the most important differences between consuming anime and manga is speed. You can absolutely blow through manga, even ultra important moments, because at the end of the day it’s still images with text. A lot can be done on the creative side to make the big moments pop and to give the reader a sense of buildup, but you can read through the hype scene just as a fast an exposition scene – faster probably even, the hype scene should have a lot less dialogue. Manga requires the reader to pace themselves to some extent, to control how fast the read through certain bits and how much time they take to appreciate all the details in a panel, to get the most out of the experience. Anime doesn’t have this problem, unless you change the video speed, you will see a scene for as long as the director has decided the scene should last. You also see what the parts of the scene get focused on, in the order they get shown to you. And while this is obviously something that can be fucked up, good directing can absolutely make an anime version of scene hit way harder than its manga counterpart.

Here’s an example I meant to write about a few weeks ago before I got sidetracked. In My Hero Academia, I was rapidly losing interest in the manga as it reached the point the anime is now covering. I didn’t end up dropping it for a while but Deku’s Blackwhip was not something which excited me when it first appeared, partly because it only reinforced some the problems I had with the manga in general but also because I could speed through it in like 30 seconds. The same scene from the anime however was the first time my interest in really picked up during the current season. Despite the fact it was obviously the same story beats the anime makes the berserk Blackwhip scene tense and terrifying. Part of this comes from the audio, the strain and desperation in Deku’s voice as he screams at people to run away and begs his power to come back under control. But more than that it was the length of the scene that made it great. This wasn’t a 30 second blurb, it was a minutes long mess that had me on the edge of my seat because all of the elements came together to portray the scene perfectly. You could feel the desperation, surprise and worry of the characters suddenly caught up in a major event that no one saw coming. What struck me the most when watching it though was that the length and pacing of the scene, in comparison to my memories of the same bit in the manga, and how it was massive upgrade to the experience.

RoR meanwhile, in attempting to capture the surprisingly slow and tense pace of the manga and bring it to life in the anime, was filled with episodes that were actually too slow. Like don’t get me wrong it did capture the feel of the manga, but to mixed results. The odd flow of RoR is part of what makes it special and what brings so much hype, emotion and meaning to the battles. And the anime definitely has captured some of that feeling. But because anime is slower than manga it has also caught some downsides of this style of meandering long battle that the manga doesn’t have. The anime actually does feel too slow, quite often. The amount of cuts to the crowd reactions and just how much time they take out of each episode, how bloat they add to the battles, frequently made me want the show to get the ball rolling faster. Keep in mind, I do want some of it, I do think that bloat and meandering is an integral part of RoR battles but both of these things feel like much more of a double-edged sword in the anime. It makes the anime too slow overall by making things feel drawn out in a way the manga never really did – or at least in the manga the parts where you could see the fights being drawn out felt important. In the anime they can just get to be too much, and director should have cut down on the amount of flashbacks and crowd commentary to improve the flow of the battles. We do need some, but maybe condense them down a bit.

Overall the RoR anime is not terrible. It captures both the ultra detailed style of the manga and the meandering pace of the battles, that sets RoR apart from pretty much everything I’ve ever seen. The color and visual design was good, and they did manage to capture most of the extreme facial expressions from the most warped panels in the manga, as well as the grandest attacks. And I did enjoy watching it. However I enjoyed reading it more, and not in the sense that anime left out cool details from the manga, if anything it is a 1 to 1 of the manga paced as an anime. But the way certain scenes and bits of the fight felt like they were dragging their heels was definitely a point against the anime, my outright biggest problem with it. Because moreso than the limited animation it was the slow feel of the that took away from the grandeur of the fights. Nothing undermines epic battles like an audience insistently wishing for the show to hurry up already. See you in the next one.

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 with 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 a 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 about 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.