Understanding Storytelling: Computer Generated Contrived Crap – Goblin Slayer Ep 1

goblin slayer

I hated this first episode.  So far as it nails exactly what it wants to be and what it wants to be is shit – popular shit.  I have the sinking suspicion that this will be the big seasonal hit which I will find insufferable, at least as so long as SAO 3 doesn’t overshadow it too badly.  Speaking of I have to ask is anyone still hype for SAO 3?  I don’t even want to watch it to bash it, I tried that with SAO 2 and it was not worth it.  I’m genuinely curious as to how much pull SAO 3 will have, 6 years after the first season made it’s explosively popular debut and after years of SAO bashing being popular all over the anime community.  Setting that aside though I think Goblin Slayer is ultimately aiming to be a fire and forget sort of hit, something that makes a ton of noise during the season it airs and which everyone stops talking about within a year – Erased comes to mind.

As to how Goblin Slayer will manage this it’s fairly simple.  Obviously the titular Goblin Slayer is going for a Doom vibe, while the setting is a generic game-based fantasy world and just to spice things up there will be Akame ga Kill levels of edge there to grab the people who want their shows to be dark and bloody.  And it sucks.

To begin with we follow a 15 year old girl signing on as an adventurer and- stop right there criminal scum, why is this fantasy setting MMO-based?  This is not a tale of characters from the real world being drawn into an MMO it’s a straight fantasy setting.  So why does it have all the hallmarks of generic MMO?  I would hazard a guess that the series as written (because duh it’s that way because of the writer) was intended to catch onto the fantasy MMO craze which SAO ignited in the first place, which is why it has basic bitch game material all over the place.  Besides the fact that this market is now thoroughly saturated it more or less points to the writer being a total uncreative hack, which the rest of the episode then confirms.

Aside from the cynical and general half-assed feel of a fantasy setting which just has game mechanics for no reason I find the fact this setting incorporates game mechanics at all to be genuinely frustrating.  What happened to the magic in fantasy?  You don’t need any of this gamey shit like levels, adventurer’s guilds and quest hubs, in fact putting those things in actively ruins the setting.  When it came to writing fantasy Tolkien, a mildly successful fantasy author, explained a concept he called the second world.  This was a make-believe world that the author constructed and the intent was to create a world you draw readers into, a world which ignored SOME of the limitations of our own, where you could tell a story where characters do unrealistic things without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  In order to keep the suspension of disbelief intact the author would have to construct a world which was internally consistent and where the events of the story did not break the rules of world as laid out by the author.   If the author was unable to do this, Tolkien described that as the art (in crafting the story and setting) failing, and by extension the author in question failing.  The gamey bullshit is, to me, a giant fucking red flag that the art is failing.

Nothing in Goblin Slayer feels organic.  Beyond being generic the setting has nothing of intrigue, it doesn’t even make much sense and the way the characters interact with it makes no sense either.  Main girl can read and write, which would realistically mean she’s a tiny and elite minority of people in her medieval-ish society.  Not exactly the kind of person who can go adventuring willy-nilly as she would therefore either be rich or belong to a religious order or both.  Given how she doesn’t buy gear before going on her first quest for I now I’ll assume she’s not rich and she has no business going adventuring as she would be a valuable resource to her order, hence why they invested the time to teach her.  You’d think she’d be appointed to someone’s retinue or something where she can heal people free from danger.  But no, she’s out adventuring with a party of noobs who happen to need a healer before they go crush a nest of goblins which raided a town.

And stop again.  That was awfully convenient.  Before our new adventurer even has time to look at the quest board she’s dragged into a quest, a goblin hunt.  Which as the episode will detail is a great deal more dangerous than it would seem – if everyone involved sucks and it just so happens all of these people do because they fight and behave as though they were noobs in a game not novices in a real world, more on that later.  Adventurer guild lady looks concerned and tepidly suggests they should wait for a more experienced group to handle this but she doesn’t press the issue when the overconfident noobs ignore her sudden shift in attitude.  And this brings to one of the worst problems in the show.  Goblin Slayer has to manage a careful balance of goblins being weak, tiny monsters while also being genuinely dangerous packs of monsters and it falls apart instantly if you drop the conceit of the gamey world.

When the noob party enters the goblin cave and fall for a basic trap because none of them can see the branching path for some reason, I saw it before the Goblin Slayer explained what happened so I guess I’m more observant than people in the moment but ok.  Because of the ambush the sorceress loses her cool and manages to kill 1 measely goblin before being taken down by a bunch of them.  The most hilarious bit about this is that the goblins are genuinely the size of small children and while the sorceress is no bodybuilder she should be able to physically overpower at least 2 or 3 of the bastards before they stab her with a poison knife, but she can’t for some reason.  Main girls swings her own staff ineffectually and while her total inexperience makes this more reasonable the fact is both her and sorceress should be able to do plenty of damage because of just how small the goblins are. Sword Noob rushes in and kills bunch before he swings his sword overhead like a scrub and it hits the cave roof, knocking his sword out of the way and he dies.  Meanwhile main girl casts heal on her poisoned sorceress and this has no effect.  Not sure why because even if this follows MMO rules you’d think the heal would close the wound even if it doesn’t affect the poison but ok guess that’s a minor detail.  Monk girl steps up to the plate and kills a few more before a hobgoblin appears from nowhere and manhandles her because he’s actually big enough for that and she gets raped by a bunch of goblins as main girl runs away carrying the dying sorceress.  Then the Goblin Slayer shows up and pwns all the goblins, even clubbing little goblin children to death and there’s a post fight exposition scene where the main girl explains that what happened to her party was actually a common experience and- fuck me this is so lazy and hamfisted.

Everything that happens in episode 1 pre-Goblin Slayer is there to establish the idea that the tragic loss of half the noob party and the goblin rape-induced breakdown of the third member is a common affair, and it does this by hitting all the notes of the common story it explains post battle.  Are you shitting me?  How redundant is that?  Hey let’s have the main character experience the common experience firsthand so we can show it’s common and then tell everyone it’s common.  If it’s common knowledge then why the fuck didn’t the adventurer’s guild lady say “No y’all noobs ain’t ready for that shit goblin nests are worse than you think?”  Is there no need to preserve budding adventurers?  I mean obviously the point is so the first episode can be dark, edgy and bloody to attract a target demographic but in universe it makes no sense for this to have transpired as it does.  Episode 1 is handled that way not because it’s an organic story development but to give the intended audience what they want and make the characters do what the writer wanted.  This is called contrivance, an artificial development in a story which does not arise naturally from the setting or characters.

No one in all of episode 1 displays any logic whatsoever until main girl buys some horrible looking chainmail.  Adventurer guild lady, who would be in a position to know, doesn’t warn the noobs adequately about how dangerous goblin nests are.  None of the noobs show any skill with their weapons or abilities.  Which incidentally is why the gamey bullshit is needed I think, because the writer doesn’t know how to write characters that would logically fit into a bonafide fantasy world.  For example the Goblin Slayer himself remarks that Sword Noob’s sword was too long and that’s why he died – and not 2 minutes later he successfully uses a spear which is twice as long as the sword he was describing as too long.  This a sign of the author a, not thinking very well and b, not understanding real fighting at all.  What the Goblin Slayer shows is that weapon length was not the problem, how it was used was the problem.  Sword Noob uses wild slashes throughout the fight and the one that gets him killed is an overhead strike.  No one who actually knew a damn thing about fighting would use an overhead strike, in a cave, against tiny opponents.  You could use nothing but a low guard, controlled cuts and thrusts and you could wipe all of them out without a scratch because you have 5 times their reach and 10 times their muscle mass.  And the only reason Sword Noob fights this way is because he behaves like a video game noob, anyone who could afford a sword in a realistic fantasy world would either have the training to use it, or have fought in a battle at some point to get the money to buy it.

Moreover I have to ask, where are the goblins getting their weapons exactly?  Nothing they built was made out of anything but wood and bone save for their weapons.  And their weapons are scaled to them, they’re using tiny goblin daggers and axes, not daggers and axes they scavenged from the dead because those would look significantly larger on them.  Am I seriously to believe that goblins have the capacity to make steel but not the ability to make anything else that stone age savages couldn’t build?  Because that’s retarded.  Setting aside the weapon issue how are goblins so well known for raiding towns and carting off women, who they then rape?  The fuckers are tiny – an adult woman has to weigh like ten of them, how are they taking them – oh I see because you could force them at weapon point.  That’s why goblins have weapons.  But why the rape  I mean we didn’t see any female goblins and I could extrapolate from this (and certain doujins) that maybe they need to rape women to breed.  Despite the fact goblins should have literal baby dicks.  I’m just kidding, it’s obviously done to make the show darker and edgier.

And this is the nail in the coffin of Goblin Slayer.  Everything in it seems to be there to achieve a desired effect or story development no matter how stupid it appears on it’s own.  Like when the Goblin Slayer impales the shaman with his spear.  It would be like a human being nailed by a fucking ballista – instant death – if we’re being realistic, but no it survives the gut busting blow because it’s a higher leveled goblin.  Goblin Slayer has no interest in a well crafted, realistic fantasy world.  That alone would not be a death blow to the series but the fact the story itself is filled with artificial characters who behave as the script demands rather than how people in said position would naturally behave, consigns this one to the fire.  It’s trash and I can only hope the people who put this soulless product out there to sell know that.

I fully understand if any of you I find this show fun to watch.  I did write a defense of Akame ga Kill once upon a time and I too love my trashy popcorn flicks from time to time.  But if you came here for a well crafted story, with a living world, intriguing characters and a gripping narrative – boy have you come to the wrong place.  See you in the next one.

PS the “Computer Generated” in the title is in reference to the fact the world is gamey and I didn’t mention it above because it would have ruined my flow.  So it stuck it here to be extra uncreative and hamfisted – can’t have the audience not understand absolutely everything right?

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Understanding Limits: How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord vs Overlord

Overlord2

VS

diablo

I really hate Overlord.  When I was watching it weekly I might have given it like a 5-6/10, though the final battle with Shaltear (yes I only watched season 1 though I’ve a smattering of fight clips from later seasons since) was a huge disappointment.  That said every time I even think about the show since then my hatred has built and built to the point when I can say it’s probably a 1 for me personally by now.  And while before this point I could point out what I saw as the flaws just fine I had some trouble connecting with the appeal of a show like Overlord at all, until a I saw How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord (henceforth Demon Lord because that title is a pain in the ass to type over and over).

I would describe Demon Lord as perfectly passable.  It’s like a 5-6/10, and very ok across the board.  If not for the fact this is an abysmal anime season I probably would not have watched it but now that I have I think I can really pick apart how I think Overlord fails at capturing the appeal it ostensibly is going for.  In case you haven’t seen it Demon Lord features a similarly OP demonic main character, who happens to be a spellcaster, stuck in a world resembling a game he played, where everyone else seems severely under-leveled.  On the face of it Demon and Overlord are practically the same show but their minor differences make a world difference in how much I enjoyed one over the other.

Barring the obvious differences in art style between the shows and the appearance of the two leads, the biggest difference is that Ains from Overlord has the Dungeon of Nazareck and Diablo from Demon Lord doesn’t.

Ains arrives amongst allies and servants who he can order to do things on his behalf while he investigates the world or gets into fights.  In and of itself this is not a problem and a story written from such a scenario is totally workable.  The problem is that all the demons of Nazareck are themselves overpowered in the world of Overlord.  In season 1 and in most of the clips I’ve seen of later seasons the demons of Nazareck are curb stomping all of their opponents, with the only notable exception being the bug maid vs Evil Eye (if memory serves).  This is not to say I’m not missing a battle or two where they fight more difficult opponents but ultimately the issue is that not only is Ains op all of his allies are op too so there is never any tension in any of the battles.  Moreover it seems like an incredibly hamfisted level of overkill in the writing department.  What’s the point of having an OP protagonist trying to unravel the mystery of his situation if he could just command his 15-20 servants to do it all for him?  It’s like making a team of 15-20 Madara Uchiha’s from Naruto and saying “yeah people will like that!” – like wtf?  It’s fucking BORING because none of the main characters are ever in any danger and world itself is not challenging.

Even more annoying there is no reason given at all (in season 1 at least please correct me if they explain later) as to why the world of Overlord is so weak in comparison to Ains.  Here’s a completely inconsequential example that encapsulates my issues perfectly.  Early in season 1 Ains (in disguise) has to give away one of his potions.  As far as I know this is not a potion he made, it’s just a basic potion from the game.  However it’s considered pure and is better than the potions everyone else is using.  Can you believe it? Even a basic potion in Ains’ possession, which he never even has to use, is better than the potions of the world he inhabits.  That’s the unbelievable level of overkill the writer goes to in making sure Ains is the top dog, even his potions are better than everyone else’s and he doesn’t even use them.  I know this is such a minor thing but it speaks to my main issue with Overlord.  It doesn’t know when to stop.  It doesn’t know how to set any kind of limit for itself, any restrictions which might inject ANY tension into it whatsoever.  It just makes Ains and his goons the best in every way possible and shows you how they steamroll this world set on baby levels of easy mode.  And somehow it works for people, I sincerely don’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would like Superman and this has most of the same problems as Superman.

By comparison Diablo is brought into a world where he seems all but invincible but he doesn’t have a gang of overpowered buddies.  He has a pair of girls who fit into the normal range of characters levels for the vast majority of adventurers in the world Demon Lord takes place in.  His companions can and do get beaten in fights and struggle against superior foes anytime Diablo is unable to confront the threat himself.  There is actual tension because Diablo really only has like 4 or 5 people he can count on in this world and all of them have a very real chance of dying in the event he isn’t there to protect them, and he can’t be with all of them 24/7.  Moreover there are a few opponents who are more of a threat to Diablo than anyone in Overlord was a threat to one of Ains’ battle maids.  The Force Hydra, the Governor of Faltra, Krebskulm and even the Paladin are foes of a high enough level that they can at least damage Diablo, and a few even give them a run for his money or force him to the point exhaustion.

Which brings me to another point, not only do none of the native creatures or characters of Overlords world ever damage Ains, (again not that I’ve seen do correct me if I’m wrong) but even when he has to get serious to fight Shaltear there’s no negative effects at all.  Diablo meanwhile not only can be seen taking damage on rare occasions but he can exhaust himself, which leaves him practically bedridden the next day.  And while by most show’s standards this is barely a limit at all it is at least a limit – Ains not only doesn’t seem to have limits he actively is granted the means to ignore any limits he might otherwise have.  He can become a warrior good enough to steamroll this world despite the fact he’s a sorcerer.  And he has fucking gatcha items which allow him to equip the best melee weapons and armors without penalty and he doesn’t appear to suffer from using most or all of his mana if he ever even does.

Jumping back to the world being too weak, unlike Overlord, Demon Lord has an actual explanation as to why the world is so weak.  Namely that the lack of respawns has caused all the adventurers to be much more conservative so not only are their levels lower, they have far less experience with the skills they have.  Whereas Diablo played aggressively because it was a game, so he is high leveled and experienced with his skills.  But even with this explanation in place Demon Lord still makes room for a few major enemies who are high leveled.  And unlike Overlord Diablo’s potions aren’t inherently better than the potions of this world.

Where this difference in the relative power levels becomes most important is in Diablo’s companions.  Whereas Ains almost never has to worry about his servants because personality-wise they all praise him to high heaven and want to suck his dick, Diablo’s companions are total strangers to him and only bound to him by a slave collar that he won’t use on them.  These fragile bonds are important because Diablo’s human self has been betrayed in the past and struggles with connecting to people.  And of equal importance is that Ains’ companions are rarely in any danger, whereas Diablo’s are in danger all the time – or would be in the event he isn’t there.  This goes double for Rem who is the vessel sealing Krebskulm and is targeted by some humans and monsters because of this, and Shera who is a runaway princess being pursued by her countrymen and brother.  Between this combination of legitimate vulnerability, character backstories that imply significant struggles and the trials which arise in the present because of their pasts, I found the supporting cast much more likable in Demon Lord.  They were people I could sympathize with and in turn it made me like Diable more as he fought past his strong mistrust of people to support the few companions he has as much as he was able.  The demons of Nazareck meanwhile were all totally insufferable because of their boners for Ains coupled with their borderline invincibility.  There was nothing there to invest me in them and so they all fall flat.

Put simply where I think Overlord fails is in setting limits for itself.  I can understand the appeal of wanting to watch an OP hero crushing powerful enemies with ease and being an all around badass.  But where I think Demon Lord manages to strike this target with ease I feel Overlord overcompensates and goes too far.  When everyone and everything thing associated with Ains, even his basic potions for fuck’s sake, are better than the everything in the world around them it’s a clear case of overdoing it.  Fuck, just laying it out like that makes Overlord sound like a Mel Brooks-esque parody of shows like Demon Lord, but Overlord lacks the self-awareness and humor to be such a parody.  Instead it’s just a basic power fantasy taken to such an extreme degree in every detail that’s it unbearably frustrating just to think about, let alone watch.

All that said I do want to say sorry to Overlord fans if they feel like I’m attacking them.  That’s not my intent, I believe anyone can like anything and it doesn’t reflect badly on them.  This is just one more case where a popular show emerges and I can’t stand it.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Hidden Gems: Binbougami ga!

binbougami ga

Binbougami ga, or Good Luck Girl (which for the record is one of the worst translations on a title I’ve ever seen) in English,  is a great fucking time.   I must say as a comedy anime connoisseur (lol whut amiright), Binbougami ga is among the best that comedy anime has to offer.

The premise is as follows, in a certain city there is a girl with an impossible amount of good luck.  She’s smart, athletic, rich, well endowed and all the boys love her.  Her name is Sakura Ichiko and she also the troublesome passive ability to unknowingly and unintentionally steal the good luck of those around her and add it to her already outrageous levels of good luck.  For this reason a poverty goddess is sent to drain her of all her good fortune and shut this luck draining ability down.  When confronted about this however Ichiko is not willing to give up her good fortune and hilarity ensues.

Premise aside what Binbougami ga brings to the table is well, basically everything.  The voice acting is superb, the characters are fun, memorable and more complex, or at least serious, than they first appear as are their underlying character arcs.  There are loads of Gintama-style references to other anime sprinkled throughout Binbougami ga.  The delivery of the gags is excellent and there is a surprising amount of action since Binbougami ga has a distinct battle-comedy slant to it’s overall makeup though this is more pronounced in the manga.  Perhaps most striking of all though is how few still frames there are.  There is very little sitting/standing around and talking and even though all the relevant characters go to high school like 99% of all other anime, they spend very little time in the classroom or at the school in general.

The show is almost frenetic, between it’s genuine action scenes and rapid transitions from joke to joke, and I mean that in the best possible sense of that word.  It’s exciting really because it felt a lot like Kill la Kill, in the sense that things were always moving, but the visuals never really seemed to take a hit despite that.  It even does a great job of adapting the manga pretty faithfully while making great edits where required.

I would abso-fucking-lutely recommend this to anyone and everyone, in fact I genuinely think anyone who doesn’t see it missing out on a truly great comedy.  No joke, I would give this a 10/10 because it is perfect for what it is trying to do.  See y’all next time.

Understanding Anime: The Trigger Twist, a Coinable Term Or a Misguided Assumption

darling in the franxx 2

Just about any community in life has it’s own lingo and as I’m sure you’re all aware anime is no exception.  Waifus, Moe, Tsundere, etc.  The list is long and yet here I am making one up – The Trigger Twist.  If the picture above isn’t enough to clue you in I decided to bring out this term as a result of the sudden shift in Darling Franxx’s story, a shift that threw a lot of people but which in retrospect is not obvious per se but is perhaps expected.  There will be scattered spoilers ahead.

The most obvious parallel which one can draw to the Trigger Twist is the infamous Gainax Ending, a term coined because of the number of WTF endings in Gainax shows.  My personal favorite example of this term in action was the sudden end of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, where Stocking turns on her sister/partner apropos of nothing and chops her into tiny bits before walking off to be the presumed villain of a sequel which never came out.  It was so sudden and out of left field that it still confuses the fuck out of me.  I can easily see the same being true for Darling in the Franxx, the shift was jarring.  However I think this deserves it’s own term because A. the confusion brought on by the jarring shift wore off while the aforementioned Gainax Ending is still baffling, and more importantly B. this is a traceable trend in the works of Hiroyuki Imaishi.

Perhaps the Trigger Twist isn’t a totally accurate term as it’s not as though Imaishi is the only director working for the studio.  That being said he not only co-founded the studio but is far and away the name most commonly associated with the studio so I think the term fits well enough even if I’m describing a tendency of Imaishi’s not Trigger behavior on the whole.  Barring Dead Leaves, which I know nothing about, and Panty and Stocking – which as detailed above is a classic example of the Gainax Ending – all of the major projects Imaishi has had a major hand in have the same twist, it turns out the main enemies are actually aliens which threaten humanity’s existence.  This trend predates Trigger as Gurren Lagann is the first main example that comes to mind, but it has continued into Trigger and is present in more of the major productions than not.

Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco and now Darling in Franxx stand beside Gurren Lagann as shows where the story takes a sudden shift and a new existence threatening enemy is revealed later on.  Luluco is by far the hardest sell on this point as the existential threat appears basically at the end and most of the episodes are clear references to Imaisihi’s past works but it counts in my book.  Kill la Kill and Darling in the Franxx are much more clear cut examples of the Trigger Twist in action, and of the two I think Darling in the Franxx is the one where the Trigger Twist was felt most strongly.

Kill la Kill was such an over-the-top, stupid action thrill ride (in my humble opinion the best of such that anime has to offer) that when the final enemy was revealed and the History channel Aliens meme went into full effect it really didn’t take you out of the experience.  It was Kill la Kill, where clothes could talk, clothes made you superhuman, a 20 year old was in high school, Ragyou wore the most hideous clown outfit in human history, Mako could defy any sense of logic or physics (a good thing), and we still don’t know what all made it into Mako’s mom’s mystery croquettes.  Adding aliens to the mix was perfectly in step with the wacky, violent world of Kill la Kill.  It wasn’t necessarily predictable but it wasn’t jarring.

By contrast the Trigger Twist in Darling the Franxx was very jarring and seems to have at least somewhat split the community on the show as a whole.  Speaking for myself, up until the Trigger Twist I had pegged Darling the Franxx as a cross between Evangelion, for obvious reasons you’ve no doubt heard before, and Shinsekai Yori with it’s strong focus on the gaps in knowledge between the adults and the kids, the use of brainwashing to control the children, the use of a control group (the main characters) and a strong sense that the rift between the adults and the kids would become the source of a great conflict.  That potential conflict had it’s legs cut from under it with the Trigger Twist and the big reveal of VIRM.

Personally I thought the VIRM arc of the show was handled pretty well with the confusion when they first showed up during the fight with the klaxosaurs, the big space battle that followed and the separation of the cast where Zero Two and Hiro went off to kill the VIRM homeworld and the rest set about making the foundations for reviving human civilization.  That being said I can see the negatives of this particular Trigger Twist, the shift was so sudden and so different from the direction the story seemed to be heading in that I can see why people were confused or perhaps thought of it more like a bait-and-switch than Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann.  As much as I like the show I think it’s about a 7-8 which is a shame because I thought it could definitely be a 9 or maybe even a 10 if handled well enough – before the Trigger Twist went into effect.

This is not to say that experience was wholly or even mostly negative but I do think the Trigger Twist definitely pushed Darling in the Fraxx into a different and for me less gripping trajectory.  I still like the show, I like the klaxosaur designs, I like some of the details of moving cities and their society, I like the entire main team, Zero Two is totally a contender for best girl of the year, and I think the mechs with faces that could emote to match the female pilot was perhaps the greatest innovation in mech design in anime history.  No I am not joking, I’m not a big mecha fan but I loved these mechs because they had so much more character than the competition.

That being said there is only one question remaining:  Do you think the Trigger Twist is just some bullshit I made up and should remain that way or do you think it’s some bullshit I just made up that should perhaps be added to anime lingo?  Comment below with your response.

Understanding Reviews: How Getting too Personal Wrecks a Review

Darling in the Franxx

Awkwardly titled though this post may be I’m deliberately playing off the video which this serves as a response to, a recent review by Mother’s Basement regarding Darling in the Franxx.  The following will assume you’re up to speed on the Darling in the Franxx, so major spoilers warning.  Now let’s begin.

Inserting yourself into reviews is a fine line to tread.  This might seem hypocritical as a writer’s tastes will obviously color their review, and the fact I wrote an entire post about how being me causes me to class with mainstream consensus so often.  However the video linked above is a clear demonstration that injecting too much of yourself, your thoughts and your values into a show is not only possible but a serious downside to any review.  The most obvious pitfall is coming in with warped expectations.  For example in the post linked above I detailed how Gigguk’s view of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as a SnK clone actively interfered with his review because it caused him to see narrative decisions caused by thematic differences between the two shows as weaknesses on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part, rather than seeing how well Koutetsujou no Kabaner’s narrative choices played into it’s themes.

On the flip side though, understanding a reviewers’ biases can be good.  For example if you came to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri looking for a new SnK, then as Gigguk describes you will likely be disappointed.  Moreover understanding biases can give you a sense of what kind of shows you and your reviewer of choice are mostly likely to differ on in a broad sense.  For example I’m a big Digibro fan but one area I know we differ on is history, both irl and fictional in-universe history.  I value history real or imagined to a great degree and Digibro doesn’t.  In practical terms it means that A. I know which shows I shouldn’t necessarily take his word on and B. I won’t get salty when he shits on some I show I like because I know that fundamentally the subject matter is not to his tastes and it is to mine.  This is why many reviewers, myself included, often do point out their biases when it’s relevant to do so, because it can help the audience.

With the general stuff out of the way the question is how did Mother’s Basement fuck his review up?  His review is broken down into 4 major points all of which relate to the world building and how it was handled in episode 19 versus the rest of the show.  He also makes a minor aside to point out that he thinks the marriage mini-arc is boring because he didn’t care about the side characters and the main characters have already undergone their development.  I disagree but this is because I like all the kids and the aftermath of the marriage arc is important in how it shapes the squad and their attitude towards the “adults” but I digress.  His main complaints are as follows.  1 – They botched Dr. Franxx’s backstory and made him a one note character because they boiled his amoral motivations down to being an atheist and his love interest side story was just a framing tool used as a distraction for the audience, so we wouldn’t bitch about the massive info-dump that Episode 19 was.  2 – Magma energy, assuming it is actually energy derived from magma, makes no sense – and if it’s a plot device made from a special fictional material the switch from oil to magma energy and the technology it produces comes way too fast and with too little resistance.  Also he has some issues with the allegorical components of the magma energy and the technology it produces.  3 – The Klaxosaurs have a really striking design so they should have a really interesting origin, and they don’t.  4 – It doesn’t make sense that Dr. Franxx should be the one to create the Franxx or that he should have so many problems understanding them in the past if he’s the one who built them.  And in case the Franxx turn out to be made from Klaxosuars (which the next episode confirms) then that’s a weak twist because this show is a homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and we could see that twist from a mile away.

Let’s start with point 1.  I do agree that Dr. Franxx has, on the whole, been made into a more one dimensional mad scientist than earlier episodes let on.  But Mother’s Basement’s reasoning behind it misguided and comes from him being really butthurt about atheists being seen as immoral by some sections of the population and this being reflected as trope in fiction.

As Mother’s Basement points out, even before the world goes to shit and before the death of his wife, Dr. Franxx was not bound by morals or ethics.  Dr. Franxx astutely points out that no one complains until after he succeeds because they want access to his successes, and this is part of what shapes his attitude.  This has plenty of real world parallels and one of the reasons the “mad scientist with no morals or ethics” is a trope is because the real world is rife with examples of horrible experiments performed either as a torture or for the sake of knowledge.  For an example of each, most of modern medicine’s understanding of how the human body reacts to cold comes from the Nazis and the data they collected while using freezing temperatures to torture Jews – and once upon a time in America they infected black men with Syphillis and didn’t give them treatment to study the effects of the disease.  Hardly research done by moral scientists in an ethical environment, but these experiments happened.  This sort of stuff is, I think, a better root source for the trope Dr. Franxx now fits into, than atheism, even if atheism is sometimes thrown into the mix.

Mother’s Basement was super salty about Dr. Franxx saying he was an atheist when confronted by questions of ethics or God because he saw that as the writer’s justification Dr. Franxx’s mental state and a trope as described above.  Personally though his delivery made it seem more like a deflection to me, like it was a placeholder excuse when he was confronted with questions he didn’t have a real answer for.  Most people do not reason themselves into their moral code, it comes from the environment they grow up in.  To them it’s just normal.  Dr. Franxx never had those things, nor does he have detailed reasons why he doesn’t have them in the same way most people don’t have detailed reasons as to why they espouse the moral code they do.  In simple terms Dr. Franxx is probably a sociopath and his atheism comment is not so much a justification for his beliefs as it is a quip.  I can understand that some atheists might take offence but as an atheist myself my response is grow a fucking thicker skin, I don’t think he meant anything deeper by the line nor do I think the writers are attacking atheists.

What I find most troublesome about Dr. Franxx’s portrayal is that it seemed like he actually had developed more empathy in his later years as per some of his lines to Hiro regarding Zero Two.  I mean technically they could have served as goads for Hrio because Dr. Franxx wanted to see his experiments come to fruition but they seemed to come from a place of empathy and they made Dr. Franxx seem more human than the rest of the adults despite his obviously mechanized body parts.  Now is he has become a cackling mad scientist all but orgasming in the face of the Klaxosaur Queen and it is cringey.  I do think they made Dr. Franxx into a worse character in Episodes 19 and 20 but Mother’s Basement’s obsession with the atheist line really skewed his analysis and made him come across as whining triggered snowflake putting his own insecurities about how atheists, and by extension he, are perceived.  I’m sure it resonated with people who felt the same but it legit ruined his analysis for me and many others if the comment section was anything to go by.  He even could have said it offended him and that would have been fine if he left it at that but his salt over that line colored so much of his analysis on this particular point that it really came across as a whine, not an analysis at all.

Point 2 is where Mother’s Basement is somehow even more correct and equally more infuriating.  I get that magma energy is a confusing name as it could conceivably refer to energy derived from magma but the fact that it never behaved like geothermal energy and attracted the Klaxosaurs the same way humans collecting Imulsion lead to conflict with the Locust in Gears of War made it pretty clear early on that “magma energy” was a fictional power source not energy derived from actual magma.  That he allowed for this would suggest that not even Mother’s Basement actually thought it was energy derived from magma.

The problem with his analysis at this point is that he argues that there’s no way big oil would go down without a fight and magma energy would not be adopted this quickly nor would it result in the meteoric rise of APE, the scientists (who we now know were manipulated by aliens) who bring about the use of magma energy.  His analysis is only true if 2025 Earth was exactly like ours and the show does not spell that out.  Sure it’s only seven years away but that still gives the setting some leeway.  Maybe green energy has overtaken oil and magma energy is seen as a super efficient green energy.  Maybe the world has all but run out of oil and magma energy is a necessary alternative, meaning that APE was in the right place at the right time, that would surely help account for their rapid rise to power.   It’s  not that Mother’s Basement is totally wrong here, in a more realistic show with more attention given to the setting his concerns would be totally valid.   But he isn’t giving the show an ounce of leeway when the writing gives it at least a little if we’re being strict, and a lot given that Trigger is involved and Imaishi usually plays very fast and loose with his world building for the sake of moving the story along and getting to the action.

Mother’s Basement has similar concerns about how quickly the magma energy tech is adopted by the world.  Again if the conditions of 2025 Earth are more dire than current Earth this problem mostly goes away.  His most accurate point here is that there’s no way in hell the majority of humans would be all over a drug that makes them sterile even if it grants them immortality, though technically they could have kids and then take the immortality drug and mitigate the sterility problem that way.  It is a weakness in the writing and one that I believe comes from Trigger’s tendency to move past some of the trickier logistics of their show’s backstories to get into the action and hit the twists.  Also addressing the minutiae that Mother’s Basement is really immersing himself into takes time and it’s time the writers seem not to feel they have to spare.  It’s just a cost of creating the show and I don’t think it’s an especially important one but at least Mother’s Basement is making a solid argument here and it obviously would matter more to people like him.

What makes this portion of his analysis insufferable is his talk of allegories.  He complains that the magma energy and the destruction of the environment is an allegory for the environmental damages brought about by oil, and that the people making the allegory have done no research given how quickly it is adopted and how big oil doesn’t fight it.  How does he know?  Is he a mind reader?  It’s easy to see that magma energy could be an allegory for oil, but it could also not be an allegory.  It could just be an idea the writers thought was interesting.  I’m very much with Tolkien on disliking allegory in general and how it is confused with applicability.  I don’t go looking for allegories when I watch or read things because allegory can only come from the audience and doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s thoughts on any given subject.  A good example where the author’s intent is clear is Parasyte.  Shinichi kills Gotou with a poison that resulted from chemicals humans were illegally dumping and Migi is not subtle at all when he explains how dangerous our waste can be.  The author’s intent there is crystal clear and so the environmental message is fine.  But getting hung up an allegory YOU impose on the creators whether or not it accurately reflects their intent is fucking stupid, and when Mother’s Basement did it it just set me and other people off.

Point 3 is just stupid.  Yes I’m sure everyone wishes that the Klaxosaurs had a totally unique and original backstory.  But the fact that their designs are striking and iconic has literally no impact on how creative their backstory will be.  The Gunmen from Gurren Lagann are pretty iconic and their origins are pretty standard, as an example.  I appreciate Mother’s Basement’s desire for the Klaxosaurs to be more fleshed out, interesting and unique but his logic as to why they SHOULD be more unique is really fucking stupid.  Cool designs do not equal cool backstories, they literally never have and I have no idea why he thought they should.

Point 4 is kind of a mess.  For starters him pointing out that Dr. Franxx is a biologist not an engineer is asinine.  Dr. Franxx is clearly intended to be the smartest man around as a trope but even getting away from that has Mother’s Basement not heard the term Renaissance Man.  Some people are just really good at a wide variety of subjects and they tend to be geniuses.  One my grandparent’s neighbors is like that.  He’s super knowledgeable about planes, wine and a wide variety of other subjects, while also being one of the world’s foremost experts on blood diseases.  People like that exist in real life, that Mother’s Basement mocks this idea before going into the rest of the argument looks like him poisoning the well, i.e. trying to discredit the character from the outset.

I do agree that Dr. Franxx not knowing the issues the early Franxx wouldn’t make sense if they weren’t actually made from Klaxosaurs, but not only did Episode 20 confirm that they were made from Klaxosaurs, Mother’s Basement predicts as much and calls it a weak twist for being obvious because Darling in the Franxx is a homage to NGE.  So his mechanical criticisms are irrelevant and he expected this might be the case.  But his weak twist complaint is just as bad.  First off just because shows have similar elements that doesn’t mean they are a homage to something else, and even if it is a homage that doesn’t mean the story will follow the ideas of the work it’s paying homage to.  Also do remember that some people haven’t seen NGE and may not know that the Franxx being made out of Klaxosaurs is an obvious twist.  Sure it’s a weak twist to him but he doesn’t say it like that, he lays down his opinion as if it’s as factual as the stuff he brought up earlier about how big oil behaves or how long it takes for new medicines to be adopted.   Honestly to me it seemed like Darling in the Franxx was dropping more hints that the Klaxosaurs were humans, like Suisei no Gargantia or Shin Sekai Yori.

I think that about wraps this up.  I don’t blame Mother’s Basement for feeling the way he does or having the views he does, but I do think he desperately needed to keep the personal side of his analysis in check.  Like I said at the beginning it’s a fine line between including useful bias info and making the review too personal but it’s also not a line that many cross or that it’s difficult to avoid.  Maybe you need to step back and think about how other people might think about a show, episode or scene.  Maybe you make a point to clarify what’s your opinion versus what is more objectively factual.  You can put a lot of yourself into a review with great success, but Mother’s Basement really botched this one.  Regardless of where we disagree, his analysis was too full of bits that I would best describe as whining and nitpicking to make it seem like a credible review.  I can respect arguments I disagree with if they are well formed, and this one was too warped by Mother’s Basement’s personal hang ups to make it appear well formed – even if I agree with some of the conclusions he puts forth, all too often I find his reasoning to be flawed.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding The OP Gamer: How The King’s Avatar Crushes SAO

quanz

Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or the King’s Avatar in English, is one of three perfect avenues to explore just why SAO is a pile of shit and just how it could have been done better.  The other avenues are of course Log Horzion, previously discussed here and here, and the subject of my previous post – SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online.  With the 3 ONAs released this season now over I figured it was time to explore this third avenue into the construction of video game-centric anime, specifically because it shines where SAO fails the most – the OP main character.  There will be spoilers.

One of the main reasons Kritio is so hard to buy into unless you wish to project onto him is that it’s not clear why he is good.  I mean the fact that he’s 15 isn’t much help if you’ve got a few years on him, but one of the most obvious features of SAO is that Kirito is stupidly powerful and crushes almost anyone he bothers to fight.  What’s not so obvious is why.  Ignoring the ‘because he’s the main character’ reason – which for the record is a bad reason when used just by itself – there’s no real explanation given.  It is implied that Kirito is the best because he was the best of the beta testers and that presumably the beta testers are better than the new players.  Borrowing a bit from Digibro’s epic 1 hr takedown of SAO season 1, if we assume that all the beta testers made it into the first 10,000 players who are trapped in Aincrad then Kirito is in the top 10 percentile of players if we assume the beta testers are automatically better than everyone else.  Building on that if he’s the best beta tester, he’s the best player.   But is it really that simple?

Keep in mind that being a beta tester is no indication of a player’s baseline skill, you could have been selected because you were chosen from the people who rushed to get the beta even if you’d never played an MMO before.  You could even be ill suited to MMO’s, like me, and not do terribly well even if you were interested enough to try and get in the beta – though logically you probably wouldn’t do that shit.  And where does talent come into this?  People learn games at different speeds, is it really implausible for a new player to, after getting a hang of things, outstrip the beta testers?  Especially since it’s explicitly stated that some things have changed since the beta.  In that regard relying on beta knowledge could actually be a weakness – there’s this apt line in Kingdom where a military genius explains that in a clash between two opponents who know each other, if the weaker one is slightly better than the better one believes him to be, then the rug could get pulled out from under the better one because the better one came in with the wrong expectations.  The beta testers could deal with something similar and while this is not spelled that it does seem like a good explanation as to why Diabel, the blue haired guy who dies fighting the first boss, ends up losing despite his knowledge of the game’s mechanics and his status as a beta tester.

There’s an even bigger problem looming behind all of this though.  How do you even measure things which make a player better?  In The King’s Avatar the players are not trapped in a game, they are playing a wildly popular MMO/MOBA hybrid which has just hit it’s tenth anniversary.  Though we experience much of the story through the game world and the players’s avatars, we also experience it through the people on the keyboards, but more on that later.  In The King’s Avatar there are clear ways to demonstrate one’s skill at the game, one the most basic being a player’s Actions per Minute or APM rate.  Relative noobs can crush more established players if the difference in their respective APMs is too great.  The greatest counterbalance to APM though is game knowledge, experienced players will not only know more advanced tactics and have a better feel for the controls, they can gain clear advantages by memorizing ability cooldown times and the hit boxes of spells and attacks.  In simple terms if a high APM noob can unleash far more attacks than the knowledgeable veteran, then the veteran can use their knowledge to evade or even counter their faster opponent with less effort.

SAO has nothing like what I just described.  It’s combat is vague, the mechanics are not spelled out very often or very well and no one even attempts to justify how the VR tech measures the differences between people.  For example Kirito gets the dual wielding ability because he has the best reaction time of anyone in the game.  But that begs the question, how is the VR tech measuring or calculating his reaction time?  Is it how quick his brain processes information and forms a clear response?  If so how does that work in the VR?  In real life there are different speeds at which people can mental or physically process and react to information, so how is Kirito the one with best reaction time?  Is he like that Japanese guy who’s anticipatory reflexes are so good he can cut airsoft pellets in half with a sword – seriously google that shit, I’m not making it up, there a videos of the guy doing it – or is something else in play?  The answer is a titanic shrug because Reki Kawahara either never even bothered to ask such questions when designing his setting or handwaved them when he wasn’t able to find or create a satisfactory explanation.

Right so what SAO gives us is an OP teenager who is OP because plot and then sets out to tell a story centered on this kid’s adventures – which it does badly as I explained in depth here, here and here.  The King’s Avatar starts in a very different position.  It opens with an explanation that over the first ten years of its run Glory has become an international smash hit, with it’s most famous and beloved pro player being Ye Qiu, the main character.  Then it cuts away from the game to discuss real life events messing with Ye Qie, namely that his team’s success has been slowing down and the manager basically forces him to quit and sign a contract saying he won’t compete until next year.  This is significant because Ye Qiu is 25, old as pro gamers go, and already considered to be in his over-the-hill phase by his manager and jealous teammates.  This contract is seen as his resignation from Glory’s pro-scene for good by everyone, except of course Ye Qiu.  Ye Qiu accepts the underhanded blow with as much grace as you could hope for, then he finds a job at an internet cafe and immediately starts playing with a new account on Glory’s newest server.

One of the major differences in the very earliest stages of the two shows is that SAO dropped us into the game and then dropped the dramatic hammer meant to hook the audience, the players are trapped and if they die in the game, they die for real.  The focus was not on Kirito per se, he’s just the lens we experienced the story through – though after the first two episodes SAO was basically a show about Kirito and his adventures despite the fact almost no time was spent developing Kirito as a character.  This was a massive mistake as it was the hook, the WOW meets the Matrix setup everyone immediately grabbed onto that held the keys to the show’s success.  We only care about Kirito in sense that he could die, and once that was removed the show deflated into a shit pile.

By contrast, after briefly giving us enough context to know what game we’ll be looking at and how Ye Qiu is related to this game, the King’s Avatar immediately focuses on Ye Qiu and his life.  We follow his adventures because, ideally at least, we are interested in HIM, not the game – and at the very least the way he gets screwed so hard right when we meet him is a great way to to get us to root for him from the outset.  We all want to see him stick it to the man and give these assholes the bird.  But the game is central to this story because it is the means by which he will rise to the challenge thrust upon him.  This is a flexible introduction to the game as, if we start rooting for Ye Qiu for personal and moral reasons as the show is intending, the game could be anything.  You could pick any kind of high level competitive sport, or in this case esport, and this setup would work for it.  If we’re hooked on the idea of Ye Qiu fighting to get back at the people who screwed him then the creators can put whatever rules into the game that they want – we won’t care so long as we get to know the rules and see Ye Qiu abide by them, we are good to go.

In this way The King’s Avatar manages to get away with not explaining every last detail about the game and how it’s played where SAO suffers massively from how vague the information on it’s mechanics are.  In fact if you take a cold clinical look at Glory it’s overall design is very basic – a class based MMO inspired by D & D and WOW, with a strong competitive MOBA scene alongside it – and the show doesn’t explain what each class can do in the same exhaustive detail as Log Horizon would.  But the basics of how it functions are extremely intuitive and the show provides extra detail when it needs to.  It even manages to do the ‘”classless” character better than SAO.  In SAO nobody had any classes, you just got better at what you did Skyrim-style and that was that.  By comparison The King’s Avatar explains that while Unspecialized is a class anyone can play, and it has a great deal of flexibility as that’s it’s main selling point, it’s generally not used much and it’s never used in professional play because it doesn’t have any of the clear bonuses that a more focused character class comes with at higher levels.

Ye Qiu of course starts smurfing, for lack of a better term, as an Unspecialized immediately once he gets a new account, but unlike Kirito he does this deliberately.  There’s a flashback of him and a teammate making a custom transforming weapon, which he retrieves and uses, showing this has been on his mind for some time.  But unlike Kirito, who again is good because plot, Ye Qiu makes this unviable class work because he’s a master of the game.  He’s been it’s top player for years and he’s been playing since the game first came out.  Assuming he’s a pro all 10 years, the intro doesn’t spell that out but it’s kind of implied, he has top tier game knowledge – at this point he probably knows more about this game and how the classes function than the creators do.  He knows all the skills and how they interplay and because he’s Unspecialized he can pick and choose whatever skills he wants.  Combine that priceless experience and knowledge with a weapon tailor-made for an Unspecialized player and Ye Qiu is able to quite handily turn the unviable class into a weapon far greater than anyone else can imagine.

But it’s not just extensive game knowledge and years of experience of the highest level of play Ye Qiu brings to the table, it’s the APM required to maintain his pro status for all of those years.  APM is given a big focus throughout The King’s Avatar, from Ye Qiu being kicked because his team expects his APM to slow down to unacceptable levels based on his age to the APM of promising noobs catching Ye Qiu’s eye so that he starts bringing them under his wing, his low key preparations for his planned return to the pro-scene at the head of a brand new team full of talent.  There’s also an interesting pro player who Ye Qiu knows and plays against later in the series, and Ye Qiu states that it would be unfair if this guy had great APM, set to footage cutting between their in-game battle and the noticeable difference in speed of the players’ hands at the keyboard.  This shows that this particular pro would be even better than Ye Qiu if he had the technical capabilities to match Ye Qiu’s APM because his game knowledge is so formidable.  Which of course brings us back to game knowledge.

Throughout The King’s Avatar it is repeatedly shown that what makes Ye Qiu the best is not his high APM or his extensive game knowledge but that fact that he has both at his disposal.  He fights people with superior APM and people with superior game knowledge, but thus far no one who has such high levels of both, and so Ye Qiu comes out on top with relatively little effort in most of his battles, just like Kirito.  But again, unlike Kirito who is good for no reason, we know that Ye Qiu has acquired the things which make him so good over years of high level play.  What The King’s Avatar gets away with is nothing short of brilliant, it straight up tells us Ye Qiu is the best and then shows us how this came to be – without even using loads of flashbacks or exposition dumps – with such clarity that it convinces us that he is indeed the best in a way that gives the character gravitas rather than diminishes the stakes of his battles.  He’s the Isaac Netero of his story, the goal which all other pros seek to reach, and his struggle is as much a battle against his aging body as it is a clash against powerful foes.

This is also the reason The King’s Avatar takes a such a different approach to Ye Qiu’s companions than SAO does to Kirito’s.  Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirito’s companions are either waifus for his harem or a couple of bros which he can compare himself to and seem vastly superior to.  His only companion of real note is Asuna because of the depth of their relationship in the Aincrad and Alfheim arcs – but after that SAO spends so much time away from Asuna that this doesn’t matter in the long run.  By comparison, with the exception of Che Guo – the internet cafe manager – Ye Qiu’s companions are young players he sees potential in.  These include a couple of players like Tang Rou, inexperienced players with great APM, and lower level pros who are struggling to break into the tops ranks of their team or struggling to fit into their team entirely.  Ye Qiu uses his game knowledge to mentor these budding talents, a style of storytelling and gameplay which acknowledges his status as the best player but one where the dramatic stakes lie not in Ye Qiu’s inevitable victories in battle but whether or not his pupils are able to learn from him and grow as he would like them to.

Ye Qiu is basically a combination of Kirito from SAO and Shiroe from Log Horizon, melding the best parts of both of their characters.  He has the same experience, game knowledge and strategic capacity which makes Shiroe so dangerous in team fights and so good at teaching new players, while having a strength similar to Kirito’s as a solo combatant.  And through a strong understanding about what makes pro players good at computer games, careful use of storytelling and strong attention to detail – the King’s Avatar manages to tell a story you can really get invested in despite the fact it’s protagonist is about as OP as a gamer can be.  And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.  Hope y’all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

GGO2

Weep my fellow weeaboos and rejoice!  Somehow it has finally happened, SAO has escaped the curse of being total shit – well maybe.  For the the sake of convenience I’ll just call this show GGO2 and by God it is already leagues ahead of any other SAO show.  There will be spoilers ahead.

5 episodes may be too early to call whether or not this will be a decent show for sure, but with only a few exceptions this has turned out pretty good so far.  Thus far most of what has happened is a team-based battle royale a la the Bullet of Bullets tournament from the original GGO but with noticeable differences.  The battles are won by skill and tactics, many enemies seem entirely competent and Llenn, our new heroine, has a number of close calls throughout the tournament – her victory did not seem at all assured.

Before I make this seem too glowing there are definitely a few problems I should address though. 1 – Some of the game’s mechanics have changed since the original GGO and though this is mostly a positive, one area that I think needs addressing  are the character attributes and specs.  Enjoyable as it is to see a bright pink bunny hat girl zooming all over the battlefield, her Agility is broken as shit and the only alternative which seems viable is sniping.  We need some details here but we probably won’t get them.  2 – Damage seems extremely malleable to fit the situation, with some people going down in 1 shot or a short burst while others take quite a few shots and melee attacks.  Obviously some of this is due the location of the attack influencing the damage but Llenn takes a bunch of hits and it seems like she probably should have gone down. 3 – Last and most blatant, WTF is with Llenn’s gun?  Why is it talking to her?  Seriously what is going on?  I think they will address this one but still it was a very bizarre thing to throw into a battle that had been reasonably realistic within the rules of the game, ill-defined as some of those limits are.

So what happened?  The obvious answer is that the creators have finally cut out the cancer which has plagued SAO since the very beginning – Kirito.  I’ve written extensively about SAO, here are posts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 for more details, but the cliff notes version is that Kirito was the greatest flaw in a series with a ton of other flaws.  His design was bland but just barely stylish enough that a brooding edgy teenager would think it was cool.  He was OP as fuck, to the point that it never mattered what game he was in nor what that game’s rules were – he’d win anyway and rarely would winning require effort.  Ironically ALO, which most people consider the worst segment of SAO, actually managed this the best as he almost died twice and did die once, when raiding the final dungeon, in that game.  Also Kirito’s sister was always best girl because she had two very different looks between her real body and her character and she had the best tits.

Really though the fundamental design flaw of Kirito is that he was a rudimentary power fantasy for young boys, winning almost all of his fights with ease and claiming the hearts of maidens far and wide with his totally awesome video game skills, despite his comical lack of social skills – which has probably worked for like .01% of the population in real life but I digress.  Kirito was barely a character, he had some basic character traits that were rarely built on and was amazing at ANYTHING he bothered to do, be it the games or programming.  He was a husk which young teens could project onto and basically nothing more, he could and would break any rule the game worlds imposed on him if the scene required it and the plot threads of his story were generally basic, boring and flowed together very badly.  SAO was shit tier, with tons of contrivances, pacing problems, awful looking action scenes, a weak harem, to be frank, and super edgy villains that would not have been out of place in Mirai Nikki or Elfen Lied.  Moreover because Kirito was supposed to deal with serious conflicts the shows tried and failed to be dark, while creating simple plots for him to solve regardless of how well any given plot would work in any given game.

With Kirito removed however this gives the writers a lot more freedom and boy does it show.  There’s a lot more attention given to the game, from retarded stuff like the fact you can apparently never design your avatar in any game based on the Seed, which is garbage but whatever, to a goddamn tutorial instructor who was a legitimately better character than anyone from the original GGO.  Yes I’m dead serious.  That instructor, in addition to being fine, had a lot of character when it came to her design and dialogue and it added to the character of the GGO game world as a whole.  It especially helped push the upgraded realism aspect of the game as all of her lines could have been ripped from Full Metal Jacket.  Not only that but it did a good job guiding the player into what weapons they would be good with as beginners, a nice touch.

Speaking of the game world lets look at the changes in game mechanics.  In contrast to the original GGO where the game had serious imbalances between energy and projectile weapons those differences have been ironed out.  The basic idea of energy weapons being for monsters as opposed to fighting players is still there but in their overall utility energy weapons are significantly better than projectile weapons – with the caveat that their damage against players is nerfed, so players will be encouraged to use the slower and more difficult to handle projectile weapons when fighting each other.  That being said Llenn proves that you can still totally beat people with energy weapons assuming you have greater skill or more advantages.

The game mechanics established in the original GGO are mostly still in place but players have worked out more work-arounds to take advantage of the mechanics of the game like M not putting his finger on the trigger until he goes for a snap shot, thus preventing the enemies from seeing his bullet line or using dead bodies as shields as they are immortal objects and you can’t be hit through them.  Also no one has a game-breaking invisibility cloak nor tactic to break the radar scan and instead the scan is vital to every team’s planning and tactics.  M using a collapsible metal barrier to make cover for himself when he’s at a disadvantage was a nice touch as well.  Also notably absent so far are the light sabers Kirito used.  Seriously, the tactical planning aspect of the battles have skyrocketed in their complexity and cleverness since Kirito has been gone.

Another major freedom is that this is a game with no death or trapped patients/test subjects so the creators can focus on making our characters have fun while still putting them in tough battles.  Moreover this gives the script way more structural freedom than any other SAO season and once again the writers show their stuff now that they don’t have work around Kirito.  GGO2 starts with a flash forward, dropping us into the tournament immediately and showing it means business with the huge surge in tactical planning, better use of game mechanics and fun combat.  Then it jumps back in time for the next couple of episodes explaining who our characters are and how they got to this point.  The character department could still use serious work as Llenn’s real world counterpart is still very basic and I think her complex is kind of silly – seriously she looks great and that height is not a detractor at all.  But while her character is still a work in progress at least we have been given a clear trajectory of her time in the game, from her being a total noob, to her finding a niche in the game and then her growing as a player with the help of Pitohui, a much more experienced player.

Pitohui is by far the most enjoyable character in any SAO anything, with a striking design, a devil-may-care kind of attitude, odd hobbies and viewpoints and plenty of mystery about her.  That being said they did drop a pretty big hint that she’s probably an SAO survivor and possibly a Laughing Coffin guild member – seriously though how big was this guild? – considering M’s total breakdown and conviction that she’s crazy and will totally kill him, as well as the more subtle, but to me more telling, hint that Llenn’s player killing was what initially drew Pitohui’s interest.  She’s mostly been a sort of quirky, crazy guide to Llenn but she’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting SAO characters ever made – here’s too hoping she doesn’t end up an edgy killer type still hooked on the thrill of death.

That about covers the 5 episodes that are out so far.  All of the characters are more interesting and likable than previous SAO installments, the combat – particularly the tactical side of it – is far more impressive than before, the pacing is totally fine, the writing is still fairly basic but it has been used much more effectively thus far and the overall experience is much more fun than SAO has ever been.  I do want to note that there are plenty of places for this show to fail and I’m somewhat worried about Pitohui, as villains have been a continual weak point in SAO, but for now I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a decent show.  If nothing else it has been a refreshing break from Kirito and way more fun than it’s predecessors.  Hope y’all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.