Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Juuni Taisen – A Masterwork Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Sloths of the Whales

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Children of the Whales, to use it’s proper name, is a decent show.  It’s definitely one of the most distinct and intriguing shows I’ve seen in a few years with regards to concept, art and setting.  However it has what could very well be considered a fatal flaw – it’s way too fucking slow.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

I have two theories as to why Children of the Whales is so slow.  One is that, as others have noted, it is trying to be a very emotion driven series and thus moves along at a glacial pace to build up scenes and make certain deaths emotional.  I think that if that’s true then it is wholly misguided.  This approach would make sense if people died rarely but Children of the Whales is one of the most violent shows airing this season – it has easily 10 times the body count of the death battle show Juuni Taisen.  This contradictory approach just doesn’t work. For example Sami’s death was supposed to be really hard hitting but it wasn’t, at least not in and of itself.  Sami had a fair amount of screentime but most of Falina’s, the Mud Whale’s, inhabitants are boring.  They live boring peaceful lives and the majority of them die of natural causes in their twenties and thirties anyway.  Sami was not interesting and so her death doesn’t really mean anything.  it’s also poorly timed.  She dies in the assault on Falina which kills dozens of people on the tiny floating island.

Now the attack itself was a huge emotional success I think.  In contrast to the bland Sami having a death scene which totally lacked impact the attack itself and the indiscriminate slaughter that followed hit like a heavy punch to the gut.  The boring peaceful lives of Falina’s people was shattered by the robotic, systematic violence of the attackers and they died in their droves.  In fact they survived because the enemy retreated and gave them a week to prepare on purpose.  In hindsight it’s kind of annoying that almost no one fights back against the attackers once we learn about the self defense force and the force’s captain, who is likely stronger than any enemy soldier by miles, but whatever the long scenes of remorseless slaughter get the point across and the future of Falina suddenly looks very grim.

What follows is a few episodes of preparation and then the counterattack on Skylos, the enemy ship.  The assault itself was fine up until Ouni and the Skylos’ captain get involved.  The ambush on Falina’s sneak attack squad was perfect if all to predictable and it was over in a flash – as it should have been.  But when Ouni comes in and starts turning the tables the enemy captain shows up and shoots in him the leg.  Then he holds him at sword point and calls him worthless.  Then he hands the lieutenant the sword and lets him cut Ouni, but he doesn’t die because Ouni’s friend Nibi jumps in and they have an action scene so slow that not only is there a ton of dialogue but the out numbered Ouni and Nibi have time to turn away from their attackers and help each other.  Then Nibi inevitably dies and Ouni goes berserk and unlocks new powers and kills everyone -the end.

Keep in mind that only four people from Falania are present through an episode and a half’s worth of time spent in one room and there are like 20 Skylos people.  The fight should have been over in a minute or two tops and we’ll give it five minutes due to dialogue interrupting the flow of the action.  Yet somehow this takes around 20 minutes to conclude and it ends in the way that it basically had to anyway.  Nibi’s death was also drawn out to be emotional but it was so obvious that it didn’t matter. Once again the real emotional impact came from the ambush where the majority of Falina’s attack force is wiped out, though seeing Ouni go berserk was satisfying enough to make some of the overlong buildup worth it.  But the main problem still stands, Children of Whales is rife with pacing best described as glacial – in sharp contrast to the aforementioned Juuni Taisen whose episodes have started to fly by in recent weeks.

The other theory I have is that there is just not enough material.  I mean this comes from a manga so theoretically it should have plenty of story to work with but there is the possibility that the manga is not very long.  Alternatively perhaps there is a short simple kind of introduction to the series before it gets way more complicated and the staff decided to only tell the simple part of the story knowing they would never be able to get through some of the complex stuff in time.  Or maybe the manga is slow as shit too.  Point is I think part of the reason why Children of the Whales is so slow is that they episodes are really stretching the manga chapters for one reason or another.  Because the setting certainly suggests the world of Children of the Whales is much larger and more complex than the tiny Mud Whale we’ve been mostly restricted to so far.  My assumption is that Children of the Whales is  supposed to go into more an epic grueling adventure where Falina travels the world in search of protection and potentially to free the world from the emotion draining Nous who seem to me to be the root of most of the greatest horrors the world of this story has to offer.

Obviously there’s no way in hell they can manage that in 12 episodes so maybe they are settling for a clean and self contained arc which has a “read the manga” ending.

For all the ragging I’ve done on the show so far I don’t think it’s entirely bad.  I like the art style a lot and the setting would be perfect for a grand adventure show a la Log Horizon or Magi.  And the tone of the show very much reminds of me of Shin Sekai Yori, a show which put a ton of emphasis on mystery elements, psychic powers and the suppression of information between generations.  Children of the Whales is nowhere near as dark and unnerving as Shin Sekai Yori but it has powerful dark elements of it’s own and the idea of following a formerly pacifist society being thrust into war by a genocidal foe is awesome.  Likewise the enigmatic Nous and their goals, true natures and whatnot would be fascinating to explore.  Sadly the show will not last long enough for that but we can dream.

Speaking of dreaming, here’s my ideal 12 episode version of Children of the Whales.  Imagine if we tightened up the pacing a bit and got what has taken the show 9 episodes to take 6 episodes and then have a huge timeskip and have the back half of the season follow the surviving main characters as adults leading Falina, which due to decades of attacks and struggle has become a society defined by violence.  Think about it, the kids are already being forced to become killers – some kindergarten kids killed the pink haired psychopath in episode 8 – and they are fighting an enemy so lacking in empathy that not only does it kill anyone it sees regardless of age, intent and capability but they send child soldiers of their own to fight in droves.  Such a deranged and implacable foe would almost certainly cause Falina to become a remarkably warlike society in order to survive.

Ultimately I think the weakness of Children of the Whales is that it is almost certainly going to be great in the long term but the anime doesn’t get to be long term.  So instead they have to interest us with a simpler arc which has an easily packaged and digestible conflict while still introducing some elements which would be the real intrigue later down the line.  However this conflict is perhaps too short as it is and so the anime really has to slow down to not overstep the intended stopping point.  This is a real shame but it’s what we have.  I love a lot of the ideas in the story but unless you can sit through some very slow episodes I’d recommend you give this show a pass.

How to Hero: Boku no Hero, Tiger & Bunny and Gatchaman Crowds

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Superheroes are everywhere.  In the US every time you turn around there’s another superhero movie coming out and calling Boku no Hero Academia one of biggest anime of the year feels like I’m selling it short.  However I have a bone to pick with a lot of superhero stories, a lot of bones in fact, chief among them their simplicity.  With that in mind I wanted to talk about three very different superhero anime that I like and do a little compare and contrast.  There will spoilers, you’ve been warned.

I’m going to assume most of you have seen Boku no Hero Academia and even if you haven’t it’s a shounen battle story, you don’t need a long plot description to figure it out.  To sum up what I’m going to explore in more detail, Boku no Hero Academia’s greatest strengths as a story are the myriad of character stories it uses to create rivalries and relationships.  How these character stories emerge and clash is integral to the growth of all the major characters and it’s something the show absolutely nails.  It also nails some great shounen battles, tournaments and training, taking the building blocks of the genre and making the most of them.  However in comparison to the other two shows mentioned in the title Boku no Hero Academia is the least interesting, if no less engaging than the other shows.  It’s about as straightforward as stories come and while it does a great job in the details the overall story is very by the numbers for shounen fare and it’s not exactly brimming with ideas.  None of these are weaknesses necessarily just factors to consider.

By comparison Tiger and Bunny looks like the seinen onii-chan to Boku no Hero Academia’s shounen outoto.  They have a ton of similar features, like a character whose power is declining, an older hero who is symbolic of all superheroes and whom is greatly admired and an industry built around heroes and their feats in pursuit of villains.  But Tiger and Bunny really goes all in on these ideas in a way that makes it a hell of lot messier than Boku no Hero Academia.  It also nails character stories but because the cast is so much smaller we get a lot more intimate with most of them, and their stories tend to be about how their personalities and goals clash with or complement their jobs as heroes as opposed to setting up rivalries.  It is however, ultimately pretty close to Boku no Hero Academia in a lot of ways so the two are easy to compare.  This brings us to the problem child of the bunch, Gatchaman Crowds.  Gatchaman Crowds is far and away the show which focuses most on ideas and crams the most concepts into it’s story.  If Boku no Hero Academia is about trying to become the greatest superhero and Tiger and Bunny is about how different people struggle with being superheroes then Gatchaman Crowds asks, what is a hero anyway?

Let’s start with the Boku no Hero Academia and Tiger and Bunny comparison.  In terms of premise the three greatest things separating the two shows are relative numbers of people with special powers, how detailed and important the superhero industry is and the age of the main characters.  In sharp contrast to Tiger and Bunny, as well as comic equivalents like X-Men, in Boku no Hero Academia the people with special powers make up the vast majority of the population and the heroes are the ones who take it upon themselves to become heroes.  Their Quirks are of course important in determining how effective they are but a look at Deku’s class shows you don’t have to be a Deku, Todoroki or Bakugo to be a hero, even Mineta can do it if he really tries.  This doesn’t really apply in Tiger and Bunny, for the most part heroes are heroes because they have the right kinds of powers to be heroes.  The only noteworthy exception is Origami Cyclone whose power is no use in combat.  This creates a lot of tension within the character because despite his power’s weakness he is still making a living despite not doing any work, the sponsors just want him to pop up in the background and flash their logos.

In fact Origami is the perfect example of the kind of hero Stain from Boku no Hero Academia hated, one who couldn’t and didn’t do anything but wore the title of hero nonetheless.  However there is no Stain in Tiger and Bunny, and the conflict between being a real hero and being a “fake” hero is something the character struggles with internally – to the point where he almost quits/lets a former friend kill him because he feels so worthless.  And that character arc could never have happened if Origami Cyclone’s non-heroics were not financially viable, but they are because of how deeply entrenched the superhero industry is in Tiger and Bunny.  It seems to be the main form of entertainment and it rakes in the cash like there’s no tomorrow.  In fact Tiger’s biggest issue with the superhero industry is that it often calls on him to hold back or stay on standby in order to make the show more exciting, while Tiger is an old-fashioned hero who doesn’t really give a shit about the business end of things and just wants to save people.  Again this exists in Boku no Hero Academia but it’s a much smaller issue because it is given so much less attention – the worst example I can think of to date in Boku no Hero Academia is the hero internship where Yayorozu spends the whole time in photo shoots, but that’s nowhere near the glamour and excess shown in Tiger and Bunny.

The age difference is important too.  Deku is a kid coming into his powers and trying to control them so that he can succeed later in life.  Tiger is already a successful hero and is reaching over-the-hill status especially when Barnaby (whom he nicknames Bunny) shows up since the two have the same ability.  The age difference is most important though when it comes to a story beat which is shocking similar across both stories – the decline of power.  In Boku no Hero Academia that portion of the story belongs to All Might but in Tiger and Bunny it belongs to Tiger, and also Tiger and Bunny’s All Might equivalent, Mr. Legend.  Mr. Legend and All Might are extremely similar, both serve as symbols of all superheroes, both attempt to hide their decline in power and both inspire the main character of their respective shows to become heroes.  (Also this isn’t really relevant but I just want to mention that Ida is basically a teenage ripoff of Sky High from Tiger and Bunny seriously watch one episode and tell me I’m wrong).  Mr. Legend is ultimately the more human and messy of the two because the setting and story allow for that but functionally they are all but the same.  However Tiger’s opposite trajectory from Deku, when combined with the fact he’s an adult and knows nothing but being a hero, complicates his character story tremendously.

Whereas Deku has to deal with the pain of not being able to handle his power and ultimately needs to worry about not destroying himself before he fully comes into it, Tiger has to start worrying about his ever decreasing time limit while using his power, which he could only use for five minutes per hour anyway.  Tiger’s struggle is by far the more interesting from a conceptual standpoint and it’s handled fairly well but ultimately I think Tiger is at his best when he’s interacting with people.  Barring his age he’s closer to the loud, obnoxious shounen hero than Deku is but because of his age he can also impart life changing lessons to younger heroes and Nexts (mutants basically).  In fact one my favorite scenes is early on in the show, when instead of arresting a teenage Next trying to hurt people because they treated him like a freak, he talks the kid into giving himself up, assuring him that he can be a hero too if he tries.  He even tricks the kid into fixing an impending disaster caused by his own rampage.  Likewise his short arc with Blue Rose a teenage idol-cum-hero who never really wanted to be a hero in the first place and only agreed because it would boost her singing career was great.  Tiger’s attitude is not all that different from Deku’s but the difference in age allows for Tiger to involve himself in a much broader range of stories.

All that said I want to stress I don’t think what I described the last few paragraphs necessarily makes Tiger and Bunny better than Boku no Hero Academia.  Boku no Hero Academia absolutely kills Tiger and Bunny in the action department and Stain is probably coolest character across both shows.  What Tiger and Bunny offers is a story with more messiness, more adult concepts and problems, and more twists and turns.  It’s no mindfuck but there’s definitely a lot more going on behind the scenes in Tiger and Bunny whereas Boku no Hero Academia mostly survives on good but limited character stories and action – it’s definitely weaker when those two things aren’t present.  This brings us to the complicated one Gatchaman Crowds.

Gatchaman Crowds is the least action oriented of the three shows.  In fact in the beginning the Gatchaman operate in total secrecy and fight against limited alien threats, a big difference compared to flashy crime scenes and tournaments of Tiger and Bunny and Boku no Hero Academia.  Gatchaman Crowds also spends a lot less time spelling out how characters think and what their backstory looks like, barring the occasional flashback Gatchaman Crowds gives us a lot less to chew on.  But that’s also kind of the point.  Gatchman Crowds spends a lot of time looking at subtle reactions and planting cryptic hints that it expects you to sort of read between the lines to get the meaning of.  It’s not so complex or subtle that I would call it especially challenging but Gatchaman Crowds is willing to expect more from the audience, which given the main ideological struggle of the show is quite thematically appropriate.  And I’m using ideological on purpose, Gatchaman Crowds is not really a battle of good vs evil and superhero vs supervillain, it is a clash of ideas made manifest, with the main questions regarding heroes and nature of humans.

And it’s precisely because the aim of the show is so different that its main character is similarly a far cry from Tiger and Deku.  Hajime is a blob of energy who is extremely hard to pin down.  She comes off as goofy and air-headed but she is surprisingly sharp.  She has no love for social boundaries, she’ll happily chat with children, city mayors and godlike aliens with the same casual, bubbly attitude.  What this means when she becomes a hero is that she begins questioning the Gatchaman ways immediately and generally approaches potential enemies with curiosity rather than violence.  She isn’t a pacificst but she never kills anyone either, she’s eager enough to get into the action and suppress minor bad guys but she inevitably tries to communicate when faced with a real opponent.  And I’m not kidding when I say she’s hard to pin down, the second season Gatchaman Crowds Insight, features an alien who can quantify people’s thoughts and emotional state by way of colorful thought bubbles, and Hajime is one of only two people shown whose thought bubble is gray and never changes.  One second she is an adorable lass squealing with delight and hugging every cute person and object in sight and the next she’s discussing seriously philosophical question in the exact same tone of voice.

Hajime is a character who communicates more with emotion than reasoned language but this belies her ability to cut right to the heart of her stance on complex questions or her ability to connect with what the villains are saying.  Another baffling aspect of her character is with regards to one of the main themes of both seasons, the role of individuals versus the role of community.  This will get a bit detailed but one of the major aspects of Gatchaman Crowds which separates it from the other two shows is the emphasis on social media.  In Gatchaman Crowds there is a social networking system called Galax which is very popular and extremely useful in coordinating people.  It’s headed up by X a super AI developed by Rui, one of the other most interesting characters in the show, who eventually joins the Gatchmans.  It can greatly enhance everyday life by for example, alerting lawyers of that a nearby person has posted a legal question online, but the main purpose of this wealth of information is disaster relief.  Unbeknownst to most Galax users, Rui wants humankind to advance and believes that by creating a means to motivate people to take action rather than rely on the current system, humans will advance.  Rui also has the power to create CROWDS which are invisible to most people but are powerful entities born of the users’ minds.  In the first season one of the biggest questions posed was what was better, CROWDS a system by which all people could step up and become heroes, or the Gatchamans, a select few superheroes who would solve the problems no one else could.  Rui, is resolved to advance humanity by disposing of heroes entirely and using the CROWDS to lift everyone up to being heroes.

Hajime disagrees.  If I had to hazard a guess at her motivations it would be foresight, as in her view there will be times when superheroes are necessary even if the CROWDS might be a good idea.  Hajime has an uncanny knack of understanding the vague prophecies which direct the Gatchamans as well as the villains’ riddles, moreover various hints she drops in her own confusing and airheaded speech patterns shows that she can see what will become the heart of a potential problem or solution well before said problem or solution arrives.  The only thing which I can reasonably ascribed to Hajime which is purely heroic in the traditional sense is her willingness to sacrifice herself for the sake of defeating the various enemies she has to face, none of whom she defeats in straight contests of power and skill.  Hajime’s greatest weapon is how flexible her thinking is, because the problems of Gatchaman Crowds aren’t the kind you can end with a super strong punch, they are tied to human nature, how humans interact with each other, and how technology or alien super powers influences how we behave.

And with that in mind I can say with confidence that Gatchaman Crowds is my favorite of the three superhero anime listed in the title – and by extension my favorite superhero anything.  It’s willingness to run headlong into more complex concepts with messier and less obvious solutions is an incredible breath of fresh air.  Gatchaman Crowds really marks itself out not just by questioning what it means to be a hero but by drastically changing the nature of its villains.  It’s not about the biggest, scariest monster or craziest, cleverest schemer.  It’s not even about heroes fighting each other over differences in values.  Gatchaman Crowds is all about our struggle against ourselves, be it our baser impulses, best intentions gone wrong, lack of foresight, or various social pressures – and it highlights that struggle by cleverly forcing superheroes into the mix.  I don’t think Gatchaman Crowds is especially complicated but it takes an important step toward becoming what I would describe as a mature story – and that alone is enough to put it head and shoulders above the competition.

In conclusion all three shows are great shows, Gatchaman Crowds is just the best of the three – to me anyway.  All three of them have very different strengths regardless of how similar they are to each other.  Boku no Hero Academia brings out the best of what the shounen genre is known for, battles, backstories and rivalries.  Tiger and Bunny takes a formula anyone familiar with superhero movies and shows knows at a glance and then makes it messier, more nuanced and shifts the focus away from the battles to the people under the masks and in the super suits.  And Gatchaman Crowds brings the most complex setting details, concepts and the most unusual obstacles for the heroes to overcome.  I highly recommend you watch all three if you haven’t already.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

Shokugeki no Social Justice: Food Woke

 

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Communist cooking.

Jesus I never thought I would have to put those two words together.  I’m not going to lie this whole post is going to be extremely petty and not particularly important.  But after seeing how the latest episode of Shokugeki no Soma played out and having seen how both My Little Pony and Power Puff Girls put out anti-social justice episodes years ago, I can only believe that this was done on purpose to attack social justice.  And that’s fucking hilarious.

In case you’re not caught up on things, the recent events are as follows.  Six members of the Elite Ten have voted to oust Erina’s grandpa as the principal and replace him with Erina’s dad, Azami- who it turn’s out is a psychotic, manipulative asshole aiming for a gourmet utopia using Erina’s God Tongue as a the centerpiece of this utopia.  I have a handful of problems about the setup of the whole arc but I’ll do that at the end.  Right now we have funnier shit to address.

So the first thing Azami does, besides insult all kind of industry heavyweights in first appearance, is call for the dissolution of all clubs and “autonomous groups.”  This ends up including the Polar Star Dorm because it’s totally self sufficient thanks to the efforts of prior generations.  In addition to destroying all independent groups, Azami also creates a group called Central which will decide the cooking curriculum for the entire school, by which I mean not only what people HAVE to cook but also how the HAVE to cook it.  Individual flair and experimentation are not welcome in Azami’s communist Totsuki Academy.  This obviously pisses off a huge section of the student body and of course the audience, and I’ll go ahead say that was the point.

The only seemingly redeeming feature of the Azami administration is that Totsuki will abandon it’s hilariously over the top meritocratic system that would see 90% of the students fail so that the best 10% can reach their maximum power level.  Azami calls this unfair (which it is but so is life) because people learn at different speeds, so under his new system everyone will graduate so long as they follow Central’s rules.  The flaws in this system are immediately apparent when it drags down Ibusaki, one the Polar Star members, because he performs one step of cooking a dish differently than instructed.  It’s amazing how quickly and how thoroughly they make Azami’s reign look bad and that’s before Eizan allows people to challenge him Shokugeki’s to avoid having their clubs disbanded, but buys out the judges and proves to the whole school the contest will be blatantly unfair.

This is fucking hilarious.  I love the fact that a cooking show of all things immediately demonstrates the problems with communism and social justice attitudes of equality and fairness.  Central deprives the students of their freedom, individual expression and most importantly for their careers, their merit.  The only people who benefit from Central are the leadership and Central itself, as well as the students who aren’t in any clubs and/or are most likely to fail.  The equality Azami speaks of doesn’t make anyone better it just drags everyone who was already better down.  Also the system shows how corrupt it is right off the bat by allowing Eizan to do away with fair challenges.  He even explains that he’s doing it to crush everyone’s spirit into following the new way of things.  They even make note of the fact that 3 of the 4 members not involved with Azami have been missing since all the chaos began.  You could hardly paint a more accurate comparison of communism in the context of a culinary school.  Seriously all that’s missing are the mass executions and famines, i.e. expulsions and lose of industry support.

Which is of course what would absolutely happen.  If Central was not challenged and beaten, which it will have to be for self-evident reasons I’m about to get to, Totsuki would die.  Azami has this vision of a gourmet utopia but not only is it incredibly limited in scope of meal choices in comparison to the wider market it’s also suicidally limited in who it will serve.  Keep in mind that Azami believes even industry heavyweights aren’t all good enough and that Erina, and by extension Central, will have to select from a tiny customer base.  The market would kill this shit off in an instant which is why, manga spoilers, Azami sets his sights on wiping out all restaurants in Japan which don’t follow his credo, because if he didn’t his utopia would be bankrupt in a week.  Does that sound dystopian enough for you yet?  Because, more spoilers, he even has professors who go out of their way to sabotage people who reject Central’s teaching, in much the same way we have professors who join Antifa to hit people on the head with bikelocks for disagreeing with them.

Moreover with such a sizable percentage of students, some of them among the best in the academy, up in arms it’s hard to see how this could even be remotely viable.  Given that Azami pissed off all the industry heavyweights whom he thinks aren’t good enough and all the students who want to focus on their individual cooking style, the previous principal could legit just start a new school and destroy Azami’s Totsuki.  The old man already has all the connections he needs and if he gave them the option of another great cooking school all the students opposing Azami’s rules cold just up and leave.  In addition Azami’s style could ruin Totsuki’s reputation all on it’s own, reducing the allure of the academy by default and thus giving anyone fed up with his style no reason to stay.

Naturally none of this happens because that would be a buzzkill for the characters in the story even if people like me would find it deeply satisfying.  There is however a fly in the ointment, a bone I have to pick the with creators – Rindou.  In comparison to most of the other Elite Ten members Rindou has by far the most exotic and chaotic cooking style, most of the other Elite Ten are masters of a certain traditional dish or genre, Rindou’s only real competition with regards to bizarre dishes is Soma, his dad, and one of my favorite side characters Sadatsuka.  It would not entirely be out of character for Rindou to get Azami in control to shake things up, but his vision is utterly incompatible with her style and she shows no signs of compromising her style for anyone.  It would make more sense if she got Azami in power and then immediately turned on him for the sake of battling the other Elite Ten – probably just for the fun of it.

That’s all I had to say really.  I can’t confirm that the creators of Shokugeki no Soma are in fact anti-social justice.  But even if they aren’t they did a hell of a job illustrating what the problems of communism and social justice attitudes about being fair are.  And that alone is well worth watching season 3 for, it definitely helped spice up a season that is much slower than it’s predecessors because of how close it is to catching up to the manga.  I hope you enjoyed this inane babble and I of course hope you enjoy the show.  Shadilay my dudes.