Surly Summaries: Concrete Revolutio

Concrete Revolutio is an interesting but very messy series.  In the beginning it was a total clusterfuck, but rapidly improved until it became one of the shows I was most interested in this season.  I applauded it’s bold and unique visual style, and loved the wide variety of powers and monsters involved.  The show has some serious handicaps however.  The state of the world is wildly different from our own but there’s no explanation for the differences beyond vague references to some huge war, and Japan marching in total lockstep with the US where policy is concerned.  They have dates of a sort, to show time gaps between the parts of the episodes happening in the current season and the ones which will happen later on, but the date system is so different from our own it provides no useful point of reference.  I can’t get exact time lengths between events in the future, the present or the past, and that bothers me some.  What bothers me more is that I want to know more about the current geopolitical state of the world and the events that caused the shifts between this world and ours, and no such explanation exists beyond “the war” and the handful of incidents that aliens and the Superhuman Bureau have manipulated into occurring.  That part is fantastic though, the slow but sure delving into the controversial nature and actions of the Superhuman Bureau and it’s members, is handled very well.  They never reveal too much but make sure to reveal enough to keep you interested, as they show the flaws of the imperfect solution that is the Superhuman Bureau.  In a similar vein it does an ok job making you sympathize with both sides of every incident as the normal humans are making a mess where superhumans are concerned.  They also do a decent job bringing all of the incidents, which seem like episodic problems at first, together into one larger struggle, helped by good recurring characters.

As it stands the story still needs work to unravel, with a second season coming in April, meaning this was a split core show.  I have talked about the evils of split core shows before, linked here and here, and they are a problem.  But I want to take a moment to appreciate Concrete Revolutio as a series which did split core right.  The story is still very much on-going, but the current arc has concluded nicely and set into motion all the events which place the characters in their future positions that we saw in snippets throughout the series.  This is where split core shows should end, not in the middle of an arc or on a fucking cliffhanger like the popular examples I can think of (UBW, Tokyo Ghoul and Aldnoah Zero).  So overall the story is solid first chapter in a larger and soon to come story I am very much looking forward to.  It is however a bit jumbled for the moment and lacks some much needed explanation, so it may be better to try this show once season 2 comes out, in case you haven’t watched it yet.  Thank you for reading, hope to see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: K Return of Kings

There will be spoilers, you have been warned.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this, K season two was a major disappointment.  As someone who very much enjoyed the original season, this one was a frustrating addition.  The pacing is a mess, with early episodes where very little happens followed by episodes where the story moves so fast and introduces so much new material it can get almost overwhelming.  There are more action scenes than in season one but by and large the action is repetitive and unmemorable, with most of the Green clan being a bunch of faceless drones and everyone else fighting without the flair that made them stand out in the first season.  The characters don’t really get any new development, Nagare and Iwami just come with preset personas which we learn about after they already start fighting the main characters, so there’s nothing to really invest in on their side.  But the worst of all is that the show just doesn’t have the magic the first season did.  In season one we experienced the story and world through Shiro, because he was just as clueless as the rest of us about the psychic powers, the Dresden Slates, and the role of the kings in the world.  Piecing all of that together while also solving the murder mystery that kick-started the first season, was what made the original series so engaging.  And the sad thing is we could have had some of that in this season, they really had the opportunity to explore the Dresden Slates in detail and examine it’s effect on the world.  But instead they left as a magical plot device machine, that causes humans to evolve and gain psychic powers.  Also I don’t really understand how it is that people retained their powers after the Slates were broken, shouldn’t that have caused psychic powers to vanish forever and leave the Silver King dead, as his original body had died in season one?  Also having Nagare manipulate the Colorless King really pissed me off, there was no need to add this to the story, it just cheapens the first season to make Nagare seem more threatening.  Anyway the series just feels off to me, like it was a cyncial attempt to cash in on K without any understanding of what made the first season good beyond, “this looks pretty and involves psychic powers”.  A major disappointment to say the least.  If you are a fan of the original K and haven’t seen this season yet, I’d advise you to stay away.  Thank you for reading, hope to see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Noragami Aragoto

There will be major spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Ah Noragami, where do I even begin with this one?  As a huge fan of mythology and folklore in general this series is something I consider a treat just from the concept alone.  It also helps that the action, character interactions, and characters are rather engaging.  That said Noragami Aragoto ended on something of an off note for me.  Going into this season I had Norgami as the number 2 anime of the season behind One Punch Man, at the season’s end it’s more like 3 or 4.  Keep in mind it’s not that the show ever got bad, to me the main thing was that the first arc was handled better than the second, which made the series end on a lesser note.  The funny thing is, the second arc was more complex and interesting than the first, but it was mostly the pacing that threw me off.  The first arc was very direct and it moved along a brisk pace, and as a result it was entertaining and resolved itself very well.  The second arc was more confused, with some episodes seeming to drag on forever and others going by in a flash.  More to the point the second arc raised a lot of questions that never got answered, so it was hard to feel like it had a climax despite the super flashy action when the Heavens used the Pacification Ring.  Overall the show was still quite good, but I hate being stuck with a bunch of questions without the promise of answers and the fact the latter arc was less satisfying than the former does the show no favors.

To get an idea of why the second arc frustrated me, allow me to elaborate.  I loved the introduction of Yomi, the Japanese underworld, and Izanami.  The Pacification Ring and various divine gatherings in Takamagahara, the home of the gods, were also intriguing.  But I have some questions.  Why does Yato try and hide the name Yaboku?  If it was famous most people would know him by it anyway and if it’s not famous who cares which one he uses?  How come Hiiro appears to age?  As far as I can tell no other Regalias age but Hiiro was in a flashback with Yato clearly appearing much younger, so what gives?  How come Yato’s dad can wield phantoms in daylight and without falling to corruption?  In every scene save for the final one and Ebisu’s battle with the heavens, masked phantoms were only used at night, and if I recall correctly Hiyori survived an encounter with Hiiro because the wolf phantoms she used to hunt Hiyori vanished with the coming of dawn.  So how come the phantoms can chill in broad daylight during the final scene?  And why doesn’t Yato’s dad get corrupted?  I thought the reason he needed the Locution Brush in the first place was because making the masked phantoms caused the maker to fall into corruption, that’s what happened to Ebisu after all.  And how does Yato’s dad work exactly?  He looks like the student who makes out with Hiyori while Yato was off killing people with Hiiro and regular people have no troubled noticing him.  Has he possessed the boy, or is otherwise residing in his body?  If not how can he be so visible to regular people when gods naturally fade into the background?  Like I get that gods can be noticed by everyone if they try but most get forgotten right away as soon as the human is no longer focusing on them.  If Yato’s dad is possessing or inhabiting the high school kid how much control does he have?  Does he own the body 24/7 or only when he wants to?  Because if he has the body 24/7 that means he kissed Hiyori despite her and Yato basically being a thing, which seems more like something that belongs in Netorare doujin than this otherwise respectable show.  Also how do Hiyori’s senses factor in?  Does she sense Yato’s dad differently from the other high school students because she’s more attuned to the Far Shore?  Can she tell when the body is possessed by the god or not, if the body is indeed possessed?  And holy fucking shit I literally have more questions than I do review…  Are you starting to see some of my problems with the show yet?  Anyway, despite all my nitpicking the show is still quite good and I do recommend it, but if this show doesn’t get a third season I will not be happy to put it mildly.  Thank you for reading, hope to see you in the next one.

Revisionist Renaissance: SAO-Part 2

If you are reading this speculative pipe dream of a post I will assume you have either seen the Alfheim arc of SAO and maybe know it’s problems or have read my review on the arc, linked here for your convenience, and know where I coming from.  It may also help to read my first Revisionist Renaissance, to see where I was going with Aincrad arc and just get a look into my head when it comes to storytelling and directing.  Or you don’t care about any of that and are here to consume my words, for which I am very thankful.  Anyway with that out of the way, let’s get the show on the road.

So Alfheim is generally considered the worst arc of SAO, though I found GGO to be much harder to get through personally, and it’s not hard to see why.  Asuna is made into a helpless maiden in a cage, and her warden wants to rape her to boot.  The pacing is atrocious, the characters are usually even worse than they were in Aincrad and of course the new main girl had to be Kirito’s brocon, sister-cousin which is a harem character archetype I don’t understand the appeal of and generally hate.  So with all of this against it, what would I do to remake the Alfheim arc?  I’d scrap the whole fucking thing.  You see there is one thing that could have been interesting if you think about it.  Before the Alfheim arc begins Suguha gets into the game while Kirito is still trapped in Aincrad.  She willingly enters a VRMMO while a major VRMMO scandal is still under way, in an attempt to better understand the love of her life.  While I still hate the fact she loves Kirito instead of being an actual character with her own set of traits and personality separate from Kirito, this is probably the biggest single action she takes and the series just glosses over it because all A-1 and Kawahara care about is how she falls for Kirito (though some fans don’t help).  Anyway that would be the story I would focus on if I were making Alfheim, rather than shoehorning Kirito and Asuna into yet another game which is not a really game, it should have been about Suguha and her experiences with MMOs and MMO communities.  Alfheim should have been something of a coming of age tale for Suguha, not another barren story designed to show off Kirito’s power level.  The point of the story should be to develop Suguha as a character separate from Kirito so that she could actually be a relevant character later down the line.

Also here’s one of the odd problems of SAO.  It’s a harem with a pre-positioned “best girl”, none of the other girls even come close to Asuna with regards to their ability in battle or the sexiness of their design.  This is bad for two reasons.  One, of the few merits the harem genre generally has, one of them is for the audience to place themselves in the main character’s shoes and ship themselves with one of the myriad girls in love with main character.   It’s a nice little escape from reality, especially if you happen to be single or have problems with romance in real life.  Whether or not this is healthy is up for debate but it is something that makes the harem genre worthwhile.  But Two, and more importantly, there is no way I can believe in any world where there is a “best girl.”  See the thing with men going after chicks is that we have different tastes, we will never all agree that one chick is the hands down hottest girl in any given population.  But for some reason Asuna is always considered the hottest girl in any game she plays and the same goes for the real world.  This makes no fucking sense, not to mention I’m a weirdo and I’m actually bothered by how Asuna is clearly designed to be a cut above the other girls in SAO, as opposed to shows with a cast where the girls can better compete with each other.  A good example would be Tokisaki Kurumi and Yatogami Tohka from Date A Live, regardless of which you like more I think we can agree that neither is designed to be clearly better than the other, they just appeal to different tastes which is how harem characters should be designed.  In this sense Suguha was actually the girl I preferred from a design standpoint because she wasn’t designed to be way sexier than the other girls, she just appealed to tastes more in line with my own.  Anyway to make this paragraph have an actual point, the idea is that Suguha should be able to compete with Asuna somehow and since her design is intended to be worse she needs something else to bolster her character, as do all the other girls.  So giving Suguha an arc where she can really come into her own, is a crucial step towards making the harem work and it’s just an improvement to the storytelling.

As for where I would take the story, it should focus on Suguha’s guild.  For example she gets help from her classmate who also plays the game, Recon, and after adjusting to the game she ends up joining his guild.  From there she rapidly improves and as she does, she gains more confidence and independence.  Then she could clash with guild leader, which then drives him to try and betray their race at the meeting just like what actually happened in the show, except with Suguha facing off against Eugene instead of Kirito.  Hell you could even keep Aincrad’s time skips and episodic structure to allow for Suguha’s improvement to take up a reasonable time frame.  The point is Suguha’s story should be one where she not only learns about MMO’s but where her MMO adventures lead her to deeper realizations about herself, and then sees her grow as a character.  Suguha should end up a power player by the end, she should bring something to table that makes her valuable later on in the show.  What that something is up for grabs, maybe it’s a specific skill set that allows her to stand out in battle, maybe it’s the confidence to go out adventuring on her own so that she can drag Kirito into other conflicts like in the Excalibur arc, or maybe she get’s over her crush on Kirito and hooks up with Klein.  Whatever it is, what Suguha needs is something to make her presence in any given arc worthwhile for reasons beyond harem fan service,  she should have something that makes her relevant to the narrative and justifies her presence in the story.  And in my opinion, she needs her own adventure story to get that relevance.  And making the Alfheim arc about Suguha means we never have to see Sugou ever again… so that’s a plus.

Anyway this is about all I have to say on the subject.  Sorry if you wanted a more specific re-envisioning like I had in Part 1 of this series.  Sadly this arc has so little to go on that I can’t borrow almost any pre-established elements like I could with Aincrad.  But at the least I wanted to get my concept idea out there because even among good anime reviews and critiques, I don’t see a lot of this sort of thing.  A lot of reviews are too rigid, my own are no exception more often than not, focusing on the same aspects of a show without branching out and looking through a new angle, in particular the directing is rarely talked about when compared to say animation quality or just summaries of the plot that is, not what the plot could be.  Hopefully you all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Owarimonogatari

Ah the Monogatari series… There are not many anime series out there with as many seasons, sequels and OVAs as the sprawling Monogatari series.  And amid such a sprawling series, which I love as a whole, there are bound to be some branches of the franchise that don’t bear much fruit.  There will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Owarimonogatari is a mixed bag for me.  I was on board with the first two arcs Sodachi Riddle and Sodachi Lost, mainly because they finally put the spotlight on Oshino Ougi, the mysterious and sinister girl that appears to be the end boss of the Monogatari series, or at least a frighteningly good puppeteer.  If there was anything I want from Monogatari, it would be the Kizumonogatari story where Araragi first becomes a vampire and some kind of resolution with regards to Oshino Ougi.  Neither of these happened but at least in Sodachi Riddle and Sodachi Lost Ougi played a large enough role that it felt like the story was really moving forward, even though this arc is not the latest chronologically, that honor goes to Hanamonogatari.  By comparison Shinobu Mail was a dull and boring addition to the series.  This especially weird because I have always liked arcs where Shinobu played a major role, hell I even loved the episodes in Shinobu Time where they explained Shinobu’s history in Japan, despite the fact the entire episode or two was a just a stylized slide show with loads of exposition.  But Shinobu Mail was just flat and uninteresting.  Another thing that was so weird about this arc is that at the conceptual level I was on board with the return of Shinobu’s first partner.  But the execution was dreary, if anything it just felt like a filler arc to pass the time.  It reminded a little of Nisioisin’s Katangatari, no relation to the Monogatari series but both are written by the same guy, specifically episode 5.  In episode 5 of Katangatari the male lead, who is still just learning what it means to be human is confronted by the following situation:  He is fighting an opponent that has connections which would be extremely valuable to his mistress regardless of whether the opponent is weaker or stronger than the main guy, connections valuable enough to make the main guy worry about being replaced.  The thing that made this episode work is that even though we the audience knew in advance the mistress would never discard the main guy, he does a really good job of conveying his uncertainty and anxiety to make the situation one we can get invested in.  If Shinobu Mail had a similar set up, where Araragi wavered and worried about whether he was the right partner for Shinobu this arc could have been good.  But neither Shinobu or Araragi ever give any indication that the first servant could come between them in any way, so there’s nothing to really get invested in and no conflict which was resolved.  That may have actually been the point given that Araragi literally narrates that nothing was resolved and no one was happy at the end, in which case I give Nisioisin major credit for being dedicated to his artsy way of storytelling, but it still results in an arc that was unsatisfyingly flat. Also I found that while I like Gaen Izuko in small doses, I was not as on board when she’s the main source of exposition and dominates the scene.  Anyway, the point is I liked the early parts of Owarimonogatari and was left disappointed by the lackluster final arc. I was glad I saw it, but it was not my favorite Monogatari series by any stretch of the imagination.

Surly Summaries: One Punch Man

This should be quick.

One Punch Man is hands down the best show of the now ending Fall 2015 season.  It’s been a few years since anything this fun and over the top came out, and was so popular.  One Punch Man totally knocks it out of the park, most of the time when I can’t wait to see the next episode of a show it’s because the previous episode ended on a fucking cliffhanger (oh hi there Noragami Aragoto) but One Punch Man manages to have few cliffhanger endings and still made me impatient as fuck for the next episode.  The action is interesting and hilarious, the characters are pure gold and the series manages to introduce some dark and serious shit in between all the goofy parts of the series.  I also liked how the animation could range from gorgeous to intentionally shitty and still be used well in the context of the scene, most shows either can’t manage that or don’t have the guts to try it.  Perhaps most impressive though was how they managed to maintain a consistent level of entertainment and tone despite the fact Saitama could easily have been described as boring and unimaginative for never being in danger of ever losing, that is not something many shows do well as I described in an earlier post.  Anyway if you haven’t seen this already, stop reading this and go watch it right now, you will be missing out if you don’t.

Understanding Perfection: The Good, The Bad & The Boring as Hell

Perfect.  It’s not a word we use often or lightly and usually when we use the word perfect it’s in reference to how something can’t be perfect.  But what happens when something is perfect?  Do we praise it?  Do we note the irony with which it’s perfection makes it imperfect?  Or do we get to the heart of what separates the different types of perfect characters and reason them out because we are sort of weird and that sounds like fun?  Well  all of the above of course, but mostly that last bit.  From here on there will scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

This post specifically is looking at different types of characters that are perfect in one way or another and what kind of effects these variations of the perfect character have on the story.  The most common type of perfect character is one who is superficially perfect, or close enough to perfect, that the audience considers them perfect.  A popular example would be Kirito from SAO, who has relatively few flaws and is so godlike in comparison to his fellow characters that he gets treated by the community as though he is indeed perfect.  Most of these kinds of characters are absolute shit.  They are very similar to the OP character I described in the post linked here.  If you didn’t click the link here’s a short summary, OP characters are a fucking mess, so blatantly broken that they make the whole world of the story less appealing just by existing in it.  Perfect characters like Kirito are also boring as hell to watch, I mean he’s never going to lose, he won’t make many mistakes and the ones he does make he won’t get punished for, how the fuck is that entertaining?  To walk into every arc and every fight knowing Kirito and characters like him will come out on top without much struggle and no consequences of note, just kills the story for me.  There is one exception to this, namely when a charcater’s perfection or invincibility is a major part of the story.  For Kirito and his ilk, their perfection does not arise naturally from the story nor has any relevance to the story’s themes, it is just handed to them so they can look badass, push the story forward and act as the author’s Deus ex Machina whenever they can’t solve a problem they themselves created.

With the characters who are exceptions these problems are largely resolved as a matter of course.  For example in the currently airing One Punch Man, Saitama’s godlike physical abilities and immunity to damage are fundamental to the story, and as a result the story does not suffer from Saitama’s presence.  Instead it opens up the story to other possibilities.  If you look at One Punch Man in comparison to most superhero movies, comics and cartoons, there is a definite difference in the themes and structure of the story.  In One punch Man it’s a given that Saitama will crush every fight he’s in, so the dramatic tension is not in the battles but instead in the public perception of Saitama and heroes as a whole.  Another major example is Medaka Box.  In Medaka Box, the titular Medaka can do literally anything and do it better than people who specialize in whatever the thing is.  On the surface that probably sounds boring as shit, at best something to be amusing for an episode or two.  However Medaka Box is completely structured around Medaka’s perfection and how that perfection is perceived by others, so the story goes places other stories can’t and therefore remains engaging.  What makes Medaka Box interesting is not Medaka’s godlike ability, but how different characters react to that ability and how they treat Medaka.  It’s a simulation of sorts, as to how people would react to monsters in their midst, which is something I personally like.  Conversely both shows also sort of explore how the exceptional react to the limits of a world defined by the norms of people far less competent than them.  Saitama is generally bored as shit because nothing is a challenge for him, and as one character put it, Medaka imitates humans as a way to belong among them for she herself is to monstrous in her capabilities to really be considered human.  In short the exception with regards to superficially perfect characters is when said perfection is closely tied to the show’s themes and narrative rather than being a tool to push a show’s narrative along.

The last kind of character I want to address is a character who is not necessarily perfect on the surface, though many of them are, but is perfect for the role they are given in the story.  For this discussion I’m going to look at Garo: Hono no Kokuin (which I will call the original Garo from now on) and Garo: Guren no Tsuki (which I will call the new Garo from now on).  Let’s start with a little background for those who haven’t seen either show.  In both shows there is a band of individuals called the Makai Knights, who work with people called Makai Alchemists.  Makai Knights can equip themselves with super-powerful armor to fight Horrors, demons born of human evils that possess humans.  Makai Knights consider it their duty to hunt down Horrors and defend humans.  Most importantly the Knights are not allowed to attack humans, even though Horrors are born of human weakness, sin and so on.  Now I watched the old Garo to completion, 24 episodes in all I think, but I dropped the new Garo after episode 8.  So what makes me react so differently to the two?  Well there are a bunch of reasons but at the heart of it all is the difference between the main characters of each, Leo and Raikou.  Raikou is boring as shit.  I don’t much like his character design and his voice acting is pretty bland.  But most importantly Raikou is too good at being a Makai Knight.  He never struggles with temptation or losing his way, which means he never gets weaker in his heart or in battle.  He just beats all his enemies and says how he wants to save as many people as he can.  This may change post episode 8, but in episode 8 he meets his dad who threw his mother and him out and the retainer who took them into the snows to die, without faltering in the slightest.  In other words Raikou is the ideal candidate for the Makai Knights, and this makes him patently uninteresting when compared to Leo, the hero of the old Garo.

What really convinced me to stick with the old Garo was not the action or the setting, it was the story and specifically Leo’s place in it.  In the old Garo, one of the enemies of the Makai Knights convinces the king that the Makai Knights and Alchemists are witches and demon worshipers.  The king then does his level best to wipe them out, and because Makai Knights aren’t allowed to fight humans they are almost driven to extinction.  Leo is the son of two Makai Knight parents, born at just about the same time as his mother is being burnt at the stake.  He is saved by his father and then the story fast forwards until he’s like 16.  Anyway the thing that makes Leo interesting is that he is a bad fit for the Makai Knights but has no choice but to be one.  Leo is not strong of heart, he is constantly in danger of going out of control because a part of him hates people for burning his mother at the stake.  This also means he struggles some in battle because he can’t draw out the full power of his armor.  This is extra important when the prince appears and becomes a Makai Knight.  You see the prince is like Raikou, perfect for the job and very good at it.  This adds to the pressures on Leo since he has been a Makai Knight for longer but struggles with it.  Essentially, Leo is set up to fail, and because of that his story is both more engaging and more free to move about.  Restricting the new Garo to follow the path of a perfect hero limits where the story can go, and it’s just not entertaining when I have the old Garo to compare it to.

In summary I think the most important thing to consider when it comes to perfect characters of any variety is whether the story has put serious effort into accounting for their perfection or not.  Going back the Garo example, the reason the prince worked where Raikou fails is that a) the prince was not the main character and b) he served as a contrast to Leo and the story was intentionally drawing on that contrast, using it to highlight it’s themes and precipitate Leo’s fall from grace.  The story needs to be structured around the problems a perfect character creates and then examine said problems, perfect characters need a lot of attention in order to function well is what I’m saying.  They are high maintenance characters as it were because they are so inherently unrelatable and unbelievable, so more work needs to be done to make them relevant and engaging.  Anyway, that about wraps up everything I wanted to say.  Thank you for reading, I hope to see you all in future posts.

Hidden Gems: Mushibugyou

Have you ever been interested in something made before you were born?  That’s sort of my thing being a History major and all.  Anyway if you look at cinema you will notice a trend in 50’s and 60’s where there are tons of cheaply made scifi movies where humans had to fight super-sized versions of everyday animals like tarantulas, ants, and so on.  Now imagine these massive bugs are attacking Edo-era Japan and viola, you have Mushibugyou.  Mushibugyou is a patently ridiculous show and a battle-shounen at that. I know I’ve done a bunch of battle-shounen  posts recently, you can see some here and here if you like the genre, but Mushibugyou is a show I think deserves some attention.  This is saying something since I originally dropped it after a handful of episodes.

Now you might be wondering why the hell I would recommend a show I myself dropped.  That’s because I found a reason to come back and it delivered.  I admit that it is a bit tough to get through in the beginning, the first 4 or 5 episodes basically just introduce the cast as they have a 1 on 1 with our main character Tsukishima Jinbei.  Jinbei himself can also get kind of annoying since he’s the typical, obnoxiously loud and stupid shounen hero.  But if you can make past these episodes the story starts to pick up, and it becomes apparent how important the Insect Ministry, the place where Jinbei works, is as well as the sheer scale of the insect problem.  I should also mention at this point that not all the enemies in this show are bugs, the early episodes are all Kaiju (big monster) Extermination Simulator – Insect Edition, but more interesting enemies lurk just beyond the obvious threat of huge man-eating bugs.  Now at this point I should probably note that I’m one of those people who will push through shows when they are a slog if I think they will get better and only drop shows I hate right away or ones that just don’t look like they will get any better.  When I dropped the show initially I never thought it was going to get better and until I found a random AMV where the show got fucking awesome, and surprise it was like 2 episodes past where I stopped watching.  Anyway what does the show have offer?

Let’s start with the basics, it’s a battle-shounen so it better have decent action or it will flop.  The action is interesting because initially all of their enemies are nightmarish and huge versions of insects, so naturally they fight differently depending on the opponent with the exception of the strongest guy who can basically do whatever he wants in early episodes.  For example the tactics used when fighting a huge dragonfly are nothing like the tactics used to kill massive centipede.  Even though each character is limited to a single style of fighting, the group tactics they use to win vary greatly.  The battles also just  have good flow to them, none of them are overly long nor are they too short.  Also for the most part there are no shounen power-ups nor any long slogs where the heroes take tons of damage and win with willpower and friendship, instead injuries have to be avoided most of the time since they are fighting bugs that could kill them with a single blow, or maybe a few hits if they’re lucky.  Which brings me to my favorite part, the lethality.  There are a lot of fights where I feel exactly zero tension because both sides just launch a fucking barrage of attacks without doing much to each other, or where both sides beat the living shit out of each other and then just keep going on and on to the point where the lose the tension they began with.  In Mushibugyou because most blows are deadly enough to tear humans apart, every fight feels deadly, even the ones you know won’t be.  I mean plot armor exists and this show isn’t freakin’ Akame ga Kill but just knowing a single misstep will at bare minimum lead to horrific injuries is a good way to make fight seem like it could have consequences, thus building tension.  This doesn’t hold true for the strongest character but the story rarely focuses on him so whatever.  And speaking of the characters…

The characters are something of a mixed bag.  Most of them stick closely to common archetypes, like tsundere, the cold and brooding badass,  the guy who is easygoing but turns terrifying in battle, and so on.  And with one major exception the characters don’t have much of a backstory, though in some cases their lack of backstory is an actual point of interest, not just a missing part of their character.  What makes the characters work is that none of their personalities really overlap.  Jinbei is polite, honorable and trusting to the point of being obnoxious.  Hibachi, the tsundere, is aggressive, blunt and often rude.  Also I should note that she is nowhere near as annoying as the typical tsundere nor is she useless in battle.  Tenma is this little omyoji boy and a bit of wuss, he’s not all that engaging but he’s not annoying either.  Koikawa, a former criminal, is jovial and casual but gets swept in his emotions when pushed to it.  And Mugai is one cold, distant motherfucker.  In addition to be different in terms of personality, they all fight differently too.  Jinbei fights in the traditional samurai style albeit with some special moves.  Hibachi has a tanto, a type of long dagger, but her main weapon is various explosives.  Koikawa uses multiple swords, he fights without a formal style and just sort of charges in and massacres shit. Tenma uses these hilarious shikigami (paper familiars) that, I kid you not, slap enemies to death.  And Mugai uses this fucking ridiculous katana-ish blade that’s roughly the size of his body and has a grip as long as he is tall.  Overall the characters themselves are not the strong suit of the show but they do have surprisingly good interaction with each other and if nothing else contribute to the absolute absurdity that is the world of the show.

The world of the show is actually really done despite it’s ridiculous nature.  They really managed to make an Edo, it’s the old name for Tokyo FYI, that feels relatively historically accurate and adjusted to deal with the giant bug problem accordingly.  This is in no small part to the show’s artwork and visual design.  It struck a good balance between the outrageously colorful and vivid parts of the show, like the major characters and the bugs, and the realistic parts of the show, like the towns, topography, and Edo buildings.  The giant bugs generally look awesome or at least disgusting, the buildings are period authentic and the cast manages to have mostly period-accurate clothes that also have enough color and flair to mark them out without making them seem way out of place.  Some of the visual effects for the special attacks in the show are interesting as hell too.  Overall the visual department did its job very well.

So in summary, I would say Mushibugyou is a solid and good looking show with a ridiculous premise that it manages to make work most of the time.  This show is weakest in the early episodes, so if you don’t want to slog through mediocre beginnings to get to better arcs, you may want to skip the show.  If possible I would encourage anyone to try slogging through the early stuff if they can because the show gets so much better later on, at this point I should probably point out it has 24 episodes instead of the usual 12 in case that helps.  Anyway I don’t have much else to say so I’ll wrap up here.  Hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Unpopular Opinion – Double Feature: Cowboy Bebop & Samurai Champloo

It has been a hectic week and half or so, what with all the family dinners, car rides and work to be done around the holidays.  Since I haven’t put anything out for almost 2 weeks now, sorry about that, I decided to come back with a special offering, a post with the twice the analysis and complaining which I specialize in.  So today we are looking at 2 big names in the anime world and both are works of Shinichiro Watanabe, Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.  This will not be a straight comparison of the two because I generally don’t like to do that anyway, and it’s been done a lot already.  Instead I’m going to analyze the shit, complete with major spoilers (you have been warned), out of both and then explain my feelings about each relative to each other.  Let’s begin.

Let’s start with Cowboy Bebop.  This positive part will be quick because if I went into everything Bebop does well in detail, I’d be here all day, if you were looking for a recommendation on whether or not to watch it the answer is yes. Cowboy Bebop is one of the most famous and beloved anime, one of the few to be a huge success in the East and West for a reason, it is a high quality show.  Let me make this very clear from the outset, when it comes to the objective quality of Cowboy Bebop, and yes works of art can be judged objectively, it is arguably the most technically proficient anime of all time.  I don’t think it’s number one in that regard but it’s damn close.  So I’ll summarize it’s strengths in brief.  Bebop is almost the ideal episodic show, I’ll explain the almost later, every episode is different and interesting.  Each one adds something to the series, be it a cool fight, a new crew member or some tasteful character development to a cast that doesn’t talk about themselves too much.  Each episode is a self contained story in the best sense of that phrase, the stories have beginnings, middles and satisfying conclusions.  Each stars characters and villains who feel fully fleshed out and best of all they are full of situations and people that feel real. Everything feels grounded in reality despite being in the far future, so each episode is believable on a level that most series can’t manage in their entire run time.  This is the core of Cowboy Bebop’s success, it is so easy to immerse yourself in because each episode crafts its own small world and story with such attention to deal that it seems both plausible and real.  This is the mastery of storytelling from an objective standpoint, and it’s this mastery that made Bebop the anime classic it is today.

Bebop suffers from some very strange flaws however.  For one thing it makes no sense that Spike and the gang are always broke.  They are all capable in some fashion and in some cases extremely capable.  So why are they always out of cash?  It doesn’t make any sense for people this capable to also cause just enough collateral damage to end up with minute profits on every job.  I’m not asking them to be perfect but wouldn’t make more sense for a small capable crew to be raking in enough dough to be doing well for themselves?  I mean you never see the Lagoon Company from Black Lagoon wallowing around totally broke and they also have a certain propensity for collateral damage, shit they even lose their entire office and dock in one episode without falling into the poverty that so consistently plagues Spike and friends.  It was one of the few aspects of the show that hurt my suspension of disbelief and it just seems like such a weird thing to do considering how grounded and believable the rest of the series is.  However this is the least of the mistakes Bebop has.

I think my friend who I convinced to try the show, he doesn’t watch much anime, put it best:  The self-contained stories found in every episode are better than the over-arching story of the entire show.  Now I understand that as an episodic show, Bebop’s overall story did not have to be complicated or deep or anything like that. In fact I thought what Bebop’s overall story was mostly fine save for three bits Julia, Vicious and the ending.  Julia as a character doesn’t bother me at all but it was just weird how important they made her out to be both to the overall story and to Spike before they offed her after maybe 10 minutes of screen time.  The only thing she accomplishes in the story is dragging Spike into the final battle.  Seriously she arrives out of nowhere, meets Spike while fleeing Vicious’ men, and then dies ensuring Spike will go fight Vicious.  It’s almost exactly like how SAO brought Kirito to the location of the final battle via an email out of the blue, except more direct.  This bring us to Vicious.  Now this might just be a nitpick for me but I hate how Vicious himself and the series try to build him up as this badass, see him using a sword in space, having a creepy bird on the shoulder, his voice acting and his overall cold and brutal demeanor.  The issue appears when he isn’t really much of badass.  Spike appears more competent in both melee and ranged combat, Vicious uses tons of henchmen instead of doing much fighting himself and generally most of his evil actions are more about treachery and deceit as opposed to truly fear-inspiring brutality.  Now having a character present themselves as more badass than they are doesn’t bother me, usually because they get proven hilariously wrong by another character, but when the show puts a lot of effort into making someone appear as something more than he is, I’m just left feeling disappointed by what I see as a lackluster villain.  So Vicious just doesn’t do much for me, he isn’t a badass, he isn’t even all that compelling and most of the minor one-off villains are more interesting and/or dangerous than he is.  Which brings me to the ending.

Now I admit I may have walked into the ending with high expectations thanks to what someone I trusted said about it.  But even setting that bias aside I would say that the ending is the single greatest weakness of Cowboy Bebop.  This is especially strange considering not all of the ending is bad.  For me the end of the show can be broken into three sections, the Julia section, the big battle and the final battle.  Given what I’ve already said about Julia and her role in the story, it should come as no surprise that I thought her section of the ending was weak.  I didn’t enjoy it at all, it didn’t help me get more invested in the characters more, it just kind of left me feeling like “oh guess she wasn’t as important as I thought” and a bit disappointed.  Then the big battle happens, where Spike storms the gang’s , now controlled by Vicious, headquarters and is helped by a few of the men who did not take well to Vicious’ uprising and subsequent coup over the former gang leaders.  This part of the ending is fantastic, the battle is exciting, fast paced, large in scale and it does a terrific job of building up the tension before we get to the final battle.  Then the final battle wastes all the good will the big battle earned.  The final battle is pathetic save for its visuals and choreography, which are things Cowboy Bebop does so well most shows today can’t make fights as good.  The dialogue is uninspired, the fight flows poorly and it feels shorter than the very first fist fight Spike has in episode 1.  In short it’s over so fast it feels anticlimactic, which is the last word you want associated with your final battle.  Much like Julia’s death the final battle left me feeling like “um ok I guess that’s it”, I was unsatisfied to say the least.  Overall Cowboy Bebop is not a bad show, far from it, it’s a great show and if I gave out numbered scores it would be a 9 for me.  But the ending is failure and a bad ending can be catastrophic, just ask Mass Effect fans.  That Cowboy Bebop scores so well despite it’s ending is a testament to the quality with which the rest of the story was told, it just sucks that ending seems like a first draft effort by comparison.  Time to talk Samurai Champloo.

If Cowboy Bebop was a grounded adventure story set in the future then Samurai Champloo is almost it’s complete opposite.  Samurai Champloo takes place in the past, specifically the Edo-era which ranges from roughly the 1700’s through the 1800’s.  But this not the Edo-era history knows and loves, instead its weird mashup of historical fact and modern influences.  Like there are samurai who drop rap beats instead of fighting and punks who are into vandalism and look like they just came from death metal mosh pit.  Realism is not Samurai Champloo’s strong suit, boldness is.  In a sense I can see it as the Gurren Lagann or Kill la Kill of the historical genre, bold, ridiculous, over the top and unabashedly unashamed of itself.  In other words it’s a lot of fun.  Much like it’s predecessor Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is an episodic adventure show with small cast making their way through life despite being totally broke all the time.  Here though being broke is appropriate as none of the characters are employed come the end of episode 1 and travel in the old days was expensive.  Unfortunately Samurai Champloo is a bit more hit and miss with its episodic stories, with some that are fucking amazing like the one where everyone gets high or the one where Mugen totally wants to bang this ninja chick, and some that are decidedly less interesting like the one with big gay Dutch guy.

Another issue is the characters themselves.  Fuu is the one that drives the plot forward simply by virtue of being the only one with a goal to work towards.  But Fuu isn’t particularly interesting or endearing, which makes her story suffer.  Mostly she just comes in and nails a few funny scenes while she bumbles her way forward dragging Mugen and Jin along.  Jin is sort of bland and boring to me, he plays the cold, serious, morally grey samurai so straight you could use him as a ruler.  And he never really gets any better, with the exception of the episode where he tries to help the married woman about to become a geisha, which is my favorite episode with regards to Jin.  That was only time I thought we got a better glimpse into the type of person Jin is and what motivates him, other than that he has very little to make him appealing.  This is especially true when compared to Mugen.  Mugen is the wild and crazy thug who break dances while he sword fights.  He totally dominates the show in terms of character, no one else even comes close to him.  Mugen is fantastic to the point where basically made the show for me almost every episode.  The side characters who make up the rest of story aren’t usually very strong, with a few exceptions they are just kind of generic douchebags of one kind or another and don’t come to life the way so many minor villains did in Cowboy Bebop.  What saves Samurai Champloo, to me anyway, was that the episodes it did well, it did really well, and that in combination with a satisfying conclusion to the overall plot made up for the episodes that kind of sucked on their own.  It has cools fights, the show itself has a quite bit of character even if the actual characters besides Mugen don’t, and it concludes nicely.  At the end of the day it was fun and it finished on a high note, which is all I really wanted from the show at that point.  I mean I love seeing shows that are genuine masterpieces, but most of the time I want to know two things when I go into an anime, “will this interest me?” and “will this entertain me?”, and Samurai Champloo does both, especially the latter.

So I’ll just wrap this up with a quick comparison.  In terms of technical proficiency and objective quality, Cowboy Bebop is leagues ahead of Samurai Champloo.  And most people will tell you that Bebop is better than Champloo, and mean it in every sense.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that position, it’s a pretty easy case to make after all, but it’s not how I feel.  I loved Bebop to death after years of putting it off because I that’s just what I do with most popular shows.  Then the ending came along and just ruined things for me.  It was such a disappointment after seeing episode after episode that was handled so much better.  I still like Cowboy Bebop but I don’t love it the way I did as I watched it.  Which is why I actually prefer Samurai Champloo to Cowboy Bebop.  It’s not better than Bebop, except for Mugen, he’s the best character between the two casts.  But it was fun and it didn’t let me down at the end the way Bebop did.  Which is why I enjoy Samurai Champloo more as a whole even if I enjoyed Cowboy Bebop more as I watched it.  Anyway I think it’s time to wrap this up because it’s long and I don’t have much else to say.  For those of you who made this far, thank you for reading and I hope to see you in the next one.

Understanding the Medium: RWBY and Avatar

So not too long ago I did a post about the anime medium and common conceptions of source adaptations versus original works, linked here  for your convenience.  And so I figured it was time to talk about some of the shows that are at more of the fringes of the medium.  RWBY and Avatar are two very contentious shows for the anime community.  On the one hand many “purists” (which I mean to describe both good, sincere people and narrow-minded assholes who share a similar opinion) believe anime can only come from Japan, and that no matter the similarities these shows share with anime as opposed to western cartoons they aren’t anime.  The other side (sadly I lack a single umbrella term with which to name them) argues that the shows are distinctly anime-influenced and separate from western cartoons, and as such should be considered anime.  So who’s right?  Nobody is right.  I know I bet some of you are disappointed with that answer, some of you want me to grant you and your side of the argument validity, or you don’t care and just want to see my answer.  The answer is that it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether they count these shows as anime or not, there is no great anime authority which dictates what shows count as anime and which don’t.  There is community consensus, which can set guidelines on the topic, but as you can see the community is split on the issue.  Now that we’ve settled that, let me explain why I think RWBY and Avatar should be considered anime, even if my opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s.

Let’s start with Avatar as it’s the less messy of the two.  Avatar was made by Americans, in America, for Americans and hosted on an American TV channel.  So it can be easy to see why people are quick to claim it’s not anime, which comes almost entirely from Japan (or entirely from Japan if you’re a purist).  But there are marked differences between Avatar and more typical western cartoons.  The art style is distinctly more detailed when compared to many of the classic cartoons of the west, and in turn the animation is more complicated than is usual for western cartoons.  In fact most western cartoons most closely resemble original anime shows, since both feature character designs that are easier to animate when showing motion.  Avatar looks more like a manga or light novel adaptation by comparison, with loads of detail in everything from settings, to clothing, to character design.  The episode set-up is also very different.  It may have changed now, I’m not sure I haven’t watched cartoons in years, but typically cartoon episodes were split into 2 half-episode stories, much like SpongeBob still is today, and these episodes and half-episodes generally had no continuity.  They were episodic, with no over-arching story and no definite chronological progression most of the time. With Avatar we see a different approach, Avatar follows a strict chronological progression from episode to episode and a massive, singularly focused narrative that spanned four seasons, which is full of story episodes and more slow paced episodic adventures which pad out the series.  That is much more typical of anime though very few anime get four seasons to work with.  The comparisons don’t stop there either, much of the lore and details of the setting, like city names and styles of dress and so on, are more Oriental in nature, not western.  But most importantly, the culmination of all of these aspects of Avatar lead to a story, setting and characters which are far more compelling in everything they do than any other cartoon.  You see most cartoon characters are based around simple concepts and punchlines, Patrick Star for example is an idiot who makes us laugh by giving stupid solutions to simple problems.  This simplicity is not a bad thing, it just illustrates the difference between western approaches to cartoons as mostly simple entertainment as opposed to the Japanese approach to anime, which it treats more as an artform.  Are there anime that is simple and/or made solely to sell merchandise or dvds?  Sure.  But is anime as a medium treated the same way culturally that cartoons are treated here in America?  No.  And Avatar looks to me like it follows in more anime’s footsteps of being an artform than cartoons’ footsteps of being more focused on entertainment alone.   It has as much craft and soul as many of the great anime classics, and given that and all of the above reasons, I think it’s fair to consider Avatar an anime, you don’t have to see it as an anime but I think it is fair for anyone to see it as an anime, as I do.

Which brings us to RWBY, the messier of the two series.  On the one hand RWBY had more validity as an anime from the outset because it was directed by Mounty Oum, a Japanese man may he rest in peace, who characterized it as anime project.  The bit that sort of threw a wrench in the scheme was that RWBY was being made by Rooster Teeth, whose members are decidedly not Japanese.  To make things even worse Monty Oum died after the second season ended and now the third season is being handled entirely by Rooster Teeth, presumably with whatever storyline Monty was working on before he passed away.  With all this mess and RWBY’s original starting point in a sort of gray area, as it was a collaboration of east and west, I can see why some people consider it easier, and maybe more correct, to deny RWBY as an anime.  I of course beg to differ.  The reasons I think RWBY is an anime stems mostly from how experimental it is.  Even in Japan full on CG animation is rare and while it often doesn’t produce great results, it is still cutting edge as far animation techniques go.  RWBY takes that formula even further, by making the project one without a single country of origin but a group project between individuals of differing nationalities.  RWBY is more of an art project relative to most cartoons not because it has all the polish and nuance that Avatar did, because it definitely doesn’t although it has generally improved as time goes on.  It’s more of an artform because it is trying to push the medium and even the very conception of how anime can be made in a whole new direction.  That’s something rare, so rare in fact, some people consider it foreign to anime entirely.  And even if you don’t what to call RWBY an anime, can you really call it a cartoon?  It’s characters are more cartoonish and simplistic but the narrative structure is more like Avatar’s and by extension more reflective of an anime.  And the visual style is anything but cartoon, that may change someday but until Cartoon network starts making CG cartoons I’d say RWBY is definitely closer to anime in the visual department.  Now with all that said I have no more validity than anyone else who wants to argue if RWBY is an anime or not, but I think for the reasons laid out above that it is an anime and that it should not be a sin in the community to think of it as such.  In closing all I can say is that I’m glad to see RWBY continue, Monty’s death is major blow to the series in many ways but I’m glad it was not RWBY’s deathblow, and if he were able to communicate from beyond the grave I think he would say the same thing.  You don’t try to make a crazy experimental show without a real passion for the art and trying to expand it, and for that as much as anything else I think plants RWBY firmly in the anime camp.

Thank you for reading.  I hope you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.