Surly Summaries: Overlord

Ok so Overlord just finished airing yesterday and I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  The series was decent on almost every front.  But it just felt like a little too much of a straight power fantasy for me.  From here on there will be spoilers.

Overlord is a decent enough show.  I love all the demonic/undead characters though the human characters are considerably less impressive both in terms of depth and design.  I was not so much a fan of the CG monsters, I know the CG is a cost saving measure, but I felt like it wasn’t needed because there weren’t too many big battles that looked expensive.  The story was ok, I liked the idea in particular because it reminded me of Log Horizon.  The whole setup, of a player stuck in a world that operates on the same logic as a game but clearly isn’t the same as the game, is something that lends itself to a lot of exploration of the setting and careful pondering of all the information.  Likewise Overlord showed a clear and consistent understanding of MMO mechanics.  I only have one complaint on this front but I’ll get to it at the end.  My biggest problem was that the story was a bit too Ains-centric.

I’m not bothered too much that Ains and his demonic NPCs are so strong, though I felt like there should have been some enemies that were more challenging without relying on items from the original game world.  I was kind of bugged that we found no other players.  I understand that was a game that was shutting down and that very few people would bother to stick around until it closed for good.  However I have trouble believing the only player to do so was our main character, there should have been a few other hardcore fans who did what he did.  And for all I know maybe there are and we just haven’t seen them yet, which would be the best outcome.  Unfortunately all this means that this story is just too much of a power fantasy to be taken as seriously when Ains is exploring the world and gathering intel.  And this is especially true during the final battle.  Now I liked the final battle between Ains and Shalltear, it was pretty impressive.  However it had one major flaw, that Perfect Warrior spell.  Why would anyone play as a warrior character if mages can just cast a spell that makes them expert warriors too?  I don’t mind that Ains can use a spell to temporarily change to a warrior class, but that warrior class should be significantly weaker than his mage class and he definitely shouldn’t be able to use top level gear without any problems.  That is definitely more in the realm of power fantasy than accurate MMO mechanic in play, because that shit is broken if it were a proper game mechanic.  In any event, I’d say my prediction way back in my very first post was more or less correct.  Overlord is nothing amazing, but it’s a solid show.

Advertisements

Raging Rant: Stop the F***ing Split Cour Series

I once mentioned in one of my early posts, found here, that one of the things I wanted to see less of were split cour series.  In case you don’t know, split cour series refers to a series that airs about 12 episodes in a season, takes a season off, and then airs another 10-13 episodes 3 months later.  Now I said I didn’t like them because I didn’t really see the point of them, and that whatever dramatic effects they might have been going for in a few major examples, didn’t really work out.  However I had never considered that split cour series would be too damaging, I always considered them a minor annoyance, a small sacrifice to the business practicalities of airing anime.  But then this season happened.

In case you haven’t read my last few posts, almost all of them say the same damn thing over and over, the ending was botched somehow.  The examples I mentioned in the old post linked above generally have the same problem.  But while I always expect some shows to screw up with their endings in any given season, this season in particular has been atrocious on that front.  Almost every major release this season ended up being a split cour series and in turn almost all of them have shoddy endings.  Because of this, I have given the split cour series some more thought and realized I may have missed the worst aspect of all in my old post, they make people lazy.  Bear with me here.  The trend I’m seeing with this season reminds me of the all of the unfinished, broken video games that have been coming out over the past few years as pre-ordering games is pushed harder and harder.  Split cour series may not be the same as pre-orders, but think about how they operate from a sales standpoint and the similarities between both practices become more apparent.  The primary goal of a pre-order is to entice people to buy the game early because that helps companies predict their sales and know their incoming income.  The problem arises when companies, seeing as they already have our money, decide to give quality control the middle finger and hand out broken, shitty games, because again, they already have our money.  And while it might not be as intuitive, split cour series follow a similar path.

A split cour series’ primary goal is to get us fans hyped for the second season.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But look at it this way, in the past these shows likely would have been double cour (24 or so episode series).  What that means is that where fans used to be able to buy the whole show in a single dvd collection, they are now divided into two separate releases, each with their own price tag.  Ok, you might say, that looks a bit sleazy but how is that like pre-orders?  Well if someone buys the season 1 dvds, then odds are they will buy the season 2 dvds so they can have the whole series.  In this way it helps companies predict their sales to some extent.  That’s not the part that bothers me though.  What bothers me is the disregard for quality.  Remember the idea is that the companies selling the shows want us to buy the dvds.  If we have all the dvds at our fingertips we can marathon the shows and any problems that may result from a split cour ending.  For example, Gangsta had a fucking terrible ending.  But if you have the dvds for season 1 and 2, you could watch it all back to back and poof, the problem goes away.  But what happens if you don’t have the dvds?  Well then it sucks to be you because you get to see a pair of disjointed series that were clearly designed to be a single larger release, split in two because of the business advantages of doing so.  Essentially the businessmen are tapping into the simple desire to see a story from beginning to end to get more money.  That in and of itself is kind of problematic, but my issue is less with the greed and more with methods.  Because their aim is to make money, they are choosing a method that encourages dvd sales.  Which is fine, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be paid for good work.  But the key thing here is “good work”, and split cour series are showing with frightening consistency that quality is a secondary concern, if it’s a concern at all.

This is what really worries me.  I mean I don’t like seeing companies get greedy but I admit that so long as the means are decent the ends are less important to me.  But with split cour series I see a process, or perhaps it would be better to say a philosophy, that cares not about the means, only the ends.  This setup is designed for failure from both a business standpoint and an artistic one.  If the idea behind split cour series is that we will buy both sets of dvds, let me ask you a question.  Who will end up not buying either set of dvds because each set individually is a lower quality product than the total of both?  Not all of your customers are going to be forward thinking artistic types who see that the value of the show is in the sum of both parts.  Instead many people who might have bought the dvds will remember the low quality of an incomplete season 1 and quite reasonably choose not to buy any of the dvds.  Furthermore some of your customers may not be able to afford both seasons and will be forced to give your show a pass whether they want to or not so that they can buy something more worthwhile for their money.  This is a valid concern.  Even in a dedicated niche market, the customer will generally look for the best deal and when you start doubling the price tag to get the whole story, my guess is it will hurt your business long term even if it succeeds, and I don’t think it will, in the short term.  Look I’m no expert when it comes to the business of selling anime but I can say this, look at the video game industry.  Pre-orders are at an all time low, because the customers have been burned too many times.  I don’t think the anime industry, which has never been the most secure financially, can afford to have a similar thing to happen.  For all of my complaining I want anime to succeed and grow and with split cour series I see a short-sighted plan that might cause it to shrink or even fail altogether.

The other major concern is what it means for the art.  I mentioned in my first Raging Rant, that I wanted to see more approval and appreciation for the craft of making anime.  And split cour series shit all over that craft.  In my experience almost every split cour series would have worked better as a double cour series, which makes me think that’s what they might have been all along.  Call me cynical but I would not be overly surprised to learn that the split cour series we have been seeing were originally pitched as double cour series and then forcibly wrenched in two parts by sales guys or businessmen.  I mean shit, Hollywood’s been doing that with movies for a few years now.  But that cheapens the artistry of the whole process when you force the story to stop where it naturally shouldn’t.  I mean how else can you explain the unmitigated string of abrupt, shitty endings that have been so widespread this season?  This has never happened before, at least not since I’ve been watching anime.  I’ve never seen quite this many bad endings during a single season.  I’ve also never seen so many split cour series in a single season, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.  If you think you can get better sales by sabotaging the art that makes your sales happen you are wrong.  Oh sure you might get by for a while, but look at the gaming community.  People are pissed at the DLC whoring, the pre-order bullshit and all the lies.  Gamers mistrust game publishers more than ever and those greedy, short sighted publishers have earned that mistrust, not to mention the sales they have been losing, and they have been losing sales.  I don’t want to see the anime industry to suffer a similar backlash.

To all the people who made the split cour series a thing, you’ve made a mistake.  And mistakes happen to everyone.  This one season full of fuck-ups will not see me stop watching anime.  Because mistakes can be fixed, and I want to see this mistake corrected.  But please understand that there are no winners as far as split cour series are concerned.  Already fans are getting pissed at the current string of bad endings.  I know I was talking a lot of doom and gloom and it probably sounds ridiculous because it hasn’t happened yet.  But if you keep this up until it does happen it will be too late, the damage will have been done.  Which is why I’m bitching now, as a warning for the terrible fate which lies further down the road.  I know you need money to keep going whether you care only about your shows as a business or if you care about the artistry in them too.  But you can’t damage your artistry and expect sales to suddenly skyrocket, because your artistry is what attracts so many people.  Oh sure pandering, merchandise and other stuff brings some people in.  But in my experienced opinion, the things people really respond to are the stuff you find in the craft and artistry.  You break those to make money and you will break off a sizable portion of your fanbase.  In a business that’s all about creativity, you can’t replace quality with quantity.  The game industry thought it could do that back in the day and it caused the gaming market to crash.  The dangers and consequences of short-sighted greedy plans are all over the internet staring you in the face, do not repeat those mistakes or you will suffer the same consequences.  Anyway I think I’ve raged long and hard enough for one post, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Gate

So Gate, yes I know the title is much longer but I’m going with this, finished airing last Friday.  Ordinarily I don’t do Surly Summaries after more than a few days but I missed this one because I thought the show had 24 episodes not 12.  Anyway there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

Gate was pretty fun, until the ending happened.  I liked how Itami had to work around his otaku nature in military, and I thought it was pretty funny just what an elite soldier he was all things considered.  The action was a cool blend of modern military tech and fantasy, magic, dragons and gods.  An interesting mix to say the least.  I generally liked the charcaters either for comedic reasons, like Pina Colada, who’s named after a drink, being a Fujoshi, or for some of their great moments like Rory shutting down that Diet member in episode 8 or so.  Overall I thought the show was entertaining if not great from an artistic standpoint.  Then the ending happened.

The ending was so abrupt I legitimately thought it wasn’t the end.  I mean how could it be, there are several loose threads hanging all over the place and it looks like a major event was about 1 second away from happening?  But no, instead the final episode is spent watching Yao Haa Dushi trying to get someone to talk to her before being rejected while Itami is just chillin’ in his helicopter.  In other words it was a non-ending, the kind of ending you expect for a show that suddenly gets cut from its slot or runs out of money.  But that’s not what happened here.  What happened here is a very worrying trend that I’m going to rant about in separate post (it’s available now, click here if you’re interested), do stay tuned as a vent my wrath upon the page.

Anyway that’s all I have to say for this one.  Thank you for reading.

Surly Summaries: Arslan Senki

Ok so Arslan Senki just ended and I have to say, I was mostly happy with this show but it really should have ended.  I mean come on it had 25 episodes, I was sort of expecting a complete story.  From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

I thought Arslan got off to a bit a rough start.  The disaster at Atropatene had some very questionable elements to it.  For example how could a  very experienced warrior king like Andragoras make as rookie a mistake as fighting in heavy fog?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to fortify the Parsian position and wait the fog out?  Then we had a few slower episodes where Arslan’s cause was looking progressively more hopeless.  But then they turned it around.  More interesting characters like Gieve and Farangis were introduced.  The action and the intrigue got much more interesting, and of course the journey took on the characteristics of a desperate but huge comeback we could all cheer for.  And to a large extent I believe the show succeeded, I started really looking forward to Arslan every week.  And then the ending happened.

The ending was not terrible by itself.  It happened during a break in the action, after the heroes overcame a major trial.  If Arslan Senki had been just 12 episodes I might have been saying the ending was fine.  But Arslan had 25 episodes, and I felt like we should have seen the full story during that time.  In retrospect I think the episodes spent in Shindra with Rajendra were a mistake.  I liked the action those episodes gave us and I think Jaswant made an interesting addition to Arslan’s party, but I would have rather seen a proper ending to the story than see what is basically Arslan’s sidequest in Shindra.  Overall I don’t think the ending ruined Arslan Senki, I’m still eager to see what comes next after all, but it was something of a disappointment.

Anyway that’s all I have to say.  Thank you for reading.

Surly Summaries: Gangsta

So Gangsta just ended today and I have to say, it was a big disappointment.  I initially thought this was going to be a highlight of this anime season but it seems like that was a mistake.  I still thought the show was decent and I liked it for most of its run time, but it severely mismanaged its time and led to what is one of the worst possible endings I have ever seen.  From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

Ok so here I was thinking “oh a show that’s super violent and gritty and set in a city full of gangsters, this is the closest looking thing to Black Lagoon I’ve seen in a while…”.  The action was great, the dreary and dirty look of the city was fitting, and I liked most of characters.  The stuff about the Twilights and anti-Twilights, Celebrer and so on was also good.  Hell the show even got off to a great start.  But unfortunately it’s start was somewhat deceiving.

Ok so the main issue I have is that it seems like the major arc we are in now, the Esminets arc, looks like it should have been at least a full twelve episodes on its own.  But for some reason they introduced it roughly halfway through the series.  Or perhaps I should rephrase.  They hinted at it and built it up for a good chunk of the show before starting the conflict.  The problem is we have what, 3 episodes or so, of conflict for this season even those this conflict was clearly designed to be much longer.  So we have to stop somewhere in the middle and boy did the creators choose a shitty spot.  It’s like they want use to get hyped with a cliffhanger ending, since Striker has been drugged/poisoned and Worick is bleeding out, but don’t know how to build it up right.  The ending is just abrupt.  It’s not satisfying at all, it has no tension, drama or impact, it just up and ends in a spectacularly flat and unimpressive ending.  And to top it all off we now have conflict that is just paused at an utterly random point instead of a turning point in the conflict or some other more appropriate place in the story.  I hate to say it but the creators really dropped the ball on this one, which sucks because this show was doing so well beforehand.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say.  Thank you for reading.

Surly Summaries: Charlotte

So Charlotte just finished airing today and I have it to say… it may well have been the best show of the entire season.  It’s decision to focus on super powers among adolescents, and the incomplete nature of the powers on display, made for a very interesting take on super powers but kept things just personal and relatable enough for us normal people.  All in all, a stellar performance.  From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

Charlotte really has almost everything going for it.  The story was simple and easy to relate to before it opened up into a much wider and darker narrative, a transition that was handled pretty well despite how hard such a shift generally is to do.  The characters where likable enough and some of the interpersonal relationship stuff got way heavier than I would have guessed based on the early episodes of the show.  The visual presentation of the powers, characters and settings was also pretty solid.  This was a great show.  So now that I’ve heaped a bunch of praise on it I’m going to complain like a spoiled child about how this great show could have been a great pair of shows.

In my opinion the two most important episodes of the show were rushed.  These episodes being Yu’s downward spiral after Ayumi’s death and the final episode.  Ideally what I would have wanted to see was this:  The downward spiral episode is given two episodes instead of one, the first dealing exclusively with Yu’s fall while the second would begin with Tomori stepping in and picking him up and setting him back on track.  The series would then end on what is now episode 12.  And finally, the final episode is turned into a another 12 episode series.  Because the final episode of this show was amazing, but sadly it crammed what was ostensibly an almost year long journey full of combat, intrigue and mental struggle into 20+ minutes of anime.  Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to have a season dedicated to Yu traveling the world, stealing powers and suffering from the immense burden of having thousands of powers.  Because all of that stuff was there in this episode, it gave an incredibly rich yet concise view of what Yu went through during his final mission.  And I would have loved to see the full journey, I wanted to see the messy stuff, the details, and how prolonged exposure to violence and an overwhelming abundance of super powers would affect Yu.  Sadly this is nothing but a dream, but dream I shall because it’s a fucking gorgeous dream.  All of this said the final episode did as great a job as it possibly could have given the scope of what it was portraying in its timeframe and I certainly don’t begrudge the ending we got.  This show looked like it was going to be another “high school bullshit with super powers” and ended up being something many times more interesting than that.  I’m definitely gonna miss this show.

That’s all I have to say.  Thank you for reading, hopefully you enjoyed it.

Surly Summaries: Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou

So Monster Musume finished airing yesterday and I have to say, I absolutely loved it.  I don’t usually get to say that about entries in the harem genre, but Monster Musume was a lot of fun and it felt like a breath of fresh air in a genre mired in tired tropes and archetypes.  From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

I think what makes Monster Musume special is that it’s different in a genre where most of the shows all look the same.  I’m not saying that same tired archetypes don’t show up in Monster Musume, because they do.  However where in a normal harem a character might defined solely by her type of “dere”, Monster Musume adds something extra.  Namely each girl starts off by struggling with her identity as monster and her reception by humans, meaning they spend less time being the stereotypical tsundere, kuudere or dandere that forms the other major part of their character.  It also makes each of the girls a little more endearing, which is important when romance plays a major role in your story.  Also Monster Musume does something so amazing, no harem has ever done it before… it told a harem story without a tsundere (Fuck YES!!!).  Tsunderes are, generally speaking, one of the character archetypes I hate most.  They annoy me because I have a hard time imagining any harem protagonist would put up with all the bullshit and beatings a tsundere gives out, which in turn makes the story less believable than it already is.   Also their behavior is so damn consistent I could write a tsundere character in my sleep.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with tsunderes, nor is it bad idea to take some of their characteristics and apply them to a character.  But there so many tsunderes out there and so many of them are just this formulaic bossy, bitchy girl who has no other noteworthy characteristics that I usually can’t help rolling my eyes as soon as another one appears.  Likewise this show has no imoutou-oniichan, semi-incestuous relationship ( another Fuck YES!!!).  There’s clearly still plenty of pandering going on in Monster Musume but it drops much of formulaic character types and interactions that are so annoyingly common in other harem shows in favor of a more straightforward story.  I know Monster Musume looks like one of those “wow Japan you crazy” type of shows and if I tried to explain its appeal to a non-otaku I’d probably get some weird stares.  But all in all I think it’s a breath of fresh air in a very stale genre, and if you want some of that good old harem ecchi but can’t push your way through all the baggage most such shows have, this might just be for you.  I don’t usually get to write glowing positive reviews for the harem genre, this show is a bit of treat, admittedly it’s a weird treat, but it’s a treat all the same.

And that’s all.  Hope you enjoyed it.