Unpopular Opinion: Nichijou

Warning, there will be spoilers for Nichijou ahead.  Note: this means very little in a practical sense because Nichijou is wall to wall insanity and trying to explain the plot is like trying to walk on the sun, you burn out long before it happens.  Joking aside, there isn’t too much to analyze in terms of plot for Nichijou so this Unpopular Opinion will be a little different from the norm.  I’m going to explore what Nichijou does and explain why I think it works, in comparison to your typical, everyday slice of life show.  Let it begin.

Understand first that I really like Nichijou, it’s one of my favorite slice of life shows and among my top picks for anime comedies.  This also means it’s not for everyone because I take a perverse pleasure in deviating from community consensus on what shows are good most of the time.  It’s also a show I think you will appreciate best if you are a proper otaku, I’m not putting down new or casual fans but I think this show was written with otaku in mind and that a lot of its success as a comedy hinges on the fact that the viewer is an otaku.  Ok that’s enough preface, time to begin for real.

In order to understand why Nichijou works you have to understand some of the basics of the slice of life genre, particularly slice of life comedies.  The basics are as follows.  An abundance of or reliance on tried tropes and archetypes like tsunderes and beach episodes.  The setting is usually high school and most of the show involves club activities or other day to day life events.  Typically the humor follows the common Japanese comedy model where there are members of the group who are somewhat crazy or lack common sense and it’s the job of one character to play the straight man, who reacts to their shenanigans with shock and some kind of rebuke or suggestion.  If you want to see how this model works very clearly watch D-Frag, that show masters the routine and even has a few fourth wall jokes about it.  For a normal slice of life show, the key is finding the proper balance between realistically depicting everyday life and throwing in enough anime hallmarks to please the anime fans.  This is an oversimplified generalization but whatever, it makes my next point look cooler.  Nichijou is essentially an inversion of the typical slice of life show.  If a typical slice of life show asks “how can depict everyday real life in a believable way and still have just enough ‘anime’ stuff to keep the fans coming back?”, then Nichijou asks “how do we make everyday real life as anime as possible?”.  And it answers its own question with daring and aplomb.

Basically it means that anything a slice of life show would do, Nichijou will overdo.  It will overdo it with Gurren Lagann levels of over the top animation.  Nichijou refuses to restrain it’s everyday events with realism, it makes them as awesomely overblown as it can.  For example there is a scene where two people run into each other and the result is a huge explosion.  In a typical slice of life the tsundere will get embarrassed and say things like “it’s not like I like you or anything… BAKA!!!”.  In Nichijou a tsundere will literally pull cannons out from thin air and blow away the target of her affection in her embarrassment.  This is part of the reason I think Nichijou is for otaku more so than newcomers or casual fans.  It plays up all the tropes we know and love to a ridiculous level and if your tolerance for such things is low, well you likely didn’t make it far in this show.  This style hinges on the audience knowing and to some extent loving the tropes of the slice of life genre and being sufficiently exposed to the weird and ridiculous parts of anime.

Another thing Nichijou does differently is that it generally doesn’t follow the conventional model of comedy.  Nichijou is more eccentric and prefers non sequitur humor over the traditional goofball and straight man gags.  It also has plenty of WTF moments and jokes or mini-stories that seem way out of left field.  But despite all this grab-bag of nonsense and insanity there is a common feature to many of Nichijou’s seemingly random jokes, they generally involve parts of Japanese culture that pops in more typical slice of life shows.  For example many slice of life shows feature a festival episode, in Nichijou they have a running gag with a particular festival stall and its attendant mascot.  A school camping trip is also common to many slice of life shows and Nichijou has great little spoof of a typical camping trip.  This is the other main reason I think Nichijou is aimed at otaku, it expects the fans to recognize the situations and settings being used in its gags and it’s way funnier if you can see how the usual trope is either spoofed or inverted.   This even extends to the characters to some extent.  Yuko is an extreme form of the usual genki character, Mai is dandere troll and Mio is a fujoshi.  If you’re an otaku you probably already know what them Japanese words mean and I don’t have to explain.  But in case you don’t here’s the translation.  Genki = energetic character, usually good at sports but kind of dumb.  Dandere = quiet lady type, think Rei from Evangelion.  Fujoshi = a young woman who enjoys Yaoi stuff, literally means “rotten girl”.  This is a show for otaku, probably made by otaku considering much of its style and humor.  What does this mean in a practical sense?

It means the show is both extremely well targeted but also narrowly focused.  It’s a niche show for a niche crowd and in that regard I think it did a really good job of marking itself out to its intended audience.  It also means the show is very unique and that’s not something I usually get to say especially where slice of life is concerned.  There’s a huge over-abundance of slice of life shows and more keep coming out every season, so I can understand why many of you out there would be tempted to pass this show up.  However I highly recommend it, provided you consider yourself a proper otaku and feel you are ready for the insanity you will find here.  Slice of life is not my genre of choice but Nichijou is something special and I think you owe it yourself to give it a shot.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Nichijou.  Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Letter of Challenge: Rebuttal

3 Day Quote Challenge

Day 2 of 3

First off I’d like to extend my gratitude to Akko Anime, who sent the challenge.  I was hitting some serious writer’s block and this gives me something fun to do, truly I can’t thank you enough.  I love quoting things so this should be a lot of fun.

Rules and Regulations:

  • Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  • Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

And the second quote is :

“The word ‘general’ is no different from ‘squadron commander’ or ‘battalion commander’, merely the name for a rank and a duty.  Nevertheless, very few ever make it that far.  It is a place that can only be reached by those who have come back from death’s door many times and achieved many great feats.  In consequence, a general gets the responsibility and tremendous honor of fighting with the lives of millions at his command.  Therefore his presence is weighty.  Therefore he shines bright enough to dazzle.” -Wang Yi/Ouki from Kingdom.

This was a tough one.  Originally I was leaning towards Iskandar’s speech on the nature of kings from Fate Zero since it has a similar message.  However I switched to this one because the voice acting and delivery of this little speech blows Iskandar’s out of the water and that is no easy feat.  I’m also a big fan of Kingdom so that may have helped.  As for why I chose a quote like this one, it’s both inspiring and insightful.  Anime characters talk a lot but rarely do the best members of any given profession talk about their profession in any level of detail.  So hearing the opinions of a great general about what makes a general special is a rare treat.  It also speaks to the great heights individuals can reach, the trials they overcame to get there and what the rewards of their trials are.  If you want a scene that you can sit back and wowed by over and over, this scene towards the very end of episode 38, where Wang Yi gives this speech is such a moment.  Speeches rarely get much better than this one.

MY NOMINEES:

Holysorrows

Inspririomundus

FantasyandAnime

So I’ve Been Nominated for an Award… Again.

real-neat-blog-award

Well it’s been a bit of slow week for me.  So imagine my surprise when I receive both a challenge and an award shortly thereafter.  These are most fortuitous portents indeed, my readers.  I want to give a massive “Arigato gozai-masu” to Zaktaku of the Anime Analyst for nominating me for another award, your dedicated support is too generous.  Anyway on with the proceedings.

Rules and Regulations:

  1. Put the award logo on your blog
  2. Answer the 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you
  3. Thank the person who nominated you, link to their blogs
  4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, link to their blogs
  5. Let them know you nominated them
  6. Ask the bloggers 7 new questions

 

Questions:

  1. You are trapped on a tropical island, and must make it to land. Which 5 anime characters would be stranded with you to help?

Answer:  If I had five companions to help me get from a deserted island back to land my allies would be: 1-Gaudi from Nobunagun because he can basically build anything he wants from any material and that should come in handy. 2-Sakuraba Shu from Joukamachi no Dandelion because he can teleport and that should speed things up.  3-Ren Kougyoku from Magi because her Djinn Equip can summon tidal waves and I want to arrive from the sea in style.  4-Tendou Pain from Naruto because his gravity pulls would make fishing stupidly easy and I need food for the journey.  And 5-Hibiki from Fairy Tail because his Archive magic should have access to maps and maps are really, really important.

  1. What is your absolute favorite anime, and why?

Answer: Katanagatari.  There’s a lot to like about Katanagatari, interesting art style, great dialogue, memorable characters, well animated fights and one hell of an ending.  And if I’m being honest one of the reasons it’s my favorite is because I secretly enjoy being an elitist snob and I know it’s a show that isn’t for everyone, so being able to like it makes me feel special and important.  But for real though, it’s a show that basically does everything right and is super unique for many reasons, entertainment doesn’t get much better than that.

  1. If you went to sleep, and when you woke up, found yourself in an anime, which anime would you be in? Which anime would you NOT want to be in?

Answer: I would probably end up in Fairy Tail because I love magic a bit too much.  Well the second part of the question is a tough one but I would not want to be in Mirai Nikki, because sharing the same universe with Gasai Yuno is too much exposure to yandere for me.

  1. What is your absolute dream job?

Answer: If I ever had the talent and connections I would love to try making an anime, though I’d just do the writing and maybe the directing because doing everything myself would be a bitch.

  1. You and your arch rival are to duel to the death tomorrow. What weapon will you use in your fight? Can be from any media.

Answer:  Well if nakama power-ups count as a weapon I’d take that because they’re OP as shit.  Otherwise I’d settle for Sheogorath’s staff Wabbajack because it has a chance of turning my enemy into a rat, and those aren’t too hard to fight in my experience.  Or it could turn them into a menacing monster and that way I go out like a badass, I count that as a win-win situation.

  1. Which real life person would you want to see in an anime?

Answer: Julius Caesar, (and please dear God not the one from Nobunaga the Fool) because I’d love to see a good history anime set in antiquity.

  1. If your life was an anime, what genre would you want it to be?

Answer: Fantasy, all day every day.

Nominations:

 

Fujinsei

Akko Anime

DataportDoll

 

My Queries:

  • What is your favorite 1v1 battle (anime only)?
  • What is one of your favorite anime series and why?
  • If you had to be the protagonist in a harem or reverse harem show, which show would you pick and why?
  • If you could direct an anime what would yours be about?
  • If you could be any anime character who would you be and why?
  • If you could summon a Servant for the Holy Grail War who would yours be and why?
  • If you could perform a single godlike feat before using up all of your power what would you do with it? P.S.: You can’t use it to get more power because that would be lame.

A Letter of Challenge: Accepted

3 Day Quote Challenge

Day 1 of 3

First off I’d like to extend my gratitude to Akko Anime, who sent the challenge.  I was hitting some serious writer’s block and this gives me something fun to do, truly I can’t thank you enough.  I love quoting things so this should be a lot of fun.

Rules and Regulations:

  • Post one quotation a day for three days (they can be from other sources or one of your own).
  • Nominate 3 other bloggers to participate per post.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you

And the first quote is:  ” I am mad scientist.  It’s so cool.  Sonuvabitch.”- Okabe Rintaro/Hououin Kyouma from Steins;Gate

Ok as much as I like profound quotes there is nothing quite so special as hearing “Engrish” and actually enjoying it a lot.  I’m really big on the sound of language, for example I generally only watch shows subbed because I like the way Japanese sounds not because I’m a purist.  So for me Engrish usually falls somewhere around cringe-worthy and so-bad-its-kinda-funny.  And the above quote is some of the best Engrish I’ve ever come across and the delivery was perfect, here’s a clip of the scene, and the result was a great laugh out loud moment for me and my friends who saw it with me.  Silly as it may seem it was sort of a special moment and I love Steins;Gate so I need no excuses to use it.

MY NOMINEES:

Fujinsei

The Anime Analyst

DataportDoll

Raging Rant: Beauty vs Pandering

I’m going to preface this by acknowledging that beauty is by its very nature something that is different for everyone.  I’m not going to try to lay down rules for making things beautiful as I would in other posts because that would pointless.  Instead I’m going to bitch and moan about how there are so many ways to make characters beautiful or appealing that either get overlooked or don’t get proper attention so that we can make room for more big tits and lolis.  Let the ranting begin.

Let’s begin by setting the record straight as clearly as possible.  I’m no newcomer to anime and it’s love of pandering.  I have a pretty high tolerance when it comes to ecchi and fanservice and sexualized character designs.  I’m also well aware that a certain sector of the industry is literally based around using pandering as their main sales point, either by way of figures, body pillows or uncensored dvds.  I’m not asking for any of these things to go away or even become rare, I’m asking that animators use them all a bit less and experiment a bit more on other facets of character design to make a different kind of beautiful character.  Also I’m a guy so this post will be about female characters, sorry ladies I will not be discussing hot guys much in this post.  Ok so why do I think we need to move away from pandering a little?  Funny you should ask, I conveniently have a list of reasons why.

First and foremost it’s about creativity.  Pandering body types be it lolis or busty maidens are kind of the default body types in anime.  And sticking to the default is bad for a few reasons.  It gets stale, you know maybe back when I first got into anime I was all for the big bouncing boobs, but if that was ever the case that time has long since passed.  Now when I look for beautiful character designs big breasts is something I rarely count as appealing, not because I’ve lost my sex drive but because they are so commonplace that they don’t jump off the page like they used.  If you want to really get my attention you’re going to have to focus on the other aspects of character design like skin, hair and eye color, facial features, hair style, over-all body shape and so on.  Big boobs or a conspicuous lack thereof simply won’t cut it.  I’m not saying either is inherently bad, just that they are so common they don’t count for much to me.   The other issue is challenge and what that means for creativity.  Most of the time I’m at my most creative when I’m being challenged, and when I’m doing formulaic default work I basically feel like a machine, just plugging new variables into the same old equation.  So when you’re making an anime, the last thing you should want to be is default, because just sticking to formula robs the effort of much of its creative challenge which generally leads to weaker shows.  I’m not saying creative and innovative approaches will always work or be better than all formulaic ones, but in my opinion creativity is the key to the truly great shows.  Not necessarily the most popular shows, but the great ones.  Scale it down a bit to encompass just character design and I’d say the same is true.  If you want your female lead to stand out from the rest having a big pair of jugs isn’t very helpful, but using you creativity to make the other aspects of the character appealing is much more so.

Let me give you an example.  If you happen to look at the title picture for this post in the WordPress Reader, I’ll put it at the bottom of the post as well, you may recognize the subject as Kurokami Medaka of Medaka Box.  In case you’ve never seen the show, Medaka is a generous G cup or so.  But the picture I’m using focuses only on her face because I’m trying to make a point.  Because I find the picture of just her face far more beautiful than a full body shot.  This is not because I dislike Medaka’s breasts, but because they distract attention away from her other notable features.  In the picture Medaka is in her War God Mode, which is very dangerous.  She also looks extremely beautiful, the contrast of the ebon black hair, her pale skin and the vibrant reddish-brown makes for an excellent use of colors.  Add in the shape of her eyes, her hair style, face structure and small frown and she looks both imposing and more than little bit statuesque.  Combine all of that with the knowledge that she is incredibly deadly at the moment and she has a particular kind of beauty, the alluring kind.  Alluring beauty is something we usually associate with vampires or demons, beings we know are dangerous and may destroy use but are striking all the same, perhaps even more striking than any safe or normal  beauty can be.  It’s akin to the attraction many have with the taboo, the desire to possess something we are not allowed to have for one reason or another.  A similar example, this is for you ladies who made it this far, is Sebastian from Black Butler.  Let me ask you ladies a question, would Sebastian be as attractive to you if he were human?  My guess is that the answer for most people is no, because his demonic nature is very important aspect to his character and it’s loss would weaken him even if his looks were unchanged, but I’m not a woman so I may be wrong, please let me know in the comments if you feel up to it.  Going back to Medaka , I find Medaka attractive in full body shots in her normal state of being but that attraction pales when compared to the allure of her darker and more striking War God Mode.   Now let me ask the dudes reading this a pair of questions.  If I had included Medaka’s boobs in the picture would she be any more or less attractive?  And, if I had included the boobs would you have paid as much attention to the rest of her features?  Please comment with an answer to each if you feel up to it.   Because to answer my own questions I would say Medaka doesn’t look any more or less beautiful if you see the tits but the tits do distract attention away from her other features.  Why would we want to support a model where the most conspicuous traits of default body types distract attention away from their unique qualities and other design strengths?  I just don’t see how the current behavior of placing hefty jugs on most ladies as a matter of course is helpful to anyone involved.  Which brings me to my next point.

Men do not want to be pandered to all the time.  I suppose there may be a small subset of dudes who disagree, but contrary to internet beliefs, men aren’t horny all the time nor do we want to be.  There plenty of places where I can see women pandering to my male gaze or receive other stimuli that can set off a boner.  But what if I want to relax?  Do I really want to be staring at something intended to give a boner when I’m just kicking back?  The answer is no, there are times when I want to enjoy my entertainment at my own relaxed pace and mega melons are not conducive to such an experience.  Keep in mind most of the time I can tune out the boobage or am not at all bothered by it, but every now and then I want a more mature story with more mature characters and all the fat titties ain’t helping.  To reiterate, my issue is not that this stuff exists, it’s that it exists so much more than characters who are beautiful because they are designed well because more attention was given to creating them as unique characters.  Let me do another example.  In Kill la Kill we see Ryuuko’s naked body all the time.  And I have an undying love for Ryuuko, but not because of her nakedness.  No I love Ryuuko because of her attitude, her voice and how it meshes with her way speaking, how her hair colors and style reflect the punk aspects of her character.  In short I love Ryuuko because everything about her character works together to convey her nature, her dedication to her core characteristics go beyond her words and actions and encompass even the way she looks and sounds.  She’s a character who has been perfected, because if you change a single element in her makeup she comes together slightly worse.  This is something most characters don’t have, and it shows a rare level of craft in Ryuuko’s character, craft that  so often gets ignored because people are concerned by/bothered by/distracted by the amount of time Ryuuko spends naked or scantily clad.  Are my frustrations starting to make sense now?  This is my medium of choice and I want it to grow and succeed, I want to see it gain some recognition for the artistry involved in the creative process of making anime, because that’s more important than all of the pandering in the world.  And it’s freaking hard to see when anime is so inundated with big jiggly boobs, sexualized merchandise and so on.  I love seeing craftsmanship come to life and there is no craftsmanship in big tits or loli bodies, it takes nor creativity to incorporate those things into a character’s design so there is no craft in adding them.  Instead it just makes for more of the same pandering in a medium that already has tons of pandering.  Speaking of craft…

There are a lot of ways to make characters look beautiful.  There so many features to work with and not all of them are even physical.  Some people I know in real life are attractive not because they are hot but because they have an appealing personality and/or behavior.  The number of anime characters who fit into this category is pretty small though, too small in fact.   There are so many facets of character design that can make an individual beautiful.  And there are characters who are beautiful because attention was put into facets of character design other than their breast size and body type.  But there should be more.  I don’t think I’m being particularly unreasonable when I say that a little more variety in character design would be better for everyone.  Maybe it could lead to a new character archetype that get popular, maybe it lead to a new consensus on character traits that deserve more attention,  maybe it will give some new animator a shot at making the next big thing in character design, and maybe it just means I can find more characters that I can enjoy in my relaxed viewing experience.  Point is I see no negative consequences for the industry if it tries to break away from the big pandering boobs a bit more often, I see only opportunity.  This reliance on pandering bodies as the default is something of an industry-wide bad habit, and I’m not asking for it to be go away.  However I do think it would be in everyone’s best interests if the industry tried to break its bad habit more often.  There are plenty of people who want nothing to do with the pandering and sexualized characters in anime.  If they had a wider selection of shows to watch, and therefore may be more likely to get into anime, where’s the downside?   I’ll say it again, breaking the bad habit of pandering as a matter of course more often offers nothing but opportunity for creators and fans alike, there is no reason we should not pursue or support it.  And that about wraps this up.  If you made it this far, thank you for putting up with all my whining.  I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.  But as a reward for your patience and fortitude, here’s that alluring picture of War God Mode Kurokami Medaka, please take a moment to enjoy.

xmifk8

Understanding Apocalypse: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Casshern Sins & Ergo Proxy

The post-apocalyptic setting, once a rarity in storytelling, is everywhere now.  It has become a normal type of setting for works of fiction to take place in.  But as post-apocalyptic has become normal some of the things that used to make it so effective have been abandoned or forgotten.  Back before post-apocalyptic settings were popular anyone who wanted to make their story take place in such a setting had to have a very good reason to do, because otherwise there would be no benefit in choosing the setting since it was not popular nor well accepted.  Today that’s no longer an issue, and that has some unusual side effects.  There are countless zombie apocalypse movies ranging from terrible to pretty damn good that have been well received, and Shingeki no Kyojin and its clones are set in post-apocalyptic worlds.  But despite all of this widespread  success for the post-apocalyptic setting, in my mind the true meaning of post-apocalyptic is being lost in the volume of works that have latched onto the idea of a post-apocalyptic world without bothering to understand what that scenario truly entails.  From here on there will be minor spoilers for the three shows mentioned in the title you have been warned.

No doubt some of you are wondering how anyone could get post-apocalyptic wrong.  I mean it just means a story set in a world that has experienced a world shattering cataclysm, what else do you need?  The long answer will take the whole post to get finished but the short answer is this, we are using apocalypse as though it were a single unified idea when talking or thinking about it, but post-apocalyptic settings spring from two very separate traditions that we collectively call apocalypse.  The first tradition is Judgment Day, the end of all things when God judges the world and destroys it.  This kind of apocalypse is the style used in the shows mentioned in the title, in these shows the worlds are either in the process of dying or threatened with death.  Meanwhile shows like Shingeki no Kyojin and many zombie apocalypse movies use a different apocalyptic tradition, that of Ragnarok.  Since I don’t expect most of my readers to know Norse mythology off the top of their head, I’ll spell out the difference.  Ragnarok is the end of the established world order and the death of the Norse gods, however Norse mythology explicitly states that it’s not the end of all life but that new life will spring from the destruction of the world we know.  What this means in a practical sense is that stories based in the Ragnarok tradition will be more about hope and fighting for a new, better life while those born from the Judgment Day tradition tend to be about fear, despair and failure.  I’m not saying Ragnarok stories can’t be full of darkness, violence or moments of hopelessness, but its overall direction will be about making progress in the face of calamity.  By comparison a Judgment Day story can have its light and happy moments but the direction the story goes in will be a downward spiral that ends in calamity or explores the calamity that has already happened.  Which brings me to my next major point.

There is a character in Book 5 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher called Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is possessed by a fallen angel and his plan is basically to spread a new Black Death throughout the world.  When the hero calls him out for trying to restart the apocalypse Nicodemus says something like this “apocalypse is not a physical event, it’s a state of mind.”  And if you look at human history you’ll see it’s true.  There is a near universal fear that the world will end found in religious texts and movements and it springs up all the damn time.  Some sects of faith boomed specifically because they struck the fear of the apocalypse into the world so well.  This is what Judgment Day type stories seem to have mastered if done right, they focus on the psychological aspects of apocalypse.  Ragnarok type stories usually don’t do this.  This is probably going to sound like I’m contradicting my previous post on how Shingeki no Kyojin understands psychology, but I’m not.  In Shingeki no Kyojin the author makes a point to emphasize the psychological aspects of powerlessness, however that emphasis disappears later in the show when Eren gets his powers and Levi kills everything he fights.  At this point the story takes on the quality of desperate struggle, fraught with peril for sure, but ultimately a struggle that has some hope of victory.  That’s not really the case in the series I mentioned in the title.  Before I really dig into those three let’s do a brief comparison to get everyone on the same page.

Odds are you’ve heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, if you read my post about despair for some reason you’ve now heard of Casshern Sins in case you hadn’t already, but unless you really know your cult hits, odds are you’ve either never heard of Ergo Proxy or know nothing about it if you’ve heard the name.  So what do these three shows have in common?  They are all science-fiction in genre.  All of them involve man and machine in varying ways, in NGE the machines are the huge Evangelion mechas, in Casshern there are a wide variety of machines ranging from androids to larger robots shaped like mecha suits that are usually hostile to humans, and in Ergo Proxy all of the machines are androids who serves as bodyguards and assistants to the humans.  All of them take place in a world where some form of calamity has occurred and the fallout of said calamity is central to the story in some way.  All three shows share similarly muted colors and gritty environments.  All three focus on very dark aspects of psychology and all three have varying degrees of religious symbolism which draws on Christian lore.  That last bit in particular firmly lands all three stories into the Judgment Day tradition of post-apocalyptic storytelling.  And in my mind the Judgment Day type of apocalypse is the correct kind.  It’s not that I think Ragnarok type stories are all bad, I’m a fan of quite a few, however I do think that hope and progress are ideas that do not belong next to the word apocalypse while despair and fear are.  In my mind the latter is more appropriate to the word apocalypse, especially taken in the context of how its most frequently understood by most people, while the former is more along the lines of “dire straits” or “hanging by a thread” or something.  So now that we’ve properly defined apocalypse, how do these three shows convey it?

Well I already told you, it’s because of the psychology. But since that answer would be lame and unsatisfying let me explain how they tap into the apocalyptic psyche, because that takes a lot more work than just throwing everyone into a world ruined by some great cataclysm.  If you read my post on Casshern Sins some of this will no doubt sound familiar to you.  In Casshern Sins’ case the world looks like it’s already dead, it’s a barren wasteland full of decrepit ruins and crumbling cities.  Moreover the inhabitants are literally falling apart as they fall victim to the Ruin, a strange disease-like force that causes the robots who dominate the world to rust until they break down.  This was reflected well in the art too, the colors were lifeless as though the whole show was buried beneath a layer of volcanic ash.  Ergo Proxy does a similar thing except better thanks to its more realistic art style, in Ergo Proxy the world looks like a dark grey wasteland but in addition there’s lots of shadows and fog/dust clouds that obscure the barren landscape, making it look not only dead but somewhat foreboding.  This is a world that encourages the people of Ergo Proxy to stay locked up in their sheltered cities.  On top of all of that, what little life that can be found out in the wastes is either clearly dangerous, very strange or some combination thereof.  Ergo Proxy makes its world one part dead, one part imposing and one part eerie which culminates in a world that is haunting and unnerving.  Of the three shows I’m comparing I would say that Ergo Proxy has done the best job of creating an atmosphere that taps into the apocalyptic psyche between its visuals and setting details.  Neon Genesis Evangelion doesn’t quite convey apocalypse the same way in its art but it does have some amazing shots that convey various psychological effects, such as the frame where we can see a bunch of generals whose faces aren’t in the frame giving commands.  However the visuals alone are only part of how these shows convey apocalypse to us.

The characters involved also make a story more apocalyptic.  If you look at NGE most of the cast is comprised of people with deep-seated emotional traumas bound together by a twisted web of fucked-up relationships.  Dealing with Shinji’s psychological roadblocks at varying points in the series is central to the storytelling but more so than any one character, the impression that jumps out to me is that we are looking at a bunch of damaged and quite possibly broken people trying desperately to maintain an air of normalcy and ultimately failing to do so.  In Casshern Sins the story revolves around Casshern, who has lost his memories, and a large populace warped by fatalism.  These “people” are not happy nor healthy and there isn’t really a solution to their physical and mental ills, so what little remains of the population is tearing itself apart while the doomed robots vent their rage or turn rabic when the merest hint of hope shines through.  Likewise in Ergo Proxy, the human population seems stagnant and largely robotic themselves, they do their assigned tasks and that’s it.  With the exception of our leading lady Re-l and the immigrant worker Vincent, who also has amnesia, everyone seems to align themselves with a strict and orderly governance system that has caused human society to freeze in place without progress.

Art and characters are vital parts of conveying apocalypse but the part that really seals the deal for me is the mix of science and religious symbolism.  Remember NGE, Casshern Sins and Ergo Proxy are all science fiction stories, so many aspects of their worlds and occurrences have a rational, scientific explanation that the audience can understand so long as we are given some context.  But amid all the science there some events in each story which defy rational explanation.  In NGE Shinji’s mecha, Evangelion Unit 1, occasionally goes berserk, even though it’s a machine and rage should be foreign to it and it shouldn’t be able to move without the pilot’s or Nerv’s control.  Likewise there are scenes where Rei’s “ghost” hovers in Shinji’s sight despite the fact she is either dead or unknown to Shinji at the time her “ghost” appears.  In Ergo Proxy you have the Proxies, beings that are neither human nor machine which no one really knows about but are extremely dangerous.  There’s also the Cogito Virus, a disease of sorts that afflicts machines and grants them self-awareness, and the most common result of contracting Cogito Virus causes the androids to fall to their knees and pray.  There is no scientific explanation for the Cogito Virus nor the different reactions it causes androids to have.  And in Casshern Sins while most machines are milling about destroying each other, some have unexplained compulsions like the android who was obsessed with building a bell tower or the one who wanted to paint the entire city he lived in white.  There’s even an android who makes it his life’s mission to escort humans to safety despite the long running hostility between man and machine.  In the case of these few there isn’t really any kind of logic to their actions, nor is there a clear emotional cause behind their actions as other machines often demonstrate.  They are just sort compelled to do what they do and if you think that’s out of place in a scifi world I would agree with you.  However it’s not a mistake, the creators of these stories deliberately placed elements which conflicted with the more grounded science of their stories to create a sense of otherworldliness and eeriness.  I think youtuber Demolition D+ said it best, in this video he explained that Evangelion had a strong sense of omnipotence, that there was some kind of magic in the world of science.  And that this is part of what makes Evangelion feel brooding and unnerving, because the humans of the story have no agency in the face of this godlike entity.  Now the post comes full circle, all that Judgment Day versus Rangarok crap which didn’t seem like it was too important or relevant back when I first brought it up comes back to the fore.  These stories have a definitive lack of agency among the players, they are made insignificant by the wider world and the forces, natural and supernatural, that govern these worlds.  This is what makes them truly apocalyptic, this is what separates them from stories made in the Ragnarok tradition, the presence of something that transcends science, machines and man which makes the characters of the story look small and insignificant by comparison.  This is what makes the three shows I’ve been discussing convey apocalypse in both its physical and mental aspects, and it’s something that could never be in a Ragnarok type setting.  And this what makes a show truly post-apocalyptic in my mind.

Anyway this is a long post and I haven’t much else to say.  If you’ve made it all the way to the bottom, thank you for reading.  Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Akame ga Kill

Warning there will be major spoilers for Akame ga Kill ahead.

I’ve brought this up briefly in previous posts but Akame ga Kill is edgy, almost unbearably so for most people.  That is its single greatest weakness, the edginess permeates the whole story and dampens the whole experience throughout the show.  And for most people just having to deal with something that is so edgy all the time is enough to merit a poor rating and an easy dismissal.  Luckily I’m not most people, because while the edginess is a problem, after some digging and reflection I’ve come to believe this show did a lot of things right or at bare minimum took big steps in the right direction.

Let’s begin with the basics, Akame ga Kill is an unusual spin on a very traditional story.  The brave and noble rebels are fighting the corrupt empire and blah blah, oh wait, we aren’t focused on the heroes of the story as is typical, we are focused on the people doing the dirty work for both sides.  This has both a positive and negative effect, on the one hand it was refreshing to look at a familiar story from a different angle, on the other it played into the rampant edginess that so hinders the series.  Overall though I think this was a good idea, choosing to focus on assassins and their counterparts and targets as opposed to the traditional hero is a step forward and while it had mixed results here, I think if the same type of story was handled with more care we could see something really great.  But for the most part I don’t think Akame ga Kill’s strength is its story, it’s the characters.

Ok before I dive in and really break things I down, I will admit that the overall edgy nature of the show does leave us with lots of warped, one dimensional and otherwise weak characters who inhabit the world.  These are flaws, but the major characters are handled much better and in my opinion the latter outweighs the former in terms of significance.  Akame ga Kill ends up butchering a sizeable portion of its cast in a relatively short period of time, and yet it also creates one of the most memorable casts to date.  I can say with complete honesty I will forget the names of people in much smaller and much more alive casts without reminders like that one Salamander with the claymore from SAO (Eugene), meanwhile I can remember not only the name of every major character in Akame ga Kill I can remember the order in which they die.  However they choose to do it, in this case by making everyone’s hair a different color of the rainbow, Akame ga Kill’s creators made an extremely memorable cast of a decent size.  But the merits of Akame ga Kill’s major characters goes way beyond merely being memorable.

In this post here I talked about how Akame ga Kill not only makes interesting psychos, it makes a variety of different kinds of them and makes for some great analysis on that subject.  I won’t be repeating what I said there and it covers four of the major characters.  Likewise I mentioned in this post on anti-heroes that Akame, our titular assassin is a huge breath of fresh air and one of my favorite anti-heroes because she is centered around the idea of atonement as opposed to revenge or a fall from grace, which lends her character a level of stability, grace and maturity that more traditional anti-heroes struggle to match.  I will not discuss her further in this post.  But I will talk about Tatsumi because like many other aspects of the show he is a refreshing new take on the protagonist.  For the most part protagonists fall under 1 of 3 broad categories, the typical shounen hero who starts out as one of weaker members of the cast before nakama powering up their way to totally outshining and over-powering everyone else, the total badass who never losses, or the weak wimpy dude who is the center of attention because he has some kind of special power.  Tatsumi most closely resembles the typical shounen hero but he doesn’t quit fit the archetype to a T.  He begins as the weakest of Night Raid’s members but rather than nakama power up his way to victory his performance is a bit more realistic.  In the earlier episodes he’s left in bad shape and is saved by allies.  Then as he trains to get stronger and gains experience he can carry his own weight in a fight and even becomes a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think he ever outstrips Akame as the most powerful of the heroes and he certainly doesn’t outstrip Esdeath.  The impression I have with Tatsumi is that he always had a lot of potential to be good but he needed experience and guidance to develop that potential or else he would have died.  This shines through on the story as he takes the advice given to him by more experienced members to heart and uses their teachings later in the story.  I don’t there is any one aspect of Tatsumi’s character that makes him unique or more interesting than any other hero, he doesn’t really do anything no other hero does, but I do think that Tatsumi becomes more interesting when taken in his totality.  He isn’t different from other heroes because he does something different, but the sum total of everything he does and how he comes together as a character is different and it makes him a lot more interesting and believable for good measure.  In this regard Tatsumi mirrors my view of Akame ga Kill at large but I’ll get into that later.  For the characters are not the only strong suit of Akame ga Kill.

Even most of the people who hold a pretty dim view of Akame ga Kill will at least concede that it has good action.  The fights are well directed and animated, they have a good balance between quick and brutal battle and drawn out spectacle, which is not easy to do.  But while this is good on its own the two things I found most important about Akame ga Kill’s battles was the variety of weapons and the more impartial nature of the series.  Variety is the spice of life and yet with distressing regularity most melee combat is dominated by either martial arts or swords.  Axes and spears and other weapons get some time in the spotlight but not much compared to swords and fists.  But in Akame ga Kill all weapons are fair game.  Spears, swords, giant scissors, guns etc., they all have a role on the battlefield which makes the combat a lot more interesting since it always looks different.  I want to give a quick shout out to Lubbock as well because he is an awesome ito (means thread or wire) user and that’s not a fighting style you see often outside of old school ninja shows.  And while I’m giving shout outs I also want to celebrate Susano’o.  I have seen a lot of Susano’o’s ranging from Naruto’s fiery bone giants to a punk with a pompadour in Inari Kon Kon and to date I think Akame ga Kill’s Susano’o is by far the best representation of the actual Shinto deity for which he is named.  I love mythology so that matters to me.  Moving back to action, one of the things that really sets Akame ga Kill apart from other shows was its willingness to mostly abandon plot armor.  Outside of a few characters, in Akame ga Kill everyone has a roughly 50-50 chance of winning or losing, that may not sound like a big deal but when you look at shows like Naruto, Bleach or Fairy Tail and compare their hero body count to battle count ratio the difference makes itself pretty apparent.  Akame ga Kill battles are more intense than most not just because of the fight direction or great variety in weapons and fighting styles but because our heroes die almost as often as the villains.  That makes our time with the characters more precious and adds a lot of tension to the battles when we go in knowing that either side could die.  It brings the combat to life in a way that the scale of the attacks or fluidity of the animation have a hard time matching and for this reason Akame ga Kill’s action is especially engaging.  Ok so I’ve spent a bunch words praising this show, does it do anything wrong?

Yes it does.  Setting aside the edginess and its problems, the show has a couple flaws worth noting.  The transition from the manga arcs to the anime only arc, episode 19 I believe, was very jarring.  I don’t think the anime only arc was bad, actually I thought it fit very nicely alongside what came before and I’m glad the creators gave us an anime only ending because they easily could have just stopped where the manga was and that would have sucked for people like me who don’t really read much manga.  But actual moment of transition was done badly, the settings changed after leaving a number of loose ends unresolved and it was so sudden that they botched the transition.  More importantly the show shoots itself in the foot in the strangest ways.  The humor in the show is problematic.  One common complaint is that the humor sprinkled throughout the show detracts from the seriousness but this show is already warped by edginess, so I actually was glad we had humor to lighten up in between scenes of gore, brutal violence and total disregard for human life.  However there were two people who got stuck with wacky comedic bits that severely limited the potential of the characters.  I’m talking about Bols and Akame.  Bols and Akame were the two most mature characters in the entire story.  They had come to realize certain truths about themselves, what they had done and what they should fight for.  More importantly they had come to terms with their actions and continued doing what they believed in.  One of my favorite scenes in the entire show is when the two are fighting and Bols stops the fight to asks Akame why she switched sides, Akame answers and Bols accepts the answer without recriminating her.  It seems out of place in an edgy slaughterfest but that scene showcased how mature Akame ga Kill could be.  Unfortunately both Akame and Bols end up serving as something of comic relief characters in the downtime which detracts from their otherwise mature and focused selves.  It’s a shame to see characters bearing great qualities and depth get stuck with a silly gag because it draws attention away from their strengths.  But these were the main flaws of the show outside of all that edgy nonsense, so is there anything else left to say?

Remember when I said Tatsumi taken in his entirety is special even if none of his individual qualities or actions are and that this somehow mirrors the series itself.  I’m gonna explain that now.  One of the main reasons I hold Akame ga Kill in higher esteem than many other critics was the ending.  It wasn’t because of the final battle although that was cool.  It was because when I saw the meager survivors of the conflict standing atop the walls I was suddenly struck by the enormity of the conflict that played out during the series.  During the series I never felt like any individual death had too much impact, nor did I think the scale of the story ever really changed.  But by the conflict’s end we have born witness to the death of several influential figures, a staggering loss of talented young people, and the destruction of quite a few of the priceless and irreplaceable Imperial Arms.  Looking at the sum total damage left behind in the conflict’s wake, this was an immensely costly rebellion not just for Night Raid or the Empire but for the world of Akame ga Kill.  It really got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that in the fictional world of Akame ga Kill, there would never be another conflict like this one that was of the same scale and intensity.  There couldn’t be, after all even if you allow that new young talent will rise up to fill the gaps left by this conflict, too many Imperial Arms are destroyed in this conflict, they will never be able to use that many of them in battle again.  What this means in practical terms is that the story of Akame ga Kill marks the passing of era, a time of which the people of that world can never go back to.  In its totality the conflict laid out in Akame ga Kill will reshape the fictional world it is set in beyond the end of the Empire, that alone is powerful narrative occurrence but to me watching an age go out in a blaze of glory and then pass on is many times more so.  To me the ending of Akame ga Kill lends the conflict the nature of literary epic or legend, we are watching the era when Imperial Arms ruled the battlefield pass into legend for the fictional inhabitants of the fictional world and for whatever reason that strikes a very powerful chord in me.  Incidentally I have always found epics and legends to play up the evils of villains in manner similar to Akame ga Kill’s rampant corruption and edgy bullshit, albeit with a bit more subtlety and taste, and looking at Akame ga Kill through this particular lens helps me forgive a lot of its moment to moment edgy bullshit because it generally fits better into an epic narrative.

And that about wraps up my thoughts for Akame ga Kill.  Thank you for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.