Anime trick-or-Treat: My Shitty Candy Basket

Ok this little project was almost a total failure, I guess I’m less approachable than I thought.  But as I am a man of my word, I present to you the meager offerings I have.  Anyway onto the requests.

Request:  My Thoughts on the Demons of Black Butler

I admit the demons are something of a mystery to me.  Black Butler never exactly explained how most of its supernatural stuff worked and the demons in particular are a bit of a mess.  Also it’s been a long time since I watched the show, so that doesn’t help.  The only absolutes with regards to demons are that they eat human souls, must obey any order their summoner/master gives them when they have a contract, and contracts are more powerful the closer the seal of the contract is to the summoner’s eye.  I seem to recall, perhaps incorrectly, Sebastian saying demons couldn’t lie, but the demons in the second season definitely lied to their master so that may just be Sebastian’s personal policy.  Or it could have been true in the manga but have been dropped in the anime.  The most baffling thing about the demons however is how they are summoned.  There isn’t a specific rule or ritual as is typical of demon summoning in fantasy.  For example Alois, the blondie from season 2, intentionally summoned his demon after wandering into its hideout and speaking with it.  Ciel on the other hand summoned Sebastian without even knowing about demons.  The only common link between Alois and Ciel is the trauma they were exposed to as children and having some level of interaction with supernatural beings before making a contract with their respective demons.  The demon contracts and behavior draw most of their traits from the tale of Faust, tempting and serving humans in exchange for a chance to devour their soul.  It’s also implied that by forming a contract and working with the demons, the summoner’s soul becomes more ripe/tasty to the demons, which is why they bother with the contracts at all.  The demons are very hit and miss as characters.  Sebastian is great, Alois’ demon is in violation of serious Sebatian copyright infringement and is therefore less interesting, and Hannah and her three servants confused the hell out of me back when I watched Black Butler season 2 because Hannah’s behavior was distinctly different from that of her fellow demons.  I think the demons would be more interesting if we knew more about them, if you look at both seasons, because otherwise they raise too many questions and it hurts your immersion in the show.  If we limit it to season 1 it matters less because Sebastian did not really need to be explained the way demons as a whole do, it was always pretty clear why he was working with Ciel and why Ciel needed an amazing demon servant.  Anyway, with the demons addressed I feel morally obligated to tell any potential readers of this post to watch season 1 and only season 1.  Maybe you can try out the Carnival one since it was retconned into season 1 but I never watched it so I can’t vouch for it.

Request: Take an Analytical Approach to Explain Kimimaro and the Bone-style Kekkei Genkai and how it works with Chakra Control, Body Manipulation and Matter Conservation.

Well in true Naruto fashion, the reason why Kimimaro has this ability is because his clan inherited it from Kaguya.  But to because I was asked to do this analytically, you bet your ass I’m going to.  The three things mentioned in the request were chakra control, body manipulation, and matter conservation with regards to Bone-style.  Let’s start with matter conservation.  In the show chakra is basically just treated as an energy source and the laws of physics are never addressed, but if you pay attention it usually acts like super dense matter.  Take for example Neji’s Kaiten, Hinata’s Twin Lion Fist and the Rasengan.  All three moves use raw chakra and in each one the chakra easily deflects or smashes physical objects, even though the objects are usually larger than the jutsu.  In this sense chakra can be thought of as very dense matter.  This would also explain the huge increases in physical strength seen in Rock Lee.  In Lee’s case the huge surge of extra chakra translates to a huge increase in the density of his body, therefore he can deliver blows far too heavy for a normal human.  It also explains why the 8 Gates puts so much stress on the user’s body, if you demand your body to move super fast despite being much heavier than normal, thanks to all the extra chakra, you will suffer serious damage the same way an elephant would if it ever fell down moving at full speed.  As for elemental techniques, they can be thought of as chakra that has been given a specific type of charge.  Different types of charges will affect the way the chakra changes in surface area and density, it may also govern how it moves.

Body manipulation is nothing new, Choji has been doing it since the Chunin exams and several other characters like Jiraya and Juugo have demonstrated the ability to change their bodies.  Body manipulation also works with how chakra is super dense matter.  In Choji’s case, his techniques essentially allows him to convert the very dense matter of chakra into the less dense forms of matter found in the human body, which in turn causes his surface area to expand significantly.  Jiraya and Juugo use a similar technique though they also seem to do more than just adjust the surface area of their bodies or hair.  In fact most body manipulation is far more involved than Kimimaro’s, involving changes to flesh, size, and bone structure.  For Kimimaro the only thing that changes is his bones, though he can manipulate them to a far greater degree than most forms of body manipulation.  Which bring us to chakra control.  I think the best explanation is that Kimimaro and his clan evolved a chakra vein network that was completely concentrated in their bones instead of flowing near their major organs.  If their chakra flow was limited in this way, it make their bones more chakra dense, giving them access to far greater mass in a much smaller area.  All of that additional energy and mass, concentrated in a relatively small area would account for the drastic shifts in bone shape, mass and density that Kimimaro demonstrated during his battles.  So therefore my hypothesis is that Bone style comes from a rare genetic deviation in which the chakra vein network becomes intertwined with the skeletal system instead of the major organ systems like the pulmonary and digestive systems.

Anime Trick-or-Treat: Emergency Update

Hey guys just wanted to let you all know the Anime Trick-or-Treat special all-request post is having a deadline extension.  I probably won’t get around to writing it late tonight in any event so I have decided to continue taking requests until midnight tonight, a full 24 extension from the original deadline.  I’m also offering up an alternative.  Since Halloween is a time for spirits and weird happenings I was considering writing a Hidden Gems post for Hakkenden:Tohou Hakke Ibun since it is a show with a lot of spirits and weird happenings.  If y’all would rather I do the Hidden Gems post, leave a comment here or on the original Anime Trick-or-Treat post linked below, with any statement containing the word “Hakkenden”.  At the end of the day I will take which ever one has the most comments, guest requests (of which there are currently 2 out of a max 20) or the Hakkenden Hidden Gems post (which obviously has 0 comments at this point).

If you want to make a request, the rules, you can ignore the stuff about the dates, can be found in the original post linked here.

Hidden Gems: Kingdom

I’m going ahead and putting this show in the Hidden Gems series because I have literally no idea how popular the anime is.  I’ve heard that the manga was quite popular but I’ve heard next to nothing about the anime, and given the relative scarcity of clips available on Youtube, I think it’s ok to consider this show as having at least been somewhat under the radar insofar as the anime is concerned.  That said, this will be a bit longer and more analytical than Hidden Gems posts typically are and there will be some minor spoilers.  Anyway, let’s begin.

Kingdom is shounen-battle anime, it’s also a history anime, set in the Warring States Period of China aka the era of the Seven Kingdoms.  It’s main characters are Xin (Shin), I’ll be doing the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese names in parentheses, Yin Zheng (Ei Sei) and He Liao Diao (Ka Ryo Ten).  Xin (Shin) is former slave who really sucked at all the jobs slaves are supposed to do, despite the fact he is a hard worker, but was really good at fighting both in terms of strength and skill.  Yin Zheng (Ei Sei) is a prince, one of several heirs to the newly-opened throne of Qin, the westernmost of the seven kingdoms.  And He Liao Diao (Ka Ryo Ten) is a bandit dressed in the ancient Chinese equivalent of a chicken suit.  The three seemingly unrelated characters form an interesting trio as they begin on a major life changing journey.

Now before I go into what the show has to offer, I’m going to give you guys the bad news first as it were.  The reason I think the anime went under the radar was that it is ugly as hell, it is heavily reliant on CG and it’s not particularly good CG.  I don’t like attributing a show’s quality to budget alone, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything scream “low budget” like Kingdom outside of Trigger’s Inferno Cop and Ninja Slayer.  Additionally the first 3 or so episodes are probably the most boring in terms of story, it just keeps the status quo going for the most part, and it has the most repetitive dialogue within the series as far as I can remember.  Moreover, the show remains CG-heavy for all of season 1, though admittedly it begins to use some decent looking traditional animation as early as episode 4 of 39.  So I think it’s pretty easy to see why most people who might have been interested dropped this show back when it started airing.  But more to the point, with all of this stacked against it, why in the world am I putting this in series of posts about shows I recommend?

Because despite the stiff limitations placed upon this series, it has managed to deliver in all the ways I had ever hoped it would.  Let’s start with the action.  Action is the bread and butter of the battle-shounen genre, if you can’t do good action in a battle-shounen you are utterly fucked.  And Kingdom, despite the ugly CG, has good action.  Admittedly the CG makes it harder to look at, but there is a lot more to action than just the visual presentation.  Kingdom nails basically all of the non-visual elements, dramatic timing and battle noises in particular.  And even given the ugly CG, I thought Kingdom was able to craft some cool and memorable fights that made the most of what visuals they had.  I mean they still weren’t pretty, but they were imaginative and dramatic, and overall I’d say they really did a good job of drawing me into a show that my eyes usually encouraged me to stop watching.  The action was also a bit more grounded than is typical of shounen-battle shows.  Sure some characters will display inhuman feats of strength and speed, or if you’re Xin (Shin) jump height, but aside from that people behave more like real people.  There aren’t really any nakama power-ups or dudes taking endless beatings and then coming out on top.  In Kingdom if you take a hit it will adversely affect your performance, even the strongest characters start suffering from any damage they take, their attacks get slower, weaker, sloppier, or any combination thereof.  And people take days to recover from any serious wound, if they’re important they might shrug off minor wounds but for the most part the important people avoid taking wounds rather than powering their way through a fight after racking up tons of damage like how Naruto, Bleach or Fairy Tail characters do.  There are still over the top moments and some scenes which stick pretty strongly to battle-shounen tropes, but the action is usually toned down to a more realistic level.  Which brings me to my next point.

Kingdom is a realistic show both in the literal and literary sense.  To clarify this a bit I’m bringing in another history battle-shounen for comparison, Sengoku Basara.  You don’t even have to look past Sengoku Basara’s cover art to figure out it is in no way a realistic portrayal of Japan’s Sengoku Jidai.  It’s action is outrageously over the top, it’s not even remotely within the realm of human ability.  Likewise the characters are less nuanced and look suitably ridiculous, because realism was not something Sengoku Basara was ever going for.  For Kingdom realism is given more consideration.  For example, back in the day kings had to be wary of powerful nobles because nobles had their own private armies and if their armies were better and bigger than the king’s they could try and take the throne.  That’s an extreme and blunt example but Kingdom has this sort of thing, two of the most dangerous characters within royal court are one of the major ministers and the kingdom’s most legendary general.  Both characters have the potential to stand against Yin Zheng (Ei Sei) and either undermine or usurp his rule.  This principal also extends to the nuance in the characters.  Sure Xin (Shin) is the typical loud, strong and stupid shounen hero, but he’s also a slave and he can better connect with, and therefore lead more effectively, his fellow soldiers because even if he outclasses them in terms of ability he knows what it’s like to be a peasant thrown into a war.  He also isn’t actually stupid, so much as he doesn’t know a lot, because being a former slave doesn’t exactly help you get an education, and he doesn’t have a head for grasping situations of a certain scale.  This applies to a lot of real people, some people are great at managing massive companies with legions of employees, others at better at running a mom-and-pop store.  This is not to say there are no fantastical elements or characters, just that they are fewer and farther between.  In fact the main conceit Kingdom wants you to buy into is that major generals are capable of superhuman feats, both physical and mental, because of the weight of their command and the experience it took to get it.  Which is a conceit I’m more than willing to buy into because it’s type of military romanticism, which I like, and the show really knows how to employ the conceit for the purposes of drama.  It may not be totally realistic, but it sure as hell isn’t a weakness for the show.

Next up sound.  What Kingdom lacks in the visual department it makes up for in the audio.  I already mentioned above that the battle noises are fantastic, as you meet more characters you can often tell who is fighting just by the sounds their weapons make and that is not an easy thing to do.  The voice acting is spectacular, Ying Zheng (Ei Sei) reminds me of Lelouch, Xin (Shin) is the loud shounen hero but the voice actor does a really good job of selling the character to me because he communicates Xin’s (Shin’s) passion very well and has a surprisingly good range so that Xin (Shin) isn’t always sounding the same in every fucking scene.  One of the major characters is voiced by the same guy who did the Deep Sea King from One Punch Man and by god that man did a phenomenal job.  And last but certainly not least is the soundtrack.  The soundtrack is full of grand, sweeping tracks made to give the story the feel of an epic.  And importantly the music fits the time period of the show very well, the epic pieces have an Oriental character to them that separates them from the works of more popular composers of epic tracks like Yuki Kajiura and Hiroyuki Sawano, which generally are more Western in terms of instruments used and composition style.  Seriously this soundtrack is to die for.

So Kingdom has a lot going for it, but I think one of the more interesting things about the show is that you can literally see that it does something right between seasons 1 and 2.  I mentioned that season 1 was heavily reliant on bad CG.  Season 2 on the other hand has hardly any CG, it uses almost entirely traditional animation and really good animation at that.  As I said above I think it’s foolish to attribute quality solely or even majorly to budget, but to see Kingdom show such a drastic improvement in visual quality one season later tells me that it was a financial success and had more budget to work when season 2 rolled around.  This is a first for me, I’ve never seen a show make such huge leap in visual presentation, I’ve never seen a show where you almost see it’s financial success story from season 1 to season 2.  It’s just one of those things that makes the show a treat, it makes it worth slogging through the ugly CG so you can bask in awesome traditional animation.  Anyway, I highly recommend this show especially for those of you enjoy shounen battle and/or history anime.  And that about wraps this up.  Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I will see you in the next one.


Anime Trick-or-Treat

Hello everyone.  Halloween is traditionally a time when everyone starts making videos, blog posts, and AMVs about horror anime.  So in the spirit of being different, I’m not going to talk about horror, at least not by choice.  Instead I’m going to do a bit of community outreach, which is a fancy-pants way of saying I’m taking requests.  The plan here is to take around 20 requests and compile them into one giant Halloween post, to make an anime candy basket if you will, for all of you.  The rules are below:

Rules and Regulations:

  • I will take requests from the time this post is published until 11:59 10/29/15, any requests made after this time will not be addressed. If I have not reached the 20 request limit by this time you may be able to sneak in a request during the wee hours of the morning on 10/30/15 before I get up and start working, I make no promises though.
  • For those of you making requests: instead of asking for me to do an entire series, limit your requests to any scene, battle, character, group of characters/organization, weapon, spell, magic/superpower, physical ability or literary/anime concept. I will analyze these things in medium-sized blurbs as opposed to writing reviews of 20 entire shows because that would be really hard to do in 24 hours.
  • If you want something reviewed that is not on my list of examples, go ahead and make your request and I will get back to you about whether I can do it or not. If you list something I’ve never seen I will also let you know and allow for an alternate request.
  • Let’s try and keep this one request per person. I will make a caveat, if you post a request and I have not met the 20 request limit 2 days after your first request you may make a second.  I will not take more than two requests from anyone.
  • To make a request go ahead and leave a comment on this post and this post only. Any requests made on other posts will be treated as a separate thing and I won’t get to it until later.  In the event I have not hit my 20 request limit by the deadline I may use the requests posted on different posts.

Season’s Greetings: Fall 2015 Follow-up

So now that almost every show this season has 3 episodes under their belts, I figured it was time to give y’all an update on my thoughts for what I’m watching this season.  So without further ado…

Shomin Sample: This show is pretty bad thus far and I’m not expecting it to get any better, mainly I’m watching to see how it compares to Ladies vs Butlers so I can lambaste them both at a later date.

Owari no Seraph Season 2: It’s been very mediocre thus far and I don’t really expect to get much better, but this season has the potential to much messier in its human drama so I’m sticking around.

Comet Lucifer: This show still could turn out to be good but I’m dropping this one.  I’m not invested in the 13 year old cast at all and the girl driving the plot has the brain of a 2 year old.  That on its own isn’t terrible but I just got a double helping of that with Su and Papi in Monster Musume so I’m not in the mood for more at the moment.

Garo Guren no Tsuki: So far this show has been ok, but aside from the drastic shift in the setting very little has changed.  I’m glad they decided to reuse a bunch of the voice actors from Garo Hono no Koukuin because I think those folks did a great job.  I don’t really like the new protagonist, Raikou, or his attendant Kintoki, both their voice acting and their character designs leave much to be desired.  Seimei, voiced by the same seiyuu who did Emma in the first Garo is great but she’s the only one who really stands out thus far.  This could still be ok but unless something changes soon I doubt it will be as good as the first Garo.

Concrete Revolutio:  The first episode of this show was a clusterfuck, but since then the show has rapidly improved.  It’s chronology still jumps around some, but it’s handled much better than it was in episode one.  The characters and storytelling have made leaps and bounds, overall this show is looking much better and it’s got my interest now.

K Return of Kings: I’ve been a bit disappointed by this one.  It’s moving very slow right now, which isn’t inherently a problem but it looks this season will have major direct confrontations much earlier, so it should be moving faster.  Also a number of major developments have happened since the end of season one which I don’t think have been properly addressed, though they might have been in an OVA or special that I missed.  It still has a lot potential but it needs to either broaden the scope of things a bit, pick up the pace or advance the plot because it’s been pretty stagnant for the first three episodes.

Owarimonogatari: I love the Monogatari franchise and so far this particular branch of that sprawling series has been up to snuff.  I’m not entirely sure where it falls chronologically but I’m glad we finally are addressing the enigma that is Oshino Ougi.  That said of all the Monogatari shows this is probably the one that is the most densely packed/makes my head hurt the most thus far, so be warned it’s not for the those with a short attention span.

Noragami Aragoto: This has been great thus far.  Season one was very strong but had a lot more light hearted moments whereas this season has been darker and heavier from the get-go.  There isn’t much else to say about it this one, if you aren’t watching it you are missing out.

Utawarerumono Itsuwari no Kamen: This has been consistently good for all three episodes.  The characters are good thus far, the animation is gorgeous, and the action looks great.  I’m a bit worried that visuals aside this season may not live up to its prequel, but it looks damn good regardless and thus far it has delivered every episode.

One Punch Man: This is probably the best show airing at the moment.  It’s funny, the animation is interesting, and the fights are awesome.  All the episodes are good thus far and unless something drastically changes for the worse I have a hard time seeing how this show could be bad.  It makes for a very fun time so far.

Understanding Storytelling: Maturity and Realism

So in my Raging Rant about high school I said what the anime industry needed was more shows that are mature, shows that cater to slightly older demographic than the endless stream of high school shows.  And during the course of the post I brought up realism a number of times, usually as a mark of shows that did a better job at being mature.  But what I didn’t do over the course of that rant was explain, what realism and maturity entail, nor why I think they are related.  So of course I’m going to do that now, in a nice little follow up to the rant linked above.

Let’s start with realism since it’s definition is much less subjective.  Realism, for the purposes of storytelling, is about building believable worlds and characters usually by way of making everything messy and flawed enough to help us relate to them.  It doesn’t mean that the events in the story have to be limited to what is possible in our world, or that the setting can’t be fictional.  Here’s an example.  In a typical fantasy story one of the common character archetypes is the selfless knight.  In many cases the knight is a noble, selfless person simply because he is a knight.  Now it’s a widely accepted character archetype because many people were told this was how knights behaved both in stories and at school to the point where it was considered a normal understanding of knights.  But if you’re like me, and have an interest in history, you already know that the chivalrous knight stereotype is largely bullshit.  In fact most the rules of chivalry only apply when both parties were nobles, so knights could rape and murder the peasants whenever they damn well pleased.  But even without an interest or background in history, the selfless knight has a flaw if you think about him, he’s human.  And while some humans may be selfless I have yet to encounter a single social demographic or occupation in which the majority of people were selfless and chivalric.  This is why I consider the selfless knight to be an unrealistic character, sure knights and chivalry existed, but the way they are portrayed does not accurately showcase human nature which is a problem since knights are human.  By comparison if you made a knight character who frequently got drunk, occasionally lorded his power over the peons and acted like a dick whenever he wasn’t around his peers or people he wanted to impress, then I would say you’ve taken at least a step towards a more realistic character because that better portrays human nature.  The heart of realism, to me anyway, is its focus on flaws and the overall messiness of the world and the people who inhabit it.  Because I can relate to such a messy place better.  Let’s do another example that is more anime specific.

One of the greats among all the anime out there being watched is Neon Genesis Evangelion, and to a large degree I would say it owes that success to its realism.  Now as far as I know we  will never have an apocalyptic situation similar to NGE’s and if we ever did I doubt our solution would be to make Gundams and have teenagers pilot them.  So from the outset, much of NGE’s setting and story strain our suspension of disbelief.  But once you start watching, as you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that strain vanishes.  This isn’t because the story and setting have changed in any way, but because of how they are presented to us in the details.  The cast of NGE is full of flawed, damaged human beings who behave like flawed, damaged human beings.  It explores real psychological issues, like the hedgehog’s dilemma for Shinji or Asuka’s need to be recognized as an adult.  Moreover everyone has to balance their various mental problems while trying to be professionals doing a super dangerous and important job.  Now I admit, I’ve never had to deal with say, a period while piloting an awesome robot like Asuka, but I do know what it’s like to show up for work, or class, or whatever when I feel like shit, or when I have more pressing personal issues I’d rather take care of.  And because I have those experiences, I can better relate to Asuka, and the other major cast members because many of their problems.  I can understand how they think and act better, and because of all of this, I can get more invested in these characters as people.  This is fucking huge.  Because if I’m invested in the characters I will also get more invested in the rest of the story.  And keeping the audience invested is worth more than all the budget in the world.  Another thing that makes NGE so memorable compared to the countless mecha shows out there is that it was more grounded science.  In NGE there are no friendship trumps all, nakama power-up asspulls, it generally takes human ingenuity and the power of science to overcome every trial.  Because of this NGE can get away with some of the most insane battle plans and make it all feel believable, in sort of “well it seemed reasonable at the time”scenarios.  The realism that NGE provided in the characters was also placed into all the other aspects of its story, this is what makes NGE a classic.  It’s not just because of the infamous budget problems, cool action and weird happenings, it’s because of how they and the rest of the story are all strung together.  Which brings us to maturity.

Maturity is much harder to define, mainly because most people have no idea what it means, so there’s no consensus on what makes something mature.  For many people the operating definition of maturity is things which are not for children.  Which is fine insofar as I agree that maybe five year old Jimmy shouldn’t be playing Grand Theft Auto or five year old Suzy isn’t ready for that steamy lesbian sex scene in some movie.  But anything “not for kids” isn’t necessarily mature.  Here’s an example.  In theory at least Family Guy is an adult comedy which children shouldn’t watch.  But Family Guy isn’t exactly mature is it?  The humor is crude, vulgar and childish.  It’s mostly sex jokes, jokes about topical subjects and slapstick humor.  In short Family Guy is not mature even though it’s not for kids.  So you can see how this working definition is a problem.  Naturally I have a better definition, one which has no consensus to draw on and therefore will take more time to narrow down.  To me a mature story is one that expects a lot from its audience, it expects us to be engaged enough to be thinking about the story as it unfolds and doesn’t hold our hands with excessively linear plot structures or by announcing its themes.  For example I would say that Gatchaman Crowds Insight is a show that isn’t fully mature despite its rather ambitious and thought-provoking themes, because it spells out the themes for the audience and even sort of provides some answers to the inherent questions raised by the themes it was pursuing.  By comparison NGE is a mature show because it presents the audience with deep, ambitious themes and leaves it to us to figure out our own answer based on what we know and what we saw.

Another thing I think makes stories mature is that the themes they tackle are unsettling.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to teach people the value of friendship and willpower that you get in the shounen genre.  But the key here is that the show is trying to teach the audience something instead of present them with a question for them to answer on their own.  I’m not saying that a show with light themes can’t be profound and mature, I just think it’s a lot easier to do it with darker themes because those generally make for more unsettling questions.  Questions that a certain portion of the audience will always shy away from, either consciously or sub-consciously.  Take Casshern Sins for example.  Casshern Sins is a show that displays a very dim view of humanity at both the individual level and as a species.  Most people, or shall we say for the purpose of this post immature people, probably don’t want to see questions about the human condition and the nature of humanity in a grim view or otherwise.  So they don’t, they probably thought it was just a gritty, depressing robot show and that was that because the show never told them it was about showcasing a dark view of human existence.  And at first glance there is no reason to suspect that Casshern sins is about such a mature thing, I mean all the characters are robots.  But if you pay attention and watch enough of it, you’ll see some of what I’m getting at.  Sure all the characters are robots but they all behave like human beings, or at least like a portion of humanity would behave if we had to deal with living in a world that is almost dead and rife with plague.  And because everything in the story works towards portraying the unsettling themes it represents, voila you have a mature show.  I realize that mature is highly subjective and in all likelihood, a show which expects a lot of the viewer and asks unsettling questions, probably doesn’t quite cover it.  But in my experience these are two most common aspects of mature stories, along with a third element, realism.

So to tie everything I’ve been talking about together in nice, neat little bow, it’s time to talk about how realism lends itself to mature shows.  Now I don’t think it’s impossible to have a show which is both mature and doesn’t incorporate realism, and I know for a fact a show with realism will not automatically be mature, but I do think they go together well.  Jumping back to Casshern Sins, one of the reasons the unsettling questions posed by the story’s themes are as powerful as they are is because the characters behave like people.  They may be robots but they have enough humanity, both in their flawed actions and messy backstories, that I can get invested in them as people.  If I couldn’t do that there is no doubt in my mind that Casshern Sins would have been a much weaker show.  Likewise I would say that NGE became that classic that it is because even amid it’s scientific, realistic world and characters, it was able to incorporate potent religious symbolism because doing so allowed it present themes that have unsettled us since we started really thinking.  Both of these shows are enriched by their realism and they also can only reach the deepest depths of their unsettling themes because we had the realism grounding the more “normal” parts of the show.  Above all I think that the mess, flaws and overall believability that results from skillfully used realism will benefit a show trying to portray mature themes.  Because if the fictional world and characters better mirror our own world and ourselves, the unsettling nature of the themes will cut deeper and find greater meaning to us personally than they would in other circumstances.  And I think that, a story with care and craft enough to enable us to find personal meaning in said story, is a major part of what mature storytelling is all about.

Unpopular Opinion: Akatsuki no Yona

As a typical cis-heterosexual male, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to y’all that reverse harem shows almost never appeal to me.  I mean the harem genre is infamous for its low quality but at least it has all that sweet sweet fanservice, once you replace all that with manservice I have no reason to stick around.  However, every once in while there comes a show that has such great characters and story, that its genre doesn’t matter.  Akatsuki no Yona is one such a show.  From here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

You know I could at least pretend like I’m going to analyze all of the problems in this show but, to be frank whatever issues I had were so small in comparison to what was good that I was able to ignore them the entire time I was watching.  Practically the only bits that get annoying are some of the moments when Yona fawns over Suwon in the first episode, and a few times afterwards when she clings onto the hairpin he gave her like she’s helpless.  Other than these brief and infrequent occasions, Yona is kind of a boss.  I mean sure she’s as dense to male attention as any typical harem protagonist would be towards female attention, but when that girl steps up shit gets done.  Especially later in series when she’s built up her courage, stamina and archery skills, there’s a scene in episode 22 or so where she glares at the villain, who’s selling women to another country.  Now I’ve seen a ton of great angry glares in my time as an anime fan, it’s something of its own miniature art form within the medium, making intense angry glares, and to date none of them have the impact that Yona’s does during the scene I’m talking about, if you’ve seen the show already you damn well know which scene it is.  Not that Yona stands alone in this regard.  Hak in particular is a total badass both in personality and physical ability.  The Dragons are all very fun to watch in combat though none of them save perhaps Jeha the Green Dragon are forces of personality.  In summary the characters are great, which is really fucking rare from harem and reverse harem genres.

The other thing that really drew me into the series was the setting, an ancient China-esque kingdom surrounded by potential enemies and fractured into four separate tribes who serve the emperor.  The landscapes, cityscapes, villages and lore all felt very authentic and appropriate to the setting.  I think the history genre tends to get those things right better than most shows but still, it’s a very lively, believable and engaging world, it’s easy to get immersed in and that’s not true for a lot of series out there.  It’s also very pretty to look at, I know as animation techniques get better and better, it gets harder and harder to find truly ugly art and animation, but even so Akatsuki no Yona’s stands out as particularly beautiful.  I sort of question why each tribe separated by element Avatar style but whatever, it’s minor detail that doesn’t distract the viewer’s attention from the gorgeous and interesting world of the story.  The action is also a big plus.  Harem action tends to be abysmal for the most part, it can be ridiculous and amusing but rarely do I walk into a harem or reverse harem to wowed by the action.  Not so in Akatsuki no Yona, here the action is excellent, full of powerful strikes, historically accurate weapons, dynamic movement and solid animation throughout.

The story is still ongoing and I’m very much looking forward to what comes next, but for now I’m impressed with the opening chapters of the series that we have so far.  So impressed in fact that I’d say this show is among the top 5 shows released since the Fall 2014.  That might seem like fairly weak praise given that that was just a year ago, but Fall 2014 in particular was a very strong season, and Akatsuki no Yona did quite well for me to rate it as high as I do.  Anyway, this show is great, one of the rare examples of a reverse harem show that doesn’t compromise it’s quality in any way despite its genre, and if you haven’t started watching it yet, you are missing out.  I highly recommend this one to everyone.  Hopefully you enjoyed this post, I’ll see you in the next one.

Season’s Greetings: A Very Flat Fall 2015

Hey everyone.  You know now that everyone is doing their Fall season first impressions I figured I would jump on that bandwagon and give you mine.  Mostly because it gives me an excuse to bitch about my current frustration, namely how few shows look any good this season.  Anyway here we go.

This is hands down one of the least appealing seasons I have ever seen.  There are so few shows that interest me it makes me kind of sad.  For one thing there are a ton of sequels, probably too many, and that limits the potential audience a lot because anyone who skipped or disliked the first season, will likely not watch the sequel.  Then we have Rakudai Kishi, which looks like Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance made love to Walkure Romanze, which looks almost the exact same as Asterisk Wars, which looks and sounds like Jujin no Fafnir, and holy fucking shit this is getting ridiculous.  Heavy Object was a show that could have been cool, but by the time I finished the description I was like “let’s prepare for a bunch of generic teenage ecchi and drama masquerading as a military show”, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what it fucking is.  Speaking of Masques, Lance n’ Masques… is a silly, silly show.  And not the fun kind of silly either, more like “this is so silly I’m facepalming every few minutes, who the hell thought this was a good idea” silly.  Then we have like 4 different dark mystery shows, Kowaban, Kagewani, the one with the chick who loves beautiful bones because that’s not creepy at all, and something something F: Perfect Insider.  These might be good, but after Ranpo Kitan I’ve had my fill of dark mystery shows for a while and cramming 4 into a single season is terrible idea in any event.  Like who watches four different dark murder mysteries at the same time?  I suppose some people might go for that but that’s a bit of oversaturation for the rest of us.  We also have Diabolik Lovers 2, complete with another show that looks and sounds the exact same in Dance with Devils.  Look I know originality is hard but can’t you guys at least stagger the releases a bit so I don’t have to stare at two identical reverse harems at once?  We also a Ladies v Butlers, 2015 edition, in “Shomin Sample” because originality is hard.  Oh yeah there’s also a show with a 35 in the title that looks just like Trinity 7, expect with witch hunters instead of witches… Oh for fuck’s sake how many lookalikes do we have this season? Anyway that should be enough bitching for now, let’s talk about what’s actually interesting for now.

I think everybody is watching Noragami Aragoto, which got off to a decent start.  The Monogatari franchise started off great this season with the double length episode 1 of Owarimonogatari, even if all the talk of math made everyone’s head hurt.  I was personally looking forward to Concrete Revolutio but episode 1 was a huge clusterfuck.  Comet Lucifer looks like it could be ok, but I’m a bit worried that our hero looks 13 and sounds like his balls haven’t dropped yet… is there some unwritten rule that says adults can’t be in charge of world changing mechas?  I’m still waiting on the new Garo, but it doesn’t look all that closely related to the old one so I’m a bit wary of it.  I’m very much looking forward K: Return of Kings, episode 1 was ok and I hope it only gets better from there.  I’m not interested in Young Black Jack since I’ve never seen the original show but it looks like one of the better shows airing this season.  I’m super fucking pumped for Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen, because I loved the first Utawarerumono, and it had a solid first episode.  But the winner of the Fall 2015 First impressions is… ONE PUNCH MAN!!!  Which had a fucking amazing first episode, hands down the best start of the season, this show looks like a lot of fun, so I encourage you to check it out in case you haven’t already.  And that about wraps up my first impressions of this season.  Hopefully y’all enjoyed it.

Surly Summaries: Kekkai Sensen Finale

So we finally got that double length episode Kekkai Sensen finale, months after the show had stopped airing of course, and I have to say I was thoroughly disappointed.  Now if you so happened to read my original post on the series, linked here, I doubt you will be overly surprised.  I liked Kekkai Sensen quite a bit, but I argued that whatever merits the double length episode might have had was outweighed by the costs inflicted by delaying the ending.  However I expected this ridiculous double length finale would at least be equal in quality to the rest of the series.  And boy was I disappointed on that front.  Anyway from here on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

Kekkai Sensen has always been something of an erratic series, it’s episodic in nature, the camera angles change all the time and the scenery goes from stark, fog-shrouded cityscapes to psychedelic, otherworldly environs.  This is what the finale preserves, the erratic nature of the series.  It is a jumbled mess of incoherent nonsense.  For starters they changed the King of Despair, who was set up to be some crazy powerful vampire when the series was still airing, to the Watchman aka the Archangel Uriel.  This transition makes no sense at all.  If Leo can see what the Watchman really is, and according to the final episode he can, why does he describe his aura as that of a vampire back when the season was airing?  Also the Watchman is an archangel, as in one of the good guys, why is he behaving more like a fallen angel?  This on its own would be cause for complaint but the finale does much worse.  Klaus’ battle against the Watchman was incredibly lame compared to the fights that came before.  There are way too many random people involved in the episode.  White dies and Leo is the one who convinces her to do so.  But more than all of these the double length episode did so little with itself.  It was frantically cutting back and forth between different people but so little of the episode had substance.  The finale was essentially a 40 min episode about Leo running around the city, while all the people in Libra made various cameos and references to earlier episodes while they mowed down a horde of zombies that come out of literally nowhere.  In other words it was pretty fucking lame.  Also I think it would have been better had the finale been about Leo saving White, not convincing her to die to save her brother.  Because I was way more invested in White and Leo as a pair than Black, and it would have been a bit more powerful in terms of storytelling.  In short the only thing I thought was good about the ending was the way the Collapse fucked with the city, they did a great job working with the shifting environments.  But sadly I don’t walk into an action-comedy just for the scenery.  So this finale was a huge disappointment, not worthy of the rest of the series and certainly not the several month delay it took to see it.

Raging Rant: It’s Time to Graduate from High School

Anyone who’s been a long time fan of anime has heard this complaint before, assuming they haven’t uttered the words themselves, “there are too many shows set in high school”.  It is so easy to roll your eyes as every new season brings a fresh wave of high school kids and their adventures out for our viewing pleasure.  Even when the show isn’t about high school explicitly, the vast majority of the time our protagonists and almost all the important characters are high school-aged.  “But so what?” you might ask.  “Even if it’s annoying it’s not like it’s bad.” you might say.  Well I’m about to tell you how and why the anime industry’s excessive reliance on high school kids and campuses is bad, for everyone.

First things first, shows set in high school or set elsewhere but starring primarily high school-aged characters is not inherently a bad thing.  Much like my first Raging Rant, this is less about the concept/practice and more about how it oversaturates the market.  There are plenty of high school shows that do not in any way earn the sneering contempt so many people, myself included, often pour upon them out of sheer annoyance with the prevalence of the setting.  I mean I just finished watching Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and I had a great time with it.  My last Unpopular Opinion was about a show set in high school, and it was a positive review.  And more famously we have shows like Clannad and Toradora which are loved by a sizeable portion of the anime community, both of which are set in high school.  Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with a cast that leans young.  Hell in some shows an older cast would actually be worse.  Take Magi for example. In Magi the story has to be about younger people because that’s part of the adventure, it’s a big wonderful journey that will eventually lead to our characters growing up after they’ve taken in all kinds of new experiences.  Likewise Inuyasha would not have worked out as well if all the major characters were adults, because much of the humor played on the immaturity of the characters, as did many of the major plot twists.  My issue has never been with the high school setting nor a cast that is made almost entirely of high school-aged people.  My issue is with how infuriatingly common both scenarios are.

I’ve complained about the issues of overusing certain elements in anime before.  Shows set in common settings stand out less than those with unique settings.  Relying on over-used character archetypes without adding your own unique flair makes for bland and often unmemorable characters.  Prolonged exposure to something makes the thing less powerful.  This is true of anything even outside of anime.  For example we just had this awesome lightning storm that had flashes of lightning for hours on end, and lightning is awesome to watch.  But after seeing fifty or so bolts one after the other the appeal and awe starts to wear very thin.  I could go on but this isn’t what I really want to focus on.  In my mind it’s the lesser problem of the several major ones I could think of.  One of the bigger issues is a sales one.  I’ve no doubt that many anime fans come from a younger demographic and as such keeping casts young is in the industry’s interests.  However, anime had major hits internationally during two notable time periods, Toonami’s release of DBZ and others back in the 90’s, and the mid-2000’s, especially 2007.  How many of those people are still teens or younger?  I mean if you got hooked on anime back in the 90’s you are at least 20 by now.  Even if you only started back in 2007, it’s been eight years, so unless you got started very young, odds are you are in your late teens or may be 20 or older.  What I’m getting at here is that even if anime has a sizable young fanbase, it also has a sizable older fanbase, and right now that older fanbase is not being given proper attention.

I’m going to give you guys an example.  I mentioned that Toradora was one of the high school romcoms that has won mainstream approval from the anime community.  When I first watched it I thought it was worth putting up with all of Taiga’s tsundere bullshit, because it was cute and touching and blah, blah, blah.  Now I’ve tried rewatching it and I can’t.  This is not because my tsundere tolerance is lower, or that the romance is somehow worse, it’s because of Golden Time.  Golden Time was another romcom that won mainstream, and my, approval but unlike Toradora it was set in college.  That may seem like a minute difference in the description, high school versus college, but it made for a world of difference in the storytelling.  Golden Time had more drama, more impact and more realism.  It’s narrative was more interesting, it’s characters more nuanced and it’s comedic and romantic scenarios were more refreshing.  Now that I have Golden Time at my fingertips, I have no reason to put up with all things I hated about Taiga, I can go watch Koko instead because she’s much easier to bear.  It’s also because I can better relate to Golden Times’ characters, having been through college myself and seeing all different kinds of people it brings together, whereas I never met a real tsundere in high school nor had class with a model in high school, that did happen in college though.  When I look at Golden Time and Toradora side by side, I see one as world of new possibilities while the other is the poster child for so many of the tired tropes and archetypes we keep getting more of.  This example is extremely narrow but it highlights some of the problems the industry has as a whole.  A lot of fans are outgrowing the high school-centric casts and shows, we want to see stories that are more mature, with more adult characters and more nuance.  The problem is that the industry standard is still stuck in high school mode, there are only a handful of shows a year that cater to an older, more mature crowd and that isn’t a good thing.  I think one of the things that makes anime such a great and engaging medium is that it offers the magic of all kinds of possibilities, the likes of which most other mediums can’t or won’t touch.  But the innumerable high school shows and casts take away from that magic, they take away from that sense of wonder and new possibilities.  Now that I’m well into this rant, I think it’s time for me to admit that there are many types of stories which lend themselves to younger casts or high school settings.  And because of this we are going to have a lot of high school shows or adventures following an adolescent cast.  But there needs to be more mature and adult shows because a lot of people are really looking forward to those.  We’ve seen enough high school slice of life, romcoms.  We are ready for something new.

I’m also of the opinion that more mature stories allow the craft of anime to flourish and shine through.  For example, SAO vs Log Horizon.  Now SAO is super popular and all but if you dig into its craftsmanship as I have here, here and here, you will find that it’s of embarrassingly low quality in almost every facet of its makeup.  Then there’s Log Horizon.  Log Horizon is one of my favorite shows in recent years, and while it wasn’t the smashing hit SAO was, ask anyone who has seen both and isn’t some rabid SAO fanboy and they will tell Log Horizon is a much better show.  Now there are a lot of reasons why Log Horizon is so much better made but I think it largely has to do with the characters.  The main characters are college students or even older as opposed to SAO where our main hero is 15.  And you can see right away how differently these people respond to being stuck in a game.  Kirito goes onto to crush everything he fights and makes a harem.  Meanwhile Shiroe and company carefully explore their surroundings, gathering information before they make their moves, stepping up to guide and protect younger players.  In SAO you have a teenage power fantasy that has all kinds of narrative problems because the little details are a secondary concern to the flashy action.  In Log Horizon, the show expects a fair amount of the viewer’s intelligence, and treats us to a less action-packed but ultimately richer world, character and story than SAO could have ever hoped to achieve.  This isn’t the only series that shows huge differences just from making the cast a bit older.  Fate Zero was leagues ahead of the recent Unlimited Blade Works series, I have a bunch of reasons why found here.  But the main difference between the two is that one is full of adults fighting on roughly equal footing while the other is about a bunch of high schoolers who are blatantly different in terms of skill and power.  But even if you get away from comparisons, you can see the ways more mature shows encourage craftsmanship to shine through.

Black Lagoon is a deal in the anime community.  A lot of that has to do with the awesome gun fights and action.  But another big part of Black Lagoon’s success has to do with its characters and setting, both of which fall under this whole mature thing I’ve been going on and on about.  More specifically, both the characters and the setting are more realistic than the high school shows.  Some of you might be wondering how that’s possible since high school and high schoolers are real while there is no Roanapur in the real world.  It’s because I’m talking about literary traditions not literal realities, though in retrospect how many tsundere’s have you met in real life?  In realistic stories the events on the page, or the screen, don’t have to depict stuff that only ever happens in reality, they have to make everything they showcase feel more real.  In practical terms it means adding lots of nuance to the people and places of the story, making everything messy enough to make us believe that such a place and such people exist.  A lot of the high school shows don’t have that.  The characters are generally unrealistic, they are too one-note to seem like real people, or they are too capable to be young teenagers, or they are designed to be sort of ridiculous for one reason or another.  Compared to so say Nozaki, of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, I think Rock of Black Lagoon is a much more realistic character.  Or for a more extreme example, I find Roberta infinitely more believable than Gasai Yuno, the queen of Mirai Nikki.  That’s because Roberta’s story is messy and nuanced, it lends her more credence and gives her a reason to be the unstoppable fighting machine she is.  By comparison Yuno makes almost no sense when actually think about her, I guess she’s just good at killing people because she’s crazy and a yandere, because that’s almost the entirety of her story and characterization.

There’s nothing inherently better about a realistic, mature story compared to less realistic, childish one.  But as your audience gets older they will want more mature stories and those are sadly rare in anime today.  Us otakus already have plenty of pandering to our niche and plenty of high school shows to go around.  Now it’s time to broaden the appeal a bit and give the older fans some love.  I’m tired of seeing premises that sound interesting but end up being formulaic because the cast is yet another uninspired group of high school kids.  I’m tired of checking off so many shows from “anime to watch this season” list because they are just more of the same high school bullshit.  It’s time to bring back the magic and spice that comes with variety.  You can keep making those high school shows or mecha shows full of young teens, just make some more Black Lagoon’s while you’re at it.  Because the industry has been oversaturating one particular genre for a while now, it’s time to mix things up a bit before people start finding the high school shows to be completely stale.  Anyway, that’s enough ranting for one post.  Hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.