Surly Summaries: Concrete Revolutio

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

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

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Surly Summaries: K Return of Kings

There will be spoilers, you have been warned.

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

Surly Summaries: Noragami Aragoto

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

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

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

Revisionist Renaissance: SAO-Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Surly Summaries: Owarimonogatari

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

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

Surly Summaries: One Punch Man

This should be quick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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