Unpopular Opinion: Utawarerumono Franchise

There will be major spoilers ahead, if you have not watched both of the two seasons of Utawarerumono, please do not read this.  I do not like to make demands of my audience, but I highly recommend both of these shows and part of why I enjoyed the original so much was that I walked into it knowing nothing, and I would hate to rob any potential new viewers of the same experience.  So please consider watching the shows before reading this, you will likely be better off for it.  This is for people like me, those of us who have seen both seasons.  Now let it begin.

Utawarerumono and Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen have a number of major differences in their style of storytelling, differences which greatly influence all the other aspects of the shows.  But before I really dig into the differences, I want to talk a bit about why the setting the two shows share is so good.  For one thing the setting is handled beautifully in the original Utawarerumono.  At first glance it looks like any kind of generic medieval fantasy world, albeit with a more Japanese slant than the more stereotypical European settings such worlds employ.  The only thing that looks unique to the show at the outset is how everyone except the main guy has animal ears and/or tails, which honestly can be easily written off as just an anime thing, especially now, after the smashing success of Monster Musume.  It’s not until well into the original series that the show gives any hints that this might be more than just another fantasy world.  And then of course it spells everything out within the last few episodes, this world was a new one born from the destruction of the humanity, appearing to be a thing of the fantastical past while truly being the results of far future conflicts.  This duality in the setting is handled with great skill, I can remember when the Avu-Kamuu first showed up, these mech suits in a medieval world, and it somehow didn’t break my suspension of disbelief.  But the true reveal doesn’t come until even later as we learned about what the humans did and why they disappeared.  This is then built upon in Itsuwari no Kamen, when the Emperor explains in more detail what happened to humanity and how that related to him and the new main character Haku.  This particular style of setting is one of my favorites because it can have all the medieval fantasy stuff, but it can also have advanced tech, a combination which is fun and interesting.  It also lends itself rather nicely to a style of storytelling I have been going on and on about ever since I started blogging, realism.  A typical example is the whole “magic is just sufficiently advanced tech” dynamic, which when done well is just as interesting to me as straight up magic, possibly my favorite element of any sort of fiction ever.  It also highlights one of major differences between Utawarerumono and Itsuwari no Kamen, their use of realism or lack thereof.

The biggest difference that struck as I watched the shows, besides the obvious visual upgrade in Itsuwari no Kamen of course, was that Itsuwari no Kamen had a tendency to be more over the top whereas Utawarerumono tended to be more grounded.  A good example is the difference between Oboro and say Atui or Yakutowaruto.  In Utawarerumono, Oboro was a skilled fighter, the earliest the main characters recruited to their side.  Oboro was constantly present from episode 3 or so onward and his combat ability was a valuable asset to Hakuoro and Tuskuru.  However Oboro’s skill was never outside the realm of human ability, he wasn’t inhumanly fast or strong and his unusually acrobatic style of fighting didn’t turn him into some one man army.  By comparison Atui blows away giant bugs and enemy soldiers with every strike and Yakutowaruto leveled a fucking city block with his master technique.  This only gets stranger then, when towards the end of Itsuwari no Kamen, Atui and Yakutowaruto get fucking steamrolled by Kurou.  Kurou was on Oboro’s level for most Utawarerumono, though near the end it appeared as though Oboro had grown enough to challenge Kurou’s captain Benawi.  I admit I was a bit torn when Kurou showed up and kicked ass in Itsuwari no Kamen.  On the one hand I did love the more realistic combat of Utawarerumono, but seeing the characters I knew and loved get turned into unstoppable badasses in Itsuwari no Kamen was pretty satisfying as well.  Unfortunately there were other issues that I had with Itsuwari no Kamen’s relative lack of realism.

Before I get into the really big issues I want to obsess over a relatively small issue that has bugged me incessantly.  It’s even in the same vein as the problem I described in last paragraph.  So science is a big part of Utawarerumono-verse even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.  What that means is that most characters who do have superhuman abilities should operate in a logical fashion, this doesn’t really work out in Itsuwari no Kamen.  For now I’ll exclude the Eight Pillar Generals from any kind of analysis based on their masks, but that’s its own problem.  For now lets compare Nosuri and her brother to Karula and Delihourai.  Nosuri displays exceptional strength, not on the same level Karula did back in Utawarerumono, but nonetheless she consistently displays feats that prove her physical might, which makes her archery seem like the wrong fighting style for her but whatever.  Now I have no issues with Nosuri being unnaturally strong, Karula is the same way and I fucking love Karula,  my issue appears when you consider them relative to their siblings.  Karula and Delihourai both display super human strength, that’s just a  trait their race, the Giriyagina, has.  That makes sense from a scientific point of view, modifying a species to have X trait is logical.  Which brings us to Nosuri and her brother.  Unlike Nosuri, her brother displays normal strength but superhuman speed, this is just silly.  I get that what the creators intended was to create a strength vs speed dynamic between the two siblings, and under normal circumstances that would work, but given the setting it seems inconsistent.  It would be one thing if Nosuri and her brother had the same superhuman ability but Nosuri was a little stronger and her brother a little faster, that’s natural variety and that works, see how Karula is noticeably stronger than Delihourai even though both have super strength.  But with Nosuri and her brother the two of them display totally different superhuman abilities despite being from the same species/race.  This could conceivably work but it would take a lot of effort and explanation to make plausible and Itsuwari no Kamen puts in no such effort.  It gets even weirder if, as the wiki claims, Nosuri and her brother are in fact Evankulga like Touka.  Because Touka displays no superhuman abilities except maybe superhuman focus, which would explain what allows her race to be so renowned as warriors.  So not only would Nosuri and her brother not have super strength or super speed but their ears are even the wrong shape, because Touka’s look like miniature eagle wings while Norsui and her brother’s ears look totally different  While the little details in this specific instance do bug me, the point I’m making has much larger implications, in short Itsuwari no Kamen is willing to pay less attention to detail and show less care for internal consistency for the purpose of making an impact and getting its points across.

Now inherently there’s nothing wrong with that.  Bending the rules of the story’s universe to make a dramatic moment better can work fabulously if handled with the proper care, unfortunately it’s a bit more pervasive in Itsuwari no Kamen and it does have a net negative effect even it works out in some scenes, see my bit on Kurou above.   It can be hard to say exactly where this relative carelessness hurts Itsuwari no Kamen the most, though I find it most annoying when considering Nosuri, the generally more ridiculous abilities of the cast as a whole, and the Eight Pillar Generals and their masks.  The characters are surprisingly resilient to any sort of downgrade despite the loss of care and realism.  Utawarerumono’s characters were undeniably more complex and interesting, by and large, than of any of Itsuwari no Kamen’s, who tend to be a more one note or are stuck with some stupid quirk, like Kuon ending all her sentences in “ka na.”  However Itsuwari no Kamen’s characters are nothing to sneeze at, they still are good characters who I care about, I may not love them the same way I did Utawarerumono’s, but I can’t deny that Itsuwari no Kamen has assembled a large cast of characters who I mostly care about.  If anything these characters make me laugh and smile more than Utawarerumono’s did, what with all the fujoshi fangirling and other moments of fun loving idiocy.  If there was one great piece of praise to attach to Itsuwari no Kamen it would be that, it is definitely funnier than Utawarerumono was, whether or not the humor is appropriate to the show is up for debate but I salute quality nonetheless.  Obviously Itsuwari no Kamen’s visuals also are something to celebrate, though I found Utawarerumono’s artstyle to work just fine.  Unfortunately pretty artwork and good humor are not a great substitute for realism done right.

One of the main issues I have with the show is with the Emperor and masks he gave the Eight Pillar Generals.  The masks themselves are not a problem, offshoots of Hakuoro’s mask are nothing new, they had plenty in Utawarerumono.  These masks are exponentially more powerful and show none of the negative effects the offshoot masks had in Utawarerumono, well not until episodes 24 and 25.  That’s not a problem by itself, though I do question how they could be so much stronger without side effects when it seems like the side effects should be more pronounced to reflect the increase in power but never mind that, but I have a hard time buying into the idea that Emperor was able to make the masks at all.  Given how thoroughly human civilization wiped itself out between the satellite guns and pissing Hakuoro off, I find it hard to believe he could forge such powerful masks.  He would need access to all the relevant data, need the facilities and equipment to make the masks and the expertise to use said facilities and equipment.  There are several problems with this.  For starters, the project the Emperor was working to save humanity was totally unrelated to Hakuoro and project Iceman so it doesn’t seem likely he would have the expertise or data to make the masks.  The utter destruction of humanity means it would be unlikely for many facilities capable of making masks to to remain standing.  But given the Emperor’s longevity it’s not inconceivable that he could find facilities and acquire the expertise to use them over time.  But him getting the expertise requires him to need the data first and he doesn’t ever get the data.  The reason Yamato invades Tuskuru at all is to get into the facility where project Iceman took place and get the data.  So how the hell did the Emperor make his masks before he got the data?  Because I find it hard to believe he could make such powerful masks without access to Hakuoro’s data but he doesn’t have the data and there’s no way he could get it before the show started either, the facility is heavily guarded by Uritori’s people, is swarming the post-human blobs everyone calls curses, and requires a key only Eruuruu has to open the friggin door.  There is no logical, realistic way that the Emperor could have made the masks, they exist mainly to add to the drama and it mostly works, the major battles where the generals use the masks’ powers are cool as shit, it just bugs the hell out of me that the masks exist whenever there isn’t a battle going down, which is most of the show.

Anyway I think you guys get my problems with Itsuwari no Kamen’s relative lack of realism.  So let’s move on to a different but even more important topic, pacing.  Utawarerumono was an incredibly well paced anime, fuck I’d go on record as saying it is the most tightly paced anime I have ever seen and quite possible the most tightly paced anime of all time.  Yes Utawarerumono got 26 episodes, more than many other shows ever see, but look what it did with.  Utawarerumono starts as the tale of one guy with amnesia in some backwater village of an empire recovering from his wounds and protecting the villagers from a super tiger, and yet by show’s end, the show is about that same guy, all the allies he has acquired, the kingdom he has built, the aftermath of human history and a conflict between two aspects of a literal god monster.  Holy fucking shit… Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a story could expand so rapidly and seamlessly back when I started episode one of Utawarerumono.  In fact I can remember back when I first checked out episode one of Utawarerumono, I was ready the drop the episode without even watching it because I hadn’t heard of it before and the comments section was totally barren, I half-convinced myself it was some piece of shit forgotten by the wayside, hell I only found it thanks to some five second clip of the OP in some random AMV, before I even gave it a chance.  Now it’s my second favorite show of all time and will no doubt hold that position for as long as I live.  And the pacing is a huge part of that, because Utawarerumono was able to cram in so much narrative, character development, world building and action scenes, I truly felt like I got to know and love all the characters, to care about the lore, politics and history of the fictional story.  And while all of those things seem like obvious traits of all good shows, how many really fucking manage it?  I’ve watched a lot of anime, and a lot of good anime too, but rarely can I get so thoroughly invested in a work of fiction.  Sure there are tons of characters I love, there are plenty of narratives I find interesting, and there’s a number of anime worlds I find utterly fascinating, but only the tinniest percentage of the shows I’ve seen have all of the above.  Obviously that has a lot to do with good writing on the part of the creators, but I think Utawarerumono really the highlights the value of a great director.  Which brings us to Itsuwari no Kamen.

I want to preface the upcoming statement by saying this is just speculation, I have not researched it to confirm the following opinion.  I’m pretty sure Itsuwari no Kamen’s director is a totally different guy than Utawarerumono’s.   I mean it’s been ten years since Utawarerumono came out, and a new studio did Itsuwari no Kamen, it makes sense that most of the creative staff has changed.  The reason I say this is because I can’t fathom the idea that Utawarerumono’s director could have made the pacing problems prevalent in Itsuwari no Kamen.  This is not to say Itsuwari no Kamen is poorly paced, it still crams in a respectable amount of narrative, character development, world building and action scenes for it’s 25 episodes, it just pales in comparison to Utawarerumono.  Itsuwari no Kamen had far less world building to do than Utawarerumono, the worldbuilding it did was great but there wasn’t a lot of it because Utawarerumono did most of the leg work.  Itsuwari no Kamen does have the main guy amass a sizeable amount of allies, but as discussed above these characters are quite on Utawarerumono’s level.  More to the point Itsuwari no Kamen wastes a lot of time recruiting it’s cast.  It spends at least one episode per character, it took an entire cour of the double-cour show just to assemble the cast.  Now it got a lot character building during that cour, but the narrative basically went on cruise control.  Not that there’s no narrative progress, but it was much much slower than the narrative progress made during the second cour.  By comparison Utawarerumono had Hakuoro gaining new allies during/after major story developments or in slower episodes in between the major conflicts.  Unlike Itsuwari no Kamen where Haku runs into the next cast member mostly one at a time and spends the whole episode swaying them to his side, in Utawarerumono many of the notable characters were former enemies of Hakuoro who are swayed to his side after he has won the conflict they were involved in.  Rarely is it the case that Hakuoro just stumbles into a new ally, I think Karula is only one who fits that description, and characters like Kamyu and Uritori arrive of their own accord but don’t really become Hakuoro’s allies until after quite a few episodes hanging around in Tuskuru.  But I’m getting off course here.

The point is that Utawarerumono just got a lot more done despite the nearly identical episode counts, between it and Itsuwari no Kamen.  Itsuwari no Kamen consolidated a large cast, added to the world building, did some pretty good character development, covered two brief wars and had a flashy fight near the end which set up a much larger future conflict.  In contrast, Utawarerumono consolidated a large cast, did a lot of world building, had phenomenal character development for most of the cast, crammed in about five or six wars, all but one of which took longer to complete than the wars shown in Itsuwari no Kamen, and ended with a big flashy fight scene that concluded the overall narrative.  Now to reiterate, what we got in Itsuwari no Kamen was by no means bad, it was actually very good and it did not disappoint me despite my high expectations.  In fact I think it’s possible that had Itsuwari no Kamen mastered it’s pacing like Utawarerumono did, that it could have been just as good as Utawarerumono was.  Unfortunately it did not have the same level of pacing and it does hurt the show in comparison to it’s predecessor.  Which brings me to my final comparison Haku vs Hakuoro.

Let me be clear, Haku is a great character.  If he were the lead of brand new IP I would making a post about how he is a protagonist done right, and since he isn’t related to Hakuoro I can see this comparison being unnecessary.  However the two share too many character traits for me to not compare them.  For starters their stories begin in a similar way.  Haku and Hakuoro have no memories and are saved by a young woman who becomes their companion for the rest of the show.  Their first arc in the story revolves around fighting a vicious animal that is terrorizing the locals.  Both Haku and Hakuoro display exceptional levels of intelligence and show a distinct lack of animal ears.  They are both given names by one of their female companions, and they eventually become a leader in larger conflict, the biggest difference here is that it takes Haku the whole season to become said leader while Hakuoro does it in about four episodes.  Perhaps the most important similarity though is their charisma.  It’s demonstrated quite clearly in, episode four I think it was, that Haku can quickly win people over to his side, that was the entire point of Nekone’s introductory episode.  Hakuoro is made into the village leader by a similar point in the story, though he has plenty of moments which show his charisma sprinkled throughout the early episodes.  However the two have a very different kind of charisma, Haku basically becomes everyone’s bro, winning them over by being both clever and this totally laid back, down to earth kind of guy.  Hakuoro on the other hand is more magnetic, his decisive and intelligent leadership shines through almost immediately and he wins over allies by inspiring them, he throws his all into everything and doesn’t hesitate to put himself in harms way to protect those close to him.  Hakuoro is presented as and has all the traits of the kind of kings you get from legends, these almost inhumanly valiant and inspiring leaders that found nations from the total chaos that came before.  This is of course exactly what Hakuoro is, which might be why I find him so interesting.  Except Hakuoro never feels inhuman, instead he comes of as the best kind of human that we have to offer, the culmination of all our positive traits wrapped up in a single being.   Anyway I just found it kind of odd that Haku would be so similar to Hakuoro but be totally a different dude, in some ways I think that hurts Haku because it encourages comparison between him and Hakuoro, a comparison Haku has no real chance of winning I feel.  Seeing the parts of Haku that remind me of Hakuoro just makes me think of Hakuoro and how much more awesome he was, and by extension how much more awesome Utawarerumono was.  And with that I covered just about everything, let’s wrap this up.

Utawarerumono and Itsuwari no Kamen are both great shows.  The finale of Itsuwari no Kamen in particular sold me on the idea that the show could occasionally match up with Utawarerumono and that great stuff is still to come.  The use of colors to convey emotional damage in Kuon’s scenes, how the first few lines where communicated via text so that the first lines we here are when Haku (in disguise) drops the bombshell about Haku’s (faked) death lending more weight to those words and the following scenes of charcaters breaking down, all of that was awesome and it made for fantastic finale, even if I think it would have made more sense for everyone to flee to Tuskuru instead.  I know I spent most of this post bitching about Itsuwari no Kamen’s problems, but that was in the context of Utawarerumono.  Taken on it’s own Itsuwari no Kamen is a fantastic anime, far and away the best show of the winter season that’s rapidly coming to close.  The difference between the two is that Itsuwari no Kamen is a 9/10, it’s great and I loved it and I spend a lot of time thinking about it and I really hope we get more of it soon, but Utawarerumono was a 10/10.  Utawarerumono is the kind of show that sends chills done my spine and makes me tear up a bit whenever I think about it, the kind of show that constantly floors me with how good it is no matter how high I raise my expectations, it’s the kind of show that has so thoroughly engraved itself in my heart that I will never in a million years forget it or the feelings it inspires in me.  And with this post I hope I have shown what makes these shows different, why one is great while the other is my second favorite anime of all time.  And for those of you who ignored my plea at the beginning of this post, I hope I’ve shown you why you absolutely have to watch these shows and be blown away by them.  I hope you all enjoyed this and I will see you in the next one, ka na.

Surly Summaries: Utawarerumono – Itsuwari no Kamen

I’m honestly very torn on this one.  On the one hand this was by far the show I was most interested in during this current season, yes I know it started last season, bite me.  On the other, it was a frustrating step backwards when compared to it’s predecessor.  Now that’s not exactly a huge knock against this show, it just so happens the original Utawarerumono is my second favorite anime of all time for reasons I explained in an older post.  This is still a very good show and I’m truly glad that it didn’t disappoint.  I was honestly a bit worried when the show was first announced, worried that I would get overhyped for it and that it just wouldn’t be able to live up to expectations.  I’m thrilled to say that was not the case.

You know I was going to try and write this as a spoiler free post, but I’m finding it really difficult to talk about the important issues I have with Itsuwari no Kamen, without spoilers.  So I have decided to immediately recommend the original Utawarerumono to whomever reads this, while I start writing up a detailed, spoiler intensive analysis-comparison of the two Utawaerumonos that I’ve honestly been dying to do ever since Itsuwari no Kamen got started.

So in conclusion, Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen, very good show.  Utawarerumono, better show, go watch it, then read my upcoming analysis of the two, I will link it here when it’s done.  See you next time.

Surly Summaries: Dimension W

I think Dimension W is a good reflection of this anime season overall, it got off to a good start and brought some interesting stuff to the table, but ultimately the end did not live up to the potential shown at the beginning.  This is not to say Dimension W is bad, much like Erased I think it did ok, but it wasn’t quite as good as I hoped.  There will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

Dimension W is kind of like the idiot child of Darker Than Black and Psycho-Pass.  It has the cool action scenes from Dark Than Black, and the main character even has a fighting style similar to Hei’s, but is totally centered on some scifi tech much like Psycho-Pass.  Sadly that’s about where the similarities end.  Dimension W has not thought it’s technology out, it’s basically a load of nonsense and what scant rules that exist can be bent for the sake of making the story cooler.  This isn’t so bad though, stupidity taken by horns and handled with gusto can result in shows that are truly memorable, and to some extent Dimension W reflects that.  Some of the Collectors, basically bounty hunters seeking those using illegal tech, had some bizarre appearances and weapons which was kind of cool.  That said Dimension W doesn’t take it’s stupidity far enough to be truly gloriously dumb and I would be astounded if this show doesn’t mostly fade from the anime community’s collective memory in a few years.

But the real problem is that the whole thing just comes off as kind of half-assed.  Kyouma seemed like a badass in episode one but he got less interesting as I learned more about him.  Mira was cute but she’s not cute enough for me to promote show based on her looks.  The whole Africa faction seemed mostly like a side show, even though it covered some serious events I never really felt any emotional impact or tension.  Even Loser who was arguably the most complex and interesting man in the show made more impact with his cool design than his narrative.  And the villain Seameyer was just another boring over the top evil crazy guy trying to play up his evilness by being mindlessly cruel despite just being edgy and not at all engaging.  And the finale was a big let down, because it wasn’t the crescendo it needed to be and it was just a bit too warm and fuzzy for me.  This show was ok and I would recommend that any who wants to give a go, should try it, but I can’t really call it good show and I wouldn’t recommend to those who aren’t already kind of interested.  That’s all I have to say really.  See you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Gate Season 2

Gate is an interesting series insofar as it highlights what I think are the greatest strength and greatest weakness of A-1 Pictures as a studio.  In recent years anyway, a number of A-1 shows have gotten a lot of attention for their visual style and interesting premises.  SAO is the most famous example but even shows like this season’s Erased got a lot more attention than it probably deserved because the premise caught people’s eye.  The biggest issue with all the A-1 shows that seem so good at capturing the anime community’s attention is that they so rarely deliver something that truly lives up to the hype.  There are exceptions of course, Magi, Nanatsu no Taizai and Shin Sekai Yori to name a few (hey I reviewed two of those shows here and here, how nice).  In my opinion this is because A-1 sucks at realism.  A while back I made a post about the realism and how it encouraged mature shows, and I think A-1’s lack ability to grasp the use of realism hurts them badly.  Well sort of.  For the young adult demographic that many of A-1’s shows appeal to, realism isn’t necessarily a strong suit because that audience just tends to care less and be less critical.  However when I imagine shows like Erased or Gate written from a more realistic viewpoint, I see shows that totally kick ass.  As I mentioned in my Surly Summary of Erased, the fact that the characters lack the nuance of grit of realistic characters made the show much weaker, because it would have made mystery far more engaging if you factored in the complexity of well-realized human characters.  Instead most of the show’s characters were way one note, to serve a narrative purpose not to exist as actual characters.  Now onto Gate specifically.

Gate is a show that would have been totally fucking awesome if it were told in the tradition of realism.  Imagine if it were actually dark and gritty, casualties on both sides would be high as medieval warriors were mowed down by bullets and artillery while modern weapons failed in the face magical attacks or were smashed aside by dragons that went onto level the army base.  If you wanted to, you could write a brutal, vicious story about warfare between two civilizations that didn’t understand each other tactically, using the exact same premise and even the first two episodes of Gate season 1.  Instead this show was a bit more cartoonish.  Technology basically never lost, the SDF was the most competent and elite military on the planet and ra ra, Nippon, ra ra.  But whatever, what we got was entertaining and it looked good, even if it was mostly silly and paled in comparison to the story that could have been.  Things get weird though when we reach season 2.  Unlike season 1 which seemed pretty aware that the show was a bundle of silly wish fulfillment after the first two episodes, season 2 inexplicably tried to be gritty and dark and boy did it fail.  With the exception of the dragon fight and Tuka’s reaction to trauma, which worked out ok as a serious part of the show, this show couldn’t handle serious stuff.  I mean how could it, it spent all of season 1 proving how silly and unserious it was.  All the bullshit with Tyuule and Zolal was so heavy handed and tactless that it was both comically bad and approaching edgy as fuck.  This is seems to be a recurring problem in a lot of A-1’s shows, the villains are comically overdone and that makes them suck.  Now in some shows, like Fairy Tail, ridiculous villains are fine.  In most shows however it’s off-putting at best and cringe-worthy at worst to see villains with so little nuance and tact trying to come off as evil and badass by being as over the top evil as possible. Which is why this studio really needs someone to show them how realism works and teach them how to make complex and interesting villains.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Gate.  Season 2 mostly failed, though I admit the finale was actually decent because it came back to the cartoony shit Gate did decently well.  Also Arpeggio was a great addition to the show because her magic was way more interesting than Leilei’s, and I consider her best girl because she is so much more my type than the blatant attempts to cash in on stereotypical otaku fetishes that were Leilei, Tuka and Rory.

And while I’m on the subject of A-1 and finales I recently wrote a post on Fairy Tail with no idea it was going on hiatus after this week’s episode.  So rather than write a whole new Surly Summary for Fairy Tail 2014.  I though I would just take a moment to say the finale was a surprising return to form, I mean I still don’t like FT 2014’s art-style compared to the original’s, but in terms of tone and humor the 2014 finale felt like the good old parts of Fairy Tail all over again, and I was happy to see that.  All I can say going forward is that when returns it I hope it brings back the old art style with it.  Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.


Surly Summaries: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

There will be spoilers, you have been warned.

Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, or Erased in English (even though the actual translation is more like “A Town Without Me” so how it ended up with Erased is beyond me) is a decent show.  I know a lot of people were hyped for it, and it had an interesting premise but ultimately it just sort of fell flat as time went on.  I’m not saying it was bad, because it isn’t, it’s just not that good either.  Erased does some interesting shit, both from a technical standpoint and a narrative one.  For example overlaying the 29 year old Satoru’s voice or thoughts with the voice or thoughts of 10 year old Satoru or visa versa was a cool technique.  Or just the entirety of episode eleven, where Satoru wakes up from his coma and thinks he’s 10 year old Satoru and forgot all about his 29 year old Satoru memories.  In fact episode elevn really brought me back into the story after episode ten, which I thought was a huge let down.  And since everything wraps nicely, the ending was a nice feel-good episode, well except for people who wanted Kayo and Satoru to end up together.  Also I thought it was great that the cold and collected middles chool girl ended up with boisterous chubby guy, that was a surprise.  Anyway the point is the ending didn’t totally suck, which was sort of impressive all things considered.  By far the most interesting bit was how Yashiro and Satoru had basically the opposite supernatural power and I like the spider web vs butterfly dichotomy.  Which leads us to the bad stuff.

It’s hard to say what the biggest problem with Erased is but if I had to pick one thing in particular I would say poor writing.  Yashiro was so obviously the bad the guy that his reveal was thoroughly underwhelming.  And that bit at the beginning of episode 11, where Yashiro explains how he drowned a bunch of hamsters while he was in grade school was the edgiest shit I’d seen since Akame ga Kill.  Speaking of which I think one of the weak points of the show was that it lacked subtlety.  Setting Yashiro aside, a lot of the characters were taken to cartoonish extremes, like Kayo’s mom or the pizza delivery manager, and that struck a fatal blow to this show’s tone.  What really could have saved Erased for me would have been nuance and grit.  The characters needed to be more realistic and multi-layered to help draw the audience away from Satoru’s clearly supernatural ability.  It would have made the mystery better if all the players in the field were more complex and deeply involved as well. Instead most of the characters are pretty one note and only serve one purpose in the story, which is just boring and unimaginative.  There were also some plot conveniences that pissed me off.  For example in episode one Satoru’s mom figures out who the killer is, calls her former co-worker about it, and doesn’t bother to fucking tell him who the killer was before she was stabbed.  I mean we only found out about that in episode five or so, but that still doesn’t make it any less stupid.  Likewise I don’t understand why Satoru didn’t call the cops when they had found Yashiro’s murder gear, that was a load of evidence and even if nothing could have been linked to Yashiro himself, the fact is was in bus next to a middle school would have put the police on high alert.  Despite all the problems Erased is still okay, which is a testament to the good aspects of the show and the premise, but it did not live up to the hype at all and I’ve no doubt that many people are very disappointed in the show.  As someone who expected less of it, I’m not too disappointed, but if it had been better then it could’ve been a really noteworthy show and that’s what bums me out the most.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Erased, mediocre effort and mediocre results, but it certainly isn’t terrible.  Hope you enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Fairy Tail

This review will mostly pertain to Fairy Tail before the show took a hiatus and returned as Fairy Tail 2014, though there will be some comparisons.  There will be spoilers, you have been warned.

This is going to be painful isn’t it?  I honestly don’t know of too many shows that get shit on as often as Fairy Tail, and while it clearly has a fanbase, said fanbase is nowhere near as vocal in defending it as say SAO fanboys or “Narutards” (I’m not actually trying to insult anyone here, I’m just using the term to get a point across) or the like.  I may be wrong of course but that’s generally the impression I’ve gotten from the internet when it comes to Fairy Tail.  Now I’m betting some people can’t wait for me to tear the show a new asshole, it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for me.  However, while I will acknowledge Fairy Tail’s faults in full, I’m mostly going to be defending it and my enjoyment of it.  Yea, I’m going there.  Anyway, let’s start by explaining in the broadest of strokes why Fairy Tail would have appealed to me even if I hadn’t seen it when I saw it.  I love fantasy and within fantasy, magic is arguably my favorite thing about the genre.  I also tend to be more accepting of shounen-battle series than a lot of anime critics because I’m both childish and I like action shows.  Fairy Tail is a battle-shounen series with lots of magic involved, so naturally I had to give it a go, but more on that later.  I also like dragons because again, fantasy lover and childish, and Fairy Tail has all kinds of dragons and dragon-related shit.  So even if I had been paying more attention to the internet when I first watched Fairy Tail, I probably would have pushed forward gleefully anyways.  But it’s my experience watching the show is what really sold me on the show so many people hate.

I started watching Fairy Tail after a fairly lengthy hiatus from anime, because I had a roommate who watched it.  It was nice to get back into anime, so that no doubt colors my experience somewhat, although I never watched it with the roommate much.  It was a nice break from college stress too, the first few episodes of Fairy Tail are patently stupid, silly and mildly funny in a slapstick way.  More importantly the show delivered a variety of different magics, a band of goofy characters and beautifully mindless violence right off the bat.  Violence is after all, an important part of the battle-shounen genre and Fairy Tail delivers violence with unfettered abandonment.  Now it’s not always good violence nor important violence, but there is a lot of it.  While friendship and willpower are still focal points of the show like all its shounen-battle comrades, Fairy Tail’s friendship is more chaotic and violent than is typical.  I mean the very first time we got into the guild, Natsu beats some random guy down, which in turn kicks off a guild-wide brawl.  Even better the show introduces many of it’s major characters as they join chaotic fight like Gray and Elfman, or those who ignore it like Cana.  The scene is silly but it’s actually a clever way to introduce most of the characters all at once instead of dedicating whole episodes to recruiting members one at a time like many shounen shows are wont to do.  Also it’s just fun, to see that this chaotic, brawling bar full of people is where the main characters call home.  If nothing else, it’s a way more interesting base of operations than Ichigo’s house and high school or Konoha.  So Fairy Tail got off to good start for me, not so much in it’s “objective” quality but more so in that is was something I could dig at the time.  And of course things could only go up from there.

I like the way Fairy Tail handles magic.  Rather than give a small group of casters access to all kinds of abilities, they have tons of mages who have to rely on severely limited types of magic.  This appeals to me more because it encourages more tactical thinking in battles, as opposed to straight power fantasies where a single mage steamrolls whole armies with all kinds of attacks, not that these power fantasies can’t be fun, but I prefer the limited magic approach.  In Fairy Tail’s case in particular there is a staggering variety of magic, yes plenty of them are kind of stupid like the Grimoire Heart chicken-man who shoots eggs, others are kind of silly but also kind of interesting like Warcry’s Tears magic that lets him power up as he cries more, and magic that is straight up awesome like Jellal’s Heavenly Body magic.  Even more important, the magics that are similar are not the same.  Gray and Leon learned magic from the same teacher and they are based on the same concept for example, but their ice magics do work differently.  Dragonslayer and Godslayer magic is essentially the same in concept but Dragonslayer magic heavily favors more physical attacks while Godslayer magic has very few physical moves.  And even the different variants of Dragonslayer magic work differently.  The different Dragonslayers all have very different attack patterns, special abilities and even general emphasis.  Wendy’s Sky Dragonslayer magic has support spells and is lighter on damage than say Natsu’s Fire Dragonslayer magic is all about dealing loads of damage and has nothing but offensive techniques.  Just about the only thing all the Dragonslayers have in common is a breath attack.  There are even different methods for becoming Dragonslayers, which the show distinguishes by their generation number.  What I’m trying to say is that Fairy Tail has a wide variety of magic and has put enough care into it’s world that all the magics are pretty unique, which is good.

As much shit as people give the show, I think almost everything prior to Fairy Tail 2014 was either fine or outright awesome, barring one of the filler arcs which sucked big time.  The heart of this comes from the action.  Unlike some of it’s counterparts Fairy Tail had established the perfect battle length for every fight.  Prior to 2014 every prominent fight lasted 1 to 1.5 episodes barring a few battles that would make or break the guild which might take more like 2 to 2.5 episodes.  So we the viewers don’t bored by people breathing hard for minutes on end while the fight gets interrupted and the spectators dump exposition on the moves of the fighters.  Not that Fairy Tail is completely free of this kind of exposition but it’s much less intrusive in Fairy Tail than many other long-running shounen shows.  If were to accuse Fairy Tail of any major faults with it’s battles, it would be that they are pretty formulaic, at least once we get to opponents that actually matter.  A lot of Fairy Tail battles go like this, the hero fights and either makes a good account of themselves but basically just forces a stalemate, gets thrashed for a while but still sort of holding their own or gets pretty soundly beaten before there’s some break in the action, until the heroes figure out a tactic that gets them past their current hurdle, and then they turn the tide and end up beating the enemy, sometimes they totally dominate in the last section of the fight and in others they win by the skin of their teeth, but they always win.  Nakama power-ups are almost guaranteed in the last stage of any Fairy Tail fight.  Given how consistently Fairy Tail sticks to this formula as early as the Phantom Lord Arc, I can see people criticizing the show for it, and in theory I would support that criticism.  However, in my experience Fairy Tail fights are not stale despite sticking to formula, instead I’d say they are polished because they stick to formula.  Despite almost every fight going down the same predictable path, the fights are still great, and as far as I’m concerned that is in large part to this formula.  Because the fights come with a mostly pre-packaged routine the creative staff doesn’t have to try and make a new fight routine every battle, instead they can focus on all the other elements of the battle to maximize the effectiveness of the routine with each new battle.  This has led to loads of fights that just flow really well, they don’t feel too long or too short, and that’s pretty impressive when you consider that most long running shounen shows are notorious for over-long fights.  Which brings to the rest of battle details.

The fight routine I’ve been talking about is the skeleton of every fight, and while that figurative bone structure is something the creators are comfortable with and  clearly understand, it alone does not make the fights appealing.   As with any battle show, fight choreography, tension and dramatic payoffs, and sound are important.  And while that first element is kind of hit and miss for Fairy Tail, the latter three are phenomenal, especially the music.  You may be wondering how Fairy Tail can inject tension or drama into fights that follow a formula and often include nakama power-ups.  Well there’s two basic steps to this.  The first comes by way understanding that routines and tension/drama are not mutually exclusive in the slightest, part of mastering a routine is in understanding how and when to build tension and then create a payoff.  Take for example the humble knock-knock joke.  Every knock-knock joke goes the exact same way, it’s a routine, and you build tension by trying to get people interested in who’s knocking and then the payoff comes at the end when you reveal who is in fact knocking and delivering what you hope is a clever punchline.  The knock-knock joke is neither complicated nor original and while many of them suck, let’s not forget that routines can totally suck, there’s plenty of clever ones out there and they will persist until the end of time, or at least until we no longer have doors you need to knock on.  And what Fairy Tail has done is spent a lot of time making the battle equivalent of a good knock-knock joke, it may be a predictable setup but the punchline is going strong.

The second way this works is sound.  Battle noises and music are crucial, and the creative staff understands that.  The magic attacks and physical blows in Fairy Tail sound like they have a lot weight and impact to them, the visuals tend to reflect this too but more on that later.  If anything the battle noises are played up to a cartoonish level, which fits the show but more on that later too, in a way that kind reminds of how explosive and powerful the sound effects were in One Punch Man (please note I’m not saying Fairy Tail and One Punch Man are alike in terms of quality, just that their battles feature one similar element).  Then we get to the music.  Fairy Tail, in my opinion obviously, has the best collection of music in anime.  I’m not saying it has the best anime theme music, what I’m trying to get at is that it has great theme music but in contrast to most shows, which have about 30 OST tracks at most, Fairy Tail has a more like 150-200 OST tracks at least.  Even if none of those tracks are in anyone’s top 10 list, or something like that, that’s still a staggering number of good OSTs.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say almost all of them are good, if not great.  As someone who collects a lot of anime OSTs I was fucking floored by the sheer volume of high quality music for the show, and still am today as I’ve yet to find another show to pull this feat off, though that’s understandable since many shows never get that many sound tracks period.  Still  it’s worth celebrating good music, especially good battle music and Fairy Tail certainly has good music, battle or otherwise.  However there’s something more important here than the music itself, and that’s effect music has on the viewer.  Good music can bring any kind of scene to life, to make it jump off the page or the screen and burn itself into our memory.  And… and you guys can see where I’m going with this right?  Fairy Tail’s battles feel so alive, thanks to good flow and good music.  Perhaps more importantly they do a great job of firing me the hell up.  In one of my older posts I mentioned in passing that despite how obnoxious the nakama power-up is and how much people shit on it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.  You just have get us the audience invested enough in the characters and battle to get us to ride the same emotional wave the characters do before pulling out that nakama power-up.  And in my experience, few battle shounens have so perfected the art of getting the audience to ride that figurative wave quite like Fairy Tail.  There are of course other shows where having the main characters hulk out for their nakamas can be fun but it’s not as consistently tolerable or enjoyable as it is in Fairy Tail.  And the music goes a long way to getting us to ride that wave and thus heighten the experience, however it’s not the part that’s more unique to Fairy Tail.

One thing I find more interesting about Fairy Tail when compared to it’s other shounen counter parts is it’s relationship with rage.  Now plenty of battle shounen shows have characters who frequently get enraged by their opponents which might cause them to makes mistakes and hurt allies in their blind fury a la Naruto Nine-Tails Fox cloak or steamroll their opponents in a wave of unmitigated aggression a la Vasto Lorde Ichigo.  But the thing with rage is that it’s generally very limited.  In Naruto, Bleach and D Gray Man for example, there’s generally one or two people who will rage, while the rest remain more level-headed.  The only exception off the top of my head besides Fairy tail is HunterxHunter but even in HunterxHunter rarely does more than one person enter a state of rage during any given battle even if all the main characters get enraged at various points in the story.  The interesting thing about HunterxHunter’s rage moments is that they vary from protagonist to protagonist.  Leorio for example gets angry for his friends on a moment to moment basis and lashes out, while Kurapika by contrast is almost constantly consumed with the rage that fuels his need for vengeance on the Phantom Troupe.  Which brings me to Fairy Tail.  In Fairy Tail it’s never the case that just one or two people rages, the entire guild rages with them.  And this works because Fairy Tail cribs a bit from HunterxHunter’s style and everyone rages in a different way.  Gray for example generally remains more level headed while still clearly being angry, whereas Natsu gets almost bestial in his anger and rampages over his opponents.  But the point here is that everyone gets angry.  The reason this matters is because it adds to the tension and the atmosphere of any battle, it’s interesting to see a whole bunch of people, who all have different kinds of goofy personalities, suddenly all act in serious unity without a single spoken word.  Watching a chaotic band of mostly harmless goofballs change into an organized band of dangerous wizards so quickly drastically alters the atmosphere of an episode and can build tension by virtue of how jarring and swift that change is.  More to the point it helps fire up the audience.  It’s one thing to support a lone raging hero, but when all the heroes are raging at the same time it’s hard not to roped into the aggression projected by the characters, it’s a sort of imposed mob mentality if you will and goddamn does it work for me.  Tension builds as we the audience wait in anticipation for the moment when whatever is holding back the fighters disappears and the entire guild explodes in beautiful, violent action.  And it works narratively because the guild functions like one big, chaotic, violent family, everyone is always unfettered in their actions and interactions, and while they fight all the time like many siblings do, they also stand up for each other when an outside force threatens a guild member with violence like family should (at least that’s the message shounen shows try and spread anyway).  Ok so in summary, Fairy Tail has made it’s violence fun and interesting, and occasionally something it’s easy to get invested in thanks to the rage and atmosphere.  What else does it do that I like?

Fairy Tail is cartoonish and it’s well aware of that.  This goes beyond overblown attacks and loads of pointless albeit fun violence.  There are loads of character’s with incredibly dumb quirks or who have hilariously bad character designs, or people who are straight up dumb.  Hell in the first episode when Natsu, the male lead, goes to save Lucy, the female lead, from a minor villain, and literally seconds after he makes his badass entrance, smashing through the deck of a ship to get to where everyone is, he immediately collapses and gets the crap kicked out of him because he has crippling motion sickness whenever he’s riding man-made forms of transportation.  Even the old guild master of Fairy Tail basically tells the guild members, fuck what the government says you have to be yourselves without holding back, when what passes for the mage’s government gives them another warning telling them to stop destroying shit in episode two.  Everything the characters do is so taken to such goofy extremes that their fun-loving idiocy feels both genuine and infectious.  The art style likewise reflects this cartoonish tone, it’s full of bright, vibrant colors and goofy animations, complete with odd sound effects to complete the gags.  Speaking of gags, Fairy Tail is full of silly, often slapstick humor.  This is not to say the humor is particularly good, it’s mildly amusing at best and while this isn’t really the case for me personally, I can see it being annoying to some people.  The light hearted comedy however, much like the other cartoonish bits of Fairy Tail, serve a narrative purpose, a contrast to all the darker parts of Fairy Tail.

I mentioned in my review of Nanatsu no Taizai that a lot of shounen shows have dark elements and struggle to make them meaningful.  Granted in shows where willpower and friendship win the day it’s hard to make darkness and tragedy convincing or have any kind of staying power.  As I said the review linked above, most shounen shows introduce characters with tragic, sob-story backstories and then have all that shit paved over entirely by good guy attitude and friendship.  But it wasn’t until I started writing this up and putting more thought into it that I can articulate the difference between shounen shows which use darkness well and those which don’t.  In shounen shows that do use darkness well, like Nanatsu no Taizai or HunterxHunter, the darker aspects of any character are an ongoing struggle.  Unlike say Gaara from Naruto, who has this crazy, dark backstory but then after befriending Naruto never is in danger of reverting back, nor ever suffers from any residual trauma.  And in Fairy Tail, the darkness is used with an acceptable level of competence.  It’s certainly not on par with Nanatsu no Taizai or HunterxHunter, but it at least gets the ongoing struggle right.  Gray has a strong hatred for and sometimes crippling fear of demons, because his whole town was wiped out by one and even the person who taught him magic died in the process of sealing the demon.  This hatred and fear persist long after Deliora, the demon who inflicted the trauma, is dead for good, though admittedly it doesn’t come up often because demon shenanigans are rare in Fairy Tail.  Lucy was always angry at her father for the way he treated her and for eventually causing her guild great harm by hiring Phantom Lord to take her home by force, and she never really got a chance to forgive him because by the time he had reformed himself and the time she was ready to reconcile with him in full, he had died while she was sealed on Tenroujima.  Elfman and Mirajane both blame themselves for getting their little sister killed and their magic suffers for it, and it’s only when they finally find the strength to move forward and fight for others who are important that they at long last break through their limitations and gain/regain their magic power.  Erza and Jellal have one of the more interest relationships as they both clearly love each other but have also caused one another a lot of pain over the course of their lifetimes, their potential romance comes with a lot of baggage that neither of them ever seems quite ready to put behind them and forge a new chapter in their lives even as their attraction for each other deepens.  The island where Erza and Jellal were enslaved as children is crucial to many characters in the story, more than just those two.  Most of Oracion Seis is from that island and their powers are closely linked to their desires to escape the hell it was, while characters like Milliana and Kagura struggle to reconcile Jellal’s apparent reformation to a good guy with the fact he killed their sibling/friend, an act which had an effect on Erza as well.  Some of the darker parts of the character’s backstories are resolved over the course of the show, but for most the struggle remains a work in progress, something that can be mined for setting and character details with Erza’s backstory serving as the prime example, which for my money is a pretty good use of darkness for a show that preaches friendship triumphs and which people ridicule all the time for being a show where no one ever dies.  This brings me to the final positive thing I have to say about Fairy Tail, Fairy Tail women.

Some people are probably surprised that I like Fairy Tail women.  I mean I’ve got that one post about trying to use fewer pandering body, this one and this other one about strong female characters and let’s face it, Fairy Tail women are all about pandering.  The majority of the women are very well endowed, with a few lolis thrown in for guys who are into that, and almost everyone ends up in revealing outfits at some point, assuming they don’t end up in revealing outfits all the time.  Cana for example is always wearing a bikini top, except for that time when she wears nothing but her bra and panties.  There are multiple pool/hot spring/beach episodes, hell Mirajane was introduced in a swimsuit photo for an in-universe model magazine.  Now there’s also some man-service, Gray and Leon strip a lot, but you guys get the point, there’s a lot of pandering fanservice in Fairy Tail.  And while I confess that I certainly do enjoy that and said enjoyment is a part of why I like Fairy Tail women, there is more to it than that.  I think Fairy Tail women walk the line between being objectified women and strong women, because while all the pandering shit mentioned above is true, these women have a lot more to them than that.  But let me get into the strong women bit in the next paragraph while I get distracted.  I mentioned above that I liked Fairy Tail’s art style, with is bright and vibrant colors, and nowhere does Fairy Tail’s art excel more than the women.  Yes there are big boobs and yes I do appreciate them, but there’s more to their visual design than just their busts.  I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to call Erza one of the more iconic women in anime and while her large boobs may contribute I personally think her hair is the most definitive aspect of her look.  Sure Erza has big boobs, but so do like 95% of anime girls, no what makes Erza stand out is her red hair, and the many styles it comes in.  Back in that post about pandering body types I talked about how there were other aspects of character design that could be used to make a woman pretty, and A-1 seems to get that when it comes to Erza and her many, many hairstyles that complement her various outfits and overall look.  I’ve seen plenty of redheads in anime and none of them have looked quite as good to me as Erza does, which is more the hair than the boobs because I’ve seen plenty of big boobs before.  Likewise I think Cana looks more attractive for the contrast of bright colors in her outfits and her tan skin and dark brown hair, and I find her attitude and how that attitude matches her look more appealing than how revealing her clothes are.  This is not to say I’m for every design.  Many people like to joke that people only watch Fairy Tail for Lucy’s tits, and yes I know it’s a joke and I don’t take it seriously, but honestly hers is one of the more drab and boring designs.  Anyway that’s enough on design, time to talk about strong women… again.

All the women in Fairy Tail, well the important ones anyway, are powerful, even if that doesn’t always show.  For instance when Lucy is captured by Juvia during the Phantom Lord arc and loses her keys she appears powerless to Gajeel, who beats the crap out of her.  Yet in the Fairy Tail Civil War arc, she defeats one of Laxus’ top lieutenants and Gajeel is floored by the idea that Lucy is actually strong.  More importantly Lucy’s victory over said lieutenant marks a crucial turning point in the arc’s overall conflict.  Which is a roundabout way of saying that Lucy has agency.  Agency, in a nutshell, is a character’s ability to take action and exert influence over the story.  So characters like Sakura from Naruto, who just stands back forever and no longer influences the story by the time she gets powerful, have no agency.  And Fairy Tail women have agency.  In any given conflict the women play a major role.  Erza in particular decides many of the more important conflicts in the show, hell she saves the entire guild twice, once during the Phantom Lord arc and again during the Tenroujima arc.  Main characters like Lucy and Juvia also contribute to important battles in whatever arcs they appear in.  Even more dedicated support characters like Levy, one of the weakest mages in Fairy Tail, can play important roles in a conflict.  Levy for example was the one who got Gajeel and Natsu out of Freed barrier so they could defeat Laxus during the Civil War arc, and gave Gajeel the iron he needed to defeat the enemies attacking the pair at Tenroujima.  Point is, Fairy Tail’s women all have agency and while some of them have annoying traits (Juvia) or moments of vulnerability (Erza and Lucy), they are important to the story.  Therefore I posit that Fairy Tail women are indeed strong women, even if they aren’t the best examples of that term.  Which is the other reason I find the Fairy Tail women pretty attractive, I have a raging boner for strong women, and they qualify as such.  Give me good character designs with strong women and I’m hooked.  Anyway now that I’ve already gushed over the positives for longer than any other post, time to look at the negatives, Fairy Tail 2014.

Almost everything I praised Fairy Tail for flies out the fucking window in Fairy Tail 2014.  With the exception of the music, and the women having agency, Fairy Tail 2014 is a baffling step backwards.  It’s art style has changed and looks flatter and less alive, likewise the colors are so muted that the whole thing looks desaturated.  Basically the visuals got a massive down grade.  Sound effects are worse as well, Igneel and Acnologia in particular were far less impressive in 2014 than they were in the original Fairy Tail.  The silly humor is still around but it doesn’t make me laugh as often, though I admit it doesn’t annoy me much.  But the worst sin is the fights.  Many of the fights continue the same routine, but they somehow botch almost all of them.  I mean when Erza fights Kyouka, Kyouka is somehow able to block Erza’s Fairy Armor, which she used to destroy a city-sized island in the Edolas arc, with her bare hands.  Yet Erza defeats Kyouka with attacks like a kick to the stomach.  It’s fucking pathetic.  The only fights that impressed me at all since 2014 rolled around is the Erza-Kagura-Minerva three way battle, Natsu vs Jackal (that one had better sound effects and flow) and the battle where Wendy gets to use Dragon Force.  Some of the more memorable fights left in shambles were Gray vs Rufus, where Gray gets beat down for 10 minutes before turning around and one-shoting Rufus, Laxus vs Tempesta round 2, which dragged on too long and had no flow at all, and Gajeel vs whatever the shark demon was called, which also has a terrible flow.  It’s almost like Fairy Tail is being handled by a totally different team of animators and directors, and none of them have any fucking clue what made Fairy Tail decent.  Which, given how A-1 does hires lots of contractors to get all their shows done, would honestly not surprise me overly much.

In conclusion, Fairy Tail is pretty decent, and certainly a good pick if you’re looking for a battle shounen show to watch.  Fairy Tail 2014 on the other hand has mostly been a disaster, even if you discount the unforgivably bad Celestial Spirit Rebellion filler arc the show has undergone a massive downgrade in virtually every regard.  It’s a damn shame but its the nature of long running shounen to fall apart eventually, and for what it’s worth I think Fairy Tail had a pretty good run.  I hope you all enjoyed this and I will see you in the next one.





Surly Summaries: Musaigen no Phantom World

You know I usually wait for a show to actually end before I do these kinds of posts.  However, this show was so disappointing it convinced me to start writing these when I drop a currently airing show from now on instead of just when a show is over.

Musaigen no Phantom World was never actually good.  I knew that, I said as much after episode 1, this show was not nor would ever be good.  But I at least expected that it would entertaining, and that, in conjunction with it’s undisputedly high quality animation, would make the show turn out ok.  Episode 1 for example was entertaining, what with the animated poles and the ridiculous fanservice scene during the limbo game.  It also had a few genuinely interesting bits, like when Reina ate that weird Phantom graveyard thing.  There were even bits where the comedy was good.  In episode 3 or 4 there’s a scene where Reina is eating at some restaurant and she’s doing the typical glutton character thing and eating plate after plate of food.  It’s a common trope, but Musaigen treads into some meta humor by actually showing us the waiter’s face get more and more distraught as Reina eats another plate, shot in this artsy style where the frame rate is way higher than normal for anime to get the punchline across without dragging the scene out.

Sadly that was one of the only moments in the show that tried to do anything interesting and was successful in doing so.  After episode 4 or 5, when the team has finally been fully assembled, the show just gets boring as fuck.  There is no driving narrative or plot, which is fine episodic shows aren’t exactly uncommon and they can be done well.  But where Musaigen fucks up is that its episodic adventures are just plain boring.  Even if some of the Phantoms are cool, like the weird cat-house Phantom that looked like it came straight from a Ghibli film, each episode just feels pointless.  They don’t add character development or romance or world-building or fucking anything.  They just sit there using all these wacky scenarios and monsters to deliver mostly uninteresting fanservice, if KyoAni has a weakness it’s that their fanservice pales in comparison to that from other studios, and mostly the same fucking tired anime joke scenarios and gags that got old years ago.  This was honestly one of the worst shows of the entire season, a total snorefest and a waste of excellent animation.  I am thoroughly disappointed in this one, do skip it if you haven’t watched it already.  See you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

Fuck this one was funny.  If you haven’t already watched this show I highly recommend it, one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s a nice break from the typical comedy as well, most of which have been almost universally slice of life romcoms.  Now to be fair some of those were good, but it’s nice to see something new come in and make it’s mark.

For those who don’t know Kono Subarashii Seaki ni Shukufuku wo! or KonoSuba is a comedy set in an RPG world.  The story goes a bit like this.  Kazuma, the male lead, is hikikomori, you know the guys who just up and lock themselves in their rooms for years.  Anyway he went out and got this special edition of a video game after three days of no sleep.  Then he sees a girl about to get hit by a truck, and he pushes her out of the way and gets run over himself.  Or at least that’s what he thinks.  Instead he almost gets hit by a tractor which was never going to hit the girl and dies anyway thinking he got run over because he’s both sleep deprived and a moron.  This is explained to him by Aqua, this blue goddess of the afterlife who starts out being helpful before laughing at Kazuma , and telling him that his parents and the doctors laughed at him, for dying in a such stupid way.  She then explains he has three choices.  He can go to heaven, which she doesn’t recommend because you can’t have sex there.  He can be reincarnated in his world without any of his memories.  Or he can go to this RPG world and save it from the demon king and get some other wish granted.  He goes with option three.  As part of option three he gets to take one thing into the game world with him.  Aqua lets him choose from all kinds of totally broken items and spells but in a moment of spiteful anger he chooses Aqua, forcing her to join him in this game world.  She immediately breaks down and cries when they arrive and thus begins the hilarious hijinks of the most unglorious RPG of all time.

KonoSuba reminds of Log Horizon, if Log Horizon were about the rejected would be adventurers of a shitty beginner town and not characters who had skills and could kick ass.  The animation is kind of ugly, but it sort just fits right into the totally silly world of KonoSuba and while it threw me off at first, I quickly found myself enjoying how the shitty art complemented the shitty world and shitty characters.  Said shitty characters are all actually really funny but they are just really shitty at being RPG protagonists and are instead more like the alt WoW accounts people made so they could play as half naked girls when they were thirteen year old boys and thought that shit was hilarious (yes I know people who did that in real life, and I bet you do too).  In conclusion, if you want a comedy that was way better than literally anyone ever expected it to be, Konosuba is a a lot of fun.  It currently has only ten episodes and that last episode did feel a bit rushed like every tenth episode finale I’ve ever seen is, but a second season is confirmed and I’m already looking forward to it.  See you in the next one.

Raging Rant: Can We Stop Making Half-Baked Shows for Teenage Boys Please

Ok so in direct opposition to how I handled strong women, where I bitched first and then presented good examples, with OP male leads I already talked about some of the ways you cam make them good in my last post.  Now it’s time to rail on the shit ones.  There will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Before I really get going on this I need to do a brief preface.  OP male leads, taken individually, are fine.  Even if they are not well written, I can appreciate the appeal of appealing to a young fanbase and illustrating the male power fantasy.  It’s a smart business decision and it can be fun to write, animate and watch.  I don’t hate the OP male lead, not even the bad ones (well there are some exceptions), if for no other reason than seeing one in action can be fun every now and then.  But the key is moderation.  Sure OP leads can be fun from time to time but fuck do they get boring when they appear over and over.  Which brings us to the last few years.  Since the massive success of SAO there has been an onslaught of Kirito-clones, generic teenage swordsmen who steamroll all of their opponents.  Sure the character type has existed long before SAO, but things have gotten worse since it’s success.  Back in the day OP dudes were more varied, and weren’t released as steadily.  Now every single season has at least one, usually two, sometimes even as many as three.  Much like some of my other Raging Rants (you can read them here and here), the abundance of this character type is a major part of my issue with said character type.  However, this case is a little different because I’m more pissed at how consistently this exact same type of character is pumped out in a short span of time.  I mean OP teenager with sword is a pretty specific character type when compared to say busty women in anime, because at least there are a lot of different kinds of busty women.  I have four gigantic problems with the new onslaught of Kirito-clones, how often they are being pumped out, their relation to women characters in their shows, how they limit storytelling, and how fucking cynical they feel.

Just off the top of my head SAO, SAO 2, Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance, Seiken Tsukai no World Break (these are not related despite how cut and paste the two titles seem), Kuusen Madoushi Kouhosei no Kyoukan, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, Dan Machi and the Asterisk War all have a generic, dark-haired, OP swordsman for a lead (except Dan Machi where the lead has white hair but is otherwise the same as the other dudes).  There’s also Jujin no Fafnir, Trinity Seven, Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, and arguably Walkure Romaze, all of which feature ludicrously OP male leads who aren’t swordsmen.  All of the shows I just listed have been released after SAO (except SAO obviously), and I’m probably missing some since I skip many of these shows on pure principle.  Now I’m not saying I hate all of them individually.  I already praised the parts of Tatsuya’s construction in Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, and against my better judgement I actually kind of enjoy Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance and some parts of Trinity Seven.  But goddamn is that a lot of shows with the almost the exact same hero.  Even if all of them were well written, and very few of them come close to well written, it would get tiring to watch all of these shows.  But when you pile on that most of these dudes outright suck, it becomes insurmountably so.  I can’t stand how homogeneous all of these guys are, especially consider how all of these shows are released in close proximity.

Maybe, theoretically, they might be ok if these shows only showed up once or twice a year.  Once or twice a season however, is much too often.  Like how can these shows be popular at all?  Do the people who enjoy these types of dudes more than I do just not care that all of them seems the exact fucking same?  Do the fucking copy pasted powers, appearances, character relationships and half-assed plots surrounding these guys not bore the audience to tears?  Can anyone really need such a steady stream of male power fantasies to the point where these shows don’t bother them?  I mean for fucks sake, I understand about appealing to a niche and making fans happy and why that’s a smart business decision.  But to do so at such a consistent and rapid pace seems more like it runs the risk of over-saturation than anything else.  Not even harem shows go this far, I mean most of the shows with these dudes are harem shows, but the harem shows that aren’t any of the ones I mentioned so far have a lot more variety all things considered.  Just using major examples, there’s Zero no Tsukaima, a show set in a magical universe along the lines of Harry Potter but medieval, To Love Ru has a massive harem of humans and aliens of varying ages, many of which have all kinds of tech, abilities, or quirks to give their position some relevance, Date A Live has a bunch of spirits from another dimension with gorgeously designed outfits and rad superpowers, and Monster Musume fulfilled everyone’s wild dreams about dating monster-girls.  How can anyone defend this shit if the fucking harem genre, which has been considered the trashcan of storytelling for fucking years, is bringing more originality, creativity and quality to the table?  It’s frankly embarrassing, to see this many shitty characters and shows being pumped out full force with no end in sight, to see such blatant disregard for creativity and artistry and/or such blatant lack of talent enjoying such popularity.  Sadly this is only the beginning of why these characters are shit, it gets much worse from here.

Anime has something of a complicated relationship with women characters.  On the one hand some of the most empowered and interesting strong women in fiction come from anime.  And on the other there are a lot of objectified teenage girls.  I’m not going to get into the complicated pros and cons of this odd relationship, I’m going to explain why these OP male leads following in Kirito’s footsteps encourage sexist storytelling and characters.  The biggest problem with these OP dudes is how they are all about that male power fantasy.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, however all of them seem to pandering to the exact same kind of power fantasy.  There are of course many kinds of power fantasies, the same way there many different kinds of heroes.  For example, my best friend is a big fan of Rock Lee, because he finds the idea of a nobody becoming a force to be reckoned with by sheer virtue of hard work very appealing, its a power fantasy he likes.  By comparison my little brother prefers truly unstoppable characters like One Punch Man’s Saitama, because he finds that ridiculous power more fun.  But with Kirito and his clones the fantasy is always the exact same, it’s about being an unstoppable badass and getting all the hot chicks you want without much effort.  I personally don’t see the appeal of that fantasy, I can enjoy being unstoppable sometimes, but I’d rather earn the affection of a woman character after serious effort.

But that’s beside the point, the real issue is how this power fantasy treats women.  Because it rarely treats them as people, as actual characters, instead it goes down a check list of different fetishes and gives each fetish an avatar with no real heart or soul poured into their construction.  They have little to no character traits beyond a rough outline that sticks strictly to pre-established archetypes.  I mean these stories treat the dudes the same way, but at least the men are self-inserts, the women are just trophies to obtain and add to the collection.  And I don’t care that these shows are wish fulfillment for immature teenage boys, there’s fucking porn that treats women with more dignity and as such I refuse to accept that this is ok.  Besides which, wouldn’t it make for a better fantasy if you, the OP main character, were winning over genuinely powerful and interesting women?  Apparently the anime industry sort of thinks so, because as I detailed in my post about turning strong women into waifu bait, it is trying to create the illusion of the OP male lead winning over a harem of strong women.  But it’s an illusion and thus far the authors farting out these generic and unimaginative stories and characters lack the skill to make the illusion convincing, let alone show the talent needed to make the genuine article.  Ok so thus far, we have slew of generic copy-pasted OP dudes making harems of vapid, useless, generic women they collect like action figures or trading cards.  Can it get worse?  Oh yes it can.

The abundance of generic characters, coupled with the lack of attention detail in said characters, results in basic, broken and mostly boring stories.  You will notice that most of the shows listed thus far all feature school-based battle tournaments as major parts of the show.  For those that don’t the rest almost all are about special high schoolers fighting giant monsters.  The only show on that list that doesn’t fall into these categories, ironically, is SAO, which if nothing else had a decent premise even if the show did a terrible job delivering on said premise (see my post on SAO for details).  This is not to say that some of these tournaments and monster battles aren’t good.  Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei’s tournament arc was a lot of fun for example.  But it’s an issue of volume again, this time compounded by a lack of quality and imagination.  I love a good tournament arc every now and then, but not all the fucking time.  And even worse there a other shows out there with infinitely better tournament arcs  like HunterxHunter, and these shows are just going to end up looking bad in comparison.  But this goes beyond any specific premise or type of arc, that’s just a common side effect of a larger issue.  These stories lack imagination and flair, they are so dedicated to appealing to paint-by-numbers formulas they have a hard time being interesting, or in some cases working at all.  I mentioned in my review of Mahouka Koukou that it’s magic was simultaneously interesting and problematic, this was because the show did a terrible job of explaining how it worked, what the differences between modern and ancient magics were, and basically all the fundamentals of spellcasting.  In spite of the interesting variety of magic on display, so little of it made any sense or had any explanation that it was easy to get distracted and bothered by the lack of detail.  And detail is incredibly important when your show’s premise strains suspension of disbelief.

A typical high school slice of life romcom doesn’t need a lot of setting details because we are already familiar with said setting.  But once you start introducing magic, monsters and the like we need some kind of explanation, even if the explanation is just, well this show takes places in a game/fantasy world.  But half the time these shows don’t, they are set in a normal everyday modern, or slightly future, Earth but now some kids have super powers.  A great example of these problems is in Asterisk War, I recommend checking a video series call the Asterisk Wars Sucks by Digibro on Youtube, it’s amazing.  Anyway in the Asterisk War the kids have superpowers, but there’s no explanation as to why everyone has mostly the same powers, why the people who have special powers have special powers (beyond them being special), how exactly the superpowers work, and how it is that some super power kids are naturally so much stronger than others.  What’s the fucking point of making a superpower teenager tournament battle series when the foundation it’s built on, the superpowers, are so ill-defined and poorly explained that they aren’t interesting?  How can any creator using this rough, generic kind of premise expect to make genuinely interesting and inventive works of fiction if the core of their creation is so lacking in heart and craftsmanship?  These narratives of the shows listed above are basically fucking dead before they’ve even gotten started, even the one or two shows I enjoyed had bland and uninteresting stories, that they survived my judgement at all is hard for me to fully grasp.  But enough about me, the point is that in addition to bland and boring characters these shows have laughably incomplete settings and the combination of the two contribute to their bland, flaccid narratives and the frankly incompetent delivery of said narratives.  Which brings me to the final, and most damning, sin these shows all suffer from, fucking cynicism.

Cynicism is not something I inherently hate.  I myself indulge in cynicism more than a bit, and that’s fine.  However, I take issue with cynicism  when it’s injected into the creation of, and by extension sale of, art.  I go to anime to get away from the cynicism that is so prevalent in the real world, not to see more of the same.  I should stress that I don’t dislike characters who are cynical within the world of the story or cynicism that is relevant to the in-universe world and lore.  That shit can be interesting as hell.  But when our real-world cynicism bleeds into the creation of anime I get frustrated.  Art and craftsmanship is important, and sure I get that not all anime are going to be made for the sake of the art, their will always be more cynical shows being made to make money with as little risk as possible.  But there’s a difference between creators that actually try to make interesting worlds, narratives and characters,  while imitating popular shows and those that don’t even fucking bother.  In my last post I explained at length why Layfon Alseif of Chrome Shelled Regios was such a good OP male lead.  And ironically enough he appeals to the same kind of power fantasy that Kirito and all his clones do, in a show where the superpowers aren’t well explained and the setting had some issues.

So why was Layfon so good if Chrome Shelled Regios suffers from some of them same problems I have with the new slurry of OP male lead shows?  The long answer was in that post, but the short answer is that Layfon and world he inhabits were made with care, with attention to detail.  All the women Layfon could end up with are people, with goals, desires and feelings independent of Layfon, who have backstories, relationships and character traits that have nothing to do with Layfon.  Because the setting, for all it’s problems, has at least enough thought put into the lore and how people would survive in the world to make a cohesive story.  These new Kirito clones, and their attendant shows, don’t have that, they don’t have any of that most of the time. Because the people making them aren’t trying to create a cohesive work of art, they are giving us shells that look like other works of art but are full of nothing save blatant pandering to teenage boys, in the hope the dvds will sell well.  The dudes are self inserts, they aren’t really characters even, they are shells of characters that wear appealing traits.  The women look pretty but they too are hollow shells.  The settings and stories have all the originality and cohesion of plagiarized essays.  This is why I hate cynicism in art, because it apes the style of genuine art but delivers material that treats the audience as idiots (and to be fair some are) and showcases a total disregard for its own medium.  Anime is full of weird and some times off-putting stuff, stuff that scares a lot of more “normal” people away from it.  But I have to say the only times I felt ever been well and truly embarrassed by my love for anime, is when I see these miserable, cynical cash grabs making it big while shows that deserve attention for their artistry get left by the wayside.  Fuck cynically produced anime, fuck Kirito and all his clones, and most importantly fuck any creator who shows so little regard for his own medium of choice that he would make these shows and stories willingly.

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