Raging Rant: Dressing for the Occasion

So in my recent post about Arslan Senki, I bitched at length about the disparity between the quality of Farangis as a character and the quality of her skimpy costume, this is going to be a broader expansion on that topic.  There will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Let’s start with the basics, good character designs are a huge plus to any series and costume design in one of the main facets of character design.  This applies to all forms of entertainment.  I remember, back in the days when I did highschool plays, how much of a pain in the ass our costume director was because she was so picky, and everything had to be just so.  But her pickiness paid off and we won costume awards.  This becomes exponentially more important in media entertainment though, because in a play you implicitly understand that you’re watching real people playing fake parts so their ability to become this fictional character through their acting talent is much more important than the costume, though the costume helps.  In media though we are trying to watch fake people and worlds come to life as though they were real and their outfits are one of the immediate visual sources of information we can get about a setting and characters.  If you see a generic high school uniform, odds are this setting is modern day Japan and the characters are highschoolers, get a world full of characters with wacky, intricate and over the top character designs and odds are you in for something a little more unique, whether it’s batshit insane or stupid and awesome.  Likewise a good costume can tell us a lot about the person wearing it.  Take a look at Boku no Hero Academia, All Might has this very bright, bold and colorful (and American as fuck) outfight that makes him pop out of the background, and this reflects his desire to be seen as the Symbol of Peace.  By comparison, Aizawa “Eraser Head” has a bland unassuming design save for his googles, which reflects his fighting style and preferences to avoid being seen, avoid media attention and get the work over with quickly.  Point is, costumes are important, they make fictional characters more real by adding life and detail to said characters and often communicating something about said characters.  Now let’s get to the ranting.

I understand, as I believe most people do, that there are always going to be a lot of boring, cut-and-paste, costumes in anime.  I mean there a million shows taking place in highschool, and while the uniforms have some variation the overall look is pretty standard and generic.  Likewise a lot of harem shows will have uniforms where the skirts are really short so we can have panties flashing frequently because that’s what’s expected in a harem show.  That’s not what I’m here to complain about, because frankly the main reasons why those kinds of costume designs are so prevalent is because highschool shows are so common, and harems are so common, and unless those things change first arguing about costume design improvements in those kinds of shows seems like a moot point to me.  I’m here to complain about the costume design fuck-ups in shows I like, on characters I like, and where  feel such poor costume designs are unacceptable.  Let’s get back to Farangis.  In case you never read the Arslan Senki post I linked above, here’s a recap.  Farangis is an aloof, dignified and proud woman, who possess considerable martial skill as well as important knowledge like her ability to hear the Djinn thanks to her profession as a priestess.  All of these aspects of her character would suggest that she would wear pretty normal, practical clothes, maybe on the fancier side, possibly with a military bent or a slightly less practical and more ornate bent thanks to her profession as a priestess.  The outfit she has in the anime though is basically a bikini and a cape, which doesn’t suit her at all.  In fact she looks far more attractive in the scenes and arc when she’s in full clothes because then she looks like a real person not a 15 year old’s horny fantasy approximation of a person.

And like I said in Arslan Senki post it’s not like the skimpy outfit gets you much fanservice anyway.  Sure you get plenty of shots where you can see cleavage or part of a boob, but it’s not like the camera is showing Farangis’ body off for you to drool over (and thank fuck for that).  Instead most of the time you see Farangis’ full body, and by extension the full skimpiness of her outfit, is in battle scenes where she looks hilariously out of place, at that point she is a literal cartoon character trying and failing to look natural in a story full of more realistic characters and scenarios.  To hammer this point home further let’s do a quick comparison of Farangis and Maura Chester from Rokka no Yuusha, the character I mainly focused on in my discussion on hot mature women and why anime desperately needs more of those.  Both Farangis and Maura appear to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, both have roughly the same body type, they’re fairly tall, not too skinny or too fat and they’re very very well endowed.  Both women have very pale skin and dark hair, though Maura’s is dark blue while Farangis’ is black.  Both have similar professions and similar airs of dignity and authority though I would say Farangis places more emphasis on dignity whilst Maura places more on authority.  Both also have impressive combat skills and some kind of supernatural power and knowledge of other supernatural powers, though Maura is much more blatant about that kind of thing while Farangis is more subtle.  The biggest differences between the two women are that Farangis takes a subordinate role to the main character in her group while Maura generally holds a position of superiority over her group, and that the former wears next to nothing while the other is wearing full clothes.

See here’s the thing, you don’t need a character to be half naked to have sex appeal.  Both Farangis and Maura are stunning, and that has more to with their faces and hair than their cup size or state of dress.  Now I, connoisseur of fine anime women that I am, can tell the you the subtle differences in appeal that both these characters have but setting subtlety aside here’s the big picture, both of these character’s faces are designed to be so hot that they would still be gorgeous regardless of breast size and costume, that’s how well their facial features, hair, eyes, and so on work together to make the overall attractive design.  The only reason I’m ranting about Farangis at all, is because her costume is such a bad match for personality and in-universe background and adds so little sex appeal in exchange for being out of place that I am absolutely stunned that design even got made by any creative, even if I can understand the more cynical reasons why it might be approved by a more business-oriented person.  This attitude I have applies to all characters, and especially strong women, who I feel got shafted in the costume department, because honestly it’s not that hard to get right.  Yes it’s hard to make a great costume but I’m not asking for that, I’m asking for one that fits the character, and that’s pretty simple.  I mean for fuck’s sake most professions have a uniform or semi-uniform look to them, neither Maura’s outfit nor Farangis’s outfit from the Shindra arc (where she has more clothes despite going to a hotter region of the world) are amazing outfits, but they work and they work because they fit the character properly and don’t distract me and mess with my immersion in the story.

And just to clear up any potential misunderstandings this is not about the skimpy outfit in and of itself.  You can have strong and interesting characters who wear revealing outfits and have that work out just fine, it just has to be in character for them to do so.  For example Revy from Black Lagoon never wears much and there are several scenes when we catch her in nothing but her undies, and none of that is a problem because a, it’s consistent with the more adult tone of the show, b, Revy works in a tropical climate where it’s consistently shown to be hot, humid and otherwise unpleasant place to wear lots of clothes unless you want to strike an imposing figure a la Balalaika, Mr. Chen or Roberta, and c and most importantly, it’s in character for Revy to dress like that.  She doesn’t give a shit about what other people think most of the time, she never freaks out when Rock catches her barely dressed for instance, her lifestyle is intensely casual when she isn’t gunning people down, she basically just drinks, smokes, eats, and otherwise makes a mess, and her outfit is relatively practical in combat and comfortable to wear.  And let’s face facts here, Revy owns that look, she owns that outfit and nothing about it distracts from my immersion in the story or detracts from her character or look in the slightest.  Which is really what this is all about, it’s not about nudity or crudeness, not about covering up or being classy, it’s about art and making good art by not fucking up something as basic and relatively easy as costume design.

Look I love it when a show comes out and the outfits are amazing and I would encourage creators to put more thought into costume design than say breast physics, but at the same time it’s not what I really care about.  I care about the story, world and characters and watching those come to life, and as long as the costumes just fit the character then everything is fine.  If you want a character who wears skimpy clothes, maybe make the character someone who likes to be open with their sexuality or enjoys being seen as dirty by his or her peers.  For example Kurokami Medaka from Medaka Box has a personalized uniform that shows off a lot of her generous cleavage and it works because Medaka is pretty proud of her body and she willingly gets into revealing outfits all the time, sometimes just for the sake of it, it’s just a part of who she is and her outfit reflects that.  But when you put a proud, dignified woman, from an honorable and famously prudish profession, in clothes that barely count as clothes at all, and then you throw her into battles where those clothes are totally impractical, it just gets unbearably off-putting.  Looking at Farangis’ outfit without any character context, she looks like the kind of character who should be kind of oblivious to the fact that all the dudes around are staring at her all the time while other women glare or freak out at her for her lack of common sense.

Alternatively, what she really reminds of is Myers from Magi, the half naked whip wielding magic instructor who had some badass scenes but was mostly a comic relief character paired with Aladdin, who was constantly willing to put up with her harsh training and insults because he was really into her boobs.  Neither of those scenarios  happen though.  Instead Farangis is played totally straight as a serious character and is treated as such by those around her, even when it doesn’t really make sense for anyone to behave like that except maybe Gieve and Arslan.  It would make more sense if Elam or Alfreed or Etoile especially freaked out about Farangis outfit, even if that’s not a great way for the characters to interact when you consider her personality.  See that’s the problem, the way you should respond to someone in this outfit and the way you should respond to Farangis the character are totally fucking different, and this disparity is why her outfit is so ill-fitting.  You could conceivably make this work if Arslan Senki was an inherently silly series, then putting a serious character in such a mismatched outfit could be funny and reflect the silly tone of the show.  But Arslan Senki is more serious, sometimes solemn even, war drama epic, and in the context of a serious war drama epic the only kind of character who should be wearing a skimpy outfit would be a stereotypical whore/courtesan or female slave character who is picked up by the main characters along the way.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense for it to be on Farangis though.

I’ve been talking about Farangis and Arslan Senki specifically too much in this post, but the same concept applies to all kinds of characters.  Costumes should, at the bare minimum match the character’s personality, occupation and/or background.  They should also hopefully tell us something about that character’s beliefs or personality, like I talked about with All Might and Eraser Head.   Ideally the character should own their outfit, own their look because that’s part of what makes a character really stand out and seem natural, part of the reason characters from shows like Black Lagoon or Cowboy Bebop seem to come alive so much more effectively and are so much more iconic than more generic, if appropriately dressed characters, is because they so thoroughly own their look, they have created their own kind of brand if you will.  The best example would probably be Kamina from Gurren Lagann with the cape and the rad glasses, you see a fucking outline or silhouette of those glasses and you instantly think Gurren Lagann, that’s mostly because Kamina’s a great character and Gurren Lagann’s a great show, but it’s also because Kamina so owns that look that it has become as iconic as it is.  So let us all burn with rage at bad costumes which fail to fit the characters they are attached to.  Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Kiznaiver

Kiznaiver was not a show I expected to be anywhere near as good as it was.  Amid all the hype for Boku no Hero and Kotetsujou no Kabaneri, not to mention sequels I was looking forward to, all coupled with Kiznaiver’s much slower and seemingly directionless start, I was starting to file Kiznaiver away as a show that, despite the great character designs and animation, was going to be ok but nothing that would stack up when compared to the rest of the season.  And I can proudly say I’m so happy to be proven wrong.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Kiznaier was a bit weak in the early episodes, the first episode felt like it came from Shaft more so than Trigger, with tons of dialogue and stylish visuals that nonetheless didn’t move the plot or characters forward much.  Episode two likewise had so much work to do showcasing and explaining the Kizuna System that the characters made baby steps forward.  And the next episode or two after that is similarly slow and seemingly directionless.  This was what caused me to think Kiznaiver was not going to be great.  However after the slower episodes thinks really start to pick up, the drama and tension gets more intense, the characters get fleshed out and the story really seems like it was going somewhere.  I think the summer camp is the turning point, that’s when the plot and characters pick up considerably.  However what really sold me on the series was the huge dramatic event that causes the group to temporarily fracture as they they all begin feeling the pain of their relationships and start hearing each others’ most heartfelt feelings.  This is followed by the narrative shift into Nori’s struggle, goals and all the information about the original Kizuna experiment.  And it’s handled so well, the drama and tension are there, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, just drinking in all the new information and having a blast with the final episodes of the series.  Kiznaiver has a fantastic finish, which after the disappointing conclusions to Mayoiga and Concrete Revolutio, and the just ok end of Bungo Stray Dogs, I can’t be happier about.

Surly Summaries: Bungo Stray Dogs

Bungo Stray Dogs is a show I have some mixed feelings about, it was pretty solid overall but it never got great and it’s ending leaves something to be desired.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Let’s start with all the pros for Bungo Stray Dogs before we get to the cons.  It looks gorgeous, it has a bunch of good character designs and the animation is stellar.  Anyone who likes superpower shows will likely enjoy this one as it has a bunch of superpowers involved and some of them are pretty interesting as they are based on literary figures and their novels.  The characters are sort of goofy caricatures of the authors whom they are named after, the Guild leader who shows up in the final episode keeps using old sport in a bunch of his lines, something he borrows from the main character of The Great Gatsby.  Likewise Dazai is constantly trying to kill himself because the actual author ended up committing suicide.  This can get kind of stupid and/or annoying but I’m generally on board when it comes to shows with goofy, eccentric characters so it mostly works out for me.  The action scenes are pretty good, especially the Atsushi and Akutagawa fight but save for that fight most of the action is nothing to write home about, like the show itself, the action is solid but not particularly noteworthy.  Also the theme music that plays whenever the boss of the Armed Detective Agency enters a scene is fucking awesome. Times for the cons.

The show suffers from being an episodic mystery show, because the mysteries are generally pretty lackluster, the side characters introduced are mildly entertaining at best and frankly the more episodic aspects of this show mostly fail when compared to the overarching narrative, which thus far has not been great but hasn’t been bad either.  Also the frequent flashbacks to Atsushi’s past where the orphanage caretakers constantly call him worthless and tell him he should just die in a ditch was both cringe-worthy and really annoying to hear over and over again.  The ending also presents some interesting problems, yes I realize it was a sequel-bait ending and it’s quite possible Bungo Stray Dogs 2 will appear in the upcoming Fall season (because that’s generally how split cour shows work), that’s not really my issue with it.  It has more to do with where it ended.  In episode 11 they introduce the Guild for about 5 seconds, and I felt like that was all they needed, to me it seems weird to introduce them, have a big battle scene with one of the Guild members and for the series to cut off right after that.  It would have made more sense for it just to have been a low key episode where Atsushi meets the Port Mafia leader and only finds that out later once Kyouka comes to pick him up, in other words the final episode had some decent elements in it and I just thought it was weird for the Guild and Armed Detective Agency to start fighting in this season, because ending before the conflict began but after the Akutagawa battle was over would have been a more natural break in the story.

Anyway, Bungo Stray Dogs is a solid show and if it sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to give it a shot, but I’m not really going to recommend this to someone who didn’t think it looked good in the first place.  I hope you enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Bakuon

Fuck yes, that’s all I really need to say about this show.  You know I usually reserve swearing with regards to moe shows when talking about how fucking slow they are, but Bakuon is anything but.  It’s constantly doing new things and moving forward in the story, even if there’s no particular end point in the narrative.  As some one whose only really gotten into moe shows when they are slow, relaxing experiences like Gochuumon wa Uasgi desu ka or Non Non Biyori, Bakuon was a surprisingly fun change of pace.  It has a little bit of something for everyone, except maybe the action crowd, but it’s main concern is comedy and it passes the test with flamboyantly flying colors.

Bakuon is fucking hilarious, and you don’t need to be into motorcycles at all (I’m not) to have a good laugh.  The shows comedy is mix of silly events, very on-point joking criticisms of certain groups, and some of the most entertaining madness I’ve seen in some time.  For example there’s one episode where they start with a segment on bikers, how bragging rights among bikers is about who has the most expensive bike, and how bikers can be total snobs who don’t obey the rules of the road while demanding everyone  else should, as a guy with a couple biker snob friends myself I can say it was 100% spot on and I laughed through the entire thing.  But if you really want something to sell you, I’ll you about what grabbed me, because I almost skipped this show until I heard about this part.  In the first episode when the main girl goes to the driving school to get her motorcycle license her instructor tells her to listen to her training bike, and then without warning the bike legitimately starts talking for minutes on end, and her advice is split 50/50 between how to ride a motorcycle properly and how to do sexual stuff, because since the bikes a training bike and has “been ridden by so many men” her personality is that she’s slutty and it’s great.  Bakuon is full of ridiculous stuff like that and I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone looking for a feel-good comedy, this was way more fun than I ever expected it to be, and that’s about the highest praise I can give a series really.

Surly Summaries: Concrete Revolutio Last Song

WHAT. THE. FUCK.  This has been one of the biggest disappointments I have sat through in a while.  There will be spoilers ahead.

I legitimately wished they never made this second season, I would rather have been left hanging for all time with nothing but season one and all the potential it had than this pathetic result.  Concrete Revolutio Last Song is a baffling step backwards from the first season in almost every way.  The only thing Last Song did better for sure was the first episode because Last Song’s first episode was fucking awesome, it was coherent, it was on point and it explained how the mechanical detective turned from the straight-laced good guy to a criminal hellbent on killing a lot of people.  But after that the story just falls apart.  The biggest problem with Last Song is that starts with the same slower pace the early episodes of season one had, even though it no longer makes sense to do so.  It tries to slowly tie everything together into the final conflict the way season one did, except it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because the huge climactic ending of the first season set the stage for power episodes,  where the story and characters are supposed to make big strides and we see big battles, and we get a sense that conflict has escalated until we get to the final battle.  Instead Last Song seems content to show the plot by implication while it keeps the status quo for almost the entire season and introduces a bunch of new characters, plot twists, and concepts, most of which don’t really add anything.

And then they cram so much shit into the final episode that is has no sense of pacing, build-up or climax at all.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense, they spend almost almost all of Last Song doing basically nothing with the story and just adding characters like the Iron Masked Fencer, and showing us that Jaguar was turning evil but no he really wasn’t, and then in the final episode they cram in a giant battle, reveal the final villain’s powers and defeat him in minutes and have all the monsters teleport to an alternate reality which is supposed to be our reality.  Concrete Revolutio is Kekkai Sensen all over again, it has all this color, all this crazy shit, all this heart and soul, and then it fucking implodes in the final episode.  And the worst part is that all they added to the show was mostly crap.  The main bad guy was boring as shit and he was beaten so fast he didn’t have a final villain feel, most of the new monsters and characters are notably less interesting than the characters from season one, and I was not at all a fan of the idea that this was an alternate reality and that Jiro was the energy of the atomic bomb given human form.  Really the only cool addition to the story here was the idea of using monsters as fuel and having the monsters fight back, starting with Emi killing Master Ultima.  And the storytelling was just plain incompetent in Last Song.  In the first season all the flash-forwards where we saw events that would happen in Last Song clued us into the fact that the episodic adventures were going to lead to something bigger even if they didn’t tell us how they would get there.  In Last Song some of the episodic adventures have no relevance to the story at all and you only become aware of those that do tie into the final conflict after the final conflict is already revealed at which point the connection doesn’t even feel clever or vaguely interesting because you have to process the ridiculous amount of information in the finale and have stopped caring.  And the final episode should have been two episodes, one to show the large scale battle and one to show the battle with the main villain and the future stuff where Kikko is a low key witch, because that way you could have at least paced the finale well.  Instead so much happens in the final episode that none of it has any sense of buildup or impact, especially the main villain or Jiro’s transformation into an invisible energy dragon.  But no, that would require thought and skill, and the creators clearly spent all of theirs on season one and we’re left with this clusterfuck of a sequel.  FUCK.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Mayoiga

Mayoiga was one the bigger disappointments for me this season.  I will give it credit for not turning into a total gorefest like many informed viewers expected it to be, but it doesn’t offer anything else substantial.  There will be spoilers ahead.

So the big twist was that everyone who makes into Nanaki village is confronted by a visualization of their trauma, their Nanaki, every time they want to leave the village and the only way to get back is by either severing yourself from your Nanaki, which causes you to age super fast, or to accept your Nanaki, which causes you to warp back to the normal world.  This results in a feel-good ending to the show where about half the characters resolve their traumas and accept their Nanakis and about half choose to stay in the village because they are done with society.  None of this is bad, and to give the show some credit a lot of Nanakis are fucking amazingly grotesque and horrifying, and some of the sound effects like the thunderous roars from earlier episodes are stellar.  However all of the best elements in the show are more ideal for a thriller, horror story (which is what most people expected anyway), not a show with a feel-good ending teaching all the characters that everyone has shit to deal with and every has their own traumas.

The problem here is that because the story is more about teaching a lesson than actually telling a story, the story never goes anywhere.  There’s 30 characters, quite a few subplots, several horrifying looking monsters and their accompanying backstories, and none of it matters at all.  The story has a ton of moving parts and some of them are handled pretty well or are pretty interesting, but they all amount to nothing because the only part of the story that really mattered was Mitsumune convincing Hayato to quit being a possessive dick and be his friend, and by extension teaching everyone else to embrace their Nanakis.  Fuck the cool parts of the story was the initial disappearance of Yottsun, the big roars, the ugly monsters (I thought the BB gun girl’s wasp monster especially good) and the weird song Koharu kept singing.  But none of those elements really go anywhere, they were all red herrings, which is a shame because I think this show had the potential to be a great new horror anime and that clearly didn’t happen.  There isn’t much else to say really, this show had a ton of potential and has some superficial stuff that was good, but the core narrative was threadbare and could have easily been told over an OVA or two, but instead it took a full twelve episodes. The only good thing to come out of the final episode was Valkana being a boss and saying he’d try living in Nanaki Village forever, and Lovepon calling Mitsumune’s penguin Nanaki agorable and behaving like the cute girl she is for a second without shouting execute.

Hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: Choosing the Wrong Main Character with Tenjou Tenge

So I recently wrote a post about why I thought anime was a better medium than light novels and manga.  While I was writing that, I decided to do a little experiment, specifically I would re-watch the Tenjou Tenge anime, which I remembered being pretty mediocre, and I would read the manga alongside it to see the difference.  The experiment itself has revealed some interesting results (I now realized I can read the manga so long as the anime was in fact mediocre and the manga is better.  Shocking, I know.) as I go to discuss the clusterfuck that is the anime adaptation of Tenjou Tenge.  There will be major spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

The biggest problem with Tenjou Tenge is that it’s a 24 episode anime trying to adapt an almost 140 chapter long manga.  There’s no fucking way Tenjou Tenge could ever get close to completing the story and the show knew that.  Instead it adapted the manga almost exactly as it appeared for the chapters it covered, minus the more extreme stuff like sex, loss of limbs and a straight up rape that shows up in Chapter 3 or so… yea did I forget to mention this show is kinda fucked up, though that mostly applies to the manga, because it’s definitely kinda fucked up.  Where the show well and truly falls apart though is when it goes into the backstory.  In Tenjou Tenge there are a few chapters that take place in the present to start with before we jump into a bunch of chapters about a previous conflict from two years ago that sets the stage for the current conflict.  What this means is that the anime is legitimately split 50/50 between past and present, which is not how any story should ever be.  When your backstory is as long as your main story, you have a problem, or you could just split it into two different stories.  This works out fine in the manga because the manga’s fucking long, but in the anime it’s almost impressive how demoralizing it is to realize you just spent half the time watching the buildup to the conflict the story teased you with early on.

I get why the anime did this of course, most anime don’t venture too far from the manga, and to it’s credit the back story conflict is far more interesting than the current conflict was at the beginning.  However the anime suffers in a big way because of it, and not just because it spends so much time in the past.  In the Tenjou Tenge manga there are essentially two male protagonists, Nagi Souichirou and Takayanagi Masataka, and the story swaps it’s focus between the two from arc to arc, allowing one or the other to play a bit role or straight up vanish without the story skipping a beat.  This doesn’t happen in the anime.  It focuses on only one guy and he’s the less appealing of the two.  Again I sort of see why they chose him, the manga starts by focusing on him and he does have the more stand out design, Nagi is a delinquent with blond hair so he stands out amid all the more normal students.  Takayanagi on the other hand looks like any generic random guy.  But of the two Takayanagi is by far the more interesting, but I’ll get to that in a minute, for now I need to set the stage in more detail.

Tenjou Tenge is high school battle anime set in a high school that is dedicated to preserving martial arts, so naturally everyone can fight.  In addition to the martial arts are people who can perform superhuman techniques using their chi.  Nagi Souichirou and his friend Bob Makihara, one of the few genuinely interesting black dudes in anime, attend the school with the goal of taking it over by force.  They fail spectacularly when they butt heads with Juken Club, which they will later join.  The Juken Club is a three member team who have a long standing grudge with the Student Council, it’s members are Natsume Maya the team captain and a third year student, Natsume Aya, Maya’s younger sister and a first year student, and Takayangi Masataka a second year student and the younger brother of the Student Council President Takayanagi Mitsuomi, who is the antagonist of the anime and a third year student.  Got all that?  I hope so cause it’s about to get more complicated.

Because in addition to chi powers, there are other superpowers related to various Chinese dragons and they are passed down family bloodlines.  Aya and Souicihirou have dragon powers.  Natsume Maya, who doesn’t have dragon powers,  is the younger sister of Natsume Shin, who had the Dragon’s Eye power (which has since passed to Aya).  Shin founded the Juken Club two years ago after his previous group, KATANA was destroyed, thanks to him losing control of his powers and tearing most of his own team apart, and Maya instigating the whole thing in attempt to get stronger.  Mitsuomi was part of the original KATANA group and continued to stick with Shin in the Juken Club.  I feel I should mention at this point that Shin is a huge sis-con and Maya is a bit of a bro-con.  Also Mitsuomi develops feelings for Maya and she reciprocates, and this eventually leads to the death of Shin, the turning of Mitsuomi from a nice guy to cold-hearted leader and sets Maya and the Juken Club against Mitsuomi and his Student Council.  And by the way if you think this is messy and complicated, this is the simpler part of the story in the manga.

Ok so now that that’s out of the way I can finally get to the main topic of this post, why Nagi Souichirou is the wrong guy to cast as the main character.  For starters Nagi is weak as shit, he’s a tough punk and he can punch hard but he has no skill and no technique, let alone chi powers.  This means in order for him to become a threat he has to power-up unbelievably fast and it’s bullshit, he spends a week backhanding pots and pans and somehow this lets him learn a chi move and makes him about 10x stronger than he was in episode one.  At this point he’s still far weaker than Masataka, Maya and Aya, though he has outclassed Bob.  When we get to the major battle of the current timeline, Nagi powers again up in the most boring way imaginable, he basically gets Sage Mode from Naruto allowing him to draw chi from the world around him instead of being limited to the chi in his own body so he heals super fast, use chi moves constantly and just generally becomes a huge pain in the ass.  Oh and even with all of this he doesn’t beat Mitsuomi and only takes down one important guy and a handful of thugs.  By comparison Masataka takes out 80 thugs by himself and is about to beat one important guy before his older brother jumps into their fight and beats him from behind like a total dick.

See the thing that makes Masataka interesting despite his totally boring character design is that it feels like the show itself underestimates him.  Throughout the anime it is continually suggested that Maya is the strongest member of Juken Club so long as you discount the OVA’s which start introducing more ridiculous powers for Nagi without any proper context if you’ve never read the manga.  However in my judgement, Masataka was already stronger than Maya by episode one and is just unrecognized as such.  In that major battle Maya defeats one major opponent and maybe 20 guys, and again Masataka beats 80 and was totally about to beat a major opponent if  not for his brother’s interference.  Not only that but in the beatdown scene in episode 2 or 3, it’s by far the most well known scene from the show, both Maya and Aya attempt to restrain Masataka while he pounds the living shit out of Nagi and he throws them off with zero effort.  Moreover Maya always feels powerless in front of Mitsuomi and he never attacks her, by comparison he instantly attacks Masataka on sight in most of their few encounters, which implies that he either really hates Masataka or sees him as a threat, though his attitude in both the show and manga express contempt or disregard more than anything else.

What makes Masataka the most interesting to me however is not just his strength, it’s how he fits into the Juken club and the overall narrative.  During the anime, Masataka is solely a bit player, such a side character that it’s almost painful for reasons I will get into a minute.  What makes Masataka unusual by the standards of the Juken Club is evident even by his status as second year.  He’s not a total outsider to the prior conflict from two years ago like Aya, Nagi and Bob are but neither is he consumed by that conflict the way Maya is.  This means Masataka is more versatile than the other characters allowing him to be in the know or ignorant depending on the scene, in the same way that he can appearing overpowering in one fight scene or the underdog in another.  This also applies to his relationships with the other characters, he makes a good rival for Nagi, in the beginning anyway before the show well and truly shafts him, and a good partner for Bob, who has no superpowers or chi powers but relies solely on skill and physical power.  While I’m the subject of Bob I feel like he suffers from the same problem as Masataka, they both get sidelined hard to make room for more Nagi and Maya when I felt they were the more interesting characters to begin with.  Because unlike Nagi, Bob is not stupid, he’s much more perceptive and much more willing to talk things through and figure things out himself whereas Nagi yells a lot, charges headlong into the fray and needs to be told everything like a typical shounen hero.  You know, now that I put it that way I think I’m seeing the problem here.  I think Tenjou Tenge is more of seinen anime in content and tone and that Mastataka and Bob reflect that, while Nagi feels out of place because he’s more like a shounen character, which makes him seem a lot less complex and interesting than the side characters surrounding him.  Yea, that may be the root of the problems I’m having here.

Anyway getting back to Masataka and his relationships, I think his ties to the girls are where the show fails big time.  Maya respects Masataka but more or less treats him like a follower and spends almost all of her attention on Nagi and most of the rest on Aya.  This holds true to the manga and it works pretty well in showing how obsessed Maya is with dragon powers and how they blind her to other important things, she is unable to properly train Bob because she’s so obsessed with training Nagi and his powers for example.  It’s with Aya that the show well and truly drops the ball though.  Now Aya has this annoying clingy romantic obsession with Nagi and that is true in the manga too, but in the manga there’s a large stretch where Nagi straight up disappears and Aya is given more time to grow as a person and bond with Masataka and Bob, as well as some other characters who never made it into the anime.  And the thing is there is one scene in the anime where they could have made this work beautifully.  After the major battle of the current timeline the Juken Club starts to fall apart, Bob has lost some confidence because he feels weak compared to Nagi, Maya and Nagi have gotten closer romantically which badly hurts Aya who started going after Nagi first but has yet to receive the same romantic attention, and Masataka seems to be the only guy who is paying any attention whatsoever to the fragmentation of the group, making him more of an outsider to the club than he has ever been.

Anyway Aya overhears Nagi talking to Bob about he loves Maya, and Aya in her sadness and desperation (in addition to freaking about the sadistic damage she did during the major battle when she let her dragon powers take over), takes a ridiculously long katana from her house to replace her sword that broke earlier in the show while she mopes about all heartbroken.  This katana is called the Chokutou Reiki and it amplifies dragon powers, it also drove her older brother Shin insane.  Maya understandably freaks the fuck out that the Reiki is gone and in Aya’s hands, and since it’s one the few things she and Mitsuomi can set their differences aside to deal with, Aya is forced to run away from home for the night and she goes to the only person not chasing her, or who won’t report her to Maya, Masataka.  Masataka, being in love with Aya, and just generally a decent dude goes ahead and lets her spend the night.  Now this scene follows the manga where Mastaka almost pervs on Aya in the shower but hears her crying and stops himself while Aya is met by the ghost of Shin later that night to get a warning about the Reiki, yea the dragon power related parts of Tenjou Tenge are fucking nuts.  What they should have done was make this a scene where Masataka learns about Aya’s dragon powers and their potential dangers but chooses to stand by her anyway because, a, that’s what’s in character for him to do regardless and, b, because he is the character in the show best equipped to handle Aya since he won’t be inclined to suppress her powers like Maya, attack her for the potential dangers of her power like Mitsuomi, totally exacerbate her problems like Nagi or just not be anywhere near strong enough to protect her from anyone, including herself, like Bob.

Now to be fair to the show, the manga does not take this route either because it’s dead set on having Nagi and Aya be a pair that never really gets together for some stupid reason.  But the point I’m trying to make here is that no matter what angle you look at the story from, be it in the manga (which I’ll get to shortly), the anime (which was pretty shit) or re-imaginings of how the story should have gone (in case you’re like me and just do that sort of thing), Nagi is always far less interesting than Masataka and the show’s decision to exclude Masataka from significance is a fatal error in a show already riddled with serious problems.  Maya and Aya also suffer from similar problems, the focus is mostly put on Maya because she’s the leader and she’s involved in both the current and prior conflicts, but her character arc is more or less finished by the end of the prior conflict, leaving her with little room to grow.  By comparison Aya has all kinds of potential and for whatever reason the creators used that potential to make an obnoxious, clingy girl who never grows at all in the anime and takes a pretty long time to go anywhere in the manga before she ends up behaving as though she went back to square one at the end of the manga.

The manga gets past most of these problems by being long as fuck compared to the anime, but even then I think it’s interesting to note that the big arc where Nagi and Maya are both missing was probably the best arc of the manga. Because it finally gives Masataka, Aya and Bob some much needed character growth and because it gets away from the insanity that is all the dragon powers of Tenjou Tenge and gets back to more manageable martial arts.  And the weird part is that I get the impression that the creators of the manga figured out along the way that Maya and Nagi were the more boring characters, because Nagi-focused arcs are mainly just battle arcs, while Masataka focused arcs generally include more narrative and character development, and in the later chapters Masataka and Aya play a much larger role with Masataka ending up as the final hero of the series (and totally kicking his brother’s ass, proving that he was in fact stronger than Maya), though Nagi does play his part as a heroes as well.

So in summary, don’t have the main character of your seinen anime behave like a shounen hero, and in retrospect I can’t believe it took me until I was halfway through writing this post to figure out that that was the root of many of Tenjou Tenge’s problems.  In a similar vein when you have a story full of complex characters or characters with the potential to be complex don’t focus most of your attention on the simple characters or those done with their character growth.  Because credit where it’s due Maya is an interesting character in the show and the manga, but Aya has so much more potential than Maya ever did and that potential went largely untapped because of the initial obsession with Nagi and Maya which trapped Aya into a simpler and, in the anime in particular, more annoying character.  Amidst all the chaos and WTF elements of Tenjou Tenge there are well written and interesting characters and character relationships, things which make the overall story far more bearable and interesting.  It’s just a shame that so few of those made it into the anime.  Though I will say in the anime’s defense, I think it does do the part of the manga it covers better than the manga, the Bunshichi and Shin fight and Masataka’s beat down of Nagi were definitely better in the anime.  But because the anime is so much worse as a standalone piece of work, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  This is one of the few times when I will in fact recommend the manga over the anime, though the manga is more than a little chaotic, insane and dark, so unless you’re ready for that I wouldn’t really recommend it either.  Thanks for reading my meandering ramblings, I hope you enjoyed them and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki

The Summer 2016 season of anime is rapidly approaching and three big sequels are on the horizon.  The continuation of D Gray-Man and the CG Berserk sequel are the bigger sequels of the three but since I’ve already talked about the original D Gray Man before and never really got into Berserk (shocking as that may seem), instead I’m going to talk about the predecessor to sequel number 3, Arslan Senki, there will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

In case you never saw the original Arslan Senki, by which I mean the first season which came out in 2015 not the original OVAs from the 90’s because I haven’t seen those, here’s a quick recap.  Arslan Senki is a fantasy anime technically, though it usually more closely resembles a history anime with some fantastical elements.  It follows the journey of Arslan, heir to the throne of Pars, a rich and powerful kingdom which appears to have been inspired by ancient Persia.  The bulk of the story takes place after the Parsian army suffers a huge defeat at the hands of the Lusitanians, who appear to have inspired by the Crusader armies of medieval Europe.  Arslan is on the run and has only a few trusted allies to turn to, while his father the king is missing and the capitol city lies under siege.  Arslan and his allies must work carefully to build enough support to drive out the invading army and other, more sinister forces that dwell in their midst.  There’s plenty of action involved and while the story thus far has not been complex, the relatively simple tale has been told with great skill I feel, making it easy to get invested in the characters.  Overall I would recommend the show, it’s a solid, dependable story that never left me feeling bored.  If you haven’t seen the show and want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop here, because it’s time to get into more detail.

Arslan Senki has an interesting and problematic start.  The first episode is solid, introduces a few characters, introduces one of the central tenets of the story’s overarching conflicts, slavery, and generally gets us to understand that Arslan is a kind and somewhat wimpy prince living in nation that is very proud of it’s military might and warrior-king Andragoras.  We also learn that Andragoras and his queen, Tahamine, are not on very good terms with each other and on even worse terms with Arslan.  The series then skips forward two years to get the catastrophic defeat at Atropatene.  This is where the series took a nosedive for me the first time I watched it.  For one thing, the CG used during large scale battles is not very good and they don’t use it to do impressive things like say Kingdom would do to make up for the downgrade in visual quality.  But to me it was the logic of the series that shattered my immersion in the story.  Ok so get this, the king of Pars is a renowned warrior and general who has never been beaten before and when the Lusitanians invade he decides to engage them on a battlefield that is shrouded in fog where you can’t see shit.  Now I understood that the conceit was that Andragoras was too proud to retreat and too confident in victory to suspect that this was part of a trap, but even so how the fuck does any general decide ‘yeah let’s charge headlong into a battlefield where we can’t see anything,’ let alone a general who has never lost before?  Ancient battlefields were already a chaotic mess thanks to the delays in relaying information and commands, and you now, the mess that is melee combat, no general in their right mind would charge into a battlefield where they can’t see anything.  It would have made way more sense for them have just waited the fog out or retreated to a more defensible position.  All of this still bugs me, but on my second viewing of the show it bothered me a lot less because Andragoras honestly isn’t that important to the story, and because the show is styling itself as an epic or legend, so it makes more sense because legends and epics tend to have more overblown and unrealistic characters in them so it just kinda fit.

The problems only got worse during my first viewing as the first few episodes have little for Arslan to do since he’s forced to hide while larger and more important events happen around him, like the siege of Ecbatana.  Funnily enough though, I actually thought this was one of the more exciting parts when I rewatched it and I think I get why in retrospect.  The early episodes, minus episode one which was mostly a standalone introduction, flow into each other really well and do a great job portraying the chaos and scale of the Lusitanian invasion and the speed with which Pars falls once the rug is pulled out from under it.  Sure Arslan’s part of the story is pretty slow but he’s not really in focus yet, he’s just a loose thread that needs to be cut to tie off a much larger scheme, and once he goes into hiding the full force of the scheme takes center stage while loose-thread Arslan is put on the back-burner.  So if you watched it and thought the early stuff was boring enough to get you to drop I would encourage you to give the first five episodes or so a shot because they were so much better when I marathoned them rather than watching week by week.  Anyway I think it’s time to get a bigger picture of the story.

To me, Arslan Senki has a great story.  It’s simple but effective and it’s very easy to latch onto and support.  Arslan can appeal to a lot of people because he’s the underdog, an outsider in several ways when compared to his family and allies, very open-minded, just generally a decent guy and he has way more on his plate than anyone his age should have to deal with.  Arslan compensates by attracting powerful and competent allies but the prince himself feels like a much more real and down to earth character amid a cast full of characters who are more clearly designed to fill well-worn story archetypes like the heroic knight, the brilliant tactician, the priestess and so on.  And I’m glad that Hermes is a straight up villain instead of some kind of anti-hero.  I’ve talked about this before in an old post about anti-heroes, as well my reviews of Death Note and Code Geass, but the overwhelming majority of anti-heroes in anime are vengeance seekers and most of them cross the line into becoming just as bad as villains at some point, but they are rarely actually treated by their stories and fanbases as if they were villains.  Both Light and Lelouch are still mostly viewed as sort of good guys by a lot of people in the anime community, while characters like Sasuke get to turn around and redeem themselves from their terrible crimes without a  whole lot of effort.  And that’s always bugged me because I feel that once these guys go too far they really only have two options, either they become villains or they spend a significant portion of their life seeking redemption, like Akame from Akame ga Kill.  But for whatever reason I don’t see a lot of people labeling Light and Lelouch as villains, even the shows they belong to portray them as sort of justified, when by the end they are far worse than any of the people they were fighting against, and that does not sit well with me.  Which is why I’m a big fan of Hermes, he’s a guy who has taken his revenge too far and is made the villain for it.  I loved how Arslan worries for a while about whether or not Hermes’ crimes might be justified by his quest for revenge but then concludes that it doesn’t matter if Hermes is justified or not because the lengths he’s gone to to see his vengeance realized have robbed his cause of any legitimacy it might have had.  Because that’s the way I feel about Light and Lelouch and a lot of vengeance seekers, it doesn’t matter if their cause was sort of just or their ideals sort of good, they went so overboard in pursuit of those things they are ultimately irredeemable to me.  Hermes embodies this idea and the fact that he is so blatantly the villain is refreshing.

But getting back to the rest of the story, I think what makes Arslan Senki good is that it mostly appears so obvious.  The broad strokes of the story are telegraphed well in advance, they even say when Arslan makes the declaration to abolish slavery that he later became known as Arslan the Liberator because of this, which strongly suggests he comes out of this contest on top if the title itself wasn’t enough of a tip off.  And given how invincible all of Arslan’s companions appear when compared to everyone except Hermes, it’s never a surprise when Narsus outsmarts all of his opponents or Daryun kills a major enemy like Bahadur or Xandes.  Arslan makes up for being predictable in the broader scope of things by being more surprising and engaging in the details.  For example, while it’s immediately apparent Arslan isn’t loved much by the king and queen, it’s not revealed until much later that he likely isn’t related to either of them (though he looks like he should be the queen’s son if not the king’s) and spent his early years in an orphanage not knowing he was a prince at all.  Likewise I would get bored by Narsus unbeatable strategies if the show didn’t go out of it’s way to show how his plans work in action across the full battlefield and without much in the way of exposition to boot.

An especially good detail is how different Lusitanians act with regard to their religious beliefs, they’re collectively painted as a bunch of religious nutjobs and they kind of are.  But in between the sweeping generalizations and almost hilariously overblown characters like Bodin, who honestly feels like he would fit right in in Akame ga Kill, there’s more depth.  You have soldiers who don’t really care about the actual tenets of their religion, they just use it as a tool to take what they want.  You have others who refuse or question Bodin’s commands, or that one guy, who I wish they showed more of, who straight up called his own religious leader a bloodthirsty devil and openly wonders what the hell kind of god would accept child-killers like himself and many other soldiers into heaven.  Even the Lusitanian prince doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about religion and only exploits it when Bodin makes grabs for power.  On the other end of the spectrum you have Etoile who takes her religion so seriously she honestly can’t understand why others don’t see it’s greatness and criticizes her men when they act outside of her faith’s moral tenets.  You even have the women who are so insane in their faith that they would rather throw themselves off a building than be captured.  All of this is in service of showing how horrible and hollow religion and faith can be, and I want to stress the can because religion and faith certainly aren’t all bad regardless of how cynically this show views them and it’s not like people don’t find other reasons to be horrible, and sets up the Lusitanians’ downfall.  There’s a line from a captured Parsian knight right as the siege of Ecbatana starts where he says something like he’ll watch from the afterlife as the Lusitanians’ fanatical religion and their cruel acts of faith end up devouring them, and aside from that line being a great one liner in context it’s totally predictive of where the series is going.  When the Lusitanians had momentum and unity they won, but the longer they stay in Pars the more they fragment and begin to die.

The characters for all their reliance on very basic and well known archetypes are also pretty good, or perhaps enjoyable would be a more precise term.  I think what makes most of the characters be enjoyable is how they change depending on who they talk to.  For example Daryun is the stereotypical perfect knight whenever Arslan is present and all of his lines include the word Denka (Highness) in them somewhere, which makes him pretty flat and boring in the name of getting his sheer dedication and loyalty acorss.  By contrast he feels much more human and detailed when he’s alone with Narsus where’s he allowed to poke fun at his friend, talk about Arslan’s potential lineage problems and other topics he doesn’t want Arslan to know about.  Likewise I could see people getting annoyed with Alfreed because when she’s around Narsus she’s obnoxiously clingy and always bickering with Elam, but she really comes into her own when she’s talking to other women and is allowed to have actual conversations about her goals, beliefs and relationships that give her more depth.  Almost all of the main characters have this sort dual-characterization, they behave in a specific archetypal way around some characters and are allowed to be more varied and human around others, and as far as I can tell it works, it sells me these characters who would otherwise be totally boring when they weren’t doing something badass.

The main exception to this rule is Arslan himself whose character is governed by a term I’m now-coining the Yona Effect.  In Akatsuki no Yona, Yona the heroine was totally useless for the first few episodes, she had no skills, no contacts, no nothing and she was totally dependent on Hak to survive.  What made Yona such a fantastic character though is that she forced herself to improve because she was tired of being useless.  This attitude pops up all the time, mostly in shounen shows, where characters say something “dammit I want to stronger…”  What makes Yona special however is that she can remain a relatively weak character and we can still appreciate how much she grows because she started somewhere even worse, whereas in a typical shounen story a character gets overpowered as they improve themselves.  It’s also just a lot more endearing and gripping to see a totally weak character grow into someone stronger than it is to see a character who is already strong get even stronger.  And Arslan follows this model almost to the letter, he does have some sword skills early on but not nearly enough to survive on his own, and otherwise he has no skills whatsoever.  In the early episodes he constantly tries to do something, just to feel less useless and ends up breaking all the plates he touches and that sort of thing.  Which is why by the first season’s end when he gets to the point where he’s grown in confidence and skill but still remains weaker than his allies, you really appreciate how much work it took to get where he is.  It’s not handled quite as well as Yona’s development but it has a similar effect nonetheless and it’s a much needed break from Arslan’s more invincible allies.

So far I’ve been going on and on about the good stuff and only mention some of the bad stuff in passing like the bad CG.  So I think it’s time to get some complaining in.  When I finished the first season I had two major problems, One, I thought the show really should have done more to resolve the main conflict because I didn’t know we would get a sequel so soon and while the first season did end at a natural break in the story, it also left off right in the middle of incredibly important, huge and urgent story of Arslan reclaiming Ecbatana.  Two, why did we waste fiveish episodes on Arslan’s sidequest in Shindra?  Now it’s not that I disliked the episodes in Shindra, and I do like the addition of Jaswant to Arslan’s party.  However given how relatively unimportant the Shindra part of the story was and how those fiveish episodes could have been used to further Arslan’s main goal of driving the Lusitanians out of Pars, I thought it was a waste of time and after re-watching it, I still feel mostly the same the way.  In fact the only good thing which I didn’t notice before from the Shindra arc was Farangis’ costume change and let’s address that too.

As I’ve discussed several times before, I am big fan of strong women and Farangis qualifies as such.  I like her aloof, dignified demeanor, archery skills, slight of air mystery when it comes to her ability to hear Djinn and other magical/religious knowledge and of course how she is a hot mature woman.  What I am not a big fan of however is her costume, she might as well be wearing just her underwear and a cape for all the clothes she has on.  I get that the idea was to promote her sexual appeal but come the fuck on guys, she had all the appeal in the world without being half naked.  Her outfit is totally at odds with her profession, priestesses usually aren’t known for their skimpy outfits, and her aloof, dignified demeanor, I mean most people would look absolutely ridiculous is they acted with a tenth of the pride she has while wearing the same outfit.  To the show’s credit it does not obsess over Farangis’ lack of clothes and put her in a bunch of shots that emphasize her cleavage and whatnot like so many anime do, but still I always thought the outfit itself was in poor taste.  I don’t know maybe I’m just a bit of a prude, or maybe it’s because I’m not 15 years old anymore, but that outfit just does not appeal to me, aside from it already being a low class act in and of itself, it does not mesh with the character at all and even seems a bit disrespectful to Farangis herself. Like shouldn’t a character this awesome deserve an outfit that reflects her better and isn’t designed for base titillation?  What’s more it doesn’t even get you much, most shots with Farangis focus on her gorgeous face and maybe her bust, you only really see the full skimpiness her outfit in battle scenes where it’s important to see the whole body, and boy does it look out of place there.  In the Shindra arc they actually put Farangis in an outfit with some real clothes and she looked so much better, because she looked more like a real person in a real place, not a character from a porn game in the middle of a serious, historic setting.  And then when they go back to Pars she ditches the clothes and ugh…fuck this is ridiculous.  I know this is such a small tangent and it really has no bearing on the show but just… FUCK.  Is it really too much to ask for some more thoughtful and thematically appropriate costume designs?  Seeing strong women get thrown into trashy outfits that don’t fit them all just drives me up the fucking wall.  This is even more frustrating than having big tits as the default setting for anime women, which I bitched about before.  Ugh.

To summarize, Arslan Senki is a good show with a lot of different strengths and I for one am looking forward to season 2.  I am also fervently praying that someone on the creative staff will have a flash of reason and put Farangis in some real clothes again.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

PS: If you enjoyed Arslan Senki and/or this review there’s more, the Arslan Senki Season 2 review is out.

Understanding the Medium: Bring the Noise

In a prior post I talked about how the common idea that an anime’s source material is inherently better than its anime adaptation was utter bullshit.  Now I’m going to explain why I believe that anime is just a straight up better medium than the manga and light novels from which so many anime are derived.  There will be scattered spoilers you have been warned.

In case you couldn’t guess from the title the main reason is sound.  I’ve never been big on comic books, graphic novels or anything else which resembles manga and sound is the biggest reason why.  Sound brings more out of me as a viewer than words or pictures.  I’ve never been brought to tears by a book for example, now I love books and I read a lot of books, but I yet to find one that can bring the same level of emotions out of me that anime or even more mainstream film can.  I mean for fuck’s sake songs in a language I can’t fully understand have a better chance of making me cry, than any book I’ve ever read.  And it’s not just about the ability to make me cry either.  I spend a lot of my free time imagining things that I don’t quite have the skill to write about, or would constitute gross copyright infringement even if could write about them properly.  For example a common mental exercise I do is to write my own character into any story I’m reading or watching, basically I write/imagine fanfic where I’m creating my own character and their story within the confines of whatever story the fanfic takes place in (I don’t really think of it as fanfic though, that’s just a well known term that fits to some extent).  Anyway to keep this tangent relevant, the point is that music is a godsend when I’m doing this mental exercise because it can help me imagine scenes in this made up character’s story and if I get a couple of scenes I like together, I can start stringing together a more cohesive character narrative and make much better stories and characters.  This applies to my more original work too, I do a much better job imagining thinking up characters and their actions when I try and build it to the backdrop of different songs.  Long story short, sound brings more out of me as a creative and as a viewer so yea, it’s pretty goddamn important.

In fact I don’t think’s a stretch to say that sound is the most important aspect of anime, to someone like me at least, and its absence is what turns me off to a lot of manga.  Kingdom for example is an anime I absolutely love, it’s on my top 10 anime of all time list.  And it looks like total shit, the first season anyway, season two looks really good.  I’ve talked about Kingdom before, and I’ll link that here, but since almost no one’s looked at that post, seriously I’m almost positive it’s the least viewed post on my blog, here’s a recap.  Kingdom is battle shounen anime set in ancient China during the warring states period and it follows Xin, a former slave seeking to become the greatest general of all time and blah blah blah.  Anyway Kingdom has a lot of things that make it good and in the first season, visuals is precisely none of those reasons.  Season one, with it’s heavy use of mediocre CG, sort of encourages people to check out the manga, which is way more popular than the anime, so the story won’t look like shit.  But I can’t do that, I can’t read the manga, and not because I can’t read manga at all, because I have read some.  It’s because what Kingdom lacks in visuals it more than makes up for in audio.  The OST is full of grand, sweeping tracks that lends the story a huge, epic (in the literary sense not the epic=cool sense) feel.  The battle noises are satisfyingly solid, and unique enough that you can usually tell which main character is attacking in a scene without even looking.  For example Xin has these super heavy attacks and you can hear the attacks tearing through flesh and armor, while Qiang Lei his top lieutenant has these airy and ethereal strikes that reflect her super natural fighting technique.  And last but not least, the voice acting is fucking phenomenal, it adds so much tension, drama, pacing and impact that there’s no way in hell I could ever read the manga after hearing that shit.

Which makes a nice segue to my next topic, voice acting.  Even more so than music, voice acting is what really makes anime appealing, after all I can listen to music while reading and get that same boost to creativity (not so much to emotion) I was talking about before.  Good voice acting on the other hand is much harder to come by, especially if we are talking about voice acting in foreign language.  I’m one of those guys who can’t do dubbed anime, not even the good dubs like Panty and Stocking, but it’s not because I’m a purist or anything, it’s because I’m a big fan of the way Japanese sounds.  I particularly like seeing the different dialects or styles of speaking, Yakuza/delinquent Japanese and archaic incantations in particular are favorites of mine.  But getting away from my personal tastes, voice acting can add a lot to any given scene, performance or overall production.  If you’re reading a book or a manga you get to experience the story at your own pace, and there are benefits to that, however there are reasons we go to anime and movies, to see how people who stage things creatively for a living, like directors, handle a story.  Because a lot of people will simply blow through manga or books, I know I’m guilty of that, and sometimes that is a grave mistake.  For example, building tension is an important part of anime and films across a wide variety of genres, a proper buildup and release of tension can make any scene, episode or overall story much more interesting.  And when you’re blowing through the manga, odds are you are building precisely zero tension.  Alternatively, the manga might be building up to something and then present you with a page where so much is going on, that it’s hard to process the information.  Not to say that some anime can’t fall victim to these same problems but they are less likely to do so.  Because when you’re watching an anime the pacing of a scene is set for you, usually by way of the voice acting.  Now badly paced anime scenes are definitely a thing and bad voice acting usually ends up somewhere between a cringe worthy moment or a so-bad-it’s-funny-moment, however, good voice acting will do wonders to any given scene.

For example in Fate Zero Rider has this famous line in the Banquet of Kings scene where he says a true king embodies the sum of all his followers’ desires.  In Kingdom there’s a scene where one of the major figures from the first season says almost the exact same thing, but concerning generals instead of kings.  Both lines are well written, both have an appealing message (basically the same one), and both are voiced by great characters.  But the way each character delivers the line makes for a world of difference, and it makes the general speech from Kingdom far more impressive in comparison.  Make no mistake, I’m a big fan of Fate Zero, and within Fate Zero Rider is probably my favorite character.  But his version of the speech just does not compare, it’s big, bold and relentless and he is shitting all over Saber while he makes it and it’s not even close to the general speech.  The general speech is much slower, not nearly so energetic and brash, and it’s shorter than Rider’s is, and none of those are weaknesses.  The general’s slower, more ponderous speech allows him to make better use of rich, deep voice, his words feel as though they carry far more weight because of how slowly and deliberately he says them, and he has much better dramatic timing, making each line count whereas Rider’s speech just kept pushing forward with little time to set any of it’s individual lines dramatically to shove his larger and still quite impressive speech in Saber’s face.  And the music during Kingdom’s general speech was better too, unbelievable as that may sound to all the Yuki Kajiura fans out there.  And this effect is even more pronounced when you compare anime to manga and other print mediums.

There’s this line in a book that illustrates what I was talking about before in how someone delivers a line.  In book 3 of Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle, there’s a scene where two women are on trial for having joined the fight against the demons.  This is important because the society they come from is based on a medieval Islamic state where women have next to no rights and battle is the domain of men.  And during this trial where people from all sides, the clergy, the women’s husbands, and many warriors, are against the women, there’s this line where one the women’s father, who has spent very little time with her and is a member of the warrior class, says that if his king had asked him yesterday he would have railed against the idea of fighting alongside women like most warriors, but after seeming them fight he said what he felt most for his daughter was not shock or anger, but pride.  And it’s a really emotional and dramatic moment in the book, but it’s just one line separating a few larger paragraphs, it has not textual flavor to add weight or emphasis to it, and it takes maybe five seconds to process the whole thing.  It’s there so briefly that when I get to that part I have to read it over and over to get the full emotional impact of the scene.  And I can so easily imagine how easy it would be to make this scene phenomenal in animation.  The dialogue is there, the words you need to say are there, and what’s left to do is decide how to say them, and with a slower, deliberate speech pattern, complete with pauses to show how the father is contemplating his careful choice of words this scene could be devastating in it’s emotional impact.  Imagine, just imagine, the idea of a young Muslim woman, hell any young woman, stumbling onto this hypothetical animated scene and being blown away by it.  Can you imagine how earth-shattering, in a positive sense, that scene could be?  It would be fucking incredible, and sadly it’s unlikely that it will ever happen, at least for this particular scene.

To summarize the last two paragraphs, line delivery is super fucking important, even more so than music.  You can write the most clever, inventive, ingenious and thought provoking line in the world and until someone comes along and says it just right, it will never reach it’s full potential.  It’s part of why vlogs, podcasts, and of course Youtube videos have so thoroughly overtaken blogs like mine, which are nothing but text and pictures, which in my case specifically I almost never use.  I like to think I’ve written some decent lines amid all the crap in my blog posts, and I know that if I had the time, equipment and skills to turn it into a vlogging channel or a Youtube career I would, because hearing something will produce a stronger reaction.  There’s a line in one of Youtuber Jim Sterling’s Jimquisition episode about voice acting in video games where he talks about how a good voice actor can capture our imaginations with the way they speak their words, and I’ve always found that to be a very noteworthy observation and a great way of saying said observation.  Because it’s true, how someone says a line will have a huge effect on the kind of message the line would have and what effect the line would have on the audience.  In a semi-related vein, I think the phrase “X speaks to me” is indicative of the power of spoken word.  You see it all the time in real life and in fiction, people will say something speaks to them, maybe it’s an art piece, maybe it’s architecture, maybe it’s the voices in your head or maybe it’s a fucking rock.  Point is that when people want to say they really feel like they understand something and/or are way into it, saying it speaks to them is a commonly understood phrase which communicates that message.  By comparison a common phrase associated with reading is that one will read into it or read up on it, both of which imply a more basic and impartial understanding of a topic than “it speaks to me” which generally conveys a more personal and intimate understanding of a topic.  And while this is me taking a tangent much further than I ever intended to, I do believe that these phrases and their respective meanings reflect the power of speech over print when it comes to affecting us at a personal level.

Battle noises, or ambient environment noises when no battles are going down, are important parts of an anime too.  It certainly makes the experience more lively and entertaining when an animated scene really communicates the impact of some major attack, like Izuku’s first smash in Boku no Hero Academia or Rokuro’s punch from episode 1 of Sousei no Onmyouji, or literally any punch from One Punch Man.  Environment noise is important too, whether it’s as simple and low key as bugs buzzing and chirping in the background of forest scene or the thunderous sound of train wheels slamming into the tracks at full speed like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri uses all the time, these noises do a lot to the set the tone of a scene before any actions occur or any lines are spoken.  Bugs in the forest, probably a low key slice of life scene, train thundering down the tracks probably a daring escape from or valiant charge into a dangerous situation.  One of the best things about ambient or environment sound, is that it can build tension by being absent.  This is true of dialogue and music too, the absence of sound can build tension, but generally long silences in conversation or music convey a sense of awkwardness or deep introspection.  By comparison a scene where the environment is silent is far more unnerving, because it’s not supposed to ever be silent.  There’s always supposed to insects buzzing, birds singing, people talking in the background, cars zooming down the highway, trains loudly going choo choo in the distance or any of the numberless noises that we experience everyday.  When all of those go silent, it’s just weird because we don’t quite understand it.  We’re used to the occasional, or maybe even frequent, awkward silence in conversation and we’ve likely all had at least some moments of silent introspection.  By when have we walked into a place that was completely silent?  I don’t think I ever have and I live in the middle of fucking nowhere, odds are people from more densely populated areas are even less likely to have found a totally silent place.  A truly silent environment is alien to us, and therefore it builds tension, plucking at our subconscious anxiety and just doing it’s overall best to creep us the fuck out.

This is not something you can do in print mediums, because the environments are always silent, unless the writer makes a conscious effort to add sound effects to a scene, but in my admittedly limited experience, all sound effects in manga are directly related to the actions of the characters and do not exist as ambient noise.  That said silence is not used all that much in anime either and even when it is it can be undervalued and unappreciated, see for example all the comments, and analyses claiming that Evangelion’s long silent scenes were the result of budget problems versus all the people, me included, who thought they served a storytelling/artistic purpose, that they encouraged introspection and in some cases built tension.  Anyway silence is just one more tool in anime’s toolbox which print mediums do not have, and more tools means more options, which is a good thing.

The final thing to talk about is visual noise, aka my cheeky and not at all clever attempt talk about color and still stick to the “Bring the Noise” title.  Color of course can bring worlds to life immediately and sometimes it’s absence is sorely felt.  Magi for example is a series I absolutely love, it’s got everything I want, vast fantasy world, distinct cultures and states based on real historical empires or kingdoms of myth, tons of exotic monsters, multiple approaches to magic and a well thought out magic system, action, and tons of vibrant, lively color.  This is one of the main reasons I can’t read the Magi manga, trust me I tried and it was a fucking slog, not because the manga is bad but because what really makes Magi so appealing at first glance is how alive the world and inhabitants appear to be, as shown by the colors.  Like how can I take a black and white Djinn seriously after seeing one in it’s glorious blue form?  Why would I go to a world where all the different races are black and white and have less to distinguish themselves when I can see quite clearly in the anime that a lot of the kingdoms and races have specific hair and eye colors that mark them out?  What’s the point of marveling over vast steppes, oceans and deserts if none of them have any color, when I can marvel at how they contrast when you give them color?  This is a problem I have with a lot of manga, when an anime has great colors and those colors add a lot to the experience, why the fuck would I ever want to experience the story without them?  Now a common answer might be, “because I want a complete story/more of the story and this anime cuts off in X chapter of the manga?” and trust me I do get the appeal.  I have tried reading the manga for various anime I liked because I wanted more of the story.  But  between the loss of color, loss of voice acting and loss of music, I find it a huge struggle to make it through a lot of manga.

In conclusion, I love good stories and I read a lot of those, some of which are manga.  However when I see how much more anime brings to the table I can’t help but put it before the manga or light novel.  Don’t get wrong, I’m not saying manga or light novels are bad, though plenty of both are which just like how there’s plenty of shit anime.  But at the level that matters most to me, my ability to get immersed in a story and have all kinds of emotions about it, anime is stronger.  Because audio and color bring a fictional setting and people to life to me, so much more so than words on a page or black and white illustrations.  And when it gets down to it, I’d rather have a incomplete story that I will drool over forever, than a complete story that I really had force my way through.  So I find anime to be the better medium, and I’ve no doubt people like me feel the same.  On a less subjective note, I do think that because anime has more features to play with that it is ultimately a more interesting medium on the whole, but honestly so much of appreciating and consuming media is so heavily dependent on personal taste anyway that it barely matters.  Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.