Raging Rant: Fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi (and Japan)

History anime are by and large a joke.  I say this not because I hate history, in fact I love history the way a normal American loves football and apple pie.  But just fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  With only a few exceptions I’m aware of, all history anime take place during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in the 1500’s and Loyalist Rebellion in the late 1800’s.  Their have been some fun, good and even famous anime from these time periods, like Rurouni Kenshin or Gintama.  But I, and many people who I’ve also heard complain about this topic, are sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  They’re fucking everywhere, and even when it’s not about them specifically when I see a show like Onihei roll around I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the fact that it looks just like a show about the Shinsengumi, because the main guy has a similar job.  And Nobunaga is in everything, some of it’s good like the recent Drifters or Nobunagun.  But the stories of these figures are so well trodden and their notable traits, beahviors and even verbal ticks so popularized that they’re pretty fucking boring.  Even in a fantasy show like Drifters you can totally predict that Mitsuhide would show up as an End because Nobunaga was a Drifter, everything about these characters is predictable and that’s rather boring really.

This is why I consider most of the best history shows to be historical fantasies like Seirei no Moribito, which builds a phenomenal setting and society to recreate the feeling of a history show, or Akatsuki no Yona which is great fantasy historical action-romance-drama thing, or Arslan Senki which I’ve praised in detail multiple times, or Katanagatari, which is all about possibilities and subverting history, or Junketsu no Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch) which mixed witches and mythology into the Hundred Years War.  These are all great shows and I highly recommend them but it would be great to get a more normal, realistic history show which avoids Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi somehow.  And we just don’t.  The only example I can come up with is Kingdom, which is fantastic.  The thing that really gets me about this is that it’s not like Oda Nobunaga and Shinsengumi are necessarily the coolest figures, or their eras the coolest points, in Japan’s history.  I think the Gempei War, which completely redefined how Japan’s military, social and political organizations would function from the 1100’s to the 1800’s is far more interesting.  Which is why I was really glad they brought in Yoichi in Drifters and Himiko, a semi-mythical prehistoric queen of Japan, in the awful Nobunaga the Fool, they shed a hint of light on interesting and largely unexplored, in anime at least, periods of history.  Hell a historical fantasy anime featuring Himiko fighting monsters and/or ancient gods practically writes itself.  But what would be even better would be if Japan just branched out a little.

Kingdom and Arslan Senki, and arguably a few scenes from the Fate series are steps in this direction but if we could get a mostly realistic anime of of ancient history outside of Japan I would kill the nearby peasants and loot the local castle to pay for that shit.  There’s so many possibilities, any time period for Rome, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hunnic invasions and the rise of Attila, maybe go for some original story set in Mesoamerica because most of their history is a mystery, or maybe some Viking story about invading Britain or discovering North America, Egypt, the famed Gupta empire and Chandragumpta of India, the great Arab conquests, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions of Europe or China, an original story featuring the Sea Peoples who suddenly ravaged most of the ancient world without warning, you could even do a Gilgamesh spin off set in ancient Sumeria, etc.  The possibilities are endless and that’s just ancient history, what about the Bolshevik Revolution, the Crimean War, the Opium Wars maybe go for the Protestant and Catholic wars following Luther’s 99 Theses, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.  There are so many possibilities I can’t even list them all and that’s just the the shit I know, there’s tons of history I don’t know jack about that could make great anime too.  But instead we just get Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi on repeat at least dozen times each and they get mentioned in almost everything with even the slightest connection to history and historical figures.  Stop it Japan.

This leads me to my next point and if you read my Patriotism Problem post then this will sound familiar but Japan really needs to work it’s tendency to make Japan always look good.  I’m not even talking about really controversial shit like admitting to the Rape of Nanking,  I’m talking about basic shit not making the JSDF invincible when fighting dragons *cough Gate cough*.  I can’t tell if it comes from the insecurity of an inferiority complex or the ego of a superiority complex but Japan always goes way out of it’s way to make sure it’s the best.  Oh UBW you have super powered historical figures eh?  Fine be sure to give Sasaki Kojuro a technique so good it transcends heroic abilities and enters the realm of divine swordsmanship to make us look better (I’m not making that up UBW’s Assassin technique, the fabled Tsubame Gaeshi, is explained as being better than the power of mere heroes and stepping into the realm of the gods at least in the wiki, can’t remember if that made it into the show itself).  Nobunagun you have people with super powers based on their ties to historical figures? Make sure to give the girl tied to Nobunaga the all-around best abilities to make us look better.  Drifters you have a bunch of historical figures fighting in Middle Earth?  Ok make sure to have an unusually large portion of the heroes taken from Japan and make them all super badass to make us look better.  I could give examples like this for days.

Japan it’s fucking embarrassing, and more than little irritating sometimes.  Look I’m from America and I have no problem with patriotism and being proud of your heritage.  But it intrudes on the story when you say deliberately make Hannibal Barca, one of the most revered generals of all time, a senile old man to make sure he doesn’t outshine his Japanese contemporaries in Drifters for example.  Japan’s obsession with inflating it’s own image and/or worth in historical shows is a complete waste of time.  It’s a minor nuisance at best and can totally break a story at worst.  I just don’t really get why it even exists.  To me it projects an arrogant fragility more than anything else and it severely limits what most anime with even the loosest ties to history can do and where they can take place.  There plenty of western medieval fantasies or recent WWI/WWII era fantasies like Shuumatsu no Izetta but the, in my opinion of course, far more interesting ancient world is left frustratingly untapped because of Japan’s need to always look like the best.

That’s it really, just wanted to flip Japan the bird and scream ineffectually at it like a bunch of liberals at an anti-Trump protest, which is the kind of thing I can only say here because California is overrun by liberals and trying to argue with them is an exercise in futility.  I don’t expect many people to care much about this, I don’t typically envision most readers as history buffs, I just needed to get it out of my system.  On the off chance you are interested give some of those shows I recommended a shot or if you just want to talk history for a bit that’d be fun too.  Thanks for reading and see ya next time.

Advertisements

Unpopular Opinion: Shuumatsu no Izetta

shuumatsu-no-izetta-ep11-vox-artes-3

Shuumatsu no Izetta is for my money one of the top two shows of Fall 2016.  The other contender for top two being Keijo of course, because I haven’t seen Yuri on Ice and so long as the internet continues to suck its dick I don’t think I will since I’m a shallow, vindictive contrarian.  And because I just don’t care about anything yaoi regardless of how good it may be.  Most people do not and will not agree with my stance and I get that, for the most part Shuumatsu no Izetta isn’t good enough to be a top show of the season.  I don’t think any of the characters are spectacular.  The setting is interesting but it’s not explored in much depth.  The tactics employed in the fight scenes are pretty predictable, and the rate at which Germania pumps out new tech is ludicrous, a problem I had with the later parts of Code Geass.  And the narrative is pretty predictable as well.  However, much like the infamous Akame ga Kill, what makes Shuumatsu no Izetta so good to me is the ending, because that was incredible.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Right from the get-go I was pretty on board with the setting of the show.  The country of Eylstadt itself was unremarkable, however the way Shuumatsu no Izetta’s setting married the tech and initial overwhelming dominance of Germany in WWII with the Old World royalty, etiquette and diplomacy of WWI was pretty fascinating.  Even the names of the countries had some fun little historical references like how France was called the Republic of Thermidor in reference to France’s failed attempt to make a metric-esque 10 day week calendar during the French Revolution called the Thermidian Calendar.  Or how Italy was renamed Romulus, in reference to the legendary founder of Rome.  However the setting wasn’t really used for much beyond setting the basic rules of combat and the balance of power in the war.  The only episode that really did anything extra to make the setting interesting was the one that focused on Rickert, Berkman’s subordinate, which itself was a generally more interesting episode.  It took a break from the big action and political maneuvering to change pace to a slower episode about a dude doing some spy work.  In that episode Rickert comes to the realization that he’s fighting against some really good, compassionate people, and he even starts to fall for Bianca before she finds out who is he is and is forced to kill him.  It was a great episode for character development because despite how fast it went everything felt very genuine and very human, for lack of a better word.  It was a pleasant surprise and I think it demonstrates one of the biggest strengths of Shuumatsu no Izetta, which was that it was able to capture that apply that human feel to wide range of characters with all kinds of points of view.

I don’t think any of the characters had much in the way of a good or interesting character arc, but the characters were nonetheless fantastic because of how true to life they felt.  The arrogance of German commanders in WWI and WWII is well documented and it was there.  We had fighters who gave more than could ever be asked of them like Izetta, we had patriots who did things they hated for their country like Sieg, a lot people who were fighting for their side despite not really knowing much about what was going on, people set on vengeance like Sophie, and people who would throw patriotism out the window if it increased their chances of survival, like Berkman.  We had incompetent losers on both sides as well as highly capable soldiers and intelligence officers.  We had diplomats that could follow the principles of Realism, in the international political sense, to the T like how the Atalantan,i.e. American, ambassador advised the President to take out both Germania and Elystadt.  And we had diplomats that could look past the Izetta’s capabilities as a weapon and be concerned for the girl herself even when it wasn’t in their interests to do so.  Both sides even had dedicated propaganda departments.  There was not much in the way of character development but there was a startling level of attention to detail put into to making the conflict feel as true to life as it could be, and I think that attention to detail paid off in spades because I was hooked.  I didn’t care that most of the characters ended up being predictable, nobody felt at all inconsistent, let alone like inhuman chunks of cardboard as so many characters in other shows do.  It all felt human, true to life, and I think that attention to detail is the key.  None of individual characters were that good, but taken as a whole the characters and wide range of ideas they embodied was fantastic and it helped bring realism and a human feel to a crazy story about witches fucking up tech.

On that note, Shuumatsu no Izetta was refreshing break from bullshit like Gate where tech always win, and more importantly where Japan always wins thanks to the Patriotism Problem.  Izetta’s first fight demonstrated her power as she killed planes with ice spears, but it also showed that she had limits because she couldn’t finish off everyone.  And later in the show Germania develops various tactics and weapons specifically to shut her down, like how they baited her with the battleship up near what would be Norway in our world.  I think Germania developed too many new weapons too quickly but the fact that Izetta’s battles became more difficult as time went on was a good thing.  Even when the tech became a stretch, like with the clone of Sophie the White Witch, I feel that on the whole it generally served a good dramatic purpose and never really intruded on the experience too much, like how it did for me in Code Geass.  Now let’s talk about Izetta herself and the ending.

I think Izetta is a fairly boring character in terms of her general archetype and construction, not an unrealistic character just a bland one.  The biggest thing she had going for her was her sincerity and the lengths she would go to win for the princess.  As it turns out that was enough.  I didn’t really get interested in the show until episode 3 and that was all Izetta.  Granted part of what made that episode great was watching Izetta shoot planes out the sky with medieval lances and toss tanks around like toys, because that was awesome.  But more so than the actions themselves were how they inspired the soldiers and by extension me.  If the rest of the characters felt exceedingly human then Izetta was able to capture the rare feel of being both human and something out of legend.  Watching Izetta fuck up the Germanian army was cool, watching her actions inspire an entire army of strangers to start singing  as she’s proclaimed a national hero is something far more emotionally striking than cool.  This is the other big strength of Shuumatsu no Izetta, the big emotional moments, and Izetta gets basically all the credit on that front.

This is where the final episode is important.  The emotional impact of the final episode was earth shattering, it made me tear up and had all my hairs standing on end like how I get whenever I rewatch the Lord of the Rings and see Rohan charging into the Mordor army besieging Minas Tirith.  To use a horribly over-used and misused term, epic is the best way I have to describe that scene, and the ending of Shuumatsu no Izetta.  It’s not even the final episode really, it’s a cut from about 16:00 to about 21:00, the part where Izetta starts gathering an absurd amount of magic while Fine explains her suicidal scheme tears streaming down her face to the part when the magic explodes so violently it can be seen from what would be Germany and Switzerland despite happening off the Atlantic coast of what would be France and Fine starts just bawling on the balcony.  It’s just five minutes.  Granted those five minutes only have the impact they do because of everything that came before them, but those five minutes are what catapulted this show from good to potential-top-of-the-season good.  In that five minutes Izetta changes the course of her world’s history forever, her insane level of devotion ushers in not only the beginning of Germania’s defeat, but the passing of an age.  She rewrites what up to that point had been a rule of the world Madoka Magica-style and effectively ends the existence of the fantastic forever.  I describe this scene with words like earth shattering and epic not just because I hope they convey how strongly I feel about this scene, but because Izetta actions are on such a grandiose scale that anything less would be grossly underselling what’s going on here.

More so than in any other medium I feel that a good ending is something to be treasured in anime.  So many shows either don’t have an ending at all or have one hastily thrown together on the fly that sometimes it’s hard to even be disappointed when you don’t get a good ending.  And Shuumatsu no Izetta has the kind of ending that sets the fucking bar for anime endings, for me at least.  Seeing someone go so far for what they believe in and for the people they care about, without the friendship is power baggage of a shounen fight, has a sort of timeless purity to me, it’s something I can just stare at forever without it ever losing its luster, or something I can tear up just thinking about regardless of when and where I think about it.  Those five minutes and other scenes of a similar caliber strike me such a way that I feel no amount of words will ever get my feeling across right, which is bad because I’m supposed to be good with words.  The best analogy I can make is that my emotional core is a diamond and these scenes are the hammer blows that hit the diamond in just the right way as to make it shatter.  I’m completely floored by those five minutes, and I always will be.

Ultimately I think if you view it from a “objective” lens and try to judge all the construction of all the pieces of Shuumatsu no Izetta then it’s probably just good.  Fortunately objectivity is bullshit so I can say with complete certainty that the emotions this show inspires in me make it far better than good.  Most of Shuumatsu no Izetta’s fault are less about it being bad or fucking up so much just not being really good, for the most part it’s perfectly passable without taking into account the incredible ending.  But that ending is the game changer, it makes the passable journey worth every fucking second because the destination is just that good.  And it colors the entire experience.  I never really got into Fine or Izetta as characters because they are pretty basic, but the ending and how those two drive forward both in their actions and in how the scene is presented by being split between the two of them, makes me sort of love the both of them.  It’s not that I suddenly find them more attractive or interesting so as I sit back and nurse a quiet respect for the both of them.  Ok I think I’ve done gushing for one day, Shuumatsu no Izetta was great, go watch it, and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Understanding the MMO Revisited: Log Horizon VS Overlord

log-horizon-episode-9-image-0012

VS

overlord-season-2-release-date-spoilers-why-madhouses-anime-may-follow-the-light-novels-success

My very first blog was a brief discussion about how SAO, Log Horizon and Overlord used the mechanics of MMO’s well or poorly in their respective stories.  Looking back on it now I think it was wholly inadequate, and with “log horizon vs overlord” searches being the most frequent hit to that post, I’ve decided to revamp my work and bring it up to snuff.  I won’t address SAO here because I’ve covered it extensively.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Log Horizon is undoubtedly better than Overlord in every conceivable way unless you want a mindless power fantasy, in which case you should be asking yourself what appeals to you more, being Kirito or being an OP skeleton guy with a bunch of demon followers.  Whatever games mechanics Overlord has in play are mostly thrown out the window because Ains can use magic to essentially change his class.  He can’t use special warrior skills, so this spell would be ok if he was made more vulnerable by doing it, but given how weak everything is in the world around him it hardly matters what debuffs he gives himself by temporarily going warrior.  And he can still use magic when in warrior form anyway so he would only suffer losing the special stats of mage gear, which again hardly matters because the world he’s in is too weak for him.  He can even use pay-to-win items to wield the strongest types of melee weapons in the game, something that would totally break a real game’s balance and should logically be restricted, but restrictions are something this particular show wants to do away with.  Overlord doesn’t care about being a good story, about crafting a good setting or placing limitations on it’s protagonist, it wants to provide the viewer the fantasy of getting to play as the Lich King, with a bunch of powerful demon servants, stomping the world.  And you know what, if that’s really what you want then I guess I can’t blame you.  It can be fun to feel like the big unstoppable bad guy instead of the flawless, invincible hero.   However in achieving this fantasy Overlord threw out a potentially interesting setting and narrative, and those things matter quite a bit more to me.

Log Horizon therefore is a more or less a heaven-sent miracle in comparison.  Log Horizon is an order of magnitude above Overlord, and most anime in general.  For now let’s just talk game mechanics.  Game mechanics are integral to Log Horizon’s story, and they’re very well thought out.  Low level players get EXP boosts, classes play a clear role and no one can just jump classes to avoid their limitations like in Overlord.  This is extra important for the main guy, Shiroe, because his class is a support class.  Shiroe can’t just overpower his foes, he constantly has to be thinking ahead, using distractions, buffs and debuffs to bring easy victory to his party.  While Shiroe can appear just as invincible as Ains, it’s shown that he struggles against some foes and it’s suggested that the rug can, and probably will, be pulled out from under him later down the line.  Shiroe’s also a member of a group, Debauchery Tea Party, and he’s likely one of the least powerful members of the group in terms of pure strength even if his strategic abilities are top notch within the group.  Whereas Ains was seemingly alone as a player in a game universe of NPCs given life, Shiroe is just one of 30ish nigh-legendary players and the end of the second season suggests that with the group leader far away, the rest of the group may clash in an upcoming season.  Additionally, the final episode season 1 introduces Nureha, an enemy who is either on par with Shiroe or very nearly so, who demonstrates the same kind of understanding of the game world’s mechanics and who runs what is arguably the most powerful guild in the world, Plant Hwyaden.   All this is to say that Shiro is not wish fulfillment and the world and story intends on treating him like an actual person with actual limitations and even gives him powerful enemies to contend with to boot, all of which I’m very much on board with.

In addition to well defined class roles and a strong emphasis on party play, crafting and other professional or subclass skills that appear in most MMOs play an important role in Log Horizon’s world. Various forms of crafting, from cooking to engineering are both present and well explained.  The cooking skill in particular was vital because up until it’s value was discovered everyone was auto-making tasteless meals and being miserable because of them.  And in learning about how subclass skills mattered and how they could be applied, characters were able to create items and spells not available in the normal game.  This sparks huge revolutions later down the line as Shiroe converts NPCs into adventurers, Nureha makes an unbreakable disguise spell, some of the Round Table members make a steamship and Plant Hwyaden creates portable cathedrals to let players revive anywhere.

Speaking of revival, it’s one of the other things that sets Log Horizon apart froms other MMO contemporaries.  In SAO, people die when they are killed, in the game.  In Overlord it’s uncertain what exactly would happen if Ains died though considering that he seems to have literally become his character he would likely perish forever.  The result is that both stories have to feature invincible protagonists because death is final and it would spell the end of their stories.  By comparison a lot of the biggest moral questions raised by Log Horizon are dependent on the fact that the players don’t die, and it’s not afraid to kill all of it’s most powerful players over the course of it’s run.  This is made all the more impressive when it becomes know that death in the game causes the vanquished to lose memories of real world.  And it’s made even more impressive in season two when the players who weren’t stereotypical otaku go insane trying to escape back to real world.  And you can hardly blame them because if you have a marriage coming up or a family that are no doubt worried about, it makes sense that you’d want to get out of the game and unlike SAO there’s no clear way out.  To its credit Overlord also features no clear way out, though it has yet to do much of note with that story detail.

All of the last few paragraphs are there to say that Log Horizon pays a lot of attention to detail, and uses the details of settings phenomenally to create a plethora of subplots or expand the main narrative.  Hell the game is even evolving as the players get to know it, like how Shiroe’s alt account enters the game, a spam bot is given an avatar, we see continents outside of Japan, flavor text starts to manifest as actual events, and of course the appearance of the Traveler aka Genius Monster class.  Log Horizon has already given us a large, richly detailed  world, and it looks like it will only get bigger.  And I didn’t even talk about the lore, with it’s totally new classification of spells and theories as to why demi-human monsters like Goblins became violent monsters, the lore is awesome.  And if all of this wasn’t enough, Log Horizon puts a ton of effort in characters and character development.

One of the biggest criticisms of Log Horizon season 2 is that was really slow and we spent too much time with the kids.  I agree that Log Horizon season 2 is slower and than season 1 but I think that’s entirely intentional and it doesn’t make the show boring at all.  Log Horizon has always been a headier kind of show and a lot of season 1 was about improving life in Akibahara so that players were secure and could focus on solving the big problems like “how do we get home?”.  As of Season 2 players are mostly secure and there’s little left to do beyond solving the greatest mystery in the story (which obviously won’t be resolved quickly because that would be boring), there’s hardly any immediate goals and what few exist have no clear path or resolution, with everyone’s primary needs provided for, and only mysteries left to unravel, the whole world of Log Horizon sort of stalls into a semi-rigid status quo, much like the real world.  And to fill the gaps left by a narrative that went from driven to directionless, Log Horizon season 2 put more emphasis on character development.  I think the introduction of the people who go insane trying to get home was probably best development among the player base at large, but Akatsuki had a good arc too.  Akatsuki has generally struggled with being in love with Shiroe, she’s best at straightforward violence whereas he’s mostly a schemer, she struggles to keep up with his plans, she has other girls to contend with, and she thinks she’s not quite worthy of him because she’s not as good at the game as he and the other Debauchery Tea Party Members are.  In response she obsesses herself with getting stronger and learning a Teaching and while it can seem frustrating watching episodes of Akatsuki struggling furiously and going nowhere, that is the fucking point.

Whereas in season 1 the main characters, had concrete, easily understood goals to achieve after a few episodes of aimless exploring, season 2 is about how people struggle with being adrift without any clear goal ahead of them.  For some that means going crazy, for others it means throwing in a lot of aimless effort to get some kind of result, and for a few it means striving for new big goals or getting ready to start a war.  And in the end Akatsuki gets her Teaching and gains a lot of her wavering confidence back.  William makes this awesome speech to inspire his raid group and the raid group clears the dungeon they kept losing to.  And the kids gain a lot resolve after seeing older players destroy the world around them as they go insane.  Season 2 is about the frustration of being stuck in limbo but ultimately overcoming it to face the next challenge.  Is it slow and maybe a little frustrating to watch?  Sure, that conveys what the character’s are experiencing.  Does it make Log Horizon season 2 bad?  Not at all, I was just as engaged as I was during season 1 and I will defend it with all the fury of a random blogger on the internet.

Ultimately what I hope you all take away from this is that Log Horizon is fucking amazing and you should go watch it if you haven’t done so already.  Log Horizon gets a bad rap for looking ugly and being slow but it far outclasses SAO and Overlord on every literary front and it’s by far the best example of a “trapped in a MMO” story done well.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Let’s Talk About Fate

So Fate:Grand Order – First Order came out recently and it was alright I guess.  It had great digital effects, cool Heroic Spirits and well that’s about it really, and it got me thinking about why it is that, contrary to most people, I’m getting less and less excited for anything Fate-related and by extension Ufotable in general as it’s becoming a Fate factory.  There will be scattered spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Few things in the anime world sadden me the way Fate does.  It should be right up my alley and I should be drooling over each new entry.  I mean it’s got magic (awesome), famous historical figures reincarnated as super-powered badasses (especially awesome for a history buff like me), action (always a plus), and convoluted lore I can dig into for hours (because lore is my drug).  That said since Fate Zero I’ve gotten less and less enthusiastic about anything Fate and I think First Order highlights some of my issues with the Fate franchise rather nicely.  Though to it’s credit at least First Order seems to be something of a progression from the prior series, which is more than I can say about the coming Heaven’s Feel movie Fate fans have been hyping for months.  One of the main problems I mentioned in my review of Unlimited Blade Works is that the Fate anime are adapted as if they’re still visual novels, they have several different routes and Ufotable is doing work on multiple routes.  If you’re a fan of the games this might sound cool but stop and think for a second about how weird it is in a film medium.  Did you ever see a Lord of the Rings where Aragorn shacks up with Eowen instead of Arewyn?  Or maybe a Harry Potter where Harry and Hermione are a couple?  Discounting any fanfic you’ve read or seen, no you haven’t because that’s not how storytelling works.  In anime it’s mostly standard practice to blend all the route of the visual novel together and have the guy settle on whichever girl and thus keep the series as single definitive story, like in Clannad for example.  As far as I’m aware the Fate anime are the only series to just do straight adaptations of the visual novel routes separately, without regard for the other shows.  It feels weird and out of place, like if they rebooted a Marvel movie a year after it came out to swap the romantic pairings and change a few battles.

Even setting aside the inherent off-ness of Ufotable’s current approach to the various Fate routes and series, the real nail in the coffin is the characters.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi, not the creator of the mainstay Fate-verse aka the Nasuverse, and his style is I think vastly superior to Nasu’s in terms of characters.  Fate Zero’s characters were mostly grounded and realistic in comparison to Nasu’s, who are generally more archetypal and tropy.  Even if we focus on the only teenage character in Fate Zero to make things more fair, he’s still leagues ahead of his Nasu counterparts.  Waver Velvet was a kid, a weak and unimpressive kid in the magical world, who desperately wanted to show the arrogant old guard of the wizard world, who dismiss him out of hand because his family’s magical lineage isn’t long and distinguished enough, that he was worthy, that his ideas and existence held weight.  He had no journey or path, he just wanted his worth to be recognized.  And he’s one of the few survivors of the Fate Zero Holy Grail War that leaves both alive and with a hopeful road ahead of him after Rider acknowledges his worth and shows him a new path to take.  By comparison Rin is a bossy tsundere, Shiro is borderline retarded, wrapped up as he is in his ideas of heroism and justice, and Shinji is a cartoonishly awful and pettily arrogant bully.  The only characters who were cartoonish in Fate Zero were Caster and his master, and they were fucking hilarious because their insanities complemented each other so well, and the story made it explicitly clear that they were outliers.

And let me stress again because it can never be stressed enough, fuck Shiro.  Shiro’s inane monologues about how his ideas are fake but they still hold worth or how Archer’s (he’s Shiro in the future in case you weren’t aware) conclusions are correct too, but he’s going to choose his own path because it’s right and- Jesus. Fucking. Christ.  Shiro is like half of everything wrong with Fate, and no, Archer being badass for a few fights doesn’t save him because Archer is by far my least favorite Heroic Spirit since he’s actually a Counter Guardian.  If that makes no sense you then congratulations you’ve seen the next big problem I’m going to get to in a minute.  One of things I think should be cut from Fate entirely is any emphasis on romance whatsoever.  None of the romantic interests are particularly interesting characters and the guy they all want to fuck is the most annoying thing Nasu ever created, the only romance worth a damn was Kiritsugu and Irisviel because it had more relevance to course of the Fourth and Fifth Holy Grail Wars and was actually interesting conceptually given that Irisviel was a Homunculus and by the time Fate Zero rolled around, in the process of dying before becoming the Holy Grail vessel, which her husband later destroyed.  The high school romances are boring as hell and the Fate Stay Night ShiroxSaber route legitimately pisses me off, in comparison.  Speaking of Saber, she was a weaker character in UBW than in Fate Zero, even though she should be getting more complex and nuanced, and therefore a stronger character.  But the main reason I think all the romance shit (sans Kiritsugu and Irisviel) should be cut is because we need spend that time on things that actually matter, like explaining the lore and mechanics of the Holy Grail War and some character development.

The single most common argument you get from anyone defending any Fate anime is that the games were better, that the games explained everything that didn’t make into the anime and made the characters better.  They may well be right, maybe the games are perfect masterpieces, but that doesn’t save the anime.  This isn’t a problem in Fate Zero because if anything that conflict was too drawn out and the only thing left unexplained was how exactly the Holy Grail had become corrupted (an important plot point for future works).  By contrast UBW doesn’t even explain that the reason Shiro’s magic gets so powerful so abruptly in the series is because it’s derived from his Origin, like how his adoptive father Kiritsugu had special bullets that could destroy a mage’s magic circuits thanks to his Origin, Cut and Bind.  I still don’t get how Caster (UBW’s Caster) was able to summon and command Assassin though a few Fate fans have tried to explain it to me.  The Counter Guardian thing from above, basically a human that makes a pact with the world and becomes a time travelling hero-figure, introduces new complexities into the lore that the anime has not yet fully addressed.  Likewise the character development in UBW is lackluster at best, because A, it barely happens and B, the archetypal characters are boring.  Why not cut the romance and used the added time to bring some more nuance to the characters, to make them grow more over the course of the conflict?  Anyway that’s enough bitching about Fate in general, time to look at First Order.

First Order introduces a ton of new material and a metric ton of nonsense magic and science words to get it’s rather straightforward scenario rolling.  First Order is basically the beginning of mankind’s desperate attempt to stave off extinction, which was decreed by some being, potentially the metaphysical consciousness of the world (which yes is a thing and it’s what allowed Shiro to become a Counter Guardian).  This simple premise is obscured by mountains of mumbo jumbo about Chaldea, a system which I’m honestly a little confused about because it’s function is supposed to be ensuring mankind survives in top form for a hundred years, but it’s unclear whether or how Chaldea actually does anything beyond being a display/warning system.  There are all kinds of new magic-tech babble concepts like Rayshifting and Spiritron Dives to accompany the use of Chaldea and the people sent to fix the anomalies which appears to be what kick-started the mass extinction of mankind.  I admit that the end goal, fighting a bunch of screwy Holy Grail Wars to save mankind is interesting but it took wading through a lot of nonsense to get to the good stuff.

In addition, two of the new concepts that are actually interesting are Demi-Servants and the Shielder class.  Mash the main girl of First Order becomes the first, and going by the wiki, only Shielder class Servant and a Demi-Servant.  A Demi-Servant is a human who merges with a Heroic Spirit, presumably a weaker one that couldn’t manifest otherwise though that’s just speculation on my part.  The Shielder class raises a few questions though.  Have Shielders always existed and just not been allowed to participate in Holy Grail Wars?  Were they not deemed worthy to compete for the Grail? Or are the Shielders a newly minted class because the anomalies have screwed with the rules of the Holy Grail Wars?  Is the Shielder perhaps a manifestation of mankind’s collective will to survive (not that much of a stretch by Fate standards) and not a true Heroic Spirit at all?  Is that the reason Mash is the only Shielder or is it just coincidence?  If it’s a Heroic Spirit who is it?  The shield doesn’t match any real designs as far I know, though it’s closest to the Celtic and Norse Cross shields, but the symbols on the shield as well as the Wall it can summon suggest Eastern origins though I can’t say for sure where, so where the hell is her Heroic Spirit from?  Thus far all of the above are unanswered but I hope Mash will get addressed in more detail later.

Unfortunately First Order seems to be closer to UBW in terms of tone and writing.  It has its own Rin, Director Animusphere (which is an awful name), to play the generic tsundere, the main guy is a cookie cutter nice guy but at least he’s not as annoying as Shiro.  An interesting thing to note is that is that the main guy has Rin’s face, I’m not kidding save for the fact that First Order’s protagonist has a more angular jaw-to-chin compared to Rin’s rounded jaw-to-chin its the same fucking face, it’s weird and lazy on Ufotable’s part.  The other characters are quirky, Leff in particular looks like he’s cosplaying a leprechaun before he becomes an edgy cackling villain at the end, and the mostly lighthearted quirkiness doesn’t at all fit the overall tone the premise and Fate franchise in general has set for itself.  For whatever reason UBW’s Lancer is reincarnated as Caster, which makes no sense because why does he know magic?  I can’t say I’ve dug deep into his, Cu Chulainn’s, legend but what research I’ve done doesn’t suggest he learned magic at all.  Regardless of how he became Caster, him using a Wickerman was in keeping with his Irish origins but his other magic was based on Norse runes which obviously aren’t from Ireland so what the fuck’s going on there?  Poor attention to detail.  Other than that it was alright.

First Order isn’t great, hell it’s not even particlualarly good, but it’s mildly entertaining and pretty to look at.  If nothing else it seems it’s taking the Fate franchise in a new and possibly interesting direction, and there’s no Shiro so that’s something to look forward to.  This was mostly an excuse to bitch about Fate and Ufotable though, hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.