Unpopular Opinion: Juuni Taisen – A Masterwork Failure

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To preface this I want to point out one of the popular arguments defending Juuni Taisen and the complaint it addresses.  Many people are annoyed that Juuni Taisen broadcast when each warrior would die because the robs the death game premise of the show of any surprises.  The counter-argument (henceforth the reverse zodiac argument) is that this sign posting is prevalent throughout various aspects of the show so it’s clearly being done on purpose – ergo the previous criticism is a dumb one.  Admittedly this counter-argument has a major flaw to me, but what the hell, it did help make the case that perhaps Juuni Taisen would go somewhere interesting and I was all for that.  As it happens Juuni Taisen went to one of the most boring places imaginable, there will be spoilers.

It’s actually kind of amazing how big of a letdown the final episode of Juuni Taisen was.  I mean my favorite character had already died so it wasn’t like I was planning on being super impressed but given that source material comes NisioisiN, a man who I am a big fan of, I was sort of looking forward to see where we would end up.  The conclusion is this, Nezumi wins the tournament as the reverse zodiac argument predicts and spends the entire final episode deciding on the wish he’ll be granted.  Keeping in mind that the Juuni Taisen committee appears to have god level powers, like clearing out a huge city in a day, you might also ponder what exactly you would wish for.  Nezumi takes his sweet time and for a while it is interesting, not because of Nezumi but because of what it reveals about the rest of the 12 Zodiac warriors, he ultimately reaches the lamest conclusion imaginable – he has his memories of the whole event stripped away and goes on living his normal, boring life.

It’s a wish that sort of makes sense in the context of Nezumi as a character but all it really does is confirm that Nezumi is the most boring motherfucker in the entire show.  I did kind of like how he had 99 wishes and then formed counter-arguments against all of them but ultimately what he settles on is nothing short of the biggest metaphorical blue-ball of an ending I’ve ever seen.  The only really interesting things about Nezumi in this episode are how well his crippling indecision matches his power and ironically it seems like the wish he really needed was a wish one of the other warriors already wanted, specifically Chicken’s desire for self confidence.

When it comes to Nezumi’s power I’m a little confused.  It’s mostly portrayed as if he can see 100 different outcomes in advance based on what decisions he takes but the fact that other fighters remember him in a deja vu sense means he probably, to quote the comments, “pulled a Subaru.”  My best guess is that it’s a bit of both because that’s the only way this disparity between how it was shown in episode 11 and how people remember him throughout the show.  In any case it makes sense as to why he’s constantly second guessing his own wishes and desires, because it seems like he can’t use his power to see how that would go.  Even if he can, he did spell out that he can come across events which even a hundred solutions isn’t enough for.  Or maybe it’s because he can act on any desire no matter how base, misanthropic or good – in opposition to how everyone else might have similar desires and never act on then because they know they are wrong – that maybe Nezumi doesn’t really have a grasp on right or wrong.  In retrospect trying to dig into the problems of Nezumi’s head is a actually a lot of fun, it’s just a shame his own solution is so boring.

And that truly is the tragedy of Juuni Taisen in a nutshell.  It does a superb job on the character front and then the story of the contest falls into shambles.  Tora, with her transformation from a righteous teen to a drunken monster, followed by an attempt at redemption, was my personal favorite but I was quit interested in all of the character stories on display, be it the cruel nihilism of the Dragon and Snake Twins, Sheep’s past glories contrasted against his desires to protect the future of his grandkid, even Boar’s story of destroying her own family from within – all of these were fascinating.  And the end did a good job bring some extra flair to some of the less explored characters – Dotsuku in particular was made way more interesting when he revealed that he was raising a girl had been sold off to presumably be a sex slave and that he worked at a preschool.  And I loved Boar’s “I want a harem of 3.5 billion men” which is I guess, assuming this takes place on Earth and the population is roughly 7 billion, is Boar’s way of saying ‘I want all men to adore me’.  Maybe this whole farce of a death game is NisioisN’s roundabout way of saying the journey matters more than the destination but even so I’d really rather this had gone down another path.

Because what I meant by my weird ass title was not, ‘this show is a master class in making the worst show ever made and I’ll prove it to you,’ but rather this show was really, genuinely great and I loved it, right up until the final moment.  I guess what I’m saying is that Juuni Taisen was Mass Effect and the finale was Mass Effect 3’s ending.  I was mad enough at the ending that I started writing this within a minute of finishing the episode, and now that I’m just shy of a thousand words talking about it my anger is replaced by disappointment.  The problem is that the story of the events of Juuni Taisen, the contest happening in the present was botched.  It was the stories of the character’s pasts and what was in their heads that was truly interesting, and it’s a shame to see such technical skill in executing that being bolted to a death game that doesn’t even really matter.  And the result?  Boredom.  What could and by all rights should have been a gripping death game was rendered boring and meaningless.  I know NisioisiN is an oddball but I think he really could have capitalized on more straightforward storytelling to make this great.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass that the people die in the reverse order of the Zodiac animals, cut that shit out make and the tournament more interesting.  Because credit where it’s due the characters are interesting, and that’s almost all you need to make a tournament great.  But that almost is so crucial and Juuni Taisen drops the ball on it so spectacularly that it drags the entire show down into a failure which sparks nothing but an odd mix of conflicting feelings about the show overshadowed by a clinically detached boredom coloring the whole experience.  Ugh, fuck it I’m done, I hope you enjoyed this confused, rambling review.  See you in the next one.

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Boruto & the Generational Gap: Why Kakashi’s Exam was Misguided

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This post will generally assume you’re up to date on Boruto but in case you aren’t here’s a quick grasp of the situation.  Boruto’s class is taking a Genin exam and for whatever reason Kakashi is the exam proctor and his doing a variation of his old bell test from Naruto.  Boruto’s class ends up passing the exam but during the exam Kakashi ripped into Boruto and his classmates for not being good enough and that’s where about half the intrigue for this test should have been.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By far one the most interesting aspects of Boruto is the contrast of Boruto’s generation and Naruto’s generation.  In the buildup to this exam, an exam which Naruto almost entirely glossed over since Naruto was the only one which couldn’t pass it, though obviously he does end up passing it via learning Shadow Clone.  In Boruto this exam is much bigger deal because it will break the class up.  Everyone wants to pass this exam because it’s like getting a high school diploma but the class is split between people who want to continue down the ninja path or people who want to get a secondary school education and do something else.  Some teams almost fall apart because of the disagreements between those who wanted to be ninjas together and those who want to take their lives elsewhere.

A particularly good scene in the buildup to the exam is when Boruto asks Hinata why she became a ninja.  She casually remarks that when she was a kid that was what was expected of people.  Boruto just kind of moves on from that scene without really taking it in but there’s almost no greater sign of the differences between the two generations.  In Naruto’s time countries were either at war or on the brink of war and ninjas were the lifeblood of every village.  Boruto has never experienced such a world and none of the kids can really conceive of it.  Few if any of them even have concrete goals or motives with regards to becoming a ninja and as mentioned above plenty of them aren’t even interested in being ninjas and do in fact plan to go elsewhere.

This is where Kakashi’s exam is kind of strong.  Kakashi goes incognito and investigates the class and observes their collectively weak or altogether lacking resolve.  He pins Boruto down in 1v1 combat and just rips into him about his lack of resolve and the bad influence he has on the rest of the class, and for a second it seems like he might really go ahead with his threats to fail everyone.  Ideally in fact I think none of them should have passed the exam.  It would have been really cool if the adults had made them face the fact they really aren’t ready to be ninja because the ninja world is a much more brutal place than they realize.  Imagine the amount of time they could spend developing characters after such a major failure, with some people dropping out for real this time, other’s hardening their resolve and so on.  Hell the impact of such a scene would have been phenomenal too a loud smack from an uncaring reality against the mostly happy-go-lucky tone of Boruto, the show and the character.

Alas this is where the exam falls apart, because the real point was to make sure the kids worked together and didn’t abandon their comrades – teaching the “those who break the rules are scum but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum” lesson we saw in Naruto.  But what was the point of that?  Boruto and friends are a hell of a lot more willing to cooperate and look out for each other because to them that’s, well, normal.  This is not an age of war where the best could and sometimes would look down on their squadmates or when leaving comrades to die for the sake of mission was considered acceptable and even normal.  The reason Kakashi’s exam made sense in the past was that it clashed with the established norms of sacrificing people to ensure the team succeeded overall.  And with regards to team 7 specifically it was used to unite the fractious 3 genin under Kakashi’s command.  Boruto and friends need no such push to unite them nor do they need to be convinced they should do things for the sake of their friends, that’s practically all they’ve done up until this point.

What the kids really need is a wake up call, something to really spell out for them how dangerous the world they are trying to step into can be.  Instead of being about uniting to get the Kakashi’s bell the exam really should have been something like the whole class having to beat the instructors in combat or, though impractical and out of character, the whole class trying to even hit Naruto.  I’m fine with them all passing the test so long as they learn a lesson about the realities of the ninja world.  Naruto himself would be ideal to show the kids just how unreasonably powerful their opponents could theoretically be while a maybe using the Ino, Choji and Shikamaru team to beat the whole class could really hit home how deadly enemies working together can be.  The point of the exam should not be about being a good friend anymore, that problem has been solved, rather the new genin exam should be a lesson in humility that challenges the half baked ambitions and resolve of the kids.  It should make them confront whether they really want to be ninjas or not because unlike in Naruto’s time, not being a ninja is an option with no stigma attached.  And I feel like Kakashi himself sort of agrees with me because he remarked that they had made the test too easy for Boruto’s class shortly before they passed it.

Long story short I think this exam shows both some real sparks of intrigue in Boruto and also the problems of sticking too close to Naruto in terms of writing.  The audience already knows all about this test and the lesson it teaches and it’s not given much weight or time at all because it’s a formality for the viewer.  Likewise it doesn’t even effect the kids too much.  However in the buildup to the exam and the split second where it seemed like Kakashi might actually fail everyone we saw glimpses material that could make for great character stories.  Ultimately I think what needs to happen is that in the near future Boruto and friends have to be confronted with the differences between them and their parents in the most stark and serious manner possible, because that will challenge them a hundred times more than this exam did and it will cut to the heart of their character as individuals, while highlighting some of the serious differences between the world of Naruto’s childhood and Boruto’s childhood.

Unpopular Opinion: Sloths of the Whales

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Children of the Whales, to use it’s proper name, is a decent show.  It’s definitely one of the most distinct and intriguing shows I’ve seen in a few years with regards to concept, art and setting.  However it has what could very well be considered a fatal flaw – it’s way too fucking slow.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

I have two theories as to why Children of the Whales is so slow.  One is that, as others have noted, it is trying to be a very emotion driven series and thus moves along at a glacial pace to build up scenes and make certain deaths emotional.  I think that if that’s true then it is wholly misguided.  This approach would make sense if people died rarely but Children of the Whales is one of the most violent shows airing this season – it has easily 10 times the body count of the death battle show Juuni Taisen.  This contradictory approach just doesn’t work. For example Sami’s death was supposed to be really hard hitting but it wasn’t, at least not in and of itself.  Sami had a fair amount of screentime but most of Falina’s, the Mud Whale’s, inhabitants are boring.  They live boring peaceful lives and the majority of them die of natural causes in their twenties and thirties anyway.  Sami was not interesting and so her death doesn’t really mean anything.  it’s also poorly timed.  She dies in the assault on Falina which kills dozens of people on the tiny floating island.

Now the attack itself was a huge emotional success I think.  In contrast to the bland Sami having a death scene which totally lacked impact the attack itself and the indiscriminate slaughter that followed hit like a heavy punch to the gut.  The boring peaceful lives of Falina’s people was shattered by the robotic, systematic violence of the attackers and they died in their droves.  In fact they survived because the enemy retreated and gave them a week to prepare on purpose.  In hindsight it’s kind of annoying that almost no one fights back against the attackers once we learn about the self defense force and the force’s captain, who is likely stronger than any enemy soldier by miles, but whatever the long scenes of remorseless slaughter get the point across and the future of Falina suddenly looks very grim.

What follows is a few episodes of preparation and then the counterattack on Skylos, the enemy ship.  The assault itself was fine up until Ouni and the Skylos’ captain get involved.  The ambush on Falina’s sneak attack squad was perfect if all to predictable and it was over in a flash – as it should have been.  But when Ouni comes in and starts turning the tables the enemy captain shows up and shoots in him the leg.  Then he holds him at sword point and calls him worthless.  Then he hands the lieutenant the sword and lets him cut Ouni, but he doesn’t die because Ouni’s friend Nibi jumps in and they have an action scene so slow that not only is there a ton of dialogue but the out numbered Ouni and Nibi have time to turn away from their attackers and help each other.  Then Nibi inevitably dies and Ouni goes berserk and unlocks new powers and kills everyone -the end.

Keep in mind that only four people from Falania are present through an episode and a half’s worth of time spent in one room and there are like 20 Skylos people.  The fight should have been over in a minute or two tops and we’ll give it five minutes due to dialogue interrupting the flow of the action.  Yet somehow this takes around 20 minutes to conclude and it ends in the way that it basically had to anyway.  Nibi’s death was also drawn out to be emotional but it was so obvious that it didn’t matter. Once again the real emotional impact came from the ambush where the majority of Falina’s attack force is wiped out, though seeing Ouni go berserk was satisfying enough to make some of the overlong buildup worth it.  But the main problem still stands, Children of Whales is rife with pacing best described as glacial – in sharp contrast to the aforementioned Juuni Taisen whose episodes have started to fly by in recent weeks.

The other theory I have is that there is just not enough material.  I mean this comes from a manga so theoretically it should have plenty of story to work with but there is the possibility that the manga is not very long.  Alternatively perhaps there is a short simple kind of introduction to the series before it gets way more complicated and the staff decided to only tell the simple part of the story knowing they would never be able to get through some of the complex stuff in time.  Or maybe the manga is slow as shit too.  Point is I think part of the reason why Children of the Whales is so slow is that they episodes are really stretching the manga chapters for one reason or another.  Because the setting certainly suggests the world of Children of the Whales is much larger and more complex than the tiny Mud Whale we’ve been mostly restricted to so far.  My assumption is that Children of the Whales is  supposed to go into more an epic grueling adventure where Falina travels the world in search of protection and potentially to free the world from the emotion draining Nous who seem to me to be the root of most of the greatest horrors the world of this story has to offer.

Obviously there’s no way in hell they can manage that in 12 episodes so maybe they are settling for a clean and self contained arc which has a “read the manga” ending.

For all the ragging I’ve done on the show so far I don’t think it’s entirely bad.  I like the art style a lot and the setting would be perfect for a grand adventure show a la Log Horizon or Magi.  And the tone of the show very much reminds of me of Shin Sekai Yori, a show which put a ton of emphasis on mystery elements, psychic powers and the suppression of information between generations.  Children of the Whales is nowhere near as dark and unnerving as Shin Sekai Yori but it has powerful dark elements of it’s own and the idea of following a formerly pacifist society being thrust into war by a genocidal foe is awesome.  Likewise the enigmatic Nous and their goals, true natures and whatnot would be fascinating to explore.  Sadly the show will not last long enough for that but we can dream.

Speaking of dreaming, here’s my ideal 12 episode version of Children of the Whales.  Imagine if we tightened up the pacing a bit and got what has taken the show 9 episodes to take 6 episodes and then have a huge timeskip and have the back half of the season follow the surviving main characters as adults leading Falina, which due to decades of attacks and struggle has become a society defined by violence.  Think about it, the kids are already being forced to become killers – some kindergarten kids killed the pink haired psychopath in episode 8 – and they are fighting an enemy so lacking in empathy that not only does it kill anyone it sees regardless of age, intent and capability but they send child soldiers of their own to fight in droves.  Such a deranged and implacable foe would almost certainly cause Falina to become a remarkably warlike society in order to survive.

Ultimately I think the weakness of Children of the Whales is that it is almost certainly going to be great in the long term but the anime doesn’t get to be long term.  So instead they have to interest us with a simpler arc which has an easily packaged and digestible conflict while still introducing some elements which would be the real intrigue later down the line.  However this conflict is perhaps too short as it is and so the anime really has to slow down to not overstep the intended stopping point.  This is a real shame but it’s what we have.  I love a lot of the ideas in the story but unless you can sit through some very slow episodes I’d recommend you give this show a pass.