Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

Darling-in-the-Franxx

You know many moons ago I complained about certain anime seasons being total shit.  Today I look back at my old self and give me a “if only you knew” kind of look.  Because this season is legitimately the worst season in years.  There’s almost nothing that’s actually good or interesting despite their being another huge chunk of shows to actually watch.  Also there’s basically nothing in the way of solid sequels to help pad the season out – the only one off hand that might fill that role is Nanats no Taizai season 2, but having read the manga and hating where it goes I’m skipping that one despite really liking season 1.  Since this season was so barren I figured I’d do a 3 episode test on the few shows i’m actually watching.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou – I’m actually a big fan of the original Basilisk so I was bewildered to see a sequel.  If you want a spoiler free review of season 1, it’s here, and I do recommend season 1 as it was a good show.  However considering the ending I never would have believed it would have gotten a sequel much less one set only 10 years after the events of season 1.  Having seen 3 episodes of the sequel I can say I was right to be wary.  It’s not so much that it has been bad – it’s just not been good – and it has some problems.  For example why are the young recruits from the two ninja villages, Iga and Kouga, split along gendered lines?  In Basilisk season 1 both sides had men and women fighting.  How are Hachirou and Hibiki related to Gennosuke and Oboro exactly?  Both of those characters died before they had kids.  Speaking of which why does Hibiki look nothing like Oboro and why do her mystic eyes not match up with Oboro’s?  The village leaders insist she’s connected to Oboro but they describe her mystic eyes as neutralizing all hostility while Oboro’s eyes simply destroyed unnatural techniques, i.e. all ninjutsu/ninpou.  My problem is not that this show outright sucks but it looks to me like the team putting it together have a surface level understanding of Basilisk.  Forgetting all the details they have which don’t make sense, their uglier character designs and willingness to kill characters off are reminiscent of Basilisk – but nonetheless the whole thing feels very off and I’m not sure I want to continue.

Citrus – Yuri.  Nuff said.  Ok it could be Shoujo Ai… In all seriousness this show is just ok so far.  The story is very basic and while it’s not as slow and irritating as most shoujo shows are to me it is nonetheless carried by the fact it has lots of yuri fanservice to distract viewers from the thus far lackluster story and characters.  It’s a decent time but nothing spectacular – unless you loving seeing hot girls kiss.

Darling in the Franxx – So far this is the best show of the season.  Episode one was top tier with a great battle, weird monsters, tons of explosions and a bizarre looking mech.  I love Zero Two, the whimsical horned girl who has a nasty habit of overwhleming and damaging her partners.  What partners you ask?  Darling in the Franxx pulls a Pacific Rim and it takes two people, this time male and female to pilot a Franxx and fight the monsters, klaxosaurs.  Also emotions and one’s state of mind have a major effect on piloting the Franxx so managing the teenage pilots is going to be a big part of the show.  This in fact leads me to my main issue with Darling in the Franxx.  The world looks like a wasteland and what little politics have been shown give the society a distinctly dystopian edge, though it may be a justified one considering the monsters at their doorstep.  Excuse my sounding tyrannical but this society needs to control the kids better.  Not counting the anomaly that is Zero Two, most of the problems in making the kids combat effective come from their attitudes screwing with their compatibility.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to either control the kids with strict rules to create a less emotional children a la Shin Sekai Yori or to have the kids constantly doing the kind synchronization training Shinji and Asuka did in Evangelion to fight the twin angel?  I feel like either process would have better results than letting these kids run amok and destroying their own squad with huge egos and shitty behavior.  Also the pairs seem to be random considering the swathe of comparability problems, so maybe that needs work too.  Minor criticism of the setting aside this show is great and you should watch it.

Grancrest Senki – In season less barren than this I wouldn’t have even given this show a look.  It’s pretty bog standard fantasy action fare with simplistic and boring politics, bland characters and unexplained magic.  It has a strong military bent to it but while individual parts of the battles are great, overall it’s not that impressive.  I’m probably dropping this because what little charm it had has already worn off.

Killing Bites – This show is trash and I love it.  There’s something special about shitty action shows that know how trash they are just not giving a single fuck and plunging headlong into more fanservice and basic action scenes.  It’s not the kind of show which should ever be taken seriously and because of that it’s kind of fun.  Definitely a better way to pass the time than the last show I talked about.

Koi wa Ameagari You ni – Honestly I don’t get the appeal of this show.  The art style looks pretty but the main girl and her best friend on the track team have all kinds weird proportions.  Both of their upper legs are way too long, main girl’s neck looks too long in close up shots and track club senpai has noticeably bigger eyes than main girl and even her eyes look a little too big for her face.  The romance is between a quiet, seemingly anti-social high school girl and generic nice guy 45 year old.  I guess some people are into that but I certainly don’t see why.  It’s not a bad show and I’ll probably keep watching but it’s not a great time either.

Kokkoku – This one is weird.  So there’s this dirt poor family that has a rock which can stop time and after two members of the family are kidnapped at random they use the rock.  Unbeknownst to them they are being monitored by a cult which worships the rock and it’s time powers and they complicate matters immensely by taking yet another hostage and trying to kill Juri, the main girl.  At the rate this show is going they might have to resolve the entire plot in the pace of one time stop, which seems like a bit much but whatever.  Also the main family has extra powers like teleportation and being able to turned people who aren’t frozen in time into people frozen in time.  This show has a good mystery thriller vibe and the episodes are flying by, but it seems like a lot to resolve quickly so let’s see where it goes.

Violet Evergarden – This is the outright prettiest show of the season and good luck to anyone trying to top this show’s visuals.  The story has only been ok thus far as it centers around writing letters and the main girl, the titular Violet Evergarden lacks most human emotions.  But that’s ok because the Violet has spent most of her life fighting in a war that recently ended and everyone’s struggling to adjust – she just struggles all the harder because she has no concept of living a peaceful  civilian life like most people.  I’m personally fascinated by the concept of people accustomed to war suddenly struggling with peace so that’s a big plus for me.  Definitely give this one a try.

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Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 5

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I’ve established several times now that I really, really love the RWBY franchise. It had a rough start but with each new volume it was seriously upping it’s game until it became something I went from casually appreciating to outright loving. Volume 5 is the first time I think RWBY can be reasonably accused of backsliding. There will be spoilers and I’m going to assume you’re up to date – if you’re not I have an in-depth recap of the franchise here.

I don’t think Volume 5 is bad. It has a couple excellent twists, major events and battles, and some great additions to the characters. It also is quite a bit slower than it should have been. Volume 4 was supposed to be the “slow” transition between the major defeat of Volume 3 and what we can now call the major victory of Volume 5, and after the much slower, more character focused transition one might expect that Volume 5 would start with a bang or at least a spring in its proverbial step.  Instead it dragged its heels.  In retrospect given the scale of the events which occur in Volume 5 it definitely needed time for some set up but unlike previous volumes Volume 5 had almost no battles to help break up exposition or planning.  The only fight I can even think of which happens before any major plans start going in motion is Weiss’ fight against the giant Grimm bees, which while fun, was not nearly as impressive as it could have been considering the kinds of Grimm we were treated to in Volume 4.

The real problem here is due to the teams being fractured.  Blake’s fight for control of Menagerie has to be wrapped up before the final battle.  Normally this would be fine but Team RNJR are already in Haven and we knew from the final scenes of Volume 4 that one of Salem’s agents was already in Haven meeting with Haven’s headmaster.  By comparison Weiss and Yang’s travel flows much better because it’s a lot shorter and it gives us more time with the character who arguably is the centerpiece of this particular volume, Raven.  Raven has only ever appeared briefly in other volumes but she’s a major focal point of this one, especially once it’s revealed that she is in fact the Spring Maiden.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Basically I think the problem has to do with the amount of plot and the time frame it’s being squeezed into.

The Faunus and their internal struggle makes things awkward.  It’s a big struggle that involves a lot of internal politics, from speeches and polling to outright assassinations and a major battle.  In and of itself that’s not a bad thing but it’s frankly awkwardly timed as putting it in Volume 5 means that team RNJR have to be put on standby in-universe despite their own urgency, the importance of their task and the audience’s own knowledge that Haven is not the friendly ground it was supposed to be right from the beginning.  I get the need for suspense but the amount of time it takes to get to the final battle is just too long and it’s spent doing too little.  Thus the volume feels a lot slower than the rest because well, we the audience are waiting for shit to hit the fan and boy does that take some time.

Really I think the biggest mistake was putting Adam and the Faunus in Haven at all.  Assuming Adam’s battle was independent of the Haven battle the two stories could have  been told concurrently, which technically they already are but not really because Blake has to have control of Menagerie to foil Adam’s plans in Haven.  What should have happened was that Blake and Adam should have had their showdown on Menagerie, and maybe have Ilia find out that Adam killed Supreme Leader Khan and reveal this, turning most of Menagerie against him and forcing him to flee the island.  Hell Blake could even still head to Haven to reunite with her teammates under the logic that with Menagerie secured and Adam posing a seriously reduced threat, she can rejoin her team.  Meanwhile the team RNJR side of the story can virtually untouched beyond being sped up.

In essence the story would have the same pacing until Yang and Weiss reunite with Ruby and Raven makes her deal with Cinder.  Rather than still stalling we could’ve just gone straight to the battle and made that move along at a quicker pace as well because the final battle was riddled with problems.

People have started complaining about worse fight choreography since Mounty Oum’s death but this was the first volume where I felt that complaint had serious merit.  The Haven battle has a number of weak elements one of them being that there’s way too much standing around and talking.  The battle seems to drag on forever, partially because it has to thanks to the inclusion of the White Fang and Faunus in the scheme, and partially because I think almost everyone is underutilized.  However this too stems from another problem, frankly there’s too many people fighting at the same time.  After Weiss is impaled and Raven and Cinder leave the battlefield what should have followed was either a quick series of one on one battles or a team battle wherein both sides coordinated their abilities to crush the other side in one decisive engagement.  Neither one happens and so instead we have lots of awkward standing around with only a few of the fighters, mostly Hazel, being given serious attention.

This itself leads to yet more problems as almost none of the characters get time to shine and the battle just drags on and on with little in the way of major developments until the Faunus arrive.  Personally one of my biggest problems with the fight was Ruby.  Ruby is supposed to be a terrifying opponent and I feel like the team at Rooster Teeth just straight up forgot that.  They put all this focus on her being this symbol of hope and doing little things to improve her unarmed combat but in the major battle she hardly does anything.  In previous volumes Ruby could hold her own against major villains by herself and as Volume 2’s famous food fight scene shows, Ruby’s speed is an incredibly deadly weapon when she chooses to use it.  In this battle Ruby doesn’t use her speed at all – she’s not using it to dodge attacks or charge in and mess people up with her scythe.  Now in fairness at the start of the battle Emerald starts shutting her down right away so that made sense but after Cinder and Raven leave Ruby still barely fights when she should be using this opportunity to pummel the opposition because she’s faster than all of them and having greater speed is a huge advantage in a fight.

All that said considering the actual ending it might be safe to say that this was intentional as the only villains who die are Cinder and Lionheart, and neither of them are killed by the good guys.  Because in comparison to the lackluster Haven battle described above the battle at the Belladonna mansion was excellent – the combat was kinetic and satisfying, the pacing was good and the environment was used extremely well – and the battle between Cinder and Raven was fucking incredible, a strong contender for best battle in the franchise.  Given these battle’s it may be less of a case of Rooster Teeth not having the touch and more of case of stupid contrivance, wherein Ruby and Co. have to be held back so that most of Salem’s forces survive the battle, when logically this fight should make or break either Cinder’s squad or Team RNJR.

The last real issue is the finale.  The final episode was lackluster because it was poorly put together.  They probably should have combined the last two episodes and copied Volume 4’s ending by starting off with the Raven and Cinder battle and the fall of the White Fang before wrapping up the emotional stuff.  Instead the major climactic actions happen on the second to last episode and the finale deals almost entirely with the aftermath.  Individually most of the elements included were good but they were poorly packaged as it were and this really hurt the finale.

Also Adam took a big hit this time around, his dialogue with Blake and his overall presentation seemed a lot more dumbed down in comparison to his brief appearance in Volume 3, though in fairness the character hasn’t had enough screen time for the Rooster Teeth team to really iron out any kinks in the character or even get used to him.  Raven likewise had some dialogue in her argument with Yang that, while in character, felt just a tad forced and stilted.  Personally I would have had Raven answer Yang’s questions about the Spring Maiden and then had her say nothing while Yang tore into her, which I would have liked to have seen more of, before conceding to Yang’s argument on the relic and saying “I’m sorry.”  I feel like that approach would have given Raven a bit more grace and gravitas, as is in keeping with character, while allowing her to take Yang’s criticism on the nose and finally face her own failings.  Because credit where it’s due they did a great job with Raven overall.

Raven was a great schemer and bandit leader, and her portrayal as someone who was drawn into a fight full of secrets so strange and enemies so powerful they scared her into splitting off from Ozpin was handled very well.  The character was consistent, believable and her words definitely had a sort weight to them that could only come from experience and bitter sincerity.  Likewise it makes sense for her to give the relic to Yang because Yang’s argument about how much unwanted attention it will draw to Raven if she takes it is on point.  Raven really did shine throughout the volume and while she was handled well enough at the end, I do think her performance in the argument with Yang hurt the character a little bit.

Overall Volume 5 was a decent volume.  It had 2 great fights, a couple cool plot developments and it spent a lot of time fleshing out Raven and it did a great job on that front.  It’s main issue came from the writing, mainly that it tried tying up all of its loose threads into a neat bow and ended up with a clumsy knot.  All of the other issues can be traced back to this, they just tried to cram too much story into one place and it resulted in a plethora of issues great and small.  I can’t say for sure who is to blame on that front but there’s no doubt Volume 5 could have been tidied up and repackaged to improve it’s overall flow.  It seems to me that whomever is to blame here was too focused on the finish line for this volume rather than the journey it took to get there, and it was the latter that really needed attention.  Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe there were internal changes that caused some stumbles – either way, while this Volume not as good as Volume 3 or 4, the franchise overall is still very good and I’m very much invested in the series and would like to see where it’s going in the future.  Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.