Updated Impressions: Kingdom 3

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After giving Kingdom 3 a few episodes to really get in its full swing, I figured it was time to discuss my initial impressions and how closely they matched the episodes as they’ve come out. If you want to look at the first impressions before getting started, it’s linked here.

Ever since I was aware that Kingdom 3 was coming out, i.e. a few days before the new season started, I’ve been slowly re-watching the first two seasons. I’m currently in the early stages of season 2 and sadly it has already confirmed my biggest concern regarding Kingdom 3 – the audio. For starters the audio seems quieter across the board, I have no idea if this is a recording issue, a source rip issue or what but seasons 1 & 2 are significantly louder at the same computer volume, especially the soundtrack. Which leads me to major problem two, the audio balancing. The soundtrack of Kingdom 3 is so quiet that I keep forgetting it’s even there and have to re-watch episodes with extra attention given to listening for the music to even try and identify and remember it.

Because even when the tracks pick up a bit to reflect the intensity of the battles and such, they are frankly completely overpowered by the sounds of the action. A great example is the Qin charge at the start of episode 4/ end of episode 3. There is a decent, tense battle track playing during the charge but fuck me it so hard to hear over the noise generated by the damn charge.  The earlier seasons were not like this at all. The music was just as immense as the charging noises and you literally can’t miss the soundtrack regardless of what’s happening on screen. The only time Kingdom 1 & 2 are quiet is when there is no music and no action or dialogue. This is a gigantic failing because as I’ve detail over the course of multiple posts, the audio of Kingdom is what really makes the anime worth it. There is nothing in the anime you can’t get in the manga besides color (a nice touch but not essential), movement (let’s face it Kingdom’s animation is extremely inconsistent with large stretches where it looks great and equally large stretches where it some of the ugliest animation ever put to film) and sound.  And sound was where the anime shined the most. The voice-acting was amazing, the soundtrack sounded like a good approximation of period appropriate and it was epic enough to match a story with scale and scope of Kingdom – the unification of China with battles a hundred thousand strong.

Moving right along, though if you can find the focus to listen to the quite-ass soundtrack of Kingdom 3 it is in fact noticeably Sawano’ed. Now I like Sawano’s work but his predilection for electronic sound, especially for tension builds, just does not mesh with the setting and character of Kingdom at all. I’m hoping that when we get to the really big moments the music will improve somewhat but it’s honestly really disappointing that the soundtrack is so different from the earlier seasons. Kingdom 1 & 2 were so unique when it came to sound, I’ve never come across any anime that sounds like it and the music choices were so much better reflective of the story’s location and time period. Listening to the soundtrack of earlier seasons of Kingdom alternatively brings a big old smile to my face or makes my hair stand on end.  It’s iconic and gave Kingdom such a distinct character, and watching all the seasons of Kingdom simultaneously, I think that character came as a result of the love poured into Kingdom by the creative teams of the first two seasons, which had way more overlap than either team has with the new team.

Now far be it from me to claim Kingdom 3 is a cynical cash-grab, it’s nowhere near bad enough to merit that label, but I do think it’s safe to assume Sawano was chosen to do the soundtrack for Season 3 because it was seen as a “safe” move from the corporate end of productions.  That because the man is individually very popular and has a good track record, putting him on the job would make the show more marketable to people in the know.  And not to knock Sawano too much, again I love his work on other shows, but I think he made a significant mistake to let his usual style dominate the composition rather than leaning on the soundtracks of the earlier seasons – like at least use them as an inspiration or something. Maybe the soundtracks will improve as things go on but I do not have high hopes on this front.

Last but not least the voice-acting is, well I want to say abysmal but I mean abysmal compared to Kingdom 1 & 2, overall it’s more like passable.  Minor characters being voiced by different people is annoying if inevitable but far more jarring is the drop in quality by the major players – all of whom have the same voice actors.  Again no idea if this is a recording issues, source rip issue or a directing issue, but almost everyone sounds worse than before.

The calmer strategist types tend to be minimally affected if they even sound worse at all but any character with a louder, more extreme personality and character is basically fucked.  Even Xin has taken a big hit here, with his yelling sounding somehow quieter and yet more grating than it was in earlier seasons.  Huan Yi, Wan Ji, Biao Gong, Lu Buwei and newcomer Ordo all have been it very bad.  I feel like this has to at least partially come from an audio recording/balancing problem because these characters in particular sound quieter and less full than they should.  Go back to the earlier seasons and listen to Huan Yi, Wan Ji, Biao Gong or Lu Buwei for a bit and see what I mean, as for Ordo I would use Lian Po as a point of reference for what Ordo should sound like. And listening to the banter between the two main harem girls is very eye-opening, it’s like night and day between Kingdom 2 and Kingdom 3, with the new season sounding seriously inferior.  I think the director is at least partially at fault here because, looking at both the anime and the manga many of these characters have the most personality in their dialogue and mannerisms and it may just be that the new director doesn’t have the experience or vision to bring that aspect of their characters to life or recognize its value.

Luckily it’s not all doom and gloom.  Now that battles are underway and characters have cuts and sweat over their faces and arms, the characters no longer look even vaguely plastic.  Unfortunately I still think Kingdom 2 with it’s thicker outlines and more emphasis on shading and linework looks better – but Kingdom 3 is now looking very solid.  Kingdom 3’s art has its quirks, particularly how it seems to fade out lighter colors while overemphasizing darker colors but it’s at least been very consistently solid so far and there’s no sign of Kingdom 3 dropping back into the horrible CG of Kingdom 1.

And of course the story is as good as ever, dropping us right into one of the biggest events in the story without any kind of rehash of the earlier seasons was a great idea. Kingdom 3 cuts any waiting time and drops right into the big time, the largest battle in the story where the stakes are as high as they can be and the odds of victory are as slim as we’ve ever seen them.  I do somewhat miss the more frequent narration and directing tricks that slowed earlier seasons of Kingdom down for dramatic effect and build-up, but I can’t really complain with how the story has progressed thus far because this is arguably the most complex arc of the manga in terms of the sheer number of characters, soldiers, number of battles and so forth that need to happen.

Overall Kingdom 3 is looking fairly good and I will be along for the ride, it only really stumbles when you compare it to Kingdom 2.  And that is a shame but nothing about Kingdom 3 indicates that will fall apart or end up being a shit sequel like some other high-profile sequels to old properties.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Peaks & Valleys: Boku no Hero Academia

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This is exactly the kind of post that would get me a ton of backlash if not for the fact I run an obscure blog.  Not only has Boku no Hero already peaked, as someone up to date on both the anime and the manga, my interest in this IP is severely waning.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Boku no Hero has a couple serious problems which I imagine many fans have either not noticed or have overlooked because they like the show.  Fair enough I like it too, but I have to say with the battle against Gentle Criminal and La Brava over, there is basically nothing left that I find interesting in Boku no Hero.  How is this?  How did a story which was at one point so captivating become so dull so quickly?  Well there are a couple of reasons but let’s start with maybe the biggest one – Deku.  Now I like Deku, he’s a hard-working boy with a heart of gold and he wants to be the best there ever was.  But well, he’s kinda boring.  One of the inspirations for this post was NuxTaku’s video “Deku Officially Sucks” which while obviously intended to rile the fanbase of Boku no Hero, did contain some very good arguments.  Chief amongst them were the following: Deku is a character without intrigue and he’s narratively and thematically dwarfed by someone who honestly would have made a much better main character – Lemillion.

Long before I came across NuxTaku’s video I have to say one of Deku’s very first lines bugged the shit out of me – “this is the story of how I became the number 1 hero.”  It comes up before the story really even starts.  Personally I think dropping that line was a bad move because it takes away one of the biggest achievements Deku could make as character.  When I look at Deku my best point of comparison is Naruto and one of things Naruto gets on Deku by default is that it’s never framed like Naruto ever has a chance at becoming Hokage – until he beats Pain.  Sure Naruto constantly says he wants to be Hokage, but wanting something and getting it are two very different things.  For a huge chunk of Naruto, Naruto’s big talk is laughed at.  It’s considered absurd.  But once he proves himself against the worst enemy Konoha had ever faced, suddenly his claims sound a lot less stupid.

By contrast Deku outright saying he became the best before we’ve really even seen anything is a giant buzzkill.  I mean it’s not a deal-breaker or anything but it really rubbed me the wrong way and it makes Boku no Hero all about the journey, because the we already know the destination.  Now that works plenty well in other shows and it could in theory work for Boku no Hero, but Boku no Hero shoots itself in the foot yet again because we know the means by which Deku will achieve this by the end of the first episode – he has one of the world’s greatest powers handed to him on a platter.  Sure he has to train and master One for All but there really no narrative hook here.  A perfectly generic good guy is given an immense power right out the gate and the only negatives are that he isn’t ready for this power so using it beats the shit out of him.  The problem with Deku is that he already has the perfect heroic mindset so all he needs to do is gain experience and master One for All – and while this makes sense as the reason All Might gave Deku this power is because of his mindset and attitude it’s also narratively boring.  Like how many interesting fights can Deku have where his main concern is hurting himself too badly to fight on or fight another day?

As it turns out not very many.  You’ll notice in season 4 none of his big fights revolved around this problem.  And yes this is in part due to Deku creating or developing workarounds but it also shows the limits of his constricting narrative.  I’m once more reminded of Naruto.  Naruto was a kid who worked his ass off developing techniques and was given great power.  However where Deku’s power is gifted to him by his idol and it earns him nothing but respect in wider society, Naruto’s power is given to him as a desperate measure and he is widely ostracized for bearing Kurama within him.  There also a another couple of layers here.  Deku’s worst outcome in any given fight is failing to save someone or doing too much damage to himself to continue fighting.  Naruto’s worst case scenario is losing control of his power and hurting everyone around him without meaning to.  Moreover because Naruto’s power source is Kurama, he has to walk the tightrope path between drawing out Kurama’s power to master his full potential while not being overwhelmed by Kurama’s chakra and giving in to bestial rage.  Deku has no such set of consequences, his only backlash in using All for One is that he hurts himself and he has the selflessness to let that happen for the sake of saving people.

I’m sure I can take this comparison deeper but I think I got the point across.  Deku is boring.  He’s nice, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he has an immense power he has yet to master.  And that’s basically it.  Deku doesn’t have inner demons, his worst mental setback is doubting himself on occasion.  Deku’s power and lack of mastery over it has no interesting consequences, nor can the story really go all in on those consequences more a couple of times or else Deku would never be able to fight again.  There is no mystery, depth or intrigue in Deku – we know his destination and we know the means by which he reaches it, it’s just a matter of watching that story play out.  This isn’t to say Boku no Hero or even Deku himself can’t be great but Deku’s story is one with a short shelf life and I think after Gentle Criminal that shelf life has all but expired.  Deku was at his very best during his match with Todoroki during the Sports Festival.  Because that was a match wherein winning for Deku meant tearing his body apart and ultimately losing the big match that he wanted to win for the sake of getting through to Todoroki and saving Todoroki from his inner demons.  Since then Deku has been significantly less impressive with the Stain battle being the second best Deku moment in my opinion.  It’s a shame because he could have been made a lot more interesting if he was allowed to fail more often – but because almost all of Deku’s battles outside of the Sports Festival are matters of life and death, he can’t afford to lose them.  It would also help if maybe he had a different power that allowed for more narrative flexibility.

Which is were Lemillion comes in.  Lemillion and Deku have the same basic dream, attitude and story arc.  The difference is that Lemillion’s is much more compelling and he ends up in a much more interesting position.  Lemillion was a guy born with a pretty crappy powers who struggled to be more than a joke in the eyes of his peers.  But through an ultra positive attitude, dedication and a tutor that helped him master his bizarre power he rose through the ranks and was very nearly at the pinnacle.  Then when he has Overhaul on the ropes, Overhaul puts him in an impossible dilemma, save Eri and take a bullet that erases his powers for good or dodge the bullet and let Eri die.  Obviously he takes the bullet and this is by far the biggest emotional moment in his arc.  He’s inches away from achieving his goal and yet he’s forced to lose everything for the sake of his ideals, because this is a bullet he can’t afford to dodge.  And yet he doesn’t give up, he keeps fighting, he keeps smiling and he doesn’t lose hope.  Lemillion is Deku but a vastly superior version of Deku, his struggles are far greater, the sacrifices he makes significantly more costly and yet he doesn’t bend, he doesn’t break, he takes it all in stride and has hope for the future.

I’m begrudgingly reminded of Bleach’s Fullbringer arc here.  After Ichigo stopped Aizen he ended losing all of his spirit power for a time and he goes on living a normal life until a group of people show him a way that he might be able to get his power back.  Now the Fullbringer arc is to the best of my knowledge fairly widely panned and I didn’t think it wasn’t very good.  But it did attempt something extremely difficult and with tons of potential, a soft reset where someone who rises to the top suddenly crashes back down to rock bottom because they sacrificed all of their future potential for victory now (see HunterxHunter for reference).  But where Bleach didn’t really have the staying power for that I think Lemillion might have had he been the main the character of Boku no Hero.  In any event Deku could not go through this very arc, because losing his power is too great a loss to the wider world.  Another limitation on Deku’s story, and a reason why Lemillion is more interesting.

Getting away from Deku there are two other problems with Boku no Hero Academia that have crippled my interest in the story.  The size of the cast and the loss of All Might.  Now large casts aren’t inherently a problem but Boku no Hero has lost a lot of steam because many beloved or otherwise interesting characters either haven’t gotten much development or have been developed some and then sidelined to make room for more characters.  Ochako is probably the best example.  During the Sports Festival her battle with Bakugo was, and excuse the pun, the tits.  In a tournament arc with tons of interesting battles her’s was solidly in second place behind the even more phenomenal Deku versus Todoroki.  And since then what have we seen from her?  Basically nothing.  Sure she learned some martial arts and she was even present for the raid on Overhaul.  But what did she do during the raid?  Did she fight any interesting enemies?  Did she suffer serious injuries?  Did she bust out a crazy new technique she’d been working on and make an impact?  None of the above.  She’s barely in the raid.  Kirishima had a bigger part to play, and don’t get me wrong Kirishima is great, his fight was awesome and his Unbreakable form looks rad as hell but I wanted Ochako to shine too.  Worse if you read ahead the manga mostly gets away from the kids and focuses mostly on the adult heroes.

It makes sense with the worldbuilding for the kids to play a smaller role as the war against the villains ramps up but there’s a ton of moving parts and Boku no Hero Academia is all too willing to jump around and develop a ton of different characters, while leaving some of the core characters to essentially stagnate.  It makes the story less engaging because the worldbuilding is not that great.  I mean it’s not terrible and it raises some interesting questions but I’ve seen better versions elsewhere.  I even wrote about it before – here’s the link– I already argued that Tiger and Bunny and Gatchaman Crowds were better at this.  That the strength of Boku no Hero is that it has polished the basics of shounen storytelling to a mirror sheen and delivers on the fundamentals so well.  Now that it’s moving into a more complex narrative it’s starting to fall apart and become boring.

Last but not least is the question of All Might.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever written.  He’s powerful, a national symbol, a man with big dreams and equally huge responsibilities with an unflinching will and all kinds of natural charisma.  To me the ultimate peak of Boku no Hero is All Might versus All for One.  These two titanic figures with larger than life powers, archenemies who have wounded each other so badly they never returned to their top form, duking it out one last time.  The fight was one of the most simplistic I can think of and yet it was also incredibly emotional.  All for One doing everything he can to break All Might’s will and reveal the secrets he didn’t want to world to know, against All Might’s implacable spirit and his willingness to throw away the last dregs of his power in one final Smash to put his nemesis down once and for all was incredible.  And the bit at the end where All Might, a battered husk of his former self points at the camera and says “You’re next” is so fucking good.  It is not just the peak of Boku no Hero but a remarkable high point in the shouen genre, sure to go down with some of the other biggest moments in shounen storytelling.  I always tear up when I start writing about this fight because it was that good, it had that much impact.  And with All Might mostly out of the story, Boku no Hero has lost one of it’s biggest narrative hooks.  All Might was really the glue that held so much of this story together and he’s gone.

With all of that in mind I hope any Boku no Hero fans reading understand why I will not really be hype for any future seasons of Boku no Hero.  All Might is a footnote, Lemillion is out of the picture.  The interesting criminals of season 4 are behind bars.  All that’s left is to explore the League of Villains and have more showdowns, with a little bit of training here and there along the way.  Boku no Hero has gotten rid of its most interesting characters and thrown much of its strong points out the window as it moves on to the next big arc.  I’m not saying it will suck necessarily, but I would be floored if any future seasons were as good as season 4, let alone the true high points of the show seasons 2 & 3.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Peaks and Valleys: Shield Hero

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I’m normally a complete package kind of guy when it comes to reviews and shows but seeing as we’re all stuck at home for a few more weeks at least I thought it would be fun to instead focus on when any particular show is at it’s best and worst and why these particular parts are the best and worst.  There will be spoilers.

I kind of already spelled this out for Shield Hero in a different review but I figured it was worth rehashing and using as the start of a new series of posts.  Shield Hero is probably one of the best examples of this because frankly it hits its peak so damn fast, it never really recovers and I can basically talk about the whole package anyway as it’s broad trends rather than individual moments which make up the peaks and valleys.  Shield Hero is at it’s absolute best in the early parts of story starting from the false rape charge laid on Naofumi and his immense struggle to make anything out of himself due to the limitations of being a Shield Hero.  Naofumi is great in these early parts for a number of reasons but chief among would be his inner struggle.  Despite the fact he buys Raphtalia as a slave and forces her into combat, many of their early scenes together show hints of the good, caring guy Naofumi is at heart – but he’s been so badly screwed by this world out the gate that he can’t fully open himself up even to her.  This is also accompanied by some of my favorite scenes, where Naofumi essentially embraces the villain label and goes full asshole towards the world that fucked him.  The early chapters (I vastly prefer the manga to the anime), were what really captivated me when I took a look at Shield Hero.

The premise was interesting enough but it was the contrasts between the kind of person Naofumi wanted to be versus the attitudes and behaviors that we needed to thrive in a hostile world were great.  And his black-pilled rage was incredibly cathartic.  Watching Naofumi make a mockery of the people and world that fucked him out the gate was so fun to indulge in.  Now these chapters are not the only narrative highs, I think both of the first 2 waves of calamity were good as well.  I do wish Naofumi had the let the guards who had rained down magic on his position when he was saving the town near the first wave get killed because it would not only be what they deserved but also a lot more moral ambiguity to a character who was already well on his way to returning to the tried and true normal hero.  And the introduction of Glass really spiced up a story that was in decline with Naofumi outshining the other Heroes so much.

Sadly it was no to be.  I’m still reading chapters of Shield Hero as they come out but I have lost most of my interest in the series.  I don’t know if the aspects of the show that lead it its valleys came from author or the publisher – but either way they are a massive missed opportunity.  The early portions of Shield Hero were some of the most high profile examples of morally ambiguous heroes since Killua from HunterxHunter.  They absolutely should have capitalized on that.  Because the aspects of Shield Hero that bring it down are many.  For starters the world is boring as fuck, a basic bitch fantasy RPG world with minimal intrigue.  The politics of that world are hamfisted as fuck, and while the some dialogue points to a world which could be large and nuanced and interesting, the politics we actually see never go beyond “Shield Hero bad or good” and betrayals for the sake of power grabbing.  The bad guys are neatly defined as are the good guys and there’s no overlap between the two, no double agents, no actors working with or between the two sides, etc.  The world is boring.  The waves are boring.  Most of the characters are boring because frankly only Naofumi and people directly around him get any development.

The only saving grace of Shield Hero early on was that it had the balls to go straight for the jugular, screwing the main character instantly and putting him a terrible position.  And then it delivered by giving us a hero who had hints of nice guy he was deep down buried beneath a mountain of justifiable distrust and rage.  Naofumi was stuck in a loop where it looked like he could never get strong, until he did something super questionable like buying a slave, a little girl, and forcing her to kill for him.  And during the first two waves, even though Naofumi has gotten strong he’s not overpowering.  The other Heroes waste the boss of the first wave while Naofumi struggles to save the nearby village, and in the second wave when the story was going downhill as Naofumi made all the other Heroes look like fools, they suddenly dropped Glass on us and showed that even at the recent height of his power, Naofumi still had a long way to go.

This is not to say there were no good parts between the waves or after the second wave.  A lot of the early emotional development between Naofumi and Raphtalia was great, though I thought the anime kind of botched it by making Raphtalia much thirstier for Naofumi as soon as Filo enters the party.  And the bits with Raphtalia getting to confront the noble who enslaved her and killed her best friend was good too.  However the story suffers from two major problems after the first wave.  Naofumi becomes the good guy too fast.  Both in his own behavior and in how the people of the kingdom come around to him, his reputation is practically already redeemed before the second wave, it just takes one last push in proving that the Church, the king and Malty are corrupt – but for all intents and purposes Naofumi has stopped being an outcast shortly after the first wave.  And because he isn’t ostracized he doesn’t really need to rage or be an asshole, he can be a generic good guy whose behavior never gets worse than making people pay him for rendering his services.  He mas no moral ambiguity whatsoever and is basically as good as the story needs him to be, he genuinely gets pretty boring and the investment and goodwill bought by the earlier chapters was all that carried me forward.

Even more egregious though is the other main factor in Shield Hero’s decline, the utter lack of competency in anyone who doesn’t like Naofumi.  By the second wave Naofumi is head and shoulders above the other heroes, and basically anyone besides boss monsters and Glass.  His party members are also quite competent and loyal and he’s more or less the ideal leader of the Heroes, he just needs have his name cleared.  Now if Shield Hero had any good sense they still could have made this work, what should have happened was that the second wave should have been a wake up call.  The other Heroes should have been smart enough to understand they had been lazy and put their noses to the grindstone so that they could attempt to surpass him.  And the persecution against Naofumi should have ramped up – not to kill him as the story actually goes, but to try and keep him down and prevent him from gaining strength.  Maybe recognize his achievements by giving him a specific task that looks like a reward but is actually a punishment.  Then if Naofumi ignores or forfeits this task the king has justification to put him in prison or something.  Like there are any number of ways to cripple Naofumi’s growth and prominence without actually trying to kill him.

But no Shield Hero’s idea of making Naofumi look good, is half Naofumi’s hard work (the good shit) and half making all of Naofumi’s enemies or even potential enemies into completely uncharismatic, unlikable, and unskilled morons (the bad shit).  In that regard scythe boy and Glass are welcome additions because they are competent foes, but both of them actually like/respect Naofumi – and it looks like they will end up working with him in the end (I would bet money on it).  By contrast the other Heroes, the king, the Church, Malty – all of them are completely nonthreatening.  They had some potential early on but they are all bark and no bite as Naofumi clowns on all of them in every conceivable way.  Naofumi is smarter, more mature, stronger.  He beats them in figuring out the plots against the kingdom, he beats the enemies they can’t and he even beats them in races where they cheat.  Again this didn’t need to spell the end of Shield Hero, if the other Heroes took these lessons to heart and made serious efforts to surpass Naofumi while still mostly being his enemy that would be good, and if any of the schemers working against Naofumi had a lick of subtlety them that would help.

I think Shield Hero peaked quite a while ago.  There will be some hype moments and maybe some good plots and character moments to come but I’m basically done with it.  The introduction of Scythe boy was good, and some of the latest plot points have potential.  But seeing how quickly the creatirs abandoned what made they great and how  they’ve made no efforts whatsoever to address its biggest problems, I have a hard time seeing how what comes next won’t just be more of the same.  I have no interest in that.  I have no interest in basic bitch fantasy RPG worlds, with basic bitch plots, factions and politics.  I have no interest in struggles where all of the antagonists go from threatening foes to total jokes.  I have no interest in watching the one competent Hero and his team swell in number to fight the threats the other Heroes obviously suck too much to fight.  I have no interest in a story whose characters have been all but milked dry of there most important character moments and haven’t meaningfully developed for like two entire arcs.  And that’s a shame because once upon a time I thought Shield Hero was one of the most interest manga I was reading, not enough to be one of the greats, not a true classic, but something that had the potential to aim for those heights.  And that manga is long gone now.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

First Impressions: Kingdom 3

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Man is this about to get messy.  On the one hand as soon as I bothered to check the season charts and saw Kingdom 3 I raised my fists to the sky and cried out in manly victorious joy.   And on the other I found some things about first episode of the new season somewhat off-putting and a casual glance into the comment sections revealed that not only was hardly anyone being critical but the few who were not getting a great reception.  Fuck it, here we go.

Just to appease any naysayers and set the groundwork for anyone who hasn’t read my prior reviews of Kingdom, let me start with this: I love Kingdom.  It’s probably my favorite manga with Berserk being the only real competition and even the anime, maligned as it so often is for the so-ugly-it-hurts CG of season 1 is still in my top 5.  Any criticisms that follow do not come from a place of hate, they come from a place of passionate love for this series balanced against the cautious cynic in me who had nothing but hope for the similarly long-awaited D Gray -Man sequel only to be brutally disappointed, so much so that I’d honestly rather D Gray Man never got a sequel than get D Gray-Man Hallow.  As of episode 1, Kingdom 3 does not have any serious indicators that it will be bad or will fail, but there are some noticeable changes from Kingdom 2 – and while many in the comments sections seem to see this as a pure upgrade I am not among them.  To me Kingdom 2 was the high-water mark for the anime adaptation, and seeing how it held that position for 6 years a lot of the stylistic choices of Kingdom 2 are what I mostly strongly identify Kingdom with.  And while I’m not against change per se, I am wary whenever a long-awaited sequel comes around and starts changing things that I didn’t have a problem with or even loved.  With that in mind let’s address the most noticeable change fight off the bat shall we?

The visuals of Kingdom have long been a contentious issue.  The first season is rightly mocked for being pretty hideous, Kingdom 2 saw massive visual improvements and now Kingdom 3 is bringing a new visual style into the mix.  It’s immediately and very noticeably different from Kingdom 2 but it’s not necessarily a major downgrade – in fact many commenters think it’s an upgrade.  However the new artstyle has some bizarre quirks.  Certain colors, most noticeably the armor and clothes colors are more vivid than in earlier seasons but other colors seem faded by comparison.  For example Li Mu’s hair looks dull light brown in season 3 despite being golden-brown blonde in earlier seasons.  However it’s the skin and facial expressions which have taken the biggest hit.

In season 2, which I think was when Kingdom looked the best, there’s not a lot of shadows cast on characters’ faces.  Instead they give more definition by adding extra line work, usually in form of dirt smudges and cuts.  Same goes for the bodies, you tend to see the muscles lines in Xin’s arms whereas Season 3 doesn’t have that thus far.  Season 3’s artstyle seems to be replacing linework with shadows and it’s not quite as good.  Perhaps the best example of the problems with this style are faces of Changwenjun and Changping in throne room.  Their faces are brightly lit as though they are outside or as if there’s a big torch flickering in a dark room – but neither is the case, and there are shadows all over everyone’s faces which present the suggestion of not only lighting where there isn’t any but also the of lines and shading to give the facial expressions more definition, structure and character.  However it makes them look kind of plastic when compared to the artwork of season 2, where there were fewer shadows used but colors tend to be less vivid.  Maybe this will end up working out since it seemed like less of an issue when characters were outdoors and thus would have more natural lighting but frankly I just preferred the duller and more grounded colors of Kingdom 2 and I seriously hope they bring back more line work to add detail to the faces during the course of battles and so on.  Moving on.

The pacing seems faster than before.  Maybe this will only apply to episode 1 because it needs to get so much information across so quickly but the 3rd person narration was minimal and it felt like the episode flew by.  That may continue in the long run or it may just be a quirk of this episode but earlier seasons of kingdom definitely slowed themselves down with lots of narration.  And while I can certainly see some people preferring this faster pace, I kind of liked the slow methodical rhythm of earlier seasons because it gave the show a lot of character and helped to add to the weightiness of conflicts and characters, which is frankly one of the strongest selling points of Kingdom – its ability to imbue individual characters with so much weight and history as to make them feel overwhelming.  No other anime I’ve come across has been able to generate such palpably powerful living legend type characters as Wang Yi and Lian Po.   Maybe I’m being paranoid but it could also mean this will be a much shorter season and so they have to cut down on narration and speed things up, which would be a real shame.  Sadly the issues of episode 1 only get more serious from here.

The music is barely noticeable, seriously when I was gathering my initial thoughts I realized I had no recollection of the soundtrack at all and re-watched the episode with special focus on the music, and let me tell you it was unimpressive and forgettable, so much so I actually did totally forget to pay attention to it for a few minutes in the middle which I had to go over that part again.  This is a huge issue because the massive swelling tracks from the earlier seasons were one of the main attractions of the anime over the manga.  Despite the terrible visuals of earliest episodes of Kingdom the soundtrack was immense and overpowering – it truly helped to sell the sheer scale and scope of the action taking place.  Now I like Sawano and his work but episode 1 is severely lacking on the music front and it needs attention.

It would be much better for the soundtrack to be loud, omni-present and possibly overshadowing the events on screen than for it to be quite and easily lost in the episode.  Because Kingdom is about a colossal conflict with hugely important figures of history – if anything the music needs to be so grand and epic that it would feel out of place or overdramatic in any other series, that’s the level of sound that made the Kingdom anime worth coming back to.  And frankly my biggest concern here is not that Sawano can’t perform, but that the new director and the creative staff do not see or understand the vision and design that made the prior seasons so good.  Because while all 3 seasons have different directors, seasons 1 and 2 had a lot more overlap in the creative staff – at least for the people who are listed so far.  And after the immense letdown that was D Gray Man Hallow, I’m painfully aware of how badly a new staff with a different vision can botch a great IP.

Even more off-putting to me though is the voice-acting.  While the main cast is still voiced by the same people some of there performances felt a lot weaker.  Meng Tian, Teng and Lu Buwei are most noticeable in this regard.  They all come off as much more serious than before.  Part of this was no doubt to do with the seriousness of the crisis at hand, and is therefore defensible – but the paranoid part of me is worried that this a bad call on the part of the new director.  Meng Tian and Lu Buwei both had a great deal more playfulness in their delivery in prior seasons and that is sorely missed here, especially from Meng Tian since his only lines in this episode come before the crisis unfolds.  Teng is also a huge disappointment.  Part of the charm of his character was how he sounded and behaved a kinda goofy, contrasted by his unstoppable power when he goes beast-mode.  There was none of that prior goofiness in his delivery in episode 1 and having read the manga, he will need it for future scenes and conversations.  They also switched out the voice actors of some relatively minor but frequently recurring characters, which is understandable given the time-gap and the ludicrous size of Kingdom’s cast but it’s also a disappointment because we see a lot of these characters later down the line.  Shi Shi is a good example as are Lu Wuwei and Gan Yang.

Now despite the doom and gloom predictions, I don’t think this is a massive downgrade or anything, nor is it enough to make me stop watching – I sat through season 1 so I can handle worse animation in the name of a good story.  But rather than lose myself to the hype I want to be cautiously optimistic.  The last time I was this hyped for a sequel was when D Gray-Man Hallow came out and that was a fucking tragedy, a massive downgrade on every possible front made watchable only because of the good plot.  Now Kingdom has not shit the bed already the way D Gray-Man Hallow did in its first episode but I’d rather worry and be proven wrong than charge into this uncritically and end up disappointed.

The biggest worry for me is the audio.  If all I cared about were visuals and story then I would just read the manga where Kingdom is concerned.  But the music and voice-acting in seasons 1 and 2 were so strong that I felt it was worth watching the anime as well as reading the manga – the sounds of Kingdom were the most crucial component of the anime experience and right now they are not looking so hot.  That may yet change as we get to the actual battles and hype moments but probably my biggest concern with Sawano’s music is that I don’t know if it’s the right fit for Kingdom.  I mean don’t get me wrong the man is amazing but I think his music shines the most when it’s going for the big hype moments or big emotional moments but is relatively unimpressive in between these moments.  Kingdom’s soundtrack should be powerful all the time, because frankly most of what’s going on is hype.  Sure the big duels between important characters are especially important but underselling the drama of the clashes between armies a hundred thousand strong would be a massive mistake.

That’s about all I’ve to say on the subject for now.  Hopefully I didn’t kill too much fanboy hype for Kingdom 3 and truth be told I sincerely hope future episodes prove all my concerns to be unfounded.  I’m so glad Kingdom is back, especially now that it’s tackling possibly the biggest arc of the manga.  I want this to be the best, 10/10 show of the season that beats the fuck out of me for ever doubting it.  But for now, I’ll be holding on to those doubts until I’m proven wrong.  Thanks for reading.  See you in the next one.

Seasonal Summaries: Winter 2020

bofuri 2

Now that everyone’s stuck at home due to coronavirus, I figure it’s a good a time as to start pumping out more posts since you should all have the time to read them.  With that in mind I wanted to touch on some the great shows of the previous season that I was too lazy to write a proper review for.  There will be spoilers.

 

railgun

I know every season chart now is gigantic and full of shit shows but Winter 2020 had 8 shows that I had a great time with, which makes it a pretty strong season.  Because it’s easy, I’ll start with the one that’s still going – To Aru Kagaku no Railgun 3.  Ever since I first discovered To Aru Majutsu no Index like 8 years ago I continue to love this balls-to-the-walls scifi-fantasy mashup.  But where I basically gave up on the Accelerator spin-off because he’s only great in small doses, the Misaka spin-offs have been a ton of fun and explored the world from someone more strongly rooted in the science end of this bizarre world than Touma, who is more involved with magical side.  It’s also nice to get away from some of the running gags of Index by mostly cutting Touma out of the story, and following a different close-knit group of friends.  This season of Railgun has been one of the most tense and action-packed of the 3 so far and I’m looking forward to where it will go with its 25 episodes.  All of the seasons have been consistently quality experiences and this one looks to maybe be the best of the bunch.  I especially recommend it now, since you presumably have more time to binge the 7(?) related seasons of Index, Railgun and Accelerator spin-offs.

 

JIbaku-Hounen-Hanako-kun-03-39

Moving right along probably the biggest disappointment among my 8 shows was Jibaku Shounen Hanako-San.  I love the artsyle and the color choices but I think it is unnecessarily slow by trying to be cryptic rather than address the main antagonist.  And while I enjoyed myself and was willing to let the show drag its heels, I do wish a little more had happened with regards to the inevitable Hanako vs Tsukasa clash.  The boundaries of the various School Wonders were especially interesting and I do like that show could be so playful before suddenly crashing headfirst into really dark shit but ultimately I do think putting off the main confrontation like Hanako-san did hurt the show a bit.  Still if you like the supernatural and ghost stories or are looking for an anime with especially striking/unique visuals Hanako-san might be worth your while.

 

kyokou-suiri-03-23

Kyokou Suiri was probably ranked 7th out of the eight shows I truly enjoyed this season.  One the one hand I like the supernatural elements, the bizarre characters and Iwanaga’s energetic dialogue and powerful deductive reasoning.  One the other hand, this show was really slow and basically centered around one small scale conflict.  It’s a shame because I really wanted to see these characters in a variety of settings and conflicts – maybe a contrast between scenarios where Kuro’s immortality or Iwanaga’s intellect was more useful.  But I did enjoy the ride, especially since this was a conflict where Iwanaga, who was by far the most interesting character, was at her best – using Bakemonogatari-esque logic to weave compelling a mesh of truth and lies that would undo the rumors that birthed a vicious ghost into rumors where the ghost wouldn’t exist for the purpose of erasing the ghost.  I think Kyoko Suiri is a bit guilty of trying to show off how smart it is being while not as being maybe as smart as it thinks it is but Iwanaga was a really fun character and she dominated the show especially as we went through her strategies in-depth one strategy per episode.  It’s a fun time and well worth it for anybody who likes the Monogatari franchise.

 

ishuzoku reviewers

Every season there is at least one anime you desperately hopes no one walks in on you watching and in Winter 2020 that show was Ishuzoku Reviewers.  And it was basically perfect.  It’s about a mostly consistent group of 4 guys going to whatever fantasy whorehouse strikes their fancy and reviewing their unfettered sexual deviancy for all the world to see.  You kind of have to love shows which are so unabashedly and unashamedly trashy and just give the audience what they know we want.  What really makes Ishuzoku Reviewers stand apart from other trashy fan service shows though is the detail.  The writer clearly sat down and thought about how different species would interact, what kinds of constraints or preferences they would have, etc.  The beastman guy was an especially good example since he often brought things like smell because his sense of smell was stronger than a human’s.  Honestly this show is exactly what it says on the tin and I’d be amazed if anyone reading this who would enjoy it hasn’t already seen it.  Moving on.

 

Eizouken

Eizouken was my sleeper hit of the season.  I initially overlooked it because while other critics I watch/read praised it, I’ve never really felt the need to delve into anime about making anime.  Then I saw Kamamori scenes and I marathoned half the show in an afternoon.  This show has a ton of heart and character, with a strong central cast who really capture the different aspects of creatives very well.  There Asakusa the director and concept artist, Mizusaki the key animator and Kanamori the best character who represents the production staff with her cutthroat, money-focused attitude.  Her backstory episode was one of the favorite parts of the show, where gives the store she’s working at a massive boost with her marketing schemes.  But Asakusa really carries the show with her detail-oriented, and highly creative brain and a passionate love the medium that makes anime seem almost magical as it brings her various visions to life.  Definitely a great time for any creative and/or anime fan.  Seriously if you love anime you owe it to yourself to give this show a watch.

 

Somali-and-The-Forest-Spirit-ep6-3-5

I don’t know if I would rate this next show 4th out the eight but the so-cute-it-hurts adventure of Somali to Mori no Kami-sama was one of the most heartwarming shows I’ve seen in a long time, despite the fact one of the core points of the plot is that Somali was a slave and humanity has been nearly genocided by the other creatures which inhabit this world.  That said most of the show follows the travels and father-daughter relationship of a Golem who’s reaching the end of his lifespan and the human child Somali.  It’s mostly cute and fun and despite being  a heartwarming tale of family and adventure it has the most unique and vibrant fantasy setting I’ve seen in ages.  No RPG game-based bullshit here, this is a bonafide fantasy world and my god is it a joy for a fantasy fan to see.  The world is strange and colorful, full of beastfolk and other mythical creatures of every imaginable stripe living in bizarre and exotic locations.  The artwork is absolutely stunning, especially when it comes to the fantasy backgrounds and cities.  Truly this is a must watch for fantasy fans.

 

ID Invaded

ID:Invaded is great.  The way it just hits the ground running, going all in on it’s special tech and giving you the details you need to understand what’s going without stopping for exposition dumps was quite impressive.  Moreover this was the first high concept show in a while to really stay consistently good.  I know a lot of people were hyped about Babylon and Kado the Right Answer before it, but while those shows started strong they both failed miserably as the story went along.  ID:Invaded makes no such errors, rather than trying to be really, extra intelligent it keeps itself more simple and more grounded and delivers on one of the best shows of the season.  This is first time since Psycho-Pass that I felt anime really nailed something in the near-future scifi genre.  It strongly reminded me of the Minority Report though with much stronger characters.  Narihisago in particular was a great lead, especially when we get the contrast between Narihisago and his brilliant detective counterpart Sakaido – though Hondomachi was quite good as well.  It’s a great show with the same kind of mainstream appeal as a Psycho-Pass, thoroughly worth the time it takes to watch it.

 

dorohedoro

 

Dorohedoro was another surprise this season.  See when it was first announced I was hearing rumblings about how good the manga was and “oh no are they gonna fuck this up?” so I binged the manga.  And when episode 1 and its CG rolled around I was skeptical to say the least.  But the sheer insanity that is Dorohedoro could not be held back even by CG.  The team behind this did a great job making the backgrounds highly-detailed and lived in like the manga and the vocal performances were amazing.  Seriously if the visual style is enough to give you some pause before watching the vocal performances make it absolutely worth watching.  Noi and Ebisu in particular are amazing and the baseball episode halfway through the show was the best baseball episode in anime history and I will fucking fight anyone who says otherwise.  The creative staff really knocked this one out of the park, powering through this strange story to keep us on our toes.  To quote one Youtube comment that I thought captured the appeal of Dorohedoro “how did they make this show manage to be so brutal and so wholesome at the same time?”  I was once a doubter back in episodes 1 and 2 but I have seen the light and I’m really glad I did because this turned out to be a ton of fun.  Shocking!

 

bofuri 1

However, as there is in every season, there can only be one best show.  And in Winter 2020 that was Bofuri aka Maple’s Bizarre Video Game Adventure.  As sick to death of RPG worlds and OP gamers as I am, nothing could have prepared for much fun I was going to have with the chaos and cuteness of Bofuri.  Maple is basically a perfect character.  Her strength comes from her being such a colossal airhead and such a noob gamer that she has no common sense when it comes to video games and therefore is free to throw convention out the window.  Like in the character creation, rather than make a balanced character build, she throws everything into health and defense.  Or when she loses her weapons in the hydra fight but gains immunity to its damage and then proceeds to nom the hydra to death.  It’s incredible because her character is given the freedom to be both innocently devious in a way the hardcore types consider cheap or to be as happy go lucky as she wants only have things randomly work out in her favor.  For example she had no idea if the Psychokinesis skill would in fact allow her to fly her giant turtle pet and thus make up for her naturally slow movement speed.  Or when she soaks the giant wool covering she gets from Wooly in poison to prevent people from hurting her because she’s immune to poison – and most damage – and hardly anyone else is.  Because Maple’s a happy-go-lucky airhead and the game she’s playing is so reactive to the player experience, she is essentially free to gather an ungodly messy and powerful set of skills.  Which is why by shows end she can summon a poison hydra, turn into an angel, equip a Gundam armor set and last but not least summon Xenomorphs and become Xenomorph queen.  It’s hilarious, cute and fun and there’s a bit during the first major game event where someone runs up and tries to bash her heap open with a mace and it just bounces off with Bonk noise while Maple just turns her head with an innocent little “Huh?” noise and it perfectly encapsulates the appeal of this utterly ridiculous show.  I mean I do like the other characters too but Maple carries this one big time and that’s ok because she’s amazing.  This is a must watch, some of the most fun I’ve had in quite some time.

 

Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 7

rwby 7

 

Volume 7 is among the best RWBY has to offer, while it personally takes third place in my ranking of the Volumes, it has to be said it’s a definite improvement over the last couple of Volumes.  There will be spoilers.

Despite what I just said Volume 7 has a couple problems, not least of which was the ending.  It kind of made me want to tear my hair out.  You end an episode on a giant cliffhanger like the reveal of massive enemy army, not a season.  Could you imagine if the Two Towers ended with Saruman’s army just starting to besiege Helm’s Deep but not actually showing the battle?  It would be so shit.  I actually compared it live with a friend of mine to what Avatar the Last Airbender would have been like if Book 2 ended when the drill reached the wall of Ba Sing Sei, and he laughed at how bad that would be.  Ending where Volume 7 did is a terrible idea.  Big cliffhanger moments only really work on a short wait.  I’ve got tons of shit to watch, play and do between now and Volume 8, do you think I’ll still be hype by then?  Maybe a little, but if it came out next week I’d be hype as fuck.  Terrible plan, marring what was otherwise a mostly solid Volume.

Probably the biggest selling point of Volume 7 is the setting and the locals that in habit it.  There’s a massive wealth divide between the twin cities of Atlas and Mantle, and Atlas is by far the most tech & science focused of all the major cities in Remnant.  General Ironwood, the de facto ruler of Atlas, is probably one of the best things about Volume 7 as well.  I know a lot of people are pissed that he made of some of the decisions he did but I thought they did a great job with his character.  He’s a guy who is mostly trying to do the right thing, but because of his failures at Beacon he has to work in total secrecy and it’s putting even more strain on the tenuous relationship between Atlas and Mantle, as well as turning most of the civilian authorities and populace against him.  I’ve seen many people angry that he wasn’t more open from the outset or that he didn’t work with Robin earlier but frankly anyone who says that is being naive.  Robin did not strike me as a good guy until after Yang & Blake convinced her Ironwood was trying to help, in fact I was somewhat stoked for the idea that she might incite a rebellion or attack a vital supply caravan and invite further retribution, and that the chaos she creates would be the how Salem’s forces infiltrate the city.  For a project of Amity’s importance secrecy is paramount, especially considering how Salem & Co. favor infiltration before bringing out massive Grimm attacks.

Moreover I personally love the way Ironwood falls apart at the end, how after a few whole season of the man clearly struggling with his own doubts, he gets a couple episodes worth of hope and then it all comes crashing down.  He sees a single calling card from Beacon’s destruction, timed with a Grimm attack, and his paranoia kicks into overdrive.  He goes full “if you aren’t with me, you’re against me” and shatters the alliance between his loyal troops and Ruby’s teams/allies.  He makes the worst possible calls with his best intentions and you can see the full effect his failures at Beacon and his grip on power has on him and his subordinates.  They have convinced themselves following Ironwood and his tough calls is the right thing to do even when they don’t want to do it, deep down.  And I think one of the best parts of all of this is that Ironwood is convinced he can’t win.  He’s defined victory as saving Atlas no matter the cost and he assumes they can’t stop Salem’s invasion, that’s the whole reason he abandons Mantle – he’s convinced he’ll lose so his best move is to reduce his losses, no matter how heartless that proposition is.

And look where it leaves him, Salem and his army are at his doorstep and he’s lost critical assets, let alone gotten the city to safety.  He was so sure his way was the only way forward he didn’t consider just how badly it could fail, because not everyone involved would agree.  A classic mistake among authoritarians, they fall into “if only everyone agreed with me” mindsets and their plans come to ruin because there’s nothing which everyone agrees on.  Though in Ironwood’s defense I do think this reaction is exacerbated by Ruby making the single biggest mistake in the entire Volume, telling Ironwood that Salem is immortal.  That news almost destroyed the unity and fighting spirit of Ruby and her friends, and they are much more tightly knit than Ironwood’s forces, let alone the civilians of Atlas and Mantle.  Telling Ironwood that Salem was a foe he literally couldn’t kill may have helped convince him that escaping Salem was the only victory he could achieve.  Pro-tip:  Never tell your allies or armies they can’t win before the battle begins or that tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The inner struggles of the Ace-OPs, Penny and Winter are also good.  Winter is perhaps in the worst position of all and shows one of the best balances between emotion and disciplined devotion to Ironwood.  Her loyalty to Ironwood is absolute and thus she goes along with his worst decisions – but she is consistently shown as not necessarily agreeing with his course of action.  Penny of course occupies a special position as well since she’s sort of Winter’s inverse.  Despite the fact Penny is a literal robot she ultimately sides with her emotions over her orders.  The Ace-Ops also have a decent variance on this balance, with Harriet being the most extreme in her devotion to Ironwood and therefore struggling the least in confronting Team RWBY, Marrow being the most reluctant to engage Team RWBY and Vine and Elm sitting somewhere in the middle, though with great difference in their emotional reactions.  The only Ace-OP who is poorly done in this regard is Clover.  At the very least Clover should have worked with Qrow to recapture Tyrian before fighting Qrow, instead the moron almost exclusively attacks Qrow when the fight is a free for all and thus forces Qrow to work with Tyrian when they decide to go 2v1.

That being said I don’t see why the good guys even bothered capturing Tyrian and Arthur.  They should have just killed them.  At best they could be tortured for information and be used as proof to the public of Salem’s conspiracy – but they already announced the conspiracy and suspects publicly so why bother?  Better to kill them and remove the threat they pose than to capture them and risk losing them.  I mean shit Ironwood captured and lost Torchwick, surely if anyone would be in the “kill them now just to be sure they aren’t a problem again” camp it would be him.

All of this inevitably brings me to the real thrust of this Volume, which would be a critique of order/authority.  I think Rooster Teeth did a great job portraying the problems of order going too far, what happens when the troops hunker down and follow orders no matter how wrong those orders are.  That being said I think this message is weakened by the fact their is no real commentary on the weaknesses of a lack of order/authority.  If not for the power and unity of the Atlas military Salem wouldn’t even need to infiltrate and subvert it, she’d just steamroll it.  I feel like a lot of the complaints I saw directed towards Ironwood’s side came from an idealistic view of unity without a strong central authority – and those people are wrong.  Ironwood’s faction is a massive bulwark protecting Atlas that Salem has to divide before she even attempts to overwhelm it.  Without his tight grip on power security and military preparedness would be down.  Even if we assume Salem’s forces couldn’t just crush a weaker Atlas outright, we do see hints of what would happen without Ironwood’s grip on power.  Corruption, like we see from Jacques Schnee, would be all too easy to exploit.  And sadly one of the weaknesses of more democratic government is that it tends to be slow, since that’s what checks and balances are for, you need a strong central authority when you’re at war.  Even in the US the President is called the Commander in Chief for a reason, if a dire situation arises he has to have special political powers to address it rapidly.

All that being said, I do think the presentation of order gone too far was quite good, and well thought out in it’s overall construction.  The loud and frequent calls against Ironwood and the military, see the military close rank so to speak.  They trust each other more than they trust the rest of Atlas and Mantle so when push comes to shove and they have to follow Ironwood and their friends at the expense of Atlas and Mantle, they do it.  Likewise Salem’s agents actively trying to foment civil unrest and capitalizing on Ironwood’s authoritarian grip on power was a great touch.

My real disappointment here was Robin and her faction.  I think this Volume could have done a much better study of order/authority, i.e. they could have showcased the problems of a lack of it as well, if Robin and her faction had been given room to inadvertently become pawns of the bad guys.  I think an intense period of civil unrest and violent rebellion led by Robin would have been a great story and actually set a better stage for a similar ending to the Volume.  What if after episodes of hard fighting against the Robin, her faction and the violent rebels of Mantle – news comes in from military outposts of an unthinkably large Grimm invasion, bearing down towards Atlas and Mantle, and the exhausted fighters on both side look at each other with shock and all the major players think “oh shit” as they realize they will have to scramble like mad if they want to mount any serious defense, or that maybe, shooting Atlas into the atmosphere is the only option for the city’s survival.  That’s the story I would’ve written given given the setting and characters, I mean shit, that way you can still have the RWBY vs Ace-Ops bit too, it just gets far more bitter as that option looks more and more like the only way forward.

The only other real problem I had with this Volume was the hamfisted, almost gay Qrow and Clover duo.  Setting aside the potential homosexual nature of the relationship I though their relationship was badly done from the word go.  Qrow is older, bitter and cynical and even with all his doubts I can’t for the life of me find it believable that he would be inspired or uplifted by a younger guy who just happens to have the opposite semblance.  It was cringey to see.  Especially since we know Qrow has a tendency to like to be alone, but now he’s all happy to hang out with Clover.  It was just bad writing and I’m think it’s safe to pin this one on Rooster Teeth and the political bent of the people who work there.  I think they were able to mostly leave their politics behind them but if anything this Volume screams progressive pandering it’s the Qrow and Clover bits – well until the last fight when Clover dies anyway.  I’m not bothered by the idea that Qrow could be gay, even if nothing until this point suggests that, I’m bothered by the shit writing that has him looking meek and lacking in confidence while working with a younger guy.  Nothing in Qrow’s character until this point depicts anything that would suggest this behavior.  If anything he’s got a strong lone wolf streak and a cynical confidence from years of experience and a bitter realistic world view that prevents him from usually being shocked.

The last two things really worth mentioning are the changes to combat and power training.  Thank god, Volume 7 finally returned to some training.  I’m all for characters gaining skill by doing real combat, but training is a great way to explore their powers and skillsets in depth, because you don’t have to worry about enemies trying to kill them.  Ruby’s power in particular just went from difficult to beat to nigh-unstoppable.  Seriously, if Ruby mastered a shorter weapon or hand-to-hand combat I think she could beat just about anyone, since her super speed lets her pass through objects.  Adding new tech like Yang’s sticky bomb rounds and Crescent Rose’s reversible blade was also a nice touch, finally expanding an arsenal that has stayed pretty static since Volume 1 or 2.

The real glory though was the combat itself and oh boy was this a return to form.  The Ace-Ops fight against the Gheist was great show of their powers and the tactics they use to make the most of their skillsets.  Of particular note here is how the relatively humble powers of Clover, Elm and Vine are just as valuable to the flow of combat as the much stronger, individually exceptionally powers of Harriet and Marrow.  That fight was nice expo of sorts on the Ace-Ops and a return to tactics but it really set the stage for the real crown jewel, the Ace-Ops vs Team RWBY.

The fight is very dynamic with strong use of environment, tactics and emotional turmoil.  And to anyone saying that the Ace-Ops should have won, well you weren’t paying attention.  Not only does ever member of Team RWBY have a strong semblance, compared to just half to the Ace-Ops, but when the order comes down and emotional tensions are high, the Ace-Ops are all over the place, while team RWBY is unified.  Important to this is all the work that came before, the little details show the how much less unified the Ace-Ops were and how some of them got closer to Team RWBY than others, etc.  Also take into consideration the differences in how much they’ve been through.  The Ace-Ops spend most of their time hunting down low level Grimm and criminals, with all the resources and authority they could possibly need at their disposal.  Team RWBY meanwhile has faced treason, temporary dissolution of the group, lots of time fighting against greater forces on their own and much stronger Grimm over the course of their journeys.  They’ve gone through the fires and really forged themselves into a much stronger group.  The Ace-Ops never had that level of testing and when they got their first true test they crumpled before their opposition did.  Also Marrow held back big time, if he had had Harriet’s conviction and aggression the Ace-Ops probably would have won, it’s that the Ace-Ops lacked the same strength of emotion and conviction that leads to their downfall.  Personally I think the main selling point of that fight was the Yang & Blake vs Elm & Vine portion because that was much more tactically rich – which is a shame because I really want to see Ruby personally start kicking more ass again, but she did have the most difficult and dedicated opponent so oh well.

That being said one minor complaint I have is with the auras.  In past Volumes everyone seem like could take a lot more punishment and the time their aura broke was arbitrary, not it seems like 1 or 2 good hits is all it takes.  I’m glad the team at Rooster Teeth is working on dealing with aura as a defense mechanism, but frankly it still feels like they are just having the aura break at convenient times rather than with any kind of tactics or consistency, and the brevity of some fights compared to other fights being much longer and drawn out is a bit of a disappointment.

Overall Volume 7 is a very strong volume.  It has great battles, a strong emotional thru line, solid thematic grounding and strong execution on most fronts.  It has some hiccups in the writing and the overall construction, and it did not capitalize on the full potential of some characters or aspects of the setting, but it did a good job.  Definitely stronger than Volumes 5 & 6.  I would personally rate it lower than Volumes 3 & 4, but it’s the first Volume since those two to reach the same general caliber of quality.  Hopefully Volume 8 follows in 7’s footsteps and proves itself worth the wait.

Unpopular Opinion: Overlord vs Log Horizon – The Final Reckoning

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After many, many complaints from Overlord fans I have decided to write a more balanced and formalized version of what began as an off the cuff, first ever blog post before evolving into a second much more antagonistic blog post.  There will be spoilers for both shows but at this point they’ve been out for plenty of time so I don’t care.

I will specifically be comparing just the anime versions of both Log Horizon and Overlord, which was my default premise but needs to be spelled out for some people.  As a result my knowledge of Overlord will be limited to the following: Anime season 1, a smattering of later clips, some plot descriptions of the events of season 2 which I believe to be fair and accurate if broad and general.  If I get something wrong about Overlord please consider whether or not my mistake is based information I should have, given the parameters I just laid out.  I’m happy to admit honest mistakes and welcome fair criticism, but I can only speak about what I know and any faults that come from things I don’t know are – for the purposes of this post anyway – essentially invalid.  For Log Horizon my knowledge is limited to both seasons of anime but I’ll mostly stick to season 1 both in the interests of fairness and because of the real heart of my positions on these two shows are based in their foundational building blocks.

Both Overlord and Log Horizon take place in fantasy worlds which are not-exact copies of a video game the main character plays, and both protagonists now inhabit their in-game avatars.  One notable difference is that Elder Tale, the game Log Horizon’s world is based on, is a modern MMORPG played on a computer – not a super immersive VR game like SAO, and Yggdrasil – which is the game Overlord’s world is based on.  Overlord’s game and tech is also 100+ years in the future.  Also noteworthy is that at the start of each story, Elder Tale is releasing a new expansion 20 years after the open beta was made available.  Yggdrasil meanwhile is shutting down after 12 years of popularity.  However these are relatively minor differences.

The main differences are as follows, in Log Horizon everyone currently playing the game appears to have be trapped in the fantasy world based on Elder Tale, in Overlord’s case Ainz is the only such character we see though there are some vague hints that he may not be here alone or is not the first player to be trapped here.  The other main difference is the difficulty of the fantasy world counterparts.  Log Horizon’s world is very difficult at first, because the old input style for commands and skills is hard to do while you have fight enemies with some limitations you would have if you were fighting irl, such as first person view.  Because of the new expansion and new level cap that comes with it there are also new ultra difficult encounters and enemies – but the main source of difficulty is in the beginning when players have to adapt and relearn how to fight now that they inhabit their avatars.  After that the world is mostly business as usual with difficulty more reflective of the game it’s based on.  Overlord’s world on the other hand seems like a remarkable downgrade from the game Yggdrasil.  Ainz is extremely powerful, so much so he stops an elite invasion unit which can summon angelic monsters, considered dangerous by the people of the fantasy world, by himself and without taking damage.  There are other marked downgrades, because all the other characters that we meet are NPCs huge amounts of knowledge has been lost and skills and spells, basic abilities in Yggdrasil, are now rare and usually restricted to lower tier levels.  For example, late in Season 1 of Overlord a necromancer summons a pair of Bone Dragons and declares them to be immune to magic.  He’s wrong though, they are only immune to magic below a certain level – and no humans of this world can use magic of that level – and then Ainz’s companion Narberal Gamma one-shots them with higher level lightning magic.  Likewise potions have downgraded somehow, with the NPCs using blue potions vastly inferior to the “original” red potions Ainz possesses.

The differences between these worlds give the two stories vastly different tones right from the get go.  Overlord is a power fantasy with some mystery elements, where the protagonist interacts with the setting and NPCs mostly in search of answers to his questions.  Log Horizon is about building a society and this is by necessity, now that thousands of gamers have been trapped in this world they not only have to interact with the NPCs, who are given much more depth with regards to their social and political organization than their Overlord counterparts (by season 1’s end anyway), they have to interact with each other and make something of themselves or be lost in a downward spiral that begins almost as soon as it is discovered that players respawn instead of dying in the game.  In Overlord it is unknown if players die and respawn or just stay dead but this is hardly a concern as Ainz steamrolls almost everything he fights.  In Log Horizon, the lack of death immediately causes a chain reaction of problems in multiple cities and thus the creation of functional, civil societies becomes a priority.

The tonal differences are also made apparent by the differences in shows’ respective protagonists.  Ainz is a total powerhouse on his own and he has a number of powerful servants he can command.  His main obstacle is in hiding his identity, since he’s a lich, as he gathers information.  He also generally hides his power level by using his warrior form, but again this hardly seems to matter to since he is one-shotting most monsters he fights that way and still takes no damage.  Shiroe meanwhile is not a powerhouse, despite the fact he’s a max level player (not accounting for the new level cap anyway) he’s a support mage whose abilities shine through because of Shiroe’s prodigious skill as a tactician, not because of his raw spellpower.  Though both are spellcasters, they are very different kinds of spellcasters, and Ainz has a great deal of flexibility because of the relative weakness of the setting while Shiroe is more tightly constrained by support role and comparatively higher setting difficulty.

Moreover, the two have very different personalities and resultant personal issues.  Ainz’s human self seems like a bit of weak bitch based on his internal thoughts and dialogue at the very start of Overlord before the game shut down.  Also because of the fact he said he would “run away” from one of his early battles if he couldn’t use his favorite heart crushing spell.  He also seems to get over that mindset very quickly because he’s in charge of cadre of loyal followers and seemingly the strongest guy in town.  Shiroe meanwhile is a deeply introspective character who only seems to lack confidence when making decisions of enormous magnitude, like building a thriving and free society out of a might makes right society.  His main issue is his reluctance to trust people and reluctance to take action as he endlessly analyzes the situation.  When he’s with people he can trust and in combat scenarios he displays no lack of confidence whatsoever and he only needs a push when making world-altering decisions.

However because Shiroe is in fact making such big sweeping decisions, we see a lot more of a character struggle from his side and a clear arc where he is forced to overcome his personal flaws.  Ainz has no such arc, at least not in season 1, at most he has to put up a tough front for his subordinates while he struggles a bit more with what to do internally.  Shiroe’s growth as a person is also much more important to the story as he not only starts out with fewer, and less blindly loyal, followers than Ainz, he has persuade other powerful figures that not only does he have the best plan, but that he can be trusted to carry it out.  Ainz has no such difficulties, the Demons of Nazareck are almost fanatically loyal to him and some outright lust for him.  He can command them to do just about anything and they’ll gladly do it.  Based on some clips it looks like Ainz may eventually have some problems with his demons, and theoretically because he can’t be with them all the time or has to spend more time with certain members this could cause problems later down the road, but none of this appears in season 1.  In season 1 the only problem he has on this front is that Shalltear is turned into a hostile creature by some legendary item that we know very little about by season 1’s end.

Speaking of the protagonists’ companions, they also have a strong effect on the overall tone of the two shows.  Ainz has a bunch of followers, Shalltear, Demiurge, Cocytus, Albedo, the twin elves with hetero-chromea, Pandora’s Actor, Sebas, all of the Pleiades battle maids and anyone else I can’t remember off the top of my head.  He also recruits some villagers later in the season 1.  Setting aside the villagers who mostly don’t factor into the story in season 1, all of the Demons of Nazareck are unflinchingly loyal to Ainz and stronger than any monster or NPC we encounter in season 1 to boot.  Shiroe has a much more complicated role in the world of Log Horizon.  He is famous if not infamous, with many powerful guild leaders waiting to see what he’ll do, and he has a number of powerful friends he calls to his banner over the course of the story – but in the beginning he only has 2 companions, Naotsugu and Akatsuki.  While both are happy to follow Shiroe they have different depths of relationship with him as Naotsugu and Shiroe both belonged to a legendary group (not a guild) called the Debauchery Tea Party which conquered the game’s greatest challenges but has since disbanded.

Akatsuki meanwhile is a trusted friend but was not a member of the Debauchery Tea Party, and as she evolves as a character this degree of separation plays an important role in her character arc.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, Akatsuki’s arc, though it begins to form in season 1, is mainly addressed in season 2 – but the fact that she not only develops romantic feelings for Shiroe over the course of their interactions but undergoes her own lengthy, messy character arc is a massive step up from anything the Demons of Nazareck undergo at least in season 1.  I mean Ainz even edits Albedo’s flavor text so she is unbelievably thirsty for his D right from the start.  Based on some plot developments I’ve heard, I believe some of the Demons may eventually develop as characters and may even have interesting arcs – but nothing in season 1 of Overlord suggests such a thing.  The only interesting character concept in Overlord season 1 is that Shalltear retains her memories even while she is hostile and this gives her a persona something akin to a cocky fighter where she respects Ainz’s power but isn’t afraid to trash-talk him during their fight either.  This is instantly erased after Ainz defeats and resurrects her, and she returns to being servile and loyal to Ainz.

The last major contributor to the tones of each show is their humor and seriousness.  Log Horizon has a bunch of terrible, unfunny repetitive jokes which is mostly uses to break up long chunks of exposition or periods of tension.  This doesn’t make the jokes any better but it does give them an important purpose in breaking up the dense flows of information common in Log Horizon.  One of the hallmarks of Log Horizon is that it does lots and lots of buildup and this is mostly accomplished through careful exploration and investigation of the world, and in serious negotiations.  Log Horizon doesn’t have that much action nor much edginess – and it gets through most of both of these in the first arc where the characters go and fight Demikas.  Overlord on the other hand has a fair amount of action and a lot of edginess.  The main villains of season 1, the Necromancer and the assassin chick are comically evil edgelords who revel in their own wickedness and the pain they inflict on others.  Even the invasive force guy was fairly bombastic and arrogant in his power since he could summon Angels.  And I’ve seen clips of the edgy princess from season 2.  Ainz himself isn’t that edgy though, best clear that up in case anyone wants to complain.  The comedy in Overlord isn’t especially good and primarily revolves around light perversion, like Albedo’s displays of affection for Ainz, the trap-looking elf sorcerer and his weak persona and I’ve seen the clip where Ainz accidentally spies on the lizardman champion having sex with the lizardman princess.  Or it’s total cringe in the case of Pandora’s Actor, enough so that Ainz is embarrassed for creating him.

Visually both shows favor detail-heavy designs over especially fluid and dynamic animation.  Both also use CG for some monsters though this is more prevalent in Overlord than in Log Horizon.  General consensus is that, Overlord generally looks better and I would agree that Ainz looks better than anyone in Log Horizon – overall though I don’t really like designs of most of the Demons of Nazareck so I lean towards Log Horizon as looking better overall.  And I vastly prefer the environments in Log Horizon, Overlord’s backgrounds look fine but generic outside of the Tomb of Nazareck, whereas Log Horizon has many distinct environs and towns which blend fantasy wilderness with post apocalyptic ruins of modern cities.

I have thus far tried to be fair and balanced, describing the various elements of Log Horizon and Overlord (season 1) with as few personal value judgements as possible.  In doing so I hope I have presented my case as to what the two shows’ differences are in a mostly objective sense and prepared anyone reading this for what remains – how I personally feel about each show based on the various elements of their construction as well as discussing some elements which are so strongly colored by my personal feelings that I couldn’t really discuss them above while maintaining even a pretense of fairness.

I fucking hate Overlord.  Like “1/10 – Jesus Fucking Christ, how in the hell does anyone think this show is even remotely good?” hate Overlord.  The nicest way I can express my feelings toward this show is that is a prime example of heavy-handed writing, so hamfisted and unsubtle that it feels like it was written with 12 year olds in mind.  It is embarrassingly bad, I actually skimmed through some of season 1 to confirm a few details and remember how the show looked and felt and holy shit was this way blatantly worse than I remember.  The edgy villains are a fucking joke, and not a funny one either.  At best they are bemusing but in a critical sense they are pure garbage, caricatures of stereotypical bad guys with no nuance or redeeming qualities whatsoever.  The Demons of Nazareck are equally bland and boring, their personalities are almost nonexistent beyond their devotion to Ainz and their declarations of loyalty are obnoxious at best.  Having sat down to re-examine the writing of Overlord as portrayed in the anime has made me facepalm harder than I even thought possible.  I genuinely did not expect it to be so unbearably bad on a re-watch.  The dialogue was utter garbage, the CG was uglier than I remeber it being and holy shit did Overlord take it’s fucking time doing anything.  Like the fact Ainz didn’t even leave the Tomb of Nazareck until episode 3, Christ on a bike how did I sit through those first two episodes the first time?

Ironically episode 3 of Log Horizon one of it’s worst episodes because it functions mostly as a transition as the characters begin their first quest, after 2 episodes full of information about the world and the forming society of players.  It’s the episode you have to sit through to get back to more interesting stuff, in Overlord nothing interesting happens until episode 3 – and even that’s just a big smack down against a bunch of helpless knights and an edgy feudal lord screaming about how he’ll pay for someone, anyone to shield him from the undead monster Ainz summoned before he gets stabbed over and over.  I sincerely can’t believe that even just five years ago I was willing to sit through the early parts of Overlord, if it had come out in the last year or two I’d probably have dropped it right away.

Getting away from episode specific details though, what I hoped to present with the earlier analysis is that Overlord is really just a basic bitch story and there is literally nothing in season 1 that suggests it will ever get better.  The only noteworthy thing about season 1 of Overlord is that we still have a lot of mystery to solve.  Overlord has nothing to latch onto, unless you like the basics of what it already gives you.  Do you like having a lich for a protagonist?  I think that’s cool, and I’m sure many others love it.  Do you like lots of loyal demon followers, some of whom definitely want to ride your dick?  Not my cup of tea but I can see the appeal.  Like a power fantasy where the protagonist crushes everyone with no effort until he’s forced to fight his own servant?  No.  Like I’m all for the occasional beat down or steamroll but every fight but one?  Maybe if we were talking about a show like One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100 where the protagonist’s sheer power is causing them problems then maybe, but otherwise nah that sounds boring as shit.

There’s literally nothing else.  There is no character development at fucking all in season 1 of Overlord.  Save for the final battle there is no suggestion that Ainz or any of his Demons are ever in any danger.  Does Ainz ever seem likely to fail?  No, not only does he never fail, he makes everything look easy and he’s given bullshit gatcha items to make his final battle easier.  Put simply, I’m bored.  The mystery of how Ainz got taken to this fantasy world that is nothing more than a downgraded version of his favorite VR game is not appealing enough for me to want to sit through a season of hamfisted writing, terrible dialogue and characters, simple plots and a total lack of challenge.  There is nothing at all appealing beyond the mere idea of a guy getting stuck in a fantasy world as a lich.  The previous sentence is, to me, the entirety of Overlord’s potential appeal.  And that does not make up for it’s appalling execution in every conceivable facet of storytelling.  Overlord is all premise and no execution, and I know that works for some people but I’m not one of them.  Premise means a lot less to me than execution, I’d rather watch a fucking idol show with good execution than watch Overlord – and I fucking hate idol shows and idol culture.

And don’t even get me started on the combat.  Ainz almost never takes any damage because of a passive skill that nullifies damage from low level weapons and spells – and since Overlord’s setting is set on even-babies-could-beat-this easy mode almost everything he fights is too weak to even hurt him.  Ainz’s only noteworthy opponent is Shalltear and once again, not only is she his servant under normal circumstances, he is given gatcha items which allow him to use the best gear from warrior classes regardless of the fact he’s a fucking magician.  It was bad enough that his basic warrior form could kill all of his enemies without any skills, but getting to use the best gear for warrior classes makes me wonder why anyone bothers to play warriors.  If anything Ainz reminds me of a high level multi-class Fighter/Mage from Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – which can solo the the entire fucking game if you build it right.  The versatility is less of an issue than the sheer power though, I wouldn’t mind if Ainz was versatile if he was also weaker or more vulnerable, it would justify the versatility.  Instead Ainz has it all and that just gives me one less aspect of the story to get invested in.  Ainz never struggles, he faces no adversity and is a weaker character for it.  And when I don’t give a shit about the protagonist, the show is probably fucked.

By comparison not only is Shiroe himself weak in combat due to his support role, his strength comes from his game knowledge and tactical skills – which benefit him most when he’s working with other skilled players.  Shiroe is not a one man army, but he can make a party of 4 or 5 able to take on a small army because he can direct their power and skill to make them that good.  Action is not one of Log Horizon’s particular strong points but it’s a million times better than anything in Overlord, where Ainz kills everything besides Shalltear in one hit.

Because Shiroe has to work with other people, both in combat and in building a society that benefits everyone after their world has been turned upside down, Log Horizon goes to great lengths to feature a ton of characters and to make many of them interesting, with significant arcs in their own right.  Shiroe is obviously no exception and Log Horizon frontloads much of his development into the early arcs so you’re already invested in him as a person before he makes his big powerplays.  Overlord has nothing like this in season 1 and since I actively hate all of Overlord’s characters I don’t care about how they develop.

Then there’s world-building, one of my favorite elements of fantasy, and I’m going to have to laugh in every Overlord fan’s face for a second here.  There is almost no world building in all of season 1, or at least no world building I found engaging.  Sure the Tomb of Nazareck is in a different location and yes we are made aware at least 2 political entities.  Does any of that matter?  Fuck no.  In season 1 the main thing to take away by the end was that we still knew fuck all about the world, beyond the general idea that it was downgraded form of Yggdrasil.  Is that enough to make me stick around for a second season?  No it is not.  Log Horizon went way more in-depth, with dungeons that actively degenerated due to monster effects, several distinct adventurer cities, detailed NPC nations with multiple cities and political intrigue directed toward the adventurers and the goblin invasion, and fantasy elements with fantasy explanations which logically correlate with video game mechanics’ to explain how resurrection functions or like the Goblin King.  And of course it had Shiroe go ahead and build a goddamn society from the ground up and shows us what progress that brings over the course of the story.  That alone is 10x more interesting and 100x more complex than anything Ainz does in season 1 of Overlord.

To put it mildly, the biggest difference between Log Horizon and Overlord, is that the latter bet everything on premise and used action, shock value and edginess to keep the viewer from noticing just how bad the writing was – while the former focused on ideas and kept the viewer’s attention by revealing carefully considered details and developing characters to make the most of said ideas.  Overlord is a show for teens first making their forays into fiction, like Elfen Lied or Mirai Nikki.  Log Horizon is a show made to challenge teens and adults who want something with more depth and nuance out of their fiction.  And while everyone has their phase of liking the edgy, simple stories – God knows I used to like Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki once upon a time – Log Horizon is the kind of story you really learn to appreciate once you’ve moved beyond comparatively simple and trashy works like Overlord.

I’m basically done here.  Thanks everyone for reading.  I could go into more depth and bring up more specific examples from both shows, but honestly I think I’ve made my case.  The difference in quality and character between the foundations of Overlord and Log Horizon practically makes my case for me.  Even if Overlord eventually develops a more detailed and interesting world, more intricate plots or makes its central mystery interesting – it will inevitably be chained to the flaws of Overlord season 1.  That’s why I would guess, though I could be wrong, that Ainz never really comes across an opponent who’s a match for him, because part of the core of Overlord’s appeal is the overwhelming power fantasy Ainz presents.  I have no interest in that not as a feature which spans an entire story, and no amount of new plot twists and lore will address this problem.  By the same token, Log Horizon will only get more nuanced and more complex because so much attention was given to the themes the show is going for and carefully planning out the details to make sure those themes hit home.  You can learn a lot about the general quality of a story if you carefully study the early parts.  Log Horizon had my interest by episode 1.  Overlord didn’t get my interest after 12 episodes and after re-watching most of episode 1 of Overlord I’m frankly embarrassed I didn’t see how bad it was on my first viewing.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: My Top 50 Anime of Decade

On the one hand I’m kind of excited to do this because this was the first decade of anime where I was really into it.  I’ve watched plenty of older shows but I didn’t really dive head first into anime fandom until 2011 so this is the first time I get to make such a list.  On the other hand I’m pretty terrible at coming up scores and rankings so I’m going to totally half ass this by just going in alphabetical order because sorting them any other way is a huge pain in the ass outside of the top or bottom 3-5.  As for the rules of this list, I’m not including any sequels unless they’re sequels to shows who haven’t had a sequel/season since the last decade, and for any shows which started in this decade and had sequels and/or spin-offs those are included when discussing the show listed.  As far as what this means in a practical sense is that Gintama, which I’m hundred of episodes behind on anyway, and the Monogatari franchise will not be on this list despite the fact I’m a huge Monogatari fan.  Let’s get to it and there will be spoilers.

 

1 – Aggretsuko

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I’ve always found anime shorts to be very hit or miss and Aggretsuko hit me at just the right time.  I had recently moved and was several months into a job I utterly hated but needed to stick with for the paycheck when I stumbled upon Aggretsuko, sitting there conveniently on Netflix alongside the few normie shows I watch.  And goddamn was Aggretsuko satisfying.  It was like Dilbert (I’m a fan), Hello Kitty (not a fan), and Detroit Metal City (huge fan) all had a baby.  The episode 7 climax, which frankly should have been the end of season 1 because the short romance arc sucked, was the most cathartic moment in anime for that year.  Retsuko just going full ham on her boss after his own surprisingly impressive battle rap, was glorious and perfectly encapsulated how I was feeling towards my own management types at the time.  Season 2 actually went more on the romance side of things but gave it time to breathe and gain some depth, making it much more dramatic, interesting and emotional than the weak, short romance arc of season 1.  I personally still prefer season 1 episodes 1-7 but it was a good time overall and a must watch it if you’re feeling at all fed up with your job and/or management at the job.

 

2 – Arslan Senki

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I’ve already written about both seasons of Arslan Senki before but for a an overview it’s something pretty rare in anime, a good history/historical fantasy not set in Japan.  It’s got a very believable world full of different nations, ethnic groups, religions, social systems, internal and external political struggles with just a hint of fantasy elements.  It maintains a large cast of memorable characters with mostly striking designs and spends a good time developing some of them with significant character arcs.  It also has a fair amount of action to break up the long periods of travel and political intrigue (which means standing around and talking) and while the action is usually nothing special there a few fights that are genuinely impressive.  The political gambits of all the characters and factions make sense and are believably messy and Arslan in particular grows in interesting ways while still maintaining the generally soft-spoken and compassionate nature which rests at his core.  It’s an all around solid choice for anyone who enjoys historical anime and is sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.

 

3 – Back Street Girls: Goku Dolls

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Jesus Fucking Christ.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of or watched this one it’s about 3 yakuza guys who fuck up and are forced to undergo a sex change and plastic surgery before forming an idol group, the Goku Dolls, to make their boss money.  And it’s hilarious.  The animation is deliberately hideous with some truly disgusting facial expressions and unusual tricks, like overlaying the inner man face on the outwardly girly head, to add shock value and overdramatic tension to the scene.  What really makes it work though is that our hot blooded yakuza guys are just as, if not more emotional and dramatic than actual teenage girls.  This leads to some great running gags, like the anti-Goku Dolls club, the ridiculous American gangster who visits from time to time, or anytime the Goku Dolls are on TV or Radio.  Their boss is flippant and casually cruel but in a way that’s darkly funny rather than edgy.  This show always has me dying of laughter with it’s genderbent comedy and cruel and ridiculous antics.  Well worth your time if you can handle the ugliness of the show and fucked up humor.

 

4 – Bakuon

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I’m hardly much a cute girls do x fan most of the time but Bakuon was one of the few that really connected with me.  It’s about a bunch of cute girls into motorcycles and while I have no serious interesting in motorcycles, they capture the kind of people who make up any fandom with consummate skill.  There’s the idiot who get roped in and ends up loving it, the hardcore fan of the off brand/brand that the majority looks down on, the elitist snob, the rich kid who’s somewhat interested before diving in, and the die hard fan who’s fucking great at the hobby.  In Bakuon’s case it’s girl equivalent of the Stig and she’s great because she appears to be an unaging immortal figure who hardcore motorcyclists and mechanics all over Japan know about and revere.  It’s cute, it’s fun, it occasionally slides into fanservice but mostly stays in a comedic lane, involving such bizarre scenarios as a sentient bike that can communicate with the rider telepathically, the genius young racer who basically can’t drive outside of racing scenarios, and meeting Jesus and fighting for the existence of motorcycles against a theoretical timeline where humanity decides motorcycles are more dangerous than they are valuable.  It’s great fun without being as extreme as most of the comedies that I really love.

 

5 – Beelzebub

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I imagine that for most anime fans the action/comedy go to is Gintama.  And fair enough Gintama is great, but I got started with Beelzebub and it’s my go to for this genre.  It’s a battle comedy set in school full of cartoonishly delinquent punks with a main character ending up as the host of the devil’s second son, the baby Beelzebub.  It’s biggest weakness is that the gags in the earliest episodes are the most repetitive and the story takes a couple episodes of bullshitting around to get going but once it gets going it’s well worth the short wait.  The scenario’s and enemy characters are ridiculous, the cast is enormous and highly memorable with a ton of unique designs.  Most of the characters are hilariously dumb or otherwise so quirky as to constantly make fools out of themselves, while the straight man is constantly shit on.  Beelzebub is the show that really endeared me to the ultra aggressive attitude and specialized speech used by punks and yakuza characters.  I don’t know why but I really do love Japanese punk-speak and the attitude that goes with it.  Beelzebub is a great juxtaposition of the cool and the utterly ridiculous involving awesome battle scenes with people who can shatter concrete with a wooden sword and punch people so hard they get stuck in walls, and in perhaps my favorite scenario, a bunch of punks, most of know are total video game noobs, all trying to work together in a CoD knock off to find the location of a demon.  There is a special kind of joy that can only come from the stupid and the absurd and Beelzebub is one of the titans of stupid and absurd.  If that sounds at all up your alley you should watch it.

 

6 – Binbougami ga!

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I swear I’m not only talking about comedies on purpose, it’s not my fault most of my favorite comedies start with the same couple of letters.  Yet another especially stupid comedy this one is about a girl who is unfathomably lucky and constantly draining the luck of everyone around her – thus a goddess of misfortune is sent to take away her excess luck.  Hilarity ensues when our girl’s luck is in fact so strong she can compete with the goddess of misfortune on equal footing and does her damnedest to prevent her luck from being stolen.  Unlike with Beelzebub, Binbougami ga! actually has a surprisingly strong emotional side with character backstories and surprise scenarios that are more serious and severe than the tone of the show would usually suggest, with a strong underlying focus on family, fortune and isolation.  There are a ton of references to other anime and a strong pinch of perverse and potty humor, like the masochistic dog god who can transform based on how much pleasure he feels.  Whereas Beelzebub is almost pure absurdity, I think what makes Binbougami ga! special is the mix of absurd moments that make up most of the show and the serious emotional moments that are given all the more weight by straightforwardly the show handles them in comparison to its usual ridiculous self.  This is definitely one of my favorite comedies.

 

7 – Boku no Hero Academia

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And the normie in me finally bursts forth.  Not a relatively obscure comedy this time, no this is one of the big franchises that has dominated the decade.  One of the most beloved shounen anime, because no filler or any of the other problems that plagued the Big 3, this has been a smash hit all across the anime community.  It’s easy to get into, the characters have great or otherwise instantly memorable designs, this a show that took the well worn path and tropes of almost every major shounen series and then polished the fuck out of them.  For the most part I don’t think there are any unique ideas or character stories Boku no Hero Academia has in comparison to other shounen stories, but it has such a strong grasp of the fundamentals and executes them so well that it basically doesn’t matter.  There’s a large cast of lovable characters, some truly standout characters among them like Stain and All Might, great character stories about kids struggling with themselves and their idea of what it means to be a hero when confronted with the reality of what heroes often do, strong rivalries and some truly epic fight scenes.  Ironically season 1 of Boku no Hero Academia is probably the weakest with only 1 really hype battle scene and a lot of time spent establishing the characters and basics of the world.  Season 2 has one of the best tournament arcs in recent memory with excellent key battles in Deku vs Todoroki and Uraraka vs Bakugo.  And Stain is far and away the most interesting and intimidating villain in the show despite his relatively weak superpower.  His 3 episode battle arc with is some of the best Boku no Hero Academia has to offer.  And then we get to season 3 and *breathes deeply* the greatest shounen battle of the decade.  Make no mistake this is not an easy call to make between the Stain battle, Netero vs Merum and other HunterxHunter battles but for my money All Might vs All for One reigns supreme.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever made and one of only a handful of characters who really has the gravitas to capture the full appeal of the “legendary older figure” character that so many shounen shows feature.  Despite it’s relative brevity and total lack of complex tactics or powers the sheer passion, emotional impact and weight delivered in this fight are so overwhelming I’m literally tearing up as I write this particular bit.  I would be willing to bet no character ever created in any medium has ever done a better job epitomizing the idea of the traditional superhero – unbending spirit in the face of adversity, immense self sacrifice, victory against an overwhelming enemy, and a pillar in hearts of people everywhere.  This fight and All Might’s dialogue at the end is the pinnacle of what shounen has to offer.

 

8 – Date A Live

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There’s a special place in my heart for the rare harem show that isn’t the old To Love Ru style of harem nor the modern light novel, main gets all the girls with no effort harem.  And it so happens Date A Live is one of those harems.  I do not expect this to be on most people’s list especially since the genre’s main appeal leaves out quite a large portion of the anime fandom, but I love it and you’re looking at my list so deal with it.  Date A Live is genius in that all of it’s fanservice is a natural extension of story not a forced panty shot or accidental groping.  The whole point of the show is that our boy Shido has to woo the various Spirits so he can then seal their powers because if he doesn’t they will be targeted by a special branch of the military.  Let’s back up for a second.  In Date A Live there are Spirits, always girls, and wherever they come from when they come to and from Earth they cause what are called spacequakes, which function like balls of anti-matter that annihilate whatever they touch.  Their existence is not public knowledge and because of the spacequakes a specialized military unit is tasked with hunting down any Spirits that appear.  Spirits meanwhile have strong magical powers and are all but impossible to put down or even capture by conventional means.  Shido with his power to seal Spirit powers by kissing Spirits offers up a unique solution and the secret organization led by his adoptive sister wants to make use of him.  Because of this Date A Live has a lot more emphasis on romance and working through emotional and trust issues than it does with traditional misunderstandings and accidental pervert scenes or OP dudes winning girls over by being strong and usually nice.  Not to say that there isn’t the occasional swimsuit episode or ecchi scene but those are much rare than in most harems.  I prefer this approach and the Spirits look phenomenal both as humans and in their Regalia.  Best of all even after 3 seasons the story is nowhere near finished as malevolent human forces and certain untamed Spirits have added new dimensions to the story.  For all my dudes out there, if you wanted a harem show with something to get invested in besides anime tiddies this show is for you.

 

9 – Dororo

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Dororo was the undisputed king of the Winter 2019 season for me and it still was the show I looked forward to most each week as it continued airing into the Spring 2019 season.  A 50 year anniversary reboot of a classic Tezuka property, Dororo follows the story of Hyakkimaru, a young man of a noble lineage whose body was almost entirely sacrificed to demons in exchange to prosperity in his family’s region.  He’s on a quest to slay these demons and regain his bodyparts and is joined by the titular Dororo a young thief who helps him navigate the world and make a living while he hunts down the demons.  Dororo does not hold back on gore or violence with baby Hyakkikaru shown in full horrific detail, a baby with nothing but a skinless head and torso.  As for the drama, it writes itself especially once we meet Hyakkimaru’s little brother.  See with every demon he kills, Hyakkimaru gains back body parts, but also weakens the contract between his father and the demons, causing sudden calamities or otherwise weakening or eliminating usual blessings that have allowed his family’s region to prosper despite the harsh and chaotic time period.  The show poses you the following question, do you support Hyakkimaru, knowing that if he succeeds he will bring an entire region to ruin and hardship or do you support the family, who sacrificed their son and took his future away from him for the sake of the people?  Personally I sided with Hyakkimaru but I could easily see how some people who go against him because he is ruining the greater good.  Plot and drama aside, the action is intense, kinetic, brutal and well choreographed; some of the best action animation of the decade.  And a return to the older style of backgrounds  and characters with more a painted and hand-drawn look was a welcome breath of fresh in the face of the ever expanding use of CG to cut costs.  This is another great historical fantasy, genuinely one of the coolest shows I’ve ever watched, I highly recommend it.

 

10 – Fate Zero

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This is weird one for me to include because I’ve come to basically hate the Fate franchise even as it grows ever further in popularity, but it stays on the list because this is the only Fate show which really captures the conceptual appeal of Fate, before it gets ruined by visual novel harems, alternate roots and a million genderbent characters to make more waifus.  At this point most of Fate is much better as fap material than it is to capture the awesomeness of the Heroic Spirits, the Noble Phantasms and the Holy Grail War, i.e. the parts of Fate which are actually interesting when the hentai browsers are closed.  Fate Zero is one exception because it takes the good parts of Fate and the Nasuverse and cuts out Nasu’s character writing and replaces it with Urobuchi Gen writing.  It’s full of adults making adult decisions with a tons of strategy, secrecy, and dishonorable schemes in the face of the mostly honorably and proud Heroic Spirits themselves.  There’s plenty of dark bits and the whole conflict is ultimately a tragedy, a titanic struggle for a prize that was tainted and rendered useless but the journey to get their is the important part. It also features a much stronger ideological bent than any other Fate work, with the iconic Banquet of Kings scene, where Alexander the Great, Gilgamesh, King Arthur discuss their views on what king should be, being the prime example.  The Heroic Spirits are generally well done and present interesting pairs with their various Masters.  It has some pacing problems but it’s visually stunning without being overdone the way I thought the Unlimited Bladeworks tv anime was.  The effects from the magic and magical weapons are especially good.  If you’re interested in Fate but don’t know where to start, start with Fate Zero and never watch another one.   The lore is also least confusing in Fate Zero so that’s another plus.  All said I do think this show has dropped pretty sharply in my estimation from when I first discovered it, but it is the best of a now very popular franchise and it’s still strong enough to merit being on this list.

 

11 – Gakkogurashi

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This is Madoka Magica of “cute girls doing x” shows and far and away the most interesting thing to happen to that particular sub-genre in the entire decade.  It takes place during a zombie apocalypse that is so traumatizing to one of the main girls’ mind literally breaks down and she lives her daily life under the delusion that everything is fine.  Surprisingly though this is kind of saving grace for the other girls because it allows them to find non-stressful, non-serious tasks, rules and objectives to pad out what would otherwise be a bleak if not utterly hopeless future.  The show delivers on cuteness, shenangians and some of the scariest and most traumatic zombie scenes I have ever seen.  The teacher zombie in particular is fucking terrifying, made all the more so because of just how much she meant to some of the girls.  There does also seem to be something of a larger game afoot as one of the girls details but that doesn’t really get addressed in this season, this is mainly about surviving with their sanities mostly intact and making the most of their now restricted and dangerous lives.  All in all an excellent dark but not grimdark spin on the usual cute girls show, well worth your time.

 

12 – Gatchaman Crowds

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I talked about this in a different post but I cannot stress enough how, despite Boku no Hero Academia being a hype machine and a beloved show, I still believe Gatchaman Crowds and it’s sequel are the most interesting superhero anime in existence.  I did previously say best superhero anything but I have had to amend that because I read Worm and now stop whatever you’re doing and read that, then come back here.  Gatchaman Crowds takes a very different approach to superheroes making the central thrust of it’s character and story arc less about how to be a good hero and rather asking some pointed questions about what it even means to be hero and what kind of heroes would be best for society.  Likewise the villains of the show are less conventional supervillains and more reflections of humanity’s or perhaps societies’ own worst impulses.  It also features Hajime, who is just heaps of fun and a deceptively sharp and dedicated character for someone so openly air-headed, playful and bubbly.  I dig the Gatchaman transformations, they did put me off at first but they’ve grown on me a lot especially with how distinct each is.  The colors and character designs completely leap of the screen and visually it’s quite impressive.  Again though what really sets Gatchaman Crowds apart has more to do with it’s approach and questions posed regarding heroes, villains, society and human nature.  Most superhero properties don’t ask a lot of the viewer besides a suspension of disbelief, Gatchaman Crowds goes a lot further and expects the audience to keep up.  It’s advanced and heady without being overly difficult to follow or ever going up it’s own ass in an attempt to be clever.  Both seasons are very well put together with solid character arcs, tight stories and interesting themes.  A seriously good time, cannot recommend highly enough.

 

13 – Gi(a)rlish Number

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This is every anime cynic’s secret delight.  A fun show that mocks how some of the shittiest anime in existence get made while the fools behind all of the terrible decisions cackle away as they hatch their next cashgrab scheme.  There’s also plenty of  not so veiled criticisms of the anime industry itself, as well as the portrayal of the sad truths about how marketing often does not get along with or give a flying fuck about the art it’s using to generate revenue.  It’s mostly funny because of just how much of a terrible, entitled brat our main girl Chitose is, in comparison to the other characters and how the anime being made in the show is so obviously terrible and ultimately a failure.  There’s also a strong dramatic element to the show with certain character arcs peeling back the curtain to show the frustrations of the people trying to make a living in the anime industry and how difficult that can be both from all kinds of angles.  Chitose herself is not forgiven for being a lazy, entitled piece of shit (I mean that in a good way, she’s great fun to watch), and the show really leans into the drama later on.  I think it ultimately has the best of both worlds with large chunks of the show being funny, mocking and biting for anyone frustrated with various aspects of the anime industry, breaking up the serious dramatic arcs that really get you invested in the characters long term.  Gi(a)rlish Number is great fun, a must watch for any anime cynic.

 

14 – Golden Time

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There comes a time in every anime fan’s life when they want to see a good romance, and most of reviewers point to Toradora as a good place to start.  Fair enough, I liked Toradora quite a bit – then I saw Golden Time and it redefined what a good romance anime was for me.  Seriously, I kind of find Toradora insufferable now because Golden Time is that much better.  Our lad Banri here is a college student and though it’s not immediately apparent he’s actually suffering from amnesia after he got hit by a motorcycle upon graduating high school.  And this will be a factor later especially since it turns out the girl he was hella crushing on in high school is now senpai at his college (he’s a grade or two behind because of time spent in the hospital).  Our lady Koko meanwhile is so obnoxious in her displays of love that she would, and does, drive most men up the wall, and it’s really only by the grace of Banri being such an unflappable go with the flow kind of guy most of the time that he ends up being a good fit for her.  The fact that these characters are in college instead of high school is a saving grace for the show because they aren’t treated like children.  They can get drunk, they can go to sketchy clubs to make a quick buck or do stupid things, they can drive and they actually have reasons to be mostly living alone.  When parents do get involved they don’t treat the main cast like kids except as a means of insulting their lack of maturity or bad decision-making.  There’s a lot of freedom that comes with being a college student as opposed to a high school student and Golden Time makes the most of it.  Ironically what makes it such a good romance though are the strong emotional and dramatic thru lines of Banri’s character and his amnesia and what that means for his various relationships.  To this day I haven’t found a romance I liked more than Golden Time, I strongly recommend it to everyone, fans of the genre or no.

 

15 – High School of the Dead

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Two words, Matrix Boobs.  For that scene – which I will never in my life forget – alone, HOTD had to be on this list. It’s a goofy, fun zombie show where everything seems ridiculous and over the top to the audience but is played seriously from the perspective of the people in the world.  Also HOTD milked the shit out of hot anime girls with big anime tiddies  and uh… no man has a right to complain about that.  In all seriousness HOTD is very fun, it has kinetic, frantic action, the mass death that all zombie films are famous for and a solid cast of fun characters with various hang ups they have to work through during the zombie apocalypse.  I consider this show something of an anime  right of passage, make it through HOTD with a smile on your face and you’ll find a lot to enjoy in anime, if it’s too crude or perverted and the like for you this may not the medium you’re looking for.

 

16 – Hoozuki no Reitetsu

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I don’t expect this to be many people’s lists but this was a go to for me when it came time to just chill and have some laughs.  The story, not that there really is one follows the cold, ruthlessly efficient secretary of the king of Hell as he goes along dealing Hell’s various problems.  It’s generally funny but not laugh out loud funny, maybe more of snickering or snorting funny.  There’s a massive cast of characters with pretty excellent designs, good use of color and just random bizarre demon shit like the big fish flower things you see all over the place.  I have great deal of interest in folklore and mythology and while I don’t consider this show an at all serious take on Japanese folklore, having the folklore creatures as characters and Hell as a backdrop added a lot of flavor to a show that was mostly very relaxed.  For most anime fans the relaxing stuff are moe shows or something along the lines of Flying Witch, for me it’s Hoozuki no Reitetsu.  It’s fun but not too fun, there’s lot of characters and random shit to keep track but not an overwhelming amount of details and nothing’s ever confusing.  I adore the overall look of the show and some running gags or characters (Zashiki Warashi ftw), but I’m mostly here to relax and enjoy the random happenings of demons going about their day.

 

17 – Houseki no Kuni

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Certainly one of the more interesting anime of the decade with its use of, wait for it, good CG and unique setting I found Houseki no Kuni to be utterly fascinating.  The gems all have great designs, the world is mysterious and memorable, and the entire show really pops of the screen with it’s excellent color choices.  The fights are solid, with lots of emphasis on movement as opposed to heavy impact hits and the enemies are some of the strangest you’ll find in a given anime.  The story and it’s main character Phos though are what really makes Houseki no Kuni shine.  Phos is one of the most fragile of all of the Gems and unlike the other fragile Gems she doesn’t have a lick of combat ability.  Despite the fact she unarguably the weakest and most useless amongst all the Gems she still has a strong desire to help but can’t get any of her fellow Gems to really guide her.  However she has two great strengths as a character, she’s by far the most inquisitive of the Gems and her very weakness allows her to evolve the fastest.  The Gems are largely creatures of permanence, they can live seemingly forever with aging, they can’t actually die even if their entire body is shattered, and they have only one predator to worry about.  Because Phos is so very weak anytime she loses a part of herself she can replace it with almost any mineral or metal, whereas most of the Gems can only be connected with their old parts.  This does have a cost as every time Phos loses part of her original form she loses memories, but her core character doesn’t really change.  Even as she gets strong enough to fight alongside the other Gems she remain highly inquisitive, and is the driving force of any change in the story.  It’s a very unique show well a great main character and an entrancing setting, well worth you’re time even if you’re dubious about the CG.

 

18 – HunterxHunter (2011)

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One of the most highly praised shounen series, HunterxHunter is definitely a cut above most of its contemporaries.  Despite being among the longest running shows of the decade it has none of production issues we all remember from the Big 3 and is unique in it’s approach to it’s main characters, who rather than aiming to become the best there is are kind of exploring for it’s own sake with simple goals in mind.  Gon and Killua are usually treated more like side characters in any given conflict, they play a role, they’re present but they are rarely if ever the deciding factor in the conflict.  Even as they get substantially stronger over the course of the show they always have a long way to go with enemies who remain light years ahead of them in strength.  Nen is arguably the most in-depth and creative power system ever made and I absolutely love it with all of it’s individuality and nuances.  Beyond the qualities that make it unique HunterxHunter is much like Boku no Hero Academia in that it’s mastery of genre fundamentals is part of what makes it so good.  It too has hype tournament arcs, impressive battle scenes and one of the biggest individual battles of the decade in Isaac Netero vs Meruem.  HunterxHunter also hold nothing back, with sudden and brutal deaths, injuries and crushing failures shown as early as the first phase of the Hunter Exam, which was an impressively long introduction to the colorful, varied and highly detailed world of HunterxHunter.  If you haven’t watched it you should, don’t be intimidated by the episode count, this is absolutely worth your time.

 

19 – Katanagatari

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This ranks as one of my favorite shows of all time.  It’s historical fantasy anime set in a theoretical timeline of Japanese history where certain forces which supposedly could have existed in our own history are pushed into existence by a shadowy figure known as Shikizaki Kiki, who incidentally created the 12 magic swords our heroes need to gather.  The art style is literally my favorite in all of anime, with excellent character designs, color choices and a stylized world.  The various locations our characters visit are distinct and exciting, from isolated mountain temples, to frozen wastes, to lands destroyed by desertification.  There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.  Unlike typical anime Katanagatari takes place over 12 45min episodes and features a lot of dialogue as the basic routine of each episode is that Togame, who was tasked with collecting Kiki’s swords, first tries to negotiate for them and when that inevitably fails the bodyguard she had to travel to a remote island to recruit, Yasuri Shichika, fights the owner for the sword.   Shichika is particularly fascinating character in that he’s grown up on an island with only his sister and father for company and been taught to think of himself as a weapon not a person.  This is because his family has the unique Kyotoryuu, a martial art that mimics swordsmanship allowing him to cut people and parry blades with his bare hands.  I think his sister is actually the most interesting character in the show as I detailed elsewhere, but for the sake of brevity I won’t discuss her.  For a show with such a focus on an inevitable between highly skilled foes and their uniquely unusual weapons the fight scenes are often quite brief.  They are awesomely well animated and highly impactful but if you came here for lots of action, you might be disappointed.  Katanagatari is very much a character study with a focus on how our main characters change over the course of their year long journey, how they view each other, what ideologies they encounter among their foes and what parts of themselves they can’t actually let go of.  The season finale is one of the best episodes of anime ever made.  Katanagatari probably isn’t for everyone but for those it’s for, you will not find anything else quite like it and you owe to yourself to give it a try.

 

20 – Kekkai Sensen

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Kekkai Sensen was some of the most fun I had with anime this decade.  It’s world is absolute chaos as humans, aliens, demons and every kind of creature you can think of are all crammed into a portion of New York.  In direct contrast to Katangatari, Kekkai Sensen is a show for whom dialogue means fairly little and instead survives on lots of bombastic action and just the sheer craziness of the setting.  The characters are generally goofier but there are some surprisingly emotional and dramatic stories interwoven into what is usually a dumb action show with an emphasis on fairly unique visuals.  Kekkai Sensen’s biggest downside is that the season 1 climax is not very good and when it was currently airing we had to wait long after the season for said climax.  Season 2 mostly swept that under the rug though and continued Kekkai Sensen as usual.  This is mostly wacky, goofy and fun but there are some truly legendary frames as the team behind Kekkai Sensen tried all kinds of visual tricks – personally the thermo-vision cut of Zapp’s boner when he hears about this chick he’s been hitting on being interested in him, as he wipes out a particularly dangerous monster takes the cake for me.  And if that doesn’t get your interest/attention maybe Kekkai Sensen isn’t for you.  You should try it though, it’s great fun.

 

21 – Kill la Kill

Ryuuko and Satsuki

Every couple of years or so there comes a show, which while not being quite the big tent pole show that dominates the decade, is nonetheless massively influential and often more beloved by hardcore anime fans than the tent pole shows.  The first of these I remember popping up in the 2010s was Kill la Kill.  I love Kill la Kill, I love it so much I think it’s better than Gurren fucking Lagann regardless of the fact the general consensus is the other way around.  Ryuuko is in the running for my favorite anime girl of all time, not that Satsuki isn’t impressive or Mako lovably adorable, but Ryuuko’s attitude, look, style and general approach to life is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread and her synergy with Senketsu makes it probably the best pairing in the entire show, the hilarity of the Mako and Gamagoori shipping be damned.  When Kill la Kill first aired there was a lot pushback because of the “fanservice” and inconsistent animation, but I believe those have been rightly argued down at this point.  Nudity as authenticity and vulnerability is a major theme throughout Kill la Kill – of course the girls will end up nearly naked as a result, and honestly if all you can focus after the first few transformations is the amount of skin showing maybe that’s a you problem not a show problem.  I like fanservice as much as the next guy but there’s so much going on visually in Kill la Kill, and so many half naked fight scenes that at some point you kinda stop caring about the fact the girls are half naked and focus on what’s actually happening.  Likewise the sudden and bizarre animation shifts are indeed stylistic choices to make the show pop off the screen and be all the more memorable.  Suddenly shifting styles to capture the unique voice of many different animators also happens to something of a penchant for the director, Hiroyuki Imaishi.  As for what makes Kill la Kill so damn good?  Well the action is some of the most gloriously over the top, kinetic and well animated you’ll find.  The characters are likewise insanely over the top in pursuit of their various ideals and everyone has some of the most memorable designs in anime history.  The music is absolutely amazing and you will find nothing else like it visually.  That is to say you can really see how much heart was put into this and it paid off.  Kill la Kill is one of the greatest anime of all time and if you’ve somehow missed it, go watch it – like right this second if possible.

 

22 – Kimetsu no Yaiba

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I’ll be honest I was really struggling about whether or not to put Kimetsu no Yaiba on this list.  Between Zenitsu and it’s relatively weak position compared to HunterxHunter and Boku no Hero Academia, I wasn’t sure it merited making the list.  Then I remembered two things, Nezuko and Episode 19.  Nezuko is probably the greatest little sister character to ever exist, with her adorable bamboo muzzle, cute little grunts and pats, the simplified eyes during some scenes to maker her extra cute, the fact she’s carried around in a box or basket most of the time, and her ability to change sizes and achieve peak meme status as smol Nezuko are all in her favor.   The fact that she can kick demon demon heads off and turn her blood into striking pinkish red fire is just a bonus.  To be slightly more serious for a second, it’s both the focus on and depth of the familial bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko that give this show wings beyond it’s generic premise and indeed what makes the climatic battle of episode 19 so powerful.  It’s all about the power of family, it takes of all Tanjiro’s skill, Nezuko’s Blood magic, their father’s technique, their mother’s subconscious urgings – all of it in concert to deliver a seemingly impossible and decisive blow against a demon who should be, and thankfully is, too strong for them to handle at this point.  Still episode 19’s fight was one the biggest anime moments of decade and that helped push Kimetsu no Yaiba onto the list.  I also generally like the stylization of the various techniques and breathing in contrast the show’s normal look, which itself is not bad all.  I do find the brisk pace of the show somewhat surprising given the genre and when he isn’t asleep Zenitsu is utterly insufferable – but on the whole it’s a good show.

 

23 – Kingdom

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Kingdom fans might surprised I put the anime on the list considering how much more beloved and detailed the manga is but I actually got my start with the anime before checking out the manga and I have to say, get past the CG and there’s really quite a lot to like here.  For most people in the know the Kingdom anime has been unfavorably compared to the currently airing Vinland Saga but I honestly think that not only is Kingdom better overall, it actually looks better much of the time.  I know that sounds ludicrous because the Kingdom anime is famous for the shitty CG but hear me out.  First off Kingdom does start switching to beautiful traditional animation during non-battle scenes fairly early on and the use of CG becomes very limited in the second season.  When it’s traditionally animated Kingdom looks miles better than Vinland Saga, with much stronger colors, linework on the characters and attention to overall detail.  And while the CG is godawful it’s usually all awful together.  One of the worst parts of Vinland Saga’s visual look is how it’s perfect willing to mash up hand-drawn backgrounds and characters with a bunch of CG models or CG longships which actually looks worse than a scene made up of nothing but bad CG.  This comparison will only get worse once we get away from the visuals, Kingdom absolutely curb-stomps Vinland Saga on the audio end, with huge swelling tracks that take full advantage of the sheer size of the battles going on or are used to maximum effect in conveying a characters dominating presence.  I also find Thorfinn’s screaming to be really fucking irritating while the same can’t be said for Shin’s constant yelling.  If there is one reason to try the Kingdom anime, manga fan or no, it’s for the sound.  The music is amazing, the voice acting is solid, and the battle-noises are quite good, with a great of attention to detail put into the types of sounds  made by characters using different types or strengths of hits.  The story is also great, set during Warring States period in China (3rd century BC, I think) with a war orphan who wants to be the become a mighty general paired with a young king who wants to go full Alexander the Great on China, complete with a huge cast of excellent side characters from every strata of society.  Kingdom is also the show which most successfully capture the “legendary older figure” characters I mention when discussing All Might.  The major generals of the previous generation come off as absolute legends, with utterly titanic presences be it during a simple conversation or on the battlefield.  The action in Kingdom is very satisfying but not especially well animated most of the time because of the heavy use of CG during battles, it’s much better in season 2 where they use traditional animation for many of the fights.  Kingdom also has a penchant for a kind of heroic military romanticism that seems very much like the Homeric traditions of ancient Greece.  This makes the actual fighting and troop numbers wildly inaccurate to but it also really heightens the tension and highlights the dramatic fight scenes between characters of particular import.  I consider it a must watch for anyone who has the same obsession with history, especially ancient history, that I do.

 

24 – KonoSuba

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Megumin, that is all.  Jokes aside this is by far the most entertaining isekai property of the decade.  It’s cast of almost total incompetents somehow stumbling their way to victory in fights against the most powerful enemies the world can throw at them while struggling to defeat a single giant frog is barrels of fun.  Megumin is my personal favorite because she could be totally competent but has such idiotic obsession with only using the strongest attack magic that she knowingly turns herself into a one and done artillery piece.  Darkness is probably the least interesting because her masochism overrides basically everything else about her but the way that everyone else misinterprets her kink on the battlefield is pretty fun.  The designs are often deliberately wonky in a way that is pretty charming if not traditionally good looking. The character chemistry among the main cast is pure gold and there are some truly amazing running gags that pop up across both seasons.  That KonoSuba manages to finagle a few genuinely impressive fight scenes in just makes it all the better.  It’s not the most ridiculous comedy on this list but it is one of the most consistently fun shows of the decade.  Well worth a watch.

 

25 – Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

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What happens when you combine a Necromancer so strong she can’t talk because she can kill with her voice, magical girls, vampire ninjas and your average Japanese high school boy?  You get a story about a guy who becomes a zombie that transforms into a chainsaw wielding magical girl.  Yes it is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds and yes you should absolutely give it a try.  It even has a magical girl who is cursed to look like a middle aged man except when she’s drunk and then assumes her original form.  Kore wa Zombie is about as absurd as anime comedies can get and while there are a few dramatic narrative thru lines it’s mostly a show about stupid fights against random, bizarre monsters, truly goofy uses of magic, hot chicks and the kind of violence based humor which only a zombie, or maybe a harem protagonist, can survive.  Thoroughly recommended.

 

26 – Koutesujou no Kabaenri

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In that 4 year gap between Attack on Titan seasons 1 & 2 the studio which made it was somewhat panned for creating an AoT clone in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  In yet another zombie apocalypse humanity is reduced to living in isolated walled settlements where the only viable mode of transportation is by train because the world doesn’t have aircraft yet and the Kabane, vampire-zombies with glowing, nigh-unbreakable hearts, would eat anyone on foot or horseback.  But whereas AoT came out hype and then had a serious slow down in the middle, the shorter and more tightly written Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had no such problems.  It came out hype, stayed pretty hype, and then latched onto to short narrative which ended the season.  Visually it remains among the prettiest shows of the decade with highly detail, heavily shaded artwork in the close ups and stills.  Even in it’s normal state it looks very solid.  The Kabane are perhaps the most threatening zombie I’ve come across as they are not only fast and aggressive but they are extremely difficult to put down, killing them requires specialized weaponry, and short range to melee combat – the place you don’t want to be when a single bite from a horde of zombies will turn you into one.  There are also special variants of Kabane who can use combat skills they had in life or who can morph together and become a giant corpse pile monster straight out of a Fromsoft game.  What really sets Koutetsujou no Kabaneri apart from AoT is that the greatest threat doen’ts come from external source like the Titans but the poor decision making of understandably cautious or paranoid people trapped in relatively small spaces, it’s story where most of the humans matter, as opposed to AoT where only the monsters and few human outliers matter.  Good action, good visuals, good zombies, good time.

 

27 – Log Horizon

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Whereas KonoSuba is the most entertaining isekai of the decade, I would propose that Log Horizon is the best isekai of the decade – and possibly ever.  It’s much slower and more toned down on the action front compared to most isekai shows but it more than makes for that with the most in-depth isekai world building in anime and a plot that revolves more about creating and managing a livable society in a world full of people who can’t die, while trying to unravel the mystery of how everyone got here in the first place and how they can get back.  There’s a lot focus game mechanics, character class interplay and eventually even flavor text and how these things manifest now that the game has changed and become reality for a large number of people.  There is a focus placed on depth in almost every facet of the setting and the major interactions between the most powerful players – now leaders in this world.  This leads to a show full of lots and lots of dialogue and build up, so it can seem very slow if you’re not paying attention to just how much is going on in any scene.  Concepts that will become pivotal can be introduced many episodes in advanced, allowing everyone paying serious attention to be on the lookout for what details to track.  Unlike most anime Log Horizon expects a lot from the viewer and you will get left behind just turn your brain off and drink it in.  I don’t want to overstate how smart this show is, nor do I want to be a pretentious little shit saying *fake poncy British accent voice* that this is an anime for smart people – but relatively speaking it is the thinking man’s isekai and there’s a lot to engage with if your willing to put in a little more effort and muddle through the headier parts of the show.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I do think everyone should give it a try.

 

28 – Made in Abyss

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One of the few downsides to the absolute flood of isekai shows released this decade was the almost complete loss of bonafide fantasy worlds.  While some shows put in the effort to make the video game based worlds interesting a ton of shows defaulted to generic RPG concepts and monsters and called it a day.  And while doing so these game-based settings replaced more traditional fantasy settings.  Made in Abyss however was one of those rare shows which not only featured a true fantasy setting but one which was striking in just how unique it was.  There’s a colossal hole in a small island in the middle of the ocean and the hole is full of unique treasures and fantasy monsters found nowhere else in the world.  So the people who found it first set up a gold rush town where the entire society revolves around delving into the abyss, and returning with it’s unique treasures to study and sell to the outside world.  Our begins in an orphanage where we follow the child of a renowned explorer who has allegedly made it to the bottom of the abyss and she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps to meet her in person despite the fact it’s something that is incredibly dangerous even to explorers far more experience than her.  Joining her on her suicidal journey is a robot boy who can fire lasers and extend his arms like grappling hooks who seems to have some connection to the girl’s mother.  The setting is amazing with all kinds of unusual terrain, monsters and eccentric characters.  And don’t let the cutesy designs fool you, Made in Abyss goes hard in the paint when it comes to terrible injuries, darker plot points I won’t spoil.  It’s an interesting show like nothing else I’ve ever seen and a must watch for any fantasy lover.

 

29 – Magi

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Magi is one of the other great fantasy shows of the decade.  But unlike Made in Abyss Magi has a much more involved narrative in a vast world that its two seasons have had more time to flesh out it detail.  One of Magi’s strengths is the sheer sense of adventure it conveys, with our cast visiting vast deserts, island kingdoms, port-cities, fantasy Rome, fantasy China, steppe tribes and so on.  There’s also all kinds of interesting fantasy kingdoms and races like the superhumanly strong Fanalis who have been mostly enslaved, the beast riding Amazons of Artemia and the blue haired half Norse and half Inuit giants of Imchak.  It’s easy to get lost in the sense of wanderlust that the characters have especially in the early parts of the show before the over-arching plot is introduced.  It also helps that the colors are especially vibrant, really adding a lot of life and vibrancy to the setting and it’s inhabitants.  The overarching plot sort of resembles FMA Brotherhoods and Magi follows of similar trajectory of assembling a gigantic cast to face the lurking enemy threat that looms over all of them, despite the large divisions between the major political powers and characters in the world.  Magi has an interesting magic system where all magic grouped into 8 broad types which have varying levels of resonance with each and differing magicians.  This is a fast and loose rule set that results in many mages with different specializations but leaves lots of room for overlap and creativity for more advanced spellcasters to work with.  Then we get to Djinn and the Djinn Equips and that alone was enough to get me on board.  The Djinn may all be blue giants but they look and behave pretty differently and their Equips allow humans to assume an approximate form of their Djinn, resulting in outfits and weapons which are often totally impractical but also classic high fantasy.  The main characters Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana are all quite solid though Alibaba is undoubtedly the weakest on the character front just as Aladdin is the most interesting.  There’s plenty of action, political intrigue and wide and well developed world to explore.  It’s even a good entry point for non-anime fans or anime casuals in my own experience – give it a try if you haven’t already.

 

30 – Mairimashita! Iruma-kun

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This is one of the most wholesome anime of the decade and I fucking love it.  It’s cute, it’s lighthearted, it’s fun and it warms my bitter cynical heart.  There’s honestly not that much else to say.  It’s Rosario + Vampire meets Hayate no Gotoku with a big focus on kindness and friendship.  It’s not serious, not heavy, it honestly feels a bit like a kid’s show and it’s wholesome approach is a such a breath of fresh compared to the endless edgy light novel bullshit or my usual more violent and/or though provoking shows of choice.  It’s a much needed break from the rest of anime and it brings a warm smile to my face.  Also Clara is adorable.  Watch it, it’s a great pick me up.

 

31 – Medaka Box

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Medaka Box is written by NisioisN of Bakemonogatari fame and is the work of his that delves in one of his narrative penchants, the nature of geniuses, more so than any other work of his I have seen/read.  The anime regrettably lacks the fan favorite arc, Minus, ending just before that arc begins but nonetheless a very solid anime.  It has personal favorite design style with regards to to anime faces, using a wide array of artistic tricks from multiple styles of iris, heavy lines to frame eyes and strong use of color, vibrancy shifts and changes in shading to create what I consider the best anime faces of all time, which results in some truly excellent character designs.  The cast is memorable, full of characters who are at once living memes and are also either struggling with or utterly consumed by the differences in talent between people.  The show has almost more focus on quirks than Boku no Hero Academia, and features some truly bizarre students who need help with a wide variety of problems.  There’s also a strong action element to the show though that doesn’t really rear it’s head until late into season 1.  This is again one of the shows that’s honestly pretty stupid but is willing to run with it’s stupid ideas full steam ahead and I have severe soft spot for that kind of approach.  I seriously hope it gets another season to deliver the Minus arc and even if this doesn’t sound up your alley I encourage you to try it.  Partly because it’s a show that does much better in the moment than in dry reviews but also because I’m curious as to what most other people think of the character designs.

 

32 – Mob Psycho 100

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Easily one of the most interestingly animated shows of the decade Mob Psycho 100 did very well among the anime community for both its visuals and its message.  The story revolves around a kid with ungodly strong psychic powers, and this matters not so much because Mob then goes to exorcise ghosts or fight other psychics but because in direct contrast to his crazy powers Mob has basically no physical or social ability and is setting out to improve on those fronts.  He does this by joining the Body Improvement Club and working for Reigen, who have top tier bodies and charisma respectively.  Most of Mobs opponents meanwhile are people who have convinced themselves that their psychic powers makes them better than everyone else and can’t understand why Mob isn’t using his powers for personal gains but seeking to improve everything but his powers.  There’s some great psychic action which no doubt drives much of the show’s fandom and popularity, but I also like to think it’s positive attitude and focus on self improvement resonates with a lot of people.  If you haven’t seen it already you absolutely have to give it a try.

 

33 – Monster Musume

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And the harem genre strikes again.  Much like Date A Live, Monster Musume marks itself out among its genre contemporaries for having a bit more of an emotional side and an approach to fanservice that comes not from accidental slips or a sudden burst of wind but the nature of the various monstergirl species and their own individual desire for our protagonist.  I honestly can’t remember his name because almost every character introduced so far, which is quite a few at this point, calls him by a different nickname – I’ll probably just call him Darling for ease of reference.  Monster Musume’s main difference in comparison to Date A Live is the amount of fanservice.  The monstergirls either by dint of their species or by their own thirst for the d, give us a lot more fanservice than the Spirits of Date A Live – which is mildly ironic considering the Spirits are basically human once you get past the magic, and the monstergirls have similar trust issues/worries about discrimination in the wider world.  The cast is highly memorable and mostly great fun, and while there isn’t really much of a story per se, the moment to moment experience is very enjoyable.  Even some of my non-anime fan friends were into Monster Musume so to my fellow weebs of culture, let us celebrate the anime that gave us a new and confusing boner, or ladyboner, for monstergirls.  Amen.

 

34 – My Little Witch Academia

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This was basically cute anime girls Harry Potter, if Harry could barely use magic, Ron spoke to spirits, Snape cackled at the thought of making poisons and Hermione merged with Draco Malfoy to become an upper class blond bitch (at first anyway).  Having thoroughly enjoyed both My Little Witch Academia movies, I had high hopes coming into the tv anime and it did not disappoint.  It was so much fun to watch, with sequences like Akko firing herself out of a cannon to catch the world’s fastest flying broom so she could win the broom race, Sucy’s dreamland and of course the Gurren Lagann bit.  But for every moment of comedic gold or irresistible cuteness, My Little Academia also delivered on a satisfying moments of drama and character development, revealing truths that added whole dimensions to pre-existing characters and their relationships.  Akko and Diane’s character arcs were particularly good, especially when they really get to know each other and then join forces for the finale – which was also awesome.  This is a show that’s super easy to get into and a must watch for any fan of the movies or Harry Potter.  Y’all should watch it.

 

35 – Nobunagun

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As much I am sick to death of hearing about Oda Nobunaga, I have to say Nobunagun was one of my surprise favorites.  Utterly stupid, featuring fights between the descendants of heroes and alien Kaiju was so much fun.  I was a big fan of the stylized weapons or abilities of the various characters and especially a fan of the sudden color shifts during the action.  The normal look of the show is pretty bland and generic but during the battles the color scheme radically changes, not only making everything really pop off the screen, but giving it a unique look and feel.  There’s honestly not much else to say about Nobunagun, either you’re like me and fell in love with the show’s brazen idiocy by the end of episode one or you didn’t and you probably think I’m crazy to put it on this list.

 

36 – Non Non Byori

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Welcome to the pinnacle of anime memes.  Other than JoJo shows I can’t think of any other shows off hand that have such a meme following.  Nothing happens in Non Non Byori – serious, literally nothing happens.  It’s about cute girls living in such a remote country town that there’s only one teacher and she teaches all 5 students at the same time despite the fact they’re all in different grades.  Highlights include going to the beach, building an igloo, walking to the candy store and going to feed the rabbits – that’s how much nothing is going on here.  That being said the interactions between the girls are cute and hilarious, with the undisputed queen of Non Non Byori being the one, the only – Ren-chon.  Renge, to use her actual name, appears to be a genuine genius in many regards but is hiding her power level by thinking so outside the box that the others can’t even understand her galaxy-brained ideas.  They have no choice but to simply roll with it as asking the mysterious deadpan loli for her reasoning brings forth answers which only madmen and eldritch horrors could possibly comprehend.  To be a bit more serious for a second, this show’s appeal hangs almost solely on Ren-chon, not that the other girls are bad but she’s what will really invest you in Non Non Byori.  Either you will recoil from this loli in confusion or bow down to her majesty and be drawn into the show by her magnetic presence.  It all depends on you.

 

37 – One Punch Man

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This is one the shows that will be on probably everyone’s top 50 of the decade list.  It’s well animated (well, it was in season 1), the characters a good, it’s funny and it does an excellent job at making it’s central joke – that Saitama kills every awesome unbeatable bad guy in just one punch – except when he doesn’t to make the fight cooler.  I think the visuals are what really made One Punch Man so beloved, because if the whole thing looked like season 2 it probably wouldn’t be on this list.  That said because the visuals got so many eyes on One Punch Man and, in my case at least endeared me to the characters I was able to solider in Season 2 because the characters and their interactions were as good as ever despite the massive visual downgrade.  Watch it if you haven’t, but seriously who hasn’t seen this by now?

 

38 – Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

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Of all the many anime comedies I’ve seen Panty & Stocking is basically guaranteed to be the raunchiest.  It looks like a western cartoon from the Dexter’s Laboratory era aka my childhood but this one is not for kids.  This is all about sex, sweets, shit and sisterly infighting.  Which is hilarious because the two are supposed to be angels but they’ve literally been kicked out of heaven for their bad attitudes and have to do a bunch of good deeds and earn enough goodwill from the divine to get back in.  They do this grudgingly and with mild interest preferring to bone as many people or eat as many sugary delights as possible along the way.  Almost all of the ghosts they have to slay inhabit things like shit, vomit, sperm and buggers.  The art style changes all the time to suddenly look more gorgeous and realistic or hideous and blobby from scene to scene.  And while there is an over-arching story it not only does the show has perhaps the most controversial Gainax ending of all time but it will do whatever the fuck it wants with at all times.  Some diversions include, a half episode Transformers war between the two angel sisters, a minutes long scene where the camera never leaves the room or ever changes the angle of the shot and Saving Private Ryan scenes played from the perspective of sperm.  There also some great fight scenes and the overall feel of the show is incredibly dynamic with all kinds of overkill in every conceivable way, with lot’s of movement and attitude that takes advantage of the simplified art style.  This is definitely worth your time and one of the only shows that I think has a decent dub, I still prefer it subbed but if you have no other option the dub is one the better ones you’ll find.

 

39 – Psycho-Pass

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This may be perhaps the only show in this list which is wholly serious.  It has no comedic elements whatsoever and is instead a tight, tense and gripping police procedural set in a near-future Japan which has been completely transformed by a mysterious advanced network called the Sibyl System and the implementation of the Psycho Pass; a score which not only quantifies your mental state but also is used to match any given individual with jobs they will fit into best and so on.  There’s also a great deal of hologram tech which is mostly useful in how it gets used to disguise murders or to interact in some kind of VR social media.  The setting is very fleshed out especially regarding all the implementations of the new technology and the flaws, boons and workarounds therein.  This show is very interesting because one of the central themes is the merit of the Psycho Pass.  From the show’s presentation and some of it’s larger reveals it appears to be presenting a dystopian future.  There are all kinds of problems with system, and it generates behaviors which probably wouldn’t appear in a society without the Psycho Pass because they are specific methods of coping or failing to cope with the use of Psycho Passes.  That said, all other details point to the Sibyl System and Psycho Pass bringing about massive improvements to overall society – lowering crime, increasing productivity and so on.  It’s difficult for us as viewers to agree with because we are accustomed to having way more freedom and the idea of a machine, even one that may do a better job than we will most of the time, being used to guide/dictate our lives is untenable.  Whatever your answer to the questions posed there’s no doubt it’s one of the true titans of the decade in terms of craftsmanship (not season 2 though it was made by different people and fucks everything up), and I’ve yet to come across a similar anime.  Definitely give this one a try.

 

40 – Quan Zhi Gao Shou

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I really struggled between putting this or Mo Dao Zhu Shi on the list, as the latter is visually more impressive and involves more of a historical fantasy story and setting, but it also has some pacing issues and a focus gay romance that I have literally no interest in cause I don’t swing that way.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or The King’s Avatar is a more modest production about video games and pro-gaming that is ended up really being really good.  It settles on the basically undisputed best pro-player of a very popular RPG getting fired due to the team’s faltering performance and concerns about his age, he’s 26 which is old by pro-gaming standards.  And because they hammer this part in immediately it’s very easy to invested as to how our main guy with stick it to the man.  The character side of the story is pretty great but what Quan Zhi Gao Shou really delivers on is something of every gamer’s power fantasy and really capturing the kind of passion that the deeply hardcore fans of certain games have for their game of choice.  Our main guy has been playing this game for a decade and rather than lash out when he’s suddenly dropped from his pro team he immediately starts up a new account, experimenting with a playstyle he and his best friend had started on conceptually many years ago.  There’s lot of flashy action and solid understanding of RPG mechanics along with a focus player action speed versus depth of knowledge.  Quan Zhi Gao Shou is very easy to get into, with a tone that is mostly, light brisk and fun with occasional currents of a more serious struggle going on.  It’s a great watch for anyone who has picked up any RPG before – and while the show has modest production values the 3 OVA sequels are fucking jaw droppingly well animated, a good reward for those who make through the first season.  There was also a recentish movie release prequel, so this franchise does seem to have some legs and we will hopefully get a second season soon.

 

41 – Re:Creators

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Re:Creators is unfortunately a show with some problems and an ending that is so meta it’s a bit up its own ass but generally I really loved watching it.  It played around some very interesting story concepts both in a meta sense to resolve the main conflict and for use as character building.  The differences between how characters from more simplistic settings developed in contrast to characters from darker or more nuanced settings was really cool, and the interplay between characters from totally different mediums and settings using their various power against each other was awesome, resulting in scenes like watching a giant magical girl heart slam a flying heroine into the ground with explosive force – where else will you even see something like that?  I know that a lot of people hated the main guy but honestly I think he did his job exceptionally well and filled more of a Shinji from Evangelion role than that of a typical hero and thus had many similar flaws and criticism that Shinji himself suffered from.  I think what really sold it for me though were the parts that delved in the various artists and writers and the creative process.  I thought the show’s commentary on that front was fucking spot on and resulted in some of may favorite low key interactions and bits of dialogue, with the crowning achievement being the battle of wits between Blitz and his creator – who basically proves to him that he hasn’t developed at all and is frankly immature in his thinking when compared to the other fictional characters who have invaded our world by predicting his every line and move.  That said there is a bit in the middle where show slows down massively while building up to the final battle and I could easily see that being a problem for some.  I personally was fine Altair’s design and abilities but I did find her motivations to be pretty pathetic and her nigh-invincibility sometimes utterly ruined the awesome powers of the characters.  All told I think it’s still a good show with interesting ideas and an excellent commentary on creatives and the creative process but it’s on the lower end of this list.

 

42 – ReLIFE

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This is actually one of the best romances of all time, at least in anime.  It’s about a guy who seems to have no real prospects because he quit his first job as a means of protest against his boss and co-workers, who in fact drive his mentor to suicide with their bullying.  Because of this he obviously didn’t get any kind of recommendation and is struggling to find a serious career since he has no reliable references and every interviewer will of course ask why he left his old job, or call his old boss and presumably be told that our lead is a shit worker.  While he struggles he is given an offer by a mysterious government agency to take a drug that reverts him back 10 years (I think) and redo his senior year of high school as a means of rehabilitation, with the promise of a job afterword.  With little else going for him he takes offer.  Part of what makes ReLIFE great is that our lead is not fumbling his way through school like so many high school romances, he’s done this before and while there are many jokes at his expense because of his adult outlook and him having to readjust and relearn old material, that same adult outlook lets him cut through usual high school bullshit and misunderstandings with ease, allowing him to quickly make some friends and even guide these young people when some of them are having trouble.  His main focus is the super emotionless girl in his class who we will later learn went through the same program he did but didn’t change at all during her year and is now doing a second year unbeknownst to our male lead.  But it’s because the secret ReLifer is so inept at personal interactions that our male lead spends extra time helping her, and thus the groundwork for a serious relationship is laid.  ReLIFE has some decent comedy, solid drama and – once all the various secrets are revealed – one of the best anime romance stories of all time.  You really owe it to yourself to give it a try though I think older viewers may like more since it’s much easier to connect with a male lead closer to our age.

 

43 Shokugeki no Souma

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I think what really sells Shokugeki no Souma, in addition to the fact they went all in on the foodgasms, was the attitude.  Souma and many of his various rivals have the same highly arrogant, confrontational and fiery attitudes of characters from battle manga.  Like if these kids had huge muscles instead of major culinary skills they would fit right into something like Baki.  And I love the attitude, it really is the heart of the show because it’s that same attitude which leads to the intensity and stakes of challenges.  The various characters make massive bets with all their pride and skill on the line and it’s only be dint of the overall attitude that this makes any sense at and is indeed fully sold.  The fact that show does a really good job making the actual cooking matches and recipe research engaging is to it’s credit but it’s kind of just a bonus – it’s the attitude and characters which really keep me invested, especially since the story gets increasingly off the rails as it goes on and the production values start to take noticeable hits in later seasons.  And speaking of the characters, this show really does nail the kind of giant memorable and interesting casts which are a staple of the shounen genre, and even some of characters who only appear in a few scenes are among the most memorable side characters I can think of, Hojo and the witch girl in particular.  There’s also a huge focus on talent vs hard work and perhaps even more importantly, confidence.  Megumi is one of the best characters because she is a talented cook who is so lacking in confidence that it almost sees her expelled and it’s not until she meets the brazenly competitive and outright arrogant Souma that she really finds the inner strength to make something more of herself.  Her big moments in the season 2 tournaments were probably my favorite parts of the show.  That’s really all there is to say, if you want some food porn, with a side fiery attitude and a full course of interesting cast members, Shokugeki no Souma is the dish for you.

 

44 Shuumatsu no Izzetta

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This is one of the shows on this list that most people will probably be scratching their heads at as it didn’t have great critical reception nor was it especially popular when looking at the decade as a whole.  But I have a deep affection for fantasy and history and this was yet another solid historical fantasy not set in Japan.  This was a fantastical WWII story, though the politics of the world is much more reflective of WWI where royal families exist as serious political factors in much greater numbers.  Overall I don’t think the story or writing is especially good, though the episode where Nazi (not actually a nazi this is just for ease of reference) infiltrator into fantasy Switzerland (which is where the main characters are from) discovers that he really likes the kind people of fantasy Switzerland and concludes his side might be the bad guys in this scenario since fantasy Germany is invading fantasy Switzerland was great.  That being said I do love the overall focus on patriotism, heroic myths, the clever use of propaganda and the magic vs WWII tech battles.  The politics were also good, with all of fantasy Germany’s enemies celebrating the rise of Izetta as a weapon against fantasy Germany while also becoming very concerned about what Izetta and magic represent.  Fantasy Germany has some very capable men who put the titular Izetta in danger multiple times and while I wasn’t much of a fan of how her final opponent came to be, I do like the thrust of her enemy’s story and how she interacts with Izetta, as a pair of witches who have similar power levels and played similar heroic roles for fantasy Switzerland but had a world of difference in their treatment.  What really gets me though are 3 things.  The music, the depth and intimacy of the friendship between Izetta and Princess Fine, and last but certainly not least Izetta’s solution to end the conflict and the truly humbling levels of self sacrifice required to enact this solution.  The climax is something that’s going to be etched in my mind forever, between the swelling music, the way it cuts between the actual fight scenes which in and of themselves aren’t that impressive to the momentous political events which Izetta’s immense self sacrifice is going to pave the way for, with multiple tensions builds which are put on hold by flashbacks or exposition before resuming with exponential intensity before we get to the big earth shattering moment where the entire nature of the world is re-written and the age of magic passes forever.  It’s something out of an epic or a saga, and it’s the kind of story beat which cuts right though to the core of my being.  For whatever reason it’s the scenes like these, the big swelling moments of legendary feats be they Izetta’s climax or something like the Ride of the Rohirrim, these are the scenes that connect with me deepest, which make my tears flow most fiercely.  Many of the shows I enjoy have a lot more of “the journey is more important than the destination” vibe but every now and then there comes a show where, though the journey is perhaps not as striking or memorable or as well written as many other shows on this list, the destination is so phenomenal that it eclipses all other factors.  Shuumatsu no Izetta is one such show.

 

45 Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

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This is another of the best anime romances in my book, though this is much more of a traditional shoujo story than Golden Time.  It takes place in a very simplified fantasy world where all the countries are named after random climatic and topographic features like Rain, Sun, Sea, etc.  More important than the milquetoast fantasy world though are our main characters, Livy and Nike.  Livy is a genius young king – who looks like he’s only a kid but is supposed to be a pre-teen I think – whose reign is nonetheless stained by his own internal demons and the heartlessness which he steeped himself in to take power.  Nike meanwhile comes from a poor as shit country at the ass end of the world, the Rain Country, where royalty doesn’t really behave all that differently to average citizenry.  In fact when Livy demands a Rain princess for his bride – because he wants power over the weather to combat the sun for which is own country is named – Nike is sent because she lost the 4-way rock-paper-scissors match between the princesses.  What really makes these too such a great pair is that while Livy is a man above the people in many regards, both in his own attitude and in his understanding of greater political movements or complex problems, Nike is definitely a woman of the people.  She struggles with expectations of royalty and formality but thrives on interpersonal relations, rapidly making connections with anyone be they royalty or peasant.  Nike also has weather altering magic which is why Livy wanted a Rain princess to begin with, and she uses her powers mostly to teach Livy about the importance of his emotional development and doing the right thing for the right reason – in contrast to his old approach of doing the right thing for the wrong reason or vice versa.  Both Nike and Livy are great characters in their own right, which is why this show manages to break into this list despite the shoujo label.  Most of the time I find shoujo stories to be pretty insufferable because the characters are fucking boring so I have no reason to be invested in the drama and the romance.  That’s not the case here, this show could probably be about anything and so long as Livy and Nike were in it I’d have a good time.  Definitely worth a watch, especially for anyone starving for good romances.

 

46 – Steins;Gate

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Steins:Gate is, in my opinion, the greatest time travel story ever made (if we discount all that Zero garbage).  As someone who generally finds time travel annoying as it’s almost always used for narrative convenience, I fell in love with Steins;Gate right away despite my reticence about the subject matter.  Part of this was due to the unusual presentation of the early episodes but it’s mainly because of the characters, with Okarin in particular getting me super invested early on.  The actual tech involved in the time travel is basically a random stroke of bullshit but the mechanics of time travel are simple but interesting and used very well in the story.  The fact that the time travel was very important to the story and used for serious character development rather narrative convenience was a huge breath of fresh air for me and really helped keep me working through the slower parts of the story, where we get to know the characters, who we absolutely need to love for the drama of the later parts of the show to really hit home.  Luckily the characters are fantastic and do a great job of drawing you in.  If you haven’t seen this already you should absolutely give it a try.

 

47 – Suisei no Gargantia

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I’ve never been a big fan of Mecha shows but Suisei no Gargantia won me over right away with it’s pretty unique premise and totally unique environments.  For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a about a young soldier, Ledo, who has been cast adrift by a wormhole travel error after a major engagement against alien forces and arrives at, of all places, Earth.  The humans of Earth are significantly more primitive and live on giant clusters of ships, and while they technically have mechs, their mechs are more like forklifts in a humanoid shape than a proper Gundam.  Ledo meanwhile comes from an advanced space-faring branch of humanity, who believe Earth is either a myth or long since frozen over, and has the only mech worth considering for 90% of the show.  Rather than this being a giant battle of mechs, the show is really about Ledo learning how to adjust to a life without combat, where there isn’t much if any war and conflict avoidance is the first priority.  I personally love this kind of character, the soldier who is either so consumed by war or started fighting so young that it’s all they really know and so struggle to adjust to peace.  The mass of interconnected ships, especially with the locks, cranes and rust make for some of the coolest and most striking environs of the decade and while the characters and story beats are generally quite simple, they are nonetheless compelling and make for an easy digestible story so you can focus on all the detail poured into the environments, society and culture which are the backbone of the show.  It’s very memorable and a solid show if not one of the true greats of the decade, definitely still worth a watch.

 

48 – Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen

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This show was certainly one most surprising treats of the decade for me, seeing as the original Utawarerumono came out in like 2008 and remains one my favorite shows of all time.  Sadly the sequel, Itsuwari no Kamen is noticeably weaker than the original – with a bunch of jokes that feel more like meta appeals to fans than in-universe culture and a much slower story.  To it’s credit Itsuwari no Kamen does cram in a ton of story compared to most anime without ever feeling rushed, and it has room to dedicate entire episodes to let us bond with the various individual members of the large cast, but since the original Utawarerumono was for my money the most content-dense 24 episode show of all time Itsuwari no Kamen definitely takes a hit in this regard.  Another bizarre change is the toning down of realism and the sudden changes in power levels that requires. While all the people with fake masks having knock-off versions of Hakuoro’s powers makes sense, why can a swordsman like Yakutowaruto level a city block with his technique?  He’s not from the same race as Karura, who were the only group were aware of having the super strength.  And hilariously it means when Yakutowaruto has to fight Kuro, who by the end of the original is basically the weakest of the main characters, and gets his ass handed to him, Kuro has to be way more badass in Itsuwari no Kamen than he was in the original, by doing things like shrugging off an explosion.  There are other minor details like this but overall the show is very good.  It has a large and mostly lovable cast, multiple wars from the various beastmen cultures, expands the world building laid out in the original and great visuals to boot.  It’s not on the original’s level but it is still a very good show, far better than most anime you’d find in any given season.  Give it a try it’s well worth your time.

 

49 – Youjo Senki

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On the one hand this is an anime with a serious visual problem, it looks quite terrible and even the movie sequel sets the bar about as low as I’ve ever seen for anime movies.  That being said I don’t give a shit because this definitely one of my favorite shows of the decade.  The WWI but with magic and emerging WWII tech makes for a great setting and there are all kinds of nods to historical events such as the Romanian invasion in utterly failing.  But as much as I love the setting, I think it’s the prevailing attitude of the show which really makes it a winner.  Tanya is just the right blend of ruthless sociopath, corporate asshole and incidental heroine to make her an incredibly fun character who makes all kinds of seemingly crazy choices based on her prior life’s knowledge of the events of WWI & WWII.  It also gives her a ton of room to maneuver in the story, she can work with  logistics and organization, develop new tactics, and still have time to get in dogfights with planes and bombard poor infantrymen stuck in the trenches.  The show is also just a great deal of fun, allowing you to revel in Tanya’s evil qualities when she succeeds with ease but to also appreciate their genuine heroism and patriotism of her men when the going gets tough.  Moreover while the in-universe events are taken seriously by the characters, the show does not take itself overly seriously at all, adding to the fun.  The anime is quite ugly but everything else makes up for it so well I’d be mad not to recommend you give it a try, this show is way too fun to pass up.

 

50 – Zombieland Saga

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Of all the shows to come out this decade, Zombieland Saga would be my number 1 surprise hit.  Zombie idols was possibly the best thing to ever comes out of the idol show genre despite other strong contenders like Gokudolls coming out at roughly the same time.  But where Gokudolls was basically just funny, with very limited character development, Zombieland Saga puts a lot more focus on the characters.  How talented were they in life?  Can they square their new existence as zombies or will they wallow around in a funk forever?  Will the Legendary Tae-chan ever regain her ability to speak and function like a human being?  The show tackles all of these difficult questions and more in a story about a bunch of girls with terrible luck getting a second chance at well, existing and maybe pursuing happiness.  Also they do a whole bunch of random marketing shit like mud runs, fast food commercials and mini-concerts sponsored by new products.  Personally I found all the characters to be really interesting or otherwise enjoyable, and some of them had seriously powerful story beats like Lily getting to sing a love song for the father she left behind, Junko’s and Ai’s differing philosophies as idols from different decades and how they clash before eventually supporting each other, Saki getting to help out her best friend’s daughter and – though the presentation was a bit heavy handed – Sakura’s total transformation when she regains her memories.  The concerts are also a treat, because despite the frankly terrible visuals, the songs cover a wide variety of genres and are full of random yet awesome incidents.  We have death metal idols with neck-breaking headbanging, improv rap battle, the sudden techno remix made possible by lightning strike and other hilarious events.  The show is a ton of fun with occasional segments for heavier, more dramatic story bits which only add to the overall story and presentation.  Well worth your time, go watch it.

Unpopular Opinion: Babylon

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This will contain major spoilers for episodes 1-7 of Babylon.  You’ve been warned.

Babylon is an interesting show, arguably one of best of the season, despite it’s relatively low profile.  It’s a mystery, thriller, cop procedural with a lot of strong elements.  The presentation is solid and the characters are believably human though several of the main characters either feel especially strongly about certain things or have very weird ideas regarding how society should function.

The backdrop to the mystery, thriller is a great idea in concept as well.  A new city called Shiniki is being developed in part of Tokyo, in an effort to revitalize the economy.  This is just a cover though, the real aim of this new city is that it’s a new Special Administrative zone with a great deal of autonomy – and the politicians running for Shiniki mayor want to use it as a testing ground for new laws, and potentially even systems of government.

Enter our protagonist, Seizaki Zen.  His jobs looks like a portmanteau of police inspector and criminal prosecutor, with him going in person to seize evidence but also reading through all the evidence to build a legal case against the suspects.  He gets involved because of an unusual suicide, a noteworthy pharmaceutical researcher, who is backing one of the main candidates for Shiniki mayor.  The sudden suicide causes Seizaki to investigate the political party in question and finds evidence what looks to be a prostitution ring set up to gather votes.  However a few things don’t add up, like certain groups involved seem to backing different candidates and so on.

This is all basically a giant misdirection however.  It turns out at the very least, the current lead candidate – a former high level politician – and a few other keys officials, notably Seizaki’s boss, have hatched a plan to make the most of Shiniki’s secret function, the testing ground for laws.  The lead candidate is going to back out so that a young man, unaffiliated with any political party can win the race, allowing the old political veterans to run things from behind the scenes.

This is brings me to my first issue with the show, though it is a very minor one.  First of all, this definitely a lesson in the “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” handbook.  As soon as our young candidate wins the mayoral election, he fucking disappears with all the necessary documents, throwing everyone else into disarray as they still have to elect the rest of the city council.  I sort of question why the older politicians didn’t just take charge and run this themselves.  I see the appeal in pretending to let the new blood run things, while managing the real power behind closed doors but anyone with  half a brain should know better than to hand someone significant power on a plate, especially when there is no guarantee you actually control them.  Maybe it’s about reputation, maybe it has more to do with Japanese culture and I’m missing something, or maybe the older politicians just thought working behind the scenes would be more efficient – I can’t say for sure.  All I can say is that you have to be careful when setting up a figurehead, and they did a terrible job on that front.

The story is further confused as not only does Seizaki’s partner suddenly commit suicide before the election, but after Itsuki, the new mayor, disappears a whole bunch of people jump off the new city hall building – including the cop who was with Seizaki when he interrogated one of the suspected prostitutes.  Turns out all of the “prostitutes” were one woman and far from being a prostitute she was apparently crucial to making Shiniki’s secret function possible.  I’ll get back to this mystery woman later.  Following the group suicide Itsuki proposes that Shiniki institute a new law making suicide legal.  This understandably causes an uproar since it looks like it’s tied to the group suicide.

Seizaki is put in charge of a task force to build the case to arrest Itsuki, so that the older politicians can take charge.  This effort ultimately fails so instead the entire task force prepares to kidnap Itsuki after a debate he has with 4 city council candidates about the suicide law.  This too is thwarted when almost the entire task force commits suicide, including one of Seizaki’s close friends.  As the friend describes it, all it took was a whisper from the mystery woman and he wanted to kill himself.  Technically he describes this overwhelming sensation of overflowing but I’m less interested in that and more focused on the practical results, a lot of people die and Itsuki evades capture.

Maybe it doesn’t come across this way as I describe it but for the most part Babylon is a very gripping and interesting show.  There are however two major problems I have and they are basically the fulcrums around which the entire story revolves.  Let’s start with the suicide law.

Just to set my own bias down, I personally think suicide it ultimately an act of weakness and cowardice.  Living is difficult, for all the joys of life there many struggles and hurdles as well, and while it takes more than a little effort to overcome our biological imperative to stay alive, ultimately I think dying is much easier than living.  So obviously I’m against the proposed suicide law, but that’s not really my problem as far as the show is concerned.  My main problem was the debate about the law and fucking failure that it was.  Big concept stuff like this always risky especially in a tiny package, with a lot of other material to cover – i.e. this anime.

The suicide debate was a joke, the character who was supposed to have the strongest against it had a garbage argument about how we can’t be rational about death.  Meanwhile the other 3 against who argued from the moral, potential increase in suicide due it being legal, and economic sides of the argument were basically brushed aside by one-liners from Itsuki.  The fact that the show – via Seizaki and Co. – was like, “Nani!  He knocked down all the arguments against the suicide law!” was retarded.  Itsuki didn’t refute jack shit, he gave them one line responses about unrelated, or at best tangentially related topics, like weed usage and suicide during the Roman Empire – and he backed none of it up.  This is one of problems with anime digging into new social, moral and legal concepts, these concepts need to be thoroughly fleshed out to be convincing/interesting and most anime are too short or have too much else to cover to flesh them out.

The way I see it there are three arguments for the suicide law that hold any merit whatsoever.  Euthanasia, which I believe is legal in many countries.  Let’s say you’re old and dying or have late stage cancer and would rather go without anymore pain – you ask the doctors to put you down and die in peace.  I’m actually for this because I don’t see why you should have to suffer when there is no hope of recovery.  Also rather than be a potential financial burden on your family in your old age you can die before the medical bills really start racking up as you degrade due to old age.  I think we’d need to set fairly strict stipulations on its use in practice but in principle I’m ok with euthanasia for people with no hope of recovery.

The second is a liberty argument.  Basically do you have the right to die whenever you want to you, by whatever means you want to?  Suicide is a weird thing to be illegal in the sense that you can’t charge a corpse with a crime.  However people can be convinced of things, so presumably the law is mostly there to punish those who might convince others to commit suicide rather than the suicides themselves because there’s not much you can do to the suicides.  If suicide is not illegal, can you be punished for convincing someone to commit suicide?  Hard to say, and this will be a major issue with the suicide law since our mystery woman apparently has godlike charisma and can cause anyone to commit suicide with nothing more than a whisper.  My guess is that this part of the law is what Itsuki is trying to subvert because it advances the mystery woman’s agenda because she can make anyone commit suicide, and if the suicide law passed, presumably she could do so without any legal repercussions.

The third argument for the suicide law is one that appears after the debate is already over when a kid, who made a viral video asking everyone to fight against the suicide law because his dad was going to kill himself, is brought on stage.  Turns out it’s actually Itsuki’s son and he apparently has some kind of heart condition.  Itsuki seems to be framing his desire for suicide as a means by which to facilitate organ transplant to save his sons life.  This to me is by far the most interesting argument for a suicide law, whereby someone who doesn’t want to live, dies and gives up their organs to those in need.  It’s messy because if the suicide were expressly for the purpose of organ donation then it seems moral, even heroic in a sense, to sacrifice your own life for someone else’s.  At the same time though the suicide law does not stipulate that you have to donate your organs, so while it could be used for a moral cause there’s no way force everyone to be moral.

If I were to support a suicide law, not the one the show proposes but one for the real world, I think euthanasia and suicide for the express purpose of organ donation would be just about the only things I could support.  And frankly it’s a shame that this isn’t addressed in more depth because I think Babylon could have a been great on this front if the show were basically about nothing but the suicide law debate.  If this show had the political maneuvering of the early episodes and then built up to a major debate on the topic of the suicide law, the climax of the show, with in-depth, nuanced arguments backed by relevant data as well anecdotal stories and fully realized character motivations and backstories – then it could have not only made the concept interesting but would have made for one the best political shows of all time.  Instead I think Babylon will fall apart because of major problem number 2, the mystery woman – Magase Ai.

In fairness to the show I think the focus of Babylon will be on juxtaposition of making suicide, and by extension persuasion to commit suicide, legal and the malicious magical suicide inducing whispers of Magase Ai.  Magase is a character who I think is fairly interesting in concept but I’m very worried about the execution.  For starters how does she even exist?  Let’s assume for a minute that her charisma is natural, that she has a naturally overwhelming presence and such awareness and command of her body that her ability to persuade and make others feel things with verbal and non-verbal cues borders on magical.  How can she appear as so many different women?  This setting takes place on earth and no fantastical powers are in play, at least that’s how things have been presented.  Magase is not a secret agent and the differences between her various appearances are too great for it be a disguise, and by the way if they explain her away as having a bunch of different disguises that would kill the mystery for me.  How in the fuck is she a shapeshifter to the degree that she can be mistaken for Itsuki’s wife?  How?  Does this not fly in the face of all the grounded realism of everything else in the show?

Moreover what worries me is that her character is consistent, in the sense that she appears to be Chaotic Evil by D & D standards.  Not only does she enjoy doing bad things, she does them for their own sake and wants to communicate to Seizaki, a person who is just, that evil has a purpose.  Which she does by dismembering a woman, presumably Sekuro his new partner, and causing the task force to commit suicide.  We know that Seizaki has a family and they now have a giant death flag as well.  So my worries are two fold, one this show will degenerate into an edgy, shock value story that survives on you not understanding how anything works and only being invested in how much damage Magase wants to do to Seizaki for her own twisted ends.  And two, that the reason Magase has the shapeshifting power is so Seizaki doesn’t do the logical thing, put in ear plugs and gun her down as soon as he sees her.  Because he totally could, if she couldn’t shapeshift.  I REALLY don’t like it when people are given abilities they shouldn’t have because the plot basically demands that they have them.

I am still going to watch the show, but putting my thought on paper has really helped me pin down my overall feelings on it.  I’m seriously worried this will fall apart.  It’s been very good up until now, but the suicide debate, which should have been a major event, was a joke and the story has become much less about the suicide law and more about Magase Ai.  And while I’m interested conceptually in a thriller centered around someone who is essentially a malevolent shapeshifting succubus, I’m worried about the execution.  Frankly I think Magase would be a much more interesting character if she were a literal succubus in a fantasy setting.  Imagine if Magase was in a Game of Thrones kind of setting, where a whispered word could cause suspicious political deaths and she could charm the influential to do her bidding.  Not only would she fit better into that kind of setting with the powers she seems to have but I think you could make her far more dangerous in a medieval fantasy world, where there would be fewer records of her behavior and people with any kind of authority to go after her would be few and far between.

Heil Tanya the Evil: A Masterclass in Film Sequels

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Word of warning this review will totally spoil the shit out of Youjo Senki aka Tanya the Evil, both the tv season and the recent film sequel.  If you wish to avoid spoilers don’t read it.  Also if you want to get an idea of where I’m coming from this post summarizes my thoughts on the tv season pretty well.

Man it’s good to be back.  In the off chance you read the review linked above, know that my love for this show has only increased in the time between its initial airing and the film.  It’s the perfect blend of goofiness, edge, historical accuracy and historical fiction, and it always puts a giant dumb grin on my face.

To quickly sum up my thoughts on the tv season, it was great.  The setting, an alt-universe early 20th century world with limited magic and a world war brewing was a great backdrop, especially with our main character basically walking into this by successfully arguing with God that faith is much more prevalent in hardship.  And if for some reason you’re reading this without having seen any of Youjo Senki, yes I know the premise sounds stupid beyond belief.  But as something of an expert on stupid, this show is definitely the best kind of stupid, it does not take itself seriously, at least not in how it’s presented to the audience and just runs with it’s crazy ideas.  Which makes it all the more surprising that the narrative is also able to portray how gripping and intense this war is to the characters.

Make no mistake this show, despite how OP the main character appears throughout most of the tv season, Youjo Senki presents one of the most tightrope tense war scenarios I’ve ever seen.  Because the tech is a weird blend of real world WWI & WWII, in addition to magic troops, the war plays out much more dynamically than most of our WWI that it technically is representing.  WWI was a slow war where the defense was utterly dominant because most of the generals had not adjusted their tactics to the capability of modern tech.  Hence why some WWI armies still had honest to God cavalry units, and one Russian general in particular even believed large cavalry units could not be surpassed even by tanks… let’s just say he’s still blushing from embarrassment in his grave.  WWI was a serious paradigm shift and the tv season did a really solid of job of portraying that.  Dakia was the most blatant example with the imbecilic military of this fictional Romania fighting in unit squares, not using any air power or encrypting communications.  However it proved true as well in the attack on the Orse Fjord, where the Empire used a combination of newer troop types to create tactical breakthroughs that saw the Empire crush a vital naval defense that was considered unassailable.

The tv season is peppered throughout with accurate historical details, like the horror of trench warfare, the incompetence of certain militaries and the growing pains of armies going through major new technological developments.  This holds true in the film sequel as well, in particular regarding it’s portrayal of Communist Russia.  In the film, there’s blatant party corruption, messages passed on to leadership are often falsified to appear more positive, poor or lacking equipment plagues the army, troops who run are shot by their officers and the signature “quantity has a quality all of it’s own” approach that has been a staple modern Russian armies all make an appearance.  Perhaps the most interesting detail though was that all of native Russian mage units were gulaged because of communist ideology.  This at a time when mages were proving to be vital units in the conflict as shown primarily through Tanya’s strike force and the huge impact her small, but elite, highly mobile and well armed troops have proven to be.

This leads to arguably the best part of the film, Tanya’s attack on Moska (alt-universe Moscow).  After spotting Federation (Russian) troop movements at the eastern border of the Empire, followed swiftly by a large scale attack across the eastern front, Tanya decides the best way to aid the defenders is by attacking Moska.  This would cause a panic internally, be a huge blow to morale and all but necessitate withdrawing some forces back – thus easing the pressure on the front lines.  The attack is much like the one in Dakia during the tv season, but where the raid on Dakia was a brief bombardment with some hilarity on the side, the raid on Moska is the same thing taken to the next level.  The raid is punishingly successful, because Moska has limited air defenses and no mages to counterattack Tanya’s wing (50ish man unit).  This leads to long minutes of satisfying scenes of explosions and one-sided dominance, as Tanya and Co. not only attack strategic targets but make a complete mockery of the Federation, knocking down a giant statue of Stalin, planting Empire flags all of the city, and singing patriotic music while filming their exploits.  That’s winning so hard you can’t help but laugh.

However the Federation’s incompetence and lack of mages leads to the other big draw of this film, Mary Sioux.  Mary was hinted at the very end of the tv season and boy does she make her mark in this film.  The daughter of one of Tanya’s toughest opponents from the tv season, Mary has the right blend of youthful idealism and justifiable grudges against Tanya and the Empire to be a character you can totally sympathize with.  In a relatively short span, she’s lost her country, her home and her father – and Tanya played a decisive role in this, though Mary does not know that.  What she does know however is that the Empire has to opposed for what they’ve done – which is mildly ironic considering all of the nations it subdued during the tv season attacked the Empire first but never mind – and that Tanya killed her dad and stole his machine gun, her parting gift to him; which she finds out when Tanya slams the fucker butt first into Mary’s gut.  This understandably upsets Mary and triggers an influx of divine power so massive Tanya is visibly shaken and starts firing full auto at a girl she had dead to rights in the hope of immediately destroying the threat.

In a very real sense Mary is the heart of this film and the creators knew it.  Tanya is still much the same as she was during the tv season, a twisted but intelligent person who uses her knowledge of our WWI & WWII to her and the Empire’s advantage.  She gleefully mocks her opponents, makes edgy faces and wrecks shit – at least early on.  What the second half of the film captured was something almost entirely absent from the tv season, save for the final duel with Mary’s father, Tanya and Co. being pushed to their limits or even overwhelmed.  Part of what the tv season fairly goofy, in meta sense, was just how dominant Tanya and her men were.  In the film they start off much the same way, crushing their foes, destroying important targets and laughing it up as the pwn all enemy noobs.  But Mary flips the table.  In a personal sense she far outshines any other mage, even Tanya, who is only able to beat Mary by taking advantage of Mary’s rage and lack of experience, but also in a macro-sense.  Mary’s awakening for lack of a better word is followed by a major offensive from the Federation on Tiegenhoff, an isolated but superb defensive position, that was cut off during the Federation’s large scale advance.  The local soldiers and Tanya, who reinforces the locals, have to face off against enemies who outnumber them between 4-9 to 1 and that’s just the ground troops.

The sheer size of the offensive means that Tanya and the locals have to face a full on assault for more than 24 hrs straight, culminating in a final infantry push, accompanied by a mage wing attack aiming to crush the local General Staff and a some bombers with a large escort of fighters.  Mary is of course a major factor as well, as she has recovered from her wounds in Moska and is now the single most powerful mage on the battlefield.  And while Tanya and the Empire do win, it’s not like the wins from before, either in Moska or in the tv season.  This is not a decisive victory with lots of celebration afterwards.  This is a win by the skin of their teeth, managed only by the heroic resistance of the local troops, the quality and experience of Tanya’s men and Tanya being able to effectively tie up Mary, significantly reducing her value as a military asset.  Mary’s great weakness is that she’s still raw and emotional, she doesn’t have the maturity or experience to set her emotions aside and fight tactically.  If she had then Tanya and the Empire would have lost.  Instead consumed by her righteous rage, she engages in a tense and frenetic duel with Tanya, with both girls pulling out all the stops and in the end both take significant wounds but are unable to kill the other.

The bits where Tanya’s troops split their forces is desperate bid to destroy the bombers was also fantastic.  The major members of her wing have been made memorable during the tv season because of how vital and competent they are but this is their crowning achievement.  For once they are bereft of their commander’s dominant strength as a mage, and they have to fight their way throw a horde of fighters to bring down the few but far more important bombers.  Honestly watching the guys struggle so hard, while doing their best to show their bravado and tactical acumen was really fun and it was punctuated by some really satisfying moments, like when one of the captains charges a plane with a his ensorcelled bayonet and chops the the wing off, or when a ragged squad just barely makes it high enough to shoot down the bombers in the nick of time.  The action in this film was top tier, the best of what Youjo Senki has to offer.  It’s mastery of the fun violence early on and the tooth and nail struggle in the latter half made the film a total blast.

Just about the only thing the film lacks in comparison to the tv season are the longer tense strategy meetings, because it just doesn’t have the time to develop giant game changing strategies like the attack on Orse Fjord or the encirclement of the entire Republican army.  Instead it shows and discusses great tactics but it their just isn’t enough to time to really go all in at the strategic level (for those not all that into military history, tactical level and strategic level are totally different, tactics are the means by which you win battles while strategies are the means by which you win wars – that’s a very crude way to put it but it should get the difference in scale across).  One other mark against the film is that is one of the worst looking films I have ever seen.  It looks about the same as the tv season, maybe a little better considering the amount of detailed city environments, but considering that films are generally supposed to look way better than tv anime, it has to be said that the Youjo Senki film sets the bar pretty damn low.  Personally I didn’t mind because I like the show enough to get past the lacking visuals but I can see how it could be a major point of contention to some people.

In conclusion this film is fucking great.  It fully delivers on the best of the Youjo Senki experience from the tv season, in a short, concise package.  It has moments of levity and even comedy contrasted with long, tense battle scenes.  Mary made a phenomenal debut, bringing an largely unseen emotional intensity to the series.  Seriously I think they did great job with Mary, especially balancing the parts of her character that easy to sympathize with the contrast to her almost bestial rage and boundless hatred towards Tanya.  She was someone it was easy to get behind on the one side but easy to root against because of just how consumed by anger she was in combination with her clear advantage in power.  Plus finally having Tanya face someone who wasn’t just a challenge but an implacable and almost totally overwhelming foe really added a new dimension to Youjo Senki, and it was welcome break from the big, mostly one-sided winning streak that preceded Mary’s arrival.  If you’re a fan of Youjo Senki, this film is a must watch.  If you’ve not seen any Youjo Senki and still made it through this review, go watch it.  The show is easily a 9 in my book, not that I’m fond of numeric ratings but whatever it gives some perspective to those who like scores, and the film is at least a 9 as well.  I highly recommend them both.  See you in the next one.