Understanding Re:Creators – Mind Over Matter

 

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Re:Creators episode 17 proves 2 things beyond a shadow of a doubt. 1 – Setsuna is even more pathetic I expected (see this and this for reference) because instead of just committing suicide she also wrote revenge into Altair’s story.  2 – The real villains of this story aren’t the people with evil intent, it’s the people who refuse to open their minds and engage with this world.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Re:Creators planted the seeds for the second revelation a long time ago and now as the show steadily makes it’s way to the climax those seeds have borne fruit.  The idea that the characters could and in all known cases would change by engaging with the world of the “gods” was established early on to excellent effect.  Mamika was the main poster child of this idea as her character evolved the most rapidly but Meteora playing the game she was from to affirm her creator’s love of the world and the personal growth which resulted from it was another great example.  Enter Blitz.  Blitz has had the least amount of screen time relative to how long he’s been in our world among the Creations.  All we really know about him is that he’s an older mercenary type, fights with a gun and has gadgets which can mess with gravity, and that he’s from what looks to be a popular seinen manga.  And most importantly he was forced to kill his own daughter in the manga and this is the source of his grudge against his Creator – and why he’s on Altair’s side.

Where I think Blitz starts getting interesting is in two short scenes where he talks with fellow Creations on Altair’s side, because the two reactions he gets pretty much lays out the basis for this post’s thesis – the villains are those who refuse to think for themselves.  In the first of these scenes Blitz talks with Aliceteria and this exchange goes quite poorly, Aliceteria shows no interest in Blitz’s reasoning and makes two crucial remarks, the first is that they can both read other’s stories to get an idea of why they act as they do, and more importantly that Blitz seemed fake or hollow compared to Mamika.  This is of course reflective of the rift forming between Aliceteria and her fellow Altair-followers, she is starting to think for herself and it more or less causes her to change teams overnight.  The second remark is especially important as I think it best details the difference between the villains and heroes of Re:Creators – those who can think and grow soon find those who cannot to be fake or hollow in comparison, and they reject this fakeness/hollowness.  Aliceteria even reaches out to Magane (BEST GIRL) at one point, even though she hates Magane, because she at least Magane isn’t like Blitz or Altair.

The second exchange this one between Blitz and Shou (the hero character and rival to Yuya) where Shou shows no interest in bringing down his creator to fix the parts of the story he doesn’t like – like his sister’s death at Yuya’s hands – but instead wants to settle accounts with Yuya.  This reaction is exactly what you’d expect from the character in the game, he’s not grown at all since coming to our world and he’s not even invested in Altair’s goal – he just wants follow the scenario laid out for him in the game by his Creator and joins Altair’s side because Yuya is on the other side.  This is to say Shou is not a villain in the same sense as Altair, he’s not trying to destroy the world because he doesn’t give a shit about the wider implications of either the world of the “gods” or Altair’s plan – he just wants to fight Yuya.  But because he’s mindlessly on Altair’s side he is still a villain, his willful ignorance is his own undoing.  Because I very much doubt he’d be on Altair’s side if he really knew what she was doing and had engages with the world at all, because he’s a hero – I expect given the chance he would’ve either switched sides or tried to stop Altair on his own Mamika-style.

What this is all building up to though is episode 17, specifically the scene where Blitz confronts his Creator.  This confrontation is ultimately the most important one, it means far more than the flashy fight with Altair (who I admit largely bores me at this point since all she ever seems to be is invincible).  In the beginning of this confrontation Blitz is hostile to his Creator and even shoots her after confirming that the reason he had to kill his daughter was because the Creator thought it would make the story more interesting.  Up through the shooting Blitz is the one in control of the situation though his Creator proves that he hasn’t learned a thing from this world right away by predicting specific phrases in his speech and saying that they were the exact lines she’d have him say in the scenario.  This control shifts after the shooting though and the main spark is that Blitz continues to think of his own Creator as a devil while he thinks Setsuna is worthy of praise.

This line in particular sets his Creator and me off.  Setsuna is not worthy of praise, she is not special because she was rejected by the wider world.  As his Creator aptly explains Setsuna creating a character to get revenge for her isn’t even a story – it’s drivel masquerading as speech.  This is because Setsuna is a child, she was enjoying steadily growing success up to that point and then when she hits her first real roadblock she killed herself and blamed the world for all her problems.  What she seemingly failed to realize is as Blitz’s creator points out, no one is successful at first – or as I prefer, you have to suck at something before you get good at it.  And as Blitz’s creator  describes with total accuracy even when make something that’s accepted it’s never good enough.  You run into people you think are better than you and strive to grow or get depressed, and then you get back to work.

I can vouch for everything she said because I feel the same way.  I’ve tried writing plenty of stories I scrapped for being too shit before starting one I was semi-ok with – and even then I keep going through the parts I’ve written and messing with things, worrying that the pacing is too fast or the narration too confusing.  Likewise I’ve done some pretty expansive mods that totally overhaul a game’s campaign, units and map – and then I play it for a while and get struck with the “this isn’t good enough” feeling, like this version doesn’t add up what I’d envisioned when I started it and I need to do more before I finally reach that perfect version locked in my head – which I know for fact I will never reach.  It’s constant, you finish something creative and then wonder how to do it better and then you work on it again and this cycle repeats endlessly.  Even with this blog which is only 2 years old I’ve found posts I was embarrassed to have written, things that make me feel like I am indeed shit at writing.

Getting away from me though, what Blitz’s Creator reveals is how rigid Blitz’s thinking is and, to me at least, the inherent contradiction of praising a Creator who failed and gave up while demeaning and demonizing Creators who succeeded and continue to work – all while claiming to hate Creators and their world.  Blitz thinks his only option is to kill his Creator and help Altair end it all  He doesn’t even consider that his Creator could bring his daughter back – and use that to win him over to heroes’ side.  This is of course the great sin of Re:Creator’s villains they don’t think, they see a final destructive solution as the only way out of their problems – much like Setsuna – and this close mindedness is a gigantic weakness which can be exploited.

Re:Creators has shown over the course of it’s current run time that thinking and planning are ultimately more important than raw power and fighting.  This episode especially proves the effectiveness of a good plan as the gap in power between Blitz and his Creator is gigantic – however as his Creator proves Blitz’s in ability to think freely is an equally gigantic weakness and one which he is punished for, as he Creator can smugly claim “I’m your god” once the tables are turned.  I also want to give a big shout out to Sota in this point as well.  I gave him credit for standing up to Aliceteria in a prior post but his contribution far exceeds that, because it’s the from engaging with him and his ideas that Aliceteria can begin to grow and switch sides.  At this point it would be no exaggeration to say Sota has made the single largest contribution to the heroes’ fighting power since all the Creations were assembled.  I for one deeply appreciate and enjoy how freedom of thought is treated by Re:Creators and I hope you found my analysis of it interesting.  See you in the next one.

Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the easternmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy -no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: Can You Spin Gold from Generic Garbage & Re:Creators

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Before I get into this let me just clarify that I don’t think Re:Creators is generic garbage, that label applies to a specific aspect of the show and not the entire show.  This was inspired by a recent YouTube video from Mother’s Basement, who I rarely watch because I so often disagree with him and his endless schilling is a new style of cringe to me.  The video was making the argument that Re:Creators has the potential to become an anime classic citing it’s status as relatively high profile original anime, excellent meta-commentary on storytelling and how that is woven into the story, and strong character writing.  Of the three claims the last by far the most contentious where the audience is concerned, with many people openly hating the male lead Sota and just being skeptical to the idea these characters are well written.  This is to be expected though because most of the characters look and act like generic ones.  I mean we have two light novel princesses one from a scifi world and the other from a fantasy world, a magical girl, a teenage mecha pilot, an NPC that probably functioned like the player’s index and quest guide based on her position, what looks like a Persona character, the false-ish character Altair and Blitz Talker whom I have no generic equivalent for because he’s had like 5 lines and 1 scene so far.

However that is kind of the point, and Mother’s Basement sort of address it with regards to one of the best characters Magical Slayer Mamika, but I don’t think he put in enough time with the other characters to really get this across.  One of the main conceits of the story as it continues is that while the characters were initially defined by whatever text their author ascribed to them, they either have changed, are changing or have the potential to change.  Mamika is good case study for this.  Mamika comes from a world with no nuance whatsoever, a kid’s show which has obvious villains and no concept of pain or damage.  This is a problem for a few reasons.  Mamika is easy to trick, is herself an incredibly simple and generic character (at first), and has no qualms attacking people because again no concept of pain or death.  She’s also among the outright strongest characters in the show and she demolishes a business park before she’s realized what her power is capable of and that oh shit violence has consequences.  Perhaps because she is the simplest character she is also the one who evolves the most.

After realizing that her opponents were not in fact villains Mamika becomes much more aware of how much more complex our world is than hers and takes significant steps to understand the world, her opponents and her allies.  She spies on and eventually confronts Altair when she finds out Altair is really a villain masking her true intentions.  She secretly meets with Sota to try and get a better understand of both sides in the conflict.  She breaks up the major fight in episode 5 because she recognizes that both sides have good people on them and doesn’t see why they have to fight.  This also represents one of the in-universe shortfalls of her character, Mamika is still colored to a great degree by her character setting.  As Aliceteria puts it, Mamika’s ideas are often naive but Mamika is a good person.  As fast as Mamika is changing she still has a long ways to go before she turns into someone really special. However I agree wholeheartedly with Mother’s Basment’s sentiment that the idea of having a generic character evolve due to exposure to a more complex world is a great one and Mamika’s evolution is an absolute joy to watch.

Now let’s confront the elephant in the room, Sota.  I have seen a lot of hate for Sota and I don’t think it’s entirely undeserved, I too constantly wish he’d fucking grow a pair and just tell his allies what’s up.  I want him to communicate like a human being instead of stumbling through all of his goddamn sentences and doing his damnedest not to the point across.  However, I don’t think he’s badly written, certainly not based on the latest episode, though I do find it retarded he didn’t recognize Altair immediately since a, he made her and b, she’s a pretty distinct character.  His critics are calling him the new Shinji Ikari and to some extent I agree, which is why it almost baffles me that people think he’s a bad character.  Shinji is often mocked for being weak and wimpy but while that is true Shinji’s weaknesses are central not only to his character but to Evangelion as a show.  If Shinji were a badass then Evangelion would suck, the kind of story Evangelion is only works because everyone in it is broken to some extent and they’re still trying to do an important job.  Shinji’s weakness come for reasons we clearly understand, so him learning to overcome those weaknesses or fall to them is important to the story.  How Shinji is punished for his weakness also plays a major role in Evangelion and Evangelion is a classic anime.

What I trying to say is that Sota has the potential to be a great character.  He may be unlikable as shit, as Shinji is to many, but so long as his weakness has weight in the story and he has to own up to it somehow I think Sota will do just fine.  Based on Magane’s (BEST GIRL) observations and Sota’s stupidly roundabout hypothetical he asked Meteora it appears that Sota and Setsuna, the author Altair’s story, co-created her.  But we figured that out by like episode one.  What was more recently revealed was that Sota was the less talented of the two, or that’s how it seems based on how he framed the aforementioned hypothetical, and his frustrations with the gap in talent between the two led to them having a falling out, after which Setsuna committed suicide.  The timeline for this is somewhat unclear but it is clear that Sota knows Setsuna is dead and that is why he’s struggling both as an artist and a person.  He can’t come to terms with the fact that he sort of caused Setsuna to commit suicide and it’s crippling him, especially in the last few episodes as it becomes increasingly apparent that he will have to face what happened and he isn’t ready for that, so he does his best to hide it.

What Sota doesn’t realize though is that Setsuna committing suicide is not his fault.  Even if Setsuna blamed him for her hang ups and committed suicide, the fact is that she’s the one who chose to give into whatever pressures she was feeling and end it all.  He may feel responsible for it, which explains his behavior and his look of horror when Magane makes it clear she knows what’s up, but he’s not.  Knowing this only adds to him though because it makes sense for a teenager, well anyone really but teens especially, to feel as though they caused some to commit suicide and beat themselves up over it even though the responsibility for that decision lies with the suicide.  What Sota’s age prevents him from understanding is that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything, because at this stage in his life it’s expected that he’s owed certain things like an education, shelter, food, etc.  Setsuna may have felt lonely and rejected enough to commit suicide but that’s her problem, and if she had chosen to continue fighting the problem she might have found what she was looking for.  But she didn’t.  Which brings me to my next point.

Altair is a horribly unjustified villain and while the reveal of her motivations made me super mad, after some reflection I think it might turn out for the best.  Altair wants to destroy the world because it rejected Setsuna and Setsuna committed suicide.  It’s also implied Altair may be able to directly feel what Setsuna was feeling before she died.  Altair doesn’t give a fuck about anyone, she’ll destroy all of the worlds in existence just to take vengeance for her creator.  Because while she is inexplicably good at masking her intentions early on, when Mamika confronts her she basically becomes a Sasuke-by-proxy whining about how Mamika could never understand Setsuna’s pain, and Altair hates everything and she goes into a rage.  However as discussed above the world owed Setsuna nothing and Altair seems blind to that fact.  This has some interesting implications.  Altair claims that what she’s doing was her own choice not her character setting but despite her oddly formal style of speech and apparent levelheadedness she is apparently the only character who has not engaged the nuance of the real world at all.  She is acting like a child and while that does bother me because it seem inconsistent with her earlier appearances, the prospect of seeing a Sasuke-type character get the beatdown they deserve is something I’m hype for.

What Mother’s Basement’s video didn’t address, because it appears to have been written following episode 5 is the case of Magane.  Magane is a character who has refused to choose a side and instead thrives on her own.  For example it takes the whole team of good guys to come with the idea to try and give Silesia a new power via her author and artist, Magane on the other hand gets the same idea all on her own and is savvy enough to find her author and try the idea, and when it fails she kills him but says the fact that this experiment failed to change her was interesting in and of itself.  She’s also running around doing a fine job of collecting information without any assistance and she’s more or less cornered Sota because she figured him out.  Magane is a bit overblown and she follows a pretty distinct archetype but she also appears to be the most creatively written character out of the gate and this gives her a huge head start on everyone else.  While the good guys have to muddle their way through the information they have and the bad guys are basically in the dark, Magane navigates the world with ease and despite having only been a around a few episodes she seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else already.  Also I think she might be a reference to Bakemonogatari because her power comes from lies and wordplay and her “Peace. Yeah!” scene was very reminiscent of how Yotsugi changed her language to a faux American style after dropping the “I said with a posed look” line.

Basically what I wanted to say is that I think Mother’s Basement is onto to something.  Re:Creators is suffering somewhat from being very exposition heavy and how unlikable Sota is, but given time and vision those could be turned into advantages.  The way this show handles character growth is really fucking interesting in part because it’s so meta, a story full of characters from stories coming together in a new world.  It leads to some great stuff like how Meteora goes from an emotionless info-bot like her NPC role to someone who can properly express joy, kindness and warmth after playing the game she’s from and deciding the “creator” really cared about his story because of all the detail and how good the game was.  That’s some cool shit.  And just everything about Magane is fucking gold, seriously for all the moments Sota drags the show down by beating around the bush she lifts it up by cutting through all the bullshit.  I think Re:Creators has been pretty good so far and has the potential to be really good.  I’m looking forward to it and after reading this, hopefully you are as well.  See you in the next one.

PS: Fuck whoever wrote the fucking show synopsis for Re:Creators it sounded like the most pretentious light novel bullshit I’ve ever heard and it caused me to skip the show for weeks until I saw a good AMV and decided to try it.  Seriously I had no idea this was an original anime until yesterday because the synopsis was so bad I thought it had to be a light novel.  It would have been a thousand times better if you just said it was a show about a bunch of anime characters from different mediums and genres coming to together to fight each other.

Understanding Tone Shifts: Why Youjo Senki is my Top Anime of Winter 2017

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I know what you’re “supposed” to do is wait until the end of a season to tell everyone what you’re favorite show was but fuck rules, or even guidelines, because I already have my winner.  And I don’t say that lightly, this is a pretty fucking solid season of anime we’re talking about here and I fully expect that most people will totally disagree with me.  Hell I’m inclined to disagree with me, considering I’m pitting Youjo Senki against KonoSuba season 2, which is the most consistently hilarious show I’ve seen in a long time.  The following will be full of spoilers for a bunch of currently airing shows, you’ve been warned.

Like I said this is a solid season of anime.  Masamune-kun no Revenge is a cut above you’re normal slice-of-life romcom.  KonoSuba is fucking hilarious and even Gabriel Dropout has been pretty funny even if it’s been pretty inconsistent.  Kuzu no Honaki is the most interesting romance drama I’ve seen since Kimi ni Todoke season 1.  Little Witch Academia is a constant source of feel-good charm that I can hardly find anywhere and we’ve even got the low key but stylish as fuck ACCA.  However I think the crown jewel of the season is undoubtedly Youjo Senki.  Youjo Senki episode 8 is definitely the episode that heralded the sudden upsurge in my interest in my opinion of the show, but looking back the thing which made that episode stand out so much, a radical tone shift, was already present throughout the show albeit to far lesser degrees.  What this means, in short, is that I think Youjo Senki is probably the most well rounded show of the entire season, and going by episode one you’d never fucking guess that would be the case.  Let me break this down in more detail.

For those who haven’t seen Youjo Senki, it’s about an alternate world’s WWI with a few major differences, the most obvious being magic.  The lead character is a 12 year old girl named Tanya, or at least that’s what they look like.  In reality our main character is a 30-something (I assume) asshole of a man from our world who was reincarnated in this alternate world as a 12 year old girl as a trial from God or Being X as our main character calls him.  Our 12 year old girl, who has incredible magic power, with the brain of his former 30 year old self signs up for war to get a comfortable life as an officer and thus defy God because this trial was meant to convert him into one of the faithful by putting him in dire circumstances.  If you made through the last couple sentences without going “huh? or WTF?” then consider me impressed, this is a pretty fucking weird premise.  However as I’ve explained before premise is cheap, execution is what really matters and for the most part Youjo Senki has been able to pull it’s unusual premise off well.  And almost none of this present at all in episode 1, barring the interesting setting, episode one makes Youjo Senki look like an edgy action show that relies on shock value and explosions to sell itself.  Now it is that in part, but there’s so many other elements woven in that the edginess is a side note and doesn’t distract me in the slightest.

The main reason is that Youjo Senki includes a wide variety of scenes and tones, so much so that many of the worst ones easily get lost amid the all the shit happening, a trend made possible in part by the fact that the good scenes far outnumber the bad.  The biggest detractors from Youjo Senki are that it’s edgy, the art is definitely on the uglier side and episode 3 with the mad scientist was a goofy mess.  But Youjo Senki gets past it all.  Because it also delivers on major battles, solid strategic theories and discussion and even some fascinating changes to WWI.  In direct opposition to a show like Kuzu no Honkai which  consistently drives me insane by providing me with things I love and hate next one another with every episode, Youjo Senki is perfectly content to jump around and tell whatever kind of story it wants.  Because for all edgy action of episode 1, the action almost disappears completely until episode 5 with only one major exception.  On the whole though Youjo Senki is mostly fun, thanks to it being violent, funny and utterly insane.  Remember Tanya not only has had the mind of thirty year old from modern era since birth, she’s had the mind of thirty year old without a scrap of empathy for other people.

Jumping over to Masamune-kun no Revenge for a minute, what makes it more fun than the average high school romcom is that the main couple are both deplorable.  Masamune has devoted himself to being fit and becoming a hot guy just so he can date then dump Adagaki Aki.  He basks in the attention he gets for being hot but his behavior is decidedly shallow and his goals, while somewhat satisfying, are spiteful.  Adagaki on the other hand is horrible because she’s a bossy bitchy girl who humiliates any boy who comes her way.  She makes this even worse when shes says something to Masamune about how it hurts to get rejected (he had just rejected another girl’s advances) despite the fact she goes out of her way to reject people in the most painful way possible and somehow doesn’t see the dissonance between her actions and her sentiments.  Youjo Senki takes the deplorable main character thing and the goes to it’s extreme end point, someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone and will condemn people to miserable lives and later thousands of innocents to death for the sake of efficiently getting the next promotion.

Tanya’s shtick in both her current and previous lives is that she finds the easiest way to get a comfortable life by following and exploiting rules, first corporate rules and later military rules.  And she does a great job of showing how fucked up ordinary humans can be if they just follow the rules without injecting their own moral and emotional judgement into a situation.  What makes this interesting though is that Tanya is not punished for behaving this way.  Sure we know she’s a psychotic piece of shit, and she hasn’t gotten the easy life she wants, but she has swiftly risen up the ranks and garnered the attention of her ultimate superiors.  What’s more her ruthless approach works, her unit has been instrumental to several fronts already and her thesis on how to attack cities without holding back while still conforming to international law has already drastically altered tactics on both sides regarding cities, I’m sure the Republic (France) won’t attempt to use a city as a shield to delay the Empire (Germany) again.  Again and again Tanya proves that her ruthless tactics and exploitation of the rules are effective especially because she has knowledge about world wars that no one else does.  However amid all of this I have one problem with the label of “the Evil” for Tanya.

That may surprise you because Tanya is almost cartoonishly evil, she’s a ruthless murderer, has no empathy for other human beings and has no qualms condemning thousands of noncombatants to die.  But while all those things make her a criminal and villain she’s not evil in the sense that she’s working with the “bad guys,” because that implies that one side in the conflict is the morally superior.  There is no such side though and that brings to one of the biggest problems I have with other people talking about the show.  The consensus I’ve seen thus far is that the Empire and Tanya are representative of the Nazis and therefore are evil.  I disagree. Vehemently.  Remember this is WWI, not WWII and the Empire’s behavior has not at all resembled that of the Nazis (hell they even have the same gear and spiked helmets of the Prussian troops in WWI), the closest they get is when bomb Arene thanks to Tanya’s thesis but even that was clearly an outlier and surprised people on both sides (and that wasn’t even a Nazi thing so much as paradigm shift all sides adhered to in WWII).  In fact in this world, the Empire was invaded by the Republic and save for the invasion of Norden and the Entente Alliance, the Empire’s strategy is defensive.  In fact it parallels the Late Roman Empire’s strategy during the Hunnic invasions and subsequent barbarian migrations, to set up weaker border forces which would delay enemy invaders who would then be crushed by an elite mobile force.  The idea that the Empire is somehow the “bad guy” of the war is ridiculous, the only country which could consider them as such is the Entente Alliance because the Empire was the aggressor on that front.

In fact if anyone is evil it’s Being X who is actively fucking with people’s minds and free will to accelerate the war and put more pressure on Tanya.  I think the main reasons people think of the Empire as evil is because, it’s Germany, Tanya is on their team and they’re winning.  But even in episode 1 when Tanya kills an entire company of mages, she did that in response to the fact said company had just wiped out the people she’d been sent to save.  Tanya personally handled things the way she did to get a promotion, but with the exception of Arene the Empire is having the same things done to it as it’s doing to others, it’s not the bad guy here because their is no bad guy here.  And if you examine WWI history it’s the same story.  Most of what caused the war was just momentum created by a complex web of alliances and all the major powers trying to maintain a power balance that was beginning to crumble.  Almost none of the highest authorities on any side actually wanted WWI to become the enormous conflict it did, things just spiraled out of control.  I hope that when Anson Sioux re-enters the conflict this dynamic will be shown better, that regardless of whether the individual is a good person like Sioux or a total bastard like Tanya, both sides are by large doing the same terrible shit to each other and the Empire is not representative of the Nazis and is not evil.  That said so long as you understand that, I think it’s fine to call Tanya evil.

Because yes Tanya is awful but for the most part she’s awful in entertaining ways.  One of my favorite scenes was at the end of episode 5, when after defeating the invading Dakian army (props for having them mirror the pathetic performance of Romania in WWI), Tanya talks like a five year old while informing Dakia that’s she’s going to blow up their weapon’s factory, a move that disguises her attack as a prank while still conforming to international war laws.  It’s fucking hilarious and utterly effective, no one bothers to evacuate and everyone working at the factory perishes as she and her men blow it to shit.  And the attack on Orse fjord was a blast to watch because of the rigid tactics and strict deadlines outline to pull off the ambitious amphibious assault.  Watching people kick ass and take names is generally a fun time, the fact we’re focusing on a character who is so awful just adds a little spice to mix.  She’s curb stomping everyone who gets in her way and it’s pretty cathartic because sometimes that’s what we all want to be able to do, just crush whatever annoys us and get onto enjoying an easy life.  Sometimes we all want to be assholes so long as we get away with it.

But despite how blatant Youjo Senki can be, see Tanya for details, it can be surprisingly versatile.  Youjo Senki rarely has long battles, instead most battles are payoffs to previously tense strategy briefings as Tanya has to navigate the desires of superiors as much as possible while still being mindful of the supply situation and benefits of any given strategy.  Many of the strategies involved are complex military maneuvers and it can be a satisfying to see these complex plans come together.  In addition the show includes people who even Tanya hates to work with, mainly the mad scientist Dr. Schugel, and how she behaves when she isn’t allowed to just beat the shit out of this person she doesn’t like.  The show’s tone shifts frequently to match the wide variety of scenes and scenarios Tanya finds herself in. But the real clincher was episode 8 because it takes the most drastic tone shift of the series.  In episode 8 it looks for a bit like one of her troops killed himself.  I admit I was a little disappointed that that didn’t end up being the case because it seemed like a great tone shift especially with the change to a more haunting ED following a shot that looked like the gun switching to face the shooter.  However this was still a great shift in that this was the first time Tanya’s soldiers balked at her orders and the sudden change in war doctrine brought on by her thesis, and they didn’t even know it was her thesis which caused Arene to burn.

Soldiers who had previously made defeating enemies a sort of informal sport among the group were suddenly horrified enough to confront Tanya about it, or at least were so distracted by the implications of what they were doing in Arene that they made mistakes they usually wouldn’t.  This once again shows that the Empire is not evil, most of the soldiers are just people fighting for their homeland and in the process they have to do evil work.  Tanya is the only one deserving of the title the Evil.  And for the first time multiple soldiers under Tanya’s command really have to grapple with that.  Ironically though Viktoriya, in the very next episode, uses the same kind of heartless rule-centric logic that Tanya thrives on to assure her comrades that all responsibility for the evils of Arene lie with Tanya.  I find this comment especially interesting because it hints at the potential punishment for Tanya later down the road, that her own reliance on the rules and exploiting them may be used against her, and the dangers of that mindset which has thus far only been shown to be effective if entirely fucked up.

Another great contrast is last season’s Shuumatsu no Izetta because that show shares many similar elements but focuses on main characters who are selfless and idealistic, people who fight to change the status quo regardless of the hardships endured.  That show also showed the dangers of that mindset, specifically that the political reality of a situation might lead a country to betray and kill it’s own hero and how a betrayed hero may come back with a vengeance.  I know this isn’t that relevant but I think it’s a happy accident that both these shows came out in such close proximity and have been great, as they do provide an excellent contrast to each other.  Let’s wrap this up.

Put simply Youjo Senki does a lot of tone shifts.  Sure there are edgy scenes scattered throughout the current nine episodes but they are mashed in with a ton of goofy scenes, cool action scenes, lot’s of strategic talks about war and military theory, political intrigue, and even some scenes which are just really fucking funny.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like you’re cup of tea, maybe it sounds too inconsistent or chaotic or whatever.  I disagree.  I think what Youjo Senki has managed to do with all of it’s myriad tone shifts is soften the rough edges of it’s worst parts while gaining the strengths of most of the other shows I named up above.  It may not be KonoSuba funny but there are a few scenes that come close.  Episode eight had more drama than Kuzu no Honkai.  It’s got more action than any other currently airing show I’m aware of.  It has world building and political intrigue on par with (and in my opinion surpassing) ACCA.  Youjo Senki is for my money the best show of the season because it does a little bit of almost everything and in most cases it succeeds at whatever it’s doing.  Sometimes it does edgy scenes of Tanya smiling like a lunatic while sending off uncooperative subordinates to die while making it look like an accident.  And sometimes it communicates how traumatic war can be for soldiers, even the ones that are winning.  The show has it’s problems but they are so small and brief and the show moves past them so quickly that they have hard time marring the overall experience.

Youjo Senki has, I think, made some of the key traits of many of the other good shows of the season into it’s strengths and mitigated it’s weaknesses through it’s willingness to change tone so frequently.  It has the versatility to be a popcorn flick in one episode and startlingly powerful drama the next episode, all while being a very interesting take on WWI with regards to the changes in politics and tactics during the war.  I love it, and after reading this, hopefully you do too.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: It’s Hard to do Well

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Do forgive the title for explaining the obvious.  For this post I’m mostly going to be talking about writing and storytelling and using anime examples to highlight what I mean rather than talking about anime in depth.  The exception to that is Kuzu no Honkai which I’ve more or less been dying to say something about for weeks, so this post will spoil the shit out of it if you not up to date with the latest episode.  In the event you’ve not seen any Kuzu no Honkai I highly recommend it, it’s already been one of the best romantic dramas I’ve ever seen as it immediately disregards the usual anime relationship bullshit and has the main duo get to second base in episode one.  Now into the abyss that is creativity.

Writing and storytelling are at their core made up of two things, ideas and structure.  I’m an ideas guy.  I’ve come up with a ton of characters, scenes, settings, game concepts and mechanics, fantasy creatures and even my own in-universe mythologies and histories.  But I’ve got no structure, or rather I just plain suck at it.  I can never take those characters from a starting point to the scenes I’ve pictured in my head for years, I’ve tried many times but the pacing seems too brisk, or I feel like I’ve crammed in too much crap in between and disrupted the emotions I want to convey, or I want to write a story with a certain tone to it’s overall themes but the tone I’m writing in doesn’t match up.  Point is, if I ever want to work creatively for a living I’d either have to learn a lot about video editing and make a YouTube channel or bust my ass getting good at forming structure competently.  But enough about me because this applies to a ton of creatives.  Part of the reason I’m bringing this up because I feel like Kuzu no Honkai has sort of the opposite problem, but I’ll get to that later, for now I want to address something that came up in a semi-recent PCP podcast.  Namely that some people don’t believe certain shows, or even anime in general can convey meaningful messages and themes and therefore be just as good and valid as more “normal” media.

Kill la Kill is a good example.  There are a ton of people who see, or least back when it was new a bunch of people saw, Kill la Kill as just fanservice and action, like a popcorn flick with no deeper meaning.  And I agree that on the surface Kill la Kill can look that way and it’s easy to enjoy that way.  But if you’re that hypothetical person who sees nothing else in Kill la Kill I want to ask you a few questions.  If Kill la Kill is just dumb action and tits, why is the main school Honnouji Gakuen named after a famous temple (or maybe castle I don’t remember for sure) that Oda Nobunaga built?  Is it just a fun reference?  If it’s just a reference why does the Tri-School Raid also mirror Oda Nobunaga’s conquests, why does Satsuki have (at least at first) the same goal of conquering Japan in her own way and reshaping the established order like Nobunaga?  Why does Sanageyama the strongest of the Elite Four get called monkey all the time like Nobunaga’s companion Hideyoshi? Because I find it odd that Kill la Kill would take a mere reference to a historical figure and run with it so far across the show.  To me it makes more sense that Kill la Kill is utilizing symbolism here to communicate certain themes rather than just make a reference.  There are plenty of other example but I think I’ve made one of my points.  The other main point is that, in case you don’t do much creative work, there’s a metric fuck ton of planning that goes into the creation of anything that isn’t memes.

I can’t tell how many times a story I want to write doesn’t even make it past the planning stage because I’ve got so much I want to do and so much I need to plan out in advance, that I never get around to writing anything but the planning before getting distracted and working on something else.  In the same vein, nothing is that happens by accident.  I mean people get some ideas on the fly and certain scenes or phrases come serendipitously, but everything that is put in a story was consciously put there on purpose.  For example towards the end of Kill la Kill’s Tri-School Raid there’s a scene where Jakuzure and Inumuta insult Sanageyama, by once again calling him monkey, while insulting each other for being snake-like or being unusually clever for a dog.  This scene only makes any sense because the Sa in Sanageyama is the same Sa in saru (monkey), the Ja in Jakuzure means serpent, and Inu, which starts off Inumuta, means dog.  And none of that was there on accident, the writers decided to make sure all of the Elite Four had characters in their names which correspond to animals on purpose, Gamagoori has gama, meaning toad, in the name of rounding out the group.  It honestly doesn’t matter why they put it there for the purpose of this particular paragraph, regardless of what meaning or theme the creators wanted to convey by naming the Elite Four like this the point is that they had to have done it on purpose.  So now that we’ve got the basics out of the way I’m going to praise and rant about Kuzu no Honkai at the same time because otherwise I’ll go insane talking to myself about the show.

Thus far probably my biggest issue is that Kuzu no Honkai has a very coherent narrative, i.e. good structure but some of the baseline ideas seem to be at odds with each other.  The “evil” teacher is the root cause of this.  On the one hand most of her traits, like how she’s totally narcissistic and takes great joy in attracting men because being an object of male affection makes her feel valuable, or how she seems to like being superior to other women by snatching up the men they like even if she doesn’t like the men at all, or how just incredibly shallow and superficial she is a person, are great, by which I means realistic and fine in the context of the story.  But she has an unusual antagonism for the main girl, Hanabi, that I just can’t wrap my head around.  Like if she was just a little spiteful to other women in general I sort of get it, but she goes way out of her way to antagonize Hanabi, to the point where she fucks Hanabi’s “oniichan” and tells her so in a hallway where anyone nearby could have heard her, not a smart move as there were in fact other people nearby.  This would make sense if Hanabi and the teacher were rivals or peers that didn’t see eye to eye, because one-upping a rival or peer you dislike is realistic behavior.  But how is Hanabi a rival or peer to the teacher?  They are least five years apart in age, and probably more, they have very different levels of sexual experience, Hanabi is still a virgin and the teacher will fuck just about anyone just to not be bored, and they’ve known each other for like 3 months tops, it’s not even clear if Hanabi is in this teacher’s music class, for all we know they’ve only talked like 3 or 4 times.  The only reference to them being rivals at all is the incredibly nebulous idea that they both take advantage of others to make themselves feel good and are therefore the same kind of woman, which I call bullshit on.  So why does the teacher go so far out of her way to antagonize Hanabi?

I mean the obvious answer is because it makes her a clear villain that Hanabi, the heroine, must defeat but they didn’t need to do that.  In Golden Time, I’ve written about before and it’s thus far my top anime romance, there’s a scene where Tada Banri and Linda find out that Linda’s older brother’s girlfriend or fiancee, not sure which stage the two were at, was cheating on him with a another man.  The two follow the girlfriend/fiancee the next time she cheats to get evidence, with Linda’s plan being that she would use the evidence to destroy the relationship and protect her brother from this unfaithful woman.  That’s all Kuzu no Honkai needs right there.  There’s even a brief moment where Hanabi mentions something along the lines of protecting her “oniichan” from this shallow bitch of a teacher, that’s plenty of reason for the two to be in conflict without turning the teacher into this cartoonishly petty and evil villain that Hanabi must defeat, there’s no need for the teacher to antagonize Hanabi the way she does to be the “bad guy”, Hanabi can just be in conflict with the teacher in the name of protecting “oniichan” and that would suffice.  This is what I mean by the ideas being at odds, it just seems off because the way the teacher treats Hanabi and the way all the other setting and character details are laid out feel like they’re telling two different stories, I’ll grant that the differences between these stories are subtle but they definitely are different and it just bugs me like an itch while I’m trying to enjoy all the shit I love above Kuzu no Honkai.

And last but not least, not every story is for everyone and Kuzu no Honaki is definitely not trying to appeal to me.  I’ve discussed how shows appeal to specific audiences before, and that’s ok but it does bring the show down for those not targeted, the fact that it’s still good enough for me to consider one of the best romances outright should speak to the strength of it’s writing and presentation.  Let me say this loud and clear, fuck incest.  Hanabi’s “oniichan” isn’t actually related to her at all, so that wouldn’t be incest if they fucked, but the fact she still wants to fuck her older brother figure means it’s the same kind of shit and it pisses me off.  I get that incest is taboo and some people like taboos so it sells but personally I give negative fucks whenever something vaguely incestuous is part of a show.  It’s such an automatic turn off that I almost skipped over Kuzu no Honkai for sounding like an incestuous version of Toradora from the plot synopsis.   Like if we’re be gifted with an anime where characters are actually fucking regularly and a fetish is being targeted to help sell the story can’t we get futas instead?  I’d much rather have a Kuzu no Honkai where Ecchan is a futa in love with Hanabi and how that would complicate their relationship than hear about how Hanabi wants to fuck her boring as shit “oniichan.”  Incidentally the scene where the “evil” teacher said Hanabi’s “oniichan” was so boring she couldn’t see why Hanabi liked him was amazing.  Hell even the “oniichan” himself only seems attracted to the “evil” teacher because she vaguely reminds him of the mother he hardly remembers, i.e. he has an Oedipus complex, another turn off for me.  Though if it ever comes out that and the “evil” teacher finds out “oniichan” only liked her because of the Oedipus complex and she either has a breakdown or throws a tantrum because of it I would love to see that.

Ultimately what I’ve been trying to tell you all is that good storytelling is really hard.  You can have great ideas but fail at structure and tell a mess of a story, you can have an excellent story structure warped by conflicting ideas, and regardless of how well either the structure or ideas are there will be some people that will think the story sucks because it doesn’t appeal to them and their tastes.  Storytelling is hard. You can do so much right and still bug the hell out of your audience by doing a few things wrong, like pandering to the incest fetish.  Seriously I’m sick to death of it, either it needs to go or I need some futa shows to balance things out, that’s only fair right?  Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding History: Who’s the Real Samurai, Yoichi or Toyohisa?

 

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The following will assume you’ve seen some of or are currently watching Drifters, and there will be minor spoilers you’ve been warned.  Which of the two main characters of Drifters do you think is the real samurai, Yoichi or Toyohisa?  Undoubtedly the majority of people across the globe would say Toyohisa, after all he’s the one living by the bushido code and fighting with a katana, Yoichi is a girly-looking archer with a more ruthless approach to warfare.  But the answer is undoubtedly Yoichi.

The first part of understanding why the answer is Yoichi, is understanding that samurai as it’s commonly used is a misnomer.  Hollywood, and most anime, have perpetuated the misconception that samurai were the warrior class of Japan, they aren’t though.  What most films and anime call samurai are actually called bushi, hence where the term bushido  (warrior’s way) comes from.  Samurai are specific subset of the bushi, kind of like how squares are rectangles where all sides are equal in length, samurai are bushi who served as a sort imperial guard.  This can be seen in their linguistic roots, as samurai is derived from sabaru, meaning to serve, whereas bushi comes from bu, which is probably best defined as war or martial.  This is important because samurai would’ve commonly wielded swords, spears or polearms, which is part of why katanas are the iconic samurai weapon in today’s depictions, bushi on the other hand spent most of their history as archers.  The only anime I know of off hand that gets this distinction right is Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, because in that show all of the riflemen were called bushi whereas Kurusu was called a samurai and he primarily fought with a sword, he also was clearly an elite guardsmen of the main princess.

The next thing to clear up is bushido.  Bushido was widely popularized in Japan after it was created and it’s been popularized around the globe ever since but it’s a horribly inaccurate representation of Japan’s military history and culture.  Bushido didn’t become a thing until 100 years after the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, which took place in the 1500’s.  Which means Toyohisa should have no concept of bushido whatsoever, let alone actually practice it, because it hadn’t been invented by the time he “died” and was transported to the fantasy world.  An especially important thing to note it that Japan had been at peace for those 100 years between the Sengoku Jidai and the creation of bushido, and it would remain a land at peace for quite some time.  When bushido was created, most bushi served as government officials who could carry swords, not as career warriors proving their worth on the battlefield.  Bushido was what caused the katana become treated with near reverence, suddenly the bushi world had all kinds of sword-centric rules of engagement, codes of honor, and dueling norms.  Bushido also introduced the idea of kataki or honorable vengeance, where a lord’s bushi retainers were morally obligated to take vengeance on their lord’s killer even at the cost of their own lives.

Prior to the introduction of bushido, bushi warfare was dominated by a doctrine called kyuba no michi, the path of the horse and bow.  This can be traced back to the creation of the bushi around the year 1000 AD.  At the time much of Japan was ruled by the Heian empire, which was starting to collapse as it could no longer afford to maintain its large armies and banditry was on the rise.  To combat their problems, Heian rulers hired mercenaries from the Emishi, a northern Japanese people who are ethnically closer to Mongols or Russians than the indigenous Japanese.  The Emishi, perhaps by way of their Mongol/Russian roots were a warlike people who fought primarily as horse-archers.  The Emishi were far more effective than Heian troops and when enough of them were rewarded with land, the Emishi gained enough influence to create a place for themselves, and any Heian warriors who chose to copy their style of warfare, in the Heian social hierarchy, the bushi class.  As you might imagine from a class born of mercenaries, bushi tactics did not even slightly resemble the kinds of behavior described in bushido.  To the bushi, winning mattered more than anything.  Night attacks, the taking of hostages and the slaughter of noncombatants were far more commonplace than a stereotypical honorable samurai duel.  In fact bushi duels, when they occurred, were almost always mounted archery contests not sword fights.

The split between bushido and kyuba no michi and early bushi tactics can be partially attributed to military romanticism on the part of bushido’s creator, but mostly to the fact that the former was created in peacetime while the latter was born out of war.  Avoiding danger is crucial to warfare, the root of most military innovations comes from a desire to find ways to kill the enemy while minimizing the risk to one’s self and one’s troops.  And for most of human history the bow was the result of that desire, archers were an essential part of every army across the globe because they could kill from a distance.  Horse-archers were especially tough to deal with, as they had the ability to kill from a distance while also having the mobility of cavalry, and it should come as no surprise that the most successful barbarian invasions of the East and West were spurred by steppe tribes like the Huns and Mongols, because that’s where horse-archers were most widely used.  The victory-first tactics of the early bushi also reflect the desire to avoid harm while harming the enemy.  In light of all this it should be fairly obvious that Yoichi, the archer who favors more ruthless tactics, is the real poster boy of what we call samurai, by which we usually mean bushi.  This really comes as no surprise if you consider that he’s from the Genpei War or Gempei War, the two names are interchangeable and it occurred in the 1100’s, because that war cemented the dominance of the bushi and resulted in the first bakufu, or military government of Japan, which caused Japan to have a sort of dual monarchy system for most of Japan’s medieval history where high society and culture was dominated by the Emperor and the military and policy was controlled by the bakufu, or as most people know it, the Shogunate.

At this point I’ve answered the titular question but I still want to talk about some common, i.e. mainly informed by Hollywood and Orientalism, myths about the bushi.  The myth that probably bothers me most is how the katana is idolized as a super sword that can cut through anything and is the best sword ever made.  This bothers me because the katana is total dogshit when it comes to “cutting through anything.”  The katana cuts exceptionally well against unarmored and lightly armored foes, but most cultures in Asia and Europe have been using armor capable of doing more damage to a katana’s edge than the katana would do to the armor since before the katana was ever even used.  The reason the katana was the main sword of Japan was because it was good at defeating Japanese armor, which in terms of durability was garbage compared to heavy armor all across Europe and Asia.  This mostly stems from Japan’s lack of good iron, most of Japan’s iron is what European smiths called pig iron, and they didn’t use it because it was too high in carbon and swords made from it would shatter.  In fact, early in Japan’s history bronze imported from China was more valuable than iron because local smiths hadn’t figured out how to forge pig iron effectively.  The answer to that question is folding, which is where the myth of blades being folded a thousand times over comes from.  By folding the metal, smiths could iron out the excess carbon and make durable swords, however they didn’t fold them a thousand times because that would flush out all the carbon and the blades would shatter on the first hit.  I seem to recall a blacksmith saying that katanas are generally folded eight times, but I’m not an expert so I can’t say for sure how many times they were folded beyond definitely not a thousand.

The other reason katanas, but mostly bows, did so well in Japan is that in addition light armor, I want to say here that Japanese armor isn’t badly made because it is well designed but Japan just didn’t have the materials needed to make it really heavy, Japanese warfare seems to have totally disregarded the shield (I looked into this some more and it seems shields were used early on but fell out of use before the bushi class became a thing).  If you pay close attention to the fight in Drifters episode one, before Toyohisa is sucked into the fantasy world, all the spearmen who impale him are using two handed pikes called yari, which at this point in Japanese history were about 15 feet long, and have no shields.  I’m not sure exactly why shields seem to have been nonexistent in Japan, but the fact that most Japanese weapons required two hands to wield or are commonly used with two hands speaks to the shield’s absence in Japanese warfare.  The lack of a shield also helps explain why bows were more prominent than swords for most of the bushi’s history.  Spears have a huge reach advantage against swords, especially if we’re talking about the 15 foot yari, and one of the main counters to the reach advantage is the shield.  If a swordsman has a shield, it increases his chances of getting in close without taking damage, and in close is where a swordsman has the advantage over a spearman.  The lack of shield makes getting in a close a risky business, as seen by how Toyohisa was impaled by like fifteen guys when he charged the spearmen, and since risk is bad, the bow becomes a great option, especially since the enemy have no shields to block arrows with.

Basically what I’m trying to say is unless you’ve actually spent a fair amount actually looking into Japan’s military history, forget everything you think you know about samurai.  Popular knowledge of the samurai is grossly inaccurate and for whatever reason, Japan itself rarely seems to try to correct any misconceptions about the bushi in any kind of easily accessible public way, and most anime don’t either.  Also it would be great if the world stopped sucking the katana’s dick and looked at other swords more often, personally I find weapons like the falx and romphaia to be far more fascinating and effective, especially since the katana played a such a minor role in the bushi’s history.  Like I get it, we all have our favorite swords and it’s fine to like katanas, just remember that the awesome samurai you’re picturing in your head usually fought with a bow, or maybe a polearm since those were way more popular than swords before bushido because they had a reach advantage, instead because he were less likely to die that way.  And Yoichi, who just had a drunken manservice scene in the latest episode of Drifters, is definitely more of a real samurai (i.e. bushi) than Toyohisa.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

Anime Trick-or-Treat 2016: A Bag Full of Yanderes

Since this year’s Anime Trick-or-Treat was another colossal failure I’m reworking it into an in-depth analysis of the one subject that was actually requested, namely Gasai Yuno, and her archetype, the yandere.

Since the actual request was just about Gasai Yuno, let’s start with her.  Yuno is easily the most iconic yandere and could easily be credited with popularizing the archetype.  Additionally she completely carries Mirai Nikki, which does have a lot of fans, however misguided they may be (read prior post for context if you like).  That said she’s not exactly what I’d call a good character.  Gasai is more or less defined by three traits, the core components of the yandere, obsessive love, extremely violent tendencies, and of course a firm binding of crazy to wrap up the whole package.  Of the three traits her insanity is probably the most believable and well thought out, Mirai Nikki does show that Yuno’s mom was kind of insane and abused Yuno by locking her in a cage and whatnot.  This is a cut above the truly awful crazies who are insane because plot, like the villain from the Alfheim arc of SAO, but it’s not that good either.  As discussed in an old post on crazy characters the best crazies typically have their entire lives colored by their insanity, they don’t just have an inciting incident like Yuno.  Now you could make the case that since Mirai Nikki takes place in a second world, the Yuno we see there has lived an entire life of insanity already and thus makes sense, but that still doesn’t really explain how she became so insane in the first world beyond the inciting incident.

The abuse also does make Yuno’s violent tendencies more believable as abuse victims sometimes become abusers later in life.  However it doesn’t explain how extreme her violence is nor why she’s good at it.  It’s one thing for the a kid who gets beat his whole life to beat others when he becomes an adult but it’s a lot less believable for that person to become a full blown serial killer, especially one that’s insanely good with knives, axes and guns.  But even setting aside the potential issues of Yuno’s violence there is one glaring hole in her character, her love for Yuki.  It’s clearly shown that the Yuno’s of both worlds fall for Yuki but it’s not ever explained why.  Now I get that love isn’t necessarily logical but come one what’s Yuki got?  He doesn’t appear particularly good looking, he has no social skills, and he’s done nothing for Yuno that might make her fall for him.  So what gives?  Why is he so damn important to her?  Because plot apparently.  Ultimately though I think Gasai Yuno symbolizes the inherent problem with yanderes, they are such comically overboard characters at the conceptual level that playing it straight is shooting yourself in the foot.  It would take a lot of work to make a believable person who was also a full blown yandere and frankly most yandere creators don’t put in that effort because their shows are kinda shit.  Off the top of my head I’d say the only genuine yanderes are the main girl from School Days, which is infamous for being a dumpster fire, Gasai Yuno from Mirai Nikki, which as previously discussed is pleb tier anime and the orange haired girl from Shuffle!, which was a pretty subpar harem show that I’m honestly wondering how many people currently watching anime even really know about since it came out in 2005.  Most people also include one or more of the girls from Higurashi but there’s so much else going on in Higurashi that I think labeling them yanderes is grossly oversimplifying their characters and is wrong.  Lucy from Elfen Lied is also often called a yandere but I don’t think that quite fits either.

In my opinion the best use of yanderes are as gags, and given the prevalence of the gag I think most Japanese creatives agree with me.  Off the top of my head, Medaka has a yandere gag in Medaka Box Abnormal, both Tsukihi and Senjougahara have a couple yandere moments throughout the Bakemonogatari franchise, Ayase from OreImou has a few yandere scenes, Rin from Kanojo ga Flag wa Oraretara has several yandere moments, the black haired girl from Baka to Test has a bunch of yandere scenes, Chocolat and Yuragi both have yandere scenes in NouCome and the real star of this post, Anna Nishikinomiya of Shimoneta, has a few yandere scenes too.  There’s probably more if I thought about it but I think I’ve made my point, yanderes as gags outnumber actual yanderes, because yanderes are so conceptually goofy that they make way better punchlines than characters.  This brings us to my favorite yandere of all Anna Nishikinomiya of Shimoneta.

Anna is a great yandere because A, she’s not a yandere 24/7, B, because the world of Shimoneta is inherently ridiculous and full of ridiculous characters so a yandere fits right in, and C, the narrative has done a better job explaining why she exhibits yandere behaviors than most if not all other shows.  For those unaware, Shimoneta takes place in a future Japan where porn and all things sexual have been banned and censored by the government.  Anna is the daughter of two major proponents of this censorship and as such is a ridiculously sheltered and pure girl even by woefully sexually unaware standards of the people around her.  During the story she is kissed by the main guy during a sting operation where he saves her from some stalkers and she falls head over heels for him, therefore explaining her deep love for him.  It’s also established early on that Anna is insanely physically competent, both due to plot and due to the fact she’s a cream of the crop elite who works her ass off to fulfill her parent’s expectations.  So she has good foundations for being good at violence.  The final and most important touch though is how sheltered she is, she has no concept of the difference between love and lust, between what are acceptable ways to show affection and what’s not ok, so she engages in both extremely violent and extremely sexual acts and believes herself justified in doing so because she’s acting out of love, which she only has a vague idea of but believes is a pure and righteous thing.  She also has no idea how to calm her body’s now awakened sexual urges and only seems to succeed in doing so when she’s performing her most perverse and extreme activities

To make a long story short, the reason the yandere succeeds as an archetype is because it’s incredibly stupid and out there.  Everyone likes to talk about the great animes, the ones that everyone knows about and which left a long-lasting impression on the fandom and even the medium, but most of the time anime isn’t that, it’s stupid and weird.  I say this as a compliment, stupid and weird can be a ton of fun and most of the time I want fun, not the next big classic which reshapes the medium.  Stupid and weird are also core elements of camp, which is something most people absolutely love despite the negative connotations surrounding the word.  The yandere archetype plays into the crowd’s love of camp, a character taken to such extremes and whose behavior is so overblown you almost can’t help but laugh at it.  Because of this it’s vital that the yandere in question not be taken too seriously because serious and camp tend to butt heads.  This is where Gasai Yuno both succeeds and fails, the character herself is ridiculous enough to be kind of awesome, even of you hate Mirai Nikki like me I still think Yuno herself has some appeal as a gimmick or a concept, but at the same time because Mirai Nikki plays her role straight and serious it weakens her character and the show itself.  Ultimately Yuno is the face of yandere and I doubt anything will change that, and in fairness she does embody the extreme nature of the archetype quite well and by extension showcases the archetype’s appeal rather nicely.  But in the context of being played seriously, shes not a good character, and she’s used poorly because again Mirai Nikki is pleb tier anime.

Over the top violence and love taken to creepy, crazy extremes is fun and funny, which is why the yandere should be a gag, because it works so well that way.  Alternatively it makes sense for a yandere to be played fairly straight in a world and story that are already so ridiculous that nothing is to be taken too seriously.  Yanderes, despite their dark reputation, are actually really fun and they are good making us laugh in the “well this is sort of fucked up but it’s still funny” sense.  And if nothing else Yuno performs the crazy violence and twisted love we come to yandere for, it’s just too bad she’s in a show that doesn’t use her properly.  So if you like the yandere, or maybe just want to see what all the fuss is about, go watch Shimoneta instead and let Anna show you how it’s done, because to me she should be crowned as the real Yandere Queen.  Thanks for reading I hoped you enjoyed it, and if you have other characters you think make for good, or bad, yanderes do feel free to share in a comment.  I’ll see you in the next one.