Understanding Pacing & Potential: Featuring Shield Hero

tate-no-yuusha-no-nariagari-5240851

Shield Hero is one of the most frustrating stories I’ve ever come across and that’s not just true of the anime.  In prior posts about the show my main complaint is that the anime deliberately tones down some of the darker aspects of the story which made the manga so appealing.  And while this is true even the manga has a serious flaw – it blows it’s load way too early.  There will be MAJOR SPOILERS, you’ve been warned.

The thing which drew me to Shield Hero in the first place was that the story went out of it’s way to make Naofumi a pariah.  He wasn’t the OP swordsman, winning the hearts of girls everywhere with his gamer skills or otaku knowledge – instead he’s so ostracized and so limited by his own power that he’s forced to buy a slave to fight for him.  His story was not a glorious one, told from the perspective of a typical hero.  It was a bitter, resentful and angry tale about a man who has been screwed and isolated by the world he needs to protect – but it’s in this very crucible from which his strength is forged.  So far so good, the story checks out, it hits all the right notes.  There’s just one problem, this part of the story is basically over by the end of the second wave and it will be completely over by the end of the next arc, as the remnants of the forces which have persecuted Naofumi from day 1 struggle desperately against his growing fame.

By the end of the second waves though, Shield Hero takes an important, and ultimately detrimental turn, it makes everyone else look like a joke.  By this point Naofumi isn’t just stronger than the other Heroes, he makes them look like total chumps.  Even Raphtalia and Firo are portrayed as far more competent.  In addition, Myne and the King are no longer even vaguely threatening as villains, many of the local people adore Naofumi thanks to his work and to top it all off this gap between Naofumi and the other Heroes will only get wider.  What started out as the harsh, abrasive story of a man struggling against the world he’s been forced to protect eventually gets really close to a typical light novel hero story about an OP guy.  It’s honestly a bit depressing.  Thank fuck the manga at least made Naofumi so bitter and resentful early on that even when the story calms down he can get darker than does now in the anime.

The goodwill earned by the early portion of the story has kept me and others around to see where the story goes but I think the author made a giant fucking mistake in having the tables be turned so quickly.  The world of Shield Hero is not even remotely interesting, the cities, people and monsters are generic and what mysteries there are behind the plot to captivate us take so long to get anywhere that’s it easy to lose interest.  The magic is boring as shit and is terribly named even by light novel standards so that can’t be used for anything either. What made Shield Hero appealing is the struggle, the regular good guy side of Naofumi struggling with his inner demons, brought to the fore by the powers that be and their persecution of him.  The Naofumi who scraped by, the realist who did good deeds when he could, for a price – that guy was way more interesting than you’re average hero.  It was even better when you consider his need to maintain a sort of balance with the other Heroes, if he never interacted with them he would be perpetually out of the loop, but obviously due to their mistrust of him and his justifiable rage at them and the situation he finds himself in, he can’t be around them often.

What Naofumi had in the early part of the story, and what he’s basically about to lose in the anime, is that he had a very Guts-esque slant to his character.  He was on his own against powers that terrorized the world and the authorities that benefited from his deeds were not on his side.  And much like Guts does in his own story, had Naofumi been kept in the same position narratively speaking, he would’ve run the risk of becoming too monstrous in his isolation.  Berserk is a fantastic manga and while I would never even think of putting Shield Hero in the same class of storytelling, here’s a ramble about what I mean.  In Berserk, quite possibly my favorite arc is the Lost Children arc.  It’s also arguably the most brutal arc of the entire manga, or at least it’s the arc where Guts is at his most brutal.  Unlike later chapters where managing the Berserker Armor is a major concern, in the Lost Children arc Guts is always in control of his own actions.  There are countless individual panels in this arc that striking in their brutality, that illustrate just how far down the rabbit hole of hate and vengeance Guts has gone.  It gets to the point that the main villainess of the arc basically asks who the real monster is here, and it serves a vital turning point in the story.

It’s basically the last warning to Guts that he’s become so single-minded, so consumed by his hate that he’s lost sight of his other goal, protecting/restoring Casca.  What I found so damn awesome about the Lost Children arc is not just it’s narrative significance though, it’s what it depicts that I find truly fascinating.  It shows us someone driven to their absolute limit, someone who doesn’t balk at the horror and carnage he brings in his wake, who relentlessly and ruthlessly destroys all who stand before him no matter the cost.  Lost Children poses a terrifying answer to the hypothetical question “how far will you go?”  It doesn’t really matter what the goal is, it’s the means by which you achieve it and Lost Children depicts Gut’s boundless rage, his need for the fight and his drive taken to a logical extreme in the worst possible direction.  What does all this have to do with Shield Hero?  I want to see Naofumi treading this path longer.

Mind you I never want him to be Guts or go nearly that far, but I do want him to spend more time as the pariah.  You could even leave the Second Wave arc mostly unchanged.  Instead of it serving as a shift from Naofumi’s dark days to his future glories it should be a wake up call to the other Heroes.  Imagine how much more interesting Shield Hero would be if, rather than Naofumi being indispensable while the other Heroes seem more and more useless, by the third wave the other Heroes have gotten serious and suitably beefed themselves up enough to manage mostly without him.  What would he have to do to catch up, how would he prove his worth all over again?  Does he even fight with them anymore or has the persecution gotten so bad that he ditches this kingdom and only serves one of the demi-human ones?  The possibilities are endless.

Naofumi is at his most interesting when it’s him and his crew on their own.  He’s at his best when he’s torn between being a good guy for his companions’ sake or giving the world the finger because of how he’s been treated.  Why?  OP light novel heroes with girls aplenty are a dime a dozen, they’re incredibly boring unless you do a fantastic job making one.  But Naofumi as he was in the beginning of Shield Hero, that was the glue that held the story together.  Because early Naofumi is not an archetype, he’s much more unique and his situation has us explore themes and ideas which most of these light novel isekai stories never touch.  In blunt terms, early Naofumi deeply resonated with people, because he was more like a person.  He wasn’t as likable, he wasn’t as heroic, he probably even drove some people away for being too messed up but he also didn’t feel like the hero of a story, he felt like real dude in a fucked-up fantastical situation.

Ultimately one of Shield Hero’s greatest strengths is the tightrope Naofumi has to balance on.  His instinct is to be good, the political situation and his own financial one forces him to be realistic and yet there is clearly great power available to him via the Curse Shield if he indulges his darkest urges.  Naofumi in that stage of the story is a character who can go a lot of different places.  I feel like Naofumi could have become a truly amazing character if the author was willing to keeping him living life as the pariah for longer, he just has so much more to do.  He can try to be a better person and fail or get sabotaged – or he can descend into further bitterness and risk being consumed by his Curse power.  And importantly he can journey to and from either of these ends.  He doesn’t have to be good all the time, or bad all the time, he can shift in one direction or the other from arc to arc, based on the challenges ahead of him.  And just as importantly, the other Heroes will get a chance to shine as well.  Instead of basically being total jokes as the story goes, they too could develop into important and complex characters as they have to square their weakness with their feelings toward Naofumi, and how much their attitude shifts as Naofumi changes both in strength and character.  That’s a story that sounds way more interesting than what we will get – which is basically Naofumi’s victory lap until the end of the third wave, and after that the other Heroes are so fucking useless they basically don’t matter.

It’s OK to be Dark & (a little) Edgy: Shield Hero Eps 2-3 Review

tate-no-yuusha-no-nariagari 2

vs

shield hero2

In my last post about Shield Hero, my main concern was that while the anime would add valuable details that the manga glossed over, it would not lean into the darker aspects of the manga hard enough.  And this would be a shame because it was the darkness, the severity of the discrimination against Naofumi and his own bitterness and vitriol towards this world that screwed him out the gate, that made the early chapters of manga fucking awesome.  The anime is unfortunately apparently trying to be the kid friendly version of Shield Hero – and so they fucked it up.  There will be spoilers.

One of the details added to the manga almost immediately after Naofumi gets the false rape charge which is apparently triggering SJWs because they can’t just let a story be a story is that he gets these bags under his eyes which immediately make him look a hell of a lot meaner.  It gave him a perpetual glare that consistently scared Raphtalia before the two had their big bonding moment after killing the demon dog.  Most importantly though the bags which caused Naofumi to have his perpetual glare really helped sell his bitterness.  They enhanced his dialogue, when he made a threat he really did look like the kind of guy who would fucking act on it.  In the anime the only scenes that sort of get this are when the merchant tries to screw him in Ep 1, when the bandits want to mug him under the guise of joining his party in Ep 1, and when he almost lets the guards die in Ep 3.

But as important as the bags and the resulting glare are as visual enhancements of every scene it is ultimately the attitude which matters.  Can the anime tap into the core of Naofumi, the man unjustly branded a criminal and hurled out of proper society, with the dark shift in attitude such a life style entails?  The answer seems to be no.  Not only is this a problem in the current episodes and episode 4 soon to follow, it’s going to be a major problem down the line and anyone who has read the manga knows what I’m talking about.  Naofumi will eventually gain a power which is entirely birthed from his hatred of the world and the assholes who have tried to keep him down – and importantly this power is a major fucking plot point on several occasions.  Obviously the anime will give him the power in question anyway because there would be no way the story could continue without it.  But that begs the question, if this power is so vital to the story going forward shouldn’t the anime do everything in it’s power to make it seem like something Naofumi really deserves, that the darkness from whence it came seems as intense as the story can manage while hitting the right story beats?  I obviously think so, hence why I’m annoyed at the anime.

Here’s an example.  In Ep 3 just before the wave hits Naofumi and Raphtalia go and buy some better gear.  In the anime the only options for Naofumi are barbarian armor (it was called tribal armor in the manga but whatever same shit) which is ultimately what he ends up getting and plate armor.  They kind of jokingly bypass the plate armor saying it would rob Naofumi of his individuality, and settle on the barbarian armor.  In the manga the options are the barbarian armor and a set of chainmail.  Raphtalia is super pumped about getting Naofumi the chainmail before he yells “I’m not wearing that fucking thing!” or something to that effect because it’s a legitimate trigger of his.  Remember he had bought chainmail before when it was just him and Mein, and she stole it and gave it to Motoyasu the Spear Hero.  He quite reasonably has bad associations with chainmail and thus doesn’t buy it even if it’s the better armor.  This scene matters in the manga not just because it reinforces Naofumi’s bitter attitude, it plays into the next scene where the other heroes confront Naofumi when he visits the magical hourglass to see when the wave is coming.  By comparison his decision not to buy plate armor doesn’t really make sense beyond an aesthetic preference and/or a general misunderstanding of how plate armor works.  Plate armor is commonly presented as though it’s too heavy to use unless you’re big and strong but it’s not even remotely true.  You can sprint and do flips and shit in full plate armor because it’s designed to distribute the weight to hinder the wearer’s movements as little as possible.

Point is the anime scene is a dumb joke, the manga equivalent is genuinely important both as it’s own scene and in how it flows into the rest of the chapter.  Because following the blacksmith scene the heroes have a confrontation by the magical hourglass as Motoyasu first hits on Raphtalia before he starts to tell she won’t be safe with Naofumi because he’s a rapist.  Naofmui interrupts him and storms off with Raphtalia but the darkness again a decisive factor in how both the manga and anime turn out so differently.  In the anime even when Naofumi is giving his best glare the whole scene makes him feel impotent, which it was supposed to, but afterwards the anime cuts to a scene of Naofumi quietly grinding herbs while Raphtalia tries to ask about the rumors but Naofumi brushes her off.  In the manga Naofumi looks like he’s straight up about to attack Motoyasu, he looks berserk enough to do it if pushed any further and while ultimately he still leaves the scene feeling impotent, in the manga he storms out into the fields and when Orange Balloon demons attack he tells Raphtalia to stand back because “I really want to hit something right now” and then he proceeds to spend the entire evening punching the demons to death while swearing like a sailor at the top of his lungs to vent his rage.

Look at the difference here.  Not only does the darkness within Naofumi in the manga make each individual scene better than it’s anime equivalent but it gives the chapter a very strong buildup with each scene and the emotions they bring flowing into each other flawlessly as Naofumi, who was becoming a bit nicer as his trust in Raphtalia grew, is thrust right back down to his emotional nadir.  He’s confronted by the armor that he wore and which was later stolen from him when he was betrayed, he has to see the other heroes who hate his guts again (and Mein too because she’s Motoyasu’s companion), he’s made to feel impotent because the system is rigged against him during his confrontation with Motoyasu ,and then when his hatred and rage reach their peak Naofumi finds an outlet, weakass monsters he can spend hours beating to death, before he faces the wave the next day.  By comparison the anime scenes flow into each other from stray lines of dialogue, specifically when the blacksmith tells Naofumi about the magical hourglass and when Motoyasu mentions the rumors about Naofumi.  In the former case Naofumi obviously just goes where the blacksmith tells him to go, while in the latter Raphtalia tries to ask about the rumors Motoyasu mentioned but Naofumi won’t give her an answer.  But there is no flow of emotions, no buildup of tension, no cathartic release.  It’s just kind of flat.

Look if you think I’m being to hard on the anime or whatever, I think the anime is fine.  If it were a totally original IP I would not be complaining, and as a standalone experience the anime is decent.  I’m just annoyed because the manga is better than decent and I want the anime to be too.  I want the manga to spring to life and improve in the anime, not for the anime to be a family friendly, milquetoast version of the manga – which sad is what we seem to be getting.

Personally I think part of the problem is that Naofumi is ultimately too nice anyway, even in the manga he rarely goes harder than looking menacing and speaking of the world and inhabitants with scathing venom.  He’s not really a bad guy even when he’s mad enough to be.  Maybe the anime is toning it down because the director sees that and wants Naofumi to never seem all that dark to begin with.  But to me this feels like a marketing decision.  It feels like the producers said to tone it down, to make Naofumi a more sympathetic character, to drain the darkness as it were so that product will appeal to wider demographic and sell more blu-rays – not understanding that the darkness is not just integral to the story in an artistic sense but also that was the darkness that drew many of us in the first place.

I will probably keep watching Shield Hero but as it stands I don’t see how it will ever live up the manga so long as they keep toning it down.  And that sucks because I prefer anime to manga in a general sense.  I would rather watch a good anime than read a good manga.  But in Shield Hero’s case it looks like the manga is the way to go.  See you in the next one.

The Devil is in the Details: Ep 1 of Shield Hero vs Manga

shield hero

vs

tate-no-yuusha-no-nariagari-5240397

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  Why the fuck am I comparing the manga adaptation of a light novel to the anime adaptation of a light novel instead of going back to the source material?  Simple, I don’t read light novels so the manga is the only other thing I have to go on.  More to the point I quite like the manga and some of the differences between how it’s chapters were handled as compared to episode 1 of the anime are noteworthy enough to mention in terms of how to write and direct scripts and their relevant scenes.  There will spoilers for episode 1 and the corresponding manga chapters only.

For those who’ve not seen the episode nor read the manga, here’s a brief explanation.  Naofumi is warped from Japan into another world via a fantasy novel he starts reading.  When arrives he finds that 3 other Japanese boys of roughly the same age range have been summoned as well to save a fantasy kingdom from the incoming wave of monsters.  All of four Japanese boys, the 4 Heroes, are locked into using a sacred weapon and in Naofumi’s case it is a tiny shield.  They are then given companions so they can go out in separate groups and level up from the coming wave.  For reasons he doesn’t know Naofumi is discriminated against very early on by the upper crust of the fantasy kingdom and he is falsely accused of rape by his only companion and is cast out in shame in short order.  From there he will have to find his own way.

The main difference between anime and manga thus far are the degrees of extremity.  The manga is much more heavy handed in regards to the condemnation of Naofumi, our titular Shield Hero.  The discrimination against him is both more blatant and the details justifying any of it are scant.  By comparison, in the anime there much more mild discrimination against him until the rape charge and most of it has some circumstantial evidence to justify itself on, like the fact the other Heroes seem more familiar with the mechanics of this world because they experienced gamers.  Likewise the manga frames Naofumi as an actual rapist whereas the anime makes his crime an attempted rape.

By and large I like that the anime added extra details.  The kingdom spying on the Heroes to find out about Naofumi’s lack of knowledge, which they then use as a pretext for not helping him is n especially good touch. But there other details which do add to the experience as well.  In the manga it is not spelled out until much later that the fantasy kingdom holds women in higher regard than men, while that is made clear in episode 1 of the anime.  This is important because it means the punishment for Naofumi is heavier and that his accuser’s claim is given more weight.  Having the guards plant a torn nightgown was also an excellent touch as it makes the overwhelming shift of everyone condemning the Shield Hero more believable.  Perhaps most important though, the anime establishes that the other Heroes not only come from different Japans (i.e. worlds/times/realities) but it showcases some of their weakness of character from the beginning without making them assholes.

One of the weaker parts of manga was that the other Heroes, who otherwise lacked any apparent flaws, were so condescending to Naofumi from the beginning, it did make his hate more justified but all the same it was almost cartoony in just how heavy handed it was.   By contrast in the anime the other Heroes have more entitled attitudes, as later manga chapters would detail, right from the beginning but they are not total dicks to Naofumi until the false rape charge.  They might tease him a little because he was stuck with the shield or doesn’t have as strong a grasp on RPG mechanics but on the whole they treat him as one of the guys.  And while that obviously shifts when they believe the quite believable – in the anime – rape charge, it does make the other Heroes stronger characters, with more nuance, adaptability and true to life behaviors and attitudes.

That said I vastly prefer the extremity of Naofumi’s response in the manga.  In the anime he gets pissed and wants to leave, and when the fantasy king explains that he can’t until the 4 Heroes defeat all the waves, he says ‘fine I’ll fight the waves on my own/my own way.’  In the manga his hatred of the fantasy kingdom post-rape accusation is much more pronounced, he says to himself ‘this world can burn for all I care’ and laughs when he finds out that the other Heroes are stuck with him before storming off to do things his own way.  I felt that Naofumi’s reaction in the manga was way more appropriate considering the false rape claim and the fact that word of his crime was spread throughout the kingdom.  Moreover the way the manga leans so hard into his anger and bitterness, in his dialogue, attitude and in the artwork, was what really caught my attention.

There are also a few edits which baffle me.  The worst is that when Naofumi first wakes up he looks like he fell asleep playing a goddamn MMORPG, whose mechanics he is later shown to have virtually no grasp of.  In the manga he described himself as an otaku who didn’t play games and his exposure to this world was from a book while the other Heroes were sucked via their respective games.  This is super important especially in the anime which bases a number of it’s best changes on the conceit that Naofumi didn’t know things the other Heroes did, in this case RPG mechanics.  Given that, why in the fuck would ANYONE ok a scene where he’s playing any kind of game at all, let alone one which looks the part of an RPG or MMORPG?  Setting that blunder aside I thought the merchant scenes were clumsy.  In the anime Naofumi sells worthless monster drops to a merchant who tries to screw him, pulls his own fast one on the merchant and then sells healing herbs without a problem.  In the manga they forgo the monster drops and have Naofumi sell the herbs to the merchants who tries to screw him before Naofumi pulls his fast one on the shady merchant.  It just seems so much more elegant in the manga and more efficient as well.

All told I think Shield Hero got off to a strong start with mostly good changes from the manga, though I worry the anime will not lean into Naofumi’s bitterness and rage hard enough if episode 1 is anything to go by.  I do hope I’m wrong on that count though. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Understanding Storytelling: Computer Generated Contrived Crap – Goblin Slayer Ep 1

goblin slayer

I hated this first episode.  So far as it nails exactly what it wants to be and what it wants to be is shit – popular shit.  I have the sinking suspicion that this will be the big seasonal hit which I will find insufferable, at least as so long as SAO 3 doesn’t overshadow it too badly.  Speaking of I have to ask is anyone still hype for SAO 3?  I don’t even want to watch it to bash it, I tried that with SAO 2 and it was not worth it.  I’m genuinely curious as to how much pull SAO 3 will have, 6 years after the first season made it’s explosively popular debut and after years of SAO bashing being popular all over the anime community.  Setting that aside though I think Goblin Slayer is ultimately aiming to be a fire and forget sort of hit, something that makes a ton of noise during the season it airs and which everyone stops talking about within a year – Erased comes to mind.

As to how Goblin Slayer will manage this it’s fairly simple.  Obviously the titular Goblin Slayer is going for a Doom vibe, while the setting is a generic game-based fantasy world and just to spice things up there will be Akame ga Kill levels of edge there to grab the people who want their shows to be dark and bloody.  And it sucks.

To begin with we follow a 15 year old girl signing on as an adventurer and- stop right there criminal scum, why is this fantasy setting MMO-based?  This is not a tale of characters from the real world being drawn into an MMO it’s a straight fantasy setting.  So why does it have all the hallmarks of generic MMO?  I would hazard a guess that the series as written (because duh it’s that way because of the writer) was intended to catch onto the fantasy MMO craze which SAO ignited in the first place, which is why it has basic bitch game material all over the place.  Besides the fact that this market is now thoroughly saturated it more or less points to the writer being a total uncreative hack, which the rest of the episode then confirms.

Aside from the cynical and general half-assed feel of a fantasy setting which just has game mechanics for no reason I find the fact this setting incorporates game mechanics at all to be genuinely frustrating.  What happened to the magic in fantasy?  You don’t need any of this gamey shit like levels, adventurer’s guilds and quest hubs, in fact putting those things in actively ruins the setting.  When it came to writing fantasy Tolkien, a mildly successful fantasy author, explained a concept he called the second world.  This was a make-believe world that the author constructed and the intent was to create a world you draw readers into, a world which ignored SOME of the limitations of our own, where you could tell a story where characters do unrealistic things without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  In order to keep the suspension of disbelief intact the author would have to construct a world which was internally consistent and where the events of the story did not break the rules of world as laid out by the author.   If the author was unable to do this, Tolkien described that as the art (in crafting the story and setting) failing, and by extension the author in question failing.  The gamey bullshit is, to me, a giant fucking red flag that the art is failing.

Nothing in Goblin Slayer feels organic.  Beyond being generic the setting has nothing of intrigue, it doesn’t even make much sense and the way the characters interact with it makes no sense either.  Main girl can read and write, which would realistically mean she’s a tiny and elite minority of people in her medieval-ish society.  Not exactly the kind of person who can go adventuring willy-nilly as she would therefore either be rich or belong to a religious order or both.  Given how she doesn’t buy gear before going on her first quest for I now I’ll assume she’s not rich and she has no business going adventuring as she would be a valuable resource to her order, hence why they invested the time to teach her.  You’d think she’d be appointed to someone’s retinue or something where she can heal people free from danger.  But no, she’s out adventuring with a party of noobs who happen to need a healer before they go crush a nest of goblins which raided a town.

And stop again.  That was awfully convenient.  Before our new adventurer even has time to look at the quest board she’s dragged into a quest, a goblin hunt.  Which as the episode will detail is a great deal more dangerous than it would seem – if everyone involved sucks and it just so happens all of these people do because they fight and behave as though they were noobs in a game not novices in a real world, more on that later.  Adventurer guild lady looks concerned and tepidly suggests they should wait for a more experienced group to handle this but she doesn’t press the issue when the overconfident noobs ignore her sudden shift in attitude.  And this brings to one of the worst problems in the show.  Goblin Slayer has to manage a careful balance of goblins being weak, tiny monsters while also being genuinely dangerous packs of monsters and it falls apart instantly if you drop the conceit of the gamey world.

When the noob party enters the goblin cave and fall for a basic trap because none of them can see the branching path for some reason, I saw it before the Goblin Slayer explained what happened so I guess I’m more observant than people in the moment but ok.  Because of the ambush the sorceress loses her cool and manages to kill 1 measely goblin before being taken down by a bunch of them.  The most hilarious bit about this is that the goblins are genuinely the size of small children and while the sorceress is no bodybuilder she should be able to physically overpower at least 2 or 3 of the bastards before they stab her with a poison knife, but she can’t for some reason.  Main girls swings her own staff ineffectually and while her total inexperience makes this more reasonable the fact is both her and sorceress should be able to do plenty of damage because of just how small the goblins are. Sword Noob rushes in and kills bunch before he swings his sword overhead like a scrub and it hits the cave roof, knocking his sword out of the way and he dies.  Meanwhile main girl casts heal on her poisoned sorceress and this has no effect.  Not sure why because even if this follows MMO rules you’d think the heal would close the wound even if it doesn’t affect the poison but ok guess that’s a minor detail.  Monk girl steps up to the plate and kills a few more before a hobgoblin appears from nowhere and manhandles her because he’s actually big enough for that and she gets raped by a bunch of goblins as main girl runs away carrying the dying sorceress.  Then the Goblin Slayer shows up and pwns all the goblins, even clubbing little goblin children to death and there’s a post fight exposition scene where the main girl explains that what happened to her party was actually a common experience and- fuck me this is so lazy and hamfisted.

Everything that happens in episode 1 pre-Goblin Slayer is there to establish the idea that the tragic loss of half the noob party and the goblin rape-induced breakdown of the third member is a common affair, and it does this by hitting all the notes of the common story it explains post battle.  Are you shitting me?  How redundant is that?  Hey let’s have the main character experience the common experience firsthand so we can show it’s common and then tell everyone it’s common.  If it’s common knowledge then why the fuck didn’t the adventurer’s guild lady say “No y’all noobs ain’t ready for that shit goblin nests are worse than you think?”  Is there no need to preserve budding adventurers?  I mean obviously the point is so the first episode can be dark, edgy and bloody to attract a target demographic but in universe it makes no sense for this to have transpired as it does.  Episode 1 is handled that way not because it’s an organic story development but to give the intended audience what they want and make the characters do what the writer wanted.  This is called contrivance, an artificial development in a story which does not arise naturally from the setting or characters.

No one in all of episode 1 displays any logic whatsoever until main girl buys some horrible looking chainmail.  Adventurer guild lady, who would be in a position to know, doesn’t warn the noobs adequately about how dangerous goblin nests are.  None of the noobs show any skill with their weapons or abilities.  Which incidentally is why the gamey bullshit is needed I think, because the writer doesn’t know how to write characters that would logically fit into a bonafide fantasy world.  For example the Goblin Slayer himself remarks that Sword Noob’s sword was too long and that’s why he died – and not 2 minutes later he successfully uses a spear which is twice as long as the sword he was describing as too long.  This a sign of the author a, not thinking very well and b, not understanding real fighting at all.  What the Goblin Slayer shows is that weapon length was not the problem, how it was used was the problem.  Sword Noob uses wild slashes throughout the fight and the one that gets him killed is an overhead strike.  No one who actually knew a damn thing about fighting would use an overhead strike, in a cave, against tiny opponents.  You could use nothing but a low guard, controlled cuts and thrusts and you could wipe all of them out without a scratch because you have 5 times their reach and 10 times their muscle mass.  And the only reason Sword Noob fights this way is because he behaves like a video game noob, anyone who could afford a sword in a realistic fantasy world would either have the training to use it, or have fought in a battle at some point to get the money to buy it.

Moreover I have to ask, where are the goblins getting their weapons exactly?  Nothing they built was made out of anything but wood and bone save for their weapons.  And their weapons are scaled to them, they’re using tiny goblin daggers and axes, not daggers and axes they scavenged from the dead because those would look significantly larger on them.  Am I seriously to believe that goblins have the capacity to make steel but not the ability to make anything else that stone age savages couldn’t build?  Because that’s retarded.  Setting aside the weapon issue how are goblins so well known for raiding towns and carting off women, who they then rape?  The fuckers are tiny – an adult woman has to weigh like ten of them, how are they taking them – oh I see because you could force them at weapon point.  That’s why goblins have weapons.  But why the rape  I mean we didn’t see any female goblins and I could extrapolate from this (and certain doujins) that maybe they need to rape women to breed.  Despite the fact goblins should have literal baby dicks.  I’m just kidding, it’s obviously done to make the show darker and edgier.

And this is the nail in the coffin of Goblin Slayer.  Everything in it seems to be there to achieve a desired effect or story development no matter how stupid it appears on it’s own.  Like when the Goblin Slayer impales the shaman with his spear.  It would be like a human being nailed by a fucking ballista – instant death – if we’re being realistic, but no it survives the gut busting blow because it’s a higher leveled goblin.  Goblin Slayer has no interest in a well crafted, realistic fantasy world.  That alone would not be a death blow to the series but the fact the story itself is filled with artificial characters who behave as the script demands rather than how people in said position would naturally behave, consigns this one to the fire.  It’s trash and I can only hope the people who put this soulless product out there to sell know that.

I fully understand if any of you I find this show fun to watch.  I did write a defense of Akame ga Kill once upon a time and I too love my trashy popcorn flicks from time to time.  But if you came here for a well crafted story, with a living world, intriguing characters and a gripping narrative – boy have you come to the wrong place.  See you in the next one.

PS the “Computer Generated” in the title is in reference to the fact the world is gamey and I didn’t mention it above because it would have ruined my flow.  So it stuck it here to be extra uncreative and hamfisted – can’t have the audience not understand absolutely everything right?

Understanding Limits: How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord vs Overlord

Overlord2

VS

diablo

I really hate Overlord.  When I was watching it weekly I might have given it like a 5-6/10, though the final battle with Shaltear (yes I only watched season 1 though I’ve a smattering of fight clips from later seasons since) was a huge disappointment.  That said every time I even think about the show since then my hatred has built and built to the point when I can say it’s probably a 1 for me personally by now.  And while before this point I could point out what I saw as the flaws just fine I had some trouble connecting with the appeal of a show like Overlord at all, until a I saw How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord (henceforth Demon Lord because that title is a pain in the ass to type over and over).

I would describe Demon Lord as perfectly passable.  It’s like a 5-6/10, and very ok across the board.  If not for the fact this is an abysmal anime season I probably would not have watched it but now that I have I think I can really pick apart how I think Overlord fails at capturing the appeal it ostensibly is going for.  In case you haven’t seen it Demon Lord features a similarly OP demonic main character, who happens to be a spellcaster, stuck in a world resembling a game he played, where everyone else seems severely under-leveled.  On the face of it Demon and Overlord are practically the same show but their minor differences make a world difference in how much I enjoyed one over the other.

Barring the obvious differences in art style between the shows and the appearance of the two leads, the biggest difference is that Ains from Overlord has the Dungeon of Nazareck and Diablo from Demon Lord doesn’t.

Ains arrives amongst allies and servants who he can order to do things on his behalf while he investigates the world or gets into fights.  In and of itself this is not a problem and a story written from such a scenario is totally workable.  The problem is that all the demons of Nazareck are themselves overpowered in the world of Overlord.  In season 1 and in most of the clips I’ve seen of later seasons the demons of Nazareck are curb stomping all of their opponents, with the only notable exception being the bug maid vs Evil Eye (if memory serves).  This is not to say I’m not missing a battle or two where they fight more difficult opponents but ultimately the issue is that not only is Ains op all of his allies are op too so there is never any tension in any of the battles.  Moreover it seems like an incredibly hamfisted level of overkill in the writing department.  What’s the point of having an OP protagonist trying to unravel the mystery of his situation if he could just command his 15-20 servants to do it all for him?  It’s like making a team of 15-20 Madara Uchiha’s from Naruto and saying “yeah people will like that!” – like wtf?  It’s fucking BORING because none of the main characters are ever in any danger and world itself is not challenging.

Even more annoying there is no reason given at all (in season 1 at least please correct me if they explain later) as to why the world of Overlord is so weak in comparison to Ains.  Here’s a completely inconsequential example that encapsulates my issues perfectly.  Early in season 1 Ains (in disguise) has to give away one of his potions.  As far as I know this is not a potion he made, it’s just a basic potion from the game.  However it’s considered pure and is better than the potions everyone else is using.  Can you believe it? Even a basic potion in Ains’ possession, which he never even has to use, is better than the potions of the world he inhabits.  That’s the unbelievable level of overkill the writer goes to in making sure Ains is the top dog, even his potions are better than everyone else’s and he doesn’t even use them.  I know this is such a minor thing but it speaks to my main issue with Overlord.  It doesn’t know when to stop.  It doesn’t know how to set any kind of limit for itself, any restrictions which might inject ANY tension into it whatsoever.  It just makes Ains and his goons the best in every way possible and shows you how they steamroll this world set on baby levels of easy mode.  And somehow it works for people, I sincerely don’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would like Superman and this has most of the same problems as Superman.

By comparison Diablo is brought into a world where he seems all but invincible but he doesn’t have a gang of overpowered buddies.  He has a pair of girls who fit into the normal range of characters levels for the vast majority of adventurers in the world Demon Lord takes place in.  His companions can and do get beaten in fights and struggle against superior foes anytime Diablo is unable to confront the threat himself.  There is actual tension because Diablo really only has like 4 or 5 people he can count on in this world and all of them have a very real chance of dying in the event he isn’t there to protect them, and he can’t be with all of them 24/7.  Moreover there are a few opponents who are more of a threat to Diablo than anyone in Overlord was a threat to one of Ains’ battle maids.  The Force Hydra, the Governor of Faltra, Krebskulm and even the Paladin are foes of a high enough level that they can at least damage Diablo, and a few even give them a run for his money or force him to the point exhaustion.

Which brings me to another point, not only do none of the native creatures or characters of Overlords world ever damage Ains, (again not that I’ve seen do correct me if I’m wrong) but even when he has to get serious to fight Shaltear there’s no negative effects at all.  Diablo meanwhile not only can be seen taking damage on rare occasions but he can exhaust himself, which leaves him practically bedridden the next day.  And while by most show’s standards this is barely a limit at all it is at least a limit – Ains not only doesn’t seem to have limits he actively is granted the means to ignore any limits he might otherwise have.  He can become a warrior good enough to steamroll this world despite the fact he’s a sorcerer.  And he has fucking gatcha items which allow him to equip the best melee weapons and armors without penalty and he doesn’t appear to suffer from using most or all of his mana if he ever even does.

Jumping back to the world being too weak, unlike Overlord, Demon Lord has an actual explanation as to why the world is so weak.  Namely that the lack of respawns has caused all the adventurers to be much more conservative so not only are their levels lower, they have far less experience with the skills they have.  Whereas Diablo played aggressively because it was a game, so he is high leveled and experienced with his skills.  But even with this explanation in place Demon Lord still makes room for a few major enemies who are high leveled.  And unlike Overlord Diablo’s potions aren’t inherently better than the potions of this world.

Where this difference in the relative power levels becomes most important is in Diablo’s companions.  Whereas Ains almost never has to worry about his servants because personality-wise they all praise him to high heaven and want to suck his dick, Diablo’s companions are total strangers to him and only bound to him by a slave collar that he won’t use on them.  These fragile bonds are important because Diablo’s human self has been betrayed in the past and struggles with connecting to people.  And of equal importance is that Ains’ companions are rarely in any danger, whereas Diablo’s are in danger all the time – or would be in the event he isn’t there.  This goes double for Rem who is the vessel sealing Krebskulm and is targeted by some humans and monsters because of this, and Shera who is a runaway princess being pursued by her countrymen and brother.  Between this combination of legitimate vulnerability, character backstories that imply significant struggles and the trials which arise in the present because of their pasts, I found the supporting cast much more likable in Demon Lord.  They were people I could sympathize with and in turn it made me like Diable more as he fought past his strong mistrust of people to support the few companions he has as much as he was able.  The demons of Nazareck meanwhile were all totally insufferable because of their boners for Ains coupled with their borderline invincibility.  There was nothing there to invest me in them and so they all fall flat.

Put simply where I think Overlord fails is in setting limits for itself.  I can understand the appeal of wanting to watch an OP hero crushing powerful enemies with ease and being an all around badass.  But where I think Demon Lord manages to strike this target with ease I feel Overlord overcompensates and goes too far.  When everyone and everything thing associated with Ains, even his basic potions for fuck’s sake, are better than the everything in the world around them it’s a clear case of overdoing it.  Fuck, just laying it out like that makes Overlord sound like a Mel Brooks-esque parody of shows like Demon Lord, but Overlord lacks the self-awareness and humor to be such a parody.  Instead it’s just a basic power fantasy taken to such an extreme degree in every detail that’s it unbearably frustrating just to think about, let alone watch.

All that said I do want to say sorry to Overlord fans if they feel like I’m attacking them.  That’s not my intent, I believe anyone can like anything and it doesn’t reflect badly on them.  This is just one more case where a popular show emerges and I can’t stand it.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Understanding Anime: The Trigger Twist, a Coinable Term Or a Misguided Assumption

darling in the franxx 2

Just about any community in life has it’s own lingo and as I’m sure you’re all aware anime is no exception.  Waifus, Moe, Tsundere, etc.  The list is long and yet here I am making one up – The Trigger Twist.  If the picture above isn’t enough to clue you in I decided to bring out this term as a result of the sudden shift in Darling Franxx’s story, a shift that threw a lot of people but which in retrospect is not obvious per se but is perhaps expected.  There will be scattered spoilers ahead.

The most obvious parallel which one can draw to the Trigger Twist is the infamous Gainax Ending, a term coined because of the number of WTF endings in Gainax shows.  My personal favorite example of this term in action was the sudden end of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, where Stocking turns on her sister/partner apropos of nothing and chops her into tiny bits before walking off to be the presumed villain of a sequel which never came out.  It was so sudden and out of left field that it still confuses the fuck out of me.  I can easily see the same being true for Darling in the Franxx, the shift was jarring.  However I think this deserves it’s own term because A. the confusion brought on by the jarring shift wore off while the aforementioned Gainax Ending is still baffling, and more importantly B. this is a traceable trend in the works of Hiroyuki Imaishi.

Perhaps the Trigger Twist isn’t a totally accurate term as it’s not as though Imaishi is the only director working for the studio.  That being said he not only co-founded the studio but is far and away the name most commonly associated with the studio so I think the term fits well enough even if I’m describing a tendency of Imaishi’s not Trigger behavior on the whole.  Barring Dead Leaves, which I know nothing about, and Panty and Stocking – which as detailed above is a classic example of the Gainax Ending – all of the major projects Imaishi has had a major hand in have the same twist, it turns out the main enemies are actually aliens which threaten humanity’s existence.  This trend predates Trigger as Gurren Lagann is the first main example that comes to mind, but it has continued into Trigger and is present in more of the major productions than not.

Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco and now Darling in Franxx stand beside Gurren Lagann as shows where the story takes a sudden shift and a new existence threatening enemy is revealed later on.  Luluco is by far the hardest sell on this point as the existential threat appears basically at the end and most of the episodes are clear references to Imaisihi’s past works but it counts in my book.  Kill la Kill and Darling in the Franxx are much more clear cut examples of the Trigger Twist in action, and of the two I think Darling in the Franxx is the one where the Trigger Twist was felt most strongly.

Kill la Kill was such an over-the-top, stupid action thrill ride (in my humble opinion the best of such that anime has to offer) that when the final enemy was revealed and the History channel Aliens meme went into full effect it really didn’t take you out of the experience.  It was Kill la Kill, where clothes could talk, clothes made you superhuman, a 20 year old was in high school, Ragyou wore the most hideous clown outfit in human history, Mako could defy any sense of logic or physics (a good thing), and we still don’t know what all made it into Mako’s mom’s mystery croquettes.  Adding aliens to the mix was perfectly in step with the wacky, violent world of Kill la Kill.  It wasn’t necessarily predictable but it wasn’t jarring.

By contrast the Trigger Twist in Darling the Franxx was very jarring and seems to have at least somewhat split the community on the show as a whole.  Speaking for myself, up until the Trigger Twist I had pegged Darling the Franxx as a cross between Evangelion, for obvious reasons you’ve no doubt heard before, and Shinsekai Yori with it’s strong focus on the gaps in knowledge between the adults and the kids, the use of brainwashing to control the children, the use of a control group (the main characters) and a strong sense that the rift between the adults and the kids would become the source of a great conflict.  That potential conflict had it’s legs cut from under it with the Trigger Twist and the big reveal of VIRM.

Personally I thought the VIRM arc of the show was handled pretty well with the confusion when they first showed up during the fight with the klaxosaurs, the big space battle that followed and the separation of the cast where Zero Two and Hiro went off to kill the VIRM homeworld and the rest set about making the foundations for reviving human civilization.  That being said I can see the negatives of this particular Trigger Twist, the shift was so sudden and so different from the direction the story seemed to be heading in that I can see why people were confused or perhaps thought of it more like a bait-and-switch than Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann.  As much as I like the show I think it’s about a 7-8 which is a shame because I thought it could definitely be a 9 or maybe even a 10 if handled well enough – before the Trigger Twist went into effect.

This is not to say that experience was wholly or even mostly negative but I do think the Trigger Twist definitely pushed Darling in the Fraxx into a different and for me less gripping trajectory.  I still like the show, I like the klaxosaur designs, I like some of the details of moving cities and their society, I like the entire main team, Zero Two is totally a contender for best girl of the year, and I think the mechs with faces that could emote to match the female pilot was perhaps the greatest innovation in mech design in anime history.  No I am not joking, I’m not a big mecha fan but I loved these mechs because they had so much more character than the competition.

That being said there is only one question remaining:  Do you think the Trigger Twist is just some bullshit I made up and should remain that way or do you think it’s some bullshit I just made up that should perhaps be added to anime lingo?  Comment below with your response.

Understanding Reviews: How Getting too Personal Wrecks a Review

Darling in the Franxx

Awkwardly titled though this post may be I’m deliberately playing off the video which this serves as a response to, a recent review by Mother’s Basement regarding Darling in the Franxx.  The following will assume you’re up to speed on the Darling in the Franxx, so major spoilers warning.  Now let’s begin.

Inserting yourself into reviews is a fine line to tread.  This might seem hypocritical as a writer’s tastes will obviously color their review, and the fact I wrote an entire post about how being me causes me to class with mainstream consensus so often.  However the video linked above is a clear demonstration that injecting too much of yourself, your thoughts and your values into a show is not only possible but a serious downside to any review.  The most obvious pitfall is coming in with warped expectations.  For example in the post linked above I detailed how Gigguk’s view of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as a SnK clone actively interfered with his review because it caused him to see narrative decisions caused by thematic differences between the two shows as weaknesses on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part, rather than seeing how well Koutetsujou no Kabaner’s narrative choices played into it’s themes.

On the flip side though, understanding a reviewers’ biases can be good.  For example if you came to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri looking for a new SnK, then as Gigguk describes you will likely be disappointed.  Moreover understanding biases can give you a sense of what kind of shows you and your reviewer of choice are mostly likely to differ on in a broad sense.  For example I’m a big Digibro fan but one area I know we differ on is history, both irl and fictional in-universe history.  I value history real or imagined to a great degree and Digibro doesn’t.  In practical terms it means that A. I know which shows I shouldn’t necessarily take his word on and B. I won’t get salty when he shits on some I show I like because I know that fundamentally the subject matter is not to his tastes and it is to mine.  This is why many reviewers, myself included, often do point out their biases when it’s relevant to do so, because it can help the audience.

With the general stuff out of the way the question is how did Mother’s Basement fuck his review up?  His review is broken down into 4 major points all of which relate to the world building and how it was handled in episode 19 versus the rest of the show.  He also makes a minor aside to point out that he thinks the marriage mini-arc is boring because he didn’t care about the side characters and the main characters have already undergone their development.  I disagree but this is because I like all the kids and the aftermath of the marriage arc is important in how it shapes the squad and their attitude towards the “adults” but I digress.  His main complaints are as follows.  1 – They botched Dr. Franxx’s backstory and made him a one note character because they boiled his amoral motivations down to being an atheist and his love interest side story was just a framing tool used as a distraction for the audience, so we wouldn’t bitch about the massive info-dump that Episode 19 was.  2 – Magma energy, assuming it is actually energy derived from magma, makes no sense – and if it’s a plot device made from a special fictional material the switch from oil to magma energy and the technology it produces comes way too fast and with too little resistance.  Also he has some issues with the allegorical components of the magma energy and the technology it produces.  3 – The Klaxosaurs have a really striking design so they should have a really interesting origin, and they don’t.  4 – It doesn’t make sense that Dr. Franxx should be the one to create the Franxx or that he should have so many problems understanding them in the past if he’s the one who built them.  And in case the Franxx turn out to be made from Klaxosuars (which the next episode confirms) then that’s a weak twist because this show is a homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and we could see that twist from a mile away.

Let’s start with point 1.  I do agree that Dr. Franxx has, on the whole, been made into a more one dimensional mad scientist than earlier episodes let on.  But Mother’s Basement’s reasoning behind it misguided and comes from him being really butthurt about atheists being seen as immoral by some sections of the population and this being reflected as trope in fiction.

As Mother’s Basement points out, even before the world goes to shit and before the death of his wife, Dr. Franxx was not bound by morals or ethics.  Dr. Franxx astutely points out that no one complains until after he succeeds because they want access to his successes, and this is part of what shapes his attitude.  This has plenty of real world parallels and one of the reasons the “mad scientist with no morals or ethics” is a trope is because the real world is rife with examples of horrible experiments performed either as a torture or for the sake of knowledge.  For an example of each, most of modern medicine’s understanding of how the human body reacts to cold comes from the Nazis and the data they collected while using freezing temperatures to torture Jews – and once upon a time in America they infected black men with Syphillis and didn’t give them treatment to study the effects of the disease.  Hardly research done by moral scientists in an ethical environment, but these experiments happened.  This sort of stuff is, I think, a better root source for the trope Dr. Franxx now fits into, than atheism, even if atheism is sometimes thrown into the mix.

Mother’s Basement was super salty about Dr. Franxx saying he was an atheist when confronted by questions of ethics or God because he saw that as the writer’s justification Dr. Franxx’s mental state and a trope as described above.  Personally though his delivery made it seem more like a deflection to me, like it was a placeholder excuse when he was confronted with questions he didn’t have a real answer for.  Most people do not reason themselves into their moral code, it comes from the environment they grow up in.  To them it’s just normal.  Dr. Franxx never had those things, nor does he have detailed reasons why he doesn’t have them in the same way most people don’t have detailed reasons as to why they espouse the moral code they do.  In simple terms Dr. Franxx is probably a sociopath and his atheism comment is not so much a justification for his beliefs as it is a quip.  I can understand that some atheists might take offence but as an atheist myself my response is grow a fucking thicker skin, I don’t think he meant anything deeper by the line nor do I think the writers are attacking atheists.

What I find most troublesome about Dr. Franxx’s portrayal is that it seemed like he actually had developed more empathy in his later years as per some of his lines to Hiro regarding Zero Two.  I mean technically they could have served as goads for Hrio because Dr. Franxx wanted to see his experiments come to fruition but they seemed to come from a place of empathy and they made Dr. Franxx seem more human than the rest of the adults despite his obviously mechanized body parts.  Now is he has become a cackling mad scientist all but orgasming in the face of the Klaxosaur Queen and it is cringey.  I do think they made Dr. Franxx into a worse character in Episodes 19 and 20 but Mother’s Basement’s obsession with the atheist line really skewed his analysis and made him come across as whining triggered snowflake putting his own insecurities about how atheists, and by extension he, are perceived.  I’m sure it resonated with people who felt the same but it legit ruined his analysis for me and many others if the comment section was anything to go by.  He even could have said it offended him and that would have been fine if he left it at that but his salt over that line colored so much of his analysis on this particular point that it really came across as a whine, not an analysis at all.

Point 2 is where Mother’s Basement is somehow even more correct and equally more infuriating.  I get that magma energy is a confusing name as it could conceivably refer to energy derived from magma but the fact that it never behaved like geothermal energy and attracted the Klaxosaurs the same way humans collecting Imulsion lead to conflict with the Locust in Gears of War made it pretty clear early on that “magma energy” was a fictional power source not energy derived from actual magma.  That he allowed for this would suggest that not even Mother’s Basement actually thought it was energy derived from magma.

The problem with his analysis at this point is that he argues that there’s no way big oil would go down without a fight and magma energy would not be adopted this quickly nor would it result in the meteoric rise of APE, the scientists (who we now know were manipulated by aliens) who bring about the use of magma energy.  His analysis is only true if 2025 Earth was exactly like ours and the show does not spell that out.  Sure it’s only seven years away but that still gives the setting some leeway.  Maybe green energy has overtaken oil and magma energy is seen as a super efficient green energy.  Maybe the world has all but run out of oil and magma energy is a necessary alternative, meaning that APE was in the right place at the right time, that would surely help account for their rapid rise to power.   It’s  not that Mother’s Basement is totally wrong here, in a more realistic show with more attention given to the setting his concerns would be totally valid.   But he isn’t giving the show an ounce of leeway when the writing gives it at least a little if we’re being strict, and a lot given that Trigger is involved and Imaishi usually plays very fast and loose with his world building for the sake of moving the story along and getting to the action.

Mother’s Basement has similar concerns about how quickly the magma energy tech is adopted by the world.  Again if the conditions of 2025 Earth are more dire than current Earth this problem mostly goes away.  His most accurate point here is that there’s no way in hell the majority of humans would be all over a drug that makes them sterile even if it grants them immortality, though technically they could have kids and then take the immortality drug and mitigate the sterility problem that way.  It is a weakness in the writing and one that I believe comes from Trigger’s tendency to move past some of the trickier logistics of their show’s backstories to get into the action and hit the twists.  Also addressing the minutiae that Mother’s Basement is really immersing himself into takes time and it’s time the writers seem not to feel they have to spare.  It’s just a cost of creating the show and I don’t think it’s an especially important one but at least Mother’s Basement is making a solid argument here and it obviously would matter more to people like him.

What makes this portion of his analysis insufferable is his talk of allegories.  He complains that the magma energy and the destruction of the environment is an allegory for the environmental damages brought about by oil, and that the people making the allegory have done no research given how quickly it is adopted and how big oil doesn’t fight it.  How does he know?  Is he a mind reader?  It’s easy to see that magma energy could be an allegory for oil, but it could also not be an allegory.  It could just be an idea the writers thought was interesting.  I’m very much with Tolkien on disliking allegory in general and how it is confused with applicability.  I don’t go looking for allegories when I watch or read things because allegory can only come from the audience and doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s thoughts on any given subject.  A good example where the author’s intent is clear is Parasyte.  Shinichi kills Gotou with a poison that resulted from chemicals humans were illegally dumping and Migi is not subtle at all when he explains how dangerous our waste can be.  The author’s intent there is crystal clear and so the environmental message is fine.  But getting hung up an allegory YOU impose on the creators whether or not it accurately reflects their intent is fucking stupid, and when Mother’s Basement did it it just set me and other people off.

Point 3 is just stupid.  Yes I’m sure everyone wishes that the Klaxosaurs had a totally unique and original backstory.  But the fact that their designs are striking and iconic has literally no impact on how creative their backstory will be.  The Gunmen from Gurren Lagann are pretty iconic and their origins are pretty standard, as an example.  I appreciate Mother’s Basement’s desire for the Klaxosaurs to be more fleshed out, interesting and unique but his logic as to why they SHOULD be more unique is really fucking stupid.  Cool designs do not equal cool backstories, they literally never have and I have no idea why he thought they should.

Point 4 is kind of a mess.  For starters him pointing out that Dr. Franxx is a biologist not an engineer is asinine.  Dr. Franxx is clearly intended to be the smartest man around as a trope but even getting away from that has Mother’s Basement not heard the term Renaissance Man.  Some people are just really good at a wide variety of subjects and they tend to be geniuses.  One my grandparent’s neighbors is like that.  He’s super knowledgeable about planes, wine and a wide variety of other subjects, while also being one of the world’s foremost experts on blood diseases.  People like that exist in real life, that Mother’s Basement mocks this idea before going into the rest of the argument looks like him poisoning the well, i.e. trying to discredit the character from the outset.

I do agree that Dr. Franxx not knowing the issues the early Franxx wouldn’t make sense if they weren’t actually made from Klaxosaurs, but not only did Episode 20 confirm that they were made from Klaxosaurs, Mother’s Basement predicts as much and calls it a weak twist for being obvious because Darling in the Franxx is a homage to NGE.  So his mechanical criticisms are irrelevant and he expected this might be the case.  But his weak twist complaint is just as bad.  First off just because shows have similar elements that doesn’t mean they are a homage to something else, and even if it is a homage that doesn’t mean the story will follow the ideas of the work it’s paying homage to.  Also do remember that some people haven’t seen NGE and may not know that the Franxx being made out of Klaxosaurs is an obvious twist.  Sure it’s a weak twist to him but he doesn’t say it like that, he lays down his opinion as if it’s as factual as the stuff he brought up earlier about how big oil behaves or how long it takes for new medicines to be adopted.   Honestly to me it seemed like Darling in the Franxx was dropping more hints that the Klaxosaurs were humans, like Suisei no Gargantia or Shin Sekai Yori.

I think that about wraps this up.  I don’t blame Mother’s Basement for feeling the way he does or having the views he does, but I do think he desperately needed to keep the personal side of his analysis in check.  Like I said at the beginning it’s a fine line between including useful bias info and making the review too personal but it’s also not a line that many cross or that it’s difficult to avoid.  Maybe you need to step back and think about how other people might think about a show, episode or scene.  Maybe you make a point to clarify what’s your opinion versus what is more objectively factual.  You can put a lot of yourself into a review with great success, but Mother’s Basement really botched this one.  Regardless of where we disagree, his analysis was too full of bits that I would best describe as whining and nitpicking to make it seem like a credible review.  I can respect arguments I disagree with if they are well formed, and this one was too warped by Mother’s Basement’s personal hang ups to make it appear well formed – even if I agree with some of the conclusions he puts forth, all too often I find his reasoning to be flawed.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding The OP Gamer: How The King’s Avatar Crushes SAO

quanz

Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or the King’s Avatar in English, is one of three perfect avenues to explore just why SAO is a pile of shit and just how it could have been done better.  The other avenues are of course Log Horzion, previously discussed here and here, and the subject of my previous post – SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online.  With the 3 ONAs released this season now over I figured it was time to explore this third avenue into the construction of video game-centric anime, specifically because it shines where SAO fails the most – the OP main character.  There will be spoilers.

One of the main reasons Kritio is so hard to buy into unless you wish to project onto him is that it’s not clear why he is good.  I mean the fact that he’s 15 isn’t much help if you’ve got a few years on him, but one of the most obvious features of SAO is that Kirito is stupidly powerful and crushes almost anyone he bothers to fight.  What’s not so obvious is why.  Ignoring the ‘because he’s the main character’ reason – which for the record is a bad reason when used just by itself – there’s no real explanation given.  It is implied that Kirito is the best because he was the best of the beta testers and that presumably the beta testers are better than the new players.  Borrowing a bit from Digibro’s epic 1 hr takedown of SAO season 1, if we assume that all the beta testers made it into the first 10,000 players who are trapped in Aincrad then Kirito is in the top 10 percentile of players if we assume the beta testers are automatically better than everyone else.  Building on that if he’s the best beta tester, he’s the best player.   But is it really that simple?

Keep in mind that being a beta tester is no indication of a player’s baseline skill, you could have been selected because you were chosen from the people who rushed to get the beta even if you’d never played an MMO before.  You could even be ill suited to MMO’s, like me, and not do terribly well even if you were interested enough to try and get in the beta – though logically you probably wouldn’t do that shit.  And where does talent come into this?  People learn games at different speeds, is it really implausible for a new player to, after getting a hang of things, outstrip the beta testers?  Especially since it’s explicitly stated that some things have changed since the beta.  In that regard relying on beta knowledge could actually be a weakness – there’s this apt line in Kingdom where a military genius explains that in a clash between two opponents who know each other, if the weaker one is slightly better than the better one believes him to be, then the rug could get pulled out from under the better one because the better one came in with the wrong expectations.  The beta testers could deal with something similar and while this is not spelled that it does seem like a good explanation as to why Diabel, the blue haired guy who dies fighting the first boss, ends up losing despite his knowledge of the game’s mechanics and his status as a beta tester.

There’s an even bigger problem looming behind all of this though.  How do you even measure things which make a player better?  In The King’s Avatar the players are not trapped in a game, they are playing a wildly popular MMO/MOBA hybrid which has just hit it’s tenth anniversary.  Though we experience much of the story through the game world and the players’s avatars, we also experience it through the people on the keyboards, but more on that later.  In The King’s Avatar there are clear ways to demonstrate one’s skill at the game, one the most basic being a player’s Actions per Minute or APM rate.  Relative noobs can crush more established players if the difference in their respective APMs is too great.  The greatest counterbalance to APM though is game knowledge, experienced players will not only know more advanced tactics and have a better feel for the controls, they can gain clear advantages by memorizing ability cooldown times and the hit boxes of spells and attacks.  In simple terms if a high APM noob can unleash far more attacks than the knowledgeable veteran, then the veteran can use their knowledge to evade or even counter their faster opponent with less effort.

SAO has nothing like what I just described.  It’s combat is vague, the mechanics are not spelled out very often or very well and no one even attempts to justify how the VR tech measures the differences between people.  For example Kirito gets the dual wielding ability because he has the best reaction time of anyone in the game.  But that begs the question, how is the VR tech measuring or calculating his reaction time?  Is it how quick his brain processes information and forms a clear response?  If so how does that work in the VR?  In real life there are different speeds at which people can mental or physically process and react to information, so how is Kirito the one with best reaction time?  Is he like that Japanese guy who’s anticipatory reflexes are so good he can cut airsoft pellets in half with a sword – seriously google that shit, I’m not making it up, there a videos of the guy doing it – or is something else in play?  The answer is a titanic shrug because Reki Kawahara either never even bothered to ask such questions when designing his setting or handwaved them when he wasn’t able to find or create a satisfactory explanation.

Right so what SAO gives us is an OP teenager who is OP because plot and then sets out to tell a story centered on this kid’s adventures – which it does badly as I explained in depth here, here and here.  The King’s Avatar starts in a very different position.  It opens with an explanation that over the first ten years of its run Glory has become an international smash hit, with it’s most famous and beloved pro player being Ye Qiu, the main character.  Then it cuts away from the game to discuss real life events messing with Ye Qie, namely that his team’s success has been slowing down and the manager basically forces him to quit and sign a contract saying he won’t compete until next year.  This is significant because Ye Qiu is 25, old as pro gamers go, and already considered to be in his over-the-hill phase by his manager and jealous teammates.  This contract is seen as his resignation from Glory’s pro-scene for good by everyone, except of course Ye Qiu.  Ye Qiu accepts the underhanded blow with as much grace as you could hope for, then he finds a job at an internet cafe and immediately starts playing with a new account on Glory’s newest server.

One of the major differences in the very earliest stages of the two shows is that SAO dropped us into the game and then dropped the dramatic hammer meant to hook the audience, the players are trapped and if they die in the game, they die for real.  The focus was not on Kirito per se, he’s just the lens we experienced the story through – though after the first two episodes SAO was basically a show about Kirito and his adventures despite the fact almost no time was spent developing Kirito as a character.  This was a massive mistake as it was the hook, the WOW meets the Matrix setup everyone immediately grabbed onto that held the keys to the show’s success.  We only care about Kirito in sense that he could die, and once that was removed the show deflated into a shit pile.

By contrast, after briefly giving us enough context to know what game we’ll be looking at and how Ye Qiu is related to this game, the King’s Avatar immediately focuses on Ye Qiu and his life.  We follow his adventures because, ideally at least, we are interested in HIM, not the game – and at the very least the way he gets screwed so hard right when we meet him is a great way to to get us to root for him from the outset.  We all want to see him stick it to the man and give these assholes the bird.  But the game is central to this story because it is the means by which he will rise to the challenge thrust upon him.  This is a flexible introduction to the game as, if we start rooting for Ye Qiu for personal and moral reasons as the show is intending, the game could be anything.  You could pick any kind of high level competitive sport, or in this case esport, and this setup would work for it.  If we’re hooked on the idea of Ye Qiu fighting to get back at the people who screwed him then the creators can put whatever rules into the game that they want – we won’t care so long as we get to know the rules and see Ye Qiu abide by them, we are good to go.

In this way The King’s Avatar manages to get away with not explaining every last detail about the game and how it’s played where SAO suffers massively from how vague the information on it’s mechanics are.  In fact if you take a cold clinical look at Glory it’s overall design is very basic – a class based MMO inspired by D & D and WOW, with a strong competitive MOBA scene alongside it – and the show doesn’t explain what each class can do in the same exhaustive detail as Log Horizon would.  But the basics of how it functions are extremely intuitive and the show provides extra detail when it needs to.  It even manages to do the ‘”classless” character better than SAO.  In SAO nobody had any classes, you just got better at what you did Skyrim-style and that was that.  By comparison The King’s Avatar explains that while Unspecialized is a class anyone can play, and it has a great deal of flexibility as that’s it’s main selling point, it’s generally not used much and it’s never used in professional play because it doesn’t have any of the clear bonuses that a more focused character class comes with at higher levels.

Ye Qiu of course starts smurfing, for lack of a better term, as an Unspecialized immediately once he gets a new account, but unlike Kirito he does this deliberately.  There’s a flashback of him and a teammate making a custom transforming weapon, which he retrieves and uses, showing this has been on his mind for some time.  But unlike Kirito, who again is good because plot, Ye Qiu makes this unviable class work because he’s a master of the game.  He’s been it’s top player for years and he’s been playing since the game first came out.  Assuming he’s a pro all 10 years, the intro doesn’t spell that out but it’s kind of implied, he has top tier game knowledge – at this point he probably knows more about this game and how the classes function than the creators do.  He knows all the skills and how they interplay and because he’s Unspecialized he can pick and choose whatever skills he wants.  Combine that priceless experience and knowledge with a weapon tailor-made for an Unspecialized player and Ye Qiu is able to quite handily turn the unviable class into a weapon far greater than anyone else can imagine.

But it’s not just extensive game knowledge and years of experience of the highest level of play Ye Qiu brings to the table, it’s the APM required to maintain his pro status for all of those years.  APM is given a big focus throughout The King’s Avatar, from Ye Qiu being kicked because his team expects his APM to slow down to unacceptable levels based on his age to the APM of promising noobs catching Ye Qiu’s eye so that he starts bringing them under his wing, his low key preparations for his planned return to the pro-scene at the head of a brand new team full of talent.  There’s also an interesting pro player who Ye Qiu knows and plays against later in the series, and Ye Qiu states that it would be unfair if this guy had great APM, set to footage cutting between their in-game battle and the noticeable difference in speed of the players’ hands at the keyboard.  This shows that this particular pro would be even better than Ye Qiu if he had the technical capabilities to match Ye Qiu’s APM because his game knowledge is so formidable.  Which of course brings us back to game knowledge.

Throughout The King’s Avatar it is repeatedly shown that what makes Ye Qiu the best is not his high APM or his extensive game knowledge but that fact that he has both at his disposal.  He fights people with superior APM and people with superior game knowledge, but thus far no one who has such high levels of both, and so Ye Qiu comes out on top with relatively little effort in most of his battles, just like Kirito.  But again, unlike Kirito who is good for no reason, we know that Ye Qiu has acquired the things which make him so good over years of high level play.  What The King’s Avatar gets away with is nothing short of brilliant, it straight up tells us Ye Qiu is the best and then shows us how this came to be – without even using loads of flashbacks or exposition dumps – with such clarity that it convinces us that he is indeed the best in a way that gives the character gravitas rather than diminishes the stakes of his battles.  He’s the Isaac Netero of his story, the goal which all other pros seek to reach, and his struggle is as much a battle against his aging body as it is a clash against powerful foes.

This is also the reason The King’s Avatar takes a such a different approach to Ye Qiu’s companions than SAO does to Kirito’s.  Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirito’s companions are either waifus for his harem or a couple of bros which he can compare himself to and seem vastly superior to.  His only companion of real note is Asuna because of the depth of their relationship in the Aincrad and Alfheim arcs – but after that SAO spends so much time away from Asuna that this doesn’t matter in the long run.  By comparison, with the exception of Che Guo – the internet cafe manager – Ye Qiu’s companions are young players he sees potential in.  These include a couple of players like Tang Rou, inexperienced players with great APM, and lower level pros who are struggling to break into the tops ranks of their team or struggling to fit into their team entirely.  Ye Qiu uses his game knowledge to mentor these budding talents, a style of storytelling and gameplay which acknowledges his status as the best player but one where the dramatic stakes lie not in Ye Qiu’s inevitable victories in battle but whether or not his pupils are able to learn from him and grow as he would like them to.

Ye Qiu is basically a combination of Kirito from SAO and Shiroe from Log Horizon, melding the best parts of both of their characters.  He has the same experience, game knowledge and strategic capacity which makes Shiroe so dangerous in team fights and so good at teaching new players, while having a strength similar to Kirito’s as a solo combatant.  And through a strong understanding about what makes pro players good at computer games, careful use of storytelling and strong attention to detail – the King’s Avatar manages to tell a story you can really get invested in despite the fact it’s protagonist is about as OP as a gamer can be.  And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.  Hope y’all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Understanding Storytelling: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Boruto

Sumire_desconcertada

Now that Boruto has hit the 50 episode mark, it’s first recap episode, and the Chunin Exam will start shortly it’s as good a time as any for a look at what Boruto does well and what kind of problems the show faces.  Obviously there will spoilers.

My greatest concern overall is that Boruto seems to have a big problem managing weakness.  Many of of Boruto the character’s fellow shinobi are pretty weak, as one would expect them to be.  But Boruto’s team is broken as shit.  I get that Boruto is supposed to be a prodigy and all but he, Mitsuki and Sarada are all way better than basically all of their classmates.  The only character whose strength I’m totally ok with is Iwabe, because is several years older and has intensely focused on ninjutsu to the detriment of his studies – hence why he’s had to repeat the academy several times.  Honestly this problem really just applies to Boruto’s team but considering that they are the main team it’s a serious problem.  Boruto seems to have very few problems fighting opponents who should be above his level, Mitsuki apparently can already use Sage Mode because plot and Sarada, who at least is still a beginner at the Sharingan, can inexplicably use super strength despite that not being a technique she is training to use.

This jump starting of the main team is a serious mistake as what made the early parts of Naruto great was how the characters managed their very limited abilities to the best of their ability.  There’s no real need for them to be this strong and some of the things they can do, like the Sage and super strength don’t make any sense.  These are not abilities you just get.  Sage Mode requires intense training and the super strength is the by-product of a very specific style of healing jutsu.  Mitsuki and Sarada have not done any of the training required to get their powers.  Boruto on the other hand just seems to have more jutsus than he should although he’s honestly the least problematic of the three.  Still having the characters start so strong raises some serious red flags.  The biggest trap Boruto should be aiming to avoid is the drastic rise in power levels that made late Naruto episodes a snorefest .  Ideally Boruto and Co never get as strong as their parents partly for the sake of the story but also partly because they live in an age of relative peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately one of the core ideas in Naruto was the whole, child/student surpasses the parent/teacher, and it used that idea to excellent effect so I would bank on Boruto going for the same thing.

Which brings me to my next point.  Boruto seems very willing to follow almost identical story beats to Naruto, some of which work to it’s advantage and some of which are unnecessary or even weak.  As I discussed before the Kakashi test was a good example of this being weak, because the ideas which Kakashi was trying to teach are way less applicable in Boruto’s day and age than they were in Naruto’s time.  They’ve basically taken the Zabuza arc and split it into three parts, the Mist Village rebellion, the random town they saved from rouge ninja’s where the conflict centered around a bridge and now the Byakuya gang arc which drew heavily on Haku and Ice Style to create it’s own story, which admittedly was the best of the three arcs.  Drawing on Naruto for inspiration isn’t necessarily a problem but it has been very hit or miss thus far and the creative staff needs to take into account the global changes in Boruto’s world which separate it from Naruto.

Jumping back to the first problem about jump starting the main team I think I see the motivation.  One of the main problems Boruto’s creative staff will have to face is creating adversaries and scenarios which are dangerous enough to be tense and challenging for the kids but which aren’t so dangerous that their parents won’t just come in and curb stomp the problem.  They have mostly managed this just fine so far but as the power levels rise this problem will only get trickier.  I think the reason the main team is so strong for their age is so that the staff can justify letting them tackle problems which, realistically, the adults would do.  This is counter productive though, in part as explained above the dangers of making the kids overpowered but it also negates one of the shows greatest strengths, the contrasts between the current generation and the previous one.

Consistently the greatest scenes and most interesting dialogue comes from Naruto era characters either talking about how things used to be/how different things are now, or imparting word of wisdom to Boruto and Co.  I loved when the Five Kages have a discussion about their concerns about a lack of strong new ninjas.  Naruto and Sarada had both some warming father daughter moments, because Sasuke is terrible as a dad, but he also impresses on her how ludicrously strong he is during the fight with Uchiha Shin, and honestly I think Boruto needs a taste of that to level out his ego.  Hell even more recently when Naruto personally takes some time to recognize Iwabe and let him now that being a repeat student is not a stain on his reputation or character as Naruto himself was a repeater.  It’s been great stuff all around and if anything I’d rather see the kids struggle more and involve the adults more in helping them get through their issues.  Because while seeing the kids develop is part of the appeal of a show like Boruto, another obvious appeal is seeing how characters we grew up in Naruto have changed as they became adults.

One of the other differences between Naruto and Boruto is their pacing.  Both shows are slow but for entirely different reasons.  Naruto was slow because of protracted battles and lengthy, gratifying training arcs.  Boruto is slow because it switches off between being Naruto and being Naruto-slice of life edition.  There are a number of episodes where the objective is definitely about building the class and the teams as characters and not bothering with any serious conflicts.  And even the conflicts are taken much slower, as I explained thus far Boruto has taken elements of the Zaubza Arc and split it into 3 arcs.  The battles in Boruto are not protracted because how could they be?  If the battle was a big enough deal to be protracted the adults would come in and clean things up quickly.  I don’t mind that Boruto is taking it’s time but I do sincerely hope they don’t forego training arcs entirely as the Naruto’s training arcs were fucking great, it made his high level techniques feel far more justified if we see him busting his ass to get them.

Those are the main issues.  There have been some surface level changes like Naruto generally being goofier and more consistently funny, there being an all male and all female team instead of the standard 2 guys 1 girl, and Anko went from sexy to fat, but Boruto has been treading cautiously, a wise move, and hasn’t had any moments big or dramatic enough to make it like Naruto.  My only suggestions would be that if Boruto is intent maintaining this slower pace it should be doing more to flesh out the changes in the world that have occurred since Naruto’s generation have come into power and adulthood.  If on the other hand Boruto is about to drop some big dramatic or action bombs then it needs to be careful of not treading into power levels which the kids should not have or which the adults should deal with.

I think Boruto has been a decent time and I’m looking forward to where it goes but ultimately it doesn’t have the same hook that early Naruto did and nor can it really.  It’s banking on Naruto’s famous if somewhat dubious legacy and that severely limits what the creative staff can do and what they should or should not do.  I will be cautiously optimistic about the future of this show but I see some clear pitfalls and am very worried by what I saw in the opening flashforward.  Honestly I think Boruto will crash and burn at some point and the real question is, how long can they prevent this from happening while keeping the show interesting, and so far the answer seems like quiet a while.

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

boruto 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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