Surly Summaries: Musaigen no Phantom World

You know I usually wait for a show to actually end before I do these kinds of posts.  However, this show was so disappointing it convinced me to start writing these when I drop a currently airing show from now on instead of just when a show is over.

Musaigen no Phantom World was never actually good.  I knew that, I said as much after episode 1, this show was not nor would ever be good.  But I at least expected that it would entertaining, and that, in conjunction with it’s undisputedly high quality animation, would make the show turn out ok.  Episode 1 for example was entertaining, what with the animated poles and the ridiculous fanservice scene during the limbo game.  It also had a few genuinely interesting bits, like when Reina ate that weird Phantom graveyard thing.  There were even bits where the comedy was good.  In episode 3 or 4 there’s a scene where Reina is eating at some restaurant and she’s doing the typical glutton character thing and eating plate after plate of food.  It’s a common trope, but Musaigen treads into some meta humor by actually showing us the waiter’s face get more and more distraught as Reina eats another plate, shot in this artsy style where the frame rate is way higher than normal for anime to get the punchline across without dragging the scene out.

Sadly that was one of the only moments in the show that tried to do anything interesting and was successful in doing so.  After episode 4 or 5, when the team has finally been fully assembled, the show just gets boring as fuck.  There is no driving narrative or plot, which is fine episodic shows aren’t exactly uncommon and they can be done well.  But where Musaigen fucks up is that its episodic adventures are just plain boring.  Even if some of the Phantoms are cool, like the weird cat-house Phantom that looked like it came straight from a Ghibli film, each episode just feels pointless.  They don’t add character development or romance or world-building or fucking anything.  They just sit there using all these wacky scenarios and monsters to deliver mostly uninteresting fanservice, if KyoAni has a weakness it’s that their fanservice pales in comparison to that from other studios, and mostly the same fucking tired anime joke scenarios and gags that got old years ago.  This was honestly one of the worst shows of the entire season, a total snorefest and a waste of excellent animation.  I am thoroughly disappointed in this one, do skip it if you haven’t watched it already.  See you in the next one.

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Revisionist Renaissance: SAO-Part 2

If you are reading this speculative pipe dream of a post I will assume you have either seen the Alfheim arc of SAO and maybe know it’s problems or have read my review on the arc, linked here for your convenience, and know where I coming from.  It may also help to read my first Revisionist Renaissance, to see where I was going with Aincrad arc and just get a look into my head when it comes to storytelling and directing.  Or you don’t care about any of that and are here to consume my words, for which I am very thankful.  Anyway with that out of the way, let’s get the show on the road.

So Alfheim is generally considered the worst arc of SAO, though I found GGO to be much harder to get through personally, and it’s not hard to see why.  Asuna is made into a helpless maiden in a cage, and her warden wants to rape her to boot.  The pacing is atrocious, the characters are usually even worse than they were in Aincrad and of course the new main girl had to be Kirito’s brocon, sister-cousin which is a harem character archetype I don’t understand the appeal of and generally hate.  So with all of this against it, what would I do to remake the Alfheim arc?  I’d scrap the whole fucking thing.  You see there is one thing that could have been interesting if you think about it.  Before the Alfheim arc begins Suguha gets into the game while Kirito is still trapped in Aincrad.  She willingly enters a VRMMO while a major VRMMO scandal is still under way, in an attempt to better understand the love of her life.  While I still hate the fact she loves Kirito instead of being an actual character with her own set of traits and personality separate from Kirito, this is probably the biggest single action she takes and the series just glosses over it because all A-1 and Kawahara care about is how she falls for Kirito (though some fans don’t help).  Anyway that would be the story I would focus on if I were making Alfheim, rather than shoehorning Kirito and Asuna into yet another game which is not a really game, it should have been about Suguha and her experiences with MMOs and MMO communities.  Alfheim should have been something of a coming of age tale for Suguha, not another barren story designed to show off Kirito’s power level.  The point of the story should be to develop Suguha as a character separate from Kirito so that she could actually be a relevant character later down the line.

Also here’s one of the odd problems of SAO.  It’s a harem with a pre-positioned “best girl”, none of the other girls even come close to Asuna with regards to their ability in battle or the sexiness of their design.  This is bad for two reasons.  One, of the few merits the harem genre generally has, one of them is for the audience to place themselves in the main character’s shoes and ship themselves with one of the myriad girls in love with main character.   It’s a nice little escape from reality, especially if you happen to be single or have problems with romance in real life.  Whether or not this is healthy is up for debate but it is something that makes the harem genre worthwhile.  But Two, and more importantly, there is no way I can believe in any world where there is a “best girl.”  See the thing with men going after chicks is that we have different tastes, we will never all agree that one chick is the hands down hottest girl in any given population.  But for some reason Asuna is always considered the hottest girl in any game she plays and the same goes for the real world.  This makes no fucking sense, not to mention I’m a weirdo and I’m actually bothered by how Asuna is clearly designed to be a cut above the other girls in SAO, as opposed to shows with a cast where the girls can better compete with each other.  A good example would be Tokisaki Kurumi and Yatogami Tohka from Date A Live, regardless of which you like more I think we can agree that neither is designed to be clearly better than the other, they just appeal to different tastes which is how harem characters should be designed.  In this sense Suguha was actually the girl I preferred from a design standpoint because she wasn’t designed to be way sexier than the other girls, she just appealed to tastes more in line with my own.  Anyway to make this paragraph have an actual point, the idea is that Suguha should be able to compete with Asuna somehow and since her design is intended to be worse she needs something else to bolster her character, as do all the other girls.  So giving Suguha an arc where she can really come into her own, is a crucial step towards making the harem work and it’s just an improvement to the storytelling.

As for where I would take the story, it should focus on Suguha’s guild.  For example she gets help from her classmate who also plays the game, Recon, and after adjusting to the game she ends up joining his guild.  From there she rapidly improves and as she does, she gains more confidence and independence.  Then she could clash with guild leader, which then drives him to try and betray their race at the meeting just like what actually happened in the show, except with Suguha facing off against Eugene instead of Kirito.  Hell you could even keep Aincrad’s time skips and episodic structure to allow for Suguha’s improvement to take up a reasonable time frame.  The point is Suguha’s story should be one where she not only learns about MMO’s but where her MMO adventures lead her to deeper realizations about herself, and then sees her grow as a character.  Suguha should end up a power player by the end, she should bring something to table that makes her valuable later on in the show.  What that something is up for grabs, maybe it’s a specific skill set that allows her to stand out in battle, maybe it’s the confidence to go out adventuring on her own so that she can drag Kirito into other conflicts like in the Excalibur arc, or maybe she get’s over her crush on Kirito and hooks up with Klein.  Whatever it is, what Suguha needs is something to make her presence in any given arc worthwhile for reasons beyond harem fan service,  she should have something that makes her relevant to the narrative and justifies her presence in the story.  And in my opinion, she needs her own adventure story to get that relevance.  And making the Alfheim arc about Suguha means we never have to see Sugou ever again… so that’s a plus.

Anyway this is about all I have to say on the subject.  Sorry if you wanted a more specific re-envisioning like I had in Part 1 of this series.  Sadly this arc has so little to go on that I can’t borrow almost any pre-established elements like I could with Aincrad.  But at the least I wanted to get my concept idea out there because even among good anime reviews and critiques, I don’t see a lot of this sort of thing.  A lot of reviews are too rigid, my own are no exception more often than not, focusing on the same aspects of a show without branching out and looking through a new angle, in particular the directing is rarely talked about when compared to say animation quality or just summaries of the plot that is, not what the plot could be.  Hopefully you all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Revisionist Renaissance: SAO Part 1

So on Youtube there’s this guy who goes by Digibro and he has some great videos where he absolutely wrecked SAO.  These videos actually had a big influence on both my reviews of the show and my decision to start blogging in the first place.  Anyway in one of his videos on GGO he briefly took some time away from shitting on the show to talk about how it could have been good.  And interestingly enough I had done the same thing with the other arcs of SAO in my first 28 page single-space review which I later scrapped for being too damn long.  So I figured I would resurrect a small portion of that sleeping giant of a review.  Ladies and gentlemen may I present to you my retroactively improved versions of SAO.  Much like SAO reviews each post will only cover one arc at a time, this post will only cover part one aka the Aincrad arc.

The problems with SAO are many and most of them in the Aincrad arc are so fundamental that the entire story does not work, if you want to know more about why, the review which explains these problems can be found here, I will assume going forward that you have seen the series and are at least somewhat familiar with the show’s problems or have read the linked post and know the problems in detail.  Because SAO is so thoroughly broken at such a basic level it’s difficult to even figure out what is worth keeping and where to start reworking the story.  So I actually have two different versions of the story I think could work because they include different elements of the original story and thus would work very differently.

The first version would start by scrapping everything except the first episode because that at least explained the situation very clearly.  Then the series would start by following Kirito who goes off on his own at first as he searches for the first floor boss.  Then he would run into other players who had the same idea he did like Agil or Asuna or even Diabel.  Then he would either hear of someone who had found the boss’ location and attend a conference like he did in episode of the actual show or if he had found Diabel beforehand he could have been one the people working with Diabel to help recruit people so they could fight the boss and win. And blah blah blah… long story short I would turn SAO into a long running shounen series.  I can already hear your groans and see the eyes being rolled but stay with me here.  SAO was never great because it had interesting characters, good storytelling or basically anything else.  It was popular because it’s characters and setting looked nice, people liked the premise and it was power fantasy targeted towards young boys.  Long shounen series target the same audience but reinforce the power fantasy by including more action, which for a show with sword in the title SAO doesn’t actually have a lot of.  Sure it has some but most of the action is concentrated into three fights, the first boss battle, Kirito versus Gleam Eyes and Kirito vs Heathecliffe.  Outside of those battles the action was sporadic and generally kept very short.  Another thing to note is despite the fact SAO has nice character and setting designs the animation actually isn’t very good except for a few key moments.  This would actually work pretty well for a long running shounen, it go HunterxHunter style and keep the pretty designs during low key scenes the whole run of the show and then they could cut costs with regards to the animation during minor action scenes kind of like they did in the scene where Asuna fights Kuradeel, where no one actually moves her attacks are just lines that flash across a panning shot. Yes that would still be lame but it’s better than some of the frames from the Naruto vs Pain fight.

Anyway why do I think a long running shounen version of SAO would work?  Well if there was anything I did want more of from SAO it was battles and seeing the time where Kirito levels up.  That was one of the biggest dropped balls in the show for me, not showing us how Kirito got so powerful in-between episodes.  These episodes wouldn’t even have to be very creative and the SAO fanboys would eat them up because they could see their lord and savior Jesus-kun, woops I mean Kirito-sama, fight and crush more monsters or bad guys.  Also turning SAO into a long running shounen would make the creation Kirito’s harem a bit less annoying.  Instead of dedicating a major chunk of the show’s run time to back-to-back episodes of Kirito saving girls who then fall for him the show could have spread out Kirito’s female conquests so that it wouldn’t be as distracting, the same way Naruto gradually gains more friends and supporters throughout his journey instead of getting them all at once.  Another thing to consider is that the Aincrad story actually took place over two years, in order to cram all of that into just a little over a normal anime season they had to resort to tons of major time skips and boy did those fuck with the story.  By turning the story into a long running shounen they wouldn’t have to make major time skips, at least not very often.  This would keep us more invested in everything going on because it would stop the problems that resulted from all the time skips that made many of the episodes feel disconnected from each other.  Another major benefit to a long shounen is that while the main character always ends up OP as fuck at least their important friends get some scenes and battles along the way.  It would be great to see Asuna, Klein and Agil fight their own battles without Kirito’s shadow looming over them and damning them to irrelevance in any given action scene.  If you turned SAO into a long running shounen you could leave what we had almost entirely unchanged, though I’d recommend dropping the beta-tester hate, and just pad out the story with in-between episodes ranging from simple character development episodes, random one-off battle episodes akin to many of the early episodes of Inuyasha and entire arcs where they have to find and then beat a floor boss.  The final benefit to this setup is that because they could shows the full two years of the story in detail there would be no need to set up the Alfheim arc, because we wouldn’t need more SAO right away, they could just end the Aincrad series and then take a big break before working on any more of the books.

The second solution would keep everything from the first two episodes except with one major change.  In this version Kirito would not come up with his “beater” solution and a genuine rift would form between the small group of beta-testers, here I’m assuming not all of them came back for the final game, and the rest of the community.  The overall effect of this change would be to make the show more like Nanatsu no Taizai.  In my review of that show, I said part of what made it refreshing was that we were following the powerful and the outcasts, and as such could avoid a lot of the baggage attached to the battle shounen genre.  The same idea would apply here and it would reinforce the dark edge found in SAO’s death game premise.  Instead of the show focusing on just Kirito dicking around after the boss fight, the show would be about Kirito, Klein, Asuna and Agil working together to find other beta-testers so that they could band together and survive the world while still advancing through the game.  The idea here being that beta-testers would be forcibly exiled from the community if they were found out and forced to survive out in the world or fall victim to sleeping PKs, which for those don’t remember are when players challenged sleeping players to duels and killed them that way.  This means most beta-testers either be forced to not level-up and lead unassuming lives or join bands of elite players like Kirito, Klein, Asuna and Agil to stay alive.  This situation would also create a reasonable set of circumstances from which Laughing Coffin would arise.  That was one thing that bothered me in the original.  I mean having a guild of player killers is cool dramatic idea but the practical sides of making one are skull-fuckingly stupid in Kawahara’s SAO.  See in order for Laughing Coffin to work it would have to be a band of like-minded crazy people with maybe a few morons like Rosalia who didn’t believe they were actually killing the people in real life added in.  But if you put a bunch of homicidal sociopaths together and make their few sane companions morons what’s to stop them from murdering the shit out of each other?  A strong enough leader might be able to impose some order but not enough to make Laughing Coffin so large and powerful that at least three frontline guilds needed to team up on them to imprison them as Kirito described in GGO.  But think about how that would change if instead of being made up of morons and madmen Laughing Coffin was made up of bitter outcasts who wanted vengeance on the “normal players” who forced them out and made them live off scraps in the wild.  That could easily lead to a large and dangerous organization, a group of vengeful and experienced gamers ostracized by their peers for faults not of their own, that scenario practically writes itself.

So why do I think this version would work? Well it would work at first because the biggest flaw Kirito has is his communication skills, he is a dick to everyone most of the time and doesn’t like to reveal much about himself to other people.  This causes him to lie a lot or hide information even to the detriment of those around him, traits which could lead to a fatal misunderstanding in the tense room after the first boss fight, especially if one of the noobs figured out that Diabel and Kirito were going after the last hit bonus for personal gain.  That’s a scenario that could spark a genuine prejudice against beta-testers instead of the artificial one Kawahara created to make Kirito into a loner.  But as far as they story goes the best part would be seeing Kirito and friends all be competent players forced to band together rather than a bunch of people hanging onto the best player in the game.  It would also explore some of the human conditions of being the outcast in hostile territory and the divisions within MMO communities in a manner more similar to Log Horizon.  In fact that’s probably a good way to encapsulate what I’m going for with this idea: Nanatsu no Taizai set in Log Horizon, but with SAO’s characters and setting obviously.   This could still be a power fantasy in the same way watching Shiroe manipulate entire cities and kingdoms with a few deft tricks is, or the way seeing Meliodas crush Holy Knights is, but it would also encourage a story that focuses much more on character development and character interaction not juvenile harem making and Kirito being a lone badass in a MMO.  It would be a bit more mature, maybe a blend between shounen and seinen in genre and certainly darker than Kawahara’s SAO.  Also time skips and more episodic plot structure would work in a story like this because they could switch off between character development episodes, major battle episodes and comrade gathering episodes with relative ease without too much need for episodes to happen close to each other chronologically, hell watching the characters struggle with being outcasts over a gradual period of time would be amazing so this version might even encourage the time skips.  The point is this story would stay much more true to SAO’s death game premise and dark edge, two things the original more or less abandons.  And in both versions I came up with, we would shift away from Kirito being a lone badass and give his friends some depth and character instead of just having them fulfill a harem fetish check list or having them be non-entities so Kirito can look even better (I mean look other dudes can’t even match up to him).  This is a terrible blight on any show and especially one set in an MMO where the community is the interesting because of all its nuance, chaos and complexity.  Anyway I think it’s time to wake up from this pipe dream and wrap up this post.  It was fun to write and hopefully you all enjoyed it, see you in the next one.