Unpopular Opinion: Avatar – The Last Airbender vs The Legend of Korra

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I know, I know some people don’t think Avatar counts as anime.  I respectfully disagree and I explained why here.  Honestly at this point arguments over whether Avatar should or shouldn’t count as anime aren’t that interesting to me.  A far more interesting one, and one which I see a lot less of is the question of how the two different Avatar sagas compare.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

I feel like this particular comparison doesn’t get made enough or get taken seriously enough because while a lot of people have seen the Last Airbender, I’ve found that less people have seen Legend of Korra.  Moreover there is a tendency to automatically declare the Last Airbender the winner by way of nostalgia.  However I think the two are on pretty even terms, to the point where I can’t say with confidence which one I like better.  Let’s do an overview on their differences before I get into their particular strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest differences between the two Avatar sagas is their overall structure and the age of the main characters.  The Last Airbender is clearly aimed at a younger audience even if an older audience can fully appreciate it.  All of the characters are very young, they’re all low to mid teens even by the end of their journey.  The Legend of Korra is aimed at an older audience, the characters are young adults, at the very least they look at least 18 and most of them have jobs.  The age difference will inform a lot of tonal differences between the two Avatar sagas but I’ll get into that in more detail later.  The other main difference is their story structure.  The Last Airbender is one continuous tale, an epic adventure told in three parts as it were.  It lasts 61 episodes and during that time it is dedicated to one over-arching conflict, with plenty of subplots to spice up the journey.  The Legend of Korra is slightly shorter, clocking in at 52 episodes, and while all the seasons build on each other and are loosely tied together, each story covers it’s own distinct conflict.  Likewise the two sagas are broken up differently, the Last Airbender is broken into 3 books, while Legend of Korra is broken into 4 books.  Now onto the weaknesses of each.

Both Avatar sagas have a tendency to feature comedy and melodrama scenes which I can only describe as “it makes me cringe.”  I have a really hard time seeing earnest, likable characters make utter fools out of themselves and awkward juvenile romance has a similar effect.  The Legend of Korra is probably less of a problem on this front because the relationships feel at least more like late high school or college level romances, though the cringey humor is still a persistent problem. That said I do kind of hate how almost all of the cringey bits in Legend of Korra are dumped onto one character and thus makes me feel that he is woefully underappreciated whereas the Last Airbender spread those scenes around more, even if Sokka was where the source of the majority of those scenes.  The Last Airbender, because it’s one big story and the longer of the two sagas has more episodes which are one-off stories which may or may not matter.  Most of the less important one-of episodes happen early in the story, as the Last Airbender continues the more focused the story gets.  Legend of Korra on the other hand has more random problems related to each season, though the change in how Legend of Korra treats the avatar state is one of the most consistent problems, so I’ll describe those as I go.

Like their shared weaknesses, both Avatar sagas share some strengths.  The bending and fight choreography is excellent across both sagas.  Both sagas feature creative fighting tactics, awesome displays of raw power, and importantly, battles where the heroes are in no way in control.  Most battles in both sagas are struggles, Team Avatar rarely steamrolls anyone and sometimes they are forced to retreat or outright lose.  Likewise, even though bending is the main mode of combat various martial arts, beasts and tools can tip the balance in any fighter’s favor.  The settings of both stories are detailed and nuanced, though Legend of Korra involves a lot less traveling around meaning it’s settings generally get more attention while the Last Airbender does a better job of fleshing out the world as a whole.  Both sagas have a strong group of central characters and imposing villains as well.

I think what will determine which show you like more will ultimately come down to which of the two following things you find more interesting: A grand adventure story of epic scope and world shattering consequences wherein an underdog hero most overcome incredible odds to the save the day, or a series of conflicts full of a smattering of different ideas wherein an overdog must fight against powerful individuals for the greater good.  Personally I find Aang’s story more appealing when it comes to narrative, however I’m also a huge fan of the mish-mash of interesting ideas which color Korra’s story.  The fact that the Avatars are underdog and overdog in their respective sagas is a factor to consider as well.  This has a substantial effect on the nature of conflict in the stories.  In the Last Airbender Aang stands up to fight and defend key locations when he has to but most of the time he’s forced to run and fight another day.  In the Legend of Korra it’s the reverse, the bad guys try a plan and when it fails they’re usually the ones running.  Likewise in the Last Airbender it’s up to the heroes to be the inventive and creative ones to overcome the difference in power, tricking the bad guys to win the day, in the Legend of Korra the bad guys are the one’s being crafty and the good guys are frequently getting deceived.

Here I want to talk about the cons of the sagas.  The Last Airbender’s cons come almost entirely from the “cringe” scenes detailed above and occasional pointless episode, the only other real factor is that you might want older heroes because the Last Airbender’s are on the young end, younger than I typically like.  The Legend of Korra on the other hand has a collection of small problems in addition to the cringe.  I don’t like who they handled the spirits, it’s very inconsistent with some spirits being amazing or fitting into the tone the Last Airbender set for the spirit world and others are generic vague shapes of darkness.  The avatar state is another issue in the Last Airbender not only was it substantially more powerful but it also represented a loss of control and Aang had to undergo special training to master it.  Korra seems to be able to use the Avatar state at will despite no such training but it does little more than give her a decent power boost, she doesn’t lose control nor gain access to the same kind of power Aang did.  And this is the case both before and after her connection to the prior Avatars is severed so it doesn’t make sense.  Lastly, lightning.  In the Last Airbender it was the pinnacle of firebending and a skill few could use.  It’s used too much in the Legend of Korra.  It makes sense for a pro-bender like Mako to use lighting but somehow a random gang boss using lightning seems like a stretch.  It doesn’t help a bunch of electrocution tech is produced and used all over the place in the series as well.

Let’s talk advantages.  I think the Last Airbender has the better narrative and at least two of the best characters, Toph and Zuko, both of whom show up as old people in the Legend of Korra.  I think I also have to give Aang a slight edge over Korra because seeing her get tricked all the time isn’t quite as interesting as seen Aang trick other people all the time, though her being older is a plus.  As described above the Last Airbender is an underdog story and it takes place on an enormous scale.  My only real problem with the narrative is a lack of nuance, with only a few exceptions all the firebenders are bad and everyone else is good.  The narrative does justify this in broad strokes, it is after all a central conceit of the story that the Fire Nation attacked 100 years ago, but it would certainly be interesting if we got the perspective of a firebender who didn’t necessarily agree with what was going on but had little choice but to fight for his country, or something like that.  Iroh sort of fits that role but it’s not until deep into the first book that it becomes apparent.  It’s hard to say for sure but I think most of tactics used in bending battles are better in the Last Airbender as well, though the Legend of Korra has some interesting ideas of it’s own, mostly where unique or special benders are concerned.

The Last Airbender spent a lot of time fleshing out a huge, well constructed world.  It built distinct cultures and put a lot of detail into how the bending powers would shape the construction of cities, weaponry, cultures and events.  The Legend of Korra directly benefited from the pain-staking effort poured in from it’s predecessor, however it’s not slouch on the setting front either.  The Legend of Korra features a few new locations, most notably Republic City and Zaofu, the home of the metal bending clan.  In addition it shows how technology has advanced over the last few decades, how there’s now a professional bending sport, pro-bending, and many metal benders make the bulk of Republic City’s, a city Aang and Zuko co-found after the events of the Last Airbender, police force.

There’s also lot of focus on things that were created as a direct result of what happened in the Last Airbender.  For example, the main conflict of the first season of the Legend of Korra dealt with the tensions between benders and non-benders as a sizable faction of non-benders called the Equalists wanted to do away with bending entirely so everyone could be equal, you know like SJWs, dragging people down to establish “equality.”  That’s not a joke there’s even a non-bender guy Korra meets early on who whines about how oppressed he is by benders despite clearly having an education and freedom of speech without the threat of violence, at least until he pisses off Korra, it’s fucking prophetic.  And like the SJWs, the Equalists have their own militant movement that attacks benders and their main weapons are a mix of new tech and the chi-blocking technique invented by Tai Lee in the Last Airbender.

Likewise the children of the Last Airbender’s main cast play a prominent role, there are several stretches where they have to examine and work through familial issues they had and still have.  For example Toph’s two daughters, half-sisters born to different fathers, went down very different paths because Toph gave them all the freedom in the world in response to how her own parents were overly strict and controlling, and this caused them to clash and left a scar on their relationship. Which is something they have to deal with when the meet again in Zaofu because Korra had to go there.  As a side note because of this visit Korra does get to learn metal bending, something Aang never gets around to doing.  The Legend of Korra is chock full of stuff like this, some of it’s important and some of it’s a statue of the poor cabbage merchant who always lost his cabbages in the Last Airbender.

When it comes to the setting the only issue I have with the Legend of Korra is that it seems to be more willing to just sort of throw stuff out their and hand-wave it.  In the Last Airbender there was nothing that didn’t really make any sense, the result of all the work put into fleshing out the details.  In the Legend of Korra there’s nothing which breaks the story or which seems overly implausible, at least until we get to the spirit-vine powered Godzilla-sized robot in season 4 (not a joke).   But there are some things, central to the various stories that aren’t really explained either.  Like why does the water tribe have a method to calm spirits but no one else?  It could be that because the spirits founded waterbending, whereas various beasts invented the other bending disciplines, it has a special connection with spirits but no concrete answer is given.  Likewise why does merging the spirit and physical world suddenly grant all kinds of non-benders airbending?  It could have something to do with the energies of the spirit world recreating balance between the four elements, but again no concrete explanation.  None of these occurrences are really problematic but they are sort of reflective of how the Legend of Korra plays faster and looser with it’s rules, especially where the spirits are concerned.

It’s here that I think the case could best be made that the Last Airbender is the “better” story.  The Legend of Korra is willing to toss out all kinds of ideas and not flesh all of them out properly, or it will allow certain concepts and powers to be inconsistent to make them do what the story wants.  Though again save for the giant robot nothing strains the story overly much.  The Last Airbender features very few, if any such inconsistencies, the best example I can think of is the bending-sealing power the lion-turtle gives Aang because that was left unexplained.

However I also think this general process of throwing all kinds of ideas at the wall to see what sticks largely works out and could make the case that the Legend of Korra is the “better” story.  I’m a particularly big fan of season 3 where Korra is fighting a small group of anarchists three of whom have special bending and one of whom is a former non-bender turned airbender, and he’s really fucking good at airbending.  That season in particular had a lot of great battles and it gave the creators room to flex their creative muscles when it came to new moves and bending techniques.  However, while all the seasons are good, some are clearly better than others, and the worse ones can be harder to slog through.  That said even the lesser ones have nuggets of gold, like how season 2, my least favorite one has two episodes which take us back in time and explain how the Avatar and bending first came into being and that was awesome.

The other big advantage the Legend of Korra offers to me and people my age is that the characters are older.  Most of the characters are working jobs, and their’s plenty of involvement from characters from the generation born between Aang and Korra’s stories.  This serves as the foundation for a shift in how the two series handle romance, with much of the Last Airbender’s romance being awkward pre-teen nervousness, while the Legend of Korra plays around more with relationships and their problems, like how being overly focused on work can cause a relationship to fall apart.  The Legend of Korra also has a big focus on family because Aang and Toph’s kids and their children play such a prominent ongoing role across the four seasons.  As you might expect the message is overall a positive one but there is plenty of time spent on problems families can have and I think it’s a nice touch.

In summary, the Last Airbender offers a great world to explore, an epic adventure to follow and young heroes fighting impossible odds to save the world.  It’s great fun to watch, fleshes out the world and characters in great detail and offers a long story with a satisfying conclusion.  The Legend of Korra offers a more adult perspective on the world of Avatar and while it is less consistent and less consistently good it ultimately makes up for weak points by having especially good good additions and story concepts.  To steal the phrase from my Lord and Savior Digibro’s mouth, I think the Last Airbender is more consistently impressive but I think the Legend of Korra reaches both higher highs and lower lows.

Having just finished both back to back I think I slightly prefer the Legend of Korra.  I like the greater variety of interesting ideas and the all the details showing how the world, and key people in it, have evolved out of the Last Airbender.  I like that the characters are older and that we spend a lot of time focused not on the Avatar but the people around her, something not as present in the Last Airbender.  Also Asami is best girl across both series, though the Legend of Korra never gets a character quite as entertaining as Toph, at least not until Toph shows up.  The best qualifier I can give as to why I prefer the Legend of Korra is that it has more memorable moments for me.  Both sagas have plenty but it’s the little stuff that gives the Legend of Korra the edge, like when old Toph offhandedly says her daughters, the leaders of the two top metal bending organizations in the world, never really picked up metalbending that well.  Anyway I could go on and on trying to argue each and every little detail but doing that by myself would be exhausting write and probably to read as well so I’ll wrap up here.  If you’re interested in discussing either Avatar saga please feel free to leave a comment.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Keijo!!!!!!!!! – The Magnum Op-ass of Sports Stories

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I love Keijo.  Both the anime and the manga.  It is to date the best sports story I have ever followed and that will likely never change.  No doubt that sounds preposterous to most people, I mean it’s just a dumb ecchi show shoving ass and tits in your face constantly.  From what I’ve heard the anime bombed pretty hard and there is no doubt in my mind part of the anime’s failure lies in the perception of the show I detailed in the previous sentence.  There are of course other issues, most notably that it starts well into the story, skipping over the two exams, something many fans of the manga resent.  But I can’t help feeling like the main reason people who’ve never read the manga, which has to make up a larger audience base than fans of the manga, avoided Keijo because of how it was perceived; as dumb, trashy fanservice schlock that used a flimsy premise to get away with justifying itself.  That perception is so miserably wrong and the fact that it likely informs the mass opinion of the show is deeply frustrating because Keijo is so much more than it says on the tin.

Now in fairness it is also exactly what it says on the tin, there is a lot of fanservice, tits and especially ass is often shoved into the viewer’s face.  And all of this is justified by the premise, which contrary to popular belief is not in fact flimsy.  Keijo is, in my opinion, the most ingeniously conceived sport of all time, an argument I made in my last post on the subject and will make again here.  But before that point I want clarify a few things.  First off I will explicitly separate the manga and the anime in a few key areas but for the most part I’m going to be talking about them as one unified entity because I want to talk about Keijo in it’s entirety.  Secondly this is going to be long as shit because I have a lot of things I want to talk about.  And lastly this will get up to it’s tits in Keijo and since I will explain things in as much detail as I’m able, there will be spoilers everywhere.  Now that were clear on that let’s get going.

One thing I want to address right away is how things have changed since I wrote my prior review.  In that review I argued that the manga and the anime were of comparable quality largely based on the fact that, at the time, the manga’s ending was very abrupt.  Multiple sites listed chapter 86 as the final chapter of Keijo, and it remained that way for at least a week or two after the Keijo anime wrapped up, a chapter that cuts off right after Kaminashi won her match against Maya/Kaya, seriously the last panel was like her teammates throwing her into the air as a part of their victory celebrations it was jarringly abrupt.  Currently the  manga is now 147 chapters deep so that part of my earlier analysis is no longer valid.  The manga is now unquestionably better than the anime and if the show bombed as badly as I’m hearing then it will likely stay that way.  That said I will stand by my earlier stance that anime made some good edits to the manga, though it made some pretty bad ones too, and that the Maya/Kaya fight was far superior in the anime, which was huge because at the time that was THE final battle of series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me lay out in simple terms why I think Keijo is the best sport ever conceived.  Ass and titties.  This may surprise you but I didn’t pick that phrase because I’m way into the fanservice, I am but that’s not the point.  I haven’t checked the data in years but I’m fairly confident in what I learned a couple Olympics ago, the most widely viewed women’s event was beach volleyball and it was first in viewership by an overwhelming margin.  This is not due to sex appeal alone but if everyone only watched for the athletic spectacle then the ratings should be less skewed in it’s favor.  Beach volleyball is fun to watch as a sport but it’s also a sport where we get to see women showing a lot of skin, and it has really good ratings.  Basically as the age old adage goes: sex sells.  This is important because one of the central conceits of Keijo is that the sport is so insanely profitable that talented athletes from all kinds of other sports come to Keijo specifically to make bank.  And evidence from reality supports that conceit via women’s beach volleyball.  This is indicative of one of Keijo’s greatest strengths as a story concept, the blending of grounded realism and insane shit you can only find in anime and manga.

One of the reasons I specifically avoid a lot of sports anime is because a ton of them are underdog stories and I’ve seen a million of those.  I don’t want to see some skilled but fledgling team fight against their own weaknesses as they work their way up to the big tournament.  Sports shows share much of the same tone and characterization as shounen stories and I’ll take a shounen show over a sports story any day where underdog narratives are concerned because I value spectacle.  A lot.  So when I see a sports show I want to see high level competition more so than underdog struggles, not that underdogs winning a big fight through hard work, toughness and willpower can’t be fun, but for sports specifically I’m much more interested in high level play.  To that end Keijo is the ultimate sports concept, a sport made of so much money that National and even Olympic level athletes from all kinds of sports will willingly abandon their sport of choice to get a shot at that Keijo money.  This means the baseline of everyone competing in Keijo is really, really high, which results in great spectacle.  Spectacle made all the better by the inventiveness of the ass and tits combat on display, and that was not a joke in the slightest, the combat is incredibly creative.

This setup has a few great boons.  As described above it is totally believable and helps to ground a series which is also chock-full of crazy shit like a character who can use Giga Drill Breaker from Gurren Lagann… with her tits.  Additionally it is a veritable goldmine of creative variety, a bottomless well from which characters of all stripes can be drawn.  In Keijo all the fighters are put into three basic classes, Infighter, Outfighter and Counter.  Infighters are heavy hitters, Outfighters are quick fighters, and Counters excel at using their opponents’ power against them.  However within those three classes there is a ton of variety and room for specialization.  Sayaka and Rokudo Rin for example are both Outfighters with excellent speed and they share the same Ass Gattling technique (a series of super quick attacks with dat ass).  However they have very different strengths.  Sayaka is judo champion who was slated to compete in the Olympics and is notably stronger than most Outfighters, in fact in the beginning she’s got more power than the Infighter Kaminashi.  Rokudo is a runner and she has incredible lung capacity and endurance.  Which is why in a straight Ass Gattling battle Rokudo would win because she can use it endlessly while Sayaka will quickly become tired and out of breath.  Which is why Sayaka switches her main move to the K-acceleration, a move which relies on bursts of intense speed and power, to overcome Rokudo.  Because that technique plays to her strengths as a fighter with a lot of power for her size.

This kind of variety and the resulting plethora of foils, characters who mirror or are diametrically opposed to the main characters, is present throughout the entirety of Keijo.  Kaminashi, our leading lady is an especially fascinating case study where these naturally varying body types and skill sets are concerned because she fits in multiple classes.  She isn’t especially large, Infighters are typically the largest athletes competing.  She isn’t especially strong, which is the kind of the point her class.  She is remarkably good at dodging or keeping her balance when she takes a hit.  Kaminashi would be a great Counter and in practice she wins her first two practice Keijo battles (both happen in the same round but the opponents are very different) by way of Counter-style moves.  If not for the fact she can use her flexibility and gymnastics moves to build up phenomenal force for her special attack, the Vacuum Ass Cannon, there would be no reason to treat her as an Infighter at all.  But her technique is so rare and powerful that it’s practically a sin for her not to fight as an Infighter especially since it has the promise of being a great way to get money.  Which is especially important to Kaminashi as she is dirt poor and has been her whole life.

I know I’ve mixed in some information on techniques which isn’t applicable until the story starts but what I’ve been trying to illustrate over the last few paragraphs is Keijo’s baseline state as a sport.  It’s a tits and ass battle sport fought on a wide variety of arenas, I forgot to mention that above, filled to the brim with incredibly talented athletes who come from all kinds of backgrounds and have all kinds of body types, strengths and skill sets upon which they can create their own Keijo-specific techniques.  And this sport is able to draw from such a varied and consistently talented pool of players because it has all the money for reasons which we easily understand and which mirror trends in reality.  It’s fucking genius and we haven’t even gotten to the actual narrative and characters who populate it.  As far as I’m concerned Keijo has already surpassed any other sport by virtue of how well constructed it is at the conceptual level alone and when competing against other sports stories the match is Keijo’s to win or lose.

Now I expect it to lose for a lot of people.  Because of lot of people don’t want fanservice getting in the way of their sports story (it doesn’t in Keijo but whatever I get the complaint), some people just shy away from fanservice in general, some people will prefer a show about a more realistic sport or a sport they play and some people won’t like the characters and narrative, or maybe they’ll just like another story more.  I do not expect everyone to love Keijo, but what I hope I’ve shown is what merits the sport alone has, divorced from any other elements which a person may or may not like, and that it should be recognized for the excellent craftsmanship on display.  In a genre where most shows and manga just draw from existing sports and can focus solely on characters and narrative, Keijo has created an original sport that not only works as premise for a story but which would work fabulously in the real world as well.  This is just the foundation block of the story but it’s such a great foundation and I’m sad so many people will overlook this because they saw ‘ass and tits fanservice romp’ and checked out.

Ironically enough I came into Keijo like all the people I’ve been decrying, I started with the anime and the attitude that it was going to be so shameless and trashy that I just had to get a look at it.  Then the first episode was great and I checked out the manga and fell head over heels in love with it.  Most fans of Keijo will tell you the anime was bad because it skips the first major arc, the exam arc, which includes a lot of character for the two main girls Kaminashi and Sayaka.  They aren’t wrong but most of the focus appears to be on Sayaka because she develops more explicitly over the course of that arc.  However, while it was stunted, I think the anime got the main thrust of her character story across, that she was a judo champion born to a judo family who felt no passion for judo whatsoever and left against her family’s and even the nation’s wishes, abandoning the sport by throwing her Olympic qualifier match.  There are some great details in the manga that don’t make it into the anime, like how the person she threw the match to got crushed in the Olympics, lost her confidence and how friends of hers try to sabotage Sayaka during the exam as revenge, but honestly Kaminashi was the one who got screwed.

Kaminashi’s closest equivalent from another big name show is Natsu from Fairy Tail.  She appears incredibly stupid and she says stupid or blunt things all the time, but it’s consistently shown that she can be and is incredibly perceptive about things which she actually gives a shit about.  This is shown to an extent in the anime but a lot of subtle changes make Kaminashi looker much stupider and more underdog-ish than she does in the manga.  For example during the Sayaka-Rokudo fight in the anime Kaminashi is confused as to why Rokudo is beating Sayaka in the battle of seemingly equal Ass Gattlings and Kawai, which as a side note is a great name for that character as it’s one letter apart from both kawaii meaning cute and kowai meaning scary and she’s both, explains the endurance thing I detailed above.  In the manga, Non who is consistently depicted as air-headed and kind of out place amid all these other athletes is confused by why Sayaka is losing and Kaminashi is the one who explains it.  I feel this is an especially bad change because one of the key facets of Kaminashi’s character is that she’s far more dangerous than most give her credit for.  This is especially true early on as she’s one of the least famous characters but even in recent manga chapters she proves that she has a good head on her shoulders and can compete with fighters ranked well above her.

But to get away from anime-manga comparisons the point is that I’m a huge fan of Kaminashi and I like the characters in Keijo.  I think the mangaka has made some weird decisions regarding some characters and given how many there are it’s easy for some to fade into the background but on the whole I like them and I really like some of them.  None of the characters outright suck or piss me off.  Which means the story only improves from the impressive foundation laid for it.  This is true of both the anime and the manga though obviously more so for the manga because it’s the better version now.  I want you to keep this in mind whenever I criticize either the anime or the manga because I will and it might look inconsistent.  I think both versions made some bad decisions but I am very fond of Keijo and none of complaints are about things which break or ruin the series, just things I don’t get or disagree with.

For the sake of getting it out of the way let’s do the manga vs anime comparison now.  The anime’s like an 8, it’s a good time and tells a full arc that functions as it’s own story.  I agree that the anime skipping the exams was disappointing but it was also practical.  Most arcs of Keijo last about 3 episodes and there occasional bits that fill time in-between arcs.  This means if the anime had covered both of the two exams plus the first few chapters and the gap between the exams they would end up with 8 or 9 episodes.  To fill 12 they would either have to bloat the episodes they had or end in the middle of the school training.  Both are bad options.   Keijo is pretty tightly paced, it crams in as much as it can from the manga in the time it’s given while still leaving time for the major battles to feel fleshed out and satisfying.  Slowing that pacing down could be done but it probably leave more episodes feeling boring or at least more boring stretches.  Ending in the middle of school would anti-climactic as fuck though so that’s not really a viable option either.  It’s an awkward position to be put in and I think the anime skipping ahead so that it could cover all of the school stuff and finish on the climactic East-West war battles was a good idea.  Or at least it would have been if the anime hadn’t bombed.

The anime also made a number of smart edits to the source material and some shit ones.  One of better ones was keeping Kaminashi in the UTM all time when was forced to wear it, whereas it came off frequently in the manga, I felt that it added a lot more character and made it seem like Kaminashi worked harder.  One of the worst edits was having the Kaminashi vs Fujisaki battle end with both fighters sliding around the circular ring super fast, that looked shit and it was probably the part of manga the anime adapted worst.  The most noticeable improvement the anime makes to the manga though is in the Maya/Kaya fight, the final battle of the East-West War.  In the manga not enough is done to distinguish Maya from her alter ego Kaya and Maya regains control of herself so quickly that it seemed like having split personalities is more of a cheap gimmick to draw out the fight than anything else.  The anime brings that fight to life.  Maya and Kaya have different voices and hair colors, their attacks have different lighting effects and very different sound effects and the anime really sells Kaya as this unrestrained brutal side of the quite and largely defensive Maya and because the Kaya part of the fight takes half an episode of anime it feels fleshed out compared to the thirty seconds it took to read in the manga.

Back when the Maya/Kaya fight was the conclusion I would’ve pegged both the anime and manga as 8s and called it a day.  Now that the manga has continued to other great fights it has reached 10/10 status, but I still remember the anime edition of the Maya/Kaya fight and I struggle not to include that version when I think about Keijo.  Because I have a lot to say about the story in both forms and like both, it’s difficult for me separate them when thinking about Keijo unless I’m specifically looking at what they did differently.  Now let’s look at the manga only problems.

I just said the manga was a 10/10 and that may baffle you.  That’s ok because you aren’t me and don’t necessarily know my thoughts but Keijo is the only sports story I spend a lot of time thinking about.  Even good stuff like Kuroko no Basket which I marathoned the shit out of are shows I don’t love to the point of constantly obsessing over them.  Keijo is a a show I constantly obsess over and I’d like to think that by now I don’t to need any “not just for the fanservice” jokes or lines because that’s clearly not the only thing going in this show nor is it even my primary interest in the show.  I mean if all wanted was fanservice I’d be writing about how High School DxD or HOTD were the best anime of all time and I totally should write about those two for fun, but that’s not why I’m here, not really.  With that in mind let the nitpicking commence.

One of the manga’s problems is it’s got a bunch of characters and concepts which just don’t go anywhere.  For example there’s Kaminashi’s childhood friend who wants to fuck her, the male Keijo engineers, the hints of a shitty love triangle between the childhood friend, Kaminashi and this male-tsundere engineer.  But that’s minor shit.  The decisions which really bother are regarding Ooshima and Naka.  Ooshima is the less important of the two so let’s start with her.  Ooshima is this big volleyball player and National level athlete and she becomes friends with Sayaka and Kaminashi during the 2nd exam and she’s featured pretty heavily during that arc and she shows up for a few minor scenes in the school arc.  She’s an Infighter who’s main advantage is her size and the power that comes with it and she losses all relevance in the manga after she loses during the class advancement battle to Vajrass girl (I don’t remember her name but her technique is Vajrass aka Ass of Vajra, basically taking hard ass to a literal extreme).  Why cut her there?  Vajrass girl is not that important, she may be one Setouchi’s, the school, top ten fighters but that just means she will fight in the East-West War.  She has a mannish character design and sort of rough, ascetic Buddhist slant to her character.  But outside of her technique and design she’s utterly unmemorable and barely relevant to the story.

Why not just have Ooshima take her place?  You could even have Ooshima learn the Vajrass during the training arc between the class advancement battles and the East-West War.  Ooshima was never really a major character even we saw her a lot but at least she has a personality, a clear backstory, a history with the leading ladies and I remember her goddamn name.  I mean Vajrass girl’s most memorable scene is the class advancement battle, which is better in the anime anyway cause she beats out the two Infighters before losing to Non the airhead with a soft ass and arguably the best Counter we know whereas in the manga she loses to Non right away then Non just sort of wins off-screen.  I just don’t see the point of having two irrelevant characters when you could just combine them into one minor character.  Yes the Vajrass has a Buddhist component that isn’t in character for Ooshima but just have her learn it from a monk during the training arc, I mean they go to Kyoto for training why not just include a grizzled old monk guy who teaches her how to toughen herself up and she creates the Vajrass.  I mean Aoba Kazane uses a pyramid shaped ass technique that comes with ridiculous dodging which she describes as Egyptian sorcery (she stole the technique by feeling up a mummy’s ass because she can copy the techniques of any butt she touches) and one girl in a recent chapter uses Ass Incense she got from the African side of the of family to create illusions and basically turn feral so it’s not like having a monk teach Ooshima about body hardening would be too weird or out of place for Keijo.

This problem is only exacerbated when it comes to Naka.  Naka is one of the most interesting characters in the Keijo manga.  Something I forgot to mention while describing how Keijo makes bank is that it’s a gambling sport, so legally speaking all the combatants have to be adults.  They don’t do much with this in the anime and it doesn’t even play that big a role in the manga with one glaring exception, Naka.  Naka is a mom and it’s unclear exactly how old she is though you’d expect low 20’s to low 30’s.  Naka is also a former delinquent bike gang leader who despite her kind and motherly demeanor can get mean, and scare and roast the shit out of anyone she doesn’t like.  In addition to being one of the most interesting characters by way of being older and having a complicated past and life Naka is notable because for a while she has the biggest titties in the show and they are her weapon of choice, whereas most Keijo players focus more heavily on their ass as their primary weapon.  She was also present in the first exam as minor character and was a major character during the second exam.  Why the fuck did they cut her from the manga?

It’s weird.  They just have her marry an engineer and cut her from the story entirely.  Poof, she’s gone.  What I have to wonder is why?  There’s plenty of room for her in the story.  One of Setouchi’s top 10 is so ill defined and unused I don’t remember her name or her technique, I just know that she losses immediately to the twins in the East-West War, why not just give her spot to Naka?  More importantly during the Funabashi arc, especially the final battle, wouldn’t it have made more sense Naka to end up in the final round fighting with Kaminashi against the Funabashi fighters ganging up on them?  Naka clearly has the attitude and toughness that would compel and allow her to throw down on a gang of girls who trick and team up on outsiders and the leader of the Funabashi group is Don Kosugi, who like Naka has huge tits and fights with them almost exclusively.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cut Kazane’s Egyptian sorcery bullshit and have Naka fight Don Kosugi, before losing a tit battle thus giving Naka a reason to either retire or train harder and get better, before Kaminashi finishes the fight?  She even would’ve been good to feature during the class advancement battles, because she could have been required to fight Kogatana, who uses boob iaijutsu (sword drawing techniques), and they could have had Naka’s boob volume overcome the boob-draw and get her into the top 10.  So what gives?

Honestly it’s not even like my nitpicks are about Keijo being badly written.  Some of that stuff is unimportant and goes nowhere but nothing I’ve spent the last couple paragraphs whining about breaks the story.  They just represent missed opportunities and I don’t understand why you’d miss those opportunities.  I have no idea if these decisions came from the author, an editor, someone on the business end of things or some combination thereof.  I also have no idea if it’s just because the story wasn’t carefully planned out and characters were discarded before anyone involved knew what to do with them.  It just bugs me because it seems like a waste, especially where Naka is concerned.   Another minor issue I have is that a few characters seem to fly in the face of the high level athlete thing I mentioned.  Non in particular is weird because she’s characterized as clumsy, which you’d think that would preclude her from competing even if no one can beat her soft ass counter.  I like Non and I still think it’s weird.

Anyway let’s cut back to one of Keijo’s strengths, creative combat.  Back towards the top I spent a while talking about the realistic elements of Keijo and those will still be relevant here but this is mostly about the crazy shit.  As a result of the varying backgrounds and skill sets everyone has their special techniques which make them standout and a lot of these techniques are either insane or are borderline superpowers.  That’s not to say there aren’t grounded techniques, Butt on Titan for example is a basic bum rush, pun intended, from a really fat character.  Most of the techniques though are either flat out ridiculous or are based on realistic ideas and then taken to unrealistic extremes.  Sayaka’s K-acceleration for example is based on actual physics, but I’ve yet to meet someone who goes from really fast to borderline teleportation fast just by giving themselves a wedgie.  I’m not complaining mind, I think Keijo strikes a great balance between having elements grounded in reality to make the show make enough sense while also including enough crazy shit to make it over-the-top and fun.  It helps that a number of special attacks are great references like Shoryucans, Giga Tit Breaker, Butt on Titan and Gate of Bootylon, which incidentally was better animated in the Keijo anime than the Gate of Babylon was in UBW.

Keijo is perfect aware of how silly it is and can allows itself to be silly in earnest and not take itself too seriously.  This is good because sometimes shows can’t even get that right.  But the fact Keijo does this while also incorporating realistic elements to excellent effect almost makes me wonder how people can even consider this just a dumb fanservice show.  I mean I know why, they judged the book by it’s cover or a plot synopsis and then looked down their noses at it without digging into the glorious genius that is Keijo.  And that’s not entirely their fault but it does frustrate me some as a big fucking fan to see how underappreciated this series is for shallow reasons.

Anyway back to the action.  The tits and ass action of Keijo is excellent.  There are tons of creative tactics, attacks, super-moves, and arenas to spice up any match.  The arenas range from simple discs to discs covered in mud or water to giant jungle gyms to fucking Edo castles and Spanish galleys.  There are a ton of different kinds of techniques with plenty of fighters choosing techniques which affect the mind.  The physical stuff covers everything you can think of.  I’m not kidding, Kawai has a style that uses precision strikes to key areas to drop her opponents borrowing pages from boxing and wrestling, I dare you to question Keijo’s creativity.  Tactics also play a large role not just in battle but also in developing techniques.  Kogatana just went through an arc where her boobs were suffering damage from overuse and Kaminashi straight up invents a technique for her based on sword-stealing, which I’ve seen in enough anime to wonder if it’s an actual thing in kendo/kenjutsu or if anime is yanking my chain on this one.

I could easily keep going into more and more detail but honestly unless someone wants to talk to me about Keijo, and if you do please a comment cause I will be on that shit, I think I’m done here.  Given that this is about the length of an average 5 page college essay I think I’ve communicated what Keijo has to offer, what aspects of it’s construction are good and why I think Keijo is legit the best sports story I’ve ever seen.  If you made it this far I’d love it if you say something in a comment, even a ‘I think you’re totally wrong because…’ because I would to debate or discuss specific scenes or trends in detail but I’m running out of steam for this particular post.  Thanks for reading, I hope yo liked it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion – Double Feature: Monster Musume VS Date A Live

monmusu

VS

date a live

Monster Musume and Date A Live are my two favorite harem shows and as man who has consumed more than his fair share of the genre from the standard-bearers like To Love Ru and Zero no Tsukaima to the slightly more bizarre ones like Kaempfer (which more or less survives because of the best gender-bending yuri fanservice known to man), I consider my words on the subject to have considerable weight. Which is to say the most weight an obscure blogger with little more than hard-won experience under his belt can muster.  Like I said in an earlier post, I feel that Monster Musume and Date A Live are indicative of a recently emerging split in the harem genre, shitty light novel harems and genuine, for lack of a better word, harems.  If you’re at all interested in the differences between the two feel free to read the linked article first, and I’m saying that purely for your sake and not for mine, because it will maybe help you understand where I’m coming from and give my older post more views that I don’t make money on but totally will use to feel better about myself.  There will be some spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

There are a lot of trashy harem shows out there.  Luckily most of the new ones come bundled with shitty light novels about battle high schools and OP teenage boys and as such can be ignored by everyone 12 and up.  Monster Musume and Date A Live are significant, and my favorites, because they aren’t trashy.  A lot of what makes many harem shows shitty and trashy is that they are cynically manufactured.  Almost every harem show in existence has the boob jiggles, panty shots, clumsily protagonists falling into panties and groping boobs, beach episodes, nude shots where steam or blinding bars of light are everywhere.  But a lot of them do not fit into the story at all or a loose skeleton of a story has been created for the express purpose of setting up fan service.  And it’s shit.  That so much of the fanservice is formulaic across the many shitty harems only makes the whole thing worse.  Monster Musume and Date A Live are not like this.

Both shows have a lot more there in terms of narrative and characters.  In Monster Musume’s case their isn’t much of an overarching narrative but the show constantly has to deal how the various monster-girls are perceived and how they struggle to fit into the human world, which is likewise struggling to deal with the sudden emergence of countless beings with their own customs, strengths and wildly varying sizes which make interacting with them a challenge.  Sure Monster Musume is a little ham-handed in it’s approach when it comes to assholes who don’t integrate very well, be they human or monster, but the show puts in a lot of detail where the girls are concerned.  They all have various mental and physical hangups brought on by their interactions with humans who aren’t the main guy and their physiques respectively.  Simply put, the girls have meaningful character arcs, often more than one like how Cerea has to deal how she really, really doesn’t like Rachnera after she already goes through her initial arc with the main guy and the thief.  It makes them really endearing, I can get invested in them as people regardless of the various appendages.  Much like the main guy (I can’t remember his fucking name because everyone calls him by a different nickname [I’m not kidding, here’s all the nicknames I remember off the top of my head- Darling, Darling-kun, Goshujin-sama, Master, Aruji-dono, Honey, Kareshi-chan, & Bae] so from here on he’ll be Darling-kun), I see them as girls first and monsters second.  And whatever they can do with their monster bits is just a bonus.

On the subject of the main guy I do like that while he fulfills the usual nice guy roll he’s not afraid to take hits to defend the girls or fucking falco punch humans making fun of them.  More than that though he’s a got a great grasp of their various problems and actively seeks out to help the girls overcome said problems, like how he alters their clothes if they find something they like but it doesn’t quite fit.  Shido, the main guy in Date A Live, is similarly a cut above the average harem protagonist.  It’s not a particularly high bar as many harem leads are wimpy, clumsy nice guys or, thanks to light novel harems, OP teenage boys, but having male leads with more depth and conviction is refreshing nonetheless.  Shido seems like the typical wimpy guy at first and he doesn’t seem ready for sex at all, but he has fucking balls.  He willingly and stubbornly confronts beings who can, and on occasion do, deal him mortal wounds, also he storms the villain’s base and smashes aside full blown adult soldiers along the way.  Shido struggles to provide the constant support that Darling-kun does and while that can open the door for some lazy bullshit it’s also very realistic, he’s a 15 year old kid whose not ready for real intimacy let alone intimacy with a harem of supernatural beings.

Let’s cover those beings.  Unlike Monster Musume which is almost never violent and certainly not violent in earnest, in Date A Live all the girls are Spirits, and if they aren’t committing violence then they are met with it.  Constantly.  In fact Tohka, the main girl’s arc is all about learning to trust Shido and enjoy a human world which has attacked her within minutes whenever she shows up.  Unlike the monster girls of Monster Musume, the Spirits don’t exits in the human world at all times nor are they public knowledge.  A few secretive factions handle all things Spirit-related and Shido is thrust into this situation because by means outside his control he has the potential to be a solution.  I’ll get back to that later.  The Spirits all have special, mostly amazing outfits called Astral Dresses and the each have their own special weapon and powers.  These powers are limited in usage but devastating in their output and no two Spirits function alike.  Arguably the most interesting spirit is Tokisaki Kurumi, as she is only character in either series who is actually a malevolent being.  In a more harem normal show she’d be a yandere and that is sort of there, but she straight up murders like 8 people in the time we see her and we’re told she’s killed many more.  I can’t say I ever seen a character like Kurumi in any harem show, certainly not as one of romantic interests, she’d be the villain or the yandere gag character in any other harem show.

Getting back to Spirits as a whole, much like the monster girls described above each of the Spirits actually has a meaningful character arc and are, ironically enough, more endearing than any of the human characters in the show.  They also have some ongoing hangups but as Date A Live has a more concrete narrative most of their problems are the result of new enemies, human or Spirit, entering the fray and messing things up for everyone already their.  Another thing I failed to mention above is that whenever the Spirits enter our world they cause “spacequakes” which destroy whatever they touch, hence why the ASDF, the government’s official if covert response team to Spirits, attacks them immediately.  It’s a sort of lose-lose situation for most involved, most Spirits intend no harm and can’t control the spacequakes, but it’s hard to fault the government’s violent response, regardless of their intentions the Spirits are causing tons of property damage and potentially killing people.  Plus the show opens with a spacequake of such massive proportions that it’s ruled the greatest natural disaster in human history.

Another major difference between the two shows is how down to fuck the girls are.  In this regard Date A Live is the more childish of the two, with no one involved really ready for sex but instead gradually working towards a romantic companionship.  In Monster Musume the girls, at least some of them, totally want the D.  The problem is that the law currently forbids inter-species boning so Darling-kun can’t fuck them even if he really wanted to.  However his handler, tells him that he can choose to marry one of the monster-girls he plays host to inorder to advance the laws, and as of the end of the show he hosts 7, giving the girls extra motivation to really try and win him over.  This facilitates dates and encourages fanservice and aggressive flirting tactics as a natural extension of the characters and plot, not a gimmick for guys to just jack off to.  It’s a genius setup really because it feels organic and natural, and by extension not like cheaply thrown together bullshit made for a quick buck, but still gets all the romance and nudity you know you come to harem shows for.  More in fact because the romance is better and fanservice is especially good.

Date A Live has less of a focus on sex and less fanservice, and most of the fanservice is not quite as good, at least at first, because it takes some time for the girls to even really consider intimacy something they really want.  It gets better as the various Spirits realize they want Shido and have more competition with each arc, but initially it’s not that good.  But that’s ok because the story is good right from the get go.  The show begins with goofy comedy before transitioning into tense scenes wherein Shido meets Tohka and then a spattering of violence.  There’s a lot of mystery and confusion at first but unlike some show *cough Shingeki no Kyojin cough* Date A Live goes about readily revealing information we need to keep us going along while still hiding a few big secrets, such as why Shido has the power to seal Spirit powers in the first place, which is why he is recruited by a faction that want’s to handle the Spirits peacefully, Ratatoskr, which incidentally is the name of a squirrel in Norse mythology that delivers insults between the eagles at the top of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg at the roots.  That’s not really important or relevant, it’s just a random bit of mythology I find hilarious.

Moving right along both shows benefit from strong visual presentation.  Date A Live is the uglier of the two, though that may have  to do with the lower quality rips I’ve seen as opposed to the DVDs.  In any event Monster Musume looks much cleaner.  The monster girls are mostly adorable and they have a very wide range of monsters on display, including ones that have no interest in Darling-kun.  Smith, Darling-kun’s handler, also looks stunning, though her personality and work ethic leave much to be desired.  As a general rule the Spirits are not as gorgeous as the monster girls, though Kurumi and Tohka are probably hotter than any of the monster girls in my humble opinion.  Where the Spirits unquestionably have the edge though is in costume design.  The monster girls can have cute outfits but outside Racherna and Lala the clothes are normal, which is fine but I prefer the Astral Dresses.  The various Astral Dresses look nothing alike and are tied to their wearer’s powers and/or personality.  Tohka and Kurumi in particular have the best dresses but Yoshino, Kotori and Miku all have pretty solid outfits.  The only Astral Dress I’m not a fan of is the Berserk twins’ because it looks kinda BDSM-ish and that doesn’t really have a place in the story, but it’s honestly not that bad either.

The main reason I want to talk about these two shows in the same post is not just to discuss their differences and similarities though.  It’s because I have a lot of trouble picking which of these two is my favorite because despite both being harem shows they honestly cater to such different interests.  Monster Musume is relaxed, funny, cute and when it’s not cute, it’s sexy.  It’s not quite a feel good show but it’s very easy to just jump into and let the show take you along for a funny, sexy ride.  It has such a strong presentation and such natural feeling fanservice that it’s one of the hottest harem shows of all time.  And I don’t care if you think that’s weird, I’ll take that stance to my fucking grave.

Date A Live on the other hand is kind of a grab bag of action, comedy a little drama and of course fanservice.  There’s plenty of harem shows which go for this sort of grab bag approach but they so often fall flat where Date A Live doesn’t.  It’s hard to say exactly why Date A Live does it better but Kurumi, perhaps more so than anyone else sort serves as a visual of example of Date A Live being a cut above.  Her time powers are great and they mesh well with her genuinely dark and sinister personality, but it also is part of the problem, because her reliance on that power has fragmented her personality to the point where different versions of herself will kill each other to prevent Shido from robbing the dysfunctional collective of it’s powers.  And the fact Shido is still willing to go as far as he needs to to save Kurumi from the world and herself, and that she will play the roles of ally or enemy with Shido to advance her own goals, is not something I’ve seen in many shows period let alone in a harem show.  There are some weak comedy scenes and fanservice elements in Date A Live, but there’s so much of the show that feels genuine and interesting for reasons beyond the fanservice, that it’s like a breath of fresh air.  It feels so much better than shows like Zero no Tsukaima, which despite having a long and sometimes involved story was a show where I spent most my time debating on whether Saito should end up with Siesta or the Princess because fuck Louis, or Kaempfer which had a vague semblance of a plot but I was really only there for the gender-bending transformations and ensuing fanservice.

Date A Live and Monster Musume are good shows.  Date A Live and Monster Musume are harem shows.  These two things are not mutually exclusive and thanks to the onslaught of shitty harems from years prior to many people harem shows are inherently, shitty and trashy.  These two shows are proof harem shows don’t have to be, much like Akatsuki no Yona proves not all reverse harems have to be based on otome games and pander exclusively to girls or fudanshi.  And I for one, want more good harem shows.  In case you’ve made it this far without watching these shows I would recommend them particularly if you’re iffy on the harem genre as a whole and don’t want to get burned by some lazy, trashy show which confirms all the worst stereotypes of the genre.  That’s all I really have to say.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Medaka Box

medaka box

Ok so in my last post I argued that Nanbaka was just a crappy version of Medaka Box.  So now I figured I may as well talk about Medaka Box and what I think makes it way, way better than it’s current 7.2 MAL score.  But before I get to that I’ll do a nice spoiler free summary about the show because it came out in 2012 and was therefore doomed to be overshadowed by the likes of SAO and AoT, which is a shame really since this show wipes the floor with both of those shows.  Here’s the spoiler free version.

Medaka Box takes place in a high school, I know big surprise right?  It follows the story of Medaka, the student council president, who could’ve guessed?  As well as her childhood friend Hitoyoshi Zenkichi, who at least looks like a delinquent punk so yay we filled the delinquent archetype too.  As they work solve the various issues of their students via the a suggestion box, which quickly is given the nickname of the Medaka Box, hence the show’s title.  As you might expect from such a bland and generic concept of a show, Medaka is mostly a slice of life comedy show with sports, seishun and stupid shenanigans.  However, what I’ve yet to mention is that Hakoniwa Gakuen, the school setting of the show, is utterly fucking nuts and it’s students are likewise a bunch of quirky oddballs.  That may not sound like the kind of saving throw a generic high school bullshit show needs but trust me it’s more than enough.

Tweaking the setting like Medaka Box does turns the entire nature of the show and it’s style of comedy on it’s head.  Medaka Box is neither a generic battle high school anime, like the Asterisk War nor a boring student council comedy like Seitokai Yakuindomo. Yes Medaka Box has a lot of club-based conflicts but almost every conflict in the show is less about solving the problems of an individual or a club but instead about examining and improving the psychology and human nature of the people involved.  Which isn’t such a surprise when one considers that the author of Medaka Box is none other than NisioisiN of Bakemonogatari fame.  However Medaka is far more accessible than the Monogatari franchise in that it has a lot less of NisioisiN’s obtuse word play and is generally more straightforward than the Monogatari franchise.  That said the examination of geniuses, a common theme in NisioisiN’s work is central to the story of Medaka Box, as Medaka herself is quite possibly the most perfect genius NisioisiN has ever created.  Medaka is about as close to a literal goddess as a human being can come, she’s stunningly beautiful, inhumanly intelligent, a master of anything she tries her hand to and totally unconcerned by most, if not all, social norms.

Actually to interrupt my own chain of thought for a minute, I just realized that Shokugeki no Souma is a great parallel to Medaka Box when it comes to the setting and characters.  Medaka Box doesn’t have Shokugeki no Souma’s fiery shounen attitude but it does have a crazy, huge campus full of students ranging from total normies to unmatched geniuses and both shows place a lot of emphasis on the differences between people with and without inborn talent as well as the different levels of talent.  Hell both male leads even fall under the same basic characterization, they have no special talent whatsoever but by dint of experience and hard fucking work they prove themselves worthy to stand along side with and go toe to toe with geniuses.  So if you liked Shokugeki no Souma you might like Medaka Box as well, though it’s not the place to come for cooking battles because that’s not Medaka Box’s entire deal.

Personally I love the kinds of examinations into the nature of humans and the various levels of talent or genius and how said talents affect people that Medaka Box provides.  Of the NisioisiN stories that were made into anime I like Medaka Box’s commentary on people and talent the best, and that’s coming from someone whose seen almost every story of his put to animation.  And speaking of animation, Jesus Christ Medaka Box looks phenomenal, both in the stills and in motion.  Medaka Box’s character designs are not particularly complicated, with a few exceptions, making it easier for the animators to make them flow well in motion.  The character’s also have high stylized designs with mostly realistic bodies and most of the design attention being given to the eyes and hair, the hair of course being most likely to be unrealistic.

It’s the eye work however that I find most fascinating.  Medaka Box schools um, EVERYONE, as far as I can tell when it comes to animating expressions where the eyes are concerned.  There’s generally a lot of extra line work around the eyes and they change in appearance and texture to enhance a characters expression.  The most common visual tricks in the anime industry with regards to eyes is to either make them blank to indicate surprise or airheadedness, fill them in with red when a character’s angry to make them seem intimidating or to make them look flat and lifeless, usually to show mind control or depression.  Medaka Box has lot more tricks in the bag and it doesn’t even use the common ones.  Perhaps the most noticeable trend is the change in eye shape, when Medaka Box’s characters are having a good time a lot them will have sort of moe eyes, large rounded eyes with irises that seem to have a lot shine to them.  But when it’s time to get serious, not even mad necessarily but whenever a character is taking a serious earnest approach to something the eyes will inevitably become more angular and smaller but they’ll still be large enough that it doesn’t actually look like the character is narrowing their eyes in response to the situation.  It’s a nice subtle trick that works like gangbusters in combination with the extra shading and line work shown around the angular eyes to really emphasize their expressions.

Additionally characters eyes do tend to lose their shine when they get more serious, but rather than looking flat and dead the way the normal animation trick works Medaka Box’s character just look more serious because the eye still keeps a lot of color and their expressions convey a lot of character, whereas dead eye characters tend to be totally expressionless.  Medaka Box also uses what I’m now coining as Rinnegan-lite, where they make certain characters’ eyes, mostly the villains, have a couple extra circles in the irises to make them look more shark-like and menacing.  Some of the rarer tricks used by Medaka Box include character’s whose eyes change color and characters whose eyes are lack pupils entirely and instead just have a big colorful iris.  Undoubtedly the best part about all this though is that all of the design elements and tricks feed into each other beautifully.  When a villain has the Rinnegan-lite irises, in angular eyes surrounded by heavy shading and framed by the thick eyelash-outline thing (for a point of reference on what I’m talking about check Tanya’s eyes in Youjo Senki, it’s a similar style but Medaka Box does it better) and pointy hair common to just about everyone, he looks like a fucking badass before he’s even done anything.  All in all it’s a style of character design I’ve never seen in any other anime and it’s quite possibly my favorite design style, it looks fucking awesome is what I’m saying.

And as mentioned in that Nanbaka post, Medaka manages an excellent transition from lighthearted comedy show to intense battle show, the pacing stays tight, characters stay in character and we get real, meaningful character growth, some intense battles between a bunch of geniuses with a wide variety of intelligent techniques and crazy powers.  I will say though that I don’t think Medaka Box is particularly funny, even during the comedy focused arc, it draws some laughs here and there but where the comedy arc succeeds is that it really endeared me to the characters.  I liked the whole student council and the recurring side characters long before they hulked up and did some badass action scenes,  they might not be a hilarious bunch of goofballs but they are very likable and fun goofballs.  And they only get better as they get serious, because unlike Nanbaka I’m invested in these people, I want to see them grow or stand their ground in the face of impossible odds, I’m backing them 100%.

So as far as the spoiler free section is concerned, the art is super fucking good, the characters are good and the execution of the story far surpasses the surface of what the plot summary and setting would imply at first glance.  It’s a great time and you should watch it.  Now it’s spoiler time.

As anyone whose watched the show knows season 2 ends on major cliffhanger, where following the collapse of the Flask Plan, Kumgawa aka the most popular character in the manga has wrecked like 12 people whom had already been established as badasses and is clearly set to challenge Medaka once again like he did in middle school.  The final episode then adapts what I believe was a short Kumagawa spin-off manga where we meet Ashin’in, a super important character in the long term, and we get to see Kumagawa’s power All Fiction in action.   Now let’s not beat around the bush here, I want to see Medaka Box Minus, you, fans of Medaka Box want to see Medaka Box Minus, everyone wants to see Medaka Box Minus (they just don’t know it yet).  I think it’s safe to say that the Minus arc is by far the most hype arc of the manga, not surprising since the most popular character in the manga is the central villain of the arc.  Like, I know there’s no such thing as a sure bet but as far as sequels go that seems like as close as you can get.  Everyone who cares about Medaka Box will be on that shit in a heartbeat, and in an industry where all kinds of new shows get split cours and sequels, why don’t they try Medaka Box Minus?  I fully admit I know nothing about how much the prior seasons of Medaka Box made in terms of profit, but I guarantee it has a better shot of success than something like the second cours of Nanbaka, which most people I’ve talked to or heard from haven’t even seen.

For those of you who’ve not seen Medaka Box but went into spoiler territory anyway let me guide you through a tale of fucking awesome shit.   Three ideas which do not appear in say the Monogatari franchise, whose main focus as far geniuses are concerned rests solely on Hanekawa, are how different levels of genius interact, the desire to artificially create geniuses (which has happened in the real world, it’s called eugenics) and the opposite end of the spectrum, people so broken and dysfunctional that they are doomed to be outcasts.

In Medaka Box there are 4 kinds of people, well there’s more like 6 but only 4 matter for the purposes of this post.  These types are Normals, which is self-explanatory.  Specials, who are people with a lot of talent but are still fairly normal, they can be quirky and weird but not cripplingly so.  Then there are Abnormals, who have inhuman levels of talent and usually some kind of accompanying super power but have proportionally stronger quirks to the point most of them don’t attend school because they wouldn’t function well there.  Both Specials and Abnormals sort of align with austistic savants, Specials have the generally more limited talents of savants but have lesser degrees of social problems, while Abnormals have a much broader range of talents, and literal superpowers, than most savants but equal or greater degrees of social problems.  The last group is the Minuses, those born with crippling degrees of bad luck and ineptitude, generally resulting horribly warped personalities, twisted minds and bizarre powers of their own.

The Flask Plan is an experiment run by the principal of Hakoniwa Gakuen wherein the principal, working with a group of Abnormals called the 13 Party attempts to create artificial geniuses, however this plan could end up costing thousands of lives so Medaka sets out to stop it.  Medaka is a fascinating case study where the Flask Plan is concerned because if you remove her morals and personality she objectively judges that it could be used to perfect her, and the only reason she has a personality which would oppose the Plan in the first place is because when they were toddlers Hitoyoshi convinced her that someone with her overwhelming talents existed for the sake of making other people happy.  Yes btw, at 2 Medaka was struggling with literal existentialism, that’s the level of genius she is.  She’s so far above, and by extension removed from, normal society she wondered why the fuck she was even around at age 2.

Anyway, long story short, Medaka and friends stop the Flask Plan in a series of cool battles and as they are on their way back to the normal part of the school the defeated villains turned quasi-friends in tow they run into Kumagawa, after he defeated a mix of 12 Abnormals and Specials fighting each other.  Kumagawa was previously established as this twisted bastard who did a lot of emotional damage to Medaka and Zenkichi in middle school and as the only person Medaka was never able to reform into a better person.  The Minus arc is essentially a second battle arc where Medaka and Co. fight Kumagawa and his fellow Minuses for control of the school via a brutal series of contests based on archaic rules.  It has tons of cool set pieces, great battles, interesting new characters and some of coolest powers in the entire series.  And it introduces Ashin’in, who I think is arguably the coolest character in the Medaka Box universe.  It’s HYPE is what I’m saying.

What I’ve been trying to say in last almost 2500 words is that I love Medaka Box.  It has great battles, cool powers, interesting themes, a good narrative, endearing characters and amazing art.  And I want a third season.  And I really want more people to watch it and enjoy it so that it’s more likely to get that third season.  It’s a show I feel is worth fighting for, so God fucking dammit that’s what I’m doing.  Hope you enjoyed the rambling gushing review of Medaka Box, do check it out I highly recommend it, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Nanbaka

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Nanbaka is a rather remarkable show, in that everything about it is utterly insane.  I’d be hard-pressed to find another show with so many different hair colors, dual hair colors, hair styles, character nationalities and odd abilities.  Unfortunately Nanbaka doesn’t do much of note with all it’s wacky assets.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

What I think kills Nanbaka to me more than anything is that it parallels an anime I vastly prefer, Medaka Box, and does a poor job in comparison.  Both shows feature stories that are initially comedy focused before switching to battle-heavy arcs.  Both shows have casts full of people with downright bizarre weapons, abilities, appearances or personality traits.  And both shift, seemingly at random, from lighthearted shows to shows with rather dark and heavy plots, with the differences between people and the difficulties of communication featured as prominent themes.  Nanbaka even has multiple characters who have dual colored hair which changes color in the same spot that Zenkichi’s, Medaka Box’s male lead, does.  Hell even though the setting has been changed from a high school to a prison both of them are so full of various forms of oddballs, and ironically enough equally violent enforcers, and the relationship between the various prisoners and guards relaxed enough that the only real functional difference is that no one can leave the prison and everyone in Medaka Box has to go home after school.  I mean you could argue this is a more adult setting and therefore could play home to more adult characters and stories but considering how twisted, goofy or straight up inept these convicts are at basic social functions it might as well be Medaka Box’s Sandbox Academy with more locks, bars and sparkles.  None of these things doom Nanbaka to failure in my eyes, though that is so closely resembles Medaka Box without being anywhere as good doesn’t help it’s chances.  It’s hard to summarize exactly what’s wrong in simple, concise words or phrases, most of what the show tries to do just fails to coalesce into anything really entertaining or hard-hitting for one reason or another.  That said if I had to point to a consistent issue than pacing would be the main offender.

Part of the problem is that Nanbaka is try to tell two stories at once, the goofy gag anime and the darker, more serious battle anime.  Inherently this isn’t a problem but it seems like the creators don’t know how to pace events for this combination very well.  Nanbaka introduces it’s first darker elements at the end of episode 1 in a soliloquy where Jyugo describes his black shackles and the scene ends with this fucking awesome shot of Jyugo where the artsyle totally changes and the colors undergo a dramatic shift, to make the whole thing look darker, more jagged and more badass.  So far so good.  The darkness doesn’t return until about halfway through season 1, where in the midst of stupid new year’s contest-cum-battle tournament, Jyugo is confronted by someone who knows about the black shackles’ creator and Jyugo goes berserk while fighting him.  This is also fine though I think it’s weird for to it show up in the middle of the show, because it seems more like a climactic fight.  This isn’t helped by the fact the next two episodes are slow as hell, with one being dedicated to getting Jyugo to realize he’s never had any desires before and now he does, and he needs to make efforts and be emotionally invested in his desires and… what?  What the fuck?

That episode in particular is painfully boring and it seems like a classic case of heavy handed moralizing.  That could work in theory but I don’t need a morality lesson thanks, and I’m not invested enough in anyone in this show to care about major, if entirely too basic, character moments for them.  Moreover why pop out the biggest battle of the season in the middle?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to do that near the end, after we maybe had a few more episodes to try and get invested in the main characters’ stories?  That way the moralizing and exposition part could be more of an epilogue not a boring as fuck break in the story where nothing happens before the next dark bit.  Of course that makes sense because that’s what Medaka Box did.  In Medaka Box the sudden turn to a darker, violent story line doesn’t begin until episode 8 or 9 and the major battle and the resulting character moments happen before the final episode, which returns to a low key comedy episode which fills the space during Medaka’s recovery time and concludes the first season’s narrative.  And it’s not until the beginning of the second season that we return to the serious stuff.

And just to show that I’m not only hammering Nanbaka for not following Medaka Box, the way the story continues is a fucking snoozefest.  After the two slow episodes following the fight, Jyugo meets a new antagonist, convinces himself he needs to leave to protect his prison buddies and tries to escape, only to get caught.  Then the next seasons opens with about 4 episodes of slower episodes focused mainly on lackluster comedy and some character development for a couple of random prison guards and characters because fuck it, why not?  Then the rest of the series is just a long series of battles between pre-established characters (mostly side characters), two noteworthy enemies, a couple generic prison guards and a bunch of killer doll-robots.  It’s boring.  They dedicated almost an entire episode to every character busting out their specific power, they wait like 6 episodes before Jyugo, the strongest one, starts to fight and to top it all off the whole is interwoven with random bits of backstory and character development, most of which is actually pretty interesting except for one minor problem- who the fuck cares about these guys?  I couldn’t even get invested in the main characters, I gave no fucks about the side characters and while I admire the range of personality quirks, backstories and superpowers/special techniques showcased in the second season on the whole, it took way too fucking long.  Every episode just dragged on and on while they dumped exposition on a character’s personality or power or skill and I kept waiting for them to a, hurry up and have Jyugo fight and b, fight the enemy boss Goku Enki.  The former took too many episodes to happen and the latter didn’t happen at all, instead the season ends on a cliffhanger of him about to fight one of the other top prison guards.

It’s a little depressing really, because if I cared about these characters at all this show would have been a lot better.  The pacing issues wouldn’t have disappeared completely but at least the battle section wouldn’t have felt so bloated and boring.  The battle arc suffers from other problems as well though, perhaps most notably that Jyugo has actually fought and at least repelled Enki before and just forgot about it because he had no passions before and therefore didn’t bother to remember anyone.  Wait, if that was actually the case why the fuck does he remember Musashi, the fire guy who knew about the black shackles from the main battle of season one?  Why does he seem to have forgotten everyone besides Musashi, even though nothing about their first meeting implies that Jyugo saw Musashi as anyone important or interesting?  Enki’s sudden prison break and rebellion is centered around taking Jyugo and other “monsters” down, so did they have an epic battle that Jyugo conveniently forgot for the sake of a plot twist or was Enki really weak before and was inspired to get strong by Jyugo?  Nothing shown or said about Enki ever implies that he’s ever been weak and he looked more or less the same when fought Jyugo before so what gives?  Does he magically not age or was the fight pretty recent?  It can’t have been that long ago cause Jyugo’s pretty young, so why doesn’t he remember it? AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So yeah.  In addition to awful pacing there are some cringeworthy plot developments and plot holes and that sucks.  It sucks because the broad concept of the battle arc was cool and a lot of the abilities/techniques were cool and it all would have been so much better if I cared about any of these characters, especially the main villain.  He’s introduced as this badass but it doesn’t have any weight because the only person we see him fight is his little brother, who’s an annoying nobody with the worst dual hair combo in the series, I’m not kidding his hair is green and orange, it looks shit.  This is fairly minor complaint but would it have killed the creators to make him look like a badass by taking down a character worth a shit?  In Medaka Box for example, the main villain of the second season meets Medaka before the two are even explicitly enemies and demonstrates his power right away.  He’s strong enough that Medaka, previously a nigh-invincible character seeks emergency training from her brother, whose special skill is the ability to manage and “level up” people exceptionally well.  Then the conflict is given added weight when it becomes clear that the secret inhumane plan the villain supports could cost thousands of lives, making the battle a high stakes one.  The conflict just keeps getting bigger and better as every enemy introduced is an important one, a serious threat to the good guys trying to shut the plan down.  Not to mention these villains employ a mix of pure battle talent and excellent tactics that mean even the weakest of them is extremely dangerous.  Now that’s a fucking battle arc worth watching.

Long story short Nanbaka is a wacky, but ultimately boring show.  It has lots of interesting ideas and it certainly has the visual flair needed to give the story some much needed character, but none of it ever really comes together.  The awful pacing, heavy handed moralizing and the weakness of the cast comes in and robs almost every noteworthy scene of there power.  It needs something more, maybe that was efficiency in the story, better overall direction or less throw away episodes and more time devoted to getting us invested in the characters.  Nanbaka just tries to do too much at once and the result is a goofy but altogether lackluster show.  If by chance you like the plethora of crazy powers/techniques and the idea of the main cast being a collection of oddball characters, like me, then I’d highly recommend you check out Medaka Box.  And in the off chance someone from Japan reads this, which happens sometimes, please I beg you, tell someone, anyone, everyone to forget about making a Nanbaka season 3 and make Medaka Box Minus instead.  It’s got the manga’s most popular character in it and would totally do well, please, please make it.  I need it.  Anyway, I’m done here.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Kuzu no Honkai

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You know I usually like to wait for an anime to finish before I review it, but the latest episode of Kuzu no Honkai has convinced me it’s not worth the wait.  I still maintain my earlier statements about the show, namely that’s the most interesting romance anime I’ve seen in years, but that interest is no longer particularly positive.  It’s not all that negative either, mind, but compared to before it’s a downgrade.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Kuzu no Honkai had two major selling points, it disregarded all the usual anime romance baggage and skipped straight to the bedroom, and it returned to the bedroom with surprising frequency, and most of the main characters were either terrible people or in the midst of very self destructive behavior.  For this the show still has my attention and I do hope other romances learn from Kuzu no Honkai and get some couples in bed.  But honestly I’m bored with whatever narrative Kuzu no Honkai was trying to tell, and given the aimless rambling of the show overall I’m not sure it ever had much vision or direction to begin with.  But before I dig into that I want address certain me-specific complaints have nothing to do with technical skill in writing or animation, because context is important despite what morons on the internet may think.

Kuzu no Honkai is not for me.  Even disregarding any technical problems it has I have a hard time rooting for anyone in the twisted love tree filling out the series.  Ecchan has my allegiance more than anyone but she’s hardly given the time needed for to be really interesting as a person instead of just being the hottest girl and also a lesbian, making her best girl by default.  Ostensibly I should be projecting myself on Mugi but fuck that guy.  I don’t get him at all, his only characterization that I have any connection with at all is how he doesn’t want to fuck the blonde girl with twintails who wants his D because they’re childhood friends and he doesn’t want to ruin her purity or special-ness, for lack of a better term.  I get that.  But loving broken, weak and manipulative girls, loving someone even more after see how they cynically use their assets to fulfill their shallow lifestyle?  Get the fuck out of here.  I’m not just disconnected from Mugi’s desires, they actively turn me off in a big way.  Likewise I sort of like Hanabi and vaguely want to root for her but the love of her life is totally boring.  Kanai is abysmal, he’s a bland boring fuck who can be boiled down to generic good guy A, and the fact he serves as a big brother figure to Hanabi makes the whole thing one step removed from the incest romances popularized by OreImo, and fuck that garbage.  At least she actually likes a good person, that’s a step up from Mugi.  That’s enough ranting for now, let’s get technical.

Kuzu no Honkai is kind of balls at pacing.  The passage of time is largely unclear, for example I had no idea Mugi and Hanabi hadn’t seen each for months because until Hanabi said so in a random cafe scene, there were no details establishing that at all, and it’s common for episodes to suddenly cut to dramatic or emotional moments out of nowhere without always explaining how the characters got to that point.  As a man who struggles with getting from point A to point B in a story despite having really well defined points in his own narratives, or rather attempted narratives, I feel this in particular is a weakness.  I appreciate the desire to just cut to the scene you really want to show, but if I thought that was good enough I’d have finished a fucking book by now.  But what exacerbates the problem is that feels like the show isn’t going anywhere.  Characters have random sexual encounters and some make deliberate moves on other people but a lot of the time they just seem to be listless and directionless.  There’s too much going on that never goes anywhere meaningful.  It’s like watching filler if filler looked decent and was low key.  This isn’t helped by the characters.

Most of them suck.  They generally range from boring to deplorable, and not deplorable in the fun if dark sense employed by Youjo Senki, but deplorable as in people I really don’t like for their shallow or twisted values.  The twin tail girl is obnoxious and serves no purpose, she poses no threat to Hanabi, let alone Akane, where Mugi is concerned and she has nothing to teach either main character about themselves.  Likewise Ecchan has that weird cousin who wants to bone her (gross) and has a persistence that is outright annoying making him come off as a pain in the ass if not a creep.  Again he doesn’t pose any threat to Hanabi’s relationship with Ecchan and he teaches Hanabi nothing she hadn’t already figured out for herself.  Then there’s the random dude who used to fuck Akane and wanted to fuck Hanabi, again almost entirely useless and a total waste of time.  He was only interesting in so far as Hanabi considered trying to win his affection to get back at Akane, but that didn’t happen so what’s the point?

I suppose you could argue the directionless, listless feel and story are reflective of how confusing teenage and young adult romance can be, but it’s fucking boring.  Like if the Hanabi actually made a serious move regarding the random guy I was just talking about and it had some kind of impact on her as a character and to the narrative, it would be good, but nothing happens.  Which is where episode 11 comes in.  Episode 11 has more character development on it’s own than the lion’s share of the show and it really got me thinking that Hanabi and Mugi were the wrong people to cast as main characters.  I mean it’s pretty simple what happens, Kanai clumsily bulls his way forward and somehow, perhaps because he’s the first saintly good guy to go for her, wins Akane’s heart.  For Mugi and Hanabi all that does is put an end to their crushes, which is something Hanabi has already gone through at this point.  I guess Mugi and Hanabi can hook up for real now but why bother?  They haven’t been romantically involved for months and Hanabi seems to have zero passion for Mugi at this point.  And unless this season is a split cour or double cour, then they’d only have one episode to get together anyway.  Seems like a weak romance story to me.

Kuzu no Honkai should have been about Akane.  I mean given how much screen time she has I think you can already argue that she’s more of a main character than Hanabi, but that’s what the show should have been.  What if Kuzu no Honkai was presented from Akane’s point of view?  What if it was about her fucking all these guys over the years in her aimless attempts to feel good and find some sort of human connection, which she somehow finds in Kanai?  You could even have Hanab still play a substantial role, this time as someone actively trying to keep Akane away from Kanai because she think’s Akane isn’t good enough for him.  I think you’d have a far more interesting show, one where all the sex is relevant to character growth rather than a gimmick.  Because that’s how I think it’s been used by and large.  It’s new and I’ve no doubt many others are happy to see characters with functioning sexual relations, but outside of a few rare exceptions it seems more like eye candy than anything else at this point.  However in a story about Akane, told from her perspective, the fucking would be extremely relevant to the narrative and to her character.  And I say all this with extreme confidence because Kuzu no Honkai has slowly and steadily declined for me since episode 2 when Hanabi and Ecchan get in some lesbian action, with episode 11 serving as the only exception to that trend.  It’s the best the show has been in months and possibly the best it’s ever been.

Setting Akane aside, what assures me that Kuzu no Honkai will be end poorly is that where the fuck else can it go at this point?  As discussed before Mugi and Hanabi have drifted apart, and I can’t see them hooking back up for an episode as anything other than failure.  Moreover it’s annoying to have Mugi get so much screen time in last few episodes compared to Hanabi, because I’d rather root for her and I like her more and I think her story could have been much more interesting if we weren’t forced to follow Mugi’s hopeless twisted love story.  I think another thing Kuzu no Honkai fucked up was the Ecchan summer house episode, that should’ve happened after Mugi went off to chase Akane for months, because then maybe, just maybe, Ecchan and Hanabi could’ve justifiably become a couple, something I’m far more interested in than any other relationship in the show, and not just cause gay girls (though that is a bonus), because they’re the two people I like most in the show as people.  Hanabi could have her expectations dashed by Mugi, who flees the intended plan to try and keep Akane being a shallow, manipulative slut (for the record that’s how the describes her, I’m not hating on her right now, I think she’s actually had the funniest scenes and lines the show)… because for whatever reason that’s what he’s into.  And in having her plan with Mugi ruined, Hanabi could have sought shelter in Ecchan like she did earlier in the show, but this time it could’ve developed in something genuine and lasting, not a one night stand.

All this is to say that Kuzu no Honkai has been a total mess.  It threw all kinds of bedroom scenes at us to keep us distracted from the fact the story has been pretty shit.  It’s had it’s moments from time to time but overall it’s been a boring, aimless little tale.  Also the soliloquies have gotten especially awful in later episodes and some of the dialogue is similarly terrible.  So few of the characters are given time to be interesting and of those with time most of them squander it on pointless scenes and sideplots which never amount to anything.  As a general rule I don’t like to complain about wasted potential very often.  By and large I find it a misguided criticism that attacks a work for not being something rather than judging what it is.  But Kuzu no Honkai has been so directionless as a narrative, so vague in it’s intent that I feel this is a good case for the “wasted potential” complaint, because more so than anything else what this show needs to succeed is some kind of vision.  Kuzu no Honkai is little more than a jumble of characters and ideas with nothing binding it all together, nothing making a narrative out of the disparate narrative elements.  This really is the essence of wasted potential, it’s a show that does nothing with the tools it’s  been given, rather than a show which just didn’t do what I wanted it to do.  And for that reason, I’d be fucking floored if this series ends on anything other than a “meh” note.  I’m certainly out of fucks to give for the show.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Franchise

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I love RWBY.  There you go, if you were looking for a recommendation to watch RWBY you’ve got one.  From here on I’m going to spoil the shit out of RWBY especially the latest season, Volume 4.  This is will be long.

One of the things I find most impressive about RWBY as a whole is how it just keeps getting better.  It’s amazing how far RWBY’s come since it’s humble beginnings and boy were those ever humble.  The biggest reason to avoid RWBY is undoubtedly Volume 1.  Even I, huge fan of the series that I am now was not at all convinced RWBY would be good as of Volume 1.  In Volume 1 episode lengths were wildly inconsistent and generally ranged from about 5 minutes to 13 minutes, with the climax of the exam being by far the longest episode, something that happens mid-season rather than at the actual climax of the season.  Moreover the entire experience suffered from a number of problems such as awful comedic effects, some cringe-worthy lines in the script, a pretty bog standard bully arc and most notably a lack of chemistry between all the characters, mostly thanks to the fact I didn’t feel like everyone had really come to own their respective roles yet.

All that said it was still a decent time, especially some of the battle sequences.  The exam final is the most noteworthy on that front, but there’s tons of fun choreography made possible by the ludicrous hybrid weapons and aura and Semblance powers which fill the RWBY-verse.  Perhaps most impressive about the exam final though was the use of tactics, wherein the hastily formed teams of teenagers managed to bring down the toughest enemies in the testing grounds by really making the best use of their own and each other’s powers and and weapons.  The monsters were also pretty good, I mean some were pretty generic in concept but their overall designs given the restricted black-white-red palette of the Grimm were great, especially the giant scorpion (Death Stalker) and the boar (Boarbatusk).  Not to mention despite the many goofy lines in the script my favorite line in all of RWBY comes from Volume 1, specifically where Ruby says that seeing  new weapons is like meeting new people, only better.  On that note the groundwork laid for Ruby’s character in Volume 1 is absolutely critical and it’s handled very well amid the painful comedy and otherwise very basic character intros and plot.  I think Volume 1 is best described as a rough draft or a proof-of-concept, something that isn’t ready yet but shows hints of something far more promising to come.  And say what you will about Volume 1 but those hints came to shine forth in Volume 2.

Volume 2 has more consistent episode lengths with 12 minutes being a pretty good gauge of how long the episodes will be, a trend which continues in later Volumes, though the longest is probably like 17 minutes.  More importantly almost all of the problems that riddled Volume 1 are gone.  Volume 2 opens on an amazing food fight scene that remains the funniest moment in RWBY to this day, finally breaking free of the weak comedic effects of Volume 1.  Even the action scenes, which had still been fun and mostly good, have improved significantly with most people citing better fight direction as the main cause.  Also we meet Penny and a giant mech suit which give us a better idea of what kind of tech humans have in RWBY beyond absurd weapons.  All of the characters have definitely come into their own by now, save perhaps Ren who gets neglected more than anyone else until Volume 4, and as a result their chemistry is solid.  We get more involved character stories, especially Blake, who up until Volume 2 was a mostly silent bookish type that we didn’t know much about.

In Volume 2 Blake reveals herself to be a Faunus, a beastman of sorts and a group which has faced and continues to face discrimination or outright persecution.  She also reveals herself to have at one point been part of the White Fang a Faunus rights advocacy group turned terrorist organization, and it’s clear she still stuck around for a while after the shift from peaceful protests to violent action.  This puts her in conflict with Weiss because Weiss’s family has suffered greatly at the hands of the White Fang for their business’ discrimination and exploitation of Faunus workers, something we have very few specifics about beyond Blake’s assertions.  This is built upon even further because Volume 2 makes it clear the White Fang is involved in terror plots attacking Beacon, the academy-city where the main characters live, where they go so far as to flood the city with a horde of Grimm by breaching old and forgotten underground defenses.  We also get a good contrast to Blake in Sun Goku, another Faunus without her dark past and serious attitude, but who is equally up for fighting the White Fang.  Amid all of this one of the most interesting character scenes comes about during the Hunter assignment, where this goofy history professor-cum-warrior asks all of team RWBY why they want to be Huntresses, save for Ruby, which is telling in itself, and the other three girls really have to mull over their motivations while Ruby gets to observe giant elephant monsters (Goliaths), by far the most imposing Grimm shown in the Volume.

I have to admit though that while RWBY Volume 2 was definitely good, excellent even, I wasn’t quite ready to put it on par with great anime I’d seen.  Maybe it was the CG, some of the really goofy stuff, or maybe the dark elements didn’t feel dark and threatening enough.  Whatever the case, while I was thrilled by RWBY and on board for for future seasons to come, I still didn’t consider it top tier material.  And that would change by the end of Volume 3.

I’ve no doubt that most people consider Volume 3 better than Volume 4 and I can’t really fault them for that.  It has by far the biggest moments in the series, the most involved narrative and probably the most action of any Volume.  Volume 3 opens on an inter-school battle tournament which Volume 2 had started to set in motion, Sun and the bad guys all arrive in Beacon as or posing as students in other schools.  When it first came out I remember people complaining that the fight direction took a big hit thanks to Mounty Oum’s death, but personally I thought the battles were great.  New and crazy weapons got introduced, like the bladed hoverboard from the first fight.  We saw new Semblances and a few cool new characters like the black guy who fights with sonic blasts from his trumpet and can use Naruto’s Shadow Clone justu.   All good stuff across the board.  It was also the first time since the concept of aura was introduced in Volume 1 that we spent some time digging into the lore and hidden powers of RWBY-verse, specifically the Maidens.  The Maidens represent a game changer, a shift from goofy weapons used to kill Grimm to super-weapons capable of  throwing the entire world out of balance.  It was at this point that the darker or just more serious elements to RWBY, things which had been present all along but just lacked the weight and presence to feel particularly gripping and real, finally got some gravitas.

This is helped by the fact the villains play a much bigger role than before.  Even setting aside what they ultimately do, we spend more time with them as their careful plan finally gets set in motion so we can understand what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  It makes them far more threatening because their plan is cunning and detailed, a shift from the mostly random acts of violence and theft from earlier Volumes.  And what’s more it totally works.  Even though security’s been beefed up and Qrow warns Ozpin that the city’s been infiltrated, and they try to get Pyrrha, who by the way gets a lot more development as of this Volume, to inherit the power of the dying Fall Maiden, the bad guys win.  By Volume 3’s end Beacon is a wreck, a huge Grimm dragon has appeared, Ozpin has disappeared and is presumed dead, Penny has been torn to pieces, Yang loses an arm fighting Blake’s former mentor Adam Taurus and Blake runs away from team RWBY, Weiss is sent home, and Pyrrha, debatably the strongest of the main teens is dead.

It’s all a big shock but Pyrrha’s death is especially hard hitting because a, who expected one of the main 8 teens to die at all, most shows don’t do that, and b, she’d gotten a lot better as a character over the course of Volumes 2 and 3, her relationship with Jean had deepened and she even made out with him before she dies in battle against Cinder, who thus far was presented as the leader of bad guys, and who obtains the Fall Maiden’s power, and c, because she was debatably the hottest girl and I was totally invested in her character arc and was extra sad to see her go.  Pyrrha’s death more than anything else convinced me RWBY was just as good as anything else I loved, that it deserved to be considered on par with my other top tier shows.  That Yang loses her arm and some of the bad guys die in the battle too, only add to a show which mostly felt a bit too light before because despite all the battles no one ever died or appeared to die, not even the random mooks.  But Volume 3 ends in ruin, for all sides really as the good guys deal with the loss of a city and some important people or limbs, while the bad guys deal with the fact Ruby put a giant fucking monkey wrench in their plans.

More so than the previous Volumes, Volume 3 confirms that Ruby is a prodigy.  She figures out part of the villains’ plot and how it’s being done before anyone else, even if she fails to stop it.  She fights Torchwood, a major villain and his assistant Neopolitan, who beat the piss out of Yang in Volume 2, well enough that though she doesn’t land the killing blow she gets them killed because they were forced to come out and try to deal with her.  And she awakens new eye-powers which fuck up the Grimm dragon and Cinder so badly that the battle which should have spelled Beacon’s end becomes a stalemate.  I mean the good guys still end up worse but Ruby goes a long to making an overwhelming defeat into a minor one by herself.  She even joins up with Team JUNPR, Pyrrha’s former team to continue hunting down Cinder, while the rest of her teammates all take a break.  She’s unquestionably the MVP of her generation, especially now that her main competition, Pyrrha is dead.

Volume 3 also reveals a new and greater antagonist waiting in the wings, a Grimm lady whom we later learn is called Salem, and who has been pulling the strings behind Cinder all along.  And as we listen to her grim (ha ha) and cryptic message, we fade out and get ready to pick up the pieces in Volume 4.

What Volume 4 and previously Arslan Senki season 2 have convinced me of is that good transition seasons are literal godsends to any given series and are in their own way more valuable to me than major dramatic arcs.  And make no mistake Volume 4 is a transition series.  It’s by far the slowest and most character focused of all the Volumes and it’s ending sets the stage for the next major arc.  But I think I like Volume 4 the most.  The CG sees huge improvements, I’d argue it’s the best purely CG show ever made or at least that I’ve ever seen.  But setting aside the visuals, if Volume 3 was where the big wow moments were then Volume 4 is where shit gets heavy.  Everyone is grappling with the loss of Pyrrha, most notably Jean, who has taken all that’s left of her, her weapon and armor, and combines them with his old gear, but Yang, Blake and Weiss all have confront themselves and their problems while they mostly sit at home.  If I had to encapsulate this Volume’s appeal in one scene though, I’d pick the scene where Jean is up after everyone is asleep, I mean Ruby gets up because she hears him but whatever, practicing sword drills prescribed to him by Pyrrha via instructional videos, where she says “I want you to know that I’m just happy to be a part of your life, I’ll always be here for you Jean.” at the end of video, while he pauses to hear her say that line before putting the video on repeat and continuing with sword drills, was quite possibly the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen.  I fucking tearing up right now as I’m writing about it.  It hits that hard, and importantly it feels so real because real people do this kind of shit, staring at pictures or reading messages from lost loved ones well after the funeral.  This is probably my favorite scene in RWBY and I doubt that will change.

Moving on, Volume 4 spends a lot of time with Blake, Weiss and Yang as they all deal with their issues before finding their resolve and choosing to continue the fight.  We find out that Blake was the daughter of the head of the White Fang back when it was peaceful and now the governor the Faunus homeland of Menagerie.  We get a lot of whining from Blake about how she wants people, her parents and friends who get hurt fighting the White Fang, to stay away from her so they don’t get hurt.  But ultimately what is shown is that she wants them to lash out at her, she wants to be punished for what she sees as her sins in involving these people in her struggles, and nobody does.  What Sun and her father force her to realize is that they love her and therefore chose this fight themselves or forgive her past transgressions respectively, that it’s not all her fault and that running away is the worst option to take because that hurts those close to her more than the physical wounds or family arguments.  Weiss’s family attempts to  lock her up in the house and after realizing that she hates abiding by Atlas’ high society and social rules when there are greater dangers afoot runs from home.  Yang deals with traumatic flashbacks to Adam cutting her arm off, gets a mechanical arm, spars with her dad and ultimately regains her confidence and fire so she can get back in the fight.  Most notable about Yang’s story is that the new arm comes to her right away but because of the trauma and lost confidence she doesn’t start using it immediately because she’s not sure she wants back into the fight.  It’s a nice touch and it gives her time to talk to adults and work through her problems.

However the real stars of character development in Volume 4 are Ren and Nora.  Nora has always been a fun character since Volume 1 and Ren had no discernible personality whatsoever and was mainly known for being skilled, ironic considering how little this was actually shown after the exam in Volume 1.  In Volume 4 we finally get his backstory as a former rich kid whose life imploded when a powerful Grimm killed his parents and wrecked his hometown, an event which only he and the street urchin he met that day, Nora, survive.  This explains why the two have always been inseparable but more importantly it finally gives Ren in particular a reason for his subdued personality and moments of fiery anger when he meets the monster in the Volume 4 finale.  I’ll cover the monster and that fight in a second but I want to talk about Volume 4 and that fight especially have the only scenes where Nora is actually serious.  She’s such a happy-go-lucky type and her power allows her to live that way, so seeing her be entirely earnest and serious and ultimately give Ren the focus he needs to survive and win the final battle of Volume 4 was pretty awesome to watch and spoke volumes about her strength and depth of character.

Moving away from character stuff Volume 4 introduces us to some of the most powerful and bizarre things in the RWBY-verse.  Ozpin’s body is dead but his soul now has merged with a kid called Oscar and talks to that kid in his head all the time, a well as shares memories and stuff.  We also get a proper introduction to Salem and her other followers, and we see how badly Ruby hurt Cinder in Volume 3, as Cinder had some serious scars, an eyepatch and can barely talk.  The action is a much smaller part of Volume 4 but it’s on the whole very good.  Most of the Grimm introduced in Volume 4 are big, special Grimm that can take a beating like the Geist and Sea Dragon.  Tyrian, a scorpion Faunus and one of Salem’s followers almost kills Qrow in a battle where he basically steamrolls team RNJR before Qrow steps in, and then promptly gets his tail cut off by Ruby because she’s awesome.  The real crown jewel is the Nuckelavee though.

I think it’s by the most terrifying Grimm we’ve ever seen.  Now I want to give RWBY bonus points on three fronts, one for even finding the fucking thing.  I’m a huge fan of mythology and even I’d only heard of the monster once before and didn’t remember the name.  The Nuckelavee is a demon from Orcadian mythology.  Never heard of Orcadian mythology?  Neither had I, it comes from Orkney which is on these tiny islands off the northern coast of Scotland in the ass end of nowhere.  It’s so obscure that I have a “Dictionary of Mythology” which has no mention of the Nuckelavee.  So that it exists in RWBY is impressive enough but I feel the team did an excellent job adapting the mythical monster, you can check the details for yourself if you’re interested, to the Grimm aesthetic.  Even more impressive though was how it moves, fights and sounds.  The Nuckelavee’s signature scream is terrifying, the contorted and ragged movements do a great job making it alien and scary and the extendable arms allow it to fight all of team RNJR at once while still containing elements of the mythical beast.

Moreover the buildup excellent.  We see Ren’s flashback where we hear it, see the destruction it causes but only see it’s hooves and one arm.  We see a battleground covered in blood and broken weapons with a distinct hoof-print in the ground, followed by trees swaying as it moves through the woods approaching Ruby, Jean and the injured Qrow.  Rena and Nora sprint to the others hoping to catch them before the Nuckelavee does and seconds after they meet up with Ruby and Jean we cut to the Nuckelavee at the edge of the town, we finally see it’s grotesque torso and hear the scream before the screen cuts to black.  Then the finale opens on 9 straight minutes of team RNJR fighting their hardest before finally bringing the Nuckelavee down.  And then we get to the end.  We see Yang and Weiss getting near Ruby, Qrow is taken to safety and survives and even meets Oscar, Blake and Sun have geared up to fight the White Fang and this all happens as Ruby writes a super emotional letter, which she also narrates in her head of course, before we end on the big twist, where it turns out where the academy master of Haven, where the characters have mostly ended up, is talking to one of Salem’s subordinates and looks set to betray the world to her.

What I’ve been trying to say here is that even though the narrative and action are slow in RWBY Volume 4, there’s so much going on that it’s just as if not even more engaging than Volume 3.  It adds so much to the characters and the antagonists while setting up the next major event, in addition to having its own awesome climactic battle, that it’s just as important as any major arc.  Storytelling involves a lot of peaks and valleys, the big moments and the transitions, and so many shows opt to have flat expository or lighthearted comedy episodes for their transitions, that I feel transitions that really get shit done and add a lot to the story in some way while still being a blast to watch despite the fact the narrative is slowed down are deserving of the highest praise.  If a transition is strong enough to make potentially better to me than a major dramatic arc, I think that’s impressive and it should be celebrated.  And that’s what I feel Volume 4 is, the best kind of transition.

Before I wrap up I want to talk about one more thing, our main girl Ruby.  Ruby is one of my favorite kinds of characters.  She’s a prodigy, but instead of being great at everything and having guys fall for her right and left like many anime geniuses (albeit most of them are a different gender so switch out girls for guys) she’s really only good at being a Huntress.  She’s awkward in social settings, she can’t move well in high heels, and she goofs around a lot but she doesn’t seem to have any path in life other than Huntress.  Blake, Yang, Weiss, even Jean and Pyrrha all feel like they could do all kinds of other jobs and be all kinds of other people.  Ruby is alone as someone who more or less embodies the idea of a what Huntress is and can’t be anyone else.  This is great conceptually to me and I feel that it’s strengthened by the fact she’s actually the youngest character in the show, I believe she’s 2 or 3 years behind everyone else but is moved up with them thanks to her talent, talent which makes her totally outshine her peers in battle as the series goes on.  The only one who even feels vaguely on her level is Pyrrha, a former Olympic athlete, who dies.  In addition to having the greatest battle skill, I pretty sure she’s also just the strongest as a person, seeing as how she shoulders a lot of weighty decisions herself and sees lots of trauma without running away in some fashion.  What I’m trying to say is I like Ruby.  A lot.  She’s fun to watch and she’s endearing and I’m a big fan.  And the same applies to RWBY.  That’s it, I’m done, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it.