Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

GGO2

Weep my fellow weeaboos and rejoice!  Somehow it has finally happened, SAO has escaped the curse of being total shit – well maybe.  For the the sake of convenience I’ll just call this show GGO2 and by God it is already leagues ahead of any other SAO show.  There will be spoilers ahead.

5 episodes may be too early to call whether or not this will be a decent show for sure, but with only a few exceptions this has turned out pretty good so far.  Thus far most of what has happened is a team-based battle royale a la the Bullet of Bullets tournament from the original GGO but with noticeable differences.  The battles are won by skill and tactics, many enemies seem entirely competent and Llenn, our new heroine, has a number of close calls throughout the tournament – her victory did not seem at all assured.

Before I make this seem too glowing there are definitely a few problems I should address though. 1 – Some of the game’s mechanics have changed since the original GGO and though this is mostly a positive, one area that I think needs addressing  are the character attributes and specs.  Enjoyable as it is to see a bright pink bunny hat girl zooming all over the battlefield, her Agility is broken as shit and the only alternative which seems viable is sniping.  We need some details here but we probably won’t get them.  2 – Damage seems extremely malleable to fit the situation, with some people going down in 1 shot or a short burst while others take quite a few shots and melee attacks.  Obviously some of this is due the location of the attack influencing the damage but Llenn takes a bunch of hits and it seems like she probably should have gone down. 3 – Last and most blatant, WTF is with Llenn’s gun?  Why is it talking to her?  Seriously what is going on?  I think they will address this one but still it was a very bizarre thing to throw into a battle that had been reasonably realistic within the rules of the game, ill-defined as some of those limits are.

So what happened?  The obvious answer is that the creators have finally cut out the cancer which has plagued SAO since the very beginning – Kirito.  I’ve written extensively about SAO, here are posts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 for more details, but the cliff notes version is that Kirito was the greatest flaw in a series with a ton of other flaws.  His design was bland but just barely stylish enough that a brooding edgy teenager would think it was cool.  He was OP as fuck, to the point that it never mattered what game he was in nor what that game’s rules were – he’d win anyway and rarely would winning require effort.  Ironically ALO, which most people consider the worst segment of SAO, actually managed this the best as he almost died twice and did die once, when raiding the final dungeon, in that game.  Also Kirito’s sister was always best girl because she had two very different looks between her real body and her character and she had the best tits.

Really though the fundamental design flaw of Kirito is that he was a rudimentary power fantasy for young boys, winning almost all of his fights with ease and claiming the hearts of maidens far and wide with his totally awesome video game skills, despite his comical lack of social skills – which has probably worked for like .01% of the population in real life but I digress.  Kirito was barely a character, he had some basic character traits that were rarely built on and was amazing at ANYTHING he bothered to do, be it the games or programming.  He was a husk which young teens could project onto and basically nothing more, he could and would break any rule the game worlds imposed on him if the scene required it and the plot threads of his story were generally basic, boring and flowed together very badly.  SAO was shit tier, with tons of contrivances, pacing problems, awful looking action scenes, a weak harem, to be frank, and super edgy villains that would not have been out of place in Mirai Nikki or Elfen Lied.  Moreover because Kirito was supposed to deal with serious conflicts the shows tried and failed to be dark, while creating simple plots for him to solve regardless of how well any given plot would work in any given game.

With Kirito removed however this gives the writers a lot more freedom and boy does it show.  There’s a lot more attention given to the game, from retarded stuff like the fact you can apparently never design your avatar in any game based on the Seed, which is garbage but whatever, to a goddamn tutorial instructor who was a legitimately better character than anyone from the original GGO.  Yes I’m dead serious.  That instructor, in addition to being fine, had a lot of character when it came to her design and dialogue and it added to the character of the GGO game world as a whole.  It especially helped push the upgraded realism aspect of the game as all of her lines could have been ripped from Full Metal Jacket.  Not only that but it did a good job guiding the player into what weapons they would be good with as beginners, a nice touch.

Speaking of the game world lets look at the changes in game mechanics.  In contrast to the original GGO where the game had serious imbalances between energy and projectile weapons those differences have been ironed out.  The basic idea of energy weapons being for monsters as opposed to fighting players is still there but in their overall utility energy weapons are significantly better than projectile weapons – with the caveat that their damage against players is nerfed, so players will be encouraged to use the slower and more difficult to handle projectile weapons when fighting each other.  That being said Llenn proves that you can still totally beat people with energy weapons assuming you have greater skill or more advantages.

The game mechanics established in the original GGO are mostly still in place but players have worked out more work-arounds to take advantage of the mechanics of the game like M not putting his finger on the trigger until he goes for a snap shot, thus preventing the enemies from seeing his bullet line or using dead bodies as shields as they are immortal objects and you can’t be hit through them.  Also no one has a game-breaking invisibility cloak nor tactic to break the radar scan and instead the scan is vital to every team’s planning and tactics.  M using a collapsible metal barrier to make cover for himself when he’s at a disadvantage was a nice touch as well.  Also notably absent so far are the light sabers Kirito used.  Seriously, the tactical planning aspect of the battles have skyrocketed in their complexity and cleverness since Kirito has been gone.

Another major freedom is that this is a game with no death or trapped patients/test subjects so the creators can focus on making our characters have fun while still putting them in tough battles.  Moreover this gives the script way more structural freedom than any other SAO season and once again the writers show their stuff now that they don’t have work around Kirito.  GGO2 starts with a flash forward, dropping us into the tournament immediately and showing it means business with the huge surge in tactical planning, better use of game mechanics and fun combat.  Then it jumps back in time for the next couple of episodes explaining who our characters are and how they got to this point.  The character department could still use serious work as Llenn’s real world counterpart is still very basic and I think her complex is kind of silly – seriously she looks great and that height is not a detractor at all.  But while her character is still a work in progress at least we have been given a clear trajectory of her time in the game, from her being a total noob, to her finding a niche in the game and then her growing as a player with the help of Pitohui, a much more experienced player.

Pitohui is by far the most enjoyable character in any SAO anything, with a striking design, a devil-may-care kind of attitude, odd hobbies and viewpoints and plenty of mystery about her.  That being said they did drop a pretty big hint that she’s probably an SAO survivor and possibly a Laughing Coffin guild member – seriously though how big was this guild? – considering M’s total breakdown and conviction that she’s crazy and will totally kill him, as well as the more subtle, but to me more telling, hint that Llenn’s player killing was what initially drew Pitohui’s interest.  She’s mostly been a sort of quirky, crazy guide to Llenn but she’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting SAO characters ever made – here’s too hoping she doesn’t end up an edgy killer type still hooked on the thrill of death.

That about covers the 5 episodes that are out so far.  All of the characters are more interesting and likable than previous SAO installments, the combat – particularly the tactical side of it – is far more impressive than before, the pacing is totally fine, the writing is still fairly basic but it has been used much more effectively thus far and the overall experience is much more fun than SAO has ever been.  I do want to note that there are plenty of places for this show to fail and I’m somewhat worried about Pitohui, as villains have been a continual weak point in SAO, but for now I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a decent show.  If nothing else it has been a refreshing break from Kirito and way more fun than it’s predecessors.  Hope y’all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

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Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

Twisted_Lancelot

I can barely imagine how I can hate the Fate universe.  It’s about a bunch of mages and ancient heroes, of the real and mythical varieties, with super powers throwing down in a battle royale for the Holy Grail.  It’s got all kinds of historical references and confusing lore and it’s appeal practically writes itself, especially to a history buff with a serious interest in magic, fantasy and mythology like me.  Funny then that, barring Fate Zero, I can’t stand any Fate show anymore.  There will be spoilers.

Maybe I should dial this back a bit before I go in too hard.  So a few years ago I see Fate Zero and I’m fucking blown away.  I’m like “Bro bro bro, top tier anime right here”  and literally the entire anime community agrees.  Then I watch the infamous train wreck that was the original Fate Stay Night and I think it’s shit but I still like the concepts contained in the franchise and move on.  Then I see UBW, the TV show not the movie, and that’s when some of the underlying negative feelings I have with the Fate universe begin to solidify.  It’s when I start getting into long arguments with Fate fans, about details I don’t think make sense.  And don’t get me wrong I’m not here to paint these guys in a bad light, the arguments I had with them were among the best I’ve ever had with regards to anime even if most arguments ended with us agreeing to disagree or them agreeing the anime stumbled on a particular point that the visual novel handles like a champ.  And I’m totally willing to take their word at face value that the visual novels cover my problems with the various anime adaptations.  However the fact that Fate was created as visual novel is the root of every nail in all of the various anime adaptations’ collective coffin.

There are three major issues I have with the underlying construction of the Fate universe and it’s lore that arise from the nature of it being a visual novel, routes, game mechanics and harem style love interests.  Now you might be asking yourself, “what’s wrong with having multiple routes?”  In the visual novels, absolutely nothing.  In literally any other medium – a lot.  Multiple routes or experiences which mirror multiple routes, i.e. playing an RPG and doing things in a different order or siding with different factions, etc.  work fantastically in video games because you get to play each route.  It’s fun and it lets you approach the story a totally different way, it allows you to significantly alter the experience.  However this requires a ton of freedom on both the player’s and creators’ parts and film and printed media do not have that freedom.  The only non-video game examples I can even think of are choose your own adventure books, which I discovered in middle school and have never seen since because they never caught on, the movie Clue which allowed you to choose multiple endings because it’s a comedy based on a who-dun-it game (good luck making many shows like that) and spin-offs.

But even spin-offs aren’t really a good equivalent to routes.  Spin-offs become entirely different shows with familiar characters or show the same story as the original from a different character’s perspective.  Routes don’t work like that compared to spin-offs they have either greatly reduced changes to the story or greatly increased changes to the story and overall they function very differently from a spin-off.  UBW is not a spinoff of Stay/Night, it most closely resembles a choose your own adventure story but those died in print and never made it to film, because they aren’t workable in that medium.  This why when after UBW wraps up and they announce a Heaven’s Feel movie I groan in frustration instead of getting hype, this despite the fact Heaven’s Feel actually looks more up my alley than UBW did.

This next bit is probably going to sound pretentious as fuck but in film you can’t just keep changing the story.  So get this, there’s an event called the Fourth Holy Grail War and the combatants are blah blah blah and the winners are X & Y.  You can’t tell that story and suddenly go here’s another version where Z & U win.  I know art isn’t supposed to have rules and all but frankly you can’t do multiple routes in film.  Not if you want it to be immersive, not if you want the audience to suspend their disbelief and get them hooked.  It is my humble opinion that routes require an abstraction that can only really manifest in games and it’s an abstraction called – I know I’m playing a fucking game.  Here’s an example.  Because I never play new games when they are new I recently start up Bloodborne.  I love the difficulty, sound, environment and the feel of the combat.  But then I hit a wall and because it’s a game, I take a step back and say if I grind for blood echoes (currency/exp) by killing these two infinitely respawning giant pigs I can level up to the point where the boss isn’t hard or I have better gear or whatever.  Point is I have to deliberately take a break from trying to immerse myself in the world and story to take a sort of meta-view and exploit the game’s mechanics to my advantage.  This is not something I would wish upon anyway trying to enjoy a film because unlike with video games, you aren’t playing your way through a film.

I actually kind of hate that in Bloodborne there are times when I am so stuck I have to break my immersion on purpose and find a solution using my outsider knowledge of game mechanics.  It’s frustrating remove myself from the horror and magic of the setting to do some basic tactics and math, putting fun and exploration on hold to do the heavy lifting required to push through the next boss.  I do basic tactics and math everyday in real life, I don’t walk in a beautifully horrific city fighting all kinds of twisted monsters everyday.  The point of immersion is for me to escape real life and that’s why immersion breaking events suck, even more so when you initiate them yourself.

So in summary, routes aren’t possible in film because they require a level of abstraction that is antithetical to immersive storytelling and to me good films are all about immersive storytelling.

Moving on to game mechanics, one of things which is so crushing to me about Fate lore is that it’s designed as though the Holy Grail war was a video game.  For example let’s look at the seven servant classes.  The classes clue us into what kind of weapons, fighting styles and certain attributes a hero will have.  For example, Saber fights with swords, Caster uses magic and Berserker is not sane.  These are broad categories that leave a lot of room for character and power development, as well as, simple descriptions that can be easily fit into existing lore.  For instance it’s no surprise that King Arthur would be a Saber servant because Excalibur plays a huge role in the Arthurian legends.  This also leaves room for the same hero becoming multiple classes though I admit I have very mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand it makes sense in terms of real world lore as many heroes fought with more than one weapon or were known for more than one aspect of their character.  On the other it plays into that multiple routes crap I broke down above and makes the character less defined.  I suppose it could used for very interesting things if, for example Lancelot the Saber had to fight Lancelot the Berserker so that we can see what fighting his other self does to Lancelot both in physical and mental terms.  But thus far that’s never happened and there are too many other weaknesses to make me watch a Fate where it did happen.

Much more frustrating however are that each servant class have basic traits which apply to everyone in that class regardless of lore.  All Sabers get magic resistance for example.  Ok but here’s a hypothetical.  What happens to sword wielding heroes who, in their own legends, fell victim to magic.  Sure in the specific story you can just not include such a character and bypass the issue.  But the fact that I can make a believable hypothetical which makes this part of the Fate universe lore not make sense, proves that it’s a weakness in the lore’s construction.  Moreover I think it’s fucking stupid.  When I watch two Heroes with magical superpowers go head to head, the last thing I’m thinking of are class advantages.  To make matters worse they have literal stats like Strength A, Constitution C, etc.  I can’t even imagine to how you could make me less interested in a clash between to Servants, viewed without any of this knowledge they fights are generally great but knowing they have fucking stats rather just allowing them to test their ability against each other with no knowledge of their opponent’s relative skill is a buzzkill of epic proportions.

There is nothing, literally NOTHING, less appealing to me than trying to quantify a character’s ability and power level by busting out a stat sheet and using that to help guide or predict the outcome of a fight.   And when you do that to such towering figures of history and legend it boils my blood, which then evaporates due to sheer heat as soon as those figures turn out to be great characters in their own right.  Which incidentally brings me to third and final problem, the characters.

Up until this point I’ve largely been talking about my gripes with the Fate universe, or Nasuverse, or the flaws that come with adapting a visual novel into anime and still treating it like a goddamn visual novel.  The latter point is not restricted to Fate btw, I’m absolutely furious about Steins:Gate Zero and it hasn’t even come out yet.  But the characters are arguably the most important point because it what will maybe justify some speculation on my part.  That speculation being that Nasu, the creator of the Fate universe is a big part of the problem.  I will admit I have not intensely studied Nasu’s work so take my speculation with plenty of salt but as it appears to me Nasu isn’t very good when it comes to people, or in writing terms, characters.  Jumping back to the stats thing for a second, to me the fact he would even assign stats to Servants like that at all says to me that he is either trying to bind his lore to the medium, in this case visual novels, or that he is a man who puts a lot more emphasis on systems than people.  Broadly speaking men are more interested in systems at a basic psychological level so it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic to imagine that Nasu is especially interested in systems and thus applies systems where he doesn’t need to, in this case to the Servants.  Again this is complete speculation but Nasu seems to be someone who makes hard rules, or perhaps, creates order where he doesn’t need to.

I’m not saying this slight the man.  He’s not stupid or bad for creating a system within his own ideas.  I am saying that I disagree with him fundamentally on this point.  I think placing a system within the Fate universe is a bad move because I want to see the places it could go with a bit more chaos.  I think it has all kinds of room for malleability and the potential for very organic stories and clashes which I personally find far more interesting.  I think putting in a stat system makes the Fate universe more stale and that wild, chaotic speculation as to how well a given Servant does against any opponent is a universe full of far greater intrigue and possibility.   Alternatively if Nasu was seriously hard-wiring the nature of the medium into his lore then fair enough – but if that’s the case there will be an inevitable drop in quality when you put it in a different medium.

This where the characters come in.  Me and my best friend have a big problem with the all the gender bending going on in the Fate universe.  To me it totally undermines certain characters, like King Arthur, or is just there for fanservice, which fair enough I have no problems with fanservice but it really takes away from the gravitas of these figures if we see their gender-bent tits flopping about.  King Arthur is an especially bad example as the main reason she is gender-bent is so she can be one of the main love interests to Shrio, aka the most insufferable Fate character of all time and one of my least favorite anime protagonists of all.

The biggest gap in quality between the one Fate show I liked Fate Zero and everything else is that the characters are less interesting across the board, one of the main reasons being the teenage romance central to the visual novels plays a major role in the various anime versions.  Once again this is a huge mistake to me because there’s nothing I would rather not see in a Holy Grail War than weak, harem-style teenage romances.  Their very presence undermines the coolest aspects of the Fate universe and makes the whole experience less serious.  This is one of the reasons I think Nasu either struggles to write good characters or tailored his creation so closely to the medium of visual novels, to me there is no logical connection between the romantic elements and the Holy Grail War beyond the fact basically all visual novels are centered around various routes wherein you can romance different love interests.  If I were in Nasu’s position and came up with the Fate universe I would never have included boring teenage romances and it probably never would have been a visual novel.

My other justification for this line of thinking, that Nasu either isn’t good at characters or tailored Fate to the visual novel medium, is Fate Zero.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magicka fame using Nasu’s preexisting lore and characters as a template for the prequel to Fate Stay Night.  With the change in writers there a ton of immediately apparent changes between Fate Zero and any other Fate work.  There is only one teenager and all his enemies are adults.  The only gender-bent character is King Arthur and that’s because of preexisting lore.  The only romantic elements that exist are used to enhance a few characters and they are not a major focus of the story.  Instead the focus is now squarely on the battles and the characters.  Waver, the sole teen, is a teen precisely because it puts him such stark contrast with his Servant, the best character in the show Alexander the Great.  They make a great pair because Waver is young, not especially confident and has no guiding principles or goals and Alexander is this massive force of personality with larger than life dreams and goals.  They have an effect on each other, an effect which transforms Waver’s character because frankly that was the point of pairing them together.

Fate Zero is unusual in that the conclusion is a forgone one, we already know how the Grail War ends.  The individual battles are given a lot of attention but overall this is a ‘the journey is more important the destination’ kind of show.  That’s why it allocates so much of focus on the characters, their development, their ideals and their desires and how and why they come into conflict.  This is perhaps best shown by the famous Banquet of King because it spells out in no uncertain terms that all of the Kings have very different ideals and this will inevitably bring them into conflict even if they can have a dialogue for the moment.  There is nothing like the banquet of Kings in any of the other Fate works because frankly none of the characters in any of the other Fate shows are strong enough and fleshed out enough to carry such a scene.  And the fact that Fate Zero can speaks to Gen Urobuchi approaching things from a fundamentally different lens than Nasu, and I prefer the Urobutcher’s lens.

There is actually one more problem with Fate and it’s characters and it’s the problem showcased by Fate Grand Order and Fate Apocrypha.  There are way the fuck too many characters being thrown at us all at once.  I got about halfway through Apocrypha and dropped out because nothing in it seemed to matter.  The characters were boring and just seemed to fill space, looking cool and not having any real weight in the broader sense, like this was some Fate shit to tide us over until Heaven’s Feel.  Seeing the sheer number of servants, their alternate forms and masters on the wiki makes me think the best way to do Fate is to go full long form shounen on that shit.  Because otherwise there’s way too much and we won’t have time bond with any of the characters or enjoy much of a story, and ultimately I think that robs the Servants of their uniqueness and intrigue, much the same way I think the Avenger’s movies suffer from having to cram too many characters into one story and thus have to keep things simple and not explore any individual heroes in greater depth.

I hope you enjoyed this huge rant.  I’m not here to slander Nasu or pick a fight with Fate fans, I think the Fate universe is full of great shit but it’s also full of shit that is not to my tastes and the onslaught of upcoming Fate stuff has really just caused me to kind of despise Fate as an IP, especially considering all the hype surrounding Fate at the moment.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Kekkai Sensen & Beyond

kekkai sensen & beyond

Back in the saddle baby.

Kekkai Sensen season was the coolest dude in town when it was airing and then it had two recap episodes and an ending that came out months after the season when the show aired, and the finale didn’t even make sense.  Like it was cool to look at and all but story-wise it didn’t make sense and it didn’t even save White which is what everyone was hoping it would do.  If you want more details you can go here and here.

Fortunately for the coolest dude in town, Kekkai Sensen and Beyond spends no time whatsoever addressing the confusing ending of season 1 and speeds ahead full throttle into the same chaotic, action comedy that it handled so well in most of season 1.  Seriously the only nod to the first season’s ending is this quick flashback to white after the the credits of episode 1.  You could probably skip straight from the search for lunch (episode 9 I think) in Kekkai Sensen to Kekkai Sensen and Beyond with no real issues.

Tonally seasons 1 and 2 of Kekkai Sensen are very similar but where season 1 had some slow episodes, I can’t really recall a slow episode in season 2.  This is in part because season 2 spends more time fleshing out the characters, most notably best girl Chain.  And this is vital because on of the weaknesses of Kekkai Sensen was that it didn’t really explore the characters in much depth, and sure it mostly worked anyway because there was so much to take in, but the character building was a godsend.

KK’s episode in particular where she has to deal with fighting vampires and gangsters while also attending Parent’s Day at her son’s kindergarten because she cares about her family and she keeps missing family events like this due to her job was flat out the best episode of the season.  And the finale is much better as well, as the final conflict takes place over 2 episodes and deals with one of the more insidious opponents in the show.

And honestly that’s about all there is to say about Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  It has the same great chaotic flavor and visual style of the Kekkai Sensen and comes with more character building as well as homages to other media like Chain’s Mission Impossible episode.  Everything there was to like about Kekkai Sensen is back and Kekkai Sensen and Beyond builds on that foundation to make an even better Kekkai Sensen.

If you liked Kekkai Sensen, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  I mean I’m guessing most of you have since that show aired a while ago, but to anyone who felt burned by Kekkai Sensen’s ending, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond it is SO worth it.  I was kind of skeptical at first because I felt burned by season 1’s ending but Kekkai Sensen and Beyond had won me over again in minutes.  It’s a literally just a better Kekkai Sensen.  Go. Watch. It.  See you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

Darling-in-the-Franxx

You know many moons ago I complained about certain anime seasons being total shit.  Today I look back at my old self and give me a “if only you knew” kind of look.  Because this season is legitimately the worst season in years.  There’s almost nothing that’s actually good or interesting despite their being another huge chunk of shows to actually watch.  Also there’s basically nothing in the way of solid sequels to help pad the season out – the only one off hand that might fill that role is Nanats no Taizai season 2, but having read the manga and hating where it goes I’m skipping that one despite really liking season 1.  Since this season was so barren I figured I’d do a 3 episode test on the few shows i’m actually watching.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou – I’m actually a big fan of the original Basilisk so I was bewildered to see a sequel.  If you want a spoiler free review of season 1, it’s here, and I do recommend season 1 as it was a good show.  However considering the ending I never would have believed it would have gotten a sequel much less one set only 10 years after the events of season 1.  Having seen 3 episodes of the sequel I can say I was right to be wary.  It’s not so much that it has been bad – it’s just not been good – and it has some problems.  For example why are the young recruits from the two ninja villages, Iga and Kouga, split along gendered lines?  In Basilisk season 1 both sides had men and women fighting.  How are Hachirou and Hibiki related to Gennosuke and Oboro exactly?  Both of those characters died before they had kids.  Speaking of which why does Hibiki look nothing like Oboro and why do her mystic eyes not match up with Oboro’s?  The village leaders insist she’s connected to Oboro but they describe her mystic eyes as neutralizing all hostility while Oboro’s eyes simply destroyed unnatural techniques, i.e. all ninjutsu/ninpou.  My problem is not that this show outright sucks but it looks to me like the team putting it together have a surface level understanding of Basilisk.  Forgetting all the details they have which don’t make sense, their uglier character designs and willingness to kill characters off are reminiscent of Basilisk – but nonetheless the whole thing feels very off and I’m not sure I want to continue.

Citrus – Yuri.  Nuff said.  Ok it could be Shoujo Ai… In all seriousness this show is just ok so far.  The story is very basic and while it’s not as slow and irritating as most shoujo shows are to me it is nonetheless carried by the fact it has lots of yuri fanservice to distract viewers from the thus far lackluster story and characters.  It’s a decent time but nothing spectacular – unless you loving seeing hot girls kiss.

Darling in the Franxx – So far this is the best show of the season.  Episode one was top tier with a great battle, weird monsters, tons of explosions and a bizarre looking mech.  I love Zero Two, the whimsical horned girl who has a nasty habit of overwhleming and damaging her partners.  What partners you ask?  Darling in the Franxx pulls a Pacific Rim and it takes two people, this time male and female to pilot a Franxx and fight the monsters, klaxosaurs.  Also emotions and one’s state of mind have a major effect on piloting the Franxx so managing the teenage pilots is going to be a big part of the show.  This in fact leads me to my main issue with Darling in the Franxx.  The world looks like a wasteland and what little politics have been shown give the society a distinctly dystopian edge, though it may be a justified one considering the monsters at their doorstep.  Excuse my sounding tyrannical but this society needs to control the kids better.  Not counting the anomaly that is Zero Two, most of the problems in making the kids combat effective come from their attitudes screwing with their compatibility.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to either control the kids with strict rules to create a less emotional children a la Shin Sekai Yori or to have the kids constantly doing the kind synchronization training Shinji and Asuka did in Evangelion to fight the twin angel?  I feel like either process would have better results than letting these kids run amok and destroying their own squad with huge egos and shitty behavior.  Also the pairs seem to be random considering the swathe of comparability problems, so maybe that needs work too.  Minor criticism of the setting aside this show is great and you should watch it.

Grancrest Senki – In season less barren than this I wouldn’t have even given this show a look.  It’s pretty bog standard fantasy action fare with simplistic and boring politics, bland characters and unexplained magic.  It has a strong military bent to it but while individual parts of the battles are great, overall it’s not that impressive.  I’m probably dropping this because what little charm it had has already worn off.

Killing Bites – This show is trash and I love it.  There’s something special about shitty action shows that know how trash they are just not giving a single fuck and plunging headlong into more fanservice and basic action scenes.  It’s not the kind of show which should ever be taken seriously and because of that it’s kind of fun.  Definitely a better way to pass the time than the last show I talked about.

Koi wa Ameagari You ni – Honestly I don’t get the appeal of this show.  The art style looks pretty but the main girl and her best friend on the track team have all kinds weird proportions.  Both of their upper legs are way too long, main girl’s neck looks too long in close up shots and track club senpai has noticeably bigger eyes than main girl and even her eyes look a little too big for her face.  The romance is between a quiet, seemingly anti-social high school girl and generic nice guy 45 year old.  I guess some people are into that but I certainly don’t see why.  It’s not a bad show and I’ll probably keep watching but it’s not a great time either.

Kokkoku – This one is weird.  So there’s this dirt poor family that has a rock which can stop time and after two members of the family are kidnapped at random they use the rock.  Unbeknownst to them they are being monitored by a cult which worships the rock and it’s time powers and they complicate matters immensely by taking yet another hostage and trying to kill Juri, the main girl.  At the rate this show is going they might have to resolve the entire plot in the pace of one time stop, which seems like a bit much but whatever.  Also the main family has extra powers like teleportation and being able to turned people who aren’t frozen in time into people frozen in time.  This show has a good mystery thriller vibe and the episodes are flying by, but it seems like a lot to resolve quickly so let’s see where it goes.

Violet Evergarden – This is the outright prettiest show of the season and good luck to anyone trying to top this show’s visuals.  The story has only been ok thus far as it centers around writing letters and the main girl, the titular Violet Evergarden lacks most human emotions.  But that’s ok because the Violet has spent most of her life fighting in a war that recently ended and everyone’s struggling to adjust – she just struggles all the harder because she has no concept of living a peaceful  civilian life like most people.  I’m personally fascinated by the concept of people accustomed to war suddenly struggling with peace so that’s a big plus for me.  Definitely give this one a try.

Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Volume 5

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I’ve established several times now that I really, really love the RWBY franchise. It had a rough start but with each new volume it was seriously upping it’s game until it became something I went from casually appreciating to outright loving. Volume 5 is the first time I think RWBY can be reasonably accused of backsliding. There will be spoilers and I’m going to assume you’re up to date – if you’re not I have an in-depth recap of the franchise here.

I don’t think Volume 5 is bad. It has a couple excellent twists, major events and battles, and some great additions to the characters. It also is quite a bit slower than it should have been. Volume 4 was supposed to be the “slow” transition between the major defeat of Volume 3 and what we can now call the major victory of Volume 5, and after the much slower, more character focused transition one might expect that Volume 5 would start with a bang or at least a spring in its proverbial step.  Instead it dragged its heels.  In retrospect given the scale of the events which occur in Volume 5 it definitely needed time for some set up but unlike previous volumes Volume 5 had almost no battles to help break up exposition or planning.  The only fight I can even think of which happens before any major plans start going in motion is Weiss’ fight against the giant Grimm bees, which while fun, was not nearly as impressive as it could have been considering the kinds of Grimm we were treated to in Volume 4.

The real problem here is due to the teams being fractured.  Blake’s fight for control of Menagerie has to be wrapped up before the final battle.  Normally this would be fine but Team RNJR are already in Haven and we knew from the final scenes of Volume 4 that one of Salem’s agents was already in Haven meeting with Haven’s headmaster.  By comparison Weiss and Yang’s travel flows much better because it’s a lot shorter and it gives us more time with the character who arguably is the centerpiece of this particular volume, Raven.  Raven has only ever appeared briefly in other volumes but she’s a major focal point of this one, especially once it’s revealed that she is in fact the Spring Maiden.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Basically I think the problem has to do with the amount of plot and the time frame it’s being squeezed into.

The Faunus and their internal struggle makes things awkward.  It’s a big struggle that involves a lot of internal politics, from speeches and polling to outright assassinations and a major battle.  In and of itself that’s not a bad thing but it’s frankly awkwardly timed as putting it in Volume 5 means that team RNJR have to be put on standby in-universe despite their own urgency, the importance of their task and the audience’s own knowledge that Haven is not the friendly ground it was supposed to be right from the beginning.  I get the need for suspense but the amount of time it takes to get to the final battle is just too long and it’s spent doing too little.  Thus the volume feels a lot slower than the rest because well, we the audience are waiting for shit to hit the fan and boy does that take some time.

Really I think the biggest mistake was putting Adam and the Faunus in Haven at all.  Assuming Adam’s battle was independent of the Haven battle the two stories could have  been told concurrently, which technically they already are but not really because Blake has to have control of Menagerie to foil Adam’s plans in Haven.  What should have happened was that Blake and Adam should have had their showdown on Menagerie, and maybe have Ilia find out that Adam killed Supreme Leader Khan and reveal this, turning most of Menagerie against him and forcing him to flee the island.  Hell Blake could even still head to Haven to reunite with her teammates under the logic that with Menagerie secured and Adam posing a seriously reduced threat, she can rejoin her team.  Meanwhile the team RNJR side of the story can virtually untouched beyond being sped up.

In essence the story would have the same pacing until Yang and Weiss reunite with Ruby and Raven makes her deal with Cinder.  Rather than still stalling we could’ve just gone straight to the battle and made that move along at a quicker pace as well because the final battle was riddled with problems.

People have started complaining about worse fight choreography since Mounty Oum’s death but this was the first volume where I felt that complaint had serious merit.  The Haven battle has a number of weak elements one of them being that there’s way too much standing around and talking.  The battle seems to drag on forever, partially because it has to thanks to the inclusion of the White Fang and Faunus in the scheme, and partially because I think almost everyone is underutilized.  However this too stems from another problem, frankly there’s too many people fighting at the same time.  After Weiss is impaled and Raven and Cinder leave the battlefield what should have followed was either a quick series of one on one battles or a team battle wherein both sides coordinated their abilities to crush the other side in one decisive engagement.  Neither one happens and so instead we have lots of awkward standing around with only a few of the fighters, mostly Hazel, being given serious attention.

This itself leads to yet more problems as almost none of the characters get time to shine and the battle just drags on and on with little in the way of major developments until the Faunus arrive.  Personally one of my biggest problems with the fight was Ruby.  Ruby is supposed to be a terrifying opponent and I feel like the team at Rooster Teeth just straight up forgot that.  They put all this focus on her being this symbol of hope and doing little things to improve her unarmed combat but in the major battle she hardly does anything.  In previous volumes Ruby could hold her own against major villains by herself and as Volume 2’s famous food fight scene shows, Ruby’s speed is an incredibly deadly weapon when she chooses to use it.  In this battle Ruby doesn’t use her speed at all – she’s not using it to dodge attacks or charge in and mess people up with her scythe.  Now in fairness at the start of the battle Emerald starts shutting her down right away so that made sense but after Cinder and Raven leave Ruby still barely fights when she should be using this opportunity to pummel the opposition because she’s faster than all of them and having greater speed is a huge advantage in a fight.

All that said considering the actual ending it might be safe to say that this was intentional as the only villains who die are Cinder and Lionheart, and neither of them are killed by the good guys.  Because in comparison to the lackluster Haven battle described above the battle at the Belladonna mansion was excellent – the combat was kinetic and satisfying, the pacing was good and the environment was used extremely well – and the battle between Cinder and Raven was fucking incredible, a strong contender for best battle in the franchise.  Given these battle’s it may be less of a case of Rooster Teeth not having the touch and more of case of stupid contrivance, wherein Ruby and Co. have to be held back so that most of Salem’s forces survive the battle, when logically this fight should make or break either Cinder’s squad or Team RNJR.

The last real issue is the finale.  The final episode was lackluster because it was poorly put together.  They probably should have combined the last two episodes and copied Volume 4’s ending by starting off with the Raven and Cinder battle and the fall of the White Fang before wrapping up the emotional stuff.  Instead the major climactic actions happen on the second to last episode and the finale deals almost entirely with the aftermath.  Individually most of the elements included were good but they were poorly packaged as it were and this really hurt the finale.

Also Adam took a big hit this time around, his dialogue with Blake and his overall presentation seemed a lot more dumbed down in comparison to his brief appearance in Volume 3, though in fairness the character hasn’t had enough screen time for the Rooster Teeth team to really iron out any kinks in the character or even get used to him.  Raven likewise had some dialogue in her argument with Blake that, while in character, felt just a tad forced and stilted.  Personally I would have had Raven answer Yang’s questions about the Spring Maiden and then had her say nothing while Yang tore into her, which I would have liked to have seen more of, before conceding to Yang’s argument on the relic and saying “I’m sorry.”  I feel like that approach would have given Raven a bit more grace and gravitas, as is in keeping with character, while allowing her to take Yang’s criticism on the nose and finally face her own failings.  Because credit where it’s due they did a great job with Raven overall.

Raven was a great schemer and bandit leader, and her portrayal as someone who was drawn into a fight full of secrets so strange and enemies so powerful they scared her into splitting off from Ozpin was handled very well.  The character was consistent, believable and her words definitely had a sort weight to them that could only come from experience and bitter sincerity.  Likewise it makes sense for her to give the relic to Yang because Yang’s argument about how much unwanted attention it will draw to Raven if she takes it is on point.  Raven really did shine throughout the volume and while she was handled well enough at the end, I do think her performance in the argument with Yang hurt the character a little bit.

Overall Volume 5 was a decent volume.  It had 2 great fights, a couple cool plot developments and it spent a lot of time fleshing out Raven and it did a great job on that front.  It’s main issue came from the writing, mainly that it tried tying up all of its loose threads into a neat bow and ended up with a clumsy knot.  All of the other issues can be traced back to this, they just tried to cram too much story into one place and it resulted in a plethora of issues great and small.  I can’t say for sure who is to blame on that front but there’s no doubt Volume 5 could have been tidied up and repackaged to improve it’s overall flow.  It seems to me that whomever is to blame here was too focused on the finish line for this volume rather than the journey it took to get there, and it was the latter that really needed attention.  Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe there were internal changes that caused some stumbles – either way, while this Volume not as good as Volume 3 or 4, the franchise overall is still very good and I’m very much invested in the series and would like to see where it’s going in the future.  Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Juuni Taisen – A Masterwork Failure

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To preface this I want to point out one of the popular arguments defending Juuni Taisen and the complaint it addresses.  Many people are annoyed that Juuni Taisen broadcast when each warrior would die because the robs the death game premise of the show of any surprises.  The counter-argument (henceforth the reverse zodiac argument) is that this sign posting is prevalent throughout various aspects of the show so it’s clearly being done on purpose – ergo the previous criticism is a dumb one.  Admittedly this counter-argument has a major flaw to me, but what the hell, it did help make the case that perhaps Juuni Taisen would go somewhere interesting and I was all for that.  As it happens Juuni Taisen went to one of the most boring places imaginable, there will be spoilers.

It’s actually kind of amazing how big of a letdown the final episode of Juuni Taisen was.  I mean my favorite character had already died so it wasn’t like I was planning on being super impressed but given that source material comes NisioisiN, a man who I am a big fan of, I was sort of looking forward to see where we would end up.  The conclusion is this, Nezumi wins the tournament as the reverse zodiac argument predicts and spends the entire final episode deciding on the wish he’ll be granted.  Keeping in mind that the Juuni Taisen committee appears to have god level powers, like clearing out a huge city in a day, you might also ponder what exactly you would wish for.  Nezumi takes his sweet time and for a while it is interesting, not because of Nezumi but because of what it reveals about the rest of the 12 Zodiac warriors, he ultimately reaches the lamest conclusion imaginable – he has his memories of the whole event stripped away and goes on living his normal, boring life.

It’s a wish that sort of makes sense in the context of Nezumi as a character but all it really does is confirm that Nezumi is the most boring motherfucker in the entire show.  I did kind of like how he had 99 wishes and then formed counter-arguments against all of them but ultimately what he settles on is nothing short of the biggest metaphorical blue-ball of an ending I’ve ever seen.  The only really interesting things about Nezumi in this episode are how well his crippling indecision matches his power and ironically it seems like the wish he really needed was a wish one of the other warriors already wanted, specifically Chicken’s desire for self confidence.

When it comes to Nezumi’s power I’m a little confused.  It’s mostly portrayed as if he can see 100 different outcomes in advance based on what decisions he takes but the fact that other fighters remember him in a deja vu sense means he probably, to quote the comments, “pulled a Subaru.”  My best guess is that it’s a bit of both because that’s the only way this disparity between how it was shown in episode 11 and how people remember him throughout the show.  In any case it makes sense as to why he’s constantly second guessing his own wishes and desires, because it seems like he can’t use his power to see how that would go.  Even if he can, he did spell out that he can come across events which even a hundred solutions isn’t enough for.  Or maybe it’s because he can act on any desire no matter how base, misanthropic or good – in opposition to how everyone else might have similar desires and never act on then because they know they are wrong – that maybe Nezumi doesn’t really have a grasp on right or wrong.  In retrospect trying to dig into the problems of Nezumi’s head is a actually a lot of fun, it’s just a shame his own solution is so boring.

And that truly is the tragedy of Juuni Taisen in a nutshell.  It does a superb job on the character front and then the story of the contest falls into shambles.  Tora, with her transformation from a righteous teen to a drunken monster, followed by an attempt at redemption, was my personal favorite but I was quit interested in all of the character stories on display, be it the cruel nihilism of the Dragon and Snake Twins, Sheep’s past glories contrasted against his desires to protect the future of his grandkid, even Boar’s story of destroying her own family from within – all of these were fascinating.  And the end did a good job bring some extra flair to some of the less explored characters – Dotsuku in particular was made way more interesting when he revealed that he was raising a girl had been sold off to presumably be a sex slave and that he worked at a preschool.  And I loved Boar’s “I want a harem of 3.5 billion men” which is I guess, assuming this takes place on Earth and the population is roughly 7 billion, is Boar’s way of saying ‘I want all men to adore me’.  Maybe this whole farce of a death game is NisioisN’s roundabout way of saying the journey matters more than the destination but even so I’d really rather this had gone down another path.

Because what I meant by my weird ass title was not, ‘this show is a master class in making the worst show ever made and I’ll prove it to you,’ but rather this show was really, genuinely great and I loved it, right up until the final moment.  I guess what I’m saying is that Juuni Taisen was Mass Effect and the finale was Mass Effect 3’s ending.  I was mad enough at the ending that I started writing this within a minute of finishing the episode, and now that I’m just shy of a thousand words talking about it my anger is replaced by disappointment.  The problem is that the story of the events of Juuni Taisen, the contest happening in the present was botched.  It was the stories of the character’s pasts and what was in their heads that was truly interesting, and it’s a shame to see such technical skill in executing that being bolted to a death game that doesn’t even really matter.  And the result?  Boredom.  What could and by all rights should have been a gripping death game was rendered boring and meaningless.  I know NisioisiN is an oddball but I think he really could have capitalized on more straightforward storytelling to make this great.  Nobody gives a rat’s ass that the people die in the reverse order of the Zodiac animals, cut that shit out make and the tournament more interesting.  Because credit where it’s due the characters are interesting, and that’s almost all you need to make a tournament great.  But that almost is so crucial and Juuni Taisen drops the ball on it so spectacularly that it drags the entire show down into a failure which sparks nothing but an odd mix of conflicting feelings about the show overshadowed by a clinically detached boredom coloring the whole experience.  Ugh, fuck it I’m done, I hope you enjoyed this confused, rambling review.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Sloths of the Whales

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Children of the Whales, to use it’s proper name, is a decent show.  It’s definitely one of the most distinct and intriguing shows I’ve seen in a few years with regards to concept, art and setting.  However it has what could very well be considered a fatal flaw – it’s way too fucking slow.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

I have two theories as to why Children of the Whales is so slow.  One is that, as others have noted, it is trying to be a very emotion driven series and thus moves along at a glacial pace to build up scenes and make certain deaths emotional.  I think that if that’s true then it is wholly misguided.  This approach would make sense if people died rarely but Children of the Whales is one of the most violent shows airing this season – it has easily 10 times the body count of the death battle show Juuni Taisen.  This contradictory approach just doesn’t work. For example Sami’s death was supposed to be really hard hitting but it wasn’t, at least not in and of itself.  Sami had a fair amount of screentime but most of Falina’s, the Mud Whale’s, inhabitants are boring.  They live boring peaceful lives and the majority of them die of natural causes in their twenties and thirties anyway.  Sami was not interesting and so her death doesn’t really mean anything.  it’s also poorly timed.  She dies in the assault on Falina which kills dozens of people on the tiny floating island.

Now the attack itself was a huge emotional success I think.  In contrast to the bland Sami having a death scene which totally lacked impact the attack itself and the indiscriminate slaughter that followed hit like a heavy punch to the gut.  The boring peaceful lives of Falina’s people was shattered by the robotic, systematic violence of the attackers and they died in their droves.  In fact they survived because the enemy retreated and gave them a week to prepare on purpose.  In hindsight it’s kind of annoying that almost no one fights back against the attackers once we learn about the self defense force and the force’s captain, who is likely stronger than any enemy soldier by miles, but whatever the long scenes of remorseless slaughter get the point across and the future of Falina suddenly looks very grim.

What follows is a few episodes of preparation and then the counterattack on Skylos, the enemy ship.  The assault itself was fine up until Ouni and the Skylos’ captain get involved.  The ambush on Falina’s sneak attack squad was perfect if all to predictable and it was over in a flash – as it should have been.  But when Ouni comes in and starts turning the tables the enemy captain shows up and shoots in him the leg.  Then he holds him at sword point and calls him worthless.  Then he hands the lieutenant the sword and lets him cut Ouni, but he doesn’t die because Ouni’s friend Nibi jumps in and they have an action scene so slow that not only is there a ton of dialogue but the out numbered Ouni and Nibi have time to turn away from their attackers and help each other.  Then Nibi inevitably dies and Ouni goes berserk and unlocks new powers and kills everyone -the end.

Keep in mind that only four people from Falania are present through an episode and a half’s worth of time spent in one room and there are like 20 Skylos people.  The fight should have been over in a minute or two tops and we’ll give it five minutes due to dialogue interrupting the flow of the action.  Yet somehow this takes around 20 minutes to conclude and it ends in the way that it basically had to anyway.  Nibi’s death was also drawn out to be emotional but it was so obvious that it didn’t matter. Once again the real emotional impact came from the ambush where the majority of Falina’s attack force is wiped out, though seeing Ouni go berserk was satisfying enough to make some of the overlong buildup worth it.  But the main problem still stands, Children of Whales is rife with pacing best described as glacial – in sharp contrast to the aforementioned Juuni Taisen whose episodes have started to fly by in recent weeks.

The other theory I have is that there is just not enough material.  I mean this comes from a manga so theoretically it should have plenty of story to work with but there is the possibility that the manga is not very long.  Alternatively perhaps there is a short simple kind of introduction to the series before it gets way more complicated and the staff decided to only tell the simple part of the story knowing they would never be able to get through some of the complex stuff in time.  Or maybe the manga is slow as shit too.  Point is I think part of the reason why Children of the Whales is so slow is that they episodes are really stretching the manga chapters for one reason or another.  Because the setting certainly suggests the world of Children of the Whales is much larger and more complex than the tiny Mud Whale we’ve been mostly restricted to so far.  My assumption is that Children of the Whales is  supposed to go into more an epic grueling adventure where Falina travels the world in search of protection and potentially to free the world from the emotion draining Nous who seem to me to be the root of most of the greatest horrors the world of this story has to offer.

Obviously there’s no way in hell they can manage that in 12 episodes so maybe they are settling for a clean and self contained arc which has a “read the manga” ending.

For all the ragging I’ve done on the show so far I don’t think it’s entirely bad.  I like the art style a lot and the setting would be perfect for a grand adventure show a la Log Horizon or Magi.  And the tone of the show very much reminds of me of Shin Sekai Yori, a show which put a ton of emphasis on mystery elements, psychic powers and the suppression of information between generations.  Children of the Whales is nowhere near as dark and unnerving as Shin Sekai Yori but it has powerful dark elements of it’s own and the idea of following a formerly pacifist society being thrust into war by a genocidal foe is awesome.  Likewise the enigmatic Nous and their goals, true natures and whatnot would be fascinating to explore.  Sadly the show will not last long enough for that but we can dream.

Speaking of dreaming, here’s my ideal 12 episode version of Children of the Whales.  Imagine if we tightened up the pacing a bit and got what has taken the show 9 episodes to take 6 episodes and then have a huge timeskip and have the back half of the season follow the surviving main characters as adults leading Falina, which due to decades of attacks and struggle has become a society defined by violence.  Think about it, the kids are already being forced to become killers – some kindergarten kids killed the pink haired psychopath in episode 8 – and they are fighting an enemy so lacking in empathy that not only does it kill anyone it sees regardless of age, intent and capability but they send child soldiers of their own to fight in droves.  Such a deranged and implacable foe would almost certainly cause Falina to become a remarkably warlike society in order to survive.

Ultimately I think the weakness of Children of the Whales is that it is almost certainly going to be great in the long term but the anime doesn’t get to be long term.  So instead they have to interest us with a simpler arc which has an easily packaged and digestible conflict while still introducing some elements which would be the real intrigue later down the line.  However this conflict is perhaps too short as it is and so the anime really has to slow down to not overstep the intended stopping point.  This is a real shame but it’s what we have.  I love a lot of the ideas in the story but unless you can sit through some very slow episodes I’d recommend you give this show a pass.