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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unpopular Opinion: Shuumatsu no Izetta

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Shuumatsu no Izetta is for my money one of the top two shows of Fall 2016.  The other contender for top two being Keijo of course, because I haven’t seen Yuri on Ice and so long as the internet continues to suck its dick I don’t think I will since I’m a shallow, vindictive contrarian.  And because I just don’t care about anything yaoi regardless of how good it may be.  Most people do not and will not agree with my stance and I get that, for the most part Shuumatsu no Izetta isn’t good enough to be a top show of the season.  I don’t think any of the characters are spectacular.  The setting is interesting but it’s not explored in much depth.  The tactics employed in the fight scenes are pretty predictable, and the rate at which Germania pumps out new tech is ludicrous, a problem I had with the later parts of Code Geass.  And the narrative is pretty predictable as well.  However, much like the infamous Akame ga Kill, what makes Shuumatsu no Izetta so good to me is the ending, because that was incredible.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Right from the get-go I was pretty on board with the setting of the show.  The country of Eylstadt itself was unremarkable, however the way Shuumatsu no Izetta’s setting married the tech and initial overwhelming dominance of Germany in WWII with the Old World royalty, etiquette and diplomacy of WWI was pretty fascinating.  Even the names of the countries had some fun little historical references like how France was called the Republic of Thermidor in reference to France’s failed attempt to make a metric-esque 10 day week calendar during the French Revolution called the Thermidian Calendar.  Or how Italy was renamed Romulus, in reference to the legendary founder of Rome.  However the setting wasn’t really used for much beyond setting the basic rules of combat and the balance of power in the war.  The only episode that really did anything extra to make the setting interesting was the one that focused on Rickert, Berkman’s subordinate, which itself was a generally more interesting episode.  It took a break from the big action and political maneuvering to change pace to a slower episode about a dude doing some spy work.  In that episode Rickert comes to the realization that he’s fighting against some really good, compassionate people, and he even starts to fall for Bianca before she finds out who is he is and is forced to kill him.  It was a great episode for character development because despite how fast it went everything felt very genuine and very human, for lack of a better word.  It was a pleasant surprise and I think it demonstrates one of the biggest strengths of Shuumatsu no Izetta, which was that it was able to capture that apply that human feel to wide range of characters with all kinds of points of view.

I don’t think any of the characters had much in the way of a good or interesting character arc, but the characters were nonetheless fantastic because of how true to life they felt.  The arrogance of German commanders in WWI and WWII is well documented and it was there.  We had fighters who gave more than could ever be asked of them like Izetta, we had patriots who did things they hated for their country like Sieg, a lot people who were fighting for their side despite not really knowing much about what was going on, people set on vengeance like Sophie, and people who would throw patriotism out the window if it increased their chances of survival, like Berkman.  We had incompetent losers on both sides as well as highly capable soldiers and intelligence officers.  We had diplomats that could follow the principles of Realism, in the international political sense, to the T like how the Atalantan,i.e. American, ambassador advised the President to take out both Germania and Elystadt.  And we had diplomats that could look past the Izetta’s capabilities as a weapon and be concerned for the girl herself even when it wasn’t in their interests to do so.  Both sides even had dedicated propaganda departments.  There was not much in the way of character development but there was a startling level of attention to detail put into to making the conflict feel as true to life as it could be, and I think that attention to detail paid off in spades because I was hooked.  I didn’t care that most of the characters ended up being predictable, nobody felt at all inconsistent, let alone like inhuman chunks of cardboard as so many characters in other shows do.  It all felt human, true to life, and I think that attention to detail is the key.  None of individual characters were that good, but taken as a whole the characters and wide range of ideas they embodied was fantastic and it helped bring realism and a human feel to a crazy story about witches fucking up tech.

On that note, Shuumatsu no Izetta was refreshing break from bullshit like Gate where tech always win, and more importantly where Japan always wins thanks to the Patriotism Problem.  Izetta’s first fight demonstrated her power as she killed planes with ice spears, but it also showed that she had limits because she couldn’t finish off everyone.  And later in the show Germania develops various tactics and weapons specifically to shut her down, like how they baited her with the battleship up near what would be Norway in our world.  I think Germania developed too many new weapons too quickly but the fact that Izetta’s battles became more difficult as time went on was a good thing.  Even when the tech became a stretch, like with the clone of Sophie the White Witch, I feel that on the whole it generally served a good dramatic purpose and never really intruded on the experience too much, like how it did for me in Code Geass.  Now let’s talk about Izetta herself and the ending.

I think Izetta is a fairly boring character in terms of her general archetype and construction, not an unrealistic character just a bland one.  The biggest thing she had going for her was her sincerity and the lengths she would go to win for the princess.  As it turns out that was enough.  I didn’t really get interested in the show until episode 3 and that was all Izetta.  Granted part of what made that episode great was watching Izetta shoot planes out the sky with medieval lances and toss tanks around like toys, because that was awesome.  But more so than the actions themselves were how they inspired the soldiers and by extension me.  If the rest of the characters felt exceedingly human then Izetta was able to capture the rare feel of being both human and something out of legend.  Watching Izetta fuck up the Germanian army was cool, watching her actions inspire an entire army of strangers to start singing  as she’s proclaimed a national hero is something far more emotionally striking than cool.  This is the other big strength of Shuumatsu no Izetta, the big emotional moments, and Izetta gets basically all the credit on that front.

This is where the final episode is important.  The emotional impact of the final episode was earth shattering, it made me tear up and had all my hairs standing on end like how I get whenever I rewatch the Lord of the Rings and see Rohan charging into the Mordor army besieging Minas Tirith.  To use a horribly over-used and misused term, epic is the best way I have to describe that scene, and the ending of Shuumatsu no Izetta.  It’s not even the final episode really, it’s a cut from about 16:00 to about 21:00, the part where Izetta starts gathering an absurd amount of magic while Fine explains her suicidal scheme tears streaming down her face to the part when the magic explodes so violently it can be seen from what would be Germany and Switzerland despite happening off the Atlantic coast of what would be France and Fine starts just bawling on the balcony.  It’s just five minutes.  Granted those five minutes only have the impact they do because of everything that came before them, but those five minutes are what catapulted this show from good to potential-top-of-the-season good.  In that five minutes Izetta changes the course of her world’s history forever, her insane level of devotion ushers in not only the beginning of Germania’s defeat, but the passing of an age.  She rewrites what up to that point had been a rule of the world Madoka Magica-style and effectively ends the existence of the fantastic forever.  I describe this scene with words like earth shattering and epic not just because I hope they convey how strongly I feel about this scene, but because Izetta actions are on such a grandiose scale that anything less would be grossly underselling what’s going on here.

More so than in any other medium I feel that a good ending is something to be treasured in anime.  So many shows either don’t have an ending at all or have one hastily thrown together on the fly that sometimes it’s hard to even be disappointed when you don’t get a good ending.  And Shuumatsu no Izetta has the kind of ending that sets the fucking bar for anime endings, for me at least.  Seeing someone go so far for what they believe in and for the people they care about, without the friendship is power baggage of a shounen fight, has a sort of timeless purity to me, it’s something I can just stare at forever without it ever losing its luster, or something I can tear up just thinking about regardless of when and where I think about it.  Those five minutes and other scenes of a similar caliber strike me such a way that I feel no amount of words will ever get my feeling across right, which is bad because I’m supposed to be good with words.  The best analogy I can make is that my emotional core is a diamond and these scenes are the hammer blows that hit the diamond in just the right way as to make it shatter.  I’m completely floored by those five minutes, and I always will be.

Ultimately I think if you view it from a “objective” lens and try to judge all the construction of all the pieces of Shuumatsu no Izetta then it’s probably just good.  Fortunately objectivity is bullshit so I can say with complete certainty that the emotions this show inspires in me make it far better than good.  Most of Shuumatsu no Izetta’s fault are less about it being bad or fucking up so much just not being really good, for the most part it’s perfectly passable without taking into account the incredible ending.  But that ending is the game changer, it makes the passable journey worth every fucking second because the destination is just that good.  And it colors the entire experience.  I never really got into Fine or Izetta as characters because they are pretty basic, but the ending and how those two drive forward both in their actions and in how the scene is presented by being split between the two of them, makes me sort of love the both of them.  It’s not that I suddenly find them more attractive or interesting so as I sit back and nurse a quiet respect for the both of them.  Ok I think I’ve done gushing for one day, Shuumatsu no Izetta was great, go watch it, and I hope you enjoyed this post.

Raging Rant: Stop Liking Edgy Bullshit

Edgy is one of the worst possible descriptors a show can acquire.  And yet for some reason blatantly edgy shows do annoying well with a large percentage of the anime community.  A lot of that can be attributed to people being noobs, which is fair enough because we were all noobs once, but at the same time I don’t think it’s fair or correct to write off all the attention edgy shows get as solely a noob problem.  So what is it that attracts people to edgy shows in the first place?  Why do so many people buy into the edgy bullshit?  Well… there will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

I think one of the main draws of edgy shows is that they are dark and gory, and to first time viewers that make them seem very cool and maybe even mature.  I remember the first time I saw Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, and I thought both of them were awesome and I was ready to fight people who shat on them, you know before someone really broke down why they sucked and I realized the great sin I’d committed by liking these shows.  I hate them both now, in fact the only thing I like about Elfen Lied now is Nyu, because Nyu is fucking adorable.  But I get it, the first time you see a show that’s willing to horribly murder a bunch of people right from the get go, where characters die right and left, where gore and tragedy are everywhere, it can seem like a big step up from all the boring high school stuff.  It can feel more mature and realistic than shounen battles with their huge emphasis on optimism and friendship and marked rarity of death.  But edgy shows are anything but mature and I happen to know a character that illustrates this perfectly, Seiryuu from Akame ga Kill.

Akame ga Kill is one of the notable edgy shows but in contrast to Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, it’s one I actually like.  I’ll get into more details on that later, for now let’s look at Seiryuu.  As detailed in one of my early posts, Seiryuu is a well constructed crazy person.  She has been driven to the point of insanity by a clear chain of events, i.e. her parents and mentors are all murdered in rapid succession, and thanks to the fact that some of her mentors are corrupt scumbags themselves, her moral compass and understanding of the world is totally fucked.  This makes Seiryuu a character who believably would act in an overblown, hyper violent, edgy way.  She is a child trying to deal with very adult issues and she just can’t, which ends up with her laughing about feeding people to her dog monster while still believing she represents justice.  This is the essence of what it means to be edgy, adult content written for, and perhaps with, a child’s perspective.  Because any show can be super gory and violent, any show can incorporate tragedy and trauma.  It doesn’t need to be a mature show to have mature content, but that’s precisely why edgy shows generally suck, they just take the trappings of mature shows and throw in some babies first characters and hope no one notices.  And is works on a lot of people, because a lot of people are so wowed by the all the blood and death that they stop thinking about anything else going on the story entirely.  But the effect created by the inherent flaw of edgy stories is present in Seiryuu, she’s far and away the most hateable character in Akame ga Kill and watching her die was one of the most satisfying scenes in the show.

What really puts the nail in the coffin of edgy shows is that the things they are trying to do have been done elsewhere so much better.  Even in Akame ga Kill there were characters who had a more mature perspective and their personal philosophies, ideals and goals were by far the most interesting aspects of characterization in the show.  The titular Akame is especially good because, as discussed in my post on anti-heroes, she follows the all too rare path of the redemption seeker.  She knows how hard she fucked up earlier in life and she fights now to make up for her past evils and ensure others have the brighter future she can never have.  Likewise Bols comes from the unique, at least among Akame ga Kill’s characters, perspective of being a family man while also having done a ton of horrific shit that makes people hate him, but he comes to terms with the hatred of others and resolves to continue doing ugly things anyway because they are in service of the ideals he believes in and the people he fights for.  Now both of these characters were weakened because they were saddled with lame comedic punchlines, but the point stands, these two were the most interesting characters in the show because their stories best reflected a more mature perspective in a show full of mature content.  But those two are pretty minor examples compared to the entire shows and stories which handle the same dark and gory content as edgy shows so much better.

Berserk and Neon Genesis Evangelion are stories with plenty of gore and a buffet of traumatic events.  But in direct opposition to Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied, the violence and tragedy aren’t gimmicks meant to wow the audience in these stories.  Trauma and mental damage play a gigantic role in Evangelion, they are core themes central to the narrative of the story and the kind of message it presents to the audience.  And Evangelion is way darker and more impactful for it.  Forget a yandere killing a lot of people because they touched her Yuki, isn’t it really insane to force a fifteen year old with serious trust issues and an understandable lack of confidence to pilot a crazy mech and defend the world from otherworldly beings?  What’s really more tragic, a kid seeing his sister blow in a blood pinata and forgetting the whole thing due to the trauma it caused him or a girl who had to deal with a mother that never recognized and loved her, a mother who she saw hang herself, and then had save the world from invading aliens despite the deep-seated mental scars her childhood left on her, which she not only could never forget about but which would also put even more pressure on her during her future struggles with the aliens?   What’s really darker, a world full of overblown characters and equally overblown violence, or a world full of people who behave like human beings, humans that suffer from a myriad of terrible mental issues and are constantly confronted with violence, but have to keep coming into the office every morning because that’s what’s expected of them?  In all three scenario’s it’s the latter because Evangelion, in a addition to just being a damn good show, took a mature, realistic approach to mature content and told a story with mature themes.  Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied use the same kind of content to tell cartoonish stories of overwrought tragedy and mindless violence with no noteworthy themes at all.

And then there’s Berserk a story where people we like get raped and where people reel back in genuine horror not just from monsters but from Guts and his exceptional skills at violence.  I think one of the best arcs of Berserk was the Lost Children arc because more so than any other arc it really cemented the idea that Guts was fucking scary.  It doesn’t matter that he’s the hero of the story, that he’s in the right or that his feats were badass, in Lost Children Guts scared even the monsters because of the lengths he was willing to go to take them down and most humans feared and hated him for the damage he left behind.  It really showed how isolating Guts’ path and by extension his reaction to his past traumas were, and it took the near death of the only person he cared about to make him change his ways.  That’s a story that speaks to people about human problems, it doesn’t matter that Guts is fighting demons with a stupidly huge sword in a medieval fantasy land, he and other characters around him suffer from very human problems and they deal with these problems in human ways.  In short the characters in Berserk are relatable and human, and at times they showcase the very worst of what people allow themselves to become.  By contrast Mirai Nikki is about a pink haired girl whose kills people because she’s insane.  It’s pathetic in comparison to a story that actually takes a mature approach to mature content, because again in Mirai Nikki violence and tragedy are gimmicks meant to garner a reaction, they don’t really mean anything narratively or thematically.

Another thing that supports the popularity of edgy is shows is their premise.  Tokyo Ghoul and Mirai Nikki are both shows with a strong premise that got a lot of attention, and to sadly large portion of the audience, respect.  Hell I was into to Tokyo Ghoul for the premise, I watched all of both seasons waiting to see if the show could deliver on that premise, and it just fucking didn’t, not in any meaningful way.  It was such garbage that the best character in the show died in episode one and she somehow continued to be the best character despite getting no extra development.  And as I established in another post, premise means nothing.  You can have the coolest premise in the world but if the execution of the narrative, of key scenes, of the presentation vs the themes all sucks, then your show fucking sucks.  This again is where edgy shows trip up, because gore is a gimmick to them, they don’t really have hard hitting themes to match their presentation, so it all comes off as cartoonish, lacking in subtlety and tact, and ultimately tasteless and juvenile.  This is why edgy shows are laughed at as pleb tier anime, because they damn well are pleb tier in terms of writing and construction.  Which brings me back to the one edgy show I will defend, Akame ga Kill.

Akame ga Kill is an odd beast because the reasons I like and defend it don’t really match up with why most other people like it.  That’s not to say there’s no common ground, I’m pretty sure everyone who likes Akame ga Kill likes the action in Akame ga Kill for instance, but generally speaking there is a big disconnect between me and most everyone else.  Because it sounds like a lot of people who like Akame ga Kill actually like the edgy bullshit that drove so many potential fans away, this is especially true of fans of the manga which based on my admittedly limited knowledge appears even more edgy than the anime.  This is ludicrous to me because while I have found a defense for Akame ga Kill’s edginess, I ain’t celebrating that shit.  It’s edginess is by far the worst thing about Akame ga Kill even if it sort of fits in context.  That context being the anime only end of Akame ga Kill, which in retrospect automatically puts me at odds with manga fans.  As discussed in my review, I found the anime only ending of Akame ga Kill pretty incredible.  Not only did we get to see a bunch of great battles in a row, but we saw a final conclusion to the overall story and that’s rare enough that I was happy we got something.  However what really sold me on this ending is the scene where the few remaining survivors of the conflict are talking atop a huge ruined tower on capital city’s wall.  The shot really hit home the idea that, holy shit the scale and cost of this conflict was enormous.  The majority of the Imperial Arms, super powerful artifact weapons that no one can create anymore, used in the show are destroyed.  Hundreds if not thousands of people have died, the capital city is in ruins, a ton of young talent and potential heroes are dead in addition to the established heroes of the empire who have died and the government is being totally reformed by the few who remain.

Put succinctly, the ending of Akame ga Kill gives me the impression of something like the fabled Trojan War of Homer’s epics.  In the world of Akame ga Kill this conflict’s end signifies the passing of age and it will likely end up as an in-universe epic at some point in that world’s history.  I admit this is a weird thing selling point, especially as it doesn’t appear at all until the end, but for me the idea of a conflict which defined and ended an era is overwhelmingly awesome.  Maybe it’s my love for history, or fictional world building, or legends and lore, maybe all of the above; but it was powerful to me and that’s why I really do love the damn show despite it’s faults.  And as far the edginess is concerned, epics tend to have overblown characters with larger than life personalities and traits taken to extremes, i.e. they are kind of edgy in their own, albeit far less cringy, way.  Therefore, if you look at Akame ga Kill as an epic happening in real time, the edginess makes a little more sense and fits the story.  That doesn’t make it good mind, but it fits enough that I’m willing to forgive it and enjoy the rest of the show.

What this has all been building up to is me, here at the end, begging you all on my hands and knees to stop falling for edgy bullshit.  You’re allowed to like whatever you like, but please, please stop liking edgy bullshit.  You can do better than that and we all deserve better than edgy bullshit.  I want to live in a world where edgy bullshit is not financially viable, where Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t sell well and is shit on by everybody for it’s overwrought yet hollow tragedy, it’s boring flatlined story, and intense gore hidden behind all kinds of shadows.  I want everyone to get past the Mirai Nikki’s and Elfen Lied’s of the world because then maybe, just maybe, we can talk about more interesting shit and get some better dark, gory anime worthy for all of us to enjoy.  Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Akame ga Kill

Warning there will be major spoilers for Akame ga Kill ahead.

I’ve brought this up briefly in previous posts but Akame ga Kill is edgy, almost unbearably so for most people.  That is its single greatest weakness, the edginess permeates the whole story and dampens the whole experience throughout the show.  And for most people just having to deal with something that is so edgy all the time is enough to merit a poor rating and an easy dismissal.  Luckily I’m not most people, because while the edginess is a problem, after some digging and reflection I’ve come to believe this show did a lot of things right or at bare minimum took big steps in the right direction.

Let’s begin with the basics, Akame ga Kill is an unusual spin on a very traditional story.  The brave and noble rebels are fighting the corrupt empire and blah blah, oh wait, we aren’t focused on the heroes of the story as is typical, we are focused on the people doing the dirty work for both sides.  This has both a positive and negative effect, on the one hand it was refreshing to look at a familiar story from a different angle, on the other it played into the rampant edginess that so hinders the series.  Overall though I think this was a good idea, choosing to focus on assassins and their counterparts and targets as opposed to the traditional hero is a step forward and while it had mixed results here, I think if the same type of story was handled with more care we could see something really great.  But for the most part I don’t think Akame ga Kill’s strength is its story, it’s the characters.

Ok before I dive in and really break things I down, I will admit that the overall edgy nature of the show does leave us with lots of warped, one dimensional and otherwise weak characters who inhabit the world.  These are flaws, but the major characters are handled much better and in my opinion the latter outweighs the former in terms of significance.  Akame ga Kill ends up butchering a sizeable portion of its cast in a relatively short period of time, and yet it also creates one of the most memorable casts to date.  I can say with complete honesty I will forget the names of people in much smaller and much more alive casts without reminders like that one Salamander with the claymore from SAO (Eugene), meanwhile I can remember not only the name of every major character in Akame ga Kill I can remember the order in which they die.  However they choose to do it, in this case by making everyone’s hair a different color of the rainbow, Akame ga Kill’s creators made an extremely memorable cast of a decent size.  But the merits of Akame ga Kill’s major characters goes way beyond merely being memorable.

In this post here I talked about how Akame ga Kill not only makes interesting psychos, it makes a variety of different kinds of them and makes for some great analysis on that subject.  I won’t be repeating what I said there and it covers four of the major characters.  Likewise I mentioned in this post on anti-heroes that Akame, our titular assassin is a huge breath of fresh air and one of my favorite anti-heroes because she is centered around the idea of atonement as opposed to revenge or a fall from grace, which lends her character a level of stability, grace and maturity that more traditional anti-heroes struggle to match.  I will not discuss her further in this post.  But I will talk about Tatsumi because like many other aspects of the show he is a refreshing new take on the protagonist.  For the most part protagonists fall under 1 of 3 broad categories, the typical shounen hero who starts out as one of weaker members of the cast before nakama powering up their way to totally outshining and over-powering everyone else, the total badass who never losses, or the weak wimpy dude who is the center of attention because he has some kind of special power.  Tatsumi most closely resembles the typical shounen hero but he doesn’t quit fit the archetype to a T.  He begins as the weakest of Night Raid’s members but rather than nakama power up his way to victory his performance is a bit more realistic.  In the earlier episodes he’s left in bad shape and is saved by allies.  Then as he trains to get stronger and gains experience he can carry his own weight in a fight and even becomes a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think he ever outstrips Akame as the most powerful of the heroes and he certainly doesn’t outstrip Esdeath.  The impression I have with Tatsumi is that he always had a lot of potential to be good but he needed experience and guidance to develop that potential or else he would have died.  This shines through on the story as he takes the advice given to him by more experienced members to heart and uses their teachings later in the story.  I don’t there is any one aspect of Tatsumi’s character that makes him unique or more interesting than any other hero, he doesn’t really do anything no other hero does, but I do think that Tatsumi becomes more interesting when taken in his totality.  He isn’t different from other heroes because he does something different, but the sum total of everything he does and how he comes together as a character is different and it makes him a lot more interesting and believable for good measure.  In this regard Tatsumi mirrors my view of Akame ga Kill at large but I’ll get into that later.  For the characters are not the only strong suit of Akame ga Kill.

Even most of the people who hold a pretty dim view of Akame ga Kill will at least concede that it has good action.  The fights are well directed and animated, they have a good balance between quick and brutal battle and drawn out spectacle, which is not easy to do.  But while this is good on its own the two things I found most important about Akame ga Kill’s battles was the variety of weapons and the more impartial nature of the series.  Variety is the spice of life and yet with distressing regularity most melee combat is dominated by either martial arts or swords.  Axes and spears and other weapons get some time in the spotlight but not much compared to swords and fists.  But in Akame ga Kill all weapons are fair game.  Spears, swords, giant scissors, guns etc., they all have a role on the battlefield which makes the combat a lot more interesting since it always looks different.  I want to give a quick shout out to Lubbock as well because he is an awesome ito (means thread or wire) user and that’s not a fighting style you see often outside of old school ninja shows.  And while I’m giving shout outs I also want to celebrate Susano’o.  I have seen a lot of Susano’o’s ranging from Naruto’s fiery bone giants to a punk with a pompadour in Inari Kon Kon and to date I think Akame ga Kill’s Susano’o is by far the best representation of the actual Shinto deity for which he is named.  I love mythology so that matters to me.  Moving back to action, one of the things that really sets Akame ga Kill apart from other shows was its willingness to mostly abandon plot armor.  Outside of a few characters, in Akame ga Kill everyone has a roughly 50-50 chance of winning or losing, that may not sound like a big deal but when you look at shows like Naruto, Bleach or Fairy Tail and compare their hero body count to battle count ratio the difference makes itself pretty apparent.  Akame ga Kill battles are more intense than most not just because of the fight direction or great variety in weapons and fighting styles but because our heroes die almost as often as the villains.  That makes our time with the characters more precious and adds a lot of tension to the battles when we go in knowing that either side could die.  It brings the combat to life in a way that the scale of the attacks or fluidity of the animation have a hard time matching and for this reason Akame ga Kill’s action is especially engaging.  Ok so I’ve spent a bunch words praising this show, does it do anything wrong?

Yes it does.  Setting aside the edginess and its problems, the show has a couple flaws worth noting.  The transition from the manga arcs to the anime only arc, episode 19 I believe, was very jarring.  I don’t think the anime only arc was bad, actually I thought it fit very nicely alongside what came before and I’m glad the creators gave us an anime only ending because they easily could have just stopped where the manga was and that would have sucked for people like me who don’t really read much manga.  But actual moment of transition was done badly, the settings changed after leaving a number of loose ends unresolved and it was so sudden that they botched the transition.  More importantly the show shoots itself in the foot in the strangest ways.  The humor in the show is problematic.  One common complaint is that the humor sprinkled throughout the show detracts from the seriousness but this show is already warped by edginess, so I actually was glad we had humor to lighten up in between scenes of gore, brutal violence and total disregard for human life.  However there were two people who got stuck with wacky comedic bits that severely limited the potential of the characters.  I’m talking about Bols and Akame.  Bols and Akame were the two most mature characters in the entire story.  They had come to realize certain truths about themselves, what they had done and what they should fight for.  More importantly they had come to terms with their actions and continued doing what they believed in.  One of my favorite scenes in the entire show is when the two are fighting and Bols stops the fight to asks Akame why she switched sides, Akame answers and Bols accepts the answer without recriminating her.  It seems out of place in an edgy slaughterfest but that scene showcased how mature Akame ga Kill could be.  Unfortunately both Akame and Bols end up serving as something of comic relief characters in the downtime which detracts from their otherwise mature and focused selves.  It’s a shame to see characters bearing great qualities and depth get stuck with a silly gag because it draws attention away from their strengths.  But these were the main flaws of the show outside of all that edgy nonsense, so is there anything else left to say?

Remember when I said Tatsumi taken in his entirety is special even if none of his individual qualities or actions are and that this somehow mirrors the series itself.  I’m gonna explain that now.  One of the main reasons I hold Akame ga Kill in higher esteem than many other critics was the ending.  It wasn’t because of the final battle although that was cool.  It was because when I saw the meager survivors of the conflict standing atop the walls I was suddenly struck by the enormity of the conflict that played out during the series.  During the series I never felt like any individual death had too much impact, nor did I think the scale of the story ever really changed.  But by the conflict’s end we have born witness to the death of several influential figures, a staggering loss of talented young people, and the destruction of quite a few of the priceless and irreplaceable Imperial Arms.  Looking at the sum total damage left behind in the conflict’s wake, this was an immensely costly rebellion not just for Night Raid or the Empire but for the world of Akame ga Kill.  It really got me thinking and I came to the conclusion that in the fictional world of Akame ga Kill, there would never be another conflict like this one that was of the same scale and intensity.  There couldn’t be, after all even if you allow that new young talent will rise up to fill the gaps left by this conflict, too many Imperial Arms are destroyed in this conflict, they will never be able to use that many of them in battle again.  What this means in practical terms is that the story of Akame ga Kill marks the passing of era, a time of which the people of that world can never go back to.  In its totality the conflict laid out in Akame ga Kill will reshape the fictional world it is set in beyond the end of the Empire, that alone is powerful narrative occurrence but to me watching an age go out in a blaze of glory and then pass on is many times more so.  To me the ending of Akame ga Kill lends the conflict the nature of literary epic or legend, we are watching the era when Imperial Arms ruled the battlefield pass into legend for the fictional inhabitants of the fictional world and for whatever reason that strikes a very powerful chord in me.  Incidentally I have always found epics and legends to play up the evils of villains in manner similar to Akame ga Kill’s rampant corruption and edgy bullshit, albeit with a bit more subtlety and taste, and looking at Akame ga Kill through this particular lens helps me forgive a lot of its moment to moment edgy bullshit because it generally fits better into an epic narrative.

And that about wraps up my thoughts for Akame ga Kill.  Thank you for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Characters: The Anti-Hero

Warning there will be scattered spoilers as I discuss the various aspects of the anti-hero using examples.  The anti-hero is one of the more common characters you will see in a lot of action series.  They showcase a much darker side of the world than the more hope-filled stories traditionally displayed by heroes.  That kind of contrast and nuance in a setting and story is a good thing, however I have one overwhelming complaint directed towards anti-heroes, too many of them follow the same path or make the same mistakes.  The biggest weakness of any individual anti-hero is that they generally restrict themselves too much by being defined by their need for revenge, like Kurapika or Sasuke, or they go so far in the name of their cause they end up looking more like villains than the actual villains, like Lelouch or Light.  I’m not saying these guys aren’t compelling or can’t be interesting, but especially in the revenge case it can make the character a bit too one note.

In general I just find anti-heroes to be less interesting and compelling even though their point in the story should be to make it more interesting and compelling.  Take Kurapika, once upon a time I liked him, he was a good character who tried to balance his need for revenge with his natural disposition as a generally good guy.  But by the end of HunterxHunter 2011, Kurapika is brooding asshole who lacks the basic humanity and courtesy to visit Gon who is one the edge of death.  What the fuck happened there?  Kurapika was good precisely because he wasn’t one note but had to find a balance between a couple aspects of his personality, now he’s one note and I can’t be less interested in him anymore.  He’s a dull, brooding dude in the midst of show full of life and color, even the villains of the show make themselves more interesting than Kurapika.  Likewise Sasuke could have been a great and compelling character if he struggled more with trying to resist Itachi’s taunts and advice versus his need to get stronger.  If Sasuke had stayed in Konoha for most of the story and watched as Naruto outstripped him for a longer period of time, then the bitter brooding bastard that is Sasuke would have been more believable, more interesting and a character I could get behind on some level. Instead he runs from Konoha at the first hint that Naruto might outclass him and becomes a brooding bitter bastard out his own twisted sense of superiority and stubbornness I guess.

The other big problem I have is more applicable to Light and Lelouch.  These two go too far and while that makes them tragic and compelling it also makes a bit too one note.  In later episodes of both Death Note and Code Geass the defining the goal almost seems to be how far their next strategy goes, how much further they make themselves fall.  And I find that a lot less compelling than their initial fall.  Lelouch does a better job than Light because he has moments where he freaks out after killing a relative or accidentally getting one of his friends’ realtives caught up in the conflict.  But towards the end even he stops caring and his ensuing stratagems, while still brilliant are without exception more fucked up than what came before.  This bothers me because realistically I can see the case for someone who just keeps falling further and further but a more compelling character is one who goes back and forth.  An anti-hero who suffers from doubt and trauma for the things they did during their tragic mistake, and continually struggles with the need to go further to win versus the cost of going further will always be a thousand times more compelling than the guy who just falls and falls and falls.  And the weird thing is that these two archetypes I have described are so prevalent when there is another type of anti-hero that I have found to be much better.

I’m talking about the regretful anti-hero, someone who went too far and knows what they did and rather than keep falling, chooses to turn their life around.  These kinds of characters seek atonement instead of revenge, seek to expunge their crimes rather than add to them and I find these kinds of characters to be infinitely more nuanced and compelling than revenge seekers and extremists.  A good example of this type of character is Akame from Akame ga Kill.  She is at the center of some silly gags especially with regards to her gluttony, but work your way past that and there is really something to her.  Where the revenge seeker and the extremist project instability and a  lack of control, Akame appears unwavering, resolute and graceful by comparison.  She does not shy away from the evils she once committed but she does what she can to make up for them.  It gives her a bit more depth, and it allows for different kinds of interactions.  Whereas revenge seekers and extremists are have their dialogue limited to “I’ll kill you”s and “out of my way”s (Korosuzou and Jama da in Japanese), Akame has a lot more options available.  For example one of my favorite scenes in Akame ga Kill is when Akame fights Bols and they stop the fight so that Bols can ask Akame why she betrayed the Empire, and after Akame answers Bols accepts it without recrimination.  This is not something you get to see very often unless the characters are mature, and that’s one of the strengths of the atonement seeker, they are more mature than other kinds of anti-heroes and their character is more interesting because of that.  To me the atonement seeker will almost always be the most compelling anti-hero and the most powerful one as well.  The kind of strength of character it takes to admit major mistakes and then set about fixing them is so much interesting than someone who drives themselves into a corner because they demand power without having strength the strength to use it properly or even understanding what strength really is.  The atonement seeker is solid and graceful and I really wish it was a more common type anti-hero.  Anyway that wraps this one up, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.