Understanding Re:Creators – Mind Over Matter

 

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Re:Creators episode 17 proves 2 things beyond a shadow of a doubt. 1 – Setsuna is even more pathetic I expected (see this and this for reference) because instead of just committing suicide she also wrote revenge into Altair’s story.  2 – The real villains of this story aren’t the people with evil intent, it’s the people who refuse to open their minds and engage with this world.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Re:Creators planted the seeds for the second revelation a long time ago and now as the show steadily makes it’s way to the climax those seeds have borne fruit.  The idea that the characters could and in all known cases would change by engaging with the world of the “gods” was established early on to excellent effect.  Mamika was the main poster child of this idea as her character evolved the most rapidly but Meteora playing the game she was from to affirm her creator’s love of the world and the personal growth which resulted from it was another great example.  Enter Blitz.  Blitz has had the least amount of screen time relative to how long he’s been in our world among the Creations.  All we really know about him is that he’s an older mercenary type, fights with a gun and has gadgets which can mess with gravity, and that he’s from what looks to be a popular seinen manga.  And most importantly he was forced to kill his own daughter in the manga and this is the source of his grudge against his Creator – and why he’s on Altair’s side.

Where I think Blitz starts getting interesting is in two short scenes where he talks with fellow Creations on Altair’s side, because the two reactions he gets pretty much lays out the basis for this post’s thesis – the villains are those who refuse to think for themselves.  In the first of these scenes Blitz talks with Aliceteria and this exchange goes quite poorly, Aliceteria shows no interest in Blitz’s reasoning and makes two crucial remarks, the first is that they can both read other’s stories to get an idea of why they act as they do, and more importantly that Blitz seemed fake or hollow compared to Mamika.  This is of course reflective of the rift forming between Aliceteria and her fellow Altair-followers, she is starting to think for herself and it more or less causes her to change teams overnight.  The second remark is especially important as I think it best details the difference between the villains and heroes of Re:Creators – those who can think and grow soon find those who cannot to be fake or hollow in comparison, and they reject this fakeness/hollowness.  Aliceteria even reaches out to Magane (BEST GIRL) at one point, even though she hates Magane, because she at least Magane isn’t like Blitz or Altair.

The second exchange this one between Blitz and Shou (the hero character and rival to Yuya) where Shou shows no interest in bringing down his creator to fix the parts of the story he doesn’t like – like his sister’s death at Yuya’s hands – but instead wants to settle accounts with Yuya.  This reaction is exactly what you’d expect from the character in the game, he’s not grown at all since coming to our world and he’s not even invested in Altair’s goal – he just wants follow the scenario laid out for him in the game by his Creator and joins Altair’s side because Yuya is on the other side.  This is to say Shou is not a villain in the same sense as Altair, he’s not trying to destroy the world because he doesn’t give a shit about the wider implications of either the world of the “gods” or Altair’s plan – he just wants to fight Yuya.  But because he’s mindlessly on Altair’s side he is still a villain, his willful ignorance is his own undoing.  Because I very much doubt he’d be on Altair’s side if he really knew what she was doing and had engages with the world at all, because he’s a hero – I expect given the chance he would’ve either switched sides or tried to stop Altair on his own Mamika-style.

What this is all building up to though is episode 17, specifically the scene where Blitz confronts his Creator.  This confrontation is ultimately the most important one, it means far more than the flashy fight with Altair (who I admit largely bores me at this point since all she ever seems to be is invincible).  In the beginning of this confrontation Blitz is hostile to his Creator and even shoots her after confirming that the reason he had to kill his daughter was because the Creator thought it would make the story more interesting.  Up through the shooting Blitz is the one in control of the situation though his Creator proves that he hasn’t learned a thing from this world right away by predicting specific phrases in his speech and saying that they were the exact lines she’d have him say in the scenario.  This control shifts after the shooting though and the main spark is that Blitz continues to think of his own Creator as a devil while he thinks Setsuna is worthy of praise.

This line in particular sets his Creator and me off.  Setsuna is not worthy of praise, she is not special because she was rejected by the wider world.  As his Creator aptly explains Setsuna creating a character to get revenge for her isn’t even a story – it’s drivel masquerading as speech.  This is because Setsuna is a child, she was enjoying steadily growing success up to that point and then when she hits her first real roadblock she killed herself and blamed the world for all her problems.  What she seemingly failed to realize is as Blitz’s creator points out, no one is successful at first – or as I prefer, you have to suck at something before you get good at it.  And as Blitz’s creator  describes with total accuracy even when make something that’s accepted it’s never good enough.  You run into people you think are better than you and strive to grow or get depressed, and then you get back to work.

I can vouch for everything she said because I feel the same way.  I’ve tried writing plenty of stories I scrapped for being too shit before starting one I was semi-ok with – and even then I keep going through the parts I’ve written and messing with things, worrying that the pacing is too fast or the narration too confusing.  Likewise I’ve done some pretty expansive mods that totally overhaul a game’s campaign, units and map – and then I play it for a while and get struck with the “this isn’t good enough” feeling, like this version doesn’t add up what I’d envisioned when I started it and I need to do more before I finally reach that perfect version locked in my head – which I know for fact I will never reach.  It’s constant, you finish something creative and then wonder how to do it better and then you work on it again and this cycle repeats endlessly.  Even with this blog which is only 2 years old I’ve found posts I was embarrassed to have written, things that make me feel like I am indeed shit at writing.

Getting away from me though, what Blitz’s Creator reveals is how rigid Blitz’s thinking is and, to me at least, the inherent contradiction of praising a Creator who failed and gave up while demeaning and demonizing Creators who succeeded and continue to work – all while claiming to hate Creators and their world.  Blitz thinks his only option is to kill his Creator and help Altair end it all  He doesn’t even consider that his Creator could bring his daughter back – and use that to win him over to heroes’ side.  This is of course the great sin of Re:Creator’s villains they don’t think, they see a final destructive solution as the only way out of their problems – much like Setsuna – and this close mindedness is a gigantic weakness which can be exploited.

Re:Creators has shown over the course of it’s current run time that thinking and planning are ultimately more important than raw power and fighting.  This episode especially proves the effectiveness of a good plan as the gap in power between Blitz and his Creator is gigantic – however as his Creator proves Blitz’s in ability to think freely is an equally gigantic weakness and one which he is punished for, as he Creator can smugly claim “I’m your god” once the tables are turned.  I also want to give a big shout out to Sota in this point as well.  I gave him credit for standing up to Aliceteria in a prior post but his contribution far exceeds that, because it’s the from engaging with him and his ideas that Aliceteria can begin to grow and switch sides.  At this point it would be no exaggeration to say Sota has made the single largest contribution to the heroes’ fighting power since all the Creations were assembled.  I for one deeply appreciate and enjoy how freedom of thought is treated by Re:Creators and I hope you found my analysis of it interesting.  See you in the next one.

Character Cache: Tokisaki Kurumi

 

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Analyzing entire shows is fun and all but sometimes I just want to talk about one character and why they are so great or interesting.  To that end I present you with the first Character Cache, where I do exactly that.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

I explained this to an extent in my last post on Date A Live but Tokisaki Kurumi is possibly the single most interesting character  to ever explode out of a harem show.  So much so in fact that she puts many characters from beloved, popular, and acclaimed shows to shame despite being from a genre long considered the bottom of the anime barrel.  For some basic background, Tokisaki Kurumi is a Spirit, which are beings of immense power – thus far all of them are female though there are signs that there could be a male one – who exist outside our dimension and enter our world.  Doing so causes a “spackequake” which is basically a void which destroys everything it touches.  The humans of this story’s Earth see spacequakes quite often and have developed protocols to avoid them.  The exceptions to that rule are a few secretive groups, one of them being the government’s covert defense force sent to eradicate any Spirits they find.  This puts them in conflict with Spirits and it’s hard to blame the response because Spirits do God-only-knows how many dollars worth of damage just by showing up.  Because of this conflict most Spirits show a fear of, distrust for or outright hostility towards humans and you can hardly blame them either.

Kurumi is the most evil known Spirit in existence.  She has no qualms  killing people by her own volition rather than just via spacequake and she is one of the few Spirits who seems capable of triggering her own spacequakes at will – it’s unknown how much control most Spirits have over their spacequakes.  However according to government forces even discounting the spacequakes she’s killed thousands of people.  In most stories she would be the villain, and thank God Date A Live doesn’t make her one outright.  Shido, the protagonist, sees her as someone to save like any other Spirit and refuses to back down on that point.  He even attempts suicide at one point in retaliation for her threatening the lives of everyone at his school – and this works because she really, really wants him.

Getting back to Kurumi, her Spirit power is over time – as signified by her left eye which is a golden clock.  This power is exceedingly dangerous as she she appears to have 12 different special attacks/abilities, one for each hour.  Thus far the special attacks she’s shown have been a bullet that stops time, a bullet that turns back time on the person or object it strikes, a bullet that basically lets her teleport, a bullet which can let her look into people’s pasts and a bullet that allows her to make clones of herself.  She can also create a Time-Eating Fortress but that doesn’t seem to require a bullet.  She also has some association with shadow as she and her clones can melt into or spring out of shadows.  In comparison to the other Spirits Kurumi lacks raw destructive power – Tohka can cleave apart buildings and cliffsides for example – but her powers work exceptionally well in single combat and the only opponent she ever seemed in danger of losing to is Efreet, a berserk Spirit of destruction that resides in Shido’s adoptive sister Kotori.

Another interesting difference between Kurumi and the other Spirits is her lack of durability.  Of the six known Spirits four of them have some form of defense to avoid damage and Efreet rises phoenix-like from any wound no matter how mortal.  Kurumi on the other hand is killed by Shido’s blood-related sister Mana at least three times but never truly dies because of her seemingly infinite number of clones.

Kurumi’s power is also her greatest weakness though.  It’s almost unstoppably powerful and is by far the most versatile power among the known Spirits but it comes at a cost.  Unlike the other Spirits who can just use their power without issues Kurumi’s power eats away at her own time – which means her life.  However she can replenish her time via the Time Eating Fortress mentioned above, it’s basically a big shadow which devours the time of any humans in it’s zone of control.  This creates a negative feedback loop.  Kurumi has to use her powers to fight the government forces hunting her down, using her powers carves away at her life, her only way to reclaim her lost time is to devour the time of masses of humans which in turn makes her a bigger target where the government if concerned, which means she’ll need to use more power to fight the heightened response, and so on.  The only way to break this cycle without Kurumi dying is for Shido to save her by robbing her of this power.

But she won’t let him.  Or rather most versions of her won’t let him.  Remember how I mentioned the seemingly infinite clones, they are quite useful but Kurumi’s reliance on them, like the rest of her powers, has severe drawbacks.  There doesn’t seem to be a dominant clone or original, for example there was a clone which operated separately from the rest and dated Shido for a day before being drawn back into the collective mass of clones.  Likewise Shido convinces Kurumi (this is before the clones are revealed) that she can trust him after showing her that he’d be willing to die if it meant protecting everyone but before they can kiss and seal her powers one of the clones kills the Kurumi that Shido was currently interacting with.  This is the other huge failing of Kurumi’s power and lifestyle, her reliance on her own power has fractured her existence so badly different versions of her will kill each other if one seems in danger of threatening the group in any way.

Despite all this Kurumi has a very consistent set of personality traits and values, and barring the two incidents with Shido described above, all of the clones seem to adhere to the will of whichever Kurumi is the one out walking around day to day.  Kurumi’s personality is largely playful in warped sense of the word.  We only ever really see her interact with Shido but during that time she likes to play a lot of games with him.  She’s very forward – to a degree that Shido is uncomfortable with and which would be abnormal for most girls her age – and honest, to the point that she introduces herself as a Spirit when she transfers to Shido’s school even though only like three people in the room will understand what that means.  For a character that lurks in the shadows and appears openly sinister she’s oddly forthright with people, like when she tells a human girl who loves Shido that she wants to devour him.

She’s also a sociopath but not a lunatic, if anything her intentions are quite clear and pure, it’s the means which are a problem.  For example she once encounters a group of teenage or college boys shooting a kitten with airsoft guns, and after asking to join in their game she kills all of them with her guns, paired flintlock rifle and pistol – which she never has to reload because magic weapons.  When the last one is screaming to be spared she calmly remarks that it’s childish to think it’s ok to hurt things without having the resolve to risk being hurt in return, which in principle is not only understandable but a sentiment I agree with – and then she blows five gaping holes in him.

Even when she threatens to all of Shido’s school, first with the Time Eating Fortress and then with a spacequake, she’s doing it as way to assert her own free will, showing that she won’t just bow down to Shido’s plan and do what he says – even if that’s ultimately the best solution to her problems.  And what’s more she’s willing to use her power for good too.  Near the close of the second season when Tohka has been captured and Shido’s allies have been brainwashed by a Spirit who hates him, Kurumi not only helps him confront the Spirit in an attempt make a truce but serves at the main distraction as he attacks a private military organization’s building complex – which she does by becoming a one woman army (of clones) and attacking the robots and private army by herself, at least until further aid arrives.  As stated above Kurumi is not the villain.  She has the potential to be one but for now she’s a chaos factor, the only known Spirit not aligned with Shido, and she seems equally ready to fight Shido and his allies as she does Shido’s enemies.

Tokisaki Kurumi is a fickle and paradoxical character, she’s nigh invincible but also fragile and fragmented.  She’s rational and insane.  She’s a mass murderer who will save a kitten.  She’s clearly the sinister schemer but she’s also honest and forthright.  And it’s because of all these contradictions that she is interesting.  Rather than fitting nicely into an archetype or taking a clear role or side she’d just sort of there, waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to mess with Shido and accomplish her own hidden agenda.  Likewise the duality of her powers as her ultimate weapon and her greatest shackle is fascinating in concept.  Kurumi’s intrinsic connection with time and way she’s forced to expend and accumulate time are key factors in shaping her character, and if I may be so bold, they are by far the coolest set of time-related powers and consequences I’ve ever seen, and a great way to give her a complex place in the story to boot.  Also she’s super hot, it would be a grave dishonor not to mention that, I honestly have trouble deciding between her and Tohka  both for hottest girl and Best Girl.  Anyway that wraps this up, hope you enjoyed it.

Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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No other anime I’ve seen has even come close to mastering the idea of character presence as Kingdom has.  The best comparison point I can think of off-hand is Rider from Fate Zero – but even he pales in comparison to the top tier characters of Kingdom.  I don’t expect most people to care, most people haven’t even heard of Kingdom while Fate Zero is widely known and held in high regard, and for good reason.  But if on the off chance you’re a total weirdo like me and have a deep fascination with the idea and portrayal of a living legend, Kingdom is best there is.  Period.

Jumping back a little for the sake of context, Kingdom is a historical shounen (though some sites call it a seinen and there arguments for why it should be) battle series set in the Chinese Warring States Period in the 300s BC (not to be confused with the Japanese period of the same name in the 1500s AD).  It follows Xin, who in typical shounen fashion wants to be the best there ever was – in this case the greatest general in history – and Yin Zheng the young king of Qin, the easternmost and second most powerful of the seven kingdoms in China, who wishes to conquer all of China.  As the minor battles in this show contain hundreds of fighters (at minimum) and the important wars involve hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting over several days important people have to be able to wipe the floor with tons of random soldiers before dueling other people of the same power level.  Kingdom’s way of handling the obvious break from realism is to uphold the idea that the weight of one’s command – among important characters – is a source of strength which enables them to run roughshod over weaker foes.  Kingdom takes this very literally as the weight of one’s command directly affects the power of one’s blows and how strong a blow they can receive without issues.

This of course is not the only source of strength or skill, experience, size, muscle build, etc. all play a role and the weight is often an elusive thing to gauge as people with significantly smaller commands can fight on equal footing with those of greater commands.  Also this whole weight is power thing doesn’t apply to strategists whatsoever.  Nonetheless the idea is integral to Kingdom and does a fucking fantastic job on delivering on one of the shows overall greatest strengths, dramatic payoffs.

Kingdom does a phenomenal job of building tension and then bringing a satisfying payoff.  If I had to sum the show up in one word it would be big.  Big armies, big characters, big talk, big music, big impact.  It’s hard not to get swept up in the hype when you’re watching characters you like charge headlong into a giant army with his trusted soldiers at his back with big booming oriental orchestral swells thundering in the background – seriously Kingdom’s music is fucking awesome and it would totally overwhelm scenes of suitably less gigantic action.

Of course the scenario above will fall apart at the first hurdle if you don’t like the characters, so naturally Kingdom takes a lot steps to ensure that you do.  Everyone of note has highly distinct designs, there are dozens of specialized armor variants for noteworthy armies and special armor for important generals.  In a similar vein all the characters have different hairstyles and facial features, weapons, banners and so forth to make them all stand out.  Where the weight and presence bit comes into its own is for the older generals.  In comparison to Xin most of the major enemies or important, older allied characters are significantly physically larger, and thus can pack a lot more punch to their attacks.

Another major factor to consider is the mental side of the equation.  In typical shounen fashion Xin is kind of a dumbass, though I would contend he is somewhat smarter than he appears and his stupidity has a clear source, he grew up as slave with no education.  There is however a lot of tactical play going on and the top tier characters are capable of stunning feats of strategy -no joke some of this shit is Death Note-style complex planning – which spice up the more basic, if no less satisfying frontal assaults of more brutal and martial generals.  Moving away from a character’s intellect however the mental effects of certain strategies and actions play a large role as well.  Bloodlust/killing intent and morale have significant effects on a character’s ability to perform in battle, so how certain characters go about inspiring morale plays a large role in their tactics and actions.

What this is all building up to is the logical endpoint, the generals who are big, skilled, have tons of experience, and who are famous for their exploits, the kind of people Xin wants to be.  The two giants among men who appear in the anime are Wang Qi and Lian Po, two legendary generals who were among the biggest names in all of China during their golden age several decades ago.  They are both masterfully done characters with highly distinct designs, excellent voicework, unrivaled power, top tier tacticians and more weight and presence than anyone else in anime.  It’s hard to say exactly what grants them this quality, what allows them to so perfectly encapsulate, to me obviously, the idea of a living legend.  It could be the things described above, it could be their glorious careers from years past and how the rest of world still treats their names with awe.  It might be how, on occasion they speak of their older days and how impressive they make that era seem.  The most obvious answer is that it’s all these things – and that would explain why this ability to capture the feel of living legend is exclusive to Kingdom, as their backstories are bound to Kingdom.

But at the same time I feel like it has to be more than that.  I think I could make similar arguments about some of the characters in Arslan Senki but they’ve never captured the same appeal, certainly not to the degree Kingdom has.  All I can say for sure is that when one of the generals loses and is forced to surrender, has a less successful man from his era tell him to retire, and his response is “Don’t be stupid.  I’m on active duty til I die!”  while he charges down a small mountain and one of this big orchestral swells plays in the background I watched the scene over and over like 40 times because it was just that special, it had that much impact.

The point of a lot of shounen characters, especially major enemies like Madara or old badasses like Netero, is to be these larger than life entities which draw you the viewer into a clash of epic proportions.  It’s what makes battle’s whose scale would be derided in mainstream TV not only possible but fucking glorious to watch.  And Kingdom, for all it’s faults has mastered the art of making larger than life characters to a degree which surpasses all of the competition.  I picked up Kingdom  after the second season finished airing and I’ve yet to see anything, newer or older, which gets close to capturing that larger than life, living legend feel like Kingdom did.  And it is my sincere belief that this ability to portray such gigantic characters the way Kingdom does, is why both seasons are rated upwards of 8 on sites like MAL, where the second season of Kingdom currently sits at #88.

Personally I would count Kingdom among my top five shows with ease, possibly in the top three, and by extension highly recommend it to anyone who sounds even vaguely interested.  I’ve also written about the show before here, in case you wanted more of an overview.  This is all despite the fact season 1 is burdened with a lot of low tier-CG and physics can often be very loosely applied in combat.  It doesn’t matter, because Kingdom moves past all of it’s issues and the weight and presence of it’s best characters is one of the main reasons.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Raging Rant: It’s Time to Stop Whining About Re:Creator’s Sota

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On my last post about Re:Creator’s I argued that while Sota annoyed me as well I believed that handled correctly he could be a good character if not a likable one.  And he stepped up to the plate.  Which is why I’m so fucking mad that other people are still bellyaching about him.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

In case you haven’t read the post linked above one of the main points I made with regards to Sota is that it’s not his fault Setsuna killed herself even if he blames himself for it.  He doesn’t owe her anything, the world doesn’t owe her anything, he didn’t make that decision for her.  The responsibility for Setsuna’s suicide lies with her.  In the latest episode they dug into the backstory of Setsuna and Sota a little and explained that Sota felt they were drifting apart as Setsuna got more popular and started working with well known people while he wasn’t enjoying the same success.  That is fucking normal.  He committed no sin here, it’s natural for friendships to have their rifts and for people to drift apart – sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good.  What happened next was that she was accused of plagiarism and relentlessly attacked on social media and Sota didn’t stand up for her.

This is where most of the Sota haters say things like “he should of stood up for her.”  This fucking triggered me.  It’s FUCKING NORMAL for people to not jump into defend people from mass harassment because it can in fact escalate the harassment, which is what Sota feared, or it can see the defender get harassed badly as well.  This is not a Sota problem –  this is problem with the internet and mob justice in general.  Remember when that scientist who landed a probe on a comet was harassed to the point where he broke down in tears during a public apology because of the shirt he was wearing?  It’s the same shit here.  Silence is the path of least resistance and it’s the one most people take.  Trust me I’m in the middle of working on a local campaign and the opposition is filled with angry shitheads who bombard every social media post we put out with loads of harassment, they’ve tried to make public all the information about me, the Campaign Manager, they can get their hands on, they have stolen and vandalized signs and harassed businesses who show support for our side of the campaign, sometimes to the point where managers break down in tears.

Nobody wants to deal with that.  I don’t have much of a choice because fighting against these assholes is part of my job description but unless you’re like me or are morally motivated enough to make a stand, most people just do what they can to avoid the harassment until it blows over.  It sucks that Setsuna was confronted by a mob of anonymous assholes online, and that their harassment caused her to commit suicide is an indictment of internet mob justice and harassment campaigns.  But at the same time, it’s still not Sota’s or even the mob’s fault she committed suicide.  I’m not feeling the need to commit suicide from this harassment, and in most high profile cases of online harassment mobs people don’t commit suicide either.  Setsuna was exceptionally weak and that’s her fucking problem.  Make no mistake my fury is directed more so at the harassers than Setsuna, they are shitty people who deserve all the bad things that happen to them because they can totally ruin people’s lives and careers.  However Setsuna is still the one who chose suicide as her response, that was her choice and she owns all the responsibility for it.  Long story short anyone who blames Sota for not standing up to an online mob of harassers is either a cyber-hero who lacks empathy for all non-cyber heroes or has never stood up to such a mob and thus lacks appreciation for bad it can get or just how much of a fucking hassle it can be.

“But wait,” you say,  “he said he felt a satisfaction seeing Setsuna being taken down a peg,” he’s awful.  First off he admits it was an ugly feeling and he is deeply ashamed for feeling it, implying he normally wouldn’t feel this way and it’s not reflective of his normal character.  Which is normal.  People say and feel things we don’t really mean, or rather that we would never seriously embrace in our normal state of being, all the fucking time.  The important thing here is that so far as we know he didn’t act on this feeling, he just felt it. Or do you mean to tell you’ve never felt or said something in anger, hurt, jealousy or what have you that you’d never seriously give the time of day if you weren’t anger, hurt, jealous or what have you?  I call bullshit, it’s human to have feelings which go against our moral code of conduct.  The second thing to remember is that he was in fact jealous at the time, he was hurting in his own way and that’s the catalyst for why he felt the way he did.  Again though that had nothing to do with his actions, he said he didn’t stand up for Setsuna because he was afraid of making things worse, not because his envy was so potent he didn’t lift a finger to spite her.  How he felt in a moment of weakness is irrelevant to how he acted, and as such to call him awful for it is woefully inaccurate.

Also Sota already manned up in the episode before that.  In a battle where characters who could kill him in one second with no effort whatsoever were throwing down, Sota stood his ground and tried to stop the fight.  I do think he should have just told Aliceteria that Altair killed Mamika but even so he did his best to reason with her and bring the fight to a halt and when that didn’t work he refused to budge even when she charged at him, the only reason he didn’t die was because Meteora knocked him away.  That takes fucking balls and anyone who calls him a pansy after that needs to seriously reconsider what the hell they’re saying.  Sure he’s still struggling with his own weaknesses and short comings after standing in front of Aliceteria, but this is ONCE AGAIN fucking normal.  He’s not an unstoppable badass, he’s a kid and one who lost a close friend and blames himself for it at that.  He has plenty of reasons to be fragile and unsure of himself, especially since he’s been caught up in such a crazy turn of events and is surrounded by pros and heroes, people he doesn’t feel he can ever measure up to.  Which is to say that Sota is an impressively nuanced and well-realized character, one of the most complex and devastatingly human characters of the entire season.

While I’m on the subject of character I want to mention that Aliceteria’s character got a massive upgrade in the fight described above.  Previously she just seemed willfully blind to the fact she’s fighting to worse of the two sides in this conflict.  That does hold true but the reason for it is because she has lost all of her bearings.  Imagine for a second you meet God, or something you hold great faith in, and he turns out to be far less impressive than you expected.  That would shake you up a bit.  Now imagine that on top of that you find out there are tons of gods and all of them are making worlds like yours so they can have stories.  This is what happened to Aliceteria, she believes everything she ever knew is a lie and can’t come to terms with her new reality and as a result clings to an ideal, justice, because it’s all she has left.  If it turns out she is fighting on the side of evil she will break, she’s already losing herself as it is.  In other words she’s doing what Sota did with Setsuna, refusing to face something because doing so might break her entirely.  Which is to say she’s also be given a great deal of believability and nuance as a character, improving her place in the story and showcasing that yes, Mother’s Basement was right, this show does in fact have great characters.

Ok rant over.  My fury has been vented.  I recommend this show now more than ever.  See you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: Can You Spin Gold from Generic Garbage & Re:Creators

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Before I get into this let me just clarify that I don’t think Re:Creators is generic garbage, that label applies to a specific aspect of the show and not the entire show.  This was inspired by a recent YouTube video from Mother’s Basement, who I rarely watch because I so often disagree with him and his endless schilling is a new style of cringe to me.  The video was making the argument that Re:Creators has the potential to become an anime classic citing it’s status as relatively high profile original anime, excellent meta-commentary on storytelling and how that is woven into the story, and strong character writing.  Of the three claims the last by far the most contentious where the audience is concerned, with many people openly hating the male lead Sota and just being skeptical to the idea these characters are well written.  This is to be expected though because most of the characters look and act like generic ones.  I mean we have two light novel princesses one from a scifi world and the other from a fantasy world, a magical girl, a teenage mecha pilot, an NPC that probably functioned like the player’s index and quest guide based on her position, what looks like a Persona character, the false-ish character Altair and Blitz Talker whom I have no generic equivalent for because he’s had like 5 lines and 1 scene so far.

However that is kind of the point, and Mother’s Basement sort of address it with regards to one of the best characters Magical Slayer Mamika, but I don’t think he put in enough time with the other characters to really get this across.  One of the main conceits of the story as it continues is that while the characters were initially defined by whatever text their author ascribed to them, they either have changed, are changing or have the potential to change.  Mamika is good case study for this.  Mamika comes from a world with no nuance whatsoever, a kid’s show which has obvious villains and no concept of pain or damage.  This is a problem for a few reasons.  Mamika is easy to trick, is herself an incredibly simple and generic character (at first), and has no qualms attacking people because again no concept of pain or death.  She’s also among the outright strongest characters in the show and she demolishes a business park before she’s realized what her power is capable of and that oh shit violence has consequences.  Perhaps because she is the simplest character she is also the one who evolves the most.

After realizing that her opponents were not in fact villains Mamika becomes much more aware of how much more complex our world is than hers and takes significant steps to understand the world, her opponents and her allies.  She spies on and eventually confronts Altair when she finds out Altair is really a villain masking her true intentions.  She secretly meets with Sota to try and get a better understand of both sides in the conflict.  She breaks up the major fight in episode 5 because she recognizes that both sides have good people on them and doesn’t see why they have to fight.  This also represents one of the in-universe shortfalls of her character, Mamika is still colored to a great degree by her character setting.  As Aliceteria puts it, Mamika’s ideas are often naive but Mamika is a good person.  As fast as Mamika is changing she still has a long ways to go before she turns into someone really special. However I agree wholeheartedly with Mother’s Basment’s sentiment that the idea of having a generic character evolve due to exposure to a more complex world is a great one and Mamika’s evolution is an absolute joy to watch.

Now let’s confront the elephant in the room, Sota.  I have seen a lot of hate for Sota and I don’t think it’s entirely undeserved, I too constantly wish he’d fucking grow a pair and just tell his allies what’s up.  I want him to communicate like a human being instead of stumbling through all of his goddamn sentences and doing his damnedest not to the point across.  However, I don’t think he’s badly written, certainly not based on the latest episode, though I do find it retarded he didn’t recognize Altair immediately since a, he made her and b, she’s a pretty distinct character.  His critics are calling him the new Shinji Ikari and to some extent I agree, which is why it almost baffles me that people think he’s a bad character.  Shinji is often mocked for being weak and wimpy but while that is true Shinji’s weaknesses are central not only to his character but to Evangelion as a show.  If Shinji were a badass then Evangelion would suck, the kind of story Evangelion is only works because everyone in it is broken to some extent and they’re still trying to do an important job.  Shinji’s weakness come for reasons we clearly understand, so him learning to overcome those weaknesses or fall to them is important to the story.  How Shinji is punished for his weakness also plays a major role in Evangelion and Evangelion is a classic anime.

What I trying to say is that Sota has the potential to be a great character.  He may be unlikable as shit, as Shinji is to many, but so long as his weakness has weight in the story and he has to own up to it somehow I think Sota will do just fine.  Based on Magane’s (BEST GIRL) observations and Sota’s stupidly roundabout hypothetical he asked Meteora it appears that Sota and Setsuna, the author Altair’s story, co-created her.  But we figured that out by like episode one.  What was more recently revealed was that Sota was the less talented of the two, or that’s how it seems based on how he framed the aforementioned hypothetical, and his frustrations with the gap in talent between the two led to them having a falling out, after which Setsuna committed suicide.  The timeline for this is somewhat unclear but it is clear that Sota knows Setsuna is dead and that is why he’s struggling both as an artist and a person.  He can’t come to terms with the fact that he sort of caused Setsuna to commit suicide and it’s crippling him, especially in the last few episodes as it becomes increasingly apparent that he will have to face what happened and he isn’t ready for that, so he does his best to hide it.

What Sota doesn’t realize though is that Setsuna committing suicide is not his fault.  Even if Setsuna blamed him for her hang ups and committed suicide, the fact is that she’s the one who chose to give into whatever pressures she was feeling and end it all.  He may feel responsible for it, which explains his behavior and his look of horror when Magane makes it clear she knows what’s up, but he’s not.  Knowing this only adds to him though because it makes sense for a teenager, well anyone really but teens especially, to feel as though they caused some to commit suicide and beat themselves up over it even though the responsibility for that decision lies with the suicide.  What Sota’s age prevents him from understanding is that the world doesn’t owe anyone anything, because at this stage in his life it’s expected that he’s owed certain things like an education, shelter, food, etc.  Setsuna may have felt lonely and rejected enough to commit suicide but that’s her problem, and if she had chosen to continue fighting the problem she might have found what she was looking for.  But she didn’t.  Which brings me to my next point.

Altair is a horribly unjustified villain and while the reveal of her motivations made me super mad, after some reflection I think it might turn out for the best.  Altair wants to destroy the world because it rejected Setsuna and Setsuna committed suicide.  It’s also implied Altair may be able to directly feel what Setsuna was feeling before she died.  Altair doesn’t give a fuck about anyone, she’ll destroy all of the worlds in existence just to take vengeance for her creator.  Because while she is inexplicably good at masking her intentions early on, when Mamika confronts her she basically becomes a Sasuke-by-proxy whining about how Mamika could never understand Setsuna’s pain, and Altair hates everything and she goes into a rage.  However as discussed above the world owed Setsuna nothing and Altair seems blind to that fact.  This has some interesting implications.  Altair claims that what she’s doing was her own choice not her character setting but despite her oddly formal style of speech and apparent levelheadedness she is apparently the only character who has not engaged the nuance of the real world at all.  She is acting like a child and while that does bother me because it seem inconsistent with her earlier appearances, the prospect of seeing a Sasuke-type character get the beatdown they deserve is something I’m hype for.

What Mother’s Basement’s video didn’t address, because it appears to have been written following episode 5 is the case of Magane.  Magane is a character who has refused to choose a side and instead thrives on her own.  For example it takes the whole team of good guys to come with the idea to try and give Silesia a new power via her author and artist, Magane on the other hand gets the same idea all on her own and is savvy enough to find her author and try the idea, and when it fails she kills him but says the fact that this experiment failed to change her was interesting in and of itself.  She’s also running around doing a fine job of collecting information without any assistance and she’s more or less cornered Sota because she figured him out.  Magane is a bit overblown and she follows a pretty distinct archetype but she also appears to be the most creatively written character out of the gate and this gives her a huge head start on everyone else.  While the good guys have to muddle their way through the information they have and the bad guys are basically in the dark, Magane navigates the world with ease and despite having only been a around a few episodes she seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else already.  Also I think she might be a reference to Bakemonogatari because her power comes from lies and wordplay and her “Peace. Yeah!” scene was very reminiscent of how Yotsugi changed her language to a faux American style after dropping the “I said with a posed look” line.

Basically what I wanted to say is that I think Mother’s Basement is onto to something.  Re:Creators is suffering somewhat from being very exposition heavy and how unlikable Sota is, but given time and vision those could be turned into advantages.  The way this show handles character growth is really fucking interesting in part because it’s so meta, a story full of characters from stories coming together in a new world.  It leads to some great stuff like how Meteora goes from an emotionless info-bot like her NPC role to someone who can properly express joy, kindness and warmth after playing the game she’s from and deciding the “creator” really cared about his story because of all the detail and how good the game was.  That’s some cool shit.  And just everything about Magane is fucking gold, seriously for all the moments Sota drags the show down by beating around the bush she lifts it up by cutting through all the bullshit.  I think Re:Creators has been pretty good so far and has the potential to be really good.  I’m looking forward to it and after reading this, hopefully you are as well.  See you in the next one.

PS: Fuck whoever wrote the fucking show synopsis for Re:Creators it sounded like the most pretentious light novel bullshit I’ve ever heard and it caused me to skip the show for weeks until I saw a good AMV and decided to try it.  Seriously I had no idea this was an original anime until yesterday because the synopsis was so bad I thought it had to be a light novel.  It would have been a thousand times better if you just said it was a show about a bunch of anime characters from different mediums and genres coming to together to fight each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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