Understanding Reviews: How Getting too Personal Wrecks a Review

Darling in the Franxx

Awkwardly titled though this post may be I’m deliberately playing off the video which this serves as a response to, a recent review by Mother’s Basement regarding Darling in the Franxx.  The following will assume you’re up to speed on the Darling in the Franxx, so major spoilers warning.  Now let’s begin.

Inserting yourself into reviews is a fine line to tread.  This might seem hypocritical as a writer’s tastes will obviously color their review, and the fact I wrote an entire post about how being me causes me to class with mainstream consensus so often.  However the video linked above is a clear demonstration that injecting too much of yourself, your thoughts and your values into a show is not only possible but a serious downside to any review.  The most obvious pitfall is coming in with warped expectations.  For example in the post linked above I detailed how Gigguk’s view of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as a SnK clone actively interfered with his review because it caused him to see narrative decisions caused by thematic differences between the two shows as weaknesses on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part, rather than seeing how well Koutetsujou no Kabaner’s narrative choices played into it’s themes.

On the flip side though, understanding a reviewers’ biases can be good.  For example if you came to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri looking for a new SnK, then as Gigguk describes you will likely be disappointed.  Moreover understanding biases can give you a sense of what kind of shows you and your reviewer of choice are mostly likely to differ on in a broad sense.  For example I’m a big Digibro fan but one area I know we differ on is history, both irl and fictional in-universe history.  I value history real or imagined to a great degree and Digibro doesn’t.  In practical terms it means that A. I know which shows I shouldn’t necessarily take his word on and B. I won’t get salty when he shits on some I show I like because I know that fundamentally the subject matter is not to his tastes and it is to mine.  This is why many reviewers, myself included, often do point out their biases when it’s relevant to do so, because it can help the audience.

With the general stuff out of the way the question is how did Mother’s Basement fuck his review up?  His review is broken down into 4 major points all of which relate to the world building and how it was handled in episode 19 versus the rest of the show.  He also makes a minor aside to point out that he thinks the marriage mini-arc is boring because he didn’t care about the side characters and the main characters have already undergone their development.  I disagree but this is because I like all the kids and the aftermath of the marriage arc is important in how it shapes the squad and their attitude towards the “adults” but I digress.  His main complaints are as follows.  1 – They botched Dr. Franxx’s backstory and made him a one note character because they boiled his amoral motivations down to being an atheist and his love interest side story was just a framing tool used as a distraction for the audience, so we wouldn’t bitch about the massive info-dump that Episode 19 was.  2 – Magma energy, assuming it is actually energy derived from magma, makes no sense – and if it’s a plot device made from a special fictional material the switch from oil to magma energy and the technology it produces comes way too fast and with too little resistance.  Also he has some issues with the allegorical components of the magma energy and the technology it produces.  3 – The Klaxosaurs have a really striking design so they should have a really interesting origin, and they don’t.  4 – It doesn’t make sense that Dr. Franxx should be the one to create the Franxx or that he should have so many problems understanding them in the past if he’s the one who built them.  And in case the Franxx turn out to be made from Klaxosuars (which the next episode confirms) then that’s a weak twist because this show is a homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and we could see that twist from a mile away.

Let’s start with point 1.  I do agree that Dr. Franxx has, on the whole, been made into a more one dimensional mad scientist than earlier episodes let on.  But Mother’s Basement’s reasoning behind it misguided and comes from him being really butthurt about atheists being seen as immoral by some sections of the population and this being reflected as trope in fiction.

As Mother’s Basement points out, even before the world goes to shit and before the death of his wife, Dr. Franxx was not bound by morals or ethics.  Dr. Franxx astutely points out that no one complains until after he succeeds because they want access to his successes, and this is part of what shapes his attitude.  This has plenty of real world parallels and one of the reasons the “mad scientist with no morals or ethics” is a trope is because the real world is rife with examples of horrible experiments performed either as a torture or for the sake of knowledge.  For an example of each, most of modern medicine’s understanding of how the human body reacts to cold comes from the Nazis and the data they collected while using freezing temperatures to torture Jews – and once upon a time in America they infected black men with Syphillis and didn’t give them treatment to study the effects of the disease.  Hardly research done by moral scientists in an ethical environment, but these experiments happened.  This sort of stuff is, I think, a better root source for the trope Dr. Franxx now fits into, than atheism, even if atheism is sometimes thrown into the mix.

Mother’s Basement was super salty about Dr. Franxx saying he was an atheist when confronted by questions of ethics or God because he saw that as the writer’s justification Dr. Franxx’s mental state and a trope as described above.  Personally though his delivery made it seem more like a deflection to me, like it was a placeholder excuse when he was confronted with questions he didn’t have a real answer for.  Most people do not reason themselves into their moral code, it comes from the environment they grow up in.  To them it’s just normal.  Dr. Franxx never had those things, nor does he have detailed reasons why he doesn’t have them in the same way most people don’t have detailed reasons as to why they espouse the moral code they do.  In simple terms Dr. Franxx is probably a sociopath and his atheism comment is not so much a justification for his beliefs as it is a quip.  I can understand that some atheists might take offence but as an atheist myself my response is grow a fucking thicker skin, I don’t think he meant anything deeper by the line nor do I think the writers are attacking atheists.

What I find most troublesome about Dr. Franxx’s portrayal is that it seemed like he actually had developed more empathy in his later years as per some of his lines to Hiro regarding Zero Two.  I mean technically they could have served as goads for Hrio because Dr. Franxx wanted to see his experiments come to fruition but they seemed to come from a place of empathy and they made Dr. Franxx seem more human than the rest of the adults despite his obviously mechanized body parts.  Now is he has become a cackling mad scientist all but orgasming in the face of the Klaxosaur Queen and it is cringey.  I do think they made Dr. Franxx into a worse character in Episodes 19 and 20 but Mother’s Basement’s obsession with the atheist line really skewed his analysis and made him come across as whining triggered snowflake putting his own insecurities about how atheists, and by extension he, are perceived.  I’m sure it resonated with people who felt the same but it legit ruined his analysis for me and many others if the comment section was anything to go by.  He even could have said it offended him and that would have been fine if he left it at that but his salt over that line colored so much of his analysis on this particular point that it really came across as a whine, not an analysis at all.

Point 2 is where Mother’s Basement is somehow even more correct and equally more infuriating.  I get that magma energy is a confusing name as it could conceivably refer to energy derived from magma but the fact that it never behaved like geothermal energy and attracted the Klaxosaurs the same way humans collecting Imulsion lead to conflict with the Locust in Gears of War made it pretty clear early on that “magma energy” was a fictional power source not energy derived from actual magma.  That he allowed for this would suggest that not even Mother’s Basement actually thought it was energy derived from magma.

The problem with his analysis at this point is that he argues that there’s no way big oil would go down without a fight and magma energy would not be adopted this quickly nor would it result in the meteoric rise of APE, the scientists (who we now know were manipulated by aliens) who bring about the use of magma energy.  His analysis is only true if 2025 Earth was exactly like ours and the show does not spell that out.  Sure it’s only seven years away but that still gives the setting some leeway.  Maybe green energy has overtaken oil and magma energy is seen as a super efficient green energy.  Maybe the world has all but run out of oil and magma energy is a necessary alternative, meaning that APE was in the right place at the right time, that would surely help account for their rapid rise to power.   It’s  not that Mother’s Basement is totally wrong here, in a more realistic show with more attention given to the setting his concerns would be totally valid.   But he isn’t giving the show an ounce of leeway when the writing gives it at least a little if we’re being strict, and a lot given that Trigger is involved and Imaishi usually plays very fast and loose with his world building for the sake of moving the story along and getting to the action.

Mother’s Basement has similar concerns about how quickly the magma energy tech is adopted by the world.  Again if the conditions of 2025 Earth are more dire than current Earth this problem mostly goes away.  His most accurate point here is that there’s no way in hell the majority of humans would be all over a drug that makes them sterile even if it grants them immortality, though technically they could have kids and then take the immortality drug and mitigate the sterility problem that way.  It is a weakness in the writing and one that I believe comes from Trigger’s tendency to move past some of the trickier logistics of their show’s backstories to get into the action and hit the twists.  Also addressing the minutiae that Mother’s Basement is really immersing himself into takes time and it’s time the writers seem not to feel they have to spare.  It’s just a cost of creating the show and I don’t think it’s an especially important one but at least Mother’s Basement is making a solid argument here and it obviously would matter more to people like him.

What makes this portion of his analysis insufferable is his talk of allegories.  He complains that the magma energy and the destruction of the environment is an allegory for the environmental damages brought about by oil, and that the people making the allegory have done no research given how quickly it is adopted and how big oil doesn’t fight it.  How does he know?  Is he a mind reader?  It’s easy to see that magma energy could be an allegory for oil, but it could also not be an allegory.  It could just be an idea the writers thought was interesting.  I’m very much with Tolkien on disliking allegory in general and how it is confused with applicability.  I don’t go looking for allegories when I watch or read things because allegory can only come from the audience and doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s thoughts on any given subject.  A good example where the author’s intent is clear is Parasyte.  Shinichi kills Gotou with a poison that resulted from chemicals humans were illegally dumping and Migi is not subtle at all when he explains how dangerous our waste can be.  The author’s intent there is crystal clear and so the environmental message is fine.  But getting hung up an allegory YOU impose on the creators whether or not it accurately reflects their intent is fucking stupid, and when Mother’s Basement did it it just set me and other people off.

Point 3 is just stupid.  Yes I’m sure everyone wishes that the Klaxosaurs had a totally unique and original backstory.  But the fact that their designs are striking and iconic has literally no impact on how creative their backstory will be.  The Gunmen from Gurren Lagann are pretty iconic and their origins are pretty standard, as an example.  I appreciate Mother’s Basement’s desire for the Klaxosaurs to be more fleshed out, interesting and unique but his logic as to why they SHOULD be more unique is really fucking stupid.  Cool designs do not equal cool backstories, they literally never have and I have no idea why he thought they should.

Point 4 is kind of a mess.  For starters him pointing out that Dr. Franxx is a biologist not an engineer is asinine.  Dr. Franxx is clearly intended to be the smartest man around as a trope but even getting away from that has Mother’s Basement not heard the term Renaissance Man.  Some people are just really good at a wide variety of subjects and they tend to be geniuses.  One my grandparent’s neighbors is like that.  He’s super knowledgeable about planes, wine and a wide variety of other subjects, while also being one of the world’s foremost experts on blood diseases.  People like that exist in real life, that Mother’s Basement mocks this idea before going into the rest of the argument looks like him poisoning the well, i.e. trying to discredit the character from the outset.

I do agree that Dr. Franxx not knowing the issues the early Franxx wouldn’t make sense if they weren’t actually made from Klaxosaurs, but not only did Episode 20 confirm that they were made from Klaxosaurs, Mother’s Basement predicts as much and calls it a weak twist for being obvious because Darling in the Franxx is a homage to NGE.  So his mechanical criticisms are irrelevant and he expected this might be the case.  But his weak twist complaint is just as bad.  First off just because shows have similar elements that doesn’t mean they are a homage to something else, and even if it is a homage that doesn’t mean the story will follow the ideas of the work it’s paying homage to.  Also do remember that some people haven’t seen NGE and may not know that the Franxx being made out of Klaxosaurs is an obvious twist.  Sure it’s a weak twist to him but he doesn’t say it like that, he lays down his opinion as if it’s as factual as the stuff he brought up earlier about how big oil behaves or how long it takes for new medicines to be adopted.   Honestly to me it seemed like Darling in the Franxx was dropping more hints that the Klaxosaurs were humans, like Suisei no Gargantia or Shin Sekai Yori.

I think that about wraps this up.  I don’t blame Mother’s Basement for feeling the way he does or having the views he does, but I do think he desperately needed to keep the personal side of his analysis in check.  Like I said at the beginning it’s a fine line between including useful bias info and making the review too personal but it’s also not a line that many cross or that it’s difficult to avoid.  Maybe you need to step back and think about how other people might think about a show, episode or scene.  Maybe you make a point to clarify what’s your opinion versus what is more objectively factual.  You can put a lot of yourself into a review with great success, but Mother’s Basement really botched this one.  Regardless of where we disagree, his analysis was too full of bits that I would best describe as whining and nitpicking to make it seem like a credible review.  I can respect arguments I disagree with if they are well formed, and this one was too warped by Mother’s Basement’s personal hang ups to make it appear well formed – even if I agree with some of the conclusions he puts forth, all too often I find his reasoning to be flawed.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

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Understanding The OP Gamer: How The King’s Avatar Crushes SAO

quanz

Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or the King’s Avatar in English, is one of three perfect avenues to explore just why SAO is a pile of shit and just how it could have been done better.  The other avenues are of course Log Horzion, previously discussed here and here, and the subject of my previous post – SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online.  With the 3 ONAs released this season now over I figured it was time to explore this third avenue into the construction of video game-centric anime, specifically because it shines where SAO fails the most – the OP main character.  There will be spoilers.

One of the main reasons Kritio is so hard to buy into unless you wish to project onto him is that it’s not clear why he is good.  I mean the fact that he’s 15 isn’t much help if you’ve got a few years on him, but one of the most obvious features of SAO is that Kirito is stupidly powerful and crushes almost anyone he bothers to fight.  What’s not so obvious is why.  Ignoring the ‘because he’s the main character’ reason – which for the record is a bad reason when used just by itself – there’s no real explanation given.  It is implied that Kirito is the best because he was the best of the beta testers and that presumably the beta testers are better than the new players.  Borrowing a bit from Digibro’s epic 1 hr takedown of SAO season 1, if we assume that all the beta testers made it into the first 10,000 players who are trapped in Aincrad then Kirito is in the top 10 percentile of players if we assume the beta testers are automatically better than everyone else.  Building on that if he’s the best beta tester, he’s the best player.   But is it really that simple?

Keep in mind that being a beta tester is no indication of a player’s baseline skill, you could have been selected because you were chosen from the people who rushed to get the beta even if you’d never played an MMO before.  You could even be ill suited to MMO’s, like me, and not do terribly well even if you were interested enough to try and get in the beta – though logically you probably wouldn’t do that shit.  And where does talent come into this?  People learn games at different speeds, is it really implausible for a new player to, after getting a hang of things, outstrip the beta testers?  Especially since it’s explicitly stated that some things have changed since the beta.  In that regard relying on beta knowledge could actually be a weakness – there’s this apt line in Kingdom where a military genius explains that in a clash between two opponents who know each other, if the weaker one is slightly better than the better one believes him to be, then the rug could get pulled out from under the better one because the better one came in with the wrong expectations.  The beta testers could deal with something similar and while this is not spelled that it does seem like a good explanation as to why Diabel, the blue haired guy who dies fighting the first boss, ends up losing despite his knowledge of the game’s mechanics and his status as a beta tester.

There’s an even bigger problem looming behind all of this though.  How do you even measure things which make a player better?  In The King’s Avatar the players are not trapped in a game, they are playing a wildly popular MMO/MOBA hybrid which has just hit it’s tenth anniversary.  Though we experience much of the story through the game world and the players’s avatars, we also experience it through the people on the keyboards, but more on that later.  In The King’s Avatar there are clear ways to demonstrate one’s skill at the game, one the most basic being a player’s Actions per Minute or APM rate.  Relative noobs can crush more established players if the difference in their respective APMs is too great.  The greatest counterbalance to APM though is game knowledge, experienced players will not only know more advanced tactics and have a better feel for the controls, they can gain clear advantages by memorizing ability cooldown times and the hit boxes of spells and attacks.  In simple terms if a high APM noob can unleash far more attacks than the knowledgeable veteran, then the veteran can use their knowledge to evade or even counter their faster opponent with less effort.

SAO has nothing like what I just described.  It’s combat is vague, the mechanics are not spelled out very often or very well and no one even attempts to justify how the VR tech measures the differences between people.  For example Kirito gets the dual wielding ability because he has the best reaction time of anyone in the game.  But that begs the question, how is the VR tech measuring or calculating his reaction time?  Is it how quick his brain processes information and forms a clear response?  If so how does that work in the VR?  In real life there are different speeds at which people can mental or physically process and react to information, so how is Kirito the one with best reaction time?  Is he like that Japanese guy who’s anticipatory reflexes are so good he can cut airsoft pellets in half with a sword – seriously google that shit, I’m not making it up, there a videos of the guy doing it – or is something else in play?  The answer is a titanic shrug because Reki Kawahara either never even bothered to ask such questions when designing his setting or handwaved them when he wasn’t able to find or create a satisfactory explanation.

Right so what SAO gives us is an OP teenager who is OP because plot and then sets out to tell a story centered on this kid’s adventures – which it does badly as I explained in depth here, here and here.  The King’s Avatar starts in a very different position.  It opens with an explanation that over the first ten years of its run Glory has become an international smash hit, with it’s most famous and beloved pro player being Ye Qiu, the main character.  Then it cuts away from the game to discuss real life events messing with Ye Qie, namely that his team’s success has been slowing down and the manager basically forces him to quit and sign a contract saying he won’t compete until next year.  This is significant because Ye Qiu is 25, old as pro gamers go, and already considered to be in his over-the-hill phase by his manager and jealous teammates.  This contract is seen as his resignation from Glory’s pro-scene for good by everyone, except of course Ye Qiu.  Ye Qiu accepts the underhanded blow with as much grace as you could hope for, then he finds a job at an internet cafe and immediately starts playing with a new account on Glory’s newest server.

One of the major differences in the very earliest stages of the two shows is that SAO dropped us into the game and then dropped the dramatic hammer meant to hook the audience, the players are trapped and if they die in the game, they die for real.  The focus was not on Kirito per se, he’s just the lens we experienced the story through – though after the first two episodes SAO was basically a show about Kirito and his adventures despite the fact almost no time was spent developing Kirito as a character.  This was a massive mistake as it was the hook, the WOW meets the Matrix setup everyone immediately grabbed onto that held the keys to the show’s success.  We only care about Kirito in sense that he could die, and once that was removed the show deflated into a shit pile.

By contrast, after briefly giving us enough context to know what game we’ll be looking at and how Ye Qiu is related to this game, the King’s Avatar immediately focuses on Ye Qiu and his life.  We follow his adventures because, ideally at least, we are interested in HIM, not the game – and at the very least the way he gets screwed so hard right when we meet him is a great way to to get us to root for him from the outset.  We all want to see him stick it to the man and give these assholes the bird.  But the game is central to this story because it is the means by which he will rise to the challenge thrust upon him.  This is a flexible introduction to the game as, if we start rooting for Ye Qiu for personal and moral reasons as the show is intending, the game could be anything.  You could pick any kind of high level competitive sport, or in this case esport, and this setup would work for it.  If we’re hooked on the idea of Ye Qiu fighting to get back at the people who screwed him then the creators can put whatever rules into the game that they want – we won’t care so long as we get to know the rules and see Ye Qiu abide by them, we are good to go.

In this way The King’s Avatar manages to get away with not explaining every last detail about the game and how it’s played where SAO suffers massively from how vague the information on it’s mechanics are.  In fact if you take a cold clinical look at Glory it’s overall design is very basic – a class based MMO inspired by D & D and WOW, with a strong competitive MOBA scene alongside it – and the show doesn’t explain what each class can do in the same exhaustive detail as Log Horizon would.  But the basics of how it functions are extremely intuitive and the show provides extra detail when it needs to.  It even manages to do the ‘”classless” character better than SAO.  In SAO nobody had any classes, you just got better at what you did Skyrim-style and that was that.  By comparison The King’s Avatar explains that while Unspecialized is a class anyone can play, and it has a great deal of flexibility as that’s it’s main selling point, it’s generally not used much and it’s never used in professional play because it doesn’t have any of the clear bonuses that a more focused character class comes with at higher levels.

Ye Qiu of course starts smurfing, for lack of a better term, as an Unspecialized immediately once he gets a new account, but unlike Kirito he does this deliberately.  There’s a flashback of him and a teammate making a custom transforming weapon, which he retrieves and uses, showing this has been on his mind for some time.  But unlike Kirito, who again is good because plot, Ye Qiu makes this unviable class work because he’s a master of the game.  He’s been it’s top player for years and he’s been playing since the game first came out.  Assuming he’s a pro all 10 years, the intro doesn’t spell that out but it’s kind of implied, he has top tier game knowledge – at this point he probably knows more about this game and how the classes function than the creators do.  He knows all the skills and how they interplay and because he’s Unspecialized he can pick and choose whatever skills he wants.  Combine that priceless experience and knowledge with a weapon tailor-made for an Unspecialized player and Ye Qiu is able to quite handily turn the unviable class into a weapon far greater than anyone else can imagine.

But it’s not just extensive game knowledge and years of experience of the highest level of play Ye Qiu brings to the table, it’s the APM required to maintain his pro status for all of those years.  APM is given a big focus throughout The King’s Avatar, from Ye Qiu being kicked because his team expects his APM to slow down to unacceptable levels based on his age to the APM of promising noobs catching Ye Qiu’s eye so that he starts bringing them under his wing, his low key preparations for his planned return to the pro-scene at the head of a brand new team full of talent.  There’s also an interesting pro player who Ye Qiu knows and plays against later in the series, and Ye Qiu states that it would be unfair if this guy had great APM, set to footage cutting between their in-game battle and the noticeable difference in speed of the players’ hands at the keyboard.  This shows that this particular pro would be even better than Ye Qiu if he had the technical capabilities to match Ye Qiu’s APM because his game knowledge is so formidable.  Which of course brings us back to game knowledge.

Throughout The King’s Avatar it is repeatedly shown that what makes Ye Qiu the best is not his high APM or his extensive game knowledge but that fact that he has both at his disposal.  He fights people with superior APM and people with superior game knowledge, but thus far no one who has such high levels of both, and so Ye Qiu comes out on top with relatively little effort in most of his battles, just like Kirito.  But again, unlike Kirito who is good for no reason, we know that Ye Qiu has acquired the things which make him so good over years of high level play.  What The King’s Avatar gets away with is nothing short of brilliant, it straight up tells us Ye Qiu is the best and then shows us how this came to be – without even using loads of flashbacks or exposition dumps – with such clarity that it convinces us that he is indeed the best in a way that gives the character gravitas rather than diminishes the stakes of his battles.  He’s the Isaac Netero of his story, the goal which all other pros seek to reach, and his struggle is as much a battle against his aging body as it is a clash against powerful foes.

This is also the reason The King’s Avatar takes a such a different approach to Ye Qiu’s companions than SAO does to Kirito’s.  Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirito’s companions are either waifus for his harem or a couple of bros which he can compare himself to and seem vastly superior to.  His only companion of real note is Asuna because of the depth of their relationship in the Aincrad and Alfheim arcs – but after that SAO spends so much time away from Asuna that this doesn’t matter in the long run.  By comparison, with the exception of Che Guo – the internet cafe manager – Ye Qiu’s companions are young players he sees potential in.  These include a couple of players like Tang Rou, inexperienced players with great APM, and lower level pros who are struggling to break into the tops ranks of their team or struggling to fit into their team entirely.  Ye Qiu uses his game knowledge to mentor these budding talents, a style of storytelling and gameplay which acknowledges his status as the best player but one where the dramatic stakes lie not in Ye Qiu’s inevitable victories in battle but whether or not his pupils are able to learn from him and grow as he would like them to.

Ye Qiu is basically a combination of Kirito from SAO and Shiroe from Log Horizon, melding the best parts of both of their characters.  He has the same experience, game knowledge and strategic capacity which makes Shiroe so dangerous in team fights and so good at teaching new players, while having a strength similar to Kirito’s as a solo combatant.  And through a strong understanding about what makes pro players good at computer games, careful use of storytelling and strong attention to detail – the King’s Avatar manages to tell a story you can really get invested in despite the fact it’s protagonist is about as OP as a gamer can be.  And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.  Hope y’all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

GGO2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Storytelling: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Boruto

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Now that Boruto has hit the 50 episode mark, it’s first recap episode, and the Chunin Exam will start shortly it’s as good a time as any for a look at what Boruto does well and what kind of problems the show faces.  Obviously there will spoilers.

My greatest concern overall is that Boruto seems to have a big problem managing weakness.  Many of of Boruto the character’s fellow shinobi are pretty weak, as one would expect them to be.  But Boruto’s team is broken as shit.  I get that Boruto is supposed to be a prodigy and all but he, Mitsuki and Sarada are all way better than basically all of their classmates.  The only character whose strength I’m totally ok with is Iwabe, because is several years older and has intensely focused on ninjutsu to the detriment of his studies – hence why he’s had to repeat the academy several times.  Honestly this problem really just applies to Boruto’s team but considering that they are the main team it’s a serious problem.  Boruto seems to have very few problems fighting opponents who should be above his level, Mitsuki apparently can already use Sage Mode because plot and Sarada, who at least is still a beginner at the Sharingan, can inexplicably use super strength despite that not being a technique she is training to use.

This jump starting of the main team is a serious mistake as what made the early parts of Naruto great was how the characters managed their very limited abilities to the best of their ability.  There’s no real need for them to be this strong and some of the things they can do, like the Sage and super strength don’t make any sense.  These are not abilities you just get.  Sage Mode requires intense training and the super strength is the by-product of a very specific style of healing jutsu.  Mitsuki and Sarada have not done any of the training required to get their powers.  Boruto on the other hand just seems to have more jutsus than he should although he’s honestly the least problematic of the three.  Still having the characters start so strong raises some serious red flags.  The biggest trap Boruto should be aiming to avoid is the drastic rise in power levels that made late Naruto episodes a snorefest .  Ideally Boruto and Co never get as strong as their parents partly for the sake of the story but also partly because they live in an age of relative peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately one of the core ideas in Naruto was the whole, child/student surpasses the parent/teacher, and it used that idea to excellent effect so I would bank on Boruto going for the same thing.

Which brings me to my next point.  Boruto seems very willing to follow almost identical story beats to Naruto, some of which work to it’s advantage and some of which are unnecessary or even weak.  As I discussed before the Kakashi test was a good example of this being weak, because the ideas which Kakashi was trying to teach are way less applicable in Boruto’s day and age than they were in Naruto’s time.  They’ve basically taken the Zabuza arc and split it into three parts, the Mist Village rebellion, the random town they saved from rouge ninja’s where the conflict centered around a bridge and now the Byakuya gang arc which drew heavily on Haku and Ice Style to create it’s own story, which admittedly was the best of the three arcs.  Drawing on Naruto for inspiration isn’t necessarily a problem but it has been very hit or miss thus far and the creative staff needs to take into account the global changes in Boruto’s world which separate it from Naruto.

Jumping back to the first problem about jump starting the main team I think I see the motivation.  One of the main problems Boruto’s creative staff will have to face is creating adversaries and scenarios which are dangerous enough to be tense and challenging for the kids but which aren’t so dangerous that their parents won’t just come in and curb stomp the problem.  They have mostly managed this just fine so far but as the power levels rise this problem will only get trickier.  I think the reason the main team is so strong for their age is so that the staff can justify letting them tackle problems which, realistically, the adults would do.  This is counter productive though, in part as explained above the dangers of making the kids overpowered but it also negates one of the shows greatest strengths, the contrasts between the current generation and the previous one.

Consistently the greatest scenes and most interesting dialogue comes from Naruto era characters either talking about how things used to be/how different things are now, or imparting word of wisdom to Boruto and Co.  I loved when the Five Kages have a discussion about their concerns about a lack of strong new ninjas.  Naruto and Sarada had both some warming father daughter moments, because Sasuke is terrible as a dad, but he also impresses on her how ludicrously strong he is during the fight with Uchiha Shin, and honestly I think Boruto needs a taste of that to level out his ego.  Hell even more recently when Naruto personally takes some time to recognize Iwabe and let him now that being a repeat student is not a stain on his reputation or character as Naruto himself was a repeater.  It’s been great stuff all around and if anything I’d rather see the kids struggle more and involve the adults more in helping them get through their issues.  Because while seeing the kids develop is part of the appeal of a show like Boruto, another obvious appeal is seeing how characters we grew up in Naruto have changed as they became adults.

One of the other differences between Naruto and Boruto is their pacing.  Both shows are slow but for entirely different reasons.  Naruto was slow because of protracted battles and lengthy, gratifying training arcs.  Boruto is slow because it switches off between being Naruto and being Naruto-slice of life edition.  There are a number of episodes where the objective is definitely about building the class and the teams as characters and not bothering with any serious conflicts.  And even the conflicts are taken much slower, as I explained thus far Boruto has taken elements of the Zaubza Arc and split it into 3 arcs.  The battles in Boruto are not protracted because how could they be?  If the battle was a big enough deal to be protracted the adults would come in and clean things up quickly.  I don’t mind that Boruto is taking it’s time but I do sincerely hope they don’t forego training arcs entirely as the Naruto’s training arcs were fucking great, it made his high level techniques feel far more justified if we see him busting his ass to get them.

Those are the main issues.  There have been some surface level changes like Naruto generally being goofier and more consistently funny, there being an all male and all female team instead of the standard 2 guys 1 girl, and Anko went from sexy to fat, but Boruto has been treading cautiously, a wise move, and hasn’t had any moments big or dramatic enough to make it like Naruto.  My only suggestions would be that if Boruto is intent maintaining this slower pace it should be doing more to flesh out the changes in the world that have occurred since Naruto’s generation have come into power and adulthood.  If on the other hand Boruto is about to drop some big dramatic or action bombs then it needs to be careful of not treading into power levels which the kids should not have or which the adults should deal with.

I think Boruto has been a decent time and I’m looking forward to where it goes but ultimately it doesn’t have the same hook that early Naruto did and nor can it really.  It’s banking on Naruto’s famous if somewhat dubious legacy and that severely limits what the creative staff can do and what they should or should not do.  I will be cautiously optimistic about the future of this show but I see some clear pitfalls and am very worried by what I saw in the opening flashforward.  Honestly I think Boruto will crash and burn at some point and the real question is, how long can they prevent this from happening while keeping the show interesting, and so far the answer seems like quiet a while.

Unpopular Opinion: Kekkai Sensen & Beyond

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Back in the saddle baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

Darling-in-the-Franxx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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