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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VS

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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.

Unpopular Opinion: Medaka Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Nanbaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Kuzu no Honkai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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