Understanding Presence and Weight with Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unpopular Opinion: RWBY Franchise

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I love RWBY.  There you go, if you were looking for a recommendation to watch RWBY you’ve got one.  From here on I’m going to spoil the shit out of RWBY especially the latest season, Volume 4.  This is will be long.

One of the things I find most impressive about RWBY as a whole is how it just keeps getting better.  It’s amazing how far RWBY’s come since it’s humble beginnings and boy were those ever humble.  The biggest reason to avoid RWBY is undoubtedly Volume 1.  Even I, huge fan of the series that I am now was not at all convinced RWBY would be good as of Volume 1.  In Volume 1 episode lengths were wildly inconsistent and generally ranged from about 5 minutes to 13 minutes, with the climax of the exam being by far the longest episode, something that happens mid-season rather than at the actual climax of the season.  Moreover the entire experience suffered from a number of problems such as awful comedic effects, some cringe-worthy lines in the script, a pretty bog standard bully arc and most notably a lack of chemistry between all the characters, mostly thanks to the fact I didn’t feel like everyone had really come to own their respective roles yet.

All that said it was still a decent time, especially some of the battle sequences.  The exam final is the most noteworthy on that front, but there’s tons of fun choreography made possible by the ludicrous hybrid weapons and aura and Semblance powers which fill the RWBY-verse.  Perhaps most impressive about the exam final though was the use of tactics, wherein the hastily formed teams of teenagers managed to bring down the toughest enemies in the testing grounds by really making the best use of their own and each other’s powers and and weapons.  The monsters were also pretty good, I mean some were pretty generic in concept but their overall designs given the restricted black-white-red palette of the Grimm were great, especially the giant scorpion (Death Stalker) and the boar (Boarbatusk).  Not to mention despite the many goofy lines in the script my favorite line in all of RWBY comes from Volume 1, specifically where Ruby says that seeing  new weapons is like meeting new people, only better.  On that note the groundwork laid for Ruby’s character in Volume 1 is absolutely critical and it’s handled very well amid the painful comedy and otherwise very basic character intros and plot.  I think Volume 1 is best described as a rough draft or a proof-of-concept, something that isn’t ready yet but shows hints of something far more promising to come.  And say what you will about Volume 1 but those hints came to shine forth in Volume 2.

Volume 2 has more consistent episode lengths with 12 minutes being a pretty good gauge of how long the episodes will be, a trend which continues in later Volumes, though the longest is probably like 17 minutes.  More importantly almost all of the problems that riddled Volume 1 are gone.  Volume 2 opens on an amazing food fight scene that remains the funniest moment in RWBY to this day, finally breaking free of the weak comedic effects of Volume 1.  Even the action scenes, which had still been fun and mostly good, have improved significantly with most people citing better fight direction as the main cause.  Also we meet Penny and a giant mech suit which give us a better idea of what kind of tech humans have in RWBY beyond absurd weapons.  All of the characters have definitely come into their own by now, save perhaps Ren who gets neglected more than anyone else until Volume 4, and as a result their chemistry is solid.  We get more involved character stories, especially Blake, who up until Volume 2 was a mostly silent bookish type that we didn’t know much about.

In Volume 2 Blake reveals herself to be a Faunus, a beastman of sorts and a group which has faced and continues to face discrimination or outright persecution.  She also reveals herself to have at one point been part of the White Fang a Faunus rights advocacy group turned terrorist organization, and it’s clear she still stuck around for a while after the shift from peaceful protests to violent action.  This puts her in conflict with Weiss because Weiss’s family has suffered greatly at the hands of the White Fang for their business’ discrimination and exploitation of Faunus workers, something we have very few specifics about beyond Blake’s assertions.  This is built upon even further because Volume 2 makes it clear the White Fang is involved in terror plots attacking Beacon, the academy-city where the main characters live, where they go so far as to flood the city with a horde of Grimm by breaching old and forgotten underground defenses.  We also get a good contrast to Blake in Sun Goku, another Faunus without her dark past and serious attitude, but who is equally up for fighting the White Fang.  Amid all of this one of the most interesting character scenes comes about during the Hunter assignment, where this goofy history professor-cum-warrior asks all of team RWBY why they want to be Huntresses, save for Ruby, which is telling in itself, and the other three girls really have to mull over their motivations while Ruby gets to observe giant elephant monsters (Goliaths), by far the most imposing Grimm shown in the Volume.

I have to admit though that while RWBY Volume 2 was definitely good, excellent even, I wasn’t quite ready to put it on par with great anime I’d seen.  Maybe it was the CG, some of the really goofy stuff, or maybe the dark elements didn’t feel dark and threatening enough.  Whatever the case, while I was thrilled by RWBY and on board for for future seasons to come, I still didn’t consider it top tier material.  And that would change by the end of Volume 3.

I’ve no doubt that most people consider Volume 3 better than Volume 4 and I can’t really fault them for that.  It has by far the biggest moments in the series, the most involved narrative and probably the most action of any Volume.  Volume 3 opens on an inter-school battle tournament which Volume 2 had started to set in motion, Sun and the bad guys all arrive in Beacon as or posing as students in other schools.  When it first came out I remember people complaining that the fight direction took a big hit thanks to Mounty Oum’s death, but personally I thought the battles were great.  New and crazy weapons got introduced, like the bladed hoverboard from the first fight.  We saw new Semblances and a few cool new characters like the black guy who fights with sonic blasts from his trumpet and can use Naruto’s Shadow Clone justu.   All good stuff across the board.  It was also the first time since the concept of aura was introduced in Volume 1 that we spent some time digging into the lore and hidden powers of RWBY-verse, specifically the Maidens.  The Maidens represent a game changer, a shift from goofy weapons used to kill Grimm to super-weapons capable of  throwing the entire world out of balance.  It was at this point that the darker or just more serious elements to RWBY, things which had been present all along but just lacked the weight and presence to feel particularly gripping and real, finally got some gravitas.

This is helped by the fact the villains play a much bigger role than before.  Even setting aside what they ultimately do, we spend more time with them as their careful plan finally gets set in motion so we can understand what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  It makes them far more threatening because their plan is cunning and detailed, a shift from the mostly random acts of violence and theft from earlier Volumes.  And what’s more it totally works.  Even though security’s been beefed up and Qrow warns Ozpin that the city’s been infiltrated, and they try to get Pyrrha, who by the way gets a lot more development as of this Volume, to inherit the power of the dying Fall Maiden, the bad guys win.  By Volume 3’s end Beacon is a wreck, a huge Grimm dragon has appeared, Ozpin has disappeared and is presumed dead, Penny has been torn to pieces, Yang loses an arm fighting Blake’s former mentor Adam Taurus and Blake runs away from team RWBY, Weiss is sent home, and Pyrrha, debatably the strongest of the main teens is dead.

It’s all a big shock but Pyrrha’s death is especially hard hitting because a, who expected one of the main 8 teens to die at all, most shows don’t do that, and b, she’d gotten a lot better as a character over the course of Volumes 2 and 3, her relationship with Jean had deepened and she even made out with him before she dies in battle against Cinder, who thus far was presented as the leader of bad guys, and who obtains the Fall Maiden’s power, and c, because she was debatably the hottest girl and I was totally invested in her character arc and was extra sad to see her go.  Pyrrha’s death more than anything else convinced me RWBY was just as good as anything else I loved, that it deserved to be considered on par with my other top tier shows.  That Yang loses her arm and some of the bad guys die in the battle too, only add to a show which mostly felt a bit too light before because despite all the battles no one ever died or appeared to die, not even the random mooks.  But Volume 3 ends in ruin, for all sides really as the good guys deal with the loss of a city and some important people or limbs, while the bad guys deal with the fact Ruby put a giant fucking monkey wrench in their plans.

More so than the previous Volumes, Volume 3 confirms that Ruby is a prodigy.  She figures out part of the villains’ plot and how it’s being done before anyone else, even if she fails to stop it.  She fights Torchwood, a major villain and his assistant Neopolitan, who beat the piss out of Yang in Volume 2, well enough that though she doesn’t land the killing blow she gets them killed because they were forced to come out and try to deal with her.  And she awakens new eye-powers which fuck up the Grimm dragon and Cinder so badly that the battle which should have spelled Beacon’s end becomes a stalemate.  I mean the good guys still end up worse but Ruby goes a long to making an overwhelming defeat into a minor one by herself.  She even joins up with Team JUNPR, Pyrrha’s former team to continue hunting down Cinder, while the rest of her teammates all take a break.  She’s unquestionably the MVP of her generation, especially now that her main competition, Pyrrha is dead.

Volume 3 also reveals a new and greater antagonist waiting in the wings, a Grimm lady whom we later learn is called Salem, and who has been pulling the strings behind Cinder all along.  And as we listen to her grim (ha ha) and cryptic message, we fade out and get ready to pick up the pieces in Volume 4.

What Volume 4 and previously Arslan Senki season 2 have convinced me of is that good transition seasons are literal godsends to any given series and are in their own way more valuable to me than major dramatic arcs.  And make no mistake Volume 4 is a transition series.  It’s by far the slowest and most character focused of all the Volumes and it’s ending sets the stage for the next major arc.  But I think I like Volume 4 the most.  The CG sees huge improvements, I’d argue it’s the best purely CG show ever made or at least that I’ve ever seen.  But setting aside the visuals, if Volume 3 was where the big wow moments were then Volume 4 is where shit gets heavy.  Everyone is grappling with the loss of Pyrrha, most notably Jean, who has taken all that’s left of her, her weapon and armor, and combines them with his old gear, but Yang, Blake and Weiss all have confront themselves and their problems while they mostly sit at home.  If I had to encapsulate this Volume’s appeal in one scene though, I’d pick the scene where Jean is up after everyone is asleep, I mean Ruby gets up because she hears him but whatever, practicing sword drills prescribed to him by Pyrrha via instructional videos, where she says “I want you to know that I’m just happy to be a part of your life, I’ll always be here for you Jean.” at the end of video, while he pauses to hear her say that line before putting the video on repeat and continuing with sword drills, was quite possibly the most emotional thing I’ve ever seen.  I fucking tearing up right now as I’m writing about it.  It hits that hard, and importantly it feels so real because real people do this kind of shit, staring at pictures or reading messages from lost loved ones well after the funeral.  This is probably my favorite scene in RWBY and I doubt that will change.

Moving on, Volume 4 spends a lot of time with Blake, Weiss and Yang as they all deal with their issues before finding their resolve and choosing to continue the fight.  We find out that Blake was the daughter of the head of the White Fang back when it was peaceful and now the governor the Faunus homeland of Menagerie.  We get a lot of whining from Blake about how she wants people, her parents and friends who get hurt fighting the White Fang, to stay away from her so they don’t get hurt.  But ultimately what is shown is that she wants them to lash out at her, she wants to be punished for what she sees as her sins in involving these people in her struggles, and nobody does.  What Sun and her father force her to realize is that they love her and therefore chose this fight themselves or forgive her past transgressions respectively, that it’s not all her fault and that running away is the worst option to take because that hurts those close to her more than the physical wounds or family arguments.  Weiss’s family attempts to  lock her up in the house and after realizing that she hates abiding by Atlas’ high society and social rules when there are greater dangers afoot runs from home.  Yang deals with traumatic flashbacks to Adam cutting her arm off, gets a mechanical arm, spars with her dad and ultimately regains her confidence and fire so she can get back in the fight.  Most notable about Yang’s story is that the new arm comes to her right away but because of the trauma and lost confidence she doesn’t start using it immediately because she’s not sure she wants back into the fight.  It’s a nice touch and it gives her time to talk to adults and work through her problems.

However the real stars of character development in Volume 4 are Ren and Nora.  Nora has always been a fun character since Volume 1 and Ren had no discernible personality whatsoever and was mainly known for being skilled, ironic considering how little this was actually shown after the exam in Volume 1.  In Volume 4 we finally get his backstory as a former rich kid whose life imploded when a powerful Grimm killed his parents and wrecked his hometown, an event which only he and the street urchin he met that day, Nora, survive.  This explains why the two have always been inseparable but more importantly it finally gives Ren in particular a reason for his subdued personality and moments of fiery anger when he meets the monster in the Volume 4 finale.  I’ll cover the monster and that fight in a second but I want to talk about Volume 4 and that fight especially have the only scenes where Nora is actually serious.  She’s such a happy-go-lucky type and her power allows her to live that way, so seeing her be entirely earnest and serious and ultimately give Ren the focus he needs to survive and win the final battle of Volume 4 was pretty awesome to watch and spoke volumes about her strength and depth of character.

Moving away from character stuff Volume 4 introduces us to some of the most powerful and bizarre things in the RWBY-verse.  Ozpin’s body is dead but his soul now has merged with a kid called Oscar and talks to that kid in his head all the time, a well as shares memories and stuff.  We also get a proper introduction to Salem and her other followers, and we see how badly Ruby hurt Cinder in Volume 3, as Cinder had some serious scars, an eyepatch and can barely talk.  The action is a much smaller part of Volume 4 but it’s on the whole very good.  Most of the Grimm introduced in Volume 4 are big, special Grimm that can take a beating like the Geist and Sea Dragon.  Tyrian, a scorpion Faunus and one of Salem’s followers almost kills Qrow in a battle where he basically steamrolls team RNJR before Qrow steps in, and then promptly gets his tail cut off by Ruby because she’s awesome.  The real crown jewel is the Nuckelavee though.

I think it’s by the most terrifying Grimm we’ve ever seen.  Now I want to give RWBY bonus points on three fronts, one for even finding the fucking thing.  I’m a huge fan of mythology and even I’d only heard of the monster once before and didn’t remember the name.  The Nuckelavee is a demon from Orcadian mythology.  Never heard of Orcadian mythology?  Neither had I, it comes from Orkney which is on these tiny islands off the northern coast of Scotland in the ass end of nowhere.  It’s so obscure that I have a “Dictionary of Mythology” which has no mention of the Nuckelavee.  So that it exists in RWBY is impressive enough but I feel the team did an excellent job adapting the mythical monster, you can check the details for yourself if you’re interested, to the Grimm aesthetic.  Even more impressive though was how it moves, fights and sounds.  The Nuckelavee’s signature scream is terrifying, the contorted and ragged movements do a great job making it alien and scary and the extendable arms allow it to fight all of team RNJR at once while still containing elements of the mythical beast.

Moreover the buildup excellent.  We see Ren’s flashback where we hear it, see the destruction it causes but only see it’s hooves and one arm.  We see a battleground covered in blood and broken weapons with a distinct hoof-print in the ground, followed by trees swaying as it moves through the woods approaching Ruby, Jean and the injured Qrow.  Rena and Nora sprint to the others hoping to catch them before the Nuckelavee does and seconds after they meet up with Ruby and Jean we cut to the Nuckelavee at the edge of the town, we finally see it’s grotesque torso and hear the scream before the screen cuts to black.  Then the finale opens on 9 straight minutes of team RNJR fighting their hardest before finally bringing the Nuckelavee down.  And then we get to the end.  We see Yang and Weiss getting near Ruby, Qrow is taken to safety and survives and even meets Oscar, Blake and Sun have geared up to fight the White Fang and this all happens as Ruby writes a super emotional letter, which she also narrates in her head of course, before we end on the big twist, where it turns out where the academy master of Haven, where the characters have mostly ended up, is talking to one of Salem’s subordinates and looks set to betray the world to her.

What I’ve been trying to say here is that even though the narrative and action are slow in RWBY Volume 4, there’s so much going on that it’s just as if not even more engaging than Volume 3.  It adds so much to the characters and the antagonists while setting up the next major event, in addition to having its own awesome climactic battle, that it’s just as important as any major arc.  Storytelling involves a lot of peaks and valleys, the big moments and the transitions, and so many shows opt to have flat expository or lighthearted comedy episodes for their transitions, that I feel transitions that really get shit done and add a lot to the story in some way while still being a blast to watch despite the fact the narrative is slowed down are deserving of the highest praise.  If a transition is strong enough to make potentially better to me than a major dramatic arc, I think that’s impressive and it should be celebrated.  And that’s what I feel Volume 4 is, the best kind of transition.

Before I wrap up I want to talk about one more thing, our main girl Ruby.  Ruby is one of my favorite kinds of characters.  She’s a prodigy, but instead of being great at everything and having guys fall for her right and left like many anime geniuses (albeit most of them are a different gender so switch out girls for guys) she’s really only good at being a Huntress.  She’s awkward in social settings, she can’t move well in high heels, and she goofs around a lot but she doesn’t seem to have any path in life other than Huntress.  Blake, Yang, Weiss, even Jean and Pyrrha all feel like they could do all kinds of other jobs and be all kinds of other people.  Ruby is alone as someone who more or less embodies the idea of a what Huntress is and can’t be anyone else.  This is great conceptually to me and I feel that it’s strengthened by the fact she’s actually the youngest character in the show, I believe she’s 2 or 3 years behind everyone else but is moved up with them thanks to her talent, talent which makes her totally outshine her peers in battle as the series goes on.  The only one who even feels vaguely on her level is Pyrrha, a former Olympic athlete, who dies.  In addition to having the greatest battle skill, I pretty sure she’s also just the strongest as a person, seeing as how she shoulders a lot of weighty decisions herself and sees lots of trauma without running away in some fashion.  What I’m trying to say is I like Ruby.  A lot.  She’s fun to watch and she’s endearing and I’m a big fan.  And the same applies to RWBY.  That’s it, I’m done, thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it.

Raging Rant: Fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi (and Japan)

History anime are by and large a joke.  I say this not because I hate history, in fact I love history the way a normal American loves football and apple pie.  But just fuck Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  With only a few exceptions I’m aware of, all history anime take place during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States Period) in the 1500’s and Loyalist Rebellion in the late 1800’s.  Their have been some fun, good and even famous anime from these time periods, like Rurouni Kenshin or Gintama.  But I, and many people who I’ve also heard complain about this topic, are sick to death of Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi.  They’re fucking everywhere, and even when it’s not about them specifically when I see a show like Onihei roll around I can’t help but be a little disappointed by the fact that it looks just like a show about the Shinsengumi, because the main guy has a similar job.  And Nobunaga is in everything, some of it’s good like the recent Drifters or Nobunagun.  But the stories of these figures are so well trodden and their notable traits, beahviors and even verbal ticks so popularized that they’re pretty fucking boring.  Even in a fantasy show like Drifters you can totally predict that Mitsuhide would show up as an End because Nobunaga was a Drifter, everything about these characters is predictable and that’s rather boring really.

This is why I consider most of the best history shows to be historical fantasies like Seirei no Moribito, which builds a phenomenal setting and society to recreate the feeling of a history show, or Akatsuki no Yona which is great fantasy historical action-romance-drama thing, or Arslan Senki which I’ve praised in detail multiple times, or Katanagatari, which is all about possibilities and subverting history, or Junketsu no Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch) which mixed witches and mythology into the Hundred Years War.  These are all great shows and I highly recommend them but it would be great to get a more normal, realistic history show which avoids Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi somehow.  And we just don’t.  The only example I can come up with is Kingdom, which is fantastic.  The thing that really gets me about this is that it’s not like Oda Nobunaga and Shinsengumi are necessarily the coolest figures, or their eras the coolest points, in Japan’s history.  I think the Gempei War, which completely redefined how Japan’s military, social and political organizations would function from the 1100’s to the 1800’s is far more interesting.  Which is why I was really glad they brought in Yoichi in Drifters and Himiko, a semi-mythical prehistoric queen of Japan, in the awful Nobunaga the Fool, they shed a hint of light on interesting and largely unexplored, in anime at least, periods of history.  Hell a historical fantasy anime featuring Himiko fighting monsters and/or ancient gods practically writes itself.  But what would be even better would be if Japan just branched out a little.

Kingdom and Arslan Senki, and arguably a few scenes from the Fate series are steps in this direction but if we could get a mostly realistic anime of of ancient history outside of Japan I would kill the nearby peasants and loot the local castle to pay for that shit.  There’s so many possibilities, any time period for Rome, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hunnic invasions and the rise of Attila, maybe go for some original story set in Mesoamerica because most of their history is a mystery, or maybe some Viking story about invading Britain or discovering North America, Egypt, the famed Gupta empire and Chandragumpta of India, the great Arab conquests, the Crusades, the Mongol invasions of Europe or China, an original story featuring the Sea Peoples who suddenly ravaged most of the ancient world without warning, you could even do a Gilgamesh spin off set in ancient Sumeria, etc.  The possibilities are endless and that’s just ancient history, what about the Bolshevik Revolution, the Crimean War, the Opium Wars maybe go for the Protestant and Catholic wars following Luther’s 99 Theses, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc.  There are so many possibilities I can’t even list them all and that’s just the the shit I know, there’s tons of history I don’t know jack about that could make great anime too.  But instead we just get Nobunaga and the Shinsengumi on repeat at least dozen times each and they get mentioned in almost everything with even the slightest connection to history and historical figures.  Stop it Japan.

This leads me to my next point and if you read my Patriotism Problem post then this will sound familiar but Japan really needs to work it’s tendency to make Japan always look good.  I’m not even talking about really controversial shit like admitting to the Rape of Nanking,  I’m talking about basic shit not making the JSDF invincible when fighting dragons *cough Gate cough*.  I can’t tell if it comes from the insecurity of an inferiority complex or the ego of a superiority complex but Japan always goes way out of it’s way to make sure it’s the best.  Oh UBW you have super powered historical figures eh?  Fine be sure to give Sasaki Kojuro a technique so good it transcends heroic abilities and enters the realm of divine swordsmanship to make us look better (I’m not making that up UBW’s Assassin technique, the fabled Tsubame Gaeshi, is explained as being better than the power of mere heroes and stepping into the realm of the gods at least in the wiki, can’t remember if that made it into the show itself).  Nobunagun you have people with super powers based on their ties to historical figures? Make sure to give the girl tied to Nobunaga the all-around best abilities to make us look better.  Drifters you have a bunch of historical figures fighting in Middle Earth?  Ok make sure to have an unusually large portion of the heroes taken from Japan and make them all super badass to make us look better.  I could give examples like this for days.

Japan it’s fucking embarrassing, and more than little irritating sometimes.  Look I’m from America and I have no problem with patriotism and being proud of your heritage.  But it intrudes on the story when you say deliberately make Hannibal Barca, one of the most revered generals of all time, a senile old man to make sure he doesn’t outshine his Japanese contemporaries in Drifters for example.  Japan’s obsession with inflating it’s own image and/or worth in historical shows is a complete waste of time.  It’s a minor nuisance at best and can totally break a story at worst.  I just don’t really get why it even exists.  To me it projects an arrogant fragility more than anything else and it severely limits what most anime with even the loosest ties to history can do and where they can take place.  There plenty of western medieval fantasies or recent WWI/WWII era fantasies like Shuumatsu no Izetta but the, in my opinion of course, far more interesting ancient world is left frustratingly untapped because of Japan’s need to always look like the best.

That’s it really, just wanted to flip Japan the bird and scream ineffectually at it like a bunch of liberals at an anti-Trump protest, which is the kind of thing I can only say here because California is overrun by liberals and trying to argue with them is an exercise in futility.  I don’t expect many people to care much about this, I don’t typically envision most readers as history buffs, I just needed to get it out of my system.  On the off chance you are interested give some of those shows I recommended a shot or if you just want to talk history for a bit that’d be fun too.  Thanks for reading and see ya next time.

Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki Season 2

Arslan Senki Season 2 is by far my favorite show of summer 2016.  I know a lot of people are way more hype about Mob Psycho 100, and for good reason it’s been fantastic so far, but Arslan Senki has stood out for me in particular because it’s the only prominent sequel of the season which hasn’t fucked up big time, something I went over in detail in my last post.  In fact, Arslan Senki season 2 adds a surprising amount of detail to the characters, world and overarching plot of the series despite being only eight episodes long.  Moreover the second season concludes it’s arc nicely and lays out everything needed to get a third season started.  Before we move on though I would encourage anyone, it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the show or not, to read my prior review of Arslan Senki as it will introduce the story for newcomers and give you all some idea of where I’m coming from.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki season 2 is everything a proper sequel should be.  It adds substantially to the pre-existing narrative, maintains a level of quality on par with the first season, and, most importantly, it doesn’t fuck anything from season 1 up.  Now all of those things seem pretty basic and obvious but if you’ve been watching many sequels lately you ought to know how often sequels fail to do all, or possibly any, of these things.  Its accomplishments as a sequel are already great enough to excite me, however I think’s also important to note the precise subject material that has been added.  Because what makes Arslan Senki season 2 work is how much less time is focused on Arslan, much like how the early episodes of season one were mostly dedicated to showing how quickly Pars fell once the rug was pulled out from under it.

Arslan and his group do some important things but Hermes and the royal court of Lusitania got a lot more time in the spotlight.  This is vital as it gives both Hermes and the Lusitanians time to develop and grow more nuanced.  Because that was what a lot of Arslan Senki season 2 was, making the pre-existing factions, world and story more nuanced and complex.  One of the things only shown in broad strokes in the later part of season 1, was that there was a lot of division among the main three powers behind the Lusitanians even without the question of Hermes.  In season 2 those divisions are made much clearer and the consequences of that division manifests in interesting ways, like Bodin destroying the aqueduct and leaving Ecbatana with a serious water shortage problem.  In addition we finally got a brief glance at to other nations mentioned but not shown in season 1, Maryam, the fallen ally of Pars and Turan, a hostile nation to the east.  But what I consider the most important additions to the show was the extra development of Hermes.  In season 1 Hermes was this one note, revenge seeker who was clearly going too far in his revenge, which was going to be his downfall.  He’s still this way, but season 2 adds some important details to his backstory, like how he was betrayed multiple times and egged on by the weird sorcerer cult seen in season 1 before he finally snapped and became the kind of guy he is, and even more interestingly that he has romantic feelings for someone, namely the exiled, blind princess of Maryam.  This is important because while it doesn’t change or break his overall character and methods, it adds depth to him and makes much more human, especially when the Maryam princess is introduced.  His quest for revenge is even more justified than it was in season 1 (not that that redeems him from going too far) and a potential marriage with the Maryam princess puts him an ideal position to claim not only Pars, but also Maryam as his rightful kingdom.

Meanwhile Arslan and his gang saved their nation’s major trade hub from corruption and a pirate problem but that honestly wasn’t that important.  Sure, in a big picture sense it was important for the war effort and it was something that needed to happen, but as it’s own story the saving of Gilan was something of a footnote, honestly Arslan’s achievements against the Lusitanians, Sindhura and Turan were far more impressive from a military standpoint and they added a lot more to Arslan and company’s character.  Season 2 was less about Arslan and more about allowing the rest of the world involved get on his level in terms complexity and depth of characterization, and laying the foundation for what looks to be a more substantial third season.  And I will admit that phrasing it that way does make it sound a bit boring, I mean it’s essentially a transition season in-between the first and third season, but it’s a powerhouse at getting things done and to be honest I think it’s very exciting to see a work spend some extra time adding in details and upping its game at the ground level because that tells me the people working on this thing care, it tells me this is not some cash-grab, but rather a serious attempt to bring the Arslan Senki manga to life in animation in it’s full glory.  Moreover I’m both a big fan of history (real and fictional) and I have a massive boner for world building, and this season adds a lot to the world building as well as making the historical aspects of the show more realistic and interesting.

However while the focus is less on Arslan and more about getting the rest of the story ready for the next, bigger season, there is one hugely important development for Arslan, namely that by the end of the second season he’s finally willing to go against his nominal father.  Season 2 made it abundantly clear that Andragoras is a better warrior than season 1 let on, and it also further showcased how pathetic he was as a king.  His escape and subsequent return to the throne should be bringing Pars’s army more morale than it has ever had and effectively nullify any lingering concerns about the proper successor of Pars for the time being.  However because he’s a dick, and to me at least appears unbelievably insecure and petty, he has left Pars’s army more divided than it’s ever been, lowered the morale of his most important generals and effectively thrown away all the talent that Arslan had amassed, talent which had seen Pars not only survive the Lusitanian invasion but even thrive despite the many threats it faced in it’s weakened state.  Now with the second season ending and what looks to be the final conflict coming soon in the third season (which is also hopefully coming soon), Arslan appears ready to stop taking his father’s shit and take the future of Pars into his unquestionably more capable hands.  This a pretty big moment for him personally, it will make things more complicated for Pars in the future and I think it sends a message about kingship that I find very on-point, namely that a king’s greatest skill should not be his physical power or the ability to craft a fearsome reputation but rather the ability to gather and earn the trust and faith of competent people.  What makes Arslan an ideal king is that because he has the loyalty of good strategists and warriors he can devote himself to ruling, to fixing the social problems and cultural divides that caused Pars to fall in the first place.  Meanwhile Andragoras is only good at fighting, a valuable skill, but not something particularly important to kingship.

All three royal members of Pars have been left in interesting positions by season 2’s end.  Andragoras has ostensibly the biggest army of the three and a secure base in Peshawar.  Hermes has a battle-hardened army, a potential royal spouse and the legendary sword of Pars’ founder to give him influence.  Arslan meanwhile has won the hearts and minds of people all over Pars and even some from other nations, making him the ideal king even if he doesn’t necessarily have the tangible assets and credentials of his competitors.  It makes me pretty damn excited for the war to come, especially with the Lustianians divided and the new king of Turan seeking vengeance against Pars.

All told Arslan Senki season 2 got a hell of a lot done in eight episodes.  Characters and royal courts have been fleshed out in more detail.  Important new characters have been introduced and new nations have made their debut.  There were action scenes big and small, intrigue, betrayal and it was all neatly tied up to set the stage for a bigger season to come.  And best of all it proved me wrong, twice.  I was initially a little bummed out with the end of season 1, with main complaint being, “why didn’t they just finish the fight for Ecbatana?”  That question was answered right away as season 2 opens up with an invasion from Turan which Arslan had to turn back and fight because Peshawar was currently more valuable than Ecbatana.  I was also concerned that with just eight episodes this season was basically going to be a pointless spin-off which wouldn’t be on par with season one, and as I’ve explained above I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I’m very much impressed with Arslan Senki seasons 1 and 2, and if you haven’t checked them out already, I would highly recommend you do so.

This next bit isn’t really all that important to the review but it’s something I wanted to touch on anyway.  I wanted to talk about the historical inspirations behind the world of Arslan Senki and what that could theoretically mean for the show.  Pars is based off of ancient Persia, the heart of which is modern day Iran, and though the map has been warped a bit, the map of Pars is mostly accurate to it’s real world counterpart, ancient Persia.  Pars appears to border what would be the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and the Arabian Sea in our world and this is fairly accurate, though it would mean Pars has control of Armenia in our world.  This would make Maryam a nation of steppe nomads but they look more like that world’s version of Armenians to me, which is in keeping with warped map, if Pars occupies land that would be Armenia, then Armenia could be shifted north and made into Maryam.  Sindhura is a bit weird because it’s inspired by India but the kingdoms terrain is desert not jungle. On that note Pars doesn’t seem too heavily influenced by Persian culture, it’s armies wear vaguely eastern armor and they have slaves but other than that they don’t seem rock an eastern vibe as much as Sindhura.  Turan meanwhile is a bit of mystery because it could one of several options.  Based on their name the most obvious answer would be that Turan is based on the ancient Turks, who were nomads before they settled in Turkey.  However they could also be Dahae, an eastern steppe nomad people or Parthia, which was a steppe nomad nation which eventually became more traditionally eastern culturally, and which would eventually become a major power in the Middle East.

The most interesting faction by far though is the Lusitanians.  Based on their wargear and zealotry it’s fairly obvious that they are based on the crusader armies of Europe.  However their name implies something different and it’s going to be important.  Thus far most of the nations of Arslan Senki are based on nations from the ancient world with Turan being the only exception if we assume they based on the Turks, who weren’t a prominent force until later.  Turan could also theoretically be inspired by the Huns which would be more period appropriate but that seems less likely to me.  Instead of crusaders, the Lusitanian’s could be based on the inhabitants of Lusitania, the Lusitani.  Lusitania was the Roman name for what is today Portugal, and the Lusitani were an ancient world tribe of Iberians.  Assuming that the world map of Arslan Senki’s world is mostly accurate to our own, as is the case for the region shown in the show, that would mean the Lusitanians could theoretically control as much territory as the Roman empire did in our world, they would after all be coming from west of Spain and gotten as far east as Iran.  Even if they went mostly in straight line and didn’t conquer as much territory to the north and south as Rome did, that’s still a staggering amount of territory to control, which means lots of resources and soldiers.  If this was in fact the case it would mean the Lusitanian’s are exponentially more powerful than Pars and could be bringing in even larger armies in the future.  This doesn’t guarantee victory of course, numbers alone don’t win wars and even if they did it’s fucking hard to win wars when you are far from your home base.  This is all drawn from a mix of historical knowledge and speculation of course, but how interesting would it be if it was revealed that the Lusitanian army that sacked Ecbatana was just a vanguard for a much larger force?  What would that force Arslan, Hermes and Andragoras to do?  Would they join forces, would they continue to fight?  Would they drive the Lusitainians out for good (the ancient Germans did something similar to Rome, they killed so many soldiers, a full 10% of Rome’s total military might, in the Battle of Teutoberg Forest that Rome just said fuck it and never invaded again), or would they fall, or maybe be weakened enough to fall to Turan or Sindhura?  The possibilities are endless and while it looks like none of them will actually happen, it is a fun thought exercise and something I very much wanted to get off my chest.  Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Season’s Greetings: Summer 2016 Follow-up

This season follow up is going to be a bit different than normal.  Rather than talk about everything I’m watching in brief and say this show is good, like Mob Psycho 100, or this show is ok, or this show has been dropped, I want to talk in more detail about a couple of shows which I feel mostly strongly about for this season.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Arslan Senki:  This is a fantastic sequel, which makes me very sad because it’s already half way over.  I still don’t know why the show is stuck with only eight episodes but damn has it made each episode count.  We’ve had some good battles of the small and large variety, major political developments like Andragoras’ escape and subsequent banishment of Arslan.  The setting has drastically changed as the focus has shifted to the coast, a welcome scenery change and more importantly a place where Farangis’ skimpy outfits look much more appropriate as many people in the region are indeed wearing less clothing.  Perhaps most importantly though, the show has given Hermes some surprising depth as a character.

Now Hermes worked fine as someone solely consumed by revenge, and to some extent he still is that guy, but now we have much more insight into his background and character.  How it took multiple betrayals for him to truly turn to hatred, how the masked sorcerers have been intent on using him since the beginning and have egged him onto his path of destruction.  Best of all though was the reveal that he had a woman he truly cared about and in his own way appears to still care very much about.  Hermes’ revenge has become more justified than ever, though his actions have still gone too far to be considered just, and the man himself has become more nuanced and human than he was before.  In season one he was just the raging anti-hero-turned-villain who had nothing but cruelty and rage to his character, now he has much more.  Love exists in him somewhere, his rage has multiple sources from which to boil.  Hermes has become a far more interesting character with a single episode of backstory to flesh him out.  Well done Arslan Senki, well done indeed.  Also Andragoras has become even more hate-able and I’m all for his eventual downfall.

Hitori no Shita: The Outsider:  I’m not going to lie I don’t have a lot to say about this one.  It is not visually impressive though I don’t think it looks bad either.  Most of the characters are a mess thus far, some are edgy, some naive, some so blatantly fake you’d have to be dumb, deaf and blind to miss it and some who orgasm while sitting atop a corpse, not fucking a corpse mind you, just sitting on it.  That said there are few things I find interesting.  Everyone of note in the show has superpowers but instead of the superpowers being generic or inventive and having all kinds of variety, all of the powers revealed thus far have some connection to Chinese lore and mysticism, a welcome change for me as a guy who’s into lore and mysticism himself.  But what truly saves the show is the main girl Baobao/Houhou.  Baobao looks like the girl from the ring, has a great deadpan voice even if her reactions aren’t always deadpan, and she fights incredibly well with her knife.  In the first episode she reminded me a lot of Shiki from the Kara no Kyoukai films, which I like, as she mowed down a horde of zombies with her knife alone.  And episode two showcased her fighting prowess again but also hinted that she is far stronger than what we’ve seen already as her final attack on the main guy, powered up by his special kung fu, happens off-screen.  I can’t say this show has a lot of promise but it does promise a lot of action and I’m down for that, especially watching if I’m watching Baobao fight.

Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin:  This is a show I’m guessing has been badly overlooked.  The title alone is a headache to read and none of the characters or locations have memorable names because all their names are shit.  That said the show looks decent both visually and in terms of plot and characters.  The setting in particular shows tons of potential as pre-WWI tech is fused with magical spirits to add some flair to the combat.  Likewise the politics of the show seem notably more interesting than normal even though the show hasn’t really done anything with them yet.  Most importantly though I wanted to talk about the male and female leads.  The leading lady is not all that interesting as an individual but I definitely like how she is much stronger on a physical level than the main guy and can use her skills to either save his ass or beat his ass whatever the situation.  The main duo draws inspiration from the relationship between Ferris and Ryner Lute from Legend of Legendary Heroes when it comes to their chemistry, and they improve on that formula by not having the main girl beat the main guy pointlessly for laughs.  The main guy is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a Ryner Lute clone though he’s still very different.

Now I was lukewarm towards the main guy in episodes one and two but episode three seals the deal for me.  The whole time he acts like a playful dick, save for a few moments when he gets serious and almost kills the princess, who’s very forward towards women.  That last bit mostly seemed to be played as joke but in episode three the squad he ends up being assigned is controlled by it’s sergeant, the daughter of a woman the main guy slept with before the show started.  This is what sold me, because it means his forwardness wasn’t just for laughs and stupid light novel dialogue, this guy has actually got some action and with a milf no less.  This is pretty rare for anime and I find myself impressed that they went this route, it added a lot to my investment in the main guy.  I don’t think this show will ever be great, but I do feel like it’s being overlooked and underrated by many.

orange:  Orange is the show that I feel is doing the best job of wasting it’s potential.  It’s hard to say where this show starts fucking up but if I had to pick a starting point I’d say it fails at a conceptual level.  See the thing about orange is that you could take a lot of what it already has and tweak it to make a much more interesting show.  Before I get to that let me explain why I feel the premise is wasted on what is essentially a shoujo romantic drama.  For one thing I’m not a shoujo man, I can’t stand seeing people freeze up and get flustered over the most insignificant shit.  I remember what it was like to be an awkward teenager but shoujo characters amplify that by an order of magnitude beyond my own experience, and I wasn’t even a confident outgoing guy.  This is especially true when the premise of this show gets involved.  See the problem with shoujo genre and the premise of the show, sending a letter back in time to clear your regrets and save your friend, is that they don’t mix very well.  For example it’s very hard to see how Naho playing the final round of a softball game and getting her team to win helps save Kakeru from dying or clears any meaningful regret.  Look I get that people have stupid regrets that stick with them, every now and then my brain loves to remind me of this one screw up I made during a middle school basketball game, but that screw up has no bearing on my life and I don’t really regret it anymore, I just laugh at my stupid mistake from the past.  So how the fuck did Naho not playing that one round of softball stick with her after she had a life, a marriage and kids?  It just seems so stupid.

Some tips from her future letter are more obviously helpful like getting Kakeru to play soccer but still it seems like Naho is undoing minor shit thus far and it seems altogether to childish and shoujo-y for lack of a better term to have any impact on me.  And the only time this is subverted and real dramatic stakes are in play is held together by pure contrivance.  See the dramatic twist was that Kakeru’s mom committed suicide when he was hanging out with the group in episode one, and to the show’s credit that was a dramatic event and shows that this show can go beyond shoujo bullshit.  However what many fail to realize is that the whole thing was contrived bullshit.  See future Naho knew about the consequences of Kakeru hanging out with the group but she didn’t write them in the letter so they could have the dramatic suicide reveal later.  But the thing is, Naho would never have done that, if she behaved in character future Naho would have told present Naho about the suicide and how to prevent it and present Naho would have made sure it didn’t happen.  But future Naho doesn’t do that, so that the writers can have their dramatic reveal.  This is bullshit, you should never have to make your characters act out of character to make something happen, it’s bad form.  Moreover you don’t have to, it would have been so easy to make this show far more dramatic without resorting to contrivance.

What they should have done was make orange a drama thriller with some romance on the side.  In this orange, which for ease of use will be dubbed Bloodorange, you introduce drama not by failing to tell consequences but by having consequences future Naho doesn’t predict.  See in Bloodorange, the idea would be the letter works perfectly a few times, so it seems reliable, but then new scenarios it doesn’t predict pop up, or actions that didn’t lead to consequences before lead to worse consequences now because of the changes made to this timeline.  The point is that Naho should be able to find security in the letter’s advice only to have that security ripped away when changes to the timeline render it less helpful and possibly useless.  You could even subvert the letter early on by having minor changes to the predicted scenario occur, say maybe on the third regret the event was a bowling event instead of a softball game, but where the outcome is not affected by the prediction so it still works out, making the letter seem reliable while planting the seeds of the idea that it can be flawed for later use.

Because the thing with orange is that it has one great idea going for it, namely that what causes Naho and Kakeru the most pain is Naho’s inaction or hesitation to act.  It’s a great idea and one which would fit perfectly into Bloodorange, where Naho is forced to choose between following the letter’s advice, failing to act at all or ignoring the advice but acting on her own instincts because the consequences of each action is no longer known.  By the end of either show, Naho should grow up and become more assertive, gain confidence and put more faith in herself so that she can save herself and save Kakeru.  This would be even better if in the future she was single and a wreck, or had married Kakeru only to lose him and become a wreck.  That way future Naho wouldn’t be undoing regrets by advising her past self but instead attempting to save herself and her friend/boyfriend/husband in the process.  Bloodorange, needless to say, would be a fucking awesome drama thriller and I’d love to see it. Unfortunately orange is not Bloodorange nor will it ever be Bloodorange.  Instead we have a romantic drama, with heavy shoujo influences which just bores me to tears.  I dropped this show after episode three because it was such a slog to watch and because it’s best moment came from a contrivance.  And it makes me mad because in Bloodorange I see how you take most of what this show is already doing and change it up a little bit to make a much more interesting show, one I’ll likely never get to see.

Qualidea Code: Let me be clear here, Qualidea Code is not very good.  The visuals are unimpressive and possibly substandard.  The premise is generic and boring.  The enemies look terrible.  But here’s the thing, I already knew that from before the show aired, because in the synopsis it said the alien invaders were called UNKNOWN, and I thought “damn if you can’t even come up with a name for the enemy this show will not be creative at all.”  However I think there is something here worth celebrating and that’s the characters.  Not the characters as the actual individuals, those aren’t that good as of yet, it’s more of what they represent.  Qualidea Code has taken a bunch of light novel character tropes and put a new spin on them.  Most importantly the main guy is not the strongest and is unlikely to ever be the strongest.  This is especially good when you consider that the main guy is a dick whose obsessed with his spot on the school ranking system.  This guy wants to be number one and will do all sorts of reckless shit to get there.  He gets some additional depth in episode three but I think the most important thing to take away from his character at the moment is how he is the one obsessed with ranks and isn’t the strongest one, as that kind of role typically falls to the leading lady of light novel shows.  Speaking of the leading lady, I do think it’s a good thing that she’s highly ranked despite having no offensive power because her support is so good, but otherwise she’s not too interesting.  The main other characters of not are the main guy’s rival and the strongest girl.

The rival character borrows the archetype seen in shows like Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei, Rakudai Kishi no Calvary and Shokugeki no Souma, wherein he is a dangerous and powerful character but is unrecognized as such because of how the ranking system works.  However unlike the protagonists of those shows, who typically go out to challenge the current ranking system and prove it wrong, this rival guy doesn’t give a shit about the rankings at all.  He’s totally unbothered by his low and continuously dropping rank because it doesn’t hinder or interest him in the slightest.   It’s nothing spectacular but it is a nice touch and works well as foil to the main guy, who is obsessed with rank and thrives in the current system.  But best of all is Hime.  Hime is basically a girl version of Naruto at the end of his journey, she’s a total idiot, very good natured, and unstoppably powerful.  Hime is particularly interesting to me because a, she is far and away the strongest character in the show, b, gives no shits about rank while being ranked number one thus proving another good foil to the main guy, and c, is these things while being a total idiot and a girl.  Anime has a lot of strong women but in most shows with them the women aren’t usually the most powerful character in their show and I’ve never seen any show with a woman who acted so much like shounen protagonist before especially not when most people around her act more like jaded light novel characters.  Regardless of the coming execution of these characters I do think Qualidea Code is interesting for it’s willingness to try and put a whole new spin on some well established character archetypes.

And that about wraps this up.  If you made it this far thank you for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Arslan Senki

The Summer 2016 season of anime is rapidly approaching and three big sequels are on the horizon.  The continuation of D Gray-Man and the CG Berserk sequel are the bigger sequels of the three but since I’ve already talked about the original D Gray Man before and never really got into Berserk (shocking as that may seem), instead I’m going to talk about the predecessor to sequel number 3, Arslan Senki, there will be spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

In case you never saw the original Arslan Senki, by which I mean the first season which came out in 2015 not the original OVAs from the 90’s because I haven’t seen those, here’s a quick recap.  Arslan Senki is a fantasy anime technically, though it usually more closely resembles a history anime with some fantastical elements.  It follows the journey of Arslan, heir to the throne of Pars, a rich and powerful kingdom which appears to have been inspired by ancient Persia.  The bulk of the story takes place after the Parsian army suffers a huge defeat at the hands of the Lusitanians, who appear to have inspired by the Crusader armies of medieval Europe.  Arslan is on the run and has only a few trusted allies to turn to, while his father the king is missing and the capitol city lies under siege.  Arslan and his allies must work carefully to build enough support to drive out the invading army and other, more sinister forces that dwell in their midst.  There’s plenty of action involved and while the story thus far has not been complex, the relatively simple tale has been told with great skill I feel, making it easy to get invested in the characters.  Overall I would recommend the show, it’s a solid, dependable story that never left me feeling bored.  If you haven’t seen the show and want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop here, because it’s time to get into more detail.

Arslan Senki has an interesting and problematic start.  The first episode is solid, introduces a few characters, introduces one of the central tenets of the story’s overarching conflicts, slavery, and generally gets us to understand that Arslan is a kind and somewhat wimpy prince living in nation that is very proud of it’s military might and warrior-king Andragoras.  We also learn that Andragoras and his queen, Tahamine, are not on very good terms with each other and on even worse terms with Arslan.  The series then skips forward two years to get the catastrophic defeat at Atropatene.  This is where the series took a nosedive for me the first time I watched it.  For one thing, the CG used during large scale battles is not very good and they don’t use it to do impressive things like say Kingdom would do to make up for the downgrade in visual quality.  But to me it was the logic of the series that shattered my immersion in the story.  Ok so get this, the king of Pars is a renowned warrior and general who has never been beaten before and when the Lusitanians invade he decides to engage them on a battlefield that is shrouded in fog where you can’t see shit.  Now I understood that the conceit was that Andragoras was too proud to retreat and too confident in victory to suspect that this was part of a trap, but even so how the fuck does any general decide ‘yeah let’s charge headlong into a battlefield where we can’t see anything,’ let alone a general who has never lost before?  Ancient battlefields were already a chaotic mess thanks to the delays in relaying information and commands, and you now, the mess that is melee combat, no general in their right mind would charge into a battlefield where they can’t see anything.  It would have made way more sense for them have just waited the fog out or retreated to a more defensible position.  All of this still bugs me, but on my second viewing of the show it bothered me a lot less because Andragoras honestly isn’t that important to the story, and because the show is styling itself as an epic or legend, so it makes more sense because legends and epics tend to have more overblown and unrealistic characters in them so it just kinda fit.

The problems only got worse during my first viewing as the first few episodes have little for Arslan to do since he’s forced to hide while larger and more important events happen around him, like the siege of Ecbatana.  Funnily enough though, I actually thought this was one of the more exciting parts when I rewatched it and I think I get why in retrospect.  The early episodes, minus episode one which was mostly a standalone introduction, flow into each other really well and do a great job portraying the chaos and scale of the Lusitanian invasion and the speed with which Pars falls once the rug is pulled out from under it.  Sure Arslan’s part of the story is pretty slow but he’s not really in focus yet, he’s just a loose thread that needs to be cut to tie off a much larger scheme, and once he goes into hiding the full force of the scheme takes center stage while loose-thread Arslan is put on the back-burner.  So if you watched it and thought the early stuff was boring enough to get you to drop I would encourage you to give the first five episodes or so a shot because they were so much better when I marathoned them rather than watching week by week.  Anyway I think it’s time to get a bigger picture of the story.

To me, Arslan Senki has a great story.  It’s simple but effective and it’s very easy to latch onto and support.  Arslan can appeal to a lot of people because he’s the underdog, an outsider in several ways when compared to his family and allies, very open-minded, just generally a decent guy and he has way more on his plate than anyone his age should have to deal with.  Arslan compensates by attracting powerful and competent allies but the prince himself feels like a much more real and down to earth character amid a cast full of characters who are more clearly designed to fill well-worn story archetypes like the heroic knight, the brilliant tactician, the priestess and so on.  And I’m glad that Hermes is a straight up villain instead of some kind of anti-hero.  I’ve talked about this before in an old post about anti-heroes, as well my reviews of Death Note and Code Geass, but the overwhelming majority of anti-heroes in anime are vengeance seekers and most of them cross the line into becoming just as bad as villains at some point, but they are rarely actually treated by their stories and fanbases as if they were villains.  Both Light and Lelouch are still mostly viewed as sort of good guys by a lot of people in the anime community, while characters like Sasuke get to turn around and redeem themselves from their terrible crimes without a  whole lot of effort.  And that’s always bugged me because I feel that once these guys go too far they really only have two options, either they become villains or they spend a significant portion of their life seeking redemption, like Akame from Akame ga Kill.  But for whatever reason I don’t see a lot of people labeling Light and Lelouch as villains, even the shows they belong to portray them as sort of justified, when by the end they are far worse than any of the people they were fighting against, and that does not sit well with me.  Which is why I’m a big fan of Hermes, he’s a guy who has taken his revenge too far and is made the villain for it.  I loved how Arslan worries for a while about whether or not Hermes’ crimes might be justified by his quest for revenge but then concludes that it doesn’t matter if Hermes is justified or not because the lengths he’s gone to to see his vengeance realized have robbed his cause of any legitimacy it might have had.  Because that’s the way I feel about Light and Lelouch and a lot of vengeance seekers, it doesn’t matter if their cause was sort of just or their ideals sort of good, they went so overboard in pursuit of those things they are ultimately irredeemable to me.  Hermes embodies this idea and the fact that he is so blatantly the villain is refreshing.

But getting back to the rest of the story, I think what makes Arslan Senki good is that it mostly appears so obvious.  The broad strokes of the story are telegraphed well in advance, they even say when Arslan makes the declaration to abolish slavery that he later became known as Arslan the Liberator because of this, which strongly suggests he comes out of this contest on top if the title itself wasn’t enough of a tip off.  And given how invincible all of Arslan’s companions appear when compared to everyone except Hermes, it’s never a surprise when Narsus outsmarts all of his opponents or Daryun kills a major enemy like Bahadur or Xandes.  Arslan makes up for being predictable in the broader scope of things by being more surprising and engaging in the details.  For example, while it’s immediately apparent Arslan isn’t loved much by the king and queen, it’s not revealed until much later that he likely isn’t related to either of them (though he looks like he should be the queen’s son if not the king’s) and spent his early years in an orphanage not knowing he was a prince at all.  Likewise I would get bored by Narsus unbeatable strategies if the show didn’t go out of it’s way to show how his plans work in action across the full battlefield and without much in the way of exposition to boot.

An especially good detail is how different Lusitanians act with regard to their religious beliefs, they’re collectively painted as a bunch of religious nutjobs and they kind of are.  But in between the sweeping generalizations and almost hilariously overblown characters like Bodin, who honestly feels like he would fit right in in Akame ga Kill, there’s more depth.  You have soldiers who don’t really care about the actual tenets of their religion, they just use it as a tool to take what they want.  You have others who refuse or question Bodin’s commands, or that one guy, who I wish they showed more of, who straight up called his own religious leader a bloodthirsty devil and openly wonders what the hell kind of god would accept child-killers like himself and many other soldiers into heaven.  Even the Lusitanian prince doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about religion and only exploits it when Bodin makes grabs for power.  On the other end of the spectrum you have Etoile who takes her religion so seriously she honestly can’t understand why others don’t see it’s greatness and criticizes her men when they act outside of her faith’s moral tenets.  You even have the women who are so insane in their faith that they would rather throw themselves off a building than be captured.  All of this is in service of showing how horrible and hollow religion and faith can be, and I want to stress the can because religion and faith certainly aren’t all bad regardless of how cynically this show views them and it’s not like people don’t find other reasons to be horrible, and sets up the Lusitanians’ downfall.  There’s a line from a captured Parsian knight right as the siege of Ecbatana starts where he says something like he’ll watch from the afterlife as the Lusitanians’ fanatical religion and their cruel acts of faith end up devouring them, and aside from that line being a great one liner in context it’s totally predictive of where the series is going.  When the Lusitanians had momentum and unity they won, but the longer they stay in Pars the more they fragment and begin to die.

The characters for all their reliance on very basic and well known archetypes are also pretty good, or perhaps enjoyable would be a more precise term.  I think what makes most of the characters be enjoyable is how they change depending on who they talk to.  For example Daryun is the stereotypical perfect knight whenever Arslan is present and all of his lines include the word Denka (Highness) in them somewhere, which makes him pretty flat and boring in the name of getting his sheer dedication and loyalty acorss.  By contrast he feels much more human and detailed when he’s alone with Narsus where’s he allowed to poke fun at his friend, talk about Arslan’s potential lineage problems and other topics he doesn’t want Arslan to know about.  Likewise I could see people getting annoyed with Alfreed because when she’s around Narsus she’s obnoxiously clingy and always bickering with Elam, but she really comes into her own when she’s talking to other women and is allowed to have actual conversations about her goals, beliefs and relationships that give her more depth.  Almost all of the main characters have this sort dual-characterization, they behave in a specific archetypal way around some characters and are allowed to be more varied and human around others, and as far as I can tell it works, it sells me these characters who would otherwise be totally boring when they weren’t doing something badass.

The main exception to this rule is Arslan himself whose character is governed by a term I’m now-coining the Yona Effect.  In Akatsuki no Yona, Yona the heroine was totally useless for the first few episodes, she had no skills, no contacts, no nothing and she was totally dependent on Hak to survive.  What made Yona such a fantastic character though is that she forced herself to improve because she was tired of being useless.  This attitude pops up all the time, mostly in shounen shows, where characters say something “dammit I want to stronger…”  What makes Yona special however is that she can remain a relatively weak character and we can still appreciate how much she grows because she started somewhere even worse, whereas in a typical shounen story a character gets overpowered as they improve themselves.  It’s also just a lot more endearing and gripping to see a totally weak character grow into someone stronger than it is to see a character who is already strong get even stronger.  And Arslan follows this model almost to the letter, he does have some sword skills early on but not nearly enough to survive on his own, and otherwise he has no skills whatsoever.  In the early episodes he constantly tries to do something, just to feel less useless and ends up breaking all the plates he touches and that sort of thing.  Which is why by the first season’s end when he gets to the point where he’s grown in confidence and skill but still remains weaker than his allies, you really appreciate how much work it took to get where he is.  It’s not handled quite as well as Yona’s development but it has a similar effect nonetheless and it’s a much needed break from Arslan’s more invincible allies.

So far I’ve been going on and on about the good stuff and only mention some of the bad stuff in passing like the bad CG.  So I think it’s time to get some complaining in.  When I finished the first season I had two major problems, One, I thought the show really should have done more to resolve the main conflict because I didn’t know we would get a sequel so soon and while the first season did end at a natural break in the story, it also left off right in the middle of incredibly important, huge and urgent story of Arslan reclaiming Ecbatana.  Two, why did we waste fiveish episodes on Arslan’s sidequest in Shindra?  Now it’s not that I disliked the episodes in Shindra, and I do like the addition of Jaswant to Arslan’s party.  However given how relatively unimportant the Shindra part of the story was and how those fiveish episodes could have been used to further Arslan’s main goal of driving the Lusitanians out of Pars, I thought it was a waste of time and after re-watching it, I still feel mostly the same the way.  In fact the only good thing which I didn’t notice before from the Shindra arc was Farangis’ costume change and let’s address that too.

As I’ve discussed several times before, I am big fan of strong women and Farangis qualifies as such.  I like her aloof, dignified demeanor, archery skills, slight of air mystery when it comes to her ability to hear Djinn and other magical/religious knowledge and of course how she is a hot mature woman.  What I am not a big fan of however is her costume, she might as well be wearing just her underwear and a cape for all the clothes she has on.  I get that the idea was to promote her sexual appeal but come the fuck on guys, she had all the appeal in the world without being half naked.  Her outfit is totally at odds with her profession, priestesses usually aren’t known for their skimpy outfits, and her aloof, dignified demeanor, I mean most people would look absolutely ridiculous is they acted with a tenth of the pride she has while wearing the same outfit.  To the show’s credit it does not obsess over Farangis’ lack of clothes and put her in a bunch of shots that emphasize her cleavage and whatnot like so many anime do, but still I always thought the outfit itself was in poor taste.  I don’t know maybe I’m just a bit of a prude, or maybe it’s because I’m not 15 years old anymore, but that outfit just does not appeal to me, aside from it already being a low class act in and of itself, it does not mesh with the character at all and even seems a bit disrespectful to Farangis herself. Like shouldn’t a character this awesome deserve an outfit that reflects her better and isn’t designed for base titillation?  What’s more it doesn’t even get you much, most shots with Farangis focus on her gorgeous face and maybe her bust, you only really see the full skimpiness her outfit in battle scenes where it’s important to see the whole body, and boy does it look out of place there.  In the Shindra arc they actually put Farangis in an outfit with some real clothes and she looked so much better, because she looked more like a real person in a real place, not a character from a porn game in the middle of a serious, historic setting.  And then when they go back to Pars she ditches the clothes and ugh…fuck this is ridiculous.  I know this is such a small tangent and it really has no bearing on the show but just… FUCK.  Is it really too much to ask for some more thoughtful and thematically appropriate costume designs?  Seeing strong women get thrown into trashy outfits that don’t fit them all just drives me up the fucking wall.  This is even more frustrating than having big tits as the default setting for anime women, which I bitched about before.  Ugh.

To summarize, Arslan Senki is a good show with a lot of different strengths and I for one am looking forward to season 2.  I am also fervently praying that someone on the creative staff will have a flash of reason and put Farangis in some real clothes again.  I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

PS: If you enjoyed Arslan Senki and/or this review there’s more, the Arslan Senki Season 2 review is out.