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

monmusu

VS

date a live

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

medaka box

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: Koutestujou no Kabaneri

You know I usually I don’t do longer analytical posts of newly finished show but I saw a video a few days ago talking about why Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was a good time despite how a ton of people on the internet said it went way downhill, and I feel the need to speak up as well. If you haven’t seen the show and want spoiler free recommendation to watch or not watch, my answer is yes, you should absolutely watch it, now let’s dig into the show in more detail.  There will be spoilers ahead.

So the argument presented in the video that got me to write this post was as follows: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was never about making a great story is was about showing you a bunch of awesome shit and making sure you had a good time, so it seems weird to complain about the weak story elements.  I’m grossly oversimplifying and cutting the argument down of course but that was the main thrust of the video.  And I have mixed feelings about this.  Because I don’t this video’s argument is wrong per se, I just have a different perspective.  Because in the video part of the argument is that all the plot elements that come into play in the second half of the show, which is what most people seem to be ragging on, are present early on and are predictable as fuck.  I agree with this part of the argument but I don’t a lot of the things people are complaining about were ever bad nor do I think the story doesn’t really matter.  This brings me to the director of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, Tetsuro Araki.

Araki has worked on some of the biggest shows in the anime industry, he directed Death Note, Shingeki no Kyojin, High School of the Dead and now Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  However despite his rather impressive resume I’m not much a fan of Araki.  My impression of Araki is that he is phenomenal at crafting big hype moments, at making mind-blowing action scenes or building up tension so high that eating a chip can become hype as fuck, this is Araki’s strong suit and it’s a great strong suit to have, in my opinion him being good at big dramatic hype moments is what has made his biggest hits so damn popular.  However, I also feel like Araki is pretty bad at telling stories.  In Shingeki no Kyojin and Death Note in particular I felt like Araki mangled the pacing of the show by throwing us into the action right away and then being forced to get slow as fuck to get all the setting and plot details to catch up to the big action scenes.  This could just be a fault of the source material as well, I don’t know, but Araki’s shows tend to get a lot weaker when slower, plot driven episodes take center stage.  This presents a problem for me because I am a story guy, like don’t get wrong I dig the hype moments and I’ll take a good hype moment over a mediocre story any day, my favorite scene in Shingeki no Kyojin was when giant Eren threw giant Annie over a huge building and then crashed through the building to keep the fight going for instance, but ultimately stories are more interesting to me than just big moments.

This is why I think High School of the Dead might be Araki’s best work, because it doesn’t need a story at all, it’s basic zombie fare with better action and hilariously over the top fanservice.  To some people that makes High School of the Dead low hanging fruit, but I always loved High School of the Dead though because it has great, memorable moments as it moves from one action set piece to the next with story that is simple and easily understood, really it’s more of placeholder than anything.  High School of the Dead is a show where the big ridiculous moments and drama (and of course fanservice) are king, and in my mind that what Araki is great at and the show never suffers from slow, plot driven episodes, which is what he’s not so great at.  This is why I understand why so many people think the second half of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is bad, regardless of their actual reasoning, what details they take issue with and so on, Araki has always been weaker when it comes to plot to me and it’s not at all unreasonable to expect the same of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  Even the guy who made the video I’ve been mentioning thought it went downhill in the second half even though it was still a good time.

But this is where I disagree, because I don’t think anything went downhill.  In fact my main complaint is that the show wasn’t given enough time to properly flesh itself out.  Because while the show had plenty of hype moments it also had excellent story elements which, if further explored, could have made for a really impressive story.  For example one thing I found myself questioning was why did the pregnant woman from episode three take so long to turn into a Kabane when Ikoma was going to be turned super fast.  But then I remembered that Ikoma’s sister took a long time to turn, and then they brought up that only female Kabaneri can become Fused Colonies and it got me thinking about how the show has what it takes to make total sense of the Kabane virus.  See because men and women can have different symptoms or be affected differently by the same disease or condition all the time in the real world, you easily apply the same logic to the Kabane virus and if given the time work out how it functions exactly it could be very interesting.  Likewise Ikoma’s and Biba’s technology makes sense, while also being awesome steampunk shit.  In the video the guy making the argument I’ve been referencing was saying that all kinds of aspects of the show was just about making it cooler, and I don’t disagree so much as I think he’s not giving the show enough credit.  Sure coating swords in the metal of Kabane heart cages to make the blade stronger is there so we can watch someone sword fight with uber zombies, but it also makes sense as a scientific-technology concept and it could potentially be applied to other shit the same way that Ikoma’s jet bullets could be fired from his steampunk pressure gun or the more traditional steam rifles all the bushi used.  Speaking of Ikoma’s gun, in retrospect it reminds a lot of the fat nerd from High School of the Dead and his improvised nail gun, like they have the exact same shorter, snub-nosed look and the fat guy and Ikoma take the same stance when using them, no joke, go compare them it’s awesome.

Likewise I feel that Biba and his group were a lot more compelling than most people give them credit for.  Sure what he did is fucked up and is by normal standards crazy, but to me he had a very clear logic behind him and I totally get why his men followed in in his insanity.  See Biba both literally and figuratively gets backstabbed by the Shogun, his father.  This is the inciting incident for him turning into a madman and it makes perfect sense.  So get this, you’re twelve and your dad sends you to command a crazy dangerous mission, and against all odds you are doing a good job, then he cuts off the supplies and leaves you to die.  I’d be more surprised by someone who didn’t crack at all in those circumstances or who didn’t want revenge.  And it’s why it makes sense that Biba and his men would go so overboard in the show, they’ve all been left to die and they all feel betrayed and bitter, get a group of people like that together and you have a recipe for disaster.  Not to mention I get why they think differently from everyone else, most people are cowering behind the walls actively avoiding Kabane, Biba and his men are dedicating everything they have to fighting Kabane, their lives are utterly consumed by violence in a dog-eat-dog world where the weak inevitably die off, that it’s all they know.  This is why one of Biba’s men can cut a dude’s arm off and not be at all troubled by it, this is why Biba and his men can level cities and wipe out hordes of helpless innocents and not bat an eye, they no longer have any concept of social norms or peace because those things are meaningless to them and their everyday lives.  Likewise they have been numbed to violence so where everyone else see tragedy when Biba wrecks a city, he and his men see another day at the proverbial office and are not troubled.

Biba and his men have even more weight lent to their actions by their ideals.  Because Biba and Ikoma have almost exactly the same ideals save that Ikoma doesn’t think the strong survive and the weak die.  Both of them want the bushi to stop cowering in fear and fight, to stop killing other people in their fright, like what happened in episode one, to man up and take the fight to the Kabane.  However Ikoma sees the value of the cities as a way to keep the weak safe, Biba sees the cities as what’s holding humanity back and encouraging fear and weakness among the bushi so he’s setting out to destroy them, and get back at the Shogun while he’s at it. Basically the main point I want to make is that I find Koutetsujou no Kabaneri very impressive because it has Araki’s signature hype moments but also has competent storytelling and excellent story elements even if it doesn’t have enough time to flesh them all out in the level of detail I would like and thus do not live up to their full potential for me.  This isn’t to say the show has no problems or has elements that don’t make sense.  Like how come Ikoma and Horobi get blueish-purple psychic powers when they take the black blood, how does that have anything to do with the Kabane?  But Koutetsujou no Kabaneri leaps over the these problems in a heartbeat both by being one of the best examples of storytelling on Araki’s apart, the slower episodes were actually decent in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, and having some of the best hype moments and music of anything I’ve seen in some time.  And for the record this show shits all over Shingeki no Koyjin, so that’s worth some points in my book.

In my opinion this is a must watch show, it’s not the savior of anime, one of the greatest things of all time or even one of may top ten favorites, but all the same I think it something everyone has to see at least once, if for no other reason than to form your own opinion.  For me, I see the work where Araki improved his directing and compensated for his usual weaknesses which is impressive, and I dug the show the entire way through.  Like I said my biggest complaint against the show is that there wasn’t enough of it, which is really just another way of me saying what we had was so good I want more of it, which I feel is high praise.  Anyway I hope you enjoyed the read, if you’re feeling up to it I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show, and I’ll see you in the next one.

PS If you want more content about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, you can find more posts here and here because I’m very much into this show.

Understanding Characters: The Battle Maniac

I have already talked about the basics of good fights here, and expounded upon the nature what makes certain characters badass in action here.  But there is a certain kind of character that is central to action and often one of the badasses involved who I’ve not yet covered.  Enter the battle maniac.  From here on their will be scattered spoilers as I dissect what makes up a good battle maniac and use examples to prove my points.  You have been warned.

Some people just like to fight, but while that is an integral part of the battle maniac, this trait alone does not qualify a character to be a battle maniac.  Take for example a typical shounen hero like Naruto, Natsu, Ichigo or Gon.  These characters fight a lot and upon occasion they enjoy the challenge of fighting someone strong.  But I don’t think anyone would call these four battle maniacs, because they are always fighting for something or someone.  Even if they enjoy some of their fights, most of the time they’re fighting for the survival of friends, family or just humanity at large.  By comparison someone like Hisoka or Grimjow are battle maniacs because they enjoy fighting for its own sake.  Unlike the heroes they fight against, Hisoka and Grimjow get restless when there’s no action and actively seek out fights to kill their boredom.  That particular trait is essential for battle maniacs.  That they must enjoy fighting is something of a given, but they also should be seeking out fights or at bare minimum worthy opponents for future battles.  If they don’t have this trait they generally can’t be a battle maniac, anyone can enjoy a fight either for the challenge or the adrenaline, battle maniacs need to seek out enemies who can spark much deeper feelings in them.  Take Hisoka, to Hisoka what matters the most is finding and later fighting opponents who he finds challenging enough to be worth the effort.  Anyone below that level is of no interest to Hisoka and he crushes them without thought as a way to vent his enormous bloodlust.  Which brings us to our next most important trait.

Battle maniacs should not only be able to deal with bloodlust but usually cloak themselves in it.  Battle maniacs are an abnormal type of character, they are natural outcasts whose violence drives more sane characters away from them.  This one reason why so few heroes can be battle maniacs.  Even if you take heroes like Eren Jaeger or any of his contemporaries who live to wipe out whatever monster took something precious from them, these guys aren’t battle maniacs.  They don’t drive people away like battle maniacs do because their defining trait is their extreme determination and drive.  Battle maniacs on the other hand tend to be defined by their ability to intimidate and the how they enjoy the things they do.  You can see how battle maniacs tend to be more twisted than even the most violent heroes by glancing over at Hisoka, or the lesser known Akabane Kuroudo from Get Backers.  Both characters intensely value the heroes of the story because they see them as perfect challenges.  They both are portrayed as creepy, with even their allies being wary about them and their actions.  Both characters are played up as menacing and they are completely nonchalant in what most would call dangerous situations.  Another thing that usually separates heroes from battle maniacs are their weapons.  Heroes tend to use very traditional weapons, not that some don’t use more exotic weapons, but generally the hero uses simple weapons or magic that the audience will approve of.  Natsu and Gon for instance both use special abilities that center around a simple physical fighting style because punches and other simple martial arts strikes are something everyone is familiar and comfortable with.  By comparison Hisoka and Akabane use cards and scalpels as their weapons and are made all the more creepy by how they wield such unusual weapons with deadly skill.  It makes them scarier since they fight with tools that aren’t associated with fighting, because when the audience has no point of reference for understanding how they fight, it makes them more alien to us on some level and alien is scarier than familiar.  However, despite all these differences with heroes, there is some overlap.

One of the traits that heroes and battle maniacs share is that they fight inconsistently.  What I mean is that they power up exponentially when they fight someone stronger.  For most heroes this means it’s nakama power-up time but it works a bit differently for battle maniacs.  The battle maniac will always appear strong.  So when they fight small fry opponents they put in very little effort and then appear exponentially stronger when fighting an opponent who is actually a challenge and they put in some effort.  Akabane for example, moves much better and uses more vicious techniques when he takes on someone near his level than he does when fighting average Joes.  Heroes that best blur the lines between battle maniac and hero are Xin from Kingdom and to a lesser extent Natsu from Fairy Tail.  Now make no mistake Natsu has plenty of nakama power-up moments and he usually lacks the more malevolent traits battle maniacs have, but he has a number of similarities.  For one thing when Natsu really gets pissed he tends to take, to some extent, the malevolent traits he lacks.  His anger turns him more feral than a typical hero, therefore he becomes more intimidating because he is moving away from more understandable human anger and entering a more alien realm of anger.  Likewise Natsu loves to fight more so than most heroes, he intensely enjoys fighting powerful opponents and generally is more inclined to seek fights out rather than wait for them to come to him.  Xin is even more pronounced in this regard.  Xin loves to fight and he actively seeks out the strongest opponents he can, though his targets also tend to be high value military commanders so his reasons for fighting them are for personal enjoyment and military accolades.  Also, while Xin isn’t wrapped up in malice he has a certain weight to his presence that marks him out to powerful opponents.  And in Xin’s case there are very few nakama power-ups, he just fights a lot better when he takes on more talented foes.  In the end I don’t know if I would call Xin a true battle maniac, but it’s close call to be sure.

Generally speaking battle maniacs fit much more neatly into the OP Badass category.  They are always strong and because they are usually built up as being creepy or menacing, they already have the dramatic build-up they need when they go into battle.  Uvogin and Hisoka are both great examples of this.  Both characters are incredibly powerful, enjoying fighting for its own sake and love crushing worthy opponents.  But both are also vulnerable.  At one point Hisoka loses both arms in a single fight and Uvogin gets put in life threatening situations on more than one occasion.  Also a good battle maniac should be a pretty important character in the story.  If they aren’t they end up like Christoph Gardos from Strike the Blood.  Gardos is a battle maniac insofar as he loves war and enjoys battling the strong but he lacks too many other key elements to be a good battle maniac.  For one he’s not all that strong, two he isn’t very intimidating and three because he’s essentially a footnote in the story he lacks the kind of presence that a proper battle maniac like Hisoka or Akabane has.  So Gardos ends up being one of these small time bad guys who looks more like a poorly thought-out psycho, because he loves war even though he’s way too weak to be particularly good at it.  You don’t want that.  A true battle maniac is generally a recurring character, like Hisoka or Akabane, and the only reason these two work so well over the course of the story is that they always feel menacing and dangerous.  It’s an essential part of the battle maniac’s character and any would-be battle maniac who lacks that trait can’t measure up to the real thing.  And that about wraps this post up.  Hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.