Understanding the Medium: Premise Means Nothing

An anime’s premise is practically fucking worthless.  Now a lot of anime fans be they new, casual, old or otaku don’t think that way.  Look at some of the biggest hits of the last few years, SAO, Erased and Shingeki no Kyojin.  I’ve seen all three and I have a lot of problems with all three, and while the community is pretty divided on their opinions of these shows it is undeniable that they are in fact some of the biggest hits of the 2010’s.  And the reason why these shows are so big is that they have cool premises, and people flocked to them because of those premises.  Now I have to explain why those premises don’t fucking matter.  There will spoilers.

This might seem hypocritical and confusing but a show’s premise is simultaneously something valuable and something fucking worthless.  As I explained in a previous post, the ability to craft a good premise is in fact a skill and it seems to do a great job at getting people’s attention.  You know the first time I started watching currently airing anime seasons was the season SAO came out (I am an otaku but compared to most I haven’t been at this very long, I just got way into anime once I finally got into it), and I remember how exciting it sounded.  It was the Matrix set in an MMORPG, I don’t even like MMORPGs and I thought that sounded great.  And there was another show in particular which caught my attention that season, Shin Sekai Yori, which also appeared to have a cool premise. While I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t realize quite how shit SAO was when I first watched it (it sank in a bit later once I got more critical and had seen more shows), even when I saw it that first time I still vaguely understood that it hadn’t lived up to the premise.

By the end of SAO’s Aincrad arc I was very “meh” about the show and my opinion went down after the end of Alfheim.  Meanwhile I was pretty fucking excited about Shin Sekai Yori the entire time it was airing and I continue to enjoy it to this day.  Unlike SAO which rapidly became less interesting because the execution of the show did not at all live up to the premise, Shin Sekai Yori had my attention and continues to have my respect.  “How did Shin Sekai Yori, an obscure little anime succeed to entertain while the titanic SAO fell by the wayside?” you might ask.  The answer is simple, SAO presented us with an interesting premise but after episode 3 (at best) it stopped executing the premise well.  SAO stopped being a death game set in an MMO and became just a teenage empowerment fantasy aimed at gamers, i.e. a huge percentage of the young male demographic.  By comparison Shin Sekai Yori executed it’s premise well, it had expressive artwork and insane visuals to match it’s eerie tone and disturbing ideas.  It had characters I cared about, it constantly addressed and expanded on the premise and core themes by adding relevant narratives and setting details, and this made it an engaging, thought provoking watch, compared SAO’s boring, low quality action and harem-comedy fare.  And this is one of the main tenets of this entire post: A good premise can bring your anime attention, but good execution is what brings your anime critical acclaim.

Because here’s the thing, yes it takes a little imagination to come up with a cool premise for a show, but really, anybody can come up with a cool idea.  It takes people with talent and vision to execute any premise, be it cool or mundane, with a lot of skill.  For example Madoka Magica is also one of the biggest hits of the 2010’s and it does have a cool premise, again I’m not even a fan of magical girl shows and I think Madoka Magica is built on a cool premise.  But do you know why Madoka Magica is so much more universally beloved than the other three big hits I mentioned above?  Because it was executed well.  The presentation of Madoka Magica was phenomenal, with all kinds of trippy visuals that played into the darker aspects of the show, and the flash-forward to the fight with the Walpurgisnacht to engage our curious minds.   And then they built up the character drama with the sudden death of Tomoe Mami in episode 3, the reveal of Kyuubei as this amoral monster who tricked girls into giving up their physical bodies and eventually turning them into the monsters they hunted, Sayaka’s total mental breakdown, Homura’s backstory and character transformation, and of course with Madoka literally rewriting the rules of the universe across all of time.  In short the execution of Madoka Magica was good, and lived up to the premise that got everyone excited about it.

More importantly you don’t even need a good premise to make a great show.  One of my favorite shows of the Spring 2016 anime season, which was a great season overall, was Bakuon.  Bakuon was a stupid moe high school comedy about a bunch of cute girls with motorcycles and their shenanigans.  Its premise is incredibly mundane and boring and its genre is not really my thing, I’m not big into moe even if I’m not anti-moe per se.  In fact it looked so mundane and boring that I initially skipped over it and wasn’t going to watch it at all until I heard someone describe the first episode.  Then I gave it that watch and what do you know, I fell in love immediately.  I looked forward to every episode and enjoyed every episode, Bakuon never let me down and I was never bored.  It was so good that it instantly made it into my top five comedies, no small feat when you’ve seen and enjoyed as many comedies as I have.

Now some of you probably think I’m crazy.  I mean how could a “real anime fan” prefer something like Bakuon to SAO, Erased and Shingeki no Kyojin, with their great premises and huge popularity?  Because Bakuon executed it’s stupid premise so well, that it outclasses those other fucking shows by an overwhelming margin.  SAO is a dumpster fire, I can see why certain people enjoy it but it’s bottom of the barrel writing.  Erased is mess because most of the characters feel like cardboard cutouts meant to make certain story beats happen instead of existing organically as people in a real world.  And while I cared about the mystery of the titans in Shingeki no Kyojin for a long time, it’s taken too long to get any answers and now all I really care about are the fights.  See that’s the thing with premise, it has a lot of pull but not a lot of staying power.  My interest in any premise, no matter how good or cool it is, will eventually burn out someday, but good execution lasts forever.  My opinions of the three big hits changed for the worse rapidly because they rely on premise to keep me interested, by contrast Bakuon works its ass off to make sure I have a good time and that’s why I will ALWAYS have a good time with Bakuon.

What I’ve found recently is that a lot of shows I sort of liked or found at least ok because of their premise are shows where I generally start to think “you know that show was actually a piece of shit” and end up hating it later down the line.  Overlord is a good example, by the show’s end I found it very mediocre but held on because the main guys were demons and monsters and that was a cool idea.  But ever since then every time I think of Overlord I can only think of all the shitty parts and how I really hated the damn show and wonder in retrospect how I ever finished it in the first fucking place.  But well-executed shows don’t suffer from this problem, because they fucking earned my respect and love.  Banking a show on premise is essentially betting on whims and fads, you might love it now but it won’t stay that way.  Good execution is like ancient engineering, built to last a thousand years after the creator is dead.

Another great example of execution being more important than premise is D Gray Man Hallow.  Setting aside the unforgivably terrible first episode, which I’ve ranted about at length, the show is surprisingly not terrible.  The main arc has some interesting ideas and story beats, even if I figured out the main thrust of this arc back when I finished the original D Gray Man.  In fact, the fact that D Gray Man Hallow isn’t total shit is a testament to how good the premise and ideas of this arc are, because by all rights it should be shit.  But sadly that will not save D Gray Man Hallow for me, because with every episode I watch my reaction is that I inevitably end up thinking how much better this would be if it had happened in the old D Gray Man.  I hate all new voice actors, most them don’t match their characters and they have no chemistry, but even worse is the new visual design.  What really sold D Gray Man a lot of the time was not just the action or the story, it was the look and feel of the show.  Back in the old D Gray Man, the visual aesthetic was this dark, Gothic look and it matched the overall darker tone of the show, the older European setting (of many but not all episodes) and the excellent dark, Gothic atmospheric soundtracks.

So much of D Gray Man’s appeal was communicated by it’s aesthetic, sound and atmosphere and how those things influenced the overall narrative and characters; and that’s FUCKING GONE.  D Gray Man Hallow is too bright, sleek, clean and modern to ever recapture the feel of the old D Gray Man, even if they hadn’t replaced all the voice actors and fucked up a bunch of the characters, they were never going to get D Gray Man right with this visual redesign.  That’s what happens when you execute something poorly (especially if it’s because it’s a blatant cash grab), I, and a lot of other people, will find your show wanting.  It makes me wish D Gray Man Hallow had never happened, because I would be happier imaging this arc in my head for all time with the old D Gray Man’s feel as reference then see it brought to life by people who have no understanding of what made the show good to begin with.  D Gray Man has a lot of cool ideas, but I love the show because they did a good job with it.  D Gray Man Hallow still has those cool ideas but I’m disappointed because they didn’t bother to do them justice.

Now I’m sure some of you are wondering what good execution looks like, if some of the biggest hits of the 2010’s don’t have it.  There’s really no answer to that question.  You can do anything well, and you can do anything poorly.  For example, as I discussed in one of my first posts, you can attempt any kind of battle in an action anime, you can do a instant win One Punch Man style or you can drag it out for a whole season DBZ style.  And theoretically you could do a great job with a fight on either of those extremes or anywhere in between, of course you could also fuck up any fight at or between those extremes.  Now add that freedom to anything a story can do, and this is why premise isn’t important.  You can make any kind of show from a dumb high school moe comedy to a high concept super-immersive scifi story with deep themes, and you can make that show good.  Or you could fuck it up.  There’s no template or formula for what makes good or bad execution, there’s no genre or trope that automatically sucks or rules.  And there’s no such thing as a premise that guarantees one kind of show to be better than other kind of show.

That’s about all I have to say.  Premise has some value in the short term, i.e. getting people’s attention, but long term value, which is what really matters for art, comes from good execution.  More importantly, any premise from the mundane to the arcane can be executed well or be executed like shit, so it makes no sense to place any value on premise, because the premise does not in any way determine the quality of a show. There are hundreds if not thousands of anime examples that prove that premise alone is not worth anything, that prove that execution of a premise trumps the damn premise itself.  It’s a very simple truth, a basic idea, and somehow a lot of people don’t get it.  Hopefully some of you get it now.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Raging Rant: Fuck Corporate Cash-Grab Sequels

You know about a year ago I said I thought it would be healthy for anime to make some sequels to older shows instead of making a ton of split cour shows and sequels to recent shows.  And I’m starting to regret that statement now.  There will be spoilers you’ve been warned.

Man just fuck cash grab sequels, fuck’em all.  Between the fucking awful Berserk 2016 and the trainwreck reboot-continuation D Gray Man Hallow, I’m beginning to think sequels to older shows might be a mistake, at least in the current cultural paradigm.  See here’s the thing the people mandating all of these sequels either don’t give a fuck about art or care more about money than art.  I also think part of the problem stems from FMAB.  Now you might be wondering why I’m mentioning FMAB when talking about sequels because it isn’t one, and that’s because I believe FMAB is the main cause of the reboot and sequel boom.

As far as I’m aware FMAB was the first reboot (sort of, I’ll get into more detail in a minute) to really make it big and convince investors and studio heads that maybe reboots of older shows and sequels to older shows were financially viable and potentially lucrative.  So people jumped on the idea and ran with it.  And sometimes it worked, HunterxHunter quite famously had an excellent reboot, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has been doing well and even the Ushio to Tora reboot looked pretty good.  However it’s important to note that all of these other success stories aren’t exactly like FMAB.  FMAB was not a one for one reboot the way HunterxHunter 2011 was (sort of), nor simply a new adaptation of an old manga like JoJo.  FMAB was a re-adaptation of FMA, one which followed the now-complete manga much more closely, and as a result the two shows are pretty different.  Most notably however, FMAB does not cover some of the early episodes of FMA like Yoki’s introduction episode and instead breezes through that shit to get to the rest of the story.  And’s it’s this approach or attitude I feel that’s informing the trainwreck sequels mentioned above.

Both Berserk 2016 and D Gray Man Hallow open on episodes that are one part reboot, one part sequel and one part reintroductions to the work (which was pointless anyway because the fans already know what the fuck the shows were about and newcomers shouldn’t be watching the fucking sequel first to begin with).  Part of the reasons the first episodes of these sequels were so terrible was because they are such a chaotic mishmash of ideas, trying to go too many directions at once.  D Gray Man Hallow’s first episode in particular reminds of FMAB’s, if FMAB’s was total shit anyway.  D Gray Man Hallow begins with a flashy fight, where all the main characters are busting out their big moves, while later in episode Cross talks to Allen about important stuff that let’s us know this story is going to be more involved and complicated.  FMAB did the same things with Isaac trying to freeze the capital of Amestris, they just executed the ideas much better by showing us a bunch of fights and some of the important characters or items, like Bradley and the philosopher’s stone, and what they could do without explaining them to us as a means to pique our interest.  Berserk 2016 likewise saw Guts kill a bunch of guys in a bar like episode one of the original show and fight some big tree monster later to show us what a badass he is.  And do you want to know why the first of FMAB, which fulfills a similar function to D Gray Man Hallow’s and Berserk 2016’s, works while the other two don’t?  Because they’re fucking sequels and FMAB wasn’t.

What really baffled me back when I bitched about the first episode of D Gray Man Hallow was why the hell they bothered to make it a sequel at all.  They changed all the voice actors and presumably the staff (I haven’t checked on that but considering how different it is I’m pretty confident about it), changed the look and tone of the show, and opened on this atrocious fight scene that introduced all the characters and their powers (sort of, they botched it with Alystar and Miranda).  What was the fucking point of making a goddamn sequel if everything was going to be different?  The answer was that they decided to advance the story and pick up where D Gray Man left off.  But that seems pretty meaningless given that they changed everything else.  Now I get it, they threw the fans of D Gray Man a bone and hoped to make a bunch of money off of us in the process, I’m just mad because I hate this particular metaphorical bone.  And it’s a shame really, because as badly as I thrashed that first episode the show has actually gotten borderline ok as of the latest episode at the time of this writing (Kanda and Alma’s backstory), and even before that they introduced some decent ideas like the Third Exorcists.  And all I can think of is how much better this would be if we had the old voice actors, the old look, the old team and most importantly the old tone of the show.  I honestly wish that D Gray Man Hallow was a full HunterxHunter 2011 style reboot than a fucking sequel-that-is-also-a-reboot.  I’d probably care about less if it was a reboot but I wouldn’t be as pissed at it either.  And I think everyone can agree that we wished Berserk 2016 never happened.

This trend of sort-of sequel, sort-of reboot shows (let’s call them rebquels) worries me because, until I see someone make it work, I’m pretty sure it’s a formula for failure.  Moreover I know more shows like this are going to come out, people are already worried about how much damage the upcoming FLCL sequel will do to that IP.  And I weep at the thought of other great shows that fans have been dying for more of getting these absolute garbage sequels and rebquels as a “reward” for their faith and patience.  Fucking no, this has to stop.  As I discussed before a bad sequel is worse than a bad show, put some fucking care and attention into your fucking high profile sequels Japan.  If you don’t you are going to burn a lot of fans.  And look maybe enough people will just be so happy that more of [insert beloved older show here] is coming out that the practice is financially successful for now, but if it keeps happening over and over you can bet it won’t continue to be successful.  Devoted fans will eat a lot of shit but even they have limits and if we keep getting more Berserk 2016’s you will push fans beyond their limits and it will fucking destroy you.  It will destroy you because you will have dragged your name and legacy through the fucking mud and destroyed your own damn credibility so you could make some easy fucking money.

If you want to make a sequel to an old show, then make it a proper fucking sequel.  You don’t need to reintroduce it anyone, because the fans already know what’s up and they will build hype for the series for you.  If you want to hook a new audience to an old IP, make a reboot.  Don’t combine the two in any way shape or form.  Also recognize that FMAB was a readaptation and if you want to do what it did, your show must also be a readaptation, or at least a HunterxHunter 2011 style reboot because that rebooted the old stuff completely and then added new stuff.  One of the best sequels in recent years was Utawarerumono Itsuwari no Kamen.  You know why?  Because it was a proper fucking sequel and it had some some fucking care put into it.  Itsuwari no Kamen isn’t even as good as it’s predecessor, but you know what, it also isn’t bad.  Itsuwari no Kamen has gorgeous visuals, good characters and a decent story even if it dragged it’s feet and ended well before the full story was over.  But it didn’t ruin Utawarerumono for me, it didn’t even really disappoint me, if anything I was worried it was going to be even worse and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was good.  It’s not ideal, an ideal sequel is as good as, if not better than, the original show but it’s acceptable, I don’t feel burned by it and I have faith that any following sequels will likely be good.  If you made a Berserk sequel like that, or a D Gray Man Hallow like that you’d be so much better off, fans would be happier and I’d be a lot fucking happier (which frankly is what really matters to me).

That about wraps this one up.  The issue here is really simple, I don’t want to the legacy of great studios and great anime ruined by terrible, short-sighted sequels and rebquels created with the goal to make some easy fucking money rather than making some great fucking art.  Because that’s what makes those old shows good, they’re fucking great works of art, and throwing that art to the wind in the attempt to make a quick, easy profit will hurt you in the long term.  And sure, maybe you only care about the short term, and some of your audience no doubt does as well, but a lot of anime fans are long time fans, and they care about the long term damage to a show’s legacy.  So respect you fans, because they pay your bills and if you fail them too hard, too often they’ll stop footing the fucking bill.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Raging Rant: Fuck Positivity (And D Gray Man Hallow)

The following will contain spoilers for D Gray Man and the first episode of D Gray Man Hallow but mostly this is going to be about me, blasting the show, the community and fans of D Gray Man Hallow for being too positive and lashing out at me for being negative.  You have been warned.

Before I really get going I want to set the stage for anyone who might not understand why I railing against the community and positivity.  I’m a big fan of D Gray Man, I mean I already wrote a decent sized review of D Gray Man, but in case you didn’t read it here’s a summary.  D Gray Man is a great show because while it can be lighthearted and funny and power of friendship like a normal shounen show, it generally has a much darker tone and more fucked up shit is going down on a near constant basis whenever someone isn’t laughing.  The lore is pretty interesting and I feel that D Gray is more capable of subtlety and nuance than most of it’s shounen counterparts.  Allen Walker is a great main character because he’s the stereotypical main shounen hero but he’s also an outcast in his own group because he has a totally different mindset and the powers he gains in the later episodes separate  him even further from the rest of the group.  Moreover the introduction of, I think his name is Chouji, he gets his Innocence during the Raid on the Ark aka very late in the show, added a new dynamic because he didn’t know Allen very well and absolutely exploded in anger when Allen said he was going to save the Noah Clan by killing their Noah and not the actual body, quite reasonably so because all of his friends were killed by Akuma.  And Road and Allen make such a great pair that not only do I proudly ship them with all my being but the concept of one of the main heroes and one of the main villains being attracted to each other and hitting it off at all has become one of the hottest relationship archetypes to me.  I’m a passionate man and I really loved D Gray Man, which is why I’m so fucking furious at D Gray Man Hallow and everyone else’s reaction to it.

The biggest problem with D Gray Man Hallow is that it’s trying to be a reboot and continuation at the same time and fucking both up horribly.  The story may be continuing where the old D Gray Man left off, but Hallow’s characters might as well be at square one.  And in the process they have legitimately ruined everything about the old D Gray Man.  I’m not kidding they fucked up everything and I’m a about to break it down piece by piece.

For starters they recast all of the voice actors, literally all of the fucking voice actors have changed and it drives me up the fucking wall.  Allen sounds like he just walked out of a jam session with an up and coming boy band.  Lenalee sounds like weak little girl.  Lavi sounds younger Allen now despite being older than Allen.  Bookman has become the narrator from Hayate no Gotoku and lost the scratchy, phlemgy bent his old voice actor had to really sell the part, now he has generic old man/narrator voice.  Cross sounds more like he used to than anyone else but even has lost some the more guttural or throaty nuances to his style of speaking.  Kanda is still a dick but his voice has somehow become more bland despite having more emotion than the old one used to.  Arystar has fucking Hermes-from-the-new-Arslan-Senki’s voice and it sounds awful, he’s supposed to be mostly a goofy naive character not a ragged seeker of vengeance.  And Miranda’s new voice actor was so bland I can’t even remember it well enough to describe it, and I watched the first episode twice when it came out just to confirm how shitty it was.

And it’s not just the voice acting, none of the new actors have any kind of chemistry thus far, no real rhythm to their interactions yet.  This is disappointing because part of what made the old cast so good was that despite all their differences they had great chemistry and some of the best back-and-forth dialogue shounen shows have to offer.   More to the point none of the characters behave like they should, Arystar is looking like a badass when he’s supposed to be mostly an almost childishly innocent thanks to having lived most of his life in seclusion.  Lenalee’s brother is a straightforward and serious character who has his shit together in Hallow, and he used to be almost nothing but a comic relief character in the old D Gray Man.  Also Lavi and Bookman can now communicate telepathically for some reason, seriously where the fuck did that come from?  Even characters from the distant past aren’t safe, child Allen has becoming an angry brat when he used to be a very sad child and that sadness fit him so well because it made way more sense not just for his child self but how it later influences his current self, anger is not in character for Allen in most circumstances.  Likewise Mana, Allen’s foster father has become a goofy clown despite him being a very down to earth and serious character in the old D Gray Man.  Kanda and Allen are still at odds but for some fucking reason when Kanda calls Allen a bean sprout, “moyashi,” they don’t bicker at all… that was one of the main things that set those two off in the old series and was a perfect way to get them arguing, but Hallow just skipped past it like Kanda never said anything.  This is especially depressing since one of the greatest comedic moments in D Gray Man was this amazing argument that started with Kanda calling Allen a moyashi after almost accidentally killing him.  When Kanda says moyashi in Hallow and Allen doesn’t fucking respond I felt like the show was advertising just how much it wouldn’t be the D Gray Man I knew and loved.

The visuals have also drastic redesigns.  Everyone has new uniforms and while I don’t think they are bad, I don’t get why everyone else seems to be into them because they aren’t as cool and unique as the old Exorcist coats and they don’t do a lot show the differences in rank the same way the Finders and Exorcists used to looking totally different did back in the old D Gray Man.  The Akuma have gotten significantly more colorful as well, which isn’t a bad change per se, but I do think it feeds into the much bigger problem of the show getting lighter in tone which I’ll discuss later.  There are however several redesigns I truly hate.  Mana, Allen’s foster father has gone from a rugged and ragged travelling entertainer in to colorful fat clown, child Allen did not have white hair for some reason despite him always having it the old D Gray Man.  Worst of all though is Miranda, in Hallow she has an unbelievably generic design and it’s killing me.  Part of what made Miranda so memorable and in my opinion hot, was that she had an absolutely hideous design prior to becoming an Exorcist, so when she becomes an Exorcist and looks pretty good you appreciate how much her image has improved.  This is the closest I have ever been to experiencing “gap moe” (the increased attraction to someone because they go against expectations) in real life, seriously Miranda is so much hotter than she should be because you can see the change from her ugly design to her reasonably attractive design, it’s amazing.

They even fucked up the powers both visually and in general use.  For example in episode one of Hallow Kanda uses what was one of his most advanced attacks from the old D Gray Man, a move he only used on the Noah.  Why?  Was Kaichou Ichigen (First Illusion Hell Insects) too hard for the new team to animate?  Because Kanda the character would have used Kaichou Ichigen, he was swatting low level Akuma not battling for his life against a Noah, why would he have used anything else?  Lavi uses the correct move Hi Ban (Fire Seal) but the animation is different, it’s much faster and it doesn’t show all of the other seals he could potentially choose from, and because he doesn’t hit one seal of many the motion is wrong.  Arystar’s is the one they least messed with although his new design put more emphasis on his arm, which is weird because the arm is Allen’s thing and Arystar’s is his fangs.  Allen, for some reason uses his ultimate sword to kill low level Akuma instead of just using his claw, which is what the old Allen would have done, just killed them with the claw because the sword is impractical because it requires him to remove one of his own arms to use and it’s only really meant for fighting Noahs and the Millenium Earl.  Oh and they even forgot to make Allen’s eye transform when he’s fighting the Akuma, you know the single most important facet of his entire character and they fucking forgot to show it!  Also Miranda’s power isn’t really shown at all, she’s just wearing green glowing disc made from her old clock, even though her time powers clearly used gold and yellow not green in the old D Gray Man and had more explicit clock effects to boot.

By far the most troubling change though is the overall shift in tone I mentioned earlier.  As I explained in my review, the Old D Gray Man was a much darker show than is typical for a shounen.  Level 1 Akuma are the basic enemy everyone fights and to make one at least two people have to die and one has their soul trapped in a killing machine until an Exorcist saves it.  The Exorcists fight thousands of Level 1 Akuma, dozens of Level 2 Akuma, which Level 1’s evolve into after they kill a bunch of people, and even a bunch of Level 3, which Level 2’s evolve into after killing many more people.  There’s also some dark shit like Road tormenting that one Exorcist general by making him relive the death of his students over and over or the doctor who poisons his own patients and helps the Earl create Akuma to get some extra cash or best of all, Suman Dark betraying the entire Black Church and becoming some damned monster which Allen has to defeat.  The old D Gray Man was full of dark stuff and it was awesome.  By comparison Hallow starts with a flashy action scene in a cartoonish scenario about Innocence keeping the hand of dead chess master alive to play a game with someone who can beat him, so that the Exorcists can destroy the new shiny Akuma and it can all be timed to match the chess game… It’s madness and not the cool and fun madness that I like, it’s contrived bullshit trying to capture the sense of cool and fun madness, and actually going mad in the process.

In a similar vein the old D Gray Man was more subtle about important topics.  In Hallow Cross just tells Allen who the 14th is in a bland exposition scene where two just stand around in a room talking, and Cross’s sudden decision to tell Allen about the 14th comes out of nowhere.  In the Old D Gray Man the overseers of the Black Church didn’t want Allen and Cross to talk at all, and Cross dodges the question when Allen does get a chance to ask him.  Likewise Allen trying to be a “destroyer and savior” to the Akuma is something he never explains to anyone else in the old D Gray Man, it’s just part of his mindset and it would get him into trouble because no one else can see Akuma the way Allen can, so to most people they are simply target to destroy, while Allen literally sees a soul to save.  In Hallow he just says something like says “let this Akuma’s soul be saved” and Kanda confronts him about it for 2 seconds and the scene moves on without anything important happening.  Because like I said, they literally fucked up everything in Hallow.

Other random complaints that bothered me are that Cross somehow receives a heavy wound instantly, which makes no sense because the old D Gray Man clearly showed that all of the Exorcist Generals were monsters, it took two Noahs to beat even the weakest Exorcist General, and Cross is supposed to be the most dangerous, or at the least the most mysterious, of the Exorcist Generals.  He went toe to toe with the Millennium Earl, the main bad guy and possibly Satan himself, and didn’t take a single hit… Who the fuck got him so bad in Hallow?  Also Lavi has a line like “as expected of expert Exorcists” in response to seeing everyone fight, and it makes no goddamn sense.  Lavi has been fighting alongside the rest of the cast for dozens of episodes across multiple continents fighting everything from low level Akuma trying to capture Innocence in backwater European villages to invading the Earl’s fortress in Japan… he already knows how good everyone is and most of what they can do.  Why include a line like that?  The only thing I can come up with is that reinforces that Hallow is something new, that everything has a fresh start.  And if Hallow was a normal reboot that would be fine, but it isn’t, because the story is not being given a fresh start.  Which is why this whole show is fucked.

See the problem here for me, I mean aside from all the details I take issue with, is what D Gray Man Hallow is, a reboot and a continuation.  Because here’s the thing, I don’t usually buy into hype for anime, I’m very much a guy who forms his own opinions and doesn’t give a shit about what the community is excited about.  But I was hyped for D Gray Man Hallow, because they said it was continuation, because I can hype myself for shows I think I will like.  If they had announced a D Gray Man reboot, I might have watched it but I would have cared way less about it than a continuation.  Because what I really want when it comes to D Gray Man, is I want it to come back, I want the old D Gray Man to come back and kick ass and move forward and fulfill all the potential it had.  I don’t really want a new D Gray Man, not unless it’s a reboot that involved all the old staff and voice actors.  If they wanted to take the old team and revamp the old D Gray Man, I would have been down with that.  But like I said what I really want is more of the real D Gray Man, the old D Gray Man.  For me the only warning I had that D Gray Man Hallow was going to be shit was a day or two before the first episode aired.  I checked the staff on a whim, saw all the new voice actors, checked their roles compared to the roles of old voice actors and I was worried because of the people I looked at, the new voice actors were way less experienced and some of their roles did not line up at all with their D Gray Man Hallow roles.  The problem is that for some fucking reason someone decided that instead of a reboot or a continuation, they would make both at the same time even though they have totally opposite intents.  A continuation continues something established, a reboot gives something a fresh start, they have opposite goals and some moron combined them and it fucking sucks.  This is such a basic mistake  that there is no way D Gray Man Hallow will ever be good, or at least it won’t be what I want, what I consider to be good.  Everyone’s allowed to have their own opinion of course but Hallow fails at such a fundamental level to me that I would be utterly fucking amazed if it stops being shit.  I don’t think it’ll ever get good but if it can even achieve mediocrity I will be impressed, I won’t like it mind you, but I’ll be impressed.  Because as it currently stands with me D Gray Man Hallow ought to be renamed D Gray Man Hollow, because it has none of the original’s heart and soul.

Poignant alternate names for the show aside there is one final issue that I need to address, the positive, celebratory community.  Let me start with this: You are all FUCKING MORONS, well most of you anyway.  Now you’re allowed to be excited, to be happy, to have opinions that aren’t mine, but there is one thing you aren’t allowed to do and that’s try and shut me down for being negative.  Look I get why someone might be excited for D Gray Man Hallow, I used to be one of you positive bright eyed people, and some people have given their reasons as to why all new stuff doesn’t bother them or maybe even excites them.  Which is fine, if you really want a new look for D Gray Man then Hallow might excite you, though I would think you’d prefer a reboot to a continuation, but whatever maybe I’m just pickier than most people, in fact I’m sure I am.  And if you want to argue in D Gray Man Hallow’s favor and say, I don’t know, that you like the new uniforms or like the more colorful Akuma, do it, seriously more power to you.  But that’s not what I saw a lot of.  I was the first guy to write a negative comment, and a substantial one at that, on the site I was using and the first two responses were, and I quote, “wrong” and “omg you’re so annoying shut up or gtfo.”  As of the end of Monday when Hallow aired, I was one of only three people who had made negative comments and I was the only one of those three to be confronted by multiple people whining about how I should leave and take my negativity with me, without actually arguing why D Gray Man Hallow was good.  And it’s fucking infuriating.

Look I’ve been confronted by more people on shows before, I got in a ton of long slogs with UBW fans over the new UBW.  But in those cases even when people disagreed with me they at least had arguments, they made points as to why it was good and why they thought I was wrong.  With Hallow though everyone who actually confronted me had no argument to make, they just thought I was being mean to the show they were so happy about and wanted me to leave and never come back.  Now if you were a fucking five year old I might be ok with that, but let’s face it I’ve never been confronted by a five year old in the comments section of an anime episode.  If you think I’m wrong that’s fine, most people probably do, in the same way I think all of you positive people are wrong and it’s fine for me to do that.  But also recognize that I am allowed to be a whiny negative bastard when I want to be, and when you actively want someone who disagrees with you to just go away, and never address my concerns or the concerns of people like me, then you are being a fucking infant and are by extension a fucking moron.

I feel that this also applies to people that are just so happy that D Gray Man is coming back, for one thing that mindset really makes you look sheep to me, sorry if that offends you but I don’t think more of something I like will automatically be good and I may not want more of it.  I’ve never watched the Steins Gate movie or OVAs for example because I felt like the original end of the show was the proper place for it to stop and adding more would not help improve my opinion of the show.  But  I can’t see why anyone who wanted more D Gray Man can even be happy because as I’ve described above, Hallow is not D Gray Man, D Gray Man has not come come back.  Oh sure the name is back, shells of characters we know and love are back, and if that’s enough to get you excited, then good for you, I guess. But D Gray Man is not back, we are not getting more D Gray Man, because this shitty show isn’t D Gray Man, because it has retained nothing of value from the real D Gray Man.  So why is anyone who wanted more D Gray Man happy?  Do you guys not care that it’s totally different?  Are shells of the characters and the name alone good enough for you?  Because if so, what the literal fuck?  I don’t understand how anyone can consume any media that mindlessly, let alone a show you really like.  If that works for you then I am happy for you and do encourage you to continue enjoying the show, I still think you’re morons though.

Anyway I think that about wraps this up.  I yelled the community for a bit and I think I covered all the problem of D Gray Man Hallow episode one.  More than anything else though I hope I’ve communicated to any who read the whole post where I come from and why I’m being so negative about the show.  I don’t understand why people are happy with this for the most part, and if someone would like to explain why they are to me then I’d love to hear it.  But by the same coin it seems to me that most of the positive people either don’t get why I’m being negative or don’t care, maybe both, and that’s why I need to write a post like this, so that people who aren’t me and may not be like me or think like me, understand me a little better and don’t stop by at the first hurdle by telling me to shut up or gtfo.  If I were to credit D Gray Man Hallow with anything, I must admit this has been the most fun I’ve ever had tearing apart a show I thought I was going to love, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined Hallow would fuck up so hard so fast and I had a blast writing this post trashing it.  So there is that I suppose.  Anyway thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: D Gray Man

So recently it was announced that D Gray Man was getting continued this year.  This has got me excited for a number of reasons.  And naturally I’m going to explain said reasons, but before I talk about the show itself there’s another topic I want touch on in brief.  One of my earliest posts was about the current anime industry and it’s slurry of sequels.  In that post I lamented that many sequels came about because of split core shows, a show which airs 12 episodes in one season, takes a season off, then airs another 12.  In my experience, I felt that many split core shows were actually initially designed as doublecore shows, shows with 24 episodes, and then were cut in half.  There are a number of examples but Gate is an especially good one, since it ended it’s first season on the second episode of a five or six episode arc and just left us hanging for three months.  Anyway my point was that a lot of sequels were coming out but most of the sequels were to new shows, and I thought it made more sense to make sequels to older stuff that was really popular like Black Lagoon or Spice and Wolf.   Which brings us to D Gray Man.  D Gray Man ran from 2006 to 2008, and now after eight years of an ending that left me begging more, it’s here, and against my better judgement I’ve hyped myself up for it.  Now lets get to analyzing D Gray Man, there will be major spoilers, you have been warned.

For those who have never seen D Gray Man, it’s a battle shounen with a total of 103 episodes.  It’s overall narrative setup is similar to Inuyasha’s, with a lot episodes searching after Innocence in-between major battle arc the same way Inuyasha had the main characters search for Jewel shards before and then in-between  major arcs.  The story roughly goes as follows, a secretive sect of the Church, called the Black the Church, found a prophecy that details the end of the world and have taken steps to combat the harbinger of this apocalypse, the Millennium Earl.  Fast-forward to the late 19th century, an unusual boy named Allen Walker, he’s an Exorcist like all the other main characters, arrives at the Black Church just as the Millennium Earl seems to be becoming more active.  The Exorcists, the warriors of the Black Church, all of whom use weapons that have Innocence as their core, are currently in race with the Millennium Earl over finding the lost cubes of Innocence.  And so the series begins.  Anyway that should be enough recap, now I’m going to talk about all the things I liked about the series and what I sincerely hope is coming in the 2016 release.  I should note at this point I have never read the manga so any predictions I make are pure speculation.

Let’s start with the most obvious thing I like about the series, the main character.  I find Allen interesting for a number of reasons.   For starters his cursed eye looks fucking awesome, like someone took the best parts of Naruto’s Rinnegan and Sharingan then put them together.  But more importantly is the effect said eye has on his character.  Like all of the Exorcists, Allen is dedicated to destroying Akuma, the oddly human-while-also-demonic-while-also-robotic weapons of the Millennium Earl.  Unlike his fellow Exorcists however, Allen can see the trapped souls of the people who form the core of the Akuma, and fights as much to destroy the Akuma for the threat they represent to other humans as he does to save the souls trapped inside them.  It seems like a minute difference, I mean he still ends up destroying the Akuma, the same as everyone else, but his desire to save things is a fundamental part of his person and it becomes much more important when he encounters the Noahs later in the story.   But let’s put a pin in that for now and go back to Allen sans the context of the narrative.  His weapon is this fucking huge metal-looking claw that is savage as hell.  Yes I know he gets a sleeker, albeit less awesome looking version later, but his initial claw is a work of art.  More so than just the claw itself, I like how it’s so atypical a weapon for a hero. I mentioned in my post about battle maniacs how, typically heroes had simple weapons and powers that the audience easily relates to, while battle maniacs often fought exceptionally exotic weapons or otherwise fought with things which we don’t identify as weapons at all, like Hisoka’s cards.  And Allen’s claw, while simple, doesn’t look like a hero’s weapon at all, it looks like something a monster would have.  Between the claw and his cursed eye Allen stands from a lot of his shounen hero contemporaries and it just makes for striking image.  It also helps keep feeling different from his fellow exorcists because most of the exorcists have more typical hero weapons.  That’s enough about Allen for now, let’s look at the setting and atmosphere.

D Gray Man is a pretty dark series, particularly for a shounen battle show, and I don’t just mean it looks dark and grim, although many episodes feature mostly dark and grim environments.  Remember in order for Akuma to function, someone has to die, someone close to the deceased has to be tricked into calling their soul back so it can be trapped in the Akuma’s core, and then the Akuma will kill said close someone and wear their body before going on to kill more people.  It’s a pretty fucked up cycle if you think about it, especially considering how many of the fucking things the Exorcists tear apart over the course of the series.  This already dark and depressing cycle is enhanced by many of the characters, there’s the doctor who kills his patients so he can help the Millennium Earl make Akuma in exchange for money for example.  Or Allen himself, who got his cursed eye after he made his foster father into an Akuma as a child, which his claw awakened to and crushed.  But despite all the tragedy and darkness the series curiously resists becoming depressing or edgy as many shows that try to be dark, grim and violent often do.  In part this is because the show has a fair amount of silly comedic moments and routines to keep the grim-ness in check, but it has more to do with the atmosphere.  D Gray Man has a certain haunting or ethereal quality to many of it’s episodes, fights take place in dark places often with no other humans around, the music (which is really good) has many tracks that are airy, haunting and melodic.  The sound complements the visuals and themes of the narrative very well is what I’m saying.  And all of these elements come together to make a show that creates a compelling sense of atmosphere, which helps make the setting both more real in the sense that the fantastical and grim elements make sense there, and paradoxically enhances the fantastical nature of the show and many of it’s elements.   Which brings us to the villains.

The main villains of the show are the Millennium Earl, who I kid you not, looks like Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog with a creepy goblin face and a top hat, and the Noah clan.  I kind of love how ridiculous the Earl looks but my main focus is the Noah clan.  In a clever bit of narrative work the creators of D Gray Man put a new twist on the story of Noah’s Ark.  In this fictional re-imagining of that biblical tale, Noah turns against God after the flood, and while I can’t say that I remember Noah having any one reason in mind, the best thing I could come up with was that the destruction and loss of life caused by the flood was not an act befitting a merciful god or any god at all really.  My guess here is that writer understood or experienced most of Christianity’s messages about love, mercy and tolerance from the New Testament and didn’t have as firm a grasp on the Old Testament where God lashed out with acts of destruction more often but whatever.  Either way the running idea is that Noah had superhuman capabilities of some kind since by the show’s logic he was considered the greatest disciple of God, and that he passed these powers and assumably his grudge against God onto his descendants.  This is the Noah clan in a nutshell.  There are a total of 13 Noahs presumably inspired by Jesus’ 12 disciples and Judas, a former disciple who betrayed him and have their own powers inspired by certain elements of Noah, Skin Bolic for example is Noah’s wrath and can use lightning to smite his foes.  Anyway the point is, I love what the creators did with this.  There are no shortage of anime that draw on the folklore and religions of cultures, but most of the time it’s kind of incoherent and not used all that well, Misteltainn for example is a name that crops up every now and then, and usually the shows using the name have literally nothing to do with the Norse mythology the name comes from.  By contrast, D Gray Man takes a well known story and turns it entirely on it’s head with a few interesting alterations.  That’s an impressively savvy move in its own right but I find doubly interesting since I’m very much interested in mythology and religious lore.  Narrative tricks and style aside there is one thing I especially like about the Noah Clan, Road Kamelot.

Road is the oldest of the Noahs and her power is the ability to create dimensional spaces, often using the dreams and nightmares of the intended victims as inspiration, which makes sense considering she inherited Noah’s dreams.  What makes Road interesting though is her attraction to Allen.  You don’t see villains trying to hook up with heroes too often and I for one find the idea both narratively interesting and totally hot.  In Road’s case especially, I feel like she and Allen make an interesting match.  Unlike say Esdeath’s attraction to Tatsumi in Akame ga Kill which was used almost exclusively for comedic purposes, I can see Road and Allen having some interesting chemistry.  She leans sadistic and while I wouldn’t call Allen a masochist per se, his obsession with saving people does cause to him have strong self-sacrificing tendencies.  The other reason this could work is that because Road is technically human, all of the Noahs are, Allen’s inclination is to save her not destroy her.  And Road’s obsession with Allen favors a situation in which she hurts him playfully without ever trying to destroy him outright.  Theoretically I could see the two of them sticking together each trying to convert the other to their cause without ever trying to settle their differences by force because they have bigger problems to worry about.  So I ship Allen and Road, end of story.  Sorry you had to see me writing a rough outline for some D Gray Man fanfic, I apologize it won’t happen again, but before I finish I think it’s time to look to the future of D Gray Man and why, I’m really looking forward to the 2016 continuation.

Part of understanding why I’m looking forward to the continuation is in understanding where the old D Gray Man left off.  I mentioned above that Allen fights for different reasons than his companions, and while this never meant much when their opponents were Akuma, the game changes considerably with Noahs involved.  Before I really get into this here’s some context for those who haven’t seen the series.  The Earl’s base is in Japan which consists almost entirely of Akuma at this point.  So our heroes went to this base by boat from China.  This boat was attacked and all but one of the crew dies.  Later after the good guys have invaded the Earls base, its called an ark and it can do weird things with space and doors, that surviving crew member is chosen by a block of Innocence and is going to become an Exorcist.  Shortly thereafter he meets the Noahs for the first time, Road makes out with Allen in full view of the other Exorcists and the Noah that almost killed Allen before they got on the boat from China (I’m not kidding), and a battle begins.  During this battle Allen uses his new powers, which he got after almost dying, and by his own admission is not trying to kill his opponent, he’s trying to kill the Noah within his opponent, thus rendering them a normal human and thus saving them.  The new exorcist can’t understand this and gets really pissed off at Allen, and I’m guessing some of the other ones have a similar reaction even if they don’t show it.  After the fighting is over Allen saves the ark from disintegrating by using powers that aren’t connected to his Innocence but are instead related to his foster father Mana, whom the show suggests was the 13th Noah.

When the good guys return home, it’s not the glorious return afforded most heroes.  Allen in particular is essentially under house arrest because the upper echelons of the Black Church find his connection to the 13th Noah suspect.  I should note here that for the entire show up until this point the upper echelons of the Black Church have done nothing to make them seem like a threat or to be hostile, they were barely even present in the story.  But at the end they suddenly appeared as a hostile force to Allen and while not portrayed as villains, they certainly aren’t portrayed in the same light as the rest of the Black Church, adding a whole new layer to the organization.  So what does this mean for the show?  Well aside from the nuance it lends the Black Church and it lends the story new possibilities, some of them very interesting.  Specifically the story looks like it intends for Allen to go rouge to me.  Rifts are forming between him and the Black Church, he seems to have some kind of connection to the Noahs beyond Road’s attraction to him, and at the time of the shows ending his list of allies looks very thin.  I’m not saying this is what will happen, but fuck do I want to see it go this route.  Again this last bit is entirely speculation, but it makes sense to me particularly because that’s what I would do with the story if someone told to continue writing given the scenario I’ve described.  In any event, the last arc of D Gray Man has made the world of the series a much more complicated and messy place, full of new possibilities.  It’s an exciting prospect getting to see how the story will play out after 8 years, and regardless of the outcome I am looking forward to it.  Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll you in the next one.