Unpopular Opinion – Anime of the Year Edition: Zombieland Saga

zombieland saga

 

One of the things I believe most attracts to people to anime is the novelty and surprise factor of it all.  There are anime about subjects, both the incredibly mundane and the brainbustingly highbrow, which traditional films and TV wouldn’t touch with a Colossal Titan-sized pole.  Now obviously surprise and novelty are not bywords for success, there are plenty of nasty surprises after all, but when a surprise hit comes along, it hits all the harder and is all the more memorable for it.  And in that regard, I do believe Zombieland Saga takes the crown.  Not for this season, nor even this year like you might infer from the title.  Ever.  I have never been pleasantly surprised harder by any piece of media than I was by Zombieland Saga.  And boy did that pay out for the show’s favor in spades.

Keep in mind I know full well that Boku no Hero Academia had one of the greatest shounen battles of all time this year with All Might vs All for One.  I cried during that shit, I felt like I could’ve been one of the in-universe spectators watching the live battle on the news, tearing up and almost chanting.  I think that All Might is one of the best crafted characters of his archetype in anime history, if not the best.  I was more invested in All Might during his major battles than Isaac-fucking-Netero during his big showdown during HunterxHunter’s Chimera Ant arc, and the final battle with One for All was the greatest battle of the year by far.  Not because it was complicated or well animated or what have you – but because it was the most emotionally impactful battle, scene even, since… fuck me I don’t think I’ve been that emotionally invested in an anime scene since the death of Ouki (Wang Yi) from Kingdom – and I’m a fucking Kingdom fanatic.

But even with Boku no Hero Academia’s biggest moment to consider, I can wholeheartedly say Zombieland Saga won me over.  No other show this year has made me laugh, smile or get pumped like Zombieland Saga has and I swear to God Japan, if you don’t make another season like the ending hinted at I will petition Trump to nuke you all over again.  I am that fucking hype for this shit.

So what’s going on here?  – Spoilers, Come On!!! – Obviously surprise factor alone could not do this.  Certainly the fact that this show exploded onto the scene from so out of left field was in it’s favor but there’s more going on here.  I think many others will join me in saying they got hooked on this show despite the fact none of them watch or like idol shows.  Fuck I pretty much despise normal idol crap and I know I’m not alone in this.  Making the idols into zombies should not be enough to get us past that, and while it did ultimately take more than that, let it be said the creators maximized the shit out of the zombie factor right from the get go.

Sakura’s sudden death after her cheerful morning scene was a pretty attention grabbing way to get the show started but climaxing with death metal idols doing neck-breaking headbanging bashed down any walls of skepticism that still remained and powered it’s way right into my heart.  They had me.   That is some use of shock factor so good it should go down in a textbook somewhere.  More surprising still were the character stories and innovative concerts that were to come.

But before we get there we have to look at what the legacy of that initial shock factor was that serves to contrast with the aforementioned character stories – they made this show fun as shit.  Zombieland Saga’s ability to be so brimming with life and energy is more than mildly ironic considering the zombie protagonists, but more importantly it meant I was never bored.  Long before the character stories came in to make their fucking fantastic mark on the show, the energy and wild abandon of the show kept me hooked until the creators brought out the big guns.  This is best exemplified by the legendary Yamada Tae, followed closely by Kotaro, the idol manager-cum-necromancer apparently.  Even though we never really get to their character stories, just a hint for Kotaro, the energy of their movements/actions and speeches respectively do a lot to keep what would otherwise by a drab morning meeting, random conversation or activity fun and/or hilarious.  Fuck even during the more somber part of Sakura’s arc over the last two episodes Tae in particular was fucking amazing.  There was clearly a lot of heart put into these characters and they deliver for the show.

That being said I would lying if I said the character stories didn’t play a big role.  Setting aside the fact that Tae never truly awakens and Yugiri is from such a far removed point in time – 200+ years if memory serves – that her story never gets told, the differences between the girls and the eras they died in really came to the fore in a way that obviously made them clash at first but makes them all the more endearing in the aftermath.  Saki is a particularly interesting case because she is the most vocal opponent of the whole idol project from the outset given her background as a biker gang leader.  I thought they had more or less nailed her character in episode 2 during the spontaneous rap battle she had with Sakura but fuck me did they really bring on the heat with the biker gang episode.  Her saving her best friend’s daughter by replicating the same stunt that actually killed her in 97 was ballsy as fuck and it was really heartwarming stuff.  Same goes for Lily’s episode where he is able to mend the emotional wounds of his hulking dad from beyond the grave, it wasn’t quite so ballsy but damn was it a feels train.

The most contentious of these stories is undoubtedly Sakura’s as the tone is far more serious and there’s a lot of nothing happening because the main conceit is that Sakura feels like putting in effort is pointless due the fact whenever she did she would reach the top only to have a random accident ruin things.  As much as I can see people not liking this one, since it’s all about everyone else trying to motivate Sakura and the extremes of her bad luck are so played up it’s almost comical, I really liked her arc.  Them going in whole hog on the bad luck probably should have made it all seem fake and goofy but I felt that it lent enough weight to her depression, for lack of a better word, to make it totally worth it.  Over the span of  two episodes Sakura manages to be depressed and somber despite all the efforts of everyone around her to encourage her, and I fucking felt for her.  The idea of putting your all into something only to fail due to circumstances beyond your control, it bites, and while I’m sure everyone’s experienced something like that at least once in their life Sakura’s obsession with this idea, with how she believes it defines her life, with her o’er example being her sudden death on the way to her idol audition – it justified all of it to me.  And fuck me did it make that last concert lit.  With Sakura being all shaky in the first part, the venue collapsing due to the heavy snowfall and then her triumphant return, pushing ahead with a song all about rising up and never giving in – 10/10, would buy all the fucking glow sticks in the world to see that live.

Still I do believe the crowning moment of series goes to the Ai and Junko arc, and of course the lighting concert.  Setting the concert aside for a second I really like the base concept of Ai and Junko’s conflict.  This is the arc where the age difference, i.e. how long ago they died, really comes into play.  Both of these girls were idols before their deaths but they were idols in eras 20-30 years apart and because of that they have very different attitudes.  Junko does not like the way modern idols operate, in her time being an idol was a classier gig and there was a much more pronounced gap between idols and their fans.  She has trouble squaring the current idol world with her own career and the lessons learned therein.  Ai on the other hand can’t really bring herself to sympathize because she has a sort of ‘that’s just part of being successful attitude’ and refuses to compromise.  The ironic bit then is that when the concert goes down and Ai is barely able to perform due to the lightning and her crippling fear of it – she died by being struck by lightning at an outdoor concert – it’s the loftier standards that Junko holds herself to which save the stumbling performance and get Ai back in the game so to speak.

Now let’s talk about the lightning concert.  It’s a work of genius and I honestly think the thought process had to start from the song.  Keeping in mind this is conjecture, follow me down this train of thought.  Say an anime studio wants as many cost cutting measures as they feel they can get away with, as they often do, and someone says, “What if we remix one of the songs, that should be cheaper than recording another original one?”  Then someone asks:  “How can we do that in a way that makes sense in the story?”  And then a mad genius goes – “What if we let them get struck by lightning to give their voices electronic effects?”  And then the team runs with it and creates a character story based on the lightning strike, so the character can overcome their fear of lightning, the team can remix the song without issue and the show can have the most lit idol concert in human history.  I don’t know if that’s what happened but fuck I really want that to be true because it would make the whole sequence even better for me.

Anyway that’s enough of me drooling over Zombieland Saga.  I expect that for many it won’t be king of the season let alone king of year.  But I say fuck you Goblin Slayer, fuck you Rascal Doesn’t Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai – I like you but you’ve been topped.  And yes, in advance I cordially say, with no malice, spite, ill intent or seriousness, fuck all of you who disagree – I’m having way too much fun right now and so long as I have Zombieland Saga there’s nothing you can do to stop me.  It is in fact the show the anime community needs and the one we deserve!  Happy 2018 and I’ll see you in the next one – whenever that is.

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Understanding Storytelling: Computer Generated Contrived Crap – Goblin Slayer Ep 1

goblin slayer

I hated this first episode.  So far as it nails exactly what it wants to be and what it wants to be is shit – popular shit.  I have the sinking suspicion that this will be the big seasonal hit which I will find insufferable, at least as so long as SAO 3 doesn’t overshadow it too badly.  Speaking of I have to ask is anyone still hype for SAO 3?  I don’t even want to watch it to bash it, I tried that with SAO 2 and it was not worth it.  I’m genuinely curious as to how much pull SAO 3 will have, 6 years after the first season made it’s explosively popular debut and after years of SAO bashing being popular all over the anime community.  Setting that aside though I think Goblin Slayer is ultimately aiming to be a fire and forget sort of hit, something that makes a ton of noise during the season it airs and which everyone stops talking about within a year – Erased comes to mind.

As to how Goblin Slayer will manage this it’s fairly simple.  Obviously the titular Goblin Slayer is going for a Doom vibe, while the setting is a generic game-based fantasy world and just to spice things up there will be Akame ga Kill levels of edge there to grab the people who want their shows to be dark and bloody.  And it sucks.

To begin with we follow a 15 year old girl signing on as an adventurer and- stop right there criminal scum, why is this fantasy setting MMO-based?  This is not a tale of characters from the real world being drawn into an MMO it’s a straight fantasy setting.  So why does it have all the hallmarks of generic MMO?  I would hazard a guess that the series as written (because duh it’s that way because of the writer) was intended to catch onto the fantasy MMO craze which SAO ignited in the first place, which is why it has basic bitch game material all over the place.  Besides the fact that this market is now thoroughly saturated it more or less points to the writer being a total uncreative hack, which the rest of the episode then confirms.

Aside from the cynical and general half-assed feel of a fantasy setting which just has game mechanics for no reason I find the fact this setting incorporates game mechanics at all to be genuinely frustrating.  What happened to the magic in fantasy?  You don’t need any of this gamey shit like levels, adventurer’s guilds and quest hubs, in fact putting those things in actively ruins the setting.  When it came to writing fantasy Tolkien, a mildly successful fantasy author, explained a concept he called the second world.  This was a make-believe world that the author constructed and the intent was to create a world you draw readers into, a world which ignored SOME of the limitations of our own, where you could tell a story where characters do unrealistic things without breaking the audience’s suspension of disbelief.  In order to keep the suspension of disbelief intact the author would have to construct a world which was internally consistent and where the events of the story did not break the rules of world as laid out by the author.   If the author was unable to do this, Tolkien described that as the art (in crafting the story and setting) failing, and by extension the author in question failing.  The gamey bullshit is, to me, a giant fucking red flag that the art is failing.

Nothing in Goblin Slayer feels organic.  Beyond being generic the setting has nothing of intrigue, it doesn’t even make much sense and the way the characters interact with it makes no sense either.  Main girl can read and write, which would realistically mean she’s a tiny and elite minority of people in her medieval-ish society.  Not exactly the kind of person who can go adventuring willy-nilly as she would therefore either be rich or belong to a religious order or both.  Given how she doesn’t buy gear before going on her first quest for I now I’ll assume she’s not rich and she has no business going adventuring as she would be a valuable resource to her order, hence why they invested the time to teach her.  You’d think she’d be appointed to someone’s retinue or something where she can heal people free from danger.  But no, she’s out adventuring with a party of noobs who happen to need a healer before they go crush a nest of goblins which raided a town.

And stop again.  That was awfully convenient.  Before our new adventurer even has time to look at the quest board she’s dragged into a quest, a goblin hunt.  Which as the episode will detail is a great deal more dangerous than it would seem – if everyone involved sucks and it just so happens all of these people do because they fight and behave as though they were noobs in a game not novices in a real world, more on that later.  Adventurer guild lady looks concerned and tepidly suggests they should wait for a more experienced group to handle this but she doesn’t press the issue when the overconfident noobs ignore her sudden shift in attitude.  And this brings to one of the worst problems in the show.  Goblin Slayer has to manage a careful balance of goblins being weak, tiny monsters while also being genuinely dangerous packs of monsters and it falls apart instantly if you drop the conceit of the gamey world.

When the noob party enters the goblin cave and fall for a basic trap because none of them can see the branching path for some reason, I saw it before the Goblin Slayer explained what happened so I guess I’m more observant than people in the moment but ok.  Because of the ambush the sorceress loses her cool and manages to kill 1 measely goblin before being taken down by a bunch of them.  The most hilarious bit about this is that the goblins are genuinely the size of small children and while the sorceress is no bodybuilder she should be able to physically overpower at least 2 or 3 of the bastards before they stab her with a poison knife, but she can’t for some reason.  Main girls swings her own staff ineffectually and while her total inexperience makes this more reasonable the fact is both her and sorceress should be able to do plenty of damage because of just how small the goblins are. Sword Noob rushes in and kills bunch before he swings his sword overhead like a scrub and it hits the cave roof, knocking his sword out of the way and he dies.  Meanwhile main girl casts heal on her poisoned sorceress and this has no effect.  Not sure why because even if this follows MMO rules you’d think the heal would close the wound even if it doesn’t affect the poison but ok guess that’s a minor detail.  Monk girl steps up to the plate and kills a few more before a hobgoblin appears from nowhere and manhandles her because he’s actually big enough for that and she gets raped by a bunch of goblins as main girl runs away carrying the dying sorceress.  Then the Goblin Slayer shows up and pwns all the goblins, even clubbing little goblin children to death and there’s a post fight exposition scene where the main girl explains that what happened to her party was actually a common experience and- fuck me this is so lazy and hamfisted.

Everything that happens in episode 1 pre-Goblin Slayer is there to establish the idea that the tragic loss of half the noob party and the goblin rape-induced breakdown of the third member is a common affair, and it does this by hitting all the notes of the common story it explains post battle.  Are you shitting me?  How redundant is that?  Hey let’s have the main character experience the common experience firsthand so we can show it’s common and then tell everyone it’s common.  If it’s common knowledge then why the fuck didn’t the adventurer’s guild lady say “No y’all noobs ain’t ready for that shit goblin nests are worse than you think?”  Is there no need to preserve budding adventurers?  I mean obviously the point is so the first episode can be dark, edgy and bloody to attract a target demographic but in universe it makes no sense for this to have transpired as it does.  Episode 1 is handled that way not because it’s an organic story development but to give the intended audience what they want and make the characters do what the writer wanted.  This is called contrivance, an artificial development in a story which does not arise naturally from the setting or characters.

No one in all of episode 1 displays any logic whatsoever until main girl buys some horrible looking chainmail.  Adventurer guild lady, who would be in a position to know, doesn’t warn the noobs adequately about how dangerous goblin nests are.  None of the noobs show any skill with their weapons or abilities.  Which incidentally is why the gamey bullshit is needed I think, because the writer doesn’t know how to write characters that would logically fit into a bonafide fantasy world.  For example the Goblin Slayer himself remarks that Sword Noob’s sword was too long and that’s why he died – and not 2 minutes later he successfully uses a spear which is twice as long as the sword he was describing as too long.  This a sign of the author a, not thinking very well and b, not understanding real fighting at all.  What the Goblin Slayer shows is that weapon length was not the problem, how it was used was the problem.  Sword Noob uses wild slashes throughout the fight and the one that gets him killed is an overhead strike.  No one who actually knew a damn thing about fighting would use an overhead strike, in a cave, against tiny opponents.  You could use nothing but a low guard, controlled cuts and thrusts and you could wipe all of them out without a scratch because you have 5 times their reach and 10 times their muscle mass.  And the only reason Sword Noob fights this way is because he behaves like a video game noob, anyone who could afford a sword in a realistic fantasy world would either have the training to use it, or have fought in a battle at some point to get the money to buy it.

Moreover I have to ask, where are the goblins getting their weapons exactly?  Nothing they built was made out of anything but wood and bone save for their weapons.  And their weapons are scaled to them, they’re using tiny goblin daggers and axes, not daggers and axes they scavenged from the dead because those would look significantly larger on them.  Am I seriously to believe that goblins have the capacity to make steel but not the ability to make anything else that stone age savages couldn’t build?  Because that’s retarded.  Setting aside the weapon issue how are goblins so well known for raiding towns and carting off women, who they then rape?  The fuckers are tiny – an adult woman has to weigh like ten of them, how are they taking them – oh I see because you could force them at weapon point.  That’s why goblins have weapons.  But why the rape  I mean we didn’t see any female goblins and I could extrapolate from this (and certain doujins) that maybe they need to rape women to breed.  Despite the fact goblins should have literal baby dicks.  I’m just kidding, it’s obviously done to make the show darker and edgier.

And this is the nail in the coffin of Goblin Slayer.  Everything in it seems to be there to achieve a desired effect or story development no matter how stupid it appears on it’s own.  Like when the Goblin Slayer impales the shaman with his spear.  It would be like a human being nailed by a fucking ballista – instant death – if we’re being realistic, but no it survives the gut busting blow because it’s a higher leveled goblin.  Goblin Slayer has no interest in a well crafted, realistic fantasy world.  That alone would not be a death blow to the series but the fact the story itself is filled with artificial characters who behave as the script demands rather than how people in said position would naturally behave, consigns this one to the fire.  It’s trash and I can only hope the people who put this soulless product out there to sell know that.

I fully understand if any of you I find this show fun to watch.  I did write a defense of Akame ga Kill once upon a time and I too love my trashy popcorn flicks from time to time.  But if you came here for a well crafted story, with a living world, intriguing characters and a gripping narrative – boy have you come to the wrong place.  See you in the next one.

PS the “Computer Generated” in the title is in reference to the fact the world is gamey and I didn’t mention it above because it would have ruined my flow.  So it stuck it here to be extra uncreative and hamfisted – can’t have the audience not understand absolutely everything right?