Understanding Reviews: How Getting too Personal Wrecks a Review

Darling in the Franxx

Awkwardly titled though this post may be I’m deliberately playing off the video which this serves as a response to, a recent review by Mother’s Basement regarding Darling in the Franxx.  The following will assume you’re up to speed on the Darling in the Franxx, so major spoilers warning.  Now let’s begin.

Inserting yourself into reviews is a fine line to tread.  This might seem hypocritical as a writer’s tastes will obviously color their review, and the fact I wrote an entire post about how being me causes me to class with mainstream consensus so often.  However the video linked above is a clear demonstration that injecting too much of yourself, your thoughts and your values into a show is not only possible but a serious downside to any review.  The most obvious pitfall is coming in with warped expectations.  For example in the post linked above I detailed how Gigguk’s view of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as a SnK clone actively interfered with his review because it caused him to see narrative decisions caused by thematic differences between the two shows as weaknesses on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part, rather than seeing how well Koutetsujou no Kabaner’s narrative choices played into it’s themes.

On the flip side though, understanding a reviewers’ biases can be good.  For example if you came to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri looking for a new SnK, then as Gigguk describes you will likely be disappointed.  Moreover understanding biases can give you a sense of what kind of shows you and your reviewer of choice are mostly likely to differ on in a broad sense.  For example I’m a big Digibro fan but one area I know we differ on is history, both irl and fictional in-universe history.  I value history real or imagined to a great degree and Digibro doesn’t.  In practical terms it means that A. I know which shows I shouldn’t necessarily take his word on and B. I won’t get salty when he shits on some I show I like because I know that fundamentally the subject matter is not to his tastes and it is to mine.  This is why many reviewers, myself included, often do point out their biases when it’s relevant to do so, because it can help the audience.

With the general stuff out of the way the question is how did Mother’s Basement fuck his review up?  His review is broken down into 4 major points all of which relate to the world building and how it was handled in episode 19 versus the rest of the show.  He also makes a minor aside to point out that he thinks the marriage mini-arc is boring because he didn’t care about the side characters and the main characters have already undergone their development.  I disagree but this is because I like all the kids and the aftermath of the marriage arc is important in how it shapes the squad and their attitude towards the “adults” but I digress.  His main complaints are as follows.  1 – They botched Dr. Franxx’s backstory and made him a one note character because they boiled his amoral motivations down to being an atheist and his love interest side story was just a framing tool used as a distraction for the audience, so we wouldn’t bitch about the massive info-dump that Episode 19 was.  2 – Magma energy, assuming it is actually energy derived from magma, makes no sense – and if it’s a plot device made from a special fictional material the switch from oil to magma energy and the technology it produces comes way too fast and with too little resistance.  Also he has some issues with the allegorical components of the magma energy and the technology it produces.  3 – The Klaxosaurs have a really striking design so they should have a really interesting origin, and they don’t.  4 – It doesn’t make sense that Dr. Franxx should be the one to create the Franxx or that he should have so many problems understanding them in the past if he’s the one who built them.  And in case the Franxx turn out to be made from Klaxosuars (which the next episode confirms) then that’s a weak twist because this show is a homage to Neon Genesis Evangelion and we could see that twist from a mile away.

Let’s start with point 1.  I do agree that Dr. Franxx has, on the whole, been made into a more one dimensional mad scientist than earlier episodes let on.  But Mother’s Basement’s reasoning behind it misguided and comes from him being really butthurt about atheists being seen as immoral by some sections of the population and this being reflected as trope in fiction.

As Mother’s Basement points out, even before the world goes to shit and before the death of his wife, Dr. Franxx was not bound by morals or ethics.  Dr. Franxx astutely points out that no one complains until after he succeeds because they want access to his successes, and this is part of what shapes his attitude.  This has plenty of real world parallels and one of the reasons the “mad scientist with no morals or ethics” is a trope is because the real world is rife with examples of horrible experiments performed either as a torture or for the sake of knowledge.  For an example of each, most of modern medicine’s understanding of how the human body reacts to cold comes from the Nazis and the data they collected while using freezing temperatures to torture Jews – and once upon a time in America they infected black men with Syphillis and didn’t give them treatment to study the effects of the disease.  Hardly research done by moral scientists in an ethical environment, but these experiments happened.  This sort of stuff is, I think, a better root source for the trope Dr. Franxx now fits into, than atheism, even if atheism is sometimes thrown into the mix.

Mother’s Basement was super salty about Dr. Franxx saying he was an atheist when confronted by questions of ethics or God because he saw that as the writer’s justification Dr. Franxx’s mental state and a trope as described above.  Personally though his delivery made it seem more like a deflection to me, like it was a placeholder excuse when he was confronted with questions he didn’t have a real answer for.  Most people do not reason themselves into their moral code, it comes from the environment they grow up in.  To them it’s just normal.  Dr. Franxx never had those things, nor does he have detailed reasons why he doesn’t have them in the same way most people don’t have detailed reasons as to why they espouse the moral code they do.  In simple terms Dr. Franxx is probably a sociopath and his atheism comment is not so much a justification for his beliefs as it is a quip.  I can understand that some atheists might take offence but as an atheist myself my response is grow a fucking thicker skin, I don’t think he meant anything deeper by the line nor do I think the writers are attacking atheists.

What I find most troublesome about Dr. Franxx’s portrayal is that it seemed like he actually had developed more empathy in his later years as per some of his lines to Hiro regarding Zero Two.  I mean technically they could have served as goads for Hrio because Dr. Franxx wanted to see his experiments come to fruition but they seemed to come from a place of empathy and they made Dr. Franxx seem more human than the rest of the adults despite his obviously mechanized body parts.  Now is he has become a cackling mad scientist all but orgasming in the face of the Klaxosaur Queen and it is cringey.  I do think they made Dr. Franxx into a worse character in Episodes 19 and 20 but Mother’s Basement’s obsession with the atheist line really skewed his analysis and made him come across as whining triggered snowflake putting his own insecurities about how atheists, and by extension he, are perceived.  I’m sure it resonated with people who felt the same but it legit ruined his analysis for me and many others if the comment section was anything to go by.  He even could have said it offended him and that would have been fine if he left it at that but his salt over that line colored so much of his analysis on this particular point that it really came across as a whine, not an analysis at all.

Point 2 is where Mother’s Basement is somehow even more correct and equally more infuriating.  I get that magma energy is a confusing name as it could conceivably refer to energy derived from magma but the fact that it never behaved like geothermal energy and attracted the Klaxosaurs the same way humans collecting Imulsion lead to conflict with the Locust in Gears of War made it pretty clear early on that “magma energy” was a fictional power source not energy derived from actual magma.  That he allowed for this would suggest that not even Mother’s Basement actually thought it was energy derived from magma.

The problem with his analysis at this point is that he argues that there’s no way big oil would go down without a fight and magma energy would not be adopted this quickly nor would it result in the meteoric rise of APE, the scientists (who we now know were manipulated by aliens) who bring about the use of magma energy.  His analysis is only true if 2025 Earth was exactly like ours and the show does not spell that out.  Sure it’s only seven years away but that still gives the setting some leeway.  Maybe green energy has overtaken oil and magma energy is seen as a super efficient green energy.  Maybe the world has all but run out of oil and magma energy is a necessary alternative, meaning that APE was in the right place at the right time, that would surely help account for their rapid rise to power.   It’s  not that Mother’s Basement is totally wrong here, in a more realistic show with more attention given to the setting his concerns would be totally valid.   But he isn’t giving the show an ounce of leeway when the writing gives it at least a little if we’re being strict, and a lot given that Trigger is involved and Imaishi usually plays very fast and loose with his world building for the sake of moving the story along and getting to the action.

Mother’s Basement has similar concerns about how quickly the magma energy tech is adopted by the world.  Again if the conditions of 2025 Earth are more dire than current Earth this problem mostly goes away.  His most accurate point here is that there’s no way in hell the majority of humans would be all over a drug that makes them sterile even if it grants them immortality, though technically they could have kids and then take the immortality drug and mitigate the sterility problem that way.  It is a weakness in the writing and one that I believe comes from Trigger’s tendency to move past some of the trickier logistics of their show’s backstories to get into the action and hit the twists.  Also addressing the minutiae that Mother’s Basement is really immersing himself into takes time and it’s time the writers seem not to feel they have to spare.  It’s just a cost of creating the show and I don’t think it’s an especially important one but at least Mother’s Basement is making a solid argument here and it obviously would matter more to people like him.

What makes this portion of his analysis insufferable is his talk of allegories.  He complains that the magma energy and the destruction of the environment is an allegory for the environmental damages brought about by oil, and that the people making the allegory have done no research given how quickly it is adopted and how big oil doesn’t fight it.  How does he know?  Is he a mind reader?  It’s easy to see that magma energy could be an allegory for oil, but it could also not be an allegory.  It could just be an idea the writers thought was interesting.  I’m very much with Tolkien on disliking allegory in general and how it is confused with applicability.  I don’t go looking for allegories when I watch or read things because allegory can only come from the audience and doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s thoughts on any given subject.  A good example where the author’s intent is clear is Parasyte.  Shinichi kills Gotou with a poison that resulted from chemicals humans were illegally dumping and Migi is not subtle at all when he explains how dangerous our waste can be.  The author’s intent there is crystal clear and so the environmental message is fine.  But getting hung up an allegory YOU impose on the creators whether or not it accurately reflects their intent is fucking stupid, and when Mother’s Basement did it it just set me and other people off.

Point 3 is just stupid.  Yes I’m sure everyone wishes that the Klaxosaurs had a totally unique and original backstory.  But the fact that their designs are striking and iconic has literally no impact on how creative their backstory will be.  The Gunmen from Gurren Lagann are pretty iconic and their origins are pretty standard, as an example.  I appreciate Mother’s Basement’s desire for the Klaxosaurs to be more fleshed out, interesting and unique but his logic as to why they SHOULD be more unique is really fucking stupid.  Cool designs do not equal cool backstories, they literally never have and I have no idea why he thought they should.

Point 4 is kind of a mess.  For starters him pointing out that Dr. Franxx is a biologist not an engineer is asinine.  Dr. Franxx is clearly intended to be the smartest man around as a trope but even getting away from that has Mother’s Basement not heard the term Renaissance Man.  Some people are just really good at a wide variety of subjects and they tend to be geniuses.  One my grandparent’s neighbors is like that.  He’s super knowledgeable about planes, wine and a wide variety of other subjects, while also being one of the world’s foremost experts on blood diseases.  People like that exist in real life, that Mother’s Basement mocks this idea before going into the rest of the argument looks like him poisoning the well, i.e. trying to discredit the character from the outset.

I do agree that Dr. Franxx not knowing the issues the early Franxx wouldn’t make sense if they weren’t actually made from Klaxosaurs, but not only did Episode 20 confirm that they were made from Klaxosaurs, Mother’s Basement predicts as much and calls it a weak twist for being obvious because Darling in the Franxx is a homage to NGE.  So his mechanical criticisms are irrelevant and he expected this might be the case.  But his weak twist complaint is just as bad.  First off just because shows have similar elements that doesn’t mean they are a homage to something else, and even if it is a homage that doesn’t mean the story will follow the ideas of the work it’s paying homage to.  Also do remember that some people haven’t seen NGE and may not know that the Franxx being made out of Klaxosaurs is an obvious twist.  Sure it’s a weak twist to him but he doesn’t say it like that, he lays down his opinion as if it’s as factual as the stuff he brought up earlier about how big oil behaves or how long it takes for new medicines to be adopted.   Honestly to me it seemed like Darling in the Franxx was dropping more hints that the Klaxosaurs were humans, like Suisei no Gargantia or Shin Sekai Yori.

I think that about wraps this up.  I don’t blame Mother’s Basement for feeling the way he does or having the views he does, but I do think he desperately needed to keep the personal side of his analysis in check.  Like I said at the beginning it’s a fine line between including useful bias info and making the review too personal but it’s also not a line that many cross or that it’s difficult to avoid.  Maybe you need to step back and think about how other people might think about a show, episode or scene.  Maybe you make a point to clarify what’s your opinion versus what is more objectively factual.  You can put a lot of yourself into a review with great success, but Mother’s Basement really botched this one.  Regardless of where we disagree, his analysis was too full of bits that I would best describe as whining and nitpicking to make it seem like a credible review.  I can respect arguments I disagree with if they are well formed, and this one was too warped by Mother’s Basement’s personal hang ups to make it appear well formed – even if I agree with some of the conclusions he puts forth, all too often I find his reasoning to be flawed.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

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Halloween Special – Japan Wins at Zombies

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I remember reading once that on the whole the Japanese think zombies are just ridiculous because of differences regarding burial practices, they do cremations most if not all the time, so the dead would never rise up.  That being said zombies rising from the dead has gradually shifted from being the standard in the West to the realm of more hardcore fantasy stuff while more mainstream zombie works typically use a more scientific explanation like a virus to bring about the zombie apocalypse.  Why then does Japan win the international zombie contest I just made up?  Because they made a couple of zombie shows which outclass anything I seen come out over here and I think I have a handle on why, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  In the meantime the shows I’ll use to justify this position are, in the order I saw them, High School of the Dead (oh come on you knew that had to be on this list), Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and Gakkou Gurashi.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

If I had to list just one reason why the Japanese seem to do zombies so well it would be that the zombies themselves are not the focus of any zombie story – the best example of that I’ve come across is the manga I Am a Hero, but in that case the zombies are especially fucking weird.  Maybe that’s too generic a way to put it as it’s not like zombies are the main focus of a movie like Zombieland but it nonetheless rings true.  Based on the zombie movies I’ve seen, it seems like the modern American style is to focus heavily on either floods of zombies overrunning an area like in World War Z or to put a lot of emphasis on seeing a small band of survivors gun down zombie hordes Left 4 Dead style (i.e. the finale of Zombieland).  By comparison the Japanese approach seems to put much more emphasis on the confusion caused by a zombie outbreak and especially how the survivors, well survive.  That last bit is especially important because it not just about how characters fight off zombies and forage for food, the strain surviving the initial outbreak or prolonged survival periods puts on the survivors and how this strain manifests is a huge part of Japanese zombie shows.

Another major difference seems to be the relative differences in human agency in a zombie apocalypse.  Japan gives the humans a much greater share of agency and influence than the zombie menace.  This isn’t to say human enclaves aren’t overrun by zombie hordes from time to time or that human society doesn’t collapse due to the zombie outbreak as is the case in Western zombie movies, however the survivors don’t need to rely on intense firepower to survive the way they do in western movies.  In Gakkou Gurashi the primary deadly weapon the four cute girls had access to was a goddamn shovel, and even in HOTD which had more guns a lot of the time a boktou, a mop haft, a nail gun and baseball bat were all the characters needed to get by.  Koutetsujou no Kabaneri did require more firepower but in that specific case the zombies were made exponentially harder to kill unless you took big risks and got up close to say cut their heads off and even so, as I’ve discussed before the most destructive force in the show are humans – the ones with ill intent – not the Kabane.

As I mentioned above one of the major aspects of Japanese zombie shows is the psychological effects the zombie outbreak has on the survivors, and where applicable the world at large.  Of the three shows I mentioned Gakkou Gurashi hits this particular nail most firmly on the head with it’s main character Yuki though all the cute girls struggle with this issue.  Yuki was so traumatized by the zombie outbreak and in particular the loss of the only remaining authority figure in her life that her mind just straight up broke.  She doesn’t perceive the world properly and is basically a Chuunibyou character except her Chuunibyou is clearly a coping mechanism instead of teenage kids being retards.  Biba, despite all the criticism thrown his way is also a great example of the psychological strain of survival.  His circumstances were extreme even by zombie apocalypse standards but his worldview has dramatically shifted not just because of his time out spent commanding the fight against the Kabane but because he’s seen how others behave because they’ve been consumed by their fear of the Kabane.  Ikoma is similar in that regard, part of his drive comes from his disgust of everyone else’s fear and his own past failings with fear.

Part of the reason this focus on psychology is so effective is because the stories themselves are paradoxically less concerned with the zombies than the character stories which arise from the zombie outbreak and yet put more detail into the zombies than most of their western counterparts.  The shows don’t overly concern themselves with the spread of the zombie outbreak the way say World War Z, the movie not the novel, did.  Like even in HOTD where the outbreak happens when the story starts the zombies overrun the school and surrounding city in like maybe an hour and the rest of show from that point is focused on how the characters will get from the school to each of their various objectives while getting past zombie hoards which are usually too large to fight, and how the strain of that journey affects them – and also fanservice.

On the other hand all three shows also invest at least some time making the zombies extra special or unique somehow.  Takagi spends the early episodes of HOTD trying to figure out the characteristics of the zombies and the Busujima makes sure to point out that relying on established biology, like how fast the corpses would rot, is not something they should take for granted.  In Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, the Kabane are terrifying because they are fast, aggressive and display a moderate amount of intelligence like being able to operate trains or set up an ambush, but what makes them special are their durable hearts and the more advanced forms they can take like the Wazatori and the fused colony.  Even Gakkou Gurashi were the zombies were the most in line with conventional ideas about zombies, they had a nasty surprise by making the teacher all the girls loved be the “final boss” of sorts for the series and the fact she maintained enough of herself to continue her patrols and even attempt to write in her diary despite being a zombie was fucking awesome – seriously the first time they teased that she was around by showing the hidden room and her diary with the crude zombie writing mixed in with the teacher’s was some of most hair-raising shit I’ve ever seen, the build-up was fucking amazing.

Another edge zombie anime have over Western zombie films are the fact they can be so wildly different.  Of the Western movies I think of there are really just two forms, serious zombie movies and comic zombie movies, both of which still rely on a lot of the same scenarios and action scenes.  By comparison HOTD, Gakkou Gurashi and Koutetsujou no Kabaneri are all very different.  While three shows have a certain amount of overlap they ultimately have very different hooks, art styles and narrative arcs – and all of them are very different to what Western films, at least those I’ve or am aware of offer.  And they are all worth a watch in the event you’ve not seem them either.

HOTD is about boobs, tits, oppai, “the plot” and BOOBS.  I mean it’s also about the journey of the main cast as they try to navigate the zombie infested area around them, and that journey is surprisingly engaging, but we’ve all seen matrix boobs – after that I thinks it’s hard to argue that fanservice isn’t what HOTD is really all about.  It has a nice mix of action, suspense and drama mixed in for good measure but overall it’s just a good time and it knows when to take itself seriously – and when to take Gainaxing to the next level.

Gakkou Gurashi really goes all in on the psychological aspects of surviving the zombie apocalypse, with Yuki and her broken mind being the standard bearer of that idea.  There is also an intruging mystery aspect to the show as later episodes imply that the zombie outbreak may been known about in advance and might have even been an experiment. What really sets Gakkou Gurashi apart though is just how powerless the cast is relative to most zombie-braving bands.  Even taking Kurumi’s high physical capabilities into account, the group’s best weapon is a shovel – not exactly much of an arsenal.  And Kurumi is still quite vulnerable to emotional reactions which can stop her in her tracks, like when she’s forced to kill the zombie of a former friend.

And Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is an awesome steampunk action show which really makes a point of highlighting how, even when they are surrounded by super zombies, incredibly dangerous the humans are.  The show takes a thorough approach to this as well, showing how high people can rise in the face of adversity through Ikoma and the main group and also the depths they can sink to via Biba and his troops.  And while Biba is clearly the villain his actions are not the actions of someone who’s just turned feral as is frequently the case in zombie works, where minor characters take advantage of the loss of society to create their own group wherein they have all the power and take advantage of those around them.  Biba’s actions are those of someone driven mad by his own struggle against the Kabane and the actions of the other people around him, which in his case was to generally leave him to die and hide behind their walls.  Also I want to stress how the Koutestujou no Kabaneri was able to make the Kabane consistently terrifying throughout the show, something many zombie-fests struggle with.

In conclusion, if you wanted a couple of Halloween anime recommendations, you have them now.  And I made up for the fact that Anime Trick or Treat totally failed – so we are all good here.  Go get your zombie on and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Understanding History: Who’s the Real Samurai, Yoichi or Toyohisa?

 

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The following will assume you’ve seen some of or are currently watching Drifters, and there will be minor spoilers you’ve been warned.  Which of the two main characters of Drifters do you think is the real samurai, Yoichi or Toyohisa?  Undoubtedly the majority of people across the globe would say Toyohisa, after all he’s the one living by the bushido code and fighting with a katana, Yoichi is a girly-looking archer with a more ruthless approach to warfare.  But the answer is undoubtedly Yoichi.

The first part of understanding why the answer is Yoichi, is understanding that samurai as it’s commonly used is a misnomer.  Hollywood, and most anime, have perpetuated the misconception that samurai were the warrior class of Japan, they aren’t though.  What most films and anime call samurai are actually called bushi, hence where the term bushido  (warrior’s way) comes from.  Samurai are specific subset of the bushi, kind of like how squares are rectangles where all sides are equal in length, samurai are bushi who served as a sort imperial guard.  This can be seen in their linguistic roots, as samurai is derived from sabaru, meaning to serve, whereas bushi comes from bu, which is probably best defined as war or martial.  This is important because samurai would’ve commonly wielded swords, spears or polearms, which is part of why katanas are the iconic samurai weapon in today’s depictions, bushi on the other hand spent most of their history as archers.  The only anime I know of off hand that gets this distinction right is Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, because in that show all of the riflemen were called bushi whereas Kurusu was called a samurai and he primarily fought with a sword, he also was clearly an elite guardsmen of the main princess.

The next thing to clear up is bushido.  Bushido was widely popularized in Japan after it was created and it’s been popularized around the globe ever since but it’s a horribly inaccurate representation of Japan’s military history and culture.  Bushido didn’t become a thing until 100 years after the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, which took place in the 1500’s.  Which means Toyohisa should have no concept of bushido whatsoever, let alone actually practice it, because it hadn’t been invented by the time he “died” and was transported to the fantasy world.  An especially important thing to note it that Japan had been at peace for those 100 years between the Sengoku Jidai and the creation of bushido, and it would remain a land at peace for quite some time.  When bushido was created, most bushi served as government officials who could carry swords, not as career warriors proving their worth on the battlefield.  Bushido was what caused the katana become treated with near reverence, suddenly the bushi world had all kinds of sword-centric rules of engagement, codes of honor, and dueling norms.  Bushido also introduced the idea of kataki or honorable vengeance, where a lord’s bushi retainers were morally obligated to take vengeance on their lord’s killer even at the cost of their own lives.

Prior to the introduction of bushido, bushi warfare was dominated by a doctrine called kyuba no michi, the path of the horse and bow.  This can be traced back to the creation of the bushi around the year 1000 AD.  At the time much of Japan was ruled by the Heian empire, which was starting to collapse as it could no longer afford to maintain its large armies and banditry was on the rise.  To combat their problems, Heian rulers hired mercenaries from the Emishi, a northern Japanese people who are ethnically closer to Mongols or Russians than the indigenous Japanese.  The Emishi, perhaps by way of their Mongol/Russian roots were a warlike people who fought primarily as horse-archers.  The Emishi were far more effective than Heian troops and when enough of them were rewarded with land, the Emishi gained enough influence to create a place for themselves, and any Heian warriors who chose to copy their style of warfare, in the Heian social hierarchy, the bushi class.  As you might imagine from a class born of mercenaries, bushi tactics did not even slightly resemble the kinds of behavior described in bushido.  To the bushi, winning mattered more than anything.  Night attacks, the taking of hostages and the slaughter of noncombatants were far more commonplace than a stereotypical honorable samurai duel.  In fact bushi duels, when they occurred, were almost always mounted archery contests not sword fights.

The split between bushido and kyuba no michi and early bushi tactics can be partially attributed to military romanticism on the part of bushido’s creator, but mostly to the fact that the former was created in peacetime while the latter was born out of war.  Avoiding danger is crucial to warfare, the root of most military innovations comes from a desire to find ways to kill the enemy while minimizing the risk to one’s self and one’s troops.  And for most of human history the bow was the result of that desire, archers were an essential part of every army across the globe because they could kill from a distance.  Horse-archers were especially tough to deal with, as they had the ability to kill from a distance while also having the mobility of cavalry, and it should come as no surprise that the most successful barbarian invasions of the East and West were spurred by steppe tribes like the Huns and Mongols, because that’s where horse-archers were most widely used.  The victory-first tactics of the early bushi also reflect the desire to avoid harm while harming the enemy.  In light of all this it should be fairly obvious that Yoichi, the archer who favors more ruthless tactics, is the real poster boy of what we call samurai, by which we usually mean bushi.  This really comes as no surprise if you consider that he’s from the Genpei War or Gempei War, the two names are interchangeable and it occurred in the 1100’s, because that war cemented the dominance of the bushi and resulted in the first bakufu, or military government of Japan, which caused Japan to have a sort of dual monarchy system for most of Japan’s medieval history where high society and culture was dominated by the Emperor and the military and policy was controlled by the bakufu, or as most people know it, the Shogunate.

At this point I’ve answered the titular question but I still want to talk about some common, i.e. mainly informed by Hollywood and Orientalism, myths about the bushi.  The myth that probably bothers me most is how the katana is idolized as a super sword that can cut through anything and is the best sword ever made.  This bothers me because the katana is total dogshit when it comes to “cutting through anything.”  The katana cuts exceptionally well against unarmored and lightly armored foes, but most cultures in Asia and Europe have been using armor capable of doing more damage to a katana’s edge than the katana would do to the armor since before the katana was ever even used.  The reason the katana was the main sword of Japan was because it was good at defeating Japanese armor, which in terms of durability was garbage compared to heavy armor all across Europe and Asia.  This mostly stems from Japan’s lack of good iron, most of Japan’s iron is what European smiths called pig iron, and they didn’t use it because it was too high in carbon and swords made from it would shatter.  In fact, early in Japan’s history bronze imported from China was more valuable than iron because local smiths hadn’t figured out how to forge pig iron effectively.  The answer to that question is folding, which is where the myth of blades being folded a thousand times over comes from.  By folding the metal, smiths could iron out the excess carbon and make durable swords, however they didn’t fold them a thousand times because that would flush out all the carbon and the blades would shatter on the first hit.  I seem to recall a blacksmith saying that katanas are generally folded eight times, but I’m not an expert so I can’t say for sure how many times they were folded beyond definitely not a thousand.

The other reason katanas, but mostly bows, did so well in Japan is that in addition light armor, I want to say here that Japanese armor isn’t badly made because it is well designed but Japan just didn’t have the materials needed to make it really heavy, Japanese warfare seems to have totally disregarded the shield (I looked into this some more and it seems shields were used early on but fell out of use before the bushi class became a thing).  If you pay close attention to the fight in Drifters episode one, before Toyohisa is sucked into the fantasy world, all the spearmen who impale him are using two handed pikes called yari, which at this point in Japanese history were about 15 feet long, and have no shields.  I’m not sure exactly why shields seem to have been nonexistent in Japan, but the fact that most Japanese weapons required two hands to wield or are commonly used with two hands speaks to the shield’s absence in Japanese warfare.  The lack of a shield also helps explain why bows were more prominent than swords for most of the bushi’s history.  Spears have a huge reach advantage against swords, especially if we’re talking about the 15 foot yari, and one of the main counters to the reach advantage is the shield.  If a swordsman has a shield, it increases his chances of getting in close without taking damage, and in close is where a swordsman has the advantage over a spearman.  The lack of shield makes getting in a close a risky business, as seen by how Toyohisa was impaled by like fifteen guys when he charged the spearmen, and since risk is bad, the bow becomes a great option, especially since the enemy have no shields to block arrows with.

Basically what I’m trying to say is unless you’ve actually spent a fair amount actually looking into Japan’s military history, forget everything you think you know about samurai.  Popular knowledge of the samurai is grossly inaccurate and for whatever reason, Japan itself rarely seems to try to correct any misconceptions about the bushi in any kind of easily accessible public way, and most anime don’t either.  Also it would be great if the world stopped sucking the katana’s dick and looked at other swords more often, personally I find weapons like the falx and romphaia to be far more fascinating and effective, especially since the katana played a such a minor role in the bushi’s history.  Like I get it, we all have our favorite swords and it’s fine to like katanas, just remember that the awesome samurai you’re picturing in your head usually fought with a bow, or maybe a polearm since those were way more popular than swords before bushido because they had a reach advantage, instead because he were less likely to die that way.  And Yoichi, who just had a drunken manservice scene in the latest episode of Drifters, is definitely more of a real samurai (i.e. bushi) than Toyohisa.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Popularity: Quality and Popular Shows

Recently I saw a short review of One Punch Man by anime Youtuber BaronJ, and it’s one of the best ones I think he’s done because as he reviewed the show he talked about the asinine tendency some people have to instantly  assume or otherwise believe that shows which are popular are bad shows, which is the anime equivalent of arguing that games as popular as say Call of Duty must also be of the same relatively low quality as Call of Duty.  Since I liked the video I just thought I’d give my two cents on the same subject, there will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Just in case anyone who feels this way, as in you believe popular shows are bad shows, made through the first paragraph without closing out the page, I’m going to let you in a little secret, I totally get where you’re coming from.  I don’t agree with you, mind, but as someone who is similar to you, I get you.  I have a tendency to avoid popular shows, well sort of.  Technically I was introduced  to anime on popular shows and when I returned from my anime viewing hiatus I did it with a popular show and from there I watched several more popular shows.  But as I got more comfortable and more familiar with anime I started to avoid popular shows more often, I wanted to be that guy who knew the most awesome cult classic, who found the interesting stuff off the beaten path instead of walking the same mainstream road most anime fans followed.  I mean for fucks sake I have an entire subsection of this blog dedicated to “Hidden Gems,” though I haven’t given it as much attention as I would like to.  Believe me I get the appeal of writing off popular shows and trying to find something awesome and more unique.  One of the many reasons I am such a huge fan Katanagatari is because I know the ending is divisive and I enjoy pettily lording my ability to enjoy interesting anime over the casual anime fan.  But really that’s as far as it goes for me now, and that’s as far as it should go.

See here’s the thing, narcissism, a mild form of narcissism anyway, is a part of this writing off of popular shows.  We are all the heroes of our own story and most of us want to be special, someone distinct from the others around us.  I feel this is especially pronounced in anime community, anime has after all been something of a fringe medium in mainstream culture for decades now and it still is.  However it is less so now than it used to be, between social media, speed subbing, and just general cultural evolution more people are getting into anime than they used to and it’s slowly but surely becoming less of a weird and unknown thing in the mainstream. To those of us who are used to being on the fringe the next logical step therefore is as follows: if anime is getting more popular than by rejecting mainstream anime and finding the good stuff no one knows about, I can remain fringe, here meaning special.  I’m oversimplifying of course but as someone who had this mindset for years and still does to a lesser extent I feel pretty comfortable in my conjecture thus far.  There is however another side to this, the SAO effect.

Now the SAO effect is not specific to SAO or even anime, it’s present in every form of entertainment, I just call it that because it makes sense within the confines of anime.  The SAO effect is really quite simply, it’s when a show which is altogether terrible becomes hugely popular to the point where it’s basically worshiped by more causal viewers and causes major industry changes.  Much of the backlash towards popular shows can be attributed to the SAO effect, wherein the hardcore fans, like myself, get incredibly pissed that a garbage show like SAO is made popular by the masses of casual fans and how that popularity boom effects the landscape of what we perceive as “our” medium.  And as someone who has written several posts bashing  shitty SAO clones, SAO itself and why we need make more creative and original shows, trust me I get the hatred towards the SAO effect.  And the rift between hardcore fans and casual fans is real, even discounting all the venom I’ve seen on Youtube and other sites, I remember getting into a big argument with a casual fan over an episode of Fairy Tail 2014.  I ripped the thing to shreds because the episode was shit, and the casual fan basically told me to fuck off, I responded rather rudely and he did the same and then I tried to dial things back a bit and wrote a couple big paragraphs breaking down all the reasons I thought the episode was shit, no personal attacks, just my reasoning.  And it didn’t matter because that guy didn’t want to argue reason, by that point he had already classified me as a vile hardcore fan who ruined anime for newcomers and just perpetuated the argument by making attacks on me and hardcore anime fans without ever making a point of his own while my analytical breakdown responses got progressively nastier as I continued to explain my position but decided he was fair game to insult by that point.

Anyway the point is I get the reaction, I’ve been there and in some instances I’m still there.  I’ve heard great things about the mindfuck that is Serial Experiments Lain or how good Monster is, or for an even more popular example, I still haven’t watched Berserk yet because the first time I tried I couldn’t even make it through the first episode.  And to this day I’ve avoided these shows to some extent because they’re popular.  But at the same time, I have allowed myself to try those “vile” popular shows I kept putting off and here’s what I have to say: popularity is a sign of quality.  You’re probably thinking I’m talking about Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, both of which are great by the way, but this applies to SAO as well just not in the same way.  See quality is by it’s very nature is subjective, there is no objective quality though I’ve surely said there is in prior posts, in which case I meant they are good by metrics most people agree on.  SAO is garbage but it has certain elements that are made with enough skill to be considered quality, mainly the premise and visuals.  And for a lot of anime fans it would appear that’s all you need.  And sure that frustrating when you’re like me and you want people to celebrate true masterpieces like Katangatari and Utawarerumono, but that doesn’t contradict the point I’m making here.  Popularity is a sign of quality, not necessarily a lot of quality or quality that counts where you want it to, but in order for something to get big, it must have something about it which is good and/or appealing and therefore quality craftsmanship.  Just as I can appreciate why SAO is a pile of shit, I can also understand what parts of it are good and why people might be into that.

The quality of a show’s premise I feel plays a particularly big role when it comes to attracting newcomers.  SAO, Erased, and Shingeki no Kyojin are some of the three biggest anime hits in recent years and all three of them, in my opinion, failed to deliver.  Even Shingeki no Kyojin, my favorite of those three is more noteworthy for the big action scenes more so than the story or characters, and I can get the same thing from Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, a show which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than Shingeki no Kyojin.  But the fact that all three shows failed to deliver doesn’t matter to a ton of people, because to that mass of people the premise was crafted with enough quality to pull them all in and keep them interested enough to ignore all the flaws of the shows, assuming they don’t just miss the flaws entirely.  This is probably the biggest gap between hardcore otaku and “casual noobfags” when it comes to the differences in those two groups traditionally value.  To a lot of anime newbies, and I don’t mean to criticize anyone by calling them that because we’ve all been newbies at some point, a good premise is all you need or at least is more interesting than a slice of life moe show.  Trust me I know how that feels, it’s so fucking easy to write off all harem and moe shows or maybe all SAO of AoT clones to give a different example, and get drawn into something with a that has a more interesting premise.

Of course easy is not the same thing as smart or right, as I explained in my breakdown of why Erased’s characters sucked because they solely existed for their narrative purpose rather than existing as independent entities in the world of the show, I’d rather watch a decent moe or harem show than watch another show with a great premise that falls flat on it’s boring ass.  Because to someone like me a good premise alone is not enough to impress, you need to have more substance.  This substance can take many forms, maybe’s it’s characters I really like, or good fight scenes or good comedy.  One on the funniest shows in recent seasons was a moe comedy show called Bakuon.  Now I initially passed over Bakuon because it looked like a dumb moe show, and to be fair that’s exactly what it is, however what I failed to appreciate before I saw it was how much fun it was and how much heart had been into the stupid moe comedy, and that heart is what made it fucking hilarious.  Now Bakuon was not a big hit so far as I’m aware, despite the quality of it’s comedy.  This too is part of the reason people  they popular shows are bad, because a lot of people miss the shows that are great all the way through, shows that are overlooked because they don’t look as interesting as shows with a good premise like Erased.  So it is understandable how the idea that popular shows are bad shows came about, because many popular have quality where designed to attract lots of newbies while they lack quality where hardcore fans want quality, like story, characters, pacing and everything that isn’t premise and visuals.

However to assume that something that’s popular is automatically bad is even more close-minded than ignoring all of a show’s problems just because the premise is good.  One Punch Man is a great example because it’s fucking awesome, the comedy is hilarious, the action scenes are insanely well animated, the voice acting is spot on and the dialogue is solid.  Why would you assume it’s bad?  Maybe if action doesn’t interest you or you didn’t think the comedy was good or thought the idea of a hero who kills everything in one hit was boring I can understand why you might not like the show.  But One Punch Man oozes quality from every aspect of it’s design and it seems mindboogling to me that anyone fails to recognize that.  Moreover a lot of the shows that remain popular for any length of time tend to be high quality shows.  I remember I put off watching Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion for a long time because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the old 90’s animation, but after having seen I can say without a doubt that both shows are great and their 90’s animation fits them exceptionally well, the Evangelion Rebuild movies look far less impressive than the original Neon Genesis Evagelion despite their shiny new graphics.

Now none of this is to say you can’t dislike popular shows, I think plenty of popular shows are crap and I’m usually less impressed by even some of the truly beloved shows like Death Note compared to the community at large.  I just think it’s stupid to assume that something popular is automatically bad, don’t make assume that until you’ve tried it, or if you’re really averse to that maybe wait to hear about it from a friend you trust.  Lots of popular shows are bad, usually because their only quality constructs are their premises and visuals.  But assuming they’re all bad just because they’re popular is shooting yourself in the foot and making you look like an ass.  Have reasons why you hate something, good reasons, substantive reasons that can justify so someone who isn’t you can understand why you think the way you do.  If you just categorize popular shows as bad you could be missing out on great shows, because while some of the biggest popular shows in recent years are infamously terrible, there are plenty that are great or look promising and you honestly owe it yourself to find out for yourself what shows are and aren’t for you.  That’s really the main point here, more so than all the crap about different kinds of quality, what I really want people to do is stop missing out on good shows for stupid reasons, like assuming all popular shows are bad.  Hope you enjoyed the post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Understanding Me: Why I’m Constantly Disagreeing With Most People

You know after writing two decently sized posts about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri almost back to back, I figured I was finally done talking about the show.  Then I saw anime Youtuber Gigguk’s review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and found myself needing to speak out again.  But rather just than go on and on about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri for another post, I think I need to address why it is I’m fighting for the show so much and why I butt heads with popular consensus opinions on a very frequent basis.  There will be scattered spoilers throughout, you’ve been warned.

Let’s start with me, because even though I’m not important, getting into my head is sort of necessary to keep this from looking arrogant, which is not my intent.  I’m a pretty smart guy, I mean I did make through the UC system without ever using tutors or other helpful resources and I still did fine.  More importantly though I have a very specific intellectual skill set, mostly centered around critical thinking, because that’s what a liberal arts major is supposed to take away from their expensive education that didn’t give them any career-specific knowledge like programming.  I’m also a long time student of history and to a lesser extent politics, which means I have to know a lot about a lot if I want to make informed decisions or papers about anything.  Because history and politics are a. complicated and b. cover a wide range of additional subjects.  Part of the reason most people don’t keep up with politics is because you need so much additional knowledge of whatever issue is being discussed to contribute anything useful to a political discussion, and thousands of issues covering every subject imaginable come up regularly in politics.  I work at a political research firm full time and I still don’t have a fraction of the knowledge needed to keep up with the vast majority of politics, and I have way more knowledge about and insight into politics and specific issues than the average Joe.  Likewise I know  way more about history than the average Joe because history education before college is history for babies, it’s so oversimplified and generalized that I consider it almost functionally useless if you want to make any kind of serious argument trying to use history as an example.  And history is about everything, language, religion, social institutions, technology, agriculture, entertainment and and so on because human civilization has never been anything short of complex as fuck.

Anyway to make a long self-aggrandizing narrative short I know a lot of random shit and I’m trained to analyze everything, to observe things and look for patterns and tie those observations into something more coherent.  I also write a lot at my job and as a hobby so at the very least I’ve been given the tools and experience to write well (you may disagree but I like to think I’m at least a competent writer).  Incidentally this is why I have a hard time reading and writing anime blogs that are nothing but short paragraphs broken up by pictures and gifs, they give me a headache and look like the visualization of someone doing a high school presentation while also having a seizure, regardless of how good the actual content is.  So I generally put a lot of thought into whatever media I consume, because that’s what I’ve been trained to do.  This comes between me and many people.  A lot of people don’t look at things critically, which causes them to either miss problems, like how many SAO fans genuinely have no idea of how poorly it’s written, or see a problem where one doesn’t necessarily exist, like people complaining that Kotetsujou no Kabaneri gets dumb later into the series even though it was always dumb.  This brings me to what might be the first barrier between me and most people, observation.

One of the common complaints against Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was that Biba’s actions didn’t make any sense and he was just a psychopath.  I strongly disagree, because while he is a psychopath I see a root cause and clear chain of logic behind his actions, namely that his own father threw him into a suicide mission, which he somehow started succeeding at, before his dad cut off the supplies and left him and his men to die.  I understand what drove him insane and why he acts the way he does.  I understand why he and his men might be bitter and vengeful because of that, I understand why he would never share knowledge with outsiders even if it gave humanity at large a better chance of fighting, I understand why he thinks only the strong survive.  What I can’t understand is how the fuck anyone else missed this, how it was unclear to anyone where Biba was coming from.  Like in some cold, logical place far removed  from the passionate core of my being, I academically understand that someone who wasn’t as observant as me might not have caught all the information or didn’t put it all together and thus was left confused.  But I still don’t really get it, because I don’t feel that way, to me Biba’s motivations were obvious by the time he destroyed Iwato and made even clearer during the speech he made after the destroying the city.  This is where I get most confused by other people, because I have a hard time trying to reconcile the idea that something which I found so obvious was apparently missed by a large percentage of people.

The next major barrier between me an community consensus opinions is that I’m a hardcore anime fan, an otaku.  A lot of people are not as into anime as I am, especially here in America.  Even the other nerdiest people I know in my area know less about anime than me because they watch anime less than they play video games.  This of course creates what I like to call the experience divide, the gap between a noob’s ability to perceive skilled craftsmanship or lackthereof in a thing and an experienced person’s ability to do the same.  The experience divide can be applied to anything, for example I don’t know shit about cars so when my friends talk about cars and get into detail about he specs of different cars or car parts I have no idea what they are talking about beyond x car is faster or y part is more efficient.  In anime I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, and that makes it harder for people who aren’t as into it to relate to me. For example, I was at a nerds only party a few weeks ago, it was fantastic, and one of the people there started talking about anime , so I joined in.  At some point in the conversation this person said the best anime ever was Mirai Nikki… and that’s where the conversation died for me, because I didn’t want to talk about how Mirai Nikki is pleb tier anime and ruin the mood, and I recognized a gap in experience between this person and myself.  And I feel the experience gap had an especially large role to play in the consensus that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was bad.

One of the biggest problems with popular anime, regardless of how good or bad you find any given popular show to be, is that it attracts a lot of newcomers or at least more casual fans.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but casual fans and hardcore fans tend to view shows very differently thanks to the experience gap.  It sounds like a lot of people saw how good the first few episodes of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri were and assumed it could only get better.  Which I find weird, because as someone with more experience, I’ve seen plenty of shows that started strong and fell flat on their asses later.  I’m also more familiar with Araki’s style and was expecting problems with the pacing.  So while others saw how good Koutetsujou was early on and, as Gigguk put it, expected it to end up with well rounded characters and a well rounded story, I saw a show that I was worried would get bad the entire time.  I also think being overly positive, as many people are, compounds the problem further.  When I go into a show and worry constantly that it’ll start sucking and then it never does, I’m pretty fucking impressed and I’m having a good time.  By comparison anyone expecting Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to be some kind masterpiece, which as I’ve previously discussed was a stupid thing to do, was let down because it doesn’t live up to their inflated expectations.  Onto the next barrier, criticism.

A lot of people on the internet confuse criticism of something with hatred of something.  This is the case sometimes, I hate SAO and I criticized SAO, but most of the time this idea is totally wrong, I thought UBW was good and I criticized UBW.  The vast majority of my criticisms of anything come from a place of love, because I want them or anything following in their footsteps to be better.  I bitched about how badly UBW mishandles the Berserker vs Gilgamesh fight because the show was good but the scene was terrible and I didn’t want to see a similar scene happen again in a similarly good show.  To make matters worse people identify with the things we like, we’re all guilty of this.  I know for a fact I would instinctively be more defensive when someone criticized Katanagatari, my favorite show, than I would be when someone criticized say Kono Subarashi ni Shukufuku wo, a show I really like.  So naturally when you criticize a lot of stuff, like me, you get a lot of backlash from people who don’t aren’t thinking critically and want you to shut up and/or love the show and hate seeing you bash it.  This is further compounded by positivity.  A lot of people just want to be positive, to be agreed with, to be optimistic, and that’s fine.  But some of us like to be cynical and negative too, and many positive people don’t want to see our negativity.  I addressed this in more detail in my D Gray Man Hallow rant, but when people are really looking forward to something they can be pretty aggressive about crushing dissenting, negative opinions.  So critics are guaranteed a certain level of backlash, and some of us, myself included, fight like mad against the backlash, often amplifying it in the process, because I refuse to let anyone I can reach not understand why I think they’re wrong.  This finally brings me to Gigguk and his review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.

For the record I’ve never found Gigguk to be a particularly good reviewer.  He’s a funny guy and when he does thought experiments videos like the Golden Age of Anime or Hype: Is it Good or Bad?, I think he does a fine job.  But his reviews are kind of boring and I’ve never found them to be helpful.  This stems from two main factors, one, Gigguk’s opinions are much closer to the consensus opinions than mine, and two, he doesn’t make long analytical points explaining why he feels a certain way, he just says what he’s feeling.  Anyway his Koutetsujou no Kabaneri review was particularly frustrating because I think he went about it all wrong, as well as making points I just didn’t agree with.  The biggest issue is that Gigguk, at least in the video, is invested in the idea of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as an AoT/SnK clone, which I feel is misguided.  In his review he said Koutetsujou no Kabaneri couldn’t step out of the shadow of it’s predecessor (Shingeki no Kyojin); but I have to ask why he thinks Koutetsujou no Kabaneri had a predecessor at all?  Sure Koutetsujo no Kabaneri shares many similar elements with Shingeki no Kyojin and it’s made by most of the same people, but it has plenty of original elements as well and it’s missing one very important creator from Shingeki no Kyojin, the fucking manga author.  This is the crucial bit for me, because the only way I think you could only reasonably describe Shingeki no Kyojin as Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s predecessor would be if they were made with the same intent, as they aren’t prequel and sequel, and I don’t think they are.

The most crucial difference between the two shows is that one is an adaptation and the other is original.  This means Shingeki no Kyojin will reflect the author’s intent even if Araki can add his own spin on the work.  By contrast Koutetsujou no Kabaneri reflects the intent of Araki and his team.  This is important because while I can’t say what the author of Shingeki no Kyojin’s intent is, I’m guessing it’s not “lets just make something super cool and hype and wow the audience with big dramatic moments and flashy animation.”  Shingeki no Kyojin has a more concrete narrative, and if that’s what you want then it makes sense that you might like it more than Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  But Araki has, based on my observations of his work, always been about shows that were fun, full of big dramatic moments, had a huge impact and, mostly importantly, would stand out to the audience forever.  I consider him to a have a very different intent than the writer of Shingeki no Kyojin, so this whole narrative of Koutetsujou no Kanaberi as an AoT/SnK clone is null and void so far as I’m concerned.

Moreover all of the things Gigguk points to as to why the two shows are the same are tangible details, like humanity cowering behind walls from monsters or hot-blooded protagonists.  This approach is useless, it’s the infantile stage of analysis, and worse it’s deceptive to anyone not thinking critically.  Stories from all over the world since the dawn of civilization to the present day share tangible fucking details.  If we considered every story the same because it had similar tangible elements then reviews and analysis would be pointless because you could categorize things by archetype and call it a day.  This is not how analysis works though.  Consider if you will Log Horizon versus SAO.  They share many tangible details, people getting sent to a video game world, a dark haired protagonist whose skill at the game makes the most important dude around, multiple girls all falling for the same guy, swords and fantasy monsters, etc.  Looking at the tangible details alone they look like almost the same show, but as anyone whose seen both will tell you, they aren’t the same show at all.  What makes a story unique is rarely any tangible detail, just about everything you can think of has been done before, instead it’s how someone uses the tangible details to weave together the narrative or experience they want to make.  SAO is shit because it’s a juvenile power fantasy show catering to 15 year old boys by telling the tale of strongest teenage boy in video game history, Log Horizon is great because it’s a thought provoking and complex look at how individuals and large groups react and adapt in a video game world.  How a storyteller uses the tangible details is infinitely more important than the tangible details themselves, which is why calling Koutetsujou no Kabaneri an AoT/SnK clone is absurd.

In fact an even better example of how useless tangible details are for analyzing a set of shows would be the Asterisk War’s relation to SAO versus it’s relation to Rakudai Kishi no Calvary.  Rakudai and Asterisk War share a ton of tangible details, way more than Asterisk War does with SAO, to the point where they even have almost the same story arcs and people made fun of them at first for literally being the same show.  However, ironically enough Asterisk War is more like SAO than it is like Rakudai and the main reason why is their spirit and intent.  SAO and Asterisk War are all about fulfilling that juvenile power fantasy, and they both do it by having OP as fuck protagonists who have harems.  Now you might be wondering how this proves my point since these are tangible details they share, but the point is that both shows are using the tangible details in almost the exact same way to reach the same audience.  By comparison Rakudai is a story about struggle with a dedicated romance despite having multiple girls who want the main guy, who is overpowered.  Rakudai takes the same tangible details and tells a totally different kind of story by taking a different approach as to how to use the details, for example Ikki is OP as fuck but not because he just wills himself to win or pulls more power out of his ass, it’s because he’s worked super hard, has mad skills and can go superhuman for one minute a day.  Ikki is OP because he makes the most of what he’s got, Ayato and Kirito are OP because they just have more power than anyone else.  The point is, all three shows feature an OP sword wielding teenage boy who is the center of female attention and they all fight a lot, yet despite these shared tangible details, Rakudai turned out very different and much better because of how it uses the details to tell a different kind of story from SAO and Asterisk War.

Getting back to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri being incorrectly construed as an AoT/SnK clone, even if you ignore the fact both shows are made with different intents and just look at the narratives they present, there are a number of important differences.  For starters the main characters are actually very different.  Sure both dudes want to kill the monsters and they both lash out others for being afraid to fight, but there are key nuances separating Eren Jaeger and Ikoma.  Eren wants humanity to be free but he never tries to improve things for humanity, his main goal is that HE wants to kill as many titans as he can.  By contrast Ikoma wants to kill a bunch of Kabane and free humanity but he was making better weapons so that everyone could kill Kabane well before the story even takes place, as he finally completes his weapon in episode 1.  Moreover Eren just lashes out at people for being cowards and charges into battle, while Ikoma tries to battle everyone’s fear by shaming cowards, charging into battle and giving others the weapons they need to win the fight, thus giving them the confidence they need to continue fighting.  You can see the results of these different approaches in the body count of noteworthy allies.  In Shingeki no Kyojin almost anyone Eren teams up with in human form is killed, like the people in episode five and Levi’s team.  By comparison the only major character working with Ikoma that dies is Takumi the fat guy, and he wasn’t even killed by the Kabane, which brings me to my next point.

If you wanted to make the case that Shingeki no Kyojin and Koutetsujou no Kabaneri were indeed the same show, then episode one is probably the best example.  In episode one the focus is mostly on the monsters, humanity’s fear of the monsters, and the main guy not being ok with status quo, also walls are breached and tons of people die.  There are still noteworthy differences, for example the walls being breached in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was a human fuck-up not the result of the largest titan ever seen before, but more importantly the focus of both shifts going forward and the differences in these shifts is telling.  One of the things Gigguk mentioned in his review as a mark against Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was, that while the Kabane always seemed terrifying, most of the deaths resulted from stupid human actions, while humanity seemed  hopelessly outclassed by the titans in Shingeki no Kyojin.  In addition he said that because it seemed like stupid humans were the real danger it took a lot of tension out the show because he know it was going to move the plot along by people being stupid. I question that assertion because the titans may have been terrifying at first but soon just became huge retards that weren’t scary at all, they also lost a lot of their power when we saw the Levi and Survey Corps cutting plenty of titans down.  In addition human stupidity as the driver of a story’s plot is not just realistic, but far more interesting than Gigguk gives it credit for.

Despite noticing that stupid people pose a bigger danger in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri than the Kabane, Gigguk’s point somehow misses the point, which was that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always focused on human actions and agency.  Even in episode one, humans fucking up was what Ikoma was mostly fighting against and what caused the disastrous fall of the city.  This is built on constantly in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as human politics and actions create the psychopath that is Biba, and Biba and his human followers wreak more havoc on humanity in a week than the Kabane would have in years or even decades.  Human fear, human stupidity, and human rage are the most destructive forces in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s world, not the Kabane plaguing it.  By contrast in Shingeki no Kyojin, the focus is always on the monsters, even if the monsters in focus swap between the titans and humans who can become titans.  Very few humans in the show, even the strong ones like Levi and Mikasa, can do anything that radically changes the course of the conflict.  Even Erwin who seems to have the leadership, brains and mindset to bring about radical changes is reliant on Eren’s powers and the implication of hostile forces with Eren’s power hiding inside the walls to see his dreams of change realized.  If you aren’t literally capable of becoming larger than human, you don’t matter too much in Shingeki no Kyojin.  That’s a subtle but important difference and it speaks to why the shows ended up so different, they take almost polar opposite views on human agency in the face of monsters.  And Gigguk seems to have missed all of that in his review, mainly because he was invested in the idea that the monsters should drive the plot forward because that’s how Shingeki no Kyojin works and since Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is just an AoT/SnK clone it should work the same way as Shingeki no Kyojin.

Even setting aside the fact that Gigguk’s review is fundamentally misguided on three levels, which is more than enough for me to bash his review as a terrible one as is, I disagree with the statements he had regarding Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  For example when talking about how stupid people forced the Koutetsujou into the dangerous mountain pass, he wrote it off as people being stupid.  Now he isn’t wrong but he has not told the whole story.  The reason they took the train into the dangerous mountain pass was so the stupid people (some of the conservative officials and people who hated the Kabaneri) could detach the Kabaneri’s car from the train and leave them to die.  It’s stupid and it predictably results in disaster, but it’s also rational and there’s clearly a chain of logic supporting the actions.  Likewise Gigguk talks about how Mumei running off on her own to kill Kabane instead of working with the group and sticking to Ikoma’s plan is stupid.  It is, but again there’s a lot more to it.  The reason Mumei runs off like that is because she’s been spooked that she is weaker than she thought when the former Ear of Biba gets the drop on her and could’ve killed her while calmly telling her Biba will discard her if she’s too weak.  This is reinforced in later episodes as we understand how Mumei’s mother died, how Biba instilled his beliefs in Mumei and so on.  But even if we just go by the information we had when she runs out like an idiot in episode 5 or 6, there’s still a clear chain of logic behind her actions.  Granted, her logic looks insane and irrational to us calm third party observers, but it’s still a logical process and fear happens to be great at making people behave irrationally.  So what the fuck is the problem?  To be honest I could probably nitpick the review for another few paragraphs but the main thrust of each response remains the same, Gigguk’s points never go into any depth, they’re incomplete and because of this they are wrong.

Now despite having ranted against Gigguk for some time I don’t want to paint him in a bad light, because the man himself has done some good and interesting stuff.  But his review of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is basically the perfect storm of all the things that could go wrong and piss me off in a review.

1.  He traps himself into thinking of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as an AoT/SnK clone.

2. He looks at all the tangible details which confirm his pre-established opinion and refuses to consider Koutetsujou no Kabaneri as it’s own thing.

3. Because he has trapped himself into this way of thinking, he see thematic differences between the two shows as a weakness on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s part rather than trying to determine their value in a standalone work.

4. Because he seems to be looking only at the similarities and differences between the two shows, he appears to be missing a ton of information specific to Koutetsujou no Kabaneri which is dragging the show down even further in his opinion.

5. None of his points have any depth, and are just opinions with no reasoning backing them up.

What well and truly bothers me though is not Gigguk’s review itself, it’s the fact that his review reflects the common consensus opinions about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, because that fucking terrifies me.  The idea that so many people could be so locked into a similar way of thinking, of classifying anything that looks like Shingeki no Kyojin as an AoT/SnK clone and writing them all off as just lesser versions of Shingeki no Kyojin scares me.  It scares me because I used to do it, so this time I well and truly understand how it happens, but with my now broader experience I understand why it’s a horrible idea.  I mean I did write a post about the appeal of some AoT/SnK clones, about in what ways they are different and possibly better than Shingeki no Kyojin.  Moreover it scares me because it’s so mindlessly uncritical, so thoughtless and shallow.  And the idea that so many people can be so unthinking and unobservant blows my fucking mind.  I want more anime fans to think like me, I want more people to see the value in the things I value, and above all I want more good anime to be appreciated by more people.  That’s a big part of why I’m fighting for the show, because where many people see disappointment and failure, I see quality and improvement.

I think Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is better than Shingeki no Kyojin.  The pacing is much tighter, where Shingeki no Kyojin wallows in slow, boring episodes laden with loads of exposition, stupid Levi cleaning scenes and petty political shows in between major battles, Koutetsujou no Kabaneri constantly builds on what it has.  With each new episode we see more details about the world and it’s inhabitants, more information about the characters or the Kabane, more information about a political plot that has actual relevance to the plot.  In Koutetsujou no Kabaneri even the “slow” episodes are packed with valuable information and none of them feel slow to watch at all.  This is a huge bonus for me coming from an Araki show because my biggest beef with Araki is that his shows always seem off on the pacing, except for HOTD.  If anything Koutetsujou no Kabaneri’s greatest weakness is that it’s incredibly predictable and some people probably find that boring.  I don’t because not everything needs a clever twist and I’d rather have a simple story told with greater skill and clarity than a more complex story told without those things.  Most of what kept Shingeki no Kyojin interesting to me, beyond the fight scenes, was the mystery of where the titans came from and what they are exactly.  But the show took it’s fucking time answering those questions and what happens in between major events and battles is fucking boring.  By contrast Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is constantly introducing new ideas, new tech, new Kabane, new factions to be wary of, new ideologies, new characters and it’s all relevant.

That Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is regarded as a worse version of Shingeki no Kyojin makes me want to scream and damn humanity to die.  Because anyone who thinks that is wrong.  It’s one thing to say you liked Koutetsujou no Kabaneri less than Shingeki no Kyojin.  Or to say that, to you Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is a worse show than Shingeki no Kyojin.  Both of those statements are valid.  What’s not ok is for you to call Koutetsujou no Kabaeri an inferior AoT/SnK clone, because that means you’ve totally skewed your views on the show based on a misunderstanding you have about the show that you came to by being shallow and stupid, and are therefore FUCKING WRONG.  I mean I clearly think you’re wrong by thinking Shingeki no Kyojin is the better show anyway, but so long as you have decent reasons why and don’t stick to the idea that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri should have been an AoT/SnK clone, I can respect your opinion.  The thing with opinions is that everyone is entitled to their own but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equally valid or interesting.  If you just tell me a show made you feel a certain way with no proper justification I’m not all that impressed, explain why it made you feel that way and you have my attention and respect even if I disagree.  And if you think Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is an AoT/SnK clone then you don’t even get my respect and henceforth I will ridicule you for being stupid and infantile and wrong.

That wraps this one up.  If you made it this far thank you for reading and I do hope you enjoyed it.  My intent here was not so much to bash Gigguk or be a negative bastard, what I really hope I communicated was how and why the approach Gigguk took is stupid, bad and wrong so that you fine readers never fall victim to the same thing.  Also Koutetsuju no Kabaneri is really worth defending to me.  It was an absolute blast to watch, it mostly makes sense where people claim it didn’t, it has good details despite being conceptually dumb in the most awesome kind of way, and I think it’s Araki’s best work so far.  And it should celebrated for being all of these things, as opposed to being ragged on for not being something it never was nor was ever going to be.  Thanks again for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Fiction Standards: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri Was Never a FMAB

So anime Youtuber Digibro just put out a video about how Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always dumb but cool.  In it he added an additional bit to the argument, which I think is very important and needs addressing, namely the idea that some people are walking in with too high of expectations, expecting Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to be the next FMAB and match the imagined standard FMAB set as an epic adventure anime, and lashing out at the show for failing to meet that standard.  I don’t spend anywhere near enough time on anime forums or doing research so I can’t say for sure if this is true, but I do think it’s pretty accurate, after all my biggest complaint with FMAB is that it’s so perfect by conventional standards that it is inherently less interesting to me.  Obviously there will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

For starters let’s not beat around the bush, the idea any show which is not FMBA should be like FMAB is ridiculous.  Not to say that you can’t take inspiration from FMAB or borrow elements that you feel are cool and incorporate them into another show, but if you take it much further than that you have fucked up.  Trying to be a big success by copying someone else’s success is pretty much a formula for failure, at least from an artistic standpoint, in any creative medium.  In video games Battlefield tried to beat Call of Duty in sales for years even though the games were very similar, and it’s not until now, when the new Battlefield has decided to break away from Call of Duty and became a totally different game that it has enjoyed acclaim beyond Call of Duty.  Likewise the closest copy to Tolkien in fantasy novels I’m aware of is Terry Brooks, whose very first book was almost a one-for-one copy of Lord of the Rings.  And that book is by far his worst book, Terry Brooks got much better when he had his own original ideas and wrote his own story.  Similarly I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Game of Thrones books are super successful and very different from Tolkien’s work as well.  In order to be a big success in a creative medium, you must be CREATIVE.  You can copy other people’s work but that will only get you so far, I mean look at how negative the term AoT/SnK clone is in the anime community.  If you want to be a FMAB level success, you can’t do it by being FMAB.

Moreover standards are constantly changing because we make them up.  A standard only appears when enough people agree that something is good, so as more techniques or storytelling elements are recognized as good, standards shift and change.  This is why the idea that something is bad because it’s not like FMAB is ludicrous, just because a show doesn’t meet previous standards doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just has yet to be recognized as good.  Not that there aren’t bad shows of course, but shows which are legitimately bad fall into consensus standards for what makes something bad, and believe me as a species we are way better are figuring out and agreeing upon what sucks than what’s good.  Look ,if you want to hold Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to the FMAB standard, go right ahead, you can do that.  I just think you’re an idiot for doing so, for quite a few reasons, but I’ll get into the specifics of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri vs FMAB later.  For now I think it’s more important to understand why the general approach of comparing shows like this is dumb.

Look it’s fun to compare shows, to argue about which shows you like more and why, and how something new might measure up to something you know and love.  I get the appeal, and as a fun thought exercise that’s fine to do.  But when you start seriously basing your criticism of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, or indeed any show you think could be the next FMAB, on the fact it’s not enough like FMAB I think you’re doing criticism wrong.  If you have problems with a show and those problems stop from enjoying it that’s fair game, but attacking a show on the basis that you think it should be more like a different show is just dumb.  I’ve talked about wasted potential before, which is about as close as I’ve ever gotten to saying a show should be like something else, but in those cases I’m not criticizing the shows for not being something else so much as I’m criticizing the shows’ writing for being boring or bland or predictable or stupid.  Yes I’m saying the show could have been better when I talk about wasted potential, but my root complaint is was that what we got actually sucked, because if it was good I wouldn’t talk about the show’s wasted potential.  For example in my review of UBW I talked about how badly the Gilgamesh vs Hercules fight/ Illya deaths scene episode was handled and how a different show handled a similar situation better, but I didn’t want that scene of UBW to become more like the other show, I just wanted it to not suck and gave a relevant example.  In my review of Koutetsujo no Kabaneri I acknowledge the problems I have with the show and said it could’ve been better if it had more time to flesh itself out in more detail, but I’m not saying the show is bad because it’s fucking not.  If I really wanted Koutetsujou no Kabaneri to have been FMAB, I would have dropped it because it was never going to be FMAB.  And why the fuck are looking for anything else to be FMAB?  If we had a bunch of shows just like FMAB then wouldn’t FMAB lose some of it’s appeal?  That said if you do want more shows that look like FMAB I would suggest the new Arslan Senki, it’s quite good.

But here’s the thing about Arslan Senki, it isn’t good because it’s being worked on by some of the people who did FMAB, it’s not  good because it has some of the same traits as FMAB.  Arslan Senki is good because it’s telling its own goddamn story, and it’s an interesting story.  It just so happens that it does share some similar features as FMAB, like an ever expanding cast, a big involved storyline, multiple countries and factions and so on.  But again, those aren’t what make Arslan Senki good, it’s the original parts of Arslan Senki that make it interesting, the design features it shares with FMAB are only really appealing if you like want more of those things specifically, and if you do then fair enough.  But dog-piling on Koutetsujou no Kabaneri for not having those features is asinine.  No work of art should have to be tailored to your wants, and just to make it clear if you don’t like Koutestujou no Kabaneri for not having some of the same traits as FMAb that’s fine, but it makes no sense to call the show bad for that.  You can say, “Koutetsujou no Kabaneri doesn’t appeal to me because it’s missing an ever expanding cast and deep, involving narrative” but that’s not the same thing as it being a bad show and attacking the show as  bad just for not appealing to you is pretty misguided and juvenile.  Now’s let get onto the specifics of why Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was never going to be like FMAB.

When you look at all the basic differences between Koutetsujou no Kabaneri and FMAB, it should be obvious that these two shows were never going to be alike.  Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is 12 episodes long, FMAB is 64 episodes long.  That right there is enough to damn any chance that these shows would be alike.  Because one of the main reasons FMAB has a such huge cast that we get to know so well, such a large scale and such an involved plot is because it had the time to flesh all of those things and more out.  Koutetsujou no Kabaneri didn’t have anywhere near the same amount of time to tell it’s story, so it stands to reason that it was always going to get less done.  The only way it could have reached a similar scale was if it had either started at a larger scale to begin, like if Ikoma or Ayame controlled a sizable portion of Japan’s entire army to begin with, or if it had been more over the top and ridiculous and Ikoma had a way to slaughter Kabane hordes wholesale without any effort.  Both of those scenarios, I feel, are weaker than what we got, given the tone and setting of the series.  Additionally FMAB was adapted from a completed manga while Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was an original work, meaning the studio did everything from scratch.  It would still take plenty of work for the staff making FMAB to nail the characters of the show and master the chemistry and for the animation to look good and match the tone of the manga and so on, but compared to a totally original show a lot of the leg work for FMAB was already done for the animation studio.  So not only did Koutetsujou no Kabaneri have way less episodes to work with, it also started at a disadvantage, if you will, compared to FMAB, which already had the groundwork done from the start.  Again when you look at the most basic differences between the two shows it’s mindboggling that anyone thought Koutetsujou no Kabaneri could have been like FMAB in the first place.

Now I’m going to say something that’s really going to piss some people off, well it would if more people read these anyway: I like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri more than FMAB.  Now look, FMAB is a blast to watch, I have tons of fun with it and I respect it greatly for being what many people envision as the perfect adventure anime.  However because I’m a weird asshole who gleefully delights in not conforming to the same standards as the consensus there is something a little boring about FMAB to me.  It doesn’t bother me when I watch the show, but something about how FMAB is so perfect by conventional standards, or I suppose you could say set conventional standards, just makes it boring and sterile to me and my critical little mind whenever I’m not actively watching it.  Rather than something which raises the bar on conventional standards I find shows which shy away from convention, which forge their own look, their own style to be the shows I really want to talk about.  I love Katanagatari so much in part because the art style is weird and unique and that adds to the show for me.  Alternatively because FMAB is such a perfect whole I struggle to find something interesting to separate from the whole package to analyze and praise on it’s own.  For an opposing example I love everything about Utawarerumono, but what makes it so impressive to me is just how unbelievably well paced it is, no other anime I know of is paced as well as Utawaerumono, no other show packs as much story, character development, action scenes and world building into a 26 episode space as Utawarerumono.  I don’t have anything like that for FMAB, there is no one element I can praise as being stunningly good in comparison to the other parts of the show because they’re all “perfect.”

By comparison Koutetsujou no Kabaneri has flaws, it has things that makes me ask questions, it stimulates my little critical mind.  But even with the flaws there, occasionally distracting me for a second here and there, everything else was good enough to make me love this show.  You know I watched the first episode and the first time I saw it, I wondered if I could put up another high tension Araki anime, especially since I’m not as into his biggest stuff as the majority of the community.  But after watching episode one and two back to back, I instantly had a ton of fun with the show and I continued to have fun with it even after it “got bad” or “got dumb.”  First off, Digibro correctly argues that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was always dumb and if you didn’t get that you weren’t paying attention.  Second, to me it never got bad.  I had fun the whole time, most episodes pumped me up like nuts, for instance I remember how furious I was at Biba and his men at the end of episode 10, how it made me want to enter the story and be a badass fighting them, and then when Ikoma hulks up at the end episode 11 I felt so vindicated, it was awesome.   And as I talked about in my review of the show, I appreciate how much of an improvement this show is over Araki’s other work and that alone makes the experience better for me, because I know how much worse it could have been.

Now most people aren’t me, in fact I pride myself on how many people aren’t me and don’t think like me.  So I understand why most people will not agree with me or may not understand where I’m coming from and that’s ok.  What’s not ok though is acting like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri let you down for not being FMAB.  It was never going to be FMAB, and if you thought it could have been FMAB I sincerely cannot understand how you think that.  Incidentally if anyone reading this does feel that way or feels something similar please comment, I would like to try and understand where you’re coming from, just as I’m trying to get you to understand where I come from.  In any event I enjoyed the festival of gore, zombies and steampunk tech that is Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, and at this point I think I’ve made me feelings and thoughts clear on the matter.  I hope you enjoyed this post 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.