Unpopular Opinion: Netsuzou Trap – What Kuzu no Honkai Should Have Been

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Last season Kuzu no Honkai was a big deal.  It looked pretty, had the main characters get closer to having sex in the first episode than most romance series do in a season, had multiple characters who slept around and had a pair of leads who were self-proclaimed scum that dated each other to fulfill the ache left by their unattainable crushes.  It was also incredibly fucking boring and downright tedious to watch.  The show can be summed up in the phrase “sex and soliloquies” because that is literally all that ever happened.  There were some subplots scattered throughout, like when Mugi and Hanabi decide to start dating other people without telling each other, but none of it goes anywhere – there are no consequences, benefits or even character growth coming from their actions and the whole thing feels so halfhearted.  Likewise the show is bogged down by characters self-analyzing themselves every time they do something because it reveals to them they are more complex than the one-note self they imagined – which I find retarded because no shit you aren’t one note.  Netsuzou Trap cuts through right all that bullshit and literally fixes all the problems I had with Kuzu no Honkai before it even hits the halfway point.

Netsuzou Trap has a few major differences in design which make it surpass Kuzu no Honkai almost immediately.  First off the “scum” in Netsuzou Trap are the second pair of main characters, who immediately contrast their friends who are a newly formed and normal anime couple.  Also the episodes are short and that is a godsend to the show.  Unlike Kuzu no Honkai, which meandered about and didn’t really broadcast where it was going – because save for Akane and “Onii-chan” it didn’t go anywhere – Netsuzou Trap is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, I mean the OP ends with the title fading into NTR (and if you don’t know what that means you aren’t looking at enough hentai).  Netsuzou Trap undoubtedly would have been a boring slog as a full length show because it is threadbare, there isn’t that much going on and what is going on is rather straightforward.  And that’s fine because it delivers on a satisfying story in less than half the time it took for Kuzu no Honkai to drift to it’s conclusion.

Another advantage is the use of sex and sexuality.  Kuzu no Honkai got a lot of attention for featuring lots of sex but as described above that’s half of what it had and it wasn’t enough to keep the show from getting boring.  Netsuzou Trap is not as sexually forward, or at least it doesn’t show it, though it does imply that Hotaru and Fujiwara have both had plenty of sex.  But in Netsuzou Trap’s case there is a huge contrast between Yuma, who is confused by her own feelings and desires which result from Hotaru’s advances, and Hotaru and Fujiwara’s friends with benefits style of dating.  The latter couple is reflective of Kuzu no Honkai’s main pair but both of them do a much better job of being genuinely scummy than Kuzu no Honkai’s main couple, but I’ll get to that later.  The key here though is that the soliloquies come exclusively from Yuma’s perspective and they spend most of their time on Hotaru rather than Yuma.  Yuma is trying to sort out her feelings and various bits of advice she receives but a lot of her time is spent trying to puzzle out Hotaru and her motivations.  I could see this being frustrating to some since Hotaru’s intentions are by no means a mystery to us but it feels genuine and is far more manageable thanks to it’s brevity than the endless and frankly shallow self-reflection of Kuzu no Honkai.

Now onto the scumminess.  Fujiwara is a gigantic asshole who beats Hotaru whenever she refuses to fuck him as per their agreement before they started dating, and while he deserves all the hate thrown his way I admit I find his characterization as a total misanthrope, or at least total misogynist, who only dates anyone at all because he likes sex to be an interesting idea, even if the show doesn’t really explore that in any depth.  Hotaru likewise seemed to date other boys for no real reason at all and the show is never clear on whether she fucked anyone other than Fujiwara (at least not to the best of my memory).  Hotaru’s advances are not just confusing to Yuma, they actually ruin her relationship with her generic nice guy boyfriend Takeda, at least for a while.  Which is want Hotaru wanted and even explained to Yuma when describing love, though she obviously didn’t spell out that she loved Yuma to Yuma.  And towards the end Yuma engages in some reckless behavior and sexual advances of her own in her desire to keep Hotaru close to her before figuring out for certain that she loves Hotaru.

Hell even the fanservice, despite being mostly limited to kissing instead of the bedroom scenes which dominate Kuzu no Honkai, is better in Netsuzou Trap.  Netsuzou Trap’s fanservice comes from a place of burning desires and raw feelings, a hearth of lust and passion, in comparison to Kuzu no Honkai’s fanservice which is largely bereft of passion and emotion as it’s just a way for characters to kill time and fill the voids within them.  While I’m on the subject of fanservice I just want give a quick shout out to Hajimete no Gal for breaking tradition and giving the loli the biggest boobs – 10/10 would fap again.  In retrospect those scenes from Kuzu no Honkai don’t feel all that impressive.  At the time they seemed like a promise that this romance would be different, that it would be a cut above it’s fellows, and once the show is robbed of such an illusion even the sex scenes feel like filler animation, something that moves and distracts the audience from the endless soliloquies.  Almost none of the sex and other fanservice featured feels like it has any weight or intensity, whereas Netsuzou Trap’s more modest fanservice captures both such sensations with ease.

In summary Kuzu no Honkai is a waste of time and if you saw it and liked some of the ideas in it then watch Netsuzou Trap.  Netsuzou Trap may not be as artsy or subtle but it gets way more done and has more emotional impact than Kuzu no Honkai ever did, and it does so in a much shorter time span.  Netsuzou Trap has better fanservice, a character arc and plot that you know, goes somewhere, and concludes in a satisfactory matter, and actions that feel more genuine and have more realistic consequences.  Netsuzou Trap is not a great show but it is an enjoyable one, which is more than I can say for Kuzu no Honkai.  Now then, I do believe it’s time to pull up some more NTR – I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next.

Unpopular Opinion: Kuzu no Honkai

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You know I usually like to wait for an anime to finish before I review it, but the latest episode of Kuzu no Honkai has convinced me it’s not worth the wait.  I still maintain my earlier statements about the show, namely that’s the most interesting romance anime I’ve seen in years, but that interest is no longer particularly positive.  It’s not all that negative either, mind, but compared to before it’s a downgrade.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Kuzu no Honkai had two major selling points, it disregarded all the usual anime romance baggage and skipped straight to the bedroom, and it returned to the bedroom with surprising frequency, and most of the main characters were either terrible people or in the midst of very self destructive behavior.  For this the show still has my attention and I do hope other romances learn from Kuzu no Honkai and get some couples in bed.  But honestly I’m bored with whatever narrative Kuzu no Honkai was trying to tell, and given the aimless rambling of the show overall I’m not sure it ever had much vision or direction to begin with.  But before I dig into that I want address certain me-specific complaints have nothing to do with technical skill in writing or animation, because context is important despite what morons on the internet may think.

Kuzu no Honkai is not for me.  Even disregarding any technical problems it has I have a hard time rooting for anyone in the twisted love tree filling out the series.  Ecchan has my allegiance more than anyone but she’s hardly given the time needed for to be really interesting as a person instead of just being the hottest girl and also a lesbian, making her best girl by default.  Ostensibly I should be projecting myself on Mugi but fuck that guy.  I don’t get him at all, his only characterization that I have any connection with at all is how he doesn’t want to fuck the blonde girl with twintails who wants his D because they’re childhood friends and he doesn’t want to ruin her purity or special-ness, for lack of a better term.  I get that.  But loving broken, weak and manipulative girls, loving someone even more after see how they cynically use their assets to fulfill their shallow lifestyle?  Get the fuck out of here.  I’m not just disconnected from Mugi’s desires, they actively turn me off in a big way.  Likewise I sort of like Hanabi and vaguely want to root for her but the love of her life is totally boring.  Kanai is abysmal, he’s a bland boring fuck who can be boiled down to generic good guy A, and the fact he serves as a big brother figure to Hanabi makes the whole thing one step removed from the incest romances popularized by OreImo, and fuck that garbage.  At least she actually likes a good person, that’s a step up from Mugi.  That’s enough ranting for now, let’s get technical.

Kuzu no Honkai is kind of balls at pacing.  The passage of time is largely unclear, for example I had no idea Mugi and Hanabi hadn’t seen each for months because until Hanabi said so in a random cafe scene, there were no details establishing that at all, and it’s common for episodes to suddenly cut to dramatic or emotional moments out of nowhere without always explaining how the characters got to that point.  As a man who struggles with getting from point A to point B in a story despite having really well defined points in his own narratives, or rather attempted narratives, I feel this in particular is a weakness.  I appreciate the desire to just cut to the scene you really want to show, but if I thought that was good enough I’d have finished a fucking book by now.  But what exacerbates the problem is that feels like the show isn’t going anywhere.  Characters have random sexual encounters and some make deliberate moves on other people but a lot of the time they just seem to be listless and directionless.  There’s too much going on that never goes anywhere meaningful.  It’s like watching filler if filler looked decent and was low key.  This isn’t helped by the characters.

Most of them suck.  They generally range from boring to deplorable, and not deplorable in the fun if dark sense employed by Youjo Senki, but deplorable as in people I really don’t like for their shallow or twisted values.  The twin tail girl is obnoxious and serves no purpose, she poses no threat to Hanabi, let alone Akane, where Mugi is concerned and she has nothing to teach either main character about themselves.  Likewise Ecchan has that weird cousin who wants to bone her (gross) and has a persistence that is outright annoying making him come off as a pain in the ass if not a creep.  Again he doesn’t pose any threat to Hanabi’s relationship with Ecchan and he teaches Hanabi nothing she hadn’t already figured out for herself.  Then there’s the random dude who used to fuck Akane and wanted to fuck Hanabi, again almost entirely useless and a total waste of time.  He was only interesting in so far as Hanabi considered trying to win his affection to get back at Akane, but that didn’t happen so what’s the point?

I suppose you could argue the directionless, listless feel and story are reflective of how confusing teenage and young adult romance can be, but it’s fucking boring.  Like if the Hanabi actually made a serious move regarding the random guy I was just talking about and it had some kind of impact on her as a character and to the narrative, it would be good, but nothing happens.  Which is where episode 11 comes in.  Episode 11 has more character development on it’s own than the lion’s share of the show and it really got me thinking that Hanabi and Mugi were the wrong people to cast as main characters.  I mean it’s pretty simple what happens, Kanai clumsily bulls his way forward and somehow, perhaps because he’s the first saintly good guy to go for her, wins Akane’s heart.  For Mugi and Hanabi all that does is put an end to their crushes, which is something Hanabi has already gone through at this point.  I guess Mugi and Hanabi can hook up for real now but why bother?  They haven’t been romantically involved for months and Hanabi seems to have zero passion for Mugi at this point.  And unless this season is a split cour or double cour, then they’d only have one episode to get together anyway.  Seems like a weak romance story to me.

Kuzu no Honkai should have been about Akane.  I mean given how much screen time she has I think you can already argue that she’s more of a main character than Hanabi, but that’s what the show should have been.  What if Kuzu no Honkai was presented from Akane’s point of view?  What if it was about her fucking all these guys over the years in her aimless attempts to feel good and find some sort of human connection, which she somehow finds in Kanai?  You could even have Hanab still play a substantial role, this time as someone actively trying to keep Akane away from Kanai because she think’s Akane isn’t good enough for him.  I think you’d have a far more interesting show, one where all the sex is relevant to character growth rather than a gimmick.  Because that’s how I think it’s been used by and large.  It’s new and I’ve no doubt many others are happy to see characters with functioning sexual relations, but outside of a few rare exceptions it seems more like eye candy than anything else at this point.  However in a story about Akane, told from her perspective, the fucking would be extremely relevant to the narrative and to her character.  And I say all this with extreme confidence because Kuzu no Honkai has slowly and steadily declined for me since episode 2 when Hanabi and Ecchan get in some lesbian action, with episode 11 serving as the only exception to that trend.  It’s the best the show has been in months and possibly the best it’s ever been.

Setting Akane aside, what assures me that Kuzu no Honkai will be end poorly is that where the fuck else can it go at this point?  As discussed before Mugi and Hanabi have drifted apart, and I can’t see them hooking back up for an episode as anything other than failure.  Moreover it’s annoying to have Mugi get so much screen time in last few episodes compared to Hanabi, because I’d rather root for her and I like her more and I think her story could have been much more interesting if we weren’t forced to follow Mugi’s hopeless twisted love story.  I think another thing Kuzu no Honkai fucked up was the Ecchan summer house episode, that should’ve happened after Mugi went off to chase Akane for months, because then maybe, just maybe, Ecchan and Hanabi could’ve justifiably become a couple, something I’m far more interested in than any other relationship in the show, and not just cause gay girls (though that is a bonus), because they’re the two people I like most in the show as people.  Hanabi could have her expectations dashed by Mugi, who flees the intended plan to try and keep Akane being a shallow, manipulative slut (for the record that’s how the describes her, I’m not hating on her right now, I think she’s actually had the funniest scenes and lines the show)… because for whatever reason that’s what he’s into.  And in having her plan with Mugi ruined, Hanabi could have sought shelter in Ecchan like she did earlier in the show, but this time it could’ve developed in something genuine and lasting, not a one night stand.

All this is to say that Kuzu no Honkai has been a total mess.  It threw all kinds of bedroom scenes at us to keep us distracted from the fact the story has been pretty shit.  It’s had it’s moments from time to time but overall it’s been a boring, aimless little tale.  Also the soliloquies have gotten especially awful in later episodes and some of the dialogue is similarly terrible.  So few of the characters are given time to be interesting and of those with time most of them squander it on pointless scenes and sideplots which never amount to anything.  As a general rule I don’t like to complain about wasted potential very often.  By and large I find it a misguided criticism that attacks a work for not being something rather than judging what it is.  But Kuzu no Honkai has been so directionless as a narrative, so vague in it’s intent that I feel this is a good case for the “wasted potential” complaint, because more so than anything else what this show needs to succeed is some kind of vision.  Kuzu no Honkai is little more than a jumble of characters and ideas with nothing binding it all together, nothing making a narrative out of the disparate narrative elements.  This really is the essence of wasted potential, it’s a show that does nothing with the tools it’s  been given, rather than a show which just didn’t do what I wanted it to do.  And for that reason, I’d be fucking floored if this series ends on anything other than a “meh” note.  I’m certainly out of fucks to give for the show.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Tone Shifts: Why Youjo Senki is my Top Anime of Winter 2017

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I know what you’re “supposed” to do is wait until the end of a season to tell everyone what you’re favorite show was but fuck rules, or even guidelines, because I already have my winner.  And I don’t say that lightly, this is a pretty fucking solid season of anime we’re talking about here and I fully expect that most people will totally disagree with me.  Hell I’m inclined to disagree with me, considering I’m pitting Youjo Senki against KonoSuba season 2, which is the most consistently hilarious show I’ve seen in a long time.  The following will be full of spoilers for a bunch of currently airing shows, you’ve been warned.

Like I said this is a solid season of anime.  Masamune-kun no Revenge is a cut above you’re normal slice-of-life romcom.  KonoSuba is fucking hilarious and even Gabriel Dropout has been pretty funny even if it’s been pretty inconsistent.  Kuzu no Honaki is the most interesting romance drama I’ve seen since Kimi ni Todoke season 1.  Little Witch Academia is a constant source of feel-good charm that I can hardly find anywhere and we’ve even got the low key but stylish as fuck ACCA.  However I think the crown jewel of the season is undoubtedly Youjo Senki.  Youjo Senki episode 8 is definitely the episode that heralded the sudden upsurge in my interest in my opinion of the show, but looking back the thing which made that episode stand out so much, a radical tone shift, was already present throughout the show albeit to far lesser degrees.  What this means, in short, is that I think Youjo Senki is probably the most well rounded show of the entire season, and going by episode one you’d never fucking guess that would be the case.  Let me break this down in more detail.

For those who haven’t seen Youjo Senki, it’s about an alternate world’s WWI with a few major differences, the most obvious being magic.  The lead character is a 12 year old girl named Tanya, or at least that’s what they look like.  In reality our main character is a 30-something (I assume) asshole of a man from our world who was reincarnated in this alternate world as a 12 year old girl as a trial from God or Being X as our main character calls him.  Our 12 year old girl, who has incredible magic power, with the brain of his former 30 year old self signs up for war to get a comfortable life as an officer and thus defy God because this trial was meant to convert him into one of the faithful by putting him in dire circumstances.  If you made through the last couple sentences without going “huh? or WTF?” then consider me impressed, this is a pretty fucking weird premise.  However as I’ve explained before premise is cheap, execution is what really matters and for the most part Youjo Senki has been able to pull it’s unusual premise off well.  And almost none of this present at all in episode 1, barring the interesting setting, episode one makes Youjo Senki look like an edgy action show that relies on shock value and explosions to sell itself.  Now it is that in part, but there’s so many other elements woven in that the edginess is a side note and doesn’t distract me in the slightest.

The main reason is that Youjo Senki includes a wide variety of scenes and tones, so much so that many of the worst ones easily get lost amid the all the shit happening, a trend made possible in part by the fact that the good scenes far outnumber the bad.  The biggest detractors from Youjo Senki are that it’s edgy, the art is definitely on the uglier side and episode 3 with the mad scientist was a goofy mess.  But Youjo Senki gets past it all.  Because it also delivers on major battles, solid strategic theories and discussion and even some fascinating changes to WWI.  In direct opposition to a show like Kuzu no Honkai which  consistently drives me insane by providing me with things I love and hate next one another with every episode, Youjo Senki is perfectly content to jump around and tell whatever kind of story it wants.  Because for all edgy action of episode 1, the action almost disappears completely until episode 5 with only one major exception.  On the whole though Youjo Senki is mostly fun, thanks to it being violent, funny and utterly insane.  Remember Tanya not only has had the mind of thirty year old from modern era since birth, she’s had the mind of thirty year old without a scrap of empathy for other people.

Jumping over to Masamune-kun no Revenge for a minute, what makes it more fun than the average high school romcom is that the main couple are both deplorable.  Masamune has devoted himself to being fit and becoming a hot guy just so he can date then dump Adagaki Aki.  He basks in the attention he gets for being hot but his behavior is decidedly shallow and his goals, while somewhat satisfying, are spiteful.  Adagaki on the other hand is horrible because she’s a bossy bitchy girl who humiliates any boy who comes her way.  She makes this even worse when shes says something to Masamune about how it hurts to get rejected (he had just rejected another girl’s advances) despite the fact she goes out of her way to reject people in the most painful way possible and somehow doesn’t see the dissonance between her actions and her sentiments.  Youjo Senki takes the deplorable main character thing and the goes to it’s extreme end point, someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone and will condemn people to miserable lives and later thousands of innocents to death for the sake of efficiently getting the next promotion.

Tanya’s shtick in both her current and previous lives is that she finds the easiest way to get a comfortable life by following and exploiting rules, first corporate rules and later military rules.  And she does a great job of showing how fucked up ordinary humans can be if they just follow the rules without injecting their own moral and emotional judgement into a situation.  What makes this interesting though is that Tanya is not punished for behaving this way.  Sure we know she’s a psychotic piece of shit, and she hasn’t gotten the easy life she wants, but she has swiftly risen up the ranks and garnered the attention of her ultimate superiors.  What’s more her ruthless approach works, her unit has been instrumental to several fronts already and her thesis on how to attack cities without holding back while still conforming to international law has already drastically altered tactics on both sides regarding cities, I’m sure the Republic (France) won’t attempt to use a city as a shield to delay the Empire (Germany) again.  Again and again Tanya proves that her ruthless tactics and exploitation of the rules are effective especially because she has knowledge about world wars that no one else does.  However amid all of this I have one problem with the label of “the Evil” for Tanya.

That may surprise you because Tanya is almost cartoonishly evil, she’s a ruthless murderer, has no empathy for other human beings and has no qualms condemning thousands of noncombatants to die.  But while all those things make her a criminal and villain she’s not evil in the sense that she’s working with the “bad guys,” because that implies that one side in the conflict is the morally superior.  There is no such side though and that brings to one of the biggest problems I have with other people talking about the show.  The consensus I’ve seen thus far is that the Empire and Tanya are representative of the Nazis and therefore are evil.  I disagree. Vehemently.  Remember this is WWI, not WWII and the Empire’s behavior has not at all resembled that of the Nazis (hell they even have the same gear and spiked helmets of the Prussian troops in WWI), the closest they get is when bomb Arene thanks to Tanya’s thesis but even that was clearly an outlier and surprised people on both sides (and that wasn’t even a Nazi thing so much as paradigm shift all sides adhered to in WWII).  In fact in this world, the Empire was invaded by the Republic and save for the invasion of Norden and the Entente Alliance, the Empire’s strategy is defensive.  In fact it parallels the Late Roman Empire’s strategy during the Hunnic invasions and subsequent barbarian migrations, to set up weaker border forces which would delay enemy invaders who would then be crushed by an elite mobile force.  The idea that the Empire is somehow the “bad guy” of the war is ridiculous, the only country which could consider them as such is the Entente Alliance because the Empire was the aggressor on that front.

In fact if anyone is evil it’s Being X who is actively fucking with people’s minds and free will to accelerate the war and put more pressure on Tanya.  I think the main reasons people think of the Empire as evil is because, it’s Germany, Tanya is on their team and they’re winning.  But even in episode 1 when Tanya kills an entire company of mages, she did that in response to the fact said company had just wiped out the people she’d been sent to save.  Tanya personally handled things the way she did to get a promotion, but with the exception of Arene the Empire is having the same things done to it as it’s doing to others, it’s not the bad guy here because their is no bad guy here.  And if you examine WWI history it’s the same story.  Most of what caused the war was just momentum created by a complex web of alliances and all the major powers trying to maintain a power balance that was beginning to crumble.  Almost none of the highest authorities on any side actually wanted WWI to become the enormous conflict it did, things just spiraled out of control.  I hope that when Anson Sioux re-enters the conflict this dynamic will be shown better, that regardless of whether the individual is a good person like Sioux or a total bastard like Tanya, both sides are by large doing the same terrible shit to each other and the Empire is not representative of the Nazis and is not evil.  That said so long as you understand that, I think it’s fine to call Tanya evil.

Because yes Tanya is awful but for the most part she’s awful in entertaining ways.  One of my favorite scenes was at the end of episode 5, when after defeating the invading Dakian army (props for having them mirror the pathetic performance of Romania in WWI), Tanya talks like a five year old while informing Dakia that’s she’s going to blow up their weapon’s factory, a move that disguises her attack as a prank while still conforming to international war laws.  It’s fucking hilarious and utterly effective, no one bothers to evacuate and everyone working at the factory perishes as she and her men blow it to shit.  And the attack on Orse fjord was a blast to watch because of the rigid tactics and strict deadlines outline to pull off the ambitious amphibious assault.  Watching people kick ass and take names is generally a fun time, the fact we’re focusing on a character who is so awful just adds a little spice to mix.  She’s curb stomping everyone who gets in her way and it’s pretty cathartic because sometimes that’s what we all want to be able to do, just crush whatever annoys us and get onto enjoying an easy life.  Sometimes we all want to be assholes so long as we get away with it.

But despite how blatant Youjo Senki can be, see Tanya for details, it can be surprisingly versatile.  Youjo Senki rarely has long battles, instead most battles are payoffs to previously tense strategy briefings as Tanya has to navigate the desires of superiors as much as possible while still being mindful of the supply situation and benefits of any given strategy.  Many of the strategies involved are complex military maneuvers and it can be a satisfying to see these complex plans come together.  In addition the show includes people who even Tanya hates to work with, mainly the mad scientist Dr. Schugel, and how she behaves when she isn’t allowed to just beat the shit out of this person she doesn’t like.  The show’s tone shifts frequently to match the wide variety of scenes and scenarios Tanya finds herself in. But the real clincher was episode 8 because it takes the most drastic tone shift of the series.  In episode 8 it looks for a bit like one of her troops killed himself.  I admit I was a little disappointed that that didn’t end up being the case because it seemed like a great tone shift especially with the change to a more haunting ED following a shot that looked like the gun switching to face the shooter.  However this was still a great shift in that this was the first time Tanya’s soldiers balked at her orders and the sudden change in war doctrine brought on by her thesis, and they didn’t even know it was her thesis which caused Arene to burn.

Soldiers who had previously made defeating enemies a sort of informal sport among the group were suddenly horrified enough to confront Tanya about it, or at least were so distracted by the implications of what they were doing in Arene that they made mistakes they usually wouldn’t.  This once again shows that the Empire is not evil, most of the soldiers are just people fighting for their homeland and in the process they have to do evil work.  Tanya is the only one deserving of the title the Evil.  And for the first time multiple soldiers under Tanya’s command really have to grapple with that.  Ironically though Viktoriya, in the very next episode, uses the same kind of heartless rule-centric logic that Tanya thrives on to assure her comrades that all responsibility for the evils of Arene lie with Tanya.  I find this comment especially interesting because it hints at the potential punishment for Tanya later down the road, that her own reliance on the rules and exploiting them may be used against her, and the dangers of that mindset which has thus far only been shown to be effective if entirely fucked up.

Another great contrast is last season’s Shuumatsu no Izetta because that show shares many similar elements but focuses on main characters who are selfless and idealistic, people who fight to change the status quo regardless of the hardships endured.  That show also showed the dangers of that mindset, specifically that the political reality of a situation might lead a country to betray and kill it’s own hero and how a betrayed hero may come back with a vengeance.  I know this isn’t that relevant but I think it’s a happy accident that both these shows came out in such close proximity and have been great, as they do provide an excellent contrast to each other.  Let’s wrap this up.

Put simply Youjo Senki does a lot of tone shifts.  Sure there are edgy scenes scattered throughout the current nine episodes but they are mashed in with a ton of goofy scenes, cool action scenes, lot’s of strategic talks about war and military theory, political intrigue, and even some scenes which are just really fucking funny.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like you’re cup of tea, maybe it sounds too inconsistent or chaotic or whatever.  I disagree.  I think what Youjo Senki has managed to do with all of it’s myriad tone shifts is soften the rough edges of it’s worst parts while gaining the strengths of most of the other shows I named up above.  It may not be KonoSuba funny but there are a few scenes that come close.  Episode eight had more drama than Kuzu no Honkai.  It’s got more action than any other currently airing show I’m aware of.  It has world building and political intrigue on par with (and in my opinion surpassing) ACCA.  Youjo Senki is for my money the best show of the season because it does a little bit of almost everything and in most cases it succeeds at whatever it’s doing.  Sometimes it does edgy scenes of Tanya smiling like a lunatic while sending off uncooperative subordinates to die while making it look like an accident.  And sometimes it communicates how traumatic war can be for soldiers, even the ones that are winning.  The show has it’s problems but they are so small and brief and the show moves past them so quickly that they have hard time marring the overall experience.

Youjo Senki has, I think, made some of the key traits of many of the other good shows of the season into it’s strengths and mitigated it’s weaknesses through it’s willingness to change tone so frequently.  It has the versatility to be a popcorn flick in one episode and startlingly powerful drama the next episode, all while being a very interesting take on WWI with regards to the changes in politics and tactics during the war.  I love it, and after reading this, hopefully you do too.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: It’s Hard to do Well

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Do forgive the title for explaining the obvious.  For this post I’m mostly going to be talking about writing and storytelling and using anime examples to highlight what I mean rather than talking about anime in depth.  The exception to that is Kuzu no Honkai which I’ve more or less been dying to say something about for weeks, so this post will spoil the shit out of it if you not up to date with the latest episode.  In the event you’ve not seen any Kuzu no Honkai I highly recommend it, it’s already been one of the best romantic dramas I’ve ever seen as it immediately disregards the usual anime relationship bullshit and has the main duo get to second base in episode one.  Now into the abyss that is creativity.

Writing and storytelling are at their core made up of two things, ideas and structure.  I’m an ideas guy.  I’ve come up with a ton of characters, scenes, settings, game concepts and mechanics, fantasy creatures and even my own in-universe mythologies and histories.  But I’ve got no structure, or rather I just plain suck at it.  I can never take those characters from a starting point to the scenes I’ve pictured in my head for years, I’ve tried many times but the pacing seems too brisk, or I feel like I’ve crammed in too much crap in between and disrupted the emotions I want to convey, or I want to write a story with a certain tone to it’s overall themes but the tone I’m writing in doesn’t match up.  Point is, if I ever want to work creatively for a living I’d either have to learn a lot about video editing and make a YouTube channel or bust my ass getting good at forming structure competently.  But enough about me because this applies to a ton of creatives.  Part of the reason I’m bringing this up because I feel like Kuzu no Honkai has sort of the opposite problem, but I’ll get to that later, for now I want to address something that came up in a semi-recent PCP podcast.  Namely that some people don’t believe certain shows, or even anime in general can convey meaningful messages and themes and therefore be just as good and valid as more “normal” media.

Kill la Kill is a good example.  There are a ton of people who see, or least back when it was new a bunch of people saw, Kill la Kill as just fanservice and action, like a popcorn flick with no deeper meaning.  And I agree that on the surface Kill la Kill can look that way and it’s easy to enjoy that way.  But if you’re that hypothetical person who sees nothing else in Kill la Kill I want to ask you a few questions.  If Kill la Kill is just dumb action and tits, why is the main school Honnouji Gakuen named after a famous temple (or maybe castle I don’t remember for sure) that Oda Nobunaga built?  Is it just a fun reference?  If it’s just a reference why does the Tri-School Raid also mirror Oda Nobunaga’s conquests, why does Satsuki have (at least at first) the same goal of conquering Japan in her own way and reshaping the established order like Nobunaga?  Why does Sanageyama the strongest of the Elite Four get called monkey all the time like Nobunaga’s companion Hideyoshi? Because I find it odd that Kill la Kill would take a mere reference to a historical figure and run with it so far across the show.  To me it makes more sense that Kill la Kill is utilizing symbolism here to communicate certain themes rather than just make a reference.  There are plenty of other example but I think I’ve made one of my points.  The other main point is that, in case you don’t do much creative work, there’s a metric fuck ton of planning that goes into the creation of anything that isn’t memes.

I can’t tell how many times a story I want to write doesn’t even make it past the planning stage because I’ve got so much I want to do and so much I need to plan out in advance, that I never get around to writing anything but the planning before getting distracted and working on something else.  In the same vein, nothing is that happens by accident.  I mean people get some ideas on the fly and certain scenes or phrases come serendipitously, but everything that is put in a story was consciously put there on purpose.  For example towards the end of Kill la Kill’s Tri-School Raid there’s a scene where Jakuzure and Inumuta insult Sanageyama, by once again calling him monkey, while insulting each other for being snake-like or being unusually clever for a dog.  This scene only makes any sense because the Sa in Sanageyama is the same Sa in saru (monkey), the Ja in Jakuzure means serpent, and Inu, which starts off Inumuta, means dog.  And none of that was there on accident, the writers decided to make sure all of the Elite Four had characters in their names which correspond to animals on purpose, Gamagoori has gama, meaning toad, in the name of rounding out the group.  It honestly doesn’t matter why they put it there for the purpose of this particular paragraph, regardless of what meaning or theme the creators wanted to convey by naming the Elite Four like this the point is that they had to have done it on purpose.  So now that we’ve got the basics out of the way I’m going to praise and rant about Kuzu no Honkai at the same time because otherwise I’ll go insane talking to myself about the show.

Thus far probably my biggest issue is that Kuzu no Honkai has a very coherent narrative, i.e. good structure but some of the baseline ideas seem to be at odds with each other.  The “evil” teacher is the root cause of this.  On the one hand most of her traits, like how she’s totally narcissistic and takes great joy in attracting men because being an object of male affection makes her feel valuable, or how she seems to like being superior to other women by snatching up the men they like even if she doesn’t like the men at all, or how just incredibly shallow and superficial she is a person, are great, by which I means realistic and fine in the context of the story.  But she has an unusual antagonism for the main girl, Hanabi, that I just can’t wrap my head around.  Like if she was just a little spiteful to other women in general I sort of get it, but she goes way out of her way to antagonize Hanabi, to the point where she fucks Hanabi’s “oniichan” and tells her so in a hallway where anyone nearby could have heard her, not a smart move as there were in fact other people nearby.  This would make sense if Hanabi and the teacher were rivals or peers that didn’t see eye to eye, because one-upping a rival or peer you dislike is realistic behavior.  But how is Hanabi a rival or peer to the teacher?  They are least five years apart in age, and probably more, they have very different levels of sexual experience, Hanabi is still a virgin and the teacher will fuck just about anyone just to not be bored, and they’ve known each other for like 3 months tops, it’s not even clear if Hanabi is in this teacher’s music class, for all we know they’ve only talked like 3 or 4 times.  The only reference to them being rivals at all is the incredibly nebulous idea that they both take advantage of others to make themselves feel good and are therefore the same kind of woman, which I call bullshit on.  So why does the teacher go so far out of her way to antagonize Hanabi?

I mean the obvious answer is because it makes her a clear villain that Hanabi, the heroine, must defeat but they didn’t need to do that.  In Golden Time, I’ve written about before and it’s thus far my top anime romance, there’s a scene where Tada Banri and Linda find out that Linda’s older brother’s girlfriend or fiancee, not sure which stage the two were at, was cheating on him with a another man.  The two follow the girlfriend/fiancee the next time she cheats to get evidence, with Linda’s plan being that she would use the evidence to destroy the relationship and protect her brother from this unfaithful woman.  That’s all Kuzu no Honkai needs right there.  There’s even a brief moment where Hanabi mentions something along the lines of protecting her “oniichan” from this shallow bitch of a teacher, that’s plenty of reason for the two to be in conflict without turning the teacher into this cartoonishly petty and evil villain that Hanabi must defeat, there’s no need for the teacher to antagonize Hanabi the way she does to be the “bad guy”, Hanabi can just be in conflict with the teacher in the name of protecting “oniichan” and that would suffice.  This is what I mean by the ideas being at odds, it just seems off because the way the teacher treats Hanabi and the way all the other setting and character details are laid out feel like they’re telling two different stories, I’ll grant that the differences between these stories are subtle but they definitely are different and it just bugs me like an itch while I’m trying to enjoy all the shit I love above Kuzu no Honkai.

And last but not least, not every story is for everyone and Kuzu no Honaki is definitely not trying to appeal to me.  I’ve discussed how shows appeal to specific audiences before, and that’s ok but it does bring the show down for those not targeted, the fact that it’s still good enough for me to consider one of the best romances outright should speak to the strength of it’s writing and presentation.  Let me say this loud and clear, fuck incest.  Hanabi’s “oniichan” isn’t actually related to her at all, so that wouldn’t be incest if they fucked, but the fact she still wants to fuck her older brother figure means it’s the same kind of shit and it pisses me off.  I get that incest is taboo and some people like taboos so it sells but personally I give negative fucks whenever something vaguely incestuous is part of a show.  It’s such an automatic turn off that I almost skipped over Kuzu no Honkai for sounding like an incestuous version of Toradora from the plot synopsis.   Like if we’re be gifted with an anime where characters are actually fucking regularly and a fetish is being targeted to help sell the story can’t we get futas instead?  I’d much rather have a Kuzu no Honkai where Ecchan is a futa in love with Hanabi and how that would complicate their relationship than hear about how Hanabi wants to fuck her boring as shit “oniichan.”  Incidentally the scene where the “evil” teacher said Hanabi’s “oniichan” was so boring she couldn’t see why Hanabi liked him was amazing.  Hell even the “oniichan” himself only seems attracted to the “evil” teacher because she vaguely reminds him of the mother he hardly remembers, i.e. he has an Oedipus complex, another turn off for me.  Though if it ever comes out that and the “evil” teacher finds out “oniichan” only liked her because of the Oedipus complex and she either has a breakdown or throws a tantrum because of it I would love to see that.

Ultimately what I’ve been trying to tell you all is that good storytelling is really hard.  You can have great ideas but fail at structure and tell a mess of a story, you can have an excellent story structure warped by conflicting ideas, and regardless of how well either the structure or ideas are there will be some people that will think the story sucks because it doesn’t appeal to them and their tastes.  Storytelling is hard. You can do so much right and still bug the hell out of your audience by doing a few things wrong, like pandering to the incest fetish.  Seriously I’m sick to death of it, either it needs to go or I need some futa shows to balance things out, that’s only fair right?  Anyway, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.