Peaks & Valleys: Boku no Hero Academia

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This is exactly the kind of post that would get me a ton of backlash if not for the fact I run an obscure blog.  Not only has Boku no Hero already peaked, as someone up to date on both the anime and the manga, my interest in this IP is severely waning.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Boku no Hero has a couple serious problems which I imagine many fans have either not noticed or have overlooked because they like the show.  Fair enough I like it too, but I have to say with the battle against Gentle Criminal and La Brava over, there is basically nothing left that I find interesting in Boku no Hero.  How is this?  How did a story which was at one point so captivating become so dull so quickly?  Well there are a couple of reasons but let’s start with maybe the biggest one – Deku.  Now I like Deku, he’s a hard-working boy with a heart of gold and he wants to be the best there ever was.  But well, he’s kinda boring.  One of the inspirations for this post was NuxTaku’s video “Deku Officially Sucks” which while obviously intended to rile the fanbase of Boku no Hero, did contain some very good arguments.  Chief amongst them were the following: Deku is a character without intrigue and he’s narratively and thematically dwarfed by someone who honestly would have made a much better main character – Lemillion.

Long before I came across NuxTaku’s video I have to say one of Deku’s very first lines bugged the shit out of me – “this is the story of how I became the number 1 hero.”  It comes up before the story really even starts.  Personally I think dropping that line was a bad move because it takes away one of the biggest achievements Deku could make as character.  When I look at Deku my best point of comparison is Naruto and one of things Naruto gets on Deku by default is that it’s never framed like Naruto ever has a chance at becoming Hokage – until he beats Pain.  Sure Naruto constantly says he wants to be Hokage, but wanting something and getting it are two very different things.  For a huge chunk of Naruto, Naruto’s big talk is laughed at.  It’s considered absurd.  But once he proves himself against the worst enemy Konoha had ever faced, suddenly his claims sound a lot less stupid.

By contrast Deku outright saying he became the best before we’ve really even seen anything is a giant buzzkill.  I mean it’s not a deal-breaker or anything but it really rubbed me the wrong way and it makes Boku no Hero all about the journey, because the we already know the destination.  Now that works plenty well in other shows and it could in theory work for Boku no Hero, but Boku no Hero shoots itself in the foot yet again because we know the means by which Deku will achieve this by the end of the first episode – he has one of the world’s greatest powers handed to him on a platter.  Sure he has to train and master One for All but there really no narrative hook here.  A perfectly generic good guy is given an immense power right out the gate and the only negatives are that he isn’t ready for this power so using it beats the shit out of him.  The problem with Deku is that he already has the perfect heroic mindset so all he needs to do is gain experience and master One for All – and while this makes sense as the reason All Might gave Deku this power is because of his mindset and attitude it’s also narratively boring.  Like how many interesting fights can Deku have where his main concern is hurting himself too badly to fight on or fight another day?

As it turns out not very many.  You’ll notice in season 4 none of his big fights revolved around this problem.  And yes this is in part due to Deku creating or developing workarounds but it also shows the limits of his constricting narrative.  I’m once more reminded of Naruto.  Naruto was a kid who worked his ass off developing techniques and was given great power.  However where Deku’s power is gifted to him by his idol and it earns him nothing but respect in wider society, Naruto’s power is given to him as a desperate measure and he is widely ostracized for bearing Kurama within him.  There also a another couple of layers here.  Deku’s worst outcome in any given fight is failing to save someone or doing too much damage to himself to continue fighting.  Naruto’s worst case scenario is losing control of his power and hurting everyone around him without meaning to.  Moreover because Naruto’s power source is Kurama, he has to walk the tightrope path between drawing out Kurama’s power to master his full potential while not being overwhelmed by Kurama’s chakra and giving in to bestial rage.  Deku has no such set of consequences, his only backlash in using All for One is that he hurts himself and he has the selflessness to let that happen for the sake of saving people.

I’m sure I can take this comparison deeper but I think I got the point across.  Deku is boring.  He’s nice, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he has an immense power he has yet to master.  And that’s basically it.  Deku doesn’t have inner demons, his worst mental setback is doubting himself on occasion.  Deku’s power and lack of mastery over it has no interesting consequences, nor can the story really go all in on those consequences more a couple of times or else Deku would never be able to fight again.  There is no mystery, depth or intrigue in Deku – we know his destination and we know the means by which he reaches it, it’s just a matter of watching that story play out.  This isn’t to say Boku no Hero or even Deku himself can’t be great but Deku’s story is one with a short shelf life and I think after Gentle Criminal that shelf life has all but expired.  Deku was at his very best during his match with Todoroki during the Sports Festival.  Because that was a match wherein winning for Deku meant tearing his body apart and ultimately losing the big match that he wanted to win for the sake of getting through to Todoroki and saving Todoroki from his inner demons.  Since then Deku has been significantly less impressive with the Stain battle being the second best Deku moment in my opinion.  It’s a shame because he could have been made a lot more interesting if he was allowed to fail more often – but because almost all of Deku’s battles outside of the Sports Festival are matters of life and death, he can’t afford to lose them.  It would also help if maybe he had a different power that allowed for more narrative flexibility.

Which is were Lemillion comes in.  Lemillion and Deku have the same basic dream, attitude and story arc.  The difference is that Lemillion’s is much more compelling and he ends up in a much more interesting position.  Lemillion was a guy born with a pretty crappy powers who struggled to be more than a joke in the eyes of his peers.  But through an ultra positive attitude, dedication and a tutor that helped him master his bizarre power he rose through the ranks and was very nearly at the pinnacle.  Then when he has Overhaul on the ropes, Overhaul puts him in an impossible dilemma, save Eri and take a bullet that erases his powers for good or dodge the bullet and let Eri die.  Obviously he takes the bullet and this is by far the biggest emotional moment in his arc.  He’s inches away from achieving his goal and yet he’s forced to lose everything for the sake of his ideals, because this is a bullet he can’t afford to dodge.  And yet he doesn’t give up, he keeps fighting, he keeps smiling and he doesn’t lose hope.  Lemillion is Deku but a vastly superior version of Deku, his struggles are far greater, the sacrifices he makes significantly more costly and yet he doesn’t bend, he doesn’t break, he takes it all in stride and has hope for the future.

I’m begrudgingly reminded of Bleach’s Fullbringer arc here.  After Ichigo stopped Aizen he ended losing all of his spirit power for a time and he goes on living a normal life until a group of people show him a way that he might be able to get his power back.  Now the Fullbringer arc is to the best of my knowledge fairly widely panned and I didn’t think it wasn’t very good.  But it did attempt something extremely difficult and with tons of potential, a soft reset where someone who rises to the top suddenly crashes back down to rock bottom because they sacrificed all of their future potential for victory now (see HunterxHunter for reference).  But where Bleach didn’t really have the staying power for that I think Lemillion might have had he been the main the character of Boku no Hero.  In any event Deku could not go through this very arc, because losing his power is too great a loss to the wider world.  Another limitation on Deku’s story, and a reason why Lemillion is more interesting.

Getting away from Deku there are two other problems with Boku no Hero Academia that have crippled my interest in the story.  The size of the cast and the loss of All Might.  Now large casts aren’t inherently a problem but Boku no Hero has lost a lot of steam because many beloved or otherwise interesting characters either haven’t gotten much development or have been developed some and then sidelined to make room for more characters.  Ochako is probably the best example.  During the Sports Festival her battle with Bakugo was, and excuse the pun, the tits.  In a tournament arc with tons of interesting battles her’s was solidly in second place behind the even more phenomenal Deku versus Todoroki.  And since then what have we seen from her?  Basically nothing.  Sure she learned some martial arts and she was even present for the raid on Overhaul.  But what did she do during the raid?  Did she fight any interesting enemies?  Did she suffer serious injuries?  Did she bust out a crazy new technique she’d been working on and make an impact?  None of the above.  She’s barely in the raid.  Kirishima had a bigger part to play, and don’t get me wrong Kirishima is great, his fight was awesome and his Unbreakable form looks rad as hell but I wanted Ochako to shine too.  Worse if you read ahead the manga mostly gets away from the kids and focuses mostly on the adult heroes.

It makes sense with the worldbuilding for the kids to play a smaller role as the war against the villains ramps up but there’s a ton of moving parts and Boku no Hero Academia is all too willing to jump around and develop a ton of different characters, while leaving some of the core characters to essentially stagnate.  It makes the story less engaging because the worldbuilding is not that great.  I mean it’s not terrible and it raises some interesting questions but I’ve seen better versions elsewhere.  I even wrote about it before – here’s the link– I already argued that Tiger and Bunny and Gatchaman Crowds were better at this.  That the strength of Boku no Hero is that it has polished the basics of shounen storytelling to a mirror sheen and delivers on the fundamentals so well.  Now that it’s moving into a more complex narrative it’s starting to fall apart and become boring.

Last but not least is the question of All Might.  All Might is one of the greatest shounen characters ever written.  He’s powerful, a national symbol, a man with big dreams and equally huge responsibilities with an unflinching will and all kinds of natural charisma.  To me the ultimate peak of Boku no Hero is All Might versus All for One.  These two titanic figures with larger than life powers, archenemies who have wounded each other so badly they never returned to their top form, duking it out one last time.  The fight was one of the most simplistic I can think of and yet it was also incredibly emotional.  All for One doing everything he can to break All Might’s will and reveal the secrets he didn’t want to world to know, against All Might’s implacable spirit and his willingness to throw away the last dregs of his power in one final Smash to put his nemesis down once and for all was incredible.  And the bit at the end where All Might, a battered husk of his former self points at the camera and says “You’re next” is so fucking good.  It is not just the peak of Boku no Hero but a remarkable high point in the shouen genre, sure to go down with some of the other biggest moments in shounen storytelling.  I always tear up when I start writing about this fight because it was that good, it had that much impact.  And with All Might mostly out of the story, Boku no Hero has lost one of it’s biggest narrative hooks.  All Might was really the glue that held so much of this story together and he’s gone.

With all of that in mind I hope any Boku no Hero fans reading understand why I will not really be hype for any future seasons of Boku no Hero.  All Might is a footnote, Lemillion is out of the picture.  The interesting criminals of season 4 are behind bars.  All that’s left is to explore the League of Villains and have more showdowns, with a little bit of training here and there along the way.  Boku no Hero has gotten rid of its most interesting characters and thrown much of its strong points out the window as it moves on to the next big arc.  I’m not saying it will suck necessarily, but I would be floored if any future seasons were as good as season 4, let alone the true high points of the show seasons 2 & 3.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Understanding Limits: How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord vs Overlord

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I really hate Overlord.  When I was watching it weekly I might have given it like a 5-6/10, though the final battle with Shaltear (yes I only watched season 1 though I’ve a smattering of fight clips from later seasons since) was a huge disappointment.  That said every time I even think about the show since then my hatred has built and built to the point when I can say it’s probably a 1 for me personally by now.  And while before this point I could point out what I saw as the flaws just fine I had some trouble connecting with the appeal of a show like Overlord at all, until a I saw How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord (henceforth Demon Lord because that title is a pain in the ass to type over and over).

I would describe Demon Lord as perfectly passable.  It’s like a 5-6/10, and very ok across the board.  If not for the fact this is an abysmal anime season I probably would not have watched it but now that I have I think I can really pick apart how I think Overlord fails at capturing the appeal it ostensibly is going for.  In case you haven’t seen it Demon Lord features a similarly OP demonic main character, who happens to be a spellcaster, stuck in a world resembling a game he played, where everyone else seems severely under-leveled.  On the face of it Demon and Overlord are practically the same show but their minor differences make a world difference in how much I enjoyed one over the other.

Barring the obvious differences in art style between the shows and the appearance of the two leads, the biggest difference is that Ains from Overlord has the Dungeon of Nazareck and Diablo from Demon Lord doesn’t.

Ains arrives amongst allies and servants who he can order to do things on his behalf while he investigates the world or gets into fights.  In and of itself this is not a problem and a story written from such a scenario is totally workable.  The problem is that all the demons of Nazareck are themselves overpowered in the world of Overlord.  In season 1 and in most of the clips I’ve seen of later seasons the demons of Nazareck are curb stomping all of their opponents, with the only notable exception being the bug maid vs Evil Eye (if memory serves).  This is not to say I’m not missing a battle or two where they fight more difficult opponents but ultimately the issue is that not only is Ains op all of his allies are op too so there is never any tension in any of the battles.  Moreover it seems like an incredibly hamfisted level of overkill in the writing department.  What’s the point of having an OP protagonist trying to unravel the mystery of his situation if he could just command his 15-20 servants to do it all for him?  It’s like making a team of 15-20 Madara Uchiha’s from Naruto and saying “yeah people will like that!” – like wtf?  It’s fucking BORING because none of the main characters are ever in any danger and world itself is not challenging.

Even more annoying there is no reason given at all (in season 1 at least please correct me if they explain later) as to why the world of Overlord is so weak in comparison to Ains.  Here’s a completely inconsequential example that encapsulates my issues perfectly.  Early in season 1 Ains (in disguise) has to give away one of his potions.  As far as I know this is not a potion he made, it’s just a basic potion from the game.  However it’s considered pure and is better than the potions everyone else is using.  Can you believe it? Even a basic potion in Ains’ possession, which he never even has to use, is better than the potions of the world he inhabits.  That’s the unbelievable level of overkill the writer goes to in making sure Ains is the top dog, even his potions are better than everyone else’s and he doesn’t even use them.  I know this is such a minor thing but it speaks to my main issue with Overlord.  It doesn’t know when to stop.  It doesn’t know how to set any kind of limit for itself, any restrictions which might inject ANY tension into it whatsoever.  It just makes Ains and his goons the best in every way possible and shows you how they steamroll this world set on baby levels of easy mode.  And somehow it works for people, I sincerely don’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would like Superman and this has most of the same problems as Superman.

By comparison Diablo is brought into a world where he seems all but invincible but he doesn’t have a gang of overpowered buddies.  He has a pair of girls who fit into the normal range of characters levels for the vast majority of adventurers in the world Demon Lord takes place in.  His companions can and do get beaten in fights and struggle against superior foes anytime Diablo is unable to confront the threat himself.  There is actual tension because Diablo really only has like 4 or 5 people he can count on in this world and all of them have a very real chance of dying in the event he isn’t there to protect them, and he can’t be with all of them 24/7.  Moreover there are a few opponents who are more of a threat to Diablo than anyone in Overlord was a threat to one of Ains’ battle maids.  The Force Hydra, the Governor of Faltra, Krebskulm and even the Paladin are foes of a high enough level that they can at least damage Diablo, and a few even give them a run for his money or force him to the point exhaustion.

Which brings me to another point, not only do none of the native creatures or characters of Overlords world ever damage Ains, (again not that I’ve seen do correct me if I’m wrong) but even when he has to get serious to fight Shaltear there’s no negative effects at all.  Diablo meanwhile not only can be seen taking damage on rare occasions but he can exhaust himself, which leaves him practically bedridden the next day.  And while by most show’s standards this is barely a limit at all it is at least a limit – Ains not only doesn’t seem to have limits he actively is granted the means to ignore any limits he might otherwise have.  He can become a warrior good enough to steamroll this world despite the fact he’s a sorcerer.  And he has fucking gatcha items which allow him to equip the best melee weapons and armors without penalty and he doesn’t appear to suffer from using most or all of his mana if he ever even does.

Jumping back to the world being too weak, unlike Overlord, Demon Lord has an actual explanation as to why the world is so weak.  Namely that the lack of respawns has caused all the adventurers to be much more conservative so not only are their levels lower, they have far less experience with the skills they have.  Whereas Diablo played aggressively because it was a game, so he is high leveled and experienced with his skills.  But even with this explanation in place Demon Lord still makes room for a few major enemies who are high leveled.  And unlike Overlord Diablo’s potions aren’t inherently better than the potions of this world.

Where this difference in the relative power levels becomes most important is in Diablo’s companions.  Whereas Ains almost never has to worry about his servants because personality-wise they all praise him to high heaven and want to suck his dick, Diablo’s companions are total strangers to him and only bound to him by a slave collar that he won’t use on them.  These fragile bonds are important because Diablo’s human self has been betrayed in the past and struggles with connecting to people.  And of equal importance is that Ains’ companions are rarely in any danger, whereas Diablo’s are in danger all the time – or would be in the event he isn’t there.  This goes double for Rem who is the vessel sealing Krebskulm and is targeted by some humans and monsters because of this, and Shera who is a runaway princess being pursued by her countrymen and brother.  Between this combination of legitimate vulnerability, character backstories that imply significant struggles and the trials which arise in the present because of their pasts, I found the supporting cast much more likable in Demon Lord.  They were people I could sympathize with and in turn it made me like Diable more as he fought past his strong mistrust of people to support the few companions he has as much as he was able.  The demons of Nazareck meanwhile were all totally insufferable because of their boners for Ains coupled with their borderline invincibility.  There was nothing there to invest me in them and so they all fall flat.

Put simply where I think Overlord fails is in setting limits for itself.  I can understand the appeal of wanting to watch an OP hero crushing powerful enemies with ease and being an all around badass.  But where I think Demon Lord manages to strike this target with ease I feel Overlord overcompensates and goes too far.  When everyone and everything thing associated with Ains, even his basic potions for fuck’s sake, are better than the everything in the world around them it’s a clear case of overdoing it.  Fuck, just laying it out like that makes Overlord sound like a Mel Brooks-esque parody of shows like Demon Lord, but Overlord lacks the self-awareness and humor to be such a parody.  Instead it’s just a basic power fantasy taken to such an extreme degree in every detail that’s it unbearably frustrating just to think about, let alone watch.

All that said I do want to say sorry to Overlord fans if they feel like I’m attacking them.  That’s not my intent, I believe anyone can like anything and it doesn’t reflect badly on them.  This is just one more case where a popular show emerges and I can’t stand it.  Thanks for reading, see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: The Strengths and Weaknesses of Boruto

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Now that Boruto has hit the 50 episode mark, it’s first recap episode, and the Chunin Exam will start shortly it’s as good a time as any for a look at what Boruto does well and what kind of problems the show faces.  Obviously there will spoilers.

My greatest concern overall is that Boruto seems to have a big problem managing weakness.  Many of of Boruto the character’s fellow shinobi are pretty weak, as one would expect them to be.  But Boruto’s team is broken as shit.  I get that Boruto is supposed to be a prodigy and all but he, Mitsuki and Sarada are all way better than basically all of their classmates.  The only character whose strength I’m totally ok with is Iwabe, because is several years older and has intensely focused on ninjutsu to the detriment of his studies – hence why he’s had to repeat the academy several times.  Honestly this problem really just applies to Boruto’s team but considering that they are the main team it’s a serious problem.  Boruto seems to have very few problems fighting opponents who should be above his level, Mitsuki apparently can already use Sage Mode because plot and Sarada, who at least is still a beginner at the Sharingan, can inexplicably use super strength despite that not being a technique she is training to use.

This jump starting of the main team is a serious mistake as what made the early parts of Naruto great was how the characters managed their very limited abilities to the best of their ability.  There’s no real need for them to be this strong and some of the things they can do, like the Sage and super strength don’t make any sense.  These are not abilities you just get.  Sage Mode requires intense training and the super strength is the by-product of a very specific style of healing jutsu.  Mitsuki and Sarada have not done any of the training required to get their powers.  Boruto on the other hand just seems to have more jutsus than he should although he’s honestly the least problematic of the three.  Still having the characters start so strong raises some serious red flags.  The biggest trap Boruto should be aiming to avoid is the drastic rise in power levels that made late Naruto episodes a snorefest .  Ideally Boruto and Co never get as strong as their parents partly for the sake of the story but also partly because they live in an age of relative peace and prosperity.  Unfortunately one of the core ideas in Naruto was the whole, child/student surpasses the parent/teacher, and it used that idea to excellent effect so I would bank on Boruto going for the same thing.

Which brings me to my next point.  Boruto seems very willing to follow almost identical story beats to Naruto, some of which work to it’s advantage and some of which are unnecessary or even weak.  As I discussed before the Kakashi test was a good example of this being weak, because the ideas which Kakashi was trying to teach are way less applicable in Boruto’s day and age than they were in Naruto’s time.  They’ve basically taken the Zabuza arc and split it into three parts, the Mist Village rebellion, the random town they saved from rouge ninja’s where the conflict centered around a bridge and now the Byakuya gang arc which drew heavily on Haku and Ice Style to create it’s own story, which admittedly was the best of the three arcs.  Drawing on Naruto for inspiration isn’t necessarily a problem but it has been very hit or miss thus far and the creative staff needs to take into account the global changes in Boruto’s world which separate it from Naruto.

Jumping back to the first problem about jump starting the main team I think I see the motivation.  One of the main problems Boruto’s creative staff will have to face is creating adversaries and scenarios which are dangerous enough to be tense and challenging for the kids but which aren’t so dangerous that their parents won’t just come in and curb stomp the problem.  They have mostly managed this just fine so far but as the power levels rise this problem will only get trickier.  I think the reason the main team is so strong for their age is so that the staff can justify letting them tackle problems which, realistically, the adults would do.  This is counter productive though, in part as explained above the dangers of making the kids overpowered but it also negates one of the shows greatest strengths, the contrasts between the current generation and the previous one.

Consistently the greatest scenes and most interesting dialogue comes from Naruto era characters either talking about how things used to be/how different things are now, or imparting word of wisdom to Boruto and Co.  I loved when the Five Kages have a discussion about their concerns about a lack of strong new ninjas.  Naruto and Sarada had both some warming father daughter moments, because Sasuke is terrible as a dad, but he also impresses on her how ludicrously strong he is during the fight with Uchiha Shin, and honestly I think Boruto needs a taste of that to level out his ego.  Hell even more recently when Naruto personally takes some time to recognize Iwabe and let him now that being a repeat student is not a stain on his reputation or character as Naruto himself was a repeater.  It’s been great stuff all around and if anything I’d rather see the kids struggle more and involve the adults more in helping them get through their issues.  Because while seeing the kids develop is part of the appeal of a show like Boruto, another obvious appeal is seeing how characters we grew up in Naruto have changed as they became adults.

One of the other differences between Naruto and Boruto is their pacing.  Both shows are slow but for entirely different reasons.  Naruto was slow because of protracted battles and lengthy, gratifying training arcs.  Boruto is slow because it switches off between being Naruto and being Naruto-slice of life edition.  There are a number of episodes where the objective is definitely about building the class and the teams as characters and not bothering with any serious conflicts.  And even the conflicts are taken much slower, as I explained thus far Boruto has taken elements of the Zaubza Arc and split it into 3 arcs.  The battles in Boruto are not protracted because how could they be?  If the battle was a big enough deal to be protracted the adults would come in and clean things up quickly.  I don’t mind that Boruto is taking it’s time but I do sincerely hope they don’t forego training arcs entirely as the Naruto’s training arcs were fucking great, it made his high level techniques feel far more justified if we see him busting his ass to get them.

Those are the main issues.  There have been some surface level changes like Naruto generally being goofier and more consistently funny, there being an all male and all female team instead of the standard 2 guys 1 girl, and Anko went from sexy to fat, but Boruto has been treading cautiously, a wise move, and hasn’t had any moments big or dramatic enough to make it like Naruto.  My only suggestions would be that if Boruto is intent maintaining this slower pace it should be doing more to flesh out the changes in the world that have occurred since Naruto’s generation have come into power and adulthood.  If on the other hand Boruto is about to drop some big dramatic or action bombs then it needs to be careful of not treading into power levels which the kids should not have or which the adults should deal with.

I think Boruto has been a decent time and I’m looking forward to where it goes but ultimately it doesn’t have the same hook that early Naruto did and nor can it really.  It’s banking on Naruto’s famous if somewhat dubious legacy and that severely limits what the creative staff can do and what they should or should not do.  I will be cautiously optimistic about the future of this show but I see some clear pitfalls and am very worried by what I saw in the opening flashforward.  Honestly I think Boruto will crash and burn at some point and the real question is, how long can they prevent this from happening while keeping the show interesting, and so far the answer seems like quiet a while.

Boruto & the Generational Gap: Why Kakashi’s Exam was Misguided

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This post will generally assume you’re up to date on Boruto but in case you aren’t here’s a quick grasp of the situation.  Boruto’s class is taking a Genin exam and for whatever reason Kakashi is the exam proctor and his doing a variation of his old bell test from Naruto.  Boruto’s class ends up passing the exam but during the exam Kakashi ripped into Boruto and his classmates for not being good enough and that’s where about half the intrigue for this test should have been.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By far one the most interesting aspects of Boruto is the contrast of Boruto’s generation and Naruto’s generation.  In the buildup to this exam, an exam which Naruto almost entirely glossed over since Naruto was the only one which couldn’t pass it, though obviously he does end up passing it via learning Shadow Clone.  In Boruto this exam is much bigger deal because it will break the class up.  Everyone wants to pass this exam because it’s like getting a high school diploma but the class is split between people who want to continue down the ninja path or people who want to get a secondary school education and do something else.  Some teams almost fall apart because of the disagreements between those who wanted to be ninjas together and those who want to take their lives elsewhere.

A particularly good scene in the buildup to the exam is when Boruto asks Hinata why she became a ninja.  She casually remarks that when she was a kid that was what was expected of people.  Boruto just kind of moves on from that scene without really taking it in but there’s almost no greater sign of the differences between the two generations.  In Naruto’s time countries were either at war or on the brink of war and ninjas were the lifeblood of every village.  Boruto has never experienced such a world and none of the kids can really conceive of it.  Few if any of them even have concrete goals or motives with regards to becoming a ninja and as mentioned above plenty of them aren’t even interested in being ninjas and do in fact plan to go elsewhere.

This is where Kakashi’s exam is kind of strong.  Kakashi goes incognito and investigates the class and observes their collectively weak or altogether lacking resolve.  He pins Boruto down in 1v1 combat and just rips into him about his lack of resolve and the bad influence he has on the rest of the class, and for a second it seems like he might really go ahead with his threats to fail everyone.  Ideally in fact I think none of them should have passed the exam.  It would have been really cool if the adults had made them face the fact they really aren’t ready to be ninja because the ninja world is a much more brutal place than they realize.  Imagine the amount of time they could spend developing characters after such a major failure, with some people dropping out for real this time, other’s hardening their resolve and so on.  Hell the impact of such a scene would have been phenomenal too a loud smack from an uncaring reality against the mostly happy-go-lucky tone of Boruto, the show and the character.

Alas this is where the exam falls apart, because the real point was to make sure the kids worked together and didn’t abandon their comrades – teaching the “those who break the rules are scum but those who abandon their friends are worse than scum” lesson we saw in Naruto.  But what was the point of that?  Boruto and friends are a hell of a lot more willing to cooperate and look out for each other because to them that’s, well, normal.  This is not an age of war where the best could and sometimes would look down on their squadmates or when leaving comrades to die for the sake of mission was considered acceptable and even normal.  The reason Kakashi’s exam made sense in the past was that it clashed with the established norms of sacrificing people to ensure the team succeeded overall.  And with regards to team 7 specifically it was used to unite the fractious 3 genin under Kakashi’s command.  Boruto and friends need no such push to unite them nor do they need to be convinced they should do things for the sake of their friends, that’s practically all they’ve done up until this point.

What the kids really need is a wake up call, something to really spell out for them how dangerous the world they are trying to step into can be.  Instead of being about uniting to get the Kakashi’s bell the exam really should have been something like the whole class having to beat the instructors in combat or, though impractical and out of character, the whole class trying to even hit Naruto.  I’m fine with them all passing the test so long as they learn a lesson about the realities of the ninja world.  Naruto himself would be ideal to show the kids just how unreasonably powerful their opponents could theoretically be while a maybe using the Ino, Choji and Shikamaru team to beat the whole class could really hit home how deadly enemies working together can be.  The point of the exam should not be about being a good friend anymore, that problem has been solved, rather the new genin exam should be a lesson in humility that challenges the half baked ambitions and resolve of the kids.  It should make them confront whether they really want to be ninjas or not because unlike in Naruto’s time, not being a ninja is an option with no stigma attached.  And I feel like Kakashi himself sort of agrees with me because he remarked that they had made the test too easy for Boruto’s class shortly before they passed it.

Long story short I think this exam shows both some real sparks of intrigue in Boruto and also the problems of sticking too close to Naruto in terms of writing.  The audience already knows all about this test and the lesson it teaches and it’s not given much weight or time at all because it’s a formality for the viewer.  Likewise it doesn’t even effect the kids too much.  However in the buildup to the exam and the split second where it seemed like Kakashi might actually fail everyone we saw glimpses material that could make for great character stories.  Ultimately I think what needs to happen is that in the near future Boruto and friends have to be confronted with the differences between them and their parents in the most stark and serious manner possible, because that will challenge them a hundred times more than this exam did and it will cut to the heart of their character as individuals, while highlighting some of the serious differences between the world of Naruto’s childhood and Boruto’s childhood.

Understanding Boruto: How to Save the Naruto Universe – or Kill it for Good

 

Boruto

“The generation below us is.. frankly not up to par.”  I included that in the picture at the top of this post for a reason, I think that quote is phenomenally on point both in the context of Boruto as a story and what I believe about how Boruto should best fit into the Naruto-verse.  This line comes up in a Five Kage Summit behind closed doors from latest episode of Boruto and the context here is that Naruto and Sasuke have discovered that Kaguya and her White Zetsu army are likely not the greatest threat the Ninja World will have to face – but they don’t know when this greater threat will appear.  The worry here is obvious, the current generation – Naruto’s generation – doesn’t think the generation below them is strong enough, with the current Raikage claiming that a lack of real skills among the youth is a concern for every ninja village and that this lack of real skills is the result of the current united, peaceful world.  The current Tsuchikage says it best though with the above quote though her literal words were closer to “Frankly the next generation’s level is too low.”

Now this is followed by Gaara and Naruto arguing that every generation faces the same scrutiny from the generation before them and that the kids may well surpass the current generation.  I agree with them to some extent but I think it would be best for the Naruto-verse for Boruto’s generation to never exceed Naruto’s generation.  This is because Naruto’s biggest problem is that the power levels got out of control and trying to write a story involving those power levels basically took Naruto away from the things which made it initially appealing.  I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of there being an enemy greater than Kaguya but if such an enemy exists Naruto’s generation – not Boruto’s – should be the one to face it.  Based on a few hints from the Manga and the very first scene of the anime it looks like the plan is for Boruto to somehow surpass Naruto even when he’s still a teenager – and that would be a death blow to the Naruto-verse.  Keep in mind that most of the Jinchuriki are gone, there’s no Akatsuki anymore and there is no threat of war or great tragedy driving the kids to get stronger at such a young age.  This is why I agree with the Tsuchikage and Raikage, this era can’t produce the same level of ninja, or at least the same numbers of ninja of a high enough level as the generation before them.

What then can be done to save Boruto?  Because against all odds it’s been decent so far.  There are minor details I would’ve changed but the overall feel is fine and some of the scenes featuring Naruto’s generation as parents have been the most well written Naruto moments in years.  I found Naruto’s warm paternal moments with Sarada, who has lacked a father figure her whole life, to be especially good.  And I loved the new Five Kage Summit and seeing all those kids from Naruto all grown up and handling adult problems – it’s been a blast to see character’s I’d largely gotten tired of become interesting again.  To answer the aforementioned question I see only two solutions. 1 – The greater than Kaguya threat (henceforth GTKT) appears when Boruto’s generation is older.  In this scenario Naruto’s generation would likely do something akin to the very first major arc of Naruto – basically give the kids challenging missions to hone their skills while adults supervise and step in if unexpected developments, like Zabuza showing up on a low ranked mission, occur.

The other option, and in my opinion the better option, is to have Naruto’s generation defeat the GTKT but to destroy themselves in the process.  Basically it would be akin to Sasuke’s situation in Naruto, Sasuke has to deal with Itachi because there are no other Uchiha’s left to hunt him down.  I don’t think Boruto would have to be that extreme but the idea here is for enough of Naruto’s generation to die or suffer crippling wounds when fighting the GTKT that they have no choice but to let Boruto’s generation to step up to the plate in the aftermath.  In this scenario no enemy Boruto’s generation would have to face would be like the GTKT, instead they would have to deal with strong leaders from minor villages seeking to claim power now that threats like Naruto are no longer hanging over their head or something like a huge outbreak in mid-level criminal ninjas.  The point is I don’t think Boruto’s generation should ever fight an opponent above the level of the Akatsuki and even then I think the Akatsuki’s power level might be too high for this generation to handle – but at least it could be done I think.  This way Boruto’s generation could grow and struggle but it wouldn’t break the Naruto-verse the way having these new kids surpass their sometimes stupidly powerful parents would, especially if they did so before they were adults.

Ultimately Boruto’s greatest narrative challenge is in creating foes and scenarios which are tough for Boruto’s generation to deal with but not so dangerous that the parents feel forced to come in and curb stomp the problem.  The Nue was a good example as the nature of the Nue made it something which Naruto couldn’t combat but Boruto could because Boruto was too weak to give the Nue any real power while Naruto would’ve given it more fuel for it’s explosion.  So at the very least the staff is clearly aware of the problem and working on it.  But the longer Boruto runs the trickier this challenge will be, and like I said I can only really see two ways out of the problem.  And I for one, hope that Boruto doesn’t break Naruto for good.

Unpopular Opinion – Triple Feature: Keijo vs Kuroko no Basket + Keijo: Anime vs Manga

keijo

VS

kuroko-no-basket

Keijo and Kuroko no Basket are my two favorite sports anime to date.  That’s not quite as impressive as it sounds because I rarely watch sports shows, but at the same time it says a lot about me and what I’m looking for in a sports anime.  Put bluntly the vast majority of sports shows don’t interest me at all.  I have enough high school shows on my plate without adding a bunch more to cover sports.  I also just don’t watch much in the way of sports period, I basically stick to football because it’s so ubiquitous in America that it’s almost harder to not watch football than it is to watch football.  Why then did I enjoy these two shows?  There will be spoilers ahead.

What makes Keijo and Kuroko no Basket interesting to me is how far they deviate from reality.  I’d much rather watch super-power basketball than regular basketball, let alone basketball featuring a bunch of teens learning their talents instead of watching pros.  A lot of sports anime focus on kids who are coming into their talents or otherwise develop talents over the course of the show, complete with valuable senpai who help the team or main characters grow along the way.  That bores me.  Don’t me wrong in a lot of other cases I think watching kids with potential can be more interesting than watching talented adults, take Naruto for instance, the most interesting point in the story was the Chunin Exam because that was when everybody was still growing and they were on fairly equal footing, as opposed to the Fourth Ninja War where everyone’s powers were mostly set in stone and fell into the categories of OP as fuck or useless.  But sports is an exception, I have enough trouble watching pro sports, high school sports bore me to tears.  In Kuroko no Basket most of the main players are basically playing at a pro or better level already despite their age.  They’re young enough to develop some new skills, but it takes a long time because most of the time none of the main characters actually need to get any better to win, they’re already crushing most of the competition.  The main team needs to grow a lot as a team to get to the final round of the main tournament, but individually there’s very little growth going on.  And that’s ok because these kids are talented already and they generally have their own “power,” which can range from simple physical abilities, like super high jumps to basically magic, like copying any move you see or never missing a shot so long as your shooting form is right.

This is actually cool, this is basketball that’s been enhanced by the addition of crazy abilities to make the strategies of each team more interesting.  For example the main team is largely centered around Kuroko’s ninja-like ability to hide his presence and surprise the opposing team, and they in turn have to deal with teams who are centered around crazy good players who make you trip over yourself and bypass you without challenge.  The introduction of crazy plays or shots, made possible only by the various “powers” in play, are especially good for the tension and drama.  Watching someone bust out a nigh game-breaking move to shift the tide of battle or watching the other team overcome the game-breaking move to win the game is a huge thrill and it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat as I marathoned all three seasons of Kuroko no Basket.  Basically what I’m trying to say is that Kuroko no Basket is really really good and you should watch it if you haven’t.  The only thing I wasn’t too big a fan of was “The Zone.”  That said I much prefer Keijo to even Kuroko no Basket.

Now I know what you’re all thinking, of course I like Keijo better, it’s full of girls in swimsuits, some of which rip, fighting with their tits and asses, what man couldn’t like Keijo?  And you know what you’re absolutely right, all hail swimsuit buttfights.  However that’s not all there is to my love of Keijo, Keijo is quite possibly the best sports anything ever conceived.  Setting aside the actual combat and the fanservice, I love the idea of how Keijo operates.  This isn’t made clear in the anime, but Keijo is such a ludicrously lucrative sport that professional and Olympic athletes regularly quit their sports to compete in Keijo, there’s just that much money involved.  This is pure genius because it gives a concrete reason for everyone competing in the sport to be crazy good, almost everyone involved has at least competed nationally in their prior sport so of course they’re fucking good.  This is a step up from Kuroko no Basket where the baseline of where everyone’s at is basically set by the author for narrative reasons, most high school basketball teams are nowhere near as good as the teams in Kuroko no Basket.  By comparison, if Keijo as it’s described was a real thing it would mostly play out the same way in our world because it’s a natural extension of the world, super talented people from all kinds of sports backgrounds go to Keijo specifically to compete because of the pay.  Another bonus is that Keijo is for adults only, this plays no role in the anime because everyone acts like high school kids anyway, but everyone in Keijo is done with high school and are competing because that’s their career of choice.  To me this is big even if the anime doesn’t really do anything with it, because college characters are generally more interesting  than their high school counterparts and it even makes sure the nudity is now legal because no one’s underage.

The other huge advantage Keijo has over Kuroko no Basket is flexibility.  In Kuroko no Basket, as in many sports shows, everybody is given their one power and that’s all they have to work with.  The powers can be applied multiple ways, like how all of Kuroko’s moves are passed on his lack of presence and crazy passing, or have varying strengths, like how there’s two guys who can visualize the court from a bird’s eye view but one has better range, but the players are still more limited.  This isn’t a bad thing per se, exploiting and circumventing a player’s a limits is big part of strategy in Kuroko no Basket and limits can be great for the dramatic tension.  That said I think Keijo’s more natural variation is more interesting.  In Keijo players generally fall into of three classes, Infighter, Outfighter and Counter, and these classes have a Rock-Paper-Scissors sort of relationship.  However there’s a huge amount variety within each class, which affects the Rock-Paper-Scissors balance.  For example Miyata is a small, fast girl and therefore an Outfighter, however she’s got a lot more power than most Outfighters because her background is in judo so she has more muscle.  Meanwhile Rin, another Outfighter, has higher speed, stamina and lung capacity because her background appears to be in long distance running.  In addition  to the variety there are also techniques that anyone with the right body type can learn to counter various classes, the Hip Bullet aka Butt Flash is an Infighter move that relies on a butt’s weight and mass to generate a fast but solid jab attack, and it allows Infighters to manage the quicker movements of Outfighters when used correctly.  Then there’s the techniques they get from their previous sport, like Kawai’s huge step-in, which she learned from her softball days, she uses to close the gap and launch deadly Infighter techniques.  All of this is to say that Keijo has a lot more variety in terms of skill sets and by extension potential strategies and I personally find that to be a big bonus.  And the best part, many major characters still have ridiculous powers like the cast of Kuroko no Basket in addition to their other, widely varied skills, so the fights lose none of their tension or insane flavor.

With all of that it’s time to face inevitable question, what’s better the Keijo anime or the Keijo manga?  Most people are already saying the manga’s better and while I think it’s hard to argue against them I’m not totally sold yet.  The way I see it, it depends on whether you think the ending or the beginning is more important.  The Keijo manga has a lot of important details early on which explore the game a  bit more and add a lot of character development, which is why most people argue that the manga is better.  On the other hand my biggest complaint with the manga is that the ending felt anti-climactic and abrupt, and the anime dedicates almost half of the final episode to an epilogue that sees everyone come together after the East-West War and our main duo signing up for their first professional match, which I thought was superb addition to the story, because something the manga neglects is that the characters are basically in Keijo bootcamp (which we could rename bootycamp or boobcamp in this case) for a year before going pro.  The way the manga ends is like Kuroko no Basket, the main tea has won the big tournament, and that’s it.  By comparison the anime gives us a tiny peek at the future, and some of the girls shown in that peek looked like they could awesome rivals later down the road and I for one was excited when the anime should us something on the horizon.  And as someone who very much values a good ending, I think the anime finale was especially good.  That said there is a an awful lot that we miss out on from the manga so it’s hard to say for sure which I like more.

Part of the problem is that despite all the goodness that’s only in the manga, the manga has some problems that aren’t really being discussed so far as I know.  The main issues is that the manga doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go.  That may be a problem from the artistic side or the business side butting in and causing problems, but either way the manga made a bunch of odd decisions and has a bunch of loose threads lying around.  The best examples are Naka and Ooshima but I want to get into them in more detail so a quick example are the Keijo engineers.  The anime mentions them once but they’re never shown, meaning Kotone has to look at clouds that vaguely resemble men embracing each other to get her yaoi fix (personally I thought was funnier than her looking at the actual engineers even if it was more a stretch).  In the manga though there’s a pair of male engineers we see a few times and it looks like one was setup to be a potential romantic interest (read male tsundere) for Kaminashi, keeping in mind that Kaminashi’s childhood friend wanted to fuck her big time, meaning we might have had a potential love triangle going (thank god that never happened), but it never goes anywhere.  This problem is minor when applied to the engineers and the childhood friend but it gets worse when you consider Ooshima and Naka.  The exam arc, especially the second round, spends a lot of time on Naka and Ooshima but more or less resigns them from relevance by the point the anime started at.  I feel that this was a huge mistake.

Keijo’s cast is pretty huge and given how relatively short it is, it hasn’t got time to flesh all that many people out.  So why cut some of the people you actually spent some time developing?  Instead of cutting Ooshima from relevance wouldn’t it make more sense for her to take Vajrass aka Ass of Vajra girl from the Elite Ten’s place?  They’re both big, muscular girls who have more or less the same skill set, and it’s not like Vajrass girl’s all that important or remarkable.  Vajrass girl is mostly a joke anyway the same as Ooshima was treated, why not put Ooshima on the Elite Ten roster and have her fight in the East-West War in place of Vajrass girl?  You could even give her the Vajrass ability because she basically had a weaker version of that already.  That minor change would be a big benefit to the characters, rather than flooding the story with a ton of girls why not keep the cast smaller and give us more time with them.  Ooshima was mostly goofy but at least she had a prior connection to the main duo and could share more strongly in their victories later in the series, and her character design was better than Vajrass girl’s anyway.  Seriously what is the downside to including her and cutting Vajrass girl?  The same goes for Naka but twice as hard.

Naka had the opportunity to be the single most interesting character in the manga and the show.  She was a full-on adult, a mom with a young kid, and a former bike gang leader, she was the only one of her age bracket (late 20s early 30s, it’s not exactly clear when) trying to compete at the same time as the main duo.  The closest girl was Kusaki who was 20 but she doesn’t act any different from a  dominant yuri high school girl. Think about that for a second.  How interesting would it be to follow the story of new but older player who has her family burdens to deal with, a son to impress in her matches and a violent enough past to seriously kick ass or dig in when the going got tough?  I mean for fuck’s sake one of the Elite Ten girls doesn’t even get to do anything in the East-West War and we never see her abilities, why not replace her with Naka?  Or the boob-iaijutsu girl?  Hell you could even keep boob-iaijutsu girl  and put her on a Suruga team and make her a tough opponent while keeping Naka on Seitouchi’s Elite Ten.  Hell make them fight, boob-iaijutsu girl vs Naka, i.e. the woman with the biggest boobs in the series, that fight practically writes itself and you have to know how many dudes would be totally on board watching that.  And like Ooshima, Naka has a longer history with the main duo and could share in their collective triumphs more deeply.  And again she was the most interesting character conceptually by a mile, but she was cut for reasons unknown.  Long story short, while the manga has a lot more character development and a ton of good moments in the exam arcs, it also made what I consider some pretty huge mistakes and included random tangents that never coalesced into anything substantial.

Whatever the manga’s faults though it does have some major advantages in terms of character.  Miyata’s story has a bit more depth, though I think the anime was able to get the gist of her story across.  The one who really got screwed was Kaminashi.  In the anime Kaminashi is a loud idiot with rare flashes of inspiration, like a shounen hero.  In the manga Kaminashi can be a loud idiot but on the whole she’s a lot more perceptive and intelligent than she lets on, often catching onto things that her roommates miss.  In the anime she’s the one missing the things and Kawai who explains in Kaminashi’s stead.  This was mistake to me because part of what makes Kaminashi so interesting is how creative and intelligent, even arrogant in some cases, she is with regards to Keijo.  Hell one of my favorite scenes in the manga is during the exam when uses she overcomes the hardest test, the butt figure eights, by using the lights so she can watch her shadow so she can make accurate figure eights faster than anyone else.  Also the anime doesn’t get across how poor she is, because her family is completely broke, it just lets us know she’s in this for the money as well as how she enjoys the sport.

Getting back to manga problems the ending needs more attention.  The biggest flaw to me about the ending of the manga is not just how abrupt it is, it’s how Houkouin was a better last boss than Maya/Kaya.  In the manga Kaya/Maya made less of an impression, maybe because the split-personality thing was Akashi’s thing in Kuroko no Basket, than Houkouin.  Houkouin was a more stylish and interesting enemy by far and her battle felt more climactic than Kaminashi vs Maya/Kaya.  The anime doesn’t suffer from this problem, Maya/Kaya is still less stylish, but now at least because the hair color changes when the personalities swap Kaya makes more impact than she used.  The sound though was what really did it.  Kaya’s style is very rough and aggressive in comparison to Maya’s defensive style, and having sound to help communicate how heavy and violent her attacks were was major boon to the final battle.  And again having an epilogue to ease the story into a nice finish that hinted at potential future work was so much better than cutting off right after Seitouchi celebrated after they won.  Minor details include some of the fight scenes and attack translations, the anime made some savvy edits to the manga to fit their shorter story like making Kaminashi wear the UTM all the time during her training period (the manga had her out of it frequently) but also screwed up some stuff, the final attack of the Kotone vs Kaminashi battle looked terrible in the anime and didn’t communicate what was actually happening visually at all.  Some of the attack translations where better in the manga, like Vajrass as opposed to Ass of Vajra, while the anime did some that were better as well like Gate of Bootylon (fun fact the “gate” animation in Keijo was better than the Gate of Babylon used in the new Unlimited Blade Works which is ironic as fuck) instead of Hip of Babylon or Butt on Titan instead of Ass Wall.

Ultimately my advice is this, watch Keijo and read the manga too, pick whichever one you like to start with, (for me it was manga then anime) and decide for yourself which is better.  Because personally I think there’s a strong case to be made for both the anime and the manga being the better version and which is your favorite will ultimately boil down to your individual tastes.  Also watch Kuroko no Basket, but do the Keijo stuff first because it’s better.  Yes I seriously mean that.  I think Keijo incorporates more elements of realism and is just more conceptually interesting on the whole than Kuroko no Basket, while still retaining the insane superpowers and crazy techniques Kuroko no Basket employs to great effect.  Also it’s full of hot girls who are frequently half-naked and occasionally full naked, and despite it’s clear fanservice nature, Keijo is surprisingly good at keeping hings sexy but mostly classy, none of the fanservice ever feels insulting or ever takes you out of the experience by feeling forced.   All in all a great time.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Characters: The Anti-Hero

Warning there will be scattered spoilers as I discuss the various aspects of the anti-hero using examples.  The anti-hero is one of the more common characters you will see in a lot of action series.  They showcase a much darker side of the world than the more hope-filled stories traditionally displayed by heroes.  That kind of contrast and nuance in a setting and story is a good thing, however I have one overwhelming complaint directed towards anti-heroes, too many of them follow the same path or make the same mistakes.  The biggest weakness of any individual anti-hero is that they generally restrict themselves too much by being defined by their need for revenge, like Kurapika or Sasuke, or they go so far in the name of their cause they end up looking more like villains than the actual villains, like Lelouch or Light.  I’m not saying these guys aren’t compelling or can’t be interesting, but especially in the revenge case it can make the character a bit too one note.

In general I just find anti-heroes to be less interesting and compelling even though their point in the story should be to make it more interesting and compelling.  Take Kurapika, once upon a time I liked him, he was a good character who tried to balance his need for revenge with his natural disposition as a generally good guy.  But by the end of HunterxHunter 2011, Kurapika is brooding asshole who lacks the basic humanity and courtesy to visit Gon who is one the edge of death.  What the fuck happened there?  Kurapika was good precisely because he wasn’t one note but had to find a balance between a couple aspects of his personality, now he’s one note and I can’t be less interested in him anymore.  He’s a dull, brooding dude in the midst of show full of life and color, even the villains of the show make themselves more interesting than Kurapika.  Likewise Sasuke could have been a great and compelling character if he struggled more with trying to resist Itachi’s taunts and advice versus his need to get stronger.  If Sasuke had stayed in Konoha for most of the story and watched as Naruto outstripped him for a longer period of time, then the bitter brooding bastard that is Sasuke would have been more believable, more interesting and a character I could get behind on some level. Instead he runs from Konoha at the first hint that Naruto might outclass him and becomes a brooding bitter bastard out his own twisted sense of superiority and stubbornness I guess.

The other big problem I have is more applicable to Light and Lelouch.  These two go too far and while that makes them tragic and compelling it also makes a bit too one note.  In later episodes of both Death Note and Code Geass the defining the goal almost seems to be how far their next strategy goes, how much further they make themselves fall.  And I find that a lot less compelling than their initial fall.  Lelouch does a better job than Light because he has moments where he freaks out after killing a relative or accidentally getting one of his friends’ realtives caught up in the conflict.  But towards the end even he stops caring and his ensuing stratagems, while still brilliant are without exception more fucked up than what came before.  This bothers me because realistically I can see the case for someone who just keeps falling further and further but a more compelling character is one who goes back and forth.  An anti-hero who suffers from doubt and trauma for the things they did during their tragic mistake, and continually struggles with the need to go further to win versus the cost of going further will always be a thousand times more compelling than the guy who just falls and falls and falls.  And the weird thing is that these two archetypes I have described are so prevalent when there is another type of anti-hero that I have found to be much better.

I’m talking about the regretful anti-hero, someone who went too far and knows what they did and rather than keep falling, chooses to turn their life around.  These kinds of characters seek atonement instead of revenge, seek to expunge their crimes rather than add to them and I find these kinds of characters to be infinitely more nuanced and compelling than revenge seekers and extremists.  A good example of this type of character is Akame from Akame ga Kill.  She is at the center of some silly gags especially with regards to her gluttony, but work your way past that and there is really something to her.  Where the revenge seeker and the extremist project instability and a  lack of control, Akame appears unwavering, resolute and graceful by comparison.  She does not shy away from the evils she once committed but she does what she can to make up for them.  It gives her a bit more depth, and it allows for different kinds of interactions.  Whereas revenge seekers and extremists are have their dialogue limited to “I’ll kill you”s and “out of my way”s (Korosuzou and Jama da in Japanese), Akame has a lot more options available.  For example one of my favorite scenes in Akame ga Kill is when Akame fights Bols and they stop the fight so that Bols can ask Akame why she betrayed the Empire, and after Akame answers Bols accepts it without recrimination.  This is not something you get to see very often unless the characters are mature, and that’s one of the strengths of the atonement seeker, they are more mature than other kinds of anti-heroes and their character is more interesting because of that.  To me the atonement seeker will almost always be the most compelling anti-hero and the most powerful one as well.  The kind of strength of character it takes to admit major mistakes and then set about fixing them is so much interesting than someone who drives themselves into a corner because they demand power without having strength the strength to use it properly or even understanding what strength really is.  The atonement seeker is solid and graceful and I really wish it was a more common type anti-hero.  Anyway that wraps this one up, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Progress: Naruto and the Passing of the Torch

I bashed Naruto pretty hard in this post here, so I figured it was time to give Naruto a little bit of credit where it is due.  The kind of thing I’m going to talk about in this post is not exclusive to Naruto, but Naruto is a show that puts a lot more effort into this idea than most other shows.  It also is something I think separates it from a lot of other long running shounen shows.  I’m talking about the passage of skills, and by extension the figurative torch, from one generation to another.  From here on there will be Naruto spoilers and some scattered spoilers from other long running shounen series, you have been warned.

Many long running shounen shows have arcs where the protagonists undergo intense training so they can face the challenges ahead of them.  Naruto is no exception to this rule but unlike many of its counterparts, training in Naruto is usually less about developing new powers as it inheriting treasured ones.  This is actually pretty rare.  In HunterxHunter for example the training sequences are excellent, but Gon and Killua never inherit powers from their teachers, instead they apply the lessons they’ve been given to their own powers.  It’s still the passing on of knowledge but in Naruto it carries extra meaning since the knowledge in question is often the family legacy or the legacy of an important figure.  For example, there are some scenes, mostly in the filler I think, where Ino goes to learn medical ninjutsu with Sakura.  However in my opinion one of Ino’s best scenes is where she forces herself to learn the telepathic communication technique.  Ino initially blew this jutsu off but when she brings it to bear it’s implied that her learning this jutsu is far more important than any medical ninjutsu she learned with Sakura and Tsunade.  More than that when she pulls off the telepathic communication jutsu what we see over the course of the battle is Ino finally coming into her own.  Ino overcomes a challenge she might not have with Tsunade’s teachings and she finds the role on the battlefield she best excels at.  This is especially true during the Fourth Ninja war when her father dies and she takes his place using this jutsu, at this point in time Ino has stepped up and taken over her father’s mantle.  To me that carries a lot more meaning than say Gon learning to apply Biscuit’s teachings to make the Jajanken.  Not that making your own techniques isn’t special, but it has never struck me with same kind of power that the passing on of skills has.

The exception is when someone takes a skill from a previous generation and then improves it.  Naruto’s Rasen Shuriken is a great example.  In that case he has not only inherited the will of his teacher but taken over his mantle entirely and left his mark on this particular technique.  In this example Naruto hasn’t just stepped in for his teacher, he has surpassed him and that hits me in the same kind of way as the original passing on of the skill.  As to why this particular type of progress is special to me, the answer is twofold.  First off seeing the passage of an age is something I have always found to be a powerful event in storytelling, maybe it a history major thing, and this passing of the torch from one generation to the next is essentially the same thing only on a much smaller scale.  Second it marks a time when characters start to mature and really come into their own.  While there is elation at learning a new jutsu I feel like the elation is superseded by a more solemn atmosphere as the weight of the character’s new-found responsibility sets in.  It’s a moment of triumph but also a moment that is humbling, it signifies an end to the playfulness of youth and opens the character’s path to maturity and adulthood.  This is a big moment for the characters on a number of levels, and as such it strikes me as more powerful than something like Gon learning the Jajanken.

It also plays into a narrative that speaks of bold new future, as the new generation replaces their forefathers they will come to change the world.  This was something Naruto excelled at once upon a time.  As I mentioned in the post linked above, a big part of Naruto was about the new generation overcoming the monsters of the older generation to take charge of their future.  This was probably best shown in the Akatsuki arc where members of the war torn generations before, like Asuma, Jiraya and Chiyo, gave their lives so that the younger generation could succeed in their place.  It’s a powerful storytelling tool for it details an exchange of sorts, an exchange where the young give up many of youth’s joys to move on to the next major stage in their lives gaining new responsibilities and with them more control over their own fate.  I believe it also speaks to a sub-conscious hope we all have, we want to be remembered and we want to ensure that our wisdom is left behind for others to find and follow.  This passage of skills touches on both of those desires and is made all the more powerful for doing so.  Anyway this was a pretty narrow topic so I’ll wrap it up here.  Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Characters: The Battle Maniac

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

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

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

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

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