Understanding The OP Gamer: How The King’s Avatar Crushes SAO

quanz

Quan Zhi Gao Shou, or the King’s Avatar in English, is one of three perfect avenues to explore just why SAO is a pile of shit and just how it could have been done better.  The other avenues are of course Log Horzion, previously discussed here and here, and the subject of my previous post – SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online.  With the 3 ONAs released this season now over I figured it was time to explore this third avenue into the construction of video game-centric anime, specifically because it shines where SAO fails the most – the OP main character.  There will be spoilers.

One of the main reasons Kritio is so hard to buy into unless you wish to project onto him is that it’s not clear why he is good.  I mean the fact that he’s 15 isn’t much help if you’ve got a few years on him, but one of the most obvious features of SAO is that Kirito is stupidly powerful and crushes almost anyone he bothers to fight.  What’s not so obvious is why.  Ignoring the ‘because he’s the main character’ reason – which for the record is a bad reason when used just by itself – there’s no real explanation given.  It is implied that Kirito is the best because he was the best of the beta testers and that presumably the beta testers are better than the new players.  Borrowing a bit from Digibro’s epic 1 hr takedown of SAO season 1, if we assume that all the beta testers made it into the first 10,000 players who are trapped in Aincrad then Kirito is in the top 10 percentile of players if we assume the beta testers are automatically better than everyone else.  Building on that if he’s the best beta tester, he’s the best player.   But is it really that simple?

Keep in mind that being a beta tester is no indication of a player’s baseline skill, you could have been selected because you were chosen from the people who rushed to get the beta even if you’d never played an MMO before.  You could even be ill suited to MMO’s, like me, and not do terribly well even if you were interested enough to try and get in the beta – though logically you probably wouldn’t do that shit.  And where does talent come into this?  People learn games at different speeds, is it really implausible for a new player to, after getting a hang of things, outstrip the beta testers?  Especially since it’s explicitly stated that some things have changed since the beta.  In that regard relying on beta knowledge could actually be a weakness – there’s this apt line in Kingdom where a military genius explains that in a clash between two opponents who know each other, if the weaker one is slightly better than the better one believes him to be, then the rug could get pulled out from under the better one because the better one came in with the wrong expectations.  The beta testers could deal with something similar and while this is not spelled that it does seem like a good explanation as to why Diabel, the blue haired guy who dies fighting the first boss, ends up losing despite his knowledge of the game’s mechanics and his status as a beta tester.

There’s an even bigger problem looming behind all of this though.  How do you even measure things which make a player better?  In The King’s Avatar the players are not trapped in a game, they are playing a wildly popular MMO/MOBA hybrid which has just hit it’s tenth anniversary.  Though we experience much of the story through the game world and the players’s avatars, we also experience it through the people on the keyboards, but more on that later.  In The King’s Avatar there are clear ways to demonstrate one’s skill at the game, one the most basic being a player’s Actions per Minute or APM rate.  Relative noobs can crush more established players if the difference in their respective APMs is too great.  The greatest counterbalance to APM though is game knowledge, experienced players will not only know more advanced tactics and have a better feel for the controls, they can gain clear advantages by memorizing ability cooldown times and the hit boxes of spells and attacks.  In simple terms if a high APM noob can unleash far more attacks than the knowledgeable veteran, then the veteran can use their knowledge to evade or even counter their faster opponent with less effort.

SAO has nothing like what I just described.  It’s combat is vague, the mechanics are not spelled out very often or very well and no one even attempts to justify how the VR tech measures the differences between people.  For example Kirito gets the dual wielding ability because he has the best reaction time of anyone in the game.  But that begs the question, how is the VR tech measuring or calculating his reaction time?  Is it how quick his brain processes information and forms a clear response?  If so how does that work in the VR?  In real life there are different speeds at which people can mental or physically process and react to information, so how is Kirito the one with best reaction time?  Is he like that Japanese guy who’s anticipatory reflexes are so good he can cut airsoft pellets in half with a sword – seriously google that shit, I’m not making it up, there a videos of the guy doing it – or is something else in play?  The answer is a titanic shrug because Reki Kawahara either never even bothered to ask such questions when designing his setting or handwaved them when he wasn’t able to find or create a satisfactory explanation.

Right so what SAO gives us is an OP teenager who is OP because plot and then sets out to tell a story centered on this kid’s adventures – which it does badly as I explained in depth here, here and here.  The King’s Avatar starts in a very different position.  It opens with an explanation that over the first ten years of its run Glory has become an international smash hit, with it’s most famous and beloved pro player being Ye Qiu, the main character.  Then it cuts away from the game to discuss real life events messing with Ye Qie, namely that his team’s success has been slowing down and the manager basically forces him to quit and sign a contract saying he won’t compete until next year.  This is significant because Ye Qiu is 25, old as pro gamers go, and already considered to be in his over-the-hill phase by his manager and jealous teammates.  This contract is seen as his resignation from Glory’s pro-scene for good by everyone, except of course Ye Qiu.  Ye Qiu accepts the underhanded blow with as much grace as you could hope for, then he finds a job at an internet cafe and immediately starts playing with a new account on Glory’s newest server.

One of the major differences in the very earliest stages of the two shows is that SAO dropped us into the game and then dropped the dramatic hammer meant to hook the audience, the players are trapped and if they die in the game, they die for real.  The focus was not on Kirito per se, he’s just the lens we experienced the story through – though after the first two episodes SAO was basically a show about Kirito and his adventures despite the fact almost no time was spent developing Kirito as a character.  This was a massive mistake as it was the hook, the WOW meets the Matrix setup everyone immediately grabbed onto that held the keys to the show’s success.  We only care about Kirito in sense that he could die, and once that was removed the show deflated into a shit pile.

By contrast, after briefly giving us enough context to know what game we’ll be looking at and how Ye Qiu is related to this game, the King’s Avatar immediately focuses on Ye Qiu and his life.  We follow his adventures because, ideally at least, we are interested in HIM, not the game – and at the very least the way he gets screwed so hard right when we meet him is a great way to to get us to root for him from the outset.  We all want to see him stick it to the man and give these assholes the bird.  But the game is central to this story because it is the means by which he will rise to the challenge thrust upon him.  This is a flexible introduction to the game as, if we start rooting for Ye Qiu for personal and moral reasons as the show is intending, the game could be anything.  You could pick any kind of high level competitive sport, or in this case esport, and this setup would work for it.  If we’re hooked on the idea of Ye Qiu fighting to get back at the people who screwed him then the creators can put whatever rules into the game that they want – we won’t care so long as we get to know the rules and see Ye Qiu abide by them, we are good to go.

In this way The King’s Avatar manages to get away with not explaining every last detail about the game and how it’s played where SAO suffers massively from how vague the information on it’s mechanics are.  In fact if you take a cold clinical look at Glory it’s overall design is very basic – a class based MMO inspired by D & D and WOW, with a strong competitive MOBA scene alongside it – and the show doesn’t explain what each class can do in the same exhaustive detail as Log Horizon would.  But the basics of how it functions are extremely intuitive and the show provides extra detail when it needs to.  It even manages to do the ‘”classless” character better than SAO.  In SAO nobody had any classes, you just got better at what you did Skyrim-style and that was that.  By comparison The King’s Avatar explains that while Unspecialized is a class anyone can play, and it has a great deal of flexibility as that’s it’s main selling point, it’s generally not used much and it’s never used in professional play because it doesn’t have any of the clear bonuses that a more focused character class comes with at higher levels.

Ye Qiu of course starts smurfing, for lack of a better term, as an Unspecialized immediately once he gets a new account, but unlike Kirito he does this deliberately.  There’s a flashback of him and a teammate making a custom transforming weapon, which he retrieves and uses, showing this has been on his mind for some time.  But unlike Kirito, who again is good because plot, Ye Qiu makes this unviable class work because he’s a master of the game.  He’s been it’s top player for years and he’s been playing since the game first came out.  Assuming he’s a pro all 10 years, the intro doesn’t spell that out but it’s kind of implied, he has top tier game knowledge – at this point he probably knows more about this game and how the classes function than the creators do.  He knows all the skills and how they interplay and because he’s Unspecialized he can pick and choose whatever skills he wants.  Combine that priceless experience and knowledge with a weapon tailor-made for an Unspecialized player and Ye Qiu is able to quite handily turn the unviable class into a weapon far greater than anyone else can imagine.

But it’s not just extensive game knowledge and years of experience of the highest level of play Ye Qiu brings to the table, it’s the APM required to maintain his pro status for all of those years.  APM is given a big focus throughout The King’s Avatar, from Ye Qiu being kicked because his team expects his APM to slow down to unacceptable levels based on his age to the APM of promising noobs catching Ye Qiu’s eye so that he starts bringing them under his wing, his low key preparations for his planned return to the pro-scene at the head of a brand new team full of talent.  There’s also an interesting pro player who Ye Qiu knows and plays against later in the series, and Ye Qiu states that it would be unfair if this guy had great APM, set to footage cutting between their in-game battle and the noticeable difference in speed of the players’ hands at the keyboard.  This shows that this particular pro would be even better than Ye Qiu if he had the technical capabilities to match Ye Qiu’s APM because his game knowledge is so formidable.  Which of course brings us back to game knowledge.

Throughout The King’s Avatar it is repeatedly shown that what makes Ye Qiu the best is not his high APM or his extensive game knowledge but that fact that he has both at his disposal.  He fights people with superior APM and people with superior game knowledge, but thus far no one who has such high levels of both, and so Ye Qiu comes out on top with relatively little effort in most of his battles, just like Kirito.  But again, unlike Kirito who is good for no reason, we know that Ye Qiu has acquired the things which make him so good over years of high level play.  What The King’s Avatar gets away with is nothing short of brilliant, it straight up tells us Ye Qiu is the best and then shows us how this came to be – without even using loads of flashbacks or exposition dumps – with such clarity that it convinces us that he is indeed the best in a way that gives the character gravitas rather than diminishes the stakes of his battles.  He’s the Isaac Netero of his story, the goal which all other pros seek to reach, and his struggle is as much a battle against his aging body as it is a clash against powerful foes.

This is also the reason The King’s Avatar takes a such a different approach to Ye Qiu’s companions than SAO does to Kirito’s.  Let’s not beat around the bush, Kirito’s companions are either waifus for his harem or a couple of bros which he can compare himself to and seem vastly superior to.  His only companion of real note is Asuna because of the depth of their relationship in the Aincrad and Alfheim arcs – but after that SAO spends so much time away from Asuna that this doesn’t matter in the long run.  By comparison, with the exception of Che Guo – the internet cafe manager – Ye Qiu’s companions are young players he sees potential in.  These include a couple of players like Tang Rou, inexperienced players with great APM, and lower level pros who are struggling to break into the tops ranks of their team or struggling to fit into their team entirely.  Ye Qiu uses his game knowledge to mentor these budding talents, a style of storytelling and gameplay which acknowledges his status as the best player but one where the dramatic stakes lie not in Ye Qiu’s inevitable victories in battle but whether or not his pupils are able to learn from him and grow as he would like them to.

Ye Qiu is basically a combination of Kirito from SAO and Shiroe from Log Horizon, melding the best parts of both of their characters.  He has the same experience, game knowledge and strategic capacity which makes Shiroe so dangerous in team fights and so good at teaching new players, while having a strength similar to Kirito’s as a solo combatant.  And through a strong understanding about what makes pro players good at computer games, careful use of storytelling and strong attention to detail – the King’s Avatar manages to tell a story you can really get invested in despite the fact it’s protagonist is about as OP as a gamer can be.  And that’s an achievement worth celebrating.  Hope y’all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

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Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

GGO2

Weep my fellow weeaboos and rejoice!  Somehow it has finally happened, SAO has escaped the curse of being total shit – well maybe.  For the the sake of convenience I’ll just call this show GGO2 and by God it is already leagues ahead of any other SAO show.  There will be spoilers ahead.

5 episodes may be too early to call whether or not this will be a decent show for sure, but with only a few exceptions this has turned out pretty good so far.  Thus far most of what has happened is a team-based battle royale a la the Bullet of Bullets tournament from the original GGO but with noticeable differences.  The battles are won by skill and tactics, many enemies seem entirely competent and Llenn, our new heroine, has a number of close calls throughout the tournament – her victory did not seem at all assured.

Before I make this seem too glowing there are definitely a few problems I should address though. 1 – Some of the game’s mechanics have changed since the original GGO and though this is mostly a positive, one area that I think needs addressing  are the character attributes and specs.  Enjoyable as it is to see a bright pink bunny hat girl zooming all over the battlefield, her Agility is broken as shit and the only alternative which seems viable is sniping.  We need some details here but we probably won’t get them.  2 – Damage seems extremely malleable to fit the situation, with some people going down in 1 shot or a short burst while others take quite a few shots and melee attacks.  Obviously some of this is due the location of the attack influencing the damage but Llenn takes a bunch of hits and it seems like she probably should have gone down. 3 – Last and most blatant, WTF is with Llenn’s gun?  Why is it talking to her?  Seriously what is going on?  I think they will address this one but still it was a very bizarre thing to throw into a battle that had been reasonably realistic within the rules of the game, ill-defined as some of those limits are.

So what happened?  The obvious answer is that the creators have finally cut out the cancer which has plagued SAO since the very beginning – Kirito.  I’ve written extensively about SAO, here are posts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 for more details, but the cliff notes version is that Kirito was the greatest flaw in a series with a ton of other flaws.  His design was bland but just barely stylish enough that a brooding edgy teenager would think it was cool.  He was OP as fuck, to the point that it never mattered what game he was in nor what that game’s rules were – he’d win anyway and rarely would winning require effort.  Ironically ALO, which most people consider the worst segment of SAO, actually managed this the best as he almost died twice and did die once, when raiding the final dungeon, in that game.  Also Kirito’s sister was always best girl because she had two very different looks between her real body and her character and she had the best tits.

Really though the fundamental design flaw of Kirito is that he was a rudimentary power fantasy for young boys, winning almost all of his fights with ease and claiming the hearts of maidens far and wide with his totally awesome video game skills, despite his comical lack of social skills – which has probably worked for like .01% of the population in real life but I digress.  Kirito was barely a character, he had some basic character traits that were rarely built on and was amazing at ANYTHING he bothered to do, be it the games or programming.  He was a husk which young teens could project onto and basically nothing more, he could and would break any rule the game worlds imposed on him if the scene required it and the plot threads of his story were generally basic, boring and flowed together very badly.  SAO was shit tier, with tons of contrivances, pacing problems, awful looking action scenes, a weak harem, to be frank, and super edgy villains that would not have been out of place in Mirai Nikki or Elfen Lied.  Moreover because Kirito was supposed to deal with serious conflicts the shows tried and failed to be dark, while creating simple plots for him to solve regardless of how well any given plot would work in any given game.

With Kirito removed however this gives the writers a lot more freedom and boy does it show.  There’s a lot more attention given to the game, from retarded stuff like the fact you can apparently never design your avatar in any game based on the Seed, which is garbage but whatever, to a goddamn tutorial instructor who was a legitimately better character than anyone from the original GGO.  Yes I’m dead serious.  That instructor, in addition to being fine, had a lot of character when it came to her design and dialogue and it added to the character of the GGO game world as a whole.  It especially helped push the upgraded realism aspect of the game as all of her lines could have been ripped from Full Metal Jacket.  Not only that but it did a good job guiding the player into what weapons they would be good with as beginners, a nice touch.

Speaking of the game world lets look at the changes in game mechanics.  In contrast to the original GGO where the game had serious imbalances between energy and projectile weapons those differences have been ironed out.  The basic idea of energy weapons being for monsters as opposed to fighting players is still there but in their overall utility energy weapons are significantly better than projectile weapons – with the caveat that their damage against players is nerfed, so players will be encouraged to use the slower and more difficult to handle projectile weapons when fighting each other.  That being said Llenn proves that you can still totally beat people with energy weapons assuming you have greater skill or more advantages.

The game mechanics established in the original GGO are mostly still in place but players have worked out more work-arounds to take advantage of the mechanics of the game like M not putting his finger on the trigger until he goes for a snap shot, thus preventing the enemies from seeing his bullet line or using dead bodies as shields as they are immortal objects and you can’t be hit through them.  Also no one has a game-breaking invisibility cloak nor tactic to break the radar scan and instead the scan is vital to every team’s planning and tactics.  M using a collapsible metal barrier to make cover for himself when he’s at a disadvantage was a nice touch as well.  Also notably absent so far are the light sabers Kirito used.  Seriously, the tactical planning aspect of the battles have skyrocketed in their complexity and cleverness since Kirito has been gone.

Another major freedom is that this is a game with no death or trapped patients/test subjects so the creators can focus on making our characters have fun while still putting them in tough battles.  Moreover this gives the script way more structural freedom than any other SAO season and once again the writers show their stuff now that they don’t have work around Kirito.  GGO2 starts with a flash forward, dropping us into the tournament immediately and showing it means business with the huge surge in tactical planning, better use of game mechanics and fun combat.  Then it jumps back in time for the next couple of episodes explaining who our characters are and how they got to this point.  The character department could still use serious work as Llenn’s real world counterpart is still very basic and I think her complex is kind of silly – seriously she looks great and that height is not a detractor at all.  But while her character is still a work in progress at least we have been given a clear trajectory of her time in the game, from her being a total noob, to her finding a niche in the game and then her growing as a player with the help of Pitohui, a much more experienced player.

Pitohui is by far the most enjoyable character in any SAO anything, with a striking design, a devil-may-care kind of attitude, odd hobbies and viewpoints and plenty of mystery about her.  That being said they did drop a pretty big hint that she’s probably an SAO survivor and possibly a Laughing Coffin guild member – seriously though how big was this guild? – considering M’s total breakdown and conviction that she’s crazy and will totally kill him, as well as the more subtle, but to me more telling, hint that Llenn’s player killing was what initially drew Pitohui’s interest.  She’s mostly been a sort of quirky, crazy guide to Llenn but she’s shaping up to be one of the most interesting SAO characters ever made – here’s too hoping she doesn’t end up an edgy killer type still hooked on the thrill of death.

That about covers the 5 episodes that are out so far.  All of the characters are more interesting and likable than previous SAO installments, the combat – particularly the tactical side of it – is far more impressive than before, the pacing is totally fine, the writing is still fairly basic but it has been used much more effectively thus far and the overall experience is much more fun than SAO has ever been.  I do want to note that there are plenty of places for this show to fail and I’m somewhat worried about Pitohui, as villains have been a continual weak point in SAO, but for now I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a decent show.  If nothing else it has been a refreshing break from Kirito and way more fun than it’s predecessors.  Hope y’all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Medaka Box

medaka box

Ok so in my last post I argued that Nanbaka was just a crappy version of Medaka Box.  So now I figured I may as well talk about Medaka Box and what I think makes it way, way better than it’s current 7.2 MAL score.  But before I get to that I’ll do a nice spoiler free summary about the show because it came out in 2012 and was therefore doomed to be overshadowed by the likes of SAO and AoT, which is a shame really since this show wipes the floor with both of those shows.  Here’s the spoiler free version.

Medaka Box takes place in a high school, I know big surprise right?  It follows the story of Medaka, the student council president, who could’ve guessed?  As well as her childhood friend Hitoyoshi Zenkichi, who at least looks like a delinquent punk so yay we filled the delinquent archetype too.  As they work solve the various issues of their students via the a suggestion box, which quickly is given the nickname of the Medaka Box, hence the show’s title.  As you might expect from such a bland and generic concept of a show, Medaka is mostly a slice of life comedy show with sports, seishun and stupid shenanigans.  However, what I’ve yet to mention is that Hakoniwa Gakuen, the school setting of the show, is utterly fucking nuts and it’s students are likewise a bunch of quirky oddballs.  That may not sound like the kind of saving throw a generic high school bullshit show needs but trust me it’s more than enough.

Tweaking the setting like Medaka Box does turns the entire nature of the show and it’s style of comedy on it’s head.  Medaka Box is neither a generic battle high school anime, like the Asterisk War nor a boring student council comedy like Seitokai Yakuindomo. Yes Medaka Box has a lot of club-based conflicts but almost every conflict in the show is less about solving the problems of an individual or a club but instead about examining and improving the psychology and human nature of the people involved.  Which isn’t such a surprise when one considers that the author of Medaka Box is none other than NisioisiN of Bakemonogatari fame.  However Medaka is far more accessible than the Monogatari franchise in that it has a lot less of NisioisiN’s obtuse word play and is generally more straightforward than the Monogatari franchise.  That said the examination of geniuses, a common theme in NisioisiN’s work is central to the story of Medaka Box, as Medaka herself is quite possibly the most perfect genius NisioisiN has ever created.  Medaka is about as close to a literal goddess as a human being can come, she’s stunningly beautiful, inhumanly intelligent, a master of anything she tries her hand to and totally unconcerned by most, if not all, social norms.

Actually to interrupt my own chain of thought for a minute, I just realized that Shokugeki no Souma is a great parallel to Medaka Box when it comes to the setting and characters.  Medaka Box doesn’t have Shokugeki no Souma’s fiery shounen attitude but it does have a crazy, huge campus full of students ranging from total normies to unmatched geniuses and both shows place a lot of emphasis on the differences between people with and without inborn talent as well as the different levels of talent.  Hell both male leads even fall under the same basic characterization, they have no special talent whatsoever but by dint of experience and hard fucking work they prove themselves worthy to stand along side with and go toe to toe with geniuses.  So if you liked Shokugeki no Souma you might like Medaka Box as well, though it’s not the place to come for cooking battles because that’s not Medaka Box’s entire deal.

Personally I love the kinds of examinations into the nature of humans and the various levels of talent or genius and how said talents affect people that Medaka Box provides.  Of the NisioisiN stories that were made into anime I like Medaka Box’s commentary on people and talent the best, and that’s coming from someone whose seen almost every story of his put to animation.  And speaking of animation, Jesus Christ Medaka Box looks phenomenal, both in the stills and in motion.  Medaka Box’s character designs are not particularly complicated, with a few exceptions, making it easier for the animators to make them flow well in motion.  The character’s also have high stylized designs with mostly realistic bodies and most of the design attention being given to the eyes and hair, the hair of course being most likely to be unrealistic.

It’s the eye work however that I find most fascinating.  Medaka Box schools um, EVERYONE, as far as I can tell when it comes to animating expressions where the eyes are concerned.  There’s generally a lot of extra line work around the eyes and they change in appearance and texture to enhance a characters expression.  The most common visual tricks in the anime industry with regards to eyes is to either make them blank to indicate surprise or airheadedness, fill them in with red when a character’s angry to make them seem intimidating or to make them look flat and lifeless, usually to show mind control or depression.  Medaka Box has lot more tricks in the bag and it doesn’t even use the common ones.  Perhaps the most noticeable trend is the change in eye shape, when Medaka Box’s characters are having a good time a lot them will have sort of moe eyes, large rounded eyes with irises that seem to have a lot shine to them.  But when it’s time to get serious, not even mad necessarily but whenever a character is taking a serious earnest approach to something the eyes will inevitably become more angular and smaller but they’ll still be large enough that it doesn’t actually look like the character is narrowing their eyes in response to the situation.  It’s a nice subtle trick that works like gangbusters in combination with the extra shading and line work shown around the angular eyes to really emphasize their expressions.

Additionally characters eyes do tend to lose their shine when they get more serious, but rather than looking flat and dead the way the normal animation trick works Medaka Box’s character just look more serious because the eye still keeps a lot of color and their expressions convey a lot of character, whereas dead eye characters tend to be totally expressionless.  Medaka Box also uses what I’m now coining as Rinnegan-lite, where they make certain characters’ eyes, mostly the villains, have a couple extra circles in the irises to make them look more shark-like and menacing.  Some of the rarer tricks used by Medaka Box include character’s whose eyes change color and characters whose eyes are lack pupils entirely and instead just have a big colorful iris.  Undoubtedly the best part about all this though is that all of the design elements and tricks feed into each other beautifully.  When a villain has the Rinnegan-lite irises, in angular eyes surrounded by heavy shading and framed by the thick eyelash-outline thing (for a point of reference on what I’m talking about check Tanya’s eyes in Youjo Senki, it’s a similar style but Medaka Box does it better) and pointy hair common to just about everyone, he looks like a fucking badass before he’s even done anything.  All in all it’s a style of character design I’ve never seen in any other anime and it’s quite possibly my favorite design style, it looks fucking awesome is what I’m saying.

And as mentioned in that Nanbaka post, Medaka manages an excellent transition from lighthearted comedy show to intense battle show, the pacing stays tight, characters stay in character and we get real, meaningful character growth, some intense battles between a bunch of geniuses with a wide variety of intelligent techniques and crazy powers.  I will say though that I don’t think Medaka Box is particularly funny, even during the comedy focused arc, it draws some laughs here and there but where the comedy arc succeeds is that it really endeared me to the characters.  I liked the whole student council and the recurring side characters long before they hulked up and did some badass action scenes,  they might not be a hilarious bunch of goofballs but they are very likable and fun goofballs.  And they only get better as they get serious, because unlike Nanbaka I’m invested in these people, I want to see them grow or stand their ground in the face of impossible odds, I’m backing them 100%.

So as far as the spoiler free section is concerned, the art is super fucking good, the characters are good and the execution of the story far surpasses the surface of what the plot summary and setting would imply at first glance.  It’s a great time and you should watch it.  Now it’s spoiler time.

As anyone whose watched the show knows season 2 ends on major cliffhanger, where following the collapse of the Flask Plan, Kumgawa aka the most popular character in the manga has wrecked like 12 people whom had already been established as badasses and is clearly set to challenge Medaka once again like he did in middle school.  The final episode then adapts what I believe was a short Kumagawa spin-off manga where we meet Ashin’in, a super important character in the long term, and we get to see Kumagawa’s power All Fiction in action.   Now let’s not beat around the bush here, I want to see Medaka Box Minus, you, fans of Medaka Box want to see Medaka Box Minus, everyone wants to see Medaka Box Minus (they just don’t know it yet).  I think it’s safe to say that the Minus arc is by far the most hype arc of the manga, not surprising since the most popular character in the manga is the central villain of the arc.  Like, I know there’s no such thing as a sure bet but as far as sequels go that seems like as close as you can get.  Everyone who cares about Medaka Box will be on that shit in a heartbeat, and in an industry where all kinds of new shows get split cours and sequels, why don’t they try Medaka Box Minus?  I fully admit I know nothing about how much the prior seasons of Medaka Box made in terms of profit, but I guarantee it has a better shot of success than something like the second cours of Nanbaka, which most people I’ve talked to or heard from haven’t even seen.

For those of you who’ve not seen Medaka Box but went into spoiler territory anyway let me guide you through a tale of fucking awesome shit.   Three ideas which do not appear in say the Monogatari franchise, whose main focus as far geniuses are concerned rests solely on Hanekawa, are how different levels of genius interact, the desire to artificially create geniuses (which has happened in the real world, it’s called eugenics) and the opposite end of the spectrum, people so broken and dysfunctional that they are doomed to be outcasts.

In Medaka Box there are 4 kinds of people, well there’s more like 6 but only 4 matter for the purposes of this post.  These types are Normals, which is self-explanatory.  Specials, who are people with a lot of talent but are still fairly normal, they can be quirky and weird but not cripplingly so.  Then there are Abnormals, who have inhuman levels of talent and usually some kind of accompanying super power but have proportionally stronger quirks to the point most of them don’t attend school because they wouldn’t function well there.  Both Specials and Abnormals sort of align with austistic savants, Specials have the generally more limited talents of savants but have lesser degrees of social problems, while Abnormals have a much broader range of talents, and literal superpowers, than most savants but equal or greater degrees of social problems.  The last group is the Minuses, those born with crippling degrees of bad luck and ineptitude, generally resulting horribly warped personalities, twisted minds and bizarre powers of their own.

The Flask Plan is an experiment run by the principal of Hakoniwa Gakuen wherein the principal, working with a group of Abnormals called the 13 Party attempts to create artificial geniuses, however this plan could end up costing thousands of lives so Medaka sets out to stop it.  Medaka is a fascinating case study where the Flask Plan is concerned because if you remove her morals and personality she objectively judges that it could be used to perfect her, and the only reason she has a personality which would oppose the Plan in the first place is because when they were toddlers Hitoyoshi convinced her that someone with her overwhelming talents existed for the sake of making other people happy.  Yes btw, at 2 Medaka was struggling with literal existentialism, that’s the level of genius she is.  She’s so far above, and by extension removed from, normal society she wondered why the fuck she was even around at age 2.

Anyway, long story short, Medaka and friends stop the Flask Plan in a series of cool battles and as they are on their way back to the normal part of the school the defeated villains turned quasi-friends in tow they run into Kumagawa, after he defeated a mix of 12 Abnormals and Specials fighting each other.  Kumagawa was previously established as this twisted bastard who did a lot of emotional damage to Medaka and Zenkichi in middle school and as the only person Medaka was never able to reform into a better person.  The Minus arc is essentially a second battle arc where Medaka and Co. fight Kumagawa and his fellow Minuses for control of the school via a brutal series of contests based on archaic rules.  It has tons of cool set pieces, great battles, interesting new characters and some of coolest powers in the entire series.  And it introduces Ashin’in, who I think is arguably the coolest character in the Medaka Box universe.  It’s HYPE is what I’m saying.

What I’ve been trying to say in last almost 2500 words is that I love Medaka Box.  It has great battles, cool powers, interesting themes, a good narrative, endearing characters and amazing art.  And I want a third season.  And I really want more people to watch it and enjoy it so that it’s more likely to get that third season.  It’s a show I feel is worth fighting for, so God fucking dammit that’s what I’m doing.  Hope you enjoyed the rambling gushing review of Medaka Box, do check it out I highly recommend it, and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding the Fandom: Anime Arguments 101

I’m justifying this post under the guise that it may be educational, but honestly I expect people who read and write blogs to be a cut above random YouTube commenters when it comes to making arguments, so this is really just an excuse for me to pettily roast a guy I got into an argument with because he’s the type who will never admit defeat no matter how badly he gets thrashed and I’m tired of getting YouTube notifications about this argument.  If you’re at all interested in a startlingly stark showcase of how to argue reasonably versus how to not argue at all while pretending you are in fact making legitimate arguments, or if you really just want to bask in my pettiness, feel free to stick around.

Before I get going I’m just going to lay out the format for you.  I will paste the argument in this page as whole after this paragraph.  Then I will look at each comment made and discuss why it’s good or bad and how it applies to arguing like a rational human being.  And lastly I’m just going to refute his last comment he made after I said was done arguing with him on YouTube for my pettiness and spite are too powerful for me to resist.  Also I’m going to refer to the guy I’m arguing with a Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole because while I would like nothing more than to see this stupid shithead get dog piled on, I’m not enough of a dick to send potential harassers to him.  Also because someone else in the thread called him a Pseudo-Intellectual and I think Asshole is a good finishing touch to the name.  For context, this argument took place over a video cataloging the evolution of SAO criticism and fan reactions to the show with Digibro’s hour-long diatribe serving as a major turning point.  The first comment is directed at Digibro.  Let’s look at this shit.

Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole: Recognizing that SAO is crap does nothing to vindicate your rambling and inconsistent anime criticism.

Me: You do realize that criticism of art is subjective and therefore will always be inconsistent right? I’d say Digibro’s relative power in anime critic circles more or less proves that his style of criticism vindicates itself…

Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole: Subjectivity is no excuse for being inconsistent with yourself. Nihilism is not a justifiable perspective upon which to base criticism. Stop brown-nosing Critical Theorists

Me: Inconsistent with yourself? You say that as if we are unchanging immutable entities, which we aren’t. Our opinions change constantly as we absorb more ideas and experiences. But even setting that aside where is he inconsistent with himself? I’d love to hear some examples. Moving right along how is nihilism an invalid perspective? There’s no such thing as a wrong way to do criticism, at best you can argue his criticism is done badly, in which case you’d be disagreeing with over ten thousand people and me. But coming at things from a nihilistic perspective is not inherently wrong, and the idea you think someone else’s perspective is invalid is far more damning than any criticism from any perspective. And I ain’t brown-nosing, in all likelihood Digibro will never see this and I didn’t reply to you in the vain hope he would. I wanted to politely disagree with you because frankly I think what you said is retarded and I think don’t just calling you an idiot at the first step is polite.

Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole: Do you even understand that different perspectives contradict one another? You are the only one here who is denying that there is any value in Digibro’s criticism when you suggest that the validity of criticism is meaningless, that the only purpose of criticism is to please the ear of its audience. How could I possibly let such an outrageous claim stand?

Me: How the fuck did you get THAT out of what I said? Where did I say criticism only exists just to please the audience? I didn’t and I never would. Based on your skewed as fuck interpretation of what I said, you mean to tell me that because I said any perspective is valid I’m somehow claiming Digibro’s criticisms have no value? Because if anything I said his criticism was valuable even if it came from a perspective you claim is invalid. And since when do different perspectives have to contradict each other? There’s a million different perspectives to come at critique, countless shades of grey that you’re treating as if they were black and white. I guess the closest I can get to a logical thru line in your argument is that if I posit that all perspectives are valuable and valid, then criticism of all stripes lose their validity because there’s no longer a way to divide between invalid and valid perspectives of criticism… I think? I’m trying to be politeish and take you seriously but that’s honestly so ridiculous I can’t. I mean the fact that you twisted my words to an insane degree to make me sound crazy already makes you look stupid and petty, but the fact that argument your seemingly attempting to make while doing so is so ridiculous just makes it worse. Let me spell this out in short easy sentences. Criticism of art is subjective. Subjectivity is intrinsically tied to one’s perspective. Perspective is shaped by the art one consumes, the experiences one has and the values one finds valuable. Therefore, you can, and really have to, be able to approach criticism of art from any perspective. Therefore all perspectives are valuable and valid. The audience can choose to like or dislike any style of criticism from any perspective, but no style of perspective is inherently wrong or invalid. Therefore Digibro’s criticism is inherently valuable, even if an audience member, such as yourself, doesn’t like it or find value in it or considers it invalid.

Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole: “[i]f I posit that all perspectives are valuable and valid, then criticism of all stripes lose their validity because there’s no longer a way to divide between invalid and valid perspectives of criticism.” If you understand the problem with relativism, why are you still whinging about it? The fact that something is subjective is not an excuse for a critic to abdicate all responsibility to the listener. Don’t you get why I am objecting to your sentiment? By your reasoning, my original critique of Digibro stands simply because it was my subjective experience of his work.

Me: That’s a nice line you quoted from me, seems like you missed the part where I said the argument laid out in that quote was honestly so ridiculous I couldn’t take you seriously, you utter moron. You also missed the part where I explained this was your argument not mine, because I don’t fucking agree with your idea that one’s perspective can be invalid. For the record I never said invalid arguments don’t exist. For example if you get an objective fact wrong in an analysis and make statements based on that, then sure that’s an invalid argument. Which incidentally was what I called you out on. If you’d said “I don’t like Digibro’s criticism”, I’d never have bothered to argue with you. However your critique implied (and you kindly later confirmed) that because Digibro didn’t do critique a certain way, the way you want, his criticism was invalid. Which is wrong. There’s no goddamn formula for art critique, you can have your own formula if you want and some people might find a formula valuable, but there’s no set way things must be done. Personally I think criticisms which incorporate formulated scoring are shit, I don’t like them, but they aren’t invalid just because they aren’t useful to me. In a similar vein there’s no such thing as invalid perspective, because all perspectives have their own insights on a work which collectively increase the value of the discourse about the work. The only invalid critique is one based on an invalid argument, like an argument where you cherry pick quotes without context and twist your opponent’s word’s to attempt to hide their actual argument instead of confronting it and then acting like you’re the one in the right and on the moral high ground… you sniveling little shit. And you mentioned responsibility, galling considering you’ve shown not an ounce of it yourself, but what does a critic owe you exactly? Fucking nothing is what. I write reviews too you know and I don’t write them for the audience to walk away with a score and recommendation to watch or drop. I write them for me, to put my thoughts and feelings into words and share them, if someone agrees with those thoughts or chooses to watch a show based on those thoughts, that is entirely up to them, not me. The most Digibro or I or any critic owes anyone is a valid argument, and Digibro lives up to that obligation and therefore owes you nothing more. Incidentally, I presented you with a valid argument, one you’ve repeatedly refused to reply to with valid arguments of your own, and as such I owe you nothing else as well. I will not respond to the inane babble you present as an argument again.

Anonymous Pseudo-Intellectual Asshole: “… [T]here’s no such thing as invalid perspective, because all perspectives have their own insights on a work which collectively increase the value of the discourse about the work. “ My perspective is that, to me, your comments feel like advocating for child rape and on the behalf of pedophiles. So just how does my subjective experience of your words as pedophile apologia add any value to your work or to Digibro’s?

Ok.  Now that that’s over with let’s go over each point, starting with Asshole’s first comment.  Now that comment “Recognizing that SAO is crap does nothing to vindicate your rambling and inconsistent anime criticism.”  is not too terrible.  It appears mostly innocuous and the only reason I replied at all is because it implied that Asshole didn’t like Digibro’s criticisim of SAO, which is fine on it’s own, but that the reason he didn’t like it was because Digibro did the criticism wrong.  He would later confirm this to be the case.  However, as this comment is wrong but not too egregious, I politely and mildly rebutted him by explaining art was subjective and therefore Digibro’s review is self-vindicating.  And vindicate was the key word here because it was what implied that Digibro’s criticisms were somehow invalid, which they aren’t.  The key thing to note here for argument noobs is that I’m being polite, because all arguments should at least start polite, and the longer they can be polite the less chance there is of it devolving into a shit-flinging contest.

His response to me was that Digibro was inconsistent with himself, which I assume he means as Digibro is a hypocrite, and that nihilism is an invalid perspective of criticism.  This was the only time he actually presented me with an argument, the only insight I have into his viewpoint and reasoning.  And it’s hilariously bad.  As I later argued, people’s perspectives are constantly changing and no one’s values are necessarily set in stone, meaning being inconsistent is not really an issue.  I did however challenge Asshole to provide me with examples of Digibro being inconsistent with himself for the sake of argument, Asshole didn’t reply to this challenge.  Moving on to his second point, I find myself asking two questions, only the first of which made into the Youtube argument.  1, How is nihilism an invalid perspective? and 2, In what way is Digibro’s criticism of SAO nihilistic?  In the actual response I explained why a criticism from nihilistic perspective was not invalid and once again challenged him to explain why he thought it was.  He also failed to respond to this challenge.  His final part of this response was to me accuse of brown-nosing, which I not-so-politely refuted because I called him out for being wrong for the sake of proving to him that he was wrong not because I wanted to win favor from Digibro.

The most important thing to take away from this stage of the argument is how things will change on Asshole’s end going forward.  I mean his argument here is barebones and stupid, but at least he’s presenting me with his own argument.  Going forward his tactic will be to twist my argument to make me look stupid instead of actually arguing anything so that this original argument appears right.  Also notice how I’m arguing.  I go out of my way to rebut his points or express my concerns with his arguments, and then I make arguments of my own on top of that.  This is how to argue reasonably, to create valuable discussion, though my use of insults isn’t one I’d encourage unless your opponent has really fucking earned it.  I acknowledge his points and if I disagree I refute them and explain why I disagree, and if he made points I agree with (I mean Asshole never does but I just want to expand this point) I would acknowledge their value before going on to make my own argument.  Give your opponent the sense that you’re at least paying attention to, if not respecting their arguments and you increase the odds said opponent will return the favor.  Moving on in the argument.

Asshole’s next response is where things start becoming a downward spiral.  He argues that different perspectives contradict one another, which I honestly don’t get his reasoning behind.  I mean I argued that different perspectives didn’t contradict because not all of them are in opposition to each other, which is true, but I can’t pin down his line of reasoning at all.  The closest equivalent I can think of is that he thinks like a radical SJW and believes anyone who holds opinions that aren’t his are wrong, conveniently ignoring the fact that of course other people have different opinions.  I admit this is mostly speculation and I won’t outright accuse of him of thinking that way but it’s the impression I get.  He follows that up by claiming I am the one robbing Digibro’s criticisms of validity by claiming that the only purpose of criticism is to please the audience.  WTF?  What the fuck?  Where the hell did I say that?  You can scroll up and see that I never said anything like that, seriously where the hell does he see that in my argument?  He can’t, not logically anyway, because it’s not there.  He even has the nerve to say he can’t stand my outrageous claim, by which I mean the outrageous claim he made for me and treated as if it were my own claim like I gave him permission to make me look shallow and vapid.  This dear readers is not an argument.  He hasn’t made any points, he hasn’t rebutted any of my points, all he’s done is attempt to make me look bad while speaking for me.  This actually pisses me off more than shit-flinging because at least shit-flinging is honest in it’s ugliness.  What Asshole’s doing is duplicitous, and still just as worthless as shit flinging when it comes to progressing the argument.  Like I said he’s made no new points, nor has answered any of my questions, this argument is dead in the water.

It was at this point I should’ve stopped arguing, it was also after this point that another commenter called Asshole a pseudo-intellectual.  But being the avatar of argument and righteous fury that I am I kept going.  I even had the courtesy to dissect his skewed as fuck interpretation of my argument and argue against it as if it were his argument.  I even proved right in coming to the conclusion that Asshole’s argument boiled down to the idea that some perspectives have to be invalid, so that he can separate criticisms into valid and invalid perspectives and thereby find more value in the criticism he likes since those are “valid.”  It’s pathetic really, an incredibly self-centered and vapid dumpster fire of an idea that throws actual intellectualism under the bus to make Asshole feel like he has better taste than other people (which itself is a flawed idea).  I called this idea ridiculous, because it is, reiterated my points about how there are an infinite number of perspectives and they’re all valid and insulted him some more along the way because at this point I felt he’d earned my contempt.

Asshole’s next response was a sightly botched quote of me figuring out his argument on my own since he wouldn’t express it himself, and following that up with a “if you see the problem with Relativism why are you supporting it” (paraphrase of Asshole’s quote became I’m too lazy to get the actual one).  He then says subjectivity is no excuse for the critic to offload all responsibility to the listener (which I’m once again confused by because how the fuck did he come to this conclusion?) and that by my own logic his “subjective” interpretation of Digibro’s work was valid.  This response has a lot of issues.  For starters he took the quote out and provided no context, making the words appears as my argument when in fact it was my deduction of his argument.  Real honest fucker isn’t he?  Then he reveals his hand with the Relativism thing.  For those who don’t know, in an artistic sense Relativism is the idea that standards don’t matter and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  In fairness, the main example being painting and sculpture, the abolition of standards has resulted in mountains of art I consider shit tier.  But as I explain in my next reply, art or critique I find shit is not invalid.  That it has no value to me is irrelevant, it’s got a right to exist and be recognized as a thing because someone, somewhere enjoys it.  Mainly this just proves he wants art criticism to have standards in place, though he doesn’t at all outline what those standards should be so I refuted the idea using formulated scoring systems, the best idea I had of a standardized review, as an example of criticism I thought sucked to show that standards aren’t necessarily helpful.

His other point, the one about how his own argument stood because it was his subjective opinion of Digibro’s work was probably the best point he makes in the entire argument.  And it’s wrong.  As I explained to him, he can hate Digibro’s work all he wants, but the idea that Digibro’s review is bad because it doesn’t meet a standard, undermines the basis of art criticism.  This was the issue.  As I explain further, you can’t have invalid perspectives but you can make invalid arguments, and Asshole’s argument that Digibro’s work sucked for not conforming to a standard is an invalid argument.  Then I addressed his idea that critics have a responsibility to the audience.  I phrased it poorly but my point was that a critic only needs to provide the audience with valid arguments, and what they take away from that review is up to them.  Reviews can come from any perspective, choose any format, give scores or not gives scores, whatever, and that any perspective can add to the overall discourse on the work.  Critics can do what they want how they want so longs as they make valid arguments, and it’s up to the audience to decide what they like.  I also spent more time insulting this craven shitlord for being a dishonest idiot, which he proved himself to be over and over, and said I was done.  And as far as YouTube is concerned, I am done.

Asshole however was not done.  In his trademark style of taking things way out of context and twisting the argument to make me look bad and validate him indirectly instead of attempting to validate his arguments directly, he took what I said and said he felt like my comments were advocating pedophilia.  Now his tone was anything but genuine, it seems clear he was just using an example to try and make me look bad rather express something he really felt, though technically I suppose he could have felt that way.  In any case the reason I want to attack this that another commenter said Asshole had a point.  Because Asshole doesn’t have a point.  Remember this entire argument has taken place within the context of art criticism.  I’ve made no statements whatsoever about society and social norms and law or anything like that.  All I’ve said is that in regards art critique all perspectives are valid.  Asshole, being an asshole, decided to strip away that context and put insane words in my mouth.  I don’t believe all perspectives are valid in all facets of life, and I’m not advocating for pedophilia.  Nothing in my argument suggest I do unless you do what Asshole did and strip out all the context, and even then you’d have to ignore how I said things like criticism of art and perspective on the work (something Asshole leaves in when quoting the line he uses to make me look like I’m ok with anything in all circumstances, and extrapolates to me being pro-pedophilia, thus invalidating his own argument, not that it was ever really an argument so much as it was misdirection).

So yeah, his argument is once more, invalid.  But in the name of courtesy I’ll explain where his ludicrous idea could be applied to my argument.  Theoretically speaking you could say that according my argument if a pedophile wrote a review of Boku no Pico, or any show that one’s just a good example, the insights a pedophile’s perspective brought would add to the discourse on Boku no Pico.  Which is true, I do believe that, that said I doubt a pedophile’s insights are something most people would like.  I certainly don’t care what new ideas on Boku no Pico come from a pedophile reviewing it.  But that review has a right to exist even if I hate it and disagree with everything because so long as the arguments it makes aren’t invalid, then it’s fine.  There you go I advocate pedophilia because I support pedophile free speech, hurray.  Naturally I’m being facetious, I support free speech which happens to include the free speech of pedophiles, doesn’t mean I advocate for pedophilia.  These are two very different things which Asshole labels as the same thing to make me lose credibility.  And the fact that someone was stupid enough to buy into it galls me.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations.  I do hope you’ve enjoyed the equal parts pettiness and superb reasoning ability/intellect that’s been on display.  If you’re not the type to argue much I do hope you’ve learned a bit about basic argument etiquette  and what works versus what doesn’t.  But mainly what I want is further third party vindication assuring me that I’ve totally roasted Asshole, which I did, so I can stroke my ego and feel good about myself and be confident in my Asshole crushing abilities.  Thanks for reading, I do hope you enjoyed and that I’ve not scared you off from my blog.  I hope this never happens again.

 

Understanding the MMO Revisited: Log Horizon VS Overlord

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VS

overlord-season-2-release-date-spoilers-why-madhouses-anime-may-follow-the-light-novels-success

My very first blog was a brief discussion about how SAO, Log Horizon and Overlord used the mechanics of MMO’s well or poorly in their respective stories.  Looking back on it now I think it was wholly inadequate, and with “log horizon vs overlord” searches being the most frequent hit to that post, I’ve decided to revamp my work and bring it up to snuff.  I won’t address SAO here because I’ve covered it extensively.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

Log Horizon is undoubtedly better than Overlord in every conceivable way unless you want a mindless power fantasy, in which case you should be asking yourself what appeals to you more, being Kirito or being an OP skeleton guy with a bunch of demon followers.  Whatever games mechanics Overlord has in play are mostly thrown out the window because Ains can use magic to essentially change his class.  He can’t use special warrior skills, so this spell would be ok if he was made more vulnerable by doing it, but given how weak everything is in the world around him it hardly matters what debuffs he gives himself by temporarily going warrior.  And he can still use magic when in warrior form anyway so he would only suffer losing the special stats of mage gear, which again hardly matters because the world he’s in is too weak for him.  He can even use pay-to-win items to wield the strongest types of melee weapons in the game, something that would totally break a real game’s balance and should logically be restricted, but restrictions are something this particular show wants to do away with.  Overlord doesn’t care about being a good story, about crafting a good setting or placing limitations on it’s protagonist, it wants to provide the viewer the fantasy of getting to play as the Lich King, with a bunch of powerful demon servants, stomping the world.  And you know what, if that’s really what you want then I guess I can’t blame you.  It can be fun to feel like the big unstoppable bad guy instead of the flawless, invincible hero.   However in achieving this fantasy Overlord threw out a potentially interesting setting and narrative, and those things matter quite a bit more to me.

Log Horizon therefore is a more or less a heaven-sent miracle in comparison.  Log Horizon is an order of magnitude above Overlord, and most anime in general.  For now let’s just talk game mechanics.  Game mechanics are integral to Log Horizon’s story, and they’re very well thought out.  Low level players get EXP boosts, classes play a clear role and no one can just jump classes to avoid their limitations like in Overlord.  This is extra important for the main guy, Shiroe, because his class is a support class.  Shiroe can’t just overpower his foes, he constantly has to be thinking ahead, using distractions, buffs and debuffs to bring easy victory to his party.  While Shiroe can appear just as invincible as Ains, it’s shown that he struggles against some foes and it’s suggested that the rug can, and probably will, be pulled out from under him later down the line.  Shiroe’s also a member of a group, Debauchery Tea Party, and he’s likely one of the least powerful members of the group in terms of pure strength even if his strategic abilities are top notch within the group.  Whereas Ains was seemingly alone as a player in a game universe of NPCs given life, Shiroe is just one of 30ish nigh-legendary players and the end of the second season suggests that with the group leader far away, the rest of the group may clash in an upcoming season.  Additionally, the final episode season 1 introduces Nureha, an enemy who is either on par with Shiroe or very nearly so, who demonstrates the same kind of understanding of the game world’s mechanics and who runs what is arguably the most powerful guild in the world, Plant Hwyaden.   All this is to say that Shiro is not wish fulfillment and the world and story intends on treating him like an actual person with actual limitations and even gives him powerful enemies to contend with to boot, all of which I’m very much on board with.

In addition to well defined class roles and a strong emphasis on party play, crafting and other professional or subclass skills that appear in most MMOs play an important role in Log Horizon’s world. Various forms of crafting, from cooking to engineering are both present and well explained.  The cooking skill in particular was vital because up until it’s value was discovered everyone was auto-making tasteless meals and being miserable because of them.  And in learning about how subclass skills mattered and how they could be applied, characters were able to create items and spells not available in the normal game.  This sparks huge revolutions later down the line as Shiroe converts NPCs onto adventurers, Nureha makes an unbreakable disguise spell, some of the Round Table members make a steamship and Plant Hwyaden creates portable cathedrals to let players revive anywhere.

Speaking of revival, it’s one of the other things that sets Log Horizon apart froms other MMO contemporaries.  In SAO, people die when they are killed, in the game.  In Overlord it’s uncertain what exactly would happen if Ains died though considering that he seems to have literally become his character he would likely perish forever.  The result is that both stories have to feature invincible protagonists because death is final and it would spell the end of their stories.  By comparison a lot of the biggest moral questions raised by Log Horizon are dependent on the fact that the players don’t die, and it’s not afraid to kill all of it’s most powerful players over the course of it’s run.  This is made all the more impressive when it becomes know that death in the game causes the vanquished to lose memories of real world.  And it’s made even more impressive in season two when the players who weren’t stereotypical otaku go insane trying to escape back to real world.  And you can hardly blame them because if you have a marriage coming up or a family that are no doubt worried about, it makes sense that you’d want to get out of the game and unlike SAO there’s no clear way out.  To its credit Overlord also features no clear way out, though it has yet to do much of note with that story detail.

All of the last few paragraphs are there to say that Log Horizon pays a lot of attention to detail, and uses the details of settings phenomenally to create a plethora of subplots or expand the main narrative.  Hell the game is even evolving as the players get to know it, like how Shiroe’s alt account enters the game, a spam bot is given an avatar, we see continents outside of Japan, flavor text starts to manifest as actual events, and of course the appearance of the Traveler aka Genius Monster class.  Log Horizon has already given us a large, richly detailed  world, and it looks like it will only get bigger.  And I didn’t even talk about the lore, with it’s totally new classification of spells and theories as to why demi-human monsters like Goblins became violent monsters, the lore is awesome.  And if all of this wasn’t enough, Log Horizon puts a ton of effort in characters and character development.

One of the biggest criticisms of Log Horizon season 2 is that was really slow and we spent too much time with the kids.  I agree that Log Horizon season 2 is slower and than season 1 but I think that’s entirely intentional and it doesn’t make the show boring at all.  Log Horizon has always been a headier kind of show and a lot of season 1 was about improving life in Akibahara so that players were secure and could focus on solving the big problems like “how do we get home?”.  As of Season 2 players are mostly secure and there’s little left to do beyond solving the greatest mystery in the story (which obviously won’t be resolved quickly because that would be boring), there’s hardly any immediate goals and what few exist have no clear path or resolution, with everyone’s primary needs provided for, and only mysteries left to unravel, the whole world of Log Horizon sort of stalls into a semi-rigid status quo, much like the real world.  And to fill the gaps left by a narrative that went from driven to directionless, Log Horizon season 2 put more emphasis on character development.  I think the introduction of the people who go insane trying to get home was probably best development among the player base at large, but Akatsuki had a good arc too.  Akatsuki has generally struggled with being in love with Shiroe, she’s best at straightforward violence whereas he’s mostly a schemer, she struggles to keep up with his plans, she has other girls to contend with, and she thinks she’s not quite worthy of him because she’s not as good at the game as he and the other Debauchery Tea Party Members are.  In response she obsesses herself with getting stronger and learning a Teaching and while it can seem frustrating watching episodes of Akatsuki struggling furiously and going nowhere, that is the fucking point.

Whereas in season 1 the main characters, had concrete, easily understood goals to achieve after a few episodes of aimless exploring, season 2 is about how people struggle with being adrift without any clear goal ahead of them.  For some that means going crazy, for others it means throwing in a lot of aimless effort to get some kind of result, and for a few it means striving for new big goals or getting ready to start a war.  And in the end Akatsuki gets her Teaching and gains a lot of her wavering confidence back.  William makes this awesome speech to inspire his raid group and the raid group clears the dungeon the kept losing to.  And the kids gain a lot resolve after seeing older players destroy the world around them as they go insane.  Season 2 is about the frustration of being stuck in limbo but ultimately overcoming it to face the next challenge.  Is it slow and maybe a little frustrating to watch?  Sure, that conveys what the character’s are experiencing.  Does it make Log Horizon season 2 bad?  Not at all, I was just as engaged as I was during season 1 and I will defend it with all the fury of a random blogger on the internet.

Ultimately what I hope you all take away from this is that Log Horizon is fucking amazing and you should go watch it if you haven’t done so already.  Log Horizon gets a bad rap for looking ugly and being slow but it far outclasses SAO and Overlord on every literary front and it’s by far the best example of a “trapped in a MMO” story done well.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, I’ll see you in the next one.

Anime Trick-or-Treat 2016: A Bag Full of Yanderes

Since this year’s Anime Trick-or-Treat was another colossal failure I’m reworking it into an in-depth analysis of the one subject that was actually requested, namely Gasai Yuno, and her archetype, the yandere.

Since the actual request was just about Gasai Yuno, let’s start with her.  Yuno is easily the most iconic yandere and could easily be credited with popularizing the archetype.  Additionally she completely carries Mirai Nikki, which does have a lot of fans, however misguided they may be (read prior post for context if you like).  That said she’s not exactly what I’d call a good character.  Gasai is more or less defined by three traits, the core components of the yandere, obsessive love, extremely violent tendencies, and of course a firm binding of crazy to wrap up the whole package.  Of the three traits her insanity is probably the most believable and well thought out, Mirai Nikki does show that Yuno’s mom was kind of insane and abused Yuno by locking her in a cage and whatnot.  This is a cut above the truly awful crazies who are insane because plot, like the villain from the Alfheim arc of SAO, but it’s not that good either.  As discussed in an old post on crazy characters the best crazies typically have their entire lives colored by their insanity, they don’t just have an inciting incident like Yuno.  Now you could make the case that since Mirai Nikki takes place in a second world, the Yuno we see there has lived an entire life of insanity already and thus makes sense, but that still doesn’t really explain how she became so insane in the first world beyond the inciting incident.

The abuse also does make Yuno’s violent tendencies more believable as abuse victims sometimes become abusers later in life.  However it doesn’t explain how extreme her violence is nor why she’s good at it.  It’s one thing for the a kid who gets beat his whole life to beat others when he becomes an adult but it’s a lot less believable for that person to become a full blown serial killer, especially one that’s insanely good with knives, axes and guns.  But even setting aside the potential issues of Yuno’s violence there is one glaring hole in her character, her love for Yuki.  It’s clearly shown that the Yuno’s of both worlds fall for Yuki but it’s not ever explained why.  Now I get that love isn’t necessarily logical but come one what’s Yuki got?  He doesn’t appear particularly good looking, he has no social skills, and he’s done nothing for Yuno that might make her fall for him.  So what gives?  Why is he so damn important to her?  Because plot apparently.  Ultimately though I think Gasai Yuno symbolizes the inherent problem with yanderes, they are such comically overboard characters at the conceptual level that playing it straight is shooting yourself in the foot.  It would take a lot of work to make a believable person who was also a full blown yandere and frankly most yandere creators don’t put in that effort because their shows are kinda shit.  Off the top of my head I’d say the only genuine yanderes are the main girl from School Days, which is infamous for being a dumpster fire, Gasai Yuno from Mirai Nikki, which as previously discussed is pleb tier anime and the orange haired girl from Shuffle!, which was a pretty subpar harem show that I’m honestly wondering how many people currently watching anime even really know about since it came out in 2005.  Most people also include one or more of the girls from Higurashi but there’s so much else going on in Higurashi that I think labeling them yanderes is grossly oversimplifying their characters and is wrong.  Lucy from Elfen Lied is also often called a yandere but I don’t think that quite fits either.

In my opinion the best use of yanderes are as gags, and given the prevalence of the gag I think most Japanese creatives agree with me.  Off the top of my head, Medaka has a yandere gag in Medaka Box Abnormal, both Tsukihi and Senjougahara have a couple yandere moments throughout the Bakemonogatari franchise, Ayase from OreImou has a few yandere scenes, Rin from Kanojo ga Flag wa Oraretara has several yandere moments, the black haired girl from Baka to Test has a bunch of yandere scenes, Chocolat and Yuragi both have yandere scenes in NouCome and the real star of this post, Anna Nishikinomiya of Shimoneta, has a few yandere scenes too.  There’s probably more if I thought about it but I think I’ve made my point, yanderes as gags outnumber actual yanderes, because yanderes are so conceptually goofy that they make way better punchlines than characters.  This brings us to my favorite yandere of all Anna Nishikinomiya of Shimoneta.

Anna is a great yandere because A, she’s not a yandere 24/7, B, because the world of Shimoneta is inherently ridiculous and full of ridiculous characters so a yandere fits right in, and C, the narrative has done a better job explaining why she exhibits yandere behaviors than most if not all other shows.  For those unaware, Shimoneta takes place in a future Japan where porn and all things sexual have been banned and censored by the government.  Anna is the daughter of two major proponents of this censorship and as such is a ridiculously sheltered and pure girl even by woefully sexually unaware standards of the people around her.  During the story she is kissed by the main guy during a sting operation where he saves her from some stalkers and she falls head over heels for him, therefore explaining her deep love for him.  It’s also established early on that Anna is insanely physically competent, both due to plot and due to the fact she’s a cream of the crop elite who works her ass off to fulfill her parent’s expectations.  So she has good foundations for being good at violence.  The final and most important touch though is how sheltered she is, she has no concept of the difference between love and lust, between what are acceptable ways to show affection and what’s not ok, so she engages in both extremely violent and extremely sexual acts and believes herself justified in doing so because she’s acting out of love, which she only has a vague idea of but believes is a pure and righteous thing.  She also has no idea how to calm her body’s now awakened sexual urges and only seems to succeed in doing so when she’s performing her most perverse and extreme activities

To make a long story short, the reason the yandere succeeds as an archetype is because it’s incredibly stupid and out there.  Everyone likes to talk about the great animes, the ones that everyone knows about and which left a long-lasting impression on the fandom and even the medium, but most of the time anime isn’t that, it’s stupid and weird.  I say this as a compliment, stupid and weird can be a ton of fun and most of the time I want fun, not the next big classic which reshapes the medium.  Stupid and weird are also core elements of camp, which is something most people absolutely love despite the negative connotations surrounding the word.  The yandere archetype plays into the crowd’s love of camp, a character taken to such extremes and whose behavior is so overblown you almost can’t help but laugh at it.  Because of this it’s vital that the yandere in question not be taken too seriously because serious and camp tend to butt heads.  This is where Gasai Yuno both succeeds and fails, the character herself is ridiculous enough to be kind of awesome, even of you hate Mirai Nikki like me I still think Yuno herself has some appeal as a gimmick or a concept, but at the same time because Mirai Nikki plays her role straight and serious it weakens her character and the show itself.  Ultimately Yuno is the face of yandere and I doubt anything will change that, and in fairness she does embody the extreme nature of the archetype quite well and by extension showcases the archetype’s appeal rather nicely.  But in the context of being played seriously, shes not a good character, and she’s used poorly because again Mirai Nikki is pleb tier anime.

Over the top violence and love taken to creepy, crazy extremes is fun and funny, which is why the yandere should be a gag, because it works so well that way.  Alternatively it makes sense for a yandere to be played fairly straight in a world and story that are already so ridiculous that nothing is to be taken too seriously.  Yanderes, despite their dark reputation, are actually really fun and they are good making us laugh in the “well this is sort of fucked up but it’s still funny” sense.  And if nothing else Yuno performs the crazy violence and twisted love we come to yandere for, it’s just too bad she’s in a show that doesn’t use her properly.  So if you like the yandere, or maybe just want to see what all the fuss is about, go watch Shimoneta instead and let Anna show you how it’s done, because to me she should be crowned as the real Yandere Queen.  Thanks for reading I hoped you enjoyed it, and if you have other characters you think make for good, or bad, yanderes do feel free to share in a comment.  I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding the Medium: Premise Means Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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