Unpopular Opinion – Double Feature: Monster Musume VS Date A Live

monmusu

VS

date a live

Monster Musume and Date A Live are my two favorite harem shows and as man who has consumed more than his fair share of the genre from the standard-bearers like To Love Ru and Zero no Tsukaima to the slightly more bizarre ones like Kaempfer (which more or less survives because of the best gender-bending yuri fanservice known to man), I consider my words on the subject to have considerable weight. Which is to say the most weight an obscure blogger with little more than hard-won experience under his belt can muster.  Like I said in an earlier post, I feel that Monster Musume and Date A Live are indicative of a recently emerging split in the harem genre, shitty light novel harems and genuine, for lack of a better word, harems.  If you’re at all interested in the differences between the two feel free to read the linked article first, and I’m saying that purely for your sake and not for mine, because it will maybe help you understand where I’m coming from and give my older post more views that I don’t make money on but totally will use to feel better about myself.  There will be some spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

There are a lot of trashy harem shows out there.  Luckily most of the new ones come bundled with shitty light novels about battle high schools and OP teenage boys and as such can be ignored by everyone 12 and up.  Monster Musume and Date A Live are significant, and my favorites, because they aren’t trashy.  A lot of what makes many harem shows shitty and trashy is that they are cynically manufactured.  Almost every harem show in existence has the boob jiggles, panty shots, clumsily protagonists falling into panties and groping boobs, beach episodes, nude shots where steam or blinding bars of light are everywhere.  But a lot of them do not fit into the story at all or a loose skeleton of a story has been created for the express purpose of setting up fan service.  And it’s shit.  That so much of the fanservice is formulaic across the many shitty harems only makes the whole thing worse.  Monster Musume and Date A Live are not like this.

Both shows have a lot more there in terms of narrative and characters.  In Monster Musume’s case their isn’t much of an overarching narrative but the show constantly has to deal how the various monster-girls are perceived and how they struggle to fit into the human world, which is likewise struggling to deal with the sudden emergence of countless beings with their own customs, strengths and wildly varying sizes which make interacting with them a challenge.  Sure Monster Musume is a little ham-handed in it’s approach when it comes to assholes who don’t integrate very well, be they human or monster, but the show puts in a lot of detail where the girls are concerned.  They all have various mental and physical hangups brought on by their interactions with humans who aren’t the main guy and their physiques respectively.  Simply put, the girls have meaningful character arcs, often more than one like how Cerea has to deal how she really, really doesn’t like Rachnera after she already goes through her initial arc with the main guy and the thief.  It makes them really endearing, I can get invested in them as people regardless of the various appendages.  Much like the main guy (I can’t remember his fucking name because everyone calls him by a different nickname [I’m not kidding, here’s all the nicknames I remember off the top of my head- Darling, Darling-kun, Goshujin-sama, Master, Aruji-dono, Honey, Kareshi-chan, & Bae] so from here on he’ll be Darling-kun), I see them as girls first and monsters second.  And whatever they can do with their monster bits is just a bonus.

On the subject of the main guy I do like that while he fulfills the usual nice guy roll he’s not afraid to take hits to defend the girls or fucking falco punch humans making fun of them.  More than that though he’s a got a great grasp of their various problems and actively seeks out to help the girls overcome said problems, like how he alters their clothes if they find something they like but it doesn’t quite fit.  Shido, the main guy in Date A Live, is similarly a cut above the average harem protagonist.  It’s not a particularly high bar as many harem leads are wimpy, clumsy nice guys or, thanks to light novel harems, OP teenage boys, but having male leads with more depth and conviction is refreshing nonetheless.  Shido seems like the typical wimpy guy at first and he doesn’t seem ready for sex at all, but he has fucking balls.  He willingly and stubbornly confronts beings who can, and on occasion do, deal him mortal wounds, also he storms the villain’s base and smashes aside full blown adult soldiers along the way.  Shido struggles to provide the constant support that Darling-kun does and while that can open the door for some lazy bullshit it’s also very realistic, he’s a 15 year old kid whose not ready for real intimacy let alone intimacy with a harem of supernatural beings.

Let’s cover those beings.  Unlike Monster Musume which is almost never violent and certainly not violent in earnest, in Date A Live all the girls are Spirits, and if they aren’t committing violence then they are met with it.  Constantly.  In fact Tohka, the main girl’s arc is all about learning to trust Shido and enjoy a human world which has attacked her within minutes whenever she shows up.  Unlike the monster girls of Monster Musume, the Spirits don’t exits in the human world at all times nor are they public knowledge.  A few secretive factions handle all things Spirit-related and Shido is thrust into this situation because by means outside his control he has the potential to be a solution.  I’ll get back to that later.  The Spirits all have special, mostly amazing outfits called Astral Dresses and the each have their own special weapon and powers.  These powers are limited in usage but devastating in their output and no two Spirits function alike.  Arguably the most interesting spirit is Tokisaki Kurumi, as she is only character in either series who is actually a malevolent being.  In a more harem normal show she’d be a yandere and that is sort of there, but she straight up murders like 8 people in the time we see her and we’re told she’s killed many more.  I can’t say I ever seen a character like Kurumi in any harem show, certainly not as one of romantic interests, she’d be the villain or the yandere gag character in any other harem show.

Getting back to Spirits as a whole, much like the monster girls described above each of the Spirits actually has a meaningful character arc and are, ironically enough, more endearing than any of the human characters in the show.  They also have some ongoing hangups but as Date A Live has a more concrete narrative most of their problems are the result of new enemies, human or Spirit, entering the fray and messing things up for everyone already their.  Another thing I failed to mention above is that whenever the Spirits enter our world they cause “spacequakes” which destroy whatever they touch, hence why the ASDF, the government’s official if covert response team to Spirits, attacks them immediately.  It’s a sort of lose-lose situation for most involved, most Spirits intend no harm and can’t control the spacequakes, but it’s hard to fault the government’s violent response, regardless of their intentions the Spirits are causing tons of property damage and potentially killing people.  Plus the show opens with a spacequake of such massive proportions that it’s ruled the greatest natural disaster in human history.

Another major difference between the two shows is how down to fuck the girls are.  In this regard Date A Live is the more childish of the two, with no one involved really ready for sex but instead gradually working towards a romantic companionship.  In Monster Musume the girls, at least some of them, totally want the D.  The problem is that the law currently forbids inter-species boning so Darling-kun can’t fuck them even if he really wanted to.  However his handler, tells him that he can choose to marry one of the monster-girls he plays host to inorder to advance the laws, and as of the end of the show he hosts 7, giving the girls extra motivation to really try and win him over.  This facilitates dates and encourages fanservice and aggressive flirting tactics as a natural extension of the characters and plot, not a gimmick for guys to just jack off to.  It’s a genius setup really because it feels organic and natural, and by extension not like cheaply thrown together bullshit made for a quick buck, but still gets all the romance and nudity you know you come to harem shows for.  More in fact because the romance is better and fanservice is especially good.

Date A Live has less of a focus on sex and less fanservice, and most of the fanservice is not quite as good, at least at first, because it takes some time for the girls to even really consider intimacy something they really want.  It gets better as the various Spirits realize they want Shido and have more competition with each arc, but initially it’s not that good.  But that’s ok because the story is good right from the get go.  The show begins with goofy comedy before transitioning into tense scenes wherein Shido meets Tohka and then a spattering of violence.  There’s a lot of mystery and confusion at first but unlike some show *cough Shingeki no Kyojin cough* Date A Live goes about readily revealing information we need to keep us going along while still hiding a few big secrets, such as why Shido has the power to seal Spirit powers in the first place, which is why he is recruited by a faction that want’s to handle the Spirits peacefully, Ratatoskr, which incidentally is the name of a squirrel in Norse mythology that delivers insults between the eagles at the top of Yggdrasil and Nidhogg at the roots.  That’s not really important or relevant, it’s just a random bit of mythology I find hilarious.

Moving right along both shows benefit from strong visual presentation.  Date A Live is the uglier of the two, though that may have  to do with the lower quality rips I’ve seen as opposed to the DVDs.  In any event Monster Musume looks much cleaner.  The monster girls are mostly adorable and they have a very wide range of monsters on display, including ones that have no interest in Darling-kun.  Smith, Darling-kun’s handler, also looks stunning, though her personality and work ethic leave much to be desired.  As a general rule the Spirits are not as gorgeous as the monster girls, though Kurumi and Tohka are probably hotter than any of the monster girls in my humble opinion.  Where the Spirits unquestionably have the edge though is in costume design.  The monster girls can have cute outfits but outside Racherna and Lala the clothes are normal, which is fine but I prefer the Astral Dresses.  The various Astral Dresses look nothing alike and are tied to their wearer’s powers and/or personality.  Tohka and Kurumi in particular have the best dresses but Yoshino, Kotori and Miku all have pretty solid outfits.  The only Astral Dress I’m not a fan of is the Berserk twins’ because it looks kinda BDSM-ish and that doesn’t really have a place in the story, but it’s honestly not that bad either.

The main reason I want to talk about these two shows in the same post is not just to discuss their differences and similarities though.  It’s because I have a lot of trouble picking which of these two is my favorite because despite both being harem shows they honestly cater to such different interests.  Monster Musume is relaxed, funny, cute and when it’s not cute, it’s sexy.  It’s not quite a feel good show but it’s very easy to just jump into and let the show take you along for a funny, sexy ride.  It has such a strong presentation and such natural feeling fanservice that it’s one of the hottest harem shows of all time.  And I don’t care if you think that’s weird, I’ll take that stance to my fucking grave.

Date A Live on the other hand is kind of a grab bag of action, comedy a little drama and of course fanservice.  There’s plenty of harem shows which go for this sort of grab bag approach but they so often fall flat where Date A Live doesn’t.  It’s hard to say exactly why Date A Live does it better but Kurumi, perhaps more so than anyone else sort serves as a visual of example of Date A Live being a cut above.  Her time powers are great and they mesh well with her genuinely dark and sinister personality, but it also is part of the problem, because her reliance on that power has fragmented her personality to the point where different versions of herself will kill each other to prevent Shido from robbing the dysfunctional collective of it’s powers.  And the fact Shido is still willing to go as far as he needs to to save Kurumi from the world and herself, and that she will play the roles of ally or enemy with Shido to advance her own goals, is not something I’ve seen in many shows period let alone in a harem show.  There are some weak comedy scenes and fanservice elements in Date A Live, but there’s so much of the show that feels genuine and interesting for reasons beyond the fanservice, that it’s like a breath of fresh air.  It feels so much better than shows like Zero no Tsukaima, which despite having a long and sometimes involved story was a show where I spent most my time debating on whether Saito should end up with Siesta or the Princess because fuck Louis, or Kaempfer which had a vague semblance of a plot but I was really only there for the gender-bending transformations and ensuing fanservice.

Date A Live and Monster Musume are good shows.  Date A Live and Monster Musume are harem shows.  These two things are not mutually exclusive and thanks to the onslaught of shitty harems from years prior to many people harem shows are inherently, shitty and trashy.  These two shows are proof harem shows don’t have to be, much like Akatsuki no Yona proves not all reverse harems have to be based on otome games and pander exclusively to girls or fudanshi.  And I for one, want more good harem shows.  In case you’ve made it this far without watching these shows I would recommend them particularly if you’re iffy on the harem genre as a whole and don’t want to get burned by some lazy, trashy show which confirms all the worst stereotypes of the genre.  That’s all I really have to say.  I hope you enjoyed this post 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 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.

Understanding Popularity: Quality and Popular Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Koutestujou no Kabaneri

You know I usually I don’t do longer analytical posts of newly finished show but I saw a video a few days ago talking about why Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was a good time despite how a ton of people on the internet said it went way downhill, and I feel the need to speak up as well. If you haven’t seen the show and want spoiler free recommendation to watch or not watch, my answer is yes, you should absolutely watch it, now let’s dig into the show in more detail.  There will be spoilers ahead.

So the argument presented in the video that got me to write this post was as follows: Koutetsujou no Kabaneri was never about making a great story is was about showing you a bunch of awesome shit and making sure you had a good time, so it seems weird to complain about the weak story elements.  I’m grossly oversimplifying and cutting the argument down of course but that was the main thrust of the video.  And I have mixed feelings about this.  Because I don’t this video’s argument is wrong per se, I just have a different perspective.  Because in the video part of the argument is that all the plot elements that come into play in the second half of the show, which is what most people seem to be ragging on, are present early on and are predictable as fuck.  I agree with this part of the argument but I don’t a lot of the things people are complaining about were ever bad nor do I think the story doesn’t really matter.  This brings me to the director of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, Tetsuro Araki.

Araki has worked on some of the biggest shows in the anime industry, he directed Death Note, Shingeki no Kyojin, High School of the Dead and now Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  However despite his rather impressive resume I’m not much a fan of Araki.  My impression of Araki is that he is phenomenal at crafting big hype moments, at making mind-blowing action scenes or building up tension so high that eating a chip can become hype as fuck, this is Araki’s strong suit and it’s a great strong suit to have, in my opinion him being good at big dramatic hype moments is what has made his biggest hits so damn popular.  However, I also feel like Araki is pretty bad at telling stories.  In Shingeki no Kyojin and Death Note in particular I felt like Araki mangled the pacing of the show by throwing us into the action right away and then being forced to get slow as fuck to get all the setting and plot details to catch up to the big action scenes.  This could just be a fault of the source material as well, I don’t know, but Araki’s shows tend to get a lot weaker when slower, plot driven episodes take center stage.  This presents a problem for me because I am a story guy, like don’t get wrong I dig the hype moments and I’ll take a good hype moment over a mediocre story any day, my favorite scene in Shingeki no Kyojin was when giant Eren threw giant Annie over a huge building and then crashed through the building to keep the fight going for instance, but ultimately stories are more interesting to me than just big moments.

This is why I think High School of the Dead might be Araki’s best work, because it doesn’t need a story at all, it’s basic zombie fare with better action and hilariously over the top fanservice.  To some people that makes High School of the Dead low hanging fruit, but I always loved High School of the Dead though because it has great, memorable moments as it moves from one action set piece to the next with story that is simple and easily understood, really it’s more of placeholder than anything.  High School of the Dead is a show where the big ridiculous moments and drama (and of course fanservice) are king, and in my mind that what Araki is great at and the show never suffers from slow, plot driven episodes, which is what he’s not so great at.  This is why I understand why so many people think the second half of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is bad, regardless of their actual reasoning, what details they take issue with and so on, Araki has always been weaker when it comes to plot to me and it’s not at all unreasonable to expect the same of Koutetsujou no Kabaneri.  Even the guy who made the video I’ve been mentioning thought it went downhill in the second half even though it was still a good time.

But this is where I disagree, because I don’t think anything went downhill.  In fact my main complaint is that the show wasn’t given enough time to properly flesh itself out.  Because while the show had plenty of hype moments it also had excellent story elements which, if further explored, could have made for a really impressive story.  For example one thing I found myself questioning was why did the pregnant woman from episode three take so long to turn into a Kabane when Ikoma was going to be turned super fast.  But then I remembered that Ikoma’s sister took a long time to turn, and then they brought up that only female Kabaneri can become Fused Colonies and it got me thinking about how the show has what it takes to make total sense of the Kabane virus.  See because men and women can have different symptoms or be affected differently by the same disease or condition all the time in the real world, you easily apply the same logic to the Kabane virus and if given the time work out how it functions exactly it could be very interesting.  Likewise Ikoma’s and Biba’s technology makes sense, while also being awesome steampunk shit.  In the video the guy making the argument I’ve been referencing was saying that all kinds of aspects of the show was just about making it cooler, and I don’t disagree so much as I think he’s not giving the show enough credit.  Sure coating swords in the metal of Kabane heart cages to make the blade stronger is there so we can watch someone sword fight with uber zombies, but it also makes sense as a scientific-technology concept and it could potentially be applied to other shit the same way that Ikoma’s jet bullets could be fired from his steampunk pressure gun or the more traditional steam rifles all the bushi used.  Speaking of Ikoma’s gun, in retrospect it reminds a lot of the fat nerd from High School of the Dead and his improvised nail gun, like they have the exact same shorter, snub-nosed look and the fat guy and Ikoma take the same stance when using them, no joke, go compare them it’s awesome.

Likewise I feel that Biba and his group were a lot more compelling than most people give them credit for.  Sure what he did is fucked up and is by normal standards crazy, but to me he had a very clear logic behind him and I totally get why his men followed in in his insanity.  See Biba both literally and figuratively gets backstabbed by the Shogun, his father.  This is the inciting incident for him turning into a madman and it makes perfect sense.  So get this, you’re twelve and your dad sends you to command a crazy dangerous mission, and against all odds you are doing a good job, then he cuts off the supplies and leaves you to die.  I’d be more surprised by someone who didn’t crack at all in those circumstances or who didn’t want revenge.  And it’s why it makes sense that Biba and his men would go so overboard in the show, they’ve all been left to die and they all feel betrayed and bitter, get a group of people like that together and you have a recipe for disaster.  Not to mention I get why they think differently from everyone else, most people are cowering behind the walls actively avoiding Kabane, Biba and his men are dedicating everything they have to fighting Kabane, their lives are utterly consumed by violence in a dog-eat-dog world where the weak inevitably die off, that it’s all they know.  This is why one of Biba’s men can cut a dude’s arm off and not be at all troubled by it, this is why Biba and his men can level cities and wipe out hordes of helpless innocents and not bat an eye, they no longer have any concept of social norms or peace because those things are meaningless to them and their everyday lives.  Likewise they have been numbed to violence so where everyone else see tragedy when Biba wrecks a city, he and his men see another day at the proverbial office and are not troubled.

Biba and his men have even more weight lent to their actions by their ideals.  Because Biba and Ikoma have almost exactly the same ideals save that Ikoma doesn’t think the strong survive and the weak die.  Both of them want the bushi to stop cowering in fear and fight, to stop killing other people in their fright, like what happened in episode one, to man up and take the fight to the Kabane.  However Ikoma sees the value of the cities as a way to keep the weak safe, Biba sees the cities as what’s holding humanity back and encouraging fear and weakness among the bushi so he’s setting out to destroy them, and get back at the Shogun while he’s at it. Basically the main point I want to make is that I find Koutetsujou no Kabaneri very impressive because it has Araki’s signature hype moments but also has competent storytelling and excellent story elements even if it doesn’t have enough time to flesh them all out in the level of detail I would like and thus do not live up to their full potential for me.  This isn’t to say the show has no problems or has elements that don’t make sense.  Like how come Ikoma and Horobi get blueish-purple psychic powers when they take the black blood, how does that have anything to do with the Kabane?  But Koutetsujou no Kabaneri leaps over the these problems in a heartbeat both by being one of the best examples of storytelling on Araki’s apart, the slower episodes were actually decent in Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, and having some of the best hype moments and music of anything I’ve seen in some time.  And for the record this show shits all over Shingeki no Koyjin, so that’s worth some points in my book.

In my opinion this is a must watch show, it’s not the savior of anime, one of the greatest things of all time or even one of may top ten favorites, but all the same I think it something everyone has to see at least once, if for no other reason than to form your own opinion.  For me, I see the work where Araki improved his directing and compensated for his usual weaknesses which is impressive, and I dug the show the entire way through.  Like I said my biggest complaint against the show is that there wasn’t enough of it, which is really just another way of me saying what we had was so good I want more of it, which I feel is high praise.  Anyway I hope you enjoyed the read, if you’re feeling up to it I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show, and I’ll see you in the next one.

PS If you want more content about Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, you can find more posts here and here because I’m very much into this show.

Understanding Appeal: Shingeki no Kyojin, Black Bullet & Owari no Seraph

So a few months ago I did a post explaining the core difference between the three shows mentioned in the title using episode 1 as a basis.  Now that discussion had very little to say about Black Bullet in particular, but more to the point it doesn’t really point out the appeal of each show.  So with Owari no Seraph season 2 over, I thought it was time to dig into these shows a bit further.  There will be major spoilers for all three shows, you have been warned.

Ok lets get this out of the way first and foremost, Shingeki no Kyojin is by far the highest quality show among these three so I’m not to talk about it too much.  There are a lot of reasons why of course, some of which are explained in the linked post above.  But the point of this post is not about comparing the shows with regards to animation quality, characters and so on.  The point of this post is to look into the minute differences between each show, which feature many similar traits, and what elements they have that are good.  You see one of the biggest issues with Black Bullet and Owari no Seraph, is that as they are dismissed out of hand for being “AoT clones” is that most people don’t seriously consider their positive aspects.  This is understandable of course, neither Black Bullet nor Owari no Seraph is remotely near the top of my favorite list, or even shows I consider good, but they do incorporate certain elements of storytelling that would be worthwhile if used in a series with better direction and characters.  And it is these elements I want to focus on today, if for no other reason than to bring them out in the open.

Let’s start with Shingeki no Kyojin since it is the most popular.  I already explained the show’s emphasis on psychological terror, though that mainly is true of the first 1/3 of the show and rapidly drops off later, and how that made it engaging.  The other thing that made it engaging, besides the action and animation which was good but was more a of a bonus than a real selling point to me,  were the mysteries.  There is a lot of information we don’t know and while that is often a flaw, Shingeki no Kyojin places a strong emphasis on unraveling the mysteries towards the end, and even as early as episode 3 or 4 the show lets us know that the people of this world are indeed learning about the titans and keeping record of their knowledge.  Now I will admit the final battle is awesome and I would count that as a selling point of the show, but during the excruciatingly slow middle chunk of the show the thing that really convinced me to keep going were the mystery aspects.  What are the titans exactly?  Where do the come from?  Why do they eat people if they don’t have a digestive system and don’t even need to eat?  How come there are humans who can turn into special titans and why do these special titans have totally different abilities and attributes?  All of these questions are things I very much want to see answered, but in a way that intrigues rather than frustrates, that sparks interest to see more rather than to bore while waiting for answers.  This more so than the action or characters is what kept me invested in the later part of the series and looking forward to a sequel.  So how do the other two measure up?

Let’s do Black Bullet first since it aired first.  For those who don’t know the idea with Black Bullet is that this weird virus called the Gastrea Virus has mutated the animals of the world into huge monsters creatively called Gastrea.  This virus is contagious can can turn people into monsters as well.  Now there are two weapons with which humanity fights the Gastrea, Varanium and Cursed Children.  Vanarium is a black metal that repels Gastrea and shuts down the unnaturally high healing capabilities of Gastrea, so people can kill them.  Cursed Children are what happens when pregnant women get infected with the Gastrea virus, instead of becoming monsters they give birth to special humans, all of whom are girls for no particular reason.  The Cursed children have heightened physical abilities and powerful healing much like the Gastrea.  Curse Children are then paired with Inspectors who are both Gastrea hunters and handlers for the Cursed Children.  Anyway what scuppers Black Bullet is twofold, how the Gastrea are shitty CG monsters that look terrible and uninteresting, and the overall direction the story takes and missed opportunities with the characters.

The odd part about the story is that the characters aren’t that bad.  Sure most of the side characters are one note and uninteresting but the main ones are ok.  Hell, Kagetane the masked guy who appears as villain in the first arc, was actually pretty interesting.  The thing that really gets me as far as the characters are concerned is Kisara and Rentarou.  At the end of the show Kisara flips from a champion of law and justice to murdering one of her elder siblings while laughing about how justice accomplishes nothing.  Mind you that change in mindsets is not necessarily bad nor unwlecome and of itself, but the implementation of it was shit.  Also it makes more sense for Rentarou to be the one who gives up on justice.  He faces far more trauma than Kisara, and there is a point where he was about to lose faith in justice.  Just before the last arc really kicked off Rentarou was teaching a bunch of Cursed Children in an informal school and some asshole essentially left a Varanium claymore in the school one morning, killing all of Rentarou’s students.  And ironically it was Kisara who convinced Rentarou to have faith and remain true to his sense of justice.  Why the fuck would they do this?  If you’re like me the question you’re asking is why did they bother with Aldebaran arc  at all?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Kagetane, who consistently shows contempt for civilization as it currently exists and an interest in Rentarou as a fellow mechanized human, to leak the identity of the bomber/bombers to Rentarou, let him make the choice to kill or spare them for himself and build an arc based around the violence within the city that is slowly killing this society instead of the external CG threats?  That would’ve made a much more interesting dynamic than having Kisara convince Rentarou to keep being the good guy before she herself gives up on law and justice.  But anyway what really is the appeal of the show?

Well I count Kagetane as an appeal in and of himself because he has a creepy mask, a snappy red suit and is voiced  by one of my favorite voice actors.  He’s also the person my personal views on the society of the Black Bullet align with.  Because frankly this society deserves to die.  Even if we ignore that one former royal guard who actively sabotages Rentarou’s battle strategy against a giant monster that has broken through the Varanium barrier and is in the city, these people still need to die.  The thing is this society has a lot of people who hate the Cursed Children because they were born of the same Gastrea virus that fucked the world up.  This is understandable, however the amount of Cursed Children who get killed by average Joes is not.  Keep in mind that the Cursed Children are the most effective fighting force the humans have, even if they were discriminated against you’d think the government would try and protect their supply of Cursed Children and prosecute anyone who killed them, because even if they personally hate the Cursed Children, those little girls are vital to humanity’s survival.  None of that happens though, instead authority figures from street cops to prime ministers seem to be content to attack Cursed Children out of hate for all things Gastrea related.  And it gets even worse when the overwhelming majority of people either fall into this camp of violent, hateful people or just let it happen.  There is no mass movement of any kind that tries to stop this unabated violence even though the Cursed Children are the primary means of protection when monsters invade, as happens from time to time.  This is a world that can well and truly hate, and by God is it cathartic.  It also helps that I prioritize individuals over society as a whole, so seeing a society where the individuals were so right and the society was so fucked was somewhat gratifying.  If you want feel anger at people or want to feel angry at people, this series does provide.  This is reinforced by some of the flashes of realism found in Black Bullet.  There isn’t much but when it shows up it does wonders.  For example I really liked how Kisara’s older sibling, whom she killed in the final episode, made one of the Varanium barriers on the cheap, which is why the Gastrea could destroy it during the final arc, and then pocketed the extra money from the budget used to build it so he could advance his own position.  This in turn justifies Kisara’s hatred for her own family, this doesn’t save the terribly abrupt transition in her character but it does at least serve as a backdrop for said transition.  To sum this up, Black Bullet is a show that has a number of good pieces that were put together badly, resulting in a story which doesn’t live up to full potential of all it’s elements. Which brings me to Owari no Seraph.

Owari no Seraph has the almost the opposite problem of Black Bullet, surprising as it may sound the overall direction the story has taken is actually really good.  In fact were I to rate the three shows in this discussion solely based on their narrative progression, Owari no Seraph would be in first.  This is not to say Owari no Seraph is a good show, because it isn’t, but taken on it’s own the narrative it’s trying to tell is quite engaging.  I know, if some random stranger on the internet told me what I just told anyone who reads this, I’d call bullshit too.  And in all honesty even I have a hard time reconciling the gap between all the creative elements that form the interesting story and the bland, uninspired characters who drive said story into the fucking ground.  The single biggest problem with Owari no Seraph is the characters, I mean the whole humans vs vampires in a manner similar to Shingeki no Kyojin premise doesn’t help, but it doesn’t kill the show either.  The characters are so one note and cliche it hurts.  Not to mention the voice acting is thoroughly mediocre and the dialogue is cringeworthy, which really puts the final nail in coffin labeled characters.  I have a hard time putting into words exactly how bad the characters are, because it’s not just one thing that’s wrong with them, instead there’s something wrong with them on almost every level.  Most of the character designs alone will tell you exactly what kind of person the character is, all the characters stick closely to pre-established archetypes and have very little in the way of uniqueness to them, and they all put on disappointing performances thanks to the lackluster voice acting and horrific script.  This would almost be funny as a parody, a satire about how not to do characters, save for the fact that they occupy a story and world that are interesting.  I like the variety of monsters and/or sources of power that inhabit the world, from vampires, to demons to angels.  I like the use of Biblical lore, especially towards the end of season 2 with the appearance of Abbadon and the King of Salt.  But most importantly I like this because it is a story where both the humans and the vampires are the bad guys.  I was able to predict that humanity fumbling with powers it should leave alone was what caused the world to collapse with ease, but unlike most stories that use that particular premise, in Owari no Seraph it’s not suggested that the vampires are any better.  Usually when humanity, or really anyone we typically expect to be the good guys, either fuck or end up being the bad guys, the story will then cast the opposite force as the good guys.  Not so with Owari no Seraph, life under conniving, arrogant and pettily cruel vampires is no better than life under the tyrannical, ruthless and power-hungry upper echelons of the Imperial Demon Army.  This is a rare approach, and while it was predictable as fuck in the broad strokes, the minute details of the situation shows an unexpected level of care in craft in their construction.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that, Owari no Seraph is a good story, set in an interesting world, and even if it’s characters had just been average, it could’ve been a good show.  But the characters are just thoroughly shit that they turn a show that by rights should have been at bare minimum a decent show into something terrible.  Taken on their own the world and narrative of Owari no Seraph have serious merit, and deserve some scrutiny so that people who want to write a similar story can see how it works.  It’s just a shame that the full package that is the show is spoiled by it’s rotten characters.

Thank you for reading, this was a long post by my standards, and while I’m certain there is more to talk about on this subject, I think this is good enough for now.  Hopefully I will see you in the next one.