Understanding Reviews: How Getting too Personal Wrecks a Review

Darling in the Franxx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Qualidea Code

Qualidea Code is one the most fascinating anime I’ve seen in several years.  Normally when I say that about a show I consider that as a positive, however in Qualidea Code’s case it’s a rather neutral description.  If you’ve seen any of Qualidea Code you’re probably wondering what the fuck I’m talking about.  Episode one was thoroughly generic, to the point that even the names and appearances of the invading enemies were uncreative as fuck.  In addition the  visuals were subpar at best, so I thinks it’s a pretty safe bet to say that this show didn’t attract too many fans.  So I assume the question on everyone’s mind is “how is this at all fascinating?”  There will be spoilers ahead.

Well for starters if you’ve seen the entire show, then you know the premise is actually a bit of a bait and switch.  It starts looking like another post-apocalyptic humans vs monsters story like Attack on Titan, except this time the titans are spaceships and the humans have superpowers.  The big twist is that the dumbass high school kids haven’t been fighting aliens at all, instead the aliens were the one that took the children out of cold sleep and using some kind of microchip, overwrote how the human brain perceives information, which means the all the generic “alien” ships the kids kept blowing up were actually unmanned drones sent by the local remnants of the human race to attack the actual aliens and rescue the kids.  That concept itself is actually not a bad one and while the reveal was obvious as fuck by the time Suzaku, who is ostensibly the main guy but kind of not at the same time, found out it was still a cool concept and the execution was decent.  The only thing that really undercut the reveal was the OP, because Canaria is literally the first thing you see in the OP and that would be weird if the show genuinely killed her off before the halfway point of its run.  So that was a case of poor planning but otherwise the big reveal was not too bad, especially since literally the stupidest character in the show figured it out first, which incidentally was much cooler than the actual reveal with Suzaku.  All that said I don’t think this twist was what really made this a fascinating show, it just added to the real meat of what made this show unusual.

What impressed the most about Qualidea Code was what the show did with its characters.  The actual characters themselves range from mildly interesting to outright awful, but many of the roles and archetypes we see all the time in anime were mixed up and changed around.  I discussed this before, but it definitely merits an update.  For starters I think it’s interesting that Suzaku, who again is ostensibly the main guy, is neither the strongest character nor does he ever become the strongest.  This is almost stupidly rare for anime in general and it’s an especially nice touch because Suzaku is such an ass and so obsessed with power levels and rank, at least when he isn’t obsessing over Canaria.  Speaking of Canaria I’m glad that she’s as important as she is.  I think Support-type characters (not support characters but characters with a support skill set like healing, buffing, etc.) have started gaining more relevance after years of hiding in the shadows of OP leads, and Canaria is a good example of that.  Even though she has literally no offensive powers, she’s ranked 10 out of hundreds of superpowered kids because her ability to buff everyone is so good.  And of course she is the key to victory in the final battle though in that case all she’s doing is singing. None of these things are a particularly big deal but they are nice touches.

Continuing onto the other characters I think one of the more interesting things to note is Suzaku’s rival, Kasumi, and how he kind of fucks with everything.  At first he seems like a clear case of as YouTuber Digibro puts it “the overdog posing as underdog trope” wherein a character’s strength is not recognized by the system and he’s actually the strongest guy around even though no else realizes that.  Because despite his near bottom level rank Kasumi seems to have no problems killing the “aliens” and in some ways he’s better at it than his higher ranked allies because of his skill and precision as opposed to raw power.  However it quickly becomes apparent that he’s legitimately weak, he has no heightened physical abilities like being able to hold his breath underwater for 15 minutes for example.  This presents an interesting dichotomy in that Kasumi can swap between being a genuine underdog, and assuming he has good positioning, an overdog.  Moreover there’s a good case to be made that Kasumi, not Suzaku is the main character.  After Canaria “dies” (ie is captured by humans and freed from brainwashing) Suzaku becomes a husk and does nothing outside of lash out at people and Unknown until he recovers.  During this time Kasumi takes center stage and he uncovers the truth behind their situation, tricks the first genuine alien into revealing it’s hand and indirectly kills it.  He also has lot more character interaction than Suzaku ever had during this span of time and after all the main characters are freed from the brainwashing, Kasumi continues to play a leading role in the final fight against the Unknown.

However my favorite two characters are Hotaru and Maihime.  For starters they are the top two fighters in the entire show, which is great.  It’s rare enough for a girl to be the strongest character in any given show where both men and women have some kind of special powers.  So for both of the top two to be women is so rare that it sort of deserves to be appreciated for that alone.  Of the two Hotaru is definitely the less unique, she pretty clearly follows the serious, smart girl archetype and her only quirk is how she gets a withdrawal of sorts if she’s away from Maihime too long.  She does however have the outright best fanservice scene in the show, a positive for me, and she does get one episode mostly dedicated to her alone and how she takes charge of things.  Maihime on the other hand is one of the weirdest characters I’ve seen in a while on the conceptual level.

She clearly falls into the genki (energetic and usually dumb) girl archetype however that’s not all there is to her.  Maihime’s values are very much in line with a typical shounen hero, she cares about people, she leads and fights for the greater good of her comrades and she’s also really really dumb.  But unlike a shounen hero, who generally starts at the bottom and eventually becomes the best, Maihime is the best from very beginning and no one else ever even gets close to her.  And I’m not just taking about rank, though the fact that she doesn’t give a fuck about rank and is ranked number 1 and regularly interacts with the rank obsessed Suzaku is fun.  In episode two when everyone goes for a swim Hotaru, the second ranked fighter, can hold her breath underwater for about 15 minutes, and Maihime can hold her breath underwater for 3 hours.  If we assume the length of time underwater is proportional to power level, then Maihime is about 12 times stronger than her closest competition.  Even if assume the breathing isn’t connected, Hotaru regularly kills squadrons of enemies whereas Maihime wipes out entire armies or giant flagships and never appears tired.  All of this is to say that Maihime is not a typical kind of character especially for a girl, most of her closest equivalents are in fact shounen heroes, so while she is limited because of the general low quality of the show, I think she represents an interesting idea and a potential way to break out of or change the archetype molds that so many characters are trapped in.

The final point of interest is pretty minor but I do think it’s a cool idea.  The aliens of Qualidea Code are called Unknown, which I initially wrote off as the least creative placeholder name for an alien race to ever make it into a published product.  Now it is still an uncreative name but at least it sort of fits.  The whole conceit of the alien invasion was that the Unknown can’t reproduce organically, so they invade other worlds and steal and modify their babies into new Unknown to increase their population (or something along those lines, the show brought the idea up so fast that it wasn’t expressed too clearly).  And the line that got me into this idea is when Airi, the pinked haired woman and final boss of the Unknown invasion on Earth, said that the Unknown have drawn offspring from so many other races that they don’t even know what they used to be anymore, that they really are Unknown.  And while the line itself is a little corny, I think how she delivered lent it quite a bit of impact and communicated how she felt about the Unknown without her actually explaining her feelings.  And as a concept, a race that has gone to such lengths to survive that it no longer knows what it used to be is pretty damn cool and very rare, the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is Suisei no Gargantia (a show I like much more than Qualidea Code).

All of that said I would not recommend Qualidea Code to anyone.  It’s visually unimpressive, the character interactions generally suck, the combat is uninteresting and there’s so much crap crammed into the last episode that a lot of it has no impact and/or just feels like an asspull.  The only episode worth watching was episode two because it was the swimsuit episode (and Hotaru totally won the swimsuit contest) and it was where the only OST I remember first popped up.  Episode eleven is ok too, because Kasumi’s mom is the actual Best Girl in the show and she fires the biggest gun in the show that episode.  But while Qualidea Code as a show is pretty shit, it has a lot of good ideas with regards to character archetypes and character dynamics.  Character archetypes and dynamics are some of the most codified aspects of any given anime genre, and they can get incredibly stale.  So seeing a show, even a bad one, challenge the status quo and do something different is encouraging and I would encourage any creative reading this to likewise think about creating characters that break out of the common storytelling templates we see so much of.  That’s it really, the show is bad even if the ideas it has are good, kind of like how a good premise doesn’t automatically mean that the show will actually be good, and I’ve nothing else to say.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.