Unpopular Opinion: Medaka Box

medaka box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding the Fandom: Anime Arguments 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Understanding the MMO Revisited: Log Horizon VS Overlord

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VS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: SAO Part 2- A Forced Fairy Dance

If you’re reading this post then I will assume you’ve already read part one.  Everything written here will assume you already know the problems I’ve talked about before.  This post will apply the same style of thinking to the Alfheim arc.  So let’s begin with the premise and why Alfheim struggles to deliver.

The story set in Alfheim has a simple premise, Kirito has to rush to save Asuna within seven days or Asuna gets raped.  And much like the death game from Aincrad, the way A-1 adapted the Alfheim books gets in the way of the premise.  Given that Kirito should be very motivated to get Asuna back there is no reason he should slow his journey down unless there is an immediate gain to be had for doing so.  For example it makes sense that he would save Leafa when they first meet because she can give him all kinds of information in exchange.  However it makes no sense for him to help her during the Salamander attack on the Cait Sith and Sylph leaders.  It ends up working out for Kirito but before he goes and saves them he has no reason to follow Leafa and help them, because he has no idea what accompanying her even entails and failure could set him back by about a day.  The reason there is this whole races subplot is because of the way A-1 adapts the light novels.  In the novels this plotting between the different fairy races and the battle with Eugene, the Salamander with the magic claymore, is the climax of book 1 of the fairy dance arc.  Book 2 covers the more important parts of Kirito’s journey through Alfheim and his rescuing Asuna.  A-1 mixes both books which sounds fine but works out poorly, albeit not quite as bad as it did in Aincrad.  However it leads to some very weirdly paced episodes and bad flow in general.  Because we have episodes where Kirito is understandably busting his balls to save Asuna and episodes where he leisurely dawdles and picks up some new chicks.  It makes for a jarring story but more importantly it struggles to work given the premise.  If the premise is that Asuna gets raped in a week, Kirito has no time to waste and we should buckle down for a short, driven arc that’s all about Kirito pushing forward.  But Alfheim needed to fill out more episodes meaning that A-1 padded out the story with elements that are at odds with the rescue Asuna premise.  It’s almost like they didn’t learn anything from Aincrad.  Did they at least get the setting right this time?

Actually yes they did, sort of.  Of all the game worlds in SAO Alheim is far and away the most complete.  It has racial bonuses, faction mechanics, and more diverse skill sets than Aincrad.  Players still have no classes and level their abilities in a style more closely related to an Elder Scrolls game than a MMO but because there are more skills in play, this problem isn’t quite as pronounced as it was in Aincrad.  It’s a shame that due to the premise we don’t have time to leisurely explore the world of Alfheim, but it at least gets points for effort.  It still has some serious issues though.  People from the same races all dress the same, nobody really changes gear and we still have an MMO where a single player is somehow more important than the whole community put together.  So while Alfheim was an improvement relative to Aincrad in terms of the setting, it still doesn’t quite capture the MMO setting very well.  That’s too bad, maybe if the characters improve we can do fine right?

SAO is terrible at characters and Alfheim doesn’t betray those abysmal expectations.  I’m not going to talk about people we already know, but the same formula of characters with one or two traits still applies.  Leafa/Suguha: loves Kirito, is imotou character.  Eugene: loves to fight.  Sakuya: wants Kirito, has big tits.  Alicia: wants Kirito, has cat ears.  Sugou: wants Asuna, is fucked in the head.  Since I’ve brought up the villain already let’s check him out in a bit more detail.  Kayaba may have been a boring villain but his successor was much much worse.  Sugou is built from the concept that we the audience should want to hate him.  That’s cool, many good villains play that role, I’m down.  Unfortunately the execution is where Kawahara fails.  He just throws subtlety out the window and settles for crazy and rapey.  As a result we get a character who is so one note and unbelievable he comes off as offensive.  You don’t want that.  I enjoyed hating Seiryu from Akame ga Kill for what I like to think are obvious reasons but she never managed to offend me.  You don’t have to be offensive to be a subject of hatred.  Hell if we go back to some old school stuff, Naraku from Inuyasha was a great villain to hate.  Was he tactless and offensive?  No he was a manipulative schemer who targeted our heroes’ weak points at every chance he got.  Trust me if his goal had been that wanted to rape Kikyo or Kagome instead, he would have flopped miserably as a villain.  It’s because he is insidious that we hate Naraku not because he’s offensive.  It’s not even me saying this either.  Even among SAO fans the consensus is that Sugou is shit at best and offensive at worst.  Now let’s move to the target of Sugou’s perverse attentions.

Asuna was the best written character in Aincrad.  So naturally Kawahara turned her into a helpless damsel in distress for Alfheim because the man has a talent for nerfing the shit out his own strengths.  The same kind of issues I had with Asuna in Aincrad, mainly that the series would screw her to put Kirito on a pedestal, still apply in Alfheim but they’ve gotten considerably worse.  Where before Asuna was sidelined on occasion for the sake of more Kirito worship this time she’s been sidelined entirely.  Even worse she’s now become the target of sexual assault at the hands of an older man, because apparently Kawahara decided it was time to put the strong female lead in her place.  This whole arc is massive slap in the face to Asuna’s character and pretty offensive, especially to women I would imagine, overall.  Asuna almost gets raped twice in the show, first by tentacle monsters that really should not have been part of the show and then again by Sugou.  In addition, when Kirito does finally get Asuna out, their romance, which you think would get stronger, is sidelined for more harem pandering because again Kawahara is great at destroying his own strengths.  There isn’t much else to say about Asuna, her role is so minor in Alfheim that she’s basically a prize to be won not a character to root for, and the fact I even had to write a sentence that dehumanizes her so is pretty fucking disgusting… Kawahara ya done fucked up.  Sadly Asuna is not the most problematic character in Alfheim, that dubious honor goes to her “daughter”.

In Aincrad Yui was basically all good, I wouldn’t say anything about her was great but nothing was broken the way it was the rest of Aincrad was.  Now Yui is a walking, talking deus ex machina.  Anything that Kirito and Leafa don’t know, Yui knows.  Every time Kirito and Leafa need help, Yui’s got the best plan.  All this despite the fact she’s supposedly just a navigation AI in Alfheim.  Now I admit that pixie Yui is cute, but being cute can’t save a character after they become Kawahara’s get out of jail free card.  Literally anytime he writes himself into a bind in Alfheim, he just has Yui step in and boom problem fixed.  Normally I wouldn’t make a big deal about this sort of thing but it just makes the whole story feel forced and artificial when Kawahara uses Yui to fix a problem over and over again.  Stories should ideally feel natural and flow well but relying on a deus ex machina to blast through every kink in the story has the opposite effect, it makes everything feel contrived.  And speaking of contrivances, let’s look a few conceits Alfheim expects us to swallow without question.

First and foremost, in a realistic world there would not be another VRMMO after the Aincrad incident.  No one would make Alfheim and almost no would buy it even if it got made.  So that’s a problem.  But this story is strung together out of contrived bullshit connecting all the literary dots.  For example the game glitches when Kirito starts so that he ends up by Leafa.  There’s no reason for the game to glitch up like that and no other glitches ever occur, it exists solely so Kirito can find Leafa right away.  I understand why Kawahara did it but that makes it no less stupid.  Another major conceptual conceit we have to just accept is that Sugou despite clearly being a crazy and evil bastard avoids detection from everyone but Kirito.  See assuming that another VRMMO got made, you can bet that the government would be regulating/supervising/auditing the hell out of the game and the men running it to avoid having another madman like Kayaba take control.  And yet Sugou who is even crazier than Kayaba is in total control of the game and running some seriously illegal shit on the side.  I refuse to believe that would be a thing.  Government work may be famously mediocre but it’s not so incompetent that it would let an Aincrad incident happen twice in a few years, I would know because I’ve done work for a variety of government offices.  And even if you don’t take my word for it, do you remember there being a second 9/11 a few years after that tragedy?  Of course not, the government knew we wouldn’t stand for such a thing and got its ass in gear.  After the Aincraid incident the Japanese government of SAO’s world would do the same.  Also I thought I should mention that Kawahara apparently does not understand how magic works.  In the bridge battle where Kirito turns into the Gleam Eyes, my favorite scene in Alfheim, he uses what is repeatedly called an illusion spell to look like a monster.  Yet for some reason he totally becomes the Gleam Eyes and crushes everyone in a few seconds.  I know it’s a minor thing compared to everything else but come the fuck on, if you’re going to use magic at least have it make some kind of sense.  The final contrivance I want to bring up is Goldeneye Mode.  It happens twice in Alfheim and both times are retarded.  The first time it happens, is when Kirito is dual wielding which he explicitly explains early on no longer gives him any kind of boost because the dual wield skill doesn’t exist anymore.  Yet when he dual wields he powers way the fuck up, goes into Goldeneye Mode and blasts through an army of enemies like a meteor…  He doesn’t even use any special skills, it just sort of happens due to sheer willpower, just like how it did in Aincrad.  The second time, Kirito somehow speaks with the digital ghost of Kayaba and then defeats Sugou.  This one isn’t as skull-fuckingly dumb as the first time but the existence of Kayaba’s ghost is kind of dumb and the fact Kirito treats him like a mentor is downright bizarre.  And that about wraps up the problems of the Alfheim arc.  You can find part three of this series here, or if you’re interested in how Alfheim could have been good, check out this post.  Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.