Unpopular Opinion: Overlord vs Log Horizon – The Final Reckoning

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After many, many complaints from Overlord fans I have decided to write a more balanced and formalized version of what began as an off the cuff, first ever blog post before evolving into a second much more antagonistic blog post.  There will be spoilers for both shows but at this point they’ve been out for plenty of time so I don’t care.

I will specifically be comparing just the anime versions of both Log Horizon and Overlord, which was my default premise but needs to be spelled out for some people.  As a result my knowledge of Overlord will be limited to the following: Anime season 1, a smattering of later clips, some plot descriptions of the events of season 2 which I believe to be fair and accurate if broad and general.  If I get something wrong about Overlord please consider whether or not my mistake is based information I should have, given the parameters I just laid out.  I’m happy to admit honest mistakes and welcome fair criticism, but I can only speak about what I know and any faults that come from things I don’t know are – for the purposes of this post anyway – essentially invalid.  For Log Horizon my knowledge is limited to both seasons of anime but I’ll mostly stick to season 1 both in the interests of fairness and because of the real heart of my positions on these two shows are based in their foundational building blocks.

Both Overlord and Log Horizon take place in fantasy worlds which are not-exact copies of a video game the main character plays, and both protagonists now inhabit their in-game avatars.  One notable difference is that Elder Tale, the game Log Horizon’s world is based on, is a modern MMORPG played on a computer – not a super immersive VR game like SAO, and Yggdrasil – which is the game Overlord’s world is based on.  Overlord’s game and tech is also 100+ years in the future.  Also noteworthy is that at the start of each story, Elder Tale is releasing a new expansion 20 years after the open beta was made available.  Yggdrasil meanwhile is shutting down after 12 years of popularity.  However these are relatively minor differences.

The main differences are as follows, in Log Horizon everyone currently playing the game appears to have be trapped in the fantasy world based on Elder Tale, in Overlord’s case Ainz is the only such character we see though there are some vague hints that he may not be here alone or is not the first player to be trapped here.  The other main difference is the difficulty of the fantasy world counterparts.  Log Horizon’s world is very difficult at first, because the old input style for commands and skills is hard to do while you have fight enemies with some limitations you would have if you were fighting irl, such as first person view.  Because of the new expansion and new level cap that comes with it there are also new ultra difficult encounters and enemies – but the main source of difficulty is in the beginning when players have to adapt and relearn how to fight now that they inhabit their avatars.  After that the world is mostly business as usual with difficulty more reflective of the game it’s based on.  Overlord’s world on the other hand seems like a remarkable downgrade from the game Yggdrasil.  Ainz is extremely powerful, so much so he stops an elite invasion unit which can summon angelic monsters, considered dangerous by the people of the fantasy world, by himself and without taking damage.  There are other marked downgrades, because all the other characters that we meet are NPCs huge amounts of knowledge has been lost and skills and spells, basic abilities in Yggdrasil, are now rare and usually restricted to lower tier levels.  For example, late in Season 1 of Overlord a necromancer summons a pair of Bone Dragons and declares them to be immune to magic.  He’s wrong though, they are only immune to magic below a certain level – and no humans of this world can use magic of that level – and then Ainz’s companion Narberal Gamma one-shots them with higher level lightning magic.  Likewise potions have downgraded somehow, with the NPCs using blue potions vastly inferior to the “original” red potions Ainz possesses.

The differences between these worlds give the two stories vastly different tones right from the get go.  Overlord is a power fantasy with some mystery elements, where the protagonist interacts with the setting and NPCs mostly in search of answers to his questions.  Log Horizon is about building a society and this is by necessity, now that thousands of gamers have been trapped in this world they not only have to interact with the NPCs, who are given much more depth with regards to their social and political organization than their Overlord counterparts (by season 1’s end anyway), they have to interact with each other and make something of themselves or be lost in a downward spiral that begins almost as soon as it is discovered that players respawn instead of dying in the game.  In Overlord it is unknown if players die and respawn or just stay dead but this is hardly a concern as Ainz steamrolls almost everything he fights.  In Log Horizon, the lack of death immediately causes a chain reaction of problems in multiple cities and thus the creation of functional, civil societies becomes a priority.

The tonal differences are also made apparent by the differences in shows’ respective protagonists.  Ainz is a total powerhouse on his own and he has a number of powerful servants he can command.  His main obstacle is in hiding his identity, since he’s a lich, as he gathers information.  He also generally hides his power level by using his warrior form, but again this hardly seems to matter to since he is one-shotting most monsters he fights that way and still takes no damage.  Shiroe meanwhile is not a powerhouse, despite the fact he’s a max level player (not accounting for the new level cap anyway) he’s a support mage whose abilities shine through because of Shiroe’s prodigious skill as a tactician, not because of his raw spellpower.  Though both are spellcasters, they are very different kinds of spellcasters, and Ainz has a great deal of flexibility because of the relative weakness of the setting while Shiroe is more tightly constrained by support role and comparatively higher setting difficulty.

Moreover, the two have very different personalities and resultant personal issues.  Ainz’s human self seems like a bit of weak bitch based on his internal thoughts and dialogue at the very start of Overlord before the game shut down.  Also because of the fact he said he would “run away” from one of his early battles if he couldn’t use his favorite heart crushing spell.  He also seems to get over that mindset very quickly because he’s in charge of cadre of loyal followers and seemingly the strongest guy in town.  Shiroe meanwhile is a deeply introspective character who only seems to lack confidence when making decisions of enormous magnitude, like building a thriving and free society out of a might makes right society.  His main issue is his reluctance to trust people and reluctance to take action as he endlessly analyzes the situation.  When he’s with people he can trust and in combat scenarios he displays no lack of confidence whatsoever and he only needs a push when making world-altering decisions.

However because Shiroe is in fact making such big sweeping decisions, we see a lot more of a character struggle from his side and a clear arc where he is forced to overcome his personal flaws.  Ainz has no such arc, at least not in season 1, at most he has to put up a tough front for his subordinates while he struggles a bit more with what to do internally.  Shiroe’s growth as a person is also much more important to the story as he not only starts out with fewer, and less blindly loyal, followers than Ainz, he has persuade other powerful figures that not only does he have the best plan, but that he can be trusted to carry it out.  Ainz has no such difficulties, the Demons of Nazareck are almost fanatically loyal to him and some outright lust for him.  He can command them to do just about anything and they’ll gladly do it.  Based on some clips it looks like Ainz may eventually have some problems with his demons, and theoretically because he can’t be with them all the time or has to spend more time with certain members this could cause problems later down the road, but none of this appears in season 1.  In season 1 the only problem he has on this front is that Shalltear is turned into a hostile creature by some legendary item that we know very little about by season 1’s end.

Speaking of the protagonists’ companions, they also have a strong effect on the overall tone of the two shows.  Ainz has a bunch of followers, Shalltear, Demiurge, Cocytus, Albedo, the twin elves with hetero-chromea, Pandora’s Actor, Sebas, all of the Pleiades battle maids and anyone else I can’t remember off the top of my head.  He also recruits some villagers later in the season 1.  Setting aside the villagers who mostly don’t factor into the story in season 1, all of the Demons of Nazareck are unflinchingly loyal to Ainz and stronger than any monster or NPC we encounter in season 1 to boot.  Shiroe has a much more complicated role in the world of Log Horizon.  He is famous if not infamous, with many powerful guild leaders waiting to see what he’ll do, and he has a number of powerful friends he calls to his banner over the course of the story – but in the beginning he only has 2 companions, Naotsugu and Akatsuki.  While both are happy to follow Shiroe they have different depths of relationship with him as Naotsugu and Shiroe both belonged to a legendary group (not a guild) called the Debauchery Tea Party which conquered the game’s greatest challenges but has since disbanded.

Akatsuki meanwhile is a trusted friend but was not a member of the Debauchery Tea Party, and as she evolves as a character this degree of separation plays an important role in her character arc.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, Akatsuki’s arc, though it begins to form in season 1, is mainly addressed in season 2 – but the fact that she not only develops romantic feelings for Shiroe over the course of their interactions but undergoes her own lengthy, messy character arc is a massive step up from anything the Demons of Nazareck undergo at least in season 1.  I mean Ainz even edits Albedo’s flavor text so she is unbelievably thirsty for his D right from the start.  Based on some plot developments I’ve heard, I believe some of the Demons may eventually develop as characters and may even have interesting arcs – but nothing in season 1 of Overlord suggests such a thing.  The only interesting character concept in Overlord season 1 is that Shalltear retains her memories even while she is hostile and this gives her a persona something akin to a cocky fighter where she respects Ainz’s power but isn’t afraid to trash-talk him during their fight either.  This is instantly erased after Ainz defeats and resurrects her, and she returns to being servile and loyal to Ainz.

The last major contributor to the tones of each show is their humor and seriousness.  Log Horizon has a bunch of terrible, unfunny repetitive jokes which is mostly uses to break up long chunks of exposition or periods of tension.  This doesn’t make the jokes any better but it does give them an important purpose in breaking up the dense flows of information common in Log Horizon.  One of the hallmarks of Log Horizon is that it does lots and lots of buildup and this is mostly accomplished through careful exploration and investigation of the world, and in serious negotiations.  Log Horizon doesn’t have that much action nor much edginess – and it gets through most of both of these in the first arc where the characters go and fight Demikas.  Overlord on the other hand has a fair amount of action and a lot of edginess.  The main villains of season 1, the Necromancer and the assassin chick are comically evil edgelords who revel in their own wickedness and the pain they inflict on others.  Even the invasive force guy was fairly bombastic and arrogant in his power since he could summon Angels.  And I’ve seen clips of the edgy princess from season 2.  Ainz himself isn’t that edgy though, best clear that up in case anyone wants to complain.  The comedy in Overlord isn’t especially good and primarily revolves around light perversion, like Albedo’s displays of affection for Ainz, the trap-looking elf sorcerer and his weak persona and I’ve seen the clip where Ainz accidentally spies on the lizardman champion having sex with the lizardman princess.  Or it’s total cringe in the case of Pandora’s Actor, enough so that Ainz is embarrassed for creating him.

Visually both shows favor detail-heavy designs over especially fluid and dynamic animation.  Both also use CG for some monsters though this is more prevalent in Overlord than in Log Horizon.  General consensus is that, Overlord generally looks better and I would agree that Ainz looks better than anyone in Log Horizon – overall though I don’t really like designs of most of the Demons of Nazareck so I lean towards Log Horizon as looking better overall.  And I vastly prefer the environments in Log Horizon, Overlord’s backgrounds look fine but generic outside of the Tomb of Nazareck, whereas Log Horizon has many distinct environs and towns which blend fantasy wilderness with post apocalyptic ruins of modern cities.

I have thus far tried to be fair and balanced, describing the various elements of Log Horizon and Overlord (season 1) with as few personal value judgements as possible.  In doing so I hope I have presented my case as to what the two shows’ differences are in a mostly objective sense and prepared anyone reading this for what remains – how I personally feel about each show based on the various elements of their construction as well as discussing some elements which are so strongly colored by my personal feelings that I couldn’t really discuss them above while maintaining even a pretense of fairness.

I fucking hate Overlord.  Like “1/10 – Jesus Fucking Christ, how in the hell does anyone think this show is even remotely good?” hate Overlord.  The nicest way I can express my feelings toward this show is that is a prime example of heavy-handed writing, so hamfisted and unsubtle that it feels like it was written with 12 year olds in mind.  It is embarrassingly bad, I actually skimmed through some of season 1 to confirm a few details and remember how the show looked and felt and holy shit was this way blatantly worse than I remember.  The edgy villains are a fucking joke, and not a funny one either.  At best they are bemusing but in a critical sense they are pure garbage, caricatures of stereotypical bad guys with no nuance or redeeming qualities whatsoever.  The Demons of Nazareck are equally bland and boring, their personalities are almost nonexistent beyond their devotion to Ainz and their declarations of loyalty are obnoxious at best.  Having sat down to re-examine the writing of Overlord as portrayed in the anime has made me facepalm harder than I even thought possible.  I genuinely did not expect it to be so unbearably bad on a re-watch.  The dialogue was utter garbage, the CG was uglier than I remeber it being and holy shit did Overlord take it’s fucking time doing anything.  Like the fact Ainz didn’t even leave the Tomb of Nazareck until episode 3, Christ on a bike how did I sit through those first two episodes the first time?

Ironically episode 3 of Log Horizon one of it’s worst episodes because it functions mostly as a transition as the characters begin their first quest, after 2 episodes full of information about the world and the forming society of players.  It’s the episode you have to sit through to get back to more interesting stuff, in Overlord nothing interesting happens until episode 3 – and even that’s just a big smack down against a bunch of helpless knights and an edgy feudal lord screaming about how he’ll pay for someone, anyone to shield him from the undead monster Ainz summoned before he gets stabbed over and over.  I sincerely can’t believe that even just five years ago I was willing to sit through the early parts of Overlord, if it had come out in the last year or two I’d probably have dropped it right away.

Getting away from episode specific details though, what I hoped to present with the earlier analysis is that Overlord is really just a basic bitch story and there is literally nothing in season 1 that suggests it will ever get better.  The only noteworthy thing about season 1 of Overlord is that we still have a lot of mystery to solve.  Overlord has nothing to latch onto, unless you like the basics of what it already gives you.  Do you like having a lich for a protagonist?  I think that’s cool, and I’m sure many others love it.  Do you like lots of loyal demon followers, some of whom definitely want to ride your dick?  Not my cup of tea but I can see the appeal.  Like a power fantasy where the protagonist crushes everyone with no effort until he’s forced to fight his own servant?  No.  Like I’m all for the occasional beat down or steamroll but every fight but one?  Maybe if we were talking about a show like One Punch Man or Mob Psycho 100 where the protagonist’s sheer power is causing them problems then maybe, but otherwise nah that sounds boring as shit.

There’s literally nothing else.  There is no character development at fucking all in season 1 of Overlord.  Save for the final battle there is no suggestion that Ainz or any of his Demons are ever in any danger.  Does Ainz ever seem likely to fail?  No, not only does he never fail, he makes everything look easy and he’s given bullshit gatcha items to make his final battle easier.  Put simply, I’m bored.  The mystery of how Ainz got taken to this fantasy world that is nothing more than a downgraded version of his favorite VR game is not appealing enough for me to want to sit through a season of hamfisted writing, terrible dialogue and characters, simple plots and a total lack of challenge.  There is nothing at all appealing beyond the mere idea of a guy getting stuck in a fantasy world as a lich.  The previous sentence is, to me, the entirety of Overlord’s potential appeal.  And that does not make up for it’s appalling execution in every conceivable facet of storytelling.  Overlord is all premise and no execution, and I know that works for some people but I’m not one of them.  Premise means a lot less to me than execution, I’d rather watch a fucking idol show with good execution than watch Overlord – and I fucking hate idol shows and idol culture.

And don’t even get me started on the combat.  Ainz almost never takes any damage because of a passive skill that nullifies damage from low level weapons and spells – and since Overlord’s setting is set on even-babies-could-beat-this easy mode almost everything he fights is too weak to even hurt him.  Ainz’s only noteworthy opponent is Shalltear and once again, not only is she his servant under normal circumstances, he is given gatcha items which allow him to use the best gear from warrior classes regardless of the fact he’s a fucking magician.  It was bad enough that his basic warrior form could kill all of his enemies without any skills, but getting to use the best gear for warrior classes makes me wonder why anyone bothers to play warriors.  If anything Ainz reminds me of a high level multi-class Fighter/Mage from Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – which can solo the the entire fucking game if you build it right.  The versatility is less of an issue than the sheer power though, I wouldn’t mind if Ainz was versatile if he was also weaker or more vulnerable, it would justify the versatility.  Instead Ainz has it all and that just gives me one less aspect of the story to get invested in.  Ainz never struggles, he faces no adversity and is a weaker character for it.  And when I don’t give a shit about the protagonist, the show is probably fucked.

By comparison not only is Shiroe himself weak in combat due to his support role, his strength comes from his game knowledge and tactical skills – which benefit him most when he’s working with other skilled players.  Shiroe is not a one man army, but he can make a party of 4 or 5 able to take on a small army because he can direct their power and skill to make them that good.  Action is not one of Log Horizon’s particular strong points but it’s a million times better than anything in Overlord, where Ainz kills everything besides Shalltear in one hit.

Because Shiroe has to work with other people, both in combat and in building a society that benefits everyone after their world has been turned upside down, Log Horizon goes to great lengths to feature a ton of characters and to make many of them interesting, with significant arcs in their own right.  Shiroe is obviously no exception and Log Horizon frontloads much of his development into the early arcs so you’re already invested in him as a person before he makes his big powerplays.  Overlord has nothing like this in season 1 and since I actively hate all of Overlord’s characters I don’t care about how they develop.

Then there’s world-building, one of my favorite elements of fantasy, and I’m going to have to laugh in every Overlord fan’s face for a second here.  There is almost no world building in all of season 1, or at least no world building I found engaging.  Sure the Tomb of Nazareck is in a different location and yes we are made aware at least 2 political entities.  Does any of that matter?  Fuck no.  In season 1 the main thing to take away by the end was that we still knew fuck all about the world, beyond the general idea that it was downgraded form of Yggdrasil.  Is that enough to make me stick around for a second season?  No it is not.  Log Horizon went way more in-depth, with dungeons that actively degenerated due to monster effects, several distinct adventurer cities, detailed NPC nations with multiple cities and political intrigue directed toward the adventurers and the goblin invasion, and fantasy elements with fantasy explanations which logically correlate with video game mechanics’ to explain how resurrection functions or like the Goblin King.  And of course it had Shiroe go ahead and build a goddamn society from the ground up and shows us what progress that brings over the course of the story.  That alone is 10x more interesting and 100x more complex than anything Ainz does in season 1 of Overlord.

To put it mildly, the biggest difference between Log Horizon and Overlord, is that the latter bet everything on premise and used action, shock value and edginess to keep the viewer from noticing just how bad the writing was – while the former focused on ideas and kept the viewer’s attention by revealing carefully considered details and developing characters to make the most of said ideas.  Overlord is a show for teens first making their forays into fiction, like Elfen Lied or Mirai Nikki.  Log Horizon is a show made to challenge teens and adults who want something with more depth and nuance out of their fiction.  And while everyone has their phase of liking the edgy, simple stories – God knows I used to like Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki once upon a time – Log Horizon is the kind of story you really learn to appreciate once you’ve moved beyond comparatively simple and trashy works like Overlord.

I’m basically done here.  Thanks everyone for reading.  I could go into more depth and bring up more specific examples from both shows, but honestly I think I’ve made my case.  The difference in quality and character between the foundations of Overlord and Log Horizon practically makes my case for me.  Even if Overlord eventually develops a more detailed and interesting world, more intricate plots or makes its central mystery interesting – it will inevitably be chained to the flaws of Overlord season 1.  That’s why I would guess, though I could be wrong, that Ainz never really comes across an opponent who’s a match for him, because part of the core of Overlord’s appeal is the overwhelming power fantasy Ainz presents.  I have no interest in that not as a feature which spans an entire story, and no amount of new plot twists and lore will address this problem.  By the same token, Log Horizon will only get more nuanced and more complex because so much attention was given to the themes the show is going for and carefully planning out the details to make sure those themes hit home.  You can learn a lot about the general quality of a story if you carefully study the early parts.  Log Horizon had my interest by episode 1.  Overlord didn’t get my interest after 12 episodes and after re-watching most of episode 1 of Overlord I’m frankly embarrassed I didn’t see how bad it was on my first viewing.  See you in the next one.

RWBY Volume 6: A Return to Form (Mostly)

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RWBY Volume 6 is a welcome step forward from the mess that was Volume 5.  Volume 5 was juggling a lot of interesting threads and unfortunately tried to tie them all together in one place, but because some of these threads are quite complicated and take a lot of time to resolve the whole season felt slow as shit.  Volume 6 is very much like Volume 4, my personal favorite among the Volumes, the destination is simple and it’s the journey which is interesting.  That being said I do think Volume 6 lags behind Volumes 3 & 4, the high water marks of the show.  There will be spoilers ahead.

I can see Volume 6 being a favorite for a lot of people.  It has not only the biggest plot twist in the entire show but the most world building of any Volume, finally addressing some of questions that have been looming over the series since at least Volume 3.  It turns out that this Remnant’s second go at life.  There are a pair of gods who created the world and all it’s inhabitants and they left Remnant behind.  Moreover humans in the past wielded far greater powers than they do now but they were ultimately wiped out because they rose up against the gods who created them.  The exceptions are Ozpin, reincarnated as Oscar Pine in Volume 4, and Salem.  The two were lovers in the days before humanity was wiped out, with Ozpin being a renowned hero called Ozam, saving the princess locked in a tower – Salem.  This fairytale romance abruptly ground to a halt when Ozpin suddenly falls ill and dies.  In her grief Salem begs the gods to resurrect him, temporarily turning one against the other, and thus begins her downward spiral.

The gods reconcile and punish her with immortality, that she might learn the error of her ways, but the lesson she takes home is that the gods are fallible.  She then uses the very immortality she was granted to convince humans far and wide to rise against the gods, thus leading to humanity’s temporary extinction.  The gods conclude this world as something of a failed experiment and leave, but before they do they leave behind 4 Relics and make Ozpin their herald, sort of.  Ozpin, who is reincarnated and will perpetually reincarnate, has been tasked with uniting humanity  and bringing about harmony, and then using the 4 Relics to call the gods back when he has made humanity worthy of the gods.

More important than this information though is the means by which it is discovered.  Namely, that Ruby, up to this point the teen who was most loyal to Ozpin, disobeys Ozpin’s desperate pleas (after they catch him lying about the Relic of Knowledge) and uses the Relic to discover the history of the past, who Ozpin and Salem are and most damning of all, the fact there is no way for Ozpin to kill Salem.

Naturally this wealth of information almost causes the entire mission to collapse.  Since the events of Volume 3 most of the teens have gotten warier and warier of Ozpin, with Raven’s bird form reveal being a sort nail in coffin for Yang and Weiss.  Ruby was the main exception and to some extent she still is.  Everyone else is about ready to call it quits.  Why should they fight a foe that they can’t kill?  Why should they have to suffer and struggle for nothing?  It’s Ruby more than anyone else who believes in continuing the mission.

It’s after this point that Volume 6 becomes very reminiscent of Volume 4, the team finds a ruined settlement to camp in and has to deal with the whirlwind of emotions the information revealed above causes.  Qrow is by far the most interesting in this light as he was Ozpin’s most trusted agent.  He naturally feels betrayed and used like everyone else, but in addition he enters a downward spiral of self-loathing.  Because of his Semblance, the ability to passively cause bad luck to befall those around him, he felt he had no place to belong to – and that Ozpin gave him that place.  With everything revealed to be a lie, Qrow feels that he’s wasted his life and that he really doesn’t belong anywhere.  Of all present members, they got split up when the train they were on got attacked, Qrow is the closest to quitting outright, followed by Yang.  I do sort of wish the show had a moment when Yang and Qrow said, in some form or another, that Raven was right all along.  One of weaknesses of the Volume is that it doesn’t let the characters stew in their negative feelings, their doubts long enough.

Unfortunately this problem is kind of exacerbated by the coolest part of the Volume.  After the big reveal Ruby and Co. have to take shelter and find an abandoned farming settlement.  Unlike prior ruins they’ve visited, there is no evidence of violent destruction, everyone seems to have died in their beds.  It does a great job of raising the tension, and convincing everyone that they have to leave the next morning.  However, because of the as yet unknown presence of Grimm, this plan is complicated.  The fact that some of the characters feel drained enough to not want to leave is a big red flag for the viewers and for Ruby, the most active and alert member.  Feeling drained is understandable, but it’s way out of character for these guys to want to stay in a village full dead bodies, cluing us in that Grimm are the cause.  Then we meet the Apathy.

The Apathy are fucking awesome, I would rate them as the second best Grimm in the entire series.  Unlike most Grimm they don’t rely on physical power, they are slow-moving pack creatures with spindly, twisted frames and long, delicate claws who cause humans around them to become tired.  They’re fucking terrifying as there’s a horde of these things in the dark, cramped tunnels beneath the town and their massed screams can cause the Huntresses to weaken or even black out in an instant.  If not for Ruby’s silver eyes there was a very real chance of the team dying here.  And the fact the leader of the settlement deliberately led the Apathy into the tunnels, hoping to use their nature to stem complaints from workers when the farm was struggling was a great touch.  The Apathy are awesome as monsters but they’re sort of a mixed bag for the show on the whole.

They help bring out the worst in a group of characters already wracked with doubt, hopelessness and betrayal.  This where the characters reach their lowest point since Volumes 3 and 4.  Yang is basically ready to quit.  Blake and Weiss have serious doubts about what to do going forward.  Oscar is being ostracized for being the host of Ozpin and is struggling internally with the idea that may his personality may consumed by Ozpin’s.  And Qrow is drinking himself into oblivion, wallowing in his own negative feelings and letting himself sink lower than he’s ever gone before.  However because so much of these negative emotions are brought to the fore by the Apathy, as soon as the Apathy are dead and the team reunites with the rest at Argus, most of these emotions are never seen again – save for Jaune’s enraged outburst and Qrow’s lingering doubts about getting to Atlas.

It’s a damn shame because these doubts coming to ahead is one of most interesting part of the story.  This could break the mission altogether and they probably should have dedicated a lengthy episode to having the characters seriously arguing their respective positions on what to do next.  There’s even a way to resolve any disagreements in Argus, Pyrrha.  Pyrrha was a native of Argus and there is a statue in her honor in the town.  Jaune even runs into one Pyrrha’s family members, I assume thanks to the red hair and green eyes, there.  Think about it, you could spend an entire episode having everyone really going at it, arguments so passionate and positions so different that it threatens to break apart this adhoc team apart and ruin the quest before Ruby and Jaune see the statue of Pyrrha and try and refocus the quest.  “Forget about Ozpin and his bullshit, these bastards killed Pyrrha and they’re gonna pay for it,” or something to that effect, you could win most everyone over on that alone.  You could make it this heavy, emotional, dramatic and even painful episode and still resolve it – and that would be fucking amazing.  Instead the concerns are few and brief with Ruby gathering her determination, powering through and getting everyone behind her because that kind of her shtick.

The final portion of the Volume is probably the most contentious and it mainly has to do with Adam.  I think a lot of people are disappointed with Adam, or already were based on his lackluster performance in Volumes 4 & 5.  In Volume 3 he was a powerful, menacing figure – the demon in Blake’s past that she struggles to face.  Since then his character has been kind of a shambling mess, bitter, angry, power-hungry and oddly obsessed with Blake.  I can totally see why people kind of hate the direction Adam goes and to be honest as of Volume 5 he looked pretty shit.  Personally though I think he sort gets redeemed in Volume 6.

After the prior Volumes Adam will never be the mysterious, menacing badass he seemed to be in Volume 3, but I think Volume 6 does provide the details which patch up the character he has become.  From his character short and Blake’s earlier observations, Adam is someone who feels wronged and wants to vent on the world around him, to make them suffer as he did.  When he makes controversial decisions it’s usually on the basis that he feels he owed things.  He feels he deserves to be the leader of White Fang by now, so he kills the leader.  There’s also a sort cult leader vibe to much of his character, he wins over the soldiers left and right by virtue of his skill, power and rhetoric, which is what allows him to take power in the first place.  And this characteristic that best explains his obsession with Blake, that I can see many would argue ruins his character.

My best guess is that what people wanted out of Adam was to more zealot than cult leader, for him to be this aloof, menacing figure who can’t be reasoned with and who punishes and threatens Blake as he does in Volume 3 due to her being an apostate, she was believer who abandoned the cause and for a zealot there can be no greater failing than this.  What we got instead is a man who channels his bitterness and pain into dominating others, whether this be by the power of his words and deeds or by defeating them in battle.  Either way it makes him feel powerful and in control and he revels in it, at least internally.  The scene that most cements this is when he takes the mask off and you can see the brand over one eye.  If we take Blake at her word and Adam does indeed wish to inflict unto others what was inflicted upon him, the brand is a symbol of ownership, and obviously a painful one given it’s placement.  He feels the urge to brand others in his own way, not with hot iron but with fiery rhetoric.  Alternatively you could see his obsession with Blake as a sort of marker of success.  In the past Blake abandoned her father and his way of running the White Fang  to join Adam, and thus retaining her loyalty is sort of symbol that Adam and his way are superior.  Either way I feel like the brand solidifies Adam as a deeply resentful and bitter person who feels he has no other recourse but to dominate others so that he might never again feel weak, someone much less intimidating and mystifying then guy he was in Volume 3, but not a poorly crafted character.

Not all of Adam’s developments are positives for me though.  For starters how the hell did he get here?  It’s implied that various members and former of Salem’s team have used info brokers to follow certain targets but Adam has not been implicated in this.  Nor has been shown having any real contact with Salem, he seems to have gone rogue and just stalked Blake.  While this feeds into his obsessive need to control her, it seems odd that he would be able to do this without anyone noticing.  Also Blake’s travel plans were literally derailed so that makes things more complicated.  The real shame was revealing that his Semblance mirrored Yang’s, partly because it was kind of lame but more so in that it leads to a lot scenes of him blocking bullets.  It would have been much better if Semblance was more along the lines of being able to infuse his attacks with concentrated aura to make them stronger at the cost of making him more vulnerable.  That would give him all kinds need to be skilled without also having a ridiculous number of my-sword-blocks-bullets moments.  I’d also bet many are unhappy with his death but I don’t really care, I think they’ve done about all that they can without making him descend into madness and also his death was something a show writer could feasibly have him survive, much like Cinder’s was.

As for the battle against Adam it honestly wasn’t that good, because again the whole I-constantly-block-bullets-with-my-sword thing is dumb and it was just a really bad example of how loosely the team at Rooster Teeth is playing with Aura.  The fact that humans have Aura is not a problem but they should put more focus on it in fights, rather than having it break whenever they deem it convenient.  Characters should be basing some of their decisions on the amount of Aura they have left, it should factor into their general planning.  The battle with the mech on the other hand, that’s what I’m talking about.  It’s a chaotic clash where multiple parties of relatively fragile combatants use mobility, numbers, and tactics to battle against a huge, sturdy and well-armed foe.  This was the kind of combat that Volume 5 sorely lacked, one where the Hunters and Huntresses take full advantage of their weapons and skills, to take on a challenge.  Barring Nora taking a super-cannon of lightning head on there was not much else they could have tried.  They use multiple distractions, aim for the shield generator, target any weakspots they can think of and in the end they still barely win.  It’s only by the grace of Ruby’s crazy brand of bravery and brains that they prevail.

Ultimately I think Volume 6 is welcome step forward from Volume 5 but not on the level of Volumes 3 & 4.  It has some excellent world-building, a great new Grimm and a good battle – but it unfortunately clips what could have been one of the most interesting threads of the entire show frustratingly short.  There really should have been a lot more emotional development going on and honestly the greatest challenge from this Volume should have internal not external.  The fight with mech was good but a battle for the heart and soul of the team, with best friends and siblings pitted against one another when faced with the mind-boggling secrets that have been kept from them and the seemingly insurmountable challenges ahead – now that’s a battle for the ages, even if weapons aren’t involved.  Volume 6 was good but not great, hopefully Volume 7 – which was being set up in the background all along – takes after Volume 3 and not Volume 5.  Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Unpopular Opinion: Baki

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I decided to watch the 2018 release of Baki with practically no knowledge of the source material nor having seen anything beyond short snippets from earlier anime adaptations.  I tried it on a whim.  And having watched the entire thing, the first thing that comes to mind in terms of reviewing and/or recommending Baki is, well it’s complicated.  There will be spoilers.

Stepping out of my own shoes for a second, I think one could objectively argue that Baki has a very high bar for entry and not in an intellectual way.  The character designs are some of the most ridiculously over-muscled physiques in all of anime and they are NOT conventionally attractive.  That alone could be enough of turn some viewers away, but not only that, right away Baki is asking you to REALLY REALLY suspend your disbelief as the death row prisoners make their escapes in episode 1.  Two of them survive tried and true methods of execution.  One swims out from a submarine to reach the surface without taking a breath or being affected by the change in pressure.  One crawls out of a missile silo using nothing but rusty spots, seams between metal plates and his bare hands.  And one uses the martial arts equivalent of an air pump to break rocket-proof glass.  Also we are told that all the world’s nitroglycerin crystallized around the world simultaneously because of the borderline magical event known as synchronicity, which is what caused all five inmates to escape their various prisons at the same time for the same reason.

If you’re already acquainted with the source material then the sheer absurdity of Baki’s world is well known to you.  But if you jump in cold turkey, then Baki asks a lot from you right out the gate.  And that’s setting aside the fact this arc of Baki is 4 YEARS into Baki’s story.  There are a ton of established characters from prior arcs who appear in Baki 2018, and some of them have about as much screen time as our titular Baki.  In Baki’s defense it is peppered with very brief flashbacks that shed some light on who these characters are and how they came to be involved with other characters in the story.  But these flashbacks also make it clear to anyone checking out Baki 2018 that there is a considerably longer story they are missing out on.

If all that wasn’t enough, the sheer level of violence in Baki is enough to drive people away, both in terms of the damage dealt and how unrealistically people recover from the damage they take – assuming they do in fact recover.  The violence on display is even by anime standards, especially brutal.  The are no blood pinatas, people don’t just go down with slash and bloodspurt.   Here’s an example, one of the death row inmates uses a small explosive he has hidden under his skin to totally bow the face off one of the marital artists, and the show does in fact show the skinless face.  Bodies get broken and twisted, combatants get covered in vicious scars.  This a show which is not only incredibly violent but one which displays the damage done as realistically as the scenario dictates.  Long story short it can be a lot to stomach.

To make matters even worse, the narrative, if you can even call it that, is a meandering mess.  There is little in the way of structure, linear progression or even satisfying resolutions between characters.  For example one of the death row inmates is killed by Baki’s dad after fighting a character who only shows up for 5-10 minutes in the entire show.  The only battle which is resolved in a remotely traditional way, after the challenge is posed between Baki and the other top 5 martial artists against the top 5 deadliest death row inmates, is the first battle between Speck and Hanayama Kaoru.  Hell a bunch of characters get beaten multiple times by different members of the enormous cast of Baki, which seemingly calls on all of Baki’s former opponents-cum-friendly acquaintances to make an appearance.  Even the ending of Baki 2018 is literally the intro to a new tournament arc.

Having said all that against it though, I still can’t condemn Baki outright, at least not completely.  Keeping in mind that I have a very high tolerance for unbelievable anime bullshit so long as it’s cool, I admit that Baki strains the limits of my tolerance – especially because the whole meandering nature of the conflict.  However I can’t deny that I also found Baki incredibly captivating.  So much so that I immediately began to voraciously devour the manga as soon as I had finished watching it.

There’s a charm in the absurdity of Baki, a delightful goofiness that evolves into something fascinating in the over-the-top characters, personalities, bodies and fighting in Baki.  It feels like pro wrestling, something which is at once goofy, obviously fake and so macho that it’s cheesy, while at the same time being badass enough to draw a crowd.  The way the Baki is so willing to lean into the obviously fake parts of it’s story and just run with them is kind of endearing in it’s own way – it shows an almost naive kind of sincerity that most media can’t portray, because the creators of most media won’t let their own properties run wild with such reckless abandon.   Baki has a heart to it that most shows, no matter how much more tightly constructed they might be, just lack.

The anime also rocks one of the most aggressive and energetic OSTs that I’ve ever heard and I love it.  It makes the fights more badass, the standoffs more intense and the goofiness even goofier.

All things considered though I’m not sure I can really recommend Baki 2018 as a standalone show.  Even of you’re the kind of person who digs the violence, who can look past the so-macho-they’re-almost-grotesque character designs and is willing to ignore or even buy into the ridiculous world of Baki – there is no satisfying story in Baki 2018.  The whole conflict feels pointless, with Baki spending so much time off screen and characters from prior arcs coming in at random to curbstomp half of the death row inmates anyway.  And look, I’m all for pointlessly over-the-top action with a scant story, but Baki 2018 is too loose with it’s story.  It’s not interesting for such a direct 5v5 challenge to be so  thoroughly undercut by pre-existing characters who we haven’t spent any time with.

For Baki fans this presents no issue, they already know these other characters and are probably thrilled they made an appearance.  But Baki 2018 fails as a self-contained story arc, in fact I think it fails so hard in that department that it really mars the experience.  Which is a shame because as ludicrous and violent as the world of Baki is, I bought in to it.  I was captivated by Baki in all it’s insanity, so much so that I did go check out the source material and have considered watching the older anime adaptations.  It’s just a shame that Baki 2018’s inadequacies were part of the driving force to do so.

Ultimately I know Baki 2018 is not for everyone and I don’t really recommend it to most.  If my description of Baki 2018 sounds interesting then by all means check it out, but to me it basically serves as a hook to draw newer anime fans to the manga, the show by itself is not satisfying enough to merit being more than that.

Unpopular Opinion – Anime of the Year Edition: Zombieland Saga

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One of the things I believe most attracts to people to anime is the novelty and surprise factor of it all.  There are anime about subjects, both the incredibly mundane and the brainbustingly highbrow, which traditional films and TV wouldn’t touch with a Colossal Titan-sized pole.  Now obviously surprise and novelty are not bywords for success, there are plenty of nasty surprises after all, but when a surprise hit comes along, it hits all the harder and is all the more memorable for it.  And in that regard, I do believe Zombieland Saga takes the crown.  Not for this season, nor even this year like you might infer from the title.  Ever.  I have never been pleasantly surprised harder by any piece of media than I was by Zombieland Saga.  And boy did that pay out for the show’s favor in spades.

Keep in mind I know full well that Boku no Hero Academia had one of the greatest shounen battles of all time this year with All Might vs All for One.  I cried during that shit, I felt like I could’ve been one of the in-universe spectators watching the live battle on the news, tearing up and almost chanting.  I think that All Might is one of the best crafted characters of his archetype in anime history, if not the best.  I was more invested in All Might during his major battles than Isaac-fucking-Netero during his big showdown during HunterxHunter’s Chimera Ant arc, and the final battle with One for All was the greatest battle of the year by far.  Not because it was complicated or well animated or what have you – but because it was the most emotionally impactful battle, scene even, since… fuck me I don’t think I’ve been that emotionally invested in an anime scene since the death of Ouki (Wang Yi) from Kingdom – and I’m a fucking Kingdom fanatic.

But even with Boku no Hero Academia’s biggest moment to consider, I can wholeheartedly say Zombieland Saga won me over.  No other show this year has made me laugh, smile or get pumped like Zombieland Saga has and I swear to God Japan, if you don’t make another season like the ending hinted at I will petition Trump to nuke you all over again.  I am that fucking hype for this shit.

So what’s going on here?  – Spoilers, Come On!!! – Obviously surprise factor alone could not do this.  Certainly the fact that this show exploded onto the scene from so out of left field was in it’s favor but there’s more going on here.  I think many others will join me in saying they got hooked on this show despite the fact none of them watch or like idol shows.  Fuck I pretty much despise normal idol crap and I know I’m not alone in this.  Making the idols into zombies should not be enough to get us past that, and while it did ultimately take more than that, let it be said the creators maximized the shit out of the zombie factor right from the get go.

Sakura’s sudden death after her cheerful morning scene was a pretty attention grabbing way to get the show started but climaxing with death metal idols doing neck-breaking headbanging bashed down any walls of skepticism that still remained and powered it’s way right into my heart.  They had me.   That is some use of shock factor so good it should go down in a textbook somewhere.  More surprising still were the character stories and innovative concerts that were to come.

But before we get there we have to look at what the legacy of that initial shock factor was that serves to contrast with the aforementioned character stories – they made this show fun as shit.  Zombieland Saga’s ability to be so brimming with life and energy is more than mildly ironic considering the zombie protagonists, but more importantly it meant I was never bored.  Long before the character stories came in to make their fucking fantastic mark on the show, the energy and wild abandon of the show kept me hooked until the creators brought out the big guns.  This is best exemplified by the legendary Yamada Tae, followed closely by Kotaro, the idol manager-cum-necromancer apparently.  Even though we never really get to their character stories, just a hint for Kotaro, the energy of their movements/actions and speeches respectively do a lot to keep what would otherwise by a drab morning meeting, random conversation or activity fun and/or hilarious.  Fuck even during the more somber part of Sakura’s arc over the last two episodes Tae in particular was fucking amazing.  There was clearly a lot of heart put into these characters and they deliver for the show.

That being said I would lying if I said the character stories didn’t play a big role.  Setting aside the fact that Tae never truly awakens and Yugiri is from such a far removed point in time – 200+ years if memory serves – that her story never gets told, the differences between the girls and the eras they died in really came to the fore in a way that obviously made them clash at first but makes them all the more endearing in the aftermath.  Saki is a particularly interesting case because she is the most vocal opponent of the whole idol project from the outset given her background as a biker gang leader.  I thought they had more or less nailed her character in episode 2 during the spontaneous rap battle she had with Sakura but fuck me did they really bring on the heat with the biker gang episode.  Her saving her best friend’s daughter by replicating the same stunt that actually killed her in 97 was ballsy as fuck and it was really heartwarming stuff.  Same goes for Lily’s episode where he is able to mend the emotional wounds of his hulking dad from beyond the grave, it wasn’t quite so ballsy but damn was it a feels train.

The most contentious of these stories is undoubtedly Sakura’s as the tone is far more serious and there’s a lot of nothing happening because the main conceit is that Sakura feels like putting in effort is pointless due the fact whenever she did she would reach the top only to have a random accident ruin things.  As much as I can see people not liking this one, since it’s all about everyone else trying to motivate Sakura and the extremes of her bad luck are so played up it’s almost comical, I really liked her arc.  Them going in whole hog on the bad luck probably should have made it all seem fake and goofy but I felt that it lent enough weight to her depression, for lack of a better word, to make it totally worth it.  Over the span of  two episodes Sakura manages to be depressed and somber despite all the efforts of everyone around her to encourage her, and I fucking felt for her.  The idea of putting your all into something only to fail due to circumstances beyond your control, it bites, and while I’m sure everyone’s experienced something like that at least once in their life Sakura’s obsession with this idea, with how she believes it defines her life, with her o’er example being her sudden death on the way to her idol audition – it justified all of it to me.  And fuck me did it make that last concert lit.  With Sakura being all shaky in the first part, the venue collapsing due to the heavy snowfall and then her triumphant return, pushing ahead with a song all about rising up and never giving in – 10/10, would buy all the fucking glow sticks in the world to see that live.

Still I do believe the crowning moment of series goes to the Ai and Junko arc, and of course the lighting concert.  Setting the concert aside for a second I really like the base concept of Ai and Junko’s conflict.  This is the arc where the age difference, i.e. how long ago they died, really comes into play.  Both of these girls were idols before their deaths but they were idols in eras 20-30 years apart and because of that they have very different attitudes.  Junko does not like the way modern idols operate, in her time being an idol was a classier gig and there was a much more pronounced gap between idols and their fans.  She has trouble squaring the current idol world with her own career and the lessons learned therein.  Ai on the other hand can’t really bring herself to sympathize because she has a sort of ‘that’s just part of being successful attitude’ and refuses to compromise.  The ironic bit then is that when the concert goes down and Ai is barely able to perform due to the lightning and her crippling fear of it – she died by being struck by lightning at an outdoor concert – it’s the loftier standards that Junko holds herself to which save the stumbling performance and get Ai back in the game so to speak.

Now let’s talk about the lightning concert.  It’s a work of genius and I honestly think the thought process had to start from the song.  Keeping in mind this is conjecture, follow me down this train of thought.  Say an anime studio wants as many cost cutting measures as they feel they can get away with, as they often do, and someone says, “What if we remix one of the songs, that should be cheaper than recording another original one?”  Then someone asks:  “How can we do that in a way that makes sense in the story?”  And then a mad genius goes – “What if we let them get struck by lightning to give their voices electronic effects?”  And then the team runs with it and creates a character story based on the lightning strike, so the character can overcome their fear of lightning, the team can remix the song without issue and the show can have the most lit idol concert in human history.  I don’t know if that’s what happened but fuck I really want that to be true because it would make the whole sequence even better for me.

Anyway that’s enough of me drooling over Zombieland Saga.  I expect that for many it won’t be king of the season let alone king of year.  But I say fuck you Goblin Slayer, fuck you Rascal Doesn’t Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai – I like you but you’ve been topped.  And yes, in advance I cordially say, with no malice, spite, ill intent or seriousness, fuck all of you who disagree – I’m having way too much fun right now and so long as I have Zombieland Saga there’s nothing you can do to stop me.  It is in fact the show the anime community needs and the one we deserve!  Happy 2018 and I’ll see you in the next one – whenever that is.

Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

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I can barely imagine how I can hate the Fate universe.  It’s about a bunch of mages and ancient heroes, of the real and mythical varieties, with super powers throwing down in a battle royale for the Holy Grail.  It’s got all kinds of historical references and confusing lore and it’s appeal practically writes itself, especially to a history buff with a serious interest in magic, fantasy and mythology like me.  Funny then that, barring Fate Zero, I can’t stand any Fate show anymore.  There will be spoilers.

Maybe I should dial this back a bit before I go in too hard.  So a few years ago I see Fate Zero and I’m fucking blown away.  I’m like “Bro bro bro, top tier anime right here”  and literally the entire anime community agrees.  Then I watch the infamous train wreck that was the original Fate Stay Night and I think it’s shit but I still like the concepts contained in the franchise and move on.  Then I see UBW, the TV show not the movie, and that’s when some of the underlying negative feelings I have with the Fate universe begin to solidify.  It’s when I start getting into long arguments with Fate fans, about details I don’t think make sense.  And don’t get me wrong I’m not here to paint these guys in a bad light, the arguments I had with them were among the best I’ve ever had with regards to anime even if most arguments ended with us agreeing to disagree or them agreeing the anime stumbled on a particular point that the visual novel handles like a champ.  And I’m totally willing to take their word at face value that the visual novels cover my problems with the various anime adaptations.  However the fact that Fate was created as visual novel is the root of every nail in all of the various anime adaptations’ collective coffin.

There are three major issues I have with the underlying construction of the Fate universe and it’s lore that arise from the nature of it being a visual novel, routes, game mechanics and harem style love interests.  Now you might be asking yourself, “what’s wrong with having multiple routes?”  In the visual novels, absolutely nothing.  In literally any other medium – a lot.  Multiple routes or experiences which mirror multiple routes, i.e. playing an RPG and doing things in a different order or siding with different factions, etc.  work fantastically in video games because you get to play each route.  It’s fun and it lets you approach the story a totally different way, it allows you to significantly alter the experience.  However this requires a ton of freedom on both the player’s and creators’ parts and film and printed media do not have that freedom.  The only non-video game examples I can even think of are choose your own adventure books, which I discovered in middle school and have never seen since because they never caught on, the movie Clue which allowed you to choose multiple endings because it’s a comedy based on a who-dun-it game (good luck making many shows like that) and spin-offs.

But even spin-offs aren’t really a good equivalent to routes.  Spin-offs become entirely different shows with familiar characters or show the same story as the original from a different character’s perspective.  Routes don’t work like that compared to spin-offs they have either greatly reduced changes to the story or greatly increased changes to the story and overall they function very differently from a spin-off.  UBW is not a spinoff of Stay/Night, it most closely resembles a choose your own adventure story but those died in print and never made it to film, because they aren’t workable in that medium.  This why when after UBW wraps up and they announce a Heaven’s Feel movie I groan in frustration instead of getting hype, this despite the fact Heaven’s Feel actually looks more up my alley than UBW did.

This next bit is probably going to sound pretentious as fuck but in film you can’t just keep changing the story.  So get this, there’s an event called the Fourth Holy Grail War and the combatants are blah blah blah and the winners are X & Y.  You can’t tell that story and suddenly go here’s another version where Z & U win.  I know art isn’t supposed to have rules and all but frankly you can’t do multiple routes in film.  Not if you want it to be immersive, not if you want the audience to suspend their disbelief and get them hooked.  It is my humble opinion that routes require an abstraction that can only really manifest in games and it’s an abstraction called – I know I’m playing a fucking game.  Here’s an example.  Because I never play new games when they are new I recently start up Bloodborne.  I love the difficulty, sound, environment and the feel of the combat.  But then I hit a wall and because it’s a game, I take a step back and say if I grind for blood echoes (currency/exp) by killing these two infinitely respawning giant pigs I can level up to the point where the boss isn’t hard or I have better gear or whatever.  Point is I have to deliberately take a break from trying to immerse myself in the world and story to take a sort of meta-view and exploit the game’s mechanics to my advantage.  This is not something I would wish upon anyway trying to enjoy a film because unlike with video games, you aren’t playing your way through a film.

I actually kind of hate that in Bloodborne there are times when I am so stuck I have to break my immersion on purpose and find a solution using my outsider knowledge of game mechanics.  It’s frustrating remove myself from the horror and magic of the setting to do some basic tactics and math, putting fun and exploration on hold to do the heavy lifting required to push through the next boss.  I do basic tactics and math everyday in real life, I don’t walk in a beautifully horrific city fighting all kinds of twisted monsters everyday.  The point of immersion is for me to escape real life and that’s why immersion breaking events suck, even more so when you initiate them yourself.

So in summary, routes aren’t possible in film because they require a level of abstraction that is antithetical to immersive storytelling and to me good films are all about immersive storytelling.

Moving on to game mechanics, one of things which is so crushing to me about Fate lore is that it’s designed as though the Holy Grail war was a video game.  For example let’s look at the seven servant classes.  The classes clue us into what kind of weapons, fighting styles and certain attributes a hero will have.  For example, Saber fights with swords, Caster uses magic and Berserker is not sane.  These are broad categories that leave a lot of room for character and power development, as well as, simple descriptions that can be easily fit into existing lore.  For instance it’s no surprise that King Arthur would be a Saber servant because Excalibur plays a huge role in the Arthurian legends.  This also leaves room for the same hero becoming multiple classes though I admit I have very mixed feelings about that.  On the one hand it makes sense in terms of real world lore as many heroes fought with more than one weapon or were known for more than one aspect of their character.  On the other it plays into that multiple routes crap I broke down above and makes the character less defined.  I suppose it could used for very interesting things if, for example, Lancelot the Saber had to fight Lancelot the Berserker so that we can see what fighting his other self does to Lancelot both in physical and mental terms.  But thus far that’s never happened and there are too many other weaknesses to make me watch a Fate where it did happen.

Much more frustrating however are that each servant class have basic traits which apply to everyone in that class regardless of lore.  All Sabers get magic resistance for example.  Ok but here’s a hypothetical.  What happens to sword wielding heroes who, in their own legends, fell victim to magic.  Sure in the specific story you can just not include such a character and bypass the issue.  But the fact that I can make a believable hypothetical which makes this part of the Fate universe lore not make sense, proves that it’s a weakness in the lore’s construction.  Moreover I think it’s fucking stupid.  When I watch two Heroes with magical superpowers go head to head, the last thing I’m thinking of are class advantages.  To make matters worse they have literal stats like Strength A, Constitution C, etc.  I can’t even imagine to how you could make me less interested in a clash between to Servants, viewed without any of this knowledge the fights are generally great but knowing they have fucking stats rather just allowing them to test their ability against each other with no knowledge of their opponent’s relative skill is a buzzkill of epic proportions.

There is nothing, literally NOTHING, less appealing to me than trying to quantify a character’s ability and power level by busting out a stat sheet and using that to help guide or predict the outcome of a fight.   And when you do that to such towering figures of history and legend it boils my blood, which then evaporates due to sheer heat as soon as those figures turn out to be great characters in their own right.  Which incidentally brings me to third and final problem, the characters.

Up until this point I’ve largely been talking about my gripes with the Fate universe, or Nasuverse, or the flaws that come with adapting a visual novel into anime and still treating it like a goddamn visual novel.  The latter point is not restricted to Fate btw, I’m absolutely furious about Steins:Gate Zero and it hasn’t even come out yet.  But the characters are arguably the most important point because it what will maybe justify some speculation on my part.  That speculation being that Nasu, the creator of the Fate universe is a big part of the problem.  I will admit I have not intensely studied Nasu’s work so take my speculation with plenty of salt but as it appears to me Nasu isn’t very good when it comes to people, or in writing terms, characters.  Jumping back to the stats thing for a second, to me the fact he would even assign stats to Servants like that at all says to me that he is either trying to bind his lore to the medium, in this case visual novels, or that he is a man who puts a lot more emphasis on systems than people.  Broadly speaking men are more interested in systems at a basic psychological level so it wouldn’t be a huge leap of logic to imagine that Nasu is especially interested in systems and thus applies systems where he doesn’t need to, in this case to the Servants.  Again this is complete speculation but Nasu seems to be someone who makes hard rules, or perhaps, creates order where he doesn’t need to.

I’m not saying this slight the man.  He’s not stupid or bad for creating a system within his own ideas.  I am saying that I disagree with him fundamentally on this point.  I think placing a system within the Fate universe is a bad move because I want to see the places it could go with a bit more chaos.  I think it has all kinds of room for malleability and the potential for very organic stories and clashes which I personally find far more interesting.  I think putting in a stat system makes the Fate universe more stale and that wild, chaotic speculation as to how well a given Servant does against any opponent is a universe full of far greater intrigue and possibility.   Alternatively if Nasu was seriously hard-wiring the nature of the medium into his lore then fair enough – but if that’s the case there will be an inevitable drop in quality when you put it in a different medium.

This where the characters come in.  Me and my best friend have a big problem with the all the gender bending going on in the Fate universe.  To me it totally undermines certain characters, like King Arthur, or is just there for fanservice, which fair enough I have no problems with fanservice but it really takes away from the gravitas of these figures if we see their gender-bent tits flopping about.  King Arthur is an especially bad example as the main reason she is gender-bent is so she can be one of the main love interests to Shrio, aka the most insufferable Fate character of all time and one of my least favorite anime protagonists of all time.

The biggest gap in quality between the one Fate show I liked Fate Zero and everything else is that the characters are less interesting across the board, one of the main reasons being the teenage romance central to the visual novels plays a major role in the various anime versions.  Once again this is a huge mistake to me because there’s nothing I would rather not see in a Holy Grail War than weak, harem-style teenage romances.  Their very presence undermines the coolest aspects of the Fate universe and makes the whole experience less serious.  This is one of the reasons I think Nasu either struggles to write good characters or tailored his creation so closely to the medium of visual novels, to me there is no logical connection between the romantic elements and the Holy Grail War beyond the fact basically all visual novels are centered around various routes wherein you can romance different love interests.  If I were in Nasu’s position and came up with the Fate universe I would never have included boring teenage romances and it probably never would have been a visual novel.

My other justification for this line of thinking, that Nasu either isn’t good at characters or tailored Fate to the visual novel medium, is Fate Zero.  Fate Zero was written by Gen Urobuchi of Madoka Magicka fame using Nasu’s pre-existing lore and characters as a template for the prequel to Fate Stay Night.  With the change in writers there a ton of immediately apparent changes between Fate Zero and any other Fate work.  There is only one teenager and all his enemies are adults.  The only gender-bent character is King Arthur and that’s because of preexisting lore.  The only romantic elements that exist are used to enhance a few characters and they are not a major focus of the story.  Instead the focus is now squarely on the battles and the characters.  Waver, the sole teen, is a teen precisely because it puts him such stark contrast with his Servant, the best character in the show Alexander the Great.  They make a great pair because Waver is young, not especially confident and has no guiding principles or goals and Alexander is this massive force of personality with larger than life dreams and goals.  They have an effect on each other, an effect which transforms Waver’s character because frankly that was the point of pairing them together.

Fate Zero is unusual in that the conclusion is a forgone one, we already know how the Grail War ends.  The individual battles are given a lot of attention but overall this is a ‘the journey is more important the destination’ kind of show.  That’s why it allocates so much of focus on the characters, their development, their ideals and their desires and how and why they come into conflict.  This is perhaps best shown by the famous Banquet of Kings because it spells out in no uncertain terms that all of the Kings have very different ideals and this will inevitably bring them into conflict even if they can have a dialogue for the moment.  There is nothing like the Banquet of Kings in any of the other Fate works because frankly none of the characters in any of the other Fate shows are strong enough and fleshed out enough to carry such a scene.  And the fact that Fate Zero can speaks to Gen Urobuchi approaching things from a fundamentally different lens than Nasu, and I prefer the Urobutcher’s lens.

There is actually one more problem with Fate and it’s characters and it’s the problem showcased by Fate Grand Order and Fate Apocrypha.  There are way the fuck too many characters being thrown at us all at once.  I got about halfway through Apocrypha and dropped out because nothing in it seemed to matter.  The characters were boring and just seemed to fill space, looking cool and not having any real weight in the broader sense, like this was some Fate shit to tide us over until Heaven’s Feel.  Seeing the sheer number of servants, their alternate forms and masters on the wiki makes me think the best way to do Fate is to go full long form shounen on that shit.  Because otherwise there’s way too much and we won’t have time bond with any of the characters or enjoy much of a story, and ultimately I think that robs the Servants of their uniqueness and intrigue, much the same way I think the Avenger’s movies suffer from having to cram too many characters into one story and thus have to keep things simple and not explore any individual heroes in greater depth.

I hope you enjoyed this huge rant.  I’m not here to slander Nasu or pick a fight with Fate fans, I think the Fate universe is full of great shit but it’s also full of shit that is not to my tastes and the onslaught of upcoming Fate stuff has really just caused me to kind of despise Fate as an IP, especially considering all the hype surrounding Fate at the moment.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Kekkai Sensen & Beyond

kekkai sensen & beyond

Back in the saddle baby.

Kekkai Sensen season was the coolest dude in town when it was airing and then it had two recap episodes and an ending that came out months after the season when the show aired, and the finale didn’t even make sense.  Like it was cool to look at and all but story-wise it didn’t make sense and it didn’t even save White which is what everyone was hoping it would do.  If you want more details you can go here and here.

Fortunately for the coolest dude in town, Kekkai Sensen and Beyond spends no time whatsoever addressing the confusing ending of season 1 and speeds ahead full throttle into the same chaotic, action comedy that it handled so well in most of season 1.  Seriously the only nod to the first season’s ending is this quick flashback to white after the the credits of episode 1.  You could probably skip straight from the search for lunch (episode 9 I think) in Kekkai Sensen to Kekkai Sensen and Beyond with no real issues.

Tonally seasons 1 and 2 of Kekkai Sensen are very similar but where season 1 had some slow episodes, I can’t really recall a slow episode in season 2.  This is in part because season 2 spends more time fleshing out the characters, most notably best girl Chain.  And this is vital because on of the weaknesses of Kekkai Sensen was that it didn’t really explore the characters in much depth, and sure it mostly worked anyway because there was so much to take in, but the character building was a godsend.

KK’s episode in particular where she has to deal with fighting vampires and gangsters while also attending Parent’s Day at her son’s kindergarten because she cares about her family and she keeps missing family events like this due to her job was flat out the best episode of the season.  And the finale is much better as well, as the final conflict takes place over 2 episodes and deals with one of the more insidious opponents in the show.

And honestly that’s about all there is to say about Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  It has the same great chaotic flavor and visual style of the Kekkai Sensen and comes with more character building as well as homages to other media like Chain’s Mission Impossible episode.  Everything there was to like about Kekkai Sensen is back and Kekkai Sensen and Beyond builds on that foundation to make an even better Kekkai Sensen.

If you liked Kekkai Sensen, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond.  I mean I’m guessing most of you have since that show aired a while ago, but to anyone who felt burned by Kekkai Sensen’s ending, watch Kekkai Sensen and Beyond it is SO worth it.  I was kind of skeptical at first because I felt burned by season 1’s ending but Kekkai Sensen and Beyond had won me over again in minutes.  It’s a literally just a better Kekkai Sensen.  Go. Watch. It.  See you in the next one.