Unpopular Opinion: the Garo Franchise

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Garo: Hono no Koukuin (henceforth Garo 1), Garo: Guren no Tsuki (henceforth Garo 2) and Garo: Vanishing Line (henceforth Garo 3).  They all revolve around a golden Makai Knight who goes around destroying Horrors – demons born of negative human emotions which possess the human they originate from and then go and eat other people.  All three have very different settings starting with medieval Europe, to feudal Japan and now a modern urban setting – presumably of Western origin by the few names revealed to us thus far.  However they also have a difference which vastly exceeds the difference in their settings in importance, their protagonists.  And that’s where my focus will be.  Just a heads up, I’m going to basically spoil all of Garo 1 and it’s the best one so you may want to watch it before reading this.

For context I finished and enjoyed Garo 1 and got bored of Garo 2 before the halfway point.  And while that does mean I have less to say about Garo 2 and may be unfit to judge it in the eyes of some,  the fact Garo 1 has a 7.5 on MAL in comparison to Garo 2’s 5.95 – resulting in a ranking difference of almost 6000 – I think me jumping ship was me being on point at the time.  Garo 3 obviously has just released the first episode and this limits the data I have to work with.  Nevertheless all three shows open with very different protagonists and in Garo’s case more so than most shows the protagonist will make or break the show.

The easiest way to explain this is to look at the differences between Garo 1’s Leo and the overall tone of his character arc versus Garo 2’s Raiko.  Countries of origin and hair color aside, the biggest difference between the two is their compatibility with being a Makai Knight.  Despite being the main character and being trained by his father, one of the last remaining Makai Knights, Leo is ill-suited to being a Makai Knight.  This is not because he is weak or stupid or cowardly, if anything he is overly-serious, driven and more than ready to fight.  What makes Leo ill-suited to the task is his emotional instability and overall philosophy.  His job to protect people but he harbors a deep grudge against people because they burnt his mother at the stake for witchcraft as he was being born.  This is because the populace had been tricked into thinking Makai Knights were witches by the main villain, which means Leo has to help people who killed his mom, who in turn spent her life protecting those same people.  Leo does his job but he has a tendency to give into rage and has a much stronger desire to avenge his mother than he does to protect people.  This problem is only compounded by his casual father, the similarly less serious Makai Alchemist Emma and the appearance of the prince, the ideal candidate for the job.

The story of Garo 1 doesn’t fail to punish Leo for his failings either.  Despite being a Makai Knight since way before the prince, the prince rapidly catches up to and exceeds Leo’s talent as a Makai Knight.  Leo even losses control a little after the halfway point of the series – destroying so much of the city he was supposed to save that he loses his armor and is booted from the ranks of the Makai Knights.  Unlike the prince who steps up to rebuild the kingdom, Leo drifts aimlessly until he eventually finds a girl he wants to settle down with, who dies shortly thereafter because of a Horror – which Leo can no longer stop despite his best efforts.  But this final tragedy doesn’t break Leo, it forces him to finally conquer his inner demons and he becomes a Makai Knight once more to fight against the final boss of the series.  He even starts fucking Emma – way to go kid, 15 or 16 year old banging a milf, awww yeah – as he finally gets his life in order and becomes the hero he was always trained to be.  It’s rare path for a hero to take and it made Garo 1 one of the most interesting shows at the time of it’s airing.

By comparison Raiko is the perfect Makai Knight.  He does it purely to help people and his heart never wavers – when I quit the series Raiko learned that his still surviving father had sent him, an infant at the time, and his mother out to die for political reasons – and Raiko had no negative reaction whatsoever.  Which frankly makes Raiko about as interesting as damp paper, he never did anything of note in the time I was watching.  In fact Garo 2 was dominated, in terms of interesting characters, by Raiko’s guardian-companion Seimei, who was basically Emma with a Japanese coat of paint – seriously, they are even played by the same voice actress.  Raiko fought some interesting enemies but the show got stale incredibly fast because it didn’t have anywhere to go.

Garo 1 put a big focus on the mental state of the various characters and that was extremely important for the story, it’s because of this focus that Leo follows the path he does or that a corrupted Makai Knight is a meaningful enemy.  Garo 2 can’t take the same focus, it briefly tries with Seimei but she doesn’t even really waver either during her test of character.  So all that’s left is for the characters to run through various scenarios other forces concoct.  This is a gigantic mistake because the most boring part of Garo 1 was the generic, “special knights fighting demons” portion of the show.  It wasn’t until well into Garo 1 that the show really got interesting because until that point is was largely monster-of-the-week style battles against various demons, which isn’t that much to go on.  And that’s all Garo 2 had, at least for as long as I watched it.  Which is why the huge difference in community rating  between the two shows described above doesn’t surprise me.

So now we look to the future as Garo 3.  And I must say I have mixed feelings.  The new main character, Sword, is such a beast he beat down a minor Horror without his armor.  And if anything he mostly closely resembles Leo’s dad in terms of attitude, he is more openly interested in sex than either Leo or Raiko.  He also seems to be a man big in all ways, big muscles, big ego, big sex drive, big appetite, etc.  However he isn’t as old as Leo’s dad so his character may in fact become a shortcoming in future, for now it’s too early to know.  The fights thus far were a mess.  I think that they were made so frenetic is interesting but how they appear visually is borderline headache-inducing.  For now I’m betting on Garo 3 being bad but I’m willing to go a for few more episodes before I call that with total certainty.

In conclusion I think the problem with Garo franchise is that it’s a franchise.  What made Garo 1 so interesting was how it explored the state of mind of the it’s major characters and how their state of mind clashed with or complemented their roles as Makai Knights or Makai Alchemists.  That approach can be extremely interesting as in Garo 1’s case but it’s also extremely limiting, it would be hard to use the same setup to make another interesting Garo without copying Garo 1.  But by ignoring this setup as seen in Garo 2, the show loses all of it’s potency as a story, because it devolves into generic demon fighting and has no other intrigue.  And like I said this means the odds are stacked against Garo 3 already, I would be very surprised if it turns out to be any good.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.

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Unpopular Opinion: Netsuzou Trap – What Kuzu no Honkai Should Have Been

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Last season Kuzu no Honkai was a big deal.  It looked pretty, had the main characters get closer to having sex in the first episode than most romance series do in a season, had multiple characters who slept around and had a pair of leads who were self-proclaimed scum that dated each other to fulfill the ache left by their unattainable crushes.  It was also incredibly fucking boring and downright tedious to watch.  The show can be summed up in the phrase “sex and soliloquies” because that is literally all that ever happened.  There were some subplots scattered throughout, like when Mugi and Hanabi decide to start dating other people without telling each other, but none of it goes anywhere – there are no consequences, benefits or even character growth coming from their actions and the whole thing feels so halfhearted.  Likewise the show is bogged down by characters self-analyzing themselves every time they do something because it reveals to them they are more complex than the one-note self they imagined – which I find retarded because no shit you aren’t one note.  Netsuzou Trap cuts through right all that bullshit and literally fixes all the problems I had with Kuzu no Honkai before it even hits the halfway point.

Netsuzou Trap has a few major differences in design which make it surpass Kuzu no Honkai almost immediately.  First off the “scum” in Netsuzou Trap are the second pair of main characters, who immediately contrast their friends who are a newly formed and normal anime couple.  Also the episodes are short and that is a godsend to the show.  Unlike Kuzu no Honkai, which meandered about and didn’t really broadcast where it was going – because save for Akane and “Onii-chan” it didn’t go anywhere – Netsuzou Trap is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, I mean the OP ends with the title fading into NTR (and if you don’t know what that means you aren’t looking at enough hentai).  Netsuzou Trap undoubtedly would have been a boring slog as a full length show because it is threadbare, there isn’t that much going on and what is going on is rather straightforward.  And that’s fine because it delivers on a satisfying story in less than half the time it took for Kuzu no Honkai to drift to it’s conclusion.

Another advantage is the use of sex and sexuality.  Kuzu no Honkai got a lot of attention for featuring lots of sex but as described above that’s half of what it had and it wasn’t enough to keep the show from getting boring.  Netsuzou Trap is not as sexually forward, or at least it doesn’t show it, though it does imply that Hotaru and Fujiwara have both had plenty of sex.  But in Netsuzou Trap’s case there is a huge contrast between Yuma, who is confused by her own feelings and desires which result from Hotaru’s advances, and Hotaru and Fujiwara’s friends with benefits style of dating.  The latter couple is reflective of Kuzu no Honkai’s main pair but both of them do a much better job of being genuinely scummy than Kuzu no Honkai’s main couple, but I’ll get to that later.  The key here though is that the soliloquies come exclusively from Yuma’s perspective and they spend most of their time on Hotaru rather than Yuma.  Yuma is trying to sort out her feelings and various bits of advice she receives but a lot of her time is spent trying to puzzle out Hotaru and her motivations.  I could see this being frustrating to some since Hotaru’s intentions are by no means a mystery to us but it feels genuine and is far more manageable thanks to it’s brevity than the endless and frankly shallow self-reflection of Kuzu no Honkai.

Now onto the scumminess.  Fujiwara is a gigantic asshole who beats Hotaru whenever she refuses to fuck him as per their agreement before they started dating, and while he deserves all the hate thrown his way I admit I find his characterization as a total misanthrope, or at least total misogynist, who only dates anyone at all because he likes sex to be an interesting idea, even if the show doesn’t really explore that in any depth.  Hotaru likewise seemed to date other boys for no real reason at all and the show is never clear on whether she fucked anyone other than Fujiwara (at least not to the best of my memory).  Hotaru’s advances are not just confusing to Yuma, they actually ruin her relationship with her generic nice guy boyfriend Takeda, at least for a while.  Which is want Hotaru wanted and even explained to Yuma when describing love, though she obviously didn’t spell out that she loved Yuma to Yuma.  And towards the end Yuma engages in some reckless behavior and sexual advances of her own in her desire to keep Hotaru close to her before figuring out for certain that she loves Hotaru.

Hell even the fanservice, despite being mostly limited to kissing instead of the bedroom scenes which dominate Kuzu no Honkai, is better in Netsuzou Trap.  Netsuzou Trap’s fanservice comes from a place of burning desires and raw feelings, a hearth of lust and passion, in comparison to Kuzu no Honkai’s fanservice which is largely bereft of passion and emotion as it’s just a way for characters to kill time and fill the voids within them.  While I’m on the subject of fanservice I just want give a quick shout out to Hajimete no Gal for breaking tradition and giving the loli the biggest boobs – 10/10 would fap again.  In retrospect those scenes from Kuzu no Honkai don’t feel all that impressive.  At the time they seemed like a promise that this romance would be different, would be a cut above it’s fellows, and once the show is robbed of such an illusion even the sex scenes feel like filler animation, something that moves and distracts the audience from the endless soliloquies.  Almost none of the sex and other fanservice featured feels like it has any weight or intensity, whereas Netsuzou Trap’s more modest fanservice captures both such sensations with ease.

In summary Kuzu no Honkai is a waste of time and if you saw it and liked some of the ideas in it then watch Netsuzou Trap.  Netsuzou Trap may not be as artsy or subtle but it gets way more done and has more emotional impact than Kuzu no Honkai ever did, and it does so in a much shorter time span.  Netsuzou Trap has better fanservice, a character arc and plot that you know, goes somewhere and concludes in a satisfactory matter, and actions that feel more genuine and have more realistic consequences.  Netsuzou Trap is not a great show but it is an enjoyable one, which is more than I can say for Kuzu no Honkai.  Now then, I do believe it’s time to pull up some more NTR – I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next.

Unpopular Opinion – Re:Creators

 

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Overall I would say 2017 has been a good year for anime.  KonoSuba season 2, Boku no Hero Academia season 2, Little Witch Academia, Youjo Senki, etc.  Overall a good year so far.  That being said it would be remiss of me not to include Re:Creators as one of the top 5 or so anime of the year.  I’ve already made 3 posts on Re:Creators here, here and here if you want more details before going ahead on this post.  There will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

Let’s start by addressing the show’s biggest weaknesses.  Sota, the male lead, is widely hated.  The mid-section of the show is considerably slower than early and later parts of the show, with only one or two noteworthy action scenes to break up long stretches of exposition.  Altair is OP as fuck and especially in the later episodes this detracts from the show.  I’ve already made a post concerning Sota so I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say he is, I think, unfairly maligned.  Many people called him the new Shinji Ikari and that was a good comparison, Shinji and Sota both have severe weaknesses which are only integral to their actions, or lack thereof.  The biggest difference between the two is the severity of the weaknesses and that Sota does overcome his shortcomings roughly halfway through the show.  Both characters suffer from issues we easily understand and they’ve both been thrown into conflicts they neither have the training to handle or ever wanted to sign up for.  I think Sota is a well written character, however I also find that I sympathized with Shinji and his weakness a lot more than I did with Sota.  Well written or not, Sota is annoying before he grows a pair – but once he does he becomes one of the most important factors in the overall conflict and is not in any way an annoying character.

Concerning the pacing, Re:Creators is mostly good.  Given the amount of set they had to do for the Birdcage Re:Creators could never have kept up the frequent combat and chaos of the early episodes and even during a lot of the “slow episodes” there is a lot going on to keep people engaged.  For example the episode which was dedicated to all the author’s originally collaborating on the Elimination Chamber Festival was a great way to study the Creators’ character more, something which was mostly untouched before that point.  The exposition-heavy episodes were by far the slowest but even they had a modicum of technical skill.  To the best of my memory all of the major exposition dumps took place in settings and contexts which naturally call for exposition – like government briefings or strategy sessions between the main characters.  Likewise the concepts being discussed were fairly complicated and meta and did require quite a bit of explaining.  That doesn’t really keep these episodes from feeling slow but at least I can appreciate they are just doing bullshit exposition in a cafe because the writers weren’t creative enough to weave the details in elsewhere.

Altair is one of the greatest weaknesses of Re:Creators.  She’s okay up through the middle section of the show, though the dichotomy between her utterly childish tantrums when she discussed her goals with Mamika and her usual gloating, cryptic lines was jarring.  But by the time she enters the Birdcage she’s just out of control.  She blocks almost every attack with no effort.  For basic attacks that’s fine but it’s stupid as shit when say Silesia uses a special dimensional cage move – a new power given to her as part of the preparations for the Elimination Chamber Festival – and Altair literally breaks out of it in less time than it took Silesia to cast the spell.  I mean come the fuck on, you have to have some kind of gap to make the move seem meaningful.  I think the problem is that the writers went in counting on Altair’s overwhelming power to provide all the tension for the battles in the Birdcage, and that’s not a bad plan as she is monstrously strong, but in my case it made me stop caring about Altair because she was never in any danger.  I would’ve been far more invested in the final battle  against Altair, if for example, Aliceteria’s final blow left her with a gaping wound but she continued to fight on anyway after killing Aliceteria.  But having Aliceteria have all this build-up and delivering a great hit only for the damage to be sent to Aliceteria was a major disappointment – not the OMG moment I assume it was intended to be.

In fact Altair was so OP both solutions the heroes used to defeat her were extremely meta rather than conventional.  First the included a sort of alternate version of Altair and attempted to have the alternate replace the original and thus remove the threat of Altair.  And when that didn’t work they convinced Altair to leave this world, and possibly universe, to create a new one where Setsuna survives.  Why exactly she is able to do this is not explained though I assume it’s the same reason Altair emerged in our world in the first place and could drag other characters out of their stories as well.  All that being said I do appreciate how much planning and effort the heroes put in to defeating Altair both by more conventional, i.e. buffing the characters on their side, and meta, as discussed above, means.  In fact the only thing I’m surprised they didn’t try was to have someone write an official Altair story in an attempt to limit her ridiculous powers – but then again what do I know about strategy?

Despite the past few paragraphs of mostly whining I think Re:Creators has a lot of strengths to make for it’s few flaws.  The characters are excellent.  As I said above, even though Sota is annoying early on, he’s still well-written, and he does a great job of redeeming himself by standing up to and eventually converting Aliceteria, and recreating Setsuna in the Birdcage to ultimately get Altair out of the picture.  How the Creations evolve by engaging with the world is something I’ve touched on before and I think they did a great job with it.  Taking fairly generic characters drawing stereotypically popular genres and media and then having them grow into more complex characters by confronting them with a more nuanced world was a great idea and one which the series uses to great effect.  Even characters like Hikayu, one of weakest examples of this, get to grow and show interesting sides to their personality and becoming more endearing to the audience.  Which given the importance of audience acceptance in the narrative is not only appropriate but a great example of the story concepts in action in real life – which seems pretty meta to me.

And I love all the details they put into the Creators and the scenes where they talk about being creative people.  Suruga’s rant to Blitz when he’s about to kill her, where’s she going on about the struggles of being a creative are pure fucking gold and I agree with everything she said.  Likewise the set of scenes where Marine sees Suruga bust out a great sketch in like 30 sec and runs out of the room to cry because she takes a long time to do her own artwork and thus losses confidence, and the part of the aforementioned rant where Suruga admits she thinks Marine’s art is way better than her own was one of my favorite moments in the show because it is so reflective of how a lot of creative people I know well and how I think as well.  They seriously nailed the Creators in this show and offered keen insight into the minds and behaviors of creative people.

The action scenes were also mostly fantastic.  They were actually what convinced me to watch the show.  I had originally skipped it but when the AMVs came out and I saw mechs vs magic and Personas fighting magical girls I knew this was worth my time.  Barring the examples I mentioned above the fights were a total blast to watch and some, like Silesia & Kanoya vs Charon were not just good fights but ended with immense dramatic payoffs.  Honestly I’m still amazed they had the balls to kill Silesia off 3 episodes before the finale.

Speaking of the finale, I thought it was a very nice touch.  Having Tanaka and Matsubara have talks about how they were busting their asses like never before because they weren’t sure if their stories were good enough for Aliceteria and Silesia after having met their respective princesses was a nice moment and making Meteroa stay in our world to attempt becoming a Creator herself was an interesting move as well.  The only thing which the finale lacked a scene where Magane, who is totally still in our world, shows up to troll Sota again out of the blue.  I don’t think such a scene would have fit the tone of the episode that much but it would have been a great addition in my book because Magane is Best Girl hands down.

That’s about all I have to say.  Re:Creators has a few notable flaws which hold it back but it was ultimately a very positive viewing experience and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone even mildly interested.  And if you’re a creative type yourself I think seeing this anime is a must.  Seriously that aspect of the show was really well done and I can only think of it as a treat and a tip of the hat to creatives everywhere.  Watch it.  I hope you enjoyed this fairly broad and general review – sorry about that but since I already did 3 more detailed posts I figured more of a general send off of piece would be a good way to go for this one – and I’ll see you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Kakegurui

 

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I’m honestly amazed I even made it more than halfway through this show.  There will be spoilers through episode 7 or so, you’ve been warned.

Kakegurui might have lured me, and most people, in with it’s cool OP, hot main girl and interesting visual effects which spiced up the gambling but that just isn’t enough to distract me from all the other bullshit going on in this show.  For starters why does this show even bother having Suzui in it?  He can’t gamble for shit, which is ostensibly what this show is all about, he has no interesting personality traits or skills which make him important in any way and he basically plays the role of shocked spectator and generic nice guy.  Which is to say he doesn’t at all fit this show which is full of bizarre, broken and edgy characters, and I think it’s safe to assume that his role is mainly to serve as an audience stand-in who Umeko can explain the various cheating tactics and counter strategies used by her and other players – not that they actually need a stand-in for that since Umeko confronts people about how they are cheating all the time and sometimes the cheater explains their strategy via soliloquy.

The gambling itself is also boring as shit.  None of the games being played are especially interesting so to me it would make more sense to just play normal games which the audience is more likely to understand and keep up with because less would be hidden.  Every game used in Kakegurui is more or less set up for the express purpose of cheating and sometimes manipulating the flow of money gained and lost outside of what is actually being bet.  The Life or Death sword game is a good example, the Life and Death rule only exists so that players can gain and lose more cash than they are actually betting and this game only works out in the dealer’s favor because the dealers have magnetic piercings to manipulate the placement of the swords.  I find this approach extremely counter-productive because it means we, the audience, have to be kept in the dark until the cheat is revealed.  To me it makes more sense for these characters to play normal games where more information is readily available and which players could actually win via careful strategy and good decision-making instead of just cheating and counter-cheating.  Also by not screwing with the amount of money being gained and lost characters would end up in their positions because of their own decisions and I think would ultimately make the characters more interesting.

Speaking of the characters, that’s where the show well and truly dies.  Umeko is captivating enough because of how hot she is and how crazy she is but she’s the only one who was ever even mildly interesting.  Everyone else, besides boring-as-fuck Suzui and the Student Council President – who is just this calm, cold maniac – is edgy as hell.  The whole house pet system is a giant fucking blight on the characters because it encourages everyone to be an edgy piece of shit who abuses anyone they have leave to abuse.  And the Student Council is a collection of nutjobs like a little girl who tells the blonde girl who was an enemy at first and the sort of becomes friends with Umeko that she better get good at pleasing older men or the straw which broke the camel’s back for me – the Russian roulette girl.  Jesus fucking Christ, I hated that character.  Her gambling episode with Umeko was awful and her screaming dialogue and leaking fluids everywhere drove me up the fucking wall.

And that dear readers is where Kakegurui ended for me.  After 7 episodes of bullshit games, run by bullshit characters, Umeko and the special effects were no longer enough to keep me interested.  The only game I even remotely like was the debt-swapping Indian Poker because not only was the opponent a total piece of shit but it also had the only character story I liked, the one where the girl is abused into a borderline comatose state of mind finally breaks out and tries to take one of her abusers down when she has the chance to do so.

Honestly I’m having trouble understanding why Kakegurui is so popular.  Is it the gambling?  I hope not the gambling wasn’t even good.  Is it the cheating?  I guess that could be interesting but for me personally I actually like it when cheating is juxtaposed with people who play by the rules and are just better at the game, rather than having every match be about how someone is cheating and how the main character overcomes the cheat.  To get an idea of what I mean you can check out this post where I compare No Game No Life and Mondaiji, because one of my biggest complaints with No Game No Life is that cheating was so integral to every match that it was never the twist it supposed to be – because it happened every fucking time.  But seriously where is the appeal of Kakegurui?  Is it just Umeko and maybe the Student Council President being hot?  Because it sure as hell isn’t the characters those were the worst part of the show.  Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Kakegurui.  There just isn’t a whole lot there and what is there is not very interesting.  Umeko and special effects look good enough to hook people in at first but they aren’t good enough to carry the whole show – which at this point, given the overall crap construction of this show, is almost what it seems like that’s what they were intended to do.

 

Unpopular Opinion: Avatar – The Last Airbender vs The Legend of Korra

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I know, I know some people don’t think Avatar counts as anime.  I respectfully disagree and I explained why here.  Honestly at this point arguments over whether Avatar should or shouldn’t count as anime aren’t that interesting to me.  A far more interesting one, and one which I see a lot less of is the question of how the two different Avatar sagas compare.  There will be spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

I feel like this particular comparison doesn’t get made enough or get taken seriously enough because while a lot of people have seen the Last Airbender, I’ve found that less people have seen Legend of Korra.  Moreover there is a tendency to automatically declare the Last Airbender the winner by way of nostalgia.  However I think the two are on pretty even terms, to the point where I can’t say with confidence which one I like better.  Let’s do an overview on their differences before I get into their particular strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest differences between the two Avatar sagas is their overall structure and the age of the main characters.  The Last Airbender is clearly aimed at a younger audience even if an older audience can fully appreciate it.  All of the characters are very young, they’re all low to mid teens even by the end of their journey.  The Legend of Korra is aimed at an older audience, the characters are young adults, at the very least they look at least 18 and most of them have jobs.  The age difference will inform a lot of tonal differences between the two Avatar sagas but I’ll get into that in more detail later.  The other main difference is their story structure.  The Last Airbender is one continuous tale, an epic adventure told in three parts as it were.  It lasts 61 episodes and during that time it is dedicated to one over-arching conflict, with plenty of subplots to spice up the journey.  The Legend of Korra is slightly shorter, clocking in at 52 episodes, and while all the seasons build on each other and are loosely tied together, each story covers it’s own distinct conflict.  Likewise the two sagas are broken up differently, the Last Airbender is broken into 3 books, while Legend of Korra is broken into 4 books.  Now onto the weaknesses of each.

Both Avatar sagas have a tendency to feature comedy and melodrama scenes which I can only describe as “it makes me cringe.”  I have a really hard time seeing earnest, likable characters make utter fools out of themselves and awkward juvenile romance has a similar effect.  The Legend of Korra is probably less of a problem on this front because the relationships feel at least more like late high school or college level romances, though the cringey humor is still a persistent problem. That said I do kind of hate how almost all of the cringey bits in Legend of Korra are dumped onto one character and thus makes me feel that he is woefully underappreciated whereas the Last Airbender spread those scenes around more, even if Sokka was where the source of the majority of those scenes.  The Last Airbender, because it’s one big story and the longer of the two sagas has more episodes which are one-off stories which may or may not matter.  Most of the less important one-of episodes happen early in the story, as the Last Airbender continues the more focused the story gets.  Legend of Korra on the other hand has more random problems related to each season, though the change in how Legend of Korra treats the avatar state is one of the most consistent problems, so I’ll describe those as I go.

Like their shared weaknesses, both Avatar sagas share some strengths.  The bending and fight choreography is excellent across both sagas.  Both sagas feature creative fighting tactics, awesome displays of raw power, and importantly, battles where the heroes are in no way in control.  Most battles in both sagas are struggles, Team Avatar rarely steamrolls anyone and sometimes they are forced to retreat or outright lose.  Likewise, even though bending is the main mode of combat various martial arts, beasts and tools can tip the balance in any fighter’s favor.  The settings of both stories are detailed and nuanced, though Legend of Korra involves a lot less traveling around meaning it’s settings generally get more attention while the Last Airbender does a better job of fleshing out the world as a whole.  Both sagas have a strong group of central characters and imposing villains as well.

I think what will determine which show you like more will ultimately come down to which of the two following things you find more interesting: A grand adventure story of epic scope and world shattering consequences wherein an underdog hero most overcome incredible odds to the save the day, or a series of conflicts full of a smattering of different ideas wherein an overdog must fight against powerful individuals for the greater good.  Personally I find Aang’s story more appealing when it comes to narrative, however I’m also a huge fan of the mish-mash of interesting ideas which color Korra’s story.  The fact that the Avatars are underdog and overdog in their respective sagas is a factor to consider as well.  This has a substantial effect on the nature of conflict in the stories.  In the Last Airbender Aang stands up to fight and defend key locations when he has to but most of the time he’s forced to run and fight another day.  In the Legend of Korra it’s the reverse, the bad guys try a plan and when it fails they’re usually the ones running.  Likewise in the Last Airbender it’s up to the heroes to be the inventive and creative ones to overcome the difference in power, tricking the bad guys to win the day, in the Legend of Korra the bad guys are the one’s being crafty and the good guys are frequently getting deceived.

Here I want to talk about the cons of the sagas.  The Last Airbender’s cons come almost entirely from the “cringe” scenes detailed above and occasional pointless episode, the only other real factor is that you might want older heroes because the Last Airbender’s are on the young end, younger than I typically like.  The Legend of Korra on the other hand has a collection of small problems in addition to the cringe.  I don’t like who they handled the spirits, it’s very inconsistent with some spirits being amazing or fitting into the tone the Last Airbender set for the spirit world and others are generic vague shapes of darkness.  The avatar state is another issue in the Last Airbender not only was it substantially more powerful but it also represented a loss of control and Aang had to undergo special training to master it.  Korra seems to be able to use the Avatar state at will despite no such training but it does little more than give her a decent power boost, she doesn’t lose control nor gain access to the same kind of power Aang did.  And this is the case both before and after her connection to the prior Avatars is severed so it doesn’t make sense.  Lastly, lightning.  In the Last Airbender it was the pinnacle of firebending and a skill few could use.  It’s used too much in the Legend of Korra.  It makes sense for a pro-bender like Mako to use lighting but somehow a random gang boss using lightning seems like a stretch.  It doesn’t help a bunch of electrocution tech is produced and used all over the place in the series as well.

Let’s talk advantages.  I think the Last Airbender has the better narrative and at least two of the best characters, Toph and Zuko, both of whom show up as old people in the Legend of Korra.  I think I also have to give Aang a slight edge over Korra because seeing her get tricked all the time isn’t quite as interesting as seen Aang trick other people all the time, though her being older is a plus.  As described above the Last Airbender is an underdog story and it takes place on an enormous scale.  My only real problem with the narrative is a lack of nuance, with only a few exceptions all the firebenders are bad and everyone else is good.  The narrative does justify this in broad strokes, it is after all a central conceit of the story that the Fire Nation attacked 100 years ago, but it would certainly be interesting if we got the perspective of a firebender who didn’t necessarily agree with what was going on but had little choice but to fight for his country, or something like that.  Iroh sort of fits that role but it’s not until deep into the first book that it becomes apparent.  It’s hard to say for sure but I think most of tactics used in bending battles are better in the Last Airbender as well, though the Legend of Korra has some interesting ideas of it’s own, mostly where unique or special benders are concerned.

The Last Airbender spent a lot of time fleshing out a huge, well constructed world.  It built distinct cultures and put a lot of detail into how the bending powers would shape the construction of cities, weaponry, cultures and events.  The Legend of Korra directly benefited from the pain-staking effort poured in from it’s predecessor, however it’s not slouch on the setting front either.  The Legend of Korra features a few new locations, most notably Republic City and Zaofu, the home of the metal bending clan.  In addition it shows how technology has advanced over the last few decades, how there’s now a professional bending sport, pro-bending, and many metal benders make the bulk of Republic City’s, a city Aang and Zuko co-found after the events of the Last Airbender, police force.

There’s also lot of focus on things that were created as a direct result of what happened in the Last Airbender.  For example, the main conflict of the first season of the Legend of Korra dealt with the tensions between benders and non-benders as a sizable faction of non-benders called the Equalists wanted to do away with bending entirely so everyone could be equal, you know like SJWs, dragging people down to establish “equality.”  That’s not a joke there’s even a non-bender guy Korra meets early on who whines about how oppressed he is by benders despite clearly having an education and freedom of speech without the threat of violence, at least until he pisses off Korra, it’s fucking prophetic.  And like the SJWs, the Equalists have their own militant movement that attacks benders and their main weapons are a mix of new tech and the chi-blocking technique invented by Tai Lee in the Last Airbender.

Likewise the children of the Last Airbender’s main cast play a prominent role, there are several stretches where they have to examine and work through familial issues they had and still have.  For example Toph’s two daughters, half-sisters born to different fathers, went down very different paths because Toph gave them all the freedom in the world in response to how her own parents were overly strict and controlling, and this caused them to clash and left a scar on their relationship. Which is something they have to deal with when the meet again in Zaofu because Korra had to go there.  As a side note because of this visit Korra does get to learn metal bending, something Aang never gets around to doing.  The Legend of Korra is chock full of stuff like this, some of it’s important and some of it’s a statue of the poor cabbage merchant who always lost his cabbages in the Last Airbender.

When it comes to the setting the only issue I have with the Legend of Korra is that it seems to be more willing to just sort of throw stuff out their and hand-wave it.  In the Last Airbender there was nothing that didn’t really make any sense, the result of all the work put into fleshing out the details.  In the Legend of Korra there’s nothing which breaks the story or which seems overly implausible, at least until we get to the spirit-vine powered Godzilla-sized robot in season 4 (not a joke).   But there are some things, central to the various stories that aren’t really explained either.  Like why does the water tribe have a method to calm spirits but no one else?  It could be that because the spirits founded waterbending, whereas various beasts invented the other bending disciplines, it has a special connection with spirits but no concrete answer is given.  Likewise why does merging the spirit and physical world suddenly grant all kinds of non-benders airbending?  It could have something to do with the energies of the spirit world recreating balance between the four elements, but again no concrete explanation.  None of these occurrences are really problematic but they are sort of reflective of how the Legend of Korra plays faster and looser with it’s rules, especially where the spirits are concerned.

It’s here that I think the case could best be made that the Last Airbender is the “better” story.  The Legend of Korra is willing to toss out all kinds of ideas and not flesh all of them out properly, or it will allow certain concepts and powers to be inconsistent to make them do what the story wants.  Though again save for the giant robot nothing strains the story overly much.  The Last Airbender features very few, if any such inconsistencies, the best example I can think of is the bending-sealing power the lion-turtle gives Aang because that was left unexplained.

However I also think this general process of throwing all kinds of ideas at the wall to see what sticks largely works out and could make the case that the Legend of Korra is the “better” story.  I’m a particularly big fan of season 3 where Korra is fighting a small group of anarchists three of whom have special bending and one of whom is a former non-bender turned airbender, and he’s really fucking good at airbending.  That season in particular had a lot of great battles and it gave the creators room to flex their creative muscles when it came to new moves and bending techniques.  However, while all the seasons are good, some are clearly better than others, and the worse ones can be harder to slog through.  That said even the lesser ones have nuggets of gold, like how season 2, my least favorite one has two episodes which take us back in time and explain how the Avatar and bending first came into being and that was awesome.

The other big advantage the Legend of Korra offers to me and people my age is that the characters are older.  Most of the characters are working jobs, and their’s plenty of involvement from characters from the generation born between Aang and Korra’s stories.  This serves as the foundation for a shift in how the two series handle romance, with much of the Last Airbender’s romance being awkward pre-teen nervousness, while the Legend of Korra plays around more with relationships and their problems, like how being overly focused on work can cause a relationship to fall apart.  The Legend of Korra also has a big focus on family because Aang and Toph’s kids and their children play such a prominent ongoing role across the four seasons.  As you might expect the message is overall a positive one but there is plenty of time spent on problems families can have and I think it’s a nice touch.

In summary, the Last Airbender offers a great world to explore, an epic adventure to follow and young heroes fighting impossible odds to save the world.  It’s great fun to watch, fleshes out the world and characters in great detail and offers a long story with a satisfying conclusion.  The Legend of Korra offers a more adult perspective on the world of Avatar and while it is less consistent and less consistently good it ultimately makes up for weak points by having especially good good additions and story concepts.  To steal the phrase from my Lord and Savior Digibro’s mouth, I think the Last Airbender is more consistently impressive but I think the Legend of Korra reaches both higher highs and lower lows.

Having just finished both back to back I think I slightly prefer the Legend of Korra.  I like the greater variety of interesting ideas and the all the details showing how the world, and key people in it, have evolved out of the Last Airbender.  I like that the characters are older and that we spend a lot of time focused not on the Avatar but the people around her, something not as present in the Last Airbender.  Also Asami is best girl across both series, though the Legend of Korra never gets a character quite as entertaining as Toph, at least not until Toph shows up.  The best qualifier I can give as to why I prefer the Legend of Korra is that it has more memorable moments for me.  Both sagas have plenty but it’s the little stuff that gives the Legend of Korra the edge, like when old Toph offhandedly says her daughters, the leaders of the two top metal bending organizations in the world, never really picked up metalbending that well.  Anyway I could go on and on trying to argue each and every little detail but doing that by myself would be exhausting write and probably to read as well so I’ll wrap up here.  If you’re interested in discussing either Avatar saga please feel free to leave a comment.  See you in the next one.

Unpopular Opinion: Keijo!!!!!!!!! – The Magnum Op-ass of Sports Stories

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I love Keijo.  Both the anime and the manga.  It is to date the best sports story I have ever followed and that will likely never change.  No doubt that sounds preposterous to most people, I mean it’s just a dumb ecchi show shoving ass and tits in your face constantly.  From what I’ve heard the anime bombed pretty hard and there is no doubt in my mind part of the anime’s failure lies in the perception of the show I detailed in the previous sentence.  There are of course other issues, most notably that it starts well into the story, skipping over the two exams, something many fans of the manga resent.  But I can’t help feeling like the main reason people who’ve never read the manga, which has to make up a larger audience base than fans of the manga, avoided Keijo because of how it was perceived; as dumb, trashy fanservice schlock that used a flimsy premise to get away with justifying itself.  That perception is so miserably wrong and the fact that it likely informs the mass opinion of the show is deeply frustrating because Keijo is so much more than it says on the tin.

Now in fairness it is also exactly what it says on the tin, there is a lot of fanservice, tits and especially ass is often shoved into the viewer’s face.  And all of this is justified by the premise, which contrary to popular belief is not in fact flimsy.  Keijo is, in my opinion, the most ingeniously conceived sport of all time, an argument I made in my last post on the subject and will make again here.  But before that point I want clarify a few things.  First off I will explicitly separate the manga and the anime in a few key areas but for the most part I’m going to be talking about them as one unified entity because I want to talk about Keijo in it’s entirety.  Secondly this is going to be long as shit because I have a lot of things I want to talk about.  And lastly this will get up to it’s tits in Keijo and since I will explain things in as much detail as I’m able, there will be spoilers everywhere.  Now that were clear on that let’s get going.

One thing I want to address right away is how things have changed since I wrote my prior review.  In that review I argued that the manga and the anime were of comparable quality largely based on the fact that, at the time, the manga’s ending was very abrupt.  Multiple sites listed chapter 86 as the final chapter of Keijo, and it remained that way for at least a week or two after the Keijo anime wrapped up, a chapter that cuts off right after Kaminashi won her match against Maya/Kaya, seriously the last panel was like her teammates throwing her into the air as a part of their victory celebrations it was jarringly abrupt.  Currently the  manga is now 147 chapters deep so that part of my earlier analysis is no longer valid.  The manga is now unquestionably better than the anime and if the show bombed as badly as I’m hearing then it will likely stay that way.  That said I will stand by my earlier stance that anime made some good edits to the manga, though it made some pretty bad ones too, and that the Maya/Kaya fight was far superior in the anime, which was huge because at the time that was THE final battle of series.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me lay out in simple terms why I think Keijo is the best sport ever conceived.  Ass and titties.  This may surprise you but I didn’t pick that phrase because I’m way into the fanservice, I am but that’s not the point.  I haven’t checked the data in years but I’m fairly confident in what I learned a couple Olympics ago, the most widely viewed women’s event was beach volleyball and it was first in viewership by an overwhelming margin.  This is not due to sex appeal alone but if everyone only watched for the athletic spectacle then the ratings should be less skewed in it’s favor.  Beach volleyball is fun to watch as a sport but it’s also a sport where we get to see women showing a lot of skin, and it has really good ratings.  Basically as the age old adage goes: sex sells.  This is important because one of the central conceits of Keijo is that the sport is so insanely profitable that talented athletes from all kinds of other sports come to Keijo specifically to make bank.  And evidence from reality supports that conceit via women’s beach volleyball.  This is indicative of one of Keijo’s greatest strengths as a story concept, the blending of grounded realism and insane shit you can only find in anime and manga.

One of the reasons I specifically avoid a lot of sports anime is because a ton of them are underdog stories and I’ve seen a million of those.  I don’t want to see some skilled but fledgling team fight against their own weaknesses as they work their way up to the big tournament.  Sports shows share much of the same tone and characterization as shounen stories and I’ll take a shounen show over a sports story any day where underdog narratives are concerned because I value spectacle.  A lot.  So when I see a sports show I want to see high level competition more so than underdog struggles, not that underdogs winning a big fight through hard work, toughness and willpower can’t be fun, but for sports specifically I’m much more interested in high level play.  To that end Keijo is the ultimate sports concept, a sport made of so much money that National and even Olympic level athletes from all kinds of sports will willingly abandon their sport of choice to get a shot at that Keijo money.  This means the baseline of everyone competing in Keijo is really, really high, which results in great spectacle.  Spectacle made all the better by the inventiveness of the ass and tits combat on display, and that was not a joke in the slightest, the combat is incredibly creative.

This setup has a few great boons.  As described above it is totally believable and helps to ground a series which is also chock-full of crazy shit like a character who can use Giga Drill Breaker from Gurren Lagann… with her tits.  Additionally it is a veritable goldmine of creative variety, a bottomless well from which characters of all stripes can be drawn.  In Keijo all the fighters are put into three basic classes, Infighter, Outfighter and Counter.  Infighters are heavy hitters, Outfighters are quick fighters, and Counters excel at using their opponents’ power against them.  However within those three classes there is a ton of variety and room for specialization.  Sayaka and Rokudo Rin for example are both Outfighters with excellent speed and they share the same Ass Gattling technique (a series of super quick attacks with dat ass).  However they have very different strengths.  Sayaka is judo champion who was slated to compete in the Olympics and is notably stronger than most Outfighters, in fact in the beginning she’s got more power than the Infighter Kaminashi.  Rokudo is a runner and she has incredible lung capacity and endurance.  Which is why in a straight Ass Gattling battle Rokudo would win because she can use it endlessly while Sayaka will quickly become tired and out of breath.  Which is why Sayaka switches her main move to the K-acceleration, a move which relies on bursts of intense speed and power, to overcome Rokudo.  Because that technique plays to her strengths as a fighter with a lot of power for her size.

This kind of variety and the resulting plethora of foils, characters who mirror or are diametrically opposed to the main characters, is present throughout the entirety of Keijo.  Kaminashi, our leading lady is an especially fascinating case study where these naturally varying body types and skill sets are concerned because she fits in multiple classes.  She isn’t especially large, Infighters are typically the largest athletes competing.  She isn’t especially strong, which is the kind of the point her class.  She is remarkably good at dodging or keeping her balance when she takes a hit.  Kaminashi would be a great Counter and in practice she wins her first two practice Keijo battles (both happen in the same round but the opponents are very different) by way of Counter-style moves.  If not for the fact she can use her flexibility and gymnastics moves to build up phenomenal force for her special attack, the Vacuum Ass Cannon, there would be no reason to treat her as an Infighter at all.  But her technique is so rare and powerful that it’s practically a sin for her not to fight as an Infighter especially since it has the promise of being a great way to get money.  Which is especially important to Kaminashi as she is dirt poor and has been her whole life.

I know I’ve mixed in some information on techniques which isn’t applicable until the story starts but what I’ve been trying to illustrate over the last few paragraphs is Keijo’s baseline state as a sport.  It’s a tits and ass battle sport fought on a wide variety of arenas, I forgot to mention that above, filled to the brim with incredibly talented athletes who come from all kinds of backgrounds and have all kinds of body types, strengths and skill sets upon which they can create their own Keijo-specific techniques.  And this sport is able to draw from such a varied and consistently talented pool of players because it has all the money for reasons which we easily understand and which mirror trends in reality.  It’s fucking genius and we haven’t even gotten to the actual narrative and characters who populate it.  As far as I’m concerned Keijo has already surpassed any other sport by virtue of how well constructed it is at the conceptual level alone and when competing against other sports stories the match is Keijo’s to win or lose.

Now I expect it to lose for a lot of people.  Because of lot of people don’t want fanservice getting in the way of their sports story (it doesn’t in Keijo but whatever I get the complaint), some people just shy away from fanservice in general, some people will prefer a show about a more realistic sport or a sport they play and some people won’t like the characters and narrative, or maybe they’ll just like another story more.  I do not expect everyone to love Keijo, but what I hope I’ve shown is what merits the sport alone has, divorced from any other elements which a person may or may not like, and that it should be recognized for the excellent craftsmanship on display.  In a genre where most shows and manga just draw from existing sports and can focus solely on characters and narrative, Keijo has created an original sport that not only works as premise for a story but which would work fabulously in the real world as well.  This is just the foundation block of the story but it’s such a great foundation and I’m sad so many people will overlook this because they saw ‘ass and tits fanservice romp’ and checked out.

Ironically enough I came into Keijo like all the people I’ve been decrying, I started with the anime and the attitude that it was going to be so shameless and trashy that I just had to get a look at it.  Then the first episode was great and I checked out the manga and fell head over heels in love with it.  Most fans of Keijo will tell you the anime was bad because it skips the first major arc, the exam arc, which includes a lot of character for the two main girls Kaminashi and Sayaka.  They aren’t wrong but most of the focus appears to be on Sayaka because she develops more explicitly over the course of that arc.  However, while it was stunted, I think the anime got the main thrust of her character story across, that she was a judo champion born to a judo family who felt no passion for judo whatsoever and left against her family’s and even the nation’s wishes, abandoning the sport by throwing her Olympic qualifier match.  There are some great details in the manga that don’t make it into the anime, like how the person she threw the match to got crushed in the Olympics, lost her confidence and how friends of hers try to sabotage Sayaka during the exam as revenge, but honestly Kaminashi was the one who got screwed.

Kaminashi’s closest equivalent from another big name show is Natsu from Fairy Tail.  She appears incredibly stupid and she says stupid or blunt things all the time, but it’s consistently shown that she can be and is incredibly perceptive about things which she actually gives a shit about.  This is shown to an extent in the anime but a lot of subtle changes make Kaminashi looker much stupider and more underdog-ish than she does in the manga.  For example during the Sayaka-Rokudo fight in the anime Kaminashi is confused as to why Rokudo is beating Sayaka in the battle of seemingly equal Ass Gattlings and Kawai, which as a side note is a great name for that character as it’s one letter apart from both kawaii meaning cute and kowai meaning scary and she’s both, explains the endurance thing I detailed above.  In the manga, Non who is consistently depicted as air-headed and kind of out place amid all these other athletes is confused by why Sayaka is losing and Kaminashi is the one who explains it.  I feel this is an especially bad change because one of the key facets of Kaminashi’s character is that she’s far more dangerous than most give her credit for.  This is especially true early on as she’s one of the least famous characters but even in recent manga chapters she proves that she has a good head on her shoulders and can compete with fighters ranked well above her.

But to get away from anime-manga comparisons the point is that I’m a huge fan of Kaminashi and I like the characters in Keijo.  I think the mangaka has made some weird decisions regarding some characters and given how many there are it’s easy for some to fade into the background but on the whole I like them and I really like some of them.  None of the characters outright suck or piss me off.  Which means the story only improves from the impressive foundation laid for it.  This is true of both the anime and the manga though obviously more so for the manga because it’s the better version now.  I want you to keep this in mind whenever I criticize either the anime or the manga because I will and it might look inconsistent.  I think both versions made some bad decisions but I am very fond of Keijo and none of complaints are about things which break or ruin the series, just things I don’t get or disagree with.

For the sake of getting it out of the way let’s do the manga vs anime comparison now.  The anime’s like an 8, it’s a good time and tells a full arc that functions as it’s own story.  I agree that the anime skipping the exams was disappointing but it was also practical.  Most arcs of Keijo last about 3 episodes and there occasional bits that fill time in-between arcs.  This means if the anime had covered both of the two exams plus the first few chapters and the gap between the exams they would end up with 8 or 9 episodes.  To fill 12 they would either have to bloat the episodes they had or end in the middle of the school training.  Both are bad options.   Keijo is pretty tightly paced, it crams in as much as it can from the manga in the time it’s given while still leaving time for the major battles to feel fleshed out and satisfying.  Slowing that pacing down could be done but it probably leave more episodes feeling boring or at least more boring stretches.  Ending in the middle of school would anti-climactic as fuck though so that’s not really a viable option either.  It’s an awkward position to be put in and I think the anime skipping ahead so that it could cover all of the school stuff and finish on the climactic East-West war battles was a good idea.  Or at least it would have been if the anime hadn’t bombed.

The anime also made a number of smart edits to the source material and some shit ones.  One of better ones was keeping Kaminashi in the UTM all time when was forced to wear it, whereas it came off frequently in the manga, I felt that it added a lot more character and made it seem like Kaminashi worked harder.  One of the worst edits was having the Kaminashi vs Fujisaki battle end with both fighters sliding around the circular ring super fast, that looked shit and it was probably the part of manga the anime adapted worst.  The most noticeable improvement the anime makes to the manga though is in the Maya/Kaya fight, the final battle of the East-West War.  In the manga not enough is done to distinguish Maya from her alter ego Kaya and Maya regains control of herself so quickly that it seemed like having split personalities is more of a cheap gimmick to draw out the fight than anything else.  The anime brings that fight to life.  Maya and Kaya have different voices and hair colors, their attacks have different lighting effects and very different sound effects and the anime really sells Kaya as this unrestrained brutal side of the quite and largely defensive Maya and because the Kaya part of the fight takes half an episode of anime it feels fleshed out compared to the thirty seconds it took to read in the manga.

Back when the Maya/Kaya fight was the conclusion I would’ve pegged both the anime and manga as 8s and called it a day.  Now that the manga has continued to other great fights it has reached 10/10 status, but I still remember the anime edition of the Maya/Kaya fight and I struggle not to include that version when I think about Keijo.  Because I have a lot to say about the story in both forms and like both, it’s difficult for me separate them when thinking about Keijo unless I’m specifically looking at what they did differently.  Now let’s look at the manga only problems.

I just said the manga was a 10/10 and that may baffle you.  That’s ok because you aren’t me and don’t necessarily know my thoughts but Keijo is the only sports story I spend a lot of time thinking about.  Even good stuff like Kuroko no Basket which I marathoned the shit out of are shows I don’t love to the point of constantly obsessing over them.  Keijo is a a show I constantly obsess over and I’d like to think that by now I don’t to need any “not just for the fanservice” jokes or lines because that’s clearly not the only thing going in this show nor is it even my primary interest in the show.  I mean if all wanted was fanservice I’d be writing about how High School DxD or HOTD were the best anime of all time and I totally should write about those two for fun, but that’s not why I’m here, not really.  With that in mind let the nitpicking commence.

One of the manga’s problems is it’s got a bunch of characters and concepts which just don’t go anywhere.  For example there’s Kaminashi’s childhood friend who wants to fuck her, the male Keijo engineers, the hints of a shitty love triangle between the childhood friend, Kaminashi and this male-tsundere engineer.  But that’s minor shit.  The decisions which really bother are regarding Ooshima and Naka.  Ooshima is the less important of the two so let’s start with her.  Ooshima is this big volleyball player and National level athlete and she becomes friends with Sayaka and Kaminashi during the 2nd exam and she’s featured pretty heavily during that arc and she shows up for a few minor scenes in the school arc.  She’s an Infighter who’s main advantage is her size and the power that comes with it and she losses all relevance in the manga after she loses during the class advancement battle to Vajrass girl (I don’t remember her name but her technique is Vajrass aka Ass of Vajra, basically taking hard ass to a literal extreme).  Why cut her there?  Vajrass girl is not that important, she may be one Setouchi’s, the school, top ten fighters but that just means she will fight in the East-West War.  She has a mannish character design and sort of rough, ascetic Buddhist slant to her character.  But outside of her technique and design she’s utterly unmemorable and barely relevant to the story.

Why not just have Ooshima take her place?  You could even have Ooshima learn the Vajrass during the training arc between the class advancement battles and the East-West War.  Ooshima was never really a major character even we saw her a lot but at least she has a personality, a clear backstory, a history with the leading ladies and I remember her goddamn name.  I mean Vajrass girl’s most memorable scene is the class advancement battle, which is better in the anime anyway cause she beats out the two Infighters before losing to Non the airhead with a soft ass and arguably the best Counter we know whereas in the manga she loses to Non right away then Non just sort of wins off-screen.  I just don’t see the point of having two irrelevant characters when you could just combine them into one minor character.  Yes the Vajrass has a Buddhist component that isn’t in character for Ooshima but just have her learn it from a monk during the training arc, I mean they go to Kyoto for training why not just include a grizzled old monk guy who teaches her how to toughen herself up and she creates the Vajrass.  I mean Aoba Kazane uses a pyramid shaped ass technique that comes with ridiculous dodging which she describes as Egyptian sorcery (she stole the technique by feeling up a mummy’s ass because she can copy the techniques of any butt she touches) and one girl in a recent chapter uses Ass Incense she got from the African side of the of family to create illusions and basically turn feral so it’s not like having a monk teach Ooshima about body hardening would be too weird or out of place for Keijo.

This problem is only exacerbated when it comes to Naka.  Naka is one of the most interesting characters in the Keijo manga.  Something I forgot to mention while describing how Keijo makes bank is that it’s a gambling sport, so legally speaking all the combatants have to be adults.  They don’t do much with this in the anime and it doesn’t even play that big a role in the manga with one glaring exception, Naka.  Naka is a mom and it’s unclear exactly how old she is though you’d expect low 20’s to low 30’s.  Naka is also a former delinquent bike gang leader who despite her kind and motherly demeanor can get mean, and scare and roast the shit out of anyone she doesn’t like.  In addition to being one of the most interesting characters by way of being older and having a complicated past and life Naka is notable because for a while she has the biggest titties in the show and they are her weapon of choice, whereas most Keijo players focus more heavily on their ass as their primary weapon.  She was also present in the first exam as minor character and was a major character during the second exam.  Why the fuck did they cut her from the manga?

It’s weird.  They just have her marry an engineer and cut her from the story entirely.  Poof, she’s gone.  What I have to wonder is why?  There’s plenty of room for her in the story.  One of Setouchi’s top 10 is so ill defined and unused I don’t remember her name or her technique, I just know that she losses immediately to the twins in the East-West War, why not just give her spot to Naka?  More importantly during the Funabashi arc, especially the final battle, wouldn’t it have made more sense Naka to end up in the final round fighting with Kaminashi against the Funabashi fighters ganging up on them?  Naka clearly has the attitude and toughness that would compel and allow her to throw down on a gang of girls who trick and team up on outsiders and the leader of the Funabashi group is Don Kosugi, who like Naka has huge tits and fights with them almost exclusively.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cut Kazane’s Egyptian sorcery bullshit and have Naka fight Don Kosugi, before losing a tit battle thus giving Naka a reason to either retire or train harder and get better, before Kaminashi finishes the fight?  She even would’ve been good to feature during the class advancement battles, because she could have been required to fight Kogatana, who uses boob iaijutsu (sword drawing techniques), and they could have had Naka’s boob volume overcome the boob-draw and get her into the top 10.  So what gives?

Honestly it’s not even like my nitpicks are about Keijo being badly written.  Some of that stuff is unimportant and goes nowhere but nothing I’ve spent the last couple paragraphs whining about breaks the story.  They just represent missed opportunities and I don’t understand why you’d miss those opportunities.  I have no idea if these decisions came from the author, an editor, someone on the business end of things or some combination thereof.  I also have no idea if it’s just because the story wasn’t carefully planned out and characters were discarded before anyone involved knew what to do with them.  It just bugs me because it seems like a waste, especially where Naka is concerned.   Another minor issue I have is that a few characters seem to fly in the face of the high level athlete thing I mentioned.  Non in particular is weird because she’s characterized as clumsy, which you’d think that would preclude her from competing even if no one can beat her soft ass counter.  I like Non and I still think it’s weird.

Anyway let’s cut back to one of Keijo’s strengths, creative combat.  Back towards the top I spent a while talking about the realistic elements of Keijo and those will still be relevant here but this is mostly about the crazy shit.  As a result of the varying backgrounds and skill sets everyone has their special techniques which make them standout and a lot of these techniques are either insane or are borderline superpowers.  That’s not to say there aren’t grounded techniques, Butt on Titan for example is a basic bum rush, pun intended, from a really fat character.  Most of the techniques though are either flat out ridiculous or are based on realistic ideas and then taken to unrealistic extremes.  Sayaka’s K-acceleration for example is based on actual physics, but I’ve yet to meet someone who goes from really fast to borderline teleportation fast just by giving themselves a wedgie.  I’m not complaining mind, I think Keijo strikes a great balance between having elements grounded in reality to make the show make enough sense while also including enough crazy shit to make it over-the-top and fun.  It helps that a number of special attacks are great references like Shoryucans, Giga Tit Breaker, Butt on Titan and Gate of Bootylon, which incidentally was better animated in the Keijo anime than the Gate of Babylon was in UBW.

Keijo is perfect aware of how silly it is and can allows itself to be silly in earnest and not take itself too seriously.  This is good because sometimes shows can’t even get that right.  But the fact Keijo does this while also incorporating realistic elements to excellent effect almost makes me wonder how people can even consider this just a dumb fanservice show.  I mean I know why, they judged the book by it’s cover or a plot synopsis and then looked down their noses at it without digging into the glorious genius that is Keijo.  And that’s not entirely their fault but it does frustrate me some as a big fucking fan to see how underappreciated this series is for shallow reasons.

Anyway back to the action.  The tits and ass action of Keijo is excellent.  There are tons of creative tactics, attacks, super-moves, and arenas to spice up any match.  The arenas range from simple discs to discs covered in mud or water to giant jungle gyms to fucking Edo castles and Spanish galleys.  There are a ton of different kinds of techniques with plenty of fighters choosing techniques which affect the mind.  The physical stuff covers everything you can think of.  I’m not kidding, Kawai has a style that uses precision strikes to key areas to drop her opponents borrowing pages from boxing and wrestling, I dare you to question Keijo’s creativity.  Tactics also play a large role not just in battle but also in developing techniques.  Kogatana just went through an arc where her boobs were suffering damage from overuse and Kaminashi straight up invents a technique for her based on sword-stealing, which I’ve seen in enough anime to wonder if it’s an actual thing in kendo/kenjutsu or if anime is yanking my chain on this one.

I could easily keep going into more and more detail but honestly unless someone wants to talk to me about Keijo, and if you do please a comment cause I will be on that shit, I think I’m done here.  Given that this is about the length of an average 5 page college essay I think I’ve communicated what Keijo has to offer, what aspects of it’s construction are good and why I think Keijo is legit the best sports story I’ve ever seen.  If you made it this far I’d love it if you say something in a comment, even a ‘I think you’re totally wrong because…’ because I would to debate or discuss specific scenes or trends in detail but I’m running out of steam for this particular post.  Thanks for reading, I hope yo liked it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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