Unpopular Opinion- SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

GGO2

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.

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Unpopular Opinion: Fuck Fate

Twisted_Lancelot

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 they 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.

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 preexisting 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 King 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.

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.

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, that it 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.