Unpopular Opinion: Medaka Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unpopular Opinion: Kuzu no Honkai

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You know I usually like to wait for an anime to finish before I review it, but the latest episode of Kuzu no Honkai has convinced me it’s not worth the wait.  I still maintain my earlier statements about the show, namely that’s the most interesting romance anime I’ve seen in years, but that interest is no longer particularly positive.  It’s not all that negative either, mind, but compared to before it’s a downgrade.  There will be spoilers, you’ve been warned.

Kuzu no Honkai had two major selling points, it disregarded all the usual anime romance baggage and skipped straight to the bedroom, and it returned to the bedroom with surprising frequency, and most of the main characters were either terrible people or in the midst of very self destructive behavior.  For this the show still has my attention and I do hope other romances learn from Kuzu no Honkai and get some couples in bed.  But honestly I’m bored with whatever narrative Kuzu no Honkai was trying to tell, and given the aimless rambling of the show overall I’m not sure it ever had much vision or direction to begin with.  But before I dig into that I want address certain me-specific complaints have nothing to do with technical skill in writing or animation, because context is important despite what morons on the internet may think.

Kuzu no Honkai is not for me.  Even disregarding any technical problems it has I have a hard time rooting for anyone in the twisted love tree filling out the series.  Ecchan has my allegiance more than anyone but she’s hardly given the time needed for to be really interesting as a person instead of just being the hottest girl and also a lesbian, making her best girl by default.  Ostensibly I should be projecting myself on Mugi but fuck that guy.  I don’t get him at all, his only characterization that I have any connection with at all is how he doesn’t want to fuck the blonde girl with twintails who wants his D because they’re childhood friends and he doesn’t want to ruin her purity or special-ness, for lack of a better term.  I get that.  But loving broken, weak and manipulative girls, loving someone even more after see how they cynically use their assets to fulfill their shallow lifestyle?  Get the fuck out of here.  I’m not just disconnected from Mugi’s desires, they actively turn me off in a big way.  Likewise I sort of like Hanabi and vaguely want to root for her but the love of her life is totally boring.  Kanai is abysmal, he’s a bland boring fuck who can be boiled down to generic good guy A, and the fact he serves as a big brother figure to Hanabi makes the whole thing one step removed from the incest romances popularized by OreImo, and fuck that garbage.  At least she actually likes a good person, that’s a step up from Mugi.  That’s enough ranting for now, let’s get technical.

Kuzu no Honkai is kind of balls at pacing.  The passage of time is largely unclear, for example I had no idea Mugi and Hanabi hadn’t seen each for months because until Hanabi said so in a random cafe scene, there were no details establishing that at all, and it’s common for episodes to suddenly cut to dramatic or emotional moments out of nowhere without always explaining how the characters got to that point.  As a man who struggles with getting from point A to point B in a story despite having really well defined points in his own narratives, or rather attempted narratives, I feel this in particular is a weakness.  I appreciate the desire to just cut to the scene you really want to show, but if I thought that was good enough I’d have finished a fucking book by now.  But what exacerbates the problem is that feels like the show isn’t going anywhere.  Characters have random sexual encounters and some make deliberate moves on other people but a lot of the time they just seem to be listless and directionless.  There’s too much going on that never goes anywhere meaningful.  It’s like watching filler if filler looked decent and was low key.  This isn’t helped by the characters.

Most of them suck.  They generally range from boring to deplorable, and not deplorable in the fun if dark sense employed by Youjo Senki, but deplorable as in people I really don’t like for their shallow or twisted values.  The twin tail girl is obnoxious and serves no purpose, she poses no threat to Hanabi, let alone Akane, where Mugi is concerned and she has nothing to teach either main character about themselves.  Likewise Ecchan has that weird cousin who wants to bone her (gross) and has a persistence that is outright annoying making him come off as a pain in the ass if not a creep.  Again he doesn’t pose any threat to Hanabi’s relationship with Ecchan and he teaches Hanabi nothing she hadn’t already figured out for herself.  Then there’s the random dude who used to fuck Akane and wanted to fuck Hanabi, again almost entirely useless and a total waste of time.  He was only interesting in so far as Hanabi considered trying to win his affection to get back at Akane, but that didn’t happen so what’s the point?

I suppose you could argue the directionless, listless feel and story are reflective of how confusing teenage and young adult romance can be, but it’s fucking boring.  Like if the Hanabi actually made a serious move regarding the random guy I was just talking about and it had some kind of impact on her as a character and to the narrative, it would be good, but nothing happens.  Which is where episode 11 comes in.  Episode 11 has more character development on it’s own than the lion’s share of the show and it really got me thinking that Hanabi and Mugi were the wrong people to cast as main characters.  I mean it’s pretty simple what happens, Kanai clumsily bulls his way forward and somehow, perhaps because he’s the first saintly good guy to go for her, wins Akane’s heart.  For Mugi and Hanabi all that does is put an end to their crushes, which is something Hanabi has already gone through at this point.  I guess Mugi and Hanabi can hook up for real now but why bother?  They haven’t been romantically involved for months and Hanabi seems to have zero passion for Mugi at this point.  And unless this season is a split cour or double cour, then they’d only have one episode to get together anyway.  Seems like a weak romance story to me.

Kuzu no Honkai should have been about Akane.  I mean given how much screen time she has I think you can already argue that she’s more of a main character than Hanabi, but that’s what the show should have been.  What if Kuzu no Honkai was presented from Akane’s point of view?  What if it was about her fucking all these guys over the years in her aimless attempts to feel good and find some sort of human connection, which she somehow finds in Kanai?  You could even have Hanab still play a substantial role, this time as someone actively trying to keep Akane away from Kanai because she think’s Akane isn’t good enough for him.  I think you’d have a far more interesting show, one where all the sex is relevant to character growth rather than a gimmick.  Because that’s how I think it’s been used by and large.  It’s new and I’ve no doubt many others are happy to see characters with functioning sexual relations, but outside of a few rare exceptions it seems more like eye candy than anything else at this point.  However in a story about Akane, told from her perspective, the fucking would be extremely relevant to the narrative and to her character.  And I say all this with extreme confidence because Kuzu no Honkai has slowly and steadily declined for me since episode 2 when Hanabi and Ecchan get in some lesbian action, with episode 11 serving as the only exception to that trend.  It’s the best the show has been in months and possibly the best it’s ever been.

Setting Akane aside, what assures me that Kuzu no Honkai will be end poorly is that where the fuck else can it go at this point?  As discussed before Mugi and Hanabi have drifted apart, and I can’t see them hooking back up for an episode as anything other than failure.  Moreover it’s annoying to have Mugi get so much screen time in last few episodes compared to Hanabi, because I’d rather root for her and I like her more and I think her story could have been much more interesting if we weren’t forced to follow Mugi’s hopeless twisted love story.  I think another thing Kuzu no Honkai fucked up was the Ecchan summer house episode, that should’ve happened after Mugi went off to chase Akane for months, because then maybe, just maybe, Ecchan and Hanabi could’ve justifiably become a couple, something I’m far more interested in than any other relationship in the show, and not just cause gay girls (though that is a bonus), because they’re the two people I like most in the show as people.  Hanabi could have her expectations dashed by Mugi, who flees the intended plan to try and keep Akane being a shallow, manipulative slut (for the record that’s how the describes her, I’m not hating on her right now, I think she’s actually had the funniest scenes and lines the show)… because for whatever reason that’s what he’s into.  And in having her plan with Mugi ruined, Hanabi could have sought shelter in Ecchan like she did earlier in the show, but this time it could’ve developed in something genuine and lasting, not a one night stand.

All this is to say that Kuzu no Honkai has been a total mess.  It threw all kinds of bedroom scenes at us to keep us distracted from the fact the story has been pretty shit.  It’s had it’s moments from time to time but overall it’s been a boring, aimless little tale.  Also the soliloquies have gotten especially awful in later episodes and some of the dialogue is similarly terrible.  So few of the characters are given time to be interesting and of those with time most of them squander it on pointless scenes and sideplots which never amount to anything.  As a general rule I don’t like to complain about wasted potential very often.  By and large I find it a misguided criticism that attacks a work for not being something rather than judging what it is.  But Kuzu no Honkai has been so directionless as a narrative, so vague in it’s intent that I feel this is a good case for the “wasted potential” complaint, because more so than anything else what this show needs to succeed is some kind of vision.  Kuzu no Honkai is little more than a jumble of characters and ideas with nothing binding it all together, nothing making a narrative out of the disparate narrative elements.  This really is the essence of wasted potential, it’s a show that does nothing with the tools it’s  been given, rather than a show which just didn’t do what I wanted it to do.  And for that reason, I’d be fucking floored if this series ends on anything other than a “meh” note.  I’m certainly out of fucks to give for the show.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Tone Shifts: Why Youjo Senki is my Top Anime of Winter 2017

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I know what you’re “supposed” to do is wait until the end of a season to tell everyone what you’re favorite show was but fuck rules, or even guidelines, because I already have my winner.  And I don’t say that lightly, this is a pretty fucking solid season of anime we’re talking about here and I fully expect that most people will totally disagree with me.  Hell I’m inclined to disagree with me, considering I’m pitting Youjo Senki against KonoSuba season 2, which is the most consistently hilarious show I’ve seen in a long time.  The following will be full of spoilers for a bunch of currently airing shows, you’ve been warned.

Like I said this is a solid season of anime.  Masamune-kun no Revenge is a cut above you’re normal slice-of-life romcom.  KonoSuba is fucking hilarious and even Gabriel Dropout has been pretty funny even if it’s been pretty inconsistent.  Kuzu no Honaki is the most interesting romance drama I’ve seen since Kimi ni Todoke season 1.  Little Witch Academia is a constant source of feel-good charm that I can hardly find anywhere and we’ve even got the low key but stylish as fuck ACCA.  However I think the crown jewel of the season is undoubtedly Youjo Senki.  Youjo Senki episode 8 is definitely the episode that heralded the sudden upsurge in my interest in my opinion of the show, but looking back the thing which made that episode stand out so much, a radical tone shift, was already present throughout the show albeit to far lesser degrees.  What this means, in short, is that I think Youjo Senki is probably the most well rounded show of the entire season, and going by episode one you’d never fucking guess that would be the case.  Let me break this down in more detail.

For those who haven’t seen Youjo Senki, it’s about an alternate world’s WWI with a few major differences, the most obvious being magic.  The lead character is a 12 year old girl named Tanya, or at least that’s what they look like.  In reality our main character is a 30-something (I assume) asshole of a man from our world who was reincarnated in this alternate world as a 12 year old girl as a trial from God or Being X as our main character calls him.  Our 12 year old girl, who has incredible magic power, with the brain of his former 30 year old self signs up for war to get a comfortable life as an officer and thus defy God because this trial was meant to convert him into one of the faithful by putting him in dire circumstances.  If you made through the last couple sentences without going “huh? or WTF?” then consider me impressed, this is a pretty fucking weird premise.  However as I’ve explained before premise is cheap, execution is what really matters and for the most part Youjo Senki has been able to pull it’s unusual premise off well.  And almost none of this present at all in episode 1, barring the interesting setting, episode one makes Youjo Senki look like an edgy action show that relies on shock value and explosions to sell itself.  Now it is that in part, but there’s so many other elements woven in that the edginess is a side note and doesn’t distract me in the slightest.

The main reason is that Youjo Senki includes a wide variety of scenes and tones, so much so that many of the worst ones easily get lost amid the all the shit happening, a trend made possible in part by the fact that the good scenes far outnumber the bad.  The biggest detractors from Youjo Senki are that it’s edgy, the art is definitely on the uglier side and episode 3 with the mad scientist was a goofy mess.  But Youjo Senki gets past it all.  Because it also delivers on major battles, solid strategic theories and discussion and even some fascinating changes to WWI.  In direct opposition to a show like Kuzu no Honkai which  consistently drives me insane by providing me with things I love and hate next one another with every episode, Youjo Senki is perfectly content to jump around and tell whatever kind of story it wants.  Because for all edgy action of episode 1, the action almost disappears completely until episode 5 with only one major exception.  On the whole though Youjo Senki is mostly fun, thanks to it being violent, funny and utterly insane.  Remember Tanya not only has had the mind of thirty year old from modern era since birth, she’s had the mind of thirty year old without a scrap of empathy for other people.

Jumping over to Masamune-kun no Revenge for a minute, what makes it more fun than the average high school romcom is that the main couple are both deplorable.  Masamune has devoted himself to being fit and becoming a hot guy just so he can date then dump Adagaki Aki.  He basks in the attention he gets for being hot but his behavior is decidedly shallow and his goals, while somewhat satisfying, are spiteful.  Adagaki on the other hand is horrible because she’s a bossy bitchy girl who humiliates any boy who comes her way.  She makes this even worse when shes says something to Masamune about how it hurts to get rejected (he had just rejected another girl’s advances) despite the fact she goes out of her way to reject people in the most painful way possible and somehow doesn’t see the dissonance between her actions and her sentiments.  Youjo Senki takes the deplorable main character thing and the goes to it’s extreme end point, someone who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone and will condemn people to miserable lives and later thousands of innocents to death for the sake of efficiently getting the next promotion.

Tanya’s shtick in both her current and previous lives is that she finds the easiest way to get a comfortable life by following and exploiting rules, first corporate rules and later military rules.  And she does a great job of showing how fucked up ordinary humans can be if they just follow the rules without injecting their own moral and emotional judgement into a situation.  What makes this interesting though is that Tanya is not punished for behaving this way.  Sure we know she’s a psychotic piece of shit, and she hasn’t gotten the easy life she wants, but she has swiftly risen up the ranks and garnered the attention of her ultimate superiors.  What’s more her ruthless approach works, her unit has been instrumental to several fronts already and her thesis on how to attack cities without holding back while still conforming to international law has already drastically altered tactics on both sides regarding cities, I’m sure the Republic (France) won’t attempt to use a city as a shield to delay the Empire (Germany) again.  Again and again Tanya proves that her ruthless tactics and exploitation of the rules are effective especially because she has knowledge about world wars that no one else does.  However amid all of this I have one problem with the label of “the Evil” for Tanya.

That may surprise you because Tanya is almost cartoonishly evil, she’s a ruthless murderer, has no empathy for other human beings and has no qualms condemning thousands of noncombatants to die.  But while all those things make her a criminal and villain she’s not evil in the sense that she’s working with the “bad guys,” because that implies that one side in the conflict is the morally superior.  There is no such side though and that brings to one of the biggest problems I have with other people talking about the show.  The consensus I’ve seen thus far is that the Empire and Tanya are representative of the Nazis and therefore are evil.  I disagree. Vehemently.  Remember this is WWI, not WWII and the Empire’s behavior has not at all resembled that of the Nazis (hell they even have the same gear and spiked helmets of the Prussian troops in WWI), the closest they get is when bomb Arene thanks to Tanya’s thesis but even that was clearly an outlier and surprised people on both sides (and that wasn’t even a Nazi thing so much as paradigm shift all sides adhered to in WWII).  In fact in this world, the Empire was invaded by the Republic and save for the invasion of Norden and the Entente Alliance, the Empire’s strategy is defensive.  In fact it parallels the Late Roman Empire’s strategy during the Hunnic invasions and subsequent barbarian migrations, to set up weaker border forces which would delay enemy invaders who would then be crushed by an elite mobile force.  The idea that the Empire is somehow the “bad guy” of the war is ridiculous, the only country which could consider them as such is the Entente Alliance because the Empire was the aggressor on that front.

In fact if anyone is evil it’s Being X who is actively fucking with people’s minds and free will to accelerate the war and put more pressure on Tanya.  I think the main reasons people think of the Empire as evil is because, it’s Germany, Tanya is on their team and they’re winning.  But even in episode 1 when Tanya kills an entire company of mages, she did that in response to the fact said company had just wiped out the people she’d been sent to save.  Tanya personally handled things the way she did to get a promotion, but with the exception of Arene the Empire is having the same things done to it as it’s doing to others, it’s not the bad guy here because their is no bad guy here.  And if you examine WWI history it’s the same story.  Most of what caused the war was just momentum created by a complex web of alliances and all the major powers trying to maintain a power balance that was beginning to crumble.  Almost none of the highest authorities on any side actually wanted WWI to become the enormous conflict it did, things just spiraled out of control.  I hope that when Anson Sioux re-enters the conflict this dynamic will be shown better, that regardless of whether the individual is a good person like Sioux or a total bastard like Tanya, both sides are by large doing the same terrible shit to each other and the Empire is not representative of the Nazis and is not evil.  That said so long as you understand that, I think it’s fine to call Tanya evil.

Because yes Tanya is awful but for the most part she’s awful in entertaining ways.  One of my favorite scenes was at the end of episode 5, when after defeating the invading Dakian army (props for having them mirror the pathetic performance of Romania in WWI), Tanya talks like a five year old while informing Dakia that’s she’s going to blow up their weapon’s factory, a move that disguises her attack as a prank while still conforming to international war laws.  It’s fucking hilarious and utterly effective, no one bothers to evacuate and everyone working at the factory perishes as she and her men blow it to shit.  And the attack on Orse fjord was a blast to watch because of the rigid tactics and strict deadlines outline to pull off the ambitious amphibious assault.  Watching people kick ass and take names is generally a fun time, the fact we’re focusing on a character who is so awful just adds a little spice to mix.  She’s curb stomping everyone who gets in her way and it’s pretty cathartic because sometimes that’s what we all want to be able to do, just crush whatever annoys us and get onto enjoying an easy life.  Sometimes we all want to be assholes so long as we get away with it.

But despite how blatant Youjo Senki can be, see Tanya for details, it can be surprisingly versatile.  Youjo Senki rarely has long battles, instead most battles are payoffs to previously tense strategy briefings as Tanya has to navigate the desires of superiors as much as possible while still being mindful of the supply situation and benefits of any given strategy.  Many of the strategies involved are complex military maneuvers and it can be a satisfying to see these complex plans come together.  In addition the show includes people who even Tanya hates to work with, mainly the mad scientist Dr. Schugel, and how she behaves when she isn’t allowed to just beat the shit out of this person she doesn’t like.  The show’s tone shifts frequently to match the wide variety of scenes and scenarios Tanya finds herself in. But the real clincher was episode 8 because it takes the most drastic tone shift of the series.  In episode 8 it looks for a bit like one of her troops killed himself.  I admit I was a little disappointed that that didn’t end up being the case because it seemed like a great tone shift especially with the change to a more haunting ED following a shot that looked like the gun switching to face the shooter.  However this was still a great shift in that this was the first time Tanya’s soldiers balked at her orders and the sudden change in war doctrine brought on by her thesis, and they didn’t even know it was her thesis which caused Arene to burn.

Soldiers who had previously made defeating enemies a sort of informal sport among the group were suddenly horrified enough to confront Tanya about it, or at least were so distracted by the implications of what they were doing in Arene that they made mistakes they usually wouldn’t.  This once again shows that the Empire is not evil, most of the soldiers are just people fighting for their homeland and in the process they have to do evil work.  Tanya is the only one deserving of the title the Evil.  And for the first time multiple soldiers under Tanya’s command really have to grapple with that.  Ironically though Viktoriya, in the very next episode, uses the same kind of heartless rule-centric logic that Tanya thrives on to assure her comrades that all responsibility for the evils of Arene lie with Tanya.  I find this comment especially interesting because it hints at the potential punishment for Tanya later down the road, that her own reliance on the rules and exploiting them may be used against her, and the dangers of that mindset which has thus far only been shown to be effective if entirely fucked up.

Another great contrast is last season’s Shuumatsu no Izetta because that show shares many similar elements but focuses on main characters who are selfless and idealistic, people who fight to change the status quo regardless of the hardships endured.  That show also showed the dangers of that mindset, specifically that the political reality of a situation might lead a country to betray and kill it’s own hero and how a betrayed hero may come back with a vengeance.  I know this isn’t that relevant but I think it’s a happy accident that both these shows came out in such close proximity and have been great, as they do provide an excellent contrast to each other.  Let’s wrap this up.

Put simply Youjo Senki does a lot of tone shifts.  Sure there are edgy scenes scattered throughout the current nine episodes but they are mashed in with a ton of goofy scenes, cool action scenes, lot’s of strategic talks about war and military theory, political intrigue, and even some scenes which are just really fucking funny.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like you’re cup of tea, maybe it sounds too inconsistent or chaotic or whatever.  I disagree.  I think what Youjo Senki has managed to do with all of it’s myriad tone shifts is soften the rough edges of it’s worst parts while gaining the strengths of most of the other shows I named up above.  It may not be KonoSuba funny but there are a few scenes that come close.  Episode eight had more drama than Kuzu no Honkai.  It’s got more action than any other currently airing show I’m aware of.  It has world building and political intrigue on par with (and in my opinion surpassing) ACCA.  Youjo Senki is for my money the best show of the season because it does a little bit of almost everything and in most cases it succeeds at whatever it’s doing.  Sometimes it does edgy scenes of Tanya smiling like a lunatic while sending off uncooperative subordinates to die while making it look like an accident.  And sometimes it communicates how traumatic war can be for soldiers, even the ones that are winning.  The show has it’s problems but they are so small and brief and the show moves past them so quickly that they have hard time marring the overall experience.

Youjo Senki has, I think, made some of the key traits of many of the other good shows of the season into it’s strengths and mitigated it’s weaknesses through it’s willingness to change tone so frequently.  It has the versatility to be a popcorn flick in one episode and startlingly powerful drama the next episode, all while being a very interesting take on WWI with regards to the changes in politics and tactics during the war.  I love it, and after reading this, hopefully you do too.  Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.