Welcome To My Palace-Filled Nightmare (My Experience With Persona 5 Thus Far)

**DISCLAIMER 1: I AM ONLY 1/3 OF THE WAY THROUGH THIS GAME, SO TAKE SEVERAL ELEMENTS I SAY WITH A GRAIN OF SALT**

**DISCLAIMER 2: THAT SAID, SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST 37 HOURS OF THIS OVER 100-HOUR LONG EPIC**

**DISCLAIMER 3: PERSONA 5 IS RATED M BY THE ESRB AND FEATURES THEMES SUCH AS POLITICAL CORRUPTION, EMOTIONAL BLACKMAIL, AND THE PHYSICAL AND SEXUAL ABUSE OF MINORS, WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT BE BROUGHT UP IN THIS ARTICLE, SO BE AWARE.**

I have waited years for this game to come out (not an exaggeration, it was delayed for three years and in development for almost eight). I was excited for this enough to actually pick it up on release day (a complete rarity for me) and constantly post about my play through on Facebook (to my friends uninterested in Persona 5, I’m not sorry for posting about it so much). And few games have ever been able to pull me in and keep me invested the way this game has.

For a bit of history, I will refer to a list I made a while back.

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In hindsight, I would revise this list if the chance provided itself (remove Hearthstone, for instance), but it does work as a solid example of my tastes in video games. It also happens to include the three I gravitate towards as my favorite games ever: Melee, Rock Band, and Persona 4.

Between Endurance Runs, the game itself, rereleases of the game, anime adaptations, and pure fan culture around the game, I became completely engrossed with Persona 5. Probably because I found it when I just entered high school (you know, games involving horny teenaged emotions, attractive anime girls, and not being an awkward loser appeal to an awkward teenaged loser like I was), probably because I preferred the play-style of JRPGs, probably because I was a burgeoning weeb who felt he grew out of Naruto and needed his next fix. But Persona 4 caught me hard and it remains to this day as one of my favorite games ever.

So, since my love for Persona 4 runs very deep and I’m unsure how deep it actually goes, I was naturally excited to find out what another game in this series (that wasn’t an obnoxious rhythm game spin off) would do. So, from when it was first announced, I sat eagerly awaiting this game that would be the proper follow-up to one of my favorite games (and definitely favorite game story) ever.

And then Persona 5 was finally released on April 4, 2017. And I bought it that very day.

Persona 5 is interesting to me, because it’s kind of the polar opposite of Persona 4 in many regards. Whereas Persona 4 is effectively “teen detectives and an annoying Bear-like-thing stop murders in TVs” and is actually very light-hearted and welcoming, Persona 5 is “teen thieves and an odd talking cat steal the evil intentions of evil people in their hearts” and is ultimately very dark and harsh.

Persona 5 has you, the protagonist, being sent to live under the supervision of a grumpy restaurant owner after you’re arrested for trying to stop a drunk, scarily powerful politician from molesting a woman in public (it doesn’t get better, I’m sorry to say). The school you’re placed in is basically under the control of two monsters: a borderline-apathetic principal only concerned with his school looking good (and who looks like Wilson Fisk), and a volleyball coach who physically abuses the students on his team, lusts after the female students in the school, gets close and constantly makes advances towards one in particular, rapes her friend when she won’t put out for him, and drives that friend to attempt suicide (I just described the games first 10 hours, for the record, he’s really that bad).

Persona has a propulsive narrative from the first moments of the game, but also seems to have some stumbling blocks that can’t be overlooked. While Persona 4’s narrative was far from perfect (I’m looking at you, Teddie), it tended to lack a problem that I’ve noticed with Persona 5’s first third: it doesn’t suffer from really de-escalate.

Persona 5, based on it’s themes of rebellion against corrupt authority and vigilantism, has to amass the support of it’s players, which presents one problem. Persona 5 is a Japanese game about Japanese problems (well, many of them are universal, but the extent featured in the game is meant to mirror current Japanese issues), and this story about rebellion against corrupt leaders is being told to a culture who’s entire societal structure is predicated on an almost comically-strict hierarchal structure. From a Western perspective, where stories about rebellious heroes and untrustworthy authority are somewhat common and are borderline expected, this rings as “well, no duh, of course you should disobey to do what’s right.” Japan, however, does not hold this ideal and, as a result, needs to be given undeniable proof that justice must be done against authority.

Which brings me to the issue of de-escalation in the narrative. Now, for a Western story of rebelling against evil, you’d start with a personal trauma, then build it up as going against smaller, but increasing-in-relevance evils until you finally reach the final source of corrupt evil: a symbol for everything wrong with society and, for bonus points, the source of the protagonist’s personal trauma. What you don’t do is start with something incredibly heinous and hatable, only to then focus on people who are, for lack of a better way of putting it, “less evil” for a while.

Persona 5 does this. Out of the three antagonists I’ve faced so far in the game, the first two were the only interesting ones, while the third one (oddly enough, the only one who’s an actual career criminal) is just kind of boring. Also, out of the first two antagonists, one is definitely more evil than the other one. And unfortunately, the more evil one is the first one: the volleyball coach I described earlier.

Again, I understand why Atlus did this. A culture based so much in respect for those both older and in higher positions of power is less likely to get on board with a narrative that is basically calling to ignore those ideas. You need something really strong to make the intended audience for the game (Japanese players) to embrace the idea of fighting against society in the name of what’s right.

That’s where Kamoshida, the volleyball coach, comes in. He was made as loathsome on purpose. He needed to be someone that even a strict believer in the hierarchal system in most Japanese settings would agree needs to be taken down. He needed to be so easy to hate that there could be no room for anyone playing the game to not agree with the game’s philosophies of rebellion and fighting corruption. And once their on board, they can focus on bringing the other characters into the fold and expanding the narrative (which I’ll discuss once I actually beat this game).

My issue is, like I mentioned, I’m not a Japanese player. I’m American. I’m from a culture that created an entire genre of games about imposing one’s justice and/or ideals by force, a culture that regularly creates stories about rising against tyranny, a culture where Watergate occurred, a culture that regularly celebrates the cowboy ideal of “the roaming hero against the world”. I don’t need much convincing to accept a premise where a corrupt society must be brought down. When I’m shown the incident that led the protagonist into his situation, I’m on board to get rid of the bald bastard who arrested the protagonist for trying to stop him from molesting a woman. So, when I’m playing this game and the narrative goes from the world’s most evil volleyball coach to a plagiarizing art teacher posing as an actual artist, I am kind of lost. How can you de-escalate the stakes so much?

Make no mistake, I’m still enjoying Persona 5 and look forward to my mind being mush once I finally conquer this 100+ hour long behemoth. But the narrative is so crucial to the game that a strange occurrence like this needs to be brought up. Still, I am looking forward to more of this game and it’s weird, weird attitudes towards a high school student romancing older women (including your teacher!).

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Spring 2017 Preview

I look at the first three episodes of what I thought was interesting this season.

Re:Creators

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Re:Creators is a series about fictional characters being taken out of their worlds and being forced into the real world, where they are fictional characters. It’s the brainchild of two people who don’t seem to have much in common creatively (Ei Aoki and Rei Hiroe), but really work well off of each other, resulting in what is easily the best anime of the season.

Before an explanation of those two, however, I need to get into the show proper. It’s premise is that an average high school kid named Sato, who used to draw but has lacked any inspiration lately, is watching an anime adaptation of a light novel he’s a fan of when he gets sucked into the series during a fight scene. However, he then manages to take the anime’s lead heroine out of her series and into the real world, where they run into other fictional characters being dragged out of their respective series. Cheif among them, however, is a villainess from a series Sato doesn’t recognize who is planning to hunt down and kill her creator and urges the others to do the same. They all respond differently to that request, but they do by and large decide that they should look for their creators and find out more about themselves and why their worlds are the way they are.

This series is a complete product of the two minds behind it, so much so that I can say that if you don’t like either creator, you will not like this series. The director and co-writer is Ei Aoki, whose previous work is Girls Bravo (his first directing gig and one I’m sure he’d like everyone to forget), Wandering Son (a thoughtful series about transgendered youths that’s good if you like that sort of thing and a sleep aid if you’re me (I don’t care for thoughtful mature drama for adult anime, it has nothing at all to do with the subject matter)), Aldnoah.Zero (one of the most incompetent scripts ever put to phenomenal direction), and, his best-known and best work, Fate/Zero (the series that introduced the world to Gen Urobuchi’s writing and turned my hatred of the Fate franchise into a more complicated love/hate relationship). Put simply, Aoki us the type of director who is great at delivering Hollywood-level action and good character moments, even when he’s working with utter garbage. This comes through wonderfully here, as the action scenes are great, the animation stellar, and even the exposition-filled moments don’t really feel boring. Having him as a director was an early good sign about this show.

However, he’s not the name most people are pointing at and getting excited over. That would be Rei Hiroe, the other creator and writer (and character designer) for this series. Hiroe is usually seen making hentai dojin under a pseudonym (and is apparently extremely popular, at that), but he’s probably best known for a mainstream manga he made that got a very popular anime adaptation: Black Lagoon. For those unfamiliar with quite possibly one of the best action anime ever made, Black Lagoon was a series that took almost every action movie trope Hiroe could think of and put them in a blender until it turned thick and black like tar, then injected with many uppers to carry you through the morose tone of it’s less colorful characters, then setting it on fire with a f***-you attitude that is only interested in looking awesome (oh, and then we get a excessively depressing story about psychotic twin children being killers due to pedophiles making them perform in snuff films that really makes me sad out of nowhere). Hiroe is, surprise to no one, a huge nerd and this series is a big playground for him to play with his more otaku-centric obsessions (much like Black Lagoon, the tone here is “these tropes are stupid, but I really love them”). Oh, and Hiroe’s tone of writing is also the prominent one here, since the script does what Black Lagoon and goes into the characters spouting philosophical world views at the drop of a hat (Black Lagoon was steeped in nihilism, while this is steeped in existentialism).

I can’t say this is for everyone, but I can say that, in my own humble opinion, this is the best anime this season. Seriously, go check it out.

FINAL SCORE: A

Sin: The Seven Deadly Sins

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This is a series that will no doubt be loathed by many people. For starters, it’s a beyond shameless (bordering on being hentai) fanservice series. Then, add to that the fact that, with one exception, the average chest size here seems to be at least D (as in, if you don’t like girls buxom, these designs won’t even work as fanservice for you). Then, add to that the utterly baffling decision to steep this in religious themes (I’ve heard this described as “a highly sexual retelling of Paradise Lost”, which I don’t really see, although I’ve never read Paradise Lost so take that for all it’s worth) and even more people will be predictably angry at this series. Oh, and then you add to that the fact that this is based off of a Hobby Japan property (and the other adaptations of Hobby Japan stuff were terrible, so it raises a huge red flag about the quality of this series). Oh, and the writer and director’s other stuff was all excessively awful and obnoxious fanservice shows, including the one this is most similar to, Queen’s Blade, so there was no reason to think this would be any good.

Luckily, this is at least watchable. Unlike Queen’s Blade, which wanted us to believe that there was a serious and intricate fantasy story going on while we watched blatant and over-compensating fanservice I’ve EVER seen (I mean no hyperbole there), this at least knows how goofy it is and is luckily more interested in getting to the mammaries than pretending there’s an actual plot. It’s plot is thankfully kept in the background, mostly existing as an excuse to get between one fetishy interaction between the girls to the next. And the characters are almost excessively simple (and between scenes, the lead actually completely changes personalities, so it’s not really consistent either), but at least are not annoying (you know, unless horny lesbian demons, some of whom follow the “you say no, but your body says yes” approach to intimacy gets under your skin, in which case three characters will get on your nerves (spoilers: two of them are our leads)). I’d say this series is at least tolerable.

Of course, that’s partially because the animation is being handled by TNK, a studio who specializes in shows like this, especially looking at their biggest hit and undeniably best show, High School DxD. The show is not spectacularly animated (there are obvious moments where the animators are trying to compensate for not animating enough, usually by filling the screen with a close-up of a breast), but it looks better than it should. However, if you are watching for the fanservice, be aware that the Crunchyroll is censored (and obtrusively so, their censor object is kind of obnoxious), so you won’t get to look at too much of the pornier elements of this not-quite-porn series.

In the end, it was better than I thought, but that’s not saying much. For this show, the presence of boobs are what will either sell it or turn you away from it, so it’s not like my opinion will mean much. However, even if you are just looking for mindless fanservice, you can still always do better than this.

FINAL SCORE: D+

Grimoire Of Zero

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This season gives us the rare fantasy light novel adaptation that’s mostly about the relationship between two people. Coming to mind instantly, the immediate comparisons are Spice And Wolf and Chaika The Coffin Princess (both of which are personal favorites of mine). And the series does do well to endear you to it’s leads, a tiger-man mercenary and the titular witch Zero, so this should be on it’s way to greatness.

And yet, I’m not really feeling this series. Don’t get me wrong, I want to like it and I do think that the two leads are the strongest elements of the show. So why doesn’t this work as well as other, similar shows?

Well, part of it is the pacing. Unlike Chaika, this isn’t an action-adventure. It’s closer in tone to Spice And Wolf: very low-key and bordering mundane. However, where Spice And Wolf was also low fantasy (next to no fantastical elements aside from the presence of gods), this is high fantasy with lots of world building. Large portions of the episodes so far are just spent spilling exposition about the world to the audience, which really tends to take me out of the show. What’s worse is that, for a series that’s trying to set up a search for a potentially evil witch and presenting a world full of witch hunts and prejudice against the beast-men who are the results of curses, the show has done no work so far to justify why witches are hunted aside from Church and “because magic”. This becomes more of an issue in episode 2, a story that should not have come until later in the story (long story short: witches are misunderstood and are wiser than humans who won’t listen). But it’s placement as the second episode, as well as our first introduction to how the world at large will react to witches like Zero just rubbed me the wrong way, like it’s trying to play the “humans are the real monster”-card before they justified why humans would do this first (normally, you’d have a witch villain first be defeated before you bring out the wise old lady witches).

Like I said, there is potential here and I do like the two leads, but the show’s pacing and tone kind of kneecap it’s ability to actually engage me as a viewer. Maybe this will be a slow build series that gets better as it keeps going, but as it is, I just see wasted potential.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor

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Somehow, this has managed to become the most aggressively bad and most weirdly interesting series to come out of this season. Whenever you hear people talking about how bad light novels are, this is what they’re referring to. It just completely plays to the type of series you’d expect from this collection of tropes. However, even when it’s obnoxious (and it is, trust me), there’s just something that keeps me wanting to see where it will go.

In a world where magic exists, people go to universities to study magic and hopefully learn to use it for the betterment of society. While running late, the school’s star student and her friend/roommate literally run into a lame man who tries to play off the accident as something to make him look cool. When they make it to school, they learn that the man they ran into was their new substitute teacher: an unmotivated bastard named Glenn Radars (no joke, that’s his name) who can’t do spells without chanting the entire (long) incantations. However, there is more to him than meets the eye. After all, he was personally recommended by a higher-ranking professor at the school, so he can’t be completely useless.

If the premise didn’t tip you off, this is a magic high school riff on the GTO-plot: a loser lucks into a teaching position and must try to endear himself to the students and show that there’s more to life than studying (Ultimate Otaku Teacher and Assassination Classroom are other variations on this story, for reference). The problem is that the set-up is all wrong. The class is not a group of misfits and troublemakers like other GTO-like stories and the teacher is the one who needs to make his life better, so the dynamic is completely shot. Not helping is the show’s insistence on being a loud comedy, which makes for a steady stream of annoyance from his antics and the way the female lead reacts to him. Even when the series gets serious in the third episode, it still doesn’t shake this stigma. At no point does this show evolve past “seemingly talentless loser seems talentless”, even when it goes more towards action.

However, the series is just kind of watchable. While the series does have lore and world-building problems (it is based off of a world-building heavy magic high school light novel series, after all), it never gets bogged down in it. The show is primarily kept at the level of watching the interactions between Glenn, Sistine, and Rumia, and even though Sistine’s reactions to Glenn aren’t funny, it is watchable and easy to fall into a rhythm with. I will go on record saying that light novel adaptations, especially the “magic high school” and “trapped in another world” ones that are the biggest target, don’t deserve as much crap as they routinely get. If a show is bad, it’s bad, but it shouldn’t be considered bad just for following a trend. And while I have issues with how this is executed, it does seem to find a way to make itself very watchable.

I know I won’t make any allies with this (hell, I’m basically saying that the show whose female uniforms look like stripper outfits are watchable), but this is not even remotely the worst show this season. This falls squarely on the “if you like X, then you’ll like Y” category, which I’d say sums this series up nicely. If you like shows like Demon King Daimao or Trinity Seven or Tokyo Ravens, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, then there won’t really be much here for you.

FINAL GRADE: C-

And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online? Review

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Honestly, if you looked at this series and thought it was a harem series (mostly because of how ubiquitous they are in anime), I wouldn’t blame you. This series looks like it should be a Haganai-esque harem series. However, the truth is that the other girls are just there as bland supporting characters. This is a (albeit fanservice-heavy) romantic comedy between the male and female leads. And since this series is aimed at a male otaku audience, the male lead is bland and milquetoast, so the entire appeal of this series falls on the shoulders of it’s female lead. Unfortunately, she is most everything that fails about this series. For a series that wanted to make a huggable Asuna, they instead made a more irritating Tomoko.

When Hideki Nishimura, a high schooler and an avid player of the MMORPG Legendary Age, learns that a character he asked to marry him in-game was played by a man, he begins to reinforce the idea that the game and reality are two separate things. After a while, he’s married in-game to an inept healer in his guild, who all decide to meet up in real life. To his surprise, the other three members of his guild are classmates of his. In particular, the player for his in-game wife, Ako Tamaki, is actually an attractive shy girl. Except, she can’t really differentiate between the game and reality, demonstrated by referring to her guildmates in real life by their in-game characters, her complete aversion of “normies”, her tendency to just not go to school sometimes, and her insistence that her and Nishimura are actually married. Worried about her, the guild begins a club for playing games together in order to try and get her more used to reality, rather than keep trying to run away into the games she spends all of her time on.

As mentioned, the other female characters are one-note and boring (rich student council president, tsundere, teacher, perky friend of tsundere), so while the camera will have no reservations of trying to show them off (the beach episode and couple of bath scenes really love to show them off), they are almost non-entities in this show. As mentioned before, this is the Ako show. Every aspect of the show is meant to endear this useless, “squishy”, shy idiot to the audience and sell character goods of her (like body pillows and sexy figures). Unfortunately, her “endearing” attributes make her a fundamentally obnoxious and annoying character.

Earlier, I brought up perpetual waifu evergreen Asuna (of Sword Art Online) and the cult phenomenon (but not enough to keep the series from bombing in Japan) Tomoko Kuroki (the lead character of Watamote, a personal favorite of mine). These two characters represent two distinctly opposite approaches to the same type of character Ako is supposed to fall under, but both succeed at what they attempt for completely different reasons. Asuna is the idealized gamer-girl waifu: while not better than the series’ perfect lead, she’s an avid fan of games, is really good at them, and generally seems to resemble a friend you like to play games with (who also happens to be attractive and has some traditionally wifely attributes). She’s become a staple of the anime community largely due to how she is what most guys (that SAO is targeted at) fantasize about a girlfriend. She’s a perpetual seller for providing that fantasy, while not really having too many moe traits (as mentioned, she’s actually capable, which keeps the admiration from being that of “look at the cute puppy”, which is my best description of what moe is supposed to make the viewer feel). Ako was probably envisioned as “the moe version of Asuna”, but this show proves why tat approach just doesn’t work.

Tomoko, unlike Asuna, is not really a popular character (fitting for Watamote’s long title’s english translation), but she has a sizable cult following (mostly outside of Japan, but enough dojin and fan art of Pixiv convince me that she does have some following there) for being intentionally awkward. She’s shy, neurotic, horny, and bitter. She’s a huge otaku, spending many, many hours watching anime and playing video games rather than socialize with people, but holds a grudge against the world for her status as a loner in class (at least, until she gets forced to interact with the other loner weirdos in her class, where she’s still basically unable to function properly). She’s intentionally off-putting to the audience, yet a large amount of the series’ fans actually do find this unkempt, baggy-eyed, bitter character endearing (as a side note, a sizable chunk of the fan art on Pixiv for the series is of the NSFW variety, so make of that what you will). She’s relatable to many introverted nerd’s worst tendencies, yet her suffering is mostly of her own doing, which somehow makes her more endearing to the audience (as mentioned, despite being designed to be unattractive, if not outright ugly, many find her to be cute and attractive enough to create fan art of). While she was probably not a thought in the mind of the creator of Ako, Ako comes across as the more intentionally cute version of Tomoko. Except nowhere near as endearing.

This series wants us to feel endeared to this ditzy, clumsy, well-endowed, introverted girl so much that every other aspect of the series is kept bland to make her stand out, yet the moe aspects she exhibits are just obnoxious. It’s one thing if her “moe clumsiness” was just an occasional gag to make the audience go “dawww”, but it happens so often that it becomes distracting. Likewise, her tenuous relationship with reality could possibly be charming (look at the collection of delusional morons in Love Chunnibyo And Other Delusions for proof of that), but it’s not used in a cute way, but instead in a way that actually makes her seem mentally unstable. Her cluelessness is also not really used well either, as she is either oblivious to everything going on around her or she’s off in her own world trying to ignore everything around her (either way makes her look like an asshole). This is a case where I seriously wonder how the writer would describe a girl they hated, since this is not a good case for a girl we’re supposed to like.

Especially since her most noteworthy trait is her clinginess (bordering on unhealthy dependence) on the male lead. As a disclaimer, I should point out I’m not opposed to romanticized depictions of unhealthy relationships on principal. A story is the creator’s fantasy and they should be able to make whatever fantasy they want, regardless of who agrees with it or not. But, when you are clearly making a story around a character the audience is supposed to fall in love with, especially when that character is already bordering on unintentionally unlikeable, DO NOT MAKE THAT CHARACTER CLINGY OR DEPENDENT! Making Ako this dependent kills the fantasy, since instead of having a “she’s so cute and fragile and I must protect her” fantasy about this character, it goes right to “she’s more trouble than she’s worth and is actually kind of pathetic”. This show fails at it’s intended goal.

And unfortunately, the series clearly bet all of it’s chips of Ako. As mentioned previously, every other character is incredibly bland. The script is a mess, littered with annoying slang and blunt to an almost insulting level. The animation isn’t bad, but it is the most uninteresting direction for a series like this. The music is forgettable. The cast shows up. Everything besides Ako is hovering at the D+/C- range.

In the end, this show is a failure in exactly the way you’d expect it to be. There is no real reason to ever watch this show. Unless the idea of a clingy, overly dependent girls who is well-endowed, is shy and introverted, and has a tenuous relationship with reality appeals to you, just stay away.

FINAL GRADE: F

Pros: I don’t know, maybe a character design or 2?

Cons: AKO TAMAKI, everything else is bland to make Ako stand out

And You Thought There Is Never a Girl Online? is licensed by Funimation. It’s available streaming at Funimation.com.

Date A Live Review

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There is something to be said for the also-rans and forgotten anime in any given season. While the big shows will be remembered and have staying power, there will always be an innumerable amount of anime that completely flies under the radar, either due to similarities to other shows, not fitting with viewing trends, or just because they’re overshadowed by other, better shows. Coming from both the season that gave us Attack On Titan, and then the season that gave us Haikyu, Chaika, Stardust Crusaders, and Ping Pong, as well as sporting a similar premise to another admitted also-ran, this is a series that seems to have been completely washed away by time (and not even a lot of time), an artifact that people will look at and say (oh yeah, that existed.”

That is really selling this series short, because watching it, I found a surprisingly enjoyable and goofy romp.

In a world where these violent phenomena occur called Spatial Quakes, a normal high schooler named Shido lives with his adopted sister Kotori. On the day that one of the quakes occurs, he can’t find her and ends up witnessing the cause of these spatial quakes: beings named Spirits who resemble human girls. He also gets caught in the crossfire between the spirit and a military-esque organization trying to kill them (which a classmate of his who stalks him is a part of). He ends up being picked up and rescued by a different organization, one trying to find a non-violent way to deal with the spirits. Here, Shido discovers that Kotori is a commander of a ship used by this organization and she picked him to go on dates with the spirits to seal their destructive powers.

If any part of that plot sounds familiar, then you are familiar with another also-ran (though more popular than this) anime The World God Only Knows. Both shows tend to have ridiculous premises that are meant to be excuses for the lead guy to date various girls. However, Date A Live is more of a traditional harem series than TWGOK (for one, TWGOK never places too much emphasis on the girls and is primarily led by the insane and entertainingly serious lead character, and for another thing, until two-thirds of the way through the story, TWGOK is never focused on the girls interacting with each other in addition to the lead). This might make Date A Live seem like the less interesting version of TWGOK, but it actually doesn’t.

If you looked at the image accompanying this review, you’ll see how the girls are designed for the show. The look is the most distinct aspect of the show and it comes curtesy of Tsunako, an illustrator best known for her work on the Fairy Fencer F and Hyperdimension Neptunia video game franchises. Her work is an odd mix of generic anime and over-designed ideas coming together in a way that is actually quite interesting. The girls, even wearing the bland school uniforms, all look distinct and eye-catching. Her work on the male characters, while not AS over-designed, also look distinct from each other, resulting in an odd instance of me being able to tell male characters in a harem series apart (that almost never happens, for the record). While the show tries to invoke as many generic and expected anime and light novel tropes and ideas, both visually and through the script, the show always seems to follow just enough for familiarity, but never go full-on into them, which is alternately engaging and frustrating.

From a writing perspective, this show is never fast-paced, but never the slog many light novel anime become. The show is moved along briskly through mostly comedy. The absurd premise is milked for all it’s worth and the crew trying to help Shido are as comedically incompetent as you’d imagine (“with 5 divorces under his belt, no one has more experience with women as him”). The girls are also given simple, but identifiable, personalities and character traits that helps in enabling them to play off of each other well (in particular, since Tohka is effectively the female lead, they get much more milage out of her dog-like stupidity and appetite than they should). The show’s humor isn’t really anything new or bizarre (if you’re familiar with anime and light novels, you will see most of the jokes coming from a mile away), but the show just embraces it’s own nature enough that you can find yourself trapped at it’s tempo if the light novel and anime trappings don’t immediately annoy you.

That tempo is ultimately a good thing, because even though the show doesn’t continue on long enough to fully realize the stories it’s setting up (both seasons only cover the first seven light novels, which is where the show’s actual plot is finally introduced), the people behind this show know how to set up simple and engaging conflicts. It helps that Date A Live is mostly character-based, so each story arc can easily resolve itself satisfactorily while leaving plot-details dangling (and who knows, maybe we’ll finally get a season 3 to get to the interesting twists still to come). The show also manages to create some interesting takes on the tropes it’s reveling in to build up to later character turns (most notably, Shido FAILS (this is almost unheard of in a light novel series) to seal one spirit’s powers, but she continues to be a presence and her unsealed powers are pivotal to the final arc), so the familiar is not just lazy writing. There is a clear amount of effort put forth in the writing.

This effort, surprisingly, is also put into the direction. By all accounts, this is a visually bland and uninteresting series. The designs are interesting, but the movement itself is nothing special. It’s not Berserk bad (seriously, every animated version of Berserk looks awful), but this isn’t a feast of character animation that would make P.A. Works jealous. The direction, however, helps in this regard. The show is sold on it’s absurd premise, so the direction has to reinforce that. The comedic moments are given a big energy spark, with the timing as tight as they possibly could be. The more dramatic and action-driven moments are more of a mixed bag, with some moments going on auto-pilot, but others (like the entire 2-episode climax of season 2) giving the impact to work. As much as this is a silly concept, the direction is working on all fronts to deliver this concept as compellingly as it can.

Now, clearly, this show isn’t perfect. Notably, the series ends right when it introduces it’s main villain (hope for a season 3, because he’s apparently comically evil and fun). The series also has a tone problem at times, some stories having a larger gap between the comedic and serious moments that can cause some problems. There is also the problem of some running gags that do not work (while not a bad character as a whole, the second-in-command on the ship’s masochism schtick gets really annoying really fast and the three classmates who only comment on everything and end each statement by saying either “gross” or “that’s so lame”, depending on the language, just fails on arrival). The lengths that the show goes to make Shido a blank slate (milquetoast personality, partial amnesia, no interests ever stated), especially in comparison to the more colorful cast around him becomes more of a sticking point as the show continues to give him importance towards the Spirits. There were definitely elements that could’ve been refined to make the show’s strengths stand out more.

Sometimes, a look at the also-rans of previous anime seasons reveals garbage we’d be better off forgetting. This is not one of those times. I was ultimately surprised by how much I ended up liking this dumb, admittedly weird series. So long as a goofy harem anime with oddly serious action elements doesn’t turn you away, there is a fun series that really would like you to enjoy it.

FINAL GRADE: B+

PROS: Simple yet fun characters, funny execution of familiar material, distinct designs, mostly reserved regarding fan-service, some really excellent climaxes

CONS: Ends before the villain can really do anything, some jokes fall completely flat, some action scenes are directed on auto-pilot, Shido’s bland nature becomes more of a hinderance the longer the series continues

Date A Live is licensed by Funimation and is available on home video. It’s available streaming at funimation.com. 

Occultic;Nine Review

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After muling around, deciding if I’ll do an actual wrap-up of the Fall 2016 shows, I decided to just do individual reviews. And I figured this would be a good place to start, since it’s probably a series that has completely left everyone’s minds. Not that I’d fault anyone for forgetting about this show, however.

If this show came out 15 years ago, then it would’ve been much more of a big deal to anime fans. Unfortunately, almost every detail about this series is out of date, somewhat intentionally, but not in any fun way. This series, put simply, is a confusing slog through technobabble, annoying characters, and vague conspiracies. In short, it’s everything I hate about Steins;Gate, just condensed into a throwback to shows like Ergo Proxy or Texhnolyze (which we definitely didn’t need more of).

Describing the plot of this show is not really easy. No, it isn’t because the actual plot is complicated, but it’s presentation is intentionally obscuring important details until the end, so any real indication of what is going on is hard to grasp. The plotting is similar to the anime adaptation of Durarara, which also focuses on a large ensemble of characters in an area of Tokyo dealing with supernatural phenomena and the more ground-level consequences of them. Until the cast comes together in the end, we’re following the various loosely connected threads of different characters moving in different directions coming together over a few shared events (with one in particular, the mass suicide in the park, being especially prominent). None of these events really connect until the end, though, so the majority of the series is spent in sheer confusion trying to follow along with the various breadcrumbs the show drops.

As I mentioned, the creator of the light novel this adapts also wrote Steins;Gate (a show beloved by many for it’s endearing characters and intriguing plot, and despised by me for it’s nails-on-chalkboard annoying characters and uninteresting plot), so there are several writing similarities between the two shows. The plotting is the biggest similarity, with both shows moving at about similar paces, with important information being dripped to the audience at about similar intervals. Both also involve shadowy conspiracies and organizations, a plot to avoid character’s deaths, and a delusional (and hatable-by-me) protagonist who is important because they are. If you liked Steins;Gate, then I’d say give this a shot, since you may find it interesting. However, even that doesn’t save it from it’s biggest flaw.

This show isn’t fun. Despite how ridiculous it can get, the tone here is almost constant bleak dread. Even the attempts at humor fails to help in this regard. While the show does try to create a colorful cast of characters, they are mostly the same boring stereotype that takes everything too seriously. The show’s bleakness becomes more of a problem as it keeps going, as the beginning is fairly tolerable in tone, but it wears on you, especially when you get to the serial killer child, or backstory of the fortune killer, or learning that (spoilers ahead)………..

MOST OF THE CAST ARE DEAD! Yes, you read that correctly. Most of the cast are dead, killed in the mass suicide in the park that is so pivotal to the show’s central narrative. And it also highlights how ridiculous the show’s story becomes.

The direction does not help this series. The director, unfortunately (to me, since I know many people have bad taste and like this guy), took cues from Akiyuki Shinbo (the guy behind most of the garbage from Studio Shaft), meaning that the show will suddenly shift to different visual styles and metaphors without much purpose. It wouldn’t be as distracting if the dialogue wasn’t mostly technobabble about urban legends and the occult, but it just adds to the confusing slog this series ultimately becomes. The show’s designs are also kind of outdated, looking like they came from 2006. If you liked that era of anime, then you’ll have no problem with the look of this show.

Ultimately, this is the worst type of bad: boring, confusing, ugly, and pretentious. I liked it better than Steins;Gate (mostly because it didn’t have a protagonist as immediately hatable to me like Okabe), but that is damning with faint praise. Don’t bother wasting your time with it.

FINAL GRADE: D-

PROS: …………..ridiculous ending

CONS: Dull, confusing plot, mismatched direction, uninteresting characters, draining to sit through

Occultic;Nine is available for streaming on Crunchyroll and has been licensed by Aniplex Of America.

Ninja Slayer From Animation Review

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In order to best describe what works and does not work about this show, I need to be upfront about one aspect that will turn many anime fans away from this show: the primary joke of this adaptation is that, like Trigger’s earlier show Inferno Cop, it resembles a Williams Street (read: Adult Swim) cartoon, and looks about as cheap as those shows do. If the idea of purposefully awful animation (in some cases, literally moving stills across the screen), then you will never be able to accept this show. I need to say this first because the reason the show got awful viewership, low viewer scores on sites like ANN and myanimelist, and got Funimation placing stickers on the cover claiming “it sucks” is because of the animation.

Beyond the adaptational choice to move the way it does, this is an adaptation of a bizarre comedy project by two writers claiming to have been translating the novels of two American authors and publishing the translation over Twitter, then compiling them into actual novels. The plot is intentionally insane, over-the-top, and ridiculous, resembling 80s American action movies that became obsessed with sticking ninjas into them. The plot follows a man whose wife and child were killed by a powerful businessman and criminal overlord (and ninja). This man enters into a contract with a vengeful spirit who wishes to kill all ninja and becomes Ninja Slayer, a vigilante on a vengeful quest to bring down the criminal presence in the city of Neo-Saitama. Along the way, we meet punk ninja, spineless businessmen, vague prophecies, communist revolutionaries, horny scientists, sexy hackers, a ninja with Vietnam flashbacks, nightmares about families being killed, and lots of people pissing their pants in fear. Oh, and a clip show of episode ideas that the animation crew never got to animating.

As mentioned before, the show prides itself in trying to resemble an Adult Swim show (and not a good one like Rick And Morty or Venture Bros, no, they want to look like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which looks bad and I don’t care if you like how it looks). Most of the action scenes tend to be represented by static character model moving across the screen (shown here). This gives some cheap laughs early on, but the novelty of this animation wears off fairly quickly, possibly because each episode is 15 minutes instead of 5, and possibly because the show doesn’t only rely on that. While they aren’t too long or intensive, there are cuts in the show which are animated more like anime usually is, which does not help the idea that this show is actually supposed to look bad (to some, it just comes across as either lazy or that they had no money at all to spend and had to resort to the cheapest alternative to actually animating). While it can give some funny moments all throughout, please know that the awful animation joke is one which grows old way too quickly (like, it’s old by episode 5 and this is a 26 episode series).

Animation aside, the actual designs are exactly what they needed to by. Everything (and yes, I do mean everything) is over-designed and gaudy looking. Every ninja has a stupid theme to their design the show wants you to recognize, because they will be designed in the stupidest form of tat theme imaginable. Every henchman is literally a clone of the same bodyguard model. Every woman (with one exception) is over-sexualized to absurd degrees. For a show trying to play the cheesy 80s action movie card, it’s everything I could ever hope the designs could look like.

And now, the writing. Look, I knew that they were going for cheesy, but I have to recommend the Japanese version over the dub. Despite being a series made to work better in English (and it does work in English), the dub winks at the audience too much, while the Japanese track just plays everything as straight as I’d wish. After all, cheesiness only works when you completely go into it and don’t try to wink to the camera.

Look, I’ll level with you: I’m a Studio Trigger fanboy (with the exception of Kiznaiver, they’ve never created anything I didn’t like), so I may be biased. But, that being said, there is a solid comedy within here. If you’re willing to look past the intentionally odd pacing, cheesiness, questionable content, and the intentionally bad-looking animation, you’ll find an enjoyable comedy that really deserves a second look.

FINAL GRADE: B+

PROS: Kick-ass music, funny writing, appropriately ridiculous

CONS: Animation joke gets old fast, writing occasionally dips too far into cheesy territory

Ninja Slayer From Animation is licensed by Funimation and is available for streaming at Funimation.com and Hulu.com. It’s available on home video by Funimation.

Harems: The Ultimate Anime Fantasy And Most Misunderstood

There is an episode of Extra Credit, a web series about video game development, that discussed the idea that game genres should be separated by what fantasy they’re trying to evoke. I bring this up because this is probably how I’d rather separate the various genres of anime. Anime, as a medium and as a generalization with exceptions, tends to be escapist stories and are generally about showing various fantasies that the viewer can live vicariously through (if you’ve ever wondered why many anime protagonists are very milquetoast and bland compared to the supporting cast, that’s actually why).

With that description, I’d like to take this editorial to talk about a genre that tends to be wildly mischaracterized, with an absurd amount of baggage that comes with it and most recommendations for these series being preempted with a laundry list of caveats: harem anime.

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The best still to describe this genre

This is a genre that has given me no small amount of difficulty understanding (for starters, I thought me liking anime was weird because almost everyone I knew before high school who liked anime was a girl, and then we get into how much of a pretentious prick I was in high school, so this genre was never going to be liked by me then). It’s a simple genre (well, more a premise, but a premise repeated often enough to become a genre), but it’s one which is returned to so frequently, and will make money (for obvious reasons), but tends to be reviled outside of the circle of harem fans. It tends to be marketed in incredibly pandering ways, but will very rarely look like the type of series you’d gladly show to a checkout clerk to purchase. They tend to be the shows with the laziest writing, but their characters will NEVER GO AWAY! Just what is it that makes this genre tick?

Well, going back to the fantasy angle, we should first try to explain what the harem genre is (just as a quick disclaimer, this will only be discussing traditional harem anime, reverse harems will not be covered, although I do invite someone with more experience with that to do an article on it). Well, in terms of the fantasy it’s trying to convey, in the simplest term possible, it’s the idea of a guy being a chick magnet. It’s a well-treaded idea in western media, especially if you look at the fact that one of the longest running film franchises in history is about a man whose entire existence is predicated on being a power fantasy of drinking fine drinks, driving cool cars, using cool gadgets, and bedding many beautiful women.

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Hello

So, if this fantasy is one shared with the west, why does the west tend not to really embrace harem series the way Japanese audiences do? Well, it’s because of presentation. I brought up James Bond as an example of this fantasy in western media, but there is one distinct difference between the 007 series and, say, Heaven’s Lost Property: the prominence of the women involved. James Bond beds many women over the 24 films made, but they almost never recur and are not really given much in the way of characterization. They’re props to reinforce how awesome Mr. Bond is. Each film, he beds a woman, meets his next girl Friday, then ends the dilm doing her. The first woman is usually killed in the film and the later one is never seen again.

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Not sorry to leave you, I have to be up in the morning.

Harem anime, in contrast, actually focuses more on the characterization of the girls and usually involves them making a presence in the lead’s life. They’re less props to make the lead feel awesome and more a group of people who are usually making the lead’s life more exciting, but also much more difficult.

You see, harem anime tries to show the fantasy of being irresistible to women, but it rarely goes into the full-on “and everything was awesome and I had no problems and had lots of awesome sex” direction (hell, sex is very rarely, if at all, brought up in the shows themselves, but that is more due to other factors). Usually, the girls in a harem series tend to become attached at the hip to the lead, sometimes even living with him (and since the doors in Japan lack locks, that’s why this genre is so rife with “uh-oh, I accidentally saw this girl in a state of undress). The girls, usually, are competitive for the lead, so the atmosphere is usually somewhat stressed. And usually, the character in these series given the least characterization is the lead.

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Who am I again?

Yeah, the male lead in harem shows are usually the weakest aspect of these shows (unless the series is an action harem series like Sword Art Online or A Certain Magical Index, which usually tends to more resemble the James Bond fantasy of the girls being there to show how amazing and cool the protagonist is). In most harem anime, the lead is kind of bland and a blank slate (hell, one of the most successful ones take this to an extreme and make it work in a way I wasn’t expecting). Again, this is usually by design (trust me, you generally don’t want a harem series that tries to turn their lead into a compelling character, it’s just embarrassing for all involved), since these shows are usually made for  lonely otaku to imagine themselves in. While these shows can give some degree of characterization successfully (High School DxD’s Issei is given as much, if not more, characterization than the various girls in his harem, for instance), they tend to be the exception rather than the rule regarding these leads.

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I’m a trailblazer!

However, as should be very noticeable by now, the reason for this is because the focus should be on the girls (when it isn’t, again, things get bad). After all, in it’s purest essence, this is a genre about having a fantasy girlfriend and being able to vicariously live through the lead to live out the relationship. As a result, most of the actual creativity and writing prowess behind these shows are spent making these girls likable.

Notice I said likable and not fleshed-out or complex. The girls in this genre tend to be likable archetypes, with few ever growing beyond that initial starting point.

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We’re all somewhat flat archetypes. Not actually flat (aside from two characters), though.

The girls in harem anime tend to fall into character archetypes more so than characters in other genres because it’s much easier to sell likability with them. As mentioned before, the harem genre is selling the fantasy of “I’m a chick magnet and can have a fantasy girlfriend”, so the importance is not on making the girls seem real, but instead to make them likable (well, likable to a group of nerds obsessed with this material who are familiar with certain story devices and know which ones appeal to them most). This is why many harem series feature girls whose personalities overlap between shows (so many tsunderes, so many punches landed upon the lead, so many declarations of “Baka”, the horror).

This, however, comes at the price of the girls being compelling characters. Since the genre is generally focused on selling the girls as fantasy girlfriends, there’s a certain level of fetishization they are given that makes it hard for an average viewer to engage with. The big difference, say, between a girl in a harem show (like, say, Rosario + Vampire’s Moka) and the lead in a more traditional romance series (say, for example, Chibi Vampire’s Karin) is that we are supposed to follow and root for Karin, hoping that she ends up with the boy in the end, while we are not expected to root for Moka, but instead imagine her as a romantic companion for the viewer (again, we don’t root for her to get with the Tskune because he’s nothing more than a vessel for us to live out this romance with her). This fetishization creates an immediate barrier that makes these shows near impenetrable to anyone besides someone who already declared who is best girl.

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Sometimes, a normal person not watching is a good thing. Just saying.

Alright, so we’ve gone over the concepts of the character types in harem series, but do they do anything in these shows? Well, that’s a stupid question, but the answer is yes. You see, since the genre is more a premise than anything else, writers have realized that you can take this premise in any number of directions, resulting in various plots. Sometimes, the show occurs after the male lead and the lead female return from another world and must go to a school to learn about their new powers (that awful show I keep linking to as a joke). Sometimes, it revolves around the male lead being prophesied to become the destroyer of the world. Sometimes, it’s about an alien girl who becomes accidentally betrothed to the male lead and makes his life a living hell. Sometimes, the girls are fetishized and sexy monsters (and somehow, it’s one of the bestselling manga series in the US). Sometimes, it tries to mix the harem antics with more traditional shonen action tropes (and somehow becomes the gold standard of fan service). Sometimes, it’s a regular rom com that just becomes this (and is in a mainstream magazine, and is really successful). There isn’t really a set plot they follow, they just all involve this premise of multiple girls falling for one guy.

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We ran in the same magazine as Naruto and rarely featured fan service. Take that, other series.

As I mentioned before, harem series have also split into two distinct sub-genres: the harem comedy and the action harem. The former is the more traditional version and is more focused on the interplay between the girls, letting the personalities play out against each other, and making the male lead’s life a living hell. The later, by comparison, is about the girls being the catalyst for the male lead to become awesome and save the world (these two can overlap, but it these shows are usually less comedic in nature). I’ve seen that more mainstream anime audiences (read: people getting into anime, but not at “my waifu”-level) prefer the action harems, but the harem comedies have the bestselling harem manga in the US (seriously, how did this become so successful?).

Alright, so now that we have this all taken care of (as in, I’ve just described the genre), what’s my impression of the genre? What is my opinion of an entire genre that alienates many fans while fostering many creepy ones? What is my thoughts on a genre that is such easy fodder for decrying sexism and is probably only liked by guy pigs?

Well, like most genres, there are good series and bad series. While the genre can be quite bad, it’s basic idea isn’t one I object to.

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YAY! HE DOESN’T HATE THE ABSTRACT IDEA BEHIND OUR EXISTENCE!

My own history with the genre aside (a clueless introduction to Tenchi Muyo on TV back when I was a small child, my aforementioned pretentious period in high school, and my first harem series I knowingly watched being the one with this scene), it’s been a rocky introduction to this genre. But, on principal, if a genre exists to sell a fantasy, I won’t claim it to be a failure if I don’t like the fantasy. The harem genre is selling a fantasy (and sexy merchandise), and while I didn’t get it back then, I understand it better (and actually appreciate it, if my recent streak of harem reviews are any indication) now.

I also completely understand how this just doesn’t work for certain audiences. This is not a universal fantasy. Also, with my explorations into the genre in manga form (which is quite the goldmine of both undiscovered gems and the creepiest garbage), I’ve found some of the worst titles I’ve ever read in this genre (I’ll leave one as being a harem with the worst possible collection of girls, and it gets more explicit with it’s fan service (by the end, it borders on actual hentai) at it keeps going). So, I can understand why some people would like to avoid the potential dumpster fire that this genre can produce.

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Speaking of dumpster fire…

Well, now that that’s out of the way, are there any series I’d recommend to people interested in looking into this genre?

Well, you can start with Nisekoi. It’s fairly innocent and lacks many of the caveats that most of the genre has. If you want to take a start in this genre, it’s a good place to start.

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For a more fan service-based series, I can recommend the earlier-mentioned High School DxD. It’s probably the one that can alienate the largest amount of people, but I can easily state that the series became the gold standard of fan service for a reason.

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Third, if you want to know what the most successful one in the US currently is (and is oddly also popular with women) and don’t mind the fan service almost crossing into softcore porn, there’s Monster Musume, where every girl is a monster girl and laughably contrived nudity is way too common.

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And, lastly, I’ll recommend the series that finally got the appeal of the genre to me: The World God Only Knows. The series is more of a parody of the genre (and doesn’t really have that much fan service in it), but it gets across the idea of why someone would want this fantasy better than any other series I’ve ever encountered.

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The harem genre is often misunderstood as nothing but a pervert’s wildest fantasies.While that isn’t wrong, it’s a gross misrepresentation of a genre selling a fantasy that people are often still sold in other media.