Anime

My Hero Academia, and My Relationship With Superhero Shows.

So, I heard about My Hero Academia early on, before it aired, and I recognized that the manga was popular, and that the type of show that it is, that of the Shounen, American Superhero, action comedy series, would mean that this show would probably become popular no matter what. I am kind of cynical, when it comes down to shounen shows with this sort of very obviously cliche’d set of classifications. I’ve never seen Bleach or Naruto, because I am not interested in running into season after season of filler episode and cliffhangers that amount to nothing. I’ve seen the only real anime that qualified as taking very serious cues from American superhero shows, that being One Punch Man, and I thought it was pretty alright. Nothing incredible in terms of storyline, but a pretty fun show with some incredible action sequences. I would describe One Punch as being anime’s answer to Pixar’s “The INcredibles” being a humorous take on how a world with superhumans would not actually be all that it cracks up to be, or what people expect of it. Being a superhero can be a pain in the neck, unfulfilling job, and boring, especially if you are so powerful that nothing is ever a challenge to you. This was new, this was fun, this was popcorn. When I saw the articles for Boku no Hero Academia, I was immediately bored with it. Coming out with a superhero shounen show right after the most successful superhero shounen show in history? That’s pretty brave I’ll give the show that, but all that to say, I was just not in the mood. Over the years, I have become jaded to the American take on superhero stories, seeing how most of the stuff that comes out is all monopolized by DC or Marvel, and all of that is always very generic uninteresting attempts at kicking a dead horse. The best of the best that DC or Marvel can come up with nowadays, is just a simple but in the end forgettable diversion. I’ll probably go see the next Avenger’s movie, but am I excited for it? No not really. I’m too aware of what’s going on in the universe, and the number of new things that they can do with the existing material is so limited that I don’t ever see myself being excited for another DC or Marvel movie ever again, at least, not as excited as I was when I was a little boy. So when it came to My Hero Academia, I was unimpressed to say the least with the idea of an anime becoming even more like unto those money grubbing, reboot-mongering slugfests that are American superhero stories. I expected My Hero Academia to have nothing new to offer, but some fun fight scenes, and maybe a dramatic character arc or two, you know, the usual shounen fare, something that I can get at baseline with any classic, highly rated anime I could watch that isn’t currently airing. If I wanted to watch some shonen action, I could pick up One Piece again, finish Hunter x Hunter, or start watching D. Gray Man instead. Why should I waste my time for something that is probably just going to be common popcorn fare at best? So I put it off until the first season finished, and the second season was halfway through its run. That is when I started hearing from my friend, the mysterious friend who kickstarted my anime viewing experience, and continues to enrich it for me with recommendations time and time again, told me that he was watching My Hero Academia, and actually enjoying it. What got me, is that if you watch my youtube videos, you will know that he and I have been watching the second season of AOT and have not been impressed. At all. Not only were our expectations disappointed, but the level to which AOT has fallen in our eyes was completely unexpected or called for. So as kind of an off hand remark, he told me that, “Yeah, a lot of stuff happens in episode six, but I think I still liked the new episode of My Hero Academia more though.” He went on to say that while he felt like more of a pleb for liking the show, he still thought that it had better directing, and therefor enjoyment quality overall. This peaked my interest, and since I also was feeling somewhat disappointed with the direction AOT is going, I decided to lay down, (as I was feeling unwell,) and marathon this superhero shounen show until I finished it. I did not finish it in one sitting, but two days, and eight hours later, I had watched and finished season 1 of My Hero Academia. Here are my thoughts. With all of this buzz going on around this show, I had expectations. As you now know, my expectations were mostly negative, but my point is that, when there are tons of articles, and excitement, trailers, and hype whirling around the internet like bees around a soda soaked watermelon, it can give you some extremely unrealistic impressions. I’ve gone through the roller coaster of hearing about a new movie or show with tons of positive impressions, and then been disappointed, and so now I’ve swung to the other extreme, being cynical of any positive hype around a show. In this case, it was best that I actually come to this show with lower expectations, because as is my favorite adage for things like this, “if you want to enjoy something for the first time, come to it with the lowest possible expectations, and you will be pleasantly surprised.” This has worked for me more times than I can possibly count, from things like beef jerky, to Hollywood superhero films, it has been proven, that if I have high expectations for something, those expectations are always unrealistic, and I end up disappointed when leaving the theater, or eating the beef jerky, I guess, but the opposite is true. If I don’t expect anything from the gluten free, dairy free beef jerky, I find it amazing when it has a sweet, smoky flavor. Or when I went to Captain America Winter Soldier, I went in expecting a stupid heartless, mindless, action-bloated attempt at making Captain America fight against the twenty first century corruption in the government, and…was happy with how well it did exactly that, but also threw in some interpersonal drama too. So, with My Hero Acadamia, I found that many of my surmises about it being a reprinting of a bunch of American Superhero ideas and cliches to be completely correct, but I did not expect the atmosphere, stylization, and the light-hearted tone, to completely make up for the lack of originality with its source material. Course, that is not entirely true; there are definitely some very original decisions and choices that this show makes which sets it apart, both from the shounen anime norms, and the American comicbook cliches. The main thing which it subverts, is taking the idea of a world where superheroes exist, and making it absolutely wonderful. In this world, everyone has a quirk. Like, literally everyone. 99.999-ad-infinitum is the percentage of the world population without a superpower or quirk as it is referred to in this anime. And that one.00001 percentile? That refers specifically to our main character, the only kid in the world who is normal…except that for him to not have superpowers in a world where everyone else does makes him the abnormal one. This takes the superhero formula and turns it on its head. You won’t find any superhero like Batman or Spiderman, brooding on a rooftop somewhere, mourning the fact that he is the only hero of his kind. In fact the opposite is true. How much more cruel would a bully with superpowers be to a kid without them? This is what the main character Midoriya goes through everyday of his life, yet he maintains an optimistic and hopeful outlook, that one day his latent superpower will indeed manifest and he will be able to become the greatest hero in the world, much like his and everyone else’s heroic idol, All Might, who is basically like the in world equivalent to Superman, if Superman was blonde and Spoke Like Captain America, yet was living in Japan. This is where I must interrupt myself, and talk about our protagonist. Everything about him, the way he’s drawn, the color of his hair, his height, his backstory and ambitions, everything about him tells us exactly what kind of story this is going to be. The design of this character, and most characters in this show, are both extremely simplistic, yet complex. He is short, and thin, denoting his plight as the only human amongst gods, he has wild, spiky-curly hair which is black with green sheen, which is normal enough in an anime where people have candy colored hair, but is individual enough to set him apart. His hair is always out of sorts and unkempt, telling us that he might be a bit clumsy, and out of sorts, unable to control himself at times. Someone actually comments on his hair, that he ought to shape himself up if he’s going to be a superhero. Also, this is the first anime I have seen in which a male character has freckles, which of course display a sort of immature and dorky youthfulness as a character type. All of this kind of combines to give you the impression of emotional, weird and wacky, which is exactly how I would describe everything in this show. Every character is truly unique, and while most of the quirks are unoriginal, and can easily be found elsewhere in Marvel comics, the look and feel of every quirk and way it is used has its own visual flare that can only be found here. I’d like to posit that the reason this show is both cliched as well as enjoyable, is that it takes the same amount of pleasure in its superheroes as the main character does. Midoriya keeps a series of journals in which he draws every hero he has ever heard of, and lists their powers, their tactics, their pros and their cons, geeking out at the designs of their suits, and the uniqueness of their powers in combat. This is something which I myself did as a child, writing down all of my favorite heroes, drawing them, and then creating my own based on the powers I saw in comic books, trying to make them as awesome as possible. The fact that he does this, and you are really sold on the fact that he’s a superhero expert by the first episode, shows that the authors of this story had the same passion for superheros, and it shows. There are dozens upon dozens of supers in this show, and every single one has a unique design, and just looks awesome. I even have my favorite in a gunslinger hero who shoots every baddie in like a mile radius in the arms and legs the second he comes on screen. He only appears for a matter of seconds, but if I were a child, oh man, I would have made a collection of drawings, and written my own fan fiction about that guy. So anyways, the show draws you into the details of each character and hero, and contains the same wonder and awe that I think comics were always meant to inspire. So, back to how Midoriya tells you a lot about this show. This is important because it helps me get to some things which remind me of other pieces of media I think it is based off of. So He has green eyes which match his hair, and when he chooses a supersuit color, it is the green of his eyes, as well as matching his last name, Midoriya, which is just “Green” in Japanese with a “ya” tacked on at the end. This reminds me intensely of another such shounen anime protagonist, one who was small and thin, had crazy spiky green hair, was an underdog who no one expected of greatness, and who had ambitions which soared to the heavens. That’s right, it’s Gon from Hunter x Hunter. The similarities between this show and that are only apparent in spirit. They both have ambitious, green haired, underdog protagonists with limitless courage and untapped potential, but who is one among many with special abilities trying to reach the top like they are, and feature a host of obstacles, tests, battles and struggles which they have to go through in order to become the most powerful heroes ever! They also feature one insane villain with a disturbing laugh and creepy smile who commands a host of enemies, but that’s par for the course in any anime. So while I think that this show branches off from the norm very successfully in making a happy, black and white superhero future with clear lines of delineation from the good and the bad, rather than a grim-dark one where the superheroes have to fight for the government and the government is run by the corrupt and the only way to save humanity is to kill millions in order to save billions in a morally questionable ethical paradox, that if revealed could send humanity into another world war, but if it isn’t revealed it means that the heroes sacrificed their own honesty and goodness to perpetuate a lie. I’m actually a little sick of the dark and gritty superhero show, which is why My Hero Academia is actually a relieving breath of fresh air. Its premise, that of a young man coming of age in a highschool made to create superheroes out of the youth, smacks much of X-men, yet does not go into the dark and intense themes which X-men did, which takes much of the weight off of this show, whereas X-men has always been tasked with providing social commentary on the state of racism and xenophobia in the conservative west. This show instead is able to run full speed ahead to simply tell us a rousing tale of a young man who fought against his own fate to chase his dreams in a world where the odds were against him, and while that may be completely cliche, it is nice to be able to indulge in such a simple narrative now and again. That does not mean that this show is without deep themes, however, but most of the deep themes that are brought up are all positive, at least in this first season. The biggest one is that of sacrifice. The mc has it in him to become the greatest, but when it comes down to it, it is all for the sake of saving people that he wishes to be great, and of course he knows that it is cool when you can save people, which also is his reasoning for being great. But even when he does get a superpower, it is one which is so overpowered, that it breaks whatever part of his body he uses when channeling his super strength. This means that any time he uses his quirk, it is inherently an act of self sacrifice. Many other heroes won’t face the same dangers he does, even when they have more stable powers, but because of Midoriyas selflessness, he is able to save those people, and beat those villains, that no one else will. The second main theme here, is that of mentorship. Once again, Japanese culture succeeds in fostering this element where the west seems to have almost completely failed, and it surfaces the most here in the west in Asian stories, or anime of all things. The idea of the wise and powerful yet aging old sensei who teaches the young and impressionable hero, is definitely present in this show, just repackaged in a way that makes sense in an American superhero context. All Might’s interest in, and mentorship of Midoriya in this show, is so surprisingly close, so intimate and so emotional, that it literally steals the show. This is where the heart and soul of this show truly lies. The relationship of mentor and the mentee, is so strong, and I cannot help but bring up Rocky Balboa as a series of movies that the themes of this show really remind me of. The purpose of this show, is really to tell you never to give up, to always pursue what you know is right, to always be excellent, to push beyond the pain to become a better person, so that hopefully the ceiling of your mentors may one day become your floor, and one day you will look back and remember your friends, mentors, and even enemies, and be grateful for all the blood sweat and tears spent on their behalf, by their encouragement, because it got you where you are, in a place where you could reach your dreams, and catch your goals. That’s what this show is truly about. And to be honest, a show does not have to be about anything deeper than that to be enjoyable, it just depends on how that story is executed that makes it interesting or exciting. Heck, One Piece went on for almost 800 episodes, and I don’t think anyone is tired of the Shounen formula it used. On the contrary there are still tons of anime in production now which were inspired by this one plot thread. That of the boy who dreams. The Cinderella story. The one about reaching for the stars and bringing them down to earth, and having the spirit and willpower to do so. That’s what great shounen is about, and while My Hero Academia won’t be on any of my favorites lists, I bring it before you as an example of art that did not need to be unique or new in every aspect to be heartfelt and successful. It is actually kind of an inspiration, that no story, now matter how seemingly cliche it is can be enjoyable and meaningful if done the right way, and while I once again have to state that I don’t think My Hero Academia is a masterpiece, I understand why it is so popular, and give it a definite thumbs up for being an enjoyable yet memorable diversion, and a welcome addition to the superhero genre.

Advertisements

Akame Ga Kill; My Thoughts on Its Aesthetics. What Kind of World is This!?

So, I have written a couple of posts before this one on Akame Ga Kill, as I was watching it, which are to be found easily on my blog site, but they were basically very general posts on simple concepts to be found easily within the show. While I like those posts, and they are sincere, I realize that I have neglected to actually write about the specifics of what is good or bad about the show itself, for example: What do I think of the Art Style? Are the Characters well developed? How is the world-building? How well done is the plot progression? My first post, “I’m Watching Akame Ga Kill; Is It a Classic Fantasy, or Just Another Over-Hyped Anime?” was specifically about Akame Ga Kill’s place in popularity, and whether or not I think it deserves it by my viewing of its first few episodes. The next one, was about the killing off of side characters, and how mad I was that a certain character was killed off just to bring the viewers emotions to a boil. Now that I’ve already done that, let me backtrack a bit, and allow me to tell you just exactly how I like or dislike Akame Ga Kill for its actual specific creative specifications. Yes, I know, specific specifications is a bit redundant, so sue me. First off, lets start with the visual aesthetics of the show’s characters. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think that the character design and overall aesthetic of the show is simply iconic. Everyone has an instantly memorable look; simple enough to remember or recreate, and detailed enough to satisfy the avid fanboys/girls. For example, according to my imperfect memory, Akame has long black hair with messy bangs, a black, sleeveless school-girl’s outfit complete with skirt, with a red tie and gloves, wielding a katana with a red grip. A more detailed observation will yield also a white collar with red vertical stripes, her tie has a metal boss on it, there is a red satchel attached to her red belt, which has a black line down the middle, she wears black knee-socks with brown slip on shoes, and more importantly, she has crimson irises. This applies to all characters, and everyone has this same sort of dual aesthetic, of high-school uniforms, with medieval or traditional Japanese accents, such as minimal armor or weapons. This is a look which I simply adore, and while the art style is not exactly the most detailed or strikingly mature in nature, (it still has that very rounded and clean looking cell shading look) the overall look and feel of the show is enhanced by the incredibly unique look and feel for each character. The variety is to be admired. Nobody uses a similar weapon, nobody has a similar hair style, and it seems that almost every character is sporting a different primary color. The main character carries a Roman Gladius, Akame has a Katana as I mentioned, the loli girl Mine has a sci-fi looking sniper-rifle/cannon, Sheele carries a giant pair of scissors, etc. etc. It is, to me, artistic genius.
Now, all this is well and good, but if you were to read this description without any context or knowledge of what this story is about, you might think Akame Ga Kill to be a modern story, set in present day, or perhaps the future, where the high-schoolers in question are caught in a Hunger Games, Battle Royale, or Mirai Nikki styled situation, where they are all forced to pick up weapons specific to their style of combat from different eras throughout history. Right? Wrong. This is a fantasy world, a world in which there are medieval castles, half timber houses, Middle Eastern palaces, and Victorian Villas, all within miles of each other, all within a single country of this planet. This is a jumbled up world of different eras in Architecture, jammed together to make a completely incomprehensible conflagration of disconnected visual flare, and no matter how nonsensical this construction of visuals is, it is by no means set in the present day.
This brings me swiftly to my next point, that of the world building itself. The show starts off in episode one, with a covered wagon caravan being driven by what looks to be ninja monks, what with the whole Naruto style metal forehead protector things on their hoods, on a path through some country woods. A giant, humanoid, spiky, brown Danger-Beast (yes, that’s what they call them) rises out of the ground and attacks them. Before it does any damage, Tatsumi, the main character, slices the living daylights out of it in one swift airborne attack, all before he hits the ground. When he hit the ground however, and he turned around to talk to the caravan-ninja-monks (that’s what I’ll call ‘em) I had to pause the show, and take stock of what I was seeing. There before me, in this world where there are wagon trade routes, feudal cities and subsistence farmer peasants, all wearing period appropriate dress, stands a young boy in a button-up shirt with a sweater vest and blue jeans, wearing some leather greaves and bracers for armor. Do you see my hang-up here? They’ve introduced the nature of this fantasy world as being in the past, or at least in a parallel medieval world, well before introducing the characters I talked about before, all of whom have incredibly varied but predominately modern garb.
Now, with a satisfactory explanation, or reasoning behind these aesthetic choices, there would be no problem here. The fact of the incredibly disparate gap between the style of dress, technology, and architecture, could easily be explained away by a history of some form of doomsday event, wherein an apocalypse brings the whole planet into another dark age, with vestiges of modern clothing and technology remaining, or something along those lines. This would be eminently interesting information to explore. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually the backstory of this world, but this is never explained, and the type of world-building which would clear up the mysteries of this world and its visual cues, simply is nonexistent. There exists no such explanation or history and while there was indeed a great war in the world’s past, one in which the highly advanced Imperial Arms weapons were lost, you are given enough contextual flashbacks from before that to know that such intermingling of eras existed from before the war. The show simply continues on with its plot about rebellion and fighting the evil authority without even addressing these inconsistencies. I am glad however that weapons such as Mine’s gun are definitely addressed as forgotten technology, being one among many Imperial Arms created by the good king of the capitol before the war, which were lost in the fighting. This is enough to explain the strangely creative designs for the Imperial Arms, but not for the existence of sweater vests, mini-skirts, and headphones.
To make a very necessary qualification, I must say that I have not yet finished the series. There may indeed be a satisfactory explanation for the strange fantastical yet modern imagery by the end, but the fact that such striking visuals as guns, dragons, and school uniforms, all occur continually in the same frames, and is not explained for 14 episodes, leaves much to be desired when it comes to maintaining the suspension of disbelief. There were many, many times, when I was enjoying the show, and just had to pause and think to myself, “What on earth is going on with the visuals in this show?” Because I have heard it said, “aesthetic is narrative” and I definitely believe that, but as regards this show, aesthetic SHOULD be narrative, but unfortunately is not…at least not yet…I don’t even want to address the fact that one of the characters is a were-tiger woman, who wears nothing but a strapless black tube for a bra, and white pants that have a perfect cut out in the crotch to show her black bloomers beneath visible in the banner picture above. It makes absolutely no sense, but to make that character a walking piece of fan-service. It is despicable and I wish it did not exist. I don’t mind the character herself, but her choice of clothing is absolutely ridiculous, and completely unreasonable. There is more that I could say about that, but that would be a whole other post on fan-service and morality in anime.

Anyway, to sum up, I love the character designs, (most of them) at least in concept, but I greatly wish and desire for the aesthetic choices in any show, to tell me something significant about the world. I would say any story needs that. So, I shall indeed continue to watch this show, and let you know if that ever actually happens. Thanks for reading. God bless.

My Continued Thoughts on Akame Ga Kill, episodes 4-8; Death As A Plot Device; I Am So Triggered!

So, now that I’ve continued watching past the first few episodes, I have happened upon the episode which has finally made the reasoning behind the anime’s reputation as a gut wrenching death show, clear to me. For those who have not seen the show, I shall leave the names out of it for the sake of spoilers, but throughout the first six episodes, a certain character was being slightly developed, with a sudden spike in development in episode 6, which was well received by me. I liked the character, and the development given her. In episode 6, this character is shot, bisected, and dies suddenly, and sacrificially, an event which would increase the motivation of the revolutionary faction which the main character is a part of, which is called Night Raid. This character who died protecting another Night Raid Member, was my very favorite character in the show til then, due to the amount of pathos written into her. The fact that this character was finished off so quickly, suddenly, and without showcasing her full powers, or even fulfill her full story arc before dying, seemed like such a slap in the face to me, that I am tempted to think that the writing of Akame Ga Kill is less than exemplary, rather it is somewhat to be deplored after a certain fashion. It is taking a viable favorite character of many people, and making her an “expendable crewman,” to make people understand that the situation is serious. I understand that this death gives the plot a bit more weight, and adds one more reason why the main characters should bear a grudge against the antagonists, but having more character development, and even just a bit more screen time for this person would have drastically improved the emotional impact of their death later, and left me satisfied with her death. To prove this point, another member of Night Raid dies some episodes later, yet that was not anywhere near as traumatic to the viewer, nor such a smack in the face, as the death of the previous member, owing to the fact that this next character got at least 8 episodes worth of character development, each with active screen time in each episode to give them depth. (Sigh) It may be that my liking the character that died in episode 6 somewhat clouds my judgement, but I also liked the second character who died, and yet I was OK with it. They both were really interesting, lovable characters with cool designs according to my taste; the one just got a cool, mournful, noble death while the other got a sudden, disruptive, and somewhat humiliating one, being too quick for me to really appreciate what’s happening, and too bitter for the audience to be able to actually move on from their death. This is what I would call, a cheap way to engage the audience. “Introduce a really interesting, lively character with a backstory which could be awesome when fully revealed, but only reveal a tiny bit of it, get everyone interested, and then kill them off before anyone knows what hit ’em. Yeah, that’ll get the viewers cryin’. I can hear the money just pourin’ in.” Well, I can hear some television-mob bosses quoting those words even now. But if one were to take one quick look on IMDB for episode 6, entitled “Kill the Absolute Justice,” ( by the way, yes all the episodes are entitled with “Kill the-” at the beginning,) one would quickly find that this episode, where a lovable character is killed off too quickly for us to appreciate them, is rated at least a whole point higher than the episodes immediately before or after it! This ploy, which I know from American television is an old, tired, and despicably cliched plot device, is one which invariably works. Lost did it, Breaking Bad did it, and now The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are doing it. Now, the thing is, this tactic definitely immediately freezes that scene, that episode, the characters, and basically the rest of the show in your mind, making the show immediately a memorable one, if for the wrong reasons. I must remind myself that this tactic is not always a horrible one. If done right, it can cause a show to feel truly perilous, like no one has plot armor, and who knows what might happen next. I feel like Attack on Titan, which I actually really like as one of my favorites, (that tells you something about me) actually did do this plot device justice, because while people continuously died left and right, there was always a disturbing reason for it, and the fact that people died did not always serve the plot, but it served the reality of the world. It gave you the feeling that this is a place and a situation where humanity, while safe for the moment, is being put in the position of imminent extinction by horrible monsters, and no-one knows why or how it is happening, so sudden, meaningless deaths are a matter of course, just like in real war. Also, another thing these quick-emotional-deaths have going for them in AoT, is that all of the characters who die are secondary characters who you are immediately able to empathize with, no matter how much development is given them, and also, if they are given development, then it is always enough for you to be able to properly feel like you’ve known the character long enough now to let them go. You are never forced to accept the sudden death of a close companion of the main characters, and I have not yet had to accept the death of my dear glutton Sasha, at leat, not yet. But, for that character that just died in Akame Ga Kill, I’m still burning with anger that I was not able to see much more of her in the show as she so desperately deserved and needed as a character. Now, while all that negativity has been said, I still was not put off by this death enough to make me want to quit watching it, it did not disgust me to that degree. I immediately understood the type of show that this would be from here on out, one which murders its beautifully crafted characters with extreme prejudice for the purpose of plot convenience and quick thrills, and if they can use this trope more effectively, then I am still up for the ride. Indeed, in the very next story arc there was another death of a very close member of the cast, and yet that one was done with elegance and grace, giving you at least two more episodes to prepare you for what was to come. Will this show be able to keep up that elegance and grace? We shall see, next time. Thanks for reading and joining me on my viewing experience.

I’m Watching Akame Ga Kill; Is it a Classic Fantasy, or Just Another Over-hyped Anime?

So, this post in-particular should indeed be shorter than is my wont. That is due to the nature of it being about the fact that I am just watching Akame Ga Kill, right now, and little else. We’ll see how that goes by the time I stop writing it. I decided to watch Akame Ga Kill on a whim recently, as I usually do with anime, and not because of a review I watched, or a recommendation I listened to, which does sometimes happens but more rarely. As I slowly grow the amount of blogs I write, and attempt to become more aware of my tastes and decisions, I realize that I have been mainly watching fantasy anime as of late. This has not always been so. I had finished Sword Art Online, and Log Horizon almost three years ago, and felt a little burnt out by the RPG, Fantasy, Isekai genre in general. Since then I have remained in the realms of supernatural thrillers, mysteries, horrors, and comedy, without any further dives (SAO reference) into another fantasy world. That was until what I might term another “SAO killer” came along to put a shot in the already holey and steroid ridden arm of fantasy anime called, Re:Zero. After finishing that first 2016 season, which is useless when it comes to plot conclusion or emotional closure, (at least for me) I craved even more of this Fantasy genre, this thing which I did not know I had been starving for. That is when I actively began searching out more anime like Re:Zero, and ran across Danmachi, and then Konosuba, and you can read my thoughts on those elsewhere on my blog site. Now, I know for certain that I am a very mystery oriented person; any Sherlock Holmes story is my favorite short story over anyone else’s, and I have watched almost every iteration of Holmes in cinema that I could, so I did enjoy myself while taking a hiatus from fantasy to focus on the more dark and mysterious side of anime between Log Horizon and Re:Zero. To be honest though, I am so much more happy analyzing and agonizing over points of logic or plot when it comes to fantasy themes than I am with mystery when it comes to anime. Maybe it is because of the supposed lack of big mystery oriented anime in the medium, I don’t know. Now I’m kind of caught up in the whirlwind of second rate but enjoyable fantasy shows, which I am thoroughly enjoying while also able to thoroughly enjoy criticizing heavily. I also watched an exorbitant amount of Fate/Zero while in this mindset, and even that show was enjoyable for me to watch, while being one of the most vacuous stories I have ever seen. This is the state of mind I am in, OK. So now, while sitting on the couch, waiting for another episode of Attack on Titan 2 to come out, I stumble across an anime that My Anime List has been recommending to me ever since I told it that I liked Mirai Nikki and Tokyo Goul, that being Akame Ga Kill. The main things which drew me to the show when I first came across it were the facts that it was a thriller type, something like Mirai Nikki, which I liked for its plot and action. I liked that it had cover art and character design which I viewed (and still do) as being incredibly interesting and beautiful according to my tastes, and yes, that it was a fantasy. (I do always get sort of excited when I see the cover art for this show, even now, and the design for Katana Wielding Akame is absolutely brilliant.) This is a show however that I had sort of unwillingly decided to avoid based on reviews alone, because almost all of these reviews had nothing but negativity with which to describe it. “It’s a harem anime, don’t be fooled by the action. It’s so bloody no normal person should be able to stomach it. The animation is so inconsistent it might as well be Fate/Stay Night,” and so on and so forth. All of these things hit home with my perspective of morality I bring to anime, which states that the reasons to not watch shows are determined by them being too sensual and fan-servicey, being too gory or violent, or having a very shallow or meaningless plot. So, I hesitantly turned a blind eye to Akame Ga Kill, believing it to be another over-hyped, over-rated crowd-pleaser show, with no depth. That is, until now, and to be honest, I still don’t know if I will like this show in the end, because I am only a few episodes in, but I can tell you right now, that two things it is not; badly animated, or shallow plot-wise. Yet again, I must stress the importance of expectations when it comes to entertainment. If I had jumped on the bandwagon of hype and marketing which surrounded it in the Summer of 2014, declaring it the apparent savior of anime, I might have been disappointed with the somewhat obvious direction which Akame Ga Kill goes in, in its first arc. But hey, that first episode, while bloody, illogical and ridiculous, was still incredibly enjoyable, strangely enough, as well as fascinating, and by the third episode, you are finding depth you never expected to find in a show of this sort. Is it a classic? Well, again, I don’t know, but I am not put off from the idea that it might be, even if it is a bit like pulp-fiction for the masses. The fact that something is flawed does not preclude it from becoming a classic. So, the titular question of is it a classic, or just some more over-hyped anime trash, is one that I hope to answer by watching, and blogging. So far, I am liking it, despite its obvious flaws, and if you care to follow along in the ride of my thoughts on the subject, I shall be posting more of those thoughts as they come, and as I watch. God Bless!

Is it Inappropriate for Christians to Enjoy Konosuba?!

Greetings friends! As always, I shall be going on a long rant about morality in anime, so bear with me. The last thing I wrote about was an isekai trope in DanMachi, so I might as well continue the tradition with just about the most popular isekai anime show of twenty sixteen, “Konosuba, God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!” Immediately after the first season aired, and perhaps even during its run, I was already seeing memes, videos and clips of it everywhere on the internet, largely based on the more interesting of the secondary protagonists, Megumin the Mage. The amount of praise is overwhelming, and even critics of it gave surprisingly positive scores across the board. Online praise for anime is a strange beast; sometimes a show will get high scores just because it is a huge fan-service show with good animation quality, and sometimes a show will get low scores for the exact same thing.
Every show in the isekai (other world) genre usually receives fair to mixed reviews, with large constituents on both sides arguing how bad or good a show is. This seems to infer to someone like me that this genre is dominated by shows which ride on their premises or popularity rather than more critical or technical considerations. Each show is unique though, so such generalizations are a bit vulgar, but at the same time, the argument should be made that shows in the fantasy genre over all, get pretty mixed reviews these days. People still love Sword Art Online, and Ordinal Scale is making a killing, but the critics usually tend to pick this series apart til little left can be seen of it than the shreds of charisma, wonder, and simple, thoughtless emotion that birthed it. Konosuba however, being a simple comedy and not even a serious fantasy drama, the first isekai show to be a comedy only, blows that generalization out of the water, taking home scores of nothing less than 8/10 most of the time, even though it does not take itself seriously in the slightest.
This overwhelming positivity was enough to peak my interest for a while, but I could never get around to watching it until now. Within five minutes of viewing, I was surprised to find its killer charm tugging me into it. The characters. The characters are what carry Konosuba, like a high level tank champion character, who is able to take all of the damage which a low-level team of adventurers would otherwise be destroyed by. The development of the shut-in NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) Kazuma and his off the wall, unexpected and unsatisfying journey to another world, was pathetic just as it was hilarious, being an extreme parody of all the MC tropes isekai has ever given us. Meeting the seemingly graceful and self-absorbed goddess aqua, and seeing her transform into a weeping mess of helpless chibi when in a pinch, was reminiscent of the brilliance which came of Umaru’s otaku-tantrums in “Himoutou! Umaru Chan.” Megumin’s incredibly iconic chunibyo obsession with explosion magic, and finally Darkness the knight girl’s literally sadomasochistic desire to take punishment for the team, was all kind of magical adventure in well done character study.
Everything else however, during and after the first five minutes of the first episode, left me confused and disturbed when trying to justify the sensual overtones of its comedy. So, in any anime in which a character goes to a world of RPG fantasy, one should always know that some amount of fan-service is expected, right? Well, Konosuba takes that fact and runs with it in such a blatant and in your face way that the comedy goes from innuendo, to straight sex jokes and incredibly bouncy animated breasts, in the blink of an eye. This anime is not listed as a harem show, yet the main character attracts a large retinue of exclusively female adventurers, all of which either have some strange sexual fetish, or are scantily clad. All of this comes from the desire to mock the subliminal and offensive fan-service in other isekai shows, by having fanservice which is even more over the top.
If you know me, and if you have visited my My Anime List profile, (https://myanimelist.net/profile/CharlesQBanks) you will know that I base the score for any anime I’ve seen off of a Biblical, Christian ethic, with a large chunk of the score being dedicated to moral considerations. Every show I watch, I watch it both for my own enjoyment, but also to analyze its moral implications, and what it tells me about the human race and psyche of modern people groups. This is what interests me about Anime in general, since Japan has such a different moral and ethical background that it makes this kind of analyses even more interesting.
I’m usually pretty capable of figuring out the overall moral of a story and whether or not young’ins or old’ins should be watching them, but when it comes to things like Konosuba, I find myself conflicted, because while I intensely enjoyed its characters and satirical treatment of the isekai genre, I could never imagine myself recommending it to anyone whom I respect as having a gentlemanly sense of humor. Questions such as, “What is OK to watch, and what isn’t?” tend to become rather simple to answer when given a Christian worldview, and especially with the Scriptures to help along in that regard. “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial,” says the preacher, and based on the wealth of knowledge the Lord gives us through the Bible for daily living, we can easily divine which is which in any situation. There is still the issue of subjective personal conviction, and only God can judge in that department. One Christian may have no qualms watching all seasons of the Walking Dead, an incredibly graphic and violent series with little to recommend it to conservative audiences but for extremely intense relational drama, but at the same time utterly condemn the low-key iyashikei (healing) show Mushishi for being too demonic, morally neutral, and spiritually dark.
This type of situation is pretty much a matter of very specific delineation between morally gray boundary lines which are completely relative to a person’s walk with God. What this comes down to in the end is, like I said, personal conviction. Your conscience will always tell you if you begin to watch something displeasing to God, but it is your choice as to whether or not you listen to Him. This is what is meant by Paul in Romans when he speaks of Christians with stronger/weaker faith. One may eat meat and feel guilty about it and condemn themselves, another may eat meat and be completely justified in themselves because of the blood of Christ. The one condemns themselves because they felt convicted about it yet chose to eat anyway, and the other is free from condemnation, not because they didn’t consider the situation, but because their conscience was not telling to not eat it under the Grace and freedom of God.
All of what I just said is to explain differences in dealing with very morally subjective situations which are matters of detail, like eating meat sacrificed to idols or not, but when it comes down to something like fan-service, the line is a little more clearly drawn than. “But Charles!” I hear you say, “You’re a Christian, and yet you watched Konosuba! If you had such objections to it, why’d you keep watching it, huh?” When it comes down to how I feel about Konosuba, it has to do with the fact that I actually enjoy it. The reason I get conflicted about it, is that I know that it is not an appropriate show for Christians or gentlemen to watch, and yet I did enjoy it, not because of the fan-service or innuendo, but in spite of it, because of all the other good things in it.
The only other reason I can justify having watched it, is that I was not necessarily tempted by its displays of sexuality, merely disgusted by it, and I know that many indeed would be tempted by it, even if I was not. It is, I would say, an objectively enjoyable anime; that is to say, that if you love anime, and are familiar with the anime sub-culture, you will indeed enjoy this show, whether you are a Christian or not. There comes the rub, that according to the Christian ethical code, it is unhealthy, and defiling to indulge in such smutty entertainment. The problem with sexual innuendos and sex jokes, is that they dehumanize people; mankind, womankind, and the human body, in a way that makes fun of that which brings forth love, life, and intimacy, as well as the image of God itself. So when it comes down to thinking about healthy sexual embarrassment and what sex is, it means nothing but a joke to the secularist, because according to the them, we should not be embarrassed about sex, and sex and gender roles can be casual nothings, swept into the dust bin of history as something outdated and obstructive to human freedom. The atheists will always advocate for free love, even the intellectual atheists, and that in itself is degrading to inherent human nobility, given only by God. That in itself is what secular people like about sex jokes, and what people would like about Konosuba’s humor, it brings down the common denominator between people, and makes anything that is taboo out to be basically a joke.
I feel I must explain the sort of subculture of person I’m talking about more specifically, because saying that people will like Konosuba for its smuttiness is obvious, but also an oversimplification. So, in example, admitting that pornography is a proud part of your life, is an embarrassing and shameful social suicide, and very well should be. However, in the secular otaku world, admitting that you visit porn-sites regularly seems to be a rite of passage for the community. So, to the worldly, Konosuba is quite a step forward in advocating for that sort of accepted state of unembarrassed perverseness they all desire. Again, I feel I must qualify, that not all otaku or secular people have this mindset; there are definitely anime lovers who have a more nuanced moral code to their anime viewing, even if they are not Christians. That being said, Konosuba is not written for those type of people, but the former, who love the idea of coming out of the proverbial closet to express their sincere feelings; that they are people who are sexually perverse.
This is why I will not recommend Konosuba to Christian audiences, and to answer my question, while it is not inappropriate to enjoy Konosuba’s plot or characters, it IS inappropriate to enjoy its humor unequivocally.
Something that a friend commented to me about this blog when I mentioned it to him, was the fact that two out of three of the anime blogs that I’m going to have written once this gets out will have been negative diatribes about anime that are examples of the perverted stereotypes I always thought anime to be, because for a while, I thought anime was just for children or perverted adults. Now, I want to prove that stereotype wrong by talking about the fact that my past stereotype of anime as perverse is an over-generalization which brushes to the wayside a whole crowd of morally acceptable, great anime which actually exist out there, and bring these to Christians online.

There are always bad or immoral parts or additions to any given medium, and it is the duty of the discerning consumer, and especially the critical thinker, to find and praise the best, and to find and warn the world of the worst. The funny thing about these particular anime that I’ve been criticizing, is that all of the more fan-service focused shows, are Isekai shows. SAO was a fan-service-like show, Re;Zero was a mildly fan-service show, DanMachi is a certain kind of fan-service show, and Konosuba is definitely a fanservice show, and it definitely does not help my case that Konosuba definitely fulfills the perverted stereotypes. The common denominator among all of these isekai shows, is that they all share a negative problem with anime in general; fan-service. The world may say, oh sexual fan-service can be good if it is done the right way, but for upright, self-respecting, morally minded people, especially Christians who have their reasons for moral standards given to them by God, fan-service is never right, and no amount of enjoyable content can make blatant sexual objectification OK.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading, I am impressed by you. Keep on keeping on, watching anime in the goodness and grace of God.

Is DanMachi a Sword Art Online Clone?

danmachi_hestia_and_bell_wallpaper_hd_by_corphish2-d8rqymfGreetings friends! As you can see by the title, the question I shall be addressing is this, Is DanMachi a Sword Art Online Clone? Throughout this rambling blog, I shall be making comparisons and contrasts between these two shows in order to discuss in detail my answers to this question. So after many months, and several years of being turned off to the prospect of watching DanMachi by the humorously long title, DanMachi being a shortening of the full title; Danjon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darō ka which translates to, “Is it Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?” I finally watched the stinking show after reaching a show hole in my life, a fit of boredom after having finished some phenomenal anime series, (such as Code Geass, Hunter X Hunter, andHaibane Renmei,) and feeling like I had little more to watch of any good anime. I was of course wrong about this, but that is the feeling that I had at the time. It can be a fairly discouraging thing. After watching the first few episodes, I found that, while the title definitely seems to be a cringeworthy hint that the show is a shameless ecchi harem fan-service show, which I am adamantly averse to, it is actually not a shameless ecchi harem fan-service show, as the title suggests. It has it’s harem elements, and some pretty blatant fanservice, but that is not a focus, just as it should not have been the focus of sword art online. Compared to Sword art Online, DanMachi is somewhat tame in it’s fanservice, not because it has less fanservice shots in it, but because of the type of fanservice is shown. In Sword Art online, they shoehorned it in, and not to beat about the bush, adorned an otherwise enjoyable show with upskirts and breast shots that have no part of the show; in Danmachi, the only fanservice which exists, which mainly consists of characters with large breasts, and some sexual innuendo, are simply a part of the character designs and personalities. There are characters that are more modest, and characters that are less modest based on who they are, which although I wish there were absolutely no fanservice whatever, I can appreciate when a show does not go out of its way to make a big deal out of sexualizing its characters, but rather makes it a part of the character’s in-world choice, much as it happens in the real world. This is something I kind of Like about DanMachi, and to be honest, expecting that it would be a dirty harem show and being pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t, was much more digestible than expecting little fanservice, and the opposite happening, as did with SAO. Many of the less modest females in the show are actually goddesses based on Greek mythology, some of them even with genders changed from their original mythical identities from male to female for the show, so you can expect what I call some pagan Ludeness in this series. That being said, it is not for teens, whom it is aimed at, and slightly inappropriate even for discerning adults. As a Christian, I would only recommend this show with some moral cautions; it is in the end not truly worth wading through the fanservice here and there to watch the show all the way through. Even from the beginning, this show is less than fantastic, and you can immediately tell that all of its thunder is built off of the success of previous shows in its genre. It smacks of unoriginality is what I mean, but the essence of this show is found in its action, its comedy and its simple prioritization of plain ol’ fun. The fanservice puts a damper on this though, and that is definitely unfortunate, because without the fanservice, I could recommend this show as a fun fantasy romp about a boy becoming a man and falling in love in an RPG setting with gleeful abandon, but for shows like this, regular fanservice is basically par for the course, the course of Isekai shows, and If you know anything about anime, you know who we have to thank for that, Sword Art Online. If you are looking for a fanservice free video game world series based on an RPG, I heavily and strongly suggest Log Horizon. Its presentation is fun and clean, its characters remain un-sexualized and sincerely interesting, and its plot remains intellectually focused on a hard sci-fi perspective throughout.
If you are still interested by Dan Machi however; I encourage you to read on, and give it a chance for yourself. For a mature person, the fanservice may not be that much of a hindrance to you, and is definitely less than many anime I could name in this genre. I’m talking about you, No Game No Life. Now then, to continue laying the foundation of why I think DanMachi may be called a Sword Art clone.
There are many Isekai shows which DanMachi is similar to, but it isn’t technically an Isekai, because by definition, Isekai is an anime genre in which the main characters are transported suddenly to another world from their own. In DanMachi, the main character is a native peasant boy, who must learn to become an adventuring beast hunter and dungeon crawler in order to support himself and pay homage to the lesser Goddess Hestia who gives him shelter, and who “levels his stats” for him in a very RPG reminiscent way. The story is about his having stumbled into an elite tiered swordswoman Aiz Wallenstein in a dungeon with a level much higher than his own, and being thereafter rescued by her from a rampaging minotaur. He immediately falls in love with her after escaping death through her intervention, and he then determines in his heart to become a master swordsman as well, in order to catch up to her, impress her, and steal her heart like he stole hers.
This plot thread is ironically an interesting twist on the expectations that the title of the show gives you, those of DanMachi being a show in which the main character is some meathead who is constantly hitting on girls while fighting through dungeons, or perhaps saving the life of a damsel in distress, and successfully forming a romantic relationship with her. Instead, he is the dummy in distress who falls in love with his savior, and she is the steely eyed heroine who doesn’t really notice him whatsoever at first. I think that this concept is brilliant, especially when combined with the confusing title, as it immediately improves upon your easily formed bad expectations. This tactic however, is also a very poor one though too, because it drives audiences away before they can even watch the first episode. Instead of hooking the audience with a catchy title which gives them a sense of mystery or interest about what might be in the show, it gives you a long, confusing sentence which makes you think the worst of a show which is actually sincerely trying to subvert a couple of popular fantasy tropes which usually show up in anime.
For conservative people, such as myself and my friends, I could imagine them passing up watching DanMachi indefinitely just based on the bad taste which the title gives you, and I know for a fact that many others have done just that. I’m not saying that all Christian or conservative people should or shouldn’t watch this show, but just that the creators somewhat hamstrung themselves when it comes down to the audiences that they could have drawn in by having a simpler name. Just sayin’. So now, to the nitty gritty. The nuts and bolts, the core of this message, and why I wanted to write and talk about this somewhat obscure show from 2015. So, early on, though the show is not set in an alternate dimension, nor a man made video game world, I immediately began drawing comparisons in my head between this show, and Sword Art Online. The main character, Bell Cranell (a wonderful name) is a loner, with but one friend in his Goddess and no skills to speak of, who is struggling to become a master swordsman. He meets and befriends dozens of attractive female characters, all of whom form some sort of crush for him which he fails to acknowledge or recognize, something which all male light novel protagonists must do. Sure, all of these things are small trifling similarities, which mostly have to do with it being a larger budget show, with beautiful animation much of the time, and a very romance oriented plot, but it was not until episode 7 or 8 of Danmachi that I realized that there was one element which made the comparison all too real to not be made. Now, what I am about to say is actually the plot shift on which the show is based, which is meant to give the show it’s second wind to propel it to it’s first season’s climax, so if you despise all spoilers, and wish to see this show unspoiled, do not read the rest of this diatribe, because this is what it has all been about. All throughout the series, the Goddess Hestia has been withholding the truth of Bell’s special skill, and his true level from him throughout the season, for fear that if she were to tell him of his true potential, he would leave her and become a grand dungeon master with someone else, leaving her alone. In the 7th episode however, his special skill is revealed, and Hestia is no longer willing or able to keep the truth from him. This is the clincher. This is meant to be the part that excites and thrills you to exalting heights before the season’s climactic end. What is the skill he has which is so mysterious? I’ll tell you. He’s invincible. Yep, he can do anything, and can never die. This is what got so under my skin in such a strange way that I felt compelled to spend my time writing this and recording it. Here is where the comparison comes in. Now, in Sword Art Online, Kirito is a strong, silent type who has dozens of hours of experience to give him an edge over everyone else at the beginning of the show, but he still has to work up from scratch in order to become the Black Swordsman he would become, but the one plot point that I think broke Sword Art Online’s plot for me, was the fact that he secretly was holding a super powered duel-wieldable super sword, with which he could basically defeat any threat before him, stowed invisibly in his back pocket throughout multiple fights in which he could have saved others by using it, but didn’t. Not only that, he has so many levels on everyone else in the game that the best attacks that five player-killers can use to kill him do not even put a scratch him. Kirito was invincible in SAO, with the perfect example that death itself could not keep him from winning, due to his incredible plot armor in the last episode of the first arc. The reason this broke the plot, is that his invincibility and ascendancy is established in the first 12 episodes, taking away any fear or threat of defeat for him in the rest of the both the first and second seasons, and also precluding any personal betterment, because he’s already too perfect. For many, this made the rest of SAO a boring slog through obligatory plotlines that would stretch out several damsel in distress stories so that kirito would be forced to bring out his ultimate power in the last few episodes to defeat the monster who threatens to deflower his waifus. Now, the similarity I am about to draw between this and DanMachi is not one of perfect reflection but rather a similarity of form, meaning it’s not a perfect comparison but basically….the same freaking thing happens in DanMachi as in blessed Sword Art Online! The main thing, the main problem with SAO, which took away all danger from the characters, and destroyed all semblance of suspension of my unbelief, happens in DanMachi. In the seventh episode, it is revealed, that Bell Cranell, the Cinderella story underdog, has the skill to level up faster than anyone else for one, and also has the ability to defeat any threat that faces him for two. The show doesn’t even attempt to hide it! They literally make him invincible in the 7th episode and say it to the audience unapologetically, and everyone stands around the arena awed and amazed by his glory as he beats a Minotaur which far out-levels him. This is the point at which I, sitting in my bed, with chips in hand, which I dropped, my mouth agape, stared at the screen, and said to myself aloud, “It’s a sword art online Clone.” This phrase is meant to define when a fantasy, Isekai or rpg themed anime plays off of the same plot points, themes, tropes, and qualities of what Sword Art Online was; an enjoyable but incredibly flawed RPG fantasy aimed at general audiences, which has a lot of pandering appurtenances such as consistent fan-service, highly polished light-novel styled animation, simplified sci-fi medieval designs, and tons of female followers of a boyish, clueless and all powerful main character. This generally has a derogatory meaning to me, since there are so many issues with SAO as a pop-culture piece of media, but this is not always the case, as in the case of RE; Zero, a show which is very flawed, but a lot of fun to keep up with, and even to critique, at least for me, a person who is a very critical thinker. In any case, an SAO Clone will have an overall tendency of pandering to the masses with super emotional action focused stories, which always have a huge amount of their value into attractive and marketable visuals. This does not necessarily always mean that the show cannot maintain a suspension of unbelief, but unfortunately, with all three of these shows, the originator of this dilemma, SAO, as well as its clones, DanMachi and RE:Zero, all have issues with Deus Ex Machina, illogical harem elements, idiotic main characters, (to some degree or another) and plot breakingly unbelievable contrivances. Now, to be precise, my idea of this is solely based on my own experience of these anime, and nothing else. There are far more additions to the fantasy rpg-world isekai genre than the anime that I have seen, or even have heard of, and there are probably reasons why RE;Zero, and DanMachi were originally created by authors and creators who were not influenced by SAO and are therefor not SAO clones, but if a person is to be critically minded, and sees SAO, RE;Zero, and DanMachi in chronological order, one cannot help but draw comparisons, and make the comment that these new additions were highly influenced in their animation and story design by SAO, which is to this day the most popular isekai series in animation. The next question is, is this a bad thing? Is being an SAO clone automatically a bad thing? Well, many may emphatically just make the quick judgement that it is based on personal a dislike of SAO, and others may make the judgement that it is rather a good thing based on their enjoyment of it, or of those later shows. The fact that these popular animes came out after SAO, probably means that it inspired writers to write, creators to create, and that cannot be a bad thing, since now we have so many different additions to the genre which all made it big. This I understand and agree with to a degree, but when the original show was not that great, and its most popular successors do little to nothing to improve on the model it originated, I must say that there is definitely something wrong with being an SAO clone. To be more objective about it, one would have to make the statement based solely off of what it is that was copied in the potential clone; was it a positive piece of the original work that was copied in the newer show? Or was it a negative error? That is what determines the value of the show’s later identity in my mind as being an SAO clone. This discussion does seem quite self servicing, in that all I’m doing is talking about this new term I came up with and explaining it in detail, but it’s just my way of expressing this phenomenon of taking an older isekai show which garnered great popularity over the years, and copying many of the tropes found therein for the purpose of creating a similar cash cow. Now, I must qualify that DanMachi, and even RE;Zero, which I think is much more derivative, both have heart and soul of their own to recommend them to the average viewer, but when I see a show with heart and potential suddenly make the exact same mistake in the exact same fashion with the exact same end goal in mind that a more famous series did in the past, I must sit up in my chair and try to make sense of it. All that being, said, I have yet to finish DanMachi, being so overcome with emotion that I had to write this before continuing, but when I finally do finish the show, another shorter rant may be expected. I hope this has been an enjoyable rant, and that it possibly stirs up some further thought and discussion as well. If you have any further comments, questions or counter points to this discussion, please do so in the comments.
God bless!

Charles’ Review of ERASED

23720202389_657af13115

Greetings friends! And welcome to Charles’ Classic Blog. This time my entry shall be geared towards a genre of artistic media which has been considered both strange and obscure but is rapidly growing in western popularity, Anime. Yes, that Japanese cartoon style so famous for its flashy Saturday morning cartoons, and infamous for its oversexualized depictions of female characters. My focus in the genre however, has always been to find those Anime serials which avoid both the childish and the oversexual, tending rather to more dramatic, romantic, suspenseful, and therefor more mature content; mature meaning the opposite of immature, rather than the opposite of “For General Audiences.” These types of anime, neither too immature nor too “adult,” do definitely exist in greater numbers than they are given credit for. Some entries in the genre even deserve to stand up next to some of the greatest Hollywood films, and sometimes surpass them in scope and imagination.

So if you have no interest in Anime whatsoever, you might think this post to be too specific or narrow-minded in its emphasis, for you. BUT! If you have any semblance of an open mind, this review may lead  you to an understanding of and appreciation for a widely neglected form of entertainment which you may not have seriously considered before. This is an Anime review not just for Anime fans I assure you. I would also like to point out that as with all things I write, I tend to rant and ramble, and therefor will take more than a modicum of patience to read. With that, let me set the stage for how I came to view this rather thought provoking anime.

The weekend of June the 20th, I was experiencing quite a bit of ennui, and therefore began looking through a list of recently aired anime, to see if the Japanese could in any way interest my bored mind with their two dimensional machinations, as they have so many times in the past. All I was looking for was something highly rated, four stars at least, with a deep and interesting plot which could intrigue me, at least for a bit. I did not want to be dragged into a long and episodic marathon, like some Shounen anime tend to be (which literally translated means few years and is currently applied to anime or manga which would appeal to young or teen boys. Think Pokemon or Dragonball Z.) As I scrolled, I came across the title ERASED, with a rather attractively drawn picture of a young boy and girl in winter apparel, sitting in the back of a dark bus, with a dim lantern casting shadows on the floor.

I had heard of this anime many times before; seemingly the instant the anime aired in January the internet exploded with praise for it, even before the anime ended in March. So I heard of it immediately when it aired, but held off from watching it for several different reasons. The first reason, was that the art looked so good and of such a specific style, as to be highly reminiscent of emotional drama anime, by which I mean HEART-RENDINGLY TRAGIC, such as Clannad, which I have seen,  or Angel Beats, which I have not. I did not wish to repeat such an experience so soon after having seen Clannad (almost six months before.)

The second reason, has much to do with my own eccentric personality. I highly prize older and sometimes more obscure anime, such as Trigun, Lovely Complex, and His and Her Circumstances, and so if I see that something is popular, and everyone is losing their minds over it, I feel a slight sense of disgust because, based on experience, hype many times leads to disappointment. I had this same reaction when made suddenly aware of the wildly popular One Punch man by seeing rows and rows of it selling out at my favorite Barnes and Noble bookstore. After waiting five or six months for the hype to die down, I watched One Punch Man, and as I expected, it was…OK. Nice animation though…

The third reason, was that I had heard from a couple of friends who saw it, that ERASED had an interesting start, and a disappointing finish, turning out to be an overall mediocre piece of entertainment which may not be worth the time. The general consensus seemed to be that it was a show which hyped itself up in the first episodes, but soon died away in a bad ending. This, more than anything else, helped to make up my mind that this was an anime which, like a poorly built fire, would flare up suddenly due to good production values, but soon die out due to lack of solid writing.

This was my impression as an onlooker while the anime community waxed and waned in devotion to this well made, but apparently ill executed adaptation of a highly acclaimed manga series of the same name. I had therefor panned the series, avoiding it happily for the reasons stated above. At the time of which I write when boredom had set in, it had been three months since I had last considered watching the show. ERASED, originally known as The Town Where Only I Am Missing, was the highest rated in the list of anime I was looking at, and I decided it was high time that I found out what this apparently controversial anime title was about. I watched a couple of non-spoilerific reviews on the show, and came away quite surprised by the overwhelmingly positive impression that the reviews gave of the show. I had expected that there would be some praise of the animation and the premise, but that then there would come the hammer of criticism on weak plot points, and an ending that would somehow make the show not worth watching. Indeed, right after the show finished, I had read and heard scathing reviews which warned everyone from watching it, telling everyone to “beware disappointment.”

So, I heard horrible things, listened to contradictory arguments about the show’s value, and subsequently thought that the show was an emotional waste of time. I decided to watch however, expecting an entertaining but unimpressive past-time at best, or a total waste of time at worst.

But then I started watching the show, and holy crap was I wrong. I was immediately impressed with the premise and supernatural time travel elements which are put to good use within first five minutes of the beginning. I was reminded of the sort of edge-of-your-seat intensity and mind bending content as what is found in Steinsgate, which is itself my standard for judging good sci-fi/time travel dramas, which means I was quit pleased with what I saw in the first episode. It made me want to watch the second immediately, which I was not expecting. Every subsequent episode was better than the last, adding interesting characters, intriguing subplots, a mystery to be solved, strange powers to be employed, victims to be saved, and a culprit to be caught. And the trend never stops…except that it does near the end, which is a definite downer…and I shall get to that later.

Up until the tenth episode you don’t know what will happen, and crazy heart breaking events occur ever so often to remind you that this is no kids show, this is life and death, and it’s enough to allow this show to exist under labels of “Psychological thriller” and “Tragedy.” These two elements are some of my favorites in all media, live action included, and both elements usually occur in some form in all of the anime which I like.

There are sound moral messages, episodes that are aimed at raising awareness for child abuse, kidnapping, and depression, and black and white bouts of good versus evil, all of which combine to form a surreal time-travel drama which is also darkly realistic. People die every day, children are kidnapped, and suicide happens all of the time in the real world, and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. No one can turn back the clock. But what if we could? How could we change things? And more importantly, if we could change things, what would be the consequences for the hero? This show explores these ideas. You cannot come away from being invested in so many people’s lives unscathed, and the MC for this series certainly does not.

Self sacrifice is a pivotal theme to this show, and I can’t help but think that this show can’t help but be a good one because of that fact. It gives us traditional messages which harken back to timeless tales of courage and selflessness. It gets at the heart of why we exist, and the answer this show gives, while somewhat incomplete, is to love others unconditionally, no matter what the danger is to ourselves. It’s a traditional hero tale, with traditional hero tropes, and while that may be a cliche, it’s a cliche I will never tire of, and one which will always have positive impact upon the viewer.

All that being said, this show, while enjoyable, heart wrenching, and nail biting, still has a couple of fundamental flaws which caused some viewers to toss the remote at the TV in frustration by the end. This is what I was referring to earlier; the time when the unpredictable element goes out the window, and becomes hopelessly cliched. The flaws are thus: romance never comes to focus or fruition. This show is literally gushing, oozing, overflowing with romantic tension. Every moment the character spends with the female leads is another coin in the bank of an emotional payoff, and makes the viewer hope to God that they will get together someday. The problem is, that while their relationships do deepen, heck, even young confessions of affection even take place…no true  romance ever happens in this anime. The bank full of emotional coins is never broken to give us the romantic payoff we hoped for, and the incredibly loved starved reactions of the main character at the end of the show is an unabashed statement of that fact. He wants love, he needs love, but because of the circumstances, he is constantly denied it. The moment he may be granted happiness, is where the show ends, which is one reason why someone might hate this show.

However! The fact that they showed that the MC will find love after the show, is a merciful sign of compassion from the creators of the show to the emotionally scarred people who slugged through this roller-coaster of a thrill ride to it’s conclusion. I say that this show ends well, precisely because while it does leave you hanging on the romantic note, it gives you enough proofs that romance will happen, that it does not need to tell you the details. It hints at Satoru’s perfect love, but does not insult your intelligence by having a bunch of episodes dedicated to how it will happen. It leaves it up to your imagination. Another thing about this somewhat disappointing romance, is that romance is not what the authors intended when creating this anime. It is not the point, and never takes center-stage because it was never meant to; the mystery and drama of the serious happenings which take place and the stakes involved are the thrust and foci of this show, not romance per se.

The second and final negative of this show goes thus:
The badguy does not have a good motivation, and his identity is easily guessed pretty early on. This is a huge problem, because every episode has something in it which is trying to figure out who the killer is, and why he does what he does, which builds up quite a bit of anticipation in those who watch intently with that purpose in mind. In any mystery, there exists the desire in the reader to attempt to solve the mystery himself; it is inherent to the genre. So when the killer is so easily identified, there comes the hope that the writers will bring in a plot twist of some sort to throw you off, and show you how it was someone else all along, and every couch detective will then moan in self derision for not figuring that out, and smack themselves in the forehead, which is both an artful thing to do, and intellectually pleasurable for the reader. This particular mystery show, does not even try to do this. There is a finite and definitely small number of suspects to start with, and by the eighth episode, it can come down to only one person. The culprit is then unmasked at the very end in such a dramatic fashion as would connotate that the writers meant it to surprise everyone watching, and cause a collective “My GOD! How could this be!?” to escape from the throats of the viewers and the anime characters alike. Instead, the viewers will inevitably make this face, -_- and fold their arms, uttering a collective, “No duh,” from their throats.Not only that but the culprit’s motivations for killing, kinapping, or doing anything are so utterly simplistic and cliched that it is a wonder that the writers even chose to include an explanation of it in the anime at all.

However! There is an element of classic villainy in this formula, which also makes it endearing to those who enjoy a good “black and white superhero flick,” which I do. It reminds me inparticular of the motivation behind Batman’s infamous villain the Joker, who only ever does anything evil because it “makes him laugh.” He has a demonic sense of humor, and no conscience to stop him from making fun of society, therefor he is the most deadly criminal in human history, he doesn’t need an ingenious childhood backstory to make his motive believable. It’s just Batman versus Joker, and the interesting thing is not Joker’s motivations but the action that happens between the two that makes the whole show worth watching. The same is true of the villain in Erased, he does what he does because he wants to, and all that matters is which one wins in the end, the main character, or the antagonist. This is definitely a shame though, because the show has this gritty and realistic tone to it that makes an ingenious character motivation necessary for the villain to fit the tone of the show. In this case, the character falls flat, and there is no further excuse or validation to be made for it, it was a bad choice, and it takes the series down a notch because of it.

That concludes my review. The only other negative thing I could possibly say is that there isn’t more insane nail bitingly intense episodes to this story, which is definitely not a negative. On the other hand though, I think it remains so engaging and intense precisely because they limited it to twelve episodes, allowing them to pack in as much of the plot as possible into as few episodes as possible, which keeps it from having a bunch of meaningless filler episodes jamming up the gears and slowing down the pace. I wanted a shorter series with more of a punch than your typical long running anime, and that is exactly what I got. For ERASED, my rating from one (being the worst) to ten (being the best) based on how many positive elements there are to this show compared with how many negative elements there are to the show, then I would give it a 7.5-8.0 out of 10, with a 0.5 margin of error for those who dislike the negative aspects more. There is a lot more positive than negative, and while it is more of a simple good versus evil drama, the way it is framed is so engaging and interesting that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. It is definitely on my top ten list. There you have it.

When it comes to anything in entertainment, or in life for that matter, you are in more of a position to be disappointed or bemused when one does not know what they are getting into, which is why I make reviews. I hope you found this helpful, and if you have never watched anime before, this would make a good entry into the medium for you, because anime is not a genre, it is just another medium, like painting, or music, or theatre, it is meant to tell a story in a specific style, and in this case, this animated thriller goes right up there with the live action ones. That’s it for me! God bless, and one more thing…

Watch it!