Some November Blog News

This is just a heads up. Apologies for not posting as often as I want. Life has gotten hectic due some major developments, mostly of the negative sort. Let’s not delve into that mess. I have still consumed copious amount of anime and I’m still walking and breathing, somehow.

But that’s not just it.  I’ve committed to  National Novel Writing Month. I started preparation in October and I’m slowly churning words. For those who don’t know, pretty much it’s a competition against one’s self to write 50,000 words in a month. I personally believe this is a great exercise as it teaches one to push out words, even when they are feeling fairly lazy. I’ve slightly behind due to those previously mentioned life events, but I’m playing catch up pretty quickly.

On the otaku war front, these are the animes that I have consumed since September. Some of which I plan on popping out some reflections in the near future:

Gokukoku no Brynhildr (Brynhildr in the Darkness) [6/10]
Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova (Arpeggio of Blue Steel) [7/10]
Gankutsuou (Count of Monte Cristo) [8/10]
Nazo no Kanojo X (Mysterious Girlfriend X) [6/10])
Tokyo Ghoul [9/10]

I have some Beneath the Surface ideas brewing in my head that I want to contend with soon. Also there a few more features I think I might want to add to this blog.

September Recap: Part Three

These two are the final two animes I completed in September. . I already discussed  both shows in a earlier post, praising and criticizing several choices they took with the protagonists. For Aldnoah, I will do my best not to provide many spoilers because the strength of the show is definitely on the twist and turns. I wanted to finish these recaps sooner; however, I have ran into some roadblocks in life.  Apologies if my Persona 3 recap is slightly more vague than usual. So let begin.
aldnoahzeroMyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression
Aldnoah.Zero (2014) definitely hooked me right away. One of the few shows of the past season I kept up to date with, every step of the way. The storytelling reminds me of almost along the lines of George R.R. Martin.  There are moments where the internal logic of the story is brutal and ruthless. The show is not just another war anime with mechs, but it is also a political thriller, with all the intrigue needed, and a show filled with human stories.

Gems
The cast of characters are well developed. Slaine Troyard, Asseylum Vers Allusia, Count Cruhteo, Saazbaum, Rayet Areash, and Kouichirou Marito are great examples of good characterization. All of them have strengths, weaknesses, their good sides and their bad sides. All of them to a degree are struggling to accomplish a task, whether it is overcoming  PTSD or coming to terms with the death of a love one. Count Crutheo is a multidimensional character, he hates Slaine for his terran ties but respects his loyalty to the princess; furthermore, he is truly a victim of political manipulation. Saazbaum has his moments of dishonorable villainy but also honorable moments. There are plenty examples of how an overarching story can bring out the finer details of every character in the cast.

The plot is definitely dynamic and climatic. The story oftentimes build up hope for the success of a ploy, only for a major setback or turn. I enjoy when plans don’t always pan out. The fact that it is nearly impossible to completely predict every one’s movements in such situations of war.  The fact that perception of events influences the course of the characters’ actions and direct the plot is praiseworthy. There are secrets we are privy to as an audience, but some characters are completely unaware thus they act in a such order. Such dramatic irony is refreshing and needed for plot full of intrigue. The fact that not everyone is taken at face value for statements is another consistency that I enjoy that you don’t always see in anime or television shows.  People aren’t as naive as sometimes our characters tend to act. This create for moments of suspense.

Another plus is the fact that many of the outcomes are explained. When Inaho Kaizuka pulls out another impressive tactical victory, it is properly explained. Inaho, despite my other criticisms of the character, does seem to come off as a tactical genius. When Slaine’s attempt to foil the conspiracy  that is center place in the anime, it is explained why he failed. A lot of times these small answers are grossed over in order to get back to the action.

Flaws
I am some what critical of  the apathetic protagonist. For more details, click on this link to my prior post about this subject. I do suppose that sometimes the characters don’t react in a way that makes a whole lot of sense. I know there are some who took issue to Rayet’s assault in the shower room, but for me that made sense since Rayet could not help but see the victim as a reminder of the betrayal she has been served by the Martian Knights. Whether or not the victim (who remains unnamed for spoilers reason) is responsible isn’t the point, unfair perception is commonplace in the world we live in. However, for example, Inaho’s complete lack of emotion towards the death of his friend, which transpired right in front of his eyes. The fact that it seems like Rayet easily patched things (internally) up was another point that I felt was more forced than natural. There are a few other instances that I felt the action taken was less logical but was done for additional dramatics.

I guess another peeve that occasionally lingered was Inaho’s ability to find ways to win in completely inferior technology. We watch seasoned pilots in better equipment get wiped out like if they are simply babes.  I appreciate the explanations but sometimes I really wanted to see him struggle more.  This is however a common complaint I have for the genre.

While I personally liked the ending, leading to great anticipation for the next season of Aldnoah.Zero, I have to wonder if they didn’t write themselves into a corner with that twist. The twist reminds me of Code Geass, a show which basically wrote themselves into a corner and struggle to write itself out.

Parting Shots
I believe Aldnoah.Zero is a good show. I can’t remember a mech show that is just as much of a political thriller as it is intriguing drama since Code Geass. Both have the twists and turns that keep you hooked, propelling the viewer to watch the next episode. While there is definitely some questioning about the strength of the protagonist, some plot holes here and there, I think this is a show that most people can enjoy the ride immensely. Though some people will definitely hate how the season ends!

Score: 8/10 – Code Good


persona3birthofspringMyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression
Persona games have always been treasured in my rpg collection; though like most RPGs I seem to stall out. I came into this anime with high hopes, because I enjoyed Persona Trinity Souls and Persona 4: The Anime. Both stood out as real solid works. When reflecting on this, I want to add that this is the first of multiple films, so it’s not a complete review in my opinion.

Gems
The supporting characters held this anime up. As I mentioned with Ald.Noah, I feel like the experiences and the reactions of the secondary characters brought an human element. I enjoyed immensely that there is a real sense of background when you are introduced to these characters as well. You had your group structure in place prior to the arrival of Makoto Yuuki. A lot of anime, I feel like they neglect to show the status quo when the oustider protagonist shows up and enters the scene. On another note in regards, I think I enjoyed the number of times the other characters seem to question Yuuki’s attitude and behavior. I think Yukari and Junpei’s frustrations made the entire group dynamic so much more realistic. Wouldn’t you be annoyed as all shit if your team member is apathetic in those situations?

However, what saved the Makoto Yuuki character and what made him much more than his irritating apathy is the fact that he had his moments where he opened up. He isn’t a robot. And there are times his emotions and his fears manage to surface. During those moments of weakness, he acts. He moves. He is driven by those feelings.

Here are a a few final, smaller pros: loved the animation and I also love the fact that it pays some homage to the video game itself with the inclusion of the velvet room. I enjoy the fact they kept little things that made references to the video games, such as the turning of the calendar and the short scenes of club activities.

Flaws
Like Ald.Noah, I already aired my frustrations about stoic protagonists. For more details, click on this link to my prior post about this subject.  Makoto Yuuki is a liability in the character department, but this is only the first movie and he showed signs of developing into something more interesting.

If I do have to name one flaw is the fact that I really didn’t feel like there’s a dire threat to humanity, a sense of real antagonism against the good guys. You think of the set-up, most people turn into coffins and then on occasion, someone doesn’t and is entrapped within a coma. There is probably a lot more diseases and other natural occurrences in our world that claim responsibility to a higher death toll.  As a result, I just felt the conflict to be slightly bland compared to the typical, us against some overwhelming evil force.

Parting Shots
This is just the beginning, and does an average job setting up for the future films. While I won’t go as far to say it does the video game justice, I will say that I do appreciate the conscious efforts to pay homage to the source material while adding nuances for it to succeed as a film. Looking at other reviews after writing, this movie seems to have a mixed reaction from the public, some are highly critical and others are willing to heap praise. I feel like this was a decent movie overall. I felt like it could have been better and it could have been a lot worse.

Score: 7/10 – GG… GG

Art of Betrayal

Just recently I finished Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004). The anime is a futuristic retelling of the classic, originally penned by the great french writer, Alexandre Dumas. And it quickly made me realize how over the years, I have loved the plot of Monte Cristo without actually reading the book in its entirety. I recall fondness for the 2002 American film. I really enjoyed the anime. But throughout my short lifetime, I have been attracted to the plot. Revenge plots are always great. However, my attention started to turn towards the act of betrayal. In my belief, betrayal can serve as such a great catalyst for plot. Perhaps betrayal is surrounded by such strong emotion at its roots. I recall many of my most favorite stories has featured betrayal as a focal point. The Count of Monte Cristo sets up as the prototypical betrayal story-line.

But why is it so effective as a catalyst?

One of the most important tasks for any storyteller is to make the audience care about your protagonist. That is a topic I have I’ve discussed prior on this blog. When you have an act of betrayal as your inciting moment, most people will react. Most people have suffered a betrayal or two in life. When someone you trusted stabbed you in the back… something you believed in failed you… it evokes emotional, perhaps depending on the execution of the event, betrayal creates a sense of alarm. One cannot help but empathize with Edmond Dantes as his own blood sold him out. In the case of revenge plots, betrayal establishes the motive for the protagonist. At that point, we understand what the hero has to do. Betrayal creates sympathy, and now as a reader, as a viewer, you care for the victim.

But what else makes betrayal such an intriguing obstacle for a character to overcome?

The very premise of the act forces the character to change right before our eyes. For the very act of betrayal means the character has to cope with a certain a brutal contradiction. If the protagonist’s best friend betrays him, he has to compare the mountain of contrary evidence, spanning over all those years, against the single act that changed everything. The mental transformation itself is intriguing to witness. Though the stages of acceptance, we have to watch as our protagonist struggle with the idea that prior to the moment of realization he did not even comprehend to be the truth. That is called good story in my books.

So it is exactly a great inciting moment? I take a look at some of the more memorable video games, and I cannot help but believe. One of my favorite video game franchises, Suikoden, have often deployed the use of betrayal to jump-start its plot. In the very first game, the protagonist Tir McDohl (for the sake of clarity, I shall use the novelization’s name for him), whose father is in favor with the emperor, is betrayed by the empire and is hunted down. The second game of the franchise, the protagonist (once again, for sake of clarity I will refer to as Riou) among with the rest of his unit of cadets is betrayed by his own kingdom for political purposes. In both instances, the protagonist is forced to fight against what he had previously believed in. McDohl has to go against not only a man he holds great respect for, but to also go against what was previously perceived his destiny; instead of a great imperial general like his father, he became a revolutionary leader. Riou, no doubt, had joined the youth brigade as a young man because he believed in his country, and wanted to serve. However, he found himself the victim of the kingdom. Both were labeled as traitors, but truly they were the individuals betrayed. And from that moment of betrayal, they embarked on adventures in order to come to terms with the betrayal. In both instances, the characters became sympathetic; their causes shared the same effect.

Another favorite of mine is Final Fantasy Tactics. The final act of the prologue that set the stage for the entire game, which placed the main characters in the roles, was an act of betrayal. The betrayal could be considered layered. For Ramza Beoulve, the betrayal witness the contradiction to the naive idea of honor, an ideal boasted by his family of knights. His brothers were willing to sacrifice a commoner girl, who they supposedly considered a sister, in order to reach their goals easier. Ramza has to come to terms that his perception of his half-brothers as well as the world he lives in is very wrong. To Delita, the Beoulves were supposed to have accepted him and his sister as members of their family. For them to carelessly throw aside his sister’s life, Delita paid the greatest price. He has to come to terms that he is not a privileged member of the nobility, and therefore, his life at that point basically has been lied. The pain this betrayal inflicted upon Delita caused him to take action against the establishment of society. This betrayal is what sparks his actions that drove the much of the plot in Final Fantasy Tactics.

While the act of betrayal is useful, it needs proper cause for the event. Fernand Mondego wanted Edmond’s fiancée for himself. Luca Blight wanted to go to war, thus needed to sacrifice Riou and his fellow cadets. The emperor has to recognize the fact that McDohl’s best friend is a threat to his reign. The Beoulve elder brothers felt the cost of resources that was required for a rescue had greater value than the life of Delita’s sister. One cannot have betrayal just to create instant drama. A best friend wouldn’t sell out his friend, unless there’s underlying motive, strong enough to break that sacred bond. The more personal the betrayal, the greatest the impetus must be.

I cannot also forget that betrayal can be a climatic moment late in the stories. However, I think I’ll discuss that another day.

Nevertheless, the art of betrayal is that there is many facets, many things the event can contribute, not only to the development of the protagonist but also to the plot and to the back story. That is why I find myself so intrigued with the inclusion of betrayal within story lines, and why I must respect the Count of Monte Cristo. For the beauty of betrayal is that it is indeed a multidimensional event with many layers and consequences.

September Recap: Part Two

The next round of reviews are two shows that isn’t from this past Fall season, but before. One I faintly recalled watching years ago, then this past one was a new experience (sort of). Expect one more entry in my September’s watched list, as I still have Aldnoah Zero and Persona 3 to properly review.


beyondtheboundary
AKA Kyoukai no Kanata
MyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression

This a show I gave a brief chance almost a year ago now, and walked away because I didn’t like the feel of the opening scene. For some reason, the show didn’t click with me. Perhaps I couldn’t connect to the story when the inciting moment is when someone I shall dub as hipster glasses feigned suicide only to stab a good (yet slightly perverted) Samaritan. The scene felt far too melodramatic, tossed together and I immediately rejected the show.

However, I gave this show a second chance. I saw the title in the crunchyroll library, recalled the fondness my supervisor at my previous job shared towards the show, and gave Beyond the Boundary another chance. Thanks to his strong recommendation, I was able to enjoy a mostly decent show.

Beyond the Boundary, without giving too much away, is fairly nice balance of comedy and darkness, fantasy and human drama. The characters are charming and for the most part, deep. They established each character fairly well, weaved an intricate web of connections in the supernatural society, which goes unnoticed by majority of the population. The dark undertones on the plot makes this series a worthwhile watch. The dynamics of the two lead characters, Mirai Kuriyama and Akihito Kanbara, continue to grow throughout the story, adding a nice touch to the plot as we are shown they’re more alike than different. By the end of the series, late developments give purpose and some explanation to the plot. Yet at the moment of truth, I cringed at the resolution of this anime, at the squandered potential.

Gems

Beyond the Boundary did a good job with the characterization of majority of the cast; the characters were fleshed out to the degree that elevated the show and added to the plot. Mirari Kuriyama and Akhito Kanbara both possess troubled and dark pasts, but their ability to cope with such burdens while traversing the story creates for intriguing leads. They are supported by a cast that is as deep as they are colorful and fun. The characterization of the cast is enforced with the copious amount of interactions between each character, creating an additional dimension to the overall product. As a result, the setting crafted for Beyond the Boundary feels as if it’s an actual world with a community present. Examples of this spans from Ayaka Shindou’s peddling of edgy photos of Mirai to Akihito, to Miksuki Nase’s constant teasing of her peers, and to the presence of Izumi Nase’s fingerprints on every event that transpires in her town. The world feels alive with such constant crossfire of interactions between the cast.

The show has balance. The comic relief gives relief when the tension of the plot grows high. The plot becomes darker and darker, and as a result, the pay off is glorious as we are gifted with wonderful moments. Everything feels human. We are constantly reminded that we create happiness and warmth amidst a cold bleak reality. There are painful choices we must make. There are difficult actions we must take. There’s a price for everything. There’s unfairness. At the end of the day, not everyone can be winners. When have a character whose draws upon her own blood as source for her magical powers, it is a good sign that there is much potential for a mature and dark story. This, combined with the fact that the Youmu in this tale has a wide array, from friendly sociable spirits to nasty, devilish creatures, is what makes Beyond the Boundary shine.

Flaws

Yet on that note, that strength suddenly crumbles due to an unimaginative and counterproductive ending. All all of this wonderful build-up, all those events that have transpired to set up for what could have been a perfect ending, all came crashing down because I felt they copped out. Not to give the ending away, but I felt the ending contradicted the lessons the characters had been taught through the course of the show. After all, we were there with the characters when they grasped life’s lessons and grew with them as they tried to rise above.

Moving on, as I hinted earlier, I had an issue with the inciting moment. Late in the series, it became clear while hipster glasses suddenly appeared in the lives of Akihito and the Nase siblings. Nevertheless, despite the explanation, it did not rationalize how the opening scene unfolded. There is no real logic behind the scene. And upon further examination, the opening scene was tossed in there only to catch an audience initially as we see stories and other series do from time to time. Ironically, this same approach was what had originally pushed me away. By one saving grace was the distance between the explanation and the scene. By the point we are finally revealed the true catalyst to the entire plot, the scene had already faded in our memories. I didn’t feel as cheap as it would have felt if we were given such an explanation with those events fresh in our head.

Parting Shots

The opening scene will most likely be a hit or miss for some people. And despite the ending, I would still recommend Beyond the Boundary. Some people might even be satisfied with the fashion they ended the show. But in this case, the journey is worth the watch, even if the destination isn’t all that great in my opinion. I felt this show is an example of how to successfully manage a sprawling cast in a modern fantasy setting. If you’re looking for a well-balanced show, give this series a shot.

Plus this anime has some beautiful, dazzling action scenes!

Score: 7.5/10 – Good


toradorapreview

MyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression

Whenever I feel bit underneath the weather, I find myself marathoning romcoms. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe romantic comedies nurse my mental status while feeling the battering whatever sickness is giving my poor body. Perhaps I yearn for warmth I garner from digesting these shows. Maybe I should consider this genre as my hot cocoa. For the shows that particularly thick with the romance, I definitely need to be ill to be in the mood. Toradora is probably one of the best romcoms I have ever watched. I recalled years ago watching Toradora, but upon rewatching, I didn’t remember much about the show. I knew the general premise and plot. However, the intricacies of this show was forgotten, making this replay enjoyable

Gems

The story has the set-up of a Shakespearean play. Almost every character appears to have romantic aspirations to be with another, yet no two character initially share the same feelings for each other. Keeping true to the teenage spirit of the cast, their romantic desires consume a good proportion of their attention in life. The love triangles that constantly emerge in this one class continues to feed the conflict and work well with the overlying theme. We are eventually shown through the small moral victories and the heartbreaks the character experience the difference between ideal love and true love. As a result, for the romance credentials, this show is top-notch. There are winners and losers in the battle for love. There are moments when we have to give up on our wants, and be smart in order to ultimately protect ourselves long-term. There are other times we just have to go the distance, even against the odds. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. That’s the true nature of love.

This show could not have last so many episodes without the dynamics between Taiga and Takasu. They are the catalysts that allow for the plot to weave the tales of love found and love loss. The dynamics they share create for moments of drama and for moments of comedy. They are truly a great duo to lead to the cast. And then the supporting cast prop them up. When the plot needs a certain role fulfill, these supporting character steps in seamlessly to accomplish the task at hand. Close friends to the pair, Minori and Kitamura serve as not only moral support throughout the challenges encountered but also, at the same very time, they function as the romantic interests/challenges for our leads. Ami serve as a good dose of reality occasionally and the right spark for the right situations, that is required to continue he plot towards its natural outcome. But not one character of this core group remains static, as each grows with the plot and become a very much different person by the end of our tale. The events of the plot affect each character’s standing towards each other, their relationships, and each character’s mental state.

On a side note, I also enjoy the fact that each character steps outside their archetypes. The tsundere can be sweet in the right mood. The bubbly girl can be outright mean in the wrong situation. The nice guy can be an asshole. Like human beings, we can act almost out of character if we are placed in the right (or in some cases, the wrong) situation. Due to this variable, each character feel multidimensional.

Flaws

There isn’t much in the terms of flaws for Toradora! The plot can be easily predictable, but that is because the plot remains ultimately logically until the end. The ending shows a little twist, one I can’t completely rationalize, but it wasn’t so far left-field to be very detrimental. I am under the assumption that the final twist to the resolution was done to prevent from the plot being completely 100% predictable. The twist is more of a playful jab than a blindsided hay-maker. However, within the first few episodes, one can easily figure who’s going to end up together. I sort of wanted for some derivation from the plan, but that would have been difficult and would have meant risky, drastic measures. They show played it safe, and in the end, the choice definitely paid off.

Parting Shots

Fans of serious romance and good comedy will most likely rate this show as a 9 or a 10. Since I am a man who needs to be in the right mood (;-)), my score is probably a little reflective of that fact. I would suggest this anime for anyone who wants a show that dedicates itself to romance and comedy. I would even go as far to say that this is the standard-bearer for the entire genre.

September Recap: Part One

September has been a busy month for me in terms of the anime I have watched. I finally had the cash to let me to renew my crunchy roll subscription, which is a service I do enjoy having since it helps me stay current with the most recent anime while supporting the industry. Since I did consume a lot of series this season, and I just started this blog back up, I am going to do a few posts with a crowded backfield.

I’m going to start out on the light side for the most part and focus on the two comedy animes I curiously stumbled upon during my battle against insomnia. As always, I focus more on the storyline and characters than the aesthetics.


railwarspreviewb

MyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression

I didn’t expect much from this show. I just threw the show on, expecting to only to be able to stomach a few episodes. However, as a result, this show was surprise. This is definitely hit or miss series, where I can see why some people might detest the series while others can find some solid enjoyment. I feel like Rail Wars is one of the few shows that managed to put out a solid showings in the harem genre. Mind you, only a few harem animes have ever been above average, and Rail Wars come close to joining the crop but falls just a sly short. I see this show more as an action comedy with harem dynamics and some ecchi moments.

Gems

While clichés are abundant in this show, quite often the show transcends those clichés and puts a unique spin. I feel as if the main characters were well-balanced, with the strengths in how the leads were developed. Naoto Takayama is cut from the nice guy cloth like so many before him. What sets him apart is his obsession with trains and doing good. Perhaps he resonates with me because he is working railway security instead of being a train engineer, but still works hard in a place he had to settle for. I think what makes Takayama better than your run in the mill protagonist is his moments of bravery. The moments he steps up feel natural, I find unlike with all the wimps in the crowded genre, Takayama pulls off the reliable, heroic stand. Another strong point of the cast is Aoi Sakurai. I’m not typically overly fond of the tsundere slot, finding that most often the characterization that accompanies comes heavy-handed. Sakurai is an example of how a character can overcomie the niche she is assigned while perfectly working the role assigned. She has her bitch moments, but the character does enough that shows she’s a good, diligent, convicted person. I think the chemisty and the further development between Takyama and Sakurai is a highlight of the show; the friendship showcases exactly how two strong-willed friends interact and the romantic undertones makes the scenes they share enjoyable.

On this note, I want to look at another two characters. Haruka Koumi is smart yet clumsy, busty girl who seems to be depicted an ideal girl. Yes, I’ve seen this character before. Oh, her past connection to Takayama is fairly cliché as well. Once again we see a character in this genre whose seems to want the protagonist to recall one single incident from their past. However, unlike a lot of times when I see this same exact set-up, it’s not run down our throats. It’s used a mild seasoning, and didn’t over salt the meat. Same case falls with Mari Sasshou. The set up is a childhood friend, but instead of instantly instituting that romance must occur, the show kept Sasshou as a supporting character and simply a friend. The only cliché that didn’t seem evolve is that of the lovable idiot in Iwaizumi. However, not only was I happy that was another male constantly in attendance, he serves his role as comedic relief and source of positivity for the group.

I felt like the plot did enough work to keep things from stagnating. The constant movement prevented us to witness the same scenes over and over in someone’s living room or simply in a class room. The plot incited growth in the characters and bonding between each other. The plot sticks to the premise established, a show about railway security should have them doing some romanticized railway security stuff that you would expect from cop dramas. When all of your main characters are a team, you expect to see them work as team to overcome the obstacles. The show did just that.

Flaws

I understand there is always going to be fan service, and there is always going to be fan service in this genre. It’s a staple of harem comedy. I am used to it, basically desensitized if you will. So I’m not going to complain about the presence of fan service, I’m going to complain about the execution of said fan service. Throughout the entire show, the ecchi moments seems like a half-hearted gesture to appease some of the target audience. I’m not saying they’re blatantly throwing around panty shots and upskirt looks like some anime. I find that they have a scene here or there, out of the blue, that shows fan service. This lackluster fan service remains of a recent concert I attended. The vocalist had some obscenity in his lyrics. Kick ass. However, every time he had to drop the f-bomb, he would shy away from the microphone and cut his volume in half. If you are going to shy away from the act, then don’t bother with the act in the first place. I’m not big on fan service, but if you’re going to include ecchi moments or whatever, at least do it with some conviction like Highschool of the Dead (which is a series I praised for having majority of the ridiculous amounts of the fan service incorporated in the action scenes or at least continuing on with the plot).

The animation style is par for the course as I didn’t walk away thinking recalling the animation to be particularly good. The comedic moments are there, but there isn’t a consistent amount of laughter for me to suggest this show on comical value alone.

Parting Shots

If you like trains, want a little bit of action and comedy with a tad seasoning of drama, then I would suggest giving Rail Wars a chance. Other entries into the genre should take some notes from this pleasant surprise. Rail Wars avoids some of the major pitfalls in the genre, by preventing the plot from stagnating and by have a few strong characters that surpass their harem archetypes. Overall, the show isn’t incredible, it’s decent at its ugliest moments and fairly good at its best.

Score: 6/10 – Above Average


invadesofrokujyoma

AKA Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!? 

MyAnimeListWikipedia

General Impression

Like Rail Wars!, Invaders of Rokujyōma shares an exclamation point in its title. And like Rail Wars is a show that I picked up late one night, trying to conquer my restlessness with some mindless dribble. I find this show is your prototypical harem comedy with one major difference, the premise is perfect to be utilized as the set-up for a Harem anime. At the root of the show, the series is all about fun and I find at time fun is all that you really need in this genre. While this is not a perfect harem comedy by any means, it’s a decent show. The strong start didn’t lead to an exactly strong finish, but the several bright spots saved this show.

Gems

As I mentioned before, the premise is what initially hooked me onto this series. One of my pet peeves with the harem genre in general has to do with commonly flawed premises that quite often there is no reason why A) majority of the girls are involved with the story or the protagonist and B) the premise does create a conflict for the plot shape around. Invaders of the Rokujyōma has a premise that addresses those crucial needs in a plot. Why are the girls there? Because they all want Koutarou’s apartment. Where the conflict? Damn it, it’s his apartment. So the protagonist is dealing with invaders of every supernatural archetype, and therein lies your conflict to fuel future plots and character interactions. They don’t leave because there’s something else at sake than just hurt feelings. Is it the premise far-fetched? Yes, but this is a comedy and the promise it delivers from the let-go to the viewers, that this is all about fun.

Another gem in this show is the presence of a love interest in Harumi Sakuraba. While Harumi is typically rendered a supporting cast member, her presence in the terms of the setting is nice. She appears to be the one true leader the crowded field known as Koutarou’s romantic life, but there is a certain sense of loyalty and chemistry between Koutarou and Sakuraba that grounds the set-up. For the most part, this show is about fun and friendship between the would be invaders, with the question of who does Koutarou love early established, this is much more about friendship and fun. I like how they remained committed to keeping that relationship strong while most the rest of the relationships are delegated to the friend-zone, for better or for worse. Sure there is some romantic feelings floating around towards Koutarou, but several potential sparks turn into the foundation for friendship between Koutarou and members of his harem.

At the end of the day, I must admit that Yurika “Princess of Love and Courage, Magical Girl Rainbow Yurika, Cosplay Shoujo” Nijino is the bright spot on Koutarou’s roster. She probably is involved with the show’s best running joke: after all she is a magical girl that everyone confuses for simply some girl obsessed with cosplay. In this joke however she garners some sympathy for the fact she often finds herself as the unsung hero. But at the very least, there is some comedy behind those magical sparking tears of disappointment and desolation.

Flaws

As the show dragged on, the focus on the premise deteriorates and lost. In the beginning, they were holding contests and playing games to determine who wins the apartment. By the end, the ongoing competition is severely neglected. I understand the plot calls for everyone becoming friends and amicable. However, you cannot just ignore the foundation you built up. I thought there was a lot more potential in continuing the contention between the characters that was simply left to whither away to almost nothingness. And I didn’t expect there to be dramatic, survivoresque backstabbing and pettiness involved, but situations that the competition could be fun and instill growth in the character and their relationships. I guess the bottom line, it feels slightly cheap to start out in one direction and then cop-out. But at least the other stretches of the storyline did serve to further establish the characters and build upon itself. Just thought this could be addressed better than a subtle, anti-climatic emergence of a barney and friends situation.

Maybe I’m just Stonewall Jackson, but I didn’t find myself laughing all too often. For a harem, there were a few moments of comedy, but for the most part I didn’t feel much. I did like the few running jokes here and there as mentioned before, but overall, I didn’t overly think this was an incredibly funny anime. At times the show garner a chuckle, but at the end of the day, I only experienced a burst of laughter on occasion.

I thought the protagonist was fairly bland. I didn’t enjoy the random power he possess, which was never truly explain even though we have been given hints. While I understand the creation of mystery to further the intrigue, a great plot device if used correctly, I didn’t really enjoy not finding out an explanation. I thought for a moment there was a glimmer of hope in the final episode, but in the end, the show like many other harems fail to commit. The ending isn’t really much of an ending. They seem to drop the hint they hope to be picked up for another season. That isn’t anything new to this genre. At least there is some character growth for Koutarou at the end despite bearing any resemblance of a resolution.

Parting Shots
This is harem anime that is slightly better than the rest. While the show seems to forget the premise, it remembers that comedy is about fun. If you are a fan of the genre, I totally will suggest this series. The show covers all its bases. Unlike Rail Wars! I don’t think this is a hit or miss for people. I think this comes down whether or not harem anime is your cup of tear.

Score: 6.5/10 – Above Average

The Challenge of Stoic (Apathetic?) Protagonists.

Foreword: This is my first post for this blog for a long long time. I feel a little rusty. 

A week ago, I watched the first Person 3 movie. I also finished up the first season of Aldnoah.Zero . A common feature these two anime shows share is the casting of a stoic character placed in the lead role. While I plan on reviewing both productions in a round up of my recent activity, I have felt the need to discuss the inclusion of this type of character in the protagonist role. Over the years, I have seen plenty of anime and video games attempt to utilize this persona as their marquee character. And for the most part, I feel like there’s potential in such characters; most often, the attempts fall short and distract from the stories. There is definitely a challenge present to pull off such a character in such a critical role.

An important key of every protagonist I believe is the creation of sympathy for the cause. Most of the time, every writer will no doubt want to have the reader support the main character as his navigates the plot ahead. At the very least, it’s the duty of the writer to convince the reader to become invested in the protagonist’s cause. Sympathy is a easy mean to achieve that goal. However, the apathetic protagonist is naturally unsympathetic. Due to their lack of emotional display, the reader (or viewer) cannot easily empathize. Therefore you have to find other means to muster support for the protagonist. Either by finding surrogate characters to sympathize with, who is aligned on the side of the protagonist or simply have antagonists who inspire abhorrence.

In the case of Alnoah.Zero, the cast surrounding Inaho Kaizuka garner enough sympathy towards his cause that Inaho’s blatant apathy is neglected. The disgustingly underhanded plot by the Martian Knights to sacrifice their innocent princess in order to create a casus belli inspires enough detestation, that by default, most people will be inclined to support Inaho’s cause. I feel like if it wasn’t for the cast or the strong basis of the story’s conflict, Inaho Kaizuka’s indifference would have destroyed the show. I feel like these methods could have helped the Persona 3 movie. In the case of Persona 3, the enemy for the course of the movie is faceless and simply a vague evil. I didn’t find the supporting cast around Makoto Yuuki to be particularly sympathetic.

However, the first Persona 3 movie did have one saving grace that Aldnoah.Zero sadly didn’t have. That is the importance of back story to pull off the stoic/apathetic hero approach. Makoto Yuuki’s back story makes his whole indifferent approach reasonable. He’s an orphan. While orphans are a common cliché (which is the understatement of the century…), one can derive the emotional distance he keeps from everyone else is a direct result of the emotional trauma he endured from the tragedy. The fact he has no family. The fact he has no home. It is a believable past that would create a character that doesn’t know how to express his emotions or simply doesn’t wish to open up to others. On the other hand, I feel like Aldnoah.Zero failed to establish such a backstory. While Inaho Kaizuka is too an orphan, he has his older sister and he has a home. There is no signs that these two protagonists experienced similar childhoods. He has a support system present and established. As a result, I feel like Inaho should not be so spiritless.

I guess my biggest gripe is the lack of effect the events of the plot in Aldnoah.Zero had upon Inaho for majority of the first season. One of his high school friends died right in front of me, Inaho didn’t blink an eye. I understand Inaho is reason personified, but at the same time this is a kid. Not until late in the season did he show any signs of emotions, as if he is more of a machine than a human. At least in Persona 3, we are there when the plot incites moments of emotions from the usually apathetic Makoto. When it is clear that another character might be in mortal danger, Makoto reacts. We know he’s human and what creates for a good stoic character are the few, rare moments where we see that they truly do have emotions spiraling around inside. It is what makes for a credible protagonist.

One of my favorite animes, the show that introduced me to anime, Gundam Wing had Heero Yuy. Heero Yuy was your quintessential stoic hero, bordering sociopath behavior. However, there were moments where he showed to us that despite being raised to be a human weapon, he still had moments of softness. He couldn’t kill Relena despite the fact she posed a risk to his cover. Gundam Wing had all of the methods I feel are critical to pull off the ‘apathetic’ protagonist. Herro had credible back story to set up his persona. You have those rare moments where Heero showed compassion. But at the end of the day, Heero was just one of five protagonists and the other pilots picked up the slack in the whole sympathy department. He didn’t have the spotlight solely locked in on him. While I feel like Makoto and Inaho both get the prima donna treatment, it is hard for the carry that burden effectively.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed Alnoah.Zero, but I definitely wanted more from Inaho. There were just several key moments that just frustrated me in regards to his character. The same was true with Persona 3 the movie. I guess I have yet to see a such a protagonist pulled off with perfection. Video games are different story because emotionless protagonists have been done regularly, and to some success due to the fact that the player places themselves in the shoes of the main character they are controlling. The lack of emotions allows for the player to assume the role themselves. It is almost as if the character in these games are an extension of the player. This is why Makoto in the video game didn’t have the same impression with me as Makoto in the anime. This is why Squall from Final Fantsy 8 didn’t particularly bother me with his apathetic approach. However, when you are not direct participant but instead an observer, it is the job of the storyteller to create protagonist that pulls you along the plot. Stoic heroes have difficulty in carrying out that responsibility.

A lot of times that I come across this kind of main character, it also seem to be more of a forced decision. Throughout my years role-playing on sites or reading some amateur writing, the stoic character appears to be used because feels cool for the writer to use. Quite often, without having a proper supporting system for such a character, the protagonist seems flat and the plot lackluster. While Aldnoah.Zero and the first Persona 3 movies incited a mixed reaction from me in regards to their protagonists, they had enough to patch up those few flaws.

I’m curious to see if I ever will see such a protagonist pulled off exceptionally. If anyone has an example, please share.

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