At least when a show goes totally off the rails, it gives me something to talk about. Unfortunately, the weird livestreaming of breaking into The Organization, or whatever the hell they're called, was not the part where it was off the rails. That was actually surprisingly tedious. Hell, when the thugs broke in, we cut away, just to return to it approximately 15 seconds later to show that it had all been summarily taken care of without incident or issue. But Geek got to wear his silly mustache, so I guess Mission Accomplished.
No, I'm talking about the turn we took at about 14 minutes into the episode where it decided to go all Akira on us. You know where this might've worked? At the end of two episodes ago after the big fight thing when they blew up all his little relics. It would've actually been an escalation of the 'action' bit, not some dude spontaneously hulking out into a monstrosity, totally unconnected to the rest of the episode. They hugged it out, of course, and even had a (silent) Vader "NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" I can only assume the VA's pipes weren't up to screaming. Also, apparently the persona guy who was 'killed' before is totally fine again? Can't remember if we already knew that. Not sure I actually know any of the rules for the personas anymore. Kind of in the mood for a mimosa. Would probably help my comprehension of this show at this point.
I was lazy this week. Well, lazy blog-wise at any rate. Not sure where Annihilated City is. It's once again MIA. I have some errands to run shortly, so it may be an hour or two even if it pops up soon, which it should on the English 'simulcast' if nothing else.
Man, this show hasn't so much fallen into a rut as it has plunged into a chasm. No long flashbacks this week, I suppose, but good god, there wasn't anything else at all. The fairies are now just widgets summoned to make them immune to bullets, so that's most of the premise of the show cast aside. So it's all in on the political wrangling, which has not gotten any more interesting or relevant to goddamned anything. Let's go back to the godawful lunatic opera villains, please. At least they had some style.
Meanwhile, the protagonists' role in thwarting the assassination was… nothing. They did nothing. Absolutely nothing. They stared like potatoes as Sweetie ran off. They brainlessly stood there for the rest of the episode. The only dude who did anything was literally some random dude, and "did anything" is giving him a tremendous amount of credit for showing up late to clue people in that the dude standing off by himself blowing an assassination whistle was an attempted assassin. So what did they fill the time with? How did they build tension? Well, we got to listen to the quite literally rando assassin dude recounting his lifestory and motivations in his head.
This is another pretty compelling argument for this show having multiple writers all doing completely different things and never communicating with each other. The angsty one had the week off, so the one who wanted to make the show Inuyasha got to do whatever they felt like, which was to make a goofy episode about a random imp that curses them to say/do opposite things. A wacky series of events ensues that has Hyakkimaru getting married to the local blacksmith girl, and Dororo throwing a tantrum about it. And, uh, that's it. That's the whole thing. There are also a bunch of masks hanging around, which you think would be used for some symbolism, but nah. They're just a fun prop we're going to be playing with.
A better show would use this to bury something important, only realized at the end. A better show would've had them figure out that something was up about 5 minutes into the episode and then do goofy things despite that while trying to investigate the source. This show, on the other hand, had the characters baffled by what was going on for the whole thing. "Why are you suddenly acting so out of character!? Why am I suddenly acting out of character!? Aaaaaagh!" They don't even really figure it out either. Circumstances happen to drag Hyakki back to the start, where Dororo is throwing rocks at an imp, and then a dude walks in from off screen to literally bop the imp on the head, explain everything, and then the stupid thing just up and vanishes. All this is wending its way towards a "I should've trusted that we're friends forever" declaration, because apparently the salient part of the whole thing was that there was a moment when Dororo had less than total faith in Hyakkimaru. Seems a bit at odds with the last two months of episodes, but okay, sure. Resolves just as well as the random dude in the crowd who yelled "I'll marry you instead!" sending her into paroxysms of bashfulness because it was her true heart's desire all along.
It's a banner day in Fairy Gone-land. Only about 30 seconds of flashback this week, and tucked behind the ED. Of course, it'd be a banner-er day if the rest of the episode hadn't been hot steaming crap. While Annihilated City this week opted for a vacuous flashback, Fairy Gone opted for an entire episode of musing about the geopolitical situation. Okay, not an entire episode. They also all stood in a circle and watched people do maintenance on the robots that have been hijacked by baddies in 100% of their appearances to date yet (best security system ever!), then had a whole sequence about getting dressed up in their frilliest clothes so they could meet some dude and just stand there staring, which is where the episode ended… until they went back afterward to fit a flashback in.
Come on, anime. I don't feel like I'm asking for a lot to have a story that progresses each week, with characters who are not just integral parts of it, but the actors who move it forward; the formers of their own destiny. These episodes attempt nothing and achieve nothing, so what's the goddamned point? Skip a week and come back with a barn burner if you really can't be bothered to come up with goddamned anything.
Welcome to the content-less whole episode flashback.
What a tedious episode, especially coming on the heels of what was pretty damn close to a filler arc the way it jettisoned damn near all of the characters it brought on and focused on for two weeks and how the ones it is keeping around spent the whole thing either in a coma or just staring gormlessly. It was essentially about 18 minutes of flashback. Not even a flashback into anything interesting. Just about how Takuya had a not-quite-girlfriend and has regrets about it. Worse, two different, unrelated flavors of flashback. It was clearly meant to be Takuya's Tragic Backstory™, but disconnected from anything and even past Takuya did nothing but gape like a goddamn fish. New rule, Japan. Characters have to have more impact on events that are designed to flesh them out than a goddamned magikarp.
I suppose it compares favorably to the last time they got sucked into a random flashback to the pre-explode city, but that's only because it was a totally unrelated spat in an idol group about not taking practicing seriously enough, so the bar was about as low as you can get. Everyone just stared like giant lumps as they patiently waited for it to finish playing out, for everyone to turn back into sparklies and the sad music to kick in and a repeat of the platitudes about carrying on.
For lack of anything better to do, let's take a moment to look at an upcoming western… let's call it OVA that I've had my eye on.
Hazbin Hotel is an auteur-driven crowdfunded pilot episode by one Vivienne Medrano about a hotel in hell dedicated to rehabilitating sinners. I think it's no coincidence that there's been a proliferation of cartoons in recent years about innocent, hopeful people in a very, very unkind world, either overtly or more often, covertly (think Adventure Time or Steven Universe). Hell, if we expand that to indy games, you can't swing a dead cat on Steam without hitting some game about a child in a nightmare world trying to survive. For some reason, it resonates with people in current society. Can't think of any reasons why.
*ahem* Being a Patreon funded thing, there's been about eight minutes worth of clips released over the past year, which is and of itself a little worrisome as that comprises about a third of what the final episode will be. They are rather amusing though, and I really hope it leads to a full series. The animation is fluid and expressive. The glimpses of the characters the promos show paint them as bastards fitting with hell. The showtune is a Parry Grip song including the phrase "cartoon porn addictions," which given his normal saccharine nonsense is notable in and of itself.
HAZBIN HOTEL (Official Trailer) - YouTube
HAZBIN HOTEL - "INSIDE OF EVERY DEMON IS A RAINBOW" (ORIGINAL SONG) - YouTube
I want to call out two things in particular though that I like seeing in it that I virtually never see in Japanese anime, lest I spend four paragraphs rambling about eight minutes of promos. First, the showtune. Given my ranting about corny insert songs, you'll be forgiven if you think I just hate music. I was a band nerd though. I play brass instruments. All the brass instruments. Music is great… when it's used to elevate a scene. As a way to deliver exposition rather than a dry lecture? Fantastic. A way for a character to express themselves and help convey the emotion of a scene? Go nuts. Obviously slapped on after the fact because we made it and we're under contract to shill this VA's CDs? Hell no. This is precisely one of the key things about Symphogear's first season than the later ones massively flubbed. Hibiki and Chris's songs were actually expressing themselves and built into their character and their development, not some random crooning. Similarly, Zombie Land Saga's second episode actually wove the rap battle into an expression of the character's frustration… which was the last time that show used music for any purpose other than shilling CDs. It's also important that the reaction to the big song and dance number is aghast looks and derision from the peanut gallery, not a great big group hug.
Speaking of that, the other thing is the depiction of hell, and more specifically, the characters in it. It's not just that anime depictions of hell waver between the childish brats of stuff like Enma or Disgaea to not being hell in any way shape or form like Miss Beelzebub or Hozuki's Cool Head, it's that the characters in it are unrepentant, petty bastards. Not petulant children. Not over the top sadist nihilists. Jerks with the characteristics of people we all know who both give and get. I want to say nuance, but only because anime's approach to rounding out a character is more often than not "here's a flashback of their tragic backstory," or inevitably shows emotion through screaming. It's something Panty and Stocking tried for, but veered towards T&A and poop jokes rather than snappy comebacks and wittiscisms. It's weird how few characters in anime there are who are horrible yet fun people without having either the mentality of a three year old or being absolute lunatics.
Now, obviously, the moral of the story at the end of the day is going to be that helping at least one person makes it all worth it even if the rest of the cruel world derides them, but I am looking forward to the final result, and hoping it leads to a pickup from the powers that be. If you're interested, there's a few more clips on its Youtube channel. If/When it comes out, I'm sure I'll have a little more to say, but when that will be is unknown. Hopefully not too long though.
In the long long ago times of the summer 2015 season, there were four whole days in a row of nothing to watch, so I embarked on an experiment to do a kind of Let's Play, blogging style, of a couple games, Material Brave and Princess Witches. Oh, how my standards have changed. I managed to get through the first major arc of both, but they were seemingly not a particularly popular series of posts and arduous to write up, so I called that experiment finished after two seasons to no complaints. Let's revisit those two games briefly for a slightly more thorough and final review and general reckoning because this too is a terrible season and if I don't write rambling nonsense, can I really call this a blog? Spoilers will fly like candy from a piñata.
Let's start with Princess Witches, which is a bit simpler to discuss, despite a lot of nonsense time loop and asspull magic stuff. To sum up the rest of the story, the girl who spent the backend of the game discovering various dark magical powers turns out to be… the dark princess, but since you're boning her in this route, she more or less ends up ascendant rather than the light princess, but ends with more or less the same bit of everyone is forcible separated and King Blockhead is booted out of Magicland. This is more Inside Out than Kingdom hearts, so the true route after that is that happy emotions and sad emotions are supposed to coexist, not engage in filial genocide. Oh, did I mention that? Because they're sisters too. Something something magic. Sadly, there is no threesome to really seal the deal there. Then they live happily ever after. Also, your magic sword is a time looping fairy or something.
I kind of get why people tend to like it… mostly. It's saccharine, but passably executed on, ramping up the stakes while the characters learn a valuable lesson about themselves and about life, even if it ends in a bunch of hugs and "yay friendship." The main three characters grow and become more rounded, Kururu particularly, even if the final epiphany is… well, Inside Out. Your fairly standard coming of age story with a sappy ending. I feel like I'm describing so little, and yet, so many things exist and are lauded despite doing none of that, but we'll get to Baldr Sky in more depth eventually.
It's unfortunate that it so obviously ran out of assets because what would've made it great is if it had the CGs to really drive home the darker parts in the magic world. The end of the initial route especially had a bunch of jarring moments, from Kururu carving up Orr to Inchou executing Lillian, but such important scenes illustrating how messed up they get when they shut the others out just get a brief textual description, and similar holds for later routes. At best, we get CGs of characters glaring at each other, and that doesn't cut it. And then there's, Ringo and Karen's subroutes are… there. Ringo's is more or less "Let's not go to magic world and resolve literally nothing." It's about an hour of random faffing around in the real world before being unceremoniously booted back to the title screen. Karen's is more of a random sidestory that they couldn't find a way to work into the main story. Both of them reek of things done out of obligation because a porn VN with just two girls? Unthinkable.
Material Brave provides a nice kind of contrast, but let's start by wrapping up the remaining story we never got to. Turns out that the island itself, or the magic evoltion rocks on the island, is vaguely sentient and wants to break free from its being-an-island bonds. As for the antagonists, well, the whole evil student council and pals comes right back for round 2 as extra servanty servants of the Evil Conspiracy. Anyway, the magic thingy gloms onto Ena, whose power happens to be a sort of empathic psychic, turns her into its avatar, and drives her insane. That's right, if Princess Witches was Inside Out, then Material Brave is X-Men 3: The Last Stand. (Okay, fine, just the Dark Phoenix saga). You're forced to kill her, except not really because she pops right back up in Ignition. If you're wondering what happened to every single other character or the entire cast, then, yeah, that's one of the big problems. They get their little intro chapter, which I already covered in the blog, and then they gracelessly bow out of having any importance or impact on all future events. Just like all the characters in the light novels it's so obviously modeled on!
So I've already subtly pointed out the main issue with the story, above and beyond the only character growth anybody showing being that they can't live without the protagonist's dick, a sentiment we'll be returning to when we do this with Baldr Sky! They all get a second character-focused chapter in Ignition, the expansion, but it's far too little, far too late, and even then, Ena ends up pulled back from the dead, undermining the original ending, and being the 'true' ending insofar as being the one where you take out the Phoenix Force and save the world, rather than save whatever the chosen girl is from whatever happens to be bothering them at that particular moment, and half the time, it's their own personal insecurity, which can only be addressed by having someone's genitals rubbed on them.
You could probably salvage it to at least an okay game if you jettisoned all the stuff like the limited time, totally blind dungeon exploration bits, and pulled all the character stuff into the main section of the game, but let's remember that the core gameplay loop managed to hit the sweet spot between frustrating and monotonous. Where we started was as complex as it got, there were very few enemy types, and it spawned a bazillion of the goddamned things in every corner of the excessively huge dungeons… which blind exploration of also managed to be super irritating because of the limited amount of exploration you were allowed to do. So I can see why it was less than well-received. I'm not sure why it was so lambasted compared to any number of light novels that are lauded with the exact same issues, minus blowing up some random wolves, but perhaps that's enough.
Princess Witches gets a soft recommendation then, but not Material Brave. PW starts goofy, but it does take the characters from losing control and emotionally murdering people to maturing into adults, even if it's certainly sappier than I would've preferred. Material Brave is just, well, a tacky light novel tacked onto a half-baked action RPG that's light on the RPG and worse on the execution. It's a profoundly unworthy successor to Duel Savior and let us now put it behind us with no regrets for unfinished things forever.
Dororo slapstick killing a bunch of dudes vs Flopsy the Land Shark for 'best' moment of the episode.
This episode would've worked about ten times better if they reversed the order of almost all the scenes. Start out with Hyakki being hounded to the island by Kool and the Gang, leading to a climactic fight with the megashark and then an emotional reunion between the protagonists. Hell, they could even not find the gold at all, showing that friendship is more important than looking for it. It would've been sappy as hell, but it would've been something. There would have been a start at the beginning, a fight that escalated from a couple dudes hopping around to a big floppy land-shark, and then the (supposedly, but not really) emotional bit at the end to tie a ribbon on things. I suppose at least being an action oriented episode, the terrible writing didn't get in the way as much as the episodes where they struggle with the moral conflict of whether it's okay to stop mass murderers, but that's not saying a lot.
Instead, the big fight and reunion comes at the very start of the episode, so they have to try to pretend that Taho's little gang of sub-midbosses are a serious thing, and we grab just as much gold as we can comfortably carry before scampering off back to whatever the hell it was we were doing, angsting over whether or not it's okay to stop serial killers, I guess. Despite this being the culmination of nearly a month of episodes, it's all rather fillerish. The overarching story antagonists pop up like Team Rocket and do nothing but supplant the Team Plasma bandits as ineffectual thugs on the scene, and the treasure is unceremoniously found and subsequently ditched without there being anything special about it at all, making it the second or third buried treasure they've found and then shrugged at. Not even a letter from dad or anything, guys? Everybody story-relevant conveniently pops up in one spot to go "rarr!" at each other, and then breathes a sigh of relief as they go back to the status quo.
Were the CGI people off this week? Is that why there were no fairies?
Astonishingly, this may have been more boring than the pew pew episode. I suppose it breaks its formula, but it does so by eschewing having any real action. Mariya and Clara smacked a couple thugs with handy nearby chairs, but that was pretty much it. Maybe it needs to keep a balance; for every thirty seconds of action, there needs to be at least two minutes of flashback. It's really weird too, because they do this big train ride (with unrelated backstory flashbacks), then the music kicks in when they catch sight of the guy… and then they just literally appear out of nowhere behind him and it's over. That was the climax of the episode? Really?
Was this supposed to be a setup for something? If so, what? Someone explain to me what this episode even was. If it was supposed to be focused on Clara and her backstory, then why was she such a total nonentity in it? Was it supposed to advance the plot? Was one of the approximately fifteen random dudes that popped up with namecards supposed to be important? Was this supposed to have advanced (or rather, introduced) some overarching plot element?
This definitely didn't need to be a two parter, but I guess that's what happens when you have about 10 minutes worth of dumbass flashbacks, and want to go over half of them twice. Just summarizing this episode, and about 90% of the present day action is two dudes standing still, pew pewing at each other. Akira and Souma pew pew at each other, both while standing (floating) motionless until magic rock 1 is destroyed. Then he hauls out magic rock 2, summons the flashback guy, who pew pews Akira to 'death,' but can't bring himself to pew pew his flashback buddy, letting them pop magic rock 2. Then hugs. The end.
But at least we knew that the stage magicians who consumed this arc are dicks who pull rubber knives on drunks in arcades. Actually, I have a lot of questions about that, and despite it being a flashback, I feel like arcade drunk probably had more of a story to tell than two dudes floating motionlessly while pewpewing at random.