Archive for February, 2017

Light Novels

February 26, 2017

I’ve been spoiled. Up until now, all the Japanese light novels I’ve read were ones that withstood a long and gruelling overseas licensing process. By the time a LN got licensed in the US, you could be pretty sure it met some (often low) minimum standards for story-telling and writing quality. I’m talking about things like Spice and Wolf, Kokoro Connect, and most of the Haruhi series. But beneath that surface layer you will find a lot of stuff that’s not much better than fan fiction.

It’s like UK television. All we see over here are the top end BBC works of art. When I lived in the UK, we got to see the really bad run of the mill ITN stuff. I can tell you that UK game shows are terrible, and that’s from someone whose wife watches an hour and a half of US game shows nightly. I am beginning to think it’s the same way with light novels.

You see, with the increasing popularity of LNs in the US, and an expansion of delivery modes, came a lowering of quality standards. Back when the publisher had to cough up the money to produce a physical product, they were more careful about what they would publish. Today, with digital delivery, the initial cost isn’t so high, and so publishers can take bigger chances. The best example of this is the new light novel distributor, J-Novel Club. For a monthly fee, JNC posts chapters of on-going LNs, roughly one per novel per week. When the novel is completed, it’s pulled from the website, except for an introductory first chapter and a purchase link. Currently, JNC is licensing twelve LNs, some of which are the second volume of a series. I am a member of  JNC, and I have read at least parts of all twelve. Not all of them are of equal quality.

Using these twelve as a convenience sample of what’s out there, we find that five of them are in the hero pulled into a fantasy world genre. This is not to be confused with hero trapped in a video game, because there is no indication that it really is a game world, as opposed to a world with some sort of game mechanics. Obviously, what the Japanese call isekai stories are hot this year.

grimgarln Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: The most literary of the lot, and the only one of this genre to have an anime. A group of people wake up in a RPG style fantasy world, with no memories of their past, and find they have to fight for their lives. There’s a reason the first syllable is grim.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: A Maoyū Maō Yūsha ripoff, where he’s both scholar and hero, called into a fantasy world, where his high school level skills in ecology and urban planning help defend the kingdom he was handed. “You look like a nice boy, I’ll abdicate in your favor. Here’s my daughter.”

In Another World With My Smartphone: Like it says. He’s in an RPG style fantasy world, but his smart phone works, including the maps and ‘search nearby’ functions. In addition, he finds he has other advantages. “Oh, look. I just found this new magical skill that will cure the Duke’s wife of her mysterious illness.”

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest: He’s the low man in his high school class, but the smartest girl in the class really likes him. Suddenly, the whole class is pulled into an RPG style fantasy world. “I’ve loved you ever since I saw you getting the snot beat out of you back in middle school.”

mixedbathinglnMixed Bathing in Another Dimension: Going downhill fast here, Our Hero gets called into a fantasy world, with the one skill of being able to create a Japanese style public bath-house wherever he likes. Finds some surprisingly useful applications. After all, it’s a limitless source of clean water. Also wet naked girls.

Two more LNs brush up against the edge of this genre.

The Faraway Paladin: HikkoNEET dies and is resurrected in a fantasy world. Doesn’t really count, because all he remembers is that he was a disappointment to his parents and he wants to do better this time around. His zombie priestess mother and ghostly sorcerer father agree. Reasonably well written.

I Saved Too Many Girls and Caused the Apocalypse: Our Hero starred in too many harem adventures in too many worlds without ever choosing a Best Girl. Now the multiverse will collapse unless he solves new problems in every world, which he does, by combining solutions across worlds and letting the problems cancel each other out. Neat concept, terrible writing.

The remaining five take place in fantasy/SF versions of our world.

occulticninelnOccultic;Nine: Is the best of this lot (and already has its own anime). Everybody in it is dead, and nobody knows it. Faceless MegaCorp is trying to control their souls.

My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World: High school high jinks. Our Hero can see labels over people’s heads, proclaiming what they are — Class President, Her Boyfriend, Mass Murderer, etc.

Brave Chronicle: The Ruinmaker: High school boy, something, something,  is supposed to save the world, something, but only wants to protect his little sister. There’s a childhood friend.

Paying to Win in a VRMMO: Not trapped in one. Paying, not Playing. Our Hero wins all the time by finding the right in-game purchase. About as exciting as it sounds.

My Little Sister Can Read Kanji: A couple hundred years from now, his little sister is one of the few people who can still read kanji characters. She is in great demand, because everyone wants to grope her. Our Hero is fine with this. I’m not.

So that’s a chunk of what’s current on the LN front. Twelve novels, of which three are good (for a somewhat relaxed definition of the term good), and the rest are fanfic quality. I keep reading them because I hope they will improve, but they never do.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished: Seiren

February 18, 2017

A lot of anime are adaptations of Visual Novel originals. The problem with adapting  a VN into a twelve-episode anime is that they almost all are multi-track — work you way through while romancing girl A, then go back and do the same with girl B. The question for an anime studio is, how do we handle this during an adaptation?

One way is to pick one girl and follow her to the end, with all the other girls having walk-on parts. Clannad is a good example. The upside is, the story can devote twelve whole episodes to the budding romance. The downside is is, everyone who likes girl B, or C, or …. will be disappointed.

A second approach, call it the Kanon model, is to keep one girl on the main track, even if it disappears into the background for a bit, and give the other girls their own arcs, without ever promising them romance. This requires a certain skill in balancing the screen time and keeping the main heroine as the obvious favorite.

Finally, we have the omnibus approach, famous in Amagami and Photo Kano, and (this season) Seiren. Each girl gets a turn at romance, and after three or four episodes rides off into the sunset with the protagonist. Then we reset, and go through the whole thing with some new girl. It’s like a collection of short stories instead of a novel. The problem with the omnibus approach is twofold, or maybe three.

photokanogirls

First, they are short stories. There’s no depth, no chance to develop characters. The four episodes tend to run to a pattern: boy meets girl; boy and girl hit it off; boy and girl encounter insurmountable relational problems; boy and girl decide to get married.

amagagamigirls

Second, they use the same cast in different roles across different arcs. It’s kind of an ensemble production — like some of the old Murder, She Wrote programs, where the bad guy one week is an old family friend the next. It’s not just that the main heroine changes, that’s to be expected, it’s that our protagonist’s male friend one arc is a complete stranger the next one. Or maybe they play video games one arc, and the next one he’s off on the soccer team. It makes for a certain mental whiplash.

seirengirls

After a while, they all look alike

Finally, and this is a particular problem with Seiren, the protagonist might or might not be the same personality from one arc to the next. In Amagami and Photo Kano, the protagonist was the same person, with the same goals and hangups: in Amagami, he was recovering from having been stood up for a Christmas Date; in Photo Kano he was a camera nut. In each arc we get to see alternative ways he can work through his life problems. In Seiren, he’s a different guy each time.

This season, Seiren is sandwiched in between Tanya the Evil and Demi-chan, and it doesn’t really fill an anime-watching need.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2017

Over in Japan, they take Valentine’s Day seriously, with all the high school girls traditionally making chocolates for their boyfriends.

It...It's not that I like you, it's just that I had lots left over.

It…It’s not that I like you, it’s just that I had lots left over.

Over in Japan, they take their curry seriously, with the Japanese Navy / JMSDF traditionally serving curry every Friday, so the ship’s crews can keep track of where they are in the week.

They even have fleet-wide competitions

They even have fleet-wide competitions

Over in Japan, they see nothing wrong with melding multiple traditions to make something new and different and uniquely Japanese.

This is a thing, and you can order it.

This is a thing, and you can order it.

Back home in the NENW, I figure if the Japanese can do it with rice, there’s no reason I can’t do it with oatmeal.

Experiment 1: I started with a cup of clove-heavy chicken broth, added a slab of Golden Curry roux and cooked it down a little. It was still somewhat thin, so I thickened it with flour. Once I had the curry sauce to my liking, I stirred in a quarter cup of Swiss Miss powdered milk chocolate mix. Everything turned nice and dark. It looked a lot like the pictures, and it was very good over rice.

About half a cup of the sauce was left, so I did my overnight-oats thing, using a cup of boiling broth and two fat dinner teaspoons of the chocolate curry sauce.

Setup: 1/2 cup of stone ground rolled oats in a heat-proof container, one cup of broth, two dinner teaspoons of chocolate curry sauce, salt. Boil the broth and pour over the oatmeal, then add the sauce and stir. Let sit, covered, on the counter overnight. In the morning, pour into a bowl and reheat in the microwave (two, two-minute shots, stirring betweentimes).

Results: Not bad, but surprisingly bland. It was a little wet, probably because of the extra liquid in the sauce (enough so that it boiled over a bit on the second microwave shot). The curry flavour wasn’t noticeable, probably because far less of it ended up in two spoons of sauce than normally was in my curry broth. Same for the chocolate. It tasted a lot like vending machine chocolate and not like my usual stand-a-spoon-up-in-it chocolate. Next time, I’ll try making the curry broth the usual way, and putting the cocoa powder in directly. I’ll save today’s leftover sauce for the Valentine’s Day ice cream party.

Rating: *****

Experiment 2: I decided what it needed was a stronger chocolate, and more of it. Once again, I started with a cup of clove-heavy chicken broth, added a slab of Golden Curry roux. Rather than making a sauce and using only part of that, I stirred a quarter cup of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa mix directly into the breakfast broth.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth with curry, quarter cup of cocoa mix, salt. Cook for ten minutes. Since the cocoa mix thickens the dish, I added it at the very end.

Results: Surprisingly good. Not as wet — more like a gravy, which is what I wanted. The curry flavour just right. Same for the chocolate. This one’s a keeper. Now, if I can only find a romantic partner who doesn’t gag at the thought of curry for breakfast…

Rating: *****

Pick your battles

February 13, 2017

A few seasons ago, there was a short format (7min) anime titled Tonari No Seki-kun (My Neighbor Seki-kun). It was about a girl (Yokoi) who sits next to Seki-kun in class and watches all the madcap antics he gets up to in the back row. In the first episode, he builds a complex falling-dominoes layout on his desk, complete with stairs and crossovers. In the second episode, he draws a chessboard on his desk and plays shogi — Japanese chess — Game of Thrones style, complete with beheadings and regicides. The pattern of each episode is the same: Yokoi tries to pay attention to the teacher, but gets drawn in by the outrageous things Seki-kun is doing, ending up as a participant, or even an accomplice. When she tries to stop him, it’s her frantic actions that get disciplined by the teacher. There’s a political lesson to be learned from all this, given that the US has just elected a Seki-kun as our President.

tonari-no-seki-kun

I have to state at the start, for those who may be unclear on the concept, that our President is not an anime character. For one thing, Seki-kun carries out his little projects without disrupting the classroom, whereas Trump-kun is trying to disrupt things, to stir the pot, to keep his opponents — everyone who isn’t him — off balance. What is the best response to this? Spoiler: don’t be Yokoi.

Here’s a selection of some of the outrages Trump has committed in his first weeks in office. Threatening to destroy the career of a Texas state representative who opposes asset forfeiture. Attacking the “so-called judge” who opposed his immigration ban. Nominating as Ambassador to Austria some businessman whose prime qualification seems to be that he’s a “Sound of Music” fan. And in general, acting in such a way that even members of his staff are alarmed.

Any of these things would be fatal to the administration of a real politician, and I’m sure you can think of another half-dozen or so. But Trump don’t care. As someone said about one of my former bosses, “he does for fun the kinds of things other people get ulcers from doing.” The key to dealing with Trump is to not sweat the small stuff.

Yes, he needs to be called out for unacceptable behavior, but then leave the shouting and the tweet-storming and the pearls-clutching to the talk show hosts and other trained professionals. Don’t end up in an adrenalin coma. For one thing, it won’t accomplish anything. For another, it will only be more red meat for his base “lookit them liberals running around like headless chickens!

Instead, put your effort in those things that will return the most gain. Opposing the immigration ban. Opposing Repeal and Replace for the ACA. Opposing Sessions as Attorney General.

That last is a good example. The Attorney General is in a position to destroy respect for law and order in this country. Who holds that office is arguably much more important than who the Secretary of Education is. Forcing a tie on Sessions, and forcing Pence to own the tie-breaking vote, is much more important down the road than a similar vote on DeVos.

 

 

 

TL:DR — Anime I never finished: Yozakura Quartet

February 6, 2017

Yozakura Quartet
A one cours anime from 2010. Not so much bad as very much not my demographic. Two-thirds of a century ago, maybe, but now, if I had the ability to try-before-buy (say, via Crunchyroll or Funimation), I would not have bought it.

On second thought, no — it’s bad. It’s about a group of humans and half-demons who bond socially to fight other half-demons (the anti-social ones) to drive them to the other side and to protect the six sacred sakura stumps that (sortof) guard the town from demons.

I guess you’d call this a shonen fighter, appealing mostly to middle-school boys, because every episode features a battle of some sort. The trouble is, all the fights are the same: each protagonist takes turns fighting the demon, instead of ganging up on them; everyone spends most of the time talking, and the demons spend their talk time gloating; and about a third of the combat dialogue by the protagonists involves shouting the name of one of the others (the one who is currently getting the individual snot beat out of them).

The spikey hair is a dead giveaway

The spikey hair is a dead giveaway

The art is crude, and the animation is minimalist. The funniest scene was when the womanising land god who looks after the town (but doesn’t actually do anything to protect it) visits the festival to see if there are any pretty girls to romance, and runs into a couple of 70 year olds who fondly remember dallying with him some decades earlier. Always embarrassing.

It was not available for preview on Crunchyroll or Funimation, but there had been some good reviews on-line, back in the day (and one of the characters was voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki), so when it came on sale on Amazon a couple of weeks ago, I bought it. I made it halfway through Episode 7 and gave up. Life is too short, and Amazon Prime is streaming Highschool Of The Dead.