Archive for the ‘Anime’ Category

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2020

July 7, 2020

It’s not often I blow most of my seasonal preview picks right out of the gate, but I sure did it this time.

Monster Girl Doctor: I picked this one, just last week, because the title and the cover looked cute. I forgot I’d read the first volume of the light novel series on J-Novel. My gag reflex should have told me. Just because an anime is in the monster musume genre doesn’t mean it can just ignore the rules of good comedy, even if it’s slapstick comedy. The LN was poorly written enough that I almost dropped it before the end of the first volume, a most unnatural act for a reader like me.

The anime is no better. The acting is bad, and the fact that it’s overacting doesn’t help. The animation is extremely low budget. It’s not that only one character moves at a time, it’s that only one body part moves.

Misfit of Demon King Academy: They are going down like ninepins. Here’s a bog-standard “over-powered student enrolls in magical academy” anime. So far, the only redeeming feature is, he’s from 2K years in the past, and his ancient jokes tend to fall flat. The bad guys are bombastic unto death. The protagonist (can’t really call him the good guy) is bombastic when he’s not being nice.

Super Hxeros: This is one I said I wouldn’t watch, and boy am I glad I didn’t watch it. Super HxEros feels like they came up with the name and then spent a drunken weekend looking for a story. Prepubescent girl has the hots for her equally young boyfriend (girls do develop faster) but after a short and only mildly erotic conversation with an Eros-Sucking Mantis-Like Alien-Thing she is overcome with terminal embarrassment and instead of saying something like “Look, ESMLAT, I ain’t gonna take any razzing from some ero-trash with eyeballs bigger than their boobs“, she instead swears off boys forever,

In this case forever is about eight years. You see, he’s part of a secret ESMLAT-Fighting Organization, one that blasts them with their smart watches, and they find that when she holds his hand, like she was doing way back when, they overclock his powerup and blast the ESMLAT into the next prefecture. Due to Newton’s equal and opposite, their clothes are blasted away as well, and they find themselves sitting workedup and starkers in the middle of a kids playground (Don’t do it Hoshino! Don’t do it! Sand gets in everywhere!). The episode ends with her being given clothing and welcomed into both the ESMLATFO and their joint living arrangement by the other three girls in his ESMLATFO-issued harem.

Maybe she uses glitter

In addition to a stupid plot and stupider dialog, the censorship is disgusting.

Anime Preview: Summer 2020

July 3, 2020

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on pretty much just the title and the cover art. Only seven shows ’cause it’s a really thin season.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped years ago (Shokugeki no Souma, SOA), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Re: in the title.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

My Next Life as a Villainess

June 21, 2020

And so My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! AKA Bakarina comes to an end, with a not-really-surprising surprise ‘friendship’ ending, and a somewhat surprising sequel announcement. I’m not going to rehash the series — I assume you’ve seen it, and that nothing I’m going to say will be a spoiler for you. What I am going to do is remark on a couple of aspects of the show that I found interesting.

I liked the anime, and have read many of the novels on J-Novel. However, it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. Catarina hits her head, remembers a ‘past life’, realizes she’s the villainess in an otome dating game Fortune Lover, and devotes the rest of the season fighting to avoid the numerous bad ends she’s threatened with. She comes across as rather dense, hence the #Bakarina hashtag, and that is the basis for the rest of the story.

Of course, part of the supposed density is because she’s laser-focused on avoiding the bad endings. Everything else, she tunes out. If one of the boys confesses to her — “I want to stand by your side forever, Catarina sama” — her reaction tends to be “yes, yes, happy to hear that, but what do you think of Maria, the main heroine?” Same with the girls, with the additional aspect that she appears to be totally oblivious to any yuri implications. Even Mary saying that they should both ditch their fiancees and run away together, and by the way here’s a map and some boat schedules that will get us to this offshore island I have chosen doesn’t really get through to her. She’s constantly worried about doom flags because her death or exile is baked into the game and at one point she’s inside her head, yelling at the production crew about game balance.

Another interesting aspect of the anime is how it treats reincarnation. When Catarina reincarnates, it’s not on Earth, not even on a later timeline. She’s on a different world (of course, it’s an isekai!). I don’t think she’s actually in the game (like Log Horizon), or in a world-as-a-game situation (Konosuba) The characters and setup and basic mechanics are there, but there’s no game-related features, no control panel or status board or whatever. So it’s a world that’s inspired by, not an instantiation of, Fortune Lover. One result of this structure is that Sasaki AtsukoAcchan, her friend back on Earth who presumably dies years after she does, reincarnates into her world at the same time she does, as Sophia. As usual with reincarnations, the reincarnated soul does not remember its former lives, except that Catarina takes a blow to the head, which jars her memories loose. No such thing happens with Sophi/Acchan.

That changes when Catarina gets put into a coma. Acchan visits her, gives her some useful information, and tells her she has to wake up. Meanwhile, Acchan is also inspiring Sophia, partly by appearing as her reflection, to go help Catarina. One difference between the LN and the anime is that in the novel it’s just Sophia doing the waking. In the anime, all of her friends are energized by fairy lights or something to go call her name. She wakes up and the rest, as they say, is otome. Meanwhile, we can infer from how their two souls are now linked, and from the last shot in the OP of them holding hands on the beach, that Acchan and Catarina (we never do find out what her Japanese name is) will be cycling through their future reincarnations together.

Right before the credits roll, we find that there’s going to be a second season. The anime used up only the first two volumes of a, so far, 9 volume light novel series (6 released in the US), so there’s plenty of room for a sequel, but I don’t think that a sequel is really necessary. Some stories have a natural arc, and when you reach the end of that arc, there’s really no need to go on, unless you think you can milk a few more yen from the fans, like a Rocky movie.

So with Villainess We started with our core problem, the MacGuffin if you will: how can Catarina avoid the bad ending that the game originally promised her. By the end of the season we have our solution: turn all of her game antagonists into real life friends. Once that’s been done, the only thing left is for her to continue to live in this otome world, without any assistance from her game knowledge, the way the rest of us have to make it through life. Unless the creators come up with something new, some overarching goal for Catarina, I’m afraid that we’re in for twelve episodes of and now what is Bakarina oblivious to? I’ve read some of the follow-on novels, and I’m not optimistic.

Perhaps they’ll come up with an anime original ending. After all, that’s what they did with Season 1!

Looking at Escaflow, Ne? — Part 2

May 27, 2020

As the curtain comes up on the second half, we find V inside E-ne, bleeding from every access port, and embark on another summary.

  • A’s ship just happens to encounter an As convoy led by Dy. Remember him? He’s the fiancee of Mi, who loves A who slept with her dead sister Ma to produce C who turns his country’s greatest power over to Z. Drawing the relationship diagram is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • It turns out that V’s wounds match the damage to E-ne. Dy summons the Ip roadside repair ship and agrees to pay the 50 million woolong repair bill by hocking his convoy. The Ip’s operate on E-ne without an anesthetic, healing V in the process. Then, like every garage mechanic I’ve ever encountered, they fake up some reason to void the warranty.
  • Di and his hench-mechas attack the convoy. V takes E-ne and kills everyone but Di. Their ghosts then pull E-ne spiritually down to the realm of death, along with V and H (who arrives just in time to get her hand stuck in a viewport). This doesn’t last, and they soon return to life, such as it is.
  • After a couple of sub-plots, involving angels, magma, two leopard girls, a cat and a declaration of love, V, H, and E-ne return, and Dy announces that the answers to all their questions are to be found in the Mystic Valley (MV), so off they go. Meanwhile, the forces of Z, lead by F, minus Di, who has gone mad enough that even the others notice, follow them.
  • Our Heroes reach MV by way of a sky portal, followed by the leopard girls, Enya and Narnia (E&N). Inside, they each have different experiences. A has a long heart-to-heart with his dead father (L) and sees his long-missing sister (Ce). H sees V’s mother (Vf) and her own grandmother (Ob). Ob, by the way, is the girl who inspired L to leave Vf and seek her in MV where she got the pendant that H uses. Meanwhile, V suffers a crisis of confidence that’s only resolved by the appearance of E&N, giving him somebody to hit. Vf gives V a new energy jewel for E-ne, and everyone gets transported out of MV as the portal breaks up.
  • Most of Our Heroes end up on the not-MV snowfield next to their ship, but A, H, V and E-ne get transported to Z. After a brief visit with Emperor Dk, captivity, and some other adventures, they find themselves back in an already-rebuilt Pa, where H and A are subjected to long distance mind warping by Dk, and V encounters the ever-popular anime trope of misconstruing an out of context observation.
  • H then lies to Mi about how successful the upcoming marriage with Dy will be, leaving out the part about an affair with A. E&N bet their luck in a raid on As to get H, but their luck runs out and they die in F’s arms. V attacks F’s Castle In The Sky, but his luck turns bad as well — he destroys the castle, but not F.
  • V pursues brother F to the ruins of their ancestral home. After a heartwarming reconciliation on the ashes of their capitol city, mediated by H and a couple of lizards, V, F, and H return to As, which then is hit by a surprise attack from Z.
  • There’s a brief intermezzo for scenery changes, during which H gets whisked back home, wakes up in a hospital bed, relives her last day on Earth and gets dragged off by V. Again. She never does find out if she beat her best time on the track.
  • They return to find a great battle in progress between Z and the newly-allied forces of everybody else. One of their allies drops a nuke on the Z capitol, winning the war and leaving the capitol totally undamaged. Deprived of an enemy, the allies start fighting each other.
  • Despite the fact that Z has lost, mad-dog Di continues fighting, because that’s what he does. In the middle of a fight with V, the emotional stress of losing all the people he thought of as friends makes Di decide to come out as his true persona, Ce. V struggles to accept this new development, a quarter century too early for gender neutral pronouns.
  • F takes H to Z just in time to see Emperor Dk start the Fate-o-Tron. F pulls a Darth Vader on Dk and, just like in the movies, they both die. But it’s too late. Once the Fate-o-Tron starts to work, it can’t be turned off. Besides, the only one left is H, and her skills do not include hacking unknown operating systems. V senses that H is in danger, and angels-up to fly across the battlefield to her side. In the stress of the moment V starts to molt, which makes the soldiers of both sides realize that there are some things worse than war.
  • V destroys the Fate-o-Tron by smashing into it with his head, saving H and bringing peace to Gaea. Afterwards, V (perhaps realizing that the reason why he and Di were always fighting wasn’t hatred after all) sends H back to Earth, assuring her that he will keep in touch, you know, with telepathy.

VoE is truly operatic, in the Grand Opera tradition. It reminds me of some of Joe Green’s longer works, Don Carlos comes to mind, but at ten and a half hours run time it’s well over twice the length of that opera and almost twice the length of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger.

In fact, VoE has everything for the opera bouffe — convoluted plot, unexpected and improbable reveals, betrayal of friends, betrayal by friends, bad lab results;  love, death, and bombastic music. All it needs is arias. V and F could sing “Ho sempre saputo che eri un bravo ragazzo” on the ruins of Farnia. H could sing “Ci rivedremo, non sapremo dove, non sapremo quando.” to V as she gives up a chance to be queen in order to return to a land with better Internet. And A and V together could sing “Come dovrei chiamarti, ora che sei una ragazza” to Di.

Or maybe it’s more like one of those Elizabethan plays that inspired the operas, say Hamlet. As Shakespeare might have said: An’ Van Fanel, knee-deep in mechs, lived happy ever after.

Looking at Escaflow, Ne? – Part 1

May 22, 2020

So, the Spring Season has come all over viral and there’s nothing much to watch (see TLDR). To fill in the time, time that I othertimes would have spent down the pub, I’ve been rewatching anime I like (Hi, Tanya), and watching some classic anime for the first time.  This week, it’s Vision of Escaflowne. At 26 episodes, it’s too long to take in one gulp, so I’m breaking this writeup into two parts; each one is about 600 words, with spoilers.

VoE is a 1996 series that takes itself way too seriously. The plot is best described as overly operatic, with twists and turns and reveals that would turn Joe Green some color with envy. Herewith, a quick, nine paragraph summary of the first half. I’m going to list characters with letters, because things are confusing enough, without having to remember Dilandau and Dryden and Dornkirk and all those other Japanese names:

Good Guys

  • Earth girl H encounters prince V and finds herself Spirited Away from Earth to its invisible twin, G, which appears to hang around the Lagrange L3 Point without disturbing any other orbits.
  • Turns out that V has a brother, F, who defected to evil empire Z.
  • At the order of evil Emperor Dk, the forces of Z, led by F in his Flying Castle, aided by evil knight Di, destroys V’s homeland, despite the best efforts of V in his mecha, E-ne. Di is obviously mad, I tell you, with a trope-level high pitched giggle, and a facial scar that hurts whenever he thinks of V, which is all the time.
  • H and V are rescued by A, a knight of country As, and taken to his capital Pa, a prosperous harbor town surrounded by steep mountains and with nothing in the way of productive hinterland. Evidently, they survive by selling each other fish.
  • Di finds V and H in Pa and attacks them, again, and again they are saved by A.

Bad Guys

  • They escape the burning city with the help of A, but A is captured. He escapes with the help of Princess Mi, who loves him even though she is betrothed to Dy.
  • After a minor sub-plot involving Z graverobbers, exploding fuel depots, and an angel, they head to Fr, but on the way are again attacked by that persistent bastard Di, who injures A, who is cured by Mi, who just happens to be passing by.
  • On arrival in Fr they meet Prince C, who, it turns out, is A’s child by Mi’s dead sister Ma, instead of being Duke Fr’s son as everyone thinks. Mi finds this out by reading Ma’s diary, which the Duke has left lying around. At this point, one can only hope that A is older than he looks.
  • After a minor sub-plot involving a Z prisoner, a Z shape-shifter, a fake monk-interrogator, three murders, and a false accusation, Z attacks Fr, burns the capitol, and kills the Duke, so that leadership devolves upon Prince C, who (in a gesture of friendship) surrenders the power to destroy Atlantis (don’t ask) to Z. As the curtain falls for the Intermission, V has decided to marry E-ne, and he, A, and H fly away to meet Dy.

Doomed Cities

At this point I am reminded of the NATO vs Warsaw Pact wargames of a previous century — it doesn’t matter which scenario you play, every city involved ends up in flames and ruins.

This is an anime that you can date immediately by its art style. It’s not spiky hair shonen, but everyone looks like they spend a lot of time with combs and jells. As for their faces, if a sudden plot turn said they all were descendants of Bob Hope, I’d believe it.

Catarina’s Bow

May 5, 2020

The opening sequence of the anime My Next Life as a Villainess, ends with all the main characters taking a bow. There’s four males and four females, including Catarina. The males all bow the same way — right hand over heart (or in the case of Alan, maybe over pancreas) and left hand down. The other three women each bow differently, but in a distinctly feminine fashion — curtsy, front fig leaf, and hands down/palms out. Catarina’s bow is more like the men — right hand over heart, left hand out to side.

Just one of the guys

She obviously hasn’t bought into this world’s gender norms.

Zombie Awareness Month

May 1, 2020

As proclaimed by the Zombie Products Marketing Board, May is Zombie Awareness Month. By awareness they don’t mean a month devoted to making zombies more aware of the world around them, but instead, ZAW wants to bring a greater awareness of zombies to the world around us.

The AniList fifty year database contains only 17 standard length television shows that are tagged as zombie. However, half those are shows on other topics where zombies have brief walk-on parts — Rage of Bahamut or Midnight Occult Civil Servants, for example — parts which could just as easily been performed by werewolves or ghouls or Girl Scouts. Excluding those, there are only eight shows that are truly about zombies, and half of those are about individuals, what you might call revenants rather than zombies (Sankarea, Is this a Zombie?, Zombie Loan, Blood Lad). One of the remainder is about zombies-as-idols (Zombieland), and one is about a fantasy steampunk world that is overrun with hordes of them (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, which we know is not about Earth, because there’s no way Amtrak could get that kind of funding).

Only two anime in fifty years are traditional modern-day zombie infestation stories: School Live, and Highschool of the Dead. These two are the ones I want to concentrate on, and they couldn’t be more different.

School Live. Simply by naming School Live and zombies in the same sentence, I have committed a major, Rosebud-level, spoiler. Having gotten that out of the way, I can say that this is primarily a defensive plot. The students (who are all girls, and who all look to me like middle-schoolers, not highschool girls) are barricaded in the upper floor and roof of one of the school buildings, venturing out only to replenish their supplies. Their story is one of coping, and of psychological adjustment (they tell themselves they are just in the camping-out-in-school club). A key player in all this is Takeya Yuki, a cheery girl with a funny hat who seems to be in complete denial of their real status — she acts as if the school is fine and the club is real. As we go along we see that there is method to her madness, and all of her crazy machinations have elements designed to help her team mates cope. The series needs at least one sequel (and there seems to be enough source material in the manga), but there’s no indication that one is coming.

High School of the Dead. Once you get past the fan service, it is a classic of the zombie genre. Unlike School Live, it portrays an active response to the infestation. Starts out in a high school, but leaves before the end of the first episode, as the students look for their parents and a better refugia. Two boys, five girls (including one ditzy adult and one child). Their path across Tokyo lets them see all the different ways the disaster is playing out. Komuro Takashi, the male lead, is your typical difficult student who rises to the occasion. Busujima Saeko, who shares the lead female role, is the most psychologically complex (and her first name is pronounced psycho). After many travails and changes of transportation, the crew ends up at a shopping mall, an obvious tip of the hat to the original zombie films. The series badly needs a sequel (there’s at least two seasons worth of loose ends to clean up), but the source manga has been abandoned and it’s unlikely it will get one.

The zombies in both these anime act like they’ve been infected by a fast-acting virus. HOTD suggests that it might be a US military biowarfare experiment gone bad, and School Live actually has a plot point that describes it as a biological experiment that officials knew might get out of hand and had prepared a vaccine for. One commenter said these shows use a virus approach because Japanese Buddhists cremate their dead and therefore don’t have the Western idea of a traditional zombie burial and resurrection.

Unlike the zombies in the other series, these are mindless automota, with School Live giving them just enough memory of their past to head home when the club makes a PA announcement that the school is closing for the day, and HOTD framing them as responding only to sound (although they sometimes seem slightly more sentient than that, if it will improve the drama).

So, if you haven’t had enough exposure to killer virus programs this Spring, these two anime will give you a really good injection of classic zombie tropes. Then, suitably prepared, you can go rock to the idols of Zombieland.

Meanwhile, we have a different virus to worry about

So, what anime am I watching?

April 29, 2020

I have already done three TL;DR essays this season, on anime that didn’t hold my interest. Having pared down the list, I find that some of the ones I want to watch have a bad case of teh covid — production is paused for an unknown length of time.

While I am disappointed at the hiatuses, hiatusoi, hai… delays, I totally understand the need. Using Shirobako and Anime Runner as information sources, one can see that animators work in conditions that are ideal for spread of the virus, worse than the meatpacking industry. It’s not just that they are packed into their interconnected cubicles (more like MLB player lockers, really) , they work ungodly hours, get little sleep and worse nutrition. I’m surprised that some studio hasn’t come out and said “Half our staff has died, and the other half is on ventilators”. And Kyokyo Daha isn’t an approved anti-viral.

What that means, of course, is that the number of Spring anime that I’m actually watching watching has shrunk alarmingly. In fact, there’s only three: Bookworm, Villainess, and Tamayomi.

Ascendance of a Bookworm is the second season of one of my favorite anime/light novels. Now, Myne has gone from trying to survive in a sh*thole country (c’mon!, It’s a clone of the European Middle Ages, the definition of a place where the lives were like the people — nasty, brutish, and short) to trying to survive in the Byzantine politics of a Church/Nobility cultural intersection. It’s not just that she’s a commoner, it’s that she’s a commoner with Japanese cultural sensibilities.

My Next Life as a Villainess is based on a light novel series that I’m reading on J-Novel. Having been re-born in the body of a haughty, self-centered, mean-spirited noble in an otome game, Katarina (I don’t care how they spell it in the anime, it’s Kataria) fights to avoid her doom, and thereby shows the power of simply being a nice person. It helps that she’s a little dense (highly depleted uranium comes to mind, and the hashtag for the series is #Bakarina) and doesn’t see the impact of her actions on those around her. It also helps that she’s mentally no longer a noble, but instead her approach to the world is that of a commoner with Japanese cultural sensibilities.

Tamayomi is a classic Cute Girls Doing Cute Things…with Baseballs. Very muscular thighs, which you can easily see because they play wearing shorts, as if they were Australians. It’s not Big Windup by any means, but there’s just enough baseball in this baseball anime to make it worthwhile. It’s not American baseball by any means, it’s baseball with Japanese cultural sensibilities.

Meanwhile, I find myself filling in the time between avoiding covid specials with watching, or rewatching, such classics as the Monogatari series, Kotobuki, and, yeah, OK, Mayo Chiki. Not an anime, but I’ve just started a rewatch of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how great the writing was.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Spring 2020 – Part 3

April 21, 2020

I have now managed to cut my anime load to six from fourteen. I’ll talk about those six later, right now, here’s the latest culls:

Sakura Wars, The Animation. Am I the only one who remembers the original Sakura Taisen anime from twenty years ago, the only one who still has a copy of the series on my shelf? None of the reviews I’ve seen do more than mention it, the way you’d mention the discovery of America before starting a discussion of the best Italian restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. Sakura Taisen 2000 takes place in the early 1920’s, before the destruction of the Asakusa Jūnikai skyscraper in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Twenty years later, a new crew has been assembled for the Imperial Floral Assault Force/Imperial Opera Troupe [the two phrases have identical pronunciation]. They all look like 6th generation copies of the previous group, and the anime itself is a pale, CG reflection of ST2K. Plus, the mechas all look like chibi versions of the originals.

Arte. Appears to be aboutloosely based on… inspired by the life of Florentine artist Artemisia Gentileschi. I’d like to like it, but for some reason historical costume dramas just don’t work for me. I mean, I didn’t like Jewel in the Palace, either.

8th Son. After a promising start it became just another overpowered hero in an admiring isekai narrative. I guess I should have known. After all, Pratchett says the most powerful wizard is the 8th son of an 8th son.

Appare-Ranman. I was hoping for The Great Race, but all I got was Wacky Races. Besides, the tomahawk was, as far as I know, an Eastern Woodlands weapon, not one used on the West Coast or High Desert.

 

Bunny Rascal Does Not Dre…

April 21, 2020

So, the thirteen episode anime Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai has a 90min sequel movie, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl. Funimation [they should only fall into the ocean] streamed it to the US on a limited release. Limited, in this case, seems to be for twenty-seven hours and fifty-four cents. Just long enough for me to watch half of it, but not long enough for me to pause it and come back the next day.

I was so irritated I sat down and binge-watched Straight Title Robot Anime. That helped, but not a lot.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Spring 2020 – Part 2

April 10, 2020

At the start of the season I found myself with fourteen anime on my schedule. That’s two per night, and what will I do about the reruns of the 2001 Mariners games? That quickly became eleven,  then thirteen and now it looks like it’s going to hit ten. Reminds me of the Dow Industrials.

Sing Yesterday for Me. Lost loser looking for love can’t even find himself. Recent college grad (a) stays on at his job at the kombini, (b) gets friend-zoned by his college crush, (c) meets crow-training high school dropout, and (d) crashes his bike.

Episode 1 emphasizes his extreme lack of talent, ambition, or personality. This is evidently a phase everyone goes through immediately after graduation from college and prior to deciding on a career as an aniblogger. I was lucky. I had my orders to VietNam in-hand before I graduated, so I never had time for a case of the angsts.

Princess Connect. Obviously game based. Inept protagonist falls to earth totally unable to understand the world. Cute girl guides him. Bland. Generic. Uninspired character designs. Poorly animated.

Shachibato. Obviously game based. Inept protagonist falls for an invitation to become the President of an adventuring company. Cute girl guides him. Bland. Generic. Uninspired character designs. Poorly animated.

Gleipner. Obviously game based. Inept protagonist falls for …. didn’t we just do this?

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Spring 2020 – Part 1

April 6, 2020

At the start of the season I found myself with fourteen anime on my schedule. That’s two per night, and what will I do about the reruns of the 2001 Mariners games? Fortunately, many of the shows look to be dropping of their own accord.

Listeners. Rock and roll saves the world from big black fuzzy things. I’m not a big music anime fan. I’m not a big mecha fan. Finally, I’m not a big fan of girls with giant MIL-P-642/2 patch plug sockets in their spines. FLCL could get away with that sort of stuff, but not Listeners, and the whole circle dance thing looks like it was stolen from Howl’s Moving Castle.

Where’s my yellow Vespa?

Bungo and Alchemist*. Literature saves the world from big blue fuzzy things. Author, not the real author, just a simulacrum of the real one gets sucked into a simulacrum of one of his books in order to fight the taints (yes, I laughed too). Entirely too meta, and not well-done meta, either. If you want to see how to do literary meta, read some of the Thursday Next novels (and why, pray tell, aren’t they an entire anime franchise?).

George and Ethel Taint

Tower of God. Girl wants to see the stars, and boy wants to see the girl, and then things get weird. Boy likes girl, who leaves him for a tower. Other girl likes boy and helps him get started on the tower. Other girl (not the first other girl, but an other other girl) also likes boy and breaks big bowling ball for him so he can move up in the tower. He gets out on the second floor, and nobody likes him. Reminds me a little of 2018’s Angels of Death. I didn’t like that one, either.

This way up

 


*Shouldn’t this be Bungo to Alchemist? Or maybe Author and Alchemist? That alliterates better.

Anime Preview: Spring 2020

April 4, 2020

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on pretty much just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped before (Kaguya-sama, Shokugeki no Souma), shorts and kids stuff (Dino Girl ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Shin or Digimon in the title

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

In/Spectre, a parable for our times

March 31, 2020

Kyokou Suiri tells a fantasy story that lives in the same world as Information Warfare and Fake News, a world where truth is malleable at the command of a policy requirement. 

In/Spectre – Kyokou Suiri, Fictional Reasoning – is a hard anime to like [but I like it] . Most of the reviews I have read said pretty much the same thing: Iwanaga’s character was fun, as were her interactions with Kurou, and the concept of prognostication by death was interesting, but overall, the anime was lacking in action. I totally agree. It was probably 75% exposition, be it in a restaurant, a hotel room, or a car. Talk, talk, talk. I’ve bought the manga, and the anime is pretty faithful to it. Much as I liked it, I have to admit that Kyokou Suiri is a manga that was very much unsuited to adaptation as an anime.

Having said that, the manga and the anime address something at the heart of modern culture. We could call it Information Warfare, or PsyOps, or Dezinformatsyia, or Conspiracy Theories, or Trolling, but let’s just call it Fake News. Governments around the world are employing this tool to further their objectives or frustrate their opponents. Russia has web brigades. China has the 50-cent Party. Even the US has Operation Earnest Voice. Truth isn’t as important as believability.

We start by noting that almost nothing surrounding the Steel Lady Nanase arc is real, except in the Washington, DC sense that perception is reality. Kurou’s cousin Rikka had a need for a creature of the mind — a god who can reverse her condition, a condition which allows her to predict the future, but only if she dies first — so she built a website to promote SLN as the vengeful ghost of a B-list idol and enticed those who want to believe in vengeful B-list ghosts into willing her into existence. All through the summer, Rikka went through a cycle of web posting and suicide, followed by selection of a preferred future — one which further increased the power of SLN — followed by reincarnation. It’s a good thing the mechanics of reincarnation involved the return of any spilled blood, or Rikka would never get her cleaning deposit back. Soon, SLN is scaring highschool girls and inattentive drivers in the sleepy city of Makurazaki, at the southern tip of Japan’s southernmost island. Finally, with a suitable amount of fake but believable web posts, Rikka gets SLN to the point that she can actually kill a police officer. Enter Iwanaga and Kurou.

As the Goddess of Wisdom to Japan’s yokai, Iwanaga has the job of seeing that the human world and the yokai world maintain a balance, something that Rikka’s efforts threaten. Iwanaga’s boyfriend Kurou is in the same state as Rikka (because both ate yokai flesh as children). He can suicide, choose a nearby future, and reincarnate unharmed. Together they run a counter-Rikka operation using her same tools of fake news.

Set a meme to trap a meme

They are ultimately successful, because Iwanaga concentrated on building believable elements into multiple threads, while Rikka only looked at the thread conclusions. Her futures closed off those conclusions without refuting the individual elements. So it is that the readers of the SLN website want to believe there are such things as B-List ghosts, but are also enticed by other shiny ideas, like SLN being the creation of Nanase herself. At the end, Iwanaga pulled all the elements together into a new, overwhelming thread, and Steel Lady Nanase ceased to exist.

Coming back to the real world, we face similar situations. Perhaps it’s the personal goal of a President Bush to invade Iraq, and news and formal Intelligence reports are twisted to push the idea that Iraq had WMD when they were never even close. Or maybe it’s a modern day President Putin, and his goal — more subtle and far sighted — is to degrade the prestige of the US and European countries in the eyes of the world at large. So Russian news sources push the idea that Coronavirus is a hoax, or maybe a US biowarfare program aimed at China. Possibly as a result, Iran rejected the idea of US aid, based on a conspiracy theory that says it was designed to attack Iranians. This kind of news falls on fertile ground among low-information consumers, like Fox News viewers, who are looking for a reason for their problems that doesn’t involve changing their cultural norms.

It is a truism in the Intelligence Community that a key part of deception is self-deception. You have a tendency to be less critical about the things you want to believe, and a successful purveyor of fake news is one who can come up with a semi-plausible story that you want to be true, like the idea that the whole pandemic thing is liberal fake news, designed to hurt President Trump. or that the canals of Venice are now so clean that the dolphins have returned, like swallows to Capistrano. This is one reason why I try not to respond, either here or on Twitter [@FoundOnWeb], to stories that are too good to check until a couple of days have gone by.

Meanwhile, the Rikka’s of this world are quick to denigrate real news that runs counter to their policy objectives. Some of the people in the foreign deception organizations mentioned above are assigned the duty of following a well known figure, and posting a negative comment the instant they put something up on Twitter or other social network. Look at the early replies to @PaulKrugman, for example. The goal isn’t to refute their ideas so much as to degrade the perceived reliability of the source, and maybe to insert an element that can be used later.

And now that you’re familiar with the techniques, maybe you won’t get sucked in by the next conspiracy theory that comes along. See, you can learn stuff from anime.

TLDR: A baseball anime that almost made the cut

March 13, 2020

A couple of years ago I watched half an episode of Major 2d, a 2018 follow-on to a 1994 anime with a less numeric name. I dropped it so fast it didn’t even register on TLDR. It’s baseball, but it’s grade school baseball. Now, I don’t have anything against grade schoolers, much, but at that time of life one is mostly building character, and learning about life through shared experiences in the classroom, like rhythm sticks and group naps, and in team sports like baseball and kick-the-immigrant. When I watch a baseball anime I want baseball, not drama, not character-building, and not improvement as a person.

So, I went skipping around the episodes, watching the ones that had games in them, as opposed to practice, or socialization. They were … were … not bad. There were some interesting baseball decisions, and an interesting color commentary by ojii-san in one sequence. Of course, this was all grade school baseball.

Nevertheless, it was not worth persisting. My gold standard for baseball anime is Big Windup, which has some emoting but more baseball detail.

Sorry Major2. Sorry Enzo. Too much childlife, not enough baseball.

I fear for Spring

March 10, 2020

Spring is coming, and with it, a new crop of anime. I’ll be doing my normal information-free projections Real Soon Now, but here I’d like to take a quick look into the future, via Lost In Anime’s Spring 2020 Season Preview. This is a cheap way to get a post — let Enzo do all the work and then come in and critique.

Actually, it’s not a critique. It’s an honest look at my feelings about Spring, given what he has to say about it. Remember, the sign of a good reviewer is that, whether or not you agree with them, you know if you will like a show after reading their review. Thanks, Enzo.

First off, I am afraid it looks like another thin season, just like Winter. Not just fewer shows than normal, but fewer good shows, even by proportion. This Winter, I note, there were only four shows that made my weekly watchlist, and only two of those, Eizouken and In/Spectre, were must watch as soon as they dropped. This is as much a comment on me as it is on the quality of the shows. There were a number of good ones that just did not entice me back.

What also worries me about the Spring of Enzo is that the show with his highest expectations (Major 2nd – nothing to do with chord progression) is the second season of one I dropped halfway through S1Ep1. I’m willing to take a second look, but we go downhill from there.

And…we’re barely into the mid-table, and the descriptions are already giving me wave-off signs:

Tower of God — “looking a lot less of a dumpster fire…”

Kingdom S3 — “not going to tempt fate by saying it couldn’t get any worse”…

Listeners — “…involves a mysterious girl with an audio jack in her body, the history of rock and roll, and (reportedly) mecha” [Me: strike three].

Nami yo Kiitekure — “Woman winds up being duped into hosting a radio talk show.”

Two of the other three don’t sound bad, as such:

Fugou Keiji — “Genius detective and shallow partner.”

Yesterday wo Utatte — Young man takes a job at a konbini, meets his ex-girlfriend and her pet raven and then things get weird

But it’s only the last one that sounds really interesting:

Arte — Female artist in 16th Century Florence.

And we’re now scraping the Modestly Interested part of the barrel, with eight shows that Enzo doesn’t seem to hold out much hope for, including a couple that I do. I’ll just summarize those last two.

Appare-Ranman! — Japanese steampunk version of The Great Race. Too bad they couldn’t get Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood to do the dubs.

Kitsutsuki Tanteidokoro — Late Meji period detectives investigating ghosts in the Juunikai. No mention of the Imperial Opera Troupe.

So that’s it. Three, maybe five shows worth trying, and my guess is that only two will be weekly watches, which means lots of filler will be needed. That’s OK. I still haven’t broken the seal on Genshiken Second Gen, and the non-anime Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted on this date almost a quarter century ago, so it’s due for a rewatch.

Things you can learn from Eizouken

March 2, 2020

Some cities with lots of rivers put up shrines to the kappas that live in them.

Kappas like cucumbers

Crunchyroll drops another clanger

February 19, 2020

So, there’s this thing called monopoly power. You get it when you are the only, or substantially the only player in a market — if you’re the 500lb gorilla, the monkeys don’t matter. Usually, it’s a way of extracting higher prices from your customers, but it can also be a way of not having to improve your product (e.g. Internet Explorer). Or, it can be a way of deploying new ‘features’ without reference to the users.

A year ago I was complaining about the user interface designs of both Crunchyroll and sister service VRV. My conclusion was that, bad as it was, CR had a better interface than VRV. Now it looks like CR is edging towards a VRV-like interface, possibly (and this is sheer speculation) on the way to a code merger, or because they really want us all to shift over to VRV.

Last month, without warning or explanation, CR introduced a new user interface. It’s main features were that users were no longer able to order the anime in their watchlists — the choices were order by {Date Accessed} or by {Date Added} — and the size of the listings. In addition, the {Date Accessed} sort requires that you have already accessed the program. If you just click on the [Add to Queue] button, it only shows up in the {Date Added} sort. ADDED: CR really wants you to use {Date Accessed}. Roku will only show that sort (which means you have to watch at least part of it on your PC before it will show on Roku), and if you use {Date Added} on your PC and click the [Queue] icon, it reverts to {Date Accessed}. The fact that it’s probably the more useful sort is beside the point.

Here’s the old watchlist. I could order the elements any way I pleased. For example, by when they were showing during the week, perhaps with some legacy shows inserted for thin spots in the programing. The photos were small, but big enough, and I could fit seven of them on my screen. The font was the browser standard.

Old watchlist

Here’s the new watchlist, ordered by {Date Accessed}. I had just watched Episode 6 of In/Spectre, so that was on top — a show I had already seen and was not going to be accessing again for another week. Second on the list was a show I was re-watching when I wanted to kill some time. Next time I watch it, it will pop to the top, under the assumption that I must be marathoning it. Third show is Eizouken, which I have already watched. And so on. Note that here are only four shows visible.

New watchlist

So, the new pictures are bigger, bigger than I need them to be, while the font…the font is the same size, or maybe the slightest bit smaller. I can tell you from personal experience that, with the ageing of the otaku, there is going to be an increasing demand for bigger fonts, not smaller ones.

Crunchyroll is not a true monopolist, but it has near-monopolistic power in one slice of the market — subbed anime. Others are centered on dubbed (Funimation), or don’t have the depth of library or breadth of new releases. Given that, CR can do whatever will maximize their profits (in this case, I think, minimize their costs) without regard to their customer base. This attitude is to be expected, because Crunchyroll is a subsidiary of Otter Media, which is a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, which is a subsidiary of AT&T.*

People complain about having to pay half a dozen streaming services if they want all the anime that’s available. They’d much rather it was all rolled into one big provider. This is an example of what can happen when you do that.

———————-

*Which might not be the most hated media company, but I’m sure it’s among the top two.

The three monkeys of Eizouken

February 9, 2020

I particularly like an anime that is confident enough to drop in quick references to other anime, other media, without feeling the need to draw your attention to them. Think of Girls Und Panzer and Rommel’s Panzer IV stuck on a bridge, or the Headmasters Ferrari F40, neither of which was mentioned as such.

Keep your hands off Eizoukun has the same level of confidence. Here’s one from Episode 5.

No-one mentions that it’s a riff on the 3-monkey pose. They just show the cut, and move on.

In/Spectre after five

February 8, 2020

In/Spectre (虚構推理 Kyokō suiri) is living up to its Japanese name: Fictional Reasoning. I don’t do episode by episode reviews, and I rarely do midseason reviews, but this one is special.

In the first five episodes I/S pulls more plot shifts on us than a fast game of Calvinball. It starts out looking like a yokai-of-the-week, with a cute but totally mismatched couple — one eye/one leg Kotoko, Goddess of Wisdom to the yokai, and unkillable yokai-eater Kurou, who Kotoko recruits after he breaks up with Saki, his girlfriend of five years. Together, they rid the local library of a monster that has been terrorizing the other yokai, and preventing the ghost samurai from finishing his Harlequin romance novels.

Would you consider dating me with marriage in mind?

Then, in Episode 2, we find that Kotoko’s real job is BS-ing the low-intellect yokai with continuously changing explanations until she finds one that satisfies them and their problem is “solved”. In this case, it’s a snake god that is trying to figure out why a woman dumped a dead body in his swamp.

But doesn’t that explanation contradict your previous one?

Having read the manga, I can say that this 1.3-episode arc was brought in from later in the story. As others have pointed out, that’s a good thing, because it preps the watcher for the kind of developments that are to come.

Episode 3 brings up a new situation, one that will dominate the center of this I/S season. It’s two years later, and there’s a new yokai in town, the vengeful ghost of a dead idol, Steel Lady Nanase. So, we’re back to yokai-of-the-week, right? Not quite. You see, the police are investigating the phenomenon, because she caused a car crash. And who is doing the investigation? Kurou’s old girlfriend Saki. Who encounters Nanase. And meets Kotoko. So now it’s a love triangle, right?

Episode 4 starts out with a catty back-and-forth between the two women about ex/current-boyfriend Kurou (who has disappeared after leaving a ‘don’t follow me’ text). We get to see BS-artist Kotoko dueling with hard-nosed policewoman Saki, interleaved with discussions of Nanase. During this, we find that Kurou is essentially unkillable. Kotoko later decides she needs Saki’s help, but while the two of them are in the process of meeting up, Kotoko gets diverted to the site of a new Nanase sighting, and finds her fighting with…Kurou.

If you like, I’ll send you a wedding invitation whenever Kurou and I get married

Episode 5 is where it gets weird. You see, Kurou is effectively immortal, because he ate the flesh of a mermaid. But because he also ate the flesh of a kudan, he can forecast/select the future, but only if he dies. No wonder Saki dumped him, and no wonder Kotoko says she’s the only one who can understand him. We also find that Nanase isn’t a proper yokai, she’s the embodiment of the beliefs of all the otaku who are reading (and arguing) about her exploits on the Steel Lady Nanase website. So, instead of fighting Nanase physically, Kotoko is going to have to fight the idea of Steel Lady Nanase on the Internet. Suddenly, we’re in the realm of fake news and dueling Internet memes.

Set a meme to fight a meme

Far from being a simple humans-meet-yokai story, one that could have been set in old Edo, we have a totally modern story about how you fight fake news in the face of those who want to believe a certain story. Going forward [spoiler warning] we are going to see Kotoko developing and posting on the web, constantly-changing, real-time explanations for why Nanase isn’t a real ghost, in the face of those who want her to be. We also find that this isn’t really a story about fighting yokai. It’s a story about human interactions.

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Part 2

February 3, 2020

 

Somali and the Forest Spirit: This anime catches childhood better than any I’ve seen in a long time. Somali has a fearless urge to explore coupled with the short attention span for promises that is typical of all children. You have to watch them all the time or they’re gone. Equally, she has a child’s perception of the world, just beginning to apply logic and, not understanding the world, misapplying it. She has a child’s unalloyed love for and trust in her parent. All in all, it’s a masterpiece portrayal of what it is to be a child.

I hate children.

Interspecies Reviewers: I realize that the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply to businesses, still less to artists and works of art. Naked Maja and Arrangement in Grey and Black are equally valid. Still and yet, how was it that Funimation came to greenlight this show? I have never seen so much blatant censorship, with blocking patches, large and small, and entire blackened screens, as well. Was it that they wanted to be able to sell the patches as sew-on’s and phone charms in the Funimation store? Nobody’s going to buy that stuff.

Funimation should just drop the whole thing. I mean, what were they thinking?

Translation flubs in Eizouken

January 20, 2020

I am not a Japanese sprecher, despite having studied it for a while now — I like to say that I’ve been in the Learn Japanese in 90 days program for the last five years. However, there were a couple of errors in Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken that even I noticed.

In Episode 1, when their dragonfly is being chased by the bad guys, the logo on the front of the bad guys’ ship is 氷, which gets labeled as Mizu, which is Japanese for water. However, the kanji for water is 水 — note the missing dot in the upper left. What 氷 stands for is ice.

Wrong kanji

Then, in Episode 2, the subtitle says that Kanamori has a knack for handling stacks of paper. I thought I heard the word kane (かね), which means money, and is more in line with Kanamori‘s personality, as in a knack for handling stacks of money. A check of the manga indicates I’m probably right.

Wrong paper

It has been said that the best translation is a good paraphrase, but these are simple enough to just be oversights.

Anime worth watching, Winter 2019

January 15, 2020

I write so many items about what I don’t like, I decided to track what I think is good each season. These are based on watching just the first episode, so my opinion might change, but I note that this season is thin enough (for me) that I’ve already watched the first episode of In/Spectre twice and Eizouken three times.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken: I’m going to fall in with the in crowd here and say that this had the best start of any anime this season. Eizouken is a bright, cartoony anime about, as one reviewer said, bold girls doing bold things. These are the Shirobako girls before they got the anime club really going. They live in a building complex that looks like Kowloon City, if designed by Miyazaki, with the teacher’s offices in an empty swimming pool and the lane markers still in place.

In/Spectre: In a Montague/Capulet kind of pairing, she’s a Goddess of Wisdom for the denizens of the other world, while they consider him a fiend who eats their flesh. Together, they solve the problems of the spirit world and balance out their interactions with this one …  or something. A sort of a  Bleach meets Natsume’s Book of Friends rom com.

Somali and the Forest Spirit: Cute kid, soft pastel colors; a world full of diverse monsters, living in peaceful cooperation. Despite all that it’s still pretty good.

Just three. If I went any higher, this would be what I watched, instead of being what I watched that was good. Unsurprisingly, none of them is from Funimation.

 

Things you can learn from In/Spectre

January 14, 2020

You can learn that かっぱ are very friendly.

These days they are very trendy creatures.

Trendy Kappa

Who recommend good sushi

Kappa Sushi in Saitama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(there’s also a Kappa Sushi in San Diego)

 

and high quality shrimp flavored chips

Shrimp Chips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(you can get them on Amazon)

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Part 1

January 13, 2020

I wanted to write this whole article in one sitting, but it looks like it will be at least a week before all the new anime have aired. So, we do our best with what we have. Note that, as usual, Funimation hogged all the real stinkers — and got its own TLDR — so we just have to make do with what’s left elsewhere.

Asteroid in Love: A too-generic, too saccharine, cute-girls-doing-club-stuff anime. The girls are supposedly in high school, but they look and act more like middle schoolers. Despite it showing the only accurate portrayal of a real constellation that I’ve seen in anime, it’s 23 minutes that I can find a better use for. Like going outside and looking at the stars.

Room Camp: A short-short follow on to Laid Back Camp. Three minutes is too short to do anything more than come up with a lame camping-themed joke.

The Case Files of Jeweler Richard: Remember 2018’s Holmes of Kyoto? Move it to Tokyo and replace the ditzy girl with an overly serious boy. Both were unassuming lightweights, except that Holmes had the Kyoto tourist spots as backdrops. Holmes also had a budding romance between the appraiser and his employee, but there’s no reason why Jewler can’t explore that trope as well — after all, it’s the Reiwa Period now. However, I decided halfway through Holmes that this sort of slow burn non-mystery mystery show isn’t for me, and this time I’m bailing early.

The Island of Giant Insects: Remember Are you lost, last summer’s TV short about three girls surviving an airplane crash on a desert island? Suppose we gave the same high concept to the team that did Btoom, or maybe Gantz, and tell them to make a movie. Only don’t give them half the budget. Poor animation (it’s a 2020 release that looks like it should have aired in 2010), tired group dynamics tropes with serial death flags. And let’s not mention the ero-horror fan service. There’s a reason the AniList rating is around 40%.

Tokyo Olympic Stadium unveiled

January 12, 2020

The new stadium incorporates materials from all over Japan, and emphasizes the use of wood to give it a warm appearance.

Having been completed, it looks much better than it did when it was under construction.

Akira

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Funimation Division

January 10, 2020

For the last couple of years I’ve had this hate-hate relationship with Funimation. Their user interface is clunky, their log-on policies are irritating, and their selection is small. More about all of that in a later post.

I put off fighting the FN user interface for the first week or so of the new season, then plunged in and marathoned all the new shows on two separate nights. Here’s my take on the shows that weren’t worth it.

Plunderer: Young child (maybe five or six) is given a magic billiard ball by her abyss-bound mother and spends the next five years walking over 20km per day* looking for her “Ace with a white star” (no indication of how she survives while doing this). Arrives in a small town, only to be set upon by the village idiot molester, then deceived and assaulted by a no-good Army sergeant, who just happens to have a white star sticker handy to paste on his forehead. Rescued by said molester (who turns out to also be the real Ace, complete with star). Mediocre animation. Overacting like I haven’t seen since my last high school play. Horribly contrived (and poorly thought out) world concept. Child molestation as a plot point, and played for laughs by the so-called hero.

*How do we know this? The associated number** is tattooed on her inner thigh. High up on her inner thigh.
**Don’t ask.

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Super sorcerer’s ensorceled sister shape shifts into Smaug and soars away. He’s spent the last five years looking for her. Teams up with a sorcerer wannabe, a couple of larcenous dwarves (if you spell it with an f it’s a small red star) who look like Detective Conan, and the sword-swinging younger daughter of a rich merchant. Supporting cast includes seven people who were introduced by name (including screentags) at the introduction, and then suddenly it’s five years and a thousand miles later, and they appear again. BTW, Orphen is the guy’s name, not his parental status, and sorcerer is his profession, which means that stabber is his hobby or something. Too Saturday-morning kids show for me. I guess the spiky hair should have warned me.

Infinite Dendogram: Highschool boy enters a full-immersion VRMMORPG (like Sword Art, only without the evil sysadmin). Meets a full-featured NPC, a bear shaped sidekick, and a beautiful wrist-mounted embryo. Fights off badly animated CG insects and saves the FFNPC’s little sister. Might be worth a second episode, but right now it’s too much of a generic PC isekai.

Nekopara: A collection of cat-girls, who appear to be in their pre-tweens, help out in a bakery. When not helping, they’re engaged in semi-lewd interactions. At the 9:30 mark I decided I am so not the demographic for this one.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun: One final wrong-demographic. Really cute, really sweet, girl-meets-ghost. Like an inverted Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, but with less of a horror background (I guess). Artwork is like a children’s book. I’d say something like I wish I had kids, so I could watch it with them, but ya know, the ancillary costs wouldn’t be worth it.

Asteroid in Love

January 5, 2020

Just watched the first episode of Asteroid in Love. It’s a too-generic, too saccharine, cute-girls-doing-club-stuff anime. The girls are supposedly in high school, but they look and act more like middle schoolers. It will probably end up in my next TL;DR collection.

HOWEVER:

It is the first anime that I can recall — and I tend to pay attention to these things — that accurately portrays an actual stellar constellation.

Orion over my shoulder

Not just the shape of the asterism. The relative brightness and color of the stars are shown as well. Look at red Betelgeuse, and blue Rigel. The belt is accurate, but you can’t see the sword — as is to be expected in urban Japan.

So, credit where credit is due Asteroid, you’ve left a memorable image.

Anime Preview: Winter 2020

January 3, 2020

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on pretty much just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped before (Haikyuu, Kabukicho Sherlock), shorts and kids stuff (Egg Car ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Precure, Railgun, or punctuation in the title

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps (you can click on the pix to embiggen).

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

The most entertaining anime of the decade

December 31, 2019

Picture this. It’s the end of a hard week and you have just popped up a batch of popcorn, opened a bottle of vin exceedingly ordinaire, and chased the dogs off the sofa. What’s your next step?

Hey, honey, there’s a fifteen-hour Hamlet marathon on Netflix, starting with the 1911 August Blom version. Wanna watch?

OR

Hey, honey, what anime do you want to watch tonight?

Yeah. I thought so.

The list that follows is my take on the most entertaining anime of each year this decade. Not the highest quality. Not the most artistic. Just the one you’d like to watch when you want to be entertained and not have to think, similar to how Miyazaki intended Porko Rosso for tired Japanese businessmen. One anime per year.

2010 Highschool Of The Dead: Yes, it’s a fanservice train wreck. Yes, both the anime and the manga leave us hanging. But ya know, it’s darn fine storytelling.

Popcorn! More popcorn!

2011 Chihayafuru: Just because it’s the best anime of the year doesn’t mean it can’t be great entertainment. Besides, it was a pretty thin year.

Burning Goddess of Autumn

2012 Girls und Panzer: What’s not to like? A going-to-Koshien story about cute girls…and tanks…on aircraft carriers? Plus, it has the maus.

Did Rommel really get his start this way?

2013 Log Horizon: As I’ve said earlier, 2013 was a magical year for anime. But Kyousougiga and Kill La Kill make you think too much, and Non Non Biyori will put you pleasantly to sleep…

…but Log Horizon is computer world isekai done right

2014 Witch Craft Works: Another magical year, and WCW just barely edged out Shirobako. But Shiro is serious and WCW is just mind candy.

Saving her princess

2015 Blood Blockade Battlefront. New York, as it lives in the minds of New Yorkers.

After this, it gets weird

2016 Flying Witch: One of the better slice-of-life series. Even the fact that it had an Anime Original Ending couldn’t give it a dramatic arc, and that’s OK.

Where else would she get one?

2017 Dragon Maid: In another great year, DM beat out five other shows, but only just.

2018 Bunny Girl Senpai: Five short stories in one anime. Lots of references to other anime.

Haruhi ears, Lucky Star hair clip, Monogatari warning, Dewey decimal.

2019 Kotobuki: Magnificent flying. I get a bad case of the leans every time I watch it.

Another kill for Kotobuki

Anime worth watching, 2019

December 28, 2019

I’m not going to do a top ten or anything like that. This is simply a list of what I consider to be the single best anime of each season of the year past. If nothing in a season rises to the level of really good, then I’ll leave it blank.

Winter 2019

The Magnificent Kotobuki. The great flying, great characters, and interesting story makes up for the less than great CG character design. 90/100.

Spring 2019

Nothing that made the cut. At 70/100, Bokuben was the best of a bad lot, and no, I didn’t like Demon Slayer.

Summer 2019

Oh, Maidens in your Savage Season. The best coming-of-age anime I have seen. Probably the best anime of the year. 100/100. I note that of 450 anime from the last twenty years, I have given only 8 of them a 100/100.

Fall 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm. 85/100. Isekai done right. See the essay I stayed up late on Christmas night to write. Sorry, Chihaya, you started late and didn’t end in 2019.

 

Ascendance of a Bookworm: The anime and the novels

December 25, 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm is one of my favorite anime/light novels this season — and probably number 3 for the year. Yes, it’s an isekai, with all the baggage that term brings with it, but it manages to stand out from the crowd, and it does so without the self-conscious, 4th-wall-breaking, hur hur hur did you see what I did antics that its pack-mates have resorted to. Despite that, the early episodes didn’t garner a lot of love from the reviewers, (also here and here and here) and I’m here to remedy that problem. Let me start by listing how it differs from others of the isekai genre.

First, it’s straightforward reincarnation. Myne, our protagonna, isn’t summoned to this new world via magic. She isn’t killed by accidental act of God, thus gaining an apology and a new life as an overpowered hero. She dies in an earthquake — after almost getting hit by a truck due to reading while walking — and reawakens in her new body. Very Buddhistic. Note: the LN calls her Myne, while the anime says Main, pronounced as if German. The Japanese is マイン, which transliterates as Ma.i.n and is pronounced Mine. I’m using the LN spelling and the German pronunciation.

Second, she is, as you might have already guessed, female. Not a hikikomori highschool boy, nor yet a middle-aged businessman, she’s a girl who is about to graduate from college with a job in a library. This is fairly unusual. Less than 25% of the current run of 78 light novels on J-Novel (dating almost totally from the current decade) feature female protagonists in a fantasy world isekai, and as far as anime is concerned, AniList shows only 20 isekai with female leads in the 40 years since 1990.

Third, she’s not an overpowered hero. As with the males in these stories, the few women in high fantasy isekai tend to have some sort of cheat going for them, usually some God-granted superpower. Not here. Myne occupies the body of a sickly six-year old girl, and brings with her only the knowledge that a widely-read college student with a crafts-otaku mother might have.

Fourth, she’s not part of the aristocracy. Other fantasy isekai heroes tend to be summoned by kings, reincarnated as daughters of nobles, or manage to meet with high-ranking nobles before the end of Episode 2. Myne is, as the title of the first volume says, the daughter of a soldier. Actually, I think a better description would be ‘member of the city guard’, not a soldier. She never meets a noble throughout the first three books.

THE STORY (with spoilers, and incorporating elements of both the anime and the light novel).

Our story opens with Motosu Urano, a graduating college student who loves books, killed by the collapse of her bookshelves during a minor earthquake. She finds herself in the body of a sickly six year old — who she hears dying from a fever, even as Urano is resurrected in her body. The world she finds herself in is covered in grime (those sheets started out white), colorless, and devoid of books.

She goes briefly mad, trashing the house  in her search for books, or newspapers, or calendars — anything with words in a row. I should pause for a moment, and talk about Myne and books, or rather, Urano and books. All she wants to do is read. She has her own room with floor to ceiling books (which are what kill her). She’s like me. If there’s no book nearby at breakfast I’ll read the back of the cereal box. Heck, I’ll read the side of a cereal box. I’d be perfectly happy to be a brain in a jar, as long as I had one eyeball, and a finger to turn the pages. That’s what Myne is like. I bring this up because it’s the driving force of the story. The LN dedicates the entire Prologue to building up Myne’s bookish character. The anime starts off with a bit of a spoiler, showing the High Priest doing some sort of mind meld to find out why she likes books so much. In any event, at the end of the first episode she has decided to make her own books.

The early arcs deal with her learning to live with her new world. It’s so unlike modern Japan that she doesn’t even recognize her sister’s favorite toy as a hand-made doll. Her family is not poor, but is definitely lower class despite her father having a government job. They are living essentially a hand-to-mouth existence — her sister has to forage in the forest for firewood and edibles. There’s no food storage, so most of the meat is fresh-killed — right in front of you.

They live on the 5th floor of what the LN calls a 7-floor townhouse, but which is more like a Roman insula, an apartment complex where the apartments are cheaper the higher up you live (partly because your chances of dying in a fire are higher). Sanitation is non-existent — as in pee in a pot and pour it out the window.

In fact, Myne’s Japanese sense of cleanliness is what drives her first impact on her family and society. She spends part of each day cleaning the family bedroom. She can’t take an ofuro style bath, but she can have her sister wipe her down. She can’t really wash her hair, so she creates a vegetable oil shampoo based on memories of what she remembers from her crafts-otaku mother. Ultimately, that shampoo will be her first commercial product.

Myne is busy in other ways. She teams up with Lutz, a local boy her own age, who wants to be a traveling merchant, and begins trying different ways to make paper so that she can write books. She introduces the art of crocheting, and makes her sister a hair ornament for her baptism.

She also spends time at the town gate (where her father is guard-commander), in the care of Otto, a soldier who keeps the books for the guard unit. When he finds out that she can do math (in spite of not being able to read the local writing), he has her help him with the bookkeeping. She asks Otto to give Lutz some advice on being a merchant, and Otto introduces both of them to the merchant, Benno.

This marks the beginning of a close and profitable relationship. By the time we get to the end of Season 1, Benno has contracted to make the shampoo, two different kinds of paper, and has stuck a deal to subcontract to Lutz and Myne and her family for the production of baskets and the crocheted hairpins.

Not all is well, however. In addition to being a sickly child who often is confined to her bed with a fever, Myne has a much deadlier disease, called The Devouring. It’s a disease of those who’s bodies produce too much manna, the driving force in magic. It manifests as a burning furnace inside that’s hard to damp down. Sooner or later it will overflow and kill the patient. The only way to survive it is to dump the excess manna into a magical item, but commoners normally don’t have access to such. The only way to gain access is to do what her rich merchant friend Frieda did, sign a contract to become the mistress of a noble (at age 7). Myne decides she’d rather die with her family.

Myne has several minor attacks of The Devouring, but as she gets older, they get worse. Finally, she has a major, life threatening, attack that gets staved off only because Frieda is willing to sell her a broken magic item that will absorb some of her manna and damp down the fires. That’s good for about a year.

At the end of the anime, Myne turns seven and is baptised, and finds out that not only does the church have lots of books, it also has lots of magical items and is in need of people with manna to keep them charged. The High Bishop tries to kidnap Myne right in front of her parents (they are, after all, mere commoners), but Myne shows what she can do when she gets her manna up and foils that plan. They end up with an agreement that Myne will become a shrine maiden, with unprecedented permission to live outside the cathedral and continue with her commercial activities. All ends well, at least until Season 2.

Throughout this, Myne can come across as a not-very likeable character. Her obsession with books can be somewhat off-putting, but it’s what drives the story (of course, my reaction to her obsession is ‘well…yeah’). She spends much of her time bad-mouthing her new world, but the fact is, medieval Europe was a terrible era to live in, particularly if you were poor. Her reactions are much more realistic than those of more popular isekai, where the hero looks around and says “Oh, yeah. Medieval Europe. Cool.” Finally, to some, Myne comes across as somewhat smug. I think it’s more the internal thought processes of a 20-year-old dealing with people who think she’s six. Where it counts, she’s considerate. She helps out her older sister. She advises Lutz on his career choices. After he challenges her on her identity, she offers to “go away”, despite the fact that her dying probably won’t bring the old Myne back. Later, she says she prefers to die in the arms of her family than whore herself out as a mistress to the nobles she despises. In the end, she’s a lot deeper than she first appears.

The only real problem I have with Bookworm is one that is endemic to any isekai. Assuming that the purpose of the story is to show how the protagonist prospers using their Earth-originated talents, it’s hard to make that happen without cheating. So you have isekai with smart phones, with overpowered protagonists, with knowledge of the future. Bookworm eschews all of that for simple crafts, but of course, the question then is, if they are so simple, why didn’t the contemps think of them already? Like using the vegetable water as broth (really?), or using the parue fruit dregs as human food. Of course, there are examples from our world, like spaghetti — while Marco Polo didn’t import it from China, it was still fifteen hundred years after the foundation of the Roman Republic that something resembling pasta appears in Italy. It all boils down to the reader’s willingness to suspend their disbelief. At least it wasn’t mayonnaise.

Meanwhile, Bookworm is an important addition to the genre because of how it deals with the poverty and the major class divisions built into the system, something rarely talked about in any fantasy isekai, or indeed, any Medieval-Europe-inspired fantasy.

Admittedly, Bookworm doesn’t talk about the dirt-poor, the beggars, the homeless. But it does show us the life of the working poor. Families working two jobs, not knowing if they will have enough food for the winter. Families who huddle around a table in front of the fire until it’s time for them to all sleep in what might as well be one bed in their one bedroom. (Side note, I’m surprised Myne hasn’t introduced the kotatsu). Families with zero access to healthcare, even for their children. Children who forage in the forest for firewood and food for their families until their baptism at age 7, when they enter the workforce, and for whom schools are unheard of. Without harping on the poverty, Bookworm provides a very good picture of what daily life is like at the bottom.

The other thing that Bookworm makes clear is the extreme difference in the social classes. The three main ones are the nobility, the church, and the commoners. The anime doesn’t go into great detail, but every now and then Myne complains about noble privileges, e.g. their books and magic items. As shown more by the LN than the anime, the nobility and the church overlap somewhat, with the typical tradition that third sons will go into the church. The commoners don’t overlap with either of the others — their speech, clothing, and concerns are totally different. Commoners rarely enter the church other than on the day they are baptised, and a commoner is powerless in the face of a noble or a high church officer. The church has its own commoners — the orphans who have been left in their care and who are essentially slaves. In the LN, in volumes beyond Season 1, we find that the orphans have never been outside the cathedral, or been exposed to the concept of money or of being paid for their work.

Finally, we see in later volumes of the LN that Myne’s work is on the verge of having an impact far beyond her own little circle. Her first book, printed on her own paper, using stencil technology that she learned in crafts, is one of simplified stories from the local Bible. The High Priest is surprised that she can create 30 copies of the book so easily. He is troubled because he sees a book as a work of art, where Myne views it as a store of information. He is also confused both by the fact that she put a flower on the cover, and that she could put a flower on the cover. Her second book is one of secular stories for children (written for her soon-to-be-born sibling, conceived, presumably, in the bed next to Myne), starting with Cinderella. The High Priest says that the tale is totally unbelievable, even as a fantasy, and by the time he is done editing it, the story is unrecognizable. Neither one sees (although Myne should, having read about the impact of the Gutenberg printing press) that once this technology moves beyond a single city, making cheap books available for all and encouraging commoners to learn to read (and therefore to think), there will be a social revolution that will sweep away both the nobility and the church.

 

 

Anime Postview: Fall 2019

December 23, 2019

This is not a real review of the anime season just ending. Instead, it’s a look at how well I did in my Fall 2019 Preview, which you might want to look at first.

Ones I said I WILL WATCH:

These three were a mixed bag, not because of quality (well, that, too), but because of timing and availability.

Chihayafuru 3: I am a big fan of Chihaya, so I am working my way through the first two seasons again, plus, it started late in the season, which means I have not yet watched any of it. That’s OK. Trust me on this one. It’s good.

Rifle is Beautiful: Dropped after two episodes. Cute girls not really doing anything with things that aren’t really guns.

Ascendance of a Bookworm (AKA Honzuki…): I think it’s great. Others are not so sure, primarily because of the slow start. Just found out there will be a second season, which is good, because there’s no way they could wrap up the plot threads after a mere 14 episodes.

Ones I said I MIGHT WATCH:

Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average: Watched it. It’s great. One of the better fantasy world isekai I’ve seen.

Stand My Heroes: As I thought. Boring. Bunch’a cute guys. If I wanted to watch cute guys do cute stuff in cute outfits, I’d go to more basketball games.

Afterschool Dice Club: Dropped it one episode in, I didn’t like any of the characters. Not-so-cute girls doing not-so-cute things with games.

Ones I said I WON’T WATCH:

I didn’t.

Summary: Nine shows. Six I said I’d watch. Three were good (I’m counting Chihayafuru), which gives me a 50% success rate. Meanwhile, Oresuki and Bokuben were not on my radar (well, I liked S1 of Bokuben) but I ended up watching them anyway, and they were pretty good (except for Oresuki‘s buy-the-DVD non-ending). So overall, it was a good season, with five watchable shows. To which I added Garden of Sinners, a collection of one hour arcs based on the light novel Empty Boundaries, and a rewatch of Devil is a Part Timer, which mostly was a demonstration of how much Funimation sucks as a streaming platform (of which, more later).

Isekai of the Future

December 17, 2019

An interesting sub-genre in light novels is one where the protagonna gains knowledge of the future and strives to create an alternative history timeline by correcting her earlier, or forthcoming, mistakes.  So far, the two ways this can happen are by tapping the memories of RPG game playing in a former life (on Earth), or by straightforward reincarnation into an earlier self.

J-Novel is currently running three light novels like this, while a fourth LN I have only found in manga form:

 

 

I Refuse to be Your Enemy

14-year old girl in a fantasy world, living a life that is only a couple of steps better than an early phase Cinderella, has dreams that she’s watching someone play a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Realizing that the in-game character that is her is on the route to the bad ending, she runs away from her boarding school, and the threat of an arranged marriage, vowing to change history if she can.

This is still on Volume 1, but she appears to be making the right kind of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

My Next Life as a Villainess

Bratty 8-year old girl in a fantasy world wakes up after an injury, with all the memories of her “previous life” as a 17-year old Japanese girl who played a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Her problem is that she is not the heroine of the game, and each of the main characters has a reason to dislike her, either because of how she interacts with them, or how she treats the heroine. This is why all of the paths in the game provide a Happy Ending for the heroine, and a Bad Ending for her. This is the only one of the three LN’s on J-Novel that has run to completion of the first arc, so I can say without spoiling too much that she finds an unexpected ending, which keeps them all alive. I haven’t read beyond that, but the succeeding volumes cover how she deals with running off her RPG map.

 

 

 

It Seems Like I Got Reincarnated Into the World of a Yandere Otome Game

This 2014 LN (I can’t find the LN, so I’m reading the 2018 manga) is similar to Villainess — 10-year old protagonna goes through life with a sense of disquiet and deja vu, due to memories of a prior life leaking through. Upon seeing a betrothal painting of her arranged-marriage fiance, she suffers a memory cascade, revealing more details that life. It turns out that, as in Villainess, her world parallels the RPG she “remembers” playing, and that she’s the doomed rival of the RPG’s main heroine.

For a LN with a premise that’s almost identical to that of Villainess, it’s fascinating to see how fast the two plotlines diverge. It’s also a little creepy to see everyone exposing their yandere side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tearmoon Empire

20-year old Marie Antoinette-like princess is beheaded during a revolution, and awakens to find herself back in her 12 year old body again, with all of her memories intact, along with the blood-soaked diary she kept during the intervening 8 years. She vows to avoid the mistakes that caused the revolution. Unfortunately, the diary (which changes as her actions change the future) only concerns her own doings, and not things like lottery numbers or race results.

Volume 1 is still incomplete. Her experiences have changed her personality, shocking those around her, and she is working to create a situation that will help her avoid the axe. What makes this LN particularly fun is the way everyone makes totally wrong assumptions about her motives. At one point, just for e.g., she gives her maid some walking-around money, because she deserves some time off [Use this as you see fit], which her maid assumes is some fiduciary trust [Mistress wants me to spend these funds in the most effective way possible, I’ll buy gifts for the workers].

Some people might say that these are not true isekai, because they involve her home world (not Earth). While it’s true that these books involve an inhabitant of the world under discussion gaining knowledge of the future, while remaining their own persona, they are using that knowledge to create an alternate timeline, a different world.

So far, only Villainess has been chosen to be an anime, scheduled for Spring, 2020.

Medieval Anime

December 15, 2019

The Medievalist just published an article discussing five anime that are based on inspired by Medieval Europe. The five are a bit of a grab bag: Saint Seiya, Record of Lodoss War, The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Berserk, and Fate/Zero.

One can tell right away that the links to both Medieval and Europe can be pretty thin. Saint Seiya is based on Greek mythology. Berserk and Record of Lodoss War both draw on Norse mythology. The Heroic Legend of Arslan, which comes closest to meeting the definitions, is set in pre-Islamic Persia. And Fate/Zero’s most tenuous link of all is based on the presence of Artoria Pendragon, AKA Sabre.

Unfortunately, the author misses at least two recent programs with demonstrably stronger ties to Medieval + Europe. Ulysses: Jeanne d’Arc and the Alchemist Knight, a poorly regarded show from last year, actually involved a European setting in a Late Medieval time frame. At the other end of the scale, this year’s highly rated Vinland Saga is, despite the name, about the Viking conquest of England in the Early Medieval period.

Still, it’s good that the outside world is getting a look at what anime can be. I’m all in favor of this sort of thing, even if I don’t totally agree with the choices.

Are there any shows that I missed? Any other anime set in Europe and environs, between say 500 and 1500?

 

Memories of Anime, 2013

December 3, 2019

2013 was a magical year in anime. I watched more hours of anime that year than in any other year this Century. And most of it was good, with a personal score on AniList of 73.3, a full two standard deviations above my overall score of 70.7.

Just look at 2013!

So, what made 2013 such a good year? Well, of the 36 titles I started, 14 had an AniList score of 75% or higher, and only 6 were bad enough that I dropped them partway through.

Kyousougiga
A girl and her hammer

The good ones included new-that-year blockbusters like Kill la Kill and Silver Spoon, Kyoto-centric Kyousougiga and Eccentric Family, and follow-on seasons for Monogatari and Chihayafuru. Not quite in the top tier were Log Horizon and Devil is a Part-Timer, excellent isekai and reverse-isekai shows.

Eccentric Family
A boy and his mother

Long form movies were Miyazaki’s retirement masterpiece The Wind Rises, and newcomer showcase Little Witch Academia. At the other end of the length spectrum was the feel-good short Encouragement of Climb and AIURA (which gave Yuyushiki a run for its money, despite being only one eighth as long).

In addition, there were a number of shows that I rated highly, but which others didn’t appreciate as much as I did, including Beyond the Boundary, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and Maoyu: Demon King and Hero.

Meanwhile, every year has its duds. Some, we all can agree on: Galilei Donna (but the goldfish airships are nice), Dog & Scissors (too weird), and Vividred (too many shots of middle school crotches), for example. Others, it was just me: Yozakura Quartet (too shonen), Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (fell apart at the end), and Golden Time (fell apart at the beginning).

So that was 2013, over five hours a week, every week, all year. I don’t know why I had so much free time that year, but I’m glad I did.

A show of their own, 2019

November 16, 2019

Anime has many supporting characters, characters that are interesting enough to deserve shows of their own, in much the same way that Mary Tyler Moore spun off Rhoda, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer spun off Angel, or maybe I should come up with an example from this century. I have talked about this before, collecting characters from multiple years. This time around I thought that, rather than waiting another four years, I’d try selecting four characters from the current year (one from each season) and nominating them for their own series.

Of course, there are some constraints. It had to be a show I watched, and watched long enough to establish an opinion. It had to be a character who obviously had a backstory, not told in the original anime, and it had to be a character who could stand on their own. It didn’t have to be a character I particularly liked. Also, and this is what removed a lot of good shows from the running, it had to be a character that wasn’t one of the stars.

And, also of course, once I set myself this task, I find that the source material is thinner than I expected. Winter had a couple of high quality candidates from Magnificent Kotobuki plus Kobayashi Masaki from Domestic Girlfriend. I plan to write more about Kotobuki later, so Masaki gets it.

WINTER Domestic Girlfriend

Kobayashi Masaki

He’s ex-yakuza.* He owns a bar. He’s gay.

We see a little of his backstory as the anime progresses, but there’s still so much more to learn. His father was head of a Yakuza branch, and presumably Masaki was being groomed to take over, when he fell in love with a man from an opposing clan. This clash of houses cries out for someone with the skills of, say, Shakespeare, to write their story.

*Can you ever be ex-yakuza? I thought membership was as permanent as his tattoos. Maybe he’s on sabbatical.

Spring was equally thin, with Demon Slayer not holding my interest and BOKUBEN not having any interesting supporting actors. The best I could do was The Helpful Fox Senko-san:

SPRING The Helpful Fox Senko-san

Koenji Yasuko

She’s the helpful girl next door, a student and a mangaka. She provides a possible love interest that isn’t a loli-fox-goddess.

An anime spin-off could cover her life as a student — What’s her major in school (art, graphics design?), how did she get into mangaka-ing? — as well as her interactions with the apartment next door — will she ever figure out that Senko-San isn’t a cosplayer? Will she be there when Senko-San leaves (or will Senko-San continue housekeeping for this guy for the next eighty years)? Will she and Nakano Kuroto hit it off, or will he continue his foxtail fetish, forcing her and Shiro-San to go off on their own yuri adventures?

Summertime had more shows, but most of them fell at the first fence, or were very good, but didn’t have useful side characters. So, Demon Lord, Retry got dropped early, and Oh, Maidens has too strong a main cast, and I won’t admit to have watched Hensuki. That meant I had to break two of my rules, and pick a major character from a TV short. Fortunately, there was a good one available.

Summer Are you lost?

Onishima Homare

Homare-chan is the lead character, and the emotionally strongest of the Lost Girls. We see bits of her backstory in almost every 15min episode, showing how she was trained up by her survival-otaku father. What we don’t get is a sense of continuity.

A  anime would tell how her father got interested in survival skills, and what it was like, eating strange food somewhere up on the Fenno-Scandian Shield (Mynd yoü, Homare, there’s other pärts of å mööse that taste bætter)? Each one of the vignettes of  Lost would make an entire episode in Let’s go Camping, Homare

Fall has presented problems of its own. Out of eighteen shows that I spent at least some time on, only five have made the I’ll watch it cut. Of those five, two were sequels and two were harems and three were team efforts and one started late. When the dust settled, only Ascendance of a Bookworm remained, and only Otto, the gate guard, stood out (Lutz might have been preferable, but how much backstory does a 7-year-old have?).

FALL Ascendance of a Bookworm

Otto

Otto is a soldier, who was a traveling merchant. He bought citizenship in this city so he could marry the girl he loved. He does all the bookkeeping for the gate guards, and he employs Myne as a sometime assistant accountant and teacher.

An anime would address what his life was like before he settled down. Who were his people? Where are they now? How did he meet his wife, and how did he make the transition from traveling merchant to stolid burgher? It could start in a wagon somewhere in Isekailand, and end with him meeting his boss’s daughter, Myne.

Anime worth watching, Fall 2019

November 3, 2019

So far this season my reader has been bombarded with an unrelenting list of what I’ve decided not to watch. That’s so negative, ya know? I mean, there must be something worth watching. Well, there is.*

I seem to be on a snarky, self-aware anime kick right now. I find I’m unexpectedly pleased with shows that go out of their way to give me plot twists, and inversions of standard tropes.

Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in the next life?
Mile, our protagonna, was a high-performing student in this world and just wants to be average in the next. Unfortunately, her definition of average — skills and powers appropriate to the average person, the median, if you will — isn’t God’s definition. God says that you take the power of the highest and lowest creatures on the planet, add them up and divide by two. That’s like taking Bill Gates and a Seattle homeless person and finding the average of their net worth.

This is why we have the concept of the Median

The humor in the first few episodes comes from Mile trying to hide her powers, and failing miserably. When she decides to just copy a spell one of the other students used, only at a lower power setting, she finds that she was copying a unique, personal spell of a wizard girl, and doing it with no training. So far, it’s a one-joke anime, but they find ways of keeping it from going stale.

The other source of humor is her use of information from her past life. So when the friends are telling stories at night, she draws on tales of the TV, in the mythical land of Nihon. The result is that the girls end up forming a Magical Girl/Power Rangers style team, complete with poses and color coding.

Crimson Vow!

She also uses her in-depth knowledge of shonen anime to come up with training regimes that allow her team mates to level up rapidly.

So, a self-aware isekai that knows how to look at the standard tropes from a slightly absurd viewpoint. What’s not to like?

ORESUKI: Are you the only one who loves me?
At first glance, ORESUKI seems to be a standard high school RomCom. Protagonist has two girls who seem to be interested in him — the standard childhood friend and the Student Body President. He also has a best buddy, an athelete on the baseball team. One day, each of the girls asks him out for a date on the weekend, because they have something they want to ask him. Confession Time! Well, not exactly.

On two successive days, each girl sits with him on the same bench, and with identical words and body language confesses that they are in love with …  his baseball-playing friend and would he help them out? Next scene, Pansy, the librarian girl he doesn’t like, sits with him in the library, on an identical bench (which she ordered from Amazon), and using identical words and body language tells him, that she, this girl he doesn’t like, is in love with … well, him, actually. Finally, the next day, his baseball buddy sits with him on an identical bench that just happens to be behind the gym, and tells him, again with identical words and body language, that he is in love with … Pansy, and would he help him out?

ORESUKI doesn’t so much play with the high school RomCom tropes as it rings the changes on them. How many ways can the Protagonist be messed with by fate? How many different geometric figures can a love triangle be twisted into? What totally silly thing will happen next?

Ascendance of a Bookworm**
Finally, an isekai done right. Recent college graduate [Yay! Not a high school student!] Urano Motsu [Yay! Female!] and lover of books [Yay! Not an otaku! Well, she’s a book otaku] dies in an earthquake that buries her in her books. Finds herself reincarnated in the body of a small girl, Myne, who is dying of a mysterious fever. The old Myne dies, but the new Myne (nee Motsu) retains her memories, as well as her own memories of modern Japan.

The challenge the book-loving Myne faces is that she’s been reincarnated into a rigid, stratified, medieval, essentially illiterate, society. Oh, yeah, and she’s a sickly six year old female. Her overriding goal is to find some way to read books again, even if she has to write them herself. Even if she has to print them herself. Even if she has to fabricate the materials to print them on.

Unlike other isekai protags, Myne doesn’t have any super-powers or high powered knowledge. She knows some crafts, like crocheting, and she grasps the concepts of things like paper, and teaching theory, which the contemps don’t. She also has the internal maturity of a 20-year-old, can read and write (just not with the local script, at first), and can do mathematics. These last are immensely helpful when she has to deal with the adults of this world.

The artwork is clean and simple. The characters and clothing are appropriate for the subject — no monster boobs or bikini armour here. Some reviewers complained about the drabness of the palette, particularly in the first episode, but that was just a way of emphasizing the life of the lower classes in a semi-literate society.

Having read ahead, I can say that Bookworm is rolling out the story fairly slowly, and that there are some interesting reveals ahead. It comes across as a slice-of-life, but Myne is a woman with a mission, and there really is an ongoing dramatic arc.

So far, it’s my favorite anime of the season.

*Note that Chihayafuru 3 isn’t on the list, yet. I’m saving  that until I’ve marathoned the previous two seasons.

**Full disclosure — I’m reading well ahead of the anime via the light novels on J-Novel.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 4

October 15, 2019

I don’t know which is more amazing, how many anime I am finding uninteresting this season, or how many anime I’ve had time to watch this season.

To start with, the cute girls doing cute things with weapons lode is just about mined out, and now we are reworking the tailings.

AZUR LANE

I’m really sorry to have to drop this one, but it’s a cheap knock-off of the real thing. It’s like someone randomly merged sentences from the elevator pitches for KanColle and Arpeggio, and studio Bibury said “How hard can it be?

The ship/girl mechanics are confused, the combat mechanics are confused, the battles are confused, and the Sakura Fleet carrier pairs seem driven primarily by lesbian incest. Now, I’ve got nothing against lesbian incest, but c’mon, girls, time and place, time and place.

You should see how I’ll repair the holes in your flight deck

On top of that, the pre-tweens keep getting treated like sex objects, and one of them has a bad case of crabs.

Chidori RSC

A straightforward high school club anime about target shooting. So far, it’s mostly club activities that don’t actually involve target shooting.

Most of the time they’re eating snacks and buying clothes

I’m getting a K-On with laser rifles vibe, only without the K-On part.

Then there’s the police procedural/modern crime anime. Most are not bad, as such, but I’m finding that, as with period costume drama, these just don’t hold my interest. Last week it was Special 7. This week, it’s:

BABYLON

Even if they’ve got a neat superpower hook.

I was the new guy

and

Case File nº221: Kabukicho

A Sherlock Holmes non-thriller with a cast of dozens. Tries to make up for lack of substance with all sorts of gimmicks, most of which are of the funny once variety.

Not even Ladybeard could help it.

Besides, it’s on Funimation, and the interface is terrible.

To wrap things up, we’re now to the point in the season where I’m watching anime from years past, trying to find something to fill the newly emptied time slots.

Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist

I started this 2013 anime because it was featured on a list of really good OP’s. Two episodes in and there still was no sign of any female characters. There were a couple of false alarms, and one curvaceous person that appeared in the ED, but that was it.

The question is, are either one of them female?

So far it’s all male, with lots of bonding and opportunities for shipping. Sorry, guys, but if you’re going to make something about a band of brothers, I’d much rather it was Band of Brothers, ya know?

That’s the last time I take programmatic advice from a fujoshi.

Side Note: Five of the shows I was interested in were Funimation exclusives. Three were crap, and two were uninteresting. Given that watching stuff on FN is a painful experience, I might just have to rethink my subscription.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 3

October 9, 2019

We’ve been through a full week now, and the really bad shows have fallen by the wayside. What’s left are the good ones, and the not-bad ones that haven’t been able to hold my attention. OK, and some newcomers.

Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit

Lovable collection of misfits assigned to a special police operations unit. Think of them as the official version of Bungo Stray Dogs. For what it’s worth, they’re in Tokyo, not Yokohama, so there’s a certain metropolitan panache to the project. Not bad, if you like that sort of thing.

Hi. I’m the new guy

Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia

I should have known better than to watch an anime with both Fate and a punctuation mark (and three subcomponents) in the title. At least it didn’t have Certain, or Re:

Confused mess of characters and plot points understandable only to those who have followed the franchise for the last decade and a half, preferably with a notebook and a copy of DBase II next to the TV.

I only understand every other word

Kandagawa Jet Girls

Look, HiDive, if the girls in an ecchi anime are going to bare their all, the least you can do is show it. Don’t make them sacrifice their modesty for nothing. Don’t make the act of their freezing their …. salient features …. off a worthless endeavour. More worthless.

Poor things. They’ve got nothing in the way of original character, their dialogue is cringeworthy enough that they should be embarrassed to rehearse in the bathroom, and the plot has been used so many times that the velveteen is worn off the corners. You should at least let them flaunt their one advantage, but no, you’ve got to have them change into their skintights in this dark, shadowy relic of a building, when other viewers get a nice bright room with lots of windows.

All is darkness

Shame on you, HiDive.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 2

October 5, 2019

It’s taking a while to get all of my TLDR’s assembled, because half of the shows are hanging back, to see how the battle goes. Other foolhardy fools have foolishly rushed right in. Fools.

High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even In Another World

This show is taking the Okada Mari approach to isekai story development. “You want isekai? I’ll give you isekai that will turn your brain to porridge. You want overpowered heroes? I’ll give you heroes who can beat One Punch Man to the punch.”

And you thought that just one isekai hero was too much

After a five minute expository lump we find that the high school heroes-to-be (each of whom is world-class at something — medicine, ninja,  governing countries, something) were flying in a private jet from somewhere to somewhere when, in typical isekai fashion, the jet was magically transported to a medieval fantasy world. One with bunny girls but no runways and wolf-men but no crash recovery services. But do not despair. Our Heroes are miraculously thrown clear of the crash, and the plane burns to a cinder, all except a few spare nuclear reactors and such. Too bad about the pilots and cabin staff.

After that, the only mystery is, how will our multi-talented crew solve the next trivial puzzle the world throws up for them. Of course, we know that part of the plot is to conquer the world using the culinary arts of Greater Nihon (it always is). So, their first step is to introduce a sauce that will amaze the foreign taste buds.

You will never guess…

Well, maybe it’s not this kind, but it’s close.

Now, all the other isekai that I’ve read take chapters and chapters to find the rice and edamame and so forth to produce proper shoyu, or miso. Our Heroes find an easier way, with eggs (which we saw in the opening shot) and oil and vinegar: Traditional.  Japanese…. Mayonnaise.

The best I can say is that it’s mildly amusing, and at least they haven’t used a German suplice. Yet.

Val x Love

Really scary/ugly protagonist with a heart of gold? Check. Pre-made harem of cute girls living in his house? Check. Contrived plot-line requiring that the girls get molested by our protagonist in order to achieve their full potential as maidens? Check. OK, we have three in a row. We’re good to go.

We’re only halfway through my preseason list of shows I want to watch, and already I’ve dropped half of those. Bodes not well for the second half

The German Suplex Trifecta

October 5, 2019

Is now in play for anime Fall 2019.

Will they get one more? Who will do it? My money’s on High School Prodigies Have it Easy, but we’re still in Week 1, so anything can happen! Don’t touch that dial!

Azur Lane, first impressions

October 4, 2019

I haven’t done a first impressions article before, but AL cries out for one.

The plot is a riff on KanColle, with alien enemy fleets (Sirens instead of Abyssals) opposed by embattled humanity, said humanity being represented by cute girls who embody the souls of warships of the past. The major differences are the girl/ship mechanics and the underlying plot point that humanity is divided and fighting among themselves.

The girl/ship relation doesn’t fill in the empty cell in my Ship Girls analysis (real girls/imaginary ships). Like Arpeggio of Blue Steel, they really are real ships. Unlike Arpeggio, they disappear into a cloud of ice cubes (or maybe cherry blossoms) when the girls clear them for action, so maybe they are semi-imaginary, like a pain in a real big toe. Like KanColle, the girls are rigged out like the ships they represent, and roller blade across the water into action, mostly. You see, some of them just fly into action on their own, and some of them fly into action on their spirit beasts — fox deities, unicorns, Dauntless dive bombers, the usual. The inconsistencies are not explained in the first episode, but there’s lots of expository time left.

The second major departure is the plot structure. Turns out, it’s a three-way fight. On the one hand the WWII Anglo-American alliance is fighting the WWII Axis (so far only the Japanese have appeared) over issues of how to fight the Sirens, in their Fleet of Fog style modernistic ships. On the other hand, the Allies are the only ones actively fighting the Sirens.

Halfway through Episode 1, the Allied base is attacked by the Sirens, and then the Japanese fleet attacks under cover of the Siren attack. The Allies immediately drop the fight against the Sirens and turn their full attention on each other, while the Siren fleet (which outnumbers the combined human force by many manys) apparently just sits back and does the alien invader equivalent of eating popcorn. It’s not until the Enterprise Girl shows up that anyone pays attention to the Sirenians.

So far, so much naval porn. Maybe not as good as Arpeggio or KanColle, but not totally unwatchable. Except for the shipgirls. Now, I like anime girls, as long as they meet a certain level of maturity. They don’t have to carry all their equipment on their upper decks, but they do have to be old enough that I wouldn’t get strange looks if I were talking to one at a bus stop. Half the girls in AL are pre-tweens, and are presented with the same camera angles as you would Hanekawa Tsubasa. Exceedingly off-putting. I’d attribute this to the source being a Chinese mobile game, by a company who did a statistical analysis of what individual elements Western buyers might like, and combined them all in one package.

I’m going to give it another episode or so, to see if the fun parts outshine the freakies.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 1

October 2, 2019

It’s Opening Day, and the Fall, 2019 anime season stumbles at the very first fence.

Four new shows: two duds, one midrange, and one that I’m watching primarily because I liked the light novel. Here’s the two that aren’t going to make it.

Kemono Michi
He’s really strong, and really dumb, and he really, really likes animals. The animation is low budget. The storyline has some cute twists, but essentially this is a one-joke anime. Overall it was a waste of my limited lifetime CPU ticks.

Everybody needs a hobby of some kind

Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious
He (Hero) is really strong. She (Goddess) is really dumb. They go off to save the world, but not before he spends a couple of weeks in his room, leveling up by doing pushups. Animation is slightly better than KemMichi, but that’s damning with faint praise. It might be worth watching a second episode, but only if nothing worthwhile is on the QVC Channel that night.

But wait! I’m not done yet!

 

My Fall Anime Schedule

October 1, 2019

I just spent a pleasant afternoon, cross-checking AniList against YattaTachi’s Fall Fantastic Anime and Where to Find Them and the FansubDB, deciding what I will watch, given what I want to watch and the vagaries of the various streaming services. Here’s my first pass. Note that the day of the week is the release day, and it might turn out to be more easily covered on the next day, plus, I might space them out a little more for ease of watching. Not shown are some OVA’s (Fragtime, etc) and a couple that have incomplete information (Rifle, Pet). Since this is a working paper, primarily for my own use, I probably won’t be updating it as the information changes….or maybe I will.

Day
Program/Streamer

Monday
Babylon / AZP
Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? / CR

Tuesday
Chihayafuru / CR
Kandagawa Jet Girls / VRV

Wednesday
Ascendance of a Bookworm / CR
The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious / FN
Kemono Michi: Rise Up / FN
Ore wo Suki: Are You The Only One Who Loves Me / CR

Thursday
Azur Lane / FN
High School Prodigies / CR

Friday
Kabukichou Sherlock / FN

Saturday
Val x Love / VRV
Welcome To Demon School! Iruma-kun / CR
We Never Learn / CR

Sunday
Special 7 / FN

So, fifteen programs, or roughly two per day (until I start dropping them). The week is surprisingly well balanced, except maybe for Wednesdays, and the Big Two — Crunchyroll and Funimation — are also running neck and neck. Of the two, I prefer Crunchyroll, but that’s a topic for another post.


AZP: Amazon Prime

CR: Crunchyroll

VRV: HiDive/VRV

FN: Funimation

Anime Postview: Summer 2019

September 30, 2019

This is not a real review of the anime season just ending. Instead, it’s a look at how well I did in my Summer 2019 Preview, which you might want to look at first.

Ones I said I WILL WATCH:

Dumbell nan Kilo
Surprisingly good. I learned things about weight training that I didn’t know before.

  • Vinland Saga: Didn’t hold my interest
  • Dr. Stone: Didn’t hold my interest

Ones I said I MIGHT WATCH:

Tsuujou Kougeki
Watchable fluff about how a mother embarrasses her son in public. Brings back memories.

  • Arifuretu Shokugyou: Kindof interesting in parts, but I faded out along of about episode 7.
  • Fire Force: As with ArifuSho, started out OK, and then faded. I only watched three episodes.

Ones I said I WON’T WATCH:

  • Starmu: Didn’t watch
  • Given: Didn’t watch
  • Try Knights: Didn’t watch

So, we started with six in the will/might categories, and ended up watching only two, for a 33% success rate. On the other hand, there was some good stuff that didn’t make my original list. Oh, Maidens was seriously good, and Are You Lost, like Dumbells, gave us cute girls providing actually useful information (assuming you end up in a timeline where MH-370 makes it to an island). Finally, Demon Girl, and Hensuki were both pleasantly mindless eye candy.

In a nutshell: Summers are notoriously light, and this one was no different. Of the ones I watched, only Maidens had any redeeming social value. Yeah, Vinland, Fire Force, and Dr. Stone all came well recommended, but none of them lit a fire. Dr. Stone and Fire Force  were too shonen, and historically I was always one to root for the Anglisc, fighting to save their homes from the Viking frat boys. On the other hand, it did give me a chance to go back and marathon some things I missed earlier

Better than Vikings

Oh, Maidens

September 20, 2019

Part of getting good at something, like aniblogging, is to know when you are not good at some aspect of it, when you are out of your depth and when you have to let others, better equipped, handle it. It’s called knowing your limits. With Oh, Maidens in Your Savage Season, I think I’ve hit mine.

I’m the wrong person to be writing on this topic, because I have the wrong mix of chromosomes, and am far too many decades away from our common source material. That said, and writing in the heat of the moment while the chair in front of the TV is still warm, Oh, Maidens — a romantic comedy about a group of high school girls just coming to grips with their sexuality — is just about perfect.

The characters are distinct and well-formed, the situations are, mostly, believable (and those that aren’t fall well within the acceptable range for anime logic and adolescent imaginings); the art is clean and evocative, and the voice acting is excellent. The girls of the literature club would eschew lewdness in presentation, and so does the anime. It is mature, within boundaries and without being graphic.

It also has my vote for the best anime title of the year.

Okada Marie has created a masterpiece, for grown-ups. If you are already an anime fan, you will love it. If you are unfamiliar with the medium, and still think it’s cartoons for kids, be prepared to have your world view altered.

In any event, go watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Anime Preview: Fall 2019

September 17, 2019

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on pretty much just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped before (Dr.Stone, Enenen), shorts and kids stuff (Banyanya ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Fate, Qi, or Xi in the title.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps (you can click on the pix to embiggen).

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

Rank Isekai

September 5, 2019

I like the Rabujoi aniblog, enough so that I have it on my rss feed, in order to get each new article as soon as it comes out. Having said that, I don’t always agree with the opinions of this collective of authors. Case in point is oigakkosan’s recent ranking of isekai anime. I suppose I could go over to Rabujoi and leave a long rant, but why should I spoil other people’s fun. So, here’s my take on the world of isekai. Note, that if it’s in Rabujoi and not here, it’s because I don’t consider it an isekai.

First off, a brief digression on meanings. I am not knowledgeable in Japanese, so most of this is straight look-up. According to Google Translate, isekai (異世界) means different world:
異 = different
世 = world
界 = World (note the capitalization)

Nihongodict says
異 = different, strange, odd
世 = world (pronounced よ, or yo), or geological epoch (pronounced sei)
界 = the world of …

Why the doubling up of the kanji that mean world? Don’t know. I’ve seen something similar before. In Demon King and Hero, Maoyū Maō Yūsha (まおゆう魔王勇者) means demon king, demon king, hero.

And just to add to your confusion, Nihongodict says that 異界 by itself means spirit world, and is pronounced ikai, while Google Translate says that 異世 by itself means different world, and is pronounced kotoyo.

Getting back to our topic, I like to classify multiple sub-genres of isekai. Here’s my breakout, and my ranking within each category:

Stuck inside a computer game — like it says. Either the characters are logged into the game and can’t log out (Sword Art Online), or they technomagically become part of a real world that’s based on the game (Log Horizon).

1. Log Horizon. All 30K people on the Japan Server get dumped into the game world due to a glitch in an update patch (and don’t you just hate it when that happens?). Absolutely the best balanced, both in terms of individual powers, gamerspeak vs world-building, and story line. I’d rate this #1 in my list of the top five isekai.

2. Overlord. All 1 person on the server gets dumped into the game world when the server goes offline. Salaryman who plays an overpowered evil character decides to act the part. Great fun, but it gets old after a while.

3. Death March to a Parallel World. Programmer falls asleep and wakes up inside his game. Passes time by taking a bunch of kids on a trip to Adventureland. Low budget animation.

4. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. So, he’s a high-powered player in an online game. Gets summoned to a game-based parallel world. Some character development and team dynamics, but mostly low grade harem fanservice. High point is him single-handedly delivering the infant demon lord into the world.

5. Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Government is recruiting families to play a full immersion video game. Interesting Mother/Teen-son dynamics. Low budget animation.

6. Sword Art Online. Evil sysadmin traps thousands inside a VR game. Protag is an obnoxious little snot who is protected by plot armor from failing at anything except interpersonal relations. Nice animation.

7. Demon Lord, Retry. Not finished yet, but I’ve seen enough. Sysadmin gets sucked into game world when he shuts down the server. Ends up as overpowered character, etc. Characters are like cardboard. Animation is like cardboard cutouts. Jokes are lame.

Transported to a different world — usually summoned from the other side for their own reasons.

1. Gate. In the great tradition of the original isekai, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This is not just about the impact of the protagonist, it’s about the whole concept of a modern world intruding on native culture. Japanese food is a big hit. I’d rate this #5 in my list of the top five isekai.

2. No Game No Life. Protagonist and Protagonna get summoned into a game-playing world because they are outstandingly good at playing games. Technically an isekai, but with a whole different vibe.

3. Isekai Cheat Magician. Protagonist and Protagonna get summoned. Turn out to be crazy powerful mages. Cardboard characters and equally cardboard animation. Not so much bad as boring.

4. Re:Zero. Sorry, rest of the anisphere, it sucks. Protagonist is an idiot who plows through life in a three yards in a cloud of dust fashion, falls in love at first sight with the first pretty face he sees, and rejects the one woman who knows him and loves him. Interesting respawn mechanic.

5. Rising of the Shield Hero. Some people are natural assholes, others have to practice. For some ungodly reason this gets three seasons, while Devil is a Part Timer got only one.

Reincarnated in a different world — protagonist dies, often meets God, and remembers doing so.

1. Tanya the Evil. Salaryman is killed, meets God, gets into an argument over whether or not He exists, gets reincarnated as a girl in a 1920’s style world, fighting WWI.5. Outstanding dynamics, excellent character development, with two strong female characters (OK, one is internally a male). I’d rate this #2 in my list of the top five isekai.

2. KonoSuba. Sublime sendup of the whole isekai genre. Student dies, meets a Goddess, and drags her along into his new fantasy world. The group dynamics among this crowd of incompetants are the best I’ve seen. I’d rate this #4 in my list of the top five isekai.

3. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Innocuous feel-good about a super-powered slime who just wants to be friends.

4. In Another World With My Smartphone. God made a mistake and so gives the protag a second life, with privileges. A good way to waste time, guessing what new thing he’ll do next with that smart phone.

5. Wise Man’s Grandson. Death, rebirth, highly skilled, etc. Very generic and low budget. What makes it interesting is the emphasis on applying our worlds concepts of technology to the operation of magic.

Reverse Isekai — protagonist is from the other world and comes to ours.

1. The Devil is a Part Timer. Demon Lord is hiding out in Tokyo, minus his powers. Hero is chasing him. He’s working in a fast food place. I’d rate this #3 in my list of the top five isekai.

2. ReCreators. Battles inside various anime, manga, and light novels get transferred into the real world. Interesting idea, but inept implementation.

Fake Isekai, where an isekai-like theme is just used to move characters around on the story’s chessboard. Includes stories of the afterlife and of a more relaxed apres vie. I didn’t finish any of these, and I’m not going to bother to rate them.
Drifters
Angel Beats
Death Parade
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash — I include this here, because the protagonists wake up in the new world, with no memory of the old, and we’re never told how or why (at least, not as far as I followed it).

Cooking shows — In addition to being more about cooking than world-building, these are both reverse-isekai, in which denizens of a fantasy world come into a Japanese restaurant and are bedazzled by the food. (Someday I’m going to write a story where the protagonist finds out that the people in the fantasy world think nigiri rice balls are bland, and shoyu is too salty.)

Restaurant from Another World.
Isekai Izakaya.

Not an anime — I put this in so I’d have somewhere to talk about HPMoR. All of Harry Potter is essentially an isekai about a parallel and accessible world of magic.

Harry Potter. Decades old. Beloved by all. I’m sure if they’d labeled it a light novel it would have an anime by now, in addition to the live action series.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Harry Potter fan fiction. What would happen if Petunia had married someone else (“And I thought to myself, what kind of parent names their child Dudley Dursley?), and Harry’s adoptive family had been both educated and supportive (The sky was completely dark by the time they parked in the driveway of the house his family used to keep the rain off their books). What would happen if Harry had imported the Scientific Method to the land of magic? Like the original, it starts out light and funny, and becomes grimdark before it ends. Great read, and it’s free (and JKR has said she doesn’t mind). Link goes to web version. Here’s Chapter 1. There’s also a 3MB .pdf.

Watching Maria

August 14, 2019

Encouraged by recent favorable commentary for Maria Watches Over Us, I decided to give it another look. I’d watched much of it a decade ago, but the memory had faded into amnesia, as so often happens in anime. So I took it up again, and boy was it different from how I remembered it. What hit me about halfway through the first episode was how alien the senior characters looked.

The sharp features, the sharp hair, the wide, wide, staring eyes, as if they’d evolved in the dark — in some views the members of the Yamayuri Council looked hardly human.

…we are the scouts for a race of people long hidden underground.

 

I realize that manga and anime drawing conventions were different in 2004 (and 1998!) but these women look like inhuman interlopers. That, combined with their stilted way of speaking, as if having to carefully parse each sentence to make sure it made sense to humans (perhaps coordinating the output of a hive mind), makes one think that Episode 1 of Maria could equally end up leading into an anime where everyone ends up dead, the school is on fire, and the JSDF is helpless.

Nontheless, I shall persevere, waiting to see what eldritch horrors await me, and writing down such of these journal entries as I can force myself to remember.