No Game No Life

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12 episodes of praising Instrumental Reason doesn’t make for good fiction, but it makes it clear why the anime blew up so much. Popularity is never a result of quality, but of fitting in with the zeitgeist, the common biases and worldviews of an age. That’s why Game of Thrones is so popular since it shows a masculinity that’s dark, therefore intelligent instead of the happy-go-lucky nonsense of 80’s action films. As for this anime, its popularity comes from how blatant it is in showing Instrumental Reason to be the supreme reason. Imagine those vegans or marijuana advocates who think that their pet issues would solve all the world’s problems.

Before we discuss why this anime is so bad, let’s clarify what I mean by ‘Instrumental Reason’. I capitalize it because it’s a useful term. To use Charles Taylor’s definition, it is reason which is about efficiancy and problem-solving. It asks how fast we can solve a problem, what is the best way to solve a problem.

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Take the case of a busted wheel. When your wheel’s gone bust, you don’t ask what it means, what ramifications it will have on pop culture or on our perception of gender and reality. All that matters is that we change tires as quickly as possible, and that the tire will be good enough to last as long as possible. While there are theories dissecting the meaning behind games, when we play chess we don’t think what the game means. Rather, we asks how we beat the game.

In contrast, there is what I’d call ‘reason of meaning’. By that, you ask what is the nature of things. We don’t just ask how to end racism and poverty, but what exactly is racism and poverty. We’re interested in understanding these issues, defining them, understanding what is bad. Instrumental Reason leads to a lot of money for hi-tech buffons, but it cannot solve all problems since it doesn’t tell you what the problem, or the meaning of things is.

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Sora and Shiro are one pair whose world is in Instrumental Reason. While games have meaning, the meaning is related to the mere act of playing. We don’t question whether or not we should win a game and what is the nature of winning chess – the rules decide that. The world of Disboard is a world where every problem isn’t just solved by games, but by Instrumental Reason.

That means it’s a world that doesn’t have any meaning at all. The nature of any problem doesn’t matter, since there will be an arbitrary equation that must solved. Once we solve this equation, the problem ends. The anime tells the story of a megalomaniacal brother-and-sister who beat people in games, gain power and minions and occasionally pay lip-service to morality.

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Now, if the series was an examination of such Instrumental Reason, it would’ve been fine. If Instrumental Reason was merely a dominant storytelling tool, then it could still have a decent story. By that, I mean that the show works similar to Death Note and Code Geass. The story moves mainly by challenges facing the characters, and the characters need to solve them. The viewer gains pleasure from trying to solve the riddle along with the characters. However, the meaning of these challenges isn’t important.

Instrumental Reason is so dominant in this anime that these challenges don’t even pretend to have meaning. Death Note may have been a series of riddles, but underneath it there was supposed to be a story about the morality of executing criminals. It failed because it didn’t create situations where we examined the issue, but rather only asked ‘who will win?’. In similar fashion, the only question this anime asks is ‘how will Sora and Shiro win?’.

As a storytelling tool, it’s incredibly boring. It’s essentially watching a staged game. The whole thrill of watching sports is that you don’t know who will win and nothing is decided until the last moment. Stories which use Instrumental Reason make you watch a man playing chess against himself, only with more narrative fluff and (in the case of anime) pretty visuals.

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So as a story, this is a complete failure. Really, it’s about nothing. Only near the end it says something about the nature of games, but the whole thing happens in an alternative reality. Once the characters are thrown into it, no mention of the real world. Without admitting there is a real world where not everything is a game, it cannot explore the nature of games. Many throw the word ‘escapist’ around and it’s always debatable how escapist a show is, but can anyone debate this? The characters literally escape the real world so they could play forever.

If the story is an absolute failure, at least it could do well in other aspects. Sadly, it’s all bad except for the art. The art is easily some of anime’s best. It’s such a shame that a highlight in anime art is glued to a horrible story. Look at those vibrant colors, how every scene doesn’t have so much a depth of detail but a depth of color. It creates the feeling of a truly fantastical world. It applies to character design, too. While the series is shameless in fanservice, each character gets its unique touch, unique eye shapes and hairstyles. Shiro isn’t the best design, but her design is a good case in point. Her hair isn’t just long but has a distinct flow to it. Jibril is another excellent case. For a character who floats around half-naked, they sure thought about a lot of unique touches – the asymmetrical gloves, the gardient in the hair.

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Sadly, this is where the positives end. Some of the characters are good, but they need a different setting and a different storytelling method. Stephanie Dola could’ve been a light in the dark, a contrast to the world. Her emotional reaction actually could’ve added some ‘reason of meaning’, show us a character who thinks about other things besides winning. Too bad her role is to be slapped around, sexually humiliated and generally used as a tool. If so far you were convinced my rantings about ‘Instrumental Reason’ was just cranking about, here’s the final nail. The anime takes its one character who has a different view than constantly puts it down.

Sora is tied to this problem, and to the misogyny problem. He’s a 20th century masculine stereotype. Writing about transformation of masculinity in fiction is incomplete without him. We see how once the manly hero packed guns, now he’s shagging women and is being a conniving, selfish asshole. What defines Sora isn’t heroism like those in the 80’s movies, but his pure ‘Instrumental Reason’. All that matters to him is winning, all he can think about is winning.

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Occasionally he displays some moral code about being nice to those he lose. We never see the general ethics that guide him, though. Since he’s comfortable using everyone as pieces, he’s more like a Wolf of Wall Street, doing everything to win and using people as means to an end. It fits with the zeitgeist. Go to school, and they will teach you how the only important thing is making loads of money. Whatever technology you invent, whatever content you produce, it doesn’t matter so long as you get money. No surprise our politicians are so corrupt.

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Using people as means, besides pissing off Kant also gives the whole anime a strong misogynistic bent. You don’t just see women in sexy situations, but often humiliating situations. Stephanie gets the most of it. An episode is dedicated to treating her like an animal only to teach her a lesson. He also takes pictures of her nude without consent and there’s the whole ‘laughing at flat women’ thing. I don’t see anything funny about humiliating a girl, taking nude pictures of her and generally framing her as inferior and dumb. Worst of all, we’re meant to cheer for Sora and the characters eventually come to like him. I don’t see how his rise to power demanded treating Dola so awfully.

Contrary to the creator’s idea, I would rather have a beer with Stephanie Dola and not just because she’s a woman. No Game No Life is pure escapist fantasy for the hi-tech age. In an age where we want to just solve problems instead of thinking about their nature, it’s the ideal anime. I’m reminded of a story where some government officials asked how to lower the amount of poor people. Onc offered to change the definition to the American definitions, and then there will be less poor people on the count. Notice how the numbers change but no one asks what exactly poverty is and what’s the actual problem. It’s a comfortable mindset, but we don’t live in Disboard. Our world isn’t clean and ordered where each problems have clear laws. In this world, you have to ask what is the problem, what it means and the whole shebang. Also, you can’t go around treating women like Sora treats Stephanie. Somebody might come and get all 80’s Action Movie on your ass.

1.5 misogynists out of 5

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Sundays Without God (Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi)

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This is such a bizarre anime. I’ve seen anime and movies with trippy imagery. I’ve read stories with pages of gibberish, yet few works of fiction left me with a sense of culture shock like this. Such anime are so original it’s hard to make them truly terrible, since the novelty value is there. Creators also tend to be as confused as the viewer, so they rarely reach their full potential.

When you have a unique premise on your hands that doesn’t owe anything to any tradition, there are two ways to go about it. You can either go full retard, mine the premise for anything it has and throw the kitchen sink along with everything. Since you have no idea how your anime is supposed to work, all you can do is try everything and hope something sticks. There’s a famous anime who did this and it’s called Future Diary.

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The other route is the safer one. You let your story flow, but you never try too hard to understand it. You let characters interact and explore your world, but you refrain from anything too attention-grabbing. The anime will narrow its focus. Its structure will become almost RPG-like, giving the protagonist a basic objective to complete and finish it off.

Sundays Without God takes the latter route, but the result isn’t a complete failure. Despite not playing with the structure, its setting and premise are so weird that the feeling of culture shock is persistent. The stories that make up the anime are also good enough on their own and take advantage of the setting. You cannot tell them in any other context. Still, something feels off. It’s not completely weird, not completely normal and leans towards the weird without mining it too much. The result is anime that’s enjoyable like an ordinary anime while feeling weird.

The best thing about the anime is it unique setting and tone. It’s a perfect example of how you don’t need a lot of details to create a unique world. The world here is simple. God is gone, no one can get born and dead people don’t really die. It’s apocalypse in slow motion. We’ve had a lot of stories about what happens after the apocalypse and we tend to imagine it as something swift and fast. Here, the world is in the process of ending.

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Human beings are resilient things, though. Even if the sun will explode, we’ll most likely try to save something. Survival instinct is so strong that it defies rationality and free will. In this case, the world isn’t ending so much as life reaches its epilogue. Life isn’t bad, but it keeps moving in an ordinary pace towards its ending.

What do you do when you’re the last generation? The anime is essentially about this, but it seems so weirded out by its premise it doesn’t really explore it. The first stories deal directly with these themes – one character is about to be the last of the last generation, which is the worst isolation you can have. The city of the dead is an interesting expressions of the Metaphysical Rebellion – how we can rebel against our circumstances and reject them.

The structure doesn’t prevent exploration of these topics, since many shows used shorter length with depth. The method of storytelling gets in the way. There’s an objective to solve, and the characters spend more time trying to solve it. While the pacing isn’t thriller-like, it’s too fast for such a premise. It doesn’t slow down enough to show how characters exist outside the story.

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Characters’ existence outside the story is one of the best ways to convince us they’re real, to make us care about them and see their humanity. Stories are something humans create and we don’t live in just one. A focused storyteller shows snippets of other stories the characters can have, but then goes back to the main one. A master storyteller can imply these side-stories and connect them to the main plotline. The anime doesn’t do this. Its focus is too narrow.

It’s a shame, because the storytelling is quite excellent. The format is familiar – we have a good, well-meaning character visiting people and helping them. Ai isn’t just a vehicle to tell the stories of these people. Her personality and position is directly tied to her role. In a world where everyone’s ready to die or desperately fighting death, she’s a piece of light. She’s the youngest person alive, a possibility that there might be a future.

She’s not a lantern, though. When things go bad, Ai doesn’t say some nice things and the story ends. Often, she gives those pep talks but stumbles. The world is, after all, ending. Problems still exist and are hard to solve. Ai may be an optimist, but she’s a struggling optimist. We see her doubts, how much she tries to cling to her optimism despite everything.

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This is where the anime’s faults lay. Although this is an excellent usage of such a character, they don’t take it far enough. Ai struggles, but the creators put her so much in the role of problem-solver she doesn’t have time to ingest the struggling. There’s no time to see how the possible failures affect Ai’s psych. Stories don’t always end just like she wants them to, and that should influence her worldview. How do you stay optimistic when things don’t go as expected? Do you blind your own eyes? Do you become pessimistic, or do you accept things as they are? The anime never addresses these questions.

The themes of wishing does make its appearance, but the creators aren’t sure what to do with it. People wish for things. Sometimes they come true, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they come true but the result is painful. It speaks volumes when a messy anime like Big Order addresses these themes better. They’re present, but wishing is not a plot device here and there aren’t enough angles to explore this topic from. It’s just there.

The art style continues the weird nature of the quality. The character’s looks are distinct and memorable enough, but the art style itself isn’t. You can put these characters in a school anime and they wouldn’t feel out of place (except for the outfits). There’s variety in how everyone looks and the school arc lets them show off their designs, but nothing connects it. Characters shouldn’t just look distinct but there should be a style that connects them, quirks that make the design memorable and make you wonder what else you can do with it.

On the other hand, the color schemes and backgrounds are beautiful. The anime finally fulfills potential. The colors are balanced. Light and dark tones are mixed. A burning red or a cold blue is are the dominating colors, and they have just enough brightness to make the world seem normal. There’s also a little darkness in them that reminds you that the world is dying. It’s a balance that’s hard to get. You can easily find yourself in bland colors, but here they’re the perfect mix of darkness and lights that fit the weird tone of the series.

Sundays Without God is a flawed anime, but nevertheless an anime like no other. Its failures hold it back from greatness, and but their nature prevents them from being offensive. When it falls, it’s not because it does stupid things. Rather, it’s too afraid to play with its ideas. They stand on their own, and even as basic storytelling it’s good enough. Someone might one day run away with these and render this irrelevant, but until then it’s worth your time.

3.5 sundays out of 5

Hyperdimension Neptunia: The Animation

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The problem with Neptunia isn’t that the source material doesn’t translate well to anime. The problem is in the process after translation. The content translates smoothly, but there’s just too much of it and the creators can’t make sense of it.

They did make some brilliant decisions. The anime jumps headfirst into the story without exposition. It doesn’t need to. Introducing characters is pointless. If your characters are developed enough, just show them walking around, talking and doing things. We will learn about them as the plot goes on.

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That movie is brilliant and works. The cast is wonderful. Most of them are archetypes, but they’re deliberate. The key to making these archetypes work is how they relate to their environment. Blanc is your flat-chested stoic girl, but in a happy-go-lucky world she sticks out. Vert’s breasts are an extension of her motherly persona, which sticks out when everyone around her are children. Neptune is the embodiment of the franchise and, in a satirical way, the audience. She’s a lazy airhead who just wants to play games and can’t take anything seriously.

Even when characters are similar to each other, there are differences. Uni  is a tsundere like Noire, but she doesn’t have her position of power. So she’s more friendly and easier to get along with. These personalities constantly clash and interact. Although the anime throws all kinds of external challenges at our cast, it never feels like they drive it. Every line of dialogue, every act is modified by the personalities.

That’s why the move to more serious ground isn’t stupid. You don’t need realism for effective drama, but characters who feel real enough. The cast of Neptunia is strong, but the poor pacing throws drama way too early.

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As developed as they are, we still need some time to get to know the cast. There are about 8 characters so, and you can’t make the audience know them in just 6 episodes (especially when there are plenty of action scenes). Already around episode 5 or so, we get dramatic scenes, the world on the brink of extinction and nobody laughing.

The drama is ineffective both because of its placement, and how it’s handled. The drama is too serious for its own good. The creators forget they’re dealing with a world inspired by gaming consoles. It’s not like the introduction of seriousness also comes with extra thematic depth. If your drama doesn’t add any depth, just make it as over-the-top as the show itself. It also appears too early, way before the viewer can get a basic understanding of these characters.

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A departure scene later in the series is great, but that’s because it doesn’t rely on the characters being serious. By the time it arrives we know the characters much better. We saw them on various adventures and learned how their relationships work. It’s also more subdued. The previous drama scenes were overly serious but not over-the-top. Since this one is more subdued by nature, it can tone the ridiculousness down without losing any effect.

The franchise’s premise doesn’t sound like it’ll be friendly with tonal shifts. Still, it’s easier to make you care about a bunch of weirdos than it seems. The pacing is too brisk though. The show keeps throwing events and interaction and jokes at you and there’s never time to take it in.

There are no build-ups. The story doesn’t build towards a single conclusion. Rather, it follows a collection of arcs that end with the a Huge Dangerous Object. If the series built up towards that conclusion, then the fast pacing would have been easier to take. Since the arcs aren’t really connect, it’s like a show is constantly on fast forward, jumping from one idea to next and showing only beginnings and conclusions.

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The brisk approach also works against the aesthetic. Neptunia‘s style is cutsie and bright, sometimes too much. The voice actors, especially Neptune’s/Peashy’s/Abnes’ are trapped with a pitch that’s too high. Their performance is suited well to the characters, but plenty of times I wished they’d put on some effect to lower the pitch. It was too much on the ears. Blank and Plutia are a blessing just because they speak in a calmer manner. If the series was a little slower, then the voices wouldn’t feel like an assault. It does get better in the second half though.

Despite this small bump, the aesthetics are still one of the franchise’s strong points. The character design is astounding. Every character looks distinct. Even characters who are meant to be similar have their clear and subtle differences which make them unique. The show is moe, of course, but it finds so many variations on it.

There’s also the aspect of fanservice. While there are a few uncomfortable moments, the fanservice is well-integrated most of the time. The character design is beautiful, and but the series rarely slows down just to remind us that. It always constructs scenes and shots that both advance the story/characters and let us enjoy the view. It’s also never too profane. The sexuality is elegant, never shoving itself in your face. The characters just happen to look good. The ‘fanservice episode’ is a great example how they do it, and also of the self-aware humor.

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One thing the anime lacks, compared to the source material is the self-aware humor. It surfaces occasionally and it’s always better than expected. The fanservice episode was great, poking fun at tropes but integrating the personalities into the humor. There isn’t enough of it though. I understand the fear of breaking the fourth wall. It can easily slip into trying too hard. Just look at Deadpool. Neptunia doesn’t have Deadpool‘s macho bullshit, though. It never pretends to be cool (It disregards coolness completely. That’s why everyone is feminine but also sexualized), so it can run wild with the self-awareness. It’ll just be a part of the general absurdity.

It’s a curious thing. Here in the West we want our heroines gritty and tough. We love Furiosa and Rey for how macho they are. They scream at men to stop holding their hand and don’t wear skirts. Yet here we have Neptunia, which is a big franchise where all the heroines are unbashedly feminine. There are no apologies here. How can they create a diverse cast of females with both great looks and great personalities while Hollywood directors struggle with one heroine? It’s so pathetic to praise Black Widow when we have the whole cast of Neptunia.

The anime is fun, but it feels like there’s more to do with the franchise.

3 plushies out of 5

 

High School DXD

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There’s an art to the ecchi genre. Sexual appeal may not require brains to react to, but it requires skill. Not everyone can be a stripper or a sexy dancer even if you have the right body. A good ecchi show would know symbolism and psychology aren’t part of the genre. It would know that it uses sexuality and energy to tell a fun, ridiculous story. High School DXD knows this, but doesn’t work on it.

The characters embodies the strengths and the weaknesses. Rias is worth all the hype and posters they made. You need more than big breasts to make a sexy character. Rias is sexy and not just because of her figure (which isn’t easy to design. See also: Divergence Eve). It’s also little touches like the hair, which is deliberately red. Red is both the color that attracts the most attention. Rias isn’t just meant to be pretty but she symbolizes sexuality.

Her posture, behavior and personality also help express this idea. She’s not a caricature nymphoniac who’ll be a sex slave for our main character. Rather, she’s comfortable in her sexuality. She doesn’t mind being seen naked. She’s in a position of authority that gives her a lot of power but she’s not drunk with it. Power is sexy, but being able to control it is harder and sexier.

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She’s a charismatic, powerful presence that holds the series despite the fact everyone around her is barely half as interesting. What’s weird is that all the failures are females. They’re supposed to be just as attractive as Rias, but they’re dull.

It’s hard to see something in them beyond archetypes. Rias was an embodiment of an idea. Everyone else is a dull archetype. Asia is the complete opposite of Rias, which is something. It’s not used to its advantage. The contrast between the two never appears. We know she’s a nice girl but we only know it. We rarely see it happen. Akeno has no personality whatsoever and Koneco is a quiet loli, which was always a terrible idea and doesn’t improve here.

The designers do have talent. Later in the series a rival group is introduced, and they all have more imaginative designs than the main characters’. It’s almost as if they had two different designers, and the less creative one punished the other. Things in the rivalry team include spiral twintails, X-shaped twintails, a bikini armor and a masked figure. Even at their worst, there’s more spark to their design. Why do the main characters get the generic long hair of Akeno?

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The male characters are actually more entertaining this time. They’re often mindless perverts or boring good guys in such shows. Issei is a combination of both, but it’s one that works. He has these attributes not because it’s convenient to the story but because they can create a personality out of it. Issei becomes both an overblown moral hero who’s just as selfish and horny as the person he goes against.

There’s irony there. It flips the story where two people beat up each other because they disagree and somehow their strength proves their idea right. I wish the irony was more developed though. Issei knows he’d like to be that asshole he’s fighting, the guy with the harem. The anime doesn’t take a step back to laugh at this, at least not enough.

The problem is that it’s not enough to just know you’re making an ecchi series. You still need direction, you need to aim somewhere. What prevents the series from becoming really enjoyable is its lack of direction. Is this about how stupid but kind of cute we are in high school when hormones drive us crazy? Or is this about a hero that’s going to push himself over the edge for a girl because he’s hungry for sex?

If the series would’ve chosen to alternate between the two, it would’ve been fine. Instead, it jumps back and forth between the two. It only gets focused at the end, where it sticks to the epic fight and nothing else. At least it’s victorious there. The fight is well-animated and has a pretty enough scenery to make it exciting. The exaggeration of the characters is also believable enough to make the final conflict feel epic enough.
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The fantasy element is one of the good parts. It’s a cute spin on the Devil/Angel dichotomy that doesn’t pretend to be profound. The idea of devils doing services for people is rife for potential comedy. They play around with it a little and then abandon it. The epic battle was fine, but it was more fun to see Issei trying to do things and being a loser. It’s an opportunity to create odd side-characters who can have their ideas summed up in one episode. There are more seasons and I hope they play around with this more.

Now comes the fatal part, where humiliation is passed off for sexiness. I don’t mind the camera finding its way to changing rooms or how clothes get ripped off during battles in sexy ways. What I don’t understand is, is it necessary to have the characters strip others naked against their will for our enjoyment? It’s not sexy and it’s not humorous.

High School DXD knows what it isn’t, but it also doesn’t know what it is. There is heart here. These people really wanted to make an anime that will capture the fun spirit Ecchi can have, but they didn’t know how. Maybe the next seasons have more focus. I hope so. Rias is too much of a fun character and Issei is a rare Harem protagonist who actually contributes to the story. It’s a fun show, but as crazy as it sounds I think we can do more with Ecchi.

2.5 devils out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

Mirai Nikki (Future Diary): Redial

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The original series had a lot of great ideas that weren’t enough for 26 episodes. What a surprise that this OVA has more ideas that can fit in 30 minutes. Redial doesn’t feel like an epilogue. It feels like a sketch for the third season.

The obligatory beach section rears its head, but it’s not here for fanservice. Once again, the franchise takes a trope and plays by its own rules. The jokes and the focus is on the cast, which is as lively as ever. The ecchi moments don’t feel like tacked on but emerge organically. They involve only the characters who will deal with sexual confusion at that stage in life.

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The re-appearance of the diary holders has the same vivid characterization as the original. My theory was true. Each time a diary holder is allowed to do stuff, their personality comes alive. The 12th remains a hilarious, energetic presence. Everyone is crazy, but he’s so far out there that everyone else backs away.

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The 12th gets the most development, but others get some development. John Bacchus gets a few jokes of his own. The humor here stems from the characters themselves, rather than specific punchlines. Such comedy is more than funny, but builds the character. The impression these scenes leave is that Future Diary could develop a Slice of Life anime with its cast.

Things get fuzzier when Redial goes back in touch with the plot. It tries to develop the romance concept, but it ends up being confused on what it wants to say. The original was satirical about it. It presented an intense love, but showed its danger. Yuno’s obsession with Yuki isn’t healthy or productive, and the original knew that.

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The conclusion hints at a love-conquers-all message. The original always dealt with extremes, so a love that defeats such barriers isn’t out of place. It doesn’t align with the satire, though. As an exploration of Yuno’s psych, it’s too short.

The changes in the new world weren’t enough to change everyone completely. Rei still has a sadistic side to him. Expecting Yuno to be psych-healthy is ridiculous. Psychological problems often take time until they manifest. Give this a few episodes, and you could get a true psychological series. A psychological story doesn’t need a seriel killer. It’s enough just to follow a character, and this OVA hints they could do that.

Even Deus and Uryuu get some development in their brief appearances. 30 minutes aren’t enough to develop all of these ideas. It’s a nice addition and it’s great to see these characters in an alternative setting, but that’s it. There’s so much steam left in this franchise, it’s odd nothing else came out. Attack On Titan is getting so many spin-offs it might as well be a carousel. As good as that one was, it doesn’t have Future Diary‘s lively madness.

Hopefully, someone will pick this franchise again one day and give it a new spin.

3 blind men out of 5    

Green Green

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Green Green is the most important ecchi anime, for all the wrong reasons. Don’t be fooled by the pictures that promise you fun times with the occasional peak at tits. Green Green is cruel and mean-spirited. It doesn’t want to, but this is the side-effect of taking sexual shenanigans to their extreme. This is what happens when you’re making a sex comedy and enjoy the limitlessness of animation.

Despite what I and many reviewers write, anime is a really just a lot of lines and colors moving around. The stories are in our heads. It’s like how a novel is just some ink painted in different shapes upon (recycled?) paper. No real people are involved, but it’s surprising how legal action hasn’t taken against the creators. Surely, such sexual harassment shouldn’t be presented in such a care-free and comic way, even if it targets animated characters, right? If not, then the viewer himself was sexually harassed and the viewer is a real person.

This is how watching Green Green feels like for most of its length. Panty shots and the camera finding its way to the girls’ bathroom aren’t its defining feature. Very early in the first episode the fat guy gets off on rubbing his man-boobs. This is what the series revolves around. Everything else is just a side dish.

It’s amusing, but only because it’s hard to take your eyes off it. The show pushes things to the extreme, doing things in the real world would land the idiots in jail if not in a hospital. Key scenes include ‘fishing’ a shirt in front of other boys, basically stripping her and a fat guy jumping on the teacher screaming ‘here we go’. In the real world, we call this an attempted rape.

There is a light-hearted tone to all of this, but it doesn’t fit the events. It gives the impression that it takes what’s going on lightly, which only makes things worse. The three idiots are not bumbling buffons, but creeps. It’s hard to feel anything but contempt and hatred for them. The fat guy sees women as literally a stick with tits on. Tenjin is a pedophile who gets off on eating rice while Sanae is asleep. Metalhead-looking guy is sometimes better. He sometimes serves as an amusing satire of a desperate horny teenager. Mostly, he’s a stalker who goes on and on about love but tries to use brute force.

The creators try sometimes to give them what they deserve, but its at the expense of the viewer. We may not feel very sorry for them when they get humiliated, but here the punishment includes a rape from a bear. Worse, it’s not an implied one. A bush volunteers to prevent it from becoming full-blown porn, but there are enough sounds and moaning so you’ll have a clear image enough in your head.

The characters have nothing resembling depth, but that’s not the problem. They’re comic relief characters, but it’s hard to be funny when all you do is harass. What else can you call peeking at the girls while they bath and sending them questionnaires about their bra size? There are even homoerotic and cross-dressing moments. This is when their assault shifts again target to the viewer. I don’t know what is worse, but if I had to choose between seeing Futaba humiliated again or watching Bacchi-Gu rubs his breasts again, I’d choose the latter. Call me a white knight, but it’s not like I’m catching a bullet.

No girl leaves this show unharassed. Sanae and Futaba are the main victims, but only Wakaba kind of avoids this. She only falls victim to them whenever their harassment schemes target all the girls, instead of their girl of choice. The fact Wakaba is the luckiest girl, and she’s still getting harassed thanks to scheme that are the equivalent of sexual genocide should tell you how unpleasant this feels.

The creators hit a fun, energetic, sex-driven high school vibe that makes me feel nostalgic for the days when I was too young to see that girls were just as confused as I. The decision to have more than one male character and have them do stuff makes this stand out. Most high school anime tend to have a comic relief who pops once or twice, a gay dude or a trap.

Still, in such a sexually-predatory environment it’s hard to find friends. Almost everyone here is a creep, not just the idiots. Midori has her happy-go-lucky charm, but what she does to Yusuke is only a little better than what the three idiots do to the girls. Chigusa remains AWOL for most of the show, appearing occasionally to let us know reality can’t compete with those breasts. Sanae is boring and does nothing, and Arisa is a pathetic attempt to make us feel awkward with a horny ugly girl. Too bad for her she can’t compete with the three idiots.

Speaking of Yusuke, he’s a little less boring than your typical do-gooder. His occasional aggressive behavior with Midori is surprising. It’s good to see a male character this active, but all he does is add more to the mean-spiritedness. Midori and Yusuke, instead of being the emotional core and safe haven just add to the unplesantness of it all. Adding Futaba to the love triangle doesn’t help. She’s fun at first, but then quickly becomes a tsundere. You’re always sure these tsunderes are bit more interesting than they are.

Reika and Wakaba are the only ones who lighten the atmosphere a little, and even the former isn’t good enough. Reika doesn’t fit any archetype at first, and she adds some genuine appeal. For a show so obsessed with sexuality, she’s the only one with actual sex appeal and it’s not just because she has breasts. Too many times though, she’s given a cruel edge whose reason is very unsatisactory. She also get a single moment of harassment that might be worse than anything else. You’d think the creators would let us enjoy the sex appeal without seeing the girl humiliated. As for Wakaba, her role is to stand around and talk to the cactus. It’s the only joke here that works, and it’s those little details that make characters feel alive. She’s the only one who’s not an empty archetype or a creep. She deserved a much better show, maybe something like Bamboo Blade where everyone is weird like her.

Maybe it’s the story that makes everyone comes off like creeps. All this envelope-pushing at least makes them feel alive, and not just archetypes. The premise is also great and has a lot of room for satirizing the sexual confusion. There’s even a great atmosphere that makes it easy to forget how terrible everyone they are. They just don’t do anything with it.

High school boys can be silly, and sometimes creepy with their sexuality. They’re never like this. This is criminal behavior. It’s like a satire of bullying where the bully is the killer. They’re both violent, but the satire is way off-target. It doesn’t deal with the confusion or the pressure or the excitement of being sexual. All it does is present sexual harassment with a light tone, hoping we’d forgive because ‘it’s just comedy’. Sexuality can be a pain, but it shouldn’t be this depressive.

The romance is also shaky. It was about to say something interesting about fate and destiny, but then it decided to take the easy road of manipulative sentimentality. A big emotional climax was very uncalled for, but the supernatural elements made the whole thing look like they came up with it ad hoc. It gains a little impact because the characters feel alive, even though they’re shallow. It’s a romance whose obstacle isn’t inner but outer. Instead of exploring how the two lovers deal with challenges, it just throws a silly reason that doesn’t let them be together with hopes it’ll capture some tears.

Yet, this is somehow not a total trainwreck. It would’ve been easier if it this was just a string of terrible ideas after another. There’s focus here. There’s more life in this anime than others in the genre. The story is actually concerned with themes, and teenage sexuality can be a lot of fun to watch. Is focusing on a terrible idea better than not focusing on a good idea? I’m not sure. Green Green has a few things to teach other shows, but I’m afraid people will borrow the size of Reika’s breasts instead of her sex appeal or the fun atmosphere.

The fact that I spent so much time writing about women’s breasts should tell you enough about this anime. I wish I could’ve used it as a starting point to talk about how messy but fun high school, but here I am, writing about the fourth paragraph where women’s breasts appear. I hang my head.

1.5 horny idiots out of 5

Date A Live II

Date-A-Live-II

Expecting Date A Live II to improve was probably too much. It’s obvious from the pictures that something here is going to go wrong. We already have enough goofy characters. We don’t need more. We want to see more of Tohka, Yoshino, Tokisaki and Reinne – all entertaining personalities that tend to light up any scene they’re in. Tokisaki wasn’t really defeated in the previous season, so there’s clearly more to do with her. Why add more?

The additions are not that bad, but they’re bad in a very predictable way. It starts with the twins. The problem they introduce is different enough, but just look at them. The character design is sexy, but it’s more sexy than pretty. The previous Spirits’ design tried to tell us more about their character than to make them sexually appealing. Tokisaki is the only one with an actual sexy design, but in this case it’s part of her character.

It’s not like they’re completely empty shells. They are pretty entertaining in the scenes they’re in, and the conflict they’re in could lead to a very interesting relationship. You quickly forget that they’re dressed for an S&M club because their antics come from the same creative mind that gave us Yoshino’s wide-eyed fear and Tokisaki’s creepiness. Their fights are just as fun as anything in the previous season.

Sadly, there is not enough of that. We spend two episodes with the twins and some embarrassing fanservice. The previous season never had that amount. What happens in these episodes feels like it came from those shows that just want to push the envelope. It’s not funny and it’s out of place. The show still rolls along mostly without ecchi – you’d expect the camera to linger on Reinne when she appears in a bikini, but you barely have time to register there’s a teddy bear between her breasts. What was the point of those awkward scenes in the bedrooms?

Miku is a little better. There is something slightly off-putting in her design. Maybe it’s because she looks like Coco from Mermaid Melody with a new paint job. Still, her character is interesting and she provides a good conflict. Once you get over the over-sexualizing, the new Spirits offer problems that are different enough than the previous to show the creators haven’t run of new ideas.

In fact, they have too many ideas. We have a new antagonist who is interesting until the climax. Jessica appears, which could help add some depth to the whole wing of the AST. Ellen, the Bad Guy’s sidekick occasionally looks like there is an interesting personality underneath that cool hair. There is even a school festival that slides smoothly to the plot instead of feeling tokenistic.

It doesn’t build to anything. The climax is the real weak point of the series.. The previous climax was also messy, but Tokisaki lead it. It felt unhinged, out of control and unique to the series. Somewhere around the eight episode, the series becomes one extended action scene Shido mows down a lot of mooks, but the real causalties are the personalities.

Some characters are already halfway to gone before the finale. Kotori and Yoshino are barely there, which makes no sense. The few times Yoshino appears, struggling with understanding a soap opera are what made the original so fun. The climax finally kills them all. Kotori and Yoshino go AWOL. The twins are pushed to the back, almost as if they were never there. Jessica is thrown into the action scene with a conclusion that deserved a much better build-up. Origami is still an unnecessary part of the harem. Miku becomes a tsundere. Bad Guy reveals he’s bad because he’s bad and Mana is still just as useless.

Tohka is the only one who’s given some room to do things. Her clinginess to Shido is pretty annoying, but there’s enough of the fish-out-of-water antics that make her fun. She eventually becomes the center. If so, why introduce the new Spirits, if they’re just pushed to the back in the end?

Why is this so generic? What happened to the bravery? The series used to flinch at violence, to question whether it’s a legitimate method to solve problems. It was its whole charm. It forced the hero to interact with the ‘bad guys’. Violence is frowned upon. Now Shido mows down faceless soldiers like he’s Sylvester Stallone in a generic building. There aren’t even cool visuals to accompany it. He just swings his sword and people fall down.

Speaking of Shido, he hasn’t changed. He’s still boring and has no charisma. He’s still given a lot of situations that can be great for character development, and he does nothing with it. How can you even write such a dull character? Asimov isn’t exactly the master of creating human beings, but he gives the game pieces (In Asimov, there are no characters, just game pieces) some traits that make them recognizable. Shido is nothing but a plot-mover. The story is clearly about him. He’s the star of the climax this time, so make him worthwhile. Alas, everything he does is just for convenience.

It’s not a problem of length. 10 episodes is a little too short, but there was enough time that was better spent on other things. We didn’t need all these fanservice and the finale could have been a bit more exciting than just killing faceless people. There is still some fuel in this franchise. Most of the new ideas that were introduced are pretty good. The new Spirits are a worthwhile addition. This season does even less with everything, and the result is just a shopping list of cool ideas. The series doesn’t deserve this as a swan song, but I worry that feature developments will stay, will, undeveloped.

2 dates out of 5