Spring 2018 Anime Season – Lightning Round Reviews

I’m not watching a ton of anime this season (mostly because I prefer to binge after the fact) but there are three shows besides Persona 5 I’ve been checking out so I thought I’d give those a little review while I work on the longer, game-related post I have on backlog.

 

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

Feels very different from the original Sword Art Online, with a focus on gunplay and tactics in a character-focused story. Main girl LLENN (the “Pink Devil”) is amazingly adorable so combine moe factor with operator factor for maximum enjoyment. In the real world, LLENN is six feet tall and very self-conscious so she dives into virtual reality games to escape, finds Gun Gale Online where she turns out to be a five foot loli, immediately becomes OP due to small size and quick speed. Very good animation and solid gunplay.

Expectations: Finshed, 8/10

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii

A really charming, energetic workplace romcom that happens to have otaku main characters: the main girl is a fujoshi, the main guy is a game okatu. The show doesn’t look fantastic, but it’s colourful and everybody looks very cute. Quite funny, but it’s not going to blow your mind your mind; hardly AOTS material, at least right now. Reminds me alot of Net-juu no Susume from last year, so if you liked that give this a watch.

Expectations: Finished, 6/10

Comic Girls

Very cute, very colourful–bright, with lights of pastels–but somewhat fanservice-y slice of life show about four high school aged mangaka (the sensitive one, the energetic one, the stoic one, the normal one). Extremely funny but I can see others not enjoying at as much, or the jokes getting repetive and overdone. Main character, pen name Kaos, could be the worst with her emotional outburst. Nothing but fun right now thought.

Expectations: Finished, 7/10 or Dropped, 5/12 Episodes Watched

“Persona 5 the Animation” – Episode 2 First Impressions

Spoiler-Free Impressions

I like this episode a hell of a lot more more than I did the first. We’re starting to see some anime-only stuff introduced, like giving Ren some more movement than he did in the game cutscenes. More character as well, which is what I was looking forward to the most–seeing how the anime handled his character, and how his arc would go. The pacing feels less breakneck too, but without being too slow; it finds a nice middle-ground, basically, where there’s still a lot happening per episode but it doesn’t feel like so much is being squashed down from the game to fit into 22 minutes.

Now that we get to see it, the OP is pretty good: it incorporates the aesthetics of the game with the new animation style in a really clean way, with all these smooth cuts and a song from the soundtrack, but about fifteen seconds in you realize that it’s pretty much all just scenes from the first episode except for a few character shots. The ED is a hell of a lot better though, using partly game assets and game stylings, though the bulk is just the Phantom Thieves walking in place to some stylish music. It’s simple but it works.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-01h07m59s661.png

The animation is once again hit-and-miss. I quite wish that Production I.G., who did the in-game animated cutscenes, had done the adaptation as well. I don’t have a lot of beef with A-1 Pictures, no matter how much shit people talk about them, but most of their shows do have the same problem (beside same-face syndrome): really stunning, fluid animation for a minute at most, mediocre animation for about two-thirds of the episode, and absolute trash for the other third, with the most off-model characters and bizarre movements, and this show seems no exception.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-01h01m42s915

 

Full Impressions

I think I’ll like the way that the show will be integrating the social links. We have Ren spying on Ryuji being confronted by his former track teammates, a scene from early in his link. The social links will, if this is any indication at all, be weaved in through background scenes as natural character-building moments and not, as in the game, like their own standalone scenes. I mean, as long as we get any character development at all I’ll be happy considering the length of show we’re working with.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-00h59m01s070

Haru and Makoto make cameos this episode. Akechi returns as well in a post-credits scene.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-00h58m01s527.png

The fight scene felt really awkward, mostly due to the shitty animation. The fact that the combat mechanics are being carried over so literally is also a poor choice. They even recreated the All-Out Attack animation but in infinitely worse quality.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-01h01m47s712.png

Ren and Ryuji are already feeling like good friends; there’s a chemistry there helped by the addition of full voice acting from Ren. Morgana sounds fantastic, the best performance so far, full of spunk and energy, but also a hint of wisdom and condescension. Ann hasn’t gotten many lines so far so I’ve nothing to say about her. Mishima and Shiho’s character acting isn’t bad: a few body language and facial queues.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-01h02m46s165.png

Although, as I said, the pacing has improved from the first episode, I still have many concerns about Persona 5 the Animation and how it plans to proceed.

To break it down there are eight major blocks of time:

  1. Kamoshida’s Palace; New part members Ryuji, Morgana, Ann
  2. Madarame’s Palace; Yusuke
  3. Kaneshiro’s Palace; Makoto
  4. Futaba’s Palace; Futaba
  5. Okumura’s Palace; Haru
  6. Nijima’s Palace; Akechi
  7. Shido’s Palace
  8. Momentos/Prison of Regression/Temple

Plus all the social links, Momentos exploring and between-arc scenes. My playthrough totalled at about ninety-four hours and I still hadn’t completed everything. Now sure a lot of stuff could easily be cut for time (Yoshida’s, Chihaya’s, and Shinya’s social links at least) but that’s still three episodes per arc, and that’s just insane. So until the show’s over I’ll hold my reservations.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-01h00m11s300.png

While writing this post I realized what exactly the main appeal of this anime is for me: fan-service. In other words, seeing scenes from the original game but slightly different, like watching a very produced let’s play on Youtube. When I think of things I’m looking forward to, it’s really just all the cool parts of the game.

But when you’ve already played the game, experienced this story, and in its original form no less, what else can you look forward to?

 

Conclusion

The show is already improving in my opinion so give it a watch, though the game is still the optimal way to experience the story.

Right now all I really want is for the show to either plummit to the depths of Trash Valley or ascend to the heights of Mount Olympus or something. Anything that isn’t mediocrity.

vlcsnap-2018-04-16-00h57m42s704.png

Writing Advice: On Characters

Being an amateur writer, mostly of fiction, when I see something that succeeds or falls flat in a work I like to look closely at it to see why exactly I came to feel that way.

So (as a bit of a softball post while I get over my mild blogger’s block) here are a few things that can make characters more interesting, believable or sympathetic to the reader.

  1. Give them a passion. If a character is particularly interested in something, there’s at least one person out there who feels similarly, and a whole lot more people who will be able to equate their own passions with the character’s. It’s one of those things that makes characters feel more like real people and less like artificial constructs.
  2. Give them a history outside the plot. This is one of the more tricky techniques because you have to hit a good mean with it: too much backstory and it feels incredibly hackneyed or like the author is just so proud of all their research and worldbuilding; too little and it feels like the character just spontaneously popped into existence the day before yesterday. Whether you do this as you write or during your pre-writing planning is entirely your discretion.
  3. Give them flaws. Nobody is perfect (though nobody likes to admit it, really) so we like to see, either consciously or subconsciously, people who also embody our own asshole bevhaviours, though leaning too heavily on flaws can be just as bad as a perfect, flawless character in terms of believability and sympathy.
  4. Give them quirks. This is an extremely tricky one because some quirks, like a repetitious catchphrase, are more subtle but less interesting while others, like a proclivity to shanking coworkers in the back, are quite overt (to say the least) but more prone to aggravating the reader.

The overall idea, to summarize, is to create a character that embodies the universal, human qualities that we all possess. Certainly there are a number of very strange people that can only relate to characters exactly like them, but most people are more than willing to read about, and relate to, any character that crosses their path.

The Incredibly Subjective Contextuality of Favourites

That sounds like a pretty lofty title, I’ll admit, but move past it (and my Canadian spelling of favourites) for a moment, and I’ll tell you a story to get us started.

When I was 12 I bought Dune, by Frank Herbert. Earlier that year I had seen the David Lynch film adaptation for the first time and I was quite thrilled to read it. (Also, I don’t care what people say, I like the movie.) But it turned out to be a quite slower read than the film, so I put it down about halfway through and didn’t think about it again for years later.

Two or three years on, I decided to pick it up again. My tastes had evolved by then, and I found myself able to really appreciate one of the best science fiction novels of all time, a true classic of the genre. I finally got all the complex political maneuvering and ecological discussion; I really dug all the cultural nuances of the Fremen, the allusions to Islamic history. For a while it was even my favourite book of all time.

The point of this story: context is key to enjoyment.

DHUbtf1VYAAMuuK.jpg

It might not just be an age or maturity thing though, there are preconceived notions that you might have going into something that’ll affect how you see it. Sword Art Online is a pretty controversial (to say the least) anime, and if you go into it having heard all the criticisms before, what else are you going to see but all the glaring problems the show has and ignore the occasional good moments that do shine through?

Or just think about the mood you’re in before diving in to something, whether that be a book, an anime, a movie or a game. Unless there’s enough really solid setup that it can overpower your previous mood, if you’re in a comedy mood you’re not going to enjoy a sad show in the way that the show wants you to enjoy it. That disconnect between audience mood and intended tone is how you get unintentional comedy in so-bad-it’s-good movies like Birdemic or The Room.

The piece of media itself can (kinda sorta) do this unintentionally, but to a much lesser extent, by referencing or alluding to other media that have an opposing tone, like if Sesame Street referenced The Human Centipede.

I imagine alot of other people have thought about this in this way. I’m hardly treading new ground here; I just felt the urge to get this out there. But imagine how much cool shit you could have loved if you’d gone into it at the right time and place, or how much trashy shit you liked because you got into it at exactly the right time and place. Not shitty novels by any means, but imagine how powerful Catcher in the Rye is going to be at sixteen versus thirty-six, or Stoner (a severly underrated book by one John Williams that I’d like to do something on one day) at fourty versus fourteen. It’s one of those weird, existential things that just boggles my mind sometimes.

Why Video Games Can’t Do Tolkien, Or, “See, I Don’t Just Review Weebshit!”

J.R.R. Tolkien is, in my opinion, the best fantasy author of all time, bar none, no caveats, no exaggerations. He may even be the only good fantasy author (besides, perhaps, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald) because I’ve not read a single other work of fantasy where “fantasy” really, truly describes the work in question, where every single element is so intricately sewn together that to lose a single thread would be to unravel the whole garment, where, in any work at all, the sense of melancholy and loss is so profound as to be heartbreaking, where the secondary world the reader is placed in feels, at times, more real than our own world.

But splooging all my The Lord of the Rings single-volume leatherbound copy isn’t the point of this post. No, I’m here instead to talk about adaptations of Tolkien, particularly game adaptations, and why they fail to capture the spirit of Tolkien’s work, almost universally.

This is either for one of two reasons:

Reason One: because Tolkien isn’t a writer of action stories, and the adaptation is very much an action story.

Or Reason Two: because the philosophies of the source material and the adaptation differ.

This post is going to be structured in a pretty simple way: two games that don’t get Tolkien, one for each reason, and two games that do get Tolkien, one for each reason. However, I would highly recommend all of these games, each for different reasons. So let’s hop to it.

Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle-Earth II

BFME II (I haven’t played the first game, though I hear good things) is a fantastic game, a really solid RTS with a cool hero mechanic, even better than Warcraft III’s in my opinion, great maps, two campaigns, and a Risk-style mode on top of all that. So it’s a good game, but it’s not a good Lord of the Rings game, because the very nature of the game is imperialist, focused on conquest and expansion and dominion. That was the sin of the Numenoreans, that and a jealous desire for immortality, which lead to their downfall. For the best role-playing experience, play only evil factions.

Lego The Lord of the Rings

If you’re looking for a more peaceful, cooperative experience in the Legendarium, full of exploration and the wonder of the wide world, look no further than my favourite Lego game, featuring a fully open world and voice acting from the Peter Jackson films. If I can go on a Lego games tangent, this is where Traveller’s Tales really hid their peak. There’s just so much to do in this game it’s crazy.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

This is the only game here that actively irritates me. It’s a fun game, don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is really fast-paced with lots of enemies to fight and turn to your side and a huge map to explore, but not only is it a game, again, about expansion and domination, it’s about using the power of the enemy against him, which is literally the thing that the books condemn again and again and again. Not only that, but while our main character, Talion, (not actually a good Gondorian Sindarin name, by the by; very poor, C-, see me after class) is at least portrayed as being corrupted by his quest for revenge against the orcs that murdered his family and left him for dead–a more generic story there never was–it misunderstands the way that corruption happens in Tolkien’s works.

Corruption isn’t (usually) from a direct outside influence, and it isn’t a one-and-done deal like, “oh I killed a few kids now I’m a bad guy.” Corruption is slow and insidious, cause by our human failings and desires, often goaded on by outside circumstances but not originally caused by them. For example, Boromir doesn’t choose to attack Frodo and seize the ring for himself because Sauron is whispering in his ear, he wants to use the ring as a weapon to save the country and people he loves, not understanding that it can’t be used that way, ignoring the advice of the wise, like Elrond, Gandalf and Aragorn, in his own stubbornness and pride. That’s nuanced and interesting but Shadow of Mordor has to have its edgelord fantasy, so whatever.

The Lord of the Rings Online

My favourite LotR game and my favourite MMO, LotRO is probably the best representation of Tolkien’s works in game form. It’s full of great glory in harrowing, terrible battle, the vast world unfolding before your feet, little sidequests of comedy and tragedy, redemption and victory. It’s not a perfect game–nothing is–but it’s as close to perfect as a Lord of the Rings game can get. I would recommend LotRO to literally everyone, especially people who enjoy MMORPGs. It’s from the days when the whole market was World of Warcraft clones but if you can get past the hotkey combat it’s worth it.

I’d like to talk more about the Legendarium in the future, if I can be bothered. I could spend years of my life talking about it if somebody let me.

“Persona 5 the Animation” – Episode 1 First Impressions

Introduction

Okay, so this is gonna be divided up into two parts. The first is general impressions, no spoilers, while the second is more specific with timestamps and images and that sort of thing (though the timestamps may or may not line up depending on where you’re watching the episode so here goes nothing.)

 

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h37m05s394.png

 

No Spoiler Impressions

It’s not too bad so far. I think at this point it could turn to absolute trash or a solid enough show that’s kinda sorta worth watching depending on your tastes. All this is to say that I’m indecisive.

It looks alright, solid enough direction, a couple of cool shots that I’ll talk more about in the second part. Voices are all good. Incredibly accurate to the game too, though, as I suspected, very truncated, but when your source material is a game some 100 hours long, that’s going to be happen, like it or not

If you don’t want to get spoiled now (like if you’re reading this but haven’t watched the show for whatever reason) skip to my conclusion.

 

Full Impressions

Holy balls this must be a confusing episode if you’ve never played the game. I even was in a thread on /a/ for this episode and someone posted who had never played one of the games and no idea what was going on. I’ve never seen a human being more confused by anime before. Like, they really cut out all the slow parts that introduces character and setting, like trying to navigate the rail lines to get to school; all the stuff with the Personas themselves, like Igor and the Velvet Room, the Metaverse app, just gets tossed in your face like rotten vegetables and you’re a medieval peasant in the stocks. The pacing is all kinds of rushed. It’s very awkward, like there’s no setup and all payoff. Kamoshida isn’t even set up as a bare minimum jerk, he just drives his student to school in the rain.

But let’s take it from the top.

  • 00:33 | That’s one bitching casino; looks like the one in the game.
  • 00:42 | That is still such a stupid bird mask.
  • 00:45 | Ren looking fly as fuck.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h35m23s992.png

  • 01:12 | I like the banter between the Phantom Thieves here. It’s a bit different from the way it is in the game (here they only use a couple codenames), but still cool.
  • 02:08 | I’m ninety-eight percent sure this shot of Ren falling backwards out the window is partly CG. It’s the way that the perspective on the window moves. It’s actually reasonably subtle.
  • 03:10 | This entire exchange is practically verbatim from the game. This happens quite a lot.
  • 03:36 | Sae Nijima looks super fucking deformed here, it’s not even funny.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h36m01s707.png

  • 06:17 | So the anime doesn’t really make it clear that the game is all a flashback explained to Sae by Ren. It just has the butterfly show up and tell him to remember and off we go.
  • 06:24 | This (other) flashback to Ren’s confrontation with Shindo is quite hectic and vague, probably so it can be revealed in dramatic fashion later on. I do like all the harsh lighting here though, like it’s being seen through Ren’s POV, in a very uncomfortable and evil way.
  • 06:41 | Ren’s backstory is also informed by the quick shot of the juvenile delinquency poster and the rapid, distorted shots of a courtroom scene. It’s an understated, if obvious, way of “show, don’t tell.”
  • 06:54 | Akechi cameo! Makes sense to introduce him this early on.
  • 06:59 | Persona 4 reference: Naoto Shirogane.
  • 07:14 | And there’s Rise Kujikawa from the same game.
  • 07:22 | Sony product placement. I wonder how much more we’ll get…
  • 08:05 | Not a bad use of the map screen from the game. Both a piece of fanservice and a convenient visual shorthand for Ren travelling.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h36m32s516.png

  • 08:11 | Tae Takami passing by on the right. Glad she’ll be in.
  • 09:15 | Ren strikes me as the soft-spoken, passive type. Maybe a bit shy, not one to usually go for the confrontation. Probably so it’ll be all the better when he turns into the suavest fucker this side of Andromeda.
  • 09:57 | “Can’t judge a book by its cover” while he’s holding a book. Intentional?
  • 13:29 | Best Girl Kawakami makes her entrance!
  • 13:34 |While the Persona 5 game has quite a fantastical, cartoony sort of art style, while still being very anime, the show seems to be going more realistic and subdued, but not too much. This comes across most prominently with the principal’s design, I think.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h37m25s565.png

  • 13:43 | Maid service flyer falls out of Kawakami’s pocket. Looks like we’ll be seeing her social link. No romance though; apparently there won’t be any in the anime.
  • 14:57 | I suspect that the recurring sequences in the interrogation room will either be more annoying than in the game, or seriously cut down because of the reduced runtime.
  • 16:01 |Ann is cute as always.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h37m44s141.png

  • 16:07 | But what’s with the weird twitches?
  • 16:24 | I only played with the English dub, so Kamoshida’s voice sounds really weird and high-pitched in the Japanese. A jock sort of voice fits him much better.
  • 16:52 | Actually showing the keywords being entered into the Metaverse app is nice. Makes things a bit more clear.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h38m04s888.png

  • 20:18 | What the fuck is that vollyball serve-slap? Looks very silly.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h38m41s658.png

  • 22:19 | And so Ren begins to walk the path of style. Also, the episode ends.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h39m00s259.png

 

 

Conclusion

I’m really not sure about Animation right now. I think I’ll give it a few episodes, see where it goes, if the pacing gets worked out a bit better or the animation goes to shit (episode 4 here we come!)

To sum it up, if you liked the game, give it a watch. If you haven’t, just play the game. It’s going to be the much better experience, and otherwise you won’t have any idea what’s happening.

vlcsnap-2018-04-08-20h47m27s922.png

The Day Breakers: Looking Forward to “Persona 5 the Animation”

Kind Sorta Mild Spoilers for Persona 5

Total Spoilers for Persona 5 the Animation: The Day Breakers

I only got into the Persona game franchise within the last few months. To make a long story short, I was intrigued by the combination JRPG/Japanese High School Boy Simulator so on a friend’s encouragement and armed with the knowledge that I could bang my teacher, I gave Persona 5 a go. Since then I’ve put 50 hours into it and I’m nowhere near done yet. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game this fun. I really love it, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that there was an anime adaptation coming out for the Spring 2018 season, and that there was already an OVA released in 2016, just prior to the game’s Japanese release. Imagine as well what we might be able to learn about the upcoming series from the already released OVA.

P5_anime_Kazuya_Makigami

Persona  5 the Animation: The Day Breakers, produced by A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Persona 4′s anime adaptation and the upcoming P5 series, boasts essentially the same production staff as the upcoming series besides a different director, along with the same voice cast as the games.

And here I have to take a minute to get really, really excited about the voice cast, because while most of us have been used to the English dub (and it’s an amazing dub, don’t get me wrong), we’ve been missing out on some of the best and most prolific voice acting talent in Anime right now. Just among the main cast we have:

  • Jun Fukuyama (Lelouch Lamperouge, Code Geass; Koro-sensei, Assassination Classroom) as the protaganist, Rem Amamiya
  • Mamoru Miyano (Rintarou Okabe, Steins;Gate; Light Yagami, Death Note) as Ryuuji
  • Ikue Ootani (Mother Fucking Pikachu) as Morgana
  • Tomokau Sugtia (Gintoki Sakata, Gintama; Kyon, Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as Yusuke
  • Aoi Yuuki (Madoka Kaname, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica; Yuuki Konno, Sword Art Online) as Futaba

Frankly, it makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.

But on to Day Breakers.

The OVA serves to both distill and preview the Persona 5 experience, by expanding on a small sidequest from the game to great effect. In fact the OVA is quite accurate to the game, but not so far that it weights it down. It uses the same music, the same monster and location designs, some shots are even remeniscent of shots from the game.

We begin with a Tokyo establishing shot, then a quick Paul Verhoeven-style newsroom-exposition scene, where we get a sense of what the Phantom Thieves are and how they’re viewed by society at large; then a flash to the cafe Leblanc, the protaganist’s home and base of operations in the game, where a cat snarls at a group of burglars; then another cut to four teenagers (Ren, Ryuuji, Anne Takamaki and Yusuke) standing on a subway platform. Ren opens an app on his cell phone and, as a train whizzes by, the world around them is transformed into the cognitive world of Momentos. All this happens in just the first minute. Then we return to the beginning.

p5

That might give the impression that this is going to be an OVA where a lot happens very quickly, but while the pacing is hardly at Iyashikei levels, it’s not exactly a “breakneck thrillride” or whatever hackneyed phrases film reviews are turning out these days either.

The bulk of Day Breakers (I should also like to point out that I have no idea where the title comes from; maybe I missed something) is concerned with characterizing our antagonist, Kazuya Makigami, a young man working, seemingly, as a locksmith, but on the side works with a gang of criminals as their lockpicker. At first he seems the timid type, easy cowed, bullied into this line of work by stronger men, but in actuality he’s their leader, as the Phantom Thieves discover when they confront him. In one scene he nearly makes a request of the Phantom Thieves on their website to have his henchmen taken care of, but changes his mind.

Meanwhile, Ren gets hit by a teacher-thrown eraser, the Thieves get together to evaluate the break-ins, bait the criminals into hitting up Leblanc, and lay a trap for them. Here we resume from where Day Breakers began, when Kazuya sees the Phantom Thief calling card, the gang scrambles, and the Phantom Thieves go to take him down.

There’s a pretty cool fight scene that’s way more accurate to the game than I would have assumed, Kazuya’s heart is changed, he confesses his crimes and public and is promptly arrested. The OVA ends with a look to the bank palace of the game, a little tease before the official release.

ucgggabyfgqsrlozedvf

So what exactly can we learn about the upcoming series from the OVA? To be honest, probably not a ton, not enough to make any informed and educated guesses anyways.

The Day Breakers was a single, one-off 24-minute episode, while the full series was announced to be 24 full-length episodes, which means that A-1 is going to have to work hard to keep consistency going, to really flex their budget and manpower as hard as they can. Already in some of the PV’s of the series we’re seeing pretty inconsistent animation at best.

ktz0cyih9do01

Also, the OVA was mostly original content expanding on a small side quest from the game, whereas with the series they’re going to be distilling and cutting wherever they can. However, I think it might not be too forward to expect fidelity to the source material, in terms of designs, characters, dialogue and story, and possibly also in directing as well.

But either way, I’ll say for certain that Day Breakers is worth taking a look if you enjoyed the game, and I hope the anime will be as well.