[SPOILER WARNINGS] Game of Thrones: The Return of the Hound & the Issues of Pandering

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Warning: Here There Be Spoilers!

Episode 7 of Game of Thrones’ 6th series –entitled The Broken Man– saw the return of fan favourite/hated Sandor “The Hound’ Clegane (played excellently as always by Rory McCann). The Hound hadn’t been seen since the end of series 4, when he was left to die by Arya after his devastating duel with Brienne of Tarth . His ultimate fate was left up in the air (in the TV series, he very much died in the book), with many fans clamouring for his return. So, apropos of nothing, the Hound suddenly returns so late into series 6.

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Yarp

What is odd is how his reappearance both felt natural and jarring.

Natural, in that the story of him being rescued by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray (a huge waste of a great actor, especially since he doesn’t even utter the word cocksucker once!) & contemplating his own violent nature and the possibility of redemption. The form of the Hound’s arc is perfect for the character, in that he finds himself rescued by a man who shows him both respect & kindness –two things that have been utterly anathema to the Hounds existence– but finds himself drawn back to his inclinations towards killing. He is given a place in a religious community who both fear & accept him, he works labour which suits his temperament but he is ill at ease with a life of peace –acting like Damocles waiting for the sword to finally drop.

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“What a bunch of measely-mouthed cocksuckers”

Yet it is a jarring return because it does not have a natural fit within the narrative.

Narratively it comes as a break in the current tension of the story. Beginning episode 7 in a way to purposely confuse the viewer, make them wonder why they are watching the scene of harmony & construction –two things that mesh against the usually themes of the show. Whilst the viewer has gotten to wonder about this tonal schism, they are shown the scarred form of the returned villain/anti-hero but not in any role or form they are used to.

This is an intentional jarring of expectations & visual setting yet it unfortunately breaks the established flow of the narrative.

It has no basic place within the current season’s arc; coming with the feel of being placed in as a breach to fit in other sudden shifts in the narrative direction.

Personal conjecture has it that since it showed the return of the Brotherhood Without Banners –who until this point had not been seen since the 3rd series– it is purposed to unite the Hound, Brienne (who is currently on her way to the Riverlands to recruit the Black Fish to fight for Sansa Stark) & Jamie Lannister in capture by the Brotherhood so Lady Stoneheart, née the resurrected Catelyn Stark, can have her revenge on all who betrayed her or served her enemies. Which is combining how characters are last seen within the books A Feast For Crows & A Dance of Dragons. This plays into bringing the Frays back into the fold & having Jamie, whose character arc was skewed with weird trips to Dorne & conflict with the High Sparrow, go to Riverrun to aid the Fray’s in their failed siege (which also brings the other fan favourite Bronn back to our screens),

In this writer’s very (very) unhumble opinion, bringing a character as looming in the minds of the television adaption as the Hound carries the odour of pandering.

Whilst it does fit that he could have survived his fight with Brienne and fall from the cliff, his arc should have been more naturally ended. Serving as a point of evolution of Arya as she chooses not to kill him because she both respected & hated him. This possible forced merging of divergent storylines & character arcs.

Yet the Hound is unneeded for such a resolution.

He has served his narrative purpose but his fate was left ambiguous. This meant that many fans & viewers could wedge their desires for his return into the conversations around the show. After the relatively poor reception of the 5th season, one could speculate that the show’s forerunners have been saving a return of such a divisive character within the fan community for a point that will garner maximum interest as the 6th series steams towards its conclusion. Thus making the Hound’s return both pandering & exploitative.

With the show’s forerunner recent announcing that they want to end the show in 2018 with the 8th series, possibly making seasons 7 & 8 shorter in the amount of episodes for each, one can see why they would be in a rush to draw in elements of the books (both written & forthcoming) to see the entirety of the story reach a satisfactory conclusion. Yet to bring in unnecessary threads, be in the return of the Hound or strange asides to fill in character happenings, chokes the already ongoing story as well as breaks the view of the narrative. Many viewers have complained on social media about how Arya’s arc with the Faceless Men drags on to nowhere –partly because of how different it is from the books but mainly because it feels boring in how its told– & this is something that could have easily been repaired if the showrunners had actually spent time on solidifying character arcs & the overall plot instead of shifting things to suddenly pander to viewers’ supposed expectation.

Which brings this writer onto what they consider the most extreme & vexing of Game of Thrones’ pandering: replacing proper storylines & scenes with pointless female nudity.

Cast your mind back to the events of episode 7. Do you remember the suddenly interlude with Yara & Theon Greyjoy as they with their band of reavers partied it up in what may have been Barvos (it was never made clear to this writer where they were). They were at a brothel, so naturally this meant there had to be lots & lots of naked women around & Yara had to be transformed into either bisexual or a lesbian (neither of which are an issue if they have always been a constant of the character before that moment).

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Les Be friends?

Now, do you recall what the scene was actually about? What purpose it had in the greater narrative scheme or even what Yara & Theon spoke about?

If not it was probably because you were distracted by Yara sucking on some whore’s tits.

Game of Thrones & HBO in general have built reputations for themselves as providers of adult content. Unfortunately, in the US ‘adult content’ tends to mean tits & violence.

Something that garnered Game of Thrones a lot of mainstream attention is that it did not shy away from either yet once that genie was released from the bottle, HBO could no longer tone it down. They had to keep pushing such angles because that is how they viewed audience expectations of the show –that they only watched it because titties would somehow be involved.

Now, this is not a prudish complaint.

There is nothing wrong with nudity in media but it has to serve a narrative point.

One can go on about how it can be seen as either empowerment & life saving or if it is entirely exploitative & vulgar yet that is not the crux of this writer’s vexation.

The issue at hand is how the insertion of scenes dedicated entirely to sex & nudity take away from important character scenes & story arcs. It is like the story is proceeding at an excellent pace, hitting all the right points for audience engagement, when it all screeches to a halt to grab our collective heads & say “hey look! Here some titties! Maybe some arse or bush! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT MATURE WE ARE!!! All done? Good. Now back to the plot”.

This writer cannot be burdened by writing out every example in every episode & ever series yet the ones that stand out the greatest are Podrick’s visit to Little Finger’s brothel to lose his virginity as well as the pirate Salladhor Saan telling jokes in the bath to two prostitutes. Neither of these scenes served any narrative purpose. They were meant for ahem titillation & breaking of heavy tones that may or may not drag down an episode. Yet they have no function that could not have been fulfilled in other ways that did not have nudity as their centrepieces.

Yet this supposed obsession with associating nudity with maturity can only reach so far before it simply does become blatant pandering & exploitation of audience so socially starved of the normality of sex & nudity that they come to believe that any expression of it is a healthy taboo that one can indulge in with a sense of collective joyous guilt (which is also how shite like Fifty Shades of Grey become a brief zeitgeist but that’s an article for another day). One can endlessly argue that the over moralising of nudity & sex is something so profoundly toxic to social discourse that it overflows into & corrupts so many other aspects of society yet that wavers from this writer’s point.

The complaint remains that the majority of nudity within Games of Thrones is superfluous at best & distracting at worst.

It all remains within the contention that over pandering to fan demands/expectations can lead to a creative deathspiral for creative work because you, as a creative entity, are no longer controlling where your work goes but eternally responding to the whims of a vocal but very fickle few.

Maybe there will be a grand pay-off with the Hound’s return. Maybe it all threads together vital pieces of the story & direct us towards a glorious end. Yet his reappearance does not speak of confidence within the current format of the show. That the individual pieces have the strength to stand upon their merits & there is a wanting of faith in how both the season & show may conclude.

Yet this writer does find Rory McCann layered portrayal of the Hound enjoyable, given an emotional depth rare to how such a violent & unforgiving character is usually depicted upon our screens. So there is some measure of assurance that the Hound’s return is a portent for a strong series ending rather than a horrid death-flails of a program the showrunners & writers are losing faith in.

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Revenge is cute – anime critique: Shirobako

Shirobako_Promotional_PosterTitle: Shirobako
Format: tv anime
Genre: slice of life, satire, comedy, drama
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: Warner Entertainment Japan P.A.Works
Series length: 24
Original Airing dates: October 9, 2014 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

The story follows a group of five best friends, Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todo, and Midori Imai, who all go into the anime industry after their experiences in the animation club of their high school. The series depicts the daily troubles and hardships the five experience in their respective jobs, as well as their efforts to overcome them, largely focusing on Aoi and her fellow staff at animation studio Musashino Animation as they work on two anime television series.


Critique:

Whoever wrote & created this series was doing three things:

1: show a fanciful yet realistic depiction of what goes into creating anime by showing the drama, tension & creative issues behind the scenes of an animation studio.

2: pack in as many references to their favourite series, creators, directors & artists as they could by altering their names & general depictions but still letting the audience know who & what they are talking about.

& 3: getting revenge on people by depicting various characters as incompetent idiots or selfish, lazy or generally scumbags. Truly, the people behind this series are taking the opportunity to put the boot into as many people as they feel fucked them over during the careers -from uncooperative authors to over-confident but useless P.A.s, artists who can’t meet deadlines & directors too wrapped up in themselves to be able to finish anything.

All three points are references heavily throughout the series & that just makes it an utter joy to watch -especially the depictions of people as feckless to get revenge on someone. Brilliant!

I truly adored this series, knowing nothing about it when I started watching it.

Like so many comedy-dramas, it’s about people finding their goals in life & working towards their dreams but unlike so many other series out there, Skirobako focusses not on teenagers overcoming the struggles of adolescence into maturity but rather on the daily struggles of young women -either at university or have graduated from it- as they try to realise what they want from life & deal with whatever obstacles may get in their way.
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Like so many protagonists in such series, Miyamori Aoi is indecisive about what she really wants to do with her life. Her love of anime lead her, along with most of her friends from her high school anime society, into a job in the animation industry but she’s unsure if she has the ability or passion to move beyond being a simple Production Assistant. This lack of confidence extends over to her 4 friends as well; with Ema questioning whether she has the talent for drawing animation; if Misa should stick with a secure job in 3D graphic design or take risk with an unsecure job; Midori wandering what it takes to be a writer; & Zuka fretting over if she should continue trying to be a voice actress after so many failed auditions.

The questions of confidence & ability extend into the extremely extensive supporting cast. With many characters questioning if they have the talent to be working in the animation industry whilst others, like the exceedingly & purposely annoying Takanashi, being over confident in their utter lack of ability or understand. Yet Takanashi, despite all his many many many annoying (many) traits, has a dream that he wants to achieve & sticks to his guns no matter how useless he is.

The recurring themes of confidence, talent & ability -whether natural or practised- is a constant within anime & manga. This is often depicted that those who have a natural talent for something as being inherently superior because they don’t have to work at anything, where in reality it is always the opposite. With those working hard to get better often being more talented than those for whom it comes naturally because they often get bored with the lack of challenge.

Upon the surface, Shirobako seems to fall into the former camp of praising the naturally talented but in fact the series goes on to show that those whom people proclaim to be “geniuses” or naturally talented in fact worked, struggled & fretted over their own abilities & talents to reach where they are. The use of the term -& characters whom embody- genius is used in the show to demonstrate how people can be dismissive of others &/or themselves for not fitting moulds that they don’t understand. More so if someone outside of the specific field judges everyone by the standards of whom they consider a genius yet are entirely ignorant of what goes into achieving any success in that field.
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Which is, in turn, another major conceit of the series. That is: exploring (almost) every facet of creating anime.

The series delves into the many roles & jobs that goes into making a TV anime series, even down to the most obscure & seemingly perfunctory ones. That is because, in the creator’s mind, every role in the series is important. Which the director Kinoshita keeps saying to every member of the production team; that they specifically are the most important part of the series they are creating. & to show the importance of pretty much every job in the animation industry, they feature an exceptionally large cast of characters; many of whom make a single appearance & then aren’t seen again until the final episode. Which is actually fine, because they exist to explain what their actual jobs are or to make references to past techniques, productions or figures involved in animation.

Complimenting this job are Aoi’s two imaginary figures -her goth loli doll Mimuji and her bear Roro (Lolo)- who act as Aoi’s subconscious. They’re function is to work through the dilemma or stress that Aoi has or explain to the audience the various tasks that Aoi is doing. The flashback to how they came about as figments of Aoi’s imagination is very cute, basically involving her older sister using them to talk to Aoi whenever she felt stressed or depressed.

In fact, the turns of imagination are some of the best parts, such as when Kinoshita envisions himself flying or enacting parts of one the two series he directs. Better yet is when the series forgets reality entirely & throws in one of the best Ryu from Street Fighter references that has ever been!
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The arc of the series encompasses Aoi’s life as she works at an animation studio, Musashino Animation, that is trying to regain it’s former glory after a string of failures. Likewise, the overweight & emotionally immature Kinoshita is trying to regain confidence after his last anime series Boing Boing Paradise (a reference to hypersexualised fan service mega-breasted anime like Eiken) but is constantly reminded of his failures & falls into slumps of laziness & depression. Similarly, most staff or external workers for the company all have their own issues that they are trying to overcome in order not to lose face. Or, like Takanashi, are completely lazy, over-confident or shirking their work to do other things.

It's not fan service if it's mocking fan service.
It’s not fan service if it’s mocking fan service.

The series begins with a perfect tribute to Initial D, as Aoi races to beat a rival animation studio PA from recruiting a freelance animator Segawa Misato. This is important because Musashino Animation are trying to regain their reputation with a new original anime, Exodus (a reference to Magical Girl idol anime stuff) & goes into details the struggles with writing, getting people onside & the daily grind of animation production; all whilst Aoi & her 4 friends try to figure out what they want to do.

The 2nd arc is Musashino Animation, having gotten kudos for their work on Exodus, managing to score the rights to adapt a highly sort after manga, The Third Girls Aerial Squad. This shows Aoi being promoted to the head of the Production Desk (basically, running all the day to day operations & managing the other Production Assistants as well as liaising with & recruiting other freelance workers). This arc goes into more depth of the politics involved when dealing with other creators, publishers & sponsors -all of whom want to control or add their own little bits or do what they want because it will make their companies look better. It really shows the struggle with trying to please everyone but stay true to your own artistic vision. Couple with individual characters personal struggles.
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The characters are truly what makes it work, even with such an extensive cast. They all have their distinct visual styles & personalities as well as little quirks.

This is very much a moé series with touches of hypersexualisation. Yet these are not for fan service but rather referencing how fan service is used. A few of the female characters are really sexy but they are not sexualised. They are not lingered upon or ogled by the camera. Their beauty is there as part of the moé experience. All of the characters are designed to be cute or interesting in some way; each with their own visual signature or clothing style but are dressed differently episode to episode -for the most part that is.

Over all, the quality of the animation is superb. With vibrant colours, clear lines & very well rendered action. It even throws back to more classic styles of animation when they flash back to a past series such as Anders Chucky (kinda like Kimba the White Lion or other similar cute animal series from the 70’s). It even through complete Gundam & Neon Genesis Evangelion reference in for good measure, even using their animation styles for the posters & back ground clips playing on things. A lot of love has gone into the designs & animation, making sure you know who is who & what is going on -even as they mix in the meta-series that they are working on (both with their own unique styles). The series even goes into detail about how CGI is used in modern anime series & how this can cause conflict with those who wish to be more traditional.
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In the end, this is a series with so very few faults. I utterly adored it. Finding it clever, touching & exceedingly funny. There are so many references & great moments buried within it that it bears watching again & again if you can. I do wish that I could talk about it more, but that would just spoil all the little things that you’ll pick up in it. Some characters are designed to really piss you off (Takanashi primarily but there are others too) but once you realise this was someone getting their revenge on people who had pissed them off, it makes the series all the more greater!

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Article: Why I stopped watching Cross Ange

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo is probably one of the most controversial anime series of recent seasons & one that more than a few readers have called on me to comment upon (mainly asking why I haven’t condemned it like I did Kenzen Robo Daimidaler).

The 1st few episodes of the series is all about extreme dehumanisation through violence, degradation, sexual assault & humiliation & turning a joy-filled girl into a terrified non-entity & eventually an effective killing machine.

This is all done through the worst forms of visual denigration seen outside of BDSM hentai media. In that basically the titular heroine, Ange, is beaten, stripped, abused, molested, pseudo-raped, near (lesbian raped), degraded, deprived & humiliated until all that remains of the once happy is mistrustful sociopath who is only looking to survive & get revenge on all those who destroyed who she once was.

The reason that I didn’t condemn this series like I previously (& briefly) did with the aforementioned Kenzen Robo Daimidaler) is that all the degradation has a narrative context. It exists for a purpose outside of the titillation of the (majority male) audience. That does not mean that I liked or approved of it but I understood why such acts were within the story. I did not forgive or tolerate Cross Ange for that, more like I endured it. I put up with all the nasty Fan Service & brutality because it seemed to be leading to a point of character & narrative development & had shown that dehumanisation within context shows how terribly people can be transformed &/or destroyed.

And then the series committed the Cardinal Sin of entertainment: it bored me.

At some point, all the development suddenly stopped & Ange was stuck as this angry, untrustful, violent creature who constantly had Tusk (the male love interest) constantly falling into her crotch for comic effect or otherwise getting sexually entangled with her. The Fan Service (in the form of revealing clothes, hinted nudity & lesbianism) dragged on & got worse & the plot just got itself tangled up after they began to (finally) reveal what’s going on within the narrative universe.

This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find
This is actually the least extreme example of Fan Service that I could find

The basic conceit of the series is that humans live in a Utopia where “The Light of Mana” fuels everything & grants people magical abilities. There is no war or poverty but it all comes at a price. For within society there are women who can’t use The Light of Mana, called Norma (taken from the word ‘normal’) & there very touch actively destroys any magical field. They are scapegoated by the rest of society, degraded & hated as being violent creatures who wish to destroy the world. So as soon as they are found, they are taken from their families & removed from the world. Naturally, Ange (formerly Angelise), being the ruling princess hates them, so is in denial when it’s revealed that she’s secretly a Norma & her parents have been keeping that fact a secret from not only the kingdom but from Ange herself.

After her father is deposed for hiding the secret & her mother is killed trying to protect her, Ange is taken to the Norma prison, where she is molested, sexually assaulted & humiliated by the commanding officer of the Normas & told that she must fight the DRAGONS or die.

All the Normas are put into transforming mecha units to fight dragon-like creatures, for which they get a bounty for each confirmed killed to use on whatever they want to buy within the prison. Having never committed an act of violence before, Ange is terrified of being thrown into such a situation & her cowardice costs her team several lives. Being humiliated & isolated by the other Norma girls, Ange rebuilds herself as a vicious killer in order to humiliate those who humiliated her & eventually gain her revenge.

This character arc changes after a few episodes, when Ange begins to accept that she’s a Norma & that Normas aren’t as she was taught growing up. Being a Norma is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that they can only become violent & anti-social because that’s what society turns them into. They are the weapons in a war that the rest of humanity is completely unaware of & one that means they can keep using their precious Mana-imbued powers.

Once they start revealing the nature of the Norma, the history of the world & the truth behind the DRAGON attacks, things start to get muddled & vexing in a form.

You’re presented with all this info as to why you’re meant to see how the dehumanisation of the Norma occurred but Ange remains a basically unlikeable & selfish character that you find it hard to support her when all of her actions are contradicting others & she keeps denying information presented to her even when the facts are to her benefit.

That becomes the problem when dealing with a narrative around dehumanisation.

It’s exceptionally easy to break a person down but it’s next to impossible to rebuild them again from that point.

I feel that’s the major problem with Ange as a character and with the series as a whole.

After spending the 1st half dozen episodes ripping Ange apart -mentally & physically- they don’t really try to rebuild her as anything other than angry & mistrustful.

I didn’t want her to return to normal, not being any mental, emotional or physical scars -because trauma is inescapable- but I did want to see her develop into someone who takes their pain, their scars & their hatred & channels into into a positive force for others.

Maybe it does go that way, I won’t know because I lost any & all engagement with it around episode 16, when they crossed over into the ‘real’ world & the truth of the DRAGONS was revealed.

From this point on, I could bang on & on about the extremeness of the hypersexualisation within the series or how the Fan Service was so blatant that it became numbing but that would be pointless. That dead horse has been flogged so long it’s not a bloody pulp beneath my mighty boots (guessing no one will get those references).

I might come back to this when they release the blu-ray version but unlike considering the back catalogue I still have to watch (over 2 terabytes on computer & dozens of DVDs/BDs).

So, lessons to take from this: dehumanisation is OK if it has narrative context & purpose & isn’t glorified in any way, shape or form; don’t bore the audience or they won’t go with you to the conclusion.

Oh, & don’t bother messaging me with your butthurt over how I didn’t like this series when I did or how you feel that it’s nothing like I depicted with the dehumanisation & so forth because I will ignore you. If you try to defend your masturbation material in the series like others have with other series I dislike, I will insult you until I get bored.

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From Harem to Humanist – Anime Critique: Sword Art Online II

Sword_Art_Online_II_Promotional_PosterTitle: Sword Art Online II
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, fantasy, cyberpunk, action, drama, harem
Series Creator: Reki Kawahara
Series Director: Tomohiko Ito
Studio:  A-1 Pictures
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 5 – December 20, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

After putting an end to the SAO incident in 2024 and rescuing Asuna in Alfheim Online (ALO), Kazuto Kirigaya finally returned to the real world to resume a normal life with his friends once more. However, when a string of deaths begin occurring in connection to a virtual reality game called “Gun Gale Online” (GGO), Kikuoka Seijiro of the Ministry of Internal Affairs enlists Kazuto to once again don his character “Kirito” and enter the virtual world to investigate the cause of the deaths. While meeting new allies, Kirito may be faced with his most dangerous challenge yet—a player known only as “Death Gun” with the ability to kill a person in the real world by killing their virtual avatar.”


Critique:

After watching the 1st 14 episode story arc, I was really worried about the direction Sword Art Online was going with its 2nd much anticipated season. I was worried that it would be nothing but annoying fan service & further building of a harem around a twat (Kirito) to rebuff the slightly yandere women who flock around him in favour of the one whom he truly loves (Asuna). The 2nd (mini) arc didn’t improve my feelings about the series because it did nothing & went nowhere in the grand scheme of things but the 3rd arc was what truly changed my opinion on the season. Bringing to the fore the complex emotions that the 1st arc had struggled with between the cleavage & box shots.

In the lower centre-left we can see a typical Box Shot in full effect. One that may become a Camel Toe.
In the lower centre-left we can see a typical Box Shot in full effect. One that may become a Camel Toe.

I’ve always wavered with Sword Art Online -through its 1st season & the fan-translated Light Novels – because it so quickly goes from awesome action, exciting tension & emotional outcomes to kinda drab design, boring situations & infuriating levels of fan service. The 1st arc of this 2nd season pushed both of these extremes by trying to blend hyper-kinetic action with a sniper’s paitence & dealing with psychological issues like PTSD with very unsubtle use of the Male Gaze.

The 1st arc (episdoes 1-14), also known as the Death Gun Arc, truly is a mixed bag but one that ended with more of the cheap sweets than the party favourites for me.

The primary focus of the Death Gun arc is Kirito & new character Sinon coming to terms with taking human life -with Kirito having killed several people whilst trapped in Aincrad (1st season, 1st arc) & Sinon for shooting a bank robber with his own gun when she was a child, which has turned into an extreme form of Hoplophobia that her classmates use to bully her with.

Sinon looking both cute & like a potential disempowered victim.
Sinon looking both cute & like a potential disempowered victim.

Basically, if she sees a gun or a gun-like object (even people holding their fingers up like a gun) she has an extreme panic attack https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_attack to the point of almost collapsing. In order to overcome this trauma, her classmate Kyoji (who has an unrestrained boner for her), suggests that she joins up with the Virtual Reality MMORPG Gun Gail Online (GGO for short) which uses virtual representations of real world guns within it (instead of the fantasy weapons of other games).

This brings up a few issues for me right away. The 1st being that why would her fellow students bully her over her trauma if they knew it was linked to her actually killing someone? Surely if people knew that she gets panic attacks from even the sight of a fake weapon, they’d have been told why that is, surely? The stigma of murderer or even accidentally causing a death is heavy in countries like Japan, so rumours would’ve followed Sinon like a stench. So, surely if others got wind of it, they’d avoid her as much as possible out of fear she’d go & murder them.

The other issue I have comes from the ret-conning of Kirito to having killed more people & suffering psychological trauma from repressing those memories. My issue with this is that he was pretty willing to kill in the 1st season in order to save those whom he cared about (because if you died in SAO you died in real life) & was happy to slaughter the virtual constructs of real people in ALO (1st season, 2nd arc) yet entering GGO & being confronted by someone who might be a VR ghost from SAO (Death Gun), Kirito is suddenly shaken to his core over his past actions.

Now, I’m all for a protagonist actually suffering psychological effects from their previous actions but they still have to make sense in context. It’s pointless to throw them up so long after the character’s been established just to add a new layer. It reeks of laziness & trying to shift a new focus that could’ve easily been done before or with another character.

Kirito’s trauma exists for two reasons: the 1st is to bond with Sinon & get him to win her over as an ally, as well as have her overcome her own trauma; the 2nd is up the tension with the antagonist Death Gun -who, in my view, is frankly completely uninteresting.

The reason for this in my view is twofold: the 1st being that there is too much build up to Death Gun being a threat without actually showing you what kind of threat he represents. It’s the classic issue of “Telling not Showing”. We’re told that Death Gun’s presence is enough to shake the usually unflappable Kirito but because Death Gun hints at some connection to Laughing Coffin (the murder guild from SAO I) he’s shaken to his core because it reminds him that he killed 3 or 4 members of them out of self-defence (or the defence of others). There is no real hint of Death Gun having skills that can rival Kirito’s until the end of the arc & then it’s all technobabble & Pop-Psychology jargon. The 2nd reason is that I already knew who & what Death Gun was from reading the original Light Novel.

Which in & of itself is a problem. Not the foreknowledge but the fact that they didn’t attempt to twist it around. Even the twists & revelations as to who Death Gun is & how he could commit murders in real life comes with no real sense of threat or menace. It’s just built up & then partially enacted after Kirito & Asuna (who is watching the live feed of the GGO tournament Kirito & Sinon are in) figure out the real world connection to their 2 years trapped in SAO.

Death Guns’ basic motivation is being unable to readjust to the real world from the virtual -especially after they took part in so many real life murders from that virtual space- but shifts to being acknowledged by Kirito because their own existence was never truly recognised by anyone in the real world. The means & methods of their murders are interesting but lose utter impact when so casually deduced by Sinon & Kirito whilst they are still in game. Again, this all comes back to the issue of being Told & not Shown. We are TOLD throughout the arc that Death Gun is a serious threat, both within & without the virtual world but once the rules of their murders are established, all threat is gone. This is primarily because unlike the very 1st SAO arc, there is no threat to life until Death Guns’ criteria are met so any fear of them is left as a narrative conceit rather than a genuine danger.

As fearsome as Death Gun gets really.

This is an inherent problem when dealing with a series based around a virtual world where people’s consciousnesses are projected into a computer generated avatar. When you have a lack of threat to a physical body, the risk that a character incurs has no emotional impact upon the viewer because there is no consequence upon the character. SAO I addressed this fairly well by having that if your virtual self died, the Nerve Gear system that creates the virtual experience fries the users brain, killing their real body. The 2nd arc of SAO I as well as the 2nd series negate this threat by having everything only virtual but try to have Death Gun seem like a creditable threat to one’s own mortality. Yet his comes off as clumsy & al threat is diminished once Death Gun’s MO is established.

This lack of tension combined with the Pop Psych version of mental trauma really detracts from the positives of the 1st arc -which include incredibly well rendered action & beautiful animation- but what true destroyed it was the blatant fan service & my usual bugbear: hypersexualisation.

Behold: the butt cleavage of Sinon! Plus her other design parts.

Sinon is the typical victim of this, as she wears very tiny shorts that shows a lot of butt cleavage & the camera tends to linger in sicken Box Shots (my term of camera focussing on the female pubic mount -AKA the Box). This really destroys any attempt to build Sinon as a round character with a sense of power & agency of her own. It also doesn’t help that every time she tries takes a step forward towards self-empowerment she’s dragged back to being physically, emotionally & almost sexually dependent on Kirito to find her strength rather than develop her own sense of self, using her admiration for Kirito as something to build upon. It also doesn’t help that Kirito’s in game avatar is exceptionally pretty with long hair, so I confused for being a girl -especially by Sinon when they randomly encounter outside of the combat zone for the first time. The problem with that part of the arc is that instead of using it to address typical gender roles online, Kirito embraces some of the worst aspects men pretending to be women in games so he’ll be let off easily in a MMORPG that he’s entirely new to.

The only saving grace of this whole arc is the resolution of Sinon’s issues. After she discovers who Death Gun is in real life & is confronted by them, she resolves to make herself better. Kirito, Asuna & the others from the ALO guild help with this & Sinon is introduced to the woman she incidentally save when she killed the robber & the woman’s daughter, whom she was pregnant with at the time of the incident. Sinon realises that her actions had positive consequences & vows to forgive herself, moving on with her life bit by bit but also dealing with those who bully her by showing her resolve in facing them. That she no longer has to be saved, that she can stand on her own two feet to be strong.

Naturally, she still wants Kirito’s cock, which puts her in mild conflict with the rest of the harem but this is basically resolved in the 2nd mini-arc.

To be honest, I’m not even really going to talk about the 2nd arc Excalibur (eps 15-17). It’s basically filler where the characters are stressed about something that only threatens their virtual worlds. There is no real world consequences or issues at hand. Just an excuse for action & some lame humour.

The 3rd arc (eps 18-24) is the saving grace of the entire season & marked an incredible turning point & maturity for the franchise as a whole.
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The arc -referred to as “Mother’s Rosario”- focuses primary on Asuna, who I find a bit more of an interesting character. Unfortunately in the 2nd arc of the first season, she was reduced to a basic Damsel In Distress who feel victim to some tentacles (which made me scream at the telly) but the 1st arc of that season really fleshed her out as a character. Talking about her background with all the stress & expectations that her rich family put on her as well as her inability to decompress herself -which is why she delved into the VR MMORPs.

The SAO II’s 3rd arc is a continuation of these; where Asuna is being pressured by her strict, over-achieving to leave the school she attends with the other SAO survivors who need to catch up on the 2 years that they missed with their education. Naturally Asuna is opposed to this because of her love of Kirito & wanting to do something for herself but she can’t say no to her forceful mother.

Lamenting the life they had lost in SAO, with the private house she owned with Kirito & lived in with their adopted computer program daughter Yui (long story), Asuna is told that a replica of that zone from SAO will be part of the next ALO update. Her guildmates vow to help her get her precious place back & once she has secured the house for herself, Kirito & Yui, she’s told by a guildmate about a mysterious player called Zekken (Absolute Sword) who is challenging other players to duels. Zekkan is supposedly so good that they defeated the previously undefeated Kirito. Asuna wonders if Zekkan could be another SAO survivor but Kirito dismisses this by saying if they were, they would’ve beaten the game, not him.
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To Asuna’s surprise, Zekkan is actually a young girl named Yuuki, who is looking for someone strong enough to help her guild -The Sleeping Knights- defeat a high level boss with only a few players (because boss raids typically require dozens of players to win) so they can leave their mark on the Player Monument & be remembered into the future.

Asuna proves her worth & joins The Sleeping Knights but, even though they are friendly, they keep her at arms length. She proves herself of them by helping them (with Kirito & guildmate Klein’s assistance) get past a large raid guild who used the info the Sleeping Knights acquired to try & defeat the boss themselves before anyone else can. After bonding in combat, Asuna is dismayed that she’s rejected by the others in the guild because they’ll be disbanding soon but isn’t told why. After accidentally calling her “onee-chan“) (sister), Yuuki freaks out & leaves the game before Asuna can do anything.

The reason for this distancing even though they had all become close during their time on the raid forms the emotional crux of the 3rd arc & of the entire franchise as a whole.

Each member of the Sleeping Knights suffer from various life threatening diseases -such as leukemia & other forms of cancer. They are set to disband because many fear that they won’t live past the coming Summer & want their last memories together to be joyous ones, where they leave their mark on the virtual world because they can no longer do the same with the physical one.

Yuuki has it worse of the entire, being in the late stages of an anti-viral resistant strain of HIV/AIDS  that she acquired in utero & has spent the past 3 years inside of a virtual reality machine in order to placate her increasing pain.

Yuuki's real world form, willing trapped in a machine as her life fades away.
Yuuki’s real world form, willing trapped in a machine as her life fades away.

She pushes Asuna away, thinking that she wouldn’t want to be with someone who’s dying as well as to spare her the pain of dealing with her inevitable death. Yet Asuna refuses to be cast aside from someone she grew found of (being an only child from an emotionally fractured family & all), so she helps Yuuki reach out to the outside world via a machine that Kirito was developing for Yui to use.

This allows Yuuki to return to school, even if she’s just a disembodied voice through a small camera lense, but quickly finds Asuna’s class (all SAO survivors) supportive of her, same with the teaching staff. Being on Asuna’s shoulder also allows Yuuki to find some closure in the real world, such as with her old family home which has become abandoned (the rest of her family all having died of AIDS related illnesses).

Her time with Yuuki & seeing how she faces her own fragile mortality gives Asuna the strength to finally talk to her mother, putting her own cases forward to why she should be allowed to make her own choices. Especially in regards to being put into an arranged married (the last one with an utter psycho who kept her trapped in the virtual world in SAO I’s 2nd arc) & going to a prestigious university simply because it will make her parents look good.

This can of growth seems more natural & fleshed out then simply having Asuna grow through violence. Her connection with & emotionally attachment to Yuuki is nuanced & exists upon multiple levels (despite what the hentai arts depict on various websites); showing genuine sisterly affection & connection between two people who thought that they would never be able to find a bond with anyone due to their respective lives. Whilst the arc is still action driven, it takes a comfortable backseat to the emotional journey of the characters. This driver is found to be much more satisfying then the emotional exploitation of trauma in the 1st arc because it acts as a catharsis for anyone who has suffered a linger loss. Whereas trauma is usual specific to the individual & hard to get across in a realistic fashion without being manipulative, grief & loss are universal, things that everyone experiences in their lives no matter who they are, where or how they live. Death is the only thing that truly unites all of humanity across the Gulf of Time & this is something that the “Mother’s Rosario” arc expresses truly well. In fact, I’m finding it difficult to write this part now, because I got the news today (21/01/2015) that a dear friend of mine died suddenly & I never got the chance to say farewell -such is the all-encompassing nature of grief.

The true emotional kick to it all comes with Yuuki’s final moment.

Seriously, it’s nigh impossible to make me cry -be it with stuff in real life or the manipulation of fiction- but I was genuinely fighting back the tears as I watched Yuuki’s end.

She had resolved to die alone but being able to touch Asuna’s hand gave her the courage to enter the virtual world one last time so they could say their farewells face to face. With her life fading, Yuuki is not only comfortable by Asuna but her friends from the Sleeping Nights, members of Asuna’s guild & a 1,000 representatives of all of the players in ALO who acknowledge that Yuuki was the strongest player who ever way & that she would always be remembered.

At Yuuki’s funeral, Asuna meets with one of the members of the Sleeping Knights, who’s friendship with & admiration for Yuuki helped her overcome her leukemia & strive to live her life to the fullest. A vow that Asuna also makes in order to achieve her own happiness & do all the things that Yuuki could not in her short but impactful life. This is because Yuuki always questioned why she was born if she was cursed from birth to die horrible from her disease. Yet she comes to see that the meaning of her life was to be able to make the connections that she did & live the life that she had, even if it was brief & almost entirely virtual, because being able to meet people such as Asuna give not only her own life meaning but brought meaning to those around her, who found the strength to carry on through just knowing Yuuki where they would otherwise have given up to their so-called fates.

The final twist of the series comes from the fact that the technology that prolonged Yuuki’s life & helped her find its meaning came from the same man who trapped hundreds of people in SAO for his own experiment -Akihiko Kayaba. This deepens the question as to what where his true intentions with the events within SAO for 2 years as well as the future of the virtual world (as well as leaving things open for the Underworld Arc in a few years time).

Ultimately, by ending the 2nd season with Asuna & Yuuki’s emotional journey together, the director & production team more than made up for all of their missteps during the 1st two arcs. It was great to see an anime treat someone suffering from such a terrible disease with true dignity & humanity -something which so many forms of media fail to do without going entirely po-faced or resorting to extreme emotional manipulation. The rarity of both the subject taken serious in any media as well as the respect for the characters suffering becomes entirely uplifting, even inspiring to a degree.

It was really a surprise from a season that started with the basis of harems & fan service to be able to soar so high & hit so hard with their last 6 episodes is truly fantastic. I hope it serves as an example to any future series that you can have a story that is both emotional & positive in its negative resolution because the subject is handled with dignity & compassion. I’m glad that I stuck with it all to the end & you will be too, even if you struggle with the early stages. The reward for seeing the season to its resolution goes beyond words; it’s just something that you have to experience for yourself. So I hope that you do.

Final moments filled with utterly love. Truly tear inspiring.
Final moments filled with utterly love. Truly tear inspiring.

Still not a way to sell your TCG – Anime Critique: selector spread WIXOSS

i0O4dk7WbjjtATitle: Selector Spread WIXOSS (selector spread WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: October 4 – December 20, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

Tama betrayed Ruko by not granting her wish & has vanished, to be replaced by Iona -whose wish was to become the LRIG for the most powerful Selector in the world. Feeling broken, Ruko & friends try to escape the Selector Battles but find themselves still trapped within them -both by Ulith, in Iona’s former body & Mayu, the mysterious girl behind the Selector Battles. Can Ruko overcome her fate & be reunited with her beloved Tama or will despair consume all?


Critique:

The first series of WIXOSS (selector infected WIXOSS) was surprising brutal, filled with dark & tragic themes, incest & forbidden love, despair & faint glimmers of hope that could be crushed like fleeting embers under heavy boots. The 2nd season of WIXOSS continues with these themes but doesn’t merely rehash them without going anywhere. It uses the previous series as a stepping stone to new ideas, dark themes & finding resolution. It seeks to answer many of the questions & plot threads left over in the 1st season but, in the end, it still fails to sell the Trading Card Game that it’s based upon.

That, in & of itself, shouldn’t be an issue but, ostensibly, this series is designed to promote & sell the Trading Card Game. Whilst this season does explore the rules a little more, it is still focussed on the Maho Shojo (Magical Girl) aspects as well as the tragedy & despair of having your one heart’s desire denied to you.

This series is emotionally heavy & fairly brutal in what happens to the characters mentally & physically. Whereas the 1st season dealt with what it meant to be reach your goal only to have it ripped from you, the 2nd season focuses more on aspects of isolation, need, connection & struggling through negativity.

Before I move into an overview of this season, I have to make mention something that I found a bit uncomfortable to deal with -that being the victimisation, degradation & abuse of young girls.

Ever since Maho Shojo Madoka Magika brought it to public popularity again, the Magical Girl genre has returned to the physical & psychological torment of the mid-90’s. This was something that Dr Susan J Napier touched on in her 1997 work Vampires, Psychic Girls, Flying Women and Sailor Scouts & is to do with turning the Shojo into a representation of Japan in a time of economic & social crisis; one that has to be protected & saved but only after they are being physically or psychologically tormented. This is meant to stir the populace into feelings that society can be saved & redeemed, but only after it has suffered & been purged. This was a fairly common trope within the 90’s, during the bursting of the Economic Bubble, where confidence in the nation, national identity & worth of self was crushed because the traits of superiorism no longer worked when unemployment was high & the country was afflicted by natural disasters like the Kobe Earthquake -which crippled a financial centre of the country. With recent repeats of such natural & economic disasters, it is only naturally that the media will turn introspective about the ills of society (such as with Psycho Pass) or create a catharsis with which to release feelings of unease -into which the Selector WIXOSS and other similar Magical Girl series falls into.

Within this aside, I would like to make another aside.

That is, during such times we may flinch at young female characters enduring hardships, abuse & physical/psychological trauma but we don’t bat an eye when it happens to young male characters. This can be endless argued about trope & gender roles, which is a book unto itself but we have to actually address what is an ongoing cultural & social reflection of gender roles in a very rigid & role-enforced nation like Japan.

In such series as WIXOSS, the female characters much struggle & suffer in order to find empowerment at the end to overcome what afflicts them. But they are only empowered to resume the female roles that Japanese society dictates to them. They must remain cute, loving, emotionally open, accepting & so forth but they must remain women. Women who will never lead companies, join the Diet or have a role in the national spotlight unless they are an actress, idol or pornstar. Whereas when young male characters suffer & overcome they are empowered to become leaders or heroes. They can become anyone with power & authority -even if they happen to die. Their suffering is so they can overcome & conquer, whereas as female suffering is a cleansing for the ills of the world.
RBdEoSo
That being written though, the Selector WIXOSS series does something different with their cleansing meta-narrative.

The resolution does remain that everyone shall be reunited in friendship & find strength in that connection -which is the theme of almost all Magical Girl narratives- but Selector Infected WIXOSS & Selector Spread WIXOSS serve to point out a cancer within female interactions. A cancer manifest within jealousy, petty rivalry, victimisation & extreme bullying that is part of a scapegoating/victim mentality culture.

A health dose of random lesbianism. Nothing wrong with that.
A health dose of random lesbianism. Nothing wrong with that.

This is represented through 3 characters: Akira, who delights in tormenting the weak to achieve her desire; Mayu, who wishes revenge against the world; & Ulith, who is a natural born sadist who delights in the utter suffering of other girls.

In this, they work in concert, with one using the others to reach her own ends yet it is not as simple as that.

This is expressed through Akira, whose entire sense of self-worth is shattered after she loses her 3rd Selector Battle in the 1st season. This left her scarred down her face, after being attacked by a deranged fan, & her psyche fractured. Her entire identity being based upon her beauty & using that beauty to manipulate others means that she can no longer hide the ugliness that is within her -on that feeds on the misery of those whom she deems weaker than herself. With this exposed, she spirals into destructive depression, locking herself in her room because she thinks that all her value, as a model/object of beauty, & her life’s purpose -destroying Iona because of how she was born into ease & privilege- are gone.

That is when Ulith, now in possession of Iona’s body (now that Iona is Ruko’s LRIG avatar), gives Akira back her beauty (through the use of make up) & a new purpose -to expose the ugliness in other girls before crushing them. In exchange, Ulith promises to give Akira utterly love, devotion & attention but only if she can fulfil her promise to obey her commands & show the ugliness within her that takes such pleasure in tearing down others.

Naturally, Ulith is only doing this for 2 selfish reasons.

The 1st is because she needs to fulfil Iona’s wish to find powerful challengers for her & Ruko, otherwise she’ll be ripped from Iona’s body & basically destroyed (a punishment any LRIG faces if they fail to fulfil their former Selector’s wish). The 2nd is for the simple factor that she’s a pure sadist, who gets basically sexual pleasure out of destroying things -especially other girls.

Ulith’s background is covered well. In that she was a human girl who took pleasure in physically torturing & tormenting other creatures & people until she was caught & punished for hurting a classmate. From then on, she developed techniques to create extreme psychological distresses, eventually pushing some girls to suicide. Her ultimate wish is to be transformed from human to LRIG & back to human again so she can keep on destroying lives & inflicting misery in whichever form she can. She is basically using Akira to achieve these goals but doesn’t understand the limits of what someone as unstable as can do to get the love & affection that she thinks she deserves -since Ulith is leading her on with sexual & emotional promises of belonging & contentment. Even so, such setbacks down stop Ulith from trying to spread misery & malice around her.

To this end, she’s aided by Maya, whose backstory is flesh out in this series.

Without giving too much away, she was a girl who suffered from profound physical & emotional isolation due to an unnamed illness. Meaning that she never go to socialise with other children or even go outside. Her family withheld any positive emotional reinforcement from her, simply leaving her with games & toys rather than affection -almost wishing she would die so she’d no longer be a burden on them. When she’s handed a deck of WIXOSS cards, she has no one to play with, so she creates to alter-egos -a Girl of Light (Shiro) & a Girl of Darkness (Kuro)- to play the game for her. This fundamentally shows her spiral into madness but it also somehow grants her magical powers to affect the lives of any other girls who play the game in the outside world. Sending out Shiro & Kuro, she begins the Selector Battles to twist & destroy the wishes of others, so they can suffer the isolation & deprivation that she did.

It’s all dark & very twisted but ultimately is a brilliant summation for what is a truly terrible cancer at the heart of all societies throughout history. That is: that those who feel isolated & abandoned will find some way to get revenge on that society -which is pretty much how ISIL & #GamerGate got started (same with any terrorist group really & yes, I did just call #GamerGate a bunch of terrorists).

The series also (re)introduces as characters who are key to the unfolding of the events behind the Selector Battles, such as the former LRIG Fumio & her LRIG Anne, who both wish to escape the Selector Cycle so Fumio can restore the original Fumio to her human form so she can live her dreams of being an author. Unfortunately, they aren’t used much in the full series but are supposed to have time in the spin-off manga.

The other characters who get more screen time is the hyperactive but delusional klutz Chiyori & her old country woman accented LRIG, Eldora. Chiyori’s wish is to turn into a LRIG so she can experience what it’s like to have magical powers & have a life like the novels that Fumio (above) wrote. This is mainly because before she encountered Eldora, she was a friendless introvert who spent all of her time in her imagination because she was to painfully shy to connect with anyone. The main trio of heroines -Ruko, Yuzuki & Hitomi- don’t want her to experience the hardship of what it means to both win & lose battles, to suffer at Maya’s whim, but Eldora, for all of her fighting with Chiyori, would rather give herself up than to see the hyper little girl suffer -wanting her to be free & who she really is rather than adopting a personality as an escape from the real world. A world where she can make friends with the central trio & have a happy life.

Chiyori: Innocent or brain damaged? You decide!
Chiyori: Innocent or brain damaged? You decide!

It’s this notion of self-sacrifice that surrounds Ruko’s core conviction to free & restore everyone caught up within the Selector Battles. This is pushed by discovering the truth behind Tama & Iona’s origins. As well as Maya granting Ulith the use of Tama as a personal LRIG with which to make Ruko truly suffer.

This is something that I genuinely found disturbing, more than some of the other inflictions of malice within the series.

Where Ruko can fill her LRIGs (Tama & eventually Iona) with the power of light & love, making them evolve beyond normal limits; Ulith can force all of her vileness into Tama, transforming her into a twisted version of herself who delights in destruction.

The horror at the heart
The horror at the heart

The concept of corruption is what is disturbing but the fact it takes on such a sexualised connotation that is.

Ulith basically rapes Tama; forcing her will, her inner darkness into the innocent (& fairly mentally deficient) girl. The dialogue & reaction of Tama plays it out like a rape, going on about Ulith “entering her”. This is combined with Tama’s shrill voice to terribly effect. It really left me uncomfortable & alarmed but I sense that was the entire intention of such scenes. To show what happens when someone uses their power to utterly violate another human being. Fittingly, Ulith finds a hubris filled end that echoes the countless physical & emotional violations but even for such a vile creature, it was a little too much & too unexpected but plays into the idea of some people being utterly unredeemable.

Again, this hooks into the disturbing trend of making female characters suffer that I mentioned in the 1st few paragraphs of the review but it bares repeating -especially since we have other series such as Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru. This is a series that I couldn’t finish watching because of a lack of decent subs but the basic rub of it is that the female characters -all a form of Magical Girl- are made to suffer when they use their powers to protect a God Tree -which in turn feeds of their suffering & creates a cycle of producing new Magical Girls to sustain itself through their sacrifices. This is just one part of a continued & disturbing trend that girls must suffer horrendous things in order to be granted a chance of peace & love. A theme echoed in several recent Shojo series, especially the utterly abhorrent Amnesia game/anime series from a few years ago -which saw the heroine killed again & again, as well as suffering other emotional & physical tortures for no real reason in each episode of that terrible series (yes, I watched it all because it was like a fucking train wreck).

Anyway, back to the critique.

Visually, the series remains a mixed bag.

With some very dark & intentionally murky -such as the battle grounds- mixed with some bright & vivid cityscapes. The animation itself is fluid, able to shift scale & action well. The use of primary colours for characters as well as the varied designs of the LRIGs is very well down; if a tad sexual at a times. Still, the designs are both unique & referencing other cultural markers as well tropes.

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In the end, if you can get past a lot of the emotional & physical trauma within the series, it is a rewarding end & answer to the first arc. It has a lot going for it, with many subtle messages about the ills of modern society -especially in regards to how girls treat each other as well as how the poisonous nature of some people can be overcome with an unwavering heart & the determination of self sacrifice for a positive end. Even if you can’t achieve such goals, having the support of those whom you love & care about to carry you through is enough for you to see a resolution that benefits the many rather than giving up yourself to cease your own isolation & discontent.

A smile to end the darkness
A smile to end the darkness

Again: why did I bother? – Anime Critique: Hitsugi no Chaika ~Avenging Battle~

Title: Hitsugi no Chaika ~Avenging Battle~ (Coffin Princess Chaika: Avenging Battle, Chaika of the Coffin ~Avenging Battle~) [2nd series]
Format: TV anime
Genre: fantasy, action, steampunk, spellpunk
Series Creator:  Ichiro Sakaki
Series Director: Soichi Masui
Studio: Bones
Series length: 10 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 8 – December 10, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fansubs

Light novel cover
Light novel cover

Synopsis:

“After the events of the 1st series, Chaika, Toru & their companions are still searching for the remains of Emperor Gaz. But now Chaika is beginning to question her own identity as well as her mission. Spurned on by the mysterious Guy, Chaika leaves Toru & heads to a hidden island to recover the ‘Emperor’s Fortune’ & learn the secrets of her past. Toru, unable to abandon his duty as a saboteur & realising his growing affection for the mysterious girl, sets off the save Chaika from whatever dangers she may face -even if that danger is the truth of her own being.”


Review:

I vaguely recall not being overly found of the 1st season of this series when it screened earlier in the here. In fact, my review of it was rather blunt in my general dislikes of it -especially the unresolved ending- because of its rushed yet dragging narrative, dull visuals & loli fetishisation. In fact, re-reading my original review, I saw how nice & generous I was being towards the series as a whole. No idea why but that’s how it was.

Anyway, now we have a 2nd season of Chaika, which does bring resolution to many dangling plot points & backgrounds but it all feels meaningless in a way. No matter how it all resolves, it still feels both rushed & slow. The pace is broken, the characters flat & uninteresting & motivations as murky as some of the visuals.

What it does have going for it is resolving the mystery of the various Chaika who pop up & why the character Vivi was turned into a half-Chaika at the end of the previous series (at the shock death of her beloved captain who, surprise surprise, isn’t actually dead -yeah, who couldn’t see that coming except for mister thicko over there).

Going to go into SPOILER territory right here & say that our protagonist Chaika Trabant (AKA the White Chaika) isn’t actually the real Chaika. In fact: there never was a real Chaika. They were all orphaned girls programmed with magic & reacting to certain triggers to transform into Chaika. Each pre-programmed with various skills & reasons for wishing to gather Gaz’s remains. This revelation is spread out over the entirety of the series, making it the focus of it, unlike the haphazard “collect the parts” driver from the previous. Of course, Chaika (& Red Chaika) can’t accept this but central Chaika begins to question her reasonings & resolve to see her mission through -which in turn affects Toru’s resolve & motivations.

This should’ve been a big emotion kick & play but since the characters are so poorly rendered, it doesn’t do anything. The twists to whether or not Chaika is actually the REAL Chaika don’t matter in the end.

This is because the characters are so poorly rendered, cliched & two dimensional (aside from the fact they are traditionally animated that is) that nothing that happens to them matters in the end.

Add to the fact that the entire last few episodes of the series are rushed & clumsy because they only had 10 episodes to work with rather than the 12 of the previous series & because the source material is still going. They basically pulled an ending out of their arse but unlike Akame ga Kill! (Akame ga Kiru! -review coming soon), this one feels haphazard, inconsequential & relying on a sudden, stupid case of Apò Mèkhanès Theós using a typically emotive device that evokes no emotions & a boring Good End coda to finish that also does nothing to stir the heart strings because it is entirely riddled with cliché.
hitsugi_no_chaika-01-chaika-coffin-gothic_lolita-mysterious-quiet
In fact, things that were once interesting become boring with explanation. Primary how magic is created & used within the series. I had complained that they didn’t really go into this in the last season but their explanation for magic & Emperor Gaz’s desire for it just seems so ham-fisted & half explicated that it becomes an entire waste of a plot point. More so with Gaz’s Treasure (also translated as Fortune) being a gundo (magical weapon) that then becomes a useless Apò Mèkhanès Theós is also a waste. Same with Gaz’s ultimate plot & resurrection, how he manipulated almost all events to achieve his goals. It was so all rushed & hand-waved through that I stopped caring.

A lot of the plot seems, again, both rushed & dragging. It had the grand ambition of wanting to philosophise on the ideas of war, human nature & what it means to be true to yourself vs. a task that you are driven to achieve but it just rings so hollow. All of these themes we have seen tackled in much better anime over the decades & it just gets stuck on such basic concepts. Mainly the idea that once someone has tasted war or conflict or been solely designed/trained for it, they cannot live in peace because they cannot change their fundamental nature. I personally find such concepts to be bullshit & utterly demeaning to those who have suffered through conflict & trauma. Saying that they can never find peace or cannot be happy unless they are killing. Some people do get trapped in such mindsets but there are those who can move on -especially when aided by others (such as I have done over the years with people I know with PTSD)

It also has to be mentioned how blandly this show is animated. There are so nice notes in the character design but the scenery & extra details are so fundamentally lacking that they might have well just reused any generic fantasy anime background. The fights are still fairly well done but lacking in excitement. The colour palate is dull, especially the toned down blood splatters.

The only good thing to note is the reduction in Fan Service & the (hyper) sexualisation of the loli-like Chaikas. They still have fetished appearances but so do most of the females in the series. I pretty much chose to ignore it this time around between it becomes “Sky blue, water wet” syndrome (stating the fucking obvious in other words).

In the end, I have no idea why I bothered with the series overall & curse my compulsion to find narrative resolution, even in things that I don’t really like or care for. Can’t recommend. Try the manga & original Light Novel, they actually look good & tell a better story.

chaika-trabant-anime-hitsugi-no-chaika-1920x1080

The 1st Anniversary – Article: A Year of And The Geek Shall

After 12 month, 80 or so articles, 256 comments & over 20,000 views, it is time to summarise the 1st year of the existence of And The Geek Shall.

Can't hide my excitement.
Can’t hide my excitement.

I started this blog a year ago today as a distraction from a bunch of academic & real life stresses that I was going through at the time as well as a way to get out all of the pent up ideas & rants that were bubbling away inside of me.

I began it with the intention of crossing it over with my academic work but that idea quickly fell by the wayside as people didn’t really understand my academic work (just like I in all honesty) & it wasn’t as interesting as just doing what I want.

Unfortunately this meant that I have let many articles fall to the side half or barely written, as I get swamped with things easily at the moment. This leaves the blog filled with weird critiques, ill-spelt rants & one post that MRA cum-stained scumbags appear to detest. Yet it does not bother me that I’ve slipped from the original goals that I set out with. Like Pokémon: most things evolve for the better.

Even so, over the past year I’ve managed to garner at least 20,000 views -which isn’t bad for such an oversaturated market. Would like to have had more comments from readers that didn’t end up being deleted because they were either too stupid or offensive to allow to exist (much like those who made the comments). Still, over the course of the last 12 months, it’s not a bad effort. Especially considering that I have spent most of my time bitching about hypersexualisation & similar topics.

Moe service is the best service to some people.
Moe service is the best service to some people.

My personal Pokémon retrospective has been the one to garner the most dedicated hits -which isn’t surprising considering how popular Pokémon is. I’ll probably end up exploiting this a bit more, mainly through seeking others to write about their experiences with the franchise. Possibly targeting new adherents to the games or those who never had a chance to play before for whatever reason.

My favourite & constant starters.
My favourite & constant starters.

So, I’d like to thank my regular readers & those casuals who float through for all the hits & those few comments left publishable. Over the next year I’m looking to add more Live Action critiques as well as general articles. Also have to finish off those half finished, such as my Firefly & Doctor Who ones.

Again: thanks for viewing & let’s work together for a better year in 2015 in terms of positive geektastic experiences.

tamayay