Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Way of Shadows

The-Way-of-Shadows

Look, I know what you all want. We’ve had fun reading about Wagon Bros and twee wizards, but that’s not what you’re really here for. I’ve read the comments. “When,” you ask. “Oh when, are you going to validate democracy as a means of deciding between multiple mutually exclusive courses of action?”

You all voted for The Wheel of Time. You rejected The Way of Shadows. And god damn, you were right. This book is terrible in all the wrong ways.

Continue reading

Winter 2016 Anime

vlcsnap-2016-01-12-21h52m54s461

ERASED 

Ever felt like you were stuck in a rut? Satoru, the main character of ERASED, sympathises. At 29 his ambitions toward becoming a manga author haven’t gone anywhere, and he works a dead-end job delivering pizza alongside fresh-faced teenagers. Consumed by a profound apathy that doesn’t even leave room for regret, the only thing that can stir him to action these days are the momentary bouts of time travel that hit him out of the blue.

Satoru has a strange affliction: whenever something bad happens around him he flashes back several minutes into the past, giving him a brief window of time to stop the event from occurring. Why can he do this? He doesn’t know, but maybe it has something to do with the traumatic event from his childhood. Twenty years ago a girl named Kayo was murdered by a man who Satoru believed was his friend, and he’s haunted by the idea that he could have prevented the tragedy. Well, he might get a chance to try: after the past comes roaring back in a particularly traumatic way he finds himself transported to 1988, shortly before Kayo’s murder. Maybe he can save her. In fact, maybe he can turn his whole life around…

Right off the bat ERASED hooked me with its effortless portrayal of Satoru’s ennui and sense of listlessness. Admittedly, this is partially because as a 28 year old who’s had an inordinately prolonged college experience I can empathise with the occasional feeling of frustration at the pace your life is moving at and the realization that you’re not getting any younger but don’t have as much to show for it as you’d like (although I’m nowhere near as bad as Satoru– seriously dude, your life isn’t going to end the moment you hit 30). That the series managed to communicate these ideas in a way that instantly rang true and felt authentic is testament to some powerful writing and direction.

I think everyone, no matter how young or old, has wondered at some point if their dream is going to come true or if they’re going to drift through life unfulfilled; at those times it’s all too easy to dig through the past and wonder if things might be different if you had only done this or avoided that or stopped  whatever event from happening, and Satoru’s story is a very neat way of putting that feeling into practical reality. Of course, real life isn’t nearly that straightforward or deterministic, and people’s lives are influenced by all sorts of random circumstances and events that they have no control over. I suspect that at the end of the story Satoru is going to find that whether or not Kayo lives will have far less of an impact on his future than he believes, and that the reason his dreams haven’t come true lies much closer to home.

Even if that somewhat predictable conclusion ends up playing out, I’m still interested in seeing how Satoru reaches that conclusion. A big part of the reason why is that he’s an eminently likeable protagonist in a relatable situation, and the sort of person you can’t help but root for. He might complain about his ability and insist that he needs to stop getting involved in other people’s problems, but the way he instantly springs into action the second a flashback hits says a lot more about his character than his grousing does.

The other reason is that this first episode of ERASED is really damn good, with top-notch direction (I particularly loved the way Satoru’s awakening in 1988 was portrayed) and characterisation buoyed by very naturalistic voice acting performances. A very intriguing mystery is being laid out here, and I’m itching to see where it goes next.

77551l

BBK/BRNK

BBK/BRNK (which is apparently pronounced “Bubuki Buranki”) opens with two adorable tykes in startlingly hideous outfits finding an abandoned giant robot in the woods, and one of them can use magic or something, and they’re looking for the robot so they can get “that” from their mother but they don’t explain right away what “that” is and the robot smells like their mom and

This is a style of anime storytelling that’s become increasingly common, where the first episode cold-opens without telling you jack shit about the plot or characters (the other extreme, where the episode starts with a massive long-winded infodump, is unfortunately just as common). I think the idea is to rope the viewer into the story through a sense of mystery, but instead it just leaves me feeling confused and vaguely irritated, and the fact that BBK/BRNK starts out this way didn’t endear me to it.

Anyway after that the two kids fall into the robot, then we cut to a dude in yet another hideous outfit who’s fishing, and a big purple light or something comes out of the lake but he isn’t really surprised by it, then he goes home and the two kids from earlier jump on him and there’s some wholesome family shenanigans that reminded me way too much of this and all this sweeping orchestral music plays for some reason, and then

After that I just started skipping around randomly because fuck it. From what I can gather there are giant robots and evil giant robots and lots of flashy super powers and I think a time skip. Some of it looked kind of cool, but not enough to make up for how aggravating the first few minutes were.

This series joins a recent trend of shows opting for all-CG character work over 2D digital animation. This is probably the best I’ve seen it done, in that it’s frequently difficult to tell that the characters aren’t drawn the usual way, but some of the animation still has this awkward stiffness to it. The really action-packed scenes like when the girl jumps onto the giant robot actually look more fluid and energetic than you tend to get normally, but whenever characters are just walking around slowly or displaying ordinary body language it’s like you’re watching a cut-scene from a Dreamcast-era video game.

None of this is helped by the fact that the show’s visual style seems to veer wildly between “striking” and “holy shit what the fuck”. In particular, the clothes these characters are dressed in are eye-searingly ugly– a group of shadowy villains show up later and they’re all wearing the most ludicrous outfits I’ve ever seen. It’s like the character designer was mainlining Lady Gaga music videos or something.

All in all, probably not something I’m going to keep up with.

vlcsnap-2016-01-12-21h11m50s410

Dimension W

This series has quite a large amount of anticipation built up around it for one reason and one reason only: Funimation, the biggest anime licensor in the US and one of the most influential international companies in the business, is co-producing it.

This isn’t the first time American distributors have pitched in to help finance new shows, but most of the previous examples occurred during the heady days of wild fiscal irresponsibility that characterised the early to mid 2000s anime bubble; since Funimation is the only major player to survive the bubble bursting and has become a poster child for how to run an anime licensee in the 21st century, a lot of people are curious about what sort of show they’d give their money to.

Less than a minute into Dimension W’s opening credits the answer becomes abundantly clear, as the show trots out imagery reminiscent of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and other series that became hits in the US as anime fandom was coming into its own. Which is actually a pretty smart move on paper– the industry conditions and creative trends that produced those shows largely don’t exist today, so if anything like that is going to get made it will be because someone stateside is financing it. But can Dimension W actually capture that lightning in a bottle quality?

The plot: it’s The Future and there are holographic advertisements and elevated monorails (that’s how you can tell it’s The Future). Humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels has been all but eliminated and a worldwide golden age has dawned thanks to the discovery of a fourth dimension, from which unlimited free energy can be drawn using devices called coils.

Our main character is Some Dude who for unknown reasons lives off the system, eschewing coils entirely and relying on gasoline for his energy needs. Unfortunately the stuff is getting increasingly expensive and hard to find as it’s phased out of use around the world, so he procures it by taking jobs from a shady underworld figure. Said jobs involve tracking down and “liberating” illegal coils from the even more shady criminals and gang members who trade in them, a job that by necessity requires Dude to be a huge badass. During one particular job he meets a cute android girl owned by the elderly discoverer of Dimension W, they end up fighting crime or whatever.

This one gets a big shrug from me. There’a absolutely nothing wrong with it– it seems like a decent story, the production values are high, the action is good– but it’s nothing in terms of plot or setting or characters that hasn’t been done a billion times before. The main character is a totally flat “gruff badass with a mysterious dark past” cliche and while the visual style is mostly pretty good (I like how the world still looks grimy and lived in despite being in the middle of a rapid technological ascension) some elements like the robot girl are embarrassingly reminiscent of the kind of shit that was prevalent in the early 2000s. Hell, it even parachutes in a pretty-boy rival character who makes vaguely homoerotic remarks about the protagonist, as if to say “HEY FANGIRLS, YOU LIKED SHIPPING THE GUNDAM WING BOYS BACK IN THE DAY, RIGHT? WELL HERE, SHIP THESE DUDES.”

I have to wonder if that’s why Funimation decided to co-produce this show: not because it’s particularly good or remarkable, but because it has some elements that vaguely resemble things that were popular more than a decade ago. I’m going to guess that strategy won’t light the world on fire.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 22.10.27

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Okay so stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s a fantasy MMO that a bunch of teens play, and

Yeah, you know where this is going, although Fantasy of Grimgar and Whatever tries to obfuscate things a bit by giving all of the characters amnesia. Once upon a time a series about radical teens trapped in a deadly fantasy game called Sword Art Online got really popular even though it’s fucking awful, and now studios are crapping out derivative knock-offs at a dispiriting rate. The only thing this particular example has going for it is that it features the stupidest character design in anime history, in the form of the dude above.

Other than that move along, nothing to see here.