Jormungand and Other Things

•July 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Before I start this post, a minor tangent.  I randomly stumbled upon the Exit Trance mix of Hikari no Senritsu, otherwise known as the OP for So Ra No Wo To.  I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, which is not something I say about many Exit Trance songs.  I used to like their anime mixes, at least for the first few albums, but after that their arrangements became incredibly unimaginative.  Anyway, credit where credit is due, they can come up with some good stuff on occasion.

Now then for the main topic of discussion.  Jormungand is one of those animes that defied my expectations.  When I first saw it on the preview charts, I understood the premise to be about a kid who hates arms dealers and a woman who happens to be an arms dealer, so I scoffed.  Oh goodie, I thought, another anvilicious anti-war anime fresh out of Japan.  It was only later, when I actually decided to give it a whirl since I had nothing better to do, that I realised that I was not only mistaken but that not that many anti-war animes have come out of Japan in recent times.  Nobody really talks about the subject.  From my limited knowledge, those days are gone.  For the record, I do not oppose anti-war themes in fiction.  I oppose fiction that sets out to actively promote an agenda in an entirely unsubtle way.  It pisses me off, since I consume fiction to escape from reality rather than be dragged back into it.  My true views on war are ambiguous.  As far as you know.

I appreciated the level of detail that went into the weapon systems and the real life aspects of Jormungand, particularly the bits where English was involved.  They didn’t have to type out a fully drafted sales and purchase contract but they did.  Aside from that, the series continues to confound me because I cannot think of any other specific reasons as to why I enjoyed it, only that I did.  I guess liked the spread of characters and personalities, from Lehm the level-headed Delta operator who keeps even his boss in check, to Mao the family man, to Lutz who keeps getting shot in the ass.  I thought the action sequences were pretty neat, but I could name a single thing that I liked about them and they were pretty short in any event.  I liked the more dramatic tone, as it is rather hard to find a serious modern day military anime.  The most recent offering has been a moe slice of life series about guns.  Bah, I say.  Bah, humbug.

It was also nice that the mangaka didn’t take the easy route and demonize America over everything, even if he did fall back on the tired, well-tread path of the evil CIA agents.  Can’t have everything in life I guess.  I will have to give the manga a spin before I offer anymore thoughts and stay in my lane for the moment.

Nevertheless, the private security industry does offer some interesting material for fanfiction.  I’ll have to consider it.

Now is a good time to be me, or how I finally caved and watched Nyarlko-san

•April 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I knew what I was getting into from the beginning.  Let’s just say that in spite of what the packaging says, Nyarlko-san is a romantic comedy through and through, built around heavy amounts of slapstick.  There is one thing, no actually, two things that are keeping me going at the moment.  The first is that I like slapstick.  The premise itself is nothing new, and I know better than to expect anything that takes Mythos lore seriously to be accepted by the mainstream.

The second is that the author does not seem to shy away from throwing in references and his (her?) tastes mirror some of my own.  For example, I have been a fan of tabletop RPGs for a long time as my regular readers will know, so SAN points was a stroke of brilliance.  What really sealed the deal for me was the generous helping of Gundam references lying around.  I admit that so far, it has been good for a few laughs and the actress they got to play the titular heroine seems to have just the right kind of voice to play those hyperactive types and not pop about 13 blood vessels in my brain every time she opens her mouth.  It’s something of a balance between classy and high-pitched, and it works.  The world could use more ladies like her behind the mic.

So, inspired by the hit of Nyarlko-san, I decided to check out Jormungandr since it caught my eye during the promo blitz.  So far I haven’t gotten very deep into the first episode.  I just couldn’t help but stare at the CGI F-22 Raptor that was flying across my screen.  Oh yeah, now really is a good time to be me.

Until next time,

Let’s nya~!

My thoughts on Koihime Musou

•April 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Koihime Musou is one of those properties you always hear about without ever necessarily seeing.  For example, not everyone who watches anime is into yuri but if you mention “Marimite” or “Maria Watches Over Us”, I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that the average anime fan will say, “oh, you mean that lesbian Catholic schoolgirl anime?”  I think that the same applies to this game or, more accurately, to the anime that it spawned.  Or perhaps it’s just my memories messing up.  I remember hearing about Marimite when I was much younger, for example, but the series only began in 2004.  The light novels started in 1998.  Likewise, KHM was released in 2007 and yet my memory of it seems to date back further.  Time plays strange tricks on the human mind.

I picked up the english translation last month and began working my way through it, and it was a bit of a slog at first.  The pacing is its weak point and the real conflicts that form the majority of the story don’t really kick off until the battle against the Totaku faction begins.  I have not read Romance of the Three Kingdoms yet.  Now, this alone would not be enough to destroy my interest in a visual novel but the three main heroines are flawed in two important ways.  Firstly, they are bland.  I had no interest in any of them until much later because their personalities did little to distinguish them from other examples in media, or at least from my perceptions of them.  Second, two out of the three are lolis and I have no real interest in romantic relationships between men and lolis, so Chouhi and Shokatsuryou didn’t really do it for me.

Which left me with Kan’u as my sole choice for interesting and meaningful character interaction.  After awhile I grew attached to her clingy and jealous ways but I can’t tell whether I actually grew to care for the character or if it was just Stockholm Syndrome from being exposed to her for so long.  I guess it was cool that she didn’t end up being a tsundere or some other hyper-possessive psycho.  For me, the appeal was in the various side characters, all of whom had more character than Chouhi and Shokatsuryou put together.  The lady of the hour for me was definitely Chouun.  I thought she had class and wit.  The love of alcohol was a bonus.  Sousou was a somewhat distant second; I found her penchant for hitting on anything that moves a bit unsettling but one has to admire the strength of her ambition, and her many talents.  Again, the glut of lolis was an issue.  As much as we like to joke, they’re not actually that appealing in a romantic context and actually, I found them more annoying than cute.  In the cuteness department, Ryofu wins hands down.  You see kids, size isn’t everything.

It was the various side characters that kept me going even after I took an extended break to play Mass Effect 3.  In the end I was disappointed by the fact that not much effort was made to integrate Ryofu and Choryou into the main story even after they ostensibly joined your army.  Both of them are built up to be strong, if mercurial, allies and useful to have on your side and yet they never appear in the main plot again, not even during battles.  The rest of them are more understandable, seeing as how they are essentially prisoners of war who are confined to the capital city, but even Sousou and Sonken rally their armies for the final battle.  Speaking of which, I do not think that the finale built up into the kind of climactic finish I was expecting and that was a disappointment as well.  I was not convinced by the revelation of the mechanics behind the system of True and Alternate histories, or the reveal about Chousen at the end.  It seemed like a half-assed plot twist tacked on to remind the reader that there was in fact a plot beyond building a harem of gender-flipped historical figures from Ancient China.

Saji was just not a very convincing antagonist.  I get that he resented his role as a “scripted existence”, which I understand to mean that he cannot alter the course or the outcome of the story.  He spent the entirety of the story hating Kazuto as a “factor” that created an Alternate history and causing distortion in the world…except that I missed the explanation of what the consequences of such a distortion could be.  Or why in particular Saji hates Kazuto if it was inevitable that he would begin the ritual or that Kazuto would be the one who destroys or recreates the world.  If they needed him for the ritual, why would they bother raising an army to kill him?  What exactly is the nature of those white-clothed people?  For all I know they could be Time Lords.  The overarching plot is a meaningless jumble of meta-concepts that doesn’t amount to anything and could have been expunged and replaced with the Time Devourer to the same result, and it would make for a much more satisfying final confrontation.  Like, in an effort to break free of his preordained role, Saji merges with Lavos.  That would have been cool.

The other problem was that he more or less outmatched Kazuto in every way, so there was no way to convincingly have a final confrontation between the two.  They didn’t even try to have a war of words or an argument.  After all, Saji is some kind of supernatural dimension-hopping being whereas Kazuto is an ordinary high school kid from the future with some knowledge of modern economics and ancient history that he applies to seem like a good ruler.  Oh, he also seems to be one of the few people in Ancient China who actually treats people like human beings which apparently causes girls to fall all over him.  That is a common feature in visual novels and after all this time, I’ve become numb to it, so I give him a pass in that regard.  But really, is it so hard to be nice to girls, to be manly?  I always thought that self-confidence was one of the key, if not THE key ingredient in winning a girl’s heart.  Or maybe all my friends were just blowing smoke.  I’ve never had a girlfriend so I wouldn’t know.  But what terrible world do visual novel characters live in that a person is seen as exceptional when they do something that should be second nature to most human beings?  And not a peep from you about attitudes towards women in Ancient China.  If Koihime Musou is historically accurate, I’ll eat a horseshoe.

Still, it is my habit to give credit where credit is due, so I’ll interrupt my tirade of negativity to say some nice things.  Some of the artwork is gorgeous.  I think a lot of work went into some weapons, like the Green Dragon Crescent Blade, and the character costumes are very nice in general, with a nice selection of colors.  They’re very rich and vibrant.  Kan’u’s costume stood out to me, as did Ryofu’s.  On the other hand Choryou and any character wearing pink (sorry, Kouchuu) sort of left me cold.  The artists also had a few problems with perspective that made some of the proportions seem awkward, even in H-CGs, which tend to be the best-drawn artwork in a visual novel.  If it gets to the point where I notice them, then you know you have done something wrong.  I tend to be very bad at spotting such flaws in art.  The artists’ habit of using rich and vibrant colors extends to the CG and Scene Recollection menus, which I particularly liked the look of.

I think the game could have done with a little more variation in backdrops.  They were *just* on the wrong side of the too many/too few divide.

I will also give the music a passing grade.  It got the job done and was actually quite appropriate to the scenes.  I thought the standout track was the OP, sung by the indomitable Katakiri Rekka, whom I love.  The battle music could have been a bit more pulse-pounding as well, but that is a matter of personal preference.  Speaking of battles, there is nothing special about them and they are not challenging or interesting enough visually to provide a viable break in the walls of text.  Once you perceive the patterns in their formations, just select the appropriate counter and spam Ougis whenever they become available.  Speaking of text, KHM appears to be one of MangaGamer’s titles from the bad old days when they appeared to not be able to afford a decent editor.  Heck I would have done that job free of charge, so annoying were some of the errors.

On a final note, applying the voice patch was more troublesome than it really should have been.

Overall, Koihime Musou was a highly flawed experience, but it is one that I will probably continue to play until I have exhausted all possibilities.  I’ve been told that there is a sequel, Shin Koihime Musou, that adds many new characters and gives some different girls a chance to play heroine.  I would very much like to play that one.  Get on it, MangaGamer.  And get an editor!

The ending of Mass Effect 3

•March 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When Mass Effect 3 first came out, I was ecstatic.  I’ve been a fan of the series since its inception and always enjoyed the extent to which Bioware was able to craft a well-thought out and intricate setting filled with consistency and character.  Some things (Mark Meer’s voice acting, the writing of most, if not all of the party members’ backstories and interactions) started off bland but as time went on they improved and went from strength to strength.  I had a lot of fun playing through the final installment, because of the content, the polish applied to the combat system, and the resolution of plot threads many years in the making.  I emphasise the quality of the Geth-Quarian storyline, it was a fantastic and poignant resolution in my eyes and I wish more stories could be like that.

I got the game late and when word started to filter back to me that there was considerable anger over the endings I begged my friends not to tell me what happens so that I could experience it for myself.  I assumed that it was merely the internet being the internet again.  Bioware has drawn a lot of hate since the release of Dragon Age 2 a few years ago, hate that I do not feel was justified.  Imagine my surprise when people claimed that Bioware “betrayed” the fanbase, or when people started exhorting others not to buy The Old Republic and flaming anyone who said that they were excited about it.  Anyone raising a dissenting view was labelled a Biodrone, along with those who uncritically defended Bioware’s games no matter how good they were.  There were accusations of selling out or that the merger with EA had somehow compromised their integrity.

I wanted to divorce myself from all this and judge the endings with my own eyes.  I even divorced my mind from the problems I encountered attempting to purchase the game on Origin – I could not enter Mauritius into my credit card billing address and so I was unable to pay for the copy I had waited for so long to get.  For the most part I think I was successful.  After self-evaluation I decided that my mind was clear and free of all prejudice.  With that in mind, I began to play the final act.

With the endings laid out before me, I chose the Green path.  I viewed it, and then I sat and thought about it while the credits played in the background.  I decided that my feelings were much like those I had after the ending of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Those endings were entirely unsatisfying, a poor example of how to do multiple endings showing the consequences of one’s actions, and they told me nothing about how my choices had affected the world.  I felt the same way about Mass Effect 3.  I did not feel angry or cheated out of a magnificent ending to a magnificent tale; I was merely unsatisfied.  I don’t know how any of the characters I’ve come to know and depend on feel about Shepard and the decision he made.  I don’t know if the future turned out okay because of what I did, even in the short term.

What I did like was when the whole truth about the Reapers was revealed.  I was fascinated by it.  I found it interesting that they drew influences from transhumanist sources about the technological singularity.  Overall wouldn’t say it tarnished my experience but, suffice to say, I’ve read visual novels with more satisfying endings and all that happens is that the protagonist ends up going out with the girl and eventually they marry and possibly have kids.

I read an article about the Reclaim Mass Effect 3 campaign.  They say that they want to dispel any notions that they are a group of angry or entitled gamers, and that they want to show their admiration for the series by giving it the ending it deserves.  I haven’t taken the pulse of the internet with regards to their attitudes on the game, so I can’t discern the truth of that statement, but actions speak louder than words.  I will certainly have no reason to go to /v/ again for the foreseeable future, nor any of the chatrooms I visit (which all seem to turn into /v/ every time a new Bioware game comes out).

With that in mind, I’m going to hammer out some more playthroughs of Mass Effect, from start to finish.  Try a few different playstyles, a few different romances.  Explore all that the game has to offer.

Oh yeah, I also lurk around on The Old Republic playing one of my various toons, that I swap between in schizophrenic bursts.  I’m on Rogue Moon, EU, if you want to look me up for a party.  See you there.

There is no justice in this world

•February 24, 2012 • Leave a Comment

http://lalabitmarket.channel.or.jp/feature/flightjacket/

Why does Lalabit Market not ship outside Japan?  TELL ME!

Something I learned while watching Hellsing Ultimate

•February 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve often wondered, in the process of reading stuff other people write about anime, who decides what is good and what is not.  What makes an anime good and what makes it bad?  Reviewers often talk about these things as if they were self-evident but never give any evidence as to why or what criteria they base this analysis on.  We must remember, after all, that the original shark-jumper, Happy Days, was only judged to have jumped the shark many years after the actual event took place, and that Happy Days persisted for quite awhile after Fonzie took his infamous water-skiing trip.  As a result, I had to figure out a lot of how to go about blogging this stuff myself, and the only conclusion I could come up with was that there was no such thing as good or bad anime, at least not in the sense that the words are usually used.

When we think of good or bad anime, we think of ones that we enjoy or don’t.  To pull some relevant words of wisdom from Ore no Imouto, some anime are just done in such a way that it is impossible for us to enjoy them (Kuroneko regarding Kirino’s Meruru fanfic in case you were wondering).  For me, this is the Big Three shonen titles and fanservice-heavy series’.  I do not think they are good or bad, in spite of what I might say.  I don’t think anything of them at all but their premise leaves me incapable of enjoying them, so I have no interest in finding out if I will like them or not.

When I think of anime as being good or bad, I tend to seek out objective criteria.  Objective criteria are those that people can acknowledge regardless of their inherent prejudices.  The quality of artwork is an objective criterion.  The goodness or badness of a certain art style is not.  Thus, whether we like them or not, I don’t think that there can be any doubt that the quality of anime in general has improved over the past two decades with the advent of labor-saving tools that make good production values that much easier to come by.  Improvements in sound recording, animation touch-ups and so on have made creating a “good” anime easier than it was in the past, at least to my eyes.  People who search obsessively will likely be able to notice QUALITY frames that elude my sight or argue that studios cut corners and then touch things up on the Blu-ray release.  I am not an expert on these things.

That doesn’t mean you have to like it.  Nor does it mean that you have to hate it.  There are plenty of so-called bad or average anime that I can say I enjoyed because they had some sort of charm about them.  Dancouga Nova was an unconvincing story with not much detail or exploration into the minutae of the setting it had created, but I still found it to be an entertaining distraction in its own right and it remains one of my favorite units to use in Super Robot Wars.  Would I watch it again?  Probably not.  Likewise, Ghost in the Shell was revolutionary for its time and had art and music that would rival any modern anime but I found its pace and high-school-textbook-philosophy plot to be too unsubtle for my taste.  I might try to watch it again and really appreciate it but my experience the first time left me thinking I might have more fun touching a light switch and getting electrocuted.  Pain is at least a sensation, of which I felt none when watching Ghost in the Shell.

Why did I go on this long extended ramble?  I don’t know, I guess I lost track.  It relates to Hellsing Ultimate because it was the first anime I watched after Ore no Imouto (which I actually watched during its run sometime around a year ago) that taught me something about what I like in an anime.  Something that I may have known before but could not put into words.  Ore no Imouto gave me Kuroneko’s assessment of good and bad as detailed above.  Hellsing Ultimate taught me that I like anime which get me interested in something by virtue of that thing being featured.  In my free time I dabble in opera and other classical music, especially Wagner’s work because of how dramatic and overblown it is at times.  I am thinking specifically of Ride of the Valkyries.  No, I haven’t watched Apocalypse Now yet.  It’s on my to-do list.  OVA 4 introduced me to another German opera that I have become a minor fan of, Der Freischutz, by virtue of hearing it employed to good effect in scenes with Rip van Winkle, one of anime’s more memorable characters.  If you haven’t looked it up on Wikipedia by now, a freischutz is a fantastic character concept for roleplaying and it is one I will be using in the future, especially if the next setting I get the opportunity to play is Iron Kingdoms.

Of course, I had to think back on my life and confirm that this was in fact a rule of mine.  Senko no Night Raid contributed to my interest in period pieces and war films.  Nanoha cemented my interest in the combination of magic and technology to create a more rules-based phenomenon, while Strike Witches helped get me into mecha musume.

Suffice to say, I will add this to my dictum, not as the be-all and end-all of anime I like or dislike but it will be one signal to look out for that an anime might be enjoyable in my eyes.

Black Rock Shooter is a metaphor for domestic abuse

•February 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I don’t think Black Rock Shooter is especially well written.  The choice of the bird with many colors for a theme makes Mato’s thought processes seem like a child several years younger and doesn’t seem to be that well-woven into the plot.  I do not know what its purpose was, except to give Mato and Yomi some common ground.  Overall, I think that it drags the narrative down.

What is good about the series compared to the OVA is the addition of more fight scenes and an actual explanation (or so I hope) of why Black Gold Saw exists at all.  I like the art, I would describe it as “daring” and somewhat reminiscent of Escher, whom I like.  The designs of Strength and Dead Master are improved somewhat from how I recall them looking in the OVA and I suppose with more episodes they will have more time to flesh out the developing relationships between characters.  Which, for me, means more hot lesbian soap opera.  It’s a win-win situation.

So far, though, the greatest thing about the series so far is its inclusion of Cagalli/Chariot.  Her relationship with Yomi is a phenomenal gold mine of drama and plunges the series off the deep end into some kind of soap opera plot that affords me endless enjoyment from schadenfreude.  If it wasn’t already clear in the first episode, the second one left no doubts in my mind that the relationship between Yomi and Cagalli is one giant metaphor for domestic abuse.

Don’t get me wrong.  Spousal abuse is a terrible thing and should not be tolerated.  For me this series has been elevated to a guilty pleasure of sorts where I derive a twisted form of amusement from Yomi’s suffering simply because of how thickly they lather on the symbolism.  Between the psychological torment, the cutting, the use of guilt and blame, the only thing that is missing is Yomi telling Mato that she fell down some stairs or tripped and hit the doorknob.

It seems like they’re finally tying the physical world and the other world together now.  I wonder how long before Mato actually meets Black Rock Shooter.