What Anime Taught Me About Storytelling

There are certain drawbacks to being a writer. It lends a certain amount of genre savviness that makes it that much harder to sit down and be surprised as the plot unfolds. It’s why I’ve enjoyed anime so much since it allows me to sit back and focus on the art. By doing that, I have a better chance of experiencing the plot.

But that art is still only a skin to the story, which stands as foundational bones of any anime.  And anime loves to bend the rules of plot-normalcy all the time, allowing for plot twists I hadn’t seen before. Or, if I could see it coming, some have the amazing ability to engross you so completely that it doesn’t even matter.  There are valuable lessons to be had within anime when it comes to telling a story and drawing an audience, and you can bet I’ve been taking notes.

  • Try Everything; They Will Come

I’ve said it so much now it may as well be my tagline: anime are the kings and queens of weird and unusual.

The beauty of the medium is that, as a tool, it gives creators the ability to try everything and anything when it comes to a story. Wanna make a computer that looks like a moe woman? Wanna create a squid that can walk on land as a human? Or how about giant monsters that eat humans for seemingly no reason? However strange and unusual you can go, anime lets you go there. And, what’s more, almost every time it has “gone there,” people have come in droves to see it.

Case in point: Space Dandy

Anime taught me not to be afraid of putting out content that may stray from the norm or be perceived as “weird.” The worry about who will read your work, who will watch your work, or who will take any kind of liking to it is strong within writers; it’s debilitating in a few cases. But anime makes it very clear that the key to most successes is just to create what works for you and others like you will follow.

  • You Can Tell a Great Story With or Without Stretching It

For some shows, the phrase “cash-cow” gets tossed around a lot. For others, they were here, then gone, leaving behind an underwhelmed audience who could have used more content. But the golden place to be is that story that’s either so large it needs a long time to explain itself or so tight and succinct it can give you a full range in sixty-four episodes.

The Brotherhood version of FMA has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen, so much so that any changes would hurt the plot overall. Brava, Arakawa-san.

The problem comes in when you try to tell a story beyond its natural stopping point. Naruto has been guilty of this since the end of the Akatsuki arc, and Bleach took its sweet time coming to an end long after anybody cared about its ginormous amount of characters. When you stretch a show past where it should have ended, and start putting in more filler than anyone wanted, you lose what drew people to the show in the first place in favor of a cash-grab. Or, worse yet, you stave off the ending with useless back and forth that doesn’t accomplish anything… Inuyasha.

“I seem to have lost the Shikon shards for the UMPTEENTH MILLION TIME.”

Balance is key, this I have learned. Take only as long as you need to tell your story, and no more. Because when you stretch the patience of your audience, they start looking for more entertaining places to be.

  • Anyone Can Be a Hero

Boy, shonen sure loves its underdog. And so does shojo, in a way.

Basically, anime loves to tell stories of strange heroes from improbable places, lifting up ragamuffins to badass levels in the blink of an eye, etc. Be it a little boy from a secluded island or a frightened and selfish crybaby schoolgirl, anime will find a way to turn them into the hero all of us secretly wish we could be. It is, in short, that which allows us to fantasize about being a badass despite our many issues.

But it isn’t always the underdog. Sometimes our hero is the supporting character who has been a minor liability. Sometimes it’s a scraggly looking insomniac already at the top of his game, or a greedy, perverted jerk who discovers the horror of the Japanese School system. Literally, any kind of character within anime can rise up to become a protagonist with the right writing. The many shows I’ve seen taught me that, with a flick of my pen, I can tell the story of anyone I see fit. There’s no need to sculpt a character that’s traditionally heroic when literally anyone can be in the spotlight.

  • But Everyone Can Be the Villain

Since I dropped a picture of everyone’s favorite, scraggly detective, that brings me nicely to my final point: He may be an unlikely hero, but no one is safe from being the villain. They can literally come from anywhere. 

Like one of my favorite books has always said, it only takes one bad day. Then, any and all kinds of people can go from your average citizen to a complete monster. Take, for example, the ever infamous Light Yagami from the awesome show, Death Note. While there are some that still argue whether or not he’s a “villain” there’s no mistaking his one event requirement – the falling of the death note – to start the change from grade-A student to master manipulator/chess player with a messiah complex.

Complete with evil laugh.

And so, in keeping the theme with the rest of the post, my final lesson was that I can make anyone my antagonist, be they self-righteous or loved by everyone around them. The most unlikely specimen can become the most feared character in the entire story.

In short, anime has taught me to go for it when it comes to telling a narrative. In a medium where anything can be good if handled with care, writers would take care to take notes from it. They know how to sell the strange and unusual, a solid skill for storytellers worldwide.

 

 

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Otome Demo Review: An Otaku’s Guide To Santa’s Reindeer

It’s Christmas, kiddies! Or, at least very close to it.

My Christmas spirit is a tad wobbly, given my retail day-job, but I still manage to hold a soft spot for the more family-oriented parts of the holidays. Love, peace, and joy are still things I try to employ day-to-day and I enjoy my favorite holiday films. I’m picky about what I watch though. Nothing bores me worse than those hackneyed Hallmark films with no soul.

If I could put a word to these movies, it would be “plastic” but that’s another can of worms

But, hey, the one place I have yet to really explore anything Christmas-related is in my wish-fulfillment hobby. So, let us drift into the land of absolute insanity and play us a little demo: An Otaku’s Guide to Santa’s Reindeer.

  • Plot

Alice (or whatever you decide to call her) is the cloned child of two female scientists. They live at a lab in the middle of the North Pole where they study… something, we’re never really told. But we do catch them in the middle of an argument about the existence of magic. Mommy Tallest believes while Shorter Mommy is more scientifically pessimistic. While it doesn’t end with any hard feelings, Alice still decides to go for a walk to watch the Northern Lights. She gets caught in a blizzard, hits her head, and wakes up to… this.

Oh God XD

Oh dear, we’re really doing this

Yes, we’re in Santa’s Workshop and we’re introduced to Pretty-Boy and Pretty-Girl reindeer with gigantic antlers. They have to keep their unexpected guest here for an undisclosed amount of time due to an abnormal blizzard, which may be magical enough to threaten their home. She’ll have to be “guarded” by one of the reindeer. But oh, which one will it be? And will magic find a way to dating some of the most famous names in Christmas poetry?

  • Gameplay

Yes, dear readers. You will be dating the big eight reindeer AND the most famous reindeer of all. They will be turned into nine eligible bishounen and bishoujo (with a few older options as well) who just so happen to change into furry, magical animals. If that wasn’t weird enough for you, you are legitimately in Santa’s workshop; Santa and the elves are just off the premises at the mo. We have completely mixed christmas with Otome, going full-yuletide and wish-fulfillment.

Reindeer CG

And yet, I can’t help but be intrigued. Because, for as strange as the story is, the game is played very straight. Every so often, this fanfic-style madness will stop and ask your character to make decisions. The decisions have you spending time with different characters and I can only guess it builds on whose path you end up following. The demo ends at a point where it looks like you have to choose who you’ll be spending the most time with, which I can only assume is based on how much they liked you from previous choices.

Choices

Not only does the gameplay as normal, I did not find a shred of tongue-in-cheek with the actual story. The story itself is played completely straight, like some Christmas-themed anime, with only a mild acknowledgment that this is strange and bizarre. In fact, the whole damn theme of it is that “yes, this doesn’t make scientific sense – who cares?”

  • Art

The art is an interesting specimen this time around. We have three artists: King-sama and Glassheart on the backgrounds, Zino on the sprites. The backgrounds are lovely full-christmas scenes of Santa’s workshop and scenic snow. The sprites, however, were completely hit or miss.

CGOtaku

The eyes on these characters are strange and speak a little of the uncanny valley. Mind you, each sprite is easy to distinguish and very expressive – even at the sacrifice of attractiveness – but the tilt of some of the eyes just feels off.

  • Romance

Here we are folks – that which you’ve been waiting for: dating all the famous reindeer. And you know what? It’s gonna be weird, but not all that bad.

As I said, the story is played 100% straight but bent in a way that could be a pretty plausible Christmas anime. Through magic, these nine famous residents of the North Pole can go into human forms and each one has been given their own personalities, roles, and defining features.

 

I went in with the expectation that these characters were going to be drowning in Christmas Cliche: loving eggnog, snow, talking about being good for goodness sake, etc. But, instead, the characters above are about as dignified as their different personalities will allow. Listed in order from left to right, Dasher is the strong, fast racer with a big heart; Dancer has a femme fatale feel and may qualift as a “bombshell”; Prancer is the wise, older option and uncle to the others; Vixen is basically Pinkie-Pie, chaotically happy and “not okay”; Comet is a stick in the mud and rude jerk who tends to run the place; Cupid is a friendly, warm, magical fellow; Donder, not Donner, is a bad-boy who’s lewd and punkish; Blitzen is a spitfire, the opposite of ladylike; and Rudolph is the youngest, unsure of himself in every way.

I am honestly impressed by what little I saw of each. They avoided most, if not all, cliches they could have had and gave us something quite fantastical but familiar. It’s fun to read about how each of these characters bounce off each other, some clicking and others negating each other. I’m intrigued to see the final paths for each in the finished product, especially with the funny dialogue.

Feel my antlers

-And they snuck in some adult humor-

 

  • Final Thoughts

The demo for An Otaku’s Guide to Santa’s Reindeer is worth a play to whet the appetite. With a good hook for a plot and some funny characters to set loose, the game does a good job of setting its scene and promising a fun time for the final product. I will be looking into this one when finished and I encourage others to do so.

Next time: The Thing With Mistletoes

Some Anime with Odd Beginnings

The origin story of a tale can be quite fascinating.

The media we see are ususally the result of shaping an idea, through blood, sweat, and a lot of coffee. But the starting point to all the work occasionally comes from some very bizarre places. And that’s saying something, given anime’s propensity for the weird.

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This is still one of my favorite gifs.

For some fun, today we chronicle some anime that got their start from unconventional places or were inspired off subject matter that isn’t common. The quality of the shows themselves isn’t in question, but the fact that they came from some truly odd places.

  • Fate/Stay and Hellsing – Erotica

To say erotica isn’t new would be the understatement of my amateur career. People have been depicting the human body in sexual fashions as far back as the first century; the moral outrage associated with it is also nothing new. But no one really suspects that anything much will come from it, other than some people with a satisfied urge and a dirty secret.

You’d never think that two kickass shows/series would come from someone’s porn stash. But sometimes, if the story is that good or the characters are just that awesome, amazing things can bloom. And only the astute internet digger would be all the wiser to its risque origins.

And who should have such “humble” beginnings but two series known for extreme, over-the-top violence? The Fate/Stay series began with a singular eroge visual novel, the company’s first commercial product, and spawned censored sequels, prequels, and even spin-offs. Then, we have the gore-frenzy franchise Hellsing, whose creator was a hentai artist in his early career. From that, the prototypes for several Hellsing Characters came from a rare book of his called Hellsing: The Legend of Vampire Hunter.  

I don’t wanna read it; I’ll never look at Seras the same way.

In both instances, what worked from the original pieces  was salvaged and repackaged in a way that was more “accepted.” A censored version of the first Fate/Stay novel was released and The Legend’s characters were scooped up and repackaged for horror and comedy. Both became massive successes, proving once again that good writing conquers all, including prudishness.

  • Astro Boy – Disney/Scrooge McDuck

Any anime blogger worth their salt needs to be aware and respectful of Osamu Tezuka. His work on manga pushed the industry forward to so many places, and his dedication to his work was astounding. If it wasn’t for the Godfather of Manga – a name not given lightly – all that we see in anime now would not be here.

Here is where your JoJo’s and your Edward Elrics all started. The age radiates off it like smoke.

But where did his influential shows even start? Well, truthfully, a lot of Tezuka’s work started in America. Tezuka was heavily inspired by the likes of animation giant Walt Disney and, reportedly, saw the movie Bambi 80 times. Not only did he take heavy inspiration from the movies, he was also a fan of the Scrooge McDuck comic books done by Carl Barks. Astro Boys big-eyed, cutesy style came from the WWII era Scrooge comics Bars was doing at the time, as did the looks of Kimba and several others. 

Disney was so impressed they offered Tezuka a job. He declined and became one of Japan’s most celebrated creators.  But the fact still remains that Disney had, once again, birthed a larger than life giant that’s still loved to this day: anime.

  • Welcome to the NHK and Gintama – Sometimes Life is Fiction

 One of the biggest (and honestly most unhelpful) tips I get in writing is “write what you know.” And while my life is far too boring for a novel, some people can take that and make some great narratives from it. But not many people consider anime to be based off real events, or even autobiographical. As things get weirder and weirder in the medium, the idea that it could be a reflection of real life becomes ridiculous.

But, sometimes, creators just get sneaky. Or the comedy is a ruse for something very real and very sad. There are shows that are based off real-life events (like Grave of The Fireflies) and then there are shows that are far closer to home than any of us would care to admit. Case in point, the dramedy show Welcome to the NHK, which follows the struggles of a Hikikomori who’s under the strong impression that his life of misery is all due to the evil organization of the Nihon Hikikomori Kyokai (NHK). The story comes from a real-life Hikikomori – the author – who still struggles with these issues. He’s admitted even now that he lives as a NEET under the book royalties.

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That series is probably close to home for a few people

Ah, but I mentioned Gintama on top of that, didn’t I? The overtly silly and absurd comedy of Gintama, a sci-fi-historical series about samurais and aliens, is actually based on several different historical events. Sure, they get twisted in silly ways, but sometimes people have made lists of all the different times they referenced an important historical event. So, remember kiddies, sometimes that smile is hiding something real and not so funny.

  • Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure – ALL the Pop Culture

 

Anime dips its toes into Western Culture quite a bit (as my Scrooge McDuck story proved). I made a post awhile back of some nifty shows that have an “east-meets-west” theme all through them. Most shows pick only one part of Western Culture to work with (hip-hop,  film noir, cowboys, etc) but how often do shows take almost all of western pop culture and just swim in it?

Well, I know of one.

SONO CHI NO SADAME!

Of all the places to start, creator Hirohiko Araki chose the near entirety of western pop culture. Several characters are named after American Bands or singers (“it was I, Dio, all along!”); villains riff on American horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street; and there are entire episodes dedicated to riffing American classics as “The Phantom Blood” did with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a gigantic love letter to American entertainment as opposed to one small section of it, spanning several generations of characters and protagonists.

Why does this count as odd, you ask? So often we focus on how Americans may view Japanese culture through manga and anime – which usually segues into Weaboo bashing – but it never really occurs to some that Japan may be big fans of several things in western culture. Art is never made in a vacuum, and it’s inevitable that some of our favorite popular media will be the starting point for someone overseas. It really does prove what all of these shows do: good art can come from anywhere.

 

Do you know any shows with strange origins? Feel free to share below! And don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.

 

Otome Review: Fatal Hearts

I knew this would happen, one of these days. Not every Otome can be a fun, sparkling gem. And, sometimes, all the bells and whistles in the world can’t save a slog.

Almost off-topic, I was a mild fan of point-and-click games when I was much younger. I liked the idea of solving inventory puzzles to get to the next part of the game, though most of my experience lay in edutainment games and disney-related paraphernalia. So, I don’t have much (if any) experience in games like King’s Quest, Monkey Island, or The Seventh Guest.  The last one I’ve pointedly avoided because I was always terrible at logic puzzles.

My ex tried to make me good at chess… he failed.

That, above all things, colored my dislike of the game Fatal Hearts. Created by Hanako Games, one of my favorite publishers, I found the game frustrating and not worth the replays. This was one of their first games and it is as clunky as I would expect. I can see the story-telling talent that made me love the company, but it’s overshadowed by over-complicated minigames and clunky controls.

 

  • Plot

 

Christina Robinson is ready to have the summer of a lifetime with her best friend, Lucy Torvill. Lucy’s parents are odd, in and out of the house constantly with a lot of money to spend. But as the summer unfolds, poor Christy is being plagued by strange dreams involving terrible rituals, an older man in aristocratic clothes, and people dressed like magical doomsday preppers.

Ummmmm

As she tries to figure out what these dreams are, things get violent. Women are being murdered around the neighborhood;  people are acting suspiciously or randomly attacking her, and her dreams keep getting worse and worse. Can Christina find the cause of it all It will involve a lot of betrayal, hard choices, and some patience.

 

  • Gameplay

 

And, when I say patience, I mean all the patience in the world. Because what I liked about this story got quickly overshadowed by the one main game mechanic that drove me crazy.

The nice part about the game behaved like your average Otome title. You play Christina and have to make various decisions in the story that change the direction of the main plot. There are at least three different branches to follow and you can twist each one through even more choices. It’s a nice touch for replayability, especially for this game’s 14 endings.

Choices

But what pulls me away from replaying the game is the thing that’s supposed to be its biggest draw. The game is littered with puzzle minigames that you have to solve, but they range from hard to ridiculously difficult. Even if I weren’t horrendous at these kinds of puzzles (which I am,) I would still find these games frustrating since some of them don’t control very well. Your average Otome player isn’t the type to play The Seventh Guest, at least by my experience.

Sudoku BLARGH.

Sudoku? You diabolical-!

 It’s a shame because I actually do like the story. It reminds me a lot of The Vampire Hunter D novels, what with the melodramatic nature of it mixed with vampires and werewolves. But I really can’t bring myself to explore all the endings without a list of puzzle-skipping cheat codes at the ready. And sad, because the characters live up to what I’ve always loved about Hanako Games. They’re interesting and unique, and the writing itself makes me giggle.

If only

If only, Christina.

 

  • Art

 

I have to admit; this was the place I was disappointed again.

Hanako Games have always featured variance in art style, but this one seemed lacking. I have to assume this was someone’s first try because what I see does seem very basic and lacking in professional polish. The CG’s look good, but the in-game art looks like someone mixed decent sprites with MS Paint.

I loved the art in games like Long Live the Queen and Magical Diary, so I am genuinely sad this game wasn’t as nice looking.

 

  • Endings

 

This story has a few romantic options but, since they don’t really have a “path” so to speak, I felt they were better described as “endings.” The ending you spiral towards depends on who you decide to trust in the game. There are, by my count, three “factions” or so you can side with, and some various people you can align yourself with. Whoever you spend the most time with is, ultimately, your ending faction.

Jeremy

For starters, we have the side of Sebastian, the man who’s been haunting your dreams. He’s been searching for the reincarnation of his wife and has accumulated a cult around him to be his servants. If you side with him, you could embrace him in the darkness (because he isn’t human anymore, tee-hee) or betray him to be with his servant, Jeremy

 

Lucy Or maybe you prefer your best-friend, who’s fallen in love with you while all this has unfolded. Lucy’s family has connections to that cult mentioned before; they wanna drag her into the business and she’s scared out of her mind. You haven’t been friends for very long, but maybe what little time you’ve had has made a huge connection?

The wolfmen

 

Lastly, maybe this whole business with the night isn’t your thing (and maybe gas-mask wearing cultists freak you out, rightly so.) If you want, you can ditch all of that to hang with the Wolfrieman, or the wolfmen, who try to keep the supernatural shenanigans at bay. Their childish appearance makes it feel like some supernatural Scooby-Doo gang, featuring actual werewolves, but at least you have the option to run with them. That is the game’s strongest point overall: choices. You can swing whichever direction you want and you have a good plot either way.

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

I really wanted to like Fatal Hearts, but it’s not gonna happen so long as it continues to frustrate me. I am fully aware that actual skill in logic puzzles would color me a different opinion but the fact still remains that I did not have as much fun with this one as I did with The Royal Trap or Magical Diary. This first game would have been a killer blow for me, so I’m glad it wasn’t my first experience with this wonderful company. They make great games; I stand by that. This was just a misstep.

 

Next Time:  An Otaku’s Guide to Santa’s Reindeer

Ajin: Demi-Human Season Two (Review)

One of the things that always amazed me about anime is how two seasons of the exact same show can be so different in their themes yet be very cohesive. While the transition sometimes isn’t seamless, the overall goal is usually for the two different tones to juxtapose or complement each other, making a story that’s unique in both meaning and execution.

While I can’t say for certain that the transition is seamless, I can say that Ajin: Demi-Human has constructed a very intoxicating second season for viewers, one that trades the darkness for absolute chaos. The Netflix original series, inspired by Gamon Sakurai’s manga, has stopped tossing around horror and has begun a full-blown action drama that will still leave you mighty uncomfortable.

As a small warning, this part of the review is where the mild spoilers from season one come in. If you don’t care for that, now is the time to jump ship for about two paragraphs.

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See you at the end…

We arrive again in the aftermath of Sato’s devastating display against Japan’s special forces team, ultimately proving that the Ajin are a force to be taken seriously by the government. Through his more technically minded helpers, Sato creates a video on a website dedicated to helping Ajin, demanding that his people gain their civil rights. If ignored, he has a list of higher-ups responsible for the suffering of Ajin (who happen to be big names in the government as well) and they will be killed, one by one.

Enter Kei Nagai, again, surviving another drowning travel-season with his newfound partner, Kou Nakano. Nagai has come to the conclusion that he won’t get his quiet, normal life as long as Sato is in action. But, since Nakano is anything but smart and logistical, the two can’t come to any kind of conclusion on how to do that. But Kei finally decides that the only working solution is to enlist some resources, so he decides to force Yu Tosaki into teaming up with them. Threats are exchanged, but deals are struck, and a new Ajin fighting force has formed. They’re going to need all the help they can get because Sato’s dedication to Ajin rights may be just another facade. 

As you can tell, we’ve traded in the psychological horror for drama and lots of suspense. The fear is no longer of an uncanny supernatural sense but of a primal nature, watching a downright diabolical individual run circles around everyone with a serene smile on his face. It’s near anarchy to watch the newly formed tactical unit try to stop Sato, but it still retains that suspense that glued the first season together. It’s a drastic change – indicative of mood whiplash – but still has the same flavor overall.

With a super brutal ending, by the way. I had Princess Mononoke flashbacks.

What they did keep was the drama between characters. Only now, we’re hardcore peeling back the layers for everyone, support characters included. Since the show has a propensity to ask some really difficult questions, the answers provided by characters put their inner demons out; they come out literally with the black ghosts, who’ve gone from creepy unknowns to reflections of their masters. We’re elbow-deep in the character study that season one hinted at and the end results are downright intriguing. We got well-rounded support characters aplenty, something I last saw in Death Note, so this is a big plus for me.

Even tiny characters get their own episode

But as the tension mounts, and as more and more bodies get added to the death toll, the show’s main theme of “what is human” has gone under the water in favor of asking when people should make decisions “above morals and emotions” for the sake of battle. I feel this feeds into the previous question, and the idea of what makes a person “human” certainly remains on the back-burner, but I’m a tad disappointed more time wasn’t devoted to it. Thankfully, the rest of the plot was so well constructed that I am willing to give this a pass. I’m sad for a rushed ending but the manga is still going, so, a third season could be made.

Though, I still haven’t gotten used to the animation, or the funny moments it accidentally causes.

Pfffffft

While I had hoped for more horror, I still enjoyed what I got out of Ajin: Demi-Human. I got a really fascinating look at a character who was horribly repressed, a peek into the absolute terror from a well-written villain and a story that knows how to keep audience attention. While the animation will always be my least favorite part of the affair, I think your average viewer can move past it.

Otome Review: Ishara – Bane of The Seas

Edit: This was supposed to post yesterday, but WordPress glitched and it didn’t end up posted. No harm, no foul, here we are.

As mentioned last time, I did a NaNo project that aligned with my own attempt at National Writing. Now, I’ve stumbled across something that mixes well with a project my friend has attempted. Because, hey, who doesn’t get all starry-eyed about pirates?

Or write terrible fanfiction over starring terrible mary sues?

So, I decided to try a pirate otome in honor of my buddy doing her first NaNoWriMo attempt (God save her soul).  This landed me Ishara: Bane of The Sea, a detailed game by creator Happy Backwards. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all but it did manage to keep my attention.

 

  • Plot

 

Ishara is mad as hell, as anyone back from the slave-trade would be. Her family has abandoned her and her wild ways ever since she proved to be too much like her pirate father, and presumed her dead when she vanished for two years. As such, they gave to her twin sister what they had promised Ishara in exchange for her departure from them – a ship. And, on the night she attempts to steal it back, everything goes belly-up.

Pirates!

In the form of black silhouetted pirates

And from there, we have two different stories to explore. Ishara’s ship has been taken by a group of pirates and are off to the Southern Isles. You’ll have to save it either way, but who gets to join you for this exotic ride? It’s time to fight, swashbuckler!

 

  • Gameplay

And when I say fight, I do mean fight. Because this game functions far more like an indie-RPG than an otome and I actually find that engaging.

I like things that shake the formula up and this game was no exception. Rather than have you make a series of decisions that slowly shape the plot, the plot will occasionally stop to have you play out an in-story battle instead.  There, it’s one turn-based attack at a time where you pick an action from a character depending on who’s with you when the violence breaks out. Then, the opponent gets to pick an enemy to attack and/or debilitate through any means necessary. It’s the same thing of any basic RPG and this gamer felt pretty comfy.

Battle

But there is some decision-making to be had and it does make a huge difference. There are usually two to three choices in the game that actually split the storyline and the outcome. The overall goal of the story remains the same but the means of reaching the end are unique. There are two different storylines in total depending on the first choice you make, and each of those stories will change endings depending on a choice you make later on. It’s a big change from tradition and I could totally understand why people would be angry not only at this but at a lack of CG’s. If you wanted Otome, you won’t find it here.

Choices

What you will find is an engaging story. I liked that it not only gave us some pretty compelling characters but actually jumped between at least four points of view to really give us the full narrative. No, the only real issue I had with the game was that the battle system itself is hard. There are bugs to be had, mostly in that some moves seem useless and that it’s really easy to get caught in an unwinnable battle. I would suggest some tweaking of the battle system if this game got an edit because one-turn stuns are not fun and the enemy-damage to player-damage ratio is a bit unbalanced.

Gameover

I saw this screen a lot

 

  • Art

 

But hey, wanna know what I wouldn’t change? The art!

This game is very pretty to look at. The color scheme loves darker tones that are deeply saturated and it looks very fantastical. Our characters are all varied in looks and get to use a variety of facial expressions which I believe helps to make them seem more realistic. I naturally am not thrilled that outside characters are black silhouettes but Nusantara did much of the same and I liked that one just fine.

Art-Ishara

 

  • Plot-Lines

 

So the character screens on this game were somewhat deceptive, as it sets up the idea that there are two romance options. Sadly, one of the male characters is spoken for no matter what you do (no option to fight Talon for Louis the Fisherman, either.) But there are two different paths you can follow all the same centering around two different deuteragonists. Each one has two separate endings and I had great fun experimenting with choices to see what they were. I’ll summarize a bit of each path below but I won’t give too much away because it is very worth playing them.

 

Felix

FelixIsahara’s twin sister is engaged to the heir of a well-respected family of modest wealth… or so they claim. In truth, this extra-talkative spoiled brat may actually be a big, fat con artist who’s just as trapped in his lies as everyone else is. It’s when all those debts he’s made come back to find him, in the form of a big ole’ pirate sword, that he may need to start making some new life choices. Ultimately, Felix’s story is all about escape and learning to stand up for yourself, something I can honestly admire. There’s an option to be more romantic about him as well if you want, or become best-buddies.

 

Cendre 

CendreIf Felix is not to your taste, or you’d rather wring more melodrama out of this story, then you can take a split path and get marooned with the twin sister that truly believes you are what’s wrong with her life. You were too like their father, which was why you were taken away. She was good, which was why she had a chance to a good life that you ruined. That is what grandmama has told her all her life and she is ready to treat you icily because of it. But, as you two spend more time together, maybe the two of you will finally see some common ground. I really liked Cendre’s path because I feel like it unfolds the main story much better and the connections between these two feel that much stronger for it.

 

  • Final Thoughts

 

Ishara: Bane of the Sea is not a game for traditional otome lovers. It is an indie, very basic RPG at best with a really good plot and a battle system that needs some reworking. However, I don’t hold its difference from other games against it and enjoyed myself immensely. It’s good at what it set out to do and that’s all anyone should ask of it.

Next Time: Fatal Hearts.

 

 

Ajin: Demi-Human (Season One Review)

If there was ever an indicator I was behind the times, this one would be it. Oh two years, how time flies.

Now, if it wasn’t clear before then, allow me to make it clear now: I love me some dark tv and some over the top gore. But the truth of the matter is that having one and the other is almost impossible. When the gore is beyond what’s humanly possible then we dip into comical and lose any sense of foreboding shadow or disturbing horror. So when I see a dark anime that knows when to be flashy and when to leave things up to my twisted imagination, I know I’ve struck gold.

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“You had my curiosity. Don’t waste my attention, bug.”

And along comes Ajin: Demi-Human, a Netflix original anime based off of the Manga of the same name by Gamon Sakurai. The show’s first season mingled horror and character study seamlessly, providing a lot of suspense and screams along the way.

The point of any first season is to set up the concept without being too expositional. So Ajin decides to open with a literal bang, in a small African village. The locals are armed and terrified of a God-like being incapable of death who’s causing mass destruction upon their home. We see this for ourselves as one child attempts to gun this man down, and they just get back up in a flurry of black smoke. But, before the man can cause any more harm, government soldiers armed with tranquilizers come in and knock him out.

We’ve swept away to the home of teenage Kei Nagai, who plays like an apathetic Light Yagami: he’s cold to his fellow students, focused on acing his entrance exams for college, and is incapable of doing anything without a hard, logical reason for it. Kei learns about the terrible creatures called Ajins (title drop) and how they cannot die no matter what happens to them. We learn that the Ajin are not considered human, a fact that becomes most inconvenient to Kei when he gets hit by a truck while crossing the street… and gets right back up in a shower of black dust.

It’s become a manhunt for Kei, headed by a high ranking member of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Yu Tosaki. Tosaki seems just as cold as Kei, if not worse, and his sole purpose is to bring him in to be subjected to inhumane research on Ajin behavior. He appears to have a rival by the name of Sato, another Ajin with a far more violent approach to dealing with his human brothers.  Nagai needs to make some hard decisions about who he can trust this season, and ask himself if he really is just looking to “survive.”

The thing I appreciated most so far was that Ajin knew when to show and when to imply. The reason the horror genre is flooded with duds and Gore-Without-Plot films is that few people know when to actually assault the viewer’s eyes with horror and when to let their minds do all the scary for them. Ajin shows the viewer all the dark depths humans will go when they’re handed guinea pigs incapable of death without treating people like blood-filled water balloons or tossing in severed limbs like candy. Make no mistake, the blood is plenty when an Ajin dies. In fact, the show loves to show them dying in brutal, blunt-force fashions, but it’s all laced with disturbing realism.  This lighter touch allows for a darker and more introspective mood that focuses on plot while keeping the shock value.

See? Sexy Violence!

Speaking of which, I am rather shocked the plot manages to drive itself forward with Nagai at the lead. There is no argument to be made that Nagai is a saint – he’s downright sociopathic in this season, especially with how easily he can act emotionally. But he’s stubborn, and it’s hard to miss the tiny glimmers of morality inside of him every so often in the first round. I can see something good trying to claw its way out of this cold, calculated boy; it’s just gonna take some time.

That being said, this anime has one huge flaw that will detour, and it ain’t the soft-science horror: it’s the animation. If you’ve never sat down to watch shows like RWBY, then you will find Ajin’s CGI animation jarring and floaty. I always find this kind of style tricky to watch because characters don’t feel like they have any weight to them at all, and the off-human look combined with 3D proportions just smacks of the uncanny valley. It gets worse when characters start making standard facial expressions for 2D anime, which become unintentionally hilarious when it should be serious. The anime tuly only works when it comes to the IBMS, these black mummy-ghosts with the unfortunate name that some Ajin can summon. They are cool and creepy at the same time, and the CGI enhances their off-putting appearance quite well.

And that is Season one of Ajin in a nutshell: striking, visceral, and just on the edge of introspective. Ajin: Demi-Human is asking some hard questions right now, but hasn’t quite decided to give any real hard answers. It sets itself up well for what it is, mainly a dark anime that would rather disturb you than gross you out, with a story that’s going to drag you along like a dog on a leash.

Otome Review: Beyond The Deep

Here’s one I don’t see much of anymore: mermaids!

The favorite of little girls and swimmers everywhere, the mermaid is a mixed fantasy that you don’t see much of in the game world, Otome or otherwise. Maybe it’s the limited mobility, or maybe it’s the knowledge that original mermaids weren’t so Disney in the old legends, but you only see a select few in fiction these days. But hey, a coincidence of coincidences, I stumbled upon this game a few weeks ago while I’ve been working on my NaNoWriMo project which so happens to feature a Merman protagonist.

Though I quickly discovered that mermaids get better art then most mermen do.

So, I decided to humor myself and picked this puppy up as my next review. Beyond the Deep turned out to be a super short, straightforward VN with some surprise twists I didn’t see coming. It wasn’t great literature, and there were bugs I have to report, but I think it’s solid overall.

  • Plot

Princess WhateverYouNameHer has only ever known her sea-palace and vast ocean, rumored by the locals to be endless. She’s told by legends that the sea only stops above, where mortals move without fins on the dry land. And feel free to insert your own Disney Reference here because the game isn’t shy to do so.

Disney!

Well, What’sHerName decides that she needs to see if her ocean has an end or not, or get to know the kingdoms outside her own. Depending on choices you made, you and one of two companions will make their way out there into the deep and see if it is truly is endless. Maybe it’ll explain the strange things she’s noticed about her kingdom as well. Than again, maybe she’s not ready to hear the truth.

  • Gameplay

I like games that catch me off guard, especially when they have more substance than I expected. I came into Beyond the Deep expecting a somewhat simple mermaid love story with maybe one or two allusions to The Little Mermaid. And while I got two out of three, I was surprised to see that the gameplay had more to it. Put that on top of a story with a twist I didn’t see coming and you have something pretty solid.

First of all, the traditional aspect of it isn’t too hard to figure out without a walkthrough. In the beginning, you have three-option dialogue boxes. These boxes are here to help you pick your traveling partner: Town Pariah Calder or your trusty Childhood Companion Triss. Whoever you pick the most options for will be your companion at the halfway point, much to the other’s frustration.While traveling together, the choices you make in game will affect how much your partner likes, hates, or feels indifferent about you as both a princess and a person. There’s also the indifferent options at the first half of the game, though those just get you a funny ending.

 

 

Once you have your companion, you’re met with your first surprise: a maze! Rather than skip the scenery and have you occasionally answer questions, as I initially suspected, the game has you traversing a small maze with occasional dialogue interruptions. The maze itself isn’t hard and the game’s controls are more than easy to get the hang of, but the mere presence of it came as welcome change of pace.

Maze

Ah, but you don’t just get to walk around and woo your merman of choice. No, no, you must occasionally fight the terrible creatures of the deep: jellyfish and seaweed. It kicks you to a battle screen with several options ahead of you, mainly to fight it, use an urchin to poison it, heal yourself, or try to run. But that is where the praise ends, because this battle system is in serious need of debugging. Healing is almost useless since it only heals 20 and you don’t dodge all that much; I was never able to actually escape when I tried it; and when you start a new game, you start with the health you ended at last time. I love the idea quite a bit, I really do, but the game designer needs to open the engine back up and do some tweaking.

Seaweed

  • Art

One thing that originally drew me to this game was the art. The paint-style graphics were different from the past few games I’ve been playing, and it fits with the deep water theme it’s going for. The sprites have a range of faces and are visually appealing, but there were no CG’s to really tie it all together. Not even at the ending.

humor

The titles themselves are actually pretty funny, I will give it that. This game shares my sense of humor, but it still would have been nice to see some more detailed images of our characters and setting.

  • Romances:

Calder

Calder

Calder is the crazy person in town, or the “troublemaker” as your friend likes to say. He’s a troublemaker because he claims the ocean isn’t endless as the legends claim and that land above is nothing more than a myth. It’s forced him to live on the outskirts of the kingdom as an outcast, but maybe our Merprincess isn’t so sure he’s wrong. If she plays her cards right, she’ll see that Calder is more reasonable than people give him credit, and he cares more about the people as well.

It’s hard to gain much from such a sparse story, but I did like what I saw from Calder. He has no time for airheaded nonsense and appreciates a lady who speaks her mind. He looks great on top of it all, so it makes him a pretty solid choice.

Triss

Triss

In the other corner, we have a take on the Childhood Best Friend with the Royally Appointed Companion and Bodyguard. Triss has put up with What’sHerName since she was a guppy and seems to be able to match her tit for tat. He’s friend-zoned, like this option usually is, and keeps it to himself as a means to make her happy. Slightly self-centered and eccentric, maybe there’s a chance for our heroine to find love in the merman whose loyally been by her side all this time.

I didn’t really care for Triss because I feel like he was a doormat. Sure, he has some nostalgic memories, but I was never a fan of the romance option who sat around and waited for protag dejour to make a move, especially if they get bitter when someone else takes the initiative. 

  • Final Thoughts

While Beyond The Deep isn’t loaded with bells and whistles, it has just enough to be an interesting ride. The characters are in need of some extra fleshing out, and I adore seeing more art, but what we have here is solid as a base. The idea works, the extra gameplay works; all it needs is more work and more polish.

 

Next Time: Ishara – Bane of The Seas

Extra – Let’s Get Political a Moment

I don’t normally like to talk about politics (we are a goofy anime blog after all, not an arena) but this issue affects my ability to be a geeky blog writer and your ability, gentle readers, to read it, watch goofy videos, and view whatever content you want with reckless abandon.  That’s right kiddies, it’s Net Neutrality time again. I won’t force you to stop and read, and if you disagree that’s fine too, but I just ask you hear me out.

Because, on December 14th, the FCC will vote on a plan by the FCC chairman to repeal a lot of the laws that let you surf the web freely. If you want the full skinny, get your info here, and take the time to contact your representatives via phone call or through apps like Democracy.io or resistbot.  Because if we don’t tell Congress how bad of an idea this is then no one will.

Thank you, my gentle viewers, and happy dreams.

Why I Still Watch Mainstream Anime

Welcome, my friends, to the Otaku-war!
It’s an argument as old as anime itself: You are not an Otaku if you only watch mainstream anime.  I can agree that “Otaku” implies that you’ve seen more than the likes of One Piece or Fairytale, but I draw the line at those who say you still aren’t an Otaku even if you watch the more obscure shows on top of the popular stuff.  It’s the stuff of hipsters and it’s extremely annoying.

Safe to say I don’t do that. In fact, I make a conscious effort to see the more nerdy, obscure shows and the mainstream success stories. Both are equally important branches of the medium as far as I’m concerned, but for very separate reasons. 

  • Hype is Not Always a Bad Thing

Hype aversion is the tendency to fly far away from that which has massive fans. Media that suddenly finds itself surrounded by admirers tends to scare off casual interest, mostly because said fan base has a chance of becoming… obsessive. Take, for example, the My Little Pony franchise that suddenly found itself surrounded by grown men, grown men who used to have a reputation for being insane. Not so much these days, though the few who went the extreme end certainly didn’t help.

Ah, but if my time spent watching shows like Stranger Things and Avatar has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes those crazy fans have gone crazy for a reason.  Sometimes, the hype is legitimate. Sometimes, the hype is undeserved for a mediocre product. But you won’t know one way or the other if you don’t sit down and watch it for yourself.  You could miss out on some golden writing if you avoid everything that has a huge return to it, something any anime fan should find disappointing.

  • You Can’t Hate What You Haven’t Consumed

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it wasn’t that good. Let’s pretend that we found Light to be pretentious and cliche (he’s not) and that L is annoying and childish (he can be). If the story were really this preachy, over-edgy monstrosity, one that deserved a proper thrashing for being overrated, how the hell would you criticize it if you’ve never seen it? Furthermore, what if it started good and then crashes later, and you weren’t there for the ride?

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Let the hate-watching commence!

Anime is a strange beast because, usually, it’s based off content that’s still in progress.  When the manga/live-action show is popular enough to warrant an anime before the big climax, you’ll often see the famed Adaptation Decay take place along with some facepalm-worthy attempts to cover it up. 

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But if you weren’t one of the people following before it went belly up, your ability to say how much it sucks is reduced significantly. Case in horrific point: the beautiful disaster that was Fullmetal Alchemist in 2003. While the beginning of the anime had some distinct differences from the manga, it still held enough value to be a decent adaptation. Then the story went it’s own way – with Arakawa’s blessing – and started introducing plot points that were downright stupid when compared to the original story. I knew this was the case, but I still waited for so long to get the full story. Now that I have it, I have a stronger arsenal on me to demonstrate to others why they’re better off skipping straight to Brotherhood.

  • It’s Often The Only Thing Non-Anime Fans Have Watched

Y’all remember the normies. They’re those folks with the flashy phones who wanna talk about Stranger Things and Game of Thrones instead of that new anime on Netflix. We as a group also like those shows (usually) but the buck tends to stop when you wanna talk about how Ajin can’t properly pronounce its lead’s last name in the dub, or how much you liked Kino’s Journey

That leaves us with what they likely went out of their way to see: Fullmetal Alchemist, Naruto, One Piece, Attack on Titan, and so much more. Non-anime fans tend to gravitate to shows that are less structured in traditional and modern Japanese culture, and only those that gain enough momentum to be assimilated into pop-culture. They may even be fans of the biggun’s from back in the day (DBZ, Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop) and not so much the new big guys.

Though they may not recognize it anymore.

My point is that watching the mainstream anime gives me common ground with more people. It makes my favorite hobby seem less strange and outlandish if I can center it with something others have seen and enjoyed. It’s about guiding away from the stereotype of the hikikomori in the basement and into a regular person.  Because, sad to say, they aren’t always as adorable as Ryuzaki.

Dat face, though…
  • When We Draw to a Close

When I lay all my reasons on the table, I see a common thread among them: art. Good art is good art no matter how popular it is and bad art can only be criticized by those who consume it in some fashion. I had low hopes for shows like Neo Yokio but tried them anyway; I had high hopes for Attack on Titan and feel grateful to have seen it. Successful shows that become super popular outside of anime deserve just as much attention as the obscure, more niche titles because there’s no sense in missing out because you wanna avoid the crowd. It may very well be good and you’ll never know if you ignore it.

 

What do you think about mainstream shows vs. niche shows? Feel free to comment below with your awesome opinions, and don’t forget to like and follow for more content.

Otome Review: Nachtigal

Hello, my name is A.C, and I am addicted to Vampires.

I admit it: I was the Twilight fan in high school (less so these days) and still am the girl obsessed with pretty-boy blood-suckers. So, I’m naturally aware of what makes the Vampire-Romance fantasy the tasty cocktail it is: adrenaline and sex appeal. The Vampire is pretty, unearthly so, and there’s that added danger of being little more than prey in their eyes. Add in a little sprinkle of wish-fulfillment (only the special one can win them over) and you have the recipe that has helped thousands of us forget that Vampires are usually walking corpses.

Or blood puddings of death and madness.

So, As part of my protest against early Christmas encroachment, I picked up Nachtigal, the vampire wish fulfillment that I knew would cross my path someday.  I was promised something romantic and frightening, and what I got left me pleasantly surprised. Created by indie-team Cyanide Tea, the same team that gave us The Blind GriffinNachtigal is an immersive experience that equally plays the horror of being trapped with monsters and the romance of falling for a vampire.

  • Plot

Miranda is a university student studying abroad. She came to Belgium as part of her degree and was having a blast learning about the buildings and culture all around her. But, as these stories usually go, she finds herself lost in the woods. She happens upon a very old looking caste (not on the map) and thinks she can find some shelter there from a storm.

Castle

If you can’t see where this goes wrong, then you must be new here. Of course, she stumbles upon a man feeding on a young lady and promptly gets kidnapped by his servant. Neither is in a position to kill her, so she’s to be held prisoner till the rest of the family returns at the end of the month. It’s up to you to prove why they should vouch for Miranda to keep her alive, or risk being a vampire’s meal.

  • Gameplay

Make no mistake about it, dear friends: we are not here on a pleasure cruise.  It is very possible to die in this game and neither of your vampire bachelors are going to stop it on faith. You need to prove to them you aren’t a run-of-the-mill human to them and you are already off to a terrible start.

Ugly Girl

The fact that there exists a game where the romance choices blatantly call you ugly is almost refreshing, as is having vampires who actually act thousands of years old. I give writer, Lorelei, some huge credit for making vampires that are as aloof and critical of humanity as centuries-old creatures of the night should be, as that is a huge risk in this day and age. You very much are beneath them in their eyes, so you’ll have to prove that you deserve to live and exist if you wanna make it out of this alive. You do so by choices made in game, choices which will endear you to either Luca or Lord Adrian. You can concentrate all your attention on one, both, or neither, and get the ending associated. Or you can give up and get killed about three different times.

Choices

Naturally, you can get the “good” endings between one of the two vampires, but there are also three secret endings you can unearth if you play your cards correctly. Each ending comes at the end of the month and depends on your final decision/affection tallies between each of them. They range from quiet to dark, to “Oh my” and all things I wasn’t expecting. It’s safe to say this game isn’t for everyone but will cater to some very specific souls. The only issue they may have is how perky the protagonist is.

Perky Miranda

  • Art

The other half of Cyanide Tea is the artist, Auro-Cyanide. As the sole artist for their work, you can thank her for this game’s richly detailed backgrounds and visually interesting character sprites. I love the dark warm colors splashed all over this game as they fit the mood perfectly. I’m also quite content that most of the CG’s in the game don’t beat around the bush when it comes to vamps doing what they must: feeding.

CG's, Oh My

Now, of course, you get the romantic CG’s as well, but I cannot stress how important it is that they showed these two being predators. Well-rounded personalities will always delight, but so will dripping blood from two very brazen predators of the night. Trust me, your target audience will thank you.

  • Romances Endings

Adrian

Adrian

The first vamp has a name longer than your arm, but thankfully despises formalities. Lord Adrian is the youngest vamp of the Nachtigal family’s first branch and has the spoiled mindset associated. He demands constant entertainment and isn’t shy about making threats and turning you into a midnight snack. But there’s also a romantic air of sadness about him, especially when he thinks no one is looking. It makes one wonder why the family left Adrian here, to begin with, and why his memories are so shot, to begin with.

His childish, but classy, personality was my favorite in the game. There’s something enamoring about a selfish Lord slowly learning to be a gentleman, especially when you tag on a tragic story. I enjoyed unearthing Adrian’s secrets and I think most other fans will appreciate the danger about him as much as I did.

Luca

Luca

But let’s say Adrian’s antics are not to your taste. That leaves you bachelor #2, a more proper gentleman with a blunt attitude and no qualms about killing you. Luca is your, ahem, “jailer” whenever he isn’t tending to his Lord’s needs. That’s right, ladies, it’s your Butler Fantasy with a little twist. And by “little” I mean “dangerous,” because he’s usually the one to end you in the “bad ends.”

Luca is straightforward, practical, and enigmatic when he wants to be. Make no mistake, he will be your doom if you prove yourself impudent and childish as well, but he’s also so prim and proper that it’s hard to imagine it being a messy, unwarranted affair. Third generation and ready to be gone from this place, Luca is a nice second choice for the few who want a more mature option.

Secret Endings:

Secret Endings

But wait, my gentle viewers, there’s more! Maybe a romantic ending between these two was never your intention at all. Well, fear not, this game also features at least four more secret endings you can get if you play your cards in just the right fashion.  Said endings are short and curious, with minor differences between, but worth note for their creative range. Won’t go into too much detail, lest I spoil, but I will list the ones I found below:

        • Menage a Trois – Oh dear, I don’t think I can decide… do I have to?
        • Escape – How can you think of romance at a time like this?
        • Pet – We wanna live, no matter what. Maybe you’ll come to regret those words.
        • Feast – Maybe anything is better than being a blood bank for the rest of your life… right?
  • Final Thoughts

I appreciate Nachtigal for its balance of honesty and wish-fulfillment. This game looks great and plays well with its chosen horror elements, all while keeping to the fantasy most of its players will want. If you want a twist on the overplayed Vampire Fantasy than this game needs to be on your to-do list.

 

Next Time: Beyond The Deep