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.

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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

 

How to Make Anime and Manga Scary

There’s a downside to working in retail: I’m not ready for Christmas.

As soon as July is over, companies everywhere will throw ornaments and specials at you like they’re going out of style. It gets annoying, really fast, and has a tendency to make me veer in the other direction (at least until Black Friday is over). On that mission, I’ve doubled down on scary media and have been thinking about the techniques used therein. There’s a lot of frightening anime, or anime that’s just plain disturbing, which manages to utterly terrify the audience. It bears a question: how do a bunch of drawings manage to scare us to pieces?

You’d be an expert at that, right, Yuno?

I broke it down in my mind and came up with a theory. As always, this is just my take on it and I’m open to other examples and options. And, as an extra warning, some of these images may be mildly disturbing; reader discretion advised.

  • Pair Scary Images with Primal Fears

Humans have gotten pretty damn complacent about a lot of things: being at the top of the food chain,  being surrounded by constant security, and the idea that nothing bad will ever happen because statistics, just to name a few. But, when any of that changes – when the mere threat of that change presents itself – raw fear and raw instinct kick in. It translates to pants-wetting terror when done correctly, preachy and boring when handled sloppily.

Anime has a special talent for this since it isn’t limited by special effects; as long as your animators can draw well, there are boundless possibilities for horrific situations. Recent examples would include the likes of Shingeki No Kyojin or Attack on Titan. I hardly care that mentioning a super popular anime rings cliche when the whole show revolves around human’s primal fear of being yanked off the top of the food chain and turned into prey. This show takes no prisoners when it comes to exploring the implications of massive, people-eating monsters. The author really sinks in how scary this is by letting you get to know a good deal of the people being eaten; there are names and faces attached to the bodies being swallowed up.

Bye bye, Thomas…

And then there are the awful looking Titans from the live-action movie: less scary and more ugly. The movie was limited by its special effects and lost out on a good deal of what made the show frightening. It only goes to show that anime has a special way of creating these scenarios that live action just can’t replicate.

  • The Uncanny Valley

I know what a human looks like; I would hope you know what a human looks like. It’s a very specific mechanism in our brains, the part that loves to see faces where there aren’t any. It’s also our biggest downfall because art and science are not at a point where it can reproduce such a thing. But, when it tries, the results often freak us out for a reason we can’t quite explain. That is when we reach what we call the Uncanny Valley.

As this nifty chart indicates, The Uncanny Valley occurs when cartoons and other media get away from the cartoonish look and try to get into looking human. They can’t quite get there and there’s something about it that just doesn’t look right. It’s too human, yet not human, and causes our approval of it to dip drastically. Then, when we get to a regular human face, it rises back up and we’re all hunky dory again. Take, for example, the all dreaded Uzumaki, Junji Ito’s horror manga that friends of mine have described as Satan’s sketch pad. I’ll only show you this image because it’s the only one that won’t give you horrible nightmares:

It’s just a person, and yet the detail on the eyes and the way he’s drawn set off all my alarms as soon as he appeared. There’s something subconsciously wrong with the way the people are drawn through the entire manga; I like to think that’s why the disturbing imagery is so severe, for compensation. I don’t recommend Uzumaki if you have a weak stomach or scare easily. It won’t make you scream but it might make you puke.

Speaking of scary drawings…

  • Ye Old Switcheroo

If there’s one thing that anime and manga tend to be good at, it’s building up a mood of false security. The imagery in it is just on the edge of cartoonish/recognizably human, or completely in moe territory, and all is beautiful and bright. But then, suddenly, the music stops, or the characters get a strange look on their faces.Things slowly start to twist into less cute territory and, before you know it, you’re staring at the graphic horror that’s more realistic than you’d like.

Suddenly, MURDEROUS LOLLIES!

This is the bait and switch when the medium builds up a safe atmosphere before dropping a metaphorical bridge onto the audience. It’s a slow process in which things go from traditional anime to uncanny valley and then straight into mad horror. What makes this especially selective to anime is the fact that cartoons can completely sculpt a scene more completely than live action can, allowing it to further bend into darkness. Case in point, the images above from Higurashi: When They Cry demonstrates how they bait with cute and pay in blood. Another fine example would be the episode Daughter from Pet Shop of Horrors, which starts with a beautiful, dreamy look about the art before it slides directly into real horror.

 

Images slightly downplayed, because it also dips into gore.

 

  • The Devil’s in the Details

In my closing thoughts, I will say that the danger and horror will always be in the details. You can throw all the disturbing imagery at the reader you want (and Uzumaki certainly does that) but, if there’s no technique going on, then you achieve little more than gross-out. Anime has to work extra hard to frighten since it lacks the real-life look of modern horror movies, but it also gets to traverse places those modern gore-flicks can only dream of. When the person behind the wheel plays a strong game of bait and switch, or really works the human brain, techniques like these above can create some disturbing, but ultimately entertaining, pieces.

Otome Review: Heartbaked

There is no quicker way to a person’s good graces than candy and pastries. Sweets have an uncanny ability to bring out the positive side of things; it’s part of the reason I actually bake as a hobby every once and awhile. So, it seems only natural to me that there’d be an otome game all about baking and making sweeties, all while finding your match made in heaven.

Or, Pastry Heaven, as the case may be.

Candyland

I think I’m in the land of diabetes

This is Heartbaked, a NaNoRen project from 2016. It’s as short as most VN’s get, with only about an hour of gameplay and three bachelors to choose from. But the concept of it is pretty damn cute, so why don’t we take a dive and enjoy some sweet stories?

  • Plot

Welcome to a land where everything is candy (Candyland Trademark not required) all thanks to a Pastry God. This chef of a deity created the world in his divine oven, so the villages all celebrate by offering pastries to said God as tribute once a year. This year, Ginger (or whatever you decide to call her) was chosen as her village’s baker representative. It’s a hard task and sometimes she has to convince herself she made the right choice.

Ginger Pep Talk

Ginger finds a recipe for a Heartbaked cake in her grandmother’s recipe book, supposedly to make the greatest tasting cake to all elven kind. All it requires is for someone to fall in love with her, but she’s got no time to go out and search for Mr. Right. So she’ll have to settle for one of three men she knows is within reach… and none of them are all that promising.

  • Gameplay

Since Heartbaked is another NaNoRen project, I didn’t expect it to be super long or super complex. And, indeed, the mechanics themselves are as standard as it can get in an otome game. There are three bachelors to choose from and it’s up to Ginger to pick the right response to win yon fair weirdo’s heart. You  pick a guy to pursue on day two and have 8 more days to convince him that to love you. You do so by making a single situational choice per day which earns you stat points with that guy. The right one will earn you two, the wrong one will lose you one, and the middle ground will also earn you one.

Choices

If you play your cards right, you’ll get yourself a kiss CG and the happy ending. But that’s just round one as there are nine endings to this entire game. Your endings will depend on your choices and stats, but fear yee not. Should you think you’ve goofed (or the handy guide says you goofed) you can go back and redo a day from your dandy diary. The system in which each day is separated, and the fact that you can go back and make corrections, is something I truly wish more games employed.

Diary

 What really endears this game to me is the writing itself. It has a typo here or there and features CAPS LOCK YELLING more than I’d like, but the sense of humor here is gold. There are pastry puns all over the place, awkward situations that are genuinely funny, and a leading lady who is far from a blank slate. Each story is different and engaging, something very difficult for a NaNo project. I was genuinely impressed with how well each of these characters is fleshed out and written, with only the relationships themselves being a bit rushed. I would pay money for this were the game expanded and edited, which is all you can really ask for in a NaNoRen project.

Humor

Even the quit screen had me laughing.
  • Art

This game is like a lot of NaNo projects in that there’s an unfortunate lack of CG’s. But the in-game sprites are allowed to emote fairly well, even if it takes away from any attraction on their face. The scenery is lovely; the characters look great. Really the only issue I had was with, well… the CG’s themselves.

CGs

As I said, there’s only three and that’s too bad. They have some great detail in shading and emotion, but they do also look jarringly different from the sprites. and lack much in background detail  Proportions are a little weird on one or two as well, so I’d encourage the artist to edit should she revisit this project. Detail is everything and tricking the eyes takes a lot of work.

  • Romances

Radley

Radley

Your childhood best friend has all the usual trappings: overtly happy, always at your side at a moment’s notice, and unable to peel himself out of the friend-zone. This time, however, we’re saddled with a dense fellow with a peculiarly strong aversion to germs, so much so that he has an entire day dedicated to bathing himself. But when he isn’t screaming while covered in flour, he’s been your faithful delivery boy and employee. He’s also madly in love already but will not make the first move until you do.

In other words, Radley’s not my type but he’s likely to please those who do find this type appealing. He’s funny and forgiving, but very pouty if you pick one of the other bachelors. He’s still your typical Childhood Friend option, albiet with a funnier story than most.

Beenjamin

Benjamin

Spelling intentional: this man’s an oddball.

You meet this shabby fella with two bouncy sheep behind him, his only friends in the entire village. He adores the two of them immensely and his obsession with wool and knitted goods creeps out most people in the village. I’d argue that elves equally obsessed with pastries have no right to be judgy, but we’ll play along for now. He comes from a neighboring village that’s equally obsessed with pottery, but is very tight-lipped about why he’s here. If you smell a mystery, you are not alone.

Tall, well-built and thick is a funny love story, filled with sheep-puns and Ben’s blunt, but well-meaning honesty. He’s a good fellow and quite sweet once you get past his strange interests. Plus, It’s hard not to quickly become concerned for him when the story really rolls out. If anyone did decide to give this game a try, he’s my definite recommendation.

Carver

Carver

Oh, heaven help us, this is a first.

It’s not very often that an otome will throw a short guy with pink hair at the players, especially one as cranky and conceited as this guy is. Carver is your rival, whom you decide to trick into loving you to make the cake and crush him. Sound like a horrible plan that makes our protagonist look blind and selfish? You bet, and it backfires horrifically when it turns out she’s the one falling for him. Who knew all that sniping could be sweet and playful?

I think Carver’s story would benefit from some expanding because it presents a nifty little story of self-reflection and growth. It would get better if we saw more of their rivalry and their history together because Carver’s attitude went from annoying to curious real fast. I like my jerks a bit more on the cold and collected side, but this was charming for what it was.

  • Final Thoughts

I really liked Heartbaked’s story and visual aesthetics; the many puns were a joy and the sprite/background work was really adorable. The sprites are in need of an overhaul and would benefit greatly from more detail. But the game is a solid base overall. It’s the skeleton of a great story and I would encourage the author to expand and edit.

Next Time:  Nachtigal

Warning Signs Of a Bad Anime

For every successful anime that blows the competition away, there will be three or four shows that try so hard and fall so flat on their faces.

I think every anime fan has sat through some real garbage masquerading as good TV. Maybe we thought it’d get better the longer we watched. Or maybe we figured the worst was over and just sunk deeper and deeper into the refuse. I too have hate-watched, but there are some shows that just defy even that. Some are too painful or just too bland to sit through without Joel and the bots in the corner.

Ladies and gents, my entire sense of humor

In short, there are shows where I hit my breaking point real fast and I just don’t bother to get the entire story behind them. Life’s too short to waste on un-entertaining pieces of tripe, so today we’ll turn them into something worthwhile. These are my three warning signs of a So Bad It’s Miserable anime; beware if any of these cross your doorstep.

  • You Got No Hook

Some shows maintain an audience, despite being a let-down of maximum proportions. Naruto had a great hook for audiences but fizzled out due to terrible plot decisions. Even the likes of Neo Yokio had a great premise; it just lacked the chops to successfully endear the audience.  But the worst kind of show can’t even be bothered to give the audience that initial jolt, the “hook” if you will. They have a bland premise and yet expect fans to keep watching, which never works in a writer’s favor.

Take case in point, School Days. Oh, one of the darker endings may be internet famous now, but would any of us really have paid any attention if we hadn’t known that was a possibility? The premise we’re expected to latch onto is just that of a bashful boy having a huge crush and needing help from a female friend to befriend her, all while he turns into the kind of playboy most of us can’t stand. The first episode is fifty-shades of boring, and the main character doesn’t really have any charm to speak of.

Forget the severed head and take a good look. Does anything about this image inspire interest whatsoever?
  • You Have to Disparage Other Shows

I found an article a few days ago concerning the new-ish magical girl show, Urahara. I could see right off the bat that the show wouldn’t be to my tastes; the characters looked bland and the trailer didn’t show anything remotely curious. But this article really turned me off the show because it felt the need to take numerous pot-shots at, of all things, Sailor Moon. It decided to tell readers that it was showing girls being girls in a way Sailor Moon hadn’t while taking a bigger focus on friendship saving the day. In short, the writer believed that Urahara was the better show about female friends banding together to defeat evil and save their home and decided the best way to get people to watch it was to denigrate one of the most popular female empowerment shows anime has to offer. Because, you know, that tells me so much about why Urahara isn’t over moe-ified and boring.

I’ll stick with the moon princess, thanks.

My ferocious defense of my nostalgia center aside, I get nervous when a show has to sell itself by criticizing other, more successful, shows. If you really are better than what’s come before, you shouldn’t have to say as such. You should be able to sell me on your show’s merits. If all you can tell me is that shows before you lacked what you’re providing, I’m not gonna be anything but suspicious.

  • You Have No Unique Spin

The last thing that turns me off an anime, or at least the last I’ll recall, may very well be an extension of the first. After all, if you lack any kind of hook, chances are what you’re doing isn’t very unique. But there are other shows that like to borrow the hook from others, but refuse to put their own bait on it.

As my picture above implies, the worst offender, in this case, is a harem anime by the name Girls Bravo. The anime is so textbook harem, you could make a checklist: the spineless male protagonist, a large group of busty women with an odd interest in him, and either no male rivals or rivals that are somehow worse than him. In this case, we have a man who’s scared of women, because of some Tsundere chick, who gets flung to a world only populated by women who now want to jump his bones.

Looks like we met our quota

Now, let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with the fantasy of being a guy with a horde of girls after him. But let me also be clear that what I told you is literally all this show had to offer me in the first episode. The protagonist being afraid of women is not original because it’s just another form of “spineless dude” that these shows frequently use. It’s textbook, boringly so, and I don’t even think Harem fans would find this all that exciting. They’ve seen it several times now and may only find it interesting in passing.

 

That alone will summarize what usually bars me from enjoying a lot of shows, or hate-watching like there’s no tomorrow. These shows aren’t offensive or offensively bad; they’re just so bland and textbook that they don’t attract anyone new. If I’m not a fan of the established trends within, it’s hard for me to really latch on and keep watching. And when you fail that, you doom yourself to even worse niche status.

 

Otome Review – Amensia: Memories

Welcome back, esteemed readers. If I could pass on words of wisdom, it would be thus: beware the Steam sales. Beware, or you will find yourself twenty dollars lighter and five games richer. 

But such a sale also landed me a game I’ve been dying to play and talk about. Our last minute entry is the smash hit Amnesia: Memories, an  Otome by Idea Factory that was such a success that it got its own anime adaptation and is now available for several consoles. Now, the game belongs to what I call “Commercial Otomes,” which usually feature a blank-slate protagonist with a bunch of generic love interests. But I could see this game was a horse of a very different color and asked myself: what kind of story earns itself so many re-releases?

Let’s find out.

 

 

  • Plot

 

Normally, if I’m told that I’m playing a character with amnesia, I have the same knee-jerk reaction as everyone else. But all things are possible under good writing and this game is no exception.

You awaken in the space between dimensions to meet Orion, a horned spirit who accidentally fused with your mind upon jumping worlds.  His presence has sealed your memories away, so the two of you have to work together to get them all back. You awaken in your homeworld to find yourself face to face with a boy claiming to be your boyfriend (usually). It’s up to you to act natural and not raise suspicion, lest you be carted off to the nearest hospital.  But are you innocently exploring new possibilities, or continuing a long chain of eventual tragedy?

Orion

 

  • Gameplay

 

Amnesia plays like a regular visual novel, at least on first glance. You pick one of four worlds to explore where you have a different boyfriend, different motivations, but mostly the same job and school. You interact with your significant other by making decisions in the game to direct the plot.  Each decision affects parameters: trust, affection, and suspicion. If you do good, you’ll max out the first two and get the happy ending. If you fail, you’ll max out the suspicion bar – i.e act completely different – and you’ll get sent to the hospital or even killed. It makes each decision very risky in-game and I don’t blame anybody who quits and finds a walkthrough right away.

Parameters

Each world you enter presents a different story with the same actors. Mainly, each tale has the same characters but in slightly different roles. They’ll still be your friends if they were friendly, but one may be madly in love while the other ambivalent and cold. Since the boyfriend role shuffles around each time, it provides a chance to get to know each character in a more complete light on each replay. Furthermore, each main plot changes when you pick a new world, making replayability easy and awesome.

Visual Kei Friends

Though I still don’t know why my friends always insist on dressing like a card-themed visual kei band.

But, if that wasn’t enough, know that this game has a ton of bells and whistles. That Big Game Company budget went to providing fully animated sprites, some experienced anime VA’s, and some downright gorgeous CG’s that can also shift. The plot itself really stood out as the scenarios are all written to avoid a lot of cliches. We even avoid a Blank Slate protagonist with the heroine who actually starts speaking for herself as we discover her memories. This game really took care to avoid what makes me wary of these big-name titles and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Memories

You can even unlock extra scenes by finishing a story. Try ‘em, if you’re feeling frisky.

 

  • Art

 

This one is a no-brainer, but, let’s talk about it anyway.

Since this is a professional title, naturally the art is gorgeous. The backgrounds are done in this color-wash style that stands out heavily against the full-colored, fully animated game sprites. Furthermore, each sprite is distinct looking, and each character is allowed to make the full range of emotions on their face.  And with the absurd amount of CG’s this game offers, I’m proud to say that each one is clear and beautiful. The only thing I would ever criticize about this art is that it’s pretty odd a group of people, sometimes a group that’s not even friends at a given moment, would all dress in an oddly similar fashion.

Art-AM

But themes are themes and there’s no accounting for it. As such, the art in this game gets my seal of approval.

 

  • Romance Plots

 

Shin

Shin

You awake in a hospital, the very place you were trying to avoid. But worry not – you’re here because you were in an accident, and your boyfriend is here to discharge you from the hospital. But you notice right away that he’s putting a lot of odd demands on you. In fact, he seems like a grim and grumpy disciplinarian who takes great pride in teasing and surprising you. But he’s sharper than he looks, and it turns out your little accident may not have been so… accidental after all.

So Shin’s suspicions are maxed-out right away, but you thankfully have a decent excuse to what happened. And this weird combination of your Childhood Friend/Cold Jerk is quite proactive in trying to fix you, protect you, and desperate to make you fall for him all over again. He’s a rough dude who’s keeping some pretty deep insecurities under his leather jacket, and you’ll have a lot of fun playing detective alongside him.

Ikki

Ikki

On the opposite end of the cold, cool, collected type, we have the town’s famous playboy, Ikki. This blue-haired, pop-star looking fellow can’t seem to go anywhere without being swarmed by obsessive fangirls and he tends to pander to them really hard. But he also goes out of his way to make sure he still has time for you, to go at as slow a pace as you want, and tease you about being flustered so easily. But, naturally, one has to question if one who spends so much time with other women can really give all his affections to one. Even more worrisome, he and the others keep talking about how “all will be decided by the end of the month,” with those fangirls nipping right at your heels.

I normally don’t like the charmer character, but I am impressed with what they did here. Ikki is truly a normal guy: he plays billiards;  he’s training to be an accountant, and he even works a part-time job at your maid cafe. He’s just got a gift that they convincingly play as a curse and seeing him at his vulnerable moments is powerful.

Kent

Kent

You once again wake up in your room for this one and find a list of messages that are very curt and not too romantic. Making matters worse, you get a very angry text from that same person and it sounds like you’re ready to break up. But, instead, you throw him for a loop and apologize, acting the way you’re pretty sure a girlfriend should act. This man of logic and reason is confused… but happy. As you slowly start spending more time together, arguing less and talking more, you start to get the impression that you were not on great terms with the mathematical wizard. Now, gaining your memories back has a newly added danger: will you hate the man you’ve grown to love when all’s said and done?

I nicknamed Kent “Mr. Spock” as I went through because everything he does has to have some logical reason for it, or so he claims. He’s learning relationships from the ground up, and he may say very insensitive things by accident, but he was ultimately my second favorite. There’s a very sweet, desperate side of him that you get to claw out as the story goes, making all the difference in the world.

Toma

Toma

Ho boy. Buckle up, kiddies, cause we stepped into a fantasy I never had.

If you played in the order listed here, then Toma has been around each time as your protector and “older brother” figure. He’s always wanted to protect you, even now that he’s your boyfriend. Though Toma hasn’t acted like your boyfriend since you woke up and you’re starting to see an increased amount of violent harassment aimed at you. Toma insists you stay at his place until it cools over. But, as a few days turns into more days, you start to wonder why your boyfriend isn’t treating you like a girlfriend. You also start to wonder why he’s so desperate to keep you here.

I won’t spoil anything else about this path because it’s one I don’t run into very often. Needless to say, this one will cater to a very specific fantasy, so don’t be surprised if you don’t take to it. I didn’t, needless to say, nor was I very into the uber-protective big-brother type. So, this path may be a failure to me, but it will be a huge success for someone else.

Ukyo

Ukyo

But hey, where would a professional Otome be without an unlockable? Especially one that will creep you out and make you cry?

You can only unlock this one by getting the good end in all the other games, thus gaining the “joker world.” This game concerns the green-haired, enigmatic photographer, Ukyo. He’s been another fellow you’ve seen in each scenario, but he seems to know that there are other versions of you in other worlds, though you can never place why. Sometimes, when you see him, he’s shy and clearly attached to you. Other times, there’s a dark look in his eyes, and he sometimes makes all kinds of verbal threats. Now, in this world that has you attached to no one, you see that Ukyo has a story of his own… and that this world wants you dead.

Ukyo’s path is the one that ties everything together and it’s just about the darkest out of all of them. It was my favorite for its twists and turns, hands down, and I highly encourage players to take the time to unlock it.

 

  • Final Thoughts

Amnesia: Memories blew away most of my expectations for a big-name, big-budget otome game. We have a character with a distinct personality in a very compelling scenario, with characters that are super interesting and unique. I highly recommend buying this one, sale or no, but I would not blame you for finding a guide right off the bat. It isn’t easy, but the story is well worth the effort.

Next Time: Heartbaked

When The West Make Anime, What Does That Mean?

I remember the first time I learned what anime actually was. Before I jumped headfirst into weeaboo-infested waters, I was in the same boat many other 90’s kids were: a huge fan of shows like Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z,  and Pokemon but with no idea where they came from.  Then I accidentally stumbled upon an episode of Inuyasha and then, later, Cowboy BeBop. By disobeying mom and dad and staying up way late to catch episodes of Adult Swim, I learned of cartoons that were meant for adults. Furthermore, I learned of a style wholly different and saw my first “sub.”

Tokyo Mew Mew. What a day that was.

But, these days, almost every streaming service alive offers an anime option and the internet is practically soaked in Kawaii-Clad Magical Girls with pink hair. And now, even more crazy, we’re seeing western companies adopt the animation style more and more to bring us brand new shows. But what does this influx of western-made anime mean for the medium as a whole? 

My thoughts on the matter are, as always, pretty long. To be short, I believe that anime has a new “norm.”

  • The Blurred Lines We Actually Wanted

It’s no secret that artists take cues from each other all the time. It’s extremely common to see movies, music, even visual art made from a mish-mash of other art pieces. Even anime was making these media mud-pies, with shows inspired off western cartoons and culture (Cowboy BeBop, Big O, Samurai Champloo, etc…) Even the west liked to dabble in anime from time to time, with shows like Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender taking cues from anime story-styles.

In fact, Teen Titans was one of the first shows to use anime in American Cartoons. It caused quite the stir among purists if you’re interested in a fun read.

But now the lines between anime and western animation have blurred almost completely.  Anime is more respected than it used to be, meaning more and more mainstream artists see a pool they can draw from rather than some alien entity they could barely touch. There’s a chance the two could become inseparable and that would be amazing.

  • Anime is Less Niche

Today I call out to some real, old-school Otakus. I call out to the OG’s from long before Toonami, who had to get their English anime through some fan-sub bootleg that cost them hundreds of dollars. My question for you is pretty simple: How does it feel seeing anime almost everywhere now? Likely in a form you no longer recognize?

Granted, anime has a wide variety of styles but things have definitely changed.

Indeed, the internet has done amazing things for what once was the niche of niche interests. Mostly, it allowed more people access to all the shows and movies and made the community grow to gargantuan size. But even with this new, easy to find interest among the nerd community, being into anime was still confined to just that: geek culture. Thus, it was still regarded as a niche.

But, now that the medium is considered a creative tool for all, we’re starting to see more and more groups dip their toes in.  The honest truth is that people who don’t watch anime tend to gravitate towards shows that don’t follow tradition in anime (like Fullmetal Alchemist) and we’re seeing more shows take cues from that. As the shows expand their horizons outside of Japan, we’re gonna see a rise in anime fans. And who wouldn’t want more of that?

31c670df6249a955fecc9aea0814422b

When you finally meet someone who also likes that one show…
  • Our Creative Horizons Just Got Bigger

The last thing I am dead certain of is that anime’s ability to stretch imaginations just got better. If you thought it was going weird places before, then buckle up.

Back when anime came strictly from Japan, we already saw a mixed-bag of weird, awesome, and insane. It tended to weird out audiences overseas because of different cultural references but the expanse of its creative capabilities won people over. But now we have more heads coming together to create bigger and better projects. This mix of culture can only mean things are going to get stranger and more out-there.

And scarier

When you get down to brass tacks, when the west makes anime alongside the east, we’re gonna see infinite possibilities in story and art. There are now two cultures that artists can draw from when they make these shows, cultures they can isolate or combine in infinite ways. And that, my friends, has me super excited.

MY BODY IS READY!

What are my lovely viewers thoughts on the rise of western anime? Feel free to leave a comment below and don’t forget to like and follow for more content. I’d also like to take a moment to thank them for their patience in posts this week, as life finally decided to throw me a few bones. Things should now be back to normal and I’m ready to kick back into gear.

 

 

Post Hiatus: One week

Hello, my darling audience.

Life has promptly decided to test my lemonade-making machine. I’ve got a mini-crisis in my lap that requires my near complete attention. So I’m officially putting Otaku-Don on a one-week Hiatus to give me the time I need to properly handle the upcoming stress and problems. My posts will be moved back by one week with my next scheduled for Saturday, the 28th. I appreciate everyone’s patience and wish you a splendid day.

Otome Review: Paper Roses

Doing the NaNoRen challenge can be a scary endeavor. It’s hard enough for me to squeeze out 50,000 words every November to make anything remotely coherent. The idea of adding gameplay on top of that sounds almost suicidal. So, I have a great deal of respect for people who make these visual novels in one month and manage to churn out something decently playable. I’m even more curious when they get adventurous and try to add some bells and whistles.

I’m also not shocked when it means they don’t finish on time.

giphy

But still, I believe effort in all forms deserve praise and critique when needed, and so I decided to pick up Paper Roses by Rooftops Revolutions, an unfinished but playable game that took a risk that will hopefully pay off in the long-run.

  • Plot

Kira is a papersmith, a craft that involves making stationery, paper-sculptures, and, recently, paper-roses for the engagement season. But Kira hasn’t been making much money, and her love-life hasn’t looked much better. She lives in a world where people’s eyes gain their color when they meet their soulmate, the person that destiny has designed just for them. And Kira’s eyes have been grey for almost her entire life.

Kira

But fate may have a strange twist for her after all when her best friend Robin discovers that his soulmate is Princess Iris, a whiny and annoying monarch who is the utter opposite of him. But the laws of the kingdom demand they marry, costing Kira the person she cares about most and her only real friend. Furthermore, will Kira ever really find the love she seeks? Or will she die silver-eyed and alone?

  • Gameplay

The game is a bit of a hybrid, which is quite ambitious for a NaNo game. After all, when you have only a month to make a full-fledged game (which means script, graphics, play-testing and so on) you’d think you’d stick with the bare minimum and leave the rest for later. But I also appreciate authors who try to challenge themselves and give their players something a bit more interesting. And, while what I’m seeing here isn’t exactly new, it is a unique twist.

Planner

Mainly, the game works with a planner – much like Blood Code – where your decision on how to spend your days decides what direction the story goes in. You pick a day, who you spend time with, and what you plan to do. Depending on your relationship, you can relax, have dinner/coffee, or even go on dates later on. When you do, you get the character staring at you in a slightly unsettling fashion and you get a little speech bubble. If the bubble has a musical note or a heart, you did well. If they have a squiggle or an anime vein-pulse, you done screwed up.

And you just keep this up until the engagement party.

Heart

And from there, it’s honestly just lather, rinse, repeat. The game is currently unfinished, but playable, in that a lot of it is missing. For example, the game features voice acting but has a few spots where there isn’t a sound clip. There’s also a lack of CG’s for characters, Robin especially, and certain functions that just aren’t working. The sleepover function of the planner is not available right now, and there was never a chance for me to “date” the character, Robin. In short, while the game was playable from start to finish, it was not complete. You’ll get the cake without a lot of frosting; still tasty but not delicious.

One daye

For example, Creed only has one date, Robin has none, and Iris will always reject you.
  • Art

While the game itself drags more than I’d like, the art was quite lovely. The whole game is drenched in pastel colors, with public domain images that were reproduced in this brush-paint look. The artist did a good job on the sprites as well, making each one distinct, and what CG’s I could see were pleasing on the eyes.

Creed CG

Granted, the difference between the sprites and the CG’s is very noticeable – mostly that the characters just barely match. That, and having these huge characters take up the whole screen with their character sprites is a little odd, and the lip synching is slightly off. It’s all just rough, but it is fixable.

  • Romances

Robin

Robin

Kira’s best friend, Robin Ariba, works in a coffee shop and thinks himself super-awesome. He’s a quietly confident kinda guy, theatrical in nature, with a voice actor whose inflections remind me of those old Jumpstart games from way back. He’s supposed to be sweet, from what little I saw, with a playful side that simultaneously charms/annoys. But I had a very tiny amount to go on. His date function never came up in my playthrough and he seemed kinda quiet in most of his events.

Still, with some polish, I think Robin will be a great Childhood Best Friend Option(™). If we just saw more interactions between the two of them with some chemistry, I think it could be a reasonably sweet story. Add onto the fact that he’s the unlucky groom and you have some real potential for angst.

Creed

Creed

Robin has a little brother and he’s trying so hard to be an edgelord.  Creed Ariba is rebellious, complete with edgy music that plays wherever he is (a la Duke from Yugioh Abridged). He acts like he couldn’t care less about the world around him. He’s a Seer, meaning his eyes gained their color and he isn’t bound to have a soulmate. But Creed became more attractive in my eyes thanks to a few things: the edge in the voice of his VA and the fact that the game lets us see Creed at a vulnerable moment.

Turns out the little rocker has a silly little fear of animal lanterns and we get to see him when he’s freaking the hell out. There’s something to be said about letting your player see your characters when they are at a low point and I highly encourage the author to do that more often.

  • Iris

Iris

Behold, commoner, the bane of your existence in more ways than one!

I consider myself a mild expert on the Jerk With a Heart of Gold trope as I am the target audience for that option. But I do not, and people like me do not, have any tolerance for the Brat With a Heart of Gold, especially a brat who doesn’t get any better. If Iris’s whiny voice doesn’t put you off, her propensity to call you names and treat you like a servant will send you right over the edge. The excuse given is that she’s a princess and thus was raised to view you in this fashion. The problem, however, is that I see next to no progress when it comes to Iris’s character development.

This is partially due to the game’s incomplete nature, but I also never saw Iris show that she’s changed. Buying gifts for your significant other isn’t exactly a sign of being selfless, nor is refusing to show any affection due to pride. When this game sees more scenes and CG’s added in, it will need to show Iris learning how to be selfless and make some real change. If Lucille from Cinderella Phenomenon can learn it, I know she can.

  • Final Thoughts

In its current form, Paper Roses is a hard sell. The incomplete feel with the lack of features will fail to hit some key points and will make a game that’s a bit of a slog. By adding some more character-exclusive events, more dynamic movement, and changing the visuals at natural points, the game has a chance to become something unique.

I'm convinced this is parodic

I suspect parody but that’s just me.

Next Time: Amnesia

First Thoughts: Batman Ninja(2018)

I’ve been a new arrival to comic books for the past year, but I’ve always been a loyal fan of the ever-famed Dark Knight. I grew up on the animated series cartoon for years; I fell in love with the 60’s television show upon getting older; and most of my favorite comics now are Batman stories. It’s slightly difficult to talk about, given the reputation of the hardcore Batman fanbase, but I’ve personally adored the caped crusader for his use of psychological tactics against his foes. He’s become superhuman on sheer will alone, something I think everyone can admire.

But you know what else is superhuman by sheer will and training? Ninjas…. That segue hurt and I apologize.

batmanninja

Animation studio Kamikaze Douga released the first visual of their new project on their website: Batman Ninja. The full-feature movie has been a project three years in the making and will see release sometime in 2018. The concept in and of itself isn’t so far-fetched; Batman is, effectively, a western-equivalent to a real ninja. His tactics of working from the shadows and using all kinds of gadgets to convince the criminals that he’s everywhere and nowhere are very akin to traditional ninjutsu.

But, rather than showing us scenes of Bruce training to be the Big Bad Bat, we get a story that sounds like it’s gonna be one hell of a hybrid.

The Story So Far

If you were hoping this was an alternative storyline about a Japanese Batman, you’re probably gonna be disappointed. Rather, according to an article about the Comic-Con panel in New York, the story will have Batman and a handful of characters flung back into medieval Japan. The footage is not available for the public right now (else you can bet your keister I’d have it here) but the description I saw makes the whole thing look bananas in the best way possible.

To quote the article:

Picture Batman, decked out in shogun’s armor and wielding a katana, charging at the Joker, who’s also brandishing a sword, but draped in a fanciful, ancient Japanese courtier’s outfit that’s overflowing with tattered ruffles that bounce along with his maniacal laugh.

On a tiled roof, the pair crash and slash at one another in a dizzying flow of gorgeous swordsmanship and the Joker taunts Batman that, even in this unfamiliar time and place, he’s still every bit the bloodthirsty killer he was in Gotham. The scene jumps to a quick montage of fight scenes and we see that it isn’t just Batman and the Joker who have been displaced. Nightwing, one of the Robins, Harley Quinn, Penguin, and Gorilla Grodd are there as well, and they all look like avant-garde, high-fashion, concept-art versions of themselves.

Combine this with the mention of some mixed 2D/3D animation, and you can color me curious. The show’s director, according to the author, made a point of mentioning that this movie would very much be about how Japan sees Batman; if this is what they see when they look at Batman, then I just fell head-over-heels in love.

A Promising Staff

If the concept itself wasn’t a sell, the names behind it should be enticing. Directing the movie will be Kamikaze’s founder and CEO Junpei Mizusaki, who produced the opening animation for both iterations of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Meanwhile, we have the mangaka for Afro Samurai, Takashi Okazaki, designing the characters and writer Kazuki Nakashima in charge of the script (with him having Kamen Rider and Gurren Lagann to his name). If that wasn’t enough, the English translation of the film will be headed by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia, executive producers for the Afro Samurai anime and movie.

Why would I hammer this so hard? Because great ideas can always go astray if they are horrifically mishandled. Take, for example, the base-splitting flop that was Batman vs, Superman: Dawn of Justice or the Man of Steel movie. While Zack Snyder has all my sympathies for the tragedy he dealt with, that didn’t excuse the fact that he gave us an uber-depressing Superman and a Batman who may as well moonlighted as an Arkham inmate suffering from paranoia. The fact that this animated movie has so many good names attached to it doesn’t alleviate my fears completely, but at least it doesn’t have the same baggage future Snyder films will have.

Comics and Anime Make Great Bedfellows.

For all the jokes and memes people make about western anime fans, people forget that western comics have become popular worldwide as well. There have already been several instances of West Meets East anime or anime-like pieces, including television shows about Iron-Man, X-Men, and the Gotham Knight shorts. The Marvel shows alone saw decent success and proved that anime could easily handle the outright crazy that comics tend to peddle.

To that end, I think Batman fits into anime’s tendency towards the absurd just fine.  The storylines that Batman finds himself in are ostentatious for a fellow with no superpowers: tangling with the immortal Ra’s Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit, Doodlebug summoning demons through blood-paintings (one of my favorites), and even going face-to-face with the tyrannical alien ruler Darkseid. Almost anything can happen in comics and comic-cartoons, mirroring anime’s boundless narrative possibilities. And, since Batman’s narrative, these days, is about a mortal man dealing with bigger-than-life villains and forces of evil, we’ve got some huge potential.

Wrap It Up Already

And, in the end, that’s what Batman Ninja is right now: potential. We only have an image and an idea, with a talented team working in the background. But, with every great idea, there is a chance for a massive flop if care and passion are not put in. I can’t tell from such paltry amount of info if this will turn out for good or bad, but my first thoughts are cautious optimism and excitement.